UNBROKEN, starring Jack O’Connell


Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini, a young American soldier who faces the peril of the sky, the peril of the sea, and the peril of a Japanese POW camp in WWII.

It is also the story of human resilience, perseverance, and downright guts. One is faced with the question of how much one man can endure and how sadistic another man can be in finding out the limits of his opponent’s strength.

It also answers definitively (not that it is asked in the movie, but you can’t help but thinking this) the question often posed about Jews imprisoned by Nazis: “Why didn’t they revolt?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this over the years–as if unarmed civilians carrying their babies and/or starving to death are generally able to overpower armed young men in their prime and in their phalanxes. The answer given in this movie is: if trained American soldiers stood at attention and took unconscionable brutality in the course of their captivity without revolting, then such a revolt is quite obviously–and please don’t ask again–impossible.

Directed by Angelina Jolie, this movie is another in the long line of good dramas about WWII, may they continue to roll off the presses so that we never ever forget. It suffers from being in theaters in company with The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game. If you can only see a movie or two this holiday season, both of those are better stories with better actors than Unbroken has. And, if you can only see one WWII movie from the Jolie-Pitts this year, definitely see Fury because it’s way better–but don’t take your kids to that one if they or you are uncomfortable with ordinary *#%@ing soldier-talk.

All that said, it’s a good movie. You’ll like it, and kids over ten or so with some understanding of the War will benefit from seeing it. You can talk about courage and suffering and protecting your friends and not throwing blood into the water and how-could-these-men-be-so-brave-because-I-would-immediately-break-into-tiny-pieces.

(Caveat, because there are horrible parents out there who say things like, “Look, Mr. Zamperini could stand up to the Japanese prison guards who were torturing him. Can’t you at least put up with a few bullies?” Because no. If your kid is getting bullied, get it fixed or haul him out of that horrible school with the administratively impotent principal.)

Rotten Tomatoes gives it 51% (green splat), and that’s probably because it’s not tense or suspenseful, just brutal. The flashbacks to the 1936 Berlin Olympics are nice. There’s really no need to see this one on the big screen; it’s okay to wait for the DVD or streaming versions.

THE IMITATION GAME, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley


In a movie which could have been subtitled “in which a gay man saves over ten million lives and takes two years off the life of Adolph Hitler”, Benedict Cumberbatch gives a stunning performance as the great British mathematician Alan Turing. Not far behind him is Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke, a fellow math wizard and code breaker at the Brits’ famous cipher center at Bletchley Park.

Their task, and that of their team of proto-geeks, is to break the Nazis’ “unbreakable code” using a captured “Enigma” machine, on which the code changes daily. While they toil to find the solution to the seemingly impossible problem, Allied soldiers die in the field, Londoners perish under buildings in night bombings, Royal Navy ships are sunk. As you suspect, whole-hearted determination, almost preternatural brain power, the Treasury of England, and a little bit of luck combine to prevail over the code, over the Nazis.

And therein lies the question of right and wrong, good and evil. Is it right to demean, arrest, demonize, humiliate, and internally mutilate a man who breaks the back of Nazi Germany, simply because he is gay? Obviously not. Obviously Alan Turing should have had parades in his honor (alas for the clandestine services, there are never parades), a knighthood at the very least. Too bad he was gay. Too bad that negated all the good he had done. Too bad QE2 didn’t pardon him for his gay behavior until 2013. Twenty-thirteen! It’s beyond comprehension, but at least it was finally done.

The moral(s) of this movie, which you should definitely see–it is smart, funny, somber, victorious, deeply moving, plus Churchill is mentioned (I love him lots)–is (are) that it takes immense effort to overcome evil, that such overcoming doesn’t necessarily happen the moment you put your heart and mind into it, and that even then, maybe no one will notice, and you have to continue to live authentically as yourself. So do that.

And for those of you still mired in a world where you can’t look a gay person in the eye and ask how his or her day went, how his or her partner is doing, it is time to stop that and show respect for humanity, for people’s work, for people in general who aren’t doing anything else than wishing you well and trying to live their own lives. Plus maybe–you don’t know–maybe they are saving yours.

A must-see movie.



The Theory of Everything is the story of the life of Stephen and Jane Hawking, he of the gigantic brain, she of the enormous capacity to love, to live, and to cope with her husband’s tragic and debilitating illness.

I have not loved a movie so much in a very long time. Perhaps not since Inception. This movie resonated with me completely. When the credits began to roll, I was wiping tears.

The story takes us from grad-school-Stephen’s days at Cambridge when he has not yet decided what topic to pursue for his doctorate through his diagnosis and decline. We see him as a real person, not a legend. A student who came to Cambridge because Oxford was tired of him (their loss!). A brainiac of immense magnitude endearingly falling in love, an accomplished Oxbridge physicist falling down, staying down, then determining not to be held down by his body’s limitations.

There is love and hope and sorrow and grief and coping and not coping and moving along and proclaiming at the last, in better words than this: “If I can do this, you can do something.”

It really does give one pause to consider the level of determination needed to carry on with motorneuron disease for fifty (!) years, and not just to carry on, but to thrive, to write, to teach, to work. Which is not to say that other people with this condition who do not do these things are not coping–God bless them and strengthen them and their families for all good things and hope and love–only that for this particular man to achieve as he has achieved is phenomenal.

As for comments, “Yeah, but he’s an atheist,” whatever. You should be able to learn from whomever you bump into, not only people who are exactly like you. And frankly, if you cannot learn a thing or two from the courage and determination of Stephen Hawking as told in this movie, I am indeed sorry. “Yeah, but they actually get divorced,” please. Please. I knew a person 30 years ago who divorced her husband because he lost hearing in one ear and couldn’t hear her talking in bed, and she didn’t want to move to the other side of the bed. The right side was her side. (She was in a bowling league with me, if that tells you anything.)

Rotten Tomatoes gives Theory an 81% fresh rating. I’m guessing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will take a look. My guess is Eddie Redmayne for best actor and even a possible best picture nod. Mr. Redmayne’s portrayal of the physical decline of Dr. Hawking is impressive, and reminded me somewhat (though entirely differently) of Dustin Hoffman’s performance in Rain Man. The movie is appropriate for older children, but mine would have been bored and possibly grossed out by various medical situations. I heartily (and even demandingly) recommend you see this movie.

THE JUDGE, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall


The Judge is not so much a courtroom drama as it is the story of a last-ditch effort to salvage something positive from a horrible father-son relationship. I’m not 100% sure the movie delivers, but it does try, and that’s something. I kind of liked it in a “Robert Downey Junior is gorgeous and the rest of the movie is okay” way. I mean, he’s worth watching. The rest of the cast is fine. Robert Duvall is fine, not achieving greatness in this role, but then, he’s already done that.

There are no real authentic emotional moments. We don’t laugh or cry. There’s no real suspense. We don’t gasp. We don’t grab the arm of the person we’re sitting with. I thought things like, “Yeah, that’s right,” and “No, that probably wouldn’t happen,” but I was never wholly engaged in the story. Plus, the end of the trial and the end of the movie were both unlikely and not fully grounded in human nature. People do what people do, and it’s jarring when movies make people do what people would not do in the situation. When that happens, I’m pulled out of the experience and I start to think bad things about the writers and the director.

Robert Downey, Jr. is Hank Palmer, a high-powered and very expensive criminal defense lawyer. He goes home to Small Town America for his mother’s funeral and, while there, must interact with his oddly non-emotive brothers and his emotionally withholding father. He also runs into an old girlfriend and her daughter who are supposed to matter to the plot, but I’m not sure they do. Girlfriend is played by the lovely Vera Farmiga. There’s an awkward bit with her daughter.

Robert Duvall plays Joseph Palmer, Small Town America’s presiding judge for the past 42 years, who finds himself on the wrong end of a murder charge. He needs a first-rate lawyer, but doesn’t want his son to defend him because he doesn’t like him. Events occur that force the Judge to retain his son (albeit pro bono), and through the process of the ongoing case we see into the broken father-son relationship.

The movie goes from scene to predictable scene, I’m yawning here. The story was nice and almost sort of believable, but then they did that thing they did in Sweet Home Alabama at the end. You know that part where a seriously successful person decides it’s maybe better to be mediocre and ordinary and live in Podunk than it is to be out there being amazing.

Maybe for a lot of people this is true. But a brilliant lawyer like Hank Palmer is no way in a million years going to be happy living in rural Indiana trying simple assault cases and aspiring to be nobody. I don’t buy it. World class brains don’t settle. They can’t. Mozart can’t decide to be Salieri anymore than the other way around.

I had a few problems with the script. Here’s one: the prosecutor is a guy from out of town. It’s Billy Bob Thornton and he’s fun to hate in lots of movies, including this one, but–and I’m no expert–murder cases are handled by the D.A., not by someone who traveled down from the Big City because he wants to put an arrogant family in its place. He’s never referred to as the D.A., and he’s totes non-electable to the position, so I don’t know. I hated him so much as POTUS in Love Actually that I still can’t deal. (Shoot, now I’m thinking about Hugh Grant dancing down the stairs in Number Ten. Now you are too.)

