CGB Review of I’m Not Ashamed (2016)

I am not going to apologize for speaking the Name of Jesus, I am not going to justify my faith to them, and I am not going to hide the light that God has put in me.  If I have to sacrifice everything…I will.  I will take it.
–Rachel Joy Scott in a letter she wrote on April 20th, 1998; one year to the day before the Columbine tragedy.

This is my review of I’m Not Ashamed!

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April 20th, 1999 started out as an ordinary day. Seventeen-year old Rachel Joy Scott went to school and attended her classes as she would any other day.
At exactly 11:19 am, Rachel was eating lunch with her friend Richard Castaldo on the grass near the west entrance of the school.  They were soon approached by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who attacked them both with guns in their hands and hatred in their hearts.

Rachel was the first person killed by Harris and Klebold, who would go on to kill eleven other students and a teacher.
This is the story of her life and how she sparked a chain reaction of God’s love that continues to this day.

I discovered Rachel when I was fourteen-years old and just starting my Confirmation journey. My mother bought me the book “Rachel’s Tears” and I read it during my first Confirmation retreat.  As a kid, I always prayed and went to church, but reading about Rachel’s walk with God inspired me to make my Catholic faith my own.  Now having rediscovered her as an adult, I realize how much Rachel’s story has impacted my own walk with Jesus, which is why she holds a special place in my heart.  As you can imagine, I’ve been looking forward to this movie for quite some time.
Well, I finally own the DVD and have finally watched it…twice.
Here we go, on with the review.

The Hits
Masey McLain is the glue that holds this movie together, and my goodness, she carries the film on her shoulders with excellence.  She is a wonderful Rachel Scott.  Not only does she resemble her very well, but she captures Rachel’s outgoing personality, her passion for life, her heart for others and her desire to be real in one fell swoop.  She brings an authenticity and depth to the character so that she’s not just some sheltered good girl, but a real person who struggles with everyday issues all while clinging to her faith.  Speaking of which, PRAISE BE TO GOD that Rachel isn’t given the God’s-Not-Dead treatment, i.e. the “all-Christian-characters-are-perfect-beings” trope. While the film rightfully highlights her loving nature and acceptance of others, it allows her to make mistakes, to fall flat on her face and miss opportunities to do what is right.  Making light of her flaws allow her good deeds and triumphs to be even more meaningful.  We know that these acts of kindness are being done by a relatable human being and not a two-dimensional archetype.
The relationship between Rachel and her friend Nathan Ballard (based on her real life friend named Mark Bodiford) is the emotional anchor of this film.  They have a great rapport and Ben Davies’ performance serves to make Nathan the grounded “big brother” to his newfound, spirited “little sister.” Their friendship serves as a heartfelt subplot and an evolving example of a life touched by Rachel’s compassion.  On a side note, I really appreciate how her influence isn’t shown in some ridiculous burst of everyone at Columbine high school turning into nice people because–potatoes–but rather in small doses of kindness here and there.
In her journals, Rachel was incredibly deep in her relationship with God to the point where if you only read the journals without any context of her overall personality, she could come across as an uber-pious person who is difficult to connect with.  The film takes a different approach and actually dials down on her religiosity.  Her faith takes the form of her treatment of others and through excerpts of her writings via voiceover narration.  She never quotes scripture or beats anyone over the head with the Bible.  Her Christianity is expressed by her choices and her response to the world around her.  People need to see the human side of following God and this movie presents this beautifully.
All right, how does the movie portray the actual tragedy?  My answer: As well as it could have.  Mind you, we’re talking about a tragedy that changed America, so of course portraying it would be a delicate issue.  The filmmakers recognize this and go about it with as much tact and respect as possible.  While we follow Rachel’s story, we cut to brief scenes of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold plotting and preparing for the massacre at Columbine.  As the third act draws to the climax, it becomes effectively sickening to watch Rachel go about her final days as the knowledge of what is about to happen to her sinks in.

The Misses
The filmmaking itself is passable.  Aside from some nice transitions and a particularly creepy shot of Harris and Klebold approaching the school on the day of the shooting, there are a few scenes that just stop abruptly.  If you’re looking for a more avant-garde film style, you probably won’t find it here.
Rachel’s biological father Darrell Scott is weirdly absent from this film.   I say “weirdly” because in real life, Darrell Scott and Beth Nimmo (Rachel’s parents) had a good relationship with one another.  Rachel herself was close with both them and her stepparents Larry Nimmo and Sandy Scott.  However, you wouldn’t know that if you watched this before reading the book “Rachel’s Tears” because Darrell Scott in this movie is the absentee father who is nowhere to be found.  This wouldn’t bother me too much if I didn’t know that shortly after Rachel’s death, Darrell was the one who started the organization Rachel’s Challenge and is one of its prominent speakers to this day.
Speaking of Beth and Larry Nimmo, their parenting in this movie is kind of inconsistent.  In the first fifteen minutes, Rachel gets busted by her mother for sneaking out with her friends and engaging in smoking and drinking.  But then we see her being allowed to walk alone to her youth group Breakthrough.  Granted, when we first see her at Breakthrough, she is driven by her sister Dana, but after that, she’s going to Breakthrough by herself at night.  The parenting tries to be both assertive and lax, which results in some odd inconsistency.
There is only one thing that really bugs me.  Granted, it doesn’t ruin the movie for me at all, it’s just a side effect of the burden of knowledge.  Here it is:
So on April 20th, 1998, Rachel wrote, “I am not going to apologize for speaking the Name of Jesus…if I have to sacrifice everything, I will.”  As mentioned in the review’s opening, that was written one year to the day before her death.   Meanwhile, the movie starts in April of 1998, Rachel’s sophomore year.  During this time, she’s not shown as being religious yet.  She doesn’t verbalize this quote until the end of the second act, which I am assuming takes place in either February or March of 1999.  The only reason this bugs me is because I know how significant it is that she wrote the quote one year to the day before her death.  Yes, I know that her alleged martyrdom is still hotly debated after all this time, but that doesn’t take away from the significance of that particular quote and when exactly it was written.

If more Christian films were like I’m Not Ashamed, then the genre would be so much better.  I’m Not Ashamed is a powerful example of how to follow Jesus, all you have to do is be an ordinary person who is willing to be used by Him to make a difference in the lives around you.  Despite some strange choices regarding the portrayal of the Scott family and hasty editing, the handling of the tragedy is as tactful as it could have been and Masey McLain’s performance pays a respectful homage to Rachel, capturing the essence of who she was during her short time on Earth.  This is the story of Rachel and everything about her is presented correctly.  That fact alone is why I can forgive the film’s mistakes.
The Christian film genre needs to present stories of people being people while they serve God, not holier-than-thou stereotypes who only serve to propel an agenda.

Thank you Rachel for your faith, your courage and for starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.  You have touched my heart and will continue to touch millions of people’s hearts forever.

Rachel Joy Scott, pray for us.
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May they rest in peace.

If you are interested in supporting the organization Rachel Challenge, be sure to check out their website: http://rachelschallenge.org

CGB Review of Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Between this and Arrival, I can’t help but wonder if an Amy Adams cinematic universe is in the works.  Hmm…

This is my review of Nocturnal Animals!

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All right, so this movie is a little difficult to summarize in a few words or less without spoilers, so bear with me and this ridiculously-long summation.
Art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) has it all: Wealth, a luxury home, a dashing husband (played by Armie Hammer), and a successful business.  Her life is basically the prosperity gospel on steroids.  So how does she start and end every day of her perfect life?
By hitting the scotch.
Her business is declining, her Prince Charming is cheating on her and she finds herself in the void of unhappiness and discontent.  Her sorrowful world is shaken when she receives a package one day.  Inside this package is a manuscript titled “Nocturnal Animals” written by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal).
The novel tells the story of Tony Hastings, his wife Laura and their daughter India.  On their road trip to West Texas, they are ambushed by three hooligans: Ray Marcus, Lou and Turk.  The three men kidnap Laura and India, then proceed to brutally rape and murder them.  From there, Tony seeks justice and vengeance with the help of a local cop Bobby (Michael Shannon).
As Susan reads this gut-wrenching thriller written by the man she once loved, she finds herself beginning to question her life choices that led to her currently melancholy existence.

The Hits
The writing is quite spectacular.  Director Tom Ford brilliantly blends the two narratives together into one, keeping them from ever overtaking one another or feeling crammed.  If you’re a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, then you might really enjoy this movie because it carries the sleek, neo-noir look, tone and feel of a Hitchcockian film.  As a fan of character studies, I absolutely admire that this film is an unnerving character study of Susan as she rediscovers her feelings (I’m not going to say “her love” because, based on how she is written, it seems that this character is incapable of truly loving someone or at least doing so for a sustained period of time) for her ex-husband through reading his manuscript and now must live with her regrettable decision to leave him “in a very brutal way” as she puts it.
The standout performances by far are Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  Gyllenhaal delivers a heartbreaking performance as Tony Hastings.  He’s technically playing two characters: Edward Sheffield and Tony Hastings.  Though we only see Edward a few times in Susan’s flashbacks, Gyllenhaal is convincing as both a vulnerable man and a self-motivated one, he’s basically a Hufflepuff; think a dark-haired Newt Schmander from Fantastic Beasts.  Gyllenhaal conveys Tony’s pain and suffering without overdoing it, blending the right amount of strength and inner collapse.  Michael Shannon is having the time of his life as the cop Bobby/Tony’s conscience personified (Director Tom Ford himself has said so) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the bland actor from that god-awful 2014 Godzilla film, ACTUALLY GIVES A PERFORMANCE–and a good one at that!   Taylor-Johnson’s Ray Marcus is slimy and vicious; the devil incarnate with a sly smile and raggedy hair.
Also, I should point this out: Edward’s novel Nocturnal Animals (the one Susan reads in the movie) is a book that I would definitely read.   That story itself is like Gone-Girl-times-twelve minus the sociopathic wife.  I could definitely see it being a bestseller here in the real world.

The Misses
So Amy Adams…okay, I praised her performance to high Heaven in my Arrival review and I even liked her role as Sydney Prosser in American Hustle, but I was quite disappointed in her performance here.  She’s certainly not bad, she just doesn’t have much to do here.  Susan Morrow is what I call a “novel character,” in which her character would work much better in a first-person novel than on film.  Because we don’t get to hear her inner monologue, all we get is her looking sad–A LOT.  Sorry, guys, but lying awake in bed with a sad expression is not character development.  Now in all fairness, she didn’t do a bad job looking lonesome and depressed, it’s just that in contrast to Gyllenhaal’s explosive performance, hers is somewhat anemic.
Now this is a well-crafted, brilliantly written film, BUT….the re-watch value is lacking.  This is definitely one of those films where, if you’re a film teacher, it’s a great movie to show to your students and have them write a paper on, but in terms of watching it again for entertainment, this movie doesn’t have that quality.

You’re probably wondering, “So CGB, which is your favorite: Arrival or Nocturnal Animals?” If you were thinking that, then–omgosh I’m a mind reader!–just kidding, but in all seriousness, I prefer Arrival over Nocturnal Animals because Arrival rocked my world and actually made me think.  Meanwhile Nocturnal Animals just made me depressed.

That being said, Nocturnal Animals is an impressive second film from Director Tom Ford (his first being 2009’s “A Single Man” with Colin Firth and Julianne Moore”).  A multi-layered film complimented by strong performances and Hitchcockian influences makes this a movie worth analyzing and drawing inspiration from.  If you’re looking for a slick revenge story and character story, then Nocturnal Animals might be just what you’re looking for.

Saint Zelie Martin, pray for us.

CGB Bonus!
If you’ve seen Nocturnal Animals already, then be sure to check out this analysis!

CGB Review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

A new era of magic has begun, my lovelies, and it starts in the American wizarding world!

This is my review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them!

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A prequel to the Harry Potter mega-franchise, Fantastic Beasts follows the misadventures of Newt Scamander, a writer who has come to New York with a suitcase full of–well, take a guess–fantastic beasts!  When one of his, let’s call them, “pets” escapes, Newt is taken into wizard custody by Porpentina, or “Tina” for short, Goldstein, an ex-auror with some skeletons in her closet, only for the two of them to end up working together to find the missing mystical beasts.  Along the way, Newt and Tina are assisted by Tina’s sister Queenie and a No-Maj (non-magical human) named Jacob Kowalski.

The Hits
I really love the concept of visiting the American wizarding world.  Having grown up watching the Harry Potter films, I always assumed that the wizarding world only took place in England, so I like that the wizarding world is an international affair.  It brings variety and furthers the intrigue of an already-complex society.
The titular fantastic beasts themselves are not lacking in creativity.  Each creature is uniquely designed and belongs to its own group of species, making them easy to differentiate amidst the fast-paced action sequences.
Eddie Redmayne, it’s always good to see you in a flick.  In fact, I just realized that this is the third Eddie Redmayne movie that I’ve reviewed (see The Theory of Everything and the Danish Girl).  While the role of Newt Scamander is not as demanding or multi-layered as Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything) or Lili Elbe/Einar Wegener (The Danish Girl), Redmayne does deliver an enjoyable performance as he brings a quirky charm to the character of Newt.  I like his chemistry with Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein, who–I gotta say–looks a lot like a grown-up Ofelia from Pan’s Labyrinth.  Alas, that’s where the comparisons end because where Ofelia is innocent and troubled, Tina Goldstein is a grounded and anxious professional.  She clearly wants her Auror job back, but must work within her current boundaries, all while doing what she knows is right even if it goes against the grain.
The real show-stealer is Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler)!  This guy is hilarious!  His well-timed expressions and dim-witted personality make him a delight to watch.   I like how he’s dense, but not a complete buffoon.  He has a good heart and steps up when things that are important are on the line.

The Misses
It may take some time getting used to not seeing Harry, Ron and Hermione running around.  While Newt, Tina, Kowalski and Queenie have their own charm and personalities, the absence of the original HP trio will be noticed.
The rapport between Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) and Credence (Ezra Miller from We Need to Talk about Kevin) is intriguing, but comes out of nowhere.  I like the concept of their toxic relationship, but when we’re first introduced to their camaraderie, we see Graves going into an alleyway and chatting with a tearful Credence without any previous buildup; it’s a shaky and jarring transition that I feel could’ve been polished with some brief, earlier interactions between the two characters.

I am delighted to say that Fantastic Beasts is, indeed, a fantastic introduction to the American wizarding world!  Awesome characters, exciting action and the same phenomenal world-building that made the Harry Potter saga a modern classic helps Fantastic Beasts to both stand alone and be a welcome addition to the Harry Potter franchise.

Saint Colette of Corbie, pray for us.

 

CGB Review of The BFG (2016)

Previously on Catholic Girl Bloggin’…

(Hears noise downstairs) Hello?  (No answer) Huh, well what could that be?  (Looks at Ghostbusters review) My final thoughts can wait.  (Goes downstairs) (Sees a ghost in the kitchen)
ME: What the hey?
GHOST: I am the ghost of kitchen’s past!
ME: You mean, you’re the ghost of what this kitchen used to look like before we remodeled?
GHOST: (Looks confused) Yeah, sure.  Anyway, where is your proton pack now, mere mortal?
ME: I don’t know about proton packs, but I have this.  (Pulls holy water out of the cupboard and flings it at the ghost) In the Name of Jesus, leave my kitchen, jerkface!
GHOST: You fiend!
ME: Give your dark master my regards.  Oh, and LEAVE!  (throws more holy water furiously)
GHOST: AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH, I’M MELTING!!!!  (Writhes in agony and dissolves into a puddle of ooze)

One hour later…

(Mops up ghost-ooze) This is gonna take forever to get rid of entirely. (feels earth rumble) Oh, what now?!  (Looks out window and sees a gigantic shadow) What am I looking at?  (Enormous shadow becomes a roaring giant) (Giant approaches window)  AAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!  (Tries to run, but trips)  Who are you?
GIANT: I am the BRG!
ME: BRG?
GIANT: Big Random Giant!
ME: So you’re not a grandfatherly CGI giant voiced by Oscar winner Mark Rylance?
BRG: Rawr rawr rawr!  (Grabs me and hoists me into burlap bag)
ME: (Trying to keep balance inside burlap bag) Well, while I try to find a way out of here (looking through small rip in bag and sees how high up I am) without falling to my death, I guess I could pass time with a review.

This is my review of The BFG!

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Based on the 1982 novel by Roald Dahl, the BFG tells the story of Sophie, an orphaned girl who is taken one night by a kindly giant who she nicknames “BFG” to Giant Country.  At first Sophie demands that BFG take her back to the orphanage, but soon starts to form a bond with him once she sees the danger he puts himself in to protect her from the other man-eating giants that populate Giant Country.  Over time, Sophie and BFG form an unbreakable bond over BFG’s work as a catcher of dreams (and I do mean that literally).  When the threat of the bloodthirsty giants invading the human world looms large, it’s up to Sophie and BFG to put a stop to their plans and save all of humanity.

ME: Hey, BRG, can you slow down so that I’m not getting tossed around like a sack of potatoes?!
BRG: Okay, here we are!
ME: (Looks out through hole in the bag) (Sees a CGI fantasy world) Well, I’m gonna have a heck of a time getting out of this parallel dimension.

The Hits
The first two acts of this movie are truly magical.  If there’s one thing Steven Spielberg is really good at, it’s capturing a sense of wonder and awe with the in-movie universe he creates.  He makes Giant Country an awe-inspiring place, brimming with adventure.
The bond between Sophie and BFG is absolutely charming.  There is a grandparent-grandchild quality to it that makes it wonderful to watch.  Ruby Barnhill is excellent as Sophie.  She is precocious without being annoying, both innocent and intelligent, and make Sophie an empathetic character to follow.
Even though I fell asleep during his last flick Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance kept my attention during that movie and he is just as interesting to watch once again.  His warmth and protectiveness of Sophie is believable, and the motion capture of his character is quite impressive.  I like how the BFG resembles Mark Rylance without being designed as an exact replica of him; it allows him to disappear into the role and become the character, making you forget that you’re watching an actor play a part.
I love how the dream world that the BFG travels to in order to catch dreams is similar to the spiritual realm.  In my latest editorial, Truth Within A Tagline, I talked about how within our reality is a spiritual world where angels and demons reside, fighting great battles for our souls.  Here’s the link if you missed it: https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2016/07/01/truth-within-a-tagline/
Anyway, BFG describes the dream world to Sophie as being a secret inner world that contains the most beautiful dreams and the most brutal nightmares; coincidently, this is exactly what the spiritual realm is: A hidden world that holds marvelous angels and horrific demons.  Anyone who happens to have the charism of discernment of spirits will most certainly appreciate the BFG’s dream world.

The Misses
The villains in this movie are pretty underwhelming.  The problem is that despite their intimidating size, they are too dim-witted and one-dimensional to be considered threatening.
I said that the first two acts of the film are magical…the last half is not.  For a movie about a friendly giant who has to protect a little human from the other cannibalistic giants, the plot is surprisingly aimless.  Granted, I don’t mind an aimless plot so long as the story doesn’t linger at too many parts.  Unfortunately the BFG does pad itself out with some filler in the second and third act.  I am sad to say that the story does get boring at times and I did find myself checking my phone.
I get that this is a kids’ film, but some of the jokes in the movie are a tad too childish.  There are one or two gross-out gags that just didn’t work.  Also the climax is pretty anticlimactic.  The whole “involving-the-queen-of-England” thing felt shoehorned; I wish the BFG character had magic powers or that Sophie had found a magical item that could help the two of them defeat the other giants.

ME: (Sees other giants approaching) I gotta get outta here! (Searches through BRG’s burlap sack)
MYSTERIOUS VOICE: Catholic Girl Bloggin’…
ME: Who is that?  (turns around and sees an angel) Whoa!
GUARDIAN ANGEL: I am your guardian angel, CGB.
ME: You’re…my guardian angel?  (Lets it sink in) This is so cool!  Hey, how come you’re wearing a mask?
GUARDIAN ANGEL: My light would blind you.
ME: (sees two katanas attached to GUARDIAN ANGEL’S sheaths) And what’s with the katanas?  (Realizes that GUARDIAN ANGEL bears a resembles to a particular superhero) So my guardian angel is Deadpool?  Right on!
GUARDIAN ANGEL: (Shrugs) Sure, just minus the crass humor.  (Hands me a spare katana)
ME: Hey, how come I get one katana and you get two?
GUARDIAN ANGEL: (Raises wings) Because one is all you need.
ME: So how do we get out of here?
GUARDIAN ANGEL: Finish the review.  Leave the giants to me.

Okay, so while I cut my way out of a giant’s burlap sack with a katana–what an odd sentence to say aloud–I guess I can give my closing thoughts.
Overall, while I didn’t love the BFG as much as I wanted to, I did like it.  The bond between the two lead characters will warm your heart, the dream world is beautifully designed and there are great messages about loyalty and friendship.  Young kids who see this movie will definitely love it while adults may find themselves pleasantly surprised.  The BFG is fun and entertaining for the whole family to enjoy.

(Outside, GUARDIAN ANGEL swings his katanas and blinds the giants with cords of light shooting out from his wings)
GUARDIAN ANGEL: CGB, cut a hole at the bottom of the bag!
ME: But I’ll fall!
GUARDIAN ANGEL: Just trust me!
ME: (Takes deep breath and slices a large hole into the bag) (Begins to fall) AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!  (Eyes shut) (Suddenly feels a mattress against my back) (Opens eyes and am back in my bedroom) Oh, come on!  Don’t tell me it was all just a dream!  (Looks and sees katana leaning against my desk) Huh, I guess it wasn’t.
AMANDA WALLER: Are you Catholic Girl Bloggin’?
ME: (Turns around and sees AMANDA WALLER) Um, yes?  Wait a minute, aren’t you a Suicide Squad character?
AMANDA WALLER: Yes.
ME: Well, I won’t be reviewing that until August.
AMANDA WALLER: (Sees katana) I want to assemble a new taskforce, one entirely of bloggers.  Would you kindly come with me, CGB?
ME: (Swallows) Uh oh…

(Fade to black)

Blessed Imelda Lambertini, pray for us.

CGB Review of Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

If I try to go through my bathroom mirror to get to Wonderland, does that make me a crazy person?
(Sigh) Better check myself in the psych ward.

So while I await psychological evaluation, this is my review of Alice Through the Looking Glass!

