You Are Welcome Here: The Holy Spirit and Pentecost

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Come, Sweet Paraclete!
Imagine if you will the Apostles in the upper room.  Jesus has just ascended into Heaven and they are sitting around, twiddling their thumbs, wondering, “What the camel are we gonna do now?”  Maybe one of them looks over at Peter, who responds with something to the effect of, “I’m just as lost as you are, guys.”
Meanwhile let’s imagine that Jesus is back up in Heaven, looking down at His disheartened Apostles, His beloved friends.  He turns to the Father and says, “Is it time to send him down there?”  “Yes, My Son, it is time.
Back on Earth in the upper room, a sudden mighty wind shakes the walls, causing the Apostles to look around frantically and jump from their chairs.  Darting their eyes upward, they see a large flame above them.  The single flame splits into individual flames, each one resting atop their heads.   A deep sense of peace and power fill them from within, casting out all the fear and uncertainty that had been perturbing them.  As if their bodies are functioning without them, they begin speaking in other languages as if they have been fluent their whole lives.
That night in the upper room, the Holy Spirit made his public debut as he came upon the Apostles and overshadowed them with the love of God.

Friend and Champion
So before I explain Pentecost, I think it would help to understand the Holy Spirit himself.  Who is he, a distant force or a most determined Advocate of our salvation?
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity.  He is the love between the Father and the Son manifested.  While the dove from above does make his official appearance in the Acts of the Apostles, we are foretold of him through the Old Testament, starting with Genesis.

Genesis 1:1-2, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a mighty wind swept over the face of the waters.”

Did you catch that last line?  “…while a mighty wind swept over the face of the waters?”  Sound familiar?  The Spirit came in the form of a mighty wind that shook the walls of the upper room where the Apostles were residing.

We see him again in the Book of Samuel just after Samuel anointed Saul.

1 Samuel 10:10, “When they came to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.”

It is not until the Annunciation when we finally hear of the Holy Spirit by name.  After she is told that she will give birth to the Messiah, Mary reasonably asks the Archangel Gabriel how this virgin birth is to happen, “since I have no relations with a man?” she questions.

Luke 1:35, “The Angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

Then, at Jesus’ baptism, there is a visual representation of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 13:16-17, “After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened [for him], and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him.  And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I AM well pleased.”

We can safely say that the Holy Spirit has been active throughout history and continues to be flying around the globe to this day.  With this logic, we can conclude that the Holy Spirit is not some vague, distant ghost who does little and says even less.  The third person of the Trinity is alive, vibrant and ever seeking the salvation of our souls.  There’s a reason why he is also known as the Advocate, Comforter, Helper and so on.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit comes upon us as a roar, a mighty wind that shakes us to our core and wakes us from our apathy.  Other times the Holy Spirit is like a feather landing on our heads; sudden but gentle.  He whispers to us and caresses our souls with the love of the Father.
Now that we know who the Holy Spirit is, we can move on to understanding what Pentecost is.

A Church is Born
Pentecost is what happened in that upper room.  The Holy Spirit, having first appeared to Mary in a private setting, then revealing himself again in the public setting of Jesus’ baptism, was now making himself known once more in a small room where the apostles were gathered in seclusion.  He came upon them and brought them out of their isolation, bursting open the closed doors of fear and doubt into a world hungry for the Good News.  He empowered them, equipped them and readied them for their mission: To preach the Gospel to every living creature and baptize the masses in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
This mission is alive and well today.  It is the duty of every Christian to pick up the torch that was handed down to us at our baptism.  However, our world does not make that task easy at all.  Our world fights against us, making that path difficult to say the least.  This is where the help of the Holy Spirit is absolutely needed.  As scripture has shown us, the Holy Spirit is not an abstraction or an uninvolved force; he is a person.   He is the love between the Father and the Son and as it says in 1 John 4:18, “Perfect love casts out fear.”  As our advocate, he speaks to us and for us.  As our comforter, he lifts us up when we are knocked down.  As our helper, he guides us to wisdom and truth.  As our friend, he is always there for us and ready to stand beside us.

Let us end this piece with a prayer to the Holy Spirit.

Holy Spirit, you are welcome here.
In your presence there is no room for fear or anxiety.
You are the champion of our souls and the fiery advocate for our salvation.
Come fill our minds with knowledge and truth.
Come fill our hearts with compassion and love of neighbor.
Come fill our souls with the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding.
May your friendship and unfailing help in our lives shape us into the men and women Christ has called us to be.

Amen.

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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 Logan (2017)

Well, someone REALLY liked “The Last of Us” and decided to make a movie out of it, but starring Wolverine…

…And I’m okay with that.

This is my review of Logan!
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The year is 2029.  James Howlett, also known as Logan–and also known as Wolverine–is a weary, beaten-down, old mutant who is just barely getting by with booze in hand and a desire for the end of his pain.  He is a limo driver by day and caring for Professor X by night.  Logan’s miserable existence is chaotically interrupted when a young mutant named Laura Kinney (Dafne Keen) shows up on his doorstep with a ruthless agency on the hunt for her and others like her.  With one mutant Caliban in captivity and Charles Xavier being senile and fading, it’s ultimately up to Logan to get Laura to a shelter where she will be kept company by (quite possibly) the next generation of mutants.

The Hits
The action in this film is quite spectacular to behold.  Gripping, fast-paced and relentlessly violent, there is an underlining catharsis to each stab and shot fired.  You can feel the excruciating pain that runs through Wolverine’s hands every time he unleashes his steel claws.   The oppression of violence from the antagonists presses you down and forces you to hold your breath as you pray for the start of a new scene.
So this is Hugh Jackman’s final time playing the Wolverine and, by golly, he gives this performance his all.  Logan is a broken man; Weakened yet never pitiful, struck down but not destroyed, just the act of living takes every ounce of strength that he can muster.  He has seen it all, heard it all and lived through every conceivable disaster you can think of; nothing is new to him and nothing more can further damage an already irreparable man.  I really appreciate how he never gets too sappy or sentimental.  His care for Laura and Professor X is displayed through his actions, never his attitude or words.  He’s like a father who isn’t very outwardly affectionate, but shows his kids he cares for them just by working hard for them.  In the same vein as Masey McClain’s performance in “I’m Not Ashamed,” Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine is the glue that holds this movie together, the mythological Atlas who holds the weight of the narrative on his
One review I read described this film as “unexpectedly moving” and quite frankly, I concur.  The heart of this story are Logan’s withering relationships; his fragmented rapport with Professor X, his tension with Caliban and his resistance to empathy for Laura are fascinating and strangely moving to watch.  In addition, Patrick Stewart gives a very powerful monologue along with an endearing, while Dafne Keen’s Laura is a force to be reckoned with.  She’s essentially a young, female version of Logan, but is surprisingly both hardened and yet hopeful all at the same time.  She is a child soldier who somehow maintains a believable amount of innocence that allows her to experience the world around her with fresh eyes.

The Misses
Much like the first Hunger Games movie, this movie does involve violence against children and violence being committed by children, in particular by Laura herself.  This can be very unnerving to watch, especially if you have and/or work with children.  Even the fact that they are mutant children who are more than capable of protecting themselves doesn’t make the violence against them or the violence they are engaging in any less disturbing.
A few days ago, one of the friends I saw this movie with texted me to ask, “…are you okay with excessive blood and gore?  From what I’ve heard, this [Logan] is supposed to be more graphic than Deadpool?”  To which I responded with, “M.P., my favorite movie of all time is Pan’s Labyrinth and that movie features a guy [Captain Vidal] getting stabbed in the shoulder, chest and THEN having his cheek sliced from the inside!  I’ll be fine.”  As my friend M.P. said, this movie has some seriously excessive blood and gore.  Viewers who are squeamish and sensitive to gore might want to think twice before buying a ticket.

Overall Logan turned out to be much better than I expected.  In fact, the more I think about this movie, the more compelling it becomes and I almost want to see it again.  Logan can come off as nihilistic, but never goes into full-blown “there’s no point to this” despair.  This is a dreary, pragmatic film held together by one shattered man and his fragmented relationships, a grounded comic book adaptation with grit and style that is bound to stay with you long after the credits roll.  Whether you are a fan of the X-Men franchise or an outsider looking in, the multifaceted character of James “Logan” Howlett, aka the Wolverine, goes out with both a blood-soaked bang and a curdling whimper.

Blessed Laura Vicuna, pray for us.

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 Moana (2016)

Why do I get the feeling that this movie was written by someone who read the Book of Esther during a weekend on a Polynesian island?

This is my review of Moana!

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In the beginning, there was the Word…and that word was ocean!   Then comes the goddess Te Fiti who, with the power of her swirly heart (there’s a swirly circle where her heart is), creates island and island and so on.  Te Fiti then goes into a slumber, manifesting herself as a lush, green island.  All is cool until the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) quite literally steals her heart, which has taken the form of a jade gemstone.  His theft unleashes a freaky sea demon called Te Ka and basically, like the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve’s screw-up, the world falls into darkness because Maui just had to steal the heart of Te Fiti.
Enter the island of Motunui, which is home to a free-spirited girl named Moana (Auli’i Cravalho).  Moana is being groomed by her father Chief Tui to become the next leader of Motunui, but the call of the ocean has a strong pull on her heart.  This primarily has to do with an encounter she had with the ocean as a toddler.  When Motunui begins to experience decay and famine, Grandma Tala reveals to her that the ocean chose her [Moana] to find the demi-god Maui and guide him across the sea to face off against Te Ka and return the heart of Te Fiti to its rightful place.

The Hits
The animation is fluid, colorful and gorgeous to look at.  The voice work is awesome!  Never once was I distracted by the celebrity voices because all of the characters are well-written and distinctive.  Auli’i Cravalho definitely brings Moana to life as both a youthful teenager and a kind-hearted young woman.  She doesn’t sound like a late-twentysomething voicing a sixteen-year old, neither does she sound jarringly young; her character’s age is conveyed by Cravalho’s performance.  I really love Moana’s childhood connection to the ocean.  Granted, it does make this a typical “chosen one” narrative, but Moana herself doesn’t have any magic powers or some random birthmark that displays her chosen-one-ness; she’s a regular girl who was called upon by the ocean.  Now I mentioned that this movie made me think of the Book of Esther.  That’s because Moana is next in line to rule a land and must save her people from dark destruction.  While she doesn’t have to marry a king like Esther did, she does have to find the king-like Maui and take him to Te Ka.
Speaking of the ocean, the idea of having it as a sentient being is fantastic!  They don’t push the envelope too far by making the ocean a god or something, but the ocean does act similarly to the Holy Spirit; calling upon Moana to go out, to leave her comfort zone and sail into the unknown for a greater purpose.  The ocean reminded me of Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Now, mind you, Moana doesn’t travel to Judea or Samaria, neither does the ocean give her the ability to speak in tongues or prophecy, but the ocean’s influence and friendship gives her great courage, helps her to find peace in the chaos, and does enable her to travel far to take Maui to defeat a volcanic sea demon in order to restore peace to the other islands, which brings to mind the Apostles being empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to preach the Gospel and open wounded hearts to Jesus.
Moana’s pet pig Pua reminded me of a puppy, which makes him adorable, but her chicken Heihei is to this movie what Kowalski is to Fantastic Beasts; a show-stealing comic relief.
Dwayne Johnson is perfectly cast as Maui!   You can tell that he is having the time of his life voicing the character and we are having fun alongside him.  Maui is your typical “self-centered powerful dude who needs to be knocked off his high-horse,” but his humor and soft-spot for humans does keep him from being unlikable.

The Misses
Yeah, this movie gets pretty predictable towards the third act.  I pretty much was able to correct predict all the actions of the main characters in the film’s climax.  I like this movie a lot, but you can tell that there is a Disney checklist that the filmmakers need to fill (princess, comedic animal sidekick, songs, etc.) and it’s not hard to see where the story is going.

Guys and gals, I really enjoyed Moana!  It’s a charming, delightful action-comedy that the whole family will love.  Fun lead characters, thrilling action and some intriguing (if not unintentional) Biblical parallels make Moana an end-of-the-year slamdunk.  I’ve already seen it twice and I just might see it again for a third time.

Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, pray for us.

CGB Review of Doctor Strange

As the election results have shown us, life can be stranger than fiction.

This is my review of Doctor Strange!

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Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a successful but arrogant surgeon whose career ends after a terrible car accident practically destroys his hands.  After speaking with a formerly-paralyzed man who has since been completely healed, Doctor Strange journeys to Kathmandu, Nepal, where he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and finds himself getting swooped in to a mystical battle with dark forces led by the sinister Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).

The Hits
Holy cow, the visuals are INCREDIBLE!  The battle sequences are truly a sight to behold.  I love the idea that these mystic warriors actually bend time and physical space in order to do battle.  The reality-bending is just so COOL!  I like how it’s not all shaky-cam and impossible to see what’s going on.  The spells cast are bright and colorful, the fight choreography is smooth and well-paced, and the battles themselves are brimming with imagination.  This is one of the rare films where the 3D enhances the experience and isn’t just a nauseating gimmick.  You’ll still enjoy it in 2D, but if you are thinking of seeing it in 3D, then DO IT!  Of course, if you are concerned about cyber sickness, then here’s my review of The Walk, where I offer tips and tricks on how to prevent cyber sickness:  https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2015/10/11/cgb-review-of-the-walk-2015/
Benedict Cumberbatch has yet to disappoint me.  I think it’s been established that you could cast this guy as a lampshade and he would still give a great performance.  While the role of Stephen Strange himself is not entirely compelling, Cumberbatch has the time of his life with this character.  He makes Stephen Strange arrogant but likable; his sense of self-importance doesn’t harm anyone, it only makes it satisfying when the movie allows him to get his humbling comeuppance.  The movie has an awesome moral about humbling yourself for something greater, which is Christianity in a nutshell.
Tilda Swinton is another actor who can do no wrong (in movies, I mean).  She brings a complexity to her character The Ancient One.  Yeah, she’s basically a tall, female Yoda, but Swinton gives a grounded performance that enables her to make the role her own.
I’m sorry, I just can’t get over how much I LOVE the mythology of this world!  There’s a line where one character says (I’m going to paraphrase here), “The Avengers protect the physical world, while we fight off more mystical dangers.”  It made me think of the battles that take place in the spiritual realm where angels and saints fight for us against sinister forces.  In our secular world, it’s refreshing to see any big budget film embrace the idea that there is an invisible reality within our physical world where two opposing forces do battle for our souls.   Also I appreciate how Kaecilius is basically a discount Lucifer (a powerful being who becomes drunk with pride, wants more power and causes division in his wake); yeah, the similarities are there.
I don’t want to go into spoilers, but I’ll just say that how Doctor Strange defeats the main antagonist is quite clever and fun to watch.

The Misses
The relationship between Doctor Strange and his (ex-girlfriend-ish?) Christine Palmer is underdeveloped.  I’m glad that it’s a mostly platonic relationship, but they don’t have enough scenes together where we get to care for them as a couple.
Okay, so the Ancient One runs this whole mystic, inter-dimensional operation with Mordo, Wong and…a handful of other people?  Yeah, even though we do see other sorcerers training, when the actual fighting starts, we only see Ancient One, Mordo and maybe two other unnamed characters doing battle.  I kind of wish both the Ancient One’s group and Kaecilius’ gang had more members.

Overall, I really love Doctor Strange!  Benedict Cumberbatch alone makes it a must-see, but the creative and energetic battle sequences and the clever use of 3D makes even more worthwhile.  Like Kubo and the Two Strings, the story and the visuals enable Doctor Strange to stand tall and proud in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Saint Timothy, pray for us.

CGB Collaboration Review of Kubo and the Two Strings With Patheos Blogger Monique Ocampo

If you must blink, do it now, because this is my collaboration review of Kubo and the Two Strings guest-starring Patheos blogger Monique Ocampo/MsOWrites!

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Kubo is a young boy who lives with his sometimes-catatonic mother in a cave by the sea. Every day he walks down to the village and entertains the villagers by telling stories using origami that comes to life when he plays his shamisen (a Japanese three-stringed instrument).  There is a catch to Kubo’s existence: He must never ever stay out after dark. He soon figures out the reason when he stays out past dark and his evil spirit Aunts come to take him to his “grandfather” the Moon King, who intends to take Kubo’s remaining eye.  With the help of a monkey and a beetle, Kubo must find his deceased father’s armor and defeat the Moon King.
This is basically Pan’s Labyrinth for kids…and I LOVE it!  I’m not alone; my good friend Monique Ocampo, who you might know as MsOWrites from the Suicide Squad review. Don’t worry, we’re not gonna get kidnapped by Amanda Waller again.  As in our Batman v. Superman review, my points will be in blue and MsOWrites’ points will be in purple.

CGB Hits
I absolutely adore how imaginative this film is!  Like the titular character, the world we are introduced to is brimming with creativity.  I have always had a soft spot for Asian culture, so I appreciate that the story takes place in ancient Japan.
The first ten minutes has the best use of “show-don’t-tell” that I’ve seen in a long time.  Yes, there is some opening narration from Kubo himself, but his dialogue is not an exposition spiel; rather the visuals are allowed to do all the talking.  Any time the movie does resort to expositional dialogue, it is kept brief.  Speaking of the visuals, the animation is–holy cow–just breathtaking!  I turned to the friend who accompanied me and said, “Dude, that looks like real water!”  There’s an impressive painting-come-to-life feel with the color palatte and the design of the locations that make the film a beauty to behold.
The story itself is truly inspired!  Granted, the “adventures-of-a-half human-half celestial-child” story has been done before, but having him be a gifted storyteller who can bring origami to life with a musical instrument is quite an impressive twist.  The most admirable quality of the film are the morals.  I really like how Monkey tells Kubo, “Your magic is growing stronger.  You need to learn control.  But when we grow stronger the world grows more dangerous.”  Trust me when I say that her statement holds a lot of truth.
Earlier this year, I reviewed the Jungle Book, in which I pointed out how the film reminded me of something a friend said to me, “Let the angels and the saints deal with the devil.  They know what they’re doing.”  Kubo and the Two Strings also brought those words to mind!   Similarly to how our guardian angels tackle the evil one when he tries to mess with us, any time the hawkish evil spirit aunts come to harrass Kubo, Monkey and Beetle are there to fight them off while Kubo either accomplishes a task or seeks refuge.   It is with their help that Kubo becomes strong enough and fully-equipped to finally take on the Moon King himself.  Also, the climactic confrontation between Kubo and Moon King does come with an Eden-style temptation.  Basically it’s the “join me and you will become like gods” thing, much like how the old serpent told Eve that if she ate the apple, she’d become like God.   Between this and the Jungle Book, I’m pleasantly surprised to see that kids films come with an interest in the mysterious spiritual world.

MsOWrites Hits
It’s so refreshing to find a movie for general audiences that has a completely original premise.  My brother and I were obsessed with Japanese culture since we were kids and we were both looking forward to seeing this movie.  It lived up to the expectations I had and then blew me out of the water.
The animation is stunning, the characters are all enjoyable, and the writing is a breath of fresh air amongst the remakes and reboots out there.  The movie does not play things safe and yet I would totally recommend this movie to basically everyone.
The central themes of this movie are about the importance of family and the power of a good story. Kubo goes on a journey to finish what his father started: to find the armor that will help him defeat the Moon King. Monkey, Beetle, and Little Hanzo all made for excellent travelling companions.
The Sisters were intimidating, frightening villains as well.  I also love all the action sequences because there was a variety of them. The townsfolk play a great role as supporting characters who do more than just act as bystanders.  I love that they accept Kubo’s gift and don’t treat him like an outsider like other movies would.

CGB Misses
The friend who came with me to see this movie had some questions about Kubo’s scary aunts.  “If his grandfather is the Moon King, then are his aunts supposed to be stars or something?”  This is just one of the film’s unanswered questions.
Is it just me or is the danger Kubo faces at the hands of his tyrannical grandfather lacking some weight?  Let me explain: So essentially, if Kubo is caught by the Moon King and the hawk-women, then they will take his remaining eye…and then what?  Are they gonna just leave him blinded on earth?  Is he going to be made into a freaky spirit person like them?   Also, other than being the product of his mother’s disobedience against the Moon King, why is the Moon King threatened by Kubo’s existence?   Does the Moon King believe that Kubo being half-human, half-celestial mean that he [Kubo] will try to overthrow him?  Now, to be fair, in their final confrontation, the Moon King does offer to take Kubo with him and make him an infinite being, but still, I think that if the threat had been written as “the Moon King’s gonna snatch Kubo’s other eye and enslave him,” or something like that, it would’ve helped.
Speaking of the Moon King, here’s my issue: I totally understand why he is a threat to Kubo, but the movie doesn’t make him seem like a threat to anyone else.  The Moon King doesn’t seem to be feared by anyone else in the movie’s universe.  In Harry Potter, Voldemort was a threatening presence regardless of whether or not Harry was around; it just so happened that he had his sights set on The Boy Who Lived and anyone associated with him.  Here, though, it would have helped to see the Moon King burn down a village or require insane sacrifices or something; anything to raise the stakes of his existence.

MsOWrites Misses
While I will say that all the actors did a great job in this movie, I wish that George Takei had more than just a cameo role. I also think that this movie could’ve been even better with Asian actors in the main roles. Matthew McConaughey’s acting is uneven, albeit has its own interesting brand of charm.

Elephant in the Room
Right before we did this collab, one of my Facebook friends sent me an article from a well­regarded Catholic news source that dismissed this movie and said that it promoted “neo­Pagan values.” As somebody who grew up watching Charmed, reads Harry Potter, and still watches Buffy, I think that the themes in this movie are just as Catholic as any Bible­-based movie.  For one thing, the central theme of this movie is the importance of family.  While the main villains are Kubo’s grandfather and aunts, it’s reminiscent of Luke 12:53 “They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-­in-­law against daughter-­in-­law and daughter-­in-­law against mother-­in-­law.” The Moon King and his daughters are arrogant because they fail to comprehend things such as compassion and selfless love. Without going into spoiler territory, the ending of this movie shows justice and mercy rendered unto the Moon King.
Yes, I did see the article about Kubo promoting the occult and I will tell you that I didn’t see a single ouija board, tarot card, voodoo doll or anything occult-like in this entire movie.  In fact, the villains were reminiscent of demons while Monkey and Beetle were basically Kubo’s guardian angels.  If anything, the story borrows heavily from Greek mythology with hints of Shintoism.  For the record, Shinto is a Japanese religion and given that the story does take place in ancient Japan,  it only makes sense to borrow influence from a Japanese religion.  So fear not, guys and gals, Kubo and the Two Strings is NOT pro-occult propoganda.  Frankly, I don’t think the devil really cares about stop-motion animation and the film’s pro-family message would probably have him tripping over himself as he tries to flee.

Overall, Kubo and the Two Strings is a gorgeously-animated and highly imaginative story that, much like the live-action Jungle Book film, has a lot to say about the spiritual realm without being overt about it.  It’s one of those films that encourages children to create things and use their imaginations.  Kubo and the Two Strings is a well-crafted film that respects the intelligence of children while giving adults a thing or two to think about.

Venerable Takayama Ukon and Saint Paul Miki, pray for us.