November 24, 2015


If you already know how the "Hunger Games" saga ends, you may want to skip this third installment--unless you are fond of tedium. The beginning gets off the ground well enough with lots of dialogue and ominous music that is just setting the stage for future action scenes. However, said action scenes drag on and on, do little to advance the story, and one infuriatingly long sequence involves scores of fantastical creatures that just keep coming and coming and coming at our characters. It became almost comical and all I could do was envision those police cars piling up and up and up in "The Blues Brothers," or myriad clowns piling out of a VW.


At times toward the middle and end of the film, the movie felt almost unedited, like the filmmakers just let the camera run, or they just got tired of editing, but I suspect they were running out of ideas at this point in the film and also just wanted to make the ending of the whole series feel epic (by its completely unnecessary length of 137 minutes). This lack of editing gives the story an uninteresting, amateurish feel, like first-time filmmakers who are so attached to their every shot that they can't decide which "gems" to get rid of. This desperate need for editing was felt not only in the action scenes, but also when the camera constantly plays on Katniss' (Jennifer Lawrence) face for prolonged periods of time. Granted, Jennifer Lawrence may prove to be the Meryl Streep of her generation, and she masterfully holds the camera's (and our) attention with every slight shift in mood, every small twitch or squint, but...enough already.

Another consistent flaw with The Hunger Games, IMHO, is the fact that Katniss' love interest is all wrong. The characters and/or actors of Peeta and Gale should have been switched.  I find no chemistry between Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Katniss, but lots between Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Katniss. Am I wrong?


Let's recall at this point, Suzanne Collins' intention for writing "The Hunger Games" in the first place. She came from a military family and wanted to get young people thinking about the seriousness and horror of war before they might blithely or naively consider enlisting at the tender age of 18. Although--as I stated in my reviews of the previous films in the series--I have big problems with the milieu of children killing children (even granted Collins' noble cause), this film has some excellent ethical discussions that unfold organically as the characters are forced to make decisions, react, retaliate and plan their course of action.

The strongest point of the film is Katniss' moral compass that just won't quit. She gets the complexity of the situation, but she never wants to lose her humanity. She is not afraid of the hard thing, of the hardest thing if it's the right thing. The questions the film raises are worth looking at carefully: If we are willing to use the same ruthless tactics as our "enemy," what makes us so different from our enemy? Does it matter if we're any different from our enemy? And how different are we from our enemy, really, as fellow human beings? Can we win if we use ethical tactics and our enemy doesn't? What if we begin to commit the same atrocities that kicked off a war in the first place--then what are we fighting for? Where does it all end? What happens when authority breaks down in the ranks? Is there one mutual enemy of us all? Clarity is needed more than ever in times of armed conflict.


There are some good shockers at the end--but getting there was fatiguing to say the least (I can't tell you how many times I looked at my watch), and the relentlessly heroic soundtrack was draining. Katniss is still looking a lot like Joan of Arc (and a bit like Cupid in the promo pic above), even literally "catching on fire" in a bad way (Joan died by being burned at the stake at 19 years old). Joan prided herself on never having killed anyone personally and even reached out to the enemy, begging them to save their lives, even as she was in the thick of battle with her men. (Katniss, also, is always concerned about saving as many lives on both sides as possible.) When President Coin (Julianne Moore) sees that a French Revolution-style bloodbath is imminent, she finds a creative way to lessen the bloodshed.

In some ways, the whole "Hunger Games" experience is summed up toward the end of the film in a letter from Plutarch (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, RIP) to Katniss. He tells her that they have now entered that sweet period of peace that happens after a bloody conflict while the horrors are still fresh in people's minds. The question to all of us is: how quickly will we forget and return to our all-too-easy bloodlust? To violence as one of the first and best solutions?


--Caesar Flickerman's (Stanley Tucci) purple eyebrows

--Like "Twilight," two men love one woman (the ultimate female fantasy)

--People are more scary than fantastical creatures. Fantastical creatures are non-sadistic and, well, dumb.

--This movie could have been named "Sewer Games."

--So  many plot points of the advance on the Capitol were unrealistic: they were in broad daylight and didn't get killed? Didn't the Capitol have face-recognition software and surveillance technology everywhere?

--Irish music is always the go-to music for weddings, happy times and happy dances


November 17, 2015


Today begins the Novena to Blessed Father James Alberione! 
Prayer:…/prayer-through-interce… …
Feastday: November 26
Blessed Fr. James Alberione, SSP -- Founder of the Pauline Family -- 1884-1971

November 5, 2015



Excellent book!

This excellent book is what we really need today. Stanton walks the walk himself (with many true and deep friendships with people in the LGBT community--without compromising a Biblical, sacramental worldview). I am a Roman Catholic nun who teaches Theology of the Body and I have been desperately looking for a rational, even-handed, truly loving (the truth in charity, the charity of the truth) book like this to give us insight into our rapidly changing culture and what our response as followers of Christ needs to be.

This is not a book about activism, but about individuals' sincere relationships with other individuals--who just might disagree with each other (and our world no longer knows how to civilly disagree, but only to sling loaded, incendiary, accusative slogans at each other). Stanton breaks down the myths on both "sides." I follow the pastoral practices of wholeheartedly (Courage Int'l, the Catholic Church's spiritual support and pastoral outreach to the same-sex attracted: recommended on the U.S. Bishops website), and have many friends in this organization. I find "Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor"'s in-depth explorations and advice to be in accord with these guidelines. This is not a theoretical book but one of sound, practical advice and real-life examples.

November 2, 2015


"Spotlight" is the recounting of the "Spotlight" team of intrepid investigative reporters at the Boston Globe who broke the Catholic Church's clergy sex abuse story in January 2002--mainly concerning the Archdiocese of Boston. For starters, this is not a Church-bashing film even though it easily and rightfully could have been. It's an accurate, stark, almost understated presentation. It's rated "R" simply and appropriately for subject matter. Just enough of the horrific details of cases are disclosed in the film, the rest is hinted at discreetly.

This is a story that had to be told, and the filmmakers have done a capable and responsible job.


"Spotlight"--as a feature film--is not a pseudo-documentary, nor is it juicy, sensational, exploitative entertainment. (And it feels wrong to critique it as such.) "Spotlight" is what I would call an "information film." The acting, too, is muted: none of the big name actors shine. The excellent cast seem to be humbly striving only to serve the story. Is it hard to watch? Yes, of course. The tone is somber, dreary and somewhat suffocating--as it should be. The monolithic power of the Catholic Church (till 2002) over civic, religious and spiritual affairs in the city of Boston is chilling. It extended even into the Globe where employees (many of whom were Catholic) simply knew you don't take on the Catholic Church. They are even trained to believe that when the Catholic Church dismisses claims, they can't possibly be true. It took an outside editor from New York (the New York Times purchased the Boston Globe in 1993) to press the issue.


The timeline unfolds without much fanfare. Little by little, the magnitude of the number of priests, victims, and the span of years and cover-ups becomes clearer and clearer. Since we, the audience, presumably know the sordid story and outcome, there are few surprises and no real highs, lows or even serious crisis points. The kicker is that everything, all the evidence was hiding in plain sight. All the reporters needed was a few names of priest-abusers, the secret code words "sick leave," "unassigned," and "leave of absence," and the cooperation of a few victims, lawyers and judges. Much is made of the fact that B.C. High (a Catholic Jesuit boys high school that some of the reporters themselves attended, maintained an infamous priest-coach molester on staff) is directly across the street from the Boston Globe building.

Ironically, both the Catholic Church in Boston and the Boston Globe were at the height of their influence at the beginning of the new millennium, while a third character--the internet--is just becoming a serious player (a billboard for big, bad AOL is subtly placed in the film).


Very self-effacingly--and I would say unnecessarily and misplacedly--the film blames The Globe itself in a big way for not reporting the story years earlier when lawyers and victims provided plenty of damning information that went ignored. Whatever culpability The Globe bears, they more than made up for it by compiling overwhelming, carefully-researched evidence that wouldn't be just another isolated story that would get buried. "The Church" and Cardinal Law are distant, cold, uncaring shadows. The abusing priests are sick and distorted men--almost excused. The names Geoghan, Shanley and Talbot (among others) will conjure up ugly memories for all who lived at the heart of this nightmare or on its peripheries.


The faces and voices of the victims are given three-dimensional reality and the major focus. Even the heroic, crusading lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian--who insisted on bringing victims' cases to the courts to expose the Church's wrongdoing--is modestly underplayed.


Part of the initial incredulity of sectors of the public and the average Catholic in the pew to the Globe's scoop was due to the Globe's notorious anti-Catholicism since its very inception in 1872 (not unlike most of the old Boston WASP establishment). And many just didn't believe that so many heinous crimes of this nature could have been so well hidden for so long. If it were true, surely we would have known? Surely we would have heard some rumors and gossip? Whoever did know something was silenced with hush money, or gave up when crushed by the power of the Church's legal and "moral authority" arsenal and sway. But it didn't take long for the undeniable, verifiable veracity of the charges to grip the city and the world.


There is precious little aftermath in the film, as it wraps up on the day the first big story is released (there were a total of 600 stories run relentlessly about the scandal for at least a year afterward in the Globe). A few words of Epilogue are given, and then we are left with a gaping wound of sadness.


There does not seem to be any hope put forth in this film. Not about healing for victims or reform for the Church. But maybe that was not a part of the film's scope. Maybe there is no way to find the silver lining here. There is also hardly any insight into the root causes of this terrible state of affairs. It's just raw evil on display. Perhaps this is the best way for this particular film to handle this grave matter. Sexual abuse destroys hope. No soothing, reassuring sugar-coating or "Hollywood ending" in this film.


There is hardly any mention of God in this film. No angry questioning of "Why did God allow this?!" or "Where was God?!" or  "How could purported men of God do this?" or "This has destroyed my faith in God!" There is only mention of "devout Catholics" and those who "go to church" or "don't go to church." There didn't even need to be a distinction made between a good God and bad men who represent God (and are doing a terrible job at it) because God is pretty much absent from the film. The one tragically poignant mention of God is from a male victim, now an adult, who says: "You don't say no to God" (meaning when a priest propositioned him at twelve years old, the only right answer was "yes"). Again, perhaps this was the best way to handle "God" in this story that had nothing to do with a good God, and everything to do with bad men. (The Church, although divinely instituted by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, is still human and sinful because of the free will of her members--even those who hold the authority. Thankfully, the sacraments and everything we need still operates through these men, regardless of their personal holiness.)


As I see it, three minor drawbacks to the film are:

1) They got Cardinal Law a bit wrong. They made him a much older man (he was only 68 in 2001) with a hint of an Irish accent (Wha?). They made him a rather flat--although bold--stereotypical bureaucratic figure, when in reality he was a magnetic, charismatic personality who had actually been a media favorite when he first came to Boston.

2) The feeble, brief explanations given for the (unfettered) abuse were screaming to be explored and were even contradictory.
--"Celibacy is the issue. It creates a culture of secrecy." Really?? So if one attempts to practice (priestly) celibacy they have a good chance of being/becoming a depraved, predatory pedophile? And how are celibacy and secrecy related? This makes no sense. And sadly, most sex abusers of children? Married men.
--Another reason given  is that some of the priests were "psycho-sexually stunted at the level of a 12-year-old"--which may be very true, but that does not make one an automatic repeat child molester. The one priest molester we see being interviewed begins to say that he was raped, but the thought was not continued. (The rest of that statistic is that it was discovered that some priests who molested children were molested by priests themselves when they were children. They grew up, became priests and continued the incestuous cycle.)

3) I would like to have seen some rage in the film. Some of the rage that I felt and still feel in the pit of my stomach. Perhaps the filmmakers are leaving that up to us, the audience.


But of course, there is hope. Although sexual abuse (and spiritual-sexual abuse) takes a deep, deep toll, and a certain proportion of the victims tragically committed suicide, emotional healing is always a possibility.


"Spotlight" is an important film to see, even if you kept up and delved into these darkling waters--as I did--when they first hit the shore. The restrained even-handedness of the story-telling is remarkable and will prevent it from being a "controversial" film. It's truly a "talkie" film--as you would expect the milieu of a newspaper to be--but never tedious. The narrative and the horror is in the information itself each time more is unearthed. Why should you see this film? To honor the victims, first of all, and second of all to understand how corruption--of any sort--works, in order to be vigilant and oppose it. NEVER AGAIN.

Has ANY good come of all this sorrow? The suffering of the children, teens and their families has not been totally in vain. There is now a much greater awareness of the sexual abuse of minors all over the world, and new laws have been created to protect young people where there were none.

--this problem is centuries old
--it's not celibacy that is the problem, but a culture of secrecy brought about by a culture of absolute power and lack of accountability
--absolute power corrupts absolutely
--abuse of power is not an inevitability, it's a choice
--unbridled male chauvinistic power is insensitive to women, children and the vulnerable
--pedophiles automatically gravitate to wherever they have trusted access to children (seminaries, schools, sports teams, law enforcement, etc.)
--seminaries did not do good screening of candidates
--anyone who reported behavior was threatened (get kicked out of seminary themselves, lose a job/position)
--silence/playing the game=perks, advancement
--it was a numbers game (to have lots of priests)
--it was keeping up appearances (bishops knew they could quash "problems," abusers knew they would never get in trouble and would always be shielded: the perfect set-up)
--it was keeping up appearances ("not on my watch")
--toward the middle of the 20th century, psychiatrists and psychologists got involved (assessments, "treatment") and kept giving the green light to put the priest back in ministry (bishops blindly "obeyed")
--it wasn't known that pedophilia is not "curable" (but it's also not rocket science to see that a man abusing over and over and over and over again needs to be stopped, removed permanently)
--gross blindness and ignorant cluelessness as to what sexual abuse does to a child/teen
--careerism, clericalism, wrong priorities
--evil and sin

--the clergy sex abuse problems will continue unless there is courageous breaking with mentalities, cultures, habits, patterns and cycles
--the presence of women in all (non-ordained) positions at all levels and places of Church life will help mitigate undisciplined male power (and male lack of empathy and sympathy)
--following preventative and protective protocols for child safety immediately and unilaterally
--child safety is everyone's job, not just those in positions of authority
--stringent screening/dismissals at seminary level
--thorough training in human sexuality for seminarians (including THEOLOGY OF THE BODY)
--a deep prayer life, spiritual direction in seminary
--priestly spirituality
--normal, healthy relationships with laypeople, families, women of God
--priestly fraternity, camaraderie, seminary follow-up, oversight by and relationship with bishop
--bishop accountability (Pope Francis is putting this in place)
--availability: doing ministry where needed (while maintaining healthful lifestyle, self-care and avoiding burnout)
--pouring oneself out as a spiritual father (love and zeal for the Bride [the Church] and the world) conquers loneliness

When the shocking news broke, it was the only time in my life--since my conversion at 15--that I wanted to leave the Catholic Church and run screaming to the hills. A close friend even accused me: "You're a nun--you knew!" But I didn't. Nobody knew. Or very, very few people knew. I agonized for months over it. I couldn't understand. I thought priests and bishops were the good guys! I thought they wanted to protect and help people! I just couldn't figure it out. And then--through my study of Theology of the Body--I got a powerful insight: Men do NOT want to be Superman or the Lone Ranger. They do NOT want to break ranks. Men are HORRIBLE at whistle-blowing. They are all about BAND OF BROTHERS. And this is a good thing! Men are stronger together. They have each other's backs. They can provide for and protect hearth and home better TOGETHER. The problem lies when they BAND TOGETHER FOR EVIL. To hide each other's sins. To give each other a pass for their sins. Look the other way. Code of silence. Complete corruption. Whole cities run on this notion. But it doesn't have to be this way. 

MEN NEED TO BAND TOGETHER FOR THE GOOD. Positive peer pressure. And call each other out when they need calling out. So, guys? Join some good guy thing to do charitable works together, pray together or just hang out together. Live by the "10 Commandments of Chivalry" (except the showing no mercy to the infidel part). And always, always BAND TOGETHER FOR GOOD, NOT EVIL.

"The Long Lent of Sex Abuse Survivors and the Road to Recovery": (excellent article from a Boston woman)

October 30, 2015


"Jem and the Holograms" is a live-action tween movie based on the animated TV series of the same name that aired from 1985-1988. Although I have been informed by some fans of the TV series that the film is not cleaving exactly to the TV version, it is nonetheless a delightful, "family-oriented" film that is innocent and fun, and skillfully avoids all kinds of pitfalls that a flick of this nature might have fallen into headlong. I was all prepared to say that in many ways "Jem" is the anti-"Pitch Perfect" movie (something I would relish), but then I checked the lyrics to the songs used in the film and in the complete soundtrack. Please read on because there is a major, major CAVEAT with this film.

