From the Sublime to the Excruciating
"A Prairie Home Companion": The angel of death in a white trench coat, wandering around the stage while people are trying to perform, while some obscure singer dies backstage in his underwear? Well, there are a lot of Presbyterians who are enamored with Garrison Keillor and his radio show on NPR, but his unchanging visage and stuffy demeanor are not really well-suited to the big screen. It's obvious that several veteran film actors enjoyed crooning on his homespun radio show, but there's a reason they're not famous for their singing. You know how in most of Woody Allen's movies, all his characters sound like him? So it is here, with the screenplay written by Keillor. There's a kind of smarmy smugness that pervades the whole film, despite the "folksy" atmosphere. You get the feeling that everybody involved in this had a lot of fun doing it, but it was better for them than for us. Worse, the succession of off-color jokes will offend many of their own genteel audience.
'Keeping Mum": A stuffy English vicar (Rowan Atkinson) acquires a sense of humor, his salty wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) rediscovers her appreciation for her dorky but dependable husband, and their tart-in-training daughter (Tamsin Egerton) finally brings home a nice young lad, all because of the amazing influence of Grace (played by Maggie Smith), who has a few dark secrets of her own. This feisty British comedy will prove too spicy for many genteel churchgoers, but the gentle parody of small-town church life (complete with the nosy little old lady who's always dropping by to talk about the internal politics of the flower committee) is right on target, as is Patrick Swayze as the sleazy local golf pro. And how about revving up the rector's sex life with an inspired reading of "The Song of Solomon?"
"Employee Of the Month": Completely bland comedy/romance about a slacker at a discount store (Dane Cook) who tries to impress the new cashier (Jessica Simpson). As in "A Prairie Home Companion," the reason this is so hard to sit through is that the primary actors are doing things they are not famous for, and it shows. At least the "moral of the story" is positive: don't sacrifice your friends on the altar of personal ambition.
"Paradise, Texas": Well-meaning, but painfully amateurish "family film" about a middle-age "B" list actor (Timothy Bottoms) learning to get over himself and appreciate his family again. Awkward performances, predictable script, distracting movie-within-a-movie subplot, and because of its prickly characters can't even generate warmth or humor, much less empathy.
"13 (Tzameti)": This grainy French film about a contract roofer overhearing a mysterious conversation downstairs moves at a ponderous pace at first, but then the plot takes an incredibly nasty twist, and suddenly we find ourselves in an illegal Russian Roulette casino, and for us, like the doomed characters, there's no escape. Who would really want to watch this? And for what purpose? And how horrible would it be if some children got hold of it, watched it, and decided to "play out" its premise? We may not be able to "ban" movies from being sold, but this one ought to banned from any household with children.
Questions For Discussion:
1) What are the expectations for a minister's spouse in your congregation? What happens when these expectations are not fulfilled?
2) Which illegal activities are the most despicable? Which ought to be legalized?
3) When have you sacrificed family for personal ambition? When have you sacrificed personal ambition for family?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas