FLICKS: Religion in the Movies and The Case for Christ

Posted on 13 April 2017 by LeslieM

By Cinema Dave


This Sunday evening at 7 p.m. the ABC Broadcast Network will televise The Ten Commandments, a rare movie tradition that has aired most Passover/Easter Sundays since 1973. The exception was 1999 in which television executives decreed that if people wanted to watch this movie, they could pick it up on VHS. Apparently, the telephone switchboard lit up, upset that a family tradition was torn asunder.

Released on the big screen in 1956, The Ten Commandments marked Director Cecil B. DeMille’s last motion picture and was the box office champion for the year. While the dialogue and acting styles has dated through the years, there is much visual splendor to hold one’s interest. Based on the first five books of the Old Testament, The Ten Commandments does have a pretty good story to tell, which might explain the film’s enduring holiday appeal.

It has been 13 years since Mel Gibson released The Passion of the Christ, which still holds multiple box office records. Despite the controversy, this film revealed a faith-based audience willing to purchase movie tickets. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Rocky Balboa included the faith-based audience in their marketing mix and were rewarded by good box office.

In recent years, the Christian consumer has supported contemporary faith-based movies like Miracles from Heaven, 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven is for Real. Of the three films mentioned, Heaven is for Real holds up best as a family drama with international intrigue that bookends this fine motion picture written and directed by Randall Wallace, who earned a best screenplay Oscar for Braveheart, which was directed by Mel Gibson.

Based on a true story, The Case for Christ is this year’s faith-based motion picture. Set in Chicago circa 1980, atheist journalist Lee Strobel (Mike Vogel) has dinner with his pregnant wife, Leslie (Erika Christensen) and their daughter, Alison. When Alison chokes on a giant gumball, the Strobels panic, but a kindly nurse, Alfie Davis (L. Scott Caldwell) performs a routine Heimlich Maneuver and saves the girl.

When Alfie praises Jesus, Leslie is impressed, but Lee is annoyed. While raising Alison and birthing another child, Leslie comes to accept the tenets of Christian faith. While performing earning a living as a crime reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Lee wants to write an article revealing Christianity as a con job worthy of P.T. Barnum.

Compared to the recent contemporary Christian movies of recent years, The Case for Christ is much more of a dry and somber movie. The film does explore the shifting values of the Baby Boomer Generation with that of traditional faith. When The Case for Christ concludes, one is left with many open-ended questions to draw one’s own personal conclusions.

Happy Passover and Happy Easter weekend!

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FLICKS: Ghost in the Shell

Posted on 05 April 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


Last Sunday afternoon, I caught Pollock, Ed Harris’s award-winning film about tortured artist Jackson Pollock, a motion picture that I reviewed for The Observer 16 years ago. Although I may never be a patron of abstract art, I was absorbed in Jackson Pollock’s craft with paint and canvas. It still holds up as a fine motion picture with an interesting story, intriguing characters and artistic details that supports a strong artist vision.

The strong visuals of Ghost in the Shell have been part of the Japanese/Anime culture for nearly 30 years. Besides being a graphic novel, there was an animated motion picture titled The Ghost in the Shell that was released in 1995 and spawned a total of four films. Ten years ago, Steven Spielberg acquired the rights to produce a live-action version. Last weekend, Ghost in the Shell opened to a lackluster box office that may cost some Paramount Studio executives their jobs.

First off, it is not a bad movie. The film opens with Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) being assembled on a laboratory table. Mira’s body is a victim of a terrorist attack, but her brain is left intact and inserted into an android shell.

Much like Blade Runner, this Ghost in the Shell features a series of investigations and action sequences as Mira seeks to uncover bad guys. The pursuit involves multiple betrayals with Mira questioning her own identification as a cyborg.

The major flaw with the film is the lack of original story. Besides the previous mentioned Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell lifts plot ideas from Avatar, Virtuosity and Innerspace. It feels more like an outline than letting a fresh story unfold.

The film does shine with visual effects. Director Rupert Sanders lets his camera linger on giant hologram figures in the big city. The figures are eclectic and their brief appearances are more interesting than some of the cardboard characters that are used to move the plot forward. While Johansson does shine, we’ve seen her in enough movies of this ilk: Lucy, Her and the Marvel movies.

