CGB Review of Risen (2016)

Spoiler alert: Jesus rises from the dead.  Gasp!

This is my review of Risen!

Joseph-Fiennes-in-Risen

After the Crucifixion, Jesus’ body has been entombed.  However, three days later, His body goes missing.  Tribune Clavius, played brilliantly by Joseph Fiennes (younger brother of Harry Potter actor Ralph Fiennes), is tasked by Pontius Pilate to find the missing body in order to prevent an uprising from Jesus’ followers.
Christian films are a hit or miss genre.  Sadly, the genre is known for its misses rather than its homeruns.  I am glad to say that Risen is definitely an excellent hit in the genre.

The Hits
Joseph Fiennes deserves, at the very least, Oscar consideration.  His expressive face and intense eyes sell the seething persona of Clavius.  He can be both intimidating and approachable.  He commands the screen with a silent performance similar to Leo DiCaprio in The Revenant.  His conversion is a reluctant, gradual turn that is brought full-circle by Fiennes’ mesmerizing performance.  I commend the film for essentially making Clavius a nonbelieving character without vilifying his unbelief.
I like how Pontius Pilate is haunted by “the Nazarene” while still being a shady, self-centered politician.  I appreciate that he doesn’t have a change of heart because this is something many people experience; refusing to change their ways after an event shakes their corner of the world.
Yes, Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) is in this movie.  At first, I was very concerned that he would be a distraction.  I’ve only seen him in the Harry Potter films, so I only know him as Draco.  Thankfully Tom Felton has the right amount of screen time.  The movie doesn’t use his celebrity as a crowd-grabbing gimmick.
Jesus Himself is seen on the cross in the first ten minutes and then doesn’t show up until the beginning of the third act.  I think this was a wise move.  Jesus’ presence is felt throughout the film.  His name brings fear to His opponents and joy to His followers.  His memory holds strong in Clavius’ mind.  This strategy is brilliant because when Jesus does show up, there is appreciation for His long-awaited return.  While the actor playing Jesus does come off as a bit of a hippie, it is a respectful portrayal that concentrates on Jesus’ merciful nature.   Also the guy who plays Saint Peter is wonderful, a big brother type who brings some light humor while remaining believable as the one Jesus entrusted the Church to.

The Misses
The last twenty minutes do feel stretched out.  Risen has what I call “Return of the King” syndrome in which right when the movie seems like it is coming to its conclusion, a new scene will begin and the film keeps going.
For moviegoers who prefer more fast-paced cinema, Risen might feel a tad slow.  It is a character study of Clavius’ internal conflict and there are very few action sequences.

Risen was a pleasant surprise.  What makes it an intriguing narrative is the humanistic portrayal of the characters, Joseph Fiennes’ incredibly subtle performance and the graceful handling of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Saint Faustina Kowalska, pray for us.

CGB Review of Zoolander 2 (2016)

I feel like I lost a few IQ points.  I kind of need those to review movies.

This is my review of Zoolander 2!

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Two days after the events of the first Zoolander, the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Want To Learn To Do Other Things Good (try saying that ten times fast) collapsed and killed Derek’s wife Matilda Jeffries-Zoolander, as well as disfigured Hansel’s face.  In addition, a damning video of Zoolander being unable to feed his son has resulted in the child being removed from his custody.  Ten years after all of those events, there have been a slew of celebrities being murdered with the only clue being Zoolander’s “blue steel” look.  Zoolander comes out of hiding, reunites with Hansel, and ends up on an adventure to solve the celebrity murders and get his son back.

Did that feel like a ton of exposition to you?  Yeah, imagine being hit with all this information in the first five minutes of the film.
Anyway, I happened to enjoy the first Zoolander movie quite a bit.  It’s not great like Star Wars, but as an absurdist comedy, it holds up pretty well.
An hour before I left with my family to see Zoolander 2, the great Kelsey Hazzard from Secular Pro-Life posted this: “Sad to say Zoolander 2 was awful. Should not have been made. Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s cameo made it bearable.”
I braced myself for a painful viewing experience.
By the way, be sure to check out my friends over at Secular Pro-Life (here’s their website  http://www.secularprolife.org/).  They have great articles and have teamed up with other nontraditional pro-life groups (Pro-Life Pagans, Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, Democrats for Life of America, etc.,) to support to cause of defending the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.
Okay, on with the review!

The Hits
In keeping with the outlandish spirit of the original Zoolander, this sequel did not disappoint.  The superficiality and randomness got many laughs from me.
The young man who plays Derek Jr. is actually pretty good.  He carried the role surprisingly well as the straight man to his father’s idiocy.  The actor’s name is Cyrus Arnold and I do hope he gets more work in the future.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s cameo is amazing!  Then again, Benedict Cumberbatch is just spectacular in whatever he does, even if it is a ten minute cameo.  You could cast him as the mailman and he would still steal the show!
I will give the movie this: While it may be random, it was never boring.  Zoolander 2 has not a dull moment.  The plot flows well and even the filler has a purpose.
I like how Derek Zoolander has matured somewhat while still maintaining his naiveté.  He has a better grasp on what is happening around him, but hasn’t strayed too far from his lovable moron persona.  Out of all the characters, he is the only protagonist who has developed since the first flick.

The Misses
In television, there’s a trope called Flanderization.  I think I may have talked about it before.  Now where did I put that?  (Looks through archives) Ah, here it is!
Flanderization is defined by the TV Tropes website as “The act of taking a single (often minor) action or trait of a character within a work and exaggerating it more and more over time until it completely consumes the character. Most always, the trait/action becomes completely outlandish and it becomes their defining characteristic” (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Flanderization).
What’s my point?  There is a lot of flanderization going on.  In the first film, Hansel’s appreciation for–how do I put this delicately?–orgies was a single gag that lasted for one scene.  Here, it’s part of his story arch.  By the third time we saw members of his orgy, those characters had overstayed their welcome.  However, the biggest victim of flanderization is Mugatu.  In my review of the original Zoolander, I said that I wished we saw more of Mugatu.  Well, this movie delivered all right…and I immediately regret that wish.  Mugatu is not only more annoying, but has upped his stupidity to where he becomes insufferable very quickly.  His voice is downright grating in the film’s climax.
Where the premise of the original was pretty straightforward, this sequel is way overcomplicated.  There are too many lame twists and loose ends are either lazily explained away or just dropped.  I think I may have said, “Wait, what’s this movie about again?” at least twice.

To be clear, I didn’t hate Zoolander 2.  If I had to choose between watching Zoolander 2 or Aloha (twitches), I’d pick Zoolander 2 in a heartbeat.  That being said, if I had seen Zoolander 2 by myself, I probably would’ve walked down the hall and snuck into a screening of Deadpool or Star Wars instead.  I don’t regret watching Zoolander 2, but I certainly won’t be seeing it again any time soon.

Saint Genevieve, pray for us.

CGB Book Review of The Screwtape Letters (1942)

“To get a man’s soul and give him nothing in return–that is what gladdens our Father’s [Satan’s] heart.”
–Screwtape

Holy cow, if that’s not downright diabolical, I don’t know what is.

This is my first ever book review of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters!

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Screwtape is a senior Demon whose nephew Wormwood, a junior Tempter, is working on securing the damnation of a man called “The Patient,” who has recently converted to Christianity.  The cunning Screwtape instructs Wormwood via a series of letters that illustrate the strategies of Satan which are used to lure the human race away from God and into the darkness of Hell.
Ever since I started Catholic Girl Bloggin’, I have dealt with spiritual warfare.  Without going into too much detail, I will say that being picked on by the devil is unpleasant at best and frightening at worst.  Reading the Screwtape Letters has been both chilling and enlightening for me.  To put this into perspective, imagine being bullied by someone for a long time and after they die you get a hold of their diary.  As you’re reading it, you say to yourself, “So that’s how they pulled it off.  It all makes sense now.” A lot of Screwtape’s temptation tactics are things that I have personally experienced.
With that, let’s take a look at The Screwtape Letters!

