CGB Review of The Jungle Book (2016)

Just looking for the bear necessities!¬† ūüôā

This is my review of The Jungle Book!

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In the jungle, the mighty jungle, there lives a “man-cub” named¬†Mowgli, who lives under the protection of a black panther named Bagherra and a pack of wolves.¬† All is well until the¬†diabolical tiger¬†Shere Khan comes looking for the man-cub, since man is forbidden in the jungle.¬†¬†For his own safety,¬†Mowgli must leave the jungle and go to the “man village.”¬†Along the way, he meets the laidback Baloo and other colorful characters.

The Hits
The CGI is truly remarkable.¬† I honestly forgot that I was watching CGI characters.¬† The level of detail on everything from the animals’ fur to the weather effects is quite stunning.
Neel Sethi is endearing as Mowgli.¬† Inquisitive, adventurous and even noble, Mowgli serves as the story’s emotional center.¬† Speaking of the actors, all of the voice acting is top notch!¬† Ben Kingsley is perfect as the¬†firm and¬†brave Bagheera while Bill Murray brings the warmth and charisma as the fun-loving Baloo.¬† Scarlett Johansson nails the trickery and cunning¬†of the serpent¬†Kaa.¬† Idris Elba–good Lord–he is terrific as the diabolic Shere Khan!¬† His deep, commanding voice gave me¬†chills, making him an excellent villain.
Baloo and Bagheera have great chemistry as polar opposites, as well as guardians of Mowgli.  Bagheera keeps Mowgli grounded while Baloo helps the young boy feel safe and relaxed in his jungle home.  Out of all the characters, Baloo has the most character development.  His evolution from careless, self-centered wanderer to a competent and protective mentor to Mowgli is sweet and natural.
I like how the task of protecting Mowgli challenges other characters such as Baloo and even Bagheera to an extent¬†to rise above their own imperfections for a worthy cause.¬† Keeping Mowgli safe becomes a community effort and in the end,¬†community triumphs over the lone Shere Khan.¬†¬†I particularly appreciate how Mowgli defeats Shere Khan not with ruthless violence, but by courageously standing his ground in the face of insurmountable opposition.¬† It reminds me of something Saint Thomas Aquinas once said, “The principal act of courage is to endure and withstand dangers doggedly rather than to attack them.”
A friend of mine named “N.M” recently told me, “Let the angels and the saints deal with the devil.¬† They know what they’re doing.”¬† I kept thinking about her words as I watched the movie.¬† Throughout the film, animals fight off Shere Khan while Mowgli flees to safety, which reminded me of the angels and the saints fighting off the devil and his minions.¬† Oh, yes, Shere Khan has the similar characteristics of the fallen angel Lucifer.¬† There’s a particularly chilling scene where Shere Khan is indoctrinating¬†Raksha’s (Mowgli’s wolf mom) cubs.¬† “Well, it¬†looks like the screenwriters read 1 Peter 5:8,” I said to myself.¬† By the way, feel free to type in what 1 Peter 5:8 says in the comments section.¬† ūüôā¬† Granted, I highly doubt that the filmmakers were looking to demonstrate how our Heavenly advocates fight for us, but then again, our God can make use of anything, even secular forms of art, to make Himself known to us.

The Misses
So Christopher Walken sings/speaks “I Wanna Be Like You” and…yeah, about that.¬† It is as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide if they wanted Mr. Walken to either sing the actual song or just say the lyrics without musical accompaniment, so they said, “Just do both.” As a result, Mr. Walken sounds awkward and stilted when he is sing-speaking the lyrics.
Personally I prefer character-driven stories over plot-driven ones, so even though I liked Mowgli, I couldn’t connect with him; he is sympathetic, not empathetic.¬† This hiccup doesn’t make the film less enjoyable, but just weak when compared to Maleficent (2014) and Cinderella (2015), both of which were poignant character studies.

I would highly recommend the Jungle Book as a fun family film.¬† While some of Shere Khan’s scenes are quite dark, the majority of the movie is light-hearted and entertaining.¬† Kids will enjoy the animals and action, while the adults will be pleasantly surprised with the film’s depiction of courage in the face of danger.

Saint Dominic Savio, 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!

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CGB Review of The Passion of the Christ (2004)

‚ÄúFather, into Your hands I commend my spirit.‚ÄĚ
–Luke 23:26

This is my review of The Passion of the Christ!

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Veronica, pray for us.

CGB Review of The Divergent Series: Allegiant (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, pray for us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy Family, pray for us.

