Sunday, November 05, 2006

NOW PLAYING: Small Screens

Recent and obscure Soul Foodish additions to video store shelves

Updated Feb 19 2007

49 UP
My review's up at CT Movies
Probably the most significant documentary series ever filmed. The first installment to reach the big screen was 28 UP, which has been one of my top 20 films ever since - the entire series came out in a boxed set in 2005. Extraordinary opportunity to see how human lives unfold over the decades. Some of the characters have Christian faith, some of the transformations are remarkable. (Personal angle: I'm exactly the same age as the people being profiled. Only part of the reason this series of films - especially 28 UP, which I've written up here - is among my all-time favourites.
Limited release Oct 6 2006, Pacific Cinematheque: Oct 2006.

Corrupt Southern politics (Huey Long inspiration), from acclaimed novel by acclaimed Catholic (am I right?) novelist Robert Penn Warren. Get a load of this cast, every name here a monster actor; Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Boris Karloff. (Okay, I'm kidding about Boris K.) Oft-delayed opening did not bode well, and while it got the red carpet at TIFF, ATKM opened and closed in no time here in Vancouver and hasn't left a mark elsewhere.

CLERKS II (2006, USA, Kevin Smith)
So what's with this email Peter Chattaway cc's me on? With cryptic scraps about Kevin Smith's latest? One guy wrote, "I just noticed this weekend that, in the poster, Jay is depicted with one of those "Hello, I'm" labels on his toque, and in the blank space, he (or someone else) has written "Forgiven!" And then another guy replies, "actually, i was surprised at how much Jesus was actually in the film, though i probably shouldn't have been."
The reason he probably shouldn't have been is because foul-mouthed, nothing-is-sacred director Kevin Smith (as well as having attended Vancouver Film School) is actually a practising Catholic! DOGMA riled many Christians, but plenty of others love the irreverant (but maybe authentic) take on Christian faith. Check out this NY Times interview, where a wonderfully self-effacing Smith pays homage to his favourite film, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS! You heard it here first.
Anyhow, an online blurb: "The sequel to the 1994 independent hit picks up 10 years later. It's about what happens when that lazy, 20-something malaise lasts into your 30s. It's time for the Dante and Randal to actually grow up and do something more than just sit around and dissect pop culture and talk about sex." Hmmm...
Played Vancouver: summer 2006

An angry indictment of sexual abuse among the Roman Catholic clergy that's being praised by reviewers and approached warily by some Christians. Director Amy Berg focuses her documentary eye on Oliver O’Grady, a confessed pedophile whose predatory behavior in several California parishes over many years is described not only by his victims but also – remarkably – by the priest himself, now living “under church protection” in Ireland. With such an emotionally charged issue, it will be difficult to discern whether the film is anti-Catholic or anti-sin: while orthodox Christians may feel uneasy with details such as an opening title card that quotes from “The Gospel Of Thomas,” it’s worth remembering that the film does reach for balance by including the stories of abuse victims who still practice their Catholic faith. Played Vancouver: November 2006.

Though I found it bland and somewhat churchy, there are many fans of this mostly-marketed-to-Christians missionary pic. Says CT Movies; "One of the most compelling missionary stories of all time—the tale of the five Christian men martyred in 1956 by a savage tribe in Ecuador. END OF THE SPEAR tells the tale of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot and the other murdered men—and how the good news of the gospel ultimately got through to the Waodani tribe anyway." Played churches: early 2006.

No way to tell if the whole saints thing is for real here or not, however unconventional, though Darrel Manson liked it.
"A coming-of-age drama about a boy growing up in Astoria, N.Y., during the 1980s. As his friends end up dead, on drugs or in prison, he comes to believe he has been saved from their fate by various so-called saints." Robert Downey Jr, Dianne Wiest.
Available at Videomatica

I've not seen it, and though it was released mid-June it's not showing up on my local rental shelves. Word is surprisingly good about this mostly-marketed-to-Christians missionary pic. Says CT Movies; "One of the most compelling missionary stories of all time—the tale of the five Christian men martyred in 1956 by a savage tribe in Ecuador. END OF THE SPEAR tells the tale of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot and the other murdered men—and how the good news of the gospel ultimately got through to the Waodani tribe anyway." Played churches: early 2006.

Up for an Oscar. Though it only ever had limited big screen release, that didn't stopped JC from garnering lots of attention among Christians: links and details here. Basically, a documentary on a pentecostal summer camp that aims to be even-handed but can't help gawking, and finding the "bootcamp for Jesus" ambience and way-right-of-center politics just a little problematic. You could always rent HELL HOUSE and have a swell (condescending? tendentious?) double feature - "Wouldja Just Look At Them Crazy Fundies!"