What pitfalls does the film avoid? It is not cutsie. There is no Valley Girl talk or vocal fry. The teen girls are not stereotypes of today's radical feminist agendas, and neither are they Barbies. They seem like (albeit extremely well-groomed) regular gals. One is a little tougher than the others (she's a hacker and has spent time in juvie). The film does not drown us in song after song after song. In fact, the musical numbers are well-placed and are mostly power pop, with one initial soft ballad.


Most, most unfortunately, the lyrics to some of the songs are very, very risque and beyond inappropriate for tweens or teens or anyone (although the visuals in the movie do not match at all--the songs are not acted out in any way). It may be a bit difficult to hear all the lyrics as they're being belted out in the film, but of course young people don't have this problem. This is a huge, huge drawback to the film. Check out especially the words to "Mi mi mi": which is used at least partially in the film (I don't remember hearing any of the most objectionable words from this song in the film, but still). Other songs used in the film: "Youngblood," "Alone Together," "I'm Still Here." If songs with objectionable lyrics (very objectionable) were not included in the film or on the soundtrack? There would be no problem here. But there is a problem. A big one. Why should we wonder why our young people engage in bacchanal-type sex on college campuses when they've heard this stuff from their tenderest years in "PG" movies? Sigh. I'm sad to say this film was too good to be true. Very sad to say. Unless you are willing to have a serious discussion with your young people about the lyrics to ALL the songs on the soundtrack, I'd say this is a "no" film. But why NOT have that discussion? Ask your young people what they think of these lyrics. Take this opportunity to do some Media Literacy and Theology of the Body with them. There are many, many good things about this film, but they are totally undermined and undone--perhaps even destroyed--by the lyrics to some (not all) of the songs featured in the film and on the soundtrack.


Jerrica Benton (Aubrey Peeples) whose stage name is "Jem," becomes an instant, viral internet sensation when she dons a crazy pink wig and sings a sensitive ditty into her webcam. Her three sisters (one blood sister and two cousins, all being raised by their aunt--but they all consider themselves true sisters) are her band. A star-making music company (appropriately called "Starlight") comes calling in the person of Erica (the inimitable Juliette Lewis, digging her fangs into every scene and stealing it). Lewis could really make a new career out of playing luscious modern-day villainesses.

After seeing the trailer, I thought the film might be a good exploration of what "fame" means today, and it is, but it's even more focused on family. Jem and her sisters are all about family, about being a family. And they're all about their music. The "famous" thing for them is a just a great way to spread the love, and get some badly-needed cash so they don't lose their house. (Molly Ringwald, as the devoted aunt, has one of the best lines in the movie--aimed at Erica--that pretty much sums up the whole fame thing).

Jem lost her Dad when she was young. He encouraged her in her musical abilities and gave her words of wisdom to live by. He was also working on an invention before he died: an adorkable little robot named "Synergy" who gets mysteriously activated at the same Jem's career takes off. Synergy is the most fantastical part of the film, which otherwise might pass as a non-sci-fi film.
Jem's relationship with her Dad is really the heart of the story. He is the unseen guiding light. There is a mild romance between Jem and Rio (Ryan Guzman), Erica's son, which culminates in a kiss at the end.


The entire feel of the film is that of an after-school special. It's not a "big" film, and it's pretty low on hype. The girls remain incredibly grounded through their whole experience, even through their one big crisis and band breakup--which alone can speak volumes to a starry-eyed, "everyone-is-having-their-15-minutes-of-fame-now-in-our-digital-world" world. Jem video-narrates to us, the audience, the entire saga of her rise to fame. She and her sisters critique and are highly aware of the ersatz nature of "social media"--even as they use it. It's great social commentary.

The clever, thoughtful backbone of the soundtrack is actual uploaded-to-the-internet amateur musician videos (often just doing rhythms and beats). How do we know they're videos? Because we see them briefly, intercut with our characters' story. There are also lots of fake "Jem and the Holograms" fan vids throughout the story that feel very authentic.

Stay for the credits or you'll miss the lengthy zinger leading directly into a sequel where rival band "The Misfits" will thicken the stew.

October 16, 2015


"Hyena Road" is the latest film about the war-with-no-end-in-sight: Afghanistan.* Canadian writer-director-actor, Paul Gross, delivers what is now a standard, sand-infiltrated, khaki-camo-dappled screen adventure in the nouveau tradition of "Jarhead," "Hurt Locker" and "American Sniper." "Hyena Road" looks and feels pretty much the same as these movies, except that this tale is exclusively about Canadian troops and one of their slices of the battle--a lethal supply route in Afghanistan's notoriously inhospitable terrain, riddled with IED's and "insurgents."


My main question about this film was: "Is it a Canadian film?" And if so, what makes it Canadian or not? Canadians are known for their non-bellicosity. It's not that they don't have the stomach or skills for war. They don't have the heart for war--which isn't a bad thing. Having lived in Canada for over a decade, I can testify that Canadians are a truly peaceful and genteel people. But Canada is an ally of the U.S. and part of the free world that opposes terrorism and is willing to combat it with force. So why are "they" making this ostensibly glam war film? I haven't seen or read any interviews with Paul Gross, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that it may be from motives of national pride to honor (honour) the Canadians who fought and those who lost their lives in this maddening desert morass.

