CGB Review of The Shape of Water

This movie is really great!…
….IF you haven’t already seen Pan’s Labyrinth.

This is my review of The Shape of Water!

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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.

The Misses
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.

Saint Margaret of Cortona, 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 Review of Detroit (2017)

I cannot believe this happened in America…and yet, in a most depressing way, I actually can.

This is my review of Detroit.

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On July 23rd, 1967, an after-hours unlicensed bar called “Blind Pig” had been raided (for the third time, according to historical records).  As bar patrons were taken into police custody, a Molotov cocktail was thrust at police, setting off a riot that would throw all of Detroit into anarchy.  With residents looting and officers arresting left and right, trust between kinsmen had evaporated.  The spirit of hate and violence found its way to the Algiers Motel, where various people had sought refuge from the chaos outside.  When one of the motel guests, a man named Carl Cooper, shoots a starter pistol out the window, the police outside are alarmed and suspect there to be a sniper.  They end up at the doorstep of the Algiers Motel and from there is the beginning of a horrific night: Twelve people–ten black men and two white women–are harassed and interrogated by three Detroit police officers for several hours in a search for a rogue sniper.  False executions, beatings and, eventually, actual deaths–specifically the murders of Carl Cooper, Fred Temple, and Aubrey Pollard occur within the walls of the Algiers Motel.

The Hits
So I did some research on the 12th Street Riot and the Algiers Motel tragedy (it’s commonly called an “incident,” but I’m calling it a tragedy), and based on what I read and the information I collected, I think that both events were recreated the best way they could have been.  The movie opens with the Blind Pig raiding and the riot that ensues provides context leading up to what happened at the Algiers Motel.  The first twenty minutes have a sense of grand scale and visual storytelling.  If anything, this film is a thoughtful depiction of two things: the mob mentality and anarchy.  We see the bar patrons and observers angrily question the nature of the arrests in the opening scene, and it is made clear that raids such as these are commonplace but infuriating for all who are subjected to it.  This certainly does not justify the Molotov cocktail being thrown at police, but in terms of the narrative it does provide context.  The first hour presents a picture of harassed people succumbing to blind anger and a plethora of police officers– who were probably not prepared for a riot to literally conquer an entire city–reacting the best and worst way they know how.  I mentioned anarchy and that is because Detroit has a beleaguered past and the descent of a city to the depths of chaos is masterfully portrayed in this film.   Characters are seen running into grocery stores and rushing out with food, but because we are first shown looters fueling the flames, the sense of who is friend and who is foe is significantly blurred, which is typically how things play out in real-world riot situations.  There’s a particularly heart-wrenching scene where it had been previously established that there were rogue snipers targeting officers.  With this in mind, we cut to a young black girl peeking through closed blinds.  The camera then focuses on an officer who looks up and raises his gun at the window where we can only see the girl’s eyes…but not her face.
Now let us talk about the actual Algiers Motel storyline itself.  Halfway through the second act of the film, I found myself thinking that the Algiers Motel plot is both a strength and a weakness of the film.  I will explain the strengths first.
As a depiction of authoritarianism and realistic racism, this movie does a damn good job at showing both.  It is clear right from the get-go that the officers who are interrogating the Algiers Motel residents are less concerned with finding the starter pistol and are fueled by the thrill of having power over vulnerable human beings, as well as their own personal prejudices.   In terms of realistic racism, kudos go to Will Poulter, whose performance as Officer Philip Krauss is humanistic and terrifying.  This is not a cartoony racist; this is a racist person who you could conceivably pass by at the grocery store.  He’s not a moustache-twirling villain and he’s not given any overtly racist lines to spout out.  The racism of Philip Krauss is all in his attitude, in his treatment of the rioters leading up to what happens at the Algiers Motel.  A nuanced portrayal of an individual who sees certain groups of people as subhuman is far more unnerving.  You don’t have to use the “N-word” to be a racist.  It is how you perceive and treat those who are of a different race than yourself that speak volumes about your view on human dignity.

The Misses
If you watch the second trailer for Detroit (Detroit Trailer 2 on YouTube, if you’re interested), it shows a gripping scene from the film of John Boyega trying to recollect and explain to two detectives what happened at the Algiers Motel.
I am sad to say that this scene is not the first scene of the movie and it really should have been.  The raiding of the Blind Pig bar is the opening scene, and as compelling as it is, it lacks the introduction of our main characters.  This leads into the main problem with Detroit: there is no one main character to gravitate towards and this is a chaotic story that really needs a consistent point of view.  John Boyega’s security guard protagonist Melvin Dismukes is marketed in both trailers as the film’s moral center.  However, the movie struggles to balance the character arches of both Melvin Dismukes and Larry Reed, the lead singer of The Dramatics, played brilliantly by Algee Smith.  As a result, John Boyega’s character is certainly sympathetic, but doesn’t evolve into an empathetic three-dimensional character.  Because the film is more focused on what happens rather than getting to know all who were involved, there’s no one character to connect with and feel the story through, which makes Detroit more of a spectator experience rather than a cinematic participation.  This is why Detroit is an unfocused narrative that would’ve made an excellent docudrama on the History Channel.
Here is the downside of the Algiers Motel plotline: As the second act of the film goes on, the Algiers Motel story devolves into an audience endurance test.  To be fair, because everything that happens in this plotline is intertwined, i.e. if one scene is cut from it, entire context is lost, I don’t know how the filmmakers could have shortened the second act.  That said, there is a way to properly lengthen such a heavy plotline so that it doesn’t become too long and lose impact.
I would like a final point that having John Krasinski, or Jim from The Office, play a hotheaded lawyer in the last twenty minutes of your gritty drama is a little distracting.  Just saying.

Overall Detroit will make you angry.  Whether you are black, white, whatever your background is, the ending is an egregious miscarriage of justice worthy of righteous anger.  Despite its setbacks in characterization and narrative focus, Detroit gives us a consummate picture of a frightening time in American history that we are seeing play out once again in 2017, a time when everyone thought they were in the right and nobody took the time to even consider that they could be wrong.  It depresses me and yet it does not surprise me that this tragedy happened in America.  Let us do our very best to ensure that another Algiers Motel does not happen in the land of opportunity again.

Saint Martin de Porres and Saint Josephine Bakhita, pray for us.

 

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Please pray for the repose of the souls of Carl Cooper, Aubrey Pollard, and Fred Temple. May they rest in the arms of our just and merciful Lord.

 

 

 

You Are Welcome Here: The Holy Spirit and Pentecost

Corporate-Pentecost-Bird-and-Fire

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.

Amen.

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 Logan (2017)

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

…And I’m okay with that.

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

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

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

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

Blessed Laura Vicuna, pray for us.

CGB Review of 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