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+

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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+

Midnight Sun

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There’s been an unexpected downside to using MoviePass. Where before I watched movies that I had written down in my list, usually via streaming, I now watch movies on the big screen that I have no interest in seeing besides them being free. This had led to a higher intake of crappy movies, like the pointless and juvenile in its view of death as the most virtuous form of romance, Midnight Sun.

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

Call Me By Your Name

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For a film that feels entirely European, it is a bit strange how American the sex scenes between the two leads play out. They are sanitized, consisting of nothing more than the obligatory kiss before the camera turns its gaze to another section of the chamber the lovers find themselves in.

Not that I am clamoring for all out sex scenes, but I think this omission illustrates how the director approaches his characters: he provides them almost no intimacy. I don’t mean it as a knock on the film, which is quite captivating. You can practically feel yourself in a remote northern Italian town, taking in the sun and going on nightly swims.

However, at no point did I ever feel any of the sadness the characters experience. It was there on the screen, and I could understand it, but never did I experience it. The main point of reference I have in regards to Call Me By Your Name is the splendid French film Blue is the Warmest Color. That remains one of the most profoundly devastating and affecting films I’ve seen, and it is one of my favorites. Because I not only saw the loss of love, but felt it.

As it stands, Call Me By Your Name is a handsomely mounted piece with much to say about the maturity that only develops when the sting of loss (innocence, love, time) is deeply felt, but not one that I will carry with me the way I do other stories of its kind.

A-

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-

The Constant Gardener

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Love. At Any Cost.
So reads the tagline for The Constant Gardener, a film of rare empathy that also succeeds as a pulse pounding thriller.
On the surface, it’s about a love so intoxicating that Justin (Ralph Fiennes) is willing to die for it. Flashbacks show Tessa (Rachel Weisz) and Justin cavorting in bed, learning each others bodies, arguing.
Their romance is not given the typical romantic treatment, in which the couple goes on a date, camera lingerings on their faces, their gestures, and eventually come to the conclusion they are perfect for each other. We see them taking a bath together, and then we see Justin growing suspicious of Tessa, only for her to assuage his fears with pure, blatant honesty. Perhaps that is why it is so effective. The relationship is built not on grandiose Hollywood gesticulations, but the quiet workings of a couple who are at ease with one another.
The other love is the love for our neighbors. In this case, the poorest neighbors we can possibly imagine, as much of the action takes place in Kenya. Not once does the film induce pity for the happenings in the African continent-there are enough non profits and Facebook groups that do that already.
What the film does, and does so wonderfully, is present an infuriatingly unjust situation and tell the viewer that this is why we should love our neighbor. If we really did, we would not be using destitute Africans as guinea pigs.

There is more. The film also asks up to empathize with people like Tess, activists who have made it their life work to improve those of others. There are scenes in which Tess completely ignores her husband, so lost is she in the righteousness of her mission. We are later told that it was to keep him safe, but it was unnecessary, even hurtful.
Seconds before he commits suicide by shooting himself eight times, Justin tells her as much. Did Tess go overboard? Was her death preventable? What did her actions truly accomplish? Did she end up hurting her husband in the name of love, for him and her neighbors?
May we all find the love we need, so we can finally say we are home.

A-

El Secreto de sus Ojos

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“¿Como hizo para aprender a vivir sin ella?”

The words are spoken by a sad man to a man whose wife was raped and murdered.
Their circumstances could not be more different. The former can end his dilemma by speaking up, by going against the social codes of his society and declaring his love for somebody far above his station; the latter rues his dead wife every single day, struggling to remember her as years go by, confusing memories with memories of memories.
What binds them together is the heart.

It is heart what El Secreto de sus Ojos overflows with. More than any film I can remember, from opening frame to closing shot, the movie works like a novel. There is narration, but not the lazy one that plays over an array of images; the narration here is description for the novel within the movie, but its elegance augments the movie itself, since the themes between the novel and the events the characters live through are one and the same.

There are twists to the plot, but not cheapening ones or shocking for shock’s sake. In a way, the conclusion to the story feels so natural that the twist might not even be considered a twist at all, but a logical conclusion to the tragedy that has spanned 25 years and played out in 2 hours.

There is love. Some moments brim with tenderness, while others burst with the sorrow of heartbreak, and it all feels so real.
A scene set at a train station in which Benjamin (Ricardo Darin) and Irene (Soledad Villamil) make the decision that will dictate the next two decades of their lives is so captivating and melancholic that you wish the screenwriter wrote every single movie, just so you can keep losing yourself in the lives of similar characters.

A+