CGB Review of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Continuing the CGB Star-Wars-A-Thon is the film that is considered by many to be the Catching Fire of the original Star Wars trilogy!

This is my review of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back!


Since the events of A New Hope, the Rebel Alliance has settled at the icy planet of Hoth after their attack on the Death Star gave away their hideout to the Galactic Empire.  Darth Vader is now obsessed with hunting down Luke Skywalker.  After a brief battle on Hoth, Luke and R2-D2 are separated from Han, Leia, Chewy and C-3PO and all of these characters must survive a series of obstacles in order to reunite with one another.

The Hits
I think Mark Hamill gives the best performance as Luke in this installment.  He brings a vulnerability and maturity to his character.  I appreciate how Luke feels much older, yet is still sympathetic and never loses his youth.
I will admit that when Lando Calrissian escorts Leia, Han and Chewy and says that he has a way to keep the Empire out of Cloud City once and for all, then opens the door to reveal Darth Vader across the dinner table, I jumped and shouted, “HOLY FRICK!”  I honestly didn’t see that coming.  That scene alone makes Darth Vader even more terrifying to me than he was in the last movie.
Let’s talk about the famous reveal (you all know what I’m talking about). John Williams’ rousing score and Mark Hamill’s committed performance sell that scene.  What intrigues me about this scene is how Luke’s tortured expression conveys the horror of being the son of someone who is so evil.  It would be like finding out that you are Hitler’s offspring.  In fact, if you watch the entire battle between them leading up to the reveal, listen to some of Darth Vader’s verbal clues.  The first line that struck me was, “Your destiny lies with me, Skywalker.”  Granted, in literature and cinema, it’s common for a villain to say something like this to disturb the protagonist and break their concentration in order to gain the upper hand in the fight.  However, once they are on the bridge, his dialogue becomes this: “Don’t let yourself be destroyed as Obi-Wan did…” To me, this line indicates a muted sympathy, as if Vader is beginning to see his connection to Luke and is forming a concern for him.  The line that follows is, “Don’t make me destroy you…”  I should also point out that once on the bridge, Darth Vader calls Luke by name twice, which is subconsciously establishing a personal connection.  It is all made clear once the reveal comes.

The Misses
In all honesty, my only gripe is that I feel so bad for C-3PO!  For the first half of this movie, everyone is a jerk to him.  I get that C-3PO is written to be a little annoying, but he’s not insufferable to put up with like Jar Jar or Lucy Punch from Bad Teacher.  Honestly, he is usually right about stuff!  I’m glad that he is written to annoy other characters and not the audience (which is the golden rule for writing annoying characters), but he never does anything to justify being treated so poorly.

I see why Empire Strikes Back is regarded as one of the great film sequels.  I will be honest: I am a fan of rivalry stories.  In real life, rivalries are horrible.  In fiction, rivalries are fascinating and complex.  Personally I love Empire Strikes Back solely because of the animosity that builds between Luke and Darth Vader.  Once we learn that these two people from opposing sides are intertwined, it makes their rivalry all the more enjoyable to behold.

Saint Mark the Evangelist, pray for us.

Enjoy this skit from How It Should Have Ended!

Our World is Sick

On Wednesday, December 2nd, my home state of California was shaken by the mass shooting in San Bernardino.

Around 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik walked into the Inland Regional Center and opened fire, killing fourteen people and wounding the twenty-one survivors.

I couldn’t bring myself to watch the news coverage.  I was still drained from both the Paris bombing and last Friday’s shooting in Colorado Springs.  This latest tragedy was another hit to my heart.

Our world is sick.  It is sick with despair.  Our planet is contaminated by the sickness of aimlessness, anger and desperation fueled by Satan, the prince of this world.  When the value of human life becomes a foreign concept, people have no way of knowing how to treat each other.  Chaos becomes the norm when morality is reduced to being a matter of personal taste.  When love is just a word and not an action, relationships become as disposable as microwave dinners.  When there is no truth, there is no meaning to life.  All of these things result in a generation of wandering children growing up into desperate adults who turn from one meaningless pleasure to another in hopes of finding something to hold onto.  It is easy to become radicalized by another ideology when every other earthly philosophy you have experimented with has left you empty-handed.  It is easy to walk into a Christmas party and start gunning down human beings when you have never been taught that every life is created by God and deserving of dignity.

Our world is sick.  Human civilization is in dire pain and Satan is enjoying every minute of it.

I don’t have all the answers to the world’s problems.  There is no quick fix that will alleviate our society’s issues.  However, I do believe that human beings are capable of rising above terrible circumstances.  I believe that God has more faith in the human spirit than we realize.  I believe that we are able to be the light in our small corners of the universe.  Saint Therse of Lisieux once said, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”  We can be the light in our own communities by offering a smile to someone who is having a bad day or by showing mercy to a person who is struggling.  Just by being the best versions of ourselves can we inspire others to sanctify themselves and bring about lasting change in our troubled world.

Our world is sick, but each of us has the power to be the cure.

“I hope that real love and truth are stronger in the end than any evil or misfortune in the world.”
Charles Dickens

Silent About Satan: Why We Must Speak Up (as originally published on The Catholic Response)

Five years ago, I became a spiritual daughter of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. During his time on Earth, Padre Pio made this promise many times: “Once I take a soul on, I also take on his entire family as my spiritual children.  If one of my spiritual children ever goes astray, I shall leave my flock and seek him out….I will ask the Lord to let me remain at the threshold of Paradise, and I will not enter until the last of my spiritual children has entered.”  Anyone can become a spiritual child of Padre Pio, so long as they imitate Pio’s virtue and faith in their words and deeds.  What’s great about having Pio as a spiritual ‘dad’ is that his intense personality and passion for the Lord makes him excellent at motivating a spiritual child to keep on going when they are feeling weary.

An aspect of his life that anyone would find fascinating would be his many encounters with Satan.  According to high-profile exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth, “The devil appeared to him [Pio] under many different forms: as a big black cat… or repulsive animal, clearly intending him harm, as well as under the appearance of naked and provocative young girls who danced obscene dances, obviously to test the chastity of the young priest.  However, the worst was when the Devil took on the appearance of his spiritual director, or posed as Jesus, the Virgin Mary or St. Francis.” Satan would even have his minions beat Pio senseless, making the Capuchin friar fall out of his bed!

If Pio were to hear a fellow Christian deny the existence of the devil or reduce the evil one to a mere metaphor for evil in general, he might say something to the effect of, “I doubt it was a mere metaphor that ripped my clothes from me while making my room shake.”  Pio was known for his occasional sass… Unfortunately, if Pio were walking among us today, he would likely come across Christians who either keep their lips sealed about Satan or just don’t believe in the Prince of Darkness altogether.

Why did I bring up that I’m a spiritual daughter of Padre Pio?  It is because what concerned him also concerns me, and one thing that disturbs both myself and the man who went toe-to-toe with Satan himself is the lack of parish priests, pastors, and other leaders in the Christian faith who are willing to openly call out Satan as the puppeteer of the world’s evil.  Imagine my shock when I read a 2009 article from that revealed that in America, four out of ten Christians do not believe that Satan is a real being, but rather is a symbolic representation of evil. If that’s not an alarming sign of the times, I don’t know what is.

So why should Christians of all denominations be more vocal about Satan and his influence?

Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy.  Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”.  The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing. – Catechism of the Catholic Church #391

Yes,  even Satan started out as “good”… He was known as Lucifer, a powerful angel held in high regard.  What led Lucifer to fall was thought to be the sins of pride and envy. Michael the Archangel, whose name means “Who is like God?” stood opposed to Lucifer’s rebellion. However, Lucifer, in his fall, was able to take one-third of Heaven with him in his descent.  Just think about that for a minute: Lucifer is so cunning that he actually talked one-third of God’s angels into turning their backs on the One who brought them into being.

Peter’s first letter warns, “Be sober and vigilant.  Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (5:8)

Think about this for a moment: a lion is a powerful animal that is able to lurk in the bushes, watching its prey.  Once it jumps into the light, it lands on the weaker creature, pinning it to the ground before devouring it.  Satan operates the exact same way.  He does his work in the shadows, watching and waiting for the right moment to strike.  His favored method involves coming to us in the form of something appealing and enticing.  He disguises what is evil as something good.  By the time he does reveal his true colors we are far too deep into his lies.  Saint Angela Merici tells us, “Remember that the Devil doesn’t sleep, but seeks our ruin in a thousand ways.”


Speaking of Satan’s love of lying, John 8:44 states, “He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.”  

When he pushes them to commit sins, he removes all shame, as if there were nothing wrong with it, but when they are going to confession, he returns that shame magnified and tries to convince them that the priest will be shocked by their sins and will no longer think well of them. Thus the devil tries to drive souls to the brink of eternal damnation. Oh, how many lads does Satan steal from God, sometimes forever by this trick. – St. John Bosco

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln of Nebraska warns, “Because Satan would like to destroy our relationship with God and ensnare us with lies, we must be on vigilant guard against his temptations.  If we don’t believe in Satan, we won’t recognize his efforts to confuse us, to bind us and to tempt us away from God’s will.” How are we supposed to keep an eye out for what is dangerous if we refuse to accept that the danger exists?  If your home was on fire, you wouldn’t turn your head and say, “Well, there isn’t really a fire.  It’s just a metaphor for bad luck.”  No, you would call the fire department and have it put out as quickly as possible.  Yet many Christians keep quiet about Satan’s presence because they are either worried about being labeled as an “extremist,” or they have become so worn down by all the terrible events taking place on Earth that they shield themselves with apathy.  Evil happens when good people are unwilling to make their voices heard.
Priests, bishops, as well as pastors and reverends from all Christian denominations have a responsibility to speak from the pulpit about the enemy who seeks to drive us away from the Way, the Truth and the Life.  If we are to know about our Savior, we should also know about the Wicked One whose goal is to divide our communities and conquer our souls.   Only by clinging to Jesus, His Mother Mary, the angels and the saints will we be able to fight back against the fallen angel who wants to drag as many children of God down with him as possible.

Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, pray for us.

CGB Double-Feature Review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2

The series may be over, but the fire it started will burn forever.

This is my review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2!


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay is the third/fourth and final chapter in the Hunger Games film series.  This is where Katniss must cope with the trauma of the Games while being the reluctant symbol of the uprising against President Snow and the Capitol.  In Part 1, Katniss is psychologically tormented by Peeta Mellark’s imprisonment at the Capitol.

Yes, this is a first-ever double feature movie review here on Catholic Girl Bloggin’!  I will have to say good-bye to this film series that I fell in love with just three years ago.

Let us begin.

