Sunday, April 29, 2012

Movie & Book Review: "An Improbable Feast" & "The Way"

I'm reviewing a book and a movie on this occasion because of a serendipitous coincidence. First, my good friend, Geoff Boyce, gave me his new book An Improbable Feast to read. Geoff, has asked for an honest review (something I'd provide even if he didn't want it!).

Geoff has been the Uniting Church Christian Chaplin at Flinders University since 1997. From discussions I've had with him, and from reading his book, Geoff's ministry is rigorously focused on acceptance and inclusiveness. Using the metaphor of a feast, he describes how he has navigated through the challenges of ministering in a pluralist context where faiths ranged from atheism to paganism to Islam to Christianity to fundamentalist Christianity.

Notice I have placed fundamentalist Christianity on its own. One of the greatest ironies described in Geoff's book is the way in which the fundamentalist Christian chaplin contingent resisted inclusivity - one of the core values of the Christ they claimed to follow.

The arrival of a pagan chaplain provides the most powerful aspect of the story. As Geoff describes his own journey coming to know the pagan chaplain and setting a place at the table for her, the essential theme of the book is articulated - hospitality. As Boyce points out, hospitality has been an essential aspect of all faith traditions. So hospitality provides a natural "womb" (my word) to 'nurture spirit, build community'. As the concept of hospitality is teased out we are witness to a highly engaging journey as a group of chaplains struggle to identify a shared purpose for their service to the university community.

Geoff Boyce is a "heart" person and his heart is evident on every page of this book. Told with deep sensitivity and empathy, this book provides a model, not only for chaplains of all faiths, but also for anyone living life in contemporary multifaith societies. We are constantly meeting the Other in our journeys and this book is a delightful piece of wisdom applied to the real world revealing an authenticity not evident in much "spiritual' discourse. It will be especially useful to anyone who is engaged in chaplaincy work.

Book details: Geoff Boyce, An Improbable Feast: The surprising dynamic of hospitality at the heart of multifaith chaplaincy. 2010. Self published (I think) but available on Amazon.

On page 53 of Geoff's book, he introduces the reader to an ancient, but still practiced, pilgrimage that many take to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It's a long and demanding trek. Along the way, there are the Refugios where pilgrims can stop for a bed, rest, and refreshments. Geoff's brother has completed the pilgrimage and some of his stories are shared in Geoff's book to illustrate aspects of hospitality.

So imagine my delight when Emilio Estevez's movie The Way arrived in my local cinema. The entire film occurs on this same pilgrimage route! And what a delightful movie it is.

Tom (Martin Sheen) receives a call from Spain informing him that his son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez - Martin Sheen's son in real life) has died in a climbing accident near the start of his pilgrimage along the Santiago de Compostela. Tom hasn't heard from his son for a long time and travels to Spain to recover Daniel's body. When he arrives, he decides to have Daniel's body cremated so that he can carry Daniel on the rest of his journey. On the journey, Tom meets various colorful people who challenge his approach to life and death and everything in between.

The Way is a deeply moving meditation. The story is as slow as the pilgrimage but every step is engaging and saturated with meaning. Fortunately, Estevez's directorial hand is light and there is no preaching. Even at the end of the journey, we are left to draw our own conclusions about what each character in the story has gained from their journey. There's a privacy to the experience that is the opposite of the modern inclination to uninhibitedly bare all to the world.

Martin Sheen is excellent as the father and all of the supporting cast bring enjoyable nuances to the story. It's a deeply spiritual film and, at times, favours a Catholic approach to some of the issues it traverses. But it is a satisfying movie in ways that a lot of contemporary cinema isn't. I would imagine that many people would be impatient rather than allowing themselves to be carried on at the pace of the narrative. But it is most definitely worth persevering with this beautifully contemplative fare.

The fact that this movie is a father-son movie with real father and son working together adds an interesting layer to the story. One has to wonder just how much of the move has grown out of their actual relationship - something I'm not willing to speculate about.

Positive Review
'There's a contemplative loveliness to The Way, an affecting personal project both for Emilio Estevez, who wrote, directed, and plays a small role, and for his father, Martin Sheen.' - Lisa Schwarzbaum/Entertainment Weekly

Negative Review
'With "The Way," writer-director Emilio Estevez has made a respectable failure. What's respectable - and undeniable - is that this is a sincere effort to make a film of sensitivity and spiritual richness.' - Mick LaSalle/SanFrancisco Chronicle

You will probably like this movie if you liked The Bucket List, Up, City Slickers, Into the Wild, The Motorcycle Diaries


USA: PG-13


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Geoff Boyce | Not without my neighbour

Check out my good friend, Geoff Boyce's, blog. He is a chaplain at a secular university and has lots of wisdom to share!

Geoff Boyce | Not without my neighbour

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Movie Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

exotic marigoldWhat a wonderful celebration of life The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is! A group of British retirees, desperately trying to find meaning in life as they grow old, travel to India to stay in the luxurious Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Problem is, the advertising brochures presented a “future vision” rather than the actual state of the hotel and the guests are initially very disappointed. However, as events unfold, the charm of India begins to work its magic on their hearts – at least for most of them.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a charming piece of comedy drama that explores friendship, ageing, relationship, hope, regret, racism, guilt and romance. That list might seem heavy. But Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and Maggie Smith lead a wonderful cast who bring their long experience in the movies to deliver some richly nuanced characters and great one-liners. But the comedy is woven around deep attitudes about life and what is really important. Dev Patel, who played the older Jamal in Slumdog Millionnaire, gives a standout performance as the manager of the hotel.

The cinematography is superb and brings the vividness of India to life on the screen. (I know this because I happened to be sitting next to an Indian woman who spent the first 26 years of her life there. At the end of the movie, she sat back in her chair and exclaimed, ‘That brought back so many memories!’) The script is witty and fast moving and, while I found it got a little bogged down in the middle, overall was well paced with little predictability.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a delightful cinema experience and is worth seeing on the big screen to appreciate the Indian cityscape. Don’t miss this joyful movie!


Content Advice
mild themes, sexual references and coarse language

USA: PG-13

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Book Review: The Skin Map

Ley lines are straight lines "located" around the world that allegedly connect various geographical sites deemed to be significant historically or metaphysically. These alleged lines have been explained using various hypotheses - some scientific and some pseudo-scientific. Some believe them to have mystical or magical powers. Stephen R Lawhead has made these ley lines the basis of the first book of his The Bright Empire series, The Skin Map. It's a very enjoyable fantasy/adventure/sci-fi yarn.

Kit Livingstone is thrust into a remarkable adventure when his great-grandfather appears to him and takes him on a journey to another time and place to introduce Kit to the power of ley lines - portals around the globe that have the power to transport one into parallel worlds in the multiverse. The problem is that, without a map showing the locations of the ley lines, it's impossible to predict where and when you may end up. However, there is a map. And it's tattooed on the skin of an intrepid explorer who risked life and limb to chart this new and secret territory - believing that the map would be lost or stolen if he didn't literally keep it with him! But the skin map is not really valuable for itself. It's what it can lead to that makes it valuable and not everyone desperately wanting to find it has high ethical purposes in mind. Kit and his dull girlfriend are caught up in these events that require the courageous risking of everything they hold dear.

Stephen Lawhead is a prolific writer of mostly fantasy but, of his books I have read, I enjoy his science fiction the most. In The Skin Map, there are hints of philosophical paradoxes (always inherent in time travel fiction) and ethical issues. But more than anything, The Skin Map is thoroughly entertaining. It's rich with characters, historical information, and moves along at a good pace. It's a real page turner and the ending of the first book leaves the reader hanging on the edge for the next book of the series. Highly recommended,

You'll probably like this book of you enjoyed Ted Dekker's Circle Trilogy, Stephen Lawhead's Byzantium, Stephen Lawhead's Dream Thief.

Book information: Stephen R Lawhead, The Skin Map, Thomas Nelson, 2010.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the ... book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”