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The film, ‘Reign Over Me’ (2007), written and directed by Mike Binder, is, without a doubt Adam Sandler’s best movie to date. I’ve seen most of his films, the most recent being ‘Sandy Wexler’ (2017) and ‘The Week Of…‘ (2018). By comparison the only other films that might come close are, ‘The Wedding Singer‘ (1998), his remake of ‘Mr. Deeds‘ (2002), ‘Bedtime Stories‘ (2008) and ‘Pixels‘ (2015); but even those don’t achieve what ‘Reign Over Me’ does, or go where it goes.

Sandler’s character, Charlie Fineman, is a widower who looks a lot like Bob Dylan in his early days. Fineman is a dentist by trade, and an apartment dwelling hermit, living in isolation within New York City, who suffers from post-traumatic stress and depression. Sandler’s signature, unpredictable outbursts, are reminiscent of  ‘Happy Gilmore‘ and ‘Anger Management’, though this behavioural similarity exists, it fits perfectly with the circumstances, making Sandler’s portrayal of the grief-stricken Fineman, not only believable, but in my opinion, Oscar worthy.

At the centre of the story-line line are events that took place during September 11, 2001.The film approaches this subject with sensitivity. Avoiding the politics the screenwriters look past conspiracy theories, however, what is glaringly absent is any discussion about Islamism or Islamic terrorism. In a lot of ways this is assumed.

On balance, the film does dedicate a scene to some news articles, albeit ones that are discussing America’s response. I have no real issue with this, for the following reason: The screenwriters are respecting their audience by not spelling out the obvious. I have huge respect for directors and writers who do this. Within the context of ‘Reign Over Me‘, the strategy is understandable. It keeps the focus of the audience on Charlie Fineman’s journey.

In addition to Sandler’s brilliant portrayal of a forgotten victim of September 11, both Don Cheadle (of Hotel Rwanda fame) and Liv Tyler, add their own style and bring to the film a warmth, juxtaposed with contrasts. Cheadle is Sandler’s college room-mate; also a dentist and extremely successful in his own right. Cheadle’s character (Alan Johnson) is aware of Fineman’s tragic past, but had lost contact with him over the years. Johnson has his own issues, which all start to come to bare, after randomly crossing paths with Fineman in the street. Johnson seeks to reconnect with Fineman.

Not completely aware of Fineman’s suffering, Johnson quickly recognises the pain his friend is suffering with. He begins to try to help Fineman. This creates tension between Johnson and his wife, and a series of misunderstandings with an ever suspicious Fineman.

Fineman wants no help, only later choosing to see Johnson’s long-term friend and pyschologist, Angela Oakhurst (played by Liv Tyler). Oakhurst works to bring Fineman to a place where he can address the past and his own brokenness, in his own time. Cheadle’s performance keeps the film moving along, perfectly complementing Sandler’s. Liv Tyler compliments Cheadle. The perfect casting circle is made complete when Donald Sutherland turns up in the role of Judge Rains.

The film comes to a close with Fineman’s in-laws trying to speak with him. Fineman breaks downs, becomes violent, and as a result is held in custody for psychological evaluation. As Rains becomes aware of Fineman’s emotional and psychological state, he sees straight through the opportunistic lawyer representing Fineman’s in-laws. With Solomon-esk wisdom Rains outmanoeuvres the lawyer, making it clear that what he has in Fineman is a forgotten victim of September 11, 2001, who deserves a chance to be heard, helped and respected.

Reign Over Me‘, does have some unnecessary language and some interesting sub plots. Those side plots wind up coming together in the end. Though they seem to detract from the film at first, as the story progress, the genius of their inclusion in the film  becomes clear. The sub plots are used to fortify the audiences cheering in the end, through their desire to see Fineman heal and overcome the obstacles forced upon him.

The film isn’t complete without the impressive soundtrack, of which the stand out song is Eddie Vedder’s cover of The Who’s, ‘Love, Reign O’er Me‘ and The Fray’s, ‘How to Save a Life’.  The live and studio versions included; Vedder’s performance, as far as I have heard, is his best vocal work in a song.

As far as art and theology goes, ‘Reign Over Me’ is rich in metaphor. What I see in ‘Reign Over Me‘ is God’s redemptive love – displayed in the film by Cheadle, Tyler and Sutherland’s characters. They fight for Fineman, yet still place an emphasis on him taking responsibility for his own actions. Fineman was empowered, but he still had to decide to respond to the love and help (salvation – grace) he was given.

