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Mary and Joseph: A Story of Faith

In a Way The Only Really Smart Bible Movie
Forget the cheesiness, the anachronisms, what's obviously dopey...

This weird forgotten little Xmas TV movie raises some of the most intelligent questions ever about the reality of Jesus' Life Situation.

Why would the Virgin Mary and St Joseph think and feel and act as Christians... Before Christ? What hard lessons might Providence have had to drive home to them in such a bleak and bloody world before they could have the privilege of welcoming His uniquely non-Samaritan burning Son into their home?

Why WOULDN'T the Virgin Mary think of the Messiah as a great warrior like the Maccabees or David in the Scriptures?

And so on.

Nice acting job by that main Zealot fellow who once played James Dean.

The Passion of the Christ

The Divine Slapstick Comedy / Ultimate Guy Flick

GIST: An astounding, thought-provoking, hard-to-figure personal vision of the Last Twelve Hours of Jesus Christ whose most notorious element - the illusion of breakthrough realism in the gruesome depiction of Christ's physical sufferings in that time period- only distracts from the movie's real meaning: that as a mixture of Gospel literalism, Romish mystical devotionalism, and post-SUPERSTAR desacralization,THE PASSION is, among other hard-to-figure things, a therapeutic externalization of one post-Vatican II Catholic's lifelong Jesus-and-Mary-related religious trauma, as performed by a bright, funny, kind of sad and jumpy guy who loves Christ and Truth passionately, and wants to bring the world the blessings of that love, but doesn't take himself or his talents too seriously and therefore directed a movie about the Passion of the Divine Redeemer wearing a clown's red nose.

This movie is in large part an extreme form of a certain type of male conservative Catholic humor. Mr Gibson's humor is pretty sophisticated as conservative Catholic guy humor goes. That's why PASSION ends with a tongue-in-cheekily Antimodernist visualization of something Modernists have ridiculed specifically for a hundred years -the Resurrection as a photographable Naked Man climbing off a slab, molecularly sailing right though a linen sheet. That is why it ends with a shot of the Lord's Risen Rear End. The setting is Joseph's tomb. The moral atmosphere is the locker room at the Knights of Columbus Hall. That's where fine Catholic family men will "yak" about say, the Shroud of Turin and how rough Our Lord really had it shortly before Checking Out.

Mel Gibson is above all a cool, quirky Catholic guy. He made a cool, quirky Catholic Guy's Flick whose Implied Ideal Viewer is the regular Catholic guy who might be embarrassed to say or even feel how much Jesus Christ Almighty and His Blessed Mother (no one jokes about HER!) mean to him on the whole, and therefore is given 'outs" such as thinking about the obvious guy thing a fellow team mate would do with that linen cloth (or TOWEL)as the temporarily benched Hero gets back into the Game...


All the Horror Flick monsters, big and small, especially the Beelzebub-booger. An apocryphal scene which features Jesus as a Human Yo-Yo. The Ed Wood-worthy earthquake/Temple curtain rending coda. The doubtlessly unintentional evocation of the medieval Passion Play's sinister perversity, whereby clownishly brutal baddies (Barabbas, the Roman soldiers) are winkingly "coded" to seem more real and entertaining than the Holy One in the White and then the Scarlet Robe Whom you've GOT to love and adore, as if there were any real fun in THAT.


The cinematography (if you happen to like Mannerist murk).

The desperate remorse of an oddly likeable Judas who "really didn't mean it."

A Caiphas who oddly leaves a mostly favorable impression because, although HE clearly means business against Christ, he has dignity and class and was recognized by the Lord Himself as deserving of honor.

The lovely, delicate, heartbreaking depiction of Pilate's wife.

Maia Morgenstern's oddly Stoic and cryptically Romish Madonna.


The scene of Jesus' confession of Messiahship (at least that) before Caiphas and the ensuing deluge of blows. The only scene whose violence is truly disturbing, not just gross, because it gives some sense of sociopolitical historical reality and because the conflict between Jesus and "His own" has terribly tragic moral meaning which is immediately discernible in the drama itself. (The Romans are like their scourges, just dumb props of pain. You have to MAKE the scenes mean anything once they take over the Action.) This is a glorious scene because of the Kingly nobility and meekness Jim Caviezel projects (along with a vague sense of nausea, I thought?). It is also the only scene which is appropriately -and beautifully- scored.

Jim Caviezel's performance overall, until he just gets lost in the Blood, under the Cross. He's a Hippie, but He's Hypostatic.

The odd, mysterious, Mariologically shocking, contemplative, economically but brilliantly shot, utterly unique flashback to life in Nazareth with the Christ Family.

The Body

Not Everyone's Box of Nard But Precious unto Me
I have the feeling that no one actually reads those sensationalist, lightning bolt-defying "Vah! Vah! What Shall We Do to Him Called Christ?" cover stories which TIME and NEWSWEEK do every Easter and Christmas.

I myself read not only them but many of the Startling and Controversial New Books on Jesus which they refer to. Just for the record, the academic consensus in the 21st century is getting to be that anyone who believes that Jesus was BURIED (yes, you read right, BURIED) is some kind of a fundamentalist wacko.

I liked THE BODY very much. Despite its first-glance silliness I found it deeply moving and utterly captivating in many ways for many reasons. (Okay, above all, I'm always a sucker for solemnly wistful musical scores which are heavy on the strings but generous with the ancient flutes too.) Perhaps what I found most touching was the sophomoric naivete of its Franklin stove-era understanding of what modern assaults on Gospel Truth as traditionally understood by the Popes of Rome and the parsons of Texarkana are all about.

We should be so lucky to have proof that the Gospels are right at least about the Burial pericope! And that evidence of the Skeleton's side having been pierced with a Roman lance? Disturbing, of course, from the Bodily Resurrection angle, but most, most reassuring from the Historicity of John angle. "If the body of Jesus were found" under the circumstances delineated in THE BODY the very Devil of Modernism would be losing a lot in the bargain too!

One last bit of Mr. Smarty Pants pooh-poohing. Any reader of ancient history knows that it was NOT only the poor and the slaves who were crucified by the Romans, and that thousands upon thousands of Jerusalem Jews of all classes were crucified by the Romans in the days before the Holy City's fall in AD 70. Neither the French Dominican nor the American Jesuit knew any of this? They didn't at least take the trouble to bone up, so to speak, on their 1st century Holy Land history once the archaeological find came to their attention as a possible worldwide threat to faith in Christ? In the late 1960s the skeleton (we'll give the novelist a pass for using the inaccurate but more allusive word "body" in his title) of a crucified Jew in an ELEGANT (rich man's?) ossuary marked "Johanan" was found near Jerusalem. Details of the find in THE BODY clearly allude to that unfortunate fellow. It goes beyond literary license into something darkly tendentious to evoke the reality of poor Johanan only to twist it perversely into a 110 minute long crown of thorns for believing but not too scholarly heads... I wouldn't be the first one to point out that, his delusionally self-flattering claims to the contrary, it's actually the UNbeliever who never allows facts to interfere with his skepticism...

What makes THE BODY an important movie milestone for me is its all but unique effort to achieve some sort of contact with post-1960s Roman Catholic reality. Talk about touching. The last time this happened on screen was in 1968, and Rosalind Russell as the Mother Superior was chiding Stella Stevens as a defiantly hip and happenin' young nun in the midst of all the wacky schoolgirl adventures in WHERE ANGELS GO TROUBLE FOLLOWS. "Sister, a new wind may be blowing in the Church, but it need not be a hurricane!" A little lame, no?

In THE BODY, the Vatican II subtext is more serious stuff. It's like Helen Keller's Wah Wah scene in THE MIRACLE WORKER. Still gibberish, but you know just what she's trying to say, and it's electrifying. At one point the good Jesuit (as played by Antonio Banderas one of the most appealing and believable movie priests I've ever seen), quite believably for a NEW Pentecostalist-type of alter Christus, uses the word "bulls**t" to the lady archaeologist "who started all the trouble." Despite the fact that she had spat out something far worse minutes before, she takes exception. "Is that the language of the new ecumenical Church?" In the book it's probably sarcastic tit-for-tat. In the movie the actress plays it like Ingrid Bergman hearing Bing Crosby say "bulls**t" to Barry Sullivan in THE BELLS OF ST MARY'S.

The real taboo which is broached in THE BODY (POSSIBLE SPOILER: I saw the reassuring "David" version)has to do not with the possibilty that the bones of the supposedly Risen Jesus might one day be found, and that the first thing a devout celibate man of God is going to do when that happens is to start caring more about the state of affairs of HIS flesh, but rather with the possibility that one day a Catholic believer might suddenly see the dry bones of the MYSTICAL Body of Christ -the Church, as represented by the dome of St Peter's- lying about a hopelessly wicked world in one great horrific heap. Believing on the basis of historical evidence that of all the children of Eve Rabbi Yeshua be Yosef alone left neither bones nor dust nor ashes behind in this vale of tears is merely the skeleton, necessary but in itself dead, of what traditional Christianity means by faith in the Risen Christ, "our hope of glory." An orthodox Jesuit (all the Jesuits I know put fixation on the prospect of spooky doings involving corpses in Judean sepulchres 2000 years ago on the level of snake handling- must have been some quirky Opus Dei input with the would-be orthodox stalwart played by Antonio) would know that cut off from the Life of Christ in His Mystical Body, the fact of the continued bodily life of Galilee's proud if problematic answer to Judea's Hillel is of no more value to the orphaned soul than the fact of the furthest star one can see in the night sky an hour before dawn...

What THE BODY gets right so surprisingly is the diffidence with which the Physical Resurrection doctrine is treated by ALL the Churchmen involved. People have been attacking the Catholic Church as coercively authoritarian and Machiavellian and cynically controlling for centuries. It's a new one to present Catholic Churchmen as not even BELIEVING (not too strongly anyway) in the tenets and dogmas they lie and cheat and kill to uphold and protect. But The Primate Cardinal of England, the late Basil Hume, was once asked if Christianity could survive the discovery of... Jesus' bones. (Really now though, you could never be SURE, just as, on the other hand, you can't be SURE about the Shroud of Turin.)He said yes. "But it would take me a long time to explain why..." The late Father Raymond Brown, a Catholic Biblical scholar whose word is Gospel in the American church, who was honored and praised by the Pope himself, wonders aloud in one of his books if modern Christians should feel obligated to maintain the ancient outlook on the Resurrection of Jesus... Not exactly "Jesus rots!" (or rather, rotted), but enough to frighten the horses of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse...

THE BODY revolves around current Catholicism. Baptists and Jews, pagans more or less Godly and Vatican II-unconscious Catholics need not apply. If you're an orthodox Catholic pure and simple your reaction to THE BODY will be along the lines of "He who is not with Me is against Me." If you're an orthodox Catholic impure and complicated your reaction might be along the lines of "He who is not against me is with Me."

First and last, the priest character here speaks of Jesus as his Friend with unashamedly childlike devotion and seeks to continue that friendship though the heavens fall and the bones of God Himself rattle... The way he keeps saying, "God has no place in politics" makes sense only if this extends not only to the Vatican and the Israelis and the Palestinians but also to the LEFTIST agenda of the revered and beloved Liberation Theology priest who clearly exploited a boy's confusion as to what being "a soldier of Christ" means. This and more combined make him a complex and extremely sympathetic hero. (I doubt if any American actor could have attained Banderas' winning combination of passionate boldness and courtly humility, overwhelming spiritual distress and natural self-control and balance...)

