Saturday, February 11, 2017

BMC MOVIE OF THE WEEK: SPLIT

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“An outing takes a sinister turn for three teenage friends (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) when they are kidnapped by a ruthless stranger (James McAvoy) and imprisoned in his basement. They soon learn that their captor has multiple-personality disorder, forcing them to plot their escape without ever knowing which of his 23 personas -- young or old, male or female, benign or monstrous -- they will confront on the way out. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.” – AllMovie

February 12, 2017 - Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

After spending some well deserved time in the director’s doghouse for the crimes he committed against The Last Airbender, M. Night Shyamalan finally earned his reprieve with 2015’s The Visit. The low budget thriller was a welcome return to form for the once-proclaimed heir to Spielberg; full of mystery, wit, and of course, one of Shyamalan’s patented ‘tweest’ endings. Now his comeback is complete with Split, a little $9-million flick that has, as of this writing, grossed over $100 million at the domestic box office.

For the most part, Split is a decent, though average horror-thriller elevated primarily by James McAvoy’s portrayal of Kevin… and Dennis… and Patricia and Hedwig and Barry and… well, you get the idea. Required to switch personas on a dime, McAvoy does most of the heavy lifting in the movie, pulling off a pretty convincing array of characters who all happen to share the same body. And near the end, when all his personalities start emerging at once, he becomes a veritable one-man acting class in body language and voice inflection.

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Of course, no man is an island. McAvoy does get a little help from his supporting cast. Betty Buckley’s mannered and controlled psychiatrist acts as a nice foil for McAvoy to play off of. Plus, she’s able to convincingly spout all the psychobabble we need to understand what’s going on with McAvoy’s character, which is extremely important near the end when the film starts to get a little loopy.

And then there’s Anya Taylor-Joy as the most capable of McAvoy’s captives. She manages to take a role that, in these kind of movies, is typically reserved for generic obnoxious twenty-somethings,  and turn it into something somewhat believable and interesting.  Combine this performance with her one-two punch in Morgan and The Witch from last year, and you’ve got an up and coming actress whom genre fans would be more than happy to see make a career out of appearing in horror films.

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Except that Split isn’t really a horror movie. Yes, it looks and plays like one for the first one hour and fifty minutes of its running time, but then something happens. Basic human decency prevents me from spoiling the ‘tweest,’ but suffice to say there is a revelation in the final few minutes of the film that completely changes what came before. In what is probably his greatest magic trick yet, Shyamalan has spent an entire film misdirecting his audience into thinking they are seeing one kind of movie, when in fact they have been watching something entirely different. It’s a reveal of biblical proportions.

And I mean that literally. In this week’s reading from Matthew, we learn that “Jesus said to his disciples: Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Among other things, this is Jesus making a straight-up typological reference to how he, Christ, is prefigured in the Old Testament. Taken alone, the Old Testament is an outstanding story of how God interacts with and shepherds his chosen people, the Jews, through many a trial and tribulation. It ends on a hopeful note that a messiah is coming who will lead them to their true destiny. Most Jews at the time interpreted that to mean a great military leader would arise and trample their enemies into dust.

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But then Jesus is revealed to the world, and he basically tells the Jews, “Sorry, that’s not the movie you’re in.” Yes, he will fulfil the promises of the Old Testament, but not in any way that was expected. Oh, the clues were all right there in the old stories, but everyone missed them until the author of it all pulled away the veil and showed them, and us, what was really going on. Quite the trick. Well played, God.

What M. Night Shyamalan has pulled off with Split isn’t on that level, obviously, but as a bit of cinematic chicanery, it’s up there with the best. And after a long time, it’s finally nice to be able to say once again, “I can’t wait for the next Shyamalan movie.” Welcome back from your banishment, old friend.

Friday, January 27, 2017

WEEKLY NEWSREEL

Good evening Mr. & Mrs. Catholic, and all you other Christians at sea. The Newsreel has been on hiatus for quite awhile, but new developments in the world of science demand we bring you this story. Off to press!

DATELINE: SAN DIEGO – Just in time for the annual March For Life, CNN reports that scientists at the Salk Institute have successfully created, and subsequently destroyed, the first ever hybrid human-pig embryo.

“They began by generating different types of human induced pluripotent stem cells -- when adult cells are turned back into stem cells -- and inserting them into pig embryos. Pigs were used because both the size and the development time for their organs are more similar to our own than, say, rats. Next, the team members implanted these embryos into sows. To test the safety and effectiveness of their work, they stopped the experiment at four weeks. Human cells within some of the embryos had begun to specialize and turn into tissue precursors, they discovered… Though the experiment with human stem cells was interrupted at 28 days, it remains the first reported case in which human stem cells have begun to grow within another species.”

It would appear scientists have finally made the first step in what is sure to be a long, slow journey towards growing viable human organs in animals for transplant. The good news is that this research is based on the use of adult stem cells, which is notable as the Catholic Church is only opposed to those forms of stem cell research that entail the destruction of human embryos. As pointed out in Donum Vitae, the "Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation”…

“If the embryos are living, whether viable or not, they must be respected just like any other human person; experimentation on embryos which is not directly therapeutic is illicit.  No objective, even though noble in itself, such as a foreseeable advantage to science, to other human beings or to society, can in any way justify experimentation on living human embryos or fetuses, whether viable or not, either inside or outside the mother’s womb.”

This stand is consistent with the Church’s teachings on the dignity of all human life from birth to death, as well as its warnings regarding the inherent evils in the commoditization of human persons.

So, that’s the good news. The bad news is that we may now be one lab accident away from Wooklars.

And with that sobering thought, we’ll leave you, as always, with the immortal words of the great Les Nessman. Good evening, and may the good news be yours.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

THE TWILIGHT BINGE #017: THE FEVER

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S01E16 – The Fever

“Tight fisted Franklin Gibbs is not pleased when his wife Flora wins a trip for two to Las Vegas. Franklin detests gambling, but his wife is excited about their vacation. Things change when Frank falls under the spell of a slot machine that calls his name.”

There’s an oft repeated adage that if ones scratches an atheist, they’ll find a fundamentalist. It’s some folk’s shorthand way of saying that many skeptics are just as rigid and dogmatic in their non-belief as the most fervent of fundamentalists are in their faith. Really, though, you could substitute just about any quasi-religious viewpoint into the formula with the same results. Scratch a vegan, scratch a social justice warrior, scratch a policy wonk… you get the idea. But have you ever wondered what happens if you flip the functions? What happens if you scratch a fundamentalist?

Apparently you get Frank Gibbs, at least if The Fever is any indication. Frank rolls into Vegas wearing an expression like William Bell Riley strolling through the evolution section at a library. You think the guy would at least appreciate all the free food and entertainment that comes with his wife’s prize. I mean, for crying out loud, the Rat Pack was headlining the “Summit at the Sands” the year The Fever aired, so you know the shows had to be good. But no, Frank has an aversion to gambling that makes the Southern Baptist Convention’s resolution on the subject seem tame by comparison, so there’s no way he can enjoy even a single second on the Strip. That is, until that demonic slot machine scratches an itch Frank didn’t even know he had.

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And one scratch is all it seems to take to turn Frank from a hardliner to a high roller. Once that first coin drops in the slot, it’s all over. It isn’t long before Frank actually hears the machine talking to him. Actually, the talking one-armed bandit that menaces Frank is kind of silly when you get down to it, but Robert Florey’s stalwart directing and Everett Sloane’s performance as the haunted gambler manage to sell the whole scenario. It also helps that there’s a nugget of truth in the tale. As Rod Serling relates it, after CBS picked up The Twilight Zone as a series, he decided to celebrate the deal in Vegas. Unfortunately, he became obsessed with winning the jackpot from one particular slots, and spent most of his weekend pumping coins into the uncooperative machine. Like any good author, Serling immediately seized upon the episode as fodder for a story about the potential dangers of gambling.

Unlike some of the protestant denominations, the Catholic Church has always taught that “games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice.” However, “they become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others.” But as long as that’s not the case, and as long as the person participates freely, the earnings aren’t used for illicit means, and the games aren’t rigged, dropping a few bucks on gambling has always been held to be morally neutral. Well, as long as you know when to stop, that is. You see, the Catechism also warns that “the passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement.” Once you surrender conscience to any activity, then you’re knee-deep in sin. And the last time I checked, the wages of sin were still death. Poor Frank learns that the hard way, right on the street in front of the casino. Some itches, it seems, are best left unscratched.

Twilight Tidbits: At the time of filming, slot machines were illegal in California. The show was able to obtain impounded slots from the police for the shoot, but only under the condition that officers were on hand at all times to ensure no one absconded with any of the devices.

Friday, November 25, 2016

NOW SHOWING AT A BLOG NEAR YOU

Now Showing Marquee 5

The year that really needs to go away just keeps rolling along and devouring all my time. About all I’ve managed over the past couple of weeks is a review of Arrival for Aleteia and a few suggestions for those in need of some political horror over at SCENES. Still, there’s plenty of other reading out there if you need something to keep you occupied after the holiday.

First up, Catholic Skywalker offers up his take on Shin Godzilla, Japan’s recent resurrection of the BIg G. I have to admit I enjoyed it a bit more than Mr. Skywalker did, but I can’t fault his criticisms of stuff like the creature design. After all, the entire audience at my screening did burst out laughing the first time Godzilla showed up in his unevolved state. Best to watch the movie when it hits DVD to see what exactly that’s supposed to mean.

Speaking of evolution, First Thing’s Abigail Rine Favale looks back on the previous season of The Walking Dead and discovers that the show has slowly grown into an “unexpected herald of a culture of life.” Of course, Ms. Favale was speaking of Season 6. I wonder what she thinks of recent developments in Season 7.

You know, some shows never see a Season 7, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have something to say as well. For proof, head on over to Speculative Faith where they have an interview with Kevin C. Neece, author of The Gospel According to Star Trek. There he discusses how he discovered a wealth of Christian insight in the beloved show despite Rodenberry’s own rejection of his Southern Baptist roots.

Really though, such mixtures of belief and skepticism are actually pretty common in genre fare. It’s no surprise then to find Patrick Malone writing at Catholic Stand about Faith, Doubt, and Analysis Paralysis in The Exorcist, where he notes “the world is not neatly divided into believers and doubters, but rather that doubt and faith are often intertwined.”

Maybe so, but not so much at The National Catholic Register where Matt Archbold has very little doubt he has seen 7 Insanely Bad TV Shows and Movies Featuring Popes. Not a bad list, though it may be missing a few. Do I smell a post coming up at some point? We’ll see if 2016 allows it.

Until then, you can enjoy T. Martin’s reminiscing on the “incoherent, relentlessly swinging, hit-or-miss” Weird Al classic, U.H.F.

And finally, just in case I don’t get to post anything else before Sunday (because 2016), here’s some random picture of a monkey opening an Advent calendar I found on the Internet. Everybody likes monkeys!

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