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BY John Prizer
Joseph: King of Dreams(2000)
Sequels are sometimes a good thing. After Dreamworks' success with The Prince of Egypt, which told the story of Moses, the studio has once again combined state-of-the-art hand-drawn and computer animation with Broadway-like show tunes to create a reverent biblical epic. Joseph: King of Dreams is a funny, moving chronicle of Jacob's favorite son and his travails in Egypt. It will please children and adults alike.
Most of the movie sticks to the original Genesis account, with a few changes that fill in the blanks and don't detract from the overall message. It cleverly establishes how the resentment of Joseph's brothers led to their selling him into slavery. The theme is God's omnipotence, his plan for each of our lives and the need to trust him in dark times.
Andrei Rublev (1966)
The religious icons produced by the monks of the Russian Orthodox faith are sublime. Andrei Rublev, one of the Vatican's top 45 films, is an imaginative presentation of their creative process.Director Andrei Tarkovsky (The Sacrifice) uses an episodic structure to narrate the life of 15th-century icon painter Andrei Rublev (Anatoli Solo-nitzine). Each incident illustrates a different problem inherent in Andrei's vocation or an aspect of the era's social and political culture, including bizarre pagan rites, state-sanctioned religious persecution and ethnic rivalry.
Even though artistic freedom is severely limited, everyone believes in God and continually looks for signs of his handiwork in their daily lives. Our contemporary religious practices and beliefs may be less severe, but they seem lukewarm by comparison. “Only by prayer can the soul transcend the flesh,” says Andrei in describing his approach to life and art.
— John Prizer
BY Jim Cosgrove
The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn (1999)
Craftsmen who are more interested in doing excellent work than in making money are a rare breed, and the communities where they earn their living usually treat them with great respect. Noah Dearborn (Sidney Poitier) is a skilled small-town carpenter who keeps working several decades past retirement age. “What good is wanting to do something without going ahead and doing it?” he says.
An ambitious land developer (George Newbern) has plans to turn Noah's small farm into a shopping mall. When his generous offer for the property is refused, the entrepreneur attempts to have the humble craftsman declared senile so he can grab the land. The psychologist (Mary-Louise Parker) assigned to investigate the case is a close friend of the developer, but slowly she begins to understand the carpenter's ways and the high regard in which he is held by his neighbors. This TV movie dramatizes the virtues of hard work and simplicity with freshness and feeling.
The Seventh Seal (1957)
In times of great social turmoil or natural catastrophe, some people begin to believe they're living in the end times. Orthodox beliefs get set aside, and superstitions and the exploitation of religious fears blossom. The Seventh Seal, one of the Vatican's top 45 films, dramatizes the power of these ideas during the Middle Ages with vivid, symbolic imagery and a series of theological speculations rarely found in the commercial cinema.
A cerebral knight (Max von Sydow) and his cynical squire (Gunnar Bjornstrand) are crusaders returning from the Holy Land, exhausted physically and spiritually. Writer-director Ingmar Bergman (Wild Strawberries) contrasts their loss of faith with the simpler, more natural beliefs of a juggler (Nils Poppe) and his wife (Bibi Andersson). They all join forces with a band of traveling players and come into conflict with the Slaves of Sin, a group of heretical flagellants led by the knight's former theology teacher, who's manipulating the apocalyptic fears of the peasant populace.
The Big Parade (1925)
A new generation is rediscovering the beauty of silent movies, marveling at the way powerful drama can be expressed through physical gestures, facial expressions and epic tableaux alone. The Big Parade is reported to be the highest-grossing silent film of all time. Director King Vidor (The Crowd) creates a vigorous, emotionally involving, anti-war movie by combining stomach-churning, panoramic battle scenes with intimate, personal stories. The violence and horror of World War I trench warfare is realistically contrasted with the romanticized notions of battle on the home front.
Jim Apperson (John Gilbert) is persuaded by his flighty girlfriend, Justyn (Claire Adams), and domineering father (Hobart Bosworth) to enlist in the army. Then Justyn dumps him while he's away. Jim suffers terribly in combat but meets a sweet-tempered Frenchwoman (Renee Adoree) who promises to stick by him. The scene where he takes leave of her to return to the front is one of the most famous tearful farewells in movie history.
— John Prizer
BY Jim Cosgrove
BY John Prizer
Race Against Time (2000)
Pope John Paul II has warned us about a culture of death in which abortion, euthanasia and suicide become legalized and the norm. Race Against Time, a cable-TV sci-fi movie, is a pop-culture riff on the Holy Father's concerns. Suspense-filled action scenes and well-choreographed chases take precedence over ideas, but enough serious issues are presented to raise questions in the minds of even escapist viewers.
It's the year 2008, and all laws criminalizing suicide have been repealed.
This clears the way for outfits like LifeCorps, which pays big bucks to needy citizens in return for ownership of their vital organs in the future. A construction worker, James Gabriel (Eric Roberts), can't pay his son's medical expenses and sells his body parts to the company for the necessary funds. But when the boy mysteriously dies, he reneges on the deal and goes on the run. LifeCorps’ leader, Dr. Stofeles (Chris Sarandon), sends a ruthless bounty hunter (Cary Elwes) after him to collect.
Wild Strawberries (1957)
Each of us is going to die. As we get older, if we're wise, we face up to the fact and use it as an opportunity to examine our lives. Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjostrom) is a 78-year-old physician who's about to receive an honorary degree. A hardheaded rational-ist, he's never had time for messy stuff like love and relationships. After a disturbing dream, he decides to take a car to the ceremony instead of flying.
The long journey becomes a spiritual odyssey that forces him to wrestle with his own mortality. His shortcomings are cruelly laid before him. He also comes to understand that, if you forgive others, you yourself may be forgiven. Wild Strawberries, one of the Vatican's top 45 films, dramatizes the hollowness of a life that denies itself love. But writer-director Ingmar Bergman shows us that it's never to late to start over if a person is honest in his repentance.
Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)
Families eking out a life on the frontier faced a special set of challenges. The lawlessness, untamed landscape and occasionally hostile indigenous tribes made it difficult to set down roots and raise children. Drums Along the Mohawk, based on Walter Edmonds’ novel, is an intelligent, beautifully mounted drama set during the American Revolution. It focuses on a newly married couple, Lana and Gil Martin (Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda), who move to New York's sparsely settled Mohawk Valley in 1776.
Marauding Redcoats and their Indian allies invade the territories and disrupt the already harsh way of life. The Martins’ recently cleared homestead is destroyed in a scorched-earth invasion, and they seek safety in a nearby fort. These unfortunate circumstances transform Lana from a spoiled young woman into a warm-hearted, resourceful frontier matriarch, and Gil becomes a wilderness-savvy warrior.
— John Prizer
BY Jim Cosgrove
The Quiet Man (1952)
After making good in A m e r i c a , immigrants often return to the old country to retire. If born into peasant or working - class stock, they're now able to live as gentry in a style which they only dreamed of as youths.
The Oscar-winning The Quiet Man is an intelligent, funny dramatization of the unexpected consequences of living out this fantasy.
Sean Thornton (John Wayne) is a wealthy American who returns to the Irish county where he was born and purchases his rundown childhood home.
This alienates Red Dannaher (Victor McLaglen), the region's richest and meanest citizen, who thinks the property should have been sold to him.
When Thornton falls for his strong-willed, tempestuous sister, Mary Kate (Maureen O'Hara), and marries her, Red vows to make their lives miserable. Director John Ford (Stagecoach), of Irish roots himself, shows how strange the local customs now appear to the native-born Thornton. His years in America have turned him into an outsider.
The Kid (2000)
How would we as a grownup look to the child we used to be? Have we been true to our childhood dreams? Or, have we compromised our earliest sense of self? Russ Duritz (Bruce Willis) is an abrasive, self-absorbed Los Angeles image consultant who makes big bucks and is proud of it. Inexplicably, his pudgy, awkward 8-year-old self, Rusty (Spencer Breslin), materializes on his doorstep and asks to be taken care of. The kid immediately labels his older self “a loser” because he has no friends and doesn't even own a dog. This forces the successful Russ to takes a hard look at his present-day life and values.
The Kid is a well-crafted fantasy film with an old-fashioned message: Money can't buy happiness. The movie doesn't probe too deeply and it's occasionally emotionally manipulative. But there are plenty of laughs and tugs on the heart strings.
The Sacrifice (1986)
There have never been many committed Christian filmmakers. Writer-director Andrei Tarkovsky came to his faith under Soviet rule during the Cold War, and his career predictably suffered. His final masterpiece, The Sacrifice, was made in exile. One of the Vatican's top 45 films, its central character is a Swedish journalist (Erland Josephson) who learns that nuclear war is about to begin. Although not a religious man, he promises God he will give up everything he cherishes if only the world will be spared. The crisis becomes his call to a spiritual awakening.
Tarkovsky tries to show how and where the numinous invisible reality of God intersects with the ordinary physical world in which we live. To him, this interaction of the seen and unseen has the logic of a dream. The filmmaker believes that “the true affirmation of self is sacrifice.” We are encouraged to be like Alexander and enter into a dialogue with God about the meaning of his creation.
— John Prizer