Blog

Below you will find posts from Drew Trotter, Executive Director of the Consortium, with the most recent posts at the top. For years, I posted movie reviews on this site, and I am going to start again now (Spring, 2020). I also plan on posting book notices and perhaps other items of interest in the future. Please note that there are a number of other movie, book, and article reviews under our “Resources” tab on this website. Here, I will start with a series of posts on the Academy Award Nominees for Best Picture from 2019. To search for any post by film/show/book/talk title, simply use Command+F (on a Mac) or Ctrl+F (on a PC) to access a search bar.

For comment, you can always contact me at [email protected].

I look forward to our dialogue.

Drew


TENET

September 23, 2020

OK, so we’re back in socially distanced, mask-wearing theaters! The first movie I want to review I went to see twice, partially because of the lack of any other interesting films, but at least partially because it begged for multiple viewings. I would suggest you do the same; doing so certainly rewarded me. Christopher Nolan‘s much anticipated TENET is a non-stop, action thriller with a dash of abstract philosophy made actual in the physical world. Some have written that the film has no heart, but I don’t think that’s true. More about that later.  Read more …


Just Mercy

July 1, 2020

Several weeks ago, I brought to your attention the movie Fruitvale Station, a film based on the true story of the police killing of Oscar Grant, III, on a train station platform in Oakland, California. The star of that film is the superb Michael B. Jordan, who played the down-on-his luck Grant on the last day of his life. Station deals of course with many of the themes we find in today’s news: police behavior, what it means to live as a young, black male in America at this moment, and the systemic problems in American society that continue to disadvantage Blacks in so many different ways.  Read more…


Are Theologians Real People?

June 24, 2020

Biography writing is a fascinating study in itself. Sometimes biographies are simply histories of the times in which a person lived. So little is known about the person or the writer is just not interested in the person’s own psychology that the book resorts to telling the way the subject fits into their particular history. Sometimes biographies are pure speculation about the way the person “felt” or “thought” about things the writer (and anyone else for that matter) could not possibly know about. Sometimes the book is hagiographic, relating only what is perceived as good about the subject, or demeaning, telling the reader far more than anyone really cares to know about the person being analyzed. For these reasons and many others, the subjects of many biographies become stick figures, or remain simply subjects, rather than flesh and blood human beings.  Read more …


Fruitvale Station

June 17, 2020

America is struggling again with the questions of racism, police brutality, and how those of different racial and ethnic origin can live together in harmony. Movies are not a perfect way to understand what people different from you go through every day —the experiences, the living situations, the relationships—, but, then again, nothing is. We simply cannot “get into someone else’s skin”. No white male will ever know what a black woman thinks, feels, is, and the reverse is true. It is not possible.   Read more …


All Talk?

June 10, 2020

Rice, Condoleeza, “This moment cries out for us to confront race in America”, Opinions, Washington Post (June 4, 2020)

Jacobs, Alan, “not so much”, blog posting on  Snakes and Ladders (June 7, 2020)

All of us have thought at one time or another over the past few days, “I wonder how long this will last?” Some of us have seen over fifty years of protests, riots, and disruptions in American society, after which sometimes some things of lasting value happened and sometimes nothing did. The protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer, have now lasted for a good two weeks and are showing no signs of abating soon. The first few days were filled with a mixture of looting, rioting, and peaceful protesting, but now most of the protests are peaceful, and they have spread beyond our shores to London, Berlin, and other major cities of the world.  Read more …


On A Hill Far Away

June 3, 2020

Books abound on the making of the Western world and its mindset. Now Tom Holland, who has written two well-respected popular histories of events in classical times: Persian Fire, about the Greco-Persian wars of the fifth century B.C.E. and Rubicon, about the fall of the Roman republic to the tyrannical rule of the Caesars, has joined the fray. Holland is almost unique among historians because he freely admits in his prefaces to those two books that he has been obsessed with these two particular subjects since childhood. This obsession, though, makes him write with a passion about them that is hard to find among other ancient historians.  Read more …


Parasite

May 26, 2020

Parasite is the most surprising nominee of the nine contenders for Best Picture, and its win in this category was even more so. Like last year’s Roma, it is a foreign film, subtitled, set entirely and fully produced in a foreign country, in this case South Korea. Bong Joon Ho, its writer and director, is not new to Hollywood, though if you watched the Oscar presentations, where he won four awards, you might have thought so. IMdB has him listed as directing, and often writing, some twenty-five other films, most notably Snowpiercer, the cult-classic, futuristic thriller entirely set aboard a train. But Oscar night was his coming-out party, as he took away more statuettes (four) than anyone in the history of the awards, except Walt Disney.  Read more …


Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

May 19, 2020

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s most recent movie and is set in Los Angeles at the time of the Manson murders. One of the most difficult tasks for a Christian when writing about film—far too large a discussion to do justice to in this space, but I need to mention it—is to balance the discussion of the quality of a film over against the view of the world that it espouses. When it comes to the genius of Quentin Tarantino, this assignment is especially problematic. Suffice it to say that in Hollywood, Tarantino’s superb abilities and his frighteningly corrupt moral sensibilities are both hugely on display.  Read more …


1917

May 12, 2020

1917 was the odds-on favorite this year to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, which Parasite, the Korean thriller, of course won. If 1917 had won, though, it would have been for all the wrong reasons. Hollywood loves war pictures (though one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history was the loss of Saving Private Ryan to Shakespeare in Love in 1999), happy endings with tragedies in the middle, quests that are satisfied, and strong British films. This movie has all of those well-worn elements.  Read more …


Marriage Story

May 5, 2020

Marriage Story is the powerful, but flawed, telling of a marriage falling apart in the post-modern age. One of the two Netflix entries in the Best Picture race, it fits very well on the small screen with a lot of two-shot, interior location set-ups, and, as with many pictures in this year’s Oscar race, a story that is slow-moving at best, is raised to a much higher level by great dialogue writing and superb acting.  Read more …

 


