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....





May 30, 2014

MOVIES: "LOCKE"


I know this pic is blurry, but it really captures the sense of the film.

"Locke," starring Tom Hardy*--and only Tom Hardy--is being dubbed "Hamlet of the Highway," and it's exactly that. The premise of this one-actor film is simple and brilliant. The execution is also brilliant. A husband/father/expert construction foreman strayed once and only once in his marriage and got a middle-aged woman pregnant in a drunken one-night stand when he was working away from home. He has made a decision to "do the right thing" (according to him) and accompany this "fragile" woman (who has no one else in the world) as she gives birth. He is decidedly not in love with her.

The entire film is him, in his car, at night, driving to the hospital, placing and receiving hands-free phone calls through his dashboard computer. The many voice actors are so amazing that we think we have actually seen them onscreen and we don't even realize there is just one actor that we ever see. Perhaps, (as in the movie "Her") because of our tech-as-part-of-our-marrow-lives, we will be seeing more of this films substantially employing voice-only thespians. The daring use of this device totally works in "Locke."

We don't get bored with the visuals--not only because of Hardy's intriguing emoting, but because the camera is sometimes outside the car, the police sirens and menacing trucks and wooshing cars adding to the tension. The sparse and sparsely-sprinkled soundtrack is perfect. I don't think I've ever called a soundtrack "perfect" before.

To add to his woes, Locke must oversee an historical (because of its magnitude) multi-million dollar construction operation remotely from his vehicle during the trip.

"Locke" is a rich "conundrum" and journey film. Did Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) make the right decision? Does he make the right decisions all along the road? Should he have involved others in his decision? Was he actually acting selflessly or selfishly? What were his deepest motivations (the woman, the baby, being a better man for his own family, his own self-respect, because he's a control freak, proving something to his dead father, putting people before things/work or work before people/things)? Did he understand what he was risking when he started out on the journey?

I was hoping this film would be an ode to husbands/fathers/working men (for Father's Day!) and it is not quite that. I was alternately infuriated at Locke for what seemed to be his arrogance, cowardice and loutishness, and pitying him for his plight and even identifying with how he handled it. The question rises: How necessary is the truth when people don't really want to know it? Is total transparency always the best answer?

We are true voyeurs in this film, watching this poor man's every twitch, every use of tissue (he has a bad cold on top of everything). Are we supposed to judge him? Are we not supposed to judge him? It's easy to follow his logic and see his point of view (as it is to empathize with everyone else on the phone, too). Does one out-of-character act truly define us (even though it can mess up the trajectory of our lives)? Or is it how we react, our pre-meditated second move that defines us? The Founder of my religious congregation, Blessed James Alberione, was kicked out of the seminary. Had he not been given a second chance, my life would be very, very different. And so would the world. Worse off. St. Patrick himself had an indiscretion in his younger years that people wanted to use to derail his becoming a bishop. "Locke" drives home the point how much each of us is in need of mercy.

This is a man's film if ever there was one: all the burdens men carry, all the things they are responsible for, the weight of "father," the way men go about things, the way they get things done, the pride they take in their work, the many and varied gifts God has given them, the way they relate to other men, the way they relate to women, the collision of work and home, wanting good order, wanting things to go about "normally," so many responsibilities, family heritage.

Every man should listen carefully to Locke's wife's reaction, so when they are tempted, they can think of it. Alice Cooper claims to never have cheated on his wife even once in 37 years. "For a momentary pleasure I'm gonna risk my marriage to the woman I love the most and want to be with for the rest of my life? That's insane."

If you really don't like F-bombs, do not see "Locke." They're used like water--in that casual British Isles way. New Yorkers use them like water, too, but it sounds bad. Much of the time it's really quite appropriate to the dire goings-on, and--I never thought I'd say this** but in the mouth of the comic relief, Donal,*** it's really quite hilarious.

The filmmakers wanted Hardy and only Hardy to play this role. They couldn't have been more on the money. His accent is unusual at first (a kind of Northern England thing that sounds almost Irish), but I got used to it. Sometimes his accent sounds decidedly working class, at other times, snooty, but there's always something soothing and calm about it. Is he trying to mollify himself ultimately?

I won't tell you if the ending is happy or sad or even hopeful because Sister wants you to see this worthy film. I, personally, am conflicted about the ending. It's not what I predicted would happen, and I can't tell whether I like it or not. Which might be a good thing in a film. "Locke" certainly raises many, many human questions.
______
*Tom Hardy was Bane in "Batman."
**Except for hilarious use by Steve Martin at the rental car place in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles."
***Glorious English names like "Bethan" and "Gareth."


OTHER STUFF:

--I would love to know where this film came from, why it was made. Is it based on anyone's personal experience?

--This is a thoughtful, but not cerebral, human drama. Visceral too, but thoughtful.

--Locke's relationship with his sons is so detailed, so tangible, so realistic.

--"If you make one ****ing mistake, the world comes crashing down around you."

--"cider" is "booze"

--Tom Hardy is only 37, but is made to look like he's in his 40's or 50's. He really brings the gravitas--only once in a while you'll see a younger man's twinkle in his eye. But I totally bought that he was older.

--If my husband (if I had a mortal husband) ever cheated on me, I really think that I would always love him (I don't know that we have much choice as women or as Christians in that department) and forgive him (eventually), but I couldn't forget, and I just couldn't go on living with him. He broke the marriage. Men say the same vows as women, but they don't seem to mean them the same way. If the "double standard" is inevitable, then we should have different marriage vows for women and men, which of course makes no sense. If sex is "no big deal" to men? It needs to start being a big deal. Because it is. Because they promised.

--IS this one deed really out of character for him? Or is it a hidden part of his character? Is it part of his bigger need to justify himself, and therefore everyone/everything is subordinated to that? It makes us really ask ourselves: what is REALLY first in my life? When push comes to shove, what is REALLY first? (Not what I wish was first or think is first or say is first.)

--Locke is conscientious. He's reasonable. He's capable. He does love his family. He's a good man. But is that enough if everything has to be on his terms?

--God is mentioned a few times, and is present and lurking in the film.

--Both women in the film show what a total commitment we need from men, personally and when children are involved.

--Alcohol abuse is a mighty player in the lives of Locke, Locke's father, Donal.

--Oscar worthy? In every way, except cinematography which was good but not great, especially exterior shots. Otherwise, this is just one big fat Oscar.


May 20, 2014

JONI EARECKSON TADA PREACHES THEOLOGY OF THE BODY / SUFFERING / HEAVEN!


WHERE THE HECK IS THE BLESSED FATHER JAMES ALBERIONE FILM?

MOVIES: "ALONE, YET NOT ALONE"





The new Christian movie, "Alone, Yet Not Alone" is a very expensive-looking period piece (the $7 million shows!), based on true events that took place during the French-Indian War around 1755. As happened more than once in our history, settlers (women and children) were captured by Native Americans and made to assimilate into the tribe and adopt Native ways. (The grown men were killed.) This story is about the Leininger family, farming settlers from Germany, and their dramatic escape from the Delaware tribe.

The goings-on are situated within the larger formation of the United States, the State of Pennsylvania, with even Benjamin Franklin getting into the action. The main character is a little daughter of the family, Barbara, who was captured and spends many years with the tribe.

 "Alone" features great music, makeup, wardrobe, lighting, cinematography, set design, and really gives the feeling that we are in these times. The acting? For the first three-quarters of the film: well done. Especially the kids. As I always say, kids today bury adults in the acting chops department.

But then, something very terrible happens to this film. It takes a nosedive in acting and impetus. Our main character grows up, and the actress that plays the older Barbara is simply not believable.The rest of the film also slows down considerably, and we're not left on the edge of our seats any more, but rather meandering aimlessly in the forest with our cast who seem to have no further goals than...existing. You know those kind of movies? Even when things heat up, it's a slow boil. There continue to be some great dramatic devices and plot points, but they are too placidly served up.

I am trying very hard not to be mean, because this film is quite an extravaganza. Quite the eye candy. Probably one of the "biggest" productions I've seen in a Christian film: Bravo! But truly, the last fourth of the film feels like a completely different screenwriter and director, and, of course, we have our grown up Barbara to contend with. To demonstrate what a turn for the worse this film takes: I burst out in muted (I was watching alone), prolonged laughter when "Native Barbie" first came on screen. (It's true the Natives darkened the light Germans' hair and skin, but this actress looks like she just stepped out of a spa.) She is extremely thin, delicate, mellow, with twenty-first century tics and sensibilities; I kept expecting her to whip out her phone to Snapchat.

I feel that the film portrayed Native Americans more or less as equals to the colonists/settlers, but with their own way of life, obviously. (Perhaps because of my own understanding and reading of events.) They do seem a bit fierce and warlike with harsh punishments for those (their own included) who don't do as they're told. (Let's remember that the Native Americans lived mainly outdoors and the discipline and cohesiveness of the tribe meant survival: life or death.) The policies and brutality of the occupying countries, soldiers and officials (living indoors, with the benefits of technology and imported goods) are completely missing.

There is a rushed recounting at the very beginning of the film during a Native council meeting: "They brought us the pox, took our hunting lands, etc." which could quickly be forgotten. There is also a quick mention of Natives being defrauded of their land, and that's why there is this hostility after seventy-three years of peaceful coexistence.

Why was this film made?

At first I questioned the purpose for making this film: A history lesson? Illustrating the living out of Christianity under duress? When I researched it online I discovered that Dr. James Leininger, a descendant of the Leininger family, owns Enthuse Entertainment that produced "Alone"!

I do still question if the script/film was passed through any Native American organizations for their side of the history. Scalping is presented as a purely Native American practice. Such was not the case. Some even believe it was the white man who introduced scalping to North America, and not all Native American tribes engaged in it. The French paid the Natives for British scalps. (How the heck do you know what nationality a scalp is?)

Is it worth seeing?

Yes, if you like history, and just to see how far Christian filmmaking is coming! If you take the kiddos, talk to them about and teach them correctly about Native Americans.

OTHER STUFF:

--When I was a kid at Camp Pesquasawasis in the woods of Portland, Maine (Camp Pesky for short), we used to have our own "French and Indian Wars": water balloon fights. Ruth Bassett (a Penobscot Native) was in my cabin. Years later, I find out that Ruth is our Sr. Marie James Hunt's cousin! Sr. Marie James' Mom is full-blood Penobscot, and Sr. James got to go to Kateri Tekakwitha's canonization in Rome and present a gift at the altar during the Mass. Sr. James' reflection on St. Kateri: "My people have carried so much sorrow. Ever since the canonization, I have seen just so much joy, so much joy and healing!"


The Penobscot (Panawahpskek) are an indigenous people of the Northeastern Woodlands, located in Maine. The Penobscot Nation, formerly known as the Penobscot Tribe of Maine, is the federally recognized tribe of Penobscot people.[3] They are part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, along with the Abenaki, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Mi'kmaq nations. Their main settlement is now Penobscot Indian Island Reservation. (Wikipedia)

--The title "Alone, Yet Not Alone" refers to a hymn that successfully threads through the story (sung by Joni Eareckson Tada!). Here's just a cool video of Joni preaching/singing:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npVsacxknlU Very Theology of the Body.
The song was up for an Oscar, but the nomination got rescinded when it came to light that the producer emailed some Hollywood friends about the nom. It was considered "lobbying" which is done ALL the time, and in very blatant campaigns! Here's Joni's take on the incident: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3-rH-_MoVo

--This film can present a feeling that there were three parties involved on some kind of level playing field: Native Americans, British, French. It is not stressed that this was the Native Americans' land! (Even though Native Americans don't believe land can't be owned, technically speaking.)

--Dig against Catholics? The German family narrates: "With the French, you had to be French and Catholic, the British welcomed all." Really???

--Twice: once when white kids steal food from colonists and once when colonists attack and Indian village (and don't seem to notice all the white people there--their skin and hair were not darkened at this point), there was a chance for the captives to escape, but nothing is made of it....

--I prefer the Canadian term for native, indigenous peoples: "First Nations." Make no mistake. Lest we forget.

May 10, 2014

MOVIES: "MOM'S NIGHT OUT"




Just in time for Mother's Day comes a genuinely fun and funny film about the crazy adventure that is parenting, specifically motherhood (with a serving of fatherhood on the side). If you've seen the snappy trailer, the movie does deliver on its promise, and there's lots more LOLs where that came from. But....

Dear Southern Christian filmmakers,
You're making some really great films these days. You've got a lot of the right stuff, all the elements, but you must, puhleeeeze: PICK. UP. THE. PACE. We are contracting narcolepsy watching your characters SPIT. IT. OUT. and WRAP. UP. THE. SCENE.
Ever so grateful,
Northern Christian audiences

As I was saying, this is a great little film, but about that pacing? The film starts of at frenetic, breakneck speed with voiceover from Allyson (Sarah Drew), the most stressed-out Mom (with three little kids) in her group of Mommy friends. She's really in a bad place, allowing her perfectionism and control-freakiness get the best of her. We're given lots of rapid-fire information in a little time to set up the rest of the film. There's a great use of visuals: intercuts, animation, graphics, cutaways, freeze frames, subtitles, etc. (the best is the pop-up texts with one Mom's hilarious "auto-correct" fails). But then, like an inverted pyramid, the film just gets slower and slower and s-l-o-w-e-r. We're already enjoying the film, so we have no problem going along for the ride, er, crawl.

The premise is simple: a bunch of Christian Moms from the same church, including the pastor's wife (Patricia Heaton), just want a break, a few hours to themselves at a fancy restaurant. However, as the saying goes: "Man's work is from sun to sun; woman's work is never done," and the rather inept hubbies/fathers can't quite handle things on their own. Actually, none of the adults in this film seem terribly grown up. A baby goes missing (not belonging to any of our Moms) and the film becomes about finding the baby (last known whereabouts: a tattoo parlor). Or rather, the film SHOULD have become about saving the baby (Hello? Missing baby?). The problem is, the baby is not directly connected to our protagonist, (it's her husband's half-sister's) so we now have a conflict of focus. Quite often, and rather jarringly even for a comedy, other petty concerns that are closer to our main character's (or another character's) heart take precedence. Sometimes the baby gets lots in the shuffle of the three ring circus that is this movie, and even the baby's mother seems to forget her objective. There's a real lack of desperation and urgency, along with very unreal (mild) reactions to this emergency.

All that being said, the dialogue is superb and truly humorous all the way through (UNLIKE so many supposed "comedies" today). The acting is also quite excellent. At UCLA, we were taught that comedy is HARD. It's the hardest genre of film, believe it or not. The only measure of a comedy's success is if people laugh. That's it. And we do. Timing is everything in comedy. Our actors were fine with the timing, but the overall pace of the film diminished its effectiveness. Our minds already figure out a few split-seconds ahead what's going to happen. Had the film been cut smart and terse like the trailer, it would have tightened things up a lot and we would have had gag upon gag without time to breathe between guffaws. (Perfect timing is part of what makes "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" so successful.) Get into the scene late, leave early.

I hope I'm not being overly critical, because the film really is enjoyable (epic silliness!) and has great advice for Moms in the end, throughout its multiple endings.

Without giving too much away, let's just say that the takeaway of "Mom's Night Out" is about letting ourselves off the hook when we're beating ourselves up or are totally unrealistic in our expectations. We need to step back and question where the SCRIPT is coming from that we are trying to follow. Our own overblown dreams? Our friends? Peer pressure? Our parents? The neighbors? Images that the media tells us we should live up to? Worries about the future? Why don't we write our OWN script? Why don't we count our blessings? Why don't we "resign as general manager of the universe" for our own peace of mind? Why don't we start with what's possible, what's right in front of us?

This is a Christian-produced film: Provident Films and Pure Flix, and you'll recognize actors from "Fireproof" and "Courageous." Christian invective: "Oh, crud."

The story takes into account the reality of today's living without getting too gritty or serious, but tries to steer us (though the characters' foibles) toward the path of contentment in the midst of duty, sacrifice, the unexpected, the disruptive and the uncontrollable. God is always our answer and our Rock, but how that practically plays out will look different for each of us, depending on our personalities, issues and life experiences.

OTHER STUFF:

--Cutsie, but relatable, I'm sure.

--Dear Hollywood, please stop the trend of loud pop song singing through dialogue. Thank you.

--Directors: Erwin Brothers ("October Baby")

--A word about parenting (as though I would know):
Allyson's kids aren't brats, but they are little banshees. You do NOT have to let your kids scream and holler whenever it occurs to them to do so. I really think that at least two generations of parents (Boomers and Gen Xers) are possessed of the false notion that if we say "no" to our kids, it will repress, oppress and otherwise warp them. But I think it's simply because we can't say "no" to ourselves. Discipline (self- and otherwise) is a beautiful thing. As my mother says, when you don't discipline a child so they can fit in nicely into a civilized society, you're doing that child a disservice because no one wants to be around them. Methinks we need a little more "British nanny" childrearing these days and a little less "raised by wolves." Allyson is hyper-vigilant and organized, perhaps, but hyper-undisciplined, and therefore, so are her children. (Dad travels a lot).

--Check out this article from the Toronto Star: Overwhelmed: Why overwork is the new American status symbol http://on.thestar.com/1hOT3HJ 



May 6, 2014

YOUNG ADULT WOMEN'S VOCATION DISCERNMENT RETREAT--AUGUST 1-3!










Are you 18-35? Discerning a religious vocation? Join young women from across the USA and Canada August 1-3, 2014 at the Daughters of St. Paul in Chicago!

WHO: Young women discerning religious life.

WHAT: A weekend retreat with conferences, Eucharistic Adoration, one-on-one guidance, sharing, silent time, discernment tips, fellowship!

WHEN: August 1-3. (Arrivals: Friday, August 1--retreat starts with supper. Retreat: August 2-3. Departures: Monday, August 4--or Sunday night if necessary).

WHERE: Pauline Books & Media/Daughters of St. Paul Convent 172 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60601 (Do not contact Chicago Sisters--they are only hosting us!)

FEE: Free--you simply need to get yourself there!

TRAVEL DETAILS: We can pick you up at train stations and airports.
Midway Airport is closest and easiest. Southwest Airlines goes to Midway (cheap tickets/free bags)! You can also take the CTA--Chicago city trains from both airports, right to our doorstep! Very easy. MIDWAY AIRPORT: (orange line--the only line at airport) get off at Randolph/Wabash stop, directly behind us.
O'HARE AIRPORT (blue line--the only line at airport) get off at Clark/Lake stop and walk a few blocks north to N. Michigan Ave. or call us for a pickup.
DRIVING--You can park at Assumption Church 323 W. Illinois Street, Chicago, IL 60654 and walk several city blocks (about 15 minutes) to us, or call for a pickup. Put large sign on dashboard: "DAUGHTERS OF ST. PAUL. CELL: 617 850 5584. PERMISSION FROM FR. JOE."

HOW TO REGISTER & FOR MORE DETAILS: Contact Sr. Michael vocations@paulinemedia.com OR Sr. Helena hburns@paulinemedia.com for registration form.

God bless & hope to see you!

Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp & Sr. Margaret Michael Gillis, fsp
Daughters of St. Paul
GLORIA DEO + PAX HOMINIBUS



May 5, 2014

MOVIES: "HEAVEN IS FOR REAL"




The movie "Heaven Is for Real," based on the book by the same name, is the true story of four-year-old Colton Burpo who claims to have seen heaven. First off: Do NOT watch the trailer if you haven't already! It's a great trailer, but it gives away a bit too much. Second off: DO see this movie!

Colton Burpo (played by the cherubic Connor Corum, who looks a lot the real Colton AND my nephew, Christopher, when he was that age--that's alot of "C"'s) is worth the ticket price. So is Greg Kinnear, who plays his pastor-father, Todd. Actually, all we needed in this movie was Colton and Greg together. Their chemistry is amazing and they are both just so believable.

The story arc is rather simple, and we are treated to a RARE long Act One which is such a welcome change. The action does NOT follow the now-tired: Happy, happy family life and then--after seven minutes--BOOM, massive tragedy strikes. I had not read the book so I simply did not know what to expect, or what was coming, and found it on the unpredictable side.

The stakes are not that high in this film. I found myself asking: so...what IS at stake here? Family finances, a pastor's mild crisis of faith? But we don't really care about the stakes, we are hooked because we just want to know for ourselves whether or not heaven is for real.

