Joseph And Mary Is An Interesting New Look At Jesus’ Early Life

Courtesy: Cinedigm

Courtesy: Cinedigm

Earlier this month Cinedigm released its new biblically-based movie Joseph and Mary to retail and online outlets around the country.  The independent studio’s new offering is an interesting new presentation.  That is due in part to its story.  This will be discussed shortly.  While the story makes the movie worth at least one watch by Christian audiences, it is not a perfect presentation.  It does suffer from some casting issues that cannot be ignored.  That will be discussed later.  As much as the movie’s casting takes away from its presentation its production values make up at least somewhat for that one negative.  The combination of that positive couples with the movie’s central story to make the movie worth at least one watch even with its one glaring con.

Cinedigm’s new biblically based movie Joseph and Mary is an interesting new cinematic offering from the Los Angeles-based independent movie studio.  It is not the worst biblically based movie to ever be released, nor the best.  For all intents and purposes it is somewhere in the middle, a movie that for Christian viewers, is worth at least one viewing.  That is due in large part to the movie’s story.  One could argue that it is an in-between of sorts that connects The Greatest Story Ever Told and the many variants of The Nativity Story.  It tells the story of Jesus’ birth in the manger.  But it does more than that.  It also tells the story of Elijah, a rabbi who ends up caring for Aaron’s wife Rebekah after Aaron is killed by a tax collector.  The troubles don’t end for Elijah there.  Rebekah and Elijah end up losing not one but two sons as a result of orders by King Herod.  There should be a slight digression for a moment here.  Aaron’s murder and the scene involving the killing of the first-born sons are both very violent even for an independent movie.  So audiences should use their discretion in screening this movie.  There is also a somewhat intense scene in which Rebekah has to fight off the man who killed her children.  This scene could easily be considered a bit intense for some younger viewers, too.  More simply put the overall content presented within the movie’s story might not be suitable for all viewers.  Keeping this in mind, the movie is perhaps aimed less at younger viewers and more so at older audiences.  Now getting back on the subject at hand, all of the troubles faced by Elijah force him to make a very difficult choice.  That choice is between forgiving Herod and the others or exacting revenge.  Of course it is through Jesus’ own insight (even as a boy) that Elijah makes his ultimate decision.  It is obvious what that choice is.  Keeping this in mind, the central message of forgiveness that Jesus taught in the bible is just as prevalent here, too.  There is also an interesting addition to the story as it presents Josephs fate, which is not exactly a happy fate, either.  It is one more way in which the movie’s story stands out from so many other biblically based presentations.  To that end, Joseph and Mary, as misleading as its title proves to be, is still a story that truly devout Christian audiences will want to see (since it really focuses more on Elijah and Rebekah than on Joseph and Mary) at least once if no more.  While Joseph and Mary’s story makes it worth at least one watch, it is not the movie’s only interesting element.  The movie’s casting should also be examined but not for a good reason.

The story at the center of Joseph and Mary is an interesting part of the movie’s overall presentation.  It is one of the lesser-told of the bible’s many stories either orally or on screen.  To that end, it makes the movie at least one watch.  For all that the story does for this movie, it is not the movie’s only notable elements.  The movie’s casting is just as notable, but not for a good reason.  Others have noted, just as this critic will, that the movie’s cast is quite noticeably whitewashed.  Joseph and Mary are played by Kevin Sorbo (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, God’s Not Dead, Andromeda) and Lara Jean Chorostecki (Hannibal, Camelot, Dan For Mayor) respectively.  Elijah and Rebekah are played by Steven McCarthy (Eye of the Beholder, The Skulls, The Crossing) and Katie Boland (The Master, Daydream Nation, Some Things That Stay).  Boland and McCarthy are both Canadian as is Chorostecki.  Sorbo, according to his bio on IMDB, is from Minnesota.  Even Sean Bell, who plays Tiberius, is from Canada.  Lawrence Bayne (Highlander: The Animated Series, Strange Days at Blake Holsey High, Dog Pound) plays Herod.  He is, yes, also Canadian.  Not even  young Jesus actor Lucius Hoyos (Bark Ranger, The Colony, What If) has any Middle Eastern roots.  Simply put it would have been nice to have seen actors of at least some Middle Eastern descent fill the movie’s key roles versus a full-on white cast.  Making matters worse is that in a number of cases, the actors more than likely were not entirely at an age that (if one wants to use the story’s source material properly) would line up with their seeming ages in the bible.  That makes the movie’s casting more of an issue within the bigger picture of the movie.  To its defense though, it is not the only movie to ever face this issue.  Most recently Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) came under fire for its mis-casting.  And if one really wants to get specific, the cast of The Ten Commandments (1956) was completely improper, too as have been so many movies’ casts.  Considering this, there is no denying that the movie’s cast detracts from its overall presentation.  But taking the cast into consideration against other miscast movies, one can’t take too many points from the movie.  On that note, the movie’s casting is its only real negative.  So as much as it might take away from the movie, it doesn’t completely cancel out the movie’s positives, one more of which is its production values.

The issues with Joseph and Mary’s castings are undeniable in regards to the movie’s presentation.  It would have been nice to see the movie use actors with at least some Middle Eastern roots, even if said actors were not major name actors.  But keeping in mind that it is not the only movie to ever face this issue on cannot completely ignore the movie.  Considering this, the movie’s story couples with its other positive, its production values, to outweigh that negative and, again, make the movie worth at least one watch.  It is obvious in watching the movie that its production budget wasn’t very big.  The sets look exactly like something that one would expect from an independent Christian film.  In all honesty they give the movie the look of something that was produced by a church group without any major financial backing.  Yet even with that look, its equally novice  shooting style,  and special effects the movie’s presentation becomes even more worth the watch.  It shows that those behind the production didn’t try to make it look like perhaps Exodus: Gods and Kings, Noah, or other similar movies.  Rather, it honestly conjures thoughts of The Ten Commandments thanks to its look.  Believe it or not this is a good thing for the movie.  That look lets audiences know that the movie’s cast and crew just wanted it to be what it was, not one of those overblown mega-blockbusters from Hollywood that hardly tries to stay true to its source material.  It makes the movie that much more worth the watch.  When that natural look (including its shooting style and special effects) is coupled with the movie’s story, the two elements outweigh the movie’s one glaring negative and prove once more why it is worth at least one watch.  They are not enough to make the movie memorable.  One would be lying if one said it is.  But they are enough to make the movie worth, again, at least one chance.

Joseph and Mary, Cinedigm’s new biblically based movie is not the genre’s worst offering nor is it the genre’s best.  It is a movie that while hardly perfect, is still worth at least one watch.  It should be noted, though that considering the movie’s content, it is not a movie aimed at younger audiences, even being biblically based.  Audiences should take this immediately into consideration before watching it.  It story is one that has been very rarely adapted to literary or even cinematic form.  That in itself makes it worth at least one chance.  Its casting is problematic.  There is no denying this.  But it is not the only movie that is guilty of “whitewashing.”  To that end, one cannot take away too many points from its overall presentation.  That is especially the case considering its production values.  Its sets, shooting style, and special effects look like they were done by a church group rather than a studio with any financial backing.  Believe it or not this is actually a good thing.  It sets the movie apart from its counterparts churned out by Hollywood’s major studios (E.g. Exodus: Gods and Kings, Noah) an in a good way.  It makes the movie more endearing for lack of better wording.  When this is considered with the movie’s story and even its problematic casting, it still leaves the movie worth at least one watch.  It is available now in stores and online.  More information on this and other titles from Cinedigm is available online now at:

 

 

 

Website: http://www.cinedigm.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Cinedigm

Twitter: http://twitter.com/cinedigm

 

 

 

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Scott’s Directorial Debut An Underrated Work Of Film Art

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory

Courtesy: Shout! Factory

Ridley Scott is one of the most revered directors in the movie business today.  To his credit, Scott has directed numerous hits including Bladerunner, Alien, Gladiator and many others.  While the aforementioned flicks have done more than their share in making him one of Hollywood’s head names, it was this far lesser known movie that gave Scott his real start behind the camera on the big screen.  It goes without saying that The Duellists is very much a niche film.  As much as it’s a niche film though, it’s a movie that could so easily generate quite a bit of discussion.  What makes it so worthy of discussion is its story.

The crux of The Duellists’ story centers on two men who let a single misunderstanding become the fuel for an ongoing feud that gets rather violent to say the least.  And it’s set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic era France.  On the surface, that’s all that this story is.  But on a deeper level, one could argue that it serves as an allegory of sorts about pride and human emotion.  A simple misunderstanding between D’Hubert (Keith Carradine) and Feraud (Harvey Keitel) lead to the pair’s ongoing feud.  While the story does start off a little bit slow, once it gets going, it has no trouble keeping its audiences’ attention.  What audiences get once they’re pulled in is two men who are increasingly wrapped up in the anger directed at the other.  The real reward to the near two-hour story is its surprise twist ending.  The ending won’t be given away here.  But it should be noted that the ending is a fitting closer to the story, offering total closure and an important moral to add to the discussions raised by the story.

It goes without saying that The Duellists is not a movie that will hit home with just one watch.  That’s not an entirely bad thing, though.  It’s really one of those stories that will grow on audiences more with each viewing.  It’s sort of like the old adage says, once you’re at the top, there’s nowhere to go but down.  In the case of The Duellists, there’s nowhere to go but up.  That’s thanks in large part to the story.  What helps to really make that the case isn’t so much just the story, but one of the bonus features included in the brand new Blu-ray re-issue of this must see movie and its companion commentary.  The new Blu-ray re-issue includes a bonus feature titled, “Duelling Directors: Ridley Scott and Kevin Reynolds Featurette” that is just as informative as the bonus audio commentary by Ridley Scott included with the movie.  Both the commentary and this bonus feature go a long way toward helping audiences understand everything that went into bringing this story to life.  Audiences will in turn have more appreciation for the movie with each viewing.  The new Blu-ray re-issue will be available Tuesday, January 29th in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct via the Shout! Factory store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/?q=node/215688.

Top 10 Major Motion Pictures Of 2012

Top 10 Movies of 2012

 

Courtesy:  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

1.  The Artist:  While it originally made its debut overseas in 2011, it wasn’t until January 20th of this year that The Artist actually made its nationwide debut in theaters across the U.S.  Before then, only the lucky few at the big festivals got to see it.  That being the case, it should be considered a 2012 release.  So what makes it 2012’s best?  So much could be said.  At a time when so much of what Hollywood churns out is prequels, sequels, and remakes, this story—distributed by Sony Pictures—went the total opposite.  How simple and ingenious is it to make a silent film in a movie of major flash-bang-boom films?  Because the movie’s only sound is its music, viewers are forced to watch.  And the cast was force to really put on its best possible performance, rather than rely on everything else that most movies use to distract audiences from poor performances.  The music is quite enjoyable, too.  And of course, the general cinematography is just as impressive.  It all combines to make for a movie that any movie lover should see at least once.

Mirror Mirror BD2.  Mirror, Mirror:  Some of you might shake your heads at this pick.  But the reality is that this is really a fun and family friendly movie.  Both boys and girls will enjoy it as will parents.  While young Lily Collins (the daughter of superstar Phil Collins) is billed as the lead star here, it’s the dwarves who are really the story’s stars.  Their antics make for more than their share of laughs.  Though watching Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer—The Lone Ranger) put under the evil queen’s puppy love spell is pretty funny, too.  It’s obvious that this spoof of the classic fairy tale was aimed both at boys and girls.  With its mix of wit and charm, it will always be one of the best takes on the old Snow White story.

Courtesy:  Disney Studios

Courtesy: Disney Studios

3.  The Odd Life of Timothy Green:  This is another truly enjoyable family movie.  The general story is one to which any parent can relate and will enjoy because of that.  Though the concept of what happens with Timothy might be a little bit tough to discuss with younger viewers.  The beautiful backdrop adds even more warmth to the story.  And the cast’s acting makes suspension of disbelief so easy.  Sure it’s sappy, emotional, and all that jazz.  But that can be forgiven as it’s such an original and heartwarming story.       

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

4.  Skyfall:  This is where things begin to get a little bit touchy.  Skyfall is by far the best Bond flick to come along in a very long time.  That’s not to say that the previous two were bad.  But this one brought back memories of the old school James Bond that everybody knows.  It’s got the gadgets and the humor and none of the melodrama that weighed down the previous two Bond flicks.  The only downside to the movie is that it tends to drag in the final act.  Other than that, it is a nice return to form for the Bond franchise and gives hope for any future Bond films….that is at least if Christopher Nolan doesn’t get his hands on the franchise.

