Good News and Bad News
“The Last Witch Hunter”: The good news is that you can get really creative with horror stories. For instance, forget devils, or Satan, and just ascribe all evil to witches, beginning with the infamous Black Plague of the Middle Ages. A mighty warrior, Kaulder (Vin Diesel), slays the witch queen, but not before she curses him with her immortality, thereby forever separating him from his wife and young daughter. 800 years later, in modern New York City, Kaulder is still slaying rogue witches, though curiously allowing to live those who are willing to keep the truce and not prey upon humans. He's aided by the 36th Dolan (Michael Cain), a priest who also combats evil, but a turncoat new 37th Dolan (Elijah Wood) almost tips the balance, until a friendly witch, Chloe (Rose Leslie), allies with Kaulder. Does it make any sense? No. Can Vin Diesel really act? No. But he can stalk the streets of New York sporting a medieval sword and somehow still look menacing. The Good News: one of the few modern films where old priests and Gothic cathedral sanctuaries are still important.
“Room”: The good news is that Brie Larson, as Ma, is fantastic in this unglamorous role, and so is seven-year-old Jacob Tremblay as five-year-old Jack. They live together in a 10'x10' room, playing games, cooking, napping, cuddling, reading, and yes, nursing. Obviously, all they've got is each other. The only outside contact is from the ominous Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) who brings in supplies, and briefly has his way with Ma while Jack is supposedly asleep in the cupboard(but isn't). It seems a little sweet, and a little sick, until you realize with horror that they are trapped there, locked in, because Ma was kidnapped and raped as a 17-year-old, and nobody has found her. (Yes, it bears a haunting resemblance to the infamous California and Ohio cases, but it was actually written before that.) The good news is that they escape, the bad news is that the world has changed, including her family, and returning from the given-up-for-dead is in a way more difficult than being confined in “Room.” A very emotional tale about extreme coping with horrific situations, which will not attract many pleasure-seeking audiences.
“Pan”: The good news: because it's the “prequel,” you can make up stuff and still take advantage of cherished fairy tale characters. 12-year-old Peter (Levi Miller) is trapped in an orphanage in London during the Blitz. Captain Blackbeard and his pirate ships actually come and kidnap the boys out of their beds (with the cooperation of the baleful Mother Superior, who'd just as soon be rid of them all). After dogfighting with the Luftwaffe (what's the point of that?) the pirate ships fly to Never Never Land, so Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman, who's dressed like a pirate drag queen) can put the boys to work in the dark caverns, where they mine with picks and axes for....pixie dust? Hook (Garrett Hedlund, dressed like a wannabe Harrison Ford in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) is actually still a good guy, and maybe in love with Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara, whose tribal cohorts look nothing like her). Yes, Peter does discover, because he's actually a fairy prince, that he can fly, but this potboiled mess never really gets off the ground.
“Serving Second Chances”: The good news: a heartwarming documentary about The Stewpot, the ministry of First Presbyterian Church in Dallas that has been feeding thousands of homeless for 35 years. It's also a great place to take youth groups to volunteer; I've done it several times. The bad news: after 35 years of herculean effort, there are still thousands of homeless. Jesus said that we will always have the poor with us. (Mark 14:7) Here, they both disturb and inspire, sometimes simultaneously.