Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Podcast Time: The Good Dinosaur

Pixar produced two original films this year, which is fantastic! Inside Out was definitely one of my favorites of this year. The Good Dinosaur looked beautiful, but the plot revealed in the trailers was very vague and not exactly as alluring as its animation.

I went to an advanced screening in September for The Good Dinosaur, and I personally did not care for it, other than it's breathtaking visuals. Overall, it left a bad taste in my mouth. I found a lot of the themes muddled and bizarre, aside from the fact that the story was kind of a bland hack of so many other family films. 

With my friends at Reel World Theology, we discuss these aspects of The Good Dinosaur that left us with weird vibes, as well as our general love for Pixar films. You can listen to the podcast here:

#083 – The Good Dinosaur and Bad Dads 


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Trouble With Trailers - Star Trek Beyond

Yesterday, the trailer for Star Trek Beyond was released. It is a poorly made trailer that had fans in uproar. I personally don't think this reflects the movie itself as much as it reflects the negative changes throughout the industry in recent years.

Trailers have been sucking for several years now. They either reveal too much of the plot and content (Batman vs. Superman), or too little of it (The Good Dinosaur), or are created to appeal to the most generic demographic (The Fast and Furious trailers, or any action-y trailer really). I think this Star Trek trailer falls into the last two categories.

2009 was the year the first J.J. Abrams Star Trek film came to theaters, and it was also the year Disney's Tangled was released. I remember how cringe-inducingly awful the Tangled trailer was. Scored by P!nk (first red flag) and using such phrases as, "She's been grounded...for like ever." *facepalm* Yet, Tangled ended up being one of my top favorite Disney animated films. If I had simply based my expectations on the trailer, I never would have believed that to be possible. This is just one example of many times I've been surprised by a film, for good or bad, because its trailer was not to be trusted.

New aliens...
The trouble with trailers is the three categories, as I mentioned, and usually the third category comes from the mindset of appealing to the lowest common denominator. I know I'm going to sound like a puffed-up snob when I say this, but this Star Trek trailer was fodder for the lowest common denominator, and the studios producing it KNOW that. It's a rude truth to acknowledge, but it's still the truth. Action! Space ships! Aliens! One-liners! *sigh* I know a lot of people complained about the song used too, but it was the song from the first film that played when young Kirk stole the car from his abusive stepfather, so it was surprisingly one of the few choices in the trailer that actually made sense. If you haven't yet seen the trailer you can do so HERE

Regardless of how lame and typical this trailer is, I am still excited for this movie based on the other things the trailer didn't reveal. Firstly, that it was written by a team. Occasionally, that can be a bad thing, but usually if it's a team that loves the material we're in the clear. Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty in the films) is one of the writers this time. Aside from being an incredibly clever man and an already established writer/filmmaker, he LOVES Star Trek and I believe he would do his best to nurture and protect the material. Roberto Orci is a very seasoned and talented television writer and has worked with J.J. Abrams for years. The rest on the team I don't know much of at this point, but there's at least one other seasoned television writer among them.

Poor McCoy~ Though I love them all, he's my fave. ♥ 
The trailer doesn't tell us much, but what I could decipher seems more like the format of the original show. Though the original show was often more bad than good, I loved the format and the character building, especially between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Seeing the new alien peoples, as well as the planet pictured with my beloved Karl Urban (above), there is very much a throwback to the old worlds in the original series. My hope is now that we've established these characters on film, we can treat them in a more episodic sense. Maybe that won't ultimately work for cinema, but it's personally what I've been hoping for from the reboot.

Bottom line, yes, it may be unfortunately directed by the man responsible for bringing Fast and Furious films into the world, but it's okay. J.J. Abrams is still producing, the writers are good and love the material, and the cast is still the amazing cast. They are actually one of my favorite ensembles ever. In addition, they've brought none other than Idris Elba to the table, so that alone has me intrigued. In the wise words of that old ent, Treebeard, "Don't be hasty." We won't know until we see it, so let's just chill.

I love them! ♥
It's getting to the point now where I don't even want to see trailers anymore. I feel like they are becoming their own entity and spoil the film regardless of how much or little they reveal. I know a couple of people who have told me they don't even watch trailers anymore, they just look up the synopsis or movie information online and go off that. For them, it brings back the magic and mystery to the viewing. That may be hard to do in overblown media culture, but it's starting to sound more and more like a good idea.

What do you guys think? Are trailers getting in the way of your viewing experience? Leave me a comment below. I really want to know how people feel about this topic. Thanks!
- Alexis 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

10 Things That DON'T Suck About the Star Wars Prequels

Yes, it is possible! I found 10 things that don't suck about the commonly loathed Star Wars prequels.

Seriously, there is so much hate out there for these movies. When they first came out, I actually really liked them. Granted, I was 14, but even Jar Jar doesn't bother me the way he bothers other people. These days I acknowledge that they aren't good films, but they aren't the worst things ever either. If they had a better writer and director, they would have been amazing. I blame George Lucas for going all "James Cameron" on everything, but that's a tale for another day.

Admittedly, my feelings come from a strong air of nostalgia that will always be there and it softens the blow of how bad they are. I think we need some balance out there with all the searing angst from the Star Wars fandom. Keep in mind this is entirely my opinion, but I think the points are fair in a general sense too. So without further ado...

1. The Musical Scores

John Williams is John Williams. He could score someone taking a poop and it would be a masterpiece. (I suppose in some people's opinions, that's precisely what he did when scoring these films). To this day I consider "Duel of the Fates" and "Across the Stars (Love Theme)" to be two of the most epic and beautiful pieces of music ever composed. The scores to all three films are breathtakingly superb and, if nothing else, we nerds can listen to them and imagine our own version of the prequel storyline.

2. The Costume Design

The costume design of the prequels is pillared by remarkable detail and distinction, with inspirations accumulated from across continents and time periods. I love every piece of Padme Amidala's wardrobe in all three films, even the gaudy pieces, simply because they're so exquisite and unique. Her wardrobe alone was a major cornerstone of the films. I love how she has a distinctly different wardrobe in Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Then, in Revenge of the Sith, her wardrobe is a combination of her style in the two previous films. Very clever!

3. Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan Kenobi

Ah, my heart still flutters a little. I remember all too well that early teenage crushing when I saw Phantom Menace in theaters. I always loved his character in the original trilogy, but adorable Ewan McGregor definitely added something deeper to his makeup. By far the best performance in the prequel trilogy, Ewan really captured the essence of the character. If nothing else, I can watch the prequels for him alone and feel totally satisfied. He is Obi Wan.

4. Darth Maul

Dude is bad ass, end of story. Sadly, poorly developed and reduced to being Darth Sidious's muscle. However, Darth Maul is easily one of the most memorable things in the entire Star Wars universe. His costume design was the perfect mix of terror and elegance. I'll be the first to admit I still  get chills when "Duel of the Fates" begins playing and he slowly removes his hood before revealing our very first glimpse of a double light saber. *nerd-drool*

Still, besides looking cool and having legit combat skills, Darth Maul reminds me of the original Sith Lords of the Old Republic era of Star Wars which, at this point, is really only in books and video games. The Old Republic is my favorite time period in the Star Wars universe. I hope one day we'll get to see more of what it was like on the silver screen. 

5. The Lightsaber Battles

Off-shooting from Darth Maul, this list wouldn't be complete without discussing the immense transformation of the lightsaber battles from the original trilogy to the prequels.

The light saber battle in Phantom Menace is still thrilling 16 years later. If you can tolerate no other scenes in the prequels, I hope you can at least appreciate the choreography of the duels throughout. I remember sitting in my theater seat and realizing this was game-changing. The light saber battles in the old films were okay for their day, but otherwise kind of slow and awkward at times. Except for Return of the Jedi... Luke killed it.

Even though they may have been overblown in moments, the battles in the prequels were the showstoppers. The arena scene is the best part of Attack of the Clones, and Obi-Wan and Anakin's duel in Revenge of the Sith is what people waited decades to see. Though many things about the films were lacking and disappointing, I would say wholeheartedly the battles do not go in that category.

6. Mace Windu (and his purple lightsaber!)

Samuel L. Jackson as a Jedi... What else can I say? I loved the character and wish we had gotten more of him in the films. However, the Star Wars novel Shatterpoint by Matthew Stover is all about Mace Windu and it is awesome. Recommended reading!

7. Christopher Lee

(Explanation omitted because... duh).

8. General Grievous

Again, another woefully underdeveloped villain. Still, Grievous is a very intriguing character. We know little about him, but that he is a cyborg. I've been told they delve into his character more in the Clone Wars animated series and that we learn he was once a reptilian-type alien from the planet Kalee. He also has a fantastic, unusual concept design, reminiscent of Japanese anime, and it provides a creative contrast with the rest of the characters and droids. Though I will admit, the whole four lightsabers thing is a bit much.

9.  The quick glimpses into Luke and Leia's origins...

Though he played a minor role in Clones and Sith, I loved that we got to meet Bail Organa. The honest politician, and the man who would raise Princess Leia. I feel like a broken record, but yet another character that was barely heard over the loud and overly complicated plot. We know he served as Senator of Alderaan in the final years of the Galactic Republic married to a queen, who also gladly adopted the secret daughter of Anakin Skywalker.

It also would have been cool to see more of Alderaan, the place Leia calls home... before her real father blows it up in A New Hope, anyway.

We didn't get to see much of Owen and Beru either, but they were one of the biggest throwbacks to the original triology. Oh, that twin sunset... I never thought about it until recently, but the twin suns were very symbolic. Luke always felt out of place, like there was something else he was supposed to be doing. When he watches the double sunset in A New Hope, you get the sense of loss and seeking. Little did we know he would have his own twin and a second life to live beyond Tatooine.

I have to laugh because I always thought it was funny Leia got to grow up a princess on beautiful Alderaan living the cushy life, and Luke got the shaft by being sent to a moisture farm in the desert. Still, I guess the trade off is that he was with his closest thing to real family.

P.S. Joel Edgerton is awesome. And look how far he's come since this movie!

10. These posters...  

I have vivid memories of seeing the episode one poster for the first time and brimming with excitement. The idea of seeing Darth Vader's story and getting to know what led him down his path. I used to have that one hanging in my room back in the day. Ah, memories...

Additionally, before I knew how awful Attack of the Clones would be (the worst of the three films, in my opinion), I was absolutely in love with the second poster. I remember the tagline really hitting me. The films didn't ultimately stand up to the anticipation, but that doesn't change the memory of the posters for me. They're all fantastic pieces of marketing that got this nerd girl ready to hit the hyperdrive.

Last but not least, I wanted to share that I got to record two "minisode" podcasts for Reel World Theology's Star Wars series. It was a blast! I discuss some of the things I brought up in the post, but also dig deeper to other people's reactions. I did episodes 1 and 2, but be sure to check out all 6 minisodes on their website. Click the links below:

Only 17 days until episode 7 comes to cinemas! Have a great week, and may the force be with you...

Friday, November 20, 2015

Art & Indie Corner - Brooklyn

Wow, two posts up on Reel World Theology this week! But I couldn't help myself with Brooklyn. What an absolute independent gem. See everything I had to say about this lovely movie by clicking this link... 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Reviewing the Classics - On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront was one of the first movies I wrote about on this blog, but I have now rewritten and expanded my review/analysis for Reel World Theology's Reviewing the Classics series.

On the Waterfront is one of the most influential and personally significant films I’ve ever seen, and a “contender” for my favorite classic film. It was also a cornerstone in the career of one of my favorite actors, Marlon BrandoRead my post by clicking the link below and be sure to check out all the posts in the Reviewing the Classics series!

Reviewing the Classics| On the Waterfront

Monday, November 9, 2015

Light in Dark Places - FOX's Gotham

I was excited for this show when I first saw the trailer last year, but as usual life got in the way and to the back burner it went. Finally made time to watch the first season over the past few weeks and I'm so glad I did! Gotham has been an absolutely delicious surprise.

Though the Pilot, and even the first couple of episodes following, were a little uneven and on-the-nose, I still liked the premise enough to keep going. At first there's just a lot of winking at the audience with introduction to the iconic characters and of course the rocky stage of learning to walk as a series (which ALL shows go through). However, shortly after the start line, Gotham found it's legs and ran like the wind. Over time the story became subtler, the pacing slower and more deliberate than other shows (a quality I personally admire), and the character development absolutely superb. By episode six I was hooked and in the second half I could barely take myself away from the screen. 

So why is Gotham such a delicious surprise? Well, aside from just being fantastic and addicting, Gotham does three very important things that most shows miss entirely these days. 

Carmen Bicondova is a perfect young Selina Kyle. 
The first thing, as I just mentioned, is the pacing. Slow, deliberate, purposeful. I often refer to our society as the ADHD society. There is some truth to the claim that people's attention spans are shorter and we as people in the Western world (especially the United States) have become extremely distracted. However, I do not agree with the entertainment world's method of catering to this problem by rushing through stories and substituting character or story development for action and relational gimmicks. 

Gotham does not cater to this mentality, and it's working in its favor. Instead of blazing through the plot, they take their time with each character's journey and purpose in the story. Gotham is a very complex world and it would be very easy to just jump from thing to thing, but so far it's been an enjoyable unraveling. I havent started season two yet (which isn't that far along at this point), but in season one they stuck with one major overarching story and many little subplots beneath and they stuck to it well. I felt satisfied and ready for the next stage in the journey by the end of the finale. There were a couple of things I would liked to have seen done a little differently in the end, but nothing so terrible that it ruined the narrative or viewing experience. 

