Movie Reviews

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By Aaron Lambert

What happened to Mary after Christ died? And how did Peter deal with being the rock Christ commissioned him to be?

This is precisely the story that is explored in "Full of Grace", the tender, contemplative and beautiful new film from writer/director Andrew Hyatt. The story focuses on Mary’s final days on Earth before she is assumed into Heaven, and it intimately captures the relationship between her and her son’s successor, Peter.

"Full of Grace" is a new kind of Christian film, one that deviates from the typical model of most Christian films. Described by Hyatt as a “cinematic prayer,” the film is perhaps the first of its kind. The first 15 minutes of the film is intentionally paced slowly so as to prepare the audience and put them in the right mind set for viewing the film.

“Everything about the film is intentional,” he said. “This experience requires something of the audience to put in front of the film. The film, like scripture, should speak to you wherever you’re at in your life.”

Hyatt also sought to take these central biblical characters who are often perceived as being perfect and humanize them, making them relatable. Not since Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ have biblical characters been depicted as fallible and as human as they are in "Full of Grace".

“One of the things we really wanted to do in the film was put the flesh on the bones of these characters,” Hyatt said. “They were living, breathing people that had the same experience as we do in our faith.”

Noam Jenkins plays a doubtful but faithful Peter, and Bahia Haifi is perfectly cast as a noticeably aging but strikingly wise Mother Mary. The film focuses on the tender relationship between the two.

Haifi’s performance as Mary is the true highlight of the film; the dialogue ebbs and flows throughout the film but always peaks when she speaks. Her humble demeanor and tender disposition is exactly as one would expect her to be in reality, and the wisdom she imparts through the film is hauntingly relevant to any walk of life, especially that of Christians.

Hyatt sought to make a film that didn’t depict the Christian life as being one that’s easy; after all, that hasn’t been his experience. Born in Colorado, he grew up in the Church and went to St. Thomas More Catholic school. However, once he hit college, he dropped his faith completely.

“My faith didn’t have anything interesting to say when put up against the temptation of the world,” Hyatt said.

In 2008, though, Hyatt experienced a conversion, which he vividly remembers. He was in a hotel in Toronto, and he said that “literally, God showed up.” He turned his life over to the Lord at that point, but it wasn’t an easy process.

“It wasn’t like I said ‘yes’ to Christ and then everything was wrapped up with a nice bow,” Hyatt said. “It took a few years of extracting myself from that life.”

After kickstarting his film career with two relatively successful films, Hyatt was approached by Outside Da Box, a Catholic, nonprofit production company, about making "Full of Grace".

He initially turned down the project. He never had a desire to make a Christian film, but in getting to know fellow producers T.J. Berden and Eric Groth, he entertained the idea and wrote a draft of the script. He wanted to write a story that hadn’t been told before, he said, but also one that didn’t fall into the stereotype of most Christian films.

“What I could only do was make something that I was interested in,” he said. “I needed to make something that spoke to me and to my experience. My experience is that [faith] is messy and that we have dark times and good times. I could only make something that I felt spoke to that deeper truth.”

Despite writing a draft for the script, Hyatt still wasn’t interested in making the film. He was a young filmmaker full of worldly ambition, and he felt making a Christian film was beneath him.

“I was waiting for bigger, better things that were surely going to come…what a big mistake that was,” he said. God began systematically closing doors in his life until "Full of Grace" was all he had left to do.

For 18 months, Hyatt had no work. A new father, he and his wife burned through all of their savings until they only had $200 to their name. They had just let go of their lease on their apartment, they had nothing left, when he got a call from Berden and Groth informing him they raised the money for "Full of Grace". They asked if he was interested in making the film.

“Had I not had nothing, I’m pretty sure I would’ve said no,”Hyatt said. “But there was literally nothing, so I said OK.”

The fruits of the film speak for themselves.

“Making 'Full of Grace' was the first time on my entire life that I’ve been 100 percent obedient to what God wanted me to do,” Hyatt said. “To see the fruit of God’s work now in the outcome just blows me away. It’s nothing I can take credit for.”

For more information on "Full of Grace", visit fullofgracefilm.com. "Full of Grace" was released digitally and on DVD on January 5 through Cinedigm.

Posted with permission from Denver Catholic

Posted: January 9, 2016, 7:00 am
By Hillary Mast

As we grow closer to the season of Advent, thoughts naturally tend toward the nativity scene. What Christmas would be complete without the figures of Mary and Joseph gathered around the Christ Child in a manger?