Part 1 Hits
Jennifer Lawrence is amazing as usual.  Her performance tells me that to her, Katniss isn’t just another character she’s being paid to portray; Katniss is a person she respects and understands. This movie allows Katniss to fall apart and descend into her trauma, and Jennifer Lawrence knew how to deliver some powerful acting without getting too carried away (i.e. overacting). I cried three times during this movie, and two of those times were because of Jennifer Lawrence’s facial expressions and inflections. When an actor can make me feel distressed over the fate of fictional characters, that’s the sign of a strong performer.
This movie really knows how to sum up its supporting characters in a few scenes or less. Effie Trinket’s first scene in the movie is the best summary of her character that I’ve seen since the last two films. Haymitch’s entrance into the plot is downright awesome. I will say that I was wrong about Julianne Moore being miscast as President Alma Coin. Nope, she was the right choice. She manages to be semi-warm and welcoming, while carrying an iciness that Katniss can sense from a mile away.
If you’re a fan of House of Cards or any genre involving political intrigue, then you’re gonna like this movie. President Snow has made my Favorite Villains List. I would put him at #3 of that list. He is one evil son of a gun. The villain who can hurt you without being in the room is a dangerous person. I thought it was smart for both District 13 and the Capitol to use propaganda as their weapon of choice.

Part 2 Hits
Jennifer Lawrence always has been and forever will be Katniss Everdeen. She brings Katniss’ character arch full circle with a locked-down, quiet performance.  Along with being stunningly beautiful, Jennifer Lawrence brings a sense of vulnerability to her gravitas as she effortlessly brings Katniss to life one last time.
The heart of the franchise is Katniss and Peeta’s relationship.  I love the chaste and tender nature of their bond.  Their ordeal in the first Games and in the Quarter Quell have bound them to each other.  Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson both sell Katniss and Peeta’s care for one another with the believable depth of their performances.
While the pacing can be punishing for moviegoers who prefer stories that move faster, once the action starts, it will take your breath away.  The traps that Katniss and her crew have to go through are everything that you would expect from the extravagant, excessive Capitol.  There’s one great, nail-biting sequence that takes place in the sewers.  If you’re a fan of the horror genre, you’re going to love this scene.  Though if you suffer from clausterphobia as I do, then you might want to shut your eyes when Katniss and company first walk through the very narrow tunnel which has the ceiling really close to their scalps.  It only takes them two minutes to walk through the tunnel, but clausterphobia-sufferers might feel a tad uncomfortable.
President Snow…good Lord, this guy is diabolical.  Donald Sutherland is having the time of his life playing Snow.  I have enjoyed watching his rivarly with Katniss over the course of the series and I do hope that Mr. Sutherland continues to play villains from here on out.

The Misses with Parts 1 & 2 
Everything wrong with Mockingjay has to do with the fact that it was split into two parts.  The actual book Mockingjay is only 390 pages and is in fact one page shorter than Catching Fire, which is 391 pages.  Because of this, both film do suffer from filler-riddled scenes.  If you’re not a fan of films that take their time, both films might test your patience.
It seems as though the weaknesses of the Hunger Games franchise remain unimproved.  Prim still lacks presence outside of being a plot device, Gale is not fleshed out very well and the two-part split means sitting through some filler.

All that being said, let the record show that I feel Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2 are actually better than the book itself.  The filmmakers knew they had a huge challenge facing them in making a dialogue-heavy book with minimal action and making it cinematic.  I feel that director Francis Lawrence and everyone else involved stepped up to the plate and brought to us a truly satisfying conclusion to an influential series.

This brings us to the end of the CGB Hunger Games Extravaganza.  I have thoroughly enjoyed reminiscing and reviewing my favorite film series for you guys and gals.
Happy Hunger Games and may the odds be ever in your favor always.


Saint Catherine of Siena, pray for us.

CGB Review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Welcome back, Hits and Misses system!  (Check out the Theory of Everything review in order to get the reference).

This is my review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire!


Catching Fire is the second installment of the Hunger Games trilogy.  Now-seventeen year old Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, two Tributes from District 12, have won the 75th annual Hunger Games.  However, the Capitol is eyeing them after the rather questionable way they emerged victorious.  This is the first time in Panem history that two Tributes have been allowed to live.  President Snow is especially suspicious of Katniss, who he believes orcastrated the suicide pact that led to her and Peeta walking out of the Games alive.  During Katniss and Peeta’s Victory Tour, the threat of civil war among the Districts blooms and Katniss is assigned by Snow to cool the rising flames of tension by convincing the Capitol that she and Peeta attempted suicide out of love for each other and NOT as an act of starting an anti-Capitol revolution.  Things get even worse when the Capitol issues a Quarter Quell, in which past living Victors are to fight to the death on live TV.  This means that Katniss and Peeta must return to the arena, and this time, only one will be allowed to walk away with their life.

Guys and gals, this is my favorite film in the franchise.  After the first film, director Gary Ross backed out and director Frances Lawrence took over.  The end result is the best Hunger Games film to date.  Now granted, the second book is regarded in the Hunger Games fan community as being the best book of the series, but I digress.

The Hits
Oh my gosh, this movie actually follows the book!  Where the first film practically rewrote the original narrative of the first book, Catching Fire the movie is almost identical to the second book.  Even the dialogue is pulled straight out of the book! I think I counted only five very minor changes.  I think the only notable change is that where the second book took longer with the Victory Tour and training sequences than it did with the actual Games, the movie shortens the Victory Tour and the training montage.  In the exchange, the Games take over the second and third act.
Praise the Lord, there’s no shaky cam!  The cinematography is crystal clear and the action doesn’t suffer from a frickton of jumpcuts, making it easy to see who is fighting who.
Just like in the first film, all of the actors are at the top of their game.  I have yet to see a bad Jennifer Lawrence performance.  She clearly understands the pragmatic, survivalistic Katniss and helps us to empathize with this person, as well. Haymitch Abernathy gets more opportunities to develop and evolve from just being the drunken, bitter mentor from the first flick.  Elizabeth Banks makes Effie Trinket more endearing, giving us reasons to believe her sympathy for these kids and not allowing her character to become flanderized.  I explain the definition of Flanderization in my review for the first Hunger Games film, so check it out if you’re curious.  As for Peeta, he serves more as a foil to Katniss.  She fights with her hands, he fights with his words.  She’s the hunter, he’s the baker.  She takes, he gives; she’s the head, he’s the heart…I think you get the idea.
My favorite scene in the entire movie is the climax at the lighting tree.  To call the way they filmed [SPOILER] Katniss shoots the arrow into the dome above amazing would be an understatement.  Jennifer Lawrence’s intense acting puts us in the moment with her while the cathedral-bell musical score accompanies the demise of the arena.  You get the feeling that director Francis Lawrence read this part of the book over and over again until he had a complete grasp of how the scene should be delivered on screen.

