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He Shall Feed His Flock: A Christian Reflects on Manchester by the Sea, by Esther O’Reilly

17 Jan

Several New Year’s roundups noted the plethora of faith-friendly films released in 2016, including more than one positive depiction of Christians from heavyweight Hollywood directors. Perhaps the two most notable were Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and Martin Scorsese’s Silence (if you count the latter’s limited 2016 release). Gibson, drawing from life, and Scorsese, drawing from literature, presented full-bodied Christian characters that demanded to be taken seriously. They were neither caricatures nor cardboard cut-outs, but complex men putting skin in the game for their deepest convictions. Tim Gray at Variety also noted John Hurt’s portrayal of a wise priest in the biopic Jackie. It may seem pathetic to be grateful when Hollywood gives us a priest who is neither a megalomaniac nor a pedophile, but the change is still welcome.

Despite this good news, an effectual Christian presence was lacking in one Best Picture contender, ironically one of the films where it was most sorely needed. I’m speaking about Manchester By the Sea.

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There Were Angels Too, by Reed Lackey

15 Jan

“The river flowed quiet again, reaching toward a gentler shore.” – William Peter Blatty, from The Exorcist

There are stories which are so affecting, so deeply impactful, that they become the standard-bearer for their genre – or for stories in general. To the horror fan, one of the unrivaled masterpiece standard bearers is The Exorcist. The author of that novel, and of the screenplay which became the film, has passed away.

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A Lovely Night, by Bob Connally

14 Jan

If his first two features are any indicator, Damien Chazelle really wants all of us to love jazz. We may be indifferent to it- or possibly even hate it- now, but with 2014’s Whiplash and now his musical La La Land, Chazelle appears to be making that his life’s work. Whether or not he reaches his ultimate goal, as long as he keeps making films at the level of his first two, he is certainly achieving something special.

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Fun with Fear, by Reed Lackey

9 Jan

Have you ever had the privilege to sit around a crackling campfire and listen to somebody’s unshaven, twisty-haired grandpa tell you a ghost story? You know, the ones where it’s almost as silly as it is scary, but at just the right moments he’ll quiet down, almost to a whisper, right before shouting his next word with a leap and a burst and causing everyone within earshot to jump right off their seats?
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Happy 2017!

1 Jan

And so we continue with my inexplicable tradition of ringing in the New Year by listing some of the notable movies that are now ten years old. This year, however, this is particularly poignant for me, because my wife and I moved to Los Angeles in January of 2007. It was also the same year that I started podcasting over at Battleship Pretension.

Little did I know at the time that 2007 would be one of the best movie years of my lifetime, with no less than four absolute masterpieces being released over the course of the year (see if you can guess what they are!).

The following movies are now officially 10 years old. Happy New Year!

BREACH
GHOST RIDER
BLACK SNAKE MOAN
ZODIAC
300
SHOOTER
THE LOOKOUT
GRINDHOUSE
HOT FUZZ
SPIDER-MAN 3
KNOCKED UP
RATATOUILLE
SICKO
TRANSFORMERS
RESCUE DAWN
HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
SUNSHINE
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
SUPERBAD
3:10 TO YUMA
EASTERN PROMISES
IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
INTO THE WILD
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
THE DARJEELING LIMITED
MICHAEL CLAYTON
GONE BABY GONE
AMERICAN GANGSTER
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
ENCHANTED
THE MIST
JUNO
ATONEMENT
I AM LEGEND
CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET
THERE WILL BE BLOOD

The Sacramental Void in Evangelical Film, by Esther O’Reilly

27 Dec

One of the salient features of a particular kind of film marketed explicitly to evangelical Christians is the use of what Tyler Smith calls “the emblem.” Among other characteristics, it typifies what Tyler has classified under the umbrella of “Christian social drama” in his master’s thesis. Examples of this genre include movies like Fireproof, Courageous, War Room, God’s Not Dead, and Do You Believe. The form of the emblem varies from movie to movie, but consistently, there’s some monument or object that represents the characters’ commitment to family and faith.

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Complex Honesty, by Tyler Smith

23 Dec

It’s easy to classify J.A. Bayona’s beautiful new film A Monster Calls as just another family movie about grief and sadness, like Bridge to Terabithia or Where the Wild Things Are. But, while those films are perfectly good, it would be wrong to do so. That would be too simple, and A Monster Calls is not a simple film. Quite the opposite, in fact, as on its surface it would seem to be about loss, but is at its heart about something much deeper, something more complex. This is a film about honesty, truth, and the often contradictory nature of both. Not exactly light material, and Bayona – directing from a script by Patrick Ness, adapting his own novel – chooses not to attempt an artificial lightness. Instead, he embraces the feelings of its main character; namely a deep sadness and a need for escape.

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Memories and Mysteries: Non-Linear Storytelling in Film, by Tyler Smith

21 Dec

Every dramatic writer understands the vitality of the three-act structure. The importance of rising action, character arcs, obstacles, conflict, and the eventual climax as key elements in effective emotional storytelling cannot be overstated. Many of the most beloved films have strictly adhered to this formula and, in doing so, provided their own arguments for why it has shown itself to be so sturdy over the years. For a writer or a director to attempt to subvert basic storytelling elements like this is to flirt with the potential confusion and alienation of his audience.

And yet there have been many filmmakers over the years that have come to understand the stylistic and emotional potential of unconventional storytelling. At the very least, this can serve the very practical function of forcing the audience to try to more actively engage in the film they’re watching, lest they lose track of the story thread. In reformatting even the most straightforward story, the filmmaker requires the audience to approach what could be very familiar material from a different angle, which can ultimately affect the thematic meaning they take from the film. However, to engage in non-linear storytelling simply for the sake of attempting something different is to run the risk of overcomplicating the story and frustrating the audience. Ultimately, if a filmmaker chooses to abandon more conventional narrative choices – such as the three-act structure and a chronological timeline – he must have a reason beyond simple novelty.

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Stay on Target, by Tyler Smith

13 Dec

Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One is a worthy entry in the Star Wars saga. The first major motion picture to step outside the “episode” format, Rogue One feels appropriately like the scrappy cousin in a large, respected family. This is to its credit, as the Star Wars films are always at their most effective when they portray makeshift families and ragtag bands of misfits coming together in service of something greater than themselves. And given that the story is about what is essentially a suicide mission, Rogue One certainly fits in nicely with the larger themes of the series. In fact, it is really only in the film’s desperate desire to connect to the rest of the series – bridging the gap between Episodes III and IV – that it stumbles. Whenever it is telling its own story, though, the film is focused, poignant, and entertaining.

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The Claws Come Out, by Bob Connally

13 Dec

Tom Ford had long been a highly successful fashion designer when in 2005, at the age of 43, he chose to start his own film production company. Four years later he made his directorial debut with the sorrowful character study A Single Man. While it’s no surprise the film was visually striking, what was most impressive was the subtlety, sensitivity, and focus on character that he displayed in his first feature.

Now, seven years later, Ford has made his second film, Nocturnal Animals. Given Ford’s background and ongoing career success in fashion, the fact that he was returning to the director’s chair after such a lengthy hiatus suggested that he wasn’t just making a movie to pay the bills or because filmmaking is just in his blood. He didn’t just have a story to tell, he had a story he needed to tell. At first, it is unclear as to why he or anyone else would want to tell this story (stories, really). But after a frankly bizarre opening credits sequence and the initial sense that the stories unfolding before us will be deeply unpleasant, Nocturnal Animals ultimately becomes an experience that gets into your head, under your skin, and that stays with you.

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