Since the theme of God’s redemptive love is part of a lot of current discussion, the metaphors are worth noting. The freedom we find in God’s redemptive love is not a “freedom” that is said to be found in human love. For Fineman, human love was not to be trusted. Such love is at best optimism, at worst morbid existential navel gazing and/or veiled self-centred ambition. God’s love draws us out of ourselves in the form of His gracious Word spoken to humanity, which is both invitation and command (Jesus Christ and Covenant). We are drawn out of ourselves to be free for God and our neighbour. Such freedom comes with limitations.

I seem to be on a roll with recommending and reviewing art that, to me, is written, for the broken, from the broken, to the broken. ‘Reign Over Me‘, in my opinion, fits this category like no other film I’ve seen.  It hits at our grief, the lies we tell ourselves and the traps we fall into because we fall under the radar of complacent and dismissive family members, who, in overlooking the complexities of our brokenness, can seem to demand more than we are ready to give; simply because we don’t know how, or don’t yet have the strength to give it. ‘Reign Over Me‘ is an honest prayer-filled, heart-wrenching scream that meets with what Lacey Strum wrote, when summing up her reasons for screaming in songs:

‘Like ‘emotional vomit’, lyrics about ‘horrible abuse, if sung honestly, must be screamed…Screaming was my natural response to injustice… When I started writing music with screaming in it, the point was to hit someone back… After God rescued me, however, I found a purpose for my screaming: to speak truth over the lies in people’s hearts. Lies like the ones I believed about myself when I wanted to die.’ – (Lacey Sturm, 2014 The Reason, pp.77-82)

Let there be light. Inhaled grace ignites.

 


Disclaimer:

I did not receive any remuneration for this review, in any form.

GB 1Ghostbusters along with Star Wars IV, is one of the movies, that as a kid, I remember watching over and over again. I’d fast-forward the VHS tape past the opening scene in the library and go straight to the title. It was part “skip-the-scary-bit” and part, just get me to the Ray Parker Jr, theme song.

As far as the remake goes, each of the main actresses were convincing enough, but they had big shoes to fill. The pressure on them to meet such a high standard would have been enormous. Taking all this into consideration it’s not a really bad film.

Best expressed through the general response of my daughters: “the movie was okay. I liked the gadgets, but there was not enough guys, and they made Chris Hemsworth look dumb.”

Or best summed up by Richard Lawson in his review for Vanity Fair:

‘Ghostbusters is a flat, occasionally charming disappointment. While certainly funny in parts, Paul Feig’s much-debated reboot can’t find its groove…There are brief highlights [but the] film is largely an uninspired slog, everyone doing their best to get to the end without screwing things up too much’ (source)

I had my own thoughts on it, so here’s a short, 16 point review:

1. Cerebrally effortless, fun movies, do exist.

2. Ghostbusters can fit all genres. If you liked The Golden Girls this one’s for you – (minus the humour of Estelle Getty)

3. If you’re obsessed with the Ghostbuster movies, then this is an edition that’ll uniquely sparkle in any pristine, shrink-wrapped, for-display-only, collection.

4. If you like to see men, particularly Australian men, portrayed as dim-witted buffoons, then you’ve picked a winner.

5. If you’re ideologically bent towards supporting the emasculation of a classic, it’s for you, but in answer to the question “who ya gonna call?” – perhaps, first, call a therapist, not Ghostbusters. #justsayin

6. Crude statements about how a woman’s anatomy works, no matter how subtle, doesn’t communicate well for any actor selling a story to a wider audience, outside the teen angst bracket.

7. The storyline was strong enough to withstand the small amount of innuendos.

8. Overreaching in order to empower feminism disempowers feminism (and almost squeezes the life out of everything it touches).

9. Outside the Gilmore Girls, I’m not a big fan of Melissa McCarthy’s later work. (You deserve better, you can do so much better because you’ve done so much better).

10. Hollywood peaked in 1984. It’s been on a slow downward slide since. It seems to have literally run out of really cool, original ideas.

11. Bill Murray is still one of the coolest comedians alive, and Ernie Hudson must be part Vulcan, he’s hardly aged at all.

12. Chris Hemsworth, Australia thanks you for Thor, but we’re pulling faces and scratching our heads over this one, mate.

