Life at the Movies

The story goes like this. In Pete’s Dragon (2016, out now on DVD) a boy named Pete and his mother and father have an accident on the way to a forest park. The boy survives and a dragon rescues him.

Pete calls the dragon Elliot, a name taken from a picture book. For the next six years, Pete stays with Elliot in the deep of the forest.

Then, the park ranger finds Pete and takes him to the ranger’s residence, but Pete longs to be back with Elliot. Pete’s journey is finding out if he will belong with his newly found human family or with Elliot. This is a difficult journey to undergo because he loves Elliot.


Pete's Dragon (2)


Reality and fantasy

There are a few moments in Pete’s Dragon that we may question.

After Pete had a devastating accident on a deserted road, I thought a dragon rescuing Pete makes light of Pete’s predicament. How could a dragon really save a boy who has just lost his parents in an accident? Dragons are fantasy, aren’t they?  I couldn’t and maybe you wouldn’t reconcile reality with fantasy.

Then the movie slipped under my guard and drew me into the story.

I may not believe in dragons, but I engaged with the theme of believing or not believing and knowing or not knowing, which has wider implications in life.

The theme of belief and non-belief

In Pete’s Dragon, the aging Meacham (Robert Redford) says he has seen and heard a dragon, but not many believe him. Meacham certainly believes, but what someone says is true is a sincerely held belief according to others. While Meacham tells them he knows, others don’t believe. We know the feeling when someone does not believe us but we know the facts. Argh! What is seen and heard isn’t always accepted by others, but according to Pete’s Dragon there is more out there and is not a venomous giant about to attack.

Pete’s Dragon draws one into its world and keeps one there for as long as the movie rolls.

* * * *  (out of * * * * *  stars)


Pete rides Elliot in Pete's Dragon. (Image sourced via google images).

Pete rides Elliot in Pete’s Dragon. (Image sourced via google images).

I watched a terrible movie about stupid humans; but casting aspersions on the braininess of human beings, which must include the audience, is never going to work. Unless the audience agrees that they are stupid.

I do see the sense in making a bad spoof film about human braininess. If humans are dumb, this move about human backwardness should be bad. That shows me that the makers of this film were onto it. Or were they?

I guess they were the butt of the joke and perhaps know it, buy why?

2001: A Space Travesty (2001) is indeed a travesty, but anything starring the late Leslie Nielsen delivering dead-pan one-liners was bound to interest me.

I watched it…

Not a funny watch, too crude as well. Though Leslie was the most well-known of the spoof movie masters of his time, by 2001 even he was wearing thin.


Leslie Nielsen (Pictured)

Leslie Nielsen (Pictured)


Space Travesty is a part-spoof of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some elements of that film are parodied.

In Space Odyssey the emphasis is on human progress; the theme of humans making good progress is the general idea, however we take that. We humans are really quite intelligent according to this film. Because we are intelligent we make progress.

In Space Travesty, humans look dumb. In this film, God may have created detective guy Richard ‘Dick’ Dix (played by Nielsen), but at least the music has something good going for it.

For a minute, Space Travesty may have worked. We humans get life wrong. We make wrong decisions. We create wars or should I say that governments create wars. We make wrong choices. We could have been brainier.

But if we wallowed in inadequacy about our brain size in the world, we would have died too early by doing nothing of use in the world. We would have thought that we are useless.

The fact that we keep on ticking over is a good testimony. If one can invent the telephone, the internet, the computer, negotiate the intricacies of international relations and trade, and work out one’s day to day life in the most challenging of circumstances, then human life is intelligent and has progressed.

Maybe make better movies sometimes, though movie technology boggles the mind.

One had been so very lost in life. Even the lowest one can go. No direction, no life, guilt, sorrow, despair. One wallowed in inaction and hopelessness in a cloud of depression. As unlikely as it may have seemed a solution came clear. The solution seemed incomprehensible, but a lost life is reclaimed and then begins a new life. This is the point of a redemptive movie.

Redemption in “The Mission”

The Mission (1986) is a powerful religious and human interest drama.

On the borderlands of South America in 1750, comes Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert de Niro), a slave trader.

This slave trader becomes a Jesuit priest.

A slave trader’s conversion may have seemed unlikely, but he is taken through a process of redemption to begin a new life.

Rodrigo has a reason to need the way out. He killed his brother, a brother he loved. He was jealous of a woman’s love for his brother.

“So me you do not love,” he says to the woman. “Not in the way I love Felipe [Rodrigo’s brother]”, she replies.

In the heat of a moment, Rodrigo kills his brother.

But he falls into remorse.

For six months he exiles himself from life in self-imposed confinement. A priest goes to him. “For me there is no redemption,” Rodrigo tells the priest.

“But there is a way.” Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) believes in redemption for lost souls. Certainly, sorrowful Rodrigo is in need of it.

The Mission is one film that uses the redemptive theme. The film is also about church and state and compromise, things which come around to put a different shade on Rodrigo’s new life, a new life borne out of redemption.

Rodrigo’s change of heart is genuine. The redemptive thread in The Mission I remember well. There are others, but this one comes to the top of my head. It’s powerful, moving and meaningful, as redemption should be. It’s inspirational. That this new life that came out of redemption had to face serious challenges is a pity.


“Chariots of Fire”, the film

I sometimes struggled to enjoy the first half’s general quietness. However, later in the film, Liddell faces the reality of his Sunday sporting dilemma. The film has a handsome production quality, beautiful Vangelis music, and an air of intelligence, with strong writing, acting and direction. Overall, an almost perfect film.

* * * *  1/2 (out of * * * * *  stars)

A great theme: an Olympic film about the Sabbath

There are good movies about the Olympics that the 2016 Rio Olympics brings to mind. Chariots of Fire (1981, Britain) is one of those good films, based on a true story. Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams are British runners competing in the 1924 Paris Olympiad.

Liddell has a strong Christian faith and believes his life purpose is to be a missionary to China. However, “God has made me fast”, he says. “To not use one’s gifts would be to hold God in contempt.”

Abrahams, on the other hand, is solely ambitious to win at the Olympics, in the sprints. Winning is his sole purpose.

Abrahams struggles with religion, but Liddell does not struggle living with his Christian faith, though he is challenged by a sprint scheduled on a Sunday, the Sabbath day.

The Sabbath

Liddell devoted four years to training for the Paris Olympiad, but running on the Sabbath Sunday would be breaking the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy. His heat falls on a Sunday. He says sacrificing four years of training is painful, but honoring God’s command is more important.

His Christian convictions rub the Olympic committee the wrong way, but Liddell firmly stands his ground.

For Liddell, unlike Abrahams, there is more to life than winning. God comes first. He still would run if his heat landed on another day than Sunday, but since the heat did land on a Sunday, honoring God always come first.

Using one’s gifts is glorifying God, like God is the fire behind every athlete. But if one’s faith is going to be compromised in bowing to the charges that be, then God should be honored first, says this film.

The outcomes of Liddell and Abrahams is a remarkable story. The ambitious Abrahams, who is a nominal Jew, becomes a respected sports celebrity and lived to a ripe old age. Liddell died in World War II as a missionary in China. The contrasting lives make a fascinating portrait of life and religion as it unfolded.

Nigel Havers (Lord Andrew Lindsay), Ian Charleson (Eric Liddell), Ben Cross (Harold Abrahams), Ian Holm (Sam Mussabini),  John Gielgud (Master of Trinity), Cheryl Campbell (Jennie Liddell), Alice Krige (Sybil Gordon)

Hugh Hudson (Director), Colin Welland (Writer)