Crossing Over
“Crossing Over” is an important film, if for no other reason than it dares to directly address the “elephant in the room” issue:  immigration.  Harrison Ford plays Max Brogan, one of those “storm trooper” agents who raid factories to catch (literally) illegal immigrants, detain them, arrest them, and ship them back where they came from.  But Brogan’s got a problem:  he’s developed a conscience.  When a hapless Hispanic sweatshop worker begs him to help her (oh, and he speaks Spanish, too), because her little boy is at an apartment nearby, he finally, sleeplessly, reluctantly, sheepishly, tries to find the boy and help him.  His partner, Hamid (Cliff Curtis) is of Iranian descent, and his family, even while in the process of becoming naturalized citizens, bring their traditional values with them, where his (single adult) sister’s intimate relationship with a co-worker is considered as “bringing shame” on the family.  (A concept now considered foreign to contemporary American culture.)  A Muslim schoolgirl (Summer Bishil) dares to present a position paper in class questioning whether the 9/11 terrorists were making a point the only way left available to them, much to the open derision, and overt racism, of her classmates.  A young Jewish man (Jim Sturgess) who is secretly an atheist, still manages to find a work permit by working in an orthodox school, teaching Hebrew songs to children.  Not so fortunate is a n aspiring actress from Australia (Alice Eve) who runs into an unscrupulous immigration officer (Ray Liotta) who demands her personal services, while his wife (Ashley Judd) tries to persuade him to adopt an African girl left homeless by the relentless violence there.  As in “Gran Torino,” the Asian boy (Justin Chon) is heavily recruited by a gang of wannabe thugs…..well, you get the picture.  It’s a violent, chaotic, mishmash out there.  Sometimes these characters intersect, and at other times they pitiably fail to connect.  But this brutally honest film will generate much discussion about the real immigration issues in this country, which are as many and varied as the people who inhabit this great land.  The basic issue is whether you really desire a rainbow or a melting pot.
Crossing over into the territory of the magical flimflam, we have “The Great Buck Howard,” starring John Malkovich as the seedy “mentalist” with the big ego, the small but loyal following, and the personal assistant (Colin Hanks) who can’t quite decide whether the magic show is real or fake, but figures that in the end it doesn’t matter, it still entertains and amazes.  Kind of like a faith healer.  Tom Hanks takes a highly ironic turn as Colin’s Dad, disappointed that his son dropped out of law school and doesn’t show any more ambition than to follow around this showbiz relic.  Good casting, strange story well-told.
Crossing over into schoolgirl whimsy, “Phoebe In Wonderland” is about a very unique, creative little girl named Phoebe (Elle Fanning) who doesn’t know she has Tourette’s Syndrome, and neither do her exasperated parents (Felicity Huffman and Bill Pullman).  Sympathetic drama teacher (Patricia Clarkson) to the rescue.  Phoebe is cast in the role of Alice , when her very life is like Alice in Wonderland, and we agonize along with her, in her clashes with a school determined to make all children into little rule-keeping automatons, with all the liveliness and imagination squeezed out of them.  We hope that something inside Phoebe doesn’t die with all the stifling behavior-modification discipline.  We can only hope that for all our artistically-inclined children and grandchildren.
Questions For Discussion:
1)                               What’s the best way to encourage creativity in children?  What’s the best way to stifle it?
2)                               In regard to immigration, do you envision a rainbow or a melting pot?
3)                               Do you believe in magic?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas