The top two movies in the U.S.A. this weekend both feature African-Americans prominently. The R-rated one about rap music (‘Straight Outta Compton‘) raked in $13 million at the box office. The PG-rated one, about an upper middle-class broken marriage and the power of prayer, brought in $11 million.
“War Room” features no movie stars, no sex, no violence, no cursing — nothing but theaters full of people with Kleenex in their hands, and joy in their hearts.
CONFESSION: I thought the preview was weak, and I didn’t want to see it. I told my wife of my disinterest roughly 37 times. But I like holding hands with my bride, and said I’d see whatever film she wanted if I could sit next to her. Glad I did. Went back to see it a second time. Destroyed half a pack of tissues…again. My older teen boys saw it with us, and they liked it too.
“War Room” connects so well with audiences, beyond its Christian base, because nearly everyone has experienced difficulties in marriage.
You could call “War Room” a counter-culture film. It defies the conventional wisdom that urges the offended spouse to find her own happiness, free from the offensive one. It even offers a twist on the stories about women fighting for their marriages. Compared with the gritty spectacle of “Straight Outta Compton,” it’s actually “War Room” that brings the more shocking statement.
Elizabeth and Tony Jordan, and daughter Danielle, live what appears to be a charmed life, with the accoutrements of wealth from Tony’s job as a pharmaceutical salesman, and Elizabeth’s real estate work. But we quickly learn this marriage is in trouble from obsession with career, disagreements over spending, general isolation, temptations to infidelity and other forms of selfishness. But when Elizabeth meets Miss Clara, an elderly woman who’s selling her home, their lives take an astounding turn.
The tale of Cinderella has been retold, directly or indirectly, countless times in recent years, but something just happened to it that I would not believe if I had not seen it.
The latest rendition, released in theaters this past weekend, tells the story with delightful charm, breathtaking beauty, squeaky-clean morality and — most surprising in this age of sly sarcasm — “without a hint of irony.”
That last phrase I stole from another princess film — Enchanted — which was, phrase notwithstanding, rich in irony (as well as terrific humor and great music).
With Cinderella (2015), director Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz have done the almost unimaginable. They’ve displayed sincere affection between a prince and a servant girl, without post-modern angst or politically correct messaging.
In a word, they made a “Disney movie” the likes of which I feared had faded to black with each year since Walt’s passing.
If there is any seemingly obligatory commentary about the role of women, gender equality, and the impossible dream of true love, it’s among the bitter on Twitter, not in the film.
Perhaps more shocking than the genuine and chaste love between the prince and Cinderella is the sincere respect, love and admiration between the prince and his father, the king, as the son struggles to balance his love for the mysterious maiden, with his desire to honor his father. Most men yearn for a such a relationship with their boys.
Fairy tales were meant to sweep us from our mundane lives, captivate our hearts, lift our spirits and make us dream again. This Cinderella does all of that better than anything I’ve seen since Beauty and the Beast (1991).
When you watch the great Exodus story, the hero is usually the guy who leads his people out of slavery in Egypt by the mighty hand of God. Pharaoh is the antagonistic oppressor who refuses to grant liberty to the slaves.
So, how can it be that at the end of the new movie Exodus: Gods and Kings I wept for Pharaoh, and felt virtually nothing for Moses or “his people”?
Perhaps I should start by saying that it’s actually an entertaining movie with epic battle and chase scenes, convincing special effects and fine acting.
That said, my lovely bride reviewed it (perhaps damned it) in three words: “Better than Noah.”
Christian Bale does deliver a more nuanced and dynamic Moses than Russell Crowe’s ark-maker. It would be difficult to do otherwise.
I’m glad I saw the film, though, as usual, I’m hampered by my knowledge of the underlying historical account. I’ll confess, with pleasure, that Exodus takes fewer liberties with the Biblical text than Noah did. My faint praise will not show up in ads for the movie.
Cleaving closer to the Biblical text is not just better for Bible-believers like me, but for all audience members. The actual Biblical account is more compelling and believable than what most screenwriters can imagine. The Bible itself simply makes for a better movie, because it’s honest about both God and man, enhancing empathy and heightening dramatic tension. The mystery to me is why an adaptive screenwriter or director would squander such excellent source material and supplant it with inferior variations.