One Canadian film critic went so far as to call "Hyena Road" "jingoism," and there was a bit of that. However, patriotism is coupled with a somewhat cheesy voiceover beginning and ending the film with Alexander the Great's deferent words about this indomitable land and people. The film is trying to make sense of it all by showing us the big, big picture while zeroing in on the smallest human details of this particular war--which, in reality is "many different wars." Unlike American films about the Gulf Wars, the enemy is not as demonized in black and white--rather the point seems to be that it's individuals who choose to be and do evil during war time or any time.

War quickly becomes personal and deeply conflicted for the idealistic and/or duty-driven North Americans. As with many war-weary populations, Afghans have learned to switch allegiances to suit their own purposes, survive and thrive. Nothing is clear-cut and there are layers of purposes and strategies that  Pete (Paul Gross)--the PR "heart and minds" guy--doesn't even share with his company until they're in the thick of it.


Perhaps the greatest dilemma posed in the film (a dilemma in all wars) is "the greater good." (The distinctly American phrase "collateral damage" is not used.) When children are abused and become pawns, it's too much for the men to "do nothing" as they are ordered. They righteously and naively assume that war is about doing heroic and worthy things like protecting children. That's why they signed up. That's what they're here for. But they forget it's not their war and that they too are pawns of far bigger and more powerful forces and entities. When it comes to light that Pete is OK with this arrangement, there was an opportunity to really cut open the dark underbelly of the  amoral soul of war. Instead the filmmakers made nice.

Art imitates life here. A recent article in the Toronto Star reveals a scandal wherein Canadian troops were told by their superiors not to intervene when Afghan troops and interpreters sexually assaulted  young Afghan boys:

The acting is a bit bland (sorry, Canadians!) and lacks any kind of star power, juice or chemistry. The swaggering, scenery-chewing Paul Gross character brings some, but he never quite nails the role--I felt that he was  working hard at drumming it up and going through the motions. The firefights are quite tense and well-done, except that no Canadian soldier ever gets hit (for most of the movie), even though they are impossibly exposed. The cinematography is on point except for a few strange, experimental (the experiment fails) camera angles and pans here and there (in non-combat scenes). The soundtrack is lush, exotic, operatic and conjures throbbing war drums.

Exposition? Too much showing and telling at the same time. And lots and lots of telling by Pete who frequently goes on disclosure binges that feel like...disclosure binges (helpful as they are). The story actually begins with no plot or stakes and proceeds rather episodically. But maybe that was on purpose, to show the subtle futility of war's Sisyphean tasks.

Canadian Rossif Sutherland (son of Canadian Donald Sutherland) is a main actor, but his New York-ish accent is odd. The native actors are OUTSTANDING. One captivating elder figure in particular takes the cake.


"Hyena Road" had the potential to be a much greater film. It has some powerful set-ups and tackles some powerful human dramas. But it needed to "go there." It needed to go all the way and not back off, back down. It needed to show us WHY people return from war with PTSD, as well as truly mine why we (as nations) really go to war. War can't be about protecting innocent people and not protecting innocent people at the same time.

In the end, I think this is a Canadian film. Simply, perhaps, because Canadians know it's not all about them.
Canada pulled out of Afghanistan in 2014.


--Canadians are terrible at cursing.

--The film avoids twee Canadiana. Just the requisite hockey and a funny little scene where a Canadian soldier very naturally and casually uses elegant language. There's one misuse of the word "medievalist," but that might have been intentional. Oh, and "Quebec" must be the code name for the letter "Q" because it's used ad nauseam--to the point of ludicrousness throughout the film, especially at the direst moments.

-- Paul Gross is famous from the delightful TV series "Due South," about a Mountie (Gross) and a Chicago cop who team up to fight crime. (This Canadian creation was delightful until the Americans took it over and ruined it.)

--A few lovely pro-life (as regards new life) scenes.

--Filmed in Manitoba and Jordan.

--Because of the episodic-ness, there is no prolonged or sustained suspense (except for the gun battles). You never feel like something really bad is going to happen....

--This film made me think about suicide and war. The elements of suicide in every war.

--How do you measure "winning" in a war like this? Pete says it's not about winning, it's about preventing the craziest crazies from getting in power.

--War movies are the real horror films.

--It was good for history to be reiterated through this film, in order to put the saga that is Afghanistan in perspective (from B.C. to the recent Russian fiasco).

--A lovely little documentary:  "The Beauty Academy of Kabul" Also a book: "Kabul Beauty School." I also recommend the 2010 war doc filmed in Afghanistan: "Restrepo." My review:

--The deeper question of "why does the USA/Canada go to war?" has become even more problematic than ever in an "anything goes" world. Are highly-trained, highly-disciplined, self-sacrificing soldiers fighting to preserve the right of people back home to do absolutely anything they want? Are they fighting for wanton license back home and using the rule of law to flatten laws, create a climate  of lawlessness  or create tyrannical laws based on pure subjectivity? When there's no longer a common goal and ideals, no shared ethics, no agreement about what human dignity even is--how do you fight to uphold it?

One of the last sacrosanct taboos is to harm a child. Yet abortion is legal and there are those pushing for the "rights" of a child to be free from the upbringing, mores, morality and religion of their parents (which, of course, is swiftly replaced by those of the State). There are those pushing for the "right" of a child to be "sexually active" (including with adults) and to do away with the "discriminatory" concept of childhood altogether. Perhaps these incongruous realities are subconsciously as crazy-making to a soldier's psyche as an IED.

October 13, 2015


Registration entitles you to exclusive audio recordings of each session.
More information to follow....

October 9, 2015



Hey Miami! 