13. Hollywood is still capable of making a comedy without copious amounts of swearing or sexual innuendos [thumbs up]. It’s the genius in the legacy of Dean & Jerry, the Dick Van Dyke show, Mchales Navy, and Hogan’s Heroes.

14. Ecto-1 remains one of the coolest pop culture cars to have ever been created. With the ban on the General Lee, Ecto-1  moved into the number 4 slot, just under the A-team’s GMC van, KITT & the Delorean.

15. It doesn’t matter how awkward a movie might seem, gizmos and gadgets always make it better.

16. The modern liberal quest for what it, and it alone, determines to be tolerance and equality, creates inequality. In well-timed humour, on screen chemistry and one-liners, this reboot of Ghostbusters is not even close to being equal to its predecessor.

Does the movie speak to it’s audience and Ghostbusters fans? Yes, sometimes.

Does it do anything for feminism? Yes, however not in the way I suspect that it might have been intended. It shows that the frown of feminist idealism is kryptonite. That it’s misandry and overshadowing hypocritical disapproval of men, is toxic. Feminism is fundamentally about empowering women to be as equal-in-value as men. Any medium that betrays this platform rests not on talent, wit and moxie, but on a destructive ideology that perverts feminism, and clouds its positive achievements.

The absence of Ivan Rietmann and Dan Ackroyd is noted. Although, Ackroyd, Hudson and Murray make a cameo appearance, they’re not credited as being directly involved in the remake, which might explain the movie’s awkwardness. The brilliance of the first film was its disciplined balance between the serious and the silly. The retake barely seems to attempt to do the same. Paul Feig (Director/Writer) and Katie Dippold (Writer) could have made the story line deeper and tapped into the tension Reitmann maintained. It’s not clear why they didn’t choose to go in this same direction.

Putting the apparent hi-jacking of Ghostbusters by feminist idealism aside. Dedicated fans of the franchise might not be as thrilled as the fans of Batman were with Nolan’s trilogy, or Bay’s Transformers, however, they’ll probably be more forgiving. This is because Ghostbusters, the reboot, isn’t just a remake. Its in-part, an interesting retake on the whole Ghostbusters story.


Note: Thoughts expressed here are my own. I received no payment of any kind for this review.

Trailer: Ghostbusters, 2016 Sony Pictures

Risen PromoIf the trailers are to be believed, 2016 looks to be a big year for films.

These two, in particular, stand out. ‘The Young Messiah’, featuring Sean Bean – based on Anne Rice’s book ‘Christ the Lord‘ (Indie) and ‘Risen’, featuring Joseph Fiennes (Sony Pictures).

Joesph Fiennes’ performance as Martin Luther in ‘Luther (2003), buttressed by screen legend, the late, Sir Peter Ustinov, who played Prince Fredrich The Wise, was, in my opinion, outstanding. Whilst Sean Bean’s performance in the Napoleonic War series Sharpe endeared my wife and I to him as an actor, my theological curiosity leans me towards seeing how the story-line of the Fiennes’ film plays out. As a side note, the soundtracks for both films sound impressive. John Debney (Passion of the Christ) for The Young Messiah and Kai Rosenkranz for Risen.

Whether you’re fans of interpretations of Biblical stories on film or not, if you’re like me, they’ll at least kindle a cautious intrigue. Especially in how modern day (post-modern) storytellers provide artistic commentary on the context of the bible and the truths its authors painstakingly proclaim to have witnessed. In this case the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Along with seeing life being brought back into this genre.On a mainstream level, it’s encouraging to see well established actors willing to associate, accept and take an interest in playing such roles. That is as long as the filmmakers take the responsibility of their task seriously. Taking care in how they present the theology and handle the history; learning from past attempts, by doing their best to avoid the kitsch and questionable theology, that finds a good portion of these films being too easily labelled as the cheap propaganda of American Evangelicalism or a product of Hollywood’s nascent Christophobia [i].

It’s early days, but these two films show promise. They both suggest a thought-provoking and authentic perspective, thus avoiding the impression that they’re turning a serious message into simple fluffy religious entertainment.

The Young Messiah: Official FB Page

Risen: Official FB Page (worth a look)


[i] Term found in Marvin Olasky’s, ‘Standing for Christ in a Modern Babylon’ (p.66)