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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Morgan Saylor

Novitiate (2017)

Trust in God. Not the nuns. They’re a little mean.

Once she turns 17, Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) decides that it’s time to leave her old life behind and join the Catholic Church to become a nun. It’s a decision that her mother (Julianne Nicholson), who is agnostic, doesn’t quite understand or fully support, but she doesn’t have much of a say in the matter – Cathleen believes that she’s had a calling from Jesus and has fallen in love with him. Cathleen enters a Catholic convent as a postulant under the tutelage of the Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo), who is known for her passion and grace in the world of religion. While there, Cathleen meets fellow nuns who are doing their best to stick with it, even if the responsibilities and rules are quite demanding and not all that understandable. But specifically at this point in time, during the early-60’s, the Catholic Church itself was going through a bit of a change, what with the planned reforms of the Second Vatican Council, in which the Church would show a much more open and accepting image to all those who wanted to have faith in God. Most within the Church got behind these rules right away, whereas Reverend Mother doesn’t, fearing that it may change the community forever and for the worst.

Still looks like Andie Macdowell, in a nun outfit.

Novitiate doesn’t necessarily come off as a scathing indictment on the Catholic Church, or even faith in general, and it’s much better off for that. Writer/director Maggie Betts, making her directorial debut, seems to understand and respect those who actually fall in love with God, or whoever they praise, are willing to throw their whole lives completely away, and devote everything to prayer, abstinence, and spreading the good word of the Lord. While it may sound like a boring life to a normal layman, to those who are involved with the Church, it’s the greatest honor they can bestow and Betts doesn’t seem to be making fun of these people, as much as she easily could have.

Instead, she shows a certain sweetness to these people who devote their lives to God. But then again, she also realizes that there are a few bad apples who either, misinterpret the word of God and act out in heinous ways, or can’t keep up with their sacred notions and never seem to give up. Betts seems to be saying that while having God in your life can be a good thing, having it run your each and everyday life, isn’t, and it can drive people to pure insanity.

And as we all know, living in the world that we live in, this isn’t much of a stretch for Betts to make.

That said, Novitiate is an overall smart movie that doesn’t necessarily have an agenda, but shows us the Catholic Church during a transnational period, that they don’t even know or understand is quite as severe as it’s going to be. It’s not necessarily a stylish, or fully exciting movie – there’s a lot of walking, praying, sitting in silence, crying, and hushed-tones – but the movie creates a certain uneasiness just by doing this, that it’s easy to get compelled by. The movie is deathly serious and understated, therefore, never quite goes overboard or as insane as you’d expect it to be with some of these religious types, and it feels a lot more realistic for that. It’s less of a sympathetic-portrait of the Catholic Church, and much more of a humane one, where we see all the good, as well as the bad, within it.

Uh oh. Someone’s talking during prayers.

The only pure instances in which the movie goes slightly a bit overboard is with Melissa Leo’s performance as Reverend Mother, but it still works. Leo’s presence here is a little shocking because you can always tell that she’s about to crack loose, but because she’s a nun and has to set a good example for the fellow nuns out there, she has to stay cool, calm, and collected. There are instances in which we see Leo lose all control and it’s scary, but not in the horror movie kind-of-way – it just seems like a person slowly losing grips with her own form of reality, and coming to terms with the all-too real one.

It’s a scary and powerful performance, and from Leo, I wouldn’t expect much different.

Everybody else is quite good in this supporting-cast, but really, it’s Margaret Qualley who remains the heart and soul of the whole project. As Cathleen, Qualley gives us a sad, somewhat scared character who keeps to herself, but is so in love with God and the Jesus, she can’t hold it all in. Through Cathleen, we see just how one can misinterpret The Word and it’s Qualley that keeps us on-edge, not knowing whether she’s going to crack and lose all control, or if she’s going to stay her meek and mild self. Through it all, we still sympathize with her; we know that she means well and even if she is throwing her life away, it’s her life to throw away. We just want her to realize that there’s more to life than the Church and to stand outside, in the real world, if only for a bit.

Consensus: Slow and a little languid, Novitiate surely follows its own pace, but is also a well-acted and compelling look at the Catholic Church, that’s neither judging, nor entirely sympathetic. Just honest and realistic.

7.5 / 10

“God? You spoke to Madonna. Why can’t you speak to me?”

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures Classic

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McFarland, USA (2015)

When Kevin Costner tells you to run, you run!

After being fired for accidentally hitting a kid on his football team, Jim White (Kevin Costner) has to move away for his new job, teaching physical fitness at a high school in the dead-end city of McFarland, California. But as soon as he arrives, he and his family already seem to have problems with the predominately Latino-area, where they don’t know if they can fit in with the locals, or if they’ll even be safe. Not to mention too, Jim himself is already clashing heads with some members of the department at work. But what seems to be an option that was dead-on-arrival, Jim realizes something about his students that nobody else has noticed before: They can run. Like, really fast. Jim then gets the bright idea to start a cross country team, even though the school doesn’t really have the money for it. And also, the kids that he wants to put on the cross country team, may not be able to dedicate themselves fully it, only because they have to get up early every morning, then go to school, then go back to work, come home and continue with the same pattern the next day.

