January 25, 2017

TV REVIEW: "THE YOUNG POPE"















HEAR YE! HEAR YE! CAVEAT! CAVEAT! For whatever effusive praise you may hear from me below about HBO's series "The Young Pope," be it known that it is FILLED with nudity and sex scenes in almost every episode. (I have watched the entire first season.) Genitals are never shown, but lots of female breasts, male and female posteriors, and nude or semi-nude sex scenes. Was the nudity pertinent to the story? Yes. But for artists, morality is always aesthetical: What do you show? How do you show it? How much do you show? I believe that probably 80% of the nudity/sex was unnecessary, even though I don't believe its intent was outright lasciviousness. True, Europeans have a different sensibility toward the naked human body, but there are also some universal principles when it comes to film (see John Paul II's guidance below). Nudity and sex scenes will still have their effect on the human body, psyche, imagination and memory of the viewer. So, sadly, very sadly, in my estimation, YP would not be for teens--or for adults struggling with porn issues. But for those who wish to glean the great good that can be had from experiencing YP (as I did), there is always the "look away" method or fast forward (if recorded) or hands-with-splayed-fingers-alternating-up-and-down-in-front-of-your-eyes-like-one-does-for-gore-and-horror.  I employed a combination of the first and third of these methods. I kept asking myself: "Does the good outweigh the bad (excessive nudity/sex scenes) of YP?" My conclusion (at least in my own case) was a resounding YES. If it didn't, I wouldn't even be doing a review.

Some words of wisdom from former actress LeeLee Sobieski (yes, descendant of Jan Sobieski) who left Hollywood to help her fashion designer hubby and raise her kids:

Back in 2012, Sobieski hinted that she was ready to leave Hollywood. “Ninety percent of acting roles involve so much sexual stuff with other people, and I don’t want to do that,” she explained to Vogue. “It’s such a strange fire to play with, and our relationship is surely strong enough to handle it, but if you’re going to walk through fire, there has to be something incredible on the other side.” --US Weekly

Please also check out this guidance from John Paul II on images of the body in art and media:



INCREDIBLY MISLEADING TRAILER, YOUTUBE CLIPS, FIRST EPISODE, PUBLICITY, BUZZ

In case you already watched the trailer for "The Young Pope," some YouTube clips or even the first one or two episodes and wrote it off (as I did) as an easy, sleazy (and perhaps bizarre) pot shot at the Catholic Church, you may wish to give it a second chance. We were all misled. It's too bad that the first episode is not indicative of the series. Those who wanted to see pot shots? They're gonna be disappointed. Those who got offended (YP's real audience, I think)? You already lost 'em.
I was contacted by The Catholic Register (Toronto's Archdiocesan newspaper) to do an interview on it, and my first reaction was: Nope, not interested. Actually this was my exact email response:

The premise of "The Young Pope" seems to be rather meh, sophomoric, silly, juvenile:
"a cool, swinging, good-looking pope who (scandal!) breaks all the rules and makes
the Church 'progressive'! Wheee!"

I also thought that it might be about bureaucracy. Yawn. There is nothing, nothing, nothing more boring in a movie than bureaucracy--especially Church bureaucracy. This is why the film "The Third Miracle" is an utter failure and soul-crushingly boring. Someone thought that the internal legalities of the Catholic Church was entertainment.

But this is not at all what "The Young Pope" is about. To the contrary, the young pope (a fifty-year-old American played with aplomb by a New-York-accented Shakespearean Jude Law) is actually a  traditionalist. A big chunk of the first episode was the young pope's nightmare. The young pope is a disciplined, somewhat harsh, orthodox, somewhat arrogant, wet behind the ears, passionate, authoritative, reckless, faithful, prayerful, macho, flawed but with penetrating insight into humanity, unexpected and unpredictable, media savvy, walking contradiction (as is the series itself). YP is deep not cheap. It is not mean-spirited. YP is unlike anything I have ever seen. It is profound. It almost defies description. Only a Catholic, only an insider, only a man who cares about God (and the Church) would have undertaken "The Young Pope," such as it is. (It also really helps to be Catholic and have a thorough knowledge of your Catholic Faith--otherwise you might possibly get a little lost or confused: Does the Church really teach that? Is that really how Cardinals are?)

WHY WAS "THE YOUNG POPE" EVEN MADE?

We always need to ask (as I was taught in film school): "Why was this project even made? What is the point? What difference does it make whether or not this project gets/got made?" And we were taught that the audience should always ask: "So what? Why should I watch your thing? Why should I care?" So why was YP made? I don't know. The interviews with the Oscar-winning writer-director, Paolo Sorrentino, have been distinctly, decidedly and disappointedly unenlightening. He even does injustice to his own character, accepting interviewers' superficial, politicized, polarized caricatures of him. Why does he go along with this? Is it possible he thinks he actually created such a thin character OR he's trying to go along with perceptions so that people will watch OR he allows his audience to see only what they are capable of seeing/interpreting OR his Italian was poorly translated/transcribed OR he didn't understand the question or others' explications of his work OR he subconsciously created a masterpiece and meanings he didn't even intend or wasn't even aware of? Um, I think NOT to all of the above.

