CGB Review of Detroit (2017)

I cannot believe this happened in America…and yet, in a most depressing way, I actually can.

This is my review of Detroit.

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On July 23rd, 1967, an after-hours unlicensed bar called “Blind Pig” had been raided (for the third time, according to historical records).  As bar patrons were taken into police custody, a Molotov cocktail was thrust at police, setting off a riot that would throw all of Detroit into anarchy.  With residents looting and officers arresting left and right, trust between kinsmen had evaporated.  The spirit of hate and violence found its way to the Algiers Motel, where various people had sought refuge from the chaos outside.  When one of the motel guests, a man named Carl Cooper, shoots a starter pistol out the window, the police outside are alarmed and suspect there to be a sniper.  They end up at the doorstep of the Algiers Motel and from there is the beginning of a horrific night: Twelve people–ten black men and two white women–are harassed and interrogated by three Detroit police officers for several hours in a search for a rogue sniper.  False executions, beatings and, eventually, actual deaths–specifically the murders of Carl Cooper, Fred Temple, and Aubrey Pollard occur within the walls of the Algiers Motel.

The Hits
So I did some research on the 12th Street Riot and the Algiers Motel tragedy (it’s commonly called an “incident,” but I’m calling it a tragedy), and based on what I read and the information I collected, I think that both events were recreated the best way they could have been.  The movie opens with the Blind Pig raiding and the riot that ensues provides context leading up to what happened at the Algiers Motel.  The first twenty minutes have a sense of grand scale and visual storytelling.  If anything, this film is a thoughtful depiction of two things: the mob mentality and anarchy.  We see the bar patrons and observers angrily question the nature of the arrests in the opening scene, and it is made clear that raids such as these are commonplace but infuriating for all who are subjected to it.  This certainly does not justify the Molotov cocktail being thrown at police, but in terms of the narrative it does provide context.  The first hour presents a picture of harassed people succumbing to blind anger and a plethora of police officers– who were probably not prepared for a riot to literally conquer an entire city–reacting the best and worst way they know how.  I mentioned anarchy and that is because Detroit has a beleaguered past and the descent of a city to the depths of chaos is masterfully portrayed in this film.   Characters are seen running into grocery stores and rushing out with food, but because we are first shown looters fueling the flames, the sense of who is friend and who is foe is significantly blurred, which is typically how things play out in real-world riot situations.  There’s a particularly heart-wrenching scene where it had been previously established that there were rogue snipers targeting officers.  With this in mind, we cut to a young black girl peeking through closed blinds.  The camera then focuses on an officer who looks up and raises his gun at the window where we can only see the girl’s eyes…but not her face.
Now let us talk about the actual Algiers Motel storyline itself.  Halfway through the second act of the film, I found myself thinking that the Algiers Motel plot is both a strength and a weakness of the film.  I will explain the strengths first.
As a depiction of authoritarianism and realistic racism, this movie does a damn good job at showing both.  It is clear right from the get-go that the officers who are interrogating the Algiers Motel residents are less concerned with finding the starter pistol and are fueled by the thrill of having power over vulnerable human beings, as well as their own personal prejudices.   In terms of realistic racism, kudos go to Will Poulter, whose performance as Officer Philip Krauss is humanistic and terrifying.  This is not a cartoony racist; this is a racist person who you could conceivably pass by at the grocery store.  He’s not a moustache-twirling villain and he’s not given any overtly racist lines to spout out.  The racism of Philip Krauss is all in his attitude, in his treatment of the rioters leading up to what happens at the Algiers Motel.  A nuanced portrayal of an individual who sees certain groups of people as subhuman is far more unnerving.  You don’t have to use the “N-word” to be a racist.  It is how you perceive and treat those who are of a different race than yourself that speak volumes about your view on human dignity.

The Misses
If you watch the second trailer for Detroit (Detroit Trailer 2 on YouTube, if you’re interested), it shows a gripping scene from the film of John Boyega trying to recollect and explain to two detectives what happened at the Algiers Motel.
I am sad to say that this scene is not the first scene of the movie and it really should have been.  The raiding of the Blind Pig bar is the opening scene, and as compelling as it is, it lacks the introduction of our main characters.  This leads into the main problem with Detroit: there is no one main character to gravitate towards and this is a chaotic story that really needs a consistent point of view.  John Boyega’s security guard protagonist Melvin Dismukes is marketed in both trailers as the film’s moral center.  However, the movie struggles to balance the character arches of both Melvin Dismukes and Larry Reed, the lead singer of The Dramatics, played brilliantly by Algee Smith.  As a result, John Boyega’s character is certainly sympathetic, but doesn’t evolve into an empathetic three-dimensional character.  Because the film is more focused on what happens rather than getting to know all who were involved, there’s no one character to connect with and feel the story through, which makes Detroit more of a spectator experience rather than a cinematic participation.  This is why Detroit is an unfocused narrative that would’ve made an excellent docudrama on the History Channel.
Here is the downside of the Algiers Motel plotline: As the second act of the film goes on, the Algiers Motel story devolves into an audience endurance test.  To be fair, because everything that happens in this plotline is intertwined, i.e. if one scene is cut from it, entire context is lost, I don’t know how the filmmakers could have shortened the second act.  That said, there is a way to properly lengthen such a heavy plotline so that it doesn’t become too long and lose impact.
I would like a final point that having John Krasinski, or Jim from The Office, play a hotheaded lawyer in the last twenty minutes of your gritty drama is a little distracting.  Just saying.

Overall Detroit will make you angry.  Whether you are black, white, whatever your background is, the ending is an egregious miscarriage of justice worthy of righteous anger.  Despite its setbacks in characterization and narrative focus, Detroit gives us a consummate picture of a frightening time in American history that we are seeing play out once again in 2017, a time when everyone thought they were in the right and nobody took the time to even consider that they could be wrong.  It depresses me and yet it does not surprise me that this tragedy happened in America.  Let us do our very best to ensure that another Algiers Motel does not happen in the land of opportunity again.

Saint Martin de Porres and Saint Josephine Bakhita, pray for us.

 

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Please pray for the repose of the souls of Carl Cooper, Aubrey Pollard, and Fred Temple. May they rest in the arms of our just and merciful Lord.

 

 

 

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CGB Review of Wonder Woman (2017)/Two-Year Anniversary of Catholic Girl Bloggin’! :D

Two years ago today, Catholic Girl Bloggin’ was launched and boy, what a wild ride it has been!  I would like to thank my followers from WordPress and Facebook for all the support.  I don’t know where I’d be without you guys and gals.

Let us celebrate with a review of Wonder Woman!

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Diana is (quite literally) the only child on an island of Amazonian women.  She grows up to be a skilled fighter, ready to defend her island against Ares, the god of war, a.k.a. this story’s version of Lucifer.  Then one day, a World War I plane pierces the force shield that keeps her island invisible to Ares.  Inside the plane is Captain Kirk–I mean–Steve Trevor (Chris Pine).  Like Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Diana jumps into the sea, saves Prince Eric–sorry, I mean–Steve and carries him to shore.   No, she doesn’t sing to him, but she does ask him who he is.  With the lasso of truth, the Amazonian women get Steve to reveal that he is an American spy who has discovered a terrible plot from the Germans to use chemical warfare to claim victory in this war.  Moved by his testimony, Diana sees an opportunity to enter our world, join the effort in World War I and defeat Ares, the one responsible for pitting men against each other.

The Hits
Gal Gadot is a fantastic Wonder Woman!  Ever an idealist, her black-and-white view of the world is grounded in her compassion for others and her belief in humanity’s potential for goodness.  This makes her naiveté seem less childish, coming from a place of empathy, not ignorance.  I like how she’s not totally clueless when she first steps onto the shores of WWI-era London, but she doesn’t completely get the hang of modern-day living in one fell swoop.   Her fish-out-of-water innocence is believable and her strength is unquestionable.  What really makes her shine is her compassion for others.  Her view on humanity’s goodness is a tad romantic, but it is also similar to Catholic theology of humans being born inherently good.  Her desire to save humans never comes off as condescending, as in, “Oh, these poor weak humans are so helpless and I’m the only one who can protect them.”  Rather she sees very clearly the threat of Ares and recognizes that humans don’t know what she knows about him, so the sooner she can find and kill him, the safer humans will be.
Chris Pine really shines as Steve Trevor.  Granted, Steve’s character on paper is pretty typical (good dude who finds himself in a situation he didn’t ask for), but Chris Pine makes him so likable.  Charming but never arrogant, he treats Diana as an equal.  He is protective of her without patronizing her.  Their relationship is not based on obligation just because she saved his life.  Because she helps him get off Themyscira (her Amazonian island) and he agrees to take her to the war, there was a potential danger of their relationship becoming one where they inadvertently use each other, but fortunately the script focuses more on the fish-out-of-water aspect, so they have a legitimate reason to stay together before they fall in love.
I really gotta applaud the film for NOT saturating the Amazonian women with makeup.  We are allowed to see their wrinkles and crow’s feet, which makes sense because these women are always out in the sun, training and caring for their island.
Without giving too much away, one of the strongest aspects of the script is that it is respectful to both Diana’s otherworldly beliefs and Steve’s reality.  There’s never a scene where Steve spats out, “It’s all make-believe!  Ares, Zeus, clay babies, none of it is real!”  While she does become discouraged when things don’t turn out the way she had hoped, Diana doesn’t throw in the towel with a jaded attitude.  Diana and Steve are very tactful when handling each other’s thought process, adding to their very equal relationship.  We know that Steve really does find her world hard to believe, but he has seen enough and experienced enough to know that Diana is who she is and he respects that.  As for her, Diana grows in maturity and forms a more well-rounded view of the world while holding on to her convictions.

The Misses
The movie uses slow-motion a little too much.  I’m not saying it doesn’t look cool when it is used, but it does get repetitive after a while.
Okay, so the island of Themyscira (try saying that ten times fast) is hidden by an invisible force shield that Ares, an immortal god of war, cannot find…and YET Steve’s plane pierces right through it with no issue.  In addition, the very-mortal Germans pass through the veil effortlessly.  Granted, this doesn’t ruin the movie for me at all, but it’s about as laughable as how [SPOILER for the movie “Arrival”] the climax of Arrival is solved by a phone call.  I get it, you need an inciting incident to get the plot going, but it’s still kind of funny to me.
As much as Ares is built up in this film, Ares himself is pretty generic.  Yeah, he’s basically the DCEU’s version of Lucifer, but he’s still a “gotta destroy this world and replace it with a better one because humanity sucks” kind of guy.

Praise Jesus (and director Patty Jenkins) for FINALLY giving us a solid DCEU (DC Extended Universe) movie!  Despite a few clichés and generic plot points, the greatest strength of both the titular character and the movie is its heart.  Wonder Woman is a much-needed home run for the DCEU thanks to a strong and compassionate heroine, a romance with tons of chemistry and a balanced approach to its ideas.

Side Note: I really think that Wonder Woman is going to be the best part of Justice League.  I’m callin’ it right here, right now.

Most Gracious Virgin Mary, pray for us.

CGB Collaboration Review of Ghost in the Shell (2017) Guest-Starring The Laughing Man

CGB: (Wakes up in a shiny high-tech laboratory) Where…where am I?  (Hears a high-pitched chuckle) (Enter THE LAUGHING MAN, a scientist)
THE LAUGHING MAN: Hello Catholic Girl Bloggin’.
CGB: What happened to me?
THE LAUGHING MAN: You were a refugee.
CGB: Oh, well, that’s convenient.
THE LAUGHING MAN: We rescued you when your raft sank.
CGB: Way to attempt to make a statement about the refugee crisis in your script even though in reality, Hollywood cares as much about refugees as Willy Wonka does about a bratty child.
THE LAUGHING MAN: (Shrugs) Just be grateful that Hollywood cares about refugees while it’s still convenient to.  Anyway, we saved you and now we have redesigned your entire being so that you are the first sentient cyborg.
CGB: (Tries to sit up, but finds that I am strapped to the way-too-bright table)  Are you about to tell me that the big twist is that I used to be a person of a different nationality but then you placed my brain in a Caucasian gal’s body?
THE LAUGHING MAN: (Stares blankly at me)  How do you know the seemingly smart, yet accidentally racist plot twist?
CGB: My real last name is of Portuguese origin–was I Ofelia from Pan’s Labyrinth?!
THE LAUGHING MAN:  No, you were actually–
CGB: Oohh, I know!  I was Moana of Motunui?!  Can I have the little pig as a pet?  I love Pua!
THE LAUGHING MAN: What film do you think you’re in, Miss Bloggin?
CGB: The live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell starring not me, but Scarlett Johansson as the Japanese protagonist Motoko Kusanagi!

This is my review of Ghost in the Shell (2017)!

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The Major, also known as Motoko Kusanagi (not much of a spoiler; even I knew that’s what her real name is and I’ve never even seen the original 1995 movie!) is a humanoid cyberborg who works at Hanka Robotics as a perfect super soldier hunting down the worst of the worst.  An encounter with a geisha robot leaves her shaken and questioning her forgotten past and current existence.  While that inner drama is going on, a mysterious cyberterrorist called Kuze begins terrorizing Hanka Robotics and it’s up to the Major to stop his anarchic reign.
My friend and fellow blogger who wishes to be known as The Laughing Man will be helping me analyze this live-action Anime remake.  My points are in blue and his are in teal.

The Hits
CGBThe Major/Motoko herself is a pretty compelling character.  Though her character is essentially every “humanoid-cyberborg character contemplating their purpose” ever, Johansson’s performance engages us in her personal odyssey.  The Major is flesh and metal, brain and code; an invincible, yet not indestructible sentient being who finds herself seeking connection and questioning her blurry origin.   Little hints and pieces about her past are slowly and subtly as puncturing bullets hit her targets.   While she is stone-faced and focused, there is a deep vulnerability to her–dare I say–a humanity within her sleek armor that make her weaker moments believable and sympathetic.  Both the script and Johansson do a phenomenal job at blurring the Major’s character so that you don’t forget she’s a humanoid cyberborg, yet you believe her very real, very human thoughts and feelings.  Instead of hammering us over the head with her robotic body or human nature; rather Scarlett Johansson’s performance as the iconic Major is allowed to speak for itself.
The world design is astonishing to behold.  I love the city segments where we can just watch the Major walk through cyberpunk Tokyo and we get to see all the lights and hologram projections throughout the day-to-day.  Those geisha robot things are super creative and I wish we saw them more in the movie.  I wouldn’t mind a climactic battle involving the Major doing battle with those robotic geishas coming at her.  If this movie gets a sequel (it probably won’t, but hey, a girl can dream, right?) I would hope to see that!  There are quite a few recreations of the original 1995 Ghost in the Shell movie and, for the most part, these recreations were done with careful consideration of those scenes.  Even though I am not a Ghost in the Shell fan, I can tell that a great deal of care and effort went into being as respectful to the source material as possible, which is to be commended.
I give this movie a lot of credit for making me ponder something that I haven’t really considered: What exactly makes us human?  The movie cleverly calls into question whether it is having a physical body or just the existence of the soul with or without the body that makes us truly human.  Is the physical body a necessity or a formality while the soul and mind are the defining characteristics of being human?  Can you still be human if your entire body is metal, but your brain is that of a flesh-and-blood person?  These questions that came to mind made me further appreciate that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, for He is Who made us human.  While the movie itself never actually answers these questions, any believer would find it suitable to bring questions such as these before our Lord and allow Him to guide them to His Truth.  The central theme of both this film (and the Anime it is based on) is identity and this theme is well handled.  I would argue that the search for identity is the beginning of the search for God.

Genesis 2:7, “…the LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.”

LM: Much like the 1995 original and the Stand Alone Complex television series it spawned, the 2017 Ghost in the Shell works in large part because of its cyberpunk aesthetic. The film is undeniably stylish from a visual standpoint, even as its narrative follows the well-worn trajectory of the cinematic origin story. The production design is immersive and breathtaking. Scenes shot within hotel conference rooms, nightclubs, and tenement buildings feel lived-in. I wouldn’t hesitate to draw comparisons to the original Star Wars or Avatar. In terms of its overall design, the film is a triumph. The designs of various cybernetic characters are also a sight to behold, what with their adjustable eyes and flamboyant costumes. In many respects, I was reminded of the Capitol from The Hunger Games.
The action set pieces are also exhilarating. Nowhere is this more evident than in the film’s opening sequence. As robot commandos storm a hotel conference room, we are immediately captivated. Not only that, but the film foregoes many of the action movie tropes that have given contemporary thrillers a bad name. I can’t recall any instances of shaky-cam, and most of the action sequences were simple enough to follow. A confrontation involving Section 9 Chief Aramaki was especially thrilling to watch and absolutely dazzled me the first time I saw it.
And then, there’s Scarlett Johansson’s performance. As somebody who supported her casting from the very beginning, I was very pleased with her work here. She turned the Major into a compelling character, one whose identity crisis and desire to belong were captured especially well in two surprisingly intimate scenes. The Major’s interactions with some of the film’s secondary characters – including Juliette Binoche’s Dr. Ouelet – help the audience empathize with her. She might be a cyborg, but she feels like a full-fledged person (like a lithium flower just about to bloom). Speaking of which, the scene where the Major is being “built” is handled extremely well, even as it copies the same sequence from the original.
There’s a poignancy to some of the film’s later scenes that resonated with me in ways I didn’t expect. Going into Ghost in the Shell, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of emotional character development. I was anticipating a dumbed-down action vehicle with sci-fi elements. But director Rupert Sanders and his team of screenwriters have injected the film with a hefty dose of pathos. Of course, I can’t describe some of the movie’s later revelations without delving into spoiler territory, but rest assured, there’s more to this remake(?) than meets the eye.

The Misses
CGB: There are three scenes, including an action sequence, that feature seizure-inducing lights.  While I don’t have epilepsy or sensitive eyes myself, viewers who have these conditions may want to be aware of these scenes.  The first incidence happens in the opening credits, and two of them occur in the second act.  The climactic battle is pretty tame in terms of rapidly-flashing neon strobes of light, but still, knowledge is power.
Batou…
yeah, even in the trailers he felt very off to me.  There’s something very restrained about his character.  I can tell that there is more to his character in the Anime than what the film is allowing us to see.   He’s not a bad character per se, he’s perfectly serviceable as the Major’s friend and confidant, but he’s your typical stoic tough guy with a soft spot for our main protagonist. 
While I praised the handling of Major’s character to high Heaven, now I must go into how the technicalities.  What do I mean by this?  Well…
Okay, so the Major is the first sentient robot person–that’s all fine and good–BUT they make a big deal about this only to show us humans who have those two holes in the back of their necks like the Major does.  There’s one scene where a scientist is killed by Kuze and he first takes off a half of her face which reveals wires and metal instead of tissue and bone, i.e. she was a robot-ish person.  What?!  You have humans who are actually robots and there are robot characters who act more human than the humans.   Now this may be how it is in the original source material, but even if that is the case, this is not explained very well or even at all.
So while doing this collaboration, Laughing Man (LM) and I decided not to reveal the big plot twist, hence I will say this: the twist itself is problematic, but would probably be less so were it not for the fact that it brings to mind a certain person named Rachel Dolezal. 

LM: There’s no denying that Ghost in the Shell lacks the philosophical rigor of its predecessors. In the hands of a truly visionary filmmaker (think Arrival’s Denis Villeneuve), this could have been a more thoughtful meditation on the ways in which technology blurs our human identities.  While Johansson turns the Major into a believable character with great emotional depth, I often felt as though the film gave in to its baser urges.  Make no mistake: the various set pieces are thrilling to watch and well pace, but they couldn’t help but feel lacking in originality.   This becomes even more evident when the film borrows visual references from the original.  These homages are frequently distracting and serve no other purpose but to remind the viewer of the (superior) 1995 version.
The plot is also a bit of a mess.  Not only that, but it is also far less interesting than the Major’s personal journey.  CEO Cutter of Hanka Robotics is nothing more than a generic corporate villain, while cyber-terrorist Kuze’s complexities are buried beneath some truly hideous costuming.  The design for this character is particularly bad, which is a shame because the relationship between his character and the Major’s is one of the movie’s high points.
Ghost in the Shell also does a great disservice to its secondary characters. Section 9 team members such as Togusa, Ishikawa, and Saito are introduced briefly and only show up when they have a critical role to play. Not only that, but the dynamic between the members of Section 9 is woefully underdeveloped. The TV series recognized the importance of the interplay between its characters. Unfortunately, that is a quality this adaptation lacks. While a series of shootouts towards the end of the film do the characters some level of justice, there was still a great deal of wasted potential, particularly when it comes to the Major-Batou relationship.  At times, the film’s overreliance on visual effects becomes apparent. The hologram advertisements in many of the outdoor scenes feel intrusive and somewhat gaudy.  Indeed, there are numerous instances when the film’s aesthetic makes it feel overly stylized.
The score by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe can best be described as workmanlike. It lacks the memorability of earlier compositions by Kenji Kawai (featured in the end credits) and Yoko Kanno.  In fact, the score doesn’t even measure up to either of the two theme songs, performed by Origa, from Stand Alone Complex. 

Verdict
LM: Having seen the movie twice, I remain conflicted. Originally, I gave it a B+. However, upon a second viewing (and increased exposure to the source material), the film’s faults became more apparent. On the one hand, I feel like Gene Siskel, when he changed his grade for Broken Arrow after listening to Roger Ebert’s assessment of the film. On the other hand, I don’t want to let other critics shape my perspective on the movie, which I found rewarding in its own ways. Tentatively, I have no qualms about giving the film a B and recommending it, even as I consider the possibility of revisiting it a second time.

CGB: Frankly, my dear guys and gals, I thoroughly enjoyed Ghost in the Shell.   Sure, it’s pretty standard as far as sci-fi flicks about humanoid cyborgs go, but it’s certainly no Dragonball: Evolution.  While the things that don’t work fall flat, the things that do work are worth noting.  Everyone involved really cared for this project and while it hasn’t been a critical or commercial darling, it’s better to put effort into something and have it fail than to just throw something half-hearted out into the open for quick cash.  A thoughtful performance from Scarlett Johansson, breathtaking visuals and a respect for the source material make this adaptation of Ghost in the Shell better than it should have been.  The glaring flaws are still there, but the sum of its parts make those flaws forgivable.  I don’t think I’ll be seeing again, but I wouldn’t mind picking it up when it comes on DVD. 

CGB: (Sits up on shiny laboratory table) And that was the review of 2017’s Ghost in the Shell!  Boy, we did pretty good, Laughing Man.  (Looks around)  Laughing Man?  (No one is around) Is this gonna be like Passengers, where I’m all alone on some overly-complicated spaceship?
(Enter KAEL)
KAEL: Everything they told you…was a lie.
CGB: (Turns around) Are you Kuze?!
KAEL: My name is Kael.  (Puts on some wicked sunglasses)  That is all you need to know.
CGB: (Searches for weapon, but is empty-handed) W-what happened to the Laughing Man?
KAEL: A friend of yours?
CGB: Yeah, friend and collab partner.  Also, the person who would know how to get me out of here and back home.
KAEL: To find him, you’ll need to go to a very important….
CGB: (Braces self for an impossible task) Bring it on!
KAEL:…Interview.
CGB: (dumbfounded) Wait, what?!
KAEL: At a very…circular place.  (Raises eyebrow) You are very confused.
CGB: Did my face give it away?
KAEL: No, my telekinesis did.  (Looks to the right) Go out that door and you will see.
CGB: (Opens mouth)
KAEL: Yes, the key to getting out of here was literally right in front of you the whole time.
CGB: (Walks past KAEL, looking freaked out, but saying nothing) (Opens door, is blinded by sunlight) (Vision clears) (Looks up) What the?  The Circle?  (Looks up at the sleek building ahead) Is this that Circle place from the Emma Watson and Tom Hanks movie?!

