Redemption at Hacksaw Ridge

hacksaw-ridge-20162705_lucid

By Kathy Winings

kathy_winings_3_profileAt a time in which we see horrific images of atrocities committed in the name of religion, the new film, “Hacksaw Ridge,” provides us with a different story. It is about a young man who, because of his faith, refuses to kill and commit atrocities. “Hacksaw Ridge” is director Mel Gibson’s new biopic film that tells the story of Pfc. Desmond Doss who became the first person to win the Congressional Medal of Honor without firing a single shot and without even holding a gun.

Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist, is a conscientious objector during World War II who enlists because he believes it is his patriotic duty. However, rather than enlist as a soldier, his plan is to enlist and serve as a medic so he can save lives rather than take them. While his plan seems simple and straightforward, Doss faces two clear obstacles. One, to serve as a medic, he has to pass basic training, which requires handling a rifle. Second, he has to survive basic training with the intense attitudes and feelings of the other soldiers and commanding officers who simply do not understand someone willing to enlist but not willing to kill the enemy during war.

After Pearl Harbor, many young men were filled with rage and extreme patriotism. As we are introduced to Doss’ fellow soldiers, we see young men eager to respond to the threat posed by Japan and Germany, men eager to prove themselves in battle. It is this type of bravado that makes it hard for soldiers to understand or respect anyone who doesn’t feel the same way. As Gibson’s film makes clear, at a time when many Americans wanted revenge for that fateful day in December 1941, it was hard to believe that an able-bodied American did not want to fight and show the world that he was a true patriotic American.

Through the first half of the film, Doss’ constant battles for acceptance among his fellow soldiers are interspersed with flashbacks that give insight into how a simple young man from the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia became a conscientious objector.

Continue Reading→

“Steve Jobs”: A Film Really About Heroines

Steve Jobs

By Mark P. Barry

Mark Barry Photo 2When Steve Jobs died in 2011, his authorized biography was rushed to press, quickly followed by the low-budget, independent film, “Jobs.” Fans of the Apple CEO had to wait until last October for the full Hollywood production, “Steve Jobs,” featuring an A-list cast and team, to reach the big screen.

Audiences were disappointed in the film because it bombed at the box office. Expectations surely were for a depiction of Jobs’ stellar technology and business achievements. But the truth is: this movie is more about its heroines than its hero.

For her performance in “Steve Jobs,” Kate Winslet won the 2016 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and was nominated for an Oscar this year as well. She plays Joanna Hoffman, long-time marketing chief at Apple and “right-hand woman” to its co-founder. Known as the one person who could stand up to the difficult and temperamental Jobs, in the film Hoffman calls herself his “work wife.” Winslet, as Joanna, is the moral center of the movie.

Very loosely based on the Walter Isaacson official biography – a book Apple and Jobs’ family were not happy with – “Steve Jobs” is written by Aaron Sorkin, who won the 2011 Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for “The Social Network” and this year’s Golden Globe for Best Screenplay for “Steve Jobs.”

“Steve Jobs” was lucky to get made. It was originally produced by Sony Pictures, but after North Korea hacked its computers in late 2014, divulging embarrassing executive emails, Universal Pictures acquired the film. A who’s who of actors and actresses were considered for parts. Oscar-winning director, Danny Boyle, chose Matthew Fassbender — despite looking nothing like Jobs — for the title role (he was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award).

Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell-Jobs, encouraged Isaacson to write his book, but her eventual dissatisfaction with it, as a less-than-flattering portrait of her husband, led her to reportedly block the film’s production. However, there may have been a more underlying reason.

Continue Reading→

“Concussion”: David and Goliath

will_smith

by Kathy Winings

kathy-winings-2I am not a football enthusiast. It’s because I simply do not understand the sport.

This may sound strange since I grew up in Indiana and Hoosiers love football and basketball — especially on the collegiate level. As a young girl, I enjoyed watching basketball because I understood the game. But football was another matter altogether.

