CGB Review of Arrival (2016)

Why are they here?
Well, I won’t give away the answer, but I am here to tell you that one of the best films of 2016 has arrived!

This is my review of Arrival!

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Freaky alien ships have arrived–no pun intended–on Earth with each pod landing in twelve different countries, including the US of A.  Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a renowned linguist who has been selected by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to lead a team of investigators and “interview” the alien species.  Given that language is her passion, Louise is determined to understand their speech patterns in order to get them to understand human language and context.  Diplomacy becomes a tricky road as China and other global superpowers threaten to take action against these beings they do not understand.  Louise and Ian (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist, who by all calculations (again, no pun intended), has his sights set on the fair-minded linguist, must race against the clock to prevent World War III with the aliens.

Guys and gals, I saw this film yesterday and I am still thinking about it.  I have told my classmates, co-workers and my family to go see this intelligent, mind-bending film and I am here to convince you to go see it, as well!

The Hits
The story is expertly crafted from beginning to end.  It is neither overly-complicated nor insultingly dumbed-down; it provides plenty of symbolism and clues, but it also allows you to do the thinking for yourself.  I love how this film is not about lasers or explosions, but keeps its attention set on the very realistic scenarios of international negotiations and relations between worldly (and in this case, otherworldly) powers.  Granted, this movie certainly isn’t going to teach you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about international politics, but in terms of getting an idea of how it works, this movie serves as a good analogy.  The musical score is the best I’ve heard since the Imitation Game soundtrack and the very first shot of the alien pod ship is rightfully deserving of all the praise as a great achievement in cinematography that it has received.
Amy Adams has come a long way from her start as Princess Giselle from Enchanted.  Adams is mesmerizing as Louise.  Her vulnerable performance brings to life a logical and independent-minded woman who is seeking to understand without guile.  Characters who are essentially pure of heart can be hard to write, but Adams provides Louise with a grounded humanity to balance out the character’s cut-above nature.
Much like Miracles from Heaven, the characters in this film actually act like human beings.  Forest Whitaker’s Colonel Weber and the other military members are in a difficult situation and their reactions are made understandable to the audience.  This isn’t the “progressive-linguist-fighting-against-big-bad-rigid-establishment” kind of story; all the players involved are presented in a humanistic manner, doing what they know to do in a muddy waters of negotiations with global leaders and inter terrestrials.
Going back to the masterful storytelling, Arrival is a sci-fi psychodrama, being both plot-driven and character-driven.  The sci-fi elements are interwoven with the engaging character study of Louise and her own immersion into the aliens’ language.
One more thing: I’ve only seeing three of Denis Villeneuve films (Prisoners, Sicario and now Arrival) and I am so happy to say that this one is the easiest to watch!  I say that because Prisoners left me reeling for a week and Sicario did not help me get to sleep after I saw it.

The Misses
I’m honestly at a loss in terms of any glaring misses, but I guess if you are looking for lightsaber duels and galactic explosions, just wait until Rogue One comes out or watch the first Independence Day (NOT the crummy sequel that came out and bombed in the middle of this year).  Between this, Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2014) and Sicario (2015), Denis Villeneuve is an artsy-thinkpiece kind of filmmaker.  Look elsewhere for mindless entertainment, my lovely friends.

Very rarely has a film actually had me thinking about time, language, space and how our world works.  Arrival made me really ponder time and language, and how they are linked. Time is a pattern of day and night, while language is a pattern of communication, the structure of words.  As I drove home, I began to think about how God set these things to work in order so that all things can move smoothly forward.  All things must occur in a patterned order to prevent catastrophe.  Dare I say, in the strangest way, Arrival has increased my appreciation for God as the author of life, the linguist, the mathematician, the painter, the architect, the Creator of all things that are and are to come. While the movie itself doesn’t outright mention God, it would not be far-fetched to say that His hand was present within the pages of the screenplay.
When a movie can challenge you to stop and think about the world around you, that is the mark of a great film.
That was my experience with Arrival; it may not end up being yours, but see this wonderfully-acted, well-written film for yourself.  You just might get something out of it.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

Frightening Hour, Glorious Day

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Brock Turner has been released.

I’m sure you already know who he is, but just for the sake of emphasis, Brock Turner is the former Stanford University swimmer who raped an intoxicated and unconscious woman behind a dumpster.  Today he has been allowed back out into the world for “good behavior.”

We live in a broken world.  The fact that we live in a society where if a woman reports that she has been raped she faces the possibility of having her personal history questioned, her motivations suspected and her attacker not held fully accountable, is just one of the many injustices that illustrate the broken nature of our times.

As sickening as it is, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when evil wins every now and then. The devil knows how to ensure that his dirty work is done without anyone batting an eye until it is too late to put a stop to it.  It doesn’t help that our culture gets outraged over social injustices for a few weeks only to forget about it as everyone returns to their daily routine.  Evil has its hour when good people raise their voices and do nothing.

Just behind my laptop is a framed picture of Mother Teresa.  I glanced up at it as I was typing this, but after a while I closed my laptop and just stared at it for a few minutes.  My eyes focused on her tender gaze and folded hands, her humble posture and deep compassion pooled in her eyes.
That is when it hit me.

Mother Teresa will be canonized this Sunday.

When Brock Turner saw a woman passed out behind a dumpster, he took advantage of her.
When Mother Teresa saw a dying person on the side of the road, she took them to shelter.
Brock Turner spent twenty minutes violating the dignity of another human being.
Mother Teresa spent every minute upholding the dignity of the poor and forgotten.
Brock Turner used another for his own gratification.
Mother Teresa served others for the glory of God.

Mother Teresa’s courageous humilty is the antithesis of Brock Turner’s cowardly selfishness.  The devil may jump for joy at the release of a rapist, but he burns with rage at Heaven’s rejoicing for the canonization of a heroic woman.

In the end, justice will prevail, but in a very different way.

Brock Turner has been disgraced in the eyes of the public, while Heaven and Earth honor Mother Teresa’s self-sacrificial life.

Brock Turner is free from prison bars, but wherever he goes, people will look at him and know.  In the same way that Cain was cursed to walk on earth as a fugitive and vagabond, Brock Turner will wear his crime like a scarlet letter.
Mother Teresa suffered the spiritual darkness of feeling abandoned by God, but she now walks among the angels and the saints in the Heavenly court.   Surrendering herself to God’s plan, dedicating herself to the service of the poor and destitute, all she did was give, and in the end she received the Crown of Life.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us and for the conversion of Brock Turner.

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“Christ says: I know you through and through – I know everything about you.  The very hairs of your head I have numbered.  Nothing in your life is unimportant to me, I have followed you through the years, and I have always loved you – even in your wanderings.  I know every one of your problems. I know your need and your worries. And yes, I know all your sins. But I tell you again that I love you – not for what you have or haven’t done – I love you for you, for the beauty and dignity my Father gave you by creating you in his own image.”
―Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta

CGB Review/Explanation of The Theory of Everything (2014)

Is it possible for a movie to be so gut-wrenchingly beautiful that it breaks you in the best possible way?

This is my review of The Theory of Everything!

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The Theory of Everything is based on the memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking.  In the 1960’s Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde meet at Cambridge during a party.  They begin an intellect-centered friendship that blossoms into a romance.  However all seems lost when Stephen learns he has a motor-neuron disease (ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease) at the age of 21.  In spite of this, Jane makes the decision to confess her love for him and becomes his wife, vowing to be his staunchest ally in the fight against his disease.

After watching the film, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot use my usual “Hits and Misses” system.  This is the first film I have seen that needs to be reviewed on an entirely different standard.   The reason for this is everything right with the film is objective and everything wrong with the film is subjective, a matter of personal taste.

The Objective Good
Good Lord, the lighting and cinematography is exceptional!  The opening shot of the film is a soft gold color pallate, while the night scenes are a lovely shade of turquoise.  There’s a great scene where Stephen is sitting alone, watching TV and the red color pallate expresses his inner turmoil over the diagnosis.
Eddie Redmayne won the Oscar for playing Stephen Hawking and frankly, he earned it.  His extraordinary physical performance is heartbreaking, while his vulnerablity and willingness to have other actors carry his body had me sobbing. Eddie Redmayne becomes Stephen, a lover of the sciences.  Fluent in physics and mathematical theory, he pursues an understanding of the structure of the universe with every fiber of his being.
Not only does Felicity Jones have the same gentle beauty as Lily James in Cinderella, but she is also as empathetic as Keira Knightly in The Imitation Game. In the Hawking marriage, Stephen is the head and Jane is the heart.  Felicity Jones brings Jane to life as an angelic flower with an iron will.  She knows what is at stake, but honors her vows by refusing to abandon her ailing husband for her own personal comfort.
If you love the piano and classical music in general, you will want to buy the soundtrack immediately.  The musical score here is just as great as The Imitation Game soundtrack.  It has an epic vibe, illustrating the marriage of Stephen and Jane as a daring, intellectual adventure.
In fact, if you are a fan of The Imitation Game, you might enjoy this movie, as well. The script is very intimate with Stephen and Jane, giving the impression that the director knows these two people personally and wants you to know and love them as much as he does.
I am going to go out on a limb here and recommend this movie to newlyweds and long-time married couples.  The Theory of Everything is the best portrayal of marriage I have ever seen.  It neither advocates nor argues against marriage; it only demonstrates the trials and triumphs that marriage entails in an honest, humanistic way.

The Subjective Bad
If you have endured the trauma of watching a family member decline, this movie will be a very difficult experience.  The deterioration of Stephen’s body is agonizing.  I had to take quite a few walking breaks.
One scene in particular shows Stephen trying to get up a flight of stairs while his toddler son Robert watches.  I don’t want to talk about it for too long, otherwise I’ll start crying again.  This scene is that painful.
Oddly enough, as the movie nears the third act, I found myself becoming desensitized to Stephen’s collapsing body until he gets pneumonia and ends up needing an operation that will make him unable to speak ever again.   My heart was broken in two all over again.
All that being said, to tell you not to watch this movie would be a disservice. Instead, I will advise that you exercise good judgment.  Know your limits in terms of what you can handle to see on screen and go from there.

Guys and gals, The Theory of Everything broke me in the most beautiful way.  I love it and I hate it all at the same time.  With inspired performances, wonderful music and an excellent script, The Theory of Everything is a tragically victorious story of how love really can overcome all obstacles.  This is an exceptional film that I never want to see again, but am sure glad that I gave it a shot.

Saint Jude, pray for us.