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I. Movie Reviews & Commentary (1-50)

 [50]  “Noah” (2014)

by David Claerbaut

“Ron Burgundy” has over the years become very nearly a cult film.  Set in 1975, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is a celebrated anchorman for KVWN-TV Channel 4 Evening News in Las Vegas. He works with a news team of friends.

The station boss, in celebration of the wildly successful top-rated news team, throws a party.  At the party, the testosterone and alcohol-laden Burgudny tries to lure an attractive blond woman named Veronica, but she demures and exits the bash.  To Burgundy’s chagrin,the young woman turns out to be the new female reporter, Veronica, whose hiring is announced the next day.

Burgundy ultimately heals the breach with Veronica and the two spend an evening together that ends between the sheets (nothing surprising there).  Veronica willing to continue the liaison provided it remains discreet.  The egotistical Burgundy cannot contain his compulsion to boast to his colleagues of his new bedmate.

Burgundy later loses his spot as chief anchor over a traffic incident.  Now having to share the anchor role with Veronica, Ron is enraged.  Things get worse as he ultimately loses his job over a prank engineered by one of Veronica’s friends.  Fired and humiliated, Ron’s career is now reduced to “rubble”.

After another incident stretching the viewer’s bonds of credulity Ron and Veronica reconcile and eventually return to prominence as co-anchors for a CNN-likeWorld News Center. 

Falling somewhere between a romantic comedy and a farcical Network-like satire of the news-as-celebrity culture that has now engulfed TV, the movie is over the top but entertaining due largely to Ferrell’s comedic talent.

If that were all there is to this zany film, it would hardly merit a review in this faith and learning locale in cyberspace.

But there is a darker side to “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” at least if you believe as many do that the movie has a real-life foundation.  Lost amid the reviews and despite the expected denials, many believe the film—and particularly Ron Burgundy–is loosely based on the career of William Siegelin of Bogalusa, Louisiana.

When young Siegelin began working in radio he quickly changed his name to a more ear-appealing, Ron Hunter.  With blow-dried hair, blue eyes, and even features, once the photogenic Hunter hit the big screen in Louisiana it was a quick climb to the top.

Notorious for his monstrous ego, Hunter landed news anchor positions in Buffalo, Miami, and then in Chicago where—not yet 40–he won an Emmy in 1977, an extremely lucrative compensation packaged, and a talk show to go with the NBC anchor spot.  Hunter literally engulfed the screen with his own presence.  In Buffalo, his opening line was “I’m Ron Hunter and the big story in Buffalo is…”  Scoffers suggested the next word might well be “me.

The dramatic and theatrical Hunter was an actor doing news,anipulating camera angles and viewer emotions in what appeared to be a shameless quest for stardom and ratings.  Exuding charm and persuasive confidence, he did not lack for friends or enemies among his colleagues.

Chicago was the zenith, but savaged by critics as a “pompadoured pomposity,” he flamed out in two years and headed for Philadelphia.  Another ratings failure in Philly was followed by an unsuccessful run in New Orleans.  By 1985 his career as a star was essentially over.  His wife committed suicide in 1990.  Dead broke, in 1996 Hunter was arrested and charged with theft and trespassing in Mandeville, Louisiana, after allegedly breaking into a neighbor’s house to steal a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese, a box of Hungry Jack biscuits and a pound of ground meat. The total value was $3.24.

He later moved to Las Vegas where he died in obscurity in 1998.  He was 70 years old.

To the extent that Hunter’s career is the inspiration for this film there is another more sobering reality for the faith and learning viewer to consider.  The price one may pay to feed one’s insatiable ego once opportunity hits like a Vegas royal flush.  Hunter pushed every boundary of responsible journalism to become a star—a larger than news figure.  That quest for those few years at the top cost him his career, his marriage, his finances, his reputation, and perhaps his soul.

Not all the Ron Burgundys emerge from personal tragedy anchoring a world news program as this celluloid version does.  Some—reminiscent of the urban bottomed out Prodigal Son munching on bean pods as he babysits animals—trade in their studio photographs for a mugshot after pilfering leftovers from a neighbor’s cupboard.

