Tag Archives: faith

Machine Gun Preacher – Review

25 Aug

There are some stories that are just begging to be adapted into movies, and some of these examples come from real life events. One of these stories is the life and work of a man named Sam Childers, who gave up his life of crime after finding religion and begin working and defending children in the Sudan whose lives have been uprooted by civil war. That sounds like a movie just begging to be made. Well, it was made, titled Machine Gun Preacher, and released back in 2011. With source material like that, nothing could have went wrong. Unfortunately, a lot did go wrong, and while this is a competent movie in some regards, there’s so much tedious and annoying aspects that bring it way down.

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After being released from prison, Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) quickly falls back into a life of drug use and crime. It isn’t until he almost kills a man that he asks his wife, Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), to help him. This prompts her to expose Sam to religion and the redemption that is has to offer. After being accepted by the faith, Sam learns of the tragedies happening in Sudan and quickly makes the trip to Africa to help in any way he can. After seeing the horrors first hand, Sam, with the help of his newfound friend Deng (Souléymane Sy Savané), opens up an orphanage to help all of the children affected by the violence in the region. This is an almost impossible task with the LRA constantly attacking from all ends, which forces Sam to take up arms and fight the LRA with his own brand of justice.

With real life source material, where could this movie possibly go wrong. This sounded like an amazing story of heroism that was being done by a seemingly normal guy with a seedy past. There are some positive things in this movie that are memorable. For one thing, it shines a glaring light on events happening in Africa that, at the time the movie was getting made, was not getting nearly enough attention. It also has some very well done scenes. One scene in particular shows Sam Childers arriving in a village that has been completely destroyed with all the people murdered. This is a chilling scene that works very well, and it shows some really impressive acting chops from Gerard Butler. Unfortunately, these scenes are really few and far between, with everything else being pretty derivative and, towards the end, angering.

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While the story of this movie is incredible, and the real life Childers is certainly one of a kind, I have to look at the movie as a movie and not as a document of real life. That being said, there have been movies like this made before, but made better. The idea of people from a more well to do area being dropped in another area that is a complete war zone only to have them change by the experience has been explored in multiple movies. One of my favorite examples of this is the highly underrated film, The Bang Bang Club. This is the same kind of story arc with Machine Gun Preacher, and while it does have its own unique elements, a lot of the drama felt like it was ripped from a text book, and devoid of any actual emotion. By the end of the movie, and throughout all the ups and downs, I never really felt like I connected at all with Childers, the people who worked with him, or his family and friends. The only character I felt any kind of emotion towards was Michael Shannon’s character. That may be because I’m a huge fan of Shannon, but I also think his character was used just right and written very well.

Finally, I have to talk about the character of Sam Childers himself. Now, I’m not going to claim I know anything about the guy, other than what I saw in the movie. I didn’t do any research on him, so I can only speak about how he’s portrayed in the film. At first, I was into his character and behind his mission 100%. As the movie went on however, he just got more and more annoying and aggravating. The decisions he was making in Africa mixed with the way he was treating his family just got to be way too much. It’s pretty typical in a movie like this for a character to reach low points, but these low points happened at a really weird time and made the rest of the movie almost unwatchable, just because I hated how over the top they made Childers’ personality change. It’s hard to enjoy a movie when the main character becomes so unlikable.

Machine Gun Preacher had the potential to be a lot better than it actually was. The story of Sam Childers giving up his life of crime to go to Africa and save orphans from the LRA sounds ripe to the taking. Unfortunately, the movie became too clichéd too fast, the drama failed to hit as hard as it should have, and the character of Childers became very unlikable towards the end of the movie. I really wanted to like this movie, but it just really didn’t do it for me.

 

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Breaking the Waves – Review

19 May

Every time I watch a movie by Lars von Trier, I begin to hope that maybe it will help me understand him more. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that no one ever truly will. Enough about that, however. Today I’m going to be looking at a very important movie in von Trier’s career, his 1996 film Breaking the Waves. If it wasn’t for this movie, Lars von Trier would not be the internationally acclaimed film maker that he is today and it also allowed him to explore with techniques that he never worked with before. All that aside, while Dogville is my favorite of his movie, Breaking the Waves might be his masterpiece.