Exodus director Ridley Scott seems committed to letting the audience wonder who the villain is — often suggesting, through the mouth of Moses, that it may be God himself. It certainly isn’t Pharaoh Ramses — the loving father, gentle husband, and protective brother to Moses.
I just read Atlas Shrugged. It was my third attempt in 20 years. It took me five weeks of fierce determination. If you’ve mulled reading the book, I may be able to add precious days to your span on this mortal coil. (WARNING: The rest of this little essay is pure, unalloyed spoiler.)
Dagny Taggart runs a transcontinental railroad company. Dagny is slim, elegant, bold. In her spare time, she’s writing a 1,168-page novel in which she has sex with three different slim, elegant, bold men. She’s not a slut, mind you, nor horny as a rabbit during the rut.
No, she has sex with each man because she agrees with his philosophy, best summarized thus: I am the most important being in the universe, and my pleasure is the goal of the universe, so leave me alone.
Dagny has sex in her youth with Francisco D’Anconia, heir to an historic copper fortune and the richest man on earth, who’s also writing a 1,168-page novel.
Dagny has sex repeatedly with Hank Rearden, a rich (unhappily married) steel magnate, who, in his spare time, is writing a 1,168-page novel.
And finally, Dagny has sex with John Galt, the most interesting man in the world (who’s not pushing Dos Equis), but who IS writing an 1,168-page novel which, like the others’, contains a mix of economics, philosophy, daily news and sex. It’s basically the Huffington Post, in book form.
Galt has worked as a laborer for Dagny’s company for 12 years, in the same building as she, though Dagny doesn’t know it. In his spare time, Galt works to shut down the economy of the entire world by getting a handful of effective producers to abandon their life’s work and to defect to Galt’s Gulch, an idyllic hideaway in the mountains.
Is it just coincidence that each svelte, ingenious, wealthy member of this foursome has all of this amazing perfect sex while running his or her massive business, and writing a 1,168-page novel?
No, not coincidence: It’s Ayn Rand.
Miss Rand (whose first name is pronounced any way you please) is the author of a 1,168-page novel called Atlas Shrugged. She’s her own inspiration for each of these characters. So, in a very real sense, Atlas Shrugged is about a svelte genius who wants to be left alone, to fantasize about an industrial Utopia while having sex with herself.
We lived in a house in the woods when I unwrapped the large, flat Christmas present. I just stared, then looked up at Stephanie, her eyes twinkling to shame Santa. I cradled a copy of the screenplay for The Princess Bride, with the autographs of all the actors.
“That’s for the whole family,” she said.
At night, we’d all pile in bed — my bride, my two young boys, and Haleigh, who was perhaps 10 at the time. She read the part of Buttercup. I did all of the other characters, with appropriate voices.
“Now this did happen once upon a time
when things were not so complex.”
— Mark Knopfler, “Storybook Love” (from The Princess Bride)
Cary Elwes, the immortal Westley from the classic film, handles the story like a grandfather with a new baby — with the kind of care that inspired William Goldman to write the story for his daughters, and with the joyful love with which Rob Reiner brought it to the screen.That’s probably why I was so moved these last two days while reading As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
There’s no good reason why a man of 53 years should puddle up every page or two when reading about movie making, but I did. It was jarring to discover how much The Princess Bride means to me. I rejoiced in the fun, and the love, and the devotion to excellence poured into this film like ingredients into a family cookie recipe.
As You Wish lets you see your favorite movie through the eyes of a then-23-year-old actor whose career, and whose life, it would change forever. But it’s also seasoned with production photos and remembrances from Reiner, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Christopher Sarandon, Billy Crystal and Carol Kane among others. André the Giant, who played Fezzik (a giant), passed away in 1993, but his legacy lives on in every chapter of this book.
It reads like a fairy tale about the making of a fairy tale — that is to say, it’s funny, and touching, and thrilling and, yes, magical.
If you’re a Bible-believing Jesus-loving American like me, I hereby officially absolve you from the guilt of staying as far away from the theater as possible during the inevitably short run of the new adaptation of Left Behind.
