How Do You Solve a Problem like Cecilia?: Saint Cecilia

This Saints post exists because I owe Saint Cecilia a favor.  First, here’s some backstory:
Last weekend, I was on a LifeTeen retreat (not as a teen, of course.  I’m a Core member).  On Friday my throat felt scratchy and by “lights out” time, my voice was heading down the drain.  All day Saturday, I had a raspy, chain-smoker voice and it hurt to talk.  As luck would have it, I had to give a teaching on authentic prayer.  Normally Saint Blaise is an obvious person to go to for throat trouble because that’s his patronage, but then Saint Cecilia, patroness of music, came to mind.  I said, “Okay, Cecilia, if you can help me deliver my talk in the exact way that I had practiced it, I will bump you up in my posting schedule and you will be the next CGB Saints post.”

I delivered my talk without forgetting a single word.  Remember when I said that it hurt to talk?  As I gave my teaching, my throat felt just fine.

The hills are alive with the sound of Cecilia!
The hills are alive with the sound of Cecilia!

Saint Cecilia has the typical 2nd century A.D. Roman girl backstory; she was born into a wealthy family.  They were all Christians, but she had been betrothed to Valerian, a Pagan man who had a brother named Tibertius, who will be important later, so remember him.  Anyway, between this and my Saint Lucy post, you have figured out by now that in those days, love was not a central ingredient to marriage.  It takes two prominent families to get their younglings to tango.

Of course, Cecilia had promised God that she would be His bride, consecrating her virginity to Him alone.  Instead of adorning herself in the fine dresses and jewels that her family could afford, a sackcloth was her clothing of choice.
Cecilia and Valerian were married and so began the wedding night.  I’m just gonna paraphrase how I think their conversation went:

CECILIA: Honey, I know I’m your wife now and I have to fulfill my duty to you, BUT…I consecrated my virginity to God and because of that, my guardian angel will be standing guard to protect my purity.
VALERIAN: Uh…all right, prove it.  I want to see the angel.
CECILIA: Tell you what; you go visit Pope Urban and get yourself baptized.  When you get back, you will see my angel.
VALERIAN: Well, it is fashionable to see the Holy Father and such a visit could benefit our families, so why not?

I came so close to referring “the angel of music” from Phantom of the Opera as I was typing this.

Valerian visited Pope Urban and was baptized.  When he returned, his jaw hit the floor.  A magnificent angel was standing alongside his new wife while she played the piano.
I’m just gonna go ahead and sing this: “Then I saw her face.  Now I’m a believer!  Without a trace or doubt in my mind…I’m a believer, I couldn’t leave her if I tried!”
The angel had two crowns, one for Cecilia and the other for Valerian.  The crowns were placed on the heads of husband and wife.

Earlier I told you to remember Valerian’s brother Tibertius.  That’s because Tibertius also became a believer once he saw the crowns on Cecilia and Valerian’s heads.  Two is plenty, but three’s a crowd.

Now in their day, Christians were being martyred left and right.  The prefect of their city had a serious case of bloodlust; not only were Christians were being killed off faster than a Game of Thrones character, but their bodies were left on the streets as a warning to Roman citizens.  Valerian and Tibertius were persuaded by Cecilia to bury the martyrs.  When onlookers would approach them, the brothers would direct them to Valerian’s home, where Cecilia would tell them about Jesus Christ.  A woman in love with Jesus, her eloquence and compassion for nonbelievers brought visitors to their knees as they converted to Christianity.

There is no exact timeline of when shiz went down, but we do know that the prefect of the city put a stop to Valerian and Tibertius’ martyr-burial operation.  The brothers were captured, brought before the prefect, and joined the dead.

Preparing her home to be a church, Cecilia turned around when she heard the door open, thinking it was her husband and brother-in-law.  Her smile left her face when Roman soldiers stood at her door.  She took a breath, entrusting her fate to God.

Standing before the prefect as Valerian and Tibertius had, Cecilia was ordered to be executed by suffocation in the bathhouse.  Thrown into the bathhouse, she was locked inside and the flames arose, whipping at her skin and hair.  The guards waited for the agonizing screams of the woman caged in the inferno.
They didn’t hear a peep from her.
Then the fires were cooled, the doors unlocked and reopened; Cecilia stood very much alive.

His mind blown from this incident, the prefect ordered her to be beheaded.  The executioner approached her, armed with a sword that promised to impale flesh and bone.
The first strike hit her neck, but was ineffective.
The second strike cut through skin and nothing else.
The third strike caught the jugular, but her vocal cords remained.
He ran away after the third blow.

Mortally wounded, Cecilia was left to die in a cell.  She was in dire pain, but continued to preach the Gospel as blood flowed down from her maimed neck, soaked up by the sponges and cloths of those who came to hear her speak.  She used her final breath to share the Good News.

Saint Cecilia, pray for us.

CGB Review of Minions

How else am I supposed to start one of my most delayed reviews on CGB?

This is my review of Minions!


I’m not kidding when I say that this review is long overdue.  I think I’ve posted three times promising that I would see and review this movie.  Special thanks to my good friend and CGB follower “M.P.” for getting me to the local theater to see it.

Anyway, Minions is a prequel to Despicable Me and it tells the origin story of those little yellow guys who are always following Gru around.  Apparently in the time before Gru (it’s actually called B.G. as opposed to B.C.), the minions spent their days trying to find an evil leader to serve.  They pursued the T-Rex, Dracula, the pharaohs of Egypt, etc., but most of their prospective masters ended up kicking the bucket.  Three minions named Kevin, Stuart and Bob embark on a Moses-style quest to save their kin by finding a baddie to serve (I say Moses style cause it reminded me of Moses wandering to the desert only to end up coming back with the Ten Commandments).

It’s not as innovative as Inside Out, but this movie is ten times better than the last animated movie I reviewed “Pup,” which had no concept of what a sheepdog is.  The animation in Minions is PDG; pretty darn good.  The angles and fast-paced energy allows the witty banter and comedic movements to look and feel natural rather than stilted.  Throughout the entire film, Kevin, Bob and Stuart speak their own language with French accents and no subtitles.  This can be a risky move, but the filmmakers were wise to use body movement, facial expressions and even changing the pitch of their voice to develop their characters.  In fact, having the minions not speak English sort of added to their bizzare personas.  It gave them a separate identity from the English-speaking characters.

It’s obvious that all the actors, especially Sandra Bullock as Scarlet Overkill are having the time of their lives voicing these characters.  I really love Scarlet Overkill, mostly because I have a soft spot for comedic villains.  I found her relationship with her equally-baddie husband Herb to be oddly endearing.  A bad screenwriter would have had him be just the hopelessly-in-love wimpy husband, but these writers know what they’re doing and gave Herb as much character as they gave to Scarlet.  Like George and Serena Pemberton in “Serena,” Scarlet and Herb are equally intelligent and sinister.

If I do have one issue with Minions, it’s that because the Minions start out as single cell organisms that come into being and automatically form personalities because banana…and potatoes….there are a lot of questions surrounding the Minion culture.   Are there any female Minions?  Is the tribe of Kevin, Stuart and Bob the only Minion tribe or is there another group of Minions somewhere else in the world?  Who named the Minions? I get it, it’s a kids movie, but even LEGO Movie and Inside Out covered enough ground with their world-building.

Final verdict: Minions is a surprisingly witty and clever comedy that can be enjoyed by anyone from a 6-year old to a 60-year old.  I’m glad that “M.P.” got me to finally see the film and I just might be picking up a copy of Despicable Me 1 & 2 just to see these little guys again.

Retro Reviews: The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Am I the only person who actually likes Joel Schumacher’s interpretation of Phantom of the Opera?
I guess I’ll just have to review, wait and see…

This is my review of The Phantom of the Opera!

The Phantom of the Opera is there...inside your mind!
The Phantom of the Opera is there…inside your mind!

The Phantom of the Opera tells the story of a Swedish chorus girl named Christine Daae (pronounced as DIE-EH) who lands the lead role in an opera.  Unbeknownst to anyone else, she has been coached from afar by her “Angel of Music,” who turns out to be a disfigured composer only known as the Phantom.

The Hits
The first half of the film is amazing!  I have always been fascinated by the toxic relationship between Christine and the Phantom.  There’s so much sexual tension without them getting physical.  I think that a relationship that is physically chaste yet emotionally sexual is far more compelling than an explicit sex scene.  Christine is both enamoured with and intimidated by her “Angel of Music.”  The Phantom has a possessive grip on her even when he’s not in the room.  Even if he has his hand on her shoulder or his arm around her waist, there’s a prevailing sense of his dominance and power over her.   I’ve always felt that the most dangerous villain is the villain who the protagonist needs.  Christine needs his instruction to be a better singer.
I really appreciate that the relationship is emotionally abusive and portrayed negatively unlike a more recent film that was based on a certain Twilight fan fiction.  Anyway, there’s a misconception, especially in film and television, that abuse is only physical.  Emotional and psychological abuse are silent forms of violence, like a toad in a pot of boiling water.
All of the actors give top-notch performances.  Emmy Rossum is sweet and sympathetic as Christine, Patrick Wilson brings the kind and passionate Raoul to life, and for the most part, Gerard Butler’s possessive, tormented Phantom is a great antihero.  All of the singing is high quality and professional…well, actually, almost all of the singing.  There is one actor who makes it obvious that he’s not musically trained and had only so much time to prepare…

The Misses
Gerard Butler’s singing…yeah.  Let me put it this way: He sounds great when he sings, “Night time sharpens, heightens each sensation.  Darkness stirs and wakes imagination…” But it’s when he sings “close your eyes and let your spirit start…to…SOAR!” that I rub my ears and say, “Oh, honey, high notes are not up your alley, are they?”  He does get better as the movie progresses, but once you know that he was the only non-musically-trained actor in the PotO cast and you hear him during the first couple of songs, it gets distracting.
The second half of the film is where the story gets formulaic.  Once Raoul steps into the picture…well, is it bad to say that I wish there was no love triangle between Christine, the Phantom and Raoul?   Christine and the Phantom alone make for a great character study of a parasitic semi-romance.  In my opinion, instead of throwing Raoul into the mix, how about have Christine come to realize on her own that she’s a great singer without the Phantom’s help?  Then have Phantom remind her, “I’m the one who made you the star that you are,” and build the story around this psychological conflict?   Christine’s journey could either lead to her breaking free and standing on her own two feet, or she sinks deeper into the depths of Phantom’s manipulation and waltzes with her master to a tragic end.

All that being said, I don’t hate Joel Schumacher’s 2004 version as much as some people do.  For what it is, I think it works.  I have the soundtrack to this film and I listen to it all the time because the music is great.  I like that Christine is younger in this version, and her interaction with the Phantom is riveting to watch.

Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us.

Christian Movie Reviews: Right to Believe

I don’t want to beat around the bush, so I’m just going to attach a disclaimer from both the CGB Facebook page and my personal profile:

My next review requires a disclaimer.
I will be posting my review of a Christian film called “Right to Believe.” It tells the story of a Christian journalist interviewing a gay man who is organizing an LBGT pride parade in their home town.
I will try to be as charitable to both Christian readers and LGBT readers as possible, but my motto is, “If I was interested in making friends, I wouldn’t blog.” Keep in mind that I am critiquing it as a film and nothing more.
The review will be up soon.

This is my review of Right to Believe!


After journalist Tony Morris is demoted when his high-profile article is discredited, he is assigned to cover a “community fluff piece,” which happens to be a gay pride parade.  Though reluctant, Tony takes the assignment and meets LGBT parade organizer Markus Fry.  The first interview goes smoothly, though it is interrupted when Markus gets a distressing phone call.  However things get complicated when, during the second interview, Markus calls out Tony when he sees how uncomfortable Tony acts around him [Markus].  From there, the next series of interviews are a rigorous discussion/debate between Tony and Markus on the topic of homosexuality and the Bible.

The Hits
In my new movie review notebook (my old one was starting to fall apart), the first thing I wrote down was, “how does this Christian film handle homosexuality?”  I am pleased to say that Right to Believe treats the topic with the best care that it can.  Markus Fry is not a gay stereotype; in fact when we first meet him, you don’t know what his sexual orientation is.  An approachable, mild-mannered man who happens to be gay, Markus is written as a character and not an agenda prop.  I could see myself meeting someone like him at Starbucks or a concert.  His homosexuality is an aspect of who he is, not the entirety of who he is.  The movie makes sure that there is more to him than his sexual preference.
The first half of the film is the strongest.  Tony’s situation is believable; after being demoted, he must take the fluff piece in order to keep his job and lay low.  Also Tony’s pride is the reason behind his hesitance to take the assignment.  This is a guy who does infamous murder trials and political scandals, so to be given a task that is mostly for newbie reporters is, in his eyes, beneath him.  His Christian faith adds to his resigned demeanor when approaching the assignment.  Also I would like to point out that the Christian character [Tony] is shown as being less virtuous than the non-believing character [Markus], which is shockingly rare in a lot of Christian films.  In fact, there are times where the script allows Markus to look more logical than Tony.  Overall Tony and Markus are presented in an honest and humanistic way, which is something to be appreciated.

