CGB Collaboration Review of Beauty and the Beast (2017) with Monique Ocampo/MsOWrites

Certain as the sun rising in the east, tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme…

This is my review of Beauty and the Beast (2017), guest-starring the one and only Monique Ocampo, also known as MsOWrites!

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Cue the music, Jay!  (Our friend Jay plays the Belle/Little Town theme)

CGB: (Walks out of little cottage) Huh, I didn’t know I lived in a cottage.  (Shrugs, smiles at quaint little cottage) I’m not complainin’.  Oohh, there’s tulips on the side of the cottage!  Well, anyway….(Begins singing) Little film, it’s a brand new remake.  All-star cast and some brand new songs.  Little film, starring Emma Watson.  Everybody says…

Critic 1: IT SUCKS!

Critic 2: IT SUCKS!

Critic 3: IT SUCKS!

Rad-Trads: IT SUCKS!

All together: IT SUCKS!

CGB: There go the critics with their gripes like always.

MsOWrites: Seems like they’re never satisfied.

Both of Us: Because way back when we were kids, Disney made a princess flick.  And it was one that we both loved.

Nostalgia Critic: Good morning, girls!

MsOWrites: Good morning, NC!

Nostalgia Critic: Where are you off to?

CGB: We’re doing a review.  It’s the remake of the classic Disney movie.

Nostalgia Critic: That’s nice.  But honestly?  It was meh.

CGB: Well, we haven’t even seen it yet.

MsOWrites: We might be in for a pleasant surprise.

Nostalgia Critic: It still sucks, though.

Critics: Look there they go, they’re just so optimistic.   Can’t they see that the original’s the best?

Critic 1: Emma Watson’s auto-tuned.

Critic 2: The supporting cast was underused.

Rad-Trads: And let’s not forget the token gay LeFou!

(MsOWrites and I come out of the theater two hours later)

MsOWrites (crying): Oh, isn’t this amazing?

CGB: Are you crying?  Because so am I!

MsOWrites: I never do…but yeah, I’ll make this exception.  There’s just so much of this film that’s good and true…

CGB: It would certainly please JP2!  Let us do a review, just me and you!

MsOWrites: We could show both the Catholic and secular world why it’s good!

CGB: Let us begin!

 

The Hits
CGB: So how did Hermione Granger do playing everyone’s favorite “most peculiar mademoiselle”?  My answer: Emma Watson is a wonderful Belle!   This Belle is a lovely reinterpretation of the original character, mixing her trademark book-loving nature with an inventor’s vibe.  I really appreciate that Emma Watson’s Belle actually feels different from Paige O’Hara’s Belle from the 1991 classic.  O’Hara’s Belle is dreamy, optimistic and overall innocent.  Watson’s Belle is grounded, pragmatic and even bohemian in more ways than one.   One of my biggest concerns is that Emma Watson would come off as an overconfident-in-her-own-self-actualization character, but luckily there’s a sweetness and humility to this new Belle.  Also Watson’s Belle has more agency in this film than she did in the original; locking herself in the dungeon while pushing her father away, telling the Beast that he has to stand so that she can take back to the castle and so on.   Finally, I’m going to add brownie points for that one scene where she teaches a young girl how to read.  Brilliant!  😀  The Beast’s character is pretty much the same as he was in the original; starts off as mean, coarse and unrefined, but ends up becoming so dear and almost kind.  😉 Here, though, his temper is not as jarring as it was in the original.  The sympathy factor of his character is applied right away so that we, the audience, are easily able to refrain from judgment before we get to know him.  His pain and torment are palpable as his growing feelings for Belle begin to break down the inner walls he has placed around his broken, guarded heart.
Kevin Kline is a wonderful Maurice!  I really appreciate that they dialed down his quirkiness big time and made him into an actual character.  Warm, gentle, thoughtful, I can just see him hoisting little Belle onto his lap and reading to her by the fireplace.
Luke Evans is having the time of his life playing Gaston, and I had a great time watching his Gaston.   The usual arrogance of the original character is still there, but we see his progression towards evil.  Also I do like that he’s not impractically buff like in the cartoon, but that his toxic masculinity is displayed by his ignorance and overcompensation.  Now, given that I’ve brought up Gaston, you’re probably waiting to see LeFou mentioned here.  Before MsOWrites and I get into the whole gay LeFou thing, let me talk about the character LeFou.  He is definitely an improvement from the cartoon character.  His “hero-admiration” toward Gaston explains his loyalty to him and he is actually the smarter of the duo.  In a way, he serves as a manifestation of Gaston’s effect on people; how he [Gaston] is able to grab and hold the attention of women and men alike, which was always the point of Gaston’s character to begin with.
EVERMORE!  Oh my goodness, what a beautiful song!  It’s like someone took Augustine’s Confessions, some passages from the Book of Psalms and a hint of the Song of Solomon, then threw them into a blender and then–somehow–they just mixed into the most melodic purée.  Also the song really sums up a wonderful theme in this film: That people come into our lives who touch our hearts so much that when they leave us, just their presence will remain in our memory forever.  They illustrate this when Maurice is singing about Belle’s mother, but the theme comes full circle with Evermore.

