CGB Review of Wonder Woman (2017)/Two-Year Anniversary of Catholic Girl Bloggin’! :D

Two years ago today, Catholic Girl Bloggin’ was launched and boy, what a wild ride it has been!  I would like to thank my followers from WordPress and Facebook for all the support.  I don’t know where I’d be without you guys and gals.

Let us celebrate with a review of Wonder Woman!

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Diana is (quite literally) the only child on an island of Amazonian women.  She grows up to be a skilled fighter, ready to defend her island against Ares, the god of war, a.k.a. this story’s version of Lucifer.  Then one day, a World War I plane pierces the force shield that keeps her island invisible to Ares.  Inside the plane is Captain Kirk–I mean–Steve Trevor (Chris Pine).  Like Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Diana jumps into the sea, saves Prince Eric–sorry, I mean–Steve and carries him to shore.   No, she doesn’t sing to him, but she does ask him who he is.  With the lasso of truth, the Amazonian women get Steve to reveal that he is an American spy who has discovered a terrible plot from the Germans to use chemical warfare to claim victory in this war.  Moved by his testimony, Diana sees an opportunity to enter our world, join the effort in World War I and defeat Ares, the one responsible for pitting men against each other.

The Hits
Gal Gadot is a fantastic Wonder Woman!  Ever an idealist, her black-and-white view of the world is grounded in her compassion for others and her belief in humanity’s potential for goodness.  This makes her naiveté seem less childish, coming from a place of empathy, not ignorance.  I like how she’s not totally clueless when she first steps onto the shores of WWI-era London, but she doesn’t completely get the hang of modern-day living in one fell swoop.   Her fish-out-of-water innocence is believable and her strength is unquestionable.  What really makes her shine is her compassion for others.  Her view on humanity’s goodness is a tad romantic, but it is also similar to Catholic theology of humans being born inherently good.  Her desire to save humans never comes off as condescending, as in, “Oh, these poor weak humans are so helpless and I’m the only one who can protect them.”  Rather she sees very clearly the threat of Ares and recognizes that humans don’t know what she knows about him, so the sooner she can find and kill him, the safer humans will be.
Chris Pine really shines as Steve Trevor.  Granted, Steve’s character on paper is pretty typical (good dude who finds himself in a situation he didn’t ask for), but Chris Pine makes him so likable.  Charming but never arrogant, he treats Diana as an equal.  He is protective of her without patronizing her.  Their relationship is not based on obligation just because she saved his life.  Because she helps him get off Themyscira (her Amazonian island) and he agrees to take her to the war, there was a potential danger of their relationship becoming one where they inadvertently use each other, but fortunately the script focuses more on the fish-out-of-water aspect, so they have a legitimate reason to stay together before they fall in love.
I really gotta applaud the film for NOT saturating the Amazonian women with makeup.  We are allowed to see their wrinkles and crow’s feet, which makes sense because these women are always out in the sun, training and caring for their island.
Without giving too much away, one of the strongest aspects of the script is that it is respectful to both Diana’s otherworldly beliefs and Steve’s reality.  There’s never a scene where Steve spats out, “It’s all make-believe!  Ares, Zeus, clay babies, none of it is real!”  While she does become discouraged when things don’t turn out the way she had hoped, Diana doesn’t throw in the towel with a jaded attitude.  Diana and Steve are very tactful when handling each other’s thought process, adding to their very equal relationship.  We know that Steve really does find her world hard to believe, but he has seen enough and experienced enough to know that Diana is who she is and he respects that.  As for her, Diana grows in maturity and forms a more well-rounded view of the world while holding on to her convictions.

