LES MISERABLES: A Truly Moving Picture

les- miserables-marius-eponine--eddie-redmayne

Adapting a beloved novel to the big screen is a dicey undertaking.   Bringing a rapturously remembered musical to the movies is even more risky.   Following up an Oscar winning film is also fraught with danger.   And yet, Tom Hooper expands his remarkably assured direction of The King’s Speech in the epic, poetic, and nearly overwrought Les Miserables.   Opening on Christmas Day, Les Miserables embodies the Easter narrative—sacrifice, death and resurrection.   It is about the eternal tension betw … [Read more...]


the-hobbit-gandalf cate blanchett

As we head into the thick of winter, the comforts of home are more appealing than ever.   A favorite sweater, comfortable couch, and a hot cup of coffee comprise some of the most profound and simple pleasures in life.   So it is understandable why Bilbo Baggins might slam the door on a wizard offering an adventure.   If thirteen rowdy dwarves barged into your kitchen pantry, you’d probably be as miffed as our hobbit.Director Peter Jackson takes his time, immersing us within Bilbo’s comfor … [Read more...]


The Odd Life of Timothy Green Joel Edgerton

You may have missed The Odd Life of Timothy Green.   It slipped into theaters at the end of the summer just as we were heading back to school.   It is a lovely autumn movie, filled with golden leaves and burnished tones.   The Odd Life of Timothy Green arrives on DVD as that rare film that works for parents and kids, giving all of us a deeper appreciation of the gift and challenge of family.   It is also a compelling portrait of adoption, how waiting and longing can turn into redemption for all. … [Read more...]

LIFE OF PI: Visual Splendor and Spiritual Hunger


Life of Pi begins in a magical, animal kingdom in Pondicherry, India.    Birds and monkeys flight through the trees is especially vivid in 3D.   The seamless blend of real animals and digital replicas makes us sit back and relax, confident we are in the hands of a masterful storyteller.  Director Ang Lee staged magical moments in his Academy Award winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  The crouching tiger in Life of Pi is also Oscar worthy.   He commands our attention, a tribute to the visual e … [Read more...]



I’m disappointed by the dismal box office returns for Cloud Atlas because it is serious fun.   Those two concepts, “serious” and “fun,” are rarely melded together in movies.   Juggling those disparate tones is particularly tricky when you have six stories in play.   The effort to adapt David Mitchell’s 2004 novel, Cloud Atlas, to the big screen may have been doomed to failure (or at least, misunderstanding) from the beginning.   Yet, I found it both engaging and entertaining, highly deserving of … [Read more...]


Ben Affleck directs Argo

Argo is a rousing, nail-biting throwback to the best of seventies cinema:  timely, topical, and tense.    It begins with Islamic protesters burning American flags and besieging the U.S. embassy.   No, this isn’t a study of current events in Syria or Libya.   Argo celebrates spies and the far-fetched plans necessary to get State department employees out of Iran circa 1979.    A religious and political revolution lead by Ayatollah Khomeini had deposed the hated Shah of Iran.   When the United State … [Read more...]


Searching for Sugar Man--Rodriguez

How could an artist of such originality and vision as Vincent Van Gogh sell almost no paintings in his lifetime?   Groundbreaking television series like Arrested Development and The Wire struggled to find an audience during their initial runs.  Searching for Sugar Man tackles a similar conundrum.   How could a songwriter as deft and poetic as Rodriguez be ignored by radio stations and overlooked by the public?   Moreover, what happened to Rodriguez after his evocative albums failed to sell?   Did … [Read more...]


Won't Back Down-Viola Davis

As the Chicago teachers strike played out, I kept thinking of the new film Won’t Back Down.  How rare to find such a topical drama.   Debates about public education continue to bubble up across school systems.   In most cases, parents end up pitted against teacher unions.    Should parents be allowed to choose where their children go to school?   Should teachers’ job security be based upon seniority or effectiveness?    If parents choose to test teachers, then how should effectiveness be measured … [Read more...]

Unlocking The Master Plan


How do you make a provocative movie about the founder of one of the most litigious organizations on the planet?  How deeply would you have to disguise your artistic intentions to tell hard truths?  In The Master, director Paul Thomas Anderson wades into the legends surrounding the birth of Scientology and may earn Oscars rather than lawsuits.   Now, that is true artistic genius.L. Ron Hubbard’s ability to turn his cracked personal narrative into a mythic origins story is remarkable.  Yet, the … [Read more...]



 Can a motion picture be great even if it is thoroughly unpleasant?   Do we need to like characters in order to love a movie?   What about a film that nearly shuts out half the audience, dealing almost exclusively with male lust for sex and power?   The Master mixes the sacred with the profane, delving into our ancient struggle to tame our drives, to master our base instincts.  Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman offer powerhouse performances exploring humanity’s bestial and s … [Read more...]