Defiance – A Movie Review

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Jan 202009
 

Defiance PosterFour Jewish brothers living in Nazi occupied Poland escape into the forest where they join up with Russian resistance fighters in battling the Nazis. Throughout the war they built a village inside the forest and saved the lives of more than 1200 other Jews. Based on a true story.

Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Adaptation and War; Running Time: 2 hrs. 17 min.; Release Date: December 31st, 2008 (limited); MPAA Rating: R for violence and language.

Starring: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Alexa Davalos, Tomas Arana

Directed by: Edward Zwick

The too rarely told story of defying Nazis. Liev Schreiber and Daniel Craig are first rate, the action sequences strong, and the plot credible. This is not a “Holocaust” movie about Jews dying at the hands of the Nazis – it is about the heroism of average people who are forced to take up arms to fight against oppression. It’s also about people trying to maintain a civil society when every aspect of their life is turned on it’s head. When it comes to Daniel Craig’s character,it’s about a person having leadership thrust on him, and having to rise the occaision.

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The Will of God?

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Aug 132008
 

Recently, my Sunday School class has been involved in a study of the “The Will of God.” We’re using a book by Leslie Weatherhead. I don’t find I’m in complete agreement with his definitions, but he does offer a comprehensive interpretation of The Will of God. It has led me to do some deeper thinking about words I’ve heard often. The concept has mostly dumbfounded theologians, and I believe is primarily a construct of people looking for some kind of logic in illogical situations.

Weatherhead was a minister in the Methodist tradition at the City Temple in London. Weatherhead died in 1976. He was minister of the church in London during World War II. During the war, the Church was burned out after being hit by incendiary bombs. Certainly I think the circumstances of his time informed his preaching, and the book comes from a series of sermons. The British, Londoners especially, were under constant torment by the Nazi bombers. Thousands of British were dying in the war and right in London. These were people clearly trying to find some explanation for what was happening to them.

Weatherhead has three ways to look at the will of God: Intentional, Circumstantial and Ultimate. While a small book, Weatherhead still requires a book to explain all these, so forgive my very abbreviated explanation of Weatherhead’s three perspectives. I’ll try to use an example to explain. Let’s say a person goes out for a drive. God intends for all to be well, and for that person to have a safe and enjoyable drive. However, if there is an auto accident, it is God’s circumstantial will that no one be hurt, and if they are, that they be healed. If the person dies anyway, the ultimate will of God would be for God’s purpose to be achieved..that something good could come from the death. Perhaps a person might receive an organ transplant from the driver.

Other’s distinguish the will of God in two ways. That of the decretive and preceptive will. The former means that which God wills to do, or permits himself; the latter what he wills that we should do…theologians say the former cannot be resisted and is always fulfilled…the latter is often violated by men.

We simple Lay people often use “the will of God” as excuse for the things (usually bad things) that happen to us. I grew up in the funeral business, got licensed, and practiced in the field for some years, and so often heard death and ailments blamed on “the will of God.” I think this is a disservice. Let’s be honest about it, how can a loving benevolent God cause the death of a child, the lasting agony of cancer or Alzheimer’s. Some have laid blame for 9/11 and the devastation of hurricane Katrina at the feet of God, calling it his will to punish America (usually based on America failing to stone homosexuals to death).

On Box Turtle Bulletin there was a recent story about Darlene Bogle. Darlene had been part of Exodus affiliated ex-gay ministry, and later denounced that affiliation and was one of three leaders of the ex-gay to apologize last year for their involvement in the movement. In 2005 Darlene had lost her long-time significant other to breast cancer. Recently, Anthony Falzarano, founder of PFOX and a person very active in the ex-gay movement, came across a blog by Darlene, and sent her an email with this message:

I am sorry to hear that your lover died of breast-cancer. Darlene is God sending you a message? Please consider coming back to Exodus. You are loved and missed. Why would God call you back to lesbianism, give you a lover and then take her away. I’m sorry that you are going through this. My heart is breaking right now but I believe that you belong to the Lord and “He chastizes the one’s that he loves”.

This is, of course, hateful on an individual level, but I’ve heard similar things come from the mouths of preachers at funerals. “Is God sending the rest of us a message by taking this person from us.” In this line of thinking, it is the will of God that one person will suffer and die to make a point to someone else. Setting aside the absurdity of these statements on their face, this is in complete contradiction to the very basis of the Christian faith, that God sent his son to die for our sins…to pay the price so we don’t have to. One has to ask the people who use these statements, “so which is it?”

I believe this thinking finds it’s foundation in the oft quoted parts of the Bible like Matthew 10:29-31 where Jesus tells his Disciples, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” This gives us the message that God is deeply involved in even the most minute details of our lives.  Continue reading »

Atonement

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Mar 292008
 

Atonement, Click to view the trailerIn 1935, 13-year-old fledgling writer Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) and her family live a life of wealth and privilege in their enormous mansion. On the warmest day of the year, the country estate takes on an unsettling hothouse atmosphere, stoking Briony’s vivid imagination. Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the educated son of the family’s housekeeper, carries a torch for Briony’s headstrong older sister Cecilia (Kiera Knightley). Cecilia, he hopes, has comparable feelings; all it will take is one spark for this relationship to combust. When it does, Briony – who has a crush on Robbie – is compelled to interfere, going so far as accusing Robbie of a crime he did not commit. Cecilia and Robbie declare their love for each other, but he is arrested – and with Briony bearing false witness, the course of three lives is changed forever. Briony continues to seek forgiveness for her childhood misdeed. Through a terrible and courageous act of imagination, she finds the path to her uncertain atonement, and to an understanding of the power of enduring love.

