Archive for August, 2018

I Can Only Imagine

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

Sometimes a good song falls in your lap. Sometimes a good song takes years to make. Sometimes it takes only minutes to write a song after a lifetime of experiences.

It is the story that drives I Can Only Imagine, a movie about the man who wrote the hit song on the Christian charts. It is both sad and sweet. It’s about redemption and taking chances.

The movie starts when Bart Millard is 10. He lives with his mother and father but the house is not happy. Alcoholic Dad takes his anger out on his family, causing Mom to up and leave. But not before she drops him off for a week at summer sleepover bible camp.

I can Only Imagine IMDbIt is here that Bart meets the love of his life, Shannon. They bond over camp activities and sneaking out to watch fireworks. But when Bart comes home, his mother has left and the only one at home is Bart’s father. A man who takes his anger out on his child.

So Bart spends the next few years trying to please his dad. But plans don’t always go the way you hope. Suddenly, Bart find himself in a different school club and a new door opens for him.

If you follow the band MercyMe, you might know the rest of the story. Of how a promoter saw the band, of how the band worked to be better, how they got an opportunity of a lifetime.

You might know the story on how Bart learned to forgive and open his heart. How his father made the biggest transformation of all.

It is a movie that surprised me because I enjoyed every bit of it. This is one of the few Christian movies where I feel like the writers and directors finally figured out that if you lean heavy on a good story, the message you want to share will come through.

I can only imagine BartIt helps that first time film-actor, J. Michael Finley, does an excellent job as the adult Bart. He makes the high school student and the adult vulnerable and closed off in the right parts. And yet, he cannot deny his own talent or his eagerness to use that talent.

Dennis Quaid gives us a character that is gruff and mean and unforgivable at the beginning. But in the end, we find ourselves rooting for the older man. Granted, he is only about five years older from the last time we see him but he is greatly changed. Quaid expresses all sides of this complicated man without going too far in one direction or another.

Trace Atkins also brings a special something to his role as the manager/promoter who gets the band noticed. His reluctance and belief in their potential makes the role feel real.

Sometimes sincere emotions can make up for lacks in this genre. Many of the people in this production came through with heart-felt portrayals that never let us down. Because of its uplifting story, because of the real transformation of the characters, I enjoyed watching this movie and would happily watch it again.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.



Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

What makes a good movie? What makes a bad movie?

How is it that some movies hit all the right notes with a thinner than fresh ice plot line while others with an interesting plot line fail to connect?

Personally, I think it is all about knowing who your audience is and who they could be.

Recently I picked up a movie that looked interesting. It was about how tainted chicken nuggets turned a summer school group of kids into zombies.

Cooties_poster (1)In my head this should be a slam dunk in the horror/comedy genre. There is so much you should be able to mine in this territory to be funny.

But from the start, Cooties hit wrong notes. We start with new substitute Elijah Wood asking his mom how she liked his book when she comes to get him up for his first day at a real job. After her positive affirmations, she pulls out every criticism. This was uncomfortable.

Then he gets to school, makes enemies of various teachers by talking abut this is only a way to make money while he works on his book. One of the teachers turns out to be a former classmate. Potential romance, right? NO! Her boyfriend is the very masculine gym teacher.

We also get very unpleasant sequences with Nasim Pedrad, who used to be great on Saturday Night Live. Here she is a tightly wound teacher constantly talking about what the State of Illinois will not let her do.

After that is when the zombie behavior in the kids starts popping out. Let me just say after a slow start, it goes right into gruesome as a sanctimonious character gets torn apart on the blacktop play ground. And that’s where I stopped watching. If you are going to have gruesome in a comedy/horror movie you need it make it funny. And there has to be at least one likable character that you root for to make it to the end.

I didn’t have that with this movie. But I will tell you one zombie movie that made me laugh and be disgusted at the same time. That was Shaun of the Dead. This movie starred Nick Frost and Simon Pegg as two guys somewhere in England fighting off a zombie horde while trying to save Pegg’s former girlfriend and her friends.

Shaun of the DeadWhy does this movie work? First, we actually like Shaun. He might be a bit of a loser but he actually wants to protect his loved ones. Two, the jokes feel realistic and not taken too far. They are not stiff or uncomfortable. Lastly, the gruesome parts are not that gruesome and they wait until far enough into the movie to be an expected thing.

I actually watched this movie all the way through and not just because I had to. I really enjoyed Shaun of the Dead. Cooties, on the other hand, can go back where it came from. My son later watched the movie all the way through and he stated it started to get good around the two third’s way mark into the movie. It’s doesn’t matter how good Rainn Wilson’s performance is by that point, that is when you hang it up.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Eighth Grade

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

While visiting Oak Park a few weeks back, the husband and I decided to take in one of those independent movies that doesn’t come down this way very often.

eighth grade posterWatching Eighth Grade was like seeing one of those movies that felt true to life. It’s a slice of life story that seems to be about nothing. It is rated R so the kids who would recognize everything depicted as true and everything depicted as false can’t get to see this movie on their own. Parents have to be willing to take their own eighth graders to this movie. But also be prepared to talk about it afterwards.

The story is about a girl during her final week of eighth grade. Kayla is a quiet shy girl who makes videos on how to be more confident or how to be yourself. That doesn’t mean she actually does these things but nor does she not try. Her stories come from the point of view to classmates she wants to be like.

But this girl is also looking forward to high school in the hopes that things will be different. She clicks with her mentor immediately, which gives Kayla hope. She also has a huge crush on the cutest boy in class and wonders how to make him more than an acquaintance. Meanwhile, Dad is trying to connect with his daughter. He is genuinely concerned about his daughter and tries to be supportive as he daughter makes the big transition to high school.

There were times I wondered where this movie was going. It moves slow and sometimes our lead character is contradictory in her actions. She pretends in her videos to be more outgoing than she really is.

But in the end, I saw this girl grow and change. We see her being awkward and afraid and reclusive till she decides not to be these things.

eighth grade kayla n dadThis is one of those movies that doesn’t have a lot of action. But Kayla needs to be brave and we watch her grow her emotional strength. It would not surprise me if this movie becomes an Oscar TM contender, considering the honest and raw performance given by Elsie Fisher as Kayla. Josh Hamilton also comes through with a strong performance as a dad trying to figure out his daughter, a beautiful kind girl trying to find her way.

Kid actors can overplay a role and not be consistent. But Elise Fisher completes all of the right moves in this role. She makes Kayla vulnerable and afraid and brave.

Now I do need to warn you that there is some swearing in this movie. There are moments that are uncomfortable because it features some sexuality that is unwanted,. How Kayla responds is what keeps you watching.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

It used to be that if you wanted to binge on a specific TV show, all you had to do was wait for a cable station to have a marathon of an episode.

That is how I have watched the TV show Monk about a detective that has OCD but is able to solve the unsolvable murder cases.

But other shows can be found on DVD. You can watch all of the seasons of The Big Bang Theory or Seinfeld. It’s not just movies anymore but some of these award-winning short-term TV shows.

handmaids_tale_s1_dvd_cover_artRecently. I watched the entire first season of The Handmaid’s Tale starring Elizabeth Moss and Joseph Fiennes. It is based on the novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood about a futuristic society in which women are not allowed to read or hold a job or handle money.

The American government has been overthrown by a religious organization and the constitution has been suspended. One of the precipitating factors to all of this is a massive drop in the birth rate. Women are barren and some children are still-born. It is believed to be either a virus or God’s will upon America for not living by God’s laws.

In this new society, the women have clear rules. Wives of the commanders wear blue dresses and cloaks. They do not work and are expected to do what society women do – hand works, creative works for pleasure, and serve as their husband’s hostess and helpmate. Those rich enough are given a Martha dressed in gray to do the housework and cook meals from scratch. If the couple does not have any children, they are given a Handmaid.

Handmaids tale, walking partners

Walking Partners

This member of the household is to have sex with the husband at her most fertile period while the wife’s in the room. Should the handmaid become pregnant and have a successful birth, she will give the baby to the commander and his wife. Should she not get pregnant after a one year period, she will get sent to another commander. If the second assignment doesn’t result in pregnancy, she will be sent to the radioactive colonies to clean up the toxic mess. It is a certain death sentence.

The show gives us the present story and the handmaid’s past story in flashbacks at first. We find that she was married with a child and loved dearly. This situation is terrible for her. She misses her daughter and believes that her husband is dead. We see her point of view on how life changed. But as the series moves through the episodes, we get to see the viewpoint of other characters and how they are shaped by the change of government.

Handmaid_s_tale June_Luke

June with her husband Luke and daughter Hannah in happier times

The book is very interesting but it does not go into these details. It is fascinating and horrifying all at the same time. I found I could only do two episodes at a time because each scene is so intense. The intensity comes from the constant vigilance everyone is under, never knowing who is a spy and who is not. In a society with few words, it is subtle facial expressions that tell the story even more than the words spoken. You have to watch it, there is no dragging your eyes away.

I must warn you that there is swearing and violence. We will see dead bodies and people killed for no reason. People will scream at their situation and wonder how they can get out. It is brutal and engrossing and makes one wonder if this can ever happen in our world.

I cannot tell you one way or the other.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.