CGB Review of The Disaster Artist (2017)

Oh hai Mark!

Guys and gals, after a two-month absence, I’m back!

This is my review of The Disaster Artist!

the-disaster-artist-james-franco-movieBased on the book “The Disaster Artist,” the making of “The Room” is chronicled through the tumultuous friendship between Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) as they meet in an acting class, form a bond and travel to LA together to prove all the naysayers wrong.  The end result is “The Room,” a film both infamously terrible and an instant classic.  Before I go on, yes, I have seen The Room and will be reviewing it soon.

The Hits
The heart of the story is the relationship between Wiseau and Sestero, mostly shown through Sestero’s perspective.  Experiencing Wiseau’s strange nature through Sestero’s eyes was a smart choice since it balances out the weirdness of the story.  Speaking of Tommy Wiseau, James Franco’s performance is amazing!  The accuracy and attention to detail is noteworthy.  Everything from the off-putting accent to the hair, his mannerisms; James Franco transforms into Tommy Wiseau.  I appreciate how the film never makes Wiseau into a joke, rather it humanizes him and works around his eccentricities, preventing him from coming off as a caricature.  As for Dave Franco, while his performance isn’t anything remarkable, he is the grounded and sensible friend who keeps Wiseau’s oddities in check.  The fact that brothers James and Dave Franco star as Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero heightens the chemistry between the protagonists, making their relationship believable and natural.
Having never read “The Disaster Artist” book, I didn’t realize until halfway through the film how one-sided and toxic Wiseau and Sestero’s relationship is.  He doesn’t try to break up Sestero and his new girlfriend, but his disapproval of the romance is loud and clear.  His mistreatment of the cast and crew of “The Room” is not sugarcoated at all; we see him humiliate Juliette Danielle during the awkward sex scene by pointing out a zit on her shoulder, he refuses to turn on the air conditioning, causing a cast member to faint and getting into shouting matches with the cameraman and producer.  Wiseau himself could range between codependent and emotionally abusive, but both James Franco’s performance and the film make it very clear that he only has the propensity for being difficult and not abusive by intent.  Due to minimal emotional intelligence and a lack of social skills, Wiseau is portrayed as a man who does have a good heart, but chooses self over others more often than not.
The big question with this movie is does it work on its own in spite of “The Room” being the backdrop?  As someone who has seen the original “The Room,” but is not a mega-fan, I say YES!  The first hour is an underdog story that humanizes the relationship between Wiseau and Sestero, while the second hour continues to develop their troubled friendship all while successfully recreating iconic scenes from “The Room.”  The underdog aspect of the story remains front and center even as the making-of comes into play.

The Misses
Honestly my only complaint would be that the third act feels somewhat rushed.  SPOILER: So Sestero and Wiseau have a big confrontation and then Sestero walks off the set of “The Room.”  One fade to black later, Sestero looks up while driving and sees a movie poster for “The Room.”  Sestero and Wiseau meet again (after an unspecified amount of time) and they make up pretty quickly.  Given how much Wiseau has taken advantage of him, I kind of wish we had see Sestero resist forgiving Wiseau, even just a brief look of consternation on his face before realizing what brought him and Wiseau together in the first place.  Granted, having never read the book, I don’t know if this is how it happens in the novel, but it felt very rushed to me.

Verdict
Guys and gals, The Disaster Artist is anything but a disaster.  This is a fantastic biopic of how the best-worst movie of all time came to be.  A well-crafted script, an endearing love for “The Room” permeating from every actor involve, and the chemistry between James and Dave Franco bring Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero to life, enabling we the audience to empathize with their wild journey towards turning a crazy dream into a cult classic reality.

Saint John Bosco, pray for us.

CGB Review of It (2017)

I wonder if holy water would’ve worked on Pennywise.  I guess I’ll try it out the next time I see a killer clown while grocery shopping.

This is my review of It!

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Based on both Stephen King’s novel and the 1990 miniseries of the same name, It tells the story of the Loser’s Club, a misfit group of outcasts who begin experiencing frightening apparitions and visitations from Pennywise, a demonic killer clown who has been terrorizing Derry, Maine for thousands of years.

The Hits
The kids are the heart of this story and these child actors are absolutely fantastic!  Their chemistry with one another is impeccable; I could believe that these kids would hang out at a Starbucks after school together.  While it is uncomfortable to see twelve-year olds dropping F-bombs, I honestly prefer that over cheesy phrases that no kid would ever say.  I like how they don’t go into long diatribes about their friendship.  Their bond is shown to us through their actions and decisions as a group, how they come to each others’ rescue whenever one of them is reeling from an encounter with Pennywise.  Much like the first Alien movie, this film spends its first hour fleshing out Bill, Stan, Ben, Beverly, Eddie, Richie and Mike and establishing them as friends through circumstance.  You get the sense that it is in being rejected by others that they have come to accept one another.
All right, let’s talk about Pennywise because, by God, how can you not talk about Pennywise?!  Bill Skarsgård nails it as Pennywise.  Gone is the witty banter of Tim Curry’s interpretation of Pennywise.  This Pennywise is basically a Machiavellian demon, one who rules his chosen targets by presenting himself as their worst fears made manifest.  After we meet him in the film’s first eight minutes, the movie then proceeds to build up the terror of anticipating his unpredictable presence rather than having him screech at the kids in every single scene.  He is featured more prominently in end of the second act and the entire third act, but for the first hour and a half, he’s like the Fire Lord in Avatar: The Last Airbender; shrouded in mystery and kept in the shadows with a single red balloon being his calling card.
What keeps the Pennywise apparitions from becoming too repetitive is that they are used to establish the worst fears and darkest memories of our protagonists.  Bill is forced to revisit his guilt over Georgie’s death when he follows Pennywise (disguised as Georgie) into his flooded basement and faces not-Georgie, who is wearing the same yellow raincoat he was last seen wearing on the day of his death.  Mike’s first Pennywise encounter comes to him in the form of burning hands trapped behind a door, a gut-wrenching representation of the family he lost in a horrific fire.  These scenes are critical to the character development, as well as for getting a sense of Pennywise’s possible omniscience and immortality.  I really wonder if this is what it would look like if God actually gave Lucifer a free hand.  Luckily the old serpent can’t do squat without God’s permission, and after seeing this movie, I’m most certainly glad that’s the case!
Speaking of which, I would like to say that while this is a secular film, it would not be far-fetched to call this an unintentionally accurate portrayal of what it is like to deal with spiritual attack.  Not so much the over-the-top scares, but in the depiction of the unnerving reality of being bullied and harassed by evil.  Granted, this isn’t a de facto story of spiritual warfare, but I do feel that those who do work in that field (such as those involved in deliverance ministry and maybe even exorcists) could benefit from watching this film.  Spiritual attacks certainly make life challenging, but they can also serve as a wake-up call to run to Jesus if you’ve been moving away from Him for a while.

The Misses
There’s this really unnecessary love triangle between Bill, Bev and Ben (try saying those three names ten times fast) that the filmmakers do try to develop, but it ultimately falls flat because it’s just a distraction from the main plot.
Speaking of Bev, she has this reputation of being promiscuous, even though we see that it’s not the case at all.  This point is hand-fisted throughout the film.  Now while I am glad that slut-shaming is addressed in this film, it gets tiresome by the fifteenth time a character throws an accusation of promiscuity in Bev’s face.  There’s a more subtle way to write slut-shaming into your movie, and I hope filmmakers learn how to do so.
The very end of the film features the kids basically making a blood pact that they’ll return to Derry if Pennywise returns.  Yeah, I felt that was a bit much.  Hey, guys, I think a verbal agreement would’ve been just fine, but what do I know?  I guess being stalked by a killer clown can make you resort to extreme measures.

Overall It can certainly be called a crowd-pleasing horror flick.  This movie is like Deadpool in that it’s better watched with a group of friends at a midnight screening.  Fortunately even if it weren’t a midnight movie, the script is well-written and stands on its own two feet.  Add to that the stellar performances of Bill Skarsgård and the child actors, and excellent directorial work from Director Andy Muschietti, and you’ve got yourself a Stephen King adaption worthy of the hype and applause it has received.

Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, pray for us.

Given that the new It film is immensely dark and heavy, I thought it’d be fun to add the Nostalgia Critic’s review of the 1990 miniseries “It” as a bonus feature.  🙂

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

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

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

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

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

Critic 1: IT SUCKS!

Critic 2: IT SUCKS!

Critic 3: IT SUCKS!

Rad-Trads: IT SUCKS!

All together: IT SUCKS!

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

MsOWrites: Seems like they’re never satisfied.

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

Nostalgia Critic: Good morning, girls!

MsOWrites: Good morning, NC!

Nostalgia Critic: Where are you off to?

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

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

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

MsOWrites: We might be in for a pleasant surprise.

Nostalgia Critic: It still sucks, though.

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

Critic 1: Emma Watson’s auto-tuned.

Critic 2: The supporting cast was underused.

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

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

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

CGB: Are you crying?  Because so am I!

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

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

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

CGB: Let us begin!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2. This film is uber-feminist!

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

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

CGB Review of 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 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.

CGB Review of Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Between this and Arrival, I can’t help but wonder if an Amy Adams cinematic universe is in the works.  Hmm…

This is my review of Nocturnal Animals!

