How do you make a ship to save animals in a massive flood? The Bible has specific instructions, which Darren Aronofsky followed in making his ark for Noah. Take a look:
How do you make a ship to save animals in a massive flood? The Bible has specific instructions, which Darren Aronofsky followed in making his ark for Noah. Take a look:
Plenty of people want to make movies about the Bible. I hear pitches constantly to draw attention to this Bible project or that faith movie. But only a few have the experience to create a professional result and the connections to distribute them on a wide scale. Roma Downey and Mark Burnett are just such a couple, trading on their decades of success in Hollywood to create The Bible miniseries that astonished Hollywood with its high ratings and the new Son of God movie hitting theaters this week. And they’ve got more projects in the works.
I sat down with Downey and Burnett, with two other reporters, in a hotel in Washington, DC. Literally as the first question was asked, a fire alarm forced us into the snowy January day.
They could not have been better sports. Burnett led us to a bagel shop across the street, offering bagels to everyone, and they both chatted there in the booth like old friends meeting for lunch. One thing was very clear: They both love The Bible project and feel lucky to be able to work on it. They brim with excitement about it. It’s a passion project, one they’re delighted is having the success it is enjoying.
Here’s our conversation:
When did you first decide to turn the footage from the miniseries into a feature film?
RD: We had an editor on set with us, each week we’d look at rough assemblies. As the Jesus narrative was unfolding on the screen, I said to Mark, I wish we had been making a film because this is so beautiful. It’s spectacular and really deserves to be on the big screen. We decided there and then we would to that as well.
MB: With no clue of how we would possibly get the thing in the movie theaters. But we just knew….we’re very blessed with our careers, so we knew we could afford to get the movie made and somehow we’d certainly get it in a couple of theaters.
RD: At the very least we could do special event screenings. Not even really daring to dream that it would become what it has become with 20th Century Fox.
So you were filming with both a miniseries and a feature film in mind.
MB: Yes. Just because we thought it looked so great and Roma said it should be on the big screen. It took us a year in edits to figure out how to do this in only two hours. When we saw it, we realized this is really emotionally connecting. It just flies by with the pacing. Of course, it came true. It’s literally coming out 2/28 in three thousand theaters. What’s great, people who are seeing this who have gone to church their whole lives, pastors, theologians, who say, “I’ve never thought of these details.” These moments, you know, when Peter gets out of the boat, when Jesus walks on water, what are the other disciples thinking? “Peter, what are you doing? What are you doing? You’re going to drown!”
RD: We just decided to tell the story with drama, with the occupying Roman forces at that time, Pharisees led by Caiaphis, the disciples led by Jesus, on this collision course…On one hand I think the film plays like a political thriller. On the other, I know it plays like a love story. The greatest love story there ever was.
Please tell us about filming the crucifixion scene.
RD: It was the most intense scene in the entire picture. It took us three days to film it. It was challenging not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. And I think that everybody who was present was deeply impacted by the scene. The challenges that we had to put an actor up on a cross and we needed to make sure the cross is bolted to the ground. There were high winds one afternoon. There was intense sunshine on the second day. We had to figure out how we were going to get him up and down off the cross. We had to build a platform. How long could we keep him on the cross? How could he balance on the cross? There were many many rehearsals and we had different people up on the cross. It was the most moving thing for all of us was just to imagine what the whole experience must have been… I have have considered the cross my whole life but I never fully considered what his mother must have been. To be the mother of Jesus, to see your son so brutally murdered in such a way. I know that she was the mother of the Son of God, but she was also the mother of a son. So, yeah, all I could do was to bring a heart of a mother to it. I’m a mother myself. We know all the disciples except for John were not present so the courage of his mother and of Mary to remain with him, to be there for him, you know? We also know Jesus only said seven things from the cross and one of those was to take time to look after his mother and make sure she was ok. Which of course says so much about him as well.
Did you imagine as you started out in Hollywood that you would do this? What does it take to get to the place to be able to do a project like this?
MB: Roma had intended to come here to act with National Theater of Ireland, and took a job to pay the rent as a coat check girl in Manhattan. My first job was as a housekeeper slash nanny in Beverly Hills, as a servant for $125 a week. So, cut to where we are now, it’s America. If you think of what we are doing now, only in America is this possible. In terms of making this film and the series, if it wouldn’t have been for Touched by an Angel and The Voice and Survivor and The Apprentice and Shark Tank, I don’t think we would have the leverage to have gotten this made. I know that’s true. It’s certainly gave us an entry point to getting it made so therefore you can look at things happen for a reason. It’s for such a time as this that we met and two careers.
If you also think back, interestingly enough, we both had huge success on CBS, so the only show that was really beating Survivor?
Touched by an Angel.
Does that come up a lot in your house?
MB (laughing): Beaten by Roma.
What can you tell us about your upcoming projects, AD and The Dovekeepers?
MB: We absolutely had thought to write the outline for AD while in Morocco [as they filmed The Bible] because we’re living in the environment and thinking, boy, how did 12 guys take down Rome? Because really, wouldn’t it have been obvious that Jesus crucified, resurrects, there starts to become problems around the growing of realizing the son of god has been on earth … strange they didn’t just kill them all and just get rid of it that way.They weren’t exactly above killing everybody, were they? They crucified 500 people a day at one point. But it’s amazing you look at the four groups, the disciples, the Herod family who were insane, literally insane, the Romans who just wanted to keep peace and collect taxes, and the temple authorities who were literally battling against the people of the way and Rome at one time, it led to 40 years later, the temple finally falls, right? So that’s AD, AD is really through the line of Acts through Revelation, built around a huge drama about what was going on. By the way, it’s an amazing amount of church leaders who said to us, well, that’s a really important story because no one has really considered that much what they really went through.
And then Dovekeepers takes place actually, it starts, at the destruction (of the temple).
RD: Clearly we love this period of time and stories that show the triumph of human spirit in spite of the terrible times they were living through. And both stories have that as the heartbeat. Dovekeepers is a beautiful novel written by Alice Hoffman. In fact we’ve just gotten our first draft outline of the screenplay today, so we’re eager to get to read that, we’ll probably do that on the flight back. And it’s a great story that’s going to be a four hour miniseries, a special event miniseries on screen 2015 on CBS. And AD, we have a 12 hour commitment from NBC to make that series and we’re hoping that will be an ongoing series, that it won’t just be a one-off.
Is it through Revelation or does it go past, does it go into the early church fathers?
MB: Revelation is 95, ok? around 80, 90, 95 [AD]. We planned to get to 70 as the temple falls, however, like with everything on TV, I’m about to make season 29 and 30 of Survivor.
MB: If people are watching, it could absolutely go on. We’ve really thought of taking it to AD 337. You know what happens then, right?
MB (Laughing): You passed. Your teacher would be so happy.
I gotta tell you, I’m fascinated by the early church history. I would love to see that.
MB: You’d have passed that test.
I was in Italy this summer, so I had a little cheat.
RD: Did you see the Pietá?
RD: You know the moment when we have Jesus dropped, lowered down from the cross, we wanted to pay homage to Michelangelo’s Pietá, the camera lingers for just a moment when Jesus is placed in his mother’s arms. It’s a beautiful statue that’s in Rome that is Mary holding the dead Jesus in her arms and Michelangelo, it’s the only statue he ever signed. He signed it because he really felt it was inspired by God.
On Sunday, December 26, 2004 – you probably remember – a powerful earthquake caused a tsunami that, suddenly and without warning, ended the lives of 230,000 people in a few minutes. Before that, a cyclone whiped out 500,000 in Bangladesh. After, the Haiti earthquake killed 139,000. And so it goes, all the way back to Pompeii, to Noah.
We think we have control of our destiny, but our lives can end in a second, with an earthquake or a sinkhole or a misstep on the sidewalk.
This is the story of Noah. It is dark and horrifying.
Noah is the story of judgement, of a God who exterminated all but a tiny fragment of humanity in a devastating flood.
People wonder how a loving God could do such a thing, but as I learn more of the world, I marvel that He holds back his hand. When I think of a nine year old girl chained to a bed and forced into sexual slavery in Thailand, when I think of the suffering in North Korea, of little boys forced to carry guns and kill in Sudan, I think maybe a mass judgement isn’t such a bad idea.
Judgement carries the promise of justice, of freedom for that girl, of justice for that boy. Things being set straight.
When we think of Noah, though, we frame it as a story of redemption.
Why do we Christians usually place ourselves on the ark, as God’s faithful servant escaping His wrath as he brings judgement on the world?
We’re on God’s side. We, rightly, escape. Such assurance in our own righteousness.
But we are more likely to be the people who mock, who carry on with our lives, who scoff at the idea of getting on the ship, who wonder what those odd animals are doing but not enough to truly search, and who writhe in the water as it covers our heads.
We are all under judgement. We all live under the crest of the tsunami, ten seconds prior to the earthquake, the week before the flood.
The Biblical story we paint in cute sunshiny rainbows on nursery walls and teach to our children in sing-song.
The Lord told Noah there’s going to be a floody, floody.
Get those animals out of the muddy, muddy.
This is a story we would rather fit on a nursery wall than consider in its rawness. It is a story we would rather clap our hand to than hold our hands over our eyes weeping. Safer that way.
It is a story of our own death, our own peril under the inevitable hand of justice, the unrelenting hand of judgement, the hand that will come whether we die in our beds at a ripe age or on a normal September Tuesday in the Twin Towers.
This is what we cavalierly talk about when we talk about Noah.
It is also a story of a surviving. We frame this as victory, and it is, but it is a hard and heavy victory. When you speak to the ones who clung to a balcony as the water swirled around and claimed others, who walked out of the towers just before they fell, who sat on the right side of the airplane, they say, they know two things.
One, there was no particular reason they survived. They were not faster or smarter or stronger or better or more worthy.
Secondly, there was a reason they survived. God had a plan. A purpose for saving them.
They generally say this with a sense of heaviness, a Saving Private Ryan sense of burden. Even a touch of PTSD. When you carry the weight of those who died, you carry it forever. You carry it uneasily. We once knew this in the aftermath of World Wars, but most of us have forgotten.
This is also what we talk about when we talk about Noah. Responsibility that is unbearable. Memories that are searing. Trauma that is unexplainable. Carrying on after the unimaginable. No reason to boast. Only to fall on our knees.
No wonder the man drank. He was only human, which is to say weak and inadequate.
I am glad a director with the insight and dark vision of Darren Aronofsky has taken on this story. It needs to be removed from nursery walls. It needs to be de-stuffed-animalized. It needs to be woken up.
I trust the vision of a director of Black Swan, somehow, more than those of us who sing:
The sun came out and dried up the landy landy….
Everything was fine and dandy, dandy.
It was not fine. It was not dandy.
This is what we talk about. This is Noah.
You have not seen Noah.
No one has seen Noah, except perhaps Aronofsky himself. It’s not finished yet. (Although an early version was shown to test audiences, yes.)
Yet, the self-appointed forces of Biblical Orthodoxy are coming out against it.
Just because, you know….Bible.
As Peter Chattaway posted, the same PR firm that campaigned for Duck Dynasty during the recent Culture War moment is now riling the faithful up against Aronofsky’s Noah, a MOVIE NO ONE HAS SEEN.
They use this shockingly, horrifyingly, embarrassingly leading question:
“As a Faith Driven Consumer, are you satisfied with a Biblically themed movie – designed to appeal to you – which replaces the Bible’s core message with one created by Hollywood?”
When the respondent inevitably answers “no,” the poll result is taken as a hit against the film WHICH NO ONE HAS SEEN.
