CGB Review of Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Tale as old as time, true as it can be.  Barely even friends, then somebody bends unexpectedly…

This is my review of Beauty and the Beast (1991)!

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Long ago, a selfish prince refused to give shelter to an ugly old woman.  This REALLY backfires on him when the woman transforms into a beautiful enchantress who curses him by turning him into a beast.  She leaves him with a magic rose that blooms and blooms, but once he turns 21, the Beast must learn to love and be loved before the last petal falls or he is doomed to remained a hot-tempered, gigantic beast-dude forever.
Enter Belle, a beauty but a funny girl who, as she puts it, “wants adventure in the great, wide somewhere” and wants it more than she can tell.  She is frequently pursued by the boorish, brainless Gaston–and no one pursues a girl like Gaston–but is way more interested in diving into the world of books.  After her father Maurice goes missing on his way to some inventor’s fair or whatever, Belle sets off to find him only to come across the Beast’s darkened castle.  Finding her father imprisoned in the Beast’s dungeon, Belle pulls a Maximilian-Kolbe-style tradeoff by offering her freedom in exchange for her father’s.  With the help of the delightful and colorful home appliances, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, her little boy…teacup…son kid Chip and others, Belle could just be the one who lifts the curse from the tormented Beast in this gorgeously animated Disney classic.

The Hits
The opening prologue is just wonderful!  I’ve always loved stained glass, so seeing the Beast’s backstory presented via stained glass illustrations is an absolute treasure.  I love the use of watercolor in the animation.  The animation overall is smooth and gorgeous to look at.  I particularly admire the use of the colors red and blue to illustrate good and evil.  The first time we see blue is when we meet Belle in her iconic blue dress.  By the way, I’m adding extra brownie points for her blue dress and white apron reminding me of Mother Teresa and her blue & white sari.  🙂 ^_^  Anyway, notice how when we first meet the Beast, he is cloaked in all red while his blue eyes almost glow.  As he grows and comes to the light, his final outfit is the blue suit which he is wearing when he dances with Belle.  Meanwhile, Gaston is seen throughout the film in a harsh, threatening shade of bright red, and he soon becomes a beast in his own right.  The film ingeniously incorporates subtlety and never resorts to insultingly spelling out symbols and motifs.  The messages of redemption and beauty being on the inside speak for themselves via imagery, colors and the story itself.
Speaking of this most peculiar mademoiselle, I have always loved Belle!  When I was a little girl, I would tell people, “I like Belle because she’s a girl with brown hair who reads books.”  Now as a brunette young woman who still loves to read books, I love Belle even more.  Kind, gentle, adventurous, Belle is a character who I would argue embodies the feminine genius.  She never lets anyone step on her nor does she trample on others to get ahead.  She stands up for herself when she has to all while holding a compassionate outlook on people.  What I love the most about her is that she is not a character of extremes, but rather maintains the balance of strength and tenderness.  I have always believed that kids need to be shown that you can be a warm-hearted person without being a doormat, and that you can be independent without alienating others.  Belle is that role model that both girls and boys could learn from.
Now while Belle is the best character, the Beast is the most complex character of the bunch.  This is by no means a knock on Belle, but rather an acknowledgement of the Beast’s more three-dimensional (internal) transformation.  Granted, his arch, the “angry-hermit-learning-to-love” is cliché, but the script brings depth to it.  I love how he is taken aback  by Belle’s self-sacrificial act for her father.  This is not only believable, but also breaks any notion of the Beast being an unrealistically cold-hearted dude.  As the film goes on, we see small hints of reluctant mercy from him towards Belle (you know, minus that one rage fit he has in the West Wing) that slowly but surely turn into genuine concern and care for her personally.  The Beast’s redemption arch is exceptionally well done with his moments of goodness and the eventual breaking down of the inner walls he has surrounded his own broken heart with.
Yes, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Chip and the rest of the gang are wonderful supporting characters.  I like how Lumiere is the one who leads the “she-is-the-one-who-will-break-the-spell” mission, but he never comes off as objectifying Belle, i.e. treating her as a means to an end.  Though they all seek to reclaim their humanity, the supporting characters never fail to treat Belle with respect and dignity spell or no spell, all while they await the lifting of the curse.