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All right, so this movie is a little difficult to summarize in a few words or less without spoilers, so bear with me and this ridiculously-long summation.
Art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) has it all: Wealth, a luxury home, a dashing husband (played by Armie Hammer), and a successful business.  Her life is basically the prosperity gospel on steroids.  So how does she start and end every day of her perfect life?
By hitting the scotch.
Her business is declining, her Prince Charming is cheating on her and she finds herself in the void of unhappiness and discontent.  Her sorrowful world is shaken when she receives a package one day.  Inside this package is a manuscript titled “Nocturnal Animals” written by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal).
The novel tells the story of Tony Hastings, his wife Laura and their daughter India.  On their road trip to West Texas, they are ambushed by three hooligans: Ray Marcus, Lou and Turk.  The three men kidnap Laura and India, then proceed to brutally rape and murder them.  From there, Tony seeks justice and vengeance with the help of a local cop Bobby (Michael Shannon).
As Susan reads this gut-wrenching thriller written by the man she once loved, she finds herself beginning to question her life choices that led to her currently melancholy existence.

The Hits
The writing is quite spectacular.  Director Tom Ford brilliantly blends the two narratives together into one, keeping them from ever overtaking one another or feeling crammed.  If you’re a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, then you might really enjoy this movie because it carries the sleek, neo-noir look, tone and feel of a Hitchcockian film.  As a fan of character studies, I absolutely admire that this film is an unnerving character study of Susan as she rediscovers her feelings (I’m not going to say “her love” because, based on how she is written, it seems that this character is incapable of truly loving someone or at least doing so for a sustained period of time) for her ex-husband through reading his manuscript and now must live with her regrettable decision to leave him “in a very brutal way” as she puts it.
The standout performances by far are Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  Gyllenhaal delivers a heartbreaking performance as Tony Hastings.  He’s technically playing two characters: Edward Sheffield and Tony Hastings.  Though we only see Edward a few times in Susan’s flashbacks, Gyllenhaal is convincing as both a vulnerable man and a self-motivated one, he’s basically a Hufflepuff; think a dark-haired Newt Schmander from Fantastic Beasts.  Gyllenhaal conveys Tony’s pain and suffering without overdoing it, blending the right amount of strength and inner collapse.  Michael Shannon is having the time of his life as the cop Bobby/Tony’s conscience personified (Director Tom Ford himself has said so) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the bland actor from that god-awful 2014 Godzilla film, ACTUALLY GIVES A PERFORMANCE–and a good one at that!   Taylor-Johnson’s Ray Marcus is slimy and vicious; the devil incarnate with a sly smile and raggedy hair.
Also, I should point this out: Edward’s novel Nocturnal Animals (the one Susan reads in the movie) is a book that I would definitely read.   That story itself is like Gone-Girl-times-twelve minus the sociopathic wife.  I could definitely see it being a bestseller here in the real world.

The Misses
So Amy Adams…okay, I praised her performance to high Heaven in my Arrival review and I even liked her role as Sydney Prosser in American Hustle, but I was quite disappointed in her performance here.  She’s certainly not bad, she just doesn’t have much to do here.  Susan Morrow is what I call a “novel character,” in which her character would work much better in a first-person novel than on film.  Because we don’t get to hear her inner monologue, all we get is her looking sad–A LOT.  Sorry, guys, but lying awake in bed with a sad expression is not character development.  Now in all fairness, she didn’t do a bad job looking lonesome and depressed, it’s just that in contrast to Gyllenhaal’s explosive performance, hers is somewhat anemic.
Now this is a well-crafted, brilliantly written film, BUT….the re-watch value is lacking.  This is definitely one of those films where, if you’re a film teacher, it’s a great movie to show to your students and have them write a paper on, but in terms of watching it again for entertainment, this movie doesn’t have that quality.

You’re probably wondering, “So CGB, which is your favorite: Arrival or Nocturnal Animals?” If you were thinking that, then–omgosh I’m a mind reader!–just kidding, but in all seriousness, I prefer Arrival over Nocturnal Animals because Arrival rocked my world and actually made me think.  Meanwhile Nocturnal Animals just made me depressed.

That being said, Nocturnal Animals is an impressive second film from Director Tom Ford (his first being 2009’s “A Single Man” with Colin Firth and Julianne Moore”).  A multi-layered film complimented by strong performances and Hitchcockian influences makes this a movie worth analyzing and drawing inspiration from.  If you’re looking for a slick revenge story and character story, then Nocturnal Animals might be just what you’re looking for.

Saint Zelie Martin, pray for us.

CGB Bonus!
If you’ve seen Nocturnal Animals already, then be sure to check out this analysis!