I also grant a special dispensation, if you’ve already seen the movie, from any inner compulsion you feel to “say something nice” as a passive way of encouraging Hollywood to make more “Christian” or “Biblical” or “values-based” films, or for fear of being judged by those who thought it was “awesome and super-Biblical.”
I further grant you absolute forgiveness for your previous Facebook posts in which you gushed about your eagerness to see Nicolas Cage in Left Behind, and speculated about his spiritual condition.
How can I grant such merciful forgiveness? I have personally borne the burden for you, and by my $10.25, you are saved… from spending your $10.25.
Unlike you, Left Behind remains unforgiven.
While the movie purports to be about “the rapture” — the sudden vanishing of all Jesus-believers from the face of the earth (and the cabins of aircraft) — I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching another Zucker & Abrahams Airplane movie. I kept expecting Leslie Nielsen to pop into the flight deck to deadpan, “I just want to tell you both, good luck. We’re all counting on you.”
If I were more faithful to the doctrine of Frozen, I would merely let it go…let it go. But I feel mystically drawn to record my impressions here — drawn as a moth to the Mothra.
Here’s the problem: Left Behind is a bad movie.
Because this experience is so rare, not only did I visit TellTheBell.com to answer their customer-service survey — something I never do — but I just came in from the mailbox (yes, the snail-mail box) where I placed this letter, and put up the red flag for the postman. I share it with you now, as I would a visit to a fine museum, an inspiring concert, or a thrilling spectator sport.
Taco Bell 022872, 11829 Abrams Rd., Dallas, TX 75243
To the Manager,
I had such an experience at your restaurant drive-through yesterday, I had to take a moment to let you know. Over the years, I have worked in customer service, in restaurants, in sales and in customer-service training. My family frequently visits Taco Bell and other fast-food places.
But yesterday was far and away the finest drive-through experience I have had…even better than Chik-fil-A, which was the previous standard-bearer.
Laquiata H. (as her name appears on my receipt), greeted me through the speaker with a clear and cheerful voice. She immediately let me know that she was ready to serve when I was ready to order, no hurry. This little touch I found immediately endearing and comforting. Drive-throughs always feel rushed, menus are complicated and, if you don’t have perfect vision, difficult to read. (BTW, the small type on yours meant that we had to read the choices aloud to my wife in the passenger seat, inevitably fouling your speed stats.)
Laquiata was an island of peace and happiness in a hectic day. When we got to the window, she greeted us with a smile. When she handed us our food, she repeated the order clearly to eliminate errors. That little gesture made me feel like she really cared about us, and wanted us to have a terrific experience.
I don’t know if you realize how extraordinary this is in your industry. I have come to loathe drive-throughs, with their squawk boxes, fast-talking, inarticulate automatons, and frequent errors. Most folks in this line of work seem more concerned with getting rid of you, than with serving you.
Please convey my gratitude to Laquiata, and the support team that made it possible for her to be the voice and face of joyful welcome.
She singled-handedly turned a commodity into a work of art.
One of the things that makes America great is folks like Laquiata, who bring this attitude to work each day.
Capitalism, after all, isn’t about prices, and markets, and margins, and finance.
It’s about people, and beauty, and emotion, and excellence, and human need, and joy, and love and liberty.
All of that other stuff is just mechanism.
This is heart.
This is real.
My family just moved from Pennsylvania to Texas, and we employed a professional moving company to load, drive and unload the 18-wheel truck. In the course of doing so, we learned 7 secrets of highly effective moving absolutely essential to your next move — secrets the pros don’t want you to know!
I should probably make a DVD about this and sell it to you, rather than just give away this valuable information. However, since you’re someone I don’t know at all, and because making a DVD is hard and takes too long, I decided to share these secrets with you for FREE. (Read that last sentence again! It might contain a typo. I wrote this quickly and didn’t proofread before posting.)
1. Don’t Get a Professional Estimate.
You may have read elsewhere that you should get a pro estimate, and then sign a contract with a company that will stick to the estimate. Only the latter is important. The key to an affordable move is to get the least experienced estimator to visit your home and make a bid on the job. Call a reputable mover, and ask for a guy who shaves weekly, drives a field-beater with floorboards covered in discarded “5-Hour Energy” bottles, and who voted for Obama (or meant to).