The Misses
Every story has a formula, and how this type of story usually goes is that the two characters from opposing sides would start out forming a friendship or some form of acquaintanceship before tackling the controversial issues surrounding their identities.  Here, it’s an interviewer-interviewee relationship that jumps right into debate partner mode.  Their debate on the Bible and homosexuality is too rushed and could have use a smoother transition.
The actual debate plays out like a heated discussion you would see between two people talking at a café.  A LOT of the dialogue gets preachy and this criticism goes to both Tony and Markus.  Some of what Tony says about the Bible frustrated me, and Markus became unrealistically nasty from time to time.  Also I would have liked to have seen Tony meeting a friend or boyfriend of Markus, or even having Tony’s wife bump into Markus without Tony present; humanize the opposing characters to each other, show the complexities of their positions by having Tony see Markus happy with a boyfriend or vice versa.  Granted, that doesn’t mean that either man should recant his beliefs, but Christian filmmakers should keep in mind that adult issues are always complicated.
What really bothered me as a Catholic Christian is the “only belief in Jesus will get you to Heaven; good works have no say” rhetoric that Tony preaches.  I’m sorry, but I can’t let this go.  If you believe in Jesus, but your actions contradict His teachings, then that’s hypocrisy.  Saint Paul the Apostle says, “faith without work is dead.”

The final verdict is that Right to Believe handles homosexuality the best way it can.  It’s a noble attempt where even though the agenda gets in the way at times, the filmmakers never forgot to tell a story about two human beings.

Update: I have been corrected.  It wasn’t Paul the Apostle who said, “Faith without works is dead.”  Actually here is the real passage:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. “
–James 2:14-26

CGB Review of Ant Man

The following is an actual post on my personal Facebook page:

People of Facebook, I am in need. A huge task has fallen upon my small shoulders and it’s going to take more than the power of one to accomplish it…
I need you all to come up with jokes and puns for me to use in my CGB Ant Man review!  They have to involve shrinkage, small vs. big, uncles and aunts, being a “shrink” (therapist), any ant or aunt puns you can think of.
Just keep it clean and clever.
Now if you’ll excuse me…(puts on shrinking suit and runs off into the grand horizon).

My friends who did participate will be credited in this review using only their initials to protect their privacy.
This is my review of Ant Man!

“INCREDIBLE SCIENTIFIC POWER! …itty bitty living space.”

“Ant Man?  What, was Uncle-Man taken?” says R.L.  Alas, it is true; the titular character’s name is Ant Man, a small-scale hero taking on one big challenge.
Ant Man is, as said by J.L., “A small idea by Marvel, but made with big plans.”  It tells the story of Scott Lang, a savvy thief who just got done serving time in San Quentin for a robbery.  He is recruited by tech billionare Hank Pym and his daughter Hope.  Hank needs Scott to become the Ant Man and, I quote verbatim, “Break into some houses and steal shiz.”  The shiz in question is a shrinkage suit called the Yellow Jacket, which would be used in combat, but if made into copies and given to the masses, could spread chaos in its wake.  Scott, Hank and Hope have to steal the suit and destroy it in an orchestrated heist.

Witty banter is my favorite style of comedy, and Ant Man doesn’t disappoint.  Like Guardians of the Galaxy and the first Avengers movie, the humor in Ant Man is mostly dry, sarcastic banter between the characters.  Every joke is timed perfectly and the sarcasm is spot-on without becoming mean-spirited or unpleasant.  The movie is very self-aware and focuses on being a fun action comedy rather than going to dark-and-bruiting route.
This movie is particularly interested in the relationship between fathers and daughters, and this is displayed in the complex relationship between Hank and Hope Pym.  He doesn’t want to lose her, but fails to express this to her.  As a result, this makes her feel discounted and ignored by her own father.  The death of Mrs. Janice Pym haunts this fractured family.
Meanwhile, Scott’s motivations are driven by his love for his daughter Cassie.  In fact, interwoven into the film is a great message about rising above your past and being the best version of yourself.  Scott is reminded more than once to, “Be the hero Cassie already thinks you are.”  This is what pushes him to seek redemption and turn his life around so that he can be the knight in shining armor that his child deserves.

