Jesus in the Movies: A Complicated History

Son-Of-God-movie

After Son of God, Noah, and God’s Not Dead demonstrated strong box office appeal, the media has dubbed 2014 as “The Year of the Biblical Epic.”   Stories in the Los Angeles Times, Fox News, NPR, The Daily Beast, U.S. News and World Report and The Telegraph have chronicled this 'flood' of faith fueled films.  Another religiously themed movie opens this week:  Randall Wallace's stirring adaptation of the bestseller, Heaven is For Real.   Later this year, Christian Bale will take on … [Read more...]

The Haunting Reality Beyond Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips

It took me a long time to work up the courage to see Captain Phillips.   Despite all the positive reviews and even Academy Award nominations, I stayed away because the story struck me as far too real.   I couldn’t view the movie as mere entertainment because I had followed another hijacking by Somali pirates with an intense personal interest.     When Scott Adam retired from a career as an assistant director in Hollywood, he enrolled at Fuller Seminary.   We were students together, … [Read more...]

TREE OF LIFE: From Genesis to Revelation

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A friend was recently searching for my original review of Tree of Life and discovered it was no longer available online.   So here are my initial thoughts about Terrence Malick's towering cinematic achievement from May 2011: Tree of Life resurrects the era when Hollywood still aspired to greatness.  Not since 2001:  A Space Odyssey (or less successfully, The Fountain) has a filmmaker attempted to capture both the origins of life and our ultimate destination.   Terrence Malick came of age … [Read more...]

BEHIND THE OSCAR SNUBS AND SURPRISES

bad-grandpa-jackass

Plenty will be written about how Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, Emma Thompson, and Oprah Winfrey got snubbed by the Oscars.   Many may wonder how Inside Llewyn Davis and Saving Mr. Banks and Lee Daniels’ The Butler could be overlooked for Best Picture (after all, the Academy could have nominated 10 films, not just the nine that were recognized).   Less will be written about why this occurred.  What lies behind the Oscar nominations? While no one can know the mind of the individual Academy … [Read more...]

HER: The Lure and Limits of iLove

Her-OS-Scarlet-Johannson

We live in an era of profound possibilities and deep-seated anxieties.   We believe the future is bright, but we’re scared of the present.   We seek solace in our digital devices, embracing the virtual when the actual feels too weird, wild, and uncontrollable.    We are hyper-connected and yet oddly isolated.   As Louis C.K. has noted, “Everything is amazing and yet nobody is happy.”    Director Spike Jonze steps into this maelstrom, wondering why our love for technology has … [Read more...]

BEST FILMS OF 2013: HER CREATIVITY OVERCOMES THE MILKING OF MOVIEGOERS

Her-Spike-Jonze-Joaquin-Phoenix

Does my hesitation to craft a “Best of 2013” film list reflect my shifting interest away from movies or the medium’s creative drift?  When almost all the studios’ weight is directed towards sequels, it is tough to take film criticism seriously.   Most of the major releases openly ignore reviews.   Consider the size of the built in audience for Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire or Star Trek 12.  Positive critiques may woo a few off the couch, but most … [Read more...]

PHILOMENA: Sincerity Amidst Cynicism

Philomena_Steve_Coogan_Judi_Dench

While much of the Oscar race has centered around 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, a much quieter (and more profound) picture slipped into theaters.   Philomena is a modest, true-life story about a woman in search of her adopted child.   It chronicles the horrific abuse doled out in the Magdalene laundries overseen by the Irish Catholic Church.   And yet, Philomena is one of the most faith-affirming films of the year, a paean to earnest spirituality amidst a (justifiably) cynical age.   It … [Read more...]

Inside the Coen Brothers or Llewyn Davis Unclothed

Inside Llewyn Davis

Despite what many critics have proclaimed, Inside Llewyn Davis is not the best film of the year.  It is not the best film of the Coen Brothers’ career.  It has remarkably melancholy music, but it doesn’t offer more than one recurring note.   It is dark; really dark.   Filmmakers (and especially cinematographers) love to get deep blacks on their images.   Inside Llewyn Davis has great blacks.  It makes evocative use of the dark shadows in the corners of every scene.   They hang … [Read more...]

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM as CINEMATIC EULOGY

mandela movie idris elba

I hosted a screening of Mandela:  Long Walk to Freedom just two nights before Nelson Mandela died.   The legacy of Mandiba was already in the forefront of my mind before the news of his passing.  It will be tough to ever separate the movie (and its Christmas release) from the timing of his death.   Audience interest in Idris Elba as Mandela will widen following his funeral in South Africa.   The resulting box office and Oscar boost for the Weinstein Company will be considerable.  … [Read more...]

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE–Beyond the Spectacle

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The mostly rave reviews are rolling in.   Advance ticket sales already make it another smash.  Why bother critiquing such a pop cultural juggernaut?   Because millions of impressionable teens will see The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire at a time when they are developing their identities and exploring what bravery, courage, and responsibility look like.    How might parents, teachers, and adolescents respond to the latest tale of Katniss Everdeen and the 75th Annual Hunger Games (The … [Read more...]


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