CGB Review of Pan’s Labyrinth/El Laberinto del Fauno (1,000 likes special!)

So when the Catholic Girl Bloggin’ Facebook page hit 1,000 likes, I knew I had to do something special to celebrate.  I decided to do a review of my favorite movie of all time.

This is my review of Pan’s Labyrinth/El Laberinto del Fauno!


Pan’s Labyrinth opens with a fairy tale about Princess Moanna, the daughter of the king of the underworld.  One day she escapes from the underworld and enters the human world.  The minute the sunlight touches her eyes, she is blinded and all memory of her time as royalty is forgotten.  She lives among the mortals until sickness claims her life.  Her father believes that her spirit will one day find its way home.
Fast-forward to post-Civil War Spain in 1944; a young girl named Ofelia and her pregnant mother Carmen have moved to the countryside to live with Ofelia’s new stepfather Captain Vidal.  Lonely and isolated, Ofelia seeks refuge in the mill’s abandoned labyrinth, where she comes across a Faun who tells her that she is Princess Moanna and that in order to return to the underworld, she must complete three tasks before the full moon rises.

Guys and gals, I’ve been wanting to review this movie for a very long time.  I love this movie to pieces.  I discovered it six years ago and I’ve watched it 20 times ever since.  This movie was a turning point in my life and really changed my outlook on storytelling, so I have a lot to say about this gem.

The Hits
If you want to see some quality acting, look no further.  Every actor in this movie is exceptional; even the supporting characters give great performances!
Ivana Baquero plays Ofelia/Princess Moanna and she is wonderful.  A lover of fairy tales who finds comfort in her books, Ofelia is a lonesome innocent trapped in the brutal world of her stepfather’s mill.   Ofelia was originally written as an 8-year old, but 11-year old Baquero impressed Guillermo del Toro so much that he made revisions to the script so that he could cast Baquero, which was a wise decision in my opinion.  She looks young enough to still be reading fairy tale books, but is also old enough to be going on perilous quests.
Ariadna Gil plays her mother Carmen, who is sedated for a good chunk of the movie.  I like that the movie makes her a grounded, world-weary adult instead of villifying her for dismissing Ofelia’s obessesion with fairy tales.   Maribel Verdu is warm and empathetic as Mercedes, a housekeeper/revoluntionary who is conspiring with a group of rebels to take down Captain Vidal.
The most impressive performance comes from Sergei Lopez as Captain Vidal. What makes him stand out is that he is actually a comedic actor in his native Catalonia and producers had warned Del Toro that he might not fit the role of Vidal.  Lopez has said, “He [Vidal] is the most evil character I’ve ever played in my career.”  He’s right on the money because Captain Vidal is one sadistic son of a gun.  A cold and deranged fascist who is addicted to violence, Captain Vidal rules the mill with an iron fist that has been heated by the flames of Hell.
This movie came out in 2007, yet the special effects have aged gracefully.  The creatures are brilliantly designed and feel like unique monsters, especially the Pale Man (that guy with eyes on his hands).  I love that the fairies have earth-tone skin with leaf wings.  A lot of the scenes take place at night, so the use of midnight turquoise lighting instead of midnight blue makes it easy to see all that’s going on. Oh, and did I mention that the music is a hypnotic, melancholic lullaby that will haunt your ears long after the credits roll?

The Misses
No film is perfect.  As much as I praise this movie to high Heaven, there are some drawbacks.
I’ve always felt that Ofelia is not connected enough to the violence that surrounds her.  There’s never a scene where she witnesses her stepfather committing a violent act.  Yes, there’s a scene where Captain Vidal murders a man and his grown son, but Ofelia is absent from this scene.  I’m not saying that I would’ve preferred having her shoehorned into a scene where she’s not needed, but still, her disconnect has always been a problem for me.
There’s one major continuity error that if CinemaSins ever did an “Everything Wrong with Pan’s Labyrinth” video, they would pick up on it.
Also it’s sort of a SPOILER, so…SPOILER ALERT in 3…2…1…
After Ofelia completes the first task, she has to open the Book of Crossroads to find out what the second task is.  Shades of red explode across the pages and Ofelia hears her mother gasping.  She finds her very pregnant mother bleeding profusely.  Later that night, Ofelia, who is now sleeping in the attic, is visited by the Faun who says, “You did not complete the task,” to which Ofelia responds, “No, my mother–she was sick…”
This scene has always bothered me because after she defeated the Toad in the tree and got the golden key, the Faun told her to be patient and wait for her next assignment.  The next day, Ofelia opens the Book of Crossroads and then shiz goes down with her mother.  I don’t remember the Faun telling her there was something she needed to do before the second task; he just told her to be patient.
My guess is that this problem got overlooked in the screenwriting process. Director Guillermo del Toro did a lot of the work himself; directing, screenwriting, editing, giving up his salary to avoid budget constraints, even writing the subtitles! When a project as massive as this falls on the shoulders of one person, it’s easy for something to get overlooked.

