By CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE | Published April 20, 2017
NEW YORK (CNS)—Christian apologetics, the branch of theology devoted to proving the reasonableness of belief in Jesus, is almost as old as the faith itself. Three documents in this genre, for instance, survive from the writings of St. Justin Martyr, who died in the middle of the second century.
In 1998, former journalist Lee Strobel published a memoir of his spiritual odyssey from aggressive atheism to evangelical Christianity that also grounded his faith in objectively assessed evidence. Nearly 20 years later, and just in time for Easter, a screen version of Strobel’s book, “The Case for Christ” (Pure Flix), arrives in theaters.
Set in 1980, the film charts Strobel’s (Mike Vogel) effort to uses his investigative skills—he was a rising star on the staff of the Chicago Tribune at the time—to disprove the Resurrection and thereby debunk the faith as a whole. He was provoked to do this by wife Leslie’s (Erika Christensen) recent conversion, an event that sparked discord in their previously serene marriage.
Strobel consults a variety of experts, from archaeologist-turned-Catholic-priest Father Jose Maria Marquez (Miguel Perez) to Purdue University professor of psychiatry Dr. Roberta Waters (Faye Dunaway). Each knocks down one of the lines of defense that Strobel has erected to bar acceptance of Christ’s return from the dead, e.g., that the 500 witnesses to it mentioned in the New Testament were suffering from a form of mass hysteria.
It makes for an intelligent quest, though one that includes a detailed exploration of the medical effects of crucifixion that would be upsetting to many kids.
Director Jonathan M. Gunn and screenwriter Brian Bird intertwine Strobel’s intellectual journey with his involvement in a headline-grabbing criminal case—Renell Gibbs plays the defendant, James Dixon. They also work in a low-key study of Lee and Leslie’s strong bond and of the problematic relationship between Strobel and his father, Walter (Robert Forster).
While not as heavy handed as many message movies, “The Case for Christ”—which is acceptable for a wide audience—succeeds more as a vindication of the rationality of belief than as entertainment. On the other hand, those looking for an informal way to bolster their religious education during the holiest of seasons could hardly find a more fitting choice.
The film contains graphic descriptions and images of scourging and crucifixion and a single crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
“The Zookeeper’s Wife” (Focus)
Inspiring but dramatically thin historical drama in which the couple (Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh) who run the Warsaw Zoo defy the Nazis occupying Poland—including the head (Daniel Bruhl) of their facility’s counterpart in Berlin who has been made their supervisor—by smuggling Jews out of the ghetto and hiding them until the resistance can arrange their escape from the country. Chastain forcefully conveys her character’s appealing personality. But, in adapting Diane Ackerman’s 2007 nonfiction bestseller, director Niki Caro and screenwriter Angela Workman fall short of a compelling narrative. Parents will have to weigh the uplifting nature of the film—having helped more than 300 potential victims of the Holocaust, the central pair were eventually declared “righteous among the nations”—against some of the grim incidents it depicts in deciding whether this makes suitable fare for older teens. Considerable combat and other violence, a couple of marital bedroom scenes, a glimpse of upper female nudity, mature themes, including gang rape and adultery. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“The Fate of the Furious” (Universal)
Grown viewers willing to kick reality to the curb will have fun with this preposterous but lively auto-themed action adventure, the seventh sequel to 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious.” Blackmailed by an elusive criminal mastermind (Charlize Theron) whose cyber skills keep her virtually untraceable, the leader (Vin Diesel) of a team of car racers—which includes his wife (Michelle Rodriguez) and a former federal agent (Dwayne Johnson)—turns on his friends and aids the villain in her bid for world domination. Director F. Gary Gray and screenwriter Chris Morgan put loyalty (even under strain) first and safety last as their globetrotting ensemble, which also includes Jason Statham as a now-imprisoned veteran of Britain’s special forces, hunts down an opponent so powerful she has her own AWACS-style airplane. Doses of humor and clever resourcefulness help to divert attention from dicey us-against-the-world moral values, though the sketchy ethics do come tricked out with distinctly Christian detailing. Not a film for impressionable youngsters. Frequent gunplay and hand-to-hand combat but with little gore, brief partial nudity, a marital bedroom scene, an adultery theme, several uses of profanity, a few milder oaths, a single rough and many crude terms, an obscene gesture. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“Going in Style” (Warner Bros.)
Leaden comedy about a trio of retirees (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin) driven to desperation by financial woes who cook up an unlikely scheme to rob a branch of the bank they blame for the cancellation of their pensions. As they get tips for a successful caper from an experienced criminal (John Ortiz), Arkin’s grouchy character finds romance with a grocery store checkout lady (Ann-Margret). Director Zach Braff’s remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 film—which also features Matt Dillon as an FBI agent—amounts to a complete waste of its cast’s considerable gifts. While not a movie from which viewers are likely to draw any real-life moral conclusions, it does present the oldsters’ actions as justified and ultimately harmless. A frivolous treatment of crime, including drug use, a couple of brief premarital bedroom scenes, a scatological sight gag, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, some vulgar sexual references, a single instance of rough language, considerable crude and crass talk. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“Smurfs: The Lost Village” (Columbia)
Colorful but unengaging children’s cartoon in which, as the blue elves of the title—Mandy Patinkin voices their leader—continue to defend themselves against the schemes of the evil wizard (voice of Rainn Wilson) who has long sought to steal their youth-restoring, power-bestowing “essence,” the sole female among them (voiced by Demi Lovato) has an identity crisis which leads to a journey of discovery on which she’s joined by a trio of her male counterparts (voices of Joe Manganiello, Jack McBrayer and Danny Pudi). In helming the third in a series of feature-length outings for the creatures first dreamt up by Belgian cartoonist Peyo, director Kelly Asbury eschews the mix of animation and live action used in the two previous films. While the result is visually pleasing, and screenwriters Stacey Harman and Pamela Ribon’s script promotes teamwork and good moral choices, the story they tell will satisfy only the least demanding youngsters. Occasional peril, some mild scatological humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I—general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.