Let’s see ’em make a keanu out of this!

Hi, I’m the Jerk. I’m allowed to write movie reviews on Simcha’s blog once a week under two conditions. One: I keep the language clean. Two: I have to wear pants when I write. (Somehow, she can tell.)

I know, some of you were made SAD by my review of Yentl. I know some of you thought I should probably go to the beach for a STAYCATION, and maybe cool it for a while. I even know some of you,…thought I should,…stop writing,… altogether,…

And you know, I was gonna ditch the whole thing this week. I wanted to concentrate on my philanthropic work, hand write some letters to loved ones, and organize the agenda for my next Opus Dei meeting. (We’re gonna complain about our wives this time!)

But then I got a letter from one of my fans. Not a letter, really, but a fan fiction comic book he had made of Point Break, this week’s movie. OK, more like a set of obscene drawings of Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves with Lori Petty. OK, and maybe he glued pictures of his head on Lori Petty’s body. Hallie, you might want to find a good attorney.

“I do have a JCL and can assist with you annulments! Call Now!”

Point Break

You can pretty much smell 1991 all over this movie.

First you got Swayze in full bore Swayze mode. Scruffy beard, long hair, Zen nonsense. It’s practically a Ben Gazzara cameo away from being Road House. (And yes Dan, there are plenty of boobs in the movie. Now quit it.) But you see, this movie is working on a totally different plane. They give us a complete Swayze – BUT HE’S THE BAD GUY!!!

Mind Blown!

That’s right, he’s the leader of the Ex Presidents, a surfer gang that goes around robbing banks so they can surf year round. Hey, you know, now that I’ve typed that out, it doesn’t seem that stupid after all. Hmm.

But you know what? There’s this totally cool FBI agent who is on to them. Yeah, he’s brash and he plays by his own rules, but he gets the job done. You know who I mean. Agent Pappas as played by Gary Busey.

I got a Cademy Reward at home!

No Gary. That’s your BAFTA award. Jon Voight won that year. Remember?

Nevermind.

So Agent Pappas is out to get Swayze when he is joined by rookie agent Johnny Utah, as played by Canoe Reeves.

That’s Keanu.

Geshundheit.

Here is where we hit the Keanu Vortex. How did this guy ever have a career? He makes Tom Cruise look human? He has the charisma of wet cloth. HE HAS BEADY EYES. The existence of Keanu Reeves, Movie Star, is one of those unfathomable mysteries of the universe.

At least Lori Petty’s time as a movie star was short lived. For some reason, she kept getting cast as the spunky, tom boy heroine who fell hard for some meat head like Canoe. Then she made Tank Girl.

I now teach gym.

Good for you.

So Canoe goes undercover and learns the ways of surfing from Swayze. They totally become like soul mates. And they jump out of an airplane. But that was really part of some nefarious plot by Swayze to outsmart Canoe.

Yeah, you can outsmart Canoe by taking him skydiving. You can also outsmart him by telling him if he closes his eyes, he’ll turn invisible.

Here’s the thing: Aside for the terrible, terrible acting, this is a really good movie. It has a classic tension between two leads. Like an old Western. If they weren’t on opposite sides of the law they would be friends.

Check out this clip of the chase scene. The action beats are terrific.

Alright, I totally want that red Lincoln.

If you don’t own Point Break already, you must. Be warned, though, members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers make cameos throughout the picture. There is a lot of bad language, quite a bit of nudity, and even Lori Petty gets nekkid. Yeah.

As some of you may know, my parole officer says this does not count as time off my sentence. Basically, between the halfway home restrictions and the time it takes for me to pan handle enough for a 40, I have a little less free time now that I have to show up for the community service.

What I’m saying is, I’m gonna start writing these in advance. But that means I won’t be able to do a poll for a while. Send your requests to thejerkdoesnotlikeyou@gmail.com

Next week: Sean Connery’s sci-fi adventure Zardoz. It’s directed by John Boorman, who made Excalibur, one of Simcha’s favorite films.

 

Gary Busey via Flickr
Keanu Reeves via Flickr
Lori Petty via wikimedia

 

Who knows what evil jerks in the hearts of men?

Hi, I’m The Jerk. You might remember me from that time I got your cat pregnant.

MEOW!

If you’re still reading and not simultaneously trying to call the police, Bob Barker, and your local exorcist while throwing holy water on your computer screen, allow me to apologize.

