Review: Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Director Quentin Tarantino excels at suspense, building anticipation that something terrible is about to happen in many of his most memorable scenes. Most of the time in Tarantino’s latest creation, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the situations defuse themselves, but the few times they don’t, chaos ensues.

The movie tells an endearing buddy story—washed-up western TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) stars as the “heavy,” or villain, in all his newer films and yearns for the days when he was young and played the hero of the pictures in which he appeared. His stuntman and best friend, Cliff (Brad Pitt), drives him everywhere he needs to go, a requirement after Rick racked up one too many DUI’s.

Rick also lives in a house next door to actress Sharon Tate and director Roman Polanski–something that becomes important as the film begins to intermix fiction with the real-life events of the Manson murders that occurred around that time. The film’s story seems to wander at first, but actually builds carefully, laying out characters and beats scene-by-simmering-scene while intermixing real-life Hollywood notables such as Steve McQueen and Bruce Lee with Tarantino’s own composites. It’s a film of many layers that is enjoyable on the surface as a dramatic, off-beat, humorous film filled with memorable characters and moments. Yet with a little knowledge of history and the events surrounding the Manson murders, some of the scenes take on more significance and have greater impact.

Of course, this is an alternate history, so we know that Tarantino is putting his own twist on the disturbing historical events. While not a violent movie by any means, the film contains a few violent moments that make the film warrant an R rating (along with profanity, drug use, and some sexual references – at least according to the film’s IMDb page).

What is this film? Is it wish fulfillment? Haven’t we all wanted to go back in time at some point or another, saying, “If had been there when this or that historical event happened, here’s what I would have done.” Perhaps this film is for know-it-alls? Regardless, the result is quite gratifying while also being suspenseful. The suspense is also greater since, due to the composite nature of the movie, we actually don’t know everything that will happen. Tarantino, not history, holds the last card here.

This is a movie for movie buffs as well as buffs of history. It’s well-acted, well written, well designed, well-photographed, and well—just all-around well-done.

Review: Captain Marvel

Due to the shortness of time, I am re-posting my review of the film, Captain Marvel, from our sister site, Flint & Bone’s Comic Reviews, today.

Flint and Bone's Comic Reviews

Drumming up an original introduction to yet another Marvel movie review requires more effort with each review. What original words can be said about this one that have not already been said in some combination regarding the myriad of predecessors? Has the franchise passed its prime? That is the question I concern myself with, probably too often. Is there an original thread to be plucked, or thought to be explored that hasn’t been already?

This is popcorn fare. Designed to bring crowds to the theater, satisfy the faithful comic-book readers as well as those who casually keep up with the films. Glitz, glamour, extensive action set pieces. It’s practically rote for Marvel films at this point.

And speaking of Marvel, Carol Danvers is Captain Marvel. Through a series of flashbacks, Carol’s story is revealed. It’s a sad, happy tale that includes a not-so-ordinary cat named Goose and a younger…

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Review: Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Riding on the waves of good sentiment from the original Lego Movie that surprised me (and most people?) with how awesome it was, Lego Movie 2, five years later, seems late to the party. In the intervening years, Chris Pratt, who voices the main character, Emmet, has gone from being a likeable but relatively unknown actor (Parks and Recreation) to being a cinematic superstar in such films as Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World, Passengers, and more. With the time gap, can the filmmakers recapture the lighthearted wit of the original? The answer is no, but that is okay.

In parallel with real-world time, the sequel begins five years after the events of the first film–in a post-apocalyptic world channeling vibes from Mad Max: Fury Road. This world, as the film quickly establishes, is the fallout caused by the Lego-obsessed boy’s sister (mentioned at the end of the first film) being allowed to play with her brother’s Lego creations. Can the main characters survive in this post-apocalyptic wasteland? To find out, watch the movie. Or read on, to decide if that’s something worth doing.

If Lego Movie surprised us with its freshness, wit, and cultural commentary (provided by such catchy/banal songs as “Everything is Awesome”), the sequel is surprising in some of the new elements it brings to the mix–a musical vibe, and a tone that is thematically darker in places. Lego Movie 2 is not a clone of the original, and this is both a liability and an asset.

