CGB Collaboration Review of Beauty and the Beast (2017) with Monique Ocampo/MsOWrites

Certain as the sun rising in the east, tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme…

This is my review of Beauty and the Beast (2017), guest-starring the one and only Monique Ocampo, also known as MsOWrites!

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Cue the music, Jay!  (Our friend Jay plays the Belle/Little Town theme)

CGB: (Walks out of little cottage) Huh, I didn’t know I lived in a cottage.  (Shrugs, smiles at quaint little cottage) I’m not complainin’.  Oohh, there’s tulips on the side of the cottage!  Well, anyway….(Begins singing) Little film, it’s a brand new remake.  All-star cast and some brand new songs.  Little film, starring Emma Watson.  Everybody says…

Critic 1: IT SUCKS!

Critic 2: IT SUCKS!

Critic 3: IT SUCKS!

Rad-Trads: IT SUCKS!

All together: IT SUCKS!

CGB: There go the critics with their gripes like always.

MsOWrites: Seems like they’re never satisfied.

Both of Us: Because way back when we were kids, Disney made a princess flick.  And it was one that we both loved.

Nostalgia Critic: Good morning, girls!

MsOWrites: Good morning, NC!

Nostalgia Critic: Where are you off to?

CGB: We’re doing a review.  It’s the remake of the classic Disney movie.

Nostalgia Critic: That’s nice.  But honestly?  It was meh.

CGB: Well, we haven’t even seen it yet.

MsOWrites: We might be in for a pleasant surprise.

Nostalgia Critic: It still sucks, though.

Critics: Look there they go, they’re just so optimistic.   Can’t they see that the original’s the best?

Critic 1: Emma Watson’s auto-tuned.

Critic 2: The supporting cast was underused.

Rad-Trads: And let’s not forget the token gay LeFou!

(MsOWrites and I come out of the theater two hours later)

MsOWrites (crying): Oh, isn’t this amazing?

CGB: Are you crying?  Because so am I!

MsOWrites: I never do…but yeah, I’ll make this exception.  There’s just so much of this film that’s good and true…

CGB: It would certainly please JP2!  Let us do a review, just me and you!

MsOWrites: We could show both the Catholic and secular world why it’s good!

CGB: Let us begin!

 

The Hits
CGB: So how did Hermione Granger do playing everyone’s favorite “most peculiar mademoiselle”?  My answer: Emma Watson is a wonderful Belle!   This Belle is a lovely reinterpretation of the original character, mixing her trademark book-loving nature with an inventor’s vibe.  I really appreciate that Emma Watson’s Belle actually feels different from Paige O’Hara’s Belle from the 1991 classic.  O’Hara’s Belle is dreamy, optimistic and overall innocent.  Watson’s Belle is grounded, pragmatic and even bohemian in more ways than one.   One of my biggest concerns is that Emma Watson would come off as an overconfident-in-her-own-self-actualization character, but luckily there’s a sweetness and humility to this new Belle.  Also Watson’s Belle has more agency in this film than she did in the original; locking herself in the dungeon while pushing her father away, telling the Beast that he has to stand so that she can take back to the castle and so on.   Finally, I’m going to add brownie points for that one scene where she teaches a young girl how to read.  Brilliant!  😀  The Beast’s character is pretty much the same as he was in the original; starts off as mean, coarse and unrefined, but ends up becoming so dear and almost kind.  😉 Here, though, his temper is not as jarring as it was in the original.  The sympathy factor of his character is applied right away so that we, the audience, are easily able to refrain from judgment before we get to know him.  His pain and torment are palpable as his growing feelings for Belle begin to break down the inner walls he has placed around his broken, guarded heart.
Kevin Kline is a wonderful Maurice!  I really appreciate that they dialed down his quirkiness big time and made him into an actual character.  Warm, gentle, thoughtful, I can just see him hoisting little Belle onto his lap and reading to her by the fireplace.
Luke Evans is having the time of his life playing Gaston, and I had a great time watching his Gaston.   The usual arrogance of the original character is still there, but we see his progression towards evil.  Also I do like that he’s not impractically buff like in the cartoon, but that his toxic masculinity is displayed by his ignorance and overcompensation.  Now, given that I’ve brought up Gaston, you’re probably waiting to see LeFou mentioned here.  Before MsOWrites and I get into the whole gay LeFou thing, let me talk about the character LeFou.  He is definitely an improvement from the cartoon character.  His “hero-admiration” toward Gaston explains his loyalty to him and he is actually the smarter of the duo.  In a way, he serves as a manifestation of Gaston’s effect on people; how he [Gaston] is able to grab and hold the attention of women and men alike, which was always the point of Gaston’s character to begin with.
EVERMORE!  Oh my goodness, what a beautiful song!  It’s like someone took Augustine’s Confessions, some passages from the Book of Psalms and a hint of the Song of Solomon, then threw them into a blender and then–somehow–they just mixed into the most melodic purée.  Also the song really sums up a wonderful theme in this film: That people come into our lives who touch our hearts so much that when they leave us, just their presence will remain in our memory forever.  They illustrate this when Maurice is singing about Belle’s mother, but the theme comes full circle with Evermore.

MsOWrites: First of all, the opening scenes were stunning in their visuals.  We actually get to see the prince and the residents in the castle and watch the Enchantress cast her spell.  As much as we all love the stained glass narration from the original, the prince’s character arc is to learn what true beauty is, which is kind of the whole point of the entire story in the first place.
The scene with Pere Robert wasn’t as elaborate as the bookshop scene in the original, but there’s a good explanation.  It wouldn’t make sense for there to be a bookstore in a town that doesn’t have that many people who can or even want to read.  However Pere Robert is a priest with a personal library.   He doesn’t have as many books, but he generously loans the books he does have to Belle.
I appreciate the nuances that have been added to the story.  For one, when Belle asks Monsieur Jean if he has lost something again, he responds, “I believe I have.  Problem is I can’t remember what!”  This is actually a small hint at [BIT OF A SPOILER, though it’s told to us in the opening prologue] the “forget-the-freaking-huge-castle-just-down-the-road” enchantment that the Enchantress placed on the entire town.   Yeah, her spell not only turned the now-adult Prince into a hideous CGI goat-man, but also did what the neuralyzer from Men in Black does to people.   It does feel like a convenient cop-out, but it works within the context of the story.
In defense of the songs, I thought these new versions of songs we all know sounded just fine.  They had a more Broadway stage vibe to them, which makes sense given that this is an event musical film.  The auto-tuning is necessary for the actors who are not professional singers and the background music of the songs are faithful to the original music.

The Misses
MsOWrites: So about that magic book thing…yeah, it kind of creates a plot hole.  If it can just transport the Beast anywhere he wants, then why wasn’t he using it all the time prior to Belle’s arrival?  Also, why didn’t Belle use it to get back to the village and return to her father?  The book is used once and then we never see it again.  What?

CGB: Remember how filled with wonder Belle was when she sang about the beauty of books to those sheep?
What?  You don’t sing to sheep?  I do it all the time!  Alas, that’s not the point.  The point is that Hermione–er, I mean–Emma Watson could’ve sung that part about, “oh, isn’t this amazing?  It’s my favorite because…here’s where she meets Prince Charming, but she won’t discover that it’s him till Chapter 3” with a little more enthusiasm.
Speaking of which, Obi-Wan Kenobi (from the Star Wars prequels) plays Lumiere, but there is a bit of a catch: Ewan McGregor himself has stated that he has never seen the original film.  GASP!  Anyway, once I learned that, his performance in this film kind of made more sense.  I’ve seen this movie twice and I didn’t really care for this Lumiere during either time I saw it.  In fact, I think because there was so much focus on getting Belle, the Beast and Gaston right, the supporting cast feels less colorful.

An Unexpected Theological Truth
Both of Us: We consider ourselves students of Mother Teresa.  Throughout her ministry to the poor in Calcutta, she deemed every person she helped as, “Jesus in His most distressing disguise.”  That credo is on display in this film and in the original, as well.  We are going to focus on this film for the sake of argument.  While the Beast most certainly doesn’t act Christ-like in the beginning, Belle does when she chooses to bring him back to the castle after he rescues her from the wolves.  As their relationship develops, he begins displaying Christ-like characteristics such as mercy, understanding and kinship.  One of the many, many beautiful realities of Jesus is that when we follow Him, He brings out the best in us even during difficult times.  With this in mind we see how once she begins ministering to him, Belle becomes the best version of herself and the same happens to the Beast in return.  There is a saying that difficult people show their need for love in unlovable ways and the Beast is a manifestation of that adage.
We challenge you to think of the “Beast” in your life and ask yourself if he/she is in need of mercy and forgiveness.  Sometimes Christ comes to us in the form of an unpleasant person who we can either wash our hands off and avoid at all cost, or show them compassion and forgive their faults just as Belle does with the Beast.

The Elephants in the Room
#1. This film has a gay agenda!
MsOWrites: Let’s address the biggest elephant in the room first. There was a lot of hype and backlash about a “gay scene” in this movie involving the character of LeFou. While it’s true that LeFou is shown to have feelings for Gaston, the actual gay scene is just two seconds long.
Neither of us are promoting gay marriage.  However, we do agree with the idea of representation. We need to acknowledge that there are people out there who are attracted to the same sex and treat them as people instead of a stereotype.  This advocating of representation also applies to those who identify as asexual as well.  (I’m looking at you, Riverdale!)
Trust me when I say that Disney isn’t the only name in “children’s programming” to include a gay character.

CGB: So I already talked about this on both the blog FB page, but I’ll just rehash some of my thoughts here.
The original film makes it very clear that Lefou, as well as every woman and man in the entire village, is hopelessly enamored with Gaston. In addition, Gaston presents himself (quite loudly and boldly) to be THE ideal man, THE symbol of masculine perfection. Lefou, being Gaston’s right-hand man, would most likely be the one who gets the most sucked in to the–I guess we can call it–the cult of Gaston.  It’s not just LeFou, it’s him and all of the village who are swept up in it, which explains why everyone immediately goes along with Gaston’s “let’s-kill-the-Beast” tirade with no questions asked.
Also, let’s look at Lefou himself. What does he personally gain from being around Gaston all the time? They’re not brothers or related in any fashion, and there’s no indication that Lefou owes him money or anything; in retrospect, Lefou has no real reason to associate himself with Gaston at all. One could make the argument that there is a social benefit to being around Gaston, but Lefou is never established to be a self-serving character who is trying to get ahead in society by being around the “right people,” so that wouldn’t hold up.
Simply having a character who happens to be gay in a film is not in and of itself promoting same-sex marriage.  How it is presented is what matters.  LeFou never actively hits on Gaston and there’s no gay wedding at the end.  There will be those who say, “You give [gay people] an inch and they’ll take a mile!”  However, that inch has to make sense.
You can be a faithful Catholic who staunchly defends the sanctity of marriage and acknowledge that there are LGBT people who are created in His likeness and image.  In fact, that’s basically what we’re supposed to be doing.  We are supposed to bring all people, gay or straight, to the Gospel, not chase them away from it by foaming at the mouth over a fictitious character who happens to be gay.  As Christians, we are called to rise above our outrage culture and be a people of the better way.  Love without truth is permissiveness and truth without love is brutality.  Only the truth spoken with love brings hope and enlightenment. 

#2. This film is uber-feminist!

CGB: I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear by now that I identify as a pro-life feminist (I would emphasize, but the label itself is pretty self-explanatory).  With this lens, I observed that the feminist undertones of this film were centered around the theme of the anti-intellectual village.  For one, notice how only the boys go to school and the girls are the ones learning to keep house.  This establishes how Belle is the outsider woman who chooses the solace of books over the conventions of the little town.  It is not wrong to use film to point to the very bleak reality that there are still countries in our world where girls are not allowed to read or even go to school.  I would argue that it would probably behoove Western feminists to focus less on promoting abortion and more on calling attention to the injustice of depriving girls an education.

MsOWrites: The main issue that Belle has with the villagers is that they choose to stay in their simple, provincial ways. Belle is shown doing laundry by having a horse pull a barrel full of soap and clothes. When I heard about Belle being an inventor who created a washing machine, I actually expected some kind of steampunk contraption. The invention that Belle created was actually something all the villagers could use. But instead of being open-minded about a better way to do their laundry, they destroy her invention. They also berate her about teaching a young girl to read.
There’s a similar argument going around that Belle, her father, and even the local priest are members of a “literate caste.” Keep in mind that Belle and her father fled Paris in the midst of the plague and that priests are more often than not assigned to minister to small towns. And at the time, priests were well-educated. It’s not that these three deliberately kept their books away from everyone else. They have a school for young boys, but LeFou admits to being illiterate and they would rather side with the amoral war hero (Gaston) over the kind music box maker (Maurice). The townspeople chose to be ignorant throughout the film.

CGB Review of La La Land (2016)

Another day of sun!…even though it is currently cold and cloudy here in Southern California.

This is my review of La La Land!

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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.

The Hits
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.

The Misses
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.

Saint Pope John Paul II, pray for us.

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.

CGB Review of Whiplash (2014)

Were you rushing or were you dragging?

This is my review of Whiplash!

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Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is an aspiring drummer determined to be the next Bernard “Buddy” Rich.  He gets his chance when he becomes a part of his school’s elite music conservatory, led by the volatile and sadistic Terrence Fletcher.  Driven by a grudging respect for Fletcher, Andrew pushes himself to the point of reckless passion as he wishes to earn his place as Fletcher’s drummer.
I just watched this movie an hour ago and I’m already eager to watch it again.  The simmering performances between Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons drive the kinetic story from beginning to end.

The Hits
When I was in high school, I remember listening to my brother practice on his guitar for hours, perfecting his craft until he could play any song just right.  In that aspect, I found this movie to be very relatable, given that I am not a musician myself.  Even though the film focuses solely on music, anyone who is involved in the arts (writing, music, painting, cooking, dancing, etc.,) will connect with Andrew’s struggle.
The rivalry between Andrew and Fletcher is as mesmerizing as Luke and Darth Vader.  That’s right; I went there.  Like the lightsaber duels throughout the original Star Wars trilogy, the drumming sequences are an internalization of the conflict between the characters.  Every scene between Andrew and Fletcher demonstrate Andrew’s desire to win his teacher’s admiration and Fletcher’s need to find a new prodigy to guide and claim as his own.
There’s also a very interesting contrast between Andrew’s relationship with his own father and his dysfunctional rapport with Fletcher.  Jim Neyman is kind but ineffectual, while Fletcher is temperamental but commanding.  The fact that Andrew seeks the attention of a domineering instructor while ignoring the gentle support of his own father speaks volumes about the young man’s need for a stronger male figure in his life.
Miles Teller needs to abandon the Divergent trilogy (and any Fantastic Four movies) and play more characters like Andrew Neyman.  Ambitious, cocky, and riddled with anxiety, the raging determination in Andrew’s eyes as the intensity of Fletcher’s abuse weighs down on his shoulders is conveyed by Teller’s gritty performance.
Let’s be honest: The real star is J.K. Simmons.  Holy cow, why isn’t he playing villains more often?  Simmons earned that Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  An electric and terrifying dictator of a man who is equipped with a tongue sharper than the sword used to cut off the head of Anne Boleyn, Terrence Fletcher is a formidable foe.  His deep voice is already intimidating and once he starts berating Andrew and other characters, he becomes all the more frightening.  I like how when he first talks to Andrew, he is approachable and seems genuinely interested in Andrew’s backstory.  Then he uses what he knows about Andrew (such as Mrs. Neyman walking out on the family) to tear the young man down.  That is absolutely malicious.  By the second act, I froze up every time Fletcher was on screen.  In real life, this character would have me cowering in a corner, bawling my eyes out.  On screen, I couldn’t take my eyes off this scary man.  It is that great of a performance.

The Misses
The ending is a bit of an overkill.  I get that Andrew is using his drumming solo to tell Fletcher where to go, but it lasts for fifteen minutes and could have been shortened.
If you have ever been verbally abused, primarily by a teacher or mentor, this movie may be hard to watch.  I never want to deter anyone from watching a great film, but I also want to be respectful of readers would may have had traumatic experiences.

I adore Whiplash.  Miles Teller’s Andrew is connectable and sympathetic while J.K. Simmons’ Terrence Fletcher is as great a villain as Darth Vader, Captain Vidal (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Professor Radisson (God’s Not Dead).  The animosity between the two characters is a thrilling intrigue that carries the film with sound and fury.

Saint Genesius of Rome, pray for us.