‘Breakthrough’ Review

As a person of faith but not a traditional Christian the faith-based film market can be an interesting experience for me. In some ways I connect with the films but in other ways I don’t. Pureflix films in particular seem to always make films that are high on the preaching and low on the nuanced character development. However, there are some exceptions to the rule like All Saints, Freetown, and I Can Only Imagine. These films tell a story of individuals with faith that are flawed and struggle in ways we can relate with. This makes their conversion or deeper commitment to God understandable and inspiring. The new film Breakthrough can be added to the list of faith-based films that get the balance of message with a good moving story right. It’s one of the good ones!

BREAKTHROUGH

Breakthrough tells the true story of Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz) who’s son John gets caught in ice water for 45 minutes. Everything from his rescue to his Mom praying for his pulse to start again, to his near-perfect recovery seems to be a miracle. Whether it is or not is up for you and your faith to decide but the characters in the story certainly believe it is to varying degrees.

The reason why Breakthrough works is because the screenplay isn’t afraid to make their faithful characters, chief of all Joyce, flawed characters. She’s rude, bossy and the script calls her out on it. She learns and grows as a person. This makes the movie interesting if you believe in the miracle or not. Her husband Brian (Josh Lucas) struggles with his faith and doesn’t even want to enter the room with his ailing son. The screenplay allows him to feel this way without judgement. In fact, the person in the film judged the most harshly is probably the most faithful, Joyce. That’s unusual for these films and I admire that.

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There is also a very strong supporting cast in Breakthrough. Topher Grace is terrific as Joyce’s modern but sweet pastor. Mike Colter is quietly effective as the firefighter who saves John. And Dennis Haysbert is convincing as the doctor who oversees John’s care and can’t believe what he is witnessing. I also enjoyed seeing a bunch of Hallmark actors including Lisa Durupt (who I am interviewing this week!), Rebecca Staab, Victor Zinck Jr, and Ali Skovby.

The downsides to Breakthrough is there are a few cringe-worthy moments and those without faith might find it a little slow. Also there is an addendum where John returns to school that felt completely false (the local bully taunts him ‘hey miracle boy’, which made my eyes roll). It was not necessary and they should have just ended it with him leaving the hospital healthy or perhaps the scene of gratitude at the church.

Also they perhaps went too far at the beginning making John an annoying teen who is belligerent and bitter for no good reasons. I leaned over to my friend and said ”I can’t wait for him to get frozen”. I know teens are irritating but a little of that goes a long way. In order for us to want him to be saved he needs to be easier to root for. Luckily the movie is more about Joyce and with Chrissy Metz’s good performance she’s easy to empathize with.

In the end, if you are someone who enjoys faith-based films you should definitely see Breakthrough. If you are touch and go with them than this is one of the good ones. If you hate them than it probably won’t win you over but my friend Larry isn’t religious and he admired it more than anticipated. Give it a shot!

7.5 out of 10

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Missing Link Review

Everyone who reads this blog knows animation is my first love. I adore the medium in all its formats- 2D, CGI, anime, stop motion, motion capture, whatever. I particularly love stop motion with its attention to detail and unique world-building. Aside from a rare Wes Anderson or Tim Burton project, most stop motion over the last 10 years has come from either Aardman or Laika studios.

I love both of these studios and admire so much the work these talented artists are doing. That said, I do not always love the movies the studios produce. Last year I found Early Man, with its soccer themes, to be underwhelming from Aardman and this year I found Laika’s latest Missing Link to be a disappointment.

Missing Link tells the story of adventurer Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) who finds a sasquatch named Susan (Zach Galifianakis) and agrees to take the friendly beast to meet his family of yetis in Siberia. Along the way they meet Adelina (Zoe Saldana) who has a rocky past with Frost. It’s then mostly a road trip movie with these 3 on a series of adventures across the globe.