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In a small town in rural Scotland, Bess McNeil (Emily Watson), a mentally ill woman dedicated to her strict church, meets and falls in love with Jan (Stellan Skarsgård), an oilman who works on a rig off the coast. The two quickly get married and spend their first days together in a state of marital bliss. Eventually, Jan has to go back to the oil rig which leaves Bess devastated. She prays that God will send Jan back to her, and her prayers seem to be answered with the news that he’s coming home. What Bess didn’t know was the accident Jan was in the middle of the left him paralyzed from the neck down. Bess feels an overwhelming amount of guilt for this, thinking this is God’s way of punishing her, and will do anything to help Jan feel better. When Jan makes the request that she go out and find a man to sleep with so he can feel that connection again, Bess takes the request to the extreme which has extreme consequences with the people of the village.

It’s interesting to note that a year before this movie was made, Lars von Trier and fellow director Thomas Vinterberg created the “Dogme 95 Manifesto.” What this was was a set of rules created by von Trier and Vinterberg that they believed would create the purest and most authentic film possible. There are strange rules like the film has to be in color, shot on a hand held camera, and the banning of using any type of filters. In my opinion, it’s all a bit much. Breaking the Waves can’t technically be called a Dogme 95 film because it does break rules about sound and the director being credited, but the movie is shot on a hand held camera with what seems to be mostly natural lighting. This was a huge stylistic change for von Trier, especially since his earlier movies like Element of Crime and Europa are so heavily stylized. This is more really the only way a story like Breaking the Waves can be told, so it was a bold shift in style that should be respected.

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When it comes to love stories in film, it’s very easy to mess it up. If you look at most romantic comedies, there’s really nothing to the love that you see in the movies. It’s the most superficial type of romance you can see. What I love about film makers like Lars von Trier, Woody Allen, and the Coen Brothers is that they all seem very confused by love while also still being a part of it. That is what keeps the love story in Breaking the Waves feel so authentic and ultimately tragic. This film is absolutely devastating, but the relationship between Bess and Jan is very powerful and beautiful in a weird kind of way. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is a very unique movie with characters and situations and relationships that feel very fresh and real, sometimes disturbingly so.

It’s impossible to talk about this movie without dedicating a chunk of this review to Emily Watson. Lars von Trier’s movies aren’t known for their stellar performances, sometimes due to his awkward writing, but Emily Watson kills it in this movie. Bess is probably the most fully realized of all his characters and Watson taps into something deep here. I haven’t really seen Emily Watson in too much stuff so I never really had an opinion on her. After seeing her in Breaking the Waves, however, I now see just how powerful an actor she really is. Bess is a wonderful character and Watson plays her absolutely perfect.

Breaking the Waves is a truly magnificent movie that is both hard to watch and impossible to look away from. Lars von Trier has become one of my favorite film makers for a reason, and the reason is that he isn’t afraid to tackle new or taboo subjects using a variety of techniques. This is one of his more down to earth movies, but it still has that other worldly von Trierian quality that we’ve all come to expect with his movies. Simply put, Breaking the Waves is his masterpiece.

The Witch – Review

28 Feb

Horror movies have been in a pretty sad state recently with the constant remakes, sequels, and reboots. Does the world really need another Paranormal Activity? No, it really doesn’t. There have been some diamonds in the rough with critically successful movies like It Follows, which is one of my favorite horror movies to be released in a long time. Now we can add another intelligent and beautifully made horror movie to the rankings of modern horror classics. This movie is Robert Eggers’ debut film The Witch. Without rambling too early on in the review, let me just say that this is exactly how horror movies should be made.

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In the year 1630, a Puritan man named William (Ralph Ineson), and his family are removed from a religious plantation. The family decides to start a new life by building a house near a large forest and living off the land and the blessings they believe to receive from God. The entire family dynamic is thrown when baby Samuel is kidnapped and killed by a witch lurking in the woods near the house. After another incident in the woods harms William’s middle son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), William’s wife Katharine (Kate Dickie) places the blame of witchcraft on their oldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). As the days press on, the black magic of the witch torments the family more until the morning they finally reach their breaking point.

Like I said before, The Witch is a prime example of how horror movies should be made. Since the very first frame there’s a feeling of dread and claustrophobia. I’m not talking about claustrophobia in the sense that the family is constantly in an enclosed space, but claustrophobic in the sense that they are completely walled in by the literal interpretations of their religious beliefs. Throughout the course of the movie, the characters all make these incredibly naïve and outlandish choices and accusations, all because they depend so heavily on God’s divine intervention and judgement. This extremist mind set is almost as scary as the witch that is cursing the family, and it mirrors real life in eerily similar ways.

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What I think really makes this movie is the subtlety of it all. Scenes in The Witch very rarely get loud. Instead, the intensity and feelings of terror come from the silences, what can’t be seen, and the inability of the family to escape the tortures that are destroying them. Isn’t the monster lurking in the dark scarier than the one that you can see plain as day? Sure it is, because your imagination never fails to show you the most horrific possibility. Isn’t the overwhelming feeling of dread and helplessness more terrifying than a jump scare that you could see coming a mile away? Once again, of course it is. The Witch doesn’t rely on getting your adrenaline pumping to keep you entertained. Instead it completely infects your body with a spirit of uneasiness that may come back to haunt you when you least expect it.

Something became quite clear about this movie within the first five or ten minutes. I’ve didn’t watch the trailer for this movie, so maybe it was in there, but I had no idea that all of the dialogue in this movie is written in and spoken in old English. It took a little bit to get used to it, but once it did I really appreciated the effect that it had on the movie. It gives The Witch a very authentic feeling, along with the costume design and cinematography. It’s also really impressive that all of the lines were delivered with such ease. At no point was I confused about what they were talking about. I have to give much respect to all of the actors in this movie, but mostly to the younger actors who pulled off the dialogue just as well as the adults.

I went into The Witch not really knowing what to expect. I was just curious about it because all of the hype it got at the various film festivals. Now that I’ve seen it, I can definitely say it’s one of the better horror movies released in a very long time. It’s a very smart approach to the genre, both in the writing and execution. Robert Eggers has made a great start to his feature film making career, and I really hope he explores the horror genre some more. Plain and simply, The Witch perfectly encapsulates how a horror movie should be made.

The Seventh Sign – Review

1 Sep

Movies about the impending apocalypse can be really cool, especially when the story is immersed in literature from all sorts of religions. It’s a cool way of seeing some pretty odd beliefs about what’s to come, but all still really interesting. For Christians, it’s the coming of the Anti-Christ, which has been done very well in films like The Omen. But, hey, we’re not talking about that movie. Not yet, anyway. Today, I’m looking at a movie that I never heard of before a little while ago, The Seventh Sign. While this movie does have a cool premise and is deeply rooted in the beliefs of Christians and Jews to weave an intricate story, it’s just so so so so so boring.

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In the year 1988, signs of the apocalypse foretold thousands of years ago begin happening, like earthquakes, blood moons, and rivers turning into blood. Meanwhile, Abby Quinn (Demi Moore), a mild mannered woman desperately worried about her unborn son’s survival, is trying hard to remain optimistic along with her husband Russell (Michael Biehn). With Russell’s trial of a mentally challenged man convicted of murdering his parents going down the drain and the possibility of a baby on the way, the couple decides to rent out a room to a mysterious traveller (Jürgen Prochnow). The traveller brings a lot of strange occurrences to the Quinns, which lead to more signs of man kind’s impending doom. What Abby doesn’t realize is that her life and her unborn child’s life means a lot more to humanity than she could possibly imagine.

This sounds like it could be a pretty cool movie about the mythology that surrounds passages from different religious texts, and it really should’ve been. In fact, there were some pretty neat scenes in The Seventh Sign. Unfortunately, for every one of those cool scenes, there was three boring ones and at least one obnoxiously ludicrous one to follow. This includes one of the most unbelievably outlandish flashback sequences that nearly ruined the entire movie for me. It’s fine to add some twists, turns, or revelations, but don’t make them quite this stupid.

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But, you know, I can deal with some laughably stupid things in a movie if everything else makes up for it. Like the story for instance? Maybe? Nope. It baffles me how such a cool concept for a movie could be so mind numbingly boring. I stopped this movie several times to do something else, and then had to force myself to continue. The movie is a brisk hour and a half but it feels so much longer since the plot is absolutely devoid of any mystery or suspense. That’s also baffling considering that there’s a huge mystery at the center of the plot. All of the actually cool parts of this movie like the murder trial weaving into the apocalyptic tale would bolster the movie even more if the result was satisfying. Instead, the movie just sort of ends and that’s that.

It almost hurts saying that this is a bad movie, because it was really close. Demi Moore’s performance was very believable and I would’ve really rooted for her to succeed if I felt like the movie was engaging me even a little bit. Michael Biehn and John Taylor were also spot on, but Jürgen Prochnow unfortunately didn’t really do anything despite how important his character is. That is one of the biggest aspects of the film that had potential and was wasted by a screenplay that was trying so hard to be way more complex and mysterious than it actually was.

The Seventh Sign is a movie that has so much wasted potential, it makes me wanna puke. There are a handful of scenes and plot points that are so interesting and unique that are thrown away for a much more generic story that has been done before except a hell of a lot better. The Book of Revelations and the end of the universe is full of things that could make a movie great, but this isn’t one of those movies. This one is a stinker that made me wish I was watching The Seventh Seal or The Omen.

Dogma – Review

6 Jun

With Chasing Amy, Kevin Smith proved that he had the capability to write screenplays that are both funny and dramatic, but also very mature and personal. This cinematic tradition continues with his 1999 film that both praises and mocks religion, Dogma.

Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck) are homesick. Problem is, they can’t simply just go home being fallen angels banished to the Wisconsin area by God. When they find out that a sacred archway of a church in New Jersey is their ticket to heaven they vow to use it to get home while seeking out violent retribution on the way. Meanwhile, the angel Metatron (Alan Rickman) is sent to the house of Bethany Sloane (Linda Fiorentino) to task her with stopping these two angels from ever passing through the archway which would consequently destroy the world. She is given help from a few unlikely beings: the forgotten apostle, Rufus (Chris Rock); the muse Serendipity (Salma Hayek); and two “prophets”, Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith).

When Dogma first came out, many different Christian communities were up in arms due to the so called “offensive nature” of the movie. Kevin Smith is clearly not mocking religion or faith. He is mocking the fanatics and bigots who shove their religion down the throats of other people or those who are un-accepting of others beliefs. It’s a very personal film for Smith, much like Chasing Amy, because there are times where his own beliefs are made clear, despite what other may think of them.

This film is packed with stars. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have great chemistry as actors, and I would go so far as to say that Affleck gives his most under rated performance of his career. Linda Firorentino and Salma Hayek are just fine as their characters if nothing special. Chris Rock delivered a few chuckles, but came off as a bit too over the top. Alan Rickman owned every scene he was in, but the real scene stealers, in my opinion, once again go to Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith. I’m just a sucker for Jay and Silent Bob.

What you will probably notice is that Smith’s graphic crude dialogue is significantly dimmed down for Dogma. This is for the best considering the religious themes that are dealt with. Not only would it be disrespectful, but out of place for a movie like this. This isn’t to say anything is lost in the dialogue. It is still as sharp and witty as ever with lines that will most definitely be quoted. The long monologues are also back, and save for a great one once again delivered by Affleck, they seem to go on for a bit too long sometimes and I found my attention drifting.

Smith also amps up the violence to a surprising level. With Clerks and Mallrats, there were a few scenes of very mild comedic violence, but in Dogma there are some crazy action bits that are highly entertaining. Going into it the first time may be a bit shocking to newer fans of Kevin Smith, but it’s fun as hell and just adds a little unexpected flavor to the film.

To compare this to Chasing Amy and Clerks may be a bit unfair, because they are works of comic genius. On the flip side, I have no problem saying this tops MallratsDogma works not only as a comedy, but also as a part fantasy, part action film. Kevin Smith goes all out on this one and it shows. Die hard Askewniverse fans and casual film goers will have a great time with this movie. I easily recommend it.