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Christianity Today Movies
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The film is uneven, but Joy knows just who she is.
mpaa rating:PG-13 (For brief strong language.)Genre:DramaDirected By: David O. Russell
Run Time: 2 hours 4 minutes
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Edgar Ramírez
Theatre Release:December 25, 2015 by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
The text at the beginning of Joy, the latest film from director David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook), says it is “inspired by the true stories of daring women . . . one in particular.”
That “one” is Joy Mangano, played here by Jennifer Lawrence, who is always fun to watch and certainly holds the film together. The character and her story are based on Mangano’s true story of inventing the Magic Mop, hawking it on the still-new QVC, and overcoming difficulty to become a business mogul able to support other inventors and entrepreneurs.
Russell makes weird and frenetic movies that aren’t to everyone’s taste. They lurch around a bit and at times seem more infatuated with style than substance or coherence. That shows up again in Joy, which is narrated by Joy’s grandmother (Diane Ladd) and includes a montage introduction and a couple early black-and-white scenes from a melodrama, shot in soap opera style. Soon we segue into a whirling-dervish madcap romp through Joy’s house, with Joy as the axis, populated by a motley crew of relatives: Joy’s two children and her grandmother Mimi; Joy's ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez), an aspiring singer who still lives in the basement long after the divorce; her mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen), who stays in bed and watches soap operas; her father Rudy (Robert De Niro, another Russell regular), who’s moving back in after his latest split—though he’ll have to share space with his ex-son-in-law, whom he sometimes-cordially hates. (Good thing he swiftly finds a new girlfriend in Trudy, played by Isabella Rossellini.) The family also includes Joy’s half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm), who ...Continue reading...
Review: The Revenant
In the 1820s frontier wilderness, survival is a bear.
mpaa rating:R (For strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity.)Genre:Drama, WesternDirected By: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Run Time: 2 hours 36 minutes
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter
Theatre Release:January 08, 2016 by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
One of the memorable (and most talked about) scenes in The Revenant is an epic fight between Leonardo DiCaprio and a grizzly bear. The bloody brawl occurs early in the film and is the plot’s inciting incident. Gravely injured by the bear, 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is left for dead by his fellow hunters/fur-traders and must survive in the wilderness in the dead of winter.
As if it wasn’t already hard enough to survive the Pawnee tomahawks and arrows, subzero temperatures, blizzards, dehydration, and treacherous men within his own group (most notably Tom Hardy’s villainous character Fitzgerald), Glass must do it all having been maimed, mauled, and flayed by a bear.
But the death match with the bear is also thematically significant, as it sets up the film’s existential grappling with the meaning of humankind as unique (or not) among the creatures of the earth. What makes a man different from a bear? In their brutal fight, Glass and grizzly are evenly matched. Their fight is mirrored later in the film by a human-on-human blood bout that is no less savage and similarly choreographed.
Throughout the film, as he survives alone in the wilderness, Glass is purposely made to look and act like a bear. He wraps himself in bear fur as a coat and crawls along the ground. He grabs fish directly from a mountain river and takes bites out of them. He devours flesh directly from the carcass of a buffalo. His most elemental instinct is to protect his young.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu, fresh off an Academy Award for a film where a man has fantasies of being bird-like (Birdman), this time explores a story that may as well be called Bearman. (Read our exclusive interview ...Continue reading...
Hollywood tries to turn a clash between science and a powerful institution into an immigrant doctor's "such a time as this."
mpaa rating:PG-13 (For thematic material including some disturbing images, and language.)Genre:Drama, SportsDirected By: Peter Landesman
Run Time: 2 hours 3 minutes
Cast: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Theatre Release:December 25, 2015 by Columbia Pictures
Concussion tries to achieve the depth and stakes of the Biblical story of Esther, without quite enough unchecked power or genocide to support the claim.
The movie is based on real-life Dr. Bennet Omalu’s discovery of the danger of repeated brain trauma sustained by professional football players and his battle to publicize that danger. Omalu (played in the movie by Will Smith) is an immigrant from Nigeria with a stellar resume who works as a pathologist at a coroner’s office in Pittsburgh. Before every autopsy, Omalu asks the corpses to help him tell their story.
“The dead are my patients,” he explains.