MsOWrites: First of all, the opening scenes were stunning in their visuals.  We actually get to see the prince and the residents in the castle and watch the Enchantress cast her spell.  As much as we all love the stained glass narration from the original, the prince’s character arc is to learn what true beauty is, which is kind of the whole point of the entire story in the first place.
The scene with Pere Robert wasn’t as elaborate as the bookshop scene in the original, but there’s a good explanation.  It wouldn’t make sense for there to be a bookstore in a town that doesn’t have that many people who can or even want to read.  However Pere Robert is a priest with a personal library.   He doesn’t have as many books, but he generously loans the books he does have to Belle.
I appreciate the nuances that have been added to the story.  For one, when Belle asks Monsieur Jean if he has lost something again, he responds, “I believe I have.  Problem is I can’t remember what!”  This is actually a small hint at [BIT OF A SPOILER, though it’s told to us in the opening prologue] the “forget-the-freaking-huge-castle-just-down-the-road” enchantment that the Enchantress placed on the entire town.   Yeah, her spell not only turned the now-adult Prince into a hideous CGI goat-man, but also did what the neuralyzer from Men in Black does to people.   It does feel like a convenient cop-out, but it works within the context of the story.
In defense of the songs, I thought these new versions of songs we all know sounded just fine.  They had a more Broadway stage vibe to them, which makes sense given that this is an event musical film.  The auto-tuning is necessary for the actors who are not professional singers and the background music of the songs are faithful to the original music.

The Misses
MsOWrites: So about that magic book thing…yeah, it kind of creates a plot hole.  If it can just transport the Beast anywhere he wants, then why wasn’t he using it all the time prior to Belle’s arrival?  Also, why didn’t Belle use it to get back to the village and return to her father?  The book is used once and then we never see it again.  What?

CGB: Remember how filled with wonder Belle was when she sang about the beauty of books to those sheep?
What?  You don’t sing to sheep?  I do it all the time!  Alas, that’s not the point.  The point is that Hermione–er, I mean–Emma Watson could’ve sung that part about, “oh, isn’t this amazing?  It’s my favorite because…here’s where she meets Prince Charming, but she won’t discover that it’s him till Chapter 3” with a little more enthusiasm.
Speaking of which, Obi-Wan Kenobi (from the Star Wars prequels) plays Lumiere, but there is a bit of a catch: Ewan McGregor himself has stated that he has never seen the original film.  GASP!  Anyway, once I learned that, his performance in this film kind of made more sense.  I’ve seen this movie twice and I didn’t really care for this Lumiere during either time I saw it.  In fact, I think because there was so much focus on getting Belle, the Beast and Gaston right, the supporting cast feels less colorful.