No wonder Hollywood wants to steer clear of faith audiences. With crazy stunts like this, who can blame them?
It’s just embarrassing. The movie may be good, it may be bad, it most likely is a mix.
It may challenge our cute, fuzzy understanding of the story. It may even challenge our faith.
That’s what art is supposed to do.
And, let me tell you, “Faith Driven Consumers,” if you associate the story of Noah with adorable animals smiling under a sunny rainbow, you’re reading the story wrong. It’s the story of one man, one single man, chosen with his wife and descendants, to survive a mass extinction. It’s dark, horrible judgement and a story with which believers should wrestle.
Not one they should put up on a nursery wall.
If you’re ok with a simplistic, two-sentence explanation of the Noah story, you’re hiding from the deeper, darker, richer, and ultimately life-giving aspects of the Bible.
But whether the story follows our unchallenged idea of what “Biblically accurate” is, whether it actually goes against the Christian faith (Aronofsky is Jewish, and they had the story first), or whether it is exactly what you’ve always imagined…..
We just don’t know.
So stop fighting against something we don’t know about yet.
You’re embarrassing me as a Christian believer.
If you want to know more about the Noah movie, we’ve been covering it extensively.
image: Gustav Dore woodcut h/t Dave Lilley
She loved mightily, trusted beautifully and inspired millions.
Now the world’s most famous nun will be coming to a theater near you in 2015, The Wrap reports.
The first ever authorized movie biography about Mother Teresa, tentatively titled I Thirst, will be written by screenwriter Keir Pearson. Pearson was nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay for Hotel Rwanda.
“Keir’s presentation and his Oscar nominated script of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ and his sensitive script for ‘Chavez’ (the upcoming movie about Cesar Chavez) made him the perfect choice,” explained [head of Flame Ventures Tony] Krantz. “’I Thirst’ is the first and only authorized film about the life of Mother Teresa on the big screen. We couldn’t be more excited for this movie about a woman who stood for total commitment, faith, charity and love.”
Current plans call for Pearson to complete his research trip in Kolkata, India and Tijuana, Mexico during the next month and begin writing by the end of February. “We’re eager to get this story to the global audience,” said producer Jamey Volk.
Read the full story here.
This begs the question….who would you pick to play Mother Teresa?
Nothing quite encapsulates America’s ambiguity, discomfort, and pride in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the true stories of soldiers home from the field.
Lone Survivor, a story of a factual anti-Taliban mission gone wrong in the hills of Afghanistan, is based on the memoir of the same name. It is gripping and powerful, although hard to watch, and can stand alongside powerful movies like Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker, and the Somali mission movie Blackhawk Down.
As the spearhead of a larger mission to take out a top Taliban commander, the military drops four Navy SEALs into a rugged, rural, mountainous part of Afghanistan: Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg, who also produced the film), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster).
They four warriors are hidden on a deserted mountainside waiting for the next step in their exquisitely planned mission when unpredictable Afghanistan strikes. A band of goat herders stumble on their hiding place.
The highly trained SEALs have no problem taking the three goat herders into custody, but the question of what to do with them is harder. The old man and young boy are clearly no immediate threat, but the teenage boy seethes with a rage that needs no translation. They know without speaking the language that his freedom would mean their exposure to the Taliban militia in the valley below.
With communication gear on the blink and no means to detain the herders, they must decide what to do.
What would you do?
As an American, as a soldier, as a man or woman who must answer to your own conscience?
Their decision, as Americans, as soldiers, and as men who must answer to their own consciences, to release the group unleashes a hornet-swarm of Taliban on them, leading to disastrous results.
The bulk of the film follows the brave, brutal, and relentless battle that ensues as the superiorly trained and outfitted SEALs fend off seemingly limitless mountain warriors and wait for rescue. The stakes are desperate, the acts of courage bold, the blood and gore difficult to watch. Director Peter Berg does not turn away from the minute-by-minute pain these characters experience, from the early loss of a finger to a bullet to the mental confusion of a wounded man who has taken blows to the head. The camera lingers, it wants us to see, to feel, to know what these men have sacrificed for us.
