Flicks & Faith
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Denny Wayman

Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman leads the Santa Barbara Free Methodist Church.

Posted 10/23/13 at 9:39 PM | Denny Wayman

Cinema in Focus - ENOUGH SAID - 2 Stars

Focusing on people who are flawed in ways that cause them pain, Nicole Holofcener creates this tale in which the central characters have few friends and pervasive insecurities. She writes and directs Enough Said in the style of Woody Allen. This is understandable when we learn that her stepfather was the long-time producer of Woody Allen’s films and her initial work was on his films.

The story focuses primarily on the romance between Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Albert (James Gandolfini) and their relationships with their college-bound daughters. As single parents who still carry the pain of their divorces, both are wounded people whose aversion to dating is shared. Serendipitously meeting at a party, they begin a tender romance that is quickly consummated in sexual intimacy. Not yet really knowing who the other person truly is, this sexual familiarity leaves their relationship vulnerable to the questions everyone has as a new relationship begins.

Their vulnerable new relationship is jeopardized by Eva’s coincidental introduction to Albert’s ex-wife, Marianne (Catherine Keener). As a masseuse, Eva begins FULL POST

Posted 10/17/13 at 11:51 AM | Denny Wayman

Cinema in Focus - CAPTAIN PHILLIPS - 3 Stars

Pirates are often romanticized, used as sports mascots and even as fantasy figures for children. But when Somali pirates abducted Captain Phillips in the spring of 2009, there was nothing appealing or romantic about them. Brutal and brutalized, these desperate men were as much pawns in their own pirate crew as Captain Phillips was in their attempted plot. Bringing this harrowing experience to the screen is director Paul Greengrass who has mastered the creation of suspenseful tales as seen in his films The Bourne Ultimatum, The Bourne Supremacy and United 93.

Surviving the attack, Capt. Phillips uses the skills of Stephan Taity to help write a first-person account of the actual event. Taking this account and adapting it for the screen is screenwriter Billy Ray. His work on Hunger Games, Shattered Glass and Hart’s War brings experience and nuance to the tale. But it is the acting of Tom Hanks that is both believable and identifiable. From the first scenes when he expresses to his wife (Catherine Keener) his concern for his kids to the final scenes when he is struggling with a post-traumatic reaction, we are captured by his courage, his intelligence and his authenticity.

There are three primary groups of people involved in this event. There is the crew of the American cargo vessel, MV Maersk Alabama, under Capt. Phillips command, the Somali pirates under “Capt.” Muse (Barkhad Abdi), and the U.S. Navy anti-piracy taskforce under Capt. Frank Castello (Yul Vazquez). Although very different in style, each one of these captains is responsible for what their crews are and are not able to do with each providing a fascinating study of leadership. Similarly, the second in command on each of the crews demonstrates dramatic differences in the ways the U.S. Navy operates contrasted with the infighting of the pirate crews or the concerns of union members on the cargo vessel. Such differences are seen not only in the motivations of each person but also in their level of respect and effectiveness.

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Posted 10/11/13 at 7:52 PM | Denny Wayman |

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Cinema in Focus - GRAVITY - 3 Stars

Gravity brings the spectacular beauty of an IMAX documentary together with the thought-stretching drama of great space films such as Kubrick’s 1968 classic 2001, A Space Odyssey. Written and Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, what unfolds on the screen is truly a remarkable piece of movie-making.

If you have ever watched the space shuttle or the international space station in IMAX, then you will be amazed at how life-like Cuarón has brought this to the screen. The images of earth’s beauty are spiritual in their depth. The fact that man has created a way to live and study in space is nothing short of a miracle.

Through the entire story we meet only two people: Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission who joins veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) who is commanding his last flight before retiring. While working remotely to repair the Hubble telescope, Mission Control informs them that a Russian satellite has reportedly blown up and has caused a debris field to travel in their direction. As the debris field picks up speed, it FULL POST

Posted 10/11/13 at 5:44 PM | Denny Wayman

Cinema in Focus - RUSH - 3 Stars

What passion drives your life? Does it consume your every waking moment? Does it attract, or does it drive away, the most important people in your life? All of these questions are woven into Rush, a remarkable film by Ron Howard.

This is a retelling of the fierce rivalry between Formula One race car drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970’s. Flamboyant British playboy Hunt couldn’t be more different than the Austrian Lauda who is highly focused-to-a-fault. Each thought that the other was a caricature of a wasted life, and ironically in the end, each came to depend on the other to drive their passion.

James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) both come from well-to-do backgrounds, and both have chosen to pursue their love of power, speed, and danger at the expressed displeasure of their fathers. Hunt is the strikingly handsome blond rock star that attracts the most beautiful women in the world. Hunt was driven by the rush of speed and the intoxication of sex, having claimed to have bedded 5,000 women in his short life. His first of three wives was the stunning model Suzy Parker whom he married in 1974. However, Hunt could not put anyone first place in his life other than his own passions and by the end of 1975 Suzy had left Hunt for the actor Richard Burton, who paid Hunt's divorce settlement of $1 million dollars.

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Posted 10/9/13 at 4:52 PM | Denny Wayman

Cinema in Focus - GRACE UNPLUGGED - 4 Stars

Brad Silverman’s Grace Unplugged presents a multi-layered look at living a life of purpose rather than one of celebrity. Recognizing that a life of fame and fortune does not satisfy the soul, the film walks with a young music-minister’s daughter who has the abilities to be a success in Hollywood. Feeling hampered by her father’s control as well as by her southern Christian subculture, this young musician has to not only face her father-issues but her faith-issues as well. Partnering with writers Brandon Rice and James Killian, Silverman wrote and directed this engaging and inspiring coming-of-age tale.

Having just turned 18, Grace Trey (AJ Michalka) is the deeply loved daughter of Johnny (James Denton) and Michelle Trey (Shawnee Smith). Having been a commercially successful musician 20 years earlier, Johnny had been morally and physically destroyed by his fame. Finding joy in his faith and a meaningful life in his work as a minister of music, Johnny teaches his only child Grace to lead worship with him at their church. But when her own growth as an artist begins to create an artistic and relational conflict between the two of them, Johnny responds with a harshness that makes Grace rebel against his authoritarian manner. Although Michelle sees the situation clearly, she remains impotently uninvolved in helping the two of them find a future together. When Frank ‘Mossy’ Mostin (Kevin Pollak) visits to invite Johnny to return to Hollywood, it is Grace who responds and runs away from family and faith to begin her singing career under Mossy’s guidance.

Having personally experienced the moral and career decisions that he knows his daughter is unprepared to face, Johnny FULL POST

Posted 10/3/13 at 1:24 AM | Denny Wayman |

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Cinema in Focus - PRISONERS - 3 Stars

The loss of a child is difficult under any circumstances, but when it is by abduction it can unravel a parent’s soul. Willing to do anything to find their child safe, it is easy for a parent to lose their moral footing and stumble into a confusing journey where violence is justified as love. This complex moral tale is the brainchild of writer Aaron Guzikowski and impressively brought to the screen by director Denis Villeneuve.

Using the bleak fall landscape that weeps and freezes along with us, the two young girls who are abducted are friends. Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons) is the daughter of Nancy (Viola Davis) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard), while Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) is the daughter of Grace (Maria Bello) and Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman). On a Thanksgiving afternoon while their families are enjoying one another at the Birch home, the girls want to go back to the Dover home to get a special whistle of Anna’s. Disregarding their parent’s guidance to have their older siblings, Ralph Dover (Dylan Minnette) and Elza Birch (Zoe Borde) accompany them; it eventually becomes clear that they are missing. Panic sets in as the worst nightmare of a parent becomes a reality.

When police are called they respond immediately to what are thought to be obvious clues, primarily that of an out-of-place motorhome. The lead detective assigned to their case is Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). An intense man whose nerves are expressed through his twitching eyes, Loki provides little emotional support as he assures the two families that he will find their daughters. When this promise is not quickly realized, the parents begin to take matters into their own hands.

A mystery with many unexpected twists, the theme of the tale is best expressed by a confessor who seeks a priest to deal with the evil compulsion that has captured his soul. Explaining that he is “waging war with God” he FULL POST

Posted 9/14/13 at 7:07 PM | Denny Wayman

Cinema in Focus - THE FAMILY - 1 Star

The Family is a comedic return of Robert De Niro to the world of the mafia, this time in the witness protection program. If you liked De Niro in “Analyze This”, then you will find this version to be on steroids.

Based on a series of preposterous presumptions, the Manzoni family, a notorious Brooklyn mafia clan, is relocated to a small village in Normandy, France. It seems the Manzoni’s have been relocated every 90 days since they cannot drop many of their old habits, such as burying anyone who disrespects them or drawing attention to themselves in a way that will get back to the American mob.

Now in a small French town living under the disguised name of the Blake Family, Fred Blake (De Niro) decides to pass the time writing his memoirs, outlining his time with the gangs of New York. He sees himself as basically a good guy. After all, he always told the truth to the person he was about to FULL POST

Posted 9/14/13 at 12:21 AM | Denny Wayman

Cinema in Focus - IN A WORLD - 2.5 Stars

"In A World…" became one of the most recognized phrases in movie promotion, even though most people don’t have a clue who said it. The phrase was made famous by the late, great voiceover artist Don LaFontaine. In this wacky gender-challenging role, writer, director, and star Lake Bell plays Carol, the daughter of one of Don LaFontaine’s runner ups as best known voiceover artists in the movie business.

With LaFontaine dead, the question is now open as to who is the next greatest voice of this generation? Carol’s father, Sam Sotto (Fred Malamed) is certainly in the running, and in fact is about to receive the lifetime achievement award at the upcoming Golden Trailers Awards, a sort of runner-up event to the Oscars.

Also in the running is Gustav (Ken Marino), a pompous young talent that Sam sees as his heir apparent as well as the son he never had. The one person who never shows up on this list is Sam’s daughter Carol, even though she has inherited Sam’s gene pool of talent. Carol is chided by her father for trying to enter “a man’s world”, evoking a kind of 1960’s chauvinism fifty years beyond its time. Sam not only speaks as a male from “Mad Men”, but he lives out his relationships in the same way, having divorced Carol’s mother and taken up with a girlfriend the age of his daughter.

Carol’s talent is great, though, and it is encouraged by a fellow voice-industry colleague, Louis (Demetri Martin), who is both charmed by her and is the builder of her confidence. Their comic and sexual chemistry help her grow into a mature human being and professional artist.

The plot thickens when it is announced that a “Hunger Games” type of series is about to be produced in Hollywood, and the Producer is going to bring back the memory of Don LaFountaine and begin the Trailer with the famous words, “In a world…” This is the moment for stardom for the next greatest voice of a generation! To achieve this blockbuster entrance, the Producer played by Geena Davis, sets up a contest between Sam, Ken, and Carol! Sam and Ken are shocked, and a variety of escapades ensue. FULL POST

Posted 9/13/13 at 12:33 PM | Denny Wayman |

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Cinema in Focus - CLOSED CIRCUIT - 3 Stars

Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated: “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.” Never is this more true than in Irishman John Crowley’s creation of “Closed Circuit”, a look at the moral morass that lies beneath a terrorist bombing in a British train station that has less than clear cut motives and involvement by the British government.

When a post-9/11 bombing kills dozens of people in a crowded train station in downtown London, the British government takes a series of highly watched legal maneuvers to assure the public that this case will be solved with no expense spared, no rock unturned to seek justice. Eric Bana plays Martin Rose, the lead in the defense, and Rebecca Hall plays Claudia Simmons-Howe, who has been specially appointed to manage and protect evidence that could affect national security. Everyone is to be watched by the government to assure that there are no holes in the case and that there is no inappropriate contact between parties that could lead to a mistrial. The government wants a conviction of the lone terrorist who was caught after the bombing. FULL POST

Posted 9/11/13 at 4:39 PM | Denny Wayman |

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Cinema in Focus - INSTRUCTIONS NOT INCLUDED - 3 Stars

All of us begin life self-absorbed. Though we like to think that we mature out of that infantile perspective, the truth is that maturity is not automatic. Our experiences and the people with whom we share them give us opportunities to begin to care more about others than we do about ourselves. This important life lesson is the theme of Eugene Derbez’ film “Instructions Not Included.”  An experienced actor, director and writer, Derbez does all three in this Spanish language film, along with the writing skills of Guillermo Rios and Liticia Lopez Margalli.

Derbez’ charm as lead character Valentin lies in his expressiveness and vulnerability. A player who beds the tourists who are vacationing in his hometown of Acapulco, Valentin has no real job or responsibility. But when Julie (Jessica Lindsey) shows up on his doorstep with a baby, suddenly his sexual escapades are about someone other than himself. Not even remembering her name, Valentin doesn’t realize her intentions when she borrows ten dollars to pay the cab. Leaving the baby in his arms, she flees for the airport and her home in Los Angeles. Thus begins Valentin’s shared life with adorable Maggie (Loreto Peralta at seven years of age). FULL POST

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