Category Archives: Romance

Fall 2017 Movie Preview: Drama Part 2

Sorry for the delay in getting the last part of this Fall Movie Preview finished and published. I live in Florida and things are a little bit crazy with Hurricane Irma preparations. There were just too many dramatic films coming out over the next few months to capture them all in one post.

You can read the first part here. Or read the other sections of the preview : Action/Adventure, Horror/Thriller, or Family/Comedy. I hope you’ll let me know which of these sound interesting to you and which you’ll wait to stream on Netflix.

November

LBJ – 11/10

The story of U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson from his young days in West Texas to the White House.

This was originally scheduled to come out in 2016. I don’t know the actual reason it was delayed, but I can only think that it had something to do with something else going on in the world of politics that was slightly more entertaining than history. There was also another film focusing on this period of time, Jackie. I for one would have never imagined Woody Harrelson as LBJ, and it’s directed by Rob Reiner (Princess Bride, A Few Good Men, and When Harry Met Sally).

Murder on the Orient Express – 11/10

A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

The second film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s most famous story of legendary detective Hercule Poirot. The 1974 film directed by Sidney Lumet is already legendary for its stunning cast and claustrophobic feel. This version looks like it is trying to capture that essence. I’m really excited to see what they do with it, and with a cast featuring the likes of Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penélope Cruz, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, and Josh Gad it’s going to have to try really hard not to be at least good.

Lady Bird – 11/10

The adventures of a young woman living in Northern California for a year.

Well, that’s not much of a description to go off. It should say something like, “Jackie from Roseanne (Laurie Metcalf) is raising a teenage daughter of her own played by Saoirse (it’s pronounced “seer-sha”) Ronan. She doesn’t feel like she belongs in the little Northern California town. She feels as though the walls are closing in. She longs to be on the east coast in a city where writers live out in the woods.” That’s a movie I want to watch. It looks funny and sad and warm and rich. Saoirse Ronan is a fantastic actress and is going to bring so much heart to the titular character of Lady Bird. The whole thing is written and directed by Greta Gerwig as something of an autobiography. Man, I love this time of year!

The Darkest Hour – 11/22

Within days of becoming Prime Minister, Winston Churchill must face his most turbulent and defining trial: exploring a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or standing firm to fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation.

A Winston Churchill biopic starring Gary Oldman. Need I say anything else? I mean, just look at that picture. He’s is a master of sinking into a role whether it is Dracula, Sid Vicious, Pontius Pilate, Sirius Black, or Commissioner James Gordon. Watch the trailer and see if you don’t get chills.

Molly’s Game – 11/22

The true story of an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target. Her players included movie stars, business titans and unbeknownst to her, the Russian mob.

Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain are great, but I’m excited about this one because Aaron Sorkin is attached to direct. He adapted the book by the real Molly Bloom. Normally he is happy to write and have someone else direct, but this marks his directorial debut. What a cool story. It should be lots of fun and full of amazing lightning fast dialogue.

Call Me by Your Name – 11/22

It’s the summer of 1983 in the north of Italy, and Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a precocious 17- year-old American-Italian boy, spends his days in his family’s 17th century villa transcribing and playing classical music, reading, and flirting with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). Elio enjoys a close relationship with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an eminent professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture, and his mother Annella (Amira Casar), a translator, who favor him with the fruits of high culture in a setting that overflows with natural delights. While Elio’s sophistication and intellectual gifts suggest he is already a fully-fledged adult, there is much that yet remains innocent and unformed about him, particularly about matters of the heart. One day, Oliver (Armie Hammer), a charming American scholar working on his doctorate, arrives as the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of the setting, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.

I’ve got this here because it is sure to get a lot of love from the LGBT community. It will be called groundbreaking and monumental. However, when it is boiled down it sounds like the story of a man taking advantage of a kid who is still figuring out who he is for his own pleasure. I just can’t get behind that. I’ll probably see it at some point because it will most likely be nominated for an Oscar but I’m not expecting much.

December

The Current War – 12/8

The Current War is the epic story of the cutthroat competition between the greatest inventors of the industrial age over whose electrical system would power the new century. Backed by J.P. Morgan, Edison dazzles the world by lighting Manhattan. But Westinghouse, aided by Nikola Tesla, has seen fatal flaws in Edison’s direct current design. Igniting a war of currents, Westinghouse and Tesla bet everything on risky and dangerous alternating current.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, and Nicholas Hoult as Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla. The battle between alternating current and direct current. The trailer looks great with amazing cinematography playing with the light. If there isn’t at least one song by AC/DC in the film, it will be a missed opportunity.

The Shape of Water – 12/8

An other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.

This looks like it could be the best most innovative thing that Guillermo del Toro has done since Pan’s Labyrinth. I’m afraid that the creature (played by Doug Jones, look him up his work is amazing) is going to be too grotesque for mainstream audiences to get behind the love story aspect. It is kinda far out there and I just don’t now if we’re ready for it. Either way, I’m looking forward to it because it’s an original story that we’ve never seen coming from a visionary director with a star-studded cast. What do you think?

The Greatest Showman – 12/25

Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

Apparently this musical based on the life of P.T. Barnum was supposed to come out last year around November or December, but they decided to wait to unleash Hugh Jackman’s vocal stylings on the world in part because of competition with a little movie called La La Land. I don’t think this will do quite as well, but it should be a feel good story with singing and dancing to end our 2017 on a positive note.

Phantom Thread – 12/25

Set in the couture world of 1950s London, the story illuminates the life behind the curtain of an uncompromising dressmaker commissioned by royalty and high society.

This is shrouded in mystery. We don’t have much to go off, but it is believed that Daniel Day Lewis will be playing Charles James. He will be teaming up with Director P.T. Anderson. The last time these two joined forces they created one of the best movies of all time in my opinion, There Will Be Blood. To add anticipation, Daniel Day Lewis has stated that this will be his last film. If that is the case, I sincerely hope he goes out with a bang and wins his 4th Best Actor Oscar.

Others to Watch:

My Friend Dahmer coming on November 3rd. Before Jeffrey Dahmer became a notorious serial killer, he was a shy, alcoholic teen who never quite fit in. Based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Derf Backderf, this is the true, haunting story of Jeffrey Dahmer in high school. This could be the start of a whole cinematic universe of teenage serial killers. Seriously, Ross Lynch looks disturbed as the young Dahmer. It could be a surprise success.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. coming on November 3rd. Denzel Washington stars as Roman Israel, a driven, idealistic defense attorney who, through a tumultuous series of events, finds himself in a crisis that leads to extreme action. Written and directed by the mind behind Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy. This will be another heavily character driven role, like Fences, that Denzel can sink his teeth into.

Last Flag Flying coming on November 3rd. Thirty years after they served together in Vietnam, a former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd re-unites with his old buddies, former Marines Sal Nealon and Reverend Richard Mueller, to bury his son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne in a road trip movie directed by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused and Boyhood). It’s hard not to get a little excited for this.

The Man Who Invented Christmas coming on November 22nd. The journey that led to the creation of Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) and other classic characters from “A Christmas Carol.” The film shows how Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) conjured up a timeless tale. Looks like it could be a good family film retelling the often told Christmas story through the eyes of the man who created it.

There will be other films that come onto the radar in the final months of the year and some of these will inevitably be pushed to 2018 but I think this is a very good list to work off as you prepare for the season and decide which films are the most enticing. Please let me know which ones sound great and which you will pass on. Now that I’m done with this, I may decide to make a calendar will all of the films I’ve featured listed by their release date. The obvious problem with that is many of these films will be limited releases and so they will likely not be playing outside of major markets for a week or two after their actual premier unless they are tracking very will and the studios believe they can risk a wider opening.

Fall 2017 Movie Preview: Comedy/Family

This is a hard category because unlike Horror/Thriller where you can be fairly certain that all of the films are meant to be seen by adult eyes and ears, this category blends a bit of both worlds. We can have a family friendly animated film right next to a raunchy comedy. For that reason, I am going to include the MPAA rating after the synopsis. It should be fairly obvious which is which, but I didn’t want to waste time making two posts when these go together nicely.

September

Home Again – 9/8

Recently separated from her husband (Michael Sheen), Alice (Reese Witherspoon) decides to start over by moving back to her hometown of Los Angeles with her two young daughters. During a night out on her 40th birthday, Alice meets three aspiring filmmakers who happen to be in need of a place to live. Alice agrees to let the guys stay in her guest house temporarily, but the arrangement ends up unfolding in unexpected ways. Alice’s unlikely new family and new romance comes to a crashing halt when her ex-husband shows up, suitcase in hand. – PG-13

I’m not much of a romantic comedy fan, but this looks pretty good. I could see it being a fun date night or enjoyable flick for a group of ladies to watch. The guys all competing for her attention will make for some funny situations, but I predict that Michael Sheen as her ex-husband will be the best. Do you think she’ll get back together with her husband, or embrace the single life?

Lego: Ninjago – 9/22

The battle for Ninjago City calls to action young Master Builder Lloyd, along with his friends, who are all secret ninja warriors. Led by Master Wu, as wise-cracking as he is wise, they must defeat evil warlord Garmadon, The Worst Guy Ever, who also happens to be Lloyd’s dad. Pitting mech against mech and father against son, the epic showdown will test this fierce but undisciplined team of modern-day ninjas who must learn to check their egos and pull together to unleash their inner power of Spinjitzu. – PG

The folks behind the Lego Movie and the Lego Batman movie are hilarious. Here they have once again collected an extremely talented cast (Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Jackie Chan, Olivia Munn, etc.), although most of them are less well known than in the previous films. I don’t think this one will fare quite as well since Ninjago is not as well known or loved as Batman and that might hurt it. But it should be funny and enjoyable for the family.

October

My Little Pony – 10/6

A dark force threatens Ponyville, and the Mane 6 embark on an unforgettable journey beyond Equestria where they meet new friends and exciting challenges on a quest to use the magic of friendship to save their home.

I have a 12 year-old little girl. I will likely be front and center for this movie. I have to admit, while I’m not quite a bronie (look it up if you don’t know what that is), I do appreciate the humor and message of the show. Friendship is indeed magic. All of the glitter and sparkles of the Trolls movie with a heartwarming message at its core.

Goodbye Christopher Robin – 10/13

Goodbye Christoper Robin gives a rare glimpse into the relationship between beloved children’s author A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) and his son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), whose toys inspired the magical world of Winnie the Pooh. Along with his mother Daphne (Margot Robbie), and his nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald), Christopher Robin and his family are swept up in the international success of the books; the enchanting tales bringing hope and comfort to England after the First World War. But with the eyes of the world on Christopher Robin, what will the cost be to the family? – PG

This one will be a nice film to take the kids to. It sounds delightful as a true story and kind of reminds me of Saving Mr. Banks. I think Domhnall Gleason is a fantastic actor. His work in Ex Machina was inspired. Plus I get to hear Kelly MacDonald’s beautiful Scottish accent as the nanny.

Killing Gunther – 10/20

A group of eccentric assassins are fed up with Gunther, the world’s greatest hitman, and decide to kill him, but their plan turns into a series of bungled encounters as Gunther seems to always be one step ahead. – R

Do yourself a favor and watch the trailer for this! I had not even heard of it. It feels like it has a Taika Waititi vibe, but that could just be the mock-umentary style. It reminds me of What we Do in the Shadows with the dark humor and shaky cam style. I hope that is a good sign. I know next to nothing about Taran Killiam beside the fact that he’s on Saturday Night Live and he’s married to Colbie Smoulders.  Most Saturday Night Live movies are awful, but they tend to take a skit and blow it up into a movie, this looks like a different concept and Schwarzenegger as the greatest hitman Gunther seems inspired. I guess all we can do is wait to see how it is.

November

Wonder – 11/17

Based on the New York Times bestseller, WONDER tells the incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story of August (Augie) Pullman, a boy with facial deformities who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time. – PG

Steven Chbosky is one of my favorite writers. I hope this is a good adaptation. The trailer looks inspiring. This kind of film is so nice to see and I hope it gets good reviews and people go to see it. We all know how cruel kids can be, but will they use their ability to look beyond the physical to connect with this amazing young man. He’s being played by Jacob Tremblay (Room) and I can barely recognize him.

Coco – 11/22

Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel (voice of newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt). Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector (voice of Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history. – PG

I’m excited that Pixar is jumping into a film like this that feels much more provincial than their most culturally specific film to date, Brave. I hope it pays off for them and that people come out in droves to see this. It reminds me a little bit of Book of Life and Kubo and the Two Strings. It should be a great film for the whole family.

December

Disaster Artist – 12/1

A behind the scenes look at the making of the best bad movie of all time. Based on the book of the same title by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. Starring James Franco as Tommy Wiseau who wrote, produced, directed, and starred in 2003’s The Room.

I’m a big nerd about film making as well as movies in general. If you’ve never seen the trainwreck that is Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, do yourself a favor and watch it… for science. It is awful! How it could have possibly been made is beyond me. Why didn’t someone tell this man that he had no business making a movie? There has to be a story here, and there is. This won’t be for everyone and many will hate it because by the trailers it seems like James Franco’s Wiseau is spot on.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – 12/20

Four teenagers discover an old video game console and are literally drawn into the game’s jungle setting becoming the adult avatars they choose. – PG-13

For a remake / re-imagining it looks like they are doing things right. I loved the gender and role reversals we got in the trailer. it looks like it is going to be funny. I still don’t think that we need a new Jumanji, but if we’re going to get one, Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack, Black, and Karen Gillan should be able to provide an awesome one.

Downsizing – 12/22

When scientists discover how to shrink humans to five inches tall as a solution to over-population, Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to abandon their stressed lives in order to get small and move to a new downsized community — a choice that triggers life-changing adventures. – R

From the director that brought us Sideways, About Schmidt, and Election (Alexander Payne) comes another dramady starring Matt Damon. We don’t know a ton about the plot, but it sounds like it involves some sci-fi element and probably relates to social commentary about feeling small in this great big world. I personally am excited. What do you think?

Others to Watch:

A Bad Mom’s Christmas coming on November 3rd. The three moms from the original struggle to cope when their respective mothers visit for the holidays.

Daddy’s Home 2 coming on November 10th. Brad and Dusty must deal with their intrusive fathers during the holidays. The first one was over the top, but funny. This one looks like it could be hilarious with John Lithgow joining the cast as Will Ferrell’s dad and Mel Gibson showing up for the holidays as Mark Whalberg’s father.

Ferdinand coming on December 15th. Animated and based on the classic children’s book by Munro Leaf. After Ferdinand, a bull with a big heart, is mistaken for a dangerous beast, he is captured and torn from his home. Determined to return to his family, he rallies a misfit team on the ultimate adventure.

Pitch Perfect 3 coming on December 22nd. Following their win at the world championship, the now separated Bellas reunite for one last singing competition at an overseas USO tour, but face a group who uses both instruments and voices. Clearly, this is a bold faced attempt at an Oscar from Anna Kendrick… not. I love her as an actress, but this is one franchise I never got into. Acapella music is cool and everything, I think I even downloaded Cups, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

So which of these light-hearted films are you looking most forward to? Please leave me a comment in the section below or on social media! If you want to read the rest of my Fall preview, you can find the other sections here: Action/AdventureHorror/Thriller, Drama Sept-Oct, and Drama Nov-Dec.

Brokeback Mountain – Review

As I look ahead to my Best Movie Bracket for 2005, I had to acknowledge a blind spot that I have missed over the years. Back when Brokeback Mountain was released in 2005, I was just beginning my stint as a youth minister after finishing my Bachelors of Theology. I was definitely into movies, but I was not watching them with the same eyes or frequency that I see them today. I would have likely been in the camp of Christians who followed their conscience and decided to completely abstain from the film and sadly to avoid even the discussion of its themes, happy to be cloistered away with other likeminded people.

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I am a different person than I was then. Life as a pastor, manager, father and husband for over a decade has changed my perspective. I won’t say that it has changed for the better because I can certainly see where my conservative Christian brethren are coming from. However, I believe that I have the responsibility as a Christian to see the film and to offer my opinion on it from a biblical perspective. I’m afraid that most of the reviews that I read in those days were in two camps. Either reviewers loved the film and sang the praises of the cinematography, bucolic setting, and powerful performances, or they condemned the film as immoral or dirty with little explanation as to the reason behind their emotional response except for “the Bible says it’s wrong.”

As a Christian and a movie critic I have a set of lenses that I view every film through. But let’s not act like this is a unique scenario. Everyone who shares their opinion of a film sees it through the lenses of their life. Those lenses could be republican, democrat, liberal, conservative, racist, sexist, feminist, black, white, rich, poor, urban, or rural. The list is as long as the human experience. We don’t generally see movie critics come out sharing their particular lenses. Instead, we have to reverse engineer the way they see the world through the reviews they give. My point is that no one comes to a film as completely objective. We all have preconceptions, experiences, and beliefs that shape our opinions and color our world. How boring would things be if we were all cookie cutter copies of each other with the same passions, interests, and desires?

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However, we must also understand that many (if not all) dramatic filmmakers are trying to say something with their film, not just providing 2 hours of celluloid to entertain the audience. As a theology student and later as a pastor, I spent years studying the Bible for meaning and interpreting its words to teach believers how they should implement the words and lessons that they encountered. I approach films in much the same way. There is a lesson to be found. If I walk out of a film the same as I walked in, I feel cheated. It’s as if I dove into a pool only to find that there is no water.

However, film works almost imperceptibly at times. Because of the medium, the message comes through almost so well that it hits us directly at an unconscious level. This is unlike the Bible that is often shrouded in mystery because of thousands of years of changes in culture, location, and language. The Bible often takes time and study to uncover meaning. We have to pull the meaning out of the text. That is the same with film. However, in that case, we are pulling the meaning out of ourselves to see things through the eyes of the writer, the characters, and the filmmaker.

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As a Christian, there are behaviors which I believe are sinful. However, if I limited my movie viewing only to this without portrayals of sin, I would never enter the theater or turn on the television. Because every person besides Jesus that enters the frame is a sinner in some form or fashion. So I have no trouble looking at this film and calling out the sinful behaviors that I see. However, the presence of these behaviors does not make the film any worse or any better. Whether it is the dishonest way that Aguirre is having them tend his sheep, the premarital sex that we see between Jack and Lureen, or the consistent lying that surrounds their illicit relationship, there is plenty of sin to go around. This film could have just as easily left out the homosexual relationship and had the two men destroy their relationships by being inattentive and selfish (which they are). But that would miss the message that Director Ang Lee is trying to communicate.

The basic premise is that two cowboys, Jack and Ennis, take a job tending to sheep in the Brokeback Mountains of Wyoming. The two grow close on the trip and on a particularly cold night they share a tent and things get physical. After this summer job they go their separate ways to their own lives. Ennis gets married to Alma as he planned before the summer and she has two girls rather quickly. Soon, four years have passed and Jack finds Ennis and they have a sordid reunion. Ennis insists that they cannot be together and Jack settles down with Lureen, a fellow rodeo professional, and they soon have a son. Jack and Ennis however keep up their relationship under that pretense of hunting and fishing trips. However, they retreat to the place where their relationship began and argue about whether or not they can leave all that they have tied themselves to in order to be together.

Brokeback Mountain is trying to say, if these two men were allowed by society and their own consciences to love (and consequently have sex with) whomever they chose, then they would have been happy and their wives would not have had to suffer through loveless marriages. But I have heard some who make it sound like the solution is to have them forget all about their one-time fling and go home to their marriages and focus on their wives and families. However, I would disagree with this as well. Sure it would be great for these men to treat their wives with love and respect and to care for their children, but doing these things would not be any more redemptive than their “fishing trips” which don’t feature any fishing. In fact, the natural setting of their very unnatural relationship is probably the most insidious and disturbing part of the film. The wives do not push their husbands away, yet home is seen as a trap while their “forbidden love” is shown as peaceful and natural.

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Before I say anything else, I should say that I believe this film deserved the praise that it received. It was a difficult film to make, though Ang Lee never felt that until after it was released and started to gain traction. The performances specifically from Michelle Williams and Heath Ledger are spectacular.  Ledger is so stoic in his portrayal that when he does peel back the layers to reveal emotion it is very effective. Williams crushes it with one scene in which she discovers that her husband’s fishing buddy is more than a friend. Her eyes show all the betrayal that she dare not utter. She knows it to be true but keeps it locked away hoping that maybe she was just seeing things. I think the biggest flaw of the film is that we don’t get to see enough of the families. We are so wrapped up in the affair of the two men that we are left guessing about what is going on at home. I would love to see the exact same story told through Alma and Lureen’s eyes. I believe that it would be an even more engaging and heartbreaking tale. From a technical standpoint I would give this film high marks but the story seems to be lacking.

In an interview, when Ang Lee was asked if he practices any particular religion, he said,

No, my mother is a baptized Christian, so she made me go to church every Sunday, and I prayed four times a day until I was 14. And at lunchtime kids at school would giggle at my praying…I stopped praying. And two weeks later, nothing happened to me, so I didn’t pick it up again.

I am not particularly religious. But I think we do face the question of where God is, why we are created and where does life go, why we exist. That sort of thing. And it is very hard to talk about it these days, because it cannot be proven. It is hard to discuss it rationally.

Given his experience with organized religion, I’m surprised we don’t see it play more of a role in the film. We are given 3-4 hints of the religious culture of the late 60s and 70s that they are living in. On their first summer together Jack and Ennis discuss their upbringings. Jack speaks of the Pentecost as if it is the day of judgement, and Ennis is just as ignorant saying that his parents were Methodist. Alma and Ennis are married in a religious wedding and we hear of church events that Alma and the girls want to attend. Ennis calls them “that fire and brimstone crowd.” This tells us a lot about both Ennis and the religious people who surrounded him. He characterizes the church people as a judgmental group, but we have no way of knowing if this is because they truly are or because they don’t make him feel good about himself because of his behavior.

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I will be wide open in saying that I believe homosexuality is a sin, but I also believe adultery and premarital sex are sins. However, none of these sins are unforgivable. That is the beauty of Christianity. It is not all about guilt and judgement, but grace and redemption. I believe that Brokeback Mountain is a harsh and stark image of sin in a fallen world. In Ang Lee’s world where God is an absentee landlord who makes threats but doesn’t really have the power to carry them out, this life is as good as it gets. If that is the truth then I would say that Jack and Ennis should run off together and live with passion and do everything they want because one day they will die and that will be the end.

That is where I believe Jack is coming from. That is why we see him going so hard after Ennis and holding onto dreams longer than he really should. But I think Ennis at least has some sense that this life isn’t all there is. He is fighting with the physical urges that he has. It seems that Ang Lee is trying to push us towards a societal solution, but that solution only solves a physical problem. If Ennis did not struggle with the fears and doubts and societal norms then he would have been the same as Jack and they would have probably both ended up dead. But if society were more tolerant towards their beliefs then perhaps they would have started their ranch together and lived there the remainder of their days. But the question that the Christian asks is but what happens after that?

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If they are resolute in their belief that God does not exist or that their god is okay with their relationship then I am fine with them doing whatever their heart desires. Alma and Lureen would have been better off in the meantime. As a Christian, I don’t care about disrupting what is going on in their bedroom. I care about God disrupting what is going on in their hearts and souls. I want to see a realistic portrayal of that kind of faith in a film. I would have loved to see Alma broken by her husband’s sin. I wanted to see her confront him and tell him that she still loves him. I wanted her to share her faith with him. The realistic response would have been for him to curse at her and storm out and then we could see the divorce happen just as it did, but instead we get the bigotry and disgust without any of the real love that Jesus commands. The closest we get is Jack’s mother loving Ennis in their shared grief and asking to see him again. I want to think the best of her, maybe she thought better of sharing her beliefs about Jack and Ennis’ lifestyle at this time but planned to do so soon after fostering a relationship.

Lee is right that we live in a very complicated world where talking about religion is difficult to do rationally. But that is just what we are called to do. Jesus wanted us to be salt and light. Salt, as in the stuff that we put on meat to preserve it. We are called to come into contact with the dirty and corrupt things of the world in order to bring the preservation of life. And where does a light shine? Do you use a flashlight in the middle of the day? No, the light’s purpose is to reveal what is hidden in the darkness. But that means that we must first be in the darkness in order for our light to be seen. Is this easy? Is this safe? Is this the kind of life that fits a stereotype? No, but we are not promised a good and comfortable life with all that we could ask for here. We are pilgrims passing through. This world is not our home.

In the end, Brokeback Mountain is a painful reminder that this world is broken and that sin is rampant. I wish we could have seen our protagonists have an opportunity for redemption, but in our nearly post-christian society perhaps the absence of a coherent voice of faith was the most realistic aspect of the film. It features some beautiful cinematography, and most likely some of the best acting of the year. However, I doubt that you will see it on my Best Movie Bracket for 2005. I hope that you can see that it isn’t because I’m a religious wing-nut or because I think God hates gays, but because I feel like there is so much missed potential in the film.

The Lobster (2016) Sarcastic Review

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster is one of the best romantic comedies of all time. Seriously, I think you should make it a date night with the one you love. Watch as the sexy Colin Farrell woos the nearsighted woman of his dreams (Rachel Weisz) by bringing her dead rabbits. In the days of Tinder, it is nice to see a movie that gets down to the things that really matter in a relationship, like sharing the same physical malady.

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But you might ask, is this another one of those movies where single people get turned into animals if they don’t find love in 45 days. Yes, it is another one of those movies and I do agree that is a worn out plot device, but The Lobster is so much more than just another formulaic animal transformation romance. For instance, in this film single people (or loners) can be killed to extend your stay at the luxury hotel and masturbation is not allowed or you will have your hands disfigured. It is so romantic.

Continue reading The Lobster (2016) Sarcastic Review

Trailer: ‘Whiplash’ Director’s Musical ‘La La Land’

Yesterday, we got the first fantastic trailer for Whiplash director Damien Chazelle’s new Los Angeles-set musical La La Land. It looks great and I can’t wait to see it. Ryan Gosling stars as a jazz pianist who falls for an aspiring actress, played by Emma Stone, in the City of Angels. There’s lots of singing and dancing and it is just not something that we really see anymore.

I’m excited because this is the next film from Chazelle, who blew me away with Whiplash. So stop what you’re doing and watch this right now. Lionsgate is planning to release Chazelle’s La La Land in select theaters starting December 2nd this year, with a wide release soon after.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) – Not New Review

Every Wednesday, I post a review of a movie which is not new (no less that 2 years since release). In general, these will be movies that I enjoyed watching and in some cases have seen multiple times. This is primarily because, unlike many critics, I don’t enjoy spewing invective. Instead, I like to think about and spend my time on movies that I liked. That being said, I tend to like a wide range of films and I hope that some of my tastes match your own. I will freely reveal major plot points and spoilers in these reviews, but I will do my best to warn you or to [su_spoiler title=”Spoiler Hidden”]hide the spoiler material behind a shield.[/su_spoiler] With that being said, let’s get to the review.

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The depiction of high school life in The Perks of Being a Wallflower really isn’t all that different than it was in 1985 when John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club highlighted how even though we are all dysfunctional, we all have worth. In fact, the immortal words of The Breakfast Club’s resident jock Andrew Clark could practically be Wallflower’s chief thesis: “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.”

Writer/Director Stephen Chbosky, who also penned the best selling novel of the same name, captures the high school years in all their awkward glory. He definitely has his finger on the pulse of the joys, fears, and angst that most high schoolers deal with. Charlie (Logan Lerman) has already been through a lot outside the classroom. Ever since his best friend committed suicide and his favorite aunt died in a car crash, he’s simply been unable to cope. He can’t seem to shake a sinking feeling of utter hopelessness. Add to that, the bullying, hazing and cruel antics of high school and it’s no wonder then that Charlie already has a running countdown to graduation. Just 1,384 more days, and he’s free.

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Logan Lerman is great as the understated lead. I see Charlie as a Holden Caulfield for the MTV generation. He mostly keeps his thoughts to himself and blurts them out passionately and awkwardly when he does choose to express them. Lerman shows something special that was missing from his Percy Jackson portrayals in this nuanced performance. He refuses to make Charlie pitiful when he has every right to be. I could not help to get knots in my stomach as he takes each step forward with uncertainty. It just feels genuine like the rest of the film.

The movie takes place around 1991, before cellphones and social media monopolized teenage communication. This absence underscores the incredible generational divide that has opened up in so short an amount of time. Check out the clip below to get a sense of the emotional climate of the movie. There are definitely funny portions, but overall, this is a gut-wrenching film which wrestles with a very complicated time of life. Perhaps it just rings true to me because I was a misguided 90s teenager listening to 80s bands and looking for my place in the world.

Charlie embarks on his first days of high school as an old soul who has no friends apart from his English teacher Bill (Paul Rudd) who feeds him tons of great books to continues to feed his love of reading and writing and provide him some guidance along the way. Bill is one of my favorite characters and he gets to answers the ultimate question of a teenage boy, “Why do some girls settle for losers?” Profoundly, he states his answer in a way that I think guides the rest of the story, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”

Soon however, Charlie stumbles into a group of friends who are just as messed up as he is. None of them are particularly good influences, but they give him something that he’s been looking for… belonging. They include the wise-cracking, constantly philosophizing homosexual Patrick (Ezra Miller) and the angry punk-rocking Buddhist Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman). But the most influential is the girl. All of you guys know what I mean when I say the girl, she makes him forget some of his troubles and pushes him to be the best version of himself. Being a big fan of Harry Potter and especially Emma Watson, I was excited to see how she did on her first non-Hermione role and she was stunning. The camera loves her and she even nails the American accent.

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This girl named Sam takes an interest in Charlie’s well-being and welcomes him to the “island of misfit toys,” where they can all “be psychos together.” Charlie describes Sam as “the kind of pretty that deserves to make a big deal out of itself,” but Charlie is immediately drawn to the fact that she doesn’t see herself that way. She seems out of place with this group until we learn her background and realize that like some of The Breakfast Club, she just does a better job at hiding her dysfunction. Naturally, he falls for her, even though she’s three year his senior and is currently dating a jerk who is more than a few years older than her.

As the credits rolled I felt somewhat uplifted, even though it is a dark film. Its PG-13 rating comes from sexually suggestive scenes (mainly springing from the groups’ fascination with the Rocky Horror Picture Show), heavy themes (including sexual abuse), and drug use. It’s fair to say the film’s content is less than wholesome. But the content alone shouldn’t determine the value of a work of art. The important thing is the way the film interacts with, speaks to, and frames that content that really matters. It is from this perspective that I think The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an excellent movie.

For the characters, salvation comes through love and the conscious decision to enjoy life in the moment. Though faced with the unbearable darkness that often finds us in life, these characters find healing as they cling to the love they share and find meaning in the moments in which they feel most alive. Some of the most memorable scenes involve Sam and eventually Charlie standing up in the back of a pickup, arms spread and head back, listening to just the right music, as they speed through a tunnel. They are embracing the meaning of life as it hits them in that moment, and this meaning carries them through the dark moments. Too often, we let life’s unbelievably rich moments pass us by as we focus on trivialities or get so caught up in finding a grand purpose that we miss the meaning and glory in the small things. Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those small things. Don’t let it pass you by, and keep the tissues close.

Deadpool (2016)

It’s hard to believe that it has been two years since we saw some exciting leaked footage, and who can forget (although I wish I could) his first big screen appearance seven years ago in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Deadpool is the first R-rated mainstream comic book film adaptation. Had the aforementioned footage not been leaked (and subsequently gone completely viral) many believe that the studios would have never had the courage to make the Deadpool movie that fans really wanted. Lots of vocal and devoted fans stepped forward to pine for this movie’s creation, the most notable being its leading man. There is now a good case to be made that this will not be the last Deadpool film, much less the last adult themed comic book adaptation: This movie is legitimately good.

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Without giving too much away, you need a simple primer on the Merc with a Mouth. According to Marvel’s info sheet, Deadpool possesses a superhuman healing factor, similar to but even greater than that of the mutant Wolverine, which allows him to regenerate damaged or destroyed areas of his cellular structure at a rate far greater than that of an ordinary human. As such, he can regrow severed limbs or vital organs. This healing factor also affords Deadpool an enhanced resistance to diseases and an extended life span. Due to the presence of this superhuman healing ability, many of Deadpool’s natural physical attributes have been enhanced, granting him superhuman levels of stamina, and his natural strength, agility and reflexes have been increased to levels that are beyond the natural limits of the human body. As if that weren’t enough, Deadpool is an extraordinary hand-to-hand combatant and is skilled in multiple unarmed combat techniques. He is a master of assassination techniques, is an excellent marksman, and is highly skilled with bladed weapons.

Say what you will about this sword-wielding, gun-toting, foul-mouthed, chimichanga-loving, fourth wall-breaking anti-hero, but Tim Miller and company absolutely nailed the character in his self-titled movie. Reynolds was always the prefect actor to play Wade Wilson as is evidenced by the brief introduction we have to his character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine before that awful transformation, but Deadpool also gave Ryan Reynolds a chance to spring back from the comic book purgatory which he landed in after his Green Lantern disappointment.

