May 1, 2016


A wickedly funny new mockumentary made by Mark Sawers (known for "The Kids in the Hall") is entitled: "No Men Beyond This Point." Just one look at the smart trailer lets you know this is a commentary on today's feminism--or rather, the "battle of the sexes." The set-up could have been a simplistic: "What if feminists really did take over the world?" but it's more sophisticated than that. Instead, it's an act of nature ("praise Nature") that's eliminating men.


Women are now "asexual" and are producing only female babies through parthenogenesis (reproduction without fertilization--something found in some insects and reptiles). Without the male contributing the Y chromosome, no males are conceived, and a race of "women only" is born. The youngest man on earth, Andrew Myers, is thirty-seven years old and works as a housekeeper. Women "pair off" in mostly non-sexual, non-romantic partnerships in order to raise their children together (all girls, of course).

The mockumentary maintains an incredibly even, deadpan tone. The main interviewees are Andrew and the couple he works for: Terra and Iris.  Interspersed are other interview snippets, black and white re-enactments, real and fake historical footage. "Caught-in-the-act-please-turn-off-the-camera" moments drive the developing story forward. Iris has always taken men's "side" in her interviews. She doesn't dismiss them and feels sad that they are going extinct. Being an artist, she begins painting her one proximate masculine subject, Andrew, rather obsessively. Terra is not blind to Iris' sympathies, and the friction begins.


It must be noted that Andrew is one of very few younger men, and also one of the few men (with a worker's permit) who is not in, well, captivity. Yes. There is a "man sanctuary" that is basically a lodge with good food, medical care, a golf course and other guy amenities. The women may have lost their taste for men, but it's not reciprocal, so, once in a while, a man will make a break for it, hungering for female companionship. Running through the woods to female civilization, he will encounter signs "No Men Beyond This Point." Why are the men being kept apart? The governing council of women (there are no more wars or separate countries: women made the whole world one big, happy family) decided that it was best to hasten evolution and corral the stragglers. In fact, Andrew is lucky to still be out and about and must play his cards carefully.


Andrew and Iris fall in love, Terra confronts Iris who admits to the fact. The women's combined five or so daughters witness Andrew and Iris kissing furtively under a tree. ("Gross!") Punishment? Andrew is sent to the sanctuary. SPOILER ALERT! (Read on at your own peril.) But there ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no river wide enough to keep Andrew and Iris apart. They go public with their plight (opposite sex marriage is illegal) and the female populace rises up in their favor with marches and slogans such as: "Celebrate Gender Diversity!" "End Manlessness!" "Make Opposite Sex Marriage Legal!" The end of the film sports a perfect twist that highlights our perennially imperfect world (I'm NOT giving away the twist).

What's on display here is foible-ridden human nature that we're all too familiar with. Some film reviewers questioned (very seriously) in a podcast whether the premise would have worked better in the dystopian sci-fi genre. Balderdash! It's hilarious. I will only mention two tee-hees here:
--One Australian "manosaurus" complains that the women have even taken their God away and replaced it with a "sheila," that is, Mother Nature ("praise Nature").
--The men in the sanctuary go on a hunger strike, but...they get hungry.


The film dwells at length (and then revisits again) Jesus' Virgin Birth, but there's really no correlation to God the Son becoming incarnate by the Holy Spirit and human parthenogenesis. I think the film was (respectfully) grappling for a punch line that wasn't there. "NMBTP" gets the Catholic stuff pretty correct. There's even an interview with an "Italian priest" who works for the "Congregation for the Causes of Saints" and had to investigate what seemed at first to be miracles--when the parthenogenesis began occurring. Even a nun in a remote part of northern Spain becomes pregnant (this really comes off as a silly "cheap shot" sequence in the film). And, of course the misogynistic, patriarchal Church suppresses all the evidence of the nun's pregnancy.


"NMBTP" is everything a meticulous mockumentary and comedy should be. The action is never flagging. It's clever but not cerebral. It won't go over your head, it will only make you feel smart as you get the jokes. Along with nailing the style of the contemporary documentary, there is no mean-spiritedness, it's not a "message film," and there's no "unrelatable" stretches of the imagination (except the human parthenogenesis). The actors are utterly believable. Much of what is said of/to/about women today is now said of men. The tables are turned--but not to an exact and too obvious degree.


Men's and women's idiosyncrasies are both poked equal fun at. There's a lot of food for thought here--enough that it would be good for a film discussion group. And even the most outlandish features of this "broad" new world aren't all that far-fetched, at least in the rhetoric of today. What's interesting about the women is that they are not "mannish," nor are they frou-frou. They're just capable, intelligent, albeit rather bland women who don't seem to need or miss the men. The indifference would be chilling--if it weren't a comedy. And of course, it's way funnier if you know Theology of the Body.

Available on iTunes Canada. Coming soon to USA.

April 9, 2016


A new full-length documentary film on the Divine Mercy is now available for large or small screenings during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. It has the long and intriguing title of: "The Original Image of Divine Mercy: The Untold Story of An Unknown Masterpiece."


Now. If you, like me, are one of the .0001% of Catholics who do not warm up to the Divine Mercy devotion, who are, perhaps, even nonplussed by it: this film might be just what you need. I'm calling this documentary "The Thinking Person's Guide to Divine Mercy." AND, if you do not take a shine to most or all of the images of the Divine Mercy you have encountered? That's because you probably have not encountered the original image. (Above.) 


If you are one of the other .0001% of Catholics who have never heard of the Divine Mercy devotion (non-Catholics are completely absolved), it is simply this: Jesus appeared to a young Polish nun living in Lithuania in the 1930's (Sr. Faustina is now "St. Faustina") and revealed His desire that an image of His Divine Mercy should be promulgated throughout the world, with the words "Jesus, I trust in You" beneath. This "devotion" is to be accompanied by prayers to/for divine mercy and acts of mercy.  A book with the words of Jesus as recorded by St. Faustina: "The Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul" is available in many languages.

Countless numbers of people now pray "The Divine Mercy chaplet" (prayed on regular rosary beads) and "The Divine Mercy Novena." Prayers to the Divine Mercy are especially prayed every day at 3 pm, the "hour of mercy" when Christ died.


Jesus told Sr. Faustina to paint an image exactly as he appeared to her. She was no painter, so she and her spiritual director, Fr. Michael Sopocko, enlisted the help of an artist, Eugeniusz Kazimirowski, who labored to get the details just right (and of course, Sr. Faustina was never satisfied, even with the final product, but she came to accept the fact that no artist could ever fully capture Jesus the way she saw Him).

A few of the important details of the original image are the face of Jesus looking down (Jesus said this was His gaze on us from the Cross), and the hands raised in an particular way in blessing while white and red rays (representing mercy) radiate forth from His unseen heart. The background is blackness. It's utterly simple and uncluttered, what one sacred art expert in the film calls: "A masterpiece of iconography. Face, hands, that's it."


A highlight and constant of the film is the parallel story of the fierce persecution of the Catholic Church in Lithuania under the Soviets after World War II. Those of us old enough to remember the days of the former U.S.S.R. heard plenty of stories as it was happening: the beginning of the fall of the Soviet Union was 1989. The famous (infamous to the Communists) "Hill of Crosses" is also briefly featured in the documentary. Most poignant of all is the subdued pain in the faces and voices of the elderly bishops and priests (some of whom did forced labor in Siberian work camps). The story of the heroism of the persecuted Church under Soviet rule is a story yet to be told (actually many, many stories to be told). The Church had to be crushed because its doctrines were the polar opposite of atheistic Communism.


So why have we thought the Divine Mercy devotion was from Poland? Many Poles live in Lithuania, and there was even a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 18th century, under common rule. Sr. Faustina was Polish, and under the Soviets, each country absorbed into the U.S.S.R still had strict borders (though these borders were not shown on many world maps of the time) that could not be easily traversed. Just as the image of the Divine Mercy began to spread from Lithuania, World War II hit, and Poland became prominent in furthering the devotion. However, Polish artists, one in particular, began doing their own altered versions of the original image, and these became associated as "the" image. There is a movement today toward restoring the original image to prominence. After  being: forgotten, abandoned, ignored, secretly venerated, sold for a bottle of vodka, kept in a priest's private residence, on vacation in Belarus and heisted by some daring nuns, the original image is now enthroned above the main altar of the Church of the Holy Spirit (where Fr. Sopocko once served) in Vilnius, Lithuania.


The documentary unassumingly features Jim Gaffigan, Harry Connick, Jr., Bishop Barron, three Cardinals, a slew of Bishops, priests, art and church historians (lots of women here), and those who were witnesses to the image's sojourn. These articulate folks and the entire film have a lot to say, not just about this particular image, but the role of images in our Faith in general. "Sacred icons are primarily mediums of grace." If you still don't care for the portrayal of the original image "...the image is not the object of our devotion anyway." Jesus said it's all about His grace and mercy, not the particular color or beauty of the painting.

A warm, personal theology exudes from this entire project. If you've ever given up on theology as dry, aloof, clinical, hard, cold and abstract? This film will be a fragrant balm. This is serious, profound, lived, battle-scarred, Eastern European Christianity, people.


This documentary is an image of the image, in a sense. How are its production values? "The Original Image of Divine Mercy" is a contemporarily contemplative film. Cooler-than-thou acoustic guitar, the vocals of Mike Mangione and an Audrey Assad soundalike grace our ponderings. Natural lighting floating in from a window. No boring sit-down interviews. A fondness for handheld filming. A flowing fluidity to the camerawork . Most interviewees stand in their own environment or an ambience of the original image. Mostly mid-range shots and hardly any close-ups situate us in a "this is bigger than all of us and involves all of us" frame of mind. There's a connectedness with the surroundings, including the filmmakers who are very often in the shots. It has an immediate, "you are there" feel which doesn't allow us to be passive bystanders. 

The camerawork can be raw, but with a purpose. The interviews can be long, but not unedited. The filmmakers are letting people have their say, the way they want to say it, clarifying here and there with a translator: it's all captured because--like the very image of Divine Mercy--it's not perfection we're after. After each segment of interviews, we take a break and see the Divine Mercy image doing its thing around the world in public places. We see the interviewees relaxing, preparing, meditating before the image, interacting with the filmmakers in candid shots. At first I thought: there's too many "behind the scenes," but then I realized these are NOT behind the scenes at all. A sense of real life and not "show" is communicated effectively.

Two pleasing devices: uniformly stylized paintings of the interviewees , as well as stills of quotes from Sr. Faustina's Diary with a Polish-accented female voiceover, tie the narrative together. Some misspellings and sloppy punctuation in the subtitles (but not horrible)--will be corrected in DVD release in November.

What the filmmakers have created is an artistic, oral/visual historical document.


I really can't abide any of the images of the Divine Mercy I've seen (unless they've superimposed the face of the Sacred Heart of Jesus from Hales Corner, Wisconsin, on it, but then it also looks tacky), but this original image is realistic, natural, normal, approachable, pleasing.

Take heart if you don't "get" the Divine Mercy devotion. It took Sr. Faustina's own spiritual director time to comprehend it (and at least one other prominent person in the film admits to the same). This film concretizes the development of the devotion and the physical and spiritual journey of the image itself, as it spread throughout the world. And, as an interviewee sums up at the end: the journey isn't over.

For a reasonable licensing fee, screenings are being offered throughout the Holy Year for parishes, schools, organizations and events commemorating the Jubilee Year. 
Proceeds from the licensing of this film will go to foster the development of pilgrimage facilities for the Divine Mercy Shrine in Vilnius, Lithuania – the permanent home of the Original Image of Divine Mercy,

For more info go to

"The painting is not necessary for mercy to reach the world. The Holy Spirit works anyway. But this image is a gift, a gift from Jesus. And it's something that we can touch in a very concrete way, and see, and not just have the concept from Holy Scripture about the mercy of God, but also have a very concrete illustration. This is a testimony to the will of Christ. And in giving us this image He makes known His request to fulfill His will." --priest interviewee

"Sr. Faustina said: The world is incapable of its own conversion. We must trust in Divine Mercy. Why do we talk about Divine Mercy today? The devotion began before World War II. God was warning that a war was coming. Is God warning us again? God is calling us back to God's mercy, to Jesus Christ." --Cardinal Dziwisz

"Divine Mercy is the last barrier to the spread of evil in the world." --John Paul II

April 4, 2016


Wanna help promote this event? Email me for a .PDF flyer!
srhelenaburns @ gmail com


We are pro-life and pro-family and Sister can scream louder than your kids.


