Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Since the mid-1970s (and most likely years prior), Father Oliver O’Grady had been sexually molesting children that ranged from infants to pre-adolescents. The Catholic Church was well-aware of his sickness but instead of kicking him out of priesthood, the Church simply moved him from one area to another, which allowed him to molest other children when it could have been prevented. As the film went on, we had a chance to learn that O’Grady not only took advantage of hundreds of children but he also had sexual relations with some of their parents. I was raised Catholic so I understood the importance of the feelings the parents and the children, now adults, felt when they discovered that a person from the Church, an institution that they are willing to give their lives to for the sake of their god, committed the ultimate betrayal. I don’t consider myself belonging in a specific religious group, but when I saw the families being interviewed about how O’Grady ruined their lives, I could not help but imagine my own family and relatives in their shoes because it could easily have happened to any of us. The film made a smart decision to take the blame and the shame from O’Grady to the higher figures in the Church. It was a maddening experience because there was plenty of evidence regarding the Church’s attempt to protect the priests guilty of pedophilia. According to the statistics, the Church spent a billion dollars (and counting) to cover-up many families’ search for justice. To know that those people who are considered by the Catholic community to be the prime example of purity, to commit such acts is not only criminal but also immoral. If hell did exist, in my opinion, they are certainly deserving to go there. The higher folks in the hierarchy, indirectly involved as they may be, knew of the disease in their community, they had tools to prevent future crimes from happening, yet they chose the path of indifference with impunity. Written and directed by Amy Berg, “Deliver Us from Evil” was not simply about one religion or faith. It’s about human rights. Imagine if you’ve raped by a member of the police force and the government, designed to protect its people, turns a blind eye to the fact. I make the comparison because the film successfully showed that the Catholic Church functions like a government with its bureaucracies and failure to serve its people even in the most fundamental ways. This is a must-see film because popular culture makes a lot of jokes about priests molesting kids. A lot of people laugh off the issue but what about those who have to live with the experience and had not found some sort of closure? Do we dare laugh in their faces?
The Art of the Steal (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
“The Art of the Steal,” directed by Don Argott, focused on the struggle between what Dr. Albert C. Barnes indicated on his will regarding what would happen to his post-impressionist paintings that are currently worth over $25 billion and the Republican WASPs that controlled the city of Philadelphia. Many people, on either side, can bring up arguments about why we should or should not keep the highly valuable paintings in Dr. Barnes’ school located in the Philadelphia suburbs. But to me, the reason why the paintings should be kept at his property is as clear as day: it was stated in his will exactly what he wanted and it is unethical and immoral to not respect the person who earned the money and collected the paintings that everyone once thought were worth nothing. I loved the way the documentary was organized. Since I did not know much abour Dr. Barnes and his foundation, I was glad that the first fifteen minutes clearly explained who he was and his accomplishments. I thought it was fascinating and inspiring that Dr. Barnes came from a poor family but he put himself through school by taking jobs such as boxing. And even though he became rich due to certain medical breakthroughs he discovered, he welcomed the poor and the working class to view the paintings he collected. There was a certain poetry in the way the film eventually tackled the reason why Dr. Barnes learned to despise the rich republicans and key figures that led to the downfall of the Barnes Foundation. “The Art of the Steal” is a classic David vs. Goliath case only Goliath won in this story. By end of the movie, I did not quite know how to feel. On one hand, I thought it was empowering how Dr. Barnes was able to keep his art for so many years from money-craving individuals. On the other hand, it saddens me that people are willing to throw their morals and ethics out the window for money. The film could have been stronger if those that wanted to move the paintings to the city, even if they did not have big names, agreed to be interviewed. It would have been nice to hear their point of views and perhaps their insight could have added another layer of complexity to the issue. Ultimately, “The Art of the Steal” is a suspenseful documentary and it opened my eyes about philanthropic organizations and museums. I may not be an art connoisseur but I have a very good handle on what is right and what is wrong.
★★ / ★★★★
I think a lot of critics and audiences alike have been way harsh on this film. I concur that this picture is not easy to swallow and digest since most of the story took place in one area. It definitely got suffocating because the audiences are subjected to see the same place for about an hour and fifteen minutes (the middle portion); the only things that changed are the increasingly disgusting living conditions of the blind and the dynamics among the wards. Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore lead one of the wards, a doctor and a doctor’s wife, one lost his sight and the other one kept her sight (though it must be kept a secret), respectively. It was interesting to watch their relationship change as the film went on because Ruffalo depended on his wife regarding pretty much everything. There was a brilliant scene when Ruffalo talked to Moore about not seeing her the same after she feeds him, bathes him, and cleans him up in ways that a nurse or mother normally does. There was this undeniable tension between them but at the same time they must stay together because everything around them is falling apart. I thought it was interesting how Fernando Meirelles, the director, chose to tell the story. In the first few scenes, we focus on this one man who suddenly goes blind in the middle of traffic (Yusuke Iseya) and slowly transition to other people suddenly going blind to the point where it becomes an epidemic. The epidemic and ravaged city reminded me of “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later,” only instead of zombies roaming the streets, it’s blind individuals. I also liked the slightly hopeful ending because the suffering was not entirely for naught. Still, by the end of the picture, I still wanted to know the source of the epidemic. That lack of explanation somewhat got to me (and I imagine as most people would). I don’t deny the fact that I saw some hints of great filmmaking here such as the stark contrast between certain images in the beginning and the end of the movie. I also liked the “Lord of the Flies” element in the quarantine zone when everyone had to decide who would get how much food, who the leader should be and who would emerge victorious between the wards. I’ve never seen Gael García Bernal so immoral so his character definitely took me by surprise. With a little bit more explanation and less saggy middle portion, this would’ve been a much powerful film. The acting was already really good and there were scenes that really tugged at my heartstrings. See this if you’re curious and hopefully you’ll see what I see in it: potential.
A Simple Plan (1998)
★★★ / ★★★★
The first scene of this film involving a fox and a chicken coop serves as a template for what’s to come. I noticed right away that there are a handful animals that can be found in some scenes, but it’s only until half-way through when I realized their significance. Since this was based on a novel by Scott B. Smith, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the animals and their nature serve as a foreshadowing for the characters’ choices. What I love about this film is its ability to constantly ask the audiences how they feel about a situation after the characters face seemingly insurmountable challenges of lies and deceit. Just when I thought I figured out a group of characters twenty minutes into the picture, twists start piling up and my assumptions couldn’t have been any more wrong. Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thorton, and Brent Briscoe are very convincing as the three men who lead simple lives who happen to find over four million dollars in a plane crash. Thornton and Briscoe wanted to keep the money, but Paxton didn’t. However, despite his intelligence, harmless facade and ability to think his way out of sticky situations, it is arguable that he is the most immoral of them all. His wife, played by Bridget Fonda, isn’t any better because she sees the money as an escape–a way for her family to have better lives–and she is intent on following that path. This film is grim, tense and is able to offer a mirror on how the dark side of humanity can poison even the best of us. It’s also about decisions; how sometimes you only get one chance so you better think things through before jumping to a conclusion. Most of all, it’s about happiness. Sometimes, we forget that we’re happy as is when we’re faced with a chance to become more than we currently are. Having it all is a gamble so are you willing to risk everything to attain more? The moral implications of this film are challenging and insightful; it reminded me of a darker, more serious version of “Fargo.” I was also reminded of a quote uttered by Frances McDormand in the end of that film: “There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well, I just don’t understand it.”
My Best Friend’s Girl (2008)
★ / ★★★★
This is one of those movies that isn’t worth reviewing because it takes the word “egregious” on a whole new level. I should’ve known that I was in for a disaster when I saw Dane Cook and Kate Hudson on the opening credits. Even though I’ve seen them star in a lot of bad movies, my gut tells me to give them another chance time and again. I really was hoping this film would be pretty good because of Alec Baldwin, Jason Biggs, and Lizzy Caplan. But all of them, except for Caplan, are not likeable. In fact, I thought they were all immoral and thrived on experiencing emotional pain. Right off the bat, I hated Cook’s character because he finds it amusing to take unknowing women on really bad dates (that’s putting it lightly). I couldn’t believe for one second that Cook would be best friends with Biggs, who I initially thought was the antithesis of Cook, but I was proven wrong after fifteen minutes. As for Hudson’s character, she says she wants to be happy and be with the right guy but her actions say otherwise. Hudson should really think hard about her career because if she keeps appearing in very forgettable romantic “comedies,” she will no longer be a star by the time she’s fifty. I expected a lot from Baldwin because he never fails to crack me up in “30 Rock.” In here, he pretty much plays the same character but doesn’t exude heart. Half-way through the picture, I just wanted it to end so I kept looking at the clock. There’s a plethora of unjustified cruelty in this film and pretty much all of the characters deserve to be miserable. And if you decide to watch this picture, you’ll be pretty miserable as well. Don’t waste your time like I did.