Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux)

Of Gods and Men

Brother Christian is none to happy that the liberalized Vatican guidelines don’t allow him to administer corporal punishment any longer.

(2010) True Life Drama (Sony Classics) Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Laudenbach, Jacques Herlin, Loic Pichon, Xavier Maly, Jean-Marie Frin, Abdelhafid Metalsi, Sabrina Ouazani, Abdallah Moundy, Olivier Perrier. Directed by Xavier Beauvois


Courage isn’t necessarily picking up a gun or a weapon. Sometimes it isn’t even uttering a cross word. Fighting for what you believe in takes a special type of courage, I’ll grant you but refusing to fight for it sometimes takes even more. Sometimes the greatest courage is to allow events to run their course.

In a small village in Algeria (not named in the movie but where the actual incident took place) in 1996, there was a remote Trappist Monastery made up of seven aging French monks. Although the village was completely Islamic, the monks live a serene pastoral life of raising their own crops and honey, praying and singing daily (the soundtrack is actually breathtaking with beautiful Gregorian chants), and dispensing medicine and clothing to the impoverished villages. They are not attempting to convert anyone to Catholicism, they simply do what they can to help and otherwise show their devotion to God through their simple lifestyle and their will to do good for those around them.

But the outside world isn’t necessarily a perfect place and Islamic fundamentalist violence has begun to show its ugly head. A group of Bulgarian construction workers are viciously attacked and murdered, their throats slit. Another woman is murdered for not wearing a veil. The violence is escalating throughout the country and the government is concerned for the well-being of the monks. They offer to relocate them somewhere that is at least temporarily safer.

However, Brother Christian (Wilson), the monk elected leader and spokesman of their little group, feels that their place is in the village where they can continue to do good work. The government offers them protection, volunteering to station military men at the monastery but Brother Christian believes this would be inappropriate. Despite the growing danger, he wants to stay. Not all the monks are on board with this idea, however.

Despite the fact that the monks live in harmony with the villagers and offer care free of charge, despite the high regard in which their neighbors hold them, the inevitable happens and terrorists begin to turn their keen eyes on the monastery. It soon becomes obvious that the monks are in mortal danger, with each one reacting in his own way to the prospect of their own deaths staring them in the face. The monastery’s doctor, the 70-something Brother Luc (Lonsdale) is sanguine but others are less so.

This was France’s official entry into the 2011 Foreign Language Film Oscar sweepstakes and it’s easy to see why. Not only is this beautifully filmed – the composition of the various scenes is as close to paintings as film gets – but it is beautifully acted as well. Lonsdale in particular will grab your attention; he is at turns cantankerous and serene. Wilson, best known as the flamboyant Merovingian in the Matrix trilogy, is a quiet leader who persuades rather than commands. His relationship with the village elders is based on trust and respect, and he knows the Koran as well if not better than the terrorists who quote it.

But this is not about terrorism or even death. It’s about belief and faith, and how powerful those things can be even in the face of pain and death. This is a movie that invites quiet contemplation. Much of the first part of the film depicts the daily life of the monks; it makes the second half so much more powerful because of it. American audiences might have trouble sitting through the first part but I found it to be very evocative. Who wouldn’t love a lifestyle so simple and so fulfilling?

This is a depiction of humanity both at its worst and at its best. You may recoil at the inhumanity and cruelty of men, but you will be uplifted by the courage and nobility of men as well. Catholics have taken their fair share of shots lately. This is a fictionalized version of these events but nevertheless I must confess that this movie made me prouder to be Catholic than I have been in a very long time.

WHY RENT THIS: Heartbreaking and soul-stirring. Marvelous performances all around but particularly by Lonsdale and Wilson.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Very understated.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images including one scene of devastating violence and also  bit of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Won three Cesars (the French equivalent of the Oscars) in 2011, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Lonsdale.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a featurette in which the actual monastery where these events took place is visited, and also another one in which author John W. Kiser, who wrote a book on the events, discusses the real Tibehirine monks at Merrimack College with Augustine academics.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $42.2M on an unreported production budget; this was undoubtedly a big hit.