The Hits
C.S. Lewis was one of the most brilliant minds in literature, but he knew how to make his words accessible while remaining sophisticated.  While at times, his British jargon can get a tad confusing, the majority of what he writes is simple enough for anyone to grasp.
Many of the passages in this book are very timely.  In one letter, Screwtape tells Wormwood, “A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all—and more amusing.” In our world today, “liberal” churches have emerged with a watered-down version of God’s Word mixed with a progressive agenda.
Another letter has Screwtape advising Wormwood, “Man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head.  He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false,” but as “academic” or “practical,” “outworn” or “contemporary,” “conventional” or “ruthless.” Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true!  Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.”  C.S. Lewis is clearly speaking about moral relativism; the belief that truth is subjective and can be changed to accommodate the times.
Something I found interesting is the subtle world-building of Hell.  Screwtape briefly mentions the Infernal Police, which is the underworld equivalent of the KGB.  He also talks about enclosing a booklet on the newly constructed House of Correction for Incompetent Tempters.  The addition of other background characters like Slumtrimpet and Fr. Spike help expand the worlds of both Screwtape and Wormwood, and The Patient. I also appreciate how Satan is an unseen antagonist; he is mentioned many times in the letters without ever making an appearance as an active character.  The focus of the novel is Satan’s methods being told to us through the seasoned Screwtape.
Speaking of Screwtape and Wormwood, I like their parasitic relationship.  Animosity is cleverly hinted between the two, and the self-serving Screwtape clearly sees Wormwood as just another necessary tool of damnation.  There is no “like” or “love” where they reside.
By far, my favorite passage in the Screwtape Letters is this, “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.” God is the source of true and lasting joy, so when we engage in an activity that brings us joy (reading a book, taking a walk, spending time with a close friend, etc.,) we are placing ourselves in His presence.  Disordered sources of temporary pleasure and distraction come from the devil.  Screwtape even comments, “I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambitions by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.”  I will say that I feel closest to God when I am writing a story or a CGB post.  🙂

The Misses
I really wish that “The Patient” was given a name.  I understand that the point of an unnamed protagonist is that The Patient could be anyone, but it prevents an emotional connection with the character.  .
For the Americanized reader, some of the British slogan may be a bit distracting and may make it difficult to properly put the scene into context.  I had to reread some of the passages twice because I had trouble interpreting what Mr. Lewis was trying to say.

The Screwtape Letters is a Christian classic for a reason.  Written with wit and valuable insight into how evil operates, it stands the test of time with relevant observations regarding how society can be led astray without even realizing it.  If you ever wondered why C.S. Lewis never wrote a Screwtape Letters Part 2, it has been documented that he simply could not bring himself to return to the dark state of mind necessary to create the dialogue between two demons.

Saint Gemma Galgani, pray for us.

CGB 100th Review: Deadpool (2016)

Happy Saint Valentine’s Day!

This is my review of Deadpool!

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Deadpool is the film adaptation of the Marvel comic book antihero Wade Wilson/Deadpool.  Wade starts off as a rogue mercenary who helps downtrodden souls deal with the difficult people in their lives (Ex: Say you’re being stalked and want to get the stalker off your back.  You call Wade and he’ll get him/her to leave you alone via intimidation and other unorthodox methods).  When Wade and his girlfriend Vanessa discover that he has cancer, Wade is offered a chance to be a part of rogue experiments that will cure him.  However, the experiments leave Wade scarred with a ghastly appearance and he sets off to find Ajax, aka Francis and make him pay for the disfigurement.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Deadpool is NOT for children.
That is all.  Onward with the review!

The Hits
Ryan Reynolds has been dying to play this character and it shows.  He is having the time of his life being the crass, wise-cracking Wade/Deadpool.  While excessive swearing is not a desirable talent, Ryan Reynolds’ delivery of a plethora of expletives is convincing.  I really like his relationship with his girlfriend Vanessa; the idea of two hardened outcasts finding and committing themselves to one another is not only endearing, but also brings dimension to Deadpool’s character.
Finally a movie that knows how to correctly portray the lovable jerk character!  The humorous and foul-mouthed Wade Wilson/Deadpool doesn’t take life too seriously and always has a sarcastic response to everything, but he is dedicated to Vanessa and is considerate of her concerns after his cancer diagnosis all while masking his own panic with witty banter.  His sardonic comedy makes him extremely likable, while how much he values Vanessa makes him relatable and easy to root for.
I think it was a brilliant move to tell the story in non-chronological order.  We get Deadpool’s origin story out of the way while having plenty of time to watch him do superhero stuff.
This may a bit weird, but I found the lowlife bar that Wade hangs out at to be strangely charming.  There’s one scene towards the end of the second act where Ajax and his cohorts comes looking for Wade and when Ajax’s consort threatens the main owner, all of the bar attendants pull out guns, ready to defend the owner.  The subtle brotherhood of the bar patrons is an appreciative touch.
This movie pushes the envelope in terms of its depiction of violence.  It unapologetically earns its R-rating.  If a film achieves what it sets out to do, then it is worth commending.

The Misses
At times, the action gets a little overwhelming, especially when an action scene would go on for a long period of time.  This creates audience fatigue and can negatively impact the viewing experience.
So after undergoing Ajax’s experiments, Deadpool becomes an immortal killing machine…and this is a bit of a problem.  One of the ingredients of a great action hero is vulnerability.  If we see our hero/heroine feel pain and look afraid, we can identify with them and care for them.  We need to be concerned that they could die.  When a character cannot feel pain and has no chance of being killed by a bullet to the head, they don’t feel human and the tension of action sequences is lost.  “Why the heck are Ajax’s guys shooting at Deadpool?  He can’t die, so it’s pointless,” I said to the people I saw the film with.  An immortal antagonist is frightening and a legitimate threat; an immortal protagonist lacks vulnerability and is hard to care about.

For The Record
Is this movie a “hard R” flick?  Personally I didn’t think it was offensive to the eye, but then again, I have seen foreign language films that get far more graphic than Deadpool.  This isn’t like the Revenant where we watch Leo DiCaprio disembowel a horse, but it is definitely not PG-13 content.  If you are concerned, I would recommend going on Deadpool’s IMDB page and looking up the Parental Guide segment so that you can make an informed decision.

I have seen Deadpool twice and I loved it both times.  The crude, tongue-in-cheek humor is well-written and solid delivered by everyone involved, the action is fun and engaging, and Ryan Reynolds is captivating as the titular antihero.  This is definitely a comedic movie to go see with a bunch of friends at midnight.  If you’re looking for a good time at the movies, then this is the popcorn flick for you!

Saint Mary Magdalene, pray for us.

From Your Valentine: Saint Valentine

So I happen to be a single woman, and as you can imagine, Valentine’s Day can feel like a lonely day, especially because it’s a holiday that is marketed towards people who are in romantic relationships.  It may seem that I have no business talking about the patron saint of this holiday.  However, what if I told you that the founder of Valentine’s Day was a single man, who was a priest and later a saint named Valentine?

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Saint Valentine lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius. In third century AD, Emperor Claudius imposed an edict, or a law, that banned marriage.  This law was particularly targeting military-aged men. In Claudius’ mind, he felt that unmarried soldiers would fight better and with reckless abandon because they wouldn’t worried about their wives and children at home.
When you get married, you make a vow that your life belongs to your spouse, and vice versa.  You live for your spouse and you would willingly die for your spouse. Claudius feared the notion that a man would lay down his life for his wife before he would for his country.

Now this edict was before Constantine, so the Christian Church was gaining popularity, but still underground.  This no-marriage edict threw the Church in for a loop, and since marriage was a public affair, many priests feared to go against the edict and call attention to themselves. It was still the days where being a Christian meant you could quite literally lose your head.

Valentine believed in preserving and carrying out the sacred institution of marriage and honestly, fear means nothing when you believe in something strong enough. Against all odds, Valentine basically decided to disregard the edict and perform marriages in secret. He celebrated the sacrament of holy matrimony in the catacombs, where only he and God could see the hidden couples engaging their vows.
It is unknown how long Valentine was officiating these underground marriages, but I’m just going to say that after a long period of time, someone betrayed Valentine and reported what he was doing to Emperor Claudius.

Valentine was arrested and brought before a panel of judges, one of whom was a man named Asterius. Asterius decided to put Valentine to the test; he ordered him to pray over his sick daughter.  If God was real, then surely Valentine’s prayers would cure the child.  We can safely assume that Asterius doubted Valentine’s prayers would do anything.
Well, Valentine went to Asterius’ home and prayed over the sickly girl.  By the grace of God, she was healed by the prayers of the kind priest.
Asterius realized that this man was the real deal and he became a Christian on the spot.  It has been said that to prove his newfound faith, Asterius destroyed all the Pagan idols in his home and fasted for three days.  After he was baptized, he freed all of the Christian inmates.

Asterius’ conversion did not bode well with Emperor Claudius. Under his command, Valentine was sentenced to a three-part execution: He was beaten, stoned and then beheaded.
Before his execution, Valentine had written a letter to Asterius’ daughter, which he gave to Asterius himself.  We do not know the contents of the letter, but we do know what Valentine’s signature was.  It read, “From your Valentine…”

I find it to be interesting that Valentine’s Day, a day where romantic couples express their love for all to see, exists because of one man’s daring mission to help those who wanted to commit their lives to each other get married in secret.  What is even more striking is how this man had no lover of his own.  Valentine’s heart belonged to someone greater, a higher power that compelled him to go against an anti-marriage edict to protect a sacrament that is once again under attack in our modern world.  He belonged to God alone.
Valentine understood the true meaning of love: To care for others more than you care about yourself, to give your life to a greater cause.   Love calls us to change the world.

Saint Valentine, pray for us.

CGB Review of Zoolander (2001)

So when can I enroll my future children into the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good?

This is my review of Zoolander!

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Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is a superstar in the world of male modeling.  However, after winning Male Model of the Year award three years in a row, he finds himself going downhill.  When he is bested by hot newcomer Hansel (Owen Wilson), Zoolander searches for new meaning in his life.  A second chance comes in the form of Mugatu, an eccentric fashion czar who offers Derek a shot at a comeback by making him the face of his new “Derelicte” clothing line.  However, it turns out that Mugatu has a far more sinister plan for Zoolander, which involves using him to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

The Hits
The most important question when reviewing a comedy is this: “Is it funny?”  Even though this movie came out fifteen years ago, it had me on the floor, dying from laughter.  The premise is ridiculously hilarious with creative jokes, perfect timing and is easy to get invested in all thanks to Ben Stiller’s whacky performance as the moron with a heart of gold.  Derek Zoolander is a great example of how to write a lovable dimwit correctly.  He is dense but not annoying, strangely innocent and naïve without becoming childish, and I like how the only thing he is good at is modeling.  If he was a failure in everything, then it would make him an incompetent protagonist.  I also appreciate how he has never been late for a show; his commitment to his craft is believable and makes him the best person to guide us through the bizarre narrative.
Will Ferrell’s Mugatu is an excellent comedic villain!  A self-absorbed fashionista with an off-the-wall hairdo and bulging eyes, Mugatu serves as a foil to Derek Zoolander; where Derek is a good-natured halfwit, Mugatu is a shady designer with guile.
I like Christine Taylor’s Matilda Jeffries as the film’s straightman/woman.  An outlandish story like this needs an Average Joe character to balance out the weirdness.  Matilda is professional without being standoffish, inquisitive without ever becoming intrusive; she is a great everywoman and a good friend to Zoolander.
The idea that male models were designed to be assassins is really funny.  When this bit of exposition is revealed to Derek and Matilda, I went into a laughing fit.  I love how it is explained in a way that makes the notion somewhat believable while still emphasizing how insane it is.

The Misses
Okay, can we talk about the whole “Derek can’t turn left” part of the story?   I’ve watched this movie twice and both times, I saw Ben Stiller turning his head left to talk to other characters the entire time.  Seriously, this is kind of a big continuity error.
I really like Mugatu and I kind of feel that we didn’t get to see enough of him.  I’m not saying that he needed to be in every scene, but we see him for a few minutes in the opening scene, then he’s in a handful of other scenes and then he kind of disappears for a while until the climax.  It would have been nice to have given the main villain a little more screen time.

Zoolander is an offbeat delight!  The characters are lovable, the tone is clear in its absurdity and the costumes and makeup are the best I’ve seen since last year’s Cinderella film.  I will definitely be watching this again and am looking forward to Zoolander 2!

Saint Josephine Bakhita, pray for us.

Equals, Not Enemies: How Men and Women Complement One Another

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It has occurred to me that there is a hostility between men and women these days.  In one corner, you have self-proclaimed feminists who reject their body’s ability to carry life and view men as either cheating oppressors or dimwitted and lazy.
In another corner, an underground generation of disgruntled men who loathe the advancements of women in modern society and believe that women should be submissive sex objects (I’m looking at you, Return of Kings) has formed.
Both of these mindsets show that our seemingly “progressive” society has not advanced in teaching boys and girls how to relate to one another.

As a millennial woman, I feel the need to say that men should not dominate over women and women should not dominate over men. Neither of the sexes should compete for superiority over one another.  Both men and women are human beings deserving of dignity and equality. Masculinity and femininity are beautiful and are unique in their own way.  Both genders have different roles to play.  No, I’m not talking about stock gender roles imposed by society.  Actually, by “different roles,” I’m talking about something much deeper and beyond the surface.
In the words of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, “A man may stand for the justice of God, but a woman stands for His Mercy.” Now this quote does not mean that “men are strong and women are weak.” Quite the contrary, my friends.  Let’s take a look.

Interpreting the first part of the quote, “A man may stand for the justice of God,” we see that men do have a natural inclination to protect. It’s just something that lies within the heart of men. Ask any man who is a husband, boyfriend, father, brother or uncle. Their first instinct is to protect the important women of their lives (wives, girlfriends, daughters, sisters, nieces, etc.)  Saint Pope John Paul II once said, “It is the duty of every man to uphold the dignity of every woman.” Now there are men in our world who commit horrendous acts against women, there’s no denying that. However acting against your true nature does not make the natural inclination disappear. The exception does not change or invalidate the rule. Men are called to uphold and protect the human dignity of women and when a man objectifies a woman, he is acting against justice and violating his true nature.

Interpreting the second part of the quote, “but a woman stands for His mercy,” we must first address that mercy does not mean weakness or subservience. Mercy is compassion and tenderness. Ever wonder why many women (not all women, but a good number of women) are more likely to show leniency towards someone who makes a dumb mistake than men are?  It’s because there’s something within the feminine heart that leans towards mercy. With mercy comes nurturing and we should note that it is not sexist to say that within the heart of every woman is the inclination to nurture. Again, nurturing is not a suggestion of weakness. In fact, one of the definitions of nurture is “to feed and protect” (You can check it out here if you are so inclined http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/nurture). Within the nurturing inclination is to protect, so women are also called to protect the people of their lives, which includes the men.  Just as men are tasked with defending the dignity of women, women are also tasked to uphold the dignity of men.

The men and women of today need to rise above this “us vs. them” mentality. Both of the sexes must build one another up instead of tearing each other down.  Men and women are called to affirm and uphold one another.  When men and women work together for the sake of human dignity, this is how peace will be achieved.

Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica, pray for us.