CGB Collaboration Review of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) with Guest-Reviewer Monique Ocampo

I once dated a guy who everyone warned me was, “off-putting, pretentious and simply no fun.” Wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt, I dated him anyway. “What could possibly go wrong?”
Yeah…about that.
If there’s one thing that this person and Batman v. Superman have in common, it’s that they both made me want to throw myself in front of a truck. What’s the moral of the story: If everyone warns you that something is going to be bad, they’re probably right.

This is my CGB collaboration review of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice! 

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Yes, you read that correctly.  This is the first ever CGB collaboration review!  I will be reviewing Batman v. Superman with my friend Monique Ocampo, a blogger from Patheos.  Why?  Because friends don’t let friends endure Batman v. Superman alone. 
I downright hate this movie while Monique was mostly disappointed by it.  Instead of the usual “Hits and Misses” system, Monique and I decided it would be a good idea to break down this endurance test–er, I mean–movie into three parts: The good, the bad and the ugly.  Monique’s points are in purple while mine shall be in blue. 

I’ve been a fan of superheroes since I was a kid. I always held superheroes up to a certain standard. While I allow certain levels of cynicism and angst when it comes to Batman, I don’t particularly like it when it applies to Superman. Given how Man of Steel and The Dark Knight Rises left a bad taste in my mouth, I went into Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice with low expectations. Even though it was not as bad as I thought it would be, I still find it to be an overall disappointment in terms of story and characterization. Thomas Aquinas defines evil as having a lack of good, so since I didn’t find Dawn of Justice a complete letdown, I want to go over the good, the bad and the ugly of this movie.

Prior to the film’s release, I readily defended BvS to my friends who had already decided that they hated the idea. The trailer actually looked promising to me. Rivalry stories are one of my favorite narratives, so I couldn’t wait to be able to explore the ideological divide between the virtuous Last Son of Krypton and the morally-gray Bat of Gotham. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor had the potential to either be a comedic (which, if well-written, can be very enjoyable to watch) or gradually evolve from a harmless weirdo to a sinister foe. Those two hopes alone is what got me to go to an 11:30 am screening of Batman v. Superman.
One hot dog, a bag of Welch’s fruit snacks and a Coke slushie later (to fight off the boredom), I was so disengaged that I turned to my friend and asked, “Am I still alive and watching a movie or have I died and am currently waiting for God’s final verdict?”

The Good
Ben Affleck brings a seasoned, burnt-out Bruce Wayne/Batman. I actually did like how when the robber points a gun at Martha Wayne, the gun catches her pearls. That was a pretty intense camera shot. Putting the destruction of Metropolis through Bruce Wayne’s perspective was an excellent narrative choice. It gave me hope that Bruce/Batman would be the film’s emotional center and the one to guide us through the story. Sadly, that is not the case.
Jeremy Irons and Ben Affleck do have pretty good chemistry. I love Jeremy Irons’ sardonic humor delivered in his epic voice. Any time Affleck and Irons were on screen, I was able to care about what was happening.
Gal Gadot definitely looks the part of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. While the writing of the Wonder Woman role is haphazard, Ms. Gadot does carry her character as a mysterious woman who belongs to a higher social standing quite well.

I’ll give credit where credit is due. Most of the female characters in this movie are actually the most interesting characters. Gal Godot’s version of Wonder Woman plays off like a Bond Girl at first, charming Bruce Wayne while trying to get something back from Alexander Luthor. When she finally made her appearance as Wonder Woman, the people in the theatre and I applauded. She fit in naturally, working with Batman and Superman to take down the real villain of the movie, Doomsday.
I also liked Alexander’s right hand woman, Mercy, played by Tao Okamoto. She’s a good variation of Luthor’s sidekick Tess Mercer and it’s awesome to see Asians play a prominent role in mainstream cinema. I also liked Holly Hunter as Senator Finch. To me, she represented the audience who wanted to know where they stood with this darker version of Superman who is willing to kill and doesn’t take into account the collateral damage that results from his actions.
I agree with Amy [CGB] about Jeremy Irons’ performance as Alfred and the how Ben Affleck’s perspective of the Battle of Metropolis actually brought something unique to the story. And Ben Affleck was not as bad a Batman as I thought he would be, but I still would’ve chosen another actor for the role.

The Bad
The least developed character, aside from Superman, is Lois Lane. Like in Man of Steel, she doesn’t do much in this movie outside of her designated role as Superman’s girlfriend. I also didn’t like the characterization of the Kents in this movie, especially Martha Kent who tells Superman that he doesn’t owe the world anything. I get that the “Great power, great responsibility” trope has probably been overused, but there needs to be some way to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. Batman’s use of firearms felt out of character, given that one of Batman’s central character points is that he never uses guns.
But by far, my least favorite part of the movie is Alexander Luthor, Jr. I refuse to call him Lex Luthor because he doesn’t embody any of the qualities of previous Lex Luthors such as the ones from Smallville or Superman The Animated Series. Jesse Eisenberg plays him more like a mad scientist and a straw atheist and plays the character of Alexander Luthor in a completely over the top manner instead of the more subtle but sinister characterization of the real Lex Luthor.

Jesse Eisenberg’s overacting combined with painfully obvious poor direction makes his performance cringe-worthy at best and insufferable at worst. If this had been a Batman v. Joker origin story of how the Joker became, well, the Joker, then I would have had no issue with Eisenberg, but we already had a better Joker through the late Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight.
At some point, there’s a scene where Bruce/Batman has a dream where he is overcome and taken into custody by Superman Nazis (they have Nazi-esque armbands that have the Superman symbol). We see a chained Bruce looking up and seeing Superman, who approaches him and rips off his [Batman’s] mask. This scene was the straw that broke the camel’s back and prompted me to give up on the film entirely.
What should have been a powerful scene ends up being a weird sequence with plenty of style and no substance. Typically, when a main protagonist has a nightmare about being captured by another character, the implication is that the protagonist is haunted by said character. This usually occurs in a story about rivals or if one character is being pursued by another. This scene upset me because Batman and Superman’s “rivalry” is completely botched. There is no exploration of their differences. Batman and Superman are two angst-filled, bruiting dudes whose only difference is that one wears all black and the other wears a red and blue. Because of this, the dream sequence has no impact and is boring action scene.
I don’t know if anyone else caught this, but Doomsday’s lighting effects seemed seizure inducing to me. I don’t have eye problems, but his lighting effects made my eyes water. There are quite a few camera choices in the third act that made me concerned that someone in my theater was going to have a seizure. My last complaint is that this movie has more endings than Return of the King! The epilogue goes on for an eternity.

The Ugly
While the movie teased at the future Justice League members, the fact that Wonder Woman didn’t get much of a role in the overall movie and the implication that the Justice League is created from the ashes of Superman’s death feels very pandering. Too little, too late, DC.
The other thing I hated most about this movie is the underlying anti-religious themes. The overblowing parallels between Superman and Christ are still prominent in this film, particularly the fact that Superman died saving metropolis and it’s implied at the end of the movie that he will rise from the dead.
Alexander plays the role of the Straw Atheist, determined to defame Superman at any cost. Say what you will about Maxwell Lord in Supergirl, but his motivations are at least understandable. The entire Batman/Superman conflict hangs on the audience believing that Batman, the world’s greatest detective, could fall for Alexander’s clearly over-the-top schemes. I’m not buying it!

I have no flippin’ idea what this movie was about. Yes, things do happen, but there’s no central plot. I guess one could make the argument that the filmmakers were attempting to connect the plethora of storylines, but if that is the case, then their efforts backfired. Instead of interconnecting smoothly, the plot points feel jumbled and convoluted.
There’s a scene that shows a portrait of Saint Michael defeating Lucifer that has been turned upside down so that it looks like Michael is the one who is falling. If you’re a fan of Saint Michael, this might not sit well with you.
As stated before, I hated Eisenberg’s version of Lex because he makes real-life atheists look bad. I have friends who are atheists and I have never once heard any of them say, “Devils don’t come from Hell beneath us; they come from the sky.” Seriously, who talks like that?

Batman v. Superman’s frenetic editing, zero focus and a grossly-neglected rivalry between the titular characters tried my patience and led me to the brink of going back to the snack bar to further drown my sorrows.

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle and pray for us.

Monique Ocampo is a freelance writer currently blogging for Patheos. She also contributes Bible study meditations for Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship. When she’s not writing, she loves singing showtunes and fangirling over fanged faces, superheroes, and Time Lords.  You can check out Monique’s awesome works at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/moniqueocampowrites/ or on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MoniqueOcampoWrites/info/?tab=page_info

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CGB Review of The Passion of the Christ (2004)

“Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.”
–Luke 23:26

This is my review of The Passion of the Christ!

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I’m pretty sure I don’t need to summarize the plot of this film, hence I will say this: The Passion of the Christ is arguably the most realistic interpretation of the final twelve hours of the life of Jesus Christ.
I was twelve-years old when this movie came out.  Oh, yes, I remember the controversy that surrounded this film very well.  Even though Pan’s Labyrinth is the film that started my love of reviewing movies, the Passion of the Christ was the film that influenced me to start paying close attention to movies instead of just casually viewing them.  I give Passion of the Christ much credit for turning me into a cinephile (lover of cinema).

The Hits
Jim Cavizel is phenomenal as Jesus.  He fully captures both Jesus’ agony and sense of mission through a composed and humanistic performance.   Cavizel’s expressive eyes and poignant line delivery capture Jesus’ devastation over all the sins of mankind that have led to His crucifixion.  His agony in the garden alone is gut-wrenching to watch, especially when Satan starts attempting to discourage Jesus from His mission.  The part where Jesus says, “Father, you can do all things.  If it is possible, let this chalice pass from me…But let your will be done, not mine,” and the ashen clouds cover the moon has always haunted me.  Also, I love the fierce intensity in Jesus’ eyes as He stares down the devil right before He tramples the serpent.
Even though the Young Messiah’s version of the Most Gracious Virgin Mary is respectful, Maia Morgenstern is quite possibly the most raw and accurate Mary.  Where the Young Messiah’s Mary is sweet and nurturing, Passion of the Christ’s Mary is a mother bear who is forced to follow the treacherous journey of her Son’s grueling sacrifice.  I like that she is a middle-aged woman because it brings realism to the character.  The scene where Jesus falls and Mary flashes back to seeing the child Jesus trip and fall breaks my heart every time.  Another powerful scene is when she lies on a floor and presses her ear against the stone.  The camera then pans down to the dungeon where Jesus is being kept and He looks up, sensing His Mother.
Satan in this film is downright unnerving.  Okay, granted, seeing the prince of darkness on screen is always unsettling, but this Satan in particular is quite spot-on.  With piercing eyes, an intense gaze and a voice that eerily resembles a hiss, this depiction of the fallen angel scared me as a teenager and continues to disturb me as an adult.  I really appreciate that this Satan is androgynous, which is reflective of how the devil can appear as something ugly or appealing, depending on the deception he seeks to accomplish.
If there’s one person who should have gotten at the very least Oscar consideration at the time of the film’s release, it would be Jarreth Merz, who plays Simon of Cyrene.   The way he shouts at the Roman soldiers to stop beating Jesus when He falls is made powerful by Merz’s visceral performance.  His scene is brief, but he uses his time to portray a man who goes from just being a random stranger plucked from the crowd to a committed ally of the crucified Lord.

The Misses
Because this is a factual account of Jesus’ Passion, next to nothing is done to develop the relationship between the characters.  To be fair, the movie allows the relationship between Jesus and Mary to shine as the heart of the story.  Other than that, we don’t get enough interactions between Jesus and His disciples.  I understand that this is called The Passion of the Christ and not the Ministry of the Christ, but from a narrative standpoint, this is problematic.
Speaking of narrative, one of the most difficult aspects of telling the story of Jesus is that essentially, the audience is expected to follow a main character who undergoes grueling torture without ever making an attempt to fight back.  Just to be clear, I fully understand and embrace His sacrificial offering.  However, someone who is not a believer would not feel the same way because the film does not explore Jesus’ reasoning for allowing the fate that befalls Him.

About The Violence
Yes, I am aware that the film has been criticized for being exploitative.  I respectfully disagree.  Is the violence cringe-inducing?  Oh, yes.  However, the violence of those times is presented with utmost accuracy in the film.  Mel Gibson heavily researched his subject matter so that he could tell the story of Jesus’ final hours the way it was meant to be told and that is worth commending. Maybe the film was too horrifying for our secular world to handle, but that’s just the way it was in Jesus’ time.

The Passion of the Christ is by no means a film to watch casually.  It is an admirably brutal film to watch and reflect on.  The stellar cast brings the people of the Bible to life and Gibson’s unflinching approach makes the Passion of the Christ a painful but poignant portrait of the grotesque suffering that our Lord Jesus Christ endured for the salvation of our fallen world.
He died for you, for me, for all of us.  Now what are we going to do for Him?

Saint Veronica, pray for us.

Victim Soul Chapter Two

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[Author’s Note: The majority of my research states that Satan started his attacks by giving Gemma violent headaches to keep her from praying.  Just like the scene where Gemma ponders what awaits her in Chapter One, how Satan gives Gemma a migraine is my interpretation of the research I collected.  The artistic liberty I have taken is that while Satan did say to her on occasion, “How stupid you are to think of praying to a criminal. Look at the harm He does you, keeping you nailed to the Cross with Himself. How can you care for one whom you do not even know-who makes all suffer who love Him,” when this was said has not been documented, so I inserted the quote here.  In addition, I portray him attempting to engage her in conversation before triggering her agonizing migraine]. 

Gemma closes her bedroom door.  Undoing her hair, she hurries to the crucifix.  As she begins to kneel, she pauses and looks around the room.  All is calm, the room quiet and still.  Squinting her eyes, she peers at the shadowy corners.  No creature jumps out to grab her, no dark forces surround her.  The only chill in the air comes from the open window. She walks across the room and closes the window.  Within her being, there is no sense of disturbance rattling her soul.  “Maybe it is not time for the devil to harass me yet,” she hopes. She inhales slowly, allowing herself to relax.
Gemma stands in front of the crucifix.  She takes a moment to gaze in awe of Jesus’ purposeful eyes, the crown of thorns on His tilted head.  She places her hand on His nailed feet, its coldness pricks at her fingertips.  Her hand moves and presses to her heart as she contemplates His love, wondrous, sacrificial, everlasting.  Peace and joy consume her at once, which results in a beaming smile across her face.  Making the sign of the cross, she kneels on the floor and closes her eyes, immersing herself in the presence of the Lord.
“I see that you have regained the color in your cheeks…”
Gemma freezes.  The room is suddenly ice-cold, permeated by a dark heaviness in the air.  As her heart races, she keeps her eyes closed and her body kneeled on the floor.
Satan’s footsteps slowly draw near.  His gravelly chuckle send shivers down her spine.“It seems like only yesterday, I was attending to a deathly pale little girl who could barely lift her head as she lie on this very bed.” The condescension in his voice stings her, but she does not move.  She hears him take a seat on her bed.  “Now here you are; a healthy young lady kneeling on a wooden floor, praying to a person you have never seen.” Only the sound of her pounding heartbeat fills the deafening silence between them.  “It is rude to ignore a guest, little one.”
Don’t look at him, don’t look at him, Do. Not. Look…” says her conscience in a panicked whisper.  She raises her head and opens her eyes, the crucifix looming large in her tunnel vision.
In a clear, candid voice, she states, “Jesus is my guest, not you.” She closes her eyes and keeps her head downcast, bracing herself for whatever was to come.
There is a deep growl, followed by silence.  She hears Satan approach her side. “How is your head feeling, Gemma?” he asks.
Gemma feels a quick tap between her eyes.
A searing pain spreads inside her head like a cancerous tumor.  She lets out a visceral cry as her body hits the floor.  She clutches onto her forehead, which burns with white-hot intensity.  In spite of her agony, she is determined to keep her eyes closed.  ‘I will not allow his image to enter my mind,’ she vows internally.
“Oh, dear, you look very uncomfortable.  Why don’t you lay down?  That might help your poor head.”
Gemma feels his talons press down on her head, which makes the splitting pain even more excruciating.  She slightly opens her watering eyes to look up at the crucifix.
Satan releases her head, but the torturous migraine continues.  Gemma raises her body the best she can.
“It is almost midnight, child.  There is no shame in climbing into bed, closing your eyes and resting the headache away,” he taunts.
Even in her torment, Gemma mentally conjures the image of Jesus in her mind’s eye.  She crawls closer to the crucifix and grips her hands in prayer.  She anticipates what must surely come next: Blood trickling down from her throbbing head.
Satan’s howling laughter rings in her ears, “How stupid you are to think of praying to a criminal. Look at the harm He does you, keeping you nailed to the Cross with Himself. How can you care for one whom you do not even know-who makes all suffer who love Him?
In that moment, Gemma feels His presence.   It is a soft warmth that envelopes her.  As the furious migraine ceases, an enraged scream shakes the room.  All at once, both the warmth and the dark presence of the devil disappear.
Slowly rising from the floor, Gemma faces the crucifix and, with a gracious smile, whispers a relieved, “Thank you, my Jesus.  Thank you.”

Victim Soul Chapter One

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[Author’s Note: Some artistic liberties have been taken.  Gemma’s letter to Father Germano is verbatim, but because we do not know anything about the night before the devil began his Hellish campaign against her, the opening scene is my interpretation of how Gemma would come to terms with what awaits her.  The flashback to 1899 is also accurate with two exceptions.  Satan did offer to cure her, but what exactly was said was not documented.  Also, Gemma called out to then-Venerable Gabriel Possenti twice, but in the flashback, I shortened it for the sake of brevity].

“Jesus, make haste, give me the grace to be ever united with You, in such a way that I may never be separated from You.”
–Saint Gemma Galgani

Lucca, Italy – 1902

“Dear Father Germano…”

Her pen gripped in her trembling hand, Gemma Galgani begins her letter.

“During the last two days Jesus has been telling me after Holy Communion: ‘My daughter, the devil will soon wage a great war against you.’”

She pauses, lifting her eyes to the dancing firelight of her candle.  She rests her jaw in the palm of her hand, listening to her own increasing heartbeat.  After a moment, she resumes writing:

“These words I hear in my heart continuously.  Please pray for me….”

A sudden chill overcomes the room.  Gemma rises from the small table.  She wraps herself in her black mantellette robe.  The cold persists, but the fabric of the mantellette keeps in the warmth.  She sits herself down and presses on with her letter:

“Who will win this battle: the devil or my soul?  How sad this thing makes me!  Where will the war come from?  I am for ever thinking about it instead of praying Jesus to give me strength and help.  Now I have told you, and I leave this matter to you, that you may help me.

Your poor,

Gemma.”

The pitch blackness of nightfall makes her window look like a square hole into an unknown abyss.  Gemma stands up and walks to the window, focusing her eyes on the scattered stars.  She leans forward and rests her arms on the window frame.  Ashen clouds curtain the full moon, engulfing the stars.
Her head lowers, “Jesus, am I truly ready for this coming trial?” She places her hand on her forehead as anxiety races through her mind.  “What if–” she hunches forward, crossing her arms.  “What if the devil overcomes me?” As her eyes swell with coming tears, she looks at her bed.  “To think that I almost gave in…” she closes her eyes as the memory of her weakest moment overwhelms her, a seemingly ancient time when illness had crippled her and made her susceptible to the darkest temptation.

1899
“My, my, you poor thing…” a wicked voice echoed from the shadows of her room.
Gemma sat up, turning her head as her weary eyes scanned the room.  “Who…who is th-there?” Succumbing to the pain in her spine, she lay back down.
“Tsk tsk tsk, to say that you are not looking well would be an understatement, now wouldn’t it?” The dark figure took form.  Gemma forced her eyes open and stared at the being, a muscular angel with folded wings and small horns.  His skin and talons the color of shadows, his fiery eyes bore into hers.
Gemma couldn’t stop her body from shaking.  “You–you’re…Lucifer.”  Her blood froze at the sound of his laughter.  “Ah, I haven’t heard that name in a long time,”  Satan reached out his hand to touch her forehead.  Gemma turned her head away.  Were it not for her afflicted spine, she would have turned her back to him.
“I mean you no harm, dear child.  Quite the contrary,” Satan wandered around her room.  Relaxing her body, Gemma watched him cringe at the crucifix on her wall.  She looked away when he faced her.
“Ignoring me is not going to make me disappear, little one,” Satan narrowed his eyebrows, staring her down the way a lion faces its weakened prey.  He paced back and forth, “As a fallen angel, I may not be on good terms with your friend,” he pointed at the crucifix, “…but I still have all kinds of powers.  If you were to give me a chance, I could cure you.”
Beads of sweat drenched her forehead and ran down her deathly pale face.  Clutching onto the sheets, Gemma grinded her teeth as she endured the terrible pain.  Her eyes watered as her vision blurred from the pounding migraine.
Satan’s mouth lifted into a sinister grin, “I can take away your suffering, Gemma.  Whatever you desire, I will grant you.  If you submit to me, obey me, do as I say, I will see to it that your body never betrays you again.”  He opened his palm and reached out to her.  “Just take my hand and I will free you from your misery.”
Gemma kept her eyes on the ceiling.  Desperation began to drown her.  As if her body was moving without her consent, her hand lifted.  She pulled back, clenching her fist.  She relaxed her hand, leaving it mid-air.
At that moment, a face appeared before her mind’s eye. 
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Venerable Gabriel Possenti…the holy boy she had read about.  His figure covered in light, his soft brown eyes gazed into hers.  For a moment, she forgot that the prince of darkness was standing at the foot of her bed.
Gemma inhaled through her nostrils.  With a cold-stone expression on her face, she realized that she was at a crossroads and only one path could be chosen.
A guttural cry escaped from her, “Venerable Gabriel, save my soul first and then my body!”  With that hand that almost ended up in Satan’s grasp, she made the sign of the cross as fast as she could.
There was a flash of light, followed by a furious scream.  When the light disappeared, so had the enemy.

Gemma raises her eyebrow.  “Hmm, how odd, I don’t remember blowing out the candle…” she looks curiously at the extinguished candle.  The frail line of smoke disappears into the air as it floats from the charred wick.
She gasps as she looks around the darkened room.  She takes a deep breath to calm her nerves.  “All right, if this is what You want, Jesus…” she pauses, staring straight into the shadow that has engulfed her door.  “…then I want it, too.  So long as You give me the strength to stand my ground against him.”
Gemma curls up on her bed.  Weariness presses down on her, pushing her into a deep slumber.  The last thing she sees is a shadowy figure standing by the window.

CGB Review of The Divergent Series: Allegiant (2016)

I’ll give the movie this: It did give me an opportunity to take a nice power nap.
I don’t think that’s a good sign.

This is my review of (yawns) The Divergent Series: Allegiant.

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So just like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, as well as any film made by David O. Russell, this movie is hard to summarize.  Alas, I shall do my best.  Here goes nothing!

Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley), her boyfriend Four/Tobias Eaton and their allies venture beyond the wall that barricades dystopian Chicago.   After wandering the barren wasteland that looks eerily similar to the Scorch in Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, Tris and company are picked up by the–hold on, I’ve already forgotten what it’s called–(looks up the movie online)–the Bureau of Genetic Welfare.  Tris meets David (Jeff Daniels), the Bureau’s director and the two form a camaraderie.  David tells Tris that there are two groups of people: The genetically Pure and the genetically Damaged; Tris is the ONLY one who is genetically Pure and David wants to discover “what made her” so that they can use that information to heal the genes of the Damaged.  However, things go awry when Tris discovers that all is not as it seems at the Bureau and we’re off to the races.

(Rubs forehead) Clearly neither Divergent author Veronica Roth nor the filmmakers understand how DNA works.

The Hits
When compared to the last film in the Divergent franchise, Insurgent, Allegiant is slightly better.  The first five minutes of the movie are interesting and show some promise.
I do like the interactions between Tris and David.   Like Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies, Jeff Daniels is the kind of guy who could pull off a Keyser Soze-esque villain.  He has an eerily calm and collective demeanor that is both comforting and unsettling; that guy who would offer you a cup of hot chocolate and then smile coldly as he watches you die from the rat poison that was in the drink.
Miles Teller is the only person having any kind of fun with this flick.  He steals every scene he is in and livens the uber-seriousness of the premise.  The movie wants us to hate him, but I’d much rather have him be our main protagonist.  Lovable jerks make for far more interesting characters.

The Misses
The CGI is laughable, particularly the plasma bubbles that the characters are put in when they are found by the Bureau.  The action sequences are filmed in shaky cam, so it’s hard to make out what is happening.
In Insurgent, Tris was kind of despicable, but at the very least I could describe her as something.  Here, she is as wooden and bland as the scorched terrain she traverses.  Shailene Woodley looks bored throughout the majority of the film.   It’s a pretty bad sign when I would much rather watch her be a toxic girlfriend to Four/Tobias than an uninteresting Messianic archetype.
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who starts a sentence, but instead of finishing what they were saying, they move on to talking about something else?  That is what this movie is like.  Allegiant is a hodgepodge of ideas that would be engaging if they were thought out all the way through.  Even the rapport between Tris and David feels incomplete.  There was an idea for a deceptive relationship, but it does nothing to reveal the psychology of the two characters.  Then again, idea establishment has always been a problem in both the books and the films, so if it’s still a problem at this point in the franchise, chances are it’s too late to fix it for the next (and hopefully) final film in the series, Ascendant, which comes out next year.
I wasn’t kidding when I said that this movie allowed me to take a brief power nap.  Just like Bridge of Spies, Allegiant is also really, really boring.  Because the characters are underdeveloped and the world-building is sub par, there is nothing is connect to, nothing to get invested in.  Allegiant doesn’t work as a character-driven story because the main character (Tris) barely makes the cut as a two-dimensional person, let alone a three-dimensional one.  It also fails as a plot driven story because the story is riddled with half-baked concepts that never come full circle.

Even though it is somewhat better than the incoherent Insurgent, Allegiant is yet another sign that the Divergent film series is a flawed and broken franchise based off an equally dull book trilogy.  Sorry, Tris, but you’re no Katniss Everdeen.

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, pray for us.

CGB Review/My Experience Watching The Young Messiah (2016)

Mary, did you know that your baby boy would get a movie about his childhood?

So this is both my review of The Young Messiah and a reflection on an experience I had during the film.

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Based on the book “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” by Anne Rice, The Young Messiah is a historical fiction about a year in the boyhood of Jesus.
While playing with another child, Jesus is bullied by a boy named Eliezer.  During this confrontation, Satan kills Eliezer in an attempt to frame Jesus.  Minutes later, Jesus uses His gifts to revive Eliezer.  In order to protect their Son, Joseph and Mary gather their relatives and the Holy Family journeys out of Egypt and back to Nazareth.  All the while, the child Jesus seeks answers about His birth and comes to terms with His coming destiny.
I was very anxious about this film.  There is very little written about Jesus’ childhood, so anything that happens in the film would be based on speculation.
During my viewing of this film, I had an experience that shook me to my core.  I will talk about it in a bit, but first, let’s see how The Young Messiah holds up.

The Hits
It is clear that actor Adam Greaves-Neal understood the significance of his role as young Jesus.  He brings the right balance of innocence and wisdom to the character.  Given the delicate subject matter, I feel that the filmmakers balanced Jesus’ divinity and humanity as well as they could have.  Jesus questions His abilities, but when it comes to spiritual matters that no child His age could have a grasp on, Jesus has all the answers.  I feel that Adam Greaves-Neal did a pretty good job conveying the internal struggle of being unlike others and the film serves as an admirable character study of one who is both human and divine.
The Holy Family is awesome in this movie.  They are righteous and just, but still feel like an authentic family unit.  Mary and Joseph argue about how they are to explain Jesus’ true identity to Him, but always agree to trust in God’s timing.  I think this might be the best portrayal of Mary and Joseph to date.  Kudos to Vincent Walsh, the actor who plays Joseph.  He gives us a seasoned and dutiful Joseph who has embraced his mission to protect the two most important people ever.  He frequently affirms Mary and wrestles with his own identity as the foster father of the Son of God.  Sara Lazzaro is terrific as Mary.  Sweet, protective and devout, she brings a nurturing tenderness to the Blessed Mother.  It is clear that the actress understands who she is playing, which explains her respectful performance.
This film has one of the most accurate portrayals of Satan since the movie “Black Mass.” He shows up in scenes unannounced and partakes in either staring at Jesus in an unsettling way or whispering deceit into unsuspecting ears, which is very much in-character for the devil.  I feel it was a wise choice to have him change into different robes, which serves as a reflection of how the prince of darkness is a master at disguising himself so that mortal eyes never figure out who he is.

The Misses
Similar to Risen, the film feels very stretched out at times.  There are a few scenes that serve next to no purpose other than to fill a 90 minute run time.   A few times, I thought to myself, “The point of this scene is…what?” It is obvious that the screenwriter drew a blank on how to progress the plot.
Build-up is a major issue in this film.  While not knowing where the plot is going is better than sitting through a bland and predictable story, it can also make the film itself seem aimless and pointless.  Investment is lost if the story lacks the sense of building up to something.  Even the climax of the film feels a tad rushed.
I kind of understand why the film includes relatives of Jesus, but I feel they were unnecessary.  They were just filler characters.  The dynamic between Jesus, Mary and Joseph is already interesting enough; we don’t need a made-up Uncle Cleo for comedy relief.
Sean Bean’s character Severus is very underwritten.  His conversion story is not developed very well.  His conflict with being assigned to find and kill the child Jesus is poorly conveyed.  This results in his character feeling like an obligatory villain, an antagonist for the sake of there being an antagonist.

Verdict
The Young Messiah is a noble effort to understand the psychology of Jesus.  Personally, I think that Risen is better than The Young Messiah, but that doesn’t mean The Young Messiah is a bad movie.  Much thought went into the humanistic portrayal of the Holy Family and that is worth commending.  While the actual plot is lacking and could have used a lot more polishing, the sincerity on the part of everyone involved make the Young Messiah a flawed but intriguing addition to the Christian film genre.

My Experience
In my book review of The Screwtape Letters, I mentioned that I’ve been dealing with spiritual attacks.  This past week has been particularly challenging.   Let me put it this way: Imagine a party guest who shows up even though nobody wanted to invite them and this person spends the entire evening criticizing the food you’ve prepared and the decorations you chose and just mocks your every move.  The devil has been that guy to me all week.
Two days ago, my mother told me that a friend of hers had seen the film and said that the movie begins with Satan killing a child and making it look like Jesus is the culprit.  Immediately my heart dropped to my stomach, so my mother prayed over me last night.
Fast-forward to my viewing of the film: The movie starts and we first see young Jesus.  Everything is fine and good…until the film cuts to a blond-haired man in black robes.  I scratched my head, “Why is there a blonde dude in Egy–oh, no, it’s him.”  As I said, the film never calls his character “Satan”, but in my heart, I knew exactly who the character was supposed to be.
There is one sequence in particular where Jesus gets a fever and is confronted by Satan.  The camera is shot from Jesus’ perspective, so Satan is staring down at Him (and at we, the audience).  I wanted to look away, but I forced myself to be brave and keep my eyes on the screen.  Satan taunts Jesus, pressing Him about His identity.  When Jesus remains strong, Satan shows Him a vision of Jerusalem on fire.  Moved to tears, Jesus kneels and begins to pray.  Satan moves closer to Jesus and begins hissing in His ear.
Fear gripped me.  I couldn’t stop my body from shaking.  I zipped up my jacket to keep in the warmth, but my body continued to tremble.  The scene ends with Satan telling Jesus, “Chaos reigns…and I am THE PRINCE OF IT!”
I began to cry.  I could feel the darkness infused with those words.  A sinking sense of loneliness enveloped me.  For the first time in my life, I actually thought to myself, “What if there is no God?”  The minute this thought crossed my mind, despair overwhelmed me.
A sinister laughter echoed in my ears.  I turned around and saw that the laughing didn’t come from the three other people in the theater, who all sat silently.
At that moment, I suddenly felt the presence of Saint Gemma Galgani, who knows all too well about the extent of the devil’s cruelty.  A warmth wrapped around my body, as if she was embracing me.   I took a deep breath and turned my focus back to the film.
The film ends with Mary explaining to Jesus His origins.  When she tells the story of Archangel Gabriel appearing to her, she says, “My room filled with light and it spoke to me, it said, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you…'” I whispered the Hail Mary as she spoke and as I prayed, the feeling of crippling loneliness disappeared.  In its place was a sense of peace, the feeling that God is with me, especially when I feel alone.

Where there is sin and darkness, there is light.  Jesus is that saving light.

Holy Family, pray for us.

CGB Review of Zootopia (2016)

There’s a new sheriff in town and she’s a bunny!
No, seriously, the main character is a bunny cop named Judy Hopps.

This is my review of Zootopia!

Zootopia_Movie_trailer

Judy Hopps, an optimistic rabbit from the rural town of Bunnyburrow, is the first “bunny cop” in the history of Zootopia.  Despite this, her first assignment is parking duty.  However, when an opportunity arises to solve a missing person–er, I mean–otter case (because the resident she is looking for is Emmett Otterton), Judy teams up with a con artist fox named Nicholas “Nick” Wilde and the two form an unlikely friendship as they attempt to find Mr. Otterton and save the day.

The Hits
The jokes are knee-slapping hilarious!  There’s one scene where Chief Bogo says, “We have an elephant in the room.”  He then turns to an elephant character and says, “Francine, happy birthday.”  There is also a really funny scene at the DMV, which is run entirely by sloths.  Yes, it is as relatable and hysterical as you would imagine.
I love Judy Hopps!  Determined, spirited and strong-willed, she is instantly likable.  I appreciate how the script doesn’t make her the cliché “strong, independent female who doesn’t need help from anyone.” She is actually a fleshed-out character who is capable of taking care of herself while also allowing others to give her a hand.
The heart of the story is the relationship between Judy and Nick.  I think Saint Pope John Paul II, who had much to say about holy friendship, would be quite pleased with this duo.  Judy and Nick compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  Judy confronts the criminals who have a grudge against Nick and Nick steps in as Judy’s advocate any time she gets tongue-tied.  I love how they come to value each other as the film progresses.  There’s one sequence where Judy injures her leg.  “I can’t walk,” she says.  Nick picks up her and says, “I gotcha” as he takes her to a hiding spot.  In this particular moment, the gentle hushed tone of his voice conveys his concern and respect for Judy.  Little details like this are worth commending.
This movie tackles timely issues and does so beautifully.  I like how the film has a balanced message that while there are people who do fit the stereotypes of their group, to paint an entire segment of the population with one brush is wrong.  It depicts the unfortunate consequences of labeling a particular group of people.  The movie does have some dark moments.  However, these moments are handled with tact and grace so that children can feel the severity, but still enjoy the film.

The Misses
As much as I love Judy Hopps, I feel that she is a tad too similar to Anna from Frozen.  Granted, I love Anna, but that doesn’t mean I want to see the same character over and over.  To be fair, Judy’s character arch is different than Anna’s, but their personalities are eerily identical.
There actually is an elephant in the room: So Zootopia is depicted as having different sections of the city: There’s the Rainforest District, Sahara Square, Tundratown and so on.  This is one city with differing weather climates happening at the same time.
This raises a question in my mind: Where exactly is Zootopia?  Is it on earth?   When Judy is taking the train from Bunnyburrow to Zootopia, is she crossing dimensions?  Also, whatever happened to the humans?   While I’m glad that the movie doesn’t rely heavily on expositional spiels, there are some unanswered questions about the mechanics of this world.

Zootopia is another homerun from Disney!  Lovable characters, ingenious world-building and a mature handling of current issues makes this one of the best movies of 2016.

Saint Pope John Paul II, pray for us.