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)


The Manchurian Candidate

[National Review Online, July 30, 2004]
Judging from audience response, the tale told in "The Manchurian Candidate" still packs a wallop. Twists in the plot were met by gasps, and a retaliatory punch in the nose with applause. It seems to have everything a summer thriller needs.

I have to say "seems to have" because I'm a fan of the original version, released in 1962.

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The Door in the Floor

[National Review Online, July 23, 2004]
That loveable rascal! Americans have a soft spot for men who live with gusto, especially the ones whose gusto is applied to coaxing favors from the ladies. In "The Door in the Floor" Ted Cole (excellently portrayed by Jeff Bridges) is one of these familiar figures: fifty-plus but trim, bed-rumpled hair, slouching around in a flowing dressing gown, ice cubes clinking in a glass, and rasping out the kind of profundities we expect from a writer and artist (not from a real writer and artist, from the kind they have in movies).

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I, Robot

[Our Sunday Visitor, July 2004]

Robotics designers have a problem; it's called the "uncanny valley." Humans like humans, and we like robots, but we want to know which is which. A robot can be made to look increasingly human, and for awhile we find it appealing. But if its skin texture becomes too realistic and movements too lifelike, suddenly it becomes horrifying. Instead of seeing a clever human-like contraption, we think we're seeing a disturbed, distorted human. It has fallen into the uncanny valley.

This is the creep-factor behind a lot of sci-fi and horror, from Frankenstein to "Blade Runner."

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Raising Helen

[Beliefnet, April 26, 2004]

Wait just a minute till I get you hooked up to the Wince-O-Meter. Thumbs snug? Good. OK, just relax and listen to what comes over the earphones.

I got news for you little lady. I’m sexy. I’m a sexy man of God. And I know it.”

Wow, I never saw the dial do that before.

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[Beliefnet, May 13, 2004]

What's the difference between "Troy" and a sword-and-sandal epic of forty-plus years ago? Stumped me, too. Superficially, there's a lot in common: swords, sandals, sand, buxom ladies, pompous declamation ("Your glory walks hand in hand with your doom"), and faux-hearty earthiness ("May the gods keep the wolves in the hills and the women in our beds!," an invocation you hope you don't accidentally get backwards.) In terms of the grand feeling "Troy" hopes to evoke, it could be "Ben Hur" or "Spartacus."

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Van Helsing

[Beliefnet, May 7, 2004]

Hidden under the piles of obvious things to say about ‘Van Helsing’ ‘that it’ s loud, busy, and overstuffed with CGI’is one more very surprising thing: it presents the Roman Catholic Church as a heroic force for good. You wouldn’t think that possible these days, when suspicion of ‘institutional Christianity’ is at an all-time high, when best-sellers like ‘The DaVinci Code’ inflame bizarre suspicion, and headlines about sexual misbehavior erode what trust remains.

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The Alamo

[Beliefnet, April 20, 2004]

It’s a noble, inspiring thing when patriots fight for liberty. It’s noble if they win, that is. Bostonians tossing tea in 1774 is one thing; Charlestonians defying Lincoln in 1861 is another. Turns out that rebellion, by itself, is not enough to gain history’s nod. You also have to win. History is written by the victors.

And curiously, one of the things winners love most is remembering the time they lost.

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

[Our Sunday Visitor, March 21, 2004]

The term "high concept" refers to a movie with a striking plotline that can be described in one sentence (eg, Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwartznegger are long-lost "Twins"). In high-concept movies things explode. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman specializes in another kind of high-concept movie, one in which a strange premise unfolds in surreal ways. Things don't explode; they melt, like Dali's watch.

His first film, "Being John Malkovich" (1999) sought to answer the perennial question, "What would it be like if a secret door in my office led to a ride inside John Malkovich's brain?" as well as the obvious followup, "Could I make money selling these rides?" (And you thought you were the only one wondering about that.)

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The Passion of the Christ

[Unpublished, posted to mailing list March 8, 2004] 

I haven't written a public review of "The Passion" because my feelings are so mixed. I am so glad for all the people who are having their faith strengthened and renewed, or even finding faith for the first time. I don't want to puncture that. A friend at my church saw it once, wanted to see it a second time, then read a negative review ("the characters were flat", etc). She decided not to see it again. That's sad.

When people get disappointed with the film I think it has to do with what Coleridge called the "willing suspension of disbelief."

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Bloody, to What End?

[Newsday, March 7, 2004]

"Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" asks the old Gospel hymn.

Mel Gibson's powerful film, "The Passion of the Christ," has brought many viewers "there," and I rejoice with those who say it deepened their faith. I can understand why this film moves them so much.

But I don't think they understand why a fellow-believer might prefer a different approach. It seems to them that any less-than-graphic portrayal is weak - "sanitized."

But is that the only way to see it? Here, for example, are two paintings made early in the 17th century. The one with the golden background represents the Eastern Christian tradition, and is by the iconographer Emmanuel Lambardos of Crete. The other, emblematic of Mel Gibson's Western tradition, is by the Dutch painter Hendrick ter Brugghen.

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