Film critic David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) calls The Matrix Revolutions "an overstuffed maelstrom of noise and violence, a sound and fury signifying nothing."

DiCerto's review was the one of the first in a series of nay-saying reviews that were posted early on the Internet. He continues, "Though the Wachowskis rein in the existential banter in this third go-round, the stylized carnage remains at full throttle. And while the franchise continues to push the envelope of technical wizardry, it's in inverse proportion to narrative and character development."

Insufficient narrative? Poor character development? With all that filmmakers Larry and Andy Wachowski have to wrap up in this, the conclusion of their trilogy, you would think it would be time for some aggressive storytelling and some answers.

After all, The Matrix Reloaded—the middle chapter of this sci-fi trilogy that was released earlier this year—left us with several cliffhangers. The messianic hero Neo (Keanu Reeves) has discovered not only that the machines enslaving humanity were ruled by a wicked "Architect," but he has also begun to suspect that he might not be humanity's prophesied savior at all. Worse, Neo's been knocked into a sort of coma, drifting somewhere between the Matrix and the "real" machine-dominated world. His lover Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) is anxious. The faith of his most devoted supporter Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) has suffered a devastating blow. And the malevolent "program" called Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) has discovered a way to infect the "real world" by taking over the body of Neo's colleague Bane (Ian Bliss); now Smith seems likely to cause problems for both reality and the Matrix. All the while, powerful squid-like machines called Sentinels drill through the earth, closing in on the city of Zion where the resistance is mustering what strength they can for a final stand against the enemy.

Regardless of the battle's outcome, many critics believe it is the audience that loses. Mainstream critics are lining up to debate whether this closing chapter is a success or failure. And Christian media critics are in disagreement as well.

Movieguide's critic is glad to see the movie "returns to its basic salvation story, reflecting on the influence of, and the longing for, a messianic savior. The movie supports strong values such as truth, love, hope, faith, and peace." But that is not enough. "Regrettably, Neo is a deeply flawed messianic figure who is not only not divine but who also has deeply sinful traits as seen in the previous movies, unlike the true Messiah Jesus Christ. The myth is presented with much apparent philosophical and theological confusion. Pop philosophy barnacles weigh the story down, instead of lifting it up, and include references to existential, blind faith and an all-too-human messiah, as well as very pointed profanities."

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Holly McClure (Crosswalk) calls it "an entertaining movie with thrill-a-minute action, creative visual effects and a wild and interesting ride."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables), who found the second film "weighted down and a bit pretentious, lost in its own patchwork quilt of philosophical and spiritual conceits," says the narrative in the third film is "far stronger and much more interesting to watch." He also praises the special effects. And he concludes, "Revolutions revisits four main themes, all of which are elements of life that God emphasizes as being particularly important: The energizing power of love; the activating power of faith or believing; the strengthening power of hope; and the God-given right of choice."

Speaking as a moviegoer rather underwhelmed by The Matrix and thoroughly bored by The Matrix Reloaded, I'm quite surprised to find myself rather impressed with Revolutions. The first two were overloaded with ponderous talk and characters that showed little depth or emotion. Plus, all of the speechifying, confused spirituality, and hodge-podge philosophy seemed to be leading to an altogether baffling conclusion.

But Revolutions defied all of my expectations. Suddenly the characters seem like human beings with depth and emotion, a sense of passion for protecting what is good, and a willingness to suffer great loss for what they believe in. And while the spirituality of the series is still rather complicated and ambiguous, throwing around an encyclopedia of religious imagery and vocabulary, the narrative is drawn closer and closer to the affirmation that humanity needs a savior willing to put his life on the line in order to bridge the gap between the fallen world of the flesh and the redemption available from the Divine.