In a similar manner, ‘Mary of Nazareth’ provides viewers with a glimpse into the lives of all those who make up the scene around the manger.

With striking scenery and gorgeous costumes, the film depicts a perhaps more colorful portrayal of Mary's life while at the same time remaining true to the overall message of the Gospel.

Like a child getting to hear the story of how his parents met, ‘Mary of Nazareth’ paints viewers a beautiful image of the sacrificial love between Mary and Joseph that built a foundation for the loving home in which our Savior was raised.

One of the most refreshing aspects of the film is the treatment of Mary and Joseph’s courtship. The film shows a young couple very much in love with one another and with the Lord. Rather than painting Joseph as an elderly man to indicate his guardianship of Mary’s purity, he is portrayed as a handsome young man giving the idea that Mary was just as much a keeper of Joseph’s purity as he was Mary’s.

When Mary accepts Joseph’s marriage offer, we see just how much care and attention he puts into building a home for them. Day by day, he works to build the walls and roof that will shelter his beloved bride and their eventual family.

However, when Joseph receives news from Mary that she is pregnant after her long trip to visit her cousin Elizabeth, his disappointment and heartbreak are apparent. He takes his anger out on the home that he worked so carefully to build for his new wife until his hands are bleeding.

It is only when the angel appears to him in a dream instructing him to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife that he seems to recall Mary’s instructions before her trip: Do not put faith in me, but in God.

Although the movie follows Mary’s life, we learn more about the people she serves than we do her. Throughout the film she is instructing friends and family to look to God for answers; not to her or their own human understanding.

When Joachim and Ann struggle to understand their daughter’s nonsensical explanation for her pregnancy, she leads them to a deeper level of faith by simply stating, “Nothing is impossible with God.”

A theme that is seen throughout the film is how even in her deepest struggles, Mary gives herself over to God’s will, not her own. One of these deeply touching moments comes when she prays over her “sleeping” Son for God to allow her to suffer in his place. However, in the end she echoes her Son’s words that he will speak in the Garden of Gethsemane that not her own will, but God’s, be done.

As Jesus grows we see Mary’s concern – but not despair – grow as well. She is the first to know that her Son will suffer from early on, but it is as if she realizes what the depth of his suffering will be with each passing moment.

The film is perfect for the start of Advent, but since it serves as a kind of visual meditation spanning from Mary’s childhood to Christ’s Passion, it’s appropriate for any part of the liturgical year.

To learn more about the film and to find or host showings in your area, visit the official website, maryfilm.com.

Posted: November 25, 2013, 7:00 am
By Elise Harris

Inspired by the true story of Eugene Allen, one of the first black men to serve in the White House, Lee Daniels' “The Butler” details the life of Cecil Gaines, who served as a butler for eight consecutive presidential administrations from 1952 to 1986.

Opening with a young Cecil and his father working in the fields of a cotton plantation, the film begins with the rape of Gaines' mother by the plantation owner and the murder of his father who tries to intercede. The story unfolds from there as the boy is taken to work in the house by the owner's elderly mother, who teaches Gaines how to serve. He eventually leaves the plantation in order to find a better life, and more opportunities. He eventually moves to Washington D.C. and works his way up to serving at the most prestigious hotel there. After some years, Gaines is spotted by a White House employee, who is impressed with his ability to serve as well as his cadence and neutrality when speaking with politicians of all different party affiliations.

All this happening withing the first 15 or 20 minutes of an over 2-hour long movie, the rest of the film focuses on Cecil's struggle to find his place within a rapidly changing culture, as the fight for racial equality escalates. The main plot lays out the tension between Gaines and his family, as he quickly becomes immersed in his position at the White House, seeking to hide from the issues that he does not want to face. He is estranged from his son, Louis, and distanced from his wife, who turns to drinking as a way to cope with Cecil's stubbornness. His son, who becomes an active member of the Freedom Riders, participating in protests and rally's in the nation-wide effort to show that skin color doesn't matter, sees his father's role as subservient, while Cecil, who has always been taught to bow his head in the presence of whites, sees his position as respectable compared to the radical actions of his son, who seemed to have made a career out of getting beaten and put in jail.

As the fight for civil rights unfolds, the political tension, as well as the personal drama that Cecil is facing, culminate when the black community earns equal treatment and the right to vote, and Gaines is finally able to confront the issues that he did not want to face, and restores the relationships with his family that had remained strained due to his own personal pride.