Pan’s Labyrinth will always and forever be my #1 favorite film.  It’s a dark and poetic story with well-defined characters portrayed by great actors, a beautiful musical score and stunning visuals.  It doesn’t need a sequel, a prequel or a reboot. Just let it be the gothic fairy tale that it was always meant to be.

Saint Rose of Lima, pray for us.

CGB Review of To The Wonder (Guest Starring Leia the Dog!)

Hey indie filmmakers, why are you so afraid of dialogue?  What did dialogue ever do to you?

This is my review of To The Wonder!

Also, I’d like to welcome a very special guest: My “niece” Leia the dog!
To The Wonder chronicles the whirlwind romance of an American man and a French woman played by Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko.  At first everything is awesome and they’re all in love and shiz, but when Kurylenko moves to Oklahoma with Affleck, shiz hits the fan and their love is tested.  Things get even more complicated when Affleck reconnects with Rachel McAdams.
So before I start, I’m going to do something a little different with this review. Along with my “hits and misses” system, I’m also going to use reaction pictures of Leia to explain what the movie does right and what it does wrong.

The Hits
This movie is surprisingly Catholic without even trying to be!
For one, this movie has the most compassionate, humanistic portrayal of a priest character in a secular film that I’ve ever seen.  Javier Bardem plays a priest who is experiencing a dark night of the soul.  He feels disconnected and uncared for by God, yet finds peace and healing through ministering to others.
So I’m guessing the screenwriter found inspiration from Mother Teresa’s spiritual darkness.  😉
Like Melancholia, this film is a cinematography student’s dream come true.   There are a lot of beautiful nature shots.  This would be the greatest nature documentary ever made if director Terrance Malick had just said, “Frick it, let’s just throw the script away and make an Earth Day movie for Disney!”
To The Wonder is the best representation of the “love just happens” philosophy in action.  It makes a good cautionary tale about what happens when people dismiss the fact that love is a choice and not just an emotional high.  Affleck and Kurylenko are committed to each other…when everything is fine and dandy. When life kicks in and the real challenges arise, what they think is love is suddenly gone. When we abandon the personal responsibility aspect of love, we end up with fleeting relationships that are great for the moment, but can be easily replaced when things get dull or tough.  In a way, the film argues that looking for love using self-serving actions leave us empty-handed, and that true love exists once we look outside ourselves and serve those who are less fortunate than us.

The Misses
A friend of mine once said, “I could watch a movie on mute as long as Rachel McAdams is in it.”
Hey, M.P., guess what?  You’re in luck because this movie is SEVERELY ALLERGIC TO DIALOGUE!
Yeah, I was also tilting my head at the startling lack of dialogue.  Tell me, when you’re walking around at the mall or the beach or somewhere with your friend, do you just awkwardly stare at each other and then gaze at the pretty flowers as if posing for a photoshoot?   I sure don’t!  The characters in this film will literally walk to each other and just exchange glances without even saying “hello.”  In the rare times that they do talk, they whisper to each other because–Terrence Malick!
You may have noticed in my summary that I used the actors’ names and not the names of their characters.  That’s because nobody in this film calls each other by their names.
Sixteen minutes into the film, I said aloud, “Hey, what are your guys’ names?”
Thirty minutes into the film, as Ben Affleck silently walks across a construction site, I ask, “Dude, what’s your character name?”
An hour later…”I’d love to connect with ya’ll, but I have no idea what your names are!”  Watching an entire movie and never knowing who is who is kind of a problem.
Why is pacing such a common problem in cinema?  To The Wonder and Melancholia are two movies that really like to drag out their running time.   Scenes will go on for longer than they’re supposed to and there are so many silent periods throughout the movie that I actually started doing my math homework without ever feeling like I was missing something important.
By the end, Leia and I just dozed off…

All of that being said, To The Wonder is a conflicting movie.  There is a lot of good stuff here and as an arthouse indie flick, it succeeds in having its own unique style.  However, the unrealistic silence between the characters and the “drag-your-feet” pacing will test your patience as it did mine.
On the bright side, I got to spend some quality time with my fur-niece.


Saint Valentine, pray for us.

Authentic Voice: An Editorial on Prayer

So I want to give you a little peek into the workings of my brain.  It’s a scary place, I know, but I’m sure you’ll meet colorful little people named Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust.  (Product placement for “Inside Out!”)
Anyway, so whenever I write a CGB post, the first thing I do is think to myself, “Okay, which one of my bijillion favorite Saints would be the best person to ask for guidance?” So I opened my little book of Saints quotes and I found a few gems:

Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina: “Pray, hope and don’t worry. The Lord is merciful and will hear your prayers.”

Saint Therese of Lisieux: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”

Saint Ambrose’s words to Saint Monica when she was praying for her then-wayward son Augustine, “It is not possible that the child of so many tears should perish.”

Hmm, there’s a certain word that keeps popping up with these quotes. Do you know what it is?


The prayer lives of Padre Pio, Therese and Monica were the center of who they were.
Pio was known for his deep and lofty prayers that would go on for hours—and were sometimes said in Latin. Praying to the Blessed Mother brought tears to his eyes, while praying to Michael the Archangel empowered him to take on the skeptics.
Therese was a humble person who felt so small in comparison to our great God, so her prayers were more like a natural conversation with a friend.
Monica was worried about her son Augustine’s immortal soul, so her prayers were the raw desperate cries of a pleading mother.

It’s interesting to note that these three people prayed in different ways, but they all did the same thing: They communicated with God and shared with Him what was on their hearts. So what do the different prayer lives of these famous Saints tell us about prayer?
It tells us that there is no right way or wrong way to pray. You don’t have to sit in a special position or speak in Latin when you pray.  Your prayers can be as long as the Great Wall of China or as short as your pinky finger.
You can tell God something trivial, such as, “God, thank you for stopping the rain on my way to school/work.” You can say, “That’s a nice flower.  Thanks for creating it, God–squirrel!  Oh, yeah, thank you for the squirrel.”  You can tell God something super important that’s bothering you.
Speaking of which, guess what?  You don’t even have to be happy when you pray. Yes, Christians are called to be joyful, but inner joy, which is found by knowing and loving God, is different than daily happiness.
I hope I don’t sound harsh, but if you only say what you think God wants to hear—the nice, fluffy stuff—that’s not prayer, that’s putting on a show.
He wants the real you.  Don’t be afraid to get angry at God or cry uncontrollably when you pray.  In fact, you don’t have to agree with Him.  Heck, you can argue with Him, doubt Him and question Him.  Trust me, He can handle the uncomfortable emotions that He created.  What He wants to know is what you’re really thinking and feeling.  Like Therese said, He meets us where we are.
Your age doesn’t matter. Whether you got that degree or not; it doesn’t matter. Whether you have an unshakable faith in Him or you’re doubting His existence, it doesn’t matter.  All He wants is you just the way you are.
You have a million thoughts in your head throughout the day, so why not share them with the One who put them there? He doesn’t care where you are, whether you’re at the mall, school or church. He just wants to hear from you. He wants to know what’s on your heart. He wants to hear your authentic voice.


CGB Review of Melancholia (2011)

“Lord, can I just click out of Netflix, go downstairs and put The Imitation Game back in the Blue-Ray machine?” I said aloud as I endured Melancholia’s overly-long wedding reception.

This is my review of Melancholia!

Lars Von Trier - Melancholia 2

Melancholia tells the story of two sisters, Justine and Claire and the disintegration of their co-dependent relationship as they await the inevitable destruction of Earth once it collides with the planet Melancholia.
This movie is directed by Lars Von Trier, a Danish filmmaker who has his own approach and style to his films (just look up Dogme 95).  In a nutshell, he loves handheld cameras, nudity and being artsy.  I think one of his more recent films features a girl walking up some stairs and then 3+5 appears on the screen because–Von Trier.
Guys and gals, I really wanted to love Melancholia.  After The Imitation Game gave me an incredible experience, I was ready to be wowed by another indie movie.  But once the credits rolled with Melancholia, I felt drained from slogging through this one.
Okay, let’s go over the few things this movie got right and where it took a nosedive.

The Hits
The opening scene is amazing!  We see some beautifully choreographed montages of our main characters treading nature landscapes in slow motion, accompanied by Triston and Isolde musical score.  I’ll give the movie this: If you’re studying cinematography, then you’re gonna love this film because there are some really gorgeous shots of the courtyard, the moon, and especially of the sky.
Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg (who shows up in a lot of Von Trier’s films) give everything they’ve got to make the film watchable.  They are believable as two sisters with a strained relationship.  You may find it odd that Claire has a British accent while Justine doesn’t, but then we see that their mother is British and the father is American, so this potential issue is fixed right away.
The story of two characters coping with an inevitable coming doom is a compelling story arch that can make for some great character studies if done well.  The actual plot of Melancholia is pretty original and the fantastic opening scene made me feel hopeful for a surreal experience.
Well, I had an experience, all right…a frustrating one.

The Misses
The wedding reception…ugh!  This is where the pacing suffers greatly.  I asked my mother, “Are wedding receptions this long?”  Justine’s wedding reception has got to be the longest, most drawn-out movie wedding reception in cinematic history.  What makes it drag is that there are segments that could have been cut out.  I have no problem with Justine sitting silently in the bathtub during her reception or the sisters’ mother ranting about the woes of modern marriage.  These are necessary moments for character development.  However, do I really need to know that Justine and Claire’s dad collects spoons?  Is it essential to the plot that we watch Justine try to drive the wedding limo?  Was Justine’s boss/the best man even needed in this story?  I understand that boss characters typically represent greed and corporatism, but his character has one long wedding toast speech and then a handful of sentences before he leaves the plot, never to be seen again.  If you’re going to have your main character stand up to someone, make sure that the person they’re confronting has done something to negatively impact them.  Have Justine confront her hateful mother or Claire’s husband who never shuts up about how much the wedding cost.
In my past reviews, I’ve complained about too much dialogue.  Aloha’s use of dialogue involved characters walking up to each other and explaining exposition.  Courageous used ten lines of dialogue to explain something that could’ve been summed up in five words or less.  Melancholia has the opposite problem; there is not enough dialogue.  When characters do talk, the conversations stop the story because characters will talk about the food or the music, basically things that have little to no connection to advancing the story or developing character.

I did some research on Lars Von Trier and this seems to be a guy who really loves cinema.  “I’m afraid of everything except filmmaking,” he has said.
I know you have a lot of phobias, Lars, but pacing is your friend, not your foe.

A Mother’s Love: Saint Monica

I was sixteen-years old when I was going through the Confirmation program. When it came time for me to pick a saint, I was torn between all the single saintly ladies: Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena were my top picks, but so were Agnes of Rome, Maria Goretti, and Cecilia.  Joan of Arc is cool, but Lucy of Syracuse is like a sister to me.  Then there’s my parish patron Kateri Tekakwitha to consider, but then again, Faustina Kowalska is the patroness of the Divine Mercy!  AAAAHHHHH!!!!
As you can see, I was quite stressed.  So many awesome ladies to choose from and I only had so much time.  I remember flipping through my Saints book in a panic.  I ended up dropping it and watched it cracked open on the tile.  When I picked it up, I saw the page on Saint Monica.
I skimmed through her chapter, “She doesn’t seem very interesting.”  She wasn’t a soldier like Joan or a martyr like Lucy, Maria or Agnes.  I put Monica on the backburner for a while.
However, the longer I resisted, the more she crept up on me.  One night I went online and read up on Monica.  I scratched my head, “God, why should I pick her?  We have nothing in common.”
At first glance, Monica and I were incompatible as candidate and patron.
She was a married woman.  I am single.
She lived in Africa.  I am a born-and-raised California girl.
She was an obedient old woman.  I am a headstrong young woman.
In spite of all these differences between us, I couldn’t bring myself to click out of her info page just yet.  So I sighed and took a second look at her story.

Saint Monica portrayed by actress Monica Guerritore in Restless Heart.
Saint Monica portrayed by actress Monica Guerritore in Restless Heart.

Saint Monica was born in 331 AD in Tagaste, which is now known as Souk Ahras, Algeria.  Not much is known about Monica’s childhood, but we do know that she was born after Constantine legalized Christianity.
You may have noticed that in a lot of my Saints bios, many of these guys and gals were either in arranged marriages (ex. Cecilia) or were arranged to be married to somebody (ex. Lucy).  Monica is no exception.
She was twenty-two (a year younger than me) when she was betrothed to a Pagan man named Patricius.  By all accounts, Monica was a generous and obedient girl, so she was married off without hesitation.
To put it simply, Monica got a pretty raw deal because Patricius was the biggest jerk in Tagaste.  Violent, with an explosive temper, he verbally and physically abused Monica during his outbursts.  To add insult to injury, he was the kind of guy who would be a regular Ashley Madison customer if he lived in the year 2015.  Oh, and did I mention that his mother/Monica’s mother-in-law also worse than Nurse Ratchet from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?”  Needless to say, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Ditch this guy, Monica,” but divorce court wasn’t a thing in AD Tagaste.  These were the days where a man could leave his wife if she wasn’t a virgin, but a woman was stuck with a hot-headed cheater.
Monica was a Christian and she was especially drawn to Christianity’s emphasis on kindness and humility.  She was also very smart, so she figured that if she couldn’t leave Patricius, she would kill him with kindness.  She knew she couldn’t fight back when he hit her because she would end up on the streets as a beggar woman, so she said her prayers aloud, ignoring him as he stormed off.   When he came home after visiting one of his “lady friends,” Patricius scratched his head when he saw a lavish meal prepared for him by the wife he was betraying.
Monica’s charitible approach won over Patricius’ respect and admiration, to where his punches became less frequent and he began walking out of the room instead of screaming at her.

Monica had three children with Patricius; Augustine, Navigius and Perpetua. There’s very little info on Navigius and Perpetua (I did find out that Navigius entered the monastery), but Augustine–oh, yes–there is a plethora of info on Augustine.  Why?  Because her Augustine just so happens to be THE great Saint Augustine of Hippo.  What a twist!
Monica did the best job she could at raising her children in the faith, but remember, Patricius was an aggressive Pagan and it was his way or the highway. Augustine was the oldest son and it’s not uncommon for the oldest son to gravitate towards his father.  This means that Augustine was very much his father’s son in his actions…and in his beliefs.
Monica knew that her son was a fast-learner, but her heart broke when she saw how disinterested he was in her Christian faith.  She was even more distressed when she realized that Paganism was more enticing to her impressionable son.

After years of being bound to his sinful ways, Patricius converted to Christianity on his deathbed.  However, Monica still had one more thing to do: Save her Pagan-party boy son!  (Plays Superman theme music)
When Augustine grew up, he traveled to Carthage.  In those days, saying “I’m going to Carthage” was like saying, “I’m going to Harvard.”  It was where all the great thinkers went to, well, think and trade abstract ideas.  It was also where many heresies and questionable theological theories sprang up and resided.  These ideas influenced Augustine and led him astray for oh-so-many years.  To his chagrin, Augustine wasn’t alone.  Right behind him on the boat to Carthage was his mother.

As she followed him on his travels, Monica witnessed Augustine’s sinful ways.  She watched him drink himself into a stupor on multiple occasions.  She watched him blaspheme against God and the Church.  She watched him impregnate a woman he wasn’t married to.  She watched him abandon the woman and their infant son.  Her heart broke with each sin.  Every day she offered up her son in prayer.  She asked God to forgive Augustine and to change his hardened heart.  Sometimes her prayers were calm and contemplative; other times they were shouted in desperation and anger. Every prayer came with tears for her wayward son.  Monica’s valiant praying caught the attention of Saint Ambrose, the bishop of Milan.  Monica went to him and poured out her story about the abuse she suffered and of her fear for Augustine’s immortal soul.  Ambrose was so moved by Monica’s courage and all that she had sacrificed that he assured her, “It is not possible that the child of so many tears should perish.”

Monica’s prayers finally paid off.  Augustine had a powerful “come-to-Jesus” experience that changed his life.  He abandoned his selfish ways and became a Christian.  Monica could live in peace at last.  She was called home to Heaven shortly after.

CGB Review of The Imitation Game

Within minutes after I pressed play on the DVD menu, the film opens with an assertive narration from Alan Turing:
“Are you paying attention?  Good.  If you are not listening carefully, you will miss things. Important things.  I will not pause, I will not repeat myself, and you will not interrupt me.  You think that because you’re sitting where you are, and I am sitting where I am, that you are in control of what is about to happen.  You’re mistaken.  I am in control, because I know things that you do not know.”
Mr. Turing, I’m all ears.

This is my review of The Imitation Game!


The Imitation Game is the true story of Alan Turing, a mathematician, cryptanalyst and eventual war hero who broke the unbreakable war codes of Nazi Germany’s Enigma machine.
So this was the highest grossing independent film of 2014 and frankly, all of that money is well deserved because this is an excellent film.  I have nothing bad to say about this movie, so here is everything right with the Imitation Game!

I want that soundtrack!  The musical score is haunting and hypnotic.  Heck, I can still hear it in my head hours after the credits roll.  In fact, I’m listening to it on YouTube as I write out this review (it’s playing on my tablet).  It’s the kind of music that I would want to listen to while walking at the park or jogging around my neighborhood.
Like Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, Benedict Cumberbatch is mesmerizing as Alan Turing.  This is a man who is lost in his own head, expressing himself through codes and calculations.  An antisocial and off-putting man who is never intentionally hurtful, machines and mathematics are his true love, making more sense to him than the emotional responses of others.  His ideas are so complex that not even people who are as smart as him have any clue as to what he’s talking about.  This prevents the clichéd “he’s a misunderstood dreamer and everyone else is a jerk who doesn’t get him” trope.  Benedict Cumberbatch’s thoughtful performance portrays Alan Turing as someone I would want as a teacher or a mentor.
Keira Knightly is wonderful as Joan Clarke, who shares a chaste, emotional connection with him.   Alan and Joan never touch in a sexual way, yet their souls speak to each other through their intellect.  Their last scene together is heartbreaking as we see these two bright people allow themselves to be vulnerable and emotionally-naked with each other.
Ever since I reviewed Right to Believe, I always pay close attention to the portrayal of a homosexual character; is it sensationalized or handled with tact and grace?  Does it define the character or is it only an aspect of a three-dimensional protagonist?  Is the LGBT character written as a human being or an agenda pawn?  By this litmus test, the Imitation Game passes the class with flying colors.  His homosexuality is a subplot and never consumes the story.  In fact, for a while, I thought Alan Turing was asexual (someone who does not experience sexual attraction; different from celibacy. )  I like how the subject of homosexual men marrying women is treated as the complex matter that it is; neither Alan nor his fiancée Joan is vilified.  He deeply cares for her, but feels conflicted; she genuinely loves him as her closest friend, but societal norms mandate her to be married.
Overall the film gives us a sense of what it’s like to be Alan Turing; the script is so intimate with the main character that it’s like the director and/or screenwriter personally knew Turing.  Like Amelie and American Sniper, the Imitation Game knows its protagonist and wants you to know him, as well.  This is a humanistic film that tells the story of a brilliant man who was forced to hide his sexuality from the very world he was trying to save.

The ending got to me.  I was disgusted at the way the British government treated him after he was arrested for gross indecency, for just being a homosexual.  He was given two options: Two years in prison or chemical castration.  He chose castration so that he could continue working.
I mentioned Alan and Joan’s last scene together, which comes at the end before the text comes on-screen revealing Alan’s suicide.  I bring it up because this is the scene that moved me the most.  Alan tells Joan that he continues the government’s hormonal treatment so that he can keep Christopher, the machine that broke Nazi Germany’s Enigma.  “If I don’t continue, they’ll take Christopher away from me and I’ll be alone,” he bursts into tears, “…and I don’t want to be alone.”  Joan comforts him and suggests he do a crossword puzzle, his favorite hobby.  When he struggles to lift the pencil and says, “I’ll do it later,” that’s when I knew it was over for him.
Once the end text reveals that he killed himself at the age of 41, I started crying.  To be driven to such despair is always a tragedy, but to do the courageous act of defeating Nazi Germany’s war machine and then be repaid with cruelty is equally tragic.

Saint Edith Stein/Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us.

Let’s Talk about Chastity!

I was thirteen when I was given my chastity ring and made a promise to God that I would save myself for marriage.  Now that I think about it, making this promise wasn’t hard at all because as a teenager, I was never interested in sexuality.  I was that girl who would write a short story during Sex Ed instead of taking notes on human anatomy.  A book about Helen Keller was more interesting to me than a magazine with scantily-clad models.
I misplaced my chastity ring during my first year of college.  I couldn’t find it until the night before I broke up with my first boyfriend, who couldn’t handle my “no-sex-till-marriage” rule.  The tiny golden ring shimmered at the bottom of my jewelry box.
It was on my finger when I told him that we were done.
I’ve worn it every day ever since.

After ending a relationship that had posed a threat to my promise to God, I decided to investigate the true meaning of chastity.  “I should be good to go.  I always dress modestly, I never watch steamy movies, so I’m fine,” I thought.  Mind you, this was before I became a movie-reviewing blogger, which requires me to watch movies with some steamy content, but that’s another story for another day.   Reading the segment on chastity in the Catechism (talk about “light reading,” huh?) was a major eye-opener for me.  I learned that chastity is so much more than just dressing modestly and not watching movies that contain sex scenes.

Chastity is the successful integration of sexuality into the individual’s innermost being.  In other words, the natural sexual urges and desires are something that you control and not the other way around.
The Catechism points out that, “Chastity is an apprenticeship in self-mastery, which is training in human freedom.  The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.” (CCC 2339, pg. 562).
Here’s an example: A wife is too tired for intimacy and just wants to go to bed. Now while the husband may want to be intimate with her, the self-mastery brought on by chastity allows him to control his urges and respect his wife’s wishes.
Some argue that chastity contrasts with human freedom, but part of being a free person is being free within yourself.  For instance, no one is free from becoming angry, but if you let that anger overpower you and cause you to scream at a loved one or start throwing things, then you’re not really free within yourself.
No one is free from sexual desire.  Sexuality is a gift from God that is a part of our biology.  What you do with those natural desires is where self-mastery or lack thereof comes into play.
Now there are those who argue that chastity falls in line with sexual repression.  To that, I say not necessarily.  Chastity doesn’t call for an all-out embargo on desire, but rather a mastery over them.  You acknowledge that they are present, but you don’t let them rule your life.  You give yourself the freedom to choose whether to control your hormones or let your hormones dictate you.
Self-mastery in chastity is like self-mastery in every other arena of your life.  The self-mastery to stop eating when you’re full instead of gorging yourself, the self-mastery to have one or two drinks instead of getting ridiculously drunk, the self-mastery to get yourself up for your 6 am job instead of sleeping in and being late for work.
Is chastity a difficult proposition?  Yes, especially in our culture, which has a stalker’s obsession with sex.  However just because something is difficult doesn’t make it impossible.
The world defines the body as a tool for lust; Chastity says the body is a temple.  Chastity allows us to see each other not as objects for pleasure, but as the unique, multifaceted human beings that God created us to be.

CGB Review of Jupiter Ascending (2015)

I once wrote a story about a girl who enters another world and finds out that she is the Destined One, the only person who can save two worlds.  Along the way she meets characters whose dialogue consisted of backstory and exposition about the world.

I wrote this story when I was twelve-years old.

This is my review of Jupiter Ascending!


Jupiter Ascending tells the story of–well, to be honest–many things, but here’s the main plot: A young woman named Jupiter lives as a janitor with her family of Russian immigrants.  After surviving an assassination attempt on her life at a fertility clinic, she is rescued by Caine, a…(trying to keep a straight face) half-man, half-wolf splice hybrid person who tells her that she is the Queen of the Earth and must reclaim her throne from the Abrasax siblings named Balem, Titus and Kalique.  Along the way, Jupiter encounters other characters who are more interested in spouting out exposition and complicated backstory about their world than in being interesting characters with distinct personalities.

Do you have any idea how hard it was for me not to burst out laughing while typing the movie’s summary?  I only saw this movie once and I walked out of the theater after the first hour.
Have you ever seen a movie where it’s painfully obvious that key scenes are missing and the director(s) have no idea how to properly pace a story so that it flows smoothly?
Yeah, that’s basically Jupiter Ascending in a nutshell.
I took a lot of creative writing classes in high school and later in college.  In creative writing, one thing you learn that is there’s no right way to tell a story, but there are many wrong ways to do so.  Hence the best way to review Jupiter Ascending is by going over the “what-not-to-do’s” of storytelling and then explain how Jupiter Ascending breaks those guidelines.

1. Don’t let any backstory overshadow the current plot.  Jupiter Ascending puts less detail in basic character development and instead relies heavily on the needlessly convoluted history of its world.  As a result, all the exposition becomes a distraction from the movie’s central plot.

2. Create characters, not exposition-explaining pawns.  EVERY CHARACTER does nothing but monologue about how this worlds works.   Jupiter herself is just what I call a “window character,” someone who only exists as a stand-in for the audience as we learn about the film’s universe.  Window characters are fine as long as they have their own identity other than just being an observer.

3. Don’t introduce any ideas that you don’t plan on following up on. The main antagonist Balem (played by Eddie Redmayne) says, “I will harvest that planet tomorrow [Earth] before I let her [Jupiter] take it from me.” In other words, he’s going after Earth in 24 hours…and then that threat is never mentioned again. Actually Balem kind of disappears from the plot for a while.

4. Don’t drop any important characters. If you have a large cast of characters, make sure you can account for each of them.  All of the characters get rushed introductions and their personalities are so bland that it’s hard to care about any of them or what they’re going through.  As mentioned in #3, the main antagonist Balem is a major player for about 20 minutes, and then just disappears for a while because….unicorns!  The titular character Jupiter (played by Mila Kunas) is basically a damsel in distress and when she does start to develop as a character, it comes off as rushed and out-of-left-field.

If you take away anything from this review, let it be this: Please don’t name your character “Jupiter Jones.”
Just don’t.

CGB Review of Oz The Great and Powerful (2013)

Hello James Franco!  I see you’re back for a second appearance on CGB (see my review for The Interview).
I wish I could say “nice to see you again,” but…(sigh)…

This is my review of Oz the Great and Powerful!


Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel to the classic Wizard of Oz.  It tells the story of a shady, self-serving con artist named Oscar Diggs who ends up in a magical land and is mistaken to be the prophesized wizard who will save everyone from the Wicked Witch.

I grew up reading classic fairy tales as a kid and I’m a fan of the live-action fairy tale genre.  I adore last year’s Maleficent and Cinderella is on my list of best 2015 movies.  I even enjoyed the admittedly-flawed Into the Woods from last year.
As a fan of the genre, Oz the Great and Powerful is a disappointing watch.

The Hits
James Franco is not the problem here or in The Interview.  In fact, he’s a pretty good actor.  He does a decent job portraying a selfish, superficial man with guile and hidden agendas.  I also like that he starts out oblivious to how his self-absorption hurts others and how he slowly changes his ways once he realizes the consequences of his lies and half-heartedness.   That’s a good message for kids (this is a kids movies, after all).  It’s also good for kids to see that you don’t have to be a perfect person to do great things.  The only developed character is James Franco’s Oz, so his performance alone is what kept me watching.
I don’t have a lot to say about Mila Kunas, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams, but I will give them credit for doing what they could with their roles.  Even though I think Mila Kunas is better in films that take place in modern-day settings than in period pieces or fairy tales, but she is actually believable as the naïve, hot-headed Theodora.

The Misses/The Problem with Prophesy Stories
Making this a chosen-one story was a big mistake.  Any time a character is predestined to go on a quest, all the authenticity and character agency is lost.  No matter how hesitant the character is, you know that he/she is gonna end up choosing to go along with the prophesy anyway, so their choice to do so comes off as a demand of the script.  Because Oz is the important person who is prophesized to save the land, none of the friendships he has with the side character feel genuine.  It has the vibe of “we’re your allies because you’re the destined one” and not “we’re your allies because we sincerely care about you as a person.”  Personally I find it more compelling when characters choose to go through Hell and back for each other even if they have nothing to gain from being with one another.  In addition, the relationships are never fully developed enough to be considered authentic because the script is a by-the-numbers checklist of prophesy clichés.
Also this should’ve been an animated film.  The environments would have looked much better than they do here.  There’s one sequence where the camera zooms in on a swarm of butterflies and it looks weirdly pixelated.  This only bugs me because none of the other effects are pixelated.  The CGI looks gorgeous when the camera is still, but a pan-across shot shows how incredibly fake the CGI is.

Overall Oz the Great and Powerful made me sad.  The actors all do a capable job and the colors are stunning, but there’s nothing enchanting about contrived relationships and predictable story formulas.

Retro Reviews: Back to the Future (1985)

I come from a family of Dodger fans, so going to a Dodger game is a time-honored tradition.
I bring this up because after the Dodgers beat the Cincinnati Reds, they had a screening of Back to the Future at the stadium.

This is my review of Back to the Future!

Great Scott!
Great Scott!

Back to the Future tells the story of Marty McFly, an aspiring musician who is accidently sent back 30 years into the past.  When he becomes his mother’s romantic interest, he must get his future parents together to prevent altering his future.
Now according to my mother, this movie was a surprise hit.  Various studios rejected Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale’s script until Zemeckis’ film Romancing the Stone was a financial success.  This compelled Universal Studios to pick up the Back to the Future script and this turned out to be a great decision for Universal.
Well, I was born six years after the movie came out.  Last night was the first time I had ever seen it, so how does a film from 1985 hold up to a millennial living in 2015?

The answer: It holds up very, very well.  Back to the Future is a pretty freaking good movie!  It is such a fun and entertaining story with loads of heart.

The Hits
Time travel is a story formula that has never been done completely right, but this movie handles it with great skill.   Michael J. Fox was definitely a perfect choice to play the resourceful, dry-humored Marty.  I like that he’s not an all-out bad boy stereotype.  He’s a typical teenager with a bit of an attitude who truly cares for the people in his life.
The real standout is Christopher Lloyd as Doc.  Mad scientists characters are tough to portray without coming off as over-the-top, but Christopher Lloyd keeps his Doc intelligent and fast-thinking.  There’s a rhyme and reason to his eccentricities.  His moments of sincerity and genuine care for Marty is balanced with his quirks and bursts of ideas.
This movie has a surprising amount of subtly.  It will introduce things such as a clock tower or a neighborhood sign by having Marty pass by them without spelling out for us that those items will be important later.  This respects the audience’s intelligence without being too cryptic.
Finally the comedy is spot-on!  Every joke is well timed, the witty banter never wears out its welcome, and the heartwarming relationship between Marty and Doc never feels contrived or emotionally-manipulative.  The movie’s self-awareness keeps it from being campy, allowing it to be an entertaining adventure story.

The Only Setback
My only complaint is that I wish we learned how Marty met Doc.  Is Doc a family friend or a former science teacher or something?  The most that we learn is that Doc lets Marty use his garage so that he can practice his music.  I know this isn’t an origin story of Marty and Doc, which is totally fine, but I would have liked some context regarding how these two characters came to know each other.

Overall Back to the Future is my new favorite retro movie.   To quote my mother, “It’s as funny today as it was 30 years ago!”  I couldn’t agree more.

Saint John Bosco, pray for us.