It is a liability because some of the characters in this film feel transparent. The original film hides the metaphorical (?) story of the father-son relationship until the last third of the film, giving the Lego characters space to breathe and become real to the audience, before revealing the meta-story. Because the curtain has been pulled back already, however, Lego Movie 2 has a transparency that makes certain characters feel simpler. For instance, you might think, This character is only saying this because that’s what the sister is trying to communicate to her brother. It robs the audience of an emotional connection with some of the characters, because we feel they are marionettes for the larger meta-story.

However, the distinctiveness of Lego Movie 2 is an asset in other ways. It is not the same story as the first film, and that is okay. While not as strong as the first film, it tells a familiar but original story that, instead of recycling the popular parts from film 1, takes a different direction, revealing new dimensions to each of the characters. As a film, it stands on its own legs, which is respectable, even if the legs aren’t quite as swole as the first film’s.

All in all, Lego Movie 2: The Second Part was an amusing, lighthearted way to spend a Saturday evening. Would I recommend most people wait for the subsequent release to Redbox or Netflix to watch it? Probably. But, for those who enjoyed its predecessor, is it worth seeing this installment? Absolutely.

Do not forsake me oh my darling

The battle between William Kane and Frank Miller in the movie High Noon epitomizes what makes good Western films powerful: the struggle between duty and chaos, good and evil, and self-sacrifice and selfishness. Through the movie’s one hour and twenty-five minute runtime, the audience is given a glimpse into the many motivations that lead men to take what doesn’t belong to them, live in apathy, or stand their ground in the face of insurmountable odds. One facet of the movie that sticks with you long after you leave is the main theme which is interwoven throughout:

 

Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
On this, our weddin’ day
Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
Wait, wait along

I do not know what fate awaits me
I only know I must be brave
And I must face a man who hates me
Or lie a coward, a craven coward
Or lie a coward in my grave

Oh, to be torn ‘tweenst love and duty
S’posin’ I lose my fair-haired beauty
Look at that big hand move along
Nearin’ high noon

He made a vow while in state prison
Vowed it would be my life or his’n
I’m not afraid of death but oh
What will I do if you leave me?

Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
You made that promise as a bride
Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
Although you’re grievin’, don’t think of leavin’
Now that I need you by my side

Sporting a solid cast with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, High Noon was, and still is upon recent re-visitation, one of my favorite Western films of all time, and well worth a watch if you enjoy tales from the old west.

 

Lyrics:

Read more: Frankie Laine – High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me) Lyrics | MetroLyrics

 

 

Finding Vivian Maier

I wrote this film response for my photography class this past spring.  My analysis of the documentary Finding Vivian Maier does contain some spoilers, but the true jewel of the movie is the photographs, so I do not think my spoilers will affect your enjoyment of the documentary too much.


Vivian Maier self-portrait pastiche
One of Vivian Maier’s self-portraits (left) and a pastiche I did of it (right) for one of my class assignments.  A pastiche is an imitation of art that pays homage to the original work.

When aspiring author John Maloof uncovers the work of an obscure photographer, his journey of discovery introduces the world to Vivian Maier and inspires the creation of the documentary Finding Vivian Maier.  Both artists and art can be quite controversial, and Vivian Maier and her photographs are no exception.  At the same time, though, this film’s cinematography, storytelling, and the work of Vivian Maier that it presents are often exceptional, intriguing, and even inspiring.

From the first second to the last, Finding Vivian Maier is full of cleverly-crafted shots.  The cinematography has an appealing aesthetic, and I like the way in which the filmmakers link together interview footage of experts and Maier’s acquaintances with Maier’s photographs and personal audio recordings.  Because of the film’s clean but creative cinematography, the storyline is easy to follow and interesting without the need for dramatization or actors.  Additionally, I think the framing of certain shots is appropriate and effective.  For instance, scenes where the film zooms out to show dozens of Maier’s photos laid out in a grid exemplify the photography compositional rule of patterns and repetition, and this is a powerful visual tool for emphasizing how prolific a photographer Maier was.  Finding Vivian Maier also includes examples of compositional rules such as the rule of thirds and the use of unusual perspectives, which are nice touches in a documentary about a photographer and add interest to what might otherwise be boring footage.  Thanks to the documentary’s high quality cinematography, black-and-white photos linked with interview scenes become a seamless story which draws in the audience.

street photography MaierWhile high quality cinematography is valuable, however, the storytelling in Finding Vivian Maier is another essential part of the film.  According to what the documentary reveals, Maier is a controversial person who is lonely, perhaps mentally ill, and can be alternately wonderful or abusive towards the children she nannies.  I appreciate that the movie maintains a relatively unbiased approach to the story.  The film is full of personal accounts from people who have known Maier and the opinions of art experts, and how the filmmakers tell the story presents different sides to Maier’s life, focusing on both her strengths and weaknesses.  In addition, the fact-based storytelling method and the frequent use of interviews to stitch the story together helps promote the film’s credibility.  One aspect of the storytelling that I do not understand is why the storywriters include the uplifting discovery that Maier attempted to have her work published in the middle of the film rather than at the end.  Following this exciting revelation, the documentary highlights Maier’s mysterious life and erratic personality and concludes on a sad note with her lonely death.  This arrangement of events strikes me as an odd storytelling decision, although I do think the story ends strong in the last scene with its audio clip of Maier and a shot of one of her self-portraits being developed.

photo by MaierThe storytelling and cinematography in Finding Vivian Maier help make the documentary interesting, but Maier’s photographs are the most inspiring and intriguing aspects of the film.  Maier’s photographs range from clever to stunning to disturbing.  Just like Maier, the photographs are often full of mystery and contrasting character.  She clearly had an excellent eye for photo composition and natural talents which she honed with constant practice, resulting in the thousands of images Maloof finds in his search.  I think Maier’s persistence and boldness in taking photographs teach the importance of practice and pushing outside one’s comfort zone to achieve success in photography.  No theories can replace hands on experience.  In particular, I like how Maier’s photos are often candid and raw; they show the world as it really is with all its beauty and flaws.  I think it is intriguing that Maier was so bold in her photography because, by all accounts, she was reclusive and sometimes even scared of strangers,

In spite of her secretive life, reclusive personality, and lifelong silence about her work, Vivian Maier now has posthumous recognition thanks to Finding Vivian Maier.  More importantly, though, Maier has found a voice in her photos that will continue to speak for her.  Through the pictures, audiences can meet strangers and gain a new perspective on life and the world around them.  These images communicate everyday experiences, emotions, and scenes and also reflect the creative but eccentric artist who shot them.  Maier’s story is another example of how some of the greatest artists have broken and lonely lives, yet despite—or perhaps because of—this, they are able to capture beauty and share it with the world.


Note: Finding Vivian Maier is currently available on Netflix Instant.

I Watched Jesus Christ Superstar (Sorry, Mom!)

One of the many controversial things my mom, coming of age as she did in the 1970s, experienced somewhat firsthand was the premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s (in)famous rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. I vaguely remember, at some point in my young adulthood, discussing this musical depiction of the last days of Jesus with my mom. Way back in the day, she was a practicing Catholic, and by the time I came around, she was a devout Presbyterian, and so she was able to give me both some idea of the original controversy surrounding the musical’s release as well as the dubious theology inherent to the musical.

So, when I discovered, about an hour before it was due to air, that NBC’s latest contribution to the live TV musical fad was Jesus Christ Superstar, I of course watched it.

First, to start with the good, I have few, if any, technical criticisms. To give an over-obvious compliment, Webber knows how to compose music, and Rice knows how to write lyrics. I’ve still got the tune and rhyme of “Everything’s Alright” stuck in my head 24 hours later. The stage design of this production was impressive, and performance-wise I don’t really have any complaints. This was a star-studded cast, with vocals from John Legend as “Jesus” (quotes quite intentional) and Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene of course magnificent, and shout out to Norm Lewis’ fantastic baritone as Caiaphas. The relatively unknown Brandon Victor Dixon completely stole the show as Judas Iscariot (fun side fact, Dixon apparently recently played another famous villain/arguable anti-hero, portraying Aaron Burr in Hamilton).

In fact, “Damned for All Time/Blood Money,” Judas’ desperate attempt to justify his betrayal of Jesus, was one of the truly stand-out numbers to me. Dixon’s mounting despair as he begs Caiaphas, “I have no thought at all about my own reward/I really didn’t come here of my own accord/Just don’t say I’m/damned for all time” was palpable even through the distance of a TV screen. It was certainly a dramatization – and at odds with the Biblical portrait of Judas as a man who routinely stole and deceived – but, well, it was good theater. Sorry, Mom.

However, this brings me to the not-so-good elements of Jesus Christ Superstar. True to my half-formed impression of its reputation, the musical contains many, many elements that could, charitably, be described as “troubling.” There’s a lot of speculative relationship dynamics between Jesus and his followers, including, mostly famously, the maybe-one-sided-on-her-side but definitely-not-platonic feelings between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, as vocalized in the hit “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” But this, what I saw to be more of an interlude, didn’t really affect my feelings towards the overall plot, so to speak. What very much did was this: Jesus Christ Superstar is distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of a divine Jesus, ethereal light show at the culmination of the crucifixion notwithstanding.

I think the musical was trying to be all ambiguous about what exactly Jesus was, allowing some vaguely supernatural elements, but it really just ended up avoiding its own question: “Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ/Who are you? What have you sacrificed?/Jesus Christ Superstar/Do you think you’re what they say you are?” And this, in turn, is because the musical, at odds with the long-ago angel’s question, is attempting to seek the living among the dead, so to speak. For, in this musical, Jesus dies, and there is no resurrection.

Interestingly, I find that Godspell, another musical depiction of Jesus and his apostles, also debuting on stage in 1971 – apparently this sort of thing was in vogue at the time? – to be, despite its hippy sensibilities, a more overtly religious and thus slightly more accurate adaptation of the gospel story. As Jesus is on the “cross” (it’s very artsy, guys), he cries “Oh God, I’m dying.” To which the chorus echos: “Oh God, you’re dying.” Emphasis mine, for the switch in pronouns is very important here. Of course, afterwards Godspell doesn’t have a resurrection either, instead giving in and just sayin’ that it’s all about love, regardless of why that love exists, and that we should just let the little light of Jesus shine on through us. Although why the light of a dead man should mean anything to us is likewise not really answered – we are once again left to seek life in death, full stop.

But back to Jesus Christ Superstar. There are those who would argue that it’s a great tool for evangelism, and I’m certainly not saying that it could never be used as such. From my cursory scanning of the internet’s reactions, apparently non-believers found the crucifixion depiction to be somewhat affecting. Yet I would imagine that the musical would be better used as just that, a tool, rather than a complete text. For what these non-believers are reacting to is, as Mary herself sings, “just a man,” with Rice and Webber making heavy use of Jesus’ more cryptic answer to the question of his divinity, “That’s who you say I am,” rather than his many absolute statements, e.g.: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

Of course, NBC’s production almost, though I think unintentionally, produced a complete ending. Jesus dies, his apostles reflect (sort of), the musical ended, almost all the cast came out for their bows, and then, with a blaze of light and heraldry, Legend – still dressed as Jesus – emerged from behind stone-looking doors for his solo curtain call. We can argue about any inherent heresy in artistic depictions of God at another date, but I think if it had then been proclaimed: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things,” then, well, maybe

Eh, who am I kidding.  Jesus Christ Superstar would still be a very iffy depiction of the gospel, and, like my mom told me, for very good reasons (this short little blog post actually doesn’t touch half of them). But I might have more unreservedly recommended this latest production as a highly flawed dramatization, rather than how I ended up putting it to Mom yesterday: “I mean, [watch it] if you want to watch it. There were some rockin’ moments, not gonna lie. Technically great, spiritually barren. Alice Cooper was Herod, though.”

Following the Ruby Red Carpet

Once a year, when I was a young lass, I used to routinely ensconce myself in front of the TV to watch the Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars. While the occasional moments of spectacular pageantry would divert me, mostly, I am beginning to suspect, I was only interested because everyone told me I should be. As an adult, my thrift-induced lack of cable means I don’t really have a way to watch the ceremony live, and, if I’m being honest, I’ve enjoyed saving myself five hours and simply reading up on the highlights the next day. Internet has killed the video star.

