The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)
Not Rated. Drama, Biography/Historical, Faith Elements, War/Epic

Pope Julius II, as played by Rex Harrison: “I planned a ceiling. He plans a miracle.”

Well. This majestic piece of cinema with the iconic Charlton Heston certainly aided my imagination: an upgrade from vaguely picturing Michelangelo all alone on an insanely tall wooden ladder or somehow suspended in air as he paints the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I never clearly considered how he might’ve practically pulled off such a feat, but artistic assistants and special scaffolding makes sense. 🙂

I was all in before the Intermission, when inspiration strikes the artist–in the loud, dramatic, over the top fashion that these epic films own and unabashedly deliver. A true vision: just what an artist needs to make a wonder, as artists do.

I figured what was coming as soon as I saw Contessina’s face. “Right. Enter the Token Lady,” I thought, as I knew a film of its kind wouldn’t at least take a stab at a passionate romance somewhere in there, but she turns out not to be so merely inevitable, and when her character needs to bring it, she brings it. I agree with her about the agony and the ecstasy of love, but not with her final line or two in the movie. Though, yes, there are indeed different kinds of love and passion, different avenues of expressing them, of putting passion into action, so much so that the outcome is bigger than the individual.

The Pope and the artist have quite the exchanges, as well as egos so inflated I was sure one or the other of them would break through the television screen if they expanded any further, but they’re played so well together that I can forgive the men for it, even as I forgive Michelangelo for being sexist, whether intentionally or jokingly.

And, hey, the handful of moments of blatant comedy were unexpected and duly welcomed by me.

Hearing the title The Agony and the Ecstasy for years, I always assumed it was a movie about the Crucifixion. (Just a sidenote, there.)

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Luther (2003)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Luther (2003)
Rated PG-13. Drama, History/Biography, Faith Theme, War/Epic

1/2

Description (from the film case): Joseph Fiennes stars as Martin Luther, the brilliant man of God whose defiant actions changed the world, in this “epic, ravishingly beautiful” (The New York Times) film that traces Luther’s extraordinary and exhilarating quest for the people’s liberation.

Regional princes and the powerful Church wield a fast, firm and merciless grip on 16th-century Germany. But when Martin Luther issues a shocking challenge to their authority, the people declare him their new leader–and hero. Even when threatened with violent death, Luther refuses to back down, sparking a bloody revolution that shakes the entire continent to its core.

My thoughts: ‎I appreciate Fiennes’s portrayal of Martin Luther as a man of passion and conviction as well as doubt and inner agony. The film takes an intriguing look at Church history as well as quite a look, though not always a pretty one, at how human beings just…are, sometimes. Even with its obvious faith theme, I wouldn’t put the movie in the genre of “faith films,” though I think it has much for faith film lovers as well as epic and historical movie fans to enjoy.

My corresponding reading: Concerning Christian Liberty (or On Christian Liberty) by Martin Luther and Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund.

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Les Misérables (2012)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Les Misérables (2012)
Rated PG-13. Drama, Musical, Romance, War/Epic
3 Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress

Description (from the film case): Set against the backdrop of 19th Century France, Les Misérables tells the story of ex-prisoner Jean Valjean [Hugh Jackman], hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert [Russell Crowe], after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s [Anne Hathaway] young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever.

My thoughts: “Fight. Dream. Hope. Love.” Yes, exactly–ditto to what the film’s tagline says.

Les Misérables is a wonderful achievement and the film that solidified Hathaway’s spot on my favorite actresses list. When she, an agonized Fantine, sings “I Dreamed a Dream,” oh, it isn’t just the way she sings it but how she is right afterward: drained, silent, blank, as if she hasn’t (or has?) just wailed her whole tortured soul out to a world that can’t hear her. There’s pretty much no way she wouldn’t have won an Oscar for that role. And Jackman is absolutely amazing as Valjean, both in his fierce moments and in his quiet ones. I hear tell Jackman even fasted from water to give wandering, weary Valjean’s skin its wasted look toward the beginning of the film. (Nope, it isn’t just a film makeup job making Valjean look like that.)

This is the only movie I’ve ever gone out to see as soon as it released, and if I could’ve stood up to sing along during “Red and Black” and “Do You Hear the People Sing?” in the theater, I would have. (But, alas, the people sitting behind me might have had something to say about that, and I didn’t know the words to the songs yet, anyway.) The film also compelled me to finally get around to reading Victor Hugo’s classic novel. I’ve not finished it yet, as it’s an unabridged version and I’m reading it in between other books, but I’m instantly right “there” every time I pick it up, and I already suspect it will end up on my list of all-time favorite reads.

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The Chronicles of Narnia (2005, 2008, 2010)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Rated PG. Drama, Royalty, War/Epic, Family Films
Academy Award, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Best Makeup

Five Gold Stars, Five Gold Stars,
and Four Silver Stars1/2

Description (from the first movie’s film case): [It all starts with] Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter, four siblings who find the world of Narnia through a magical wardrobe while playing a game of “hide-and-seek” at the country estate of a mysterious professor. Once there, the children discover a charming, once peaceful land inhabited by talking beasts, dwarfs, fauns, centaurs, and giants that has been turned into a world of eternal winter by the evil White Witch, Jadis. Aided by the wise and magnificent lion Aslan, the children lead Narnia into a spectacular, climactic battle to be free of the Witch’s glacial powers forever! [Yes, the description on the case ends with an exclamation point.]

My thoughts: The more one understands what The Chronicles of Narnia are all about, the more powerful the stories are. (Perhaps that goes without saying, but I’m saying it anyway.) Couldn’t ask for better locations, better music, or better casting for these adventurous fantasy films, and bringing in the same actors for role reprisals throughout the series definitely aids in making the ongoing story compelling. The second film in the series is even better than the first, if that’s possible, and I love the closing songs in the second and third, “The Call” and “There’s a Place for Us.” Personally, I could’ve done without the little romance add-in, in Prince Caspian, but, hey. Modern film adaptations–what can you do? I hear tell there are plans to continue the series with The Silver Chair, so if the locations, music, and casting can stay on par with the preceding movies, the continuation should be fantastic.

My corresponding reading: The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis.

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The trailer for my favorite of the series, Prince Caspian.