M. Night Shyamalan's movies have charted a precipitous downward trajectory, from the flawless SIXTH SENSE through the interesting UNBREAKBLE to the scary-but-stupid SIGNS to the just-plain-stupid VILLAGE. So I couldn't bring myself to check out his latest when it hit the cineplex this summer. However, I had the pleasure this summer of hanging out in Cannon Beach Oregon with one of my best movie buddies, Rick Bonn (of Hollywood Jesus), and his impassioned advocacy for MNS's bedtime story has me guardedly eager for the DVD release.

SOPHIE SCHOLL: THE FINAL DAYS (2005, Marc Rothemund, screenplay Fred Breinerdorfer)
Tied with L'ENFANT for highest soul food content of anything so far this year. Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, it played in the Jewish International Film Festival here in the spring, then ran a couple weeks at the Fifth Avenue, then...
The White Rose was a secret organization of Christian university students in Germany who opposed Hitler during World War Two. Based on previously unavailable interrogation and trial transcripts, as well as interviews with surviving participants and family members, this spare, unsensationalized film is a portrait of extraordinary courage and integrity.
Played Fifth Avenue: spring 2006. The official site suggests a November 2006 dvd release, but I haven't seen any confirmation.

"An epic motion picture set in an imaginative world of adventure, intrigue and romance, "One Night with the King" follows a young girl who rises from peasant to princess by going against the culture and seeking the King's heart rather than the riches of the kingdom." Yup, you guessed it - the story of Esther. Church-market, from the people who also brought us THE OMEGA CODE. CTMovies is underwhelmed by an over-plotted, over-explained screenplay, but remarks that it "may well be the best-looking movie from a Christian company to date, with sumptuous visuals that are both artistic and authentic."

VIFF 2006. Oct 20 2006: Limited release
A restrained and understated treatment of the same events that inspired Scott Derrickson’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose (, one of the best films I've seen this year. Dramatizes the tragic exorcism in 1976 of a young German university student whose “demonic” manifestations may have been supernatural in origin, or may have been some form of epilepsy. REQUIEM sticks much closer to the historical events, offering a sympathetic (if harrowing) psychological study that refuses to come down on either side of the natural / supernatural debate, leaving the viewer with the same agonized perplexity one might experience in the face of such events in real life. REQUIEM is a rigorous, heart-breaking film: highly recommended. Further details here. Available at Videomatica.

Very limited big screen release in Fall 06.
With all the twelve step language in the blurb, I wonder how the good old Higher Power will come into this one? I hear it's pretty raw, and suspect Sherry's jail-cell religion is mostly something she drops like hot jewelry once she's out of The Big House. Still, as I'm wont to say, you never know. In any event, this business of living out your best intentions, following through on a change of heart, is always close to my heart - criminal that I am. (Me and T-Bone.)
"Three years after entering prison for robbery as a 19-year-old heroin addict, Sherry Swanson (Maggie Gyllenhaal) begins her first day of freedom, clean and sober. Concerns about Sherry's ability to care for her young daughter, and her inability to prove them wrong, threaten to destroy the already delicate relationship she has with her daughter, as well as her newfound sobriety." More here.

SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006, USA, Bryan Singer)
My ramblings on the whole darn SUPERMAN franchise
Everybody glommed on to the Christ figure stuff in the first Supe flick (1978). Everybody but me, that is: I've never been much for playing the old "Spot The Saviour" game. Still, it's pretty explicit, if not ultimately soul-nourishing (at least for this soul). Review to follow, but for now... Chattaway and Overstreet have their thumbs decidedly down, but my digit's aligned with Greydanus's on this one: check the links on the right for JO and PTC.

Oliver Stone dials down on the politics, even weaves in some religion! Who'da thunkit? CT Movies writes... "Stone, known for his political rants both stark and subtle, tones down the politics significantly in this film, opting instead for a truly human story of selflessness and heroism. And, somewhat surprisingly, Stone is faithful to faith, so to speak, as he liberally sprinkles the movie with Christian content—especially in one subplot involving a Marine who believes God has called him to help in the search for survivors. All in all, it makes for an inspiring and important film, even as it hearkens back to a day we sometimes might wish we could forget. But it's a powerful reminder of the big event that plunged our world into chaos, terror alerts, heightened security—and now, cancelled flights and long lines at the aiport."

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