The cast, given bigger challenges than before, acquit themselves admirably. As the malevolent Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) who has been the series' most entertaining element since it began, outdoes himself, making the most of every slimy line, going over the top at last to become one of the great villains of movie history. Spectacular animation, dazzling cinematography, visceral action scenes that feel like human beings in a struggle rather than a video game, and a soundtrack that abandons the series' signature heavy metal for something more traditionally epic—all of these things contribute to an altogether superior science-fiction film experience.

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Viewers should be warned: These characters cuss intensely and often behave in less-than-admirable ways. The film earns its hard R-rating, and it is far too intense for young viewers. But this movie is clearly the work of seekers who, while they may not affirm Christ as the answer, are finally admitting through this narrative that they never had the answers, and their story becomes one of longing for the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Columnist Terry Mattingly takes a more negative view of the Matrix phenomenon. Last week, he wrote disdainfully about the way the series has been celebrated in spite of its shoddy craftsmanship and the behavior of its originators. "It matters little that [the filmmakers] veered into Star Wars limbo in Reloaded, sinking into a swamp of linguistics and logic while striving to explain the visual mysteries of The Matrix. Few acolytes blinked when Larry Wachowski left his wife, hooked up with a dominatrix and, newspapers reported, began taking hormones to prepare for a sex-change operation. Millions will flock to theaters anyway."

And regarding the hope that the trilogy will come together as a meaningful whole, Mattingly writes: "Anyone seeking one coherent set of answers has got the wrong trilogy."

Another kind of Revolution—and this one is "a must-see"

The other big screen Revolution in theatres this week—The Revolution Will Not Be Televised—was made almost by accident.

In 2002, Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain, two documentarians from Ireland, happened to be in Venezuela working on a film about the country's democratically elected governor Hugo Chavez when a political coup was attempted. For 48 intense hours, they documented the violent uprising, and the things their cameras captured have provoked film critics to describe their movie as though it is an edge-of-your-seat action flick. One of the most intriguing elements of their discoveries suggests that the CIA may have been involved in the failed coup.

The United States government supporting the overthrow of a democratically elected governor? It sounds scandalous, but moviegoers are encouraged to look at the footage and think for themselves.

The film has achieved enthusiastic responses from the audiences at the recent Chicago International Film Festival, taking home the Silver Hugo award for best documentary feature. As one critic says in his review, "Sometimes the best photojournalism comes from being in the right place at the right time."

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Heralding it as an important and riveting film, mainstream critics (including Roger Ebert) are heaping superlatives on the picture. Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader) writes, "It proves again that the best documentaries currently outshine Hollywood features as the most watchable, energizing, and relevant movies around." And Scott Foundas (Variety) calls it "a superior example of fearless filmmakers in exactly the right place at the right time."

Religious press critics are just beginning to discover the film. This week, J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) writes, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is heroic journalism and explosive filmmaking. The movie is incredibly powerful. The film is clearly a case of being in the right place at the right time, but Bartley and O'Briain have also edited their footage for maximum effect. It is absolutely riveting and will be an entertaining eye-opener for both the novice in world affairs and the seasoned observer. The revolution will not be televised. Fortunately, it was filmed and an amazing film it is. Absolutely a must see."

Nutty, naive North Pole resident storms the Big Apple in Elf

Elf, which opens this weekend, is not your average family holiday movie. While it gives in to typical sentimentalism at the end, for most of its 95-minute running time it is a charming adrenaline rush of comedy. Watching it, I caught a glimpse of how Ron Howard's ill-conceived How the Grinch Stole Christmas might have been better. Elf does more with very little than the Grinch did with far too much.

Please note: This is not a Gospel-centered Christmas story. It takes place in the realm of traditional holiday myths about Santa, reindeer and elves, not the world of shepherds, Hallelujah choruses, and true salvation. While it's rather bland as storytelling goes, it remains clearly a fantasy, one that tells a formulaic tale about unconditional love, the value of childlike wonder, the importance of finding one's place in life, and the rewards of having faith in things unseen. The creativity and comedy in Elf give it enough life and laughs to earn it a recommendation.

The first half of the film is hilarious and surprisingly endearing. It tells the story of Buddy (Will Ferrell), a grown man who works as a toymaker with Santa's elves at the North Pole, thinking all the time that he too is an elf. Buddy doesn't realize that he was born elsewhere, or that his real family lives in Manhattan. An accident "delivered" him to the North Pole when he was an infant, and jolly old Saint Nick (Ed Asner), unsure what to do with the baby, handed him over to the sullen, stammering Papa Elf (the perfectly cast Bob Newhart) for an education and a job. And now, Buddy's an enthusiastic part of the team, even if he is beginning to wonder why his stature is so disproportionate to his peers.

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When Buddy learns, finally, the reason that he stands out from the crowd, and discovers the explanation for his lack of elf-like talents, he sets off to find his real family. He arrives in New York and marches right into the office of his father, a Scrooge-like children's lit publisher (James Caan.) Needless to say, his arrival is not exactly welcomed, and the ensuing trials are traumatic for dear old Dad, baffling for the big "boy," and a laugh-riot for audiences.

In spite of the outrageous premise, Ferrell's performance is so irresistible and likeable that we end up happy to suspend our disbelief, even when he brings that childlike whimsy into the middle of a surprisingly realistic Manhattan. Wait until you see him ignore Papa Elf's advice about bubble gum, or his first experiences with crosswalks, rotating doors, or escalators. His courtship of a wide-eyed beauty (Zooey Deschanel) seems doomed to failure, but it's surprising how much chemistry this overgrown child and his disillusioned date discover. Buddy's simplistic views of life, in which people's names are either on the Nice or the Naughty List, make for many memorable confrontations—his first encounter with a department store Santa may be the year's funniest scene.

The North Pole episodes are also a delight. Director John Favreau cleverly incorporates his human cast with the backdrops and puppets of those beloved Rankin-Bass Christmas television classics like Santa Claus Is Coming to Town and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Even the old snowman narrator, formerly voiced by Burl Ives, makes an appearance. This makes for a unique collage of environments, in which Favreau makes use of some of the same forced-perspective methods that Peter Jackson employed so well to make men tower over hobbits.

Parents may groan as their kids clamor for a trip to the shopping mall for yet another disposable Christmas matinee. But fortunately for families, Elf is anything but a bore. Its flimsy Scrooge-redemption story doesn't have the weight that it should, and the crisis that causes the film's frenzied finale feels more like a chore than an inspired resolution. But Ferrell makes this fun and frivolous film worthwhile.

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Movieguide's critic is disappointed. "This cute, funny Christmas comedy has, regrettably, no mention of the Christ of Christmas."

There is indeed something hollow about a Christ-less holiday. But do we really want a fairy tale about elves and flying reindeer to draw in the real-world truth of Christ's birth in Bethlehem? Mainstream critics are generally pleased, some going so far as to declare it a "holiday classic." Next week, Film Forum will feature the responses of other Christian film critics.

Brother Bearbothers Christian critics

Brother Bear is supposedly going to be the last animated feature film produced through Disney's traditional method of hand-drawn cel animation. According to film critics, both in the mainstream and religious press, this is a rather unsensational conclusion to the legacy.

The film is set in the Pacific Northwest where a boy named Kenai finds himself transformed by "the Great Spirit" into a bear. Kenai hates bears. But as he gets to know his fuzzy peers, he learns a lot about bear life and comes to appreciate animal behavior. During his quest to regain his human status, he encounters a wide variety of creatures, and learns that the lives of human beings and animals are of equal value.


Michael Medved (Crosswalk) says the film's message includes "uncomfortably pagan, New Age elements—with its emphasis on the interchangeability and equal value of human and animal souls. Do we really want the kids in the audience … to learn that a beast's life carries at least as much significance and satisfaction as a person's? The movie's surprising twist at its conclusion even suggests the superiority of non-human forms of life—an outlook that owes far more to PETA than to the Pentateuch." And yet he concludes that the film "offers abundant appeal to the family audience."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "The animation … is at times spectacular. The characters are also well defined and generate sufficient warmth and emotion. Where I found Brother Bear lacking was in the politically correct message woven into the story itself."