It’s not a great movie, but it’s okay, and if your choice is this movie or Left Behind, you need to choose this one. It’s good enough. Probably worth your money. Not spectacular. Not nearly as good as the trailer made us hope it would be.

LEFT BEHIND, starring Nicolas Cage

left behind

To my non-Christian reader, please don’t see this stupid movie, which, as Wikipedia says, “is based on the novel of same name, which is based on a novel interpretation of Bible prophecy without support from any significant theological tradition . . . ” If you are interested in Christianity, please read the Bible, find a Christian friend, or go to a church that believes this movie to be absurd.

Jesus. That right there’s a word that is not uttered during the current ridiculous rapture-fiction movie Left Behind, that if you spend a penny on, I will disown you. Furthermore, there is not even an oblique reference to the Son of God in this movie. Not even a “he” or “him” that might direct us Christward. The closest we got was, “Jeez!” and that’s, you know, not close.

Cross. Another word not spoken or even intimated.

Savior. Ditto, and there’s no need to go on about how much this movie is not a Christian movie. It’s not close. Plus, dwarf tossing.

Leaving Christianity out of it, there’s the slight possibility this movie could be categorized as tangentially religious. That is, the kindest, most Christlike individual in the movie is a Middle Eastern man who displays a heart for God and for a confused elderly woman suddenly alone. Given that, the movie could possibly be an advertisement for Islam, because when all those left behind are losing their minds, Islam provided a man the wisdom to say, “Let’s pray,” and the compassion to say, “Let me help you.”

Leaving that discussion aside–and no, I have no interest in anyone’s views of pre-, mid-, or post-tribulation rapture, nor do I care what your millennial position is–let’s move to a discussion of how bad this movie is.

The script is terrible. The acting is bad. The Christians (we meet two) are whiny women pushing their faith, sans Gospel, to everyone who passes by, as in, “Hi, Honey, thanks for flying all the way from California to NYC for the weekend, why won’t you listen to my unrelenting proselytizing, so I can convert you to an unnamed religion that has no content?”

Here’s something: there are two blonde women. One is a flight attendant who is hot for Pilot Rayford Steele (Mr. Cage). The camera lingers on her legs as she gets out of her car at the airport. Question: in how many movies are we subjected to this “Introduction to Woman by seeing her well-shod foot and then her shapely leg come out of a car?” and–follow up question–was it ever better done than in 101 Dalmatians (Ms. Close) and in The Devil Wears Prada (Ms. Streep) or is that simply a distillation of the sort of movies I enjoy?

This flight attendant, whose name I forget–and you’ll want to forget it too, along with so many many other things if you see this movie–is a bad girl. She wants to go to a U2 concert with Pilot Steele with dessert to follow. To show her badness, the director has her wearing a very tight blouse, you know, where it pulls across the bust and is threatening to pop at every moment. Because beautiful young women who want to land a pilot are bad and immodest. I’ve never seen a flight attendant with a bust about to bust, but then again, I’ve never been a movie director trying really hard to point out each person’s personality because I believe my audience is too stupid to notice, or possibly I prefer perusing the Sky Mall than staring at stewardesses.

The other blonde woman is Captain Steele’s daughter Chloe. The director of this “Christian” movie decided to shove a camera down her top a couple of times, so we can be crystal-clear on the idea that non-Christian girls show their ta-tas whenever they can, because immodesty.

But wait, there is an actual story. SPOILER ALERT and here goes:

Once upon a time, there was a family with a Daddy and a Mommy and a daughter and a son. The family lives in New York City, but the daughter goes to the University of California at Riverside. The daughter flies home for the father’s birthday, but alas, the father is a horrible man who is in love with the flight attendant because he’s sick of his wife’s newfound faith that she is aggressively marketing to everyone 24/7. Instead of being home for his birthday, he’s taken an extra shift so he can bounce to London to take in some Bono with Blondie and her ’bout-to-burst blouse.

Chloe runs into a CNN-esque journalist named Buck at the airport who instantly falls in love with her, because nationally-known journalists always fall in love with co-eds they randomly bump into at airports. Turns out, Buck happens to be getting on the flight captained by Daddy. Right before he gets on the flight, a random airport security guard drives by in the little cart with the U2 tickets and says, “Give these to Captain Steele. Took me two weeks to get them.” Because it takes 2 weeks to get tickets and you always ask random security guards to get them for you instead of going online.