I only have two issues: For one, Darren Cross is not a compelling villain.  Actor Corel Stoll looks like he’s having the time of his life playing Darren Cross, but the actual character is not that intimidating.  He’s your typical evil corporate scumbag who wants to make millions and control the world and blah blah blah.
My second issue is that because this movie offers nothing new to the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), it’s fun but forgettable.   Granted, mindless action has its place, but it’s kind of sad when a film doesn’t stand out.

Overall Ant Man is a small-scale popcorn flick and a welcome addition to the highly-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Bad Animated Movies: CGB Review of Pup (2013)

So the dog character in this movie is described as a “sheepdog.”
Does this dog in the poster look remotely anything like a sheepdog to you?!
This is my review of Pup!


This garbage is the story of a lamb and a “sheepdog” who try to go to the moon while encountering a fashion designer wolf, Chinese spiders (I wish I was making that up) and other hijinks because…FLIPPIN’ POTATOES!  This autopilot script is so dull, so not-engaging that I had it playing on my laptop while I tidied my room.  Clearing off my desk was more entertaining than sitting through this flick.

The animation is awful.  They use the same curly design for the trees and sheep wool, the colors are bland and pasty, the animals range from mediocre to just plain ugly, and of course Kanuto the “sheepdog” looks nothing like a sheepdog!
Why does this get on my nerves?  Because THIS is a sheepdog:

My Old English sheepdog Sophie 11/10/99-5/11/15
My Old English sheepdog Sophie

I understand that the movie’s budget would make a pack of gum look expensive, but at the very least they could have tried to make Kanato resemble a sheepdog. Just slap some curly fur on his body, make him a Sheltie or a Polish lowland; do whatever you need to do.  There would be no problem if they just said “herding dog” or just “a dog.”  But if you label a dog character’s breed, then you’ve got to draw him/her that way.

Then again, no effort went into this horrid mess at all.  The voice acting is lifeless because every actor sounds like they’re either daydreaming or half-asleep…or both.  The jokes are dead on arrival, the “story” feels ad-libbed with no creativity, and the music…argh, the background music is just annoyingly ear-bleeding; there’s a scene where Kanuto is running to find Blackie and they have this bouncing sound effect accompaning his running.  I titled my head and said to myself, “Um, you do know he’s not hopping, right?” Then I remembered that the filmmakers didn’t care and I didn’t care, so I went back to organizing my bookshelf.

I’m just end this review with accurate pictures of the sheepdog family, which are more enjoyable to look at than this shizzy movie.

Belgian sheepdog
Belgian sheepdog
Polish lowland sheepdog
Polish lowland sheepdog
Shetland Sheepdogs (Sheltie)
Shetland Sheepdogs (Sheltie)

Pray with the Colors of the Wind: Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

Every time I hear someone say, “The Catholic Church is so sexist and prejudiced,” I always respond with, “You should come visit my church, Saint Kateri Parish. Our patron is a Native American woman who had a facial disfigurement and was even partially blind.”  The stunned silence that follows is priceless.

Now I can’t paint with all the colors of the wind, but I can tell you the story of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha!

Before Disney's Pocohantas, there was Kateri.
Before Disney’s Pocohantas, there was Kateri.

Okay, I know that this is a more glamorized depiction of her, but she really did have a scarred face and weak eyes.  Before I explain how that happened, let’s go back to the beginning.

Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in Auriesville, which today is known as upstate New York, so technically she is a New Yorker.  [DISCLAIMER: Get ready for some seriously hard-to-pronounce-words in 3…2…1] She was the daughter of a Mohawk chief and a woman named Tagaskouita, who was an Algonquin Christian.  In her day, small pox was the kiss of death.  If you had it, it was game over for you.  Only the most hardy souls survived, and among them was a four-year old girl.  When small pox wiped out her entire village, including her parents and younger brother, the little girl was adopted by her uncle, an Iroquois chief who was disgusted by her scarred face and poor vision.  As a result, he gave her the derogatory name Tekakwitha, which means, “she who bumps into things.”  The scars on her face made her less attractive to potential suitors, so her uncle felt the need to arrange a marriage for her at the tender age of eight.