Let’s start with the positives. The animation in Missing Link is outstanding. They use a lot of CGI for a stop motion film but the amount of world building and action set pieces they designed is second to none. I can’t even fathom the amount of time spent on one short sequence in India or getting the action right in an old Western bar brawl scene. That would be incredibly difficult and I admire the animators for their great skill.

I also thought the sound design was really good. As they go exploring everything feels tactile and real, which helps immerse you in the experience. I particularly liked scenes on an ice bridge where the sound of the ice crackling and characters sliding upon it felt just right.

I think kids will have fun with the adventure aspect of the film. The kids around me seemed moderately engaged. I doubt it will be a favorite but it has fun moments and the message of self-confidence and friendship is lovely so you could do worse than taking your kids to see it.

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And now let’s talk about some of the issues I had with Missing Link…The biggest problem I had (and I had felt this in the trailers but was hoping the movie would win me over) is the strange character designs. I guess I can understand designing a sasquatch any way they want but the bright red pig-like nose was so off-putting. But even stranger is designing adventurer Frost with a bright red triangle nose. It looks like he is in a perpetual state of having just sneezed, and I don’t get it. He’s supposed to be human. Why would you design his nose like that?

While I think Jackman is fine as Frost, I also didn’t love the voice casting. I especially didn’t like Zach Galifianakis as Susan. It didn’t fit for me, and I felt it missed out on huge comic potential. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the big beast with a big booming voice was actually really sweet and named Susan? Occasionally they’d have him roar and that was funny. The juxtaposition was humorous and could have been much more so if they had gotten someone like Brad Garrett with a lower voice.

Speaking of comedy, that’s my other major problem with Missing Link. I maybe chuckled twice in the film. The humor is a weird mixture of the adult and juvenile variety and it almost all lands flat. It felt kind of like Laika trying to do Aardman and failing. In particular, a whole sequence with the Emma Thompson yetti was long, drawn out and kind of dull. There’s lots of humor that revolves around fighting hijinks. Fighting at a bar, fighting on a train, fighting in the jungle, fighting at the yetis and while the animation in these sequences is impressive they didn’t make me laugh. Is this stuff kids think is funny? It felt very weird to me. Do kids like bar-room brawls and petty fighting between British elites? (I think the film is going to be a very tough sell. I don’t see it appealing to many families and kids unless they happen to like Westerns).

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I feel bad for being so harsh on a Laika film because I really value what the studio is doing. However,  I have to be honest with my response to a film like Missing Link. It just didn’t do it for me despite the incredible animation. My friend Jen had the same reaction but then my friend Larry loved it so it will be interesting to see what others think.

If you get a chance to see Missing Link let me know what you think. Do the character designs turn you off in the trailer or are you excited for the adventure?

Final Score 4 out of 10

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Animator Tomm Moore Interview

Hey friends! This has been a very long couple of weeks for me. There have been highs and lows but one of the highs was a very special interview I was able to do with animator Tomm Moore.

If you are unfamiliar with Moore he is one of the founders of Cartoon Saloon over in Ireland, and he is my favorite living animator. Especially his film Song of the Sea is one of my favorite animated films of all time. I love the animation, music, story but mostly how it deals with themes of loss and grief in such emotionally true ways. When I first saw it I balled my eyes out in the theater. In fact, it was the first time I ever cried on youtube talking about it on my channel.

To my delight Tomm remembered my little video and once we followed each other on twitter I asked and he agreed to come on my podcast. Before the interview we did an episode of Obscure/Indie animation covering both of this films.

I loved talking with Stanford about these films (Secret of the Kells, Song of the Sea) and I loved interviewing Tomm. It’s moments like these all the hard work pays off by letting me do something truly special.

I hope you all enjoy the podcast and interview. Let me know what you think. Thanks!

The Experience of Being Hated (‘Shazam’, ‘Dumbo’ and More)

Hey guys! As many of you know who follow my channel or other social media, I’ve had quite the last week! It’s ironic because at the beginning of March I wrote a piece on my other blog chronicling my life experience becoming a film critic. It had always been a dream of mine and it seemed as if I had achieved that dream through lots of hard work and dedication. However, little did I know the final baptism into the church of criticism hadn’t occurred yet. And when it did occur, boy did I need to say my prayers and hold on for dear life…(It’s also ironic I had just days before written a post about how much Wonder Woman meant to me)

Last Saturday I went with my brother to the early release of the new DC Superhero movie Shazam. They have been a hit (Wonder Woman) or miss (Suicide Squad) studio for me but I was pretty excited for Shazam. The trailers had been charming and I love Zachary Levi (Flynn Rider! Plus he spoke at SLC FanX last year and was delightful). The movie has charming elements and many people seem to be enjoying it, critics included, which is fantastic.

Unfortunately I did not enjoy it despite it having some fun moments. I felt the movie didn’t do a good job controlling its tone making the experience kind of jarring. One minute it would be very silly and the next very violent. Neither is a problem but a film to be a success has to move from one scene effortlessly or it is problematic. Since seeing it I’ve wondered if this style just isn’t my taste as I hated Once Upon a Deadpool, which tries similar shifts in tone.

Regardless, tone is important, and I didn’t feel like Shazam did a good job with it, so I gave it a rotten score on rottentomatoes.com. Unfortunately, my review was one of only 3 rotten scores, and the only female critic, bringing its score down from a 95 to a 93. Some fans saw this and listened to my review and responded in a constructive negative fashion and others let’s just say did not…

(forgive some language I don’t normally use on my blog in this next section)

At first this seemed like a fairly routine unpopular opinion post but because of the rottentomatoes element things escalated. I learned quickly the good advice in Ralph Breaks the Internet of NEVER READ THE COMMENTS! I was still working on small channel mode with lots of comment interaction, and I’ve learned with rottentomatoes I need to upgrade to big channel mode even if my numbers dont necessarily justify that.

Later Saturday night things began to escalate when certain youtube channels began telling their listeners to pounce on me. Same thing with certain twitter feeds. I have been writing content for over 10 years and thought I had very thick skin before this experience, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for being 1 out of 3 rotten reviews on a franchise film like this. That night I got my first death threat which was a recording (found out later it was an old recording forwarded to me). It said they were going to ‘find out where I lived and beat the f*** out of me’. I reported all accounts involved to twitter and had my friends do the same (as well as calling the police).

Then my brother came over and tried to help me calm down. He took my phone away from me for a few hours, we watched a Hallmark movie and I finally was able to get some sleep after going 48 hours without any. I thought things were fine, and I’d faced the worst of it (the movie hasn’t even come out yet so I’m expecting a new onslaught when it does). Unfortunately that was just the warm-up.

The next day I saw Disney’s new adaptation of Dumbo. I walked into the theater almost hoping I’d hate it because that might prove to all these guys that I am objective. Sadly (or happily!) I enjoyed it and despite some problems thought it was sweet). But when I came back into my car I saw a group called F*** Marveltards had shared my post asking their readers to attack me so that I would never be able to review another DC movie on rottentomatoes (these groups are such scum):

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Not surprisingly about 15 minutes later I received this message to my Rachel’s Reviews messenger:

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Obviously I was very upset by this message. Even though I figured it was mostly bark with no bite it was still scary. I called the police again and reported it to facebook (who were very unhelpful btw). My friend critic Alonso Duralde told me the female critics often receive the most toxic of all the toxic fandoms as they are viewed as invading their masculine space (need I remind you of the comment on women participating in nerd behaviors I got over the Ghostbusters remake…)

Some told me to just block and ignore this behavior as it is ‘part of the cost of being a woman on social media’ but that didn’t feel right to me. Plus, I didn’t want to be seen as some kind of weak, whimpering woman. So I posted the remark on twitter and said “if anyone is excusing this behavior STOP” This brought a wave of support from all over the twittersphere and beyond I am truly grateful for. Every single tweet/message/comment of encouragement I have received was read and meant a great deal.

