Easter special double reviews: RISEN & The Case for Christ – rental picks for Holy Week (or any week)

I’ve been meaning to write a review of Risen since I saw it a little over a month ago. Then I saw The Case for Christ a couple of days ago and thought they’d make a perfect Easter double reviews since they involve the quest of two men (centuries apart) attempting to disprove Christ’s resurrection and divinity.

The greatest story ever told has certainly been been told countless times in Hollywood, yet somehow Risen managed to bring something unique to the table. Told from the perspective of a skeptic, a Roman Centurion no less, tasked to find the missing body of Jesus Christ in the weeks following His crucifixion. Joseph Fiennes portrayed Clavius, the stoic Roman soldier with soulful gaze and rather reserved demeanor. He’s not all brute force like what we often see in films depicting such characters, more of a thinking man who’s ambitious yet world weary.

The film primarily focuses on Clavius’ investigation of the case, which includes interrogating some of Jesus’ followers and the Roman guards tasked to watch. It doesn’t take long for him to realize there’s more to this mystery of a missing dead body and he’s more affected by it than he cares to admit. The transformation of his character from an ambitious Roman (was there any other kind?) to one who’s thirsty for the truth is palpable. “Your ambition is noticed,” his boss Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) noted, and he later repeated that same sentiment to his aide (Tom Felton). Firth was kinda chewing the scenery as Pilate, but in a good way as I like his acting style, while I’m glad Felton didn’t portray another run-of-the-mill villain.

Fiennes is a fine actor and his sensitive, nuanced portrayal of Clavius is intriguing to watch. ‘I cannot reconcile all this with the world I know,’ he remarked at a pivotal moment in the film. It’s one of many memorable moments here that felt earnest, as nobody liked being preached to at the movies. Another great casting here is Cliff Curtis as Christ. Not only did the Maori actor looks ethnically accurate for the role, he also portrayed the Messiah with gravitas and playful sweetness in equal measure. If I have one quibble for this film, I think the acting of some of the disciples, most notably Bartholomew, is a bit over the top.

Overall though, Risen is a pretty riveting film from director Kevin Reynolds (Tristan + Isolde, The Count of Monte Cristo). No hammy acting or dogmatic bluntness, thanks to Fiennes’ layered performance as a conflicted man. The film was also beautifully shot in Malta, with gorgeous cinematography, score and set pieces.

Unlike The Passion of the Christ, the film isn’t nearly as graphic or intense in its violence depiction, certainly not as gruesome as most PG-13 films or anything on TV these days. I have to say that I find many faith-based films to be corny with subpar acting. So it’s refreshing to find this is not one of them and the high production values helps, too. Definitely one I highly recommend for believers and non-believers alike.

SPOILER ALERT: I also love the way they did the ending. Did Clavius converted to Christianity? Or did the investigation led him to a crossroad where he simply couldn’t turn back to his old Roman ways? Whether or not he becomes a believer in the end, the fact of the matter is, we knew he’s a changed man.


When I first came across this film on Netflix, I’m curious how Lee Strobel’s book, with all the fact-checking details, would translate well to screen. Thankfully, it works thanks to the strong acting and intriguing journalistic style.

The film opens with the protagonist Lee Strobel (Mike Vogel), receiving a promotion as legal editor at the ChicagoTribune. It’s a picture of a perfect life, great job and a perfect family… beautiful (and pregnant) wife Leslie (Erika Christensen) and a young daughter Alison (Haley Rosenwasser). But soon an incident happened that shook Leslie greatly, and without spoiling too much, it led to her converting to Christianity. It’s not a spoiler as it essentially what drove the story… her conversion became the driving force for Lee to try to disprove that her belief is all a bunch of nonsense.

This film could’ve been another a Law & Order type of episode, but Jon Gunn‘s direction based on Brian Bird‘s script avoided such pitfalls. Yes it had a slow start and some slow moments, but for the most part, Lee’s quest was intriguing as it was a personal one. Despite all the interrogations, charts & graphs in Lee’s war room, the film never forget the real heart of the film, which is the relationship between Lee & Leslie which hangs in the balance. I also like that there’s an intersecting criminal case Lee worked on at the same time to keep the narrative from being too static.

I’ve never seen Vogel in anything before, but he’s pretty compelling as Lee.  He’s effortlessly likable despite his cocky, brash attitude and there’s an earnest quality about him. I was really impressed by Christensen as the patient wife who’s also got her own mind. Her conversion felt convincing to me, despite the rather cloying dialog with spiritual mentor Alfie (L. Scott Caldwell). There’s also an interesting cameo from Faye Dunaway as a renowned psychologist. She uttered one of the most memorable lines in the film when questioned whether 500+ eyewitness could have shared the same delusion claiming to have seen the risen Christ.