An Unexpected Theological Truth
Both of Us: We consider ourselves students of Mother Teresa.  Throughout her ministry to the poor in Calcutta, she deemed every person she helped as, “Jesus in His most distressing disguise.”  That credo is on display in this film and in the original, as well.  We are going to focus on this film for the sake of argument.  While the Beast most certainly doesn’t act Christ-like in the beginning, Belle does when she chooses to bring him back to the castle after he rescues her from the wolves.  As their relationship develops, he begins displaying Christ-like characteristics such as mercy, understanding and kinship.  One of the many, many beautiful realities of Jesus is that when we follow Him, He brings out the best in us even during difficult times.  With this in mind we see how once she begins ministering to him, Belle becomes the best version of herself and the same happens to the Beast in return.  There is a saying that difficult people show their need for love in unlovable ways and the Beast is a manifestation of that adage.
We challenge you to think of the “Beast” in your life and ask yourself if he/she is in need of mercy and forgiveness.  Sometimes Christ comes to us in the form of an unpleasant person who we can either wash our hands off and avoid at all cost, or show them compassion and forgive their faults just as Belle does with the Beast.

The Elephants in the Room
#1. This film has a gay agenda!
MsOWrites: Let’s address the biggest elephant in the room first. There was a lot of hype and backlash about a “gay scene” in this movie involving the character of LeFou. While it’s true that LeFou is shown to have feelings for Gaston, the actual gay scene is just two seconds long.
Neither of us are promoting gay marriage.  However, we do agree with the idea of representation. We need to acknowledge that there are people out there who are attracted to the same sex and treat them as people instead of a stereotype.  This advocating of representation also applies to those who identify as asexual as well.  (I’m looking at you, Riverdale!)
Trust me when I say that Disney isn’t the only name in “children’s programming” to include a gay character.

CGB: So I already talked about this on both the blog FB page, but I’ll just rehash some of my thoughts here.
The original film makes it very clear that Lefou, as well as every woman and man in the entire village, is hopelessly enamored with Gaston. In addition, Gaston presents himself (quite loudly and boldly) to be THE ideal man, THE symbol of masculine perfection. Lefou, being Gaston’s right-hand man, would most likely be the one who gets the most sucked in to the–I guess we can call it–the cult of Gaston.  It’s not just LeFou, it’s him and all of the village who are swept up in it, which explains why everyone immediately goes along with Gaston’s “let’s-kill-the-Beast” tirade with no questions asked.
Also, let’s look at Lefou himself. What does he personally gain from being around Gaston all the time? They’re not brothers or related in any fashion, and there’s no indication that Lefou owes him money or anything; in retrospect, Lefou has no real reason to associate himself with Gaston at all. One could make the argument that there is a social benefit to being around Gaston, but Lefou is never established to be a self-serving character who is trying to get ahead in society by being around the “right people,” so that wouldn’t hold up.
Simply having a character who happens to be gay in a film is not in and of itself promoting same-sex marriage.  How it is presented is what matters.  LeFou never actively hits on Gaston and there’s no gay wedding at the end.  There will be those who say, “You give [gay people] an inch and they’ll take a mile!”  However, that inch has to make sense.
You can be a faithful Catholic who staunchly defends the sanctity of marriage and acknowledge that there are LGBT people who are created in His likeness and image.  In fact, that’s basically what we’re supposed to be doing.  We are supposed to bring all people, gay or straight, to the Gospel, not chase them away from it by foaming at the mouth over a fictitious character who happens to be gay.  As Christians, we are called to rise above our outrage culture and be a people of the better way.  Love without truth is permissiveness and truth without love is brutality.  Only the truth spoken with love brings hope and enlightenment. 

#2. This film is uber-feminist!

CGB: I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear by now that I identify as a pro-life feminist (I would emphasize, but the label itself is pretty self-explanatory).  With this lens, I observed that the feminist undertones of this film were centered around the theme of the anti-intellectual village.  For one, notice how only the boys go to school and the girls are the ones learning to keep house.  This establishes how Belle is the outsider woman who chooses the solace of books over the conventions of the little town.  It is not wrong to use film to point to the very bleak reality that there are still countries in our world where girls are not allowed to read or even go to school.  I would argue that it would probably behoove Western feminists to focus less on promoting abortion and more on calling attention to the injustice of depriving girls an education.