So Ghost in the Shell is no Pollock or The Last Word, or Kong: Skull Island, for that matter. I wish that The Zookeeper’s Wife or The Case for Christ opened a week sooner.

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FLICKS: Frantz opens, Savor Cinema/ Cinema Paradiso news & PBIFF opens this weekend

Posted on 30 March 2017 by LeslieM

By Dave Montalbano


As Kong: Skull Island and Beauty & the Beast blow up box office records for March, there are still quiet, artistic movies that are being released on the big screen this weekend. From acclaimed French Director Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool, Potiche) comes Frantz, a film with a touch of Daphne du Maurier’s literary classic Rebecca.

Set in Germany during the post World War I era, Anna (Paula Beer) grieves over the loss of her fiance, Frantz. After a visit to the graveside, Anna witnesses Adrien (Pierre Ninney), a French war veteran, put flowers on the marker.

Despite the cultural divide from the Armistice of World War I, Anna and Adrien communicate with each other. Each individual talks about their experiences knowing Frantz, an artistic soul who died in the muddy trenches. At times this relationship evolution is beautiful, but the horrors of war reveal dark secrets of human nature.

Frantz is presented in grim black and white cinematography that also echoes Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s version of Rebecca. Yet Ozon takes advantage of modern technology to include color cinematography for moments of beauty and grace. Given that Frantz is a study of grief, this film becomes life-affirming despite the tragedies on faces in life.

Cinema Paradiso Hollywood and Savor Cinema are among the two cinemas that will be screening Frantz. Homes to the annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, these movie theaters will feature unique programming for the spring season. On Saturday May 6, Savor Cinema will be hosting the running of the 143rd Kentucky Derby, which includes a live band, food prizes and a ladies bonnet contest.

For those pursuing cinema pursuits closer to home, the Palm Beach International Film Festival continues through April 2. Cinemark Theaters in Boca Raton will be one of the host sites. Dr. Oz will be in town, with his daughter Arabella Oz, to promote her new movie. [Michael Lohan will also make an appearance showing the movie The Business of Recovery]. The Tilted Kilt will feature after screening parties next to Cinemark Theater. For screen times, it is best to visit the website www.pbifilmfest.org.

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FLICKS: Beauty & the Beast opens &The Last Word expands

Posted on 23 March 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


With the releases of Logan, Kong: Skull Island and Beauty & the Beast, the March 2017 box office has broken records, much like the old summer blockbuster season used to be. Could it be the weather? Uninteresting television? Perhaps all three motion pictures are providing big screen entertainment again.

Of the proceeding mentioned films, Beauty & the Beast is the weakest flick to go see on the big screen. A remake of the 1991 animated version (which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, losing to Silence of the Lambs), this Beauty & the Beast has exquisite production values, fine performances and music that will ignite sentimental tear ducts. Yet, during the film’s climax, director Bill Condon sacrifices good storytelling for technical splendor.

For a good story and realistic character development, The Last Word expands to more screens this weekend. Shirley MacLaine is garnering her best notices since her Oscar-winning achievement, Terms of Endearment. As Harriet, MacLaine is a control freak facing the twilight of her life.

Reading the obituaries of her contemporaries, Harriet contacts Anne (Amanda Seyfried) to write her obituary for the local newspaper. Given Harriet’s prickly personality and Anne’s naivete, this business proposition seems doomed to failure. Upon closer examination of what makes a good obituary, Harriet creates four goals to achieve before the shadows claim her. Dragging a reluctant Anne along with her, Harriet embarks on a series of escapades.

Under director Mark Pellington’s confident direction, The Last Word unfolds in realistic fashion. Each one of Harriet’s goals is abstract, but the human interaction is humorous and feels true. There are many scenic gems found in this movie. Among the highlights are Harriet’s attempts to be a benefactor to an alternative radio station and be a mentor to an African-American girl of a single mother.

As both producers and actors, MacLaine and Seyfried form a good team. MacLaine is the dominant personality, but Seyfried gives a transitional performance that is endearing. These two veteran actresses develop a fine chemistry with young AnnJewel Lee Dixson, the African American child forced to take in a mentor. MacLaine, Seyfried and Dixson shine during an emotionally tense lunch scene with Harriet’s daughter (Anne Heche).

