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 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Rebellions are built on hope.

This is my review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story!

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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.

The Hits
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.  🙂

The Misses
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.

Saint Sebastian, pray for us.

TCR Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (As originally published on The Catholic Response http://www.thecatholicresponse.us/tcr-review-star-wars-the-force-awakens/)

FORCEREVIEW (2)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the seventh installment in the Star Wars film saga.  It has been 30 years since the events of Return of the Jedi.  After the fall of the Galactic Empire, a new regime called the First Order has risen and is wrecking havoc upon the galaxy.  Embarking on a new celestial adventure are a Jakku scavenger named Rey, a former Stormtrooper called FN-2187 who now goes by “Finn,” and gifted pilot Poe Dameron along with General Leia Organa’s Resistance army.

The Force is strong in my family.  My uncle introduced my brother to Star Wars at a young age and my brother has been a fan ever since.  He and my future sister-in-law even named their dog “Leia.”  My mother saw Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope at the Pantages Theater when she was a teenager.  As for me, I consider myself a newbie convert to the Star Wars fanbase and have recently finished watching the original trilogy (Return of the Jedi is my favorite), as well as the notoriously bad prequels.  Given that Star Wars is a huge part of my family’s identity, I went into Force Awakens with my fingers crossed, praying that it would turn out to be an amazing experience.  Let’s see how it holds up.

The Hits

John Boyega is adorable as Finn!  It is obvious that he is having the time of his life being in a Star Wars film.  His redemption from Stormtrooper to resistance sympathizer is made believable by his youthful face and committed performance.  Also his “bromance” with Poe Dameron is quite charming.  Something I should mention is how Finn isn’t made into a stereotype, which unfortunately tends to happen with minority characters.  He is the comic relief, but not in a condescending way.  Loyal, resourceful and steadfast, Finn is a three-dimensional character.

Daisy Ridley is a wonderful female lead.  I admire that she is not written as a clichéd independent woman who says she doesn’t need a man, but ends up being saved multiple times.  Daisy Ridley brings a nuance of innocent resolve to Rey.  The way she is written, her character could have been male or female; she is easy for everyone to relate to.  I also like how Rey is just the right age.  She is old enough to be going on a perilous quest and young enough for we, the audience, to sympathize with when she is in danger.

Kylo Ren is frightening when he is wearing the mask.  When the helmet is covering his face, he carries the villanous aura of Darth Vader.  Given that Darth Vader is such an iconic antagonist in the Star Wars universe, the task of creating a brand new villain to step into the shoes of Darth Vader was a challenging feat.  I feel that Kylo Ren is a worthy stand-in for Darth Vader and will prove to be a formidable foe in the coming films.

A few days before the film came out, it was revealed that J.J. Abrams was in panic mode over how well the film would do with critics and audiences. As someone who struggles with anxiety, I can sympathetize with Abrams, who was given the task of rebooting (and redeeming) the Star Wars saga after the mishandled prequel trilogy.  Having seen the film as a Star Wars fan, I can say that J.J. Abrams has treated the movie with the utmost respect for the Star Wars mythos.  Interestingly enough, J.J. Abrams had initially turned down the task of directing Episode 7, but eventually changed his mind and took up his Lightsaber, sitting himself on the director’s chair.  With each frame and passing scene, I could feel Abrams’ passion for the story through his characters and respectful parallels to the original trilogy.

The Misses

Am I the only one who feels that Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is underused?  He’s such a charismatic character that I would say aloud, “No, don’t go, I like you,” every time he left a scene.  After his introduction in the first fifteen minutes, he doesn’t get much screen time.

Notice how earlier I said that Kylo Ren is a scary dude with the mask on.  When the helmet does come off, that is when the scare factor is lost.  One of the reasons Darth Vader was so intimidating was because his mask never came off until the end of Return of the Jedi.  Some of the mystery of Kylo Ren is lost once we see his face.

[KIND OF A SPOILER] I would say that 75% of Force Awaken’s plot elements are recycled from A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back.  Granted, I like New Hope and I adore Empire Strikes Back, but I would have liked some new storylines.  I know that J.J Abrams has said that A New Hope is his favorite and I have no issue with him paying homage to the film that inspired him, but I really hope that Episodes 8 & 9 contain new plot elements.


The Catholic Response

[Contains Spoilers]

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has Christian symbolism all over the place and that is a wonderful thing.
When we first meet Finn, he is wearing his Stormtrooper helmet.  During a Stormtrooper attack on a village in Jakku, he witnesses a fellow Stormtrooper die near him.  The dying man places his hand on Finn’s helmet and as he falls, his blood smears Finn’s mask.  For me, this brought to mind Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool.”  Shortly after this, Finn returns to the First Order’s base, where he pulls off his helmet, revealing his face.  The next time we see Finn, he is helping pilot Poe Dameron escape, during which he tells Poe, “My name is FN2187.”  Poe replies, “FN…Finn.  I’ll call you Finn.  That’s your name now.”  Sitting in the theater, I couldn’t help but smile as this exchange between Finn and Poe reminded me of 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”  I remembered this scripture every time the antagonists would refer to Finn by his Stormtrooper name, while the protagonists address him by his new name.  From this point on, Finn lives out his new calling as a former slave of the First Order turned redemptive ally of the resistance, as well as a protective friend of Rey.

As I looked back on the film, I came to realize that there is something very Marian about Rey.  For one, we are first introduced to Rey in the desert planet of Jakku.  Similarly in the Bible, we meet Mary in the desert city of Nazareth.  Rey has brown hair and wears white and beige clothing; comparatively Mary is often depicted as a brunette with either a white or beige veil.  The day after she takes BB-8 under her wing, an alien trader offers her 60 portions (food) in exchange for BB-8.  Rey, who is normally lucky to get one packet of food to last her a day, has every reason to trade in BB-8.  However, her innate goodness leads her to decide against it and declare, “The droid’s not for sale.”  Given that this is a lonesome character who should be a bitter, self-preserving survivalist, the fact that she remains uncorrupted by the world was reminiscent of our Blessed Mother, who remained without sin throughout her own life. Once Rey and Finn meet, the First Order attacks Jakku, forcing Rey, Finn and BB-8 to flee.  One might easily call this their ‘exile’ moment, comparable to the Holy Family’s exodus from Bethlehem into Egypt.

Finally, in the film’s climax, Rey and Kylo Ren fight against each other in a lightsaber duel.  As I watched the battle in awe, I found myself thinking about Mary crushing the serpent’s head.

Now saying that Kylo Ren is the serpent and Rey represents Mary may seem like a stretch until you take into account that Kylo Ren was training to become a Jedi, but then turned to the Dark Side, much like the fallen angel Lucifer. Also, there are a few scenes wherein Rey is mentioned, Kylo Ren goes into a fiery rage.  Exorcists who have confronted the Devil have said that the name of Mary is Satan’s worst nightmare, a burning thorn in his side.
At the end of their first battle against each other, Rey and Kylo Ren are separated by a chasm that splits the collapsing planet.  Genesis 3:15 echoed in my mind, “I will put enmity between you and the woman…”
While Rey is not an exact replica of the Virgin Mary, her character could certainly be considered a Marian type.  I’m sure that J.J. Abrams didn’t intend to make a Mary vs. Satan analogy with his narrative, but I feel that devotees of Mary will appreciate the subtle parallels to Our Blessed Virgin Mother.

 

Final Verdict

Star Wars fans have had to put up with the sting of the lackluster prequel trilogy, so obviously rebooting the franchise with Episode 7 was a nail-biting endeavor for everyone involved.  As a new fan of the Star Wars universe, I highly recommend The Force Awakens.  The characters are lovable, the action is fast and well-realized, and the story is packed with intensity and humor.  Kids will watch the flying ships with wide-eyed wonder while the adults will be able to rest easy knowing that this saga has been resurrected for a new generation to enjoy.
The hype…it’s calling to you.

Saint Mary of Nazareth, 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.

CGB Review of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Merry Christmas, CGB fans!  Boy, do I have a present for you!
Well, we’ve made it.  We had to get through two crummy prequels, but at last we’ve come to the third and final film in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Will this one be better than the last two or will jerk Anakin drag another movie down with his childish complaints?

This is my review of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith!

revenge-of-the-sith

The film opens with Obi-Wan Kenobi and his apprentice Anakin Skywalker on a rescue mission to save Chancellor Sheev Palpatine from General Grievous and Count Dooku.  From there, a maturing Anakin learns that his secret wife, Padme Amidala is pregnant with his child.  Chancellor Palpatine begins to take Anakin under his wing and slowly but surely poison the young Jedi’s mind into giving in to the Dark Side, leading him on the path to becoming Darth Vader.

I will come right out with it: Fourteen-year old me loved this movie when it came out.  I saw it twice in theaters and it was the first time I had experienced the “good-guy-turning-evil” narrative as a teenager.
I will be turning twenty-four in five days, so let’s see if this Star Wars prequel still holds up for me as an adult.

The Hits
The first fifteen minutes are filled with promise.  Gone are the taxation talks and expositional drawls.  This time, we open with the kind of action that you would expect from a Star Wars film.
Finally we get some banter between Anakin and Obi-Wan!  They actually have a rapport that you would want to see between two friends.
The moment when Padme tells Anakin that she is pregnant is well acted.  With few words, Hayden Christansen and Natalie Portman express excitement, fear, anxiety and joy with their facial expressions.  Also I will give Anakin extra brownie points for his line to Padme, “Our baby is a blessing.”
The plot of this film is way simpler than the storylines of Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.  I could actually follow what was being said, what was taking place, who was fighting who and so on.
Okay, okay, I know that I spent a good chunk of my Attack of the Clones review bashing Anakin.  However I think Hayden Christiansen gives a pretty good performance here…when he doesn’t open his mouth.  He is quite expressive and can convey so much with just a simple knit of his brow or tightening of his lips.  This is the pre-Darth Vader Anakin that I’ve been waiting for; a troubled young man conflicted by his growing disillusionment with the Jedi, tormented over the possible death of his pregnant wife, and vulnerable to Palpatine’s deception.  A Shakespearean villain like Darth Vader deserves an origin story of the same caliber.  Good bye, whiny lustful Anakin!  Hello, complex tortured soul Anakin!
Finally, finally, FINALLY we get an emotional Lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan!  One of the biggest problems with these prequels is that the Lightsaber duels severely lacked the internal battle of the characters fighting.  Where the Lightsaber fights in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were rich with depth and drama between Luke and his astray father, the battles in Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones only had stylized choreography and obstacles, lacking the tension needed to make the audience emotionally invested.   In Revenge of the Sith’s climactic confrontation, you can hear Obi-Wan’s heart break with each swing of his Lightsaber while the surrounding lava and brimstone reflect the hatred and rage boiling within Anakin.

The Misses
Am I the only one who feels that Palpatine’s interest in Anakin is a bit too abrupt?  I kind of wish that the last two films had establish some kind of rapport between Anakin and Palpatine so that the friendship they form in this film would feel more natural.  It’s like he had little interest in Anakin in the last two movies and now that we’re at prequel #3, he’s suddenly taking Anakin under his guidance.
Okay, I’m really getting sick of this in movies: Other characters keep telling Anakin that he’s a great Jedi, but honestly he hasn’t done anything different from any other Jedi.  His fighting skills aren’t different, he can do the same things that his fellow Jedi do; other than his exponential midichlorian count (even now, that sounds so stupid), what exactly is Anakin doing that makes him so special?  Just because you have other characters telling me over and over that such-n-such is the best thing since sliced bread doesn’t make said character a special snowflake.

Guys and gals, it took two shizzy prequels to get here, but we finally have ourselves a satisfying conclusion to the Star Wars prequel trilogy.  Given that I love the Darth Vader character, I was quite pleased to see justice done with Anakin’s tragic tale.

Merry Christmas and Saint Ignatius of Loyala, pray for us.

CGB Review of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Yes, we are going there.  Just as I reviewed the original trilogy, I will also travel to the Dark Side of the saga:
The Prequel Trilogy.

This is my review of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace!

star-wars-episode-i-the-phantom-menace-original

Okay, so given that halfway through the movie, I found myself having no idea what the heck was going on, I will summarize it the best I can.
Young Obi-Wan Kenobi and his master Qui-Gon Jinn are on a trade negotiation mission because–potatoes–and things don’t go so well, so they have to rescue the teenage Queen Amidala and hide her on the remote planet of Tatooine, where they encounter a boy named Anakin Skywalker.  Through a blood test, Qui-Gon discovers that Anakin’s (irritable sigh) midichlorian count is higher than even Master Yoda’s and so begins the origins of the boy who would go on to become the most iconic villain in cinematic history, Darth Vader.

I cannot believe that this crummy movie is a part of the Star Wars universe.  Sure, the original trilogy had hocky special effects and some okay dialogue, but it also had a good story, likable characters and, of course, an engaging internal conflict between Luke Skywalker and his evil father Darth Vader that is so rich in development and complexity that I could do a whole CGB editorial on those two guys alone.
What does Phantom Menace have in comparison?
Well, let’s just get on to the review.

The Very Few Hits
Fine, I’ll say it.  The Podracing scene is fine.  It does very little to move the narrative, but hey; something is happening.  Yes, the duel of the fates sequence is also fun to watch.  It’s devoid of emotion and significance, but again, at least something is going on and it’s not bogged down by expositional speeches and trade negotiations.
To be fair, I did sort of like the friendship between Anakin and Padme.  I can see where George Lucas was going with that and Natalie Portman does the best that she can.

The Plethora of Misses
In my reviews for Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, I had so much to say about the evolution of Luke and Darth Vader as father and son.  I could have gone on for hours about the peaks and valleys of their relationship.   Why?  Because both are well-written characters portrayed by capable actors.  Because the idea of having a protagonist offspring go up against their antagonist parent is interesting and full of depth.
In contrast, I have absolutely nothing to say about any of the characters in Phantom Menace.  Character evolution is traded for expositional speeches.  The people talking are just pawns with the sole purpose of explaining to plot.  The only relationship I kind of care about is the one between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan.  I say “kind of” because they don’t spend enough time together.  They only have a handful of Jedi fights together and when they’re not fighting, they’re just spouting off exposition.  Yes, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor are enjoyable to watch, but even a great actor can’t make terrible dialogue compelling to listen to.
I did like the Duel of the Fates somewhat, but what kept it from being epic is that there’s nothing emotional about it.  In Empire Strikes Back, you could feel Luke’s anxiety as he fights Vader for the first time.  You could sense the conflict within Vader as he dukes it out with Luke all while trying to keep his son alive.  Once the big reveal comes, it puts Vader in a new light as a man consumed by darkness and can only be saved by his son’s goodness.  I adore Return of the Jedi because the philosophical and spiritual conflict between Luke and Darth Vader comes to a boiling point.  It becomes a battle for the souls of both characters.
In the duel of the fates, there’s no emotional depth to be found.  Even when Darth Maul kills Qui-Gon, it happens too quickly for me to care and there’s no enough time for Obi-Wan to convey the kind of hatred needed to get the audience invested.
Jar Jar…OH. MY. GOSH.  I’ve always known that Jar Jar is the most despised Star Wars character, but now I understand.  I see now why this alien squeak toy whose dialogue I can barely comprehend and who has the IQ of a stick of butter is loathed by the majority of Star Wars fans. Yet, as much as Jar Jar makes me want to stick a fork in my eye, I can’t place all of the blame on him because he is a victim of bad writing.  C-3PO was written to be annoying, but all three films in the original trilogy gave him a reason to be uptight and anxious about everything.  Also annoying characters are watchable when they have another character to play off of.  R2-D2 put C-3PO’s annoyance into perspective; R2-D2 was the straight man to C-3PO’s Debby Downer persona.  Jar Jar has no straight man to set him straight, so he is a screw-up character who never gets his comeuppance, making him unlikable at best and insufferable at worst.

Good Lord, Phantom Menace is difficult to sit through.  How this boring, not-engaging chore of a film has anything to do with the awesome Star Wars universe is mind-boggling to me.   Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go suffer through Attack of the Clones.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria, pray for us.

CGB Review of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)

Now we get to the film that had to live up to the awesomeness of Empire Strikes Back.

This is my review of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi!

FatherAndSon

The Galactic Empire has begun constructing on a second Death Star, one that will be more powerful and deadlier than the first one.  Upon completion, this second Death Star will crush the rebel alliance once and for all.
After learning that the most evil man in the galaxy is his father, Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet Tatooine to rescue his friend (and coolest character ever) Han Solo from crime lord Jabba the Hutt and he has Leia, Lando, C-3PO and R2-D2 helping him along the way. All the while Luke must find a way to save his father’s soul and bring him back from the Dark Side.

Before I begin, I would like to thank you, the reader, for your patience.  My day job has kept me busy, which is why it is taking a while for me to review these movies.

The Hits
Okay, I just love that the first character we start off the movie with is Darth Vader.  I will always get shivers down my spine every time I see him walk down a hallway or off of a ramp.   Interestingly, the revelation that he is Luke’s father makes me see him in a new light.  The fact that this sinister character was once capable of loving another human being (Padme Amidala) and creating new life with her is quite chilling.
Hey fellow Star Wars fans, I ask you: When Luke is trying to bargain with Jabba, have you ever noticed how he is wearing a black hood and cloak, as well as saying things that you would normally hear Darth Vader say?  For me, this is both disturbing and brilliant.  It shows how similar Luke and Darth Vader are without ever compromising Luke’s character arch.
Speaking of Luke and Darth Vader, the best and most complex scenes in this film are the ones with those two.  Luke confronting Darth Vader on the bridge is by far the most depressing scene in any film.  I say depressing because it’s clear that Darth Vader is too far gone, yet it is admirable to see Luke give it everything he’s got to try to bring his father back to the light.  My heart sank when Darth Vader said, “It’s too late for me, son.”  I can tell you that from experience, I know that when someone says that, it truly is too late.
I absolutely love the internal conflict that plays when Luke is watching the rebel ships being ambushed.  How Palpatine taunts him, tempts him [Luke] to strike him with his Lightsaber; what I adore is how Palpatine urges him to kill him out of anger and hatred, not for the sake of righteousness.  I love how Luke’s innate goodness shields him from the lure of the Dark Side.   The internal conflict ignites once Darth Vader discovers that Luke has a twin sister, forcing Luke to fight his father to protect those he cares for.  Yes, I did cry when Luke took off Darth Vader’s mask and the father got to get a good look at his son for the first and last time.

The Misses
Please tell me I’m not the only person who finds Jabba’s Max Rebo Band annoying as all heck.  I have no issue with taking time to establish a sense of place, but the look into Jabba’s lair goes on for too long.
Okay, can we talk about Emperor Sheev Palpatine’s plan?   Him trying to turn Luke over to the Dark Side is not my issue.  This is my issue: Long-term wise, does Palpatine plan on replacing his apprentices over and over until the end of time?  So he wants to make Luke his new servant by having him turn to the Dark Side and kill off his current apprentice Vader, but then how does he plan on acquiring new apprentices?  Let’s assume for a minute that Luke were to turn over to the Dark Side and kill his own father like Palpatine wanted.  I assume that Palpatine wouldn’t allow Luke to have children of his own, so would Luke just be his apprentice or would Palpatine readily replace him?  Also if Luke is the last Jedi, how would he have gotten his own apprentice if said apprentice would have to be a Jedi?
I guess in hindsight, these questions are pointless given that Luke resisted the Dark Side and now Palpatine is dead, but I wouldn’t be a movie reviewer if I didn’t raise these kinds of questions.

Going into this third film, I thought Empire Strikes Back was my favorite Star Wars movie.  However, after watching it, Return of the Jedi is my favorite film in the original Star Wars trilogy.  The emotional struggle between Luke and Darth Vader is mesmerizing to watch, the supporting characters are lovable and memorable as always, and Mark Hamill’s evolving performance brings Luke Skywalker’s character full circle.

Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.

BONUS FEATURE!
Enjoy this animation from How It Should Have Ended!