--What is gender? A social construct? Nature or nurture?

--Is God the Father an old white guy?

--Why can't women be priests?

--What's great about being a guy?

--What's great about being a gal?

--Who sinned first, Adam or Eve?

--Gender roles

--How do men and women image God differently?

--The Women's Liberation Movement

--Is feminism a dirty word?

--The Sexual Revolution

--Are wives supposed to be "submissive" to their husbands?

--What does "there is no more male or female" in Christ mean?

--What does it mean to be man today?

--What does it mean to be a woman today?

--How can men and women help each other be better men and women of God?

--Will the Blues win the Stanley Cup?

March 26, 2016


"Miracles from Heaven" is a disruptive new God film from the folks who brought us "Heaven Is For Real." (My review: ) There are many similarities to the two films. Each film is about a miracle experienced by a child. Each child has an out-of-body encounter with heaven and God, and comes from an already-believing family. Each film features scenes in church with preaching and praise and worship music. And each film is, thankfully, well-lit. "Heaven Is For Real," for me, was a much more straightforward film about a four-year-old boy who dies, goes to heaven and comes back, while "Miracles from Heaven" is a much stranger, more complex story of a slightly older girl (ten years old) with a complicated medical condition who experiences a bizarre accident that cures her, or does it? Was it really the accident that cures her? Was it prayer? Was it God intervening no matter what? And how can anyone relate to such a weird miracle?


My suspicion was that I had already seen the film just by watching the trailer--that is, all the good parts were shown in the trailer and "spoiled." I was half right. What you see in the trailer is pretty much the third act. A lot is given away in the trailer, to be sure, but I don't know how else the filmmakers could have gotten people in theaters without revealing an event so curious that moviegoers would want to see the full story. Casting big-name actor, Jennifer Garner (as Christy, the Mom), gives even more credibility to this incredulous tale.


I am calling this a disruptive film because my very first gut-reaction was: "'Heaven Is For Real' is about an experience of heaven. 'Miracles From Heaven' is about a family who received a miracle. People's reaction is going to be: I prayed for a miracle for my child and didn't get one!" But this does not seem to be people's reaction. The film does not sidestep this question of the problem of evil, the question of "Why, God?!" and the answers are not the usual. The answers are embedded in events, experiences and the realities the everyday miraculous along with the extraordinary miraculous. There is a wonderful emphasis on "being the miracle" ourselves, but not to the exclusion or doubting of the truly God-miraculous. It's not God or us, it's God and us. And our God is disruptive, is He not?


The film starts off super-saccharine: a portrait of the happiest family in Texas (no doubt to show the contrast to their upcoming struggles). Their church is the happiest place on earth with the best music in Christendom (the golden-voiced  Mac  Powell from "Third Day" is the music ministry). The pastor is jovial, entertaining , kind and beloved. Life is a dream until middle daughter, Anna (Kylie Rogers) begins having severe, persistent stomach pain out of the blue. The always-excellent New Zealand actor, Martin Henderson, plays Kevin, the husband/Dad: a laid-back veterinarian who doesn't worry too much about anything because of his tremendous faith in God. Christy, instead, is losing faith fast. Although they're a great parental team, "Miracles" is also a story about a fierce mother-warrior who storms heaven, earth and hell to get her daughter help. Jennifer Garner's performance is average, nothing more. Her range is more suited to "Alias," and roles that require a kind of earnest, superficial lightness. The child actors--as are all child actors today it seems--are magnificent.

"Miracles" is not a Hallmark film, not "heartwarming" (both of which I am allergic to). This film "goes there," albeit in a slightly whitewashed way. We observe a little girl who is dying, who is depressed, who is angry, who is going through the five stages of dying. We see a mother at her wit's end and a family who is literally torn apart and focusing all its attention on only one member.


The real Beam family is shown at the end with an update and voiceover from Anna herself. Fascinating.

"Miracles From Heaven" gets better and better as it goes along, and there are even a few surprises at the end. The answers given (to the question of tragedy) midway through the film pale in comparison with the final answers. The answers are not a bunch of tenuous chatter. The answers are lived and inarguable. The ultimate question of the film seems to be: "Is life better with God?" It's a question that each one of us will have to answer for ourselves.


--I would add: "Is death better with God?"
 "If we have believed in Christ for this life only we are the most pitiful of men." 1 Corinthians 15:19

--If you think (from the trailer) that the little girl falls OUT of a tree? She doesn't.


--The soundtrack is rather facile, excepted, and standard for an "inspirational film."

--Without investigating every nook and cranny of the problem of evil, it covers enough.

--Ma always berates me because I don't like her Hallmark films. "What's wrong with a happy ending, huh?!" "Why do you have to be so cynical all the time?!" "There's not enough goodness in life!"

--The film is something of a medical drama (which we are so used to from TV: we now find in-depth medical explanations and terminology interesting).

--Maybe this whole film is a metaphor for the hope of heaven (that thought really came to me at the end, from the film itself). Heaven which is real. Heaven where all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

--Anyone who has lost a child or has a sick child would really appreciate this film, I would think.

--Like "Heaven Is For Real," they do "show" us "heaven." Noooooooooooo!!!!! It doesn't make me wanna go there! But, thankfully, unlike "Heaven Is For Real," they don't try to show us God/Jesus.

--I did cry a bit at the end, OK?

--The aftermath of the "accident" unfolds rather deliciously.

--I was very conflicted about even bothering to see this film for the reasons mentioned above:
1. Didn't I already see the film by watching the trailer?
2. Why would anyone make a film about such an unrelatable episode in someone's life?
3. If you're going to make a film like this, you'd better darn well deal with the problem of evil, and deal with it very, very well.
But they did it. The film is successful as a film and as a God story.

--The ending is really quite good I must say (notwithstanding a hammy speech by Christy and the reaction of the stereotypical, self-righteous, annoying church ladies).

March 19, 2016


A new DVD: "Uncommon Grace--The Life of Flannery O'Connor"--the only documentary ever made on her--has just been released that does great justice to the life, work and faith of the ever-relevant Flannery. Although only sixty minutes in length, you will feel like you have sojourned for years with the acclaimed short story writer in Georgia, Iowa and New York City. Carefully researched, with interviews from Flannery experts and those who knew her, "Uncommon Grace" is an in-depth peering into the soul of a most unusual American author. Flannery was a devout Catholic who nevertheless knew, understood and wrote about the Protestant South that was her home.

Starting from childhood, Flannery (her real name was Mary Flannery O'Connor) loved books and creating books. While she was still quite young, she even felt that "literature" would be her future, her calling. Flannery was an only child whose father died an early death of lupus--an incurable auto-immune disease that would claim her life prematurely also (at age 39 in 1964). But in those short years, Flannery's rise to notoriety was meteoric.

I knew bits and pieces of Flannery's story from people in my life who are ardent admirers. I had read parts of a collection of her letters and a few of her startling "Southern gothic" short stories. "Uncommon Grace" tied all these threads together for me. Her importance to the world of modern literature cannot be underestimated. She has been a major influence on artists of other genres (e.g., songwriters). She has been imitated by many. The dark and shocking quality of her characters and endings seems incongruous at first with the bespectacled, conservatively-dressed O'Connor. But when one gets to know the unsentimental, quipping, sharp-tongued scribe, it all makes sense. Flannery was concerned about her contemporaries whom she saw falling into agnosticism and atheism. How could faith penetrate the modern age? What did her peers need to hear? Flannery famously said of her works: "When people are hard of hearing, you need to shout."

A basic premise in Flannery's narratives is that God is offering every person transformative grace in the moment, every moment, but even more at life's decisive, even if unforeseen, turns.

At the height of her career, due to her illness, the still-young Flannery was forced to live as a part-time recluse on the dairy farm run by her mother. (However, all writers have to be recluses of a sort in order to write.) She folded the everyday landscapes and scenes and people around her into her prolific tales (two novels and thirty-two short stories along with other writings) that were published and received with much buzz, reprintings and awards.

One of the most important questions explored by the film is the question: "Was Flannery a racist?" The answer is a bit complicated, especially in light of her short story: "Everything That Rises Must Converge."

"Uncommon Grace" is thorough and engaging on all counts (not too heavy, not too light) with an original, sparse, utterly fitting piano soundtrack. My one criticism is that the filmmaker herself did some of the narration. Although she has a pleasant voice and reads well, she has a Midwest accent and is not a professional narrator. It would have been well worth it to hire a professional. However, the film is otherwise up to snuff and completely worthy of immersing oneself in--by Flannery aficionados and neophytes alike. The filmmakers created this film as a true labor of love: to give some insight into Flannery's uncompromising worldview informed by her Catholicism.

Flannery suffused her stories with a jarring otherworldliness invading thisworldliness at life and death moments. In other less talented hands, these parables may not have worked, and might even have sounded preachy. But Miss O'Connor was deadly earnest about her craft and essentially gave the Gospel message new incarnations, new wings and new audiences.

"Uncommon Grace" is available on Amazon. Website:

February 22, 2016



Read this first! Collier & Magid’s “Online Safety 3.0: A Refreshing Approach to Internet Safety” (Link is just the intro. Be sure to click thru to 8-page manifesto! The best thing you’ll read on Internet Safety! Digital Citizenship!)

Also: the Common Sense Media Summer 2012 Study of How Teens View Their Digital Lives

SOFTWARE FILTERS & MONITORS: (a collection of various software options for your computer) Includes NET NANNY MOBILE (for phones and eBLASTER MOBILE for Android) LET KIDS KNOW WHEN SOFTWARE INSTALLED & HOW IT WORKS! DON’T SPY! (The best sofware is installed online, not by consumer, so can’t be disabled by consumer or kids) Call cell phone service provider for filter options on phones. Also:  (great, simple ideas for parents and youth themselves, includes “Family Contract for Online Safety” that both kids and parents sign) With studios' permission, bad language, etc., is excised out of DVDs and streaming so whole fam can watch!

 "Connected Toward Communion: The Church and Social Communication in the Digital Age" Zsupan-Jerome, "The Church and New Media" Vogt, "The Social Media Gospel" Gould

“Talking Back to Facebook” by James Steyer, founder of, “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology & Less from Each Other” by MIT’s Shirley Turkle, “Virtually You: Dangers of the E-Personality” Elias Aboujaoude,
“Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure & Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected & Unhappy Kids” & “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success” by Dr. Madeline Levine  Must-read Vatican documents on media: “Dawn of a New Era,” “Rapid Development” (JP2). Also read the recent, short addresses by the popes for "World Communications Day" at

MEDIA LITERACY ORGANIZATIONS/CONFERENCES/TRAINING/CURRICULUM: ML certification for catechists & teachers (Catholic new media leaders, yearly conference), (Center for Media Literacy),  (Nat’l Ass’n for Media Literacy Education—formerly AMLA), (all kinds of curriculum),  (sign up for his listserv and get the latest on media literacy daily—about 5 emails a day), (for teens and parents, written by Chicago seminarians and friends),, (click on “Safe Surfin’ Foundation” for free CDs with videos/files/.pdfs/tests for kids, teens, parents/communities), also has internet safety info (but only about predators, not comprehensive), (Youtube, Facebook, iphone), (worldwide social networking pope uses), (rating for and by parents for all things media) (Focus on the Family=ALL things youth & media!) (get a monthly prayer calendar to pray for who's who in media!)


PORN PREVENTION AND RECOVERY RESOURCES: sites w/information, accountability & help)

THEOLOGY OF THE BODY (also for teens): YOUTUBE: JasonEvert channel, ,, TOB  CDs/DVDs, “The Interior Gaze: Remedy for Pornovision and Lust DVD,” Fr. Thomas Loya , “Out of the Darkness” DVD (interview w former porn star turned Christian & others) from,  Accountability websites:
COMPREHENSIVE porn prevention and recovery resources (always being updated):

--“Media Mindfulness—Educating Teens About Faith & Media” Sr. Gretchen Hailer & Sr. Rose Pacatte (easy-to-use lesson plans!)
--“Our Media World” Sr. Gretchen Hailer & Sr. Rose Pacatte (Media Literacy/Media Mindfulness K-8) (easy-to-use lesson plans!)
--“Imagining Faith with Kids: Unearthing Seeds of the Gospel in Children’s Stories” (tots to tweens) by Mary Margaret Keaton
--“How To Watch Movies with Kids,” by Sr. Hosea Rupprecht

“Entertainment Weekly” (the latest on ALL entertainment media, serious journalism, even tho’ it looks like a tabloid)
“WIRED” (computers, internet, futuristic technology)

WATCH: and then download the free study guide to start a conversation about the Church and Media:



--We CHOOSE HOW WE USE media. We can change, go back, adapt, re-think, modify, perfect!

--How can I use media in a way that respects HUMAN DIGNITY and never destroys it?

--How can I make MEDIA WORK FOR ME AND MY FAMILY and never against us?
We can make media work for us through:
  • DISCIPLESHIP—We need to follow, glorify & imitate Jesus in everything we do, including media.
  • DISCERNMENT—We need to make good media choices (media technology use and media content).
  • DISCIPLINE—Practice makes perfect. We need self-mastery, to be in control of media rather than it controlling us.

--CONTROL IS FOR THE MOMENT, COMMUNICATION IS FOR A LIFETIME. (Talk at length with your kids about media so they process, think, agree, decide, gain skills to make good choices on their own.)

--“Choose, apportion, accompany & correct young people’s media use.” –Blessed Fr. James Alberione

--We need to PRAY about our media use: it’s powerful, it’s everywhere, and it’s the stuff of our lives.

--All media are virtual reality. VIRTUALITY IS REAL. Real in appearance and effects. In media, a partial gift of the bodily presence is there, but the full gift of the bodily presence is not.

--Bodies are not optional. We need to give each other the GIFT OF OUR FULL BODILY PRESENCE. Face time and undivided attention is the best form of communication. Other mediated forms are secondary. The people bodily present to us always have precedence (rather than people we can communicate with through media).

--There are 3 SACRED PLACES (tables & altars) where we DON’T NEED SCREENS or mediated communication.

  • CHURCH: God is present
  • FAMILY TABLE: the images of God are present
  • MASTER BEDROOM: the primary image of God, “male & female He created them,” are present
If it’s absolutely necessary to use media in these 3 places, intentionally excuse yourself, take care of the matter in another space, and then return.

--The Church believes that the MEDIA ARE GIFTS OF GOD, and that we should use them and use them well.

--God is everywhere in the media, especially in human persons. We can’t hurt God through media, but we can hurt human beings. We need to focus on how human dignity is respected (or not) in media.

--We need to transfer the Gospel into virtual reality: WWJDO? What Would Jesus Do Online? If we wouldn’t/shouldn’t do it in person, don’t do it online. (The Golden Rule also applies!)

--“Internet Safety” includes being safe here AND hereafter. Since we are spending 7 hours a day online, we are “working out our salvation” partially online. 

February 17, 2016


"Risen," the new Bible movie about a Roman soldier and Jesus, is excellent and "Ben Hur" imaginative. This is not Bible schlock, this is Joseph Fiennes as the Roman soldier. And since you can't have a decent Scripture movie without a healthy dose of Brits in the cast, this extremely well-cast international troupe of actors boasts quite a few British actors, including the actor who plays Pontius Pilate.

One of the best things about "Risen" is that its unpredictable. If it was simply the Bible itself with a few fictitious subplots, we'd know what's coming. But this is the fictitious story of a hardened Roman tribute ("Clavius") commissioned with not only overseeing the Crucifixion of the Nazarene, but also tamping down his whole movement, starting with his inner circle, the Twelve--or rather now Eleven--Apostles.


The whole point of the movie is very "Theology of the Body": "Where is THE BODY?" Because the body matters. A great deal. At one point, the tribute interviews various followers and disciples about Jesus and His "dead" body's whereabouts: a device that could have been trite and boring, but is nothing of the sort. Clavius is torn between carrying out his mission of destruction and his attraction to the Jesus these witnesses describe. We sense a man at the end of his rope, a man who has seen much violence and is wondering what the point of it all is and what Roman violence really accomplishes. He's full of skepticism about what he has devoted his life to and is realizing there must be a better way than the "pax romanum": order imposed through a conquering brutality. He has a heart for people and is a stern, but not ruthless man. Clavius is also a religious man--as most Romans were. He prays to Mars, the god of war.


"Risen" is subtly funny throughout. You don't even have to be religious to get the jokes. They're human jokes. In fact, the whole film is very "human." The three criticisms I can just feel coming are this: 1) Too gritty in the beginning (the Crucifixion is "The Passion of the Christ"-style realistic), 2) the Apostles come across as too human and flawed, and 3) Jesus isn't handsome. To which I reply: Crucifixions are horrific, the Apostles were a motley crew (especially pre-Pentecost--as this film is), and what if Jesus wasn't Brad Pitt? (I would like to go on record as disagreeing with all these criticisms.)

"Risen" explores parts of the New Testament rarely seen on film, and it's glorious. Glorious in a bumbling sort of way (it's meant to be bumbling). The Apostles don't have all the answers. Nathaniel (the man Jesus described as being "without guile") is young, hippie-go-lucky and part of the comic relief. His display of childlike optimism and hope is the sole time we see Clavius crack a faint smile.

This is not a child's Bible picture book come to life. This is a carefully and cleverly imagined, fairly airtight "what if" film that keeps faithfully within the bounds of the sacred text. Much of the dialogue is outstanding. We begin to see the logic of all the parties involved at this "fullness of time" into which the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity chose to enter human history.


Jesus. I don't know if folks are going to like Jesus. He's not a pretty Jesus, but He is Jesus-y. He will not go down in my film reviewing annals as my favorite screen Jesus, but I have been thinking a lot of late about our obsession with appearances and how the New Testament describes no one's appearance. There are no descriptions of people's faces, features, etc., (except perhaps stature: Zacchaeus was a little man). Isaiah describes the Suffering Servant thus: "For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him." The passage goes on to talk about the mysterious Suffering Servant's appearance after being battered:

He was despised and rejected by mankind,

    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem." (Isaiah 52:3, KJV)

Some Bible footnotes will just lump the first part of Isaiah (v. 2) in with the account of the Passion, but I've always wondered if they should be separated.  Was Jesus was just plain looking? On purpose? Even though artistic renderings of the face of the Man of the Shroud make Jesus look like a babe, and my personal  favorite Jesus is the guyliner Sacred Heart from Hales Corner, Wisconsin--I wonder. What would be a better antidote to our looks-obsessed, Insta-famous, photoshopping culture than a dull-faced Jesus? (Have you seen the Veil of Manoppello???)

But hopefully no one will argue when they see some of  the other Bible characters brought to life. The centurion! Joseph of Arimathea! A jolly and fiesty Peter! An old woman loved by Jesus!
Sony is behind "Risen," and it looks like they put a fair amount of money into it (which must be done for any period piece), but it looks like could have put even more. (The same hillside set doubles for two different locations and Peter flashes metal fillings when he smiles. There were a few other glitches like a teeny weeny battle scene that could have been made to look much bigger with simulated FX "extras," or just not shooting the peripheries of the battle.)


My one and only complaint about this well-done, thought-prodding, heart-provoking film is the simply wretched, unnecessary, and thankfully brief "bookends" at the beginning and end of the film wherein the wayfaring tribune is lodging at a stranger's house. ("Oh! You must be a Roman tribune because I see your tribune's ring! Pray tell, what brings you to my humble abode?" The whole movie then becomes flashback.) The first little lead-in to the film is so bad that I distrusted this film was going to be any good--and it took all of the marvelous Act One to win me back. The few minutes of the opening is that bad. This film did not need bookends. I repeat: this film did not need bookends. So, do NOT be put off by the opening scene. Just ignore it. Fiennes' face also has a "Snoopy vulture" look for the first few scenes, but he quickly recovers.

Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a former--*heaves a tremendous sigh*--prostitute. The Bible never says she was a prostitute, and we can thank Pope St. Gregory the Great for mistakenly conflating her with one. I thought we were over this in 2016. But maybe the continued mistake is willful because it just makes for a juicier story?

At a certain point, Clavius becomes a man in front of his God. Whoa. Powerful. Clavius is all of us.

Sony should keep making fine Bible films. And try even harder.


--Best line: "Sometimes Jesus is hard to recognize."

--Several years ago there was a low-budget, straight-to-VHS, Max Lucado film similar to this that I really liked.

--"Risen" is also a novel (adapted from the screenplay).

--@RisenMovie #RisenMovie on social media everywhere

--All during my free pre-screening of this film, a film studio security dude was standing right next to me (I was on the aisle) facing the audience and  shooting some infrared lens into the crowd to make sure no one was recording film. #TresDisconcerting

--Just as when I saw "The Passion of the Christ" in the theater, folks were LOUDLY MUNCHING POPCORN DURING THE CRUCIFIXION. Really???

--One of our Sisters, on hearing that Jesus wasn't good looking, immediately countered with: "Oh, no. Jesus was perfect. He was perfect in all things." :)

--The biblical soundtrack is standard. But just standard. Nothing creative about it.

--Clavius wanted the TRUTH.

--Nathaniel reminded me of "Godspell." Which I love. And was a background dancer for in our high school production thereof. And I got to meet Stephen Schwartz later in my life. Who's a great guy.

--Don't forget to watch "Full of Grace"! A film about Mary and the Apostles, post-Resurrection, that would be great a great companion film to see after "Risen." (See my recent review of "Full of Grace" on this blog).

--I am just TICKLED PINK that so many wonderful new Jesus, Mary &  Bible movies are coming out.

--"Our only weapon is love."

--"We are followers. We follow to find out."

--The Apostles defer to Peter.

--Clavius is a man in front of his God. It would be different for a "woman in front of her God." It just would be. (The film captures this a bit with Mary Magdalene.) One main difference? Her utter certainty.

--Jesus is a "strange case," says Pilate. Yes He is.

February 15, 2016


"The Young Messiah" is the best Jesus movie ever--or at least my new favorite Jesus movie. Based on Anne Rice's historical novel, "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt," it combines the latest and best in filmmaking, the dramatic arts, mature biblical scholarship, theology and imagination. It is biblically and theologically sound (always a tricky task when speaking about Jesus, but even more so the Child Jesus and his "human knowledge"--what did he/didn't he allow himself to know in his humanity?) There has been some talk that "apocryphal writings" inspired some scenes. "Apocryphal" does not mean "Gnostic." The apocryphal Proto-Evangelium of James was used by early Christians as devotional reading. But it's not the Word of God.


"The Young Messiah" shows lots of homework was done. No trendy twenty-first-century ideas plopped in. No outlandish "what if" musings (beyond Jesus bringing a bird back to life). The dialogue is so carefully crafted that every word effortlessly rings true in these fully fleshed-out and delightful characters. The text of the Scriptures is faithfully adhered to (without really taking liberties) and then sundry plausible plot points--that totally work--are skillfully woven in to bring life to the text. Every scene is to support the text, not draw away from it. All exposition is invisible and clever. The British-accented cast slays it.

This story of one year in the life of the Child Jesus begins with Jesus in Egypt being bullied by another boy from the Jewish community, and escalates into some gripping action which it maintains to one degree or another throughout the film. Never boring. Never trite. There are no hackneyed turns of phrases. The theology is precise. This film has everything in it but the sensational.


Wunderkind, Adam Greaves-Neal (it's his first film role and he was chosen from among 2000 child actors all over the world), plays Jesus with childlike openness, earnestness and chutzpah, and avoids gooey sentimentality (as does the whole film). His facial expressions and reactions are just completely natural. You will fall in love with this little Jesus and just want to hug him. Mary and Joseph are the consistently best Mary and Joseph the screen has seen (Sara Lazzaro [Italian & American] and Vincent Walsh [Irish: raised in Dublin & Toronto]).

There aren't just a few good scenes or lines for these two. The whole film exposes what it might be like to be the world's most unique couple, with their utter devotion to Jesus and to each other. Mary and Joseph don't have all the answers, but they know this precious and precocious kid is God's Son, and their own profound faith and love encompass him. Mary and Joseph wrangle a bit with each other over what is best for Jesus, and both, especially Mary, are hyper-vigilant and appropriately worried for most of the film. Mary and Joseph also know that only they--out of the whole world-can truly understand each other. A wonderful, mutual, egalitarian marriage is portrayed.

The entire cast shows us how people of faith (specifically first century Jews) wrangle with God and the mysteries of God. Stunning. The Satan character (Rory Keenan, also Irish) lends yet another layer.


Jesus must slowly grasp who he is and learn to keep his powers under wraps for now. He's moved by human misery, pain, suffering and sickness, and realizes that when he prays over people or asks God for something: healing occurs, miracles happen. And others are watching, too. Herod Jr.--as despicable as his father--begins to get wind of a little healer boy and realizes that he is just the right age to be the Messiah, "Wonder-Counselor, Prince of Peace." Maybe this child escaped the Bethlehem bloodbath. He sends his centurion (Sean Bean)--who was also present at Bethlehem and carried out the slaughter--to find and kill the boy Jesus. This constant believable danger, with its attending intrigue and narrow escapes make for an urgency to the whole film.


Mary and Joseph keep Jesus' origins and early life a secret from him, but this is not proving to be helpful. Without doing a spoiler here, Mary eventually tells Jesus about the Annunciation in a wonderfully tender scene, as Jesus tries to comprehend: "So is the angel my father?"

This story, this film believes. (Not everyone who worked on/in the film necessarily believes, of course, but the film itself does.) This is the beauty of virsimilitude and acting: putting oneself "in the place of" with every fiber of one's being. Anne Rice is Catholic, and the Catholicity of this film is palpable.

Big money must have been thrown at this production--just from the looks of the sets and extras. The music starts off as standard Bible movie music, but then gets a bit more diverse and disappears into the film, adding to the overall excellence of the experience.


This film manages to make the gentleness of Jesus tough, hip and cool--even in the face of the savage might of Rome. (Great for boys/men to see!) My favorite quick image to illustrate this is the final "home" of the little wooden camel (I assure you that will make sense when you see the movie).

Only the best writers, filmmakers and thespians could pull off such an engrossing marvel as "The Young Messiah." I am in awe. It would be grand if this same set of creative geniuses would do the adult Jesus, but YM is gift enough.

Ever since the wild runaway success of "The Passion of the Christ," Hollywood has been trying to make a Jesus movie that will move and WOW crowds once again. They just did.

Appropriate for children? Yes! (What better role model for the kiddos? If they can handle seeing some men hanging on crosses and the repeated [non-graphic] murder of the Holy Innocents.)

I never watch movies twice, but I could run out to the theater and watch "The Young Messiah" over and over and over.


As soon as I saw the boy Jesus on screen, he instantly reminded me of this famous picture.


--After writing this review, quite a bit of controversy came up over the film being "heretical" and portraying an erroneous Christology (even after Archbishop Chaput and Cardinal Sean O'Malley gave it the thumbs up). The argument mostly being stated this way: "Jesus always knew He was divine." Yes. In His divinity. But in His humanity? It gets way trickier. The most important thing I think we need to keep in mind (and I'm no theologian, but I am a consulter of theologians) is that Jesus was truly God (Christians usually don't have a problem with this) AND truly man (Christians often have a problem with this), who grew in "age, wisdom and grace" as a child. It's a bit mysterious as to when and how Jesus THE CHILD (not Jesus the full grown man) came to full knowledge of His identity.

Jesus' divinity did not just override and overwhelm His humanity. (This is another kind of heresy!) Then He would not be truly human.  

Catholic World Report has one of the best explanations of the Church's teaching on the hypostatic union (the union of Jesus' divine nature and human nature) and "human knowledge" of Christ: 

Even as an adult, didn't Jesus have to operate in the world as man? Jesus said: "Who touched me?" when a woman in the crowd touched his robe from behind and Jesus felt healing power go out of Him. Did He really not know (in his humanity) because His back was turned? Or did He just want the woman to come forth? When Jesus said He didn't know the time of His own Second Coming (Mt. 24:36), was He referring to not knowing in his humanity? (CCC 474 says that certain things He was also not sent to reveal.....)

A priest friend of mine who teaches Christology in a seminary said that we don't really know when the Child Jesus in His humanity came into a full realization of His identity, but it seems it must have been before the 12-year-old Jesus' Finding in the Temple. "The Young Messiah" is the 7-year-old Jesus.

--In the late 80's, the made-for-TV "A Child Called Jesus" was a similar attempt. I don't remember watching it, but I can't imagine anything comparing to "The Young Messiah."

--OF COURSE Jesus would have brought His little birdies back to life.

--The name of the actor who plays Jesus is "Adam." (Get it? The new Adam? You can't make this stuff up.)

--Jesus asks A LOT of questions.

--Lots of foreshadowing: Satan, crucifixion, moneychangers in Temple, rabbis, boy Jesus in Temple, centurion

--One of the best scenes: Jesus talking to some rabbis and blowing their minds (even before he goes to the Temple).

--They got it correct that the Magi were from Persia! Perhaps because the director/writer is Iranian? ;) Well done! (Twitter: @Cyrus Nowrasteh)

--I would like to tell you so much more about this film, but I would be recounting the whole thing!

--There is one touch I would liked to have seen/heard at the very end: a connection of Jesus being on earth for the people, for us. But that's just me.

--Thankfully, no flash-forwards to Jesus' adult life.

--Jesus pipes up at the most inopportune moment: "I was born in Bethlehem!" No "Messianic Secret" here! (Bible scholar's joke)

--Joseph to Mary: "How do I talk about God to His own Son?"

--Joseph (trying to hide Jesus' true identity): "He's just a child." Caleb, Jesus' uncle: "No, he's not. I was a child. You were a child. He's more."

--"Joseph & Mary in #YoungMessiahMovie are the ultimate power couple." --@AWalkenstein

--I love how the film shows the fact that people knew about the visit of the Magi to Herod. The New Testament says that people TALKED about things like Elizabeth giving birth in her old age, etc. Jesus was surrounded by signs and chatter. He didn't just appear out of nowhere and no context in a vacuum....

--Jesus ended animal sacrifice! Coo! Bah! Moo! Bleat!

--Jesus is THE good guy here. The good guy with THE destiny.

--WHY is this the best Jesus movie ever? The spirit of God and the spirit of the Child combine. Palpably.  #AlwaysDivineAlwaysHuman

--And to think: I didn't even want to see this film. (I thought it was going to be a Flower Power Indigo Child frolicking in a puff of autumn mist working magic.)

January 14, 2016


The 2016 Golden Globe Award for Best Picture was "The Revenant"--from a novel based on a true incident--starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a hunter-trapper who, mauled by a bear, is left to die by his companions. There's a little more to it than that, but that's the basic premise. I can't really compare this visceral (in more ways than one), lushly-filmed, gruelling-to-make film to anything else I've seen. It's part Western, part journey film, part revenge flick, part mercy flick, part historical rectification, but always a film-experience you will be totally immersed and lost in. "The Revenant" feels 4-D and makes us feel alive, not hypnotized or numb. We can almost smell the fresh air and taste the snow on our tongue. The film never blinks. The film never flinches. The film never looks away. The film never relents. Is it "all that"? Yes. Does it deserve accolades? Yes, fling lots of Oscars at it, please.


Although it's 156 minutes, the film does not feel long, and there are no dead spots in its masterful pacing. Lest you're afraid there'll be too much "Castaway"-style DiCaprio mumbling to himself in isolation's ennui? There's none of that. The entire film is interspersed with the doings and progress of several different groups, which all weave into the story without it ever feeling busy or like an ensemble piece: a band of Natives, a band of French, Fitzgerald and Bridger, the Captain and the rest of the hunters, the soldiers and settlers at the Fort.

What does "revenant" mean? A "revenant" is one who comes back from the dead to terrorize the living. Many are calling "The Revenant" purely a revenge film, but it's more than that. It's also about justice and the will to live. The will to live was biggest for me. Hugh Glass (Leo DiCaprio) had a son with a First Nations woman (presumably deceased because she whispers encouragement and appears when Glass needs hope--but not in a "nick of time, cue the ghost" kind of way--simply in a way that our loved ones stay with us). This son is a teenager and travels with the hunting party--but he is despised as a half-breed. Glass speaks harshly to his son in his native language in order to protect him from harm by the other men.


We know there's going to be big trouble right away. Fitzgerald (the incomparable and completely unrecognizable Tom Hardy) is a self-serving, weasely whiner who contradicts and rejects everything the well-respected Glass suggests they do (that always turns out to be the best thing)--after an ambush by a Pawnee chief and his braves, looking for the chief's abducted daughter. Hardy, affecting an unwavering Texas drawl, never shuts up as he alternately complains and taunts. Like Tom Sizemore in "Saving Private Ryan," you feel like he walked right out of the era he's portraying. 

Fitzgerald/Hardy is old-world and blood-chilling and dangerous and untrustworthy and doesn't have a decent bone in his body or one iota of conscience.


Is it violent and gory? Let's just say there's lots of blood and guts, but it's never gross, over-the-top or gratuitous. This is a wild and disciplined film at the same time. Nothing out of place. If you just keep telling yourself "this is a film about raw survival," you'll get it. The scenery is all harsh beauty, much of it panoramic. You will be plunged into freezing waters and feel it, your lips will parch and crack. 

DiCaprio's breath is amplified throughout the film as a clever ambient noise, to the point where it's almost a character or part of the soundtrack. That sounds in print like it would be annoying, but it's not. Every pain-drenched gasp and grunt and growl and groan is rhythmic and becomes our own. The camera is everywhere: extreme close-up, close-up, mid-range, long-range, just everywhere, almost like virtual reality, but without gimmicks. The camera is a participant deep inside the film which takes us with it and makes us the same. Glass' breath often fogs up the camera (purposely), as we enter into his travails.


The dialogue is meted out, rich without being poetic--and never superfluous. There is naturalistic background chatter that we're not meant to decipher, and what we can hear is not rarified and highly stylized. Life is not cheap in "The Revenant." Oh, and this is also a profoundly religious film. The soundtrack is original music by Ryūichi Sakamoto. It's mostly a sewn-in, atmospheric hum with something akin to drums, but not exactly (hints at First Nations drums, but also, perhaps, Japanese drums?) A cello is used sparingly--as cellos should be. The film was shot all over the world and made by an international cast of thousands. Financing from Hong Kong. I stayed through every last credit (and highly recommend doing so) just to continue being swept along by the thought-provoking, parts-of-your-soul-you-didn't-know-you-had-stirring, never-maudlin score that continues like an undercurrent till the bittersweet end.

Alejandro González Iñárritu is a very unique director ("Babel," "Birdman") but doesn't act like an auteur or indie-guru. His films are deeply entrenched in the best of Hollywood, the Hollywood that can enliven our imaginations and hold up a mirror to our humanity. It's meaty and earthy, but always polished. Not too much grit here: the Hollywood showmanship, glitz and glamour we love are never too far away.


--Although rated "R," I would guess that mostly for f-bombs. This is a great movie for younger mature teens (13+).

--Horses die.

--"Revenant" is slightly reminiscent of "Noah," and the frequent wide-angle vistas are similar (but without the FX). The only detectable FX in "Revenant" are the animals.

--Two unintentionally comical moments involving animals: a bear and a horse.

--Leo is good, but he's too studied. As usual.

--The instrument, ondes martenot (an early electronic instrument invented in 1928) is used wondrously in the soundtrack.
Here's a sample:, and here's a sample from the actual wondrous "Revenant" soundtrack (don't think martenot is in here):

--Discovered a new filmmaking term in the credits:

--It's not white people bad, native people good. It's a little bit of a mix, but we definitely see the cruel oppression and injustice done to First Nations peoples.

--Is this a man's film? Very, very, very much so. And there is no BS in the wilderness, so we see Glass pondering what is real, what is real about God, what is real about religion. His manly heart tells him what is true.

--"I ain't afraid to die any more. I done that already."

--"In a storm when you look at the branches of the tree, you're certain it will fall. But if you look at the trunk, you'll see the stability."

--"If you can take just grab another breath, you can live."

--This film could also have been called "Breath."

--LOTS of women and First Nations people worked on this film. (Women always excel at: casting, costumes, makeup, but this film has women in many other key positions as well.)

--Please see the COMMENTS section regarding the improbability factors. :)

--"The Revenant" is a real film.