Archive for the ‘Films’ Category

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This week, Pope Francis moved the cases of ten individuals one step forward towards canonization. Among them was Takayama “Justo” Ukon, a samurai driven out of Japan for his chosen faith. In light of this, it’s time to take a look at Martin Scorsese’s new film, Silence, which deals with the period of persecution that Ukon lived in.

“I want to go out in the countryside
Oh sit by the clear, cool, crystal water
Get my spirit, way back to the feeling
Deep in my soul, I want to feel
Oh so close to the One.”

– Van Morrison, “Hymns to the Silence”

There’s so much to say about Silence. It’s been a hot topic in Catholic circles in the three weeks since its release. The ever-awesome Bishop Barron has weighed in, along with a torrent of Catholic film-goers. While anticipated greatly by so many, it’s left a lot of people questioning what exactly it’s trying to say. A few reviewers said they are “needing time to process the film.” Let me save you that time, because there’s really not much to process. It’s not that you shouldn’t reflect on it. After all, a measurement of quality art is how much it makes you internalize what it’s saying. And that’s the problem with Silence. It doesn’t say much worth hearing.

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Thomas More is not impressed by your apostasy.

Imagine, if you will, Braveheart, and legendary William Wallace, moments from death, being offered the respite that a quick execution will provide. Imagine Wallace asking for mercy instead of his ravenous call for “Freedom!” Imagine Sir Thomas More opting to lose himself, saving his own life for the sake of politically correctness in A Man for All Seasons. What would we have? We’d have a lot of folks we call heroes going belly up, that’s what. And what wouldn’t we have? We wouldn’t have the Scottish army rallying to Wallace’s cry and winning their freedom. We wouldn’t have SAINT Thomas More.

So now we come to Silence. For those not in the know, it’s a story focusing on the persecution of Catholics in 17th century Japan. More specifically, its a historical FICTION about two priests who risk their lives to go to Japan to find their mentor, who has allegedly renounced his faith.

When you hear that synopsis, generally speaking, you’d think you’d have a good understanding about what would happen. It is a familiar, albeit tragic story. The priests would do a bunch of good, but eventually they would get caught. Maybe one would escape, but this is Hollywood. This is Martin Scorsese. There has to be a sacrifice! There has to be heroism. And there is…kinda. 

There’s a remarkable inconsistency to what the writers of this film want us to believe. The two priests, Fathers Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver), while both holy men, are very different. Garupe complains more, worries more, and wants to play things safe. Rodrigues is the calm one, reminding Garupe why they came to Japan, to save souls. And they come into contact with Japanese Catholics who are absolutely in love with their faith, and eternally grateful for the unexpected appearance of the clergymen. And then, there’s Kichijiro, the reviled man who smuggled the priests into Japan and is revealed to have renounced his faith and watched as his family was killed for believing in it. And this is where the rubber hits the road…and gets a flat tire.

While Christians are imprisoned and killed by the government, the priests watch in horror from hiding at the insistence of the natives. As the net tightens around them, the priests are asked by their flock if they should renounce their faith to save their lives. Without hesitation, Rodrigues answers in the affirmative. Garupe, astonished at this response, answers in the contrary. This is the crux of the film. To be, or not to be, a martyr?

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For Garupe, the answer is yes, and despite his previous complaining, he gives his life while trying to save a Christian from execution by drowning. But this is mostly glossed over. The story, after all, follows Father Rodrigues, who is eventually captured and imprisoned. Father Rodrigues speaks to God about these trials, wanting some sort of instruction from Him, but lamenting and complaining that he hears nothing, except silence, in return. In the end, Father Rodrigues denounces his faith, gives up his priesthood, marries, and repeatedly displays anti-Christian behavior when the government requires it of him. After all that, upon Father Rodrigues’ death, he is shown clutching a crude wooden cross hidden in his palm.

Speaking from a narrative position, the problem here isn’t necessarily that Rodrigues apostatized. Its that we’re expected to treat him as a hero, as if the duality of a public and private life divorced from each other is laudable. “Look,” the film says, “he kept his faith hidden all those years in spite of everything! He’s heroic!” But a hidden faith is no faith at all. Jesus is pretty specific about this. You don’t hide your light under a basket! A Christian life is lived for others, or its not lived at all. What good is salt if it loses its flavor? (It actually ceases to be salt…shout out to Fr. Mike Schmitz for that bit of data).

The problem with Silence is the same problem we face in modern times. The modernist’s creed is to separate the personal from the public. You can believe whatever you want, as long as you do it in private. You can do whatever you want, as long as deep inside you feel like a good person. And we convince ourselves that this is fine because we call God an abstraction. He’s not there to tell us what to do or to interfere. He’s silent.

But here’s the thing. This supposed silence actually is God’s voice. It’s not vapid emptiness. God’s spoken word is a constantly-renewing creation. To believe he does not speak to us is to ignore his constant voice. To fill our ears with the wretched static of noise is to close ourselves off from the nature of God’s universe, still aborning. Silence is not an empty void of despair, but the very language of God.

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Issei Ogata’s (right) portrayal of the villainous Inoue Chikugonokami is marvelous.

If Fr. Rodrigues had been really listening, he would have understood how blatantly God was working; his flock was looking to him for example! Kichijiro breaks INTO prison not once, but twice, to go to confession, even after betraying his friends. It’s Kichijiro, the big sinner in need of mercy, who reminds Rodrigues, years after he’s abandoned his duties as a priest, that he’ll never stop being one. Rodrigues doesn’t really listen to the silence. He listens to the noise! Japanese officials tell him his quest is useless, they drive him to despair. Fr. Garupe’s sacrifice is pushed away and Fr. Rodrigues gives up in the face of roaring discouragement, cruelty, and violence. This isn’t heroism, its tragedy. It’s not William Wallace. It’s not Sir Thomas More. Ignoring the mission is not victory.

It’s significant to note that one of the apostatizing priests in Silence was based on the real-life Father Ferreira, who actually repented and died a martyr. But that’s not shown in this film, or in the book it’s based on. What’s shown is a film shot through the lens of moral ambiguity, where the viewer gets to decide who the hero is, or if there is one at all. This is exactly why this film isn’t worth reflecting on. There’s no deep meaning, just a vapid expanse of noise. Would you sit and reflect for days/weeks upon the static you hear when your favorite radio station goes out of range? If you did, it would likely only be to reflect on what you’re missing. The same thing holds true for this movie.

Silence is noise; a distraction from what true heroism and true Christianity is. There’s no need to spend weeks reflecting on it, unless you’re doing so to note what’s missing. But even then, why not fill yourself up with the silence of God instead? His still, small, voice that’s always there to listen to. Get away from the screens and walk in God’s nature, reflect on it as his gift. Go visit with people he’s brought into your life. Look for God’s Silence. Just not in this film.

After receiving a 10-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge quickly became one of the most anticipated films of the year. It doesn’t disappoint. In a year where Superman and Batman both were deconstructed into morally ambiguous big screen figures, Hacksaw Ridge gives us a hero who is unafraid of plunging into the jaws of death, not because of some inner conflict, but simply because he knows what his mission is.

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“Lord, help me get one more.”

Private Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a combat medic who refused to carry a gun, became the first conscientious objector to earn a Medal of Honor after he single-handedly saved at least 50 (some accounts have up to 100) wounded soldiers in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II.

Make no mistake, this is a horrific look at the reality of war. This was the most deadly battle in the Pacific theatre of war, taking place on top of an escarpment nearly 350 feet high. The Japanese Army had dug trenches and tunnels that honeycombed the ridge, and were well entrenched when the Americans reached the shore. So when the battle goes poorly for the good guys, its less like a retreat, and more like a descent from another world.

At grave risk to himself, Doss pulls soldier after soldier off the front lines, going back time after time with one prayer on his lips: “Lord, help me get one more.” It isn’t mentioned in the film, but after the war, a Japanese solder recalled having Doss in his sights, but that every time he tried to pull the trigger, his gun jammed.

The Bigger Picture

So often, faith is thought of outside of action, like it is all about sitting around, waiting for something to happen, but never putting your money where your mouth is. There’s a clear line in Hacksaw Ridge where Doss’ faith gets put to action. This isn’t about being content to let God take care of everything, it’s about putting your faith into action because you know God will take care of things.

The tone of the film takes that step over the line with Doss. It feels almost like a Southern romantic drama at first, even complete with a humorous bunkhouse confrontation between a Sergeant (Vince Vaughn) and his men. But when they hit the battlefield, reality sets in that the world of war is an alien one, dehumanizing, degrading, and deadly.

Andrew Garfield is spectacular as Doss, and while his fellow actors (especially Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer and Hugo Weaving) hold their own, its Garfield’s world they are living in, and he plays Doss, from his Virginia roots to bloodied boots, superbly, with his wide-eyed faith and hope shining through the grisly battle. He may have played Spider-Man before, but now he plays a real-life hero, in a film where Mel Gibson somehow makes the fog of war artistic, while bludgeoning the viewer (in a good way) with its finality and doom.

Speaking of Gibson, it’s been a long road for him, and folks have forgotten how talented he is. Hacksaw Ridge showcases his eye for detail and mastery of human emotion, and, as the man himself recently said, it’s time for forgiveness.

Takeaways

For a civilization supposedly so tolerant, our world is quite hostile to anyone with opinions outside the “norm,” which is interesting, because how often is “the norm” actually the best way to go? (McDonald’s and Justin Bieber, for example.)  This isn’t just true of religion and faith, but about politics, business, athletics, and pretty much everything.

But when you stand and actually let someone live out their faith in a virtuous way, with conviction, amazing things are bound to happen, as it did on Hacksaw Ridge many years ago.

So no matter how hard it gets, no matter how many bullets fly, or how many insults are thrown, we should all hope we will have the courage of Desmond Doss to say “Please, Lord, help me get one more,” and go back out on the battlefield for our fellow man. Oh, and if you want to know what that looks like, go see this film when it hits theaters this weekend.

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“I’m not gonna kill you…I’m just gonna hurt you…really, really bad.” – The Joker

That line really encapsulates Suicide Squad. After the Batman v Superman mess, DC/WB delivers us this film, which spares the DC Expanded Universe the bullet to the head, only to riddle it with the pain of knowing that folks in high places don’t know what they are doing.