I think anyone could enjoy this film--even though it sometimes slips into pollyanna "Christian movie" territory, especially in the character of Todd's wife (British actress, Kelly Reilly, whose accent comes out a little when she's flustered), a consistently sweet, supportive, fawning, coquettish, fun-loving dream wife who always looks amazing. She also gets a bit maudlin at times. But I considered whether this was the actress or the thinly-written part, and I think it's a bit of both. Was she portraying a "pastor's wife"? She just seems such a throwback--in all her relationships and demeanor--to another era, almost. "On the other hand" (Tevya), it's refreshing to see a woman who chooses (much of life is a choice) to be...gentle, tender.

There are genuinely funny moments--marvelously expressed by Greg Kinnear's facial reactions. But there are dreadful moments as well, namely when the film...sigh...tries to SHOW us heaven. When the angelic music cued up and the screen got brighter and brighter I was muttering under my breath: "no...no...no!" But they didn't hear me. Clouds that we see out any standard airplane window, blurry white laughing CGI angels, and a duck-footed Jesus in a machine-sewn, bad Christmas pageant robe that comes only mid-calf, ankle-high Roman sandals*...shall I go on?

For anyone who has lost someone to death, especially a child, this is your film. And that's pretty much all of us, isn't it? This film is comforting and challenging at the same time. There are no easy answers. There is still mystery to it all. When a woman wonders if her adult son went to heaven, the pastor urges her to trust in God's love and mercy.

Todd's conversation with a psychologist he turns to for help must have been written by a Christian. Like the recent movie "God's Not Dead," it doesn't really grasp the mind of a nonbeliever--this conversation could have been prolonged and could have stood in for the much larger scientific discussion regarding near-death experiences.

We really, really, really don't want to be underwhelmed when it comes to heaven. The images of heaven in the film are like that in a children's Bible story illustration or a Jehovah's Witnesses book I saw once. But thankfully they are not like the oil painting bogs of "What Dreams May Come." As beautiful as heaven is, the point is that the most beautiful thing in heaven is God and people!

When Hollywood does "religion" well, they do it well. "Heaven Is For Real"--for the most part--is one of those occasions.

"Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." John 20:29

"Though you have not seen him you love him." 1 Peter 1:8
_________
*my Jesus wears more Birkenstock-y sandals

OTHER STUFF:

--Jesus has a horse.

--Greg Kinnear is one of those actors you forget to mention when someone asks: "Who's your favorite actor?" But once you see he's in the film, or he appears on the screen, you know everything's going to be just fine.

--I totally and completely believed that Greg Kinnear was a Christian and a pastor and a Dad and a husband. Such good acting.

--Actors are people who are full of life.

--Thomas Haden Church is so much fun.

--Just when things start to get too twee, they get gritty.

--Passing kidney stones in a movie??? Is this a first? I didn't even think it was a real thing!

--Pastor Todd's congregation must not have known their Bible too well. They kept asking how Todd could have been to heaven if he hadn't died. (See  2 Corinthians 12:2.)

--Dad gets his sign, Mom gets hers.

--Nonbelievers need to know that believers really joke about the God stuff. They need to know that believers WOULD sing "Amazing Grace" and call 911 at the same time.

--"If God forgives anything, He forgives everything."

 --"Nobody will hurt you."

--"On earth as it is in heaven."

--"That's HIM??!!"

--Sometimes good is banal, too.

--It is not irrational to believe what is beyond reason's grasp/experience.

--There are "lots" of animals in heaven. Colton Burpo says so. Boom. (I knew it.)

--You would think the kid would miss heaven.

--There are astounding bookends to this film of a young girl, Akiane Kramarik (Google her art), who had a similar experience to Colton when she was four. Her painting of the face of Christ is approved by Colton as what he saw. Wanna know more about the devotion to and relics of the Holy Face of Christ through the centuries? I highly recommend the book (NOT the documentary): "The Face of God" by Paul Badde, Ignatius Press.

--Older book/video on near-death experiences: "Life After Life" by Dr. Moody

--New book by formerly unbelieving neurosurgeon who has since "changed his mind" (pun intended) after his own experience: "Proof of Heaven" and "To Heaven and Back" by a female doctor.

--Check out my friend's amazing new DVD on Purgatory, also: www.PurgatoryForgottenChurch.com