Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Force Awakens: The End of Star Wars As We Know It

I think most people came out of The Force Awakens feeling a mixture of joy and sadness. For me, it was mostly the latter, but for all the wrong reasons. Here's the thing: The Force Awakens is not a terrible movie, but in a way, that makes it all the worse. It's just not a Star Wars movie.

Sure, the trappings are there. A sandy, barren planet (Jakku, rather than Tatooine). A droid bearing a secret map. Gritty practical effects and quirky aliens and vast empty reaches of space. The entire galaxy hinging on the domestic troubles of one family. Harrison Ford. Carrie Fisher. Mark Hamill. But all of these details are in new hands, in a new universe, with a new style. Ross Douthat nailed it when he predicted the movie to be a massive work of calculated fan-service, much like the Marvel franchise.

[Mild SPOILERS regarding basic plot]

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

In Memoriam: Anthony Valentine

Anthony Valentine, who died two weeks ago, was one of my first TV crushes. Suave, reptilian, and utterly charming, his charisma swept my teenage self off my feet. Of course, it helped that he was British. I've always had a weakness for our Anglo-Saxon brethren. And even better, he was incredibly funny.

I was first introduced to Valentine through his portrayal of the dashing gentleman thief, A.J. Raffles, on DVD. The show was from 1977, and these days looks rather clunky and dated, but Valentine's performance remains a masterpiece, sparkling with wit and charm. The part was perfectly suited to his talents (Nigel Havers and Ronald Colman don't hold a candle): Raffles is Sherlock Holmes's evil twin - a genius cat burglar in Victorian England, his adventures chronicled by a bumbling, fawning sidekick - Harry "Bunny" Manders (Christopher Strauli). The two men swan about through high society, robbing the arrogant rich to give to the deserving poor (in this case, themselves), dogged by an intrepid, friendly, but stupid police inspector (in this case, Mackenzie), in stories written by a member of the Conan Doyle family (in this case, Sir Arthur's brother-in-law, E.W. Hornung).

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Episode 31: Indiana Jones and the Escape From the Retirement Home

We talk about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - Nazis, aging action stars, MacGuffins, great villains, and what the movie should actually be called. Featuring the Matriarch, Dennis (a.k.a. Tacitus a.k.a. Samuel Long), Dodgson (a.k.a. Forest Newberry), and (briefly) Sarah Long.

Our special guests

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Best of September/October 2015


Cinema Paradiso is a movie in love with movies. The screen is bathed in rich colors and takes place in an atmospheric Italian cultural milieu, much like Coppola's Godfather Duology or Leone's Dollars Trilogy. The first third of the story is utterly enchanting, as young Toto is introduced to movie magic. The subsequent romance plot is, to me, less interesting, but it's hard not to get swept up in the nostalgia of the film.

Back to the Future is everything great about the 80's: it's Ferris Bueller and time travel and skateboards and nostalgia and bad special effects and Huey Lewis and the News. In the film, the reason the story is so self-consciously about life in the 80's is because Marty McFly's an ambassador to the past, showcasing the 80's as the Future. Now, it feels like Back to the Future preserved the period in a time capsule, rather than a time machine. In addition, it's blessedly free of the angst of modern teenager films and instead of using the common Disney Parents As Villains trope, it attempts to see life from their point of view. Marty's mom and dad are almost more important than he is to the story.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Episode 30: Things Deeper and Higher

We talk about the role of fate or chance in The Return of the King, symbols and sacraments, life and death, and the role of loss (of innocence, greatness, and inheritance) in the story.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Episode 29: Worth Fighting For

We discuss The Two Towers, two big Pilgrim's Podcast Family revelations (one of which we reveal), the Progeny describes an identity crisis in Chinese, 1970s music, the true identity of Episode 12's Tacitus, and more in this episode of The Pilgrim's Podcast.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Episode 28: There's Some Good in This World

We come up with a name for a rock band and talk about the Patriarch's history as a Parrot Head. Also, we discuss The Two Towers, the Enlightenment, dehumanizing language, Islamic terrorism, WWI and cultural disintegration, what The Lord of the Rings has to say about foreign policy, multiculturalism, and the true nature of patriotism.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Episode 27: One Does Not Simply...