LONELINESS

One theme (among so many in YP) that Sorrentino says he was going for is "loneliness." Yes. Evidenced. But not just the loneliness of "the top," of the "ultimate" good guy in white in the palatial and secretive expanses of the Vatican, or the fated, celibate prelate. YP is about the existential loneliness of every person vis-a-vis one another and God. Not "the universe": GOD. (I can just hear "Lenny," the young Pope Pius XIII, say that last sentence with his inimitable determination and clarity. It's kind of scary that I almost think of him as a real person now. Yes, I got sucked in, I got hooked, I got dazzled by Sorrentino's breathtaking filmmaking.) Incidentally (or not), Sorrentino has the pope give us at least four of the most beautiful explanations for priestly celibacy I have ever encountered.

But are we really so lonely before God? Is God as "silent" as the hackneyed, hopeless, stuck, go-to popular image of God-Void would have us believe? Or is YP right that "God is closer to you than the pillow you lay your head on at night?"

GOD

You see, YP is all about God. Not those who follow Him or speak for Him. God is not just a breathing (though unseen) character in the series (a challenging film feat), He is the other half of Lenny's tightest relationship. And we feel Him and we experience Him with Lenny (a near impossible film feat). When Lenny prays, we are witness to one of the most beautiful sights on earth: a man who loves God who humbles himself and experiences a greater strength than he could ever have on his own. It reminded me of King David. Why is it so beautiful? Because we are never more powerful, never more ourselves, never more fully fulfilled and realized than when we turn to God-Love from Whom we came and to Whom we are returning. We were created BY God and FOR God, so we are totally in sync when we open ourselves and our lives and our desires and our doings up to Him. What is central to Lenny's life? God and God alone. "Is the world right about me? Am I cruel? I'm trying to do all for the love of God." --Lenny in Confession

A "MAN'S POPE"

Pius XIII is a "man's pope." He knows how to exercise male authority. He "stands in the breach" in a way only men do. As we say in Theology of the Body circles: the idea that women are more religious than men is pure bunk. Adam knew God first. Adam was alone with God first. Adam had his own unique relationship with God. If Adam was supposed to guard the Garden, how did the serpent get in? Adam didn't do what Jesus did (and what the young pope does), what every man needs to do when confronted with something bigger and stronger than himself: cry out to God for help. Acknowledge the source of his greatness and strength and the need for more of it from God.



THE YOUNG POPE AND WOMEN

His understanding of, perspective on and relationship with women is open, reverent and always appropriate, but never overly-deferential. He has unique relationships with each of the women in his life: the many, many nuns that dot the papal landscape; the Vatican PR woman who's as knowing and smart-alecky as he is (they could be twins); the infertile young wife of a Swiss guard; the duplicitous Sr. Antonia; his long-lost mother; his first and only teenage love. (However, the young wife of the Swiss guard is a highly unrealistic character. She's airheaded and childish and she thinks she's some kind of innocent--even while she conducts an affair with a priest. Hmmmmmm. But the pope is very merciful to her. She is the only super-annoying character.) In addition, "La Mama" looms large in Italian culture and Italian Catholicism, so, naturally, the Blessed Virgin Mary, talk of mothers and motherhood is organic in YP. The silent nuns in off-white (perpetually doing laundry outdoors) seem to be the innocence and peace and idealized feminine at the Vatican. They and the pope have a silent and joyful understanding.

THE CONVOLUTED ABORTION DIALOGUE

Toward the end of the series, Lenny and his mentor, Cardinal Spencer (James Cromwell) conduct a convoluted conversation about abortion (early in his pontificate, Pius XIII has withdrawn the ability of ordinary priests to give absolution in Confession to women who have had abortions, in order to send a message about the seriousness of abortion--I missed whether they now have to go to a bishop or how they get absolution). This super-silly exchange never once mentions or questions abortion as the taking of a human life. Only that it's breaking some kind of arcane Church rules and arcane Scripture passages. Arcane! The writer-director even has the intellectual dishonesty and gall to quote Aquinas (whose 13th century, pre-scientific era teachings on biology, especially with regard to when and how life begins, were notoriously way off the mark).

At some level, it feels that Sorrentino is overreaching trying to show that he is a "friend" of women. That he's hip to their "concerns," that he's "listening." He even has an array of "FEMEN" style women protestors (topless, of course) pop up in the Vatican Gardens. Sigh. So misguided.

"A SAINT"

Many who know Lenny call him "a saint," including someone who knows him best, who raised him at the orphanage: Sr. Mary (a winning Diane Keaton in a lovely, authentic-looking habit)--who has been called to Rome to be Pope Pius XIII's private assistant. And we scratch our heads at this accolade because Lenny is also a bit of a jerk. But we shall see later why this is said of him. However! Be it known that the Church does not accept any kind of personal gifts or miracles (performed before death) as signs of sanctity. They are simply gifts of God. A "saint" is one who, first and foremost, practices heroic virtue, which, perhaps, the shrewd and unconventionally wise and periodically kind, chain-smoking Lenny does also. (Sr. Mary is also a chain smoker. The smoking is a bit of a flippant gimmick, but you get used to it. Certainly a vice, not a virtue.)

CAN YOU HANDLE WARTS?

"The Young Pope" is an incredible blend of the human and the divine, with all the human warts on full display (and moles: a huge, humorous mole protrudes from an Italian Cardinal's visage). If you can't handle warts and the grittiness of life unvarnished, the foibles of human beings (including human beings "of the cloth")--YP may not be for you. But remember these words of JP2G: "The Church is divine and human. If it weren't human, there'd be no place for us in it." Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, used to encourage us nuns to "Get in touch with your humanity. Don't be afraid of it. It's the only thing God can actually use." Why do people run from their own and others' humanity? Why do people want life (or certain realms of life) to be pollyanna, and insist that they be so?  I believe it's mainly because they flee from suffering. Or are in denial that they suffer. Or haven't really suffered yet in life! Anyone who has let themselves acknowledge their own suffering is not scandalized at the imperfections of others.

"There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried. " --Archbishop Oscar Romero

UPPING THE ANTE

"The Young Pope" is a tour de force. It's a fine display of the Catholic imagination at its best. There is so much more to say about it that time and space will not permit. I seriously considered commentating on each episode of the 10 episodes in the first season. YP deals with a pedophile bishop in NYC. A kangaroo who is the pope's alter ego. Vatican intrigue gone haywire at the conclave that elected him--due to the interference of the Holy Spirit. A weasel-y politico Italian Cardinal (a hilarious, magnificent and spot-on Silvio Orlando) for whom Pius XIII is his worst nightmare--but who also lovingly cares for a severely disabled, nonverbal young man who serves as his confidante. I could go on and on.

At any rate, YP has upped the ante for religious "films." (It's shot like a film and plays out like a film and Sorrentino says he enjoys blurring the lines between cinema and TV because it's all the same to him.) All my favorite religious films are quickly paling in comparison--because of God. What if we actually took God seriously like the young pope? Sought God earnestly and with all our heart like the young pope? Perhaps I am so enamoured of YP because it "goes there" in so many ways. It is only halfway typically "European." The other half feels North American, and the cast and locales are delightfully international. It uses silence and facial expressions unbelievably well. And the lighting! Ecstatic! The soundtrack is a brilliant mix of the contemporary, the whimsical, the classical and the ethereal.

Somewhere deep in Sorrentino's soul, he must get it. He must get God. And God's Church. To create something so beautiful, so filled with beauty, so aware and understanding of beauty, a writer-director-cinematographer must have a lot of beauty in their soul. You can't just pull "The Young Pope" out of a hat. Even if you're Italian.

If you are going to watch it at all, DO NOT WATCH "THE YOUNG POPE" IN YOUTUBE SNIPPETS!!! WHAT A HORRIBLE THING TO DO TO GREAT ART.
Binge watching is recommended.

OTHER STUFF:

--"We have forgotten God!" --the young pope's inaugural address

--"Priests give God weight." "Priests must TRY till the very end." --an ancient Cardinal

--"The Confessional is our operating room. We're not afraid of sin and scandal, the way surgeons are not afraid of blood." --the young pope

--"Think about all the things you like. That's God." --the young pope in answer to a child's letter: "What is God like?"

--To an African country at war: "Give me peace and I will give you God." --the young pope

--"Only the scent of goodness will remain on earth." --Blessed Juana (a fictional young saint from Guatamala)

--I believe that Italians are obsessed with beauty unlike any other nationality. But they also know, create and understand beauty.

--Every artist exposes their own autobiography in their art.

--There are minor technical Church-y inaccuracies in YP. But they are inconsequential compared with the story and the beauty and God.

--We've never seen a screen figure anything like the young pope before. And we desperately needed to. Brava.

--"The Young Pope" is God NOT at a distance. God is nigh.

--"The Young Pope" is brilliant.

--The lengthy conversations in Italian (and one in Spanish) have NO subtitles.

--The true, the good and the beautiful come together in YP. They are shown to be absolutely connected.

--When asked: how do priests live without women? "Stupid priests go to women on the side. The smart ones know that sexual pleasure is overrated in our society." --the young pope

--When the young pope asks one of the ever-smiling Latino Cardinals about his vocation story: "Life is so short. I decided to opt for eternity."

--"I don't see God because I don't see my mother and father." --Lenny

--"I want great love stories and fanatics for God. Lovers are fanatics. The last papacy was popular. Lots of friendship. Crowds are distractible but indifferent: their hearts have been emptied of God. You can only measure love in terms of intensity, not numbers." --Pope Pius XIII

--SOME INCREDIBLE THEOLOGY OF THE BODY MOMENTS. A high-priced call girl: "My clients say I am proof of God, but it's not true. They just can't see far." This is a perfect illustration of turning the body into an idol instead of an icon (with icons, we acknowledge beauty but let it lead us to God in the right way: not by use, lust, fornication, adultery and indulgence--which is not the way to God, or even a good way to enjoy the finer things in life).

ICONOCLASM--denies the gift
ICON--goes through gift to God
IDOL--stops at the gift, turns it into God

--"You know, I got involved simply because I wanted to work with this wonderful director and writer.... I think his visual storytelling is incredibly grand and beautiful and mysterious, and I love his humanity of his subject matter and his writing, and the wit. So for me, stepping into costume and on set everyday was a thrill because I knew I was being photographed in the hands of a real master."

"Paolo said it's really a piece about solitude, something we all have and something that can be incredibly enlightening, but also incredibly painful."