Focusing mainly on the juxtaposition of Cecil Gaines and the dynamic of his family alongside the political tension in the White House, a lot of which was due to the civil rights movement, the film creatively displays the effectiveness of both approaches to the issue; that of Gaines, the silent butler who becomes well-liked and trusted by many of the president's that he serves, and who eventually confide in him, being touched by his sincerity, as well as the activity of his son Louis, whose involvement in protests and marches edifies the presidents, encouraging them to enact the policies that led to full racial equality.

At the culmination of this story of struggle and triumph, is the election of Barack Obama as president, which is cast as the ultimate fruition of the black's struggle for acceptance in society. Although the contrast between the cotton field at the beginning and Obama's election shows how drastically the situation of blacks have changed in America, the film gave the impression that Obama's election to the presidency was based solely on race, at least amongst the black community. Although the movie is trying to portray the significance of the election of a black president for the black community, especially in Cecil's personal life, which accurately reflect the significance for real-life butler Eugene Allen, the election scenes left me feeling a little bit like I was watching a campaign commercial, and I question if the movie actually depicts what the film-makers hoped to portray.

Aside from that, and the fact that it dragged on in places, the movie shows an honorable search for virtue and to do what is right, as well as the willingness to sacrifice for something that you believe in. It promotes family values, and the importance of reconciliation, while illustrating at the same time the consequences of refusing to face our own personal fears, difficulties and sins. It is a movie worth seeing – one in which the sacrifices and efforts of those who fought tirelessly to earn their equality are brought to light in a truly eye-opening way.

"The Butler" opens in theaters nationwide Aug. 16.

Posted: August 16, 2013, 6:00 am
By Michelle Bauman

When it opens in theaters on Christmas Day, Les Misérables will evoke laughter, tears and applause from audiences while presenting a message of forgiveness and love that is desperately needed in our world.

Over two-and-a-half hours in length, the film is a faithful adaptation of the musical based on Victor Hugo’s acclaimed 19th century novel.

It stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, a French man who spends 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child. When he is finally released, he has become a hardened, bitter man, swearing he will never forgive those who have harmed him. Driven out of society because of his criminal status, he is ridiculed and unable to find work.

Valjean steals the silver of a benevolent bishop who is kind enough to offer him food and shelter. But when he is caught and threatened with a return to prison, the bishop defends him, saying that the silver was a gift freely given, while later telling Valjean that he must use it to “become an honest man.”

This undeserved mercy shown by the bishop transforms Valjean. In a powerful conversion scene, he kneels before an altar, wrestling with his hatred for the world and the newfound forgiveness he has experienced, and eventually allowing the power of this mercy to make him a new man.

Years later, Valjean – now a respected mayor – finds that he inadvertently allowed a woman working in his factory to be cast out, forcing her into a life of prostitution. As she lays dying, he vows to care for her daughter, Cosette. He raises the girl, who comes of age during a period of social unrest in France, all the while running from his past crime.

In contrast to Valjean stands police inspector Javert, perhaps the most intriguing character in the story. Although he is the antagonist, he is not an embodiment of evil, but rather a personification of what happens when justice is completely divorced from mercy.

Javert is best summarized by his declaration, “I am the law, and the law is not mocked.” Obsessed with enforcing the law, he becomes consumed with the hunt for Valjean, who has broken his parole in leaving behind his tainted criminal identity.

Rather than the greed and self-interest that is often seen in modern villains, Javert’s commitment to justice leads him to willingly accept the possibility of punishment when he thinks he has mistakenly reported the wrong man. He believes that he is serving God by strictly enforcing the law and prays that he may find Valjean so that justice may be served.

However, this blind worship of justice renders Javert incapable of forgiving Valjean, whom he can only see as a fugitive “fallen from God, fallen from grace.” It is impossible for him to grasp the idea that Valjean may ever be able to change from his thieving ways.

When a twist of fate leaves his life in Valjean’s hands and the former convict frees him rather than killing him, the look on his face makes it clear that he cannot understand forgiveness, and he vows to continue hunting Valjean.

In their final confrontation, Javert is puzzled by his inability to pull the trigger on Valjean. Haunted by the forgiveness he was earlier shown, his failure to comprehend mercy ultimately leads to his ruin, a tragic depiction of the consequences of justice untempered by mercy.

Éponine is another fascinating character and a moving example of how real love demands self-sacrifice. The daughter of the unscrupulous innkeepers that provide the story’s comic relief, she falls in love with the young revolutionary Marius. When she discovers that his heart belongs to Cosette, she is devastated.

The key moment comes, however, when Éponine witnesses a gang preparing to attack the house where Cosette and Valjean are hiding. If she remains silent, Cosette may be taken away or even killed, and she may have a chance to win Marius. But despite the evident pain of her unrequited love, she chooses valor over vengeance, saving Cosette and Valjean by screaming to alert them.

Éponine later disguises herself as a young man to join Marius at the barricade, where she saves his life in a courageous display of sacrificial love. Although a minor character, her role is both heroic and deeply touching.

Anne Hathaway also delivers a tear-jerking performance in the role of Fantine, the factory worker who is cast out when her supervisor discovers the existence of her young daughter, Cosette. Desperate to support her child, she sells her belongings, hair and even teeth before being driven into prostitution.

Hathaway’s skeletal appearance is startling, albeit fitting for the role. Her performance of  “I Dreamed a Dream” is absolutely chilling, as is the look in her eyes when Valjean promises that he will care for her child.

With palpable emotion from Valjean’s first paternal smile at Cosette to the final desperate battle at the barricade, Les Misérables delivers a powerful message of mercy and love.

Rated PG-13, the film deals with heavy themes including prostitution and the violent death of children, but it largely avoids graphic and gratuitous depictions, instead choosing more tastefully to show glimpses of these atrocities, which are enough to convey an idea of their horror.

Featuring an all-star cast including Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried and Helena Bonham Carter, the movie is sure to be a hit at the box office. It is a refreshing change from so many of the shallow films coming out of Hollywood.

With dazzling performances, bold visuals and heartfelt renditions of beloved songs, Les Misérables can be a tool for evangelization, telling a story of redemption and grace that is much-needed in the modern world and pointing to the ultimate discovery that “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Posted: December 24, 2012, 7:00 am
By Peter Zelasko

Forget the comic book characters because this summer’s must-see movie is “For Greater Glory.” A timeless and timely film, "For Greater Glory" is an artistic reminder of the true sacrifice of a martyr and the danger of taking religious freedom for granted.

The epic film delves into a history of Mexico and Catholicism that is not very well known, but is entirely capable of inspiring, educating and ennobling.

The film delves right into the story of the often brutal battle between the Catholic citizens of Mexico and the oppressive secularist regime of President Plutarco Elias Calles during the Cristero War.
The struggle began with the passage of anti-clerical laws in the Mexican constitution of 1917, but it wasn’t until Calles took office that the laws were enforced, often with deadly force.

Beginning in 1927, government troops were used to arrest priests and forcibly close all churches. Priests not born in Mexico were forced out of the country, and those who refused to abandon their flocks were often brutally martyred. Calles sought to extremely restrict – if not completely wipe out – Catholicism from Mexico.

The Cristeros, who earned their name because of their motto and war cry “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King!), banded together to defend themselves and their religious freedom.

Early in the film, Father Christopher (played by Oscar winner Peter O’Toole) sets the stage by asking, “Who are you if you don't stand up for what you believe?” The young Blessed José Luis Sánchez del Rio (Mauricio Kuri) soon witnesses his friend — the foreign born Fr. Christopher — paraded out of his parish church and summarily executed in the town square.

The film does start a little slowly with the introduction of its large all-star, ensemble cast, but once it gets moving the story makes you forget this film is almost two and a half hours long.

The many characters and story lines soon come together with some of the more inspiring witnesses to the faith shining through.

The film focuses on Anacleto Gonzalez Flores (Eduardo Verastugui) who was a lay Catholic pacifist known as the “Mexican Gandhi,” and the thousands of brave women of the Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc who provided logistical support and even smuggled bullets and guns to the more than 50,000 Mexicans who became Cristero fighters.

The two most interesting and important stories are of the retired General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde played by Academy Award-nominee Andy Garcia, and that of the 14-year-old Bl. José Luis Sánchez del Rio. 

The atheist General Gorostieta believes in the freedom of religion, despite his world view, and decides to lead the Cristeros, leaving his wife (Golden Globe winner Eva Longoria) and two daughters at home. He soon meets José who has left his home to join the Cristeros even though he is only 14.

After witnessing his parish priest’s death, José knows that he must stand up for his faith and for the right to practice it freely — even as it leads him closer to his own martyrdom.

