The Song: A Beautiful Lyric Not to be Missed

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Many years ago I worked in a music store selling CDs.  One day a man came in and asked me if I had any love songs.  I looked at him, pointed to the entire store and said “yes!”  Most songs are written about love because that’s what moves us, what touches are souls.  One of the greatest love songs ever written is in the Old Testament…The Song of SongsThe Song of Songs has been attributed to the writings of King Solomon, who had the gift of wisdom.  The Song of Songs is essentially erotic love poetry about a man and his wife.  It is meant to be a metaphor of the love of God and his people, of the love of Christ and his Church.

When I heard that there would be a film based on the story of King Solomon and the Song of Songs, I had two thoughts…1) what a great idea! And 2) wow…that is very ambitious!  So I was excited to see how it would turn out.  I wasn’t disappointed.

The Song, from City on a Hill Productions and Samuel Goldwyn Films, is a film about love, marriage, and the cross.  Aspiring singer-songwriter Jed King writes “The Song” inspired by his new wife, Rose.  “The Song” becomes a huge hit propelling Jed to stardom.  But life on the road and in the spotlight threatens to destroy his marriage, his family, and his life.

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This movie takes a look at the difficulties of married life and how if marriage is not properly looked after, it can wither and die.  This movie also takes a look at how the role of confession, penance, and redemption can save not just a marriage but also a man’s soul.

Music lovers will enjoy this film as, the soundtrack is fantastic!  In fact, I would say the music is a character all its own, pulling the film together and moving it along.

Couples will love this film as it will give them hope and encouragement for their own relationships.

Singles will enjoy this film as it will give them the hope of finding that same joy of their own someday.

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I would not recommend this film for young children as there are some serious adult themes dealt with, such as sex, drug use, drinking, and adultery.  However, I would recommend this film for teens, especially when watching with their parents (don’t worry Mom and Dad, it’s done in a tasteful manner) as a conversation starter on these very important topics.

You can find resources for couples and families at the website for The Song.  This film will be just as helpful with strengthening marriages and families as Fireproof was.

The Song opens this Friday, September 26th.

Dolphin Tale 2: Friends and Family Matter on Land and Sea


In Theaters Now

In Theaters Now

Dolphin Tale 2 released recently by Warner Brothers was the number two at the box office its opening weekend in September.  I saw the film Saturday afternoon in a theater packed with children, parents and grandparents.  Part of the fun of the film was hearing the giggles and responses of the kids in some parts, but their absolute silence in other scenes of the film.  The film had their attention and deserves it.

It is a family movie, not just in the sense that it has kid actors, animals and “lunge free” viewing (parents do not have to lunge to cover their children’s eyes or ears), the film is about the importance of family and friendships, of letting go and of remaining committed.

The first Dolphin Tale film tells the story of the rescue of Winter, a female dolphin whose tale fin had been cut off after being caught in a crab trap.  Dr. Clay Haskell, played by Harry Connick, Jr., takes the wounded creature to Clearwater Aquarium assisted by his daughter Hazel, Cozy Zuehlsdorff, and her friend, Sawyer, Nathan Gamble.   They pair an older dolphin named Panama with Winter and ultimately fit her with a prosthetic fin invented by Dr. Cameron McCarthy, played by Morgan Freeman.   All based on a true story.

The real Winter is a celebrity at the Clearwater Aquarium drawing many visitors, among them many disabled people.  Her ability to adapt to the prosthetic fin has inspired humans living with loss of limb or faced with physical challenges.

In Dolphin Tale 2, Winter’s dolphin friend Panama dies.  In spite of efforts by Cozy, Sawyer and the staff, Winter is depressed.  They must find a companion dolphin for her or risk her health and also the loss of the aquarium under pressure from the USAD.

Nathan Gamble star of Dolphin Tale 2 interviewed at Family Theater by Fr. Ed Benioff.

Nathan Gamble star of Dolphin Tale 2 interviewed at Family Theater by Fr. Ed Benioff.

