In the Heart of the Sea

Oscar winner Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind”) directs the action adventure “In the Heart of the Sea,” based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s best-selling book about the dramatic true journey of the Essex.

In the winter of 1820, the New England whaling ship Essex was assaulted by something no one could believe: a whale of mammoth size and will, and an almost human sense of vengeance. The real-life maritime disaster would inspire Herman Melville’s Moby- Dick. But that told only half the story. “In the Heart of the Sea” reveals the encounter’s harrowing aftermath, as the ship’s surviving crew is pushed to their limits and forced to do the unthinkable to stay alive. Braving storms, starvation, panic and despair, the men will call into question their deepest beliefs, from the value of their lives to the morality of their trade, as their captain searches for direction on the open sea and his first mate still seeks to bring the great whale down.

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Suddenly, Last Summer

The first day of fall has arrived—what better opportunity to survey the summer harvest? It wasn’t the richest crop, but there’s a lot to look forward to what with a forthcoming Coen brothers comedy, a Wes Anderson animation, a Robert Zemeckis holiday extravaganza, and a shadowy Terrence Malick epic that threatens to be pushed back a year. Where I’m standing, the year is young. And that’s a good thing.

Walt & El Grupo. Excavation of an obscure corner of film history during which Walt Disney left the bosom of his flagging animation studio for the tangy nightlife of South America with respect to Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy. “El grupo” refers to the diverse team of artists who accompanied him there and came back with the rudiments for Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, two of his most vibrantly colored feature films. What Theodore Thomas’s documentary lacks in drama and tension it makes up for in clarity and organization. (Extra points for shooting in soft 35mm as opposed to digital video.) Disney buffs won’t need any further endorsement than the sight of Uncle Walt in gaucho garb riding a bucking bronco.
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ANGELS AND DEMONS: Rewriting History

I took twenty students in my Theology and Film class to see Angels & Demons. Not because I necessarily expected to see a great movie. But because I knew it would be loaded with theological provocation. From cheap shots at the Catholic Church to enduring questions of science vs. religion, Angels and Demons preys upon our ignorance of history to craft a riveting thriller. The creative team from The DaVinci Code (director Ron Howard, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, and star Tom Hanks) reunites for a much more satisfying movie (and much better hair for Hanks!).

I encourage those who disagree with Dan Brown’s vision (whether scientists or clerics) to see Angels and Demons in order to respond with intelligence and insight. However, as with The DaVinci Code, the film ultimately proves to be so slight that any protest will prove to be much ado about nothing.  While American audiences have responded with mostly indifference, overseas attendance and interest has continued to grow.   Perhaps a thoroughly post-Christendom culture like Europe revels in the opportunity to feed their skepticism toward the institutionalized church. 

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