October 29, 2011


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“In Time” is a sci-fi thriller set in a dystopian world (i.e., Los Angeles) with a fascinating premise: The new currency is not money but time. Everyone has a glowing green digital display clock on the underside of their forearm (reminding one of concentration camps) that ticks off the years, days, minutes and seconds. Poor people of the “ghetto” time zone have a short life expectancy and live from time-payment to time-payment. Rich people, who live in their own time zone (filled with “Surrogates”-perfect people), may have centuries. Or more. But everyone looks young because people are genetically engineered to live to twenty-five years old, and then they literally drop dead in one more year unless they can somehow get more time (often by fighting or gambling). Time can be “given” to another by a handclasp. (The concept of “In Time” is from the brilliant mind of Philip Dick who also inspired the films: “Blade Runner,” “Minority Report,” “A Scanner Darkly,” “The Adjustment Bureau.”)

“In Time” was written, directed and produced by Andrew Niccol--who wrote the excellent “Truman Show,” and amazing “Gattaca”—however, he flounders with “In Time.” Justin Timberlake (a solid actor) is Will, a scrappy ghetto-dweller who is given a huge gift of time by a stranger. However, the ever-watching “timekeepers” (the new police) begin tracking Will as he heads to the rich people’s time zone for some payback (the rich have an economic system that trades off the backs of the poor). “In Time” is rather “timely” given today’s economic woes and ever-widening gap between rich and poor.

Will gets close to the uber-time-wealthy Weis family and falls in love with their coddled and sheltered daughter, Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried). The head timekeeper (the ever-mesmerizing Cillian Murphy who could be the next Al Pacino) picks up Will for questioning while revealing secrets to Will about his deceased father. But Will escapes the timekeeper’s clutches, dragging Sylvia along with him both as intermittent hostage and love interest. They return to the ghetto where Sylvia learns how the “other half” lives and is moved to some compassion.

SPOILER ALERT: Will and Sylvia become both Bonnie and Clyde time-bank robbers as well as Robin Hood and Maid Marian stealers from the rich who give to the poor—with the justification: “If it’s already stolen, is it stealing?” (Which slogan, I was thinking, could start a real-life anarchical class warfare revolution of gargantuan magnitude, so I’m hoping the Occupy Everywhere people don’t see this movie.) The End.

The movie fails as a movie in many ways, and EVERYTHING needed to be shored up: directing, editing, acting (Amanda Seyfried—surprisingly—breaks NO emotional sweat whatsoever and makes her character and the whole story verrrry unbelievable. And she runs and runs and runs and runs and jumps out of buildings and from roof to roof in tiny dresses and 6-inch inverted ice cream cone-shaped heels).

There are constant breaks in the action/tension and lots of small, unnecessary, repetitive scenes that bore us to death. The story/dialogue is completely linear and often laughably simplistic. The dialogue does not “cut deep” into the world we’re introduced to—the characters always sound like they are explaining something to US. (To quote “The Truman Show”: “Who are you talking to???” It also imitates one weakness of “The Truman Show”: someone raised in a totally rarified environment immediately adjusts to a completely foreign world.)

The three twentysomething gals in front of me in the theater were NOT buying any of this movie (and it seemed like they were genuinely looking forward to this film as I was). We are simply used to much more sophistication in films these days. This might have cut it 10 years ago, but not today.

The music is nothing special and the set direction is truly horrid and fake. The “ghetto” is just too clean and nice, and if you simply look to the periphery of the action, everything screams “this is a set!” (Along with the fact that there are very few extras, so there’s never the feeling of a crowd or a multitude.)

Multiple Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood made unfathomable choices: the ghetto people are all snazzy dressers who look like they just came from an upscale nightclub. Um, I think Hollywood doesn’t always know how to do truly “shabby.” Case in point: Another recent film had a lower middle-class character complaining about the “small hovel” he was living in. What??? With a huge kitchen lined with glass-windowed cabinets and an immense free-standing island with a granite counter-top? Hollywood just doesn’t get it.

And yet, for all my criticisms, this is not one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. The premise is still solid and the concept of giving freely of the most precious things in life in a cutthroat culture that doesn’t understand the concept of “gift” or charity is well portrayed.

There’s some great soul-searching about whether or not it’s right to want to live forever here on earth (especially at the expense of others): “For a few to be mortal, many must die.” Some of the wiser heads see an innate, existential need for death. Others, a practical need: “If everyone lived forever, where would we put everyone?” Or, to paraphrase Steve Jobs: “Death sweeps out the old to make room for the new.”

There is also—yay!—an explicit condemnation of applying Darwinian notions of natural selection and survival of the fittest to capitalism and human beings—double yay!

In actuality, time IS the only “good,” the only “currency” we have. We just can’t know how much of it we actually have on this earth by simply glancing down at our arm every few minutes. Unfortunately, we Catholics don’t seem to emphasize the preciousness of time very much any more (or our eternal destiny and the eternal consequences of our use of time). Recommended reading: “The Last Things,” by Fr. James Alberione.


--The citizens of the world of “In Time” were genetically manufactured, and the poor are cogs in factories. New York City’s Cardinal O’Connor warned of a possible future where humans would be created in laboratories for just such types of “menial” tasks. And as zombie-like soldiers for wars.

--Only Olivia Wilde’s character made us feel how scary it is to only have hours at a time left on your clock.

--Everyone is just way too calm.


--Information/exposition repeated.

--Big “fight” scene foreshadowed in detail so that when it actually happened, audience groaned: knowing exactly what they would have to sit through.

--“Are you insane?” is asked by characters of different characters about 14 times.

--The failures of “In Time” remind me of the failures of “Hotel Rwanda”: a completely tense set-up…and hardly any felt tension, with lots of little bouts of characters relaxing in between where there should have been no let-up.

--Awesome old cars. Awesome! Were those Caddinentals???

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October 23, 2011


Yes. You wanna see this. If you liked "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," you'll love this. Teaches kids (and everyone else) what's important in our celebrity, "be seen" culture. Also stares death in the face. It goes there. Slightly reminiscent of "Letters to God," also.

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October 18, 2011


“The Mighty Macs” is based on the true story of the underdog Immaculata (thus “Macs”) College women’s basketball team in Philadelphia in 1971-1972. The college is run by the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters. In the film, Mother St. John (Ellen Burstyn) is a rather severe but dedicated college head, trying to keep her school afloat. Her goals are very different from her school’s young upstart basketball coach, Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino), who is determined to get her ragtag basketball team to their first national championship. Cathy is newly married to her husband, Ed (David Boreanaz), and friction is created by her going against the expected cultural grain and not staying at home, but giving much of her time and energy to basketball.

Everything in the film is tenuous: the school’s solvency and future, the basketball coach’s job, and the very members of the basketball team—many of whom have pressing reasons not to stay on the team. A young Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton)—much to Mother St. John’s chagrin—gets over-involved with the basketball team, causing even more tension.

In 1972, the famous Title IX was being enacted. It was an educational amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and wasn’t specifically about sports, but ended up greatly impacting women’s sports, stating that any activity receiving federal funds couldn’t discriminate on the basis of sex.

There is a gradual build up and transformation of the team from raw talent to honed skills, in great part because of Cathy’s confidence-building.

In the end, the entire convent becomes the team’s biggest boosters and unofficial cheering squad.

Like the movies “Bend It Like Beckham” and “Soul Surfer,” this is a girls’ sports film, but with a Catholic twist. Tim Chambers, the writer-director, is from Philadelphia, and was taught by the IHMs himself. His intention in bringing “Mighty Macs” to the screen was to tell Catholic stories and portray Catholics from a Catholic point of view. Some concessions with Hollywood had to be made in order to make that happen (for example, some of the prayer was removed), because Hollywood thought the movie was “too Catholic.” (Are Woody Allen’s films “too Jewish”?) Um, the movie is about nuns, for Pete’s sake! The real heroes, however, are the young basketball coach and her team. Mother St. John and Sr. Sunday end up being rather one-dimensional and stereotypical (the stern Mother Superior and the scared rabbit younger sister), but otherwise, it’s a great slice of history. We can easily forget that opportunities for women were once much more limited, not so long ago.

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October 3, 2011


As you no doubt know, a little Christian-based film opened this weekend at #4 in the nation, and as the top new film, sharing the thin air with DOLPHIN TALE, MONEYBALL, and THE LION KING.

A few highlights:

1) Ranking. COURAGEOUS was the #4 movie in the country, though it opened against six other movies with almost three times as many screens. It was the #1 new movie of the weekend!

2) Audience. More than 1 million people saw COURAGEOUS this weekend.

3) Box office. Total box-office was $9 million, $2.2 million more than FIREPROOF on opening weekend.

4) Per-screen. Per-screen, COURAGEOUS averaged $7752, almost doubling everyone else.
5) CinemaScore. COURAGEOUS received a rare A+ CinemaScore, a signal to expect strong word-of-mouth in coming weeks.

6) Mainstream press response. Most general entertainment press and reporting outlets were surprised by COURAGEOUS. A couple of early excerpts before the actuals were in:

"Time and again, the pic effectively emphasizes how the deputies are reminded on a daily basis what eventually can happen to at-risk children who don't have fathers involved in their lives. Little wonder, then, that they're moved to ask God's help to hone their own paternal skills."

Box Office Mojo
"Sherwood Pictures' COURAGEOUS scored $8.8 million from just 1,161 theaters for a strong per-theater average of $7,580. . . The opening ranks fifth all-time for a Christian movie, and only trails THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST and the three NARNIA movies." . . . "Made outside of Hollywood without any major stars, COURAGEOUS managed to fly under most radars (including my own) until very recently. It's unfair to ignore the vast majority of church-going Americans for whom typical Hollywood fare isn't of great interest, though, and Sherwood Pictures has impressively found a way to mobilize this subset of the population."

(Best Title Award): Surprise! Dolphins and Jesus Beat Cancer and Dead Kids!“Like the Christian-themed SOUL SURFER, the Kendrick's holy-cop film (with a $1-million budget) was pitched to the faithful, who came out fervently this weekend and gave it an A-plus CinemaScore. Opening in just 1,161 theaters, COURAGEOUS had the top per-screen average of any movie in the top 25. Even an agnostic would call that heavenly.”

7) Other indicators. Sales of books and resources supporting film's message—The Resolution books and others—reflect the movie’s spreading influence. Kerusso, maker of t-shirts, reports five times as many COURAGEOUS t-shirts sold as for FIREPROOF. Meanwhile, Facebook fans count on the COURAGEOUS fan page has leapt in a few days from 224,000 to 247,000.

Sherwood Church and its national field of supporters have long prayed for God to do “exceedingly, abundantly more than we could ever ask or imagine,” and He’s doing it.

Learn more:

Join COURAGEOUS on Facebook:

Follow COURAGEOUS on Twitter:

Press material:

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So, you want to go to a free screening of "The Way" on October 5 in Skokie? Click on link (you can get 2 free passes!)


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October 2, 2011


For anyone who has walked “The Camino”—the ancient pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, this film will be a treat as you relive your trek. For anyone who has not—this is your video travelogue, and much more! “The Way” is a journey film (physical and spiritual) and it’s a WALKING journey film.

Written and directed by Emilio Estevez--who also acts in it with his father, Martin Sheen—it’s a moving and all-too-common scenario of an estranged father-son relationship. Martin Sheen is the main character—a stubborn codger who winds up on “El Camino” with three aging Gen-Xers (one of whom dubs him “Boomer”). Boomer’s traveling companions are (successively): an hilarious, portly Dutchman (think John Candy in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”), a chain-smoking Canadian gal, and an Irishman with writer’s block. They all have their issues to work out, but “The Way” pretty much avoids heavy-handed clich├ęs in this regard.

This was a VERY difficult film to make. Think about it. Four strangers walking. For the entire film. But it holds your attention and interest the entire time. There are tiny suspenses, and a certain tongue-in-cheek, amiable self-consciousness of what a BIG METAPHOR FOR LIFE it all is. And we can see ourselves in this motley crew. The film totally works, totally comes together.

I don’t want to give too much away of the simple but rich storyline by telling you more of what happens, only that this film is a “sit back, relax and enjoy it” film. We are not given any beautiful countryside landscapes, even though we subtly note the changing seasons, because the film is shot in lots of tight medium range shots. This is squarely a film about people, not about breathtaking nature, and not about people being enthralled by breathtaking nature. But we WILL experience all the human customs, hospitalities and tropes along the Camino.

The lesson of the Camino seems to be that we’re all on it, whether we want to be or not. Whether we’re in Spain or not. And as the tagline of the film says: “Life is too big to walk it alone.”

“The Way” is as open ended as life. We have no idea what’s going to happen along the way. And opting out is really bad form.

“The Way” goes to great pains to make sure we understand that none of these “pilgrims” are doing it for religious reasons. I think at least one of them could have been. Hey, trillions of people from time immemorial have been earnest religionists. Why can’t we see that on the big screen (or any screen)? It almost felt MORE insincere to leave the believers out! It seemed to be a carefully-studied areligiosity. Any true acts of faith and devotion belong to those outside our little cadre. But of course, the reality is that many, many who take up the sojourn are NOT there for religious reasons. To each his own. And I guess it IS more reflective of our postmodern world where belief in God and expressing that belief through the practice of religion is something that is declining in the West.

Buen Camino!


--Smart and funny.

--"The Way" is a filmic journey not to be missed.

--Just as "life is too big to walk it alone," so "The Way" is too good to watch it alone!

--This film totally makes you want to go do the Camino or get out and hike with others…and Him.

--I think my favorite part was the Gypsy sequence. It’s another mini father-son story (there are MANY in the film)! But it’s tied as my favorite with the swanky hotel scene where they all start off in separate rooms….

