CGB Review of Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

This movie is like being a frog in a boiling pot; you’re burning alive and it feels so good.

This is my review of Silver Linings Playbook!

BRADLEY COOPER stars in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

So this is the first movie I watched on Netflix (I finally got a Netflix account! Hooray!)  Right off the bat, I have nothing but good things to say about this movie. Honest to God, I cannot find a single thing that I didn’t like.  So here is everything right with Silver Linings Playbook!

The chaotic chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence is the vehicle that this film drives all the way to the finish line.  Bradley Cooper plays the volatile optimist Pat Solatano, who is hellbent on winning back his estranged wife and getting his life in order after being released from a mental institution.  Just like in American Sniper, Cooper completely disappears into the role of Pat.  His optimism is grounded by his determination to keep his head above water.  Did I mention this movie understands how to write the No-Filter Character arch correctly?  Yeah, well, it does just that.  It’s made clear that Pat is socially-stunted, so what he says to offend other characters never offends the audience.  You believe that he’s not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, but has no concept of how his words could be received by others.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Pat’s equally dysfunctional match, Tiffany Maxwell.  Am I the only one who thinks that JLaw should stay brunette?  She looks fantastic with dark hair!  In her first couple scenes, I was getting worried that she was just playing a female version of Pat.  Then came the diner scene.  Tiffany goes off on Pat after figuring out that he thinks she’s crazier than him.  I’m just going to quote her verbatim: “Because I am so much crazier than you.  I’m the crazy slut with a dead husband–hahahahaha!” She curses him out as she shoves all of the plates and cups off of the table.  If you want to experience it, go on YouTube and type in “Silver Linings Playbook diner scene” or just watch the movie.  🙂  Anywho, her rage in that moment sums up her character: Explosive, isolated, and can be only be understood by someone of equal temperment.  Pat is the heavy gust of wind while Tiffany is the rain and thunder.

This movie is so emotional, but not in a forced way.  Why did I compare this movie to being a frog in boiling water?  Because the characters are so well-realized, I actually got distressed during the scene where Pat is tearing up the attic in search of his wedding video, or when he almost gets arrested after Tiffany shouts “he’s harrasing me!”  The two scenes I mentioned are among the tough scenes in this movie.  Because I was so invested in these people, I felt for them, so the bad things that happen to them were difficult to watch at times.  That, my friends, is the mark of a good movie.

Top-notch writing, great chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence, and a humanistic portrayal of people who struggle with mental illness make Silver Linings Playbook a home run from start to finish.

Saint Dymphna, pray for us.

Christian Movie Reviews: Christian Mingle The Movie

There’s a scene where the main character is doing a sales pitch and she’s holding a notebook with blank paper while saying improvised, awkward nonsense.

I think that was the pitch meeting for this movie.

This is my review of Christian Mingle The Movie!

Gwyneth's awkward expression sums up this movie.
Gwyneth’s awkward expression sums up this entire movie.

Before I begin my rant, I will say that the two lead actors Lacey Chabert and Jonathan Patrick Moore give it their very best.  Also there is a good message about not using faith as a means to get what you want, and how your faith journey is your responsibility, not someone else’s.

(Commencing rant mode) However that message is buried in an awkward script with horrible writing scribbled all over.

Gwyneth (Lacey Chabert), Paul (Jonathan Patrick Moore) and Gwyneth’s friend Pam (Saidah Arrika Ekulona) are the only characters who actually act like believable people.  As for everyone else, I am diagnosing this movie with Caricature Syndrome.  Both the male and female characters are insultingly cartoonish.  The main character’s boss wears a sailor hat and acts like a goofy maritime captain because…potatoes!  His overacting made me cringe any time he was on screen.   Heck, even when he’s being serious, he still chews the scenery. Paul’s father is unrealistically peppy and spouts off Christian catchphrases every time he opens his mouth.  “Who talks like that?” I kept shouting during his scenes. Meanwhile most of the female characters fall into two categories: Superficial, one-note career gals who are only there to give advice to Gwyneth and sickly-sweet Bible study women who are all smiles, but man, can you feel the air of superioity around them.