The Misses
The movie uses slow-motion a little too much.  I’m not saying it doesn’t look cool when it is used, but it does get repetitive after a while.
Okay, so the island of Themyscira (try saying that ten times fast) is hidden by an invisible force shield that Ares, an immortal god of war, cannot find…and YET Steve’s plane pierces right through it with no issue.  In addition, the very-mortal Germans pass through the veil effortlessly.  Granted, this doesn’t ruin the movie for me at all, but it’s about as laughable as how [SPOILER for the movie “Arrival”] the climax of Arrival is solved by a phone call.  I get it, you need an inciting incident to get the plot going, but it’s still kind of funny to me.
As much as Ares is built up in this film, Ares himself is pretty generic.  Yeah, he’s basically the DCEU’s version of Lucifer, but he’s still a “gotta destroy this world and replace it with a better one because humanity sucks” kind of guy.

Praise Jesus (and director Patty Jenkins) for FINALLY giving us a solid DCEU (DC Extended Universe) movie!  Despite a few clichés and generic plot points, the greatest strength of both the titular character and the movie is its heart.  Wonder Woman is a much-needed home run for the DCEU thanks to a strong and compassionate heroine, a romance with tons of chemistry and a balanced approach to its ideas.

Side Note: I really think that Wonder Woman is going to be the best part of Justice League.  I’m callin’ it right here, right now.

Most Gracious Virgin Mary, pray for us.

CGB Review of Nocturnal Animals (2016)

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!

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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 Hits
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.

The Misses
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.

CGB Bonus!
If you’ve seen Nocturnal Animals already, then be sure to check out this analysis!

CGB Review of Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

“Everyone has a conscience and must follow it.”
–Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta

This is my review of Hacksaw Ridge!

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Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of my new favorite American hero, Desmond Doss, a medic during World War II who, influenced by his Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs, refused to use and even touch a gun, instead choosing to save as many wounded soldiers as he could.  He would later go on to become the first Conscientious Objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Hits
Andrew Garfield–wow, man–I have grossly underestimated you.  With a thoughtful performance, Garfield portrays Desmond Doss as, essentially, a real-life Captain America; brave but vulnerable, noble and flawed, and grounded in his convictions.  I’d also like to add that this is a balanced portrayal of a Christian character.  Often times, a mistake that is typically made in Pure Flix films (both the God’s Not Dead flicks and, to an extent, Do You Believe?) is a Christian character is all good simply because they wear the Christian label.  Hacksaw Ridge allows Desmond to be a three-dimensional human being who is a pacifist and a devout Christian.  I really appreciate that this movie doesn’t have him convert anybody because let’s be honest: That’s just not how life works, especially in our cynical, secular society.  Desmond doesn’t convert anyone to his way of thinking, but he does rightfully earn the respect and admiration of his peers simply for staying true to who he is.
Also, kudos to Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington, both of whom actually deliver pretty darn good performances, especially Vaughn, who I’ve only seen in crummy comedies.  Hugo Weaving does a great job too, but then again, of course he would.  I have yet to see a subpar performance from him.
This movie handles subtlety masterfully.  Elements of Desmond’s past are revealed through quick but well-placed flashbacks that are intercut with present day.  There is one particular flashback that explains his no-guns philosophy, but it’s not shoved down your throat; it only shows up three times and it makes everything come full circle once Desmond himself explains it to another character.
In an election year where many people had to wrestle with their conscience at the voting booth, Desmond Doss is living proof that you can obey your conscience and remain loyal to it through thick and thin.  Is it incredibly difficult to do so?  Absolutely.  Is it impossible?  No.  Desmond Doss is a witness to standing your ground and not being shaken when the storm comes.

The Misses
Okay, there’s one elephant in the room that needs to be addressed: There’s a scene in the climax where Desmond actually KICKS a grenade away from a fellow soldier.  Yeah…that’s stretching it a bit thin, don’t you think?  Look, I already know he’s a hero; you don’t need to have him roundhouse-kick a grenade to further prove that.
Admittedly, parts of the story are cliché.  There is a “rogue little guy versus big bad establishment” undertone of the film, but that’s to be expected given the nature of the story.  They try to make a villain out of Luke Bracey’s character Smitty Riker, but from his very first scene you already know what his character arch is going to be; he doesn’t like Desmond, then he really doesn’t like Desmond.  Desmond saves Smitty, Smitty is (emotionally) disarmed and the two become friends.  That’s not a spoiler, by the way; it’s just really predictable.

Guys and gals, I really hope that Hacksaw Ridge gets nominated for something, anything, because this is a powerful movie.  This is one of the few movies where I found myself admiring the main character.  What we have is the portrait of a hero who focused his energy on saving lives, even if it meant getting Hell from his superiors for his stance.  With a respectful performance from Andrew Garfield, excellent direction from Mel Gibson and an emphasis on standing your ground even if it means standing alone, Hacksaw Ridge shows us what a hero looks like.

Saint Martin of Tours, pray for us.

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Rest in Peace and thank you for your service, Desmond Doss (1919-2006)

CGB Review of Storks (2016)

So apparently, when a mom and dad love each other very much, they…
…write a letter to the stork company and that letter is put into a literal baby-making machine and viola!  A little bambino is made!

I’d better re-read my embryology book.

This is my review of Storks!

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Long ago, Storks used to deliver babies, but after an incident involving one stork who got too attatched to the kid he was supposed to deliver, Storks now deliver mail, phones and what have you.   Junior is the top salesman–er, I mean–salesbird, I guess, who is about to be promoted as the boss.  His first order of business would be to fire Tulip, the young woman who happens to have been the baby whose stork wanted to keep her, resulting in the end of the Stork baby-delivery gig.  Things go awry when Junior and Tulip come across a pink-haired baby (perhaps this is the origin story of my good friend and fellow blogger Pink-Haired Papist; check out her FB page here https://www.facebook.com/Pink-Haired-Papist-1378637942456144/?fref=ts) and must get her to her family before the higher-ups find out and destroy Junior’s chances of becoming boss.

The Hits
So the same guys who gave us the excellent LEGO Movie (yes, I will be reviewing that at some point in the near future) are behind this flick and it shows.  Just like LEGO Movie, Storks is bizarre and unpredictable in all the right ways!   The bright color palatte matches the bouncy fast pace, while the self-awareness of its ridiculous premise keeps the film from taking itself too seriously and allows the wonky humor to flow seamlessly.
Junior is your typical self-centered-jerk-with-a-soft-spot-character, but the way he is written, his self-centeredness never negatively impacts anyone.  Even when he is told to fire Tulip in order to become boss, he resists doing so out of sympathy for her.  His dialogue makes him sound like a jerk, but his actions speak of his good nature, which makes him easy to root for.  Speaking of Tulip, her character is also somewhat by-the-numbers (a dense and quirky outcast with a heart of gold), but like Derek Zoolander in the first Zoolander film, her character is made believable by having her being good at mechanics and thinking on her feet.  She kind of reminds me of Marty McFly; a singular-minded youth who is able to live in the present moment.  Much like Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde, the friendship that forms between Junior and Tulip is fun to watch.  It’s a rocky relationship for sure, but by the end, there is a genuine sense that they care for one another and the baby they are trying to “deliver.”  Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes; the pink-haired baby is ADORABLE!  🙂
The subplot of the film involves a young boy named Nate whose parents are always busy calling clients and selling homes.  I really like the film’s subtle commentary on how our overreliance on technology has made a negative impact on family bonding.  It can be a tad on-the-nose, but for the most part, the subplot is handled nicely and the character arch that Nate and his parents go through is charming to watch.

The Misses
This movie does not transition from scene to scene very well.  There are very few establishing shots, so I found myself utterly confused when we would go from watching Junior, Tulip and the baby in a field to suddenly seeing Nate hammering a nail into some planks.  Granted, it’s better than in Batman v. Superman, a movie that didn’t even bother to have a single establishing shot throughout its two-and-a-half-hour run time, but still, smoother transitions from scene to scene would have helped.
Much like the LEGO Movie, the final climactic battle is visually-stunning…to the point where there was so much going on that I had to close my eyes a couple of times.  Yeah, it’s kind of hard to follow a bunch of birds and a gigantic, heavily-designed machine used by the villain all at the same time.

