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)


Grace is Gone

[Christianity Today Movies,  Dec 7, 2007]

Movies are great at sweeping an audience up into intense emotions and experiences; even when a plot is flimsy, a good roller-coaster ride can be worth the price of admission. It’s not so easy to make a movie about something that isn’t happening. In “Grace is Gone,” what doesn’t happen (at least not for a very long time) is a dad breaking the news to his daughters that their mom is dead. We watch him not tell them in the living room, in the car, in restaurants, in motels, at an amusement park – he doesn’t tell them all the way from the upper Midwest to Florida. He grimaces and weeps, he calls his own answering machine to hear Grace’s recorded voice, but he can’t bring himself to get it out to the girls. The whole movie is like being stuck in bed with a cold.


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[National Review Online; November 21, 2007] 

I’m going to try not to gush, but it’s hard when a movie is this delightful. “Enchanted” is even more than that, it’s original—lovely, fresh, funny, and charming to a princely degree. And this is where you and I can start to lose each other, because there’s no reviewer so smitten as the one who expected to endure a so-so movie and was surprised to find something really very good. Gratitude produces a review with a rosy glow, but if you read that review and buy a ticket expecting to see the best thing next to “Citizen Kane,” you could well be disappointed. It’s the very same movie, but it depends on where you’re coming from. That gap between discovery and verification is a communications hazard for readers and writers of all kinds of reviews. I know all that, but I can’t help it. “Enchanted” knocked me out.


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What Would Jesus Buy?

[National Review Online; Nov 16, 2007]

The Church of Stop Shopping? The name might ring a bell. During last year’s pre-Christmas shopping season, this parody gospel choir roamed the country, stopping in places like Mall of America to offer carols rewritten to warn of the evils of consumerism. The music-and-comedy troupe was founded by “Rev. Billy” (Bill Talen), who preaches the Stop Shopping gospel (“We’re on a mission to save Christmas from overconsumption”) while costumed and coiffed to resemble the most terrifying wide-eyed faith healer on TV. (Actually, the Anglican-style clergy collar doesn’t go with this character, nor the pre-Vatican II Catholic confessional, but we’re not asking for historic accuracy here.)

“What Would Jesus Buy?” is a documentary about that cross-country pilgrimage,

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[Books & Culture; Novv/Dec 2007] 

“Idiocracy” is the most thought-provoking bad movie I’ve ever seen. But, stand warned, it’s pretty bad. No kidding. The plot is flimsy, the characters are flat, and the minutes fly like hours. You’ll be desperate for it to end, long before the 87 minutes run their course. Tedium, thy name is “Idiocracy.”

And yet it lingers in the mind. The day after you see it, you’ll see it everywhere.

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[Christianity Today Movies; October 26, 2007] 

The energy in the kitchen of an elegant Mexican restaurant in Manhattan is cranking up steadily, as the staff braces for the noon rush. One waitress, Nina, is running late, which is becoming a habit. She dashes in at the last minute, but Manny, the owner, tells her this is one time too many, and fires her on the spot.

As Nina storms out, the head chef, Manny’s brother Jose (a mysteriously tragic guy, peeking out through a forest of beard and hair), follows her outside to make sure she’s OK. When he learns that she is pregnant,

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The Darjeeling Limited

[National Review Online, October 12, 2007] 

“We’re drowning in quirk,” wrote Michael Hirschorn in the September Atlantic Monthly. A few decades ago, humor was one thing (a Bob Hope pun, for example) and drama was another (say, “North by Northwest”). Now there’s all this in-between, poignant and sprightly in uneven doses. Here’s Napoleon Dynamite, dancing his friend Pedro’s way into high Student Government office; there’s David Cross on Fox’s “Arrested Development,” a would-be member of the Blue Man Group, self-blued except for the spot on his back he doesn’t know he couldn’t reach. Quirkiness is everywhere, even journalism. “This American Life” presents lives and topics, American and otherwise, that have been burnished to quiet strangeness. I got hooked with the episode about the man who discovered one of his cable channels was showing security-camera footage from a lobby somewhere. He went from thinking this hilarious, to tuning in out of occasional curiosity, to obsessing, taping it while at work so he could catch up when he came home. You know, stuff like that. Quirky.

The King of Quirk is surely Wes Anderson, director of “The Darjeeling Limited” and four previous films, all of them acclaimed and odd:

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Into the Wild

[Christianity Today Movies, Sept 28, 2007] 

I keep thinking I saw this movie before, except that then it starred Shirley Temple. A lovely young person appears and touches the lives of people from all walks of life, bringing them a little bit of sunshine, and guilelessly showing the way to a better life. But in the other movie there wasn’t a close-up of maggots crawling through a moose carcass. Not that I remember, anyway.

“Into the Wild” is a pretty infuriating movie, because it insists on treating the central character as an escapee from “Godspell.”

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Arctic Tale

[Christianity Today Online; July 31, 2007] 

Adam Ravetch and his wife Sarah Robertson spent 15 years filming Arctic wildlife in its harsh and glorious habitat. In “Arctic Tale,” the results of that labor of love have been edited down to 96 minutes and arranged (somewhat artificially) to tell the story of a polar bear, Nanu, and a walrus, Seela. The movie is aimed at children, particularly the kind of kid who is enthralled by the cable channel Animal Planet. These kids have a more realistic view of the interdependence of life on earth than we did at that age, educated by things like Disney’s “Bambi.” So, although the film doesn’t go for the full horror treatment (I haven’t quite gotten over the moment in “Winged Migration” where a big mower relentlessly advances on a tiny peeping bird), neither does it look away from some bracing truths.

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[National Review Online, June 29, 2007]

 My companion at the screening of Pixar’s new animation feature, “Ratatouille,” pronounced this “the best movie I’ve ever seen.” Granted, she’s only six years old, and might not have seen as many movies as you have. But she’s seen virtually every great animated movie since the genre began, from Disney’s 1937 “Snow White” till today. I think the little lady knows what she’s talking about.

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A Mighty Heart

[National Review Online; June 22, 2007]

On January 23, 2002, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped on the streets of Karachi, Pakistan. Some weeks later a horrifying videotape arrived, documenting that he had been beheaded. In those intervening days, his wife Mariane and a team of friends and investigators tried desperately to find him, adding up the scarce clues that might enable them to save his life. It was nightmarish in a way we can hardly imagine. “A Mighty Heart” gives us a 100-minute tour of that nightmare.


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