Every. Single. Christian. Character is way too cheerful, to the point of coming off as artificial.  Yes, I believe that inner peace comes from faith in Jesus, but Christians are allowed to express more than one emotion.  Even the strongest believers are allowed to doubt, to get angry at God, to question His promises; that is all part of the faith journey.  The “eternally-carefree-Christian” trope reduces faith to something simplitic, and nothing ticks me off more than oversimplification of faith.

This movie is so desperate to be endearing that it falls into the realm of cutesy mindlessness.  While I’m sure the hearts of everyone involved were in the right place, the road to cinematic cheese is paved with lackluster writing.

CGB Review of Inside Out

This movie reminds me of Saint Teresa of Avila’s, “The Interior Castle” and Saint Dymphna, the patroness of mental health.

This is my review of Inside Out!

Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust; the gang's all here!
Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust; the gang’s all here!

They’re not lying when they say that this is the best Pixar movie since WALL-E and Up.  Inside Out tells the story of a girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), whose personality is shaped by five personified emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling).  When Riley and her family move from Minnesota to San Francisco (where I went for the 2014 Walk for Life), she begins experiencing changes in her emotions.  Shiz really hits the fan when Joy and Sadness are thrusted out of Headquarters and into the maze of long-term memory.

I love Joy.  She’s like Casey Newton from Tomorrowland; an eternal optimist with an amazing ability to defuse tension among the group.  Her joyous spirit never becomes annoying because it is grounded by her commitment to Riley’s happiness.  This dedication defines Joy’s every action and keeps her own head above water when everything is falling apart.   It’s because of her that I was able to care for Riley.  We see her grow up from a baby to an eleven-year old girl, so I felt like I knew this character as intimately as the five emotions did.  I guess because I’ve always liked rage comedy, I really liked Anger.  He was cartoonishly angry, not furious to the point of being offensive (as in taking personal jabs at the other characters).  I found Fear to be endearing because he and Anger played off of each other very well.  Imagine Fear as Chucky Finster and Anger as a hot-headed Tommy Pickles.
The world-building is top-notch!  The world of Riley’s mind had loads of character; a child’s mind filled with islands of youthful innocence, controlled by five simplified emotions that mature over the course of time.  I liked how there are five islands for the defining aspects of Riley’s life (family, friendship, hockey, imagination, etc.)  Also the animation is classic Pixar; crisp colors, smooth movements and brightly-lit without looking cheap.

Of course no movie is without its flaws, and Inside Out is no exception.  The parents are the first flaw.  There’s compassionate and then there’s unrealistic happy-go-lucky; Mama and Papa Riley fall into the latter category.  I found it really hard to believe that never once do they get mad or argue with each other when the moving truck is missing.  The mother’s only dialogue is consoling advice and asking “what’s wrong?”  The one time that the father scolds Riley is too restrained.  I’m not saying he has to be abusive, but all they had to do was have the father raise his voice or even pound his fist on the table.  A kids’ movie can have some realism, you know.
The second flaw involves Sadness’ character.  For a character who starts this whole debacle, she doesn’t have much presence.  Sure, she’s read the mind manual, so she knows the way around the long-term memory maze, but even then she just complains while Joy (literally) drags her around.  She never faces consequences or attempts to right the wrong, which reduced her to being a tag-along character for the majority of the film.

Inside Out is an entertaining and intelligent delight!  I’m hooked on a feeling that Pixar has upped the ante with this gem.

Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Dymphna, pray for us.

CGB Review of American Sniper

So I actually saw this movie on January 16th, the day of its wide release (its limited release date was Christmas Day of 2014).  Now I have no military experience and no one in my family has ever been deployed.  Because of this, war movies tend to alienate me.  Going into this movie, I thought I would either be bored or hate this movie.

By the end credits, I seriously considered buying another ticket for the next showing.

This is my review of American Sniper!

A man who bears the weight of two worlds on his shoulder.
A man who bears the weight of two worlds on his shoulders.

This movie is a character study of Chris Kyle and his experiences as the most lethal sniper in American history.  The Chris Kyle we meet is a man with a savior complex and a sense of duty.  The savior complex comes not from a need to boost his own ego, but rather a mentality of “If-I-don’t-who-will?” His trauma is revealed in subtle ways, like how the sound of a car engine running or a dog barking makes him stop in his tracks and look around cautiously, as if anticipating something terrible. He’s neither ashamed nor proud of his job; it’s a job that forces him to do horrible things, but it has to be done for the greater good.  This character is played to perfection by Bradley Cooper.