The Misses
I know, I know, if you do the math the enchantress essentially cursed an eleven-year old.  I would get into a question of culpability, i.e. did the eleven-year old have a mature understanding of the selfishness of his act?  Again, I would do so, but that’s another argument for another day.
I know I went on and on about how great Belle is, but even I have to admit that she doesn’t have a whole lot of development.  I hate to break it to ya, but her trading her own freedom for her father’s is not character development.  Let me explain: It is a noble act and I love her even more for it, but it’s not character development because she has been established to be the kind of person who would do that without prompting.  Had she been, say, a sweet but superficial character who barely helps her father on a day-to-day basis, then it would be a dramatic development in her character arch.  This particular point isn’t so much a criticism, but a response to the consequence of creating a character to be an idealized version of humanity.  Keep in mind that Belle was actually created as a response to Ariel, who was seen by feminists at the time to be only boy-crazy and having no goals of her own.  As a result, Belle is someone we all want to be, but in being so, lacks necessary flaws of her own.
Okay, so as Cinema Sins rightfully pointed out, the Beast’s castle is a little too lax.  Basically anyone can just walk through the unguarded gates willy-nilly, which would be fine except that it makes no sense given that the Beast is clearly someone who just wants to be left alone, so why wouldn’t he keep the place heavily guarded or at the very least make the guards next to impossible to open?

Cue the music!  (Plays Beauty and the Beast theme score) This is a tale as old as time, true as it can be.  Ever a classic, Beauty and the Beast stands the test of time with its charming characters, excellent camerawork (have you watched the dancing sequence recently?  It’s fantastically shot!), and well-handled script.  A heroine deserving of admiration, a troubled character who finds redemption, no wonder it was nominated for Best Picture in its day and no wonder many people say that this is a Disney treasure.  And I must admit this film’s fans are most certainly right.  Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Beauty and the Best is a beautifully-animated, brilliantly-told gem that should watched again and again.

Saint Rose of Lima, pray for us.

CGB Review of The Shallows (2016)

So I happen to be a subscriber of YouTube’s Markiplier, who has repeatedly stated how much he hates the ocean.
After watching this flick, I now see why.

This is my review of The Shallows!

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To cope with the death of her mother, med student Nancy Adams takes a trip to a secluded beach to catch some waves, but when she is attacked by a shark and ends up stranded on a large rock, she must preserve in courage and strength in order to escape the shark and return to shore in one piece.

The Hits
Between this and Age of Adaline, it is clear that Blake Lively is more than capable of carrying a film on her own.  There is an everywoman quality to her that make her relatable, which hits home the idea that this scenario could happen to anyone.  Nancy’s resourceful nature and survival skills make her a worthy heroine to follow and give her plenty of agency.  Also, and this is to any fans of Saint Christopher, if you look closely, you’ll notice that Nancy is wearing a Saint Christopher medal.  🙂
The camera work is pretty good.  Not spectacular, but there are some beautiful shots of the ocean and the entire landscape.  Also, the swimming sequences and other scenes that call for Nancy to flee from the shark are nicely filmed to where you can actually make out what is happening.  I particularly like the seagull that hangs around with Nancy during her ordeal.  However, as an animal lover, I did find myself worrying about the seagull’s survival.  This Nostalgia Critic clip best demonstrates my feelings about the seagull: https://youtu.be/YOcDhyhZO5g?list=PLxMCAq3dOW6BTGLQCwH__KdU92O3Q5xDT
I really like that Nancy has a personal history with the island, how it is the same place where her late mother discovered she was pregnant with her [Nancy].  It gives the island a symbolic significance as the place she was conceived and the same place where her life could be brought to an end.

The Misses
While the movie does do an overall good job at suspension of disbelief, there are a few times where the main character makes one or two decisions that are hard to the audience to buy.
The scene where Nancy has to sterilize and patch up the deep wound in her leg is difficult to watch.  If you are squeamish, I recommend either getting a snack during the scene or just closing your eyes.
Okay, so there is an elephant in the room that must be addressed and this is kind of a SPOILER
In the middle of the film, Nancy sees a drunk man on the shore and tries to enlist his help, but when he goes into the water to steal her surfboard, he is mauled by the shark, resulting in him being (quite literally) torn in half.  We get one close-up shot of his body and then it just cuts to black.  We never see his body swept up by the waves or even his body lying on the sand after that.  The only reason this bugs me is because the story takes place over the course of a day and a half, so if his body wasn’t taken by the waves, then it should still be there when Nancy does make it off the tiny island she has been confined to.

The Shallows is a surprisingly intriguing thriller, held together by a committed performance from Blake Lively, clever editing and a suspenseful plot.  If you’re looking for a flick that keeps you on the edge of the seat till the very end, then The Shallows just might be the good time you’re looking for.

Saint Christopher, pray for us.

CGB Review of Finding Dory (2016)

First we had to find Nemo, now we gotta find Dory.  I wonder if we’ll have to find Marlin next with a particular set of skills.
If you’ve seen Taken, you’ll know what I mean.

This is my review of Finding Dory!

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As a child, Dory had a wonderful relationship with her parents Charlie and Jenny.  Then one fateful day, Dory is separated from her family and her days with them fade into blurry memories.
Fast-forward to one year after the events of the first Finding Nemo film; during a trip with Nemo’s class, Dory comes across a reminder of her past, which beckons her to go on a journey to find her beloved mother and father.
The first film Finding Nemo is a classic at my house.  If I had a dime for every time we quote Finding Nemo, well, I would probably be richer than Donald Trump (I’m sorry, I had to get a Trump joke in there!)
Now while this isn’t a collaboration, I will be labeling the Hits in blue like Dory and the Misses in orange like Marlin and Nemo.

The Hits
As in the last film, the animation is stellar.  Everything from the water to the animals is gorgeous to look at.
I really like how the story starts off with Dory’s childhood and then transitions (quite cleverly) to the exact moment in the first film when she meets Marlin.  In fact, a lot of the same locations (Marlin and Nemo’s house, the Great Barrier Reef, etc.,) all make an appearance in the movie, which creates a bridge between the first film and this sequel.
Okay, I’m going to say what every other reviewer has said: Hank the octopus is awesome!  At first, his character is kind of cliché (hardened guy who forms a soft spot for main character by the end), but the movie makes him interesting.  I thought it was pretty bold for Disney to create a character who outright claims that he is happy being a loner and wants nothing to do with others.  Typically characters like this are the antagonists, but Hank is presented in a humanistic way.  Towards the end, he does soften and gradually changes in a realistic way.  The relationship between the cynical Hank and innocent Dory is charmingly similar to Judy and Nick from Zootopia.  I love how Hank becomes a reluctant big brother to Dory and how the film gives them subtle moments to show Hank beginning to value her.  In my Alice Through The Looking Glass review, I mentioned how I wished the story had been about Time and Alice’s relationship and I feel the same about Hank and Dory.  I kind of hope Hank does get his own spinoff; a GOOD spinoff, that is.
Yes, the relationship between Dory and her parents is not only endearing, it is also reminiscent of the love between parents and a child with special needs.

The Misses
This film definitely feels episodic at times, like there were plans to make the Finding Nemo franchise a TV show, but ended up making the sequel instead.
So about Marlin and Nemo…yeah, there are quite a few times where they feel shoehorned into the story.  Now to be fair, the movie does give them things to do to advance the plot, but there are quite a few times where I found myself saying, “Oh, yeah, you guys are still in this movie, huh?”