As a member of my high school marching band, I had to play at all football home games. Imagine sitting there in the stands cheering our football team to victory yet not having a clue as to what was happening on the field. Tight ends, quarterbacks, safeties, wide receivers, centers, first and down; and what about those numbers that a player is shouting out before everyone goes head to head in the scrimmage. It was all Greek to me. Football just did not make sense to me.

And of course, my brother and father camped out in the living room on weekends rooting for (yelling, more like it) their favorite collegiate or professional football team. Needless to say, I had no clue who was winning or how they could win. My freshman year at Indiana University was much the same. All I learned about football that year was that the late John Pont, the head coach for IU’s team, was one of the top college coaches in America and that the varsity football players received special meals every day and drove around in brand new sports cars.

Though I still don’t understand football, I do know it has captured the attention and loyalty of millions of fans. I also understand there are billions of dollars tied up in the game and thousands of people earn their living from the sport, one way or another, and that football means millions of dollars in revenue for the cities that host a professional team. This does not begin to scratch the surface of the popularity and economics of the Super Bowl, where television advertisers pay millions to promote their product.

I also understand the furor caused by a quiet, unassuming forensic neuropathologist from Nigeria when he discovered what came to be called “chronic traumatic encephalopathy,” or CTE, after conducting autopsies on several former NFL players beginning in 2002.

Continue Reading→

“Bridge of Spies” and Teachable Moments

By Kathy Winings

kathy-winings-2I was just a small child when the Berlin Wall and Cold War took center stage in the news. Though my parents did not speak of such things while I was growing up, my father did talk about the “Red Scare” and “those Communists.” Of course, I would not understand what that meant until I was much older. I could not even imagine the level of fear that many people must have felt during this period of American history with its talk of spies and counterespionage.

I do remember hearing about a pilot, Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down and captured by the Russians. But I did not know the full story and had no idea of the maelstrom that surrounded this episode in history – at least not until I saw “Bridge of Spies.”

Director Steven Spielberg, together with writers Matt Charman, Ethan and Joel Coen, has captured the intense feelings of the Cold War era and the issues surrounding the trial of a real-life Russian spy, an American U2 spy plane pilot, and an American student caught on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall in his latest movie.

This excellent film tells the story of a successful Brooklyn, NY, insurance attorney, James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks), who is asked by the U.S. government to defend captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, who was tried for espionage in 1957. In the minds of many Americans, Abel is the personification of all that was evil in the Soviet regime. In this post-atomic bomb era of fear, the average American citizen is certain their government will do the right thing and simply sentence Abel to death, teaching the Russians a lesson they would never forget.

However, the American government sees it differently. As a potential powder keg, it is believed Abel should receive the best defense possible, or at least have the appearance of a strong defense to guard against any retaliation from Russia. What the government does not account for is Donovan’s strong sense of right and wrong. Though it is a foregone conclusion Abel will be found guilty, Donovan has the foresight to convince the presiding judge to sentence Abel to prison rather than condemn him to death.

Continue Reading→

“Still Alice”: Holding on to Who We Are

la_ca_1202_still_alice

by Kathy Winings

kathy-winings-2When we were younger and just beginning to study Principle concepts concerning the purpose of life and about the nature of our lives as children of God, many of us tended to think in simple, basic terms.

In terms of our life journey, we often taught that we were conceived and nurtured for nine months in our mother’s womb as our first stage of existence. Our life continued as we burst on the scene and embarked on a journey through this earthly existence for our second stage of life, hopefully looking forward to a long and healthy life. Ultimately, we would pass into our eternal home to live with God and rejoin our loved ones who had gone on before us. We learned in those early days that in the grand scheme of things, our physical life would be but a passing moment, as it were, when compared to our eternal life. Yet how we lived in this second stage of life, how well we loved and how well we lived according to God’s life-giving words were of prime importance. Most of the content though was fairly theological and did not deal with the practical dimension of our daily life.

I don’t know about you, but for me, I did not give much thought to the numerous physical challenges that might make our life on earth difficult. I was too busy going about the work of God to think too long or hard about such things other than to perhaps feel that somehow we might be shielded from some of these challenges because of the importance of the work we were doing.

However, I was reminded of this overly simple view of life while watching the sobering and powerful film “Still Alice.” Julianne Moore, in an Oscar-winning performance, masterfully portrays Alice Howland, a linguistics professor at Columbia University and sought after guest lecturer, who, just after celebrating her 50th birthday, is diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease that manifests at an early age. An intelligent and active woman, and mother of three adult children, this diagnosis cuts to the quick. Here is a woman whose life is defined by words, language and a life of the mind now rapidly being deprived of her thoughts and ideas as well as her memories.

Continue Reading

“American Sniper” and Moral Injury

AMERICAN SNIPER

By Kathy Winings

kathy-winings-2Clint Eastwood’s powerful film, “American Sniper,” dares to bring to public consciousness the hidden side of war. This hidden side is the tremendous toll war takes on the moral and psychological dimension — the soul — of the men and women who serve on the front lines. The film is based on Navy Seal Chris Kyle’s autobiography by the same title and follows his experiences as one of the most lethal snipers in U.S. military history with 160 confirmed kills.

Posted in Iraq, Kyle, brilliantly played in the film by Bradley Cooper, served four tours of duty before being honorably discharged in 2009. On coming home, like many returning veterans, Kyle had the difficult task of adjusting to civilian life in Texas as a husband and father to his two children. In 2013, he and fellow veteran, Chad Littlefield, were shot and killed by another veteran, Eddie Ray Routh, while at a practice range. Routh, who had been recently discharged from a mental health facility and been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), had arranged to meet with Kyle, who was trying to help him with his depression. The poignancy of the film was heightened when Routh’s trial began as “American Sniper” was being shown across the country. Routh was convicted of the murders two days after the February 22nd Oscars telecast, and immediately sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The film brilliantly and poignantly presents the personal turmoil that a soldier faces when holding a life in the crosshairs of his or her rifle. One particularly heart-wrenching scene shows a moment of decision when Kyle has a small Iraqi boy and a woman, who we assume is his mother, in his gun sights. The young boy is given an anti-tank grenade by the hijab-clad woman and begins to walk toward the column of approaching American soldiers. Kyle is praying for the child to stop or at least indicate he means no harm. But the boy doesn’t, and Kyle must do what he is trained to do  —  shoot him. When the mother then rushes to her child, picks up the grenade and runs toward the soldiers, Kyle must shoot her as well.

Continue Reading→

‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’: God versus King

exodus-gods-and-kings-christian-bale-joel-edgerton

By Andrew Stewart

AndrewStewartIt’s been a good year for biblical movies. “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is the last major biblical film to hit theaters this year, with “Son of God” and particularly, “Noah,” making waves earlier on. The first two films met many expectations, yet surprisingly, the third falls short.

Advertised as a biblical epic, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” has issues with characterization, pacing, as well as wardrobe. In contrast with 1956’s “The Ten Commandments” (starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner), “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is shorter, covering less of Moses’ life. Directed by Ridley Scott of “Gladiator” fame, it takes a much more unconventional approach to a well-known story. So which does “Exodus: Gods and Kings” resemble more: Cecile B. DeMille’s epic or Scott’s 2001 “Best Picture” Oscar winner?

“The Ten Commandments” is the standard by which any film about Moses should be measured, and is probably the best known religious film alongside the 1959 “Ben-Hur.” “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (not to be confused with the 1960 film “Exodus,” about the founding of the state of Israel) like “The Ten Commandments,” focuses on the extra-biblical side of Moses’ life. There are a few themes present in “Exodus: Gods and Kings” that might be a homage to those same extra-biblical themes, such as an exchange where Moses asks Ramses to improve the lives of the Hebrews and pay them wages. But that is where the similarities end, with even some biblical story elements missing. The question of why they were not included is that they probably are not realistic enough to fit into the feeling of the movie. The film tries very hard to be faithful to a realistic approach, becoming a battle between Moses and the Hebrews versus the Egyptians. The film attempts too much, and ends up not progressing much in any one area it tries to tackle.