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) says, "While I appreciate a message of 'unity' in any movie for children … I resent the subliminal message that is in this movie. It confuses kids and perpetuates a belief that man is not superior to animals but that we are all just the same."

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Bob Waliszewski (Plugged In) says, "Brother Bear is no Lion King or Monsters Inc. It's more like Jungle Book 2—easily forgotten and bearly worth the time."

Mainstream critics are only mildly entertained; few of them find Bear to be anything special. Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) says, "It's ambitious in its artistry … but it doesn't have the zowie factor of The Lion King or Finding Nemo, and is sweet rather than exciting. Children and their parents are likely to relate on completely different levels, the adults connecting with the transfer of souls from man to beast, while the kids are excited by the adventure stuff."

Critics debate whether or not casting choices mar The Human Stain

When Robert Benton decided to direct an adaptation of Phillip Roth's novel The Human Stain, he faced a challenge. The story is complicated, jumping forward and backward in time, giving us two characters suffering extreme—and extremely different—crises.

The story involves a classics professor named Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) who, late in his career, loses his job for making a politically incorrect and inflammatory remark in class. As his career crumbles, tragedy strikes in other ways as well. Traumatized, he stumbles into an ill-advised affair with a much younger woman named Faunia (Nicole Kidman). Faunia has serious troubles of her own, and soon her angry, unstable, dangerous husband (Ed Harris) is chasing the two of them. As Silk narrates his strange and painful past to a novelist (Gary Sinise), he moves slowly past his tendency to seek solace in sex and academic accomplishment, and finds one last chance at true love, compassion, understanding, and … at long last … honesty about his identity.

You can feel the filmmakers and cast straining to portray such a complex story in two hours, especially as the narrative asks us to accept some rather implausible things. But, in my opinion, the film is a rewarding achievement, one of the year's most soul-searching dramas. The cinematography is excellent, but not so showy that it becomes a distraction. The script admirably distills many varied plotlines into heavy doses of intense and believable dialogue. And thanks to the powerful, complex, and intimate performances of Hopkins, Kidman, and Harris, doing some of the best work of their careers, we are reminded just how shallow and simple most Hollywood melodramas really are. In a time when movies aren't telling enough good stories, it's refreshing to see one that tries to encompass a bit too much.

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I must include a caution, however. The story does involve two relationships in which hasty, foolish fornication is a factor. The intensity of these scenes and the nudity involved should give each viewer pause to consider whether the film is appropriate viewing. It is possible for an artist to deal with these themes maturely and appropriately, and it is equally possible for a viewer to allow such work to lead him or her into temptation. The Human Stain is one of those films that demands discernment. (A discussion between Christian film critics about the proper and improper use of nudity in film is available here.)

As almost any critic will admit, The Human Stain cannot be discussed without spoiling one of its central surprises. But fortunately, the surprise is not the point of the movie. I will not spoil it for you here, but if you read any of the linking reviews, you will probably stumble across it.

My full review is at Looking Closer.

Gerri Pare (Catholic News Service) says, "Meyer's screenplay is sometimes curiously flat. Nonetheless, stellar performances … won't allow viewer interest to flag. And, despite its erotic content, at its core it is a tale of compassion gradually transcending lust."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) is dissatisfied. "The Human Stain should serve as proof that not even the finest actors are capable of playing every role. In this film containing so many secrets and lies, the one glaring truth which should be obvious to all is that Anthony Hopkins has been badly miscast."

Judging the film more harshly, Movieguide says the movie has "a horrid worldview … a portrayal of the empty human heart, void of a savior. Christians will remember it as just another film about the emptiness of life without God."