The Misses
Let’s talk about Prim, shall we?  Both the books and the movies have one major problem: Even though Prim is the reason Katniss enters the Games in the first place, she is nothing more than a plot device.  I understand why Katniss cares for Prim, but I myself do not care for Prim.  To be fair, the books do a little better in at least making her Katniss’ foil (Katniss is dark-haired, hardened and pragmatic, where Prim is the light-haired, soft optimist), but the movies barely touch on this. If you haven’t read the books, you know Prim as a nice girl whose important to Katniss.  She doesn’t have much to do in the series, so her significance is diluted. This will become a problem in Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2, but I can’t talk about that here because there’s a SPOILER involved.  [If you have read all three books, you know what the spoiler is, but I ask that you DO NOT reveal what it is in the comments on the CGB Facebook page.  Just be cool].
Speaking of plot device characters, let’s talk about Gale.  Both the books and the films give him only one purpose: To conflict with Katniss and Peeta’s fake-love thingamajig.  I like Liam Hemsworth as much as anyone else, but he has very little to do other than look rejected when Katniss turns him down and occasionally stand up to Peacekeepers.  Here’s the sad thing: Katniss and Gale actually have a very interesting backstory; they met when she was twelve and he was sixteen, and have been de facto brother and sister ever since.  However, the movies do little to explain this.  As a result, Gale feels very shoehorned at times.

I think Gary Ross stepping down and Francis Lawrence taking over was the best thing to ever happen for the Hunger Games film series.  Hunger Games: Catching Fire not only respects the original source material, but adds to it with nuanced performances, blood-pumping action and an epic climax that sets the stage for the grand finale: The Fall of the Capitol.

Saint Therese of Liseux, pray for us.

CGB Review/Explanation of The Theory of Everything (2014)

Is it possible for a movie to be so gut-wrenchingly beautiful that it breaks you in the best possible way?

This is my review of The Theory of Everything!


The Theory of Everything is based on the memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking.  In the 1960’s Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde meet at Cambridge during a party.  They begin an intellect-centered friendship that blossoms into a romance.  However all seems lost when Stephen learns he has a motor-neuron disease (ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease) at the age of 21.  In spite of this, Jane makes the decision to confess her love for him and becomes his wife, vowing to be his staunchest ally in the fight against his disease.

After watching the film, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot use my usual “Hits and Misses” system.  This is the first film I have seen that needs to be reviewed on an entirely different standard.   The reason for this is everything right with the film is objective and everything wrong with the film is subjective, a matter of personal taste.

The Objective Good
Good Lord, the lighting and cinematography is exceptional!  The opening shot of the film is a soft gold color pallate, while the night scenes are a lovely shade of turquoise.  There’s a great scene where Stephen is sitting alone, watching TV and the red color pallate expresses his inner turmoil over the diagnosis.
Eddie Redmayne won the Oscar for playing Stephen Hawking and frankly, he earned it.  His extraordinary physical performance is heartbreaking, while his vulnerablity and willingness to have other actors carry his body had me sobbing. Eddie Redmayne becomes Stephen, a lover of the sciences.  Fluent in physics and mathematical theory, he pursues an understanding of the structure of the universe with every fiber of his being.
Not only does Felicity Jones have the same gentle beauty as Lily James in Cinderella, but she is also as empathetic as Keira Knightly in The Imitation Game. In the Hawking marriage, Stephen is the head and Jane is the heart.  Felicity Jones brings Jane to life as an angelic flower with an iron will.  She knows what is at stake, but honors her vows by refusing to abandon her ailing husband for her own personal comfort.
If you love the piano and classical music in general, you will want to buy the soundtrack immediately.  The musical score here is just as great as The Imitation Game soundtrack.  It has an epic vibe, illustrating the marriage of Stephen and Jane as a daring, intellectual adventure.
In fact, if you are a fan of The Imitation Game, you might enjoy this movie, as well. The script is very intimate with Stephen and Jane, giving the impression that the director knows these two people personally and wants you to know and love them as much as he does.
I am going to go out on a limb here and recommend this movie to newlyweds and long-time married couples.  The Theory of Everything is the best portrayal of marriage I have ever seen.  It neither advocates nor argues against marriage; it only demonstrates the trials and triumphs that marriage entails in an honest, humanistic way.

The Subjective Bad
If you have endured the trauma of watching a family member decline, this movie will be a very difficult experience.  The deterioration of Stephen’s body is agonizing.  I had to take quite a few walking breaks.
One scene in particular shows Stephen trying to get up a flight of stairs while his toddler son Robert watches.  I don’t want to talk about it for too long, otherwise I’ll start crying again.  This scene is that painful.
Oddly enough, as the movie nears the third act, I found myself becoming desensitized to Stephen’s collapsing body until he gets pneumonia and ends up needing an operation that will make him unable to speak ever again.   My heart was broken in two all over again.
All that being said, to tell you not to watch this movie would be a disservice. Instead, I will advise that you exercise good judgment.  Know your limits in terms of what you can handle to see on screen and go from there.