Speaking of technological fails–no stubhub.com–no one on the plane has a cell phone, except Buck, “Cuz I’m a photojournalist,” and Captain Steele, “Cuz I’m the pilot,” words someone actually wrote into the script.

Most of the action happens in First Class, because that’s where the photojournalist is, he who doesn’t bother heading back to coach when The Rapture happens to take pictures of what’s going on there. He’s content to sit with the ten or so others who turned left before they were left behind.

In First Class, we have two extremely fat individuals, and I get that. Overeating is the Evangelical drug-of-choice, so we know those guys were totally saved. There’s a cute little girl, an old couple, a blonde druggie (who thinks the whole experience is a bad trip until she does cocaine in the forward lavatory and then remembers Bible camp), and a little man of very short stature who stands on the armrest to access the overhead bin and makes threats against the nice Muslim man who asks if he can help.

The Rapture Occurs.

At which time, a number of people go missing from the plane, including an infant out of his mother’s arms. People scream and cry, but then shut up and sit down when they are told by the Captain, “Wherever these people went, we will find them,” certainly a helpful thought. Mothers calm down and when we see them later, their eyes are not red, nor are their cheeks wet, because when women lose their children in First Class and someone tells them to calm down, they obediently sit and wait quietly without collapsing into soul-wracking sobs, because that’s just like real human nature.

Down on the ground, Chloe has abandoned her mother and taken her little brother to the mall where he disappears because he’s about four seconds from the Age of Accountability, too bad for his classmates who are three days older. Chloe is actually hugging him when The Rapture Occurs, and his clothes are left in her arms, but then she goes all over the place trying to find him, because when someone disintegrates in your arms and leaves their clothes behind, probably they have run away and want you to find them.

Chloe goes out to the car which is run into by a plane. Her car is now destroyed, so she runs home. Several minutes later–she’s almost home–a school bus runs off the road, because driverless school buses can go for maybe ten minutes before they drive off a bridge.

Skipping a lot of nonsense, let’s get to the real hardcore stupid:

Oh no! Captain Steele collides with another plane in the sky! His wing is hurt (the other guy goes down in flames) and he’s losing fuel, so he has to turn back to JFK, because he’s less than half way to London. Shoot, he’s going to miss that U2 concert, but so is everyone else, because Bono believes in Jesus and actually says so, unlike anyone in this movie.

Air Traffic Control tells the Captain that there are no available runways, because they are crammed with planes. No room at LaGuardia either. There might be room at Syracuse, but he doesn’t have fuel to get that far. He can’t land in the ocean, because he lost his elevators and his last name isn’t Sullenberger. Nothing can be done. It’s all over. They are going to crash.

But wait!!! Chloe, after climbing to the top of a bridge to throw herself off in her despair over losing her brother and mother, realizes that everything depends on her. Only she can save her father and his planeload of unraptured people. She steals a left-behind motorcycle (bonus teaching: bikers can be saved!), then a truck, and all by her lonesome clears a mile of empty not-quite-constructed-freeway on which a 400-ton airplane can safely land. The plane stops just an inch or two from a tanker truck that is marked “Flammable,” causing my audience to burst into laughter.

Now comes the dwarf tossing. Blondie opens the emergency escape slide and urges everyone to get going. The little man hesitates at the top just long enough for someone behind him (whom we don’t see) to give him a nudge that makes him fly off onto the slide. Uncomfortable laughter, because come on, you morons, what were you thinking?

Everyone gets off the plane, and someone says, “Wow, glad that’s over,” while the now in-the-know Chloe (who has run up to hug first the journalist she met for five minutes a few hours ago and then her father who raised her and nearly perished in the ocean) says, “No, it’s just beginning. Stay tuned for the Tribulation.” Or something like that.

Then–and I kid you not, people–the music starts and it’s Larry Norman’s “I wish we’d all been ready,” that classic from our childhood that we used to sing in Sunday School (in Cali! in Cali! I know my readers from the East Coast certainly did not ever hear this song in Sunday School, and they’re all better off for it.): “Life was filled with guns and war, and everyone got trampled on the floor. I wish we’d all been ready . . . ” (We also got to sing “Pass it on” and “Love Him in the Morning,” the latter with hand motions.)

