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JOURNEY THROUGH THE INTERNET, AFRICA & THE RAPTURE

year: 2014 rating: **1/2
In a weekend dominated by a missing girl and a demonic doll, here's a three-pack including THE GOOD LIE, LEFT BEHIND and beginning with...

MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN: Seeing the Internet in a movie is like hearing a toilet flushing, in a movie… It’s so familiar we’d much prefer to escape life’s, um, personal necessities...

Nothing doing with Jason Reitman’s MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, a film centering on an ensemble of characters, parents and teenagers, all using the almighty Net for various reasons: From dating sites to video games to modeling to texting: the latter appearing on the screen to showcase our distracted society.

The cast is loaded with potential talent, but Dean BREAKING BAD Norris should have had a lot more to do than passively navigate his son’s game-playing while Adam Sandler has a chance of reliving PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE… By turning in a serious role, perhaps he could prove something once again. But the males, including an existential high school ex football hero and a porn addicted jock, seem merely along for the ride...

A cute blonde
It’s the women who have the most interesting, risqué storylines. One wife cheats… A young girl persists on staying skinny and loses her virginity to a jerk… An uptight mother, played by the film’s main antagonist, Jennifer Garner, strictly monitors her mopey, lovestruck kid… Meanwhile, Judy Greer’s progressive single mom takes unconventional pictures for her sexy daughter’s modeling website.

Everyone eventually connects, romantically or otherwise. And like MAGNOLIA and many ensemble films, there’s a stream of conscious narrative bringing things  together…

In this particular case it's the Voyager Satellite hovering just beyond our solar system with Carl Sagan as the token philosopher, providing depth through the wise voice of Emma Thompson, the female Morgan Freeman here…

But going beneath the surface level, whether an inch or a mile, can be considered deep. Ironically, the most intriguing elements occur during the mundane, everyday observations, and not when the writers try for meaning: That’s when things get preachy and pretentious, and downright predictable.   

year: 2014 rating: ***
THE GOOD LIE: You would think, judging by the trailers and the poster, THE GOOD LIE centered mostly on Reese Witherspoon’s bitch with a heart of gold, Carrie, and her friendship with three African refugees… But Carrie has little to do with the film but “babysit”… Yet she hardly even does that…

The real story centers on a young "family", beginning with their on-foot journey from war-torn Sudan to Kenya. This prologue lasts twenty minutes but packs about every trial and tribulation you can imagine –  drinking their own urine, dodging bullets and battling fierce wild animals, the preliminary trek is rushed in order to segue into the feel-good movie it becomes once the children, grown into college age young adults, move to Kansas City where a moody Witherspoon sets them up with various jobs.

It would be impossible to delve into the immense pain these kids felt unless ample time and effort was provided for us to, as the old saying goes, walk in their shoes. There are sporadic flashbacks and conversations to shed light on their past, but THE GOOD LIE is really a fish out of water tale not about surviving, but adapting in the comparably soft American culture.

During the last twenty minutes, when the family "chief" returns to Africa in search of a very special person, not only does the title become perfectly clear, the movie fills in the gaps from a somewhat cushy interpretation of hardship and struggle, providing a satisfying conclusion – for the characters and the audience. 

year: 2014 rating: **
LEFT BEHIND: Nicolas Cage, the once A-list superstar and Oscar winning actor, could be viewed as taking a serious downgrade by headlining the low budget Biblical-based thriller, LEFT BEHIND… Although, since he’s been demoted to Straight-to-DVD hell the last few years, perhaps this return to theaters is his way of serving in heaven, literally.

After a ponderous twenty-minute conversation within an airport terminal, the plot clunks underway… Based on a novel foretelling the predictions in Revelations – where God’s Rapture will take only Christians to heaven – much of the suspense takes place on a commercial airplane where Cage’s Rayford Steele is the sole pilot…

The children, a flight attendant and most important, the co-pilot, have all been whisked away – all that’s LEFT are a pile of clothing… Same thing’s happened globally; but we center on Captain Steele’s hardened Atheist daughter Hattie, played by Nicky Whelan… It’s her character we followed through the overlong prologue, and she’s the focal point on the ground. In fact the Rapture begin on her “watch” when her little brother vanishes in the middle of a heartfelt hug.

Nic Cage
Skipping from the airplane to the city, the best scenes occur eight miles high. Take away the Rapture aspect and we have a selected group of paranoid passengers not trusting each other, resulting in our heroic pilot having to land the airplane back in New York, just like the melodramatic AIRPORT films of yesteryear. Meanwhile, the attempt to wedge the Christian agenda is awkward and clumsy...

But since it's a tale about people who weren’t lucky enough to make the ethereal cut, if this particular vehicle works, a franchise about desperate heroes surviving a godless world might crossover to the mainstream… After all, who's around to preach Christianity?

With a distractingly low budget and a cheap acoustic soundtrack, LEFT BEHIND might be just that in the box office: not faithful enough for the faith-based and not exciting enough for a suspenseful thriller. Yet there are times when Nic Cage makes you forget he's stuck in a bad movie. After all, he's had plenty of practice lately.
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