Antonement: Picture the fastidiously literary Ian McEwan at a pitch meeting, holding his nose. Then picture director Joe Wright — he of the broadly grinning Pride & Prejudice, talking the talk with his unerringly commercial radar for what will fly across the Atlantic — and you'll grasp the abyss between McEwan's brilliant novel Atonement, and Wright's palatable, unchallenging movie. The novel turns on a childish crime that alters the fate of a snobby British family and thrusts its younger generation into a world war, one of whose casualties will be the centuries of class privilege. Wright cross-pollinates the first half into an Oscar-buzzy brew of Masterpiece Theatre and Upstairs, Downstairs with a touch of bodice-ripper, and the second into a cheap knockoff of a 1940s war movie. There's a satisfying sexual crackle between Keira Knightley, shrewdly cast as a brittle flapper with womanly potential, and an astutely carnal James McAvoy as her below-the-salt lover. But where McEwan whispers, Wright shouts. In all the clamor of an operatic soundtrack overlaid with the rhythmic thud of typewriter keys and drumbeats of war, McEwan's most thrilling theme — of how fiction atones for life (and, sometimes, doesn't — falls by the wayside, leaving our lovers trapped in a drippy Hallmark card, snuggling on a windswept beach. Forever sepia.
What Would Jesus Buy?: Although What Would Jesus Buy? was directed by Rob VanAlkemade, it bears the unmistakable imprimatur of its producer, Morgan Spurlock. Much like Spurlock's Super Size Me, this production is slick, well-paced and tremendously entertaining. It follows a group called Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping on a pre-Christmas tour through an endless parade of dreary Midwestern malls. According to his press bio, Reverend Billy is "an officiant of the rites of marriage in New York City, and a lifelong lover of birds of prey." More to the point, he's a performance artist riffing on the persona of an evangelical minister in order to drive home to Americans just how in thrall we are to the church of consumerism. Unfortunately, WWJB never pushes past the surface of this shtick to explore the deeper forces behind our impulse to buy. It could use more interviews with the free-trade experts and anti-sweatshop activists, and fewer shots of the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir exhorting Wal-Mart shoppers to, well, stop shopping, no matter what they're buying and why they need it.