Disney’s Circle of Life

Hakuna Matata, This 3D makeover for its return to the big screen of “The Lion King” re-released next year brings back deep memories in the lives of millions of millennials touched by the movie in the 1996 release. Check out the trailer yourself. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is intense.

Release Date: July 19, 2019 (USA)

Animation, Adventure, Drama

Directed by Jon Favreau

Writing Credits
Jeff Nathanson (screenplay)
Brenda Chapman (story)
Irene Mecchi (characters)
Jonathan Roberts (characters)
Linda Woolverton (characters)

Seth Rogen – Pumbaa (voice)
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Scar (voice)
Donald Glover – Simba (voice)
Amy – Sedaris (voice)
James Earl Jones – Mufasa (voice)
Keegan-Michael Key – Kamari (voice)
Alfre Woodard – Sarabi (voice)
Billy Eichner – Timon (voice)
Beyoncé – Nala (voice)
John Kani – Rafiki (voice)
Eric André – Azizi (voice)
John Oliver – Zazu (voice)
Florence Kasumba – Shenzi (voice)
JD McCrary – Young Simba (voice)
Shahadi Wright Joseph – Young Nala (voice)

Produced by
John Bartnicki (Co-producer)
Debbi Bossi (Associate producer)
Jon Favreau (Producer)
Karen Gilchrist (Producer)
Tom C. Peitzman (Executive producer)
Thomas Schumacher (Executive producer)
Jim Shamoon (Executive producer)
Jeffrey Silver (Producer)
David H. Venghaus Jr. (Associate producer)
Mario Zvan (Executive producer)

Music by: Hans Zimmer

The 30 Best Family Christmas Movies of All Time

by Keith Phipps | The holiday season is upon us, which means it’s time to put away our differences in the interest of peace on earth, goodwill toward others, etc., etc., and kick back with a great Christmas movie, a filmmaking tradition that dates back to the 1898 film Santa Claus. In that one, Santa slides down a chimney, stuffs some stockings, and promptly disappears into the ether; the whole film runs just over one minute long.

No one would argue that that early effort was anything but a Christmas movie, but these days, the question comes up frequently: What exactly is a Christmas movie? Is merely being set at Christmas enough? Or is there some elusive other element that makes a Christmas movie a Christmas movie?

Also, the movies on this list have to be good. There’s a cynical reason to make a Christmas movie: The demand is high, even for the bad ones, every holiday season, when cable plays them ad nauseam to satisfy Christmas-crazed subscribers. So, sorry, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — just because you’re unavoidable doesn’t earn you a spot on the list.

Another qualifier: We stuck with films that received a theatrical release, mostly features but with a few shorts thrown in as well. That means Hallmark Channel Christmas movies about young people who don’t like each other but then end up liking each other a lot weren’t considered; nor was Netflix’s movie featuring Kurt Russell as a hot Santa. (Apologies, hot Santa.) Not every title will be for everyone, but there should be something for each family here. In the spirit of the season, we erred on the side of generosity.

30. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a remarkable retelling of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s short story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” and Marius Petipa’s The Nutcracker, about a young girl who is gifted a locked egg from her deceased mother and sets out in a magical land to retrieve the key. After restoring peace and tranquility in the Realms, Clara promises to visit the Realms in the future and returns back to London, where time has hardly passed since she left. After she arrived, Clara took her father’s hand and opens her music box and the two of them danced the night away. Clara’s father becomes emotional and reveals that the music box’s song was the first song that he and Clara’s mother had ever danced to.

Disney’s take on the holiday classic is the story we all know; Alice in Wonderland mixed with some pieces of Tchaikovsky’s music and some ballet, courtesy of Misty Copeland and Sergei Polunin. The film has grossed over $150 million worldwide as of today against a production budget of around $120 million, and received generally unfavorable reviews from critics, who called the film “soulless” and “incoherent“, criticizing the slow pace and lack of dance numbers, although the visual effects is appealing.

29. Home Alone (1990)

Nostalgia and holidays both have a way of warping emotions. Combined, they’re hard to resist, especially when it comes to movies that won us over when we were younger. That’s why it’s impossible not to include Home Alone — the John Hughes–scripted, Chris Columbus–directed hit in which Macaulay Culkin finds himself unexpectedly left behind when his family mistakenly flies to Paris without him. But it would be unfair to rank it any higher. Have you watched it? Lately? As a grown-up? Like, watched it all the way through from the shrill opening filled with obnoxious kids to the leadenly staged slapstick climax? It’s a much rougher ride than you might remember. Still, Culkin’s charming, and the sentimental ending works every time. Just ask George Costanza.

28. The Great Rupert (1950)

A true Christmas oddity, this is the only holiday movie featuring Jimmy Durante as a down-on-his-luck vaudevillian forced to part ways with his trained squirrel as Christmas approaches. That’s the heartbreaking premise of The Great Rupert, but it’s all a set-up to a happy ending in which Durante is reunited with his four-legged friend, the poor get rich, and the rich learn a lesson (a story element that pops up a lot in the flood of Christmas movies released in the years immediately following World War II). The plot lags at times, but Durante’s always fun, and so is Rupert, the delightful creation of producer George Pal, the stop-motion wizard behind Puppetoons.

27. The Insects’ Christmas (1913)

Before The Nightmare Before Christmas, before Rankin-Bass specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, before even The Great Rupert there was The Insects’ Christmas, from Russian animator Ladislas Starevich. Starevich made a series of films using dead insects as his stars. His Christmas movie expands the cast to include Father Christmas and an animated doll. But insects remain, as the title suggests, front and center in an inventive, enchanting, if a little unsettling, look at how a bunch of bugs (and one frog) celebrate Christmas that climaxes with Santa, a grasshopper, and assorted other bugs skating on a frozen lake. счастливого Рождества to all!

26. The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

As Christmas approaches, all is not well for Henry Brougham (David Niven), a Protestant bishop trying to raise funds for the glorious new cathedral of his dreams — a project that’s led him to neglect his wife, Julia (Loretta Young), and daughter and cause him to lose sight of his roots as a minister to the needy. Enter Dudley (Cary Grant), an angel determined to set Henry on the right path. The only trouble: He finds himself increasingly wanting to spend time with Julia instead. The film’s a bit pokily directed at times, but Young and Grant’s chemistry smooths over some rough patches — particularly when Grant gets a wistful look in his eyes suggesting that he might call heaven his home but he knows he could find even greater happiness on earth with Young’s character by his side. (The Preacher’s Wife, the 1996 remake starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston, is also worth a look.)

25. Scrooged (1988)

What is Scrooged trying to say, anyway? You can watch the film over and over — easy to do if you have a cable subscription in December, when it plays all the time — and never quite figure it out. Is it a pitch-black comedy about the commercialization of Christmas? Is it a cynical send-up of our once-a-year celebration of kindness and selflessness? Is it a sincere depiction of a man being transformed by the holidays? It’s a tough film to pin down, probably because the darkly comic sensibilities of star Bill Murray and writers Mitch Glazer and Michael O’Donoghue often seem at odds with that of blockbuster director Richard Donner. But what makes this Reagan-era update on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol — in which Murray plays a cold-hearted TV network president visited by Christmas spirits — flawed also makes it fascinating, and Carol Kane is especially fun as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Worth noting: Dickens’s classic looms large over the Christmas-movie genre, making this just one of many A Christmas Carol adaptations to make the list. Others include …

24. Scrooge (1970)

For a more tuneful version of the Dickens tale, there’s this 1970 musical starring Albert Finney as the eponymous miser. Finney holds nothing back as Scrooge, truly living up to the moniker “the Meanest Man in the Whole Wide World” given to him in “Father Christmas,” one of many earworm-y songs written by Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory songwriter Leslie Bricusse. Highlights include Alec Guinness as a spooky Jacob Marley and a truly scary Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. It’s a big, occasionally tacky, but quite fun take on the familiar story.

23.. The Holiday (2006)

With her follow-up to Something’s Gotta Give, Nancy Myers seemingly set out to ask the question, If I cast four actors who really have no business appearing in a soft-edged romantic comedy in my next movie, could I make it work anyway? The answer: kind of? Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet play, respectively, a tightly wound editor of movie trailers and a British newspaper reporter who decide to swap houses shortly before Christmas. This leads Winslet’s character, now in L.A., to befriend an aging screenwriter played by Eli Wallach and (eventually) fall for a kindhearted composer played by Jack Black. Meanwhile, Diaz’s character, installed in Surrey, unwittingly hooks up with the brother of Winslet’s character, played by Jude Law. It’s a somewhat shapeless movie that goes on too long, but it also has an undeniable, nap-friendly, tryptophan-like charm as four beautiful people overcome the ridiculously small hurdles keeping them from getting together in two photogenic environments. (Also, Wallach’s a lot of fun.)

22. The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

Bob Hope didn’t so much play characters as variations on the Bob Hope persona, a wisecracking coward with a tendency to get in way over his head then make matters worse for himself. Hope’s not the most obvious fit for a Damon Runyon adaptation, much less a Christmas-themed Runyon adaptation with a deep sentimental streak, but their sensibilities end up meshing pretty well anyway in this 1951 comedy. Hope plays the eponymous character, a con artist who has to flee Florida for New York in order to pay off a debt to a gangster. The ensuing scam involves criminals dressed as Santa and a fake retirement home for “Old Dolls.” The inspired slapstick bits reportedly come from the brilliant animator-turned-director Frank Tashlin, but it’s Hope and co-star Marilyn Maxwell’s performance of the then-new “Silver Bells” that’s ensured the film its spot in the Christmas-movie canon.

21. Holiday Affair (1949)

Janet Leigh plays Connie, a war widow who unexpectedly becomes the center of a love triangle when her longtime suitor Carl (Wendell Corey) meets an unexpected rival in the form of Steve (Robert Mitchum), a veteran trying to figure out his place in the postwar world. Steve finds himself infatuated with Connie after they meet-cute in a department store — he’s a clerk, she’s a Christmastime undercover shopper — then starts a hard sell, asking him to dump Carl and take a chance on him. Mitchum’s tough-guy demeanor serves him well here, giving an odd energy to the love story. His character is sometimes written as too pushy, but the scene in which he declares his intentions over Christmas dinner, a moment where there’s no room for lies, is downright electric — and the final scene is a stunner.

20. Elf (2003)

Sometimes the right actor in the right role is pretty much all you need. This pleasant, goofy film stars Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human who’s grown up at the North Pole living under the mistaken impression that he’s an elf, despite developing into a lumbering adult with little skill for elfish endeavors such as toy-making. Eventually, he has to find his way in the human world when he travels to New York in search of his birth father (James Caan). As a cynical department-store employee, Zooey Deschanel provides a fun contrast to Ferrell’s wild-eyed enthusiasm. The film’s more winning the less it relies on wild antics, but Ferrell and others make sure it stays heartfelt throughout.

19. A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The first big-screen Muppet project after the 1990 death of Jim Henson, A Muppet Christmas Carol features some terrific Paul Williams songs, and smartly slots the always charming Muppets in the familiar Dickens roles. (Kermit and Piggy play the Cratchits, naturally, yet it’s details like the Swedish Chef as a party cook that make it a particular delight for longtime fans.) In the end, though, what makes the movies is Michael Caine’s performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. Caine plays it straight, as if he doesn’t even realize he’s surrounded by puppets, ensuring that the movie works as a moving Dickens adaptation first, and a Muppet movie second.

18. Arthur Christmas (2011)

Aardman Animations, the studio behind the Wallace and Gromit shorts and Chicken Run, brings its own particular whimsical sensibility to a holiday tale with this playful look inside the inner workings of the North Pole, where the latest in a long line of Santas (Jim Broadbent) seems reluctant to give up his post to one of his sons. Steven Claus (Hugh Laurie), who’s been running the operation for his dad with military precision, seems the obvious successor, but it’s the bumbling Arthur (James McAvoy) who best embodies the Christmas spirit, as evidenced by his mad rush to make sure the one kid who mistakenly got the wrong present doesn’t wake up disappointed on Christmas morning. The film mixes clever ideas — dig that high-tech North Pole! — with real warmth, making it feel like nothing less than the future of Christmas itself rests on Arthur’s shoulders.

17. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Neither Disney animation nor its biggest star, Mickey Mouse, were riding high in the early ’80s. Disney had suffered a string of disappointments and setbacks, and though he remained an inescapable icon, Mickey hadn’t been seen in movie theaters since the ’50s. But this adaptation of the Dickens story suggested there might be life in both yet. Running just 26 minutes — and originally serving as the opener for a rerelease of The RescuersMickey’s Christmas Carol offers a brisk, moving take on the familiar story. Scrooge McDuck (who else?) assumes the Scrooge role, but it’s Mickey and Minnie’s turns as the Cratchits that give the lovingly animated film its heart. After years of cutting corners and coasting on past triumphs, it provided an early sign that Disney was trying again — almost as if the studio has been visited by spirits reminding it what really mattered or something.

16. Remember the Night (1940)

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck famously co-starred in Billy Wilder’s 1944 noir Double Indemnity, but that’s just one of four films to pair them together. They first teamed up for this 1940 Christmas romance in which Fred MacMurray plays John Sargent, a hard-charging DA who, through a misunderstanding, comes to spend the days before Christmas with Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck), a small-time jewel thief he’s prosecuting. They start to fall in love during a road trip to Indiana, a sojourn that almost allows them to forget that John still has to try to send Lee to jail when they get back. Directed by Mitchell Leisen from a Preston Sturges script, Remember the Night begins as a broad, brisk comedy but shifts moods as John learns about Lee’s difficult past. In a classic holiday-spirit turn, he comes to realize the advantages his loving family have bestowed upon him once he sees how appreciative Lee is after sharing the first warm Christmas morning of her life with his family.

15. Reve De Noel (The Christmas Dream) (1900)

French cinematic pioneer Georges Méliès’s contribution to the Christmas-film canon offers little in the way of narrative, just an abundance of turn-of-the-century Christmas imagery as a pair of sleeping children imagine a winter wonderland filled with frolicking musicians, holiday revelers, and, of course, Père Noël himself. It’s a lovely, whimsical short film that captures the inventive director in a festive mood, and immortalizes on film ways of celebrating Christmas that otherwise might have faded from memory.

14. White Christmas (1954)

After leaving the Army after W.W.II, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) team up to become a top song-and-dance act. Davis plays matchmaker and introduces Wallace to a pair of beautiful sisters, Betty and Judy (Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen), who also have a song-and-dance act. When Betty and Judy travel to a Vermont lodge to perform a Christmas show, Wallace and Davis follow, only to find their former commander, General Waverly, is the lodge owner. A series of romantic mix-ups ensue as the performers try to help the General.

A song of yearning for holiday togetherness the singer suspects he’ll never find again, Bing Crosby’s recording of the Irving Berlin song “White Christmas” became a runaway hit in 1942 as America adjusted to the loss and separation of World War II.

13. Holiday Inn (1942)

When singer Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) finds out that his fiancée is in love with smooth-talking dancer Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire), he skulks off to milk cows and lick his wounds on the farm he now owns. While his pride heals, a swell idea occurs to him: Why not turn the farm into an inn that’s only open on holidays, with live entertainment and a homemade breakfast in the morning? A girl (Marjorie Reynolds) looking for her big show business break helps Hardy bring his daydream to fruition. Not only is his Holiday Inn a success thanks to her singing and dancing, he’s falling in love to boot. But trouble’s right around the corner. Hanover’s girl has dropped him, it seems, and his search for a new dance partner has him once again courting Hardy’s girl.

Holiday Inn is the better film by a good measure, but watching it means grappling with an ugly blackface number mid-film. (To make matters worse, skipping the scene altogether would result in missing an important plot point.) White Christmas, on the other hand, features fewer songs and a sleepy, low-stakes plot as Crosby and Kaye romance (sort of) a sister act played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. Still, its aggressive, Technicolor pleasantness has its own charms.

12. 3 Godfathers (1948)

Not unlike Scissorhands, John Ford’s 3 Godfathers similarly uses echoes of the story of Christ to tremendous effect. A rare Christmas Western, the film stars John Wayne as one of a trio of bank robbers who agree to care for a newborn child while fleeing the law in Death Valley. Ford’s biblical echoes aren’t subtle, nor are they intended to be, but Wayne keeps the film, and its themes of redemption and rebirth, grounded with one of his most sensitive performances.

11. It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)

A great Christmas movie that not enough people talk about, It Happened on Fifth Avenue opens with the homeless sage Aloysius T. McKeever (Victor More) moving, as he does every Christmas season, into the luxurious Manhattan home of vacationing tycoon Michael J. O’Connor (Charles Ruggles). From there the film keeps piling on the complications as it breaks down the divide between the haves and the have-nots. McKeever is soon joined by a displaced World War II vet (Don DeFore) and O’Connor’s daughter Mary (Ann Harding), who doesn’t let on that she’s loaded and knows the house even better than those squatting there. The house grows more crowded, new loves get kindled, old loves get renewed, and O’Connor is forced to do a Scrooge-like about-face when he gets reacquainted with those less fortunate than him. Directed by Roy Del Ruth, who took on the project after Frank Capra decided to make It’s a Wonderful Life instead, It Happened on Fifth Avenue earns its warmth honestly, tethering a tale of fresh starts and changed hearts to the real difficulties faced by those reaching for the American dream in a postwar era that was supposed to bring prosperity for all.

10. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

In a film as sexy as it is funny, Barbara Stanwyck plays Elizabeth Lane, a magazine columnist who risks being exposed as a phony if she can’t create the perfect Christmas at the Connecticut home she’s writing about as part of a PR stunt to reward recuperating GI Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan), who’s been dreaming of tasting her recipes while serving in World War II. The only problem: There is no Connecticut home, and she can’t cook. The farcical complications pile up from there, and Stanwyck deftly balances Elizabeth’s mounting sense of panic with wry humor as she reckons with her unexpected desire for Jones — a desire that has popped up just after she’s decided to give up on love in return for a marriage of convenience. Director Peter Godfrey keeps the action fast and light while trusting Stanwyck to excellently bring her character’s dilemma to life, even if it involves changing a diaper as if she’s never seen a baby before in her life.

9. Comfort and Joy (1984)

The end of the year can be a confusing time of reflection for those who feel they don’t have anything to celebrate. That feeling is captured beautifully in Scottish director Bill Forsyth’s tale of a Glasgow DJ (Bill Paterson), who finds himself unexpectedly alone when he’s dumped by his girlfriend shortly before Christmas. Adrift, he finds himself drawn into a turf war between two rival ice-cream vendors, a conflict that might offer him a chance to start over, or might drive him to the brink of madness. Paterson beautifully depicts a man who’s quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, experiencing a nervous breakdown as the world around him grows stranger and more absurd. That it all somehow builds toward a hilarious moment of reconciliation involving an unexpected new ice-cream product is just one of many little miracles in a Christmas movie that takes a roundabout way to celebrating the season’s possibilities of renewal and rebirth, but still gets there all the same.

8. Carol (2015)

Like Comfort and Joy, Todd Haynes’s Carol depicts the holidays as a time of possibility and peril as an intense, forbidden romance plays out against the backdrop of the 1952 Christmas season. The film stars Cate Blanchett as the eponymous unhappy housewife, a woman who unexpectedly falls for Therese (Rooney Mara), a store clerk. But their relationship seems doomed before it really begins once it threatens Carol’s ability to see her child, leaving her with an impossible choice. Inspired by Brief Encounter and adapted from a 1952 novel by Patricia Highsmith, otherwise best known for pitiless crime fiction like The Talented Mr. Ripley, Carol uses its holiday setting as more than a backdrop: Haynes bathes the films in Christmas lights, sure, but he also captures the spirit of a season through Carol and Therese’s relationship. The passing of one year gives way to a potential new beginning of the next — for those who can make it to the other side.

7. Bad Santa (2003)

A proudly mean-spirited black comedy seemingly at war with the Christmas spirit, Bad Santa somehow loops all the way back around to being a heartwarming Christmas movie about one man’s redemption. It’s a weird trick, pulled off in large part thanks to star Billy Bob Thornton’s performance as a hard-drinking con artist who uses his work as a mall Santa as a setup for grand larceny. Actually, “hard-drinking” doesn’t begin to describe Thornton’s Willie Soke, who spends much of the film in a near-stuporous state yet still manages to form an unlikely makeshift family with a misfit kid (Brett Kelly) and a bartender (Lauren Graham) with a thing for Santas. With able support from Bernie Mac and John Ritter, director Terry Zwigoff keeps the humor dark without losing sight of his characters’ humanity — however deep they might sink into a drunken haze.

6. A Christmas Story (1983)

Making his second appearance on this list with a much different Christmas movie, director Bob Clark’s venerable 1983 film adapts storyteller and radio personality Jean Shepherd’s tales of growing up in Hammond, Indiana, while cutting nostalgia and sentiment with just the right amounts of broad, occasionally dark, comedy. The episodic film follows Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) in the days before Christmas, when he wants nothing more than a Red Ryder air rifle — and seems destined not to get one. Narrated by Shepherd himself, it mixes big comic moments, like a kid getting his tongue stuck to a stop sign, with affection for family life and days gone by. Clark renders the memories of growing up in a particular time and place so well that Shepherd’s Hammond — its name changed to “Hohman” — becomes an idealized stand-in for any time and every place.

5. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

There are many great romantic movies set at Christmas, but somehow The Shop Around the Corner still stands above them all. Maybe it’s the irresistible premise: A pair of feuding co-workers don’t realize they’re falling in love with one another via anonymous letters. (If that sounds familiar, it’s because Nora Ephron drew on the same source material — the Miklós László play Parfumerie — for You’ve Got Mail.) Maybe it’s a cast headed by Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan and filled out with colorful character actors. Maybe it’s because few directors have balanced lightness and romance like Ernst Lubitsch. Whatever the case, it’s both a peerless romantic comedy and one of the great Christmas movies, weaving themes of forgiveness and second chances into a love story that reflects the season in which it takes place.

4. A Christmas Carol (a.k.a. Scrooge) (1951)

What makes an adaptation of A Christmas Carol great? Above all, it’s the actor playing Ebenezer Scrooge. There have been many memorable movie Scrooges (take a look at the multiple entries above), but few as memorable as Alastair Sim. He’s not just terrifyingly convincing as a pitiless miser in the film’s early scenes but also heartbreakingly affecting as a changed man in its closing moments. Not that Sim doesn’t get help from director Brian Desmond Hurst, who whisks the action along while surrounding his lead with lushly realized Victorian trappings and an able supporting cast. But the film rests on Sim’s shoulders, and it’s not hard to see why he’s yet to be supplanted as the definitive Scrooge.

3. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Here’s a question: What was going on that led to so many great Christmas movies being released in 1947? That year saw the release of The Bishop’s Wife, It Happened on Fifth Avenue (see above), and offered most viewers their first chance to see the greatest Christmas movie of all time (see below). It also produced this lovely story of a girl (Natalie Wood) whose mother (Maureen O’Hara) unwittingly hires someone who may be the actual Kris Kringle as a department-store Santa at Macy’s. What follows is part fantasy, part romance (as O’Hara’s character starts to fall for a charming neighbor), part indictment of commercialism, part defense of letting children be children as long as they can, and part legal thriller (well, sort of). Mostly, the film, written and directed by George Seaton, is an irresistible bit of Christmas whimsy made unforgettable by Edmund Gwenn’s turn as the man who might be Santa.

2. Tangerine (2015)

It takes time for a film to emerge as a Christmas classic, and while this one may not end up being shown in constant rotation alongside A Christmas Story and Home Alone, let’s stake an early claim for Sean Baker’s Tangerine, a film that follows the Christmas spirit into some unexpected corners. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor co-star as, respectively, Sin-Dee and Alexandra, a pair of transgender sex workers living on the fringes of Los Angeles. Released from jail on Christmas Eve, Sin-Dee is driven to frustration when she learns that her pimp/lover Chester (James Ransone) is cheating on her as Alexandra prepares for a musical performance. Chaos mounts as day turns into night in the hours before Christmas.

Baker’s film, co-written by Chris Bergoch, alternates laughs and shocks, but it keeps circling back to how this particular Christmas has become a crossroads for its central characters, and how much they need each other if they’re going to make it through another year. It all ends with an image that, in its own way, is as warm and generous as Charlie Brown’s friends reviving a seemingly hopeless tree.

You might have noticed that this list — some notable exceptions aside — is dominated by stories of prosperous white families. Among its other virtues, Tangerine serves as a corrective to that tradition, serving as a reminder that Christmas isn’t limited to the land of picket fences and neatly trimmed trees. It’s a film as vital, alive, and in touch with the holiday as more traditional entries — an invitation to other filmmakers to redefine what a Christmas movie can be, and as much a story about the importance of human kindness as the one that tops the list.

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

What else? Really, what other film could top a list of the greatest Christmas movies of all time? Frank Capra’s enduring classic stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, the unwitting savior of Bedford Falls, a man whose goodness and generosity has touched more people than he realizes. In fact, as one bleak Christmas looms, he doesn’t realize it at all and is ready to commit suicide — until an angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) arrives to show him the error of his ways.

Though it’s become synonymous with holiday cheer, Capra’s film works because of its willingness to go to some dark places, and because of Stewart’s ability to play a gregarious goof one moment and a man whose world comes crashing down the next. Curiously, the film didn’t go into wide release until after Christmas in January of 1947, which might have contributed to its underwhelming box-office performance. But it received a second life thanks to relentless airings on local television in the ’70s and ’80s, where its depiction of one man’s dark night of the soul (and a nightmarish vision of what unrestrained greed looks like without those interested in fairness and justice to stand in the way of the Mr. Potters of the world) connected with a new generation.

It’s not hard to see why. It’s grounded in details of the times that inspired it — the Depression, World War II — but its vision of holiday kindness, and of the sort of country most of us would want to live in and the values of kindness and generosity most of us share, remains timeless.

Creed II

Annapurna Pictures | Release Date: November 21, 2018
Starring: Andre Ward, Daniel Sassa, Darin Ferraro, David Cohen, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Ivo Nandi, Jacob ‘Stitch’ Duran, Kristina Aponte, Mark Marcarian, Marko Caka, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Buffer, Michael Santiago, Milo Ventimiglia, Monica Haynes, Myles Humphus, Phylicia Rashad, Raul I Torres, Robbie Johns, Russell Hornsby, Shayna Ryan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris (image: ©Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios)

The original Creed is a Must-See before watching Creed II. The former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed. Creed made over $110 million in domestic box office alone.


Runtime: 130 min
Rating: Rated PG-13 for sports action violence, language, and a scene of sensuality
Official Site: http://creedthemovie.com/
Production: New Line Cinema
Genres: Action, Drama, Sport
Country: US
Languages: English, Russian
Director Credit
Steven Caple Jr. Director
Writer Credit
Cheo Hodari Coker Story By
Juel Taylor Writer
Ryan Coogler Characters
Sascha Penn Story By
Sylvester Stallone Screenplay By
Principal Cast Credit
Andre Ward Danny ‘Stuntman’ Wheeler
Daniel Sassa Fight Spectator
Darin Ferraro Referee
David Cohen Fight Spectator
Dolph Lundgren Ivan Drago
Florian Munteanu Vitor Drago
Ivo Nandi Moscow Referee
Jacob ‘Stitch’ Duran Stitch-Cutman
Kristina Aponte Groupie
Mark Marcarian Spectator
Marko Caka Police Local-Security
Michael B. Jordan Adonis Johnson
Michael Buffer Michael Buffer
Michael Santiago Principal Cast
Milo Ventimiglia Robert Balboa
Monica Haynes Boxer In Gym
Myles Humphus Russian Fighter
Phylicia Rashad Mary Anne Creed
Raul I Torres Fish Seller
Robbie Johns Logan Balboa
Russell Hornsby Buddy Marcelle
Shayna Ryan VIP/Photographer
Sylvester Stallone Rocky Balboa
Tessa Thompson Bianca
Wood Harris Tony ‘Little Duke’ Burton
Cast Credit
Ana Gerena Adrian’s Waitress
Andre Ward Danny ‘Stuntman’ Wheeler
Ariel Fishman Drago’s In-Ring & VIP Entourage
Bessie Amato Russian Red Seat Press
Brigitte Nielsen Ludmilla Drago
Charles W Harris III Adonis Creed Bodyguard
Chris Romrell Russian Fighter
Daniel Sassa VIP Spectator
Darin Ferraro Referee
Diezel Ramos Press
Elizabeth Gaynor Drago Supporter
Freddie Colton VIP Spectator
Ivo Nandi Moscow Referee
Jacob ‘Stitch’ Duran Stitch-Cutman
John DiRenzo SUV Driver
Joshua Spudeno Ukrainian Security
Kristina Aponte Groupie
Kristoffe Brodeur Drago Security
Les Price Russian Security/Member Of The Red Press
Mark Marcarian Spectator
Marko Caka Police Local-Security
Matt Jacobs Russian Officer
Michael Buffer Michael Buffer
Michael Santiago Cast
Monica Haynes Boxer In Gym
Myles Humphus Russian Fighter
Patrice Harris Padman
Raul I Torres Fish Seller
Robert Reed Murphy Important Looking Person
Roy Jones Jr. Cast
Shayna Ryan VIP/Photographer
Zack Beyer Palms Photographer
Producer Credit
Charles Winkler Producer
David Winkler Producer
Guy Riedel Executive Producer
Irwin Winkler Producer
Kevin King Templeton Producer
Michael B. Jordan Executive Producer
Ryan Coogler Executive Producer
Sylvester Stallone Producer
Udi Nedivi Co-Producer
William Chartoff Producer

Life has become a balancing act for Adonis Creed. Between personal obligations and training for his next big fight, he is up against the challenge of his life. Facing an opponent with ties to his family’s past only intensifies his impending battle in the ring. Rocky Balboa is there by his side through it all and, together, Rocky and Adonis will confront their shared legacy, question what’s worth fighting for, and discover that nothing’s more important than family. Creed II is about going back to basics to rediscover what made you a champion in the first place, and remembering that, no matter where you go, you can’t escape your history.

From Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures and Chartoff Winkler Productions comes Creed II, with Michael B. Jordan, three-time Academy Award nominee Sylvester Stallone, and Tessa Thompson reprising their leading roles in the next chapter of the Adonis Creed story, which follows the young boxer’s life inside and outside of the ring as he deals with newfound fame, family, his father’s legacy, and his continuing quest to become a champion.

Since arriving in Philadelphia from California three years ago to train with retired former heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa (Stallone), Adonis (Jordan) has found love and success. Under his mentor, coach, and “uncle” Rocky’s tutelage, Adonis has risen quickly in the professional boxing world as a heavyweight title contender. He and his longtime love, Bianca (Thompson), the beautiful and talented singer-songwriter who is a rising music star in her own right, are now ready to make a commitment and start a family. His adoptive mother, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), who had hoped Adonis would not follow in the footsteps of his father, has accepted his choice, recognizing in her son the talent and passion that made her late husband one of boxing’s greatest champions.

Adonis should be on top of the world — but instead, he’s struggling to reconcile the doubt he feels on the inside with the acceptance and adulation he’s receiving from the world. As the illegitimate son of former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed — who died in the ring before he was born — Adonis is grappling with his legacy and life in the celebrity spotlight. Despite his success, Adonis is afraid of not living up to expectations, especially his own. He questions his abilities, and wonders if he’s fought the best and is worthy of being a champion.

It’s not long before an opponent steps forward who forces Adonis to confront his doubts and answer those questions: a young, undefeated heavyweight contender, Viktor Drago (Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu) — son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the Russian boxer who killed Apollo in the ring three decades earlier — publicly challenges Adonis for what the boxing world labels a historic next-generation “Creed vs. Drago” showdown.

The film will be distributed theatrically in the U.S. by MGM on November 21, 2018, and Warner Bros. Pictures will distribute the film internationally

The Avengers: Infinity War

by Dewayne Hamby | Like the epic comic-book crossover events it’s lifted from, there are many moving parts and countless characters in play, so much so that writing a non-spoiler-filled review is a feat unto itself (Marvel Entertainment/YouTube)

If you’re yearning to see super-powered beings demonstrating true heroism, Avengers: Infinity War, released from Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures, is the blockbuster you’ve been waiting for. It’s a refreshing return to the classic, morally unambiguous ideals of the silver age.

Since the creators dreamed up superheroes, the common thread, woven into the fabric of their literary DNA, was the selfless act of defending the defenseless. Ole’ Spidey even learned early on that, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Your power is not yours alone. It belongs to those who need it.

Somewhere, however, that innate heroic purpose often gave way to clannish ego-centered supernatural battles or attempts at rectifying messes their own clumsy abilities created. Infinity War, however, finds a war coming to earth, and the ones who can do something about it don’t run; they rally and fight.

Like the epic comic-book crossover events it’s lifted from, there are many moving parts and countless characters in play, so much so that writing a non-spoiler-filled review is a feat unto itself. Still, as anyone who has seen the previews can surmise, the action is literally non-stop and plays against dozens of earth-bound and intergalactic settings. Somehow the dozens of fan-favorite characters, even supporting ones, manage to get enough of a spotlight to satisfy their respective fanbases.

Heroes in this film do not wrestle with their destinies. They don’t brood or debate or agonize over putting themselves in harm’s way; they run into danger like stepping into their true calling. It is inspiring and beautiful. At one point, Tony Stark, feeling the weight of responsibility, chides Peter Parker for stepping into this fray, but Peter, though still a teenager in high school, is fully aware of the stakes. He’s ready and willing to go down fighting, telling Stark to be a neighborhood Spider-Man he has to make sure the neighborhood is still standing.

The consequences of the battle are severe and serious; however, the tone is frequently light. On the faith front, Jesus Christ is mentioned in a brief, throwaway line by Star Lord, played by one of the more outspoken Christian actors, Chris Pratt. Shuri, played by another prominent believer, Letitia Wright, also has a significant role in the film.

Anthony and Joe Russo, who delivered the smash Captain America: Civil War, have created a pitch-perfect, wildly-satisfying film. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely somehow managed to capture the voice and spirit of so many heroes, including well-placed comedic banter between newly-paired heroes such as Star Lord and Thor, and Dr. Strange and Iron Man. Even Thanos (Josh Brolin) is fleshed out more than one might expect.

Through 18 films, every step forward in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building to this, since Iron Man first took flight in 2008, bringing along with it the hopes and dreams of millions of fans. Avengers: Infinity War delivers on the hype. It is everything superhero fans were hoping it would be, and more. You’ll want to see it again.

Infinity War is rated PG-13 for language and violence and stars Robert Downey Jr., as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Don Cheadle as Colonel James Rhodes/War Machine, Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Paul Bettany as Vision, Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier, Idris Elba as Heimdall, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Benedict Wong as Wong, Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Dave Bautista as Drax, featuring Vin Diesel as Groot, Bradley Cooper as Rocket, with Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, with Benicio Del Toro as The Collector, with Josh Brolin as Thanos and Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord.

DEWAYNE HAMBY is a communications specialist and longtime journalist covering faith-based music, entertainment, books and the retail industry. He is also the editor of the White Wing Messenger, director of communications for the Church of God of Prophecy, and author of the book Gratitude Adjustment. Connect with him at his entertainment blog, dewaynehamby.com or on twitter – @dewaynehamby.

Paul, Apostle of Christ

The story covers Paul, portrayed by Faulkner, going from the most infamous persecutor of Christians to Jesus Christ’s most influential apostle.

James Faulkner (“Downton Abbey”)
Olivier Martinez (S.W.A.T.)
Joanne Whalley (“A.D. The Bible Continues”)

PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST is the story of two men. Luke, as a friend and physician, risks his life when he ventures into the city of Rome to visit Paul, who is held captive in Nero’s darkest, bleakest prison cell. But Nero is determined to rid Rome of Christians, and does not flinch from executing them in the grisliest ways possible. Before Paul’s death sentence can be enacted, Luke resolves to write another book, one that details the beginnings of “The Way” and the birth of what will come to be known as the church.

Bound in chains, Paul’s struggle is internal. He has survived so much—floggings, shipwreck, starvation, stoning, hunger and thirst, cold and exposure—yet as he waits for his appointment with death, he is haunted by the shadows of his past misdeeds. Alone in the dark, he wonders if he has been forgotten . . . and if he has the strength to finish well.

Two men struggle against a determined emperor and the frailties of the human spirit in order to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ and spread their message to the world.

The Good Catholic

Daniel is an idealistic and dedicated priest who loves his work more than anything else, until a chance meeting with a woman at confession stirs up emotions that make him question his true calling

Daniel (Zachary Spicer) is a young, idealistic priest who loves his work more than anything. While he struggles to find balance between the dueling philosophies of his mentors, Father Victor (Danny Glover), an old school, no nonsense traditionalist, and Father Ollie (John C. McGinley), a chainsmoking, carb addicted Franciscan, Daniel’s passion for his calling never waivers. And then he meets Jane. After a chance encounter during a late night confession, the complicated and mysterious Jane (Wrenn Schmidt), starts to open up Daniel’s world to an entirely different set of possibilities. And problems. As new bonds form and old ones are tested, Daniel must decide what his true calling really is — and whether or not he has the courage to answer it.

Runtime: 96 min
Rating: Rated PG-13 for language including a sexual reference.
Production: Pigasus Pictures
Genres: Drama, Comedy
Countries: USA, US
Language: English
Home Release Date: Oct 24, 2017
Director Credit
Paul Shoulberg Director
Writer Credit
Paul Shoulberg Writer
Principal Cast Credit
Alex Miro Jazz Hands Carl
Callie Rekas Featured Extra
Chandra Lee Mann Donna
Danny Glover Victor
John C. McGinley Ollie
Wrenn Schmidt Jane
Zachary Spicer Daniel
Zane Naylor Coffee Shop Patron
Cast Credit
Alex Miro Jazz Hands Carl
Callie Rekas Featured Extra
Chandra Lee Mann Donna
Danny Glover Victor
John C. McGinley Ollie
Wrenn Schmidt Jane
Zachary Spicer Daniel
Zane Naylor Coffee Shop Patron
Producer Credit
David Anspaugh Executive Producer
Graham Sheldon Producer
John Robert Armstrong Producer
Jonathan Mann Associate Producer
Jordan Gershowitz Executive Producer
Michael Borgmann Associate Producer
Ryan Mieczyslaw Juszkiewicz Line Producer
Stephen Ruminski Line Producer
Zachary Spicer Producer


Holiday Family Movies

There’s no better way to hide out from the cold than by cozying up to a holiday movie (Rotten Tomatoes).

Holiday time is a great time for reflection and appreciation, and the holiday movies listed below is a way to take it easy and reflect on the good old days for the grown ups and a new beginnings for the young. The movies pick ranges from Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption in the adaptations of Christmas Carol  to the salvation of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. There is no better way to put yourself in the holiday spirit than with a classic holiday movie. Get the popcorn and drinks ready and relax to any or all of this classic holiday movies.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: The classic Disney animated characters play the roles in this animated retelling of the Charles Dickens masterpiece. Ebenezer Scrooge. Nominated for an Oscar.
Starring: Wayne Allwine, Alan Young, Will Ryan
Directed By: Burny Mattinson
Rating: G
Genre: Animation, Kids & Family
Directed By: Burny Mattinson
In Theaters: Oct 23, 1983 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Nov 5, 2013
Runtime: 25 minutes
  How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1967)
Critics Consensus: How the Grinch Stole Christmas brings an impressive array of talent to bear on an adaptation that honors a classic holiday story — and has rightfully become a yuletide tradition of its own.
Synopsis: Chuck Jones’ animated version of the classic Dr. Seuss book How the Grinch Stole Christmas originally aired on television in 1966 and has since become a holiday family favorite. Voiced by Boris Karloff (who also narrates), the Grinch lives on top of a hill overlooking Whoville with his dog, Max. Each year at Christmas time, the Grinch’s hatred grows stronger toward those insufferably cheerful Whos down in Whoville. Content to exchange presents, eat large banquets, and sing songs in the town square, the Whos live in a blissful ignorance of the Grinch’s contempt. One year, he gets the idea to stop Christmas from coming by dressing up as Santa Claus. He cobbles together an outfit and makes his dog drag him around on a sleigh while sneaking into the Whos’ homes and stealing their presents, food, and decorations. After he has stolen every last thing, the Whos wake up on Christmas morning to sing in the town square, causing the Grinch to question the basis of his nefarious plan. Thurl Ravenscroft (the voice of kid cereal mascot Tony the Tiger) provides the vocals for the song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” This story was remade into a live-action movie in 2000 by director Ron Howard starring Jim Carrey as the Grinch. ~ Andrea LeVasseur, Rovi
Starring: Boris Karloff, June Foray, Thurl Ravenscroft, Eugene Poddany
Directed By: Chuck Jones, Ben Washam
Rating: NR
Genre: Animation, Classics, Comedy, Kids & Family, Musical & Performing Arts, Television
Written By: Theodor S. Geisel
In Theaters: Jun 1, 1967 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Oct 31, 2000
Runtime: 26 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
  Holiday Inn (1942)
Critics Consensus: With the combined might of Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin working in its favor, Holiday Inn is a seasonal classic — not least because it introduced “White Christmas” to the world.
Synopsis: Music by Irving Berlin, songs by Bing Crosby and dancing by Fred Astaire all add up to a really delightful musical that also just happened to launch the hit ‘White Christmas’.
Starring: Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale
Directed By: Mark Sandrich
Rating: NR
Genre: Classics, Comedy, Musical & Performing Arts, Romance
Written By: Claude Binyon, Elmer Rice
In Theaters: Jan 1, 1942 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Nov 2, 1999
Runtime: 100 minutes
Studio: MCA Universal Home Video
  Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Sally Benson’s short stories about the turn-of-the-century Smith family of St. Louis were tackled by a battalion of MGM screenwriters, who hoped to find a throughline to connect the anecdotal tales. After several false starts (one of which proposed that the eldest Smith daughter be kidnapped and held for ransom), the result was the charming valentine-card musical Meet Me in St. Louis. The plot hinges on the possibility that Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames), the family’s banker father, might uproot the Smiths to New York, scuttling his daughter Esther (Judy Garland)’s romance with boy-next-door John Truett (Tom Drake) and causing similar emotional trauma for the rest of the household. In a cast that includes Mary Astor as Ames’ wife, Lucille Bremer as another Ames daughter, and Marjorie Main as the housekeeper, the most fascinating character is played by 6-year-old Margaret O’Brien. As kid sister Tootie, O’Brien seems morbidly obsessed with death and murder, burying her dolls, “killing” a neighbor at Halloween (she throws flour in the flustered man’s face on a dare), and maniacally bludgeoning her snowmen when Papa announces his plans to move to New York. Margaret O’Brien won a special Oscar for her remarkable performance, prompting Lionel Barrymore to grumble “Two hundred years ago, she would have been burned at the stake!” The songs are a heady combination of period tunes and newly minted numbers by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin, the best of which are The Boy Next Door, The Trolley Song, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. As a bonus, Meet Me in St. Louis is lensed in rich Technicolor, shown to best advantage in the climactic scenes at the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Starring: Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Lucille Bremer, Mary Astor
Directed By: Vincente Minnelli
Rating: G
Genre: Classics, Drama, Kids & Family, Musical & Performing Arts, Romance
Written By: Irving Brecher, Fred F. Finklehoffe
In Theaters: Nov 28, 1944 limited
On Disc/Streaming: Apr 6, 2004
Runtime: 113 minutes
Studio: MGM
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Critics Consensus: Deftly directed by Ernst Lubitsch from a smart, funny script by Samson Raphaelson, The Shop Around the Corner is a romantic comedy in the finest sense of the term.
Synopsis: The Shop Around the Corner is adapted from the Hungarian play by Nikolaus (Miklos) Laszlo. Budapest gift-shop clerk Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and newly hired shopgirl Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) hate each other almost at first sight. Kralik would prefer the company of the woman with whom he is corresponding by mail but has never met. Novak likewise carries a torch for her male pen pal, whom she also has never laid eyes on. It doesn’t take a PhD degree to figure out that Kralik and Novak have been writing letters to each other. The film’s many subplots are carried by Frank Morgan as the kindhearted shopkeeper and by Joseph Schildkraut as a backstabbing employee whose comeuppance is sure to result in spontaneous applause from the audience. Directed with comic delicacy by Ernst Lubitsch, this was later remade in 1949 as In the Good Old Summertime, and in 1998 as You’ve Got Mail. It was also musicalized as the 1963 Broadway production She Loves Me. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Starring: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut
Directed By: Ernst Lubitsch
Rating: NR
Genre: Classics, Comedy, Drama, Romance
Written By: Samson Raphaelson
In Theaters: Jan 1, 1940 limited
On Disc/Streaming: Oct 1, 2002
Runtime: 97 minutes
Studio: MGM
Toy Story That Time Forgot (2014)
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: During a post-Christmas play date, the gang find themselves in uncharted territory when the coolest set of action figures ever turn out to be dangerously delusional. It’s all up to Trixie, the triceratops, if the gang hopes to return to Bonnie’s room in this Toy Story That Time Forgot. (C) Disney
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Kristen Schaal, Kevin Mckidd
Directed By: Steve Purcell (II)
Rating: NR
Genre: Action & Adventure, Animation
Written By: Steve Purcell (II)
In Theaters: Dec 2, 2014 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Nov 3, 2015
Runtime: 22 minutes
Studio: Disney/Pixar
 A Christmas Carol (1938)
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: One of the better versions of the Dickens classic features Reginald Owen as Scrooge, real-life relatives Gene, Kathleen and June Lockhart as the Cratchit family, and Terence Kilburn as Tiny Tim.
Starring: Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, Leo G Carroll
Directed By: Edwin L. Marin
Rating: G (nothing objectionable)
Genre: Classics, Drama, Kids & Family, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Written By: Hugo Butler
In Theaters: Dec 16, 1938 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Nov 8, 2005
Runtime: 99 minutes
Studio: MGM
Paddington (2015)
Critics Consensus: Paddington brings a beloved children’s character into the 21st century without sacrificing his essential charm, delivering a family-friendly adventure as irresistibly cuddly as its star.
Synopsis: From the beloved novels by Michael Bond and producer David Heyman (HARRY POTTER), PADDINGTON tells the story of the comic misadventures of a young Peruvian bear who travels to the city in search of a home. Finding himself lost and alone, he begins to realize that city life is not all he had imagined – until he meets the kindly Brown family who read the label around his neck that says “Please look after this bear. Thank you,” and offer him a temporary haven. It looks as though his luck has changed until this rarest of bears catches the eye of a museum taxidermist. (c) Weinstein
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Ben Whishaw, Julie Walters
Directed By: Paul King (VII)
Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)
Genre: Comedy, Kids & Family
Written By: Hamish McColl, Paul King (VII)
In Theaters: Jan 16, 2015 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Apr 28, 2015
Box Office: $85,879,985
Runtime: 96 minutes
Studio: The Weinstein Company
 Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Critics Consensus: Irrefutable proof that gentle sentimentalism can be the chief ingredient in a wonderful film, Miracle on 34th Street delivers a warm holiday message without resorting to treacle.
Synopsis: Edmund Gwenn plays Kris Kringle, a bearded old gent who is the living image of Santa Claus. Serving as a last-minute replacement for the drunken Santa who was to have led Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, Kringle is offered a job as a Macy’s toy-department Santa. Supervisor Maureen O’Hara soon begins having second thoughts about hiring Kris: it’s bad enough that he is laboring under the delusion that he’s the genuine Saint Nick; but when he begins advising customers to shop elsewhere for toys that they can’t find at Macy’s, he’s gone too far! Amazingly, Mr. Macy (Harry Antrim) considers Kris’ shopping tips to be an excellent customer-service “gimmick,” and insists that the old fellow keep his job. A resident of a Long Island retirement home, Kris agrees to take a room with lawyer John Payne during the Christmas season. It happens that Payne is sweet on O’Hara, and Kris subliminally hopes he can bring the two together. Kris is also desirous of winning over the divorced O’Hara’s little daughter Natalie Wood, who in her few years on earth has lost a lot of the Christmas spirit. Complications ensue when Porter Hall, Macy’s nasty in-house psychologist, arranges to have Kris locked up in Bellevue as a lunatic. Payne represents Kris at his sanity hearing, rocking the New York judicial system to its foundations by endeavoring to prove in court that Kris is, indeed, the real Santa Claus! We won’t tell you how he does it: suffice to say that there’s a joyous ending for Payne and O’Hara, as well as a wonderful faith-affirming denouement for little Natalie Wood. 72-year-old Edmund Gwenn won an Oscar for his portrayal of the “jolly old elf” Kringle; the rest of the cast is populated by such never-fail pros as Gene Lockhart (as the beleaguered sanity-hearing judge), William Frawley (as a crafty political boss), and an unbilled Thelma Ritter and Jack Albertson. Based on the novel by Valentine Davies, Miracle on 34th Street was remade twice: once for TV in 1973, and a second time for a 1994 theatrical release, with Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Starring: Edmund Gwenn, John Payne, Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood
Directed By: George Seaton
Rating: NR
Genre: Classics, Drama, Kids & Family, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Special Interest, Romance
Written By: George Seaton
In Theaters: Jan 1, 1947 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Oct 16, 2001
Runtime: 96 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
  Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Critics Consensus: Enchanting, sweepingly romantic, and featuring plenty of wonderful musical numbers, Beauty and the Beast is one of Disney’s most elegant animated offerings.
Synopsis: Walt Disney Animation Studios’ magical classic Beauty and the Beast returns to the big screen in Disney Digital 3D(TM), introducing a whole new generation to the Disney classic with stunning new 3D imagery. The film captures the fantastic journey of Belle (voice of Paige O’Hara), a bright and beautiful young woman who’s taken prisoner by a hideous beast (voice of Robby Benson) in his castle. Despite her precarious situation, Belle befriends the castle’s enchanted staff-a teapot, a candelabra and a mantel clock, among others-and ultimately learns to see beneath the Beast’s exterior to discover the heart and soul of a prince. — (C) Disney
Starring: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Jerry Orbach, Angela Lansbury
Directed By: Gary Trousdale
Rating: G
Genre: Animation, Drama, Kids & Family, Musical & Performing Arts, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Romance
In Theaters: Nov 22, 1991 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Oct 8, 2002
Box Office: $47,611,331
Runtime: 85 minutes
Studio: Buena Vista
   It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Critics Consensus: The holiday classic to define all holiday classics, It’s a Wonderful Life is one of a handful of films worth an annual viewing.
Synopsis: This is director Frank Capra’s classic bittersweet comedy/drama about George Bailey (James Stewart), the eternally-in-debt guiding force of a bank in the typical American small town of Bedford Falls. As the film opens, it’s Christmas Eve, 1946, and George, who has long considered himself a failure, faces financial ruin and arrest and is seriously contemplating suicide. High above Bedford Falls, two celestial voices discuss Bailey’s dilemma and decide to send down eternally bumbling angel Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers), who after 200 years has yet to earn his wings, to help George out. But first, Clarence is given a crash course on George’s life, and the multitude of selfless acts he has performed: rescuing his younger brother from drowning, losing the hearing in his left ear in the process; enduring a beating rather than allow a grieving druggist (H.B. Warner) to deliver poison by mistake to an ailing child; foregoing college and a long-planned trip to Europe to keep the Bailey Building and Loan from letting its Depression-era customers down; and, most important, preventing town despot Potter (Lionel Barrymore) from taking over Bedford Mills and reducing its inhabitants to penury. Along the way, George has married his childhood sweetheart Mary (Donna Reed), who has stuck by him through thick and thin. But even the love of Mary and his children are insufficient when George, faced with an $8000 shortage in his books, becomes a likely candidate for prison thanks to the vengeful Potter. Bitterly, George declares that he wishes that he had never been born, and Clarence, hoping to teach George a lesson, shows him how different life would have been had he in fact never been born. After a nightmarish odyssey through a George Bailey-less Bedford Falls (now a glorified slum called Potterville), wherein none of his friends or family recognize him, George is made to realize how many lives he has touched, and helped, through his existence; and, just as Clarence had planned, George awakens to the fact that, despite all its deprivations, he has truly had a wonderful life. Capra’s first production through his newly-formed Liberty Films, It’s a Wonderful Life lost money in its original run, when it was percieved as a fairly downbeat view of small-town life. Only after it lapsed into the public domain in 1973 and became a Christmastime TV perennial did it don the mantle of a holiday classic. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell
Directed By: Frank Capra
Rating: PG (for thematic elements, smoking and some violence)
Genre: Classics, Comedy, Drama, Kids & Family, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Written By: Frank Capra, Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett
In Theaters: Dec 25, 1946 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Sep 19, 1995
Runtime: 135 minutes
Studio: Liberty Films
  Frozen (2013)
Critics Consensus: Beautifully animated, smartly written, and stocked with singalong songs, Frozen adds another worthy entry to the Disney canon.
Synopsis: Featuring the voices of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, “Frozen” is the coolest comedy-adventure ever to hit the big screen. When a prophecy traps a kingdom in eternal winter, Anna, a fearless optimist, teams up with extreme mountain man Kristoff and his sidekick reindeer Sven on an epic journey to find Anna’s sister Elsa, the Snow Queen, and put an end to her icy spell. Encountering mystical trolls, a funny snowman named Olaf, Everest-like extremes and magic at every turn, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom from destruction. (c) Disney
Starring: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad
Directed By: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck
Rating: PG (for some action and mild rude humor)
Genre: Animation, Kids & Family
Written By: Jennifer Lee
In Theaters: Nov 27, 2013 wide
On Disc/Streaming: Mar 18, 2014
Box Office: $400,736,600
Runtime: 102 minutes
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures

‘Paul, Apostle of Christ’ Gets its First Trailer

by Anita Busch | The story covers Paul, portrayed by Faulkner, going from the most infamous persecutor of Christians to Jesus Christ’s most influential apostle….Set For Easter Week.

A first-look teaser trailer just dropped for the James Faulkner-Jim Caviezel faith-based film Paul, Apostle of Christ, which comes from Sony’s Affirm Films label. It follows the epic story of the man who went from persecutor of the church to a follower of Christ. The film, from writer-director Andrew Hyatt, will be released March 28, the Wednesday before Easter.

The story follows Paul (Faulkner), who suffers alone in a Roman prison, awaiting his execution under Emperor Nero. Mauritius (Olivier Martinez), the ambitious prison prefect, can hardly see what threat this broken man poses. Once he was Saul of Tarsus, the high-ranking and brutal killer of Christians. Now his faith rattles Rome. At great risk, Luke the Physician (Caviezel) visits the aged Paul to comfort and tend to him—and to question, to transcribe and to smuggle out Paul’s letters to the growing community of believers. Amid Nero’s inhuman persecution, these men and women will spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and change the world.

Paul, Apostle of Christ, which was filmed in Malta, also stars Joanne Whalley and John Lynch. It was produced by David Zelon and T.J. Berden. Executive producers are Rick Jackson, Harrison Powell and Eric Groth.

The film was done with Sony in association with Giving Films as an ODB Films production in association with Mandalay Pictures.

Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)

Roman J. Israel, Esq., a driven, idealistic defense attorney, finds himself in a tumultuous series of events that lead to a crisis and the necessity for extreme action.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. is set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system. Denzel Washington stars as a driven, idealistic defense attorney whose life is upended when his mentor, a civil rights icon, dies. When he is recruited to join a firm led by one of the legendary man’s former students – the ambitious lawyer George Pierce (Colin Farrell) – and begins a friendship with a young champion of equal rights (Carmen Ejogo), a turbulent series of events ensue that will put the activism that has defined Roman’s career to the test.

Release date: November 17, 2017 (USA)
Director: Dan Gilroy
Screenplay: Dan Gilroy
Music composed by: James Newton Howard
Producers: Denzel Washington, Jennifer Fox, Todd Black


‘Mindhunter’ Offers a Stark Warning About the Limits of Empathy

by Cameron McAllister | “I am human and nothing human is alien to me.” — Terrence (Photo by Patrick Harbron)

I know we’re still cheering for the arrival of Stranger Things 2, but I’m here to tell you that Mindhunter is Netflix’s best show to date.

The series, which premiered its first season run of ten episodes on October 13, is a loose adaptation of John E. Douglas’s book by the same title. A former FBI investigator in the behavioral sciences unit, Douglas and his partner, Robert Ressler, pioneered the research that would culminate in the psychological profile of the kind of criminal we now classify as a “serial killer.” The phrase itself was coined by Ressler and has since migrated from the field of criminology to the world of pop culture, spawning its own unique subgenre that includes everything from Silence of the Lambs to Dexter. The continued popularity of Douglas’s story is yet another testament to our abiding cultural obsession with the most extreme forms of criminal deviancy.

All adaptations involve some embellishment, but this series offers a truly deft amalgamation of fact and fiction. In order to free their character development from unnecessary constraints, for instance, the writers opted to supply Douglas and Ressler with fictional counterparts: In place of Douglas, we get Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff waving farewell to his Frozen days), a bright-eyed idealist whose baby face masks a much more complex obsession with his chosen subject.

Raspy-voiced Bill Tench, meanwhile, walks into the picture with a cigarette in his hand and an ironic gleam in his eye—very much the seasoned veteran to Ford’s eager rookie. However, Tench’s gruff outward demeanor hardly matches his sensitive inner landscape. Though Ford’s theoretical brilliance will take the two men into uncharted territory, it is Tench who recognizes the moral complexity of this new terrain.

But it’s the factual material that makes the show simultaneously mesmerizing and repulsive. Apart from one scene of explicit violence and its uncompromising opening credit sequence, Mindhunter focuses mainly on the psychological dimensions of its criminals. This visual restraint, however, hardly makes it any less disturbing.

When Tench and Ford journey into the maw of the maximum security prison system to interview the nation’s most notorious murderers, their casual conversations involve such outlandishly grotesque scenarios that the net effect is almost more surreal than horrifying. Imagine discussing necrophilia in between slices of pizza and you’re in the general ballpark of these meetings. But fact is often stranger (and more terrible) than fiction, and these interviews are taken directly from official transcripts, adding a whole new level of malevolence to these little consultations.

 In the show, Holden’s idea of treating these incarcerated criminals like lab rats is greeted with a mixture of perplexity and disdain. Why would anyone want to interview someone like Charles Manson or Ed Kemper? What can we possibly learn from such demented minds? Shouldn’t we restrict our efforts to putting these people behind bars? If these questions seem naïve to us now, it’s largely a tribute to the paradigm-shifting influence of Douglas and Ressler’s work.

On top of directing four of its ten episodes, David Fincher also serves as the executive producer of Mindhunter, and fans of his work will note the clear affinities between the show and two of his most accomplished films—namely, Se7en and Zodiac. Interestingly, both films showcase the tension that erupts when unchecked obsession meets with the restraint of painstaking analysis. Since the medium of television offers the distinct advantage of detailed character analysis, Fincher uses it to refine his exploration of this conflicted dynamic, showing us how Ford’s insatiable curiosity begins to encroach on his personal life. The tension is intensified by the arrival of Wendy Carr—a steely academic recruited by the bureau to formalize the methodology behind the prison interviews. Carr has little sympathy for Ford’s unorthodox tactics in the interviews, which involve everything from catering to a prisoner’s shoe fetish to matching their obscene lingo.

Despite the undeniable breakthroughs offered by their unique fieldwork, both Carr and Tench recognize that clear boundaries must be established between themselves and their subjects. Ford’s apparent “immunity” to these interviews is a source of anxiety for Tench who finds their work deeply troubling. He also recognizes that his younger partner’s growing facility in earning the trust of sociopaths is calcifying into a kind of heedless pride, a pride that forms an uncomfortable parallel with the men they’re interviewing. Unlike Ford, Tench knows that there is such a thing as getting too close.

 Though it concerns events that took place in the late ’70s, Mindhunter is very much a show of its time. Arguably, the central virtue of our cultural moment is empathy. In its contemporary guise, this virtue presents itself as a steadfast refusal to marginalize any form of difference, no matter how exotic or extreme. Leslie Jamison’s superb Empathy Examsoffers a vivid encapsulation of this contemporary mindset:

Empathy comes from the Greek empatheia—em (into) and pathos (feeling)—a penetration, a kind of travel. It suggests you enter another person’s pain as you’d enter another country, through immigration and customs, border crossing by way of query: What grows where you are? What are the laws? What animals graze there?

Mindhunter asks us to consider whether there are limits to empathy. Expanding on Jamison’s metaphor, the show asks whether it’s possible to travel to the country of another person’s pain only to find yourself indefinitely detained, your passport confiscated. When does empathy move beyond identification and become transformation?

Like any serious story, Mindhunter pays its audience the compliment of high expectations. True, the show does feature sensational material—but it also abounds in long stretches of meandering dialog, much of it punctuated by technical jargon and academic references. Emile Durkheim’s social theories make an appearance in the first episode; Erving Goffman and Freud follow as the series progresses. Though the storyline remains compelling, this is not a show for multitaskers.

The unique forms of isolation imposed by the modern world have given us a rich tradition of films and shows that steadily push their loner protagonists to a climactic point of catharsis. The explosive finale in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver still sets the standard. David Fincher brings us close to Scorsese’s chaotic intensity in Mindhunter’s final episode. After a failed suicide attempt lands the 6’9” Kemper in the hospital with thick bandages on his thick wrists, Ford gets a call informing him that he’s listed as the man’s sole medical dependent.

Without hesitation, Ford races to the airport and soon finds himself sitting by Kemper’s side in the hospital. Size is very difficult to convey onscreen, but Fincher ingeniously centers his lens on Kemper’s massive feet, which the covers simply can’t contain. We also see a thick metal chain fastening Kemper’s legs together, a stark reminder of the patient’s lethal capabilities. All of these disparate qualities—the bed, the bandages, the room’s sedate lighting, the giant feet, the chain—combine to create a scene of nearly impeccable menace.

 When his subject leaps from the bed with the prowess of a predator in the jungle, Ford finally understands that he’s not the one in control—that he’s not some kind of exotic sociopath-whisperer. “I could kill you right now if I wanted to,” Kemper intones. We then watch as Kemper enfolds Ford in his mammoth arms, whispering sinister possibilities in his ear.

Ford breaks loose and staggers from the room in a blind panic, his legs melting beneath him. The full weight of his own radical empathy exams comes crashing down on his head all at once, and it arrives with the force of a revelation. It’s a masterful conclusion to the first outing of a very promising show. (Word has it that Fincher wants five more seasons of Mindhunter. It’s a testament to Season One’s success that this ambition doesn’t sound presumptuous.)

Though Christian audiences may be appalled by its subject matter, Mindhunter shouldn’t prove too shocking. In his short story “Genesis and Catastrophe,” Roald Dahl recounts a conventional childbirth. The tale is initially straightforward, if a little melodramatic. Like a chemist adding a volatile compound to a beaker, however, Dahl instantly transforms the narrative with one explosive detail: the baby is Adolf Hitler.

Dahl’s little conceit would garner the same results if it were applied to any of Mindhunter’s killers. Every hardened criminal was once a squirming infant. With its uncompromising depiction of aberrant behavior, Mindhunter is definitely not for everyone—but Christians can affirm the show’s somber reminder that the gravest danger always involves underestimating one’s own capacity for evil. We don’t have to travel as far as we think we do to see the darkness in others.

Cameron McAllister is a speaker and writer with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). He lives in the Atlanta area with his wife, Heather. You can find him online @cammcallister7 on Twitter, and listen to him talk about signs of life in today’s culture on the Vital Signs podcast.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the best superhero movie of 2017

Updated by Alex Abad-Santos | alex@vox.com | Spider-Man: Homecoming gets Peter Parker right. That’s what makes it so good.

Over the past decade, Spider-Man’s famous credo — “with great power comes great responsibility” — could very well apply to Sony, the studio that owns the film rights to Marvel’s web-slinging superhero.

Despite Spider-Man’s massive, multigenerational fan base, Sony has struggled to give the legendary character an equally legendary story on the big screen. Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004) were the makings of a solid franchise, but then 2007’s Spider-Man 3 seemed to cast a dark spell over the superhero’s cinematic legacy. Not only was the movie a sour end to a once-promising trilogy, but it was followed by an underwhelming, too-soon reboot in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, an aggressively mediocre sequel to said reboot, and then a series of delays and uncertainty from the studio in response to that sequel’s disappointing box office haul.