Some of the most powerful cinematic images in “For Greater Glory” are created by new director Dean Wright in the scenes depicting Bl. José’s martyrdom. Wright uses his vast experience as a Hollywood effects guru (Titanic, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Chronicles of Narnia) to subtly and beautifully portray the real-life tale of Cristiada.

The film will certainly open your eyes to the struggle for religious freedom in a time and place not that far away, and the stories of men and women standing for what is right will help inspire a new generation of the faithful. If nothing else, the story of Bl. José will imprint the great dignity and courage of the Christian martyr in your mind and reveal the true beauty of having faith as a child (Mark 10:15).

“For Greater Glory” is rated R for violence and scenes of martyrdom.  It is appropriate for mature teens and adults.


Posted: June 4, 2012, 6:00 am
By Peter Zelasko

Opening to select theaters nationwide on March 23, “October Baby” blends the perfect amount of humor, honesty and hope into a beautiful story of love, life and the power of forgiveness.

The film begins with an introduction to 19-year-old college freshman Hannah (Rachel Hendrix), who suddenly loses consciousness out at the beginning of her college play. After a night in the hospital, she seeks answers from her physician and her parents Grace and Jacob (played by Jennifer Price and Hollywood veteran John Schneider).

Hannah soon discovers not only that she is adopted, but that her long history of health issues are all tied to her premature birth – a premature birth caused by a failed abortion.

Desperate for answers, Hannah accepts the help of her oldest friend Jason (Jason Burkey), and hitches a ride with a group of college students on their way to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Hannah hopes a side trip to Mobile, Alabama where she was born will reveal the answers she needs.

The spring break excursion leads Hannah on some interesting adventures with a little comic relief provided by chaperon and VW bus owner B-Mac (Chris Sligh of American Idol fame), and the story of her search for her biological mother helping her get out of some tight situations.

Hannah is eventually able to find Mary Rutledge (Jasmine Guy), the clinic nurse who assisted with her mother’s failed abortion and later helped her to get to the hospital where Hannah was born. Mary’s story is one of the more powerful moments of the film, as she reveals shocking news to Hannah during the young woman's quest to find her birth mother.

Through unexpected twists and turns, the film ultimately presents itself as an honest and charming story that reminds us that every life is beautiful, and that we can seek freedom through forgiveness, for ourselves and those we love.

With its strong themes and artistic portrayal, this film will be part of the pro-life discussion for a long time to come.

“October Baby” is rated PG-13 for “Mature Thematic Material.”

Posted: March 21, 2012, 6:00 am
By Peter Zelasko

Roland Joffe’s engaging story in “There be Dragons” highlights the early life of St. Josemaría Escriva, and examines the heart of Christian life through the need for both giving and receiving forgiveness.

The film examines the “dragons” in life – those things that cause suffering and lead us away from God, such as guilt, hatred, jealousy and betrayal. In this way, the movie explores the heart of Christianity, the need to forgive, and to ask for forgiveness.

It reminds us that we are all called to become saints, and though we may have different paths to take, and that by recognizing and overcoming the dragons in our everyday lives, we can find the true way to redemption. 

Inspired by actual events, “There Be Dragons,” is set during the Spanish Civil War of the mid- to late 1930s, and tells a story of the Spanish Saint through the relationship of a father and son. Dougray Scott plays journalist Robert Torres who is assigned to write a book about Josemaría Escrivá (Charlie Cox), the founder of Opus Dei. Robert soon discovers that his own father, Menolo (played by Wes Bentley), not only grew up in the same town as Josemaría, but has his own story to share. 

Through a series of long flashbacks, the film shows the intense conflict that arose in Spain between the Nationalists attempting to protect the establishment and Republican revolutionaries seeking regime change in the 1930s, as well as the smaller and less obvious conflicts within the lives of the characters.

The film highlights a young St. Josemaría Escriva, who survived the war and went on to found Opus Dei. The early history of Josemaría is artfully portrayed through the story Menolo reluctantly shares with his son. 

Josemaría and Menolo grow up in two different families, where each experiences their own challenges. The two young men’s lives quickly diverge. 

Josemaría’s faith leads him into the priesthood, dedicating himself to “God’s work,” while always remembering that suffering has meaning. 

Menolo loses his father, takes over the family business, and eventually becomes a spy among the communist revolutionaries. It is during the war that he meets a beautiful young woman Ildiko (Olga Kurylenko), but all of his affections are rejected. Instead, she is drawn to the courageous communist leader, Oriol (Rodrigo Santoro). Soon Menolo discovers one of the biggest secrets of his life involving his father.

