Unexpected – Review

large_unexpected_ver2Summertime is usually know for movies that contain multiple explosions per minute but sometimes those small independent films find their way to a theater near you and make your summer. Unexpected is one of these movies and like it’s title it’s an unforeseen treasure. Colbie Smulders stars as Samantha Abbott, a science teacher at a closing Chicago high school who finds out that she’s pregnant, while at the same time her star student Jasmine finds herself pregnant as well. What follows is surprising story of two women, from contrasting backgrounds and the struggles faced trying to bring children into the world.

Expectations

Unexpected does a wonderful  job of showing the unrealistic expectations that are on women these days. They are suppose to go to college, meet someone, have a career and find the perfect time to have a child. Samantha’s mother remarks that her having a child is happening all out of order, that she should have had a wedding first and then gotten pregnant. While at the same time chiding her for even considering being a stay at home mother. Luckily Samantha does have a supporting husband, John, who has the ability to support her if she decideds to stay home. What is heartbreaking is to see the struggle for Samantha to be able to admit that she does want to stay home, that it is ok for her to want to do that while her child is young. Her mother, later in the movie, reminds her of something quite poignant, that whether you work or stay home, either one is a sacrifice, but that being with your child is always rewarding.

The expectations that women face today many times leaves them in their 30’s before the thought of kids even enters the picture. And with the way society has fractured, so that families are smaller, organized religion is no longer providing community, many people find themselves alone when pregnancy hits. They don’t have friends that have children, they may not have grown up with siblings, so women find themselves woefully unprepared with no where to turn for guidance. Society has downplayed the importance of family and children so much that when people find themselves soon-to-be parents they have no experience from growing up or around them to draw upon and that leaves many feeling not joy but fear.

unexpected-movieOne of the most interesting things is the parallel of Jasmine with Samantha. Jasmine, from the outside seems to be behind the eight ball. She is from a poor neighborhood, has been raised by her grandmother after mother abandoned them because of drugs and is soon to be an unwed mother. Yet Jasmine is surrounded by a community to help her and because of that support she’ll be able to attend college in the city and be with her baby. Samantha spends so much of the movie trying to help Jasmine, when it is really Samantha that has no clue what to do. It becomes clear that nothing can replace community.

New Life 

Hollywood is not particularly known for being overly pro-life in it’s films, yet Unexpected is. There’s a beautiful moment when Samantha and John are at the doctor’s office for their first ultrasound and she sees the heartbeat on screen for the first time and it becomes real to her, that there is a life inside her. It can be so easy to forget that since the baby is hidden, but as that window opens, so do her eyes to what’s truly happening; she carrying a human baby. Neither of these women planned for their pregnancy, yet each of them decides to do the best for that new life. John Lennon famously said that life is what happens when you are busy making other plans and that is exactly what happens to the characters in this film. Having a baby is never going to be convenient, but it is always going to be a blessing whether that’s to the biological parents or the adoptive parents.

Conclusion

Unexpected is a true summer gem. Seek it out, you won’t be disappointed. Colbie Smulders is fantastic as Samantha and Gail Bean as Jasmine will melt you heart. This movie, for it’s celebration of life, in all it’s messy glory is worth your support. Unexpected is rated 4 and a half sonogram heartbeats.

Go Set a Watchman – Review

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Go Set a Watchman set the world afire when it was announced. After years of rumors that Harper Lee had written another book and questions about if it would be published, the book’s final discovery continues to be followed by controversy surrounding whether or not Lee had been taken advantage of by her publisher. Regardless, the book is out and with society in upheaval again, it just may be the perfect book at the perfect time. In the story, Jean Louise (Scout) is home visiting from New York and what follows are vignettes on a theme. Each vignette builds to a crescendo as Jean Louise breaks the shackles of childhood to become her own person.

Breaking the Icons

Thomas Wolfe famously wrote that you can’t go home again and for Jean Louise the statement  is true. When she arrives she finds a world in chaos. As the South reels from the recent Supreme Court decision, presumably Brown v. Board of Education,  the battle lines have been drawn and Scout finds that her father and boyfriend might be on the opposite side as she is.

Atticus allows his daughter to tear him down verbally as she works out her own beliefs about the world. He gives her the opportunity to stop using him as a crutch and instead stand firm in what she thinks, moving through the process of metamorphosis from child to adult. Scout is able to crush the idol she has made of her father and see him as simply human. It’s a beautiful picture of fatherly love as Atticus helps his daughter to make her own way.

There is little that is as painful in this world as having a hero in your life suddenly become nothing more than human. Yet it is one of life’s most important lessons, finding that the thing you’ve placed on a pedestal is not worthy of such admiration. What we put our faith and hope in must be able to sustain the weight of such things,and the weight of such glory is heavy indeed. False idols must be brought down if true clarity is ever to be found.

Stranger in a Strange Land 

Scout finds herself irrevocably changed by the end of the story and her question becomes how to live in a place where she does not agree with those around her. The answer her uncle offers is poignant, “…the time your friends need you is when they are wrong, Jean Louise. They don’t need you when they’re right -.”

Standing up for what you believe is the most difficult when the world and worldview of those around you is diametrically opposed to your own. Our response should not be to run and isolate ourselves with likeminded people. It is at those times that we must stand up and lovingly engage. Edmond Burke said, The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Scout’s uncle continues with the good advice about how to engage such a culture when he says,

     “I mean it takes a certain kind of maturity to live in the South these days. You don’t have it yet, but you have a shadow of the beginnings of it. you haven’t the humbleness of mind-”

“I thought the fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom.”

“It’s the same thing. Humility”

To influence and impact the people and the world around us any action we take must be done with humility and love. If we want to change the world around us it must be through honest and open interaction. We must stand for something and not be afraid to share those convictions with others. We cannot do nothing. Jesus clearly reminds of us this in Matthew 5,

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Conclusion 

Go Set a Watchman is a visionary book about the past yet it is just as relevant today. It’s an important read and well worth your time. I encourage everyone to wrestle with the themes because you just might find yourself changed in the end.

Mr. Holmes – Review

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It is often remarked that Sherlock Holmes is the most portrayed movie character in the history of cinema. One might question the validity of another movie about him and yet none have been so person as Mr. Holmes staring Ian McKellen. He plays the famed detective in the twilight of his life, memory is failing and one last case that must be solved; a case that may just be the most important of his life, enough to alter his future.

Missing the Point

Holmes is the original Spock. He is cold emotion and facts wrapped in a smoking jacket. He’s able to deduce the most minute detail about a person, observe what others cannot see and crack cases no other could. Yet, with all this knowledge and logical deduction there is something that is missing, wisdom and heart. Spock says to Valaris in Star Trek VI that logic is only the beginning of wisdom. Holmes becomes acutely aware of this in the most dreadful way. A husband of a distraught wife comes to Holmes, pleading with him to figure out what is wrong with her. Holmes quickly deduces the woman’s case, finding that she is overcome by the loss of two children from miscarriages. What she wants is to spend time with Holmes. She senses that he’s lived a solitary life and is seldom understood. She desires to just spend time with him to ease her loneliness. Holmes, unable to see past his logic to the emotion to the heart of her despair sends her home to her husband, only to find out the next day that she’s committed suicide.

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Holmes begins to understand the depth of his mistake and the loneliness that he’s felt his whole life. Even Watson never really knew him. Watson had chronicled the life of a character he’d created, not the man he never really knew. Watson thinks he knows Holmes, yet Holmes is jut playing the fiction that’s been created around him. He personifies the expectations fiction has placed on him, never truly able to reveal himself for fear of alienating readers, fans and in the end friends. Holmes lacks the courage to be himself as well as the safety of a true friendship with which to do so.

After the incident, Holmes retires to the country in exile. It is there that he meets his redemption in Roger, his cook’s son. Roger is smart, like Holmes he has a sharp mind and a quick wit. His father was lost in WWII and he’s grown up with only vague memories of him from his mother’s stories. He and Holmes strike an unlikely friendship over the care of bees. Together they become the person that knows the other like no one else can. We’ve all experienced it, knowing that certain someone who gets you in ways others just can’t. It feels as though you’re more complete because finally you’re understood to the core of your being. Holmes finds that missing piece of himself in the most unlikely of places and it changes him forever.

mr-holmes-ian-mckellen-860x442The beautiful thing is that Roger is changed as well. For him, Holmes is the father he never had. Holmes is able to stimulate Roger intellectually and spur him on to a life he’d never have if not for the way he’s known by Holmes. The film beautifully reminds us that cloistering ourselves away hurts not only ourselves but others. It’s when we risk and interact with those around us that true life happens. There are many Proverbs about the importance of friendship yet one stands out as relevant to the film, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes echo just as loudly when he says,

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

We are strongest when we are not only together, but know fully, deeply and intimately.

