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The Great Wall REVIEW

The Great Wall (2017)

The Great Wall is one of those movies that is more interesting for what it portends and the discussion around it than for what is actually onscreen. Not that what is onscreen, in the most literal sense, is bad or uninteresting.

Apostasy, ambiguity and <em>Silence</em> ARTICLE

Apostasy, ambiguity and Silence

Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel Silence honors 17th-century Japanese martyrs who sang hymns as they succumbed slowly to grueling deaths. But it also empathizes with, perhaps even exonerates, many who capitulated to official demands for ritual renunciations of Christian faith — typically trampling on images of Jesus or Mary, called fumie, designated for this purpose.

The Lego Batman Movie REVIEW

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

Despite the villainous full-court press, Batman’s victory is so assured that no one is even worried about it. Clearly, something subversive has to happen to kick things out of superhero-movie business as usual and challenge Batman to his core. Would you believe … a giant swirling energy portal in the sky?

The Leopard REVIEW

The Leopard (1963)

One comes, like these Redshirts, as a cultural sightseer to The Leopard, with its palatial grandeur, replete with lavish, painterly images of the bygone glory of the Italian aristocracy: already in their own day semi-mythological figures, as we see in a vignette in which Father Pirrone, tries to explain to the common people the mysterious ways of the nobility: “They live in a world apart, not created by God, but by themselves.”

2016: The year in reviews ARTICLE

2016: The year in reviews

In a sense every year is a good film year, but some years you have to go further afield than others.

Paterson REVIEW

Paterson (2016)

For the second year in a row, my favorite film is a winning love story named for an urban area more or less in my backyard.

Religion and rootlessness in 2016 movies ARTICLE

Religion and rootlessness in 2016 movies

The many faces of Jesus at the movies in 2016 were perhaps the most notable trend in a larger pattern of notable religious themes in the year’s films. There were, though, other trends last year worth noting.

The many faces of Jesus at the movies in 2016 ARTICLE

The many faces of Jesus at the movies in 2016

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.

Manchester by the Sea [video] POST

Manchester by the Sea [video] (2016)

“Some people can’t get over something major that’s happened to them at all,” says filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan says. “Why can’t they have a movie too?”

Moonlight [video] POST

Moonlight [video]

One of the year’s most critically acclaimed films, Moonlight isn’t easy to watch, but is it worth it? I think it is.

Hidden Figures [video] POST

Hidden Figures [video] (2016)

An important story you probably don’t know about, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as NASA “computers” (really!) during the 1960s space race, when NASA’s Langley Research Center was still segregated.

Silence [video] POST

Silence [video]

Martin Scorsese’s Silence is simply one of the year’s most difficult and necessary films.

Passengers [video] POST

Passengers [video]

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence in space. How bad could it be?

Loving [video] POST

Loving [video] (2016)

So much better and more satisfying than the courtroom drama it could have been.

Arrival [video] POST

Arrival [video]

I try never to spoil anything, but honestly, just skip this video and go see it. I mean, then come back and watch the video, of course.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them [video] POST

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them [video] (2016)

It’s the Star Wars prequels for Harry Potter. Actually, it made me wish I was watching Doctor Strange again.

John Paul the Great professor defends <em>Rogue One</em> POST

John Paul the Great professor defends Rogue One

Thomas P. Harmon, professor of theology and culture at John Paul the Great Catholic University, has written a thoughtful essay for Catholic World Report responding to my critique of the moral murkiness of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

What we lose when <em>Star Wars</em> goes to the Dark Side ARTICLE

What we lose when Star Wars goes to the Dark Side

Even features come with trade-offs, and the Marvelization of Star Wars is no exception. This might not be as clear in The Force Awakens — about as pure a work of nostalgia and homage as can possibly be contrived short of a shot-for-shot remake — as it is in Rogue One, where the Marvel-style engineering is more obvious.

Passengers REVIEW

Passengers (2016)

If you had to cast two Hollywood actors to watch being all by themselves in a luxury starliner on a doomed 90-year voyage to a planet they will never live to see, you might just pick Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. In a way, that’s the problem with Passengers, or where the problems begin.

Silence REVIEW

Silence (2016)

When 17th-century Japanese authorities in the time of the Tokugawa shogunate found it necessary to send the colonial powers of Europe packing and their European Jesus with them, they didn’t just shatter the missionaries’ bodies. They shattered their narrative.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story REVIEW

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

All this raises a question: When is a Star Wars movie not a Star Wars movie?

Spirited Away REVIEW

Spirited Away (2001)

No film in Miyazaki’s oeuvre haunts me like Spirited Away. One reason is the evocation of a seemingly impenetrable, incalculable world with rhythms and rituals that seem all the more opaque and unnerving because they are routine and transparent to those that are of that world.

We need to talk about cartoon parents ARTICLE

We need to talk about cartoon parents

I don’t expect animated heroes to have uniformly ideal, harmonious family lives. It’s not realistic — and it doesn’t make for good drama, which needs conflict. The ubiquity of the pattern, though, is striking.

Moana REVIEW

Moana (2016)

It would be going too far to say that Moana combines everything I enjoy about contemporary Disney with everything I dislike, but it’s got quite a bit of both.

Arrival REVIEW

Arrival (2016)

In some ways it warrants comparison with Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, if only because Arrival achieves much of what I was hoping for from Interstellar.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them REVIEW

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

The fact is, moving from the Harry Potter films to Fantastic Beasts feels a bit like moving from the original Star Wars trilogy to the Star Wars prequels.

<em>Doctor Strange</em> and <em>Hacksaw Ridge</em>: Breaking rules and the greater good ARTICLE

Doctor Strange and Hacksaw Ridge: Breaking rules and the greater good

In each of their latest films, the battle against a threatening power raises questions about which principles the protagonist should or shouldn’t compromise in order to protect his world — questions that aren’t necessarily clearly answered by the end of the film.

<em>Hacksaw Ridge</em>: Mel Gibson and Robert Schenkkan at the Sheen Center ARTICLE

Hacksaw Ridge: Mel Gibson and Robert Schenkkan at the Sheen Center

The director and screenwriter spoke at a screening of the film at the New York Archdiocese’s cultural center, and I chatted with Gibson about the film.

Hacksaw Ridge REVIEW

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Gibson crafts a resolutely traditional exercise in Hollywood mythmaking: a tale of a man who stoically endures accusations of cowardice before being vindicated as the bravest of all, a man of integrity who stands by his unpopular principles regardless of the consequences; a pious man whose sincere faith eventually wins the respect and admiration of his less devout comrades.

Doctor Strange REVIEW

Doctor Strange (2016)

Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Marvel’s sorcerer supreme, is a rare action blockbuster — and an even rarer superhero movie — that really ought to be experienced, not only on the big screen, but in 3D — and if possible in IMAX.