I am also grateful for the folks on youtube (got a death threat there as well but we think it might be from the same guy) who became my warriors in the comments section, doing my dirty work for me at a very difficult time. It also meant a lot to me that rottentomatoes was completely supportive during the entire experience. The people tried to cherry pick tweets out of context from years ago claiming I was racist, homophobic or sexist. They were trying to make rottentomatoes change their mind and be rid of me as a critic. Far from it, they could not have been more supportive (I’m also thankful to all of my gay friends who didn’t pay any attention to that smear campaign).

The men who run the screenings here in Utah have also been wonderful. They have agreed to make sure I have a +1 at all screenings or they will provide an escort to my car if that isn’t possible. One has even been on the phone with Warner Bros explaining the situation that me and other critics go through. I am hopeful I can use this experience to speak out against cyberbullying and help champion my fellow critics to be strong in these type of horrible experiences.

Facebook I can’t give such a strong endorsement. To begin with their reporting system was flawed because the name listed on the message was not the name listed on the account. I couldn’t see the actual account so when I went to report it the form didn’t work because I didn’t know the name. Once I found the name they tried to claim there was no direct threat of personal harm. I’m thinking, he threatened to gun me down at my next screening. How is that not a direct threat?’ Then once I had chewed their ear out about that they said that messenger is only for chatting with close friends and family. This really ticked me off because it was to my Rachel’s Reviews messenger not my personal messenger!

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Anyway, facebook was pretty worthless but they did give him a talking too and that inspired this ‘apology’ from this person. Of course, I didn’t respond to any of his messages but he seems to forget that forgiveness does not prevent consequences from occurring. I just wish facebook would do something against groups that inspired him to act so foolishly.

Some might be quick to brush off such behavior as ‘signs of the times’ or whatever but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I shared with the world what I was experiencing. It not only gave me an opportunity to be built up by so many wonderful humans but it also hopefully will lead to a discussion about the way we treat people who feel differently than we do. Is our first response to lash out and hide behind the anonymity of computer screens to say horrible things? Or do we try to listen to what others are saying to see their point of view? Even if we disagree strongly, death threats and violence are never the answer!

Coming out of this experience I feel stronger than ever and ready to keep pursuing my dream. I am sure this won’t be the first death threat I will get but if it isn’t I’m prepared. I’m safe and have implemented steps to keep me safe in the future. I’ve learned what kind of engagement is helpful for this level of my career, and I’ve seen that the vast majority of souls support and love me.

To moving forward and speaking out against cyberbullying and its attempt to stop us from sharing our viewpoint with the world!

I talk about the experience here in my Dumbo review:

‘Us’ Review

Anyone who follows my reviews knows I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to horror movies. I get scared very easily and I particularly hate anything that has exorcisms or involves the rape/murder of women. However, in the last few years I have been trying to expand my pallet so that I am a well-rounded critic. For the most part this has been a great experience and one of the highlights of this journey is Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out. It’s a movie I liked well enough to start but it stayed with me and I kept thinking about new layers beyond the fun scares. In the end, it ended up being one of my favorite movies of 2017.

Naturally I was pretty hyped for Pelle’s follow up film Us (especially after a fantastic trailer!).

So with all that hype what did I think of Us? Well for the most part I really enjoyed it. I also think, like Get Out, the problems I have could become less important upon multiple viewings so take this review with a bit of a grain of salt.

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Let’s start with the positives. Us is centered around a family of 4 that goes to the beach for a summer holiday.  Unfortunately their family fun is interrupted by a zombie-like doppelganger family just like them attacks their home. This makes it both a home invasion and zombie horror movie and there are a lot of chilling moments. I was definitely very scared by Us and that’s a fun experience when done well.

I also thought the entire cast did an amazing job playing both normal and zombie versions of their characters. Lupita Nyong’o is especially strong pulling off so many notes in her 2 characters. But everyone was good including all the child performances.

