12 Years a Slave (2013)

12 Years a Slave 4

Next month marks the 20th anniversary of Schindler's List. In July we reached the 15-year mark for  Saving Private Ryan. Those two films stand out in my moviegoing memory as landmark "event films" about America — films that inspired what the news media likes to call "a national discussion" about important chapters in historical horror.Both films were, in their own way, horror movies. But as painful as it was to watch them, the suffering that we experienced was not degrading or exploitative — … [Read more...]

The Counselor (2013)

counselor - diaz and cruz

Did your plans go wrong? Did a deal go bad?No matter. You can outwit the devil. You can get away clean. You just need the right stuff. Cleverness. Strength. Resourceful friends. Enough money. Slick gadgetry. A holster at your hip. Courage and charm. Oh — and an escape route, in case you need to disappear. Don't worry... you can untangle yourself, learn from your mistakes, and start fresh.This is America, after all. For those who get wise and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, this i … [Read more...]

What a Chipotle Commercial Has In Common With My Two Favorite Films of the Year (So Far)

Museum Hours on Christianity Today

As some of you will remember, I was a film columnist and reviewer at Christianity Today from 2001 to 2009, and have made a few guest appearances there since then. A lot of history. A lot of learning. A lot of moviegoing. And a mountain of writing (around a thousand articles).But I must say, revisiting CT in recent weeks I have been thrilled and dazzled by the work of editor Alissa Wilkinson and the team of ambitious writers with big ideas. (Case in point: Read Jackson Cuidon's excellent … [Read more...]

The Late Gatsby: First Impressions

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Okay, I'm very, very late seeing Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby.I had looked forward to the film, as I became a Baz fan back when Strictly Ballroom became an audience favorite back in 1992, and I so enjoyed Moulin Rouge's flamboyant tribute to the superficiality and soul of pop music that I saw it five times in the theater.But early reviews convinced me to make other movies a higher priority, and I put off the latest Luhrmann spectacle.Well, now I regret that. To the complainers I … [Read more...]

Secondhand Lions (2003): A Conversation with Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, Haley Joel Osmen, and Tim McCanlies

Caine and Duvall

A film-review assignment can change your life.In fact, ten years ago this month, a film-review assignment changed my life.In August 2003, I took my first step into a larger world — the wild, wild world of film junkets. … [Read more...]

The Spectacular Now (2013)

spectacular now

A letter to director Luke Pondsoldt and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber:First of all, thank you for The Spectacular Now.During a summer overstuffed with blockbuster excesses, I found myself encouraged by the way your movie reminded an attentive Seattle audience that real movie magic comes from human beings, patient observation, truthful storytelling, and nuanced performances from talented actors.Secondly, I highly recommend that all three of you get to know an … [Read more...]

Blue Jasmine (2013)

Blue Jasmine2

"You could do better."Have you ever heard a friend say that to you about the person you love? Were they referring to state of the person's finances? If so, well... when it comes to friends, you could do better."You could do better" is the kind of thing Jeanette "Jasmine" Francis tends to say when she encounters people whose affection for each other is based on something other than money. … [Read more...]

Netflix Brings Back the Coen Brothers’ Most Underrated Comedy

intolerable cruelty

The Coen Brothers' Intolerable Cruelty is, by my lights, their most underrated film.It was almost directed by Ron Howard. It was almost directed by Jonathan Demme. Thank the silly gods of Hollywood, it ended up with Joel and Ethan, even though it wasn't their script.Originally written by Robert Ramsey and Matt Stone, the film never quite feels like a true Coen Brothers concoction. The comedy takes turns toward the crass  and sophomoric, turns that the brothers have never taken in their o … [Read more...]

The Way, Way Back (2013)

The Way Way Back1

Poor Duncan.He's in the way, way back of the family station wagon, looking out the back window at his past... the happy times, when his family was a unit.What happened to Duncan's father?Why is he on a road trip with his mother and her boyfriend?And why is that volunteer stepfather throwing fuel on the fire of Duncan's insecurities like some kind of pyromaniac?Come to think of it, why is Duncan sitting in the back, facing the places he's been? Maybe he hopes Trent, the … [Read more...]

Revisiting Marla: Did Their Kid Paint That? [Updated!]


Today, Marla Olmstead is 13 years old. I wonder what she's like. Is she still painting? Does she do interviews yet? Or does her family shield her from the press?If anybody out there knows, send me an update.-UPDATE: A friend on Facebook has alerted me to this: Apparently she's still painting... and she gave an interview at an innovation and creativity conference in January: -Five years ago today, I saw My Kid Could Paint That for the first time. It was an incredible experience. … [Read more...]