Tag Archives: Movie Review

WHAT TO SEE: Restored faith, restoring wholeness

Restored: Stories of Encounter
Connie McEldowney, Deacon Pablo Perez, Fr. Bob Lombardo, Alan Graham, Sharon Mason, Jordan and Jessie Schiele
Run time: Six episodes, approx. 22-26 min each
Not Rated
Produced by ODB Films and St. Joseph Communications. storiesofencounter.com

 

When people used to write Mother Teresa of their desire to join in her work among the destitute of India, she would often respond: “Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta.”

Her point, of course, was that one need not travel halfway around the globe to seek out the needy and accomplish “something wonderful for God,” as another of her catchphrases went. There is plenty to do among the poor much closer to home, even in local communities.

Restored: Stories of Encounter is a six-part documentary series about individuals who are doing just that. They have recognized the unmet needs of others and have dedicated their lives to doing something about it by demonstrating the love of Christ to the least among us.

And the series title, Restored, applies on two levels: these individuals have experienced crises of doubt and poor choices in their lives, only later to rediscover their Catholic faith, which helped inspire them to an outreach seeking to restore hope and dignity to persons in need.

The series introduces us to folks like Deacon Pablo Perez, who grew up in the streets of Chicago and dabbled in gangs before turning his life around. He now dedicates himself to prison ministry, offering hope and reconciliation to incarcerated men. There’s Connie McEldowney of Dayton, Ohio, a revert to the Catholic faith who provides care for dozens of young single mothers and their children. Among others we meet is Alan Graham, a successful businessman who built a 27-acre village of new houses for the homeless and operates the largest prepared meal ministry in Austin, Texas.

Each of these six stories is inspiring in its own right, and each raises provocative questions. If these generous and caring souls were not providing these services, what would happen to the people who benefit?

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

WHAT TO SEE: Multiplying acts of kindness, despite personal hardship

The Least of These: A Christmas Story
Tayla Lynn, G. Michael Nicolosi, Emma Faith, Duane Allen, Deborah Allen
Run time: 101 min • Not Rated

Single mom rose and her seven-year-old daughter Katy don’t have it easy. They sleep in a junkyard vehicle, tidy up in a diner restroom, and face a future as bleak as it is uncertain. And little Katy has never had a Christmas present.

That’s the setup for The Least of These: A Christmas Story, originally a 2018 release now available on Hoopla and other digital streaming services.

Rose was fortunate to work as a waitress at the diner. When she first arrived there pleading for a meal for her daughter in exchange for some dishwashing, the proprietor hired her on the spot. He even allows Rose to sell her paintings there, although she chooses to do so anonymously. And they do sell – mainly to one mysterious buyer.

Meanwhile, a storefront bell-ringing Santa becomes a regular at the diner for breakfast, and after some initial friction with Rose and Katy he takes an active interest in their family situation – just as Katy does in his.

For Rose and Katy, their kindness toward others is returned a hundredfold, and from places they’d least expect. To accept the opportunities presented by others, Rose must get past her self-effacing mantras: “I’m just a country girl,” “I’m just a waitress who paints.” And little Katy, despite her own impoverished life, expresses concern for “the least of these,” those less fortunate than even she is.

A bit different from your usual Christmas fare, The Least of These isn’t a modern classic by any means. The final third drags a bit, the dots in the storyline don’t all connect well, and there are some obvious puzzling questions (why do they offer Rose a job but let her keep living in an abandoned car?). But the story in this family-friendly film has some nice touches that get us away from the usual crop of Christmas-themed Santa knockoffs and rom-coms. And it will give children and grandchildren a peek at how some of “the least of these” around us must live.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

WHAT TO SEE: Coping with challenge-seasons through faith, reliance

Catching Faith 2: The Homecoming
Lorena Segura York, Alexandra Boylan, Garrett Westton, Bill Engvall
Run time: 94 min • Not Rated

Change is a fact of life, but we would more easily weather inevitable challenges and transitions if they would line up politely and come at us one at a time. Unfortunately, that’s not always how it works. Sometimes multiple challenges hit concurrently, and in attempting to cope with them all we are pushed to our limits or beyond.

That’s the situation facing empty-nesters Alexa and John Taylor in the sequel Catching Faith 2: The Homecoming, released directly to DVD and streaming services this past September. Already caring for Alexa’s dementia-stricken mother and with Alexa about to return to the workforce to take on an exciting new job, the Taylors learn their grown twins are returning home: their daughter, Ravyn, announces a surprise engagement, while their son, Beau, must rehab from a serious leg injury that ended his budding pro-football career. As if that’s not enough of a game-changer, Alexa must contend with her daughter’s prospective mother-in-law — Alexa’s own ex-best-friend — who takes the lead on planning Ravyn’s wedding, much to Alexa’s indignation.