Of course, one of those next-day highlights I have consistently, genuinely eaten up is the fashion. Some portion of the day after the Oscars is always devoted to scrolling through a photo gallery of famous and not-so-famous actors and actresses, dressed in (what is purportedly) their finest. And then going and looking at another photo gallery, because some of the angles on that last one were a little awkward. And then looking at those sites that have the dresses arranged by color, because I’m always curious if there’s a majority hue. And then looking at a couple of “Best/Worst Dressed” lists, to see if their choices agreed with mine. And then, of course, discussing said lists with similarly interested friends.

I don’t really have a rational reason for this binge. I’ve no occasion for wearing such finery myself; I wore a Star Wars t-shirt I bought from Target to work today. I’m no fashionista; it means nothing to me when I read a person’s shoe is by Louis Vulture or the bag by Christian Door. Really, what can I say? I like beautiful dresses, and I like critiquing beautiful dresses. Thus, without further ado, I present my 2018 Oscars Awards for Fashion, or the 2018 OAFs.

The Oooh, Shiny! Award

Presented to the individual(s) that most call to mind a quote from How I Met Your Mother: “One of the 24 similarities between girls and fish is that they’re both attracted to shiny objects.”

Gal Gadot, for Sparkly Dress with a Fluttery Skirt & Fantastic Necklace; Jennifer Lawrence, for Rockin’ the Retro Look; Gina Rodriguez, for Sparkling Both Inside & Out; Lupita Nyong’o, for Gold Dress, Albeit with a Slit I Wouldn’t Wear

The Color Envy Award

Presented to the individual(s) who best pull off colors that I cannot myself wear without looking like a corpse

Greta Gerwig, for Bright Yellow SPARKLES; Zendaya, for Successfully Pulling Off Ruffles in Brown; Laurie Metcalf, for Beige Shimmery Classic Number.

The Emperor Palpatine Award

Presented to the individual(s) who most resemble Emperor Palpatine’s guards

Maya Rudolph, for Just Add the Helmet & Honestly I Couldn’t Tell the Difference

The “I’d Wear That if I Were an Evil Queen” Award

Presented to the individual(s) who are wearing something I would totally wear as a Dark Empress

Allison Janney, for Rockin’ Those Red Sleeves, Have You SEEN the Way They Drape?

The Actually Made Me Briefly Care About Men’s Fashion Award

Presented to the rare male individual(s) whose red carpet photo actually causes me to pause and look closer, instead of just scrolling past another man in a black tuxedo

Chadwick Boseman, for Hello There. Don’t You Look Fiiiiiiine. Why, Yes, It Is Rather Chilly, I Would Like to Borrow Your Coat. Thank You. Your Coat is Mine Now. Goodbye.

The “That’s Not How I Would Have Rolled, But Props to You” Award

Presented to the individual(s) wearing something rather outlandish, but still pulling it off

Tiffany Haddish, for The Dress is Quite Something, But I Do Actually Really Like Her Headpiece; Emma Stone, for Rocking a Suit and Somehow Not Being Frumpy

The Living Your Best Life Now Award

Presented to the individual(s) who are rocking a dress they clearly love, whatever the merits of the dress itself

Whoopi Goldberg, for That Large Floral Dress, You Go Girl

The Disney Princess Award

Presented to the individual(s) whose outfits most resemble that of a Disney princess

Salma Hayek, for Shimmery Purple Tiers with Diamonds, I Understand Some People Didn’t Like It, but She Just Got Through Saving the Kingdom from Mother Gothel, So Back Off; Emily Blunt, for Wearing a Gown that Somehow Looks More Like the Original Animated Cinderella’s Dress than the 2015 Remake’s Version

The Bed Sheet Award

Presented to the individual whose outfit most resembles a fitted bed sheet

Andra Day, for I’m Pretty Sure I Made that Outfit While Playing Dress Up When I Was 12

Viceroy’s House: A Divided India

Did you know Pakistan has only existed for 70 years, and Bangladesh is only 46 years old?  Why and how these countries came into existence forms a fascinating and often-forgotten part of 20th century history which began with events that the 2017 movie Viceroy’s House brings to light.