Guys and gals, The Theory of Everything broke me in the most beautiful way.  I love it and I hate it all at the same time.  With inspired performances, wonderful music and an excellent script, The Theory of Everything is a tragically victorious story of how love really can overcome all obstacles.  This is an exceptional film that I never want to see again, but am sure glad that I gave it a shot.

Saint Jude, pray for us.

CGB Review of The Hunger Games (2012) (Part 1 of the CGB Hunger Games Extravaganza!)

Happy Hunger Games month and may the CGB reviews be ever in your favor.
By the way, I just realized that this is Jennifer Lawrence’s third appearance here on CGB (see my reviews for Silver Linings Playbook and Serena).

This is my review of The Hunger Games!


I am a mega fan of The Hunger Games trilogy.  I am also blessed that my parents, my brother and my sister-in-law are also HG fans.  This trilogy got me through my first semester of college and I’ve read all three books multiple times.  Alas, I am so glad to launch Hunger Games month on Catholic Girl Bloggin’!
Anywho, so in the Hunger Games, America is now called Panem, which comes from the Latin, “panem et circenses,” meaning “bread and circuses.”  The country is divided into twelve segregated districts all controlled by the Capitol.  Every year, two children between the ages of 12 and 18 from each of the twelve districts are selected for a televised fight to the death known as The Hunger Games.
Katniss Everdeen is a sixteen-year old denizen of the coal-mining District 12.  If this story took place during Jesus’ ministry, District 12 would be an exile for lepers.  It’s the poorest, most looked-down-upon district.  Katniss is a fatherless teenager who basically runs the Everdeen household by being the primary caregiver of her twelve-year old sister Primrose “Prim” and doing all the work that her emotionally-fragile mother can’t bring herself to do.
On the day of the Reaping, when tributes are selected for the Games, Prim’s name is called.  Unwillingly to let her little sister be slaughtered, Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place, a move that could arguably be interpreted as paying homage to Saint Maximilian Kolbe.  Katniss finds herself thrown into the entertainment culture of the Capitol and ends up in the ultimate fight for her life as a Hunger Games tribute.
I saw this movie during my first year as a LifeTeen Core member with my fellow Core members.  We all dressed up in camoflague attire (keeping up with the HG theme), carpooled together and headed for Arclight Hollywood for the premiere. We were so excited when all the previews were done and the opening sequence began AND…

Two and a half hours later, we walked out of the theater with very mixed feelings.

The Hits
Jennifer Lawrence.  Need I say more?  She was born to play Katniss.  Her smokey eyes pop any time she goes brunette, she has the youth and vunerablity to portray a teenager while also having the strength and maturity that Katniss needs in order to be taken seriously by the adults around her.
In fact, all of the casting choices are top notch.  Josh Hutcherson is capable and believable as fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark, Woody Harrelson embraces his role as the hardened, drunken, weary-from-living Haymitch Abernathy and Elizabeth Banks delivers a both classy and fun performance as the always-stylish Effie Trinket.  I really appreciate how Ms. Banks watched Audrey Hepburn films and channeled Hepburn’s acting style when playing Effie.  This keeps the innocently superficial Effie from being flanderized.  For the record, flanderization is a TV trope that can also apply to cinema, defined by the TV Tropes website as “The act of taking a single (often minor) action or trait of a character within a work and exaggerating it more and more over time until it completely consumes the character. Most always, the trait/action becomes completely outlandish and it becomes their defining characteristic” (
Even though he only has a few scenes, Doland Sutherland is terrifying as President Coriolanus Snow, the dictatorial ruler of all of Panem.  His deep, authoritative voice is enough to send chills down my spine.  Fun fact: Donald Sutherland emailed to director Gary Ross a three-page letter titled “Letters from the Rose Garden” that outlined his [Sutherland’s] arguments for why he should be cast as President Snow.  In three pages, Mr. Sutherland discussed power, Ted Bundy and his own interpretation of President Snow.  I know that if I was a director and got a three-page magnum opus from THE Donald Sutherland, I’d cast him in my movie, too.  Also, as a bonus feature, I will post the letter at the end of this review!  🙂

The Misses
This is my least favorite of the films.  Why?  Because as my brother and sister-in-law pointed out, this movie really should have been called “The Hunger Games: Sparknotes Edition.”  The issue is this movie has the major scenes from the first book (Katniss hunting, Katniss volunteering as tribute, the training montage, interviews with Ceaser Flickerman, etc.), but there are way too many changes to the point where you begin to wonder if they even read the book at all.  I don’t want to go into SPOILER territory, so I’ll just say this: How Katniss gets the iconic Mockingjay pin not only requires the elimination of a supporting character, but happens in a way that wouldn’t fly in a tyrannical regime.  There’s a comic relief ancedote during the Reaping that doesn’t happen in the movie.  There are quite a few supporting characters in the books who are completely dropped from the film. In the book, there’s a crucial line of dialogue delivered by Peeta’s mother that serves as character development for both Katniss and Peeta.  This line is never said by Mama Mellark or even mentioned by Peeta to Katniss in the film.
I counted exactly 31 changes that they made to the story, and sure enough, I’m not the only person.  Check out this list by which outlines the 31 changes that I’m talking about.

All of that being said, The Hunger Games is still a good intro into Katniss’ world. The major scenes that need to be there are present, the casting is excellent and the action is intense and exciting to watch.  While it’s not as stellar as the later films, The Hunger Games is a worthy entry into the HG film saga.

As promised, here is Donald Sutherland’s “Letters from the Rose Garden.”

Dear Gary Ross: 

Power. That’s what this is about? Yes? Power and the forces that are manipulated by the powerful men and bureaucracies trying to maintain control and possession of that power?
Power perpetrates war and oppression to maintain itself until it finally topples over with the bureaucratic weight of itself and sinks into the pages of history (except in Texas), leaving lessons that need to be learned unlearned.
Power corrupts, and, in many cases, absolute power makes you really horny. Clinton, Chirac, Mao, Mitterrand.
Not so, I think, with Coriolanus Snow. His obsession, his passion, is his rose garden. There’s a rose named Sterling Silver that’s lilac in colour with the most extraordinarily powerful fragrance – incredibly beautiful – I loved it in the seventies when it first appeared. They’ve made a lot of off shoots of it since then.
I didn’t want to write to you until I’d read the trilogy and now I have so: roses are of great importance. And Coriolanus’s eyes. And his smile. Those three elements are vibrant and vital in Snow. Everything else is, by and large, perfectly still and ruthlessly contained. What delight she [Katniss] gives him. He knows her so perfectly. Nothing, absolutely nothing, surprises him. He sees and understands everything. he was, quite probably, a brilliant man who’s succumbed to the siren song of power.
How will you dramatize the interior narrative running in Katniss’s head that describes and consistently updates her relationship with the President who is ubiquitous in her mind? With omniscient calm he knows her perfectly. She knows he does and she knows that he will go to any necessary end to maintain his power because she knows that he believes that she’s a real threat to his fragile hold on his control of that power. She’s more dangerous than Joan of Arc.
Her interior dialogue/monologue defines Snow. It’s that old theatrical turnip: you can’t ‘play’ a king, you need everybody else on stage saying to each other, and therefore to the audience, stuff like “There goes the King, isn’t he a piece of work, how evil, how lovely, how benevolent, how cruel, how brilliant he is!” The idea of him, the definition of him, the audience’s perception of him, is primarily instilled by the observations of others and once that idea is set, the audience’s view of the character is pretty much unyielding. And in Snow’s case, that definition, of course, comes from Katniss.
Evil looks like our understanding of the history of the men we’re looking at. It’s not what we see: it’s what we’ve been led to believe. Simple as that. Look at the face of Ted Bundy before you knew what he did and after you knew.
Snow doesn’t look evil to the people in Panem’s Capitol. Bundy didn’t look evil to those girls. My wife and I were driving through Colorado when he escaped from jail there. The car radio’s warning was constant. ‘Don’t pick up any young men. The escapee looks like the nicest young man imaginable’. Snow’s evil shows up in the form of the complacently confident threat that’s ever present in his eyes. His resolute stillness. Have you seen a film I did years ago? ‘The Eye of the Needle’. That fellow had some of what I’m looking for.
The woman who lived up the street from us in Brentwood came over to ask my wife a question when my wife was dropping the kids off at school. This woman and her husband had seen that movie the night before and what she wanted to know was how my wife could live with anyone who could play such an evil man. It made for an amusing dinner or two but part of my wife’s still wondering.
I’d love to speak with you whenever you have a chance so I can be on the same page with you.
They all end up the same way. Welcome to Florida, have a nice day!

Saint Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.

CGB Review of Burnt (2015)

Oh, look, another CGB review of a Bradley Cooper flick. How many of his movies have I reviewed by now, five? (Looks through archives) Yeah, five, which makes Burnt the sixth Bradley Cooper movie that I reviewed, hence proving that Bradley Cooper movie reviews are a part of CGB canon.
This is also the second WORST Bradley Cooper movie that I have seen all year!


Burnt is eerily similar to its even more abomidable cousin, Aloha.  Just like in Aloha, Bradley Cooper is playing yet another talented screw-up who hits rock bottom off-screen (we only hear about his past frick-ups through expositional dialogue), but is now working towards redemption.  He plans to open his own restaurant and he does so by recruiting equally skilled cooks to come work for him, even if it means SABOTAGING their own professions (Example: He gets Sienna Miller’s single mother character fired from her old job so that she has no choice but to climb aboard the Bradley express).  His goal is to have his restaurant gain three Michelin stars and all that jazz.
I’m going to be honest: I walked out halfway through this flick.  Bradley, I really don’t like picking on you, but you need to fire your agent because this chef drama is a dish served sour.

The Hits
Bradley, are you trying to land a villain role somewhere?  Is Rocket gonna betray Starlord and company in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 or something? That’s the only plausible reason I can think of to explain why you agreed to star in this lackluster serving of cinema. Bradley Cooper’s character, whose name I’ve already forgotten, is so despicable that it’s like this movie only exists to provide a strong case for why Cooper should play a villain at some point in his career.  There is one scene where Cooper does this menancing laugh, and if he were to end up being a Marvel villain or the next nemesis of James Bond, I could see him doing a great job.
The food in the film is very pretty to look at.  They’re colorful, well-crafted and are appetizing to the eye.  If this movie did anything right, it’s that it shows a raw look into the intense pressures of culinary culture.  Food critics, or michelin men/women, are like movie critics; If your food is awesome, the reviews will be ever in your favor.  If your food sucks, the reviews will kill ya and your restaurant will die faster than Geena Davis’ movie career after Cutthroat Island.
This movie has an awesome cast! I love Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, the luminous Lily James (she played Cinderella in the live-action Cinderella remake), Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson, Alicia Vikander (Ex_Machinia) and others. With a talented group of people like that, we’re bound to see some great performances….
If only this hope came to fruition.

