Tuesday, February 21, 2012


In many ways, Jaffa is a typical domestic drama that could take place anywhere in the world.  Reuven owns a garage in Jaffa; his son, Meir, and daughter, Mali, work for him there.  He also employs Hassan and Hassan's son Toufik.  Unbeknownst to anyone else in either family, Mali and Toufik are in love, making plans to elope.  Tragedy strikes when Toufik and Meir get in a fight and Meir is accidentally killed.

The twist here is the religious and cultural setting.  In the ethnic and religious mix that is Jaffa, Jews and Muslims get along well enough to work together, but prejudice and suspicion abound.  Reuven values Hassan and Toufik as employees, but Meir and Reuven's wife criticize and deride them as lesser people.  Mali and Toufik share a love that transcends their differences, but are still wary enough to keep their affair secret.
I know I, like every other human, harbor prejudices and preferences that can taint my relationships with others.  But I simply cannot wrap my mind around the animosity between Jews and Muslims as portrayed in Jaffa and many other films (not to mention the nightly news).  Sure they can get along in small ways--hiring them to work in your business, falling in love--but as a whole, they're blowing each other up.  What a sad way to live.  Good movie, though.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dragon Wars: D-War

This is one of those movies I'm almost embarrassed to admit I saw.  I checked it out thinking it might be fun to watch with my boys, but, besides some bad language, I am reluctant to expose them to such a bad movie.  In keeping with a Korean legend, a dragon arises after its 500-year slumber in, where else, L.A.  Big monsters attack L.A.  That's all you need to know.  Big special effects, cheesy acting, and bad writing.  I'm not saying don't watch it, I'm just warning you about what to expect.

Bottom line, 1 star.

Friday, February 17, 2012


I have to admit that I have never read anything by the famous American author E. L. Doctorow.  His is one of those names I know but about whom I know little to nothing.  After watching Jolene, based on one of Doctorow's stories, I don't really want to read anything of his.

Poor Jolene.  An orphan raised in, and serially abused in, foster homes, she finds someone to marry her at 16, seeing her way out of her hopeless life.  She shortly makes things worse for herself, going through a series of hard times and relationships that begin ideally and end in horrible circumstances.  If there's something to be gained from this film, it's a positive message that we are not defined by our past but by our hope for better things.  But Jolene takes an ugly path to get there.
Flattery will get you everywhere with Jolene.
Especially troubling is the last relationship depicted in the movie.  She meets a young man who is the only son of Tulsa's leading family.  A caricatured evangelical, he declares that the Lord sent her to him and inquires whether she is saved, all on their first date.  Jolene tries to put him off when he asks her to marry him, but he declares his love for her no matter her past, and again affirms that the Lord meant them to be together.  When he turns out to be an abusive, critical husband who in fact cares very much about her checkered history, the viewer is supposed not to be surprised by his hypocrisy.  This treatment is in stark contrast to the Vegas bookie who treats her like a queen.  Does Mr. Doctorow really see Christianity solely as the realm of hypocrites?  Or do some of his other stories give a more balanced, realistic view of life?  It's just troubling for me to see such depictions, especially since it seems like an anti-Christian raises a writer up a notch as more enlightened.

Good for Jolene for pressing on in spite of the repeated bad hands she's dealt.  Bad for Doctorow for demeaning the greatest source of hope she might have found.

Bottom line, 2 stars.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Hanna, played by Soairse Ronan, is a lovely but deadly teenager who has been raised alone by her father in a remote area near the arctic circle.  Under his tutelage, she has become an accomplished hunter and fighter, as well as gaining an encyclopedic knowledge of, well, everything in the encyclopedia.  What she has not encountered, however, are things like electricity, plumbing, and other people.

When she finally decides she is ready to leave home, her father digs up a transmitter and we learn that he was a CIA asset, and that he disappeared off their grid years ago.  He and Hanna become the hunted, leaving a trail of dead bodies in their wake.
Hanna: pure, innocent, and deadly.
Hanna is a fabulous action movie which will have you cheering for this determined young woman who is trying to find out who she is.  Sure, she's a cold-blooded killer, but given the circumstances of her birth and upbringing, she seems to be the righteous one.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

Monday, February 13, 2012


There was something off-putting about this movie that made me not excited to see it.  I guess because today if you hear "diva" you think of some teeny bopper movie or pop star who thinks the world revolves around her.  But apparently the word was originally meant to mean, as it does in the move Diva, a great female opera singer.

Diva brings together the titular great opera singer and a postman who is her undying fan and who surreptitiously records her performances.  They, and the postman's tapes, get mixed up with a tape recorded by someone looking to expose corruption in the Paris police department and the people willing to kill to keep that tape secret.
The Diva lets Jules listen in as she rehearses.
This is a beautifully shot movie, with a great mix of class, humor, and action.  It's refreshing to see someone go gaga over an opera singing diva rather than the pop tarts kids go crazy over now.  If I knew Paris better, I probably would have better appreciated the setting, but still enjoyed the variety of settings: the opera house, fancy hotels, seedy neighborhoods, the subway chase.

Diva is 30 years old, but still has a fresh, timely feel to it.  Enjoy!

Bottom line, 3 1/2 stars.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Omen (1976 & 2006)

I probably saw the 1976 version of The Omen when I was kid.  I was pretty addicted to HBO.  For some reason I decided to watch the old one and this new version back-to-back.  I wouldn't have thought the movie was crying out to be remade, but here it is, and I think it's better than the first.  The new version also updates the signs of the coming of the antichrist.
Creepy kid 2006.

Creepy kid 1976.
I tend to be agnostic about end times discussion and biblical apocalyptic prophecy.  I never read the Left Behind books and don't have any desire to.  There's no way I can know what's right and what's really going to happen, so I lean on this truth: I know who wins in the end, and I'm on his side!  So these movies about the antichrist don't interest me much.

Creepy kid, clueless parents, violent deaths, the devil at work.  Thank you Jesus that you are Lord of all.

Bottom line, 1 1/2 stars for both.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Common misconception: Darwin's theory of evolution is completely incompatible with theism.  Even if you fully accept every jot and tittle of Darwinian evolution, the theory itself does not exclude the possibility of an intelligent designer, e.g. the biblical God.  Unfortunately, many people have accepted Darwinism to the exclusion of Christianity, and many Christians have had their faith shaken or even lost because of a misunderstanding of Darwinian evolution.

I don't want to get into an extended discussion of Darwin's theories (I think he was partly right), but I do with people would recognize that biblical Christianity has room for Darwin.  According to Creation, Darwin, his wife, and his contemporaries thought otherwise.  Darwin was convinced by his colleague Thomas Huxley that his theory has "killed God."  His religious wife and their pastor were similarly convinced.  As a result, Darwin delayed completing and publishing his work On the Origin of Species for many years.
Seems like Darwin would have been awestruck by God's power in creation rather than thinking he had eliminated the possibility of God.
Creation follows Darwin's struggle with whether to publish, and the resulting personal and family issues.  His biggest struggle was dealing with the loss of his oldest daughter; his writing and research take second place to the grief and guilt he feels over her death.  Creation gives a unique glimpse not only into the mind of a genius, but into his family life and the cultural and religious setting in which he lived.  In spite of the flawed dichotomy between religion and science at the core of the story, this was a really good movie.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rabbit Hole

Are you depressed?  No?  Watch Rabbit Hole and you will be, especially if you're a parent.  The Corbetts are happy, beautiful and apparently rich, but their picture-perfect world was shattered when their son was hit by a car and killed.  With grueling realism, we see them avoid their friends, deal with the irresponsible, unmarried sister who becomes pregnant, and struggle with getting rid of their son's toys and clothes and deciding whether to sell their house.

In one particularly painful scene, another couple at a support group talks about dealing with losing their child.  "God needed another angel."  This doesn't sit well with Becca Corbett.  She doesn't buy it.  "Why didn't he just make one!  I mean, he's God after all!"  Later, her mother gently reminds her that religion and God can be a comfort in a time of loss, as it was for her when Becca's brother died.  Mom says, "You're not right about everything, you know.  What if there is a God?"  Becca shoots back, "Then I'd say he's a sadistic prick. . . 'Worship me and I'll treat you like sh--.'" 
She's very, very sad.
Wow.  That's painful to hear.  But to be honest, who can blame her?  I might have the same reaction if I were to lose a child or go through another painful loss.  Rabbit Hole is depressing, and doesn't offer much hope, certainly not from a Christian perspective, although we do see steps toward rebuilding of the Corbett's marriage, as well as genuine movement toward forgiveness of the young man who hit their son.  This is a solid, thoughtful film reflecting on rebuilding lives after the loss of a child.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

A few weeks too late for Christmas, I know, but still you have to see this, one of the funniest, strangest, yet somehow rather endearing Christmas movies you'll see.  Don't worry, It's a Wonderful Life and other Christmas favorites need not worry about losing their top spot, but Rare Exports will elbow its way in on the quirky end of your list.
Have you been a good boy this year?  You'd better hope so.
In arctic Finland, some young boys observe a mining company's work on a nearby mountaintop.  The boys overhear conversations indicating that the company has found Santa Claus himself.  The boy researches Finnish legends of Santa, learning about the dark Santa who boils bad kids, and who was mysteriously replaced by the "Coca-Cola Santa" about the time the real, dark Santa was buried.  Suddenly it's up to the boy and his reluctant dad to save the town's kids, restore the local economy, and save Christmas itself.
Think twice before opening that last door on the Advent calendar!
Clever and hilarious, plus plenty creepy, Rare Exports will make you look twice at the mall Santa next year, and keep your kids a little closer when you hear that Santa's coming around!  (Speaking of kids: this movie is not for them!)

Bottom line, 4 stars.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Fact: In the Middle East, Arabs and Christians are locked in a death feud, even though they're neighbors, often trade peacefully, go to school together, their children play together and marry.  But they keep killing.  I don't begin to understand it.  Same goes for different groups of Arabs.

Fact: poor young men in poor, hopeless neighborhoods worldwide turn to murder, drugs and other black market activities to try to get by.  I guess I naively thought that religious young men living in the Holy Land, a day's walk from some of the holiest sites of their faith, would somehow rise above.
Fact: revenge killings only lead to more revenge killings.
In Ajami, these two realities come together dramatically and tragically, as several interrelated stories illustrate the struggles in modern Tel Aviv.  It's fast-paced, with sequences deliberately out of order, and sometimes a little complex, one of those movies where they jump to the next scene and you (OK, I.  You are probably a more attentive movie watcher than I am.) have to stop and think, who are these guys and how do they relate to the other guys?  But even my little brain could grasp the stories as they snowball together.

Ajami is gritty, at times violent, and tastes genuine.  Well-made, well-acted, well worth a look.  This land of the Bible is calling out for redemption and reconciliation.  Let it be soon, Lord.

Bottom line, 3 1/2 stars.