CGB Collaboration Review of Kubo and the Two Strings With Patheos Blogger Monique Ocampo

If you must blink, do it now, because this is my collaboration review of Kubo and the Two Strings guest-starring Patheos blogger Monique Ocampo/MsOWrites!

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Kubo is a young boy who lives with his sometimes-catatonic mother in a cave by the sea. Every day he walks down to the village and entertains the villagers by telling stories using origami that comes to life when he plays his shamisen (a Japanese three-stringed instrument).  There is a catch to Kubo’s existence: He must never ever stay out after dark. He soon figures out the reason when he stays out past dark and his evil spirit Aunts come to take him to his “grandfather” the Moon King, who intends to take Kubo’s remaining eye.  With the help of a monkey and a beetle, Kubo must find his deceased father’s armor and defeat the Moon King.
This is basically Pan’s Labyrinth for kids…and I LOVE it!  I’m not alone; my good friend Monique Ocampo, who you might know as MsOWrites from the Suicide Squad review. Don’t worry, we’re not gonna get kidnapped by Amanda Waller again.  As in our Batman v. Superman review, my points will be in blue and MsOWrites’ points will be in purple.

CGB Hits
I absolutely adore how imaginative this film is!  Like the titular character, the world we are introduced to is brimming with creativity.  I have always had a soft spot for Asian culture, so I appreciate that the story takes place in ancient Japan.
The first ten minutes has the best use of “show-don’t-tell” that I’ve seen in a long time.  Yes, there is some opening narration from Kubo himself, but his dialogue is not an exposition spiel; rather the visuals are allowed to do all the talking.  Any time the movie does resort to expositional dialogue, it is kept brief.  Speaking of the visuals, the animation is–holy cow–just breathtaking!  I turned to the friend who accompanied me and said, “Dude, that looks like real water!”  There’s an impressive painting-come-to-life feel with the color palatte and the design of the locations that make the film a beauty to behold.
The story itself is truly inspired!  Granted, the “adventures-of-a-half human-half celestial-child” story has been done before, but having him be a gifted storyteller who can bring origami to life with a musical instrument is quite an impressive twist.  The most admirable quality of the film are the morals.  I really like how Monkey tells Kubo, “Your magic is growing stronger.  You need to learn control.  But when we grow stronger the world grows more dangerous.”  Trust me when I say that her statement holds a lot of truth.
Earlier this year, I reviewed the Jungle Book, in which I pointed out how the film reminded me of something a friend said to me, “Let the angels and the saints deal with the devil.  They know what they’re doing.”  Kubo and the Two Strings also brought those words to mind!   Similarly to how our guardian angels tackle the evil one when he tries to mess with us, any time the hawkish evil spirit aunts come to harrass Kubo, Monkey and Beetle are there to fight them off while Kubo either accomplishes a task or seeks refuge.   It is with their help that Kubo becomes strong enough and fully-equipped to finally take on the Moon King himself.  Also, the climactic confrontation between Kubo and Moon King does come with an Eden-style temptation.  Basically it’s the “join me and you will become like gods” thing, much like how the old serpent told Eve that if she ate the apple, she’d become like God.   Between this and the Jungle Book, I’m pleasantly surprised to see that kids films come with an interest in the mysterious spiritual world.

MsOWrites Hits
It’s so refreshing to find a movie for general audiences that has a completely original premise.  My brother and I were obsessed with Japanese culture since we were kids and we were both looking forward to seeing this movie.  It lived up to the expectations I had and then blew me out of the water.
The animation is stunning, the characters are all enjoyable, and the writing is a breath of fresh air amongst the remakes and reboots out there.  The movie does not play things safe and yet I would totally recommend this movie to basically everyone.
The central themes of this movie are about the importance of family and the power of a good story. Kubo goes on a journey to finish what his father started: to find the armor that will help him defeat the Moon King. Monkey, Beetle, and Little Hanzo all made for excellent travelling companions.
The Sisters were intimidating, frightening villains as well.  I also love all the action sequences because there was a variety of them. The townsfolk play a great role as supporting characters who do more than just act as bystanders.  I love that they accept Kubo’s gift and don’t treat him like an outsider like other movies would.