Menolo’s secret is painful, but as his son learns more about his father, an opportunity arises for true forgiveness and a healing of their broken relationship. 

Writer and director Roland Joffe’s thoughtful story seeks to remind us that “When you forgive, you set someone free: yourself.” We may not all be saints, but we are all capable of becoming one.

Violence and sometimes explicit combat sequences along with some crass language and sexual themes and references give the film a PG-13 rating. This film is appropriate for mature teens and adults. “There Be Dragons” was released on DVD January 10, 2012.

Posted: January 20, 2012, 7:00 am
By Peter Zelasko

“A Princess for Christmas,” is a fun, family film starring Katie McGrath (“Merlin”) as Jules Daly, a frenetic 20-something who becomes guardian to her young niece Maddie (newcomer Leilah De Meza) and nephew Milo (Travis Turner) when her sister and brother-in-law are tragically killed in an accident.

Jules loses both her job and her nanny, and the approach of Christmas only reminds the inexperienced “mom” and her two charges of the loved ones they lost around Christmas the previous year.

But all hope of a happy Christmas is not lost.

Enter Paisley Winterbottom (Miles Richardson, “Midsomer Murders”), with an invitation for a family reunion with the children’s paternal grandfather Edward, the Duke of Castlebury Hall played by Sir Roger Moore, and his lone surviving son Ashton, Prince of Castlebury (Sam Heughan).

The Hallmark Channel original movie “A Princess for Christmas,” is a great film for the entire family to watch together during the Advent season. The story of family healing reminds us that sometimes we just have to believe. That belief renews our hope, and allows us to find love once again.

Catholic husband and wife Michael and Janeen Damian (“Flicka 3”) co-wrote the script and produced the film with Michael also directing.

“A Princess for Christmas” airs Dec. 3 on the Hallmark Channel.

Posted: December 1, 2011, 7:00 am
By Peter Zelasko

Warrior is the story of an estranged family in need of forgiveness and healing and seeks it through a battle of wills inside and out of the ring.

Nick Nolte plays Paddy Conlon in a keen characterization of a Vietnam vet and boxer-turned-steel mill worker whose alcoholism tears his family apart.

Paddy sobered up, only to find that he had destroyed everything good around him. His wife has run off, taking his favorite son Tommy (an angsty Tom Hardy). His oldest son Brendan (Joel Edgerton) stays with his father for the love of his now wife, Tess (Jennifer Morrison), though he refuses to forgive or speak to his father for ripping his family apart.

In the opening scene Paddy’s youngest son Tommy shows up drunk on his father’s doorstep after a questionable departure from the Marines. Tommy wants to use his father as a trainer while refusing to speak about his murky past and exit from the military, nor acknowledging any existence of their relationship as father and son.

The reappearance of his youngest son renews Paddy's hopes for getting his family back together. He wants to renew his relationship with both of his sons, but is repeatedly rejected by both. Sober for over 1,000 days, Paddy inevitably falls off the wagon. The viewer never finds out if and how he heals his relationships with either of his sons.

Younger brother Tommy is selfish, narrow, loves little and fears much, even though he comes off as a tough-guy ex-marine.

Older brother Brendan falls constantly for his own pride, making decisions rooted in fear. Brendan did choose to stay with his father, but it was to hold onto the one real relationship he had in his life. He marries his high school sweetheart, Tess, and tries to make ends meet teaching high school physics. Upside down on his mortgage, he decides on his own initiative to start fighting for extra money to stay afloat. His principle finds out and suspends him, and when his wife discovers the truth, he ignores her honest fears for his safety and decides on his own to keep training and fighting. In his desperation he seeks the fights as a path to saving his family from financial problems, while ignoring the truly courageous act of telling the truth and working with his wife to find a solution.

The film eventually focuses on the main event—in which the fight scenes are explicitly believable. Both brothers end up battling their way into the final round of a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) prize fight called “Sparta” where they inevitably face off against each other for a $5 million purse. For the last half of the film the stakes are high inside and outside of the ring. If you are not paying attention you can miss the change in both brothers in their final battle. The director finally finds an opportunity for mercy, and some hope for forgiveness is finally revealed. But don't expect it all to be wrapped up in a nice package.

