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Culture Movies

Niko Tavernise/Sony Pictures

Niko Tavernise/Sony Pictures


Almost A1 cinema

Film about the Battle of the Atlantic has good elements but needs more to get past middling

It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good. And the pandemic that exploded Hollywood’s traditional release model has acted as jet fuel to the expansion plans of streaming outlets. Case in point: Greyhound

Based on the 1955 C.S. Forester novel The Good Shepherd, the World War II, inspired-by-true-events drama is about as prestige as it gets. Its writer and star is arguably the most A-list performer of our time, Tom Hanks. He plays United States Navy Cmdr. Ernest Krause. He and his crew must provide escort to a convoy of Allied ships bringing troops and supplies across an area of the Atlantic known as the “Black Pit,” due to it being out of range of air cover. No surprise, Greyhound was originally scheduled to hit theaters on Father’s Day weekend—perfect timing to capitalize on summer crowds in the market for a dad-pleasing option.

When COVID-19 nixed that plan, many industry insiders expected Sony to shelve the film until fall. Instead, the studio partnered with Apple TV+ to release it on July 10 in a move entertainment news site Deadline described as “a real shocker.” Apple’s $70 million purchase marked the company’s biggest feature film commitment so far and could signal a turning point in the war for entertainment dominance. It could also signal that the streaming platform intends to make its mark by going less gritty than competitors Netflix and Amazon. 

The thrilling action sequences and patriotic themes make it a shame other elements of the film don’t hold up as well.

As the USS Keeling, better known by call sign “Greyhound,” begins the hazardous trek toward Great Britain, Krause, who’s never commanded before, finds his tactical skill tested to the breaking point. 

Often when studios promote films to Christian press as having a “faith element,” it means a character mentions a Bible or maybe wears a cross around his neck. Not so with Greyhound. Krause is no blink-and-you’ll-miss-it believer. In various situations he prays for wisdom to execute his mission, thanks God for preserving his life, and prods the men under him to remember casualties as “souls.” 

More specifically, as he squints into the distant sea weighing how best to thwart Nazi U-boats known as “the wolfpack,” he counsels himself with Matthew 10:16: Be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove. The film is rated PG-13 for war violence and language, but quick asides of, “Sorry Captain,” whenever the crew let slip a profanity make it clear Krause doesn’t approve, no matter the provocation.

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Bad Education is a good lesson

Student journalism shines in HBO movie

Real-life tales of intrepid journalists bringing down corrupt powers are staples in film and television. HBO’s new made-for-cable movie stands out not just for its A-list lead (Hugh Jackman), but because the reporter who breaks the story is a teenage girl. 

The publication: her high-school newspaper. The power she takes down: the administration of her school district, one of the highest-ranked in the nation. 

As New York Magazine reported in the article that inspired the screenplay, a “diploma from Roslyn High School is the closest you can get on Long Island to a ticket to Harvard.” So parents and school board members pretend they don’t see the idiosyncrasies in their beloved superintendent’s personality or the discrepancies in his assistant’s accounting.

That’s not good enough for junior journo Rachel (real name Rebekah Rombom), who unearths that Frank Tassone’s entire life is a lie. 

Along with frequent bad language, Tassone’s secret long-term relationship with one man and short-term encounters with another, represented by several scenes of kissing, account for a “Mature Audiences” rating. Those drawbacks notwithstanding, Bad Education illustrates journalism’s purpose. Media powerhouses could learn a lot from a high-school girl.

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A scene from Fail Safe.


Pandemic lessons from a Cold War classic

Fail Safe focuses on leaders who have no good options to avert disaster

With the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating world governments’ servicing of over $253 trillion in worldwide debt, leaders around the globe are making incredibly difficult decisions as they balance saving lives from the virus and avoiding a global economic collapse.

Viewers who want to watch a film that displays the trials of leadership in a similar no-win situation should consider going old school and giving the 1964 classic Fail Safe a watch (available on Amazon Prime).

Fail Safe is director Sidney Lumet’s (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network) critically acclaimed Cold War thriller.  The film begins with America’s early invader detection system picking up a UFO that could possibly be a Soviet bomber or a missile.  Several bomber squadrons scramble to their designated “fail safe” points, where they will await their next orders. “Fail safe” is an engineering term referring to a point in a system where, if something fails, other safeguards can minimize the chance of a complete breakdown.

As you might guess, though, something goes wrong. While the original threat proves harmless, one of the bomber squadrons mistakenly gets an order to go past their fail safe coordinates.  Their mission: Fly to Moscow and drop an atomic payload.  

The defense system makes it extremely difficult to call back the orders.  Therefore, the president (Henry Fonda) faces an agonizing decision: What will he do if the bombers successfully reach their target?  One of his advisors, Professor Groeteschele (played by a young Walter Matthau), argues the U.S. should launch a full-scale strike on the Soviets, as he believes they would surrender.  The president’s other choice would be to drop a hydrogen bomb on New York City to even the score and thereby avoid the possibility of a global nuclear conflict.    

The tension in the film is terrific, the acting performances compelling, and viewers will find themselves fully engaged all the way to the film’s difficult conclusion.

While the parallels to our current situation are not exactly equivalent, the basic concept is: World leaders will have to make difficult decisions with respect to COVID-19.  These choices will be hard and may soon get even harder.  But no scenario comes without suffering.

In a culture that does not view suffering as a natural consequence of living in a fallen world, many consider the no-good-answer scenario unacceptable.  As a result, criticism for leaders everywhere abounds.

In Romans, Paul instructs everyone to be subject to their governing authorities. His words are even more important to heed now.  Fail Safe will most likely remind viewers how hard it is to be a leader on the world stage, especially when a pandemic offers no simple choices. Viewers will hopefully also recognize that the best thing we can do for our leaders, as Paul encourages in 1 Timothy, is pray for them.

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