October 18, 2014


Meet the Pauline Family
founded by Blessed James Alberione!

October 16, 2014


Do NOT see "Men, Women and Children" unless you are inured to today's porn and sex and sex and porn everywhere. The language and visuals are graphic and explicit and involve teens (and remember, today's sex is degraded), but after a few seconds of getting into it each time, the camera mercifully cuts away. But it's constant. I went to see this film because the write-ups highlighted the fact that it deals with technology and relationships, and in this, it doesn't disappoint.

If this was just an easy-sleazy-oh-boy!-tech&sex-is-a-vast-new-area-to-mine! kinda film, I wouldn't even bother reviewing it. But I do think it's something more than that.


The film begins in outer space with Emma Thompson's voiceover, so we know this is going to have some big, philosophical resonance. The narration is clinical, dry humor that becomes very detailed once we situate ourselves on Earth with certain families. Families with teens. Since there is no God, Carl Sagan--in the voiceover and in the body of the film--becomes our guru because he, at least, can explain something of "the universe" to us. (But of course, in this film and IRL, did you ever notice how humans keep using personification regarding the universe? "The universe doesn't care." And trying to personify evolution? "Evolution tells us that monogamy is unnatural." Clearly, the human being is looking for the Personal. The human being is looking to be cared about by Someone and even to obey Someone wiser than ourselves.)

We get deeply into the lives of these families, their habits, their tragedies, their mistakes. There is father and son internet porn, digitally-assisted infidelity, pro-anorexia websites, a stage-mother inappropriately photographing her own daughter, videogame isolationism. At first we might think that this Smalltown, USA, is hypersexual, but we really know our whole culture is (see the older but still very relevant book "Porn Nation" http://hellburns.blogspot.ca/2009/03/books-porn-nation.html#.VEAoD_nF-jk). Without getting too spoiler-y, the point is made loud and clear (albeit at the very end) that sex is great, but most of us really want the intimate relationship--proper to marriage--that is supposed to come with it.


The heart of the film is a teenage couple who use media fairly well and forego sex for a deep, romantic friendship.

Is degraded sex treated trivially or as a joke? No. It's treated as a kind of sad, pathetic addiction. It would seem that the director (Jason Reitman: "Juno," "Up in the Air") might be sex-obsessed, but I think he simply sees our world as sex-obsessed. This interview with Reitman reveals what he was trying to accomplish in the film: http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/movies/2014/09/29/talk_dont_tweet_about_my_movies_jason_reitman_says.html and even his genuine personal distancing from the ubiquitous porn phenomenon is telling. In MW&C, Reitman painstakingly shows us computer porn EMASCULATING men so they can no longer respond to real, live women. This film in no way condones any kind of online or offline sexual shenanigans, but rather stares them down and shows them up for the sham and shame they are, with a such a masterful touch that things don't get too heavy, and we are entertained and not preached to. Reitman is an unflinching but not sadistic director.

The fact that uncommitted "love" and sex is deeply unsatisfying is plain to see in MW&C. But, as Fr. Thomas Loya--a Theology of the Body teacher--always says: "No matter how intelligent and well-meaning we are, we will often utterly ruin our lives grasping at what looks like true love and true sex because these desires are so strong in us."


I really do believe we need more films like these--a lot less graphic, please? We get it, we get it, thanks--that examine our brave new cyborg world. The fact that this film portrays still-searching-for-themselves-crazy-mixed-up-parents along with their almost-adult-teens (and no "children") is significant, because in today's world there often seems to be hardly any difference between adults and teens; the adults acting regressively and the teens acting beyond their years.

Unfortunately, the one lone parent (Jennifer Garner) who actually seems to be concerned about her daughter's media use, does not trust her (trustworthy) daughter at all and goes way overboard tracking her every digital move. She even hosts a meeting for parents about their teens' media use. I think I'm going to use this scene as an example of "Media Literacy & E-Parenting Done Very Badly."

"Men, Women & Children" is an extremely contemporary film, but of course, will be outdated in approximately six months.


--THEOLOGY OF THE BODY? Indubitably.

--Being a strong Adam Sandler non-fan, I am grateful that he just listlessly says his lines and doesn't destroy the film.

--Every kind of pervasive media gadget imaginable in this film. Wow. Is that what we look like?

--1930's music at film's opening an homage to Woody Allen?

--Hilarious plot point: 9/11 = ancient history to today's teens. 

--Sex without a real relationship? It's just self-centeredly (even if mutually) having "needs met." Almost like infants. And it's playing with fire.

--At one point, there's an intercut sequence of three dating and/or copulating couples, and no one is with their spouse.

--There's even a hint that the obsessive, all-consuming world of sports (here, high school football) can be as addictive and escapist as our technology use.

--"Men, Women & Children" features possibly the longest, most original pickup-line ever. (Except that it is philosophically and theologically null.)

--A good point here about married couples not always having to talk EVERYTHING out (not the same as keeping secrets or poor communication).

--Teens' online lives are so real that if you kill that life? You might kill them.

--This film is coming out at the perfect time: The #Synod14 on the Family. If this is a snapshot of American and/or First World families today? Yeah, we need a Synod.

--How is it that a film by a Canadian director and starring Jennifer Garner is only playing in one theater in Toronto?

--The tired, tired argument about our planet being so small in the scheme of things, that humans are really not the center of the universe--yadda, yadda, yadda--features prominently. I'm sorry. This silly, silly argument/premise/theorem ("The smaller something is, the less it matters" or "Size is all the matters") is just the ramblings of a small, small male mind. I just don't know how else to say it. It also relieves us of all responsibility (a particularly male temptation). The conclusion to this argument in the film (which is a TOTAL NON SEQUITUR) is that, therefore, we must be kind and love one another. WHA???? If nothing and nobody matters? I say the conclusion should be TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN. Or as it says on my young cousin's bumper sticker: GET WHAT YOU WANT. Or how about EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY FOR TOMORROW WE DIE or JUST DO IT or as the Satanic Bible says: DO WHAT THOU WILT.

Besides, if it is true that the tinier something is, the less important it is, please explain atoms to me. Or deadly viruses. Or the myriads of teeny little insects that keep the ecosystem in balance.

The above ludicrous and fallacious premise is bad science, bad philosophy, bad theology, bad anthropology and just bad, wrongheaded thinking.

--Like so many other movies surprisingly and hearteningly portray: one CORRECT conclusion of this film is that the bedrock of our lives must be based on a technology-free ethos, ultimately, the spousal meaning of our bodies, the male-female relationship. Technology (however helpful) is not essential to our life. Love and unmediated bodily human interaction is.

--The film is not really about the "secret lives" of those we think we know. Because in the end "everything that is hidden will come to light" and God can bring good out of evil, even in a film.

October 3, 2014


I did not want to see "The Good Lie." It was assigned to me by my boss at LifeTeen, Christina Mead (benign dictator). I thought: I already know all about the "Lost Boys of Sudan" (young men who were forced to be child soldiers when their parents were murdered during the civil war). Many sad but touching and hopeful memoirs about these events have been written. Many wonderful projects have been instituted to assist refugees in establishing a new life in the United States. It wasn't "compassion fatigue" for me (after all, what have I done to help?), I just thought I knew this story. Boy, was I wrong.

I thought: Why can't we just see the Sudanese themselves? Why can't this be an African film? Why do we need Reese Witherspoon's star power (as good an idea as it is to get people watching the film)? I thought I had seen the film by watching the trailer and that there would be no surprises. I thought all the good laughs were in the trailer. I thought, I thought, I thought. But again, I was wrong.


