As summer slips away: Two Film Reviews (Breakthrough, Toy Story 4) from The City Sentinel
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Published: 02-Aug-2019

Editor’s Note: These film reviews first appeared in the August print edition of The City Sentinel newspaper, available at racks around the Oklahoma City area. The print edition of the newspaper (still only 10 cents for newsstand sales) is available behind the counter every month at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore, 6100 North May, Oklahoma City, 73112.  

In Good Hands: “We forget, but He doesn’t” – A ‘Breakthrough’ worth seeing 
A Review, by Patrick B. McGuigan 

In a film released last spring and now headed to DVD and other electronic formats, a fine ensemble cast delivers a powerful testimonial about events that took place only five years ago. 
Breakthough” came to the screen through the efforts of a cadre of Christian performers, technicians and others with years of experience making films that can often be pigeon-holed (and usually are). 
But the executive producer of this one is Stephen Curry – he of the Golden State Warriors. 
So, just like you do every time he takes the court, pay attention. 

Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz) and her husband Brian (Josh Lucas) are the adoptive parents of a surly middle-school lad, John (Marcel Ruiz). He was born in poverty in Central America. They struggle to communicate effectively with him not because he looks differently, but because he carries all the anxieties of boys his age. His source of occasional confidence, however, is remarkable ability on the basketball court.

A shocking incident plunges the family and their surrounding community of faith into crisis. Rescued by firefighter Tommy (Mike Coulter, in a star turn), John is expected to die. In the ER doctor’s account, he did die. But after full-throated screaming out-loud prayers from Joyce, things turn. 

Their pastor, Jason (Topher Grace) pours himself into support of the Smiths. Doctor Garrett (Dennis Haysbert, in a pivotal cameo) counsels the parents to prepare for the inevitable.
But the inevitable is not how the story goes. How the story does go drew international attention, and the willingness of a superstar like Haysbert (he of the AllState “Good Hands” advertisements) to be part of the project. It moved the heart of the rescurer Tommy, and others like him.
You know the old line: “If you see one movie this year, this should be it.” 

I was astonished at the dismissiveness of some reviewers, who scorned the film even as they complimented one aspect or another of it (great special effects, strong performances).  

If you are not a person of faith but are willing to see a good flick about events that cannot be explained under the normal rules of nature, one presented with conviction and sincerity, this is it.
In the end, John’s true story – full of good people who face life crises, doubts and tensions like everyone of us – has inspired people all over the world. 
Things happened more or less as recounted in this story.  

Briefly, I close with a tip of the hat to rap singer Lecrae, who has a brief cameo early in the film.  I’ve never grown accustomed to rap, but it took one interview to get me accustomed to Lecrae.
His singing style is one of the things members of the congregation didn’t like about Pastor Jason when he got to town. Lecrae plays himself, has only a couple of minutes of rapping for a worship service, spearking brief words of thanks on-screen. 

In one interview on the film set, Lecrae reflected about the film, and larger issues:
“I think, specifically like in the western world, we’re in a post-Christian era. So I think a lot of times, we forget our faith has survived for thousands of years, is just that here in the West, North America and Europe, it’s post [Christian]. It’s like, ‘oh, we’re over that now. We’re more progressive with science and so on and so forth.’ But take a trip to Africa, you take a trip to China, it’s thriving, it’s on fire right now. That’s the reminder that God is not irrelevant. It’s just we forget, [but] He doesn’t.”
This movie had a decent run in theaters and is coming out in various electronic formats not reviewed here. “Breakthrough” is a good film about a great story. My prayer is that believers and non-believers alike find ways to support it as a fine example of solid story-telling – a stunning tale rendered respectfully and believably. 

Note: This is adapted from McGuigan’s film review, which first appeared in the August 2019 edition of The City Sentinel.


‘Metaphor, philosophy, and dream language’ – Ebert was right: Toy Story 4 is great
A Brief Review by Patrick B. McGuigan

Toy Story 4” is a blockbuster headed toward a billion dollars in ticket sales around the world, having earned back many times its budget. The voice of Tom Hanks seems ageless in his reprise as Sheriff Woody, Tim Allen is stellar as the voice of Buzz Lightyear, and, to the viewer’s joy, Little Bo Peep (Annie Potts) takes a strong turn. “Bo,” as Woody calls her, employs her staff, in this one, as a kind of ninja warrior’s tool and occasionally as a weapon.
For those who have not yet seen it – go.

This is simultaneously the best of all the series and the finale.
While certainly a product of these times, the film is not crushed with political correctness – yet nicely renders a softly feminist story line, in which a guy follows a girl for reasons of the heart, and the future.

I’ll not spoil the tale, but it is fine. At a modest 1 hour and 40 minutes, there’s lots of time to get reacquainted with old friends and new.
A road trip, a Carnival, a longing for home, good music. Grace notes are there, with a plot that twists and turns and resolves itself believably. Believable is the right word: A compliment for … a cartoon.

A teacher and now a grandparent, I have often used films and stories that yield great (even if highly popular) literature to draw out the imagination. Each passing year, fewer and fewer youngsters (perhaps because of a decline in reading, or stresses on family time, or other factors) naturally imagine themselves “in” a story, or intuitively see themselves as versions of characters on screen or pages.

The remarkable achievement of Toy Story 4 is it proves me wrong: Kids of all ages and those older folks who love them see in this story … themselves.
In this work, it is not hard but easy to get young minds to go a special corner of human imagination, bringing forth the empathy, compassion and perception that enables to walk a mile or more in the shoes of another person.

One could quarrel that the Toy Story franchise is “just” an animated series, but my goodness.
In his late June review of this film, Roger Ebert captured the status of Toy Story 4 in our culture and in the hearts of millions: “Few blockbuster movie series are so likable and accessible to people of all ages and cultures, yet at the same time so rich in metaphor, philosophy, and dream language.”

Maybe it’s just a great story. Grandchildren who saw it for the first time with their Opa, your humble servant, regaled adults with moments from the film (which they had not seen previously) describing this or that moment as “cool,” another as “scary.” They related events from start to finish, with the sweetness and avidity of youth.

When the film was released, Hanks related at one press conference a moment when, recording Woody’s voice for the last time, he was convinced he was using the same headphone and microphone as in the earlier films. Whether that was an imaginative leap or literally true, he said that as he removed from his head the device that helps deliver magic, he wept.

Whether viewed in the adult mind through the lens of passing decades as capturing stages of life, or in the perception of a child (unborn when the first three films were released) as something to see again and again, the Toy Story saga remains human work that can aptly be deemed: Art.
Great or simply good? See it and decide for yourself.

Note: This is adapted from McGuigan's review, which first appeared in the August print edition of The City Sentinel

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