Every character in the film seems called to clarity dedication to a purpose greater than themselves and must wrestle with what that means in terms of their life decisions. The staff at the Clearwater Aquarium rescue animals with the idea to return them to the wild as soon as possible.  Though they come to love the sea creatures in their care: they must be able to release them back to the wild.   The staff, including young Sawyer and Hazel, live the struggle of sacrificial love.

At the same time, Sawyer is offered a scholarship to a semester at sea program based in Boston.  Nathan Gamble says about his character, “The last three years at the Aquarium have been so great for him; it’s given him purpose and many friends, so he struggles with whether or not he should go.”  Can he let them go?  Can they let him go off to school so that he can become the person he is called to be?

The cast includes other greats like Ashley Judd and Chris Kristofferson, not to mention a scene stealing pelican and other beautiful sea animals.

All ages can see and enjoy Dolphin Tale 2.  It is wonderfully escapist in the sense that it has little of the cynicism and darkness of so many films today, but it still points to significant life issues that are worth a little reflection with touching moments, beautiful scenes and fun along the way.

The Wall Street Journal’s Article about Hollywood and What Makes Us Cry at the Movies

a walk to remember “Hollywood is Working Hard to Make You Cry” explains Don Steinberg’s in his recent article in the Wall Street Journal. He looks at the neuroscience, the art of storytelling, the filmmaker’s intention behind making a scene tear jerking, the actors themselves, and the differences between men and women’s reactions to film.

Click here to read the whole article

Here are some excerpts:

Audiences love tearjerkers, but why? How do they work? Horror movies have their clichéd “jump scares” that can get us every time—the demonic face in the bathroom mirror, the knife-wielding maniac suddenly in the doorway. Tearjerkers have triggers, too, but they are more complex, wrapped up in how characters make us feel, with their awkward attempts to connect with each other, their bravery and fears, regrets and unspoken burdens. Other hot-button themes are faith redeemed, struggles rewarded and love requited.

Researchers are applying science to answer questions about movie-induced weeping. Princeton University psychologist Uri Hasson, who coined the term “neurocinematics,” led a 2008 study that used a type of magnetic resonance imaging to study brain activity while watching a film. The researchers used “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”—hardly a tearjerker—in their project. Mr. Hasson and his colleagues identified similar brain activity among people watching the same film, and suggested such research might be useful for the movie industry.

love storyWhen asked which films choke them up, many men cite depictions of against-the-odds valor or understated affection, like “Rudy,” “Brian’s Song” and “Saving Private Ryan.” Women name relationship dramas like Steel Magnolias” or “Beaches” or “When a Man Loves a Woman,” in which Andy Garcia tries to preserve his marriage to an alcoholic Meg Ryan.

Men and women may sob at different parts of the same film. In “Gravity,” some women react when Ms. Bullock, while stranded in space, talks about her daughter who died in childhood (“Can you please tell her that Mama found her red shoe?”). Men may be more stirred by the dénouement, when the astronaut, having survived her journey, walks triumphantly ashore.

The “completely vulnerable human moment” is the key to great cinema.  It is then that the viewer connects with their own personal  trials with those of the character on screen.   In that experience we connect with the greater story of the human condition.  Exploring the meaning of human existence—to love, to suffer, to be vulnerable, to overcome—is the vocation of the artist and is what makes a film great.

“Boyhood” and “When the Game Stands Tall”: Cinema Looks at Boys Growing Up












It might seem odd to put Richard Linklater’s ground-breaking film Boyhood next to the fairly straightforward inspirational sports film When the Game Stands Tall directed by Thomas Carter, but both from very different perspectives show young men growing up and the mixed roles the adults in their lives play.

When the Game Stands Tall tells the story of Coach Bob Ladouceur and his De La Salle High School power house football team whose winning streak reached to 151 games.   The coach played by Jim Caviezel, repeats over and over that the winning streak is not the most important thing about the program he runs.   A reporter asks him “25 years coaching this team, favored to win your 12th consecutive championship, 150 wins, how’d you pull it off?”  Coach responds, “Winning a lot of games is doable, teaching kids there is more to life, that’s hard.”  Ladouceur creates a culture of pride, of accountability and of love of community in his players by his own example, by his teaching and attentiveness to them.   He is an adult who is present as an adult to the needs of the children entrusted to him as students and players.


