September 23, 2014

MOVIE: "THE SONG"




“The Song” is a new Christian film inspired by “The Songs of Songs” (aka “The Song of Solomon”) in the Bible. It is one of those distinctly southern/country culture films, with the two main characters being Christians themselves.

It’s a story of adultery. A story of career vs. vocation, and spouses who are physically separated growing apart. It reminds me of the Christian film “October Baby,” in that the first half is poor quality and the second half gets real.

It’s a story of love, marriage and the meaning of life.

The first half is barely one-dimensional. We don’t get to know the man (Jed--Alan Powell) and woman (Rose--Ali Faulkner) who get married and whom we are supposed to care about for the rest of the film. But we do get to know them later through their sins, in a sense. However, there is nothing distinctive about this man and this woman. Nothing unique, original. No defects, dreams, quirks, secrets, experiences, events, histories or desires that are not totally generalized as Everyman and Everywoman. The plot has a few surprises, but there remains very little subtext throughout.

The film is interspersed with very effective voiceover of actual passages (recited by the husband) from the Song of Songs interwoven with Ecclesiastes. They are recited with aplomb in a semi-contemplative, poetic way.

This is a man’s film, a man’s perspective, and not only because the main character is male. There are definite shadows of “women are either idealized virgins-brides-wives-mothers or pure temptresses.” No nuance, nothing in between. The writer-director, Richard Ramsey, did not seem to be able to imagine a woman’s inner life too deeply. The two women actresses do fabulously with what he gave them (and Alan Powell is an accomplished actor/musician as well). But the film does illustrate for men WHAT MEN REALLY WANT. I’m sure this film could touch the hearts of many guys.

The film is aptly named, because there is a lot of music throughout. Mumford & Sons style tunes. Whole songs and snatches of songs. When one song ends, another one begins almost immediately. There seems to be more lyrics than dialogue. But, of course, that is also a way to move the story forward and convey sentiment. Since Jed is a performer and lives in a big way through his music, spending much of his time on stage, we are joining him in his element.

The fighting seems to be more real than the loving between Jed and Rose. Perhaps because the romantic scenes were so saccharine while the clashes were so volatile and even mean (irresistible for actors)! And Jed had some “excellent” excuses for his behavior. Rose also had some great reasonings and justifications on her side. The marital difficulties felt so authentic—too bad the chemistry wasn’t also as palpable.

Am I being too critical of this film? I think not. Gotta call ‘em like I see ‘em. Would I recommend a look-see? Yes. I think “The Song” challenges us to fill in our own blanks: What is the authority of Scripture in our lives? What are our ambitions? What are our duties to God and the ones we love? Where will we truly find fulfillment?

OTHER STUFF:

--We were taught in film school that you need to make characters distinct. The more particular you make a character, the more universal they become. There is something in everyone’s specific experiences that others can relate to even if it’s not the exact same circumstances. By trying to create a big, general archetype instead of a real, individual human being, nobody can relate.

--“The temptress” is even dressed like Delilah during one of her seduction sessions. I almost expected an asp to wheedle its way into the frame. The temptress seemed more down-to-earth than the doe-eyed wife who never quite advances from being Daddy’s little girl. In fact, Daddy lives with them, and when Jed is unfaithful to Rose, he has nightmares about Daddy coming after him. It’s like Rose is not fully grown. She is bypassed by the men. She is daughter-turned-conservatorship-wife and Jed is answerable man-to-man to his father-in-law, not his wife. At least at first.

--The camera work is rather unimaginative OR it could simply be low-budget.

--I think there were some plot-point scenes cut out because I could detect their fragments?

--Um, do they not have laws about roughing up women in public in Kentucky? (Jed does it twice.)

--We didn’t need to see Jed’s Dad at the beginning. It was very unclear that we were in the past and who all the characters were. It seems flashbacks might have worked better, or other devices to show Jed’s musical superstar Dad overshadowing Jed.



September 16, 2014

MY BOOK BUCKET CHALLENGE


(In chronological order as to when they influenced me. As much as I love philosophy, no philosophy book--except JP2's--ever changed my life. What is philosophy good for then? It keeps me Catholic.)

1AllTheBooksiReadAsAKid
2FieldGuideToEasternBirds by Roger Tory Peterson
3Bible 4ImitationOfChrist 5AnythingByAlberione 6iBelieveinLove by D'Elbee 7PowerinPraise by Carruthers 8TheologyOftheBody by JP2 9AnythingByJP2 10TheWetEngine by Doyle











September 6, 2014

MOVIES: "THE GIVER"




"The Giver" is yet another young adult dystopian novel turned into a movie, but it actually preceded many of the others. This engaging, perfect-for-our-times narrative by Lois Lowry was published in 1993, and is required reading in many schools. There is controversy surrounding the content, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what the problem is. (I've put a shout out several times on social media and get very weak answers.) I have not read the book (I view, not read), but LOVE the movie on the movie's own merits.

The fact that good people are wishy-washy about this movie is very scary to me. Do we no longer know how to read parables and allegories? Do we no longer grasp basic theological and philosophical principles to make good judgments about literature and the visual arts?

NOT JUST ANOTHER DYSTOPIA

"The Giver" is closely aligned to other science fiction "cautionary tales" of the strain of "Brave New World," "Gattaca," "A Wrinkle in Time," and "The Adjustment Bureau," with its focus on the power of emotions and love to overcome tyrannical control--even if the control is supposedly for the ultimate good of humanity. I actually found "The Giver" to be closest in theme to M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village" (an excellent, under-seen, underrated film), due to the similar quest to wipe out violence and tragedy in society, and attempt utopia.

The film starts off, appropriately, in black and white. Three teens are coming of age in their simplistic world where they will be assigned their lifelong jobs based on their emerging talents. Babies are genetically engineered and raised by "Nurturers" in nurseries. The main character, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), is strikingly different from his peers, however. Sometimes he sees glimpses of color. He sees more, he sees beyond. The governing board (led by the inimitable Meryl Streep) notices his special gifts as well, and they read it as a positive. So much so that they assign him the very special task of "Receiver of Memories." Only this person is allowed to know history, allowed to know what came before this bland existence in order to advise the board and become a wisdom figure.

The entire basis of this society is the elimination of memory (so that war will never occur again), rules designed to keep everyone in their place ("sameness" so that there is no competition, difference or inequality), and dispensing of morning drugs to suppress all emotions (including sexual "stirrings"). "Precision of language"--a kind of political correctness--is demanded in an effort to never give offense, never be curious, never express oneself, never be different, never know more than what is prescribed.

A SACRAMENTAL WORLD

In his role as Receiver, Jonas begins to EXPERIENCE a sacramental world. Things have deeper MEANINGS that can be felt and expressed in many different ways beyond basic information and intellectualizing. He experiences that the powerful role of EMOTIONS in our lives can be channeled for the good (whereas the belief of his society is that they always lead to violent passions, contempt and murder).

Just like our own increasingly more callous and uncomprehending society that treats people like things, Jonas' society gets rid of the weak (that is, the very young and the very old) with mercy-killings euphemistically called a "release to elsewhere." Jonas' own "father" is a benign executioner, and Jonas excuses him because he realizes his father does not UNDERSTAND what death means. (Just like our society doesn't understand life and death either, human dignity, human value, the value of the vulnerable and suffering, and our responsibility to care for them.)

THE PRIMACY OF THE FAMILY

On one hand, the message of the film might seem to be: Rebel against anything keeping you down! Rebel against rules and regulations! Experience whatever you want to experience in life! But that's not it at all. It's rather: no pain, no gain; no cross, no crown. The answer to misused freedom is not removing freedom, but well-used freedom which will always involve love and sacrifice. But where is love and sacrifice and human connection and tenderness first learned? In the family, in the home.

Our family life is not controlled by constant surveillance and outside forces (unless we count consumerism and peer pressure), but on our own we have reduced our family life to frenetic scheduling, no family meals, everyone blocking everyone else out through personal media devices, domestic arts outsourced, parents too busy or too cool to parent, kids and teens running the show, common courtesy and manners left untaught, etc.

A MAN AND A BABY

My favorite part of the entire film is the young man saving the baby by trekking out into the wilderness with him. The baby in question happens to be a little boy (Gabriel), which makes "The Giver"--at least partially--a sweet buddy movie. When's the last time you saw a young man taking on ANY kind of fatherhood role in a film (outside of a raunchy comedy that reinforces the idea that young men being responsible is just ridiculous)?

What makes this story so apt for our age is that we ARE living in an incredibly unnuanced, one-dimensional, diminished, reductionist, soothe-pain-and-unpleasantries-by-all-kinds-of-drug-and-drug-like-escapes culture. No one gets hurt in Jonas'  dystopian world. But is anyone really living? Really living a human life? Or DO people get hurt? The dirty little secret it that clandestine brutality keeps open brutality in check.

The whole film could be summed up in one word: MORE. There is so much MORE that we can have.  John 10:10.

OTHER STUFF:

--THEOLOGY OF THE BODY? Heck, yeah! The kernel of society, love, life, happiness is the male/female relationship, the family and babies. When the Jonas discovers the great deceit and deprivation everyone has been living, he exposes the falsehood thus: "A 'dwelling' is not a home. Our 'parents' are not really our parents." Actually, this is an AWESOME Theology of the Body introduction movie.

--There are Judaeo-Christian overtones with the concept of "forbidden knowledge"; "Jonas," the reluctant prophet; and even an apple prominently featured.

--Katie Holmes does a great job as Jonas's robot-like maternal unit (and Department of Justice Minister), striving to keep Jonas in line. Jeff Bridges is "The Giver" to Jonas' "Receiver" of Memories.

--Jonas' girlfriend, Fiona, stops taking her dulling meds and tries some "precision of language" of her own: "I'm not UNCOMFORTABLE, I'm AFRAID." (I went to a bio-ethics seminar once and the speaker promoting human cloning tried to quell the audience's misgivings with: "What is it about 'nuclear cell transfer' that makes you uncomfortable?")

--The baby who plays Gabriel has the "knowingest" look on his face at all moments.

--The trailers are lame. Don't judge the movie by 'em.

--The Giver's speech about humanity's ability to live love and peace reminded me of John Paul II's "peace is possible!" speech, and his great faith in the POSSIBILITY that we can find and live another way.

--"If you don't feel pain, you won't feel anything else, either." --"Ordinary People"



August 17, 2014

HELPING THE NUNS JUST GOT EASIER!

YOU DID IT!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!
THE RELEASE DATE OF

"MEDIA APOSTLE:
THE FATHER JAMES ALBERIONE STORY"

IS JANUARY 25, 2015!
DVD WILL BE AVAILABLE & IT WILL BE ON BROADCAST STATIONS!
                              
MATCHING GRANT! All donations now through August 20, 2014 midnight (100th Anniversary of the Pauline Family) will be DOUBLED! Donate securely at www.MediaApostle.com. Watch thermometer progress at www.tinyurl.com/FinishFilm


August 11, 2014

MOVIES: "CALVARY"




DON'T WATCH THE TRAILER UNLESS YOU MUST. IT GIVES AWAY TOO MUCH.

The new Irish film, "Calvary," is a fierce expedition into the repercussions and present climate of post-clergy-sex-abuse-scandal Ireland. It's an unblinking, fictitious story that's an apt vehicle not so much to wonder "how?" and "what went so terribly wrong?" as it is to gauge people's reactions.

"Calvary" sports the simplest, boldest, shortest Act One I have ever seen in a movie. It's over and done with in three minutes. Bravo. All we see is a close-up of a priest (a fabulously hoary-red Brendan Gleeson, our main character) in a confessional. All we hear is the voice of an unseen adult male penitent telling Father James that he was raped by a priest repeatedly when he was seven. And now he is going to kill Father by the end of the week. Why? Not because Father's a bad priest, but because he's a good priest. (The priest that abused him is dead.) What a premise.