CGB Misses
The friend who came with me to see this movie had some questions about Kubo’s scary aunts.  “If his grandfather is the Moon King, then are his aunts supposed to be stars or something?”  This is just one of the film’s unanswered questions.
Is it just me or is the danger Kubo faces at the hands of his tyrannical grandfather lacking some weight?  Let me explain: So essentially, if Kubo is caught by the Moon King and the hawk-women, then they will take his remaining eye…and then what?  Are they gonna just leave him blinded on earth?  Is he going to be made into a freaky spirit person like them?   Also, other than being the product of his mother’s disobedience against the Moon King, why is the Moon King threatened by Kubo’s existence?   Does the Moon King believe that Kubo being half-human, half-celestial mean that he [Kubo] will try to overthrow him?  Now, to be fair, in their final confrontation, the Moon King does offer to take Kubo with him and make him an infinite being, but still, I think that if the threat had been written as “the Moon King’s gonna snatch Kubo’s other eye and enslave him,” or something like that, it would’ve helped.
Speaking of the Moon King, here’s my issue: I totally understand why he is a threat to Kubo, but the movie doesn’t make him seem like a threat to anyone else.  The Moon King doesn’t seem to be feared by anyone else in the movie’s universe.  In Harry Potter, Voldemort was a threatening presence regardless of whether or not Harry was around; it just so happened that he had his sights set on The Boy Who Lived and anyone associated with him.  Here, though, it would have helped to see the Moon King burn down a village or require insane sacrifices or something; anything to raise the stakes of his existence.

MsOWrites Misses
While I will say that all the actors did a great job in this movie, I wish that George Takei had more than just a cameo role. I also think that this movie could’ve been even better with Asian actors in the main roles. Matthew McConaughey’s acting is uneven, albeit has its own interesting brand of charm.

Elephant in the Room
Right before we did this collab, one of my Facebook friends sent me an article from a well­regarded Catholic news source that dismissed this movie and said that it promoted “neo­Pagan values.” As somebody who grew up watching Charmed, reads Harry Potter, and still watches Buffy, I think that the themes in this movie are just as Catholic as any Bible­-based movie.  For one thing, the central theme of this movie is the importance of family.  While the main villains are Kubo’s grandfather and aunts, it’s reminiscent of Luke 12:53 “They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-­in-­law against daughter-­in-­law and daughter-­in-­law against mother-­in-­law.” The Moon King and his daughters are arrogant because they fail to comprehend things such as compassion and selfless love. Without going into spoiler territory, the ending of this movie shows justice and mercy rendered unto the Moon King.
Yes, I did see the article about Kubo promoting the occult and I will tell you that I didn’t see a single ouija board, tarot card, voodoo doll or anything occult-like in this entire movie.  In fact, the villains were reminiscent of demons while Monkey and Beetle were basically Kubo’s guardian angels.  If anything, the story borrows heavily from Greek mythology with hints of Shintoism.  For the record, Shinto is a Japanese religion and given that the story does take place in ancient Japan,  it only makes sense to borrow influence from a Japanese religion.  So fear not, guys and gals, Kubo and the Two Strings is NOT pro-occult propoganda.  Frankly, I don’t think the devil really cares about stop-motion animation and the film’s pro-family message would probably have him tripping over himself as he tries to flee.

Overall, Kubo and the Two Strings is a gorgeously-animated and highly imaginative story that, much like the live-action Jungle Book film, has a lot to say about the spiritual realm without being overt about it.  It’s one of those films that encourages children to create things and use their imaginations.  Kubo and the Two Strings is a well-crafted film that respects the intelligence of children while giving adults a thing or two to think about.

Venerable Takayama Ukon and Saint Paul Miki, pray for us.

CGB Review of The BFG (2016)

Previously on Catholic Girl Bloggin’…

(Hears noise downstairs) Hello?  (No answer) Huh, well what could that be?  (Looks at Ghostbusters review) My final thoughts can wait.  (Goes downstairs) (Sees a ghost in the kitchen)
ME: What the hey?
GHOST: I am the ghost of kitchen’s past!
ME: You mean, you’re the ghost of what this kitchen used to look like before we remodeled?
GHOST: (Looks confused) Yeah, sure.  Anyway, where is your proton pack now, mere mortal?
ME: I don’t know about proton packs, but I have this.  (Pulls holy water out of the cupboard and flings it at the ghost) In the Name of Jesus, leave my kitchen, jerkface!
GHOST: You fiend!
ME: Give your dark master my regards.  Oh, and LEAVE!  (throws more holy water furiously)
GHOST: AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH, I’M MELTING!!!!  (Writhes in agony and dissolves into a puddle of ooze)

One hour later…

(Mops up ghost-ooze) This is gonna take forever to get rid of entirely. (feels earth rumble) Oh, what now?!  (Looks out window and sees a gigantic shadow) What am I looking at?  (Enormous shadow becomes a roaring giant) (Giant approaches window)  AAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!  (Tries to run, but trips)  Who are you?
GIANT: I am the BRG!
ME: BRG?
GIANT: Big Random Giant!
ME: So you’re not a grandfatherly CGI giant voiced by Oscar winner Mark Rylance?
BRG: Rawr rawr rawr!  (Grabs me and hoists me into burlap bag)
ME: (Trying to keep balance inside burlap bag) Well, while I try to find a way out of here (looking through small rip in bag and sees how high up I am) without falling to my death, I guess I could pass time with a review.

This is my review of The BFG!

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Based on the 1982 novel by Roald Dahl, the BFG tells the story of Sophie, an orphaned girl who is taken one night by a kindly giant who she nicknames “BFG” to Giant Country.  At first Sophie demands that BFG take her back to the orphanage, but soon starts to form a bond with him once she sees the danger he puts himself in to protect her from the other man-eating giants that populate Giant Country.  Over time, Sophie and BFG form an unbreakable bond over BFG’s work as a catcher of dreams (and I do mean that literally).  When the threat of the bloodthirsty giants invading the human world looms large, it’s up to Sophie and BFG to put a stop to their plans and save all of humanity.

ME: Hey, BRG, can you slow down so that I’m not getting tossed around like a sack of potatoes?!
BRG: Okay, here we are!
ME: (Looks out through hole in the bag) (Sees a CGI fantasy world) Well, I’m gonna have a heck of a time getting out of this parallel dimension.

The Hits
The first two acts of this movie are truly magical.  If there’s one thing Steven Spielberg is really good at, it’s capturing a sense of wonder and awe with the in-movie universe he creates.  He makes Giant Country an awe-inspiring place, brimming with adventure.
The bond between Sophie and BFG is absolutely charming.  There is a grandparent-grandchild quality to it that makes it wonderful to watch.  Ruby Barnhill is excellent as Sophie.  She is precocious without being annoying, both innocent and intelligent, and make Sophie an empathetic character to follow.
Even though I fell asleep during his last flick Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance kept my attention during that movie and he is just as interesting to watch once again.  His warmth and protectiveness of Sophie is believable, and the motion capture of his character is quite impressive.  I like how the BFG resembles Mark Rylance without being designed as an exact replica of him; it allows him to disappear into the role and become the character, making you forget that you’re watching an actor play a part.
I love how the dream world that the BFG travels to in order to catch dreams is similar to the spiritual realm.  In my latest editorial, Truth Within A Tagline, I talked about how within our reality is a spiritual world where angels and demons reside, fighting great battles for our souls.  Here’s the link if you missed it: https://catholicgirlbloggin.net/2016/07/01/truth-within-a-tagline/
Anyway, BFG describes the dream world to Sophie as being a secret inner world that contains the most beautiful dreams and the most brutal nightmares; coincidently, this is exactly what the spiritual realm is: A hidden world that holds marvelous angels and horrific demons.  Anyone who happens to have the charism of discernment of spirits will most certainly appreciate the BFG’s dream world.

The Misses
The villains in this movie are pretty underwhelming.  The problem is that despite their intimidating size, they are too dim-witted and one-dimensional to be considered threatening.
I said that the first two acts of the film are magical…the last half is not.  For a movie about a friendly giant who has to protect a little human from the other cannibalistic giants, the plot is surprisingly aimless.  Granted, I don’t mind an aimless plot so long as the story doesn’t linger at too many parts.  Unfortunately the BFG does pad itself out with some filler in the second and third act.  I am sad to say that the story does get boring at times and I did find myself checking my phone.
I get that this is a kids’ film, but some of the jokes in the movie are a tad too childish.  There are one or two gross-out gags that just didn’t work.  Also the climax is pretty anticlimactic.  The whole “involving-the-queen-of-England” thing felt shoehorned; I wish the BFG character had magic powers or that Sophie had found a magical item that could help the two of them defeat the other giants.

ME: (Sees other giants approaching) I gotta get outta here! (Searches through BRG’s burlap sack)
MYSTERIOUS VOICE: Catholic Girl Bloggin’…
ME: Who is that?  (turns around and sees an angel) Whoa!
GUARDIAN ANGEL: I am your guardian angel, CGB.
ME: You’re…my guardian angel?  (Lets it sink in) This is so cool!  Hey, how come you’re wearing a mask?
GUARDIAN ANGEL: My light would blind you.
ME: (sees two katanas attached to GUARDIAN ANGEL’S sheaths) And what’s with the katanas?  (Realizes that GUARDIAN ANGEL bears a resembles to a particular superhero) So my guardian angel is Deadpool?  Right on!
GUARDIAN ANGEL: (Shrugs) Sure, just minus the crass humor.  (Hands me a spare katana)
ME: Hey, how come I get one katana and you get two?
GUARDIAN ANGEL: (Raises wings) Because one is all you need.
ME: So how do we get out of here?
GUARDIAN ANGEL: Finish the review.  Leave the giants to me.

