CGB Review of Miss Sloane

What a sad world politics is; follow your conscience and lose, or sell your soul and win.

This is my review of Miss Sloane!

untitled-27

Madeline Elizabeth Sloane, or Liz for short (she never goes by her first name) is a Washington lobbyist who is notorious for her cunning intellect and insatiable appetite to win at any cost.  After turning down an opportunity to work for an NRA-type gun lobbying group, Miss Sloane instead takes a job working for a gun-control advocacy group (think a fictitious version of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence) and comes to discover that the price to pay for victory in this arena may be higher than she had anticipated.

The Hits
I really appreciate that the filmmakers picked the topic of guns, which certainly does get heated, but isn’t nearly as volcanic as abortion or gay rights.  While their approach to the subject does have a left-leaning slant (this is leftist Hollywood we’re dealing with here), they do manage to make it accessible to both sides of the argument.  It also helps that the issue of guns is the backdrop, while the primary focus of the narrative is the behind-the-scene battle between competing lobbyists.
Jessica Chastain is magnificent in this role!  Now mind you,  I’m guessing that her role as the villainous sister in Crimson Peak was just a practice-run.  An icy woman with a piercing gaze, cloaked in an armor of designer clothes, a sharp tongue and grudging prestige, Miss Sloane is a femme fatale with a deeply flawed humanity.  I would say that she’s a character you love to hate, but then again, you can’t quite hate her.  Chastain’s performance doesn’t make Miss Sloane a complete witch, but rather allows moments of vulnerability without completely shedding her hardened persona.  Honestly, I really hope that Jessica Chastain continues playing flawed protagonists and even antagonists!
Esme Manucharian, played wonderfully by Gugulethu “Gugu” Mbatha-Raw, is the perfect foil to Miss Sloane.  Warm eyes with a gentle expression, Esme is the heart of the operation with Miss Sloane as the head.  The fight against gun violence is a personal one for Esme, in contrast to Miss Sloane’s impersonal pursuit of victory.  Esme is the losing follower of conscience while Miss Sloane is the winning warrior who sells her soul.
I would like to point out that I’m really glad the film subtly tackles insomnia.  It’s more a background detail of Miss Sloane’s character arch and is not completely in-your-face.  We never see her close her eyes for a quick nap, let alone is there ever a scene that begins with her waking up from a restful night.  While one would hope that she would end up getting help for her sleep deprivation in the end, it seemed more in-character that the self-preserving and prideful Miss Sloane wouldn’t admit this weakness to herself.

The Misses
Sam Waterson, who you will definitely know if you’re a fan of Law and Order, seemed a little too cartoonish at times.  No, his performance wasn’t horrible, but there’s one early scene where he’s confronting Miss Sloane and he looked like he was trying a little too hard, to the point of borderline overacting.
I think director John Madden might like “Gone Girl” a little too much, because Madeline Elizabeth Sloane is basically Amy Elliot Dunne if she [Dunne] were a lobbyist and–well, I don’t want to go into spoiler territory–so I’ll put it this way: The last twenty minutes of this flick pull some serious “Gone-Girl-eqsue” plot conveniences that are a bit of a stretch.  Now I happen to love Gone Girl, both the book and the movie, but still, some originality is always welcome.
A lot of the character relationships are underdeveloped.  I can tell that there was an idea for a friendship between Miss Sloane and Esme, but because of the titular character’s inability (or lack of willingness) to connect with others, the relationship never becomes anything more than two philosophically-opposed women who aren’t truly friends, yet are never really enemies.  Now the argument could be made that their relationship is meant to be lukewarm, but even by those standards, how the relationship develops feels very aimless to the point where I never felt ; like I said, there probably was an idea, but it got lost as production of the film went on.  Sorry, guys, but one scene with Miss Sloane and Esme eating at a Chinese restaurant isn’t gonna cut it.  They did a good job making Miss Sloane and Esme polar opposites, but how these two ladies connect goes quietly unexplored.

Miss Sloane succeeds as both a complex character study and a political thriller.  In this film, the chase is more interesting than the catch; the fight between lobbying groups is engaging enough to where we can put up with the political jargon and talk of poll numbers.  Jessica Chastain’s performance electrifies every frame while the tasteful handling of the subject matter makes this easier to sit through than all three Presidential debates (yes, I just had to bring up the 2016 election; I regret nothing!).  Despite some plot conveniences and undercooked relationships between characters, Miss Sloane stands tall on its own two feet.  For the political junkie in your life, I’d recommend that they give this one a shot.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Bind: An Election Editorial

chains___

It’s funny what a strange dream can lead to.

Last night I had a dream that I was standing in a pitch black room.  The only light came from two glowing red lines, one in front of me and the other behind me.  Faint white smoke plumed from the red line in front of me, indicating its heat.  Out of the darkness, someone approached me from behind and began to chuckle in my ear.
I woke up trembling to my alarm.

The minute I logged on to Facebook, I was hit with posts about Trump and Hilary; the Clinton campaign emails about Catholics being backwards, Trump’s disgusting words about women and so on.
Not a day goes by without the election being on my mind.  November 8th once felt like a far-off event, but now it’s drawing nearer, getting closer each day like a hungry spider slowly crawling to its cocooned prey.
While I waited in the drive thru on my lunch break, I found myself pondering the dream.  As I replayed it in my head, a strange thought crept in: “You have no choice, my dear.  You must choose.”

I silently murmured to myself, “And what if I don’t choose?”
At that moment, I had a mental image of the red lines turning into ropes and a trapdoor that had been under my feet the whole time opening.
I snapped out of it when I heard, “Welcome to Jack-n-the-Box!  May I take your order?” With a shaky voice, I ordered my food.

Just like the frightening dream, our country is locked airtight in the devil’s bind; we currently have two disordered candidates with their personal character being questionable at best and repulsive at worst.  The way I see it, this political bind was years in the making and our nation fell headfirst into this trap long ago.

I’m probably going to sound like a Republican old man living in a red state when I say this, but truth is still truth no matter who is telling it.  Out of my way, Donald, this Independent female blogger from bluest of blue California is about to tell it like it is.
We have kicked God out of America; out of our schools, out of our media, even out of our homes.  We have rejected the values our Lord holds dear.  Our nation allows unborn babies to be slaughtered for any reason, continues to redefine marriage and mocks morality.  You know something is wrong with a country where a rapist can serve only six months in the county jail for violating an unconscious woman.

Mother Teresa once said, “Find your own Calcutta.”  No need for me to look far, Mama T, because I’m living in it.  We may not have people literally dying on the side of the road, but we are a nation of homeless people, splintered families and abandoned veterans.  America may be rich in resources, but we are poor in principles.  We are a prosperous but hopeless land, thinking we can make it on our own and without the God who bestowed upon us our freedoms in the first place.

Of course the devil would take advantage of this.  He has done so little by little, convincing us to remove God from the public square in small doses.  What started as snowball removals, such as attempting to take God off the dollar bill and then successfully removing Him out of our schools, has avalanched to where we have became a nation under God in name only.  People are more divided than ever before.  We no longer see each other as children of God, but rather as enemies if we disagree with one another.
How else do you think two people whose personal values are not rooted in Christ have been able to run for the highest office in the land?

So here we are, trapped in a ditch of our own making, being forced to choose between two candidates nobody wants to elect.  We have come to a crossroads regarding what we want our nation to be and we have no idea where to go from here.  Can our divided culture be healed?  Can the damage that has been done be reversed?  Can this damning bind be undone?

In all honesty, I don’t know.  I really wish I could tell you that all will be well, but everything depends on individual Americans, and based on the way things are now, I don’t think a revolution of compassion is on the horizon any time soon.

What I do know is that society will change once we change our hearts.  We as a nation must open our hearts in order to change them.  Jesus is a savior, but He is also a gentleman and will never force Himself on any person or any country.  If we are not willing to turn to Him, then He will let us hit rock bottom if that is what it takes to open our eyes.

