Hereditary

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Honoring your father and your mother is the first commandment with a promise, reads Paul’s letters to the Ephesians. It has to be, since family can be the most brutal thing that can ever happen to anybody. No dynamic on this earth can better nurture grief, resentment and rage like a family one; tragedy keeps unfolding from one generation to the next, every child inheriting their parents demons.

Hereditary is an uncommonly unsettling picture. It’s monsters are the ones we are familiar with if we’ve been foolish enough to inflict pain on a loved one, or have been on the receiving end. By and large this is a family drama, whose characters carry their resentments on their skin. A broken marriage, a fragile parent-child relationship, an indifferent sibling connection; the film forces the viewer to witness the tragedy of a family in shambles. It is terrifying to behold.

By the time the supernatural elements manifest themselves in full to terrorize the Grahams, one can’t help but wonder if it was always meant to happen. When does a family go wrong? What decisions did the members take at one point that has led everybody down such bleak a path? Or were they condemned from the start, the sins of their forebears too heavy a burden?

When six years ago I made the decision to walk with Christ, one of the realizations I had was that I was becoming my father. I hated the old man, and in my sinful determination to get rid of all the influence he’d had on me, I was turning out to be just like him. I have long since forgiven him, although I continue to struggle with, as this movie would call it, his inheritance. Hereditary made me keenly aware of how grateful I should be that the chains of the past are being broken, and that I will not be suffocated by them.

A

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The Rider

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It is easier for somebody who does not believe in an ever loving God to make sense of the injustices of this world. A believer, on the other hand, must come to reconcile the truth of a benevolent and kind God with the bitter realities of a life marked by pain and disappointment.

How do the children of God carry on in the face of profound sorrows? The Rider, a frequently moving and lyrical picture, posits that the Almighty has crafted each and every creature on this earth for a purpose, so we should pursue it, against all odds.

I look at myself, weary and slowly losing faith of ever achieving my dreams, and wonder. If God made me with a purpose, why aren’t I fulfilling it? Why am I stuck with such a mediocre and unexceptional existence? Prayer is hard to come by now, so preoccupied are my thoughts on what to do next. It was never supposed to be this way.

I had so much hope for the future, so much love and trust in my Savior, so much joy in the today. But more and more that feels like a bygone era, a person who was unaware that this world destroys goodness and God is…where is God?

A-

Blockers

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A friend asked once why I was against premarital sex. I told her that as a man I had no problems with it, or any of the plethora of pleasure seeking activities so in vogue nowadays. There is no reason why people should not be allowed to imbibe their hearts desire, whatever it may be.
However, I continued, as a Christian I cannot agree with it because disagreement with the Word of God is akin to being disobedient to Him. I cannot indulge in the desires of my heart because my heart is wicked, and I defer to the better judgement of the Almighty when He said to drop everything I wanted, take up the burden of the cross and follow Him.

C

Paul, Apostle of Christ

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As Gospel, Paul, Apostle of Christ is beautifully effective. It conveys the final days of one of the New Testament`s most important figures with the appropriate solemnity and adherence to the written recordings of the man. It illustrates the core of Christianity and quotes Scripture in less blatant a manner than many of its counterparts. It would not be out of place playing in front of a congregation on any given Sunday, a message on the importance on being humble in spirit and magnanimous in love.

As cinema, Paul, Apostle of Christ suffers from the flaws that ail these type of movies. The lighting is very professional, and so is the framing. The flashback sequences in particular are very competently shot. However, it is not a very exciting movie. I would even go as far as to call it a bit boring, which is too bad considering the movie has three different story lines going, one of them set in the past and two in the now.

Yet compared to past offerings, this may be a sign that the Christian genre may be finally maturing. If it continues to display faith as the challenging leap it is, and continues to recognize that men and women of the Lord are allowed to question the madness of this world, the Christian genre may finally appeal to those who are most in need of its message.

C+

Love, Simon

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“You deserve everything you want”, a character tells the titular Simon (Nick Robinson) at one point, and just like that the prevalent mentality making waves across America has been perfectly encapsulated.

Christianity does not fly in contemporary Western culture not because of accusations of intolerance and bigotry; Christianity is lame because it tells us that no, we actually do not deserve everything our hearts desire.
Taking up our crosses and denying our pleasures for the sake of obedience is becoming increasingly more difficult in a culture in which everybody is entitled to do whatever they want.

C+

I Can Only Imagine

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If I am ever ashamed of my faith it will most likely be after watching a Christian movie. Why is it that this genre has not matured to the point where all those involved in the production realize that they should be sharing the gospel to the sick, not to the healthy? Why are the themes and the messages in their movies just basic reassurances of the most commonly known beliefs that most Christians already know?