Now, as I was done watching this, I sensed that believers would complain that it only vaguely skims the surface of Strobel’s richly-detailed book, and non-believers would think it’s too preachy. As for me, I think the film offers just enough of the ‘meat’ of the argument about Christ’ existence and divinity, that people who are curious about it might be inclined to do more extensive research on their own. I appreciate that the film didn’t paint skeptics as evil or that paint atheism as the source of bad behaviors,

Given that Strobel himself served as executive producer, I suppose there’s no mystery as to how the film would end. It is called the Case for Christ after all, not against Him. Yet for someone who loves journalism films like All The Presidents’ Men, Spotlight, The Insider, etc., that investigative aspect certainly appeals to me. No, this film didn’t quite rise to the level of those films, but still one that’s well worth your time.


Have you seen RISEN of THE CASE FOR CHRIST? If so, I’d love to hear what you think!

MLK Weekend Roundup: a coming-of-age comedy, 1934 classic romance & a 1975 political thriller

MLKWashingtonHappy Monday all! It’s Martin Luther King Jr weekend here in the States and it’s a company holiday where I work, yay 😀 Another year and yet another snag in the long-overdue MLK biopic. I made this post last year about the status of the project that Paul Greengrass was once attached to. Well it turns out that Oliver Stone has now exited the project, taking to Twitter that his rewrite of the script, which dealt with “issues of adultery, conflicts within the movement, and King’s spiritual transformation” was not well received by producers. (per EW.com)

It’s really too bad as I’d love to see Dr. King’s biopic. Of course I realize he’s not a ‘saint’ as Stone said via Twitter nor do I expect him to be, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s a great man who’s an inspiration to us all.

Now, though I didn’t go to the cinema this weekend, it’s been a wonderful movie catch-up for me. I saw The Way, Way Back on Friday which was pretty good despite the slow start.

TheWayWayBackPoster

I LOVE Sam Rockwell who stole the film with his effortless charm, and newcomer Liam James is endearingly dorky in this coming-of-age comedy. It probably won’t have made my Top 10 list but certainly would factor in the Honorable Mention if I had seen it last year.

As for the two great classics I finally caught up with, one of them is on my Blindspot list and the other is a spy thriller that my friends have recommended me from time to time.

ItHappenedOneNight

I will have my full review of It Happened One Night (1934) on the last Tuesday of this month (1/28) for my Blindspot assignment but let me just say this film lives up to the hype! I’ve only seen Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, so it’s nice to see a different side to him in this role. Practically everyone I’ve talked to adore this film and I could see why.

ThreeDaysOftheCondor

On Saturday night, my hubby and I were in the mood for a spy thriller, having just seen Jack Ryan: The Shadow Recruit on Wednesday (review coming tomorrow). My hubby isn’t a huge fan of older films, but I managed to convince him to rent 3 Days of the Condor (1975) as I’ve heard great things about it. I quite like 70s thrillers like Dirty Harry, The Conversation and The French Connection, no wonder my friend Michael calls it his favorite decade for movies! I quite like this one, it’s more of a slow burn but has plenty of suspense in a whodunnit kind of story filled with political intrigue as well as sexual tension between Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. It’s a smart thriller by Sydney Pollack, with a taut script and an intriguing ending where things aren’t tied up neatly with a bow. It’s loosely based on a novel by James Grady titled Six Days of the Condor.


So that’s my weekend roundup, folks. What did YOU see this weekend?

Classic Flix Review: Bonnie & Clyde

jackdethbanner

Greetings all and sundry! I am pleased to have the opportunity to approach and dissect in my own unique fashion one of  those films that arrives with not a lot of noise and hoopla. Takes the movie going audience by storm and creates a solid touchstone for actors and actresses no one has ever heard of before and plants them solidly in the cinematic firmament.
… 