"Media Apostle: The Father James Alberione Story" 

is showing October 17, 12:15pm 

Cinepolis--Coconut Grove 3015 Grand Ave. Miami, FL 33133

at the John Paul II Film Festival!


Buy tickets here:

September 26, 2015


I'm declaring the riveting and flawless "Pawn Sacrifice" (the story of chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, played with acting genius by Tobey Maguire) the best film of 2015. This film has it all: high drama, low drama, human drama, international intrigue, unbeatable odds, fierce competition, poignancy, USA vs. Russia, an alternately elegant and rockin' soundtrack, issues of mental health, and one of the most realistic screen priests ever enacted. Here's hoping it will not be overlooked during awards season. (Director Edward Zwick also did "Glory," and "Blood Diamond.")

The engaging trailer convinced me I needed to see this slice of Cold War history that I knew very little about (I would have flamed out on a "Bobby Fischer" Jeopardy category). I also dearly love playing chess, and am always interested in how priests and nuns are authentically captured (or not) by Hollywood.


Bobby Fischer, born in 1943 in Chicago, raised in Brooklyn, New York, was of Russian-Jewish descent. His mother had Communist leanings, and raised him and his sister by herself. At a young age, his giftedness for chess became apparent as did his obsession with the game. The film doesn't start us off with Bobby and a chessboard, but rather his milieu, the news of the times and a crisis point in his adult life. From there we flashback and proceed chronologically, with never a dull moment, which is quite an accomplishment since we're talking chess here. How do you make a film about a "sport" where two people sit in taut silence? Chess makes golf, tatting (lace, not ink), and croquet look positively vertigo-inducing. Through skillful angles, edits, pacing and a masterful layering of multiple sights and sounds (without ever being too busy), and some of the most mature dialogue in recent memory, the filmmakers succeed effortlessly and with aplomb, and never hype it up just to get and keep our attention. (Screenwriter Stephen Knight wrote the jaw-dropping "Locke"--not to be confused with lockjaw.)


"Bobby has problems," says Fr. Bill Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard)--Bobby's trusted friend, fellow chessmaster and chess fanatic--when approached by a U.S. government operative, Paul Marshall (the lost-deep-in-the-role Michael Stuhlbarg), posing as a lawyer/agent who wants to use the apolitical Bobby as a "pawn" in the "war of perception" with the Soviets. Fr. Bill becomes aware of the "lawyer's" true identity, but it's never clear if he informs Bobby or if Bobby becomes aware on his own. (Fischer is portrayed as paranoid anyway, thinking he was being spied on by all sorts of entities--and he might have been partially right, of course.) In the film, Bobby also suffers from acute hearing and an autism-like sensitivity to sound, especially when preparing for or playing a chess game.

Bobby plays into the hands of both the Americans and the Russians, because ever since he was a child, he wanted to play the Russians, the best in the business. But although Marshall is trying to use him (and the degree of deception is unclear), Fischer was, in actuality, doing what he loved, what he wanted to do. Known for his ego, arrogance, ambition and erratic behavior, Fischer was smart enough to demand a monetary cut of what everyone else was making off his fame. He also demanded conditions that would favor his peevish powers of concentration.


There's one marvelous scene (and the filmmakers could have given us more than one of this type of scene but wisely refrained) where Fischer verbalizes the narrative of the battle going on on the chessboard. Which is really and truly what is happening. If you play chess at all, you know this. In general, the filmmakers went nice and light on all kinds of chess metaphors they could have burdened the film with.

When Bobby begins to crack under various pressures as he movies up the ranks of chess tournaments to face the great Russian world-champion, Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), he makes excuses, blames others and fails to show up for matches. (Mathematics and chess seem to be professions and avocations fraught with madness. But the question is: which comes first? At a certain lighter moment in the film, Boris looks as "over the edge" as Bobby.) The candy-ingesting, cigarette-smoking and not-beyond-profanity-using Fr. Bill is pretty much always there to encourage Fischer and make sure that he is not wholesalely exploited. What does Father get out of this? He loves the thrill of the chase as much as Bobby. But he always sees him and treats him as a person. However--and this might sound strange--he protects Bobby as a chess player first. He knows that "without chess, Bobby is nothing" (meaning Bobby thinks he is nothing without chess). The mutual understanding between Fischer and Lombardy is really what Fischer needed more than anything, but of course, in the film--even friendship was no match for the ravages of Fischer's increasingly manifesting mental illness.


I believe that Fischer's most salient victory was to keep it all about the game. To keep it all about chess, which for him was to keep it all about life (his own life and life in general) and "truth." He refused to be detoured by fame, money, politics or any other considerations. He was the purest of purists. There is so much that is humanly triumphant about this film.

Sarsgaard's inhabiting of a sardonic, taciturn, wry, serious-minded and self-possessed priest who is nonetheless completely at ease in the world is just grand. I know priests like this, and I hope you do, too.

Like the "based on a true story" films "A Perfect Storm" and "American Sniper," I really had no idea of the final outcome of Bobby Fischer's story as I watched. So I found the Epilogue shocking, arresting and poignant.

The issue of mental health looms large in "Pawn Sacrifice" and is treated with great delicacy, compassion and forthrightness. It's a contest the film imagines Bobby didn't win, but one he never stopped fighting.


--I share Bobby's love of silence.

--Chess is soooooooo addictive.

--The film is stylish but never for the sake of style alone. All in the service of the story.

--How cool is it when the soundtrack incorporates the clicks of the chess clock into one song?

--I am not at all a Toby Maguire fan, but wow.

--Beneath it all, Fischer is still a quintessential New Yorker.

--In real life, Kissinger would never play chess with Brezhnev, because chess reveals how you think.

--The stakes were so high.

--As great a victory as it was for an American to beat a Russian at the mind game of chess (in 1972)--what went down in 1980 was even better. :)

--Some of the meat and ethos of the game in this film. Much to ponder.

--It's hard not to admire someone's total dedication to something (good).

--Fischer’s very brief visit to a prostitute (we see nothing) actually de-glamorizes the transaction. Fischer is much more interested and excited about chess.

--Fischer's purported last words: "Nothing is as healing as the human touch." (Theology of the Body!) For a man who lived in his head, that says a lot.

--Keen statement about a boy needing a father. Single Mom won't tell Bobby who his father is: "What does it matter?" Bobby starts sleeping at the chess club as a teen, parts ways with his Mom.

--Fischer and Spassky. It seems these two men rose above it ALL.

--Watch the movie first, then read this Wikipedia entry:  and this one:

--Check out this great review (that devotes 3 paragraphs to Fr. Bill Lombardy's character):

--Here's my review all spiffed up on Life Teen website:

September 20, 2015


Got in a Facebook conversation about this film. An incredible film, incredibly well done all around, and a great statement about news media and media in general and where it's all going today. (Great for a Media Literacy discussion!)

September 10, 2015


"90 Minutes in Heaven" is the screen version of a book  by the same name that came out several years ago. It is a memoir, a firsthand account of a Christian pastor's near-death experience. The book is excellent. The film? Far from it. In fact, it fails pretty miserably as a film, and also in doing justice to this incredible story. Granted, this was difficult to make into a film because so much of the drama was internal, lacking action or activity of any kind: After a horrific car crash that left Pastor Don Piper dead, the bulk of the story is his long, slow, excruciatingly painful recovery. Notwithstanding this challenge, the film is excruciatingly boring and unintriguing.


One of the film's main flaws is the casting: Hayden Christensen as Pastor Don Piper, and Kate Bosworth as Eva Piper, his wife. Christensen looks like a kid dressed up in his father's toupé, moustache and best business suit. I can do a better male Southern drawl. It was truly comical. I have seen many a high school play where any student could have bested this feeble thespianizing. And that moustache. No matter where he is: preaching a sermon, being declared dead in wreckage or undergoing rehab in a hospital bed, the squirrely and distracting moustache abides: always in creepy pristine shape. It almost has a life of its own.

Kate Bosworth*--looking and acting like a beautiful wax mannequin or an overly-Botoxed model--shows exactly zero emotion through everything (except that one time when she briefly slams her hands up and down on the steering wheel of her car). There is also exactly zero chemistry between pastor and wife.

Did the filmmakers simply not know what to do with Christians? And a man of the cloth at that? Piper and his wife are not even one-dimensional. They are half-dimensional. Yes, it's that bad. They actually relate to one another the way Amish are depicted interacting: extremely formal and duty-driven. I expected some "thee's" and "thou's" to escape their lips. You may question, as I did, Eva's momentous decision on Don's behalf that becomes a tremendous source of physical torture. It almost felt like some kind of revenge.


Two parts of the film that were done well were the ominous beginning leading up to the crash, and--believe it or not--the depiction of heaven. Most films make heaven utterly cringe-worthy, but by focusing on warmly glowing but otherwise normal-looking, normally-dressed, normal-acting people (no stark white backgrounds or stabs at showing us Jesus) we begin to realize that "love one another" is really what life (and afterlife)  is all about. Don meets family, friends, acquaintances and strangers as he tells us who they are. It's really quite wonderful. It's an aspect of heaven that I think many of us picture in our mind's eye, but don't see in movies.

However, for just about everything else, "Heaven Is For Real" is a much better film about a near-death experience (my review: ). Like "Heaven Is For Real," "90 Minutes in Heaven" ends with us getting to see the real Don Piper, which is rather unspectacular.


The palette is perpetually rather hazy and dim. There are two gaping plot holes (not to be confused with potholes) and a sore, crying need for editing interminably long scenes where nothing is happening. I was not able to feel Don's pain in the film, but it was palpable in the book.

I would love to know why the filmmakers and actors took on this project. Was is a noble purpose? Well then, a noble but awful attempt. Was it simply for the money? (The book was a major best-seller.) Well then, it shows. Sorry to be harsh, but I gotta call 'em like I see 'em. As one of my Sisters said: "Maybe some books just shouldn't be made into movies."

*who is married to film's director

September 6, 2015


I'm not putting the actual trailer here cuz it's too dang S-E-R-I-O-U-S.
This isn't terribly funny either, but at least you get an idea what the film is about.

"The War Room" is a winning film about prayer. A film about prayer? How do you make such a thing? Why would you make such a thing? Who would make such a thing? Obviously, the Kendrick Brothers are at it again ("Facing Giants," "Fireproof," "Courageous"). "War Room" is their best yet. It's definitely a film about prayer, but in the context of a troubled marriage with a meddling older wisdom figure (Miss Clara played by Karen Abercrombie) who lends a smidge of narration and lots of pragmatic advice. That's the thing with the Kendricks' films. They stand alone as solid entertainment (and not "message films" per se), but they leave with you the most practical examples of what to do in your own life.


Tony (T. C. Stallings) and Elizabeth (Priscilla Shirer) and their adorable daughter, Danielle (Alena Pitts), are living a cold, hard existence under the same roof (that is, when Tony is even home). Something's gotta give. Enter Miss Clara, whose house Elizabeth, a real estate agent, is selling. On the surface, Miss Clara is a sweet, doddering old woman, but underneath she is a shrewd, don't-mess-with-me, Jesus-filled overcomer who gets all up in Elizabeth's business and begins mentoring her.

Things are not exactly as they seem. People are not exactly as they seem. When you think you have some of the characters figured out, there will be reveals that only make each character more and more true to life. You will recognize your own habits of thought and "stuck-in-a-rut" patterns of behavior that are all too painfully true to our own lives. Miss Clara unlocks doors to new ways of thinking and acting that are more in accord with reality, make sense, and yield results.


Marriage and family have been underlying themes in the Kendricks' last two films ("Fireproof": unconditional love, "Courageous": fatherhood), and now: how to let God truly be the Lord of your marriage, your family, your home and your life. But the Kendricks never sugar-coat anything. They go there. They get into the nitty grits of people's lives and never offer easy "Just give your life to Jesus!" "Let go and let God!" "God will bless you if you just...!" solutions.

The genius of "War Room" is manifold. Just the thought of "a film about prayer" could make the holiest Christian pastor tremble with boredom. The scenes and dialogue sometimes live on the edge of a deep plunge into "hokey ravine"--but that never happens (only highly-trained and talented professionals can do this, do not attempt this in your first film, kids).


"War Room" is a clinic in filmmaking. So much of today's filmmaking is just lazy. "War Room" is anything but. It's tight, precise, intentional, with razor-sharp timing. The acting and cinematography is impeccable. Reaction shots are perfectly timed, perfectly executed. The style is almost soap opera with so many intimate close-ups, and yet half the time, the poignant moment erupts in unexpected humor. Masterful. The visual gags are laugh-out-loud hysterical (as are many of the verbal jokes). "War Room" is gravity and levity together at one and the same time. Like life with God generally is.

How does the Christianity in the film jive with Catholicism? The Kendricks are Baptist ministers in Georgia (with a delightful Southern sensibility and sense of humor), but they keep strictly Protestant tenets out of their films for the most part.

The Word of God shines in this film: our need to engage and pray with the Scriptures, to stand on God's promises, to beg God in prayer at times, to make the Bible central in our homes. Our characters are nominal Christians who must learn how to pray. Daily. From the heart.


In case we've forgotten that prayer is also spiritual warfare, that we need to bring our personal and other battles to prayer and let God fight for us and those whom we're praying for? "The War Room" is our refresher course. "The battle belongs to the Lord." How will this film jumpstart or change your daily prayer?


The film takes up the themes of forgiveness, reconciliation, restitution (rarely seen in films!), marriage, family, prayer and mercy. It's the perfect film for the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, beginning December 8.

Bring the whole family to see this film. More than once.


--Theology of the Body? All over it. Marriage. I also like the incarnational, concrete idea of an actual "inner room" or prayer place in one's house.

--This film also shows the beauty of sincerity. Sincerity is so underrated by irony and skepticism today.

--Snappy, crisp dialogue.

--So. Many. Quotable. Quotes.

In this film you will see:
--a grown man jumping rope like a little girl
--a woman taking authority over Satan in her home (Christian feng shui)
--a woman with a, um, recurring foot odor problem

--The usual excuses! "How's your prayer life?" "We're like most people. We're busy. We can't get to church every Sunday, but we're spiritual people."

--I really needed this film.

--Very unfortunately, the trailer is soooooo serious. This film is serious AND very, very funny. It's the kind of funny where after the audience's first gale of laughter subsides, there's a second wave because we're still just so tickled by the joke. The element of surprise is heavily employed in the humor.

--Watch the transformation simply in Elizabeth's facial muscles when she realizes what God's part is and what her part is in relating to her husband. That's acting. And this woman--in real life--is a non-actor and this is her first film. Wha??? Yes. The Kendricks often use non-actors in main roles in their films (a tradition in cinema that Italian Neo-Realism employed effectively).

--T. C. Stallings used to play football in the CFL for the Calgary Stampeders.

--It just dawned on me that Elizabeth and Miss Clara are really the main characters here. And yet this doesn't feel like a chick flick at all. I wonder if people were hounding the Kendricks to make a film like "Courageous" for women. Maybe this is it!

--Good balance of male/female authority in the film. Elizabeth starts the spiritual warfare and kicks the devil out of their home (even that's funny). Prayer changes Elizabeth (it's not a magic wand) and therefore changes the whole family dynamic. Tony is on his own journey, but now Elizabeth knows how to help him.

--The one big disappointment for me was the attempted robbery scene. The Kendricks are really great at action scenes, but this was incredibly sloppy and fake. They really should have put more time and thought into it. It could have injected a lot of tension and been a great use of a red herring. There was also a tad of heavy preachiness in two places (by my count), and some unnecessary break-with-reality-spiritual-trance scenes with Tony toward the end, that didn't really work. The super-Americana altar call at the end would have been so much more effective if it had been globalized.

August 29, 2015


"It can share my bed!"

"I can hold it!"

"Is it really in there?" (20x)


Looking for a retreat house in the greater Boston area for your weekend retreat?

Look no further than beautiful St. Thecla's Retreat House (owned by the Daughters of St. Paul)
in historic Billerica (77 Dudley Rd.).

--75 individual bedrooms
--spacious chapel
--full-service kitchen
--large dining room

--large conference room with screen
--several smaller meeting rooms and parlors
--ample parking
--2 floors with elevator
--country roads and woods to explore

(There are no nuns or staff, so you will have to make your own arrangements for cooking, etc.)

Please contact: Sr. Sophie Stewart, FSP for 2016 dates: 617-462-8905

Nun not included.

Nuns not included

Nuns not included.

Nuns not included.

Nuns not included.