That is how he approaches the body of Mike Webster, former center for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Webster was a football icon and Pittsburgh’s “favorite son.” He died of an apparent heart attack, but was also living in a car, super gluing his teeth together, and making himself sleep by self-applying a taser. But instead of putting pressure on Omalu to figure out what happened to Webster, most people seem to want him to revere the body by leaving it alone. This is not how Omalu understands his duty to the dead; fortunately his boss agrees.
This kicks off an investigation that turns into a personal quest to understand what drove Webster mad. It turns out Webster follows a pattern of other former Steelers players who died by suicide or in odd circumstances. Omalu’s quest to understand meets resistance at every turn. Apparently, no one else is brave enough to ask “why?”
The movie tries to create a sense of crushing opposition and a vast conspiracy involving a huge corporation, state government officials, and violent fans that are out to get Omalu, his career, ...Continue reading...
Review: 45 Years
When the ground beneath a marriage is shaken, can it hold up?
mpaa rating:R (For language and brief sexuality.)Genre:DramaDirected By: Andrew Haigh
Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells
Theatre Release:August 28, 2015 by Sundance Selects
Much about 45 Years makes it clear that it’s adapted from a short story, but nothing more than the moment when Kate (Charlotte Rampling) is surveying the hall in which she intends to host her 45th wedding anniversary party at the end of the week. “So full of history, you see?” says the man showing her the room, which after the English fashion is old and stately. “Like a good marriage.” That line is a cipher for the story, the thread you tug and hold your breath to see if the whole thing will unravel.
Kate and her husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay) are just on the cusp of old age, retired but well-off and childless and still very fond of one another. The film takes place over the week leading up to their anniversary celebration, and it’s filled with the quiet shorthand that long-married couples use with one another, with a constant classical music backdrop. For much of the film, director Andrew Haight contrasts very wide shots of the fields and landscapes around Kate and Geoff’s house with beautifully-lit interior shots, often through doorframes, in nearly every room of the house. It's as if we’re seeing everywhere they’ve invested with their lives before the storm hits.
And hit it does, though you might almost miss it if you aren’t paying attention to their faces. Geoff receives a letter one morning that, despite his rusty German, he realizes carries startling news: in Switzerland, buried beneath ice, his former girlfriend Katya—who fell and disappeared before he even met Kate—has been found. Katya and Geoff had been pretending to be married to make travel easier, so he’s listed as her next of kin. Would he be able to come identify the body? ...Continue reading...
Good for fans of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but not for much else.
mpaa rating:R (For crude sexual content and language throughout, and for drug use.)Genre:ComedyDirected By: Jason Moore
Run Time: 1 hour 58 minutes
Cast: Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Ike Barinholtz
Theatre Release:December 18, 2015 by Universal Pictures
This is a great movie for fans of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler who are OK with laughing until they cry at dirty jokes that have no right being that funny. Anybody who’s just one, the other, or neither, should probably steer clear and go see Star Wars.
For those of you left in that small camp, you’ve hit a gold mine. Sisters is hilarious in all the worst ways, one of those movies you feel bad for laughing so hard at and enjoying so much. Maybe that’s what makes Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in combo so good - they can land some of the nastiest punchlines by making them feel as awkwardly spontaneous as crude jokes should. That chemistry is the most significant thing about the film. The story could be a lot worse, but any movie that bookends an hour-long party plot with brief sympathy-building scenes could be better.
Tina and Amy play to their strength of playing off each other as polar-opposite sisters Kate (Fey) and Maura (Poehler). Kate is a struggling single mom running a beauty salon out of her friend’s bathroom. Maura is a well-off divorcee who works as a nurse and spends her free time handing out sunscreen and homemade proverb cards to homeless people. Their retiring parents call Maura to hesitantly reveal the news that they’re selling their family home and need the girls to come clean out their rooms. They don’t want to tell Kate themselves, knowing she’ll overreact, and leave it to Maura.
Maura also opts out of this responsibility, instead submitting her more austere personality to her sister’s exuberance. On their loud drive to the house, they stop off for beer, flirt with the handyman, James (Ike Barinholtz), across the street, and blare their music. This early party ...Continue reading...
The Quick Take for August 1, 2014
What the critics are saying about the mystical, whimsical "Magic in the Moonlight" and "Mood Indigo."
New to Netflix this week is the crime drama Out of the Furnace. Our friends over at Indiewire wrote a great review of the film starring Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson—read it here.
