Decent Films Blog
This is not a Bible film.
The recent announcement that Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky is moving forward with a $130 million adaptation of the story of Noah’s ark comes on the heels of last week’s news that Steven Spielberg is being sought to direct a new epic on the life of Moses for Warner Bros.
These are just two of a remarkably high number of Hollywood biblical projects in the works at the moment:
- In addition to Warner Bros’ Moses project, there’s another Moses story in development at 20th Century Fox.
- There are also two projects underway to make a movie about Judah Maccabee and the Maccabean War. One is being developed by Mel Gibson and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas.
- The other Maccabees project, which might wind up as a TV production or a big-screen film, is being developed by Jewish producer Bruce Nash.
- A project a step removed from the Bible itself is worth noting: Alex Proyas’ Paradise Lost movie.
- Director Scott Derrickson, whose name was once attached to Paradise Lost, is working on a David and Goliath movie that focuses on the Philistine.
- Camilla Belle, who has been rumored for the role of Eve in Paradise Lost, has been cast as the Virgin Mary in Mary the Mother of Christ, written by Benedict Fitzgerald and Barbara Nicolosi and starring Al Pacino and Peter O’Toole.
That’s an impressive convergence of biblical films in development at the same time.
How any of them will turn out, of course, is anyone’s guess. Aronofsky’s Noah project has been called a “fantasy epic,” but Aronofsky has also been working on a related graphic novel project that apparently puts a science-fiction spin on the Noah story. It’s not clear that Aronofsky intends the film to be a sci-fi retelling of the Noah story, but the prospect is a disconcerting one.
Then there’s Variety’s reference to the Fox project retelling the Exodus story “in 300 style.” That might be no more than a reference to the use of green-screen technology, but still the precedent of recent pictures like 300, Clash of the Titans and the upcoming Immortals may be some indication of the creative environment in which these movies will be made. Is Hollywood up to the challenge of retelling these biblical stories?
How should Hollywood filmmakers approach these stories? Here are a few suggestions for open-minded filmmakers:
Both newly available in multi-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo editions, Dumbo and The Lion King were each developed during one of Disney’s two periods of greatest creative flourishing.
Dumbo came at the height of Disney’s early Golden Age, amid the four towering masterpieces—Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Pinocchio and Bambi—that laid the foundations for all subsequent Disney feature animation.
The Lion King came at almost the height of the 1990s Disney renaissance, following the early successes of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, and preceding the diminishing returns of Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan and finally Fantasia 2000, which can be regarded as the final nail in the Disney renaissance’s coffin. (See my earlier two-part post on Fantasia and Fantasia 2000.)
Both Dumbo and The Lion King are much beloved, though in my opinion they’re both overrated and comparatively disappointing.
Who better to direct a new Hollywood epic on the life on Moses than Steven Spielberg?
Deadline.com reports that Spielberg has read the script for Gods and Kings, written by Michael Green and Stuart Hazeldine—and that Warner Bros wants him for the job.
There’s something instantly appealing about the thought of Spielberg directing Hollywood’s first major live-action take on Moses’ story since Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 crowning achievement, The Ten Commandments.
Spielberg’s career as a filmmaker owes a great deal to DeMille. In fact, the first film Spielberg ever saw, at the age of seven, was Cecil B. DeMille’s penultimate picture, and the movie that made Charlton Heston a star, the Academy Award-winning The Greatest Show on Earth.
It was a portentous convergence in many ways. DeMille’s long career of popular success had been a Barnumesque pursuit of showmanship and spectacle on a grand scale, and the DeMille film set Spielberg on a similar course of Hollywood showmanship. Spielberg wasn’t just bitten by the movie bug. He was inspired to make grand spectacles and popular entertainments, openly playing to audience emotions in a way that courted the same critical charges of sentimentalism leveled against DeMille.
This Friday, September 30, I’ll be on the second hour of Catholic Answers Live! (7pm–8pm EDT). Patrick Coffin and I will be talking about new and older movies including The Way, Courageous, The Lion King, Machine Gun Preacher, Moneyball, Dolphin Tale, Contagion, Citizen Kane, Warrior and more. Listen live!
Buy at Amazon.com
Contagion may not be everyone’s ideal date movie, but I’m married to an RN who prefers a good medical thriller to a trite chick flick. Suz was impressed with the technical realism of Contagion. I was impressed too. Here’s my 30-second take.
Here’s Moneyball in 30 seconds from my “Reel Faith” co-host David DiCerto. My written review is linked below.
I’m pleased to report that “Reel Faith”—the Catholic movie review TV show that I co-host with David DiCerto—is back for a special fall season, and that episode 1 is now available at the Reel Faith website at NetNY.net!
Reviewed in episode 1: Moneyball, The Lion King, Warrior and Contagion. Coming in episode 2 this Friday: Machine Gun Preacher, Dolphin Tale and Abduction. Unfortunately, I’ll never get around to writing up all these movies, so if you’re interested in my take on them—or if you think two points of view are better than one—“Reel Faith” may be your best bet.
With “Reel Faith” you also get 30-second video reviews by David and me. Prior to this past summer season, I had a lot of fun doing 30-second reviews in rhyming verse. When the summer season got underway, though, writing the rhymes became too labor-intensive, and I had to go back to basics. The upside is that the 30-second spots are more practical and informative, even if they’re less fun. (I’ll be posting new 30-second reviews soon.)
Working in a visual medium brings a new dimension to film criticism. Video clips help to establish the film and provide a context for talking about it. The dialogue format is also appropriate, because film criticism should be a conversation, at least implicitly, in which critics interact with other insights and points of view.
Other points of view includes readers and viewer, whether it’s in comboxes at NCRegister.com or my occasional mail column at Decent Films—and at Reel Faith we’re interested in your input too.
In fact, right now we aren’t just interested in your input—we need it.
My essay “Hollywood Adjustment?” appeared in Catholic World Report several months ago when The Adjustment Bureau and Soul Surfer were in theaters. For some reason I never got around to posting it here at Decent Films.
Now, having blogged this week on this month’s trend of religiously themed films (Warrior, Machine Gun Preacher, Courageous and Seven Days in Utopia, with The Way and The Mighty Macs just around the corner), “Hollywood Adjustment?” is timely again. So it seemed like a good time to post it — and spotlight it, to make up for neglecting it for the past few months.
Gerard Butler as Sam Childers in Machine Gun Preacher
The mixed martial arts drama Warrior, now in theaters, is one of no fewer than four theatrical releases to be released this month featuring Christian themes and being marketed specifically to Christians. (That’s not counting family-friendly fare like Dolphin Tale and The Lion King also being marketed to the religious press.)
Of the four films, two are Hollywood releases: Warrior and the fact-based biopic Machine Gun Preacher (opening Friday). The other two are Christian indie projects: the golf movie Seven Days in Utopia, starring Robert Duvall, Lucas Black and Melissa Leo, and the ensemble drama Courageous, from the Fireproof people, Sherwood Pictures.
Two are sports films (following in the footsteps of The Blind Side and Secretariat). More notably, three of the four—Warrior, Machine Gun Preacher and Courageous—are overtly concerned with masculinity and what it means to be a man. (The fourth film, the dismally reviewed Seven Days in Utopia, is the only one of the four I haven’t seen, but it doesn’t appear to touch on issues of masculinity in the same way.)
Although the three films diverge in many respects, common themes as well as contrasts emerge.
Tags have come to Decent Films!
Thanks to the efforts of the site’s volunteer developer Simeon, Decent Films has taken another step forward in navigability and ease of use.
At the bottom of this blog post, you’ll see a tag for “Decent Films Doings.” Select that, and you’ll come to a page listing all the Decent Films news-related posts I could find going back to the beginning of the blog.
Of course, who would want to review old news items? But there are other more interesting and helpful tags too. The full list is available in the Tags button in the top nav above. (You can also click on the Tags link in the main head on any tag page.) And, as I’ve spent several days creating and populating tags, you’ll find tag listings at the bottoms of blog posts, reviews and articles throughout Decent Films.
Good grief. Salon.com critic Andrew O’Hehir, who wound up in a blogging skirmish with Roger Ebert after blasting Secretariat as a “honey-dipped fantasy vision of the American past as the Tea Party would like to imagine it,” is at it again.
Now O’Hehir divines that Warrior is Secretariat’s anti-government, tax-cutting, Constitution-spouting ideological twin: “pseudo-individualist, sub-Freudian, Tea Party-friendly fantasy.”
All rightee then. Crowd-pleasing sports movie that O’Hehir finds insulting to his refined palate, thy name is Tea Party.
Meanwhile, Arts & Faith member Bowen has some pointed questions, not exactly about Warrior, but about Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll’s enthusiastic defense of mixed martial arts (MMA). (Driscoll’s comments are referenced in an article about MMA linked in my review of Warrior.) Among other things, Driscoll opined that “men made for combat, men are made for conflict, men are made for dominion … That's just the way men are made.“ Bowen asks:
- If men are made for domination, what about the loser in an MMA match? He didn’t dominate — is he a failed man?
- If men are made for combat, why are almost all the men at an MMA event spectators? Surely the pure model for Driscoll isn’t MMA: it’s Fight Club, where everyone fights.
Tomorrow Star Wars finally comes to Blu-ray in three editions: The Original Trilogy, The Prequel Trilogy, and The Complete Saga. Good news for Star Wars fans, right?
If you’re a Star Wars fan, though, you may already know—or, if you didn’t know, you might have guessed—that George Lucas wouldn’t be content to release the same old twice-retweaked versions of the films released on DVD in 2004. That version incorporated the Special Edition changes from the 1997 theatrical releases—such as the infamous “Greedo shooting first” tweak, so that Han wouldn’t be such a scoundrel—plus new Extra-Special changes made specifically for the DVDs.
Needless to say, the Extra-Special Editions were so 2004. Now, for your Blu-ray watching pleasure, Lucas has unveiled the Extra-Extra-Special Editions—“I won’t call it the Ultimate Set because we keep finding stuff,” Lucas has ominously noted—with still more tweaks that have fanboys of all ages shouting “Nooooooooooooooo!”
Actually, they have Darth Vader shouting “Nooooooooooooooo!” At the very climax of Return of the Jedi, where Vader has a change of heart, grabs the Emperor who is dark-side-ocuting Luke, and tosses him into one of those really deep pits they build in Star Wars-land—where previously he was silent, Vader now shouts “Nooooooooooooooo!” This isn’t the only new change, but it’s the one attracting the most attention and consternation.
Just a quick note to say that while Irene put a dent in my writing schedule this week and I’ve completed none of the projects I hoped to post by today, I plan to hit the ground running after Labor Day and will be posting multiple pieces next week. Cheers everyone!
Neither of the two reviews posting today is for a newly opening movie, but with the summer winding down, vacation behind me and “Reel Faith”’s summer season ending with next week’s finale (edit: not tonight’s finale; preempted for World Youth Day), I’m trying to catch up. After Cowboys & Aliens and Crazy, Stupid, Love, movies I’ve screened that I’d like to write about including today’s Fright Night as well as The Help, 30 Seconds or Less and even The Smurfs.
Meanwhile, tonight I’ll be on the first hour of Catholic Answers Live, talking about all the movies of the summer — and if you missed last week’s episode of “Reel Faith,” there’s still time to catch it at the website! Also, of course, be sure to catch the finale next Friday. See the homepage Spotlight for more info.
No new reviews today. Instead, my essay on the superhero movies of 2011 should be available soon at NCRegister.com. I do hope to write reviews of 30 Minutes or Less and The Smurfs as well as Cowboys & Aliens (really — I hope!).
In the meantime, if you missed my radio reviews this morning of 30 Minutes or Less and Crazy, Stupid, Love, I’ll be on “Kresta in the Afternoon” today around 4:40 EDT talking about both movies — as well as Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I’ll also be reviewing 30 Minutes and Crazy, Stupid tonight with David DiCerto on the penultimate episode of “Reel Faith” (8:30 PM on NET-NY). See Spotlight for more info.
Here is Roger Ebert on Final Destination 5. His final sentence is classic.
I expect this movie to make a lot of money at the box office, spent by fans eager to see still more cool ways for hot young characters to be slaughtered. My review will not be read by any of these people. They know what they enjoy. They don’t want no damn movies with damn surprises. I am always pleased when moviegoers have a good time; perhaps they will return to a theater and someday see a good movie by accident, and it will start them thinking.
A hopeful and generous thought. The only catch, alas, is that it is much harder to make a good movie by accident than to see one by accident; and since making good movies is not Hollywood’s top priority, the odds of accidentally seeing a good one are comfortably low.
Sorry I neglected to mention this earlier: I’m on vacation with the family this week (with only spotty Internet access!), which is why there’s no Cowboys and Aliens review here at Decent Films. I will be on the first hour of “Catholic Answers Live” tonight, though. And of course there will be a new episode of “Reel Faith” tonight on NET. Both are available online (see the homepage Spotlight box for links).
This week Of Gods and Men debuts on Blu-ray/DVD. See my full review for product notes. You may also want to check out my five-part blog post series “How Catholic is Of Gods and Men?” I’ve seen it three times now, and it’s easily my favorite film of the year, if not the past several years.
Also new on Blu-ray/DVD this week are Pixar’s three audacious “second phase” films, Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up. Each is a treasure. If you’re not sure what I mean by “second phase,” you might enjoy “Three Phases of Pixar History.”
Look up at the Decent Films nav bar and you’ll see a new addition: In addition to RSS and Facebook, Decent Films is now on Twitter.
The URLs are very simple:
One advantage of Twitter compared to Facebook is that Facebook doesn’t show you every post from all your friends and likes, so even if you like Decent Films on Facebook, you’ll still miss updates. With Twitter, once you follow Decent Films, you’ll get every tweet (and hopefully I’ll remember to tweet every Decent Films update).
At this writing I have 0 followers on Twitter. Please change that — and if you have a following on Twitter yourself, I’d appreciate a tweet to spread the word. Thanks!
With Cars 2 approaching this weekend, I thought I’d take a look back at Cars, easily Pixar’s least impressive and celebrated film since their second picture, A Bug’s Life.
It’s easy to forget that although A Bug’s Life followed Pixar’s masterful debut Toy Story, it came before the astonishing string of superior successes—Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles—that catapulted Pixar into its own orbit as the unquestioned kings of family entertainment.
When Cars came out, it was seen as a slight, flawed Pixar effort, simply because Pixar had raised the bar so high. Six or seven years earlier, when studios could release cartoons like Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius and Antz without being compared to the likes of Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, a movie like Cars would have been judged far more leniently.
Conversely, A Bug’s Life wasn’t originally subjected to the same critical rigor as Cars—and reasonably so, since Pixar obviously grew in those early years. This, though, raises the question: Which is really Pixar’s least interesting effort to date: A Bug’s Life or Cars?
Now that “Reel Faith” is back in production, I have to face the sad truth that I no longer have the time to invest writing 30-second reviews in verse. We’re still doing 30-second reviews, but they’re more straightforward now. Here are the latest from both David and myself, including Green Lantern, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Super 8 and Tree of Life.
Incidentally, have you been watching “Reel Faith”? Episode 2 (featuring Super 8, The Tree of Life and The Hangover Part 2) is still up at the show’s website (and probably will be all weekend), and Episode 3 (featuring Green Lantern, Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Judy Moody) airs tonight at 8:30pm ET on NET (watch online).
Incidentally, as you can see from David’s 30-second review of Mr. Popper’s Penguins, we don’t always see completely eye to eye. Watch tonight’s show to see more!
At last, after a hiatus of over a year, Decent Films Mail is back!
Despite a technical glitch that’s preventing it from showing up on the homepage or the Recent page, Mailbag #21 has been published to the Mail page and is in the RSS feed, so it’s official. Hopefully the glitch will be fixed before too long.
Why the long delay? Well … in 2010 I published four Mailbags in the early months of the year … but then in summer “Reel Faith” absorbed most of whatever spare time I had left, and then some. And then from the fall into this year I was hard at work on academic projects — mostly the entries for the New Catholic Encyclopedia, as well as another entry for the Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science and Social Policy, on film and Catholic social thought.
During this time, I regret to say, my correspondence lapsed considerably. I’ve tried to go back and respond to as much neglected email as I could, but some of it may have fallen through the cracks. To anyone I missed, I apologize, and once again I’ll try to do better in the future. I hope you’ll write again.
This new mail column seems to have a running theme: fans of various films, from Tangled and Thor to Harry Potter, Star Wars and Source Code, taking issue with criticisms I’ve leveled against those films. Their rebuttals, and my replies, are presented for your consideration in Mailbag #21. Enjoy!
This Friday, May 27 I’ll be on the second hour of “Catholic Answers Live” (7pm–8pm EST) with Patrick Coffin. Movies we’ll be talking about include Kung Fu Panda 2; The Tree of Life; Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides; Bridesmaids; Priest; Born to Be Wild; Thor and more. Listen live!
I don’t like to see anyone’s views, right or wrong, misrepresented or distorted. In my Evangelical Protestant days, I often found myself inadvertently explaining Catholic beliefs against Protestant distortions of those beliefs, not because I accepted them as true, but simply because I felt we should be clear on what other people do and don’t think. Eventually, in explaining the Catholic faith, I began to find that it was not only more intelligible than my Protestant friends recognized, but more intelligible than what I believed as a Protestant.
This is not what happens with the beliefs of someone like Harold Camping, whom I used to listen to on Family Radio back in the 1980s. I even called into his show one time and briefly debated him on calling Mary the Mother of God (which even in my Protestant days I saw the sense of, as do many in the Reformation tradition going back to Luther and Calvin).
The better one understands beliefs like Camping’s, the more misguided and sad they appear. Even so, those who opine or comment on Camping’s views ought to take the trouble to be clear about what he did and didn’t say. Much of the online mockery and condemnation directed at Camping, understandable and human as it might be, has been not only uncharitable but misguided.
Christians should regard Camping and his followers with compassion and understanding. This doesn’t mean overlooking the seriousness of his errors. The fact is that Camping is a nut who has done great harm to his followers and to the broader world of faith. I think Camping should admit his disastrous wrongness and step down from his leadership position at Family Radio. If he doesn’t, I think Family Radio should force him out.
This past Saturday, May 21, a major supernatural event predicted last week by Jimmy Akin occurred around 6:00 PM. Jimmy and I both witnessed it, as did many other people, although Jimmy was right there and got a much better view than I did.
What’s more, there was an apocalyptic sign in the sky! Not exactly of the world-ending variety. More like the opposite.
On Saturday evening, our third child, James Sebastian, was confirmed at St. John in Orange, NJ, with his godfather Jimmy at his side as sponsor. It had been raining for much of the day, and before the Mass, walking into the church, James spotted a bright rainbow in the sky. It was still there after the Mass. I took a picture from my house.
Meanwhile, there has been no statement so far from Harold Camping, and Family Radio followers are trying to cope with the absence of global earthquakes—and the continued presence of believers, whom they believed were supposed to be caught up to God and thus be spared the tribulations of the coming months. (The end of the world isn’t scheduled until October 21.)
I’m glad to read that at least one Family Radio board member is contritely acknowledging that Camping seems to have gotten it wrong. I hope there will be discussions among board members about Camping’s retirement, voluntary or otherwise.
Fasten your seat belts … I think this is the fastest talking I’ve done in any of these reviews! In fact, it’s so fast I think I’ll include the words this time, in case anyone wants to double-check a word. Let me know if you like this!
P.S. I like to have at least one rhyme in each review I’m especially proud of. In Soul Surfer it was “island” and “Thailand.” Here it’s “umbrellas” and “favelas.”
From the Guanabara beaches with their rainbow umbrellas
To the iron-roofed shacks of ramshackle favelas
From the carnival floats and their paraphernalia
To the samba schools with their dancers’ regalia
There’s plenty to see-o in Rio.
Director Carlos Saldanha’s a native Brazilian
And his palette is full of greens, blues, vermilion
Dancing and music all add local feeling
But the carnival costumes are pretty revealing…
That’s how it be-o in Rio.
A pair of rare birds, Jewel and Blu
Flee from smugglers and a scene-stealing bad cockatoo.
Blu just wants his owner, and he may learn to fly
And Christ the Redeemer looks down from on high.
Good enough for me-o—that’s Rio.
If you don’t have 30 seconds to spare, here’s a spoiler: There aren’t really any dragons.
If you have more than 30 seconds, read the full review.
I just want to say: How often does the opportunity come to rhyme “island” and “Thailand”? You have to appreciate these things when they come.
The hunt for bin Laden may be over, but let’s not forget: Hop is still in theaters, and will soon be coming to DVD.
It’s like the terrorists have already won.
For a second opinion, see my “Reel Faith” co-host David DiCerto’s 30-second review.
Okay, technically that’s misleading since it isn’t really my Union suit: I rented this Yankee soldier uniform from the helpful folks at the Party Stop & Costume Corner in Westfield, NJ for this 30-second review of the Civil War-era film The Conspirator. I really dug the film, and I had a lot of fun doing this review. Enjoy!