The Devil’s Candy

devils_candy_ver2_xlg

The Devil’s Candy is a maniacally disturbing horror movie in which the devil is literally in the details. An art gallery by the name of Belial, a t-shirt that reads “Master of Puppets”, a hostess in a smoking skin tight red dress.
By placing the action in an environment in which the demon seems to have total dominion over, the proceedings feel disturbing as hell up until the very last shot, in which the skies clear, light shines and Satan appears to retreat, at least until next time.

B+

Prometheus

prometheus

Two of the classes I’m taking this semester overlap in such a way that I am regularly forced to ask myself the question that weighs heavily on the mind of the Prometheus’s crew: Why are we here? Where did we come from?
Anthropology posits that humanity evolved, throughout millions of years, from the proverbial ape, animals which in turned evolved from lesser creatures, and so on and so forth.
Philosophy, on the other hand, asks us to examine the cosmos. The flawless order of the universe, along with the intricate and meticulous working of the human body, demands for there to be a Creator.

In Prometheus, the ones who made us turn out to be the ones who also wish to destroy us. Reasons abound as to why. And yet, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) demands more. Nay, she says she deserves to know the origin of all things. The beauty lies in that she voices this statement to an android, a man-made creature that seems perfectly content with living out his destiny instead of asking questions in regard to it.
Twenty minutes into the movie somebody says that since the beginning of time human civilizations functioned under the idea that they are simply creation, and they seek to communicate with their Creator.

Is it the same today? Do we also feel as if we deserve to know everything simply because we are so very smart and enlightened? Do we also consider the Creator in human terms, and forget that if there is one, He must surely not abide by our puny rules and expectations?
In Prometheus, the crew gets the surprise of their lifetime when, upon finally encountering a creator, he starts to butcher them. In our case, will there be more of the former, the latter, or neither?

B

American Honey

american honey

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-

Silence

silence-poster

Faith is nonsensical. In a world guided by reason it makes sense for faith to be dismissed as illogical and pointless. What this dismissal fails to take into consideration however, is that faith is placed on One who is much higher than any of us. God is not governed by our reason or our logic; trying to comprehend His thinking in human terms is futile, since we cannot even begin to grasp the vastness of His knowledge. Were we aware of this, were somehow humans made privy to God’s mind, He would not truly be infinite. And if God is not infinite, then He is no God.
This turns every discussion arguing in favor or against the existence of God pointless, as it consists of humans, who are nothing but dust in the wind in a tiny drop on the gargantuan canvas of the universe, trying to use human logic to prove something that is irrational. Which faith, as mentioned at the start of this piece, is. Yet having faith does not mean one will relinquish the human capacity for discernment and reason and become a creature of the absurd. Believers may walk in faith, they may even live by faith, but that does not mean common sense is now as foreign to them as faith is to non believers. Human intellect and curiosity are after all part of the natural order that God set on this world.

A crisis of faith then, can best be described as a clash between the logical and the illogical, between human’s innate desire for answers and the choice we made to believe in someone who owes us none and has them all.
Martin Scorsese’s Silence, which is the most important film I will ever see, tackles said dilemma in a manner that transcends cinema and turns it into something akin to the miraculous. It has crossed my mind on several occasions now that it would be unfair of me to compare it to other movies, or even to say whether it’s good or bad, since Silence works best not as a motion picture but as a document that believers should be required to have, next to their copies of the Bible.
Such necessity stems from the fact that in the four years since I professed faith in God I have been plagued by doubts that Silence explores, and if my conversion is genuine I don’t see why other believers will not have had, or will have, experienced the same.

The declaration I made once upon a time that I would be in constant communication with God  has been proven false. The ground for such statement was that, since I knew how much I loved God and He knew as much, any obstacle that could come between us would ultimately be obsolete.
But has it been proven false by the inexorable disenchantment of life or by myself? I know I’ve sinned, so is He punishing me by keeping silent? I also know I have repented and am forgiven, and that His love and mercy far outweigh my many failings, so is His silence evidence that my faith is not strong enough? Or perhaps, at this juncture in my life His silence is a test to gauge whether or not I have matured from the man I was four years ago? This unparalleled frustration may lead to doubt, which may lead to sin, which in turn may culminate in numbness at His silence. What are believers to do at such despair?

The only concrete answer Silence provides comes during an exchange between a soon to be martyr and his confessor. “My faith is not strong, but I have so much love for God”, the martyr says. “Is that good enough?”.
As I write this, still shaken to my core pondering on Silence from its first to last frame, I wonder if that brief exchange carried a monumental truth that I needed to hear. When faith flounders, love should thrive. Punishingly torturous as sitting through it was, Silence was also rewarding in that it allowed me to examine the current state of my faith under a different light. I may still cringe at the thought of receiving no answer from Him, but I find encouragement amidst the vacuum. I love Him, and He loves me. And if love is not enough, then no amount of noise in the world can be either.

A+

Favorite Films 2016

I don’t take it as coincidence that the final film I watched this year had a character proclaim that “there is nothing a man cannot do once he accepts the fact that there is no God.”
I don’t take this as coincidence because the recurring theme for most of the 133 movies I watched in 2016, either above or below the surface, was a case arguing for the nonexistence of God.
In a year in which madness ruled the world and chaos abounds globally in earth changing events, but also personally with people seeking a way out of their loneliness and giving in to temptation, I used movies to inform me about such sad state of affairs.
From the unparalleled greed found in comedy War Dogs, to the existential despair of the gorgeous Knight of Cups, I saw God in everything. Or rather, I noticed the urgent need for Him. I noticed the need for Him in the sickening sequences of carnage of Hacksaw Ridge and in humanity’s innate inability to communicate with each other in Arrival. I understood that the only sane way to live in an insane world is for everybody else to think you are insane because you follow not in everybody else’s path, but in obedience to the Lord.
But as Sausage Party so bluntly put it, how do you know it’s obedience or just a delusion? Going back to my opening statement, isn’t it much easier to accept the fact that God is dead, as Rosemary’s Baby implies?

Let the following 10 films, 2016’s favorites, give the answer:

1. There Will Be Blood

twbb1

The greatest film I watched this year concludes with a preacher denouncing God and calling his faith a superstition. He dies soon after.

2. Steve Jobs

Steve-Jobs-pic-1

Utterly spellbinding, I was honestly surprised when the credits rolled because I could have sworn I had taken a seat to watch it not even half an hour before.

3. Never Let Me Go

never-let-me-go-poster

Dressed in earnest melancholy from the first to last frame, this movie robbed me of my tears for a solid five minutes after the screen had turned to black. Coupled with at least two other instances during the film in which I had to wipe my eyes for I could not see very well, I never cried as much during a movie in 2016 than I did when watching this one.

4. The Social Network

SN_IT_1-SHT_FRND_1

I watched this soon after Steve Jobs, can you believe my enormous good fortune?

5. Mustang

mustang

“Their spirit would never be broken”, the tagline reads. It’s just their dreams, and hopes, and hearts and family that shatters completely.

6. Sicario

sicario-poster

As I write this I am back in El Salvador. It has been 20 months since I moved away, and I am just back for the Christmas season. When I was away I had almost forgotten what it felt like to live constantly in fear of violence by gangs and cartels. Sicario reminded me of it. Being back home does as well.

7. Glass Chin

glass chin

If anybody is reading this and are intrigued by any film on this list, make this a top priority.

8. Green RoomPrintI think I mentioned before how the suspense is so unbearable for the first thirty minutes that I wanted to stop watching and run away.

9. The End of the Tour

end-of-the-tour-CLQrKrsWEAEmgL3

Stamped on David Foster Wallace’s (Jason Segel) wall is a Bible verse. The man was living in solitude and he ached. Naturally he turned to prayer. It didn’t work. How do we deal with situations like this one, when one believes in a loving God?

10. Spotlight

spotlight-1

While the first film on this list was a denunciation of the faith, the last one can serve as proof that doing that may be the wise thing to do. The heralds of the faith, those who are called to protect the weak, feed the hungry, abide by righteousness and lead by example have turned astray, taking with them a multitude of sad souls. This infuriates me. Belief in God is dwindling not so much because He is silent, but because those who are supposed to speak on His behalf have corrupted his message to the  point of disgust.
What are we to do?
If you have not seen this movie yet, there’s a character that gives an illuminating response on the matter.
I will leave it there.

Favorite Scenes 2016

There was a three month window in the middle of the year in which I only watched one movie. I was living in Amsterdam working at a youth hostel this summer, and while the desire to watch movies never declined, the opportunities sure did. My time in Amsterdam was utterly fantastic and six months on I continue to experience the effects of it. I watch less and less movies.
However, they can still enthrall and fascinate me and I still found time to watch a few and discover certain sequences and scenes which I carry in my mind long after they are over.
In alphabetical order:

(500) Days of Summer – Expectations v Reality

expectations

In 3 minutes director Marc Webb manages to convey through the use of splitscreen the spectacular high love intoxicates a person with, and the miserable despair that sets in once love vanishes. The way Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) storms off the building and avoids an incoming couple by darting from sidewalk to street is one of the finest examples ever shown in motion pictures of heartbreak. What’s left of one’s heart is so fragile that the mere sight of others happiness can be enough to deliver the final blow.

Anomalisa – The Morning After

anomalisa

For a while it really does seem like Michael (David Thewlis) is the victim of a global conspiracy intent on keeping him miserable. This assumption is what makes his meeting with Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) seem special and one roots for a happy conclusion for this new couple. The moment when Lisa’s voice changes and becomes like everybody elses’s was one of the most shocking movie moments of the year. Everything makes perfect sense now, and the fact that Charlie Kauffman understands this about human nature makes him the closest thing to a genius I can think of. In life nobody is every guilty or wants to be held accountable for their misdeeds; we are all victims and our unhappiness is not a product of our own making, but can be attributed to a lousy spouse, ungrateful children, crappy boss, etc. Michael will die wallowing in his own misery because he refuses to accept a simple truth: in order to have a better life, he should start being a better person.

Brooklyn – I love you too

brooklyn07

“So the next time you tell me you love me, if there is a next time, I’ll say I love you too.”
I have watched and re watched this scene countless of times, elated by the achingly lovely speech delivered by Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) to her astonished suitor.

The End of the Tour – Less alone

end

The innate fear of solitude found in billions of souls across the globe makes for many a tragedy. In the case of David Foster Wallace it produced fantastic literature and a life shortly lived. This final scene is painful not because it shows death, but because it shows a glimpse of a life that could have been; David (Jason Segel) dancing like nobody is watching, enjoying the happiness that never came as easy or as often as his words did.

Man Up – Quid pro Quo

man-up

After I lost twenty dollars in New Orleans in the most stupidest of ways this fall, my best friend’s father said “Love believes everything”. It seems to me he was not that far off from the truth, and I may just be a romantic soul. The final scene in this silly movie brought tears to my eyes, warmed my heart and gave me thoughts of “dang, when will it be my turn to give an epic speech?”.

Rogue One – Darth Vader chases Death Star plans

rogue-one-trailer-2-darth-vader-e1476365391788-1024x466

There is no need for this scene to exist, just as there is no need for this movie to exist. Both a prequel to a beloved trilogy and a sequel to despised one, Rogue One is the product of Disney executives experimenting to discover whether a standalone Star Wars story can still pull in money.
The fact that in the midst of such less than noble factors the final sequence could be so thrilling while at the same time cementing the legend of Darth Vader in the eyes of fans both new and old, is truly something to behold.

Rosemary’s Baby – Hail Satan!

rosemary61

The natural conclusion to the nightmarish events that occur in this movie is both despairing and hopeless. When Rosemary (Mia Farrow) enters a room full of devil worshipers wielding a knife, my hope was for her to use the weapon to slice and dice every person in sight. Yet in a world driven by madness, hope is futile. The abject terror that came over me once I slowly realized this was how the world ended–Satan’s son will grow up to rule mankind–is unparalleled to any other movie moment this year.

Sleeping with Other People – Elaine!

sleeping-with-other-people-2

Oh to be in love! Perhaps if I am ever fortunate enough to experience the thrills of romance the way the characters in my movies do I will stop listing all these heartwarming moments as my favorites of the year.

The Witch – Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?

the_witch_ending_explained

Goosebumps came over me the moment the devil makes an offer Thomasin (Anya Taylor Joy) can’t refuse. Rarely had I seen sin explained so succinctly in movies. The joys of this world may be temporary and deceitful, but they are joys nevertheless. Christ asks those who love Him to abstain from the pleasures of this world not out of arbitrary rules, but because our deliciousness is found in Him-His love, His mercies and His everlasting promises are what we live for and look forward to. But for those who do not believe? There is no reason for them to not shed their robes and follow Black Phillip into the darkness and lose themselves in the ecstasy of the night. But light will come, eventually.
And that’s what’s scary.

Youth – Ceiling Gazing

schermata-2015-04-30-alle-22-25-36-750x400

The most hauntingly poetic sequence I watched this year occurred halfway through this film, in which Paolo Sorrentino presents us with all of the characters of his story, and their various doubts and tribulations. The sequence, set to the nostalgic melody of “Ceiling Gazing”, reminded me of the sheer magic of The Great Beauty. While this film ultimately falls short of the latter’s greatness, it is still a testament to the immense talent and insight the director has.

Rogue One

rogue-one

There was a man with his maybe six year old daughter sitting next to me at the Rogue One showing I attended and every time there was a callback to previous Star Wars movies, whether by cameo or visual or spoken reference, he would turn to her and explain what it meant. Two hours into the movie, I heard him say “There’s too much to explain, but once we get home I will tell you everything.”
I can only imagine that the little girl will now spend her Christmas vacation discovering the world George Lucas crated forty years ago, and waiting anxiously for every new movie that Disney will release each year until our planet dies the same way Jedha did.

A year ago I had my qualms about the studio releasing Star Wars stories every year, as The Force Awakens felt more like a remake of A New Hope instead of something crafty and ambitious. I figured that the massive success of that flick would signal other studios to follow suit, until eventually we were left with nothing but sequels to a reboot of a prequel of a remake that was an adaptation. And while Rogue One tries hard to conform to what came before and after, there are stretches where it doesn’t really feel like Star Wars,  and that is wonderful.

The entire final sequence feels more like a World War Two epic than what the audience has come to expect, with generals giving orders, captains trying to outmaneuver incoming missiles and foot soldiers in a last stand. Even the talk of the Force feels more organic, more akin to soldiers praying to God than something mystic. The many instances in which this movie strives to be something unique are without a doubt the series best.

Consider the scene in which Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is watching a hologram of her dad before she is interrupted by the Death Star destroying the city she is in. As she has been listening to her dad speak, she is barely holding in the tears; when she is interrupted, she falls to her knees, unsure of how to process everything she just heard.
It is a moment of rare poignancy for Star Wars, better known for loud, emotional moments than small and intimate ones.
Indeed that moment reminded me of the devastating scene in Interstellar when Matthew McConaughey watches every video message his children recorded while he was away.
It is not as equally as effective, but the fact that this moment made it into a Star Wars movie, the blockbuster saga that is the textbook definition of fan service, gives me hope that whatever comes next will be as bold and ambitious as the Rebels dreams are.

A-

Sausage Party

sausage_party_ver14

The evidence that there is no paradise and the gods are just hungry human beings is found in the “dark aisle”. This aisle contains knives, pots and cookbooks. Applied to Seth Rogen’s world, this dark aisle is everything that ails mankind and produces untold suffering. This runs contrary to the idea of the existence of a loving God, and if there is no God the morals that we hold on to are useless, hence everybody should have sex with each other.

And while the movie portrays a hilarious orgy scene, followed by the food traveling into another dimension, real life allows no such journeys. After the enjoyment of sexual pleasure, what is left?

B

Rosemary’s Baby

rosemary

Is God Dead?, Time`s cover reads.
Perhaps it’s not so much that he is dead, as that the devil has never been more alive.
Indeed, throughout 130 minutes we are presented with a scenario so disturbing and full of despair that it feels like every character that appears on screen is another servant of the lord of darkness himself. Without a doubt one of the most depressingly sinister horror films I have ever seen, Rosemary’s Baby is that rare picture that made me want to shut it off halfway, not because it was bad, but because there is absolutely no hope for good to triumph over evil. Like my favorite horror movie, the masterful We Are What We Are, this movie does not rely on jump scares, or even evil entities popping up every other scene. Instead, it creates an atmosphere of intense dread and builds such immense suspense that I wanted to jump out of bed and run far away from my bedroom as possible, until I gathered my thoughts and remembered that whereas satanists use tannis root necklaces to keep them safe, I have God, who thankfully is not dead after all.

A