Courtesy:  Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Video

Courtesy: Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Video

5.  The Avengers:  The Avengers was a very nice way to cap off the build-up created by Marvel Studios with the recent bevy of comic book based movies.  It had great special effects.  Its story was simple and solid.  And the shooting was equally impressive.  Considering all the action going on, audiences weren’t left feeling dizzy to the point of wanting to walk out (or in the case of home release, just turn it off).  But like so many ensemble cast movies, it suffered from a common problem.  That problem was the movie’s run time.  Most of the characters in The Avengers had already been introduced through their own separate movies.  So there was no reason to re-introduce them all over again this time.  A lot of that extra time could have been spared.  Hopefully those involved have learned from that and will present viewers with a shorter movie in the second of the Avengers movies.

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Home Video

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Home Video

6.  The Dark Knight Rises:  I am just as much a comic book fan as anyone else out there.  So it goes without saying that I was excited to see this movie.  It did a good job of wrapping up the trilogy.  The problem is that it did too much of a good job, as David Goyer and the Nolans tried too hard to cram everything into one movie.  Word is that this latest installment of the Batman franchise left many people checking their watches when it was in theaters.  It might have been better served to have been split up into at least one more movie because of everything added into the mix.  And having what seems to be a lack of commentary on the new home release, fans can only guess what the logic was in cramming so much into one story.  Much like The Avengers, the shooting and the special effects were great.  So it has that going for it.  But the writing was the story’s big problem.  Here’s to hoping that whoever takes over the Batman franchise next (whenever it’s re-launched) won’t make the same mistake as Christopher Nolan and company.

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

7.  Prometheus:  This semi-prequel to Ridley Scott’s hit Alien franchise was met with mixed reviews.  There seemed to be no gray area here.  Audiences either loved it or hated it.  Truth be told, it worked quite well as both a prequel and as its very own stand-alone movie.  Sure the special effects are different from those used in the original movies.  But times are different.  So viewers should take that into account.  And the shooting was just as impressive.  While it may not be as memorable as Scott’s previous works, at least audiences can agree that it’s better than the movies in the AvP franchise.

Courtesy:  Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

8.  Les Miserables:  This latest reboot of Victor Hugo’s classic story of love and redemption in one of history’s darkest eras is not bad.  But it’s not great, either.  Audiences who know the stage play will thrill at how director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and his staff of writers paid tribute to the stage play both in its writing and its shooting.  At the same time, Hooper tried so hard to pay tribute with his shooting style and the transitions that the whole movie felt dizzying to say the least.  The shooting and transitions felt like nothing more than a bunch of cuts from one shot to the next.  There was never a total sense of fluidity anywhere in the story.  It was almost as if despite staying true to the stage play, the script for this latest big screen adaptation was written by someone with ADHD.  Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway did a superior job with their performances.  But despite that, odds are that the movie will sadly be remembered more for its flawed shooting and transitions than for its award-worthy performances.  Nonetheless, it’s still a good movie for any fan of Les Miserables or for fans of musicals in general to see at least once.

Courtesy:  CBS Films/CBS Home Entertainment/UK Film Council/BBC Films/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: CBS Films/CBS Home Entertainment/UK Film Council/BBC Films/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

9.  Salmon Fishing in the YemenSalmon Fishing in the Yemen is without a doubt an original story.  It’s next to impossible to find anything like it out there or present.  But it suffers greatly from an identity crisis.  It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a drama, a romance, or a little bit of both.  It’s nice to see the simple message of something as simple as fishing being able to bring the world’s people together peacefully.  But it really seemed to let the romance factor get too much involved.  As a result, it got bogged down in itself.  Had it not had the romance subplot, it might have been better.

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

10. Arbitrage:  It was once noted that three factors more than any other are the causes of crime.  Those factors are:  money, power, and sex.  Arbitrage has all three of these.  It’s an interesting movie.  And it definitely wastes no time noting the latter of the trio of factors, as it lets audiences know that Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is having an affair with another woman.  And also, Miller’s boss has a very firm talk with him early on letting him know that he knows about the financial inaccuracies that he’s causing.  It doesn’t take long to know where this story goes.  It’s something of a tried and true story.  Add in this critic’s pet peeve of movies, the “whisper scenes” and it makes for a movie that as good as it is it could have been better.  For those wondering, the “whisper scene” is exactly as it sounds (bad pun there).  The “whisper scene” is one in which actors essentially whisper throughout the scene against overpowering music to make the scene more emotional and powerful.  But put against the sudden transition to normal volume scenes (and above normal volume scenes), it becomes rather annoying as one has to constantly change the volume on one’s TV as a result of that.  It’ll be interesting to see if it gets the Golden Globe for which it was nominated.