Stung by the rivalry and a “fear of missing out,” Alexa insists on doing it all. John urges Alexa to accept some help with the wedding planning and her mother’s care, as do the women in Alexa’s Bible study group, but her strong will and “I got this” attitude prevail until it becomes clear she doesn’t “got this” at all. Meanwhile, Beau’s old high school coach invites him to be his offensive coordinator, but Beau must learn a few lessons in true leadership after his brash arrogance diminishes his respect among his players.

Catching Faith 2 is a squeaky clean family film with some positive things to say, but it tries to accomplish much amid a meandering script. Its key takeaway, however, is on point: while faith and good intentions can carry us far, it’s not a sign of failure to ask help from

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

WHAT TO SEE: When an innocent is falsely maligned

Brian Banks
Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Tiffany Dupont
Run time: 99 min • PG

JAMES ALLEN’S 1903 collection of essays, As a Man Thinketh, exhorts readers to take control of their lives through positive thinking and tireless focus on ideals and purpose. It’s why Allen is rightly counted among the pioneers of the modern self-help movement.

The book figures in the new film Brian Banks, true story of a high school football star and USC recruit falsely accused of rape. After receiving abysmal legal advice to accept a plea deal that doesn’t go as promised, Banks spends five years behind bars and several more on parole as a registered sex offender as he struggles to clear his name and reassemble the pieces of his shattered life – and perhaps realize his dream, once seemingly assured, of an NFL career.

Amid today’s heightened attention to sexual assault, Brian Banks portrays a real-life case in which an accuser’s mixed motives led to fabricated allegations, and a flawed judicial system punished the innocent.

Under harsh prison conditions, young Banks descends into palpable despair until a kindly counselor gifts him with Allen’s book and offers sage wisdom: you can’t always control what life throws your way, but you can control how you respond.

Resolving to change his perspective and embrace his challenges, Banks eventually emerges from prison a better man, but his criminal record limits his opportunities. Finally convincing the California Innocence Project to take up his cause, he doggedly perseveres against significant adversity as he seeks exoneration.

There’s virtue in how Banks practices Allen’s thesis despite many setbacks, battling frustrations and maintaining hope even after his accuser’s taped recantation is deemed inadmissible. His understated Christian faith also provides strength.

There’s no fairy-tale epilogue: Banks finally got his shot at the NFL in his late 20s but was too out of condition to survive preseason cuts. It’s a thought-provoking, bittersweet story about a young man who mustered the fortitude to rise above what life threw his way.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

 

WHAT TO SEE: Surmounting the modern identity crisis

Overcomer
Alex Kendrick, Aryn Wright-Thompson, Cameron Arnett, Priscilla C. Shirer, Shari Rigby
Run time: 115 min • PG

“If I asked you who you are, what’s the first thing you’d say?”

That question, posed in the new Kendrick Brothers film Overcomer, is accompanied by a more direct query: “What have you allowed to define you?”

Overcomer, opened in theaters Aug. 23, is about conquering life’s obstacles. Yet often the greatest roadblocks are not those externally, but those within, because individual ability to confront challenges depends heavily upon one’s sense of identity.

When closure of a town steel plant forces a major exodus of families, Brookshire High School loses half its student body. More devastatingly for basketball coach John Harrison (Alex Kendrick), his star players are gone, and with them his hopes for a championship season.

Worse, John and his wife, Amy, a fellow teacher, take salary cuts, and John is assigned by principal Olivia Brooks (Priscilla Shirer) to coach cross-country, a sport he loathes. Come tryouts, he finds a “team” of one – asthmatic sophomore transfer Hannah Scott (Aryn Wright

Thompson), an apparent orphan raised from infancy by her grandmother.

While visiting hospitalized church members with his pastor, John has a chance encounter with a lonely patient named Thomas Hill (Cameron Arnett), once a cross-country champion. As John picks Hill’s brain for coaching tips, a mentoring relationship develops that has life-changing implications for both John and Hannah. 

There is much “overcoming” in the film, as characters face various obstacles of personal disappointment, financial woes, poor health, habitual sin, and unforgiveness. Perseverance in athletic competition provides a natural metaphor for struggles in life’s spiritual. But the overarching message is that individual must define themselves not by sorrows and failings, but by identity as children of God, as it is through faith that each finds strength and purpose — for “Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn 5). 

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer. 

 

WHAT TO SEE: Aces in the Poles

Mission of Honor
Iwan Rheon, Milo Gibson, Marcin Dorocinski
Run time: 107 min • Not Rated

During World War II, following the rapid collapse of Poland, tens of thousands of Polish servicemen went to France to continue fighting for Allied forces. After France capitulated in 1940, the Poles battled on in England. There, more than 8,000 Polish air personnel would serve with the Royal Air Force, many in special Polish squadrons.