So, all in all, Idiot Plot, stupid dialogue ("Now I get those Jews For Jesus!" gushes the archeaologist's yenta of a babysitter upon learning that the hunky Banderas is a priest), "meet cute" cliche, and dumb shoot-'em-up action aside, THE BODY is, or rather, can be, fascinating (though painfully so) on an intellectual level and profoundly moving on a religious and just plain human level. But even that will be, for people with certain mindsets and experiences as religious believers, secondary to the rare delight of utterly unexpected congenial discovery. It's embarrassing to feel this strongly about a movie which in some ways is so poor, but there it is... Banderas is great,the supporting players are better than you'd expect, (only the creepy blue-eyed ringleader of the Arab terrorists seems to know he's in a cheesy B picture) the tour of Jerusalem is as elegantly evocative as anything ever in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC,a certain potentially offensive scene is delicately ambiguous, and the music is both haunting and inspiring.

The Million Dollar Hotel

One of the Funniest Scenes Ever
This one left me speechless. But I'll try to review it, even though I tend to go from speechless to wordy.

Did I like it? Kind of... Did I think it was appallingly bad? In a way... There is too much of high quality in it for it to be dismissed as mere trash... The direction, the acting (except for the painfully out-of-place and self-conscious Mel Gibson)... But it is just too deliberately and rigidly bizarre for the first hour or so for the beautifully rendered pathos of the last reel to touch the heart as deeply as it should. I couldn't forget how I had been slapped in the face with an old lady known for her refined sweetness screaming the F-word over and over, and hit over the head a hundred times with shots of the intellectually challenged main character hopping about and squealing like a brain damaged chimp in front of a mirror. "Self-sabotage" may be the operative word in assessing this movie's basic trouble.

True, I ended up being intrigued and moved by the character and predicament of Tom Tom . That's the accomplishment of Jeremy Davies. I just wish that the director and screenwriter had stayed within more traditional dramatic lines. The crucial scene in which we discover who if anyone "dunit" didn't have enough behind it to work. In itself this scene is so compelling, the tragedy involved in the moral and psychological crisis of a single moment so grippingly presented, that most people, I think, who saw it as a clip, would be astonished and disgusted at the rest of the movie's frivolous weirdness. Jeremy Davies might easily have won an Oscar for what his performance in the movie worthy of that scene would have been. (Outside of the Gospels, no one is more welcoming than Oscar to the blind and the halt and those with divers ailments...) It's cool if a filmmaker follows his Muse out of the Hollywood mainstream into areas at which the little golden idol tends not to nod. It's just dumb if even a decidedly indie filmmaker goes out of his way to spoil not only his Oscar chances but a haunting tale of not-meant-to-be love, and fascinatingly ambiguous murder, with scenes of black with purple polkadots comedy as atrociously unfunny, as obnoxiously lampshade-on-the-heady, as the one in which Mel Gibson sits in a lotus position in the lobby of the hotel (the last thing his straight-laced character with the crew cut would do)and browbeats the howling and cursing freaks and losers who populate the eponymous hotel.

And yet... What do I know? Yes. I have uttered the ultimate movie critic blasphemy. But there may have been no place in the MILLION DOLLAR HOTEL which I think SHOULD have been for one of the most profoundly hilarious movie scenes I've ever seen; it's probably the quirkiest thing in the movie. Quite a few reviewers pointed it out as something special. That came as a kind of relief. So I wasn't the only one who noticed!

It's the rendition by Peter Stormare, playing Dixie, a John Lennon lookalike who claims to have been a Beatle who wrote a lot of Beatle songs whom the other Beatles never met or knew of, of "I Am the Walrus." What makes the scene is not so much Stormare's amusing badness as a singer, nor Dixie's oddly endearing delusional aplomb as he offers asides about how "he" came to compose this particular song, as the reactions of a character (played by Bud Cort) who up to that point has been one of the less sympathetic hotel residents. The poor slob with the bad toupee is a drunk and a loser, and along with his Million Dollar neighbors has just suffered his biggest loss ever in the lottery of life (the fraud conspiracy- another first-hour false start and blind alley in the screenplay). Now he is sitting in the lobby, in his cups, gazing off into space as he listens to the Fifth Beatle, tears welling up in his eyes... The way he responds to Dixie's claim of being the "Eggman"...but I must say no more. All I can say is that I was brought back to my college days, to occasions on which I had to BEG the most intelligently funny guy I knew to stop with the sublime silliness of his routine,which was wickedly attuned to the weaknesses of my particular funny bone, because my laughter was starting to be excruciating. But the scene is throat-grabbing as well as side-splitting. I shall remember it as long as I live. Because of it alone I'll probably end up buying the MILLION DOLLAR DVD. Twenty, thirty years from now I'll be at least smiling at my memory of how hard I once laughed. Till I cried...

Il vangelo secondo Matteo

Best Screenwriter Makes for Best Jesus Movie
We have reached a point at which the main point of a movie about Jesus has to be that he was "human". As if his "humanity", in itself, was any more remarkable than that of Barabbas or Philip the Tetrarch or the Man Born Blind. A recent TV miniseries drew roughly 10 % of scenes and dialogue from the Gospels. Most of it was devoted to making the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity look like a slacker goofball, a likable but pitiful example of air-headed arrested development. The approach of moviemakers to the Figure of Jesus has always been crooked. Now it's just gotten out of hand.

In the 60s, they wanted to have it both ways. To make Jesus THE Man, the Son of Man, as it were, in clouds of glory, provoking supernal modes of a Phrygian nature, but in a secularized, not a "dogmatic" way. Things were bound to get worse for the Incarnate Word in cinema. The trick to the post-SUPERSTAR travesties is to diminish Jesus by making Him out to be infantile, weak, unstable, uncertain, neurotic, stupid... and answering all orthodox objections with an appeal to the idea of His True Humanity. "Oh, I suppose YOU think the Man was made of stained glass, that He didn't sweat and weep and laugh and sing and at least WANT to have sex with Mary Magdalene and maybe even the 12 year old daughter of Jairus..."

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST MATTHEW, with roughly 99% of its dialogue and 90% of its very images coming from the eponymous text,puts to shame all other Jesus Pictures on the level of basic conception. It alone has given itself over to the Material, to the Story. It is the only movie on Jesus made in good faith with Him as He is in the Gospel. That's why it's the only one which really works on a dramatic level. With great and terrible justice of at least a poetic kind, the others fail dramatically for having tried to serve two masters: the Gospel Christ and Modernistic, Liberal Christian reductionism in His regard. MATTHEW is the only one whose 33 year old itinerant Preacher matches up perfectly with its hours-old Angel-attending, Magi-sought Celestial Babe. (THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD fails most miserably in this regard. It robs Jesus of all glory, all Personal interest. No WAY this kindly but annoyingly sententious unmarried uncle or history prof, called forth Glorias In Excelsis once upon a time...)

It is far from perfect. The scenes of Jesus just standing there preaching get wearisome. Too much of the direction seems deliberately bizarre. Those are obviously dolls being tossed about like footballs in the Massacre of the Innocents scene.

But what brilliant gold on the other side of the scale!

The Face of Jesus, dominated by amazingly piecing eyes...

The strong yet suave voice provided by Enrico Salerno.

Jesus' air of otherworldly authority focused with terrible intensity on His Father's business in this world...

The intelligence and the compassion and the Rabboni-worthy anti-authoritarianism demonstrated in Pasolini's own marginal glosses to Matthew's narrative... The sadness and fear of a peasant girl both pregnant and unmarried... The mute qualms of young men, soldiers, before they are forced to render unto Caesar (Herod the Great, that is) something which SS Peter and Paul themselves might not so readily have declared not to be Ceasar's... (No Christian artist before Pasolini seems to have considered that the "cruel soldiers" of unreflective homiletics and iconography were ORDERED to be cruel by the lawful Powers That Be... Maybe for Pasolini this touch was a Marxist thing. But it should be a Christian thing...)

Magnificent sequences. The young fishermen brothers James and John racing unknowingly down a beach, nets unfurled, towards their Rendevous with Immortal Glory... The way in which the very spaces between Jesus and his hearers in one wind-blown preaching scene are made to convey the idea of His words being carried off on the wind...

And you want the human touch? After this Apocalyptically stern Master of All warns some hapless farmers he happens upon to repent, leaving them to look after him in shock and awe, HE SHOOTS A GLANCE BACK AT THEM! This beautifully natural and "human" moment puts to shame all the others' tendentious "souping-up" of the Sacred Humanity.

The Others

You Just Want Car Chases! And not St Augustine!
In my entire movie-going life (and I go back to the original ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS)I have never found a movie so engrossing, moving,heart-rending, fascinating, overwhelming, cathartic, and a hundred other things along these lines which you always read in movie reviews and until now always seemed so pretentiously overblown to me...

And yet I'd give it only 3 out of 4 stars. I can see how others would find it overlong, repetitious, and structurally ill-conceived in spots.. But it is absurd to say that this is a bad movie, or a Horror film which is not horrifying and so on. It's simply NOT a Horror or Suspense Film or a Ghost Story. It belongs to another genre entirely. Quasi-Augustinian Creepshow.

I haven't seen much mention of Religion in reviews I've read. Odd, as Angela Lansbury would say. With the very first audio a recitation of the very first verses of the Holy Bible? With an extended reference to the not especially well-known martyrs SS Justus and Pastor? (That's the Spanish influence, by the way.) With countless scattered references to Limbo, Hell, the Rosary, priests, Holy Communion, the Virgin, Christ,God, and Noah? And with all that, a main character named GRACE? At the risk of seeming patronizing...

THE OTHERS is basically an ambiguously ironic (or ambiguously confirmatory? But the BOY should then have been SEVEN, not FIVE or SIX) look at Roman Catholic Theology concerning God as Ruler of All generally, and more particularly, the Fates of various categories of Immortal Souls in the Afterlife . If you're not at all interested in that subject you are bound to be constitutionally bored by this movie. If you are utterly captivated by that subject you are bound to be at the least fully engaged by every frame of this magnificently photographed, acted, and scored film. (The screenwriting is not SO magnificent.) If you are a strictly orthodox Catholic you will probably be offended. If you are a strictly orthodox Catholic wannabe for whom "things have just not worked out" this movie will come as something of a painfully gratifying shock.

Yes, I would definitely say that this is one movie reaction to which will depend greatly on predisposition towards thematic content. Unfortunately, interest in that content as regards THE OTHERS is about on the level of interest in the development of Esperanto.

So again, I can sympathize with the "two star" reviews. But it's hard for me to see how anyone could fail to be sufficiently moved by Nicole Kidman's character and performance that they wouldn't find a satisfying emotional pay-off at the end. For me, her performance here is one of the ten best I've ever seen in a movie. That conflicted reaction to a simple offer of a nice hot cup of tea in rather odd circumstances... Amazing. Beautiful. Heart-rending. Cathartic...

The Munsters

Beautiful, Like Marilyn (?)
What makes THE MUNSTERS a true TV classic is, of course, the brilliant character comedy of the late Fred Gwynne. But there's another shining quality which maybe you have to think twice about: it's really quite a fine-LOOKING show! The black and white cinematography, the direction, and the overall "physical production" are usually Grade A Movie quality.

One Hour Photo

I Figure This Is Probably Mel Gibson's Bad Dream...
(POSSIBLE SPOILER)This morbid little quasi-thriller boasts impressive direction and good performances, but it's part of a movie trend which is even more alarming than the use of KING OF KINGS-style Heavenly choirs in the musical scores of pedestrian crime dramas and silly action/adventure romps... Call it genre-tweaking, or Dead Greek Male-bashing, it should be against the law of Movieland to present without the slightest differentiation a sequence of events which are only vaguely implausible (not like riding a tornado from a black-and-white Dust Bowl to a Technicolor fairyland) and then have them suddenly turn out to be someone's daydream... To crash the relationships of the main characters into a brick wall with about forty minutes of show to go. As for that weisenheimer sicko/ gotcha! ending, it's as cheap a trick as a greeting card which promises something naughty on the cover and inside has only a lame joke meant to shame the reader... But back to Aristotle. The opposite of catharsis is not a pretty thing...

It's a shame. If the writer/director had played it straighter, had he not been so set on engaging in postmodern antics with the psychokiller thriller genre, this easily could have made for some great human comedy/drama. I'd bet that a good script doctor would have ordered that Sy try somehow to SAVE the Yorkin's sad situation. That might have led to something genuine, quirky, and interesting- embarrassing, disturbing, and touching all at once. But that would have cramped the trailer's style... So... We get instead a replay the usual psychokiller cliches- ingenious preliminaries to mayhem of which Hannibal Lecter could be proud..

The good points...

Everyone praises the direction. The last shots, of course, are a rip-off from PSYCHO, but I was thinking not so much of Hitchcock or David Lynch as of Peter Weir for most of the movie... Robin Williams is especially good when he gives the objects of his obsession the brush-off, his angry, despairing rebuff as out-of-whack as his warm devotion had been. (I just hope that our ever sadder clown is not revving up for a John Wayne Gacy biopic...) As the late Gene Siskel used to say, "I wanted to see more" of that oddball family: the all-time wimp father who is as hard as Sy to look at by the end, the kindly but clinically depressed little boy, the speciously perky and chic Mom crying out for help with her defiantly Bad Hair... Above all, I think, the always memorable Gary Cole as a middle management type, one who's too uptight and insensitive to qualify as a Regular Joe, but not quite mean or unreasonable enough to qualify as an..., well, what middle management types are so often called...


Some pearls of great price in the chaff...
Maybe it would be unfair, or beside the point, to review this one as a movie rather than as a cinematic Evangelization tool. As far as direction, acting, film editing, and scoring go it's amateur night in Zion almost all the way. What can you say about a movie in which a spliced-in scene between Pilate and the chief priests has a different actor from the Passion Pilate? That there are beautiful shots of the eerie undulations of the rocks in the Judean desert.

Brian Deacon tries hard as Jesus, but he's just trying TOO hard, like the new young Rev in charge of the Youth Ministry. This Image of Christ seems like the proverbial (HIS proverb) house divided. On the one hand Deacon goes out of his way to present a Flesh and Blood rather than a "Stained Glass" Christ, chuckling all the time, grinning, even having a hairy chest, but on the other, he's saddled with a perfectly straight chestnut wig which could have been left over from Greta Garbo's QUEEN CHRISTINA. A minor point, but it seems perverse. The perfect chestnut hair is the aspect of the Stained Glass Jesus most often singled out for ridicule. And why an English actor who speaks in veddy, veddy proper tones which often seem condescending? Why wasn't the actor who plays Judas chosen to play Jesus? He is tall and dark, with piercing eyes, and a little scary-looking. JESUS pours its new wine into too many old bottles on the Sunday School shelf. The result is a mess on both the visual and the dramatic level. I won't even get into the awkwardness of the camerawork and the scene transitions, the cheesiness of the sets and costumes...

The Mormons, by the way, have since shown how it SHOULD be done: their "Lamb of God" promotional video has excellent production values, elegant direction, a fine, burnished "lived-in" look of ancient reality, and a Jesus in whose Figure classic iconography is combined with the contemporary ideal of a COOL Young Carpenter Rabbi...

But there are some fine things in this most widely seen movie of all time. Seeing a movie "for the scenery" is a joke, but since the scenery here is the actual Holy Land, it's what the old Revised Standard Bibles call a Help. Someone who knew a little bit about making movies seems to have stepped in (like that Second Pilate) at a few points. The scene of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes is nicely done. Catch that low-angle shot of the Master raising the Bread to Heaven. The opening shots of the crowds kind of "chasing" Jesus are nice Gospel illustrations. The interest which St Luke had in the women who gave their all to Christ is conveyed appropriately. The brutality of the Crucifixion is shocking, moving. And for people who really know their Bible, it's kind of fun to count the peculiarly "Lukan" touches (the screenplay is based on the Third Gospel): for example, there is no Crown of Thorns because Luke doesn't mention that detail. Deacon even shines in a few scenes. So grave and kind as he raises Jairus's daughter. He even looks pretty good/Godly when that blasted wig gets wetted down, as when He is baptized and when He calms the Strom on the Lake.


Good Show/Bad Faith
This is one I'm in the middle on. I was certainly disappointed, so I can agree with most of the negative criticisms SIGNS has gotten. I'd have to say that I found the savage invective hurled against it here far more enjoyable than the movie.

On the other hand, I liked it. I expected something broader, more serious,more subtle, but in the end I at least got a pretty good old-fashioned monster movie. A few chuckles, loads of goosebumps. I'm not sure that it's fair to review movies as antitheses of expectations based on previous credits of the director, or comparisons to true classics of the genre Hitchcock etc... What's up there on the screen passes muster as good solid popcorny entertainment. Exquisitely moody cinematography, superstar charisma (but this has to be Mel's "gulpiest" performance outside of RANSOM)and a fine supporting performance by a peculiarly intriguing actor, can work magic on the drippiest of screenplays.

But boy, that religious business... Almost as ridiculous and out-of-touch as all those wimples and robes in SISTER ACT which real nuns hadn't worn in 25

years. A high school drop-out PLUMBER will lose faith in God over a squashed wife and express his idiosyncratic apostasy in the terms used here, not a theologically adept Reverend Father. In fact, a really up-to-date and with-it Rev would have taken a least a few pages from the God Is Dead School of Theology and not had too many "Father In Heaven, Eye on the Sparrow" notions to begin with. Also, coming face to face with Alien Beings would be a devastatingly UnBiblical experience for many believers, not an occasion to put extra oomph into the recital of Psalm 23. In any case, the "faith" which the Rev recovers is only the vaguest of intuitions, one more in line with unchurched agnosticism than with Being Saved in the John 3:16 sense. If you're basically on the same page only with Voltaire it's best not to go charging off in full clerical dress like Thomas a Becket...

Someone was listing movies SIGNS cribs from. How about THE BIRDS?

No Place to Hide

POSSIBLE SPOILER???? Good acting, nice twists and turns, scary, but as a whodunit cheats badly in a certain way I cannot reveal, but will hint at. At one point someone has a certain facial expression which he or she SHOULD NOT HAVE, given further developments. Now go watch it...

The Sound of Anger

I Remember It So It Must Be Memorable
I have a special fondness for those great TV movies of the late 60s and early 70s which actually had original plots and fully developed characters. (The Plug-in-the-B List-Actress into the True Crime or Medical Drama Syndrome began later.)I can get pretty nostalgic about them, probably because it's unlikely I'll ever see them again. The snows of yesteryear... Because they are kind of obscure yet memorable in the best sense of the word it's fun to list and describe some of them with fellow TV and movie fans when you're just hanging out, with beers on the patio on a summer night... "I LOVED that one! It was on, like, every Wednesday night on the Late Show until 1978!" Much more fun than analyzing Nick Ray's use of POV...

THE SOUND OF ANGER, a crime drama about a young couple accused of cutting wires or something to cause the crash of the girl's disapproving (and very wealthy) father's private plane, was one of the best. I must have seen it five times. I think it WAS on every Wednesday night in the 70s. It's been too long for me to critique the performances or the film editing: What has stayed with me is its unusually trenchant and realistic (for TV anyway)view of the Jury System, in which the Quest for Truth can get lost in the shuffle of petty local politics. Also, the sun-baked dreariness of the desert locale. The twist ending (is it a POSSIBLE SPOILER even to say there's a twist ending? Somehow, I don't think it'll matter much to anyone in this case...)is a beauty.

A Killing Affair

Uniquely Stylized Creepiness
I saw this forgotten TV movie just once, on a cloudy, muggy summer evening 20 years ago. It struck me as one of the oddest and creepiest things I had ever seen on TV. I don't remember too much of the storyline, but I vividly recall its bleak, bad- dreamy moral and physical atmosphere. The direction was extremely artsy for a TV movie. Like a Welles or Hitchcock wannabe did it. Especially memorable was a shooting in some greasy spoon, with dramatic close-ups of eyeglasses flying and ketchup bottles shattering. Also, Elizabeth Montgomery's tough-gal detective character, when threatened with death, was not above whimpering and blubbering and begging for her life. It was a little TOO realistic. A far cry from Emma Peel. Don't recall OJ at all.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Three A-/Two A/One A+
The best TV miniseries I've ever seen by far. Originally a BBC presentation, it became something of a pop culture phenomenon here in the summer of 1971, when, edited and with a more elegant introduction, it was presented on six Sunday nights. What's best in it is what's most important- the characterization by the six different playwrights of that monstrous old charmer, Henry VIII, and the performance(s) of Keith Michell in the role. I'll give my comments wife by wife. (The title of each episode is the name of the wife.)

CATHERINE OF ARAGON (A) The proximate cause of the English Reformation, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain who had been briefly married to Henry's older brother, whom he married with the necessary papal dispensation, and later wanted to dump because she didn't produce a male heir, which led to all the trouble with Rome. The series gets off to a rocky start. It was a daring ploy of the author to be deliberately tedious in the depiction of the unnoteworthy trials of the young "princess dowager" so as to draw a sharp ironic parallel to the world-shaking trials of the OLD "princess dowager." The satisfaction you feel in getting the point makes up for your initial impatience. All of the wives give fine performances; Annette Crosbie's is one of two which are as great as Michell's. She does full justice to a very great lady. Complaints: her old-age make-up is way overdone (she looks 60-70 instead of 40-50)and this is the only episode compromised by a gratingly poor performance (you'll know whom I mean).

ANNE BOLEYN (A-) Interestingly, the one part of Henry's life which is well-known, his romance with Anne Boleyn, is dispatched here in a minute-long opening interlude. There are some serious weaknesses in the script. The phraseology is "off" a lot- too modern, too soap operatic. ("Love is a most Complete Experience...") It puts its emotional climax (Anne's trial for adultery) at the mid point and then has to trump up unlikely, pointless scenes between the doomed Queen and the Henry's weak yes-man Archbishop Cranmer which come off as actors stalling on a stage because the hands are having trouble wheeling out the block. Henry is reduced to a supporting role in this one and is purely the villain of the piece. The previous Catherine and this Anne are the only wives whose personalities and words have come through in the pages of history; what's most admirable here (and least soap operatic) is that neither the playwright nor the actress (the late Dorothy Tutin)try to gloss over the cruelty and arrogance of the legendary Hussy, and even seem to want to convey the idea that in a sense getting thrown in the Tower and having her head chopped off were the best things that ever happened to her, almost a blessed relief. The supporting players are generally superb in all episodes. Here Anne's brother George and the gentle coward Cranmer are stand-outs.

JANE SEYMOUR (A+) Television at its finest. All but sheer perfection in every way. By far the richest in drama and historical analysis. The playwright ingeniously parlays the little that is known about the sweet country girl (the original Plain Jane)who gave Henry his all-important prince and then quietly crept into her tomb, into an unforgettably touching look at Innocence and Goodness defiled and destroyed even as it's healing and helping (to some degree) Guilt and Badness. The psychological and moral depth matches the emotional- a rare triumph. The portrait it draws of Henry is the most balanced, and Anne Stallybrass is the other actress who attains magnificence. Okay, one tiny flaw: the merry-making scenes are too long.