Overall Storks is a witty, fun adventure that would be rewarding for both kids and adults. The tongue-in-cheek humor brings about many laughs, the rapport between Junior, Tulip and the baby is sweet to watch evolve and the bright animation allows the bouncy movement to flow effortlessly.  Despite a few hiccups, Storks is delightfully strange in all the right ways.

Saint Joseph of Cupertino, pray for us.

Patroness of the Big Picture

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If you follow the CGB Facebook page, you will notice that the cover photo is of now-Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  You may have also noticed the plethora of Mother Teresa posts on the page in the days leading up to her canonization.  I don’t normally buy magazines, but while I was at Walgreens I came across a Time Magazine special edition dedicated to Mother Teresa.

Yes, I really love Mother Teresa.  What’s not to love?  Her compassion for the poor and forgotten went above and beyond, her simplicity is a breath of fresh air that our materialistic society could benefit from, and she held firm to her faith in God in spite of suffering decades of spiritual darkness.
I do love her for all these reasons, but none of them are the #1 reason I look up to her.
The main reason why Mother Teresa inspires me is because she saw the big picture of God’s plan.

Mother Teresa did not help people with the intent of converting them to Christianity.  She never once said, “I will help you only if you become a Christian.”  Unfortunately, her lack of pushing conversions to Christianity is one of the criticisms launched at her.
Truth be told, Mother Teresa did seek conversions, but in a different way.

“Yes, I convert.  I convert you to be a better Hindu, or a better Muslim, or a better Protestant, or a better Catholic, or a better Parsee, or a better Sikh, or a better Buddhist.  And after you have found God, it is for you to do what God wants you to do.”
–Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Reading this quote makes me think of a particular theological principle in the Catholic Church known as “Baptism by Desire.”
Paragraph 1260 of the Catechism explains Baptism by Desire this way: “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.  Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”

Applying the passage above, let’s say you have a Buddhist monk who perhaps has heard of Jesus, but through no fault of his own, doesn’t know Jesus in the same way that a Christian does.  Our Buddhist monk friend does not know Jesus, but his life exemplifies Christ through loving kindness, acts of charity towards the poor and suffering, a deep commitment to protecting creation, and other noble attributes.  Perhaps at some point the Buddhist monk finds himself pondering the existence of a creator and spends his life searching for truth.  While our Buddhist monk friend does not profess belief in Jesus explicitly, he does feel the call of God in his heart and is responding to it in the best way he knows how.

Mother Teresa saw this principle very clearly.  She recognized that God’s ultimate plan went beyond the confines of religious labels.  This is why she sought to convert people into better human beings, and she did so by being a living example of the Gospel herself.  Every step she took, every decision she made, every word she spoke gave glory to God.  She saw that any time a person seeks to help others, to improve themselves and to serve humanity in their own little way, they are serving God whether they realize it or not.  She was willing to be a vessel used by God to make an impact in the slums of Calcutta.

In a way, Mother Teresa was a visionary.  She saw with the eyes of her heart and soul that a great number of people who are willing to serve one another can create a society that serves.  A society that serves is a society of God.

“I’ve always said that we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic.”
–Saint Teresa of Calcutta

CGB Review of Miracles from Heaven

Now I’m not a doctor, but I don’t recommend climbing on trees to receive a miraculous healing.
If you’ve seen this movie’s trailer, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

This is my review of Miracles from Heaven!

