L.A. Confidential

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Here’s something I’m not afraid of admitting: knowing what I now know, I would have never moved to Los Angeles.

I was duped, tricked by the plethora of pop culture praising LA as the city where dreams come true, where happiness is found and success is just on the other side. I am now trying to get out of this cursed city, but it is not easy. In a way, it is as if the city is a breathing entity, with its claws around me, devouring my vigor and enthusiasm for life with each passing day.

B+

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Blue Jay

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The following is an email I received from my ex-girlfriend after not having seen each other for almost seven years. I email her from time to time, in those nights where nostalgia reaches its peak, but never expected to hear back from her. A week later I watched Blue Jay. 

It’s nice to hear from you. I’m sorry I haven’t responded in quite a while. My life is pretty hectic these days. 

My son starts school next week, I cannot believe that I have a son who’s nearly 4 years old. The last few years of my life have literally just come and gone in what feels like a few days.
I still do think of you sometimes. I try not to always think about what’s happened in my past, it does make things harder for me if I do. 
After all that has happened in my life I feel as if I am living such a normal life now these days. I wake up, drop my son off at daycare, work, pick him up and follow our everyday nightly routine. I do really love being a mom. Even if I haven’t become the person I thought I’d be one day,  I am glad that I have had the chance to raise my son. 

B+

Revolutionary Road

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Soon after my confession of faith, I started to believe that a heart filled with the love of Jesus was enough to keep at bay the empty hopelessness. I’m sure this stemmed from the fact that my conversion occurred during circumstances that had devastated multiple areas of my life. Surely there would be no going back to such dark nights of the soul, now that God loved me?

While I still cling to the belief that there is nothing on Earth like the redeeming power of the cross, I am now unsure whether or not the empty hopelessness can be avoided, regardless of one’s faith.

Revolutionary Road is an extremely disquieting film, burrowing deep into your skin with images of the futility of existence. There are several shots throughout the picture with depressing implications, conveying in a few seconds the disenchantments of a lifetime. And above all, that empty hopelessness that hovers above everyday affairs. I have felt myself despairing, my prayers of little comfort to the aching of my soul. Throughout all, I love Jesus, and I trust Him; His love is persistent and odd-defying. However, I receive no hope from it.

God forbid I end up like the characters of this film, although now I believe everything is possible.

A-

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+