This strong, bloody violence and salty language of soldiers gives the film an R rating. There is no sexuality. It is intense. It is not appropriate for children younger than teens and you should think twice about whether your teen is ready to be exposed to this level of reality.
The resolution of the film is, in part, in the title. However, the power of the film is in that it makes you feel each American death keenly, as well as the pain, grit, and strength of perseverance that makes each man sell his life dearly for his brothers in arms, for his country, and for the unknown Afghan people the Taliban oppress.
The ending has a true-life twist which will surprise the audience as much as the soldier to whom it happens and will help us appreciate the murky and complicated war in which we still find ourselves.
If you ponder the events in this film, the war is not as clear cut as the anti-war, “anti-imperialist” leftists stateside would like it to be.
The film, like anyone with a basic understanding of that region, makes a clear distinction between the brutal Taliban and the Afghan citizenry. The extreme fringe of Islamicism is a scary thing, a force that threatens its own countrymen even more than it threatens the West.
With the latest news that Al-Queda has taken Falujah and controls more territory than ever, the film takes on a completely gut-wrenching tone.
What was it all for?
Some critics, those who have never seen a battlefield (nor has this critic) or known a veteran (this critic knows many), will criticize this movie for being too patriotic, too gung-ho. They are wrong. For one thing, the advertisements make it seem more military-recruitment video than it actually is.
But for another, it’s easy to be cynical when one stays in their urban, bluestate, left of center echo chamber repeating that the war is a mistake, pointless, a product of America’s greedy and arrogant bullying.
But the soldiers I know chose to go to this remote part of the world because they believed in the mission, because they believed in America as a force for good and because they believed holding back an evil like totalitarian Islamicism was a valuable goal.
Perhaps that belief has been challenged. Time will tell.
However, this movie reminds us that even self-doubting and self-critical as we are, there is still a difference between us and the extreme, totalitarian forces we fight.
We are Americans. We do not tolerate or condone killing of non-combatants. Yes, I am aware there are troubling instances where we have failed our own values. The prosecutions of and outrage about such events supports my point.
The Taliban doesn’t hesitate.
It is a good thing to see our soldiers, representing our country who, when the stakes could not be higher, chose to uphold the values America holds dear at devastating risk to themselves.
This is something of which we can be proud.
If you can stand the blood, go see this movie.
With the theaters cram-packed full of broody dystopian action (Catching Fire), agonizing Oscar bait (12 Years a Slave) and mindless explosions (lots of things), Nebraska has a different take.
The film starts small, slowly building to deep belly-shaking humor and a warm affection for its Midwestern subjects. Like the road trip that fills the bulk of the story, it’s a ride that feels awkward and even pointless at first, but one you’re sure glad you took by the end.
Saturday Night Live alum Will Forte stretches his acting chops in the lead as a rudderless man-child David Grant, treading water in Billings, Montana. His job selling stereos pays the bills and his Subaru gets him places. When his girlfriend insists they either marry or split, he honestly cannot say which he prefers.
The only unpredictable element of his life is the increasingly senile wanderings of his father Woody (Bruce Dern). Convinced he has actually won a million dollars from the publishing sweepstakes, Woody sets out for Lincoln, Nebraska – by foot no less – to claim his prize.
Repeatedly. He’s chased, bundled into a car, returned home, and watched carefully, only to bolt again at the first opportunity.
He’s a taciturn man, a lifelong alcoholic, and not much of a father. So when David volunteers to drive dad to Nebraska in search of his nonexistent prize, the audience is as baffled as David’s mother by the gesture. But not more baffled than David himself. “Why the hell not,” seems to be the attitude, “Might as well.”
You think you know where this is going: revelations that lead to apologies and forgiveness, a sense of understanding between father and son.