Killing a good priest to pay for the sins of his comrades is a roomy set-up to take the story anywhere. And that's exactly where it goes. We enter the lives of the villagers who live within the bounds of Fr. James' parish but are mostly estranged from the Church. Father? They tolerate him well enough, and some even admire him, but the fact is that he represents the Church that aided and abetted heinous crimes against children. For which there is no excuse, and perhaps no forgiveness?

The coming to light of the egregious clandestine sex abuse was, for some in the village, the revealing of a great deception, but others knew what was going on and were powerless to do anything about it.

Father is a great guy. A pillar. A down-to-earth human being who is not afraid to enter into others' pain. But his wayward flock have no problem jostling him, telling him off, challenging him, disparaging him or attempting to demoralize him with their deep, deep cynicism. Father's realistic optimism and hope has its limits, too. But Father is not ruffled by the death threats. He doesn't change anything about his daily routine, something we would expect from someone at peace with God, themselves and the world.

The flow of "Calvary" is held together more by one random philosophical musing after another (embedded in various characters) rather than plot points, and we almost forget that Father has a bullseye on his back, but it's all so terribly intriguing, and what's actually being done here is hardcore theology. Irish theology, but theology. Very refreshing. "Calvary" goes after the toughest life and death questions it can, but not the endless paradoxical conundrums that only neophytes find brilliant and engaging. I think director John Michael McDonagh really wants to know. He picks apart cliche after cliche and flirts with atheism. Is God a true character in "Calvary"? No. He only seems to be known through a second party: His priest.

In an unspoken, yet just below the surface way, the men in "Calvary" seem disgusted with God the Father (as many men do!). You can almost hear them phrasing: "Why should I be good when You're not?" "You're my model of fatherhood?" "You let Your Son die without intervening, no wonder you do nothing to intervene on earth." "Your priests are pathetic _____'s." This is a man's film. There are three women in it (two are minor characters). "Calvary" is the men circling the wagons, or at least getting together in a huddle after disaster to expose their deepest sentiments about the event. And most of these sentiments are very dark. Father, however, is the lone dissenter from utter and complete darkness.

Everyone calls Father "Father." Even if they do so in a sardonic way, it always seems to be an acknowledgment of his true identity.

Does this film preach at us? No. Is it an angry film? No. Is it a film about justice? Yes. Is it a film about forgiveness? Yes. Is it a revenge fantasy? Maybe. Will we laugh a bit through our tears? Yes. Is the film "fair" to the Church and the priesthood? Yes. Can we have too many quality films on this subject? No. It would be criminal not to make films. We are just beginning to process the horror. As Cardinal Timothy Dolan said, we shouldn't stop talking about this, partly to try to ensure that it never happens again.

OTHER STUFF:

--This is how you make a priest a main character. And a real character.

--This is a very well-made film. An OPEN story is when we know things the main character doesn't. A CLOSED story is when we are gaining information the same time as the main character. I'm not sure how to classify "Calvary" because FATHER JAMES KNOWS WHO THREATENED TO KILL HIM, AND WE, THE AUDIENCE, DON'T! Brilliant.

--The cinematography is pleasant, but often overly self-conscious--more concerned about setting up gorgeous Hopper-esque mise-en-scenes than telling us the story. There are also comically (on purpose?) heavy-handed framings of violence (meat and guns) which bespeak one of  many semi-developed themes of "Calvary": "sex and violence."

--Some wonderful, wonderful lines: "The limits of God's mercy have not been set."

--If the two priests we meet in "Calvary" are treated with absolutely no deference, it makes you wonder if that's because deference is what enabled the scandal.

--A few instances of the Irish demanding that life be a play filled with poetry.

--The soundtrack is spot-on and "invisible." You will not even remember it.

--Father James is a (good) "sign of contradiction" to everyone, including, sometimes himself. Calvary indeed.



July 29, 2014

THE NUNS NEED YOUR HELP!


YOU DID IT!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!
THE RELEASE DATE OF

"MEDIA APOSTLE:
THE FATHER JAMES ALBERIONE STORY"

IS JANUARY 25, 2015!
DVD WILL BE AVAILABLE & IT WILL BE ON BROADCAST STATIONS!


We Daughters of St. Paul only need $4,400 to complete
the Blessed Father James Alberione film
we've been working on for 7 years!

We now have a 50 minute version and a 90 minute version. 

The film will be broadcast on all kinds of Catholic and other media all around the world to share the media vision,
strategy and spirituality of Fr. Alberione!
(Fr. Alberione's Pauline Family is in 60 countries.)


John Paul II called him:
 "the first apostle of the New Evangelization."

Can you help us?

Watch the trailer and donate safely online at www.MediaApostle.com

Please note: you will NOT get a credit in the film.
It's way more finalized than that. Sorry.

God bless you!

Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp & Sisters
Daughters of St. Paul

Check the progress of your donations here:

GOAL: $4,400
RAISED: $4,400 (as of August 20)!




July 28, 2014

TERRI & TAYLOR




I KNOW Taylor. Do NOT mess with the spunk OR the "ATV."




July 26, 2014

MOVIES: "BOYHOOD"




"Boyhood," the new movie written and directed by Richard Linklater ("Waking Life," "A Scanner Darkly," The "Before..." Trilogy with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) is a one-of-a-kind, "big idea" film. The lives of screen Mom, Dad, son and daughter are followed for twelve years. Literally twelve years, having been filmed for about a week each year. We watch the actors seamlessly grow and age on screen. Mom is Patricia Arquette (who played such a believable Mom in the TV series "Medium"), Dad is Ethan Hawke, the son and main focus is Ellar Coltrane (a Texas native, where the film is set), and the daughter is Linklater's own daughter, Lorelei. The cast, including the minor roles, are superb.