It all begins with a prophecy, that God has not forgotten his people. After a few epic CGI renditions of Memphis at the height of its glory, Moses (Christian Bale), Ramses (Joel Edgerton), and his father, Seti (John Turturro), are sitting around a table, arguing about going to war with the Hittites.

Continue Reading

“The Red Tent”: What the Bible Might Have Been, Had Women Written It

vred7f-2-web

By Andrew Wilson

WilsonIn a holiday season with a biblical blockbuster, Exodus: Gods and Kings, far more interesting from a theological perspective is the recent Lifetime Television miniseries, “The Red Tent” (video link), taken from the best-selling novel by Anita Diamant. “The Red Tent” is a retelling of the familiar stories of Jacob, his wives and children from the perspective of Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter.

The Bible knows her only through the tragic story of her “rape” at the hands of Shechem, a prince of the land. As the Bible tells it, Shechem offered to marry her, but Jacob’s sons connived to murder him and all the men of his clan as retribution for defiling Dinah’s honor. Indeed, the rape of Dinah is the premise behind several Christian “Dinah” ministries to women who have suffered abuse. But as Dinah tells her story in “The Red Tent,” she fell in love with Shechem, they married according to the customs of his people, his father then asked Jacob’s permission to approve their marriage, but what Jacob’s sons did in the name of honor — slaughtering Shechem and his people — totally devastated her heart and left her bereft. Dinah cursed Jacob and went off to Egypt, eventually found a new life there as a midwife, remarried, and attained some closure after she met Joseph there some 20 years later.

It is not difficult to grasp that the Bible was written from a male viewpoint. Hence, we might find a woman’s viewpoint, though fictional, to be intriguing. It is actually quite plausible that Dinah fell in love with Shechem; after all, he was a prince of the land and would be a good catch for a shepherd girl. For that matter, if Leah and Rachel could speak to us, how would they characterize what the Bible describes as a catty relationship as they competed for Jacob’s favor? Did they ever reconcile? “The Red Tent” reminds us that they were first of all sisters, and some of the things they did together were kept secret from their father and their husband—and hence never made it into the biblical narrative. For that matter, what was Eve thinking when the archangel tempted her? What was the nature of her inner life after the Fall?

Continue Reading→

“The Hundred-Foot Journey”: Food for the Soul

Film Review The Hundred Foot Journey

by Kathy Winings

kathy-winings-2An old adage used to be that there were two constants in life: death and taxes. For the 21st century, it seems that we have two new constants: cultural conflict and food. The news is replete with stories of the latest cultural clash, whether it is Palestinian/Israeli, Black/White, Muslim/Christian, Ukraine/Russia, and on and on. There seems to be no end to the cultural conflicts.

Then there is food. Food plays an important role in our lives. The popularity of top shelf cooking shows attests to this point. Food sustains our life, it comforts us during stressful or difficult times and it brings people together. It certainly isn’t by accident that food has played an important role in Christian ministry and spiritual life. Whether it is the feeding of the 5,000, the Last Supper with the disciples, or Holy Communion, food has been intimately connected with worship and liturgy. This is also true for other faith communities. Food’s ability to reconcile humanity — whether to God or with each other — and to heal our emotional and spiritual wounds is well understood.

This is what makes The Hundred-Foot Journey, based on a popular novel by Richard C. Morais, such a powerful and inspiring movie. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, and directed by Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules; Chocolat), The Hundred-Foot Journey presents the challenges of getting along in our multicultural world and how food can be the vehicle for reconciliation and forgiveness during times of conflict as it focuses on the dynamic of a family from India and a French restaurateur.

The Kadam family business is food. The second son, Hassan, brilliantly played by Manish Dayal, is singularly blessed with a gift for cooking, a gift he inherited from his mother. Hassan is just beginning his training as a chef when his mother is tragically killed during a riot that also destroys the family’s restaurant. Having nothing left, the Kadam family leaves India and resettles initially in Great Britain before finally settling down in a small village in the south of France.

Continue Reading→