CGB Halloween Special: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

(Commencing musical mode) Boys and girls of every age, would you like to see something strange?  Come with me and you will see, this my blog called CGB.  This is CGB, this is CGB, movies screened in the dead of night.  This is CGB, everybody make a scene with good dialogue and pacing, too.  La, la, la, la-la la, la, la, la-la la, la, la, la-la la, la-la la, Wheeeeeee!

This is my review of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas!

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Jack Skelllington is the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, who keeps the town in order along with the Mayor.  He has a serious case of Disney Princess syndrome, in which he longs for a life that is greater than his current existence.  One day he finds a series of doors, each marked with the symbol of different holidays.  He opens a Christmas tree door and ends up in Christmastown. Enchanted with the wonder and whimsy of the Christmas season, Jack decides to bring some of that Christmasness to Halloweentown.
Oh, yes, I have a history with The Nightmare Before Christmas.  When this movie came out, I was a wee little tyke.

Baby CGB! ^_^
Baby CGB! ^_^

According to my Mom, any time Sally the ragdoll popped up in a TV ad for the movie, I would bawl my eyes out while holding on to her [Mom] for dear life.  Also Jack’s empty eye sockets didn’t make things much better.  To put it simply, I wanted nothing to do with this movie.
Now I have watched it as an adult and gave it my undivided attention.  Here are the Hits and Misses.

The Hits
Good Lord Almighty, the animation is spectacular!   The opening song “This is Halloween” is catchy and establishes the world very well.  Halloweentown is definitely a character in its own right.  It’s scary in a playful way.  The goblins and ghouls are creepy, but never menancing.  Scares are done all in good fun.  Also it is pretty funny when a character says “it’s a terrible day,” what they really mean is, “it’s a good day.”  It’s like a never-ending opposite day!
Sally made me cry as a child.  As an adult, Sally is my favorite character.  Even though she’s supposed to be Jack’s love interest, she is written as a guardian angel who helps Jack and just happens to become a love interest later on.  There’s an adage in writing, “No one sees themselves as a supporting character.”  This movie takes this adage to heart and keeps Sally from being a generic supporting love interest.  I would argue that Sally is the only character who develops naturally.
This movie was made in a time where movies weren’t bloated with clunky exposition and heavy-handed dialogue (I’m looking at you, Jupiter Ascending!) This structure works to an extent because the story gets right to the point and Jack discovers Christmastown five minutes after the film’s prologue.
SPOILERS AHEAD!!!  IF YOU STILL HAVEN’T SEEN NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, SKIP TO THE MISSES SEGMENT!!!
5…4…3…2…1…
This movie has Christian allegory all over the place.  I don’t know if Tim Burton (producer) or Henry Selick (director) had some Christian leanings, but someone on set was awfully familiar with Christianity, as well as the lives of the Saints. Jack’s Christmastown discovery is like Saint Paul’s conversion minus being struck blind.  In the second act, there’s a whole montage of Jack trying to understand the “science” of Christmas.  If you listen to the song “Jack’s Obsession,” the lyrics are like listening to Edith Stein or Augustine of Hippo’s thoughts right after they converted to Catholicism.  When Jack tries to introduce his fellow Halloween denizens to Christmas elements, it plays like Saint Paul explaining Christianity to the Corinthians.  As for the third act/climax, it’s basically a reenactment of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, right down to when Jack goes down to Oogie Boogie’s Hellish lair to rescue Sally and Santa Claus, reminiscent of Jesus’ descent into Hell.

The Misses
I really like Jack, but I feel that his character develops too rapidly.  Because all of his revelations come through his songs, they never naturally progress with his evolution.  I have no issue with hearing his thoughts through a song, but maybe one or two quiet moments where his facial expressions are used to show us how he’s feeling without musical accompaniment would have been nice.
The villain Oogie Boogie feels very shoehorned into the story.  I’m not too well-versed on the making of this movie, so I wouldn’t know if Oogie was always in the story or was added during production, but he’s not developed enough to have much presence as an antagonistic force.  The whole “bringing Christmas to Halloweentown” conflict works well on its own to where a villain isn’t necessary. Maybe an earlier scene where Oogie is seen mocking Jack’s efforts to his face would have established a tangible rivalry between the two.
I said how the plot’s get-to-the-point structure works to an extent.  I say this because the only downside is the story feels like it is going by a bit too fast at times.  Emotional reactions aren’t given a lot of time to sink in with the audience.

When I was in junior high, I came across quite a few people who were passionate about drawing and becoming animators.  When I would ask them why, they all answered something to the effect of, “I saw The Nightmare Before Christmas and it inspired me.”  To this day, these same friends are working to become professional animators.  After seeing this movie, I totally get why Nightmare Before Christmas is the crowned jewel of animation culture.  It’s a beautifully realized film with an innovative story to go along with it.  The Nightmare Before Christmas is an inspired dream that any animation fan will want to revisit again and again.

Saint Nicholas, pray for us.

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Retro Reviews: Back to the Future Part II (1989)

How was your weekend?  Good?  My weekend was busy but fun.  An old friend of mine who I will call “J.B.” invited me to a public screening of Back to the Future Parts 1 & 2.  J.B. and I haven’t seen each other since high school and had been trying to get together, so this was the perfect opportunity for us to catch up.  Also I had already seen (and reviewed) the first one, but had never seen the second one.

This is my review of Back to the Future Part II, just in time for October 21, 2015!

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Back to the Future Part II quite literally takes place right after the first installment (I say “quite literally” because the first movie ended with Marty and Doc going on their next adventure).  In the sequel, Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown “Doc” find themselves in the year 2015, where they first have to prevent Marty’s future son from being arrested.  Then they have to make sure Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer doesn’t come across her future self…and then they have to stop the villanous Biff Tannen from messing around with the timeline of the first film.

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Gee, CGB, what’s up with the messy, unfocused summary of the movie?”
Fear not, my dear reader.  There is a reason for the sloppy plot summary and I will get to that in the Hits and Misses.

The Hits
As a newbie convert to the Back to the Future franchise, I have to say that I am in love with Marty and Doc’s relationship.  Their friendship is the glue that holds the trilogy together.  Something that J.B. and I talked about was how Part II expands their dynamic, leading to some great character development.  Marty is the naive brawn while Doc is the brilliant brain.  However, Doc’s head is so packed with complex ideas that it’s easy for a simple thought to slip past him, while Marty’s lack of foresight makes room in his mind for a clever idea.  This means that Marty can act in a tense situation while Doc can plan for scenarios before they happen. These two oddball souls balance each other out and their bond is more fulfilling than any other relationship they will ever have.   I think that not making them father and son adds to their relationship because it means these two unrelated people have made the choice to stick together and become their own family.  The only thing they gain from being around one another is understanding and adventure.  I know I’m going to be really sad when I finally watch Part III and have to see my favorite movie duo end their story.  Honestly, I’m so tempted just to scrap this review and turn this into a CGB editorial on Marty and Doc’s friendship. These two characters are like Francis and Clare of Assisi; they’re two different people on the same mission and that’s why I love them so much.

The Misses
Just like in the first film, it still bothers me that we never learn exactly how Marty and Doc met.  Because I’m so invested in these two people, I really want to know where this friendship began.  I’m open to hearing fan theories.
Okay, here’s my explanation for my messy intro: I gave an unfocused summary because Back to the Future Part II is very unfocused.  The first film was about a teen who gets stuck in the past and must get his future parents together, as well as find a way back to the present.  In the second film, Marty and Doc have a series of side missions before the real conflict happens.  The episodic story formula is very hard to pull off because you run the risk into having your story feel like three different stories crammed into one.  Part II is like Amelie (2001) and The Walk (2015) in that there are a series of mini-conflicts building up to the main conflict.  This would be fine except that it makes it hard for the audience to care about the main conflict because so little time is invested in it.  Now to the movie’s credit, it does weave Biff Tannen into the story very well so that he has presence, but that doesn’t save the movie’s scrambled tone.

Overall, it is the strength of the characters that keeps Back to the Future afloat. You could put Marty and Doc in any other story and they would be enough to make it great.  Here’s to the hope that the October 21st, 2015 prediction is correct and the Cubs do indeed win the World Series.

Saint Peter, pray for us.

CGB Review of Crimson Peak (2015)

Beware of my review of Crimson Peak!

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Crimson Peak is a movie that I have been looking forward to all year.  It tells the story of Edith Cushing, an aspiring writer who is swept off her feet by London aristocrat Thomas Sharpe.  Once she becomes Mrs. Sharpe, Edith moves to London to live in Allerdale Hall with Thomas and his sister Lucille.  However, a house as old and decrepit as Allerdale Hall is bound to be riddled with secrets written in blood.
This is the latest film from Gulliermo del Toro, the creator of my all-time favorite film Pan’s Labyrinth.  Since PL, Del Toro took a step back from creating gothic stories of his own and turned his attention to being a producer of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010) and Book of Life (2014), as well as directing the second Hellboy film (2008) and Pacific Rim (2013).
After a few days of prayer and going over my review notes, I have come to the conclusion that Crimson Peak is a visually stunning canvas that highlights Del Toro’s strengths, as well as his two major weaknesses.

The Hits
A few months ago, I learned that Del Toro actually had the mansion built and even used his own salary to keep it from being demolished.  His dedication is on full display. Allerdale Hall is the personification of horrific secrets.  Red clay oozes through the house like a silenced prisoner struggling to break free.  A gaping hole in the ceiling allows leaves and snow to fall to the floor, symbolizing the tears of the past victims of Allerdale.  Creaking staircases, a rickety elevator and a lower level with blood decorating the walls create an atmosphere of death’s final sting. Del Toro’s vision of Allerdale is a nightmare fully alive.
During the second act, there are three sequences where Edith wanders the house to investigate.  The danger here is that the scenes can become repetitive, but luckily the movie doesn’t fall into this trap.  Each exploration scene contains new information on the ghosts that haunt Thomas and Lucille’s home.  Edith discovers something different, making the three sequences feel purposeful.
The assembled cast is excellent.  Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain have a terrifying chemistry as brother and sister, while Mia Wasikowska carries the film with sharp intellect and vulnerability.  During production, Del Toro gave each actor a ten-page biography of their character, and it shows in their performances. Unlike a certain film that I reviewed recently where indecisive directing resulted in confused performances (I’m looking at you, Pan!), everyone knows exactly who they are and how to convey their characters’ motivations to the audience.

The Misses
I mentioned earlier that Del Toro has two major weaknesses that are clear as day in this film.
In my Pan’s Labyrinth review, I pointed out that there is a major continuity error that occurs after Ofelia completes the first task.  It doesn’t ruin the movie, but it does show that Del Toro needs more practice on bridging continuity gaps.
In Crimson Peak, there is one major narrative flaw that is concerning. Edith’s ability to see ghosts is not the reason Thomas marries her, nor is it the reason why [SPOILER] Lucille wants her dead.
This is a problem because Edith’s special gift and her relationship with the Sharpes are the two most important elements of the story.  If these two components have nothing to do with each other, if the story could go on without one of these two plot points (in this case, the ghost-whispering thing), then something is wrong with the story structure. The second narrative weakness is that Del Toro is not good at plot twists.  My friends and I could correctly guess the “twist” long before the third act’s big reveal.  I mean, Guillermo, you made Pan’s Labyrinth HOW long ago (2006) and you still don’t know how to properly connect gaps in your story?

Crimson Peak is a fascinating gothic romance that pays homage to the genre.  At the same time, it also shows eyebrow-raising missteps that would concern any Del Toro fan.  Here’s to the hope that good-ole Guillermo catches his own mistakes and works on improvement for future features.

Bonus Features: Pan’s Labyrinth Callbacks (SPOILERS ahead)
Sometimes directors will use symbols and images in a current film to refer to a previous film that they made.  I figured that Pan’s fans like myself would enjoy these callback trinkets.

  1. Crimson Peak opens with Edith staring into the camera while holding up her bloodied hand, which is similar to Pan’s Labyrinth prologue.
  2. The majority of the nighttime scenes are shot with a turquoise color palate and not the traditional midnight-blue color palate.
  3. Edith’s father uses the exact same razor that Captain Vidal uses during his [Vidal’s] character-defining shaving scene.  Also the mirror he uses is Vidal’s shaving mirror.
  4. The wheelchair that Edith uses towards the end of the first act looks oddly identical to Carmen’s wheelchair in PL.

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, pray for us.

CGB Review of The Walk (2015)

In spite of reports that this film has made people nauseaous from its realisitic capture of vertigo sensation, I am pleased to announce that I did not get sick during this absolutely fantastic film!

This is my review of The Walk!

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The Walk is the true story of Phillipe Petit, a Parisian wire-walker who dreams of hanging his wire between the newly constructed Twin Towers of New York City and walking across.  For the record, I say “newly constructed” because this story takes place in 1974.

The Hits
The Walk reminds me of my favorite line from The Screwtape Letters: “The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring two-pence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forewarmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack.”
This film is a love letter to art.  It understands the mind of an artist.  The script demonstrates that for people who are writers, painters, dancers, musicians, actors, chefs, pottery-makers, filmmakers, etc., everything they do is in the name of creating something out of nothing.  When an artist is in his/her element, they bring themselves closer to God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, whether they realize it or not.
While the trailer made Phillipe seem like an impulsive weirdo, the final product explains Phillipe as a performer who is solely motivated by a love for art.  During the first act, after he is arrested for wire-walking across Notre Dame cathedral, he laments that the French, “…do not appreciate art and beauty!” Because of his passion for artistry, his desire to walk between the Two Towers never feels like a death wish, but rather a spiritual exercise.  This character is the eptitome of what it means to live and not just exist.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt disappears into the role of Phillipe Petit.  He embraces the eccentricities of the main character and makes the audience understand his perspective.  His French accent is quite good.  It fits right in with Gordon-Levitt’s enthusiastic performance  Even in his moments of selfishness and arrogance, I could still root for him because it was made clear that his flaws came from a place of passion.
Like The Imitation Game, the script is very intimate with its protagonist.  The musical score sounds like something Phillipe would listen to.  Every shot and frame puts us in Phillipe’s shoes.  Robert Zemeckis clearly did his research and wants us to know this man as well as he does.  Now that I think about that, Phillipe Petit reminded me a lot of Saint Phillip Neri.  To put it simply, if you love the arts and/or Saint Phillip Neri, this might be the movie for you.

The Misses
My only complaint is that the pacing of the movie is a little too fast.  Granted, none of the scenes ever lag, which is great, but at times I felt that the story was moving at a rapid pace.  This could be because Phillipe, a fast-talker, is narrating the story and like any good director, Robert Zemeckis accomodates to his main character by having the film move to the speed of Phillipe’s dialogue.  While this gives the film a very personal feel, it may be off-putting to moviegoers who prefer a slow, steady pace.

Tips on How to Avoid Cybersickness during The Walk
Last night, I decided to do some research after learning that The Walk was causing people to get sick.  What I learned is that according to studies, the reason some people experience sickness during a 3D film is because the 3D imagery is causing the brain to receive mixed messages from the senses.  When 3D visuals command the screen, the eyes signal to the brain that the body is moving.  However, the inner part of the ear does not pick up motion.  This causes the brain to sense that something in the body is poisoned and the result is gastrointestinal, hence causing nausea and disorientation.
Sufferers from vertigo should wait for The Walk to come out on DVD.  However, for those who don’t suffer from vertigo, here are the steps I took to prepare myself.

1. Eat something light and solid.  Crackers, toast, a torilla, anything that is low in acidic substances will help.

2. Drink water.  Buy a water at the theater, bring your own bottle, just give yourself access to water.

3. Sit as far away from the screen as you can.  It has been suggested that holding one hand over one eye will help your body reset itself during dizzying sequences.

Saint Phillip Neri, pray for us.

CGB Review of Pan (2015)

Me before Pan: “Okay, Lord, I’m going to keep an open mind.  Maybe Pan will be an offbeat fairy tale that I end up liking.”
Me during Pan: “WHAT THE FRICK AM I LOOKING AT?!”

This is my review of Pan…(irritable sigh)

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Pan is the prequel to J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan.  In this version, Peter (Levi Miller) starts out as a little boy living in an orphanage who gets snatched away by pirates and ends up in Neverland, where he must go up against Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) after it is discovered that Peter can fly because–chosen one–and from there, Peter teams up with James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) to discover his true destiny as the flying boy who will save the Natives and the fairies from the tyrannical Blackbeard and the pirates.
I just took an Advil because this movie gave me a migraine.  I am legitimately ticked off because the trailer for this movie looked so enchanting.  Sadly, the final product is anything but magical.  This movie has no idea what it wants to be.  It is so tone-deaf that I was never sure when I was supposed to take a scene seriously.
Alas, let’s just get through the very few Hits before I commence into Super Saiyan rant-mode.
By the way, ten brownie points are yours if you know what a “Super Saiyan” is.

The Hits
To be fair, there is a good story somewhere in this bloated mess of a film.  The world creation is certainly not lacking in imagination.  The locations are gorgeous to look at and I really wish that the movie had taken the time to give Neverland its own identity outside of being a pretty generic CGI backdrop.
The idea of establishing Peter Pan and Captain Hook as friends is interesting, and the banter between them did get a few chuckles out of me.
I do like the concept of Peter being the son of a fairy prince and a human woman, and that Tiger Lily has a connection with Peter’s mother.  Also kudos to the screenwriter for making Peter’s mother a pro-fairy warrior.  Deceased mother characters shouldn’t just be dead nice ladies.
The only scenes that had me invested were the scenes between Peter and Blackbeard.  Levi Miller and Hugh Jackman do have a believable dynamic as enemies.  I always appreciate when a hero and a villain are in the same room, conversing with each other.
Levi Miller is the only person who I sympathetized with.  He seems to understand his role and does his very best to be the grounded force of his strange surroundings.  I do hope that he gets more work and ends up in better movies because there is a lot of promise with him.
It is always tragic when incompentent direction buries a potentionally engaging story.

The Misses
All right, the gloves are coming off.  Let’s go.
(Commencing rant mode) This should have been called “Indecision: The Movie.”  It is painfully obvious that director Joe Wright was second guessing every single story decision he made during production.  Except for Levi Miller, the adult actors are evidence of this.
It’s never a good sign when you can tell that an actor is confused about who they’re supposed to be throughout the film.  I think Mr. Wright first told Hugh Jackman to be menancing, but then right before the camera rolled, he said, “On second thought, Mr. Jackman, Blackbeard should be a comedic villain.  Yeah, that’s it.” But THEN Mr. Wright changed his mind again and told Jackman to be a scary dude.  As a result, Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard switches back and forth from quirky villain to menancing foe every five minutes.  Actually, now that I think about it, Jackman’s performance is inconsistent; he overacts in some scenes and underacts in others.
The secret to writing an offbeat villain is to write he/she as either a scary person who can be funny or as a charming individual with a twisted personality. Attempting to be both sucks away the tension between the villain and the protagonist.   If I’m not afraid of the villain, why should I care about the hero?
The second victim of Joe Wright’s indecision is Garrett Hedlund.  It’s like Mr. Wright couldn’t decide if he wanted James Hook to be a ripoff of Indiana Jones or Hans Solo, so he just said to Hedlund, “Just be both and talk through your teeth a lot because–potatoes!”  The character of James Hook feels so unnatural to the story because he bulges his eyes out, widens his facial expressions and talks through his teeth.  It gets to the point where he is so unrealistic that his appearance in any scene feels shoehorned.  His “romance” with Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) is painful to watch because Hedlund and Mara have zero chemistry.
The action sequences are horrendously edited.  Thanks to a frickton of jumpcuts, I could barely follow what was going on or who was fighting who.   The CGI mermaids and the Neverbirds look embarrassingly fake.  The musical score plays during the wrong sequences.  I rarely say this, but this is the pinnacle of style over substance.
Finally, if you’re a fan of Saint Catherine Laboure or just the religious life in general (or both), you will be ticked at this movie because the nuns who run Peter’s orphanage are Catherine Laboure nuns with no personalities other than being offensive caricatures.  I know that they are Catherine Laboure nuns because of the habits they wear.
This is Catherine, by the way.

Saint Catherine Laboure
Saint Catherine Laboure

It just so happens that Catherine Laboure is my favorite out of all the Saint Catherines, so I was already annoyed within the first five minutes of the movie. Even secular movie critics don’t like the portrayal of the nuns in this flick!

Whenever I’m writing a story or revising an essay before the due date, I’ll run it by my Mother to get a second opinion.  If I propose a last minute change that doesn’t make sense or second guess a key element of my writing project, my Mom will set me straight and advise me to stick with and improve the ideas that are already in place.
Pan is the best example of why film directors should have their mothers on set.  The tone is inconsistent, the actors are confused about who they’re supposed to be, and the visuals overtake character growth and interaction.

Saint Catherine Laboure, you deserve much better treatment.  Also, pray for us.

CGB Review of The Martian (2015)

I should not be up right now.  It’s exactly 10:37 pm and I need to be up at 7 am tomorrow morning to attend the annual Walk for Life hosted by the local Crisis Pregnancy Center.  Also I will be seeing (and reviewing) the movie “Pan” right after the event.  Oh, and then I have LifeTeen.
Anywho, as I announced on the CGB Facebook page, this review is the first of five movie reviews I will be posting this weekend, so here we go.

This is my review of The Martian!

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Based on the book by Andy Weir, The Martian tells the story of an astronaut named Mark Watney, who ends up stranded on the planet Mars after a fierce storm interrupts his crew’s routine mission.  Back on Earth, all hope is lost until NASA is contacted by the lost astronaut.  From there, it’s a race against time to bring him home.

The Hits
You NEED to see this movie in 3D because the visuals are fantastic!   The 3D makes the storm sequence in the film’s opening feel realistic, as if you are actually stuck in an interrgalatic storm.  Between this, Interstellar and Gravity, it’s safe to say that Hollywood has come a long way in its portrayal of outer space.  The cinematography captures the vastness of space and the scorched atmospherics of Mars.  The movie makes good use of the red and orange color palate that dominates Mars.
Matt Damon succeeds in carrying a good portion of the film on his own.  He is alone for the majority of the movie, after all, and he commands the audience’s attention with Mark’s optimism and unbreakable spirit.  My favorite moment is when he straight-up says, “I’m not gonna die.”  This moment alone establishes him as an active agent of his own destiny rather than being a passive victim of circumstance.  Also, I really do like how he has to solve his problems using his knowledge of botany.
Yes, it is true; this movie is surprisingly relaxed and even funny.  The comedic moments are brought to us by Matt Damon’s performance.  He never overplays it. He uses humor as a coping mechanism to help relieve the stress of his predicament.  I don’t think I’ve seen this character arch done correctly.  A lot of movies tend to exaggerate a witty character to the point where their banter is their only defining trait.  However, the Martian handles this arch with tact and grace, recognizing that there is more to the survivalistic Mark than his quips.
To put it simply, everything right with The Martian is Mark Watney himself, which is a very good thing since the main character is always the most important ingredient of any story.

The Misses
The NASA scenes are a chore to sit through, mainly because in the second act, we spend a 25 minute period of NASA officials negotiate Mark’s rescue.  This is the only part of the film that had me checking my phone for the time.  To be fair, it’s much better than Fant4stic Four, which had me checking my phone six times. Still, a movie shouldn’t lag.  If a film needs to slow down for story development, character growth or whatever it needs to do, make sure that whatever is happening is engaging.  Believe it or not, watching a group of people in suits chit-chat is not that rivieting.
For me, the biggest flaw is that the film took a sinfully small amount of time to develop the family dynamic of Mark’s crew.  I could hardly connect with the crew that left him behind on Mars.  The scenes with Mark’s crew are few and far between, making it impossible to care for them as three-dimensional characters. When the movie cuts to Earth, we get more scenes of NASA negotiations than of the crew.  I understand that when adapting a book into a movie, the filmmakers have to make some changes and sacrifices, but at the very least make me believe that this crew is motivated not by the script, but by a bond with their lost crewmate to go out and rescue him.

My hands are starting to hurt, but luckily this movie was not painful at all.  In fact, if you love space, NASA and all things science, you will love The Martian.  Matt Damon’s charm and commitment to the role is what brings this movie home.

Saint Joseph of Cupertino, pray for us.

CGB Review of Sicario/Modern Day Bio of Saint Rita (As Originally Published on The Catholic Response http://www.thecatholicresponse.us/tcr-review-of-sicario/)

I really hope screenwriters start turning to the lives of the Saints for film ideas.

This is my review of Sicario, which happens to be a sort-of semi-comparative retelling of Saint Rita’s story.

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For the record, I did not make this photo. This was the work of Robert Barbry, the founder of The Catholic Response.

Sicario is the story of Kate Macer, an FBI agent from the Special Weapons and Tactics Team who is recruited for a secretive top mission in Juarez, Mexico.  She is accompanied by the sly Matt Graver (played by Josh Brolin) and the mysterious Alejandro, brilliantly portrayed by Benecio del Toro. This is the latest film from director Denis Villeneuve, who brought us the film Prisoners in 2013.  For me personally, Prisoners was so traumatizing that I started saying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy to help me sleep at night. On the bright side, this made Saint Faustina my BFF.  Nowadays I will never watch a Denis Villeneuve film without my Saint Faustina medal around my neck.
You’re going to need the soothing presence of the merciful Faustina by your side to survive this brilliantly disturbing film.

The Hits
Emily Blunt is a very convincing action heroine.  The movie never dolls her up.  It allows her to have bruises, a black eye and swollen knuckles.  I also like the scene where she’s showering and the blood washes from her hair.  You know how Saint Joseph never speaks in the Bible and how his character is revealed through his actions and reactions?  Emily Blunt’s character has a Saint Joseph-equse feel in which her morality comes from her reactions of shock and bewilderment at the cruelty surrounding her.
I can’t help but wonder if Josh Brolin’s character was somewhat based on Joel Egerton’s character in Black Mass.  Matt Graver is also a sly scumbag who skirts around the truth with careful language and uses questionable methods in the name of a greater good.
Benecio del Toro’s Alejandro undergoes a transformation from sleepy-eyed agent to being downright scary, especially in the third/final act.  The script tells us just enough about him while keeping his backstory in the shadows at the same time.
If you are an aspiring cinematographer, you need to watch this movie because there are some excellent shots of Juarez that enhance the look and feel of the grimey, Hell-on-Earth environment.  Also, the expert cinematography by Roger Diakens does a great job at building tension.  Action sequences begin with lingering camera shots and minimal background music, allowing the intensity to seep into your brain and make you paranoid about what’s coming next.
Between this film and Prisoners, it’s clear that director Denis Villeneuve is very interested in moral ambiguity.  He likes to challenge the notion of “good guys vs. bad guys” because except for Kate and her partner Reggie, every other character is morally bankrupt.  The film neither endorses nor criticizes moral relativism.  It simply shows it for what it is and the impact it has.  Just as Black Mass is a subtle portrayal of Satan, Sicario is a depiction of how moral relativism can poison a situation.
Finally, the ending–holy cow–the ending of this movie is amazing in the most quiet and subtle way.  If you plan on seeing this movie, I want you to think about how gun violence shocks us here in America.  You will need this mindset in order for the ending to have an impact on you.

The Misses/A Word of Caution
Emily Blunt’s character comes close to suffering from what I like to call “Window Character syndrome.”  This is where the main character serves no other purpose than to be the observer of the story.  We learn exposition through them, we are introduced to more interesting characters through them and the actual character is not very interesting.  Kate Macer is treated as a window character for a good chunk of the film.  She is either gathering information for us, the audience, or is kept in the dark by Matt and Alejandro.  You can only have your main character say “I don’t know” so many times before it gets annoying.  To the film’s credit, it is made clear that Kate does have a purpose for being there, which salvages her “window character syndrome.”  However, it does become problematic when Kate is barely present in the film’s climactic showdown.  At that point, it becomes the Alejandro show.  Traditionally, the main character is the one who is most involved in a book/film’s climax.
WORD OF CAUTION: The opening scene has Kate Macer and her team raiding a house and making a disturbing discovery, which may not sit well with queasy moviegoers.

The Catholic Response
During the whole movie, I kept thinking of Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.”  Throughout the whole movie, Kate is constantly challenging Matt Graver and Alejandro, who dance around the truth by either mocking her or giving her vague answers.  Matt convinces others to engage in questionable acts in the name of a greater good, a form of consequentialism, which our faith rejects since we are never to act in a morally compromising way so that good might come of it.  The Church rejects the “ends justify the means” attitude of the world.  I doubt it’s conicidence that Alejandro tells Kate, “We’re in the city of wolves now.”  I said to myself, “Aha!  Wolf in sheep’s clothing!”
I just realized that Sicario is a semi-comparative retelling of Saint Rita of Cascia.  Both Kate and Rita are unintended witnesses to a brutality neither had previously imagined.  Rita wanted to be a Augustianian nun, but was persuded by her family to marry Paolo Manchini.  Kate wants to stay with Special Weapons and Tactics Team, but is persuaded by the higher-ups to join Matt Graver and company to capture the men responsible for the horror house in the film’s opening.  Rita gets caught in the ongoing feud between the Manchinis (her in-laws) and the Chiqui family.  Kate is caught in the crossfire of the battle between Matt’s task force and a notorious Mexican drug lord named Manuel Diaz.  It seems that Matt and Alejandro are two personifications of the arrogant and shady Paolo Manchini. Matt is arrogant and rude to Kate/Rita, while Alejandro turns out to be ruthless and immoral.  Kate and Rita act as the moral compass of their stories; Rita urges peace and forgiveness, while Kate challenges authority when justice is not being upheld.  Also during Kate and Alejandro’s final scene together, Alejandro says to her, “You look like a little girl when you’re scared.”  I bring this up because Saint Rita was 12 years old when she gave birth to her first child, making her a little girl.
Sicario was never meant to be a biography of Saint Rita, but it does embody the spirit of her story.  It does chronicle the journey of a moral woman trapped in an impossible circumstance, which just so happens to be Rita’s patronage.  Our cynical world may not recognize Sicario’s parallels to Rita’s saga, but lovers of Saint Rita will appreciate the film as an unintentional tribute to the patroness of the impossible.

Saint Rita of Cascia and Saint Faustina, pray for us.