Us also uses music (Michael Abels) very well with a wonderful haunting score and carefully selected soundtrack tunes.

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What didn’t work as well for me in Us is the final act where we get a lot of the allegory explained to us but I honestly still didn’t quite get what Peele was trying to say. Perhaps he meant it to be a little ambiguous or maybe I’m just dumb but it didn’t quite make sense. Subsequent viewings may elaborate this for me but for now I don’t really get it.

Also, my audience kept laughing and for the most part I didn’t really understand why? I was scared but never laughed  so who knows? The humor in Get Out wasn’t my favorite so perhaps it’s just my sense of humor doesn’t jive with this style? Who knows?

But overall, Us is a good time at the theaters. It’s scary with great performances and engaging kills/action. It definitely earns its R rating with strong language and violence but if you can stomach that then check it out.

 

7.5/10

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Current Mini Reviews

Hey friends! Just wanted to update you real quick on my thoughts on some recent films at the cinema. Some I have done full posts for and others I have reviewed on my youtube channel, so definitely subscribe to the channel to stay fully up to date. Let’s start with the newest release and go back:

WONDER PARK

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If you have been following this blog for any time you know I like finding animated films to root for and tell everyone about. Last year it was Sgt Stubby: An American Hero. The year before it was Son of Bigfoot. People are too quick to shrug off this level of independent cgi animated film and I think it’s a shame.

Well, I was hoping Wonder Park would be such a film but unfortunately I walked away from it with very mixed feelings. What it does right it does really right. I really liked the lead girl June as a child protagonist. She’s flawed and allowed to be angry/bratty/sad. She reminded me of Lilo in Lilo and Stitch in a lot of ways. The script is pretty subtle in ‘teaching’ her things and it had nice heart. The problem is I hated the animation. It felt like it was made for 3D but in 2D with faces constantly coming towards the screen and trying to pop out at me. Also the screenshot selection was weird and I constantly wanted to tell the director to step back so I could see the complete face and body. It was very hard to get invested in a film where I hated almost every choice they made animation-wise.

I’m not going to say don’t see it because it clearly had a lot of effort put into it but I can’t really recommend it either. It’s a bummer and I’m sad.

4/10 grade

Frown Worthy

FIVE FEET APART

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My friend Larry from LCScreenTalk mentioned in his review that 5 Feet Apart is the latest in this very strange trend of teenagers get chronic/terminal illness that keeps them apart and usually the romance ends in tragedy. Most of these are not for me (I’m one of few who didn’t like The Fault in Our Stars and I hated Me Before You). I asked my niece why her generation liked these films so much and she said she didn’t know and personally didn’t like them so it’s anybody’s guess!

Anyway, I’d say 5 Feet Apart is one of the better ones in this sick kids in love genre. It’s not perfect but I thought it had some solid acting from Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse with a nice chemistry between them. I also liked that the illness was portrayed pretty realistically. They look disheveled and you see the scars on their bodies from ports and procedures. It definitely made me tear up on more than one occasion.

Where it falters is in some big dramatic gestures that are put together very quickly and stuff the hospital would never allow including a slightly bizarre ending trip to see the stars that ends up with the sick girl in ice cold water. It was all a little much but overall I still enjoyed it. If it sounds like your thing you’ll probably like it!

I also liked this trailer reaction done by a patient with CF and he points out the many things the production is doing right.

6/10 Grade

Smile Worthy

FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY

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I have zero interest in the WWE or wrestling of any kind, so on the surface Fighting with My Family should be a skip from me. However, I do love underdog sports movies and it doesn’t really matter what sport it is. Whether chess, swimming or ice hockey I love rooting for our scrappy players and then seeing them succeed. Fighting with My Family provides that in spades and ends up being a really sweet pleasant surprise.

