Chalamet (left) and Carell Francois Duhamel/Amazon Studios via AP
Story of a drug-abusing boy and his relentless father is painful to watch
by Bob Brown
Beautiful Boy is difficult to watch. It hurts on many levels. Based on the dual memoirs of David Sheff and his son, Nic, the film despairs that a drug addict can ever kick his habit. Nic gets clean for a while, but again and again chooses to shoot up with crystal meth. As surely as highs crash, so too recoveries collapse, the film seems to say.
Many former users might disagree, but Christians can respect the Sheffs’ perspective. The Bible teaches that our battle with the flesh lasts a lifetime. Eventually victorious or not, for many nonbelieving and believing viewers, Beautiful Boy tells their story. Drug addiction is rampant, and families like the Sheffs suffer for one person’s choices. The film ends with the mind-blowing statistic that drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50.
Parents will agonize with David (Steve Carell). Flashbacks show his tight bond with Nic (Timothée Chalamet): They surfed together and shared a gift for writing.
“I love you more than everything,” David tells his son.
“Everything,” Nic responds. Still, Nic says he needs to “fill this big black hole in me.” What created this hole? His parents’ divorce? The family’s affluence? Their apparent indifference toward God?
With David its real focus, the superbly acted film could be titled “Faithful Father.” David is far from perfect; he smoked pot a few times with teenage Nic before he knew his son was addicted. (The film’s R rating is for drug content, language, and brief sexual material.) But he pursues his son relentlessly. Countless times he drives the streets searching, then lifting his beautiful, broken boy out of trash-strewn alleys into his car.
But the film doesn’t search beyond the temporal, and that’s what makes it so painful to watch. If humans are merely the sum of chemical processes, why not tweak (i.e., use crystal meth), drug, and be merry? Perhaps, though, David’s inscrutable love for his son points to a heavenly Father who’s full of compassion for His broken children.
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A dog with an untraditional task provides fodder for a traditional family film
by Megan Basham
The 2015 Australian film Oddball, based on actual events, is a traditional family dog flick that is streaming on Amazon and that the whole family can enjoy during the holidays.
Squirrelly sheepdog Oddball is more interested in causing trouble than guarding chickens, even though it’s what he’s bred for. His mom is the right-hand hound of chicken farmer Swampy Marsh. Without her, Swampy wouldn’t be able to keep foxes from killing his precious merchandise. Unfortunately, Oddball is not up to defending fowl, and he isn’t particularly popular with Swampy’s neighbors.
But that’s before foxes start wiping out the fairy penguin population on the nearby Middle Island preserve. Swampy hits on the idea that if Oddball’s breed can protect chickens, why not penguins?
And there, parents, you get two for the price of one—not just lovable dogs, but lovable miniature penguins to boot.
There’s not much to cause concern in the unrated Oddball beyond a man acting silly after getting hit by a tranquilizer dart and some jokes about the unpleasant smells Oddball creates.
One possible concern: the movie’s opening scene involving Swampy’s daughter’s budding relationship with an American played by Alan Tudyk. He’s at her house, and she apologizes for their first morning together being a mess. It’s an ambiguous scene, but there’s nothing to indicate he spent the night.
On the very positive side, Oddball offers some splendid real-world education on the amazing instincts God gives his creatures and the ingenious ways we’re able to use them. The real Maremma initiative Oddball started was a stunning success. Not one Middle Island penguin was lost to fox attack after he and his fellow Maremmas started guarding them.
Sadly, the real Oddball died last year. But only after he lived a happy 14 years protecting birds, launching an unprecedented conservation project, and making a name for himself on the big screen.
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Johnny Depp as Grindelwald Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.
The Crimes of Grindelwald isn’t a good movie, but it fits our thought-policing times
by Megan Basham
It’s a curious thing about the latest Harry Potter–related movie, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald—until the last 15 minutes, the eponymous character hasn’t committed much in the way of crimes. The story’s big plot twists that have Potter allies running around the internet begging people not to reveal spoilers have nothing to do with Grindelwald’s crimes either. Come to think of it, we’re never particularly clear on what Grindelwald’s heinous crimes were from the first movie that landed him at the very top of the Most Dangerous Dark Wizards of All Time list in the second one. But the fact that his so-called “silver” tongue has been cut out seems to offer a clue.
In some ways, The Crimes of Grindelwald (rated PG-13 for a half-clad statue and scary action) is the perfect big-budget fantasy movie for our thought-policing times. For while we’re to take it on faith that Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) will commit some horrendous acts in the future, mostly all he has done to land himself in the maximum security Ministry of Magic cell we find him in at the beginning of this story is a bit of Auror impersonating. Oh, and he’s given some speeches. Speeches so dangerous, they alone appear to be the main threat he poses. Even the ostensibly freethinking Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) agrees that the best way to combat the persuasive powers of his childhood friend is physical defeat and suppression as opposed to more and better-reasoned speech.
To be fair, there are some vestiges of classically liberal thought in Dumbledore’s caution to the Ministry of Magic that to treat Grindelwald’s followers too harshly is to drive them toward his extremism. But the notion that the simple-minded masses must be protected by their betters from rhetoric they lack the intellectual capacity to sift is nearly as offensive as the idea that wizards have a natural right to rule Muggles “for the greater good.” Certainly the premise that one becomes the greatest threat to the wizarding world primarily on the basis of words is. If cutting out tongues to prevent them uttering things we don’t like is the standard, exactly who are the bigger villains here?
As to the quality of the movie beyond this troubling theme, it’s revealing that a bad guy with an outlandish blond hairdo and a predilection for holding rallies isn’t getting more love on the Rotten Tomatoes meter.
It’s not that the movie fails on all levels. Rowling and director David Yates, along with their likable cast, are too talented for that. There are still witty parallels between the wizarding reality and ours, and though he’s criminally underused, Dan Fogler as Muggle baker Jacob Kowalski never fails to get a chuckle whenever he’s on screen. The big sell of the Harry Potterverse—world-building—is present as well and taken to new, gorgeous heights. If we got to ooh and ahh at a 1920s American Flapper version of Harry Potter in the last movie, in this one we get delightful visions of a Parisian Art Deco variety.
But on one significant level it fails spectacularly: plot. While I’d be the first to cheer the fact that Crimes of Grindelwald drops the Puritan-bashing of the previous film, it goes one step further and drops everything else along with it. Like a low-rent soap opera, characters we saw die are miraculously resuscitated with little explanation. Others whose histories are well-established are suddenly rewritten to accommodate additions that cannot conceivably fit into previous timelines. Our protagonists run from one place to another with almost no rhyme, reason, or clear purpose. Worst of all is that everything that occurs for a good hour and a half of the two-hour runtime turns out not to have mattered much at all.
What we’re left with is a pretty parable that whispers to the young that it is sometimes right to silence bad ideas by force. I combat it not by confronting Rowling and Yates in the street and demanding they not be allowed to make films but by coming here to tell you about it.