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 Big Sick

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It’s been a most difficult year, with no signs of abating. Six months into 2018 and the general uneasiness that consumes my bones is as present as ever. I continue to pray, although my conversations with God have turned to full on pleas for deliverance. I am exhausted.

Besides intervention from the divine, the only thing that can lift my spirits is the pictures. But even in this arena it has been a lousy year, the outliers of Phantom Thread and I, Tonya a distant but cherished memory. Enter The Big Sick. As a comedy, it is more gentle laughter than riotous, the oft present vulgarity of American comedies replaced by something tender, more observant.

As a drama it is surprisingly intelligent and insightful, its plot machinations revealing thoughts and behaviors that are keenly human. There is no gross manipulation here, nor tacked on sentimentality. Almost every line delivered carries purpose and weight, as if the writers know that cinema is most effective when the audience is one with the characters. And we can only do that when the world they inhabit operates under the rules of our own, when our regrets and fears mirror theirs, and our loves and aspirations are the ones they share.

As a romance it is infectiously charming, not only for the interaction of its two leads, a superb Kumail Nanjiani and the millennial queen of the rom-com Zoe Kazan, but also by that of Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, who play Emily’s parents. For an hour and 59 minutes I was immersed in their relationship navigating all the ups, downs, and in betweens that drive the story, any story, of love. I followed Kumail and Emily all the way to that breathtaking, final shot. Dear reader, what a shot it is. I’ve returned to it three times already, and it makes me gasp for air each time.

At this stage in my life the highest praise I can bestow on anything is that it made me absolutely forget about my troubles. As a character says at one point, “I’m just really tired. Do you ever just want to be in a relationship so you can just finally relax?” The Big Sick made my afflictions cease for a while, and my thoughts at peace.

A+

Ingrid Goes West

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With one hand can I count the movies that have made me squirm so uncomfortably in my seat as the cringe inducing Ingrid Goes West. So what made me react so strongly to this movie, which is not particularly memorable besides Aubrey Plaza’s loopy performance?

My theory is that the Instagram Age has turned everybody, regardless of follower count, into an artist. Naturally we strive for success, measured in the ever precious likes and comments. When we fall short we risk losing exposure, the lack of which can prove fatal to our purpose of staying relevant. And once that’s gone, what is left but a seeming announcement to the world that we could not make it, that we are not good looking, popular or funny enough?

Maybe the fact that this made me so uncomfortable is because I too have fallen prey to the allure of the like. Hashtags, witty captions, that perfect angle; I want to appear cool because I don’t feel like I am. I want people to like me because I am lonely. The movie’s resolution does not provide a remedy to the need for validation from strangers, but gives in to it. The protagonist will continue to lead a life dictated by the interest of others; whether that’s a happy ending or not depends on what kind of an Instagram user you are.

B

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

Chappaquiddick

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When electing officials to public office, how do you measure integrity? There are two candidates in play. One of them has been unfaithful to their spouse, and it has become common knowledge. The other let a woman to drown and die, but nobody knows.

A vote for candidate one is an implicit vote on marital infidelity. A vote for candidate two seems, on the surface, the better choice, but now you have given the keys to the city to a murderer. Is cheating worse than being a coward? If both candidates are liars, who lies more often? The questions this produces can be never ending.

When talking about integrity and politics we should be careful not to fall into the trap of surface level discussions, and consider that public officials are rarely the ideal of the man and women we should be aspiring to become.

B-

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+

Ready Player One

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That Steven Spielberg can’t resist inserting gross sentimentality in his pictures is common knowledge. Even The Post, with a subject matter that is very hard to romanticize, ended on a note that was complicit with the audience’s knowledge of events as to make them laugh or wink with recognition.
On the rare instances when the master subdues his desires to move us, to make us cry or laugh, he ends up with some of the finest pictures in any given year (see: Munich, Schindler’s List, Minority Report). And when he doesn’t, well he still is probably one of the greatest living directors, but I am never as invested as he wants me to be.

The story and setting and characters of Ready Player One, with its emphasis on nostalgia and romance, demand an author with Spielberg’s heart and man, does he deliver. I imagine the thrill he must have experienced when working on this project; when he started working in the film industry nothing of what is now on screen was possible. And now he’s crafting planets called Doom, where characters based on everything you can imagine brawl, and he’s recreating the Overlook hotel with a thrilling twist, and he’s being as romantic as ever, and damn it if it does not feel wonderful.

Here is a man that holds so much joy for the experience of life that he’s been sharing it with the rest of the world since the inception of his career. The most romantic of the legendary film directors, Steven Spielberg has infused in Ready Player One his thrill for life, his ever hopeful view for a happier, if not better, existence in a world that is going to hell.

B+

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

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