"The Good Lie" IS an African film. The first half of the film is the main characters as children in Africa. The horrors are not graphic (more like "the banality of evil") but not downplayed either. This film is more interested in what their experiences have done to these "average" young people. Although there is a kind of ensemble cast, we manage to get into each one's psyche and the drama of their lives quite well. We become African with Mamere, Paul, Jeremiah and Abital, journey to the United States with them AND get a good look at our serious ridiculousness through African eyes.

It's the little every day adjusting to survival and displacement that makes up the bulk of the film. Actually, when the tension heightens, we almost want to go back to the little things, the mundane beauty of what it means to be human, which is the most enjoyable part of this unique film that employs so much realism that sometimes it feels like a documentary.


These kids are Christian, carry a Bible with them everywhere they go and talk about Moses and the Bible stories, as well as pray in a very organic and natural way. God is so deeply embedded in African culture that  it would have been a "bad lie" to leave Him out! Not only that, these children are upright, truthful, fiercely loyal to each other, and kind to others they meet along the way. Forgiveness of the murderous attackers/soldiers is not mentioned in the film. It almost feels irrelevant. The kids somehow accept that it just happened. They are more concerned about the future--now what are they doing to do?--and their own interactions and pardons among themselves.


This is a fine, fine film in every way. The soundtrack is exquisite:  not minimalistic and not bombastic. An elegant alternate mix of piano, strings and what sounds like African instruments, as well as a few sung songs (only three, which is two too many in my book) round out the score.


A word about Reese Witherspoon. Reese plays a tough Southern-belle-but-almost-a-redneck-woman, at first uncaring and just "doing her job" as she helps the refugees become acclimated to Kansas City, Missouri. But as she experiences their sincere friendship, guilelessness and true gentlemanliness of these strangers, she begins to soften and enter more deeply into their plight. Reese is just perfect. She does not steal a single scene, and although she's Hollywood royalty, she makes us believe without even trying that she is Carrie, the jaded country girl with the heart of gold who knows that all men are alike and doesn't think life has anything new to show her. Bravo, Reese. Such a classy not classy act!


There is a fabulous (first time I've ever seen this kind of) minor character in "The Good Lie." A sugary-sweet young Christian woman who, unlike Carrie, has no problem stretching to accommodate the newcomers, totally gets what the refugees are going through, and knows how to explain everything to them. You can tell that charity and goodness is just a heartfelt way of life for her. Later in the film she and Carrie bond over shots of Tequila. Yes. There are Christians like this. Real flesh and blood. Not pathological. Not self-righteous. No hidden agendas.


This is a great film for kids, too. Really? Yup. To see how kids on the other side of the world live. How they think. The choices they make. Their heroism.

Why should we watch this film? First of all, in order to "go through" something of the refugee experience. Just think of Iraq and Syria and so many other places in the world where millions have been driven from their homes and their countries, cannot go back and are in limbo in every way imaginable. Second, you WILL be able to relate--at least analagously to these young people. Third, I think the world has some big lessons to learn from African culture: family, joy, heritage, sacrifice, discipline, order, worship, humility, priorities, honor, gratitude, contentment, camaraderie. But we also see the virtuous in our own bonkers American culture. There is African generosity and there is American generosity. Two different brands. African? What you do with a little. American? What you do with a lot.


--I was heartily and loudly chuckling once the little band hits the United States. I mean, it's such a crazy meeting of cultures (with most of the crazy on the U.S. side). It's not about big, dumb, simplistic cultural differences, but deep, subtle and significant ones. It's about getting to the simple truth of everyday things. It was such a swipe upside the head to realize how convolutedly we habitually go about things in our daily lives, rather far from the unadorned truth.

--I wondered at the title and theme of "The Good Lie." Certain lies are told to save lives. Is that really even a question/problem in war time? At the very end of the film, the title will make even more sense, but I still question if this is the theme and proper title.

--There's nothing cliché in this film.

--I never lost interest despite the easy pacing.