I say this a lot on the Catholic Girl Bloggin’ FB page and I’ll say it here: The best thing you can do is just strive to be a better person in your every day life.  Instead of getting into a shouting match with a friend over a political issue, stop and try to remember how much you value their friendship and then try to find common ground with them.  Hold open doors, call a family member and tell them you love them, smile at a passing stranger, help someone carry their things, find volunteer work or a charity event to participate in.  The list of ways you can exercise kindness is endless.

I know, this seems like a cop out, but it actually isn’t when you really think about it. Kindness means going outward instead of turning inward, which is something many Americans have done.  Once you look beyond yourself and see the struggles of others, you begin to wonder what you can do to serve them.  It was selfishness and pride that got our country in this mess, so maybe humility and mercy can be the stepping stones towards a new tomorrow.  You won’t fix this country in a day, but you can change the outlook of one person’s day and maybe, just maybe, that person will go on to help another and a gradual chain reaction will begin.

Any time you are a positive force in your family, at your job, within your neighborhood or wherever you are, you are doing the will of God.  It is written in John 13:35, “This is how all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In the dark torrential sea of political discord, you have the opportunity to be the calm island where weary travelers seek refuge.  America is in a big mess, but you have the power to have an impact in your own humble way.

“Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.”
–Saint Francis of Assisi

“Modern prophets say that our economics have failed us.  No!  It is not our economics which have failed; it is man who has failed-man who has forgotten God.  Hence no manner of economic or political readjustment can possibly save our civilization; we can be saved only by a renovation of the inner man, only by a purging of our hearts and souls; for only by seeking first the Kingdom of God and His Justice will all these other things be added unto us.”
–Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Our Lady Undoer of Knots, pray for us.

img_0001-e1338816693567

Patroness of the Big Picture

13614952_1741582952749898_6484219035460954847_n
If you follow the CGB Facebook page, you will notice that the cover photo is of now-Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  You may have also noticed the plethora of Mother Teresa posts on the page in the days leading up to her canonization.  I don’t normally buy magazines, but while I was at Walgreens I came across a Time Magazine special edition dedicated to Mother Teresa.

Yes, I really love Mother Teresa.  What’s not to love?  Her compassion for the poor and forgotten went above and beyond, her simplicity is a breath of fresh air that our materialistic society could benefit from, and she held firm to her faith in God in spite of suffering decades of spiritual darkness.
I do love her for all these reasons, but none of them are the #1 reason I look up to her.
The main reason why Mother Teresa inspires me is because she saw the big picture of God’s plan.

Mother Teresa did not help people with the intent of converting them to Christianity.  She never once said, “I will help you only if you become a Christian.”  Unfortunately, her lack of pushing conversions to Christianity is one of the criticisms launched at her.
Truth be told, Mother Teresa did seek conversions, but in a different way.

“Yes, I convert.  I convert you to be a better Hindu, or a better Muslim, or a better Protestant, or a better Catholic, or a better Parsee, or a better Sikh, or a better Buddhist.  And after you have found God, it is for you to do what God wants you to do.”
–Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Reading this quote makes me think of a particular theological principle in the Catholic Church known as “Baptism by Desire.”
Paragraph 1260 of the Catechism explains Baptism by Desire this way: “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.  Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”

Applying the passage above, let’s say you have a Buddhist monk who perhaps has heard of Jesus, but through no fault of his own, doesn’t know Jesus in the same way that a Christian does.  Our Buddhist monk friend does not know Jesus, but his life exemplifies Christ through loving kindness, acts of charity towards the poor and suffering, a deep commitment to protecting creation, and other noble attributes.  Perhaps at some point the Buddhist monk finds himself pondering the existence of a creator and spends his life searching for truth.  While our Buddhist monk friend does not profess belief in Jesus explicitly, he does feel the call of God in his heart and is responding to it in the best way he knows how.

Mother Teresa saw this principle very clearly.  She recognized that God’s ultimate plan went beyond the confines of religious labels.  This is why she sought to convert people into better human beings, and she did so by being a living example of the Gospel herself.  Every step she took, every decision she made, every word she spoke gave glory to God.  She saw that any time a person seeks to help others, to improve themselves and to serve humanity in their own little way, they are serving God whether they realize it or not.  She was willing to be a vessel used by God to make an impact in the slums of Calcutta.

In a way, Mother Teresa was a visionary.  She saw with the eyes of her heart and soul that a great number of people who are willing to serve one another can create a society that serves.  A society that serves is a society of God.

“I’ve always said that we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic.”
–Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Frightening Hour, Glorious Day

worry-445511

Brock Turner has been released.

I’m sure you already know who he is, but just for the sake of emphasis, Brock Turner is the former Stanford University swimmer who raped an intoxicated and unconscious woman behind a dumpster.  Today he has been allowed back out into the world for “good behavior.”

We live in a broken world.  The fact that we live in a society where if a woman reports that she has been raped she faces the possibility of having her personal history questioned, her motivations suspected and her attacker not held fully accountable, is just one of the many injustices that illustrate the broken nature of our times.

As sickening as it is, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when evil wins every now and then. The devil knows how to ensure that his dirty work is done without anyone batting an eye until it is too late to put a stop to it.  It doesn’t help that our culture gets outraged over social injustices for a few weeks only to forget about it as everyone returns to their daily routine.  Evil has its hour when good people raise their voices and do nothing.

Just behind my laptop is a framed picture of Mother Teresa.  I glanced up at it as I was typing this, but after a while I closed my laptop and just stared at it for a few minutes.  My eyes focused on her tender gaze and folded hands, her humble posture and deep compassion pooled in her eyes.
That is when it hit me.

Mother Teresa will be canonized this Sunday.

When Brock Turner saw a woman passed out behind a dumpster, he took advantage of her.
When Mother Teresa saw a dying person on the side of the road, she took them to shelter.
Brock Turner spent twenty minutes violating the dignity of another human being.
Mother Teresa spent every minute upholding the dignity of the poor and forgotten.
Brock Turner used another for his own gratification.
Mother Teresa served others for the glory of God.

Mother Teresa’s courageous humilty is the antithesis of Brock Turner’s cowardly selfishness.  The devil may jump for joy at the release of a rapist, but he burns with rage at Heaven’s rejoicing for the canonization of a heroic woman.

In the end, justice will prevail, but in a very different way.

Brock Turner has been disgraced in the eyes of the public, while Heaven and Earth honor Mother Teresa’s self-sacrificial life.

Brock Turner is free from prison bars, but wherever he goes, people will look at him and know.  In the same way that Cain was cursed to walk on earth as a fugitive and vagabond, Brock Turner will wear his crime like a scarlet letter.
Mother Teresa suffered the spiritual darkness of feeling abandoned by God, but she now walks among the angels and the saints in the Heavenly court.   Surrendering herself to God’s plan, dedicating herself to the service of the poor and destitute, all she did was give, and in the end she received the Crown of Life.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us and for the conversion of Brock Turner.

teresaDM2408_468x377

“Christ says: I know you through and through – I know everything about you.  The very hairs of your head I have numbered.  Nothing in your life is unimportant to me, I have followed you through the years, and I have always loved you – even in your wanderings.  I know every one of your problems. I know your need and your worries. And yes, I know all your sins. But I tell you again that I love you – not for what you have or haven’t done – I love you for you, for the beauty and dignity my Father gave you by creating you in his own image.”
―Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta

The Societal Cycle of Alertness and Slumber

good20dream20bad20dream1

It’s funny how a simple conversation on Facebook can lead to an article with an admittedly strange title.
One of my friends in the Pro-Life movement is Albany Rose.  You may know her, but in case you don’t, Albany is one of the leading faces of the growing pro-life atheist crowd in the movement.  You can check out her Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/AlbanyRosePostAbortiveProLifeSpeaker/
It was on the day of the horrific shooting in Orlando that Albany and I were having a conversation on Facebook about the plethora of problems in the world.  At one point, Albany made a point about how people are all up in arms about a crisis, but take no action for social change and instead go back to their daily routines within a week.
What she said (or typed in this case) really got me thinking.  As I lay in bed that night, I began to ask myself, “Why is it that people’s focus on a major tragedy only lasts for a few days?”
It is as if our society has settled into a strange, almost dreamlike cycle.
beware-of-the-sleepwalking-robbers07
We go about our typical routines, bloated schedules and scattered priorities, only taking a brief glance at the current events unfolding around us as we float down the rushing river of daily demands.  We may be physically awake, but we exist in a state of mental sleepwalking, our lives moving forward in a quiet, comfortable march to somewhere.
It is only when disaster strikes that we are jolted awake.
natural-disasters-list
Only then are we catapulted into action.  In one immediate burst, we launch into solidarity mode where everyone bands together to express shock and concern.  Vigils are set, signs are made and hashtags fill cyberspace.  For a time, we are all united.
Nothing bad lasts forever, but neither does something good.
arguing-people-dreamstime-Darrenw (2)

Unity turns to tension as private opinions about the tragedy and its victims are made known.  Prayers dissolve to bickering and heated arguments drown out heartfelt speeches.  Comforting words are sucked into the bleak vortex of shouting matches.

Then once the dust has settled, we return to slumber.dreams

I truly wonder what it would take.  What would the next disaster have to be to break the cycle?  What would need to happen in order to shake up the culture to its core and force heroic men and women to rise above complacency and bring about lasting change?

What would force us to stay awake for just a while longer?
insomnia-450x3001

 

Presidential Candidates Won’t Save You

US-presidential-candidates-2016 (2)

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on a megalomaniacal rant about how I can’t stomach any of the candidates.  This post would be longer than Tolstoy’s War and Peace if I did that.
As I watch the debates (yes, both the GOP and the Dem debates), read articles online and listen in on conversations about the candidates among my family and friends, there is a theme that strikes me.  Mr. Trump continuously promises to “Make America great again,” while Mr. Sanders swears to hold big corporations responsible.  Miss Clinton vows to uphold the rights of women and other minority groups, while Mr. Cruz pledges to protect religious liberty.
What do these four people have in common?  They promise to be a savior in some capacity.

Even in our secular society, the concept of a savior still appeals and rings true for many people.  While the savior complex has always been prevalent in past presidential elections, the idea of electing a man (or woman) who can “save our country” from the path we are currently on is especially strong during this presidential season.  If you talk to a supporter of Mr. Trump, Miss Clinton, Mr. Cruz or Mr. Sanders, there is definitely a sense that they truly believe in their candidate’s ability to save our land.

During this past Lenten season, I found myself really pondering Jesus’ sacrificial offering and its meaning.  By His death and resurrection, He redeemed humanity and paved a way for us to obtain Heaven.  Our Risen King stripped the prince of darkness of his hold over mankind and gave us a lifeboat.
The idea that a single presidential candidate can bring about salvation of any kind does in fact benefit someone; a particular entity whose goal it is to keep our attention off of the True Savior.
I truly believe that Satan uses political rhetoric to his advantage, to take people’s eyes off the state of their own souls and keep them distracted with the state of the political climate.

I am in no way telling you to not vote.  I am not trying to discourage you from participating in the political process.  What I am saying is that a politician can only impose legislation, not salvation.  A president can improve the economy, but not shield us from Hellfire.  Presidents come and go, but Jesus is the One who stands between us and the deception of the evil one.

Stand by a candidate if you wish, but keep your eyes to Jesus always.

Saint John Vianney, pray for us.

CGB Collaboration Review of God’s Not Dead 2 (2016) with My Friend Mickey Kelly

God is most certainly not dead…but His patience with these movies, I’m not too sure about.

This is the second CGB collaboration review of God’s Not Dead 2!

melissa-joan-hart-plays-grace-wesley-in-harold-cronks-gods-not-dead-2 (2)

Grace Wesley is a kind and optimistic high school teacher who finds herself in hot water after answering a student’s question about Jesus.  With a nonbelieving defense attorney as her ally, Grace’s case ends up being one that could remove God from the public square once and for all.
Right after my Batman v. Superman collaboration review with Patheos blogger Monique Ocampo, my good friend Mickey Kelly asked me if I wanted to do another collab with him.  We picked this movie as the subject for our collab.
Now I actually liked the first God’s Not Dead.  Is it flawed?  Absolutely.  However, given that it was a compelling rivalry story about a Christian student and his atheist professor, I found myself thoroughly enjoying it.  Mickey’s points are in blue while mine are in pink.
So let’s see how the sequel holds up!