I criminally underestimated Cooper.  Before this movie, I only saw him as that guy from the Hangover movies.  It was jarring to see a bulked up Bradley Cooper (he’s an average sized guy in real life), but his peformance is mesmerizing.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.  Actually, if you see this movie and then go on YouTube to watch Conan O’Brien’s interview with the real-life Chris Kyle, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the movie character and the actual person.  Cooper nails the manerisms and physical appearance of the man he is portraying.  During one scene where he is walking through the veterans’ hospital to see his friend Biggles, I started calling him “Chris” in my mind.

His wife Taya Renae Kyle is played by Sienna Miller, and I like how she never comes off as nagging or imposing.  She’s a woman who fiercely loves her husband, but because she’s a civilian whose never been in combat, her ability to understand is limited and this (justifiably) frustrates her.  When Taya expresses her concerns, Chris’ stoic demeanor does come off as cold and uncaring, but it becomes clear that while he does love and care for his wife, he can only say and express so much because what he’s really feeling inside is too great to bear.

War in this film is portrayed as an inescapable situation that no one wanted, but is the reality they have to live in.  There are some really hard scenes to sit through, including one scene that involves an Iraqi insurgent holding a drill to a child’s head.  That scene had me crying like a baby.  Other than one scene that involves a dust storm, the editing allows you to see what’s going on and the pacing never skips a beat.  Every scene serves a purpose and there is no filler to be found.

Just a disclaimer: To any Muslim moviegoers who are afraid of seeing any Islamophobia in this movie, you should be okay.  The Qur’an is mentioned only once in a conversation that has nothing to do with Islam, and none of the characters bring up the Prophet Muhammad or Allah.  Actually, now that I think about it, Islam is a non-factor in the movie.  The antagonists are Al Qaeda terrorists, but we never see them reading the Qur’an or using a prayer rug. Meanwhile Iraqi civilian characters are portrayed as vulnerable people who are just as trapped and unknowing of who they can trust as the soldiers are.

Bradley Cooper’s thoughtful and subdued performance is the rock that this movie stands on.  If you want to see what this actor is capable of, forget Aloha and watch American Sniper instead.  This is a powerful film.

Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.

The Silent Carpenter: Saint Joseph (Father’s Day Special!)

If I ever get married and have a son, expect the name “Joseph” to be somewhere in his name (it’ll most likely be his middle name).  I really love the name Joseph, and I also love the most famous bearer of this name.  I’m talking about Saint Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary and Jesus’ foster father.

Guido_Reni_-_Saint_Joseph_and_the_Christ_Child_-_Google_Art_Project
An epic picture of a sturdy carpenter and gentle father.

Doing research on Saint Joseph the Carpenter is really difficult because the information on him is minimal (there was no such thing as a “digital footprint” in his day).  We do know that he was a carpenter in Nazareth.  His reputation among the locals was that he was a just man.  Humble and mild-mannered, he did his woodwork to make ends meet, got along with everybody, and then went home at the end of the day.

His quiet life changed when he asked for the hand of Ann and Joachim’s daughter, Mary.  His reputation as a gentleman and hard worker sat well with Ann and Joachim.  As for Mary, she knew of Joseph and was drawn to his genuine nature. Like Prince Kit in Cinderella (2015), Joseph wanted to marry for love, not for riches or personal gain.  Hence they were betrothed.

Joseph’s simple life was shaken when his now-fiancee Mary told him that the Archangel Gabriel had visited her and told her she would bear the Son of God (do I even need to say who it is?)  Naturally Joseph was troubled and even upset.  Let’s be honest: Even the most religious person would have a hard time believing that a woman conceived a child without having sex.

Now in their time, to be pregnant and unmarried (being engaged didn’t help) was a death sentence.  The entire village could corner her and stone her, killing both her and the unborn baby.  Joseph knew this and sought to divorce her quietly.  That was, until an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him to take Mary as his wife.  Upon waking up, Joseph knew what he had been called to do.

