The Vessel

Posted on September 13, 2016 at 7:07 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some partial nudity/sensuality and thematic elements
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Devastating tragedy (off-screen), some peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 16, 2016

Copyright New Territory Pictures 2016
Copyright New Territory Pictures 2016
Many people have asked why bad things happen to good people, and many theories have been proposed. Fewer people have explored the more important question: when devastating tragedy happens, how do we find a way to go on? That is the question in “The Vessel,” produced by Terrence Malick and written and directed, in both Spanish and English versions, by Julio Quintana. Malick’s influence or inspiration is felt throughout, from the exquisitely composed images and impressionistic storytelling to the spiritual symbols.

Like Malick, Quintana lets the story unfold slowly, with a dreamy quality, allowing the audience to discover the story rather than serving it to us. There is a narrative voiceover from Leo (Lucas Quintana), a man who lives with his mother, a woman closed off in a deep silence. He cares for her tenderly, patiently. Leo tells us that all of the women in his community wear black in a sort of contest. Whoever puts aside mourning clothes first will lose some unspoken contest. And so we begin to discover she is not the only person in this Spanish-speaking town on the ocean who has had a tragic loss. The entire community has been devastated. They can barely speak. They seem stuck in grief, with no way to return to any part of their lives.

An American-born priest (Martin Sheen, a performance of deep grace and generosity) tries to help. He does everything he can. He listens. He counsels and commiserates. He gently urges. He prays. But nothing changes.

And then, Leo does something. What is a vessel, after all? The word can mean a ship or a container for liquids or a biological or botanical term for a physical delivery system. And poetically it can be used for a human body as the container for a soul. All of the above applies here, with images of water to underscore the metaphor. Leo begins to build something, not sure why or what he will do when it is finished. The priest opposes it; for him it is a distraction, a rival to the church, a golden calf. And yet, the community begins to see it as a portal to a return to themselves. They will never forget. They will never be free from pain. But for the first time, they begin to see the possibility that they might not be numb anymore.

This is a gentle, poetic, touching film, itself a vessel with a message of hope. It does not pretend to answer the question of why bad things happen to good people, but it reminds us that when they do, there are other good people paying attention.

Parents should know that this movie includes themes of devastating loss, some peril, and a brief sexual situation with some nudity

Family discussion: What do we learn from the different ways of grieving? Why did the boat make a difference?

If you like this, try: “The Sweet Hereafter” and “Tree of Life”

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Drama Movies -- format Spiritual films

The Amazing Spider-Man

Posted on July 2, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended superhero fantasy peril and violence, some teen bullying, sad loss of four parents/parent figures, some disturbing mutation images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 3, 2012
Date Released to DVD: November 5, 2012 ASIN: B008QZ5PY2

One thing I love about comics is that they are the only form of story-telling, with the possible exception of soap operas, where so many different people tell open-ended stories about the adventures of the same characters through a period that stretches over decades.  The Wikipedia entry on Spider-Man’s “multiverse” includes more than 30 different versions, from the comic strip, cartoon, mutant, and zombie to the spectacular, amazing, noir, hulk, and kid-friendly “Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane.”  So, much as I enjoyed the Tobey Maguire trilogy (well, the first two) directed by Sam Raimi, I was looking forward to this reboot.

It does not bother me that 28-year-old Andrew Garfield, who has already played a college student (“The Social Network”) and an adult (“Red Riding”) is playing a high school student.  It does not bother me that we have to go through the whole origin story all over again — spider bite, having fun trying out the new powers, death of kindly Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen taking over from Cliff Robertson), though it really should not take up nearly an hour, and much as I love her, Sally Field can’t match Rosemary Harris’ iconic Aunt May.  The efforts to tie Peter Parker’s parents (briefly glimpsed Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) in with the shenanigans going on at Oscorp feel cluttered, and Rhys Ifans as the scientist who lost an arm in his experiments and wants to find a way for humans to regrow limbs the way some animals do does not make a strong impression either as human or as the Godzilla-like creature he becomes.  The problem may be that if Sony does not keep up its schedule of Spider-Man movies, the rights revert to Disney, which bought Marvel.  So at times it feels like a place-holder for the franchise.

But there are a couple of things that work very well and make this an entertaining entry in the superhero canon.  First, and let’s face it, this is what we want from Spider-Man movies, it is a blast to see your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man swing his webby way through the city.  In crystal clear IMAX 3D and with true mechanical effects — that is Garfield’s real weight swinging on real strings, not CGI — it is exhilaratingly vertiginous.

Garfield is less soulful and broody than Maguire, more athletic and witty.  Peter Parker’s hipster signifiers include a skateboard, a hoodie, and a Mark Gonzales poster.  And the heavenly Emma Stone plays beautiful science nerd Gwen Stacey, a more interesting character than would-be actress Mary Jane.  There is genuine electricity between Peter and Gwen and director Marc Webb brings the same feel for young love he displayed in “(500) Days of Summer.”  This unexpected tenderness gives heft to the story that in its own way is exhilaratingly vertiginous, too, and gave my Spidey sense a bit of a tingle.

Parents should know that this film has extended super-hero action-style violence, not very graphic but with some disturbing images of mutation and peril, and four sad deaths of parents or parent figures.

Family discussion: How does this compare to the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man series?  Why didn’t Peter try to stop the robbery when he first got his spider-powers?  What made Connors and Chief Stacy change their minds about Spider-Man?

If you like this, try: the first and second of the Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man” films and the Essential Amazing Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby

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Action/Adventure Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Crime DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy High School Series/Sequel Superhero

Trailer: “Stella Days” with Martin Sheen

Posted on May 31, 2012 at 2:01 pm

In Martin Sheen’s new film, “Stella Days,” he plays a priest in a small town in rural Ireland of the 1950’s.  It is a story about the excitement of the unknown versus the security of the familiar, as those in the town find themselves on the cusp of the modern but still clinging to the traditions of church and a cultural identity forged in very different times.

It will be available On Demand nationwide starting June 20 and will be in select theaters June 22.

Stay tuned for an exclusive clip, which I’ll be posting soon.




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Trailers, Previews, and Clips
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