DVD Roundup

I don’t have Lynne’s gift of thoughtfully reviewing movies, but I can tell you what we liked and why (grin)!  We’ve been sniffling and weakened by colds and flu so we’ve watched a stack of DVDs recently.

No contest, our favorite has been Foyle’s War.  We’ve finished the third season.  This is a detective series which takes place in southern England during WWII.  The acting, soundtrack, cinematography, dramatic tension all combine into excellent viewing.  The plots are complicated enough that we are engaged throughout entire episode. 

I am fascinated with Foyle’s (Michael Kitchen) facial expressions which convey volumes; he chews the inside of his lip, raises an eyebrow and lasers suspects with his penetrating eyes. 

The cover is not a good representation of the movie.  A school in Northern Uganda is going to music competition for the first time.  Most kids are orphans, having survived trauma we can only imagine.  Their memories fade to the background when they sing together.

The storyline resembles Rocky, but the compelling parts of this documentary are the interviews with the kids and scenes from their lives.  I don’t think I will ever forget the raw grief displayed by one girl when she visits her father’s grave for the first time.

Not a feel good movie, but worth watching.  Caution young kids. Kleenex required.

Doesn’t just the word documentary sound…dreary?  This movie was anything but boring.  Ian and Curt, two college buddies, decide to grow an acre of corn to better understand the role of corn in our food system. 

We follow their progress and meet the folk that live in Greene, Iowa.  Having read Michael Pollan, and having been introduced to the idea of the monoculture of corn, we found this easy to track. 

I’m not sure what the solution is, but I’m getting a better idea of the problem.

What can I say?  Read the book.  The story just didn’t tranlate well into film.  What came across as profound struggles in the text looked very soap-operish on screen.  The casting didn’t come close to the pictures I had drawn in my mind. 

This is a story of a headstrong girl who forfeits her character, close friendship with her father, reputation, and self-respect for the love of a scoundrel.  No doubt, it illustrates how powerful sexual attraction is. 

The movie ends with the first book of the trilogy.  Kristin gets her way, but there is nothing satisfying about it.  Brief nudity.

Outsourced was a cute movie.  Until.

Todd’s job has been outsourced and he is sent to India to train his replacement.  He makes all kinds of cross-cultural gaffes (e.g. eating with his right hand) and remains frustrated as long as he supervises his Indian crew with an American mindset.  There are several laugh-out-loud situations.

The movie turns a corner after he wades into the pool and is “baptized” with an transformed mindset of humility.

The two main characters make a sudden leap from their business relationship into bed.  Can anyone say “casual sex?”  If it weren’t for such a fragmented (and frankly immoral) approach to sex, this movie might have been worth recommending.

Into Great Silence

How patient are you?  When you go to an art museum do you like to stand and absorb the painting, or catch a quick glance and move on?  How you answer that question will likely determine your response to this film.

I’ll admit it took me four attempts before I watched the almost three hours (2:41) of film.  I finally realized I had to be patient and pay attention. I couldn’t iron and watch, or balance my checkbook and watch, or make cookies and watch. I needed to quiet myself. I had to be still. Once I was properly oriented, I loved this movie.

The Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps is considered among the most ascetic of monasteries.  The monks take a vow of silence (with times to talk allowed at limited times and places).  They live a life of solitude among brothers.  Whether or not you believe this is the best way to worship God, there is much to be gained from joining them for the duration of this film.

The documentary has no voice overs, no background music, no artificial lighting.  The cinematography is exquisite in its simplicity and minimalism.  Sunlight on wood, praying in the dark morning, preparing food, repairing a shoe — all display profound beauty.  The extra-long takes allow time to focus. 

Or, the extra-long takes might put you to sleep.  My son’s only comment as he walked by was “Gripping.” 

But as the film ended, my prominent thought was “Be still and know that I am God.”  I was challenged at how little silence I allow in my life.  Media have brought noises to every corner of our daily living.  I enjoy listening to music, sermons, audio books, my family’s conversation.  But I need more time to listen to the quiet.  An occasional season of silence.

If I was teaching the Middle Ages, this movie would be required watching.  As it is, I would really like to see it again with my husband next to me.  I think we will have to wait to snuggle up on a Sunday evening in January…

Great War Film Update

[after opinion is asked–and received–about their orders, a subordinate asks Major Whittlesey]

“Why are you here?”

“Life would be a lot simpler if we could choose our duties and obligations.  But we can’t.  We shouldn’t.  That’s why I am here.”

~  Major Charles Whittlesey in the DVD Lost Battalion

If graphic battle scenes don’t bother you, we highly recommend this DVD.  Rick Schroder’s performance is 10/10.  Based on a true story, this movie illustrates trench warfare.


My son really liked this series.  This was the first live footage of the war that we saw: it was impressive.  The color wasn’t as big of a deal to me.  Kenneth Branagh did a good job of narration.  

I appreciated the interviews with WWI veterans.   There were four or five octogenarians whose remarks were interspersed throughout the film.

After reading Guns of August it was great to see more shots of the main players.    