This film is worth seeing for its "handle with care" approach rather than "brutal honesty" voyeurism as we peer into a family's intimate inner workings. If you like very "human" filmmaking, "take your time" drama that believes life and people are made up of a myriad of minute moments, this film is for you.

One of my favorite things about this movie is that we see how Mason, the "boy" in question, doesn't really change a whole lot from who he was as a kid. He just grows more into himself, fleshing out his ideas about how life should/could be. There is a lovely acceptance (albeit bumbling) by all the characters of what they can't control and what they can.

The words "responsible" and "responsibility" are used at least 75 times. It becomes almost a joke that it's impossible the writer-director is unaware of. Mason's mom uses the terms over and over with reference to herself; and all kinds of adults and mentors advise Mason that this is exactly what he is lacking despite his other good qualities. Mason get LOTS of pep talks. (I have always felt that consistently "taking responsibility" is about the ONLY thing that sets adults apart from kids. Motivated by love, of course.)

Linklater's films can be very "talkative," and "Boyhood" is no exception. His actors are seekers of the meaning of life, and so--it would seem--is Linklater. His characters talk things out and ask soul-searching questions of each other, but if the film is philosophical, the philosophy is found in the small and ordinary. "Boyhood" hums along so unpretentiously, so ordinarily that I was waiting for the "first" shoe to fall, let alone the second. There is one disturbing, violent family rupture a little ways into the 165 minute film, but that's about it. It's actually quite a calm film--something we're just not used to in any era of filmmaking. No high drama, no dark overtones.

The film doesn't skirt taking actual stabs at resolving the ultimate meaning of life, but the answer is tucked in everywhere in the film itself: love, "attachment." We see exposed (as in our own lives) the motley web of family, friends, neighbors and co-workers who have our back and bless us on our way or catch us when we fall. But it is obviously the family where this all starts, with parents and their babies who grow up so darn fast. Although our protagonist is a boy, the parents are the real heroes--parents who actually parent:  setting boundaries, disciplining, giving example, going the extra mile, encouraging, affirming and fighting for and with their kids, and each other.

For the most part, the parents actually give their kids great advice, except for the not one but two "Have Fun Kids, But Use a Condom!" speeches. This film--although it's very pertinent to the years it is covering--has some heavy-handed anti-Bush, pro-Obama, anti-Iraq War messages, even going so far as to "cover up" the propaganda by poking fun at a kooky, Obama-Messiah worshipping woman. The only way this film gets a pass on the blatancy is that the film is a kind of time capsule, marking such pop culture phenoms as the Harry Potter, Twilight and Lady Gaga juggernauts as well. Sadly, casual teenage sex (even besides the condom speeches) and drug use is no big deal in "Boyhood." It's just normal, part of growing up, fun. It's certainly reality, but "Boyhood" gives it a smiling, benign stamp of approval.

Aside from these serious mars, "Boyhood" is fairly non-judgmental, standing to the side, calling 'em as it sees 'em.

Linklater is an unabashed music aficionado, and one gets the feeling that he's promoting his favorite bands. The soundtrack is pointed, studied and obvious, the song lyrics repeating the exact emotion of the characters, verbatim.

The title "Boyhood" is a bit misleading if you are expecting a wild, breakaway, endearing "The Kings of Summer" type "boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails" story. This is a boy squarely lodged in his environment of inescapable big sisters, moves, chores, school and everybody telling you what to do.

"Boyhood" is definitely the story of blended families. It made me think of the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family and World Meeting of Families, and how Pope Francis is urging the Church to be cognizant and solicitous of the ways today's families are broken, but also how they glue themselves back together and find new configurations.

The end of the "snails and puppy dog tails" poem aptly describes "Boyhood's" worldview:

What are all folks made of, made of? 
          What are all folks made of? 
             Fighting a spot and loving a lot, 
          That's what all folks are made of.


                                              --Robert Southey, 1820

OTHER STUFF:

--There is a real balance of male/female. When either tries to stray too far away from the other, the gelatinous yin-yang web snaps a bit to readjust the mix. #TheologyOfTheBody

--Linklater is from Texas. I knew it. He is also very familiar with the Bible because, whether he knows it or not, Scripture peppers his character's speech. He has sympathetic Christian characters in the film as well.

--There are a few unanswered/uncorrected gay jokes and slurs which may simply be meant to reflect macho Texas culture?

--I really like Linklater's "Waking Life" (pure philosophy!) and "A Scanner Darkly."

--I've always loved Patricia Arquette's acting. So natural and realistic.

--A wonderful summation of the film is a scene of a college psych course describing "attachment theory." Our human future depends on attachment, on Mom falling in love with baby, on human beings falling in love with each other, and so taking care of each other. Normally, this scene would be in Act One as "the karmic question." But this is an indie film. :)

--"Boyhood" illustrates that "it takes a village," and "we're all in this together."

--The familial love in "Boyhood" is low-key and sincere, unlike the flippant "love" of so many sitcom and cartoon families as the stock excuse for all the other heterodoxy and nastiness that goes on: "But they love each other."

--The many older Canadians in my theater were hooting and hollering over all the Texas gun stuff. (Canadians find Americans' fascination with guns fascinating.)

--Great article about the film: http://imagazine.cineplex.com/issues/july-2014#32

--You know you want to see this review with awesome LifeTeen graphics: 

July 10, 2014

DVD: "THE JEWISH CARDINAL"




The 2013 film (now on DVD and Netflix) "The Jewish Cardinal" is the life of the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger who died in 2007. May I say that this is the most tastefully, smartly irreverent life of a prelate ever on film? Jewish filmmaker, Ilan Duran Cohen, gets both Judaism and Catholicism (not an easy feat) and presents them with depth and sans one-dimensional cheesiness.

I was well aware of Lustiger while he was alive (and even have one of his books unread on my bookshelves), but didn't really know much about his story. It has been a pleasure getting to know this brilliant, hot-headed, chain-smoking (hey, he's French) cleric whom John Paul II chose to be Paris' Archbishop and then Cardinal, specifically because he wasn't "a doormat." When Lustiger wanted to know whether he was chosen simply because he was a "prized" convert, the pope makes it clear that he is expecting Lustiger to restore Jesus to his rightful place in a France that has lost its faith.

