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)


Is This Shark Gay?

[Beliefnet, December 13, 2004]

In this tense post-election climate there's a tendency to look for suspicious messages in everything but the stickers on grocery-store produce. That's the only way I can explain a writing assignment that included these instructions: "I need you to go to a movie and find out whether the shark is gay."

Now, sharks have done some memorable things in American movies, but this would be a first. Granted, they're usually engaged in disrupting social norms, but not in the size-twelve-high-heels way.

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[National Review Online, December 3, 2004]

This is about the saddest movie I've ever seen. Everyone in the movie is sad, everybody cries, everybody (at one time or another) looks like they were knocked down by a garbage truck and dragged down an alley. This is also a movie that has a lot of sex-talk in it; not much action, but about as much explicit description of sexual activity that a script can contain. There might be a connection.

The title "Closer" is intended to mean intimacy, I think, as in "Come closer." But it might also mean the closing events that happen in relationships; lovers run into a moment that is a "closer" and they can't go any further.

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[National Review Online, November 22, 2004]

A few years ago I was browsing in a thrift shop and came across a curious volume titled "Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique." What's that got to do with "Kinsey," the new film about sex researcher Alfred Kinsey? We'll get to that in a minute.

First, let's look this specimen over merely in terms of its cinematic qualities, and set aside the sexual content. If this was a biography of any research scientist, we'd surely give it a solid A for visuals: costumes, lighting, props, cinematography, all contribute to a rich sense of environment and mood.

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Finding Neverland

[National Review Online, November 18, 2004]

Somebody, somewhere, hates imagination. In some Dickensian institution where children wear lace-up boots and stare glumly at their porridge, a wicked, wrinkled figure reflects gleefully that they will never hear of talking animals and flying ships. We know that such a killjoy must exist, because "Finding Neverland" is so heroically opposed to him. Throughout the film beautiful figures keep imploring us to welcome the liberating power of imagination, and they must be talking to *somebody*. I attended a screening for movie critics, and these tend to be more hard-boiled than most, but I still didn't spot anyone shaking his fist at the screen like Snidely Whiplash. I did eventually hear someone gently snoring.

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[National Review Online, November 9, 2004]

If you're of a certain age, when you hear the name "Alfie" a song immediately starts up in your head. You might even be able to sing mentally through the entire theme (though for some of us it veers into a part where Tom Jones is going "wo, wo wo," and then there's a verse about Georgy Girl). But the line you remember for sure is, "What's it all about, Alfie?" In other words, What is the meaning of life? Is it only about pleasure? Does "life belong only to the strong"? What about that "old Golden Rule"? Wo, wo wo?

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The Incredibles

[National Review Online, November 8, 2003]

How do you make a kids' movie that adults can stand to watch - and watch over and over again, once it comes out on video? One approach is to load it with references to pop culture, so everyone can feel fashionably knowing. But five years later those same refs will be unfashionable, and in a couple of decades incomprehensible. Or you could go for plenty of gross stuff, bathroom jokes and double-entendres. That might amuse the less mature segments of the grownup audience, but it wears mighty thin on repetition, and makes responsible parents uncomfortable.

Is there any solution? Well, how about an enthralling plot, compelling characters, genuine humor, and a stirring message? It's so crazy it just might work.

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[National Review Online, October 29, 2004]

I hope Jamie Foxx has a nice Oscar-sized spot dusted off on his mantle, because if there's any justice in the world, he'll be going home with a statuette next February. His starring performance in "Ray," a biography of Ray Charles by director Taylor Hackford, is gripping from the start. It's not just the dazzling grin, not just the swaying head and tottering walk, but most of all the voice-a little higher and faster than you'd expect, with a hint of a stutter. Every time he speaks there's a jolt of energy, and it always comes as a surprise.

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I [Heart] Huckabees

[National Review Online, October 12, 2004]

Toward the end of "I [Heart] Huckabees," the "existential detective" Vivian Jaffe (Lily Tomlin) is talking with a client. As the camera swings back her way we discover that she has unexpectedly taken out a pair of large, bone-colored knitting needles and is busily working some black yarn. This startling visual distraction must mean something (recall Chekhov's famous dictum that a gun seen in the first act must be fired in the next), so the viewer immediately does a mental Google on "knitters." Top result is Dickens' cruel Madame Defarge. Compare and contrast: Vivian Jaffe is like Mme Defarge in these ways; she is not like her in those ways.

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Shaun of the Dead

[National Review Online, September 27, 2004]

Just as the fire department tells us we should rehearse what we'd do in case of fire (planning escape routes, designating a safe meeting place), disaster movies do us the psychological service of forcing a quick march through "the worst that could happen." At the end we see that you win a few, you lose a few, some cars are up in trees, and only the most attractive of the young people have survived. This should have the effect of sending us straight from the theaters to our Stairmasters, but instead we head straight for the comfort food, judging by the looks of the crowd that shows up at the next disaster movie. We can't say they didn't warn us.

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Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

[National Review Online, September 17, 2004]

The most distinctive thing about "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" is the thing you need to forget right away. It's the thing you probably know already: everything in this movie is a fake.

That's not unusual, of course; there's a reason "Hollywood" is an adjective. But this movie is faker than most. The action was shot in just 26 days on a sound stage in London, the actors standing before a bluescreen and emoting in a visual vacuum. Everything else, apart from the props actors actually touch, was generated in a computer. The tiny, live elephant inside a glass dome, the airplane dashing along under the sea, the 90-foot robots stomping down Fifth Avenue, all were computer-drawn.

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