The problem with the middling Spider-Man films is that they failed to make Peter Parker feel like Peter Parker. They either strayed too far from the spirit of the character, à la Spider-Man 3, or misunderstood it altogether, resulting in movies that felt hollow or inconsequential.

Patient Spider-Man fans have been waiting 10 years for a story that’s worthy of Spider-Man’s legacy — one that’s as much about the heart and soul of its hero as it is about slinging and swinging through the city sky. And with Spider-Man: Homecoming, which brings Marvel Studios back into the Spider-Man fold as a co-producer with Sony, that story is finally here.

The movie is a soaring, fearless teenage dream. And it feels so great to be able to say: Welcome home, Spidey

Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t really a story about a man, but about the journey toward becoming an adult

Within the pop culture sphere, Spider-Man’s origin story has become an American superhero nativity scene of sorts. Even if you haven’t read any Spider-Man comics or seen any Spider-Man movies, you likely know that a radioactive spider bites Peter Parker, giving him superpowers — strength, the ability to cling to walls, a sixth sense, etc. — and that Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben dies because Peter didn’t stop a criminal when he had the chance. Except for Batman, whose story is rooted in the deaths of his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, there is no other superhero whose beginnings are as well-known as Peter Parker’s/Spider-Man’s.

It’s curious and savvy, then, that Spider-Man: Homecoming writer-director Jon Watts and co-writers Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers eschew all of those basic details.

We don’t see Peter Parker (Tom Holland) get bitten. There aren’t any references to Uncle Ben. We don’t even know the full extent of Peter’s powers; the limits of his strength, durability, “Spider-Sense,” and agility are never fully explained.

What Homecoming does show us is a Peter Parker who’s just an underappreciated high school sophomore with a superhero secret identity, and who’s itching to get back into action after taking on Captain America and the rest of the Avengers in last year’s Captain America: Civil War but can’t tell a soul about it.

Tweaking the tension that surrounds his protagonist allows Watts to delve into new territory with the character.

Instead of holding our breaths for that “Uncle Ben” moment, we get to experience and understand the conflict at Spider-Man’s core: having to balance all the anxieties and uncertainties of being a teen while also knowing the thrilling power of being a superhero.

Being a superhero is the one thing that makes Peter happy, but it also eats up his time, interfering with his status on Midtown High’s Academic Decathlon team and fracturing his friendships.

He and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) suddenly don’t have time to mess around with their Star Wars toys. It kills him that he can’t get Liz (Laura Harrier), the girl of his dreams, to notice him even though she’s in love with Spider-Man. And he’s always lying to his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) about his “internship” at Stark Enterprises.

Tom Holland masterfully channels Peter’s teenage angst, which could easily come off as melodramatic or superficial, and infuses it with respect. Watts’s artful work makes you realize how often we don’t take teenagers’ anxieties, joys, and fears seriously. Peter’s life in Homecoming is a frustrating, jagged journey toward figuring out what kind of person he is.

Holland can be effortlessly likable; he proved as much in Civil War. What’s more impressive in Homecoming is how adept he is at doing the tougher stuff too. He flashes teenage stubbornness in defying Iron Man (and everyone who seems to know better). But he also sheds tears, and your heart hurts with him, giving Peter Parker an aching vulnerability that we don’t see in most superheroes.

This movie marks a big a moment for Holland, who, for the first time in his career, has to carry a gigantic blockbuster and does so handily. As Peter, he will remind you of your childhood best friend and, as the movie unfurls, become a hero to look up to. Quite simply, Homecoming proves that Holland is a star and the best Spider-Man we’ve seen onscreen.
Homecoming brings Spider-Man’s credo of “with great power comes great responsibility” to life

The strange thing about Spider-Man’s “with great power…” catchphrase is that in the comic book, no one says it out loud (it’s also been slightly tweaked/abbreviated throughout the years). It appears in Amazing Fantasy No. 15, the very first Marvel comic book appearance of Peter Parker. In that comic, written by Stan Lee and drawn by artist Steve Ditko, the saying shows up on the last page, in a yellow box, long after their story has made it very clear that if Peter Parker had done his duty, his uncle would still be alive.

Homecoming keeps that tradition of not giving us a “catchphrase” moment, opting instead to show us what this idea looks like in practice.

We see Peter soar through the sky with all these gizmos in his new suit, and then completely bork the landing. We see him put people in danger because of teenage idiocy. He saves the day, often in thrilling, stunning fashion — but half the time, the reason he has to come to the rescue is that he caused a problem in the first place.

The balance of power and responsibility is not just present in Peter’s story, either.

Michael Keaton is chilling as Adrian Toomes, a struggling contractor who, in Homecoming’s world of gods and monsters, has found a way to carve out his own pocket of power. Keaton knows how to flash his own brand of sinister, sharpening the pricks in his voice and conveying heat in his eyes. But the compelling thing about Toomes is that, like a lot the very best comic villains, he’s impossibly human — if he’d had even one lucky break, it seems, he wouldn’t be on this path.

Toomes and Peter’s clashes are gorgeous flourishes of superhuman physics, power versus agility, speed versus brutality, and opposing worldviews: hardened jadedness versus restless optimism.

And Watts’s film is a visual treat; to be fair, many Marvel blockbusters are. But really, the magic is in the heart and soul given to Peter, to the villainous Toomes, and to Peter’s teenage spirit. Past Spider-Man films have failed to give us a Peter Parker worth rooting for, worth protecting, worth looking up to. But in Watts’s and Holland’s hands, for the first time in a decade, Spider-Man: Homecoming gives a version of everyone’s favorite neighborhood web slinger who feels as amazing as he was created to be.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is in theaters across the country on July 7. Screenings begin a night earlier.

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Beauty and the Beast More Enchanted Than Accursed

by Susan Ellingburg | A delightful live-action retelling of a much-loved story, Beauty and the Beast looks like a picturebook come to life with music and dancing. Yes, there is controversy over the perceived sexual orientation of a minor character, but remember the moral of this tale: you can't judge a book by its cover. 4 out of 5.

It's a tale as old as time:  Boy (Dan Stevens), a bad-tempered prince turned snarling beast—meets Girl (Emma Watson), a book-loving dreamer who doesn't fit in her rural village. They're thrown together by chance (or design). If they can make this relationship work before time runs out, a whole castle full of people living under a curse will be saved. If not… nobody gets to live happily ever after.

What Works?

Like the live action version of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast is rather gorgeous. The village is beautifully picturesque; the castle a delicious crumbling ruin. The Beast's appearance is nicely done, too. He's "other" enough to be not-human, but still able to express enough emotion to be appealing, even through the fur. All the enchanted characters look great; they’re exactly as you’d expect “real” versions of their animated selves to look. The cast is star-studded and full of charming performances, but I'd like to give a shout-out to Stanley Tucci, whose Maestro Cadenza gives the best piano performance ever (the best performance by a piano, that is). Speaking of the cast, if you're not in a rush at the end there's quite a nice curtain call which helps match up voices of the enchanted castle inhabitants with their real life faces.

What Doesn't?

Some of the musical numbers involve complex spinning geometric patterns reminiscent of Busby Berkeley numbers from those old Hollywood movies. It's pretty and all, but too much of a good thing. As one dizzying scene went on and on I briefly wished for Dramamine. Littles who are prone to carsickness may find those moments too much to handle. Watson was a little laid-back for my taste; she's smart and sweet and pretty but her Belle occasionally comes across as a little absent. Maybe that was her take on the character's distracted air. I was a little disappointed in her iconic yellow ball gown, too. It didn't have quite the pizazz of its animated counterpart. And was there a pocket in that billowy skirt? She had the mirror, she didn't have the mirror, she had the mirror again… in other words, continuity fell apart a bit in later scenes.

I could have done without quite such an effeminate take on LeFou (Josh Gad). While LeFou is meant to be a counterpoint to the uber-macho Gaston, is it really necessary for him to go that far? (See Cautions below for more on the much-hyped "gay moment" of Beauty and the Beast).

Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes

Let's set controversy aside for a moment and look at the real message of Beauty: that it's not what’s on the outside that counts. Or as 1 Samuel 16:7 puts it, "people judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." Most of these characters judge each other by what they see. The exceptions are the enchanted servants, who encourage Belle to look beyond the Beast's appearance and bad temper, because they know deep inside he is worth saving. Given that his behavior is the reason they are no longer human, that's quite a model of forgiveness. You could also look at the story as an example of grace offered to sinners—the Beast was given a second chance, after all.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)

  • MPAA Rating: PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images
  • Language/Profanity: An enchanted character says the spell "damned us all."
  • Sexuality/Nudity: There's a lot of controversy about the "gay scene," which director Bill Condon (Mr. Holmes) described as "a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie." When he says "moment" he's not kidding—blink and you'll miss it. Here's what I saw:  There's LeFou, who does appear, shall we say, unclear about his orientation. Condon said LeFou "one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston," though to me it came off more as adolescent hero-worship than anything else. Does LeFou want a romantic relationship with his idol? Possibly, sometimes, maybe. Does he realize that? Not necessarily. Is that relationship consummated on-screen in any way? No. In other news, three villagers involved in a fight at the castle are pitted against the enchanted wardrobe, whose line of defense is to dress them as women. Two are horrified to find themselves in girly-wear; the third is delighted. We see his reaction for a heartbeat then he's gone. Much later, at a ball, in one of those complicated dances where everyone swirls about changing partners, two men find themselves dancing together and appear pleased about it. This, I believe, is the "gay moment" in question. The whole thing lasts maybe two seconds and is inconsequential to the plot.
  • Violence/Frightening/Intense: There is quite a bit of peril in Beauty, with several moments that are pretty intense. The Beast has a mighty roar and violent tendencies that range from snapping at his servants to fighting off a gang of wolves. Those wolves are vicious, fierce, and prone to attack. The Villagers vs. Castle Inhabitants battle is more funny than anything, but Gaston taking shots at the Beast—and the dramatic rooftop battle, with injuries and long falls—will get hearts pumping.
  • Drugs/Alcohol: Some scenes are set in a village tavern, where drinks are served.

The Bottom Line

RECOMMENDED FOR: Romantics, Disney fans, bookworms, and lovers of old-school musicals.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Haters of musicals, those who don't like fairy tales, and viewers who will be so offended by a gay(ish) character they won't be able to see anything else.

Beauty and the Beast, directed by Bill Condon, opens in theaters March 17, 2017. It runs 129 minutes and stars Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Kevin Kline.

Susan Ellingburg spends most days helping to create amazing live events and most nights at the movies, at rehearsals, or performing with vocal ensembles in the Dallas area. This leaves very little time for cleaning house. A natural-born Texan, Susan loves all things British, Sunday afternoon naps, cozy mysteries, traveling with friends, and cooking like a Food Network star (minus the camera crew).