Dr. Claerbaut is the founder of www.faithandlearningforum.com

     [9] Corrupt Cop Movies

by Mark Eckel

Growing up, I was taught to wave to farmers because they fed us and policemen because they protected us.  If I were a police officer today I would wonder if anyone believed such a thing anymore.  The public is being fed a constant barrage of negative portrayals on the big screen concerning three major groups: conservative politicians, business people, and the police.  Controlling the images we see, Hollywood can corrupt thinking about any social category.  There seems to be a cultural war against authority.  Anyone who confronts my individualistic morality becomes my adversary.

Denzel Washington delivered an Academy Award for just such a performance in Training Day: the cops are just as bad as the robbers.  Ethan Hawke’s “good” character is caught in a malevolent maelstrom.  The only way out is to become “bad” to overcome “the bad.”  The Departed has a similar refrain: moles and leaks exist for back room payoffs.  Only killing cops gives closure.  Assault on Precinct 13 actually makes the prisoners, the heroes.  Dark Blue intimates that corruption is “the way things are done.”  16 Blocks again suggests that most uniforms are not to be trusted.  Pride and Glory recounts the travails of a family which subverts itself by silence, turning its collective back on its own vices.  Any number of films would fit the profile.  To be sure, redemptive characters do step up in some of the films mentioned.  And while good cops punctuate the conflict in movies like L. A. Confidential and S. W. A. T., the action is driven by those who cannot be trusted within the force (Walking Tall: The Payback).

There are good lessons to be learned.  Keep your hands out of the cookie jar (The Corrupter).  A synonymous point is also true: the more cookies one eats, the harder it is to stop (To Live and Die in L. A.).  Sometimes the lesson is corruption can only be overcome by more and worse violence (Above The Law).  The viewer certainly understands that the real good guys must be better in every way than their mercenary adversaries (Kiss the Dragon).  At times, courage against all odds wins the day (Copland).  And for the movies that teach us bad people must be stopped by excellent detectives (Seven) there are ten more movies that excel at pointing out the “bad guys” are not much worse than the “good guys” (A Perfect World, Cleaner, Lakeview Terrace).

In contrast, The Asphalt Jungle directed by John Huston sets the bar for exceptional filmmaking and elevation of the law as righteous.  Evil men and their schemes are brilliant in planning and execution.  However, “the best laid plans” begin to unravel simply because evil begets more evil.  It is only the concerted effort of dedicated police officers that stops wrongdoing in its tracks.  I highly recommend reviewing older films for their dedication to goodness in law enforcement.  While by no means am I suggesting our culture was more ethically upright then, some films lend themselves to train our sensibilities toward what is right.  As a teacher, I want to encourage students to reconsider authority in a better light.  But I may have to leave the “new release” section to find what I want in “the classics” of my video store to do it.

And I still wave to policemen

Dr. Eckel is Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, Indiana.  His website, warpandwoof.org is filled with thought-provoking prose.

[8] “Frozen River” (2008)

by Mark Eckel

“The baby is dead.”  “No it’s not.”  “Yes it is.  Just hold it close to your body.  Keep it warm.  We don’t want to give it to her cold.” After discovering the child is alive Lila says, “It wasn’t me it was the Creator” and Ray, “All I know is K-Mart’s closed and I don’t have nothin’ for under the tree.”

Motherhood: the dogged determination to the death that says I will provide for my children no matter what.  Life may hit me with its best shot but I will find a way through, over, around.  Flint-like resolve in her scared momma’s eyes, Melissa Leo’s Academy Award Nominated performance demands to be watched by everyone born by a mother.  Each scene is tension filled because every act of life is played on the precipice.  We are required as viewers to live on the ledge, to feel what it is like to scratch and claw for every piece of change making sure our kids eat lunch.  We will be asked to consider what we would do were we the lone decision maker in a household.  We will look face to face in the face of women who must face the world on their own.  And we are forced to look at our faces in the mirror of our own souls.

