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Finding Forrester

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Finding Forrester

I realize that the one wish that was granted to me, so late in life, was the gift of friendship.

— From the movie “Finding Forrester”

When was the last time a Hollywood movie portrayed the acts of reading and writing in such a gratifying and fulfilling way that it made you want to read a real book rather than an “airport” bestseller? And when was the last time you saw an interracial mentor-pupil relationship presented as mutually rewarding, and interracial teenage romance depicted without punitive condescension or parental disapproval? Gus Van Sant’s deftly crafted “Finding Forrester” achieves all of the above and more: It provides a platform for Sean Connery to deliver a definitive, career-summation performance as a reclusive, charismatic literary legend. With the right handling, Columbia has a sure winner here, a skillfully written, expertly acted picture whose uplifting plot should score high among viewers across the board.

With the notable exception of “Psycho,” his futile 1998 remake, Van Sant’s technical work continues to improve in a way that doesn’t call attention to itself. His work has always shown a fondness for outsiders, but rather than merely depicting them sympathetically, Van Sant places his outcasts in crisis, forcing them to confront their relationship to society and its rules. Two of the filmmaker’s most-used motifs are highlighted in the new film: the moral odyssey of outsiders and the casual randomness of urban life.

Indeed, on the surface, “Finding Forrester” tells a similar story to that of Van Sant’s 1997 Oscar-winning “Good Will Hunting,” with Connery playing the Robin Williams part and black teenager Rob Brown in the Matt Damon role, a gifted kid with a chip on his shoulder. While “Forrester” is critical of conservative educational institutions and tyrant instructors, it doesn’t put down the system itself.

With a touch of “Rear Window” voyeurism, narrative depicts Forrester as a silver-haired eccentric who spends a lot of time at his Bronx apartment window, seemingly observing a bunch of black kids playing ball in a court across the street; later it turns out he’s an avid bird-watcher. Veiled in mystery, the last the world has heard of Forrester was more than 40 years ago, when he was a brilliant Pulitzer-winning novelist. His book, which has since become a cherished classic, is apparently his only literary output.

As the youngsters are aware of Forrester’s invisible presence, their curiosity naturally builds. Sneaking into his apartment to get info about the mythical man, 16-year-old Jamal (Brown) accidentally leaves behind a backpack full of his writing. The next day, the bag appears at the window and, to Jamal’s surprise, his papers have been read and graded by Forrester. An unlikely relationship begins, marked by all the familiar ups and downs of such bonds. Turning point occurs when an exclusive Manhattan prep school recruits Jamal for his basketball talent and his academic achievement, and he seeks Forrester’s help in dealing with the new environment, becomes a reluctant hero and Jamal gradually becomes committed not only to his own writing, but to cracking Forrester’s shell.

Central acts chronicle the flowering of a union that goes beyond the routine teacher-pupil interaction. While lines of authority are clearly maintained, Mike Rich’s graceful script shows how dependent the mentor becomes on the kid, who evolves from an intrigued fan to a loyal student to a social companion, all the while determined to reignite Forrester’s passion for writing before it’s too late. Though earnest and utterly predictable, yarn avoids the traps of the similarly themed “Educating Rita,” in which a working-class hairdresser-wife (Julie Walters) forces a boozy professor (Michael Caine) to become her instructor. “Forrester” doesn’t unfold as a series of calculated setups painted with a broad brush — there are no cutesy scenes like Rita giving her mentor a shampoo. Rich inserts enough narrative subtleties and moral shadings into a friendship that ultimately becomes a surrogate family relationship.

The text is extremely old-fashioned: A crucial scene at school, in which Jamal is reprimanded for his conduct, functions as the equivalent of a courtroom scene, in which an inflexible teacher (F. Murray Abraham) is contrasted with good ones. A bigger mistake is that the filmmakers signal where the tale will ultimately go about a reel before it gets there.

Undoubtedly, it’s the bravura acting that binds viewers to the characters’ shifting emotions from one scene to the next. “Forrester” is very much a chamber piece for two, with more than half the scenes set indoors in Forrester’s cluttered, oversize apartment, inventively textured by production designer Jane Musky to capture the feel of a capacious pre-WWII residence, which later becomes a kind of Never Never Land. What gives pic a much needed outdoor cinematic dimension are the basketball scenes, which are dynamically shot by lenser Harris Savides, and Valdis Oskarsdottir provides modulated editing.

Playing the Salinger-like writer of legendary stature, Connery expertly fills the bill as a man who’s at once ingratiating and infuriating, a recluse who needs to be rescued from misanthropy. The role allows the actor to display his signature humor, a flourish of arrogance balanced by depth. Connery hasn’t only stopped masking his Scottishness, but now integrates it into the plot. But Forrester is by no means a one-man show.

Amazingly, with no previous experience, Brown stands up to Connery, and in some scenes even matches him with his inner strength and stillness. Anna Paquin plays a student who fosters a flirtatious friendship with Jamal, while “Good Will Hunting” star Matt Damon pops up for a late-in-the-game cameo.

— Emanuel Levy

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Written by MattAndJojang

October 13, 2015 at 7:26 pm

The Butler

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The Butler

Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.

–Martin Luther King Jr.

Written by MattAndJojang

September 23, 2015 at 11:21 am

The Bucket List

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The Bucket List

You know, the ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death. When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the guards asked two questions. Their answers determined whether they were able to enter or not. ‘Have you found joy in your life?’ ‘Has your life brought joy to others?

— From the movie The Bucket List

Written by MattAndJojang

September 8, 2015 at 11:24 am

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Three Rebel Monks

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Screenshot from

Screenshot from “Three Rebel Monks” trailer.

A group of young adults in Spain are bringing to the big screen a novel about the renewal of the Cistercian Order by three saints who strove to recover the poverty, simplicity and austerity of the early monastic era.

“Three Rebel Monks” tells the story of Saint Robert of Molesmes, Saint Albéric, and Saint Stephen Harding, who overcame the challenges of monasteries that resisted their efforts.

The film is an adaptation of the book with the same title written by M. Raymond. The film director, Aleix Forcada, said that he began with a short university project and ended up with a thorough production.

The film was shot at the medieval monastery of Santa Maria de Huerta in Soria, Spain, where there is currently a Cistercian community.

Forcada and the other filmmakers are young adults in the Schoenstatt movement in Madrid. They spent four years in filming and editing, a period of time that they say has been an opportunity to encounter God, according to a press release on the movie.

Although the film is set in the 12th century, Forcada said it can be considered contemporary “because it speaks to us of eternal values such as constancy, perseverance, trust, humility, effort, courage…values that don’t have anything to do with ideologies or distinctions, are for everyone.”

He also emphasized that it has a special message for young people that are trying “to wake up from the toxic anesthesia of the ephemeral, of the ‘here and now.’ Things in life take time, and nothing comes without effort.”

Forcada also said that “the whole process of filming was an experience of God. I couldn’t pick out an exact moment…the simple fact of having been able to complete the film is a clear sign of the presence of God.”

The entire production and filming were made possible through small donations. Forcada said they received help from “anyone who could teach us how to organize film shoots with extras, anyone who gave us free lighting, the community of monks that welcomed us with such affection, the people that gave of their time to help us.”

Forcada said he hopes that people who see the film “leave the movie theater in a reflective mood,” regardless of whether they are Christian.

— from the “Catholic News Agency”

Written by MattAndJojang

April 23, 2015 at 8:25 pm

The Book Thief

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The Book Thief

In my religion we’re taught that every living thing, every leaf, every bird, is only alive because it contains the secret word for life. That’s the only difference between us and a lump of clay. A word. Words are life…

–from the movie The Book Thief

Written by MattAndJojang

February 8, 2015 at 11:25 am

Rest In Peace, Robin Williams

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Robin Williams

Saddened when I heard that Robin Williams suddenly passed away today. I hope he’s now at peace…

Here’s a quote from one of his movies, Dead Poets Society, which incidentally is one of my favorite movies:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

— Matt

Written by MattAndJojang

August 12, 2014 at 10:50 am

The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton

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The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton

In Theaters 2015

 

 

Who is Thomas Merton?

In 1941, aspiring author Thomas Merton abandoned his bohemian life in New York City and ran away to the strictest observance of Catholic monasticism he could find—a Trappist monastery in rural Kentucky, where he took a lifelong vow of silence, poverty, obedience and stability.


Considering the moral laxity of his past life, Merton felt that writing would be at odds with his new monastic vocation. But while he vowed to put down his pen for good, his abbot recognized Merton’s literary talent and demanded he write his life story. In obedience, Merton hammered out 
his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, which was published in 1948. To Merton’s surprise, the book became a blockbuster hit and shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. It also sent scores of World War II veterans, students and even teenagers flocking to monasteries across the United States and around the world as they sought to follow Merton’s example. Despite his best efforts to submerge himself in the anonymity of his religious vocation, Thomas Merton had become an overnight celebrity.

Though bombarded with countless speaking requests and the other unwanted pressures of his newfound fame, Merton continued to write and publish many books on sacramental living, prayer and contemplation. As the Cold War and mounting fear of nuclear holocaust took center stage, Merton used his celebrity to speak out against war, violence, racism and other hot button issues of the 1960s. As a prominent peace activist and proponent of social justice amidst such turbulent times, Merton quickly became both loved and hated by many.

During his twenty-seven years as a monk, Merton published 56 books. Since then he has sold approximately 15 million books translated into dozens of languages. Merton’s influence has grown exponentially since his tragic and unexplained death by accidental electrocution in 1968. He is widely recognized as an important 20th-century Catholic mystic who forged new paths into both interfaith dialogue and non-violent peacemaking. In addition to the International Thomas Merton society, currently there are 57 local Thomas Merton chapters and societies around the globe dedicated to keeping his legacy alive.

 

About the Film

Synopsis

The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton is a feature film about world famous monk and peace activist Thomas Merton. In the summer of 1966, Merton falls in love with a nursing student half his age, plunging him into the most agonizing predicament of his life. As he endeavors to prevent his secret romance from being discovered by his abbot, James Fox, Merton is brought to the brink of despair, realizing he must finally choose between serving himself or serving the world.

Endorsements

“A beautiful portrayal of one of the great spiritual masters of our time, “The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton” highlights a period of tremendous creativity and volcanic change for the person who was, at the time, America’s most well known Catholic writer and sage. This lovely new screenplay ushers us into the often misunderstood world of monastic life, artfully showing the struggle of a man trying to remain faithful to his vows after having fallen in love. Both longtime fans of Merton and newcomers to his life will find it sensitive, nuanced and often deeply moving.”
James Martin, SJ, Jesuit priest and author of Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints

“Thomas Merton is serving history as a ‘Prime Attractor’. He excites, challenges, and educates the hardest of hearts and the most rigid of minds from so many different spheres of life. He seduces people into a future where there is room and compassion for so much more. You can jump into that future through this fully entertaining but profoundly true account of his life.”
— Richard Rohr, Founder, Center for Action and Contemplation

“I found it very gripping — read it in one bite!”
 — Jim Forest, friend of Merton, writer, peace activist

“Thomas Merton deserves to be known and read by a new generation, and Ben Eisner and Kevin Miller are creating an ideal vehicle to make the introduction. Those who have read Merton will find much here to deepen their understanding of the man, and those who haven’t read him will want to as soon as they leave the theater.
— Brian D. McLaren, author/speaker/activist (www.brianmclaren.net)

“The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton narrates with respect and humor significant events in the famous monk’s last years that challenged his personal integrity and his crucial relationship to his monastery’s abbot, James Fox. The screenplay realistically portrays the major role that Fox played in Merton’s life both as a down-to-earth spiritual mentor and as one of his literary career’s best friends. The screenplay follows Merton’s movement through personal challenges to his living out his vocation in a context of crisis that is mirrored in events of the Sixties that created turbulence for America’s own sense of its direction through world upheaval. This script deserves serious consideration for translation into a film that would attract a global audience.”
— Jonathan Montaldo, co-editor of The Intimate Merton

— Source: http://mertonmovie.com