Category Archives: Movie Reviews

The Woman in Gold and a Woman’s Gold

Woman in Gold is one of those movies that’s hard to watch but too good to miss.  Based on the true story of Maria Altmann, who as an American octogenarian (who had fled to the U.S. as a Jewish refugee from Austria during World War 2) took on the Austrian government to recover her family’s artwork.  Maria Altmann (played by Helen Mirren) solicited for the help of  Randy Schoenberg (played by Ryan Reynolds), who was a young (and quite inexperienced) lawyer of Austrian-Jewish heritage as well as a family friend.  The movie traces their struggle to regain possession of Gustav Klimt’s iconic painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was confiscated by the Nazis and later placed in Austria’s Belvedere Museum in Vienna.  The conflict lasted over ten years and went all the way to America’s Supreme Court (and beyond).  Woman in Gold was screened at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in 2015 and has been out in America for a couple of years, so if you love movies, you’ve likely already seen it.             Woman in Gold is very well done and I recommend it highly. But, today, instead of telling any more of the story, I want to point out that much of the debate centered around the legal documents: To whom did the painting really belong, and whose will should direct the final disposition of the painting? Certain details of the movie are not correct; most prominently, Maria Altmann did not leave her ailing father in Vienna. Maria said she would have never left her father; she waited until after he died of natural causes before she escaped. Still, the movie was a great success, and in fact, grossed over 60 million. Beyond that, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I eventually sold for 135 million. Now, that’s a lot of gold!!  My questions for us are two fold. First: Do we have clear wills made out in case of our unexpected death? I think everybody who owns anything should have a will, even if it’s just a hand-written document that’s been signed and witnessed at your local bank by a notary public and kept in your important papers.   Even more important, what are we doing with our “gold,” our most precious possessions? If you’ve never stopped to think this through and write out a will, please take the time to do so, even if your only precious possession at this point is a child. Someday, it might make much more of a difference than you’d ever imagine today.

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34).

 

 

Follow Me, Boys!

If you’re ever in the mood for a charming Disney movie about small town America in the 1930’s, especially if you have any grade-school aged boys or budding Boy Scouts in tow, you might really enjoy watching Follow Me, Boys When our boys were growing up, they loved all the old Disney movies with Fred MacMurray, like The Happiest Millionaire, The Absent-Minded Professor, and The Shaggy Dog. They were family “cult classics” that got watched repeatedly.  We also had a lot of laughs over the Disney movies starring Kurt Russell like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit, Now You See Him Now You Don’t, and The Barefoot Executive. By the way, did you know that Walt Disney personally signed up Kurt Russell with a ten-year contract when he was just a kid, and Kurt became one of their studio’s leading stars in the 1970’s? Somehow, we all missed finding the earliest Disney movie where Fred MacMurray and Kurt Russell starred together: Follow Me, Boys! It might be because it was so old (1966), but it’s full of good-spirited fun and all the themes that make Disney movies memorable!Fred MacMurray plays the role of a young musician who decides to give up city life and settle down in a small Midwest town, where he becomes involved with the Boy Scouts. Kurt plays the role of a young boy who struggles with finding his own identity because his father is an alcoholic. Although you can kind of guess the plot from the beginning, there are some twists and turns along the way, and it’s a refreshing break from modern life! It’s good to remember a time when America was safer, life was simpler, and boys were free to enjoy hard work with lots of challenge while still having fun.Both my older brothers were proud Eagle Scouts in the 1950’s, and I’m really excited that my oldest grandson has just joined Boy Scouts! If your church doesn’t offer Awana or some other program geared to help kids grow up wise and capable, at least consider Scouts. But, maybe watch Follow Me, Boys! first. By the way, there’s something even better than following a good role model who will teach you how to tie knots, fish, and work hard as a kid, and that is a role model who will teach you everything you need to know about life both now and forever. There is only one such perfect role model, and his name is Jesus. Jesus can teach you not only to fish, but to be a fisher of men!  Do you know Him? Are you a follower? It will be the most challenging thing you’ve ever done in your life—much harder than becoming an Eagle Scout— but you’ll never regret it!

“And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

“Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world:
he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
(John 8:12)

“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Learning to Understand Autistic Life Animated

We have someone attending our Sunday school class who appears normal…unless you try to talk to him. Sometimes I see him look my way, like he’d like to talk, but if I approach him or try to engage him, even in light conversation, he doesn’t respond and will look away. I assume he’s autistic, and I’m still trying to figure out how to connect with him, but after a year, I haven’t broken through. Do you have anyone in your life space like this? If you do, and you’ve been able to connect, please share any advice!! For one thing, when our class starts up again for the fall semester this Sunday, I’m going to try something new I just learned about this summer!          Recently, I saw a really inspiring docudrama about Owen Suskind.        Life Animated (2016, PG, IMDb 7.5) shares the Suskind family’s story.                      Their father was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal       and Owen was the second son born into a warm and wonderful home. Owen seemed normal for the first couple of years, but then suddenly he began to regress, stopped communicating, and developed strange behavior patterns. The Suskind’s ideal home was turned upside down in a heartbreaking search for understanding what had happened. Owen was eventually diagnosed as autistic. The rest of the movie traces the heartaches and challenges of trying to learn how to communicate with their son.                              Probably every child’s journey is quite unique,                             but Owen loved Disney animated classics,  and the family eventually learned how to use pictures of scenes from the movies to communicate emotions… love, joy, grief, kindness, and kinship.                    Life Animated follows Owen’s journey from childhood to adulthood,  educational achievements, and even touching on the topics of romance, hoped-for marriage, and learning how to cope with the limitations and disappointments of autism. In many ways, Owen’s story is a wonderful story of success and triumph over trials. Today, Owen is able to give lectures and offer suggestions and ideas for other autistic young people.                                   Life Animated made me cry and rejoice.  Why can’t Owen (and millions of people for so many different reasons) just enjoy a normal life like the rest of us? Why do so many people suffer and have to live with broken dreams? In all the heartaches of life, I console myself by remembering that life on earth is not the end, it’s only the beginning…a place to develop character and find grace. To find the end of ourselves and the beginning of God. To lose our lives so we’ll find eternal life. God is good. He can be trusted.

