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I CAN ONLY IMAGINE

The story of how one song got written does not seem like it would make much of a movie -- so “I Can Only Imagine” didn’t interest me at all. Not, that is, until everyone started raving about it. When Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, Focus on the Family, CinemaScore and lots of trusted friends all recommend a movie, you can be pretty sure the film is doing something right. In this case, that would include quite a number of things: While it purports to address the composing of the hit song by MercyMe -- which, according to the movie’s credits, is now the best-selling Christian tune of all time -- “I Can Only Imagine” does not trot out that hit till its final half-hour, during which we get one and only o

PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST: Not just "faith-based," but faith-FILLED

At first, “Paul: Apostle of Christ” appears to be another entry in the recent run of faith-based films; but that common label isn’t quite fair. “Paul” is not merely “based” on faith; rather, the movie is bathed in it, obsessed with it, driven by it -- suffused with confidence in a message that remains thoroughly counterintuitive after nearly 2000 years. In fact, as an embodiment of such faith, the film itself is counterintuitive: Slipping in amid a slate of superheroes, thrillers, R-rated comedies and animated brouhaha, “Paul” is the quiet, ruminative story of an aging outcast awaiting execution in an ancient prison basement. James Faulkner brings a heady blend of aged suffering, stolid nobi

GRINGO: Oyelowo steps out of his comfort zone

“Gringo” features a Mexican drug lord who likes to ask people how they feel about the Beatles. (Friendly tip: Don’t insist that “Sgt. Pepper” is their best.) Late in the film, this unlikely fan of the Fab-Four slightly misquotes “Hey Jude” by intoning, “Take the sad song, and make it better.” That could serve as a thematic marker in the film, which is fairly grim until the end. Indeed, “Gringo” has too much blood and death to fully warrant its billing as a comedy. Judging from the uneven trailer, I don’t think distributors even knew how to market it. Together with fact that I was all alone for its Williamsport debut last Thursday night, this suggests “Gringo” might sink without a trace. That

DEATH WISH: New problems for the Bruce

“Death Wish” is no masterpiece, but it certainly doesn’t deserve its measly 13% approval rating at RottenTomatoes. Since I don’t read actual reviews before writing my own, I can only surmise that the current debate over gun violence is driving this response, with critics siding against a film about pistol-packing vengeance. A remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson film that spawned four sequels, the new movie stars Bruce Willis as Paul Kersey, a Chicago surgeon who takes matters into his own hands after his family is assaulted. Shortly after the attack, Kersey’s grieving father-in-law tells him plainly that if you want to keep your loved ones safe, you have to do it yourself; and this sentiment

78 / 52: Hitchcock's legacy lives on

I thought I knew everything there was to know about “Psycho”; but “78/52” proves otherwise -- and I’ve rarely been so glad I was wrong. With a brief theatrical release last October, this documentary about Hitchcock’s classic is well worth watching, now that it’s available via streaming and DVD. Its title refers to the number of camera set-ups required for “Psycho’s” famous shower scene (78) -- and the number of actual cuts in the final version (52). Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 thriller has inspired countless analytical essays, three sequels, a shot-for-shot remake, a feature film about the making of the film, a five-season TV show and no less than 10 full-length books. One of the latter was my o

GAME NIGHT: Good cast + great script = lotsa larfs

Have you ever written LOL when you didn’t actually LOL? Just how many jokes truly make you laugh out loud? More to the point, how often do you actually LOL during a film that bills itself as a comedy? For me, it’s usually a handful of chuckles. Peter Sellers, Rowan Atkinson and the Marx Brothers are among the few who generate guffaws from start to finish. But I might be adding Mark Perez to that list. He’s the little-known screenwriter who penned the fiendishly clever “Game Night,” a brand-new thriller that is both exciting and laugh-out-loud funny. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play a couple whose titular activity gets out of hand when Bateman’s hotshot brother (Kyle Chandler) gamely arr

EARLY MAN: Cavemen and ... soccer??

While everyone else was stampeding off to “Black Panther,” my wife and I chose an animated movie about cavemen and soccer. As it turns out, “Early Man” also addresses sexism, dinosaurs, the Bronze Age, teamwork, carrier pigeons, cave drawings, discrimination, underdogs, hard work, hubris -- and one very giant duck. I’m sorry to report that we were the only ones in the theater; this unique and charming little film is made with a lot of tender loving care, and it really deserves a wider audience. Of course, the TLC claim won’t surprise anyone familiar with previous fare from the stop-motion masters at Aardman Animations: “Chicken Run,” “Shaun the Sheep,” “Flushed Away,” “Arthur Christmas” and

15:17 to Paris: Not one of Eastwood's best

There was some concern over casting real-life heroes in Clint Eastwood’s new film about the 2015 terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train. As it turns out, there should have been more worry about who wrote the script. In “The 15:17 to Paris,” Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos do a decent job playing themselves -- three Americans who helped take down a gunman after he opened fire on a high-speed train in France. But the screenplay by newcomer Dorothy Blyskal is weak -- full of noble thoughts expressed in the most banal and simplistic terms. “15:17” is by no means the cinematic disaster suggested by its poor reviews (20% at Rotten Tomatoes; a “D” from Entertainment Weekly). But i

MOLLY'S GAME: Sorkin directs Sorkin -- with stellar results!

“Molly’s Game” is a good movie that swiftly becomes a great one in its final half-hour. In readying to review this acclaimed 2017 film, I inwardly lamented at yet another colossal running time, wondering why so many modern movies share this oft-annoying trait. I’m not lamenting now. “Molly’s” 140 minutes roar past like an express train: It’s utterly gripping from start to finish; and then at the end, it morphs into a bit of a tear-jerker -- rather surprising for Aaron Sorkin. The renowned and reliable writer behind such films as “A Few Good Men,” “Moneyball” and “The Social Network,” Sorkin makes his directorial debut with “Molly.” He is known for sharp, smart, realistic dialog and a dense u

HOSTILES: Maybe not the best Western since Unforgiven; but close!

It’s been suggested that “Hostiles” is the greatest Western since “Unforgiven.” As a fan of “True Grit” and “Appaloosa,” I’m not totally on board with this; but the new film surely is the most thought-provoking entry in that time-tested genre since Clint Eastwood stormed the Oscars in 1993. And despite its shattering shoot-outs, “Hostiles” may also be the quietest, most low-key Western ever made. Directed by Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart”), the film stars Christian Bale as a cavalry officer assigned to escort a dying Cheyenne back to his homeland. Since Capt. Blocker lost several fellow-soldiers to this same Indian warrior, it’s all he can do to submit to this direct order from President Harris

12 STRONG: Unsung heroes

Shortly after the Twin Towers fell in 2001, a crack team of just 12 Green Berets drove deep into Afghanistan in hopes of dealing a retributive blow to Taliban forces. Wildly outnumbered, and armed with only guns, horses and radios, these men teamed with local warriors to inflict heavy casualties on several thousand terrorist troops -- achieving a victory that is almost unprecedented in modern warfare. Yet because their mission was heavily classified, the group known as ODA 595 received no public recognition for their death-defying heroism. “12 Strong” should go a long way toward redressing that omission. The film is too long and not especially well scripted; but it succeeds due to strong per

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