The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Posted on September 16, 2021 at 5:51 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual content and drug abuse
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and prescription drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Corruption, abuse, angry confrontations
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 17, 2021

Copyright 2021 Searchlight
Near the beginning of “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” an off-camera make-up artist gently suggests that singer/puppeteer/televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain) remove her iconic, one might even say garish, cosmetics. She wipes off her lipstick but the dark lip-liner remains. She explains that it is permanent. Like her eye-liner and eyebrows, it is tattooed on. Underneath the glitz and fakery is more glitz and fakery and it never comes off.

Bakker and her husband Jim (played by Andrew Garfield) were huge in the 80s, first as hosts of the wildly successful PTL (Praise the Lord) channel, with Christian-themed children’s shows, talk shows, and variety shows. In today’s terms, they were influencers. They had millions of fans. And they had millions of people who made fun of them for being grotesque. Especially after they were in disgrace for financial fraud and sexual abuse. Jim Bakker was accused of having non-consensual sex and using $200,000 of PTL’s money to pay her off to stay silent. This led to an investigation which found him guilty of using the viewer’s charitable contributions for his lavish home and other personal expenses. He was found guilty of 24 counts of fraud and served eight years in prison.

2021 seems to be a moment for re-considering the lives of women reduced to national punchlines during scandals in the 80s-00s. “American Crime Story” is co-produced by Monica Lewinsky. Both she and Linda Tripp, the woman who betrayed Lewinsky’s confidences by recording their calls, are given a sympathetic treatment. Britney Spears’ efforts to end the conservatorship that gives her father control over her financial, medical, and professional life has led to a re-evaluation of the derisive jokes about her erratic behavior. A few years ago, we had “I, Tonya,” with a more layered look at skater Tonya Harding. And now Tammy Faye Bakker, portrayed in the media as a silly, helium-voiced nitwit with clownish make-up, is at the center of a story that portrays her as a vulnerable, sometimes struggling soul but a true believer who wanted to bring joy and spread the message of God’s eternal love.

In one key scene, despite the strong anti-gay beliefs of the other televangelists and the frantic fear of the early AIDS era, Tammy Faye insist on interviewing a gay preacher who is HIV-positive. Their conversation is heart-felt and warm. She interviews him remotely because he cannot travel, but she says she wishes she could put her arms around him.

Tammy Faye died in 2007. In her lifetime, she was dismissed as foolish at best, corrupt and hypocritical at worst. She was caricatured on “Saturday Night Live” and thought of as a real-life caricature. But millions of people loved her because she was utterly sincere and genuinely uplifted by her faith and the music it inspired. Chastain makes that side of Tammy Faye clear, as well as the growing disconnect between what she wanted the world to be and what it was. As we see at the beginning, she was shunned from her mother’s ultra-strict church as a child because her parents were divorced. She never lost the sense of looking through the window from the outside, wanting to be accepted. She found that with God, not so much with people. But as we see here, she always tried to be that for everyone else. Chastain and Garfield show us all of the excesses and follies of the Bakkers, but never let us see them as anything less than human, vulnerable, and yes, worthy of love.

Parents should know that this film includes substance abuse, sexual references and situations, anti-gay comments, and corruption, with strong language and some mild violence.

Family discussion: How do the characters’ ideas about the meaning of their faith differ? What mattered most to Tammy Faye Bakker?

If you like this, try: the documentary of the same name

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Based on a true story Drama Movies -- format

Breathe

Posted on October 19, 2017 at 5:50 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including some bloody medical images
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Severe illness, medical situations with some graphic images, issue of assisted death
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 20, 2017
Date Released to DVD: January 1, 2018
Copyright 2017 Bleeker Street

“Plucky or pitiful?” a man asks his wife as they drive toward a grand British estate to beg for funding to provide wheelchairs for the severely disabled. They meet with a crusty old aristocrat (Diana Rigg, always a treasure) who says that normally she has no trouble turning people down but she feels she must say yes to them. And, because they are so dashed plucky, so do we.

Robin Cavendish called himself a “responaut,” a jaunty, adventurous term for a man who was completely paralyzed by polio in his 20’s. And this jaunty, adventurous, paralyzed man’s story is told, perhaps a little too lovingly, by his filmmaker son in “Breathe,” about Cavendish, who revolutionized the mobility and accessibility of the severely disabled in mid-century Britain.

But this film is less about his activism than it is about his love story. Robin (Andrew Garfield) married Diana (“The Crown”), and their unswerving devotion and determined spirits are the heart of the film.

Like “The Theory of Everything,” which it resembles, the movie opens with our hero doing something active. He races along in a car and then swings a cricket bat, trying to catch the attention of the bored beauty sitting by the tea table. Soon they are married and off to Kenya, where he is a tea broker and she goes along with him for the fun of it. They are blissfully happy until, just after she tells him she is pregnant, he becomes very ill with polio, paralyzed from the neck down, and given just three months to live.

She manages to get him back to England, where he is put in a ward with other paralyzed men. He cannot speak. He cannot move. He cannot think of any reason to see Diana or the baby or to try to live. When a priest comes by with platitudes, he manages to spit at him.

But Diana’s devotion and his restored ability to speak inspire him to insist on going home. Nothing like that has ever been tried before and the doctor in charge forbids it. Another patient bets him a fiver that he won’t last. But he does. And he works with a friend to invent a wheelchair with a respirator that gives him mobility.