Genres: Drama, Romance, Adaptation and War

Running Time: 2 hrs. 2 min.

MPAA Rating: R for disturbing war images, language and some sexuality.

Starring: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Brenda Blethyn, Vanessa Redgrave

Directed by: Joe Wright

Atonement starts promisingly, dramatically, and with some humor, as the imagination and moral immaturity of young Briony Tallis lead at first to some standard British drawing room drama, and then to the brink of tragedy. Some very fine acting, cinematography, and great scenery help get us involved.

Then the movie abruptly shifts locations, actors, and pace. Although the plot switches to the historically dramatic circumstances of the second world war, our characters now seem only to be marking time.

And then, near the end of the movie, we are subjected to a writerly device, which forces us to re-evaluate the second half of the movie. There’s a great tradition of these tricks in film and we react differently to each one, but at the end of Atonement, when the device was played, my reaction was simply disappointment, and simply confirmed my decreased engagement in the second half of the movie. Whatever was the intended impact, the drama had long before seeped away.

It’s worth seeing for the acting, cinematography, and that dramatic first hour.

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Where Did “That’s All She Wrote” Come From?

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Apr 232006
 

When we think of a person saying “that’s all she wrote,” we usually picture someone who’s disappointed for some reason. Maybe her computer died, maybe his girlfriend left, maybe she was just informed the tax laws have changed and she can no longer claim pets as dependents. In short, the good old days are gone and aren’t likely to return.

The Word Detective believes the phrase may have originated during World War II. Soldiers who received “Dear John” letters from their wives and girlfriends announcing “a blunt end to the relationship” probably used the saying as a kind of punch line to emphasize the coldness with which they’d been dumped.

Where Did "That's All She Wrote" Come From?

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Apr 232006
 

When we think of a person saying “that’s all she wrote,” we usually picture someone who’s disappointed for some reason. Maybe her computer died, maybe his girlfriend left, maybe she was just informed the tax laws have changed and she can no longer claim pets as dependents. In short, the good old days are gone and aren’t likely to return.

The Word Detective believes the phrase may have originated during World War II. Soldiers who received “Dear John” letters from their wives and girlfriends announcing “a blunt end to the relationship” probably used the saying as a kind of punch line to emphasize the coldness with which they’d been dumped.

Memoirs of a Geisha

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Dec 302005
 

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Nitta Sayuri reveals how she transcended her fishing-village roots and became one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha.

Directed by
Rob Marshall

Genres
Drama, Romance

Cast
Suzuka Ohgo, Togo Igawa, Mako, Samantha Futerman, Elizabeth Sung, Thomas Ikeda, Li Gong, Tsai Chin, Kaori Momoi, Zoe Weizenbaum, David Okihiro, Miyako Tachibana, Kotoko Kawamura, Karl Yune, Eugenia Yuan

Lay wanted to see this one, so we went last evening. Truth be told, this movie was not as bad as its trailer led me to expect. It had a story to tell (although it crumbles in the end), images to show, and material to present. There were ample displays of exquisite beauty?the trailing tails of silk kimonos, the subtle allure of hand gestures, and the captivating kabuki theater dance scene…

The scope of craftsmanship on display in the film is largely impressive; it’s clear that Marshall knows how to photograph a pretty picture and set a specific mood. Production designer John Myher has worked miracles to encapsulate the insular pre-war atmosphere of Japan, using the narrow walkways and claustrophobic native paper-and-wood construction to set the right tempo in Sayuri’s escapeless surroundings.

Storywise, “Geisha” is an epic tale, taking place over many years and incorporating several important moments in history. The script, by Robin Swicord and Doug Wright, pays careful attention to the nuances of the era, when the geishas were cherished for their culture and companionship, along with being unequaled objects of lust.

Sold into slavery by her parents as a child, Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang, in a stunning performance) is resigned to a life of hardship and abuse. Raised amongst geishas, including the bitter Hatsumomo (a delectably vile Gong Li), Sayuri dreams of their educated and venerated lifestyle. When an unexpected benefactor (a scene-stealing Michelle Yeoh) comes looking for Sayuri, the frightened girl begins her long and arduous training to become a geisha. During this time, Sayuri rises to power, commanding the attention of every man she meets, and enraging Hatsumomo further. Nevertheless, all the adoration in the land can’t help satisfy Sayuri’s love for the one person, The Chairman (Ken Watanabe), who was kind to her while she was a frightened little girl.

The war sequences hold interest, mostly because they capture the bittersweet decline of the geisha, quickly replaced by crude prostitutes who easily con foreign serviceman out of their money with a little attention. The screenplay starts to make a play for a heavier emotional investment from the audience, through tragedy and Sayuri’s relocation despair, but the intended effect is never fully appreciated.

So, can a group of American men and Chinese actresses render the world of a geisha? The answer, I guess it really depends on what you are looking for. If you would like a little bit of delight from an aesthetically pleasing picture with a vague standard for authenticity and realism, this movie delivers it. I would not say Rob Marshall failed completely. Memoirs of a Geisha is not the first, nor the last, movie that subjects another culture to the crude lens of American exoticism. It definitely is not the worst one.

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