CGB Review of Zootopia (2016)

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

This is my review of Zootopia!

Zootopia_Movie_trailer

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

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

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

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

Saint Pope John Paul II, pray for us.

CGB Review of Bridge of Spies (2015)

I’m just gonna say it; this movie was kind of a chore to get through.

This is my review of Bridge of Spies!

‚ÄėBridge of Spies‚Äô by DreamWorks Studios.

The year is 1957.  At the height of the Cold War, the US of A and the Soviet Union have both sent spies after one another.   When the reserved, seemingly harmless Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is taken into custody by FBI agents, an insurance lawyer named James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is recruited to defend Abel under the guise of receiving a fair trial to prevent anti-American propaganda from the Soviet Union.

As a cinephile (a lover of all things cinema),¬†I have great respect for director Steven Spielberg.¬† His dedication to his craft and¬†prolific filmography are admirable.¬† This is the reason why I’m sad to say that Bridge of Spies¬†is a competently-made,¬†by-the-numbers¬†disappointment.

The Hits
Mark Rylance’s Rudolf¬†Abel is by far the most interesting character in this film.¬†¬† Calm, measured and unflinching,¬†Abel is¬†a chameleon of a¬†man who¬†looks so unassuming and bland that¬†it becomes unsettling because you never¬†know if he is who he says he is.¬† I love how he¬†maintains a sense of¬†control¬†even when the situation surrounding him has robbed him of all¬†control.¬† I really hope that Mark Rylance gets to play a Keyser S√∂ze-type villain someday.¬† I could see him as¬†that pleasant¬†guy who lets you into his home during a snowstorm only to stab you in the back the second he closes the door.¬†
Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance have very good chemistry.  Their short scenes together are enjoyable to watch and I like the friendship that forms between the two characters.
There is an intriguing scene that shows an American student and his German girlfriend trying to cross the newly constructed Berlin Wall.¬† It’s only ten minutes long, but their subplot would have made a far more interesting story.

The Misses
This is a really boring movie.¬† I’m¬†not kidding when I say that I dozed off¬†three times during the flick.¬† In this Oscar bait drama about the Cold War,¬†there’s very little¬†to get invested in.¬†¬† The cinematography is fine but¬†unimpressive, the musical score is forgettable and¬†even the costumes are dull.¬† Except for Mark Rylance, everybody else is kind of phoning it in.¬† Tom Hanks is just saying lines and looking concerned, providing little to no depth¬†to the character he is playing.¬† Then again, it doesn’t help that there isn’t much to the¬†protagonist himself.¬†¬†I actually had to scroll back up to this review’s intro because I already forgot his character’s name!
Bridges of Spies has what I call “third party syndrome,” in which the first half focuses on two opposing forces (in this case, US versus the Soviet Union) and then somewhere in the second act, Germany gets involved and now we’re supposed to care about this third party that wasn’t well-established as a present foe.¬†¬† Add to the fact that the story itself lacks innovation and you’ve got yourself a¬†well-made, but dull¬†film.

I’m just going to stop here.¬† Bridge of Spies is not one of¬†Spielberg’s best works.¬† If the movie had focused more on Rylance and Hanks’ friendship and/or just made Rylance the main character, it would have been more emotionally-involving.¬† As it is, Bridge of Spies is a fine but bland snooze.

Saint John Eudes, pray for us.

CGB Review of The Danish Girl (2015)

It’s official:¬†Eddie Redmayne was put on this earth to¬†get people who don’t normally cry during movies to cry.
Excuse me, I’ve got something in my eye…

This is my review of The Danish Girl!

27DANISHGIRL-master675

The Danish Girl tells the true story of Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo gender reassignment surgery.¬† Lili was born as¬†painter Einar Wegener who confronts¬†repressed feelings and seeks to become a woman. ¬†Along for the tumultuous journey is Gerda Wegener, the progressive, strong-willed wife who must come to terms with¬†her spouse’s¬†transition from male to female.
Guys and gals, this review was a labor of love.¬† Transgenderism is a sensitive topic that strikes a nerve in people.¬† I knew that in writing this review, I had to be charitable to LGBT people while¬†remaining loyal to the¬†Church’s stance on sexuality.
For the record,¬†I will never go against the Church’s teaching that God creates us as male and female; Genesis 1:27 states, “God created man in His image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them.”
I will also never cast aside the human dignity of our transgender brothers and sisters. Whether they be gay or straight, every single person is a child of God.
With all that said, let’s take a look at The Danish Girl!

The Hits
Eddie¬†Redmayne broke my heart in The Theory of Everything and in this movie, his performance had me¬†crying like a baby¬†once again.¬†¬†Empathetic, vulnerable and even childlike at times,¬†Redmayne brilliantly¬†captures the torment of having to¬†wrestle with gender identity.¬† Any time he has to look at his body in the mirror and mentally envision Lili,¬†his conflict and inner pain are well conveyed.¬†¬†There is a scene where Lili is beaten¬†up by two homophobic men and, as gut-wrenching as it is,¬†I admire¬†how¬†this one scene unflinchingly depicts¬†the grim¬†reality of anti-gay prejudice.¬†¬†Like Alan Turing in Imitation Game, Lili is a fleshed-out character, never treated as an agenda pawn.¬† Much care was taken to be compassionate to Lili’s plight.
Alicia Vikander’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar win was well deserved.¬†¬†Through her portrayal, we come to know Gerda¬†Wegener as¬†Lili’s advocate, guardian angel¬†and kindred spirit.¬† Her heartbreaking¬†evolution from playing along with her spouse’s “game” to fully realizing that the person she married is becoming someone else is sold by Vikander’s grounded and spirited performance.
Similarly to The Theory of Everything, the Wegeners’ marriage is engaging to watch.¬†I like how¬†before becoming Lili, Einar starts out as timid and reserved, while Gerda is the adventurous free spirit.¬† Redmayne and Vikander have a natural chemistry and the love between their characters is convincing.
The set design and the costumes are immaculate.¬†¬†The color palate resembles that of a painting, which wonderfully reflects the main characters’ shared passion for art.¬† The¬†film¬†successfully¬†captures the look and feel¬†of 1920’s Denmark.
Where this movie really shines is helping us understand the depth of Lili’s suffering and desire to be a woman while at the same time being considerate of Gerda’s own turmoil with losing her husband.¬† Neither character is vilified and both have moments of selfishness, hence treating the complexity of the¬†subject matter¬†with tact.

The Misses
Focus is a major issue in this movie.  The film attempts to make both Lili and Gerda the main characters, but more attention is given to Gerda than to Lili.  By the second act of the film, Lili feels like a glorified supporting character.  The movie has a generally steady pace up until the third act, where it starts to meander and toy around with filler and the ending feels a tad rushed.
The musical score is composed by Alexandre Desplat, the same man¬†behind the remarkable Imitation Game soundtrack.¬† Unfortunately the musical score here¬†is¬†not as inspired.¬† It sounds nice and it is as smooth as¬†a brush on a canvas, but it pales in comparison to the Imitation¬†Game music.¬† Sorry,¬†Mr. Desplat, but it looks like you can’t always catch lighting in¬†a¬†bottle twice.
So before¬†the gender reassignment surgery,¬†the¬†movie treats¬†Lili as an apparition, as a separate character whom Einar seeks to become.¬†¬†I am sad to say that this strategy backfires.¬†¬†Lines of dialogue such as,¬†“I think Lili’s thoughts.¬† I dream her dreams,” and “There was a moment where I wasn’t me.¬† There was a moment that I was just Lili…”¬†made me cringe.¬† Because Lili and Einar are handled as¬†two characters embodied by one person,¬†there are¬†quite a few times where¬†the movie comes dangerously close to confusing transgenderism with split personality disorder.
It is clear that director Tom Hooper could have used the help of¬†a transgender specialist.¬† Throughout the film, it¬†appears¬†that Mr. Hooper realized how complicated transgenderism is and¬†became intimidated by his own project.¬† As a result, the focus on Gerda feels like a security blanket¬†to cover up¬†the film’s inability to delve into the psychology of Lili and it keeps the film from being the character study it could have been.

I have come to the conclusion that The Danish Girl is an admirable misfire.¬†¬†On one hand, the hearts of everyone involved are in the right place, the technical work is praiseworthy and¬†the committed performances of both¬†Redmayne and Vikander express the triumph and tragedy of their love¬†story.¬† On the other hand, the¬†restraint and timidity¬†of the filmmakers¬†hold back the story from being able to get inside Lili Elbe’s head, leaving more to be desired.¬† It is certainly not a bad film, but rather a misstep with good intentions.

Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.

CGB Review of Risen (2016)

Spoiler alert: Jesus rises from the dead.  Gasp!

This is my review of Risen!

Joseph-Fiennes-in-Risen

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

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

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

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

Saint Faustina Kowalska, pray for us.