Thursday, March 23, 2017

SHORT TAKE: DON’T KILL IT

As mentioned in my previous post, my day job is severely limiting my writing time here at the ol’ B-Movie Catechism. That’s regrettable because as much as I enjoy reviewing films for Aleteia and Scenes, I don’t often get to cover the kinds of movies over there that I do here. Apparently, long-winded ruminations on stuff like  Reptilicus and Hard Rock Zombies just don’t generate the same number of page views a review of Logan does. That’s fine, but I still miss discussing low budget and cult cinema. So, until I can get back into full swing here, I’m going to start putting up the occasional short take on movies tailor made for this site, a sort of B-Movie Catechism lite, if you will. Let’s start with…

Don't Kill It

Did you ever watch Fallen and wonder if it wouldn’t be just a little bit better if they replaced Denzel Washington with Dolph Lundgren and added lots and lots of head trauma? If so, then have we got a movie for you!

Don’t Kill It features everybody’s favorite chemical engineer turned beefcake bad boy (it’s true, look it up) as Jebediah Woodley, a deep-south demon hunter on the trail of a body hopping baddie. It seems Jebediah has been after one particular fiend ever since he was a little demon hunter in training and witnessed it cause his father’s death. Now, at last, Jebediah has the hellion in his sights and can exact some sweet revenge. The catch is, anytime this particular demon’s host body is killed, it immediately jumps into the body of the person who did the killing. What’s a guy to do in a situation like that?

Not to worry, as over the decades Jebediah has developed an impressive arsenal of non-lethal weapons for just this situation. Unfortunately, nobody else has, and since no one believes a word of Jebediah’s warnings, everyone tends to immediately open fire anytime one of the possessed goes on a killing rampage. You’d think after the first few massacres, everyone would learn their lesson, but no, skepticism rules the day. Who cares that just about every religion on the planet since the dawn of time has recognized the existence of malevolent spirits, let’s just ignore that possibility because a few drunk atheists have written best selling books saying such things are make believe. Just keep turning a blind eye to the obvious even as you’re having your face bashed in.

Which happens a lot in this movie! Don’t Kill It is a gleeful throwback to all those late 80s/early 90s direct-to-video action romps which were short on plot, but long on carnage. I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen a movie with this many head wounds in it. It’s all cartoonish fun, though, which is just what you would expect from the director of Big Ass Spider! and Lavalantula. In fact, given the vibe this movie gives off, it makes me wish some studio would throw some money their way and give Mike Mendez and Dolph Lundgren a shot at adapting Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International series. Since that will probably never happen, though, Don’t Kill It will have to suffice. It’s cheap, silly, and fun, and you can’t ask for much more than that.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

NOW SHOWING AT A BLOG NEAR YOU

Now Showing Marquee 4

My job that actually pays the bills is keeping me on the run these days, so posting has been light around these parts. Of course, if you follow my Facebook page or Twitter feed, then you know I’ve managed to review some movies for Aleteia and Scenes, from super-sized blockbusters like Kong: Skull Island to micro-budgeted efforts such as SavageLand. Still, it would be nice to get back into the swing of things here. Until then, though, there’s still plenty to read out there when it comes to movies and religion.

For instance, the National Catholic Register’s Fr. Harrison Ayre recently went off on an interesting Twitter rant explaining why he believes Joss Whedon undermines Western civilization. Quite aware of how such a theory might be received, the good father has subtitled his tweet-storm “How to get half of Catholic Twitter to hate you.”

Speaking of hate, or perhaps just intense disliking, atheist Jake Everett asks the burning question, “If God is both all-good and all-powerful, why did he allow the Star Wars prequels?” Undeterred by such skepticism, but equally unimpressed with the prequels, everybody’s favorite Bad Catholic, Marc Barnes, explains how Rogue One represents a return to reverence in the beloved movie series.

While we’re on the topic of opposing viewpoints, we may as well note that Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast has finally hit the big screen. Thanks to the filmmakers plastering some choice comments all over Twitter, all the media attention seems to be focused on one brief ‘moment’ in the film. However, Disney uber-fan Jacob Popcak noticed a completely different moment during his viewing of the movie, one he considers exclusively Catholic. Oddly enough, the media is barely mentioning that one at all.

One thing everyone can agree on is that Val Lewton’s Cat People is an undisputed classic. If you don’t believe me, ask The Happy Catholic, who has a few brief words to say about it.

And finally, for what it’s worth, the Conjuring spinoff, The Nun, is now in pre-production. The sinister sister is due in theaters July 2018.

And with that, we’ll leave you to your reading. See you next time.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

WEEKLY NEWSREEL

Good evening Mr. & Mrs. Catholic, and all you other Christians at sea. Science is at it again, and The Newsreel is here to bring you the story. Now off to press!

DATELINE: CAMBRIDGE

According to a recent article at ScienceDaily, scientists at Cambridge University have managed to create an artificial mouse embryo through the use of two types of genetically modified stem cells. The stated purpose of this rather ominous sounding experiment is to further our understanding of the earliest stages of embryonic development so as to help researchers explain why more than two out of three human pregnancies fail. As Professor Zernicka-Goetz explains…

“We think that it will be possible to mimic a lot of the developmental events occurring before 14 days using human embryonic and extra-embryonic stem cells using a similar approach to our technique using mouse stem cells… We are very optimistic that this will allow us to study key events of this critical stage of human development without actually having to work on embryos. Knowing how development normally occurs will allow us to understand why it so often goes wrong.”