--The PTSD comes later. We aren't told/shown everything the kids endured till later. Intermittent reveals. Good storytelling.

--Is there anything as joyful as African singing, dancing and laughter?

--Female screenwriter! Female screenwriter!

--This film made me think about how American women are used to being used in one way and American men in another and we just accept it all now. When the Americans meet the Africans' gentility, their first reaction is: Are you guys for real? And then they have to answer, pleasantly surprised: Yes.  Another way of doing things--perhaps a better way of doing things--is possible.

--The three young adults didn't care about the prosperity of America and don't get sucked up in pleasure and consumerism. They only care about being together.

--Fact: You will get in trouble at work if you are too good and honest.

--You are going to love Theo.

--The chicken joke.

--"Let us give thanks for this miracle food pizza."

--"May we visit your cow?"

--An INCREDIBLE, INCREDIBLE answer to relativism is in this film:
Boss: "What are you doing?" (to refugee working at supermarket who is giving day-old food to a homeless woman at the dumpster--when he was told not to)
Refugee: "It's a sin not to help those in need."
Boss: "Says who?"
Refugee: "Jeremiah."
Boss: "Who's Jeremiah?"
Refugee: "I am."

--I do so want this big-little film to win some Oscars.

--Why do we not see Corey Stoll in, like, every other film that gets made? #underratedactors

--DO stay for the stylish, creative credits and you will find out who these actors really are.

--Daughters of St. Paul (my congregation) are in South Sudan.

--"What does it mean to be human? It means we take care of each other." --Pope Francis

--"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." --African proverb

September 30, 2014


 It's almost time again, folks! Here's where we'll be:

Joy to the World
Daughters of St Paul
2014 Christmas Concert

Piscataway, New Jersey
Wednesday, December 3 at 7:00 pm
Our Lady of Fatima Parish
499 New Market Road
Ticket information: Tel. 732-968-5555 | Web: www.olfparish.org

Staten Island, New York
Thursday, December 4 at 6:00 pm
Benefit for the Daughters of St. Paul
Staten Island Hilton Garden Inn
1100 South Avenue @ Lois Lane
Ticket price: $125
For more information: 718-477-2100 x 226

Cleveland, Ohio
Friday, December 5 at 7:00 pm
Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist
1007 Superior Avenue
For more information: 216-696-6525 x 5510 | Email: gheislman@dioceseofcleveland.org

Ramsey, New Jersey
Sunday, December 7 at 7:00pm
*Featuring Don Bosco Prep H.S. Boys Choir
St. Paul R. C. Church
200 Wyckoff Ave.
Ticket information: Tel. 201-327-0976 | Web: stpaulrcchurch.org

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Tuesday, December 9 at 7:00 pm
St. Katherine of Siena Church
9700 Frankford Ave.
Tel. 215-637-7548 | Web: www.skschurch.com     

Marshfield, MA
Friday, December 12 at 7:00 pm
St. Ann by the Sea Parish
591 Ocean Street
Ticket information - Tel. 781-834-4953

Boston, Jamaica Plain, MA
*Now 3 performances *
SATURDAY, December 13 at 7:00pm
SUNDAY, December 14 at 3:00pm AND 7:00pm
Daughters of St. Paul Chapel
50 Saint Paul’s Avenue
Tel. 617-522-8911

For more information, visit our Facebook page: facebook.com/DSPchoir

September 23, 2014


“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?


--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 budget constraints.

--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


(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.)

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


"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?


"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.


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.)


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.


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.


--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




IS JANUARY 25, 2015!
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



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.


--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.

--Mr. McDonagh does not come across as a Church hater. He's not going to give up that easily after 2000 years of Christianity in Ireland.

July 29, 2014




IS JANUARY 25, 2015!

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


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

July 26, 2014


"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


--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


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.


--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!


...or touch. #TheologyOfTheBody

July 5, 2014


Hand-drawn by former Disney Master Animator, Glen Keane