In her day, Jesuit missionaries were frequent visitors to that territory due to their mission to convert the Native Americans to Christianity.  As a child, Tekakwitha often had exposure to the words of the humble yet passionate missionaries.  She was moved by the promise of Salvation, and in particular, the emphasis on God’s deep love for each human being.  “Even me,” she probably thought as an outcast in her own tribe.  This led her to open her heart to a God who would accept her when no one else would.  Keep in mind that her mother had been a Christian, so faith was weaved into her youngest memories.  It was the message of the missionaries that has reawakened the faith of her childhood.  Nature was where she felt closest to the Creator, for she would make a cross out of sticks and pray among the trees and woodland creatures.  However she couldn’t be baptized just yet because, well…

In 1666, the Mohawk’s strongholds on the south bank were demolished by a group of French soliders and hostile Natives from Canada.  Tekakwitha and the remaining Mohawks crossed over the north side of the river and sought refuge in a village called Fonda where, at the age of 18, Tekakwitha was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church in secret and took the name Catherine, also known as Kateri.

There was just one major problem: Her uncle was not only repulsed by her, but like Professor Radisson in “God’s Not Dead,” he loathed Christianity.  So when he learned that his niece had become a Christian, he only accepted her decision under the condition that Kateri never leave their tribe.  The Iroquois people may have tolerated her facial disfigurement and blindness before, but now that she was a Christian, the gloves were off and she was made a pariah.  Public ridicule, scornful neighbors, false accusations; Kateri was at the center of the mob mentality.  Yet she never caved or recanted her faith in Jesus.  If anything, the rejection and hate from others only made her stronger.  It assured her that she was on the side of Truth.

Two years after her baptism, Kateri was forced to flee after her life was threatened. She escaped to the Mission of St. Francis Xavier in Caughnawaga, Canada, where she lived with fellow Natives who had converted to Christianity.  She spent the last years of her life here, where she dedicated her days to prayer, self-mortification and acts of charity.   On April 17, 1680, twenty-four year old Kateri Tekakwitha drew her last breath after suffering from a grave illness.  Upon the entrance of her soul into Heaven, the scars on her face faded away, revealing the true beauty of who she was.

On October 21, 2012, Kateri was canonized after prayers to her miraculously healed Jake Finkbonner, whose life had been on the line due to a flesh-eating virus.  She became the first Native American to be declared a Saint.

I think that certainty was Kateri’s defining characteristic.  She was certain that Jesus is Truth.  She was certain that her countercultural faith was worth the scorn of her tribe.  Christianity had empowered her to remove the blanket from her scarred face and shine with the Light of Christ for all to see.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, patroness of my home parish and of Catholic Girl Bloggin’, pray for us.

CGB Review of Serena (2015)

I just realized that this is Bradley Cooper’s fourth appearance on Catholic Girl Bloggin’ (see my reviews for Aloha, American Sniper and Silver Linings Playbook). I swear that’s a coincidence, though it doesn’t hurt to see his chizzled face and those baby-blue eyes more than once.

Before I ramble on about my crush on Bradley Cooper, this is my review of Serena!

These two have insane chemistry.

Serena tells the story of timber industrial tycoon newly-weds George and Serena Pemberton.  The film chronicles their passionate marriage, the rise of their logging business, and their inevitable downfall as George must reconcile with his past that involves an illegitimate child with a worker and Serena must cope with a devastating event that shakes the foundation of their love.

So this movie has a very shaky production history.  Long story short, the filming finished up in 2012, but director Susanne Bier took more than eighteen months to edit and polish the final product.  It was submitted to a film festival in London, and then it bombed at the UK box office.  Finally it got picked up by Magnolia and had a limited theatrical release and a VOD (video on demand) slot.  There’s a reason I bring this up, but I’ll come back to that in a bit.

I’ve watched this movie twice; once in a hotel and last night on Netflix.  This film is like Courageous; there’s a lot of good stuff here and there’s also quite a few hiccups.

The Hits
I think it’s safe to say that Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence should keep doing movies together.  Their performances show that they enjoy each other’s company and love working side by side.  I like that the movie shows us that George is enamored with Serena without having other characters tell us outright, “She fascinates him, can’t you tell?”   The first act shows us how ideal their marriage is; George is tender with her and respects her intellect.  Serena stands by his side and works with him as a competent business partner.  Their relationship is centered around their admiration of each other and the combining of their goals.  Think Ella and Prince Kit from the live-action Cinderella movie if they ran a business together.  The movie succeeds at being an observant character study of George and Serena, these two people who think the world is theirs only to have it come crashing down on them.  All of the performances from the likes of Toby Jones and Rhys Ifans are top-notch, but it’s Cooper and Lawrence who bring home the bacon.  I will admit that after they were so electric as Pat and Tiffany in Silver Linings, it was a little jarring to see Cooper and Lawrence giving subdued performances.  However J-Law is believable as the capable, steeley feminist Serena while Cooper brings out his American Sniper chops as George, a once self-serving man who is softened by his marriage.

The Misses
So what holds this movie back?  Remember what I said earlier about how the director took more than 18 months to finish editing and what not?  Yeah…it starts to show in some of the transitional shots.  After George and Serena first meet, the film cuts to a faraway shot of people dancing, then it just cuts to a close-up of Serena’s smiling face, then it just cuts to her and George consummating their marriage.  Now I’m no film editor, but some of the transitions could have been smoother.  Also because a lot of the actors are attempting late-1920’s North Carolina accents, the audio of their dialogue is hard to hear every once in a while. Finally my biggest issue is that this movie is very, very slow.  Now there is a grace to a movie that is slowly-paced; you get to know the characters more intimately and the movie is allowed to create atmospheric tension.  However the downside is that because the story is taking its sweet time, the conflict that arises lacks a sense of urgency.  I wasn’t invested in the Pemberton’s money troubles or even when one character named Buchanan turns on George because the slow-pacing makes the conflict lag.

Putting aside the techincal flaws, I don’t think Serena deserved the scatching reviews it got from critics.  If I had to rank the four Bradley Cooper movie I’ve reviewed, it would look like this: Gold medal goes to American Sniper, Silver Linings gets the Silver (ba boom pssh!), Serena is given a generous Bronze, and Aloha gets…NOTHING AT ALL!

Saints Felicity and Perpetua, pray for us.

CGB Review of Bad Teacher (2011)

So this is gonna be a short review because it’s almost midnight and I’m tired.  However I can tell you right now that this movie isn’t getting a passing grade.

This is my review of Bad Teacher!

Behold, a stale comedy starring Cameron Diaz.
Behold, a stale comedy starring Cameron Diaz.

Okay, the misadventures of an obviously unqualified teacher is an interesting premise.  Cameron Diaz’s character Elizabeth is an amoral, self-serving teacher who thinks everyone is enamored with her; that is a creative arch that can be done well.

Unfortunately the writers of this movie were clearly not ready.  The script has a good set-up, but that’s where the creativity ends.  Cameron Diaz does what she can, but batting your eyelashes and sashaying down the halls isn’t character development.  I’m sure she’s very talented, but for a supposedly raunchy teacher, her performance becomes very constrained in the second half.  The same goes for the other actors; Phyllis from The Office only has to say lines awkwardly.  Justin Timberlake looks uncomfortable in his role half of the time.  Jason Seigal, you were in HIMYM; you can do better!

And then there’s Lucy Punch…argh!  I’m sure she’s a funny and talented woman, but holy cow, she is too annoying to put up with.  Obnoxious characters are supposed to annoying the other characters, NOT the audience.

I’m giving Bad Teacher, the stale and half-baked comedy, a D-.

Christian Movie Reviews: God’s Not Dead

I’ve been getting requests to review this movie since Day 1 of Catholic Girl Bloggin’.  When I started this Christian Movie Marathon, I knew I couldn’t bypass this one.

Without further ado, this is my review of God’s Not Dead.

The fight is on.

God’s Not Dead tells the story of Josh Wheaton, a college student who must defend his Christian faith to his philosophy class after refusing to sign a paper with the words “God is Dead.”  He must go up against Professor Jeffrey Radisson, an avowed atheist who forces all the students on the first day of class to sign the “God is Dead” declaration.

I am pleased to announce that this movie is leagues better than Christian Mingle The Movie and Last Ounce of Courage.  However here is my current ranking of Best Christian Movies so far: #1. Grace Unplugged; #2. Soul Surfer; #3. God’s Not Dead.  I will highlight the hits and the misses:

The Hits

I love the rivalry that emerges between Josh and Professor Radisson, and that’s probably because I like rivalry stories.  The scene where Radisson confronts Josh in the hallway and basically tells him that he will ruin him if he continues his arguments is actually kind of terrifying thanks to Kevin Sorbo’s committed performance as Radisson.  My favorite scene between the two characters is the final debate in the classroom.  Josh begins making more personal jabs at Radisson, which keep his character from being completely virtuous.   In turn, we sees Radisson’s composure begin to crack until he finally succumbs to Josh’s emboldened stance.

I found Radisson to be the most compelling character, if not one of my favorite villains.  In fact, I kind of wish the story was told from his point of view.   This is a guy whose disbelief comes from a place of pain.  His atheism is a cover to mask his hatred for God.  He hides behind his intellect to keep his vulnerabilities from coming to light.  Something that my Mother pointed out is that Radisson keeps his relationships superficial; he chooses a circle of shallow intellectuals over deep, personal connections.  The one meaningful romance in his life (his relations with a Christian student named Mina) is one that he puts limits on.  Yes, I will admit that he did come off as the militant atheist stereotype, but I still saw a fully-realized character who undergoes a personal journey that comes full circle in the end.

Alongside the main storyline, there are two subplots: A Muslim girl named Ayisha who is secretly practicing Christianity, and an atheist blogger named Amy whose life comes crashing down after she learns that she is dying from cancer.  Their stories were well-written and could have been their own movies.  The movie never takes any jabs at Islam; in fact there’s one scene where Ayisha’s father tells her, “I know it’s hard to be set apart, but no one here worships God the way He should be worshipped.  You know I love you, Ayisha…” I thought that was a very respectful, human moment.  The scene where her Christianity is discovered and her father kicks her out is a powerful scene.  I appreciate that the father hesitates before kicking her out because it shows that he is torn between his love for his child and his commitment to his own faith.  Meanwhile Amy’s story is a little shaky at first, because she starts off as more of a “militant atheist” caricature than Radisson, but right after the cancer diagnosis, her character begins to develop.  I like when she says, “I don’t have time for cancer” because it tells us that time is the antagonist of her narrative.  I got choked up when the doctor asks, “Is there anyone you would like with you when I tell you this?” “No…there’s no one.” Minutes later the doctor leaves and she’s left sitting in the room, completely alone.  The movie lets the silence of the moment tell us of her pain, and that is more powerful than ten lines of dialogue.

The Misses

What did I say in my review of Christian Mingle The Movie?  (Goes back to the archives) “Yes, I believe that inner peace comes from faith in Jesus, but Christians are allowed to express more than one emotion” (Christian Movie Reviews: Christian Mingle The Movie).  The African preacher Pastor Jude annoyed me.  He was way too happy.  I have nothing against joyful Christians, but even the most joyful and content people can get stressed when the third car from the dealership won’t start.  His friend Pastor Dave is more believable in the situations they find themselves in.   I get that Pastor Jude has an unshakable trust in God, but joy and blind optimism are two different things.

You know how I had so much to say about the peaks and valleys of Professor Radisson’s character?  I wish I could say the same about the main protagonist Josh Wheaton.  Having a character start out as a blank slate and then having him/her progress over time is all fine and good, but when we first meet Josh, his own personal relationship with God is unknown, so his motivations for accepting Radisson’s challenge feels more like a command from the script than an organic decision made by the character.  Also I would like to add that only one person was against his accepting the challenge, and that was his awful girlfriend.  This problem would have been solved if his family knew and were trying to change his mind.  Even better, what if the girlfriend had been Radisson’s daughter?  Don’t be afraid to raise the stakes!   Now to be fair, Josh’s character does evolve especially in the final debate, which is his best moment.  Still I can’t overlook the weak starting points of his arc.

Let’s talk about the ending!  There’s a major spoiler ahead, so if you’re planning on watching the movie, then here is your warning:

[SPOILER ALERT!!!!  5…4…3…2…1] I might be in the minority here, but I really wish that Radisson’s acceptance of God as he is dying was left ambiguous.  As he is dying from internal bleeding, Pastor Dave asks him if he accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  Radisson converts with his last breath.  Though this is how his character comes full circle, which I appreciate, but there is power in the ambiguous ending.  I feel that if Radisson would have died before verbalizing his conversion, it would have given viewers the ability to debate amongst themselves what his decision was.  Given the evolution of his journey, he could have gone either way (accepting or rejecting God).  Ambiguity keeps the viewers coming back for more.

Overall I am happy to say that this movie proves one thing: God and good filmmaking are not dead.  They are very much alive.