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Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

C+ | **½ | +1| Teens & Up

What I can say is that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (a title strangely stuffed with too many the’s, at a time when movie titles often dispense with articles) includes — amid overinflated spectacle and cynical fan service — some of the best stuff of any of this prequel trilogy.   Read more >

Article: Exodus: Gods and Kings: Theological reflections

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.   Read more >

Article: Interview: Exodus filmmakers Ridley Scott, Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton

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.   Read more >

Article: Moses at the Movies

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.   Read more >

Post: Penguins of Madagascar [video]

Stick a fork in them, they’re done. Or maybe that’s just me.   Read more >

Post: The Theory of Everything [video] (2014)

B | Teens & Up

Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde’s 30-year-marriage gets the Wikipedia treatment, if Wikipedia were prettier, and sanitized.   Read more >

Post: Big Hero 6 [video] (2014)

A- | Kids & Up*

It’s a Marvel movie! It’s a Disney cartoon! It’s … a Marney movie! It’s set in San Fransokyo! Wait, what?   Read more >

Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

C+ | **½ | +1| Teens & Up*

Propaganda and symbolism have always been a crucial weapon in the arsenal of any campaign, but their value increases exponentially in the information age. This isn’t a particularly radical idea, although this may be the first time it’s trickled down into a blockbuster franchise. Can you imagine Luke Skywalker making subversive videos calling out Darth Vader and coining popular slogans about fighting the Empire?   Read more >

Article: How Disney’s Maleficent subverts the Christian symbolism of Sleeping Beauty

I’m very much open to fairy-tale revisionism in general, and to feminist critiques of classic fairy tales in particular. As a father of three daughters, I chafe at the passiveness of so many traditional fairy-tale princesses waiting for their prince to come and rescue them. Give me princesses like Leia from Star Wars, Merida from Brave or Tiana from The Princess and the Frog any day. But there’s a difference between creative revisionism and simple inversion.   Read more >

Article: Dystopia, The Hunger Games and the critique of the culture of death

The word utopia was coined by St. Thomas More in his book of that name — an important and enigmatic work of fiction and political philosophy generally understood as some sort of satire.   Read more >

Article: Seeking accessible saint movies … for less arty viewers

A reader writes: “I am looking for easy-to-approach religious movies, especially ones on saints. Intellectually challenging, subtitled, confusingly artistic movies seem to dominate. While I really love those types of movies, I am trying to find films for my Bible study group … We tried the first half of Diary of a Country Priest, and I worried one might try to smother herself with my sofa pillow to end her misery. Do you have any thoughts?”   Read more >

Review: Interstellar (2014)

C+ | **½ | +1-2| Teens & Up

If you love art and science, and in particular if you love astrophysics, space travel and movies about them, it will be hard not to love Interstellar. By this I mean not that you will be bound to love it, but that you will take it hard if you don’t. A film like Interstellar is a rare event, and if such a film falls short, it stings in a way that the day-to-day failures of conventional Hollywood fare don’t.   Read more >

Review: Big Hero 6 (2014)

A- | ***½ | +2| Kids & Up*

At the intersection of Disney and Marvel, in a pan-Pacific megalopolis spanning San Francisco and Tokyo, in a world with one foot in science fiction and one in superhero adventure, is Big Hero 6. By my lights, this is a very good place to be.   Read more >

Article: Taking themselves lightly: “The Flying Nun” and The Reluctant Saint

If “The Flying Nun” is a bit too, well, flighty for some tastes, consider another 1960s production about a consecrated religious — a real-life one in this case, and a canonized saint — given to slipping the surly bonds of earth.   Read more >

Article: Religious filmmakers explore — and cross-examine — faith

Strikingly, where the religious films of nonbelievers often feature idealized religious characters more or less certain in their faith, films by believers often put their religious characters’ faith to a more existential test.   Read more >

Review: St. Vincent (2014)

B | **½ | +2-2| Teens & Up*

When a Hollywood comedy pairs a dissolute, misanthropic curmudgeon with a cute young kid, you expect a story of redemption — particularly when the movie is called St. Vincent, and the curmudgeon’s name is Vincent. When the curmudgeon played by Bill Murray, it’s a done deal.   Read more >

Article: Do atheists and agnostics make the best religious films?

One of the noblest functions of art is the invitation to empathy: an invitation extended not only to the audience, but also to the artist.   Read more >

Article: From the Crusades to Columbus: Religion in Ridley Scott’s Historical Epics

A self-described atheist, Sir Ridley Scott has developed a generally bleak vision of religion, particularly the Judeo-Christian tradition, throughout his work, above all in historical sagas like Robin Hood (2010) and 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992).   Read more >

Article: Two Very Different Responses to Parenthood: Chef and Obvious Child

Among this summer’s successful indies were a pair of R-rated comedies — each from a filmmaker serving as writer, director and star — depicting two very different responses to the formidable responsibilities of parenthood.   Read more >

Review: The Song (2014)

C | ** | +2| Teens & Up

A faith-based romantic drama with a country music milieu, The Song is couched as a contemporary reimagining of the life of King Solomon, son of David.   Read more >

Article: Jewish/Catholic: Religious Identity, Fluidity and the Holocaust

“One is Christian or Jewish, not both.” So says the chief rabbi of Paris in The Jewish Cardinal (2013), Israeli-born filmmaker Ilan Duran Cohen’s biopic about Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger (Laurent Lucas) — a Jewish convert to Catholicism who insisted on religious dual citizenship, embracing Catholicism without rejecting Judaism.   Read more >

Article: Stop-Motion Macabre

Stop-motion animation — which, unlike computer animation and traditional hand-drawn cel animation, utilizes real objects shot frame by frame, with tiny adjustments made between shots — is a defiantly old-fashioned, niche medium, often used to creepy effect: Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline; Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie; Aardman’s Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit.   Read more >

Review: The Boxtrolls (2014)

D+ | ** | -2| Kids & Up*

The Boxtrolls is so defiantly weird and bleak, so committed to the bitter end to its grotesque aesthetic and chilly story, that even as the film crashes and burns you can’t help being moved by the hardworking stop-motion animators’ devotion to their craft.   Read more >

Article: BBC’s amiable, nostalgic ‘Father Brown’ doesn’t keep faith with Chesterton

“I like detective stories,” G. K. Chesterton once wrote; “I read them, I write them; but I do not believe them.” Chesterton put into his beloved Father Brown stories a great deal that he did not believe — exotic crimes, improbable methods, wiredrawn detective work — but also a great deal that he did believe, much of it on the lips of his moon-faced clerical sleuth.   Read more >

Article: Superhero Movies and Catholic Faith

Less than two months ago, the British Catholic writer Stratford Caldecott died after a lengthy battle with cancer. In the weeks prior to his death, his name became improbably entangled in a viral Twitter storm that made international news in connection with the superhero movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier, now available on home video.   Read more >

Article: Hollywood After September 11, 2001

The shadow of September 11, 2001 over Hollywood still lingers.   Read more >

Review: Calvary (2014)

B+ | ***½ | +3-2| Adults*

Sometimes misleadingly described as a dark comedy, Calvary is certainly dark, and there are sporadic bits of absurdist humor. In keeping with its title, though, it really is a passion play, with Father James as an innocent victim to be sacrificed for the sins of the Church.   Read more >

Article: A haunting film about the “martyr of Auschwitz”

Nearly two decades before his Oscar-winning role as a Jew-hunting Nazi in Quentin Tarantino’s lurid WWII fantasy Inglourious Basterds, Christoph Waltz played an Auschwitz survivor whose escape is linked to the death of one of Auschwitz’s most celebrated victims, St. Maximilian Kolbe.   Read more >

Article: Auf Wiedersehen! Stay tuned!

It was a busy summer season; it wasn’t a terribly good summer season — above all for family audiences, who were left almost completely out in the cold. Still, it was generally an improvement on last summer, particularly for popcorn spectacle and action.   Read more >

Article: Life for Life: Maximilian Kolbe (1991)

A | Teens & Up

Two great mysteries hover over the cardinal moment in St. Maximilian Kolbe’s life, a quiet exchange of words with the deputy camp commander at Auschwitz-Birkenau heard by few and lasting probably less than a minute.   Read more >

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