Whoa. I remember so distinctly John Paul II visiting France early on in his papacy and berating the French rather forcefully: "France, eldest daughter of the Church! What have you done with your baptism?!" Papa could really lay it down when he had to. Lustiger and Wojtyla's destinies are so intertwined in this film--as in life--and the actor who plays John Paul II really mastered the man, especially his mischievousness. Lots of chuckles.

"The Jewish Cardinal" is a bit of a recent history primer of sorts as well: the polarized Church in France, Poland and the Holocaust, Communism in Eastern Europe. I brushed up on my own knowledge of these areas, sharpened my understanding and learned many interesting facts: Kaddish was said for Lustiger on the steps of Notre Dame Cathedral before his funeral! The film slowly reveals to us (good storytelling) why Lustiger converted. We also learn that his mother was murdered at Auschwitz. One of his many dilemmas in life is being Jewish AND Christian, with neither "side" seeming to fully accept him or his preferred dual-identity.

This life of Lustiger is good filmmaking in general, and in particular, showcases how you make a film about an interesting Church figure with realism, honesty, passion and transparency, and without boring deference, doctrinairiness, plasticity and sanctimony. The dialogue is on fire (as was Lustiger, it seems)! The story moves along and proffers as much action as it possibly can in a story like this.

The film "gets" so many things, including male friendships, European male friendships, religious European male friendships, religious European male friendships based on high ideals and nobly working for the good of millions of people. Wojtyla and Lustiger thoroughly needed, relied and leaned on one another.

The film never portrays Lustiger or Wojtyla as idealogues, but as flawed-yet-virtuous, dynamic-yet-conflicted, larger-than-life yet always the flesh-and-blood men of God they were. And the world is better off because of them. And the world is better off with this triumph of a film! WATCH IT.

OTHER STUFF:

--Female screenwriter! Female screenwriter! 

--The sweet name of JESUS is used more in this film than in many Catholic films, documentaries, and talking head teaching videos.

--Yes, there are English subtitles, but in the FILM (not trailer you see above) they are done so incredibly well, not hanging down the bottom of the screen but a little higher. They are in yellow Courier font with a kind of translucent black background, and well, I just hope this is the new trend in subtitles.

--There's a HILARIOUS conversation between Wojtyla and Lustiger about European intellectuals at Castel Gandolfo. Hilarious.

--Our "cousin" congregation, the Pious Disciples of the Divine Master (liturgical apostolate Sisters founded by Fr. Alberione) have a cameo at 22:52! Lustiger buys something in their Rome shop.

--I will ALWAYS envy Jewish converts as having "the best of both worlds." (Even though I know it is very, very difficult for them.)

--The filmmakers did their homework. Profound homework.

--Fascinating piece on JP2 helping Lustiger grasp the importance of using THE MEDIA.

--This film truly crawls inside the mind of John Paul II. Boom. Bingo. Bullseye.
W: "The Church is neither left nor right. It is about the Gospel. The Gospel must unite us."
L: "But you have made your papacy about human rights!"
W: "The Gospel is about human rights. We need to get back to basics and things will change, you'll see. We live in an age of communications. We must use the power of the TV, the news media!"

--Search for Lustiger's books on Amazon!








TECHNOLOGY WILL NEVER REPLACE LOVE


...or touch. #TheologyOfTheBody







July 5, 2014

"DUET"--IT ALL STARTS WITH A SINGLE CELL



Hand-drawn by former Disney Master Animator, Glen Keane

THEOLOGY OF THE BODY


June 28, 2014

LESSER-KNOWN MOVIE GEMS FOR SUMMERTIME SCREENING!


Want some recommendations for offbeat summer movie viewing? (Actually, not so much offbeat, more like overlooked.) I also went online and polled my film buff friends, but I made sure I've seen all of these myself and could vouch for them. Unless otherwise indicated, pretty much PG-13 fare. I apologize in advance that some of these may be hard to find (but worth it)!

ROMANCE 
Enchanted April--Middle-aged British wives in the 1920's spring for an exotic Italian getaway.
Pride and Prejudice (Colin Firth version!)
Bride and Prejudice--An American-Bollywood takeoff on "Pride and Prejudice." Funny.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty--(new, with Ben Stiller!)--sweet romance, drags badly in parts. Would be fun to watch the original version with Danny Kaye first.
The Painted Veil--A marriage is on the rocks (Ed Norton and Naomi Watts), but maybe the wife needs to take a second look at her husband. Awesome mother superior character.

KIDSTUFF (also for kids at heart)
Wimpy Kid series--(OK, this is more mainstream)
Princess Diaries 1 & 2--(don't deprive your kids if they haven't seen)
Looking for Miracles--(director, Kevin Sullivan: Anne of Green Gables) Two brothers at camp during the Great Depression. Not to be missed. Kevin Sullivan is a master storyteller.
Pollyanna --this star-studded Disney gem teaches lots of lessons
Millions--A British boy (whose mother is dead) believes in the saints and sees them (it totally works!) Unfortunately, one scene where he catches Dad jumping in bed with lady friend.
The Little Kidnappers--Two adorable little Scottish brothers kidnap a baby. Charlton Heston plays their grouchy, stubborn grandfather.
Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken--A Disney gem. In the Depression, a fiesty teen girl joins a Buffalo Bill Cody type Wild West traveling show.


