Gentle and Loving
I’ve never forgotten this little gem of a gentle movie, which the unsung Jesse Birdsall carries admirably—and which, under the direction of Randal Kleiser (yes, that Randal Kleiser), features a supporting cast of highly memorable proportions: Lynn Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter, Sir John Gielgud, Jane Horrocks, Peter Cook. In a story that prefigures The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Birdsall stars as Gavin Lamb, a 30-year-old dresser of blue-hairs (and little-to-no-hairs) who still lives at home and is admittedly scared of talking to most people—women in particular. He’s anal-retentive in a non-fussy way, very focused on not making mistakes as he wanders his art-appreciative way through life.
This true story about one woman who misbehaved in a major way and took down a despicable boys-will-be-a-holes network of sex traffickers masquerading as U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia isn’t some anti-male screed put together by a bunch of activist misanthropists. Instead, it’s a proactively positive (if infuriatingly heartbreaking) story about the evils of sex-trafficking which enlists the help of other A-list stars like David Strathairn and Benedict Cumberbatch, while getting co-production help from a bunch of German men. But still, the lead story is: this is story about a strong woman, starring a strong woman, made by strong women. And it’s a strong film. Take my recommendation and see it.
Do Yourself a Favor: See It
Miss Representation royally pissed me off, and in the best possible way. Bear in mind that I’m the lone audience member who walked out on a packed commercial screening of Risky Business because I was so incensed at that film’s portrayal of women. From the first time I saw Joe Francis’ ridiculous Girls Gone Wild commercials on cable, I’ve lamented how the misguided women who buy into Francis’ fetish are traitors to their own gender. And no, Halle Berry’s sex scene in Monster’s Ball was not empowering; she merely sold her integrity for the sake of artistic “respect.”
Flawed But Memorable Classic
Most adults, of course, seem to have very little memory of what being a teenager is like; the normal result is a lack of sensitivity and understanding, much as we see with the parents of Neil and Todd in Dead Poets (played brilliantly by Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke). However, in his passion for flipping that insensitivity the opposite direction, John Keating (Williams) equally forgets the impressionability of youth—and with tragic unintended consequences. Keating is not the catalyst for the tragedy, of course; but he’s not entirely unaccountable, either.
Given that I picked up this review opportunity in a rather eleventh-hour fashion, I did not know was that Thurgood is essentially a filmed take on a tour-de-force one-man stage show written by George Stevens Jr. Rather than a standard biopic, we are here presented with the faux reminiscences of an aged Marshall as he “returns” to alma mater Howard University for a lecture to a “friendly audience.” As Marshall warms up to his topic—his personal involvement in turning the tide against American apartheid—he casts off his cracking voice, shuffling gait, and cane, rejuvenated by Fishburne’s energetic portrayal of a modern man of justifiably mythic proportions.
A “Manifesto to God”
The frustration in Corrine’s life culminates when she leaves a characteristically stilted “house church” meeting. Those in attendance talk to each other in muted catch-phrases and euphemistically-couched expressions of spiritual denial. Outside in the car, Corrine cries out to God in an honest fashion that should rend your soul—and when she asks God to reveal Himself to her, who should appear but her husband? He is so alienated from her at this point, and their love for each so dead, that all he can coldly suggest is that she no longer bother coming to the meetings since her “heart isn’t in it.” Oh, but her heart is so much in it! And that’s the problem in Higher Ground.
More Than More of the Same
In the Christian niche market, “more of the same” from directors and producers generally results in an audience (and pastoral) response that looks more like “Well, I think I’ll take a pass this time.” That’s because, for the most part, the product in question is substandard in one or more ways and has been marketed in a bait-and-switch fashion that packages cut-rate entertainment as the next great evangelistic tool. Think of the Left Behind series (now on the verge of being rebooted… whoo-hoo!), The Nativity Story, or even Rocky Balboa. Yup. There are only so many times you can sell the same pig. Well, Courageous bucks that trend entirely.
When Special Features Detract
Even though Joffe overreached himself here, and made it nearly impossible to patch together a coherent cut of the film, what Joffe was aiming for was so much more worthwhile than films like Avatar, The Dark Knight, or Inglourious Basterds—to name just a few. And while those films are ultimately far more finely crafted (and, uh, successful) than Dragons, ultimately empty, self-referential, pseudo-profound popcorn flicks like those don’t hold a candle in my book to less successful films that are about ideas that really matter. Joffe tells this story in a way that just might—just might, mind you—radicalize your faith just a little. So I’ll still recommend the film… but also recommend you skip the deleted scenes!
Ordinary Package, Excellent Film
I was dead right that it would be difficult even for hard-nosed, jaded reviewers to pan this film. The critics’ score at Rotten Tomatoes stands at 83% fresh… two points higher than the audience score of 81% fresh, a rarity. Not bad for a film that amounts, at a certain level, to an animal version of an illness-of-the-week TV movie. The story succeeds, however, in part because the dolphin Winter actually exists, actually did lose her tail to a crab trap, actually did survive, actually does inspire disabled children and vets in her home at a Clearwater aquarium, and even stars in her own biopic. It also succeeds because Smith and company craft a sensitive, believable, and affecting fiction of childhood loss regained around Winter’s truly tall tale.
Well Worth Writing About
Like most contemporary filmmakers schooled in the Steven Spielberg Formula for Succcess, The Help director Taylor Tate knows that “show them, don’t tell them” can be distilled down into efficient single shots that convey as much as a page or two of dialog. So, for instance, when we are first introduced to Aibileen at the Leefolt’s place, Tate sneaks in a shot of the “L-shaped scratch on the dining room table.” But it’s not just a plot point for later reference; it’s also, as Aibileen slides a serving dish over the scar, symbolic of the hurts that are covered up and glossed over in the Leefolt household… and in Jackson, and the South, and America. If you’ve been waiting to see The Help, wait no further.
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