All those things come, in a sense, but via unexpected routes and understated interactions. Somewhere around Hawthorne, Nebraska, they cross the border to utterly sublime and completely ridiculous, a combination that works here. When the family, reunited along with mom and David’s brother Ross (Breaking Bad’s Bob Odenkirk) engages in some cornhusker hijinks, it’s a humor that comes from deep within the characters.
And the audience realizes that, like David, they’re having a good time.
Part of the joy of this film is the way it revels in and relishes the Midwest. One fantastic scene shows elderly brothers, reunited after many years, catching up as only Midwesterners know how: “You still driving that Chevy?”
The casting of bit characters and townspeople, as my friend Nell Minnow pointed out to me, is excellent. Their faces are lined, rutted, friendly. Eyes clear, bright, smiling. Accents with the long vowels recalling days gone by. These are Midwesterners, not some trumped up Hollywood version of fly-over country. Filmed in black and white, which you forget to notice after about two minutes, the camera lovingly caresses the empty fields, long roads, big skies, and workaday buildings of God’s country.
That’s not to say that this movie will appeal to all Midwesterners. Rated R, it has a definite potty mouth. All the characters are grating at first, especially David’s mom Kate, played by June Squibb. She’s loud, angry, bitter, and belittling. One can see why Woody drinks. She’s as crass as Lady Gaga, not afraid to detail the boys who once tried to get into her bloomers, played for great humor coming from her grey-headed, grandmotherly face.
The beauty in this film is that it finds the pathos in the abrasive characters. It’s not that they change, but that David’s – and our – perception of them changes. At the beginning, we only want to escape Kate. By the end, we love her, and Woody too.
It’s not just a story of understanding the person who happened to become one’s father. It’s about embracing family for who they are instead of who we wanted them to be, along the lines of Little Miss Sunshine.
And it’s a story of facing death as well, as Bruce Dern brings us a SOB on his last, great caper. Woody is fading, Dern makes that magnificently clear, but in the fading we see the blaze of the man he is. His final triumph, writ small in the main street of a dying town, has an epic quality.
Plus, it’s quite funny.
You should see it. It’s a love song to ordinary men and the ordinary towns in which they live.
Both cars and women are fully, um, utilized in this movie about Formula One racing, but an even greater love develops over the course of the story: The affection a man feels for his greatest rival.
If there is a general rule of thumb in the movie theater, it would be that movies for men are fast, loud, explosive, and dumb while movies for women are slow, soft, quiet, and, well, also dumb.
Director Ron Howard has made a movie that will appeal more to men than to women, but to say that it’s loud and dumb would be doing it a great disservice.
Dumb, no. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, despite its Formula One race track setting.
Rush tells the true, almost unbelievable story of a great 1970s rivalry between Brit James Hunt and Austrian Nikki Lauda. Equally great on the track, their styles could not be more different off it. Hunt, played with great ease by Chris Hemsworth, is a free-wheelin’, full-throttle kind of guy. He never stops to think about, well, anything. It would ruin his charm.
Lauda, played in a fantastic performance by Daniel Bruhl, comes across as cold, calculated, and unfriendly. He assesses each situation, on the field and off, almost like a math problem. Races as well as relationships are subject to a cost-benefit analysis.
Hunt wouldn’t know a cost-benefit analysis if he hit one like a brick wall at full speed.
There could not be an odder odd couple and yet it is their differences and their intense rivalry that propel each to greater heights than they would have met alone. Even in the wake of a devastating crash, their competition becomes, more than any other factor, the thing that gets them on the track driving on the edge of sanity.
This particularly masculine dynamic is explored at great length in the movie. This is not to say women don’t have rivalries. We certainly do. And yet, there is something very masculine about the idea of a great rival becoming the most important person in someone’s life.
Thomas Edison versus Nikola Tesla
Steve Jobs versus Bill Gates
And Hunt verus Lauda.