SAINTS/BIOGRAPHIES
Entertaining Angels (Dorothy Day)--boasts one of the best on-screen nuns ever!
Amazing Grace--The fascinating life of William Wilberforce who ended slavery in England. Albert Finney stars. One of the best "Christian" movies ever made. Wilberforce was also an animal lover.
The Jewish Cardinal--Cardinal Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris

DRAMAS
The Mission--The true story of 18th century Jesuits in Latin America. (Jeremy Irons, Robert De Niro)
Exorcism of Emily Rose--Not for the faint of heart. Based on the true story of a young German Catholic woman. Best seen in conjunction with reading Fr. Amorth's books: "An Exorcist Tells His Story." "An Exorcist: More Stories."
Gran Torino--Clint Eastwood is a Korean War vet with a chip on his shoulder and skeleton's in his closet. One of the best on-screen young priests ever! Very Catholic. Very funny. Very serious.
Second Best--(William Hurt) A bookish single man and a delinquent boy become men together.
Faith Like Potatoes--A South African farmer learns the heart of God the Father through his own tragedy.


SUSPENSE/THRILLERS
I Confess--Alfred Hitchcock's use of the seal of the confessional as a major plot point. Filmed in Quebec!
Take Shelter--This small movie is just a great character study.
The Fugitive--(Harrison Ford) A lesson in sustained tension....

CLASSICS
Jane Eyre (Timothy Dalton version!)
Little Women (any version)
Anne of Green Gables (Kevin Sullivan, director)
Anne of Avonlea (Kevin Sullivan, director)
A Little Princess (any version)
Lawrence of Arabia--Just watch it because everyone needs to.

TV
Road to Avonlea (90's, Kevin Sullivan TV series)
Due South (90's, a polite Canadian Mountie and a rough Chicago cop team up--only the early, Canadian-produced ones are good. Once USA took over, the show WENT south)

COMEDY
What About Bob?--My absolute favorite comedy ever. My nunnies and I quote it constantly.
Waking Ned Devine--An elderly Irish man wins the lottery, but there's only one problem: he's dead. The townspeople try to figure out how to cash in.
Last Holiday--(Queen Latifah) A shy, retiring woman is diagnosed with a terminal disease. She finally begins to really live--and in the process, teaches everyone else how to as well.
Any Mr. Bean movies
Galaxy Quest--Stars from a "Star Trek" like show wind up with real aliens. Who watched their show.

ANIMATION
The Man Who Planted Trees (beautiful, flowing impressionistic artwork)--an incredible fable of the power of one person, persistence, duty and love
The Secret of Kells--A fanciful recounting of the story of one of the world's most famous books. Involves fairies.
Through a Scanner Darkly--This is rougher, more R-rated, by the brilliant but troubled Philip K. Dick. Incredible life-like animation. A sad tale of drugs and betrayal. But Dick always ends his tales on the most compassionate and human of notes ("Blade Runner," "Minority Report," "The Adjustment Bureau")

SCI-FI
Brave New World--Aldous Huxley's chilling and prescient futuristic tale (1998 made-for-TV, stars Leonard Nimoy, Peter Gallagher)
Gattaca--In the future, everyone is conceived by being genetically engineered. The minority who are not  born naturally are called "faith-births." No one is free to determine their own destiny.


DOCUMENTARIES
Messenger of the Truth--The life of recent Polish martyr, Blessed Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko (the labor priest). Murdered in 1984.
The Human Experience--Young Catholic filmmakers from Brooklyn, NY, set off to meet their fellow human beings all over the world.

June 21, 2014

ST. PAUL THE APOSTLE NOVENA STARTS JUNE 21--JOIN US!

The Pauline Family's Official Feast Day of St. Paul is June 30

NOVENA TO ST. PAUL THE APOSTLE

Antiphon: O St. Paul the Apostle, preacher of truth and doctor of the gentiles, intercede for us to God.
  1. After that, Saul began to harass the Church.  He entered house after house, dragged men and women out and threw them into jail.
Antiphon
  1. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Sir,” he asked.  The voice answered, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.”
Antiphon
  1. For he who worked through Peter as his apostle among the Jews had been at work in me for the gentiles, and they recognized the favor bestowed on me.
Antiphon
  1. With my many more labors and imprisonments, with far worse beatings and frequent brushes with death.
Antiphon
  1. And so I willingly boast of my weaknesses instead, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Antiphon
  1. But by God’s favor I am what I am.  This favor of his to me has not proved fruitless.
Antiphon
  1. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  From now on a merited crown awaits me; on that day the Lord, just judge that he is will award it to me.
Antiphon


READINGS

Day One
Rom 8:28-30

In the letter of Paul to the Romans we contemplate the divine plan of the Father. We are destined to resemble his Beloved Son and everything is ordered to this end: “All things work together for good for those who love God”, those who are called according to his plan of love. We have been in the mind of God from eternity, even before the beginning of time – destined to resemble the Son. What a source of wonder and awe, evoking trust and a generous response of love! God loves us, wants us to be perfect, holy, united to him in intimate communion. And he provides all the means so that his plan might become reality. He gives us the strength, the light and the desire to correspond to his gifts of grace.

Day Two
Rom 8:31-39

We are called to sanctity! When we reflect on this we might be tempted to confuse sanctity with the sum total of all the virtues, but Paul tells us that sanctity is to be united and in communion with God Most Holy. God is Holy; God is Other. He has done everything, even the impossible, the incredible, to draw us to Himself!  That is why we have such confidence – not in ourselves, but in the Love of Him, who handed over his Son for us all. And through Him, who has loved us, we are able to conquer every obstacle separating us from the God of mercy. This is holiness – to open ourselves to the sanctifying action of God, believing that every obstacle will ultimately lead us to communion with the Other in our life.


Day Three
1 Corinthians 12:4-11

St. Paul tells us in this passage that our lives, as individually lived out, do not have a self-contained meaning. It is not the psychological quality of our belief or the motivation of our work that gives meaning to our life. Meaning is bestowed on our lives through our incorporation in God’s overall salvific plan. What one may do may seem to have no meaning in itself. Many years later it may be picked up by another who builds upon it, often without knowing what went before. It is at this later date that the meaning of what went before is revealed. Events may happen in our lives that are seemingly absurd and trust may seem reckless. But it is Jesus Christ who bestows meaning on every event, on every mission, on every human life. It is this faith that gives us hope.


Day Four
1 Corinthians 15:3-10

Our lives have been set in motion for a purpose. Within the larger event of Christ’s paschal mystery each of our lives plays out: calling (“he appeared to me”) – mission (“I am the least of the apostles”) – sanctification (“the grace that has been given to me has not been wasted”). At a certain point in our lives, as St. Paul himself realized, we cannot help but seeing that our lives are on a trajectory which by our own powers we could not attain. For in the mystery of the Master our lives are taken up “whole and entire into God” (von Balthasar). We too live our lives within this “tradition” of the Lord’s loving death and resurrection. It is this alone that bestows meaning on our daily toil in the Lord’s vineyard.

Day Five
1 Cor 12:1213, 27
Together we are Christ in the world. Together. A tough word. It would be easier to do it one by one, individually, alone, on my own time, in my own style, to my own end. But we can’t get away from that little word: together. We are all members of one body, and that body is Christ. This means that whenever one of us is present to another, there Christ is present to that person. When someone ministers to us, Christ is ministering. When I teach someone, Christ is teaching. We do not need to be afraid of conflicts. They are created by our struggles to grow in maturity and to overcome individualism, collectivism, isolation, and self-serving agendas. These conflicts sand away the sharp edges of our characters and transform our selfishness until the body can live together as one, in harmony, in mutual obedience, growing in love and freedom. Each of us is not simply a cell in the body of Christ. Each of us individually and together is Christ’s body. Each of us can build up the body of Christ within ourselves, for the sake of others, in the Church and in service to the world. How can it be that I--and each of us--have been raised to the honor of being members of the Body of Christ? For this, Lord, I praise you. 


Day Six
Ephesians 1:3-10

St. Paul returns several times in his letters to this theme of being chosen from the beginning. For example, we hear in Galatians: “But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace” (Gal 1:15). Our own Constitutions echo St. Paul: “Through Baptism, the Father has chosen us to live in his Son. In calling us among the Daughters of St. Paul, he has consecrated us to himself more intimately to send us to proclaim the unfathomable riches of the mystery of Christ” (Constitutions #4). God, who is the source of our hope, has been faithful to us from the foundations of the world – before we even existed. He draws us into his fidelity and enables us to communicate this message to everyone around us.

Day Seven
Ephesians 2:3-10

At the end of 1953 Blessed James Alberione wrote a series of notes about the beginnings of the Pauline Family and its mission. He titled these writings Abundantes divitiae gratiae suae:  “the immeasurable riches of his grace.” In his testimony to us, the founder links our own story to this passage of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. God, who is rich in mercy, has saved us by his own faithfulness. He bestows on us an overabundance of grace and gifts for the building up of the Church. Our “good work” as Paulines is precisely this, to announce the Good News with all available forms of communication.


Day Eight
Colossians 1:3-8

We discover hope through relationships. Paul and the Christians at Colossae and Epaphras build up one another in faith in Christ and love for one another. This life, lived so intensely among themselves, spills over into thanksgiving to God the Father. The circle of life brings freshness to their expression of love for each other and their longing to be filled even more with the Spirit. “The Spirit creates, purifies and nourishes the affective climate characteristic of a family that transforms the world into God’s abode—the place where he dwells among us. It is an Abode to be enjoyed; a dwelling place in which to rest and stay; a space in which to live. To know, communicate and ‘dwell’ in God in the Spirit and in truth means to receive the beneficial effect of his being-with-us without seeking to halt the life-giving flow of his love, which is free as the wind and blows where it chooses” (Professor Giusseppe Mazza).

Day Nine
Romans 8:18-27

When our first parents walked with God, all creation was subject to them; they were free, enslaved by nothing. With sin, their mastery over creation, though real and intrinsic to their nature, was no longer easily attained. As long as we human beings allow something other than God to master us, our attempts to enter into a relationship with God and to subject nature to our dominion are an exercise in futility.

The Holy Spirit of God breaks through this groaning, agonizing dead-end. We are not without hope. What will be ours is already ours in Jesus, because the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead raises us, too. God is on our side! God wants us to reign with Jesus. Like the prodigal, we already have access to our inheritance: “Everything is ours and we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.” If we follow the will of God, we know that in spite of all the painful things that could happen to us, we will never lose God, our final refuge. To quote Benedict again: “You know that the foundation of the world is love, so that even when no human being can or will help you, you may go on, trusting in the One who loves you” (op. cit., p. 38).

You are a vessel of election, O St. Paul the Apostle.
Preacher of truth to the whole world.

Antiphon: 
Our Father and apostle, St. Paul, you are preacher of truth and doctor of the gentiles.  Intercede for us to God who chose you.

Magnificat
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior;
For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
The Almighty has done great things for me,
And holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
And has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
For he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers,
To Abraham and his children forever.
Glory to the Father…

Repeat the Antiphon:  Our Father…

Final prayer:

Lord God,
You appointed Paul your apostle
to preach the good news of salvation.
Fill the entire world with the faith
He carried to so many peoples and nations.
Through Christ our Lord.
Amen.


June 12, 2014

MOVIES: "MALEFICENT"




THIS JUST IN: Some have been confused by this review. Am I "for" the film or not? As is my wont, I'm simply pointing out the positives and negatives, I usually refrain from recommending or not recommending a film.

WARNING: LOADED WITH SPOILERS!

Well, is "Maleficent" magnificent?" Angelina Jolie is (of course), but the story? I don't know. What?! I don't have an opinionated opinion for once? No. It's complicated. I am viewing "Maleficent" on its own, but also in the context of the more recent Disney princess stories. The times they are a-changin'.

Here's the story: Humans and fairies do not get along. Their two kingdoms are side by side. The fairies' land is beautiful and magical and the "men" want to take it by force. There has been a long history of this animosity. Maleficent is a fairy (the guardian of the moors) with powerful wings. One day she meets a human boy trying to steal a jewel from the fairy land. They become friends, and as teens, they fall in love. But when the boy grows up, in order to become the king's successor, he strips Maleficent of her wings and she is doomed to only walk the moors. She becomes more and more angry, dark, closed-in and revengeful. When the king has a baby girl, Maleficent curses her (on her sixteenth birthday she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall asleep forever). She adds a mercy clause: the curse can be reversed by true love's kiss. The only reason she does this is because she firmly believes that TRUE LOVE DOES NOT EXIST. But as she watches Aurora grow up, she often finds herself protecting her and helping her. She revokes the curse. Or does she?

Hear ye, hear ye and be it known that I am no expert on myths, legends or fairytales and what they are "supposed" to be, look like, accomplish. I have only the most general knowledge of their essence. Plato said: "Those who tell the stories rule the world," but I have long believed the saying should be: "Those who INTERPRET the stories rule the world." And what of those who RE-TELL and RE-INTERPRET the stories as with "Maleficent"? What of those who say the old stories no longer have perennial meaning just as they are, and don't tell new stories, but redact?

Through the narrator of this Disney princess tale, we are playfully told that we have not been told the real story of Sleeping Beauty all these years. The implication is not that we have been lied to, but that we only heard one side of the story, or that we haven't looked deep enough. Like the smash Broadway musical "Wicked," we are told the story from the villain's perspective, and the villain becomes our main character, and the villain is not so villainy after all.

WHO is actually telling the story now? A woman screenwriter. Linda Woolverton.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Woolverton (She also wrote the screenplay for "Beauty and the Beast" and "Lion King.") Women are writing the Disney stories about women now. I rejoicify at this (why not?), but do women, does this woman writing "Maleficent" know who she is as a woman? Who women are in general? Is she on an earnest search that is not over yet or is her worldview locked tight and presented to us as an agenda in "Maleficent"? I don't know. I don't know Linda Woolverton.

Good is good and evil is evil in "Maleficent," but we are made to examine neglected nuances of it in ourselves and others. The concept of forgiveness is very strong throughout, although the two nemeses, the fairy queen (who is not a real queen) and the human king (who is not a real king) never reach that denouement. In fact, Maleficent inadvertently kills her archenemy. Have we seen THIS before? I don't think so. There is much new in this refurbished fairytale. Do we need refurbished or simply new fairytales? Perhaps, despite the fact that human nature does not change. The last change to human nature was the Ascension. And it was a mighty good one.

I really think there is a lot of authentic feminist stuff going on in this film. It often hits the nail on the head in a very deep way. The film is at its best when describing the deep, deep rift between men and women, the masculine and the feminine. The deep woundedness on both sides, particularly the female side. The solution? A withdrawal from men (who are either utterly wicked or utterly useless [and often emasculated]). The two kings (and their soldiers) are bad men. Maleficent has a male lackey, and Princess Aurora has a useless prince (so useless he is literally floated around in a suspended state and only good for performing a function--that he doesn't succeed at). Men are not only a problem, they are not needed.

There could be even more feminist readings: Women "fly" without men. Men want to take women's "wings" away.

As Steven Greydanus ("Decent Films")--a father to three little princesses and four princes*--says: "I'm all for female empowerment and girl power, but not at the expense of men." Can't we do better than: When men tell the stories, women get objectified and/or are irrelevant--when women tell the stories, men get objectified and/or are irrelevant?

In "Maleficent" as in "Frozen" (there are many similarities to "Frozen," also written by a woman): Women are now saving women.  The main similarities of these two movies for me were: the lone queen with her overpowering rage, and the withdrawal from men. Strong, angry, brooding women.

What felt very inauthentic and like a mockery was the caricature of Prince Philip with tights, pageboy haircut, white horse, embellished saddle, cape. Perhaps it was just a bit of humor, but it did feel very spoofy, like: Look, ladies, really?

Another name for this film could be: "Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Done Wrong. Very Wrong." Female wrath is quite a powerful force. I have felt it in myself and it's very scary. There's a great scene of Maleficent striding with her staff, smiting everything in her path. Wow. I know what that feels like. (Except I don't have magic emerald mist exuding from my fingertips.) I think a whole book could be written about this film and the transformation of Disney princesses of late.

The most significant feature of this film seems to be the conviction of both Maleficent and King Stefan that "TRUE LOVE DOES NOT EXIST. Or at least true male-female love. There is nothing special about male-female love. Withdraw. It's a standoff. Find another love. Any love will do." But male-female love IS the primordial love. The organic, natural, intrinsic community love of the Trinity in Whose image male and female have been made. As a unit. The only love capable of giving life. Human life. Humanae vitae.

BUT on the other hand, this exploring the depths of other kinds of love ("Frozen": sisters, siblings. "Maleficent": mother and surrogate daughter) besides purely romantic-sexual love between men and women that HAS gone awry in our day and age, may even be the way BACK to a fuller male-female love.
__________________
Oh no! The Disney spell is working on ME! I only asked Steven about his princesses! He had to add that he had four of "the others," too!

OTHER STUFF:

--Angelina's own daughter, Vivienne, is the knee-high Aurora who hugs Maleficent. (It was so funny to hear Angelina saying: "I don't like children.")

--Angelina is so visually riveting and has such a convincing British accent and puts such oomph and juice into her words that she got guffaws from my cinema audience when she uttered only: "Oh."

--I would love to see Angelina do the life of a strong woman saint.

--This is definitely a kid's movie. But very watchable. Big and simplistic with deeper themes running like rivers below. Even if its mythology is not deep, its psychology is.

--The adult King Stefan was badly miscast. Looks, voice, acting, everything.

--The pixies are a clever and delightful addition. (Their wings make a cool sound.)

--Not too scary for little kids. Very funny moments.

--Elle Fanning has such a shallow part here. Hope it doesn't hurt her career because she has GOT it.

--COULD Maleficent have saved the king? After all, she could fly (again) and he couldn't.

--I WISH women forged more alliances like Maleficent and Aurora in the end, but maybe we need to SEE it, IMAGINE it before we can do it....