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Directed masterfully with gusto and elan by Arthur Penn, wrapped tightly around the comely Faye Dunaway and roguishly handsome Warren Beatty. The film is an admirable blend of Depression era period piece. Clever doses of French New Wave Cinema. Grainy, washed out backdrops. Sweaty, humid bedroom scenes and good old fashioned Shoot ’em Ups.
The film begins with Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie Parker waking from an afternoon nap due to noises outside her upstairs bedroom window. Only to spy a very nattily dressed Clyde Barrow trying to hot wire the car belonging to Bonnie mother. Bonnie confronts Clyde, who is a sly smooth talker of the highest order. And cajoles Bonnie into the idea that spending time with him beats the heck out of showing up for her shift as a waitress at a local restaurant.
The two head off for a future unknown as Clyde hints at his past and reveals a the butt of a pistol above his belt line. A scheme is hatched as the two roll into a close by town and Clyde enters the bank. Bonnie waits behind the wheel. Clyde returns in much more of a hurry than when he sauntered into the bank. Bonnie drives and the two are richer by just under one hundred dollars.
Bonnie teases and taunts Clyde, The two wind up in bed littered with bills of small denomination and Bonnie decides that she wants to get in on the fun too! A wheel man and mechanic is happened upon. C.W. Moss, by name.Well and dullardly played by Michael J. Pollard, of the perpetual baby face. C.W. may not know how to make or count change, but he does know engines and becomes the third member of the ‘Barrow Gang’. Quickly augmented by Clyde’s older brother, Buck and his wife, Blanche. Well and memorably played by Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons.
Clyde, Buck and Bonnie get along well enough. Though Blanche grates on the nerves. Not wanting to get in on the fun of being modern Robin Hoods. Then taking out her aggression on Bonnie and C.W. Buck has his work cut out for himself trying to keep Blanche in line as bigger banks are robbed. One ending with a pursuing bank manager jumping on the running board of the escaping getaway car and being shot in the face for his efforts.
The game has been changed and the ire of the law. Local, state and fledgling federal, has been stirred as the gang moves from Oklahoma to Texas between robberies and getaways to banjo picking Bluegrass. One step ahead of the law that relies upon telephone and telegraph lines to maintain pursuit. Bigger and better weapons are sought and acquired after a tete a tete with a Texas Ranger they’d gotten the drop on. Humiliated and photographed. And an impromptu, humorous taking of a car owned by Gene Wilder as a mortician.
Enter a dark, humid and quiet night. When every local lawman in the vicinity and beyond unloads on Bonnie, Clyde, Buck, Blanche and C.W. in their wooded cabin west of nowhere. Windows shatter and holes appear in walls. Fire is returned by Thompson Sub Machine Guns, shotguns, pistols and Browning Automatic Rifles. Bonnie reloads and Blanche panics and screams like a Banshee as she is shot. Buck is shot badly and dies shortly thereafter. Clyde is wounded, Blanche is blinded and captured as Bonnie, Clyde and C.W. get away.
Bonnie tends to Clyde’s through-and-through wound with a willow branch wrapped in gauze. C.W. steals a car and the three make off to the Oklahoma dust bowl. While the Texas Ranger who had been humiliated. Well played by Denver Pyle for his brief time on screen; is brought in to interrogate Blanche. Things head south as Clyde recuperates in a shanty town and the three head off to C.W.’s distant uncle somewhere in Louisiana. C.W is taken into custody without incident by local lawmen, who at first mistake C.W. for Pretty Boy Floyd. With the covert help of his uncle Ivan in a cameo by Dub Taylor.
Bonnie feels the walls starting to close in and pens a prophetic poem while laying low. The two decide to see what the town has to offer and roll up on a car with a flat tire being tended to. Clyde slows and stops. Gets out and notices a preponderance of rifle and shotgun muzzles peeking through a line of vines and shrubbery. Then becomes the recipient of many, many bullets and pieces of buck shot while Bonnie is trapped in the car doing an odd variation of the Funky Chicken in a prolonged, slow motion dance of death.

What Makes This Film Good?

Arthur Penn at the helm. Telling a decent, though highly romanticized story that did not fare well as B Movie with Dorothy Provine a decade earlier. Penn reaches deep into his bag of tricks and amps up the chemistry between Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Who, one moment is a coquette and the next displays a sensual assertiveness that would come to fruition later in The Thomas Crown Affair, Chinatown and Network.
Many early interior scenes are back lit with diffused shadows. Several exterior scenes range from lush to stark and barren with shadows supplied by clouds. In ways reminiscent of John Ford and French New Wave as Clyde chases Bonnie through a fallow corn field.
Set direction and cinematography are far above average. Adding washed out blues, grays and greens to heighten the effects of a well researched and executed period piece. The banjo heavy Bluegrass tracts during assorted chase scenes works very well and started a minor resurgence for a few months afterward. Making the soundtrack something of an anomaly during the second term of LBJ. Which may have created the impetus to double bill Bonnie and Clyde with Bullitt during the summers of 1968 and 69.

What Makes This Film Great?