(Cut to black)

 

Saint Joseph of Cupertino, pray for us.

CGB Collaboration Review of Beauty and the Beast (2017) with Monique Ocampo/MsOWrites

Certain as the sun rising in the east, tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme…

This is my review of Beauty and the Beast (2017), guest-starring the one and only Monique Ocampo, also known as MsOWrites!

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Cue the music, Jay!  (Our friend Jay plays the Belle/Little Town theme)

CGB: (Walks out of little cottage) Huh, I didn’t know I lived in a cottage.  (Shrugs, smiles at quaint little cottage) I’m not complainin’.  Oohh, there’s tulips on the side of the cottage!  Well, anyway….(Begins singing) Little film, it’s a brand new remake.  All-star cast and some brand new songs.  Little film, starring Emma Watson.  Everybody says…

Critic 1: IT SUCKS!

Critic 2: IT SUCKS!

Critic 3: IT SUCKS!

Rad-Trads: IT SUCKS!

All together: IT SUCKS!

CGB: There go the critics with their gripes like always.

MsOWrites: Seems like they’re never satisfied.

Both of Us: Because way back when we were kids, Disney made a princess flick.  And it was one that we both loved.

Nostalgia Critic: Good morning, girls!

MsOWrites: Good morning, NC!

Nostalgia Critic: Where are you off to?

CGB: We’re doing a review.  It’s the remake of the classic Disney movie.

Nostalgia Critic: That’s nice.  But honestly?  It was meh.

CGB: Well, we haven’t even seen it yet.

MsOWrites: We might be in for a pleasant surprise.

Nostalgia Critic: It still sucks, though.

Critics: Look there they go, they’re just so optimistic.   Can’t they see that the original’s the best?

Critic 1: Emma Watson’s auto-tuned.

Critic 2: The supporting cast was underused.

Rad-Trads: And let’s not forget the token gay LeFou!

(MsOWrites and I come out of the theater two hours later)

MsOWrites (crying): Oh, isn’t this amazing?

CGB: Are you crying?  Because so am I!

MsOWrites: I never do…but yeah, I’ll make this exception.  There’s just so much of this film that’s good and true…

CGB: It would certainly please JP2!  Let us do a review, just me and you!

MsOWrites: We could show both the Catholic and secular world why it’s good!

CGB: Let us begin!

 

The Hits
CGB: So how did Hermione Granger do playing everyone’s favorite “most peculiar mademoiselle”?  My answer: Emma Watson is a wonderful Belle!   This Belle is a lovely reinterpretation of the original character, mixing her trademark book-loving nature with an inventor’s vibe.  I really appreciate that Emma Watson’s Belle actually feels different from Paige O’Hara’s Belle from the 1991 classic.  O’Hara’s Belle is dreamy, optimistic and overall innocent.  Watson’s Belle is grounded, pragmatic and even bohemian in more ways than one.   One of my biggest concerns is that Emma Watson would come off as an overconfident-in-her-own-self-actualization character, but luckily there’s a sweetness and humility to this new Belle.  Also Watson’s Belle has more agency in this film than she did in the original; locking herself in the dungeon while pushing her father away, telling the Beast that he has to stand so that she can take back to the castle and so on.   Finally, I’m going to add brownie points for that one scene where she teaches a young girl how to read.  Brilliant!  😀  The Beast’s character is pretty much the same as he was in the original; starts off as mean, coarse and unrefined, but ends up becoming so dear and almost kind.  😉 Here, though, his temper is not as jarring as it was in the original.  The sympathy factor of his character is applied right away so that we, the audience, are easily able to refrain from judgment before we get to know him.  His pain and torment are palpable as his growing feelings for Belle begin to break down the inner walls he has placed around his broken, guarded heart.
Kevin Kline is a wonderful Maurice!  I really appreciate that they dialed down his quirkiness big time and made him into an actual character.  Warm, gentle, thoughtful, I can just see him hoisting little Belle onto his lap and reading to her by the fireplace.
Luke Evans is having the time of his life playing Gaston, and I had a great time watching his Gaston.   The usual arrogance of the original character is still there, but we see his progression towards evil.  Also I do like that he’s not impractically buff like in the cartoon, but that his toxic masculinity is displayed by his ignorance and overcompensation.  Now, given that I’ve brought up Gaston, you’re probably waiting to see LeFou mentioned here.  Before MsOWrites and I get into the whole gay LeFou thing, let me talk about the character LeFou.  He is definitely an improvement from the cartoon character.  His “hero-admiration” toward Gaston explains his loyalty to him and he is actually the smarter of the duo.  In a way, he serves as a manifestation of Gaston’s effect on people; how he [Gaston] is able to grab and hold the attention of women and men alike, which was always the point of Gaston’s character to begin with.
EVERMORE!  Oh my goodness, what a beautiful song!  It’s like someone took Augustine’s Confessions, some passages from the Book of Psalms and a hint of the Song of Solomon, then threw them into a blender and then–somehow–they just mixed into the most melodic purée.  Also the song really sums up a wonderful theme in this film: That people come into our lives who touch our hearts so much that when they leave us, just their presence will remain in our memory forever.  They illustrate this when Maurice is singing about Belle’s mother, but the theme comes full circle with Evermore.

MsOWrites: First of all, the opening scenes were stunning in their visuals.  We actually get to see the prince and the residents in the castle and watch the Enchantress cast her spell.  As much as we all love the stained glass narration from the original, the prince’s character arc is to learn what true beauty is, which is kind of the whole point of the entire story in the first place.
The scene with Pere Robert wasn’t as elaborate as the bookshop scene in the original, but there’s a good explanation.  It wouldn’t make sense for there to be a bookstore in a town that doesn’t have that many people who can or even want to read.  However Pere Robert is a priest with a personal library.   He doesn’t have as many books, but he generously loans the books he does have to Belle.
I appreciate the nuances that have been added to the story.  For one, when Belle asks Monsieur Jean if he has lost something again, he responds, “I believe I have.  Problem is I can’t remember what!”  This is actually a small hint at [BIT OF A SPOILER, though it’s told to us in the opening prologue] the “forget-the-freaking-huge-castle-just-down-the-road” enchantment that the Enchantress placed on the entire town.   Yeah, her spell not only turned the now-adult Prince into a hideous CGI goat-man, but also did what the neuralyzer from Men in Black does to people.   It does feel like a convenient cop-out, but it works within the context of the story.
In defense of the songs, I thought these new versions of songs we all know sounded just fine.  They had a more Broadway stage vibe to them, which makes sense given that this is an event musical film.  The auto-tuning is necessary for the actors who are not professional singers and the background music of the songs are faithful to the original music.

The Misses
MsOWrites: So about that magic book thing…yeah, it kind of creates a plot hole.  If it can just transport the Beast anywhere he wants, then why wasn’t he using it all the time prior to Belle’s arrival?  Also, why didn’t Belle use it to get back to the village and return to her father?  The book is used once and then we never see it again.  What?

CGB: Remember how filled with wonder Belle was when she sang about the beauty of books to those sheep?
What?  You don’t sing to sheep?  I do it all the time!  Alas, that’s not the point.  The point is that Hermione–er, I mean–Emma Watson could’ve sung that part about, “oh, isn’t this amazing?  It’s my favorite because…here’s where she meets Prince Charming, but she won’t discover that it’s him till Chapter 3” with a little more enthusiasm.
Speaking of which, Obi-Wan Kenobi (from the Star Wars prequels) plays Lumiere, but there is a bit of a catch: Ewan McGregor himself has stated that he has never seen the original film.  GASP!  Anyway, once I learned that, his performance in this film kind of made more sense.  I’ve seen this movie twice and I didn’t really care for this Lumiere during either time I saw it.  In fact, I think because there was so much focus on getting Belle, the Beast and Gaston right, the supporting cast feels less colorful.

An Unexpected Theological Truth
Both of Us: We consider ourselves students of Mother Teresa.  Throughout her ministry to the poor in Calcutta, she deemed every person she helped as, “Jesus in His most distressing disguise.”  That credo is on display in this film and in the original, as well.  We are going to focus on this film for the sake of argument.  While the Beast most certainly doesn’t act Christ-like in the beginning, Belle does when she chooses to bring him back to the castle after he rescues her from the wolves.  As their relationship develops, he begins displaying Christ-like characteristics such as mercy, understanding and kinship.  One of the many, many beautiful realities of Jesus is that when we follow Him, He brings out the best in us even during difficult times.  With this in mind we see how once she begins ministering to him, Belle becomes the best version of herself and the same happens to the Beast in return.  There is a saying that difficult people show their need for love in unlovable ways and the Beast is a manifestation of that adage.
We challenge you to think of the “Beast” in your life and ask yourself if he/she is in need of mercy and forgiveness.  Sometimes Christ comes to us in the form of an unpleasant person who we can either wash our hands off and avoid at all cost, or show them compassion and forgive their faults just as Belle does with the Beast.

The Elephants in the Room
#1. This film has a gay agenda!
MsOWrites: Let’s address the biggest elephant in the room first. There was a lot of hype and backlash about a “gay scene” in this movie involving the character of LeFou. While it’s true that LeFou is shown to have feelings for Gaston, the actual gay scene is just two seconds long.
Neither of us are promoting gay marriage.  However, we do agree with the idea of representation. We need to acknowledge that there are people out there who are attracted to the same sex and treat them as people instead of a stereotype.  This advocating of representation also applies to those who identify as asexual as well.  (I’m looking at you, Riverdale!)
Trust me when I say that Disney isn’t the only name in “children’s programming” to include a gay character.

CGB: So I already talked about this on both the blog FB page, but I’ll just rehash some of my thoughts here.
The original film makes it very clear that Lefou, as well as every woman and man in the entire village, is hopelessly enamored with Gaston. In addition, Gaston presents himself (quite loudly and boldly) to be THE ideal man, THE symbol of masculine perfection. Lefou, being Gaston’s right-hand man, would most likely be the one who gets the most sucked in to the–I guess we can call it–the cult of Gaston.  It’s not just LeFou, it’s him and all of the village who are swept up in it, which explains why everyone immediately goes along with Gaston’s “let’s-kill-the-Beast” tirade with no questions asked.
Also, let’s look at Lefou himself. What does he personally gain from being around Gaston all the time? They’re not brothers or related in any fashion, and there’s no indication that Lefou owes him money or anything; in retrospect, Lefou has no real reason to associate himself with Gaston at all. One could make the argument that there is a social benefit to being around Gaston, but Lefou is never established to be a self-serving character who is trying to get ahead in society by being around the “right people,” so that wouldn’t hold up.
Simply having a character who happens to be gay in a film is not in and of itself promoting same-sex marriage.  How it is presented is what matters.  LeFou never actively hits on Gaston and there’s no gay wedding at the end.  There will be those who say, “You give [gay people] an inch and they’ll take a mile!”  However, that inch has to make sense.
You can be a faithful Catholic who staunchly defends the sanctity of marriage and acknowledge that there are LGBT people who are created in His likeness and image.  In fact, that’s basically what we’re supposed to be doing.  We are supposed to bring all people, gay or straight, to the Gospel, not chase them away from it by foaming at the mouth over a fictitious character who happens to be gay.  As Christians, we are called to rise above our outrage culture and be a people of the better way.  Love without truth is permissiveness and truth without love is brutality.  Only the truth spoken with love brings hope and enlightenment. 

#2. This film is uber-feminist!

CGB: I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear by now that I identify as a pro-life feminist (I would emphasize, but the label itself is pretty self-explanatory).  With this lens, I observed that the feminist undertones of this film were centered around the theme of the anti-intellectual village.  For one, notice how only the boys go to school and the girls are the ones learning to keep house.  This establishes how Belle is the outsider woman who chooses the solace of books over the conventions of the little town.  It is not wrong to use film to point to the very bleak reality that there are still countries in our world where girls are not allowed to read or even go to school.  I would argue that it would probably behoove Western feminists to focus less on promoting abortion and more on calling attention to the injustice of depriving girls an education.

MsOWrites: The main issue that Belle has with the villagers is that they choose to stay in their simple, provincial ways. Belle is shown doing laundry by having a horse pull a barrel full of soap and clothes. When I heard about Belle being an inventor who created a washing machine, I actually expected some kind of steampunk contraption. The invention that Belle created was actually something all the villagers could use. But instead of being open-minded about a better way to do their laundry, they destroy her invention. They also berate her about teaching a young girl to read.
There’s a similar argument going around that Belle, her father, and even the local priest are members of a “literate caste.” Keep in mind that Belle and her father fled Paris in the midst of the plague and that priests are more often than not assigned to minister to small towns. And at the time, priests were well-educated. It’s not that these three deliberately kept their books away from everyone else. They have a school for young boys, but LeFou admits to being illiterate and they would rather side with the amoral war hero (Gaston) over the kind music box maker (Maurice). The townspeople chose to be ignorant throughout the film.

CGB Review of Jackie (2016)

The real title of this movie should been this line from Bobby Kennedy:
“What did we accomplish?”

This is my review of Jackie!

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First Lady Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy was sitting right next to her husband, President John F. Kennedy when Lee Harvey Oswald shot the bullet that killed the 35th President of the US of A.  In the days after the assassination, Jackie must come to grips with her own grief and the reality of being basically shooed out of the White House all while her husband’s funeral is arranged.

So the Kennedys have a presence in my family.  John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the last Democrat my Grandma Joanie voted for.  She also witnessed the assassination of Robert Kennedy on television.  My uncle has read countless books on JFK and the assassination.  My own mother has always had great respect for Jackie Kennedy.  “She was a class act who held herself with dignity,” she said to me while we watched this film.  With this context in mind, you can imagine that my mother and I started the movie with hope that Natalie Portman would shine as the dignified and collected First Lady we admire.
When the movie was over, we looked at each other with the same thought:
Mrs. Kennedy, you deserve a better movie.

The Hits
To her credit, Natalie Portman definitely mastered Jackie’s signature voice.  It was said to be a very distinct voice with a unique pitch, and Portman nails this very well.   Her whole look is classic Jackie Kennedy, especially her fashion.  Keep in mind that Mrs. Kennedy inspired women’s fashion and her impact in this regard is still present to this day.  A lot of her costumes are classic Jackie Kennedy and that kind of mindfulness to her true fashion is to be admired.
I really appreciate the historical accuracy and attention to detail.  Everything from the costumes to the set design right down the camera lens gives the film an atmospheric, period-piece feel and boosts the credit of its authenticity.
This movie has a lot–and I do mean–A LOT of very good lines, primarily from Jackie herself.  Lines from “I believe the characters we read on the page become more real than the men who stand beside us” to “There are two kinds of women, those who want power in the world and those who want power in bed,” the second being an exact quote from the real Mrs. Kennedy.  Halfway through the film, I began to wonder if the screenwriter had previous experience writing monologues because Natalie Portman gives some very compelling monologues as the movie goes on.
The thing is I really, really wanted this to be a good movie.  However, I’m not going to lie and say that it was a good movie because, well, it just isn’t.  Allow me to present to you my litany of everything wrong with Jackie.

The Misses
Director Pablo Larrain really wanted this to be the next American Sniper, but didn’t understand what made American Sniper work.  For one, this movie tries WAY TOO HARD to be stylistic and as a result, the camera–good Lord, the camera–has too many close-ups of Natalie Portman’s face.  This would be fine if Portman was allowed to be more expressive, which she isn’t.  No, this movie relies on her doing that ugly-cry face and just looking off with a blank-ish face, so the incessant close-ups are pointless.  Oh, and speaking further on the camera, this movie will features Dutch angles for no reason and the lens will be dimmed so that the lighting is too bright and everything looks unnecessarily grimy.  Hey, guys, you don’t need to go grimy when you’re just filming a ball scene!  This is a biography about Jackie Kennedy, not Hacksaw Ridge!
Portraying a real life person is a very delicate task that requires a great deal of sensitivity and humility.  I don’t think Natalie Portman got this memo because she gives us a Jackie Kennedy who displays an oddly restrained erratic temperament that was never known of the real Mrs. Kennedy.  As a result, instead of being a sympathetic character who could be empathized with, this fictionalized version of Jackie who changes her mind every fifteen seconds, snaps at people for no reason, tries to hide from her problems instead of tackling them, and becomes very frustrating to watch.  Now this wouldn’t bother me too much if we had scenes of her dignified and collected manner contrasting those unstable moments.  Unfortunately, we don’t get those scenes, so all we’re left with is an unhinged character who is difficult to sympathize with.
Having watched a good number of biographies in my day, here’s something I’ve come to learn: Biographies are centered around something other than the person they’re focused on.  At its surface, American Sniper was the story of Chris Kyle, but at its core it is a study of PTSD among our nation’s veterans.  The Theory of Everything may focus on Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde, but beyond the surface it’s about reaching for the stars even when the stars are impossibly high above your head.   Even I’m Not Ashamed, which has some glaring flaws of its own, propelled the overarching narrative of what one person is capable of when they place their lives in God’s hands.
So with all this in context, what is Jackie really about?  Is it the story of women in politics?  I don’t think so.  It’s never established whether Jackie is treated differently because of her gender or not, and no other female character faces marginalization from the system.  Is this the story of grief?  Not really.  JFK’s own presence as a character is never felt, so we can only watch characters grieve without feeling it ourselves.  At best, it could be the story of picking up the pieces of a short-lived legacy, but nothing about Natalie Portman’s performance conveys to us that she herself is even convinced of her husband’s legacy.
Here’s the really sad thing: Every problem I just went over would have been solved in the blink of an eye if the movie had opened with the assassination.  Here, let’s fix that right now, shall we?!
(Opens with black; a gunshot is heard, screams are audible) (Camera cuts to JACKIE, who sits in shock and silence, staring down at her husband, who lies slumped on her lap.  Slowly JACKIE places her hand on her cheek.  She lowers her hand and gasps quietly at the sight of her husband’s blood on her fingertips).
There!  Isn’t that better?  Now we the audience are in shock, Natalie Portman is in shock, we share her state of mind and now we are relying on her to be our emotional anchor.  Maybe instead of opening the film with a terrible violin score and Natalie Portman staring blankly into the distance on some beach, how about open your movie in a way that places us in the main character’s shoes?