Although experienced pilots, the Poles had to master new planes with unfamiliar features, like retractable landing gear and a throttle that opened by being pushed forward rather than back. To the British, the Polish pilots seemed undisciplined and raw, and their quick defeat to invading Nazis didn’t speak well for their fighting prowess. Mission of Honor is a fictionalized story of how the pilots of the Polish 303 Squadron won their hosts’ respect by proving to be excellent fighters and serving with distinction. Historically, 145 Polish aviators across several RAF squadrons were credited with shooting down more than 200 enemy planes in the pivotal Battle of Britain.

Iwan Rheon and Marcin Dorocinski star as Polish fighter aces Jan Zumbach and Witold Urbanowicz, while Milo Gibson plays the Canadian squadron commander, Capt. John A. Kent.

The tenacity of the Polish flyers is evident, and occasional flashbacks depicting Nazi atrocities committed on their fellow countrymen – often family members and loved ones – lends ample motive for their determination. Sadly, the film’s epilogue explains how post-war England repatriated many Poles to their native land, then under Soviet control, where some would suffer imprisonment and death.

Critics of Mission of Honor take issue with some special effects, certain anachronisms in dialogue, and the obligatory romantic subplot. Some familiar with the specifics of World War II aircraft point out inaccuracies in the planes’ markings or dogfight tactics. The film also has instances of wartime violence and wartime profanity. For teen and adult audiences, Mission of Honor provides an interesting take on these courageous men who persevered for freedom and against oppression, risking all because they had already lost all.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

WHAT TO SEE: Men of faith on the rise

Kingdom Men Rising
Dr. Tony Evans, Kris Franklin, Lecrae, Tony Dungy, Jonathan Pitts
Run time: 116 min
Rated PG

Tony Evans gets right to the heart of what it means to be a real man.

“You can be a male but not a man,” he says. Evans explains: “Malehood has to do with your biological gender. Manhood has to do with your submission to divine authority.”

By that, Evans means that each man is called to be a “Kingdom Man.” In his new documentary, Kingdom Men Rising, he calls upon men to stop being “lame,” rise up, be men of Christ, and fulfill their God-given responsibilities as husbands, fathers, and living examples to others.

It’s what Evans — author, media personality, and pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas — calls “biblical manhood,” and he knows it’s a tall order given today’s broken culture. Yet the culture can only heal if more men live for the kingdom and pass along that heritage of faith to their own children.

Kingdom Men Rising features interviews with Evans along with his sons and daughters, each of whom is successful as a performing artist, author, or preacher. There’s also award-winning Gospel singer Kris Franklin, Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae, pastor Jonathan Pitts, Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy, and ex-NFL players Jon Kitna, Troy Vincent, and Tim Brown. Each offers insights and life experiences affirming the need for men to emerge as committed and responsible Christians.

The film, which had a two-day theatrical release before being marketed to churches, touches upon many issues involving men today, including fatherless homes, pornography addiction, promiscuity, abortion regrets, and life balance. The cast is almost entirely African American, as is Dr. Evans’ preaching style, but the message applies to all men, even if the language and theology is distinctly evangelical at times and might require clarification for Catholic viewers.

“This life is a spiritual battle, [and] you better be ready for a fight because there’s Satan on the other side [and he] wants to take you down,” Dungy says at one point, channeling his best Pope Francis. The devil might try to take men down, but Kingdom Men Rising invites them to stand strong and walk by faith.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

WHAT TO SEE: Galvanizing faith against all odds

Breakthrough
Chrissy Metz, Marcel Ruiz, Topher Grace, Dennis Haysbert, Josh Lucas
Run time: 116 min
Rated PG

Faced with insurmountable odds in the midst of a crisis, many people lose hope and give in to despair. Not Joyce Smith, whose adolescent son, John, suffered a near-drowning accident. Joyce’s account of the real-life events appears in Breakthrough, a new Christian film which opened in theaters during Easter week.

John (played by Marcel Ruiz), a Guatemalan native, is the adopted son of ex-missionaries Joyce and Brian Smith (Chrissy Metz, Josh Lucas). Knowing he is adopted, he struggles with a sense of abandonment, which strains his relationship with his loving-but-some what controlling adoptive mother.

As John and two friends are playing on a frozen lake in suburban St. Louis, they fall through the ice and into near-freezing water. John suffers the worst of it; he is underwater for over 15 minutes and winds up in an emergency ward unresponsive, without a pulse despite 45 minutes of CPR and repeated defibrillation. The emergency-room medical team is prepared to call time of death when Joyce, in a moving scene reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pieta, wails and prays loudly over her son’s lifeless body.

Suddenly, miraculously, John’s heart begins to beat again.

John is far from out of the woods and is still not expected to recover, but Joyce’s unwavering faith convinces the specialist in charge, Dr. Garrett (Dennis Haysbert, familiar from Allstate commercials), to continue John’s care in hopes of recovery.

While Brian struggles to maintain hope for his son, the family’s hip young pastor (Topher Grace) provides valuable support to Joyce, building a friendship that to that point had been rocky at best.

Buoyed by a talented cast, Breakthrough provides testament to the power of faith and the possibility of miracles — not only of physical healing, but spiritual healing as well. That makes this film especially poignant during this Easter season as we recall the death and resurrection of God’s own Son and our own hopes of one day rising to new life. 

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer

WHAT TO SEE: View from the fence

Unplanned
Ashley Bratcher, Brooks Ryan
Run time: 106 min
Rated R

Abby Johnson went from volunteer escort to clinic director during her meteoric rise through the Planned Parenthood hierarchy. She even had a stint as a POC (“Products of Conception”) technician, responsible for reassembling body parts of aborted fetuses to ensure the womb had been emptied. But it was only after she assisted in an ultrasound-guided abortion for the first time that she was struck with the undeniable reality that abortion kills children.

Unplanned, just released nationwide March 29, is her story. It’s a powerful drama, and not just for its few particularly intense scenes. For many adult viewers, a Kleenex alert is in order

“My story is not a comfortable one to read… but honest and true,” writes Johnson, now an ardent pro-life activist, in her book of the same title. While retrospectively admitting her values and actions were inconsistent during her naïve years with Planned Parenthood, she also holds she was driven by true compassion for women.

But Johnson (Ashley Bratcher) gradually finds that the organization’s stated objective to “make abortions rare” doesn’t jibe with its relentless drive to “sell” abortions, Planned Parenthood’s bread and butter.

In the movie, pro-life advocates keep prayerful vigil at the fence, occasionally engaging clinic workers and clients in respectful dialogue.

Abby’s adoring husband (Brooks Ryan) and parents disapprove of her work but lovingly employ gentle reasoning.

Unplanned acknowledges there are pro-life extremists, and most clinic workers appear as genuinely nice people. This isn’t a propaganda piece; it doesn’t have to be. Presenting the simple facts from both sides of the fence already provides testimony sufficient for sparking serious reflection on what authentic respect for human life really means.

Unplanned received an “R” rating for “some disturbing/ bloody images” despite having no profanity, nudity, sex, or violence. The film reveals to viewers “exactly what abortion is — and abortion is disturbing. It’s violent,” said Abby Johnson in response. “No one will walk away from seeing this movie and say ‘I didn’t know.’”

Everyone needs to know. Your children need to know. Leave the pre-adolescents at home, but take your teens. Plan to see Unplanned.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

 

WHAT TO SEE: ‘Straight for holiness’

Bravery Under Fire
Brian Milligan, Dr. Patrick Kenny
Run time: 90 min
Unrated • Distributed through
Ignatius Press, www.ignatius.com

The 100th anniversary of the end of World War I has focused attention upon the courageous heroes of that tragic conflict. Among these we can count Father Willie Doyle, an Irish Jesuit and British army chaplain who was killed in Belgium during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917.

Bravery Under Fire is an effective docudrama featuring sepia-toned dramatizations of Father Doyle’s life. Among the commentators is Patrick Kenny, whose biography To Raise the Fallen was published last fall by Ignatius Press.

Father Doyle (played by Brian Milligan) was sustained by his Catholic faith from his youth. Despite suffering chronic digestive troubles and a nervous breakdown while attending seminary, Doyle was ordained in 1907 and quickly became a popular retreat master, homilist, and confessor.

When war overtook the continent, he volunteered for the British chaplaincy corps. Insisting upon staying on the front lines of battle, he offered the sacraments, consoled the wounded, anointed the dying, and buried the dead. His frequent forays into “no man’s land” to minister to the injured or drag them to safety earned him the respect of all. It was on one such excursion that he was killed by a German shell, his remains never to be recovered.

Those bullet points of Father Doyle’s life are impressive enough, but the smaller anecdotes and details are also striking. In Bravery Under Fire we learn how even as kids he and his brother Charlie exhibited particular compassion for the poor, collecting and polishing coins to distribute to the needy. From a young age he practiced self-denial and mortifications, which no doubt helped prepare him for the deprivations he would later face in battle. He was determined to go “straight for holiness,” resolving to become a saint and to inspire others to do likewise. We hear the story of a prostitute who, having heard his gentle word of admonition in passing, years later calls upon him to hear her 11th-hour confession. We see Father Doyle at a makeshift altar celebrating a Mass for the Dead on a battlefield strewn with corpses.

We come to know Fr. Doyle through his letters and diaries, revealing a man whom many believe should be considered for sainthood. This film provides compelling evidence.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.