We talk about Ahmed's clock, The Fellowship of the Ring, on-screen violence, the importance of cohesive artistic vision, CGI vs. storytelling, allegory vs. myth, the dangers of urban dictionary, and (of course) whether or not the ring symbolizes Donald Trump.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Episode 26: Lies Breathed Through Silver

We talk about how much The Lord of the Rings has meant to us over the years. Also: small towns, myth, holiness, the corrosive influence of power, and rebellion against God. What does the Ring symbolize? Is there a divine agency in the story?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Episode 25: Fun With Gnosticism

We talk about Gnosticism, Thomas Aquinas, Christian Humanism, how modern society views the human body, transgenderism, Designer Babies, and the importance of the Incarnation in community.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Episode 24: Life, Death, and All that Jazz

We get a bit pretentious and talk about how society justifies the value of human life apart from the imago Dei, human exceptionalism, joy, sehnsucht, the Patriarch's rap career, and how That Hideous Strength is coming true.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Best of July/August 2015


For me, July was a fairly meager month, but if I had to pick the movie that left the most impact, I'd say it was the interesting indie flick Marion Bridge. It's not a masterpiece, but it's a gentle, intelligent story, and a good way to pass the time. The story is about three sisters, the youngest of whom has just returned to their small hometown in Nova Scotia. The other two sisters have lived with the ailing mother for some years, and the impending death of the family matriarch is what it took to draw Agnes back from her wild life in the city. There's the usual confronting old demons and making new beginnings, but the writing and acting are accomplished enough to keep in interesting. Also note a cameo from a young, young Ellen Page.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation was just absurdly fun. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's The Avengers of spy movies (no, I mean, like superhero Avengers, and not the actual Avengers of spy movies), but Rogue Nation may be as perfect as the Mission: Impossible franchise will ever be. Whereas Bond and Bourne lean more towards a Nolan Batman vibe (to continue the superhero similes), this - with its face-masks and "your mission, should you choose to accept it" - is inescapably campy territory. When the franchise tried to be something different (cough, cough, M:I-3) or take its own glamour seriously (cough, cough, M:I-2), it inevitably stumbles. Happily, Rogue Nation strikes just the right balance. Written review - podcast review.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Episode 23: Possession is 9/10s of the Law

We talk the cast of Rogue One, Possession (2002), historical mystery, the Republican debate, whether women should be in politics, how romance has changed throughout history, and the duty of journalists. Additionally: we act out a scene from our movie of the week, and C.S. Lewis chooses his favorite Republican candidate.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation - Review

[We also recorded a podcast review of this film.]

In 1927, silent film star Harold Lloyd clambered up the side of a 12-story building, every move documented by a camera crew. Obstacles abounded: falling objects, slippery edges, a clock face which slowly, agonizingly, pulled away from the wall. The climb formed the climactic stunt in Lloyd's comedy film, Safety Last and was a Hollywood mystery for years—did Lloyd really do it? Was he really that high? (He did, and it was...sort of.)

I couldn’t help but think of Harold Lloyd during the opening sequence of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, which finds Tom Cruise clinging to the outside of a massive plane (for real) as it blasts into the air. Like Lloyd’s climb, Cruise’s plane stunt provokes a sense of awe: he really did it! That's really Tom Cruise on a plane! Both Safety Last and Rogue Nation showcase a particular brand of daredevil showmanship that’s rare in this age of green screens and computer trickery. An added parallel: as Safety Last’s comedy has remained fresh nearly a hundred years later, so the lighthearted but intense Rogue Nation manages to be far, far more fun than its gritty competition: Daniel Craig’s Bond.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Episode 21: Delete the Adjectives and You'll Have the Facts

“Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I'd have the facts.”
~To Kill a Mockingbird

We talk about stereotypes, Civil Rights movies, the White Savior trope, the importance of the rule of law, problems with the American justice system, and Go Set a Watchman.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Episode 20: Life Finds a Way

We're back! Nosotros somos aquĆ­! And we've finally seen Jurassic World, which means we'll be talking dinosaurs, genetic engineering, Bryce Dallas Howards' high heels, Guatemala, Trump, Chris Pratt, and more! Additionally, C.S. Lewis's thoughts on Donald Trump. This week we're joined by the Matriarch and - briefly - the Photographer.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Best of May/June 2015

It Happened One Night was a totally unexpected delight. It's one of the finest road trip romances, and the template for many a romcom thereafter. It starred Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert as a pair of reluctant fellow travelers, on their way to the Big Apple. He's a failing journalist; she's an heiress on the run. When he discovers her secret, they strike a deal: he'll ensure she gets to New York if she'll let him have the story. Inevitably, once the two begin to overcome their prejudices, love finds a way. Made in 1934, the film has held up incredibly well - notably, it won five Oscars (Best...Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, Writing), and even now has a 98% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Inside Out (2015) - Review

If there's anything that can be said about this film, it's that it's by far Pixar's most emotional movie to date. Hehehehe...sorry, couldn't resist. But really, whenever I could manage to get around the sinking feeling that I was the only nineteen-year-old in a theater full of Kindergartners (and parents who brought their Kindergartners and therefore had an excuse to be there), I spent an alarming amount of time with a lump in my throat. However, while Pixar's latest film is a fascinating thought experiment, it definitely has its flaws.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities (1958)

As film popularity goes, A Tale of Two Cities is a mid-level Dickens novel. Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, and A Christmas Carol have been filmed so many times that it just isn't Christmas without one of them coming out.

Bulkier novels like Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend, and Little Dorrit have been relegated to the small screen. But while A Tale of Two Cities is easily Dickens's best-selling novel (according to Wikipedia, the second best-selling novel of all-time), its cinematic footprint is fairly meager. The last Hollywood version was this one, in 1958, and it was an uneven remake of the 1935 version.

As plots go, it's far easier to summarize than the average Dickens, and with its romance, action, and melodrama, it's prime stuff for an epic film. (In fact, there is a new version in the works.)

Hey! Young Christopher Lee!
The story opens with a carriage struggling up a muddy hillside in the night. A rider approaches through the mist, crying out for one of the passengers, a Mr Jarvis Lorry. The coachmen check with their clients - it's not the handsome, sardonic lawyer, Sydney Carton (Dirk Bogarde), but a fussy banker (Cecil Parker).

After receiving the odd message ("Recalled to life?"), Mr. Lorry continues to Dover, where he informs young Lucie Manette (Dorothy Tutin) that her long-lost father, Dr. Manette (Stephen Murray) has been found alive. After eighteen years in the Bastille, he has been released to some kindly friends: the Defarges.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Episode 19: Putting the Odd in Podcast

We talk The Intouchables, ISIS recruiting tactics, the sudden popularity of courtship, whether Christians should be cremated, and planning the Patriarch's funeral (it involves Matthew Perryman Jones).

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Top 5 Road Movies That Aren't Mad Max

Everyone may be talking about Mad Max: Fury Road, but the road trip has long been a staple of Western storytelling, from The Odyssey to The Hobbit to Pee Wee Herman's Big Adventure. Without further ado, here are my top five examples of the genre:

It Happened One Night is one of the finest road trip romances, and the template for many a romcom thereafter. It starred Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert as a pair of reluctant fellow travelers, on their way to the Big Apple. He's a failing journalist; she's an heiress on the run. When he discovers her secret, they strike a deal: he'll ensure she gets to New York if she'll let him have the story. Inevitably, once the two begin to overcome their prejudices, love finds a way. Made in 1934, the film has held up incredibly well - notably, it won five Oscars (Best...Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, Writing), and even now has a 98% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Gable and Colbert are at the top of their powers, imbuing the witty dialogue with a genuine chemistry.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Episode 18: Stories for Children

"I hadn't really thought about it before, but that might be the problem with our whole entire civilization! Walt Disney!"
~The Patriarch

We talk about The Lord of the Rings, Redwall, Watership Down, Narnia, mythology, Harry Potter, the Freddy the pig books, danger in children's stories, and the difference between a contribution and a commitment. Are happy endings a good thing? Also: The Patriarch reads Good Night Moon.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Inspector George Gently - Series 7 - Son of a Gun

My review of last week's episode: Gently Among Friends

Perhaps the greatest irony of Inspector George Gently is that its tragedy always stems from its basic conservatism. A thing cannot be tragic unless it is considered an anomaly. To quote C.S. Lewis: "A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line." This show has always remembered what a straight line looked like. Gently Upside Down, an episode back in series 4, ends with a young woman, Hazel, berating a failed authority figure: she makes it clear that he was meant "to take care of us, not use us." That should be the natural state of the world.

