Friday, October 4, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Life, Love and... Christmas Movies Already?

Abortion continues to be a hot topic in American society, in both religious and secular settings. Of particular debate is the availability in some states of late-term abortions, in which pregnancies are terminated during the final three months of gestation. There are presently only four doctors in the US willing to perform such procedures. There were five until Dr. George Tiller was shot to death while attending a service at his Wichita, Kansas church in 2009. I’d hardly call his murder a pro-life response to what is for some, including myself, a morally troubling issue.

After Tiller, a wrenching yet illuminating documentary by first-time filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, opens in Los Angeles today and is set for a gradual release across the country. It has already won several festival awards and could well find itself an Oscar contender. Comprised of extensive interviews with the remaining quartet of third-trimester abortion providers as well as with some of their patients (none of whose faces are shown), the film reveals the complex circumstances, emotions and practical aspects behind the procedure.

There are heartbreaking stories behind what leads some prospective parents from all around the world to these doctors’ offices in Colorado, New Mexico and Maryland. Many of the women are victims of rape, while others learn late in their pregnancy that their babies will be born with horrifically painful physical defects. “Its guilt no matter which way you go,” says one mother-to-be of the decision facing her. There is no soft-peddling of these stories or of the abortion providers’ responses. “This isn’t tissue,” says Dr. Shelley Sella (who, incidentally, is lesbian), “these are babies.” Throughout, the doctors are shown to be unquestionably compassionate and thoughtful. They generally reject abortion requests that strike them more as for convenience’s sake, and subsequently late-term abortions represent less than 1% of all abortions performed in the US. To the filmmakers’ credit, the anti-abortion protesters shown in the documentary are also treated respectfully.

It is terrible what these four doctors, in addition to the late Dr. Tiller, have been subjected to by what are accurately termed “anti-abortion terrorists.” Two have had their clinics set on fire, while another saw his personal stable burned to the ground with 21 horses inside. All receive death threats on a regular basis. Such hateful violence — frequently, sinfully perpetrated in the name of God — is worse than the counsel and care these doctors offer to people who are obviously struggling with an enduringly painful issue.

The gay-themed indie Turtle Hill, Brooklyn arrived on DVDthis week without much fanfare but it is well worth seeking out. Brian W. Seibert and Ricardo Valdez wrote, produced and star in this observant, melancholy-tinged comedy about a couple whose relationship goes into meltdown during a 30th birthday party for one of them. Will (Seibert), the birthday boy, hasn't yet come out to his conservative Christian family. He is forced to do so, however, when his sister and brother-in-law unexpectedly stop by. This element of the plot struck me as the least-realistically handled but others who have found themselves in such a situation may disagree. Director Ryan Gielen takes a welcome low-key approach to the film's more dramatic moments, while the mostly unknown cast members are effective and engaging.

It has been available on home videofor a few months now, but I only recently watched Andrew Lloyd Webber's Love Never Dies. This long awaited sequel to his smash musical adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera has yet to reach Broadway and received only a middling reception when it premiered in London. A revamped production in Melbourne, Australia was well-received last year and it is one of these performances that was recorded. More melodramatic and less musically accomplished than its predecessor, Love Never Dies is nevertheless beautifully designed as well as staged and very affecting in the end. Its creepy Coney Island freak-show setting also makes it appropriate for Halloween season viewing.

Speaking of Halloween, costumes have barely been stocked in stores but Christmas movies are already coming out! All is Bright, starring Paul Rudd and Paul Giamatti as two losers who go into the Christmas tree-selling biz, opens in theaters today, and So This is Christmas was just released on DVDthis week. I love a good holiday movie any time of year. Unfortunately, So This is Christmas is a wannabe inspirational lump of coal that is saddled with an over-abundance of heavy topics involving teenage characters. Drug and alcohol abuse, teen sex and pregnancy, discussion of abortion, shoplifting, a vicious drug dealer and a climactic shooting hardly proclaim "Merry Christmas," especially when the kids' holiday pageant element feels tacked-on. It doesn't help that charismatic name actors Eric Roberts and Vivica A. Fox, who are good as two of the troubled teens' parents, are forced to obviously lip-synch a well-known Christmas song recording by other singers! The film's faith message is awfully heavy-handed too. If one is already in the mood to watch an inspiring Yuletide movie, I recommend The Bishop's Wife or Come to the Stable instead.

Reverend’s Ratings:
After Tiller: B+
Turtle Hill, Brooklyn: B
Love Never Dies: B
So This Is Christmas: D+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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