November 18, 2017


This is one of the most important things you may ever watch.

Young people aren't just rejecting belief in God, they aren't religious OR spiritual.
NOT THEIR FAULT. It's the culture they've grown up in. (I need to blog about this--there's so much more to it!)

In a nutshell, the media devices they've grown up with in their hands are not just an ever-present appendage. The device IS God. It is a world of seemingly unlimited personal choices and wish fulfillment. 

The media device is a PERSON. A trusted FRIEND/BUDDY who serves me night and day and is always there for me, doing so many good things for me, never failing me--unlike the adults (and even my peers) in my life. It's the last person I see before going to bed, the first person I see in the morning. Parents should not a allow this to be the case. All family members' media devices should be charging in parents' bedroom at night.

The book Bishop Barron is quoting names 3 reasons why young people are turning from God, religion and spirituality:

1. The seemingly unlimited world of subjective personal choices media devices offer. (In a postmodern/relativistic/deconstructionist/nihilist world there is no objective truth to guide us.)
2. The absolute belief that science and God are incompatible.
3. Judaeo-Christian teaching on the human person/identity/sexuality.

"Professor Jean Twenge’s book iGen about the generation born between 1995 and 2012 is one of the most fascinating—and depressing—texts I’ve read in the past decade. Her chapter on religious attitudes and behaviors among iGen’ers unambiguously indicates what is leading this most unreligious generation in our history away from the churches." --Bishop Barron

Sr. Helena also highly recommends sociologist Christian Smith's culminatory* book (after decades of studying young people and religion in the USA): Young Catholic America: In, Out and Gone from the Church.

And just in case you think things are just like the 60's, 70's or 80's where "Oh, they come back once they get married and have kids": Millennials aren't coming back. It's a completely different philosophical world they're living in. They're in a completely different head space. They are not younger versions of ourselves. Once again: NOT THEIR FAULT. Western Civilization ran out of gas some time ago--we've been living on fumes and we just ran out of fumes.


Sr. Helena's answer: PHILOSOPHY, MEDIA LITERACY and THEOLOGY OF THE BODY. Then: strengthen marriages and families.

born 1945-1963 = Baby Boomers
born 1964-1981 = Gen X
born 1982-2000 = Millennials/Gen Y
born 2001-2015 = iGen/GenZ

born 2016-____ = ?????? (GenREBOOT?)

*new word

November 17, 2017



I’m often asked how I go about reviewing a film. It’s actually quite a complex, intangible, internal, interdisciplinary process--but there is a method to my madness.

Uber-movie-reviewer Pauline Kael (film critic for “The New Yorker,” 1968-1991) put it this way: “Film criticism is exciting just because there is no formula to apply, just because you must use everything you are and everything you know.” She believed that movies are “the most total and encompassing art form we have.”

The Founder of the Daughters of St. Paul, Blessed James Alberione, said: "The motion picture has a psychological, one could say, a suggestive, power over the human spirit, because it takes hold of the whole person and influences all his faculties, physical and spiritual.”

In an attempt to explain my process, I’m going to use a recent interview I did:

1. How did you get into film / movie reviewing / screenwriting / producing?

I was stationed in L.A. and my superiors asked me to study communications. They don't study communications out there, they make things! So screenwriting seemed like a good fit because I'm a writer (there’s also actors in my family). UCLA is known for screenwriting (and has a separate program for screenwriting), so I went there. It also taught me how a film is constructed and how the industry works from the inside out. It was actually a heartening experience. I also went to the Christian screenwriting bootcamp called "Act One, Hollywood" month-long intensive program that also connects you to Hollywood mentors and insiders.

2. Has anything you've written been produced?

Not yet! The Father Alberione film will be coming out in early 2013, God willing, I’ve written a hockey screenplay, and a short or two. Lots of ideas in the works. The Daughters of St. Paul have also re-opened our temporarily shuttered video department in Boston.

3. How long have you been reviewing movies for the Catholic New World Archdiocese of Chicago's Catholic newspaper?

About three years now. It's been a privilege, it keeps me up to date and dialoging with others about films....

4. How do you pick the films to review?

Between myself and the editor, Joyce Duriga, we try to choose something that's going to be very popular that a lot of people will see, try to highlight a great film, or give guidance on a film that is controversial or has serious negative overtones of whatever kind....

5. What is your criteria for reviewing films?

FIRST of all: excellence in filmmaking. [This would be a whole interview in itself!] Every media, every art form has its own "language," so I ask: Is this film following the rules of filmmaking and utilizing the language properly and well? What are the aesthetic values and ethics?

SECONDLY, the overall experience of the film. Is it coming from a good place? Is it telling the truth (even if illuminating the truth by contrast)? Is good presented as good and evil as evil? (Isaiah 5:20). And even if evil is presented as evil, is it GRATUITOUS with simply a nice little moral wrap-up at the end? Is the point rather that we experience and enjoy the "evil" in this film?

THIRDLY, how does it jive with a Judaeo-Christian, incarnational, sacramental worldview

I especially like to use JP2G's Theology of the Body as a lens because we're looking at bodies, at images of God on the screen, and very often there's a love story component. No matter what the subject matter, is human dignity upheld as THE value? I also use "God's Five F's of True Love": fundamental, free, full, faithful, fruitful.

I don't enjoy slamming films, but I will call a spade a spade. Oh, and I also sleep on it. Films can look very different the next day. AND they can EVAPORATE! If a film is still with me and haunting me a month later--in a good way--it often means it's good, rich film (or on the flipside a sick, disturbing or absurdist film that the poor little brain is trying to figure it out).

I don't try to "baptize" everything. If the film has an overall negative message or is objectionable in the main, I don't "bless" it because it had one good scene or one good point. As I review films, I try to use my review as a teachable moment, a catechetical moment. Whether or not people are actually going to see the film or not, they will learn something, receive some guidance/formation, be able to guide/form others who HAVE seen the film, etc.

What must always be kept in mind with ART is that much of the ETHICS are AESTHETICAL. It's not just that the film dealt with sex, for example, so it's automatically "bad" and no one should go see it.. HOW did they deal with it? WHAT did they show? HOW? HOW MUCH? WHAT did characters SAY? How did they ACT/REACT? What AGE might it be appropriate/inappropriate for? This makes all the difference. Especially in a hyper-sexualized culture, a film can come along that deals frankly with sex, but can straighten people's thinking out and help them have a MORE correct outlook on sex, for example. It may not be a perfect film, but it can be a bright spot amongst many, many depraved films. See these two reviews of mine:

I adhere 100% to ALL the teachings of the one, holy, Roman, Catholic, apostolic Church. I use my/the Catholic Faith to critique every film I see. I do not approve of what the Church does not approve of. Hollywood is not "Catholic," but I will cheer them on when they're on the right track AND boo them when they're not.

6. How should the average Catholic moviegoer approach a film?

Since the average moviegoer may not have had film studies, which certainly do help, and because we all have our own subjective opinions, likes and dislikes, sensibilities, etc., we should do a little homework first if possible: read some reviews, ask friends, kind of know what you're going to see ahead of time. Then take the film as a whole--don't just parse out a swear word here or there. (Was it the NYPD swearing? Well, that's realistic.) Is the whole thing coming from a good place? What's the takeaway?

Films aren't supposed to send you a "message," they're supposed to give you an experience of someone else's life. An experience of something you might not otherwise be able to access, and by going through that experience you should learn something about others, the world, yourself. You should be enriched on some level. I really think if people knew a few basics of filmmaking however, they wouldn't get so confused, not so much about bad movies but about good movies! For example, “Juno.” A lot of parents saw this movie and still couldn’t determine whether or not it was “good,” “OK” to let pre-teens/teens see. Another example: "Tree of Life." A lot of Catholics called this movie "New Age" and it's the furthest thing from New Age. Michael Phillips (the Chicago Tribune movie reviewer) called it "the most explicitly Christian film since 'The Passion of the Christ,'" and yet so many Catholics totally missed this. Why? Because they missed the opening scene (one of the most important scenes in any film. It tells you what the whole movie is about. It sums up the whole movie.). And what was it? A quote from Job, from the Bible. A very provocative quote where God is questioning all of us through Job: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" This means that the whole movie is going to be from a Judaeo-Christian perspective, and when you see nature scenes it's in the context of the God of the Bible's Creation. Period.

All the secular movie reviewers embraced this film. Ebert called it "a prayer." Why? They knew it was explicitly religious (religious, not “spiritual but not religious”), but it didn't offend them because it was a masterpiece of art and it didn't preach at them. It rang true. Just the way Michaelangelo and Raphael don't offend non-believers, and yet their art pulls no punches about the divinity of Christ or the truth about God's reality. And how many have been converted through great art? The director of “Tree of Life,” Terence Malick has done more for the New Evangelization with "Tree of Life" than any Church operative could dream of. It’s one of the Oscars’ mortal sins (that will go down in history) that it was nominated for several awards and didn’t win any.

7. Do you have any advice for parents regarding children and movies?

Again, do your homework as best as you can. Blessed James Alberione said about film and children that the work really is on the parents (and teachers) to: “1) choose which films 2) apportion, allot how much time the child will be allowed to spend with various media 3) accompany children to films 4) correct any false impressions they may have picked up.” This is actually good advice for any kind of media!

Parents know their own kids and what each one's sensibilities are. The most important thing is to talk about the film before (not during!) and after. "Control is for the moment, communication is for a lifetime." Two examples: "Harry Potter"--de-fang it by reading/watching with your kids and then teaching them: "Witchcraft is real, it's not make-believe. And we never use it, not even for ‘the good.’ You can't to evil that good may result." It's a teachable moment! "Super 8"--one of the kids takes the name of the Lord in vain ("God," "Jesus" and swears a lot). It's the only thing wrong with an otherwise great film. Watch with your kids and tell them: "Whenever you hear the name of God in vain, say: May He always be praised!"

We need to teach our kids media skills just like we teach them all other kinds of skills. Staying away from all films or only seeing the squeakiest-clean of films (depending on their age) doesn't teach them skills because when they eventually do happen to see these types of films they are not prepared, and teaching them these life-skills using "Harry Potter," and "Super 8" are things they will bring with them out of the theater and apply in real life. Hollywood gives us the opportunity to talk about things we need to talk about with kids! Don't make Hollywood spend their money (our yours) in vain!

We need to empower young people through Media Literacy Education combined with our Catholic Faith. We are the light of the world! We're not passive victims of the media! We are children of God and we're supposed to transform everything we come in contact with, not vice versa. St. Paul said: "You will be judging nations," and we're afraid of a movie? We don't know what to do with or say about a movie? is an amazing, legal service that lets you watch mainstream films that have been purged of scenes of nudity, violence and language. Families with little ones (or a whole range of ages) swear by it!

8. What do you think of the MPAA rating system? (G, PG, PG-13, R, etc.)

I think it's somewhat helpful, especially now that they’re putting under the rating exactly why. However, some PG-13's these days really should be "R": "Date Night," "Dinner for Schmucks" (a truly insulting and degrading film which got a Razzie) "Easy A” (horrific and tragic), "Crazy, Stupid, Love," (incredibly tragic and irresponsible) "The Switch" and "Back-Up Plan" (Hello! Extremely mature themes throughout?) And unfortunately, movies like "Conviction" got an "R," simply because the "F" word (on the lips of prisoners) used 4 or 5 times is an automatic "R."

9. What are some of your top movies recently?

2011 was the Year of the "God" film: “Of Gods and Men,” "Soul Surfer," "Courageous," and "Tree of Life,” “The Way.”