This is why the greatest “Christian” movies are not explicitly Christian at all. Silence is a haunting examination of faith in the face of God’s notorious aloofness in times of trouble; Shame is a wrenching portrait of the corroding power of sin and our superhuman effort to try and cope with it.

To a believer these kinds of movies are reminders of the world we inhabit and the life we once lived, while at the same time being reaffirmations of our hope, for we accept without it we are truly lost.
For those without faith, these kinds of movies can work by showing them that there might be something beyond the visible in this world. Jesus might not spare you the suffering, but there’s no longer hopelessness in it. Everything makes just a bit more sense when, at the end of the road, weak and tired, you can talk to a God who loves you in a way that you can only imagine.

D

I, Tonya

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I do not know if Tonya Harding was aware of the full details of the “incident”, and neither do I care. In the eyes of the law she is guilty, and to her own she is not; my opinion of it does little to alter this truth.
However, what I haven’t stopped thinking about since the credits started rolling are the moments and events that led her to infamy.

Tonya Harding’s story is the story of the world. Not in the particulars, of course, as few of us get to be the best in the world at something, or have friends that are so imbecilic they should be given awards. Her story is our story in that nobody can truly understand who we are, our motivations, behaviors, without first taking into account all the years that came before, and everything in it that shaped us. It is an impossible thing to do.

The film did not make me understand Tonya Harding. But I felt for her, the way we should all feel for each other. I felt her pains, and frustrations, and rationalizations, and resentments and thoughts and feelings, and every stupid little thing that led her to plead before a judge to not take skating away from her, the only thing she’s ever been good at. If we are all like Tonya, marked by the lousy decisions and injustices of our past, then we need something more than a second chance: we need love.

A-

Top 10 Films 2017

Cinema is God’s way of making me care. On the days when I feel on top of the world, film is there to remind me that existence is so much more than my emotions. On days when I’m drowning in despair, film lets me know that I should fight on, be brave, for there is yet hope. Above all, cinema works as a mirror in which I discern the version of the man I want to be, the one I should not be, the one I am grateful I left behind. When I think about the movies I think about God, forever grateful that He’s allowed me the privilege to watch, dissect, enjoy and live the greatest art form of all.

Here are, in descending order, my 10 favorite movies of 2017, an absolutely incredible year:

  1. CAFÉ SOCIETY

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Were it not for the jazz score consistently playing in the background of near every scene, Woody Allen’s Café Society would feel like a tremendously sad film. An American fable of a New Yorker traveling to Hollywood only to get his heart broken, Café Society name drops ancient celebrities, features a visual gag or two and characters the audience is meant to laugh along to, or at. Had it been played a little bit more straight, comparisons to An American Tragedy and The Great Gatsby would not have been out of place. Indeed, the film features a narrator who recounts even the most awful of episodes—when main characters die, for instance—in the same casual tone of voice he employs throughout the entire proceedings. And yet no amount of lightheartedness can make that final, memorable shot hurt any less.

  1. AMERICAN HONEY

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It must say something about the Hollywood production system that the most damning indictment of contemporary middle America was a film written and directed by a British woman. Andrea Arnold’s film is a poignant tale of lost youth, of its wild enthrallments of the new, of rebellion not only against adults but against the very social mores that raised them, of its frantic attempts at encountering meaning in the mundane, of its doubts masked by the confidence that only irrepressible hormones provide. But if American Honey seems to condemn anyone, it’s not the young, but the old. Shots of dilapidated homes, wretched cities, a thriving drug scene, all seem to indicate that kids must stick together or perish in the hopelessness of their forbears.  

  1. EL SECRETO DE SUS OJOS

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If reading certain novels makes it easier to visualize them on the screen, then this Argentinian wonder makes me feel as if I am in my bed, reading about the mystery of the murder of a young wife. The film works like a novel, from its opening voiceover narration, to its various flashforwards and flashbacks, to the dual romance at its center. One romance belongs to the victim’s husband, eyes peppered with longing; the other belongs to the detective assigned to the case and his boss. Above all, it manages to convey regret. Its lingering shots on door knobs, characters eyes and old photographs provide a sense of opportunities not taken, of wistfulness and a desire to love that went unfulfilled until the day bravery overcomes our fears.

  1. MULHOLLAND DR.

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Overwhelmed by the sheer ecstasy of the picture, I drove to Mulholland Drive a few days after watching it. I got my car towed, and a parking ticket. Thank you David Lynch!

6. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

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I watched 162 movies in 2017, and none could break my heart quite as spectacularly as the three minute conversation between Lee (Casey Affleck) and Randi (Michelle Williams) near the end of the film. I dare you to watch it and not feel something, anything, swelling inside you, not only for the on-screen couple but for everyone out there who exists solely for the burden of their unforgiven sorrows.

5. MUNICH

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Munich will continue to feel timely not only for its even handed, impartial approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but for how it portrays vengeance. In horrific events such as the one depicted here, vengeance is not only clamored for, but necessary. A couple of flashy executions later, however, and the full picture starts coming into view. What is the true purpose of revenge, if not seeing others suffer the way you have? And if we want to see others suffer, what does that say about us? “There is no peace at the end of this”, somebody says, and no truer words have ever been spoken. Munich is as bleak a film as they come, yet the lessons it imparts have the potential to change the world.

4. CIDADE DE DEUS

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Beyond its unstoppable kinetic energy, more than the flawless union of humor and carnage, greater than the pirouettes the camera engages in, City of God remains with me for a very distinct reason: it reminds me of the madness of El Salvador, my home country. Until the day national cinema catches up to the greats, I’ll always have this picture as a document of what’s going on in my country.

3. 25th HOUR

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Sometimes I felt as if 2017 was too stacked, too much of a good thing. As this list makes clear, I was fortunate enough to catch many sublime films, which are among the best, if not the very greatest, of all the director’s oeuvre. It was not a problem until now, in which I had to go over all the fantastic films and settle on a mere ten. I settled on 25th Hour because there was no way around it: this is a monumental piece of work, Spike Lee’s crowning masterpiece.

2. SILENCE

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The most hauntingly despairing moment I’ve ever witnessed in a motion picture occurs 140 minutes into Silence. After suffering a series of horrendous torture rounds, father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) is led to a courtyard where six people are hanging upside down, their heads stuck in a pit, blood slowly dripping out of their skulls. If Rodrigues does not recant faith in Christ, they will remain there for days, until the blood runs out of their bodies. I know what my response would have been, and have been asking God for answers as to why life forces some to pits of hopelessness and cruelty, while all you hear from the heavens is silence.

1. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

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As a whole, the Planet of the Apes trilogy illustrates why the human race will never know peace. It doesn’t portray humans as naturally bad and apes as naturally wrong; by favoring a more shaded approach, the series is empathetic to all sides of a conflict, recognizing good and evil is not as clear cut as black and white. War for the Planet of the Apes features a flawless motion capture performance by Andy Serkis, conveying more heartbreak, regret and anger with one mere glance than most actors do in entire monologues. The picture belongs to him, and he will go down as one of my favorite film characters ever. It is through Caesar’s eyes that we understand the dangers of not letting go of our grudges; the decision to not forgive unleashed a series of events that culminated in doom not only for his people, but for the humans as well.
Caesar, weary and exhausted from a lifetime of conflict, becomes a hero the moment he admits to his flaws and recognizes his mistakes; yet he is not the only one. The picture is littered with many small moments of beauty, of selflessness and reflection that you start to wonder how the heck something this meditative and thoughtful ever made it out of the Hollywood blockbuster system. When you realize this tale of tragedy, betrayal and redemption is not really about monkeys but about us, about our ancestors and our children, about our apparent inability to let bygones be bygones and focus on the beam in our eye instead of on the speck on our brother and sister, the only appropriate response is admiration.

25th Hour

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There’s three different approaches that I can take in discussing Spike Lee’s masterpiece 25th Hour, and they all possess an equal part of my brain as to make this decision much more difficult than I would have guessed. As I am a glutton I will then attempt to have my pie and eat it, too, by briefly discussing all three.

  • The “fuck you” monologue: One of the hardest parts of repentance is the admission of personal responsibility. Be it because it makes us look weak, or there’s an innate issue we seem to have with being genuinely sorry, admitting that our current dilemmas are the products of our own poor choices is a very hard thing to do. Much easier? Blame it on everybody else.
  • The 24 hour period before going away: I have trouble recollecting another movie which made such an effective use of the ticking of the clock as this one. Every word and gesture is one less until Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) goes away to prison, and Spike Lee really makes you feel it. You wish you could stop time in its tracks.
  • The “dream life” monologue: The powerful and melancholic ending comes courtesy of a monologue in which Monty’s father tells him a tale of fiction. “This  life came so close to never happening.”

A+

Narc

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Sometimes, I am overwhelmed by an enormous sense of despondency brought upon by what I perceive to be an utter lack of justice. It is a tricky feeling to balance. On the one hand I must continually keep my Christian faith in the foreground, knowing that though I am not of the world, I am in it, hence there should be some sort of strive to better it. On the other, I cannot help but be reminded of the poor state of everything, and how the only hope is the return of the King.

Narc is an intense and frenetic cop picture that kept reminding me of this dilemma. It is the mark of a great movie when motivations, consequences and behaviors are not black and white, when characters could be heroes the same way they could be villains. It is the mark of a great movie when, as the screen finally cuts to black, you are kept pondering on whether the ending was a “happy” or a “sad” one, and the events that led to it.

B+