GOD ONLINE: Exploring media spirituality

Web sites, TV, films, books and the search for meaning.

Archive for May 2012

Not always happily ever after

leave a comment »

DVD review: “Love’s Everlasting Courage.” Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. 88 minutes. Not rated.

Whoaaa. Did I just see what I saw? Let’s check the title again.

Yep. It’s one of those stories from the “Frontier Woman” series by Janette Oke, made into 11 films for The Hallmark Channel. But in Love’s Everlasting Courage, the frontier woman dies.

The previous installment, Love Begins, traveled a familiar trail as lonely homesteader Ellen got her man, blue-eyed, raw-boned Clark Davis, as a reward for her hard-working virtue. This one is different. It deals with a more realistic question: What if you don’t live happily ever after?

Because things aren’t going well on the Davis ranch: The wells are dry, there’s no rain, and the bank is breathing down their necks. Ellen (Julie Mond, from General Hospital) gamely pitches in, taking a job in town as a seamstress. But no sooner does she start work than she develops a cough. Sure enough, it’s scarlet fever, and she weakens gradually until she dies.

Clark (Wes Brown, from True Blood) is devastated, but must carry on for their young daughter, Missie — and cope with a fire that nearly burns down the house. He gets help from his mom Irene and dad Lloyd (Bruce Boxleitner from Tron: Legacy and Cheryl Ladd from Charlie’s Angels,) in a refreshing portrayal of parents as something more than senile meddlers.

As in Love Begins, faith and spirituality are subtly folded into the story. People pray and mention God; there’s a cross over the bed; but there’s little explicit. At least until the zillionth failed attempt by Clark and his father to dig for water. Then Clark finally cracks.

“It says in the Good Book that the good are rewarded and the wicked are punished. Why am I being punished? … If God’s so wonderful, why do I always feel like he’s forsaken me?” he tells his father — a surprising appearance of the age-old question: Why do bad things happen to good people?

Lloyd comes back with standard advice to “have faith and endure.” Then he says more substantively, “There are wonders all around, things to be thankful for … The truth of God’s love is not that he allows bad things to happen. It’s his promises to be standing right beside you when they do.” He and his wife, of course, stand as examples of loved ones who stand with Clark.

The answer is no more conclusive than the ones theologians offer when they wrestle with what they call theodicy. But Love’s Enduring Courage at least

Actually, this film and Love Begins are based only loosely on the Oke series, not on anything she actually wrote. Perhaps it’s just as well. When Clark and his family deal with tough issues of real life, their frontier is a better match for ours.

If you want to find out more about the two films, here’s the website. But if you’re more interested in Janette Oke’s original books, she has a website, too.

James D. Davis


Written by Jim Davis

May 13, 2012 at 3:26 am

Documentary on Israeli soldier is fine but flawed

leave a comment »

FILM REVIEW: ‘Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story.’ Crystal City Entertainment. 84 minutes. Unrated.

Unfolding like a Greek tragedy — where the end is known from the beginning — Follow Me flows through the childhood, romances and military life of Yoni Netanyahu, inexorably toward the climax: the Israeli raid to rescue hostages at Entebbe Airport in Uganda.

Historical accounts, and news stories of the time, present the 1976 raid as a masterful lightning stroke. What Follow Me contributes is a background look at the cost: the governmental hand-wringing, the fast yet painstaking plans, and especially the life of Netanyahu, the raid’s only Israeli military casualty.

Yoni Netanyahu’s last photograph, a short time before the 1976 raid that took his life. (Courtesy of Netanyahu family)

It’s a fine account of a warrior-statesman who longs for private life yet constantly puts his nation’s safety above his own. It would have been even better with a fuller examination of Netanyahu’s flaws as well as his virtues.

The documentary is set to open May 18, just before Yom Yerushalayim, the anniversary of the day in 1967 when Israel captured all of Jerusalem. The release also falls within National Jewish American Heritage Month.

Yoni is presented as a handsome, scholarly boy, born in Israel but raised in the United States. A natural leader and Israeli patriot, Yoni wins a scholarship to Harvard but finds himself called to help defend his birthland again and again.

Through his own letters, plus interviews with friends and family — including brother Benjamin Netanyahu, current prime minister of Israel — we get a picture of a thoughtful, even poetic person who proves himself on the battlefield yet feels ill-suited for military life. Still, he serves twice, with a dedication that costs his marriage and, eventually, his life.

For alongside the biography, filmmakers Jonathan Gruber and Ari Daniels build tension with periodic newsclips of Arab terrorism, such as the massacres at Ma’alot in Israel. The storylines converge in the 1967 Six-Day War, when Yoni is wounded in his left arm while fighting for the Golan Heights.

Despite his wound, he returns to active service and becomes an officer in a crack commando squad known formally as Sayeret Matkal, informally as the Unit. There he acquires a daring and decsive reputation, even leading outnumbered comrades into battle against Syrian forces during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

When terrorists hijack a plane to Uganda in 1976 — and they start separating Jews from other passengers — it becomes evident to Israeli leaders that they are the only ones with the will and the power to respond. And, of course, the toughest commandos — including Yoni’s squad — are called on to do it.

Follow Me benefits from extraordinary access to top Israeli leaders like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yoni’s brother; President Shimon Peres; Ehud Barak, minister of defense, and Matan Vilnai, minister for home front defense. They all speak on camera, as do Yoni’s first wife Tutti and his widow Bruria.

Only occasionally does the film veer from its sentimental tone. In one spot, Yoni morosely contemplates his beloved homeland living in a constant state of war. In another, he casually mentions developing the skills of close-up fighting, such as pressing a gun against a foe’s body to muffle the shot. But there was surely more to his dark side. I doubt you’d get into an outfit like the Unit, much less become a commander, without developing a measure of ruthlessness.

The imbalance in the film may come from the lack of sources outside family, friends, military comrades and Yoni’s own letters. It would have been interesting to hear from those he helped to rescue at Entebbe. Some former classmates from Harvard might have been enlightening.

And any strong character inevitably accumulates enemies, or at least antagonists. Talking to a couple of those would have helped round out the portrait of Yoni.

Despite what another military film says, we can handle the truth.

If you want to look a little deeper, here’s the movie’s website. There’s also a tribute website just for Yoni.

James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

May 7, 2012 at 3:56 am

%d bloggers like this: