Kingdom Men Rising – Teaser Trailer

Distributor: Fathom
Release Date: April 29, 2019 (for 2 days only)
Genre: Documentary, Inspirational
Runtime: 1 hrs. 30 min.
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Production Budget: N/A

This is a documentary with author, pastor and speaker Dr. Tony Evans and his guests exploring what it means to be a real honest man today according to God’s original design. The film wrestles honestly with the unique questions and circumstances men face today. Kingdom Men Rising takes a journey that challenges men to rise above what we have become to lives of no more sitting on the sidelines, no more passivity, and no more excuses.

This film draws from the experiences Dr. Tony Evans to provide clarity on this topic. Matters of significance, priorities, race and passivity are addressed from a biblical perspective. Featuring Grammy-award winning entertainer Kirk Franklin, Heisman trophy winner Tim Brown, former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Jon Kitna, Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy, NFL vice president Troy Vincent, author Priscilla Shirer, and others, Kingdom Men Rising provides an honest portrayal of today’s man that is countered by God’s original design.

Dr. Tony Evans is the founder and senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, founder and president of The Urban Alternative, chaplain of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, and author of over 100 books, booklets and Bible studies. He has been named one of the 12 Most Effective Preachers in the English-Speaking World by Baylor University. His radio broadcast, The Alternative with Dr. Tony Evans, can be heard on more than 1,300 US outlets daily and in more than 130 countries.

Magic Carpet Ride! Here’s When Aladdin Hits Theaters

by Stacey Nguyen | With its May release date and Disney prestige, Aladdin will almost certainly be a smash Summer blockbuster. It comes out the same weekend as Brightburn, Ad Astra, and Booksmart. (image, Disney)

Ride-or-die Disney fans, rejoice! You’re about to get your wish granted with the upcoming live-action version of Aladdin that promises an Avatar-level of blue Will Smith as the iconic Genie. If you tuned in to commercial breaks during the Grammys, you may have caught the special sneak peek trailer of the movie. Soon, we’ll be able to join Aladdin and Jasmine for a magic (and maybe a little CGI-driven) carpet ride.

The Aladdin reboot is set to come out on May 24. It’ll join a legacy of beloved classics that have received a live-action revamp, including Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and Mary Poppins Returns. Most Disney remakes have met with moderate success and critical acclaim, so we don’t anticipate this upcoming project to be a total flop despite the sometimes-brow-raising promo material so far.

We know, we know — it keeps happening. But it was all but inevitable that the Disney classic would get a reboot treatment. After all, the original animated version of Aladdin came out almost three decades ago on Nov. 25, 1992. It’s been a seminal classic for Disney fans all over the world, bringing us earworms such as “Friend Like Me” and “A Whole New World.”

Plans for a remake have been around since October 2016, when Disney announced that Sherlock Holmes director Guy Ritchie would be helming a live-action Aladdin. Casting commenced in 2017, and the search for the right Aladdin would prove to be a tall order. Disney finally sealed the deal with Canadian actor Mena Massoud to portray to the titular street urchin. Once Disney found the perfect Aladdin, filming began for this “ambitious and nontraditional take” on the classic. The script, cowritten by John August, promises a nonlinear style, departing from the straightforward narrative of the original. No worries — we’re still going to get all of our favorite childhood tunes. (And as a bonus, there’s even a whole new Aladdin and Jasmine duet!)

With its May release date and Disney prestige, Aladdin will almost certainly be a smash Summer blockbuster. It comes out the same weekend as Brightburn, Ad Astra, and Booksmart. While these adjacent projects have big names attached to them, it doesn’t look like they’ll be aiming for the same family-friendly crowds as Aladdin. The first two are sci-fi thrillers, whereas the Olivia Wilde-directed Booksmart appears to be a high school comedy romp.

In fact, it looks like Aladdin‘s strongest competition may be the other Disney live-action remakes of Dumbo and The Lion King, which, respectively, come out on March 29 and July 19. In addition to those, there are also 10 other upcoming Disney flicks that’ll probably compete with the family-friendly fantasy musical this year.

While we wait for Aladdin‘s release, let’s all take one jump ahead to appreciate the dazzling set photos so far. And maybe even indulge ourselves in a little Disney fan theorizing? It’ll certainly be a minute before we can set our sights on a blue Will Smith or hot Jafar.

Stacey NguyenStacey Nguyen is a California-based entertainment and lifestyle writer. When she’s not writing, you can probably catch her sipping on Yorkshire Tea, listening to Terry Gross, or philosophizing about the virtues of primetime soaps.

The Matchmaker

by Mike Myers | Marcy arrives at the village of Ballinagra when it is preparing for an annual Matchmaking Festival. A well-dressed, handsome and single young lady, she becomes the center of attention for two professional matchmakers, Dermot and Millie, as well as for bartender Sean. Connect via

Initial release: October 3, 1997
Director: Mark Joffe
Based on: Original screenplay by; Greg Dinner
Screenplay: Graham Linehan, Karen Janszen, Louis Nowra
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Luc Roeg

Marcy, a worker in the reelection campaign of bumbling Senator John McGlory, is sent to Ireland on a quest to find the Irish ancestry of Sen. McGlory, to help him win the Irish vote. But when Marcy arrives in the small village of Ballinagra, she finds herself in the middle of a matchmaking festival, and the local matchmaker is determined to pair her off with one of the local bachelors.

The Cultural Train Wreck That Is Hollywood

by Tom Allen | I went to see three movies over Christmas break—Clint Eastwood’s The Mule, Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, and the Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody—and, as usual, I was both entertained and upset by them. These are engaging films that are all marred by the worst kind of roll-your-eyes propaganda that our still largely naïve and gullible public passively absorbs.

Ours is a tragic age, but based on my cultural observations over the Christmas holidays hardly anyone appears to be taking it tragically.

Instead, people are blissfully adrift: eating, drinking, marrying, and being given in marriage. Few seem to be noticing the red tide rising.

The holidays always afford me the opportunity to take the temperature of the culture by taking in a few movies at the multiplex. Having worked in film for the past two decades, I remain in awe of its power as an art form. A well-made movie can be a transcendent, transporting experience. Unfortunately, the propaganda factor has swamped the American film industry to such an extent that it has become unbearable for me, so most of the movies I watch now are foreign. Once you start “seeing” the agitprop you can no longer not see it, and your ability to slip into suspended disbelief is forever compromised. So I visit the movie houses at Christmastime mostly to see how the train wreck is progressing.

I’ll state it as plainly as Archie Bunker would: there’s a Commie bias in Hollywood films—nearly all of them. The Cultural Marxism unleashed by the “Frankfurt School” nearly a century ago has become the dominant philosophy of the western world. Its overt proselytism is pervasive and relentless. The Tinseltown propaganda machine has changed our culture in astonishing ways over the past 50 years, and up next is nothing less than the forced revision of our very identities as men and women.

This isn’t just a theory. It is manifestly obvious to anyone with eyes to see. In January of 1963, the House of Representatives reviewed and entered into the Congressional record a document entitled “Communist Goals for Taking Over America,” derived from researcher Cleon Skousen’s book The Naked Communist. In addition to such tactics as promoting the UN as the only hope for mankind, capturing one or both of the political parties in the United States, softening the curriculum of schools and infiltrating the press, it contained the following agenda items:

  • Gain control of key positions in radio, TV, and motion pictures.
  • Continue discrediting American culture by degrading all forms of artistic expression.
  • Break down cultural standards of morality by promoting pornography and obscenity in books, magazines, motion pictures, radio, and TV.
  • Present homosexuality, degeneracy and promiscuity as “normal, natural, healthy.”
  • Eliminate all laws governing obscenity by calling them “censorship” and a violation of free speech and free press.

You’d think we would have heard about all this in school. But alas, the Cultural Marxists swept into American academic institutions at the same time they infiltrated Hollywood, prompted by influential radicals like Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Communist who argued that the Left could transform society by seizing control of the “cultural means of production” via a “march through the institutions,” including academia.

