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    Weekend Reviews

    June 21, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    I got out of the habit of doing weekend reviews. Part of that is because the movies we’ve been watching were such that I didn’t have much to say about them. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with them {nor particularly right, I suppose}. They just weren’t very thoughtfully done, and so they weren’t very thought-provoking, either.

    And then there is the book issue. Apparently, I am turning into my mother and it now takes me approximately a year to finish a book. And Si hasn’t been finishing books, either. He has a better excuse than I do, as he is spending much of his spare time preparing for the class he is teaching at the church.

    So I feel a bit triumphant that there is anything to review today!

    Let’s get going.

    The Book

    Hand That Rocks the Cradle:
    400 Classic Books for Children

    4.5 out of 5 stars

    I rarely buy books about books, but I made an exception for this one, and I’m glad I did. One of the “problems” in our home is that our son is an avid reader. I call it a problem only because I have trouble keeping up with him. We are careful about what we expose him to, and yet it is hard for me to screen everything he wants to read because he reads so fast. Growing up, I read primarily “girls’ books” and so I am unfamiliar with books that are traditionally boyish, which means there are lots and lots of books that I need to screen. Add into this the fact that I don’t want to waste money or PBS credits on “bad” books, and you can see my dilemma.

    Enter Hand That Rocks the Cradle.

    There are 400 children’s books listed in this reference. Each listing contains a brief synopsis. They are also coded by age-appropriateness. And then there are handy details, such as when the book was written, what era of history the story takes place in, and even where {geographically speaking} the book takes place.

    This book is really helping me compile a list of potential additions to the family library. For instance, I know that our children enjoy the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder. So I’m thinking of adding a book by Elsa Falk called Winter Journey, which also tells of a family’s adventure on their way to Minnesota Territory. Likewise, our son is interested in American Indians. Sterling North’s Captured by the Mohawks sounds like a good fit for him.

    See how helpful this book is? I highly recommend it for parents like me who sometimes feel at a loss over where to go next in their library-building process.

    The Movie

    5 out of 5 stars

    What can I say? I fell in love with this movie. I had read some positive reviews, but I was holding out for my own chance to see it. It wasn’t just that this was a good movie, it was that it was good on so many levels.

    First, there are the basics of film. Finally, we see here a low budget film with good acting. A good script. A good story. It was artfully done without being overdone. The director had a sense of subtlety, and I always appreciate this, especially considering how many directors are of the in-your-face variety.

    At the next level, we have the fact that this movie is good in a moral sense. It admits that there is evil in the world, that people are lost and in pain, without ever validating evil. The film is full of compassion. It seems to understand why people are tempted to do the wrong things they do without becoming tarnished by these wrong things.

    The third level is what caused this movie to steal my heart. Many folks have proclaimed this movie to be “anti-abortion.” In one sense, this is true. Obviously, when a mother chooses life {and it is a choice grappled with in this movie}, she has chosen against abortion. But this movie is so much more than that.

    **Spoilers ahead! Procees at your own risk!**

    This movie is really about a man named José who affirms the lives of everyone around him. He is contrasted repeatedly with others throughout the film. José carries with him the burden of accidently killing an innocent child. He ran over her with his car on a day that was supposed to be the beginning of his success in life. This accident plays out through the film, and we learn that José spent time in jail for involuntary manslaughter. What we also see is that José is contrasted with his manager, who was also in the car, and told him the only way to get out of the situation was to flee the scene.

    José refuses. We don’t see this until near the end of the film, but he instead runs to the child’s body, and cries along with the child’s mother. José affirms life.

    Incidently, the film begins with José affirming the life of children. He is a newly-signed soccer star with a $2.2 million dollar contract. And yet he stops to dance with a little girl, to play soccer with a crowd of little boys, to autograph the soccer ball, and so on. His manager, on the other hand, blows these children off. This is the first time we see that José affirms life.

    And this happens again and again in the movie.

    José is contrasted with his brother, Manny, who owns the restaurant where José is the head chef {and Nina, the pregnant girl in the movie, is a waitress}. Manny doesn’t really know the people who work for him. He wants José to feed them “rice tacos” for their daily meeting. {José makes them quail, which Manny contends is so extravagent it “could have been a special.”} Again and again it becomes evident that while Manny cares about money and the success of his business, José cares about the people with whom his life intersects at work. José affirms life.

    José takes the day off to spend it with Nina, who Manny fires for being late. We learn early on that she has just discovered she is pregnant. And she doesn’t intend to be a mother. José doesn’t preach at her, but he does spend the day reaching out to her. We learn to see Nina through José’s eyes, as a person with a very sad life. José at one point suggests adoption, and Nina recoils at the thought, but his suggestion plays out nicely when we all learn how José became the man he is. José takes Nina to his home. She is able to see a real family, filled with love and joy. She learns that Manny, their firstborn, is adopted and yet the only difference between him and their other sons is “how he came to them.”

    Day turns to night. By morning, we see José, back in the restaurant with Manny, lean over and whisper in Manny’s ear. We later learn that José intends to adopt Nina’s unborn child. There is a sense of penance here, that though José could not undo the tragedy resulting from killing the little girl years before, he would be able to rescue this current little girl whose life hangs in the balance.

    Thankfully, this movie doesn’t fill in every detail. But we see José in the end, eyes sparkling as he watches his little daughter Bella tease ocean waves at the shore. We know, because of our earlier exposure to José’s family, that she is loved and cared for as she deserves.

    The real crux of this movie is not being anti-abortion. It is the power of man who affirms life at every turn.

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  • Reply Brandy June 22, 2008 at 5:21 am

    I agree with you about the accident! I cried a lot, too. Pregnancy really does bring out the emotions. I like to think it softens the heart. 🙂 I remember during my pregnancy with my older daughter (during which I had to take hormone pills to sustain the pregnancy, and my emotions were at an all-time high) that Si even had to turn off AT&T commercials. They were about children growing up and leaving home, and I would cry the second they came on the radio in anticipation of what was going to happen! It seems so funny to me now…

    You are the second person to mention Juno to me this week. I will have to discuss with Si about putting it into our Netflix queue.

  • Reply Kansas Mom June 22, 2008 at 1:18 am

    I recently watched Bella, too, and found it as wonderful as you’ve described. I have to admit, though, I wish I’d been prepared for the accident. I spent the entire movie crying for that poor mother and her little girl (not to mention Jose). When I’m pregnant, the tears come very easily, especially when children are involved! (In fact, when I’m pregnant, my husband often censors the news stories for me. It sounds so old-fashioned, and not flattering in today’s society, but I have too much trouble with all the stories our papers choose to report.)

    I also watched Juno the same week. It’s worth watching, if you haven’t already, though it’s not as good as Bella in my opinion.

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