The Nightingale

9nrpzmvdegq8hmu1rnyc90xqth6

A bit redundant both in its episodes and what it’s trying to say, yet also effective at portraying the Hell everybody’s stuck in. Indeed, it feels as if the characters are walking through purgatory, and death is but another pit stop before they must continue sliding down further into the abyss.

B+

The Edge of Democracy

aaaabtx_3s5w8rudy9al9z44yw1x8_6j11bglclaio9rmofrgbm4lkuftj4_oshge5suu56o-inkujtjcb1apwecpjosl9becfbj-zzlov2rdcifvrrdrcdz9e7pwems_q

It’s the story of our world. A person decries the unethical actions of those in political power and then, years later, when the person has achieved political power for themselves, via the ballot or the gun, said person engages in the same type of behavior they used to criticize before.

What’s stupefying is not that men and women keep on doing this; it is in our fallen, human nature to be deceitful, after all. What surprises me is how everybody else keeps thinking that their candidate is the chosen one. Everyone thinks government sucks because it hasn’t been done right, but with their candidate, everything will be made right. Nobody learns, so we are doomed to repeat the cycles of history, and on and on until the world finally stops spinning, and God finally rescues us from this madness.

Memorable Moments 2019

The following is a list of movie sequences, scenes, and moments that percolated in my mind long after the credits rolled. In no particular order:

 

VICE – We live in confusing times

5c200386662cc.image_

Vice lays out its thesis with enormous clarity in its opening minutes. We are all slaves to a system of governance that is sick and broken, and we are the only ones capable of doing anything about it. But we won’t because our jobs exhaust us, our bills stress us out, and it’s easier to chill with Netflix than to engage with our putrid reality.

 

THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED) – Lunch

mv5bymm4mjq0ntatmmywms00mjexlwe2ogytyjawzte4owi5mzvixkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkxnjuynq4040._v1_ux477_cr00477268_al_

A father sits across the table from his son, and they try to converse. But the father is too blinded by selfishness and delusion to truly connect with his son. The son knows this, and still he powers ahead, trying to make his dad notice him, be proud of him. It’s an extraordinarily moving moment in a film that zeroes in on father-children relationships like very few in recent memory. 

MIDSOMMAR – Intro

midsommar

This is the second year in a row a scene from Ari Aster shakes my very bones. Not even 10 minutes in and we are introduced, in a chilling way, to our heroine and the scars she’ll wear for the next two hours. Not only does the scene set the stage for the nightmare ahead, but it dives head on to the themes of loss and grief that the film explores, to varying effect.

JOKER – The Murray Show

e2959c63-bde0-42a6-906b-cebff397f1d9-murrayfranklin

The most celebrated comic book villain of all time has always existed within the realm of fiction. Even Heath Ledger’s personification of the character in The Dark Knight did not step out of the screen into our real. Not so with this joker. The scene at the late night show, in which he comes clean to his sins, is chilling because you see this villain, for the first time, as existing in this very moment, perhaps somewhere close to you. It is a picture for our troubled times.

AS GOOD AS IT GETS – KITCHEN LETTERS 

primary_as-good-as-it-gets

As aching, beautiful, and tender as cinema can get. Already wrote about this moment in my initial review, but it is worth mentioning again. A treatise on motherhood, singleness and loneliness that spans but a few minutes, this scene is one of the finest in years.

THE RETURN OF THE KING – DO YOU REMEMBER THE SHIRE, MR FRODO?

lotr-the-return-of-the-king-471

Boasting an amount of gravitas that modern blockbusters can only fantasize about, the heroism of the hobbits Sam and Frodo is moving. In this moment, at the end of all things, it reaches its apex when a weary Sam literally carries a moribund Frodo on his back, on their way to a mountain of fire that may very well mean their doom. There’s a couple other sequences from this trilogy that could have made this cut, but I settled on this one since it concludes the story on an uplifting note. 

INCEPTION – GROW OLD TOGETHER

INCEPTION

“I miss you more than I can bear, but I have to let you go”. 

VOX LUX – AMBULANCE RIDE

vl_0981.dng

Vox Lux begins with a student walking into his classroom, taking out a shotgun and shooting all his classmates. One of the students is put into an ambulance, and for the next five minutes (I timed it) the camera stays there. It shifts from an exterior to an interior shot, the camera swirling around the vehicle, capturing the highways, the vegetation next to it. Then it captures the young victim, as the first responders attempt to keep her alive. Meanwhile, Scott Walker’s mournful score plays over all. 

THE DEATH OF STALIN – I HAVE PAPERS ON ALL OF YOU

1795463433001_5615781374001_5615744412001-vs

Were this not played for laughs, a sharp satire shining a light on the events occurring immediately after Stalin’s death in Soviet Russia, it all might be too horrific. It’s more bearable and entertaining this way, since we get to mock the disgusting human beings who were in power then, without having their atrocities in the foreground. But then there’s this scene, in which one of the leaders confronts the rest of the committee with all the nasty things everyone else has done. There’s still some jokes here and there, but you cannot help but be in awe at the lengths our species will go to for power’s sake. 

THE LAUNDROMAT – PRAYER OF DELIVERANCE

the-laundromat-david-schwimmer-netflix-1567165368

I think most genuine believers, at one time or another, have prayed or will pray a supplication similar to the one delivered by Meryl Streep here, as she sits in a church pew. This moment only works because of what precedes it: 2 wealthy bankers say that the prayers of the rich and powerful are monetary contributions to political campaigns. Only suckers, and the rest of us, attend church to make our prayers. And right now our prayers aren’t being heard. Or they are being answered in a way not of our liking. Whatever the case, please God, deliver your perfect justice. Amen. 

Honey Boy

honeyboymovieposter

I don’t know much about my father’s father, but I do know this. He cheated on his wife. Could that be the reason my own dad cheated on my mom? Are children incapable of escaping the cycle begun by their forebears, the sins of the father becoming those of the son?

There’s a scene in which James (Shia LaBeouf) is attending AA, and he tells the story of his upbringing. A nasty, evil woman raised him. She was violent with him. James cries during the story. A few hours later, James slaps his own son, Otis (Noah Jupe), hard across the face. Twice.

A decade later Otis (Lucas Hedges) is behind bars.

Honey Boy is a compassionate movie, showing father and son not as perpetrator nor victim, but as humans trying their best to love and forgive each other in a world that went astray a long, long time ago.

B+

The Informant

informant_keyart

Steven Soderbergh is one of my favorite filmmakers. I haven’t fallen in love with any of his material the way I have other directors, but I really admire his ability to take any story, whether intimate or vast in scope, and consistently make it entertaining. There’s a joyful quality to his work, and one cannot help but laugh at the way his characters behave, or the predicaments they find themselves in.

The Informant! is a super breezy and funny story about an awful guy. Had this been helmed by another director, it might have emphasized suspense above all else, or really milked that twist near the end. But Soderbergh just plays it straight. It makes for easier connection with the main character, as he’s taken not as some sort of American hero befelled by greed, but as just another average joe who can’t say no to temptation.

B+

The Laundromat

mv5bndhizta1mzitmwnmzc00ywzllwi5ntytyzi5mzmxngjkzdcxxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynte4nte0nju40._v1_

On October 17, 2019, the Pew Research Center released an update on America’s changing religious landscape. Since 2009, the last year the Center surveyed Americans, there’s been a sharp decrease in people who consider themselves Christians. At the same time, the number of those who claim to believe in no higher power has risen dramatically. At the current rate, it will only take two more decades for the number of Christians to be actually less than those who don’t believe in God.

These findings are aligned with the reality of our world. It’s not that people don’t believe in God anymore; adherence to an invisible Lord has been deemed foolish from the start. It’s that everybody is now aware that they have very good reasons not to. The rise of digital technology has brought people closer than ever before, and in so doing they have realized how deep and pervasive injustices run.

The Laundromat is a crash course on how the evil have no incentive at all to reform. It is technically a comedy, because if it weren’t it would be too depressive to watch. It is required viewing for everybody, not because of it’s quality, but for the urgency of its content. This is a movie that demands the viewer to be angry. It is a manifesto against unfettered greed and corruption, a call to arms in the name of a better planet. It might also serve as evidence by those who don’t believe in God. “Look at what goes on in our world”, they can say. “Why would an all-good, all-loving God allow such evil to thrive, and many more to suffer?”

I am not surprised Christianity is declining in America. It will continue to do so. But sadly, things won’t get any better. Eat the elites, destroy all the billionaires and millionaires, weed out corruption. In the end you’ll end up in the same place. Because it’s not a matter of a political or economic system, it’s not a game of culture or ethics. We are all flesh and bone, with indwelling sin. And as long as that sin is alive, we will be it’s slaves. Somebody mentions how society is now a slave to the wealthy and we don’t even know it. I say society is a slave to sin, and we don’t even know it. That’s why I pray I keep having the strength to trust and love God. Would it be nice if the good Lord descended and solved financial inequality? Absolutely. But money in my pocket will not really fix my sin. Only His love will.

B+

Requiem for a Dream

poster840x830f8f8f8-pad750x1000f8f8f8.u2

This is where I confess to a shameful, possibly sinful question that pops into my head every now and then: if my heart can shatter over the pain of people I’ve never even met, why is God, who knows them intimately and loves them deeply, so indifferent to their plight? Going one step further, and making it about myself, why is God so quiet about my own hurts? If a broken, weak, sinful creature like myself can feel empathy over my own agonies, shouldn’t my Father who is in heaven be compelled to provide some sort of comfort and relief?

Requiem for a Dream is a gut wrenching, agonizingly brutal piece of cinema. Of the 1,150 movies I’ve seen since 2013, few have come close to the traumatizing effect this has on the soul. Indeed, so unrelenting is the pain it features that at one point I thought I was going to puke. In another, I actually lifted my voice up to the heavens and asked God to stop it all.

When are you going to come back, Lord? When will you make creation anew, and put everything in its right place? When will you wipe away all of our tears? Are you seeing this? Are you!? Sin is eating away all that is good in the world, sin is obliterating the natural order, sin is making us sad. Please God, do not delay any longer! Come, come and make things right!

But it is my duty as a new creature in Christ not only to pray for the salvation of His people, but to obey the command to go out into the world and preach the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ to every living creature. There’s few films that elucidate that truth, and spur the soul towards that mission as masterfully as Requiem for a Dream. If your church wants to make missionaries of people, show them this film. If you think that people in America have it easy and don’t require to hear the good news, watch this movie.

I’m currently reading a book on four differing views on hell-conditional, literal, metaphorical and purgatorial. There’s intriguing insights into all four. But I think I have my own answer. Requiem for a Dream provides the clearest vision of hell I have ever seen. Hell is a life lived far away from the presence of God, and all the soul crushing realities of attempting to fulfill out your dreams on your own strength.

So, now that I’ve said all that, how do I answer the questions that opened up this post? I’d love to say that after experiencing the harrowing journey of Requiem for a Dream I’d have an answer. The truth is I don’t. I still struggle with the pain of children in the face of a good Father. It continues to hurt. This is what I remind my spirit: be of good cheer, for Christ has overcome the world. It’s fine if I don’t have all the answers, so keep trusting, dragging yourself if you have to, in the one who knows everything.

A+

The Cleanse

the_cleanse

The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis’s seminal work on the Christian faith, is something that probably has never come up in conversation when discussing The Cleanse. A boring and silly comedy/horror hybrid, it is not very good. It makes literal the idea that people refuse to own up to their mistakes not out of some Shakespearean tragic flaw, but out of stubbornness.  Here it manifests itself with people refusing to kill a monster that came out of their own entrails solely because they birthed it.

If anybody is familiar with Lewis’s The Great Divorce, you’ll know it illuminates the reality that the gates of hell are locked from the inside. It’s people own stubbornness to admit anybody else’s points of view that ultimately dooms them.

Shutter Island

1ff59914fec77c337b2aee5aa46424ff

The perfect companion piece to Inception, Shutter Island is an atmospherically excellent thriller on the perils of refusing to let go of our past. Like that aforementioned film, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio delivering his trademark freak out performance. Also like that film, it starts as one thing (a caper in the case of Inception, a thriller here) only to morph into something entirely different by its third act (a rueful love story for the former, a tale of profound regret here).

So while I could conjure up a few hundred words comparing and contrasting both pictures, I instead will focus on an aspect that’s become tradition whenever I have the privilege of watching a Martin Scorsese picture. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, we’re about to discuss the Christian faith!

If you’re curious as to why I do this, I gently invite you to either: go over my posts on Martin Scorsese’s pictures! Look up interviews of the man where he discusses the importance of his faith! Watch Silence!

There’s only so much medication and therapy can assist you in vanquishing your demons. There’s only so many delusions you can build up about yourself before you eventually have to be confronted with the truth. Shutter Island is a sad movie because even after all the goodwill from the doctors, after all the great lengths they went to help a man they knew to be guilty, nothing ever comes off their efforts. Andrew Laedis (Leonardo DiCaprio) cannot let go of his shame.

There really seems to be no hope. But then, a sliver of light. Andrew Laedis is making his way across his living room, en route to encountering a scene that would change his life forever, when a voice emerges from his radio. “Jesus forgives sins! Get up and walk, he said to the paralyzed man”. Accepting this truth would not have brought Andrew’s family back to life, but it might have possibly brought back such needed sense of peace.

A- 

Vox Lux

71lapg912el._sl1500_

Vox Lux is the darker, more thought-provoking sibling of A Star is Born. The latter film had a fantastic first half, only for it to crumble under the weight of cliches in its second. The transformation of its star from reserved and gentle to international pop superstar felt a bit too manufactured, too calculated, for its conclusion to hit as strongly as it wanted to.
Vox Lux, on the other hand, is unconcerned with viewers preconceived notions of how stardom is supposed to function.

Never mind the picture’s stylistic choices-the opening credits looking like closing, or the horror like score that underlines certain scenes-, and focus only on the themes. We’re all fairly confident in that fame changes people; Vox Lux argues that stardom merely amplifies the visceral need to feel that’s already present in most of us.

Natalie Portman delivers a stupendous, occasionally frightening performance. She presents to us not only a pop star with fans as her only lifeline, but a detached mother, a cruel sister, an uncaring boss. Has it been the spotlight that transformed her so? Some of the earliest scenes, after all, show her on her knees praying before going to bed. But praying to who, or praying to what? A character tells her that she doesn’t fool him with her “good girl” charade. Could it be that we are all on our way to becoming monsters, or maybe we already are? Do external circumstances dictate our characters, or is it something else?

Beyond such thought-provoking questions, the film also explores America’s trend of looking to celebrities as paragons of integrity and morality. There’s a passage in which Celeste gives an interview to the press in which she’s asked about events that have occurred halfway across the world. An answer she gives causes outrage. The logical thing would be to never consider celebrities as more than what they are-performers and entertainers to the masses.

And yet here we are, placing them in pedestals for the wisdom that we in our ignorance have seen fit to ascribe to them. I can hear now a common argument against this: “because of their privileged position, they should be held to a higher moral standard than the rest of us”.
To which I reply, why aren’t you holding yourself accountable to the same standard you assign to your heroes? Money and fame, we’ve seen, means nothing in the grand scheme of the universe. All of us should strive for goodness, regardless of Twitter follower account.

B+