"Don't you threaten my family, or I'll get angry. And you don't want to see me angry."
That's not a quote from Firewall, but it may as well be. Richard Loncraine's by-the-numbers thriller casts Harrison Ford as yet another character who furrows his brow and defends his wife and kids against villains.
If that quote did come from Ford, though, he'd only be half right. Bad guys don't want to see him angry, but audiences certainly do. And Ford obliges them once again with his typically gruff performance, this time as a computer security expert for a Seattle bank.
But there's a problem. In most of Ford's previous action flicks, he was working from an admirable script. Here, according to Christian film critics, the screenplay careens between the familiar and the ridiculous, and Ford, playing husband to Virginia Madsen and father to two youngsters, is reaching the point where he could play a convincing grandfather. (USA Today's Claudia Puig says Ford is running the risk of becoming "as a caricature of his younger self.")
Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) says Firewall "echoes several of Ford's better-known films, such as Patriot Games and Air Force One. Once again, bad guys threaten his wife and children, and he does all the growling and punching that it takes to keep his family safe. The climactic fight scenes, which feature imperiled children and take place in an isolated locale, are reminiscent of Witness; and there are even elements of The Fugitive. But by bringing those other films to mind, Firewall underscores its own weaknesses; it simply lacks the firepower, the iconic status, the cultural subtext and the engaging supporting actors that made Ford's other suspense flicks so much fun."
Christian Hamaker (Crosswalk) says, "Firewall goes from the formulaic to the preposterous before limping to a violent but predictable conclusion. … Just when you suspect the film has bottomed out, the filmmakers bring back the family dog for an absurd plot development, and put the asthmatic son in jeopardy once more. Cue the car chase and massive explosion, and, of course, a big fight between Jack and his tormentor, Cox. The only remaining question is just how grisly that encounter will be. The end result is disturbing, feeding the audience's desire for justice by providing a visceral, ugly payoff."
Marcus Yoars (Plugged In) says viewers will find this all very familiar. "[The movie] comes complete with a cold-blooded, suave Euro-baddie, a dim-witted, short-fused baddie and, of course, the 'sensitive' baddie whose downfall is his sympathy for his captives. In other words, this is not Syriana." Still, Yoars admits he enjoyed the outcome—but not "the foul language—particularly misuses of the Lord's name—and instances of too-graphic violence."
Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) seems happy with the film, calling it "solid suspense … Loncraine sustains a white-knuckle pace throughout." And in spite of implausibilities that other critics have noted, Forbes says "Ford makes you believe his plight all the way."
Mainstream critics have no trouble breaking down this Firewall.
Children going ape over George
Curious George, Margaret and H.A. Rey's beloved children's tale about a mischievous monkey and the man who captured him, has been adapted for the big screen without turning the story into an age-inappropriate disaster stuffed full of pop-culture references. Critics are assuring parents that their young children will be thoroughly entertained.
Christian film critics seem pleased.
Stefan Ulstein (Christianity Today Movies) says, "[T]his is a loveable little movie … one of those rarities that can truly be called a 'children's movie.' There's no winking Shrek-ish or Madagascar-esque humor (no flatulent mud baths, thank you), no pop-culture references aimed squarely at the parents. This is a completely sweet and innocent film crafted just for the kids—much as the Reys wrote their beloved books."
Tom Neven (Plugged In) says the movie is "true to the spirit" of the books: "Even the animation style hints at the illustrations in those classic books. There are plenty of laughs for young children and a few inside jokes for adults, too. … Overall, the story is one of innocent fun—remember, George is an animal, not a disobedient child—and slapstick shenanigans." But he says parents "will definitely want to discuss the flick's cavalier attitude toward lying lest kids absorb a bit of ethical monkey business."
Frederica Matthewes-Green, a Christian film critic writing for The National Review, points out a shift in the fundamental message of Curious George, and notes that "it's a real sign of the times." What's changed? "In the books, George's curiosity leads to fun, but often, also to trouble; sometimes it's serious trouble. Reading about him allowed children to imagine wild adventures, but also learn lessons about safety. … George is repeatedly described as sad, frightened, very unhappy, and scared at the consequences of his curiosity. … In the books, George learns a lesson. In the movie, it's the Man with the Yellow Hat who learns the lesson: he learns that it is a good thing to be curious."
Whatever the film's lesson, Lisa Rice (Crosswalk) is satisfied. "There's hardly a better way to release the child within than to let him or her see this tender adaptation of a favorite children's classic book series this winter. Curious George is a 10 on the Adorable Scale with its precious, well-crafted story and its integrity in staying true to the warm characters created by author H.A. Rey."