Fighting with My Family is set in England and tells the story of professional wrestler Paige Knight. The Rock is heavily featured in the advertising but he is basically a cameo. The story is about Paige and her family who are all obsessed with wrestling and run a gym to train young kids in England. Paige gets a chance to train to be a star and faces all kinds of challenges but her victory is also the cause to cheer of her entire family, which was great to see. The cast is all very strong including Florence Pugh as Paige.

If you have a family or ever dreamed big this is a good movie to check out.

8/10

Smile Worthy

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U

I already reviewed Happy Death Day 2U on my channel but I will summarize my thoughts for all of you. I was skeptical about this film from the trailers. Although I enjoyed the first one the idea of going back to the same time loop seemed like a mistake. However, they managed to pull it off. It was creative. It was funny. Jessica Rothe did a great job in the lead and there was some surprising heart to the film where she must decide what to do about a dear one who comes back into her life in the loop. I was surprised to see this got a divisive reaction because I think if you liked the original you will enjoy this. I certainly did!

7/10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it. Only a few this week but check out my full length reviews on other posts and let me know what you thought of these movies. Thanks!

 

 

 

 

Why I Love Wonder Woman

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With the release of Captain Marvel the inevitable comparisons to Wonder Woman are being made (even by myself). Some people like Captain Marvel better. Some people like Wonder Woman better. Some people don’t like either movie. That’s all fine and dandy but even with people who prefer Wonder Woman, I feel they never quite capture why the movie is so special to me. Patty Jenkins crafted a film I have a deep spiritual connection with and every time I watch it I ugly cry. It’s not just a superhero film but a movie that explains God’s love for all of us mortals, and I love it for that.

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In the beginning of Wonder Woman we get an introduction to the Gods of the DC Universe and the origin story for the Amazonian women of Themyscira. In this world Ares becomes jealous of humans because of their love for the other Gods and the choices they get to make. In his rage he fights all the other Gods and defeats all but Zeus. As his last act Zeus creates a weapon that can defeat Ares called the Godkiller. This weapon is Diana or Wonder Woman.

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Much like Mary protected Jesus as a child, Hippolyta tries to protect Diana from her role. Antiope, Diana’s aunt, takes the opposite view and feels her fight with Ares is inevitable and she must be ready.  Eventually Hippolyta relents and Diana’s training begins. When Steve Trevor arrives we see that Hippolyta’s worries for her daughter do not stop with her fighting Ares (like Antiope feels).  Hippolyta knows evil does not end with Ares and that her daughter’s pure heart is going to be broken by man. She even says so as she tearfully says goodbye to her daughter. Innocence will be gone to the horrors of war and that is a tragedy. 

In my religion we believe there was a war in heaven that is similar to this dynamic. Satan wanted to control mankind and Jesus wanted to give them choices and be a Savior for them. God chose the side of agency and a third of His children rebelled and sided with Satan or Lucifer. In many ways, Ares can be compared to Satan and he has a similar power to tempt and try the people on earth. However, just as we see in Wonder Woman, the humans still are accountable for their choices. Satan/Ares may tempt but it is in the end our choice to be unkind and hurt our fellow humans.

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Throughout the first 2 acts of Wonder Woman we see the purity of Diana. Her joy at seeing a baby. Her love for those she comes in contact with and her righteous anger at generals who speak casually of human life. This is the behavior of a God of hope and love. Even her dramatic scene where she fights at No-Man’s Land is an innocent act that everyone is telling her is crazy. She thinks in black and white and where there is pain, and she can do something, she goes and fights for what is right.

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This works so well partly because of Gal Gadot’s luminous and warm performance in the role. She is a former soldier so she can pull off the kick-butt action, but I grew attached to her in the quiet moments where she dances with Steve or sings with Charlie. She captures for me all that is good and kind, which is a huge contrast to the horrors of World War 1- quite possibly the most gruesome war ever fought. wonder woman4

So then we get to the much maligned 3rd act. I get the CGI could be better but to me that is like listening to a stunning sermon and complaining that the pews aren’t attractive. I feel like it is missing the whole point. Diana finally finds Ares, and she 100% believes killing him will end the war. However, Ares tells her that he is not responsible for such evils. He has given temptations and subtly given inspiration but it is humans who fall prey to hate and bigotry all on their own.