J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) calls it "a particularly repulsive version of Oscar bait. The movie … moves at a glacial pace. The gratuitous nudity on display … should make feminists everywhere red with anger. The movie largely wastes the talents of Sinise … Harris, and Kerry Washington. And the score … is bald manipulation at its worst."

Mainstream critics also debated whether or not Hopkins and Kidman were right for the roles. Andrew Sarris (The New York Observer) puts up an impassioned defense of the film, saying, "The movie is fully worthy of the book, and will reach many people who might not have enjoyed the delightful experience of gliding through Mr. Roth's trenchant and zestful prose on the human condition." Michael Wilmington (Chicago Tribune) says, "The Human Stain is superbly crafted in all departments. It's the sort of movie—intelligent, humane, well-acted and based on rich source material—that we don't get often enough and therefore sometimes don't appreciate enough."

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But Anthony Lane (The New Yorker) describes it as "an unlikely love affair, performed by two actors so remorselessly skilled that, by the end, you can't see the love for the skill." And Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader) writes, "Benton allows the cast … to shine, but I was left wondering why such a very literary construction as this needed to be made into a movie."

Is Meg Ryan's new movie pornography or 'an ambitious and important film'?

Director Jane Campion (Portrait of a Lady) has explored several stories about women finding identity, strength, and purpose in many different circumstances. In these journeys—including The Piano and Holy Smoke!—she sometimes examines the role of sexuality in the characters' lives.

Her new film In the Cut is drawing a lot of attention for a couple of reasons. 1) This is Campion's first thriller, and most critics are quick to declare that she does not have a flair for the genre. 2) She has cast Meg Ryan in the lead, and the role demands that "America's sweetheart" portray a woman prone to dangerous decisions and foolish sexual behavior. Ryan plays a writing instructor who falls into an aggressive sexual affair with a policeman (Mark Ruffalo of You Can Count on Me.) And, as is the case in so many thrillers, the cop seems very likely to be the killer.

But the story fails to interest most religious press critics. In fact, the film has left some of them furious.

David DiCerto (CNS) calls it "an excruciatingly dreadful erotic thriller. You know you are in trouble when you are watching a serial-killer movie and midway through the film you find yourself hoping that the female lead is the psycho's next victim. Thanks to a torpid, unremittingly cheerless script … Campion's urban-noir tale suffocates under the weight of its own self-importance, quickly plummeting into a soporific fog of pretension and voyeuristic vulgarity."

Movieguide calls it "a pretentious post-feminist flick. The ads and reviews describe In the Cut as an erotic thriller, but it's more like sleazy softcore pornography. The movie should not have been released at all."

Michael Medved (Crosswalk) argues, "The frustrating failure of this feeble film … proves that Ms. Campion never deserved the acclaim she received for her previous work. In the Cut remains a grim, sleazy, nihilistic, morbidly messed up film about grim, sleazy, nihilistic and morbidly messed up people."

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Michael Leary (Matthews House Project) analyzes the film more closely. He concedes that "Ryan doesn't seem up to the emotional challenge. Ultimately the film falls flat in her hands." But he adds that the rest of the cast members "all fit perfectly into Campion's evocative atmosphere." He is also a bit put off by Campion's elaborate visual style: "At times this complexity is overwhelming and threatens to overtake the story itself." But he takes the film seriously, exploring its themes and questions, and examining its place in Campion's repertoire.

Mainstream critics, both men and women, are divided over the film, but most—including Lawrence Toppman (Charlotte Observer)—are unimpressed. A few resist the onslaught of criticism and step up to defend it, including Manohla Dargis (Los Angeles Times) who calls it "astonishingly beautiful … the most maddening and imperfect great movie of the year." And Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle) insists that it's "unquestionably the most ambitious and important film to come along in months. In time … In the Cut will be understood as a near-great achievement."