Directorial debuts seem to produce soul-searching films (i.e., Alejandro Gomez Monteverde for Bella, Gavin Hood for Tsotsi, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck for The Lives of Others to name a few).  Courtney Hunt’s freshman project is worth thoughtful reflection and deep group discussion.  Frozen River takes the cinematography of daily life (think The Office) to create a world the common person knows: no makeup and no spectacular production designs.  Dollar stores and house trailer living are par for the course here.  Forget politics.  Fortunately, social commentary is no where to be found.  [Would that Hollywood would get the point: “Just tell the story.”]  But we will be haunted for days after to consider what would we do were we confronted with . . . deadbeat dads, human smuggling, hand-to-mouth living, insufficient work, latch-key children, and credit card fraud.  An odd couple, Lila (Misty Upham) and Ray (Leo) find themselves joined at the hip through actions to which they must simply respond.  Two women from different cultures connect through their common humanity.  Even tribesmen and troopers are presented as compassionate beyond the normal Hollywood cut-out characters.  The frozen river stands as the metaphor, harboring either hope or peril.

Were I to create a movie trailer, it would be the opening paragraph above, which makes no sense until you see the movie; which is what I want you to do.  We must place ourselves into the middle of a tunnel where an oncoming train forces us to make decisions these mothers make every day.  Lila and Ray both seek provision for children.  Their coupled, selfless deed mid-film makes every heart ache.  Acting to redeem a life or care that a child receives a Christmas present transcends personal interest.  Parental trauma cannot be reproduced.  Those who suffer in some way to care for children feel the pain of Frozen River, hoping for a thaw.

Rated R for brief use of profanity and adult situations.

Dr. Eckel is Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, Indiana.  His website, warpandwoof.org is filled with thought-provoking prose.

 [7] “Hachi–A Dog’s Tale” (2011)

by Mark Eckel

Lassie may be the most recognizable dog in movie history.  Long before my faith and learning days, the television program bearing the animal’s name was a weekly experience.  Lassie would overcome great odds, alert humans to potential danger, or simply provide friendship for a young boy.  Of course, movies about dogs are legion while notoriously tearjerkers.  My Dog Skip is every child’s hope.  The affection of “man’s best friend” during trying times ultimately ends graveside.  Old Yeller is a movie my daughter still refuses to watch because she does not want to cry.  Marley and Me will make you laugh until the unexpected ending forces you to look for Kleenex.    Even Turner and Hooch winsomely draws the viewer through chaotic comedy until the finale where the audience yells a collective, “Noooooo!”  But the reason these films continue to be made and we continue to watch is that we long for that kind of camaraderie.  If nothing else we want a dog excited to see us after work.

Richard Gere is exactly that man in Hachi—A Dog’s Tale. If one takes the time to watch the DVD extras Gere expresses the lengths he took to enable the movie making.  He admits weeping uncontrollably after reading the screenplay.  Gere’s passion through to project’s end radiates his personal care for the subject.  The film is based on a true story, one recounted in Japan today.  Hachi is the dog of legend, a statue erected in his honor at a Tokyo train station.

Unique contributions to life necessitate honor to Hachi through a figurine.  Lasse Hallström (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, Chocolat, An Unfinished Life) masterfully manipulates the action so the action does not manipulate us.  Some canine shows conspire with tissue manufacturers.  Hallström tells a true story without indiscriminately wrenching tears from our eyes.  Unusual events in the otherwise normalcy of life make every person in the film reconsider what it means to be a friend.  Jason Alexander plays the station agent where the dog is discovered for the first time.  Alexander allows his character to inch forward in affection for the animal.  So too, Joan Allen, playing the wife who would rather not have a dog, eventually melts in acceptance of Hachi.  But Richard Gere brings his personal patience through the character which forms the lifetime bond between man and dog.  Each human character in the film seems to revolve around the pooch.  It could be said that people were made for the animal, not the other way around.

Special mention must be given about the Akita dog breed.  Once you see the animal, the Akita profile will be etched on your mind.  The handlers deserve credit for managing a bloodline whose nonchalance toward direction is well known in the canine community.  Indeed, the movie’s depiction of Hachi refusing to play “fetch” says it all.  But it is the loyalty that mesmerizes the viewer.  How could a dog give itself so completely to a human without thought of self-preservation?  This family film comes with a warning similar to any movie mentioned above: have a good supply of Kleenex in hand.  It has been years since I have seen Lassie’s exploits.  But Hachi places all other dogs a distant second; a true representation of what it means to be “man’s best friend.”

Dr. Eckel is Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, Indiana.  His website, warpandwoof.org is filled with thought-provoking prose

[6] “Jesse Stone” (Series)

by Mark Eckel

In the eyes of the faith and learning observer, flawed humanness is the mirror reflection greeting each viewer who watches Jesse Stone. Ambiguity in life best describes the films: they are film noir for the 21st century.  The dark mysteries should be expected coming from a student of “pulp fiction.”

The Jesse Stone novelist Robert B. Parker holds a doctorate in American Literature from Boston University where his dissertation examined the writings of Dashiell Hammett (the creator of Sherlock Holmes) and Raymond Chandler (author of the 1940’s classics Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep, not to mention Phillip Marlowe’s private eye character from the 1950’s). Taut, gritty, crime dramas with substance find their model through Parker’s character. A visual page-turner is then created by Robert Harmon (movies The Hitcher [1986] and Nowhere to Hide; TV biographies such as Gotti and Ike: Countdown to D-Day— interestingly Eisenhower’s role is played by Selleck). “Made for TV” usually means less than interesting direction.

But Harmon’s oversight brings his big-screen experience to the small-screen cop production. Tom Selleck plays the deeply troubled chief of police from the small burg Paradise, Massachusetts. Finding his life in Santa Monica, California dissolving because of a failed marriage and a drinking problem, Jesse Stone’s peacekeeper career is resurrected by an invitation from 3000 miles away. Joined by his ever-present dog, Stone’s solitary lifestyle is augmented with colorful townspeople in each episode. William Devane’s recurring presence as Stone’s psychiatrist suggests an ongoing personality development, unveiled through historical revelations.

Unlike the happy-go-lucky, spirited Magnum P.I. from the 1980’s, Selleck creates a dour character. Smiles are replaced by grim frowns, furrowed by years of hard-bitten detective cases brought about by depraved humanity. Hard won, serpent-like wisdom propels Selleck’s character toward solving new assignments. Laconic responses to friends, staff, and foes further create the tension reminiscent of none other than Humphrey Bogart. Deeply hurt and world-weary, Jesse Stone brings justice to those who deserve it, reserving generous mercy for those who have felt the sting of life’s backhand.

The audience roots for a flawed character because in them we see ourselves. And isn’t this why we read stories and watch movies? We can live vicariously through fictitious others who we find to be our better selves. Humans aspire to some semblance of order even though our own lives are messy. Call it “pulp fiction” or film noir, narratives that are honest to the fallenness of humanity resonate with us. Unrated, these films were made-for-TV, meaning there is some language and violence with sexual situations. The following films have been produced so far: Stone Cold (2005), Night Passage (2006, Prequel to Stone Cold), Death in Paradise (2006), Sea Change (2007), Thin Ice (2008), No Remorse (2010).

Dr. Eckel is Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, Indiana. His website, warpandwoof.org is filled with thought-provoking prose.

[5] “Never Let Me Go” (2010)

by Mark Eckel

What does it mean to be human? How do we know that we belong to a race by such a title? Is there a way to tell if we bear the right attributes? Can we discover our true selves by somehow connecting with the wider world? Can our surroundings deaden our desire to know or grow beyond the confines of our person? What is freedom? Are the boundaries to which we capitulate true markers of reality? Whose authority will we take as truth? Are our ethics driven by physical longevity? Should we estimate the value of lives other than our own? By what standard? And is life measured by some purpose, some program, or are we simply castoffs awaiting our brief usefulness for another?

Questions like these will haunt the viewer long after the credits role for “Never Let Me Go.” The audience is led through a labyrinth; each passage marks the beginning of a new maze. British subtlety creates the cinematography and storytelling. Dexterity in murky atmosphere is well represented by England’s overcast skies. Gentleness is the proper tool in the hands of director Mark Romanek who may be best known for his direction of the universally loved Johnny Cash music video, “Hurt.”

Understated is the correct word to describe the actors’ roles. Keira Knightly displays depth and range in her craft which has made her famous elsewhere (“Pride & Prejudice,” “Atonement”). Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network” and the next “Spiderman”) is a ghost in his own body, marked beginning and end by his primal screams. But it is Carey Mulligan’s (“An Education”) role as Kathy H. whose delicate handling is best described by the moments noted by a solitary tear. Dulled by propagandized education, the young people do little more than age physically—their spirits are devoid of a soul. Indeed, a critical concern in the film is whether or not the characters have souls at all. What defines humanity may bring to mind films with a similar agenda. One might consider “Coma” (1978) or “Extreme Measures” (1996). The first thrills, as the viewer discovers the wrongs right along with the characters, building to an ultimate climax of disbelief. The second is heavy-handed; true American cinema where the final scenes flash a neon ethical message.

“Never Let Me Go,” while dedicated to similar science-fiction themes, focuses on the fragile strings of our humanity. Affectionate sadness envelopes us as we contemplate our own mortality. Tenderness etches new lines across our thoughtfulness. Campus film night discussions about this science-fiction drama might continue for days. But for those whose age finds them closer to the end than the beginning, questions of longevity and possibilities of science may rival those of Ponce de Leon. Never Let Me Go is a title riding the razor’s edge of a love story which cuts us to the core of what it means to be human. Rated R for brief nudity (pictures in a pornography magazine) and a brief scene of sexuality.

Dr. Eckel is Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, Indiana. His website, warpandwoof.org is filled with thought-provoking prose.

4] “Temple Grandin” (2010)

by Mark Eckel

Stop right now. Stop whatever you are doing. Go right now to rent and watch “Temple Grandin.” This film is one of the best ways I know of getting inside another human being. To feel what they feel. If it were possible to know how people thought, learned, felt, lived, became who they are, how would we be changed?

We often think of changing others, of changing the world. But few think of changing themselves. “Temple Grandin: should give us pause to reflect on how our deficiencies may hurt others. At the same time, consider the lifelong giving of those who care for others so unique. Temple Grandin had the providential good fortune of a caring mother. Some of her teachers became personal mentors. She helped ranchers with the designed beauty of her cattle dips and slaughter houses (yes, slaughter houses). As Temple herself says, “Nature is cruel; we don’t have to be.”

Grandin earned undergraduate, masters, and doctoral degrees but her place of honor in the academe is that she honored cattle as deserving respect and human kindness. Temple’s ability to commune with animals, to see their fear or calm, became a place of peace for herself. Seeking the comfort of a machine’s “hug” was for Grandin a desire to find her way in the world; to be human. “Going through another door” is a constant metaphor.

Though overused, the point is driven home that strange is difficult until strange becomes our friend. Many will seize on the current mantra of “see through our differences.” But it is the “difference” of autism that makes Temple Grandin who she is. Cultural concerns for difference make us miss the point that we are alike, we are human. To be a human being, to sense the struggle and tension of life, is not gained from our finite, fragile capacities. Source for our empathy, for our humanity, comes from outside of ourselves. Were it not so, Temple Grandin would become, as Claire Danes reminds us in the film, “just another piece of meat.”

“Temple Grandin” will be a comfort to many who ache to reach their own family members in their worlds. It will remind those who research the complexities of life that complexity has beauty and a wholeness of its own. It will remind educators, especially those who value faith and learning, that children should be accepted as we find them, helping them to gain tools for world living. “Temple Grandin” should be the only two words necessary to remind the strong they have an obligation to defend any minority. It should be enough to spur the insensitive to consider their insensitivity. We cannot help but weep as we are dropped into Grandin’s life.

Director Mick Johnson makes us feel Grandin’s pain. Claire Dane’s performance is Emmy worthy if the phrase means anything. Julia Ormond and David Strathairn are top billing in a superb supporting cast. And three cheers to HBO for signing off on a movie whose off-putting phrase “slaughter house” cannot bode well for a business run on revenues. Do not eat popcorn. Do not fall asleep. Do not judge “Temple Grandin” by its title. Do nothing else until you watch it. And do not forget the Kleenex.

Dr. Eckel is Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, Indiana. His website, warpandwoof.org is filled with thought-provoking prose.

[3] “Doubt” (2008)

by Mark Eckel

The Bells of St. Mary’s ring no more. Half a century has passed since Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman demonstrated to audiences the redemptive nature of the Christian Church in the 1945 film. John Patrick Shanley’s alternative perspective with the adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Doubt, questions The Church by questioning its servants. In an age where sex scandals have rocked reputations in the rectory,[1] casting doubt instead of dispersions is certainly understood.

Yet, the movie invites discussion of even deeper faith and learning questions: Is certainty a myth? Is authority abusive? Should justice be blind? Does perception trump reality? Answers to these questions may be as elusive as the film’s conclusion in the actions of individuals or governments.

Meryl Streep plays the overpowering, overbearing Sister Aloysius Beauvier. The nun strikes fear and (physical) pain into the young charges at her school as well as during Sunday morning mass. Whether obsessed with the wrongful use of ballpoint pens or silence during meals until she alone rings the bell for interruption, Streep artfully directs the audience in their collective loathing of her character. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Father Brendan Flynn, a genial priest who captures the spirit of the progressive movement coming out of The Vatican in the early 1960’s. The priest’s kindness juxtaposed with the sister’s austerity causes the barometric pressure to drop as warm and cold fronts collide.

A novice teacher in the parochial school (Amy Adams) seeds the brewing storm with her sincere yet superficial behavioral observation. It seems Father Flynn befriends a young altar boy. Impropriety is suggested. The young nun brings her information to Sister Beauvier whose suspicions are raised more by rancor than reality. Confrontation between the combatants leave more questions unanswered. Add to this lack of assurance the absoluteness of the young man’s mother (played by Viola Davis, who supersedes all other performances in this picture). When the nun reveals her notion of sexual misconduct by the priest, a Catholic mother’s categorical obeisance to her faith, her race, and her son’s future is perhaps the most shocking revelation in “Doubt.”

After Mother Teresa’s death, Newsweek dedicated a cover article to depict her doubts, from then, newly disclosed personal correspondence.[2] Little noticed during her lifetime in the secular world, focus shifted to questions about her faith after death. Perhaps it was this revelation that set up the last scene in the movie exposing the doubts encountered even by those most committed. Surety is difficult in a generation nurtured by cynicism parlayed by the John Stewarts of the world. If ever there was a need for evenhandedness in media, it is now. However, “Doubt” should make the viewer re-examine their own personal beliefs based on insufficient evidence, perception, or group-think. And all should hold the tension of their questions while they ring the bell for Truth. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material concerning children.

Dr. Eckel is Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, Indiana. His website, warpandwoof.org is filled with thought-provoking prose.

[2] “An Unfinished Life” (2005)

by Mark Eckel

What do we do with unseen pain? How do we adjust to cruelties we must bear alone? What toll does resentment take from a person’s willingness to take another step, to live another day? Will we accept that the destination to life’s highway may take us down back roads before we come back to pavement again? When will we learn lessons right in front of us, waiting for application?

Bearing with pain, coping with searing loss, Robert Redford’s movie explains how to live the rest of “An Unfinished Life.” Director Lasse Hallstrom (whose films include “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” “Chocolat,” and “Cider House Rules”) digs again beneath the surface, exposing the history of lives etched with fractured pain. The story rides along sentimental rails,[1] allowing Hallstrom to bring the train to station with little effort. Yet it is sometimes simple sentiment that lifts us. The ending may be formulaic but which of us hopes the finale won’t apply to us?

Viewers who understand abusive relationships will identify with Jean (Jennifer Lopez) as she seeks to escape one set of harms by running back to embrace old injuries. Einar (Robert Redford) is an unyielding flint of a man reopening past wounds daily to bath in their depressive spirits. Moral center in the cast is Mitch (Morgan Freeman). Freeman’s role reprises other “learned sage” credits (Robin Hood, Sum of All Fears, Seven, etc.) Bearing physical scars which ripple through his body, Mitch is able to look beyond the pain to spiritual release. The subtle inroads only a grandchild can manufacture are paved by child star talent Becca Gardner as Griff, Jean’s daughter.

One would flinch to call Einar’s ranch a “home” to this rag-tag crew of misfits. Key to all relationships is that of Mitch with Einar. The restrained, yet forceful Western code of personal involvement in another’s life slowly soothes a raging spirit. It takes the intrusion of old hurts, however, to make the healing process complete. Einar lives with regret. While the town has learned to live with Einar. Einar has yet to learn how to live with himself. Unable, unwilling to cross over his personal anger, he wallows in the memory of a past that cannot be changed. Ritualistically, daily Einar sits by a graveside, speaking to “What if?” instead of “What is?”

Guilt crushes spirit and sinew under the Wyoming sun but forgiveness has universal healing properties. Morgan Freeman delivers a line in another of his cinematic triumphs, The Shawshank Redemption, whose application serves well here: “Either get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.” Time will go on with or without us. Human choice to overcome past pain is the only way to keep on living. The lone question left to answer for the viewer is will we allow others to apply suave to places we cannot reach? PG-13 for profanity, violence, suggestive dialogue, and adult situations.

[1] Mark Spragg, author of the novel, An Unfinished Life, wrote the screenplay with his wife Virginia whose therapist background invades the script. Thankfully, seasoned actors rise above easy-answer-pop-psychology to wrest redemption from the reversals of life’s wrestling match.

Dr. Eckel is Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, Indiana. His website, warpandwoof.org is filled with thought-provoking prose.

[1] “Gran Torino” (2008)

Dr. Mark Eckel

I hope Clint Eastwood never stars in another movie. “Capstone” to a career is not a fair depiction of the credits due his name for “Gran Torino.” For a man whose signature ideal throughout most of his film career has been justice, individual sacrifice to attain rightfulness is the ultimate exclamation point.

It has been a long time since I have been so smitten by a film or its lead’s performance. Walt Kowalski (Eastwood), his Ford truck, Michigan factory neighborhood, and his American pride are not what they seem. Like all of us, there is more to us than meets the eye. I have heard and read the negative responses to “Gran Torino.” They are all wrong. Some have ridiculed the cast for its immaturity; newcomers who have no acting experience. Nonsense! Who better to play everyday people than everyday people? Others are concerned that racial epithets spill into every scene. Like those who want to quarantine Huckleberry Finn I have only one response: if you have no concerns over “Jesus” being a profanity in every scene, chill out. Every racial group jilts every other, rather than a categorical repudiation of one specific ethnicity. Still more do not like even the hint of vengeance: weapons are no answer to violence. My response: y’all need to leave your gated communities. And then there are those who think this a heavy handed sermon. Those who think they are being preached to have not been reading The New York Times or The Washington Post, who believe the last six months of White House press releases are to be taken as real news coverage.

I can’t help but think that Clint’s Libertarian political views rise closer to the surface in this movie based on these baseless attacks. That the freedom-loving, America-honoring Hmong People are chosen as his character’s foils speaks volumes. There are no frills, only straightforward storytelling in “Gran Torino.” In some senses the facial snarl says it all. Here is a man who has lived a long life, has deep regrets (not the ones we think, either), and bears the emotional scars of real battles. He is impudent, unnervingly angry, and believes everyone else beneath him. By movie’s end everyone believes that “crusty” was only a thin veneer. This “hero” story has been told a hundred times before and we cannot take our eyes off the screen.

A well told tale will be vindicated by open wallets. “Gran Torino” grossed $150 million in theatres. What pleases me about “Gran Torino” is the “enveloping” of the story: the end goes back to the beginning. The Church and Clint’s antipathy toward it drive the tale. There is pleny of faith and learning grist here. If one looks closely at the body of Eastwood’s work, there is sensitivity toward Christianity that should not be missed. The verbal jousting between newly minted priest and uncooperative antagonist creates lesson after lesson. Clint’s symbolic gesture in the climactic scene is a sober moment considering Eastwood’s past movie pedigree. Dirty Harry, William Munny (“Unforgiven”), and Frankie Dunn (“Million Dollar Baby”) share their sense of justice with Kowalski. But as Walt says, “nothing’s fair.” We need to learn that getting justice may only be won by giving ourselves. Rated R for constant racial epithets, pervasive profanity, and violence. Rated R for constant racial epithets, pervasive profanity, and violence.

Dr. Mark Eckel is Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Crossroads Bible College. He has been a Clint Eastwood fan ever since “Dirty Harry.” Dr. Eckel’s website is warpandwoof.org.    

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