Archive for August, 2011

Higher Ground
Plants Its Feet Firmly

Why is it that the Church must leave it to a relatively secular film like Higher Ground to make theologically sound points so beautifully, so reverently, so movingly? Christian-market films insistently, and even stridently and disingenuously, shout, “Come to us! Jesus is the answer—and he’s ours! You can’t have him otherwise!” when the real message should be: “We can help get you started on the path; but you’d best be prepared for a rocky and challenging journey outside these walls—because that’s where Jesus wants to lead you.” While the letter to the Hebrews calls believers outside the walls, it also counsels them not to forsake gathering together, and to be submissive to their leaders. Vera Farmiga’s film understands that paradox.

Prime Suspect
Good Show

Prime Suspect, which debuted in 1991 starring Helen Mirren as Scotland Yard’s first female Detective Chief Inspector, was groundbreaking in myriad ways. First and foremost, it was a frank and frankly ugly look at the ways that entrenched sexism hindered not only the advancement of women within the ranks of the Yard but how it also hindered the investigations themselves. Suffice to say that there’s a decent mystery here that I won’t say much about, as the rather languid intensity of the program would be spoilt by overanalysis. But there are enough seeming red herrings that, even after the mystery is “solved,” you’ll be wondering if Tennison actually “got her man” when the final credits roll.

Conan the Barbarian
Entertaining but Unnecessary

Written and directed by John Milius in 1982, the original Conan the Barbarian movie was a campy, but fun vehicle for a young, muscle-bound actor named Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was a jumping off point for the actor who would quickly become one of the top action stars in Hollywood. Now, as part of Hollywood’s seemingly unstoppable raid on the movies of the 1980s, Conan is being remade starring another physically impressive young actor. Already a known face to fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones series, can Conan the Barbarian turn Jason Momoa into a Schwarzenegger-like star?

The Fox and the Hound
Does Faulkner (and Disney) Proud

William Faulkner once said “the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” Well, that’s what this film offers… in spades.

Jerusalem Countdown
Storytelling Left Behind

It’s obvious that PureFlix has put an awful lot of eggs in this particular cinematic basket, and most of the money ends up onscreen. That’s commendable. But Jerusalem Countdown is a tired, tired story being told, one I got weary of after three or four times through the Chick tract The Beast several decades ago. It resurrects a pre-glasnost vision of anti-Russian paranoia mixed with anti-Iranian sentiment—updated with Global Cooling hysteria. The script seems written for folks the age of Lee Majors and Stacy Keach, who show up in supporting cameos. If PureFlix wants to develop David A. R. White into something like a Bruce Willis action star—resourceful, sharp, and witty—they’ve got to start putting more effort into scripting.

The Help
Finding Their Voice

It is next to impossible to go about one’s daily life right now without running into someone who has either read, is reading, or plans on reading Kathryn Stocket’s novel The Help. The book is truly a sensation. Now, the movie is already earning more than its fair share of early Oscar buzz. Is it deserved? The short answer is, definitively, yes.

A Screaming Man
Parallels of Biblical Proportions

I’ve no doubt that to the film’s native audience—residents of war-torn Chad, in Africa—it’s far more rife with import than it is to me. One might argue that the film’s central point is about loss of faith in God. But I think that misses the point. The central issue here is not what God does or doesn’t do, but what man—Adam—does in taking matters into his own hands, in a fashion that, um, raises Cain. Why should we blame God for not saving us from ourselves? Aren’t we our own keepers, at a basic level? Beyond that much, however, I’m kind of stuck. If that’s the whole point, we could have gotten that in 20 minutes rather than 120.

Accused at 17
Moms and Daughters Mending Fences

Part domestic drama, part detective story, the film works best as the tale of a mom trying to right some of the wrongs of the past and rebuild a connection to her daughter. Although the attractive Nicole Gale Anderson, as Bianca, is the star of this show, former model and longtime TV-movie staple Cynthia Gibb anchors the cast (and story) as Jacqui. Like other MTI-release heroines, Gibb is an actor who is not afraid to look her age—in this case, 40 and motherly. But I have to say… the denouement to this story is one of the silliest I’ve seen in a long, long time. Can there really be a happy (strike that: giddy) ending for Bianca and Jacqui here?

The Devil’s Double
It’s a Dirty Job, but…

When I first saw the trailer for The Devil’s Double, I immediately thought of Scarface, the 1983 gangster saga that remains one of Al Pacino’s most memorable performances. There are a lot of similarities between the two. They both contain a lot of sex, drugs, and violence, as well as focus on a sadistic main character who is mad with power. The main difference between the two is that while Scarface focused on that character’s rise to power, The Devil’s Double focuses on the poor guy who is trapped into being the monster’s double.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Somebody Call Charlton Heston

Everything about the latest entry of the Planet of the Apes franchise suggests that it is a prequel to the original series that started with the 1968 original starring Charlton Heston. Even the font and style of the title on the posters and in the trailer echoes back to the original series. But that doesn’t mean audiences should go into Rise of the Planet of the Apes attempting to tie all of the plot threads together. After all, the original film suggested that the human race was wiped out in a nuclear war—it was made in the middle of the Cold War—but that type of disaster wouldn’t work quite the same way in a film that takes place in 2011.

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