Tag Archives: What to See

WHAT TO SEE: Why the Wall came tumbling down

The Divine Plan
Robert Orlando (writer-director), Peter Reznikoff (narrator), Paul Kengor, George Weigel, Anne Applebaum, Douglas Brinkley, Bishop Robert Barron, Cardinal Timothy Dolan
117 min • Rated: PG

Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan each lost his father in his youth. Each clung to faith to guide him through difficult times. Both were actors. Each recognized the evil of atheistic communism and its oppression of human freedom. Each became a world leader, and each was shot and nearly killed in an assassination attempt in the spring of 1981. Most importantly, each believed his life was spared because God wanted him to play a role in the defeat of communism.

The two men bonded over this common goal — and, in the end, they triumphed, having exerted significant influence in such victories as the rise of the Solidarity movement in Poland, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the Cold War.

That all might sound a bit like that oft-published list of coincidences surrounding the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations, but it’s remarkably true. Most historians agree that this president and this pope played pivotal roles in bringing about popular and peaceful revolution across Central and Eastern Europe and liberating millions from the iron grip of communist rule.

That’s the premise of the documentary film The Divine Plan, which had a limited theatrical run in late 2019 and is now available on DVD, some streaming services, and through the Ignatius Press Parish Screening Program. By way of a retelling of the story along with the recollections and insights of historians, political figures, Church leaders, scholars, and journalists, The Divine Plan makes a rather compelling case.

Reagan and the pope both sensed they had a mission to fulfill, and that sense was only magnified by their near death experiences. In their private meetings, they spoke openly about this shared vision. Reagan himself was known to refer to the “DP,” or “divine plan,” of defeating communism. He felt he had a “rendezvous with destiny,” an apt term he borrowed more than once from FDR.

Reagan found the perfect ally in the Holy Father. Together, with help from above, they altered the course of history.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

 

 

WHAT TO SEE: Faith can remain, even through nonsensical pain

I Still Believe
K.J. Apa, Britt Robertson, Nathan Dean Parsons, Gary Sinise, Shania Twain, Reuben Jack Dodd
117 min. • Rated: PG

Tragedy can test our faith. The question of why bad things happen to good people has haunted humanity from the start. When misfortune befalls people we perceive as evil, it’s easy to suppose it’s a matter of divine justice. But what about the virtuous and the innocent? Why do they sometimes suffer just as much, and why does God seem deaf to prayers on their behalf?

Jeremy Camp is an accomplished Christian performing artist whose journey to success traveled along the roads of tragedy. I Still Believe tells the story of how he found both stardom and love, but lost the latter. More importantly, it relates how faith brought Jeremy and his wife Melissa together, led them to the altar, and sustained them through pain and grief. Turning to God in prayer as Melissa battled an illness that knew no mercy, Jeremy found a healing unlike what he had hoped for or expected. Emerging from the long dark tunnel, he still believed, and lived to sing the praises of God.

This faith-based film is a tearjerker by design, and succeeds at that even though some of its conflicts seem insufficiently explored — the early rivalry for Melissa’s affections between Jeremy and another Christian singer who helped get him his first demo recording, the relationship between the young lovers and their respective families, and the too-sudden discovery of Melissa’s illness. But the acting is solid, and both Gary Sinise and Shania Twain give the film a bit of star power despite their relatively small roles.

A lesson of I Still Believe is that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45) and loves us through it all. It is not ours to understand this mystery of suffering, but to embrace it — and continue to love, trust, and believe in Him in return.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

 

WHAT TO SEE: Martyr of conscience persevered in faith

A Hidden Life
August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon
174 min. • Rated: PG-13

Franz Jägerstätter was a simple farmer of deep faith. When his conscience forbade him from armed service in support of Hitler’s Germany, he suffered the repercussions and eventually paid the ultimate price. Once his story became better known, his cause for sainthood was opened and he was beatified in 2007.

A Hidden Life tells the story of this brave man who held to his sacred principles even when much of the populace of Austria — including its clergy — capitulated in fear to the Nazi annexation of their country. Even his wife, mother, and parish priest initially wished he would somehow accommodate the call to fight. He obtained deferrals, but was denied a position in the hospital corps when he was forced to report to the Austrian Army in 1943. Refusing to take the oath to Hitler, he was imprisoned, repeatedly tortured, convicted of treason, and finally executed by guillotine.

This atmospheric film is leisurely paced — a critic might say “plodding” — as it seems in no hurry to arrive at its inevitable conclusion. It is established early and often that Jägerstätter and his wife are hardworking farmers who dearly love each other and their three daughters. He wrestles interiorly with the pressures and decisions he faces and their potential consequences for his family. The spite of their once-friendly neighbors compounds their pain. Behind prison walls, he remains stoic and submissive to his beatings, but unshakable in his convictions. His letters home express his continued love and affection for his family as well as his solid faith.

Dialogue is sparse, but important themes are explored: the sense of abandonment by God, the problem of pain, the temptation to sacrifice one’s integrity in order to avoid suffering. Confusion spews from the lips of cynics: “He who created this world made evil,” says one, while another speaks of how the Antichrist “uses a man’s virtues to enslave him.” Jägerstätter will have none of that: He knows that even in his cell, bruised and deprived, he is truly free.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

WHAT TO SEE: What the children saw

Fatima
Harvey Keitel, Stephanie Gil, Goran Visnjic, Sônia Braga, Joaquim de Almeida
100 min • Not Rated

The familiar story of the 1917 appearances of the Virgin Mary to three young shepherd children in Portugal receives a beautiful big-screen treatment in the new 2020 drama Fatima, scheduled for release to theaters everywhere on April 24.