Journalistic ethics smashed in Shattered Glass

In the late 90s, Stephen Glass was a writer for The New Republic who fabricated more than half of the stories he contributed. Director Billy Ray has now made a critically acclaimed movie about the deception, and the release seems all the more relevant in the wake of the recent Jason Blair scandal at The New York Times. The film stars Hayden Christensen as the devious reporter, Peter Sarsgaard as the man who exposed him, and Steve Zahn (Out of Sight) as an Internet reporter who presses the question of Glass's veracity.

J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) writes, "Shattered Glass will draw inevitable comparisons to All the President's Men. Both are true-life journalism stories that surmount the obstacle of familiarity to create highly interesting and imminently watchable movies. Both star two up-and-coming actors, ones who will be fixtures in Hollywood for decades to come. And both are fantastic."

But David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) calls it a "middling biopic. The film, though full of lofty ideals, ultimately proves an emotionally unsatisfying defense of journalistic integrity. While the film plays like a modern Greek tragedy, it offers scant insight … into what prompted its flawed protagonist to indulge in such irrational and unconscionable dishonesty."

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Most mainstream critics are unable to resist the temptation to compare Hayden Christensen's performance with his much-criticized turn in Star Wars, Episode Two: Attack of the Clones, but most of them are applauding the film as "one of the season's most thoughtful offerings,""an astute and surprisingly gripping drama."

More reviews ofMystic River, Radio, and Veronica Guerin

Reviewing Mystic River, Barbara Nicolosi, Director of the Christian film writing program Act One: Writing for Hollywood, says in her blog that critics and Christian friends have exhorted her to see the film because it is "important," "thoughtful," and "provocative." After finally seeing the film, she responds: "I'm sitting here shaking my head wondering, has everybody lost their minds?!?! It is a sad squandering of an incredibly talented cast, in a project that ultimately comes down to the thesis: bad things that happen can screw you up. Mystic River … will add nothing to your spiritual journey on the plus side. On the minus side, it will make you more scared of your neighbor and more paranoid for your kids."

Other critics are debating the merits of Radio, some arguing it is an artful and powerful film, others calling it manipulative, poorly conceived, and sentimental. Gareth Von Kallenbach (Phantom Tollbooth) says, "While Radio is at times overly sentimental, the fine work by Harris and the Oscar-worthy performance of Gooding Jr. make the film well worth seeing. Radio is a moving film and a triumph for Cuba Gooding Jr. who shows that his first Oscar was not a fluke and that he is very gifted and capable actor."

Megan Basham (RazorMouth) gives it an "A." And she has a few choice words to those who dare criticize it. "Radio is goodhearted, it never becomes … overly sentimental. [It] treats issues of race with a dignity that is all too rare on the big screen. So don't believe the cynical, oh-so self-righteously intellectual reviews you may read in other publications."

J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth) makes some impassioned (and not at all "self-righteous") arguments. "Of Radio's many problems, its view of the disabled is the most glaring. Why is it that, in the movies, the learning disabled/mentally ill are either homicidal maniacs or cuddly, friendly folk put on this earth to amuse us? Radio obviously fits into the latter category, and Cuba Gooding, Jr.'s antics are designed to bring chortles from the audience, though it's the sort of patronizing laughter that Coach Jones chastises his team for." He adds other complaints, including that it "lacks any kind of conflict," and that the music serves in "manipulating the audience when absolutely no manipulation is needed."

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Another Hollywood release Veronica Guerin continues to draw flack from Christian film critics. Stef Loy (Matthews House Project) says the movie's problem "is not in the story, but the way in which it's told. [Director] Joel Schumacher … convolutes the simple narrative by trying to pull too much from his bag of movie tricks. Cate Blanchett does what she can to rescue Schumacher from complete embarrassment, bringing, as always, a commanding performance to the forefront of our attention. But it is too little, too late."