As hinted at in the doctor’s remarks, the so-called ‘embryo’ created by the Cambridge team is not quite the same as the real thing. The article states…

“It is unlikely that it would develop further into a healthy fetus… To do so, it would likely need the third form of stem cell, which would allow the development of the yolk sac, which provides nourishment for the embryo and within which a network of blood vessel develops. In addition, the system has not been optimized for the correct development of the placenta.”

As avid movie fans, however, The Newsreel can’t help but wonder just how long it is before some mad scientist type takes it upon himself to attempt those extra steps necessary to create a fully functioning artificial embryo. This might not be a good idea as, at some point in the process, you end up with Morgan. And with a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, nobody wants that.

Seriously though, the possibility of a fully artificial human embryo can’t help but raise the question of ensoulment; not the age old argument over whether it is immediate or delayed, but whether it occurs at all. Would an artificial human have a soul? Or better put, since all living things have an animating soul of some sort, would an artificially created human embryo have an immortal soul made in the image of God?

Only God knows for sure, but since the Church has already accepted potential clones to be fully human, it is highly likely any being resulting from an ‘artificial’ embryo would be as well. After all, we’re not talking about robots here, but living, breathing autonomous beings developed through artificial non-procreative methods. And as Aquinas wrote in Summa Contra Gentiles, "the human soul is brought into being through the creative action of God," not through the biological processes of procreation. Given that, there’s no reason that God wouldn’t ensoul such creations if he so chose.

Even so, let’s hope the research never reaches that point, because of the overwhelming potential for the misuse and commoditization of these artificially created beings. Well, that and, you know… Morgan.

And on that note, we’ll leave you, as always, with the immortal words of the great Les Nessman. Good evening, and may the good news be yours.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

BMC MOVIE OF THE WEEK: SPLIT

Split

“An outing takes a sinister turn for three teenage friends (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) when they are kidnapped by a ruthless stranger (James McAvoy) and imprisoned in his basement. They soon learn that their captor has multiple-personality disorder, forcing them to plot their escape without ever knowing which of his 23 personas -- young or old, male or female, benign or monstrous -- they will confront on the way out. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.” – AllMovie

February 12, 2017 - Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

After spending some well deserved time in the director’s doghouse for the crimes he committed against The Last Airbender, M. Night Shyamalan finally earned his reprieve with 2015’s The Visit. The low budget thriller was a welcome return to form for the once-proclaimed heir to Spielberg; full of mystery, wit, and of course, one of Shyamalan’s patented ‘tweest’ endings. Now his comeback is complete with Split, a little $9-million flick that has, as of this writing, grossed over $100 million at the domestic box office.

For the most part, Split is a decent, though average horror-thriller elevated primarily by James McAvoy’s portrayal of Kevin… and Dennis… and Patricia and Hedwig and Barry and… well, you get the idea. Required to switch personas on a dime, McAvoy does most of the heavy lifting in the movie, pulling off a pretty convincing array of characters who all happen to share the same body. And near the end, when all his personalities start emerging at once, he becomes a veritable one-man acting class in body language and voice inflection.

Split

Of course, no man is an island. McAvoy does get a little help from his supporting cast. Betty Buckley’s mannered and controlled psychiatrist acts as a nice foil for McAvoy to play off of. Plus, she’s able to convincingly spout all the psychobabble we need to understand what’s going on with McAvoy’s character, which is extremely important near the end when the film starts to get a little loopy.

And then there’s Anya Taylor-Joy as the most capable of McAvoy’s captives. She manages to take a role that, in these kind of movies, is typically reserved for generic obnoxious twenty-somethings,  and turn it into something somewhat believable and interesting.  Combine this performance with her one-two punch in Morgan and The Witch from last year, and you’ve got an up and coming actress whom genre fans would be more than happy to see make a career out of appearing in horror films.

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Except that Split isn’t really a horror movie. Yes, it looks and plays like one for the first one hour and fifty minutes of its running time, but then something happens. Basic human decency prevents me from spoiling the ‘tweest,’ but suffice to say there is a revelation in the final few minutes of the film that completely changes what came before. In what is probably his greatest magic trick yet, Shyamalan has spent an entire film misdirecting his audience into thinking they are seeing one kind of movie, when in fact they have been watching something entirely different. It’s a reveal of biblical proportions.

And I mean that literally. In this week’s reading from Matthew, we learn that “Jesus said to his disciples: Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Among other things, this is Jesus making a straight-up typological reference to how he, Christ, is prefigured in the Old Testament. Taken alone, the Old Testament is an outstanding story of how God interacts with and shepherds his chosen people, the Jews, through many a trial and tribulation. It ends on a hopeful note that a messiah is coming who will lead them to their true destiny. Most Jews at the time interpreted that to mean a great military leader would arise and trample their enemies into dust.

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But then Jesus is revealed to the world, and he basically tells the Jews, “Sorry, that’s not the movie you’re in.” Yes, he will fulfil the promises of the Old Testament, but not in any way that was expected. Oh, the clues were all right there in the old stories, but everyone missed them until the author of it all pulled away the veil and showed them, and us, what was really going on. Quite the trick. Well played, God.

What M. Night Shyamalan has pulled off with Split isn’t on that level, obviously, but as a bit of cinematic chicanery, it’s up there with the best. And after a long time, it’s finally nice to be able to say once again, “I can’t wait for the next Shyamalan movie.” Welcome back from your banishment, old friend.