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

CGB Review of Patriots Day (2017)

As I did in the Hidden Figures review, I would like to thank our law enforcement, first responders and the people of Boston for their services in the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing.

This is my review of Patriots Day!

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This is the story of the officers, first responders and everyday civilians who came together to hunt down Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the two men responsible for the Boston marathon bombing on April 15th, 2013.
I was at a Political Science club meeting when the Boston marathon bombing happened.  The professor who was moderating the meeting brought it to our attention, but it wasn’t until I got home and my parents had turned on the news when I learned what had taken place.

The Hits
Patriots Day seemingly blends its own camerawork with actual footage before and moments after the bombing.  This technique works so well that I honestly had a hard time telling which was footage and which was the film.  There are a few times where the difference becomes easy to spot, but for the most part, the footage and the recreation of said footage work well together.
This movie places great emphasis on the efforts of different people from all walks of life uniting for one cause: To catch the two men who orchestrated the bombing.  Because unity is the focus of the film, all of the characters act like real people in a very real situation.  There is no “big-bad-government-official-versus-rogue-cop-who-knows-it-all” or anything too cliché.  In this story, the citizens of Boston–police, civilian and all–are the heroes and the bombers are the enemies.  Any infighting that happens between the law enforcement characters and the government agents is short-lived when a new development in the case emerges or an even trickier situation comes up.  These moments cast aside all petty agendas and force the characters to look the big picture in the face.
I appreciate how the movie acknowledges the conflict with labeling the attack as “terrorism.”  Although the Boston marathon bombing was absolutely a terrorist attack on civilian life, the fact is once an attack is defined as terrorism, the media, the government and other powers that be jump headfirst into controversial waters and–yes–American Muslims who are trying to live peacefully with their families find themselves bracing for Islamophobic backlash.  The movie uses dialogue between government officials to tackle in a subtle way the realities of post-9/11 America, and I commend the film for doing so.
There is an intense, masterfully-done interrogation scene between an interrogator named Veronica (Khandi Alexander) and Katherine Russell (Melissa Benoist, who you may known as Supergirl), the wife of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and American convert to Islam.  It is entirely dialogue driven with faint background music, which allows the tension of the scene to simmer and settle.
Speaking of the bombers and Katherine Russell, the portrayal of these characters are as realistic as possible.  It is clear that Tamerlan calls the shots in his house and that Dzhokhar, though has his own agenda, is mostly a sheep following his brother’s sinister lead.  As for Katherine, she is shown as a witting bystander; neither verbally encouraging nor discouraging her husband’s plot.  The brothers work on making bombs while Katherine quietly feeds her child milk and cereal.

The Misses
If you are an anxiety-sufferer like myself, then the first act might have you on edge.  I knew that the bombs were coming, but because the film doesn’t show time cards during the Boston marathon itself, I didn’t know when to brace myself for impact.  I literally jumped in my seat and had to take deep breaths after the bombing happens. Granted, I’m sure the filmmakers do this intentionally, but I also want to keep moviegoers who may be sensitive to certain things in mind.

Overall Patriots Day is a harrowing, gut-wrenching, emotional film, which is exactly why you should see it.  Like Silence, it does what movies are supposed to do: It made me cry, it made me anxious, it made me mad; it is an engaging experience that makes you feel for the characters on their quest for justice.   Compelling performances, tactful screenwriting and a thoughtful portrayal of the event makes Patriots Day a powerful film that needs to be experienced by the masses.

Saint Botolph, patron saint of Boston, pray for us.

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May the victims of the Boston marathon bombing rest in peace.

CGB Review of Hidden Figures (2017)

Normally I’d begin this review with a witty remark, but instead I’ll open by thanking Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson for their service to our country.

This is my review of Hidden Figures!

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This is the untold true story of three African-American women who were behind the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit.  The main focus is on Katherine Goble (later Johnson), a brilliant mathematician–someone you should call the next time you’re taking a complicated statistics class (another story from my life for another day)–and her struggles to be treated as an equal amongst her predominately white male colleagues.  While that’s going on, we cut to Dorothy Vaughan and her determination to become a recognized supervisor and Mary Jackson’s fight to be the first African-American female engineer at NASA.
You have my good friend Stargift Tarakasha: Pagan Pro-Life Advocate to thank for requesting me to review this, and I’m so glad I did because this is a terrific film!  🙂

The Hits
What a likable, charming cast!  I loved the bond and rapport between Katherine, Mary and Dorothy.  Their sisterhood is delightful to watch and is truly the heart of the movie.  Taraji P. Henson is exceptional as Katherine.  She brings a warmth and quiet strength to the character that makes her easy to relate to.  The best part of her performance comes when she gives an impassioned speech in which she confronts the fact that the “colored bathroom” is a mile away from her building.  I love how whenever she is doing calculations, it is as if she enters into her own world where it is just her and the numbers.  It reminded me of Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.
This film handles the topic of institutional racism as tactfully as possible.  You don’t have that one overtly racist character who hisses the “N-word” at our main characters, instead the film makes use of judgmental glances, half-hearted conversations between white characters and the leading ladies, and scenes such as a white librarian telling a very respectful Dorothy, “I don’t want any trouble,” signaling her [Dorothy] to leave with her two sons.  The movie personifies “Separate but Equal” in the way it has the white characters, both male and female, treat the African-American characters.  There’s an interesting evolution of the relationship between Dorothy Vaughan and Kirsten Dunst’s character Vivian Mitchell; it starts with Ms. Mitchell hiding her sense of superiority behind a veil of sympathy towards Dorothy and the other African-American women at NASA, and as Katherine, Mary and Dorothy make progress in their work, Ms. Mitchell begins seeing Dorothy in particular in a whole new light.  The same goes for Katherine’s relationships with Jim Parsons (Sheldon from Big Bang Theory) Paul Stafford and Kevin Costner’s character Al Harrison.  Paul and Al work as exact opposites of one another.  Paul represents blatant institutional racism, while Al’s obsession with space and calculation explains his inadvertent enabling of benign racism.
I’d like to say kudos to the audience I saw this with.  There were quite a few scenes where the audience clapped; for one, when Al Harrison knocks down the “Colored Ladies Only” sign from the women’s restroom, hence allowing the African-American women of the building to use any women’s bathroom they want.  I normally don’t comment on the audience when I see these movies, but I would like to point out that the audience at my screening was quite diverse, which speaks of Hidden Figures’ appeal to anyone regardless of their background.  🙂

The Misses
This movie sort of has the same problem as the 2015 Steve Jobs biopic and “The Martian” in that, unless you are an enthusiast of math and science, the calculations might go over your head.  Granted, the film focuses more on the emotions of the characters who are doing the calculations rather than the numbers themselves, but still filmmakers have yet to find a way to make chalkboard-mathematics exciting to those who aren’t fans of math.
This movie does fall into some inspirational-movie-tropes, like uplifting music playing in the background when, say, a main character makes a statement or when Paul Stafford and the other office workers first see Katherine’s equation.

Overall, Hidden Figures is an enjoyable, feel-good biopic to start off 2017!  With wonderful performances from Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, a tasteful handling of institutional racism and an engaging story, Hidden Figures propels to the stars of good cinema, bringing to light the heroic service of three courageous women who paved the way in getting us to the moon and back.

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Thank you Katherine Goble-Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan for your service.

 

Saint Josephine Bakhita, pray for us.

CGB Review of Live By Night (2017)

I remember one time when my brother commented how he didn’t really care for Ben Affleck.  “He always plays a stoic Boston street-tough in every movie he’s in.”
This whole movie is my brother’s argument personified.

This is my review of Live By Night!

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Okay, so like Nocturnal Animals, this movie is a tad hard to summarize.  Here goes nothing!
Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is a World War I veteran who has vowed to never live by anyone else’s rules other than his own–he’s basically Tommy Pickles if he grew up and became a gangster.  We first meet Joe when he’s in a–how to put this delicately?–romantic entanglement with Emma Gould (an unrecognizable Sienna Miller), who is the mistress of Irish mafia gangster Albert White (Robert Glenister).  When things go horribly wrong for Joe and Emma, i.e. Albert finds out they’re lovers by night because the plot demands it, Joe turns to Italian mafia gangster leader Maso Pescatore (okay, this character [Joe] is a crime boss magnet, isn’t he?) and ends up running a rum empire in Ybor City in Tampa, Florida, where he meets Graciella Corrales (Zoe Saldana), the sister of a Cuban businessman and falls for her.

Yeah…if this all sounds like an Edgar Award-winning novel from 2012 that is a 401 pages long, that’s because it is!  Live by Night is based on the book of the same name by Dennis Lehane, who was also the screenwriter for this flick.

