There are not a whole lot of what one could call “Easter movies,” perhaps because there’s no suspense involved in the holiday itself. While a good number of Christmas movies hinge on the question of whether a Christmas celebration will happen, or happen properly – this is a thread that runs from “It’s a Wonderful Life” to “The Santa Clause” and its ilk, including “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” – families celebrating Easter don’t typically worry about pulling it off, so to speak. Unless cooking a rosemary-and-garlic leg of lamb – or hiding some chocolate eggs – poses a challenge.
The most prominent Easter Bunny movie for rent or purchase from Amazon Video, YouTube, Vudu, Google Play and iTunes is the 2011 film “Hop.” It is a terrible computer-animated picture in which the Easter Bunny excretes jelly beans. No, really. If you’d like to punish your children, that might be a good option.
Once that’s out of the way (it is not in the bailiwick of this column to consider the many kitschy Easter Bunny television specials available on streaming), that leaves the religious pictures. FilmStruck’s Criterion Channel has director Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 epic, “King of Kings,” which proved a seminal influence on the mainstream Bible picture. The movie is, of course, a silent, which some children and even some younger film critics may look at as punishment, so you’ve been warned.
George Stevens’ 1965 film, “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” also on demand, is an unwieldy film of frequently awkward earnestness. Emblematic of its noble but stilted ambitions is its casting of Swedish actor Max von Sydow as Jesus Christ. The movie is festooned with cameos from the superstars of the time, from Shelley Winters to Sal Mineo to John Wayne. They were considered distracting at the time of release, and it would be interesting to watch the movie with an audience that has no idea who these figures are.
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Because the Christ story occurs at the sidelines of “Ben-Hur,” the movies made from the Lew Wallace novel, about a Jerusalem prince turned slave and then turned Christian, are perhaps the most purely entertaining of such pictures. The 1925 silent-film version can be watched free, for now, on YouTube. But if you are a FilmStruck subscriber, it’s on that service’s TCM Selects as part of its new “Tales of Christ” package. As is, of course, the award-winning 1959 version directed by William Wyler and starring Charlton Heston. The 2016 version directed by Timur Bekmambetov and starring Jack Huston can be viewed on demand from Amazon Prime and other platforms. My preference is the 1959 picture but all three have amazing chariot-race sequences.
Other pictures in the FilmStruck package include the 1961 remake of “King of Kings,” directed by Nicholas Ray, the creator of “Rebel Without a Cause.” While Ray was, in many respects, DeMille’s antithesis, his “King” is not quite as idiosyncratic a vision as a curious cinephile might hope for. Still, any movie that casts Robert Ryan as John the Baptist has to be doing something right. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s wonderful “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” (1964) and Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 miniseries, “Jesus of Nazareth,” round out the package.
Then there are the more controversial items. Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” from 2004, which depicts Christ’s persecution and crucifixion in grueling detail and veers into horror-movie territory once Judas reckons with his betrayal, is on demand. Though the movie was subjected to a good deal of critical disapprobation, it was wildly popular. Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988), adapted from a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, was condemned as blasphemous by many pundits (a good number of whom didn’t bother to actually see it) and the target of protests and angry rallies. It is a sensitive, thoughtful, but hardly staid consideration of the dual nature of Christ and can be seen on the Criterion Channel of FilmStruck. (Scorsese’s most recent film, “Silence,” also about the Christian faith, was considerably less provocative – it even screened at the Vatican.)
Moving from sacred subject matter to profane comedy: Adam Sandler is not the only comedic Adam staking cinematic territory on Netflix. There’s also Adam Devine, the sketch comedian who is a co-creator of the Comedy Central series “Workaholics,” which started in 2011. Two pictures starring Devine recently had their premieres on Netflix. Having watched them, all I can say is his work can only go uphill from here.
I reviewed “Game Over, Man!” last month, and the movie does not improve on reflection. I have been moved to wonder, though, if maybe, in addition to them, it’s me. Am I too old for the movie’s constant barrage of over-the-top gross-out humor? As someone who still roars with laughter at Redd Foxx’s vintage standup routine titled “You Gotta Wash Your Ass,” I don’t necessarily think so. I referred to the movie’s vulgarity as “listless,” and I think that’s the problem: The jokes are lazy, obvious and have a casual contempt for their objects and subjects. It’s stoner humor brought to the level of insensibility.
In early February, Netflix debuted “When We First Met,” a romantic comedy starring Devine and Alexandria Daddario. Written by John Whittington and directed by Ari Sandel, it’s a cross between “Big” and “Groundhog Day,” with some “When Harry Met Sally” thrown in, had “Harry” been written by a team of bros instead of by Nora Ephron.
Devine plays Noah, a slightly schlubby but good-hearted fellow besotted with Daddario’s Avery, with whom he’s been platonic friends for three frustrating years, despite their “clicking” in certain ways when they met. But Noah finds a magical photo booth that transports him back in time, to the night he met Avery, and he tries different strategies to win her. The “what do women want?” question recurs, and in Avery’s case, the answer, each time, turns out to be kind of venal. This is a sour route on which to find true love. It’s not an amusing one, either. Compared with “Game Over, Man!” however, “When We First Met” actually does look like “When Harry Met Sally.”