Greg Wright (Hollywood Jesus) says, "The MPAA ought to come up with a rating that's even 'safer' than G—something the cinematic equivalent of Gerber's 1st Foods. If they did, Curious George would be a good candidate for the first film to be so classified. … For toddlers, Curious George does offer children a first, pure, movie-house opportunity to experience the joy of the happy ending. And that's both entertainment and spirituality enough for the cinematic equivalent of Gerber's 1st Foods."
Mainstream critics seem to be enjoying this monkey business.
The Pink Panther stumbles into trouble
Steve Martin seems to be striving to recover some of the comic genius he once demonstrated, before his career became mired down in lowbrow comedies like Cheaper by the Dozen. Stepping into Peter Sellers' shoes and joining forces with director Shawn Levy, Martin is reviving The Pink Panther on the big screen. He's taking a big risk, bringing back the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. Fans of the original series will be sure to measure his success against that of Sellers' genius.
Has he succeeded? Well, yes, if you're checking the box office, where Panther was No. 1 last week.
But has he succeeded in portraying Clouseau? That depends on which critic you ask.
Russ Breimeier (Christianity Today Movies) says Clouseau isn't the only clueless guy here; Levy and Martin were misguided as well. "Blame it on the filmmakers, but perhaps it's time to admit that The Pink Panther series is ready for permanent retirement. … You can certainly do worse than this version … but the humor is as bumbling as its protagonist and as predictable as the programmed remix of Henry Mancini's classic theme music."
Tom Neven (Plugged In) prefers Sellers' version of the character, and adds, "Martin isn't helped by the fact that there are a few genuinely funny moments scripted for him. Throw in completely unnecessary sexual gags and you're left with a very faded Pink Panther who should have been allowed to rest in peace—or at the very least, left to continue selling fiberglass insulation, not major motion pictures."
Mainstream critics agree that the Inspector should "rest in peace."
Final Destination 3 is "gratuitously grisly"
Death is gonna getcha! That's the hook luring moviegoers in for yet another helping of sadism and slaughter—now in the form of Final Destination 3. The filmmakers seem to have decided that the philosophical questions, the twisted humor, and the style of the first two films were unnecessary. All they do this time around is focus on the spectacularly bloody ways in which this crop of teenagers is harvested.
Christopher Lyon (Plugged In) says the original film's philosophical questions about life and death—"Is the timing of our death predetermined? Can we avoid death for now? Will it matter if we do?"—have been abandoned. "Director James Wong and his crew no longer seem to care about such big ideas, if they ever did. Instead, they simply repeat the same story line and up the wattage of the violence. More blood. More gore. More gross-out moments. The film falls into a predictable, eventually monotonous pattern of ratcheting up the tension by showing us how the universe is aligning to dismember the next, oblivious victim."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "Little more than a tedious series of gratuitously grisly fatalities strung together by a perfunctory plot, Wong's film tries to out-gross its predecessors with increasingly intricate ways to kill its young cast, mere props for sadistic sight gags. … The film's underlying themes of fate and predestination offer a classic pagan—or even Calvinistic—view of life, at odds with Catholic teaching about God's providence."
Tommy Lee Jones: Master director?
Tommy Lee Jones is both behind and in front of the camera for his latest film—The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. It's a winning strategy—Jones took the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance, and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams) also won for his screenplay. The Three Burials, a Western, follows the journey of ranch foreman Peter Perkins as he strives to recover the dead body of his friend and bring it back home to Mexico. The story is so stirring, the style so poetic, that Jonathan Rosenbaum (The Chicago Reader) rates it as "a masterpiece."
But so far, only one religious-press film critic has posted a review.
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "Jones makes an impressive and confident directorial debut … . Despite a tongue-twister title and a rhythm so leisurely it occasionally slows to a visual drawl, the ruminative Western set amid the rugged mesas of Texas unfolds in a measured, but sure-handed, manner, paying dividends in honest emotion."
He is impressed that "Jones never condones or wallows in the characters' sins but uses them as windows to their interior emptiness, reflected in Pete's vacant eyes and the barren terrain. For the most part, Jones displays relative restraint in handling their indiscretions … . Without being pedantic or overly sentimental, [this film] is an affecting study of loneliness and the human need for connection that ends on a quietly moral—even redemptive—note, as death ultimately serves to illuminate life."
Some mainstream critics agree that Jones has taken a significant step forward in an already admirable career.
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