As the Godkiller she still fights Ares while Steve sacrifices himself to destroy the weapons. At the same time Diana is learning that mankind is both weak and strong. That we can cause all of this suffering (of again the most gruesome war ever) and yet we can sacrifice everything for each other. That is mostly devastating but there is a ray of hope.

In my faith, there is a story where Enoch has a vision in which he see’s God crying. He asks God “How is it that the heavens weep and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?” and God responds “Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge; and in the Garden of Eden, I gave unto man his agency. And unto thy brethren have I said…that they should love one another…but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood…Wherefore, should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?” (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 7: 31-37)

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I can hear some of you saying ‘whoa Rachel. It’s just a stupid comic book movie.’ Not to me it’s not. Wonder Woman chooses to love and serve humans despite seeing their hatred and the horrors of war because she also saw their goodness in Steve. So much hate can be undone by the love of a couple and the selfless sacrifice of individuals. I think that’s a beautiful thing. It’s as close to capturing why God loves us as I’ve ever seen in a film and even just typing about it I get emotional. It may not have that meaning for anyone else, but I don’t really care. It’s very powerful to me and the more I think about it the more I love it. It’s a movie that transcends genres and is something I treasure.

I’m honestly kind of nervous about the sequel because this original is so special for me. I’m particularly nervous about Steve being in the movie because his sacrifice is what makes the original movie work.

Normally I don’t recite scripture and such on this blog, so I hope you don’t mind it in this one case. I just really wanted to explain why Wonder Woman continues to have such power in my life and be such a favorite. If you understand what I’m trying to say I would love to hear your insight. Or perhaps share a movie that has moved you spiritually.  Perhaps it’s something others don’t pick up on? I would love to hear your thoughts! Thanks for indulging me and hooray for great movies! (And hey if you’d like more posts like this let me know!)

 

Blind Spot 39: The Usual Suspects

When I picked The Usual Suspects for the Blind Spot series I did so hesitantly. Obviously the scandals with director Bryan Singer and actor Kevin Spacey make it somewhat of a controversial choice. Well, as someone who tries to always separate the art from the artist I thought it would be a good test case and since I knew it was available for free on Cinemax this month I wouldn’t be giving them any extra money to purchase/rent it. All that said, what did I think of this classic neo-noir mystery film? Unfortunately I walked away feeling very underwhelmed by most aspects of it. The Usual Suspects proved to be an overwrought, cluttered and dull film.

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The story begins with a criminal named Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) meeting his maker by the hands of a mastermind named “Keyser Soze”. This ultimate criminal has killed 27 people, including Keaton and the police are trying to put the pieces together and figure out who he could be and what his motivations are.

Then the narrative goes back 6 weeks, and we meet 5 suspects arrested in a police lineup (Byrne, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio del Toro, Kevin Pollak and Kevin Spacey). Spacey plays a man nicknamed “Verbal” who has cerebral palsy and walks with a limp. The detective, Kujan, doing the interrogating, is played by Chazz Palminteri.

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The setup for The Usual Suspects is fine for a mystery. You have a crime committed, several suspects and an officer looking into the case. I even thought the big reveal at the end was fun enough and surprising. Unfortunately the in-between stuff is so cluttered it failed to engage me. There are too many characters and they all have motivations, and I guess we are supposed to love them as a scrappy band of criminals, but it was too much. I felt bored because we’d be spending time with characters I didn’t know, doing things I didn’t care about and that didn’t seem to relate to the over-all case well.

The film should have been about the search for Keyser Soze but it moves away from that so often with this bland story of a giant cocaine heist it is frustrating. There is also a character named Mr Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite) that is under-developed and at best a distraction from the search for Keyser Soze. I guess we are supposed to think they are one and the same but that was clearly not the case so it wasn’t a very good red herring.