Okay, so while I cut my way out of a giant’s burlap sack with a katana–what an odd sentence to say aloud–I guess I can give my closing thoughts.
Overall, while I didn’t love the BFG as much as I wanted to, I did like it.  The bond between the two lead characters will warm your heart, the dream world is beautifully designed and there are great messages about loyalty and friendship.  Young kids who see this movie will definitely love it while adults may find themselves pleasantly surprised.  The BFG is fun and entertaining for the whole family to enjoy.

(Outside, GUARDIAN ANGEL swings his katanas and blinds the giants with cords of light shooting out from his wings)
GUARDIAN ANGEL: CGB, cut a hole at the bottom of the bag!
ME: But I’ll fall!
GUARDIAN ANGEL: Just trust me!
ME: (Takes deep breath and slices a large hole into the bag) (Begins to fall) AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!  (Eyes shut) (Suddenly feels a mattress against my back) (Opens eyes and am back in my bedroom) Oh, come on!  Don’t tell me it was all just a dream!  (Looks and sees katana leaning against my desk) Huh, I guess it wasn’t.
AMANDA WALLER: Are you Catholic Girl Bloggin’?
ME: (Turns around and sees AMANDA WALLER) Um, yes?  Wait a minute, aren’t you a Suicide Squad character?
AMANDA WALLER: Yes.
ME: Well, I won’t be reviewing that until August.
AMANDA WALLER: (Sees katana) I want to assemble a new taskforce, one entirely of bloggers.  Would you kindly come with me, CGB?
ME: (Swallows) Uh oh…

(Fade to black)

Blessed Imelda Lambertini, pray for us.

CGB Review of Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

If I try to go through my bathroom mirror to get to Wonderland, does that make me a crazy person?
(Sigh) Better check myself in the psych ward.

So while I await psychological evaluation, this is my review of Alice Through the Looking Glass!

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Three years after the events of the first Alice in Wonderland, Alice Kingsleigh has been a sea captain traveling the world.  Upon returning from her expedition in China, she comes across her friend Absolem, the caterpillar from the first Alice film who is now a butterfly.  She follows Absolem through a magic mirror and ends up back in Wonderland, only to discover that the Mad Hatter is dying because he believes his family is still alive, but Alice doesn’t believe him when he tells her this revelation.  Now Alice has to go back in time to find out what happened to Hatter’s family all while coming face-to-face with Time himself (no, seriously, Time is a person played by Sacha Baron Cohen).  Also the Red Queen is back because–Wonderland!

DOCTOR: Ms. Bloggin’, who are you talking to?
ME: Oh, don’t worry, Doc.  Right now, I’m saying aloud everything I want to write in my CGB review of Alice Through The Looking Glass!
DOCTOR: (gives quizzical look) All right then…(jots down notes)

(Walks out of doctor’s office) Well, the psych eval shows that I’m not crazy, but I do have a textbook case of overactive imagination, which I don’t think is covered by Obamacare.  (Sees nurse approaching) Hey, why do you have a syringe in your–
(Wakes up in a white room) Well, while I figure out how to break out of here, onward with the review!

The Hits
Sacha Baron Cohen’s character Time is by far the most interesting character.  The idea of time being personified as an immortal being who is in charge of overseeing time and eternity is fascinating.  He is a tad rude, but he is committed to his role as the keeper and guardian of time and space.  His rapport with Alice could have been a movie all on its own; his factual approach to mortality balances out Alice’s impulsivity and lack of foresight.  Personally, if I had been the screenwriter, I would have told the story from Time’s perspective with Alice as his apprentice; make the Red Queen a time-thief who tempts Alice into stealing the chromosphere so that she [Alice] can repair some parts of her own past and then use Time’s pursuit of his misled apprentice as a character study of their challenged relationship.  Hmm, I should really discern getting into fan fiction…
Anyway, there are a lot of creative and compelling visuals.  From Time’s palace to the Hatter’s hometown, there is a plethora of colorful eye-candy to behold.  The set designs are appealing to the eye and the level of detail is admirable.
I do appreciate that this film is less formulaic than its predecessor.  The narrative has an unpredictable, free-flowing structure that I certainly appreciate.  It fits well with the nonsensical spirit of Wonderland.
The movie has some good messages about family, time (the concept, not the character) and learning from the past rather than being overcome by it.

The Misses
In the first Alice, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) had an established castle and responsibilities.  Here, not only do we never see her castle, but she’s running around like any ole commoner.  Oh, and she NEVER puts her hands down!  She’s doing some weird gestures with her floating hands that is supposed to look enchanting, but gets annoying real fast.
Alice being sent to a mental institution is a pretty pointless subplot.  It’s blatantly obvious that this sequence is only in there to make a point about women being hospitalized for “female hysteria” in the 1800’s.  I should probably mention that the film’s screenwriter Linda Woolverton, who wrote the scripts for Beauty and the Beast, Maleficent and the 2010 Alice in Wonderland, is known to inject feminist commentary into her works.  Look, as a pro-life feminist, I have no issue with feminist ideas in film and literature, but if you’re going to do it, it needs to be well-developed and not shoehorned.
This is supposedly the sequel to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland; I say “supposedly” because while this movie has the same characters, the tone is vastly different from the tone of the first film, which was a dark and gritty interpretation of the Lewis Carroll novel.  In a way, it almost feels separate from its previous installment to the point where the events of the first Alice come off as utterly pointless.

(Climbs out of window of mental institution) (Looks around) Sshh, no one knows I’m out here.  (Sees spotlight) I’d better jump…

(Jumps) (Runs across random field) So this is a tough one.  I didn’t think it was awful, but it’s nowhere near Maleficent or Cinderella.  This is one of those instances where there are some really good elements that get smothered by poor story choices.  If it’s on TV, I’d probably watch it, but I’d have playing in the background while I write another CGB review or, in this case, break out of a mental institution.

Saint Germaine Cousin, pray for us.

CGB Review of The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)

Ironically the theater auditorium I saw this in (Theater 10) was the one where I endured last year’s Fant4stic Four…
Beware of Theater 10!

This is my review of The Huntsman: Winter’s War!

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Okay, so this is a prequel/sequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, which means my summary will require some time travel.  Where’s the DeLorean when you need it?!
Anyway, so long before the events of Snow White and the Huntsman, the power-hungry sorceress  Ravenna (Charlize Theron) learns that her sister Freya (Emily Blunt) is carrying the child of the Duke of Blackwood.  One jumpcut later, the baby girl has been born and is destined to become fairest of the land because–fairy tale.  On the night that they are supposed to marry and run off together in secret, Freya sees that the Duke has murdered their daughter, so she unleashes her suppressed ice powers and kills the Duke.  From there, Freya becomes a tyrannical Elsa and raises an army of kidnapped children into soldiers.  Two of those soldiers are Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who are engaged in a forbidden romance that gets them kicked out of Freya’s ice kingdom.
Fast-forward seven years after the events of Snow White and the Huntsman, the magic mirror of Ravenna has gone missing, Freya is planning to destroy Snow White’s kingdom and Eric, Sara, and four dwarves must find the mirror to keep Freya from finding it and using it to resurrect Ravenna.

Am I the only one whose brain hurts after reading that summary?  Just imagine what it was like to get through this mess.

The Hits
I’ll give them this: The costumes for Freya and Ravenna are very pretty.  While Ravenna’s costumes are a little too extravagant, they do fit the fairy tale setting.  I did like how Freya’s dresses were white and silver; this keeps her from being an Elsa duplicate.
I understand what they were going for with Freya’s character; a hardened, grieving woman who tries to quash all sentiment while suppressing her own motherly instincts.  In scenes that call for Emily Blunt to be heartbroken and vulnerable, she conveys these traits very well.   With better writing, Freya’s tragic arch would have been more compelling than what we currently have.  As it is, I found myself sympathizing with Freya, just not empathizing with her.
The first act is fine for the most part.  It’s nothing to write home about, but I was fairly invested.  The idea of a betrayed queen “raising” an army of child soldiers had potential and even some of the scene transitions were pretty creative.

The Misses
The writing!  Holy cow, the script is embarrassingly amateur!  The story is painfully predictable, the flat and one-dimensional characters speak about how “true love conquers all” in blatant, on-the-nose spiels and the second act of the film is boring filler.  If I had been watching the film with my high school creative writing teacher, he would’ve been face-palming every five minutes because the plot suffers from a plethora of narrative missteps.
I’m sure that you know the difference between a plot-driven narrative and a character-driven narrative, but I will go over it anyway because once I do, we can get to the heart of why The Huntsman: Winter’s War doesn’t work.
A plot-driven narrative is where the events move the story and the characters are a small part of a bigger story.  A character-driven narrative is where the story could not happen without the central protagonist(s); it is specifically about the evolution of one person or a group of people. Star Wars is a great example of a plot-driven narrative while American Sniper is very much a character-driven piece.  Some films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Imitation Game are a seamless mixture of both.
In the case of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, this is a plot-driven film that really should have been a character-driven narrative.  From the dialogue, I could tell that the screenwriter intended for there to be more to Freya, Eric, Sara and the others, but whatever they intended got lost in the director’s agenda.  This doesn’t work as a plot-driven story because the actual plot is very weak, which explains the sluggish second act and the rushed third act.  The action gets in the way of any unique ideas that could have been explored and because Eric and Sara are written so poorly, Hemsworth and Chastain can do very little to make their characters interesting.  After the first act, Freya comes in and out of the plot, so whatever interest there was in her gets lost.  As for Ravenna, she is a shoehorned villain who is only prominent in the third act.
The story should have been a character study of two rival queens who are also sisters.  If Eric and Sara needed to be a part of the story, have Eric be Freya’s confidant and huntsman and make Sara the right-hand woman of Ravenna, then use their forbidden love to deepen the seething hatred between Ravenna and Freya; love and hate would collide through these characters.  The freaky magic mirror (which looks more like a gong, but whatever) could have been some all-powerful treasure that both Freya and Ravenna were after and would add even more fuel to their animosity.  I’d rather watch that movie!

All right, I’m just gonna say it: This movie is pretty awful and it’s all because of the stilted, mediocre writing.  Hey, Universal Pictures, do us all a favor and let Disney handle the live-action fairy tale genre.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go cleanse my brain by watching Maleficent and Cinderella again.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us.

CGB Review of The Jungle Book (2016)

Just looking for the bear necessities!  🙂

This is my review of The Jungle Book!

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In the jungle, the mighty jungle, there lives a “man-cub” named Mowgli, who lives under the protection of a black panther named Bagherra and a pack of wolves.  All is well until the diabolical tiger Shere Khan comes looking for the man-cub, since man is forbidden in the jungle.  For his own safety, Mowgli must leave the jungle and go to the “man village.” Along the way, he meets the laidback Baloo and other colorful characters.

The Hits
The CGI is truly remarkable.  I honestly forgot that I was watching CGI characters.  The level of detail on everything from the animals’ fur to the weather effects is quite stunning.
Neel Sethi is endearing as Mowgli.  Inquisitive, adventurous and even noble, Mowgli serves as the story’s emotional center.  Speaking of the actors, all of the voice acting is top notch!  Ben Kingsley is perfect as the firm and brave Bagheera while Bill Murray brings the warmth and charisma as the fun-loving Baloo.  Scarlett Johansson nails the trickery and cunning of the serpent Kaa.  Idris Elba–good Lord–he is terrific as the diabolic Shere Khan!  His deep, commanding voice gave me chills, making him an excellent villain.
Baloo and Bagheera have great chemistry as polar opposites, as well as guardians of Mowgli.  Bagheera keeps Mowgli grounded while Baloo helps the young boy feel safe and relaxed in his jungle home.  Out of all the characters, Baloo has the most character development.  His evolution from careless, self-centered wanderer to a competent and protective mentor to Mowgli is sweet and natural.
I like how the task of protecting Mowgli challenges other characters such as Baloo and even Bagheera to an extent to rise above their own imperfections for a worthy cause.  Keeping Mowgli safe becomes a community effort and in the end, community triumphs over the lone Shere Khan.  I particularly appreciate how Mowgli defeats Shere Khan not with ruthless violence, but by courageously standing his ground in the face of insurmountable opposition.  It reminds me of something Saint Thomas Aquinas once said, “The principal act of courage is to endure and withstand dangers doggedly rather than to attack them.”
A friend of mine named “N.M” recently told me, “Let the angels and the saints deal with the devil.  They know what they’re doing.”  I kept thinking about her words as I watched the movie.  Throughout the film, animals fight off Shere Khan while Mowgli flees to safety, which reminded me of the angels and the saints fighting off the devil and his minions.  Oh, yes, Shere Khan has the similar characteristics of the fallen angel Lucifer.  There’s a particularly chilling scene where Shere Khan is indoctrinating Raksha’s (Mowgli’s wolf mom) cubs.  “Well, it looks like the screenwriters read 1 Peter 5:8,” I said to myself.  By the way, feel free to type in what 1 Peter 5:8 says in the comments section.  🙂  Granted, I highly doubt that the filmmakers were looking to demonstrate how our Heavenly advocates fight for us, but then again, our God can make use of anything, even secular forms of art, to make Himself known to us.

The Misses
So Christopher Walken sings/speaks “I Wanna Be Like You” and…yeah, about that.  It is as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide if they wanted Mr. Walken to either sing the actual song or just say the lyrics without musical accompaniment, so they said, “Just do both.” As a result, Mr. Walken sounds awkward and stilted when he is sing-speaking the lyrics.
Personally I prefer character-driven stories over plot-driven ones, so even though I liked Mowgli, I couldn’t connect with him; he is sympathetic, not empathetic.  This hiccup doesn’t make the film less enjoyable, but just weak when compared to Maleficent (2014) and Cinderella (2015), both of which were poignant character studies.

