Our seasonal movie-watching during Advent, Lent, and the Christmas and Easter seasons varies from year to year, but Triduum is always the same.
The Bible world of Roma Downey and Mark Burnett’s LightWorkers Media productions sometimes seems not unlike a movie about Shakespeare in which you hear lines like “To be or not to be, that is the question” and “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” but everyone seems to have heard them already.
“Where the Bible comes to life” is the slogan of Sight & Sound Theatres, headquartered in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in the heart of Amish country.
A reader of my review of Mary Magdalene offers an impassioned defense for the medieval Western view of St. Mary Magdalene as a penitent with a notoriously wanton sexual past, a profligate adulteress or harlot.
Somewhere roughly between Risen and Last Days in the Desert in its narrative and interpretive sensibilities, Mary Magdalene presents an interpretation of Jesus’ ministry, passion and resurrection that seems in some ways — with important caveats — fairly traditional, viewed from a feminist perspective with some biblical justification.
It’s not the unmade epic about the life of Paul of Tarsus many would like to see, but what it is is worthwhile in its own right.
If you ever wondered what it might have looked like for Samson to slay 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, wonder no more.
I can’t think of another year quite like 2016. To begin with, Jesus himself was on the big screen in an extraordinary number of screen incarnations.
On paper, and sometimes even on screen, there’s some promise and potential in this remake of Ben-Hur.
The Young Messiah is an impressive achievement of Christian imagination, a work that does one of the noblest things a Bible movie, or any literary adaptation, can do: It brings persuasive emotional and psychological depth to characters and situations that were either hidden or else so familiar we may have trouble seeing them at all.
There are many things I love about The Young Messiah, as my review elaborates, but the way it depicts Jesus’ consciousness at the age of seven is one of my favorite things about it.
While concerns around “Jesus of Nazareth” were short-lived, The Passion of the Christ remains controversial, beloved by many and condemned by many others.
The director of my favorite movie this spring about Jesus and a Roman soldier talks about working with Sean Bean, Jesus’ human consciousness, and bringing the biblical world to life.
Risen might be the only Jesus film in which we first encounter Jesus on the cross, already dead or nearly so.
During the second week of Advent, as we’re wrapping up Genesis and turning to Exodus, our family viewing often includes DreamWorks’ two animated Pentateuch movies: the Exodus movie The Prince of Egypt and its made-for-TV prequel, Joseph: King of Dreams.
The Miracle Maker is a singular achievement: a Jesus movie that is simple enough for children, sophisticated enough for scripture scholars and theologians, and artful enough for discerning cinephiles.
The director of Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood takes on the story of Moses.
It’s a movie with many problems, like most of Scott’s recent epics (Prometheus, Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven), but Scott has a better story to work with here and adds something of value to the world of Bible cinema.
Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings (in theaters Dec. 12) is the year’s second major Old Testament epic from a director who is not a believer — but don’t get Scott started on Noah’s rock-monster Watchers.
The Exodus is probably the Bible’s most cinema-ready story, the perfect Bible-movie subject. Unlike the stories of Noah, Abraham, David, Jesus, Peter, or Paul, it offers a sustained narrative structure, with a clear central conflict between a strong hero and a strong villain, building to a series of grand climaxes.
Father Robert Barron is one of the Church’s best commentators on popular culture today, so I’ve been waiting for his take on Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. He doesn’t disappoint.
This has been a crazy week! I was interviewed about Noah for Vatican Radio, the NBC News website, EWTN News Nightly, Kresta in the Afternoon and The World Over.
“Let me tell you a story,” Russell Crowe’s Noah says to his family in a moment of great crisis and emotion. “The first story my father told me, and the first story I told each of you.” What he recounts are the events of Genesis 1, the creation of the world; and Aronofsky relates them both verbally and visually in a way that bespeaks a confidence in the power of this story to speak to us today: a story still worth telling and retelling.
The punning headlines write themselves: “Noah Awash in Flood of Controversy.” “Deluge of Criticism Inundates Filmmakers.” In the weeks preceding the release of Noah, controversy has swirled around the film — and will no doubt continue to do so in the weeks ahead.
After ten years, Jesus is back on the big screen. Was it worth the wait?
The first major big-studio Bible film in decades is a dark, divisive, personal film from the director of Pi, The Fountain and Black Swan.
Darren Aronofsky’s Noah pays its source material a rare compliment: It takes Genesis seriously as a landmark of world literature and ancient moral reflection, and a worthy source of artistic inspiration in our day.
In a way, the figure of Noah stands over filmmaker Darren Aronofsky’s whole career.
So what’s the deal with the Noah movie? Does it replace the message of the Bible story with a message created by Hollywood? Is Russell Crowe’s Noah an environmentalist wacko? Is God a monster out to eradicate humanity entirely? Get a grip, people.
And yet, compared with most Hollywood biblical epics, The Greatest Story Ever Told manages to sustain a spirit of genuine reverence and religiosity over showmanship and pageantry. Its deliberate pacing and dreamlike, otherworldly ambiance offer neither the entertainment value of The Ten Commandments nor the comparative psychological realism of Zeffirelli’s subsequent Jesus of Nazareth, yet it is arguably more evocative than either of the spirit of biblical literature.
Although less speculative and less freely adapted than the earlier film, The Ten Commandments shamelessly rips off interpretive conceits and even specific dramatic beats from The Prince of Egypt, from the menacing of Moses’ basket by a passing croc to the foundering of Ramses’ chariot on the shores of the Red Sea, allowing him to live to see the destruction of his army and the escape of the Israelites.
The original DVD edition of The Passion of the Christ was a “bare bones” edition featuring only the film itself. This week’s two-disc “Definitive Edition” is packed with extras, from The Passion Recut (which trims about six minutes of some of the most intense violence) to four separate commentaries.
In blogs, discussion boards, and other fora, a range of criticisms and objections concerning The Nativity Story have been raised by concerned Catholics. Some of these critiques are thoughtful and worthy of consideration, and raise issues regarding the film that have merit, or are at least defensible. Other complaints are more problematic, resting on misrepresentations of the film or even of Catholic teaching.
Perhaps The Nativity Story will take its place as the missing Christmas film — the one that actually is about the real “real meaning of Christmas.”
Although The Nativity Story doesn’t portray Joseph as a widower, it also doesn’t depict Joseph and Mary’s relationship as a typical first-century Jewish courtship. While the film doesn’t take a stance one way or the other on the Catholic doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity, it finds drama in the obstacles between Joseph and Mary, rather than turning their story, as some retellings have done, into a Hollywood romance.
Christians lamenting the state of Hollywood sometimes flippantly comment that this or that Bible story “would make a great movie — intrigue, sex, violence, spectacle, etc.” This, though, is not a recipe for a great movie, but for a mediocre one. The story of Esther could certainly be made into a great film. One Night with the King is not that film. In some ways, it’s not even that story.
For good and for ill, it’s as much a testament and a fixture of traditional American ideals and affections as a courthouse display of the stone tablets, and as weighty and solid.
It is, so to speak, not "based on" St. John’s Gospel at all, so much as it is St. John’s Gospel — visualized and enacted to be sure, and to that extent interpreted and glossed, but not "adapted" in the usual sense.
Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical silent masterpiece The King of Kings, until now available in home video only in DeMille’s shortened 112-minute 1928 cut, is now available in a new restored DVD edition from Criterion that includes both the original 155-minute 1927 “roadshow” version and the shorter general release version.
In its most extreme form, the charge of morbidity has been laid at the feet of the Christian faith itself. Christianity’s harshest critics denounce it as "a religion of death." Clearly, at some point objections of this sort must be regarded as a case in point of what the scriptures call the "scandal" of the cross. It is the cross itself, the very suffering and dying of God made man, and the way Christians respond to this event in their faith and devotion, that is behind much (though again not all) of the religious and anti-religious controversy over the brutality of this particular film.
As I contemplate Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the sequence I keep coming back to, again and again, is the scourging at the pillar.
Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League declared recently that Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is not antisemitic, and that Gibson himself is not an anti-Semite, but a “true believer.”
Intolerance is a grandiose composite epic, interweaving four separate morality plays from different eras and settings, from 20th-century America (the "Modern Story") to Old Testament times (the "Babylonian Story"). Rounding out the four are a brief survey of the life and death of Christ (the "Galilean Story" [sic; most of it is set in Judea, not Galilee]) and events from the 16th-century persecution and massacre of Huguenot Protestants under the Medicis, including the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (the "French Story").
In the end, perhaps the most enduring achievement of The Gospel According to Matthew is an ironic one, given Pasolini’s Marxism: No other life-of-Christ film is so contemplative, inviting the viewer simply to meditate on the life and teaching of Jesus.
The grandest of Hollywood’s classic biblical epics, William Wyler’s Ben-Hur doesn’t transcend its genre, with its emphasis on spectacle and melodrama, but it does these things about as well as they could possibly be done.
The art of cinema had advanced dramatically in the few years between the two films, and From the Manger to the Cross is far more sophisticated — though I actually find the earlier, more primitive Life and Passion more effective. Even so, both are worthwhile, and they make a good double bill.
Veteran Catholic performer Barry, who calls his apostolate Radix, has been doing his live one-man passion play for a decade, accompanied for most of that time by his musical partner, Eric Genuis. One recorded version has played for a number of years on EWTN around Holy Week. This version, filmed live in 2003 at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, TN, benefits from enhanced production values including multiple cameras.
The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ is a remarkable relic from the very dawn of cinema.
Witness the astonishing animation of scale at work in capturing the towering monuments of Egypt, or the host of departing Hebrews: few if any traditional animated films have ever captured the sheer sense of size in this film. Watch the subtle storytelling in an early scene as the infant Moses, caught up in the Queen’s arms, eclipses the toddler Ramses in her line of vision, leaving him standing there with outstretched arms; foreshadowing the rivalry and ultimately the enmity between the heir to the throne and his Hebrew foster brother. Notice the small details in those quiet numinous moments: the pebbles rolling back at Moses’ feet at the burning bush; the halo of clear water around his ankles as the Nile turns to blood; the horror of an Egyptian servant as the surface of the water bubbles and the first frogs begin to flop out of the river onto the palace stairs; an extinguished candle flame or an offscreen sound of a jar crashing as the destroying angel swirls in and out among the Egyptians.
Fiennes sounds like a man improvising a public speech as he delivers long-familiar words about the house on the rock or the parable of the mustard seed. His Jesus is attractive, composed, commanding, and compassionate; he can rise to righteous anger (as at the cleansing of the temple), but has an acute sense of humor (seen particularly in satirical parables such as the log in the eye).
Joseph’s own dreams — the two biblical ones plus an extra one — are the best; I caught my breath at the first glimpse of these dreams, which look like living, flowing Van Goghs. The dream-sky swirls like Starry Night, and the grass ripples under the dream-Joseph’s feet like ripples in a pond. The dreamlike quality of these sequences is undeniable and memorable.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.