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Deadpool did so much well. I was genuinely surprised by the way that it addressed my hopes and fears and still exceeded my expectations as a fanboy. In other words, I went in hoping for something appeasing and walked away having watched a genuinely good super hero movie. Here’s what the movie did particularly well:

  • The humor was almost perfect.  I use the qualifier “almost” because there were more than a couple instances when I felt like jokes were being thrown at me simply because one had not been uttered in the last few seconds. And, while some of the pop culture references hit me as a thirtysomething, I’m sure they missed the mark of an 18-year-old who may have never heard of Wham!, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or Faulty Towers. Criticism aside, the overwhelming majority of the jokes landed well and made sense in context. They didn’t overplay the fourth wall breaking and they managed a solid mix of witty (or obscene) one liners and hilarious physical comedy. You’ll laugh a lot, and you’ll probably feel guilty about some of the laughs, unless you’re a sociopath. But a lot of them are just good fun!
  • Origin story was told well.  The movie flip-flops between past and present with obvious transitions that did not jar the narrative flow. In fact, I think choosing to tell the story non-linearly was a great move especially given that Deadpool himself is our narrator and his mind moves as quickly as his swords. We get the great origin story and get to see the suit immediately.
  • The supporting characters are handled well.  Weasel holds his own as a character with T.J. Miller’s signature brand of comedy and gives us the origin of the Deadpool moniker. Deadpool 3Blind Al and her relationship with Wilson makes sense and makes me want to see more (no pun intended). I think more could have been done to the connection between Colossus (who feels like a big jab at Green Lantern showing that a CGI character can work) and Deadpool than the implication that they’d discussed Wade’s joining the X-Men before, but the dynamic amongst that trio including Negasonic Teenage Warhead (who they completely revamped for this movie in a good way) is fantastic and it was fun watching the two X-Men go from policing Deadpool to having his back.
  • Deadpool is an anti-hero.  You see him make selfish decisions. You see him make selfless decisions. You see him play nice with the good guys. You see him do things that the good guys definitely frown upon. In no moment is his antihero quality on display more perfectly than when he’s got his nemesis, Ajax, in his hands and Colossus intervenes. Perfect depiction, perfect ending.
  • They have fun with Deadpool’s powers.  From the obvious consequences of punching Colossus bare-fisted to exploring the speed and process of his regeneration when it comes to lost limbs, the movie uses his powers as a medium for more of Deadpool’s trademark comedy. But they also do a great job of showcasing how hard it is to slow down, significantly harm, or even kill the guy. At one point he’s got a combat knife wedged into his skull and is hardly any worse for the wear.
  • The violence, while significant, is not too much.  Deadpool definitely comes by its R rating honestly. It is not a movie for minors. Nudity and language aside, the violence element was actually well managed. It was never in your face and gratuitous; instead you saw what you would expect to see when an accomplished combatant utilizes guns and swords in the melee and Deadpool kills a lot of people in this movie.

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So here’s my final verdict. Assuming you’re at least of the legal age to watch this R-rated offering, and have an open mind about murders of revenge, hired hitmen, torture, and strippers, watch it. If you are like me, you will watch it multiple times then add it to your Blu-ray collection that stays out of the reach of your children’s fingers. All in all, as a stand-alone, origin story of a controversial but extremely popular character, they knocked this out of the park and it should be counted as one of the best of an ever growing list of great Marvel movies. I for one can’t wait to see Deadpool’s next adventure.

Carol (2015)

I am so conflicted about this movie. it is sitting on top of many critics best of the year list, Cate Blanchett is almost certainly going to win an Oscar for her titular role, and while I don’t think it is necessarily a bad movie I am certainly unconvinced of its apparent brilliance.

carol3Carol is a fictional story based upon a novel written by Patricia Highsmith. This is the same author who wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train. The novel, “The Price of Salt” was written under a pseudonym, Claire Morgan, perhaps because Highsmith was concerned about the backlash of writing a lesbian love story in 1952, but almost certainly because she drew so much of the meat of the story from her own life. Read how The New Yorker tells the story behind the story.

December of 1948, Patricia Highsmith was a twenty-seven-year-old aspiring writer with a murderous imagination and an outsized talent for seducing women. Her first novel, “Strangers on a Train,” was complete, but it would be more than a year before it was published. A Texas native with thick black hair and feral good looks, Highsmith made a habit of standing at attention when a woman walked into the room. That Christmas season, she was working behind the toy counter at Bloomingdale’s, in Manhattan, in order to help pay for psychoanalysis. She wanted to explore the sharp ambivalence she felt about marrying her fiancé, a novelist named Marc Brandel. Highsmith was a Barnard graduate, and, like many sophisticates at the time, she viewed homosexuality as a psychological defect that could be fixed; yet she had enough self-respect and sexual appetite to reject any attempt to fix her own. When her analyst suggested that she join a therapy group of “married women who are latent homosexuals,” Highsmith wrote in her diary, “Perhaps I shall amuse myself by seducing a couple of them.” She never married Brandel—or anyone else.

carol2One day, a woman in a mink coat drifted into the toy department. Highsmith later recalled, “Perhaps I noticed her because she was alone, or because a mink coat was a rarity, and because she was blondish and seemed to give off light.” Like Alfred Hitchcock, Highsmith was captivated by frosty blondes, all the more so if they were married and rich. The shopper, who slapped her gloves into one hand as she scanned the merchandise, made Highsmith feel “odd and swimmy in the head, near to fainting yet at the same time uplifted.” With an abstracted air, the woman, Mrs. E. R. Senn, bought a doll from Highsmith.

That night, Highsmith wrote an eight-page outline for a novel: a love story about Therese Belivet, a diffident nineteen-year-old who lives on her own in New York City, and Carol Aird, a wealthy suburban wife and mother in her thirties. Highsmith conjured what Therese would feel upon catching her first glimpse of Carol: “I see her the same instant she sees me, and instantly, I love her. Instantly, I am terrified, because I know she knows I am terrified and that I love her. Though there are seven girls between us, I know, she knows, she will come to me and have me wait on her.”

carol4So you now know the basic story behind Carol. A doe-eyed young shopgirl struggles with her identity as she befriends and begins to fall in love with an upper-class older woman going through a difficult divorce. It is such a simple premise for a film, and in today’s world of legalized gay marriage and homosexual characters on seemingly every television show it could have felt trite and boring. But this is not a 2016 retelling of a 1950s story. This is a 1950s film, and if we were able to take a Delorean back to 1955 and present Carol it would be apparent that this film is right on the cutting edge.

I have told my wife while playing those silly would you rather type games that if given the choice of just about any era in history, I think I might step into the 1950s. It was such an elegant time. Everything was ordered and in its place. We had just won World War II and the country was in a time of growth and prosperity. There were values which governed the society. I think of The Andy Griffith show and Leave it to Beaver. I think I could have fit very well in that time period. However, I also know that the image that I have of that time is completely created by Hollywood and television. I don’t know what it was like to really live in that environment, but I can only imagine that with the hard swing that the culture took in the 1960s that the 1950s were working too hard to keep everyone confined in their perfectly manicured and carefully constructed social norms.

Carol5I’m not sure why this movie is titled Carol. To me, Carol (Cate Blanchett) had a much less interesting role in the film than that of Therese (Rooney Mara). Therese grows before our eyes while Carol is set in her ways before we ever meet her. Certainly, both characters stories unfold before us throughout the film, but if I had to pick a lead and supporting character, I’m choosing Therese as the lead. I mean there is no doubt that the author placed herself in the story as her. And although Carol suffers more dramatic hurdles and setbacks I felt much more connected to Therese and her internal struggle.

I always feel like I have missed something whenever I go so strongly against the grain of other film critics, but in this case I have to say that I did not feel a great deal of chemistry between Mara and Blanchett. I could see the tortured look on Mara’s face as she struggled with her identity but I did not see any of the attraction that was supposed to lie beneath that struggle. I could look at the pained and frustrated expressions on the face of, Carol’s soon to be ex-husband, Harge and I was there I could feel his struggle to love and difficult woman who is slipping away from him. It baffles me to think that Cate Blanchett nearly has this Oscar in the bag for a role that felt very phony to me. In fact, everything else in the film feels ultra realistic, but the titular character left me feeling flat.

The first hour of this film feels so slow and deliberate with almost exclusive use of motionless camera shots, wide pans, combined with drastic closeups. This was very intentional by Director Todd Haynes, who previously filmed this era with a keen eye in Far from Heaven. But this dramatic shift in pace takes a while to get used to. I found myself feeling kind of bored and was itching to check my phone or something, but it struck me that Haynes was purposefully trying to bring the viewers into the 1950s even if for just a few hours. Not just through set design which was superb but in pacing and feel. This was a time without television, internet, and mobile devices, an age where an electric train set or a hand-painted porcelain doll was the Christmas gift of choice. Much of the film would be spent in silence were in not for the ethereal quality of the soundtrack provided by the illustrious Carter Burwell. There is not a lot of dialogue, mostly long shots of faces and reactions, glances and lingering touches. I felt it was appropriate that the studio created a beautiful wordless trailer for the film. It really seems to fit the film and encapsulates the desire of the film maker.

However, as beautiful as this film was. I can’t help but think that Haynes did not go far enough. I wish that he had gone the whole way and made a film that might have passed the 1950s Hays code. The scene in the department store is nearly perfect. These two ladies are connected by a glance and it is broken too quickly. There is an awkward conversation about a girl who didn’t play with dolls and the purchase of a train set as a Christmas present for a little girl. I wish the film would have left us in that 1950s world instead of giving us a completely unnecessary shot of Rooney Mara having her shirt pulled open. Perhaps I am far too old fashioned, but I just miss the days when there were things that were considered taboo. And it took a very deft director’s hand to carefully navigate and hint at something as taboo as a lesbian love story. Unfortunately, we live in an anything goes type of climate today and after the first hour of navigating awkward conversations and couples fighting about former relationships I thought that Haynes might just produce a subtle and authentic period piece which addressed the elephant in the room without shooting him dead. But instead, I’m just left longing for Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis, and Jimmy Stewart.

The Danish Girl (2015)

This is such a heavy handed Oscar grab. In a year with Caitlin Jenner, Orange is the New Black, and Transparent, I think most people are looking for a deeper look at this subject, but this film never gets deeper than the pretty pictures and scenery. In our all-inclusive political climate, even I feel the pressure to speak nicely of a film like this lest I feel the wrath of the left wing battering me for being some kind of sexist bigot. If I want to watch Eddie Redmayne transform before my eyes, I will dust off Theory of Everything from last yea. But in this film, I never get past feeling bad for his/her wife and being tremendously thankful that they didn’t have children. I don’t want to waste more time on this film than I must. There are much better offerings to discuss this year, and I hope that the Academy can see through this feeble attempt by Tom Hooper to continue is award winning streak by playing on the hot topic of the year with one of the best new actors out there.