Each character starts the story as generally unlikable: Hunt flippant and shallow in his libertine ways, Lauda prickly and unappealing. By the end of the film, however, there is a deep affection for each of them. That Howard does this without resorting to changing the essence of each’s character or overly emotive manipulation is a testament to his skill as well as that of the actors. If anything, each man becomes entrenched even more in his own character, but is softened through the lens of the other.
All this layered story perhaps sounds like the movie is a snoozefest, but it’s not. The engines rev and turn, pulses pound with daring zips and turns, and the pretty ladies keep parading through in various states of undress.
Rated R, the movie candidly shows Hunt’s promiscuous ways, complete with partial female nudity. His habit of bedding every attractive woman he sees is embedded deep in his character and not without its consequences. Contrasted is Lauda’s cautious, almost passionless love that grows into something powerful. There’s plenty of salty language as well and some gruesome crash and medical scenes. In fact, 1970s medical procedures in the hospital were the hardest part of the movie to watch.
This will be a movie women will like and men will love.
It’s nice to see a film for the guys that doesn’t feature anorexic chicks in leather hoisting huge guns or fighting robots destroying metropolises.
Good on you, Ron Howard.
Don’t let the apparent eco-centric nature of Epic scare you off. It’s not at all an Earth-worship movie.
And don’t let the movie blurb title throw you off. (I hear the next sequel is called “The Best Movie Yet” and “Amazing Thrill-ride.”) This film deserves a better name, not to mention better marketing.
Once you get past the preconceived notions, Epic is a surprisingly satisfying movie which appeals to boys, girls and parents. Its story aligns powerfully with a Christian worldview and even at times approaches Narnian levels.
I know that’s a big statement to make and I’m not saying this film is the next The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. It’s not that (excuse me for this) epic.
But the film is delightful and a nice break from that which we so often see.
The story starts when young Mary Katherine comes home to her estranged father’s country cabin following the death of her mother. She’s mourning, looking for support from the parent she no longer knows. But she seems out of luck. He’s a wild professor, a half-hinged crusader whose life work has been to study the tantalizing clues found in the forest: He believes a parallel civilization inhabits the green trees and flowered glens of the woods.
Mary Katherine (voiced by Amada Seyfried), like her mother before her, finds his theories embarrassing and his devotion to them a poor replacement for an attentive father.
“Just because you’ve never seen something doesn’t mean it’s not there,” he continually repeats to MK’s eyerolls.
But, like many mystics, he’s absolutely correct. The forest hides not only a civilization but a raging war. A menace harasses the verdant kindgom inhabited by living flowers, roly-poly mushrooms, and leaf people. Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) spreads mold and decay with his arrows of death. He gathers his minions to eat trees from the inside out, to block the sun, to wither all that is green and lively.
But Mandrake fights a losing war because every time he spreads death throughout a portion of the kingdom, Queen Tara (Beyonce) users her power of life to revive it. No sooner does Mandrake reduce a glen to ashes than Tara’s seedlings and tendrils push through the decay to reach for the sun again.
Her loyal captain at arms is Ronin (Colin Farrell), dedicated to her personally and all she stands for.
But when Mandrake’s most daring attack yet succeeds in felling Tara with a poison arrow, the Queen uses her dying moments to draw MK into their parallel world and charge her with the care of a pod that will become a new queen.
With the help of a snail and a slug (Aziz Ansi and Pitbull), and a handsome but wayward leaf soldier named Nod (Josh Hutcherson), she must help the bud bloom and thrive.
The movie succeeds in having it all: A beautiful, gown-clad fairy princess type for the girls, not to mention flower people and soldiers mounted on humming birds; Courageous, upright, and brave soldiers for the boys, with plenty of derring-do in the offing. There’s plenty of humor, especially from the snail and slug with ambitions beyond their genus.
Rated PG, the film doesn’t have the type of body humor or rude humor that turns parents off, much less buried innuendo. The action sequences are not particularly scary. This is a film that would work for elementary school students.