Overall Finding Dory is a sweet sequel to Finding Nemo.  Beautiful animation, lovable characters and a cohesive and exciting story with noble messages about the dignity of those who struggle with special needs makes Finding Dory a great family film.

Saint Lucy, who was a big help in getting this review done, pray for us.

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CGB Review of The Passion of the Christ (2004)

“Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.”
–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 Interstellar (2014)

“Do not go gentle into that good night; Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
–Dr. Brand

This is my review of Interstellar!

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Earth is not looking so good.  Dust and scorching winds have become the norm.  Cooper is a farmer and the single father of two children, a son named Tom and a daughter named Murph.  He loves both children, but is particularly close with Murph, who shares his love of science.  When Cooper and Murph discover an old facility that contains the remaining members of NASA, this launches a mission to find a new planet for humans to inhabit.  However, this means that Cooper, a former pilot, must leave his family behind to travel through a wormhole and save humanity.

The Hits
If there’s one thing director Christopher Nolan is particularly skilled at, it’s visual storytelling.  He allows the imagery on screen to explain the plot instead of having characters go on long-winded expositional schpiels.  Through show-don’t-tell, we get to see Earth as a weakened planet hanging by a thread.  Water is scarce, so God help you if your house is on fire.  Going into town requires covering your mouth and nose so that you don’t breathe in the dust.  School textbooks are riddled with scientific inaccuracies and those who challenge the lies (such as Murph) are dismissed or suspended.
There are some great scenes that make an impact on their own.  The sequence where the crew first enter space and how everything outside of the ship goes silent is brilliant.  The design of the different planets they visit are pleasing to the eye.  Hans Zimmer’s musical score is epic and engaging to listen to.  It gives the film a wide scope, illustrating that the characters are a small part of a bigger story.
Speaking of Cooper and Murph, their relationship in the first twenty minutes of the film is quite charming.  Their rapport and chemistry as father and daughter is believable and I like how young Murph is written as a really smart kid whose still learning, not the child prodigy with an impossibly high IQ cliché.  She’s bright and fast-thinking, but lacks foresight, giving her the black-and-white worldview of someone her age.
There is a lot of technobabble, but the dialogue is well-handled to where what the characters are talking about is made comprehensible without being oversimplified.
[SPOILER] This movie has one of the best tragic endings I’ve ever seen.  Cooper reunites with Murph on her death bed only to have to go back into space to join Amelia Brand.  In the end, Cooper will always be separated from his family and his earthly home.  Sure, he gets to see Murph after all this time, but for only a brief moment.

The Misses
I despise the scene where Cooper says good-bye to Murph.  I had to pause the movie and take a walking break during this scene.  Why do I hate so much?  Because of what Cooper says to his distraught child:
COOPER: Once you’re a parent, you’re the ghost of your children’s future….Murph, look at me.  I can’t be your ghost right now.  I need to exist.  They chose me.  Murph, they chose me.  You saw them–you’re the one who led me to them.
The minute I heard, “I can’t be your ghost right now,” I actually pressed “rewind” to make sure I heard that correctly.
Then it gets worse.  He tells her that when they go through the wormhole, time will slow down for them [he and the explorers] and every hour will be seven years on Earth.  “By the time I get back, we might be the same age.  You and me; what?” he says with laughter in his voice.
I replayed the scene again to make sure I wasn’t misinterpreting anything.  To me, his line “I can’t be your ghost right now” came off as him clocking out of fatherhood.  I would have no problem with this if Cooper had been written as an unlikable character who is supposed to learn a lesson in the end.  However, Cooper is written as a man who we’re supposed to sympathize with.  Given that we are facing a fatherless crisis in America, I feel that making a father who abandons his children a good guy was a mistake.  Also, this is a characterization problem that could’ve easily been fixed.  Just have Cooper say something to the effect of, “Murph, they chose me.  People are counting on me.  I’m doing this for your future.”  Sure, it still has a father leaving his children, but it would have made Cooper a dutiful character, not a person who seizes the first chance to have an adventure at the expense of his familial responsibilities.  After this scene, any time Cooper expressed concern for his family, I couldn’t take him seriously because of how he so readily left his children.  It just goes to show that actions speak louder than words.
Speaking of characters, towards the end of the second act and all throughout the third act, it becomes clear that Christopher Nolan had some trouble handling multiple characters.  Characters are either dropped from the story with no explanation or die off-screen.  The only people whose archs come full circle are Cooper, Murph and (to an extent) Amelia Brand.

