“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” Film Review

The Eyes of Tammy Faye will penetrate to your soul. You may think you know Tammy Faye’s story, but go beyond the tabloids in Michael Showalter’s (The Big Sick) heartfelt, hilarious, honest film that paints a humanizing portrait of the ridiculed and often parodied Tammy Faye Bakker. You will undoubtedly be blown away by Jessica Chastain’s jaw-dropping performance as the “Queen of Eyelashes” in this powerful rise, fall, and redemption story. Tammy’s eyelashes may be fake, but there is nothing fake about this candid portrait of the late television icon. Playing the mastermind of the PTL Network scandal is Andrew Garfield in a showcase performance that will have you despising Jim, but praising the uncanny portrayal. The film highlights Tammy Faye’s genuine love for God and her love for people–everyone! Even in the 1980s, when the LGBT community had little to no voice, especially amongst fundamental evangelicals, she was a loving voice for them. While it would have been so easy for the film to have been devoid of genuine levity, audiences will find there are some hilarious scenes that work as fantastic humanizing elements, especially early on when Jim and Tammy Faye engage their lustful adolescent interests as hormonally charged young adults and newlyweds. Showalter, Chastain, and Garfield deliver a fresh perspective on Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker that depicts human beings, not one-dimensional caricatures of televangelism.

In the 1970s, Tammy Faye Bakker and her husband, Jim, rise from humble beginnings to create the world’s largest religious broadcasting network and theme park. Tammy Faye becomes legendary for her indelible eyelashes, her idiosyncratic singing, and her eagerness to embrace people from all walks of life. However, financial improprieties, scheming rivals and a scandal soon threaten to topple their carefully constructed empire.

I already want to see it again! And it’s definitely becoming an addition to my physical media collection. This narrative film is based on the award-winning documentary by the same name, directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, and I suggest watching it as a companion piece. In many respects, the storytelling structure of The Eyes of Tammy Faye parallels the approach Craig Gillespie took in I, Tonya. In addition to the awards-talk around the performances, I would look to see this film in other conversations such as makeup, screenplay, and perhaps directing and picture. Showalter’s film explores the world of Tammy Faye, as seen through her unmistakable eyes; furthermore, he treats the character (the person) of Tammy Faye with respect as a flawed but loving woman rather than the heavy-makeup-wearing satirical and parodied caricature that many remember from the tabloids. Perhaps the thousands of times she said “God loves you” may have came across as insincere; but the truth is, she wanted the world to know that God and Tammy both love them.

Showalter’s candid picture gives Tammy Faye and Jim the full treatment as he takes audiences on a journey through their story, including the scandal that rocked a nation, whilst treating them with dignity and respect as they are–as we all are–flawed humans. This biographic drama seeks to understand (mostly Tammy Faye, but a little of Jim too) the Bakkers, not mock them or their work. Tammy Faye is a breath of fresh air in an environment polluted by stale, lifeless, and downright rotten individuals. From the beginning of the film, you learn that her faith in God and love of Jesus was not going to be defined by her circumstances or what people thought of her. If you told her she couldn’t, she would prove to you that she could. That is a trait that she could continue through her entire life, even after her scandalous fall from grace. You also learn that while she lived an opulent lifestyle, she was never defined by her material possessions. Oh don’t get me wrong, she loved her signature clothing style and trademark makeup and hair, but those things did not define her or her faith. Well, except for her eyes. She said “if you remove my [fake] eyelashes, I wouldn’t be me.”

While her husband was pulling the strings, she was doing everything she could to reach people for Christ; however, it was also clear that she loved the performance, the camera, and the microphone. If she hadn’t gone into televangelism, she very well could have been a Broadway star with her larger than life showmanship and personality. We also learn that Tammy Faye was likely unaware of the dishonest and illegal dealings of her husband, even though she at times suspected he wasn’t being honest. Chalk it up to extreme naivety. Despite no reports of Jim being physically abusive to Tammy Faye or their two kids, he was shown to be psychologically and emotionally abusive to Tammy Faye. Even to the extent that he used Tammy’s minor indiscretion with a Nashville music producer against her, to humiliate her on international television in an effort to raise more money because of her testimony. Tammy’s flirtation with the an elicit affair goes to show that we are all flawed individuals that toy with or fall victim to the same temptations, in whatever form they take. But we understand how and why Tammy Faye was tempted to search for love elsewhere; she was not appreciated as a person by Jim, but only as a tool to get more money out of PTL’s “partners.” Even when the reality of Jim would peak through, she never let that detour her from spreading the love of God to everyone in her signature style.

While we ostensibly watch the events of the rise and fall of the Bakkers through Tammy Faye’s eyes, in a similar fashion we did in I, Tonya, we also get glimpses of the story through Jim’s perspective when it serves to advance the emotional journey of the characters, especially when it comes to his complicated relationship with the then and now unlikable Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. For example, I did not know that it was Jim and Tammy Faye that started the 700 Club. But when the innovative Christian talk show became a popular program on the fledgling CBN Network, Pat Robertson placed them on a maternity/paternity sabbatical, but was actually steeling their show in a jealous power-grab. The Bakkers then started what would become the TBN Network, but were ran off from there too. Finally, they began the PTL Club (later massive, worldwide PTL Satellite Network), and the success of that venture would eventually spawn a 24-hour network, neighborhoods, and a theme park that would become the third most visited in the country after Disneyland and Disney World.

While PTL was growing by leaps and bounds, Robertson and Falwell were seething with jealously at the success of Jim and Tammy Faye, a motive that comes into play when they discover the payment of PTL funds for the hush-money regarding Jim’s affair. Little did Tammy Faye know that Jim surrounded himself with a conniving mafia-like group of “Christians” that sought to take down the power couple after they departed from the Robertson-Falwell fundamentalist agenda. This mafia-like mentality is most apparent when Tammy Faye televises the emotional interview with a gay AIDS patient, also a Christian pastor, on her show. She ends the interview with reminding the viewers that Christians are called to love as Jesus loved. It was shortly after that, that Robertson and Falwell actively looked for ways to dethrone the king and queen of televangelism. Of all the examples of Christians in the film, amongst the lead and supporting characters, Tammy Faye is the best example of how a Christian should love and act.

Chastain has instantly shot to the front of the Best Actress in a Leading Role category, and Garfield may find himself in the Best Actor conversations as well. Chastain disappears behind the trademark Tammy Faye makeup and delivers a larger than life performance! And since Tammy Faye, herself, was the definition of camp and larger than life, it’s an incredibly authentic, sincere performance. It’s easy to see how the LBGTQ community was drawn to the person of Tammy Faye then and now, because the LGBTQ community often greatly admires women who remain strong in the face of adversity. But Chastain’s performance of the person of Tammy Faye will undoubtedly inspire and win the admiration of all kinds of people from all walks of life. While Chastain is brilliantly portraying the character of Tammy Faye, we learn in the film (and in the documentary, the interviews, and PLT flips that many will undoubtedly pour through after leaving the film) that Tammy Faye wasn’t a character at all but one of the most genuine, sincere loving people that ever walked the planet. Chastain captures every nuance of Tammy Faye with uncanny precision.

Even the indelible Cherry Jones as Tammy Faye’s love-to-hate mother that was so often Tammy Faye’s harshest critic may be in the supporting actress conversations. She’s a scene steeler herself, much like Allison Janney was as LaVona Harding in I, Tonya. All the lead and supporting performances are perfectly executed, and the hair/makeup on everyone leaves an uncanny resemblance between the actors and the real-life people that are being portrayed. If Tammy Faye was still alive, I feel strongly that she would appreciate the film. Her son Jay appears to like the film from what I’ve read of his comments.

I’d be remiss not to mention, what is perhaps the most telling scene of who Tammy Faye was. Months or perhaps years after the collapse of the PTL Empire and all her fine things were sold (and house actually burned to the ground), and she’s driving a crappy Honda Accord and living in a rundown apartment, she pulls into her parking spot one day. And she gets out, she hears a few of the neighborhood punk teens making fun or her. She walks over to them, and graciously says, “if you’re going to talk about me, since I am your neighbor, you should at least shake my hand and meet me first; hi, I’m Tammy Faye” (or something to this effect).

What we have here is a brilliantly produced biographical drama that works as trifecta comprised of a cautionary tale, a redemption story, and film that provides social commentary on topics such as politics, religion, and patriotism as our country is becoming increasingly polarized on these subjects.

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Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

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“Huntsman: Winter’s War” movie review

HuntsmanWintersWar“Let it go” Universal, Disney already has dibs on the Snow Queen. Prepare for the unnecessary prequel/sequel Huntsman: Winter’s War this weekend. It won’t take long for you to realize that you have seen this story before. Albeit, a more family friendly and Disney’d version, but this plot nevertheless. However, after researching the actual Hans Christian Andersen fairly tale The Snow Queen, it is clear that Universal Pictures does a more accurate job of adapting the fairy tale’s words than Frozen did. The problem with this attempt is that it feels like it’s coming around a little too late. With one-dimensional characters and a predictable plot, Huntsman attempts to tell the “real” story of the Snow Queen that appeals to teens and adults, but it looks so incredibly “Frozen” that it leaves you feeling like you’ve done this all before. Although there are increased action and romance scenes in the film, the whole idea of close sisters having a falling out, the one heading to the frozen north, while the other remains in the south with the north creeping on its doorstep, and love melting frozen hearts, is the foundation of the narrative and feels like a bad case of deja vu with little to add.

Travel back to the land of Snow White, and come face to face with a little known story that has yet to be told. Before poison apples and dwarfs, Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and her sister were running the kingdom after the death of the good king (Snow White’s father). Ravenna’s younger sister Freya (Emily Blunt) falls in love with a man promised to another woman but has come to bare his child. After Freya finds her lover having set fire to the nursery and the innocent child, Freya becomes acutely overcome with anger, grief, and hatred and suddenly displays powers of ice and snow. Unable to control her anger and power, Ravenna send her sister to the north to find a kingdom of her own. After having her child murdered, Freya decides to raise a kingdom by making love illegal and taking children from villages and raising them up as warriors known as huntsman. When she finds that two of the huntsman Brighton (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) have committed the unpardonable sin of falling in love, Freya steps in to put a stop to their forbidden love. Banished from the kingdom of the frozen north, Brighton is contacted by Snow White’s kingdom to retrieve the infamous mirror filled with dark magic before it falls into the wrong hands.

Every once in a while, I come across a movie that really doesn’t require a lengthy description of the critical elements of the film; and this is one of those. Just felt very much under-developed and forced. Anyone who has seen Frozenand let’s face it, that’s practically everyone whether they wanted to or not–will instantly pickup on the parallels between both movies. Huntsman: Winter’s War is definitely geared towards an adult audience but it still feels like it stole many elements from Frozen. Even the coloring and costuming are very similar. For those who have examined Frozen from a critical perspective and read up on the development of the blockbuster, you may be familiar with the evolution of the script: it starts out as an adaptation of The Snow Queen but then the writers scrapped that idea for more of a contemporary Disney animated feature story. But then the writers didn’t like that direction either, they essentially took the first half of the first draft of the script and spliced it together with the second half of the second draft, added in some catchy music and boom! You have FrozenHuntsman is similar to what you would have got in Frozen had the first draft been the produced movie.

On the plus side, this film contains some beautiful imagery and simple but stunning visual effects. The goblins are extremely well done–too bad you get so little time with them in a scene that is completely removable from the rest of the film. That scene and others were clearly under-budgeted and under-developed. Despite the fact that you can watch this movie in D-Box and IMAX, there is really no reason to spend the extra money. Watching it in a standard auditorium will suffice perfectly. If you want to get a better idea of the darkness of the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale before Elsa and Anna, then you may enjoy this movie. However, if you would rather wait for it to be on Amazon Prime or iTunes, then that works too.

“Crimson Peak” movie review

CrimsonPeakNo flowers in this attic. From the studio that pioneered the horror film back in the early days of cinema, comes the truly avant-garde German expressionist film Crimson Peak. Universal and Legendary Pictures provide us with a thought-provoking classically produced horror film that contains prolific imagery that invites interpretation, even from the most veteran of film scholars. Visionary director Guillermo Del Toro lives up to his reputation as a master of the macabre. Although the dialog and acting are weak, the film is beautifully shot and will constantly have you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what is about to happen. This is definitely one of those horror films that will undoubtedly make its way into film appreciation classes because of the vast material there is to dissect and explore. There is also a very self-reflexive element in the movie that is quite fascinating to think about. Not your traditional Halloween fair or ghost movie, this one part ghost story and one part mystery film is still a remarkable addition to the horror library because of the adherence to the very essence of what makes a horror film great.

Crimson Peak is about Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), the daughter of a wealthy engineer in Buffalo, NY who is swept off her feet by the charming old English money Baronet Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Following tragedy in Edith’s life in Buffalo, she marries Sir Thomas and moves to the countryside estate of Allerdale Hall in Cumberland, England with Thomas and his highly aristocratic sister Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain). Despite Sir Thomas’s family name, he and his estate, built upon clay mining, are virtually bankrupt. Hoping that she can help to revitalize Thomas’ family estate, Edith begins to move her assets over to England; however, after a series of encounters with specters of the night in the dark and dank mansion, she begins to feel like something is terribly wrong and her very life may be in danger of meeting the same fate as the ghosts and ghouls.

One of the most noticeable elements of the movie Crimson Peak is the commitment to a truly classically produced horror film in the vein of German expressionism and the avant-garde. Interestingly, it is highly appropriate that Universal Pictures released this film because the founder of Universal Carl Laemmle made it a staple of early horror films released by the then fledgling studio. Although there is no one single definition of what indicates a German expressionist film, common characteristics are: using extreme distortions in the production design to indicate inner feelings or subtext, a very dark and moody style of filmmaking, strategic placement of lighting to create harsh shadows, unique and emotional architecture, and creating a sense of disorientation. Tell tale signs of this cinematic influence in Crimson Peak‘s production design can be seen in the very design of Allerdale Hall. Due to the very artistic nature of German expressionism, there is also a high degree of avant-garde because of the experimental production style, particularly in how it relates to the mystery at the center of this movie.

Although there are many positive elements in this film, some of the negative elements are the underdeveloped dialog and, by extension, the acting, lack of exposition, and at times sloppy editing. Common in German expressionism and avant-garde cinema are these characteristics. Note, that does not excuse the film for not delivering but does help to understand why they can be found in such a high budget movie directed by such an accomplished director. Had the dialog been better developed and even fifteen more minutes of exposition (or backstory) has been added, then I feel the acting would have increased in quality and delivery. As far as the occasional sloppy editing, there is no explanation and could have definitely been carried out with more finesse. Part of what makes this such a beautifully macabre film is the cinematography and production design. There are even sequences that will genuinely make you squirm and cringe at the highly visceral action with a hint of gore.

If you are looking for a traditional ghost story, this is definitely not the movie for you. To quote Edith, “the ghosts are a metaphor.” However, if you are looking for a great movie that embodies the thrills and chills of the Halloween season, then this is one to catch in theaters this month. Because of the expressionistic style of filmmaking, I can definitely see the advantage of and recommend watching it in IMAX (provided it’s the 2D version). It has a little of everything that a well-written horror film needs: death, romance, disorientation, and mystery. For the filmmakers or film scholars out there, prepare to have your mind stimulated as you attempt to interpret what the various symbols mean beyond the more superficial plot of the story.

“The Martian” movie review

TheMartianHouston, we have a problem…with Ridley Scott’s directing. Despite the fact that his is an extremely well-known name among directors and both “Alien” and “Gladiator” are critically acclaimed films, Scott just keeps proving over and over again that he can create a very visual movie with a star-studded cast; but, his films over the last decade have just not held up to the hype behind his name or the caliber of director he used to be. The Martian is a prime example of when junior executives at motion picture studios decide that a given plot/sub-genre is popular and keep cranking them out. The problem is, by the time the studios pick up on what the public wants, when the next copycat film gets released, often times the public is tired of that kind of movie. This makes the third epic space movie in three years. Pretty sure both Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain just used their same costumes from Interstellar. One thing’s for sure, if NASA was looking for a film to showcase their brand in an indirect effort to increase funding and rally support for the essentially mission-less organization, this may not have been the best one. In many ways, it just showcased their bureaucracy and inefficiency. Perhaps, space travel should be mostly conducted by private organizations with some infrastructural support on the federal level.

The Martian is about rescuing Mark Watney (Damon) a stranded astronaut-botonist on Mars after a research expedition was abruptly cut short due to an unforeseen storm. The Mars research team, led by Commander Lewis (Chastain), heads back to earth on not knowing that the comrade they thought dead was now completely abandoned on the red planet. Following some minor self-surgery, Watney realizes that he will have to learn to survive on Mars until he can be rescued by growing his own food and repairing the communication technologies in order to make contact with NASA. After NASA discovers the Watney is alive and in reasonably good condition, they must mount an effort to deliver supplies and get him home. Following some failed attempts, NASA eventually teams up with the most unlikely of players in the space game as a collaborative effort to work together for the greater good.

Now I know what you may be saying, ‘this guy doesn’t like most high concept, popular movies.’ That is definitely not the case at all. However, I feel that high concept films often suffer from under-developed plots and poorly executed directing. Just because you have a handful of hits such as AlienBlade Runner, and Gladiator, doesn’t mean that you should be given a pass for all subsequent films. That’s what I and other critics have noticed with his theatrical releases over the last decade. I just don’t think movie-going audiences needed another space movie after Gravity and Interstellar. Certainly not a film about a rescue mission or one with two of the same actors in similar roles from last year. The Martian is definitely beautifully shot, and that is of no surprise, since Scott’s films are often filled with stunning cinematography and production design. If only the actors were just as exemplary in their respective roles. Most of the more prominent roles were just under-developed. Don’t highlight a particular character if there is no real reason for the special attention.

Although you may be thinking that I didn’t like this movie at all, you would be mistaken to rush to that conclusion. In fact, there are definitely a few reasons why I liked certain elements of the film. I thoroughly enjoyed the commitment to real science in this science-fiction story. That was my biggest negative criticism of the plot of Interstellar. In the plot of the aforementioned, we were asked to constantly engage in the suspension of disbelief and blindly accept scientific information that was never explained or even made logical sense within the world of the film. Fortunately, The Martian played out as a believable film that is taking place not that far into our future. Throughout the film, the science is explained in carefully crafted exposition that is seamlessly integrated into the plot. Never does it feel that we are to blindly accept some science or logic just for the sake of moving the plot along. The believability of the plot and production design is what helps this film succeed as a good example of a science-fiction theatrical release.

As we gear up for Oscar season, I hope that this isn’t what we are to expect: movies that have many great elements paired with poor direction overall. If for no other reason, The Martian shows us how we could colonize Mars and travel back and forth. Although his performance wasn’t stellar, Damon pretty much holds the audience’s attention through the use of comedic relief during some of the most stressful times in the movie. For the aeronautical and and jet propulsion communities, this is a good example of research and development in the area of space exploration.