These eight one-hour programs have provided fodder for much discussion.  Yesterday my husband asked, “How do you think WWI would have ended if TR was president?”  

We had never before heard of the Armenian Genocide.  

Watching The Great War has been a great  though heavy companion to our reading.  Images are potent.  Reading about the horror is hard; seeing it in a soldier’s and children’s eyes, on the battlefield, in the ruined villages, is horrible.  The documentary utilizes archival footage and modern color images.  


Foyle’s War

Oh yes!  This is going to be the summer of Foyle’s War for our family.  We have only watched two episodes but we are loving this uncommonly wonderful British mystery series, set in Hastings, on the coast of England, in 1940.  The writing, the music, the cinematography, the acting–they are all quite good. 

Michael Kitchen plays Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, a man one can’t help but admire.  I particularly like the way he questions suspects.  There is solid strength behind his quiet, unassuming manner.  Honeysuckle Weeks plays his spunky driver “Sam” Stewart.  You can see, just in the way she walks, that her small body is harnessing untold energy.  Fun. Intriguing. Foyle’s War

It Will Be All Right, Lu

We’re back from watching Prince Caspian.  Lucy (Georgie Henley), as always, steals the show.  When I see Lucy, I am reminded of Donna’s Katie.  Lucy’s transparent faith, her playful grin, her devoted love, her tender heart, are all too wonderful.  Lucy holds nothing back. Casting Georgie Henley as Lucy was the most brilliant decision in the making of the Narnia movies.  I just couldn’t have born it if they had gotten Lucy wrong.

Peter Dinklage plays a might fine Trumpkin. His sad-looking face works perfectly for both the skeptical dwarf and the believing dwarf.  And we all loved Reepicheep.  Who can resist the chivalrous charm of a brave mouse?  Caspian isn’t at all how I pictured him, but we all see things differently, eh?

The movie isn’t flawless; there are many add-ons and annoying nods to egalitarian nonsense which never existed in the book.  Classics students: have you ever heard of female centaurs?  Isn’t that a contradiction to the essential character of centaurs? 

Lucy, Trumpkin and Reepicheep are all positives which overruled the negatives. Not to mention Aslan!

In the end, I left the theater thankful.

I Am David

Not since Sweet Land have I been so captured by a movie.  I Am David,  based on the book North to Freedom, tells the story of a twelve year old boy who escapes from a Communist labor camp in Bulgaria with instructions to deliver a mysterious sealed envelope to Denmark.

After leaving a gray, grim and grimy life of picking up rocks, David is introduced to brilliant colors, freshly baked bread, rich music, family, prayer, fields of sunflowers…a beautiful life.  He hardly has the capability of understanding truth, beauty and goodness.  He has to learn how to smile.  Read that sentence again.  He doesn’t know how to smile.

The slow transformation of David follows a series of cleansings.  Washing up plays an important role in this film.  I saw in David what I’ve seen in the lives of several friends who have come out of toxic and abusive marriages.  It has taken a series of cleansings to wash the grime and grit and dirt and lies out of their souls. 

It is a process to learn to trust again.  A series of encounters help David trust someone enough to open himself and tell his story. The women who does the most to convince David to trust her is aptly named Sophie (Sophia is Greek for wisdom).

Ben Tibber plays this role to perfection.  His serious face will stay with me for weeks.  Stewart Copeland’s soundtrack captures both the bleakness of life behind wires with ethereal vocals and the movement of the open road with some dynamic harp and orchestra.  You can hear soundtrack snippets and see the trailer here.

I highly recommend this film.


Mistaken Identity

“Whitney, you got to watch a video of your own funeral.” 

It hardly seems credible that a mixup like this could happen in 2006, but it did. 

A high speed collision took the lives of five people from Taylor University.  Five weeks after the crash, when the Van Ryn’s daughter came out of a coma, they eventually realized that she was not their daughter.  This is a compelling story, sad and happy, a picture of two families trusting God through the most agonizing drama imaginable.

That drama was told last night on a two hour Dateline NBC program.

A fine moment:  Lisa Van Ryn put the pieces together first.  After a physical therapy session, as she was wheeling the girl she now suspected was not her sister Laura back to her room, she got eye level and asked her what her name was.  The girl replied, “Whitney.”  She asked her to say her parents’ names.  After she did, Lisa was convinced this wasn’t Laura.  Her response was, “That’s very good, Whitney.  You are doing so well.  You are really doing great.”

Matt Lauer commented on Lisa’s generosity to Whitney at that moment.  He was surprised that Lisa didn’t start screaming and running down the hall.  Lisa looked at him with a smile, “But I loved her! Why would I do that to her?”  The love she demonstrated, putting Whitney’s needs before her own…amazing grace.

In the last few years, some stories have gripped our imagination because the participants’ faith has been so clearly displayed in the midst of their grief.  Do you remember the national spotlight on Frank James when the Mt. Hood climbers were missing?  In this program, what I found so winsome was a complete lack of bitterness and blaming.  The Cerak and Van Ryn families were gracious in every word spoken.  All of grace.