Reviews for Todd Field's new film Little Children are spreading farther and wider than movie itself.

While its appearances in film festivals and special critics' screenings have created quite a buzz, New Line Cinema is not doing much to promote the film just yet, and currently it's showing in just 32 theaters nationwide. That's unfortunate. Little Children is likely to earn a long list of Oscar nominations—if more people get chance to see it. Actors Kate Winslet and Jackie Earle Haley—and Field himself—all contribute to this film in award-worthy ways.

But this all sounds strangely familiar. New Line Cinema botched the distribution and promotion of two other heavy-hitters in the last couple of years—The New World and Birth—and thus, some superlative performances and breathtaking cinematography weren't discovered by a large audience until the DVDs arrived many months later. Something's broken that needs to be fixed.

Whatever happens, moviegoers who can reach one of those 32 screens will witness one of the most accomplished American feature films of recent years. Working from a screenplay that he and Tom Perrota adapted from Perrota's novel, Field paints a deeply disturbing picture of a cozy New England neighborhood in which everyone is pursuing happiness in misguided ways.

This is Field's second film about the reckless pursuit of satisfaction. The first, In the Bedroom (2001), reminded us that our desire to judge and punish evildoers can easily lead us into evils of our own. Similarly, Little Children shows what can happen when we respond to disappointment and longing with childish recklessness.

But the movie will be too disturbing for some, because it is unflinchingly truthful about sins such as lust, sexual infidelity, and pedophilia. And while Perrota's story is profoundly moral, Field brings it to life in illustrations so explicit that some viewers may be led into temptation themselves.

My full review is at Christianity Today Movies.

Brett McCracken (Looking Closer) says, "The film's strongest virtue is that vice, at the end of the day, does not prove to be as romantic or fulfilling as anything else. Suburban life may be mundane and—at times—soul crushing, but sometimes you just have to grow up and deal with it."

Mainstream critics are raving about it for all kinds of reasons.

Catch a Fire "ignites" desire for justice

Catch a Fire is the latest film from director Phillip Noyce, who brought us Patriot Games and The Quiet American, and it gives the talented young actor Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher, Pieces of April) his most demanding role yet.

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Fire illustrates the troubled journey of Patrick Chamusso, a black man who endured persecution from the oppressive South African government in the early '80s, and then went on to participate in a violent uprising.

Christian film critics are cheering for the inspiring message of Chamusso's story, but they're not so impressed with the movie itself.

Christopher Lyon (Plugged In) says, "It's a powerful story well told … [The filmmakers do] much more than just make a grand political statement. Or just provide a two-hour history lesson. … [I]t registers on a personal level. … Catch a Fire ignites our God-given desires for justice, equality, freedom and peace."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "The film is an intelligent, if unevenly compelling, truth-based drama. … [F]rom an emotional standpoint … Catch a Fire never ignites." But he adds, "Luke continues to establish himself as one of the best young actors today."

Most mainstream critics are turning in positive reviews, but a few opinions—such as that published in The New York Times—describe it as a mess.

Conversations: Glimmers of truth

Based on the bestselling inspirational books by Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations With God dramatizes Walsch's journey through loss and trial into a spiritual awakening.

With Henry Czerny in the lead role, Conversations charts how Walsch ended up living among the homeless in southern Oregon, where he says he was visited by God.

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) describes the problems, contradictions, and heresies evident in the bestselling book. Regarding the film, he says, "Czerny gives a credible and poignantly human performance that overcomes screenwriter Eric DelaBarre's uneven script. … The books aside, this movie, while clearly containing ideas incompatible with Christian theology, nevertheless imparts a sincere message about God's unconditional love and abiding presence that should resonate with Catholic viewers."

At his brand-new website, Greg Wright (Past the Popcorn) says director Stephen Simon "wrings a heartfelt, warm, and convincing performance out of Henry Czerny, whose ré sumé in no way suggests that he's capable of carrying a film as he does here. … And fortunately, Eric DelaBarre's script doesn't get overly preachy. … To the extent that anyone is interested in artistic fare that challenges spiritual complacency, Conversations with God could be a welcome, if perhaps too-gently couched, starting place."

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Mainstream critics don't look likely to become Walsch's disciples.

Don't see Saw III

There's little point in summarizing Saw III, the latest film serving up mindless violence and carnage for audiences with an appetite for bloodletting—an appetite that, unfortunately, drove it to No. 1 at the box office last week, thus guaranteeing that Hollywood will continue to, ahem, churn out these gore-fests.

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "The third time is definitely not the charm with Saw III. … The film has new players, but the same gory excess, as director Darren Lynn Bousman invents more grisly ways to shock audiences increasingly desensitized to brutality."

Steven Isaac (Plugged In) writes, "Commingling the message of forgiveness with endless scenes of torture and death—in the way all of the Saw movies do—is at best schizophrenic, and at worst diabolical."

Mainstream critics are more creative in condemning this third round of carnage than the filmmakers were in making the movie.

Scissorsdoesn't cut it

Augusten Burroughs' memoir Running with Scissors sold a lot of books, but is the movie worthwhile?

Scissors takes us through the troubled life of a young teenager who suffers the consequences of his various parents' and guardians' misguided choices. Augusten (Joseph Cross) is given up by his mother (Annette Bening) to be raised by her psychiatrist (Bryan Cox). And that's just the beginning of his troubles.

Despite the fact that this is apparently a true story, Christian film critics think that story is too sordid for moviegoers.

Bob Hoose (Plugged In) says, "This is a vulgar, loathsome film that looks at pedophilia, homosexuality and homosexual pedophilia with the same non-judgmental attitude as its scatologically challenged Dr. Finch does. Not that anyone should expect anything less from director and writer Ryan Murphy, the man responsible for one of television's most repugnant series, Nip/Tuck."

(Infuze) says, "The laughs are inevitable, though you quickly realize that this film outlines a real person's life, thus quieting some of the hilarity of it all. … Don't come expecting comic antics, but a dark blend of humor woven into a very good film."

Mainstream critics aren't impressed, going so far as to call it "loathsome."

More reviews of recent releases

Flags of Our Fathers: Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) writes, "Tendentious voiceovers aside, Flags of Our Fathers remains a thoughtful exploration of the tensions and ironies of the cult of heroism."

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Marie Antoinette: Greg Wright (Past the Popcorn) says, "[Coppola] illustrates that Marie Antoinette's lifestyle was as natural to her—and no more excessive—than a sheep's luxuriant meal of wildflowers, or a bumblebee's wallow in a blossom's pollen. Do we criticize a lamb for being a lamb, or a bee for being a bee? … Unfortunately, the final quarter of the film, in its relative rush toward the inevitable historic conclusion of Marie's tale, seems completely out of step with the rest of the movie."