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The only compelling scenes in the film are between Kujan and Verbal. However, because the movie keeps getting distracted from these 2 with stuff I didn’t care about, they weren’t as effective as they otherwise could have been. Kevin Spacey does a good job with the dialogue (and if anything his current problems add a level of creepiness to the role, which is mildly interesting) but while impressive dialogue performance, it doesn’t build the case very well or create much of a mystery. It’s just two guys shouting a lot and explaining things I wish the movie had shown.

Roger Ebert was also not a fan of this movie and he also complains about the cluttered script in his review: “Once again, my comprehension began to slip, and finally I wrote down: “To the degree that I do understand, I don’t care.” I completely agree. The characters aren’t interesting and the mystery isn’t well done, making it a rather bland experience. It’s certainly one I will never watch again.

I should add this film definitely earns its R rating with language and violence.

3 out of 10

frown

 

Captain Marvel Review

Let me start off this review by mentioning a personal accomplishment that came along with seeing the film. Captain Marvel, the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is the first time I was able to see a Disney film as a member of the press. This has long been a dream of mine as Disney does not offer early screening opportunities for their films like the other studios do (I used to have to enter a lottery and then wait 2-4 hours before the said film to hopefully be admitted). When I got added to rottentomatoes it gave me the clout to apply and be accepted as a full member of press and that meant I could go to the Disney early screenings! Yay! It’s a dream come true!

Does that mean I give this movie a pass? Nope. If anything I was very conscientious of not doing so and may have been more critical than if I was just watching an every day movie.

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All that out of the way, what did I think about Captain Marvel? As an origin story for a superhero movie I quite enjoyed it. It’s not without flaws but overall I had a good time and it did a particularly good job pumping me up for Avengers: Endgame coming up next, which is part of its job.

Captain Marvel starts off with her being trained as part of the Kree people who’s mission is to fight and defeat the Skrulls (they kind of reminded me of klingons in Star Trek). As she trains with Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg, we see flashes into her past: a past that includes a life on earth as air force pilot Carol Danvers. Eventually she ends up back on earth and most of the movie is a mystery as she figures out who she is and what she is fighting for. Along the way we get to meet new characters like her best friend Maria (Lashana Lynch) and have fun with old favorites like Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and of course Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson). The de-aging cgi has gotten really good with some of these characters!

A mixture of old and new characters works to Captain Marvel‘s benefit because the plot can get a little muddled with too much exposition particularly in the 2nd act. I started to get worried the movie was going to become a slog but it manages to pull everything together for a rousing final act (and a particularly great mid and post-credit sequence). However, there are definitely sections where it gets lost in too much plot and not enough fun.

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I’m not sure how most will take them, but I really enjoyed all the 90s references. In particular, the use of music cues was very well done. Some may find them too on the nose but it worked for me. There is also some dialogue that was very cheesy, but I like a little cheese in my comic book movies, so I enjoyed it. It reminded me of a cross between the first Guardians of the Galaxy and a phase 1 MCU movie like Thor. Unfortunately, Captain Marvel does not have near the gravitas or moral weight of Wonder Woman (I never cried even once), but I don’t think it needed too. We will get all of that in spades in Endgame.

The job of Captain Marvel is to introduce us to the character, provide some laughs/action and get us pumped for Avengers: End Game. In my opinion, it totally accomplished this task and was a good time at the movies.

As far as family audiences, there is some action obviously and a few mild profanities but this should be a good film for all ages with nothing upsetting like in Wonder Woman. I wish it was 15 minutes shorter but at least it isn’t close to 2.5 hours like Aquaman. Kids should really enjoy it, so I recommend going as a family.  Also for the record, Alita: Battle Angel is a lot of fun as well, so go see both. This only benefits because I’m so invested in this universe and had a great time seeing characters like Nick Fury and Agent Coulson again (also George is the best!)

8.5 out of 10

smile worthy