Tragedy teaches hard truths


By Gregg Tubbs


Reign Over Me

Stars: Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett Smith, Liv Tyler, Safforn Burrows, Cicely Tyson, Robert Klein, Melinda Dillon, Mike Binder, Ted Raimi

Director: Mike Binder

Rating: Rated R for language and sexual situations.


The human instinct to survive is both physical and emotional. But what price are we willing to pay to recover from a tragic loss? Would we blot out our own past? And what happens to the human heart when a national tragedy also becomes a very personal one?


 With Reign Over Me, writer/director Mike Binder balances both humor and pathos, as he again explores the themes of loss and recovery and the fine line that separates survivors from victims. The film tells the story of a man who has lost everyone he loved and whose only hope for a real future is the unexpected compassion and commitment of a friend from his past.


The story opens with a chance encounter between two old friends who haven’t seen each other in years. Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) and Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) were college roommates, studying dentistry. However, as this film constantly reminds us, life is unpredictable, and their lives couldn’t be more different. On Sept. 11, 2001, Charlie’s wife and three daughters perished as their plane from Boston struck the World Trade Center.


Alan finds Charlie disheveled and detached, denying that they were ever roommates or that he ever had a family. But something awakens in both of them, and their friendship rekindles. Alan becomes determined to help his friend get “back in the game.” And as we soon discover, Alan’s game needs recharging as well, and Charlie just might be the juice.


Charlie has abandoned his successful dental practice and is living off several million dollars in post 9/11 aid. He has reverted to a rudderless, adolescent existence. Alan, on the other hand, maintains a burgeoning practice, but finds it and his “perfect” family life stifling He spends more and more time in “Charlie world” trying to get his old friend to open up about his loss and seek help. But every breakthrough is a potential booby-trap that could send Charlie into seclusion or rage.


The film’s portrayal of Alan’s attempts to reach out to Charlie is an inspiring testament to essential Christian values like compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Alan gives generously of himself for the healing of another.


Reign Over Me excels at showing the reciprocal nature of relationships. Alan is jolted from his own malaise by sharing a bit of Charlie’s loss and feeling a bit of his pain.


But this is no fairy tale. Reign Over Me acknowledges hard truths. Tragedy is as much a part of life as joy, and it could just as easily have visited Alan as Charlie. Love is the balm that heals life’s greatest wounds and gives us hope to carry on.


The Ultimate Gift

Stars: Drew Fuller, James Garner, Ali Hillis, Abigail Breslin, Lee Meriwether, Brian Dennehy, Mircea Monroe, Donna Cherry, D. David Morin

Director: Michael O. Sajbel

Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements, some violence and language.


Jesus was called many things during his time on earth, but none more often than “teacher.” His disciples and others would often implore him, “Teacher…explain to us…show us…tell us what we must do.” Jesus would share with them life’s lessons infused with divine wisdom — lessons that still guide us today.


The Ultimate Gift is a film that carries on the tradition of passing on the wisdom of the ages to a generation sorely in need of guidance. The film follows a young man on a journey of spiritual and emotional discovery to uncover one of life’s ultimate questions, “What is the relationship between wealth and happiness?” The lessons he learns along the way are sometimes hard, often complex and always unexpected, but they all add up to the ultimate gift.


The Ultimate Gift tells the story of a man whose final act is to share his legacy with his family. By most measures, Red Stevens (James Garner) was a success. Unfortunately, the family he left behind is greedy, needy and back-stabbing. Red is determined to set this wrong right with at least one family member, his grandson Jason (Drew Fuller).

In a videotaped message, Red announces that Jason will indeed inherit the “ultimate” gift, but first must satisfactorily complete a series of 12 tasks. What Jason doesn’t realize is that the tasks are the gifts. They are meant to challenge him, make him think and force him into critical self-examination.


Two of the film’s most important messages deal with the importance of forgiveness and the proper place of money in one’s life. There’s a lot of bad blood between Red and Jason, which was originally caused by the circumstances of the death of Jason’s father. In the end, Jason and his grandfather are finally reconciled as Jason learns to forgive his grandfather.


At the heart of The Ultimate Gift is the deep truth that a life devoted to self is empty, but a life devoted to sharing one’s self and God-given gifts with others is truly a life lived to its fullest.


Have You Seen….?

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