Little Women

April 28, 2020

Little Women has perhaps the most controversy surrounding it of this year’s nominees because of the Academy’s failure to nominate its director, Greta Gerwig, for the award given to the best director of the year. No women were nominated, and with the Weinstein trial back in the headlines and #MeToo discussions seemingly everywhere, the question was bound to come up. To answer it, I think one needs to say two things: 1) 2) The question needs to be asked: Who would you take off the list in order to put Gerwig on? Scorsese (The Irishman), Mendes (1917), and Tarantino (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood) have long been recognized as three of the best directors ever in Hollywood and the other two, Todd Phillips (Joker), and Bong Joon Ho (Parasite, and the eventual winner of the Best Director Oscar), directed films of such creative power that, while some have doubted their nominations, most have not. Gerwig, good as she is, has only directed three films (one of those was co-directed), and Little Women, though a very good effort, was not her best.  Read more…


Joker

April 21, 2020

Joker centers on the most powerful performance of 2019 in film: Joaquin Phoenix is the title character, and he deservedly won the Oscar for Best Actor. Phoenix is in almost every frame of the film and has been asked to play a character so physically and emotionally damaged that it must have been extremely taxing for him. He lost a lot of weight to play the role, but the really difficult part of the performance is psychological. He plays a psychopath, though one with a history, tied both to himself and his mother. Much of the film deals with the abuse he suffers from others and the uncertainty and horror of revelations he experiences about his mother and her former employer, Thomas Wayne, the father of Bruce Wayne, who of course grows up to be Batman. Add to this his rejection by almost everyone he meets, and the slow descent into complete mental breakdown at the end of the film forces the viewer, against everything that one wants to feel, to be sympathetic to his horrific plight. Read more …


JoJo Rabbit

April 14, 2020

JoJo Rabbit is perhaps the strangest, most disconcerting of the nine nominees for Best Picture. Framed around the thought-life of a ten-year old boy in a small town in Nazi Germany, JoJo dips in and out of his imaginary world, often resting in scenes of dialogue with his imaginary friend, none other than Adolph Hitler. This Hitler, not surprisingly, is a very different one from the historical leader of the Third Reich. He flops and dances around, as a ten-year old’s dreams would have him do, sometimes being authoritative, sometimes simply a friend, and only slowly becoming threatening as JoJo begins to see him as he “really is”.  Read more …


The Irishman

April 7, 2020

I love that the IMDb plot outline entry for this picture is a simple sentence: “A mob hitman recalls his possible involvement with the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa.” Like most simple sentences (that are true anyway), it hides a plethora of facts, thoughts, and meanings that could fill several books.

The Irishman may be master director Martin Scorsese’s finest work. Not only does it accomplish in feel and atmosphere what no one has ever accomplished like Scorsese, i.e. portraying the world of crime, especially the Italian Mafia, but it enters into almost all the realms of characterization, philosophy, and movie story magic that the master has ever visited.  Read more …


FORD V FERRARI

March 31, 2020

In my last blog post, I announced this series of nine posts, one on each of the films nominated for Best Picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We will look at the nine movies in alphabetical order, starting with the James Mangold helmed Ford v Ferrari.

Ford v Ferrari is not a “racing picture,” though Formula 1 racing, especially the grand-daddy race of them all, Le Mans, is at the heart of the plot. In this context, Mangold has given us a fine buddy picture utilizing two of the best actors on Hollywood’s A list: Matt Damon and Christian Bale. In the hands of these two performers Ferrari has that wonderful blend of being a sports movie with much deeper heart than the plot could ever realize on its own, looking into a variety of themes— perseverance, family vs. work, winning at all costs, corporate greed, the quest for excellence, the nature of friendship, and even the usefulness of words, when the world collapses.   Read more …


Loving Your Neighbor by Watching the Oscar Best Picture Nominees

March 24, 2020

Christians go to the movies for a number of different reasons. Most, if not all, of us go, like everybody else, to be entertained. We want to escape the drudgery or the sameness (or both) of our lives into worlds we don’t normally inhabit, worlds of superheroes or space travel, of cowboys or battlefields, of pageantry or plainness, but worlds that are filled with characters and stories we don’t know or experience in our own daily lives. Sometimes we go to be surprised. We don’t know anything about a film, and a friend invites us, and we go. Sometimes we go, expecting to be challenged by the sadness of a story, or by its hilarity, or by its social or political message.  Read more …


Carol

January 15, 2016

Carol is the most recent film of Todd Haynes, a darling of the higher end independent film world. Haynes seems fascinated with the suburban housewife who “seems to have it all” but in fact lives a life that is either crumbling around her, crumbling inside her, or both. Safe (1995), the first of a trilogy of films about this character, begins with Carol (yes, Haynes names his protagonist “Carol” in two of the three films; Cathy is the name of the main character in Far From Heaven), a wealthy and “safe” suburban housewife, experiencing allergic reactions to almost everything in her environment—creams, exhaust fumes, even drinking water. She flees to a commune with dire consequences.  Read more …


The Danish Girl

January 3, 2016 

Eddie Redmayne, who won every award out there for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking, the famous British physicist plagued by Lou Gehrig’s disease, in last year’s Theory of Everything, anchors this film about another historical figure. Lilli Elbe and her partner Gerda Wegener, once married as Einar and Gerda Wegener, are known as pioneers of the transgender movement, and this film explores the psychological and social dimensions of Einar’s journey to becoming Lilli. Lavishly put together with stunning costuming and sets representing 1920’s Copenhagen, the film movingly portrays the torturous uncertainty Einar faces as he discovers—and uncovers to his wife—his own attraction to the clothes, mannerisms and look of the female form. Equally moving is his wife’s struggle with the phenomenon.  Read more …


The Revenant

January 9, 2016 

Last year’s Oscar winner for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture has put into the ring another masterpiece of filmmaking art. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and The Revenant could not be simultaneously both further apart and yet strikingly similar. The uniting factor is the director’s interest in the interplay between the supernatural and the imaginative.  Read more …


The Hateful Eight

December 30, 2015 

I won’t say much about The Hateful Eight for a number of reasons. Anyone who knows the work of Quentin Tarantino, its writer and director, will not find anything new here, except a new story in which to embed his common themes of revenge, anger, mystery and brutal, brutal punishment. Eight has characteristically well-written dialogue and plot design, and it has its share of surprises, a welcome truth since it is almost three hours long in its most widely released version. Tarantino fans will like it; Tarantino haters will find much to increase their distaste.  Read more …


The Big Short

December 29, 2015

Much has been written about the various tricks Adam McKay uses in this Wall Street comedy to create the film he has, and those tricks have put viewers of this movie on opposite sides of the fence. His breaking of the fourth wall, i.e. having an actor look straight into the camera and address the audience directly; his using scenes as pauses in the narrative to explain various terms of the crash of 2008, e.g. Collateralized Debt Obligations or Sub-Prime Loans; and his employing famous people who have nothing to do with the rest of the movie to make those explanations have been alternately called brilliant and arrogant. (My personal favorite is the first of these, when Margot Robbie, the beautiful, Australian actress who became famous portraying Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife in The Wolf of Wall Street, sits in a bubble bath with a glass of champagne and explains what a CDO is. The ironies in this scene are multiple and hilarious.)  Read more …


Joy

December 27, 2015

The possibilities of this Jennifer-Lawrence-starrer were immense. Joy is the true story of a girl who overcomes her completely dysfunctional upbringing, comes up with an idea for a self-wringing mop, designs, manufactures and sells it herself, and then finds the strength to persevere when everyone and everything seems to go against her until she comes out on top. The movie had all the makings of perhaps David O. Russell’s (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) first Academy Award winning picture.  Read more …


Concussion

December 26, 2015

The risk and perseverance portrayed by the main characters in Concussion are mirrored in its journey as a film. Who would greenlight a movie which 1) thoroughly disdains the most popular religion in America, accusing its highest leadership of fraud, criminal injury and even murder, 2) presents a significant proportion of its priests and clergy as either ignorant or complicit in these crimes, 3) places a Nigerian doctor in the lead role as the often lone voice against the abuses of that religion, 4) includes, as its love story subplot, a chaste, loving extended courtship between the doctor and a Kenyan nurse, and last but not least, 5) portrays as the major device for battling the “evil” religion a mixture of an ancient religion and pure fact, acquired by rigorously applying the scientific method?  Read more …


December 18, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The wait is over. Star Wars is back.

After less than a month in theaters (I’m writing this review in January), the new addition to the Star Wars storybook has already made more money at the domestic box office than any other movie in history. It is well on its way to setting records that may stand for a long time.

Reviewing this movie may be useless by now since so many reading these thoughts will have already seen it for themselves. But thinking about the phenomenon that is Star Wars may bear some fruit since the experience of this story has meant so much to so many.  Read more …


Creed

December 15, 2015

Almost everyone expected Creed to be another tiresome “Rocky” picture, a franchise that died a slow death ten years ago with Rocky Balboa (aka Rocky VI), when once again Sylvester Stallone dragged Burt Young and Tahlia Shire out of mothballs and engaged in one more “last fight.” Yawn.

If you thought that, you are in for a surprise. A combination of very good writing, some superb acting and that wonderful movie miracle, “chemistry”, Creed is, like its initial predecessor, very much in the discussion for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Young, relatively untested, director Ryan Coogler is as sure-handed in a big budget star-oriented historic franchise, as he was in the indie favorite, Sundance Film Festival award-winner Fruitvale Station a couple of years ago. Stallone is back of course and once again playing Rocky Balboa, but this time he’s a restaurant owner who is completely out of the fight game, since he lost his beloved Adrian. The star opposite Stallone is the excellent young actor Michael B. Jordan (Friday Night Lights, Fruitvale Station), who plays the son of one of Rocky’s former opponents, Apollo Creed.   Read more …


In the Heart of the Sea

December 11, 2015

In The Heart of the Sea got a lukewarm response both from the critics and at the box office. An elaborate period piece as well as a sea-going tale, it had those two strikes against it, but the movie delivers a hit anyway in my opinion—if not a home run, at least a double. Though it deals with a number of difficult subjects, Heart is a robust tale, combining all the important elements of good filmmaking to create an epic that faithfully mirrors Nathaniel Philbrick’s non-fiction bestseller with the subtitle “The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex”. In a season dominated by the likes of Star Wars and Hunger Games, it is oddly refreshing to be reminded that nature sometimes wins its battles against the human spirit and that in some ways man is better off for it.  Read more …


The Letters

December 8, 2015

It is one of the fascinating facts of the almost completely random world of movie release dates that The Letters and Spotlight came out within days of each other. Combined with Concussion, three completely different views of the Catholic faith are presented to the American movie-going public this Christmas season. Spotlight presents the secular, look-how-bad-religion-makes-us, viewpoint, though by no means as hatefully as it could. In fact the movie treats the faith overall with a great deal of respect, centering its focus only on the aberration which was the pedophilia scandal. (For more on this balance, see my review of Spotlight). Concussion centers its attention on two faithful Catholic believers whose faith enables them to face the racial profiling and common distrust of someone who brings the truth into a situation fraught with deceit, double-dealing and “good men who do nothing”. The Letters moves into the realm of the clergy and how those who have made it their lives to be devoted to Christ through the service of the poor in the workplaces of the Church actually accomplish that calling.  Read more …


Secret in Their Eyes

December 2, 2015

Secret in Their Eyes, is a crime thriller about a murder case in which the killer is pursued by three officers of the law over many years. The movie is a good example of an accomplished cast not being able to overcome poor direction. Nicole Kidman is fine, but Julia Roberts and Chiwetel Ejiofor are lost at sea in roles that they overplay, using their best techniques but without the throttle that good direction would have put on them, dialing it back on occasion in order to make the spots when they should really come to the fore shine by contrast.  Read more …


Trumbo

December 1, 2015 

Trumbo is that rare movie that shows a truly great, truly versatile actor at his worst. Bryan Cranston, who plays Dalton Trumbo, the communist screenwriter who was at the center of the HUAC witch hunt of the 1950s, may have been betrayed by a script that caused him to be “on” all the time. Even in the scenes when he and his wife, played wonderfully by Diane Lane, are alone, discussing the problems they have with money or the government pursuing them because of his communism, Cranston seems to need to be the larger than life actor Dalton Trumbo apparently was most of the time. That’s too bad because it draws more attention to itself than it should, and causes for the viewer that worst of Hollywood sins: disengagement from the story.  Read more …


Brooklyn

November 29, 2015

Saorsie Ronan in her brief career has played so many types of roles, and played them so well, that the twenty-one year old Irish-American will soon enough have her name mentioned in the same breath with the names of Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep, if the quality keeps up. The remarkable performance in her latest movie, Brooklyn, is surrounded by lots of Oscar buzz and only supports that prophecy.

This story is beautifully imagined and superbly written by Nick Hornby from the novel by Colm Tóibín. A young girl in search of the American dream immigrates to New York in the 1950’s, leaving behind in their small Irish village a beloved sister and mother.  Read more …


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2

November 21, 2015

The Hunger Games has proved a resilient franchise, largely because of the perfect fit of its main character Katniss Everdeen with the actor who plays her, the hard-working Jennifer Lawrence. Compare the Divergent series which suffers from its lead, Shailene Woodley, being almost too smart to play the visceral Beatrice Prior with the animal abandon that Lawrence gives her performances. Katniss is simple, Beatrice more complex, which requires more of Woodley and Divergent’s writers to hold the attention of the teeny bopper crowd, a crowd lacking the sophistication to see all the strands of plot and strategy that Beatrice has to manage. For Katniss it’s all so simple: kill President Snow and everything will be fine. Or will it?  Read more …


Spotlight

November 20, 2015

It is a crying shame that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences doesn’t offer an Oscar for ensemble casts. Sometimes a movie requires a group of actors to contribute equally to a story, and if anyone starts chewing up the scene for their own aggrandizement, they just ruin the movie for everyone. Such a movie is Spotlight, and, I am glad to say, not a single one of a really stellar cast even begins to be selfish. Here the story, both in the film and of the film, reigns supreme.

And the story of the film is its biggest surprise, too. Everyone associated with the movie seems to know that it is much more about journalism—its practice and its ethics—than it is about the Catholic Church and its sins. The true story of the Boston Globe’s investigative team, nicknamed Spotlight, and its uncovering of the depth and breadth of the scandal surrounding the pedophilia practiced by some eighty-five priests in the Boston area alone and the concomitant covering up of this fact by the Catholic hierarchy, does of course paint a grim picture of the Church. But in the end, the story reveals that the well-known maxim, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” couldn’t apply more perfectly to this horrific situation.  Read more …


Room

November 19, 2015

The American movie industry is full swing into awards season, and one of the most interesting things to watch is what “small” films will break through and get nominations for their scripts, or their actors, or even (and this is the big brass ring) for their overall quality—a Best Picture nomination. The pay-off can be enormous; in 2010 a little picture starring an unknown actress accomplished all three of those feats. The picture? Winter’s Bone. The actress? Jennifer Lawrence.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Room, one of my favorite pictures of the year, pull off the same trifecta and rocket its relatively unknown actress, Brie Larson, to stardom, too. Room is the heart-rending story of a single mother (called simply “Ma” in the picture and played by Larson) in her early twenties and her five-year old son, Jack, portrayed by a first-time child actor named Jason Tremblay. As the movie opens we find Jack waking up and going around to each element in the room—a chair, a table, a sink—naming it, and telling it good morning. His mother sleeps quietly in a bed in the corner. The room appears to be a dirty, poor one-room trailer or something like one. In fact it is a prison. Soon we learn the mother and child are locked in a garden shed behind the house of a man who kidnapped Ma seven years ago and impregnated her two years later. Their progeny is Jack.  Read more …


Spectre

November 23, 2015

Autumn is the time of falling leaves, crisp air, football and Oscar contenders. Spectre is none of these. For many reasons.

The 24th “official” title in the series that now spans some fifty-four years shows the age of the series. Not only are the plots old and tired, even the villains are creaking with age or are references back to earlier films of decades ago. Is the muscleman Hinx, an ex-professional wrestler named Dave Batista, actually descended from Odd Job of Goldfinger fame, or does he just look and act that way? By having him battle Bond to the death on a train, do they intend to make a reference to the greatest of Bond films, From Russia With Love, where the greatest of Bond villains, Grant, played by Robert Shaw, battles the greatest of Bonds, Sean Connery? To continue with the parallels, Daniel Craig, who had not said the magic words in some of his films, says them in this one: “Bond. James Bond.” (Anne Hornaday of the Washington Post wondered if “Bore. James Bore.” would have been more accurate.) Is that significant? How about the break with tradition, when Bond drinks a dirty martini instead of one that is “shaken, not stirred” as he orders earlier in the film? Such questions dominated my thinking as I tried desperately to flee the plot absurdities and mimic Craig by not falling asleep. I succeeded. I’m not sure he did.  Read more …


Suffragettes

November 23, 2015

Suffragettes is a serviceable look into the history of feminism by way of the early twentieth century struggle for the right to vote by the women who began to resort to violence to make their voice heard. Knowing nothing about that history, I have no opinion on how well Suffragettes—written by Abi Morgan and directed by Sarah Gavron—sticks to the truth and where it departs from it, but I’m not sure it really matters much for the common viewer. We all know that women now have the vote, and that is not likely to change again, so all that matters is this story and how it reflects values and concerns that it is reasonable to suppose were those faced by these brave, oppressed women. For those interested, the reader can find the stories here of some of the real life suffragettes upon whose lives the mostly fictional characters of the film are based. This film will serve as a superb discussion starter for issues of politics, violence, rights, oppression and all the concepts so important in our society for discussing race, gender and religious tolerance.  Read more …


Victoria

November 23, 2015

This extraordinary crime drama explores the rootless, dangerous world of the meaningless life of the twenty-something in modern Berlin, while at the same time providing a captivating story, two enticing lead characters (and two interesting supporting characters). Add to all this that the movie achieved something even Hitchcock could not in Rope: it is all shot entirely in one take. The energy and sense of anticipation this trick provides superbly serve the story, and so the method should not be judged as merely self-absorbed filmmaking. The accomplishment is laudable.

American audiences will not know the actors, though the young girl from whom the film gets its name, will surely appear again. Laia Costa is Spanish and plays Victoria, who has recently come to Berlin from Madrid. She meets up with four men, one of whom is attracted to her and persuades her to join them for late night playful hijinks. The innocence turns dark and dangerous, and choices must be made.  Read more …


Sicario

November 23, 2015

Sicario, we are told in an opening placard of the movie by that name, comes from the Latin for “dagger”. The Latin word sicarius, or “dagger man”, described the Jewish zealots who engaged in terrorist activities against the occupying Roman armies in Palestine in the first century AD. In Spanish today, it apparently means “hitman”. Benicio del Toro is el sicario in this movie, though he is never called that, and we don’t even know who he is until very late in the film. But Sicario is his film in every way.

Emily Blunt is the purported star of the movie; she appears in almost every frame. But del Toro provides all the interesting elements of this brilliant crime thriller about the drug war and how we should fight it. His moody silence erupting in violent outbursts on just the right occasions provides the texture for the film, and, if I said much what those outbursts were, it would necessitate an unconscionable spoiler or two. I don’t want to do that for anyone who wants to see this film.  Read more …


Bridge of Spies

November 12, 2015

Bridge of Spies is a fine film, and demonstrates Steven Spielberg, who directed it, at the top of his game. Tom Hanks plays James B. Donovan, a big-city insurance lawyer, who is pressed into service by the US government to defend a captured Russian spy and later to arrange his exchange for Francis Gary Powers, the famous U-2 pilot shot down during the cold war. Hanks plays Donovan as the likeable, tough-but-fair, lawyer he apparently was (the film is based on a true story); Academy Award recognition may be coming his way again because the role was challenging, and Hanks is up to the challenge.  Read more …


Steve Jobs

November 12, 2015

Steve Jobs, written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men) and directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) from the award-winning biography by Walter Isaacson, is the story of three launches during the career of the computer legend: the original Mac, NExt, and the iMac. Boyle’s direction is as energetic as it was in The Social Network, fully in keeping with the hyperactive pace of the main character and his lifestyle. Handheld cameras track Jobs and his assistant Joanna Hoffman, played beautifully by Kate Winslet, as they prepare to go out on stage, frenetically trying to balance last second problems with meetings ranging from those of enemies to those of colleagues to those of family.  Read more …


Crimson Peak

November 12, 2015

Many have written about Crimson Peak that it is lavishly done with all the technical expertise in the world but flat as a pancake as far as plot is concerned. These criticisms are correct. There was virtually nothing new in this film and—even worse—nothing surprising. Guillermo del Toro, who wrote and directed Peak, set such a high standard with the wonderful Pan’s Labyrinth and the less interesting but still fine Hellboy, that we expect all his films to have the same high intellectual value of these two, and, sadly, the evidence is in and they just don’t. When del Toro is good, he is very, very good and when he is bad he is, well, not awful but pretty bad. Watch Pacific Rim, if you want to see a boring, predictable action/adventure movie; watch Crimson Peak, if you want to see a boring, predictable gothic romance cum horror movie.  Read more …


Truth

November 12, 2015

Truth is the story of the scandal involving CBS news reporting it had documents proving George W. Bush’s National Guard Service was suspect and that he went AWOL for almost a year during it. Mary Mapes is the hard-nosed reporter who carries the investigation on her shoulders and who pays the greatest price, when the whole investigation goes south. Dan Rather, her friend and mentor, and of course the anchor of the CBS Evening News and star of 60 Minutes, which produced the story, backs Mapes as fully as he can until they both end up losing their jobs. The clear message of the film is this: we may have made some mistakes but the story was true despite our failures, and we shouldn’t be punished because of that deeper value.  Read more …


The Intern

November 12, 2015

I am sorry to be posting about The Intern so long after its opening because it really is a nice piece of light entertainment with some good comments on the benefit of experience in the marketplace, ageism and work, workaholism and family, women in the workplace, and attitudes toward work itself that make it a very good film for discussion. Anne Hathaway plays Jules Ostin, a no-nonsense fashion designer with good instincts who has created her own online fashion company called “About the Fit” and moved it to the size that the company needs to decide whether to hire a CEO from outside or not. Tensions arise from Ostin’s family commitments, her work commitments, her self-evaluation, and her employee relations that create crises small and large, which need to be resolved. Enter Robert DeNiro as Ben Whittaker, a retired executive, who has grown bored with retirement. Whittaker applies for an internship at “About the Fit”, is hired, and after a brief time becomes Jules’s trusted assistant. Whittaker employees a solid work ethic, street smarts based on years of experience and simply patient, caring eyes and ears to solve the problems he can, give advice where appropriate and generally create the happy ending the film needed.  Read more …


The Martian

November 2, 2015

The Martian, directed by sci-fi master Ridley Scott, and starring as good a cast of actors as you will find, may be the best movie this year. Taking place in what feels like equal parts on the surface of the planet Mars and in the various rooms of NASA’s Space Center in Houston, Martian is the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who finds himself stranded on Mars with very little food, no communication with the outside world and only the shreds of hope he can muster from his indefatigable courage to at least try to survive. Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator, Alien) is at his big budget finest, and the script is tight, fast-paced, funny where it might have been silly and moving where it might have been maudlin. The film is a triumph in every way.  Read more …


Black Mass

November 2, 2015

The much anticipated crime picture, Black Mass, has been a mild hit for the critics and a tepid winner at the box office. As Matt Neal of The Standard put it: “…given Depp’s performance, and the high-caliber cast around him, it’s disappointing Black Mass isn’t better.” Talk about damned by faint praise. And this review is rated “Fresh” by rottentomatoes.com. Just think what the “rotten” reviews say…

Black Mass is exactly that: a good, solid criminal drama but nothing to write home about. The odd thing is that when one breaks it down, there are many pluses and few minuses. So what makes the film so disappointing?  Read more …


Pawn Sacrifice

November 2, 2015 

What a great, totally unknown movie! Pawn Sacrifice, the story of Bobby Fischer, the genius chess master, who as a very young man defeats Grand Master and World Champion Boris Spassky, to become recognized as the greatest chess player in the world, appears to want to be a story of governments scheming to best one another by using up fragile individuals and leaving them discarded in their wake. What the movie in fact turns out to be is a tour de force of acting.  Read more …


What’s In a Picture?

October 14, 2015

In my dictionary the word “logo” has this definition: “a symbol or other design adopted by an organization to identify its products, uniform, vehicles, etc.” Symbols perform the useful function of telling a story when words are unavailable, or, perhaps, we should say they tell a story in a different way than words do. They create impressions without speaking directly to our cognition, and so, if you are offering a symbol that represents you this way, you want it to be right.  Read more …


The Gift

October 8, 2015

Whatever happened to the subtle, frightening thriller? It’s alive in The Gift.

Australian actor Joel Edgerton’s (The Great Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty) writer/director debut, The Gift is a flawed, but exciting example of what is wrong with big, action-movie dominated Hollywood. The paucity of movies like this makes too much hang on the success or failure of a few, and that is not fair to a genre that knows no generational, sexual or racial boundaries. Everyone can enjoy a good thriller, but there just are not enough of them out there to justify their existence.  Read more …


A Walk in the Woods

October 7, 2015

Bill Bryson’s report of his attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail, entitled A Walk in the Woods, is a funny, intelligent, self-deprecating narrative. This movie, built on the book, is not.

Directed by Ken Kwapis, who has spent much of his career directing episodes of television sitcoms, the movie relates the story of Bryson, recently returned home from England and wanting to “experience America” once again, deciding that one way he could do that would be to get out into the most famous place in the wilds of the Eastern U.S. and walk. The AT provides the beauty and the challenge of hiking the spine of the Appalachian Mountain range from Springer Mountain in North Georgia to Mount Katahdin in the wilderness of Maine. The trail is rigorous and glorious, but barely a fifth of those who start out in the spring in Georgia make it to the peak of Katahdin. Bryson, and his hiking buddy, Stephen Katz of Iowa, were not among them.  Read more …


The Diary of a Teenage Girl

September 23, 2015

Some lives are lived in a desperately hopeless environment, and that is the case with Minnie, the teenage girl from the title of this film. The setting of Diary is the 70’s, and the seedy, drug infested downside of the hippie revolution in San Francisco. Minnie’s mother wanders in and out of the house, working lightly, getting fired mostly, smoking grass constantly. Her no-count boyfriend, Monroe, never seems to do anything but drink, and as Minnie’s sexual desire awakens (she is fifteen), she seduces him.  Read more …


War Room

September 22, 2015

I had begun to get so hopeful towards the efforts of Alex and Stephen Kendrick, the two brothers “who do the Christian films.” From Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, they are the filmmakers who made the surprise box office success Facing the Giants, in 2006, and followed it with Fireproof and Courageous, each time improving in their screenwriting sensitivity and accessibility for Christian and non-Christian alike. None of their films were as truly dreadful as the distressing God’s Not Dead!, and each one made more money than the last.  Read more …


The End of the Tour

September 2, 2015

Talky movies are never big box office. The famous cult classic My Dinner with Andre (1981) grossed a whopping $5.2M (that’s right, million, not billion) and even in 1981, that was paltry.

This movie is not only almost all talk, it records a five-day conversation between David Foster Wallace, a revered novelist who has been dead for six years, and David Lipsky, a novelist and journalist who, though well-received, is hardly a household name.  Read more …


Ricki and the Flash

August 31, 2015

Meryl Streep may be one of the greatest actresses of all time, but she has also been in some clunkers in her illustrious career, and Ricki and the Flash is one of them. Why would she do such a thin, silly movie? One might think that her sole reason was to act alongside her daughter, the accomplished Mamie Gummer (The Good Wife), but surely there was a better vehicle than this to satisfy that desire.  Read more …

 


Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

August 28, 2015

For Tom Cruise fans only.   Read more …

 

 

 

 

 


Straight Outta Compton

August 26, 2015

Straight Outta Compton has been one of the greatest box office surprises of the summer, and this biopic writ large is even generating Oscar buzz. Not the biography of one person but of three (with a couple of others thrown in with lesser roles), Compton relates the origin and early history of rap and hip-hop, at least from the N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude), Los Angeles perspective. The film is choppy and confusing at times, but it is filled with energy, and if rap and hip-hop are anything, they are musical forms filled with energy. The script of this film, while far too hagiographic, moves the action constantly, but never fails to form the characters, and this is a very difficult thing to accomplish. It’s brilliant, and the actors fulfill all its promise.  Read more …


Irrational Man

August 18, 2015

Woody Allen. You gotta love him.