This series has spanned the whole decade of the 1960s, and Hazel was hardly the only iconoclast. But these children railing against their fathers are never righteous heroes. They're always broken, and even if they wish to transcend "the system," they still display a tangible hunger for the world before it was fallen. They hate their fathers, but want to impress them. They are not men but stunted children desiring attention.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Episode 1 Review - The Friends of English Magic

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
It's 1806, and magic has been dead in England for hundreds of years. So say the estimable Learned Society of York Magicians, but this declaration is turned on its head by the arrival of a powerful, fearsome practical magician, Mr. Norrell (Eddie Marsan). He offers them a deal: if he can make good on his claims to do real magic, then they must relinquish any right to study magic themselves. The ultimatum is a massive piece of foreshadowing. Norrell's success does not allow for sharing. He's not interested in democracy (of course not, he isn't one of those blasted French Republicans, is he?)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Inspector George Gently - Series 7 - Gently Among Friends

My review of last week's episode: Breathe In the Air

Two weeks ago my dad bought half a dozen Lyle Lovett CDs from a sales rack. For the last few days, my listening library has consisted mostly of Lovett and Johnny Cash. Pondering over the previous episode of George Gently while listening to That's Right (You're Not From Texas) made me think of odd things. What if our heroes were transported abroad (a la Inspector Morse, in two episodes), to investigate crime in the Lone Star State?

Imagine my amusement when I found Gently and Bacchus dropped into a flashy American club with Johnny Cash playing in the background (Will the Circle Be Unbroken and Ring of Fire, to be specific). They're looking into the death of Scott Parker, a visionary who wanted to be "Mr. Newcastle" (wait, I thought this was Durham?). It looks like suicide at first: he threw himself off a bridge onto a pile of trash - but it's soon seen that he was dead before he fell. It's looking like murder.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Friday, May 8, 2015

Inspector George Gently - Season 7 - Breathe In the Air

My review of last week's episode: Gently With the Women

It's not really a proper George Gently series until George battles evil in high places (last week, it was only mid-places). Now he must cope not only (as per usual) with corruption in the ranks, but the vast bulk of corporate crime, as well as his bickering subordinates.

After a brisk morning run, George dashes off to investigate the suspicious suicide of Valerie Cullen. All seems straightforward, but George isn't convinced. He starts to delve into her past. She's a doctor, suffered from depression, and was estranged from her smarmy husband - also a doctor. Eventually, it becomes apparent that Valerie had been investigating health violations at an old factory - a fact which many people resented.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

Phew. Excuse me for a minute while I let my brain settle down. This movie is full of explosions, but it is also a thinky movie. This is a very thinky movie.

In fact, it tends to think out loud. New villain Ultron (voiced by James Spader) spends so much time monologuing that it's a wonder it takes the Avengers so long to defeat him (at least fifteen minutes longer than it should have.)

Ultron is the brainchild of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), genius, playboy, billionaire, sudden techno-philanthropist-Utopian. Tony's been spending his free time creating an artificial intelligence which will establish lasting peace. Oddly enough, he's keeping the plan to himself, resisting the urge to brag. When he does tell Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), he stresses the need to conceal "Ultron" from the other Avengers. They'd merely argue about it and by then it would be too late to succeed.

Ultron is the end-game, he explains. This program will put the Avengers out of a job, and create Utopian harmony. Inevitably, something goes wrong, and in trying to create a perfect world, Tony creates the very thing which will destroy it. Ultron escapes into the internet, respawning wherever need be, to enforce his new order and attempt to exterminate the Avengers.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Best of March/April 2015

It's a toss-up for March, but I'm going to have to give it to The Kid Brother over Amelie (which I also loved.) If you think you don't like silent movies, you obviously haven't seen this. Made in 1927, it stars the third member of the silent comedy trio: Harold Lloyd (we now remember Keaton and Chaplin, but Lloyd is mostly forgotten.) It's a hilarious, clever, heart-warming little film which has aged incredibly well. Watch here.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Episode 16: Love...Twue Love...

How the Patriarch met the Matriarch, the Doors Theory of a Happy Marriage, Colin Farrell's eyebrows, The Love Boat, and romantic movies: Pride and Prejudice, Our Mutual Friend, The New World, A Room With a View, and The Painted Veil.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Inspector George Gently - Series 7 - Gently With the Women Review

The new series starts off on a somber note as a woman is violently attacked in the shadows beneath Durham Cathedral. It is pitch dark in the alleys by the river, but the glowing face of the enormous edifice looms against the night sky, passive, silent, immovable, uncaring, unhearing.