If you're looking for a show to start watching with your kids, but can't find anything good on TV, check out Amazon Prime's original live-action children's show. Annedroids "combines comedy, mystery and action in a low-key style," says The New York Times' Mike Hale, with young actors who are actually funny. Read Hale's full review here.
Amazon Prime users can now instantly stream Annie Hall, Woody Allen's classic 1977 rom-com starring Diane Keaton and the director himself. It will make you homesick for New York City, even if you've never lived there.
Netflix recently released The Saratov Approach, a self-proclaimed "inspirational true story." This film follows what happens to two missionaries in Russia who are abducted and held hostage.
Mood Indigo "is quirky, but quickly runs out of steam," says Crosswalk's Christian Hamaker. He believes the film is more of a romance in the sense of a Wes Anderson film, and although this is not a bad thing, his approach "undercuts the emotional investment that should make us care deeply about Chloe's (Audrey Tatou) affliction." Variety's Boyd van Hoeij agrees that although the film is whimsical, it doesn't quite make the cut. "The film frequently privileges art direction over emotion and a constant sense of wonder based on visuals alone proves impossible to sustain." One of director Michael Gondry's (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Green Hornet) ...Continue reading...
Interview: Pete Holmes: Believing in God Gave Me Hope as Comic
In his new HBO show 'Crashing,' the former evangelical winks to Christian fans.
If Pete Holmes’s HBO series Crashing is his love letter to comedy, the church at least gets a tender PS.
Inspired by Holmes’s life and evangelical background, the show follows a nice Christian guy who’s trying to make it in standup after his divorce leaves him dumbstruck and homeless. Episode to episode, his character crashes with Sarah Silverman, Artie Lange, T. J. Miller, and other comics he meets while grappling with the brutal New York comedy scene and his quarter-life crisis.
Fans will not be surprised that Holmes’s series, complete with tracks from Joel Osteen sermons and Jars of Clay CDs, puts faith at the forefront. Even though he’s no longer an evangelical, he can’t resist talking about God. Religion constantly comes up in his popular podcast, You Made It Weird. On Crashing—which he produces with Judd Apatow—the TV version of Holmes makes for a likeably, laughably naïve protagonist; he stands by his clean comedy, owns up to being a “God guy,” and explains to his new buddies why he and his ex waited to have sex until marriage.
These days, Holmes, 38, draws inspiration from contemplative Catholic Richard Rohr, spiritualist Ram Dass, and pastor Rob Bell, now one of his best friends. The two go on tour together, and Bell prompted Holmes’s newest project: a book about God.
While his churchgoing days may be behind him, the Los Angeles comic considers himself “a Christ-leaning spiritual seeker” who finds new meaning in the Christian vocabulary and stories with which he was raised. CT online editor Kate Shellnutt talked to Holmes about his new show and the intersection between his faith and his comedy.Continue reading...
Commentary: What Do We Make of '90 Minutes in Heaven'?
Near-death experiences make for popular books and movies. But what should Christians do with them?
Don Piper’s story, now made visible in the movie 90 Minutes in Heaven (out this weekend), records his experience of “dying” as a result of a head-on car crash and experiencing some moments (90 minutes of them) of glorious encounter with “heaven” where God, a suffusing and overwhelming light, resided in the middle of the heavenly city.
In that near death experience (NDE), Piper saw and heard the voice of many of his fellow Christians as they were journeying toward the gate of heaven—but he never entered. A fellow pastor was praying for his recovery at the crash scene, and he found himself singing along with the pastor, back on earth.
The slow-developing movie focuses far more on the pain both Piper (Hayden Christensen) experienced and his family, especially his wife (Kate Bosworth), endured as he lay in hospital beds for months—suffocating with a desire to return to heaven and unwilling to communicate either about his NDE or what was happening in his soul. The slowness of the scenes accentuates the slowness of his recovery. But recover he did, to find a purpose in life—to tell people that heaven is real and that prayer really works.
Piper’s story is encouraging, and surely in the top two or three of hundreds of NDE stories I have read.
I do not disbelieve Don Piper’s story. He seems credible, and his experience is far from unusual. Mally Cox-Chapman, a skilled journalist, read and interviewed and tracked down one story after another. In her book The Case for Heaven: Near-Death Experiences as Evidence of the Afterlife, we read the fairly common pattern of near-death experiences:
Feelings of peace and quiet
Feeling oneself out of the body
Going through a dark tunnel