When watching Boyhood, you keep wishing and hoping that Mason will have this kind of adult in his life.  Linklater’s film chronicles the life of Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane from the age of 6 to 18 and was filmed over 12 years with the cast including Ethan Hawke as the boy’s here-and-not-here father and Patricia Arquette as his struggling single mother.   The adults in Mason’s world drag him along as a bystander or baggage on their journey to find themselves.   His father played by Ethan Hawke is the largely absent, cool dad who shows up when he is in town, with gifts and advice and laughs.  Mason observes his hard-working Mother’s romances turn into marriages and implode into alcohol fused disasters.  He lives ever in someone else’s home and without a safe place of his own.  He forms friendships and then is repeatedly torn from them in successive moves.

The adults in his life love him in their own way, but they are not accountable to each other and not to him or his sister Samantha (played by Lorelei Linklater).   They parent on their own terms almost as a sideline to the bigger work of finding themselves.  Mason and his sister seem to get in their way at times.  In fact, in several separate cringe-worthy, Mason’s parents tell him that he was “a mistake.”  The words come in the guise of advice to use contraception, “you don’t want to make the same mistake your mom and I did.”

With the little guidance he gets from his family and the force of his own lovely personality, grace works in boy and you see an artist developing from the chaos of life.  After the credits role, you care enough about him to wonder how he will form family and navigate his way to adult life when he has had so few positive role models.   Will Mason find a home?  Is he prepared to create one?

There is no one really who calls him to excellence or to be his best self.  Would that the Mason’s of the world could have one of the Coach Bob Ladouceurs of the world as a mentor to help them believe in the meaning and purpose of life and experience the power of sacrificial love.

Coach Ladouceur gives a locker room speech in which he says that his mission is to help them grow up to be men that others can depend on.   Sadly, Mason in Boyhood, is not alone among teenagers in lacking adults in their lives with such a mission.


“The Giver” Raises Questions

In Theaters Now

In Theaters Now

Lois Lowry’s award winning book turned feature film, The Giver, hit theaters this month in the Weinstein Company release.

Memory plays a key role in how we see ourselves, our families, our culture, country, the world and faith. Memory helps us to discover our identity, purpose and meaning in life. The family is the primary place where memories get passed on, “Oh, when you were little…” “Hey, remember the time…” “I will never forget when…”  The Giver is a dystopian fable of a society that has purposely cut off its people from their collective memory and sense of history.

In The Giver, the families (which are not biologically connected: children come from a lab and are placed with parents who are not related to them) have no sense of shared memory and neither does the society at large. There is no opportunity for faith, as faith presupposes a cultural memory.

In the film, there is a graduation/rite of passage scene where each student receives a career assignment from the authorities. Jonas (played by Brenton Thwaites) is the last to hear of his placement, and finds out that he is to be the apprentice to the Receiver (played by Jeff Bridges).  The Receiver’s sole responsibility is to curate the memories of days past and, if called upon, to assist the elders in decision making with his extensive knowledge of the past. He alone bears the collective memory of the people, even of things omitted from the official history of the community.  When Jonas becomes the apprentice Receiver, he dubs his teacher, “The Giver.”Unknown

The fascinating thing about the role of the “Giver” is that he alone retains the culture’s memory.  He literally hands over the memories from the past. The gestures used Bridge’s character imitates the same gestures of a priest or bishop in the sacraments of confirmation or ordination.  He lays hands on Jonas and “hands over” the memory. Jonas can then see beyond. This gift of “sight” is connected to faith, as faith is a seeing beyond. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11). Jonas embodies this sense of “sight”.