CGB Hits
In the first movie, Professor Radisson was the character who interested me the most.  In this movie, I found Brooke Thawley to be the person I wished the story was about.  Though her evolution from grieving sister to committed believer is a tad rushed, I did find her to be the most sympathetic character. 
I did like the idea of an agnostic attorney defending the Christian protagonist.  I saw the potential for an interfaith friendship to bloom between the two characters, or at the very least have them come to respect each other despite not sharing the same belief system.
I am glad that Amy Ryan, the atheist blogger from the first movie is back as a new believer.   I like her arch as a Christian convert who is questioning her faith after she learns that she is in remission.  This subplot on its own could have made for an interesting story.
One of the biggest strengths that the makers of the God’s Not Dead series is that their subplots could make for their own stand-alone films.   I would like to see a film about Martin, the Chinese convert to Christianity or liberal-blogger-turned-believer Amy.  I remember the first film featured Ayisha, a Muslim girl who is a closeted Christian; why can’t we get a movie about her?!

Mickey’s Hits
Grace Wesley was a resilient character who held on to her faith and hope, which is nicely conveyed by Melissa Joan Hart’s genuine performance.
Tom Enler and Grace Wesley developed well in the movie.  While Enler tells Grace that he is a non-believer, Enler sees this case to the end to help Grace win an impossible court case. He goes from an inexperienced lawyer to someone that figured out Kane’s methods and outsmarting a heavy weapon for the ACLU.  I appreciated that at least one nonbelieving character was portrayed in a positive light for the most part.
The writers made an interesting transition from the classroom to the courtroom which is happening in today’s world.  Grace Wesley, with the help of her students, aging grandfather and Enler, perseveres despite some crushing setbacks during the trial.

Mickey’s Misses
Some questions about the end result of Martin and his father are in limbo.  Will they seek each other’s forgiveness or will they never cross paths again?  The film fails to develop the relationship between Martin and his father.  Also, Martin’s dialogue makes him feel less like a character and more like an agenda pawn.
Like in the first film, I felt that the writers did too much to tell a story involving so many
characters. 
It seems that the writers neglected to develop Kane’s assistant, who had little to do in the movie but watch Kane get defeated by Enler.
The movie will appeal to some, but not all those looking to watch a good Christian movies due to an off-putting tone with some painful moments in the film such as Grace’s struggle to see the trial through. 

CGB Misses
Many members of my family work for the justice system, so I am what I call a “courthouse baby.”  Hence, this courthouse baby found that Grace’s trial was riddled with unrealistic moments that would never fly in a real-life trial.  How Tom Enler handles his final arguments before the jury deliberates had me shaking my head.
Any time you write a story that tackles a social issue, you do need to write with some emotional restraint.  Otherwise, if you harbor resentment towards those who do not share your views, it will show in the story.  In this movie’s case, it is clear that the filmmakers hold some animosity towards atheists.  The end result is that vilification of atheists is a major issue in this movie.  Whereas the first movie made the atheistic Professor Radisson a three-dimensional person who undergoes an intriguing evolution, this second film has made every single atheist character as unlikable and abrasive as possible.   Brooke’s non-believing parents are heartless towards her grief over her brother.  The ACLU lawyer Pete Kane is the overacting foaming-at-the-mouth atheist.  The people who oppose Grace are unreasonable protestors who ridicule the Christian supporters.
I don’t know if the filmmakers have had bad experiences with atheist men and women, but I would like to take the time to say that I have plenty of atheist friends and they have always been kind to me and understanding of my beliefs. 

Here is the thing with the God’s Not Dead series: There are good messages to be found in  both of the films: Stand with God and not the world, be committed to your convictions and if God brings you to it, He will get you through it.  So while the messages on their own are not wrong, the presentation of these messages is where the wrong begins.  You’re not going to convert people by portraying every single Christian character as a saintly hero and every atheist as a rabid jerk.  Christian persecution is real, but here in America, no one is being stoned in the public square for reading a Bible.
God is not dead and He calls us to present His word in a reasonable and compassionate fashion.

Saint Gabriel Possenti, pray for us.