Movie Review: “Risen”

Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth, Cliff Curtis, Maria Botto
Kevin Reynolds

There is a scene in the Coen brothers’ latest film, “Hail, Caesar!,” where a movie exec has a meeting with four clergymen of different denominations to see if any of them takes issue with how Christ is portrayed in one of their upcoming films. It’s one of the funnier scenes in the movie; it’s also why most Biblical retellings reek of focus groups and compromise, because the last thing a studio wants is to be perceived as insensitive when it comes to religion. “Risen” manages to avoid those trappings by doing the simplest thing: it focuses on one specific event – the Resurrection, along with the subsequent two weeks or so – and in the process sets a ceiling on the audience’s expectations. This sounds like damning with faint praise, but it turns out to be a very shrewd move.

Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is an ambitious, ruthless commander in the Roman army battalion stationed in the Judean Desert. He spends most of his days battling resistance fighters, while overseeing the occasional crucifixion. One day, Clavius is giving the final orders that will put three recently crucified men out of their misery, but one of them, whom the onlookers refer to as the King of Nazarene, does not scream in pain or beg for mercy. Clavius’ men kill him and, at the suggestion of a local Hebrew leader, lock him in a tomb, with Romans standing guard. The guards are there to prevent the locals from moving the body and later claiming that it was the work of God, as predicted in the prophecy.

The locals don’t move the body; they never had the opportunity. The king (Cliff Curtis), referred to as Yeshua by his people, is gone from the tomb, something that greatly displeases Clavius’ superior Pilate (Peter Firth), who does not want the religious fervor already sweeping the area to boil over. Clavius is tasked with solving the mystery of the missing king, but he has decidedly mixed feelings about why he’s doing it. He knew something wasn’t right about how Yeshua handled his punishment, and to hear those devoted to the king sing his praises, Clavius begins to second-guess everything he stands for. The second-guessing would only get stranger from there.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Failed Pilots with All-Star Casts

As the new TV season rolls out, let’s take a look back at a few series that never actually made it on the air. Not that there aren’t plenty such series every single year, but sometimes you look back and wonder, “How could a show with all of these talented people not get on the schedule?” Not that we have an answer to that question, you understand, but at least we can all be mystified and annoyed together.

Next! (2001)

Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Fred Armisen, Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn, Nick Swardson
What you missed out on: After Bob Odenkirk and David Cross decided to put a bullet in their HBO sketch comedy series, “Mr. Show” (that’s right, it was their decision, not the network’s), the guys attempted to go their separate ways, with Odenkirk setting up shop at Fox with a pilot for a new sketch comedy series. If you think the above names are impressive, consider that several other “Mr. Show” alumni were in tow as well, including Jerry Minor, Jay Johnston, and Jill Talley, with Patton Oswalt also participating in some capacity or other. And, yes, if you’re wondering, Cross made an appearance in the pilot, too. So what happened? Apparently, Fox basically flipped a coin to decide which new sketch comedy series they’d add to their lineup, and “Cedric the Entertainer Presents” won the toss. Oh, what might’ve been…

North Hollywood (2001)

Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Poehler, Kevin Hart, and Judge Reinhold as himself
What you missed out on: Judd Apatow has never been ashamed to admit that the only reason that this pilot ever came into existence is that Fox refused to let him cast Jason Segel as his lead in the short-lived but highly-regarded “Undeclared,” but you can’t say he didn’t do his best to surround Segel with top-notch talent. Segel, Amy Poehler, and Kevin Hart played roommates, with Segel a struggling actor, Hart a struggling actor/comedian, and Poehler serving as Judge Reinhold’s personal assistant. There’s a more detailed look at the pilot here, but the long and the short of it is that, although Apatow admits that he really didn’t know if there was a decent series to be had in “North Hollywood,” he thinks the pilot’s pretty decent, but its tone didn’t match the sitcoms filling ABC’s lineup at the time, so they took a pass on it.

Saddle Rash (2002)

Starring: H. Jon Benjamin, Sarah Silverman, Todd Barry, Mitch Hedberg
What you missed out on: Created by Loren Bouchard, best known to animation fans as one of the creative forces behind “Home Movies,” “Saddle Rash” seemed to have all the elements necessary for a successful Adult Swim series, so why didn’t it make it beyond the pilot stage? Was it that westerns weren’t exactly in vogue at the time? Was there some sort of stigma attached to the project because they brought in country artists to continued voice work (including Waylon Jennings as a very special guest in the pilot)? Whatever the case, the pilot got aired – no doubt mostly because Adult Swim has a tendency to air just about every pilot it orders, whether it actually ends up going to series or not – but that was the end of the trail for the series.

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