Conclusion 

Mr. Holmes is the perfect antidote to superheroes, explosions and dinosaurs. None of these have been bad things, but Mr. Holmes stands above these with it’s reminders of the importance of community and truly knowing those around us and allowing ourselves to be known. Go see Mr. Holmes and revel in the quiet mystery of a film doing what the medium does at it’s best, teaching us through a good story and good characters.

Ant-Man Review

BF_Payoff_1-Sht_v8_Lg-1309x1940Ant-Man is the next film in the ever expanding cavalcade of characters in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. The film tells the story of white collar convict Scott Lang as he tries to get his life back on track so that he can be the man his daughter thinks he is. Little does he realize that his cat-burgling ways will be the very thing he’ll need to help Hank Pym save the world.

The Second Time Around

One of the strongest things about Ant-Man is the idea of redemption. Scott wants to change, but like so many of us, when our backs are against the wall we retreat to the things that we know instead of doing the hard work to change. So often we are unaware of how our unwillingness to evolve affects those around us. It’s a symbiotic relationship, our actions have an impact on the world and the people around us. Hank Pym remains Scott of this vividly when he says, Second chances don’t come around all that often. I suggest you take a really close look at it. This is your chance to earn that look in your daughter’s eyes, to become the hero that she already thinks you are.” It’s a brilliant reminder that our lives are not lived in a vacuum, our misbehavior will resonate through our sphere of influence in ways seen and unforeseen.

The path to change is difficult and for so many of us, we become so entrenched in our waywardness that we begin to believe we’ll never escape the black hole we’ve created. Again the movie here reminds us that redemption is not a lone ranger sport. Hank believes in Scott and supports him. “Scott, I’ve been watching you for a while, now.” he says, “You’re different. Now, don’t let anyone tell you that you have nothing to offer.” For change to happen we need and advocate, a champion, someone to remind us who we can be. Hebrews speaks directly to this when it says,

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

There is someone out there who understands us completely, redemption is not through work but though rest in the work of someone greater.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

BF-09314_R2.0Hank again reminds Scott of another important truth about making the world a better place when he says, “It’s not about saving our world. It’s about saving theirs.” There is a good reason for us to do hard things now, to make difficult choices, for ourselves and for the world; because what we do or don’t do will affect the world we leave our children. What will their environment be like? What will their economy, schools and society at large be like? We cannot live egomaniacal lives and expect the next generation not to suffer. We must be willing to sacrifice monetary pleasure for a more sustainable future. It’s about what we leave behind.

Conclusion

Ant-Man is a lot of fun. There is noting revolutionary in it, it will probably not blow you away but it is saved by the great performances of Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilley. Each one makes you care about the character they play and bring you into a story that otherwise is par for the Marvel course. This film is rate 3 and a half mini sheep.

Check out The 602 Club discussion.

Dark Disciple – Review

Dark_Disciple_CoverWhen Disney purchased Lucasfilm in the fall of 2012 it marked the end of The Clone Wars. It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in horror, yet instead of being silenced, they have only continued to speak strongly, with the hashtag #SaveTheCloneWars still a staple of Twitter to this day. Since it’s demise, Dave Filoni and Pablo Hidalgo have worked tirelessly to find the best venue for all the displaced stories that were in development. The Lost Missions were released on Netflix, there have been two releases of arcs on StarWars.com in animatic form, as well as a comic book  chronicling more of Darth Maul’s story.

It is no surprise that one of these untold stories has found it’s way into a novel. The newest edition to Star Wars canon is Dark Disciple by Christie Golden, which was to have been an eight part arc in an upcoming Clone Wars season. It follows up on the character Quinlan Vos who is tasked by the Jedi Council to assassinate Count Dooku after he commits near complete genocide. Vos’ mission is to secretly recrute discarded assassin Asajj Ventress to take out the Separatist leader at all costs. What follows is a tale of darkness, deception, hope and ultimately redemption.

The Road to Hell

One of the strengths of The Clone Wars has been the way it fills in the gap between Episodes II and III. Lucas has mentioned before that in the course of the Skywalker saga there was not the time to dive into the war itself. The Clone Wars does a spectacular job at showing the slow slide down the slippery slope that the Jedi have been put on as war was thrust upon them, They have gone from keepers of the peace to soldiers, in a war that has been manufactured as their doom.

starwars2-movie-screencaps.com-491Dark Disciple is one of the finest examples at how far the Jedi Order has been eroded by the war. It has begun to chip away at their morality and connection to the light. They are willing to put aside what they know is right for a chance and victory, yet the price may be more that they can bare. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and that is the case here as the Jedi Council authorizes a dark mission for Quinlan Vos to enlist the help of Ventress through deception to assassinate Count Dooku. Irony of it all, the greatest proponent on the Council is Windu who once defended him to Padme by saying, “You know, My Lady, Count Dooku was once a Jedi. He couldn’t assassinate anyone. It’s not in his character.”  Unfortunately the war has created an atmosphere for the Jedi where what was once unthinkable has become tolerable or even acceptable. The corruption of the Jedi is almost complete.

It’s a powerful reminder of just how easy it is for the truth to slip away from us, even when we think we are doing the right thing. Circumstances cannot craft right and wrong as the Jedi learn here. Embracing even the smallest amount of the the dark side can destroy lives.

The Power of Sacrifice – Spoilers 

One of the greatest character arcs in The Clone Wars is that of Asajj Ventress. At the resent Star Wars Celebration, Dave Filoni mentioned that Lucas was not happy having Ventress as an acolyte of Dooku. George felt like her story would be much stronger if she were to make her own way and boy was he right.

The last time Ventress was seen in the show she had assisted Ahsoka who was on the run from the Jedi Order. Her character had already begun to turn from the darkness in the Darth Maul arc from season 4 where she saved a young girl who was about to become a slave wife.

As Dark Disciple begins Asajj is still working the bounty hunter scene, going it alone when Vos shows up. As they begin a fledgling partnership, she begins to open her heart to the possibility that she could have more. The most powerful theme in the book becomes the redemption of Ventress, a character who has been to the brink of the abyss and clawed her way back. It is her love of Vos and her willingness to embrace the way of the light that enables her to sacrifice herself for another. She lives out the words of Jesus when he says, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” The affect she has on Vos and Obi-Wan is profound. Obi-Wan specifically points out to the Council the error of their ways and just how much they can learn from Asajj. They have lost their way and turned to the dark side for answers, but is it though the light that the true power comes.

This story brought tears to my eyes as it illustrated the beautiful truth that no one is beyond redemption. Most of the time, people only lack the light to show them the way so it is our job to love those that others might see as unlovable. It is only through self sacrificial love that this can happen. People are not won by words but by actions and there is nothing more powerful than true love at work.

Kenobi and Yoda

UntitledAnother fascinating about Dark Disciple is the way Kenobi and Yoda seem to be setting themselves apart from the rest of the Jedi. Both of them are uncomfortable about the idea of an assassination mission. Kenobi voices strong opposition to the plan and even gets rather heated with Master Windu as the Council debates whether or not to pursue this dangerous idea. Kenobi seems to be channeling the defiance of Qui-Gon as he tries to steer the Council back towards the light. One character even remakes that Obi-Wan always strives to take the high road and see the best in people.

As the book progresses it is Kenobi and Yoda that have the hardest time believing Vos could have fallen to the dark side. They seem to be the only ones that still have faith in the Jedi’s ways. Not only do they have trust in Vos but they also give that trust to Ventress as well. Kenobi and Yoda, again and again in this book portrays the very best qualities of the Jedi, fighting for what is right and trusting in only incontrovertible evidence about the guilt of a trusted friend.

This book puts to rest any doubt that Yoda and Obi-Wan were the greatest Jedi and showing just why they survived. I’ve personally never been prouder of my favorite character Kenobi than when he stands before the Council at the end of the book and says,

“We lost our way,” Kenobi had said. “We lost it when we decided to use assassination, a practice so clearly of the dark side, for our own ends, well intentioned though they might have been. All that has happened since—Vos succumbing to the dark side, the deaths he has directly and indirectly caused, the secrets leaked, the worlds placed in jeopardy—all of this can be traced back to that single decision. Masters, I submit to you that Vos’s fall was of our making. And Asajj Ventress’s death is on all our hands. That Vos is here with us today, devastated but on the light path once more, is no credit to us, but to her. She died a true friend of the Jedi, and I believe that she deserves to be laid to rest with respect and care, with all gratitude for the life she gave and the life she has restored to us, and this bitter lesson that came at so dear a price. We are Jedi, and we must, all of us, always, remember what that means.”

Conclusion 

Christie Golden has written the finest book in the new canon with Dark Disciple. The book immediately feels like an arc of The Clone Wars. In many ways it is a stinging reminder of just how much life was left in this show and the power it had to tell amazing stories. My sincere thanks to Dave Filoni and Pablo Hidalgo for continuing to find opportunities to get The Clone Wars content to fans any way they can. Dark Disciple is now my gold standard for what this new line of canon books can and should be. This book is rated a perfect 10.

And be sure to check out John Mills’ review who joined me for the discussion.

The 602 Club S5: Holy Shiitake Mushrooms!

tsc-0s5-th-square-1440Star Wars Rebels Season 2 Premiere.

Disney has given Star Wars fans a Summer surprise by airing the premiere for season 2 of Star Wars Rebels before if comes back for the rest of the season in the Fall.

In this supplemental episode of The 602 Club host Matthew Rushing is joined by fellow rebel John Mills to break down Star Wars Rebels season 2 premiere. We discuss our first reactions, the weight of Vader, an Inquisitor question, what the heck happened to Darth Maul, being in an Empire Strikes Backs state of mind, Lando, the apprentice lives, bringing Obi-Wan in, who survives, more character discussions, Ezra, the music in the show and our final thoughts.

 

Inside Out – Review

inside-out-5492d0c4e3912There are times when a movie comes along and grabs you right away, and in less than five minutes you find moisture welling up at the side of your eyes. Pixar seems to understand this effect well. They did it with the movie Up and have found a way to improve upon it with their latest masterpiece, Inside Out. The film follows Riley Anderson and her emotions, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust as the Anderson family relocates from Minnesota to San Francisco. As Riley tries to acclimate to her new surroundings, her emotions try to keep up with the new experiences as well as the general task of growing up. What follows is one of the best and most poignant films ever made about growing up.

The Problem of Evil 

One of the most surprising themes of the movie is how sadness, disappointment and bad things actually have their place in our lives. Riley’s emotions are lead by their fearless leader Joy, who is the true operator in this young girl’s life. Oh Fear, Anger and Disgust have their place, but it is Joy that they all look to. Joy is so much at the forefront that Sadness often feels left out, unimportant and seen as a nuisance to the other emotions. It is here that the themes blossom. So much of our lives are driven by the desire to avoid sadness and experience nothing but happiness and joy. We don’t see the use of sadness, disappointment or heartbreak, doing all we can to minimize them. This is played to perfection in the movie as Joy constantly tries to do exactly that, basically putting Sadness in the corner to keep her from messing everything up.

The situation escalates as Sadness and Joy find themselves lost in long-term memory with Riley’s core memories, the ones that make up who she is. As they journey back to the control center they learn the importance of Sadness to Riley’s existence. The revelation is truly the best explanation for the problem of pain that I’ve ever seen. Joy learns how it is Sadness that leads to the fullest extent of joy in a persons life. It is only when we have known deep despair or troubles that joy can be felt to the maximum. As Charles Kingsley said, “Pain is no evil, unless it conquers us.” Pain often brings us closer to others, as it does for Riley and her parents, and is often God’s way of drawing us closer to his side. So much of the time happiness allows us to think that we do not really need God, but it’s through suffering that we realize how helpless we truly are. Psalms reminds us, The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

Inside Out powerfully and emotionally helps illuminate for everyone the ways in which the worst things in our lives can actually become the best, sadness and joy going hand in hand. It’s here that complex emotions are born; things are never simple but a jumble of joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust.

Conclusion

Pixar continues to create brilliant original movies. Inside Out may be their best work because it’s not only good for children but adults and everyone in between. It’s a movie that will have you tearing up the whole time as you remember those moments that defined your life and changed the way you viewed the world. With themes that resonate like this, let’s hope that Pixar continues to pursue original works. Go see this film, it’s a five out of five emotions.