If I have ever offended you for any reason, I am sorry. Did my snarkiness about Opus Dei inflame your righteous heart? I’m sorry. Were my jokes about Rutger Hauer too cruel for your delicate tastes? I’m sorry. Are you a member of the La Leche League? Really, really, really sorry.

Accepted!
 
(For the uninitiated, that’s Dame Judy Drench, the attorney for the La Leche League. It’s … complicated.)

You must be asking yourselves if the ol’ The Jerk finally got sober. No, no sobriety for me, I’m drunk on faith. Real Faith. Real Catholic Faith.

See, my whole life changed recently when I discovered how awesome Catholicism can be when combined with crappy production values and sketchy facts. That’s right, I’m now a Vortechie.

That’s Vortexie!
Nice marmot.

During a recent bender that included cough medicine, Miller Genuine Draft, and lots and lots of cat nip, I stumbled across this guy on Youtube. I know so much more about Real Catholicism now. Like this:

1. Harry Potter wants to sodomize your children.

2. All the bishops are secretly gay. All of them.

3. And the Jews are out to get me.

Talk about the Good News!

I’ve decided to let The Vorinator be my guide going forward, starting with this movie review. I know a lot of you ladies wanted me to review something girly and lame like The Princess Bride, but I now know I don’t have to do anything you say. The only thing I owe you is my masculinity, meaning my ability to get you pregnant. Real Catholic Pregnant! You want wine? Buy your own bottle of Boone’s!

On to the movie!

THE SHADOW

I know what you’re thinking, it’s all about a guy who people think is no good, but he’s secretly the most awesome super hero ever. WRONG!

It’s all about the Jews.

You tell ’em!

That’s right, see, the “hero” lives in New York. New York City! Is a billionaire. Runs a secret society that has agents in every area of society. Lives in New York City!

I also run the media. And Arbys.

Yup, this perverse monstrosity of a “movie” is trying to get us to root for this Shadow person. Who is played by Alec Baldwin no less! People used to think of him as the most talented Baldwin brother, when in fact he is simply the most disappointing Baldwin brother.

So, you watched The Cat In The Hat?

In the movie, based on the degenerate “radio” show, The Shadow learns everything about controlling people’s minds in the far east. Do I need to go any further? He’s obviously trying to undermine The Church.

Who wants to hold my hands while we say the Our Father?

SEE!!!

Ugh. It’s bad enough we’re supposed to “root” for this person, but then the amoral movie producers, who probably live in Hollywood(!) thrown in this excuse for a woman as the female lead.

 

I secretly want to be a priest!

That’s right, Penelope Ann Miller! A woman so vile Our Lady weeps every time she gets a movie “role.” Know why? Take a look at this:

I don’t care about the marital debt.

138731_7780

YOU CALL THOSE BIRTHING HIPS?

Oh, and get this, The “Shadow” is supposed to save Penelope Ann Miller’s father from the villains. Guess who plays him?

Well hello.

That’s right, Father “James” Martin’s favorite actor, Sir Ian McKellen! Who is gay!

There’s more to this plot, I think. To be honest, I spent most of the movie’s runtime in a simmering rage at the affront to the Real Catholic faith it showed in scene after scene after scene. I have to say this: If the Mass were still in Latin, this movie would never have been made.

True Dat.***
Images:
Cat: Watchduck (a.k.a. Tilman Piesk) [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]
“Dame Judy Drench”: via Flickr 
Marmot via Flickr
Alec Baldwin via wikipedia
various movie stills from the movie, durhay
Ian McKellan via Flickr
Creative Commons license

Knock knock. Who’s there? Rutger Hauer.

Hi, I’m The Jerk. You might remember me from that time I was marketing athletic clothing for Catholic women.

Pretty classy, am I right? Big seller in the Steubenville.

At this point, some of you may be wondering where Simcha is, and why she is letting me get away with this again.

See, for reasons even I don’t quite get, there are times Simcha ditches the blog and allows me to post here. Confidentially, this usually happens around the same time The Moody Blues tour comes around.

Dorks in White Satin

This being county fair season, Simcha is otherwise indisposed for the duration.

During the last foray into the depths of my movie watching despair, Cari  made a request for the next review. I immediately rejected her idea as stoopid. Then, I remembered some of the other movies I’ve reviewed.

OK,  so Cari gets her review.

Ladyhawke!!

 Before we delve too deeply into this mess, I gotta say, I have no memory of watching this movie.

Don’t get me wrong, I did watch it just a few nights ago. I was mostly sober too. But, it just kinda of slipped away right after watching. Strangely, this is not the first time I’ve watched this very same movie, only to forget it nearly instantly.

If I can reveal a little bit about myself – don’t worry, the pants will stay on – I never forget movies, or TV shows for that matter.

Seriously, I can pretty much give you a run down of every episode of F-Troop, or anything starring William Bendix, and don’t get me started on the first season of Murder She Wrote, before that show lost its edge.

The point is, I have a mind for crap entertainment. I never forget this stuff.

Even your old buddy Kolchak?

Especially my old buddy Kolchak. Though, that zombie episode kinda blew.

Aside from the other night, the memory of which gets hazier the more write, and the more beer I drink, I did see Ladyhawke in the theater when it came out. I remember the theater lobby. I remember the popcorn. I remember the lights going down. But the movie?

You remember me, right?

Who?

I’m Rutger. Rutger Hauer.

Umm.

I starred in the Ladyhawke?

Ahhh.

The producers manage to find the Dutch equivalent of NyQuil for the leading man. Honestly, this guy is a lamer version of Christopher Lambert.

Thank you!

We’ll get to you later.

Hey, Dutch people, lookit, we kinda saved you like every time The Nazis invaded you, and you thank us with Rutger Hauer? Next time don’t expect us to come running.

The plot, as I gather, concerns this here Hauzer fellow and his pet bird, Michelle Pfeiffer.

Cheep cheep. Cheep cheep.

Some of you fellas may disagree with me here, but this lady is like the boring version of cardboard. Has she ever been interesting? She’s not even convicncing as a lady cursed to turn into a hawke every day. You wants a convincing bird lady?

BWAAAKAAAAAAAAAAAAA! 

Anyhoo, so it seems Rubarb and Birdy were in love, but it had to be kept secret from the scheming, control-freak cleric whose sexual perversions led him to use black magic.

 

Yes. Please send all hate mail to thejerksoesnotlikeyou@gmail.com.

No, the bad guy movie bishop is this guy:

He kinda looks like my grandma, before we put her in the home.

Bishop Old Lady here puts a curse on Ruger Howitzer and Birdy Bird Bird so that all day, she’s a hawke, but all night he’s a wolf. This movie easily could have been called Manwolf. Except that’s even stupider than Ladyhawke.

This wacky curse keeps the pair separated, even though they are always together. It’s one of those great unrequited romances that make up so much our our literary culture.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQc9L2RbQkw

C’mon. Like I’m the only one who sensed the tension there?

The unhappy couple was betrayed to the bishop inadvertently by their confessor, who kinda blurted it out when he had too much to drink and was talking to the bishop. Not gonna say anything about confessors I have had. Not. Gonna. Say. Anything.

The filmmakers managed to get the great Leo McKern for the role of the disgraced priest.

Leo gotta eat.

But the whole lynchpin for this movie? The one actor whose dynamism pulled it altogether into a rousing entertainment? The next great action star?

They didn’t get that guy. Instead, they hired this guy:

Yup. Matthew Broderick. It kinda makes sense to put him in a period picture set in the middle-ish ages, with knights on horses and whatnot, given his – let’s say- proclivities.

Neigh!

It’s not that this is the worst movie ever made. Far from it. It’s just kinda dull, and extraordinarily forgettable. It’s almost as if this was created as an experiment in induced memory loss. I do blame the director, Richard Donner.

 

I put the “smug” in “Smug A-Hole”

Not to be all judgey, or anything, ’cause being judgey is bad, but this guy is going to Hell. Not only did he make Superman boring, not only did he fail to ever make a sequel to The Goonies, but this is the moron who helped make Mel Gibson a major action star.

If you want to see a real movie, with a vaguely European leading man, ton of action, a kickass soundtrack, and loads of Sean Connery, I suggest Highlander.

About time, sweetheart.

Speaking of which, Highlander will be the subject of my next review. Assuming Meatloaf still plans to bring his tour out this way, expect that sometime soon.

 
 
 
 
 

The 1997 Odyssey miniseries is hokey, thrilling, and gorgeous

Need a little pick-me-up? The 1997 two part miniseries of The Odyssey is the most entertaining thing I’ve seen in ages. It’s now available for streaming on  Amazon Prime and on the Roku channel, and everyone I know who loves The Odyssey loves this production. 

Don’t get me wrong. Much of the movie, sets, effects, and acting, is hokey to the max. But it’s charmingly, enthusiastically hokey, and every minute of it is made with great love. 

Let’s start with the soundtrack. It is incredibly terrible, and some scenes may actually have been recorded inside a tin can. The incidental music is devastatingly synthetic and cheap sounding, like something from a video game. But then many scenes include people playing actual instruments, and are full of real music — tunes and sounds you can respond to as a human, but which also convey a thoroughly other time and place. 

The show is full of stuff like this: Big, balls-out, broad strokes and spectacle, peppered with startling touches of authenticity that must have come from a scholar or at least a deeply invested amateur. When Odysseus leaves his men at the door to the underworld, for instance, he mentions “the land of the dead” and they all make a reflexive ritual gesture of some kind that may or may not be ancient, but it sure looks both authentic and heartfelt. 

But the real secret of this movie is not that they get everything right. The secret is that they’re enjoying the hell out of it, and that comes through from start to finish. They have an awesome story to tell, and here it is:

Some of the scenes (the show was filmed in Malta, Turkey, England, and the Mediterranean) are clumsy and corny — there’s lots of churning water filmed to look like giant waves when it’s clearly not — but others are inspired.  Viewers are very familiar with movies that take a Cecil B. DeMille-style stab at vaguely barbaric grandeur, with everything pillared and gilded and exotically alluring. This movie also doesn’t hold back, and sometimes bites off more than it can chew; but here, the alien distance of ages is made coherent through dozens of details, the sounds, the fabrics, the hairpins, the utensils. The household gods, for instance, somehow look both sacred and naive, and you can see both that the characters are praying to them sincerely, and that they have built them themselves.

The Island of Circe is stunning and otherworldly; but Ithaca itself is the real island of a real person. I almost wept when Odysseus, still in disguise, first tastes the long-remembered cheese of home. You get a real sense of place, with well-beloved specific trees and blades of grass, and you can feel how much it feels like the entire small world to Odysseus and Penelope. Their tree bed is somewhat vague and disappointingly etherial, but the room where the suitor are slaughtered is real as real, part of an actual house.

Poseidon, as a rolling, roaring face in the waves, is hilarious and also hair-raising. In Hades, the special effects are ridiculous and yet terrifying.

Odysseus stalks right through patches of fire which were clearly pasted in afterward, and gazes in horror at eternally tumbling sheets of lava projected on the green screeniest of green screens. And yet . . . it works. It’s scary as shit in there, and you’re holding your breath the whole time as you watch, because of the fumes, and because you don’t want those shades of the hungry dead to get any closer. I wasn’t crazy about Christopher Lee as a crusty, cranky Tiresias, but I was willing to go with it. 

Which brings us to another miraculous virtue of this movie. The casting is really weird sometimes. Armand Assante as Odysseus? That is NOT how I have always pictured Odysseus. And yet, three minutes in, I was sold. Man has a presence, and he clearly feels bigger than he actually is. You can see why his crew adores him, and you can see how he kept on pushing, year after year, until he makes it home. When he finally lands in Ithaca draped in a red and gold robe with his hair combed and oiled, he is very convincingly the hero we’re still talking about thousands of years later.

Isabella Rossalini as Athena, with those eyes and that posture and that voice and that skin? Brilliant. Absolutely perfect. Bernadette Peters as Circe? Sure, why not? She gives it her witchy all. Vanessa Williams as Calypso? Sufficiently slinky. The guy who plays Hermes is a gilded weirdo zipping around awkwardly in the air, which seems about right. Greta Scacchi, who I’ve never seen in anything else, is a wonderful Penelope. I’d want to come home to her, too.

Her dialogue isn’t profound (none of the dialogue is), but she does convey a complex emotional life besides what you see, and she is grippingly beautiful and strong, and she looks her age. 

I wish they had included the scene where she tests him before she accepts him as her husband. That scene carries a lot of weight to counterbalance all the sex he has with various nymphs. But all the other elements are in place, and the homecoming absolutely hits the mark.

Above all, this production understands the Odyssey not as some kind of effete literary relic but as a really exciting adventure story full of fighting and monsters, with sexy ladies here and there, and a huge, endless love propelling the whole thing. And that is what the Odyssey is. I wouldn’t change a thing. 

***

It being The Odyssey, it’s pretty violent and sexy, so I’d probably show it to kids age 14 at the youngest, depending on the kid. People get graphically ripped to shreds and eaten and stabbed, and there are some very slinky outfits and steamily suggestive scenes. I mean, it is The Odyssey. 

In defense of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

Nobody:
Me: Sure, as a Jewish Catholic who has a reputation for resisting pop Catholic trends, I’d love to tell you what I think about The Passion of the Christ.

Here, I will focus on two criticisms: Its ultra violence, and its antisemitism; and why I think it’s worth watching. I don’t know, I felt like getting yelled at.

It it gratuitously violent?

Yes and no. No doubt some viewers reveled in the sadistic violence and graphic gore; but I’m also quite sure others came for the gore and saw more than they bargained for. But I don’t think the violence was just a hook to trick gore-happy viewers into an edifying movie. It was also a way to express how unanswerably outrageous the crucifixion, the murder of God, really was.

Gibson is far from the first to depict the passion and death of Jesus in grotesquely heightened terms, because if we have a hard time grasping the spiritual horror of what happened, we can at least feel the corporeal horror, and go from there. It’s not necessary to depict the crucifixion this graphically, but it’s not illegitimate or inherently inappropriate; and it does have a purpose other than to feed viewer’s blood lust.

For instance: After the notorious interminable scourging scene comes a heart-stopping aerial view of Jesus’ blood splattered all over the courtyard. An impossible amount of blood. Pilate’s wife comes out with a stack of fresh linens and tremblingly offers them to Mary and Mary Magdalene, and the two climb down on their knees and begin to carefully mop up every drop. An impossible task. That scene is responsible for a permanent change in my thinking, transforming the phrase “precious blood” from a pious nicety into a central reality that changed how I approach the Eucharist.

The violence may simply be too much for many viewers. But I didn’t see any violence that was there simply for the sake of showing violence. It was an ordeal to watch, and it was supposed to be.

Is the movie antisemitic? 

I mean? No, but actually yes. Yes and no. Mostly. . . . (heaven help me) no.

Mel Gibson assuredly is antisemitic. After an outcry, he did cut a “blood oath” scene from the original version; but declined to meet with the ADL, basically saying: Look, I hope you get over this not-being-Catholic thing someday. Newsflash: The man is an asshole. But my policy is to evaluate works of art on their own merits as much as I can.

Most accusations of antisemitism in the movie seem to fall into two categories: Things that were probably intentional, but which the average viewer (which I am) wouldn’t pick up on; and things which you can interpret according to your own baggage.

In the first category, intentional but missable, includes details like the sign on the cross. Sr. Rose Pacatte at NRO says:

That Gibson was making a conscious choice to reject and negate Judaism is indisputable when we see the sign on the cross. “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is written only in ecclesial Latin and Aramaic. He rejects the Greek as detailed in John 19:20, and Greek was the common language of the Roman Empire at that time. Thus, according to Adlerstein, Gibson creates “a tension between Aramaic/Hebrew; he does not create a bond but severs it.”

and

One [viewer] mentioned the tear that fell from the cross and the earthquake, which is significant because the scene shows the destruction of the temple at the time of Jesus’ death, but the destruction did not happen until A.D. 70. According to Gomez, this scene points to a “replacement theology,” upholding the mistaken medieval idea that Christianity (Ecclesia) has replaced Judaism (Synagoga). The brokenness visible in the temple evokes the brokenness of Synagoga. In other words, it’s a “dig” at Judaism that does not appear to be there by accident.

I just plain didn’t notice the historical discrepancies, so if these details were attempts at antisemitism, they failed.

It’s harder to deny that Gibson portrays the Jews using offensive stereotypes, and shows the apostles as some sort of “high Jews” or “white Jews” by portraying them as separate from the others.

But . . . the Jews who crucified Jesus were the bad guys, and the ones who didn’t betray him did make themselves separate. I understand the dangers of feeding stereotypes, but how is a moviemaker supposed to portray evil without signaling to the viewer that it is evil? You tell me. The High Priests were concerned mainly with retaining power; Judas did sell out Jesus for money; the Jews who insisted on Jesus’ execution did reduce their faith to a bunch of ritualistic formalities which were threatened by his new commandment. These evils portrayed are what Jesus came to get rid of. To refuse to depict them would be to refuse to depict what actually happened. There isn’t a lot of nuance in character among the Jews who condemned Jesus because it’s not that kind of movie. The good guys don’t show a lot of nuance, either.

The question is, does the movie say “These men did something evil” or “These Jews did evil Jew things”? This is why I say it depends what you bring to the movie. If you’re an antisemite and you want to know why Jesus had to die, you’ll see that the Jews killed him because Jews are bad. If you’re not an antisemite and you want to know why Jesus had to die, you’ll see what kind of people rejected Jesus: Those who want power. Those who want money. Those who value order over truth. Those who are cowards. Those who are cruel.

So Mel Gibson and his pals may be saying, “This is what Jews are like,” but I don’t think that’s what the movie is saying, unless you’re specifically looking to hear that message. It’s the same with the Gospels themselves. If you read the Gospels shallowly, you’ll think they’re a story about how the Jews betrayed Christ. God knows many have read the Gospels this way! But if you read the Gospels with an open heart, you’ll see it’s a story about how we all betrayed Christ. So the movie gives you what you’re ready to get from it. It would be easy to watch the movie in 2019 and recognize, for instance, the College of Cardinals among the crowd of grasping, preening, vicious high priests willing to sacrifice an innocent victim to retain their power.

It’s also hard to make the case that the movie blames only the Jews for Jesus’ suffering, when the gleeful sadism on display is clearly a Roman thing. When Caiphas sees the scourging, he winces and turns away.

However, it’s weirdly pro-Pontius Pilate, which bothers me a lot. Pilate is a cultivated man who’s been assigned to a fractious backwater, and he has Jesus tortured and executed with great reluctance, to keep the mob at bay. That’s in the Gospel, as far as it goes. But the movie adds a scene where Pilate basically tells Jesus, “Look, I feel really bad about this” and Jesus basically says, “Hey, I see who you’re working with here. Don’t worry about it.” That scene is inexcusable, and makes the biggest case that the movie is antisemitic.

So, with these issues, why watch it?

It’s so freaking interesting. So outlandish and bold, but somehow never heavy-handed. Do you know how difficult it is to make a movie with a scene like the scourging scene and have people remember other scenes besides that one?

Gibson doesn’t take the easy way out in any scene. It’s a long movie, but the pacing is great (the scenes that feel long are meant to feel long). Herod is crazy, and weird, and sad. Judas devolving is so terrifying. Veronica is so appealing. The moment with Simon of Cyrene is gripping. Satan is scary as shit. Some people think it was just dropped in for spooky-ookiness, but Steve Greydanus says:

At certain points this androgynous figure is depicted in opposition to the Virgin Mary — but never more arrestingly so than before the pillar, where there is a kind of anti-Marian vision that I will not describe, except to say that it is so bizarre and grotesque, yet ultimately meaningless, that it seems to come straight from hell.

Works for me. I have never seen a depiction of Satan that works better.

Filming it in foreign languages was brilliant. Brilliant. When you’ve been a christian for a long time, it is so very hard to hear the familiar words of the Gospel as new. And it is so very ticklish to figure out what accent you should speak in when you’re playing Jesus! The solution? Put it in words that almost no one understands, and let subtitles, with their layer of psychological remove, work their magic. Or just let the visuals speak for themselves.

Best of all is Mary. Her face and the way she carries herself, and the way everyone keeps coming to her for help. This Mary was a major revelation for me, and helped me see a warmth and strength that’s missing from . . . really most depictions of Mary in art of any kind.  When Jesus is in prison and she comes to find him, you’re so glad they have each other.

And then the resurrection scene. (I had a little larf to myself when IMDB sequestered a plot synopsis that described this scene, warning that it included a spoiler. Boo!) It’s not corny. It’s not lame. It’s glorious, and terrifying, and it redeems everything you have endured during the rest of the movie.

Must you see this movie? Of course not. There is no movie a Catholic must see. If we’re not required to believe in Fatima, not required to pray the rosary, not even required to be literate to be practicing Catholics with a genuine relationship with God, then we can certainly make our way to heaven without having seen The Passion of the Christ (or Unplanned, or Fireproof, or God’s Not Dead, or Here Be Dragons, etc. etc. etc.). Movies are just movies, and you don’t have to come up with some particular reason to dispense yourself from seeing them.

But Passion is different from other movies that Catholics tend to guilt each other into watching. It doesn’t just carry a Positive Message that We Should Support; it’s a great work of art, and because of this, it at least can be tremendously powerful spiritually. Good for Lent; good for a Lenten retreat.

If you’re going to show it to anyone, know your audience. As described above, it could fuel antisemitism in those susceptible to antisemitism. But it doesn’t automatically deliver that message; and it could genuinely spur true spiritual growth.

It’s not for kids, for goodness’ sake. It’s not for people who can’t endure violent movies. Don’t make anyone watch it. But if you can stand some gore, and if you are yearning to feel more engaged in a story that has become stale with retelling, then don’t be scared away from this movie, thinking it’s just torture porn or propaganda. It is an ordeal, but a worthwhile one; and as a work of art, it’s a great.

***

P.S.
I deliberately didn’t read Steve Greydanus’ reviews of the movie until after I finished writing. I don’t always agree with Greydanus, but he gives lots of illuminating analysis here.

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WONDER is sappy and predictable. Take your kids anyway.

When the dog died, I said to myself, “They are gonna run out of trowels if they keep on laying it on this thick.”

It’s not really a spoiler to reveal that the family dog dies halfway through “Wonder.” There can be no true spoilers in “Wonder,” possibly the most predictable movie ever put to film.

But that’s okay. It doesn’t set out to be Chekov. “Wonder”has a simple, specific goal in mind: to remind children (and adults) that kindness matters; that people are not always what they seem; that we all need mercy sometimes; and that strength and goodness ripple outward. And it achieves that goal.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Movie image: www.wonder.movie

MOANA review: Even the chosen one has a choice

Early on in the animated movie Moana (2016), the Polynesian chieftain’s daughter has an adorable pet pig who’s always getting into amusing scrapes. You think, as a seasoned Disney audience, that you’ve identified the heroine’s big-eyed, wordless sidekick.

But then Moana just sails off without her pig, and she accidentally and reluctantly acquires a brainless, completely un-cute chicken for a sidekick instead.

This switcheroo feels like a deliberate nose-thumb to predictable Disney tropes. Moana’s constant companion often provides comic relief, but not as a cutesy break from the story. Instead, she has to break away from her own concerns and preserve him from death countless times, because that’s the kind of person she is. And so we get our first clue that Moana is not your typical Disney princess.

Here she is as a baby:

She wants very much to pick up the beautiful shell that is being pulled back out to sea, but makes herself protect the baby turtle, instead. She’s rewarded not for who is she is, but for what she does.

And so the movie departs from typical Disney fare in a more important but less obvious way than the chicken sidekick. It’s instantly established that she’s a strong, determined, spirited girl who is different from the rest, and she’s going to end up disobeying her father and achieving something remarkable, a la Ariel/Belle/Pocahontas/Mulan/Et Al, setting herself apart from the people who want her to stay home, be good, take no chances, etc.

But! While Moana does disobey her father, she has an excellent, self-sacrificial reason for doing so. In fact, she has the same goals as her father has, and she ends up achieving what he has taught her from babyhood that it’s her duty to achieve.

So this is not yet another story where Ms. Lovely Rebel flips her hair at the patriarchy and is rewarded handsomely for betraying everyone who loves her. Instead, she is a good, loving daughter who follows her calling, rather than following her heart. Melanie Bettinelli goes into this refreshing theme in more detail. Obedience is good, but it’s in service to something greater, and sometimes you have to just go serve something greater more directly.

Which leads me to another appealing theme in Moana: There’s a lot about being chosen and being special and having a mission and fulfilling your destiny; but every single character also very clearly has free will, along with being chosen to act. Everyone makes a choice: Maui makes several choices; even the grandmother says, as she gets her (later significant) stingray tattoo, “I hope I made the right choice.”

Moana decides at one point that she can’t or won’t go on any further, and returns the magical whatsit to the ocean. She quits and tells the ocean to choose someone else. And the ocean accepts it.

She was the chosen one, but she still has a choice herself, and she is free to crap out, which she does. (Spoiler: She later changes her mind, and Does the Thing after all, and it’s awesome.) The ocean helps them and sometimes outright saves them, but they have to do a lot more helping of themselves, by deciding to be who they are meant to be.

It felt, for an animated Polynesian myth, an awful lot like how life really works.

Just as Moana discovers that she can fulfill what her father has taught her while still disobeying his explicit command (like her ancestors, finding new islands while keeping her home in mind), she learns that her mission is somewhat different (and quite a bit harder) than she originally thought. She thought she just had to fulfill the letter of the law, act out the myth, and the rest would fall into place. Turns out she has to get a lot more involved than that. This, too, felt a lot like real life.

And if we’re going to talk about the message that young girls are receiving from their cartoon heroines, I thoroughly endorse this one: Yes, you have a vocation, and yes, you need to follow it. No, that doesn’t mean everything will automatically sail smoothly toward your happy ending. At one point, Maui is horrified to find that Moana doesn’t actually know how to sail. She draws herself up and says, with feeble bravado, “I . . . am self-taught.” Yeah, that’s not good enough. Following your heart will only take you so far. You have to not only know what your goal is, but you have to learn how to get there.

This theme of free will choices leads up very neatly to the astonishing and tremendously satisfying climax of the movie, when Moana confronts the great lava demon and reminds her that she, too, has a choice.

Hot damn! That scene is so good (the above clip is only a little bit of it). Best animation I’ve seen in a long time, and very moving.

Other things I liked:

The plot was coherent, and the several themes worked well together. The only messy, unnecessary part was the coconut pirate scene. Seemed like a blatant bid for toy sales; and my old brain couldn’t understand what it was seeing, with all that hopping around and things exploding. But it didn’t last too long.

The heroine had a very pleasant singing voice. Not too nasal or brazen. This almost never happens, and I was very grateful.

All of the characters were likeable and interesting. This almost never happens, and I was very grateful.

It was weird. I don’t know much about Polynesian mythology, but the story was odd and occasionally harsh enough that I suspect they didn’t mess with the myth too much.

There’s no love story, at all. It’s just not that kind of story. The kid is maybe fourteen years old, and she has a lot going on. No boys need apply at this juncture.

A few minor complaints: The pacing was a little off. Some scenes were rushed and cluttered, and others were a little repetitious; but overall, it moved along well.

The mother was incredibly bland. They might as well have done the traditional Disney Dead Mother thing. She does explain her husband’s motivation for cracking down on Moana, and she helps her pack for the voyage, but anyone could have done that. This is a minor complaint, and is probably me projecting.

Several scenes throughout the movie captured something so exhilarating and joyful, I was amazed. The vision of her ancestors is a thing of beauty:

It is a captivating and rejuvenating movie. See it!

Might be scary for younger kids, depending on how sensitive they are.

A few mini reviews: Michael Kiwanuka, Tom Wolfe, and vampires

 

Here’s how we’re entertaining ourselves these days:

Watching:

What We Do In the Shadows (2014)

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime. A funny, grisly, low-budget mockumentary following modern-day vampires who share a flat in New Zealand. I actually conked out before I could see the last twenty minutes or so, but it kept me giggling throughout, especially the parts where they meet a pack of werewolves (not swearwolves):

Looks like we’ve got another phrase entering the family lexicon. Not for kids or sensitive viewers. Goofy and gross and a little bit sweet. Features a few of the actors from Flight of the Conchords (which I still haven’t seen).

Reading:

Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

Reading again after many years and wondering if there’s any way this book could have been written in 2017 without rioting. Wolfe is merciless to everyone, of course, black or white, rich or poor, connected or unconnected, but man is he merciless. Change.org would have had his head on a pike.

Anyway, the writing is better than I remembered – self-indulgent, but he deserves to be indulged. Reading it is like shamefully, hungrily working your way through an entire platter of eclairs all by yourself. I was blown away at how he allowed the facts of the central event to unfold gradually over the course of hundreds of pages, letting cowards and manipulators tell more truth than the (relatively) innocent. Should be required reading for any number of reasons.

Listening to:

Michael Kiwanuka’s latest album, Love and Hate (2017). Here’s one of the best songs, “Cold Little Heart”

His voice just tears me up. He sounds like a faithful man who’s being tried. The whole album is fantastic, and the producers (including Dangermouse) keep you on your toes.

Tell me what’s getting you through the week!