"We weren't setting out to poke fun at anyone. We weren't setting out to scandalize." --Jude Law

--A holy gentleman asked me (in a challenging tone): "Sister, how has 'The Young Pope' helped your holiness?" I had to think about that (besides all the great insights from YP). But then I got back to him: "It has made my prayer bolder." (And I was pretty bold already.)

--One reviewer called YP "the gutsiest thing you'll see on TV all year." And it is. But not because it took on the papacy and the Church. Because it took on God. As God. And got God right.


"You will seek Me and you will find Me
when you seek Me with your whole heart."
--Jeremiah 29:13




January 9, 2017

MOVIES: "SILENCE"


SEVERAL SPOILERS BELOW--BUT WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THIS FILM!

The new Scorsese film, "Silence," based on the 1966 historical novel (with the same title) by Japanese Catholic, Shûsaku Endô, is a worthy and nuanced take on: missionary activity, Christianity, the priesthood, the sacraments, religious persecution, torture, suffering, the suffering of God and the God of suffering. I read the haunting novel several years ago, and I'm sure the ending is what sticks with everyone: the conundrum of an ultimatum that does not allow YOU to suffer for your Faith, but rather makes OTHERS suffer for YOUR Faith until YOU renounce God (or "apostatize," making you an "apostate"). And actually, it doesn't even matter if those made to suffer for you are your fellow Christians or not: human beings will suffer greatly because of YOUR profession of faith.

The main way (among others) that Christians had to denounce Christ and faith in Christ was to step on His image.

AN APOSTATE PRIEST?

Now, perhaps the above information was a bit of a SPOILER for you. If so, I apologize. But it casts a back-shadow over the whole story and is actually its premise. Two young Portuguese Jesuits (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) go to Japan to find their older mentor-priest (Liam Neeson) who, it is rumored, has apostatized. They meet up with secret Japanese Christians along the way and minister to them. For these young, idealistic and fervent men, the glory of martyrdom is straightforward and clear cut. They refuse to believe their spiritual father has abandoned Christ and are convinced it's simply the slander of Japanese officials. They can't imagine the choice and the crossroad before them--they will tread the exact same excruciating path their beloved mentor trod.

JUDAS

Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka) is a Christian who denied Christ out of weakness, and we can tell right away that he's going to be trouble, a kind of Judas figure that can't be trusted. However, just like the rest of this rich tale, he is not going to be a typical tragic Judas figure. In fact, he's even a bit of comic relief. At no point are we directed to judge anyone--only to keep putting ourselves in the midst of these troubled times and in the place of these troubled souls. Jesus Himself is presented in the film as a compatriot, a com-passionate-er ("to suffer with"), a Savior, a model, a friend--not a judge.

THE PERFECT WAY TO SUFFOCATE CHRISTIANITY?

Japan is spoken of as a "swamp" by the missionaries and the Japanese themselves. A swamp that drowned Christianity (Christianity had flourished in the time of Francis Xavier and immediately after, until the Japanese officials not only instituted a crushing and murderous persecution, but forced priests to make the terrible decision.) But. #1 Christianity survived (albeit in small numbers) and was reintroduced in later centuries. #2 If the Japanese officials had found the perfect way to kill Christianity, why was this tactic not used everywhere in the world that opposes Christianity or opposes anything else for that matter? Surely this is not the first time oppressors realized that threatening someone's family/friends works way better than threatening the person themselves! So, on one hand, I think it's a false conundrum. What I used to think was the absolute death knell of faith (when I first read "Silence") is just another dastardly trick.

JESUS NEVER PROMISED US A ROSE GARDEN.
QUITE THE OPPOSITE.

What does "silence" mean? The silence of God in the face of human suffering. In the face of prayers that seem to spiral out into a void. The silence of the lack of God's intervention in affairs both human and divine. But here we must be careful of demanding God to fulfill promises He never made. Tell me where/when Jesus ever promised a life free of suffering to His followers or anyone else? Where did Jesus promise us long life or even tomorrow? This is all wishful thinking on our part. Instead, Jesus promised us the exact opposite: persecution, death, hatred, the exact same treatment He received. "God is not a rescuer, He's a Redeemer" (my friend, Fr. Michael D'Cruz, OFM, 60 years a priest). Still want to be a Christian? "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life" (John 6:68).

PLAYING DEVIL'S ADVOCATE

But just to play devil's advocate here: was outward apostasy the only choice? What if the priests had refused to publicly "deny" Christ and had to continue to listen/watch as the Christians (who had already apostatized and would only be relieved by the priests' forfeiture) were tortured? (And we know the Japanese officials were true to their word and ceased the torture as soon as the priests capitulated.) Surely this was still a choice--but not a "Christian" one? Christ/Christianity does not believe in avoiding suffering at any cost, but neither does it accept suffering that can be avoided--even at great cost--out of compassion. And yet--might the Japanese officials have believed if the priests "stood firm"? Or would they have thought the priests and their God cruel beyond words--crueler than themselves? Or would it have made no difference either way? Did not the early Roman martyrs face similar choices? Who did the priests really need to witness to: God? Themselves? The Japanese officials? The Japanese Christians? Christian Europe? History? The future? All the above? God is merciful, certainly, but what of: "...if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us..." (2 Timothy 2:12)? Is our profession of faith the one thing we must never give up in this world no matter what?

BIG SPOILER ALERT: In the film, Jesus imaginatively begins to answer (so much for "silence"). He soothingly says: "Go ahead. Trample Me. That's what I came for: to be trampled on." I don't know if I'm the only one who thought this--but those could be the very words of Satan. A deception of Satan. 

MASS APOSTASY

Apostasy was THE great unforgivable (in many Christian leaders' eyes) sin of early Christian times. Many who apostatized were not readmitted to the Church after persecutions died down, and a controversy over how to deal with apostates raged. "Silence" just made me think how easily we apostatize today! Without even any serious threats! How we are actually living in times of such weak faith and mass apostasy--without people even realizing what they're doing. It's almost like we act as though we're living in an illusion where nothing really matters, nothing is really real and there are no real consequences to our actions or inaction. But such are our New-Age-tinged, relativistic times that tell us there is no immutable objective truth to be sought, known or adhered to. Let alone God.

FRANZ JAGERSTATTER

Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, "the only Austrian to stand up to Hitler," was told that because he wanted to do his precious little conscience, his wife and three daughters were going to suffer. Although he wasn't faced with the clear, horrorful choice of the Portuguese Jesuits, he nevertheless stated: "I don't think that just because a man has a family he is dispensed from doing his conscience." Wow. Let that sink in. We all have someone to protect. During the time of the Maccabees, the mother of the seven martyr-sons was told to dissuade her sons from death, but she did nothing of the kind and instead encouraged them to give up their bodies and limbs to the One who gave them and could restore them. And the old Jewish man was told to pretend to eat pork and save his life, but he said: "What kind of an example will that give to the young?" I know this is all so harsh. I'm just sayin. (Incidentally, Jagerstatter was decapitated by the Nazis--face up--and nothing bad happened to his family.)

MERCY

If you think I think I'm strong? I am not. I have a pain tolerance of zero. And I am a totally chicken- and lily-livered in the face of any intimation of any kind of bodily harm. Without some kind of extraordinary grace of God, I would cave in, oh, the first 4 seconds of torture. What would I have done in the priests' situation? I don't know. And so, we must all throw ourselves on God's mercy. At all moments. This is definitely a film about mercy.

PEASANTS AND HEAVEN

The Christians are all peasants who have come to see themselves as beloved sons and daughters of the Father. "Christianity brought love." They are no longer animals and slaves. Not only that, there is a "paradise" awaiting them. Are they fools? Only if it's not true. So Christianity is the religion of the poor? Yes. The poor in spirit. And guess what. We're all going to die. Rich and poor alike. As the non-denoms and fundys and Evangelicals like to ask: "Do you know where you're going?" It's kind of an important question.

PEASANTS AND PRIESTS

The padres are not seen as gods to the Christian peasants, but they understand very clearly that the sacraments (God working through matter) come through these chosen men. Sometimes they seem to have more faith in the priesthood than the priests themselves. How often the priests are edified by their great faith! Let's remember that these valiant Christians really did exist. Thousands were killed for their faith. And who are we to judge their faith? Maybe it is simpler and truer and purer than our own. If anything--these Christians could stand in judgment of the faith (or lack thereof) of us Christians of today.

A DISCUSSION FILM

There is so much in this non-tedious 2 hours and 41 minutes film that we could and should talk about for days. It's not that it's jam-packed, it's just that the very nature of God, faith, culture, Christianity and suffering are all glaring, blaring, blazing themes, and they all come together in one big package--of necessity. My head is still spinning. In a good way. And, on top of it all, many of us watching this film are looking at our Euro-centric forebears in the Faith who had a deeper, more tactile, more immediate, more vibrant, more black and white, more urgent sense of salvation than we soft, 21st-century, relativistic, dualistic (separating body and soul), abstracting postmoderns can even begin to muster a concept of. One would hope that we ahistorical folks are able at least to realize what a different mindset people had at this time in history (both the European Christians and the Japanese Buddhists). "Freedom of religion" as we understand it today was largely unheard of in the 17th century.

PARTING SHOTS

What does Scorsese think? What does Scorsese believe? I think he tipped his hand in the closing scene and the brief text-epilogue-dedication. I would rather the film have been without both.


OTHER STUFF:

--IS THIS FILM SAYING: IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT YOU DO WITH YOUR BODY/EXTERIOR ACTION-BELIEFS BECAUSE ALL THAT MATTERS IS THE SOUL/INTERIOR ACTION-BELIEFS?

--Garfield was good. Perhaps a bit too perky and hopeful and not anguished enough. Driver was also good, but wasn't given many lines or much of a part, really.
The Japanese actors are P-H-E-N-O-M-E-N-A-L.

--The cinematography was not really lush, certainly nowhere near as lush as "Kundun." "Silence" is a dire human drama that can't afford to get lost in beauteous nature. There is no great horrific gore-fest here (that Scorsese could have done so well). Rather we get lost in the faith of the people, not their pain.

--Evil is not "beautiful." It is glamorous. And no one needs be "worthy" to be called evil as though evil is an actual good or substance. It is only a lack. Evil is the great illusion that will be done away with.

--Bishop Barron's even-more-spoilery-than-my-review-review (I agree with his critique in part): https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/scorseses-silence-and-the-seaside-martyrs/5360
Before the film came out, friends of mine were worried that the message would be: "See? Capitulation and dissembling and complying is ALWAYS better than suffering: one's own or someone else's." But that wasn't quite the message, especially when we see in the film plenty of Japanese being killed for the Faith outright with no complex dilemmas involved.... I do agree that the heroes put forth here are the "simple" Japanese faithful. But when we get to the other side, we'll see whether or not they were so "simple." Maybe just "stalwart"? At any rate, we know for a fact that they are saints. Martyr-saints.

Bishop Barron draws an interesting parallel with today's persecution: the privatization of the Faith. A Faith which is increasingly being restricted from being Catholically operative in the public sphere or in works of charity such as education, healthcare, etc. The Catholic Church increasingly cannot actually require that her institutions be Catholic any more. She "must" operate according to the "progressive" mores and policies of an "enlightened" society.

--Good, brief overview of book and film: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silence_(novel)

--"America Magazine" interview with Martin Scorsese: http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/creating-silence

--A historian friend of mine has this to say:
"Cristóvão Ferreira, the priest (Liam Neeson) in , actually recanted his denial of Christ & died a Christian martyr"
"A simple Google search reveals that historically there have been sources revealing that witnesses reported his conversion at the end of his life and subsequent martydom. The book 'Silence' is historical fiction. There is controversy regarding this real priest. Unfortunately Scorsese and his priest consultant James Martin SJ chose the negative interpretation. The Japanese author admitted that he hypothesized what could have happened not what did happen. We need a Catholic historian to write a review based on historical analysis.

I think Endo did nothing wrong because he presented it as fiction. Scorsese conflates the history and the fiction by focusing on a real person without a disclaimer, without a note in the beginning that this is based on a novel. It is not fair to include a real historical person in a film yet not acknowledge that the ending is fictional. It saddens me that Scorsese neglected to include even the possibility based on historical accounts that Fr. Ferreira may have returned to the Church and died as a martyr.

The beautiful part of the film was the coverage of the martyrs. Very moving. It's too bad the ending had to be so negative. Jesus would never say deny me and trample on me. He said if we deny him, he will deny us. Of course he is merciful to we who do things out of fear but this film glorifies apostasy and doubt."

--My 90 second audio review:

January 1, 2017

MICRO MOVIE REVIEWS

New feature of mah blog. Tiny reviews.






















COP CAR -- Kevin Bacon (the sheriff) and two pre-teen boys who steal his car.
Great fun. I thought the cop would find the kids right away, but he doesn't.
Delightful tween dudes. Funny, but not really a comedy. So much suspense just waiting for the FIRST shoe to drop. Kind of a modern day "The Ransom of Red Chief." Kind of.
There is NO back story.
There is NO exposition.
We cut in so deep we have no idea who these people really are or what their intentions really are and it totally works without being postmodern or "just the middle of the story" or "just an Act 2."
Brilliant filmmaking.
Kevin Bacon and the boys are a revelation.
6 stars out of a possible 5.

GET OUT -- "Race" relations in the U.S. are complicated. This psychological suspense thriller is a woke, meta, savvy commentary on how crazy (northern?) white people simultaneously despise, fear and envy black people. With an hilarious, unlikely hero: a TSA agent.
5 stars out of a possible 5.

UNDER SUSPICION -- (Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Monica Bellucci) While pretending to be shocked and outraged by the rape and murder of young girls, this film is a chic, well-acted and sophisticated defense of adult men's interest in underage girls. Pathetic. If Hollywood is the playground for pedophiles that it's rumored to be, this film is evidence.

SLEEPLESS --  (Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan) Well acted and well filmed with all the state-of-the-art everything (only sore thumb is the repeated use of "dirty cop"), this tense and plot-twisty action flick of big-time crime alongside intimate family drama is just more of the over-the-top graphic and sadistic treatment of the human person that is par for "entertainment" today. Even 10 to 20 years ago, these multiple scenes of creative torture would have been reserved for one small debased scene in a Scorcese film. I can't imagine what a steady fare of this evil is doing to the children of today who are allowed to watch R rated films, let alone the adults.
Oh, and skinny, hi-heeled women in mano a mano fighting with huge male bodyguards? ONLY in the movies.
5 stars for unrealistic: human bodies are not made of rubber. One does not walk away and continue fighting and shooting after crashing through a plate glass window. One does not miss a human target after 5 minutes of shooting an automatic weapon. "Sleepless" is obscene (ditto for "The Equalizer," even though both of these main characters are unequivocal "good guys," doing what they do to protect the innocent....). Of course, this gore-pain-torture-as-entertainment is pretty ubiquitous these days. :(



BOSS BABY -- Hilarious. Reminiscent of "Storks," only way funnier. I laughed uncontrollably at the projectile vomit scene, followed by the toilet head scene. But then again, I have the sense of humor of an 8-year-old boy. Alec Baldwin was the perfect choice for the fast-talking, all-business baby. The premise: PEOPLE LOVE PUPPIES MORE THAN BABIES NOW, AND THIS BABY IS ON A MISSION TO FIND OUT WHY. Can you say "pro-life"???? However, strange origin of this baby. He's been manufactured at "Baby Corp." (The puppies come from "Puppy Co.") Or is it so strange?

Some interesting theological overtones: sarcastic-y references to "the Baby Jesus," a TRIANGLE is superimposed on Mom, Dad and kid ("3 is the perfect number"), a take-off on WWJDO, "I've come for your soul!" (riffing on a horror film), baby says: "God, I hate that." In the end, this is about LOVE, specifically family love, even more specifically SIBLING LOVE. What starts out as sibling rivalry turns into: "I want nothing more than a baby brother." A+++. The baby's facial expressions are riotous.

THE OUTSIDERS -- (1983) This novel-turned-movie about teen boys, written by a teen girl is unusual and eclectic in so many ways. It's set in the 1950's (remember, the 1970's was coming off a 1950's revival) and is reminiscent of "The Warriors," or "West Side Story": highly "produced," old-timey Hollywood. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola! Lyrics written and sung by Stevie Wonder! Starring the biggest brat pack ever: Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Leif Garrett, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Diane Lane, Sophia Coppola (little girl) and strange cameos by Tom Waits, Flea and Cam Neely!
The soundtrack is lots of Elvis, lots of rockabilly, lots of twangy surf rock. The story line is pretty simple: Greasers (poor boys) vs. Socs (rich boys). But what's so surprising is that these young men can cry, hug each other, talk about their feelings, express a full range of human emotions. The boys are a mixture of ages and have each other's backs. The feel is more like something from the Depression era--where everyone is "looking for the silver lining" (only this time it's gold). It's beyond pollyanna, and comparing it to today's increasingly rough fare, graphic gore, torture-as-entertainment--the contrast is...virtually unbelievable. Did we really watch such sweet stories not so long ago?
It seems the only reason this was made into a movie was because some librarian and her class in Fresno, California suggested it. (See panel before closing credits.)

ST. VINCENT -- (Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy) This is a heartwarmer if ever there was one. (Incidentally, 2 Chicago Irish Catholics in the lead roles.)
What I like about it:
--Follows Italian filmmaking trope of a grown man and a young boy learning to be men together.
--The Catholic stuff is cutesy and positive. In a modern sort of way.
--The little boy is very mature, takes the big view on everything, and doesn't seem terribly effected by the gargantuan downers in his life. This is very unrealistic, but wouldn't it be nice?
What I don't like about it:
--Prostitution looks...adorbs. (Naomi Watts as a perky Russian prostitute. Yup. You read that right.)
--And, OF COURSE, if your wife has dementia in a nursing home, you need to frequent prostitutes, right?
--Mom leaves kid with grouchy old total stranger?
--Mom sits happily next to ex at elementary school to watch son in assembly (after bitter custody battle)?
--Some things are so sweet as to be unrealistic. Or, rather, very, very optimistic. Which actually might not be a bad thing, especially in today's filmmaking which is often so negative, dark and hopeless (under the guise of "realism"). Film stories can show us POSSIBILITIES. Especially in ATTITUDES we can choose to adopt in life.

SLEEPING GIANT -- This intimate indie Canadian teenage male coming-of-age story is named for the imposing reposing island in Lake Superior off the coast of Thunder Bay, Ontario (finally--Canada exploiting her amazing landmarks in film!). It involves a Dad who knows how to coax (and allow) his son and his friends into manhood during a nature-soaked summer. What's Canadian about it? The accents, "chirping," "eh," and the more simple lifestyle, and way of being. No cellphones. No braces. The minimalistic music is tribal and perfect. The transitions are exquisite. Adam, the main character, finds out this beloved Dad is having an affair. The boys engage in some drugs, drinking and sex talk. Similarities to "A Separate Peace" and "The Kings of Summer," but better in some ways. Nature itself plays a big role, which is also typically Canadian. Not for the kiddos. Too many bad examples: grandma lets 15yo grandson smoke, graphic sex talk--also in mixed company (once), adultery, teens smoking pot with older guy, dangerous stunts....

SNATCHED -- (Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack) Amy the Exhibitionist keeps the raunch-talk to a minimum, but just can't stop herself exposing a breast. Goldie is her amazing queen-of-light-comedy-self, but tones down her super-ditz-self in order that Amy can shine, I'm sure. Amy is genuinely funny when she's G- or PG-13-rated. The storyline is a hoot (a mother-daughter getaway in Colombia goes sour when they're kidnapped) and well-executed. This is old-fashioned comedy: chase/adventure/caper stuff with interesting new situations. There are no agendas or feminist overtones (except for the "you can't degrade me because my self-degradation is worse than anything you can do to me" type feminism). The mother-daughter relationship is actually very tender and so true to life. I don't think we've seen this before. (People are always asking: Where are the women "buddy movies"? This is one--if you can get past several vulgarities.) I've watched some of Amy's standup online. It's unbelievably debased and inhumane. Sadly, the women comedians are so much worse than the men today and are messaging that women really don't care about their dignity, so men shouldn't either.