Interstellar is a mixed bag for me.   The visuals are remarkable and the lengths that everyone involved went to make this film as scientifically accurate as possible is something worth commending.  While the characterization of the protagonists is questionable, this story clearly came from a place of passion and I can respect that. If you like space, theoretical principles and all things NASA, then give Interstellar a try.

Saint Gertrude, pray for us.

I Am The Handmaid of the Lord: Blessed Virgin Mary

The CGB Saints posts are back!  The last Saints post I did was on Saint Rose of Lima and now that I’m off from school until February, why not kick off 2016 with the triumphant return of CGB Saints posts?!  🙂

I decided to reopen this segment with a Super Saiyan Saint, the Queen of Heaven and Earth herself…

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Once upon a time, in the Galilean town of Nazareth, there was a girl named Mary.  She was the only child of Anne and Joachim.  We can assume that she lived the typical life of a Nazarene girl.  She said her prayers every night, carried water from the local well, tended to her father’s animals, helped her mother clean up after dinner, and so on.  When we meet Mary in the New Testament, she is betrothed to Joseph, the carpenter who everyone respected.  By all accounts, everything was going well in Mary’s life.  Her parents adored her, her fiancée was a hard-working gentleman, and she had a squeaky-clean reputation among her fellow Nazarenes as being Anne and Joachim’s sweet, polite daughter.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my twenty-four years of life, it’s that God likes to make a grand entrance on our lives when everything is a little too steady and certain.

Meet Gabriel the Archangel.  He is the messenger chosen by God to deliver a very important message to the Nazarene girl.  This is how I imagine that conversation went:
GOD: Everything is in motion, Gabriel.  Mary’s engaged to Joseph, she’s just the right age–she is ready.
GABRIEL: Okay, my Lord, do you believe she will accept?
GOD: (smiles) Go to Nazareth, Gabriel.  It is time.

Mary is home alone.  Anne and Joachim have gone into town to run some errands.  Luckily, Joseph is just down the road if Mary needs anything.
She wipes the last dirty dish with an old rag.  She looks up at the window, relishing the warmth of the sunlight as it pours onto the walls of her humble abode.  She turns around and freezes.
“Rejoice, O highly favored daughter!  The Lord is with you.  Blessed are you among women.” Gabriel announces.  A trembling Mary stares at the mighty angel.  An angel?  Here in Nazareth?  What does he trying to tell me? she wonders.
Sensing her troubled thoughts, Gabriel lowers himself just inches above the ground, “Do not fear, Mary.  You have found favor with God.  You shall conceive and bear a son and give him the name JESUS.  He will be called Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father.  He will rule over the house of Jacob forever and His reign will be without end.”
Mary shakes her head in disbelief, “How can this be since I do not know man?”
Gabriel smiles gently, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence, the holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God.  Know that Elizabeth your kinswoman [cousin] has conceived a son in her old age; she who was thought to be sterile is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible with God.”
Mary is assumed to have been thirteen or fourteen when the Annunciation took place.   She was old enough to have an understanding of what was being asked of her, but was also still a young girl with her whole life ahead of her.  To have an angel basically tell her that God has chosen her to carry His child had the potential of derailing her life plans.  Would her parents believe her?  Would Joseph stand by her and take her as his wife?  How would the other Nazarenes react?
There were no crisis pregnancy centers in Mary’s day.  Outreach efforts to pregnant teenagers was nonexistent.  Everyone would assume that Mary had relations with another man and she could find herself in the town square, having stones hurled at her from angry townspeople.
Mary may be the mother of God, but she was still human.  It is possible that these consequences raised her levels of anxiety.
However, Mary also knew of God from her parents.  She had learned that God was wise and righteous.  Within her heart, Mary had the grace to realize that to find favor with God meant that whatever He wanted her to do, He would help her accomplish it.  She had a feeling that God did not want to destroy her, but to invite her to take part in something greater than herself.
This is the best explanation as to why Mary, a teenage girl, would so readily say to Gabriel, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be done unto me according to Your word.” Gabriel left her, his task complete.

Shortly after accepting her mission, Mary took a trip to the town of Judah.  Mind you, there was no Uber ride service in her day.  Also, Elizabeth and Zechariah had no way of knowing that Mary was on her way.  To quote my mentor Fr. Dave, “She couldn’t send a text.  She couldn’t send an email or a message on Facebook.  She couldn’t call Elizabeth and say, ‘Oh, hey, cousin, I’ve heard that you’re pregnant.  I’m on my way!'”
It is not clear how long it took Mary to get from Nazareth to the city of Judah.   It has been approximated that the journey was about 130 km or 80 miles.
What matters is that she got there and so begins the Visitation, the event in which Mary meets with her cousin Elizabeth, who is six months pregnant with a son.  When Elizabeth saw Mary, she exclaimed, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  In that moment, the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy.  The unborn child, who we know to be John the Baptist, knew that the Son of God was in their midst.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth until John was born.  By this time, Mary was three months along in her own pregnancy.  She returned home to her mother, her father, and Joseph.

Yes, Joseph did learn of Mary’s pregnancy.  While I do go into detail about this in my Saint Joseph post last year, I will briefly summarize Joseph’s turmoil.
As we can imagine, the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy were hard for even Joseph, a man of steadfast devotion, to believe.   He loved Mary and figured that the best way to protect her would be to divorce her quietly.
One night, as Joseph slept, an angel appeared to him in a dream.  This angel told the carpenter, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”  If there’s one thing Joseph knew for sure, it is that when an angel tells you something is true, then it’s best to take their word for it.
Joseph and Mary were wed soon after.  For all everyone knew, the child in her womb was his and all seemed well.
Roman Emperor Augustus issued a decree that forced Joseph to return to Bethlehem, his hometown, in order to register for a Roman census.  By this point, it has been five months since Mary visited Elizabeth and she is beginning to show.  Joseph and Mary set off for Bethlehem, with Joseph leading his family on foot while Mary sat on their donkey (which can’t be comfortable for a pregnant woman).   According to Fr. Oscar Lukefahr, author of “Christ’s Mother and Ours: a Catholic Guide to Mary” it was a three day journey, approximately 70-80 miles. 

Mary lifted her veil to her face, trying to keep the wind and rainwater from her eyes.  As they entered into Bethlehem, mild discomfort turned to pain.  The time for Mary’s child to be brought into the world was drawing near.
Joseph sprinted to every house, the mud sticking to his sandals.  “Help, help!  Please, we need shelter!” he pleaded to every person who opened their door.
No one would take them in.  All doors were closed to the Holy Family.
An inn keeper offered to let them stay in the manger where the animals resided.  As Mary’s contractions grew stronger, Joseph rushed his wife into the manger.
On that cold winter’s night, the Son of God was born.

While Mary’s story certainly doesn’t end here, the purpose of this piece was to humanize this woman who fearlessly accepted a great calling from God.  Mary was not afraid to be inconvenienced, to have her typical Nazarene life turned upside down.  She knew the risks that would come with her “Yes.”  She knew that her world would never be the same.
If she could do it all over again, Mary would say “Yes” in a heartbeat.

Saint Mary of Nazareth, pray for us.

CGB Review of War Room (2015)

Hmm, a Christian film about trying to save one’s marriage with prayer.  Hey, Kendrick brothers, you’ve made this movie before: It’s called Fireproof…
And it was way better than this flick.

This is my review of War Room!

war-room

War Room is the latest film from Alex and Stephen Kendrick, the same guys behind Flywheel (2003), Facing the Giants (2006), Fireproof (2008) and Courageous (2011). The best way to summarize this film is it’s basically Fireproof from the wife’s point of view and with an old lady thrown into the mix.

The last Kendrick brothers movie that I reviewed here on CGB was Courageous, which was made to be a pro-fatherhood film, but sadly, ended up being a poorly-paced, unfocused narrative.

Let’s see how War Room holds up!

The Hits
This is one of the very few Christian films that attempts to tackle spiritual warfare.  Given that Satan’s influence is considered taboo, I do commend this film for taking on the fight against the devil.  There’s a great scene where Elizabeth is confronting the devil, telling him to leave her family alone and that God is in charge of her household.  I was actually invested in this one sequence.
Unlike Courageous, the pacing in this film is much better.  Hence they’ve learned something since Courageous.  There’s still some filler here and there, but those are few and far between.  Scenes don’t drag on, the plot stays focused for the most part, and the acting is actually pretty good.  So War Room is a slight improvement in terms of the technical aspects.  Also, while I did find Miss Clara’s character to be a bit abrupt and intrusive, I can tell you that feisty old ladies have earned the right to have no filter.  🙂

The Misses
I hate to say it, but a lot of secular critics were right when they said, “The message of this movie is that if your spouse doesn’t treat you right, it’s because you’re not praying hard enough.”  Yep, that is exactly how the first hour of this movie plays out.   There’s even one scene where after Elizabeth vents about her husband Tony, Miss Clara snaps, “Everything you’ve said about your husband is negative!”  Well, yeah, because the first act shows Tony berating Elizabeth in front of their daughter Danielle and then making hurtful remarks to Danielle about how she’s too old to be jump-roping (she’s part of a jump-roping team).  He also scolds Elizabeth for taking money out of their account to help her (off-screen) financially-troubled sister and tells her that their money is his money.
To understand why this movie is frustrating, let’s first look at why Fireproof worked.  The script had both spouses biting at each other’s ankles, not one unreasonably cruel spouse constantly tearing the other submissive spouse.  Caleb and Catherine both gave each other grief and, while Caleb had to do a lot of the work to save their marriage, Catherine was also challenged to forgive her husband.  I’ve never been married, but even I know that marriage is a team effort.  It takes two to tango, after all.
So why does War Room fail at where Fireproof succeeded?  Because the husband Tony is verbally and even financially abusive towards Elizabeth.  Their daughter Danielle is also a victim of Tony’s emotional abuse.  By the way he treats them, it comes across that Tony flat-out hates his own family.  Elizabeth doesn’t do anything to get him worked up.   Also, I did cringe when Elizabeth tells her gal pals, “I just don’t know how to submit to him…” Yeah, it’s generally a bad idea to have a female character say something like this.
Look, Kendrick brothers and every other Christian filmmaker, I can totally get on board with using cinema to combat the alarmingly high divorce rate in this country, but if you’re going to make movies about defending the indissolubility of marriage, please learn the difference between a flawed spouse and an abusive one.  I get that we’re trying to teach our generation to fight for their marriages and not throw in the towel, which is a noble cause, but when it is presented incorrectly, it can come across that Christian films are advocating staying in toxic relationships.

I do commend this film for taking on spiritual warfare and for its message of the power of prayer.  However, its mishandling of a dysfunctional relationship is troubling enough to keep me from recommending War Room.
If I ever have a daughter and she wanted to watch this movie, I would say “absolutely not, Gemma or Gianna or Scholastica Ecclesia” or whatever I name her.
In all seriousness, keep your daughters away from this movie.

Saint Monica of Hippo, pray for us.