To protect Mary, they married quickly so that everyone would assume the child was his.  They traveled to Bethlehem, where Mary gave birth to Jesus.  That same night, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, and [paraphrasing] said, “You need to get Mary and the baby out of here.”  Sure enough, King Herod had ordered that every male infant be slaughtered so that he would not be overthrown by “the New King.”  This is called the Slaughtering of the Innocents.  Without hesitation, Joseph woke Mary and got his family out of Bethelem to safer regions.

You may have noticed that Joseph has no lines in this play.  That’s because he doesn’t talk in the Bible.  His character is revealed through his actions; his choice to protect Mary from social persecution, his willingness to obey God’s command to leave Bethelem just hours after Mary gave birth, and his devotion to his wife and child.  Saint Joseph is the epitomy of the phrase, “actions speak louder than words.”

Saint Joseph, pray for us.

Heaven’s Eye Doctor: Saint Lucy of Syracuse

When I started Catholic Girl Bloggin’, I chose my six favorite Saints to be patrons of the blog.  One of those patrons is Saint Lucy of Syracuse.  She came into my life when I was a senior in high school, and she has been my spiritual sister ever since. Lucy is the patroness of eye issues.  She healed my mother when she had pink eye a few years ago.  Last year, when I had a case of dry eyes, I prayed to Saint Lucy and in three days my eyes were healed.

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Saint Lucy was born in Syracuse, Sicily.  She entered the world when the Roman Empire was in some serious shiz.  Heads were rolling, and I do mean that literally because Christians were being executed left and right.  Her father died when she was five, so her mother Eutychia raised her alone.  Lucy embraced her mother’s Christianity and at a young age made a promise to Jesus that she would consecrate her virginity to Him.  In other words, she would never marry and instead be a single bride of Christ for the rest of her life.   However in her day, unmarried women were either left begging on the streets or taken captive by enemies of the Roman Empire.  Out of fear for Lucy’s future, Eutychia did the only thing she could do: She arranged for Lucy to be married off to a young man from a wealthy Pagan family.

The turning point in Lucy’s life came when Eutychia learned she had a blood disorder.  Lucy was able to convince her mother to make a pilgrimage to Catania, where the main attraction was the tomb of Saint Agatha (patron saint of those who suffer from breast cancer).  As Lucy prayed at the tomb, Saint Agatha appeared to her in a vision.  I’m just going to paraphrase how their conversation went:

AGATHA: Lucy, your mother will be cured, but you will be called to martyrdom.

LUCY: Just cure my mother, and I will do whatever He asks of me.

As Agatha promised, Eutychia was cured and after some persuasion from Lucy, she allowed her daughter to serve the poor and the family wealth was used to help those in need.  As time went on, Lucy made a name for herself with her charitable works to the less fortunate, and later, her aid to Christians who were hiding in the catacombs.  She would carry food and drinks to them, unaware of informants who sought to betray the persecuted Christians.

Now Lucy was known to have been very beautiful.  She had striking eyes that sparkled with the light of Christ within her.  I mention this because her former fiancee, the young man from the wealthy Pagan family, wanted her as his wife. But remember, she had made a vow of perpetual virginity to Jesus, so that wasn’t going to work.  Also after her mother was cured, the betrothal had been called off. So the angry ex-fiancee went to Governor Pascasio.  As a result, Lucy was caught and became a prisoner of the Empire.  Her martyrdom took place in Syracuse’s magnificent amphitheater, where Pascasio sat along with politicians and general.  It was Lucy vs. All of Rome.

I used to think of Lucy as a sweet, docile Saint.

I was wrong.

When she refused to worship the Pagan gods, Pascasio ordered that she be forced into prostitution.  The Roman guards gathered to take her to the brothel, but to their surprise, her body was suddenly immovable.  No, seriously, she was like a statue.  More guards came to try and move her.  Even a team of oxen was used to try and haul her, but the thin girl was now heavy as a boulder.  By the power of Christ she was protected from the house of sexual sin.  Pascasio’s next move was to have her burned at the stake.  As she stood in a bundle of twigs, soldiers began to ignite the twigs, but they wouldn’t burn.  Even when they were soaked with oil, no fire would come.  As you can imagine, Pascasio was not happy being one-upped by a young Christian girl.  In desperation, he ordered that her eyes be gouged out, which is why she is the patron saint of eye problems.  As blood ran down her face from where her sparkling eyes used to be, Lucy did not scream or cry.  She simply stood there, professing faith in Jesus Christ.  It is said that her bravery and the miracles surrounding her inspired many Pagans to convert to Christianity.  Lucy was then stabbed in the neck by a soldier.  She had won the battle and went to Heaven as a victor on December 13th, 304 A.D.