The Misses
(Commencing Super Saiyan Rant Mode) The last time I walked up to my best friend and began telling her the history of our friendship was NEVER! This movie has no concept of how people talk. It’s Aloha all over again with actors approaching each other and telling we, the audience, their backstory in a clunky, unrealistic fashion.  However unlike Aloha, some of the dialogue is hard to hear. It’s the “God-forbid-someone-turns-their-head-away-from-the-camera” scenario where once that happens, there’s no way you’re gonna hear what is being said.
Why is it so hard for Hollywood to understand how to write an unlikable character correctly?  Difficult protagonists are made easy to root for if they either have moments where they put their selfishness aside for someone they care about or if they frequently get their comeuppance.  This movie tries to make Cooper this hip rebel with philosophies on food that make no sense, but I’m sorry–I just can’t sympathetize with a guy who gets a woman fired from her current job to come work for him, loses his shiz and throws a tantrum when under pressure, and breaks into an old associate’s hotel room in the first five minutes of the movie.  I love Bradley Cooper’s striking blue eyes as much as anyone else, but if he broke into my house, I’d call the cops, not engage in expositional chit-chat.
I should clarify what I meant by “With a talented group of people like that, we’re bound to see some great performances….If only this hope came to fruition.” Here’s what I mean: No one in this movie gives a bad performance and that’s because except for Cooper and Miller, no one else is given time to give a performance of any kind.
WHAT DID THEY DO TO YOU, LILY?  Lily James gets two minutes of screen time and then she’s gone in the blink of an eye.  Alicia Vikander shows up for a five minute schppiel and then–poof!–she vanishes into thin air.  Uma Thurman gets a good ten minutes and then good-bye!  Emma Thompson gets three short scenes, which is the deluxe treatment in this flick.  As for Sienna Miller, she plays a bland, watered-down version of Taya Kyle (American Sniper).  She is given no opportunity to bring the same level of depth and development to the table that she brought to American Sniper.  Lo and behold, I have already forgotten what her character’s name is in this movie!
The icing on the cake of incompetency is that the writing is on autopilot.  Things just happen with no rhyme or reason because none of the plot points are properly set up.  Cooper is double-crossed by another character because–potatoes!  There’s a suicide attempt that comes right the frick out of nowhere because–turnips!   There’s a weird joke about how Thurman is a lesbian who, at one time, got frisky with Cooper because–filet mignon!  In addition, the tone is off its rocker.  The first act is all light, cool and funnyish, but then the act two gets going and that is when we suddenly get drug dealers, betrayal and the out-of-left-field suicide attempt.
By the way, I walked out right after the suicide attempt.

After I stumbled out of the theater, I began driving home and had such a headache from the mediocrity that I had to pull over.  I wandered into Albertson’s and found myself in the fruits and vegetables section.  I remember holding a green apple in my hand, staring it down as I came back to reality.  “What did I come in here for?” I said to myself with a deer-in-the-headlights look on my face.
I ended up buying a case of water and some veggies.
Yes, Burnt is such a bad movie that I actually lost my sense of time and place.   The Albertson’s veggies that I steamed and ate for lunch were far more delectable than this badly-cooked film.

Saint Lawrence, pray for us.

CGB Halloween Special: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

(Commencing musical mode) Boys and girls of every age, would you like to see something strange?  Come with me and you will see, this my blog called CGB.  This is CGB, this is CGB, movies screened in the dead of night.  This is CGB, everybody make a scene with good dialogue and pacing, too.  La, la, la, la-la la, la, la, la-la la, la, la, la-la la, la-la la, Wheeeeeee!

This is my review of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas!

Jack Skelllington is the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, who keeps the town in order along with the Mayor.  He has a serious case of Disney Princess syndrome, in which he longs for a life that is greater than his current existence.  One day he finds a series of doors, each marked with the symbol of different holidays.  He opens a Christmas tree door and ends up in Christmastown. Enchanted with the wonder and whimsy of the Christmas season, Jack decides to bring some of that Christmasness to Halloweentown.
Oh, yes, I have a history with The Nightmare Before Christmas.  When this movie came out, I was a wee little tyke.

Baby CGB! ^_^
Baby CGB! ^_^

According to my Mom, any time Sally the ragdoll popped up in a TV ad for the movie, I would bawl my eyes out while holding on to her [Mom] for dear life.  Also Jack’s empty eye sockets didn’t make things much better.  To put it simply, I wanted nothing to do with this movie.
Now I have watched it as an adult and gave it my undivided attention.  Here are the Hits and Misses.

The Hits
Good Lord Almighty, the animation is spectacular!   The opening song “This is Halloween” is catchy and establishes the world very well.  Halloweentown is definitely a character in its own right.  It’s scary in a playful way.  The goblins and ghouls are creepy, but never menancing.  Scares are done all in good fun.  Also it is pretty funny when a character says “it’s a terrible day,” what they really mean is, “it’s a good day.”  It’s like a never-ending opposite day!
Sally made me cry as a child.  As an adult, Sally is my favorite character.  Even though she’s supposed to be Jack’s love interest, she is written as a guardian angel who helps Jack and just happens to become a love interest later on.  There’s an adage in writing, “No one sees themselves as a supporting character.”  This movie takes this adage to heart and keeps Sally from being a generic supporting love interest.  I would argue that Sally is the only character who develops naturally.
This movie was made in a time where movies weren’t bloated with clunky exposition and heavy-handed dialogue (I’m looking at you, Jupiter Ascending!) This structure works to an extent because the story gets right to the point and Jack discovers Christmastown five minutes after the film’s prologue.
This movie has Christian allegory all over the place.  I don’t know if Tim Burton (producer) or Henry Selick (director) had some Christian leanings, but someone on set was awfully familiar with Christianity, as well as the lives of the Saints. Jack’s Christmastown discovery is like Saint Paul’s conversion minus being struck blind.  In the second act, there’s a whole montage of Jack trying to understand the “science” of Christmas.  If you listen to the song “Jack’s Obsession,” the lyrics are like listening to Edith Stein or Augustine of Hippo’s thoughts right after they converted to Catholicism.  When Jack tries to introduce his fellow Halloween denizens to Christmas elements, it plays like Saint Paul explaining Christianity to the Corinthians.  As for the third act/climax, it’s basically a reenactment of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, right down to when Jack goes down to Oogie Boogie’s Hellish lair to rescue Sally and Santa Claus, reminiscent of Jesus’ descent into Hell.