Gordon and Bullock, a new favorite bromance.
The second thing that leaps to mind is subtlety. In our contemporary entertainment arenas, violence, gore, and sex are on a gratuitous level by expectation. So it is indeed remarkable to see a program where that is not the case. The violence, gore, and sex in Gotham is done in a very Hitchcockian way, and for this I give a standing ovation to the writers and cinematographers. Gotham doesn't ignore violence or sexuality, on the contrary, it fully acknowledges these things in an adult way without having to be explicit. Alfred Hitchcock firmly believed that what you can imagine is just as, if not moreso, vivid and terrifying than reality. Gotham takes on the Film Noir philosophy which leaves things to the imagination. I think this is something audiences have been gravely missing, even if they don't yet realize it themselves. 

When I watch Gotham, I don't feel I'm being robbed of sexuality or realistic violence and circumstance, I feel as though I'm seeing everything I need to. The violent situations are done tastefully, and yet I completely feel the gravity of the events. One thing that sticks out is a scene in which two men are in a car, one of them shoots the other. All we see is the flash of the gun from outside the car, then a blurred image of the man's head against the window with a splatter of blood. We don't have to see the pieces of skull and brain to get the point, it's just as effective without all the gory details. Additionally, with sexuality, there is a scene where Fish Mooney has a man tied up in her bed beneath silk sheets. Though we don't see a full on sex scene or any nudity, we get the point. Just seeing the silk sheets and watching her untie his ribbons with her mouth, is enough to show us she is a very sensual woman and often uses this as a measure of control. When you can handle violence and sexuality in a respectful yet realistic way, I'd say you've earned your badges as creative masters. 

The mesmerizing Fish Mooney.
The third thing is diversity. We all want to see more diversity of ethnicity, gender, age, and dare I say SIZE in film and television. However, most shows or movies approach this in a very preachy way or in a way that suggests they are simply checking traits off a list. In Gotham, you see a variety of humanity and they don't make a big deal about the differences these people have. You won't see characters getting on soap boxes about being a woman, or Black, or Hispanic, or whatever! The characters just are what they are without singing a song about it and THAT is true diversity. This show presents gender, race, and sexuality just as is. Though certain things may be pointed out as making a character different or special at times, it never becomes a Politically Correct dialogue. I love seeing all the different faces in Gotham, all different skin tones, all different ages. It's absolutely beautiful. Additionally, we see women in power. Sometimes the men make sexist remarks... because that's realistic! Not everyone is going to be an accepting angel of society, especially in a show where there are more villains than heroes. The women of Gotham are wonderfully interesting and strong for different reasons. I hope the show continues this pattern of authentic character diversity.

Something else I want to point out because it needs to be discussed... What is up with all this Alfred Pennyworth hate? I know there are purists out there who want to see the same kindly old man we see in every other version, but I must say I find Gotham's Alfred refreshing and bad ass. What people seem to be forgetting is that we are also seeing Alfred in the beginning of Bruce's journey. Most versions are well after Bruce is a grown man, but the child who just lost his parents is something we rarely see. Alfred is younger here too and suddenly the task of not only managing Wayne Manor, but also the responsibility of raising Bruce as his own child, is thrust upon him. Of course he's going to have struggles, hiccups, and screw-ups, he's basically a new father and of a grieving boy old enough to have his own opinions on things. Talk about work! 

This moment...  
I adore Sean Pertwee's Alfred. He comes from a hard life, an honored veteran of the British military among his many admirable traits. He's rougher around the edges than we're used to seeing the character, but it's an original take. I think an Alfred who pretty much grew up on the streets and has tactical military experience makes a much more believable choice on part of the Wayne's as guardian for their son, rather than just some poncy stereotype butler. He helps Bruce to fight and at times showers him with very tough love. The only time I thought he did something awfully out of character was when he encouraged Bruce to bully his own bully, but so far it seems it was an isolated incident. 

Though Pertwee's Alfred is less refined, he LOVES Bruce and his devotion to him is what makes the character in the end. Alfred gives his life daily serving him and does so with all of his heart. Laying down your life is the ultimate love, and that doesn't exclusively mean dying for someone, it means living for them too. 

Gotham nailed it with all it's characters. The villains are delightful and deep. They aren't just cartoony people with shallow motives. They have true desire and drive to be who they are and chase after what they want. It's easier to make villains interesting and a pleasure to watch, and it's far more difficult to make your heroes that way. Yet again, Gotham breaks the mold by making it's lead character, Jim Gordon, the most awesome straight-man hero I've seen in a long time. 

There's nothing more dangerous than an honest man.
Ben McKenzie's Jim Gordon is a fighter. Though he believes in rules, justice, and order he is willing to break those rules when it comes to the truth. A lot of times heroic characters can be predictable or flat, but Jim keeps us on our toes by never wavering from his convictions. Like Alfred laying down his life to serve Bruce, Jim lays down his life daily to serve Gotham. He is utterly unwilling to sacrifice the truth to play the game or to make things easier for himself. He calls out every villain, every crooked cop or corrupt politician. This isn't to say that Jim is perfect, he's flawed just like everyone else. He often acts first and thinks later, or struggles with cooperation with others when they rub against the truth or justice. What makes Jim a hero worth rooting for is that unshakable devotion to justice, truth, and love for the people of Gotham. 

When you take into consideration that it's a Fox show, a network with a history of cancelling good shows or having cheesy production value, Gotham is a nice balanced medium. It lies somewhere between the highly stylized Tim Burton Batman films and the gritty, realistic Christopher Nolan films. You get glimpses of gargoyles and Gothic architecture, but in a mostly contemporary backdrop. I like that the time-period is nuanced and indistinct which helps you stay focused on the world, rather than being distracted by it's relation to our own. Sometimes if feels like a modern crime drama, other times it feels like a classic Noir flick. No matter the case, it's a delight to watch. The writing, too, is capital, especially in the second half of the season when the story really finds it's footing. 

If you are a purist, this show is probably not for you. It's not the comics, it's a specific retelling of comic lore. However, if you are open-minded to looking at a new take on Gotham and Batman's origins, then definitely give this show a chance to tell you it's story.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Quantum of Solace - #BondWeek at Reel World Theology!

In preparation for this week's upcoming Bond film, Spectre, my friends at Reel World Theology have BONDED together in #BondWeek. This is an online event where a bunch of us have posted reviews or analysis of Bond films over time.

To be honest, I only like Daniel Craig's films, and while Quantum of Solace definitely was the least awesome of his franchise, it's still worth writing about. Check out my post by clicking the link below and be sure to check out all the posts on the site during #BondWeek!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

When Bad Things Happen to Good Ideas: Pan

Back in 2011 when I first really started posting on this blog, I wrote about a little film called Red Riding Hood (see the full post HERE). The point of this was to show how a really cool idea, like a full story for Red Riding Hood, can go so terribly wrong. It has happened many more times since then and this past weekend it happened again with Pan. (Funny enough, the beautiful Amanda Seyfried was caught in the net of both films).

Pan had all the ingredients to be a wonderful film. A creative, seasoned director, a lovely cast, about a zillion dollar budget, and yet, all the pixie dust in the world couldn't make this movie fly. What went wrong?

Find out in my latest post on Reel World Theology by clicking the link below!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

M.O.S. #2 - Jamie and Claire Fraser

Today is a special day because I present the first guest post ever on Reel Cathedral! Though I certainly hope it will not by the last. My own dear cousin Erika Rhodes submits the second piece in my M.O.S. (Marriage on Screen) series. Today she delves deeply into the marriage of Jamie and Claire Fraser, the two leads in Starz's series Outlander, adapted from Diana Gabaldon's massively epic novel series.

For my first post, and to know more about why I started this series, click HERE
********** SPOILERS **********

I'm very excited and grateful to write a little something as tribute to one of my all-time favorite, dreamy fictional couples.
When we are first introduced to Claire she is a married woman in post World World II. She has spent years as an army combat nurse and is at home amongst the dying and the wounded. Healing is what she knows best. Sadly, she and her husband, Frank Randall, who served in the war as well, have had very few meetings over the years. Time and experience changes people. Allthough they love each other in their own way, their marriage isn't quite the same as before the war. Fate seems to decide for them that they are not meant to continue their marriage. On their second "honeymoon" in Scotland, Claire finds herself transported to 1743 Scotland after an encounter with a mysterious and magical circle of stones. 

That same day, she meets the infamous James Fraser through a series of shocking events among the rough Scottish Highlands. Their meeting is quite significant to their relationship because it reveals their characters in a honest and genuine way. Claire proves herself to the band of Scots by repairing Jamie's arm and mending his wounds, a skill greatly appreciated in the 18th century, and Jamie, soon after, promises that she need not be scared of him or anyone else as long as she is with him.
From the beginning, Jamie and Claire are sincere to each other. Without needing to put it into words, they have one another's back. I, personally, find it quite endearing that they begin their relationship through a friendship. There is no obligation, just the simple enjoyment of one another's presence. Trust is easily given through honesty, and that is what I deeply appreciate about their romance. 

