Friday, July 22, 2016

C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert

Before I even knew I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to write like C.S. Lewis.  Through the Narnia Chronicles, he introduced me to fantastical imagination, to thrilling adventures, and, most of all, to Aslan.  Growing up, I developed a stronger appreciation for how his faith permeated his fiction and his nonfiction works.  His apologetics made me think more about my belief in God in a fresh and interesting way.  However, Lewis wasn't always a Christian.  That's the reality that Max McLean's one-man show, "C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert," presents us with.


I knew that my favorite author used to be an atheist, but I enjoyed watching his transition to Christianity in a theatrical production.  The set looked exactly as I would picture Lewis' study - filled with books and completed with a comfy reading chair.  McLean essentially monologued for the whole 75 minutes, but I hardly noticed.  He displayed the character with the humor, intellectualism, and genuine reluctance that I could picture the real Lewis possessing.  I laughed out loud when he essentially called God a "nuisance."  I find his conversion so compelling because of how stubbornly he resisted God for years, despite the people and experiences He put on his path from atheism, to theism, to Christianity.  Eventually, even his books turned against him!  That was my favorite line.

I recognized various quotes that McLean pulled from books such as Mere Christianity, and I learned many aspects of the author's family, lifestyle, and personal journey that I hadn't known before.  Afterward, McLean came out for a brief Q&A, which he feared broke the magic.  It did, but it was worth hearing about his passion for the project and for portraying Christianity through theater at large.  McLean had a solid performance, and the background visuals were good.  However, if I wasn't already a fan of Lewis, I probably would not have enjoyed the production nearly as much.  For that reason I wouldn't recommend it to the general audience unless they are interested in learning more about Lewis' life.  If you are, this production would certainly satisfy you in an entertaining way!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Who You Gonna Call? Ballbusters!

I'm going to pause my aching need to exult in how the Ghostbusters gave me hope for feminism, because I don't consider that a primary factor for whether a movie is good or bad.  Being new to the sci-fi genre and having never watched the original Ghostbusters, I considered myself a fairly objective viewer who could either be impressed or disappointed with the new version on its own merits.  Friends, I was impressed.  With the comedy, the acting, the special effects, the characters, nearly everything!

(source: Wikipedia)

The story starts with Erin Gilbert, a professor that unexpectedly runs into a ghost from the past (I know, I'm awful) in the form of a book about the paranormal that she had co-authored years back.  She barges into the lab of Abby Yates to demand that she take their book down from Amazon and meets engineer/fellow paranormal fanatic Jullian Holtzman.  However, Erin gets wrapped up in their ghost hunt, and when she is recorded screaming that ghosts are real, she's fired.  Thus begins their quest to prove their scienctific research is legitimate.  After having her own paranormal experience, New Yorker Patty Tolan joins their team - with her uncle's funeral hearse as their admittedly sweet ride.

I have trouble pinning down exactly why I like these four characters so much.  I can say none of them are cardboard.  Each has a distinct presence with quirks and talents and perspectives that the team and the film need to make an interesting story.  The most attention goes to Erin and Abby, who had been friends until Erin gave up searching for the paranormal in order to become "normal."  Erin has to let go of her insecurity to accomplish their work, and her arc thankfully follows through on that.  She and the others make a solid team. They only become better with every confrontation, each of which builds with the appropriate amount of action and suspense.  My absolute favorite scene involved Holtzman attacking ghosts in slow-motion along with the Ghostbusters theme song.  I would recommend watching the movie for that part alone.


Of course I have to mention Kevin.  Beautiful, stupid, beautiful Kevin.  Kevin who doesn't know how to answer a phone and wears glasses without glass lenses.  (As a person who wears glasses I should have felt so offended, but that discovery was too hilarious to do so.)  I have a theory that just having his name makes you dumber.  He acts as the Ghostbusters' secretary whose literal only purpose is to look pretty and to be the fodder for several of the movie's funniest jokes.  Nice gender role reversal.  Let me tell you, I did not think of The Majestic Thor even once while watching Hemsworth play him.  Fun fact: he ad libbed quite a bit for this role.


While I can't remember that many specific jokes off the top of my head, I do remember frequently having a good laugh.  As you must know from my previous reviews, laughter is one of my greatest weaknesses.  Despite the comedy, the movie also had some pretty scary moments with the ghosts.  I probably only thought this because I'm a weenie and I close my eyes on roller-coasters.  You can take my comment as a vague appreciation for the movie's visuals - even if they did freak me out.  Regardless, I liked seeing the Ghostbusters face off against their adversaries with their proton packs and their supreme intelligence.  I can't put it more plainly: I had a fun time watching.  This means a lot to me because I didn't want this film - headlined by funny, brilliant, and competent women who are fighting the bad guys and NOT each other - to give the dudebros an excuse to hate on it.  So HA, dudebros!  This movie exists.  And it's pretty darn good.

Friday, July 15, 2016


I wish I had more to say about Disney's BFG other than "Meh."  I don't know how much of the problem lies with Roald Dahl's original story or the movie's adaptation of it - since I haven't read the book - but for the purpose of this review I'll stick to the movie.  The main character Sophie was likable enough.  An obvious book nerd, she was full of spunk and determination and was therefore the ideal catalyst to change the Big Friendly Giant's life for the better.  However, the journey to get there feels like you're plodding through wet sand.

Scene after scene stuffs us with dialogue and leaves out backstory that might have made the movie far more interesting.  We're never told why BFG decided to be a vegetarian in contrast to the other giants, or whether he'd always been that way.  Essentially I kept asking myself: why was he so different in the first place?  The BFG also hears and collects dreams in jars, but we never learn why or how this began.  I am a huge fan of fantasy, and that dream mythology looked promising in terms of both story and characterization.  What a fascinating yet wasted concept!


The movie struggles to make the stakes high enough for me to say more than "Good for you" to the characters' triumphs.  The story stresses the other giants' abuse of the BFG as the primary conflict, but when those giants are going around stealing and eating children in London, priorities seem out of place.  I suppose it would have been too dark for Disney, but I didn't feel the danger when the movie finally tells us via a newspaper read aloud that oh, by the way, a bunch of kids are disappearing!  It's those man-eating giants!  Considering the movie's final act focuses on resolving this apparently widespread issue, I would have thought that we'd know about it sooner.  Additionally, Sophie's idea to save the day came out of left field.  I can't decide if it surprised me in a good or bad way.

I don't want to completely stink on the BFG.  It had an imaginative children's story feel - which is likely a residue from the original material - as well as pleasant characters and a moment or two of humor.  (If you know what's good for you, never drink frobscottle.)  I watched the movie with a subdued smile, but once I left the theater I knew I wouldn't go out of my way to watch it again.  Perhaps animation is not Steven Spielberg's forte.