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Christy Beam (Jennifer Garner) lives a nice life in Burleson, Texas with her husband Kevin and three daughters, Abbie, Anna and Adelynn (someone really likes the letter “A”). Things are fine and suburban until Anna starts experiencing serious stomach issues, which keeps getting misdiagnosed as acid reflex or lactose intolerance.  As poor Anna’s stomach swells, it is soon discovered that she has what is called Intestinal Pseudoobstruction; it basically means that she can’t digest food and is quite literally starving to death. Against all odds, the determined Christy will stop at nothing to get the proper treatment Anna needs.

The Hits
The people in this movie ACTUALLY act like real people!   You know how in a lot of Christian films like God’s Not Dead 1 & 2 or Christian Mingle the Movie, where you have the jerk atheist characters and the pure-as-pearls Christian characters?  With the exception of one stubborn intern who tries to brush off Christy’s concerns, all of the characters feel like real human beings in a real-life situation.  Nobody goes on expository spiels or launches into Biblical quotation mode; all of the dialogue and interaction are grounded in reality.  Jennifer Garner brings to the film a fierce and genuine performance as Christy.  This is an ordinary woman thrust into the nightmare of not knowing what is making her beloved daughter suffer greatly.  There’s one scene in particular where she’s tearfully describing Anna’s condition to the front-desk secretary at the children’s hospital and Garner’s quivering voice convey the depths of her broken heart.
Jennifer Garner and Kylie Rogers have believable chemistry as mother and daughter.  Not only do they (somewhat) resemble each other, but they play off of one another very well.
Speaking of which, Anna actually acts like a real kid!   Yeah, unfortunately, Hollywood screenwriters have forgotten how to write child characters.  Often times they either write them as mindlessly innocent or painfully obnoxious.  Between this film and The BFG, I’m finding more reasons to have hope in Hollywood’s ability to write children as people, not as caricatures.  Also, kudos to this film for tackling depression in children with so much tact.  There’s one scene where Anna confronts her mother with the very real possibility of her own impending end and it is heartwrenching to watch.
I appreciate how God’s involvement in the characters’ lives is kept in the background, because essentially that is how God Himself operates; behind the scenes in the silence.  By hinting at His handiwork instead of spelling it out, it reinforces that God is a gentleman, not a show-off.  He works not with roaring voices and clamor, but through gentle whispers, calm inspirations and quiet subtlety.  If you’ve ever wondered how the old adage, “The Lord works in mysterious ways” plays out in real life, I think this movie is a good demonstration of the adage.

The Misses
Like the Theory of Everything, this movie can be very hard to watch, primarily the hospital scenes.  One scene shows the doctors sticking a tube in Anna’s nose and her resistant whimpering had me bawling like a baby.  There are quite a few hospital scenes that are so realistic that it can be tough to stomach.  This is one of those movies where if you have or are currently caring for an ill relative, in particular a child, this might hit too close to home for you.  Granted, you may have a different experience watching this movie than I did, but

The Christian film genre could definitely benefit from more films like Miracles from Heaven.   Once Christian filmmakers focus less on bashing atheists and more on showing God’s subtle workings in the modern world, the genre will have better days ahead. Miracles from Heaven treats its characters with humanity, has a stellar and determined performance from Jennifer Garner, and illustrates that God’s miraculous doings come not as lighting or spectacle, but in the form of kindness from strangers and the bond of family during the darkest of times.

Saint Anne, pray for us.

CGB Review of The Letters (2014)

“I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God.”
–Saint Teresa of Calcutta

This is my review of The Letters!

The Letters movie

After receiving her “call within a call” on a train to Darjeeling, Sister Teresa of the Loreto convent begins her mission to serve the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta.  As her movement expands, students from the school where she was the principal join her in her work and eventually the Missionaries of Charity is born.  The world would soon come to know this little nun dressed in a white and blue sari as Mother Teresa.  In the midst of her accomplishments, Mother Teresa suffered six decades of spiritual desolation and the idea that God had abandoned her haunted her.  Despite the spiritual darkness, she continued to serve the One she loved.
I have loved Mother Teresa for as long as I can remember.  Actually, the next CGB editorial will be about Mother Teresa, as was my last editorial “Frightening Hour, Glorious Day.”  I wanted to see this movie on my 24th birthday, but unfortunately, it wasn’t playing in either of my local movie theaters.  So imagine my suprise when I was told that this movie was on Netflix. 🙂

The Hits
Juliet Stevenson–good Lord–she NAILS it as Mother Teresa.  She looks like Mother Teresa, her accent is pitch perfect, she gets the posture right; I truly felt like I was watching Mother Teresa herself.  Juliet Stevenson’s portrayal of Mother Teresa is very respectful, bringing both a tenderness and an iron will to the character.  Stevenson also brings a charisma to Mother Teresa, which explains how the character is able to draw so many people to her cause.  Also kudos to the filmmakers for emphasizing on Mama T’s humility by showing her tell a reporter who wants to interview her,  “I am but a pencil in the hand of God,” and then later,”If you want to write a story, look outside; the poor are everywhere!”  Classic Mother Teresa.  ^_^
I really appreciate an earlier scene where then-Sister Teresa, who starts off teaching at a convent school for privileged girls, sees a hungry family outside her window and brings a basket of fruits and vegetables to them.  This establishes her giving nature and heart for those in need, so when she is called by Jesus to leave the convent and go to the Calcutta slums, her quick acceptance of the “call within the call” is in-character and believable. From then on, this trait continues to be demonstrated via scenes of her teaching village children the alphabet and assisting in the delivery of a newborn whose parents opposed her missionary work.
During Mother Teresa’s ministry, India had just gained its independence.  The impact of this cultural change is mostly kept in the background, but is felt with hostile encounters with some of the locals and, in that scene I mentioned where Mama T gives food to the hungry family, a Hindu man tells her that a Catholic nun shouldn’t be roaming outside where she could get killed by protestors.  Speaking of which, one interesting thing I noticed is how the movie portrays the patriarchal culture of Calcutta.  In the few scenes where Mother Teresa must deal with suspicious villagers, she cannot get a word in until a man comes to her defense.  This is especially apparent when The Home for the Dying is attacked by Hindu protestors and all Mother Teresa and two other nun characters can do is stand there until three men intervene.  It shows that in their culture, women are silenced in the presence of men. The movie doesn’t try to make a feminist statement with this, but rather lets it be so that we, the audience, can come to that conclusion for ourselves. The Letters focuses its efforts on being a commendable character study of the small nun who would rock the boat of our materialistic society with her acts of compassion and humility.

The Misses
I advise against watching this movie on your tablet unless you have earplugs.  The dialogue can be hard to hear at times, to the point where turning the volume up more than once is recommended.
The movie is on a roll up until the third act.  After Mama T establishes the Missionaries of Charity, the film seems to just fast-forward to her Noble Peace Prize speech, which…well, they kind of botch.   It’s too short and all of her words about abortion (which are the best parts of her Nobel Peace Prize speech, by the way) are cut out entirely.
Regarding the spiritual darkness, I don’t think the movie conveys this very well.  I totally understand that Mother Teresa herself never spoke of it except in her letters to her spiritual director Father Celeste van Exem, but one scene of her just saying quietly, “Where are You, my Jesus?” or something like that would’ve solved this problem right away.  Unfortunately her dark night of the soul is only spoken of by other characters and not shown to us.  I’m sorry, guys, but shots of her walking silently by herself with a weary expression on her face isn’t gonna cut it.

The Letters serves as a good introduction to Mother Teresa and her missionary spirit. Despite some questionable story choices in the third act, Juliet Stevenson’s dedicated performance alone is a wonderful homage to the “saint of the darkness” and makes up for the film’s few hiccups.  In terms of being a cinematic in-memorium of a triumphant life, The Letters is definitely worth the watch.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.