There’s no other way to begin this review except by saying…
EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! 😀
This is my review of The LEGO Movie!
Emmet (Chris Pratt) is just your average, ordinary…LEGO person or piece or whatever you call him. Anyway, Emmet lives a pretty unremarkable life as a construction worker amidst a sea of yellow faces. When a strange piece called “the piece of resistance” gets stuck on Emmet’s back, he is whisked away by oddball characters such as a pretty tough gal named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and the prophet Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) on a mission to stop the evil Lord Business from freezing the entire LEGO world using the Kragle.
This plot is so ridiculous and nonsensical, which is why I love it so much!
This movie is so gosh darn creative! I was laughing so hard when I saw that the lava in the opening scene is made of red LEGOS! I love how even the water is made of blue LEGOS. The animation is truly something to behold. Rich colors, smooth movements, excellent camerawork, the level of detail is astonishing and you can tell that a lot of thought and precision went into making everything just right.
For being a boring everyman…LEGO…being thingamajig, Emmet is a pretty endearing character. They don’t make him clumsy or any other everyman (or everywoman) character trope, but they don’t give him special powers or any quality that would make him stand out. He’s just a bland, likable guy with a kind heart (and a face of yellow) who ends up truly being the hero that the city needs. Wyldstyle is pretty funny and with Vitruvius, you can tell that Morgan Freeman is trying so hard not to laugh with each line of dialogue he says. Also Will Arnett’s Batman had me rolling on the floor laughing. Batman sure does bruit a lot, doesn’t he? I know that’s one of his signature qualities, but seen in a satirical form really does put perspective on it.
This is the kind of movie that should not have worked, but makes itself work with awesome results. What makes this ridiculous concept work is its self-awareness. The script knows that it is a laughable idea and, instead of trying to make itself more epic than it actually is, it embraces the nonsense and comedic possibilities. Self-important prophecies, the chosen one narrative and pop culture are satirized to great effect. The voice actors do a great job at taking things seriously when it is needed, but they aren’t like characters in a Christopher Nolan film where EVERY. SINGLE. LINE. OF. DIALOGUE is treated as the most important thing ever said. The tongue-in-cheek quality is why this movie is so hilarious and a real blast to watch!
The action is so fast-paced that it is hard to see at times. Viewers with sensitive eyes or who are prone to getting headaches from watching fast motion with neon colors might want to close their eyes during the action sequences.
Everything is awesome with the LEGO Movie! This surprise hit from 2014 is a brilliantly animated gem that both kids and adults can enjoy. Top-notch animation, an impressive cast, charming characters, and a clever use of satire and cheeky humor all culminates to the LEGO Movie being…just so darn…AWESOME! 😀
“I am not going to apologize for speaking the Name of Jesus, I am not going to justify my faith to them, and I am not going to hide the light that God has put in me. If I have to sacrifice everything…I will. I will take it.”
–Rachel Joy Scott in a letter she wrote on April 20th, 1998; one year to the day before the Columbine tragedy.
This is my review of I’m Not Ashamed!
April 20th, 1999 started out as an ordinary day. Seventeen-year old Rachel Joy Scott went to school and attended her classes as she would any other day.
At exactly 11:19 am, Rachel was eating lunch with her friend Richard Castaldo on the grass near the west entrance of the school. They were soon approached by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who attacked them both with guns in their hands and hatred in their hearts.
Rachel was the first person killed by Harris and Klebold, who would go on to kill eleven other students and a teacher.
This is the story of her life and how she sparked a chain reaction of God’s love that continues to this day.
I discovered Rachel when I was fourteen-years old and just starting my Confirmation journey. My mother bought me the book “Rachel’s Tears” and I read it during my first Confirmation retreat. As a kid, I always prayed and went to church, but reading about Rachel’s walk with God inspired me to make my Catholic faith my own. Now having rediscovered her as an adult, I realize how much Rachel’s story has impacted my own walk with Jesus, which is why she holds a special place in my heart. As you can imagine, I’ve been looking forward to this movie for quite some time.
Well, I finally own the DVD and have finally watched it…twice.
Here we go, on with the review.
Masey McLain is the glue that holds this movie together, and my goodness, she carries the film on her shoulders with excellence. She is a wonderful Rachel Scott. Not only does she resemble her very well, but she captures Rachel’s outgoing personality, her passion for life, her heart for others and her desire to be real in one fell swoop. She brings an authenticity and depth to the character so that she’s not just some sheltered good girl, but a real person who struggles with everyday issues all while clinging to her faith. Speaking of which, PRAISE BE TO GOD that Rachel isn’t given the God’s-Not-Dead treatment, i.e. the “all-Christian-characters-are-perfect-beings” trope. While the film rightfully highlights her loving nature and acceptance of others, it allows her to make mistakes, to fall flat on her face and miss opportunities to do what is right. Making light of her flaws allow her good deeds and triumphs to be even more meaningful. We know that these acts of kindness are being done by a relatable human being and not a two-dimensional archetype.
The relationship between Rachel and her friend Nathan Ballard (based on her real life friend named Mark Bodiford) is the emotional anchor of this film. They have a great rapport and Ben Davies’ performance serves to make Nathan the grounded “big brother” to his newfound, spirited “little sister.” Their friendship serves as a heartfelt subplot and an evolving example of a life touched by Rachel’s compassion. On a side note, I really appreciate how her influence isn’t shown in some ridiculous burst of everyone at Columbine high school turning into nice people because–potatoes–but rather in small doses of kindness here and there.
In her journals, Rachel was incredibly deep in her relationship with God to the point where if you only read the journals without any context of her overall personality, she could come across as an uber-pious person who is difficult to connect with. The film takes a different approach and actually dials down on her religiosity. Her faith takes the form of her treatment of others and through excerpts of her writings via voiceover narration. She never quotes scripture or beats anyone over the head with the Bible. Her Christianity is expressed by her choices and her response to the world around her. People need to see the human side of following God and this movie presents this beautifully.
All right, how does the movie portray the actual tragedy? My answer: As well as it could have. Mind you, we’re talking about a tragedy that changed America, so of course portraying it would be a delicate issue. The filmmakers recognize this and go about it with as much tact and respect as possible. While we follow Rachel’s story, we cut to brief scenes of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold plotting and preparing for the massacre at Columbine. As the third act draws to the climax, it becomes effectively sickening to watch Rachel go about her final days as the knowledge of what is about to happen to her sinks in.
The Misses The filmmaking itself is passable. Aside from some nice transitions and a particularly creepy shot of Harris and Klebold approaching the school on the day of the shooting, there are a few scenes that just stop abruptly. If you’re looking for a more avant-garde film style, you probably won’t find it here.
Rachel’s biological father Darrell Scott is weirdly absent from this film. I say “weirdly” because in real life, Darrell Scott and Beth Nimmo (Rachel’s parents) had a good relationship with one another. Rachel herself was close with both them and her stepparents Larry Nimmo and Sandy Scott. However, you wouldn’t know that if you watched this before reading the book “Rachel’s Tears” because Darrell Scott in this movie is the absentee father who is nowhere to be found. This wouldn’t bother me too much if I didn’t know that shortly after Rachel’s death, Darrell was the one who started the organization Rachel’s Challenge and is one of its prominent speakers to this day.
Speaking of Beth and Larry Nimmo, their parenting in this movie is kind of inconsistent. In the first fifteen minutes, Rachel gets busted by her mother for sneaking out with her friends and engaging in smoking and drinking. But then we see her being allowed to walk alone to her youth group Breakthrough. Granted, when we first see her at Breakthrough, she is driven by her sister Dana, but after that, she’s going to Breakthrough by herself at night. The parenting tries to be both assertive and lax, which results in some odd inconsistency.
There is only one thing that really bugs me. Granted, it doesn’t ruin the movie for me at all, it’s just a side effect of the burden of knowledge. Here it is:
So on April 20th, 1998, Rachel wrote, “I am not going to apologize for speaking the Name of Jesus…if I have to sacrifice everything, I will.” As mentioned in the review’s opening, that was written one year to the day before her death. Meanwhile, the movie starts in April of 1998, Rachel’s sophomore year. During this time, she’s not shown as being religious yet. She doesn’t verbalize this quote until the end of the second act, which I am assuming takes place in either February or March of 1999. The only reason this bugs me is because I know how significant it is that she wrote the quote one year to the day before her death. Yes, I know that her alleged martyrdom is still hotly debated after all this time, but that doesn’t take away from the significance of that particular quote and when exactly it was written.
If more Christian films were like I’m Not Ashamed, then the genre would be so much better. I’m Not Ashamed is a powerful example of how to follow Jesus, all you have to do is be an ordinary person who is willing to be used by Him to make a difference in the lives around you. Despite some strange choices regarding the portrayal of the Scott family and hasty editing, the handling of the tragedy is as tactful as it could have been and Masey McLain’s performance pays a respectful homage to Rachel, capturing the essence of who she was during her short time on Earth. This is the story of Rachel and everything about her is presented correctly. That fact alone is why I can forgive the film’s mistakes.
The Christian film genre needs to present stories of people being people while they serve God, not holier-than-thou stereotypes who only serve to propel an agenda.
Thank you Rachel for your faith, your courage and for starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion. You have touched my heart and will continue to touch millions of people’s hearts forever.
Normally I’d begin this review with a witty remark, but instead I’ll open by thanking Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson for their service to our country.
This is my review of Hidden Figures!
This is the untold true story of three African-American women who were behind the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit. The main focus is on Katherine Goble (later Johnson), a brilliant mathematician–someone you should call the next time you’re taking a complicated statistics class (another story from my life for another day)–and her struggles to be treated as an equal amongst her predominately white male colleagues. While that’s going on, we cut to Dorothy Vaughan and her determination to become a recognized supervisor and Mary Jackson’s fight to be the first African-American female engineer at NASA.
You have my good friend Stargift Tarakasha: Pagan Pro-Life Advocate to thank for requesting me to review this, and I’m so glad I did because this is a terrific film! 🙂
What a likable, charming cast! I loved the bond and rapport between Katherine, Mary and Dorothy. Their sisterhood is delightful to watch and is truly the heart of the movie. Taraji P. Henson is exceptional as Katherine. She brings a warmth and quiet strength to the character that makes her easy to relate to. The best part of her performance comes when she gives an impassioned speech in which she confronts the fact that the “colored bathroom” is a mile away from her building. I love how whenever she is doing calculations, it is as if she enters into her own world where it is just her and the numbers. It reminded me of Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.
This film handles the topic of institutional racism as tactfully as possible. You don’t have that one overtly racist character who hisses the “N-word” at our main characters, instead the film makes use of judgmental glances, half-hearted conversations between white characters and the leading ladies, and scenes such as a white librarian telling a very respectful Dorothy, “I don’t want any trouble,” signaling her [Dorothy] to leave with her two sons. The movie personifies “Separate but Equal” in the way it has the white characters, both male and female, treat the African-American characters. There’s an interesting evolution of the relationship between Dorothy Vaughan and Kirsten Dunst’s character Vivian Mitchell; it starts with Ms. Mitchell hiding her sense of superiority behind a veil of sympathy towards Dorothy and the other African-American women at NASA, and as Katherine, Mary and Dorothy make progress in their work, Ms. Mitchell begins seeing Dorothy in particular in a whole new light. The same goes for Katherine’s relationships with Jim Parsons (Sheldon from Big Bang Theory) Paul Stafford and Kevin Costner’s character Al Harrison. Paul and Al work as exact opposites of one another. Paul represents blatant institutional racism, while Al’s obsession with space and calculation explains his inadvertent enabling of benign racism.
I’d like to say kudos to the audience I saw this with. There were quite a few scenes where the audience clapped; for one, when Al Harrison knocks down the “Colored Ladies Only” sign from the women’s restroom, hence allowing the African-American women of the building to use any women’s bathroom they want. I normally don’t comment on the audience when I see these movies, but I would like to point out that the audience at my screening was quite diverse, which speaks of Hidden Figures’ appeal to anyone regardless of their background. 🙂
This movie sort of has the same problem as the 2015 Steve Jobs biopic and “The Martian” in that, unless you are an enthusiast of math and science, the calculations might go over your head. Granted, the film focuses more on the emotions of the characters who are doing the calculations rather than the numbers themselves, but still filmmakers have yet to find a way to make chalkboard-mathematics exciting to those who aren’t fans of math.
This movie does fall into some inspirational-movie-tropes, like uplifting music playing in the background when, say, a main character makes a statement or when Paul Stafford and the other office workers first see Katherine’s equation.
Overall, Hidden Figures is an enjoyable, feel-good biopic to start off 2017! With wonderful performances from Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, a tasteful handling of institutional racism and an engaging story, Hidden Figures propels to the stars of good cinema, bringing to light the heroic service of three courageous women who paved the way in getting us to the moon and back.
I remember one time when my brother commented how he didn’t really care for Ben Affleck. “He always plays a stoic Boston street-tough in every movie he’s in.”
This whole movie is my brother’s argument personified.
This is my review of Live By Night!
Okay, so like Nocturnal Animals, this movie is a tad hard to summarize. Here goes nothing!
Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is a World War I veteran who has vowed to never live by anyone else’s rules other than his own–he’s basically Tommy Pickles if he grew up and became a gangster. We first meet Joe when he’s in a–how to put this delicately?–romantic entanglement with Emma Gould (an unrecognizable Sienna Miller), who is the mistress of Irish mafia gangster Albert White (Robert Glenister). When things go horribly wrong for Joe and Emma, i.e. Albert finds out they’re lovers by night because the plot demands it, Joe turns to Italian mafia gangster leader Maso Pescatore (okay, this character [Joe] is a crime boss magnet, isn’t he?) and ends up running a rum empire in Ybor City in Tampa, Florida, where he meets Graciella Corrales (Zoe Saldana), the sister of a Cuban businessman and falls for her.
Yeah…if this all sounds like an Edgar Award-winning novel from 2012 that is a 401 pages long, that’s because it is! Live by Night is based on the book of the same name by Dennis Lehane, who was also the screenwriter for this flick.
This is certainly a well-made movie. There are some gorgeous shots and the cinematography is as outstanding here as it was in Arrival. The second and third act of this film is really where it shines. The story gains a much better pace and we do get to connect with Joe Coughlin. The climactic Michael Mann-style shootout is thrilling and engaging to watch. No doubt that actor/director Ben Affleck knows how to make one heck of a heart-pounding action sequence.
Live by Night has a lot of very intriguing ideas and subplots. For one, Joe is the gangster son of Officer Thomas Coughlin and THAT relationship between a law-abiding father and law-breaking son (a reverse Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, if you will) would’ve been fascinating to explore! Also, halfway through the second act, we meet Loretta Figgis (Elle Fanning), who goes from drug-addicted aspiring actress to a devout Christian preacher and her sermons turn the public against the construction of a new casino run by Joe. Honestly, I wish that was the main plot; a character study of the rivalry between a rum empire-running gangster and a young female preacher as the fate of the casino lies in the hands of both forces, one opposing and the one trying to keep it alive. I’d pay money to see that movie! Speaking of which, Elle Fanning’s performance as Loretta is haunting; soft-spoken and cloaked in white dresses with hollow eyes, I really wish she had a bigger role than what she got here. Nevertheless, she’s as mesmerizing here as she was as Aurora in 2014’s “Maleficent.” I’ll be sure to post a review of Maleficent here on CGB at some point.
And yet, those enthralling subplots I mentioned are both a strength AND a weakness. Just head for the Misses segment and I’ll explain.
These intriguing subplots are given almost no time to develop. The relationship between Joe and Graciella comes and goes, and we’re just supposed to assume that they’re in love because they hug and talk romantically every once in a while. Meanwhile, Elle Fanning’s ex-druggie turned 1930’s version of Paula White–minus White’s prosperity gospel angle–shows up, preaches with vigor and then we’re just told via Ben Affleck’s narration that her sermons turned the public against his casino. As for the relationship between Joe and his cop dad, well, we get a taste of the intrigue of their conflicted relationship, but then cop dad dies off-screen.
Halfway through this movie, I found myself asking a question that, once I thought it, made the whole movie fall apart for me: “What is this movie about?” Allow me to explain.
Okay, on its surface, Live by Night is about a gangster who does crummy things to build a rum empire during Prohibition. That’s all fine and dandy, but at its core, what is Live by Night about? What’s the interior goal within the story?
I’ve picked some examples to bring perspective into my argument:
What is Zootopia about? It is a commentary on how our perception of those who are different from us can color the way we treat them.
What is Arrival about? It is about how language is a bridge between peoples and raises the question of how you would act if you knew your own future.
What is Pan’s Labyrinth about? It is about how we as human beings are capable of being the most frightening monsters, and how fantasy can be both a coping mechanism and a Hell of our making if we allow the line between what is real and what is make-believe to become a blurry fog.
So, with all of this in mind, I have no idea what Live by Night is about at its core because the movie itself has nothing to say. Believe me, I tried very hard to find its narrative center, and to be fair it does have hints of the impact of toxic masculinity here and there. There is also some speck of prosperity gospel commentary lying around, but the script is so restrained in its approach to the ambitious source material that it ends up not really having anything on its mind.
Overall, Live by Night is one of those movies that gets made to win awards. I would not be surprised if this gets some awards recognition. The set design and costumes are top-notch, the cast is stellar and the cinematography is nothing short of remarkable.
That all being said, I’ve always believed that the best compliment you can give to a film is to have it analyzed and remembered by popular culture. I’ve watched countless YouTube videos that examine the complex narrative choices of Arrival, Pan’s Labyrinth and other films. Though it really does try to have meaning, Live by Night never really finds its voice and, in turn, probably won’t be getting that analytical treatment any time soon.
The “war on Christmas” is not persecution; being burned alive if you don’t spit on a crucifix is.
This is my review of Silence!
Father Cristóvão Ferreira has committed an act of apostasy, i.e., he has renounced faith in Jesus and is now living as a Japanese Buddhist.
Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver) are former students of Ferreira and cannot believe what they are hearing, which is understandable. It would be like if I suddenly announced, “I’m no longer Catholic Girl Bloggin’! I’m now Rastafarian Girl Ranting, so y’all are just gonna have to deal with it!”
Anyway, the two shocked Jesuits decide to go to Japan, which is a very risky move since the gruesome persecution of Japanese Christians is going on. As they search for their mentor, Rodrigues and Garrpe find themselves serving the embattled Christian villagers who must practice their faith in secret or risk the penalty of death.
This movie made me anxious. It made me cry. It made me angry. I was reeling right up until the end credits…
…And I loved every minute of it. Why? Because Silence does what movies are supposed to do: Forces you to feel and confront emotions you would rather not visit. This movie is cathartic in the most beautiful way.
Andrew Garfield continues to impress me. He made me admire Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge and he made me weep for the embattled Father Sebastião Rodrigues. Similarly to Hacksaw Ridge, Father Rodrigues is a Christian character written correctly: Faithful yet struggling, clinging to Christ while wrestling with growing doubt, this is a character untouched by Pure Flix, so he’s not an unrealistically righteous wonder bread. The heart faith of Father Rodrigues both clashes and compliments the head faith of Father Garrpe. Garrpe starts out only focusing on what’s in front of him, while Rodrigues keeps his eyes on what’s to come, but as the film progresses, they experience a reverse of perspective, with Garrpe evolving into the big picture guy and Rodrigues clinging to what is in his face at the present moment.
The real stars of the film are the Japanese villagers. Their unshakable faith and hunger for God brought me to tears. The way they greet Rodrigues and Garrpe with sheer delight, how they fold their hands in prayer under straw huts, the light in their eyes as they receive the Eucharist; their commitment to Catholicism was refreshing to see on the big screen. In addition, their dedication made their martyrdom all the more powerful and gut-wrenching to behold.
In one of the reviews I had read before seeing the film, it was mentioned that Scorsese’s use of sound design makes particular scenes anxiety-riddling. As a person who struggles with anxiety myself, it occurred to me to take into consideration whether moviegoers who suffer from anxiety issues would be able to watch the film. Having seen it, I can say that the use of sound is well handled. Silent pauses in the film serve as a subtle yet urgent warning, allowing the audience to brace themselves for upcoming martyrdom. The sounds you are allowed to hear are of burning wood, crashing waves, breaking bones and human misery. Yes, this movie makes you anxious for the characters, but it works within the context of the film. It’s the kind of anxiety that you can recover from once the film ends, though what you’ve witnessed will stay with you long after the credits roll.
Finally, I’d like to add more brownie points for the Japanese convert character who took the name “Monica” as her baptismal name; “like the mother of the great Saint Augustine,” Father Rodrigues says. Any mention of my Confirmation saint (Monica) always brings a smile to my face. 🙂
Much like Arrival, I honestly can’t think of any glaring flaws. If you’re looking for something with more action and a fast-paced plot, you’re not going to find it here. I guess going back to my concern for moviegoers with anxiety problems, if you are really worried, I do recommend looking at this film’s IMDB page, primarily the parental guide. Also check out Matt Zoller Seitz’s review of Silence on the late Roger Ebert’s website. In his review, Zoller-Seitz goes over Scorsese’s use of sound editing: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/silence-2016
About That Ending…[MAJOR SPOILER WARNING]
Okay, time to address the elephant in the room: The ending.
Throughout the film, Japanese Christians are forced by government officials to trample on the fumie, a crudely carved image of Jesus. Those who refuse are brutally put to death. In the film’s climax, Father Rodrigues comes face to face with the fumie and, apparently, hears the “voice of Jesus” say to him, “Come ahead now. It’s all right. Step on Me. I understand your pain. I was born into this world to share men’s pain. I carried this cross for your pain. Step.” This is a paraphrased version of what “Jesus” said to Father Rodrigues in the 1966 novel, “You may trample. You may trample. I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. You may trample. It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.”
