April 14, 2014


DISCLAIMER: Some Christians believe that any Christian film that is trying to do good and tell the truth should be praised and promoted, whether or not it displays excellence in filmmaking and theology/philosophy. I am not one of those Christians. You have been warned. Proceed with this knowledge.

The new Christian film: "God's Not Dead" is a VERY mixed bag. It had such potential, an exciting premise, and set out to fill a huge gap, an almost untouched pastoral field, but I feel much of it was squandered and went awry. Why? How? First of all by not being faithful enough to the craft of filmmaking, and secondly, because Evangelicalism does not have a strong philosophical tradition (and is often even wary of good philosophy). If only Catholics could have helped on the philosophy stuff!


A young Christian man goes to college and finds himself in an atheist professor's philosophy course. The professor is intent on proving there is no God, or rather simply insists his students agree with him at the beginning of the year so they can get the God question out of the way. The whole class agrees, all except Josh. A series of classroom debates are set up between the young man and the professor, and the class gets to decide who they think is right.


The acting of the main characters is totally up to snuff. The young Christian man, Josh, is played by the young but seasoned actor Shane Harper in a very believable manner (except that he is way too eloquent and polished at the podium right off the bat--but Josh IS planning on being a lawyer, so maybe we'll give him a pass here). I love the way Harper projects this sweet, innocent-but-informed, unable to be intimidated Christian guy. Professor Radisson is played to the hilt by Kevin Sorbo. (And he looks fantastic. He must have the same health regimen as David Bowie. I had no idea what a great actor this guy was. He has a commanding, sonorous voice and he plays hockey. What more could you ask for?) GND also stars Dean Cain, so we have Hercules and Superman in the same movie.

GND looks like a standard cinematic drama of today (with no bells and whistles): excellent cinematography, set direction, (sufficient soundtrack).

Since many young people DO lose their faith in college philosophy (and other) classes due to the bombast of atheistic professors with an axe to grind, this film is altogether plausible. I wholeheartedly applaud the Christian filmmakers for addressing this elephant who has been reigning supreme and unchallenged in the middle of the room since, oh, only the 1960's. And we Catholics, who used to teach philosophy (and even some apologetics) routinely in Catholic high schools have almost completely dropped the ball for decades now. Shame on us!

Catholic parents, lay ministers, teachers, priests, teaching Sisters (excepting, for sure, the Nashville Dominicans and Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist-also Dominicans) have been asleep at the wheel and continue to be utterly shocked when their young people lose their faith at college/university. (Their studies are just a piece of that puzzle, but a big piece.) Students are losing their faith en masse even at "Catholic" institutions of higher learning for which parents are shelling out megabucks. It's time to be aware, informed Catholics, people! Especially today with the INTERNET, it is ridiculously fast and easy to stay informed with the good, the bad and the downright ugly going on in Christendom today. No excuses! Need to know where to go for the BEST Catholic news? www.tinyurl.com/BestCatholicNews.   Wanna know what's happening on "Catholic" college campuses? www.CardinalNewmanSociety.org. Can you tell this is one of Sr. Helena's MAJOR PET PEEVES???

Since we KNOW almost beyond the shadow of a doubt that our young people will be instantly bombarded as college freshmen with all kinds of atheistic (or if at certain Catholic colleges, unorthodox) teachings, why do we continue to insist on NOT preparing them with solid philosophy and the Church's rich intellectual tradition while they're in HIGH SCHOOL?

"God's Not Dead" makes some really good philosophical/scientific points. It also makes clear that being a Christian is not the "in" thing to be today. Family and friends won't understand if we try to take our faith TOO seriously. There will be big risks, momentous choices and sometimes heavy costs--even when we are minding our own business. (The credits roll forth a long list of court cases in the USA dealing with religious freedom/persecution on campuses--it's bracing.)

The best parts  of the film are the debates themselves. Young people who see this movie will be exposed to the classic facile, often illogical arguments of atheist proselytism, BUT this time with rebuttals (almost all in the scientific realm). BUT, the rebuttals do not go far enough, often appeal to the Bible/faith (flirting with reading the Bible as a science textbook), and Josh devolves into an ad hominem attack on Professor Radisson (using some personal information he was privvy to against him), and then devolves further into an all out emotional plea and then an altar call and then [SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!] everyone, I mean EVERYONE, comes to believe in God. Which brings us to "What's Not So Good About The Film."


One of my biggest beefs with the film (besides the shoddy philosophy) is the way atheists are portrayed. Talk about reverse stereotyping. ALL the atheists in the film are incredibly shallow, selfish and cruel. (The students who all purport to be atheists but who then all suddenly believe are portrayed mostly as kind of mindless sheep.)

The dialogue vacillates from utterly realistic and brilliant to utterly silly and ridiculous. The young people in my theater--whom I think were Christian--appropriately snorted at each instance of "what planet are these people living on" dialogue.

As far as film structure goes, the set up is very well done, but we have an early resolution (which would normally be the end of the film) when Josh is victorious in the classroom. The rest of the film is one long epilogue of fairly disjointed vignettes. But the momentum/tension has already been broken.


Will "God's Not Dead" be convincing to atheists, young people? Some of Josh's nuggets from the debates should be helpful. I often discuss with my Millennial young adult friends that Millennials want witnesses from among their own peers, so the figure of Josh is cool. But as for the: 

1.) extremely overall preachy tone (especially the unnecessary and hokey subplot of two pastors--the Caucasian one being earnestly pompous: "It's a sin to lie to an ordained minister," and "Thank goodness I'm here so you can have a second chance with God")
2.) non-Catholic view of faith (it's a simple choice rather than a gift)        
3.) overemphasis on free will with hardly any mention of love
4.) many magical "deus ex machina" happenings
5.) again, shoddy philosophy

would not convince me. I might even be insulted. AND at the end of the day, I don't think argumentation is the best way to bring about faith. I believe it's love, prayer, proclamation, example.


--"If the universe created you, who created the universe?" --Josh  (Josh should also have answered Hawking's "Because there is gravity, the universe is self-designing" with "Who designed gravity?")

--Josh should not simply have challenged only the professor's MORAL "absolute" of "no cheating" on his tests, but also the "absolute" correct answers on his tests.

--"If God does not exist, EVERYTHING is permissible." --Dostoevsky

--So, this is kind of the opposite of the "Noah" debate: "Can an atheist represent theists?" My answer is "yes" on both counts--IF it's done well.

--I couldn't help thinking of Josh being like Eleazar in Maccabbees who refused to "pretend" to eat pork, or "just go along" but not mean it.

--PLEASE read this by a young Catholic teen: "Youth Yearn for Different Religious Education" http://www.catholicregister.org/youth/youthcolumn/item/17167-youth-yearn-for-different-religious-education

--Great line in the film is when the one smart "atheist" student--who works in the library--checks in Josh's pile of religion books (to ready himself for the debates) and tells him kindly: "You need to get a life." Josh smiles and says: "I know." Nice, genuine, funny touch.

--"That's it?" was spoken about 8 times.

--This film is pretty slim on subtlety.

--Several scenes are way to slow. Needed some editing.

--The problem of evil is grandly introduced and then hardly dealt with. IMHO, the answer to evil is not just "free will" and "there will be an end to it," but rather, ultimately LOVE.

--This is an extremely masculine film. There is no feeling of the influence of femininity. BUT perhaps this approach will work more for dudes. (I can't get into details without MAJOR spoilers.)

--The theme of religious (Christian) persecution is brought up through the character of the Muslim girl and the Chinese boy.

--"God's Not Dead" is done in the style of Billy Graham's films that feature a Christian rally at the end of the film. This time it's in the form of a Newsboys concert. (Newsboys and Duck Dynasty are featured strongly in the film.)

--The "fourth wall" is broken when, at the concert, we are all asked to text "God's Not Dead" to all our contacts. Clever. Well played, well played.

--Three other (better, in my book, but with reservations--see my reviews) films in this vein would be:

"Blue Like Jazz" (feature film)  http://hellburns.blogspot.ca/2012/03/movies-blue-like-jazz.html#.U0xGPvldWOA
"Expelled" ("documentary")  http://hellburns.blogspot.ca/2008/04/movies-expelled-no-intelligence-allowed_07.html#.U0xGW_ldWOA
"Theology of the Body and Evolution" DVD (lecture) Dr. Sternberg www.TheologyOfTheBody.net

March 31, 2014


UPDATE! What I--and many others in favor of this film--did was a Judaeo-Christian read of "Noah." And it almost totally works. I can explain (by doing a Judaeo-Christian read) many elements that people say are Gnosticism or Kabbalah. However, some pieces didn't seem to fit. Especially the snakeskin (a concrete relic of the Garden--so that they will always remember they are sinful beings?)

In addition to my review, PLEASE also read this review by a theologian because I think what he's saying could be convincing on some levels.

Chattaway's response to Mattson's accusation of Gnosticism (also includes more explanations by Aronofsky): http://www.patheos.com/blogs/filmchat/2014/04/no-noah-is-not-gnostic-say-that-ten-times-fast.html

I still think there is much good to be gained from doing a Judaeo-Christian viewing/contemplating/discussing of this film, a biblical film like no other, served up in a way that people will take seriously for its cinematic quality. Fr. Robert Barron agrees: https://wordonfire.org/Written-Word/articles-commentaries/April-2014/Noah--A-Post-Modern-Midrash.aspx

Only Aronofsky knows what he actually intended throughout this movie (where he drew inspiration from at various moments). There are actually several different ways to read this (see "Comments" section below). On the "Colbert Report," he sounds like he's trying to be utterly faithful to the Jewish Bible (with added artistic license, of course). Perhaps even more explanation by Aronofsky will surface?

Sr. Helena recommends carefully reading the whole Noah story in the Bible before (or at least after seeing the film). It will clarify a lot!


Months ago, when I first heard that "Noah" was coming out, I, like the biblical Sarah, laughed to myself. "It'll be this big, ugly, off-the-mark extravaganza, just trying to make money off believers, and it'll flop." Like Sarah, I had to eat crow. Not literally! (Noah is a vegetarian in the film.)

"Noah," written and directed by atheist(?) Darren Aronofsky, is coming from a very good place. Aronofsky is Jewish, and his favorite Bible figure since he was little was Noah. He particularly set out to explore this momentous, but unplumbed Bible passage (Genesis 6:5-6) where God is sorry He made mankind (because of our wickedness) and decides to wipe mankind out. What is completely blowing my mind is that Aronofsky puts himself squarely in the place of a believer and enters so deeply into the psyche of Noah and those around him (as well as attempting to understand why a GOOD Creator would "feel" this way, and come to this conclusion).


Aronofsky lets God be God. God permeates the film. And He is not an ogre or a caricature. He is personal but ineffable. He is mercy and justice. "We are made in His image" is repeated over and over. I never really gave Noah much thought at all till now. Wow.  Everything refers back to the Garden of Eden. Aronofsky is careful that we don't just start in the middle--he wants to hold the whole story together.

"Noah" is the best Bible movie ever made. Yes, I just said that. It marries what was orthodox and more verbatim from the Scriptures in older films like "The Ten Commandments" with Charlton Heston--and combines it with today's sensibilities and filmmaking genius (in all ways). But when I say "today's sensibilities" I don't mean politically correct and anachronistic. In "Noah," men are men, women are women, fertility is everything. Family is everything. Fidelity to God is everything. The tension between fatherlove and motherlove is palpable, and we see why we desperately need both to be in balance! Oh, and women kind of save the day as well--in their womanly way. That's all I'm going to say.

A little study of WOMEN IN "NOAH" (and in other of Aronofsky's films, and perhaps life) would be very interesting!


The only thing that smacks of any kind of agenda might be the heavy stress on treating Creation well, especially animals (which I have absolutely no problem with and cheer heartily). The script even goes so far as to say (at one point) that the reason God is wiping out mankind is for the way we treated Creation. If this was ALL the script offered as explanation, I would have to give "Noah" big, big demerits. But in several other places, it tells/shows that we were corrupt in every way, in our dealings with each other (and treatment of women!), killings, wars, etc.

I applaud ANY film that tell us that, no, it's not OK to trash God's Creation. Dominion is not domination. Creation is sacred and it's God's and we are called to be good stewards and treat it with integrity.

Animal lovers (of which I am one) gonna looooove "Noah."

I think this means ALL the animals were CGI which I actually wouldn't have guessed.
I thought a few were real at least.

"Noah" is how you make a Bible movie. "Noah" is how you take the Word of God and seriously and humbly explore it in all its depth, complexity, nuance, raw human and divine drama without preconceived judgments on it, employing the best actors, composers, visual effects. This film breathes and sends you into deep contemplation/meditation. I didn't think it was possible to do that with the Bible in film.


What of the "artistic license" taken? Filmmakers had better take artistic license or they are not making films. Even if it's the Bible. Aronofsky uses "moral imagination" to the utmost. He is 95% faithful to the Bible in all that is essential, the heart of the story, and 5% is fanciful, but still informed by the text itself. For example, the most outrageous liberty taken is "The Watchers," giant stone creatures way-too-similar to Transformers who try to help blundering mankind. But these creatures are inspired by the enigmatic Genesis 6:5-6.

The editing is superb, superb, superb. The story never, ever lags. Nothing is drawn out, belabored and taxing as in most Bible and other epic films. Totally engrossing. I don't want to spoil here, so I won't, but Noah struggles with what God is asking of him, even in the clarity of it. Aronofsky imagines: what if Noah misunderstood a key piece of his mission--at first?

The nature of good and evil is dissected at length. Tubalcain represents how evil reasons, an alternative way to see oneself "in the image of God." Tubalcain believes that simply "taking" what one wants, harshly dominating the earth, and killing is what makes us like God. In contrast to Tubalcain, God's providence explicitly overarches Noah and his family's life. They trust in God, they wait on God. They imitate God's compassion and gentleness.


Probably my biggest criticism of this film is that God seems to get lost at the very end. It seemed to all shift to Noah (I didn't even see the rainbow that is there), and I don't remember any mention of the covenant. Noah seems to be the one in charge now: "I tell you go forth and multiply, etc." Perhaps, as throughout the rest of the movie, WE don't see or hear God, and so we are meant to understand that Noah is acting on God's word to him here. But it's REAL weak.


"Noah" shows how much is really up to us. We are to choose either darkness or light. We are to choose to love and obey God or not. There are real consequences, outcomes, repercussions and costs to our choices. Lectio divina,the centuries-old practice of prayerfully reading and contemplating a small portion of God's Word, alone or with others can also be transferred to the screen as "cinema divina." "Noah" is the ultimate example of "cinema divina" in my book.


--One of the many amazing features of "Noah" is that when Noah has to make his Abrahamic /Solomonic choice, it is NOT even solved "Deus ex machina" as it would have every right to in THIS movie if any! It is solved by a human choice. Then confirmed by God. Perfect.

--Sadly, it seems Catholics don't know their Bible well enough to critique this film. Other Christians only want word-for-word, super-simplistic, one-dimensional, literal portrayals. :(

--How desperately we need good men to lead.

--For those who are saying "Noah" is a "mockery" or doesn't mention God,  they either:
a) didn't see "Noah"
b) didn't see the "Noah" I did
c) had 3D glasses on (it's not 3D) and earplugs in during film

--I could go on and on about this film. After reading a few reviews, I knew it would be good, but I didn't know HOW good. I literally could write for days....

--It always makes me sad when Jews are atheists. It just seems so wrong. As the Christian Liturgy prays during Holy Week: the Jews, God's Chosen People, were "the first to hear the Word of God." But Jews have also always wrangled/wrestled/negotiated with God and His Word. Perhaps "Noah" is a new way of doing this. The "Via Negativa."   http://americamagazine.org/issue/suspicious-minds

--Russell Crowe is back (after some lackluster performances of late).

--Noah wanted to shield his kids from seeing evil and violence.

--Darren Aronofsky has rescued Noah from Fisher-Price arks & nursery murals! Yay!

--A note on vegetarianism. We are allowed to eat animals (after the Flood) (Genesis 9:3), but they must have a good life, be treated humanely and with integrity, and be dispatched the same way. I have tried twice to go veggie for health and ethical reasons, but (even though I really don't enjoy meat), it's not good for my health. I have a B12 defiency and my body needs just a little bit of animal protein several times a week. I am always aware when I eat meat that an animal gave its life for me, and it's not the same thing as eating a donut.

--@DecentFilms calls "Noah" a "rare gift"! Right on, righteous reviewer! Here's Steven D. Greydanus' 60 sec take: youtube.com/watch?v=9xJgpM

--Can an Atheist Make a Good Bible Movie? thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/?p=4

--Why Noah Is the Biblical Epic Christians Deserve http://variety.com/2014/film/news/noah-is-the-biblical-epic-that-christians-deserve-1201150333/

--The Ark featurette (see disclaimer at end about how filmmakers really want film to reflect Bible account, even WITH the "artistic license")  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InxsexEeIkc

--Colbert Report: Writer/Director of "Noah": Darren Aronofsky thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/77oyfl/

--Excellent Review from Toronto Star that made me want to see "Noah" (I agree that it's about free will, but not predestination): http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/movies/2014/03/27/noah_floods_the_screen_and_mind_review.html

--Noah fun facts: http://www.catholicregister.org/arts/movie-news/item/17824-noah-sparks-debate-over-one-of-the-world%E2%80%99s-oldest-and-most-beloved-stories

--Here's the great Noah debate on Relevant Radio: me, Jason Jones, Elizabeth Scalia, Brian Godawa. What I didn't get to finish saying is that it's not that God left everything completely up to Noah, but that God wants human beings cooperating with Him to carry out His plans (He COULD just do it all Himself), and it's not easy for those humans! I'm sure the patriarchs, prophets and saints struggled mightily to "get it right"! Also, it's not just Kabbalah--most likely--that Aronofsky drew from, but also Jewish rabbinical writings and stories.

"The notion that the human will, when united with the divine will, can play a part in Christ's work of redeeming all mankind is overpowering. The wonder of God's grace transforming worthless human actions into efficient means for spreading the kingdom of God here on earth astounds the mind and humbles it to the utmost, yet brings a peace and joy unknown to whose who have never experienced it, unexplainable to those who will not believe."
~Fr. Walter Ciszek, "He Leadeth Me," pg. 117 (Ignatius Press)

March 23, 2014


The Muppets are at it again. The clever new caper takes us to a gulag in Siberia, Russia, and several other international cities, as "The Muppet Show" reunites for a world tour. But all is not as it seems. All is not well. Constantine--the World's Most Dangerous Frog--who looks exactly like Kermit, except with a dark mole above his lip and a thick Russian accent, has Kermit kidnapped so that he can take his place and steal England's crown jewels during the Muppets traveling show. Kermit winds up in Constantine's place at the gulag.

Ricky Gervais plays "Mr. Badguy" a conniving talent agent (in cahoots with Constantine) who makes the Muppets think they are selling out every venue (he's actually giving tickets away free) just so they can eventually wind up in London in a venue next to the Tower of London which houses the gems.

As always in a Muppets flick, there are cameos after cameos by all kinds of big name stars--too many to name, sometimes just appearing for a few seconds on screen. For example, when an usher is needed, Usher shows up. But the show stopper is Tina Fey as a tough Russian guard at the gulag who takes a shining to Kermit, and therefore never wants to let him go. Her accent and facial expressions are deliciously funny as she generously embraces the role and lets herself go. Russia seems to be Hollywood's  favorite go-to "evil nemesis" nation as evidenced by "Despicable Me" and other live action films.

Another hilarious pairing is Sam Eagle (playing a CIA agent) with a French Interpol agent "Jean" (Ty Burrell) whom Sam Eagle keeps calling "Sean."  Besides being in constant competition, the French agent is always taking exceedingly long lunches, ending his workday early and just always being terribly French. Russian and French accents never get old for laughs.

The delightful signature Muppet show tunes (almost vaudevillian) are spot on, starting with two introductory songs about making this sequel: "They've Ordered a Sequel" and "We're Doing a Sequel."

(Welcome to) "The Big House" (the gulag) is a fantastic true blue disco number, and "Working in the Coal Mine" (the actual R & B hit) is amusingly sung/danced by the gulag inmates. You gotta hand it to them: the Muppets really handle musicals well.

As the plot thickens, Constantine proposes to Miss Piggy (who thinks he's Kermit). Will the wedding  of the millennium finally take place?! If so, will the groom be Constantine or Kermit?!

As much fun as this movie is--especially all the gulag scenes--the repetitive Muppet formula of "How do we stay together as one big happy Muppet family forever?" feels hackneyed and predictable.

The poignant message of "Muppets Most Wanted" is a question that will naturally spring up in the mind of the audience: How could the Muppets not know that Constantine was NOT Kermit (despite the green makeup covering his mole and accounting for his strange accent by saying he had a cold)? Is Kermit so easily replaceable? Even Miss Piggy is fooled, although she feels that something is not right. Before Kermit knows that he has been replaced by Constantine he simply thinks his friends have forgotten about him.

Another message is that wolves can come in sugar daddy clothing. Mr. Badguy let the Muppets do whatever they wanted and promised them the moon, while Kermit was a realistic, loving disciplinarian.
Many of the jokes and messages are slow and spelled all the way out (obviously for the kids in the audience), but it isn't terribly distracting for adults.


--"Muppets Most Wanted" is truly PG. Nothing questionable or objectionable. And all in good taste.

--I smiled a lot. With stifled laughter every time "Jean" said "Meuppettes."

--Miss Piggy's outfits were amazing as always. I loved her Marlene Dietrich look for Berlin.

--It's always disconcerting to see Kermit's legs. He did some soft-shoe dancing, or rather soft-webbed-feet dancing.

--"It's not easy being mean." --Constantine

--Overall, a good time was had by all.

March 20, 2014


Click on "CC" at bottom of video for good translation of the dialogue she has with judges afterward.

When asked why she went on "The Voice" Sr. Cristina says that she has a gift that she is giving away: shouldn't it be like this? She adds that God doesn't take anything away from us, He only gives us more.


March 19, 2014

March 17, 2014


"Grand Budapest Hotel" is the latest quirky caper by director Wes Anderson ("Moonrise Kingdom," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "The Royal Tenenbaums"). Everything about GBH looked fun, fantastical, and perhaps even profound: It seemed to be about a pre-World War II, spit-and-polish, top-of-his-game, uber-devoted hotel concierge (a smashingly comedic Ralph Fiennes) from a made-up Eastern European country who is a  tribute to a more gracious bygone era that will never return. But, alas, GBH does not make this case.

With more stars than a red carpet on Oscars' night, GBH tells a story within a story amidst Anderson's signature highly-stylized sets that are toy-like and perfect without being meticulous (Anderson has too much of a sense of humor to take himself that seriously). The story of said concierge, "Monsieur Gustave," is recounted to a writer (Jude Law) by his faithful young protégé, now an old man, played by the why-don't-we-see-more-of-this-fine-thespian F. Murray Abraham.

The tone of the film is deadpan, tongue-in-cheek with quick banter, and chock-full with jokes and gags just for the sheer fun of it. Fiennes is often talking so fast, and with the varied accents and camera sometimes off the faces of the speaker, it's hard to catch all the good stuff. I'm flattered that the director thinks we're sharp cookies, but he really did need to make all of the jokes (spoken and otherwise) "catchable."

There is plenty of lewd humor, often flipped off furtively at the end of a scene, much like what would come from the mind of a sex-obsessed teenage boy-man. The fleeting nudity is all female. All. The pinnacle of which is a disturbing and rather grotesque Toulouse-Lautrec-ian painting of lesbian sex that gets quite a bit of screen time. Sex is all farce. But then, so is life. All the protocols and rules and codes that Monsieur Gustave clings to and insists upon and instills in his underlings are absurd in the end. (Many nihilistic statements are made to this effect.) But, it's all he has, so...carry on. And the Nazi-like army that takes over the Grand Budapest Hotel are just as efficiently absurd.

Wes Anderson's soft spot? He really does honor pure and true male-female love in his films--at the core of everything--and treats it with great tenderness. Oh, and poetry. Poetry is very worthwhile. People bust out in beautiful recitations, only to be cut short by some immediate, life-threatening exigency.

Monsieur Gustave is gay, but he seems to swing both ways, so much so that the lobby boy keeps warning him not to flirt with his girlfriend-then-wife. Gustave's good taste serves him well everywhere he goes, even in prison where we witness a delightful sequence of him going from cell to cell to serve prison slop as if it were caviar. He gains and commands respect with his "civilized" ways, attentiveness to hotel patrons and details, and his deploring of "barbarity," but a good prison scrap is not below him either, in order to protect himself.

Monsieur Gustave's job is spoken of as a "vocation," but in the end, whom is he "helping," but "rich, blonde, vain, insecure, needy old people," "like himself" (the movie even states as much).

I have to say that, as much as I wanted to and tried, I did not "enjoy" this movie. It wasn't tedious, it was just so incredibly unreal (think "The Perils of Pauline") that there was nothing, nothing to sink one's teeth into: much like the Dr. Seuss-like pastry confections served at the GBH.

I didn't feel so much like I wasted my money (artists are worth their due) on this film as my time (which is way more precious than money). I'm basically trying to erase it from my head because I keep racing around the story over and over in my mind, and I really can't find much of lasting value in it. Sadly. But maybe I'm treating a Keystone Cops comedy like a Tolstoy tale? Ugh. I guess I just always want a takeaway and there is none. Silly, frilly, frivolous froth.

I also didn't do my homework in the raunch department--I was in a massive hurry to review this film on time--or I would have skipped GBH all together. As I watch its various trailers on YouTube, some of the worst stuff is there (but I also watch never watch full screen, so I still might have missed stuff).


--I applaud the inclusion of the knitting nun and helpful monks. Anderson matter-of-factly weaves in religion as a part of everyday life as it was in those days.

--Cannot Ed Norton do an accent?

--Tony Revolori, who plays the lobby boy, is unflinchingly magnificent. Terrifyingly--for those of us born earlier in the 20th century--this kid was born in 1996.

--I actually expected the concierge-to-beat-all-concierges to be a bit more noble. Not so cavalier, foul-mouthed and fatalistic. But he truly knows and loves propriety, elegance, beauty and the "finer things in life."

--A bit of a screwball comedy, but the pace is moderate enough.

--The scattered violence is insensitive and gory.

--F. Murray Abraham's character declares that the grandeur of the old hotel was "too decadent for today's tastes." I beg to differ. Victorian sensibilities embraced a rich, humanistic ideal and design--starkly contrasted in the film with the 1968 uglification of squat vinyl chairs, barren wood paneling and bleak, unadorned spaces where everyone is silent and isolated (compared to the ebullient bustle and chatter of yesteryear). But perhaps the emptiness of the sham is just made manifest in latter years?

--The secret society of concierges made me wonder: What is MY tribe? Who has MY back? It's the 'vent! (as one of our postulants calls the convent). The worldwide Sisterhood.

March 16, 2014


I need to do a blog post SOON about everything that's RIGHT with "Pretty Little Liars" (I've watched every episode of the first two seasons.) BONUS: The girls are always cute, stylish, but never overexposed!

The show is on ABC Family Channel, but they air all kinds of non-family friendly stuff and always have. I would say this show might be OK for 13+.

March 3, 2014


Ellen's Epic Selfie That Temporarily Broke Twitter

So, why watch the Oscars? Do they matter? Is it just Hollywood patting itself on the back? The Oscars matter because the stories we all partake of matter. Stories are the very form Jesus used to teach us eternal truths. The Oscars (although judged by Hollywood peers from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) reveal which stories get privileged and are seen as most important and well executed in our media culture.

Films are one of our last shared cultural "carriers" because so few movies are made each year that get wide distribution (only a handful of movies are in the cinemas at any given time), and we have so many ways to view or "catch up" with our movie-watching today: cinemas, VOD, Netflix, Hulu, streaming, DVDs, "On Demand," movies on airplanes, even illegally uploaded movies on YouTube. Young and old all watch the same stories. People talk about stories when they get together: "Seen any good movies lately?"

The 86th Academy Awards (or Oscars) on March 2 were hosted by Ellen DeGeneres who brought humor and a homey, folksy feel to the proceedings. She conducted a good portion of the show from the audience by taking star-studded group "selfies" on her phone (posting them immediately to Twitter) and ordering in pizza for the nominees. The celebrities cooperated grandly, ad-libbing and really having fun--tuxedos, shimmering gowns and all.

The four most prestigious awards are always reserved for the end. These were scooped up by: Best Director, Alfonso Cuarón for "Gravity"; Best Actress, Cate Blanchett for "Blue Jasmine"; Best Actor, Matthew McConaughey for "Dallas Buyers Club"; Best Picture, "12 Years a Slave." In my estimation, these were excellent and diverse choices. "Gravity" was a heart-pounding, nail-biting feat of technical genius. "Blue Jasmine" was a lighthearted tragicomedy with a standout female performance. "Dallas Buyers Club" was a difficult story of a man dying of AIDS, and "Twelve Years a Slave" was another difficult-to-watch story of the triumph of the human spirit in the face of egregious injustice and cruelty.

The highlights of the evening were undoubtedly some truly wonderful and inspiring acceptance speeches. It's marvelous how many thank parents, wives, husbands and children first. This is also when the actors and filmmakers speak unscripted and we get to hear what they're thinking and see who they really are.

Jared Leto (Best Actor in a Supporting Role) set the tone for the evening with a serious speech thanking his mom and brother and mentioning Ukraine and Venezuela.

Lupita Nyong'o (Best Actress in a Supporting Role) won her Oscar for "12 Years a Slave," her very first film role! Her elegant speech was aimed at children, telling them that "no matter where you're from, your dreams are valid."

Darlene Love (Best Documentary) burst out full-throatedly in a famous Black Gospel hymn for her "speech" and got a standing ovation.

Cate Blanchett (Best Actress in a Leading Role) thanked her "glorious" three boys, "legendary" husband, "goddess" agent and "sublime" co-star while playfully dissing two other nominees. To the great joy of women everywhere, she added that her winning role in "Blue Jasmine" proves to "those of us in the industry still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center" are not "niche experiences." "Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people." Multi-winning "Gravity" was also practically a one-woman show, with Sandra Bullock.

Matthew McConaughey gave a protracted shout-out to God, and Steve McQueen (Best Picture) thanked his "hard-headed" mother twice, and reminded us that many humans are still enslaved today.

"Gravity" mopped up with a whopping seven Oscars (it deserved to win in all technical award categories--even though that meant Smaug got left out), but I would rather have seen the Best Original Score go to "Philomena" or "Her," notwithstanding the gem of a brief speech by first-time Oscar winner, Stephen Price, who thanked his parents for putting up with all the noise he made growing up.  ("Gravity's" music was run-of-the-mill, overwrought, and mawkish.) The best live performance of the night was Pink's fresh rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in her contemporary, husky, easy-on-the-ears voice.

Three films that were completely shutout (although nominated in multiple categories) were "American Hustle" (fun, but not even Oscar material, IMHO), "Philomena" and "The Wolf of Wall Street."

February 10, 2014


Happy Valentine's Day! Here are some suggestions of romantic flicks for a Valentine's date night or just to get in the spirit of things. (Be sure to check out "View Content Advisory" on www.imdb.com if you want more information about what you're about to see/hear. Also, www.fandango.com includes a breakdown by Common Sense Media for younger teens and kids.)

The selections below may seem like an odd collection (they are!), but that's partly because it's so hard to find romantic movies that are actually romantic and don't simply involve people jumping into bed with each other (definitely not true love). Many rom-coms are neither romantic nor funny. And, seriously, how many times can you watch "A Walk To Remember"? I tried to include movies guys would like. The following are NOT chick flicks. I repeat, the following are NOT chick flicks.


CAVEATS: Limited gross-out-ness and gore. But zombies do eat brains. Just sayin'. The name of our precious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ--the only Name by which we are to be saved--is taken in vain about three times.
SYNOPSIS: This is a zom-rom-com (zombie romantic comedy). Even if you're not part of the zombie craze, you'll love this film.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: How true male-female love is "the cure."
WHY THIS FILM IS AN EXAMPLE OF TRUE LOVE: Everything in this film.

SYNOPSIS: This film starts off being about teen suicide, but works in many teen issues and themes organically, including a teen romance.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: What "choices" do men have when it comes to abortion?
WHY THIS FILM IS AN EXAMPLE OF TRUE LOVE: List ALL the different kinds of true love displayed.

GROUNDHOG DAY (1993) "Le jour de la marmotte" in French
CAVEATS: Having sex is implied once or twice. But at the end, sex is not the prize.
SYNOPSIS: In this CLASSIC film (a MUST for all serious film buffs) Bill Murray's character--an obnoxiously self-centered TV news reporter--is doomed to relive the  same day over and over again. It just happens to be Groundhog Day. He falls in love with a woman (Andie MacDowell) who turns him down over and over again (because he's so selfish).
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Ned, the insurance salesman. The groundhog driving the pickup truck.
WHY THIS FILM IS AN EXAMPLE OF TRUE LOVE: It's only when we do things unselfishly (not worrying about outcomes) that we become truly loving and lovable. SPOILER ALERT: The filmmakers were questioning whether or not to have the main characters have sex at the end. The director turned to a costume intern and she said: "No. You'll ruin the movie." So they did what she said.

THE VOW (2012)
CAVEATS: Several scantily-clad scenes (also between unmarried people), male and female.
SYNOPSIS: Based on the true story of a Christian couple (but completely de-Christianized), "The Vow" is about a young married woman (Rachel McAdams) who gets in a car accident that results in amnesia. She does not recognize her husband (Channing Tatum) or remember that she is married. Together they try to piece their life back together, but it's not easy. The Christian couple's true story is available in book form!
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: "We don't talk to each other like that." Wow.
WHY THIS FILM IS AN EXAMPLE OF TRUE LOVE: Although there is no mention of God, "The Vow" shows that marriage is a natural institution between a man and a woman involving public vows and deep love and commitment through thick and thin.

RATING: TV mini-series, so no rating
CAVEATS: You may experience an attack of British-mania and start talking like "Downton Abbey" all day.
SYNOPSIS: The guy and gal in Jane Austen's love story are fiercely attracted to each other, but are separated by class. Verbal sparring ultimately brings out the best in each of them.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Colin Firth. You have to watch the Colin Firth version.
WHY THIS FILM IS AN EXAMPLE OF TRUE LOVE: Getting our values and beliefs together is essential to the blossoming and harmony of a relationship. Relationships need to be egalitarian, without one feeling/acting superior to another.

(A fun Bollywood version of "Pride & Prejudice"!)
CAVEATS: Some scantily-cladness (both sexes) including in the context of sunbathing and dancing.
SYNOPSIS: The guy and gal in Jane Austen's love story are fiercely attracted to each other, but are separated by class, and in the Bollywood version: culture. Verbal sparring ultimately brings out the best in each of them.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The hilarious "other" suitor.
WHY THIS FILM IS AN EXAMPLE OF TRUE LOVE: Getting our values and beliefs together is essential to the blossoming and harmony of a relationship. Relationships need to be egalitarian, without one feeling/acting superior to another.

RATING: NR (not rated)
CAVEATS: Audrey Hepburn's and George Peppard's characters are elite female and male escorts. It is handled so discreetly that often people don't even remember this fact about the film. Lots of smoking and alcohol use.
SYNOPSIS: Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) is a restless gold digger. Her philosophy of life is to try to please herself in a vacuum: just live in a detached, disconnected way and you'll never feel pain or get your heart broken. Money and luxuries can fill the hole where relationships are meant to be.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The taxi cab proposal scene. What is more appealing: commitment or hooking up?
WHY THIS FILM IS AN EXAMPLE OF TRUE LOVE: By illustrating the truth by contrast and watching people go about life the wrong way first, we learn that true love is still possible for everyone. And the fashion in "Tiffany's" is to die for.

HITCH (2005)
CAVEATS: Some sex-talk and implied sexual encounters.
SYNOPSIS: A matchmaker (Will Smith) doesn't do so well in his own love life.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: How does Will Smith's character treat women?
WHY THIS FILM IS AN EXAMPLE OF TRUE LOVE: Will Smith's character shows us that true love takes time, patience, humility, perseverance. And it's often awkward because it's supposed to be awkward. Substance abuse combined with sex before marriage only sabotages relationships before they can start. True love bumbles around before it becomes smooth.

February 7, 2014


Yes, folks. These are our future priests.
(Be sure to turn on volume, upper LH.)

February 3, 2014


"Gimme Shelter" (not the Rolling Stones' song and documentary by the same name) is a rare blatantly pro-life story--with big name actors--to hit the theaters. Vanessa Hudgens puts in a gritty performance as castoff pregnant teen named Apple. This is a real street kid with an abusive street mother. Vanessa looks and acts every bit the part: disheveled hair, piercings, clothing to hide her gender (and pregnancy), hopeless stare, poor communication skills, eating from dumpsters, continually in survival mode.

Apple is trying hard with what little she has, but the deck is stacked against her every way she turns. Apple's circumstances are just the type that are used for automatic justification of abortion. Surely SHE should have an abortion, right? It's a no brainer, isn't it? She's a kid herself, she's homeless, she has no resources, no support system, no future. The baby will be raised in poverty and misery, just like Apple herself, and the child will wind up dead or in prison. Isn't this the de facto narrative?

Well, Apple is here to defy the system and break the cycle. Not because she's trying to make a statement, impose her will, or make things difficult for those around her. There's just a primal instinct in her that says: this baby could've been me. Was me. This is exactly how I came into the world. It's like killing myself. She's tired of being shuffled around, told what to do and treated like a problem that requires easy, expedient solutions. She just feels like the whole thing (abortion) stinks, and she's not having any part of it. It doesn't even play out like some "motherly" instinct. Apple is not looking forward to being a mother and having a cuddly little someone of her own that will finally love her back. She has been pushed to do plenty of wrong things in her life, but this is NOT going to be one of them. Apple is putting her foot down.

What makes Apple even more heroic is that she has absolutely no plan. She flees the abortion clinic not having a clue what she's going to do. A wise old priest (James Earl Jones), unfazed by Apple's anger and abrasiveness, tells her about a place for pregnant young women like herself.

"Gimme Shelter" is based on the true story of Kathy DiFiore (played by Ann Dowd) who opened a home for young mothers in New Jersey. The film follows Apple's hardscrabble road to the shelter where she finds safety, but most of all, what family means. Rosario Dawson is baneful as Apple's crazed, vicious mother. Brendan Fraser is her wealthy biological father, and Stephanie Szostak is chilling and spot-on as his society wife who can't seem to find a place in her heart for Apple. We get to see photos of the real characters at the end of the film.

Former Mousketeer Vanessa Hudgens proves herself a versatile and serious actress (after her roles in the racy "Sucker Punch" and dissolute "Spring Breakers").

The story is simple and linear. It's about the little things and everyday drama, everyday violence and everyday hope. The banality of life, death and desperation. It feels more like a solid made-for-TV story than made for the big screen, but definitely worth seeing!


January 20, 2014


Writer/director Spike Jonez' "Her," is a rather extraordinary film. It's really a science fiction/love story about A.I. (artificial intelligence). Set in what looks like the near future, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix doing his best work to date and visually carrying the entire film) works for a company called "Beautiful Handwritten Letters" that composes letters for people. Not business letters or formal letters: love letters and letters between family members. Why can't people write their own? Who knows? But this futuristic world is scarily bland, literal and unnuanced. Everyone and everything feels incredibly dumbed down into simplistic niceness. It seems that advanced technology and the seamless omni-insertion of technology into people's lives has turned humans into androids, while the androids are more “alive” than humans, and want to become more human.

Humans walk around (something like today, but much worse) talking to themselves, communicating only with their multifunctional earbuds.

"Samantha" is a Siri-like voice performed by Scarlett Johansson with such craft that there was a question whether her voice acting could be nominated for an Oscar (it couldn't). Theodore, lonely and undergoing a divorce, begins to fall in love with her, and Siri begins to evolve rapidly (having "experiences" and learning about the world through Theodore). Samantha is always there for him and seemingly deeply understands him (she reads all his email), and even fights with him like a real girlfriend would. Dating one's OS (operating system) becomes an accepted "thing" in Theodore's society.

But all shall not be well. I won't spoil the ending--one of the gentlest, tenderest, humanest sci-fi endings since "Blade Runner"--but it gives rise to the question whether humans and A.I. could ever truly interact on a purely and fully human level. Can Samantha ever truly “be” human and understand humans? Especially when it comes to love? Humans, it seems, are unlimited by their limits, and A.I. are crippled by their boundlessness. Haven’t we ultimately created them as their own inorganic “species” to do their own thing, which may even be outside of our control?

Now. A word about the PORN ELEMENTS. Yes. There are fleeting, quite perverse and quite unnecessary porn images in the beginning of the film (involving a very naked and very pregnant supermodel), followed by three different scenes of full-blown phone sex (mostly verbal). As I tried to "not watch" (very difficult when it flashes on unexpectedly), I wondered what Jonze was thinking. I wondered if he's a porn kinda guy himself. I wondered if he thought (like millions, and like the heartily-laughing audience in my cinema) that porn is "no big deal" today. It's "mainstream." Get over it. Ah, well, Mr. Jonze, here's a letter for you.

Dear Mr. Jonze,

Porn IS a big deal, and I will NOT get over it, but what we can both agree on is that it is MAINSTREAM. Not just on our 5-year-old's Nintendo 3DS and our 8-year-old's iPod and our 12-year-old's Xbox One or PS4, but in our one extant unifying storytelling carrier: "The Movies."

"Boogie Nights" was ABOUT the porn industry, "Magic Mike" was ABOUT male strippers, and "Don Jon" was ABOUT internet porn addiction, but "Her" was about A.I. There are plenty of porn references on primetime TV, but you, Mr. Jonze, SHOWED us some porn on the big, big screen. I know you're not alone, and I know we're just going to see more and more of this, but you know what? It's NOT okay. You are RESPONSIBLE for your art. And if you are not aware of the scientific facts about the effects of the scourge of porn on children, teens, families, WOMEN, husbands, wives, workers, um, everyone? You need to get yourself educated. Fast. The rest of your movie is beyond fabulous and creative. You ruined it. I will not jump on the "Emperor's New Clothes" bandwagon and "praise you" for this film because the Emperor HAS no clothes. We do not treat the human body this way. We do not treat the human person this way.

The shocking, prolonged, full-frontal, hazy FEMALE nudity crotch shots at the beginning of "Flight" (a most disappointing plane wreck of a story and film) was sad. But it was just a naked woman walking around. You showed porn QUA porn ("qua" is Latin for "as"). And we were supposed to laugh. Sex can be funny. Porn is never funny.

I so wished I could like this film.

It doesn't matter how many awards you get for this. You blew it.

So sorry for your loss,

Sr. Helena

So, am I recommending you see this film? I usually don't give my opinion on this either way, but given the above circumstances: www.commonsensemedia.com rates this film "iffy" for 15+. I rate it "iffy" for 50+ unless those scenes are excised. Perhaps www.clearplay.com will make it available. ("Clear Play" sanitizes films with the blessing of the studios. I'm normally not in agreement with such measures--except for family viewing--but it's getting bad, folks.)


--Struggling with porn use/addiction or know someone who is? www.ReclaimSexualHealth.com

--I'm beginning to wonder if putting jarring, out-of-place nudity and porn in the BEGINNING of films is a new cheap trick to keep people titillated THROUGHOUT a movie. If/when your body gets revved up, it's going to make the whole movie experience more memorable or something? (Lookin' at you, "Flight": my full review of "Flight" http://hellburns.blogspot.ca/2012/11/movies-flight.html#.UyKA0vldWOA )

--The dumbed-down world of "Her" (with colorful prime and rainbow colors everywhere similar to Google Chrome, Google Play, the Mac spinning pinwheel) is scary because I see our society going this way. A book publisher wants to publish Theodore’s letters because he finds them so profound and touching while in reality they are one step above perfunctory. I’m one of those people who believe that if we lose words, we lose the ability to express ourselves and communicate with others in a very necessary, significant and irreplaceable way that makes us human. There are even studies where the ability to express oneself in words also works in reverse to help us actually think and feel and experience and know what we’re thinking and feeling and experiencing.

--The music is pretty amazing and often atmospheric. Who did the music? ARCADE FIRE. Okay, I agree they are a very Important Band.

--The Coming Attractions sported a film with Kate Winslet getting tied up by a criminal on the lam. And she liked it. WOMEN: WAKE UP! WHERE ARE THE FEMINISTS OF THE 70’S????

--Jonez created a clever, tight, cohesive, believable futuristic world with lots of details and food for thought. The one thing he forgot is that if the porn addiction epidemic continues as is, the world will NOT look like that in the future. The world will be debilitated by it. He was showing us 2014 porn. Come to think of it, there are LOTS of adolescent boy sex jokes in this film. It didn’t even quite match with the “Leave It To Beaver” kind of simplicity of everyone. Unless all the characters (including women) are actually adolescent boys at heart.

--A lot Theology of the Body fodder here. (Samantha initially being envious and wanting a body—kinda like Satan, ha ha.) Samantha talks to Theodore’s little goddaughter and tells her “I don’t have* a body. I live in a computer.” (Transhumanism, anyone?)

“She’s not a computer, she’s her own person.” (Theodore about Samantha)

“You can’t handle a real woman.” (Theodore’s ex)

“You’re beautiful.” (Theodore to Samantha, which could ONLY be “inner beauty”!!!!)

“I like not having a body. I’m not limited by time or space. I can be everywhere, and I’ll never die.” (Samantha)

Samantha wants to move beyond the material world.

--Transhumanist overtones, but I don’t think that’s the point of the movie or that it’s being promoted. BUT I COULD BE WRONG ABOUT THAT. (The head engineer at Google, Ray Kurzweil, is a transhumanist.)

--Once in a while the visuals are on the screen too long and need to be changed. Just a little pacing glitch (kind of like “Where the Wild Things Are” which flirted on the edge of boring us).


*Neither do humans. We ARE bodies.