And, if you couldn’t by now, don’t worry, it’s all based on a true story. But whereas that would actually destroy a movie and make it all feel like a bunch of schmaltzy, family-oriented sap, it actually works in McFarland, USA‘s favor, because it puts everything into perspective. Everything we’re seeing – the people, the notable events, the where, the when, the how – all of that seems to be spawned from sort of truth. Sure, most of the nitty, gritty details we’re probably changed up to give the final-product some sort of illustrious appeal, but for the most part, the movie feels like it’s actually telling a true story and isn’t trying to pull any punches.

Wait! Where's Jason Sudeikis?

Wait! Where’s Jason Sudeikis?

At least, not all of the time.

For the most part, the movie is trying its hardest to make you cry, cheer and run along with it everywhere it goes, which can be a bit obvious at times. You know where this story is going, what it’s going to try to say, and the movie doesn’t care that you know this – they’re too busy trying to make you sob in your seats like a little baby who just got their pacifier taken away. There’s no problem with that, so long as the movie that’s trying to do that in the first place isn’t evil, manipulative, and maniacal, like my ex-girlfriend was when it came to choosing between her, or “my family” (obviously we all know which one I chose, because, well, I’m a dude. Yo.).

But that’s where McFarland, USA shines, whereas other movies would most likely show their cards early on in the game, lose hope from its audience, and just become an overlong-slog of every sports movie cliché you’ve ever seen done. Which is maybe all the more impressive, due to the fact that the sport this movie just so has to be portraying is cross country and I don’t know about any of you out there, it’s a bit hard to make cross country entertaining or exciting. Well, except for maybe the final minute or so of a run when it becomes clear that it’s neck-and-neck between two opponents, but other than that, it’s just a lot of jogging. And jogging. And jogging. And jogging.

And, well, you get my point.

Somehow though, with Niki Caro’s direction, the movie pays more attention to the characters, who they are and why exactly they’re worth our time, our attention, and our hoots and hollers for when it seems like all is on the line, even if, at the end of the day, it is just another race. But to these folks in this movie, it’s so much more and because we can see this, it starts to become the same way for us; most of these characters don’t ask for our pity, but we’re able to give it to them anyway because they all seem so likable, innocent and honest with themselves, as well as the others around them. The movie still brings up certain aspects concerning these characters and how they’ll ultimately clash heads for the third-act, but when it does eventually come around, it feels more deserved than often not.

This is definitely credit to Caro and how she doesn’t look away from these characters and what makes them worth caring about in the first place. And for anybody that feels like this is, yet again, another tale of how the older, wiser white man comes in and saves the day for all of the not-so well-off foreigners, they’ll be sadly mistaken. Sure, we get plenty of attention paid to Costner’s character and how he comes into this town to give mostly everybody there some shed of light in their eyes, but he changes as well. Jim White, as we see early on in the movie, has a problem with his anger and gets fed-up quite easily, which is where he begins to totally lose it; however, once he realizes that he may have to spend more time with these kids to make them the best runners on the face of the planet, then he’s willing to settle down and even see the side of the equation from their point-of-view.

Wow! Settle down you two! It's a family film, after all!

Wow! Settle down you two! It’s a family film, after all!

Trust me, I know this sounds incredibly corny and formulaic, but I’ll be damned if Costner didn’t sell me on this character and his transformation, as mild as it may seem.

And like I said, there’s more characters to focus on here whose names literally aren’t “white”. For the most part, we get a peak into all of these kids’ lives – how they get up for work, how they get to work, how they get to school, how they trot on back to work, and how they ultimately end back at home to do the same thing the next day – but the one who we get to learn the most about, and with good reason, is Danny Diaz, played very well by Ramiro Rodriguez. Though I don’t know much about the Diaz in real life, except from what I’ve just recently read after the fact, the movie paints him out to generally be a nice kid, albeit, one with a rough life that was dedicated to work, school and his family. The movie doesn’t shy away from the fact that most of these younger Hispanic kids literally had to make a living, day in and day out, on just picking whatever they were told to pick on that excruciatingly hot day, whether it be fruits, vegetables, or plant-roots.

With Diaz, we get to see his motivations play out in front of our very own eyes and it’s quite delightful to watch, nearly tear-jerking. Then, once we see Diaz connect with White, his family, and how he’s able to orchestrate the rest of the city to do so, almost did me in. I can promise you, people, I didn’t cry during this movie. But I will admit to having to fight some tears away with the subscripts we get before the end credits and I dare you not to feel the same way.

That damn Danny Diaz, man.

Consensus: Though it’s sappy, earnest, wholesome, and conventional to a fault, McFarland, USA is still a solid example of what can happen when you take the uplifting sports-story, add heart, add emotion, and add characters we can care for, and end up making mostly everybody happy.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Kevin Costner and his clique. Don't mess with it.

Kevin Costner and his clique. Don’t mess with it.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz