Decent Films Blog
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?
J. J. Abrams is a skilled storyteller, but has a bad habit of over-promising and under-delivering. Super 8: my “Reel Faith” review.
Green Lantern: my “Reel Faith” review.
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!
He slaughtered at least five of them.
I’ve gotten a number of queries about the fevered discussion about Opus Dei’s murderous history and sinister influence in the Church related by filmmaker Roland Joffé in the press conference I reported on a couple of weeks ago.
Exactly how did the conversation go? For your shock and amusement, here’s the full exchange as Joffé related it. The discussion begins with Joffé mentioning that he’s making a film about Opus Dei.
Friend: Oh my God, that’s a Fascist organization! I mean, they slaughtered hundreds of people!
Joffé: They have? Really? How do you know that?
F: Well, even if they haven’t, they’re extremely influential in the Church. I mean, they basically control the Church.
J: How would they control the Church?
F: They control the cardinals and the pope.
J: They hypnotize them? How do they do it?
F: They do it through the cardinals.
J: How many cardinals are in Opus Dei?
J: Well, how many cardinals are there [in the world]?
F: I don’t know, but lots and lots of them are definitely in Opus Dei.
J: Well, I think there may be one or two, or maybe in three.
F: Well, that’s what I’m saying—that’s the way it works. It’s all kept secret.
J: Well, okay. Anything else?
F: Bishops. Lots and lots of bishops. How do you account for all these bishops in Opus Dei?
J: How many bishops are in Opus Dei?
F: Well, I don’t know—thousands of bishops …
Apparently it went downhill from there.
I don’t think any further commentary is needed, do you? As Pat Archbold put it recently, we hold certain untruths to be self-evident.
For those who Like Decent Films on Facebook, or would like to: Thanks to a suggestion from a reader, Decent Films is now easier to find on Facebook. Just go to www.facebook.com/decentfilms.
It’s not often that I encounter a Line I Wish I Had Written right in the headline of a review, but here’s a case in point.Tim Brayton, who blogs at Antagony & Ecstasy, kicks off his cathartic (though also occasionally obscene) review of Hop with the brilliant headline:
Abandon All Hop, Ye Who Enter Here
That headline isn’t the only quotable bit from Tim’s review. Here’s how he opens:
I will assume that you have been unable to avoid the omnipresent advertisements for Hop, and that you have formed an opinion of it. I will further assume that you have anything like taste, and that your opinion is not positive. In fact, I suspect that you think Hop looks bad - absolutely dreadful, even. If that’s the case, your expectations are too high.
This tracks exactly with my thoughts while watching the movie (and it’s not the only line in Tim’s review that does): Coming out of the theater, I texted Suz that as bad as the trailers made it look, the movie was worse.
Oh, I love this line too:
[T]here’s an eye-brow raising moment when Papa Bunny (Hugh Laurie) makes note of Easter’s 4000 years of tradition, a calculation that makes the baby Jesus cry. And indeed, every other iteration of Jesus as well.
Other recent releases include Tron: Legacy and new Blu-ray/DVD editions of Fiddler on the Roof (buy), Babe (buy), The Incredibles (buy), Cars (buy), Peter Pan (buy), Lars and the Real Girl (buy) and Much Ado About Nothing (buy).
For more on these releases, see this week’s “DVD Picks & Passes” column at NCRegister.com (subscribers only).
This Friday, March 15 I’ll be on the first hour of “Catholic Answers Live” (6pm–7pm EST) with Patrick Coffin. Movies we’ll be talking about include Rio; The Conspirator; Hop; Soul Surfer; Born to Be Wild; Jane Eyre and more. Listen live!
My esteemed colleague Pat Archbold’s lively and engaging post on big-screen Jesuses has obliged me to add a few notes of my own (with apologies for the post title joke—I don’t really think Pat “forgot” anything, since his list wasn’t meant to be exhaustive in the first place, and certainly mine isn’t either).
Judging from Pat’s combox, the best big-screen Jesus for a lot of people is either Robert Powell of Jesus of Nazareth or Jim Caviezel of The Passion of the Christ. I think there’s a lot to be said for both, although obviously no actor could truly do Jesus justice, and both performances have weak spots in my opinion.
Powell aptly conveys authority, fire and tenderness, but there are moments, particularly during miracle sequences, when, to quote Mike Hertenstein of Flickerings.com, Powell’s “Jedi-like histrionics” are a bit much. As for Caviezel, he embodies the Suffering Servant of the Passion narratives as well as any actor could, I think—yet he’s less convincing, at least to me, in the crucial flashback sequences as the New Moses of the Sermon on the Mount and the High Priest of the Last Supper. (On the other hand, both films have utterly flawless Blessed Virgins, in my opinion: I can find no fault in either Olivia Hussey or Maia Morgenstern.)
Paying tribute to Winter’s Bone in a 30-second rhyming review presented some challenges. I decided to riff on one of the bluegrass songs in the film, although without instruments (and with only 30 seconds to get it out) I had to make some adjustments to the rhythm and melody.
The last two lines were a last-minute change that I’m somewhat ambivalent about. “We’ll understand it better by and by” refers to the title of the gospel hymn by Rev. Charles A. Tindley played over the end credits. I like the allusion to the hymn, but I’m not sure I should have changed the last two lines, which originally ran, “It’s not for the faint of heart / But there’s grace and beauty in this work of art.” This was maybe better because it gave critically helpful information (the content is pretty rough but treated in a redemptive way). The new lines are more of an homage and less of a review, which is okay, but I’m thinking it would be better to keep it critical where possible.
More to come!
This week’s home-video releases include Disney’s charming Tangled (buy) and an anniversary celebration of Cecil B. DeMille’s magnum opus The Ten Commandments (buy), along with “Charlton Heston Presents the Bible.”
A passel of Disney sports films come to Blu-ray: Miracle (buy), The Rookie (buy), Remember the Titans, The Greatest Game Ever Played (buy), Invincible. Paramount has rereleased a pair of Audrey Hepburn classics, Sabrina (buy) and Roman Holiday (buy). Other new releases or rereleases, some seen and some unseen by me, include Black Swan, King of Kings, The Spiderwick Chronicles (buy), The Secret of NIMH and The Human Experience.
With Tangled, Disney finally takes on the Rapunzel story, with winning results. An ingenuous and personable heroine, a dashing rogue, a twisted villainess, and an extremely conscientious horse make for a sparkling tale with heart, wit and swashbuckling action. It’s not a perfect film, and the climax is a bit of a letdown, but the fun along the way is definitely worth the trip.
I’m a fan of Blu-ray/DVD combo editions, whether or not you have a Blu-ray; there’s also a Blu-ray/DVD set that includes a 3D version of the film, but 3D for television hasn’t arrived yet in my opinion. Whichever Blu-ray edition you get, the highlight of the bonus features is a 12-minute making-of featurette called "UnTangled: The Making of a Fairy Tale" that goes into character design, the lantern sequence, the animation of Rapunzel’s 70 feet of hair and Disney history trivia.
Celebrating its 55th anniversary, The Ten Commandments is newly available in three editions, a DVD edition, a 2-disc Blu-ray edition and a 6-disc Blu-ray/DVD Gift Set. The best new bonus feature is a 75-minute making-of documentary "The Ten Commandments: Making Miracles" that’s on the DVD set and the 6-disc Blu-ray/DVD Gift Set, but not the 2-disc Blu-ray edition. The best previously available extra is DeMille’s original 1923 silent version of The 10 Commandments — for film buffs a must-see thanks to the awesome sets and the spectacular Jell-O parting of the Red Sea — which is only available on the 6-disc mega-edition, making that the edition to get.
I haven’t had a chance to see “Charlton Heston Presents the Bible.” (buy), a set of four documentaries now available as a 4-disc set from Warner Bros. The series comprises “Genesis,” “The Story of Moses,” “Jesus of Nazareth” and “The Passion.”
Back from a week in Spain! More to come this week on Of Gods and Men, once I catch my breath—and catch up on a few other things—but for now here’s my 30-second look at Inception. Enjoy!
My latest Reel Faith YouTube mini-review.
Live in Illinois or California? Of Gods and Men opens a bit wider today, possibly in your area. It’s also playing in New York. Next week it’ll be all over the place. Check out the release dates and locations.