Tag Archives: What to See

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.

WHAT TO SEE: In the cause of the free

They Shall Not Grow Old
Peter Jackson (director, co-producer)
Runtime: 99 min.
Rated R

Throughout history, courageous soldiers have taken up arms on frontlines in the name of freedom. Some have given all.

Peter Jackson, who directed The Lord of the Rings, created the 2018 documentary film They Shall Not Grow Old to commemorate the centennial of the armistice that ended the Great War on November 11, 1918. While this critically acclaimed work reflects British soldiers’ perspectives of that conflict, their experiences would surely be familiar to millions of Americans who fought alongside them on battlegrounds of Europe.

This compelling film, in limited screenings since December ahead of a broader theatrical and DVD/Blu-ray release in 2019, uses archival footage to tell its story. The documentary consists entirely of film clips culled from Imperial War Museum archives — digitally enhanced through colorization, speed adjustment, and synchronized sound effects — and layered with BBC recorded audio recollections of dozens of veterans who fought in the war.

The film takes us from enlistment to boot camp to the war’s grim battlefields. Often the soldiers, fascinated by the novelty of a hand cranked movie camera, stare hauntingly into the lens. Because they remain nameless faces, they represent every youth, shopkeeper, millworker, or farmer who answered the call to serve.

They Shall Not Grow Old — title taken from Laurence Binyon’s 1914 poem “For the Fallen” — is not easy viewing. There are frequent graphic images of wounded or shell-shocked men and rotting corpses. Yet there are heartwarming touches, too, in Allied-soldier camaraderie and in their cordial treatment of German prisoners. In final postwar sequences, the veterans’ voices reflect on what soldiers of every war know: that only those who suffered through its horrors can truly understand.

While it sparks contemplation of the tragic realities of battle, it instills respect and admiration for those altruistic young soldiers who were willing to sacrifice life and limb to engage in the “war to end all wars.”

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer

WHAT TO SEE: Age-old dramatics of family in business

Inheritance
Andrew Chaney, Jason Collett, Robert Miano, Rich Praytor
Runtime: 94 min.
Unrated
Distributed by Ignatius Press — www.ignatius.com

Faith-based films often are plagued by low budgets, weak scripts, mediocre acting, and inferior production values, but some deserve praise for having largely overcome these deficiencies. And some are actually rather good.

2018’s Inheritance — not to be confused with the 2017 mystery-horror film of the same name — is a well-intended effort. A drama revolving around an Italian family that is at least nominally Catholic, it packs enough relationship drama into its 94-minute runtime to fuel a daytime soap opera for several seasons.

Giovanni Delvecchio (Robert Miano) is the family patriarch who owns the family diner staffed by his son Frank (Andrew Chaney) and grandson Sonny (Jason Collett). Giovanni deflects shakedowns from the local Mafia types but can’t persuade Frank to end a longstanding feud with his brother Joey (Rich Praytor), a disagreeable lout who never forgave Frank for marrying his ex-girlfriend. When the two break into fisticuffs at Sonny’s wedding rehearsal dinner, Giovanni suffers a heart attack and dies.

Frank and Joey inherit the diner in a 70/30 split, but Frank, who refuses to work with his brother and entertains homicidal thoughts about him, descends into alcoholism. Meanwhile, a deep family secret about Sonny’s cousin Renny is revealed that alters the family dynamics. Sonny tries to help both his father and Renny but soon finds the situation stressing his own nascent marriage. Turning to alcohol himself, Sonny learns the cost of driving impaired, but a life-changing encounter enables him to become an agent for healing some of the strained family relationships.

Despite the Italian Catholic family at its center, it’s not a Catholic film by any means. The only Catholic references reveal a naïve view of sacramental Confession, and the most significant preachy moments are the stuff of generic altar-call Christianity. But Inheritance strives nevertheless to say something positive about faith, family, and forgiveness, and that’s a message the world needs to hear.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

WHAT TO SEE: Christmas fantasy in pointe shoes

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren
Runtime: 100 min
Rated PG

Those who glaze over at the very mention of ballet may find Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms an upgrade over their expectations. Those who look forward to the exquisite choreography and majestic music that characterizes the traditional Christmastime performance of The Nutcracker might find this 2018 film not an exact parallel.

It’s a lavish presentation that borrows from both the 1892 ballet and the 1816 short story by E.T.A. Hoffman that inspired it, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Hoffman’s original was decidedly dark in its telling, not much at all like the whimsical version we know today. Disney’s unique take bears influences of both. This isn’t the full Tchaikovsky score and two-act Nutcracker with added dialogue, however, but rather a basic storybook drama with a sampling of Tchaikovsky and ballet thrown in — visually appealing but only mildly entertaining at best.

Clara Stahlbaum (Mackenzie Foy), a 14-year-old London girl, receives a Christmas gift from her late mother that leads her to search for the golden key that will unlock it. Dispatched by her knowing godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman) into a magical world consisting of four “realms,” Clara joins forces with the titular Nutcracker, Captain Philip Hoffman (Jayden Fowora-Knight), to recapture the key after it was spirited away by a thieving mouse. Spurred on by the Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley), Clara and the Nutcracker confront the regent of the Fourth Realm, Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), who reputedly is at war with the other three realms.

This inter-realm conflict is not quite as it initially seems, and Clara must act heroically to restore harmony to this strange kingdom — where, incidentally, Clara’s mother once ruled as queen. All the while, Clara draws inspiration from her mother, and in the end her takeaway is the usual neatly packaged set of valuable lessons learned.

The presentation demands little of post-adolescent viewers — just patience at times, perhaps. If one drifts uncritically into the fanciful world of Clara and the Nutcracker, however, one might find the journey worthwhile enough.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

WHAT TO SEE: The Battle on the Home Front

Indivisible
Sarah Drew, Justin Bruening, Jason George, Tia Mowry, and Madeline Carroll
Runtime: 110 min
Rated PG-13

Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes we can make is to think ourselves invulnerable – to stress, pain, doubt, or temptation.

Army Chaplain Darren Turner (Justin Bruening) and his wife, Heather (Sarah Drew), seem to have it all together – a solid marriage, three adorable children, and an unshakable faith. When Darren leaves for his first tour in Iraq, he waves off the cautions of those who have already served in conflict zones regarding how the experience can strain a marriage. “You ain’t never gonna be the same, and neither is your picture-perfect marriage,” warns Sgt. Michael Lewis (Jason George), a neighbor heading for his second deployment whose marital discord the Turners have witnessed firsthand. Darren and Heather echo the same naïveté: We’ve got this. We’re called to this. We’ll be just fine.

In Baghdad, Darren encourages the soldiers, just as he does his own children, to put on the “armor of God” — the shield and protection of faith. “God is no stranger to the battlefield,” Darren sermonizes.

As days turn to months, the Turners’ marital bond weakens. With only brief phone calls and a family website to keep in touch, a disconnect develops: Heather has no grasp of the horrors Darren sees, and Heather’s ordinary family stresses seem comparatively trivial to Darren. Ironically, he ministers effectively to his fellow soldiers even as his own marriage stumbles.

Returning stateside, Darren’s PTSD leaves him distant, disagreeable, and disillusioned. Healing is a long journey, as many war veterans have found.

It’s a true story: in film and in real life, the Turners resolve their issues and use their experiences to assist other military families who find the battle to save their marriages is as challenging as any enemy across the battlefield.

Indivisible may resonate most strongly with military families who have experienced the challenges of long separations and wartime trauma. Its underlying message of maintaining hope and faith and the power of God’s grace is one we can all appreciate.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

WHAT TO SEE: Romeo and Juliet in Hawaii

Running for Grace
Ryan Potter, Jim Caviezel, Matt Dillon, Olivia Richie
Runtime: 110 min
Rated TV-14

Jim Caviezel has played his share of virtuous characters and even starred as Jesus Christ in The Passion of the Christ (2004). He plays a far less righteous figure as he teams with fellow veteran actor Matt Dillon as doctors serving in the Kona Coffee Belt of early 20th-century Hawaii in the 2018 film Running for Grace, now available through streaming services.

Although Caviezel and Dillon provide the star power, the film centers on the forbidden romance between Jo (portrayed as a teenager by Ryan Potter), and Grace Danielson (Olivia Richie), the pretty daughter of a coffee plantation owner. Jo is a “half-breed,” as he is derisively called in two languages, and is orphaned when the Spanish flu ravages the islands in 1919. Considered bad luck by the Japanese coffee pickers and likewise rejected by bigoted non-native haoles, young Jo wanders the village until the kindly Doc Lawrence (Dillon) takes him in. He becomes Doc’s translator and later his “medicine runner” to deliver remedies by foot through lush mountains to plantation workers.

As Jo grows into adulthood, he aspires to be a doctor himself, and his desire to meet Grace – whom he had previously only admired from afar – prompts him to handle a sick call to the Danielson mansion in Doc’s absence. The bigoted Mr. Danielson resents Doc for this alleged permission and responds by recruiting a “real doctor” to serve the haoles. Enter Dr. Reyes (Caviezel), a smooth-talking alcoholic with an automobile.

When Reyes asks Danielson for Grace’s hand in marriage, Danielson hatches a plan by which Reyes and his supposed assets might save the plantation from an unrevealed impending bankruptcy. To fight for Grace’s hand, Jo must overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles of race and class as the film builds to its climactic scene.

“Predictable but pleasant” is how one major film-review journal describes Running for Grace, and perhaps that is accurate enough. But this pleasant, squeaky-clean film with its gorgeous scenery, solid acting performances, positive values, and feel-good ending is a satisfying enough diversion for adults and adolescents.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

WHAT TO SEE: From Darkness into Light

Unbroken: Path to Redemption
Samuel Hunt, Merritt Patterson, Will Graham
Runtime: 98 min
Rated PG-13

The 2014 film Unbroken recounted the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who survived a long, harrowing ordeal during World War II: his plane crashed into the Pacific, he spent 47 days adrift in a life raft, he was captured by the Japanese, and he was dealt especially brutal punishment in prison camps due to his status as an Olympic athlete.

This 2018 sequel continues the story as Zamperini (Samuel Hunt) returns home a hero but has difficulty readjusting to civilian life, suffering from what today might be diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Haunted by wartime traumas and memories of his Japanese tormentor, Corporal Mutsuhiro “the Bird” Watanabe (David Sakurai), Zamperini – already long adrift from his Catholic faith — descends into alcoholism and depression. He meets and hastily marries a fine Christian woman in Cynthia Applewhite (Merritt Patterson), but her longsuffering love and even the birth of their daughter cannot save Louis from his self-destructive spiral as he plots murderous revenge against “the Bird.” Miraculously, Cynthia’s commitment and the preaching of a young Billy Graham lead Louis to a conversion, literally dropping him to his knees in a dramatic embrace of healing and forgiveness.

“God’s not to blame for your suffering,” the family’s parish priest tells Louis shortly after his return from the war, and that summarizes well the theme of this sequel. By film’s end, Zamperini gets it: “[God] kept me alive through everything for this,” he says in a moment of epiphany as he gazes adoringly at his wife and daughter.

A textual epilogue tells the best part of the story: Zamperini becomes a Christian evangelist, founds a camp for disadvantaged boys, and stays married to Cynthia for 54 years (she died in 2001). It’s disappointing that an Italian Catholic boy strays from his childhood faith, but one can appreciate the rediscovery that leads him from the horrors of war to renewed hope, from the darkness of despair into the light of faith.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.