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religious

Boy Erased (2018)

DIRECTOR: Joel Edgerton

CAST: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton

REVIEW:

Boy Erased, the second directorial feature of actor Joel Edgerton and based on the memoirs of Garrard Conley (with names changed to protect both the innocent and some not-so-innocent), is not a feel good viewing but a worthwhile and important one.  Conley’s memoirs, and now the film adaptation, shine a light on the long-running practice of so-called “conversion therapy”, a phrase which may not even be familiar to some viewers.  Performed most often on underage children, and roundly debunked by virtually every reputable psychiatrist as both ineffective and unethical and psychologically harmful, conversion therapy aims to “convert” an individual with homosexual or bisexual inclinations into a heterosexual.  To this end it uses a step-by-step program of indoctrination including techniques amounting to both psychological and physical abuse.  While increasingly a discredited practice and banned in a growing number of states, conversion therapy remains legal on the books in thirty-six states.  By telling one former patient’s story, Boy Erased offers both a frank condemnation of the insidious quackery of conversion therapy, and the dramatically compelling true story of one young man who emerged triumphant on the other side.

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Inferno (2016)

infernoDIRECTOR: Ron Howard

CAST: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy, Ben Foster, Ana Ularu

REVIEW:

If nothing else, Inferno might hammer the final nail in the coffin of Sony’s increasingly inexplicable determination to make Robert Langdon—the protagonist of Dan Brown’s pulpy book series—into a “franchise” headliner.  Dry, professorial Langdon isn’t exactly 007, and The Da Vinci Code was only a moderate box office success, while Angels & Demons didn’t do much business worth writing home about, but Sony insisted on forging ahead.  With Inferno already opening weak, it might be time to stop adapting Dan Brown books.  If you’re one of the seemingly relatively few people—including myself—who moderately enjoy these movies, Inferno offers up largely more of the same, but isn’t as good as the unevenly-paced but sporadically fascinating Da Vinci Code and doesn’t represent a compelling reason to rush to a theater near you. Continue reading

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

exodusDIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

CAST: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul, John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn, Maria Valverde

REVIEW:

Previously in his sometimes acclaimed but uneven career, Ridley Scott has directed two other lengthy historical epics in a desert setting.  The first, 2000’s Gladiator, was a rollicking throwback to the likes of Spartacus and other sword-and-sandal epics from Hollywood’s glory days.  The second, 2005’s Kingdom of Heaven, did not live up to the same standards, likewise epically-mounted but narratively fragmented (apparently due to large chunks of the movie ending up on the cutting room floor, which Scott attempted to rectify in a reportedly superior director’s cut, but feeling so underwhelmed by what I saw gave me no motivation to seek out more).  Unfortunately, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Scott’s take on the Biblical story of Moses (with a healthy helping of “dramatic license”), bears more resemblance to Kingdom of Heaven than Gladiator.  In fact, 1998’s animated movie The Prince of Egypt is a better version.  Exodus, while not quite as much of a scattershot mess as Heaven, bears the same hallmarks; visually epic but narratively disjointed, sporting some stirring scenes but not enough to consistently maintain interest over its 2 1/2 hour runtime.  Considering this is actually too short to tell the whole Exodus story (various elements are truncated or left out here), that’s even more telling of Scott again showing his troubling recurring issues with narrative focus and cohesion. Continue reading

Angels & Demons (2009)

DIRECTOR: Ron Howard

CAST:

Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, Pierfrancesco Favino, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Thure Lindhardt

REVIEW:

While Dan Brown’s novel Angels & Demons chronologically took place before The Da Vinci Code, the movie is a sequel to the 2006 Ron Howard-Tom Hanks film. Continue reading

Doubt (2008)

doubtDIRECTOR: John Patrick Shanley

CAST: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis

REVIEW:

Doubt, John Patrick Shanley’s film adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play, deals with various issues—the debate over whether the Catholic Church should stand firm to old-school doctrine or evolve with the times, the ways in which those too wrapped up in their own righteousness lose sight of compassion, more tangential questions of crisis of faith and (perhaps) sexuality—-but primarily it’s a battle between doubt and certainty, both as an external conflict between characters and within individual characters’ hearts.  Its outwardly simple, straightforward premise steeps itself in ambiguity and leads us into a moral quagmire from which it never lets us emerge.  Those who dislike ambiguity and expect a film to offer a clear-cut resolution with clear answers will not be satisfied.  Different viewers will come to different interpretations, and Doubt is the kind of film (or play) that can inspire heated debates after the end credits have rolled or the curtain has fallen. Continue reading

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

DIRECTOR: Ron Howard

CAST:

Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina, Jürgen Prochnow

REVIEW:

Ron Howard’s film adaptation of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code was preceded by an extraordinary amount of controversy over certain of its plot points which seemed to take on a life of its own, raising the movie and the theological and historical questions it raised into something greater than the film itself. Continue reading

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

CAST: Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, Marton Csokas, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson, Ghassan Massoud, Alexander Siddig, David Thewlis, Michael Sheen, John Finch, Edward Norton

REVIEW:

In a number of his previous films, Ridley Scott has proven he knows how to make an epic.  With its desert landscape and ancient setting, Kingdom of Heaven bears the closest resemblance to 2000’s Oscar-winning Gladiatorbut in some ways is an even more technically ambitious production.  Unfortunately, it’s a far less engaging motion picture. Continue reading

The Scarlet Letter (1995)

DIRECTOR: Roland Joffe

CAST: Demi Moore, Gary Oldman, Robert Duvall, Joan Plowright, Robert Prosky, Dana Ivey, Edward Hardwicke

REVIEW:

That Roland Joffe’s film is “freely adapted”, as it puts it, from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel isn’t necessarily an inherent problem. Book purists would grumble, for sure, but a movie adaptation of a book taking significant liberties is nothing new. The problem isn’t necessarily that The Scarlet Letter has been freely adapted into a movie, it’s that it’s been freely adapted into this movie, which cheerfully throws Hawthorne’s themes to the wind and turns his Puritan morality play into a feminist treatsie on sexual and religious liberation. Those themes are all well and good, but they’re not The Scarlet Letter, and what’s worse, it’s all wrapped up in a sudsy, overwrought romantic soap opera.

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Priest (1995)

DIRECTOR: Antonia Bird

CAST:

Linus Roache, Tom Wilkinson, Robert Carlyle, Robert Pugh, Christine Tremarco, Lesley Sharp, Cathy Tyson

REVIEW:

It is a not uncommon experience for me to happen across some older independent film I had only fleetingly heard of or not heard of at all, that turns out to be underrated and worthy of more recognition than it received.  Priest is not a “great” movie, but it is an intelligent and thoughtful drama that provides some food for thought and a serious examination of themes involving homosexuality (and to a lesser extent sexuality in general), celibacy, incest, and religion, and how they relate to and conflict with each other. Continue reading

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