Matthew McConaughey (Contact, Reign of Fire) takes his turn in Indiana Jones territory in Breck Eisner's Sahara, playing the part of adventurer Dirk Pitt, the hero of Clive Cussler's novel.
Cussler is not pleased by the film's departures from his original plot, but that didn't keep Sahara from leaping to the top of the box office. McConaughey is backed up by Penelope Cruz (After the Sunset, Frida) and Steve Zahn (Out of Sight, Riding in Cars With Boys) in a fast-paced adventure that has critics—mainstream and Christian press alike—pulling out their thesauruses to find synonyms for "dry," "barren," "wasteland," and "parched." In other words, they're not very impressed.
Russ Breimeier (Christianity Today Movies) says, "It's not that this is a bad movie. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if some embraced it like National Treasure as a wholesome adventure film that's family friendly. But unfortunately, Sahara isn't a good movie either, more likely to generate indifference than thrills. It's vapid, lengthy, and mostly lifeless … kind of like the desert it's named for."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) calls it a "lackluster and, at times, absurdly silly action adventure. Aside from some handsome David Lean-flavored photography, Sahara, like the desert itself, is, for the most part, arid."
Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "Eisner … doesn't seem to trust the material enough to keep a consistent tone throughout. Still, if you like your adventures to be of the mindless variety, you may find something to appreciate in Sahara. It's just that finding it may be a bit like coming across an oasis while wandering about in an arid wasteland."
Marcus Yoars (Plugged In) says, "Improbable. That's a word that isn't likely to stray far from moviegoers' minds as they watch old-school explorer Dirk Pitt and his wisecracking buddy escape close call after close call after close call after close call. Whether it's dodging bullets, defusing a bomb or surviving a deadly fall, these macho men excel at making ridiculous feats look easy and, well, ridiculous."
While it has earned moderate applause from a few, most mainstream critics conclude that Sahara is "dry and lifeless."
Fever Pitch earns positive baseball-lingo raves
While Sahara earns unflattering terms from the dictionary of desert terminology, Fever Pitch, the new romantic comedy starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, sends critics scrambling for some complimentary lingo from the baseball's lexicon.
Based rather loosely on the novel by Nick Hornby, who also wrote High Fidelity, the Farrelly Brothers' new film finds them keeping their typically crass humor in the dugout (see how easy it is?) and bringing something more pleasant to the plate. (You too can write like a film critic!)
The film follows two obsessed baseball fans, Ben and Lindsey, who follow the Red Sox to the World Series. (Apparently, the Red Sox season took such an unexpected turn, the script was revised to include the sensational events.)
"Barrymore and Fallon have loads of chemistry," says Mary Lasse (Christianity Today Movies). "They seem comfortable working together and they portray their characters with sincerity. Maybe it's because Ben and Lindsey are not caricatures. We probably all know someone with an 'unhealthy' obsession with sports—or work or a hobby or any of a variety of possible addictions. We probably also understand how that obsession has hindered and interfered with relationships. Though Ben and Lindsey hop in the sack a bit too quickly, there's no denying that they care for each other. While I wouldn't recommend this film for younger teens, I can recommend it to more mature viewers looking for an option on a date night or a movie group."
David Dicerto (Catholic News Service) calls it a "sweet and funny romantic comedy. Unfortunately … the courtship in Fever Pitch involves a premarital living arrangement, precluding an unqualified thumbs-up. But apart from that, [the Farrellys] have hit a home run. [The movie] imparts an admirable message about how love demands both acceptance and sacrifice. Hopeless romantics and baseball enthusiasts will undoubtedly be entertained, but even those who think a 'stolen base' is a felony will find themselves cheering by the end, New York Yankees fans excepted."
But Kenneth R. Morefield (Christian Spotlight) is greatly dismayed at how the film has screwed up its source material. In fact, he argues that the wise conclusion in a 1997 version of the film is reversed in this adaptation. "I could spend three reviews writing about how and why the new Fever Pitch is inferior to the 1997 version starring Colin Firth or the 1994 semi-autobiographical novel by Nick Hornby and never get around to providing solid information about this film for the benefit of the uninitiated. So let me start by saying if you are not a Firth fan, a Hornby fan, a Yankees fan, or an intelligent movie fan, you probably won't be disappointed by this watered-down version of a pretty good story. You may even be entertained by it; I know I would have been, if I could have stopped counting the ways it should have been better."
Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) isn't entirely impressed. "Fever Pitch is not so much about sports as it is about love and what we should be willing to change or accept in order to keep a loving relationship in working condition. Unfortunately … Jimmy Fallon's Ben is too much of an immature dweeb to convince us that an upscale professional like Drew's Lindsey would stick around long enough to get to know the man behind the nerd."
Tom Neven (Plugged In) disagrees: "Ben is a real gentleman, and it feels perfectly natural that Lindsey falls for his goofy authenticity." But he adds, "Viewers getting the positive lesson about mutual sacrifice in a relationship also get the message that premarital sex is to be taken for granted. That and some crude sexual joking and profanity ultimately send this film to the wide side of the foul pole."
Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) says it's "not particularly memorable," but observes that it's a "rare romantic comedy which men will enjoy as well as women. The best thing about the film is that it reveals the fanatical role sports can play in a man's (and sometimes a woman's) life, and how a healthy pastime, when taken to extremes, can destroy intimacy and wreak havoc with our relationships."
Most mainstream critics are pleased, if not enthusiastic.
Winter Solstice earns the warmest reception of the week
Looking for something that's worthy of raves? There a few wintry terms tossed around in the reviews of Josh Sternfeld's Winter Solstice, but it's gained higher praise than any of the week's rival releases. The film stars Anthony LaPaglia (Lantana, TV's Without a Trace) as a widower raising two teenage sons and trying to carry the family through the dark days after the loss of his wife in a car accident.
Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) is enthusiastic. "Remember the name Josh Sternfeld. If his first feature-length film is any indication, he's a filmmaker to watch. Sternfeld has crafted a sensitive slice-of-life story with dialogue that rings absolutely true. The performances are extraordinary. Ultimately, Winter Solstice imparts a good pro-family and hopeful message, so a film which could have been unrelievedly somber actually ends on a positive, uplifting note."
Mainstream critics are somewhat impressed.
Saint Ralph introduces another young hero full of faith
Film Forum has been counting the raves for Danny Boyle's film, Millions, for several weeks. Now, here's yet another film about a boy with transformative faith—Saint Ralph.
Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) calls it "charming and offbeat." "For adults and older adolescents, this is a lovely, extraordinarily touching film that conveys an admirable picture of filial devotion, self-sacrifice, faith, good sportsmanship and universal fellowship."
A few mainstream press reviews have been posted, and there's a debate as to whether the film is a moving tale about "the healing power of innocence and faith" or merely "unrepentant hokum."
More reviews of recent releases
Sin City: Brett McCracken (Relevant) says, "If completely gratuitous, anachronistic serial pop art is your cup of tea, this film will be pure bliss. But be forewarned, the film is … full of every kind of violence imaginable, nudity, coarse language, and many other vices. Granted, the violence tries to be cartoonish in the vein of previous Rodriguez or Tarantino films, but there comes a point where even cartoon violence goes overboard. This gruesome picture steps over that line."
Kevin Miller (Joy of Movies) says, "Despite a veneer of redemption, Sin City is a film that glories in every blood-soaked moment of depravity it depicts. I'm still not sure why the film exists. To urge us not to trust authority and to think for ourselves? To showcase Rodriguez's considerable artistic and technical ability? To remind us of the sinfulness and depravity at the core of every human soul? I'm for all of these things. However, this film makes me wonder at what point the desire to depict evil accurately begins to create a fascination—in the filmmakers and the audience—for the very evil they are trying to warn people against."
But on the same site, J. R. Cillian Green says, "This film is one of the most incredible movies I've seen this year, and quite possibly the best comic book movie I've ever seen."
Mike Parnell (Ethics Daily) observes, "When the movie ends, there is no redemption—only the continued sin of those who live on its mean streets. And when all is said and done, the Psalmist rules the day: 'They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.'"
Million Dollar Baby and Unforgiven: Peter T. Chattaway (The Matthews House Project) compares and contemplates two Clint Eastwood films. "Just as death was the central theme of Unforgiven, I think abandonment may be the central theme of Million Dollar Baby. The point of the film may be that it doesn't matter whether we have been good or bad to people, we will all still be abandoned."
The Passion of Joan of Arc: Stef Loy (The Matthews House Project) catches this screening of Carl Theodor Dreyer's classic in Chicago, and writes, "It is amazing to think that this film was thought lost, until it was discovered in 1981 stashed away in a Norwegian mental institution. It's like a graveside miracle in which the dead reappear breathing and animated, and ready to inspire."
Millions: Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) writes, "It demonstrates how the love of money corrupts even those with the best intentions, causing them to forsake conscience for greed. Not content to simply give us a negative message, however, as many films do, Millions also offers a way out. Redemption, it tells us, comes not when we hoard money, but when we give it away, to those who are truly in need."
But Robertson is bothered by Saint Peter's unorthodox explanation of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. Furthermore, she's troubled that one of the Saints appears to the boy and smokes a joint. "Attention all nuns: it's now acceptable for you to smoke pot in front of schoolchildren." (Actually, the scene is meant to be humorous, as the Saint reveals that smoking isn't a bad thing in heaven.)
Elsewhere, Frederica Matthewes-Green (a Christian film critic writing for The National Review) writes, "I was surprised, then delighted, then honestly moved by this film. I'm a Christian, and I believe the saints are present around us in a way very much like what Damian experiences (in my case, invisibly, natch), but I sure never thought I'd see someone make the case on a movie screen. I'm grateful. And, yes, I think the movie does have a message. It's that we should give to the poor, and that our gifts do good, sometimes a great deal of good even with small amounts of money. It sounds sappy stated that way, but the film builds the case effectively, by storytelling rather than lecturing, and arrives at a climax that brought tears to my eyes."
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