Won’t You Be my Neighbor

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Walking with the Lord is akin to being run over by a truck; after the fact you are bound to look completely different. Yet lest we believe that we can lead somebody to repentance solely by our behaviors, we must also keep in mind human stubbornness.

A self avowed atheist, my cousin ended up marrying a pastor’s kid. The pastor and my cousin have a solid relationship, as they’ve shared many family trips, events and meals together. My cousin once told me how this pastor is one of the greatest men he has ever known.

“And you don’t think it has to do at all with his Christianity?”, I  asked.

Stumped for a bit, as if just now realizing the position he had dug himself in, my cousin rebutted: “well, he speeds. Isn’t that a sin? Isn’t every sin the same? So I don’t think his Christianity has anything to do with it”.

Let us pray that we may behave like Christ both in closed and open doors, and also that He softens every heart that’s in dire need of His love.

B

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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

The Strangers: Prey at Night

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Having had my encounter with Christ after the turbulent teens were behind, I still regret the attitudes, behaviors and general assholishness on display back then. While you could explain part of the rebel in me as rooted in a broken family dynamic, I must also take personal responsibility for my actions. This admission of guilt is tough to find in movies, where everybody is the hero of their own stories. And before you think that I must have walked into the wrong movie since I am talking about teenage angst in a post that should be about killer maniacs, let me assure you that no, I did watch a flick about insane deviants running around hacking people to death.

The main characters are teenagers, and while they are a living embodiment of a cliche, there’s also genuine emotion to them. They’re flawed and scared, but also capable of much good, even if it proves too little too late. That’s something I can definitely relate to.

B

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-

Lady Bird

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Lady Bird had me going back to the well of adolescence, to sip on the memories of exuberant passion and exasperation. There are many movies dealing in the maddeningly glorious years of youth, but most of them merely show it; Lady Bird actually feels like you are back at your friend’s house crying over the love of your life while eating cheese.

B

Captain Fantastic

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Before writing about the response I had to Captain Fantastic, I want to briefly discuss a scene that occurs maybe twenty minutes into the movie. It takes place at night, inside a bunker lit with lamps. Ben (Viggo Mortensen), the patriarch of the clan with the awesome names, informs his children matter of factly that their mom is dead.

“She killed herself”, he tells them. “She finally did it.”

The camera then cuts to each of the six kids, resting on their faces to gauge their responses. You know how sometimes kids in movies will start to cry and it will look and sound like every other children wail? The reason behind it could be the loss of a parent, or the loss of their favorite candy, and they still cry the same way.
Matt Ross, the writer/director behind Captain Fantastic, seems to actually understand kids, tweens and teens, because what he accomplishes in that bunker scene is nothing short of fantastic. Most of the kids shed tears, but none of them grief in the same way. The youngest doesn’t even cry, and it is such an insightful little addition that you want to offer your condolences to Ross for whatever loss that might have spurned such revelation.

That understanding of his characters and the world around him serves him well, as Captain Fantastic romanticizes a lifestyle of sticking it to the man, while at the same time recognizing that there exists a certain vanity and arrogance in it. There is perhaps no final answer as to what the best way for raising a family is, and the argument for organic vs gmo, videogames vs physical activity and book knowledge vs what you learn when you`re out at midnight making out with a pretty stranger will carry on.
But Captain Fantastic knows this: if you love each other and remain together, half the battle is already won.

A-

American Honey

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Popular culture is deceiving. Perhaps it is no fault of its own, since massively consumed entertainment has to provide diversion for audiences; the deceit is implicit, so it is not meant to be taken too seriously. A quick glance at the current social landscape, however, indicate that celebrities and songs and Netflix originals hold as much sway over the cultural conversation as they probably never had before. Popular culture doesn’t become an escape, but a pep talk; something that inspires, teaches and sells dreams that will never come true.

In American Honey, as sultry and hypnotizing as films can be, the teenagers selling magazine subscriptions door to door across the American Midwest have more in common than just a fractured home life and a penchant for booze and sex. It seems that while their parents, or parent surrogates, were passing out drunk in couches and overdosing on crack, they were left in the care of movies and music, which proceeded to raise them. It is through these media that the itinerant life of mag crews acquires such seductive glow.

Not once does the film lay blame or judge the teens for the behaviors and actions they engage in. Just like Star (Sasha Lane) joined the crew to escape an abusive father figure, so does every other member in the team has a reason that makes their decision to join rational instead of delusional. And yet there is no happiness in the business. Everything the camera captures for close to three hours reeks of sadness and destruction; the decaying state of things mirrors the hopes of Star and everybody else. It is a document not only of the near depressing conditions of the hidden America, the segment that supposedly led Donald Trump to victory last November, but of the last throes of youth. Teens abandoned by everybody but popular culture, which instilled in them the idea that what they are doing is liberating, and that money is the ultimate indicator of success.

I mention this because the mag crew sings along to every single song that comes on during every leg of their journey. No matter the time or day or genre, everybody knows the lyrics to everything. But it is not only homeless teens whose dreams have been influenced by outside forces. The first house that Star visits is hosting a birthday party for a girl who cannot be more than fifteen years old. She is with three of her friends and a dance song begins blasting through the air, and the teens start to move along with the music, eventually putting their bodies in poses that are inappropriate for children their age. She is just following along with the song, she reasons with the screams of her God fearing mother.

“I hope He comes all over your car!”, shouts Star to a passerby vehicle that has “God is Coming” sticker plastered over the rear window, after it refused to slow down for her and her two half-siblings.
The anthem of the movie is “we found love in a hopeless place”, which works wonderfully with the hopelessness that infects the entire film. I really hope the sticker the car announced comes true, for I don’t see any other way for teens and adults to have real hope again.

A-

The Breakfast Club

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One of the students that sat with me yesterday had doubts on how to proceed with an essay prompt assigned to her by the professor. The prompt read something like, “Can children overcome the negative influence exerted on them by their parents?”

This student wanted to argue in favor of children being able to free themselves from their parent’s burdens, but was not sure the reasons that would lead to such liberation.
Had I seen The Breakfast Club, I would have told her to go watch the movie instead, and would have saved us both half an hour of conversation.

Complaining about parents is always a tricky thing to get compassion for, since every teen seems to be naturally predisposed to object to their parents behavior once they reach a certain age, no matter how saintly mom and dad are. Some mothers and father however, are truly the stuff of nightmare. While physical violence may be the first thing to pop to mind, it is not the only one. Infidelities, lack of respect, poor financial responsibility, extreme demands, are only some of the things parents can ruin their children with. It is certainly the case with the five kids at the heart of this comedy. But just like my conversation with the student yesterday ended on a hopeful note, because our own personal choices can move us past the mess our parents left for us, so it is here. So we lift our fists up to the sky, victorious.

B

Logan

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Superhero movies adapted from comic books have had such a tremendous impact on popular culture during the last decade that they’ve even received their own grading curve.
“Good by superhero movie standards”, or “terrible even by comic book adaptation standards” has become the de facto response to this kind of product. Whether this is harmful or beneficial to cinema as a whole is a topic that demands its own blog post (maybe when Wonder Woman opens?), so this entry will not approach Logan as another superhero comic book movie, but rather as simply another slice of cinema.

I note this disclaimer out of fear that I will be doing this movie a disservice by calling it the best superhero movie since The Dark Knight trilogy. A quick glance into the past reveals that in the intervening years there have not really been that many memorable movies of the kind, which would take away some credit from Logan.
So instead I will say that Logan is the most memorable film I have watched since Silence; it reminds me of the greatest television series I have ever watched, Spartacus: Blood and Sand; and features a performance by Hugh Jackman so magnificent that if I cared at all about awards, I would hope against hope he’d be nominated for something.

“That was not Wolverine”, a friend lamented upon exiting the cinema. “I hated the movie.”
“I hoped that character from the other movie showed up”, the other friend said. “That would have been cool”.

I kept quiet, pondering their words. How many people spend fifteen dollars hoping to see something cool on the big screen? Is that why superhero movies are so popular, since they feature a CGI infused extravaganza of explosions and shiny costumes? Why do so little people pay mind to the human element, and the pains and the joys of life on this earth?

Logan might be the story of a 200 year old mutant who cannot die, but his tale is agonizingly human. Hugh Jackman inflicts Logan with so much sorrow that a mere glance is enough to break your heart. I would say that Logan is a man battling his demons, but it would be a misreading of the film. Logan lost that conflict many years ago. What’s left is a man who is in constant agony every waking hour, considering death a welcome change to the life filled with regret and loss he’s led up until that point.

That the script for this was approved is some sort of miracle. Consider the scene in which Laura (Dafne Keen) is riding a mechanical horse, and Logan approaches to call her back to the car. She looks at him asking for one more ride, so Logan pulls out a quarter from his pocket and says “One final time okay?”, before inserting the coin into the mechanical box next to the contraption. Logan pulls away and Laura starts to ride again.
A moment like this, lasting about thirty seconds and meaningless in the grand scheme of things, becomes beautiful not only because it survived executives overseeing it making sure they made every penny back, but because it speaks volumes about the world we all inhabit. This is real life. A kid riding a mechanical horse; an old man lifted from his wheelchair and into a public toilet; a young man saying he will drop from college to go travel across the country.
Small, fleeting moments are what make up our lives, and small, fleeting moments are what Logan is incapable of grasping. He says the adamantium inside his system is slowly killing him, but that’s only partly true.
Logan has been dying since the day he let his sorrows overtake any glimmer of hope for a better future he might have had.

Again, Hugh Jackman delivers the performance of a lifetime. It will take me a while to get rid of the images of a bruised and battered Logan out of my head, his gaze lost somewhere where the camera cannot reach. Watching it in the dark in a packed room, I felt knots in my stomach, and I wondered if my neighbors felt the same. I wanted the movie to be over and go home imagining Logan living his remaining days somewhere happily ever after.

While not a perfect movie, mainly because the quasi generic bad guys keep reminding the audience that they are watching a Marvel adaptation every time they are on screen, it reminded me of the immense power cinema holds whenever a story is well told. It reminded me that even in the midst of all the deafening noise and chaos resounding that has been ruling our world for the past year, there is still room for the intimate, and that hope should not be given up on. But most of all, it reminded me that true heroes don’t wear capes after all.

B+