Gone Girl, Book and Movie Reviews (spoilers in second part)

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A really great analysis of the Gone Girl movie.

Bookslide III

I’ll be very clear when I’m about to get into spoiler territory.

I recently read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn with a book club, and I loved every page of it.  It falls under the header of “psychological thriller,” but it makes other psychological thrillers look as if they’re barely skimming the surface of their characters.  Gone Girl keeps diving deeper and deeper into its characters and teaches us, at the end, no matter how much we’re told, we’ll never truly understand what goes on in another person’s head.  I found it immensely more satisfying than books that rely on the thrill the further the book goes on.

The book, if you haven’t already heard, is about Nick Dunne and his wife Amy, and alternates perspectives using first person, journal entries, and letters.  Amy disappears early on in the book.  As we learn more about Nick, we have to decide…

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Kidnapped for Christ

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This Catch-Up is written by Telaina Eriksen
Year of Release: 2014
Rating: NR, documentary (I would guess PG/PG-13)

Currently Streaming on Netflix?: No. (On Demand on ShowTime and free on several websites that I’m not willing to vouch for)
Spoilers: Mild

This documentary was recommended to me during a Facebook “conversation” about evangelicals’ continued desire to blame gayness on parenting, “No child of MINE is ever going to end up gay!” and some evangelicals’ belief that you can “pray gay away.” Filmmaker Kate Logan, an evangelical Christian herself, set out to make a heart-warming film about Escuela Caribe, the Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic. She thought she would find troubled teens dealing with “their issues” through prayer, song, group therapy, etc. Instead, she encountered an infestation of mental, physical and possibly even sexual abuse.

Logan begins her slow descent into making a very different movie (as well as her transition to agnosticism) when she hears David’s story. David is a 17-year-old honors student from Colorado who has many friends, an active social life and ambitious plans for the future. He is on track to graduate with his high school class, has taken many AP classes and wants to apply to universities to study theater. That is, until his parents have him kidnapped and taken to the Dominican Republic because he has come out to them as gay. David says in the documentary, “My mother said to me, ‘I could never love a gay son,’” and so he is physically dragged from his own home in the middle of the night and flown to another country.

The most disturbing part of the documentary for me comes when David turns 18 at the “school.” He has already missed the chance to graduate from high school on time with his peers but he is hoping since he is now 18, and a full American citizen in the eyes of the law, that he will be able to leave the school of his own volition, regardless of the huge sum his parents pay each month to keep him at Escuela Caribe.

Logan at this point becomes an actor in her own movie. Much like Truman Capote hiring an attorney for Perry and Dick. I ask my students sometimes when we read In Cold Blood and watch Capote, where does life stop and art begin? Or, where does art stop and life begin? That line is a muddy one for many artists, and Logan finds herself unable to remain an impartial observer as David’s mental state grows more and more fragile.

This documentary wasn’t the first time I had heard about Escuela Caribe. In 2012, I read “Jesus Land” by Julia Scheeres. She and her brother David (yes, another David) were incarcerated there and she partially blames the school for her brother’s suicidal depression. Both Logan and Scheeres indicate that the mental brainwashing of the school and the “ranking” system (where low-ranking students have to literally ask to stand up and sit down in front of their “betters”) were actually harder to bear than the beatings, physical punishments and isolation (what Escuela Caribe quaintly called “the quiet room”). The administration of the school frequently tells the “students” that if they just “work the system” they can go home. Throughout the film, psychologically and physically vulnerable teenagers outwardly express their deep love for God and Christ with incredible terror in their eyes. This seems to me the logical conclusion of the Religious Right’s beliefs and policies. God’s love isn’t abundant and pure, it has to be beaten into these little teenage sinners, even though the vast majority of the time, the teenagers have been abused by the very families who sent them there.

In 2011, Escuela Caribe closed, due in part to its brave former “students” speaking out. It reopened under a different name, and kept many of the same staff members. There are still dozens of this type of “school” throughout the world, where American citizens are incarcerated against their will, by their parents, and some “students” are even 18 years old and have no way to leave the premises. Logan has more information about this on her website. And I invite you to click through.

While the effects and story-telling in this documentary are definitely not polished, its amateurishness and realness are two of its most compelling attributes. The viewer feels Logan’s pain and disillusionment as the sunny religion and God she has loved so much, heave up an ugly, dark reality in front of her very young eyes.

 

Good Night, and Good Luck.

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This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
Good Night and Good Luck.
Year of Release: 2005
Rating: PG for mild language.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: No.
Spoiler Alert: Murrow: 1; McCarthy: 0

Is there anyone more badass than Edward R. Murrow? The answer is no. There is no one more badass.

I confess that this Catch Up might be a bit of a cop out, as Good Night, and Good Luck. is a movie that I showed my speech class last Tuesday and truthfully the only movie I’ve watched in weeks. In an effort to make public speaking slightly more educational than “here’s how to make my mom’s famous chocolate chip cookies,” I decided over a year ago to integrate films like Good Night and Good Luck, Network, and All the President’s Men into the mix to demonstrate the power of speech in mass media. The result, so far, has been overwhelmingly positive. The kids just love Ed Murrow.

Let’s set the stage. The film is black and white, the year is 1953, and television is steadily eclipsing radio as The Next Big Thing. The role of journalists is to report the news, not make it, but what to do when fearmongering Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy throws the country into its second Red Scare? When Lieutenant Milo Radulovich is discharged from the United States Air Force following suspicions that his father and sister have leftist leanings at best, communist ties at worst, the CBS newsroom must come to terms with an obligation bigger than impartiality: truth.

Murrow (played by David Straithairn, whom after this performance I can now finally forgive for The River Wild) and his team, including CBS president Fred Friendly (George Clooney) and correspondent Joe Wershba (Robert Downey Jr.) quickly go on the offensive, using their primetime news program See It Now to expose McCarthy’s attack of Radulovich, which, as fits his pattern, is based mostly on hearsay. As a result of the telecast, Radulovich is reinstated. And though an exuberant Murrow is warned by his boss Bill Paley (Frost/Nixon’s Frank Langella) not to push too hard lest their sponsors jump ship, he wastes no time in plotting his next maneuver.

It isn’t long before an all-out war erupts between Murrow and McCarthy, and CBS broadcasts McCarthy’s response defending the purpose and actions of the House Unamerican Activities Committee. As anticipated, McCarthy deflects by accusing Murrow himself of having communist ties via membership with the Industrial Workers of the World. False charges, but charges heard around the country nonetheless, and the higher-ups at CBS are sweating. Not wanting to be caught up in controversy, aluminum giant ALCOA retracts their sponsorship and delivers the network a significant financial blow.

The ending to this true story is bittersweet. McCarthy is publicly exposed, condemned, and eventually censured by the U.S. Senate in a dazzling choice of original footage selected by actor, producer, and director Clooney. No actor plays McCarthy, you see, and while watching the crisp splices of the senator’s tirades we momentarily forget that, yes, this is the man himself, and the man himself really was that batshit insane.
The final nail in McCarthy’s coffin is Army counsel Joseph Welsh’s famous zinger, “Have you no decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” But afterward, Murrow, who by all rights should be drinking his weight in celebratory scotch, is informed by Bill Paley that See It Now is moving from primetime to a Sunday afternoon slot and that only five more episodes will air. Despite See It Now’s award-winning history (four Emmys and a Peabody during a six year run), quiz shows like The $64,000 Question are sweeping the nation and capitalism, as we see, has clearly prevailed.

Good Night and Good Luck bookends with Murrow’s 1958 speech, which, like the film in its entirety, serves as both a history lesson and a cautionary look to the future:

For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word survive literally. If there were to be a competition in indifference, or perhaps in insulation from reality, then Nero and his fiddle, Chamberlain and his umbrella, could not find a place on an early afternoon sustaining show. If Hollywood were to run out of Indians, the program schedules would be mangled beyond all recognition. Then some courageous soul with a small budget might be able to do a documentary telling what, in fact, we have done–and are still doing–to the Indians in this country. But that would be unpleasant. And we must at all costs shield the sensitive citizens from anything that is unpleasant.

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box.

In the information age of 2014 we can surely see this insulation brought to life by journalists whose hands are tied by the politicized agendas of their networks; by a public who would rather be distracted by the antics of Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber than give a second thought to ISIS or Internet Neutrality. It is the journalist’s duty to unveil the world’s realities, no matter how unpleasant, and to balance such truth-telling with a willingness to speak independently of a predetermined mission. Edward R. Murrow is not only a reminder that this can be done; he is a model of how.