Movie REviews REviews by scripture reviews by alphabet
About the CRitic links
                                                Way Over The Top
"Shoot 'Em Up":  This disturbing film makes violence an idol which everyone serves but hardly anyone survives worshipping.  Clive Owen seems to be minding his own business, sitting on a bench waiting for the bus, but a pregnant woman runs by screaming for help, and that's the plot.  The rest is all shoot-'em-up, bodies littered everywhere, shoot-'me-up while holding babies, making love, driving in a car, through doors, around corners….well, you get the bloody picture.  It's so improbable that it's virtually laughable, except for carrying road rage to the extreme, smashing into another vehicle because the driver didn't signal a lane change?  And that necrophilia scene--- too horrific to describe.  You'd have to understand this comic-book farce as a self-parody to even begin to endure it, but even at that, count on a complete numbing of sensibility.
"Eastern Promises":  Another plot about a pregnant lady in distress, who dies, and the remaining characters are desperately attempting to save the baby.  Except this time, the innocent onlookers are endangered, as well.  Naomi Watts is the Ob/Gyn nurse who tries to learn something about the mystery baby's family, and finds herself dangerously enmeshed with the Russian mafia (conveniently, she has Russian relatives herself).  Armin Mueller-Stahl is still a formidable presence as the venerable-looking patriarch with menace (see his Oscar nomination for "Shine"), Vincent Cassel is equally disgusting as the dissolute and reprobate son, but we all see way too much of Viggo Mortensen in that bloodbath sauna scene.  Even the sex is violent and loveless.  Are we that enamored with the remorseless?
"The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford":  Speaking of being enamored with the remorseless, why is it that we all know the name of this famous outlaw of the Wild West, but have no idea who was President at the time?  Brad Pitt plays a Jesse James who somehow is trying to live a dual existence, one foot in the wilderness, where he and his ruthless gang hide out while planning their next train robbery, and one foot on the wood floor of a Missouri farmhouse, where he and his wife and two young children try to live quietly and peaceably while he passes himself off as a commodities investor.    He's larger than life and gone to seed somehow at the same time, becoming this languid caricature whom everybody fears, and nobody is comfortable around, because here is a man with a huge price on his head, who attracts violence like a porch light attracts moths. Casey Affleck plays Robert Ford, the latecomer volunteer gang member who works too hard at being accepted, then turns on his fearless leader, for no other reason than trying to make a name for himself.  He did, but not in the way he intended.  A long, deliberate, glacially-paced film that is comfortable with its own silences, and with elongated landscape sequences interspersed with horrific personal violence.  If this was indeed what the Old West was like, we can all be glad that we live in a time where there is more law and order.  So why do we romanticize a murderous thug from a hundred and twenty years ago?
Questions For Discussion:
1)  Do you think that watching violence inures people to it?  Do you believe yourself to be personally affected by all the media violence you have watched?
2)  Have you had experience with road rage?  What's the cure?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas

     This re-make of the 1957 black-and-white Western is an adaptation of Elmore Leonard's story that is anything but black and white.  Usually, in Westerns, it's easy to tell the good guys (white hats) from the bad guys (black hats), but here the lines get a little blurred.
     Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a small-time rancher with a beautiful family and a shallow bank account.  His villainous landlord sets fire to his barn to induce a late payment on the mortgaged land suffering from an extended drought.  While trying to round up his scattered livestock, Evans happens upon a stagecoach robbery, masterfully conducted by the notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe).  But Wade is later captured because he tarries too long in his delightful dalliance with the barmaid at the local saloon.  Evans, strapped for cash, volunteers to be part of Pinkerton's posse to deliver Wade to a town several days' ride away, and put him on the prisoners' train, the "3:10 To Yuma."  Evan's 14-year-old son, forbidden by his father to "tag along," decides to follow the desultory procession, anyway, and predictably, gets caught up in the extended contest of will and wit.
     Along the way, they are attacked by renegade Apaches, ambushed by a rival sheriff (who wants Wade because of a personal vendetta), and relentlessly chased by the rest of Wade's outlaw band.  Evans and Wade develop a grudging respect for each other, which they're going to need if they're going to have any chance of surviving the journey together.
     Crowe plays a deliciously malevolent, smooth-talking, scripture-quoting, cold-blooded bandit, while exuding good-ol'-boy charm.  Bale is more the grim-faced, tight-lipped, Puritan on a righteous mission, but we are drawn to him because he is willing to stand up for his principles, he is perilously unafraid, and he seeks to not only provide for his family, but to be for his sons the kind of father they could look up to.  Even if it kills him.
     In this story, as in all of Elmore Leonard's westerns (and most of his tales of more modern desperados, as well), life is cheap, violence is abrupt, and any romance is fleeting and dangerous.  Children have to grow up fast, and intelligent adults have to really work at overcoming their inherent cynicism if they're going to have any joy or satisfaction at all.  But, great storyteller that he is, you never quite know when an unexpected twist of character development is going to cause the plot line to exhibit a quick reversal of fortune.
     Crowe brings his considerable screen power to a role hardly sympathetic or heroic, but we can't keep our eyes off him, anyway.  Bale is the straight man, the petulant foil to Crowe's rascally charm, but he can handle plenty of camera time, as well.  Together, they create a kind of dynamic tension that carries the viewer through the entire film.
     "3:10 to Yuma" is in the old-fashioned tradition of shoot-'em-up Westerns, and it's not for the squeamish, but it is an outstanding remaking of an old Hollywood genre.

Questions For Discussion:
1) The villain quotes from Proverbs: "All deeds are right in the sight of the doer, but the Lord weighs the heart" (Proverbs 21:2). On what occasion would you quote this verse?
2) The villain says that his mother told him to read the Bible from cover to cover when he was 8 (right before she abandoned him), and that's where he learned so much scripture.  What would be the ideal age for a child to read the Bible in its entirety?
3) Do you think that it is possible for career criminals to repent, convert, and transform?  Do you think that it's possible for that transformation to be permanent?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas