The Face, a remarkable two-hour documentary produced in conjunction with the Catholic Communication Campaign, is a visually sumptuous and spiritually rewarding exploration of Christian art that surveys the history of how Jesus Christ has been portrayed, and how Christian teaching has been understood, interpreted, and given different emphases by the art of different times and places.
With fans of its two genres, especially in the Bible Belt, Facing the Giants will doubtless be a success. To reach a broader audience, though, the filmmakers will have to scrap their playbook and learn a whole new set of rules.
23 years ago I had the privilege of catching Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in theatrical re-release. At the time I was acutely aware what a privilege it was, because about five years earlier, in a history of animation class at the School of Visual Arts, I had written a research paper about that very film, and in those days there was no easy way for me to actually watch the film I was writing about!
J. R. R. Tolkien once described his epic masterpiece The Lord of the Rings as "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work." Yet nowhere in its pages is there any mention of religion, let alone of the Catholic Church, Christ, or even God. Tolkien’s hobbits have no religious practices or cult; of prayer, sacrifice, or corporate worship there is no sign.
No critic can offer a one-size-fits-all approach for all committed Christians. I can’t, and have never tried to, tell anyone what to think or watch, or make definitive pronouncements about good or bad movies. I’m not the Pope; I’m not even the pope of movies. There is no pope of movies. Even the Pope isn’t the pope of movies.
Constantine might sound like the latest entry in Hollywood’s string of violent costume dramas (Alexander, Troy, King Arthur), but it’s not actually about the Roman emperor who was the subject of such religious films as Constantine and the Cross. In this film, instead of a sign in the sky, the cross is a weapon in the ero’s hands. Starring Keanu Reeves, Constantine is a sort of a cross between Hellboy and The Exorcist with some Matrix attitude thrown in, a violent R-rated action-thriller of the supernatural based on the DC/Vertigo comic book Hellblazer, about a cynical demon-hunter antihero who’s literally been to hell and back. Though he knows that what God expects is belief, self-sacrifice, and repentance, he is futilely trying to earn his way into God’s good graces.
Wall‑E is more than another confirmation of Pixar’s moviemaking virtuosity and magic touch with family audiences. It’s the crown jewel in a year that had in some respects had a bit more to offer family audiences from Hollywood than other recent years.
Actually, Spin, adapted by the younger Redford from Donald Everett Axinn’s debut novel of the same name, is an intimate coming-of-age drama set in 1950s small-town Arizona. Starring Ryan Merriman, Stanley Tucci, Dana Delany, and Paula Garcés, it tells the story of an orphan named Eddie (Merriman) whose parents were killed in a flying accident, and who was left by his uncle (Tucci) to be raised by a Mexican employee (Rubén Blades) and his Anglo wife (Delany), a schoolteacher.
If it were only predictable, syrupy, and overlong, The Family Man might still be worth watching for the appealing performances from Leoni and Cage. Alas, its problems are more deep-rooted than that.
If Fantasia failed to spark a hoped-for entertainment revolution, its achievement is all the more starkly singular. A joyous experiment in pure animation, an ambitious work of imaginative power, a showcase of cutting-edge technique, and a celebration of great music, it is without precedent and without rival. I’ve watched it far too many times to count, and I have yet to begin tiring of it.
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.
The negative buzz around the new Fantastic Four is so radioactive you could almost expect to develop superpowers just by reading about it. Ah, but that’s old-fashioned talk. In the 1960s radioactivity was mysterious and eldritch, capable of producing all manner of hulks and spider-men and what have you. In the 1950s you could even get godzillas.
How bad is Fantastic Four? So bad that in desperation execs have resorted to trying to spin it as a "funny family action film," as one studio rep put it. It’s the Kangaroo Jack strategy: When your dumb, trashy film clearly isn’t good enough for adolescents, let alone adults, reposition it as a kiddie flick. It’s an insult to family audiences. Our kids deserve better than Hollywood’s garbage.
Perhaps this is what is most fundamentally wrong with the Fantastic Four franchise: None of these allegedly “fantastic” heroes has any gravitas, any actual heroic weight or depth of character. There’s nothing particularly noble, compelling or even interesting about them. Far from inspiring admiration, they don’t rise even to the level of thinking, acting and relating like grown-ups.
A landmark of 1960s sci-fi, Fantastic Voyage remains compelling entertainment despite dated special effects, deliberate pacing, and indifferent dialogue and acting, thanks in part to the genuine wonder it brings to its premise.
Fast & Furious 6 in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
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.
Cary Grant cheerfully plays against a lifetime of typecasting in this modestly entertaining romantic comedy with comic echoes of The African Queen and Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, directed by Ralph Nelson (The Lilies of the Field).
Hollywood’s ambivalence about fatherhood is deeply entrenched. Ambivalence, though, is not mere hostility; often it is rooted in a real awareness of the irreplaceable importance of fatherhood, and in melancholy or anger over paternal failure in a fallen, broken world.
This week Knights of Columbus website Fathers for Good has a short interview with me in their Newsworthy Dads feature.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.