As Karla Akins says, “Autism isn’t forever, but love is.”

For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

The Struggle for A United Kingdom

A United Kingdom is the current retelling of a true story from 70 years ago, although I’d never heard it before. I totally agree with Rotten Tomatoes’ 83% rating and commentary: “Well-acted, solidly crafted, and all-around worthy, A United Kingdom presents an absorbing look at a singular true-life love story.”  If you, like me, weren’t around in 1947, you may not have heard the story before either, but it is a powerful testament to the enduring character of love. Sir  Seretse Khama was the heir to the throne of Botswana (then called Bechuanaland), Africa.  His parents died when he was only three, and Seretse became king at age four, although his uncle served as regent and brought him up like a son, sending him to the best schools, and eventually to Oxford and law school in England, where he became a barrister.     During this time (1947) he fell in love with a British woman, Ruth Williams, whom he married, despite extremely strong opposition from both sides of the family.  Their marriage and subsequent return to Bechuanaland sparked a furor among people on both continents,  because everyone assumed he would marry a woman from his tribe, the Bamangwato people.    A United Kingdom tells the story of the fierce love between Seretse and Ruth,              their unwillingness to bend for tradition or current cultural mores,                  and how they eventually won the hearts of their people. It also exposes the racism that was rampant in the Union of South Africa at that time, and the British weakness in failing to honor their word in order to curry favor with South Africa.  Although the events were compressed in the movie (it seemed like just a few years, when really the struggles lasted about 20 years), A United Kingdom gives a sober look into the economically-driven politics and racial tensions that have existed far too long (and into the present) between the continents and the races…and the fact that true love can (at least sometimes) “conquer all!” In order to protect his country and his marriage, King Khama gave up his right to be king, although he and Ruth returned to Bechuanaland where they eventually organized the Bechuanaland Democratic Party.  The movie is more about their love and early struggles, but I want to share just a little bit about their huge later success. Khama was the leadership and driving force in Bechuanaland’s independence from England, which was finally won in 1966. At that time, Bechuanaland was renamed Botswana. It was the third poorest country in the world, with virtually no infrastructure (7.5 miles of paved roads), and only 22 college graduates (worse, only 100 high school graduates!). Thanks to Khama’s integrity and brilliant leadership, he was elected as their first president and won every election until 1980, when he died suddenly of pancreatic cancer. During his tenure in office, Botswana became the fastest-growing economy in the world! The government negotiated the diamond mining businesses so that they retained 50% of the profits, which they poured into infrastructure, education, and health care. (Of course, if you’ve read The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, you’ll believe that more of that money should have been given to the workers; at least, I do.)   After Khama’s death, Vice President Quett Masire succeeded him in office,     but in 2008, Seretse’s oldest son Ian, was elected president of Botswana.  He and his (one and only) wife, Ruth, worked side by side until his death, and they are buried together in the Royal Cemetery in Serowe, Botswana.  Seretse Khama’s people loved him and compared to Nelson Mandela (although he didn’t receive such international acclaim). A United Kingdom is a beautiful story of love, honor, and courage, and a fitting example for each of us in our quest for following God in his promise to one day provide a united kingdom—not only in Botswana, but for the entire world!

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness;
and all these things shall be added unto you
” (Matthew 6:33).

And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation,
and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ
” (Revelation 12:10).

(I took most of the photos while watching the movie; others are from Wiki)

Praise God for The Zookeeper’s Wife

If you haven’t seen The Zookeeper’s Wife  and aren’t totally over traumatized by studying World War 2,
please consider watching it. It’s the true story of Antonina and Jan Żabiński,
who were keepers of the Warsaw Zoo  and lived lives of incredibly risky heroism
to save Jewish people during Hitler’s regime.  Alan and I first discovered The Zookeeper’s Wife when it came out
as an audio book (from our public library, about ten years ago),  but it’s come to life in 2017 in an even more profound way
as a PG-13 historical drama. Often if you’ve already read the book, the movie isn’t very compelling
because it’s too changed from its original content,  but I felt like the movie version of The Zookeeper’s Wife
retained the authentic story line.  In the Holocaust Museum in Poland, the Żabińskis are listed
as some of the “righteous among the nations”  because they protected hundreds of Jewish people, using their home
as a safe house until safer housing could be found.  The role of Antonina is played by Jessica Chastain,
who’s been nominated twice for an Academy Award.  In one interview, I heard her say that ultimately, the story is “about hope,
about family, and about love. Love will always be there and you can find it.”

I praise God for the incredible bravery of those who will protect the innocent                                          in the unending fight for good over evil.        “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

(Photo Credits: Images 1, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15 are from various internet sources [some of which are listed or inscribed on the images]. The rest are mine, taken while watching the movie. There is one scene with gratuitous nudity in the context of the couple’s marriage, but it can be fast-forwarded without losing any critical dialogue.)