The images of decay and destruction fighting the powers of life is particularly useful for people of faith. Where evil intends death, life blooms again. It’s the message of the gospel. This is not entirely wishful thinking, I’m guessing, as once character even marvels that MK “risks everything to save a world that is not her own.”
Based on the books The Leaf Men and The Brave Good Bugs by William Joyce, this is the type of movie we so often wish Hollywood would produce more often. Look for most critics (swayed by their innate secularism and addiction to cynicism, poor dears) to pan it. It’s better than they say.
In fact, it’s worth a trip to the theater.
Other than that, it is nice, soft, heroic, and inspiring.
Which is blessing and a curse.
It is a blessing because you can take your kids to see this movie about a great American hero. The whole family can be inspired.
But it is a curse because the great American story of Jackie Robinson deserves a great movie and this isn’t it.
The story of Jackie Robinson isn’t nice. Not nice at all. That’s what makes it great.
Jackie Robinson was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, becoming the first black man to play Major League Baseball. He integrated a sport at the very heart of America’s identity. Along with mother and apple pie, baseball defined what it meant to be American.
Until Jackie Robinson, baseball meant white players in the Major League and African-American players in the Negro League. That was the way things were, the racism forming the everyday life of every American as ubiquitous and generally unquestioned as the air they breathed.
Then, as now, you didn’t go to a baseball game to think about social injustice, poverty, or racism. You went to cheer your team on, to beg for autographs from idolized players, to track the stats and marvel over the crack that sent a ball flying over the fence.
This is exactly why integrating baseball was so important. It functioned at a deeper level than rational thought.
In the film, Dodgers executive Branch Rickey is played by Harrison Ford with guttural country colloquialisms. Partly because of his deep faith and party because, as he says, dollars aren’t black or white, but green, Rickey leads the charge to sign a black player to the Dodgers ranks. The film matter-of-factly portrays his faith and the answering faith of Robinson. Rickey picks Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) as much for his character as for his baseball skill.
The man who integrates baseball must be strong, strong enough to stand up against the rage that will come. He must be courageous. He must be level-headed. Above all, he must play the long game, passing by chances to punish his taunters in physical fights or shouting matches for the ultimate prize of beating them on the field.
With the support of his wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie), Robinson is that man. Turned away from airlines, refused a room at hotels, mocked by other players, jeered by the crowds, Robinson keeps his head down and calmly, deliberately, excellently plays baseball.
That is the beauty of the movie and the story: That one well-placed man, just doing his job, can impact the very soul of a nation.
That is why this is a movie that you can be proud to take your children to, a movie to share and discuss.
And yet, I left the film feeling dissatisfied.
Last year, Steven Spielberg brought another great American story to the big screen. Lincoln, like 42, told the story of a great man in a time that needed him.
I left Lincoln feeling not only that I knew the story, but that I knew the man. And even more that that: The movie contained questions left unanswered, a level of cinematic poetry that touched beyond its story to the core of humanity.
In the fine, very nice movie 42, you leave knowing the story and a bit about the man, but there are still depths to plumb and poetry to bring to life. We need to know more than the story. We need to know what it felt like to be denied access to a bathroom or a seat on a plane. We need to understand the unconscious ugliness of post war race relations.
And as much as I wanted it to, 42 did not reach those heights.
It’s a shame because there are no American stories greater than those of Jackie Robinson and heroes like him. Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., just to name a few, are great Americans and their stories deserve to be told every bit as well as Lincoln and his ilk.
It’s been a while since a bloom of great movies about African-Americans, since Roots mesmerized us on TV and Boyz n the Hood on the silver screen, since Malcolm X, Ray, Do the Right Thing, and Glory. We need African-American directors with the skill and passion to make us feel them, make us know, help us understand our shared history.
I liked 42, but I’d like to see it done again, perhaps not PG-13, deeper, more bothersome, richer, more true.