I’d also never learned about or read Bella Dodd while at St. Augustine’s or Notre Dame. Dodd spoke of the infiltration of the Catholic Church by Soviet agents and Commie fellow-travelers in the mid-twentieth century, identifying the Catholic Church as the only one “feared” by the Communists. Clerical fellow-travelers would become a new threat along with the older Modernist one previously identified by Pope St. Pius X as posing the greatest danger to the Church. Dodd echoed Pius’s claim that the attempted destruction of the Church would be carried out from within.

After her expulsion from the Party in the early 1950s, Dodd fell in with Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and revealed how in the 1930s “we put eleven hundred men into the priesthood in order to destroy the Church from within.” The idea was for these men to be ordained and then climb the ladder of influence and authority—to become monsignors and bishops. “Right now,” she wrote, “they are in the highest places, and they are working to bring about change … changes that would be so drastic that you will not recognize the Catholic Church.”

It appears Ms. Dodd—and Sen. Joseph McCarthy—was right about the “Red Scare” in twentieth-century America. Our institutions were besieged while academia and the news media pretended all was well. Feminine Mystique author Betty Friedan was a secret Communist Party member, and pioneering gay activists such as Harry Hay were also Reds.

Dodd is said to have predicted that once the priest-infiltrators became bishops their influence would spread because “bishops beget bishops.” They would use their leverage to elevate and promote clergymen who would not necessarily be dedicated Communists, but who were of a progressive, “rainbow” mentality and whose influence would foster a new philosophy and theology within the ranks of the clergy. This is why things are the way they are today both in the Church and in the culture.

Awake to the Propaganda Reality of Film
I awoke from my personal media-driven stupor a couple of decades ago and started seeing the disturbing signs. So thankfully, from the time my children were young, I whispered in their ears in dark theaters phrases like, “Here comes the obligatory ‘father-is-an-idiot’ scene,” or “Here is where they disparage Christianity,” or “Here’s where they advance the gay agenda.” And it played out like clockwork. Now my grown kids predict such scenes and plot devices themselves. They and their friends are awake to the propaganda reality, and aware also that these scenes are the reasons why most of the movies get made and distributed in the first pace.

I started seeing the corruption while at film school in New York, but I did not see all of it, for I could not have imagined the extent of it then, or the venality of the propagandizers. Working closely with Mel Gibson on The Passion of the Christ, I would think he was off his rocker every time he’d go on about how the Curia had been corrupted and the liturgy ruined and sacraments were invalid in places. All that was a bridge too far for me at the time, but, like Bella Dodd and Joe McCarthy, Mel was right about much.

In any event, I went to see three movies over Christmas break—Clint Eastwood’s The Mule, Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, and the Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody—and, as usual, I was both entertained and upset by them. These are engaging films that are all marred by the worst kind of roll-your-eyes propaganda that our still largely naïve and gullible public passively absorbs.

Clint’s movie is excellent on balance but not without cave-ins to the prevailing left wing culture. I’ve long recognized and endured the advancement of the homosexual agenda in movie after movie over the years. At this point, practically every movie ever made contains some genuflection to the gay culture, and Clint’s newest is no exception.

The character Clint portrays, a 90-year-old horticulturalist who made all the wrong decisions in life and suddenly finds that he has nothing and no one in his old age, decides to become a courier, i.e., a “mule,” to make some fast cash and at least win the favor of his endearing granddaughter. Mission accomplished as he gets infused with instant drug riches and the concomitant rise in social status. Stopping for a meal on one of his drug runs, he encounters a biker gang which turns out to be a group of motorcycle lesbians—“dykes on bikes”—who in their moment of recognition in a major movie jump at the chance to squeeze their breasts and boast of their manliness. Gone are the days of charm and sweetness to gain favor. Today it’s all head banging Antifa and in-your-face nasty. This is the advancement of the gay agenda with a twist. Reminiscent of Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game, released during my “awakening” period in film school, one minute you’re looking at a standard American biker gang and the next you’re seeing, as if through a kaleidoscope lens, an agitated group of angry women who menace an old man for not recognizing their femaleness.

Even Clint needs to bow to the modern-day altar of gender confusion. It was a completely gratuitous scene, like all gay commercials, doing nothing at all to advance the story. But it needed to be there for the same reason that a hagiographic Ruth Bader Ginsberg biopic needed to be advertised before the film—to get the masses thinking “the right way” on an issue. We must be indoctrinated to believe that mean and hostile biker women are acceptable without question. We must be indoctrinated to believe that RBG is the greatest justice to ever grace the Supreme Court.

More Obligatory Gay Agitprop
A Star Is Born raised the obligatory gay agitprop scene to a whole other level. With homosexual marriage already enshrined into law, the next frontier of the Godless left is the normalization of transgenderism. Bradley Cooper—to my surprise, because I thought he was a normal male, treats viewers to the longest transgender scene in (mainstream) cinematic history when his aging, alcoholic character drifts into a drag bar and encounters a singer with serious vocal chops belting out Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose.” This, of course, is Stefani Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga, unmasked but provocative as ever, bringing down the house with one of her trademark performances. This is what’s required, you see, to get millions of people to stare, rapt, for half an hour (or so it seemed) at XCUs (extra close-ups) of men in drag with painted faces, bouffants, and eyelash extensions at a two-drink-minimum “bring-your-own-boobs” establishment. Again, mission accomplished. Transnormative agenda advanced. It’s the Star Wars “Cantina Scene” redux, only the characters in this one are wunnnderful: funny, loving, and supportive, to a man. They’re fantastic, all of them—so don’t complain when they read to your kids at the library story hour.

In the following scene we’re treated to Germanotta, in a straight bar now, socking an off-duty cop in the kisser, repeatedly, for bugging the Bradley Cooper character, whom she’s taken a liking to. So you get girl power and anti-police narratives advanced simultaneously in one scene.

The RBG advertisement was by no means the only movie trailer to advance an agenda that’s as disruptive, transgressive, left wing, and anti-Catholic as ever. A preview to a film called “Greta,” which I thought might be a movie about Garbo, turned out instead to be about a possessed stalker who is today’s answer to Glenn Close’s “every-Lothario’s-worst-nightmare” Fatal Attraction turn. Only this one blesses herself while surrounded by Catholic iconography when she’s not perpetrating horrors on her terrified victim. Nowadays, the monsters are not in the biker gangs or drag bars or Supreme Court. They’re in the Church.

Next came a preview of Captain Marvel, the comic book character Lennon sings about in “Bungalow Bill,” who I didn’t realize was female. Once again, audiences were treated to the kind of desensitizing, smash-mouth brutality that’s meant to exorcize the demons haunting the male-hating feminists who make these anti-patriarchal films.

Then came the third feature of my Christmas week, the one I was looking forward to the most: Bohemian Rhapsody. I was entranced by that song the first time I heard it as a young lad on the bus to school. I expected gay aggrandizement in the film, of course, because Freddie was so out there before dying of AIDS in 1991. What I did not expect was the tender, male-on-male open-mouthed kissing scenes, again in XCU, sustained, and with the kind of intimate sound design that makes you practically feel the actors’ tongues slithering into your ear.

I’m conflicted about Queen. I loved the music they produced during my growing up years. “You’re My Best Friend” is simply lovely. “Bohemian Rhapsody” woke me up to the emotional power of pop music during my grade school years. “We Are the Champions” united rival competitors at my swim meets and became the anthem of my high school swimming years. However, I never wanted my children to sing lines like “I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all,” or “nothing really matters … to me,” or worst of all, “Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me,” and in so doing program their brains.

When I was young I thought of Freddie Mercury as I had thought of Elton John before him—a flamboyant and exuberant attention-seeking showman intent on driving record sales. Now I pity him as a man who was raised by loving, straight-laced parents in a monotheistic tradition who got engaged to a beautiful girl but eventually surrendered to his lusts and then feared the eternal consequences of doing so. His is a sobering cautionary tale. We must remain ever on our guard.

So what is a faithful Catholic to do in the face of all this, as the walls of the culture and Church tremble and collapse all around us? Should we see these movies at all? Perhaps it is the duty of some of us to do so and report back on what we see so that others will gain the perspective needed to withstand the assault. For the tide is high and rising.


Tom Allen is the Director of Marketing at the Sophia Institute Press.

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:
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

‘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.

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.


‘Hail, Caesar!’ — A Tale of the Christ?

Alissa Wilkinson | "Hail, Caesar!" is both a romp through Hollywood's Golden Age and an unlikely Passion Play. (image George Clooney in 'Hail, Caesar!' – Universal Pictures)
Rating: PG-13
Category: Drama film/Musical ‧ 1h 46m
Release date: February 5, 2016 (USA)
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Budget: 22 million USD
Narrated by: Michael Gambon
Screenplay: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Look, I know there’s no bigger cliché than a Christian critic sitting around identifying “Christ figures” at the movies. But in their latest, Joel and Ethan Coen show their hand so obviously—the subtitle for the Ben Hur-like film-within-a-film, also called Hail, Caesar!, is “A Tale of the Christ”—that I’m either being trolled or baited. I’ll bite.

Among many (many, many) things, Hail, Caesar! is a passion play: a canny bit of work on the Coens’ part, given this year’s proliferation of biblical epics both remade and reimagined. In just the next few months, that includes Risen, The Young Messiah, Last Days in the Desert, the Tyler Perry-hosted The Passion Live, and the ABC show Of Kings and Prophets—and, yes, a Ben Hur remake.

Watch Hail, Caesar trailer
The Coens (being Coens) come at it as a farce, with about 18 different things rumbling beneath the surface. On its basic level, Hail, Caesar! is an affectionate celebration, mild critique, and winking pastiche of Hollywood’s Golden Age, when studios owned actors’ contracts and shot everything from swashbuckling song-and-dance numbers to sword-and-sandal epics on the back lot. Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, the executive in charge of production at Capitol Pictures (that name becomes important later). He goes to confession a lot (“too much,” his priest says wearily) for infractions like smoking a few cigarettes, answers to the never-seen studio head Mr. Schenck (pronounced "skank"), and is being wooed by Lockheed Martin in a job that might involve H-bombs but would still be easier than wrangling the cast of characters he’s stuck with.

Those characters feel like what would happen if Turner Classic Movies accidentally left the door unlocked at night. Scarlett Johansson is a mermaid in a synchronized swimming fantasy picture; Ralph Fiennes helms a high-society Broadway adaptation in which America’s favorite lassoing cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich) is being forced to star so the studio can “change his image”; Channing Tatum is a deceptively mild-mannered singing and tap-dancing sailor; there’s a Carmen Miranda-like sweetheart (Veronica Osorio)—and George Clooney is a centurion among slaves in the sword-and-sandal Hail, Caesar!

That last production is in full swing, and Mannix is watching the dailies (“DIVINE PRESENCE TO BE SHOT,” the subtitles announce at opportune moments—the film is still in production) when he discovers its star has been kidnapped.

In one subplot, in a nod to the Communist writers who were blacklisted, a disciple-like cadre of Communist acolytes following their leader—suggestively named Dr. Marcuse—kidnap Clooney’s genial star and educate him in the ways of “direct action” and “accelerating the dialectic” while holding him for ransom (a startlingly common plot point in the Coens’ films, by the way). Everything can be explained by economics, they say, quoting Marx, and so certainly the concept of rendering to Caesar—either through Capitol Pictures, Das Kapital, or capitalism—is part of this title.

But mostly it’s about the meaning of life by way of religion, with which the Coens have always fiddled, sometimes dancing around the edges and sometimes diving straight into the middle. Hollywood’s Golden Age gives them the perfect excuse for a hysterical scene straight out of a joke: two priests (one Catholic, one Orthodox), a Protestant minister, and a rabbi sit in a boardroom with Mannix, debating whether the depiction of Christ in an upcoming picture “cuts the mustard” or is offensive. As the rabbi points out, for Jews it’s forbidden to portray God, but luckily for them Jesus isn’t part of the godhead. One of the ministers explains that technically Jesus is the Son of God. (The conventional disclaimers at the end of the credits explain that “This motion picture contains no visual depiction of the godhead.”)

Such a scene would in fact have happened regularly at the time, when clergy were called in to consult on both religious movies and others, as part of a partnership between Hollywood and the nation’s ministers to promote the moral health of the nation. It’s worth nothing that in today’s religious movie boom, the same thing often happens—this time to gauge (as in the film) the potential reaction from religious leaders and congregations.

But as I said earlier, this is a passion play, one with Eddie Mannix at its center, our Man of Sorrows, the savior of the (movie) world. Lest we miss that, the film opens on a long establishing shot of a crucifix before moving to Mannix in the confessional booth, where he’s confessing the most banal of crimes before moving on to his work day.

Note: from here on, there are some mild spoilers, though it's hard to spoil a narrative so established.

Unlike every movie executive we’ve ever seen in a film, Mannix is a thoroughly decent guy who speaks nicely to his wife and tries to do his best. But he has reached a crossroads—a point of temptation, if you will. The tempter is a friendly Lockheed Martin executive, who wants him to abandon his true work in the world and come live the easy path.

All day long, Mannix suffers for his stars. He takes their verbal drubbings and deals with their indiscretions and sins and tries to keep them out of trouble, tasked with the thoroughly thankless job of keeping their images squeaky clean. He is dogged by twin competing gossip columnists (both played by Tilda Swinton).

He has been tempted away from this lonely path once and is tempted twice more (in a Chinese restaurant lit like an opium den when he first walks in) by the Lockheed executive, our Satan stand-in, folding the encounter in the desert into the film. He labors under the weight of his own conscience and the weight of the temptation before him, and encounters hazard after hazard on the road to his decision.

Near its end, we catch him in Gethsemane echoes deep in prayer, rosary in hand, as he contemplates what to do—and in a neat trick made possible by the existence of an actual set for a crucifixion scene being shot on the studio lot, he even approaches three crosses on Calvary.

The Coens are too meticulous to not have intended all that. What’s so fun about Hail, Caesar! is that it lets all the characters (played by your actual favorite movie stars) and sets and images from films made both during and about its time, from comedies to noirs to political dramas, come together in a grand mash-up that is then structured like one of the most enduringly popular genres: the biblical epic, the “Greatest Story Ever Told,” the archetypal tale of suffering and redemption.

But they don’t spring for an easy analogy. These are the Coens: nothing serious ever happens without a wink or a joke. Mannix isn’t the actual man of sorrows; he’s just in the movie business, which is always at its end a bit (or more than a bit) absurd. A speech given by the centurion at the foot of the cross seems like the stand-in for his epiphany—but later he gives a different confession, one that rings more true, about feeling that what he’s doing in the movie business is right and important.

So in a bit of in a bit of cyclical storytelling that recalls the repetitive structure of their last film about a soul tortured by his work, Inside Llewyn Davis, Mannix returns to the confession booth and talks about his cigarette habit. In classic Coen fashion, meaning in life comes down to the love that individuals share with one another, not the absurdity inherent in fate or big ideological systems. Mannix loves his wife too much to not feel bad about quitting his habit; other characters love their ridiculous dogs more than money, or make unlikely matches in unlikely offices. Every day is a fresh set of trials and temptations for the man of sorrows, but he never really faces crucifixion—just another day on set.

Caveat Spectator

Hail, Caesar! is rated PG-13 for suggestive situations and smoking. Most of what’s uncouth about it is done by implication rather than seen on screen. The sailors’ song-and-dance scene is innocently (or not) homoerotic, and the mermaid one seems rather obviously phallic, but that will sail right past plenty of viewers. A character talks about another one engaging in “sodomy” (that is the word used) to get a job; another character is pregnant without being married, which provides a plot point for the film. It’s possible that some religious viewers might be offended by the film-within-a-film giving occasion for a few situational jokes in a religious context, but it certainly isn’t done irreverently. And neither Communism nor capitalism is outright condemned by the film itself, which I suppose some people may find offensive.

Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today’s chief film critic and an assistant professor of English and humanities at The King’s College in New York City. She is co-author, with Robert Joustra, of How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World(Eerdmans, April 2016). She tweets @alissamarie.