This movie is really great!…
….IF you haven’t already seen Pan’s Labyrinth.
This is my review of The Shape of Water!
Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute janitor at a top secret research facility circa 1962. Though a hearing person, she communicates with the few friends she has via American Sign Language (yes, as an interpreting student, I will get into the accuracy of the ASL in this film). All is well and mundane until a mysterious amphibian fella known as “The Asset” is brought into the lab to be both tested and tortured by Strickland (Michael Shannon). A woman with no voice, Elisa begins to form a bond with this voiceless creature that leads her to do what she has never dared before.
The Hits Sally Hawkins is probably one of the best mute characters in recent memory. Elisa is a woman defined by powerlessness; no voice, lowly job, even her home is a one-room apartment in a dumpy complex. As I mentioned, Elisa is not Deaf, but a hearing woman, yet she uses ASL to make herself heard. This is kind of a side note, but in the film we see what is called the Helper Model, which was the first service model of interpreting. Basically in the days before professional ASL interpreters, family, friends, teachers and members of clergy served as “interpreters” for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing. In this movie, Elisa’s friends, a fellow janitor named Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and Giles (Richard Jenkins), her neighbor, are her helpers. They don’t sign to her, but they understand and interpret sign-to-voice what she says when others address her. However even her language holds little weight in a speaking world. Her budding relationship with The Asset is contrary to her everyday existence; she teaches him ASL, she provides him with food and companionship, she is the one who eventually breaks him out of the research facility. She has power in this relationship that she never has in her day-to-day. Okay, yes, Eliza and the Asset do consummate their romance. However there is no full-blown sex scene. It’s literally this: She undresses, walks to him in her shower and pulls up the curtain. That’s it. There is another scene where she quite literally floods her bathroom (good luck getting that to dry later) and swims naked with the Asset, but by this point, the movie has built enough context so that this scene signifies that she essentially wants to be a part of his world. If you’re now singing “Part of Your World” from Little Mermaid right after reading this, well, I’m sorry not sorry. 🙂
In regards to the ASL, I’d say 98% of the signs and grammatical structure are accurately used in this film. I did see one or two old signs that are no longer used within the Deaf community (such as the sign for “mute,” which is used because Eliza is in fact a mute character), but otherwise Eliza and the Richard Jenkin character sign better than the “interpreter” guy at Nelson Mandala’s funeral.
A major theme throughout the film is the reality of those who have no power. Every protagonist is an individual who is powerless in their own society. We’ve covered Eliza’s powerlessness, Zelda is African-American and given the time period, she has zilch power in white America, Giles is subtly implied to be gay and closeted, so no power or agency for him, and of course the Asset is subjected to daily torture and abuse by Michael Shannon’s Richard Strickland. Speaking of Strickland, his character is the exact opposite of Eliza, Zelda, Giles and the Asset; male, white, heterosexual and in complete control of everything that goes on in the research facility. Now his character could be seen as created to vilify conservatives, but both the script and Shannon himself make this character three-dimensional. His power makes sense within the context of the time period the story is set in. His oppression of the other characters is more subtle and realistic as to how someone in his position would act; he is never seen whipping Zelda or raping Eliza, but his casually racist comments and implications that these characters are beneath him make for a compelling villain.
Okay, Guillermo, can we talk?
Now I LOVE Pan’s Labyrinth; it was my 100th review here on this blog. That movie was a major game-changer for me and it’s one of the reasons I developed a passion for languages (I did try to learn Spanish a few years after first watching Pan’s, but the Lord guided me to ASL instead; thank You Jesus 🙂 ), but as good as Shape of Water is, the plot relies way too heavily on story elements from Pan’s Labyrinth.
Here, as a Pan’s fan, let me just walk you all through what it was like to watch Shape of Water.
Act I: Okay, this is good. Beautiful color palate, nice greens and midnight blues…I’ve seen this color palate before, but whatever…the main villain is an oppressive, toxic-masculinity tyrant…huh, kind of reminds me of Captain Vidal, but Michael Shannon’s guy is different enough. Okay, I like this, and hooray for ASL on the big screen!
Act II: Huh, this movie has a sympathetic doctor character who stands up to the tyrannical toxic masculine villain…oh, hi Dr. Ferrero from Pan’s Labyrinth! Come to think of it, the powerless characters theme is similar to Pan’s…nah, this one’s different enough…
Act III: [SPOILER!!!…though not really if you’ve seen the first ten minutes of Pan’s] Okay, this whole third act is nearly identical to the ending of Pan’s Labyrinth! Hmm, let’s see, a short-haired brunette gal standing in the rain who gets shot in the stomach by the tyrant villain. Also there’s a brief musical montage that rips off the “what-could-have-been” ending of La La Land.
So what’s my whole point? On it’s own, this movie is great…BUT if you’ve seen Pan’s Labyrinth, which is even better, Shape of Water is just good. Now the reusing of plot elements don’t destroy Shape, but it is a little worrying that this movie is so dependent on the eleven year old predecessor. Look, Guillermo, I know that Crimson Peak, an original story by yourself, didn’t work out so well at the box office, but you can still create original stories that don’t need to be spoon-fed by a previous work. Going forward, an artist needs to branch out and try new things. At some point the copying of tropes that worked in the past will tire and your work will become dated.
Overall The Shape of Water is definitely an experimental film, primarily with the premise of “why doesn’t the creature from the black lagoon get the girl?” question. The movie is held together by excellent performances, a fantastic representation of American Sign Language, and the intrigue of the premise. Hopefully this will be the only time Guillermo del Toro copies and pastes from Pan’s Labyrinth and will create works that stand on their own in the future. But for now, I’m glad The Shape of Water is receiving all the accolades it has clearly earned.
Come, Sweet Paraclete!
Imagine if you will the Apostles in the upper room. Jesus has just ascended into Heaven and they are sitting around, twiddling their thumbs, wondering, “What the camel are we gonna do now?” Maybe one of them looks over at Peter, who responds with something to the effect of, “I’m just as lost as you are, guys.”
Meanwhile let’s imagine that Jesus is back up in Heaven, looking down at His disheartened Apostles, His beloved friends. He turns to the Father and says, “Is it time to send him down there?” “Yes, My Son, it is time.”
Back on Earth in the upper room, a sudden mighty wind shakes the walls, causing the Apostles to look around frantically and jump from their chairs. Darting their eyes upward, they see a large flame above them. The single flame splits into individual flames, each one resting atop their heads. A deep sense of peace and power fill them from within, casting out all the fear and uncertainty that had been perturbing them. As if their bodies are functioning without them, they begin speaking in other languages as if they have been fluent their whole lives.
That night in the upper room, the Holy Spirit made his public debut as he came upon the Apostles and overshadowed them with the love of God.
Friend and Champion
So before I explain Pentecost, I think it would help to understand the Holy Spirit himself. Who is he, a distant force or a most determined Advocate of our salvation?
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is the love between the Father and the Son manifested. While the dove from above does make his official appearance in the Acts of the Apostles, we are foretold of him through the Old Testament, starting with Genesis.
Genesis 1:1-2, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a mighty wind swept over the face of the waters.”
Did you catch that last line? “…while a mighty wind swept over the face of the waters?” Sound familiar? The Spirit came in the form of a mighty wind that shook the walls of the upper room where the Apostles were residing.
We see him again in the Book of Samuel just after Samuel anointed Saul.
1 Samuel 10:10, “When they came to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.”
It is not until the Annunciation when we finally hear of the Holy Spirit by name. After she is told that she will give birth to the Messiah, Mary reasonably asks the Archangel Gabriel how this virgin birth is to happen, “since I have no relations with a man?” she questions.
Luke 1:35, “The Angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
Then, at Jesus’ baptism, there is a visual representation of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 13:16-17, “After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened [for him], and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I AM well pleased.”
We can safely say that the Holy Spirit has been active throughout history and continues to be flying around the globe to this day. With this logic, we can conclude that the Holy Spirit is not some vague, distant ghost who does little and says even less. The third person of the Trinity is alive, vibrant and ever seeking the salvation of our souls. There’s a reason why he is also known as the Advocate, Comforter, Helper and so on. Sometimes the Holy Spirit comes upon us as a roar, a mighty wind that shakes us to our core and wakes us from our apathy. Other times the Holy Spirit is like a feather landing on our heads; sudden but gentle. He whispers to us and caresses our souls with the love of the Father.
Now that we know who the Holy Spirit is, we can move on to understanding what Pentecost is.
A Church is Born
Pentecost is what happened in that upper room. The Holy Spirit, having first appeared to Mary in a private setting, then revealing himself again in the public setting of Jesus’ baptism, was now making himself known once more in a small room where the apostles were gathered in seclusion. He came upon them and brought them out of their isolation, bursting open the closed doors of fear and doubt into a world hungry for the Good News. He empowered them, equipped them and readied them for their mission: To preach the Gospel to every living creature and baptize the masses in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
This mission is alive and well today. It is the duty of every Christian to pick up the torch that was handed down to us at our baptism. However, our world does not make that task easy at all. Our world fights against us, making that path difficult to say the least. This is where the help of the Holy Spirit is absolutely needed. As scripture has shown us, the Holy Spirit is not an abstraction or an uninvolved force; he is a person. He is the love between the Father and the Son and as it says in 1 John 4:18, “Perfect love casts out fear.” As our advocate, he speaks to us and for us. As our comforter, he lifts us up when we are knocked down. As our helper, he guides us to wisdom and truth. As our friend, he is always there for us and ready to stand beside us.
Let us end this piece with a prayer to the Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit, you are welcome here.
In your presence there is no room for fear or anxiety.
You are the champion of our souls and the fiery advocate for our salvation.
Come fill our minds with knowledge and truth.
Come fill our hearts with compassion and love of neighbor.
Come fill our souls with the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding.
May your friendship and unfailing help in our lives shape us into the men and women Christ has called us to be.
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!
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!
(MsOWritesand 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 t…he 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.
Well, someone REALLY liked “The Last of Us” and decided to make a movie out of it, but starring Wolverine…
…And I’m okay with that.
This is my review of Logan!
The year is 2029. James Howlett, also known as Logan–and also known as Wolverine–is a weary, beaten-down, old mutant who is just barely getting by with booze in hand and a desire for the end of his pain. He is a limo driver by day and caring for Professor X by night. Logan’s miserable existence is chaotically interrupted when a young mutant named Laura Kinney (Dafne Keen) shows up on his doorstep with a ruthless agency on the hunt for her and others like her. With one mutant Caliban in captivity and Charles Xavier being senile and fading, it’s ultimately up to Logan to get Laura to a shelter where she will be kept company by (quite possibly) the next generation of mutants.
The action in this film is quite spectacular to behold. Gripping, fast-paced and relentlessly violent, there is an underlining catharsis to each stab and shot fired. You can feel the excruciating pain that runs through Wolverine’s hands every time he unleashes his steel claws. The oppression of violence from the antagonists presses you down and forces you to hold your breath as you pray for the start of a new scene.
So this is Hugh Jackman’s final time playing the Wolverine and, by golly, he gives this performance his all. Logan is a broken man; Weakened yet never pitiful, struck down but not destroyed, just the act of living takes every ounce of strength that he can muster. He has seen it all, heard it all and lived through every conceivable disaster you can think of; nothing is new to him and nothing more can further damage an already irreparable man. I really appreciate how he never gets too sappy or sentimental. His care for Laura and Professor X is displayed through his actions, never his attitude or words. He’s like a father who isn’t very outwardly affectionate, but shows his kids he cares for them just by working hard for them. In the same vein as Masey McClain’s performance in “I’m Not Ashamed,” Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine is the glue that holds this movie together, the mythological Atlas who holds the weight of the narrative on his
One review I read described this film as “unexpectedly moving” and quite frankly, I concur. The heart of this story are Logan’s withering relationships; his fragmented rapport with Professor X, his tension with Caliban and his resistance to empathy for Laura are fascinating and strangely moving to watch. In addition, Patrick Stewart gives a very powerful monologue along with an endearing, while Dafne Keen’s Laura is a force to be reckoned with. She’s essentially a young, female version of Logan, but is surprisingly both hardened and yet hopeful all at the same time. She is a child soldier who somehow maintains a believable amount of innocence that allows her to experience the world around her with fresh eyes.
Much like the first Hunger Games movie, this movie does involve violence against children and violence being committed by children, in particular by Laura herself. This can be very unnerving to watch, especially if you have and/or work with children. Even the fact that they are mutant children who are more than capable of protecting themselves doesn’t make the violence against them or the violence they are engaging in any less disturbing.
A few days ago, one of the friends I saw this movie with texted me to ask, “…are you okay with excessive blood and gore? From what I’ve heard, this [Logan] is supposed to be more graphic than Deadpool?” To which I responded with, “M.P., my favorite movie of all time is Pan’s Labyrinth and that movie features a guy [Captain Vidal] getting stabbed in the shoulder, chest and THEN having his cheek sliced from the inside! I’ll be fine.” As my friend M.P. said, this movie has some seriously excessive blood and gore. Viewers who are squeamish and sensitive to gore might want to think twice before buying a ticket.
Overall Logan turned out to be much better than I expected. In fact, the more I think about this movie, the more compelling it becomes and I almost want to see it again. Logan can come off as nihilistic, but never goes into full-blown “there’s no point to this” despair. This is a dreary, pragmatic film held together by one shattered man and his fragmented relationships, a grounded comic book adaptation with grit and style that is bound to stay with you long after the credits roll. Whether you are a fan of the X-Men franchise or an outsider looking in, the multifaceted character of James “Logan” Howlett, aka the Wolverine, goes out with both a blood-soaked bang and a curdling whimper.
“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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
I love the TV show, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” John Oliver is a pretty famous comedian known for self-deprecation and cringe comedy. I came across his televangelist episode a month ago, which inspired this editorial.
Oliver started off the episode by talking about preachers like Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar (yes, that is his actual name; I checked), Mike Murdock and others who preach humility, yet live extravagant lifestyles. He showed clips of Mike Murdock boasting to his congregants about buying two private jets with cash and of Kenneth Copeland claiming that a private jet he purchased with donations was for church purposes, i.e., a “preaching machine” as he called it. However a local news crew discovered that Copeland’s personal jet was less for spreading the Gospel and more for going on vacation.
Oliver went on to say, “…and yet, despite that personal wealth, people still send them lots and lots of money, and that’s partly because they [the pastors] preach something called the prosperity gospel…”
A disgusted “Ugh” escaped my mouth as I rolled my eyes. This is my reaction every time I hear the words “prosperity gospel.”
I learned about the prosperity gospel a year ago and it has been a thorn in my side ever since. I’m sure you know what it is, but just for the sake of clarity, I’ll summarize it.
The prosperity gospel, or prosperity theology as it is called in some circles, is the belief that wealth and personal success are a sign of God’s favor. Basically, if you follow God, try not to sin and donate money to your church, you will be blessed abundantly with secure finances and material possessions. If you’ve ever heard the phrases “name it and claim it” or “positive confession theology,” that is where they come from.
Right off the bat I thought to myself, “Hmm, this sounds really–oh, what’s the word–high-mountainy…” By the way, keep “high mountain” in the back of your mind; we’ll come back to that later.
Anyway, I have been wanting to tackle this toxic “theology” for quite some time, and after coming across John Oliver’s televangelist episode, I knew that the time had come.
The gloves are off. It’s time to tackle the prosperity gospel.
Scriptural Elephants in the Room, or common verses used to defend the Prosperity Gospel #1 Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—says the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”
If you’ve been following Catholic Girl Bloggin’ for a while, you may notice that I frequently cite Jeremiah 1:5 and other verses from the Book of Jeremiah. Even though Jeremiah is one of my favorite books in the Bible, there’s a good reason why I don’t often post Jeremiah 29:11 on a regular basis. That is because, unfortunately, Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the verses championed ad nauseam by prosperity gospel proponents.
Let’s take a look at some context: In this chapter of Jeremiah, the Israelites were being punished for their transgressions and their punishment was being exiled to Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah had sent a scroll from Jerusalem to the remaining elders of the exiled people. In this scroll, the Lord tells the Israelites to build houses to live in, get married, start families, and so on. Now, if you read the verse in its entirety, you will notice that the Lord does not give specific instructions, but rather tells them to live their lives and how they go about doing so is up to them.
It seems to me that what has happened is prosperity gospel champions see the words, “…plans for your welfare and not for woe…” and translate that to mean personal success by the world’s standards, i.e., fancy car, big house, a spouse with minimal flaws and so on. Now there are three definitions of the word “welfare.” The third definition speaks of the U.S. welfare system, so I’ll skip that one and go over the first two definitions.
The first definition describes welfare as, “the health, happiness, and fortunes of a person or group.” With this definition in mind, I can see how one would misinterpret the Lord’s use of the word “welfare” to mean individual prosperity.
Now let us take a look at the second definition of welfare: “A statutory procedure or social effort designed to promote the basic physical and material well-being of people in need.” At first glance, when you look at this definition and then look at Jeremiah 29:11, it is easy to miss the connection between the two. However, I think we should let Jeremiah 29:4-11 speak for itself.
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their fruits. Take wives and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters. Increase there; do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you; pray for it to the LORD, for upon its welfare your own depends. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not be deceived by the prophets and diviners who are among you; do not listen to those among you who dream dreams, for they prophesy lies to you in My name; I did not send them—says the LORD. For thus says the LORD: Only after seventy years have elapsed for Babylon will I deal with you and fulfill for you My promise to bring you back to this place. For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—says the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” –Jeremiah 29:4-11
It would appear that by instructing them to build homes, grow food and start families, the Lord is encouraging the banished Israelites to engage in a social effort to promote the physical and material well-being of one another, all while they await His return. I see nothing about Him making things easy or smooth sailing for the Israelites, let alone anything about an increase in wealth. Rather, the Lord is telling the Israelites–and perhaps us here in the 21st century–to live in the now, to provide for ourselves and for one another in the present moment, and to go into the future without fear because what lies ahead is all in His hands.
#2 Deuteronomy 8:18, “Remember then the LORD, your God, for He is the one who gives you the power to get wealth, by fulfilling, as He has now done, the covenant He swore to your ancestors.” Now while Jeremiah 29:11 is what is often cited mostly by millennial Christians, the real culprit of the prosperity gospel is the out-of-context application of Deuteronomy 8:18.
Okay, all in fairness, if you were a Martian and you were handed a Bible that was opened to Deuteronomy 8:18 and then read it on your own without any doctrinally-sound person to explain the verse to you, you would probably think to yourself, “Oh, so the humans’ God has promised them material wealth! Good for them!” Yes, I know what it looks like, but let us examine this verse a little more closely.
I think the very first line speaks for itself: “Remember then the LORD, your God, for He is the one who gives you the power to get wealth.” We do not get wealth by our own merits, nor does the Lord just hand us over Scrooge-McDuck-moneybags, but rather it is God Himself who has given us the ability to obtain what we need for basic survival. What He is saying is, “Rely on Me, trust in Me, and I will give you the ability and strength you need to provide for yourself and for those you love,” and not, “strong-arm Me into catering to your every materialistic whim.”
Come to think of it, when you read Deuteronomy Chapter 8 in its entirety, a more humbling message starts to emerge.
Deuteronomy Chapter 8:1-18 “Be careful to observe this whole commandment that I enjoin on you today, that you may live and increase, and may enter in and possess the land which the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how for those forty years the LORD, your God, had directed all your journeying in the wilderness, so as to test you by affliction to know what was in your heart: to keep His commandments, or not. He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your ancestors, so you might know that it is not by bread alone that people live, but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD. The clothing did not fall from you in tatters, nor did your feet swell these forty years. So you must know in your heart that, even as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD, your God, disciplines you. Therefore, keep the commandments of the LORD, your God, by walking in His ways and fearing Him. For the LORD, your God, is bringing you into a good country, a land with streams of water, with springs and fountains welling up in the hills and valleys, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, of olive trees and of honey, a land where you will always have bread and where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones contain iron and in whose hills you can mine copper. But when you have eaten and are satisfied, you must bless the LORD, your God, for the good land He has given you. Be careful not to forget the LORD, your God, by failing to keep His commandments and ordinances and statutes which I enjoin on you today: lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built fine houses and lived in them, and your herds and flocks have increased, your silver and gold has increased, and all your property has increased, you then become haughty of heart and forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that house of slavery; He guided you through the vast and terrible wilderness with its serpents and scorpions, its parched and waterless ground; He brought forth water for you from the flinty rock and fed you in the wilderness with manna, a food unknown to your ancestors, that He might afflict you and test you, but also make you prosperous in the end. Otherwise, you might say in your heart, “It is my own power and the strength of my own hand that has got me this wealth.” Remember then the LORD, your God, for He is the one who gives you the power to get wealth, by fulfilling, as He has now done, the covenant He swore to your ancestors.”
Yes, it is a lot to read, but when read carefully, it becomes clear that the Lord reminds us that whatever we obtain for ourselves, it is because of His providence. Prosperity gospel preachers argue that God provides because of our persistence, but the very verse they frequently cite says something completely different from their narrative. This goes to show that God is not a genie who grants our every wish, but is the reason why we exist in the first place.
The result of Deuteronomy 8:18 being distorted for an earthly agenda can be found in these actual quotes from the mouths of prosperity gospel preachers themselves.
“I am a little god. I have His name. I am one with Him. I’m in covenant relationship. I am a little god. Critics be gone!” –Paul Crouch
“When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass.” –Pastor Creflo Dollar
“When you focus on being a blessing, God makes sure that you are always blessed in abundance.” –Joel Osteen
The prosperity gospel treats God as a permissive doormat being who becomes helpless and bends to our will if we believe hard enough and verbally declare victory before it has even happened. According to the prosperity gospel, God serves us.
In essence, the prosperity gospel trumps free will, meaning that someone else’s ability to make my life difficult by their choices is supplanted by my “power” to influence God by my declaration of faith. In other words, “If I say it, God’s gotta do it.”
At the risk of using an overused meme…
The idea of a God who does all that He can to propel our individual success instead of sticking to His own plan for humanity is actually quite frightening. Success means different things to different people. For one person, success is a modest house and enough food for three square meals. For another, success could mean getting that promotion even if it means someone else who may need that promotion more than them getting knocked down. There’s a very good reason for the phrase, “Thy will be done.” God is infinite and can see the big picture; we are short-sighted, finite humans and can only grasp at what’s in front of us. Our will being done instead of God’s will does not always work in our favor.
#3 James 4:2, “…You do not possess because you do not ask.” A major aspect of the prosperity gospel is what is called “name it and claim it.” It’s basically tell God exactly what you want and He will give it to you. James 4:2 is the basis of this argument. Now there’s actually more to the verse and we will come back to that in a second.
Prosperity gospel proponents tend to (conveniently) only see the tail-end of James 4:2. In fact, Pastor Creflo Dollar once wrote, “When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass.” You can read it here for yourself: http://ww.creflodollarministries.org/BibleStudy/Articles.aspx?id=329
Stop right there, sir. God DOES have a choice when it comes to how He answers our prayers; He’s the inventor of having a choice! Two words: Free will.
Also, God always answers prayers; it’s just that sometimes, His answer is, “No,” because what we might be asking at that time is not consistent with His will. The answer we get may not always be the answer we were hoping for, but God never fails to respond. Even His silence can be an answer.
You may notice that, unlike the previous two segments, this one is very short. There is a reason for this.
Would you like to know what James 4 actually says? I’m glad you asked…
James 4:1-3, “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
Oh, the irony. One of the verses used to advance the prosperity gospel is a verse that, when read fully, actually rebukes it in one fell swoop. That last sentence, “You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions,” is a kick in the teeth to the prosperity gospel.
I think my work on this segment is done.
Upon The High Mountain
Remember earlier how I said that the prosperity gospel seems very “high-mountainy?” Let’s really think about this: Who in the Bible is quoted as saying, “All these [kingdoms] I shall give to You, if You will prostrate Yourself and worship me“? I’ll tell you one thing: It wasn’t Jesus.
Let’s cast our gaze a little lower…
Ah, there you are, Satan. I almost didn’t recognize you behind all those distorted scripture verses and shiny dollar-sign deception.
No, actually, I did. As a Catholic blogger I have a responsibility to help others recognize that the prosperity gospel is a brainchild of the evil one, his dangling carrot used to lure souls seeking purpose in their lives. The prosperity gospel has Satan’s claw marks slashed all over it. Think about it: Sickly-sweet catchphrases peppered with scripture here and there, proclaimed with boldness by popular preachers who insist that God is on their side. It’s downright Luciferian.
The worst part is many prosperity gospel preachers say all the right things to make their money-driven agenda hard to catch. When I was looking up quotes from prosperity gospel preachers, a lot of them didn’t sound heretical at first. The quotes were the kind you would have as a motivational refrigerator magnet. Many of these ministers have written devotionals that are bought and sold in droves.
But, you see, that’s how the devil operates. He’s a jerk, but a highly intelligent one who takes his time. He knows it would be counterintuitive to just show up as–oh, let’s say– an imposing gargoyle with horns and a pitchfork and start shouting, “Hey, I’ll give you whatever you want if you obey me!” He wouldn’t get very far if he did that. Hence, he works slowly and behind a variety of disguises. I would argue that the devil can come in the form of a well-dressed man eloquently stringing together promises of wealth, neatly packaged with scripture and public admiration.
A Plan For Woe
Now I am aware that declaring something to be the work of the devil is often perceived as extreme and alarmist. You never want to give the fallen angel too much credit because he is a defeated foe who flees like Roadrunner at the Name of Jesus. However, a friend from my parish pointed something out to me: The prosperity gospel has the ability to accomplish two very destructive outcomes.
The first destructive outcome is to cause believers to worship a false Jesus; a “Jesus” who is a cross between Santa Claus and Genie from Aladdin.
The second destructive outcome is that it has the capability to drive a person completely away from God if they don’t get what they feel entitled to. There is also the propensity for the person to feel that they are not worthy of God’s love since they didn’t get what they expected; perhaps they figure they aren’t doing something right or aren’t “good” enough for God. This causes them to despair and a lost sheep wanders into the night.
The Greatest Promise of Them All
So if serving the Lord doesn’t grant you wealth beyond your wildest dreams and a steady road to success, then what does it get you? I would like to talk to you about two teenage girls who could really teach us what following Jesus is all about.
Meet Chiara Badano and Rachel Joy Scott.
Chiara lived in Sassello, Italy.
Rachel resided in Littleton, Colorado.
Chiara was Catholic.
Rachel was non-denominational.
Chiara and Rachel never met during their time on earth, but they had one thing in common: Both of these girls loved the Lord with all their heart and soul and committed themselves to serving Him through acts of kindness. They were unashamed of the Gospel and strived to glorify Jesus in their daily lives. By prosperity gospel standards, Chiara and Rachel would be considered most deserving of all the abundant blessings and personal success the Lord has in store.
In reality, Chiara was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. Rachel was the first victim of the Columbine massacre. Chiara lost her hair and the ability to walk, while Rachel’s commitment to Christ caused five of her closest friends to abandon her.
What did they have to say about their personal losses?
“If I had to choose between walking again and going to Heaven, I wouldn’t hesitate. I would choose Heaven.” –Chiara
“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.” –Rachel
Chiara was 18 when she died. Rachel’s life was taken at age 17. Neither of them had ever asked the Lord for fame or riches. In fact, Rachel once wrote in one of her journals, “I don’t want to be successful without You, God. I can’t be successful without You.” Meanwhile, Chiara never begged God to take her cancer away. As she was losing her hair, she said this: “For You, Jesus…if You want it, I want it too!”
These two ordinary girls went after the heart of God. They drew near to Him, and in turn, He made His love known to them. At a young age, Chiara and Rachel fully understood that the ultimate reward for following Jesus is far greater than any material possession. They embraced the Lord’s greatest promise: Himself. God never promises us a perfect spouse, a perfect big house or a perfect bank account.
He doesn’t promise to make things easy. He doesn’t promise that you won’t go through hard times. He doesn’t promise that things will always turn out as planned.
What He does promise is that He will be with you. He will stay with you when everyone else has left. When you need to vent, He will be your listening ear. When you need a shoulder to cry on, He will hold you tightly in His arms.
The greatest promise of them all is God Himself. His unconditional love, His endless mercy, His loyal friendship, His unfailing assistance; all these things that the human heart yearns for is His free gift that He wants to give to you.
The bank account will dwindle, the car will break down, the house will be sold to another; the riches of this world come and go.
Only He remains forever.
“Father, reach out Your hand. Grab ahold of my life. Open my eyes to Your wonderful light. Fill me up with Your undying love. Save me a place in Your kingdom above.” –A poem by Rachel Joy Scott
Another day of sun!…even though it is currently cold and cloudy here in Southern California.
This is my review of La La Land!
Sebastian Wilder is an aspiring jazz pianist. Mia Dolan is an aspiring actress. Their appetite for aspiration and making it big is what brings them together and, after multiple chance encounters, Sebastian and Mia embark on a musical journey as their kinship blooms into romance and beyond.
So…well, this is what has happened: When I first saw La La Land, I loved it! My inner musical-lover kicked in and I was on board the La La Land express!….AND then I stopped to really think about the movie. The more I thought, the more the film’s problems came to mind. After much soul-searching, I realized, “Oh, no, I know what’s wrong with this movie and it is a big problem.”
La La Land is a technical achievement with a toxic relationship at the center of it all.
If anything, La La Land is an impressive–most impressive–in terms of its set pieces, costume design and overall look. The choreography is amazing! There’s a lot of dance numbers in this film that require some complex moves with multiple dancers, and everyone does a great job in capturing the spirit of the sequences. The opening number is especially fun to watch and it helps set the tone for the film.
I do appreciate the film’s color palate and, in particular, it’s use of yellow. Yellow can be a difficult color to work with due to the eye sensitivity of some moviegoers, but the film makes use of the color really well; yellow is used sparingly as an attention-grabber on whatever director Damien Chazelle wants you to look at during a particular moment.
Speaking of Chazelle, between this and Whiplash, I get it–he really likes jazz and Charlie Parker (there’s a Charlie Parker reference in this flick whereas in Whiplash, his name was everywhere). I like that jazz is not a shoehorned interest of Chazelle’s, but rather it makes sense within the context of the story. Sebastian could find some work as a pianist, but being a jazz pianist exclusively brings on even more challenges, given that the market for jazz is not very steady, so the audience can sympathize with his frustrations and it is much more satisfying when he does succeeds. The character who struggles is the one you root for.
While Emma Stone’s performance as Mia is very good, the character herself is a problem. To put it simply, she’s actually quite insufferable. There’s a scene where she goes home and finds that Sebastian has taken time off from his band and has cooked a nice dinner for her. During what is supposed to be a sweet candlelight dinner, they discuss Sebastian’s band and Mia is shocked that being a band requires him to be away from home and on tour. I turned to my friend who accompanied me and whispered, “Well, no duh! What did you expect? He’s in a band!”
Let me explain: In my twentysomething years of life, I have had friends who pursued careers in the music industry; most of them got their start by being in a band. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with them when they were on tour, but I was supportive and not shocked that they were gone a lot. I guess my impatience with Mia’s shock about Sebastian being away came from my own experiences with people like him, but still, by that point in the film she had been with him for a significant period of time, so one would think that this reality would have crossed her mind at some point.
Throughout the film, it becomes clear that Mia is attracted to guys who seem to have nothing else going on in their own lives, which explains why she resents Sebastian actually moving forward with his own dreams. Aside from being shocked that someone in a band doesn’t spend a lot of time at home, Mia (before officially dating Sebastian) ditches another guy who has been established to have his own life set and runs to Sebastian, who at that point in the film is down on his luck. To avoid spoilers, I will say that Mia is seen becoming nervous when Sebastian’s aspirations take off. She meets him when he is down and would prefer that he stay there.
Hey, Mia, JP2 called; he would like to hand you a copy of Love and Responsibility.
On one hand, La La Land acts as a love letter to old Hollywood with its camerawork, set design, color palate and approach to romance (there’s no steamy sex scene; it’s mostly implied). As a musical, it does what it sets out to do and will delight fans of the genre.
On the other hand, the implications of Sebastian and Mia’s relationship make this a queasy watch. The current dating scene has enough confusion and lack of responsibility already, and glorifying a one-sided relationship where one person’s own dreams outweigh the goals of the other is misleading.
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!
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 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.
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.
If you’ve seen Nocturnal Animals already, then be sure to check out this analysis!
This is my review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story!
This is the story of the band of rebels who went rogue (ba boom pssh) and stole the plans to the Death Star, the ultimate planet-destroying weapon of the Empire. Leading the charge is Jyn Erso, the daughter of Galen Erso, the main architect of the Death Star.
I was quite nervous in the months leading up to Rogue One’s release into theaters.
On one hand, I was excited that Felicity Jones was the lead. Jones wonderfully played Jane Wilde Hawking in The Theory of Everything, one of my favorite films, so I knew she would knock the role right out of the park.
On the other hand, shivers went down my spine when I saw that the director was Gareth Edwards, the same guy who brought us the 2014 Godzilla movie…a movie that I despise as much as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of No Plot–er, I mean–Justice. Yes, I will rant/review Godzilla 2014 at some point in the future.
Anyway, so how did this movie starting one of my favorite actresses and my least favorite director hold up?….
Rogue One is impressive, most impressive.
I really appreciate that this is a more gritty Star Wars flick. This reminds me of primarily The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2 in that it portrays the horrors of war without becoming overtly gruesome. Despite the absence of Lightsabers, the action itself is classic Star Wars. Ships going at light speed, guns that go “pew pew” and, of course, Stormtroopers who STILL can’t hit anything make up for this nicely.
Jyn Erso’s traumatic backstory is intriguing to watch unfold. I love the idea of her being the daughter of the man responsible for the creation of the Death Star. It adds to the drama and it keeps her from being some chosen-one; it gives a reason for the rebellion to recruit her and promise to wipe her criminal record clean. As for the character herself, Felicity Jones brings in her A-game. Grounded yet vulnerable, Jones brings Jyn to life as a ragtag nomad turned reluctant fighter. Now while the script does rush Jyn’s development into a committed rebel a bit (she decides she’s all in towards the end of the film’s second act), Jones is able to steady that pace by using her facial expressions and tone of voice to sell to us the moment when she decides that the rebellion is right and just. A filmmaker creates the character, but the right actor can polish and perfect the character they have been given to portray. Jyn Erso is no Rey, but she does hold her own and has earned her rightful place in the Star Wars universe. You are one with the Force, Ms. Erso and the Force is with you.
As predicted, there is somewhat of a romance that blooms between Jyn and Cassian, but fortunately it is well-handled. It is treated less as a romance and more as a relationship based on necessity–no, not a relationship where they use one another–rather a kinship where they have come to rely on each other for safety and mutual respect.
The real show-stealer is Chirrut Îmwe, the blind Force-wielder who has coined the now famous line, “I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.” I LOVE his faith in the Force, his reliance on it and his absolute no-holds-barred trust that the Force will guide his path and lead him to green pastures and still waters. In another universe, Chirut would make an excellent monk–I see him as either a Jesuit or a Benedictine because that’s just how my brain works. 🙂
Two major Gareth-Edwards-isms are front and center in this flick: WAY too many locations and weak characterization. Seriously, we jump to six different locations within the first ten minutes! Granted, it’s not as bad as in Godzilla, where the film took us to ten different locations before the first act ended, but still it made me roll my eyes.
The actors playing the characters are better than the characters themselves (with the exception of Chirut; he’s awesome). Except for Chirut, Jyn and Cassian, the other Rogue One squad is pretty much forgettable. While Jyn’s backstory is fascinating, it doesn’t seem to impact her overall arch. She makes a comment about, “I’m not used to people sticking around when things go bad,” yet there is little indication that she doesn’t trust that people will stick around when the going gets rough. Except for some hardened glances at Cassian and K-2SO (the forgettable comedic-relief robot) when she first meets them, Jyn gets along with them relatively well from that point on. I’m not saying she has to be bitter or anything, but some tiny non-verbal example of her trust issue and inner scars from abandonment would have helped.
Despite some annoying Gareth-Edwards-isms, Rogue One is a most impressive addition to the Star Wars universe. The story of the brave few who risked it all to steal the plans to the Death Star is a job well done thanks to a thoughtful performance from Felicity Jones (like Benedict Cumberbatch, you could cast her as a lamp and she’d still do a terrific job), an amazing representation of what faith is all about given to us by Chirut and classic Star Wars action. The Force is most certainly strong with this one.