LIMITLESS -- (Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro) Would you take a drug that would let you use ALL of your brain, so you could get incredible amounts of work done, have a 4-digit I.Q. and, of course, become very, very rich? What if you weren't sure of its long-term side effects? This is an exciting and very watchable thriller, but too much sadism, unblinking gore, Machiavellianism, torture-as-entertainment (see "obscene" above), and winds up being an argument for mind-enhancing drugs, and maybe all enhancing drugs (don't forget to include energy drinks here, either). The movie was made in 2011, but it would have been incredibly responsible to make a film like this today with the resurgence of recreational drugs like heroin, and the current epidemic of opiod abuse and fatalities. "Limitless" has an eponymous spin-off.

CRIMINAL -- (Kevin Kostner, Gal Gadot, Gary Oldman, Ryan Reynolds) A CIA operative dies with crucial information in his brain (Reynolds). A criminal psycho (Kostner) with an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex has the operative's brain "downloaded" into his, in order to recover the information. Along the way the psycho becomes a bit civilized and falls in love with the CIA operative's wife (Gadot). This is an old-school "spies that save the world" plot with hi-tech filmmaking. Kostner and Gadot are just such warm and likeable actors. The body count is high, but this movie is good-hearted, not mean-spirited. I do recommend. Good to see Kostner again, and he's great in this unusual role. But then again, I've always liked Kostner. And yes, I liked "Water World." Deal with it.

3 DAYS TO KILL -- (Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld) Another huge body count, as a former spy(?) tries to reconnect with his wife and teenage daughter. This is much more a comedy than "Criminal," with some hilarious moments involving a ringtone, and some sappy but devoted scenes with his daughter. McG's svelte directing and cinematography (and some great car chases) top off this violent but fun flick.

CRIMSON PEAK -- (Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam) Super atmospheric. Victorian creepy (the best kind of creepy!). Lush sets. Stunning FX. Lavish, flowy costumes. A bit too much violence and head-on brutality. Jessica Chastain's best role ever (who knew she was such a great villainess?). Mia (Aussie) employs her opaque "musing on my role as I go" almost-method-acting style of acting. Hiddleston's eyes are riveting. Hunnam (the Brit with the American vibe!) is solid, but looks like he's ready to laugh at any moment (not taking the role serious enough or something: a bit tongue-in-cheek). Now I know what's so great about Guillermo Del Toro. You simply cannot look away for a second (except for the gore). Total eye candy. The attention to detail is intense. Stay for the credits (finishes the story off). This needs a spin-off TV series. "Ghosts are real, this I know."

SOLACE -- (Anthony Hopkins, Abbie Cornish, Jeffrey Dean Morgan) A pro-euthanasia serial killer and a pro-euthanasia film. Skip this one. Hopkins and Morgan are good, but the "culture of death" theme, amateurish directing and old FX make this turkey a time-waste.

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN -- (Eva Green) A wonderful, fantastical children's fable, except (and it's a very big except) for the monsters eating human eyeballs, especially those of children. Very graphic. Not for impressionable wee ones. In a book, kids can giggle and imagine it themselves. In a film? Yucko!!! Otherwise, loved it, enjoyed it. Eva Green is marvelous. Kid-positive message. Main character is a teen boy whose Dad is pretty useless, but the teen has a fantastic relationship with his caring and heroic grandfather.

THE INTERPRETER -- (Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn) SPOILER ALERT! An interpreter at the UN overhears an assassination plot to kill the leader of an African country and reports it to authorities. But it turns out the interpreter is actually from that country herself. Where does she really stand with regard to the plot? Which faction is she with? A Secret Service agent assigned to her isn't so sure she wouldn't be happy to see this leader taken down. A charming love story develops between them, and--wonder of wonders!--they never jump in bed with each other! In fact, in the end, their lives will take them in separate directions. This is a marvelous example of how #6 TRUE LOVE may not always turn into #7 MARRIAGE (the only place for sex). And that's OK. (7 Stages of Love from Karol Wojtyla's "Love and Responsibility")

THE DROP -- (Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Galdofini, ) This Dennis Lahane crime story set in a bar in Brooklyn, NYC, is perfectly, perfectly executed with a simply perfect score. A perfect film. It is a curiously international effort (actors playing Americans): Hardy (Welsh), Rapace (Swedish), Schoenaerts (Belgian), director: Roskam (Belgian), cinematographer: Karankatsanis (Greek)

TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY -- So tediously boring I almost fell asleep (and I NEVER fall asleep watching movies). Despite its top-notch cast, not only is it unwatchable, it's unbelievable and unfollowable: just a bunch of cut-too-short snippets strung together. All I could gather is that there's a Soviet mole in the British intelligence. But (another thing I NEVER do) I stopped watching because "I can't even," and I didn't even care to find out who the mole was. TTSS is that poor of a film.

THE GREAT BEAUTY -- (won the 2014 Oscar for best foreign film) This is NOT a film. It's a stuck-in-the-60's Fellini daydream. A lecherous, 65-year-old, has-been, elite man-of-the-arts slouches around Rome with his equally vacuous friends commenting on the arts and Italy. Stupid nudity. Stupid everything. Narcissistic and solipsistic. A vision of hell. I stopped watching after 30 minutes of this 2hr20 min film because, as the main character says: "At 65, I've decided I will no longer do things I don't want to do."

AN AMERICAN FABLE -- This PERFECT little life-affirming film was written and directed by Anne Hamilton. It could also be called "The Man in the Silo." Excellent use of subtle foreshadowing and symbolism throughout. GREAT ending.