By Phil Boatwright
KANSAS CITY, KS (BP) — For whatever reason, certain films don’t appeal to moviegoers at first. Perhaps it’s the title, the subject matter or the botched trailer we saw at the theater.
Some won’t see a film because they’ve heard it’s in black-and-white. Or worse, they have no interest in a movie made before they were born, as if all art began with the emergence of Taylor Swift and Seth Rogen. Whatever our reason for not wanting to see a movie, sometimes – I said sometimes – we’re missing a joyous experience.
Occasionally secular filmmakers convey insights that can give us a fresh perspective concerning biblical teachings. The more we study Scripture, the clearer it becomes that we are to avoid much of what the world considers acceptable, yet movies are modern man’s medium for relating parables to the masses. Certainly, there is a plethora of films containing little or no redeeming value, but let’s not discount the cinematic treasures that overflow with spiritually rewarding messages. The key is to be discerning.
Below are a few examples of movies I wasn’t inclined to see. But I’m so glad I did. All are available on DVD.
“America’s Heart and Soul.” Filmmaker Louis Schwartzberg packed up his camera and hit the road with a goal of capturing both the unparalleled beauty of the U.S. and the incomparable spirit of its people. Here we had the chance to meet ordinary Americans with extraordinary stories. It is a celebration of a nation told through the voices of its people. And while I was not looking forward to this documentary, I remember saying to a friend at some point, “I don’t want this to end.” PG
“The Tree of Life.” After viewing it, the first thing you’ll say is, “What was that?” Director Terrence Malick offers up a thought-provoking hymn to life. It’s an impressionistic story of a Midwestern family coping with a death, embittered relationships and haunting questions concerning God and the afterlife. Mr. Malick has used a free-form art house style to suggest the omniscient stature of God. And I just about passed on seeing it. PG-13
“Babette’s Feast.” This foreign film, with subtitles, was the 1987 Foreign Film Oscar winner. Two devout sisters in a remote Norwegian village show kindness to a homeless woman, and when she wins a lottery, the woman shares her good fortune in a most lavish manner. Based on a short story by Isak Dinessen, it is a beautiful tale of devotion and sacrifice, as well as a healing parable where quarreling friends and acquaintances are brought together once they shed their pious austerity. The film urges us not to hide behind our religion, but to put it into action. As to the subtitles: about 10 minutes in, you forget all about them as you get caught up in the story. G
“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” It was a silent movie, starring Rudolph Valentino in this 1921 epic spectacle about cousins on either side of World War I. I knew of Valentino, the matinee idol, of course, but had never seen one of his movies. A few minutes in and I was hooked. Everyone should see a silent film at least once. The trick is finding one that will hold your attention. This is a winner, with its impressive imagery and mesmerizing storytelling. Not rated.
“Steep.” Mountaineering doesn’t interest me in the slightest. On the other hand, a well-made picture about anything does. It’s an intense documentary about extreme mountain skiers who attempt to conquer the highest and most inaccessible adversary. Featuring terrific cinematography and moving stories of fallen comrades, the film expertly reveals the character of these sportsmen. Best moment: three skiers are photographed from a helicopter while getting caught in an avalanche. Not only a thrilling, armrest-grabber of a moment, the aftermath also shows a camaraderie known only to those who risk their lives together. PG
“Belle” is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mabatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy admiral. To be honest, I’ve seen many films that depicted the evil done to the black race. But Belle is a film of depth and strong performances (especially from Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Tom Wilkinson). It goes further than examining the abuse of blacks by whites by exposing the different kinds of slavery and the prejudices that abound in our world. The film documents how good men, having examined the evil of slavery, put their reputations on the line in order to stand against such wrongdoings. Topnotch cinematography, production design and writing of substance help make this endeavor a most engaging movie. PG