CGB Review of Cinderella (2015)

I want that dress!

This is my review of Cinderella!

Cinderella_Wallpaper_2015_movie_Lily_James

I’m pretty sure that you’re all familiar with the story of Cinderella, but just for the sake of emphasis, I’ll go over the plot: After the death of her beloved father, a young girl becomes a slave to her wicked stepmother and stepsisters, but with the aid of her fairy godmother, she is able to attend a grand ball where she catches the eye of the prince.  She flees from the ball, leaving behind a glass slipper which the prince uses to find her.

In my list of Best Movies of 2015, I gave the #1 spot to both Cinderella and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.   The first time I saw this movie, I thought it was going to be an okay kids flick.  I walked out of the theater head-over-heels in love with this brilliantly-written, delightful film.

The Hits
The dress.  Holy cow, Cinderella’s ball gown is amazing!  An oceanic, watercolor blue, the dress shimmers from the silk-organza, giving the illusion that Cinderella floats whether she’s dancing or running.
Lily James is luminous as Cinderella.  Seriously, you could throw mud on her face and she would still be gorgeous!  She has an integral kindness that never makes her come off as a passive pushover.  This is a genuinely sweet character who learns the hard way about the selfishness and cruelty that human beings are capable of.  Her chemistry with Richard Madden’s humble and gracious Prince Kit is believable.  There is an innocence to their romance, a chasteness to their love that is sadly not found in modern Hollywood films.  Their first dance at the ball is mesmerizing and demonstrative of Kit’s compassion for Ella.  As they dance, he keeps a protective hold on her while allowing her to twirl and move her body, giving her freedom as he guides her.  I like to think that this is the kind of sacramental love that Pope John Paul II had in mind when he wrote Theology of the Body.
Cate Blanchett’s Lady Tremaine is elegantly intimidating.  I think her mannerisms were the best part of her performance.  The way she would smoothly tilt her head or slyly curve her lips as she let out a maniacal laugh.  This Lady Tremaine is a graceful but embittered socialite who knows that while her new husband (Cinderella‘s father) may love her, she will always live in the shadow of his first wife and daughter, both of whom are his true love.
The costumes and color contrasts are genius.  For one, every other character except for Ella and Prince Kit is dressed in blunt, harsh colors.  Lady Tremaine’s dresses are always dark green with her nails painted red.  The stepsisters wear bright yellow and deep pink.  Even the fairy godmother’s dress is a blinding white.  Ella and Prince Kit are the only characters who dress in simple, softer colors.  Costume designer Sandy Powell has said that she intended to have all the other gowns worn at the ball to be gaudy and saturated with bling so that Ella’s dress would stand out among the crowd.

The Misses
I didn’t care for the stepsisters.  While they’re not as abominably annoying as the fairies in Maleficent, they are flat caricatures.  Also, the fairy godmother is pretty forgettable in my opinion.  Given that she’s an important plot point, I feel that her presence is underwhelming.
As much as I love Ella’s powder-blue dress that she wears throughout the film, I gotta ask: Is that the only dress she owns?  Before Lady Tremaine and the stepsisters show up, we don’t see grown-up Ella wearing any other dresses.  To be fair, it makes more sense once Ella is kicked out of her own bedroom and forced to sleep in the attic, meaning that she has no access to her other clothes, but still, it is a little odd that she wears the same dress every single day.

Cinderella is an enchanting family film that kids will love and adults can find enjoyment in.  The luminous Lily James (yes, that is what I will call her in my reviews from now on) gives the best portrayal as the iconic Cinderella character, the costumes are breathtaking and the film’s messages of hope, kindness and being yourself without artifice are among the many reasons why I highly recommend this magical family film.

Saint Agnes of Rome, pray for us.

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CGB Review of We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

You’ll need to talk about saving up for therapy after this movie.

This is my review of We Need to Talk about Kevin!

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Based on the 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk about Kevin chronicles the miserable existence of Eva Khatchadourian, the mother of the troubled titular character Kevin, the culprit of a heinous school massacre.
My good friend and fellow blogger Pink Haired Papist asked me to take a look at this film and in some ways, I’m glad that I did.  In other ways, I wish that I hadn’t.

The Hits
There’s a term in literature and cinema called “Show, Don’t Tell.”  Basically it’s when you allow the reader/audience to experience the story through the actions of the characters and (in the case of film) the visuals instead of long-winded expositional spiels.  Within the first ten minutes of the film, we learn everything we need to know about Eva’s desperate conditions and it is all done without one word of expositional dialogue.
Speaking of Eva, Tilda Swinton broke my heart with her meek and vulnerable performance as a former travel writer turned domesticated housewife who found herself at the mercy of her vicious son and must now endure the hostility of those who lost their children in the massacre Kevin caused.  Her expressive face and de-glamorized appearance spell out the gravity of her despairing situation.  I give a lot of credit to both Lionel Shriver and director Lynne Ramsay for telling this story from the perspective of the perpetrator’s mother, given that this can be a risky move when telling a narrative that involves the killing of minors.  The subject matter is handled with the sensitivity and grace needed for this kind of story.
Something that I really appreciate is that the movie allows Eva to have moments of good happen to her.  In the opening, we see that her rundown house has been vandalized.  She then goes to apply for a job at a dingy travel agency.  The employees know that she is the mother of the boy who murdered his classmates, so they greet her with judgmental glances.  A novice storyteller would have had Eva turned down for the job to show how bad her life is and doing this would give the sense that there is no trust in the audience’s ability to figure that out, but the tactful script has her hired by the agency instead.  Her pitiful house, mediocre car and the vandalism alone tell us that Eva suffers daily, so a small victory like being hired gives the audience a brief reprieve from the misery.  It also makes the viewer relieved that for once, something good has happened, hence allowing them to step into the shoes of our main character.  In the very next scene, Eva is confronted and slapped by a mother whose child was killed by Kevin.  Seconds later, a man approaches Eva and offers to call the police to report the mother’s assault, an offer that Eva declines.  I really like that not all the townspeople are despicable.  Yes, mob mentality can happen in any neighborhood, but there are logical, good-natured people out there and I applaud the movie for recognizing this fact.

The Misses
Yes, we do need to talk about Kevin; specifically about Ezra Miller, the guy who plays Kevin.  No, he does not give a bad performance.  Rather, while he does certainly look the part of a sociopathic teenager, he doesn’t have much to work with.  Honestly, I think Jasper Newell, the boy who brilliantly plays Kevin as a child has a lot more to do than Miller does.  Given that he is the title character, I feel that Ezra Miller’s role was underwritten.
If the Revenant is visually brutal, then We Need to Talk about Kevin is emotionally brutal.  This is not a pleasant movie.  The scenes that chronicle the toxic relationship between Eva and Kevin are painful to watch.  When Eva comes home to [SPOILER] find her husband and young daughter dead, I had to look away.
I never want to deter anyone from watching a fantastic film, but as the old adage goes, “Knowledge is power.”  I strongly recommend looking up We Need to Talk about Kevin’s IMDB page and clicking on the Parental Guide segment, which gives a detailed rundown of the film’s content.  If you know what you’re in for, you can decide for yourself if this is a cinematic journey you want to embark on.

We Need to Talk about Kevin is a draining but exceptionally crafted film.  Tilda Swinton’s wounded performance is Oscar-worthy, the cinematography and editing are some of the best I’ve seen in a while, and the handling of dark topics such as a dysfunctional mother-son relationship and a school massacre is commendable.

By the way, if you like Catholicism, feminism and wine, be sure to check out my friend Pink Haired Papist’s blog at http://pinkhairedpapist.blogspot.com/

Saint Rita of Cascia, pray for us.

CGB Review of Foxcatcher (2014)

Have you ever wanted to see Michael Scott’s dark side?  Then this is the movie for you!

This is my review of Foxcatcher!

foxcatcher

This is the tragic true story of Mark and Dave Schultz, two U.S. Olympic Wrestling champions who join Team Foxcatcher, which is led by multimillionaire John E. du Pont.  The brothers train to compete in the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea.  However, a chasm between the brothers divides them as Mark finds himself in the clutches of John du Pont’s manipulation.

The Hits
To prepare for the role, Steve Carell watched 100 hours of footage of the real John du Pont and it shows in his performance.  Like J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, Steve Carell is another guy who needs to play antagonists more often.  Where Simmons’ Terrence Fletcher was the erupting volcano spewing lava on those who displeased him, Carell’s John du Pont is the slow burn, the blue flame under the kettle.  This is the kind of man who could start a cult.  On the surface, he seems like a harmless man who would give you a passing “hello” on the city bus.  However, he has a way of appealing to the needs of people who lack a sense of personal identity.  He starts off as a kind, attentive father figure, then gradually shows his true colors as a chilling, methodical coach.  In all honesty, I’m kind of scared to watch reruns of The Office now.  Just watch his performance and you’ll be thinking the same thing.
For a movie that is both a sports flick and a psychological drama, the two genres blend together very well.  Wrestling is a backdrop while the main focus is the parasitic relationship between Mark Schultz and John du Pont.

The Misses
We need to talk about Channing Tatum.  Between this, Dear John and Jupiter Ascending, it seems to me that he is uncomfortable with getting too emotional.  In scenes that require him to become enraged, he comes off as mildly annoyed.  To his credit, his face can be expressive, but his dialogue and his reactions are lacking.

While I’m not a fan of sports movies, I was intrigued by the atmospheric, escalating tension of Foxcatcher.  Steve Carell is unrecognizable as an arguably dangerous character because evil comes in subtle packages and often when your guard is down.
I will end this review with a quote that best sums up the impact of this film:
“As a society changes, as what’s held sacred and who’s empowered shifts, so do the paths through which evil enters in, the prejudices and blind spots it exploits.  So don’t expect tomorrow’s predators to look like yesterday’s. Don’t expect them to look like the figures your ideology or philosophy or faith would lead you to associate with exploitation.  Expect them, instead, to look like the people whom you yourself would be most likely to respect, most afraid to challenge publicly, or least eager to vilify and hate.
Because your assumptions and pieties are evil’s best opportunity, and your conventional wisdom is what’s most likely to condemn victims to their fate.”
–Ross Douthat

Saint Sebastian, pray for us.

A Lamb Among Lions: Saint Agnes of Rome

Saint Agnes holds a special place in my heart.  She was the first Saint I ever learned about.
As a little girl, I remember being inspired by her strength and faith in Jesus.  Whenever a teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would reply, “I want to be like Saint Agnes.” As you can imagine, the response was usually a polite smile from the teacher and snickering from my classmates.
As a teenager, when it came time for me to pick a Confirmation Saint, Agnes was my very first choice.  Granted, the winner was Saint Monica, but I still consider Agnes to be my spiritual sister.  Honestly, if it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t have a devotion to the Saints in the first place.
Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to my spiritual sister, Agnes of Rome.

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In 291 AD, a Christian family of Roman nobility was blessed with a beautiful baby girl.  The child was named Agnes, which comes from the Latin agnus, meaning “lamb.”
Little is known about Agnes’ childhood, but what we do know is that she was very beautiful.  It has been said that she was graced with a cascade of silky hair that draped over her shoulders like a shawl and a tender smile.  By the time she was twelve, she already had a good amount of high-ranking men competing for her hand in marriage.
However, when she was approached by a potential suitor, her answer was always, “Jesus Christ is my only Spouse.”

As a child raised in a devout household, Agnes had come to know Jesus as her Savior.  In an era where daughters were married off for advantage and power, Agnes made a countercultural choice: She claimed Christ as her spouse.  Her body, mind and soul belonged to the One who created her.
Her commitment to Jesus did not go over well with the men who wanted her.  For example, a man named Procop saw Agnes’ purity as a challenge for him to conquer.  He showered her with flowers, jewels and the finest clothes.  He filled her ears with promises of power, wealth and pleasure.
Agnes fought back with this defense, “I am already promised to the Lord of the Universe. He is more splendid than the sun and the stars, and He has said He will never leave me!” Her body belonged to no man; only God.

Another rejected suitor was the son of Prefect Sempronius.  The Prefect himself tried to persuade Agnes to accept his son’s hand in marriage.  As expected, Agnes kept her eyes on Heaven and turned away from the prospect of earthly matrimony.
It is unclear who ratted her out to the authorities.  Some have guessed it to have been Procop, others say that Prefect Sempronius himself was the catalyst of Agnes’ demise.  What we do know for sure is that Agnes was arrested for professing Christianity.

Agnes was ordered to pray to the Pagan gods in exchange for her freedom.  Filled with resolve, she stayed faithful to her Spouse and refused to worship any other god.  The brave twelve-year old was thrown into a brothel to be violated.  When the men attempted to have their way with her, Agnes’ hair grew to an exponential length and shielded her body.  Within minutes, their lustful eyes were struck blind.  Some accounts have claimed that among the would-be rapists was Prefect Sempronius’ son and that Agnes healed him with a prayer.
The next trial Agnes faced was being stripped naked and burned at the stake.  Just like in the brothel, Agnes’ Rapunzel-esque hair cloaked her body.  Then when the soldiers tried to ignite the flames, the wood surrounding her wouldn’t burn.  This miracle shocked the onlookers and the sympathy of the citizens turned to Agnes.
It was a sword to the throat that brought an end to Agnes’ life.

In our modern world, people use “choice” as a buzzword for expediency.  Agnes, whose expedient choice would have been to give in to societal expectation, chose the more difficult path, one that led to great suffering and to Eternal Life.  In many respects, Agnes was a woman ahead of her time.

Saint Agnes of Rome, pray for us.

TCR Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (As originally published on The Catholic Response http://www.thecatholicresponse.us/tcr-review-star-wars-the-force-awakens/)

FORCEREVIEW (2)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the seventh installment in the Star Wars film saga.  It has been 30 years since the events of Return of the Jedi.  After the fall of the Galactic Empire, a new regime called the First Order has risen and is wrecking havoc upon the galaxy.  Embarking on a new celestial adventure are a Jakku scavenger named Rey, a former Stormtrooper called FN-2187 who now goes by “Finn,” and gifted pilot Poe Dameron along with General Leia Organa’s Resistance army.

The Force is strong in my family.  My uncle introduced my brother to Star Wars at a young age and my brother has been a fan ever since.  He and my future sister-in-law even named their dog “Leia.”  My mother saw Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope at the Pantages Theater when she was a teenager.  As for me, I consider myself a newbie convert to the Star Wars fanbase and have recently finished watching the original trilogy (Return of the Jedi is my favorite), as well as the notoriously bad prequels.  Given that Star Wars is a huge part of my family’s identity, I went into Force Awakens with my fingers crossed, praying that it would turn out to be an amazing experience.  Let’s see how it holds up.

The Hits

John Boyega is adorable as Finn!  It is obvious that he is having the time of his life being in a Star Wars film.  His redemption from Stormtrooper to resistance sympathizer is made believable by his youthful face and committed performance.  Also his “bromance” with Poe Dameron is quite charming.  Something I should mention is how Finn isn’t made into a stereotype, which unfortunately tends to happen with minority characters.  He is the comic relief, but not in a condescending way.  Loyal, resourceful and steadfast, Finn is a three-dimensional character.

Daisy Ridley is a wonderful female lead.  I admire that she is not written as a clichéd independent woman who says she doesn’t need a man, but ends up being saved multiple times.  Daisy Ridley brings a nuance of innocent resolve to Rey.  The way she is written, her character could have been male or female; she is easy for everyone to relate to.  I also like how Rey is just the right age.  She is old enough to be going on a perilous quest and young enough for we, the audience, to sympathize with when she is in danger.

Kylo Ren is frightening when he is wearing the mask.  When the helmet is covering his face, he carries the villanous aura of Darth Vader.  Given that Darth Vader is such an iconic antagonist in the Star Wars universe, the task of creating a brand new villain to step into the shoes of Darth Vader was a challenging feat.  I feel that Kylo Ren is a worthy stand-in for Darth Vader and will prove to be a formidable foe in the coming films.

A few days before the film came out, it was revealed that J.J. Abrams was in panic mode over how well the film would do with critics and audiences. As someone who struggles with anxiety, I can sympathetize with Abrams, who was given the task of rebooting (and redeeming) the Star Wars saga after the mishandled prequel trilogy.  Having seen the film as a Star Wars fan, I can say that J.J. Abrams has treated the movie with the utmost respect for the Star Wars mythos.  Interestingly enough, J.J. Abrams had initially turned down the task of directing Episode 7, but eventually changed his mind and took up his Lightsaber, sitting himself on the director’s chair.  With each frame and passing scene, I could feel Abrams’ passion for the story through his characters and respectful parallels to the original trilogy.

The Misses

Am I the only one who feels that Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is underused?  He’s such a charismatic character that I would say aloud, “No, don’t go, I like you,” every time he left a scene.  After his introduction in the first fifteen minutes, he doesn’t get much screen time.

Notice how earlier I said that Kylo Ren is a scary dude with the mask on.  When the helmet does come off, that is when the scare factor is lost.  One of the reasons Darth Vader was so intimidating was because his mask never came off until the end of Return of the Jedi.  Some of the mystery of Kylo Ren is lost once we see his face.

[KIND OF A SPOILER] I would say that 75% of Force Awaken’s plot elements are recycled from A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back.  Granted, I like New Hope and I adore Empire Strikes Back, but I would have liked some new storylines.  I know that J.J Abrams has said that A New Hope is his favorite and I have no issue with him paying homage to the film that inspired him, but I really hope that Episodes 8 & 9 contain new plot elements.


The Catholic Response

[Contains Spoilers]

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has Christian symbolism all over the place and that is a wonderful thing.
When we first meet Finn, he is wearing his Stormtrooper helmet.  During a Stormtrooper attack on a village in Jakku, he witnesses a fellow Stormtrooper die near him.  The dying man places his hand on Finn’s helmet and as he falls, his blood smears Finn’s mask.  For me, this brought to mind Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool.”  Shortly after this, Finn returns to the First Order’s base, where he pulls off his helmet, revealing his face.  The next time we see Finn, he is helping pilot Poe Dameron escape, during which he tells Poe, “My name is FN2187.”  Poe replies, “FN…Finn.  I’ll call you Finn.  That’s your name now.”  Sitting in the theater, I couldn’t help but smile as this exchange between Finn and Poe reminded me of 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”  I remembered this scripture every time the antagonists would refer to Finn by his Stormtrooper name, while the protagonists address him by his new name.  From this point on, Finn lives out his new calling as a former slave of the First Order turned redemptive ally of the resistance, as well as a protective friend of Rey.

As I looked back on the film, I came to realize that there is something very Marian about Rey.  For one, we are first introduced to Rey in the desert planet of Jakku.  Similarly in the Bible, we meet Mary in the desert city of Nazareth.  Rey has brown hair and wears white and beige clothing; comparatively Mary is often depicted as a brunette with either a white or beige veil.  The day after she takes BB-8 under her wing, an alien trader offers her 60 portions (food) in exchange for BB-8.  Rey, who is normally lucky to get one packet of food to last her a day, has every reason to trade in BB-8.  However, her innate goodness leads her to decide against it and declare, “The droid’s not for sale.”  Given that this is a lonesome character who should be a bitter, self-preserving survivalist, the fact that she remains uncorrupted by the world was reminiscent of our Blessed Mother, who remained without sin throughout her own life. Once Rey and Finn meet, the First Order attacks Jakku, forcing Rey, Finn and BB-8 to flee.  One might easily call this their ‘exile’ moment, comparable to the Holy Family’s exodus from Bethlehem into Egypt.

Finally, in the film’s climax, Rey and Kylo Ren fight against each other in a lightsaber duel.  As I watched the battle in awe, I found myself thinking about Mary crushing the serpent’s head.

Now saying that Kylo Ren is the serpent and Rey represents Mary may seem like a stretch until you take into account that Kylo Ren was training to become a Jedi, but then turned to the Dark Side, much like the fallen angel Lucifer. Also, there are a few scenes wherein Rey is mentioned, Kylo Ren goes into a fiery rage.  Exorcists who have confronted the Devil have said that the name of Mary is Satan’s worst nightmare, a burning thorn in his side.
At the end of their first battle against each other, Rey and Kylo Ren are separated by a chasm that splits the collapsing planet.  Genesis 3:15 echoed in my mind, “I will put enmity between you and the woman…”
While Rey is not an exact replica of the Virgin Mary, her character could certainly be considered a Marian type.  I’m sure that J.J. Abrams didn’t intend to make a Mary vs. Satan analogy with his narrative, but I feel that devotees of Mary will appreciate the subtle parallels to Our Blessed Virgin Mother.

 

Final Verdict

Star Wars fans have had to put up with the sting of the lackluster prequel trilogy, so obviously rebooting the franchise with Episode 7 was a nail-biting endeavor for everyone involved.  As a new fan of the Star Wars universe, I highly recommend The Force Awakens.  The characters are lovable, the action is fast and well-realized, and the story is packed with intensity and humor.  Kids will watch the flying ships with wide-eyed wonder while the adults will be able to rest easy knowing that this saga has been resurrected for a new generation to enjoy.
The hype…it’s calling to you.

Saint Mary of Nazareth, pray for us.

TCR Review of The Revenant (As originally published on The Catholic Response http://www.thecatholicresponse.us/tcr-review-of-the-revenant/)

revenant

In the Revenant, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a frontiersman and fur trapper in 1820’s America who is brutally mauled by a grizzly bear.  As he recovers from his dire injuries, a fellow fur trapper named Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) kills Hugh’s mixed race son Hawk (the son in question mostly takes after his Native American mother) and buries Hugh alive.  Fueled by the desire for revenge, Hugh rises from his makeshift grave and sets off on a harrowing quest through the frozen wasteland of the American wilderness.

This movie came from a hellish production cycle.  Director Alejandro Inarritu insisted on having no green screen and absolutely no studio lighting; this meant that all of the daytime scenes needed to be shot during sunlight hours.  The Revenant had to be filmed on twelve different locations and three countries (The United States, Argentina and Canada) mainly because snow is an integral part of the narrative.  Crew members quit or were fired, Tom Hardy had to drop out of the upcoming Suicide Squad film due to The Revenant’s nightmarish filming schedule, and the movie’s budget skyrocketed from $60 million to $95 million.

The end result is a spectacular film.  If I was a cinema professor, I would assign my students to go see The Revenant.

The Hits

The cinematography is some of the best I’ve ever seen.  The natural lighting gives the wilderness a sense of place.  Inarritu really loves his tracking shots (his last flick “Birdman” was filmed as a two-hour tracking shot) and he puts that style to good use here.  For instance, many of the action sequences are filmed as continuous tracking shots with minimal cuts.  While it can feel like the action is going too slow, it allows the tension and energy of the sequence to sink in, creating an immersive experience.
Leonardo DiCaprio had better get that Oscar because he is phenomenal as Hugh Glass.

The bear attack scene is so fantastic that it made me physically sick.  I didn’t lose my lunch, but I came close to it.  Filmed as an Inarritu tracking shot, you can hear the bear’s claws rip through Hugh Glass’ skin like a blade slicing through fabric.  DiCaprio’s screams of blood-curdling agony are jarring to the ears as he is swung back and forth by the provoked creature.  The look of nauseating terror on the main character’s face as the bear’s paw presses against his dirt-caked face had me sinking in my seat.  I would talk more about it, but I want to be respectful towards our readers who might be squeamish, so I will just say that the bear scene will go down in cinematic history as one of the most graphic animal attack scenes of all time.

The Misses/Word Of Caution

A fellow Core member friend of mine who is working to become a nurse made a good point to me: “…the bear scene to be honest was super brutal.  Looking at from what I know about medical stuff, that bear stood on his back a lot and probably should have crushed him or broken his spine which would make him paralyzed.  The lash to his neck should have killed him.  He probably should have died of infection from the bear wounds while he was out in the wilderness or of hypothermia.  Unless the cold was sufficient to halt the spread of infection.”  Once my shock at the brutality of the bear attack wore off, I did start to question Hugh’s chances of surviving his injuries.  To be fair, movies and books do require suspension of disbelief when their main characters are in situations that would otherwise leave them dead in real life.
Why did I put “Word of Caution” in this segment?  Because I feel that I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t warn our readers of what this movie has in store.
I strongly advise against eating before watching this movie, especially meat. If you have a fear of blood, I do not recommend this movie.  There is a plethora of bloodshed in this film. If you are protective of animals, this movie will be traumatizing.  There’s one sequence where a bison is seen being cornered and eaten alive by a pack of wolves.  At one point, a horse dies and Hugh has to gut out its insides and sleep inside the carcass.

The Catholic Response

[Contains Spoilers]

After Hugh Glass survives the bear attack, characters debate whether to keep him alive or to, as Tom Hardy so eloquently puts it, “Finish him off quick.” Utilitarian rhetoric is vilified in this movie, for it comes from the mouth of Hardy’s self-serving, opportunistic Fitzgerald. The characters who err on the side of respecting human dignity are Glass’ son, Hawk, and Captain Andrew Henry (Domhall Gleeson), the man who decides against shooting Glass. Given the leftist, secular nature of Hollywood, it was refreshing to see light being shed on the utilitarian sentiment so common in our culture.

Interestingly, Fitzgerald is also an embittered racist who makes derogatory slurs about Hugh’s son. He goes on to take advantage of Hugh’s weakened state so that he might snuff out Hawk as well. As the story develops, we begin to see  the disdain Fitzgerald holds towards those who he perceives as less than or as a hindrance to him.

One word came to mind as I watched the Revenant: Hell.

This film is a devastating portrayal of human suffering. Every frame is riddled with despair, brutality, and vengeance. Regarding the nature of Hell, the Catechism states:

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs. – Catechism of the Catholic Church #1035

Our Church professes that hell is a place of eternal pain and torment, a realm that offers its inhabitants no relief. Similarly, the Revenant’s wilderness is painted as a hell on earth where no human or animal passes through without battle scars. According to Saint Gregory the Great, “In Hell, there will be a fire that cannot be put out, a worm which cannot die, a stench one cannot bear, a darkness one can feel, a scourging by savage hands, with those present despairing of anything good.” There is little to no goodness to be found in Hugh Glass’ ordeal and the number of trials he faces increases as the film progresses. Throughout the Revenant’s almost three-hour run time, we witness Hugh Glass suffer agony after agony, enduring everything from being mauled to watching the murder of his son to falling from a cliff and landing in a tree. His trials continue to pile up with each passing day and all we, the audience, can do is watch the horrific spectacle. Granted, his predicament isn’t a form of punishment, but the gravity of his suffering is reminiscent of the terrors of Gehenna.

On another note, the climactic fight between Hugh and Fitzgerald ends with a group of Native Americans passing by on the other side of the river. “Revenge is in God’s hands, not mine,” Hugh says as he drags Fitzgerald into the river. Fitzgerald floats to the other side, where the chief finishes him off by scalping him. We see a shot of Hugh standing before a bloody trail in the snow. The Native American cross to his side of the river only to pass over him.

“Passover!” I exclaimed to my friend next to me. This scene calls to mind the Biblical Passover where the Israelites, through their covenant with God, avoided the consequences of the Angel of Death in Egypt. Granted, Fitzgerald is certainly not a lamb, but the Native Americans passing by Hugh when they should have been his Angel of Death made it hard to ignore this parallel.

As I say in all of my movie reviews, I’m sure that getting Biblical was not on Inarritu’s cinematic to-do list. However, the same God who has given us the ability to create art and present it in many forms (literature, cinema, etc.,) is the One who uses the hands of human artists as His instruments in making Himself known to His children.

Final Verdict

The Revenant should be seen by as many people as possible. The incredible cinematography, Leonardo DiCaprio’s committed performance and the engaging story make this movie deserving of the Oscar nominations it has received. Cinephiles, or people who love all things cinema, will want to see The Revenant.

That all being said, moviegoers with certain sensitivities (fear of blood, a soft spot for animals, etc.,) may want to research the content of the film to determine whether or not they would be able to stomach this brutal tale of the desperation of man. I never want to deter anyone from seeing a fantastic film, but as the old adage goes, “Knowledge is power.” The more you know, the more prepared you will be.

Saint Patrick, pray for us.

CGB Review of Whiplash (2014)

Were you rushing or were you dragging?

This is my review of Whiplash!

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Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is an aspiring drummer determined to be the next Bernard “Buddy” Rich.  He gets his chance when he becomes a part of his school’s elite music conservatory, led by the volatile and sadistic Terrence Fletcher.  Driven by a grudging respect for Fletcher, Andrew pushes himself to the point of reckless passion as he wishes to earn his place as Fletcher’s drummer.
I just watched this movie an hour ago and I’m already eager to watch it again.  The simmering performances between Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons drive the kinetic story from beginning to end.

The Hits
When I was in high school, I remember listening to my brother practice on his guitar for hours, perfecting his craft until he could play any song just right.  In that aspect, I found this movie to be very relatable, given that I am not a musician myself.  Even though the film focuses solely on music, anyone who is involved in the arts (writing, music, painting, cooking, dancing, etc.,) will connect with Andrew’s struggle.
The rivalry between Andrew and Fletcher is as mesmerizing as Luke and Darth Vader.  That’s right; I went there.  Like the lightsaber duels throughout the original Star Wars trilogy, the drumming sequences are an internalization of the conflict between the characters.  Every scene between Andrew and Fletcher demonstrate Andrew’s desire to win his teacher’s admiration and Fletcher’s need to find a new prodigy to guide and claim as his own.
There’s also a very interesting contrast between Andrew’s relationship with his own father and his dysfunctional rapport with Fletcher.  Jim Neyman is kind but ineffectual, while Fletcher is temperamental but commanding.  The fact that Andrew seeks the attention of a domineering instructor while ignoring the gentle support of his own father speaks volumes about the young man’s need for a stronger male figure in his life.
Miles Teller needs to abandon the Divergent trilogy (and any Fantastic Four movies) and play more characters like Andrew Neyman.  Ambitious, cocky, and riddled with anxiety, the raging determination in Andrew’s eyes as the intensity of Fletcher’s abuse weighs down on his shoulders is conveyed by Teller’s gritty performance.
Let’s be honest: The real star is J.K. Simmons.  Holy cow, why isn’t he playing villains more often?  Simmons earned that Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  An electric and terrifying dictator of a man who is equipped with a tongue sharper than the sword used to cut off the head of Anne Boleyn, Terrence Fletcher is a formidable foe.  His deep voice is already intimidating and once he starts berating Andrew and other characters, he becomes all the more frightening.  I like how when he first talks to Andrew, he is approachable and seems genuinely interested in Andrew’s backstory.  Then he uses what he knows about Andrew (such as Mrs. Neyman walking out on the family) to tear the young man down.  That is absolutely malicious.  By the second act, I froze up every time Fletcher was on screen.  In real life, this character would have me cowering in a corner, bawling my eyes out.  On screen, I couldn’t take my eyes off this scary man.  It is that great of a performance.

The Misses
The ending is a bit of an overkill.  I get that Andrew is using his drumming solo to tell Fletcher where to go, but it lasts for fifteen minutes and could have been shortened.
If you have ever been verbally abused, primarily by a teacher or mentor, this movie may be hard to watch.  I never want to deter anyone from watching a great film, but I also want to be respectful of readers would may have had traumatic experiences.

I adore Whiplash.  Miles Teller’s Andrew is connectable and sympathetic while J.K. Simmons’ Terrence Fletcher is as great a villain as Darth Vader, Captain Vidal (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Professor Radisson (God’s Not Dead).  The animosity between the two characters is a thrilling intrigue that carries the film with sound and fury.

Saint Genesius of Rome, pray for us.