First: No, I don’t think it was Jesus who said that to him.
Second: The phrase “test the spirits” automatically came to mind. Basically it means that not every interior voice or vision comes from God; I’ve mentioned before that there is a spiritual world where both angels of light and fallen angels of darkness reside. I looked up the phrase “test the spirits” and came across 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
If anything, I think the ending of Silence is a cautionary word of what happens when proper discernment has not taken place. A friend of mine once told me, “Remember that a bad spirit will never give you God-centered advice and a good spirit will never give you advice that moves you away from God.”
Let’s face it: Discernment of spirits isn’t exactly a popular subject, but by God, it is an important one. If there is any time for the subject to be brought to the mainstream, that time would be now.
Overall, Silence is a work of genius, quite possibly Martin Scorsese’s best cinematic achievement. It is a grueling, atmospheric meditation on when our Lord provides no response in the midst of chaos and how to deal with divine quiet. Carried by the performances of Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, as well as the tasteful handling of bloody martyrdom, Silence is worth being watched, studied, pondered and discussed for years to come.
May we American Christians appreciate the religious freedoms we enjoy here in the United States. May we thank God for allowing us to worship freely without the fear of death. When I got home from seeing the movie, I hit my knees and thanked God for placing me in a country where I can wear a cross or a saint medal in public without having to fear a knife to my throat for doing so.
Holy martyrs of Japan, pray for us and for the conversion of Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver.
Another day of sun!…even though it is currently cold and cloudy here in Southern California.
This is my review of La La Land!
Sebastian Wilder is an aspiring jazz pianist. Mia Dolan is an aspiring actress. Their appetite for aspiration and making it big is what brings them together and, after multiple chance encounters, Sebastian and Mia embark on a musical journey as their kinship blooms into romance and beyond.
So…well, this is what has happened: When I first saw La La Land, I loved it! My inner musical-lover kicked in and I was on board the La La Land express!….AND then I stopped to really think about the movie. The more I thought, the more the film’s problems came to mind. After much soul-searching, I realized, “Oh, no, I know what’s wrong with this movie and it is a big problem.”
La La Land is a technical achievement with a toxic relationship at the center of it all.
If anything, La La Land is an impressive–most impressive–in terms of its set pieces, costume design and overall look. The choreography is amazing! There’s a lot of dance numbers in this film that require some complex moves with multiple dancers, and everyone does a great job in capturing the spirit of the sequences. The opening number is especially fun to watch and it helps set the tone for the film.
I do appreciate the film’s color palate and, in particular, it’s use of yellow. Yellow can be a difficult color to work with due to the eye sensitivity of some moviegoers, but the film makes use of the color really well; yellow is used sparingly as an attention-grabber on whatever director Damien Chazelle wants you to look at during a particular moment.
Speaking of Chazelle, between this and Whiplash, I get it–he really likes jazz and Charlie Parker (there’s a Charlie Parker reference in this flick whereas in Whiplash, his name was everywhere). I like that jazz is not a shoehorned interest of Chazelle’s, but rather it makes sense within the context of the story. Sebastian could find some work as a pianist, but being a jazz pianist exclusively brings on even more challenges, given that the market for jazz is not very steady, so the audience can sympathize with his frustrations and it is much more satisfying when he does succeeds. The character who struggles is the one you root for.
While Emma Stone’s performance as Mia is very good, the character herself is a problem. To put it simply, she’s actually quite insufferable. There’s a scene where she goes home and finds that Sebastian has taken time off from his band and has cooked a nice dinner for her. During what is supposed to be a sweet candlelight dinner, they discuss Sebastian’s band and Mia is shocked that being a band requires him to be away from home and on tour. I turned to my friend who accompanied me and whispered, “Well, no duh! What did you expect? He’s in a band!”
Let me explain: In my twentysomething years of life, I have had friends who pursued careers in the music industry; most of them got their start by being in a band. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with them when they were on tour, but I was supportive and not shocked that they were gone a lot. I guess my impatience with Mia’s shock about Sebastian being away came from my own experiences with people like him, but still, by that point in the film she had been with him for a significant period of time, so one would think that this reality would have crossed her mind at some point.
Throughout the film, it becomes clear that Mia is attracted to guys who seem to have nothing else going on in their own lives, which explains why she resents Sebastian actually moving forward with his own dreams. Aside from being shocked that someone in a band doesn’t spend a lot of time at home, Mia (before officially dating Sebastian) ditches another guy who has been established to have his own life set and runs to Sebastian, who at that point in the film is down on his luck. To avoid spoilers, I will say that Mia is seen becoming nervous when Sebastian’s aspirations take off. She meets him when he is down and would prefer that he stay there.
Hey, Mia, JP2 called; he would like to hand you a copy of Love and Responsibility.
On one hand, La La Land acts as a love letter to old Hollywood with its camerawork, set design, color palate and approach to romance (there’s no steamy sex scene; it’s mostly implied). As a musical, it does what it sets out to do and will delight fans of the genre.
On the other hand, the implications of Sebastian and Mia’s relationship make this a queasy watch. The current dating scene has enough confusion and lack of responsibility already, and glorifying a one-sided relationship where one person’s own dreams outweigh the goals of the other is misleading.
Between this and Arrival, I can’t help but wonder if an Amy Adams cinematic universe is in the works. Hmm…
This is my review of Nocturnal Animals!
All right, so this movie is a little difficult to summarize in a few words or less without spoilers, so bear with me and this ridiculously-long summation.
Art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) has it all: Wealth, a luxury home, a dashing husband (played by Armie Hammer), and a successful business. Her life is basically the prosperity gospel on steroids. So how does she start and end every day of her perfect life?
By hitting the scotch.
Her business is declining, her Prince Charming is cheating on her and she finds herself in the void of unhappiness and discontent. Her sorrowful world is shaken when she receives a package one day. Inside this package is a manuscript titled “Nocturnal Animals” written by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal).
The novel tells the story of Tony Hastings, his wife Laura and their daughter India. On their road trip to West Texas, they are ambushed by three hooligans: Ray Marcus, Lou and Turk. The three men kidnap Laura and India, then proceed to brutally rape and murder them. From there, Tony seeks justice and vengeance with the help of a local cop Bobby (Michael Shannon).
As Susan reads this gut-wrenching thriller written by the man she once loved, she finds herself beginning to question her life choices that led to her currently melancholy existence.
The writing is quite spectacular. Director Tom Ford brilliantly blends the two narratives together into one, keeping them from ever overtaking one another or feeling crammed. If you’re a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, then you might really enjoy this movie because it carries the sleek, neo-noir look, tone and feel of a Hitchcockian film. As a fan of character studies, I absolutely admire that this film is an unnerving character study of Susan as she rediscovers her feelings (I’m not going to say “her love” because, based on how she is written, it seems that this character is incapable of truly loving someone or at least doing so for a sustained period of time) for her ex-husband through reading his manuscript and now must live with her regrettable decision to leave him “in a very brutal way” as she puts it.
The standout performances by far are Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Gyllenhaal delivers a heartbreaking performance as Tony Hastings. He’s technically playing two characters: Edward Sheffield and Tony Hastings. Though we only see Edward a few times in Susan’s flashbacks, Gyllenhaal is convincing as both a vulnerable man and a self-motivated one, he’s basically a Hufflepuff; think a dark-haired Newt Schmander from Fantastic Beasts. Gyllenhaal conveys Tony’s pain and suffering without overdoing it, blending the right amount of strength and inner collapse. Michael Shannon is having the time of his life as the cop Bobby/Tony’s conscience personified (Director Tom Ford himself has said so) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the bland actor from that god-awful 2014 Godzilla film, ACTUALLY GIVES A PERFORMANCE–and a good one at that! Taylor-Johnson’s Ray Marcus is slimy and vicious; the devil incarnate with a sly smile and raggedy hair.
Also, I should point this out: Edward’s novel Nocturnal Animals (the one Susan reads in the movie) is a book that I would definitely read. That story itself is like Gone-Girl-times-twelve minus the sociopathic wife. I could definitely see it being a bestseller here in the real world.
So Amy Adams…okay, I praised her performance to high Heaven in my Arrival review and I even liked her role as Sydney Prosser in American Hustle, but I was quite disappointed in her performance here. She’s certainly not bad, she just doesn’t have much to do here. Susan Morrow is what I call a “novel character,” in which her character would work much better in a first-person novel than on film. Because we don’t get to hear her inner monologue, all we get is her looking sad–A LOT. Sorry, guys, but lying awake in bed with a sad expression is not character development. Now in all fairness, she didn’t do a bad job looking lonesome and depressed, it’s just that in contrast to Gyllenhaal’s explosive performance, hers is somewhat anemic.
Now this is a well-crafted, brilliantly written film, BUT….the re-watch value is lacking. This is definitely one of those films where, if you’re a film teacher, it’s a great movie to show to your students and have them write a paper on, but in terms of watching it again for entertainment, this movie doesn’t have that quality.
You’re probably wondering, “So CGB, which is your favorite: Arrival or Nocturnal Animals?” If you were thinking that, then–omgosh I’m a mind reader!–just kidding, but in all seriousness, I prefer Arrival over Nocturnal Animals because Arrival rocked my world and actually made me think. Meanwhile Nocturnal Animals just made me depressed.
That being said, Nocturnal Animals is an impressive second film from Director Tom Ford (his first being 2009’s “A Single Man” with Colin Firth and Julianne Moore”). A multi-layered film complimented by strong performances and Hitchcockian influences makes this a movie worth analyzing and drawing inspiration from. If you’re looking for a slick revenge story and character story, then Nocturnal Animals might be just what you’re looking for.
Saint Zelie Martin, pray for us.
If you’ve seen Nocturnal Animals already, then be sure to check out this analysis!
This is my review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story!
This is the story of the band of rebels who went rogue (ba boom pssh) and stole the plans to the Death Star, the ultimate planet-destroying weapon of the Empire. Leading the charge is Jyn Erso, the daughter of Galen Erso, the main architect of the Death Star.
I was quite nervous in the months leading up to Rogue One’s release into theaters.
On one hand, I was excited that Felicity Jones was the lead. Jones wonderfully played Jane Wilde Hawking in The Theory of Everything, one of my favorite films, so I knew she would knock the role right out of the park.
On the other hand, shivers went down my spine when I saw that the director was Gareth Edwards, the same guy who brought us the 2014 Godzilla movie…a movie that I despise as much as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of No Plot–er, I mean–Justice. Yes, I will rant/review Godzilla 2014 at some point in the future.
Anyway, so how did this movie starting one of my favorite actresses and my least favorite director hold up?….
Rogue One is impressive, most impressive.
I really appreciate that this is a more gritty Star Wars flick. This reminds me of primarily The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2 in that it portrays the horrors of war without becoming overtly gruesome. Despite the absence of Lightsabers, the action itself is classic Star Wars. Ships going at light speed, guns that go “pew pew” and, of course, Stormtroopers who STILL can’t hit anything make up for this nicely.
Jyn Erso’s traumatic backstory is intriguing to watch unfold. I love the idea of her being the daughter of the man responsible for the creation of the Death Star. It adds to the drama and it keeps her from being some chosen-one; it gives a reason for the rebellion to recruit her and promise to wipe her criminal record clean. As for the character herself, Felicity Jones brings in her A-game. Grounded yet vulnerable, Jones brings Jyn to life as a ragtag nomad turned reluctant fighter. Now while the script does rush Jyn’s development into a committed rebel a bit (she decides she’s all in towards the end of the film’s second act), Jones is able to steady that pace by using her facial expressions and tone of voice to sell to us the moment when she decides that the rebellion is right and just. A filmmaker creates the character, but the right actor can polish and perfect the character they have been given to portray. Jyn Erso is no Rey, but she does hold her own and has earned her rightful place in the Star Wars universe. You are one with the Force, Ms. Erso and the Force is with you.
As predicted, there is somewhat of a romance that blooms between Jyn and Cassian, but fortunately it is well-handled. It is treated less as a romance and more as a relationship based on necessity–no, not a relationship where they use one another–rather a kinship where they have come to rely on each other for safety and mutual respect.
The real show-stealer is Chirrut Îmwe, the blind Force-wielder who has coined the now famous line, “I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.” I LOVE his faith in the Force, his reliance on it and his absolute no-holds-barred trust that the Force will guide his path and lead him to green pastures and still waters. In another universe, Chirut would make an excellent monk–I see him as either a Jesuit or a Benedictine because that’s just how my brain works. 🙂
Two major Gareth-Edwards-isms are front and center in this flick: WAY too many locations and weak characterization. Seriously, we jump to six different locations within the first ten minutes! Granted, it’s not as bad as in Godzilla, where the film took us to ten different locations before the first act ended, but still it made me roll my eyes.
The actors playing the characters are better than the characters themselves (with the exception of Chirut; he’s awesome). Except for Chirut, Jyn and Cassian, the other Rogue One squad is pretty much forgettable. While Jyn’s backstory is fascinating, it doesn’t seem to impact her overall arch. She makes a comment about, “I’m not used to people sticking around when things go bad,” yet there is little indication that she doesn’t trust that people will stick around when the going gets rough. Except for some hardened glances at Cassian and K-2SO (the forgettable comedic-relief robot) when she first meets them, Jyn gets along with them relatively well from that point on. I’m not saying she has to be bitter or anything, but some tiny non-verbal example of her trust issue and inner scars from abandonment would have helped.
Despite some annoying Gareth-Edwards-isms, Rogue One is a most impressive addition to the Star Wars universe. The story of the brave few who risked it all to steal the plans to the Death Star is a job well done thanks to a thoughtful performance from Felicity Jones (like Benedict Cumberbatch, you could cast her as a lamp and she’d still do a terrific job), an amazing representation of what faith is all about given to us by Chirut and classic Star Wars action. The Force is most certainly strong with this one.
What a sad world politics is; follow your conscience and lose, or sell your soul and win.
This is my review of Miss Sloane!
Madeline Elizabeth Sloane, or Liz for short (she never goes by her first name) is a Washington lobbyist who is notorious for her cunning intellect and insatiable appetite to win at any cost. After turning down an opportunity to work for an NRA-type gun lobbying group, Miss Sloane instead takes a job working for a gun-control advocacy group (think a fictitious version of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence) and comes to discover that the price to pay for victory in this arena may be higher than she had anticipated.
I really appreciate that the filmmakers picked the topic of guns, which certainly does get heated, but isn’t nearly as volcanic as abortion or gay rights. While their approach to the subject does have a left-leaning slant (this is leftist Hollywood we’re dealing with here), they do manage to make it accessible to both sides of the argument. It also helps that the issue of guns is the backdrop, while the primary focus of the narrative is the behind-the-scene battle between competing lobbyists.
Jessica Chastain is magnificent in this role! Now mind you, I’m guessing that her role as the villainous sister in Crimson Peak was just a practice-run. An icy woman with a piercing gaze, cloaked in an armor of designer clothes, a sharp tongue and grudging prestige, Miss Sloane is a femme fatale with a deeply flawed humanity. I would say that she’s a character you love to hate, but then again, you can’t quite hate her. Chastain’s performance doesn’t make Miss Sloane a complete witch, but rather allows moments of vulnerability without completely shedding her hardened persona. Honestly, I really hope that Jessica Chastain continues playing flawed protagonists and even antagonists!
Esme Manucharian, played wonderfully by Gugulethu “Gugu” Mbatha-Raw, is the perfect foil to Miss Sloane. Warm eyes with a gentle expression, Esme is the heart of the operation with Miss Sloane as the head. The fight against gun violence is a personal one for Esme, in contrast to Miss Sloane’s impersonal pursuit of victory. Esme is the losing follower of conscience while Miss Sloane is the winning warrior who sells her soul.
I would like to point out that I’m really glad the film subtly tackles insomnia. It’s more a background detail of Miss Sloane’s character arch and is not completely in-your-face. We never see her close her eyes for a quick nap, let alone is there ever a scene that begins with her waking up from a restful night. While one would hope that she would end up getting help for her sleep deprivation in the end, it seemed more in-character that the self-preserving and prideful Miss Sloane wouldn’t admit this weakness to herself.
Sam Waterson, who you will definitely know if you’re a fan of Law and Order, seemed a little too cartoonish at times. No, his performance wasn’t horrible, but there’s one early scene where he’s confronting Miss Sloane and he looked like he was trying a little too hard, to the point of borderline overacting.
I think director John Madden might like “Gone Girl” a little too much, because Madeline Elizabeth Sloane is basically Amy Elliot Dunne if she [Dunne] were a lobbyist and–well, I don’t want to go into spoiler territory–so I’ll put it this way: The last twenty minutes of this flick pull some serious “Gone-Girl-eqsue” plot conveniences that are a bit of a stretch. Now I happen to love Gone Girl, both the book and the movie, but still, some originality is always welcome.
A lot of the character relationships are underdeveloped. I can tell that there was an idea for a friendship between Miss Sloane and Esme, but because of the titular character’s inability (or lack of willingness) to connect with others, the relationship never becomes anything more than two philosophically-opposed women who aren’t truly friends, yet are never really enemies. Now the argument could be made that their relationship is meant to be lukewarm, but even by those standards, how the relationship develops feels very aimless to the point where I never felt ; like I said, there probably was an idea, but it got lost as production of the film went on. Sorry, guys, but one scene with Miss Sloane and Esme eating at a Chinese restaurant isn’t gonna cut it. They did a good job making Miss Sloane and Esme polar opposites, but how these two ladies connect goes quietly unexplored.
Miss Sloane succeeds as both a complex character study and a political thriller. In this film, the chase is more interesting than the catch; the fight between lobbying groups is engaging enough to where we can put up with the political jargon and talk of poll numbers. Jessica Chastain’s performance electrifies every frame while the tasteful handling of the subject matter makes this easier to sit through than all three Presidential debates (yes, I just had to bring up the 2016 election; I regret nothing!). Despite some plot conveniences and undercooked relationships between characters, Miss Sloane stands tall on its own two feet. For the political junkie in your life, I’d recommend that they give this one a shot.
Why do I get the feeling that this movie was written by someone who read the Book of Esther during a weekend on a Polynesian island?
This is my review of Moana!
In the beginning, there was the Word…and that word was ocean! Then comes the goddess Te Fiti who, with the power of her swirly heart (there’s a swirly circle where her heart is), creates island and island and so on. Te Fiti then goes into a slumber, manifesting herself as a lush, green island. All is cool until the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) quite literally steals her heart, which has taken the form of a jade gemstone. His theft unleashes a freaky sea demon called Te Ka and basically, like the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve’s screw-up, the world falls into darkness because Maui just had to steal the heart of Te Fiti.
Enter the island of Motunui, which is home to a free-spirited girl named Moana (Auli’i Cravalho). Moana is being groomed by her father Chief Tui to become the next leader of Motunui, but the call of the ocean has a strong pull on her heart. This primarily has to do with an encounter she had with the ocean as a toddler. When Motunui begins to experience decay and famine, Grandma Tala reveals to her that the ocean chose her [Moana] to find the demi-god Maui and guide him across the sea to face off against Te Ka and return the heart of Te Fiti to its rightful place.
The animation is fluid, colorful and gorgeous to look at. The voice work is awesome! Never once was I distracted by the celebrity voices because all of the characters are well-written and distinctive. Auli’i Cravalho definitely brings Moana to life as both a youthful teenager and a kind-hearted young woman. She doesn’t sound like a late-twentysomething voicing a sixteen-year old, neither does she sound jarringly young; her character’s age is conveyed by Cravalho’s performance. I really love Moana’s childhood connection to the ocean. Granted, it does make this a typical “chosen one” narrative, but Moana herself doesn’t have any magic powers or some random birthmark that displays her chosen-one-ness; she’s a regular girl who was called upon by the ocean. Now I mentioned that this movie made me think of the Book of Esther. That’s because Moana is next in line to rule a land and must save her people from dark destruction. While she doesn’t have to marry a king like Esther did, she does have to find the king-like Maui and take him to Te Ka.
Speaking of the ocean, the idea of having it as a sentient being is fantastic! They don’t push the envelope too far by making the ocean a god or something, but the ocean does act similarly to the Holy Spirit; calling upon Moana to go out, to leave her comfort zone and sail into the unknown for a greater purpose. The ocean reminded me of Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Now, mind you, Moana doesn’t travel to Judea or Samaria, neither does the ocean give her the ability to speak in tongues or prophecy, but the ocean’s influence and friendship gives her great courage, helps her to find peace in the chaos, and does enable her to travel far to take Maui to defeat a volcanic sea demon in order to restore peace to the other islands, which brings to mind the Apostles being empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to preach the Gospel and open wounded hearts to Jesus.
Moana’s pet pig Pua reminded me of a puppy, which makes him adorable, but her chicken Heihei is to this movie what Kowalski is to Fantastic Beasts; a show-stealing comic relief.
Dwayne Johnson is perfectly cast as Maui! You can tell that he is having the time of his life voicing the character and we are having fun alongside him. Maui is your typical “self-centered powerful dude who needs to be knocked off his high-horse,” but his humor and soft-spot for humans does keep him from being unlikable.
Yeah, this movie gets pretty predictable towards the third act. I pretty much was able to correct predict all the actions of the main characters in the film’s climax. I like this movie a lot, but you can tell that there is a Disney checklist that the filmmakers need to fill (princess, comedic animal sidekick, songs, etc.) and it’s not hard to see where the story is going.
Guys and gals, I really enjoyed Moana! It’s a charming, delightful action-comedy that the whole family will love. Fun lead characters, thrilling action and some intriguing (if not unintentional) Biblical parallels make Moana an end-of-the-year slamdunk. I’ve already seen it twice and I just might see it again for a third time.