Decent Films Blog
Saint Stephen the Protomartyr: Ora pro nobis.
Everything is always changing, but August 2012 will go down as a month of particularly momentous milestones for the Greydanus family—some of which will have repercussions on my life and work, including my film review work, for many years to come.
Just a few days ago, our eldest, Sarah Elisabeth, left us and began life at college—the first of our children to depart the nest. (If you missed my blog post on Sarah’s review of Whisper of the Heart, check it out.)
The week before that, Suz and I welcomed our seventh child, Matthew Richard. Around the same time, I wrapped up the third summer season of “Reel Faith.” (If you missed our season finale, catch it at the show’s website (coming soon)—and see a pic of Matthew in the opening minutes!)
The week before that, on August 3, we celebrated our 21st anniversary. Three times seven years. 3 and 7… biblical numbers keep cropping up.
Here’s another biblical number: 12. That’s how many years I’ve been doing Decent Films and writing faith-informed film criticism. (I always thought I registered the domain in August, but it looks like it was earlier, probably in May. So, 12 years and 3 months?)
Perhaps the most momentous milestone, though, is the last.
Next week I will be going back to graduate school—back to seminary, in fact—to pursue diaconal studies in preparation for ordination to the permanent diaconate in the Archdiocese of Newark. (I currently hold an MA in religious studies from St. Charles Borromeo in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. As of this year, my archdiocese requires diaconal candidates to earn an MA in theology, so…back to school I go.)
I've been discerning this vocation for a long time—to one extent or another, ever since I was received into the Catholic Church. In our archdiocese, the diaconal program is limited to a single class at a time, so the program only opens once every several years. The last time I looked into it, the program was closed. When it re-opened last year, my pastor sponsored me for the program, I began the year of discernment…and here I am.
Obviously this means significant adjustments in my other activities for the time being, most notably my movie reviewing. For those of you who follow my work, here’s what this means.
First, I’m not leaving film criticism or going on total hiatus.
For a few years, though, I’ll be doing quite a bit less of it, at least through the academic year. In the summers I hope to be back at something like full strength.
The rest of the time, I’ll still be writing reviews for the Register and Decent Films every few weeks or so. I’ll try to make sure I hit at least one notable movie each month, hopefully by or before opening day as usual. I’ll also continue to appear monthly(ish) in Catholic Digest. (If you’re a paying subscriber to either or both of those publications, bless you. You help keep the lights on at Huis Greydanus.) I also hope to continue with “Reel Faith” in the summers—something I find very rewarding, and which also helps keep the lights on—assuming NET keeps bringing us back. (If you’ve enjoyed the show, let the studio know!)
This will be the modus operandi for the next few years, until, God willing, I reach ordination. At that point, I hope to come back to reviewing movies with renewed vigor as Deacon Steven Greydanus…and, in a weird way, all those people over the years who've mistyped my initials as “DSG” will be retroactively right.
Less movie writing (for now) won’t be the only adjustment in my life. I expect I’ll also be pretty much giving up participation in our church choir—for now, because I won’t be able to make practices, and later on because I’ll be assisting in the Mass as a deacon—and that will really grieve me. (Our director of music is extraordinary, and we sing a lot of magnificent music, but our choir is small, and every voice counts—and while I’m not the most skilled singer in our choir, I’m pretty much the loudest.)
There will also be economic implications. With less film reviewing for now, I’ll be earning less money just as our expenses are going up with college tuition costs. (There will also be a cost involved in my graduate studies, though a modest one, with the cost split between myself, the archdiocese and my own parish.) I’ve never tried to monetize Decent Films—I’ve never taken advertising and never accepted donations, though over the years kind people have expressed willingness to contribute if I ever opened the door for it. (Stay tuned.)
Still, I believe this is the best decision, not only for my own sanctification, but for my family (Suz’s support—advocacy, actually—in this has been a cornerstone of my discernment process) and for my parish community. (Although I’ll be at the archbishop’s disposal to assign me anywhere he wishes, the general tradition in our archdiocese is to assign deacons to their own parishes.) I’m grateful to God for the opportunities I’ve to serve Him in the media through my film criticism, but I hope to be of greater use in my local community than I am now.
Ultimately, I think it will benefit my film criticism as well. Certainly I hope I’ll be drawing closer to God and experiencing His operations in my life in a new way, both through my studies and devotions and through the grace of the sacrament itself. (It will also be a new connection with my patron saint, Stephen the Protomartyr, traditionally reckoned one of the first deacons.)
Beyond that, while my days of film classes are probably behind me, I’ve noticed that any course of study tends to make me sharper and more creative in general, so I’m looking forward to seeing how my new studies impact my responses to films and my approach to writing about them.
Of course I want to take this occasion to express my deepest gratitude to you, my readers for up to the last dozen years of my life—particularly those who have taken the trouble to provide thoughtful feedback of any kind, positive or negative. I’ve heard over the years from Catholics and Protestants, Christians and non-Christians, agnostics and atheists. Your thoughful comments, support and criticism has been a big part of the reward of doing this work, and has benefited me and my work immensely.
In the years to come I hope to continue to repay your interest, perhaps more sporadically for a few years, but hopefully with a corresponding increase in quality, especially in the long term. I hope you’ll stay with me. If you think of it, please offer a prayer for me, and I’ll remember you in my prayers. (Please offer any comments at the Register.com combox for this post.)
Keep watching this space.
Soli Deo Goria — SDG
ParaNorman in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
Hard to believe 12 weeks has gone by, but the 2012 summer season finale of “Reel Faith” is upon us. David and I review The Odd Life of Timothy Green, ParaNorman, Hope Springs and more (watch NET live). You can also still catch our penultimate episode, covering The Bourne Legacy, Total Recall and more at the show’s website.
Last week, as anticipated in my “Where I am” post, my lady Suz and I welcomed our seventh child, Matthew Richard, into our happy, hugger-mugger family life. (Matthew appears briefly in tomorrow’s season finale of “Reel Faith.” You were planning to watch it, right?)
This week, our eldest is leaving us, at least for now. Sarah Elisabeth, who was only five when I began Decent Films 12 years ago, is college bound.
Eight years ago, Sarah and I collaborated on a brief review of Clifford’s Really Big Movie. Sarah’s writing and her critical insights have matured a great deal these eight years, and she's tried her hand at a few more movie reviews.
One of her best, which I am pleased to present here, is her write-up of Studio Ghibli’s coming-of-age tale Whisper of the Heart. Certainly the first review I wrote as a college graduate (for the Warren Beatty film Dick Tracy, as I recall) doesn’t hold a candle to this. Sarah captures this film so well that I have nothing to add. Scratch one title from the list of movies I hope to review someday.
As I write these words Suz and I are listening to the whooshing sounds of our unborn baby’s heartbeat on a fetal monitor. Within a few hours, God willing, we’ll be holding our new baby. This is one reason I’ve had less time for writing reviews than usual, though there are others. If you want to know what I thought of The Bourne Legacy or Total Recall, tune in Friday to the penultimate episode of this summer’s “Reel Faith” season.
There is another announcement coming soon about the future of Decent Films in the short term and the long term. I’m sorry to keep readers hanging, and I appreciate the emails and other queries you’ve been sending. Please stay tuned, and under the circumstances pardon the brevity of this note. Cheers.
Ruby Sparks in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
This week I’ll be all over Catholic media talking about The Dark Knight Rises: EWTN’s “The World Over Live” with Raymond Arroyo, “Catholic Answers Live” with Patrick Coffin, and our own “Reel Faith” with my co-host David DiCerto.
First on Thursday July 19, Raymond and I will be discussing Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy as well as other films now in theaters, such as Brave and The Amazing Spider-Man. “The World Over Live” starts at 8:00pm ET. (Watch EWTN live)
Then on Friday Patrick and I will be discussing the current crop of films on the first hour of “Catholic Answers Live” (6pm–7pm EDT). Listen live!
Finally, be sure to watch the latest episode of “Reel Faith” for even more on The Dark Knight Rises and more. (Watch NET live)
After last week’s July 4 hiatus, the second half of “Reel Faith”’s summer season continues this week as David and I review The Amazing Spider-Man, Ice Age: Continental Drift and Ted.
Watch online Friday — and if you missed our last episode, covering Beasts of the Southern Wild, To Rome, with Love and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, there’s still time to catch it at the “Reel Faith” website.
Regular readers have noticed that my film blogging has been lighter of late — and if anything, that trend is going to continue, for reasons that will become clear soon. For now, though, I want to highlight a welcome development in film blogging that I’m very much looking forward to following in the months and years ahead.
I’m especially pleased to see Peter coming out of a long blogging and writing hiatus. Jeff has remained consistently prolific as long as I’ve been reading him, but I’ve missed Peter’s presence for awhile, and it’s great to see him easing back into the game.
If you aren’t familiar with Jeff’s writing, you can’t do better than to start with his contemplative, symphonic review of Wes Anderson’s delightful Moonrise Kingdom, now in theaters. Here’s how Jeff introduces his review:
Of Gods and Men made Steven Greydanus say that he felt like he had become a critic in order to be prepared to review that movie.
I’ve only felt that way about a few films. Moonrise Kingdom is one of them.
When someone like Jeff writes something like that … saddle up!
As for Peter, check out his photo essay on close-ups in Alien and thoughts on conceptual and visual contrasts between Alien and Prometheus — and, if you’re interested in biblical films, Peter’s notes on movies in development on the early life of Christ, with his rundown of every Oscar-winning British thespian who could be in the running for the role of Herod in one production. That’s the kind of rigorous, methodical analysis you get from Peter.
I’ll be reading … and linking … as often as I can.
Beasts of the Southern Wild in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
To Rome, with Love in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
Brave in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review — plus clips from the film!
“ Three Little Bears”
Snow White and the Huntsman in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
Prometheus in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
Moonrise Kingdom in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
This Friday, April 13 I'll be appearing on the first hour of “Catholic Answers Live” (6pm–7pm EDT).
Patrick Coffin and I will be discussing recent and upcoming films including Brave, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Prometheus, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, Snow White and the Huntsman and more. Listen live!
It’s been too long since I’ve blogged any great critical lines that made me wish I had written them, but I couldn’t resist the opening line of J. R. Jones’s review of Prometheus — arguably the best possible opening sentence in a Prometheus review…
The plot of this Alien prequel was a carefully guarded secret — so carefully guarded, in fact, that not even the movie reveals it.
Last week I screened Pixar’s new movie Brave with my oldest daughter Sarah. I’m still under embargo and can’t tell you what I thought of the film until next week — but I can tell you this much.
Reviews from the Hollywood trade journals (Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, etc.) and perhaps other sources are starting to appear … and they all freely reveal a key second-act plot twist that I went into Brave not knowing. And I’m sure that more reviews, as they come out, will do the same.
What these reviews treat as basic background information came as a complete surprise to me — a surprise I’m grateful for. It’s not in the trailers, which mostly focus on the first act, culimating in an archery tournament. It’s what happens after that, as the story moves into the second act, that makes Brave the film that it is.
Unfortunately, the twist in question is out there in other ways … and I gather lots of kids already know about it. I understand it’s on the packaging for Brave-related toys in toy stores. Kids who go into Brave knowing what’s going to happen may never know how they’ve been short-changed … but those lucky kids (and adults) who go in unspoiled will have a more magical experience.
I admit that as a critic I tend to be fastidious about spoilers (particularly, I confess, when I like the film, but I try to be as fair as I can to every film whether I like it or not). A friend of mine has long been struck by the fact that in reviewing Pixar’s Up I wouldn’t even use the word “balloons,” even though it was all over the marketing. My reasoning was: Why should I mention it? If you know, you don’t need me to tell you — and if you don’t, why should I deprive you of the thrill of discovery?
Perhaps it goes back to an experience in childhood.
Many Star Wars fans my age remember the shock of that iconic moment in The Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader revealed the secret of Luke’s parentage. I remember the moment — but, alas, I wasn’t shocked.
I saw The Empire Strikes Back early in its run, possibly on opening weekend. Yet I had been spoiled on the biggest movie revelation of my youth by a brief synopsis of the film that inexpicably appeared in some magazine or circular that my mother had. And that wasn’t the only moment in the movie I was spoiled on.
I knew that Obi-Wan would appear to Luke on Hoth. I knew that the strange green swamp gnome who promised to bring Luke to Yoda was Yoda. I knew that Luke would lose his hand in the saber battle with Vader. One thing that did catch me off-guard was Harrison Ford’s famously ad-libbed response to Leia’s declaration of love (“I know”). The synosis I read (following the original script, I suppose) had Han trying to grin and saying, “Just remember that, Leia, because I’ll be back.”
It was my first experience being spoiled … and I didn’t like it.
On some level I learned that day that there is something special about seeing a movie for the first time.
I don’t mean only big plot twists or revelations à la The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense, as if the whole point of watching a movie were to be fooled. If that were the case, there would be little point in watching movies more than once.
I mean that a first encounter with a worthwhile film is an act of discovery — and there is a right way and a wrong way to discover what a movie has to offer. The right way is by watching the movie.
After you’ve seen it, of course, a movie can no longer surprise you in the same way, and it remains to be seen whether it can stand up to repeated viewings. A movie with enduring value doesn’t need the element of surprise to be worthwhile. But there is a right way and a wrong way to discover what a movie has to offer — and the right way is by watching the movie.
When Return of the Jedi came out three years later, I made sure I saw it that first weekend, and my main memories of that first screening are the thrill of discovery at key points — when Luke turns the tables on Jabba from the very edge of the plank; Obi-Wan’s revelation about Luke and Leia’s relationship; and of course the redemption of Darth Vader. That was the way to watch that film.
I know not everyone feels the same way. Some people like to fill their heads with critical opinions before they go into a film. That seems crazy to me — the best way to short-circuit one’s ability to receive a film that I can imagine. Certainly after I see a film I’m eager to engage critical opinions across the board — positive, negative and in between — to challenge and sharpen my initial response. But the last thing I want in my head while watching a film for the first time is a lot of other people’s ideas about it.
At any rate, I try to write reviews that work for readers whether or not they’ve seen the film. If they haven’t, I try not to spoil it; if they have, I try to provide context and insight that enriches their response to the film, whether positive or negative.
At any rate, rest assured that my review of Brave, when it appears next week, will not spell out the second-act twist.
How do you feel about spoilers? Do you care at all? Do you like to read reviews before or after you see films? Do you have a spoiler-related trauma in your past? Or something you were glad to know about a film going in? Let me know in the combox at NCRegister.com.
For Greater Glory in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
Dark Shadows in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
The Avengers in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
Tune into EWTN this Thursday, May 31, when I'll be on “The World Over Live” with Raymond Arroyo (8:00pm EDT). Raymond and I will be discussing the new Cristero war drama For Greater Glory, how the film's theme of religious freedom relates to current events, the state of faith-based film productions and much more. (Watch EWTN live)
Then be sure to watch “Reel Faith” on Friday, June 1 (8:00pm EDT) for a special all-For Greater Glory episode featuring filmmaker episodes as well as reviews of the film from David DiCerto and me. (Watch NET live)
This Top 5 list first appeared in the May 2012 issue of Catholic Digest.
Fairy tales are everywhere these days, from the small-screen “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm” to this year’s dueling Snow White films, Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman (opening this week). This double dose of Snow White is more than reason enough to fill in one of the more notable absences in my reviews, Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — though that leaves me with one more review to write to round out my picks for the top five fairy-tale films of all time, listed below in alphabetical order. (No promises, but I’ll try to get to the remaining review sometime soon.)
Beauty and the Beast [La Belle et la bête] (1946)Honorable mention to Disney’s better-known animated musical version, a justly celebrated masterpiece — but Jean Cocteau’s dreamlike French-language adaptation is the truest and richest screen adaptation of the story.
The Princess Bride (1988)One of the most oft-quoted movies of a generation, Rob Reiner’s beloved swashbuckling tale of a beautiful princess, a noble pirate and a black-hearted prince is one of those rare satiric gems, like The Court Jester and Galaxy Quest, that doesn’t just send up a genre, but honors it at the same time.
- Enchanted and its ilk, still casting a potent spell.
Star Wars (1977)An orphaned hero meets a bearded, robed wizard, gains a magic sword, ventures into a dark fortress and rescues an imprisoned princess. George Lucas’s groundbreaking blockbuster updated the trappings, but the charm of this space-age fairy tale is inseparable from its innocent sense of wonder and unironic vision of good and evil.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)The quintessentially American fairy tale, MGM’s joyous musical take on L. Frank Baum’s story ranks among our earliest and most defining experiences of wonder and fear, of fairy-tale joys and terrors, of the lure of the exotic and the comfort of home.
Battleship in 60 seconds: My “Reel Faith” review.
The summer 2012 season of “Reel Faith” begins this Friday, May 25 at 8:00pm EDT. David DiCerto and I kick off the new season with The Avengers, Men in Black 3 and Battleship. And because Battleship has us in a Liam Neeson mood, Father Lauder’s “Movie with a Message” is Les Misérables (1998). Watch online (unless you have CableVision or Time Warner cable).
Also, be sure to tune in next week for a special episode dedicated to For Greater Glory, with actor interviews as well as our take on the film. That episode will air on Friday, June 1, the day For Greater Glory opens.
This Top 5 list first appeared in the May 2012 issue of Christianity Today.
In my Avengers review I wrote, “If The Avengers isn’t necessarily the best superhero movie ever made, it is unquestionably the most superhero movie ever made.“ That, of course, raises the question: What is the best superhero movie ever made?
While I’m not prepared to offer a single answer to that question, here in alphabetical order are my all-time top 5 superhero movies. Beyond that, if you’d like to explore other reviews of past superhero and comic-book movies, check out the superhero-related tags below.
The Dark Knight (2008)Batman Begins was arguably the best cinematic superhero origin story ever, and this sprawling, nightmarish sequel pushes the newly minted hero to his limits and beyond against the incalculable evil of Heath Ledger’s chilling Joker. Though verging on nihilism, the film keeps a tenuous grip on hope.
The Incredibles (2004)Among the best family films as well as superhero films, Pixar’s tale of an underground family of supers in an age of mediocrity is a bold, funny, fast and furious action movie that makes room for remarkably sophisticated social commentary, domestic wisdom and moral rigor.
The Mark of Zorro (1940)Douglas Fairbanks did unmatchable stunts in the silent 1920 Mark of Zorro, and the 1998 Mask of Zorro is a surprisingly effective homage. Guy Williams, from Disney’s 1950s serial, is the most beloved Zorro. But the best Zorro movie is this Golden-Age origin story starring Tyrone Powers — witty, romantic, funny and thrilling.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)Leave the grit and angst to the Dark Knight: Spider-Man is a wisecracking, freewheeling adventurer, and this superior sequel is the most rollicking, flat-out comic-bookiest superhero movie ever. Alfred Molina invests Dr. Octopus with unexpected humanity, and the set pieces, above all the train sequence, are genre standouts.
Superman (1978)The first great comic-book movie, Superman blends portentous 2001-style mythmaking and Adam West “Batman”-style camp, embracing the iconic hero’s implicit christological echoes while nostalgically honoring the ideals of a more innocent time. John Williams’s heroic score is vital; he never wrote a theme more crucial to a film’s success.
This Friday, April 13 I'll be appearing on the first hour of “Catholic Answers Live” (6pm–7pm EDT).
Guest host Tom Price and I will be discussing recent and upcoming films including The Avengers, The Pirates: Band of Misfits, Chimpanzee and more. Listen live!
The Pirates! Band of Misfits / In an Adventure with Scientists! in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
Cabin in the Woods in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.