First of all, Suicide Squad is miles better than Batman v Superman. Not even close. Suicide Squad actually gives us characters we care about, some awesome big screen debuts of iconic comic book characters and clear character motivations (mostly). The acting is also generally solid (like BvS). But that all gets bogged down in issues that come from the top down, namely the directing, editing, and writing. But good before bad, right? SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Good Stuff. 

  • Acting. Will Smith’s Deadshot was the best part of this film. We get some great scenes, including an amazing background flashback and some awesome action sequences. The script really undercuts his performance at times, but that’s not Smith’s fault. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is gold at times, and the voice she uses actually works, minus the couple times her British accent gets in the way. Everyone else does their job well, although the jury is still out for me regarding Jared Leto’s performance as Joker. Sometimes it was brilliant, and sometimes not.
  • Easter Eggs. As we all knew, Batman’s around for a little bit of the film, and another hero drops by as well. That hero’s interaction with a particular Suicide Squader is direct from the comics in its feel, look, and atmosphere. Also, seeing Joker dancing with Harley in her red and black harlequin outfit was magical. One of those “This is straight from the comics and I can’t believe how it is on screen!” moments.
  • Effects. Ok, no. Not the SFX used in actual action. Those were cheesy as all get out. The opening montage of sorts kicked off the film just how you want it to, with attention grabbing backstories and flashy letterings. We get to see where some of the Squad came from, and their run-ins with their superhero counterparts. Harley’s origin wasn’t her classic one, which was lame, but that didn’t take away from the film.
  • We Actually Care! In BvS we didn’t care about anyone on screen. Superman is mopey and broody and he dies…for no reason…because Wonder Woman could have been the one to kill Doomsday. Lois is a jerk, Batman wants to kill people, and well…you get the idea. In SS, the story and characters give us enough to care about. Yes, these are bad guys, but we actually can sympathize with their struggles, we care about Deadshot primarily, but also El Diablo, Harley, and even a bit for Flagg and Killer Croc. Its not just a bunch of villains running around that we have no emotional attachment to.

The Bad Stuff. 

  • The Script. I get that Ayer only had six months to write this (for some inexplicable reason), but boy is this screenplay a stinker. You can tell that they tried to shoehorn some comedy in, because almost every one-liner sticks out like a sore thumb. This is unfortunate, especially when Harley Quinn’s character should have made this easy. Robbie’s comedic timing actually seems pretty good, but there are some spots where a poor script and choppy editing render that skill useless. There are several groan-worthy lines that feel like they were written by a 5th-grader, and they are bad enough to take you right out of the film.
  • The Editing. Very jumpy. It chops up the story rather than progresses it.
  • The Pacing. There are several scenes that could have been used for emotional gutpunches and or profound moments, but these scenes were really rushed through way too fast. There was very little time to process things before the next scene was already there.

The other problem, the main problem, is the plot. Though generic, it made sense as it stood. But once again, motivations and decisions made by characters within that plot too often make little to no sense. This causes a real lack of depth that really twists things into nonsense way too much, because there’s nothing beyond the surface activity. This is a carryover from BvS (although it was much more handicapping in that film. Nobody even knows why Lex Luthor was motivated to do anything in that film). So here are some questions this lack of depth caused.

#1) Why send the SS into an American city under a blatant super-human attack?

The main concept behind Task Force X is using super-villains instead of soldiers so that other countries will believe the U.S. government when they say “we had nothing to do with this action that would be usually interpreted as an act of war.” Basically, they are black ops mission runners who are expendable. So why send the SS into an American city under a blatant super-human attack, when none of the Suicide Squad members actually have powers that would be better than ordinary soldiers? Deadshot, Katana, Captain Boomerang, yeah, they are good with their weapons, but are they really any better than just sending in more soldiers. The only one that actually has superpowers is the only one that refuses to use them. I know Waller wants to hide her connection to the Enchantress, but she already sends in ground troops with the SS! Its no secret that there’s tons of debris floating above one of the biggest cities in the U.S. No reason to choose volatile criminals in this case.

#2) Why didn’t Waller destroy the Enchantress’ heart?

She specifically finds and keeps the heart to control the Enchantress. The understanding is that if the Enchantress steps out of line, the heart gets destroyed. So why does Waller just stab the heart instead of destroying it.

#3) Why did Waller kill all her “co-workers.”

The obvious reason is that it would make her look more like cold, cruel, BA woman. The reason Waller gives is that they have seen too much. But Waller brought those very same people in. The room is militarily labeled in the building. This all goes back to the fact that if all Waller wanted was an extraction, why send in Task Force X? And there are plenty of folks that work for top secret military functions. They all don’t get shot.

#4) Why didn’t Enchantress notice that the only weapon that could cut her heart out was sitting right in Harley Quinn’s reach?

#5) Why does the Joker get jealous of the guy he “gives” Harley to when he’s the one who “gave” Harley too in the first place?

Yeah, I dunno the answer to either of those either. Basically, this films could have been great, but suffers from way too much dumb decision making. The actors did their best with what they could, but it wasn’t enough to make a flawed film great.

Verdict: 2 out of 5 stars.

(The remainder of this post is the usual weekly TWIC features.)

Where do They Come From?

Only wide release films count towards these numbers.

  • Suicide Squad: Adaptation of the DC Comics comic book series.
  • Nine Lives: Original film written by Dan Antoniazzi and Ben Shiffrin.

Original: 34

Adaptation: 22

Sequel/Prequel: 23

Remake: 1

Oscarwatch

These ten films are the “Best of the Year,” IF THE YEAR ENDED TODAY.

This weekend’s releases not included.

They are ranked based on likelihood of winning Best Picture at the Oscars, with #1 being most likely. International films are not included until the end of year if Oscar potential exists.

DISCLAIMER: I may not personally recommend (or even like) all films on this list.

1) Zootopia ( +2 )
2) Sing Street ( – )
3) Love and Friendship ( –2 )
4) Hunt for the Wilderpeople ( – )
5) Captain America: Civil War ( – )
6) Finding Dory ( – )
7) The Jungle Book ( – )
8) Indignation (NEW)
9) Eye in the Sky ( -1 )
10) Don’t Think Twice ( -1 )

 

 

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I was shocked to learn that its been since April that I last posted a TWIC article. Then I reviewed the slate of films for this past summer. Yuck. Honestly, we haven’t had a big hit film since Captain America: Civil War, and, although there’s been some decent movies released, it really hasn’t been that exciting a summer, even on the indy film circuit.

Unfortunately, that trend won’t be changing this weekend. The big headliner is Jason Bourne, which join many of this summer’s blockbusters in the realm of the forgettable, not bad or good.  Bad Moms is the other film being released nationwide this weekend, and lets just say that one’s certainly not worth your time.

Your best bets will be the limited release films. Especially Gleason, a heartwrenching Sundance documentary about former NFL athlete Steve Gleason. Diagnosed with ALS at 34, Gleason set out to compile a film diary for his unborn son, while he still could. It ended up much more, as this documentary chronicles Gleason’s fight against the disease that ravaged his family’s life.

Where do They Come From?

Only wide release films count towards these numbers.

  • Jason Bourne: Sequel in the Bourne franchise.
  • Bad Moms: Original film, written by  Jon Lucas and Scott Moore.

Original: 33

Adaptation: 21

Sequel/Prequel: 23

Remake: 1

Oscarwatch

These ten films are the “Best of the Year,” IF THE YEAR ENDED TODAY.

This weekend’s releases not included.

They are ranked based on likelihood of winning Best Picture at the Oscars, with #1 being most likely. International films are not included until the end of year if Oscar potential exists.

DISCLAIMER: I may not personally recommend (or even like) all films on this list.

1) Love and Friendship ( – )
2) Sing Street ( – )
3) Zootopia ( – )
4) Hunt for the Wilderpeople (NEW)
5) Captain America: Civil War ( -1)
6) Finding Dory ( -1 )
7) The Jungle Book ( -1 )
8) Eye in the Sky ( -1 )
9) Don’t Think Twice (NEW)
10) 10 Cloverfield Lane ( -2 )

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Seems like the House of Mouse can do very little wrong these days. In the midst of its Marvel and Star Wars ownership, its own properties have been feeling a bit neglected, and this is the second year in a row (after last year’s Cinderella) that we’ve gotten a really solid new rendition of an old classic tale. And this live action version of The Jungle Book does all the right things to improve on the “original” animated film.

First of all, the casting is perfect. From Idris Elba as the bloodthirsty Shere Khan, to Bill Murray’s goofy but loyal Baloo, to Ben Kingley’s severe but kind Bagheera, the voices fit their roles perfectly. The best of them all might be Christopher Walken, who brings a bit of mob boss to King Louie. Neel Sethi, virtually the only human actually onscreen, turns in a great performance as Mowgli, especially considering he was working with CGI backdrops and characters the entire time.

Director Jon Favreau and company do a great job of flushing out the story without changing the essentials. He does this mostly by drawing in more of Rudyard Kipling’s original novels. Ikki the porcupine plays a key role in the story, King Louie mentions the Bandar Log (his kingdom of monkeys and apes), and we see a cobra and hear talk of a mongoose, which could have been references to the famous Rikki Tikki Tavi story, also from Kipling’s set of jungle tales. Grey Brother appears, instead named “Grey,” and the elephants are portrayed as the rulers and masters of the jungle, like Kipling intended.

The different species of animal have also been defined more specifically, both in name, and in look, than in the cartoon. Baloo is a sloth bear, and King Louie, rather than being an orangutan, a species who never really existed in India, is a Gigantopithecus, a giant ape from millions of years ago. This accounts for the change in Louie’s size.

Speaking of Baloo, he’s really the star of the show. When he first appears, the film, which takes a while to get moving, seems like it’s headed towards the Batman v Superman school of filmmaking, with a bunch of establishing scenes that don’t really go anywhere. To be fair, we hear the real history of Shere Khan’s hatred of man from Kaa, but Baloo really saves the day, in more ways than one. Not only does his appearance allow things to settle from a pacing standpoint, but he’s a much stronger character than in the animated film. Although he’s still a bit lazy (he is a sloth bear after all), he and Bagheera are on more equal footing. Baloo is the one who comes up with a plan to rescue Mowgli, and he’s just as quick to jump into action as Bagheera and the wolves. In fact, when Shere Khan returns to kill Mowgli, it’s Baloo that leads the charge against the tiger.

Finally, it’s really the moments of nostalgia that put this film over the top. Baloo and King Louie get to sing their trademark hits: “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.” The themes from these two songs are worked into the score as well, and the songs fit into the film and don’t seem out of place. All in all, this new endeavor is a welcome adventure back into the jungle, and even ends with an awesome, much needed twist that differs from the animated film. The CGI is a little off at some points, but not enough to really ruin anything. And make sure you stay and watch the credits! King Louie returns to deliver a complete version of his song that’s really a blast to watch.

Final Grade: 4 out of 5 stars.

(The remainder of this post is the usual weekly TWIC features.

Where do They Come From?

Only wide release films count towards these numbers.

  • The Jungle Book: Ok, I’m not sure to classify this as an adaptation or a remake. I’m going to say remake. While it is based on Kipling’s works, it is based more on the original animated film.
  • Barbershop: The Next Cut: Obvious sequel is obvious.
  • Criminal: Original. Written by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg.

Original: 19

Adaptation: 12

Sequel/Prequel: 9

Remake: 1

Oscarwatch

These ten films are the “Best of the Year,” IF THE YEAR ENDED TODAY.

This weekend’s releases not included.

They are ranked based on likelihood of winning Best Picture at the Oscars, with #1 being most likely. International films are not included until the end of year if Oscar potential exists.

DISCLAIMER: I may not personally recommend (or even like) all films on this list.

1) Zootopia ( – )
2) Eye in the Sky ( – )
3) 10 Cloverfield Lane ( – )
4) Midnight Special ( – )
5) The Invitation (NEW)
6) Hail Caesar ( -1 )
7) Hello, My Name is Doris ( -1 )
8) Kung Fu Panda 3 ( – )
9) Eddie the Eagle ( -2 )
10) Louder Than Bombs (NEW)

 

 

 

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At last, the first edition of TWIC in 2016. The Oscars are done, and so are the doldrums of January and February. We’re gearing up for some good films!

This weekend, my Film to Catch is 10 Cloverfield Lane. The buzz for this one has been rising since its Super Bowl ad, and its well worth it. The film has been shrouded in mystery, so I’ll leave it that way. Go see it if you’d like to know more!

Another film of note is Young Messiah. Its the story of Jesus as a 7 year old. It’s gotten middling reviews so far. It’s pretty much uncharted territory in Christian film, but not done incredibly well. Decent is a good word.

The Brothers Grimsby is another disaster that Sacha Baron Cohen can add to his resume.

There’s a plethora of limited release films out this weekend, so here’s a listing of the best ones available: Eye in the Sky (a wartime thriller starring Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman), Hello, My Name is Doris (a quirky dramedy starring Sally Field swooning over her new boss), and Boom Bust Boom, (an economic documentary told with puppets).

Must See (5 out of 5 stars): None

Worth Your Time (3 to 4 stars): 10 Cloverfield Lane;  Eye in the Sky; Boom Bust Boom

Just Ok (2 to 3 stars): Young Messiah; Hello, My Name is Doris

Stay Away (0 to 1 stars): The Brothers Grimsby

Where do They Come From?

Only wide release films count towards these numbers.

  • 10 Cloverfield Lane: (Pseudo)Sequel to Cloverfield
  • Young Messiah: Adaptation of the Life of Christ, as told in the Bible.
  • The Brothers Grimsby: Original screenplay by Peter Baynham, Sacha Baron Cohen and Phil Johnston.

Original: 13

Adaptation: 10

Sequel/Prequel: 5

Remake: 0

Oscarwatch

These ten films are the “Best of the Year,” IF THE YEAR ENDED TODAY. This weekend’s releases not included.

They are ranked based on likelihood of winning Best Picture at the Oscars, with #1 being most likely. International films are not included until the end of year if Oscar potential exists.

DISCLAIMER: I may not personally recommend (or even like) all films on this list.

1) Zootopia
2) Hail Caesar
3) Kung Fu Panda 3
4) Eddie the Eagle
5) Race
6) 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
7) The Witch
8) The Finest Hours
9) Risen
10) A Perfect Day

Its safe to say that what you should probably be watching this weekend is all the San Diego Comic Con footage, which includes a new Batman v. Superman trailer, because the new releases this weekend aren’t much to speak of.

The Minions prequel to Despicable Me is mostly fun, but leaves much to be desired. Ryan Reynolds’ new film, Self/less has an intriguing plot, but is poorly written and lacks the punch needed to make it a hit. And The Gallows is found footage horror that was better off lost.

Unsurprisingly, especially for this year, the Film to Catch this week is a limited release movie: What We Did On Our Holiday. Starring Rosamund Pike and David Tennant, it freshens up the standard “family-is-falling-apart-because-of-a-difficult-divorce” plot with clever comedy and solid acting.

Another limited release film of note is Boulevard, starring the late Robin Williams.

Must See: None

Worth Your Time: What We Did On Our Holiday

Ok: MinionsBoulevard

Stay Away: Self/less, The Gallows

Where do They Come From?

Only wide release films count towards these numbers.

  • Minions: Prequel in Despicable Me franchise.
  • Self/less: Original, written by David and Àlex Pastor
  • The Gallows: Original, written by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing

Original: 33

Adaptation: 15

Sequel/Prequel: 16

Remake: 1

Oscarwatch

These ten films are the “Best of the Year,” IF THE YEAR ENDED TODAY. This weekend’s releases not included.

They are ranked based on likelihood of winning Best Picture at the Oscars, with #1 being most likely. International films are not included until the end of year if Oscar potential exists.

DISCLAIMER: I may not personally recommend (or even like) all films on this list.

4) ’71

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I’m Catholic. I’m used to people saying I’m silly for believing things that no Catholic actually believes. Being Catholic, I have a deep love of truth. Its both sensationalist, and foolish, to spread lies or misinformation based on an incomplete picture. I’m used to people doing this to my beliefs. I’m not used to Catholic priests doing this to my favorite comic book characters, which is what just happened.

Upon seeing The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Fr. Barron declared it a Nietzschian parable. Director Joss Whedon is a proud atheist. And of course, when an artist does their job properly, they do embed, in their work, an imprint of themselves, to varying degrees. On the surface, the claim that Whedon has injected atheism or nihilism into this film is not a ludicrous one. If one knew nothing about the film itself, it might even be an easy conclusion to jump to…without the facts.

Father Barron’s central tenet, the point upon which his entire argument rests, is that the Vision, upon erupting into existence and being asked for his name, replies: “I am.”

Father Barron points out that, in declaring himself “I am” and proceeding to set himself up as a god, the Vision, who is essentially the engine of victory for the heroes, establishes himself as Joss Whedon’s version of Nietzsche’s “ubermensch.” This is dangerous. After all, this is a highly popular franchise, and with the Vision and Ultron spouting off Nietzsche-like concepts, its something that good Christian folks would not want their youngsters to pick up on. This view is problematic.

No, I’m not talking about Whedon’s. I’m talking about Father Barron’s.

You see, Father’s Barron’s entire article falls completely apart once you actually realize what the Vision means when he’s saying “I am.” Don’t get me wrong, Father Barron is a good shepherd, who frequently unlocks the deeper meaning of scripture and the Catholic faith. Yet here he is incorrect. The Vision is not setting himself up as a messiah, not as a god. In fact, he’s not even saying “I am.” He’s saying “I am…” Those two extra periods are essential! The Vision is not declaring himself to be anything because he doesn’t even know who he is! He’s asked for a name and he can’t provide one, so he pauses. Instead of rushing to define himself, he stays quiet and lets his actions do the talking.

Now let’s stop and back up a second. Let’s see the full picture before jumping to conclusions, which is, unfortunately what Father Barron did. In writing this film, Joss Whedon tasked himself with bringing iconic characters to life. One of his strengths in both Avengers films is taking decades of comic book history and breaking it down to give his characters the essential parts of their personalities, the parts of their personalities that make the characters who they are, and keep them faithful to their comic book counterparts. We see this in Captain America’s leadership, we see this in Bruce Banner’s anxiety, in Stark’s pride, in Scarlet Witch’s frailty. So why wouldn’t we see it in the Vision? We would. And we do.

When the Vision makes his first appearance in the pages of The Avengers comic books, he’s created by Ultron to destroy the Avengers. During their first meeting, Hawkeye asks him “Who are you fella?” The Vision’s response: “You need not believe me archer, but, in truth, I do not know.” (The Avengers #57).

In the next issue, when the Vision’s origin is revealed, he cries in anguish to his creator, Ultron: “You’ve told me only what powers I possess – not what I wish to know! Who am I? What name is mine?”

So why does the Vision say “I am…” in Age of Ultron? Its because he doesn’t know who he is.

This is from Avengers #57, after Ultron's first defeat. The Ozymandias poem perfectly sums up Ultron's mentality.

This is from Avengers #57, after Ultron’s first defeat. The Ozymandias poem perfectly sums up Ultron’s mentality.

I certainly don’t expect everyone to have read through every comic book issue ever published before they watch a film, but before they spread lies about someone’s intentions, they should be informed. They should do their research. Could it possibly be that Joss Whedon was simply trying to bring the Vision to the big screen in a manner faithful to the source?

Of course, the real issue here is that Father Barron offered an uninformed version of the film to his readers, and now those readers are irate. Some are calling Whedon “despicable” and accusing him of infusing the film with hate. Interestingly enough, these are likely the very same people who lauded the Whedon-written Captain America line “There’s only one God ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that”, and plastered it all over their Facebook walls.

When one has a following like Father Barron does, its important not to jump to conclusions. Writers like Joss Whedon and Father Barron have a duty to the truth, but now a decent chunk of public perception has been steered away from the truth by an article that was written without having the full picture. Father Barron’s entire argument, in this case, is based on a falsehood. Without the atheistic “I am” that Father Barron hears, the entire remainder of his analysis falls apart. If the Vision does not fancy himself a god, then his opinion that chaos and order are both part of humanity becomes simply an observation, not a declaration of dogma. And it turns out that the marble statue shown over the end credits, which Father Barron says is “a neo-classical sculpture of all of the major figures in the film locked in struggle, straining against one another…in complete conformity with the aesthetic favored by Albert Speer, Leni Riefenstahl, and the other artists of the Nazi period” is actually just a marble statue (not even designed by Whedon) of good guys fighting bad guys.

Father Barron says that Age of Ultron promotes a certain attitude. An attitude that maintains that humans need to move beyond good and evil, like Nietzsche’s supermen. He says that the Vision embodies this attitude, because he “was brought about by players on both sides of the divide, by both Iron Man and Ultron. Like Nietzsche’s superman, he is indeed beyond good and evil.” This is Whedon’s whole point, according to Father Barron. Except it isn’t.

What’s the first thing the Avengers do when the Vision emerges? They test him. Is he good or evil? Only the good can pick up Thor’s hammer, which Vision does. Vision expresses that he has no desire to kill, but realizes Ultron must be destroyed. How is this different from Captain America’s declaration in his debut film that he “doesn’t like bullies?”

It is Ultron, not the Vision, that teaches us about nihilism. And guess what? He’s the bad guy. The only way for there to be peace is human extinction. Its Ultron who thinks he’s beyond good and evil, not the Vision. Where the Vision pauses to discover what is truly good -existence, friendship, kindness- Ultron acts without thought. Ultron declares himself the messiah. “I’m going to save the world,” he says. He’s a machine, utterly focused on his programming. Upon a rock of destruction will he build his church of death. Father Barron thinks that the Vision is presented as the herald of Nietzsche, that Joss Whedon is covertly trying to turn us into nihilists. Ultron is the herald here, and he sows and reaps destruction. He also loses in the end, and I’ve yet to see a scenario where losing attracts people to a cause.

When Ultron becomes self-aware, he processes everything at once. His purpose: “to save the world” is processed at the exact same time as every bad thing the Avengers have done. Does he stop and think about right and wrong? No. He interrupts and disconnects JARVIS, declares himself a savior, and starts a wave of destruction. “Ultron?” Banner asks. “In the flesh!” is the instant reply. The Vision bursts on the scene, and his first action upon getting his bearings is to stop and look at the beauty of New York City. He stops to process the wonder of humanity, stops to ponder man’s achievements, stops to declare that he is on the side of life and that Ultron is wrong, and must be stopped. This is who the Vision is. A powerful, thoughtful, innocently naive individual who clearly sees right and wrong because he has taken the time to look at them. Before anyone knows his name, they know what he stands for. His name is not important. Its not even important to the Vision that he can lift Thor’s hammer. This is not a figure with a messiah complex who considers himself above everyone else. “Who are you?” they ask. “I am…” he pauses…he doesn’t know. This is the power of putting the mission first, this is the power of seeing something going horrendously wrong and acting to end that wrong, this is the power of the selfless giver. This is the power in a pause.

After finally seeing American Sniper last night (my friend will apologize later for making me wait so long), I’m ready to put the lid on 2014 (Oscars aside of course) with my 10 Favorite Films of 2014. And so, without further ado…

#10) Selma

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There were some really great things about this film, the best being David Oyelowo, who was one of the few true Oscar snubs this year. It would be higher if the story was a little more driven. The film is pretty much Point A to Point B, which is fine, but it doesn’t feel propelled forward. Plus Tom Wilkinson is pretty unbelievable (in a not so good way) as LBJ. His performance is great, but he doesn’t look a thing like the former POTUS.

#9) Coherence

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A little-known indie flick available to watch on Amazon Prime, this is a true sci-fi thriller. And by sci-fi, I mean actual science fiction, with actual science. It is amazing what some great editing and a small, tightly-knit cast of actors can do. I love being drawn into a film and experiencing what the characters are, and this film accomplishes that in spectacular fashion.

#8) The Grand Budapest Hotel

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What a work of art by Wes Anderson. This is the most beautiful picture of the year, with great set pieces, make-up, and costumes. The cinematography was incredible as well. This is storytelling at its cinematic finest. Ralph Fiennes is perfect in his deadpan quasi-humorous lead, and the rest of the cast follow suit.

#7) American Sniper

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I’m not really sure what all the controversy is about. Oh, gosh, Middle Easterners are depicted as evil people…well that’s what happens when all the good people get out of town because the aren’t terrorists and don’t have interest in staying in a war zone. Were they supposed to throw a few Australians or French folks in there to make it more fair? Anyway, this is truly a masterpiece from the heart of Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood. Of course, with the trial of Chris Kyle’s real-life murderer beginning today, this story is still being written.

#6) The Lego Movie

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Yes, I’m a bad person for putting this above American Sniper, but this film was just a blast of fun. A hilarious script, wonderful animation, and a good story as well. It would have been so easy to go the “do whatever you want and break all the rules” route, but this film actually shows kids that there are certain instructions that need to be followed, and from there we are free to let our imaginations roam.

#5) Boyhood

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This film is more of an experience than a movie. I don’t think any other film has captured what growing up is like as well as Boyhood does. Its an emotional ride, a journey through a life. You can really see the American experience through the lens of this film. Broken families, broken hearts, triumph over adversity, mistakes, successes, wonderful coincidences, its all here in a tapestry of humanity.

#4) Captain America: The Winter Soldier AND Guardians of the Galaxy

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I really felt it wasn’t fair to everyone else that Marvel is doing so well, so I’m putting both of their films here. What a year for Marvel Studios (again)! In a year where all other comic book films were either awful (Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesThe Amazing Spider-man 2, and Sin City and 300 sequels) or members of the “The-Effects-Are-So-Good-I’m-Not-Gonna-Think-About-How-Lame-and/or-Nonsensical the story actually is (Big Hero 6X-Men: Days of Future Past) Marvel Studios released two more gems. Can’t wait for their 2015 work, including Avengers: Age of UltronAnt-Man, and their new Daredevil Netflix series.

#3) Birdman

Michael Keaton in Birdman

Michael Keaton in Birdman

Its true, some people just don’t understand this film. I think its because they are looking for a straightforward story, but this is more of a parable, just like Gravity last year. You know how in the Bible, Jesus always is explaining his parables to his apostles because the general public seem clueless as to what they mean? I used to think that perhaps people just were dumber back then, but now I know that isn’t true. Most people seem to have a lack of ability to see past the base foundation of a story. In the case of Birdman, people see a story about a washed up actor who kinda goes crazy. They miss the internal warfare between fame and art, the mirror within a mirror of this film. Its brilliant, it really is.

#2) The Imitation Game

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I love puzzles, I love problem solving, and Benedict Cumberbatch is one of my favorite actors. He’s uncanny in this film, and so is the story. A great biopic with a sad ending, every American and Englishman should see this film and learn about the man who saved thousands of lives and helped halt Adolph Hitler’s reign of terror.

#1) Calvary

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Another parable-like film that some people couldn’t wrap their heads around. Brendan Gleeson and Chris O’Dowd carry this film, which is possibly the most painful film of the year. Its hard to watch, but it perfectly encapsulates the current tumult afflicting the Catholic Church. But this isn’t a film shaming Catholics, or the Church, or victims, this is a film about sacrificial love from a person who is deeply flawed himself. Its not a crime-thriller, but it does solve the mystery of the priesthood, and why so many men are still around, still following God’s call, still standing up for truth. The priesthood isn’t convenience, its about sacrifice, down to the bitter end.

Bonus Round – My 10 LEAST Favorite Films of 2014 (#1 = Least Favorite)

The gang's all here!

So disappointing…

  1. The Interview
  2. Noah
  3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  4. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
  5. Fury
  6. Muppets Most Wanted
  7. Magic in the Moonlight
  8. Dear White People
  9. Locke
  10. X-Men: Days of Future Past

Ok, now that I’ve sucked you in with that headline, let me clarify. Nobody needs to be fired, just reassigned, away from the job they have now, which is supposed to be telling us who the frontrunners are for the Oscar nominations being announced tomorrow morning.

You can find my predictions here. Variety published a rundown of the films they thought to be Oscar favorites. Yes, this was back in November, but still, what were they thinking? This is shoddy. As a major news source, you can’t rely on hype, or you’ll get things wrong, but that seems to be about all that they did, just pick films with lots of hype and/or special effects, with no interest in actual film quality.

There are the films they listed as Oscar favorites:

American SniperBig Eyes, Black or White, Boyhood, Calvary, The Fault in Our Stars, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Foxcatcher, Fury, Gone Girl, The Homesman, The Imitation Game, Inherent Vice, Interstellar, A Most Violent Year, Into the Woods, Nightcrawler, Mr. Turner, Selma, Rosewater, Still Alice, St. Vincent, The Theory of Everything, Unbroken, Whiplash, Wild.

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Now again, I’ll let it slide a bit because these predictions were made in November. But the fact remains that, even in a list of 27 films, there are some that belong nowhere near a list like this.

Black or White isn’t even eligible for an Oscar, Big EyesExodus, and Unbroken were hyped for months but none of them delivered; The Fault in Our Stars is blatant sucrose for your tear ducts and films like The Homesman and Rosewater have never been on anyone’s radar. So how many of these films will garner even a single nomination? Furthermore, with Variety insisting that these are Oscar frontrunners, how many will get any above-the-line nods? Not many. Here’s a breakdown of my predictions by film nominations.

  • 10 – Birdman
  • 9 – The Grand Budapest HotelThe Imitation Game
  • 6 – BoyhoodThe Theory of Everything
  • 5 – SelmaWhiplash
  • 4 – Gone Girl, InterstellarInto the Woods
  • 3 – NightcrawlerUnbroken
  • 2 – American Sniper, Dawn of the Planet of the ApesFoxcatcherGuardians of the Galaxy, IdaThe Lego MovieMr. TurnerWild
  •  1 – A Most Violent YearBegin Again, CakeGlen Campbell: I’ll Be MeGodzillaThe Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesThe Judge, Maleficent, NoahInherent ViceStill Alice, all other animated, foreign, documentary, and short films.

Of Variety’s films that I’m leaving out, Big Eyes and Fury both have outside chances at getting in. That leaves Black or White, Calvary, The Fault in Our Stars, Exodus: Gods and KingsThe Homesman, Rosewater, and St. Vincent to be placed on the “what the heck are they thinking?” list. That’s a good 30-40% of the films they picked as “favorites” that won’t get a single nomination. That percentage could get even bigger. Its possible that American SniperInherent Vice, and A Most Violent Year also will fail to get nominated. Not good enough if you’re Variety. Do better.

Of course, you can follow my Oscar predictions here and make fun of me if I’m wrong as well.