Here are today’s dispatches from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

1. For Greater Glory: Epic and timely.
In the late 1920’s, a ragtag group of Mexicans take up resist their government’s crackdown on religious liberty — a crackdown, in this instance, directed at the Catholic Church.   Enrique Gorostieta Velarde (Andy Garcia), a retired general who had previously fought on the side of the revolution that brought the anti-Catholic President Plutarco Elias Calles to power, is recruited by the resistance leadership to head up the military opposition. Though an agnostic himself, the faith of his wife Tulita (Eva Longoria), as well his general conviction for freedom, compels him to take up their cause. Starring Andy Garcia, Eva Longoria, Peter O’Toole, Mauricio Kuri, Oscar Isaac, Rubén Blades, Bruce Greenwood, Catalina Sandino Marino, Santiago Cabrera, Eduardo Verástegui, Bruce McGill and Adrian Alonso.  Directed by Dean Wright. Written by Michael Love. (Opens: Today, June 1)

Review: Though shot on locating in Mexico, For Greater Glory is an all-star epic war saga in the grand Hollywood tradition. The historic drama, a sort of Mexican Braveheart,  tells of the story of the Cristero War (1926-1929), a conflict few Mexicans — let alone Americans —  are aware ever happened. Without getting into why that may be, it seems remarkably ironic that the film is released less than two weeks after 43 Catholic institutions filed lawsuits against the U.S.  federal government’s push to require them to include contraceptives in their employee healthcare packages, an effort the Catholic organizations contend infringes on their religious beliefs. The Mexican government, of course, was actually banning the celebration of the Mass and wasn’t above violent — and even murderous — intimidation. But, still, the issue of government intrusion on religion continues to have resonance.

The story definitely deserves to be told and, for the most part, it’s told well here. Andy Garcia delivers captivating performance as the agnostic rebel leader Gorostieta Velarde, whose non-faith is challenged by the commitment of his troops. The best performance (Oscar-worthy really), however, probably is given by  Mauricio Kuri as José Luis Sánchez del Rio, the teen boy who first befriends a priest (Peter O’Toole) who is ultimately murdered at the hands of the government and, after joining the resistance, befriends General Velarde.  The scene in which the boy suffers martyrdom for refusing to renounce his faith is brutal and gut-wrenching. I’m told it was actually restrained — considering what was actually done to the boy. Suffice it to say, the scene goes a long way in earning the movie its R rating. Personally, I think it may have been wise to suggest more and show less here.  For instance, more cutaways to General Velarde’s efforts to find and reach the boy in time to save him may have added a heightened sense of suspense while still effectively conveying Luis powerful faith and ultimate sacrifice.

As a whole though, the film is a riveting reminder that religious liberty is, indeed, a value worth cherishing. For Greater Glory is strongly recommended for adults but you should be aware of the violence of that particular scene before making your movie-going choice.

Luis Sánchez del Rio, it should be noted, was declared a martyr and beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on November 20, 2005.

2. Hardflip: Edgy youth drama with a positive spin. 
Synopsis: Randy Wayne stars as Caleb Jones, a young competitive skateboarder life is thrown off kilter by an emotionally-and-financially struggling mother (Rosanna Arquette) whose health suddenly fails. John Schneider plays his father, who left them both years earlier to engage in a successful pursuit of earthly success.  Directed by Johnny Remo. Written by Johnny Remo and Daniel Blackman. (Opens: Today, June 1)

Review: Between his successful TV series Smallville and his recent part in the surprise box-office success October Baby,  John Schneider may just be America’s favorite adoptive dad. In Hardflip, he’s playing a father again — this time a biological father who, unlike his previous dad roles, hasn’t always been there for his kid. In fact, he hasn’t been there at all for teenager Caleb Jones (Randy Wayne), the angry young competitive skateboarder whose story unfolds in a film that manages the balance of edginess and heart with all the agility, in an artistic sense, of a competitive skateboarder. Schneider and Wayne are extraordinarily believable as the estranged father and son at the core of the story — with both a remarkable resemblance and performances that ring true.  Rosanna Arquette brings poignant vulnerability to the role of Bethany, Caleb’s mom and the woman Jack (John Schneider) left behind in pursuit of greener pastures as an architect/businessman.  As John told me in a recent interview, Jack “chased his dream and he caught it.” Of course, he caught it at the cost of building a life with a woman he truly loved and foundation of a relationship with his son.

Without giving away too much of the plot, Caleb and Jack are thrust together when a sudden medical crisis puts Bethany in a coma. What follows is a rocky road on the journey toward forgiveness. Hardflip is worth the ride and is recommended.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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