Pope John Paul II: A Special BBC CommemorationPope John Paul II, Geoffrey Palmer  
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John Paul Pope John Paul II - 1920 To 2005 - A Special BBC Commemoration

Letters to GodJeffrey Johnson, Tanner Maguire  
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What will happen when one boy's walk of faith crosses paths with one man's search for meaning? Tyler Doherty (Tanner Maguire) is an extraordinary eight-year old boy. Surrounded by a loving family and community, and armed with the courage of his faith, he faces his daily battle against cancer with bravery and grace. To Tyler, God is a friend, a teacher and the ultimate pen pal - Tyler's prayers take the form of letters, which he composes and mails on a daily basis. The letters find their way into the hands of Brady McDaniels (Jeffrey S.S. Johnson), a beleaguered postman standing at a crossroads in his life. At first, he is confused and conflicted over what to do with the letters. Overtime he begins to form a friendship with the Doherty family - getting to know not just Tyler but his tough, tender yet overwhelmed mom (Robyn Lively), stalwart grandmother (Maree Cheatham) and teen brother Ben (Michael Christopher Bolten) - who are each trying to stand strong against the doubts that come with the chaotic turn their lives have taken.

The Prince Of EgyptVal Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Brenda Chapman, Simon Wells, Steve Hickner  
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Nearly every biblical film is ambitious, creating pictures to go with some of the most famous and sacred stories in the Western world. DreamWorks' first animated film, The Prince of Egypt was the vision of executive producer Jeffrey Katzenberg after his ugly split from Disney, where he had been acknowledged as a key architect in that studio's rebirth (The Little Mermaid, etc.). His first film for the company he helped create was a huge, challenging project without a single toy or merchandising tie-in, the backbone du jour of family entertainment in the 1990s.

Three directors and 16 writers succeed in carrying out much of Katzenberg's vision. The linear story of Moses is crisply told, and the look of the film is stunning; indeed, no animated film has looked so ready to be placed in the Louvre since Fantasia. Here is an Egypt alive with energetic bustle and pristine buildings. Born a slave and set adrift in the river, Moses (voiced by Val Kilmer) is raised as the son of Pharaoh Seti (Patrick Stewart) and is a fitting rival for his stepbrother Rameses (Ralph Fiennes). When he learns of his roots—in a knockout sequence in which hieroglyphics come alive—he flees to the desert, where he finds his roots and heeds God's calling to free the slaves from Egypt.

Katzenberg and his artists are careful to tread lightly on religious boundaries. The film stops at the parting of the Red Sea, only showing the Ten Commandments—without commentary—as the film's coda. Music is a big part (there were three CDs released) and Hans Zimmer's score and Stephen Schwartz's songs work well—in fact the pop-ready, Oscar-winning "When You Believe" is one of the weakest songs. Kids ages 5 and up should be able to handle the referenced violence; the film doesn't shy away from what Egyptians did to their slaves. Perhaps Katzenberg could have aimed lower and made a more successful animated film, but then again, what's a heaven for? —Doug Thomas

Of Gods And MenXavier Maly, Loic Pichon, Xavier Beauvois  
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It may not be mainstream cinema, but Of Gods and Men—the true story of French Trappist monks in a remote Algerian mountain village—conjures from its stark materials degrees of beauty, tension and power that deserve to be appreciated by a broad audience. The remnants of French colonial occupation, the monks have become a deep-rooted part of village life, dispensing essential medical aid, taking part in Islamic rites and advising on everything from village policy to love and marriage. But when civil war erupts between a corrupt Algerian government and Muslim militants, the political realities of Algerian history catch up with this uncontaminated world. Quietly and forcefully, the monks stand up to local militia—until escalating violence forces them to choose between escaping a certain and brutal death and their responsibilities to the village. The monks are no angels, however, and brief moments of wavering manners or faltering courage—backlit by the austere simplicity of their daily lives—allow director Xavier Beaumont to avoid creating a doctrinaire tale of Christian virtue. The film's drive is instead a confrontation between a noble, touching and courageous civil harmony and a banal, horrific and indiscriminate political war. —Leo Batchelor

JunoEllen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Reitman  
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