This weekend, the much hyped Power Rangers and CHiPS start crowding the cineplexes. Don’t let fine movies like Logan, Kong: Skull Island and The Last Word get pushed aside. These three films provide Saturday matinee popcorn-eating fun.

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FLICKS: The Last Word opens & King Kong rules

Posted on 16 March 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


Shirley MacLaine returns to the big screen tomorrow in The Last Word, which co-stars (and co- produced by) Amanda Seyfried. A serious movie with humorous overtones, The Last Word will be a hit in the community.

Kong Skull Island was an international hit with box office gross exceeding over $160 million in three days. Compared to the full-court press that Disney marketing is providing for Beauty and the Beast, the marketing for Kong Skull Island has been modest. Fortunately, the movie exceeds marketing hype.

Perhaps a sequel to the 1933 Son of Kong, this new film opens in 1944 when a Japanese and American aviator crash land on the mysterious island. Their petty fight is abated when Kong makes an appearance and stuns the soldiers.

Almost 30 years later, Professor Randa (John Goodman) from the Monarch Organization requests to visit this mysterious island. The Vietnam War is ending and Randa would like to study Skull Island before the Soviet Union finds out about it. Besides recruiting Lieutenant Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his helicopter squad, Randa recruits Marlow (John C. Reilly) as well as Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), a photojournalist.

When the scientific expedition starts dropping bombs on the island, Kong is angered and brings down the helicopters. Divided across the island, the survivors attempt reunification, only to discover that Kong is the least of their problems.

Indiana Jones and Jurassic World fans will get their money’s worth. Kong Skull Island is part of the “MonsterVerse” series that began three years ago with the reboot of Godzilla. Unlike Godzilla, when the monster was hidden until the final 20 minutes of the film, Kong is front and center throughout.

With the exception of subterranean terrors that lurk on Skull Island, there are no outright villains in this film. Samuel L. Jackson is the most aggressive human character, but the script creates empathy for the character’s desire for revenge. Upon further review, the wrath of Kong is not caused by military aggression, but by scientific arrogance. Beyond big-sized epic adventure, Kong Skull Island contains a narrative with much intellectual depth.

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FLICKS: TCM’s Robert Osbourne, Logan & The Women’s Balcony

Posted on 09 March 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


As I write this week’s column, news is breaking that the host of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Robert Osborne has passed away. A film historian with personal relationships from motion pictures’ golden age of movie stars, Osborne’s persona was a major influence upon this film columnist. Regardless of the film he introduced (classic film, an Oscar winner, a historical curiosity), Osborne had a knack of bringing a fresh perspective to a film he had seen countless times. TCM co-host Ben Mankiewicz will follow in Osborne’s footsteps, but the young host has big shoes to fill.

The passing of the torch is a major theme of Logan, this week’s box office champion. A culmination of seven X Men and two Wolverine movies, Logan takes place 22 years into a dystopian future. After decades of saving the world from hostile forces, Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) lives in an abandoned oil field with his old mentor Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Wishing to live his final years in peace, Logan is confronted by a woman who has read too many X-Men comic books. The woman wants Logan to take a special little girl to Eden, which is found in Canada. Unwilling to become involved at first, Logan learns that Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and Professor Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) have devious plans for the little girl and her “special” friends.

Starting with Bela Lugosi in Dracula and concluding 17 years later with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Universal Pictures created memorable monster movies that have enthralled many generations. It has been 17 years since Hugh Jackman first portrayed Wolverine. In Logan, he is provided a final curtain call for his duties as an X-Man. Logan is a current classic on the big screen.

The Women’s Balcony opens this weekend at neighborhood theaters. In Hebrew with English subtitles, The Women’s Balcony is a comedy/drama. While attending a bar mitzvah, the women’s balcony collapses in the middle of the ceremony. When it looks like the temple will be closed for a long period of time, a new rabbi quickly comes to the rescue of the worshipers. Unfortunately, he is more like the pied piper.

The temple opens quickly, but the women’s balcony is not restored. Being more orthodox than his predecessor, the rabbi wants the women to cover their heads to display their modesty. Naturally, the modern women rebel.

Unlike the angry protests that we see on the news every day, The Women’s Balcony has an infectious sweetness that will make the ticket buyer smile.