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Three years after the events of the first Alice in Wonderland, Alice Kingsleigh has been a sea captain traveling the world.  Upon returning from her expedition in China, she comes across her friend Absolem, the caterpillar from the first Alice film who is now a butterfly.  She follows Absolem through a magic mirror and ends up back in Wonderland, only to discover that the Mad Hatter is dying because he believes his family is still alive, but Alice doesn’t believe him when he tells her this revelation.  Now Alice has to go back in time to find out what happened to Hatter’s family all while coming face-to-face with Time himself (no, seriously, Time is a person played by Sacha Baron Cohen).  Also the Red Queen is back because–Wonderland!

DOCTOR: Ms. Bloggin’, who are you talking to?
ME: Oh, don’t worry, Doc.  Right now, I’m saying aloud everything I want to write in my CGB review of Alice Through The Looking Glass!
DOCTOR: (gives quizzical look) All right then…(jots down notes)

(Walks out of doctor’s office) Well, the psych eval shows that I’m not crazy, but I do have a textbook case of overactive imagination, which I don’t think is covered by Obamacare.  (Sees nurse approaching) Hey, why do you have a syringe in your–
(Wakes up in a white room) Well, while I figure out how to break out of here, onward with the review!

The Hits
Sacha Baron Cohen’s character Time is by far the most interesting character.  The idea of time being personified as an immortal being who is in charge of overseeing time and eternity is fascinating.  He is a tad rude, but he is committed to his role as the keeper and guardian of time and space.  His rapport with Alice could have been a movie all on its own; his factual approach to mortality balances out Alice’s impulsivity and lack of foresight.  Personally, if I had been the screenwriter, I would have told the story from Time’s perspective with Alice as his apprentice; make the Red Queen a time-thief who tempts Alice into stealing the chromosphere so that she [Alice] can repair some parts of her own past and then use Time’s pursuit of his misled apprentice as a character study of their challenged relationship.  Hmm, I should really discern getting into fan fiction…
Anyway, there are a lot of creative and compelling visuals.  From Time’s palace to the Hatter’s hometown, there is a plethora of colorful eye-candy to behold.  The set designs are appealing to the eye and the level of detail is admirable.
I do appreciate that this film is less formulaic than its predecessor.  The narrative has an unpredictable, free-flowing structure that I certainly appreciate.  It fits well with the nonsensical spirit of Wonderland.
The movie has some good messages about family, time (the concept, not the character) and learning from the past rather than being overcome by it.

The Misses
In the first Alice, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) had an established castle and responsibilities.  Here, not only do we never see her castle, but she’s running around like any ole commoner.  Oh, and she NEVER puts her hands down!  She’s doing some weird gestures with her floating hands that is supposed to look enchanting, but gets annoying real fast.
Alice being sent to a mental institution is a pretty pointless subplot.  It’s blatantly obvious that this sequence is only in there to make a point about women being hospitalized for “female hysteria” in the 1800’s.  I should probably mention that the film’s screenwriter Linda Woolverton, who wrote the scripts for Beauty and the Beast, Maleficent and the 2010 Alice in Wonderland, is known to inject feminist commentary into her works.  Look, as a pro-life feminist, I have no issue with feminist ideas in film and literature, but if you’re going to do it, it needs to be well-developed and not shoehorned.
This is supposedly the sequel to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland; I say “supposedly” because while this movie has the same characters, the tone is vastly different from the tone of the first film, which was a dark and gritty interpretation of the Lewis Carroll novel.  In a way, it almost feels separate from its previous installment to the point where the events of the first Alice come off as utterly pointless.

(Climbs out of window of mental institution) (Looks around) Sshh, no one knows I’m out here.  (Sees spotlight) I’d better jump…

(Jumps) (Runs across random field) So this is a tough one.  I didn’t think it was awful, but it’s nowhere near Maleficent or Cinderella.  This is one of those instances where there are some really good elements that get smothered by poor story choices.  If it’s on TV, I’d probably watch it, but I’d have playing in the background while I write another CGB review or, in this case, break out of a mental institution.

Saint Germaine Cousin, 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.