I would highly recommend the Jungle Book as a fun family film.  While some of Shere Khan’s scenes are quite dark, the majority of the movie is light-hearted and entertaining.  Kids will enjoy the animals and action, while the adults will be pleasantly surprised with the film’s depiction of courage in the face of danger.

Saint Dominic Savio, pray for us.

CGB Review of Pan (2015)

Me before Pan: “Okay, Lord, I’m going to keep an open mind.  Maybe Pan will be an offbeat fairy tale that I end up liking.”
Me during Pan: “WHAT THE FRICK AM I LOOKING AT?!”

This is my review of Pan…(irritable sigh)

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Pan is the prequel to J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan.  In this version, Peter (Levi Miller) starts out as a little boy living in an orphanage who gets snatched away by pirates and ends up in Neverland, where he must go up against Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) after it is discovered that Peter can fly because–chosen one–and from there, Peter teams up with James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) to discover his true destiny as the flying boy who will save the Natives and the fairies from the tyrannical Blackbeard and the pirates.
I just took an Advil because this movie gave me a migraine.  I am legitimately ticked off because the trailer for this movie looked so enchanting.  Sadly, the final product is anything but magical.  This movie has no idea what it wants to be.  It is so tone-deaf that I was never sure when I was supposed to take a scene seriously.
Alas, let’s just get through the very few Hits before I commence into Super Saiyan rant-mode.
By the way, ten brownie points are yours if you know what a “Super Saiyan” is.

The Hits
To be fair, there is a good story somewhere in this bloated mess of a film.  The world creation is certainly not lacking in imagination.  The locations are gorgeous to look at and I really wish that the movie had taken the time to give Neverland its own identity outside of being a pretty generic CGI backdrop.
The idea of establishing Peter Pan and Captain Hook as friends is interesting, and the banter between them did get a few chuckles out of me.
I do like the concept of Peter being the son of a fairy prince and a human woman, and that Tiger Lily has a connection with Peter’s mother.  Also kudos to the screenwriter for making Peter’s mother a pro-fairy warrior.  Deceased mother characters shouldn’t just be dead nice ladies.
The only scenes that had me invested were the scenes between Peter and Blackbeard.  Levi Miller and Hugh Jackman do have a believable dynamic as enemies.  I always appreciate when a hero and a villain are in the same room, conversing with each other.
Levi Miller is the only person who I sympathetized with.  He seems to understand his role and does his very best to be the grounded force of his strange surroundings.  I do hope that he gets more work and ends up in better movies because there is a lot of promise with him.
It is always tragic when incompentent direction buries a potentionally engaging story.

The Misses
All right, the gloves are coming off.  Let’s go.
(Commencing rant mode) This should have been called “Indecision: The Movie.”  It is painfully obvious that director Joe Wright was second guessing every single story decision he made during production.  Except for Levi Miller, the adult actors are evidence of this.
It’s never a good sign when you can tell that an actor is confused about who they’re supposed to be throughout the film.  I think Mr. Wright first told Hugh Jackman to be menancing, but then right before the camera rolled, he said, “On second thought, Mr. Jackman, Blackbeard should be a comedic villain.  Yeah, that’s it.” But THEN Mr. Wright changed his mind again and told Jackman to be a scary dude.  As a result, Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard switches back and forth from quirky villain to menancing foe every five minutes.  Actually, now that I think about it, Jackman’s performance is inconsistent; he overacts in some scenes and underacts in others.
The secret to writing an offbeat villain is to write he/she as either a scary person who can be funny or as a charming individual with a twisted personality. Attempting to be both sucks away the tension between the villain and the protagonist.   If I’m not afraid of the villain, why should I care about the hero?
The second victim of Joe Wright’s indecision is Garrett Hedlund.  It’s like Mr. Wright couldn’t decide if he wanted James Hook to be a ripoff of Indiana Jones or Hans Solo, so he just said to Hedlund, “Just be both and talk through your teeth a lot because–potatoes!”  The character of James Hook feels so unnatural to the story because he bulges his eyes out, widens his facial expressions and talks through his teeth.  It gets to the point where he is so unrealistic that his appearance in any scene feels shoehorned.  His “romance” with Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) is painful to watch because Hedlund and Mara have zero chemistry.
The action sequences are horrendously edited.  Thanks to a frickton of jumpcuts, I could barely follow what was going on or who was fighting who.   The CGI mermaids and the Neverbirds look embarrassingly fake.  The musical score plays during the wrong sequences.  I rarely say this, but this is the pinnacle of style over substance.
Finally, if you’re a fan of Saint Catherine Laboure or just the religious life in general (or both), you will be ticked at this movie because the nuns who run Peter’s orphanage are Catherine Laboure nuns with no personalities other than being offensive caricatures.  I know that they are Catherine Laboure nuns because of the habits they wear.
This is Catherine, by the way.

Saint Catherine Laboure
Saint Catherine Laboure

It just so happens that Catherine Laboure is my favorite out of all the Saint Catherines, so I was already annoyed within the first five minutes of the movie. Even secular movie critics don’t like the portrayal of the nuns in this flick!

Whenever I’m writing a story or revising an essay before the due date, I’ll run it by my Mother to get a second opinion.  If I propose a last minute change that doesn’t make sense or second guess a key element of my writing project, my Mom will set me straight and advise me to stick with and improve the ideas that are already in place.
Pan is the best example of why film directors should have their mothers on set.  The tone is inconsistent, the actors are confused about who they’re supposed to be, and the visuals overtake character growth and interaction.

Saint Catherine Laboure, you deserve much better treatment.  Also, pray for us.

CGB Review of How to Train Your Dragon (2010) (In Loving Memory of Sophie)

I’ve actually seen this movie twice; the first time was last year when my dog Sophie was alive.  I was sick with the flu and Sophie was sitting on her blankets in front of the TV.  “Tell me what happens, Sophie,” I said while trying not to throw up. Sophie just tilted her head and yawned.  I think she took a nap during the climactic battle in the dragons’ nest.
My second viewing was last night during our LifeTeen movie night.  Every time Toothless would tilt his head or lick Hiccup’s face, I smiled because I thought of Sophie, who passed away on May 11th of this year.

This is my review of How to Train Your Dragon!

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Also this review will be dedicated to Sophie.

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How to Train Your Dragon is based on a series of twelve children’s books of the same name written by Cressida Cowell.  It tells the story of Hiccup, a Viking teenager who lives in the island of Berk.  On the island, dragons come periodically to steal Berk’s livestock.  As a result, the Viking villagers hate dragons and train to slay them.  Hiccup, the awkward son of the village leader, Stoick the Vast, sets out to kill a dragon in order to gain acceptance, but when he catches the dreaded Nightfury dragon, he can’t bring himself to do it and instead begins to form a friendship with the Nightfury that he names “Toothless.”

I can see why so many people adore this movie.  This is a fantastic and charming animated film!

The Hits
Holy cow, the animation is gorgeous!  The fire effects look like real fire.  The water looks realistic.  Even the clouds are stunning!  I like how the Vikings characters are designed to look brutish and macho, but are still easy on the eyes.
The opening scene is one of the best that I’ve seen in a while.  Everything we need to know is summarized with exciting visuals and Hiccup’s narration giving us context.  From there, the story never skips a beat and moves at a smooth pace with no filler scenes to slow down the plot.
This movie is a must-see for pet owners especially because it understands the relationship that forms between a human and their animal friend.  It capture how hard you have to work on gaining your pet’s trust when you first bring them home, as well as their unbreakable loyalty to you once you’ve earned their respect.  I love how Toothless becomes protective of Hiccup because it reminds me of how during our walks, Sophie would bark and stand in front of me if she suspected that something was wrong.   The bond between Hiccup and Toothless is genuine and heart-warming.  Every scene they have together is used to show the organic development of their relationship.  This allows the scenes where Hiccup and Toothless have to go through Hell and back for each other to feel believable.

The One and Only Miss
The only hiccup (ba boom pssh!) of this movie is that Hiccup’s change of heart is too abrupt.  When we first meet him, he’s gung-ho about catching a dragon and killing it in order to prove his worth.  Then when he has Toothless in his grasp, he goes for the kill and then within seconds, he changes his mind and decides that he just can’t kill a dragon.
Now to the movie’s credit, it is explained in the third act why he did a 180, but I think because in the beginning, his character was set up as being hellbent on killing a dragon, his change of heart felt too quick.  If he had been first established as not really wanting to kill dragons, but feeling obligated to do so, then it would have felt in-character for him to not go through with it.  Another alternative could be have Hiccup let Toothless go, but then show him continue to wrestle with the idea of killing him at the next opportunity.  He could begin to bond with Toothless while undergoing this internal struggle over the course of the movie.  I understand that this is a kids’ movie and that there are other story elements that they need to cover, but I think it would good for children to see that not everyone turns over a new leaf that quickly.  Children need to know that it’s sometimes hard for people to change their ways and that conversion of the heart comes gradually, not instantly.

Overall, How to Train Your Dragon is a great animated gem that has something for both kids and adults to enjoy.   The topic of two opposing forces is handled with tact and grace and the love between Hiccup and Toothless is centered on loyalty and the courage to stand against public opinion in order to protect each other.

Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us.

Rest in peace, Sophie (11/10/99-5/11/15)
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