Watching a young and confident Warren Beatty transition from his television role as spoiled rich kid, Milton Armitage in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis to play a sly and conniving leading ladies’ man. Opposite another rising talent graduating from doing yeoman work in small television roles and Hurry Sundown and The Happening earlier that year. Backed up by a soon-to-be-noticed Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons, and veteran character actors Denver Pyle and Dub Taylor. In a film that jump started several careers, ala The Magnificent Seven.
Offered a plum opportunity for Beatty to produce and Penn to direct a character driven film very much of its time. That probably could not be made today without many more chase scenes and explosions!


Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews


Thoughts on this film? Do share ’em in the comments.

Guest Post: Favorite Movie Set in Boston

By Becky ‘Prairiegirl’ Kurk
When I was invited to guest blog on FlixChatter so rtm can have a well-deserved Christmas break from her “baby,” and heard the topic was to choose a favorite movie filmed in/around New York City or Boston, I was game. I love Boston! I remember visiting Faneuil Hall Marketplace, taking a historic city walk (Freedom Trail), seeing Boston Harbor and Boston Commons, and, of course, visiting the original Cheers bar (it’s very long and narrow, nothing like the wide-open set in the TV series, but going down a flight of stairs to enter it is faithful to the original). Other extraordinary places in Massachusetts are The Berkshires, Cape Cod and Plimouth Plantation.

So, to start my task, I perused all three links rtm offered to help me get started, and this one proved to be the best: Wikipedia: List of films set in New England

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

And to my surprise, after looking through all the lists, I realized my favorite movie filmed in Boston is The Thomas Crown Affair with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. Faye Dunaway was fresh off the success of Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and Steve McQueen had been nominated for a Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar for The Sand Pebbles (1966). McQueen’s physical presense in this movie reminds me of Daniel Craig’s recent role in the 2006 Bond film Casino Royale. It was very sad that he died in his prime at the young age of 50 in 1980 of mesothelioma. I was only 15 years old and still in junior high when TTCA was released, and was way more interested in the Beatles and boyfriends than movies at the time.
I’d heard of the film many times, but only saw it on TV about a year ago. Turns out is it one of those semi-classic movies that lives up to its reputation. If I had to describe it in one word, it would be ‘sophisticated.’ IMDb lists its genre as Crime/Drama/Thriller/Romance, but it’s heavier on the drama and romance, Both McQueen and Dunaway have their witty moments (having said that, PLEASE don’t compare this to The Tourist. TTCA is truly everything Tourist should have been, but was not, even though I liked the movie.) I read that the director’s (Norman Jewison) commentary on the DVD was worth a watch, so next time I see this will be on DVD so I can check out his commentary. And, true to my assignment, it has a long list of filming locations in Boston.
The storyline, according to IMDb:
Four men pull off a daring daytime robbery at a bank, dump the money in a trash can and go their separate ways. Thomas Crown, a successful, wealthy businessman pulls up in his Rolls and collects it. Vickie Anderson, an independent insurance investigator is called in to recover the huge haul. She begins to examine the people who knew enough about the bank to have pulled the robbery and discovers Crown. She begins a tight watch on his every move and begins seeing him socially. How does the planner of the perfect crime react to pressure?
And here’s a selection of clips from the film:

I could spend a lot of time and wear and tear, but since the movie has been around for a long time, and there are so many good reviews of this intriguing film on IMDb, here’s a link directly to those reviews.
And a few excepts to get started on:
Unforgettable 60’s cool: The film itself is well crafted, beautifully photographed and brilliantly directed, it also has a great score.

Tense, stylish, serious:
The performances of the entire cast are exemplary. McQueen’s clipped manner builds the tension and intensifies the effect of his weakening to Vicki’s seductive moves during the chess game.

An Affair To Remember:
The chess game between “King Of Cool” Steve McQueen and 27-year-old Faye Dunaway in the most provocative dress possible is one of the sexiest and most exiting without-actual-sex-involved scenes ever filmed.

All around perfection:
Amazing movie. I give movies a 10 when I can come up with no suggestion at all to make it better. The cinematography, editing, dialogue, acting, costumes, locations and most of all direction of this movie are perfect.
It’s a battle of hubris between McQueen and Dunaway and the film does keep you in some suspense as to who will win out.

Stealing With Style:
The Thomas Crown Affair garnered won Academy Award for Michel LeGrand’s song, The Windmills of Your Mind. It’s a stylishly done caper film and I guarantee you won’t be able to anticipate the outcome.
While checking this out, I found out there was a 1999 remake of TTCA with Pierce Brosnan and Renee Russo. While I like both actors, I doubt they could ever match McQueen and Dunaway in this movie. See the 1968 film. You won’t be disappointed.
***
So, have you been to Boston? Live there? Have traveled/visited there? Seen The Thomas Crown Affair? If so, tell us!