Love Ruins Everything

OK, not everything that Nicholas Cage’s character says in this little seduction speech do I endorse. For example,

“I don’t care if I burn in hell. I don’t care if you burn in hell.”

This recklessness is indeed what we sound like when we’re in the grip of headlong love (or lust), but I still don’t recommend saying it to your significant other.

But.

The way he winds up the speech is just … brilliant.

“Love don’t make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks our hearts. We are here to ruin ourselves and love the wrong people and break our hearts … and die!

Right on, Nick! The only thing that loving another guarantees us is heartbreak. No one knows this better than our Lord. He definitely “loved the wrong people” … and it got Him killed. Sure, love wins in the end, but let’s not skip over this part. The stories we tell will ring hollow if we skip the part where love ruins everything.

When Romance Goes Rong: A Review of Tyler Perry's A Fall from Grace

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A Fall from Grace is a movie that’s out right now on Netflix. This post will contain spoilers, though not for one particular twist. Which shows, by the way, how good of a movie it is, that I can tell you a good bit of the plot and still hold back a twist.

I had a feeling this drama was going to be good as soon as I saw Tyler Perry’s name on it. I haven’t seen all his Madea movies, and of those I have seen, I haven’t liked all of them equally well. But I loved Madea’s Witness Protection. It was obvious, watching it, that there is not just comedy here but some human wisdom as well. I don’t know whether Grace is Perry’s first drama, but it’s the first one I’ve noticed circulating. Something told me that after years of making movies, he would be maturing as a director and ready to make impactful dramas.

I wasn’t disappointed. Grace is a really good drama, in the sense that after watching it, I honestly feel as if I have personally been through Grace’s experience. As of this drafting, I watched it about 24 hours ago, and have been thinking about it more or less continually ever since.

The title character, Grace, is a lonely divorceé with a grown son. When the movie opens, we are told that she has killed “her husband,” and that this is really out of character as she is a Sunday School teacher who bakes cookies for the kids in the neighborhood, etc. But she has confessed to the murder. The young public defender who is assigned to Grace is expected to plea bargain, and it’s expected that this will be easy to do given Grace’s (up until now) stellar character. For different reasons, the public defender starts digging in to what really happened. And from those events flows the title of this post.

In a series of flashbacks, we see Grace fall in to an unexpected romance with a younger man. (It’s hard to tell his age exactly. I first thought he might be about 10 years younger that she is, but it later seems it’s closer to 20.) This man pursues her, and at first she is skeptical. She even asks him flat-out, “You have probably been with many attractive younger women. Why me?”

He answers very wisely, “We tend to do that to ourselves as people. We ask, ‘Why should this good thing happen to me?’ The real question is, Why not you?”

Over a three-month courtship he overcomes her defenses. They talk for hours. Even at this stage there are a few red flags. For example, on their very first date he tells her, “As you get older, you start to get interested in people who have a wise way of looking at the world. You are a woman who sees the world etc. etc.” But at this point he’s only known her for a few hours. He started pursuing her literally after only a few minutes of conversation. He has not had time to find out how she views the world. This is flattery. But it’s done so sincerely.

He also, with remarkable insight, says to her, “There’s this thing you do. You’re judging. Stop it.” Of course, she is judging. She is an upright older woman. She is always judging herself and others. This is how we live. Hence, this young man could probably say this to any older woman and be 100% correct. But at the time, it seems like a sensitive perception. Later it becomes obvious that he was trying to get her to turn off her faculties of judgment for reasons of his own.

After an incredibly romantic proposal scene, Grace marries this man. She’s never been happier. She never felt this loved and understood, even with her first husband who later left her for his secretary.

Then, within a few months of getting married, she finds out that her new husband has: taken out a huge new mortgage on her house (which was previously paid for) … stolen her passwords, forged her signature, and embezzled funds from the bank where she works. She loses her job. The mortgage is unpaid, and she has no way to pay it. She is facing losing her house and possible jail time. She calls the police, but legally her house is now her husband’s and they can do nothing. It becomes obvious that the entire courtship and marriage were a scam.

Even then, she doesn’t kill him. She keeps trying legal ways to get him out of her house, but there are none. She is reduced to repeating emptily, “I want you to give me back my money.”

Finally comes the scene where Young Husband is justifying himself. This man who seemed so understanding and caring is sitting with his back to Grace, sprawled in a chair, saying casually, “Actually, the way I see it, you owe me that money for all the sex and all the joy I gave you. Women your age … you’re low-hanging fruit. In a way, if you think about it, all this is your own f—ing fault for making this so f—ing easy. For being weak.”

By this point in the movie, I already knew she was going to kill him and I was pretty sure this was the scene where it was going to happen. But I was confused. I didn’t see a gun anywhere in the house, and wasn’t sure Grace would even know how to use one.

Then I saw her walking up behind him with a baseball bat, and honestly, my impulse was to jump off the sofa and scream, “Do it! Do it!”

Once she does it, of course, her life is completely ruined. She is now a murderer.

Watching this, we are forced to ask ourselves … “In Grace’s position, would I fall for this?”

I can’t arrive at any answer other than Probably Yes.

Grace is about my age, give or take 10 years. I happen to be happily married. But what if I wasn’t? What if I had a job at a bank and a house that was paid for? It’s quite a blow to the pride to admit to yourself that these things are more appealing to a young man than your very soul. Not to mention your body, which after all was once considered attractive.

Grace isn’t stupid. She’s pretty savvy, actually. And she has been scarred by divorce. Yet she still falls for this extremely cruel scam. Primarily because he puts her in a position where, in order not to fall for it, she would have to decide she is basically worthless as a person.

So I guess you could call this movie a public service announcement.

Movie Trope Pet Peeves

Recently, novelist and screenwriter Andrew Klavan got himself into some trouble. He was reviewing Netflix’s The Witcher, and he commented that he dislikes movies that show a woman who is able to go toe to toe with men in a medieval sword brawl, without the help of magic. It’s unrealistic, he says. Might as well have made that character a man.

Well. Many people did not like this. Some challenged Klavan to a sword fight (he’s almost 70 years old). He even got at least one actual death threat.

Let’s see if I can also get myself cancelled. Here is a list of some of my movie pet peeves. And because there are exceptions to everything, I will also list exceptions.

  • Two women in an extended, knock-down, drag-out fight. This just feels icky and porn-y. Exceptions: the brief catfight scene in Sense and Sensibility, and Mrs. Weasley taking out Bellatrix LeStrange. Note that neither of these exceptions is actually a brawl.
  • A woman in an extended brawl with a man. I don’t care which one of them is the villain. This can only go one of two ways: either the woman unrealistically wins, or we get to watch a man beat up a woman (yay!). Exception: Antonio Banderas and Katherine Zeta-Jones’s sword duel in the stables in Zorro. Again, not really a brawl.
  • When the chase scene or fight scene completely smashes a room or building full of breakable, priceless artifacts. I realize it would be unrealistic to have a chase scene in such a setting and have nothing get broken, but it often seems as if directors delight in destruction. They’re smashing our culture with their philosophy, and in scenes like this they’re symbolically smashing our culture, represented by art or cakes or whatever, just because they can. Exception: Jackie Chan makes amazing use of props in his chase and fight scenes.
  • When someone is trying to maintain some kind of deception for the duration of the entire movie. I’m not talking about spy movies where you don’t know who’s who and that’s the point. I mean usually comedies where the high jinks flow from the MC trying to hide something from his wife, or from his daughter, or from her parents, or from an entire town. This just stresses me out. Exception: Breaking Bad, where the point of the series is to show a good man’s moral disintegration.
  • Now, a pet peeve of everyone around me: the fact that I can’t watch a movie without having to analyze the damn thing!
This is how a woman fights evil

What are your movie pet peeves? Do you hate any of the same things I hate? Share in the comments below.

Misanthropic Movie Review: Angels and Demons

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Reader response is a wonderful style of literary criticism which allows the reviewer to just note down their personal reactions, even if those reactions occurred while watching the show at midnight, when we get sleepy and our inner five-year-old emerges.

This post doesn’t explain the plot step by step, but it does contain all the spoilers and all the sarcasm.

So, my reactions to the movie version of Angels and Demons, in order …

1. Oooh, these Catholics are so mysterious and sinister!

2. Science-y stuff is happening inside the big collider.  The people are speaking French.  They think the collider might blow everything up, but they press on anyway because it’s Science.

3. Now they have made antimatter. 

4. The messenger from the Vatican speaks English with a cool, ominous accent.  He seems to be perfectly fluent, but he can’t remember the word formídable.  The closest he can get is for-mi-dá-blay.  The professor has to translate for him.

5. The professor is really smart. He knows more about Catholic history than the Catholics themselves.  Seems legit.

6. The Illuminati were a bunch of honest truth seekers who were absolutely, positively not into the occult.  They were just rationalists and scientists who were persecuted by the Catholic Church.  Now they want to use the antimatter to blow up a small country (Vatican City), but that is totally justified because the Catholics branded a cross on the chests of five Illuminati back in the 1500s.

7. The Illuminati have kidnapped the four preferiti, a.k.a. Cardinals who are being considered to become the next Pope.  The other Cardinals are in conclave.  The Great Elector, the leader of these, is obviously the bad guy.  He doesn’t want to evacuate St. Peter’s Square, even though it clearly might be a good idea.  He has “I WANT TO BE POPE” written on his forehead, and it’s possible he is behind this whole scheme.  He either works for the Illuminati, or is more likely using them. 

8. The Illuminati assassin is torturing the preferiti one by one and leaving them around Vatican City for the Professor to find.

9. VATICAN CITY SCAVENGER HUNT!!!

10.  Wow, I am just learning so much from this movie.  I had NO IDEA that the church adopted the symbols and holidays of previous pagan religions, or that Dec. 25 was originally … oh, wait.  Yes I did.  I wrote an article about it here.

11.  Also, English was the language of rebels and mavericks, like Shakespeare and Chaucer.  (Chaucer????)

12.  Honestly.  There are no admirable characters in this movie.  Not the Great Elector, not the Komandant of the Swiss guard, not the Illuminati assassin because torture, not the Professor because he always looks like everyone is getting on his last nerve with all this religion stuff … The only admirable character is a young priest who was the Pope’s protégé and who confusingly still loves the church as a place of simple people full of compassion even though he admits the church has “always sought to impede progress.”  I’ll bet he apostatizes before the end.  Either that or he becomes the next Pope.

13.  The Pope was murdered, by the way.  Turns out he didn’t really have a stroke.  I think we are supposed to feel sorry for him (or for the protégé), but the scene when they open his coffin displays a black, swollen tongue protruding from his mouth and spreading a stain over the rest of his face.  Clearly super symbolic.

14.  Speaking of symbolism, in one scene the Professor gets trapped in the Vatican Archives.  To preserve the ancient books there, oxygen is kept to a low level and the walls are lined with lead.  When the power goes off, the electronic doors lock.  The professor has to break out of this hall of old books where he cannot breathe or communicate with the outside world, or he will literally die from being stifled. The only way he can break out is to push a heavy bookcase full of priceless artifacts into the re-enforced glass, destroying these precious objects. 

Hmm, what ever could all of this symbolize?  Let me think …

15. OK, they have saved the one remaining preferitus.  And they have found the antimatter.  But – oh no! – they can’t replace the battery that will prevent an explosion, without possibly causing an explosion.

16.  The protégé is taking the antimatter up in a helicopter so the explosion doesn’t kill anyone!  He’s going to be martyred and made a saint!

17. Oh wait, he parachuted out!

18. But the explosion high over St. Peter’s Square is blowing his parachute all around! He’s going to die after all.

19. He survived!  Now the cardinals are finding an obscure bylaw that allows them to make him Pope. 

20.  But the Professor has just found a hidden video that shows the protégé was the one who hired the assassin!  He just made it look like an Illuminati plot!  It was him all along!

I did not see that coming.

21.  But the reasons he did it were the same old tired reasons we have been told all along.  He killed the Pope because the Pope was OK with the scientists making antimatter and the protégé thought it was blasphemous.

22. In other words, he did all this in order to impede progress because he thought it might diminish the power of the church. 

23.  The lady scientist feels guilty about having made antimatter because it was stolen by the assassin and almost used to kill thousands of people.  She wonders if they should go on making antimatter. 

The professor encourages her to make some more.  That’s good advice.  After all, what are the odds of something like this happening again?

24.  The Great Elector is now allowing the remaining preferitus to become Pope and is acting all nice & humble towards the Professor.  “Religion is flawed, but that’s because people are flawed.”

OK, I was wrong about the Great Elector.  Still, this feels like Dan Brown is trying to have it both ways.  He’s just spent an entire movie showing us that religious zeal is really really bad and destructive, but now he wants to say that it’s also not, with no reasons given.

Verdict: I ended up really enjoying this movie because it was so twisty.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it was a hatchet job.  Even the twists serve its purpose, because the person behind the evil plot turned out to be the character who seemed the most saintly and was certainly the most zealous.  He ends up setting himself on fire, murmuring, “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit” and then screaming and writhing like a demon as he burns.  If that’s not blasphemous I don’t know what is.