Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week.
Starring: Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, and Cliff Curtis
Synopsis: Every year around this time we get releases aimed at Christian audiences. This year is no exception. During the high holy time during Lent, in the run up to Easter, faith-based movies get some Box Office traction. "Risen" is one such release that falls into that category, but at the same time it's one of the most moving movies of this kind I've seen. I'm usually quite cynical about films made about Scripture, and I approached "Risen" in much the same manner. Here we have the story of the time closely following Jesus' death and resurrection, the story of the Disciples and the early days of Christianity, and all told from the point-of-view of a Roman soldier. But what I saw in "Risen" changed my thinking. It was a beautifully told story from director Kevin Reynolds, who previously did "The Count of Monte Cristo" and "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves." This film moved me in unexpected ways. I loved the work of Fiennes in the lead role, and the way the film begins from the point-of-view of a skeptic who sees and experiences things that leave his worldview shaken. It was a beautiful depiction of Jesus and his followers, and a beautiful depiction of the kind of earth-shattering faith experience we can have when we finally find and embrace Jesus Christ. There were a number of scenes that moved me, and I loved the subtle performance from Curtis as Jesus Christ. I went into the theater a skeptic and came out a believer — not about who Jesus is, but about the power Christian movies can have in conveying the Gospel. "Risen" is not only worth checking out for Christians, it's a good movie. And those two things don't always go together.
Rating: PG-13 for Biblical violence including some disturbing images.
Verdict: Three stars out of four.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Starring: Tina Fey, Margo Robbie, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, and Alfred Molina
Synopsis: It’s hard to believe sometimes, but it’s been more than a decade since the war in Afghanistan began. The latest movie, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” goes back to the beginning — in 2003 — and captures the experiences of Kim Baker as she reported from Afghanistan for the first few years of the war there. When you’re making a movie about life on the battlefield, you don’t generally think of Tina Fey. But Fey and her partner, Robert Carlock, took on the task of adapting Baker’s experience into a movie. Fey takes the lead role, with Carlock writing the screenplay based on Baker’s own book. The result is something that is a mixture of a more serious movie and the kind of offbeat, delightful comedy viewers expect from Fey and Carlock — the creators of “30 Rock” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite come together in a perfect way. The trailers for this film center on the comedy aspect. It’s not that this film isn’t funny, it’s just that comedy isn’t the only aim here. This is about something more. Director Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are no strangers to this blend. In the past they’ve collaborated on “Focus,” which starred Will Smith, and the comedy “Crazy, Stupid Love,” which starred Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell. From a tone standpoint, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” feels a lot like those films. There’s amusing moments, serious moments and a lot of time spent on relationships. What makes it work is the performers. Fey is great in the lead role. She’s a gifted comedienne, but she has a broader range than that. She showcases some of that talent in this role. I also liked the supporting cast. This feels like a good part for Robbie, who gets to stretch out of some of the girlfriend roles she’s been in during previous films. And Freeman is great here, too. He plays well off Fey, and their relationship is one of the highlights of the film. The problem is that “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” lacks some punch and focus in terms of the story. It seems, at times, like it wants to make a commentary on the war in Afghanistan and on the type of personality of the reporters who spend their lives chasing battlefield stories. But in the end it doesn’t really say anything meaningful about either thing. It does accomplish its aim of being about a woman who’s feeling lost and finds herself in the trenches in Afghanistan, but there’s little in the way of closure for that kind of narrative, either. “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is an enjoyable film, but one that doesn’t really stick with you after. It just sort of exists, spins a little yarn, has some powerful emotional moments and wraps up. It’s OK, but it falls short of being great.
Rating: R for pervasive language, some sexual content, drug use and violent war images. Enter with caution.
Verdict: Two stars out of four.
Friday, March 11 — "10 Cloverfield Lane," "The Brothers Grimsby," "The Young Messiah"
Wednesday, March 16 — "Miracles From Heaven"
Friday, March 18 — "The Divergent Series: Allegiant," "The Little Prince"
Friday, March 25 — "Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice," "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2," "The Disappointments Room"