NEXT: I’m Still Here


New Releases for the Week of April 8, 2011

April 8, 2011
Russell Brand is looking for his Ginger Rogers.



(Warner Brothers) Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner, Greta Gerwig, Luis Guzman, Nick Nolte, Geraldine James, Evander Holyfield, Christina Calph. Directed by Jason Winer

The heir to a billion dollar fortune has lived a charmed life, having every need met instantly, cared for by a tough, sensible but ultimately caring nanny. When his mother determines that he must marry in order to increase the family fortune, he is at first reluctant; he has always wanted to marry for love but hasn’t found the right girl yet. So when the right girl shows up and turns out to be a poor tour guide, he is caught in between the age-old struggle between love and money.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for alcohol use throughout, sexual content, language and some drug references)

Born To Be Wild 3D

(Warner Brothers) Morgan Freeman (narration), Dr. Barute Galdikas, Dame Daphne Sheldrick. As the interrelationship between humanity and nature becomes closer as we learn more about how our planet works, the urgency of protecting wildlife and the environment becomes greater. This movie examines several extraordinary people who take wild animals that have been orphaned and train them to survive in the wild.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: IMAX 3D

Genre: Nature Documentary

Rating: G


(Focus) Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, Jason Flemyng. A young girl, raised to be the perfect assassin by her rogue operative CIA father goes on a mission that will take her across Europe. It will also bring her face to face with her past, most of which is unknown to her and force her to re-examine her future – all the while pursued by a ruthless agency operative who has her own agenda and her own hidden secrets.

See the trailer, featurettes, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language)


(Weinstein) Freida Pinto, Hiam Abbass, Willem Dafoe, Vanessa Redgrave. A Palestinian orphan in a refugee orphanage at the emergence of the state of Israel becomes involved in the Palestinian underground resistance. Eventually she is sent to teach at another orphanage where she becomes romantically involved with a political activist.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic appeal and some violent content including a sexual assault)

Of Gods and Men

(Sony Classics) Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Lauderbach. A monastery in North Africa in the 1990s has never had any problems with their Muslim neighbors. After an Islamic fundamentalist group massacres a crew of foreign workers, tensions begin to escalate. When they are ordered to leave by their church for their own safety, they make the decision to stay despite terrible risks.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama Based on a True Story

Rating: PG-13 (for a momentary scene of startling wartime violence, some disturbing images and brief language)

Soul Surfer

(TriStar/FilmDistrict) Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, AnnaSophia Robb, Carrie Underwood. A young girl with dreams of surfing superstardom has her dreams cut short by a horrific accident. Driven by her own ambitions, her fierce will to overcome any obstacle, she beats the odds by getting back in the water, recovering from her terrible injuries and proving an inspiration to others not only as a surfer but in her devotion to helping others in the aftermath of the 2004 Christmas Eve tsunami.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Sports Drama

Rating: PG (for an intense accident sequence and some thematic material) 

Win Win

(Fox Searchlight) Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Melanie Lynskey, Jeffrey Tambor. A struggling lawyer takes on legal guardianship of an elderly client to help keep his practice from going under. The lawyer also coaches the local high school wrestling team in order to bring in some extra cash, although the team is woeful at best. When the client’s troubled grandson comes to live with him and turns out to be a stellar wrestler, it appears to be a no-lose situation for the lawyer, but as such things usually do, things quickly begin to unravel.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language)

Your Highness

(Universal) Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel. When the fiancée of the heir apparent of the realm is kidnapped by an evil wizard, he must go and rescue her like any prince worth his salt. However, it’s more than he can handle alone – so he must take his good-for-nothing younger brother who has absolutely no wish to go on a quest. The two are aided by a fierce amazon who has her own reasons for going after the wizard.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comic Fantasy

Rating: R (for strong crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity, violence and some drug use)

Four-Warned: February 2011

February 2011

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

1. DRIVE ANGRY 3D (1.8)
2. SANCTUM (1.9)
tie. UNKNOWN (1.9)

2. A GOOD MAN (2.1)
tie. ORGASM INC. (2.1)
4. OF GODS AND MEN (2.3)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

FEBRUARY 4, 2011

COLD WEATHER (IFC) Genre: Mystery. A young man who once was a promising forensic scientist turns detective when an ex-girlfriend goes missing. Release Strategy: New York/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.9 Could be charming if done right; no trailer yet so no clue.
DRESSED (OneRock) Genre: Documentary. The story of Nari Manivong, a formerly homeless young man pursuing his dream in the cutthroat New York clothing design business. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 This doesn’t interest me. At all. If it did, I’d watch Project Runway.
THE OTHER WOMAN (IFC) Genre: Drama. After a law clerk has an affair with her boss, they wind up marrying and she is forced to cope with a precocious stepson, an angry ex-wife and a personal tragedy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Natalie Portman is on a hot streak; that might wind up giving this film a higher profile.
THE ROOMMATE (Screen Gems) Genre: Thriller. A college freshman’s roommate becomes obsessed with her. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.0 Didn’t I see this before and wasn’t it called Single White Female?
SANCTUM (Universal) Genre: Action Thriller. A group of cave explorers are trapped in an unexplored cave when a cyclone causes it to flood. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.9 The involvement of James Cameron will draw some crowds in; hopefully the movie will justify it.
WAITING FOR FOREVER (Freestyle Releasing) Genre: Romantic Comedy. When a failing actress returns home after her father becomes ill, she realizes the feelings of an old childhood friend are far stronger than just friends. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Rachel Bilson is moving upwards on my actress chart and the trailer looked charming.

FEBRUARY 11, 2011

CARANCHO (Strand) Genre: Thriller. The romance between an idealistic doctor and an ambulance chasing lawyer is threatened by corruption in the Argentine insurance industry. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 3.3 Argentina is proving to be adept at churning out good thrillers.
CARBON NATION (Clay Way) Genre: Documentary. Dedicated individuals seek solutions to reduce carbon emissions and help stave off climate change. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 While I’m a proponent for all the solutions the movie displays, I’m not sure they make a great case for them.
CEDAR RAPIDS (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Comedy. An insurance agent comes out of his shell at a convention. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Ed Helms gets his first leading role; could be the one that makes him a star.
CERTIFIABLY JONATHAN (Self-Released) Genre: Mockumentary. A look at one of the most gifted and innovative comics of all time, Jonathan Winters and his quest to get his paintings hung in the Museum of Modern Art. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Not sure this is an adequate forum for the talents of one of the greatest ever.
THE EAGLE (Focus) Genre: Swords and Sandals. A young Roman yearns to learn the fate of his father, who disappeared along with his entire legion in Britain. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 This has been oft-delayed and has changed studios which isn’t a good sign.
GNOMEO AND JULIET (Touchstone) Genre: Animated. Shakespeare’s most famous romance as interpreted by lawn decor. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.1 Could be too strange for its target audience.
IN HER SKIN (IFC) Genre: Crime Drama. When the body of a missing 15-year-old Australian girl is found in a neighbor’s yard, the ensuing realization her friend killed her sends shockwaves through the community. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 A terrific cast and an intriguing plot make this high on my list of films to watch out for on Netflix.
JUST GO WITH IT (Columbia) Genre: Comedy. Adam Sandler has friend Jennifer Anniston pose as his wife in order to impress a girl he wants to date. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.0 Yeah, I’d be impressed too.
JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER (Paramount) Genre: Horror. Teen pop sensation Bieber’s concert film. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 4.0 The fact that this will make millions is simply a sad fact of the continued unraveling of American musical taste.
ORGASM INC. (First Run) Genre: Documentary. A filmmaker covering the development of a female Viagra shows Big Pharma pursuing profit ahead of the health of the women using their product. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.1 A fascinating subject.
POETRY (Kino International) Genre: Drama. A free-spirited South Korean grandmother discovers she has Alzheimer’s as she is taking a poetry course. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.7 Sounds a bit schmaltzy but this could be another Korean cinematic gem.
VIDAL SASSOON: THE MOVIE (Phase 4) Genre: Documentary. The legendary hair stylists’ influence on fashion and grooming is documented. Release Strategy: New York/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.9 Because you’re worth it.