Meanwhile, George Gently is in the ring, attempting to keep up with a younger colleague. Martin Shaw, at 70, still looks like he can throw a mean punch, but George's age is catching up with him. He is suddenly KO’d, letting a punch fly right past his guard, and wakes up in the doctor’s office. He's none too happy about the fuss, but she is insistent that this may be more than a mere fluke.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Episode 15: The Sound of Movies

John Wayne as a Dickens character, the end of the Patriarch's presidential career, Marco Rubio's love of rap, and the portrayal of the South in film. Also, we breakdown the new Star Wars and Batman vs. Superman trailers, and talk about movie scores, including The New World, Midnight Run, and Empire of the Sun.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Jonathan Crombie - Gilbert Blythe

If you were a teenaged, female Christian homeschooler in the 90′s or early 2000′s, it’s pretty much inevitable that you had a crush on Gilbert Blythe at some point (right after Mr. Darcy).

I recently fell in love with Gil all over again as I introduced the films to my little sister. The stories were unusual enough to feature a strong heroine who didn’t really need a romance to make her life interesting. When romance was there, it was secondary to the story of Anne's many harebrained adventures. Gil - and Jonathan Crombie, by extension - was gracious enough to never chew the scenery, never try to show anyone up, never try and be the leading man. He was more than happy to play second fiddle to the extraordinary Megan Follows. But in this graciousness, his gentle influence on theatrical, fiery Anne resulted in one of my all-time favorite romances.

 RIP Jonathan Crombie (1966-2015).

Star Wars Trailer Breakdown - Good and Bad

It was one of the great shocks of my young life to find out Darth Vader's true identity. I followed my dad around, badgering him with questions. How could that be? Anakin is dead! He's not dead? Obi-Wan said he was. He LIED? Why didn't Obi-Wan tell Luke the truth? I thought Obi-Wan was a good guy!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Episode 14: In the Beginning was the Word

Ordet. We talk about faith, miracles, theology, what we'd say to Alistair Begg if we met him, Hugh Jackman as Paul, William Goldman's review of Saving Private Ryan, and the hoot level of movies. What is a hoot level? Listen to find out. Also: the Patriarch discusses his bid for the presidency.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

High Noon - Movie Review

Until recently, I thought all Westerns consisted of a simple, boring formula - a man, a gun, a frontier. I was wrong. All Westerns do consist of a simple formula - a man, a gun, a frontier - but it's far from boring. Like the murder mystery (a genre of which I am a devotee), the formula has been buffed and polished till it nearly loses its originality, but given the clearly defined parameters, it can be spun into infinite varieties.

For instance, you have The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance which is a Western - but with ideas and a cameo from George Bailey. You have The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which is a Western - but with black humor, eccentric music, and an edgy moral ambiguity setting it apart from the more stolid John Wayne fare. You have The Man From Snowy River which is a Western - but in Australia. You have Life on Mars which is a Western - but in 1980s Manchester. The formula is effective, but far more flexible than I imagined.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Episode 13: Saving Steven Spielberg

This week, we talk about the themes and influence of Steven Spielberg's filmography. What's the Spielberg Kid? Fathers, children, and innocence lost and regained. Is the Patriarch a hipster? Also: God's Not Dead as done by Spielberg and Indiana Jones as done by Malick. Find out in Episode 13 of The Pilgrim's Podcast.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Episode 12: One Podcast More!

Les Miserables. We bring on Twitter anon Tacitus to talk Rogue One and the upcoming Star Wars franchise. Also: Les Mis: the book, Victor Hugo, revolutions, melodrama, law and grace, and why the Patriarch was never in a boy band.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Our Favorite Irish Movies

In honor of that Roman British guy who was kidnapped by Irish pirates, let's celebrate some Irish culture! So without further ado, here are our favorite Irish movies, in honor of St. Patrick's Day:

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Thursday, March 5, 2015

2014 Top Movies & TV

Top 15 Movies/Top 5 TV Shows

of 2014

Last year's list

Yes, I know I'm late. Since it was over 2014 that I became a real film geek, I managed to see tons of terrific movies - but only a few stuck out as solid, all-time favorites. I mention them first.

Best of January/February 2015

Gravity had obvious problems. A bombastic soundtrack, little character development, and a penchant for dramatic, gratuitous destruction. But due to some terrific visuals, Gravity managed to sweep me away. I congratulate the main character: space. And boy, George Clooney really is a man of constant sorrow.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance feels like somebody's fan fiction come true - drop Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne down in a Western town, and watch them be themselves. But it's far more than just a rote Western. John Ford sets the story on the brink of civilization, as impending statehood threatens the both the violence of outlaws and the wild, free ways of independent cowboys. What is the difference between the two? That's the question this movie asks. My review.