The Hits
This is certainly a well-made movie.  There are some gorgeous shots and the cinematography is as outstanding here as it was in Arrival.  The second and third act of this film is really where it shines.  The story gains a much better pace and we do get to connect with Joe Coughlin.  The climactic Michael Mann-style shootout is thrilling and engaging to watch.  No doubt that actor/director Ben Affleck knows how to make one heck of a heart-pounding action sequence.
Live by Night has a lot of very intriguing ideas and subplots.  For one, Joe is the gangster son of Officer Thomas Coughlin and THAT relationship between a law-abiding father and law-breaking son (a reverse Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, if you will) would’ve been fascinating to explore!   Also, halfway through the second act, we meet Loretta Figgis (Elle Fanning), who goes from drug-addicted aspiring actress to a devout Christian preacher and her sermons turn the public against the construction of a new casino run by Joe.  Honestly, I wish that was the main plot; a character study of the rivalry between a rum empire-running gangster and a young female preacher as the fate of the casino lies in the hands of both forces, one opposing and the one trying to keep it alive.  I’d pay money to see that movie!  Speaking of which, Elle Fanning’s performance as Loretta is haunting; soft-spoken and cloaked in white dresses with hollow eyes, I really wish she had a bigger role than what she got here.  Nevertheless, she’s as mesmerizing here as she was as Aurora in 2014’s “Maleficent.”  I’ll be sure to post a review of Maleficent here on CGB at some point.
And yet, those enthralling subplots I mentioned are both a strength AND a weakness.  Just head for the Misses segment and I’ll explain.

The Misses
These intriguing subplots are given almost no time to develop.  The relationship between Joe and Graciella comes and goes, and we’re just supposed to assume that they’re in love because they hug and talk romantically every once in a while.  Meanwhile, Elle Fanning’s ex-druggie turned 1930’s version of Paula White–minus White’s prosperity gospel angle–shows up, preaches with vigor and then we’re just told via Ben Affleck’s narration that her sermons turned the public against his casino.  As for the relationship between Joe and his cop dad, well, we get a taste of the intrigue of their conflicted relationship, but then cop dad dies off-screen.
Halfway through this movie, I found myself asking a question that, once I thought it, made the whole movie fall apart for me: “What is this movie about?” Allow me to explain.
Okay, on its surface, Live by Night is about a gangster who does crummy things to build a rum empire during Prohibition.  That’s all fine and dandy, but at its core, what is Live by Night about?  What’s the interior goal within the story?
I’ve picked some examples to bring perspective into my argument:

What is Zootopia about?  It is a commentary on how our perception of those who are different from us can color the way we treat them.

What is Arrival about?   It is about how language is a bridge between peoples and raises the question of how you would act if you knew your own future.

What is Pan’s Labyrinth about?  It is about how we as human beings are capable of being the most frightening monsters, and how fantasy can be both a coping mechanism and a Hell of our making if we allow the line between what is real and what is make-believe to become a blurry fog.

So, with all of this in mind, I have no idea what Live by Night is about at its core because the movie itself has nothing to say.  Believe me, I tried very hard to find its narrative center, and to be fair it does have hints of the impact of toxic masculinity here and there.  There is also some speck of prosperity gospel commentary lying around, but the script is so restrained in its approach to the ambitious source material that it ends up not really having anything on its mind.

Overall, Live by Night is one of those movies that gets made to win awards.  I would not be surprised if this gets some awards recognition.  The set design and costumes are top-notch, the cast is stellar and the cinematography is nothing short of remarkable.
That all being said, I’ve always believed that the best compliment you can give to a film is to have it analyzed and remembered by popular culture.  I’ve watched countless YouTube videos that examine the complex narrative choices of Arrival, Pan’s Labyrinth and other films.  Though it really does try to have meaning, Live by Night never really finds its voice and, in turn, probably won’t be getting that analytical treatment any time soon.

Saint Isaac of Nineveh, pray for us.

CGB Review of Silence (2016)

The “war on Christmas” is not persecution; being burned alive if you don’t spit on a crucifix is.

This is my review of Silence!

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Father Cristóvão Ferreira has committed an act of apostasy, i.e., he has renounced faith in Jesus and is now living as a Japanese Buddhist.
Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver) are former students of Ferreira and cannot believe what they are hearing, which is understandable.  It would be like if I suddenly announced, “I’m no longer Catholic Girl Bloggin’!  I’m now Rastafarian Girl Ranting, so y’all are just gonna have to deal with it!”
Anyway, the two shocked Jesuits decide to go to Japan, which is a very risky move since the gruesome persecution of Japanese Christians is going on.  As they search for their mentor, Rodrigues and Garrpe find themselves serving the embattled Christian villagers who must practice their faith in secret or risk the penalty of death.

This movie made me anxious.  It made me cry.  It made me angry.  I was reeling right up until the end credits…
…And I loved every minute of it.  Why?  Because Silence does what movies are supposed to do: Forces you to feel and confront emotions you would rather not visit.  This movie is cathartic in the most beautiful way.