ANNE OF CLEVES (A-) In the series as in life, a little comedy relief in Henry's ghastly marital career. Elvi Hale is a delight as the supposedly ungainly German princess whom the now grotesque and dilapidated Henry married to deal an alliance with the European Protestants. All that's known of the real Anne is that she was considered ugly and gauche but loved even by Henry (after dumping her in short order) for her simple good nature. Here the "joke" is that behind the scenes Anne is a brilliant political chess player who only plays dumb when expedient. But the good nature is still there, along with a rather anachronistic conviction that "comforting a hurt child is more important than squabbles between Churches", making her probably the only one of the six wives most modern people could like and identify with. Biggest problem: the "informational dialogue" is poured on too thick. The fact that Miss Hale is not just not ugly but actually the only wife who comes close to being beautiful, may be part of the "joke": we have portraits of all six real life wives and she, the "ugly" one, is generally thought to be the only pretty one. The simple sadness of the last shot is unforgettable.

CATHERINE HOWARD (A-) Michell shines as the wreck of his dashing and heroic former self trying to drum up a second wind in his blubbery old hulk when he falls head over heels for a pretty lass whom he makes Queen of England without checking her references... The real Catherine was just a vain and frivolous little ninny who led a sordid life and came to a bad end: to tease a Legend out of this pitiful footnote here Catherine has all the cunning and craft and steely will of Cleopatra and Scarlett O'Hara, and all the rhetorical grandeur of Antigone. The artifice doesn't quite jibe with the facts even as shown. Angela Pleasance is excellent as the witchy little wanton; appropriately, she's attractively nubile but on closer look really not even that pretty. It's a detail which nicely highlights the Die Young/Stay Young Eternally theme. Compelling, but a little too nasty for its own good. The scene in which Catherine banishes the court jester is a nice touch (the clown as sinister symbol of Fate).

CATHERINE PARR (A)The most plodding of the scripts, the least thematically engaging and most history bookish and episodic, so it's a good thing that the dialogue is especially witty and incisive. Another great lady among the six wives in real life, and Rosalie Crutchley does a fine job of projecting her intelligence, humor, kindliness, and honesty, as well as her mortal terror when despite all her golden virtues she almost goes the way of the first Anne and the next-to-last Catherine because of her one fault: she doesn't know when to keep her mouth shut on the subject of Religion in earshot of a husband who made up his own religion up as he went along and had a habit of killing those who wouldn't or couldn't keep up with the developments. Scene of King and Kate's first meeting one of best in the series.

The Courtship of Eddie's Father

Dated and Weird
A "heartwarming comedy"? Actually, it's rather chilling in its extremely dated weirdness. And not too much of a comedy either. It's fascinating in the way it's totally NOT what you'd think it would be. I at least thought little Eddie would be doing some cutesy matchmaking with the three prospects (blonde, redhead, and brunette)and creating the same sort of domestic comedy of errors you find in THE PARENT TRAP. But the relationships and storylines are strangely separate (especially the one featuring the ditsy Stella Stevens character, who should have been called Holly Golightly Lite).

Little Ronnie Howard was one of the cutest Hollywood child actors and if not one of the best little actors, one of the most endearingly natural. The running bit about the "skinny eyes" of the bad ladies is a gem. When Glenn Ford quotes it angrily in a serious scene it's honestly hilarious. The best thing you can say about the movie is that it's uniquely true-to-life in its mixture of tragedy and whimsy and grief and yuks. Or is that the worst? The whole thing just seems so "off". Take the scene with the dead goldfish and little Eddie's screeching. Funny for four seconds than disturbing, even shocking, in the way it plays out for three minutes. Then there's the fact that Ford has been a widower for only a week or two when the matchmaking zaniness starts. The way that his grief is either crassly patronized or totally ignored. Minnelli's elegant camerawork seems jarringly ill-suited to the genre in spots. Ford makes Eddie's Father an idiosyncratically edgy and fidgety not-all-there nuerotic. Quite different from the stalwart and wise and only slightly goofy generic American Pop you imagine just from the title. (Similar to the one Brian Keith played in THE PARENT TRAP.)

A must-see for nostalgic boomers just for the art direction. Dig that indigo blue on Dina Merrill's walls! As for Ford's final choice, let's just say that Eddie, in the wisdom of his six years, might have goofed.

The Pledge

Intriguing Failure
I've noticed that a lot of "artsy" types of movies (based perhaps on a Life Is Meaningless Tale by an eminent existentialist writer) allow themselves a certain studied artificiality in screenwriting and acting which may even be intended as dramatically subversive, like characters breaking out of the scene into the movie studio in a Fellini film. As regards THE PLEDGE, I'm referring to the crucial scene in which Nicholson's cop character takes one "on his soul's salvation." Sorry, but that was just an actress reading a Thematically Important (and bad) Line, and Nicholson's face saying the obvious Meaningful Universe thing: "Look lady, you've had a tough break and I sympathize, but get a life..." even though it would seem that given future developments The Pledge meant something more to him... I wanted the scene with the eagle-eyed psychologist (Helen Mirren) to last longer, and to be shot in a simple Meaningful Universe long shot without all the fancy audio distortions and flashbacks. Granted, the obsessed cop had his reasons for tuning her out, but I think that if we had been allowed to see just the expression on her face by the end of their little chat, we would have known some things that the movie never tells us- like maybe the cop's interest in little girls, dead or alive, was a bit unwholesome?

As for the cop, already known as a nutcase, getting all those other cops to go along with his outrageous scheme involving his lover's daughter, now we're in Parallel Universe territory.

THE PLEDGE is right up there with THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD as far as distractingly unnecessary starpower goes. (Though at least here, they're all just fine, Miss Redgrave, Stanton, Rourke, and all.) Robin Wright is great as the cop's troubled waitress lover, but the director seems to have broken with form and spotlit her in the kinds of conventional emotional states at which a little gold man nods...

The Conspirators

Just So-So
What struck me most about this one was that unusually for a mediocre or poor Hedy Lamarr movie it was not weird or campy or "off" in any way. Just a nice dull, forgettable World War II espionage/melodrama. With Henreid as the Bogart they had to get someone who looked like the Frankenstein monster to be the Henreid. Hedy is lovely but seems to be in the sleepwalking mode people remember her for.

Chicken Run

Clever But Creepy
The claymation technique is creepy enough to begin with- to add on top of it a storyline centering on decapitation and the threat of it makes for one depressing little barnyard tale. The odd way that Mel Gibson has of jerking his head around on THE TONIGHT SHOW may have made him seem the ideal choice to play a rooster, but his voice is too deep and suave to suggest a bird. The basic chickenworld reality just doesn't come off as convincing or charming. But I still gave it a 6 because of the cleverness of the physical production, the endearing character of Babs, and a scene at the end which actually made me laugh harder than I've laughed at a movie since SPINAL TAP: one which pokes fun at the absurdity of the whole conceit of anthropomorphic chickens.

David and Bathsheba

Intriguing Subtext
Old movie buffs will know why I'd call this one "The Man in the Grey Flannel Robe." Most Bible-based movies are basically schlock- what might call forth smiles and giggles here is how Peck, tries to raise consciousness on a variety of psychological and social issues with the spear carrying Neanderthals all about him. As a Great Romance, it falls flat as unleavened bread. But there is something gripping about this movie. Of all the big Hollywood Bible pictures it most strikingly conveys the ambivalent attitude of the Average American towards belief in the Biblical God. Billy Sunday's thesis is duking it out with H.L. Mencken's antithesis all through the script. Who gets the better of it in the Heavenly Chorus-backed synthesis depends on your point of view. Other than that, D & B boasts a good performances by Peck ( especially in the closing repentance scene) and by Jayne Meadows as his bitter first wife Michol, vivid, moody atmosphere (good idea to set most action at dawn or night), and the rousing rendition of the Twenty-Third Psalm at the end.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Worth a Second Look
This is a movie that was just made for the in-home video situation. Actually, it was made for the big-screen as the ultimate Biblical blockbuster. And it was rightly panned for being silly in spots and dull overall. (Silly? James the Less asking Jesus what His name is and upon being told saying, "Ah, that's a good name!", with Jesus responding, "Thank you!" Ed Wynn doddering about Palestine as a blind man and reminding the Messiah about how when He was "just a little fella'" He was always asking questions. Dull? The Sermon on the Mount shot from twenty miles away with Jesus posing weirdly like some sort of oragami figurine. Roman soldiers, Apostles, Mary and Joseph, camels, everyone, trudging through the desert...)But there are so many things about TGSET which are truly magnificent and, in a Biblical movie, unique, that it deserves a general reevaluation, now that you can fast-forward through the dull and the dumb parts. Most Bible movies suffer from a certain pictorial stodginess, as if the director were afraid to depart from illustrated Bible models. Stevens is not afraid of arty touches, like the huge close-up of the Infant Christ's hand superimposed against a sun which dissolves into trumpets of the Temple guards. The sequence in which John the Baptist is introduced as a "breath of fresh air" into a drab and heartless world is for me the finest representation in all cinema of a Christian concept. And the scene when the Holy Family, making a pretty holy picture along with their little donkey, happen upon one of the mass crucifixions you read about in Josephus, is startling and thought-provoking like nothing else in any sword-and-sandal flick. You don't get this kind of depth and breadth of allusion anywhere else. Great music, beautiful scenery, fair cast with Herods and Peter a cut above, notorious all-star problem less of a problem with every passing year. Who under 30 knows Shelley Winters from Edna May Oliver? Sal Mineo from George Arliss? Only John Wayne is actually bad, so the others's having been famous is a non-issue now.

King of Kings

Rebel With A Cause
For me and, I suspect, a lot of other Boomers who were pious as kids and tipped off by nuns about the 4:30 Movie on Good Friday, this one is beyond criticism. When it's time for us to go, many of us will be seeing Hunter's face, baby blues and all, in the midst of the white light... But personal soft spots aside, it's a pretty good Jesus picture. Hunter may speak with the unctious blandness of a TV game show host, but he's earnest and vigorous and has a certain charisma you could take as Godhood... The music is sublime. Ray's direction has a lot of the REBEL WITHOUT quirks. Note the weird angles during Salome's dance. The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best sequence. Those oddly lit and artsily angled close-ups of Jesus are intriguing. Then He comes over the hill with His arms outstretched and it's pure glory... Sweet as a jelly bean, redolent of Easter lilies.

White Cargo

Stinks Much
Great black and white cinematography, excellent performances by some great character actors (Frank Morgan, AKA The Wizard of Oz, in particular)and the usually wooden Walter Pidgeon, and a promising beginning...until you see the whites of Hedy's eyes. And teeth. They kind of glow in the dark, into which she otherwise blends. The basic problem here, beyond the silliness of the sultry half-breed's speech patterns, epitomized above, is that the pay-off is too cheap coming after a rich set-up. I never read the novel on which CARGO is based, but it can't have been this uninvolving succession of merely unpleasant and unsavory events. Two things are suggested in the first scenes which could have made for some nice melodrama: that Tondelayo was more sinned against than sinning and had a certain moral sense, and that her present nemesis Pidgeon had once loved her. But these themes are dropped. Hedy was better at regal and ethereal than she was at vampy and sultry, anyway. Worth seeing once as a bit of legendary camp.

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