Viceroy's House group
Lord Mountbatten and his wife and daughter with Gandhi

British historical drama Viceroy’s House depicts the rule of the last viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, who is appointed to oversee British withdrawal from India and the establishment of an independent Indian nation.  Granting independence is not an easy task, however, for India is divided by race and religion, and its Muslim minority fears oppression under a Hindu majority rule.  Mountbatten attempts to negotiate a satisfactory compromise between three political giants: Jinnah, Gandhi, and Nehru.  Muslim leader Jinnah seeks a separate nation for Muslim Indians.  Gandhi desires a united India, even at the cost of offering Jinnah and the Muslim minority full power in the new Indian government.  Nehru disagrees with both propositions.  As Mountbatten and his family adjust to life in India and struggle to achieve a peaceful conclusion to the crisis which confronts them, conflict breaks out across India, and tensions rise.  In addition to focusing on the main storyline of India’s political problems, the movie highlights the struggles that the people of India face during this time by depicting the lives and relationships of the Indian staff which serves in the viceroy’s house.  At first, some of these side characters seem like filler to introduce extra conflict and romance.  Nevertheless, these characters serve an important purpose, for they reveal how India’s political problems affected individuals and everyday life.

Viceroy's House staff
Lord Mountbatten and his family (in the center) with their staff at the viceroy’s house

While a quick perusal of a history book or encyclopedia page will quickly tell the end of the story, Viceroy’s House does more than just narrate events, for it also provides insightful perspectives into what life may have been like for the viceroy, his family, and all the people of India who were affected by the events leading up to and succeeding India’s Independence Day.  The movie thoughtfully touches on the divisions that religion and race wrought in India as Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs saw each other not as united Indians, but as divided races.

Although the film undoubtedly takes liberties with the true story, the fact that the filmmakers consulted Lord Mountbatten’s daughter Pamela and that the director’s grandmother lived through the tragedies following India’s independence lends the film credibility and a sense of personal connection which sets it apart from many historical dramas.  Viceroy’s House vividly brings to life an incredible story with gorgeous details in costumes, sets, music, and cinematography.  More importantly, though, the movie treats its subject seriously and sensitively, as this chapter of history deserves.

 

2017 Movie Trailers in Review

Instead of a movie review, today I’m going to review movie trailers! What makes a good movie trailer? Let’s figure that out.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

This trailer receives an A for music and sound. It’s an unconventional trailer in that it teases the plot of the film but also raises a lot of questions–why is it time for the Jedi to end, for instance? Those questions are what will drive audiences to the theater come December. This trailer strikes the perfect balance of being fun to watch, informative, and intriguing. 5/5

The Dark Tower

This trailer for the screen adaption of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series makes the movie look like it will be compelling. Primarily expository, this trailer spends a lot of time setting up the plot and characters of the film for viewers. This seems appropriate given that the series will be unfamiliar to many (unlike with Star Wars). The trailer also mentions Stephen King, which might give audiences a sense that the story will be interesting. However, I believe the trailer lacked a sense of mystery. After watching the trailer, I don’t really have any burning questions I want to go to the theater to have answered. That said, the concept and actors may be enough to sell the film. 3/5

Spiderman: Homecoming

This trailer has three main goals: introduce the new Spiderman, introduce the villain, and promise viewers a fun adventure. It accomplished those goals for the most part, leaving me with a strong sense that I know what the movie will be like. Is it as intriguing as The Last Jedi trailer? I don’t think so, but that’s forgivable.

