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Movies for Easter

Posted on April 19, 2019 at 8:00 am

Have a blessed Easter!

Some Easter movies for families:

Copyright MGM 1959

Ben Hur: The heart-pounding chariot race is a classic in this stirring film with Charlton Heston as a proud prince turned slave whose life is transformed by an encounter with Jesus. The remake with Jack Huston is also very good.

The Passion of the Christ: Mel Gibson’s record-breaking blockbuster created a lot of controversy for its intense violence and charges of anti-Semitism and Gibson’s decision to have the cast speak in Aramaic. But it succeeds as a personal statement about the suffering Jesus endured in the last hours of his life as a demonstration of his divinity and his sacrifice in taking on the sins of the world.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew: This intimate, poetic, humble, and moving portrayal of the life of Jesus from Italian director Pier Paolo Passolini features young, local performers.

Godspell: This tuneful musical has Broadway star Victor Garber as Jesus, singing and dancing through urban environments to put the story into a contemporary context.

Easter Parade: Fred Astaire and Judy Garland star in a musical that has little to do with the holiday other than the unforgettable title tune, but the story of a successful performer who needs a new partner is a lot of fun.

Jesus Christ Superstar: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock musical about the life of Jesus includes the beautiful songs “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Hosanna.” The recent live television broadcast with John Legend was sensational.

Veggie Tales: An Easter Carol — Our veggie friends Larry and Bob present a gentle and witty kid-friendly reminder that Easter is about more than eggs and candy.

The Gospel of John: A sincere, reverent, and dignified presentation of the life of Jesus stars Henry Ian Cusick, who portrays Jesus with a warmth, wisdom, and sadness that add a great deal to the story.

The Robe: Richard Burton plays a tribune who is in charge of the crucification of Jesus who wins Jesus’ robe with a role of dice. Being touched by the robe changes his life and he goes on a journey to try to learn more about the man he killed.

DisneyNature: Penguins

Posted on April 18, 2019 at 7:57 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: Brief mild word
Nudity/ Sex: Brief potty reference, very mild references to reproduction
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Low-key peril and violence, predators eat an egg and try to eat the penguins
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 17, 2019

Copyright Disney 2019
If there’s anything cuter than an Adelie penguin, it has to be a penguin voiced by Ed Helms (“The Office,” “The Hangover”). He provides the perfect slightly nerdy but always hopeful narration for the story of Steve, a young penguin on his first trek to find a mate, raise some chicks, and get them home.

As we know from “March of the Penguins,” it’s a long trek. Steve tells us it’s “a monumental expedition that favors the early bird and Steve is the last one to the party.” He gets lost on the way and ends up confusedly consulting some Emperor penguins, who smack him away. “I just got beat up by a baby,” he says dejectedly. It’s pretty disorienting even when he gets back to his own species. The millions of black and white birds look like that page in Where’s Waldo? that’s all Waldos.

We see Steve painstakingly collect stones to build a nest so he can tempt one of the female penguins, despite the efforts of the older penguins to steal them away. But Steve succeeds, and he does attract a female named Adeline. They tenderly sing to one another, memorizing each other’s voices, which they will recognize for as long as they live.

The film takes us through the year as Adeline lays her eggs, they hatch, and their penguin parents feed them (by barfing into their mouths, Steve explains). There are predators and other challenges, but there are also pop songs (REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight this Feeling Anymore”) and Steve’s bumbling but sincere devotion to Adeline, the chicks, and, well, life, is very touching.

Parents should know that this film includes a gentle depiction of some of the harsher aspects of nature and environmental challenges and a brief mild word.

Family discussion: How is Steve most like a human? Why did the other penguins want to steal Steve’s stones? What could he do to stop them?

If you like this, try: “Monkey Kingdom,” “Bears,” and “Born in China” and of course “March of the Penguins”

Breakthrough

Posted on April 16, 2019 at 5:30 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic content including peril
Profanity: None
Nudity/ Sex: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Peril, serious accident, critical medical condition
Diversity Issues: Theme of trans-racial adoption
Date Released to Theaters: April 17, 2019

Copyright 2019 20th Century Fox
“Breakthrough,” a Christian faith-based story based on a teenager’s remarkable recovery after falling through the ice into a frozen river. It asks but does not pretend to try to answer the big question: If we believe that divine intervention saved this boy, then where is the divine intervention for so many tragedies? Why him? Why not little children and beloved family members? He was not especially good or devout. What does it mean?

The movie also makes it clear that a very large community contributed to the boy’s recovery. Whether they were divinely inspired or not, they played an essential role. Nevertheless, this movie, the last to be issued from the now-Disney-owned Fox division producing Christian faith-based films, is preaching to the choir. It is likely to deliver what they are looking for, but it is unlikely to reach a broader audience as entertainment or as testimony. Even with a strong cast and a dramatic rescue, this movie is not created for or intended for those who are not already on board with the idea of a very devout family experiencing a miracle. Those who are will find this a touching, inspiring story well told and well performed.

Joyce and Brian Smith (“This is Us” star Chrissy Metz and Josh Lucas) live in a comfortable suburban home with their teenage son John (Marcel Ruiz), a student at the local Christian private school and star of the school’s basketball team. He is starting to have some teenage broodiness, beginning to deal with being adopted. He loves his parents but feels the loss of the people he never knew who gave him up. When his teacher assigns an oral report on family history, he does not even try.

And then one day he and two of his friends decide to play tag on a frozen river. The ice cracks, and they fall through. Agonizing minutes tick by as rescue workers try to grab John, who has sunk unto the water. Tommy Shine (Mike Colter of “Girls Trip” and “Luke Cage”) hears someone say, “Go back.” Later, no one who was present will say that he said or even heard those words.

John is trapped for 15 minutes and, once he is at the hospital, has no pulse for nearly half an hour. All the medical indicators are that he is past hope. But his mother insists he will come back, and she prays “boldly” — something she had just recently said she was not sure she understood in a Bible study group.

Joyce has some lessons to learn. She has been prideful and judgmental. She has not been careful about her own health and that makes it harder for her to help her family. But Jason (Topher Grace), the new preacher she dismissed as too secular (he brings in a Christian rock band and wears jeans on the pulpit when he uses “The Bachelor” as a kind of parable) turns out to be a true minister. He tells her he cannot change the outcome, but he can walk there with her.

We may not agree on why John recovers. This cast makes us glad and relieved that he does, even if the story veers into smugness that undermines its message.

Parents should know that the story concerns a very serious accident involving teenagers and critical medical conditions.

Family discussion: Why didn’t John want to do the report about his family? Why was it hard for Joyce to trust Jason, and how did that change?

If you like this, try: “Miracles from Heaven”

Ebertfest 2019

Posted on April 16, 2019 at 10:08 am

Copyright 2019 Ebertfest

The 21st Ebertfest (formerly Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival) was one of the all-time best. I was honored to be included on the panel of women critics and filmmakers discussing the opportunities and portrayals of women. It was a thrill to share the panel with so many women I admire, including “Bound” stars Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon, Alliance of Women Film Journalists founder and director Jennifer Merin, Sony Classics’ Michael Barker, Stephen Apkon, actress/critic Carla Renata (known as The Curvy Critic), and writer/director/producer Rita Coburn, who was at the festival to present her marvelous documentary about Maya Angelou.

I was also invited to do the Q&A following one of my favorite films, “Rachel Getting Married.”

The festival closed with “Sideways,” and our discussion afterward included an appearance from Virginia Madsen, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role.

Join us next April in Champaign/Urbana!