Rotten Tomatoes gives Left Behind a 2% fresh rating, which means “the worst movie ever.” The lone reviewer who gave this a fresh tomato is Diana Saenger, whose favorite movies are “Shawshank Redemption” and “Pretty Woman.” I’d direct you to Shawshank Redemption for a film about redemption, perseverance, friendship, faith, hope, and love, and to Pretty Woman for a parable on a bridegroom coming for his bride.

The only reason to see this Christless, Crossless, Gospel-less piece of “let’s milk a few more dollars out of those foolish books” movie-making is to laugh at it, and there are so many many other ways of having a good time.

To anyone who would say, “Yeah, but this movie is just to provide talking points so we can start talking about Jesus,” are you serious? Is there no other way you could possibly do that, because there are so many things wrong with this movie–didn’t you love the cockpit door that keeps getting opened and shut as if this movie was made before 9/11?–and your conversation will be stuck fast in the idiocy of the movie and be hard pressed to move along to the Bible that probably does not include a Rapture in any case. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about The Rapture (see below), and no, I’m not allowing comments here. I know what you’re going to say.

The term “Rapture” is used in at least two senses. In the pre-tribulation view, a group of people will be left behind on earth after another group literally leaves “to meet the Lord in the air.” This is now the most common use of the term, especially among fundamentalist Christians and in the United States.The other, older use of the term “Rapture” is simply as a synonym for the final resurrection generally, without a belief that a group of people is left behind on earth for an extended Tribulation period after the events of 1 Thessalonians 4:17.This distinction is important as some types of Christianity never refer to “the Rapture” in religious education, but might use the older and more general sense of the word “rapture” in referring to what happens during the final resurrection.

THE EQUALIZER, starring Denzel Washington


Giant Denzel fan here. Always have been. Since Glory. Since Soldier’s Story. In those movies, and in many since then, Denzel Washington is the man. I saw Inside Man six times at the theater in 2006, and I still pull it up every few months and skip around to the parts I particularly like.

But the deal is that Denzel is not a young guy anymore. He’s hot, don’t get me wrong, but he’s 59 and hasn’t made a career or a life out of being one of those uber-physical Dwayne Johnson sort of people. All that to say, Denzel can’t convincingly play a guy who can take out the Russian Mafia single-handedly. He just can’t.

Not that he doesn’t do a great job trying, but I just couldn’t be convinced that a man this old and unarmed could murder rooms full of angry Russians with weapons who had nothing to lose.

On top of that, he never wears gloves and he never wipes down the crime scenes. He leaves prints all over the place and simply moves along.

He does all this for a young prostitute he has platonically befriended who is being used by the Russian bad guys. They really are bad–no question there–and sex trafficking is a very bad thing and needs to be ended and now. But you don’t get to end it vigilante-style by killing everyone.

Now onto the really bad part. The Home Depot part. We’ve seen a large store get all shot up before in Mr. and Mrs. Smith and done better there, but here there is a big big problem.

Let me back up. At the beginning of the movie, Mr. Washington’s character Robert McCall is working at a Home Depot type store. Same layout, same inventory. There’s a young man there who wants to be considered for a security guard position, but he’s out of shape. McCall coaches him in security-guardness and encourages him to substitute tomatoes for Pringles. Hard sell, I’ll grant you. You can tell, from how the movie keeps going back to Home Depot that something bad is going to happen there. You’re waiting for it the whole time.

And then it does. Hostages are taken, including the newly-fit (but he looks the same) Security Guard and a whole line of Home Depot (it’s called something else) workers. Then the hostages manage to leave the building, after which there is a major battle inside the store, in which all sorts of hidden traps and killing gizmos are implemented. Very long, very bloody battle. Guess who wins.

The problem is that when people have been hostages and they get out of a building, they make noise. Lots of it. They run screaming and crying and calling 911 and CNN. They interact. They get help.

These hostages are different. They do nothing. Call no one. Because this movie wanted to have a mano-a-mafia killing field in the Home Depot. To do that, you have to lure the audience in emotionally: “Look! Sex trafficking. You HAVE to want these guys to die.” They used sex trafficking as the bait to get you riled up enough to toss out everything you know about justice and let a killing machine loose and get you to cheer it. I found it disgusting and insulting.

Unlike the Bourne movies, for example, where Jason Bourne is just trying to get away and be left alone, The Equalizer showcases what would happen if a well-trained black ops guy is let loose on the bad guys with permission to super-hero it up without consequences.

And that’s the very worst part. There are no consequences. In the end he’s buying groceries, walking home. You’ll like it if you like shoot-em-ups and you don’t have a conscience. I liked it because Denzel, but if he keeps doing stuff like this, I’m going to change my adoring tune.