MsOWrites: The main issue that Belle has with the villagers is that they choose to stay in their simple, provincial ways. Belle is shown doing laundry by having a horse pull a barrel full of soap and clothes. When I heard about Belle being an inventor who created a washing machine, I actually expected some kind of steampunk contraption. The invention that Belle created was actually something all the villagers could use. But instead of being open-minded about a better way to do their laundry, they destroy her invention. They also berate her about teaching a young girl to read.
There’s a similar argument going around that Belle, her father, and even the local priest are members of a “literate caste.” Keep in mind that Belle and her father fled Paris in the midst of the plague and that priests are more often than not assigned to minister to small towns. And at the time, priests were well-educated. It’s not that these three deliberately kept their books away from everyone else. They have a school for young boys, but LeFou admits to being illiterate and they would rather side with the amoral war hero (Gaston) over the kind music box maker (Maurice). The townspeople chose to be ignorant throughout the film.

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CGB Review of Jackie (2016)

The real title of this movie should been this line from Bobby Kennedy:
“What did we accomplish?”

This is my review of Jackie!

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First Lady Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy was sitting right next to her husband, President John F. Kennedy when Lee Harvey Oswald shot the bullet that killed the 35th President of the US of A.  In the days after the assassination, Jackie must come to grips with her own grief and the reality of being basically shooed out of the White House all while her husband’s funeral is arranged.

So the Kennedys have a presence in my family.  John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the last Democrat my Grandma Joanie voted for.  She also witnessed the assassination of Robert Kennedy on television.  My uncle has read countless books on JFK and the assassination.  My own mother has always had great respect for Jackie Kennedy.  “She was a class act who held herself with dignity,” she said to me while we watched this film.  With this context in mind, you can imagine that my mother and I started the movie with hope that Natalie Portman would shine as the dignified and collected First Lady we admire.
When the movie was over, we looked at each other with the same thought:
Mrs. Kennedy, you deserve a better movie.

The Hits
To her credit, Natalie Portman definitely mastered Jackie’s signature voice.  It was said to be a very distinct voice with a unique pitch, and Portman nails this very well.   Her whole look is classic Jackie Kennedy, especially her fashion.  Keep in mind that Mrs. Kennedy inspired women’s fashion and her impact in this regard is still present to this day.  A lot of her costumes are classic Jackie Kennedy and that kind of mindfulness to her true fashion is to be admired.
I really appreciate the historical accuracy and attention to detail.  Everything from the costumes to the set design right down the camera lens gives the film an atmospheric, period-piece feel and boosts the credit of its authenticity.
This movie has a lot–and I do mean–A LOT of very good lines, primarily from Jackie herself.  Lines from “I believe the characters we read on the page become more real than the men who stand beside us” to “There are two kinds of women, those who want power in the world and those who want power in bed,” the second being an exact quote from the real Mrs. Kennedy.  Halfway through the film, I began to wonder if the screenwriter had previous experience writing monologues because Natalie Portman gives some very compelling monologues as the movie goes on.
The thing is I really, really wanted this to be a good movie.  However, I’m not going to lie and say that it was a good movie because, well, it just isn’t.  Allow me to present to you my litany of everything wrong with Jackie.

The Misses
Director Pablo Larrain really wanted this to be the next American Sniper, but didn’t understand what made American Sniper work.  For one, this movie tries WAY TOO HARD to be stylistic and as a result, the camera–good Lord, the camera–has too many close-ups of Natalie Portman’s face.  This would be fine if Portman was allowed to be more expressive, which she isn’t.  No, this movie relies on her doing that ugly-cry face and just looking off with a blank-ish face, so the incessant close-ups are pointless.  Oh, and speaking further on the camera, this movie will features Dutch angles for no reason and the lens will be dimmed so that the lighting is too bright and everything looks unnecessarily grimy.  Hey, guys, you don’t need to go grimy when you’re just filming a ball scene!  This is a biography about Jackie Kennedy, not Hacksaw Ridge!
Portraying a real life person is a very delicate task that requires a great deal of sensitivity and humility.  I don’t think Natalie Portman got this memo because she gives us a Jackie Kennedy who displays an oddly restrained erratic temperament that was never known of the real Mrs. Kennedy.  As a result, instead of being a sympathetic character who could be empathized with, this fictionalized version of Jackie who changes her mind every fifteen seconds, snaps at people for no reason, tries to hide from her problems instead of tackling them, and becomes very frustrating to watch.  Now this wouldn’t bother me too much if we had scenes of her dignified and collected manner contrasting those unstable moments.  Unfortunately, we don’t get those scenes, so all we’re left with is an unhinged character who is difficult to sympathize with.
Having watched a good number of biographies in my day, here’s something I’ve come to learn: Biographies are centered around something other than the person they’re focused on.  At its surface, American Sniper was the story of Chris Kyle, but at its core it is a study of PTSD among our nation’s veterans.  The Theory of Everything may focus on Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde, but beyond the surface it’s about reaching for the stars even when the stars are impossibly high above your head.   Even I’m Not Ashamed, which has some glaring flaws of its own, propelled the overarching narrative of what one person is capable of when they place their lives in God’s hands.
So with all this in context, what is Jackie really about?  Is it the story of women in politics?  I don’t think so.  It’s never established whether Jackie is treated differently because of her gender or not, and no other female character faces marginalization from the system.  Is this the story of grief?  Not really.  JFK’s own presence as a character is never felt, so we can only watch characters grieve without feeling it ourselves.  At best, it could be the story of picking up the pieces of a short-lived legacy, but nothing about Natalie Portman’s performance conveys to us that she herself is even convinced of her husband’s legacy.
Here’s the really sad thing: Every problem I just went over would have been solved in the blink of an eye if the movie had opened with the assassination.  Here, let’s fix that right now, shall we?!
(Opens with black; a gunshot is heard, screams are audible) (Camera cuts to JACKIE, who sits in shock and silence, staring down at her husband, who lies slumped on her lap.  Slowly JACKIE places her hand on her cheek.  She lowers her hand and gasps quietly at the sight of her husband’s blood on her fingertips).
There!  Isn’t that better?  Now we the audience are in shock, Natalie Portman is in shock, we share her state of mind and now we are relying on her to be our emotional anchor.  Maybe instead of opening the film with a terrible violin score and Natalie Portman staring blankly into the distance on some beach, how about open your movie in a way that places us in the main character’s shoes?

What more can I say?  Jackie is a missed opportunity in every sense of the word.  It’s the kind of movie that wants to win awards, but doesn’t know what it needs to do to deserve such acclaim.  Hopefully another Jackie Kennedy movie comes out in the future, but if it ends up being anything like this film, then perhaps it is better for Mrs. Kennedy-Onassis to remain a historical figure untouched by crummy cinema.

Saint Helen, pray for us.

1 a Jackie Kennedy (2)
Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis (1929-1994).  You were a fine woman, a class act who held herself with poise and grace.  Please pray for us.

For you history buffs out there, I took the liberty of finding the original White House tour given by First Lady Jackie Kennedy herself, which the movie does recreate to great effect.   I hope you enjoy this little slice of American history.

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 Logan (2017)

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

…And I’m okay with that.

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

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

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

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

Blessed Laura Vicuna, pray for us.

CGB Review of The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Holy LEGOs, Batman!

This is my review of The LEGO Batman Movie!

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Three years after Emmet and company rescued LEGO…city, I guess (the main location never really had an established name)…Batman (Will Arnett) is continuing his crusade against crime in his beloved Gotham City.  However, his “I-don’t-need-nobody” attitude is starting to get the best of him and is beginning to harm the few interpersonal relationships he has.  His isolated world is turned upside when, after sarcastically “promising” to adopt the sweet orphan boy Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), Dick is welcomed into Wayne Manor by Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) and is taken in as Bruce Wayne’s/Batman’s adoptive son.  Along with unintentionally becoming a foster parent, Batman also has the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and his evil plan for complete and total world domination to worry about.  Oh, and he has a crush on now-Commissioner Barbara Gordon because why not?  Luckily their relationship is handled WAY better than it is in the Killing Joke adaptation.

Anywho, before any fans of the Killing Joke get angry at me, ONWARD with the review!

The Hits
Once again, the self-aware comedy is top notch!  There are a lot of really clever and incredibly funny jabs at past Batman incarnations and DC comics in general.  As with the last film, LEGO Batman is superbly animated.  The amount of detail to each frame and dedication to making every LEGO piece move smoothly will never cease to amaze me.
Will Arnett’s Batman was one of the best parts of the already-awesome LEGO Movie and he totally delivers here in his own solo flick!  His LEGO Batman is a bruiting, egocentric man-child…and yet there is a complexity to him which comes in the form of his inability to cope with the death of his parents even after all these years (and adaptations).  Within his character arch is a great self-sanctification message; as the story goes on, Batman slowly but surely puts his own ego and desires aside for the good of Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon and eventually all of Gotham.  The climax features a great moment of humility and self-denial from Batman, which is a much-needed lesson to both kids and adults alike in our entitled society.  Dick Grayson, aka Robin, is so adorable in this movie.   I like how he’s actually a teenage boy and not a twentysomething college fellow; it makes his innocence and whacky antics more endearing.  Also BRAVO to the film’s pro-adoption message!  By golly, we need all the positive examples of adoption we can get.
Now I’ve never been an avid reader of the Batman comics, but even as an outsider looking in, I can safely say that the portrayal of Batman and Joker’s rivalry here is the best I’ve seen since the Dark Knight!  I like dark and gritty as much as the next guy, I do appreciate the satirical take on Batman and Joker’s animosity.  Batman and Joker have always been each other’s ying and yang, and that one just couldn’t exist without the other.  This movie not only acknowledges this, but EMBRACES it!   I’ve always known that Joker has carried a secret soft spot for the Caped Crusader (and by that, I mean that the Joker secretly never wants to kill Batman because doing so would be killing the one person who is actually a worthy match to fight, and for Mr. J, where’s the fun in that?) and the movie doesn’t go crazy with it by having the Joker be in love with Batman or anything.  It’s more of a “I-appreciate-you-as-my-rivaling-equal” kind of rapport.  I actually think it was quite a bold move to make Batman kind of a bad guy and have the Joker be the more likable of the duo.

The Misses
So there is a bit of a continuity error.  In the LEGO Movie, the elements like water and fire were made ENTIRELY out of LEGOs.  Here, however, Batman goes swimming in an earlier scene and the water is actually, well, water.  Yeah, I know it’s a nitpick, but it was just less funny to see ole Bruce swimming in liquid than in blue LEGO pieces.
The movie can be a bit overwhelming at times.  The pacing is 100% fast, nonstop with little breathing room.  Jokes are thrown at a rapid-fire speed and the plot does little to take a break.  I can literally count the quiet moments with my fingers–all two of them.  Granted, I know that this isn’t Arrival, which took its time, but some pauses in the narrative would have been nice.

As a huge fan of the LEGO movie, I give this solo LEGO Batman flick two thumbs up!   This is another wonderfully assembled, cleverly crafted picture by the master-builder filmmakers who brought us the first flick.  Knee-slapping satire, colorful characters and positive messages of sanctification, friendship and adoption makes the LEGO Batman Movie a neon-colored treat for the whole family!

Saint Pelagia, pray for us.

CGB Review of The LEGO Movie (2014)

There’s no other way to begin this review except by saying…

EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!  😀

This is my review of The LEGO Movie!

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Emmet (Chris Pratt) is just your average, ordinary…LEGO person or piece or whatever you call him.  Anyway, Emmet lives a pretty unremarkable life as a construction worker amidst a sea of yellow faces.  When a strange piece called “the piece of resistance” gets stuck on Emmet’s back, he is whisked away by oddball characters such as a pretty tough gal named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and the prophet Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) on a mission to stop the evil Lord Business from freezing the entire LEGO world using the Kragle.

This plot is so ridiculous and nonsensical, which is why I love it so much!

The Hits
This movie is so gosh darn creative!  I was laughing so hard when I saw that the lava in the opening scene is made of red LEGOS!  I love how even the water is made of blue LEGOS.  The animation is truly something to behold.  Rich colors, smooth movements, excellent camerawork, the level of detail is astonishing and you can tell that a lot of thought and precision went into making everything just right.
For being a boring everyman…LEGO…being thingamajig, Emmet is a pretty endearing character.  They don’t make him clumsy or any other everyman (or everywoman) character trope, but they don’t give him special powers or any quality that would make him stand out.  He’s just a bland, likable guy with a kind heart (and a face of yellow) who ends up truly being the hero that the city needs.  Wyldstyle is pretty funny and with Vitruvius, you can tell that Morgan Freeman is trying so hard not to laugh with each line of dialogue he says.  Also Will Arnett’s Batman had me rolling on the floor laughing.  Batman sure does bruit a lot, doesn’t he?  I know that’s one of his signature qualities, but seen in a satirical form really does put perspective on it.
This is the kind of movie that should not have worked, but makes itself work with awesome results.  What makes this ridiculous concept work is its self-awareness.  The script knows that it is a laughable idea and, instead of trying to make itself more epic than it actually is, it embraces the nonsense and comedic possibilities.  Self-important prophecies, the chosen one narrative and pop culture are satirized to great effect.  The voice actors do a great job at taking things seriously when it is needed, but they aren’t like characters in a Christopher Nolan film where EVERY. SINGLE. LINE. OF. DIALOGUE is treated as the most important thing ever said.  The tongue-in-cheek quality is why this movie is so hilarious and a real blast to watch!

The Misses
The action is so fast-paced that it is hard to see at times.  Viewers with sensitive eyes or who are prone to getting headaches from watching fast motion with neon colors might want to close their eyes during the action sequences.

Everything is awesome with the LEGO Movie!  This surprise hit from 2014 is a brilliantly animated gem that both kids and adults can enjoy.  Top-notch animation, an impressive cast, charming characters, and a clever use of satire and cheeky humor all culminates to the LEGO Movie being…just so darn…AWESOME!  😀

Saint Isidore the Farmer, pray for us.

CGB Review of I’m Not Ashamed (2016)

I am not going to apologize for speaking the Name of Jesus, I am not going to justify my faith to them, and I am not going to hide the light that God has put in me.  If I have to sacrifice everything…I will.  I will take it.
–Rachel Joy Scott in a letter she wrote on April 20th, 1998; one year to the day before the Columbine tragedy.

This is my review of I’m Not Ashamed!

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April 20th, 1999 started out as an ordinary day. Seventeen-year old Rachel Joy Scott went to school and attended her classes as she would any other day.
At exactly 11:19 am, Rachel was eating lunch with her friend Richard Castaldo on the grass near the west entrance of the school.  They were soon approached by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who attacked them both with guns in their hands and hatred in their hearts.

Rachel was the first person killed by Harris and Klebold, who would go on to kill eleven other students and a teacher.
This is the story of her life and how she sparked a chain reaction of God’s love that continues to this day.

I discovered Rachel when I was fourteen-years old and just starting my Confirmation journey. My mother bought me the book “Rachel’s Tears” and I read it during my first Confirmation retreat.  As a kid, I always prayed and went to church, but reading about Rachel’s walk with God inspired me to make my Catholic faith my own.  Now having rediscovered her as an adult, I realize how much Rachel’s story has impacted my own walk with Jesus, which is why she holds a special place in my heart.  As you can imagine, I’ve been looking forward to this movie for quite some time.
Well, I finally own the DVD and have finally watched it…twice.
Here we go, on with the review.

The Hits
Masey McLain is the glue that holds this movie together, and my goodness, she carries the film on her shoulders with excellence.  She is a wonderful Rachel Scott.  Not only does she resemble her very well, but she captures Rachel’s outgoing personality, her passion for life, her heart for others and her desire to be real in one fell swoop.  She brings an authenticity and depth to the character so that she’s not just some sheltered good girl, but a real person who struggles with everyday issues all while clinging to her faith.  Speaking of which, PRAISE BE TO GOD that Rachel isn’t given the God’s-Not-Dead treatment, i.e. the “all-Christian-characters-are-perfect-beings” trope. While the film rightfully highlights her loving nature and acceptance of others, it allows her to make mistakes, to fall flat on her face and miss opportunities to do what is right.  Making light of her flaws allow her good deeds and triumphs to be even more meaningful.  We know that these acts of kindness are being done by a relatable human being and not a two-dimensional archetype.
The relationship between Rachel and her friend Nathan Ballard (based on her real life friend named Mark Bodiford) is the emotional anchor of this film.  They have a great rapport and Ben Davies’ performance serves to make Nathan the grounded “big brother” to his newfound, spirited “little sister.” Their friendship serves as a heartfelt subplot and an evolving example of a life touched by Rachel’s compassion.  On a side note, I really appreciate how her influence isn’t shown in some ridiculous burst of everyone at Columbine high school turning into nice people because–potatoes–but rather in small doses of kindness here and there.
In her journals, Rachel was incredibly deep in her relationship with God to the point where if you only read the journals without any context of her overall personality, she could come across as an uber-pious person who is difficult to connect with.  The film takes a different approach and actually dials down on her religiosity.  Her faith takes the form of her treatment of others and through excerpts of her writings via voiceover narration.  She never quotes scripture or beats anyone over the head with the Bible.  Her Christianity is expressed by her choices and her response to the world around her.  People need to see the human side of following God and this movie presents this beautifully.
All right, how does the movie portray the actual tragedy?  My answer: As well as it could have.  Mind you, we’re talking about a tragedy that changed America, so of course portraying it would be a delicate issue.  The filmmakers recognize this and go about it with as much tact and respect as possible.  While we follow Rachel’s story, we cut to brief scenes of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold plotting and preparing for the massacre at Columbine.  As the third act draws to the climax, it becomes effectively sickening to watch Rachel go about her final days as the knowledge of what is about to happen to her sinks in.

The Misses
The filmmaking itself is passable.  Aside from some nice transitions and a particularly creepy shot of Harris and Klebold approaching the school on the day of the shooting, there are a few scenes that just stop abruptly.  If you’re looking for a more avant-garde film style, you probably won’t find it here.
Rachel’s biological father Darrell Scott is weirdly absent from this film.   I say “weirdly” because in real life, Darrell Scott and Beth Nimmo (Rachel’s parents) had a good relationship with one another.  Rachel herself was close with both them and her stepparents Larry Nimmo and Sandy Scott.  However, you wouldn’t know that if you watched this before reading the book “Rachel’s Tears” because Darrell Scott in this movie is the absentee father who is nowhere to be found.  This wouldn’t bother me too much if I didn’t know that shortly after Rachel’s death, Darrell was the one who started the organization Rachel’s Challenge and is one of its prominent speakers to this day.
Speaking of Beth and Larry Nimmo, their parenting in this movie is kind of inconsistent.  In the first fifteen minutes, Rachel gets busted by her mother for sneaking out with her friends and engaging in smoking and drinking.  But then we see her being allowed to walk alone to her youth group Breakthrough.  Granted, when we first see her at Breakthrough, she is driven by her sister Dana, but after that, she’s going to Breakthrough by herself at night.  The parenting tries to be both assertive and lax, which results in some odd inconsistency.
There is only one thing that really bugs me.  Granted, it doesn’t ruin the movie for me at all, it’s just a side effect of the burden of knowledge.  Here it is:
So on April 20th, 1998, Rachel wrote, “I am not going to apologize for speaking the Name of Jesus…if I have to sacrifice everything, I will.”  As mentioned in the review’s opening, that was written one year to the day before her death.   Meanwhile, the movie starts in April of 1998, Rachel’s sophomore year.  During this time, she’s not shown as being religious yet.  She doesn’t verbalize this quote until the end of the second act, which I am assuming takes place in either February or March of 1999.  The only reason this bugs me is because I know how significant it is that she wrote the quote one year to the day before her death.  Yes, I know that her alleged martyrdom is still hotly debated after all this time, but that doesn’t take away from the significance of that particular quote and when exactly it was written.

If more Christian films were like I’m Not Ashamed, then the genre would be so much better.  I’m Not Ashamed is a powerful example of how to follow Jesus, all you have to do is be an ordinary person who is willing to be used by Him to make a difference in the lives around you.  Despite some strange choices regarding the portrayal of the Scott family and hasty editing, the handling of the tragedy is as tactful as it could have been and Masey McLain’s performance pays a respectful homage to Rachel, capturing the essence of who she was during her short time on Earth.  This is the story of Rachel and everything about her is presented correctly.  That fact alone is why I can forgive the film’s mistakes.
The Christian film genre needs to present stories of people being people while they serve God, not holier-than-thou stereotypes who only serve to propel an agenda.

Thank you Rachel for your faith, your courage and for starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.  You have touched my heart and will continue to touch millions of people’s hearts forever.

Rachel Joy Scott, pray for us.
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May they rest in peace.

If you are interested in supporting the organization Rachel Challenge, be sure to check out their website: http://rachelschallenge.org