The gospel according to film

Jesus at the Movies: A Guide to the First Hundred Years By W. Barnes Tatum Polebridge Press, 245 pp., $18 John Dominic Crossan, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar and one of the wittiest historians working today, began his landmark work The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant with the quip that historical Jesus scholarship had become something of a bad joke. The same could be said of that peculiar genre of films based on the life of… Read more

Review: City of Angels (dir. Brad Silberling, 1998)

Film buffs cringe whenever an American studio tries to remake a European classic, but they tend to turn a blind eye to the more subtle ways in which movie distributors cater to American sensibilities. Consider the fate of Heaven Over Berlin, an austere art-house flick about angels who ponder the nature of human existence. Never heard of it? That may be because Wim Wenders’ masterful 1987 film was rechristened Wings of Desire for English-speaking viewers who, apparently, prefer a hint… Read more

Review: Wide Awake (dir. M. Night Shyamalan, 1998)

HOLLYWOOD films have always had trouble with child actors and religious themes. That sad, sweet, overly sentimental legacy continues in Wide Awake, in which a 10 year old student at a Catholic school goes on a quest for God after the death of his devout grandfather. Joseph Cross, the auspiciously named actor who plays Joshua, the 10 year old in question, is thankfully not as cloying here as he was in Desperate Measures, if only because he doesn’t have to… Read more

Review: The Bible Collection (dir. various, 1996-1997)

• Samson and Delilah, Warner Alliance, 1996, dir. Nicolas Roeg. • David, Warner Alliance, 1997, dir. Robert Markowitz. THE BIBLE Collection was, and is, a great idea, but like so many great ideas, its execution has proved rather uneven. The initial films in this made-for-TV series — Abraham, Jacob and especially Joseph — treated biblical sex and violence with uncommon frankness, and they brought to life biblical stories that had, until then, languished in cinematic obscurity. Moses covered more familiar… Read more

Amistad Gives African Americans Their Due / Abolitionists fare less well.

It is a bitter irony, much noted by critics, that many films dealing with the civil-rights movement and its legacy — Mississippi Burning, Cry Freedom, and, most recently, Ghosts of Mississippi, to name three prominent examples — have minimized the role of black activists within their own movements while extolling the (at times fictitious) heroism of white people who came to their rescue. But what is equally true, and not so frequently noted, is how these films secularize their white… Read more

Review: Fallen (dir. Gregory Hoblit, 1998)

Angels and demons are hot stuff these days, but no one in Hollywood seems to know what to do with them. The Devil’s Advocate, Michael and A Life Less Ordinary were all tedious exercises in pointlessness, and that’s before one accounts for the fact that even the good angels in these films tended to be a rather sordid, scuzzy lot. Whether they’re paunchy, promiscuous layabouts or matchmaking assassins with a thing for bad poetry, these have been the sort of… Read more

Artificial Life

Human beings, as C. S. Lewis once put it, are amphibious creatures. We are both creations and creators; we follow instincts and hungers we cannot control, one of which is the impulse to make things in our image just as God made us in his. And so we feel a kinship with nature, as well as a pride of sorts in the things we create, yet they fill us with anxiety too. Filmmaker Errol Morris, in a small but impressive… Read more

Review: Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (dir. Errol Morris, 1997)

Fast, Cheap & Out of Control proves, once again, that Errol Morris is one of the most fascinating filmmakers working today. His newest documentary does not have the celebrity appeal of his Stephen Hawking bio A Brief History of Time, nor will it make headlines like The Thin Blue Line, which singlehandedly overturned an innocent man’s murder conviction. But it does represent a bold artistic step forward for Morris, and it explores crucial existential themes with a thoughtfulness and perceptiveness… Read more

Review: FairyTale: A True Story (dir. Charles Sturridge, 1997); Anastasia (dir. Don Bluth & Gary Goldman, 1997)

IN ADDITION to the social and political havoc it caused, the First World War precipitated a sort of spiritual crisis. In a world rapidly giving in to industrialism and modernization, the war proved that science, far from saving the world, was just as likely to speed it along to its destruction. And with so many people killed or missing in the conflict, survivors were left to wonder if they would ever see their loved ones again, in this life or… Read more

Interview: Errol Morris (Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, 1997)

Date: November 12, 1997 Place: Cambridge, MA (him) and Surrey, BC (me) I conducted this phone interview as part of my research for an article I wrote for Books & Culture. I have liked the films of Errol Morris ever since I saw The Thin Blue Line in 1989, and the film which occasioned this article, Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, was easily my favorite film of 1997. I had heard that Morris lets his interviewees ramble without interruption,… Read more

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