I’m a Purple Girl in a Red vs. Blue World

I wasn’t planning on getting political so early in my blogging, but God’s timing is different from mine, and I had a feeling that He was calling me to do something political.  So let’s get political…and purple!

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I figure I’d keep with the Purple theme and this proves my “Happy Purple Warrior” persona. 🙂

I consider myself an Independent, i.e. I’m a Purple girl in a sea of Red vs. Blue. I declared myself an Independent after examining the good and the bad of the right-wing and the left-wing.  Believe it or not, both Conservatism and Liberalism are two trees that bear good fruit.  Neither ideology is perfect, but they do have something to offer.  At the same time, they also have their weeds, which I will get to in a moment.

Let’s start in the Red: I like Conservatism’s emphasis on social morality.  I’ve always been concerned about the moral fiber of this country.  No, I don’t think metal music is evil, but I take issue with reducing an unborn baby to “a clump of cells.”  I roll my eyes every time I read an article that lectures us about how monogamy is unrealistic.  I believe in objective truth; people have their reasons for doing things, but if truth doesn’t remain the same, then it’s not truth.  I also like Conservatism’s focus on hard work and being self-made.  I don’t see what’s wrong about congratulating people who started with nothing and ended up building a successful business that enables them to financially empower themselves and feed their own families. Business owners are neither always greedy nor always virtuous. They are people who are trying to make a living for themselves.
Now let’s move on to the Blue: I like Liberalism’s “leave-everyone-alone” nature, i.e. Classical Liberalism.  I refuse to mock or criticize Caitlyn Jenner.  A politician’s numerous divorces are none of my business.  I don’t poke my head into other people’s lives because I wouldn’t want someone to inject themselves into my personal life.  As I mentioned earlier, people have their reasons for their own actions.  Sometimes people can’t live up to society’s standards.  A woman who is abandoned by the father of her child shouldn’t be judged for raising her child without a father.  A person who is gay shouldn’t be shunned by their family or community.  Someone who points out America’s shortcomings should not be vilified as unpatriotic.  In the end, we’re all human beings who are on different journeys in our lives, so leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone.

Conservatism and Liberalism are not without their weeds.  Just like before, I’ll start with the Red and then work my way to the Blue.

Conservatives have a tendency to be judgmental.  I get irritated when I see a meme on a right-wing Facebook page that makes fun of people on welfare, or when I hear people who side with Conservatism say, “Just go out and get a job!”  Are there welfare recipients who use it to avoid looking for work?  Yes.  But does that mean every single person on government assistance is lazy and unmotivated?  No.  Securing employment is not as easy as some make it out to be.  It can be done, but we should acknowledge economic challenges.   Also it doesn’t help when certain GOP candidates use the words, “Legitimate rape.”

Liberals have a tendency to lecture people about Islamophobia, but then take next-to-no issue with vilifying Christians.  Let me make this clear: I do not advocate trashing someone else’s religious beliefs because I certainly wouldn’t want someone to attack my faith.  However the way I see it, either pick on every religion on the planet or leave every religion alone.  There’s a difference between legitimate criticism of religion (such as people who use religion as a weapon) and accusing every religious person of being narrow-minded and bigoted.

I believe that you can attack an issue WITHOUT attacking the people behind that issue.  You can oppose abortion without condemning women who have had abortions.  You can call out religious hypocrisy without shaming faith-filled people.  The moral clarity of Conservatism and the “live-and-let-live” principle of Liberalism are the fruits that I embrace as an Independent.   This is why I am proud to be a Purple fish in the ocean of Red and Blue.

1 Corinthians 1:10, “I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you are united in the same mind and in the same purpose.”