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FLICKS: On the Map & Kedi opens, while Moonlight shines on South Florida

Posted on 02 March 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


Despite what presenter Faye Dunaway said Sunday night, Moonlight did win the Best Picture Oscar for 2016. In under two hours, writer/director Barry Jenkins shares a slice of South Florida culture through the eyes of a child, a teenager and an adult through three chapters of a larger narrative. Moonlight earned its honor through impressive storytelling and character development, a skill Barry Jenkins earned when he attended Florida State University, College of Motion Picture Arts. Congrats, Moonlight cast & crew.

On the Map opens tomorrow with a unique South Florida connection. Twelve years ago, Director Dani Menken appeared at the Palm Beach International Film Festival. As a producer, Menken earned the Best Documentary for 39 Pounds of Love, which features Ami Ankilewitz, an American-born Israeli who was diagnosed with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy who likes to party. In contrast, On the Map features the growth of professional athletes in Israel.

After World War II ended, the American sport of basketball grew as an international sport in Italy, Spain and the Soviet Union. Given the terrorist actions of the 1972 Munich Olympics, the story about the Soviet Union stealing the Gold Medal from Team USA became a mere footnote. Five years later, young Israel (a nation state less than three decades old) confronted the International Champion Soviet Union in an epic basketball game.

Told with grainy home movies and audio supplied by reel-to-reel tape recorders, On the Map retells the epic David & Goliath story about Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team.

Now 40 years later, the teammates reunite and celebrate their amazing victory. The memories are sharp and this story truly comes alive.

If you love the sport of basketball, get out of the house and check out On the Map on the big screen.

Kedi also opens tomorrow and will surely inspire cat lovers. Set in Istanbul, this unique documentary shows the symbiotic relationship between the urban dwellers and the cats. Like a National Geographic/Wild Kingdom documentary, Kedi captures kitty cats in a natural habitat demonstrating primal behavior.

It is ironic that people choose animation animals (like Oscar winner Zootopia) over natural animals at the movie box office. However Kedi provides many short stories about individual cats. The film pays off during the curtain call in which we revisit each of these cats and we remember each one of their stories.

March is predicted to be a box office bonanza with the releases of Logan, Kong Skull Island and Beauty and the Beast, respectively. However, don’t lose sight of the fine documentaries — On the Map and Kedi.

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FLICKS: Year By The Sea

Posted on 23 February 2017 by LeslieM

By Dave Montalbano


As the longest standing film columnist in Broward County, I’ve seen certain movies like Boynton Beach Club and Play the Game that resonate in our community during this time of the year. Year by the Sea will be this season’s cult movie that neighbors will be talking about.

Based on Joan Anderson’s three New York Times best-selling memoirs, Year by the Sea opens with a montage of home movies. We witness a young man getting married as his parents, Joan (Karen Allen) and Robin (Michael Cristofer) bicker in the backroom. After 30 years of marriage, Robin sells their house and announces that they are moving to Kansas. Joan has other plans.

Taking a page from Henry David Thoreau, Joan relocates to Cape Cod to live her life, deliberately. While adjusting to the rustic life, Joan takes stock in herself and begins learning new things, like running the cash register, digging for clams and spending an afternoon on Seal Island.

As her editor (S. Epatha Merkerson) coaches her to write her next book, Joan develops a friendship with Erikson (Celia Imrie), a wise neighbor whose husband is dying in an old age home. As she copes with her empty nest syndrome, Joan realizes it is never too late to find some time to play.

Watching Year by the Sea is a pleasant experience. The Cape Cod Tourist Bureau should provide director Alexander Janko and cinematographer Bryan Papierski honorary keys to the city. This simple film takes full advantage of the New England shoreline. The setting becomes its own nurturing character.

As the most nurturing character, Celia Imrie steals the show. Besides dispensing words of wisdom with a glass of wine, Imrie’s Yoda-like character is a pleasurable person to hang out with. Year By the Sea is Karen Allen’s movie from start to finish. There are moments in which her performance could have become melodramatic or verged towards slapstick (especially during the early scenes in which our heroine is adjusting to island life). Allen underplays these moments, which makes her character more humane and empathetic. It’s great to see Karen Allen in a leading role again.

Take an afternoon to go see Year By the Sea with some friends some afternoon. It is a positive movie about life, letting go and renewal.

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FLICKS: Fanny’s Journey

Posted on 16 February 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


Football withdrawal weekend provided box office gold for three motion pictures last weekend. The Lego Batman Movie, Fifty Shades Darker and John Wick: Chapter Two collectively earned more than 120 million dollars. In contrast, the Oscar best picture nominees, Hidden Figures, La La Land and Lion barely earned $16 million at the box office.

Fanny’s Journey, a French movie with English subtitles, opens tomorrow. Based on a true story, this is a beautiful drama about World War II.

After Mussolini’s downfall, Hitler’s agents ruthlessly order their leader’s Final Solution — eliminate any and all Jews. Seeing the writing on the wall, responsible adults export children to Switzerland. When the adult leading the refugees becomes separated from the children, 12-year-old Fanny leads the orphans to the promise land.

What makes Fanny’s Journey so fascinating to watch is the everyday heroics of Fanny’s actions. The protagonist does not outrun enemy machine gun fire with a soaring musical score. Instead, she must find a way to cook and feed the dozen of children she is responsible for. Heroism is found to be the daily routine.

While the threat of danger is consistent, Fanny’s Journey never loses a child’s perspective of the world. At certain times, the child-like wonder about the world is fresh and innocent; one scene features children splashing each other by a cool stream. In contrast, there are moments of danger in which silence is needed for survival, but one young child cannot control their verbose nature. The Nazi atrocity is not seen, but the deadly threat is felt throughout the film.

As the son of two World War II veterans, I am well versed with that history. Today’s youth are well-versed about the achievements of President Barack Obama. This weekend, young and old will be given the opportunity to meet Fanny Ben-Ami, who will be visiting the Delray and Living Room Theaters, which will be screening Fanny’s Journey. Call the theaters for special dates and times.

Save the date: for Wednesday, Feb. 22. Silverspot Theater in Coconut Creek will premier Year by the Sea, starring Karen Allen and based on the memoir by Joan Anderson. Both the actress and the author are expected to walk the red carpet for the 7 p.m. show.

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FLICKS: Hacksaw Ridge

Posted on 09 February 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


For the last week, I have been listening to Bill O’Reilly on his and Martin Dugard’s book, Killing the Rising Sun, a piece of nonfiction that debates whether or not the United States of America should have dropped two atom bombs on Japan to end World War II. While most of the attention focuses on President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur, Killing the Rising Sun shines a light on the people of my parent’s generation who won the war; among them was Desmond T. Doss.

Though a patriot and willing to serve, Doss was a conscientious objector who refused to carry a gun. The screenplay about this pacifist circulated for 14 years in Hollywood, until Oscar award-winning director Mel Gibson was offered the opportunity to direct Hacksaw Ridge.

The son of an alcoholic World War I veteran father, young Desmond has a profound religious epiphany when he almost kills his brother. Growing up in rural West Virginia, the mature Desmond (Andrew Garfield) develops an interest in First Aid and a pretty nurse, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer). World War II breaks out and Desmond Doss enlists, despite his father’s fears.

Being a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian, Doss refuses to carry a weapon due to his religious conviction. This causes Doss much consternation as he runs afoul Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington). Despite being hazed by his fellow troopers, Doss earns the respect of his platoon. This hazing and bullying is nothing compared to the hell awaiting these soldiers on Hacksaw Ridge in the battle of Okinawa in the final months of World War II.

Either as an actor or as a director, the violence of a Mel Gibson movie always feels righteous. As the director of the battle scenes from Braveheart and Apocalypto, Gibson created memorable visuals. Yet these visuals would be meaningless without character empathy being developed earlier in the motion picture. When the battle of Hacksaw Ridge begins, you care about the soldiers we were introduced to earlier. Considering the central protagonist is a conscientious objector who does not defend himself with a gun, the drama is further enhanced.

See this movie on the big screen while you still can. It has been many years since I had such a genuine reaction to a big screen motion picture. With this film, I found myself pumping my fist and laughing after a jump scare. Hacksaw Ridge is a full cinematic experience.

Mel Gibson has earned professional redemption from his Hollywood colleagues this awards season with six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Whether or not his film wins any awards, it is be the best picture on the big screen today.

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