Underdeveloped Ideas Take Down The Great Wall

by Christian Hamaker – Raises some interesting ideas about trust, sacrifice and purpose, but not even an international cast led by Matt Damon can compensate for an overall failure of imagination in this slack, detached story. 1.5 out of 5.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)

  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of fantasy action violence
  • Language/Profanity: "Good God, man"; "basta-d"; "b-tch".
  • Sexuality/Nudity: None.
  • Violence/Frightening/Intense: Several battle scenes and explosions, including scenes of dying fighters. Frightening monsters are seen several times, often attacking and sometimes dying.
  • Drugs/Alcohol: None.

During the Song dynasty, mercenaries William Garin (Matt Damon) and his friend Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) come upon a secret society—the Nameless Order—that battles malevolent forces outside the Great Wall of China. The mercenaries team with a captive, Ballard (Willem Dafoe), to plot ways to make off with the Nameless Order's stash of gunpowder. But it's not long before Garin, spurred by Lin Mae (Tian Jing)—a fighter in the Nameless Order who encourages Garin to think beyond himself and to trust others—begins to feel called to help the order defeat the Tao Tei, mythical beasts resembling giant lizards that rise every 60 years to feed upon humanity.

What Works?

Although it's a shopworn idea, a hero with a checkered past being challenged to be something more than he has been—to show he won't be defined by his lowest moments—can be stirring. Those ideas are made explicit in fleeting moments of The Great Wall, but for the most part they're forgotten or simply fight to come to the surface. Had they been more developed, The Great Wall would have been more successful than it is, but I was grateful to have a few scripted moments that suggested a better story than the one we get here.

What Doesn't?

From a weak story to middling performances and the seen-it-all-before quality of its action scenes, very little works in The Great Wall. But the Tao Tei should be singled out as particularly disappointing. No matter how much money was spent on special effects, the CGI quality of these creatures is glaringly obvious.

Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes

Garin wrestles with his past and his sense of identity, telling Lin Mae of his mercenary background—he says he once fought for the Pope, among many others—and how he stayed alive by trusting no one. Lin Mae says trust is essential to working effectively as part of the army of fighters, and that Garin needs to "have faith" and that "in this army, we give our lives for something more." Garin attempts to embrace those more sacrificial, noble ideals, but he's told that he's a thief, a liar and a killer who can never undo the things he's done, and that his attempts to portray himself as a man of virtue aren’t convincing.

As Garin tries to prove through his actions that he won't be defined by his past, the allegations brought to mind Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, specifically 6:9–11, in which the apostle catalogs the sins of the Corinthian believers while also offering solace by asserting that these are not what characterizes these believers nowThe Great Wall doesn't offer the same reassurance Paul offers, of course, and few people going to see the film will be looking for these sorts of parallels, but in Lin Mae's encouragement, The Great Wall may strike a chord, however briefly, with Christian viewers. Director Zhang Yimou's primary interest lies more in mythical monsters and battle scenes that consistently fail to generate tension or interest than in exploring these themes.

The Bottom Line

RECOMMENDED FOR: Only for the most forgiving action-movie fans.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Matt Damon fans will be disappointed by the wooden quality of his performance here. Nor do any of the other actors shine particularly—not even Dafoe, who's usually interesting to watch even in subpar films. Not here.

The Great Wall, directed by Zhang Yimou, opens in theaters February 17, 2017. It runs 103 minutes and stars Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Pascal and Andy Lau. Watch the trailer for The Great Wall here.

Christian Hamaker brings a background in both Religion (M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary) and Film/Popular Culture (B.A., Virginia Tech) to his reviews. He still has a collection of more than 100 laserdiscs, and for DVDs patronizes the local library. Streaming? What is this "streaming" of which you speak? He'll figure it out someday. Until then, his preferred viewing venue is a movie theater. Christian is happily married to Sarah, a parent coach and author of Hired@Home and Ending Sibling Rivalry.


The LAMB to life

The greatest love story of all time. A Life Changing Story of Forgiveness unfolds.
In a world torn apart by religious and political conflict, in a time of promise and expectation, an astounding story of reconciliation unfolds. The Lamb to Life is a heartwarming story of a Jewish father, Mattias, and his young son, Joel.
Release Date: (Theaters) April 1, 2018
Admission Ticket: $10.00 at Seleted venues
The Lamb to Life ticketMPAA Rating: PG-13
Format: Live Broadcast from Isreal, DVD, Theaters
Director: Regardt van den Bergh
Producer: Rudolf Markgraaff
Writers:     Regart Van Den Bergh
Language:  English, Hebrew
Production Company: Charis Productions LLC
Production Company Phone: 310-430-6744
Production Company Address: 241 Palos Vredes Dr West, Suite 110, Palos Vredes Estate, CA 90274, USA
Category:     Christian Films, Animation, Foreign Films, Jewish Films, Up-Coming Films
Film Description: Living at the time of Christ a young Jewish family has to deal with the tragic loss of their eldest son. After the death of his 13-year old brother Joel becomes an orphan in his own house when his father renounces God and abandons his family. Parallel to the lives of the family, the story of Jesus Christ unfolds and eventually intersects with theirs at the cross resulting in a moving reconciliation.
The LAMB is a simple parable that reveals God’s heart for people in a powerful way that reaches the deepest part of the human soul.
(Premiere In Israel During Yom Kippur 2018)

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AMC’s ‘Preacher’ Is Violent, Vulgar – and Surprisingly Churchy. Is it Redeemable?

Reviewed by   –  Season 1, Episode 1 Contains violent content and strong language.
Jesse struggles to escape a past that is slowly catching up to him. A mysterious entity comes to earth, leaving a wave of destruction in its wake.

Why do contemporary audiences love superheroes? One answer seems obvious: they make us feel powerful.

As beings made in the image of God, we long for justice. As fallen creatures, however, we often lack the means—or bravery—to bring that justice about. Comics, movies, and TV shows about caped crusaders and teams of mutant heroes provide us with something we crave: an imagined space where we can explore what it’s like to uphold righteousness with reckless abandon, even in the face of cosmic evils that dwarf those dogging us in the here-and-now.

Well, as of a few weeks ago, there’s yet another new superhero on the block—only this time, he’s toting a Bible and sporting a clerical collar.

On May 22, AMC presented its pilot for Preacher, the latest project from Breaking Bad co-producer and writer Sam Catlin. Based on the late-‘90s comic of the same name, Preacher follows Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), a small-town Texas minister with a sordid past and a disillusioned faith. By the end of the pilot episode, Jesse joins the superhuman ranks when a mysterious, celestial being (called “Genesis” in the comics) possesses him, giving him god-like abilities.

Early reviews have been mostly positive. Preacher looks to be fresh spin on an old formula, taking the superhero story’s concerns about justice and power and projecting them into the life of a church’s world-worn shepherd. It’s also grim, gritty, and violent. Like Breaking Bad before it, Preacher isn’t afraid to portray the troubling, taboo, and degenerate. (Flannery O’Connor fans will feel right at home.) Christian audiences are likely to wonder, then: is Preacher just a churched-up Game of Thrones with basic cable boundaries and a God-shaped absence? Or will its treatment of the body of Christ and the ones who lead it be rich and honest enough to make it worth watching?

The final answer to that question will probably only come in the long run, but the pilot gives some early hints of promise. While it raises some interesting issues, the first episode mainly focuses on establishing the backdrop against which Jesse’s journey will unfold. And, as with most superhero tales, it wants us to see its protagonist as essentially powerless from the start.

Before Genesis possesses him, Jesse is—by his own admission—a “bad preacher” in search of absolution, a “drinkin’, fightin’, swearin’” mess with a cryptic, violent past. His failing country church can’t even afford to keep the air conditioner on, let alone keep up with the megachurch up the road (which, it turns out, just added a Starbucks to their lobby). As far as God’s concerned . . . well, whatever love Jesse may have had for him once, it’s chilled considerably.

Nonetheless, he aims to serve his people, and the struggles he faces are familiar ones for ministers: the first pastoral act we see him perform on-screen is amending a crude re-lettering of his church’s sign. During the Sunday service, it’s clear that none of his bored congregants—with the exception of sincere organist and young widow Emily Woodrow (Lucy Griffiths)—care much about what he has to say. But there may be good reason, as Jesse himself seems to think God has turned his back on him.

Despite his ministerial failures, Jesse’s thirst for righteousness is admirable—though it sometimes leads him to abandon the high road for the low. For instance, when a young boy asks him to address his father’s abuse of his mother, Jesse tries to play it straight, deflecting the boy’s plea to “hurt him” by reminding him that “violence makes violence.” But when the situation goes south, Jesse’s own sins resurface: the father provokes him into a furious barroom fistfight, which ends in the preacher snapping his opponent’s forearm in half across his leg—as sure a sign as any that despite his desire to change, Jesse’s outlaw past is still close on his heels.

Amid his spiritual darkness, however, there are still glimmers of hope. Perhaps his most shining moment in the pilot is his conversation with Eugene Root, the sheriff’s teenaged son whose face was horrendously disfigured by a past suicide attempt. Eugene also expresses a sense of God’s distance: “I used to pray to him, and I would hear him talk back,” he says. “But now it’s just—it’s just real quiet. Do you ever think that there are some things so bad even God won’t forgive?”

Jesse’s reply contradicts his own doubt—or reveals his hope. “No,” he insists. “No matter what you’ve done, if you need him, he has to be there for you. That’s the whole point. God doesn’t hold grudges.”

While we might not be able to relate to Jesse’s careless approach to holiness, his concern for his people makes him a compelling antihero to cheer for. He’s less a preacher, perhaps, than a doubting man’s pastor, a wandering shepherd to some very lost sheep. We want to see him empowered. Jesse may be a simmering pot ready to boil over, but something about him is reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets, calling heavenly fire down on the heads of the wicked, the abusers, the workers of injustice.

If there’s an area where Preacher disappoints, though, it’s in the thinness of its vision of the faith. For all its pious window dressing, the show’s Christianity is noticeably Christ-less. There’s talk of forgiveness, sure—everyone seems to be longing for it—but not of grace. From the pulpit, Jesse preaches about humility, but his sermon comes across as a moralistic pep talk and little else. In the face of evil, the choice before the characters seems clear-cut: either sit back and allow the wicked to prosper, or take up your cross and use it to beat the devil out of them.

Its theological shallowness and brutal violence might make it a hard sell, but Preacher still has a lot of promise. Its greatest success is in acknowledging humanity’s smallness, our inability to achieve the justice we so desperately crave. What remains to be seen, then, is whether Catlin and his team will walk the well-trodden path of the “great power, great responsibility” superhero arc, or whether they’ll take a narrower road that acknowledges the insufficiency of even our most superhuman efforts.

There are already hints of that message in the pilot’s conclusion: after his possession, the effects of Jesse’s first (unknowing) use of his powers during the show’s final moments are ruinously grotesque. Like the show itself, he’s too wracked with sin and doubt to slip easily into the role of “hero of the faith.” But will the God of Preacher ever appear to mend him?

Episode 2 of Preacher premieres June 5 on AMC