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Into the Wilderness, by Tober Corrigan

9 Apr

“Then Jesus was led up by the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and when he had fasted forty days and forty night, afterward he was hungry.” – Matthew 4:1-2

Using the above as its narrative basis, Douglas James Vail’s 40: The Temptation of Christ takes on the task of explaining what exactly happened during those 40 days and nights. Aside from the three temptations of the devil, everything else that could have happened in the wilderness has been left to the imagination. Screenwriter Reed Lackey takes it from there, dancing a fine line between respect for the source material (all of Jesus’ dialogue comes from scripture) and using speculation to guide the film’s deeper emotional truths. 

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A Breath of New Life, by Reed Lackey

6 Mar

Filmmakers in the faith-based genre have rarely even attempted a thriller, let alone an overt horror film. However, making a noteworthy attempt to marry religious concepts with metaphorical monsters is the recent film from writer/director Matt Long called The Red Resurrection. The film cleverly layers its Christian metaphors into its plot while remaining remarkably even-handed, although it can’t quite overcome the obvious stylistic restraints of a limited budget and a first time filmmaker.

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Misfire, by Bob Connally

5 Mar

In the years since his final appearance as Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe has made interesting and admirable career choices. Steering away from other big franchises, he’s taken chances with live theater as well as smaller films and television shows. In one of the more unique films of the past several years, Swiss Army Man, Radcliffe played a talking corpse who becomes a suicidal castaway’s new best friend. Radcliffe’s performance is truly wonderful and one of the better and more memorable film performances of the past decade. Now he stars in Guns Akimbo, a new film with a premise almost as bizarre as Swiss Army Man’s, though it sadly lacks that movie’s imagination.

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Classically Good, by Bob Connally

4 Mar

Some novels hold up as such classics that one adaptation just isn’t enough for film or television studios. Just a few months ago, Greta Gerwig’s wonderful big screen interpretation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women became a critical and box-office success, although there have been numerous adaptations- some in different languages- produced dating back to the silent era. Gerwig’s success was due largely to her finding a way to speak to modern audiences with material that was first published 150 years ago. Her Little Women doesn’t feel like it could have been made quite that way before now, which is what makes it such a deeply worthwhile venture in a world where so many other films and mini-series’ based on the novel already exist. Now, director Autumn de Wilde is delivering the seventh adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved Emma. (There are even more if you count Clueless and its Indian remake Aisha). So does it find a way to break through as strongly as Gerwig’s Little Women? Not quite, but it still has plenty to enjoy.

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The Old Familiar Magic, by Reed Lackey

3 Mar

After more than two decades of storytelling, Pixar’s formula is fairly well set in stone. Each of their films introduces a unique world and its characters, after which shortly follows a problem – or a need – which initiates a quest into an uncertain and uncharted landscape. Eventually revelations occur, most frequently of the relational variety, where our characters experience epiphanies about themselves and those closest to them before likely returning home with a renewed understanding or a refreshed sense of purpose.

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Old Dogs, by Bob Connally

27 Feb

In 2010, Sylvester Stallone assembled a collection of big name action stars for The Expendables, what turned out to be a kind of sad attempt to reclaim ’80s glory. 2018 saw the much quieter release of Black Water, a film that trotted Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren onto an unconvincing submarine for one of the most boring action movies I’ve ever seen. Also, as of this moment Harrison Ford nears the beginning of production on a fifth Indiana Jones film and his 78th birthday. Expectations are not high. So why then does VFW work so well? It’s in part because, unlike The Expendables or Black Water, it doesn’t attempt to protect the vanity of its stars. Their ages are not only acknowledged but essential to the mentalities of the characters.

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Dropped Call, by Bob Connally

21 Feb

Jack London’s 1903 novel The Call of the Wild is the story of a dog torn between life as a pampered companion to humans and a life in his natural state as a wild animal. Chris Sanders’ new film adaptation is torn between the sensibilities of an animated kids movie and a dramatic live-action adventure that appeals to adults. This film’s inability to commit to one or the other leads to an ultimately dull movie that falls into that category of “Who is this for exactly?” It’s not a movie that will make you feel upset for having watched it, because you really won’t feel anything at all.

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Cinematic Panic, by Bob Connally

12 Jan

As a child, Sam Mendes was told the story of a messenger surviving through No Man’s Land during World War I. The story was told to him by his grandfather, Alfred Mendes who was in fact that messenger. In his autobiography, Alfred stated, “The snipers got wind of me and their individual bullets were soon seeking me out, until I came to the comforting conclusion that they were so nonplussed about seeing at seeing a lone man wandering circles in No Man’s Land, as must at times have been the case, that they decided, out of perhaps a secret admiration for my nonchalance, to dispatch their bullets safely out of my way.” Aside from being potentially the most dryly British sentence ever written, it serves as the inspiration for Sam Mendes’ new film, 1917, which presents a far more harrowing view of a trip into No Man’s Land.

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Sound and Fury, by Reed Lackey

10 Jan

For a film to effectively evoke 19th century gothic, literary horror, it must be unified visually and tonally. The Sonata, the debut feature film by director Andrew Desmond, also manages to evoke the narrative sensibilities and structure as well.

Rose Fisher, a prodigy violinist, successful but unfulfilled, inherits the estate of her late father, who was also a world-renowned musician. Her relation to the legendary composer had been intentionally kept a secret, even from her displaced and curious agent, until his passing prompts a reclusive retreat for her to spend time figuring out what she wants from her future. What she doesn’t know (at least at first) is that her father killed himself rather violently and that he left behind a strange sonata, which would surely ignite the composing world but may also bring about the literal antichrist.

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Saving the Universe, by Bob Connally

6 Jan

Three episodes into the new Disney+ series The Mandalorian, I wrote, “Given how divisive the films have become, Star Wars needs something that unites the fans in a positive way. Right now it looks like The Mandalorian could end up being just that.” Now that the first season of the series is complete and The Rise of Skywalker has been released, it appears that The Mandalorian is indeed the thing that has united the Star Wars fanbase more than anything else in this Disney era. There have been a few bumps here and there, but overall series creator Jon Favreau’s dive into the seedy underbelly of the Star Wars universe has focused on character while telling relatively small scale stories well. Compare that to the noisy, busy, and unfocused The Rise of Skywalker and it’s practically night and day. As much as J.J. Abrams’ film is an attempt to appeal to fans of the original trilogy, it’s Favreau who has made something that actually feels like those films in the ways that truly matter, which is in regards to character development, tone, and pacing.

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