The word “tradition” comes from the Latin word “trahere” meaning “to hand over.” In the collective Christian memory, the apostles hand over the stories, images, memories of Jesus to the disciples, who then hand over these to future generations. Just as families are primary place that memories are passed along, so too families are where the faith is passed on.

The man who is the Giver is a symbol for those people in society and in our lives –most notably our families—who pass along our culture’s values, ideals and stories. Families will enjoy talking with their children after this movie especially about how movies, books, media all shape our collective memories and how the history of past cultures are relevant to our lives now. Learning that we are part of a greater story is an essential—and beautiful—part of being human.

The Giver shares thematic elements with other recent dystopian novels-made-movie franchises such as the Hunger Games and Divergent...The main character(s) in each of these tries to sort out who they are and how they fit into their particular societies. They don’t fit in, are seen as different and unique and are considered “special” by authorities and peers – much to their own dismay.

Jeff Bridges as the Mentor

Jeff Bridges as the Mentor

The society in The Giver has been intentionally created and is highly regulated in response to unnamed, but easy to imagine global tragedy.   In the name of the common good, emotion and passion (including anger and envy but also the ability to notice and enjoy art and beauty) are numbed through daily injections.  Uniformity and usefulness are prized to the extent that those who do not fit are “released” from the community.

As he begins his training, Jonas discovers through his mentor, the world of color, love, family, music and emotions for the first time. One of the first memories that the Giver shows Jonas is a warm glowing sunset with vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. Jonas has never seen anything so beautiful. Overjoyed and inquisitive, he tries to reconcile why the elders would have constructed a society deprived of all of beauty, emotion and diversity. As the viewer, you find a new appreciation for all of these simple things that really do make life beautiful.

Jonas’ recognizes that his society is lukewarm: ordered, clean, tidy, dutiful and well-mannered, but empty.  They are all “yes-men” who don’t know how to think for themselves or sacrifice for another.  Everything has a utilitarian overtone—nothing is beautiful or is delighted in for its own sake: from clothes to people to nature.  His awakening sparks a rebellion which neither he nor the authorities are prepared to handle.

The film will lead to family discussions with older teens of perennial questions about the meaning of human life, the role of memory, free will, identity and our role in the greater human experience.

Guardians of the Galaxy

gaurdiansposterwebGuardians of the Galaxy opened as the highest- ever grossing film in August, and has continued to top the charts at the box office.  It is a thrill ride that families, particularly those with teens and young adults, are sure to enjoy.

The 10th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy features a team of superheroes with Chris Pratt (LEGO Movie and Parks and Recreation) as Peter Quinn/StarLord, Zoe Saldana as an alien assassin, Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket, a fast talking raccoon, and Groot, his talking-tree side kick. This band of multicolored misfits haphazardly teams up to save a distant planet from Ronan the Accuser, who plans to destroy planets and control the galaxy with the coveted Infinity Stone.  Peter Quinn, a rogue space pirate, steals the orb which secretly contains the Infinity Stone.

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All the action is set to a soundtrack of classic 70s music.  Peter Quinn holds preciously onto a cassette of 70s music that his mother made for him before he was abducted from Earth in 1988.  The music adds a note of goofy nostalgia, keeping the film fresh and grounded.

Starting out as independent and selfish individuals, Peter Quinn and the other Guardians, learn to sacrifice themselves for the others.  In the course of the story, each character pursues the Infinity Stone for his own  selfish reasons.  By teaming up, the Guardians, not only discover there is more to life than self-interest,  but that they are not alone in their problems,  a valuable message for any teen and adult alike.  Using the uniqueness of each, they overcome Ronan and save the galaxy.  The film’s eclectic visuals and sound blend to serve the film and reflect the misfits coming together.

Photo credit: Marvel

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This is a fun action film grounded in a strong story and characters with visual effects that are just icing on the cake.

Families who enjoy comic books, 70’s music, and an unconventional hero will surely enjoy this film.

Heads up to families with young children:  the movie contains comic book violence and some crude and sexually themed language and humor. This film would be best for teens and up.

For more Catholic/Christian reviews:

This post is co-authored with James Zambrana.