Movie reviews

Movie Review: The Lego Movie

the_lego_movie_2014-wideOne should probably begin a discussion about The LEGO Movie by quickly getting the obvious out of the way: It’s awesome. The whole thing is awesome… Except maybe the head-wreckingly catchy theme tune; which I very reluctantly thought was awesome too. But only because it has permanently taken up residence in my head, overwriting the brain data that once held Lambchop’s “This Is The Song That Never Ends. It goes on and on and on and on…”!

As is wholly expected, The Lego Movie waxes on every fantasy-scifi-comicbook-pirate-cowboy-[insert any arbitrary film genre here] movie cliché that has ever been in existence. However, one doesn’t expect the prophesied hero to be modelled more on Bilbo and less on Neo – that is special by the very fact that he isn’t particularly special at all. One does expect a myriad of random and exciting cameos from almost every other popular franchise that seems to have ever existed from Lando Calrissian to Michelangelo to Michelangelo (Yes, both the Mutant Ninja Turtle and the famous Renaissance artist!) to Dumbledore, and, of course, Batman. But one certainly doesn’t expect a remarkable multiplicity of meaning contained in even the naming of the characters: Emmet (the main character) means ‘truth’, in Hebrew; and Lucy (the would-be love interest) means ‘of the light’, in Latin. There are also references to Aristophanes, Ibsen, Orwell, and an architect from 2000 years ago, who was so famous Leonardo da Vinci would use his designs to create the Vitruvian Man – Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. The Vitruvius in the film is a “Master Builder” (the Ibsen reference), is a rebel in a dystopian Big Brother-esque world (Orwell), and the film travels through a chaotic realm where the are no rules, called Cloud Cuckoo Land (Aristophanes)… Awesome!

The aforementioned prophecy tells of a chosen one (surprise, surprise) called, ironically, “The Special” who will be “the brightest, most talented, most interesting person in the universe.” Thankfully though, the unfolding plot takes this tired cliché in fantastically original and unexpected directions.

Initially, Emmet does not seem special. As is the custom, propagated by the society in which he lives, he doesn’t just avoid over thinking; he barely thinks at all. He strives to be just like everyone else, and fit in. He signs up to the same consumerist mentality, watches the same “popular” show and listens to the same “popular” song. He lives this so perfectly when warned not to get any ideas, he can relish in his confident reply, “I never have any ideas.” Contrasted with the laissez-faire, seat-of-your-pants approach of those who populate the underground movement, of which Wyldstyle/Lucy is typical, fighting the maniacal manipulator and looming overlord, Lord Business, with whom Emmet finds himself embroiled in his role as “The Special”, he seems thoroughly, and delightedly underwhelming.

But this creates the central tension fans of the iconic building blocks face at every moment of play – the tension between following the instructions and creating from one’s own imagination. And this is, very literally, the challenge confronting Catholics everyday. Like Emmet, they understand how total freedom can fail without some rules. And it is the struggle to live out this reality that makes them “special”, especially those involved in the New Evangelisation. Indeed, the general popularity of Pope Francis stems from his redefining of the balance between conformity and creativity. Being a practicing Catholic does mean giving religious submission of intellect and will to the all Church’s teaching, but it is where the actualisation of the Gospel message is concerned that one’s creativity is essential. We cannot be afraid to live life abundantly and to drink in the beauty of life! We cannot be afraid to explore the wonders of Christ. We should be truly joyful people. We can’t spend our time complaining about how unfair the Church is, or about how we are not getting their fair share, or about how we feel repressed by the Church. There are far more important things that need to be done with and in our lives. True Catholics realise that it is all about their relationship with Christ, not about rules. The rules are there to give us a framework to build on, to go beyond: a starting point. In real life, as in the film, we can be creative by following the instructions! Awesome, right?

Movie Review: Argo

aro (1)It’s 1979 Tehran, riots have exploded and radical student Islamists are laying siege of the U.S. embassy, taking 58 employees hostage. Out of the chaos, six employees escape. Enclosed in fear and anxiety, trapped with little hope and ensconced from the enemy in the Canadian ambassador’s house they wait for a saviour. Meanwhile in Washington Tony Mendez, a CIA agent played by Ben Affleck, proposes a plan to rescue the employees that is seemingly so mundane and ordinary that few have faith in it. Yet it is accepted.

Mendez is told by his boss that ”The whole country is watching you” though “they just don’t know it.” This phrase invites us to reflect on the question; how many people yearn for salvation, for meaning, for a way out of their despair and personal dramas from ‘someone’ whether they know it or not? Every human heart is hard-wired to look to someone to rescue them in times of distress, though they ‘don’t know it’. We all have our hands outstretched longing for someone else to grab it. As Christians we know the person we are all looking for is Christ, it is to Christ that we are ‘watching’ for although we do not know it. All hope and salvation is rooted in Christ. Just as in the hostage drama, the greatest drama of life is ‘sin’ whether we are aware of it or not. We are hostages to sin and we need deliverance by God.

One of the most important challenges facing Mendez is gaining the trust of the hostages. Initially he presents himself with a pseudo name to the six escapees and as a result finds it hard to get one of the men to leave the house. The man insists on knowing who he really is. It is only when Mendez discloses his real name and identity does the plan really get going and the man begins to cooperate. So for us before we can grab the saviour’s hand our faith tells us that trust in truth and ‘revelation’, is important. If a person in despair is willing to be truly free from their state and accept ‘salvation’, they need authenticity. God revealed His name ‘Yahweh’ to Moses, an invitation for Moses to begin to know Him more intimately and so to follow Him. This same personal disclosure culminates with Jesus on the Cross who reveals the innermost heart of God’s compassion and love, His true name. Like the man who trusts in Mendez we place our trust and confidence in Christ because He has revealed the innermost identity of God. Hence our act of faith is a response to God’s own self-communication and since God is truth itself, it is a response to truth and authenticity.

Lastly, Mendez and the other hostages succeed to freedom with a close call. Mendez risks his life especially risks never seeing his own son again. This is the ultimate Christian act to want to lay down one’s life for another, even for persons you do not know. Furthermore, such heroism does not go unnoticed yet it is not noticed in a way that we may expect. Mendez is awarded one of the highest awards of his country but no one knows because of the classified nature of his mission. The boss tells Mendez if he was looking for applause for his acts of service and bravery he should have joined the circus. This rings a familiar tone for Christians who should do acts of love for love’s sake and not for admiration and reputation. We like Mendez are rewarded in secret, known only by our Heavenly Father.



Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave


In 1841, Solomon Northup is a ‘free negro’ working as a skilled carpenter and fiddle player, and living with his wife and two children in Washington. Two men offer him a two-week job as a musician, but they drug Northup and he wakes up in chains, about to be sold into slavery. He is shipped to New Orleans, and is re-named ‘Platt’. Beaten repeatedly, he is sold to plantation owner William Ford. Northup manages to stay on good terms with Ford, a relatively kind master. However after a fight with his foremen he is sold to another plantation owner named Edwin Epps. Epps believes his right to abuse his slaves is justified by the Bible, and encourages the slaves to accept their fate by frequently reading to them fraudulent pro-slavery Bible verses. Epps also requires each slave to pick at least 200 pounds of cotton every day, or be beaten. He repeatedly rapes one of the slave-girls named Patsey, who asks for Northup’s help in committing suicide, but he refuses. Northup meets a Canadian carpenter named Bass (Brad Pitt). He asks for help in getting a letter to Washington. Bass, risking his life, agrees to do it. The plan works. After being enslaved for 12 years, Northup is restored to freedom and returned to his family.


On watching ‘12 Years A Slave’ I found it hard to believe that it is a true story simply because there is so much cruelty in it. I found myself asking the question, ‘How can one human being treat another like this?’ It also reminded me that such cruelty is still going on in the world today especially in developing countries, but also in Ireland where, for example, many girls are forced into prostitution.


On reflecting on the film I was reminded of the great Dominicans, Antonio de Montesinos and Bartolomé de las Casas. Montesinos was a Spanish Dominican friar on the island of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti) who, with the backing of his Dominican community preached against the enslavement and harsh treatment of the indigenous peoples of the island. Montesinos’ preaching led to the conversion of Bartolomé de las Casas and his subsequent entry into the Dominican Order. According to de las Casas, Montesinos said in his famous sermon ‘Why do you keep them so oppressed and exhausted, without giving them enough to eat or curing them of the sicknesses they incur from the excessive labor you give them, and they die, or rather you kill them, in order to extract and acquire gold every day?’


The sermon outraged the conquistadors, including Admiral Diego Columbus (son of Christopher Columbus) and other representatives of the King, there present. The hard work of Montesinos and de las Casas eventually led the king of Spain to convene a commission which promulgated the Laws of Burgos, the first code of ordinances attempting to protect the indigenous people, regulate their treatment and conversion, and limit the demands of the Spanish colonizers upon them. Today we need brave people to continue the fight against the cruelty of slavery throughout the world. Here’s hoping that ‘12 Years A Slave’ will spur the consciences of its audience, perhaps even producing 21st-century counterparts to Montesinos and de las Casas.