BP_blog

'The Water Diviner' Is Beautiful but Empty

The-Water-Diviner-Gallery-01I watched "Gladiator" too many times during my high school career to think it is the best movie ever anymore, but I still had a sad “how are the mighty fallen” feeling when I saw Russell Crowe’s performance in “Les Miserables.” “The Water Diviner” makes me think Crowe himself might have had the same feeling, because this film that he both directed and starred in emulates “Gladiator” in many ways. Unfortunately, this World War I drama doesn’t do much to bring back Crowe’s glory days.

John Connor (Crowe) is an Australian farmer known for his ability to find underground water springs; the film opens with a very extended lone well-identifying-and-digging sequence. His three sons are killed in the Battle of Gallipoli and his wife commits suicide, so he must go on a journey for redemption, to find his sons’ bodies and bring them back to Australia. The unnecessarily extended sequence of shots of Connor travelling down a straight tree-lined path into heat mirages is straight out of “Gladiator.”
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The Choice to Focus on Girl Power Hurts This Film Adaptation

MV5BOTc4MTY1NzgyMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDc0MjM0NTE._V1_SX640_SY720_When I thought about scenes I was excited to see in the new film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's classic novel "Far From the Madding Crowd," one that came to mind is the first scene of the book: Farmer Gabriel Oak sees a cart carrying a young woman. She is dressed in a red dress and is accompanied by her cat and her canary and pots of flowers. She is left alone due to an accident with the cart, and when she is sure no one can see her, she opens a package that she has been glancing at, picks up the mirror inside, and smiles. She is not checking her hair or her hat. She is just admiring herself.

I was initially surprised when I realized that this scene had been cut from the movie, but by the end I realized that this omission was at the heart of this beautiful, but still disappointing film.
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The Heroine of 'Noble' Saves Children from Suffering As She Did

NOBLE-5-1024x649The new film “Noble” tells the true story of children’s rights advocate Christina Noble, from her troubled orphaned childhood in strict Catholic Ireland, through her rebellious teen years, to the constant pull to Vietnam that helped her realize her life’s mission. Coming from a fiercely strict and religious background, Christina (played in different stages of her life by Gloria Cramer Curtis, Sarah Greene, and Deirdre O’Kane) becomes an instrument of God’s purpose, but only after years of seeking out His message in a way not unlike Joan of Arc before her.

The film, based on Noble's book "Bridge across My Sorrows," jumps somewhat haphazardly from one traumatic experience to the next: Christina’s mother’s death, her separation from her alcoholic father (Liam Cunningham), abuse at a convent orphanage, her experiences in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). At its strongest, “Noble” raises the question: Are we allowed trials and hardships in order to inspire us and give us the gift of empathy?
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The Cultural Significance of 'Married at First Sight'

M5A2vKrHp6E.market_maxresMatchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match!
Find me a find, catch me a catch!
Night after night in the dark I'm alone
So find me a match of my own!

Matchmaker, matchmaker, film the whole thing!
From saying “I do” to exchanging our rings!
Dating’s been useless, my choices all fruitless
So find me a match of my own!

(From "Fiddler on the Roof" . . . with a few edits)

Romantic love that lasts a lifetime and defies death has been idealized for centuries. But the actual luxury of pursuing a relationship based on such love has only been a viable option for a brief period of history. Pesky issues such as bloodlines, family alliances, social status, and economic opportunity have long proved nuisances to those who yearned for a marriage that wasn’t dictated by familial expectations, practical realities, and cultural norms. Just ask Romeo and Juliet.
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'Avengers: Age of Ultron' Showcases Human Frailty, Nobility

avengers-age-ultronIf you’re a summer moviegoer who craves explosive, eye-popping spectacle, Avengers: Age of Ultrondelivers on an impressive scale, with heroic fight scenes, whizzing robots, and a near earth-shattering cataclysmic climax. But even better, it showcases the human paradox of brokenness amidst nobility. The titular villain shapes and leads the narrative, exhibit A of inherent flaws in even the best parts of human creativity.

Unfortunately, for all its strong points, the film itself also suffers from a few of those flaws, sorely lacking character development and leaving a few plot points unexplained.
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'Child 44' Fails to Grapple with the Deep Questions It Raises

Child_44_Tom_Hardy_Movie"Child 44" is a murder mystery set in the heart of Soviet Russia. It deals with heavy issues—justice in a world created by propaganda, humanity in a world of state-sponsored monstrosity. But if you go to see it expecting a dark and thought-provoking film, you may be disappointed.

Tom Hardy is Leo Demidov, a Ukranian orphaned during the Holodomor, and adopted by a Russian soldier. During World War II he was chosen to be the subject of an iconic propaganda photo, and thus became a Soviet hero. He is now a high-ranking member of the MGB (a precursor to the KGB), he lives in luxury with his beautiful wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace), and he has the respect of his comrades. He is ruthless, though he has a soft spot for children—even threatening to kill one of his men for executing a couple in front of their little daughters.
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Despite Its Flaws, 'The Age of Adaline' Charms and Inspires

9d596146_AOA_05531.xxxlarge_2xThe Age of Adaline” is a film that attempts to be a sweeping romantic fantasy, wholly grounded by a scientific rationale. It succeeds on some level, in spite of being hampered by its earnest attempts to be taken seriously. Its home is somewhere between the familiar beats of a Nicholas Sparks-inspired “romance” and the something new it attempts to be: a decades-encompassing story of a woman whose perpetual youth is her greatest obstacle to lasting happiness.

This is one of those movies that I struggle to define and discuss, for while it wasn’t as good as I think it could have been, its heart and its respect for what it means to live life fully and well were displayed with an unexpectedly refreshing old-fashioned sensibility.
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Film Offers Simplistic Answers to Complex Questions of Faith

Little-Boy-Father-Oliver(Note: This review contains major spoilers.)

A movie that promised to move mountains failed to move tickets last weekend. Directed by Alejandro Monteverde (“Bella”) and written by Monteverde and Pepe Portillo, “Little Boy” is just one of the many movies in the parade of faith-friendly films that trumpet vague, warm and fuzzy platitudes like “if you believe you can achieve,” and “live fully and embrace every moment.” Promotional material attests that this movie “stirs your emotions,” but the outright disgust I felt was probably not the emotion they had in mind.

Seen through the eyes of eight-year-old Pepper Flynt Busbee (Jacob Salvati), the story takes place on the West Coast during World War II, after the Japanese have been released from their internment camps. Pepper’s older brother London (David Henrie) eagerly enlists to fight “the Japs,” but soon discovers he’s classified as 4-F. Pepper’s father James Busbee (Michael Rapaport) enlists to serve in London’s place, leaving his heartbroken family behind.
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Practical Advice for Christians on Judging Film Adaptations

ID-10012001Last week I promised to tell you about my two rules of thumb for watching film adaptations. The first is practical. If you have yet to read the book (or familiarize yourself with the biblical story), I suggest seeing the film first. When held up against the original—whether in plot points, attention to detail, or character and thematic development—nearly every film will fall short. Screen and print are two different storytelling formats with completely different strengths, and film has both time and sensory constraints that books know nothing of.

If you read a book before you see the movie, you will, no matter how unintentionally, be thinking about what’s been changed, what’s been cut, and who’s been taken out, focusing on the story that’s not being told instead of the one that is. However, if you see the movie first, you’re more likely to enjoy the story you’re viewing because it’s your only frame of reference. Then, if and when you read the book, you’ll better appreciate both versions for what each is able to do that the other cannot. Viewed this way, the two tend to enhance each other instead of compete.
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March 30, 2012

(Delivered at the Breaking the Spiral of Silence Conference hosted by the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview)

I’m delighted to be on the platform with close colleagues and with Eric [Metaxas], for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration. The job he’s done with two biographies, Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer, are extraordinary. [They are] having a huge impact. The Bonhoeffer book, if you haven’t read it, as I told the crowd this afternoon, go buy it. I’ve told people to buy that book every place I’ve gone because it’s a gripping, riveting read. What Bonhoeffer went through is nothing like any of us are going to go through, but it’s still inspiring to see how he dealt with it. It’s also instructive to see the kind of issues he had to face. He was facing not only the Nazis, but the liberals in his own church. So he was fighting a battle on two fronts as many of us do here in America.
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Understanding the Purpose and Design of Biblical Adaptations

d5c6a8f0-5011-11e4-bc62-59ace697a417_lifetime-Red-Tent-First-Look-copy1I recently found myself hovering over my local Redbox, covered in a cold sweat, as I debated whether or not to rent “The Red Tent,” a three-hour, made-for TV movie starring Minnie Driver. It's based on the novel by Anita Diamant, which in turn is based on Genesis 34, the brief yet bleak story of Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter.