Although Jamie and Claire hardly know the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the full identity of one another, their mutual sincerity gives birth to a friendship based on unconditional love. While they find the other physically attractive, it's the appreciation of one another's company and thoughts that binds them together in loyalty. Their personalities find harmony in sharing stories and opinions and experiences. While Claire's stubborn tongue and independent nature is unusual in this time period, it is thrilling to watch as she meets her match in Jamie's equally fiesty, yet more quiet and enduring strength. 

Although still a young man, Jamie has learned patience and perseverance through the wise teacher of experience. Having been brought up by a father of strong moral and religious values, Jamie is not a man easily ruled by his flesh. His upright character and strong respect towards others is captivating as such qualities are rare to be seen amongst many men of the Scottish clans. Naturally, Claire finds her place with Jamie as he is the only male who treats her in equal respect. At the same time, Jamie is strong enough in his own mind to challenge Claire, to question her where he deems necessary in a reverent fashion. As true friends do, they are iron to one another, blazing thought against thought, action against action, constantly weighing and striking, but with gentleness and sincerity rather than mere force. 

Additionally, Jamie is not afraid to follow Claire's lead when it becomes a matter of right and wrong. In the episode 3, we find Jamie teaming up with Claire in a spontaneous rescue attempt to free a disobedient boy from enduring the full punishment for stealing: ripping his own ear nailed to the pillory in the public square. Claire's defiant actions in saving the boy reveals to Jamie that she is not quite accustomed to the unusual traditions of 18th century Scotland. It also reveals to him her heart that is full of compassion and kindness to those considered less, a quality they both share. 
While Claire holds Jamie in high esteem, she is still faithful in heart to her husband. Thus, she completely unravels when she finds herself pushed into a corner - be released into the hands of the sadist Black Jack Randall or marry James Fraser and present the legal documentation needed to revoke her British citizenship and obligation to meet the summoned request of Captain Randall. 

While Jamie diligently prepares appropriate wedding ceremony details and attire for their last-minute union, Claire is drinking herself sick to escape the reality of not only legally marrying Jamie, but having to physically become one with him. On their wedding night, every fear is released and Claire becomes a Fraser in all respects. While there are plenty of viewers who want to oogle over the steamy sex scenes of Episode 7, I want to loudly applaud the portrayal of true manhood by James Fraser. In this episode, both know they must have intercourse. They are obliged to follow through with the contract. Jamie, in all honesty, refuses to see Claire (or anyone for that matter) in the hands of Black Jack and, thus is willing to do what is necessary for her safety, but not by force. This is an unheard twist on the generalized view of sex, which is often only thought of as pleasure for the man's sake. 

Diana Gabaldon seems to totally redefine sex within this fictional relationship as for the sake and safety of the woman. Wow, let's just take that in for a moment! In addition to this, Jamie is a virgin on the night of the wedding. His innocence is charming, but it is his patience and gentleness towards Claire in their marriage bed that is even more captivating. He takes his time and allows Claire to relax and to feel safe within his presence. Instead of demanding or hurrying, he wants to, once again, win her trust, but this time on a more intimate level. So, they chat for hours; she, asking questions about him, and he, sharing more stories from his life. For hours, he makes her smile and laugh, which is absolutely adorable. By the time they begin to touch one another, Claire has already handed over her heart. She trusts him. Pleasure comes quite easily after that.

After their wedding night, Jamie and Claire's relationship changes. Still founded upon their mutal respect and admiration, their relationship evolves into a genuine romance. It is so refreshing to see a relationship on screen blossom after marriage. In our modern culture, we want to see all the hot sex scenes and fiery chemistry before a man and woman decide to commit. In this on-screen relationship, commitment was the key to nurturing an unforgettable romance. Jamie and Claire spend much time together as newlyweds, taking in each other's bodies, sharing more intimately of their own thoughts on matters, and spending sweet moments in the Highlands. Jamie is even surprised by this kind of warm-hearted union he and Claire have developed and asks Claire if what they have is usual between married couples. It is in every way a sincere marriage, one not easily found and one, especially, not easily nurtured.
While Claire has become unintentionally swept away by this man, she still remembers her intentions to return to her first husband. During a complicated venture with Jamie and the others, Claire discovers herself alone for a moment and within reach of Craigh na Dun, the magical circle of stones that transported her to 1743. In the excitement of the moment, she runs to touch the stones and return to her future home. Before she is able to do so, a British regiment spots her and bring her into custody - into the clutches of Black Jack! It is an encounter that leaves her almost raped by the Captain were it not for Jamie's last-minute arrival to rescue her. Even within the safety of his arms again, Claire finds bitterness and hurt within their marriage. Jamie, not yet aware of Claire's true identity and home, is wounded by her refusal to stay where he had told her and also by her recklessness in putting herself in harm's way. I guess this is where you can say the newlyweds have their first real married fight! They even manage to spit some choice words at each other, all the while creating a pretty intense scene for their Scottish friends to witness. 

"Ye're tearin' my guts out, Claire." Jamie says, exasperated by their arguing. The realization that marriage literally cuts you to the heart in every aspect suddenly dawns on him. As any couple comes to realize, you cannot control the other. You cannot even demand love, submission, or trust. There are times in every hard-won marriage that you find yourself completely exhausted and undone by what love does to you to allow trust to be built. As Jamie says, for him there was no choice; that was falling in love.

Jamie has yet to learn his lesson even after their argument. That evening, by the traditions he has known well, he punishes Claire for her disobedience by whipping her with his belt. It is expected of husbands in this period to keep their wives in submission. Unfortunately for him, it yields more bitter fruit in their marriage. Claire immediately draws up a wall between them. She even refuses him the pleasure of their marriage bed. Jamie isn't accustomed to such an unyielding and stubborn spirit as Claire. His heart breaks underneath the strain and he quickly learns that keeping with tradition for the sake of tradition and treating his wife like a child does not make for a healthy marriage. In whole-hearted (and, perhaps, a little desperate) humility, Jamie takes his sword and swears to Claire (in true Scottish fashion, of course) that if he ever lays hands on her in that manner again then he may be struck by his own sword. The scene of reconciliation in episode 9, The Reckoning, occurs as most things do in their relationship: very intense, but incredibly raw and honest.

As both of them learn, love, trust, and sex cannot be demanded. Such things require the absolute and total surrender of one's own ego. Humility, honesty, vulnerability, and patience are the tools needed to make a marriage blend in harmony. Later on, when Claire finally finds herself with no choice but to tell Jamie the truth about who she is, the stones, and her life in the future, Jamie selflessly decides to give Claire the chance to return to her true home and safely brings her to Craigh na Dun. In that moment, Claire recognizes the gift of such self-sacrificing love. She relinquishes her fragmented life in the future to embrace her new life and identity in the past as Jamie's wife.
While Jamie and Claire are tested at every turn of their story, it is Jamie's rape by Black Jack that stands as the ultimate test to Jamie and Claire's love (although, for those who have read the series, there are events just as challenging, if not moreso, to their relationship later on). There can hardly be anything more traumatic than rape. The shock of being broken on such an intimate and vulnerable level is deeply wounding. Gabaldon had no mercy on Jamie when she penned this disturbing fate for him. And, yet, it is in this vile and dark brokenness that Jamie and Claire demonstrate that unconditional love always wins. 

After Claire, Murtagh (Jamie's godfather), and the rest of their Scottish troupe rescue Jamie from Wentworth Prison and Black Jack, we find Jamie unnervingly changed. His spirit is darkened and he wishes for his life to end. He won't look or speak to Claire. In every single way, he is a shattered man. He carries the shame of not only being raped by Black Jack, but also having willingly given himself over to Jack's disturbing and manipulative words and desires. Although Claire finds herself able to mend the physical damage done to Jamie's body, the battle for Jamie's soul appears hopeless. Yet, Claire does not abandon him. She pursues his heart, even against his own will, to discover what truly occurred between her husband and Black Jack in the depths of Wentworth Prison. Claire acts quickly by recreating the memory from the night Jamie was violated by Black Jack. After an intense brawl and revealing arguments, Claire's passionate and persistent love finally awakens Jamie from the nightmare of his own tormented thoughts and memories.

“Oh mo nighean don, how can you have me like this?”
“I will have you anyway I can. Always.”

This scene is a powerful demonstration of what grace looks like in the face of brokenness and loss. Even Jamie cannot withstand such love that reaches out to accept him as he is. His eyes change in that moment and he reaches out for her embrace. The path towards healing and wholeness is excruciating, but anything can be endured when Love accompanies the wounded. As Claire has walked alongside many a wounded and dying soldier in her life, she is made ready to do that and more for the man who promised her the protection of his body and the faithfulness of his heart.

Through every obstacle from within and outside themselves, Jamie and Claire's story stands as a testament for enduring and unconditional love. I find myself deeply inspired in my own marriage by Jamie and Claire because their story highlights such timeless values. In our current time, when marriage is being tested on more challenging levels, may we find the strength to pursue fidelity through equal honesty and grace. 
I conclude this post with a powerful, tear-worthy fan video of Jamie and Claire, which is put to an appropriately-selected song, Blood I Bled, by the Staves.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Inside Caligari's Cabinet - Reviewing the Classics

In my second installment of Reel World Theology's Reviewing the Classics series, I get to talk about my favorite silent film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

You can read the full post here: 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Where the Doors Lead - BBC's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

I love sinking my teeth into a great period piece film. I've read all of Austen's novels and so many others. I've seen multiple versions of the stories on screen. I find that in multiple versions I always find things I adore about each of them. Seeing different people's interpretations is so fascinating to me as a storyteller.

Though Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell seems like a classic novel, it's barely over a decade old.  I have yet to read the book (it's on my 2016 reading list), but the BBC series was delightful. Exquisite production design, brilliant actors, and lots and lots of books!

I'm not going to dig into the plot too much in this post. Primarily, I wanted to discuss what I feel is the heart and soul of the story... the harmony and discord of Strange and Norrell.

What is so interesting about JS&MN is that it presents a different way of contemplating the philosophical battle that was so prevalent at the time the story takes place, during the Napoleonic Wars and the tail-end of the Age of Enlightenment. Two drastically different men rise possessing magical powers and their opposing approaches to magic and life make for a fascinating battle of wits and tricks.

Norrell is an ISTJ. He represents tradition, respectability, reason, scholarship, and realism. Well, as "real" as a magical person can be. Rules, order, and control drive him. They drive him so much that even when he makes a terrible mistake, he refuses to admit it, for admitting it will mean admitting he caused disorder. 

Strange is an ENFP, Norrell's complete opposite. He is romantic, passionate and free. He believes in exploring possibilities and letting the magic take it's course instead of trying to control it and keep it confined. He is innovative, always seeking ways to move forward and extend the boundaries. Strange can be summed up in one exchange of dialogue:

 Arabella: You have no idea where these paths lead.
Jonathan Strange: No, and that’s the glorious, wondrous thing of it!

All this being said, Strange and Norrell's battle is little about the men themselves and more about the larger things at stake that each of them fights for. The epic debate of innovation vs. scholarship, tradition vs. change, vision vs. application. It's almost frustrating to watch because it's a battle that is still being fought to this day, yet it's so painfully obvious how these two ideals need not be at odds.They need each other to flourish.

J. Strange, one of my newest favorite characters.

Though Strange begins as Norrell's apprentice and friend early on, the relationship quickly declines into competition and, eventually, rivalry. At their worst, Norrell's stubborn vanity and Strange's maddening efficacy make for a wonderful duel that never once draws pistols or swords.

One of the things I adore most in this story is the marriage of Jonathan and Arabella Strange. Many stories often tell us how people fall in love, but don't really give us a peek into how much deeper marriage goes. Perhaps it is because I am married now myself, but I found their marriage refreshingly organic and believable against the backdrop of neo-magical England. Jonathan and Arabella feel real as a married couple. They worry, they bicker, they get frustrated, they banter playful sexual innuendo with each other, and above all they are devoted to death and beyond. I also enjoy Arabella's strong responses to Jonathan when she feels he's out-of-line or speaking for her. If the series had been a little longer, I certainly would do an entire post on them for my Marriage on Screen series. 

Though I personally appreciate things that take their time developing and unfolding, my criticism of the series is the unevenness in pacing and execution. Things moved either very slowly, or, everything exciting was happening at once. Overall, the story could have used a little more focus and unpacking of the more interesting aspects like The Raven King, Stephen Black, and the true source of magic. Granted, British men discussing magical books at length is somewhat of a dream for me, but a little less of it might have evened out the pacing more efficiently for the general television audience. 

I also had a lot of frustrations with the ending. What happened to Jonathan and Arabella was incredibly disappointing. Unless Susanna Clarke intended for a sequel, things should not have ended for them the way they did. I know she did talk about doing a sequel in a 2004 interview, but there's been nothing since then. BBC has teased the idea of doing a second season, but I fear without Clarke being involved it will fall away from the canon and turn into something else. 

Additionally, I felt the ending for Stephen Black and the King of Lost Hope was a little rushed too. I would have liked to dig deeper into their characters and motivations, as well as have a greater understanding of what happens with them in the end. Too many crucial moments were crammed into the last episode. The same goes for the resolution between Norrell and Strange. They finally find a harmonious place, where the two can end their rivalry and work together, and then it's suddenly over for them. England finally sees a magic revival, but we don't get to explore what happens next. 

Based on only watching the series, I really believe this story was meant for more and I truly hope that Clarke will see that potential and continue. I am very eager to read the book soon, but I have one request, please don't let this fantastic tale end here...

Take us to the other side of the rain.