First-time director Andy Serkis (the motion capture actor from “Planet of the Apes” and “Lord of the Rings”) has a disarmingly light touch. The escape from the hospital is accompanied by the kind of musical score we might expect in a heist film with more humor than tension. Plus, if there’s anything better than one Tom Hollander in a movie, it is two Tom Hollanders, utterly charming playing Diana’s affectionate but eccentric twin brothers. Most of the dialog is delivered with an understated smile, the kind of “Hullo, darling,” we used to get in movies of the 1930’s. I found that endearing. This is very much a love story, not just between Diana and Robin but between a son and his parents.

Parents should know that this film includes severe illness and paralysis, some graphic and disturbing images, some sexual references and situation, and the issue of assisted death.

Family discussion: What made Robin different from the other patients? Do you agree with his decision about when to die?

If you like this, try: “The Theory of Everything” and “The Intouchables”

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Based on a true story DVD/Blu-Ray Illness, Medicine, and Health Care movie review Romance

Trailer: Breathe with Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy

Posted on July 2, 2017 at 8:00 am

Andrew Garfield plays pioneering disability rights advocate Robin Cavendish in “Breathe,” directed by actor Andy Serkis, best known for his extraordinary motion capture performances in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Planet of the Apes” series.

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Based on a true story Disabilities and Different Abilities Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Where You’ve Seen Them Before: Martin Scorsese’s “Silence”

Posted on January 7, 2017 at 3:20 pm

Martin Scorsese worked for thirty years to bring Shusaku Endo’s book Silence to the screen. It is finally in wide release this week, with an outstanding cast including:

Andrew Garfield is best known as “Spider-Man,” but he also co-starred in “Social Network” as Eduardo Saverin and most recently starred in “99 Homes” and “Hacksaw Ridge.”

Adam Driver, who lost 30 pounds for this part, appeared recently in both a prestige art-house film (a poet in Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson”) and the biggest of the big-budget studio films (Kylo Ren in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”). A former Marine and a Juilliard graduate, he had a starring role in Lena Dunham’s “Girls” and sang with Justin Timberlake and his “Force Awakens” co-star Oscar Isaac in the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

Tadanobu Asano may be familiar to American audiences from the “Thor” films or “47 Ronin.”

Liam Neeson is one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, an Oscar winner for “Schindler’s List,” and an action star in the “Taken” films. This week he stars in both major nationwide releases, with a motion capture/voice performance in “A Monster Calls.” You can see him in “Love Actually,” “Leap of Faith,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Kinsey,” and “Rob Roy,” and you can hear him as the voice of Aslan in the “Narnia” films.

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Actors

Silence

Posted on January 5, 2017 at 5:27 pm

Copyright Paramount 2016
Copyright Paramount 2016
Like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam-era adaptation, Apocalypse Now, Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” is the story of men who take a journey to find a former leader who has disappeared into the untamed natural world.

It is the mid-17th century. Two Portuguese priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garrpe (Adam Driver) go to Japan in search of their teacher and mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). After receiving disturbing reports that he has publicly abandoned his faith, they say, “We have no choice but to save his soul.” They leave with “no luggage except our hearts.”

Ferreira had gone to Japan as a missionary and he and his colleagues had some success in converting Buddhist peasants. But Japan has now outlawed Christianity in any form, and as we see immediately, the officials have decided that the best way to eradicate it is to torture believers, forcing the priests to watch. Early efforts to fight Christianity failed because killing the priests made them martyrs, showing the strength and power of their faith when they refused to renounce it, even under torture. So the officials responsible for eradicating Christianity have had to develop a more subtle approach. Instead of torturing the priests, they torture and murder their followers, telling the priests that all they have to do to stop it is recant. It can be as simple as putting a foot on an icon of Jesus. “It’s a formality,” the Japanese official says in a soothing voice. “You don’t have to believe it.”

The priests have a choice: deny their faith in Jesus and Christianity or allow the suffering and death of innocent people. What should they do? Who has the answer?

For Martin Scorsese, who co-wrote and directed, this movie has been a passion project for three decades, since he read the award-winning novel by Shusaku Endo, inspired by the true stories of 17th century priests in Japan. Scorsese, who once thought of becoming a priest grapples here with the big questions about the letter and the spirit in the context of a time and a faith that traditionally has put a lot of emphasis on the letter as a frame and a discipline for the spirit. It is also a faith tradition that understands suffering as a part of faith practice, whether a way to appreciate the suffering of Jesus or to test one’s faith or to better understand others’ experiences, or to earn the rewards of heaven. The gorgeous visual scope and striking images are as powerful in telling the story of the clash of culture and religion as the narrative.

When it comes to performances, the film is off-balance, probably unintentionally, as the Japanese characters are more complex and completely realized than the one-dimensional priests. Garfield seems at sea as an actor, not just as a character, except in a few scenes where he has a chance to debate the “Inquisitor” (a wry, clever Issey Ogata). This movie about silence is at its best in the verbal jousting on faith, culture, truth, and power.

Translation: Extremely tense scenes of torture and brutality with some very disturbing graphic images, characters injured and killed

Recommendation: Mature teens-Adults

Family discussion: Were you surprised by the final shot? In the debate with the Inquisitor about culture and faith, who was right?

If you like this, try: “Unbroken” and “The Last Temptation of Christ”

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