Lord of the Ringsfinale has readers counting the days

In two weeks, The Two Towers: Extended Edition DVDs will at last be available to the masses of clamoring Tolkien fans. And in just over a month, Peter Jackson's trilogy will conclude with the release of The Return of the King. Last week I asked readers about their concerns regarding the way Jackson is bringing the books to the screen. Responses varied from complete enthusiasm to murmurs of dissent.

David Fisher writes, "I was at a party the other night … I had no idea there were so many closet geeks in the world, but the talk got around to Return of the King, and two months in advance, the anxiety and enthusiasm was palpable. I don't know that I've ever seen such advance excitement and buzzfor a filmthat cuts across gender, age and race. I am sure these films will live for a very long time and be remembered down the road as an integral part of the culture of the beginning of this century."

Elizabeth Rambo of Campbell University writes, "With very, very few exceptions, a movie version is not going to match up to the expectations raised by a really good novel, especially a beloved one like Lord of the Rings. However, I think Jackson has done the best job possible, and certainly better than I ever expected. I'm eagerly anticipating the final film."

Phillip Hardy says, "Yes, I have two tickets to Trilogy Tuesday—one for myself, one for my 10 year old son. Prior to my son's current fascination with Lord of the Rings, his main interest was rap music, including several artists who could hardly be worse role models for a young boy.To see his interest shift from the bottom drawer of pop culture to classic literature filled with heroes and courage and good vs. evil has been absolutely thrilling to me.Even my son can see the allegorical nature of certain aspects of Lord of the Rings (despite Tolkien's claims to the contrary), which has led to a number of wonderful spiritual and 'life-lesson' discussions between he and I. Bring on Return Of The King!"

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But some harbor very different feelings. "Am I the only one who's dreading the final film in the trilogy?" asks Gina Dalfonzo in a column at Breakpoint. "It's the portrayal of Frodo that worries me. Heroic characters are rare enough these days in literature, and even rarer in the movies. The contemporary movie industry operates largely on the assumption that we're searching for deeply flawed heroes to inspire us with visions of mediocrity and disappointment. But we get enough of that in real life, and it only makes us want—and need—to see examples of true, Christ-like nobility and goodness. So when you've got such a figure ready-made for your movie adaptation, it's a good idea to present it as faithfully as possible—and remind us what heroism really is. Got that, Mr. Jackson?"

John Pavelko is also skeptical. "I tried very hard to understand Jackson's distortion, er … adaptation of Tolkien's story to the movie screen, but every article that I read has failed to convince me of the merits of his rationale.To name a few appalling switches, I find no trace of an angry Elrond in Lord of the Rings; Frodo's 'death' from the sting of Shelob would have made a great conclusion to the second movie; Isengard was not the second tower; Faramir never wanted the ring. I will still go see the third movie in the theater and buy the expanded version, but my enthusiasm evaporated with the second movie."

DaVinci Codeinspires ABC so-called "news" special

In case you missed it, the popular novel The DaVinci Code, which Ron Howard is set to direct as a feature film, became the basis for a television "news" special on ABC this week. (Film Forum has been following this developing project.) The meeting of historians, writers, spiritual leaders and mis-leaders gathered to discuss the veracity of the hypothesis offered as historical fact in the novel: that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, that they had children, and that this sacred order of Christ's descendants were being kept secret by a spooky and clandestine group that included Leonardo DaVinci.

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As you might guess, the result was something of a joke. Virginia Heffernan (New York Times) described the special as "a woolly and underthought treatment of the religious sophistry in The Da Vinci Code … both amusingly audacious and profoundly irritating. Ms. Vargas asks a series of questions that begin with, 'What if we told you,' which suggests that the ideas that follow are being proposed so that viewers might entertain them as beliefs—and thus be entertained, while not informed. This is a curious approach for network news."

Next week: A conversation with Todd Komarnicki: producer (Elf), director, writer, believer. Reviews of Love Actually, and more reactions to The Matrix Revolutions and Elf.