The Misses
I really like Jack, but I feel that his character develops too rapidly.  Because all of his revelations come through his songs, they never naturally progress with his evolution.  I have no issue with hearing his thoughts through a song, but maybe one or two quiet moments where his facial expressions are used to show us how he’s feeling without musical accompaniment would have been nice.
The villain Oogie Boogie feels very shoehorned into the story.  I’m not too well-versed on the making of this movie, so I wouldn’t know if Oogie was always in the story or was added during production, but he’s not developed enough to have much presence as an antagonistic force.  The whole “bringing Christmas to Halloweentown” conflict works well on its own to where a villain isn’t necessary. Maybe an earlier scene where Oogie is seen mocking Jack’s efforts to his face would have established a tangible rivalry between the two.
I said how the plot’s get-to-the-point structure works to an extent.  I say this because the only downside is the story feels like it is going by a bit too fast at times.  Emotional reactions aren’t given a lot of time to sink in with the audience.

When I was in junior high, I came across quite a few people who were passionate about drawing and becoming animators.  When I would ask them why, they all answered something to the effect of, “I saw The Nightmare Before Christmas and it inspired me.”  To this day, these same friends are working to become professional animators.  After seeing this movie, I totally get why Nightmare Before Christmas is the crowned jewel of animation culture.  It’s a beautifully realized film with an innovative story to go along with it.  The Nightmare Before Christmas is an inspired dream that any animation fan will want to revisit again and again.

Saint Nicholas, pray for us.

Retro Reviews: Back to the Future Part II (1989)

How was your weekend?  Good?  My weekend was busy but fun.  An old friend of mine who I will call “J.B.” invited me to a public screening of Back to the Future Parts 1 & 2.  J.B. and I haven’t seen each other since high school and had been trying to get together, so this was the perfect opportunity for us to catch up.  Also I had already seen (and reviewed) the first one, but had never seen the second one.

This is my review of Back to the Future Part II, just in time for October 21, 2015!


Back to the Future Part II quite literally takes place right after the first installment (I say “quite literally” because the first movie ended with Marty and Doc going on their next adventure).  In the sequel, Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown “Doc” find themselves in the year 2015, where they first have to prevent Marty’s future son from being arrested.  Then they have to make sure Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer doesn’t come across her future self…and then they have to stop the villanous Biff Tannen from messing around with the timeline of the first film.

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Gee, CGB, what’s up with the messy, unfocused summary of the movie?”
Fear not, my dear reader.  There is a reason for the sloppy plot summary and I will get to that in the Hits and Misses.

The Hits
As a newbie convert to the Back to the Future franchise, I have to say that I am in love with Marty and Doc’s relationship.  Their friendship is the glue that holds the trilogy together.  Something that J.B. and I talked about was how Part II expands their dynamic, leading to some great character development.  Marty is the naive brawn while Doc is the brilliant brain.  However, Doc’s head is so packed with complex ideas that it’s easy for a simple thought to slip past him, while Marty’s lack of foresight makes room in his mind for a clever idea.  This means that Marty can act in a tense situation while Doc can plan for scenarios before they happen. These two oddball souls balance each other out and their bond is more fulfilling than any other relationship they will ever have.   I think that not making them father and son adds to their relationship because it means these two unrelated people have made the choice to stick together and become their own family.  The only thing they gain from being around one another is understanding and adventure.  I know I’m going to be really sad when I finally watch Part III and have to see my favorite movie duo end their story.  Honestly, I’m so tempted just to scrap this review and turn this into a CGB editorial on Marty and Doc’s friendship. These two characters are like Francis and Clare of Assisi; they’re two different people on the same mission and that’s why I love them so much.

The Misses
Just like in the first film, it still bothers me that we never learn exactly how Marty and Doc met.  Because I’m so invested in these two people, I really want to know where this friendship began.  I’m open to hearing fan theories.
Okay, here’s my explanation for my messy intro: I gave an unfocused summary because Back to the Future Part II is very unfocused.  The first film was about a teen who gets stuck in the past and must get his future parents together, as well as find a way back to the present.  In the second film, Marty and Doc have a series of side missions before the real conflict happens.  The episodic story formula is very hard to pull off because you run the risk into having your story feel like three different stories crammed into one.  Part II is like Amelie (2001) and The Walk (2015) in that there are a series of mini-conflicts building up to the main conflict.  This would be fine except that it makes it hard for the audience to care about the main conflict because so little time is invested in it.  Now to the movie’s credit, it does weave Biff Tannen into the story very well so that he has presence, but that doesn’t save the movie’s scrambled tone.

Overall, it is the strength of the characters that keeps Back to the Future afloat. You could put Marty and Doc in any other story and they would be enough to make it great.  Here’s to the hope that the October 21st, 2015 prediction is correct and the Cubs do indeed win the World Series.

Saint Peter, pray for us.