“High School Musical 3” is even more happy-go-lucky than “Happy-Go-Lucky.” Here’s an idealistic setting if ever there was one: a high school where all the kids are clean-cut, well-dressed, and well-behaved, where they can break out into singing and dancing at any moment, they come from behind to win the State basketball championship (overlooking the obvious reality that those particular players couldn’t win a pickup game at the local YMCA), and the theater department is so incredible that it draws two visitors from Juilliard, ready to award full-ride scholarships. Wow.
Of course, there has to be some tension somewhere, otherwise we couldn’t sing any siren songs. Our completely cute heroine (Vanessa Hudgens) is so smart she goes to Stanford early, leaving her likeable boyfriend (Zac Efron) pining for her return, even as he tries to put up with the budding diva who’s taking her place in the school play. This movie will be played thousands of times, all over the country, at teenaged girl sleepover parties, but it’s fun and wholesome and has the potential to warm the cockles of even the coldest cynic.
But if you’re wanting to feed that cold, cynical side, “RocknRolla” is Director Guy Ritchie’s latest foray into the London underworld of brutal thugs, Russian mobsters, random violence, chaotic scrambling for gang supremacy, and, at the core, the kind of overarching greed that makes the believer realize why there’s a 10th commandment. Tom Wilkinson’s performance is especially chilling as the swearing, swaggering, self-appointed lynchpin of the invisible sewer, while Thandie Newton supplies the sly, malicious femme fatale. Strong Cockney speech, untethered id-centered behavior, and no heroes, but the smartest villain, like David among the Philistines (I Samuel 21:10-15), is the one who knows how to play the fool to his advantage.
James Bond, never the fool, used to play the debonair man-about-town, always perfectly mannered, impeccably attired, quick with the verbal repartee, and when it came to the unlikely escapes, tongue firmly planted in cheek. Not any more. James Bond, in “Quantum of Solace,” has turned grim, edgy, tough to the point of mean, and almost impervious to social niceties: a somber, sober, superhero of special agents, utterly unstoppable, and doggedly determined to serve the interests of the British secret service, even when they’re not appreciating his rogue contributions. Daniel Craig is macho to the point of creating the kind of humorless, brooding character you’d least imagine sitting down with for an amusing evening of witty small talk. He’s too busy relentlessly pursuing the evil enemies of democracy to even enjoy the company of beautiful women any more: all he gets here is one chaste kiss. As for his American counterparts, well, they’re either stupid or treacherous or both. Another strong performance from Judi Dench as the unflappable “M,” but Craig is the man who demands both her constant attention and ours.
“The Boy In The Striped Pajamas” is also going to demand attention, as the Holocaust tale told with a bit of whimsy. An eight-year-old boy named Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is the son of a German officer transferred from Berlin, during the height of World War II, to command a concentration camp, which the boy believes is a farm. Seeking a play pal, he innocently wanders over to the barbed wire fence, and there encounters a sad little Jewish boy in striped pajamas. What follows is an unlikely friendship in an even unlikelier context. But it’s a new perspective on a story that has to be constantly re-told. Lest we forget.
Questions For Discussion:
1) The fictional British spy James Bond is infamous for his “007” rating, indicating “license to kill.” Should real operatives have that authority? At their own discretion?
2) What makes some people just enjoyable to be around, whatever the occasion? What traits cause you to avoid others?
3) How do we insure that every new generation will know about the horrors of the Holocaust?
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church, Greenville, Texas.