In our case, the rookie guessed the total weight of our household goods at 12,000 lbs. On moving day, the men who actually loaded the 53-foot-long truck discovered that we had a full-scale replica of the Space Shuttle in our basement, our mattresses were filled with clay, and one of the boxes in my office was marked “Dark Matter.” The jittery juvenile estimator also failed to examine the contents of our fallout shelter/survival bunker, missing all the ammo boxes, gold bullion, barrels of freeze-dried food, and steel drums of non-hybrid yam seeds. The actual weight of the load turned out to be greater than the estimate by roughly 473%. But the invoice, as promised, matched the estimate. The moving company has since filed for Chapter 11 protection.
Bought the book in the morning. Finished it in the afternoon. Literally could not put it down.
That may sound odd when you learn that I’m a 52-year-old father of four and I’m talking about a nonfiction book written by a geeky teenaged girl about her efforts to become popular. But it’s weirder than that: I actually had to reach for the Kleenex more than a time or two.
In Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek, Maya Van Wagenen, 15, lives and writes an engaging adventure — a social experiment, in which she tries to apply the lessons of “Betty Cornell’s Teenage Popularity Guide,” which her Dad found in a thrift store. Maya manages to bring precocious insight into the human condition through a fun, often dramatic, personal story.
Did you ever wish you could go back to high school knowing what you do now about human nature? Maya actually does it, but as a middle-schooler willing to test out principles of grooming, attire and attitude tailored for 1951. And she doesn’t update them. She lives out the vintage popularity guide as written.
How could paleolithic advice about makeup, girdles and etiquette survive the onslaught of feminism and political correctness? Quite well actually — surprisingly well. But ultimately, what Maya learns has little to do with superficial attractiveness. It really gets at the core of why some people seem to naturally attract friends, and have more fun, while others live lives of quiet desperation.
It’s easy to understand why this book, out since April 15, has already been optioned for a movie. I hope that the studio realizes that this is much more than a story of teenage angst — that it has broad appeal, and deep meaning.
In its opening weekend, it grossed more than it cost to make. On the revenue-per-screen rankings it beat the Amazing Spider-Man 2, coming in second only to the R-rated comedy Neighbors, which stars Zac Efron and Seth Rogen.
Moms’ Night Out (PG) is a feel-good comedy about a harried young mother who just needs a little time away. It offers no hot superstars — unless you count Samwise Gamgee and “Everybody Loves Raymond’s” wife in supporting roles. (Granted, Sarah Drew played the Christian doctor on “Grey’s Anatomy,” but that’s not silver screen, and virgins are so not hot in Hollywood.)
The movie was shot in the glamorous state of Alabama, around Birmingham. Rotten Tomatoes says the critics find it “cheap-looking, unfunny and kind of sexist to boot…a disappointment from start to finish.” Despite the critics wisdom, 85% of the audience liked it. Why?
In a word: relatability.
Ok, I’m pretty sure that’s not a word, but it’s a thing.
For the vast majority of Americans, traditional family life connects. Unlike the typical Hollywood production, this film features husbands who faithfully love their wives, women who love to be mothers, people who attend church regularly (not just show up in an empty darkened sanctuary when they’re suicidal, on the lam or searching for Knights Templar treasure). As a bonus, it includes characters who can speak without cursing and cope without drinking.
My lovely bride and I took our teen boys — ages 18 and 15 — to see Mom’s Night Out. I laughed and cried. (I blame Trace Adkins for the weeping.) As we climbed the steps to the top of the theatre, I remember thinking, “Look, two parents with two older teenaged boys going to a movie together!” Our younger son liked it so much he took his 19-year-old sister to see it the next day.
The folks who made this movie will likely watch the Oscars from their living rooms, out of curiosity…after they put the kids to bed. And that’s just fine. Because they’ve done something special — they’ve bonded emotionally with the people who do the most important work in the country, and with those of us who admire our wives, mothers and grandmas.
Watch the trailer on the next page.