Review: Juno (dir. Jason Reitman, 2007)

junoWho could have foreseen that 2007 would be the year of the unplanned pregnancy at the multiplex? And who could have foreseen that, as the year progressed, the films dealing with this topic would be increasingly bold in expressing their implicitly pro-life — not “anti-choice,” but certainly pro-life — sensibilities?

First there was Waitress, which starred 30-ish Keri Russell as a married woman who learns that she is bearing the offspring of her neglectful, even abusive, husband; deeply ambivalent about the pregnancy itself, she simply states that she recognizes the child’s “right to thrive,” and that is that. Then there was Knocked Up, in which Katherine Heigl played a single up-and-coming journalist in her 20s who keeps her baby partly because she is repulsed by her mother’s suggestion that she “take care of” the pregnancy now and have a “real baby” at some point in the future.

And now, there is Juno, which is arguably the funniest and most meaningful of the lot. The film stars Ellen Page as the youngest mother of them all, a whip-smart high-school student named Juno MacGuff who discovers that she is in the family way after a single sexual experience with her best friend and bandmate, a semi-dorky track star named Paulie Bleeker (Superbad’s Michael Cera).

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Comment: His Dark Materials: How the Grinch stole God

goldencompass-weitzLAST YEAR, many Christians went out of their way to caution their fellow believers against over-reacting to the movie version of The Da Vinci Code. Yes, the film put forth a deeply problematic view of Jesus and church history, but instead of protesting against it, Christians were encouraged to see it, discuss it with their friends and, in general, “engage” with it as part of their broader engagement with the culture.

This year, however, many Christians have begun to raise the alarm over the movie version of The Golden Compass, which comes out December 7. They have sent each other e-mails full of warnings about the “anti-religious” books on which the film is based. They have pointed their friends to websites that describe some of the story’s objectionable content. And there has been little, if any, talk of “engagement”.

What changed between last year and this? What is different about this movie?

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The Chronicles of Atheism

goldencompass-runrunrunWhen The Golden Compass hits theaters this month, many will be introduced to the works of Philip Pullman, a writer who detests C.S. Lewis’s fantasy world.

The story begins with a girl hiding in a wardrobe. It continues with a series of adventures in which the girl passes through gateways into other worlds, meeting witches, figures from ancient mythology, and talking animals along the way. Ultimately, it takes her into the afterlife and to an apocalyptic battle between supernatural powers.

Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, has some striking parallels to C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Between protective beasts, snowy landscapes, and references to a prophecy only the girl may be able to fulfill, the ads for The Golden Compass — the first installment of Pullman’s series coming to the big screen on December 7 — look made to attract fans of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. New Line Cinema has also gone out of its way to link the new film to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, which the studio also adapted.

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Review: Lions for Lambs (dir. Robert Redford, 2007)

Imagine that you are Tom Cruise, and that your career and reputation have begun to falter a wee bit, and so you decide to launch a new phase in your career by, say, taking charge of an entire studio. Imagine that the first film released under your leadership — a film that, not incidentally, features you as one of its stars — is about to come out. Now imagine that the only publicity you intend to do for this movie is a single, private, hour-long, one-on-one interview with a reporter who works for a TV network but brings no recording devices whatsoever with her, let alone anything resembling a camera crew. No photos, no televised interviews, no beaming face on television screens everywhere; instead, nothing but your words, as scribbled down in shorthand by a reporter who, incidentally, doesn’t like your movies very much.

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Review: The Ten Commandments (dir. Bill Boyce & John Stronach, 2007)

Another year, another Moses movie. Cecil B. DeMille made two movies called The Ten Commandments — one in 1923, during the silent era, and the other in 1956, starring Charlton Heston and a whole lot of deliciously campy dialogue — so it only makes sense that others would continue to tell this story, even to the point of recycling the title. In the past few years alone, we have seen a TV mini-series called The Ten Commandments as well as The Ten Commandments: The Musical — a straight-to-DVD adaptation of a stage production starring Val Kilmer, who once provided the voice of Moses for the big-budget cartoon The Prince of Egypt.

Now comes the low-budget cartoon — and this film, too, features at least one actor who has parted the Red Sea before. The computer-animated version of The Ten Commandments, which opens in theatres this week, is the first in a projected 12-part series of epic Bible stories, and the warm, smooth voice that narrates the movie is provided by Ben Kingsley, who once starred in the 1996 mini-series Moses.

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Review: Elizabeth: The Golden Age (dir. Shekhar Kapur, 2007)

elizabeththegoldenageOn the face of it, you might think Elizabeth: The Golden Age would not have to deal with the same sorts of problems that plague other sequels. While the creators of fictitious franchises have to walk a fine line between recycling their earlier movies and offering something new, the Elizabeth movies are supposed to be based on history, and you might think that each film, by focusing on a different part of the reign of the original Queen Elizabeth, would be somewhat unique. But alas, that is not how it turns out. Yes, The Golden Age has a sea battle and one or two other new bits, thanks to its presumably bigger budget. But for the most part, it plays like a pale retread of the film that earned Cate Blanchett her first Oscar nomination nine years ago.

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