The Hits
Andrew Garfield continues to impress me.  He made me admire Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge and he made me weep for the embattled Father Sebastião Rodrigues.   Similarly to Hacksaw Ridge, Father Rodrigues is a Christian character written correctly: Faithful yet struggling, clinging to Christ while wrestling with growing doubt, this is a character untouched by Pure Flix, so he’s not an unrealistically righteous wonder bread.  The heart faith of Father Rodrigues both clashes and compliments the head faith of Father Garrpe.  Garrpe starts out only focusing on what’s in front of him, while Rodrigues keeps his eyes on what’s to come, but as the film progresses, they experience a reverse of perspective, with Garrpe evolving into the big picture guy and Rodrigues clinging to what is in his face at the present moment.
The real stars of the film are the Japanese villagers.  Their unshakable faith and hunger for God brought me to tears.  The way they greet Rodrigues and Garrpe with sheer delight, how they fold their hands in prayer under straw huts, the light in their eyes as they receive the Eucharist; their commitment to Catholicism was refreshing to see on the big screen.  In addition, their dedication made their martyrdom all the more powerful and gut-wrenching to behold.
In one of the reviews I had read before seeing the film, it was mentioned that Scorsese’s use of sound design makes particular scenes anxiety-riddling.  As a person who struggles with anxiety myself, it occurred to me to take into consideration whether moviegoers who suffer from anxiety issues would be able to watch the film.  Having seen it, I can say that the use of sound is well handled.  Silent pauses in the film serve as a subtle yet urgent warning, allowing the audience to brace themselves for upcoming martyrdom.  The sounds you are allowed to hear are of burning wood, crashing waves, breaking bones and human misery.   Yes, this movie makes you anxious for the characters, but it works within the context of the film.  It’s the kind of anxiety that you can recover from once the film ends, though what you’ve witnessed will stay with you long after the credits roll.
Finally, I’d like to add more brownie points for the Japanese convert character who took the name “Monica” as her baptismal name; “like the mother of the great Saint Augustine,” Father Rodrigues says.  Any mention of my Confirmation saint (Monica) always brings a smile to my face.  🙂

The Misses
Much like Arrival, I honestly can’t think of any glaring flaws.  If you’re looking for something with more action and a fast-paced plot, you’re not going to find it here.  I guess going back to my concern for moviegoers with anxiety problems, if you are really worried, I do recommend looking at this film’s IMDB page, primarily the parental guide.  Also check out Matt Zoller Seitz’s review of Silence on the late Roger Ebert’s website.  In his review, Zoller-Seitz goes over Scorsese’s use of sound editing:  http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/silence-2016

About That Ending…[MAJOR SPOILER WARNING]
Okay, time to address the elephant in the room: The ending.
Throughout the film, Japanese Christians are forced by government officials to trample on the fumie, a crudely carved image of Jesus.  Those who refuse are brutally put to death.  In the film’s climax, Father Rodrigues comes face to face with the fumie and, apparently, hears the “voice of Jesus” say to him, “Come ahead now. It’s all right. Step on Me. I understand your pain. I was born into this world to share men’s pain. I carried this cross for your pain. Step.”  This is a paraphrased version of what “Jesus” said to Father Rodrigues in the 1966 novel, “You may trample. You may trample. I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. You may trample. It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.”
First: No, I don’t think it was Jesus who said that to him.
Second: The phrase “test the spirits” automatically came to mind. Basically it means that not every interior voice or vision comes from God; I’ve mentioned before that there is a spiritual world where both angels of light and fallen angels of darkness reside.  I looked up the phrase “test the spirits” and came across 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
If anything, I think the ending of Silence is a cautionary word of what happens when proper discernment has not taken place.   A friend of mine once told me, “Remember that a bad spirit will never give you God-centered advice and a good spirit will never give you advice that moves you away from God.”
Let’s face it: Discernment of spirits isn’t exactly a popular subject, but by God, it is an important one.  If there is any time for the subject to be brought to the mainstream, that time would be now.

Overall, Silence is a work of genius, quite possibly Martin Scorsese’s best cinematic achievement.  It is a grueling, atmospheric meditation on when our Lord provides no response in the midst of chaos and how to deal with divine quiet.  Carried by the performances of Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, as well as the tasteful handling of bloody martyrdom, Silence is worth being watched, studied, pondered and discussed for years to come.
May we American Christians appreciate the religious freedoms we enjoy here in the United States.  May we thank God for allowing us to worship freely without the fear of death.  When I got home from seeing the movie, I hit my knees and thanked God for placing me in a country where I can wear a cross or a saint medal in public without having to fear a knife to my throat for doing so.

Holy martyrs of Japan, pray for us and for the conversion of Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver.