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I'll Come Speak

    I write and speak on all sorts of topics: ancient Christian spirituality and the Eastern Orthodox faith, the Jesus Prayer, marriage and family, the pro-life cause, cultural issues, and more. You can contact Cynthia Damaskos of the Orthodox Speakers Bureau if you’d like to bring me to an event. This Calendar will let you know when I’m in your neighborhood.

 

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Entries in Movie Reviews (164)

Friday
Nov042005

Chicken Little

[National Review Online, November 4, 2005]

Is the big green head of the Wizard of Oz still scary? It sure used to be. Back in the days when "The Wizard of Oz" was broadcast once each Spring, the moment when that looming lightbulb head boomed "Silence!" was the closest a seven-year-old came to numinous awe. (Though it was the witch cackling "I'll get you, my pretty," that caused my little sister's feet to thump-thump-thump away down the hall.)

I ask because a good bit of "Chicken Little" is just as scary. Giant heads looming out of darkness and thundering "Silence!" is just one example.

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Wednesday
Oct122005

Elizabethtown

[NationalReview Online, October 18, 2005]

You had me at "Spasmotica."

Cameron Crowe, director of "Elizabethtown," has a knack for the perfect detail. In "Elizabethtown," one of them comes along at the start: a billion dollars' worth of high-end athletic shoes are being returned to the factory, and on each box the ultra-hip name reads "Spasmotica." With two dots over the first "a".

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Friday
Oct072005

In Her Shoes

[National Review Online, October 11, 2005]

About midway through "In Her Shoes" we see Rose Feller (Toni Collette, always a delight), semi-professional dogwalker, being yanked down the streets of Philadelphia by a team of mismatched pooches. It's a good metaphor for this film, which is propelled by several different stories at once, and some are livelier than others.

That's an eye-of-the-beholder thing, of course, and there were many in the audience who were happy-teary puddles by the end of the film. A great majority of that audience segment was female, and many of them were wearing red hats. If you don't fit that category, approach with caution.

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Thursday
Sep292005

Oliver Twist

[National Review Online, September 29, 2005]

Watching Roman Polanski's diligently faithful version of "Oliver Twist" prompts the question: how did anyone ever think they could get a musical out of this material? For 40 years now children have been prancing around theater stages, grinning and shouting about "Food, Glorious Food," little aware of the relentless gloominess of the original. The darkness of Charles Dickens' 1838 novel must have come as a surprise even at the time; his only previous book was "The Pickwick Papers," a jolly diversion. Dickens' fans eagerly awaited his second work, and as they paged through "Oliver Twist" it must have been as if Dave Barry had released "The Gulag Archipelago."

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Sunday
Sep042005

Tarzan, the Ape Man

[Books & Culture, September-October 2005]

Ungawa! Tarzan's timber-rattling call defies transcription, so we'll fall back on this all-purpose locution to salute this fine new box set of MGM's six Tarzan films. Ungawa is the perfect choice whenever you can't think of the right thing to say. It appears to mean Come here, Go away, Look out, Jump, and There's a cobra behind you. Just think how a sharply enunciated "Ungawa!" could clear a Starbucks when you don't want to wait in line.

However, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan's inventor, did not write "Ungawa."

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Monday
Aug292005

Forty-Year-Old Virgin

[Unpublished] 

I don’t know when I’ve felt so ambivalent about a film. Let me first warn that it’s relentlessly foul and vulgar, so don’t think I’m encouraging you to run out and rent it. The DVD has been extended 17 min, so it’s even more raw than the film shown in theaters. But at the time of the Oscar nominations a couple of critics said that, if the Academy didn’t have indie-itis, and if comedies in general were not regarded as lesser films, this should have been considered for best film. If you could somehow filter out the crudity, it would indeed be very funny. And it actually has some interesting and appealing characters. Yeah, if it wasn’t so raunchy, it would be a very likeable movie.

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Tuesday
Jun282005

War of the Worlds

[NationalReview Online, June 30, 2005]

I didn't think it was possible to make movies like this any more. 'War of the Worlds' is an almost perfectly realized movie of the classic aliens-attack type: satisfying, believable, and very, very scary. It comes so close to perfection that a long list of accolades are going to have to be cleared out of the way before we get around to that 'almost.'

Ray Ferrier, a dockworker, has just gotten charge of his kids for the weekend, as his ex-wife and her new husband head off for a weekend at her mom's. The teenaged son, Robbie (Justin Chatwin), is resentful and rude; the 10-year-old daughter, Rachel (Dakota Fanning), is a bit too world-weary for someone still carrying plastic ponies around.

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Saturday
Jun252005

Bewitched

[National Review Online, June 26, 2005]

Screenwriter Nora Ephron has a distinctive touch: "When Harry Met Sally" (1989), "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993), and "You've Got Mail" (1998) all display a common sophisticated, if not neurotic, sense of humor. Woody Allen does something similar, but Ephron beats him at the character-development game, and dithery, double-taking Meg Ryan made these roles shine. A sourpuss could say that her wide-eyed wondering is contrived and overly sweet, but most of us find her pretty hard not to watch. She's just plain appealing.

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Thursday
Jun092005

Howl's Moving Castle

[National Review Online, June 9, 2005]

Every child's cartoon needs a villain, or better yet a villainess. Her colors are dark purple and black, she is of an uncertain age, and she wears a great deal of makeup. She may be statuesque and austere (Cinderella's wicked stepmother), or gorgeous and malevolent (Snow White's Evil Queen) or gross and malevolent (the Little Mermaid's sea witch), but one thing's for sure - she's gonna get hers in the end. We are encouraged to fear and hate her, and to relish her destruction.

In "Howl's Moving Castle," the latest feature by beloved Japanese anime (animation) director Hayao Miyazaki,

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Monday
Jun062005

Cinderella Man

[National Review Online, June 3, 2005]

He's the Bulldog of Bergen, the Pride of New Jersey, the Hope of the Irish: James J. Braddock, has-been, might-have-been, and struggling breadwinner. As Russell Crowe portrays this real-life figure from the Depression era, he lopes down the sidewalk with his eyebrows tented in mild surprise and his mouth hanging slightly ajar. This Cinderella still has dust behind his ears.

Braddock is no ball of fire. He not motivated by a passion for boxing, like Maggie in last fall's hit, "Million Dollar Baby." He doesn't even have the horsy competitiveness of Seabiscuit, subject of Hollywood's last inspirational-underdog-of-the-Depression venture.

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