Kingdom Men Rising – Teaser Trailer

KINGDOM MEN RISING: NO EXCUSES
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 mmyers@ucsd.edu

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.



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)

Cast
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.

Details

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.



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

 



‘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

 



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.

Spider-Man: Homecoming’s 2 end-credits scenes, explained
What Tom Holland has that other Spider-Mans haven’t
Why the best summer movies are often the quirkiest
In Netflix's fantastic, wacky Okja, it's Tilda Swinton vs. superpig
Despicable Me 3 is everything good and bad about the franchise in one messy package
Edgar Wright’s wildly entertaining Baby Driver is a lean, mean, genre-smashing machine

 



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).



Hallmark Christmas Movies: ‘Guilty Pleasure’ No More

It starts with a girl. She’s white, with immaculately curled hair. She is shy/clumsy/uptight, but deep down, she wants to open a bakery/be an artist/follow her dreams.

Then there’s the boy. He’s also white, with perfect teeth and hair like a businessman from the ‘80s. He works too much/doesn’t care about the holidays/needs help raising his kids because his wife recently died.

Maybe the roles are reversed; it doesn’t really matter. The lighthearted conflict between them goes on for 45 minutes to an hour, until they kiss at the end. Cue the music, fade to the credits, and then it starts all over again.

This is the Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas spectacular, a nonstop lineup of variations on the romantic holiday movie formula. In 2015 alone, Hallmark has released 17 new Christmas-specific movies, adding to their expansive back catalog of made-for-TV films. This year was my first time sitting down to watch their feel-good movie marathon, but the plotlines were familiar to me as an evangelical girl who grew up longing for a safe, happy, magical world where it felt like Christmas every day.

While mainstream culture scorns the romance as lowbrow and naively idealistic, it remains a hugely profitable enterprise thanks to its loyal readers and viewers. Last year, from Halloween to Christmas, Hallmark was the No. 1 channel for women age 25-54, and a single one of their holiday films, Christmas Under Wraps, attracted 5.8 million viewers. (That’s double the viewership of most Real Housewives shows.)

Once-niche “nerd” entertainment gained popular esteem as it proved itself lucrative (think Marvel movies, Star Trek reboots, and the like), but Hallmark Channel-style romance continues to elicit a degree of derision. No one is more acutely aware of the reputation of these sentimental and seasonal romances than the women who adore them. When I asked a few fans why they tuned in, the answers came in sheepish sentiments: I know they are predictable but… they are calming background noise… I just like happy endings… Christmas is a hard time of year, and they make me feel good… I’m probably too idealistic, but they are just so full of warmth….

These caveats offer some protection from judgment and let others know that they are aware of the criticisms of the genre. But perhaps loving the Hallmark Channel at Christmastime isn’t something to apologize for. More broadly, it may be time a shift in our language when we talk about loving something that we know isn’t perfect.

My friend (and Christ and Pop Culture founder) Richard Clark once told me he doesn’t believe in guilty pleasures. Watch what you want to watch, he said. If you truly feel guilty about watching something, maybe you should turn it off. As I read what fans told me about these pleasant movies, chock-full of bland actors and hopeful messages, I realized there is nothing to feel guilty about. They contain nothing morally wrong or hurtful or violent or exploitative. And yet, people (mostly women), still do.

Perhaps our desire for elite taste beyond the Hallmark Channel fare comes out of a sense of pop culture classism. While exploring the enormous popularity of Celine Dion, music writer Carl Wilson presented a theory from sociologist Pierre Bourdieu wherein taste becomes a way “to set ourselves apart from those whose social ranking is beneath us, and to take aim at the social status we feel we deserve.” We see this play out culturally in our sneers directed at Celine, romantic movies, or even the incredibly popular Adele. Anything deemed so accessible by women—women from a wide variety of classes, in particular—automatically becomes an issue of bad taste for those who consider themselves more refined.

This gendered and class-based judgment should distress us as Christians, as people called to break down cultural distinctions and barriers, not create or uphold them (especially when we happen to be on the “winning” or “artistically savvy” side). No one, as far as I can tell, regards the romance genre as a bastion of artistic innovation or importance. But as another music critic, Joel Heng Hartse writes, “What is taste, after all, other than love?” So many people love these movies and find them as hopeful as they are improbable. Perhaps the enormous popularity of romantic holiday movies serves as a reminder of our desire see happy endings played out before us, at least every now and again.

To be honest, the few movies I watched as research for this essay felt only mildly pleasant. I chuckled a little bit. Immersed in a world of few problems and many beautiful people, I felt happy enough when they got together in the end. I will probably watch one or two a year (any more than that and it does start to feel a bit like a money-making cash enterprise, the movies subsisting to sell advertising spots). As the writer and Countdown to Christmas fan Addie Zierman told me:

There's also a little tiny part of me that finds it sort of nice—this idea that somehow during Christmastime people start to see things better. Truer. They let go of old hurts. They forgive their parents. The go home after being away too long. They make peace with their past. Things are made right in the end.

Those desires—to see and experience forgiveness, homecoming, peace, redemption—all stem from deep spiritual needs. And wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t judge people for seeking out those kinds of stories, if instead we strove to find the commonalities of desire that transcend gender, race, and class? Now that would be a Christmas miracle, indeed.

D. L. Mayfield’s writing has appeared in various publications such as CT, McSweeney's, and Image Journal, among others. Her favorite romantic comedy is “The Decoy Bride” starring the magnificent David Tennant. Her book of essays titled Assimilate Or Go Home: Notes From a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith will be out from HarperOne in August 2016. Find her at dlmayfield.com or on Twitter.