FEBRUARY 18, 2011

BIG MOMMAS: LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON (20th Century Fox) Genre: Urban Comedy. Martin Lawrence returns as a detective with a penchant for going undercover in a dress. This time, his stepson is along for the laughs. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 I didn’t even like the first Big Momma – I have a feeling I’m really going to hate this one.
BROTHERHOOD (Olive) Genre: Drama. A fraternity pledge initiation goes horribly wrong and the pledge must stand up to save a friend’s life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 Looked suitably intense, although I’ve seen a few too many fraternity-pledge-gone-wrong movies to be excited about this one.
THE CHAPERONE (Goldwyn) Genre: Action Comedy. A wheelman trying to go straight after a prison stretch and repair his relationship with his family runs into a few road blocks while chaperoning a field trip for his daughter. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 This WWE funded film will probably turn up heavy on action and light on quality.
EVEN THE RAIN (Vitagraph) Genre: Drama. An interweaving story of Columbus’ discovery of America and the making of a movie. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Meant to be an allegory on the treatment of aboriginals in South America.
I AM NUMBER FOUR (DreamWorks) Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi Action Thriller. Alien teenagers develop their superpowers while hiding on Earth from the monsters that destroyed their world. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 2.0 Usually this would sound terrible, but D.J. Caruso’s directing so it might be good.
UNKNOWN (Warner Brothers) Genre: Thriller. A doctor wakes up from a coma in Berlin to discover his wife doesn’t recognize him and another man has assumed his identity. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 This looks awesome; Liam Neeson has his most kick-ass role since Taken.
VANISHING ON 7TH STREET (Magnet) Genre: Horror. After a mysterious blackout in Detroit, people are disappearing into the darkness. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 The trailer looks terrifying; the cast not so much.

FEBRUARY 25, 2011

DRIVE ANGRY 3D (Summit) Genre: Supernatural Action. A criminal who is sent to Hell for his crimes escapes back to Earth to rescue his baby grandchild from a vicious cult. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.8 This looks over-the-top and insane – one I’ve been looking forward to since I first saw the trailer.
THE GRACE CARD (Goldwyn) Genre: Spiritual Drama. A police officer’s son dies in a tragic accident, causing a crisis of faith. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 Sorry, I don’t get into films that preach to me.
A GOOD MAN (Film Presence) Genre: Documentary. An Australian man weds his bride despite her incapacitation due to a stroke; he then turns his attention to helping his town reverse an economic downturn…by opening a brothel. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 Sounds like a very unusual subject for a film; I like quirky in this case.
HALL PASS (New Line) Genre: Sex Comedy. A pair of wives gives their knuckleheaded husbands Hall Passes – free reign to do whatever they like for a week without repercussions. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 It’s the Farrelly Brothers…’nuff said.
HEARTBEATS (IFC) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A pair of best friends finds their friendship turning into rivalry over a new roommate. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.9 This sounds a bit pedestrian and without a trailer I’m wondering what it brings to the table for a fairly done-to-death concept.
OF GODS AND MEN (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. A group of French Christian monks live in harmony with their Muslim neighbors until a massacre sets tensions high. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.3 Based on a true story – could be something special.
SHELTER (Weinstein) Genre: Supernatural Horror. An expert in multiple personalities is confronted by a patient whose personality may be more than human. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 This sounds like it could be really scary – just the way I like it!

Sanctum, Just Go With It, Gnomeo and Juliet, The Eagle, I Am Number Four, Unknown, Drive Angry 3D, Hall Pass