Category Archives: Reviews

Mother’s Day: “Born a Crime”

You may know Trevor Noah as the better looking but less inspiring South African successor to Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. But do you really know him? No, you don’t. Unless you do, in which case I am honored to have a personal friend or relation of Trevor Noah reading my blog. Otherwise, this mother’s day you might come to know him better if you read his memoir, “Born a Crime.”

Now hold on, you might rightly ask, Trevor Noah isn’t a mother. You’re right there. However, he did have a mother. Trevor’s relationship with his mother suffuses his entire book, and it is one to remember. In turns hilarious, heartwarming, harrowing, and heartbreaking, “Born a Crime” describes apartheid South Africa through a series of beautiful vignettes of a little mixed race boy, and a God-and-nothing-else-fearing-woman who kept him alive and made him who he is today.

 

“Get Out’s” Plot Makes no Sense, but Watch it anyway

I was recently told by a fellow writer that it’s ok to sacrifice your concept to make a good scene. I’m not sure I agree with him, but the idea of maintaining readers expectations well enough that they can overlook holes in your story is a good one. Covering over an inconsistency with a joke is not beneath even such well-regarded filmmakers as Joss Whedon. In the Avengers, he explains how Bruce Banner, who famously becomes the Hulk when he can’t control his anger becomes the Hulk at will. “I’m always angry” as an explanation elucidates nothing but with charm and wit keeps the audience satisfied enough to lead into the next CGI-drenched action sequence.

To say that Jordan Peele’s new horror film “Get Out” comes highly reviewed is an understatement. It gets a 99% on the Rotten Tomatoes tomatometer (Whedon’s Avengers gets a 92%), and with good reason. In addition to being compelling, hilarious, and of course frightening, it offers social commentary of depth beyond what one would expect from the genre. I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in horror movies or race relations. Spoilers follow.

When he visits the home of his white girlfriend’s parents, the protagonist Chris finds much more than he bargained for – specifically that his entire relationship is part of the plot to literally steal black bodies for the use of white people. The mystery is slowly revealed over the course of the movie as the bizarre behavior of the black people at the estate begins to boil over, but ultimately the explanation does not mesh with all of what we have seen leading up to it.

The fact that the man and woman who turn out to be the grandparents of the household spend the whole time acting like servants is relatively easily explained – they are pretending for the benefit of the guests. This leaves questions of why, especially if they can’t do a better job of pretending, they don’t just stay at a hotel for a while, but it’s good enough to pass muster. This mysterious unexplained theme of servitude, however, continues in the young black man who visits with his much older white wife. At one point in the conversation he states that he feels compelled to spend all of his time at home doing housework, a clear and creepy nod to slavery, but one that does not fit with the concept of white people taking the bodies of blacks to gain new abilities or live longer.

If you didn’t notice this inconsistency, that’s the brilliance of excellent storytelling. A story’s plot does not need to add up logically to be impactful. The themes of the movie were not all in service to the plot, and they came together to make something much more than a simple horror film. If you haven’t seen “Get Out,” don’t expect all the subtle hints and images to add up to a plot. They add up to something that is so much more.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell

Do you like stories where peace and the will of the people triumph over greed and hate?

Do you like women standing up for a cause they believe in and winning?

Did you like this commercial where an imam and a priest are brought together, courtesy of Amazon Prime’s lightning fast two-day delivery service?

Then you’ll love seeing Muslim and Christian women come together to force peace in Liberia.

I watched this movie and it was fabulous.

American Values Review: Orange is the New Black

There are many Christian values media reviews out there – these are often targeted at Christian parents and discuss how they can keep their children occupied without endangering their faith.  This week I’d like to introduce a concept I’ve been considering for a little while: reviews of movies and other media that, like Christian values reviews, discuss media as a source of entertainment while respecting its power to do much more than simply entertain. The only difference is I will move beyond Christian values to American values. These are the values that have defined the United States for much of its lifetime. They are the values enforced by Martin Luther King Junior, by Rosa Parks and Bayard Rustin. American values are the ones pressed forward by the labor movement when it was at its peak, and by the civil, women’s and gay rights movements, the last of which is experiencing a peak today. They draw heavily from Christ’s teachings as laid out in the New Testament and are stronger for it. American values respect the rights and freedoms of all people, and seek to expand these freedoms, especially to the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses whose freedoms are most likely to be restricted. These are the values that made America “the land of opportunity,” in the last century, and they are the values that will see us through this one. Just like many Christians feel it’s important to enjoy media that supports their values, I want to encourage Americans to enjoy the media that supports their values. So I hope to use the American Values Review to point out these values when they appear in media and decry the lazy, greedy, or actively hateful writers and directors whose works rely on outdated concepts that run contrary to the American way. I will start with a positive example: Orange is the New Black.

If you’re addicted to HBO and wonder if you can get the same kind of content without the price tag, look no further than Orange is the New Black. Jenji Kohan takes the true story of a privileged white woman’s time in prison and turns it into a Netflix drama with all the intrigue, complexity, and yes, sex, that one could expect of any HBO offering. The dialogue is witty enough to be intellectually stimulating and delivered well enough not to feel scripted, and the plots will make you argue with your friends or your partner about who can be trusted, who’s giving bad advice, and what, really, is the right thing to do in the many terrible situations  in which inmates, guards, and executives of Litchfield Correctional Facility find themselves.

Kohan’s work provides more than just thrills, however. Its contributions to feminism, gay rights, and transgender rights are obvious from the first few episodes, but Kohen’s work offers still more for fans of human rights. Despite taking place in a correctional facility with plenty of murderers cramped in close quarters with each other, Orange is the New Black is relatively low on outright violence compared with conventional Hollywood fare. The dichotomy of good and evil gains no purchase in Litchfield Correctional facility. Conflicts take a variety of forms, often fading into subtlety only to rear their heads again later on and then end in wary forgiveness. Characters seem to start out trustworthy, become villainous, and then realize they’re the villain and try to reform themselves. It seems like every recurring character eventually gets to be humanized, and that’s a strength. Orange is the New Black, at its core, is about human beings, and it’s entertaining enough to get people to look closely at human beings that, as the inmates of Litchfield frequently note themselves, have all too often been ignored.

I give Orange is the New Black an A for entertainment value and an A+ for American values.