10. What are your favorite movies of all times?

“Tree of Life,” “Man for All Seasons,” “The Mission,” “Blade Runner” (director's cut), “What About Bob”

11. How important is film and what should the Catholic Church be doing in the world of film?

About the general state of film, we might say that "the good is getting better and the bad is getting worse." Good: "Diary of a Wimpy Kid #1," "Despicable Me," "Gran Torino," "Surrogates," etc. I mentioned some of the sadder films above (also: “Back Up Plan,” “No Strings Attached,” “Friends with Benefits”). I get depressed for days after watching these films. Once you know Theology of the Body, you see the great human tragedy of what these films are portraying and how they are either calling evil good or making peace with evil (but these ways of life will never bring peace or true love.)

Film is more important than it has ever been because we are becoming a post-literate society. Everything is going visual, everything is a video, a YouTube now. People are too frazzled and have short-term attention spans to quietly read, and you can't multi-task when you read. The brain chooses what is more stimulating. So films--in their many new and easy ways of being distributed--are everywhere. We can watch them on our phones, stream them, watch on a computer, etc. Stories are now visual. Visual storytelling is where it's at. Films are the new books that unite us—the shared cultural experience carrier. Only a few films at a time are in the cinemas, and everyone eventually sees them. (Whereas other forms of media are so niche, they are no longer a shared cultural experience.) Films even unite age groups.

The Catholic Church needs to be highlighting and giving awards to good films (and it is—the Angelus Awards, Goodness Reigns, Humanitas Prize, Angel Awards, New Ethos, Dove), reviewing and discussing all films (from a cultural, artistic, informed POV, not just moralistic--there are many more levels to a film). And, most of all the Catholic Church should be supporting talented Catholic (and other) filmmakers. I personally think we should be especially supporting our young filmmakers who can reach their own generation (like Spirit Juice Studios—see:  )

Filmmaking is very costly, and the Church needs to get very serious about being the patron of the arts again and giving commissions and supporting our young Leonardo da Vinci’s and Mary Cassatt’s of film. Our Founder--a media saint--was all about the best possible presentation. Creating media in a quality way that people are used to: media that are "worthy in form of the truths which they contain." Young people especially will not give you a look/listen unless the medium of your message is top quality.

(End of “interview.”)

People often ask me how they (or I, with my vow of chastity) can keep “pure” while watching romantic movies or steamy scenes in movies.

#1. “Know Thyself.” Know what is an occasion of sin for you in particular, and avoid those kind of movies or look away at the “steamy” parts or parts that are particularly troublesome for you. Everyone has different sensibilities and thresholds. But we have to have a well-informed, well-formed, delicate (not scrupulous or lax) conscience and be very, very honest with ourselves. If we are not honest with ourselves, we are going to have a very hard time doing the right thing in any area of our life and progressing on the way of holiness.

#2. Much of visual media is voyeuristic--it’s just the nature of the beast, and depending on the intentions of the filmmakers and the cinematography, we will be either MORE or LESS put in the position of the voyeur. Even if not sexual in nature, we may be pulled in close to a very realistic portrayal of something else generally personal or private (e.g., suffering, pain, embarrassment, relationships, conversations, failure, etc.)

Again, know yourself, but also watch the movements of your mind and heart. Am I gloating over something evil? Siding with the bad guy? Getting some kind of twisted pleasure from another’s misfortune? Enjoying something lewd and crude? Lowering my personal standards and morals with each crass movie I see? Always humanize the characters on the screen in your mind and feel toward them as you should feel toward real people. All media is virtual reality, and virtual reality is real: “real in its appearance and real in its effects.”

#3. Viewing a film is supposed to be an exercise where we put ourselves in the position of the characters (especially the main character) and vicariously go through an experience with them. However, if this experience is going to cause us to sin now or later, we need to shut down physically and emotionally for a time, look away, walk out of the theater, fast forward, shut off the device we’re watching the film on, etc. For example, as with “The Vow,” I don’t gaze into Channing Tatum’s eyes for long stints with Rachel McAdams, or ogle his ripped pecs every time he takes his shirt off (which is quite often). It kinda hasta do with human dignity, too. Tatum is getting paid to sell emotions, to tantalize, to provoke reactions, to be looked at. He is very willing to do this. But is it fully in keeping with his human dignity for millions of female strangers to stare at his body and perhaps even lust after him? Just because he’s willing and getting paid and I ostensibly paid to see him, does that mean I get to just glue my eyes to his body? No. Repecting human dignity means affording people their dignity even when they themselves don’t care about it. And this must also be a tough call for actors when it seems appropriate to the part, or just part of the job, or they feel very comfortable in their own skin, etc.

#4. Pray. Media is spiritual, powerful, influential, ubiquitous. Pray for enlightenment, strength, wisdom, discernment and for ill effects not to harm you as you use media. Ask God to let you see only things that will help you or help you help others (even if some might be somewhat unsavory), and to know how to turn them around for your good and the good of others. Ask to be the fragrance of Christ in a media world. Pray to engage the media and other media creators/users with the Gospel. Pray for the honesty to use media in the best way possible, to not waste time, to not sin in your use of media. Go to Confession when you use media improperly: specifically to sin, to waste time, to escape from real duties or people, (and some of the uses mentioned above), etc.

But, most of all, enjoy films, encourage today’s and future filmmakers, and praise God for this incredible form of story-telling!

“Everything is ours and we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.” 1 Corinthians 3:22

The following prayer, in reparation for evil media and in petition for the increase of good media, was written by Blessed Father James Alberione, SSP, himself a filmmaker. (Prayercards available.)




Season 1 -- Here's a series for (almost) the whole family. Pre-teens could definitely handle it. Old fashioned, skin-tingling, mysterious fun, reminiscent of 1980's filmmaking, it's also set in the 1980's. "Stranger Things" isn't perfect, but it's got a lot of good stuff. Four do-or-die friends (pre-teen boys) in the town of Hawkins, Indiana, play a game of Dungeons and Dragons (uh-oh, problematic in itself) that comes to life, or rather serendipitously coincides with a top-secret government experiment going on in their neighborhood. It's a bit of sci-fi meets supernatural thriller meets buddy movie meets John Hughes. "Eleven" is young girl who's been raised as an experiment in the government lab in the little town--an experiment that gives her superpowers.

The kids are the real stars of the show, of course. Solid child actors who must be having barrels of fun.

The series starts off with a lot of bad language, taking the name of the Lord in vain: "Jesus!"--especially awful when kids say it. (You can teach your kids to respond aloud: "May He always be praised!" whenever they hear the name of the Lord taken in vain anywhere: in media or real life), a teen sexual encounter (that goes awry), massively dysfunctional family dynamics (except for the fierce motherlove of Joyce, played by an Emmy-deserving Winona Ryder) including one useless and one abandoning father (but there are other good male role models). The grizzly bear of a town sheriff is a dissolute ex-boyfriend of Joyce, but for all his gruffness, he is fearless and will do whatever it takes to help and save his townspeople. Sean Astin plays Joyce's new flame, a braniac and a good all-around chump.

So why am I recommending this? There are amazing portrayals of keeping promises, friendship, sacrifice, and in the end, all kinds of people stepping up the plate to love and do the right thing. The adults work together, the teens work together and the kids work together--and then all ages groups work together together. Families are reunited.

As always, family viewing and discussions with your kids about the media they watch will be in order here.

Season 2 -- A LOT more PROFANITY and more COLORFUL profanity on the lips of everyone (including even more taking of the name of the Lord in vain) by young and old. Lots of SCREAMING at and MANHANDLING of children. Some VERY INTENSE scenes and lots of VIOLENCE. One teen sexual encounter and teen drinking facilitated by an adult set in a happy-go-lucky light. "Stranger Things" went from PG to PG-13 in the second season. Why Oh Why???

Hokey sets and futuristic machines (a la the original "Star Trek") keep up the campy feel. A new red-headed girl is allowed to sort of join the squad. The only reason they like her is because she's like a boy (pinball wizard and likes to skateboard). Although that's typical of the boys' age, it still sends a message to the girls watching that the only way to be validated in this world is to be like a man. Oh, and probably be good at STEM. "Eleven" also is very "tomboyish."

One of the boys gets sad "girl advice" from an older teen: basically to never fall in love with girls (just enjoy them) because they'll break your heart. (Oh, and pretend you don't care and aren't interested and they'll come flocking.) Some of this gets corrected and resolved in a good way by the ending.

The "Upside Down" (not to be confused with Australia) is interesting. It's this creepy dark, blue-lit place where large white flakes float in the air in slow-motion. To enlarge the concept: it's almost like Purgatory or somewhere where no one ever really dies, they're just suspended, waiting for rescue--but on the concrete level, it's also just part of the government experiment.

"Eleven" is desperate to find her "Mama" and "Papa." The deep ties of family are all over ST.

One of the boys undergoes a truly harrowing kind of possession by the "Shadow Monster"--a self-replicating mutant that's taking over the town of Hawkins from tunnels below.

"Eleven" discovers her name is really Jane and is enlisted to revenge-kill (with her special powers, summoning up her anger) "the bad men"--the government agents who raised her and experimented on her and others. Revenge is offered as "healing." She goes full-on hoodlum vigilante...with a good, redeeming twist.

Horrible family dynamics of a blended family.

"Stranger Things" could have been a scary thriller, "dark" and "realistic," but still kid friendly--but it's really not. It constantly goes just a little too far every time (definitely in Season 2). Perhaps it's a reflection of the coarsening of society in general.

If a family chooses to watch "Stranger Things" together (I would suggest not allowing kids under 12 to watch), it will require a good Theology of the Body and Media Literacy conversation.

In the end, darkness is dispelled, but an opening is left for ST3.

November 5, 2017



Tom Cruise is looking good in "American Made," a zany, hard-to-place-the-tone, slice-of-history flick. Tom is either getting Botox injections or drinking embalming fluid. He looks as young as his twentysomething film wife (Sarah Wright).

"American Made" is the riotous true story of Barry Seal, a former TWA pilot (with a wild streak) recruited by the CIA in the 1980's to fight communism in Central America by: getting mixed up with the Colombian drug cartel and flying drugs, guns and "freedom fighters" back and forth to the USA. There's a lot to be explained and unpacked here--many untold stories within this highly entertaining historical re-enactment. I lived this entire era and was able to follow the exposition, but I'm not sure younger folks will be able to piece it all together.

The film blasts out of the hangar with jerky, frenetic, raucous scenes (many of which are airborne) accompanied by a jubilant, kick-posterior, Vietnam-War-era instrumental rock soundtrack. The anachronistic soundtrack must be done with a purpose: some of the other CIA-recruited pilots in the film were Vietnam War pilots. Pretty much the entire film proceeds in a consistently slap happy manner. The scenes are short, don't say much, don't moralize. But that's also a reflection of our amoral pilot who is raking in literal suitcases full of cash and living high off the hog with nary a twinge of regret.

The always-fine Domhnall Gleeson plays a Machiavellian CIA agent who is Barry's handler, even though he has no worthy dramatic moments or juicy lines to deliver. Cruise gives a superficial, wide-eyed cowboy performance throughout, even when a little more was called for. But let's not forget, this was the fast, prosperous, no holds barred, roaring 80's.

Director Doug Liman ("Bourne Identity," "Edge of Tomorrow") is known for his action movies. The writer, Gary Spinelli, has a few films under this belt as well. But why was this film made? It's not obvious. Any Hollywood film set in the 80's takes its requisite jabs at Reagan (always referencing the goofy movies of his film career), and "American Made" is no exception. Is this an indictment of Republicans now that we have a Republican President again? A vilifying of U.S. foreign policy in general? Are we meant to be swept up in the glamour of a life of "legal crime"? Or is the point that "crime never pays"? Are we meant to linger on the ending: that no one is really above the law...not even if you're above the DEA, FBI and state police? Is it rather that there is honor among thieves? That justice and a reckoning will come from some quarter eventually? Is the point for the U.S. to examine our conscience today? Is this an information/teaching film? Or just an irresistible story that had to be told, a joyride? Is it Barry who is "American Made"?

I was miffed by the glib handling of the great tragedy that was Central America in the latter half of the 20th century. Was the almost jocose nature of the film adopted because Americans will only learn their past if its edutainment? I remember The School of the Americas where the U.S. trained dictators, torturers and assassins. I have friends from Nicaragua who lived horrors. I remember the slaughters. I remember the Catholic El Salvadorian martyrs. The Sandinistas, liberation theology, the Iran-Contra affair, the cocaine-fueled gang wars in our inner cities. For me, it was all a very sad remembrance.

I would be interested to know if younger folks unfamiliar with these times could actually glean a coherent historical narrative from "American Made."

Highly recommended viewing: "Romero" by Paulist Productions, starring the great Raul Julia, for a much more sober account.

And for a more accurate view of the Colombian drug cartel (which initiated what was practically a civil war in Colombia--e.g., 450 police officers were murdered, 1,000 injured, not to mention civilian casualties), watch the riveting documentary "The Two Escobars." If you're a soccer fan, you'll also witness some incredible games (the "other" Escobar was Andres Escobar, the captain of Colombia's national soccer team in the 1980's).

October 26, 2017

September 13, 2017


The film "Novitiate"--which just premiered at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival)--is a piece of inauthentic TRASH. I'm sooooo disapppointed because the above trailer looked sooooo promising. Too bad the trailer doesn't show us what the film is really about.

Why was I looking forward to "Novitiate"? I love Melissa Leo's fine acting (Mother Superior), and the trailer suggests that the film is going to explore what happened to religious life when the upheavals of the so-called "spirit of Vatican II" hit the fan, does it not? Religious life boasts a venerable tradition that just won't quit, and can be a kind of impenetrable subculture. So, what transpired to garner such radical changes in the Sisterhood--particularly in North America--almost overnight in the 1960's and 70's? What caused the exodus of 33,000 U.S. women religious from their vows and congregations during these turbulent times? This film, evidently, is not actually interested in that, and so the story still remains to be told. What do I mean by "evidently"? I did not see the film myself (I planned to, but was out of town). Instead, a movie-maven friend, Theodora, saw it and was horrified. (Theodora and I call ourselves "The Empresses of Film." Get it? Theodora and Helena?)

Probably the saddest thing about "Novitiate" is not the missed opportunity, but the fact that PEOPLE BELIEVE WHAT THEY SEE IN MOVIES and are going to think "this is what it's like" in the convent. On the heels of the clergy sex abuse scandal, why wouldn't they? Take it from an insider (moi): No, it's not. And it wasn't like that back in the day, either.

Here's what Theodora reports:

I cannot stress enough how awful this film was. Just a steaming pile of unredeemable garbage
The laziest example of filmmaking ever. Made no sense.
Not one positive thing about it. They didn't even get the look of the 60s right. Priests vestments were of a later period. Just distractingly terrible.
You should not watch it! It will be time you can never retrieve. The girls all spoke with California voice fry... I wanted to stab my ears with an ice pick. Sexy girls, two scenes of masturbating, they were like totally in love with Jesus, praying to the sanctuary lamp (the light of christ) no tabernacle in sight, one girl wasn't even catholic but still accepted into the convent cause she was totally in love with jesus, shots of naked sexy nuns, comforting themselves by making out...
It was a horror show!
The director/writer spoke about how she wasn't religious but spiritual. She was inspired by reading the bio of mother teresa, never heard of the church before, and was intrigued that this woman was so passionate and in love with her husband Jesus. So she looked up other bios of nuns on Amazon (i kid you not this was her research...i wish i videoed the interview) and she saw in all the synopsis that there was mention of vatican 2 and novitiate....
So she decided to pick one at random and read it... Read a lot of books. No mention of actually consulting living nuns or ex-nuns
I had my hand up the whole time straining to ask a question ... Wasn't picked

I love controversial films and this film was banal and plain stupid.... So many things were irritatingly terribly lazy. For instance, I'm livid about this one, the nun teacher when the protagonist is a little girl writes in TERRIBLE cursive on the black board. No way in heck would a teacher let alone a nun in the 50s get away with such cursive.

Get the warning out there!! It was horrible. Just horrible.

August 1, 2017


How can spouses grow in faith together?
Prayers, tips & stories, daily challenges.

It's so hard to find books that help couples pray together, right? This book is simple, realistic,
and best of all, weaves in some of John Paul II's "Theology of the Body."

Also great for anniversaries or just because.

July 28, 2017


This much-dissed movie is actually quite good. At first. The ending is not just improbable, it's impossible and laughable and as fantastically utopian as the utopia it sets out to fix. In fact, the movie actually portrays the manipulating, stats-driven, groupthinking, world-swallowing monolith that is "The Circle" as basically good. It just needs a little tweaking. Despite its incomplete third act and abrupt, premature, weak ending, you should still totally see this film for its thought-provokingness.

Mae (Emma Watson) is a new hire at her dream job, a Facebook-like social media company called "The Circle," which is run like a benign cult. The Circle and its corporate culture is not far-fetched at all. Its philosophy and goals are familiar to us: world domination through data collection and encroachment into every aspect of our lives (that we willingly sign up for 'cause it's free and we're wired to be social and dread being left behind), "Big Tech Knows What's Best For You," "Big Tech Knows What You Want Before You Do," etc. It's a sunny, smiling, uber-social (not anti-social) dystopia. What values are highly prized at The Circle for employees and users alike? Total 24/7 connectivity, total transparency. What's demonized? Privacy. A tiny spy-type camera--invented by the Circle's genius leader, Eamon (Tom Hanks)--is affixed everywhere: not just around the company, but is being planted in public places near The Circle's headquarters.


Mae becomes a guinea pig for a completely open life where the world can follow every minute of her day (bathrooms are off limits) as she chats to her followers into the open air (the cameras also have mics). We've seen this kind of thing before in film, starting with "The Trueman Show," but this is the next level. The comments that people leave on her feed from all over the world are so typical and telling and run the gamut from trolls to stalkers to sages to fans to attention-seekers to idolizers to socmed addicts. I would love to just freeze frame all the comments and re-read them. 

What's super scary is the realistic portrayal of how our young people today (devoid of being taught critical thinking) just fall for slogans and truly detrimental "sea changes" in human thinking/philosopy/ethos without even noticing a gross lack of logic, echoes of totalitarian systems past, or any other dangers. (The Circle is mostly made up of twentysomethings.) Our young people today are being led, Zvengali-like, to rally en masse behind any carefully machinated, framed, articulated cause--as long as it "sounds good" on the surface. They have no idea that these are PLANNED upheavals. They honestly believe they are springing up organically and are societal improvements (also because "evolution" is always on an upward swing and human beings are becoming more "enlightened" all the time--the myth of progress). What a crying, crying need we have to teach them just two subjects: philosophy and history!


"The Circle" just made me painfully aware (every so often I forget) of our ALREADY hellish use of media/communications/tech: incessantly, ubiquitously, distractedly, invasively and cacophonously. I shudder to think of the next phase (VR? augmented reality? embedded chips?) when ALREADY: WE CAN'T GO ON LIKE THIS. WE HAVE ALREADY SACRIFICED SO MUCH OF OUR HUMANITY. WE NEED TO REFLECT, RETURN, RESIST, REVOLT, REBEL AND USE MEDIA WELL, INTENTIONALLY AND HUMANLY, WHICH MEANS--FOR STARTERS--NOT USING IT 24/7.

Scariest of all is how the young people in "The Circle" fall into the current fad of turning everything into a "basic human right." In this case, everyone should have the RIGHT to access everyone else's experiences! (Me: Why not take that one step further: how about access to everyone's thoughts--when we have that ability?) As dear Msgr. William Smith of NYC used to say: "If they're handing out new human rights? Don't get in that line! It won't be good! We have all the rights we need in the Bill of Rights!"

It's all done in the name of a Grand Scheme for the Betterment of Humanity: better health through metrics, easy participation in politics, fighting crime, staying safe, etc., even if that means implanting chips in your children so you can keep track of them at all times.

"The Circle" could easily have been an episode of "Black Mirror," except "Black Mirror" doesn't have happy endings.

July 23, 2017


I always forget that "GOT" is "Game of Thrones." When I saw this ad on the back of "Entertainment Weekly,"
I drew a blank. What did it mean? Add an "A" and you have GOAT (devil?). Change "T" to "D" and you have GOD.
Add "DO" and you have "GODOT." Yes, that's how my mind works.

Q: I was asked recently: "Should a Christian watch 'Game of Thrones'"?


I would just like to say that I watched a few episodes of GoT and was utterly, utterly horrified by the violence. Exploding human heads? There was a time when the camera (on TV or film--except for campy horror films) would look away when someone got shot or hurt. That final moment was not depicted, only its prelude and aftermath. (See also "13 Reasons Why" where the camera shows a full-on "perfect, poetic suicide" and never, ever looks away.) In the past, even horror films that weren't campy and strove to shock, just didn't have the realistic prosthetics, FX and ultraHD that we have today. All the more need to be delicate, discerning and discreet.

The egregious, graphic desecration of the human body--the sacred image of God--in visual storytelling today is becoming the norm.

Here's an acronym for you: TOB. "Theology of the Body--it isn't just about sex."


For quite some time now, I have been convinced that Hollywood's* deep, deep skepticism and profound cynicism about human goodness, human potential and ability to love is really deconstructionism. When did this start? Perhaps sometime after World War II--when many say postmodernism really took hold. Definitely by the 60's, and firmly by the 90's. Hollywood likes to tell stories like this: "See that happy, shiny family? They're not happy at all! Anything that appears good and harmonious is actually seething with deep, dark, depraved secrets that we are about to expose to you! We reveal--not just for the sake of entertainment--this is how the world really is!" 

What is deconstructionism? In a nutshell:

"You see this watch that you think is so great? [takes watch apart and leaves its guts on the table] It's not great at all! Why, it doesn't even work!"

"You see this text or work of art that you think is pregnant with meaning? It isn't! It means da da da. Because I just said 'da da da.'"

"Goodfellas" is the most chilling horror film I have ever seen. Everyday people, neighborhood friends will slaughter each other at the slightest provocation over wiseguy, petty crime posturing.

A plethora of "CSI"-style police and crime TV shows--now in endless syndication--serve up mangled body after mangled body that has suffered every kind of indignity, alive and/or dead.

It's all a kind of banal blasphemy.
*I'm using "Hollywood" in its broadest meaning here: mainstream visual storytelling. And of course, not all of it is deconstructionist. But it's amazing how popular the deconstructionist pieces become: "Breaking Bad," "Gone Girl," "Dexter," "Bloodline," "How To Get Away With Murder," "Game of Thrones," "House of Cards," "Ozark," etc. These stories are not just stories of power and betrayal and murder, they are of a particular ilk, with a particular anthropology: Man is thoroughly corrupt. All is "red in tooth and claw," so we might as well enjoy it, glean some entertainment from it. And deconstructionism doesn't have to be all brooding mayhem. Even comedies that have given up on humanity can say bascially the same thing--with a smile.


Human beings are not "thoroughly corrupt." We have been seriously wounded after the Fall, but we are still "good" as God made us, because we are not more powerful than God to change that. Our minds have been darkened--it's harder to know the truth. Our wills have been weakened--it's harder to do the good. Our heart/passions have become unruly--it's harder to practice self-control. Human beings are capable of great evil and great good.

Christian worldview(s) in a nutshell:

"See that happy, shiny family? Well, they've got some struggles that you don't see, but they're working at it. And they may not know this, but their reality is even deeper and more beautiful than they realize. Their attempts to love and keep at it will bear fruit here and in eternity. In fact, every human being is a precious image of God. But husband and wife? They are even more in the image of God as a mirror of the love between Christ and the Church."

"See that happy, shiny family? Well, they're really not. There are some awful things going on that you don't see. Husband and wife brought their woundedness and sinfulness together and don't know how to heal, so they're hurting each other and their kids. Things could go better for them if they get help and make better choices."

"See that happy, shiny family? They actually are."

"You see this watch that you think is so great? Let's see if it is. Hmmm. [takes it apart, sees how it works, puts it back together] You're right, this watch is pretty great!"

"You see this text or work of art that you think is pregnant with meaning? It is! The author/artist had certain intentions (even if they say they didn't), but certainly you will bring your own imagination and life experience to it also and it will become all the richer."


The first stage of "the mainstreaming of porn" began with the now-debunked criminal-charlatan-deviant, Alfred Kinsey (who inspired Hugh Hefner). The second stage (moving porn/film) began around the time of cable, with the relaxing of laws and regulations, with porn stars writing books and going on talk shows, and then it exploded with the internet, and was rather complete with the untethered internet on personal devices. Who could escape? Porn was now ubiquitous, anonymous, accessible, affordable (often free) and, most tragic of all, accepted. Perhaps 90% of people who use porn today, would never have, pre-cable and pre-internet. They would never have acquired porn mags or gone to adult bookstores or seedy theaters (virtually the only places to find porn before cable/internet times).

But the third stage of the mainstreaming of porn is the embedding of porn in all media. But I'm afraid the third stage finds us asleep--a sleep unto spiritual death. Because porn use is so prevalent (by old, young, male, female), we think nothing of, or rather, we don't even notice "a little" porn mixed in here and there in a mainstream film, TV show, video, ad. Porn is referenced everywhere (even if not shown). It's not shocking any more. There is no moral outrage. There is wholesale denial about porn's addictive nature and the many victims it leaves in its wake. There is no care to porn-proof children. Fathers joke with young sons about it. (I have heard many, many sorrowful real-life anecdotes--let alone screen portrayals--about porn use in families being no big deal.) Gen-Xers forget that Playboy magazine photo stills (harmful as they are) are a far cry from starting to watch hardcore, perverse, violent, moving film-porn when you're a little kid (and what that does to a developing brain).

What to do? If you use, stop. If you can't stop, get help. Educate yourself about porn. We have all the brain science. The bad news? Porn rewires your brain. The good news? You can re-rewire it, but it'll be the hardest fight of your life, but the most worthy fight you've ever fought. Let's rout porn back to the fringe. Or better, back to the abyss. Let's say "no" to our fav shows that sneak porn in. Future generations are depending on us. (& Recovery) includes resources for parents

"We can't protect people, but we can make them strong." --Dr. Jordan B. Peterson


--"Did you ever notice in GoT how the women are strong and the men are weak?" --Scott Adams, creator of "Dilbert"

--"GoT vindicates our view of the world as a hostile place where reason has no reward and relationships are meaningless." "Epic thinking facilitates our disregard of fellow humans."

--"If You're Watching 'Game of Thrones' You're Watching Porn"

--"Hollywood, 'Art,' Sex, Violence & Your Kids" (includes some stats about "Game of Thrones")

--"If It Quacks Like a Duck, It's Porn" (lengthy article that refutes a defense of GoT as "not porn")

--Here's Fr. Mike Schmitz talking about the violence of MMA (as entertainment):

part I --

part II -- (law of exposure)

--At the same time, we have nonfictional "Dunkirk" doing great box office. Good people (though not thoroughly good, no one is) fighting bad people (though not thoroughly bad, no one is)--or rather good vs. evil. And good won.

July 14, 2017


So. I am late to the party here with my review of "Wonder Woman." WW is certainly "all that." They found the exact right actress, Gal Gadot (rhymes with "Doll" and "Float"). GG is a generous and warm actress who plays a woman-child-goddess-warrior with aplomb. Being an Israeli, she doesn't have that American vibe, so it makes her all the more mysterious. Her eyes and facial expressions are always unexpected. Her slender, leggy, model physique; oval face and enviable cheekbones are never flaunted: it seems both the thespian herself and the script are too modest for that. Even her costume is modest (slightly less revealing and sexy than Lynda Carter's)--and the muted Americana red, white and blue is stylin'. Also, Gadot was five months pregnant during shooting! She green-screened her belly. What a claim to fame her little daughter is going to have!


I guess you can tell I like this actress. I just saw her in "Criminal" with Kevin Costner, and she's got unique acting smarts. She projects strength, but always with a gentle femininity at the same time--something many women aspire to. The rough-tough-practically-a-man-in-every-way broads are just not my thing. Can't relate. That kind of chick (young--think Disney...and old) is becoming a bit of a lone, one-dimensional stereotype for women. I know very few women like that in my own life, and I don't wanna be one.

Gadot seems like the type of woman you'd want to be friends with in real life (as a fellow woman)--a real gal pal (sorry). But enough about her!


DISCLAIMER: I am not a comic book maven. I am not a superhero fan. I don't quite get all the hype. I only truly like The Batman and Captain America (a little bit). So I'm not even going to dare to critique the movie vis-a-vis the print version, the animated version, any version. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on the mythology. I'm just going to look at WW as any other film, OK?
Diana lives on the all-female-warrior Amazon island of Themyscira. Humans (viz., men) are seen as hopelessly bellicose and have basically been given up on. The Amazon women train for battle in order to defend their island. However, wouldntcha know, a World War I plane (with an American spy--Chris Pine) on board crashes in the ocean near Themyscira. Diana saves the pilot's life. When she learns there's a world war going on, she wants to help save the world, save the millions of people who are suffering and dying. Her mother, the goddess Hippolyta, is reluctant at first, but she knows that Diana has the skills, and even special weapons/skills to kill the god of war, Ares, himself. So there are two wars going on here: the meta-war of what causes war (the "mother of all wars," if you will) and WWI.


The raspy-voiced Gadot is delightful at playing an innocent in a complicated world of human weirdness and deceit. And, as a woman online said, you gotta love a female superhero who love babies (she gets momentarily distracted by an infant at one point). Diana is convinced that if she can kill Ares, the war will stop. Steve Trevor, the American pilot-spy, humors her, and takes her to the Front because he sees she knows how to care of herself. Steve is not a perfect knight in shining armor, but he's basically a good guy who knows right from wrong and is willing to sacrifice his life for the noblest cause of his time.


In one isolated, ghastly and truncated conversation, Steve gives Diana a poor and pathetic description of marriage and it's left at that. Diana: "Men are essential for procreation, but not pleasure." (No kidding, Diana! And women are not essential for men's pleasure either!) They speak coldly of "biological reproduction" and "the pleasures of the flesh." Egads! Theology of the Body to the rescue! The two inseparable purposes of sex=unitive and procreative! Love and life! God is Love and God is Life! Can't separate 'em!

Also, very subtly, it is insinuated that WW & Steve Trevor sleep together. Or as one woman put even more pointedly: "Aaaaaaand Wonder Woman lost her virginity. Just. Like. That."
These little stunts were sooooo unnecessary. But I guess the SexRev has to get its greasy little fingers on everything. So much for the celibate superhero.

Men and women are existentially kept apart. (The all-female island. WW and Steve only come together to hook-up. In the end they are not together. ) A big problem today: men and women "going their own way." At least when we're fighting/arguing, we're together, but our culture has lost words, or chooses not to use them, and so we depart in a kind of silence.


As Diana witnesses the magnitude of the catastrophic battle and the depths of iniquity in men's hearts, she is tempted to destroy humanity herself, but she learns that human beings can be as evil as devils, but they're always capable of good. Diana learns from Steve that only love can save the world (he does not tell her this, rather she intuits it from his actions). Love, not "beauty."

So. This superheroine is truly feminine. It's a truly feminine story of a feminine savior, of the feminine genius. The gender contrast is built into the story because (human) women are not in full combat in WWI. There is no contrast today, only "endless war"? The Women's Movement of the 1960's was conflicted about women becoming militarized because it had aligned itself with the Peace Movement. If women are in full combat, who keeps the peace? Who is the peace for? If there's no difference between men and women (if gender is just a social construct), then why not child soldiers (isn't childhood just a social construct, too)? I get A LOT of flack for saying women shouldn't be in combat (for many, many reasons--there are also studies), but I'm sticking to my guns (pun intended). Women don't start wars--we shouldn't have to fight them. (Women are different psychologically, spiritually, sexually, socially--and the way men are biologically programmed to interact with women is to treat them differently: e.g., protection). Men do not have monthly cycles, men do not get pregnant, men are generally physically stronger than women, etc., etc. This is not inferiority or weakness on the part of women, this is strength! Women's strength! But strength that is not suited for, does not lend itself to combat. Women are also large-scale peacemakers and peacekeepers.

WW also reminded me a bit of "Mad Max: Fury Road" (where the women were protecting the seeds of new life).


There is much food for thought about identity, war, men and women. There are lots of parallels to Christianity. Ares is somewhat of a Satan figure: the son of Zeus, is "envious" that Zeus created men and wants to destroy them (show his father how evil they really are).

The prominence of a woman/women in saving the world draws a huge comparison to "The Woman": the Blessed Virgin Mary. By a certain point in the film, you simply cannot stop thinking of her, and the unique role women play in spiritual warfare (see Genesis  3:15, John 2:4-5 and Revelation 12: the whole chapter). Mary is the ultimate "god" killer and "God" bearer for the salvation of the world. Boomshakalaka.*
*Be it known that my revival of "boomshakalaka" preceded the adorable Blue Ivy's by approximately one year.


--Wonder Woman is NOT the first female superhero:

--Fr. Edward Looney's juxtaposing of Wonder Woman and Our Lady:

--Fan art with Our Lady of Guadalupe attributes:

--I told one of my friends named Diana that she needs to start introducing herself as: "I am Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. In the name of all that is good in this world, I have come to complete my mission!"

--The heavenly cruciform feminine destroys the earthbound evil masculine.

--Christopher West's son's spot-on review:  John Paul West can WRITE.


--James Cameron thinks WW is exploitative, the same-old, same-old male Hollywood stuff (the last few paragraphs):

--From an astute, film-loving friend: "Read/listen to this about Wonder Woman will make you hate Wonder Woman... I can't stand anything Wonder Woman cause it was written by a bigamist, whose mistress was Margaret Sanger's niece. He was a big Sanger fan."

--"See also the movie: 'Professor Marston and the Wonder Women'" (Professor Marston, who created WW, lived with his wife, mistress and children in the same house for many, many years. This new film praises this arrangement and hints at a lesbian relationship between the women as well.