It’s an immensely satisfying film in that it conveys the incredible events and the reported messages from Mary with simplicity and sincerity. The children are portrayed with delightful realism, their families and townspeople believably exhibit various degrees of bewilderment and credulity, and the Virgin radiantly regards her young subjects with obvious deep love and even a little amusement. To the film’s credit, the apparitions and miracles are not given a Hollywood special-effects treatment, which surprisingly makes these scenes that much more moving.

Although Our Lady of Fatima is an approved devotion and has borne great fruit in the lives of many of the faithful, as private revelation there is no obligation for Catholics to believe in the Fatima apparitions or their related messages. In interspersed scenes set in a convent many decades later, Fatima gives voice to the skeptics in the person of an unbelieving journalist who visits Sister Lucia in her cloister to interview her for a book he is writing. The saintly nun answers his objections with grace and cordiality, even if unsatisfyingly in some instances.

Even if one finds the story of Fatima and its “miracle of the sun” too incredible to accept, the historical record is clear: something wonderful happened here, witnessed not only by three shepherd children but also by tens of thousands of onlookers, and something wonderful continues to happen in the hearts and lives of those who respond positively to the Virgin of Fatima’s call — to turn away from sin, to devote oneself to her Immaculate Heart, and to pray the rosary for peace in the world and the salvation of souls.

Make the effort to take your family to see this movie when it comes to your local theater this Easter season.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

 

WHAT TO SEE: Mercy shall be theirs

Faustina: Love and Mercy
Kamila
Kaminska, Maciej Malysa, Janusz Chabior
107 min. • Not Rated

The now-familiar Divine Mercy image originated with a vision of Christ given to Sister Faustina Kowalksa, a young member of a convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland – to whom Jesus appeared in 1931. The private revelations and messages she received over several years, faithfully recorded in a diary as directed by her confessor, provide the basis for the popular modern devotion to Divine Mercy and the relatively new feast day that bears its name.

The new docudrama Faustina: Love and Mercy provides a window into the brief life and work of St. Faustina, whom Pope St. John Paul II canonized in 2000 as the “first saint of the new millennium.” Screened at select theaters in special one-night engagements last fall, the film could soon see a third theatrical release before becoming available on DVD or through streaming services. 

Filmed in Polish with voiceovers in English, Faustina impressively portrays the young nun’s early life, her spiritual struggles, her relationship with her spiritual director (Bl. Fr. Michal Sopocko), her visions, and her death in 1938 at the age of 33. It fell to the priest to spread devotion to Divine Mercy and to found a religious order dedicated to the same, tasks Jesus had asked of St. Faustina.

The film describes the growth of the devotion and its suppression in 1959, which was lifted by the Vatican in 1978 through the efforts of one Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope St. John Paul II.

The history of the original Divine Mercy image itself is covered in detail, from the painstaking process of having it painted accurately to its survival despite years of communist religious repression. 

What comes through in Faustina: Love and Mercy is the holiness of St. Faustina and the urgency of her message: that we must seek God’s mercy in repentance, extend mercy to others, and place all our trust in Jesus. 

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer

WHAT TO SEE: Real story of St. Patrick – as told by the man

I Am Patrick
John Rhys-Davies, Moe Dunford, Toni O’Rourke, Seán T. Ó Meallaigh
123 min. • March 2020 release
Not Rated • fathomevents.com

According to dubious legend, St. Patrick used a shamrock to teach the pagans of Ireland about the Trinity and banished snakes from the island. In the U.S., his feast is an occasion for celebrating Irish pride with colorful parades and “wearing of the green.” Although the historical St. Patrick wasn’t Irish to begin with, and wasn’t the first to introduce Christianity to Ireland, his heroism and deep sense of mission throughout the land is a rightful source of Irish Catholic pride, one that exerted profound influence on the history of the Catholic Church worldwide.

A new documentary film releasing in March, I Am Patrick, relates the true story of this great fifth-century “Apostle to Ireland” as told by Patrick himself in his Confessions and his Epistle to Coroticus. Through expert interviews, narrative voice-overs, and dramatic re-enactments, his amazing life unfolds and the authentic Patrick emerges.

The son of a British deacon, Patrick was kidnapped at 16 in a pirate raid and taken to Ireland as a slave. He escaped after six years and found his way home, only to receive visions calling him to return to Ireland as a missionary. He became a priest and a year later was dispatched to the island, where he converted thousands of pagans over many decades. Later named bishop, he ordained many priests, established churches, and oversaw the expansion of consecrated monastic life. From this foundation, Ireland eventually would spawn ample vocations to provide missionary priests and religious throughout the world.

It wasn’t smooth sailing. Patrick repeatedly faced personal attacks, beatings, robberies, and imprisonment for his apostolic deeds. But what comes through in his Confessions and the film is his deep faith and profound humility, knowing the good he accomplished was not by his own merit.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

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.