Risen

risen finalIn a well-written and well-acted scene from Kevin Reynolds and Paul Aiello’s recent film, Risen, the Roman tribune, Clavius (played by Joseph Fiennes), questions one of the guards left to watch the tomb of the crucified Jesus.

The guard, drunk in his cups, has been pardoned by the prefect, Pontius Pilate. Clavius knows that the guard was only pardoned from such a dire offense—falling asleep while on duty—because he has sworn to a purchased tale: Jesus’s followers fell upon the hapless Romans, overcame them, and stole the body.

Clavius then threatens the man to get the truth and in return is given the real story—that the stone blew away from the sepulcher, the ropes and chains exploded, and a new light filled the world. But instead of awe and peace, what the guard witnessed has driven him nearly mad. He clutches at the tribune and whispers, beseechingly, a request:

“Explain it to me.” [Read more…]

Boyhood and the Incarnation of Time

boyhood_stillThe hardest part of watching Boyhood for me wasn’t the film itself but going back to the main menu. You’ve just been immersed in this family’s life for twelve years, and now suddenly you see select moments of that life assembled together in a collage of stills as that soft, wistful song, “Hero,” plays:

So let me go
I don’t wanna be your hero
I don’t wanna be a big man
I just wanna fight like everyone else.

And the emotion finally hits me. The visceral sensation of time having passed. How much you miss, and yet how much becomes a part of you, nonetheless. [Read more…]

God Ponders the Heart

macbethIn Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth, the writers frame the story in such a way that the common motivations are nested within, or are born from, a new one: the story opens upon a Scottish heath—damp, cold, and windblown—where the Thane of Glamis (Michael Fassbender) and his Lady (Marion Cotillard) stand at the graveside of their young child.

The boy has succumbed to some sort of pox, and the grief the parents bear is depicted so that the pain is the kind of blunt, brutal type—the emotional equivalent of a limb cropped away with a pair of dull shears. From now on, the life of “going on” will be as tedious as the life they have just come through, to borrow a line from later in the play.

Of course, this is not in Shakespeare’s work itself, but the writers and director have taken artistic license from a much-debated line spoken by Lady Macbeth when she is encouraging her husband to commit regicide: [Read more…]

The Lone Ranger’s Easter Narrative

"THE LONE RANGER" Ph: Peter Mountain ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc. All Rights Reserved.

His back to us and to the camera, the hero walks silently away. His work in this particular community is done. He has restored the community to its better self.

This is the closing image of the classic 1947 film The Bishop’s Wife, which I watched recently. Cary Grant as the angel Dudley—sent to guide the bishop away from his egotistical ways and back into the arms of his neglected wife—has effected this conversion not only in the bishop but in other characters as well.

And as I watched Dudley walk away from us and from the community where he has intervened for the good, I suddenly thought: I’ve seen this scene before. My husband and I are on a kick of viewing 1940s and 1950s Westerns, which often end this way (though the departing hero might be on horseback rather than walking). [Read more…]

Better Call Saul

better-call-saul-netflixBetter Call Saul, a prequel to AMC’s milestone series, Breaking Bad, further establishes co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould to be among the most intricate moral thinkers working in the dramatic arts. Whereas the first series rendered the ethical decline of a dying man who makes something of a noble bargain with his conscience—attempting to provide for his struggling family by entering the methamphetamine trade—the second series focuses on an altogether different landscape of principles.

Instead of depicting the inch-by-inch, then mile-by-mile, depravity that follows a dubious but not wholly dishonorable decision, Better Call Saul illustrates the confluence of causes that can make a man see himself in a certain way. If Breaking Bad’s Walter White is “Mr. Chips turned Scarface,” as Gilligan described him, Better Call Saul’s Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman is Willie Stark turned strip-mall consigliere.

The series, now beginning its second season, is set in 2002, some six years before the action of Breaking Bad. As such, it gives the backstory on how Walter White’s outlandish shyster lawyer, Saul Goodman, becomes the man that he is. Goodman is the epitome of the ambulance-chasing, tasteless advertising (“Better Call Saul”) attorney, complete with a debased clientele and a shameless talent for truth perversion. [Read more…]


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