Review: Next (dir. Lee Tamahori, 2007)

You know how movies sometimes make you think certain things are happening, and then one of the characters wakes up and realizes it was all a dream? Used once or twice, this device can be pretty effective, but used too often — or too excessively, like the time the writers on Dallas decided that an entire season’s worth of episodes never took place — it can be the most groan-inducing of gimmicks.

That isn’t exactly what happens in Next, the latest film to be based on one of Philip K. Dick’s trippy, mind-bending stories (in this case, The Golden Man), but it’s pretty close. The film stars Nicolas Cage as Cris Johnson, a man who can see up to two minutes into his own future — and if he doesn’t like what he sees, then he can change his course of action and bring about a different future. But Cris does not merely see his future, as though he were observing it from a distance; he seems to actually experience his future, and it is only after he reaches a bad end that he mentally hits the “reset” button and decides to do things differently.

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Review: Amazing Grace (dir. Michael Apted, 2006)

‘AMAZING GRACE,’ the song, is a beloved gospel classic; but once in a while, someone complains that it isn’t Christian enough — at least not in that first, famous verse.

Words like ‘grace’ are too vague, and phrases like “I once was blind, but now I see” could refer to just about any spiritual experience — or so the argument goes.

Amazing Grace, the film, has provoked a similar debate. Evangelicals have welcomed the film with open arms — partly because it shines a light on William Wilberforce, the Christian politician who brought an end to slavery in the British Empire in the early 1800s, but also because it is made with production values much higher than those of the typical Christian movie. In short, it feels like, and is, a ‘real movie.’

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Review: Beyond the Gates (dir. Michael Caton-Jones, 2005)

Beyond the Gates would make an interesting double-bill with Hotel Rwanda. Both films concern the genocide of 1994 — and the shock that those living in that country felt when the international community failed to do much more than evacuate the people there who happened to have white skin. But whereas the latter film was largely about Africans who survived the massacre, thanks to a cunning businessman who knew how to push the buttons of those in power, the new film concerns a Catholic priest and a teacher at his school, both of European descent, who can do little more than watch as the world gives up on their friends and neighbors.

Of course, the priest and the teacher can do more than watch — then can pray, too — and one of the most remarkable things about Beyond the Gates is its refreshingly positive view of the role that faith can play even in the darkest of times.

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Interview: David Belton (Beyond the Gates, 2005)

It has been over a dozen years since the Rwandan genocide — an atrocity in which as many as 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu sympathizers were killed by Hutu extremists in just a few months, while the outside world turned a blind eye or, worse, withdrew what little help it had offered in the first place.

David Belton covered the genocide as a reporter for the BBC. He went on to become a producer of documentaries like War Spin and Soldiers to Be, and he returned to Rwanda for his first dramatic film, Beyond the Gates, now showing in limited theaters. (Look for our review on Friday.)

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Review: The Passion of the Christ: Definitive Edition (dir. Mel Gibson, 2004)

A lot has happened since The Passion of The Christ came out three years ago and broke a series of records, becoming the top-grossing R-rated movie, the top-grossing foreign-language film, and the top-grossing religious movie of all time — at least in North America. (The Matrix Reloaded is still the top R-rated film worldwide.)

Major movie studios have tried to replicate its success — by setting up faith-oriented divisions like FoxFaith, or by producing entire biblical movies of their own, such as The Nativity Story — and the careers of several of the film’s key players continue to reflect the film’s influence. Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus, will do so again in an audio Bible for Thomas Nelson. Hristo Shopov, who played Pontius Pilate, reprised the role last year in a remake of the Italian film The Inquiry. Benedict Fitzgerald, who co-wrote the script, recently wrote a prequel of sorts called Myriam, Mother of the Christ, and sold distribution rights to the as-yet-unproduced film to MGM.

And then there is director Mel Gibson, who bucked a wave of controversy over the film’s raw violence and alleged anti-Semitism, only to be caught making racist remarks shortly before finishing the similarly gory Apocalypto last year.

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All things are possible for Facing the Giants director

A LITTLE controversy can go a long way.

Facing the Giants, a modest evangelical film made by a church in Georgia with a cast and crew made up almost entirely of volunteers and amateurs, got loads of free publicity last summer when it was rated PG for “thematic elements” — a rating that many pundits and politicians interpreted as a slam against Christianity.

As a result, the movie — produced by Sherwood Baptist Church for a mere $100,000 and released on only 441 screens — went on to gross over $10 million.

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