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Midnight Mass (2021)
All this for such a disappointing ending
Since I was a kid, I loved a good vampire movie. And I get the interplay of religion with the vampire myth, battle between good and evil, light and dark.
But Midnight Mass gets so many things wrong about how people believe what they believe, it's hard to take it serious. I'm not Catholic, but the idea lifelong Catholics could accept Communion is actually drinking other people's blood is ridiculous. Maybe the show's creator has a chip on his shoulder against organized religion - fine. But writing people this stupidly doesn't just insult them, it insults the intelligence of the viewer.
So after endless dialogue about faith and doubt, resurrection and what happens after you die, the answer the lead character discovers at the end is basically "yoga class mindfulness" and a pseudo-spirituality. Why not just leave it a mystery? What a disappointment this afterlife would be! You can put all the poetry and musical underscoring you like around it, but you still just ended us telling we go to nothing and become nothing more than plant food. If that's your conclusion, ok. But let's not pretend it's inspiring/
I enjoyed Hill House, but I think the writer has just tried to dress up his own limited view of an after life. In the process, he manages to minimize everyone else's view in order to lift his higher by default.
Again, what a disappointment.
A Week Away (2021)
Pure joy, pure fun
No, this is not Citizen Kane. But anyone who takes it too seriously betrays their lack of understanding of the genre.
This is High School Musical Gets Saved. The story is nice, the songs are all catchy and well-produced. None of the performances lack the required sparkle to entertain. I guess its only sin is that it believes in the power of faith to change people. And if that's a sin, you can call me a sinner.
My two little girls watched it with me and were delighted, and I actually enjoyed it though I am WAAAAAY past its intended demographic. They are now bugging me for the soundtrack. So whatever the creator's goals with this little confection, I'd say they should be well pleased with this response and ignore the others who would never dare admit it if they did like it.
First Reformed (2017)
If you've ever worked in a church...or maybe even just been in one...this falls apart
SPOILER: I realize some think this film is brilliant. I did love the cinamatography (although I got really tired of everything being colored slate-blue. OK, you're giving us a barren color palette to match the pastor's mental state, we get it already).
But as a pastor who's spent about 30 years in full-time church work, I'm wondering when directors, even great artists like this one, will bother to bring in a religious consultant on the project that they'll listen to. Because if you've ever worked in a church, most any church, the movie looses credibility with you quickly.
To be clear, I have no trouble theologically with the film. And although it has a hot button political issue, I don't have a problem with that. But the emotional detachment the director gives both church settings is laughable. If the Abundant Living Church were as Stepford-Wivian and glassy-eyed as the youth choir rehearsing in their auditorium, it would be the size of Ethan Hawke's church and not a megachurch. Even the bad megachurches at least know how to fake warmth and emotion. These guys would never make it to the size depicted in the film. And no one's youth "choir" has 5 kids in it. They's never sound as pitch perfect as that group did.
And the youth choir sings at the husband's memorial service one of those songs a choir normally has sitting around ready to go for such a sudden event...A PROTEST SONG ABOUT TOXIC WASTE? SERIOUSLY? Is Al Gore the worship pastor at this church? Was that the big number they were working on for the next Sunday's service? Was this Greenpeace Baptist Church?
Then there's the scene when Mary talks about how she used to lay on top of her husband and touch hands. In a tossed-off, non chalant way the pastor asks, "Do you want me to do that?" Because of course that's something pastors offer congregants every day in a counseling situation? No, if this was realistic at all, that would have been an awkward moment, at least for him. Even for a non-religious counselor, that would be a huge crossing of the line. And while he might choose to cross that line, it wouldn't be a casual moment. So there is no emotional truth to the scene...even though they end up doing the "Whole New World" thing from Aladdin, using the Pastor as a magic carpet ride.
Let's see, what else...You spend thousands of dollars to repair a large pipe organ. You have a big ceremony for the church's 250th anniversary. So of course, you only play the two keyboard registers on the organ and completely ignore the bass foot pedals that would make it sound all majestic. Seriously, there's no little old lady alive (or dead) who would have played Onward Christian Soldiers as wimpy as that organist did. Could they have not hired a real organist to play it properly?
And then the lady gets up and sings the Stepford Wife version of Leaning on the Everlasting Arms to kick off the service. Is this truly what the director thinks religious people are like? Does he really believe religion is so devoid of passion?
Oh, then Mary comes back to the pastorium and kisses and hugs the pastor...who just happens to be wearing barbed wire under his robe...which doesn't even smart the least bit. Right.
There and several other idiosyncrasies made the film actually a bit funny for me. My daughter, who's 25 and grew up in this pastor's home, snorted several times as well, simply because it was so incongruent. Again, I was not offended by the film. In fact, I think there was a much better film there underneath, one that would have dealt with the pastor's struggle with suffering and how God exists in a world filled with evil and corruption.
I read one review saying this film was an indictment of megachurches. Please. If you want to really indict them, please give me a call. This was way too phony to hit home. While some churches have done some awful things, having them underwritten by evil corporations is not a usual scenario. I know of no churches that receive corporate funding. It simply doesn't work that way. And if Schrader had bothered asked anyone, they could have told him.
The film did too much of what people say they don't like about pastors: it preaches endlessly. The pastor falling into the husband's obsession with environmentalist extremism made no sense emotionally. It simply felt like the director preaching to us. And preaching, I believe, is best reserved for a Sunday service ;0)