Director and co-writer Gavin O'Connor has created an interesting example of the dichotomies of pain: the physical and the mental, the pain caused by others and the self-inflicted. The three Conlon men constantly remind the viewer that life will always be unjust and unfair when we are the only reference point. Selfishness can compound spiritual and physical pain and leave us weak as individuals. That's the most interesting aspect of “Warrior,” that despite our failures and our ability to constantly fall, even to the most extreme limits as these three men show, there is still hope for redemption—to find freedom from the physical and spiritual wounds of life through forgiveness. Freedom after all is measured by love and not by choice.

Sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, crude and obscene language, profanity, mild innuendo, and a portrayal of drunkenness give it a PG-13 rating. The film is not suitable for children.

Posted: September 16, 2011, 6:00 am
By Marianne Paluso

Unconventional, visually breathtaking, solemn, and thought provoking are just a few of the words that describe director Terrence Malick’s minimalistic and yet grandiose film “The Tree of Life.” Rather than employing a traditional plot driven narrative, “The Tree of Life” follows a modest Texas family’s lives- the intimate and simple moments of three young boys, their overbearing but ultimately loving father (Brad Pitt in some of his best work), and their angelic and graceful mother (ethereal Jessica Chastain). Utilizing very little dialogue, we watch the children grow and learn about life, for that is what the film is truly about. It is about Life and all it encompasses- the origins of creation, our faith and spiritually and our connection to the earth. Ultimately, Malick presents the concept of Nature versus Grace and how we all must choose between the two. Or must we?

Shifting back and forth in vastly different time periods, the film begins in a somewhat disjointed fashion as we see our family later on in life grieving the loss of one son, and then we go back, way back, to the creation of the earth. For nearly 20 minutes we are visually stimulated with images of nebulas, land formations, organisms, and even dinosaurs. A slow moving film, this section of “The Tree of Life” is ambitious, but a bit lethargic. It is the glimpse into the moments of our family’s lives and their relationship and contemplations to God (done in voiceover by mother and eldest son) that is most affecting.

Throughout “The Tree of Life” the concept of Nature versus Grace is only seemingly in conflict. Instead of choosing between the two, Malick truly displays how Nature and Grace are interconnected. The sounds of nature seem intensified wherever out characters wander, the leaves of the trees are greener, and the sky is bluer. When one son is just a baby, our mother holds the boy in her arms, points up to the azure, cloud filled sky and tells him, “That’s where God lives.” Mother and sons revel in God’s creations in Nature, such as a butterfly that lands on the mother’s hand, lingers for a moment, and then flutters away. It is a quiet and lovely moment of serenity and amazement at the wonders of the earth.

While Malick employs very little dialogue, that which is present, particularly the voiceovers, are deliberately profound, and often come at the film’s few plot points that inhabit the story. After a young boy drowns in a local swimming hole, our eldest son asks, “Lord, where were you? Why? Who are we to you?” His loss of innocence makes him question Life and what his purpose is. If a boy could so tragically drown, if a family’s home could burn down and permanently burn another young boy, he wonders if what he does on earth truly matters and starts treading down a path of bad behavior. And yet, he still wonders, “Are you still watching me?” He soon prays for guidance- to help him to not tell lies, and to be thankful for what he has. Like many a child, he wants to know and understand more. His relationship with God is entwined with his mother and all that she has taught him and he ponders, “You spoke to me through her. You spoke to me through the sky. Where were you before I believed in you? I want to know what you are. I want to see what you see.” This honest depiction of childhood wonderings of the ways of the Lord is not only poignant and affecting, but also refreshing in that Malick presents a child’s questions but does not attempt to challenge those of faith. Quite profound for a modern Hollywood film.

The ending of “The Tree of Life” is certain to be one of the most thought provoking and debated of the year. Images of character’s old and young selves, surrounded by hundreds of others are seen as they slowly walk through majestic cliffs and across a pristine beach. Is this the path to the Heaven and the afterlife? It feels as such, but the eldest son returns down (through an elevator) to earth in the end, the sun brightly shining back down on him. Was this a glimpse of what’s to come, where the brother he lost is heading? Although, it’s open to interpretation, this is surely Malicks’s representation of Heaven.  Viewers will no doubt shed tears at this ethereal scene and the mother’s final prayer that embodies what “The Tree of Life” is truly about: “The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by. Wonder. Do good. Hope. Keep us. Guide us, until the end of time.”

Posted: August 2, 2011, 6:00 am
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