What more can I say?  Jackie is a missed opportunity in every sense of the word.  It’s the kind of movie that wants to win awards, but doesn’t know what it needs to do to deserve such acclaim.  Hopefully another Jackie Kennedy movie comes out in the future, but if it ends up being anything like this film, then perhaps it is better for Mrs. Kennedy-Onassis to remain a historical figure untouched by crummy cinema.

Saint Helen, pray for us.

1 a Jackie Kennedy (2)
Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis (1929-1994).  You were a fine woman, a class act who held herself with poise and grace.  Please pray for us.

For you history buffs out there, I took the liberty of finding the original White House tour given by First Lady Jackie Kennedy herself, which the movie does recreate to great effect.   I hope you enjoy this little slice of American history.

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 Hidden Figures (2017)

Normally I’d begin this review with a witty remark, but instead I’ll open by thanking Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson for their service to our country.

This is my review of Hidden Figures!

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This is the untold true story of three African-American women who were behind the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit.  The main focus is on Katherine Goble (later Johnson), a brilliant mathematician–someone you should call the next time you’re taking a complicated statistics class (another story from my life for another day)–and her struggles to be treated as an equal amongst her predominately white male colleagues.  While that’s going on, we cut to Dorothy Vaughan and her determination to become a recognized supervisor and Mary Jackson’s fight to be the first African-American female engineer at NASA.
You have my good friend Stargift Tarakasha: Pagan Pro-Life Advocate to thank for requesting me to review this, and I’m so glad I did because this is a terrific film!  🙂

The Hits
What a likable, charming cast!  I loved the bond and rapport between Katherine, Mary and Dorothy.  Their sisterhood is delightful to watch and is truly the heart of the movie.  Taraji P. Henson is exceptional as Katherine.  She brings a warmth and quiet strength to the character that makes her easy to relate to.  The best part of her performance comes when she gives an impassioned speech in which she confronts the fact that the “colored bathroom” is a mile away from her building.  I love how whenever she is doing calculations, it is as if she enters into her own world where it is just her and the numbers.  It reminded me of Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.
This film handles the topic of institutional racism as tactfully as possible.  You don’t have that one overtly racist character who hisses the “N-word” at our main characters, instead the film makes use of judgmental glances, half-hearted conversations between white characters and the leading ladies, and scenes such as a white librarian telling a very respectful Dorothy, “I don’t want any trouble,” signaling her [Dorothy] to leave with her two sons.  The movie personifies “Separate but Equal” in the way it has the white characters, both male and female, treat the African-American characters.  There’s an interesting evolution of the relationship between Dorothy Vaughan and Kirsten Dunst’s character Vivian Mitchell; it starts with Ms. Mitchell hiding her sense of superiority behind a veil of sympathy towards Dorothy and the other African-American women at NASA, and as Katherine, Mary and Dorothy make progress in their work, Ms. Mitchell begins seeing Dorothy in particular in a whole new light.  The same goes for Katherine’s relationships with Jim Parsons (Sheldon from Big Bang Theory) Paul Stafford and Kevin Costner’s character Al Harrison.  Paul and Al work as exact opposites of one another.  Paul represents blatant institutional racism, while Al’s obsession with space and calculation explains his inadvertent enabling of benign racism.
I’d like to say kudos to the audience I saw this with.  There were quite a few scenes where the audience clapped; for one, when Al Harrison knocks down the “Colored Ladies Only” sign from the women’s restroom, hence allowing the African-American women of the building to use any women’s bathroom they want.  I normally don’t comment on the audience when I see these movies, but I would like to point out that the audience at my screening was quite diverse, which speaks of Hidden Figures’ appeal to anyone regardless of their background.  🙂

The Misses
This movie sort of has the same problem as the 2015 Steve Jobs biopic and “The Martian” in that, unless you are an enthusiast of math and science, the calculations might go over your head.  Granted, the film focuses more on the emotions of the characters who are doing the calculations rather than the numbers themselves, but still filmmakers have yet to find a way to make chalkboard-mathematics exciting to those who aren’t fans of math.
This movie does fall into some inspirational-movie-tropes, like uplifting music playing in the background when, say, a main character makes a statement or when Paul Stafford and the other office workers first see Katherine’s equation.

Overall, Hidden Figures is an enjoyable, feel-good biopic to start off 2017!  With wonderful performances from Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, a tasteful handling of institutional racism and an engaging story, Hidden Figures propels to the stars of good cinema, bringing to light the heroic service of three courageous women who paved the way in getting us to the moon and back.

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Thank you Katherine Goble-Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan for your service.

 

Saint Josephine Bakhita, pray for us.