January 28, 2015

50 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT "FIFTY SHADES OF GREY"



"Feefty Sheeeyaydes of Greye!" --@MattFradd (the Aussie guy you're watching)


MOVIES: "AMERICAN SNIPER"



Is "American Sniper" war porn? I hate to use the word "porn" because of the way it's being tossed around to describe so many different things today (e.g., Instagrams of "food porn"). If everything's porn, than nothing is porn, and porn is its own unique, hideous reality. But I really wanted to know if "American Sniper" glorifies war. Does the film pretend to take very seriously the colossal cost of war, the human toll on both sides, the fact that "war is an adventure from which there is no return" (John Paul II)--but actually delights in it? Kinda, sorta. Even though Clint Eastwood insists he's more of a dove than a hawk. Some would argue that all war movies are "war porn."

OSCAR WORTHY?

First of all, 84-year-old Eastwood is one heck of a director: short and medium juxtaposed scenes one after the other. No wasted nothing. Cutting in deep and leaving early (that's how you shoot a scene). USA/Iraq. USA/Iraq. Towards the end of the film, you're just like, "Wow, I'm really here in the middle of this firefight in the middle of this sandstorm." Jason Hall is an amazing writer: no false words, false notes, false emotions, false dialogues. Dude is an actor. If actors can write? They make the best writers. He is nominated for an Oscar.

A transformed, rugged and plain Bradley Cooper--although a solid actor--is surprisingly emotionless, unexpressive and stoic throughout, but maybe he was trying to channel Chris Kyle, the real soldier he plays. Maybe it was a stretch for Cooper to play this "God, country and family" Texan, who was so focused in every way and had so few doubts about his trajectory in life, his identity and mission that he was able to hold it together better than most soldiers. Likeable, not-stuck-on-himself, unassuming, not-self-absorbed Cooper shines most when he is being a charming woo-er and then husband, or joking with the guys in that "hopeful or die" (not gallows humor) way American soldiers evidently do. Eastwood or Hall deserve an Oscar, but not Cooper, not for this role.

A JUST CAUSE?

Chris' then-girlfriend (a smart performance by Sienna Miller--a Brit who made me believe she was a Yank) asks the karmic question: "Do you ever think of the person at the other end of your gun?" Yes, he does. He refuses to take killing lightly as some of his buddies seemingly do.

At one point a soldier wavers: "I want to believe in what we're doing." And that's really the question with so many wars and military actions, isn't it? What did Iraq have to do with 9/11? Did we really go in there after WMD's (weapons of mass destruction) that some are now reporting do exist (Bush was right?) and are now in the hands of ISIS? Were we planning to go back to Iraq anyway to begin fighting state-sponsored terrorism on the ground, and 9/11 was the perfect "excuse" or opportunity? Why did we choose Iraq (even though 15 of the 19 9/11 attackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia--our "untouchable" ally) as the place to begin--because of high-profile terrorists connected with Osama bin Laden? (Going into Afghanistan/Pakistan was going after Bin Laden, I can comprehend that.)

I found myself getting angry at the hell we brought on beautiful Iraq, watching simulated sequences of hapless civilians getting murdered as "collateral," or because they helped the Americans, or whatever. And in war zones, there's always the demonic unleashed in myriad other little and big ways. Yet, I'm firmly convinced that the majority of our soldiers who went to Iraq did so with the right intention (to protect country, freedom, because they were sent, as a visceral reaction to 9/11). So it is possible to have a right purpose in a wrong war. And it is possible to be for the soldiers and against the war.

GLAMOR OF EVIL

Is this a "glamorous" war film? Yes. Glamorous to men (must look like fun to them--from firsthand accounts I've read of the adrenaline rush of war--and you can't beat the camaraderie), and glamorous to women because each and every one of these soldiers (there really aren't any female soldiers in this film--just one quick shot of a few women in a briefing session) is a sincerely good guy and drop-dead gorgeous (no pun intended).

MEN: PROTECTORS OR AGGRESSORS?

I love that Chris' father raised his sons to be fiercely protective. Good! Chris got the right message loud and clear: "There are three kinds of men: wolves, sheep and sheepdogs who protect the sheep." He preserved his humanity throughout and understood the gravity of "stopping a heartbeat." But as a sniper, he had to protect his comrades. He was their cover. I heard recently that because we don't necessarily require/demand much of our young men, challenge them, and because there are no specifically noble traditional male rites of passage, boys don't get signaled that they are men now. Grown up. Responsible. That they are the protector and not the aggressor. That they should be protecting the weak and innocent from aggressors.

SEX AND VIOLENCE

It's interesting how basic training and drill sergeants for  the all-male Navy Seals that Chris was a part of use sexual terms, sexual belittling, etc., to toughen the guys up. But it's also so tongue in cheek and everyone knows it. The talk is rough throughout the film, and the violence is quite intense. Sex and gore shots are fleeting. The soldiers alternately dismiss and demean women, as well as live for them.

CONCLUSION

The ending was a total surprise for me. I gasped out loud.

I have a priest friend who sincerely thinks that war is good for men. That going to war is the best and most noble and "manly" thing a man can do. Can we not offer men something higher than war to live for?

OTHER STUFF:

--Is the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War even over? Has it been declared over? I'm serious. Do we even know? Are they part of some larger unending war on terror? Am I just ignorant? Because I have dearly tried to keep up.

--My Canadian audience was really digging the kills, even cheering a little. It was strange for Canada, but these were also young, seemingly first-generation, immigrant Canadians. Maybe the screen looked just like their videogames. Meanwhile, I, an American, am playing anti-war song "American Woman" (by Canadian band "The Guess Who") in my head.

--There were small children in my theater which was sad, but I guess their parents must let them see this stuff on TV all the time, too.

--I kept thinking of Jesus and nonviolence and MLK ("Selma") during the INTENSE battle scenes. Nonviolence requires superhuman courage and strength: to take on oneself the violence and end it within one's own body.

--So why is Cooper nominated for Oscar? I think he's a Hollywood darling. And Hollywood--although traditionally left of left on most issues--was ostensibly behind the second Iraq War.

--Excellent portrayal of the dilemma of split loyalties: family first or my buddies "over there" first?

--Why do people pay $15 to talk and snore in movie theaters?

--One of the most powerful credit rolls ever.

--Constant reference to the enemy as "savages." Which, of course, is standard operating procedure in any war: dehumanize the enemy.

--This war film is VERY much about (American) aftermath and PTSD. No aftermath/epilogue for the Iraq side. Not even a whisper. The Iraqi people are not responsible for Saddam, terrorism, 9/11, Osama bin Laden.

--Are soldiers really allowed to call home from the field? Yes, says my vet friend! Wild!

--Chris Kyle is completely disciplined and subordinate, not rogue, even though he was revered as a "legend" and he knew it.

--Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller actually look like Chris Kyle and his wife.

--"War puts lightning in your bones. And pretty soon it's all you can hold on to."

--Was it really that calm in the battlefield? Hardly any fear or meltdowns are depicted.

--Chris Kyle being Texan explains a lot. You do know Texans are more American than Americans, right?

--Soldier: "I want to believe in what we're doing here."
Chris: "We're fighting evil here. We've seen it."
Soldier: "There's evil everywhere."

--Kyle is justifiably upset--when he's back in the USA between tours--that the war is not even on the news, nobody even seems to care....

--Check out this wonderful organization: www.CatholicPeaceFellowship.com, made up in part by vets. Includes Church teaching on war, conscientious objection, etc. Their website is unclear and disorganized (there's an old and new version--the old is better), but lots of great stuff. (The way conscientious objection works in USA is you must declare yourself a combatant or non-combatant in the military from the get-go. You are not allowed to opt out of specific military actions/wars as they arise because of your judgment that they are unjust.)

--What do Iraqis think of "American Sniper"? Here you go:
http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/iraq/150128/what-moviegoers-baghdad-think-american-sniper (Also proves my point that men love war. Any war.)

--Myla, a young woman from Hawaii (who had to finish her time in the Army), was going to become a Daughter of St. Paul but was killed Christmas Eve in Baghdad. http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0600230.htm


WHY MEN LOVE WAR:

(I think men also "love," or feel inexorably drawn, called, programmed to "protect" or do what they perceive as protecting. This is a very good thing. It's how God made them. But it has to be channeled as rightly as possible. This reflex is clearly shown in the Chris Kyle character, and I've witnessed it in my brother and other men.)







January 19, 2015

MOVIES: "SELMA"



"Selma," the story of a pivotal point in the civil rights work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a well-cast, well-acted re-telling. At times it lacks a bit of a spark, especially as David Oyelowo delivers MLK's rousing, eloquent and inspired speeches in an almost too polished fashion. But this is one of the film's only flaws.

The very word "Selma" should be fraught with meaning for Americans, but with each generation, once-shocking and galvanizing events fade. Historical dramas are an excellent way to bring to life crucial personages and moments, to "never forget" where we came from as a country. Many historians loathe these re-enactments because they know all the finer complexities of situations and fear that what people now see on the screen will become ingrained as Gospel truth. But getting 80% of history right is worth it if the alternative is knowing 0%.

"Selma" truly focuses on this one event in MLK's life with just enough backstory to get us going, with just enough hints at the even worse recent nightmare of slavery. Nothing is gratuitous or maudlin in "Selma." This shows great restraint in proper filmmaking, much like the great restraint required by the nonviolent movement. Rather than overstuffing the film with every great event  and character of the 60's, "Selma" is focused. For example, we see Malcolm X only once, at just the right time and in just the right way.

Oprah Winfrey is almost unrecognizable as she gives an incredibly humble and unprepossessing performance. Carmen Ejogo looks eerily like Coretta Scott King, so much so that you would think she had cosmetic surgery. MLK's small entourage of planners and activists give just the right aura of men powerful and determined in their own right, but willing to trust the thinking, leading and strategizing genius of Dr. King. But the real heroes of the film and the movement are the completely ordinary everyday folks, black and white, who put it all on the line. Tom Wilkinson is brilliant (and comical) as LBJ. There is subtle humor everywhere if you know a little something about these times: Edgar J. Hoover's bit part is hilarious.

The film does not forget that Dr. King (doctorate in theology from Boston University) was also, or perhaps first, a pastor. God is the ultimate reason, the ultimate giver of freedom and rights and dignity, and the civil rights movement is very much seen as God's will--"who created all men equal"--by many of its participants.

The tone of the film is mildly tense with a few flares in violence and raw emotion. There are many scenes of a kind of minimalist stillness. The film could have been made in a more dynamic way with intensity, blasting score, with quicker cuts and shorter dialogue, but it gives us the feel of real life unraveling in real time. The cornucopia catalogue of this era's music (including all the jazz, blues, Gospel, folk, rock, spirituals, etc.) is used sparingly and to great effect.

For the most part, little of the actual footage of the Selma March(es)--there were two!--is used, which puts the burden on the current-day filmmakers to deliver their own images, rather than using the real images as a crutch. Only towards the end, and with purpose, do we see long cuts of the actual marches. The first march was all-Black. The second march was integrated. The media played a great role in raising awareness of the invisible horrors transpiring in the South by reporting in print, but also and much more powerfully, photographing and filming, and then displaying on worldwide television.

Today's social justice movements (e.g., "Occupy" and #BlackLivesMatter could really take a page from Dr. King's, Ghandi's and others') playbook. If possible, go stringently by the existing laws in order to change them. Otherwise, highly organized civil disobedience. (An unjust law is no law at all.) A cogent list of demands, outcomes and desired goals. Use the system itself in order to be able to truly use the system (in "Selma's" case, be able to vote). And above all? Nonviolence. Because nonviolent action works and brings lasting change. But who will be able to stick to nonviolence in the face of all kinds of unwarranted, blatant and brutal intimidation; oppression and bigotry, and flagrant disregard for the law by those in power? Who will have the superhuman patience to be able to carry on in the face of stubborn attitudes that refuse to change? Only those who truly believe in the depths of their hearts that hatred is weaker than love.

OTHER STUFF:

--Woman director! Woman director! Ava DuVernay (snubbed by #OscarsSoWhite). This is the whitest Academy Awards (noms) since 1998.

--I chuckled aloud a few times, gasped a few times, and learned a lot.

--LBJ's confidential n***** comment (like Sony's hacked emails), shows how deep racism is in the USA. This is what Black people understand only too well and know that many white people don't. If I was Black? I would just be full of simmering anger at the hypocrisy. I wouldn't want to be, but I know I would be.

--King's purported womanizing is dealt with with economy and gravitas. It had to be.

--"Negotiate, demonstrate, resist." MLK's strategy in a nutshell. (He keeps repeating this.)

--As an American, I feel proudly that somehow this is my story, too.

--Most African-Americans have been in the United States longer than most white people.

--People were so much more articulate in the 60's. Sigh. The film has such incredible attention to detail that it captures older pronunciations of words, antiquated expressions, etc.

--I don't know if the (older) Canadians in my theater got all the jokes. But then again, Canadians do not engage in boisterous laughter.

--Other related must-see movies and docmentaries: "Eyes on the Prize" (Civil Rights Movement), "Malcom X" (Denzel Washington), "42" (The Jackie Robinson story). And if you want to understand who Malcolm X was at the end of his life, you MUST watch the interviews he gave about his journey/transformed thought.

--Did you know that MLK's niece, Dr. Alveda King, is a pro-life activist?

--"Selma" really showcases above all the inner workings of the movement. How easily factions and infighting sprung up and how it was resolved.

--Couldn't help thinking of the song "Sweet Home Alabama" and Neil Young. :(

"Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come...." Amazing Grace

"The man on the news said China's gonna beat us,
We shot all our dreamers, there's no one left to lead us.
We need a solution, we need salvation,
Let's send some people to the moon and gather information.
They brought back a big bag of rocks.
Only cost thirteen billion. Must be nice rocks.
You think it's such a sad thing when you see a fallen king
Then you find out they're only princes to begin with
And everybody has to choose whether they will win or lose
Follow God or sing the blues, and who they're gonna sin with.
What a mess the world is in, I wonder who began it.
Don't ask me, I'm only visiting this planet." 
Only Visiting the Planet, Larry Norman

January 7, 2015

December 30, 2014

TV: "THE SISTERHOOD: BECOMING NUNS" (6 PART SERIES)



Reality TV about five young women discerning their vocation at three different convents? How could this be the proper vehicle? Won't the cameras interfere with or even hamstring this very personal and intimate process? Will it "work"? When I heard that such an animal was coming down the pike, I had great apprehension, even when assured that it would be "respectful," and that one of the producers is Catholic and loves nuns. This producer was taught by nuns and wanted to show the world how awesome nuns are. (Thanks!)

THE NUNS WHO KNEW TOO MUCH

Let me give my verdict up front. "Sisterhood" is wonderful. Even though it would seem--as a Daughter of St. Paul: media nuns!--I would jump at a chance to participate in such a project, I'm glad that we did not. But in the same breath, I'm very glad "Sisterhood" was made. I think as Daughters of St. Paul we are TOO media savvy to let the dynamic play out. It almost took congregations with a certain media naivete--as well as a trustworthy production company--to pull this off and capture the total experience, setbacks, breakthroughs, spontaneity, honest emotions, revelations, etc. (We Daughters of St. Paul are "The Nuns Who Knew Too Much.")

Being savvy media nuns, our postulants took full advantage of tweet-watching with the hashtag #RealPostulants and even hosted online Q & A sessions before viewings!

Some of our media-savvy #RealPostulants and young Sisters in formation.

A SUCCESSFUL MEDIA EXPERIMENT

I have come to see "The Sisterhood" as an exciting new experiment with a generation totally, totally at ease in front of and behind a camera. For better or for worse, they are so used to externalizing every thought and movement of their souls, and publicly chronicling every aspect of their lives. Why NOT bring radical faith into the frame? A few times one of the young women and/or a nun demands the cameras be turned off, which shows an understanding that not EVERYTHING in a person's life should be seen/heard by the world.

NUN STARS

The lovely young women are all in their 20's: Eseni (NYC), Christie (California), Stacey (Virginia), Francesca (New Jersey), Claire (Illinois). They visit three congregations: Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm (NY), Daughters of St. Mary of Providence (Chicago), Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker (Kentucky). It becomes clear early on that these solid, wise, true-blue nuns are the stars of the show! One young woman watching the show tweeted: "It has become apparent to me that I need a team of nuns advising my life!"

HOT SNAKES

The production company, Hot Snakes ("Breaking Amish"), are masters, MASTERS of reality TV. The snippets, the bumpers, the interviews, the poignant moments are incredibly intriguing. They have a great way of making something look (through sly editing) that something is going one way, when it's not. Great reveals. We learn more and more about the young women each week. You will be hooked. But at first I was so afraid they would trump up the drama to make "discerning"--essentially a very interior thing--worth watching. The first episode is a bit that way, sometimes even feeling set up, or with "repeated" conversations for the sake of the camera. It even looks like the convent is a very scary, militaristic place! (Think "American Horror Story.") My Sisters and I--and our younger Sisters in formation--were very concerned: "This show is going to make young women AFRAID to discern!" We agreed, for example, that we would never traumatize a young woman with acne by insisting she can't wear make-up while she stays at the convent--and let her have a meltdown on camera over it. But, guess what? She got over it, with the support of the other young women!

FLAWS

The biggest drawbacks to this media format and what is being shown?

1. The production company vetted the young women and the nuns. They knew nothing about each other, and the girls had no idea what "the rules" would be or even what States the convents were in (so the raw initial reactions could be seized). At first it was a little misleading because of the subtitle: "BECOMING NUNS." What is really going on in "The Sisterhood" is a prolonged live-in (not just quick visit) "nun run"--with some young women who had barely begun discernment. In real life, this kind of intense live-in experience would be one of the last stages of discernment.

2. The nuns and the girls "talked about" each other in private interviews, sharing negative details and impressions. My understanding of the virtue of charity would prevent this, even if, in the end, everyone would see what everyone said and be OK with it. Even if, in the end it was "real" and "helpful."

3. The attitude toward cell phones. On our discernment get-togethers and retreats, we do not confiscate cell phones. We only strongly encourage certain modes of use at certain times. (NOW my "media nun-ness" is coming out!) The confiscating of cell phones at each convent was a real bone of contention for the young women. Two of the young women were very attached to their phones--mostly because of WHO they called: a mother and a boyfriend. It's true that (not just) our young people are rather addicted to phones/media devices today. However, if we just go whole hog with swearing off media use cold turkey and don't teach them, model for them how to use media well, they are left without media skills, self-discipline, and get the message that the Church is opposed to media. Yes, we need to learn how to unplug (and love unplugging as much as we love being connected) for many reasons, at many times, but the Church should be a leader (and nuns are female leaders in the Church) regarding optimum use of the latest media technology!

When cell phones first came out, people were so amused that we nuns (Daughters of St. Paul) had them in our pockets. I used to explain: "Well, we're media nuns." But I quickly decided that ALL nuns (except cloistered nuns BUT SEE COMMENT SECTION!), and priests, and religious people should have cell phones! If this is where people are at, where the culture is at, are we going to stand back and NOT engage in people's experience, NOT be a part of the conversation? NOT share the travails of modern life? NOT be digital missionaries? Rubbish!

REASONS YOU SHOULD WATCH

--snapshot of the faith of our young women today (the Millennials' faith and lack of it are much studied, and it's not a hopeful picture--but there's always another story, there are always individuals giving the lie to statistics)
--could help a young woman and her family in her discernment
--discerning the religious life is alive and well (close to 500,000 young married Catholic men and women in the USA have discerned religious life or priesthood)
--religious life is alive and well--smaller numbers, but alive and well
--get to know nuns
--get to know THESE particular nuns and listen to their wisdom
--get to know these amazing congregations
--see how closely related marriage to a guy is to marriage to The Guy. The nuns and girls really, really get this. I love how Darnell, "the boyfriend," says: "You want God? I have God in my life, too."

There are so many other details I would like to break down and assess, but I can't be a SPOILER! Are concrete decisions made by the end. YES.


THEOLOGY OF THE BODY
a young woman in discernment for the Sisterhood
must defend her virginity to other young women in discernment

One disturbing detail was the existing/persisting attitude of some of the young women toward chastity and pre-marital sex. The girls themselves reveal that two of them are virgins, at which two of the other girls were truly shocked, but not only shocked: completely uncomprehending! They expected virginity of one already nun-like girl--although they challenge her never having dated--but they are shocked by the virginity of the more "normal" girl! The attitude was: "But if you DON'T have sex with a guy you like, you will lose him and he might have been 'the one' you will marry." WOW. WOW. WOW. I know this is a completely common viewpoint/practice today, but it was just so taken-for-granted, so ingrained in these otherwise deeply faith-filled, faithful young women.

These young women don't even see how sex is profoundly related to their relationship with themselves, with God. Their attitude toward men is: "Of course you HAVE to give it to them. That's just the way the world is." This is not gender equality. These are NOT "liberated" young women in any sense of the word! Not in a feminist way,* not in a Christian way. They don't realize how their philosophy undermines their whole feminine self. And undermines the masculine self of every man they date, even if one of them becomes their husband.

It's one thing to say/believe: I don't always live chastity perfectly, but I try. It's another thing to say/believe: sex before marriage is no big deal. You have to/should do it, and virginity has no value. Any such cavalier attitude toward sex means: "The body doesn't matter. My body doesn't matter. I don't matter." I firmly believe this is one of the root-causes of widespread low self-esteem among women. Other women turn this "I don't matter" into a kind of ambitious, hardened drive toward acquiring.

The "normal" girl in question was shocked at their being shocked. She summed up her own ethos perfectly: "But why should I NOT be who I am for someone who is supposed to LOVE who I am and get to know me as I am?"

Such a crying, crying need for Theology of the Body. These young women--like our culture--has so much going for it, and yet is being eaten up alive from the inside out with a completely destructive understanding and praxis regarding sexuality: the place where we give and receive love and life with our whole person at the deepest level. And yet: "it's just sex"???

Check out this following news article that is similarly troubling on so many levels. Just like the Church's mishandling of the clergy sex abuse crisis, the Church's failure to teach and adhere to her beautiful vision of human sexuality has resulted in messes like this incident below. And the messes are getting bigger and more complex and far-reaching by the day. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. A precedent. A legal precedent. Expect many more such scenarios to follow: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/diocese-to-lose-2-million-in-teachers-ivf-lawsuit/

"The Sisterhood" is available for purchase at www.MyLifetime.com and on YouTube. Not available for download in Canada unless you have a VPN.

_______
*None of the young women said: "I like having sex. I want him to show me how much he loves me by having sex." It was just a huge cave-in: This is what guys expect and we have to give it to them.

December 23, 2014

JIMMY STEWART'S "OTHER" CHRISTMAS MOVIE


Prayer is a lifelong conversation with God!


"When you pass by a church, always stop and make a visit,
So when you die and go to Jesus, He won't say: who is it?"


December 13, 2014

MOVIES: "EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS"




"Exodus"--the story of Moses--proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that atheists make the best Bible movies (see my review of "Noah": http://hellburns.blogspot.com/2014/03/movies-noah.html#.VI0ZVSvF-Sp). I don't know that atheists necessarily make the best contemporary movies about faith or people of faith, but they certainly do the oldies well. Perhaps this is in part because they mine an amazing text/source that believers might take at face value and/or are afraid to delve to deeply into. Also, atheists are hungrier than us spoiled, slothful believers who take everything for granted. Simply having faith doesn't mean we have mastered the human depths of a Bible figure's journey. That's pretty much open to anyone. To do a Bible story well, an atheist filmmaker must suspend their OWN disbelief and ask "what if"? I think Ridley Scott has done that here.

BALE AND EDGERTON. LIKE BOSSES.

Does Christian Bale pull it off as Moses? Oh yeah. At first, I disliked his trim little facial hair and cropped-but-artfully-tousled hair that didn't look like it fit the era, but it leaves him room for growth and aging. Ramses is played by the unearthly, superlative, uber-uber Joel Edgerton. Edgerton plays Ramses (backstory: unaffirmed by his father) with complexity: a royal that is weak, sniveling, and yet utterly ruthless and driven at the same time. (He reminded me a bit of the dauphin in "Joan of Arc" with Ingrid Bergman.)

Bale is Welsh and Edgerton is Australian, and it just shows. Americans are too American and the British are too British. I'm really digging these other-accented male actors (include New Zealanders) for the Big Roles (although Brooklyn-born John Turturro as Seti, Ramses' father, made me forget all his other, often humorous, deeply American roles).

FLAWS & APPLAUSE

In general, this is a well-made film, part of a new generation of Bible films. I am thrilled that our visually-oriented youth are being treated to these nouveau masterpieces. Most young people have not seen any of the older Bible films or lives of Christ. The special effects are phenomenal--nothing new that we haven't seen in recent years, but it's still awesome to see it applied to Bible stories--and it does pay to see "Exodus" in 3D. The dialogue is rather minimal--and once in a brief while unintentionally laughably simplistic or expository--but the great Ridley Scott mesmerizingly pulls us through visual sequence after visual sequence of battles and plagues. I'm not usually one for epic films with wars and lots of noise and action, but Scott is a genius and is really moving the story ahead through the action-reactions of characters to these grandiose, sweeping events.

There are a few scenes that could have been re-shot. The actors looked like they were trying to remember lines, weren't sure how to play the scene, or it just wasn't their best take. Dude. Just reshoot.

But these are my only complaints. It's a great film.

ANCIENT YET CONTEMPORARY

Although the Bible is an "ancient" text about ancient times and peoples, human nature doesn't change, and so "Exodus" has a contemporary feel. I could totally relate to Moses as he struggled to relate to God. I loved seeing this incredible, incredible man of God questioning, fighting with and arguing with God. Remember, Moses saw God. He did so many epic things like, oh, leading the Hebrew people to freedom after four hundred years of slavery, parting the Red Sea, the Ten Commandments, etc., etc. But I love how the film starts him off as a skeptical, practical man with no faith.

GOD

The film has ample room for God as a huge player, a huge character. In fact, God makes it abundantly clear that mostly, once Moses has obeyed (a very creative, two-way-street type of obedience), God will DO everything. In a colossal way. There are no other explanations for why the cataclysms visit the mighty Egyptian empire. It reminds me of a quote of Blessed James Alberione: "Always start from a stable, start in Bethlehem, because God wants to show that it is He who is doing everything. Those who begin the works of God with money are naive."

This larger-than-life drama of the Exodus is faithful enough to Scripture (with some poetic license as it should have, but not as rock-and-roll as "Noah"), and  although this event is just so foundational for the Jewish people, it is also our foundation as Christians: as Pope Pius XII said: "Spiritually, we are all Semites." I couldn't help thinking of the Easter Vigil liturgy and Fathers of the Church that rely so heavily on the imagery of the Exodus for celebrating Baptism and the Redemption: freedom, transformation through water, the Passover.

The supposed cruelty, arbitrariness, and unreasonableness of God is also dealt with--and not just that of the Hebrew God, but that of the gods of other peoples in the region. That there IS a diety(ies) is assumed, taken for granted, obvious, almost unquestioned . But just what this God is like is hotly debated: "What kind of God would...?" Do we ask these same questions today with the same seriousness of purpose?

THEOLOGY OF THE BODY?

This is a very male movie. Women barely play a part. Sigourney Weaver is miscast as the young pharaoh's mother, Miriam has two small (albeit significant) scenes. Zipporah, Moses' wife, is truly the love of his life, but we see so strongly how faith, leadership, the direction of tribes, nations and history is patriarchal. As I will always maintain, patriarchy--although a system massively open to massive abuse--is not evil, and in a certain sense, God has ordained and used this system throughout salvation history (it's also deeply rooted in simple biology but has nothing whatsoever to do with superiority--just a different task in life than women).

It is up to men and women (with the onus on women) to bring to light and emphasize the unique identity, heroism and essential contribution of women throughout history and salvation history. And we do not have to do this in a strident way, just a firmly insistent, truthful, and complementary way. It is up to us to read the Bible with women's eyes and see all the amazing strong women of God everywhere in the Bible--and imitate them. And yes, much of this revolves around motherhood and the protection of vulnerable human life (um, what could be more noble and important)? Men, too, are called to protect vulnerable life, but they do it in a different way. Moses' mother, his sister and Pharaoh's daughter are directly responsible for saving Moses' life as a baby. Liturgists have often commented what a tragedy it is that the story of the Hebrew midwives in Egypt is not included anywhere in our liturgical readings! They are even named which is always significant in Scripture. (Exodus 1:15-21)

One more word about patriarchy and the absolute need for good men, for good men to lead. When good men lead, women and children flourish. When good men lead, women and children flourish.  Just before the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, a husband and father of two, a very good man (who leads) said this:  "I hope they start the Synod with 'the father.' Because if there is not a good father in the family, he will not do the right thing, and the children won't know right from wrong. He must imitate St. Joseph when it comes to his wife, and their marriage has to be Christ-centered."

I hope that men in particular will feel called to a deeper, truly masculine relationship with God through this film.

A PRAYERFUL, CATECHETICAL, EXEGETICAL EXPERIENCE

I hope audiences will sit back and consider their own wrestling with God, their own prayer life, their own dilemmas and choices alongside those of Moses. Enter into the story with their own story. I received tremendous insight through this film. Many years ago, I was once told by a Jesuit spiritual director that I could "negotiate" with God. "What?!" said I. "What do you think Abraham and Moses did?" he asked me. This conversation changed my life and my relationship with God forever. Of course, the Jews totally understand this as they have continuously and intimately wrangled with God and kept their conversation with Him going for millennia: collectively and individually.

This bargaining with God is not meant to be a venal begging for things or circumstances that we want, but as intercession for the good, for others, to become better people ourselves. Although not all of Moses' life is covered in this film, I was reminded of him so often "standing in the breach" for others.

There's a touching and tender scene regarding the Ten Commandments where it is evident that Moses is still free at every step to agree or disagree with God. And of course, by this time, the fiery Moses had become "by far the meekest man on earth" (Numbers 12:3).

FAITH AND LOVE

There is much explicit talk about "faith" in this film, but little about love (beyond familial love). Of course, for men, love is often summed up in silent deeds. If a man loves you, he'll mow the lawn and fix your car but not necessarily say: "I love you." Again, think St. Joseph who says exactly nothing in the Bible. I wonder if Scott was toying so much with faith that he forgot about the great love of God for Moses and Moses for God that motivated everything. Or maybe it is just implied. At UCLA, we were taught that in all good screen love stories, "I love you" must be shown in a plethora of different ways whether or not it is ever voiced. The story of God and Moses is nothing if not a love story amongst God, Moses and "his people."

OTHER STUFF:

--I need to read WHY Ridley Scott made this film.

--During the film I kept thinking of Ridley's filmmaker brother, Tony, who committed suicide not too long ago. At the end of the film, there is a dedication: "For my brother, Tony."

--My verdict: Bale did Heston proud.

--"Exodus--Gods and Kings" is not violence porn.

--Remember, the Hebrews were promised "a 'prophet' like Moses"--who was Jesus! (Acts 3:22)

--Unlike "Noah," which was the vegetarian Bible film and set animals apart as the "innocents" and almost the apex of Creation--or at least a remembrance of lost innocence--"Exodus" has plenty of animal sacrifice, as well as animals living, working and dying en masse alongside humans. It's a much more realistic view of a postdiluvian "we're all in this together" Creation. And let's remember, it was JESUS who ended animal sacrifice.

--Whenever I see any Old Testament movies, I just heard this drumbeat: wait for it...He's coming...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus.

--LOTS of guyliner. And gal-liner.

--God uses nature, not man to punish the Egyptians.

--Really creative visual storytelling with a challenging genre--communication with the Divine--(besides the easy spectacles). Sumptuous sets. And of course, with CGI, we can do ANYTHING now. Anything. Whatever is inside a person's imagination can be displayed on a gigantic screen.

--"Noah" and "Exodus" really showcase the majesty and magnificence of God, albeit in a kind of raw, brutal way. And it reminded me that GOD REALLY DID THESE THINGS. THESE THINGS REALLY HAPPENED. And then He became a little Infant. NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD.

--The physicality of the landscape, climate, and daily life of the times is impressive.

--A hint of modern psychobabble.

--The film is sometimes like a big, romantic Western. Set in the Middle East.

--Dear Jewish people: If you are not chosen, neither are we.

--"I thought you people were good storytellers."

--"Not one Hebrew child died."

--"Leaders can falter, but these rules [10 Commandments] will guide them in your stead."

--I really wanted to see ALL of Moses' life and more of Aaron and Miriam.

--Fr. Barron's review of Exodus shows what's missing. I still like film & believe u should read Bible 1st so u can mentally fill in:  (I totally agree that we needed to see/hear "Song of Miriam" after the crossing of the Red Sea!)


November 26, 2014

DO YOUR CHRISTMAS SHOPPING WITH THE NUNS & HELP A GOOD CAUSE!



The nuns have NEW thank-you gifts that make excellent Christmas presents!

THANK YOU!

CLICK HERE:



NOVEMBER 26: HAPPY FEAST OF BLESSED JAMES ALBERIONE!


Documentary to be released January 25, 2015

Recording interviews about documentary at Boston Catholic TV

Read books about & by Fr. Alberione free online www.tinyurl.com/AlberioneBooks
Watch documentary trailer: www.MediaApostle.com


November 22, 2014

MOVIES: "THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART I"



The third installment of The Hunger Games: "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay--Part I" does not disappoint. Director, Francis Lawrence, who also directed "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," keeps the momentum going in a sleek, seamless film. As we all know, sequels are hardly ever as good as the original, but in serial films it seems, as long as all the elements of the story are kept consistent and evenly measured out, this doesn't have to be true (think the "Harry Potter" films).

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is in the fortress-like District 13, essentially a huge underground bunker of a city run by President Coin (Julianne Moore) in opposition to President Snow (Donald Sutherland) of the Capitol. Katniss must agree to be the icon of the rebellion if it is to succeed, but her only concern is to save Peeta, held hostage with Johanna and Annie in the Capitol.

JOAN OF ARC?

There are definite "Joan of Arc" overtones at certain points. Katniss' Mockingjay outfit is almost like armor, and her banner with fire behind it feels like a scene right out of "Joan of Arc" starring Ingrid Bergman. (Joan prided herself on never having actually killed anyone herself--similar to Katniss.) I do think Katniss could be a role model for young women to be strong as young women. Sometimes to have a bit of needed nonviolent, feminine "fight back" in their spirits.

"Mockingjay" gets off to a very quiet start with lots of dialogue bringing us deeper into the human drama of the story (not just telling us what happened in the first two films). The filmmakers and actors know they have us eating out of their hand, and we, in turn, trust this is going to be good, so we go along with it for quite some time with no action. But once the action comes, it is purposefully tense and pregnant with meaning because of this build up. We now know what it takes, we know the stakes.

COMMUNISM?

"Mockingjay" could have been unbearably grim, but we have our comic relief in the personages of Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks). The laughs come due to Haymitch being only a semi-reformed addict and Effie being the fashionista doomed to a gray, Communist-like jumpsuit existence. Stanley Tucci as the almost-evil game show host, Caesar Flickerman, plays his role to the fullest with TMZ relish.

Although District 13 may look so drab and prison-like, and the Capitol so elegant and charming, the reality is the opposite. The Capitol (even sporting a red-background-with-yellow-emblem flag) operates on a Communist principle: You exist to serve the State. The State provides order, security and what you need--for you to continue working for the State, which is supreme and will bridge no opposition. This is a great history lesson. Another history (and current events!) lesson is that of propaganda and Media Literacy. The war between District 13 (and Panem) and the Capitol is also a media war. Isn't the fatal "reality show" what started it all? Katniss now goes nowhere without her "media team," shaping, shooting and framing the freedom fighters' image and message. Screens continue to dominate till there's a showdown between Katniss and President Snow. This whole media theme would make an excellent Media Literacy class discussion! Art is actually imitating life right now in Thailand, which has outlawed the three raised fingers of defiance that real-life dissidents are borrowing from "The Hunger Games"! (The mockingjay image is also outlawed by President Snow in the film.)

Some of the dialogue feels like kidstuff (after all, the books were not written for adults), sometimes overstating what is going on so that everyone can keep up, but it never gets too heavy-handed, and is actually a welcome relief from too-subtle or too-complicated plots and characters.

I still have huge problems with the whole "Hunger Games" concept of kids killing kids (although the author's goal is to teach young readers about the evils of war right before they may actually be asked to fight in or support a real one). However, this installment is not about any kind of killing games, but rather about the real-life escalation of revenge bombings from the Capitol for the uprising, so actually seeing individuals being killed one by one is not part of "Mockingjay." There are two gruesome, but tidy (just bones) scene of the dead of District 12 (being picked at by a vulture and a dog), and a slightly disturbing scene of a kind of torture (of one of the young tributes).

LOWPOINTS & HIGHPOINTS

How does "Mockingjay" leave one feeling? Because of all the heroism on the part of the "good guys," we can feel swept up in wanting to "always do the right thing" as they do--even though sometimes arriving at a moral strategy for going good can be murky waters. My complaint with the character of Katniss (in the films, that is--I'm told that in the books we can overhear her inner workings which are not always as perfectly virtuous) is that she is too perfect. She always chooses the most noble, heroic and correct thing to do without any fear or compromise. It's like she's programmed and can't do otherwise. This is very poor character development. There are no questions in our mind like: Oh, no! What will she do? Because we already know: she will choose the high road and do good and keep on fighting and never give up. Even if she has a slight dilemma about the right course of action, she resolves it quickly and she never seems broken by it all. Even though we know our heroine can't die, a good writer/filmmaker can put them in such peril that we can't begin to imagine how they will ever get out of it, and we forget for a moment that, well, our heroine can't die (yet).

"Mockingjay" keeps your attention, never feels long, and boasts a sure-footed pace to ensure this. The soundtrack is rich, creative and surprising as Katniss even sings a kind of chain-gang blues song that becomes a rallying anthem. The constant use of intercuts is very effective (back and forth between simultaneous action in different locales). It's so refreshing to see an imaginative film with warriors who have no superpowers, their greatest strength being that they are human and humane.

OTHER STUFF:

--Katniss should be with Gale.

--Bittersweet to see Philip Seymour Hoffman again....

--Like "Twilight," "Hunger Games" is one woman adored by two men. But Katniss should be with Gale.

--Why do adults love young adult stories so much? I think because they are big and bold (good), we're kids at heart (good), and we've become a very literal, surface, face-value, obvious one-dimensional society, with no time, talent or taste for nuance (not so good).

--Katniss should be with Gale.

--It dawned on me that the tributes are like Africa's child soldiers....

--Did I mention Katniss should be with Gale?






November 17, 2014

WE NEED MORE NUNS! HELP THE NUNS!


Help end the nun shortage!
Nuns don't grow on trees! You can't print nuns with 3D printers!

Donate to our Daughters of St. Paul VOCATION VIDEO!

Many of you so generously helped fund the filming of our Vocation Video last year.
Now we need to assemble this short sneak peak and tell the FULL STORY!


This video is unique in that it will center on what it's like to discern a vocation
and include scenes from Sr. Maria Kim's perpetual profession at her home parish:
becoming the bride of Christ--what religious life is all about!
(The vocation video will be given away free online & as a DVD.)

We need $18,500(US) to finish the video. Can you help us?

DONATE HERE:

CLICK HERE TO DONATE SAFELY ONLINE:
https://secure.acceptiva.com/?cst=4cb355
No donation is too small!

Needed: $18,500
Raised: $4,000 (as January 2015)


Keep checking back
to see the progress!

To show our gratitude, here are a few gifts we are offering you!
(We can mail thank-you gifts to USA and CANADA)

$20--"Media Nun pack" The Life of Venerable Mother Thecla Merlo, her medal, holycard
Co-Foundress of the Daughters of St. Paul--a friend in every need

$50 --Large Vigil Candle (with your name or name of a loved one on it) will burn in the
Boston Motherhouse Chapel next to Tabernacle constantly for 2 weeks.
(We can send living loved one to notify them.)

$100 -- Bejeweled icon of Mary & Jesus: perfect for workplace, baby's crib, any place!
Frame is 3 x 3". Comes in pretty blue & gold satin gift box. (while supplies last)


$500 -- St. Raphael  approx 12" (while supplies last)
$500 -- St. Therese 10 x 12"  ready to hang (while supplies last)

$500--Blessed James Alberione 12" statue (while supplies last)
Founder of the Daughters of St. Paul & the Pauline Family

$500 -- Set of 3 angels with birds. Seated angel approx 10" to top of wings (while supplies last)


How/when do you receive your
"Thank-you" gifts? 

After you donate, indicate via email which gift you want!
HELRAPHAELFSP@AOL.COM 
(Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, FSP)
We will send your gift promptly!

THANK YOU & GOD BLESS!
You are in our prayers.


Sr. Maria Kim Bui's perpetual profession with Bishop Olmsted
& young women in discernment, Diocese of Phoenix, AZ

Filming with Greg from Spirit Juice Studios in 118° heat wave in Arizona

Jib shot of the big moment!

Learn more about the www.DaughtersOfStPaul.org!

CHECK OUT OUR VOCATION PHOTO ALBUM BELOW

Vocation Discernment Days with Eucharistic Adoration



Serious "selfies" with Totus Tuus missionaries











Nun Moms!


Senior Sisters = Prayer Warriors!

Our Native American Sister at St. Kateri's Canonization

One Love: Jesus Christ, One burning desire: Give Him to souls

 Some Sisters in formation -- various stages

Sr. Fay Josephine is from Samoa, now our superior in Hawaii

Renewing our vows on Valentine's Day



With parents of young woman about to enter the convent








GLORIA DEO + PAX HOMINIBUS