There you have it folks.  That is my personalist of the year’s ten best major motion pictures.  You are more than welcome to share whether you agree or disagree and what your top 10 list would look like.  2013’s already shaping up to be an interesting year.  As the movies start to come out, I’ll have reviews of them, too.  To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Les Miserables Not 2012’s Best, But Close To It

Courtesy:  Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

Adapting classical literature for the big screen is one of Hollywood’s most time honored traditions.  Countless books have been adapted for the silver screen since the industry’s Golden Era.  Just as common for movie studios to do is to adapt stage plays that have themselves been adapted from books.  So as common as this practice is even now in Hollywood’s modern era, it takes a lot to make a movie of this fashion stand out in today’s overly crowded movie market.  Enter the newest big screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic story, Les Miserables.

The latest adaptation of Victor Hugo’s timeless story of redemption is one of the best movies of 2012.   It isn’t the year’s best.  But it does come close as it struggles with at least two glaring issues.  Those issues are the movie’s scene transitions and its general cinematography.  Much of the cinematography issue goes hand in hand with the problematic scene transitions.  Though there’s just as much problem with this movie’s shooting style not directly linked to the transitions in question.  Despite having issues with shooting and scene transitions, the movie’s positives far outweigh its negatives.  And those positives are many.

The most obvious problem weighing down this latest adaptation of Les Miserables is its shooting style (I.E. its cinematography).  Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) makes a valiant attempt to bring out as much of the emotion as possible from each scene with his shooting style.  The problem is that he tried too hard.  Throughout the story’s near three-hour run time, this shooting style is so consistent that it could potentially leave audiences feeling somewhat dizzy and even confused.  The cameras spin, cut, and make every other possible transition so much that it leaves audiences not knowing where they are going to go next.  It happens so much that it would be no surprise if it leaves some audiences so bothered by it that it makes audiences contemplate just walking out because they can’t take feeling the way which they feel.  The issue with the shooting style is just the tip of the iceberg for this movie’s problems.  To make matters worse, the shooting style is at times linked directly to its problematic scene transitions.

Anyone who has seen Les Miserable live on stage knows that while they take time, the scene transitions are smooth enough to keep track of exactly what’s going on in the story.  The case with the latest on-screen adaptation is the polar opposite of the stage play.  The scene transitions in this version happen so fast that viewers almost need a program to keep up with what’s happening.  This is one of the areas in which Hooper obviously struggled to do honor to the legacy established by this timeless classic.  Rather than making smooth transitions, it felt almost as if much of the movie was just a load of scenes tied together with jump cut edits.  Add in that problematic shooting style, and audiences get a work that felt anything but fluid.  Rather it felt like each scene was piecemealed together.  The two factors together made the movie noticeably less enjoyable than it could have been, despite the outstanding performance on the part of both Jackman and co-star Anne Hathaway.

While Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises, Get Smart, The Princess Diaries) isn’t technically a veteran in the acting business, she surprisingly proved herself in the role of Fantine.  Her chops as a singer were the most impressive part of her performance.  The emotion with which she sang made her portrayal fully believable.  There are those who have alleged that she was doing little more than simply hamming it up for the cameras.  But that obviously isn’t the case.  Considering her previous roles, this could finally be the one to catapult her to the upper echelons of the movie industry.  And while he is already in the businesses’ upper echelons, the choice of Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean was common sense considering his current track record both on stage and screen.  He carried the movie on his shoulders.  Watching his moment of redemption at the story’s end will leave any viewer with more than just a tear in his or her eye.  Perhaps the only poor choice in casting this movie was that of Russell Crowe.  Crowe’s portrayal of Inspector Javert worked on the superficial level.  He is old enough that he looked the part.  But his general performance simply was not believable.  Luckily that was about the only poor choice in casting this take on the time honored classic.  That being the case, it is no surprise that this take on Les Miserables has been nominated for a handful of Golden Globes.  And it would be no surprise if it makes the Oscar nod list more than once, too.

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Philip Sayblack can be contacted at psayblack@wnct.com