Allen’s movies have been dissected, debated, debunked, demonized and otherwise discussed for many years, but I don’t think anyone thought he would remain as fresh and interesting as he has been in what must be the twilight of his fifty year long career. (And that’s only his films; he’s been writing and acting in television since the Colgate Comedy Hour in the early 1950’s.) The last five years alone have brought us Midnight in Paris, To Rome with Love, Blue Jasmine, Magic in the Moonlight, and now Irrational Man, and only To Rome with Love was generally believed to be a failure. Actually, that’s saying it too negatively. How about this: Midnight in Paris was compared to Annie Hall as potentially Allen’s best film ever; Blue Jasmine was an unqualified success and won the Academy Award for Cate Blanchett; and Magic in the Moonlight was shallow but loved. How many 79-year-old men do you know who have had that much success in the last five years?  Read more …


Southpaw

August 14, 2015

Boxing movies have established a remarkable record down through the years for providing, sweet, accessible, dare-I-say-in-our-cynical-age “inspiring” stories about men and women who overcome devastating circumstances to triumph in life, even though these stories are mostly clichéd and predictable. One of my favorite movies is one of the least known boxing movies, Cinderella Man (2005), in which Russell Crowe plays the real-life James J. Braddock who, during the depression years, returned to the ring and pulled off an upset of the heavily favored Max Baer. Braddock loves God, his family, is humble and selfless, though strong. If one is looking for a movie that presents a father the way you might want to model yourself as one, Cinderella Man is the one to watch. Of course the Rocky (1976-1990) pictures come to mind, though they suffer from varying degrees of quality, and Million-Dollar Baby (2004), for the first half before it takes a decidedly sharp, dark turn, should be mentioned. Many boxing pictures fill out the resumé of inspiring rags to riches stories, the only exception I can remember being the intentionally-against-type, brilliant Raging Bull (1990).  Read more …


Mr. Holmes

August 12, 2015

Quiet, slow-moving mysteries with old men and little boys are rare nowadays, and that may be one of the reasons I enjoyed Mr. Holmes so much. This movie is a pleasant time out for anyone, who loves a good story. There is nothing particularly deep about it, but the film evinces a nice moral, extoling caring about those around you and trying to see things from their point of view.  Read more …

 

 


Ant-Man

August 11, 2015

In a climate which seems to produce another super-hero movie every two months, anyone jumping into that pool would naturally seek an advantage, a niche that would make it stand out from the rest. Most seem to think that the best avenue to such a place is by producing more and bigger special effects, usually in terms of natural disasters, wars or extraordinary science fiction elements, but that will never satisfy the moviegoer who is looking for an engaging movie experience. Even the teenage boy for whom these movies are made is beginning to get so jaded it becomes almost impossible to frighten, much less excite, him in the face of so much one-ups-man-ship.  Read more …


Minions 

August 7, 2015

Minions is as cute and hilarious as expected. Funny, isn’t it, that we so like creatures who are cuddly, yet seek after the most evil master they can find? How can that be right?  Read more …

 


Inside Out

August 5, 2015

Latest in the Pixar pantheon of kid’s movies made for adults, Inside Out takes a bold step into the world of the inner life, creating a mythical headquarters inside the head of Riley, a hockey playing girl from Minnesota. At the controls of Riley’s mind are five emotions—Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness with Joy at the helm, voiced by Amy Pohler. After deftly laying out a rather complicated system by which Riley does what she does and the emotions’ involvement with her decisions, the movie essentially begins when at the age of eleven, Riley moves from Minneapolis to San Francisco. This major crisis in Riley’s life endangers the existence of the five “islands” fueled in her head by core memories created by her experiences and managed by the five emotions. The islands are representative of Riley’s personality at a subconscious level and are responsible for her behavior; they are the touchstones of her decision making and are all healthy and functioning well up to this point in her life. The five islands, “Goofball”, “Friendship”, “Hockey”, “Honesty” and “Family”, float above the Abyss of a dark wasteland called the memory dump and are connected tenuously to headquarters by long rods. During the crisis of the movie, the islands become disconnected from headquarters, begin to crumble and die, as their corresponding core memories are destroyed.  Read more …


I’ll See You in My Dreams

July 4, 2015

Old folks movies didn’t all used to be comedies about broken down hotels in India or exotic restaurants being produced in exotic places in Europe. Cocoon (1985), for example, starred Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, Jessica Tandy, Maureen Stapleton and Hume Cronyn, none of them under sixty at the time, Ameche winning the Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor category for his performance. I’ll See You in My Dreams, an independent darling at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, swims in the same waters with Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott, Mary Kay Place and Rhea Perlman providing the main characters of this charming, sad, but thoughtful tour de force.  Read more …


Dope

July 3, 2015

Dope is an angry, at times ugly, at times funny slice-of-life drama about life in the hood. This time the hood is the area of Watts known as “the bottoms” where Malcolm, a geek who loves nineties’ hip-hop, makes good grades and wants to go to Harvard, hangs out with his friends Jib and Diggy. In pursuit of a girl, Malcolm and his friends go to a drug dealer’s birthday party, and antics ensue that leave Malcolm dramatically changed.  Read more …

 


Max

July 1, 2015

In one of my favorite films, The Shawshank Redemption, there is a scene in which Andy Dufresne sits down at the lunch table with the other convicts just after he has been released from two weeks in solitary confinement. He says it was the easiest time he ever spent because he had the music of Mozart in his head and heart to keep him company. When Red, played by Morgan Freeman, says it doesn’t seem to make sense to him to think of music in prison, Andy replies, “Here is where it makes the most sense. You need it so you don’t forget.” Red: “Forget?” Andy: “Forget that there are places in the world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside they can’t get to, they can’t touch.”  Read more …


Spy

June 22, 2015

Spy is one of those movies that saddens me. Hilariously funny, the script by Paul Feig, who also directed, often achieves its humor by using cheap tricks. Those tricks involve foul—usually scatological or sexual—cursing, sleazy imagery, and demeaning jokes about everything from fat people to penis size. I wouldn’t be so bothered, if the movie just plain ol’ weren’t funny, but it is. Melissa McCarthy, for whom Feig wrote the screenplay, is her typical, perfect self, when it comes to delivery and style. She really is one of the best comic actresses around. The movie’s best comic surprises, though, come from its three other principal comic actors: Jason Statham, Rose Byrne and Miranda Hart. They are superb in their supporting roles, and Byrne virtually steals the movie.  Read more …


Love & Mercy

June 19, 2015

There is so much bathos in the world that it is really refreshing to see a sad story with a happy ending, which rises above its potentially sickening melodrama and sincerely moves the heart. I am glad to say that Love & Mercy, the story of the life of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys achieves that remarkable goal, and it does so in spades. The only sad thing to me is that apparently the box office for this fine film is miserable, and, if you want to see it, you’ll have to hurry to your local theater, or remember to get it on Netflix, when it does finally come out digitally.  Read more …


Jurassic World

June 17, 2015

Poor Steven Spielberg.

In the featurette for Jurassic World, essentially a remake of Jurassic Park, Spielberg, who was an Executive Producer on this film, says two things that must have been hard for him to say. The first is that World goes down “an original road, which none of the other movies dared to travel.” The second was: “There’s a lot of surprises in Jurassic World, and my confidence was so high in what our director, Colin, was going to achieve.” While neither of these statements are lies because they are based in Spielberg’s opinions, I find it hard, having seen the finished product, to understand how he could have made them with a straight face.  Read more …


Aloha

June 9, 2015

Yes. It is as bad as everyone says it is.

Aloha, the new film by Cameron Crowe, writer and director of Almost Famous, Say Anything, and his best, Jerry Maguire, has given us another clunker like his Elizabethtown and We Bought a Zoo. Our hopes are so high for Crowe, one of the smartest writers of dialogue around. Flashes of his brilliance shine through this mess of a movie, but not at all often enough.  Read more …


Skylight

June 8, 2015

This David Hare play is directed by Stephen Daldry at the John Golden Theatre on Broadway. Taking place largely on one night in the apartment of an East End schoolteacher in London, the play chronicles visits to the teacher by the son of her former lover, and then by the lover himself. Carey Mulligan (Far From the Madding Crowd, Shame, Drive) plays Kyra Hollis, who lives alone and is dedicated to her working class students in a shady part of London called East Ham. One immediately gets the impression of a well-educated, higher-class social worker, who has chosen to teach here, but why? That question will be one of the most important of several confronting the audience during the course of the play.  Read more …


Pitch Perfect 2

June 5, 2015

In my last post I praised a movie that has been little seen, but is a superb example of how to do teen comedy, a movie called Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. It was superb in every way (except the horrible, though accurate, title). See it if you can.

I suppose it is appropriate that the next movie I mention is its polar opposite. Pitch Perfect 2 does have the expected fine musical performances by the different groups represented. One can’t help but be in awe of the choreography, singing and inventiveness of these groups as they pound our senses with acrobatic dancing, incredible harmonizing and perfect timing in every sense.  Read more …


Me and Earl and the Dying Girl 

June 4, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has been called “heavily hyped” by Vulture, and so it is. But it’s been heavily hyped by those who have seen it for one very good reason: it is just a superb piece of filmmaking for all the right reasons. It takes on one of the most dangerous genres in the world to master successfully—the sad, teen romantic comedy—and does so well that it is hard to think of a movie of this type you’ve ever seen that was as good. Mean Girls? Not close. Clueless? Well, maybe in the same league but at the bottom of standings. The Breakfast Club? I believe Dying Girl will stand the test of time as well as Club has, if its single flaw, its atrocious name, doesn’t sink it first. And it is much sadder than any of these three without ever being maudlin in its pathos.  Read more …


Mad Max: Fury Road

June 3, 2015

The critical hullabaloo over Mad Max: Fury Road is completely mystifying to me. I liked it, but goodness! No less a critic than A.O. Scott of the New York Times ends his review with the following: ‘“Mad Max: Fury Road,” like its namesake both humble and indomitable, isn’t about heroism in the conventional, superpowered sense. It’s about revolution.’ Revolution? Really? The main character says it’s about redemption. From what and for what, one isn’t told, and neither purpose seemed very clear to me. I think the movie is simply about having a good stunt-man (and woman!!) time with a completely ridiculous set of characters from the post-apocalypse.  Read more …


Furious Seven and Begin Again

May 29, 2015

Furious Seven is a bad movie. It’s bad because the characters are wooden, the plot hackneyed, and the writing insipid. The evidence for these allegations is so fulsome that it seems a waste of time to give any, so let me defend that statement by asking the reader to do any one of three simple exercises. 1) Name any character in the movie, good or bad, brand new or deeply rooted in all seven films of this achingly boring franchise, and describe any scene that shows any real development in their personality, belief system or moral being. 2) Describe any plot twist that is new or interesting in any sense of the word, and tell me how it is so. 3) Repeat any piece of dialogue or relate any development of the story that is not found in at least two of the former films.  Read more …


Tomorrowland

May 28, 2015

Sadly, Tomorrowland was as disappointing as most critics said it was. Many things about the movie are commendable; I genuinely liked it, and, when I left, couldn’t really figure out at first why I was vaguely disappointed. George Clooney was decent as the cranky, brilliant scientist with all the answers, but two young women steal the show and help the movie almost pull off what it was trying to do. Britt Robertson as Casey Newton, a precocious teenager with a big brain, and Raffey Cassidy, playing Athena, an enigmatic being who moves back and forth with supernatural ability, do such good jobs at delivering their lines with the enthusiasm and commitment required that the movie picks up every time they enter the picture, which is much of the time. Action, this movie does not lack, and I thought the set design was fun, given that they almost had to make Tomorrowland look like the 1964 World’s Fair/Disney theme park section from which it derives its name. Critics who said they didn’t see anything they hadn’t seen before missed the point.  Read more …


Openers

May 22, 2015

For a long time, people have asked me where I post my movie reviews, random thoughts, talks I’ve given, etc. And for a long time, I pointed them to places like the bi-monthly Resources email we do for our Consortium email list or, when I was at the Center for Christian Study in Charlottesville, to the newsletter we published quarterly, then called PRAXIS. And for a long time, their response was, “Oh.”  Read more …


Ex Machina

May 22, 2015

What an extraordinary performance by newcomer Alicia Vikander. The way she is able to control her expressions: just the hint of a smile indicating thorough delight, or the tiny down-turning of the edges of the mouth indicating confusion. And always, always, the mind seeking to understand, or, shall we say, the computer seeking to process. She looks as if she could be Emily Blunt’s younger sister, and, like the older actress, she can be as intelligent a presence on screen as she desires to be.  Read more …