--Martin Sheen plays a father’s grief so well. He also plays his terse, tight-lipped role so well.

--There’s a book about the Camino called “Walk in a Relaxed Manner.” “The Way” nails this pace, and maintains it consistently. Again, I think it must have been very difficult and very crucial to nail the right pace in a walking film! AND it’s NOT episodic, another huge would-be pitfall of this movie.

--Frequent fun mis-en-scenes of the four travelers.

--Pope Benedict calls the Catholic Church in Spain “creative.” You’ll see why.

--All I can say about the incense thurible at the end: “W-H-O-A.” Pretty wicked awesome. At a screening, Martin Sheen said that in the old days, it was actually used as AIR FRESHENER for stinky pilgrims! Flying Febreze!

--Very funny how Americans are perceived in Europe and the rest of the world.

--There’s a certain amount of philosophizing, as one would expect along the Camino, but it’s not tedious.

--A short but beautiful cremation scene. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a thing in a film.

--The soundtrack is mostly lovely light rock and folk rock. But light rock with teeth. And a very fitting Alanis Morissette ballad. Sometimes the walking is just silent. But the audio always always feels natural and right on the money.

--Martin Sheen looks like he’s in VERY good shape. It’s hard to even think of him as “Boomer.” Isn’t he the President of the United States of America? “The Way” could have devolved into “Grumpy Old Man on the Camino,” but Sheen is just too classy for that.

--At the very end, Martin Sheen’s character should have “littered.” Because of the wind blowing in the wrong direction. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.

--The only few false notes for me were the Canadian woman’s initial “introductory” speech as well as the Irishman’s. Both of them were a little too theatrical. Also, the Gen-Xers looked more like Baby Boomers.

--I don’t know if I like the movie poster. It looks like: 1/3 Abbey Road, 1/3 the famous evolutionary progression chart, and 1/3 the Jesus Freaks’ “One Way” symbol. But maybe it’s supposed to!

--Great Lenten film. Great film about community. Four seekers who still need community. Who still need to be “alone together.”

--We meet A LOT of people along the way, but it doesn’t feel like too much. Just like all the people we meet in our own lives.

--There’s lots of WINE on the Camino. :]

--Shot with Red??? The background was often in focus with the foreground!

--Why are we afraid to show MORE Western religion (Christianity) in films? While we can.

--Hmmmm: were the precious (various) guidebooks a BIG METAPHOR as well? Of course.

--“The Way” is screaming for a group-discussion booklet or guide book component of its own!

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You can search for my longer review AND review of the screening on my blog!

“Courageous” is the much-anticipated movie on fatherhood by the same people who gave us “Fireproof.” (“Fireproof” is the story of a fireman whose marriage is on the rocks, in part due to his internet porn use, and what happens from there. It was the #1 independent film of 2008. With its tie-in printed resource components like “The Love Dare Book,” the film impacted thousands of real life marriages.) “Courageous” was well worth the wait, and will doubtless do the same to strengthen fathers in their oh-so-vital vocation.

“Sherwood Pictures” (a ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia) is behind these two great films. They are two of the most “Theology of the Body” films out there, and I’m sure Blessed John Paul II the Great is smiling on them from glory.
“Courageous” is about four policemen, their families, and what being a father means.

“Honor begins at home” is the film’s short, sweet and apt tagline. Cops are about serving, protecting, honoring, right? Guys are about serving, protecting, honoring, right? And there’s lots of wonderful and needed ways they do that outside the home, often for the sake of home, but there’s no place like home to do it. So many things pull men away from home: work, demanding work, overtime work, wars, travel, hobbies, volunteer/charitable work, even church work. So many men are tempted to measure their worth and success by the external benchmarks, accolades, promotions and achievements outside the home, but, really? A man’s home is his castle. Everyone’s first vocation is to love their families. Our greatest bragging rights should always be about our particular vocation to love, our particular way of loving (married, single, priesthood, religious life). When people ask us what we “do,” we should talk about our vocations, our families first, what we “are,” before what we “do.”

The stories, struggles, tragedies and joys in “Courageous” ring true, and the acting is superb. Sherwood Pictures also has a way with tense action scenes. There’s just enough about and for women in “Courageous” as well. Young single men leaving screenings of “Courageous” have written on their surveys that they never really thought seriously about fatherhood before, but now they are looking forward to being good fathers! Sherwood Pictures doesn’t call their films “message” films (a Hollywood no-no) but “take action” films. Hear, hear!

“Courageous” asks the question: “How do we do fatherhood? Who are our role models for it?” Here’s another possible tagline for “Courageous”: “Think fathers are important? So does ‘Courageous.’”

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