CGB Review of I’m Not Ashamed (2016)

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

This is my review of I’m Not Ashamed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CGB Review of Melancholia (2011)

“Lord, can I just click out of Netflix, go downstairs and put The Imitation Game back in the Blue-Ray machine?” I said aloud as I endured Melancholia’s overly-long wedding reception.

This is my review of Melancholia!

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Melancholia tells the story of two sisters, Justine and Claire and the disintegration of their co-dependent relationship as they await the inevitable destruction of Earth once it collides with the planet Melancholia.
This movie is directed by Lars Von Trier, a Danish filmmaker who has his own approach and style to his films (just look up Dogme 95).  In a nutshell, he loves handheld cameras, nudity and being artsy.  I think one of his more recent films features a girl walking up some stairs and then 3+5 appears on the screen because–Von Trier.
Guys and gals, I really wanted to love Melancholia.  After The Imitation Game gave me an incredible experience, I was ready to be wowed by another indie movie.  But once the credits rolled with Melancholia, I felt drained from slogging through this one.
Okay, let’s go over the few things this movie got right and where it took a nosedive.

The Hits
The opening scene is amazing!  We see some beautifully choreographed montages of our main characters treading nature landscapes in slow motion, accompanied by Triston and Isolde musical score.  I’ll give the movie this: If you’re studying cinematography, then you’re gonna love this film because there are some really gorgeous shots of the courtyard, the moon, and especially of the sky.
Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg (who shows up in a lot of Von Trier’s films) give everything they’ve got to make the film watchable.  They are believable as two sisters with a strained relationship.  You may find it odd that Claire has a British accent while Justine doesn’t, but then we see that their mother is British and the father is American, so this potential issue is fixed right away.
The story of two characters coping with an inevitable coming doom is a compelling story arch that can make for some great character studies if done well.  The actual plot of Melancholia is pretty original and the fantastic opening scene made me feel hopeful for a surreal experience.
Well, I had an experience, all right…a frustrating one.

The Misses
WHY IS PACING SUCH AN ISSUE?!
The wedding reception…ugh!  This is where the pacing suffers greatly.  I asked my mother, “Are wedding receptions this long?”  Justine’s wedding reception has got to be the longest, most drawn-out movie wedding reception in cinematic history.  What makes it drag is that there are segments that could have been cut out.  I have no problem with Justine sitting silently in the bathtub during her reception or the sisters’ mother ranting about the woes of modern marriage.  These are necessary moments for character development.  However, do I really need to know that Justine and Claire’s dad collects spoons?  Is it essential to the plot that we watch Justine try to drive the wedding limo?  Was Justine’s boss/the best man even needed in this story?  I understand that boss characters typically represent greed and corporatism, but his character has one long wedding toast speech and then a handful of sentences before he leaves the plot, never to be seen again.  If you’re going to have your main character stand up to someone, make sure that the person they’re confronting has done something to negatively impact them.  Have Justine confront her hateful mother or Claire’s husband who never shuts up about how much the wedding cost.
In my past reviews, I’ve complained about too much dialogue.  Aloha’s use of dialogue involved characters walking up to each other and explaining exposition.  Courageous used ten lines of dialogue to explain something that could’ve been summed up in five words or less.  Melancholia has the opposite problem; there is not enough dialogue.  When characters do talk, the conversations stop the story because characters will talk about the food or the music, basically things that have little to no connection to advancing the story or developing character.

I did some research on Lars Von Trier and this seems to be a guy who really loves cinema.  “I’m afraid of everything except filmmaking,” he has said.
I know you have a lot of phobias, Lars, but pacing is your friend, not your foe.