Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week.
10 Cloverfield Lane
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, and John Gallager, Jr.
Synopsis: In 2008, the movie "Cloverfield" came out of no where. The trailer was vague and cryptic. In fact, the first trailer didn't even have the name of the movie, just a January release date. It was hard to tell what it would be. Though the story was probably clever, the movie is more fondly remembered for its marketing than its quality. It was totally hand-held, meant to be some sort of found footage film where young, attractive New Yorkers are running for their lives from a (mostly) unseen nemesis. Was it Godzilla? Was it Aliens? Was it a joke? Whose to say. Eight years later, "10 Cloverfield Lane" is using that same marketing savvy, but for a much better film. It isn't exactly a sequel, but as producer J.J. Abrams said it inhabits the same universe, maybe. And there could, eventually, maybe, be a third kind of connected, but maybe not really, movie. But that's in the future. In the here and now, I thought "10 Cloverfield Lane" was a movie that accomplished its aims and created a fun movie-going experience. A great deal has been done to keep the plot secret, so I won't ruin that here. Suffice to say, the film is essentially about three people (Winstead, Gallager, Jr., and Goodman) who are in a fall out shelter-like bunker. Was the United States attacked by terrorists? Was it chemical weapons? Was it Aliens? who's to say — well, actually, the film does answer the question at the end. Mostly it's about these strangers in this claustrophobic environment. They don't know each other or trust each other. And the man who brought them all there (Goodman), may or may not be what he seems. That all sounds cryptic, and that's how the movie wants it to be. I did enjoy the experience of watching it. I thought the performances were solid, and the contained environment upped the stakes. Some have quibbled about the ending, but I thought it worked OK. I wasn't wild about "Cloverfield," but after this somewhat connected second film, I'd be interested to see where this story goes and how they might all be connected.
Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language.
Verdict: Three stars out of four.
The Young Messiah
Starring: Adam Greaves-Neal, Sara Lazzaro, and Vincent Walsh
Synopsis: We are just over a week away from Easter Sunday, the most important day of the year for Christians. It’s a time when we remember Jesus’ life, ministry and sacrifice. Much has been written about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. His words and ministry are chronicled in great detail. Yet there is much of His life that is unknown. In the Bible, Jesus’ birth narrative is captured, and His ministry is captured, but His life as a child, a teen and a young adult is hardly referenced. Anne Rice, the novelist who wrote “Interview With A Vampire,” was drawn to Jesus’ life during that time upon her return to the Catholic Church. She wrote “Christ The Lord: Out of Egypt,” a historical fiction novel that follows a young Jesus Christ from age seven to eight. Rice’s work in that novel served as the basis for a new film, “The Young Messiah,” released just in time for Easter. For all that we know about Jesus from the Bible and history, His life as a child is somewhat of a blank page. This story is meant to explore that time and meant to explore who Jesus was, even as a young child. In that sense, it works to pose larger questions and get people thinking about God. Director Cyrus Nowrasteh, who co-wrote the screenplay with his wife, Betsy, takes great care to honor who Jesus is in Scripture while telling a fictional story about His life. Though this isn’t the Jesus we typically see on screen, the film remains faithful to Who God sent Him to be. From a purely cinematic standpoint, however, “The Young Messiah” is just OK. It’s a bit dry as a movie. The performances are passable, but none is exceptional. The story lags at times and then, just as quickly, seems to comes to an end. There’s the germ of a good idea here that is, perhaps, more explored in the book. But in terms of being a film, it doesn’t quite work. This is a film that honors Jesus Christ as Lord, and treats the subject with reverence. It will likely appeal to Christians interested in exploring a subject not addressed in Scripture. But as a stand-alone film it’s likely not compelling enough to draw big crowds. And it lacks the big emotional punch of “Risen,” a recently released film about Jesus post-resurrection that also aims to tell a powerful story of faith, in part, through the eyes of a Roman soldier.
Rating: PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements.
Verdict: Two stars out of four.
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"