Okay, maybe I wasn’t covered in a cold sweat. But I think many Christians would agree: While deciding whether or not to see a movie isn’t a task fraught with peril, it can certainly feel like one—especially when it comes to biblical adaptations.
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'Woman in Gold' Presents an Unusual Perspective on What Justice Means

woman-in-goldThe film “Woman in Gold” is an interesting counterpoint to most World War II films I’ve seen. There are no concentration camps. There is very little onscreen violence. A wealthy and artistic Jewish family is put under house arrest, and their vast collection of art stolen from them and distributed to various supporters of Hitler, but most of them escape Austria before the Nazi party comes to power. The only deaths in the family that we hear of are apparently from natural causes.

And yet, I found their experience compelling.

“Woman in Gold” tells the story of Maria Altmann (played by Helen Mirren in the present and Tatiana Maslany in flashbacks), who fought a legal battle with the Austrian government in the early 2000s to win back five Klimt paintings that had been stolen from her family by the Nazis and housed in the Belvedere Museum in Vienna. The most famous of these paintings was “Woman in Gold,” a painting of her aunt, Adele Bloch Bauer. Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), grandson of the composer Arnold Schoenberg and a struggling lawyer, agrees to help her win her case, and finds himself drawn from interest in a case that could win him millions (the portrait of Adele alone was valued at over $100,000,000) into interest in justice for a woman who suffered under the Nazis.
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'A.D.' Brings to Life the Turmoil Faced by the Disciples

28_NUP_166059_0129From "Game of Thrones" to "House of Cards" to the BBC production of "Wolf Hall" now airing on PBS, our society is fixated on shows with heavy political undercurrents, punctuated by the threat of complete social overhaul. Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, the successful team behind the popular miniseries “The Bible,” have produced a look at the early Christians and the movement that swept the world following Jesus’ ascension. There is violence; there is political intrigue; there is a fascinating realization of history, and a sense that the world will never be the same.

Capitalizing on exceptional British talent (the Sanhedrin speak with Shakespearian gravitas worthy of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) and using thrilling graphics, “A.D.: The Bible Continues” recognizes the firebrand potential of this true story that rivals “House of Cards” for political tension. “A.D.” is accessible, engaging, and likely to appeal to viewers even without a faith background. The fact that Downey and Burnett have been able to place such an overtly Christian production in such a coveted primetime spot is astounding, wonderful, and maybe, like the Bible itself, divinely inspired.
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'While We're Young' Is an Entertaining Film with an Unsatisfying Worldview

stiller“When everyone’s Super,” Syndrome says near the end of Disney Pixar’s “The Incredibles,” “no one will be.” Syndrome is a normal person who wants to be a superhero, so his ultimate plan is to erase what is outstanding from the world. Syndrome is the villain of “The Incredibles.”

By contrast, the new film “While We’re Young”—a comedy loosely based on Henrik Ibsen’s tragedy “The Master Builder”—is a film where the hero is a normal person who wants to be incredible. Josh (Ben Stiller) is a documentarian, who has been working on one particular documentary for years. He has had limited success in the past—his work showed potential at least—but this is to be his magnum opus.
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'It Follows' Builds on Tradition to Share a Sobering Truth

Screen-Shot-2015-02-13-at-9.17.41-AM-620x400It has been encouraging for me, as a horror fan, to see a new crop of young film directors who have their eyes set on reinvigorating a genre that, I would argue, hasn’t seen a significant renaissance since the late Seventies/early Eighties with the dawn of the slasher flick. It makes sense then—if my estimation is correct—that many of these new horror film directors are taking their cues from the man who almost singlehandedly popularized the slasher flick: John Carpenter.

So when I first saw the trailer for “It Follows,” the new indie horror darling by David Robert Mitchell, I was intrigued because it featured a heavily retro visual feel (even its title font!); it felt like it belonged back in the early Eighties amongst the multitudes of slashers released then. However, the score had a strong atmospheric tension that recalled only one slasher film in particular: Carpenter’s 1978 classic, “Halloween.” Disasterpeace, the genius behind the score for “It Follows,” borrowed much of the simplicity, minor tonalities, and building crescendos that made Carpenter’s “Halloween” score so compelling and memorable, but with modern musical sensibilities.

Needless to say, this was the first horror film of 2015 that I was actually excited to see.
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