Category Archives: Reviews

“DUNKIRK” Review (✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

One week, one day, one hour.

It seems sacrilegious to criticize the masterful Christopher Nolan on film. Still, nearly no one else is going to say this, so I will: Dunkirk sucks. In an age where there is no shortage of compelling war dramas, Dunkirk is confusing, lapsed, and misplaced in its direction. If that was painful for you to read, imagine how painful it was for me to type.

Retelling the events of the Dunkirk evacuation during World War II in 1940, Dunkirk follows British soldiers from three different battlegrounds: the land, the sea, and the sky. Exhausted after weeks of fighting in Dunkirk, British and French troops are cut off and surrounded by the German army, shooting down their ships and any support that can come through to rescue them. By every account, the Allies are in a dire situation. It’s not until British citizens, not soldiers, board their own sea boats and venture out themselves to rescue their soldiers. In a hastily collaborated effort to save their families and friends at war, about 80 sailor boats saved the lives of over 300,000 soldiers during the battle of Dunkirk. That is an incredible story, one that I’m sure the British retell with pride and patriotism.

The film stars Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, James D’Arcy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, and Tom Hardy. I identify the cast by their real names instead of their characters because that’s all you’re going to recognize them by. While strong characters are present in most of Nolan’s wider filmography, Dunkirk’s heroes are mostly forgettable on and off the battlefield. That’s because they meander from crisis to crisis, reacting as they go, only rarely having time to slow down for us to care about them or invest in their plights. If you’re going into Dunkirk expecting a lot of buildup to the character’s backstory, chances are you’re going to be disappointed. They’re not as fleshed out as Nolan’s other cinematic heroes are.

That being said, I understand why this is the case in the context of this film. It’s because Nolan wasn’t trying to write compelling characters for Dunkirk. He was trying to write compelling scenarios, and the character’s purposes were more or less meant as surrogates for us to project ourselves onto in order to be more immersed in the chaos on-screen. It’s been done before in film, and it’s been done well. Eraserhead had a mostly silent protagonist so we could more easily digest the confusion and horror the character was experiencing, while Boyhood had a mostly flat lead just so we could more accessibly relive our own childhood memories and nostalgia.

Nolan attempted to use surrogate characters for the same purposes in Dunkirk, and for the most part, he succeeded. That’s because the details he takes away from the people, he invests into the battlefield, and man are the battle scenes visceral. I’ve heard millions of gunshots from hundreds of other films during my career, yet the first time I heard that loud, ear-piercing BANG in the theater from this movie, I immediately forgot everything else I experienced and was immersed in the moment of tension and paranoia during wartime. There’s a lot of scenes like that in Dunkirk, where the action and sound mixing is so sudden and unexpected that it immediately places you in the moment. My favorite scenes probably happened closer to the beginning, where soldiers were in rows quietly waiting to board a life vessel, only to hear a high-pitched hum slowly crescendo into an ear-piercing screech. The soldiers lifted their heads, their eyes widened in panic, and then they ducked down, bracing for impact. I don’t have to tell you what happens next.

The action, the sound, and the production value are all truly the most immersive elements in Dunkirk, and they all need to be praised for their usage in this film. If Nolan had stuck strictly to those elements and put the soldiers through disaster after disaster in a linear path, then he would have a solid, powerful film on his hands.

The problems come in with Nolan’s writing, more specifically with how he chooses to sequence the film’s events. In the film, the three perspectives Dunkirk focuses on all take place in different scopes of time, with the land being one week, the sea being one day, and the air being one hour. If the film followed their stories chronologically, then you would follow these perspectives in descending order from land to sea to sky.

The issue is Nolan starts and ends these narratives at the same time, with each of their stories being intertwined against each other just so they get equal screen time. This makes the film so convoluted, because even though each of the stories takes place at different times, they’re edited to look like they’re all happening at once. Because of this, similar events will repeat twice, the passage of time will go from night to day and then back to night, and then other times essential transitions are cut out altogether. The editing is so jarring and disjointed that it immediately removes us from the picture, forcing us to put our thinking caps on and piece events together like a puzzle instead of simply letting the experience wash over us.

I know, I know, confusing narratives are Nolan’s staple. Except that with his other films, the complexity leads to a point and purpose for their larger narrative. The dreams layered on top of each other in Inception illustrated the scope and stakes of what the characters were really dealing with. The dueling narratives in The Prestige put us in the middle of this warring rivalry between two conniving magicians. And the reverse narrative in Memento put us in Leonard’s shoes to show us the mental instability he dealt with everyday.

Complex narratives led to a larger payoff with Nolan’s other films. With Dunkirk, however, there is no payoff to the nonlinear storytelling. It’s just there to unnecessarily frustrate us and distract us from the larger spectacle going on.

The critics have more or less made up their minds on this one, however, with many calling Dunkirk one of the greatest war films ever made, with some even saying it’s Christopher Nolan’s best film. I expect moviegoing audiences to be more divided on the topic. Dunkirk sports amazing set pieces and action sequences, and it sure knows how to blow stuff up in spectacular PG-13 fashion. But the investment is gone. The care isn’t present. And no matter how much I want to like this movie, I can’t help but get pulled out of the experience every time another jarring cut removes me from the scene. Better war films, such as Saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge, understand investment and how to involve its audiences in the tragedies of war. Those films are victories for WWII cinema. Dunkirk is a suicide bomber.

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“WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

All hail Caesar.

We fade in on a series of words. Rise. Dawn. War. Perhaps these words could have been used to describe every conflict in human history. In this context however, they refer to the apes, who were once the inferior species on the planet, now becoming so powerful and so many that they’ve pushed humanity on the verge of extinction. The sad part is that it was never in the ape’s intentions to do so. Nature has simply taken its course.

In this penultimate moment building up over the course of several years, War for the Planet of the Apes finds the ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) picking up the pieces of his broken life. War with the humans ravages the ape’s home day by day. Apes are dying every week from the attacks. And no matter how much Caesar pushes for peace, the humans keep pushing back for war. Like any general during wartime, Caesar is stuck in a cycle of violence, and he’s powerless to do anything about it.

One day, the ape’s forest home is raided and they are forced to flee from the carnage. The apes band together and find a new, safe location miles away from the humans in the desert. Caesar, however, cannot forget or forgive the deaths that the humans have caused. Now determined to avenge his fallen brethren, Caesar sets out alone to find the man who killed them and finally end this insufferable war.

I never expected to get so wrapped up into a movie about talking monkeys fighting against human beings. I especially didn’t expect to be rooting against my own species. Yet, that’s exactly what happened when I watched War for the Planet of the Apes, an epic and emotional conclusion to this prequel trilogy that functions as a summer blockbuster, a war drama, and a somber tragedy all at once. Few films reach the depth and the complexion that War for the Planet of the Apes reaches, even fewer that belong to a franchise.

First things first: Andy Serkis as Caesar. Holy cow. Serkis has always been a powerhouse actor in motion-capture performances, with his roles ranging from the cowardly and bipolar Gollum in Lord of the Rings to the angry giant monster in King Kong. With Caesar, however, he’s always displayed an intimacy and acuteness to the character that makes him believable not just as an ape, but as a husband, father, and leader struggling with the consequences of war. With Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Serkis displays how accurate he can be in portraying animalistic behaviors. With War however, he displays that alongside the emotional gravity that is attached to Caesar, the internal conflict of an ape who longs for peace but is pursuing it through fields of dead bodies, human and ape alike. This is simply a masterful performance delivered by the talented Andy Serkis. If he does not get nominated for an Oscar for this performance, then he deserves a special achievement statuette at the very least.

The character is also written extremely well, just like all of the characters are in this epic. Reportedly sitting in a theater for hours just for the purpose of watching movies, director Matt Reeves and writer Mark Bomback pulls inspiration from any source they could find, from Bridge on the River Kawaii to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. There really are a lot of similarities between War for the Planet of the Apes and other war dramas. The crippling effects on an established society, the murderous instinct that grows within its soldiers, the post-traumatic stress that comes from battle, even the God complexes that some generals amass victory after victory. This truly is a layered film, filled with a plethora of ideas and conflicts that make all the characters and their struggles interesting. A movie about talking animals has no business being this compelling or thought-provoking, yet War for the Planet of the Apes swiftly earns its title as the best Planet of the Apes movie out of the series.

The visual effects, of course, are as spectacular as they’ve always been. Not just with the explosions and action sequences, but also with its animation of the apes, their movements, and how they look and feel like real mutated animals. Viewers cried foul play a few years back when Dawn of the Planet of the Apes lost the best visual effects Oscar to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. I genuinely believe this film has a better chance of nabbing the award than Dawn does, mostly because its job is so much harder. While the effects team still has to adapt the ape’s movements and mannerisms (even more this time, because the film almost entirely focuses on the ape’s perspective), they also have to animate the ape’s strained emotions and facial expressions. Capturing the intimacy of that is hard, especially in animated form. Yet when the ape’s tear up, cry, snort their nostrils in anger, or smile, it feels like a real animal is in front of you performing these movements, not a visual effects artist from behind a computer screen.

You should be aware that War for the Planet of the Apes is not an action film, even though it is marketed to look like one. I saw a lot of kids in the screening I attended, and many of them were restless and anxious because there wasn’t a lot of movement happening on-screen. That doesn’t mean that the film is boring, but it does mean that it takes time to build up its story and illustrate the emotions that characters are experiencing. Because it takes this time to invest in itself, War for the Planet of the Apes ends up becoming a masterful picture, equal parts powerful, emotional, and morally conflicting. I knew there had to be some reason why it’s main protagonist was named after a Shakespearean tragedy.

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“SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” Review (✫✫1/2)

The spectacular Spider-millennial.

In the day and age of the modern superhero, Spider-Man has always been for fans of many ages. The Tobey Maguire movies were for the adults, while the Andrew Garfield movies were for teenagers. The third actor to reboot the franchise for the second time in less than 10 years, Tom Holland now swings into theaters with Spider-Man: Homecoming, a version that’s sillier, more lighthearted, and definitely aimed at the kiddos. You’re welcome to read that as either a compliment or a criticism. 

After tussling with Captain America and crew in Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is sent back to Queens by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who says he’ll call him when he’s ready for his next mission. Two months later, Parker is still sifting through boring high school life as he continues to go to class, get picked on by bullies, blush around cute girls, and wait eagerly for the school day to end. When the bell finally does ring and he’s out of school, he rushes towards the closest street alley he can find, suits up in his nifty new suit designed by Stark, and swings into action as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

The first thing I want to point out here is that I like Tom Holland a lot. Perhaps more than any actor before him, Holland embodies the characteristics of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man to a “T.” Peter’s social awkwardness and nerdiness, his integrity and good intentions, his black-and-white sense of morality and how he wants to make the world a safer place. When he’s out of the suit, Holland is required to portray the adolescent teenager, whose biggest challenges are passing your classes and talking to your high school crush. Holland is down-to-earth and believable in the role and very much feels like the most grounded Peter Parker to date. In the company of Maguire and Garfield, that is no small feat to accomplish.

Of course, Holland is also expected to play Spider-Man as well, and he exercises surprising finesse when he puts on the mask. There was one scene in the movie where a bystander spots Spidey on a rooftop, and he asks him to do a backflip, to which Spidey complies. Knowing that his acrobatics is what helped Holland land the role in the first place, I knew that it was very possible that he performed the stunt on his own, and he didn’t need wire support to do it. Embodying that kind of physicality for the role is what makes him fitting for Spider-Man, and seeing him physically take on the same challenges as the web-slinger puts the audience in Holland’s shoes, making the action feel more immediate and immersive.

Holland was great as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, and he’s just as great as him here. There’s one problem though: Holland is only half of the equation. The other part comes with the director in how he thinks the character should be portrayed. This is where things start getting sticky, because I don’t think director Jon Watts knew exactly how to handle Spider-Man’s second reboot and make him different from previous counterparts. It’s understandable, I suppose. The Maguire and Garfield movies both had their serious and lighthearted moments, and to make Holland stand apart from them might have been challenging without seeming like he was copying other filmmaker’s ideas.

Still, you have to stay true to the character, and there are some changes to Spider-Man here that just plain doesn’t make sense. In one chase scene, Spider-Man is after a getaway van with a pair of weapons dealers in it, and the action feels so clumsy that it comes off as slapstick. Spidey is being dragged along the floor, banging against garbage cans and mailboxes, web-slinging over buildings, crash-landing into pools, and at one point even playing fetch with a dog. The scene felt so removed from the acrobatic action that I’m used to that for a second I felt like I was watching a Looney Tunes cartoon rather than a Spider-Man movie.

Also, I hate that Iron Man is in this movie. Hate, hate, hate it. He’s not in the movie much, unlike the trailers will have you believe, but in the scenes that he is in he immediately takes control and switches focus away from Holland’s Spider-Man. In every moment that Spider-Man is in trouble, Iron Man swoops in to save the day. He falls into a lake, Iron Man saves him. A ship is splitting apart, Iron Man saves him. Imagine if another hero just swept in when Maguire was stopping the train in Spider-Man 2, or when Garfield dived to save falling bystanders off of a bridge in Amazing Spider-Man. Heroes have to answer for their choices and consequences in their stories, and Peter isn’t allowed to experience either in Homecoming. Tony didn’t have a “get out of jail free card” when he was stuck in a terrorist hellhole in Iron Man. Spidey doesn’t deserve a crutch just because he’s 15 years old.

Everything from the movie is functional, and little else. The writing is uninspired and demonstrates why having a large writing team doesn’t always equal better content (Homecoming had six writers, including Watts). The score by Michael Giacchino is fun and upbeat, but lacks the dramatic overtones that is prevalent in his previous compositions. And the visual effects are… inconsistent. Some parts look amazing, like when Spidey and the super villain Vulture (Michael Keaton) are fighting on top of the Staten Island Ferry. Other times they can’t close a door without looking like it’s from a video game. I remind you that Marvel just made one billion dollars from Captain America: Civil War last year, and this is their follow-up.

In the end, Spider-Man: Homecoming is fun but forgettable. It isn’t unique when it comes to its MCU peers, which is a shame because Spider-Man has many unique elements regarding his story. His immature, reckless use of his powers, the ironic tragedy surrounding his choices, his loyalty to the loved ones he cares about, the idea that even small people can become big heroes. All of that is shoved to the side in the place of cartoonish action where our young hero zips, zooms, and trips over himself when he doesn’t have a responsible adult to chaperone him. This was supposed to be a triumphant return to form for the character: his homecoming. Ha. More like the player’s bench.

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“WONDER WOMAN” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Superman’s got nothing on this woman.

In an industry as sexist as Hollywood, Wonder Woman is a blessing both to the cinema and to gender equality, a film that propels its female protagonist as not only just as capable as the men around her, but in many scenes, is better suited for more difficult tasks. Even before watching the movie, Wonder Woman has faced scrutiny just for being a female superhero in a male-dominated genre. How is it that by 2017, we’ve already had six Batmans, three Supermans, Spider-Mans, Hulks, and Punishers, but we’re just now getting our first Wonder Woman on film? If that isn’t an example of under-the-radar sexism in Hollywood, then what is?

In this prequel to Wonder Woman’s debut in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman follows Diana (Gal Gadot), an Amazonian born on the hidden island of Themyscira, where hundreds of her Amazonian sisters live, play, and train into fierce warriors. As a child, her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) tells her stories about how the island was created after Zeus stopped his son Ares, the God of War, for corrupting the souls of mankind. With his dying breath, Zeus created the island that Diana and her Amazonian sisters live on now, and they’ve been at peace ever since.

One day, Diana witnesses a plane crash-landing into the ocean. After diving into the sea to save the pilot’s life, Diana finds out the pilot’s name is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), and she learns that he’s fighting in a devastating world war to end all wars. Rationalizing that Ares is somehow behind this, Diana suits up in her island’s sacred armor, lasso, shield, and God-Killer sword and sets out with Steve Trevor to find and kill Ares, saving all of mankind from destruction in the process.

If you’ve been keeping up with the DC Cinematic Universe as of late, then you know the series has been struggling for quite some time. Man of Steel, for instance, was extremely divisive among its fans, with a seemingly equal amount of viewers both loving and hating it. Batman V. Superman was just all around terrible and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that actually did enjoy it. Suicide Squad was equally polarizing, but it at least had some great performances and fun action to go along with it. Overall though, the DCEU has been very inconsistent with their properties and its core fan base is equally questioning their commitment to the series. At this point, the future of the DCEU is looking very uncertain.

The best praise that I can give Wonder Woman is that it works as a rebirth for the DCEU: a clean slate, if you would. That’s because Wonder Woman breathes new life into the franchise, telling an epic story brimming with action, adventure, excitement, heart, humor, and relevance. In a day and age filled with cold, bleak, heartless blockbusters, Wonder Woman is a breath of fresh air we all desperately needed.

The heroic tag-team behind this success is the dynamic duo Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot, the film’s director and lead respectively. Jenkins, who’s last time directing a feature film was with 2003’s Monster, comes forward here as a master storyteller, handling both visually spectacular scenes and emotionally grounded moments with a surprising amount of finesse. The action, of course, is fast-paced and enthralling, with Wonder Woman charging through German soldiers and toppling over buildings like the aftermath of a Superman battle. Yet, I’m more impressed by the moments leading up to the action, the softer scenes revealing Diana’s character and her finding her place in a constantly shifting world ruled by male conflict and ego.

In her first scenes adjusting to life on Earth, Diana is coerced to try on big, clumpy, awkward dresses to conceal herself in a mostly conservative society. When she accidentally wanders into a war room, all of the men in there suddenly stop conversation to ask why a woman was in their presence. My favorite of these scenes involves Steve’s secretary Etta explaining to Diana what a secretary is. “I go where he tells me to go, and I do what he tells me to do,” Patty says. “Where I come from, that’s called slavery,” Diana responds.

But it isn’t just ideas of feminism and gender equality that Jenkins elaborates upon. This is also an expansive drama on the decreasing human condition, man’s capacity for violence and conflict, and ultimately loss of innocence. Through battlefields and warzones, Diana feels like a child fighting for ideals she believes in, yet are hopelessly obsolete in the face of bullets and bomb fire. If you live in a world where your ideas don’t exist, what do you then? Do you change with the rest of the world, or do you stand firm in yourself, waiting for the world to change with you instead?

Gadot remains emotionally persistent throughout the picture, hitting all of the right notes that she needs to at the right moments. We got an early look at her talents in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, where she was one of the few saving graces of the picture. Here she is on full display, not only embracing the rough physicality of the character, but also her courage, loyalty, honesty, perseverance, and goodness. She’s not just a strong action hero: she’s a strong character, fleshed out with her own dreams, ideas, aspirations, and insecurities. We need more superheroes as compelling as Wonder Woman in the movies, regardless if they are male or female.

This is quite simply one of the best superhero films ever made, let alone one of the best DC films. I put it right up there with The Dark Knight and Superman II, albeit for clearly different reasons. In a world where our entertainment revolves around chauvinism and sexual domination, Wonder Woman stands proud, strong, and adamant in that women can be just as empowering in our media as men can be. And so it is.

The greatest moment of this picture comes when our heroes are walking through the trenches of No Man’s Land, an explosive hellhole where there’s death and destruction in every which way and direction. In this moment, Diana desperately wants to help the people suffering around her, but the men tell her that it’s impossible. That’s why it’s called No Man’s Land, because no man can cross it. But a woman could, and she did.

 

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“ALIEN: COVENANT” Review (✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

Alien Covenant, kinda.

Before going in to watch Alien: Covenant, I was confused as to whether it was intended as a sequel to the 2012 science-fiction epic Prometheus or just a newly rebooted prequel to the Alien franchise. After I left the theater, I was still confused on what Alien: Covenant was supposed to be, and I’m pretty sure director Ridley Scott was equally confused while making it as well. At different times, Alien: Covenant wants to be a Prometheus sequel, an Alien prequel, and an Alien reboot all at once. In spreading itself thin, it misses all three marks. Although it remains to be intriguing and mildly entertaining, Alien: Covenant fails to stick out much in our minds. The most positive thing I can say is that it isn’t Alien: Resurrection.

Taking place after the events of Prometheus, Alien: Covenant follows the crew aboard the colonization ship Covenant, looking to begin new life on a remote planet called Origae-6. As the crew are traveling, they are suddenly woken up to discover a new planet in the system; one much closer to them that has the same hemisphere and plant life as Earth does. Curious to see if they could safely colonize on this planet instead, the Covenant crew lands on the mysterious planet to investigate, only to discover something that might lead to their violent, blood-soaked ends rather than new beginnings.

With this being the sixth film in the Alien franchise now, it isn’t hard to see why the series is getting tired. Let’s walk through the plots of each of them:

Introduction: Human crew members are in cryogenic stasis on a spaceship heading somewhere, usually with an android accompanying them.

Setup: Something goes wrong, crew members wake up, travel to mysterious planet.

Complication: Crew members discover threatening alien after it kills a few of them, panic ensues.

Climax: Brave female protagonist convinces crew that alien is too dangerous to live and must be destroyed.

Resolution: Bloodshed ensues, alien is killed, at least one crewmember survives, usually the brave female.

In five sentences, I’ve essentially covered what happens in six two-hour movies. That alone should show you how repetitive the series is getting.

But just because all of the movies have the same plots, it doesn’t mean they’re automatically doomed from the start. Look at Prometheus. That film covers the same ground that every other Alien movie has before it, and yet, it feels like a different experience. That’s because it took a different approach to the series and its characters. Alien was a survival-horror experience set inside the claustrophobic setting of a spaceship. Prometheus was an exploration of our origins and how that ties in to greater ideas involving religion and creationism. While Alien: Covenant didn’t have to be as ambitious as Prometheus was, it did have to make itself unique to the rest of its cinematic counterparts. Instead, all it feels like is a retread, and the entertainment value is siphoned from seeing Aliens violently dismember human beings on-screen.

I know Prometheus also had its dissenters, but the strength that movie had going for it was its thought-provoking ideas and how they impacted the characters around them. If you were frustrated by Prometheus, chances are you will not be able to even stomach the implausibilities in Alien: Covenant.

Take, for instance, the first of this movie’s alien pregnancies. They were not done by the Facehuggers in Alien or the Engineers in Prometheus. No, here they are done by black flower pollen flying into one explorer’s nose and into another’s ears. That’s how it’s done now, I guess. Alien had Facehuggers, Prometheus had Engineers, and Alien: Covenant has ear and nose plant sex. At least the porn parody will have plenty of inspiration to pull from.

Some scenes like that are just silly and illogical, while others are just outright bad or laughable. In the first chestburst scene in this movie, an Alien pops out from a guys back and goes on to attack the other crew members on board. Yet, one girl is so bad at reacting that it felt like she belonged in a Looney Tunes cartoon rather than an Alien movie. First she opens the door to the infirmary where the alien was at, and it would have been simple enough to just leave it in there and starve it to death. Then she slips on a puddle of blood right before shooting, and missing, the alien. And just when the alien escapes and starts attacking her, she fires wildly in every which way and direction, eventually shooting a barrel of fuel, exploding and killing herself, her on-board companion, the alien, and destroying the crew’s only means of leaving the planet. The scene was meant to be scary, yet I couldn’t stop laughing from how terribly it was executed.

The conflicting thing about this movie is that while some scenes are done very poorly, others are done exceptionally. Katherine Waterston, for instance, is outstanding as the lead. Early on in her introduction, we grasp a sense of the tragedy the character is facing, and her tearful portrayal of a woman going through loss and anguish shows how hard Waterston tried for this film. Most other actresses would hear they’re being cast in a Alien movie and would just phone in the performance for the spectacle of the visual effects. Waterston put in the extra effort, and she deserves to be recognized as an action heroine alongside the likes of Ellen Ripley, even if the movie doesn’t deserve the same recognition.

I also really liked Michael Fassbender in the movie as well. In Prometheus, he played the manipulative android David, while in Alien: Covenant he plays another android named Walter. I can’t go too much into his character without fear of spoilers, but he shares an interesting relationship with another character that builds into a conflict of duality between the two. In my favorite scene from the film, Walter is speaking to another android and discussing the unorthodox nature of artificial intelligence. From the intelligent dialogue, to the intriguing points raised, to the steady camerawork, to the subliminal differences between the two character’s performances, this was a fantastic scene that demonstrated how great of an actor Fassbender really is. I’m excited to see what he brings in future installments, although I don’t know where exactly you can take the character from here.

The movie, of course, has the best visual effects out of any Alien movie so far. That, however, is slight praise since that’s also the case with any franchise film produced today. The problem is that Scott never centralizes all of the elements together to make a compelling Alien movie, making the series canon more muddled and confusing rather than streamlined and fluid. The script is incoherent and illogical. The editing makes for some disjointed sequences that fails to make the movie consistently scary or interesting. Even the alien, while looking more intimidating than its previous counterparts, fails to invoke the same sense of fear and dread from its previous installments.

In a strange way though, Alien: Covenant accurately reflects Ridley Scott’s career as a whole. Sometimes he hits home runs, like the original Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator. Other times his films are catastrophic, like The Counselor or Exodus: Gods and Kings. Alien: Covenant falls in the middle ground, and that’s the best way to describe Scott’s filmography: the middle ground. Not to mention Scott is planning on making four more Alien films after this. I’m sitting here wondering when we’re finally going to get to LV-426. Surely the round trip didn’t take this long to get there.

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“PROMETHEUS” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus is in magnificent design, a complex and fascinating arrangement of ideas that qualify it more as science-philosophy than it does as science-fiction. Where do we come from? Where are going from here? What exists among the stars, if anything exists at all? These are questions all of us have asked ourselves at one point or another, no matter what culture, faith, or ethnicity you belong to. So too does Prometheus expand upon these questions, and even though it doesn’t provide many answers, it does explore the possibilities in endless detail.

Taking place in the future of 2089, archeologist couple Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a set of strange cave drawings all around the world, all resembling the same image: natives, human beings, mankind, all bowing and worshiping towering humanoid beings who loom over them. These beings are represented as a higher authority to the humans, possibly representing themselves as mankind’s creators. As they tower over the humans, they all point to the same thing in the exact same direction: a quadrant in the sky, deeply immersed in space, signifying where they came from. Their home.

Fast forward to 2093. Shaw and Holloway, now part of a crew led by Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), travel to a strange planet known as LV-223, where Shaw believes they will meet their creators and discover the origins of the human race. What they find instead could very well mean the extinction of mankind.

It’s difficult to review a film like Prometheus because the plot is so embedded in its mythology and premise that you threaten to review ideas instead of the film itself. Originally conceived as a prequel to Alien, Prometheus has since then stretched its roots out to embrace wider, more ambitious ideas, elaborating on themes such as creationism, mortality, Godhood, human nature, and spiritual identity. What started as a story relating to science-fiction horror has since then branched out into a quest for humanity and for existence itself.

It’s interesting to see this film as it tackles these ideas headfirst, focusing on its themes first and entertainment second. Director Ridley Scott, who helmed the first Alien film back in 1979, does just as well here bringing breathtaking production value and applying it to thought-provoking content. In most summer blockbusters, directors are usually satisfied with throwing spectacular visual effects at us from the screen without having it immediately relating to the plot or its characters. Not Prometheus. Here, Scott smartly and subtly uses the visual effects as a gateway to the film and its larger narrative. Put simply, the visuals enhance the cinematic experience in the way that it is supposed to. It is not the experience in itself.

In the opening scene for instance, a grey-skinned giant swallows some sort of black liquid as his brethren boards an aircraft and flies away. As the giant stays behind, he begins to cough and choke violently as his skin begins to disintegrate. As he falls into the waterfall and his body dissolves into nothingness, the camera zooms up close to his remains, showing remnants of human DNA generating in the water.

What we are witnessing is, of course, the birth of humanity: the creation of “Adam” and “Eve”, if you will. The idea on its own is interesting and unique to other portrayals of creationism, but I’m more interested in the visual layout of the scene. Everything worked here. The elaborate makeup and costumes, the dark gray and blue coloring, the opaque and dreary landscapes. Everything culminates to form a visceral visual experience inside Prometheus: mysterious, ominous, and haunting, yet eerily beautiful in its own way

And out of any summer blockbuster to come out this year, none has a more standout cast than Prometheus does. Yes, that list does include The Avengers and The Hunger Games. While they too sport an incredible cast that lends very well to their film’s purposes, neither utilize their performers in a nuanced method that feels as real and tangible as this. Noomi Rapace, for instance, is a great lead in this movie, demonstrating a versatility and fierceness to her character that is equal parts thoughtful and uncompromising. In short, she is the perfect protagonist, and all of the emotions she experiences through the film are emotions we share with her. Theron has a thick snide to her character that is equally uncompromising, but has a colder edge to it that makes her more harsh and relentless to her fellow crew members. She starts off the film feeling like she has an ulterior agenda, yet there’s no way you could predict where exactly that agenda leads us.

Out of anyone else though, I’m most impressed by Michael Fassbender portraying an android named David. His character is endlessly fascinating. Unlike the other human characters, he seems to struggle with his existence the most, feeling superior to his mortal crew members while equally unable to relish and brag about himself. He’s artistic, cultured, intelligent, thoughtful, and has a metrosexualistic vibe to his speech and manner. Yet, he’s ultimately two-faced, and out of any of the other crew members, he’s the one you know the least about in terms of motivations and intentions. He is easily the most chilling and intriguing character out of the bunch. I would love to see where exactly Fassbender and Scott choose to take this character, should they use him in future installments.

Like any film, of course, Prometheus has its weaknesses. For one thing, it’s more intriguing and thought-provoking than it is thrilling or exciting, and that will be disappointing to fans who are expecting another horror-filled Alien romp. For all of its intelligence, there are some scenes where the science just plain doesn’t make sense, and some characters make the most unbelievably stupid decisions. And for all of its deeply-explored questions, Prometheus does not reach an established conclusion for its characters, but instead teases us to the possibilities of where they go from here.

I, however, love Prometheus and its ending because it resembles so much of mankind’s own faith and imagination for where we came from. Such an ending is appropriate because such is life. There is no concrete way to approach the unanswerable questions we have before or after watching Prometheus. They are too big of questions for just simple answers. All we can do as a developing species is keep our mind open, our eyes alert, and our ears receptive to anything we might learn in our lifetime.

We may never know the mysteries of our beginnings or endings. Indeed, only God would know such things, if you believe in one.

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“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2” Review (✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

With a little “g”.

Guardians of the Galaxy is irrevocably stupid. Whether you’re a fan or not, this is generally considered consensus among viewers. This is a superhero movie filled with wise-cracking bounty hunters, green-skinned assassins, talking trees, raccoons, and even ducks. If you had told me about a movie like this 10 years ago, I would have laughed you off and said “Leave me alone, I’m trying to watch Spider-Man 3”.

And yet, Guardians of the Galaxy became an instant classic: a surprise hit nobody was expecting. That’s because writer-director James Gunn found an impeccable balance between action, humor, wit, drama, and in-cheek satire only the most passionate Marvel fans could catch. Guardians wasn’t just a great superhero movie: it was a great movie period. It’s energy, originality, and irresistible sense of style breathed life into its absurd premise, playing well on its strengths while downplaying its potential weaknesses.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has all of the elements of the first movie, just more haphazardly assembled. The action is still great, the cast remains phenomenal in their roles, and Gunn is equally skilled in throwing in some entertaining Easter Eggs every once in a while. But the tone is off. The jokes don’t land as much. The emotions don’t hit as hard. And no matter how you slice it, Vol. 2 is just a lesser version of Vol. 1. Disappointing, but not surprising.

In this sequel to the star-studded sci-fi blockbuster, Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) discovers the identity of his father: a celestial that has lived for ages called Ego (Kurt Russel), an appropriate name considering his high-strung personality. After saving the guardians from an attack by the Sovereign, a gold-plated alien species that would make Ebenezer Scrooge drool in his seat, Ego reveals himself to Peter and invites him to his planet so that they could bond as father and son. Joined by Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel) and newcomers Yondu (Michael Rooker), Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff), the Guardians of the Galaxy set out to discover Peter’s true heritage and to see where his destiny may lie.

When Vol. 2 opens up on its first scene, I was immediately reminded of the fun, unorthodox energy sprouted from the first film. Pratt’s charismatic swagger, the catchy and toe-tapping 70’s music, the obnoxious and absurd action, even a miniature Groot was dancing to the tune of “Mr. Blue Sky” while the rest of the Guardians were busy fighting a giant space monster in the background. If this first scene was anything to go by, it was that Gunn still had his sense of style intact and he was ready to follow through with it to the end of Vol. 2.

He does in a way, but it isn’t without its inconsistencies. There is a lot to like here in Vol. 2, mostly having to do with the cast. Pratt and Cooper remain to be the best performers out of the other Guardians, and their spontaneous and quick-witted lines made me laugh and chuckle at their on-screen antics. Kurt Russel has a charismatic intensity that vibes very well with Pratt, and at comparing the two side-by-side, it’s easy to see how their characters are related. Gillan also gets more screen time as Nebula, and Gunn fleshes her out as a more well-rounded character complete with her own fears, apprehension, and regrets. Gunn has previously stated that Nebula is a strong enough character to warrant her own movie. After watching Vol. 2, I can totally see that happening and would be curious to see where exactly Gunn could take her.

These performances alongside the others make for a very strong ensemble, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since last year’s Captain America: Civil War. Yet the characters and their motivations struggle to mesh and at times lack sense altogether. Yondu, for instance, is painted here as an almost-fatherly figure to Peter, juxtaposed right alongside Ego in their differences for how they raised Peter. Yet in the first Guardians, Yondu is the complete antithesis of Peter, a ruthless criminal that was fully intent on killing Quill for betraying his ravagers. How does it make sense that Yondu was dead-set on killing Peter in the first movie, whereas here he’s flipped to being more protective and even concerned? One could argue it as a change of heart, but that doesn’t make any sense. Where did that change come from? What was the inciting incident? Why now after Peter betrayed Yondu not once, but twice?

There are other things that don’t work as well in the picture. The Sovereign are not very interesting villains and serve little purpose except to look shiny on the big screen. There’s a running gag with Rocket where he keeps winking out of the wrong eye while speaking sarcastically. I’m left wondering how a cybernetically enhanced raccoon could not know the difference between his left and right eye. And some of the dialogue was just too stupid to forgive. In the climax of the film, Peter yells to the movie’s villain “YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE KILLED __ AND CRUSHED MY WALKMAN!” I’m thinking the person or the Walkman, pick one and stick with it.

Overall, Guardians Vol. 2 is a decent addition to the Marvel universe, but not an outstanding one. It’s just sort of there to hold us by until we can get to Spider-Man: Homecoming later in the summer. Yet I remain sympathetic towards Gunn because he was betting against expectation for this installment. Nobody was expecting Vol. 1 to be as great as it was: it just came out and subverted the entire superhero genre in a fun and stylish way. Following up from the surprise that was, how can you fairly expect Vol. 2 to have the same impact? You can tell Gunn invested a lot of heart and humor into this story: he just invested it in some of the wrong areas. What can I say? Even the classics can let us down sometimes.

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“BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017)” Review (✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

A tale as old as 20 years ago.

I’m going to be ostracized no matter what, so I may as well just come out with it: I didn’t like Beauty and the Beast. I really wanted to. I was a big fan of the original, I was really excited for this movie’s new look with updated visual effects, and I was especially looking forward to Emma Watson as everyone’s favorite book-loving heroine. Ultimately though, I felt as though this movie didn’t live up to its expectation as a remake of the iconic Disney classic. Then again though, who in their right mind would want to remake Beauty and the Beast anyway?

The Beauty and the Beast remake follows the original about as much as you expect, but with a few changes. There’s still Belle (Watson), there’s still Beast (Dan Stevens), there’s still that egotistical jock Gaston (Luke Evans) and his sidekick Le Fou (Josh Gad), as well as a slew of other characters. However, Disney thankfully updated their adaptation and made some changes to differ its live-action adaptation from its animated counterpart. Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is a clockmaker instead of an inventor, Beast’s origin is visually portrayed in the introduction, and Le Fou is now a homosexual. Conservatives roar in upheaval.

Since the homosexual aspect has been covered non-stop in mainstream media, I’m going to get that controversy out of the way first so I can focus more on the rest of the film. First of all: no, I don’t mind that Le Fou is gay. Gay characters have inhabited films numerous times over now, from Dog Day Afternoon all the way to Moonlight. Even in animated movies, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Finding Dory and Zootopia all had gay characters in them, however small of roles they played. To get outraged about a gay character to the point of banning the film is just ridiculous and over the top. For parents who are unreasonably angry about this, I would remind you that this is in a movie whose main characters experience Stockholm syndrome and bestiality. Where exactly do your priorities lie?

That being said, the character’s homosexuality was being heavily forced in the picture. I’m not criticizing Josh Gad, who plays Le Fou upbeat with energy and enthusiasm. I’m criticizing director Bill Condon, who paints the character as so on-the-nose gay that the only way to make it more obvious would be to nail a sign on Gad’s forehead. His high-pitched voice matches that of the women around him, his swagger so feminine that it’s surprising he’s not walking down a runway. His body posture and movements are so flamboyant that he comes off as pompous rather than genuine. Compare this to the nuanced performances of Stanley Tucci or Trevante Rhodes in The Devil Wears Prada or Moonlight. These were gay characters, but they weren’t so on-the-nose to the point where it was hokey or silly. Those characters felt like real people. Le Fou feels like a stereotype.

Again, I don’t mind that Le Fou is gay, but I do mind how it is portrayed as a caricature instead of a characteristic. Agenda or no agenda, topics such as sexuality need to be done well in film, and Le Fou’s is one that needed more finessing.

The rest of the film is… fine, I guess. Nothing really reaches out to you in the way that the animated film does, despite the added story content. I wondered why this was the case? From a technical standpoint, this film was produced at a higher quality than that of the original. The costumes are intricate and elegant, acutely embodying the traditional garb and style of the 19th century. The visual effects are astounding, and the castle characters pop out to you more than they did in the original. And the music, which recruits original composer Alan Menken, rejuvenates Beauty and the Beast’s soundtrack with newfound vigor for a modern audience.

Beauty and the Beast does all of this well, yet it’s still lacking. Why? When I look back on it, I think it comes down to the performances, or more accurately how they are captured. Stevens has his breakout role here as the Beast, but he never really sticks out beyond his roars and coarse deep voice. It feels like the CGI is doing more of the performance than he is, while he more or less just moves in the background, never really taking presence on-screen. Considering how much he stood out in television shows such as “Downton Abbey” to independent flicks such as The Guest, it’s sad to see his talents diluted down here to basically a motion performance.

His co-star Watson is sadly an even bigger disappointment. Her performance was the part I was most excited about in the film, but while watching her, I noticed that she felt more stiff and wooden than even the castle characters did. Everytime she spoke a line that Paige O’Hara spoke in the original, it didn’t feel like it was Belle speaking. It felt like Watson was just reading from the page during a script read. The only actor to wholly embrace his role was Luke Evans as Gaston, who ironically enough is the most cartoonish character out of the whole cast.

I don’t even necessarily blame the actors for their awkward placement in this film. I think Condon just didn’t know how to direct them to their fullest potential. Among his credits include the last two Twilight films and The Fifth Estate. He didn’t know how to guide his cast in the right direction in those movies either. Why would he suddenly learn how to do it now?

I know this review will be divisive among passionate Disney fans, who perhaps will love the source material too much to see when it isn’t done well. The film remains to be brilliantly produced, visually stunning, and pleasing to the ears. It’s a for-sure lock for multiple technical awards at the Oscars, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it even won a few as well.

But Beauty and the Beast feels too much like it’s trying to replicate the emotions from its animated counterpart instead of trying to fill it with its own life. It’s sad, really. Disney took a bold step in remaking one of its most well-known properties, only to crumble underneath the sensationalism of it all. And people thought the gay character would be the movie’s biggest problem.

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“BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Beauty exists on the inside, not the outside.

The first time I watched Beauty and the Beast in theaters was nothing short of an enchanting experience. It was absolutely magical. The bright colors, the wondrous music, the dizzying animation, the brilliant voiceover work and the creative characters all combined into an experience that is ethereal, passionate, and everlasting. This is truly a standout among the Disney films, one that clearly demonstrates why animated film should be considered on equal footing to live-action.

In even the opening moments of the picture, we understand the scope of this movie and where exactly it wants to lead us. Sweeping through valleys, trees, and rivers until it arrives at a lone castle, we are told the story of an arrogant prince who refused to shelter an old woman from the cold. That woman, as it turns out, was an enchantress, and she placed a curse on this prince for his cruelty and his ego. The nails on his hands turned into claws like a lion. His smooth skin turned hairy like a wolf. And his human face was erased and replaced with the horns, teeth, and fur of an oxen. This prince was no longer royalty. He was now a Beast.

Enter Belle (Paige O’Hara), a village girl that lived a few miles away from the Beast and his castle. Belle isn’t seen as normal by her fellow villagers. She’s not dainty like the other girls are. She’s not interested in looking for a man, birthing children, or settling down to have a family. She’s more than content in living at home with her father the inventor and the occasional book she checks out from the local library. Her independence is seen as strange, even dangerous by her fellow villagers. But that’s the time that she lives in.

One day, her father ventures too far into the woods and is attacked by a pack of wolves. As Belle races to rescue her father, she runs into a creature that looks like an animal but talks like a human. That creature is the Beast, and thus begins their adventure as old as time.

One of the most prolific elements in any Disney movie is always the music. “When You Wish Upon A Star” in Pinnocchio. “Part of Your World” in The Little Mermaid. “Circle of Life” in Lion King. In most movies, the characters, the dialogue, and the action all make up the tone and feel of the film, while the music more or less rests in the background.

Not with Disney though. In their films, the music is elevated to the forefront as a form of expression for character’s moods and feelings, the lyrics expressing meaning and language much like the dialogue does. That rhythm and aesthetic is repeated masterfully here in Beauty and the Beast as composer Alan Menken takes us through an epic journey filled with upbeat melodies, climactic staccato, ominous foreshadowing, and beautiful voices that fill us with wonder and joy. This material would make for great opera if it hasn’t already in its animated form.

Seriously, the next time you watch Beauty and the Beast, close your eyes during one of the musical numbers and see if you can still follow what’s going on. I’m betting a 20 that you can. The conversation that characters carry while in movement, singing, and dancing carries the story in a way that flows just right while just slightly resisting the urge to be on-the-nose. Most musicals have that problem, in that they have to spell everything out like we’re second graders and can’t tell what’s going on unless it’s read to us like a bedtime story.

But Beauty and the Beast doesn’t ever fall into this mundane repetition of obviousness. Not once. Mostly because every scene comes alive with movement and energy, always moving on to the next scene, not slowing down to pause unless a scene calls for it. That’s because directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise have a clear understanding of pacing and build up, and how to make these elements work to escalate emotions in a film. Watch, for instance, how long they delay the reveal of the Beast. It’s at about the 30-minute mark when the Beast finally emerges from the shadows, and he doesn’t pop out like a Jack-in-the-box. His reveal is instead slow and ominous, ashamed by his ugly, animalistic appearance.

I find it interesting how the story parallels outward looks to inward personality, just like The Phantom of the Opera or Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. In many ways, Belle and the Beast are outsiders, their differences shamed by the people around them. Beast is an aggressive, angry individual who is just seeking love, but doesn’t know how to pursue it or even where to start. Belle is a compassionate and intelligent woman who is proud of her independence, but secretly yearns for something more. Both of these are character archetypes definitely, but they’re done with an energy and honesty here that feels original and vivid.

I was reminded of Pinocchio while watching this movie. They’re very similar in many ways, mostly because they pose the same questions. How do you define someone’s humanity? Where does real strength come from? And where does the concept of love fit into all of this? They go about these questions in different ways, but they arrive to the same conclusions. Humanity is honesty, strength comes from within, and love is the source to both of these.

It’s also interesting how screenwriter Linda Woolverton confronts gender stereotypes while defining concepts of masculinity and femininity. There’s a character in here named Gaston (Richard White), who’s filled with so much hot air that his character would make more sense if he were a balloon. Gaston embodies all of the characteristics in how society perceives masculinity. His muscles are bulging and his bones are strong. He loves to get into fights and show off in front of cute girls. He is cocky and arrogant. He lacks humility and humbleness. And he doesn’t have a willingness to learn or admit when he is wrong. If these characters existed in a woman, she would be shamed for being selfish and egotistical. Yet when they’re in a man, people shrug their shoulders and say “Eh, boys will be boys.”

Gaston is seen as a hero by the townspeople, when really he’s only interested in serving his own self interests. I find it interesting how in the more pressured moments, Gaston cowers in fear, whereas Belle and the Beast persevere through the struggles. Yet, Gaston is celebrated as the bravest man in town. Could anyone ever see the Beast as masculine, or would they be too scared by his appearance and call him a monster instead? And what about Belle? She’s braver than Gaston, yet she’s a woman. Do you call that masculine strength, or feminine strength?

As the first woman to write a script for Disney, I’m assuming Woolverton comes from a personal space while writing this. She shows very clearly that people don’t exist inside stereotypes even though we create them. We are our own person, unique and irreplaceable in our own ways. This is a movie that celebrates individuality, diversity, and gender equality. While men and women exhibit different strengths from one another, they are strengths nonetheless. Woolverton has done a masterful job in making this film immediately relevant to her audience. I presume that’s why she would continue a long writing relationship with Disney that includes credits such as The Lion King, Maleficent, and Alice in Wonderland.

I could go on and on about all the amazing things about this picture. The animation is crisp and clear and brings detail and life into every person, every scene, and every setting that it paints in our minds. The characters come alive and dance to the beat and tune of every exciting moment in this picture. And at the center of it all are these two star-crossed strangers, who have every reason to be afraid of each other, yet fall in love despite all the odds.

I’m trying to levy where exactly I would rank Beauty and the Beast in comparison to its fellow Disney companions. Pinocchio is definitely first for me, then Bambi. I think Beauty and the Beast would rank third for me, but that’s still no small feat to achieve. With generations of different characters, stories, and mythology at their fingertips, how does Disney keep improving upon their franchise? This is a film that is so well made that you could see it being translated into live-action, although I almost don’t want it to. There really isn’t another film quite like Beauty and the Beast, and I seriously doubt there will be another one like it in the future.

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“THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST” Review (✫✫✫✫)

A passion we’ll never be able to understand.

We open on a dark, haunting shot, a man standing alone in the vineyard weeping and praying desperately. Tears are streaming down his face. Blood is sweating from his brow. He begs in thick Hebrew dialect, begging to his heavenly father for another path if there is one. He knows what is coming. He knows what he has to do, and he’s afraid of everything that is about to happen.

A figure hides in the shadows, tempting him like he always has. He tells him he does not need to suffer if he does not want to. He does not need to be harmed. He does not need to die for the crimes committed by others. The man continues to weep, conflicted by his commitment to his father and the temptations from the evil one.

I’ve known this man ever since I was a young boy growing up in a Baptist Church. I’ve never met him face to face, yet I know him just like millions of other people do. Later when he exits the garden, a group of soldiers come to take him away before one of his followers slices one of the soldiers’ ear off in retaliation. The man rebukes his friend, miraculously heals the soldier’s ear, and allows the other soldiers to take him away. The evil one continues to watch closely while the rest of the man’s followers flee into the night.

This man, of course, is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, portrayed here by Jim Caviezel. He is the son of Mary the virgin, leader and friend to his faithful disciples, and the central figure behind the Christian faith. His story has been told and retold numerous times already, his sacrifice praised in churches all around the world. Yet, his story has never been told like this before. Not in the way that it is told in The Passion of the Christ.

In this epic drama directed by Mel Gibson, Jesus’ final hours is depicted in brutal, unrelenting detail as it covers the entirety of Jesus’ emotional and physical abuse leading up to his crucifixion. Whether you’re a believer or not, you more than likely already know the story from a historical perspective. A man claimed to be the son of God and was beaten, tortured, and sentenced to die on the cross because of his prophecies. Then on the third day after his passing, he mysteriously vanished from his tomb.

This much is consistent knowledge among atheists and believers alike. What isn’t covered enough is the full details surrounding Jesus’ suffering. I remember when I was in Sunday school and how much our instructors cleaned up their telling of Jesus’ crucifixion to us. I’m sure it was because we were all children and the instructors didn’t want to disturb us, but regardless we were only given a brief outline of the crucifixion without covering much of the specific details surrounding Jesus’ anguish. Since we grew up with this sanitized picture in our minds, we imagine the whole affair as clean-cut and are somehow able to brush through the messy parts of Jesus’ death.

Gibson, however, doesn’t allow us to shy away from the violence. Pulling from the New Testament Gospels including Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Gibson confronts Jesus’ suffering headfirst, demonstrating all of the brutalities that Jesus went through at the hands of those who persecuted him. Among the cruelties that Jesus experienced included being arrested, beaten, kicked, spat on, flogged viciously, stabbed rose thorns into his head, forced him to pick up a 300 pound wooden cross, travel through the blistering heat while carrying it on his back, whip him when he falls behind, dehydrate him, strip him, and humiliate him in public before nailing him to the cross and waiting for him to die a slow, agonizing death. I know some pastors who preach about the crucifixion as if it were some deeply spiritual, dignified affair. Believe me when I say there was nothing dignified about it. It was an ugly, violent, torturous, exhausting, and disturbing experience that Jesus went through, all because the Jewish high priests felt this man wasn’t the son of God.

The Passion of the Christ is a deeply moving film. Powerful, spiritual, and profoundly mesmerizing, this picture is commanding of our attention and doesn’t lose it until after it fades out from its final shot. That’s because Gibson focuses on telling Jesus’ story as a filmmaker and not as a follower. In most Faith-based movies, the big mistake most filmmakers make is glossing over the complexities of real life to stick to its shiny-clean moralistic agenda, forgetting that oftentimes believers and non-believers both face the same struggles. This is one of my biggest pet peeves when a film skips material just to take the high road when it comes to content and development. Can you imagine how jarring it might be to see Jesus’ crucifixion adapted as brutally as it is here, then flip into a upbeat, flowery musical such as Jesus Christ: Superstar?

And yet, Gibson doesn’t forget that Jesus was a man before he was any of the other things that society has labeled him. In both cultural and religious groups, Jesus is referred to under multiple pseudonyms. Messiah. Savior. Redeemer. Son of God. If you are a person belonging to the faith, then of course you see him as all of these things and more.

But who was Jesus before any of these titles were attached to him? Quite simply, Jesus was a man. He had a family, friends, a great many people who cared about him and loved him, and he cared about and loved each of them a great deal in return. And yet, even as a man, he possessed a grace and strength to his character that is all too rare in today’s world. In the moments where he was tortured, victimized, and sentenced to a bloody death, you would understandably assume that most others in his position would curse and lash out at the people who were hurting him. Yet, while being mutilated, abused, and laughed at, Jesus cried to the heavens and shouted out “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

I’m trying to write this review from the perspective of a non-believer. As a Christian, I’ve always been familiar with Jesus’ story and why he felt the need to sacrifice himself for the people he loved. In the same way that Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatmas Gandhi died for the causes they believed in, so too did Jesus die for the cause that he believed in. Yet, their causes were for mortal and earthly movements. Jesus’ cause was for something much bigger, something that is not understandable to most people. So why should non-believers take the time to watch The Passion?

For me, I would watch it just to get an understanding of the man who lived and died. Like Schindler’s List, Braveheart, and Born on the Fourth of July, The Passion of the Christ evokes a deep understanding of the emotional impact for the character and what his actions meant to the people around him. This was a man who really lived and died for the people he held a deep compassion for. Even if you don’t believe in his mission or his identity as the messiah, can’t you at least feel sympathy for this man’s sacrifice and his willingness to die for the people he loved?

I will leave it to you to decide your own conclusions based on what this film shows you. I will say that even if I were not a Christian or a believer, I would still be moved by Jesus’ story and the sacrifices he made for his people. He knew in his heart what would come from this. He knew he would extend this gift to everyone and many would still choose to not accept it. So why would he still willingly sacrifice himself and allow himself to suffer, knowing where everything will lead in the long run? As much as we’re tempted to read too deeply into his intentions, I think the answer is relatively simple: love. He died because he loved us, even though he has every reason to hate us for our persecution of him. That’s a love many of us will never be able to understand. Or perhaps, maybe a more appropriate word would be passion.

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