That said, the music and sound were good, and the trailer includes a tag after the title reveal at the end of the trailer with a humorous sound byte, presumably designed to generate a laugh from the audience right before the screen goes black and the next trailer begins in a theater: it’s a clever technique used by a lot of trailers. 4.5/5

The Mummy

This trailer hits a lot of good notes–it’s informative, intriguing, and even has a well-chosen song by the Rolling Stones playing ominously in the background. The Mummy franchise is a bit old, but studios are hoping that Tom Cruise will be able to reinvigorate it. A question I have after watching the trailer: why is the Mummy so interested in Tom Cruise’s character? This trailer strikes a great balance of showing what the movie is about yet also not revealing too much. 5/5

Wonder Woman

This trailer is fairly expository, which is fitting given that the creators are trying to sell the concept to an audience that needs to be won over: what about this film should make us want to see it? Well, World War I, for one thing. The trailer seems to set the film up as a prequel narrated by Diana about her involvement in World War I. This trailer promises everything–explosions, drama, romance, suspense, and humor. Notice that this trailer, like the one for Spiderman: Homecoming, puts a 15 second clip after the title reveal at the end of the trailer to generate a laugh from the audience. It’s a recurring technique.

I also really enjoy the music and sound of the trailer; the only thing that could have been stronger is a sense of mystery, perhaps around the villain. 4.5/5

Blade Runner 2049

I evaluated this trailer from the perspective of someone familiar with the general plot of the original Bladerunner, but who hasn’t seen it. This trailer weighted itself very heavily on the side of mystery. Very little (anything?) is revealed about the plot of the film. In fact, what is shown in the trailer could very well be simply the first few minutes of the film. After that, anything could happen!

Instead of taking a summary approach, this trailer focuses instead on identifying the people behind the film (executive producer Ridley Scott and director Denis Villeneuve) and the two main actors–Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. Perhaps the PR team behind this trailer is banking on Bladerunner fans and the prestige of the creators and actors to draw audiences to the theater. It may work, but speaking as someone who is unfamiliar with the Bladerunner story, I think the trailer should have revealed more about the film. 4/5

Conclusion

In addition to introducing the story and characters and providing a tease, some trailers artfully mislead audiences, making the films more of a surprise, as in this trailer for La La Land (Without spoiling, there’s a scene in the trailer that is different than in the film). This would be a fun technique to evaluate, but can’t be done until the above films hit theaters.

Until then, happy trailer-watching!

Beauties, Beasts, & Boycotts

The past two weeks have seen a spike in controversy surrounding the upcoming live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, both from Christians at home and Russians abroad. The controversy relates to the director stating in an interview that the film will have a gay character and a “nice, exclusively gay moment” towards the end of the film.

Since this statement, Franklin Graham and many others in the evangelical community have called for a boycott of Disney for pushing an LGBT agenda, and at least one theater has announced it will not be showing the film.

Over in Russia, the film has been given a 16+ rating. The Russian Culture Ministry gave the film this rating after Russian MP Vitaly Milonov petitioned them, writing in a letter to the ministry, “In this case, society cannot be silent about what film distributors are offering under the guise of a children’s tale…The obvious, blatant, shameless propaganda of sin, of perverted sexual relations.”

One left-leaning pastor named John Pavlovitz called the reaction in the Christian community “unprovoked jerkery,” and many news outlets are quick to point out the perceived hypocrisy of people who enjoy the central plot of romance between a girl and a beast but object to a homosexual subplot.

I don’t think it is entirely fair to term, as Pastor John Pavlovitz did, the call for a boycott as “unprovoked jerkery,” After all, the boycotters weren’t the ones who took the film and made it political–the filmmakers did that. So we can debate whether it’s “jerkery” to boycott the film, but it was hardly unprovoked.

But with all this controversy swirling in the air, I thought I would take a stab at some of the arguments from Christians on both sides of the issue and seek to find a viewpoint that communicates love to our homosexual neighbors, integrity and consistency in our living, and commitment to the truth of the gospel.

Why Christians Should Boycott

“If I can’t sit through a movie with God or Jesus sitting by me then we have no business showing it,” – statement from the drive-in theater in Alabama when announcing they would not be showing Beauty and the Beast.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things – Philippians 4:8

  1. Watching the film would be an implicit show of support to an opposing worldview. In some ways, censoring culture might be compared to “baking the cake.” Some Christian bakers may not have a problem baking a cake for a homosexual wedding, but others may feel that baking the cake is an implicit show of support for beliefs that run counter to their own, as much as they may love and care about their homosexual friends. In the same way, going to watch a film after the creators deliberately state it is advancing an LGBT agenda may seem to be a violation of conscience to some.
  2. Consider portrayal. Some might say, “Well, we watch other movies with depictions of characters transgressing God’s law all the time, so isn’t it hypocritical to treat this film differently?” While I do agree that sometimes Christians put homosexuality on its own pedestal as if it’s some sort of super-sin compared to others, I do think it’s important to consider portrayal–are these issues portrayed in a positive or negative light? One other difference here is that we know in advance what the movie’s perspective is.
  3. Consider the weaker brother. Paul says with reference to food offered to idols:

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. – 1 Corinthians 8:9-11

There’s definitely a discernment aspect to the culture we take in, and we need to ask the question: even if I can be edified by what I am doing (or at least not harmed, although that begs another question: if the best we can hope for is to not be harmed, should we really be doing that thing?), what about the people who are looking at my life? If I listen to a song that in its lyrics objectifies women but mostly just enjoy the beat and the sound (as I sometimes do), I’m enjoying the music and not being consciously influenced by the negative message, but what about a brother or sister who comes along and hears me listening to the song and is harmed by the song’s worldview?

Here’s another passage to chew on:

If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?” – 1 Cor. 10:27-30

Why Christians Shouldn’t Boycott

  1. It will probably be a fun, entertaining movie. This point is a bit of a non-sequitor but something I can’t help but bring up as a lover of the cinema.
  2. Wasn’t LeFou always gay? Since the announcement and ensuing controversy, the director noted that his statement has been exaggerated and that subplot is really just that–a minor, subtle subplot in the larger story. Why let a political kerfuffle stop me from going to see a movie I’ve been waiting for for a while?
  3. It’s inevitable in culture to get some bad with the good. As Christians, we need to have discernment. This might be a good opportunity to have a discussion (with children, friends, family, etc.) about worldview and God’s design for sexuality.
  4. What message does a boycott send? For the discerning Christian, this film won’t be harmful, and it’s important to cultivate an attitude of love towards the gay community, even if we believe their lifestyle runs counter to Scripture. What message are they hearing if we deliberately boycott this film for the explicit reason that it contains a depiction of a gay character?
  5. Wouldn’t this be (for many) a double standard? Following on the previous point, many Christians watch movies that have positive portayals of sin in them all the time–adultery, theft (*cough* Logan *cough*), rebellion against parents, and more. What makes this movie so special that it deserves to be boycotted? There’s a double standard here, and I believe that we’d consume a lot less media if we limited ourselves to only that which exclusively conveyed a Christian worldview.

So which side do I come down on? I’m still deciding, but I lean towards the latter viewpoint. Thinking through the different arguments has made me conscious of the fact that I don’t think as often as I should about the effect watching certain movies or shows may be having on me, and that they might indeed be harmful.

The Answer

 

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. – Mark 12:28-31

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. – John 14:15

Jesus commanded his followers to love him above all else, and if they do love them, they are to keep his commandments. We are also commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. Even our gay neighbors. There might be a tension for some between these two statements–showing our love for God through obedience him (even if that means using our voices in the public square to decry positive displays of what we consider wrong), and showing love to our neighbors.

In the Phil Vischer Podcast last year, the hosts talked about the idea of “proxy wars.” In the Cold War, the US and the USSR didn’t fight one another directly (MAD and all that); instead, they fought a series of “proxy wars,” conflicts in Asia and the Middle East where each superpower would arm opposing sides in smaller conflicts. They were miniaturized conflicts that represented an underlying larger conflict between America and the Soviet Union. In a similar way, some of these current controversies–transgender bathrooms, cake-baking, and now Beauty and the Beast, are proxy wars between competing worldviews. The deception, of course, is thinking that winning an individual conflict (or even several) will solve culture’s problems. Truthfully, only when a people is convicted of sin by the power of the Holy Spirit and brought into relationship with God can there be an end to this conflict.

In the meantime, faithful Christians must use discernment as they seek to love and obey God above all else, love their neighbors as themselves, and speak the timeless truths of Scripture to society.