Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Juno" and Pro-life Hollywood

Cross-posted from The World...IMHO

An excellent article on Juno by Terry Mattingly.

Juno is nominated for 4 Oscars!

Every year or so, a Cinderella movie leaps into the ultimate Hollywood A-list — the Academy Award nominees for best picture.

The sleeper this time around was "Juno," the sweet but edgy story of Juno MacGuff, a geeky teen who gets pregnant after a sort-of-bored sexual encounter with a friend. The movie also drew Oscar nominations for Canadian Ellen Page, 20, as best actress, for director Jason Reitman, 30, and former stripper turned screenwriter Diablo Cody, 29.

Now it's time for the winner-take-all round of campaigning, which often includes behind-the-scenes maneuvers in the tradition of Niccolo Machiavelli. Do not be surprised if rival studios try to hurt "Juno" by circulating shocking rumors that many religious conservatives who oppose abortion have praised this movie.

It helps that the rumors are true.

Take former Republican Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, for example.

He has listed "Juno" among recent hits — including "Knocked Up" and "Waitress" — that suggest American popular culture is "awaking to the reality of life in the womb." That also suggests that people are starting to see beyond the 'tissue mass' lies of Planned Parenthood and other abortionists.

While these films come from the heart of the "bawdy mainstream," they include images and themes that will surprise traditionalists, argued Santorum, in an essay written as a senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

"Ultrasound images awakened characters and audiences to the humanity of the unborn. Having a baby, even in the most challenging circumstances, became the compelling 'choice,' " noted Santorum, a devout Catholic and author of the book "It Takes a Family," written during his unsuccessful 2006 bid to stay in the U.S. Senate.

story here

Eat, Pray, Love--Book Review

I received this book as a gift. I was intrigued by its subtitle: "One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia." Those are three countries I might not have thought to string together in one sentence. Okay, maybe as part of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego as in "Name three countries that begin with the letter I".

As I read Elizabeth Gilbert's introduction, I began to wonder if this was going to be a mushy New Age-y kind of book. Ms. Gilbert allayed my fears somewhat by noting that she, too, is skeptical of those Westerners who write effusively of finding Enlightenment in some mystical Eastern religion without doing the hard work necessary. She refuses to name her Guru or her Guru's Ashram to protect her privacy and the privacy of her pupils who came to study at the Ashram. (I suspect that it would be easy enough to figure out who and where from the hints Ms. Gilbert sprinkles through the book.)

First, though Ms. Gilbert sets the scene. She is married to a man she loves and respects, they have just bought the perfect house in the perfect New York suburb, she has a successful career as a freelance writer, she and her husband are discussing having children-so why is she on the floor of her bathroom sobbing every night? Why is she so desperately, so profoundly unhappy?

Not particularly religious, she finds herself praying to God and the answer comes, "Go back to bed, Liz." (Hey, a practical God! I like that!) She does and manages to sleep. Her problems aren't resolved, but crying on the bathroom floor won't help, either.

Ms. Gilbert's divorce is acrimonious and prolonged. During that time she enters-or, rather, plunges into an intense relationship with "David." This relationship is another emotional roller coaster but David does introduce Ms. Gilbert to his Guru, who becomes her Guru. Ms. Gilbert begins her discipleship.

She also decides to learn Italian for no other reason than she loves the way the language sounds. And it's something she does merely for her own enjoyment. The idea of living in Italy for a time begins to germinate.

As part of a freelance writing assignment, Ms. Gilbert joins a "yoga tour" that includes the island of Bali in Indonesia. The tour guide introduces her to a Balinese healer, who reads her palm and tells her that she will lose all her money, but regain it quickly, and come to live with him in Bali and teach him English. Sure enough, shortly after her return home, her divorce is finally over and she has given up most of her financial assets. Her relationship with David is also crumbling. Ms. Gilbert decides there is no better time to move to Italy for four months. And, as the Balinese healer predicted, she is able to strike a deal with a publisher, receiving an advance in return for a book about her adventures.

And what adventures they are! Ms. Gilbert is blessed with an extraordinary ability to make friends despite language barriers. She is open to new experiences, willing to leave the tried and true, the comfortable. Her writing, especially about herself, is wry and witty. She discusses serious subjects but doesn't take herself too seriously--most of the time. I was annoyed by her "knee-jerk" liberalism, her unnecessary jibes at conservatives, Republicans, and President Bush. Fortunately, those references were few.

Ms. Gilbert's theology, however, is suspect. She has read something of the great Christian mystics, but it's not clear that she has a good sense of the context of their writings. she refers to Pius that as Pius XI, admittedly a minor error, but somewhat annoying. More problematic, she makes an offhand statement equating the Taliban and Fundamentalist Christians, which is just plain intellectual laziness. Granted there are some Fundamentalists who hold extreme views (Fred Phelps comes to mind), but when was the last time you heard of any "Fundies" decapitating infidels? And broadcasting the video over their Internet?

She does caution about the dangers of false yogis--and that there are plenty of them willing to take advantage of naive Westerners. Initially enthralled with Bali and Balinese culture, she recognizes there are snakes in this paradise, too. There is also love. After nine months of celibacy, Ms. Gilbert finds a man who wants nothing more than to spoil her; pamper her. And she has finally grown sure enough of her Self, that she can accept his gift.

It's ironic-and Ms. Gilbert admits this--that the decadent, consumerist Western civilization is what allows Ms. Gilbert to travel and live abroad to find herself. she recognizes the advantages she has as a Western woman that her counterparts in India and Bali do not enjoy. She has learned a lot about herself during this year, but comes away with (and promotes) the idea that all paths lead to God, so it's okay to cherry-pick the methods that "work" for you as an individual. She also believes that by achieving and maintaining her own miner core of peace and happiness, she will spread that to others (kind of like a viral infection). There is no sense of a "Communion of Saints," or that we have any obligation to our fellow humans. (How does one reconcile the violence of abortion with inner harmony? How do you justify treating humans lower than animals? Or women lower than men?)

The danger of this book is that it makes self-fulfillment sound too easy. Dropout for a year, gorge yourself in Italy, live in an Ashram in India for four months, find a good healer in Bali and -Bingo!" you've got a best-selling book, a boyfriend who is wealthy, exotic, and madly in love with you. a very seductive message if you're a restless young adult, looking for something to believe in.

According to Ms. Gilbert's website, Eat, Pray, Love has been optioned for a movie. I'm not sure how this will work, since much of the book involves her thoughts and feelings which usually don't translate well to screen. And will the audience sit through her agonizing divorce?

On the March Hare scale: 2.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks, mostly because of the weakness of theology and philosophy. MS. Gilbert is an entertaining and good writer. This book might be a good choice for a young adult christian reading group, especially if they can examine how the differences in Eastern vs. Western religious traditions affects our view of the relationship between humans and between humans and the natural world.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Joseph Pearce

This week on EWTN's Journey Home program because their scheduled guest could not make it they had Joseph Pierce on again. Joseph Pearce is a British convert from agnosticism and a whose former life lead him to prison. He is now a highly respected literary biographer and has written multiple biographies on people like G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis. J.R.R. Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, etc and whose own conversion was sparked of by G.K. Chesterton.

The discussion on this weeks show was more about literature than conversion and it was quite interesting with the discussion on how you read a book and to not read into a book. He has an upcoming book to be released in April of this year called The Quest for Shakespeare which is another biography and he concludes that Shakespeare was a believing Catholic living in very anti-Catholic times. In recent years there have been several books making the case so I look forward to see what evidence he sees of this.

You can listen to an mp3 of the episode here.

I have heard Mr. Pearce speak several times and he is always interesting, unfortunately I have never read any of his books and must correct the ommision.

Next 'American Idol' Could Be Chaste Sex Symbol

Cross-Post from The World...IMHO

Excellent news...People supporting chastity and opposing promiscuity. I hope he makes it!


When Bruce Dickson shared with the judges on "American Idol" earlier this month that he wanted his first kiss to be on his wedding day, the panel wasn't impressed. It may have been his voice that made Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell, and Paula Abdul send Dickson packing, but when Jackson told him he should "kiss some girls" before he auditions next year the sparks started to fly.

Sarah Preston, a writer and editor with Playboy.com, told Cybercast News Service that Dickson was out of touch with his own sexuality and that winning "American Idol" required sex appeal - a trait impossible for a guy who wanted to hold on to his virginity.

Cybercast News Service interviewed Dickson, who explained how he came to make a vow of chastity based on his parents' teachings and his Christian beliefs.

"I respect women and don't treat them like a sexual object, and I'm the freak?" Dickson said of the taunting his public proclamation of chastity brought both on and off the "Idol" set. Sad that some people ridicule morality.

But the countless e-mails received by Cybercast News Service about Dickson and "American Idol" were almost unanimous in their support for Dickson and their contempt for a television show that they perceived was promoting promiscuity. I think that society should be more supportive of people who choose chastity.


Here is a YouTube of his statement:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Changing the Culture

There is a lot of talk (probably too much talk) about Christians "changing the culture". As Christians look out over an increasing secular culture controlled by people who seem less interested in informing the population than celebrating their own loins, many are searching for ways to turn the culture around before it becomes completely useless.

John Seel has a fantastic article on Christians and cultural change. His views on the subject are not only carefully crafted but also simply dead-on. Click here to read his post over at the Trinity Forum


HT: Phil Cooke at The Change Revolution.

Atonement

R 130 min.
This dark period drama based upon Ian McEwan’s searing novel of lost love, a deliberate lie, and shattering consequences.
One simmering hot summer day in 1935, on the sumptuous manse of two teenage English girls, their enviable lives of privilege take an abrupt turn for disaster. Atonement begins with 13 year old Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) typing a play on romance. The intensity with which the typewriter keys are heard at the start of the film announces that this is no Jane Austen adaptation, like director Joe Wright’s popular “Pride and Prejudice”. There is an air of oppression and looming sense of foreboding which permeates the lush green fields and imposing mansion. Young Briony is infatuated with Robbie, the housekeeper’s son who has just graduated from Cambridge and looks forward to medical school. Robbie carries a torch for her older sister, without yet realizing that she burns for him as well.
The heat seems to alter the behaviour of the girls, stretching Briony’s emotions into dangerous taughtness, as well as those of her impulsive older sister, 18 year old Cecilia (Kiera Knightly) who has a disturbing interlude with Robbie at the fountain, Briony looking on, is scandalized. In a masterful stroke, we see this scene first from the perplexed13 year old’s perspective and then from Cecilia and Rob’s, which shows it to be more innocent than it first appears. The stage is set for emotional confusion and unbridled lust.
Briony’s dismay is compounded by an explicit sexual word dramatically typed in a note which Robbie crumples. He then retypes a more acceptable note, mistakenly giving her the dirty letter to deliver to Cecilia. Briony peers at the letter, and is deeply offended, (she wasn’t the only one; I heard sharp intakes of breath as the four letter word is typed in close up on the screen) and in her scandalized jealously brands Robbie a “sex maniac” who is a danger to women. Robbie continues dressing for an elegant dinner at the mansion, blithely unaware of the shockwaves caused by his ill-advised missive. Cecilia, angry about the note, confronts Robbie at the house, igniting their concealed passions, and leading to an intense sex scene in the library. That the two declare their love as part of the act is lost on young Briony, who is mortified to walk in on them, and bursts into tears. The young girl, whose impervious mother is oblivious to her agony, breaks under the anguish of her destroyed innocence, and shattered romantic aspirations, and turns spiteful, accusing Robbie of a sexual assault which she knows he did not commit.

This is a powerful tale of betrayal and unfettered passion; the consequences of that sweltering night burden the participants for their entire tragic lives. Little sister Briony is largely seen as the only character whose sin needs atonement. We see her at 18, played by the mesmerizing Romula Garai, serving in a military hospital, paying for her perjury by humble service and spartan living.

The power of words, both written and spoken, is a central theme in Atonement, and we see Briony at the end of her life, a successful novelist, played by the eternally tragic Vanessa Redgrave, using her vivid imagination and facility with words to right the wrongs she has done. An interesting parallel is drawn between her deception and the British newsreel which attempts to put a positive spin on the evacuation of Dunkirk. We are spared no details of the horrors of that event in a wrenching scene of the bloody wounds and the low morale of the soldiers on the beach awaiting evacuation. Even the enduring love of Cecilia and Robbie cannot conquer the enormity of the consequences of Briony’s betrayal. It brings home the adage that “The wages of sin are death” and Atonement director uses sound and perspective powerfully to make this a singularly powerful film.
There is an injustice in the film which disturbed me. It was Cecilia and Robbie’s act of fornication, and a sexual assault on her young friend, both of which witnessed in the same evening by Briony, a young virgin who brutally lost her innocence in a single evening, driving her to rancor and revenge. No blame is placed upon the couple, Briony’s distant mother who failed to comfort her, and we are left with unfulfilled justice at the real assailant as he continues to lead his charmed life.
Perhaps Briony is burdened with atoning for the whole sorry lot.
Vivid clothed sexual encounter, offensive four letter word, and gory battlefield wounds should keep all but mature adults from seeing this film.

Upcoming Book:The Faithful Departed

Cross-post from The World...IMHO

This is an upcoming book some of you might find of interest. It highlights the political clout that Catholics had (and could have) when we vote faithfully according to Catholic principles.

The following is the introductory chapter of Phil Lawler's book, which will be formally released next month-- February 2008-- by Encounter books. It is available now for pre-release orders on Amazon.com.



Governor James Michael Curley wanted a lottery. It was the spring of 1935, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was facing a budget crunch, and Curley saw the lottery as a painless alternative to tax hikes. At the State House on Boston's historic Beacon Hill, most legislators agreed. Debate had been perfunctory. Support for the proposal was overwhelming; passage of the enabling legislation seemed assured.

Then on May 20, Cardinal William O'Connell weighed in. "I am opposed to a state lottery," announced the powerful head of the Boston archdiocese. A lottery would bring "out-and-out gambling" to Massachusetts, he said, and this would be "a tremendous source of corruption and demoralization."

Within 24 hours the lottery was dead.

On May 21 the House of Representatives-- where majority support for the measure had previously been unquestioned-- voted 187- 40 against the legislation. Prior to the vote, one lawmaker after another took the rostrum to explain that when he had spoken earlier in favor of the lottery, he had not fully considered the implications. Governor Curley admitted that he could not withstand the political juggernaut, and dropped his plan. The most prominent Boston politician who kept fighting for the initiative was tagged with the dismissive nickname "Sweepstakes" Kelly. The idea

of a state lottery would not be taken seriously again in Massachusetts for nearly 35 years.

That display of Cardinal O'Connell's clout was dramatic, but not terribly unusual. The cardinal had single-handedly turned the political tide against child-labor restrictions that he saw as tinged with "Bolshevism." He would later crush a move to legalize the distribution of information about birth control. When politicians asked what "Number 1" thought of a proposal, they were referring not to the governor or the mayor, but to the cardinal.

story here

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Commentary on Faith as Shown in "Lost"

Lost and Found: Tony Rossi has a good article covering an interview with one of the Lost show creators, Carlton Cuse, who is largely responsible for the positive aspects of the show's approach to faith (oft mentioned on in the Catholic blogosphere). Here's a bit but read the whole thing for yourself.
... Cuse explained, “Sin and redemption is a central theme of the show. Each of these characters in his or her own way is struggling with those issues that we all struggle with. We all have those issues inside of ourselves that we grapple with our entire lives. Sometimes we conquer them and sometimes we lose to them… None of us are perfect and I think what people might relate to…is that there’s a fantasy sense to the show which is that if you end up on this island you can sort of start over. And I think that even though these characters are deeply flawed, they are searching for redemption. ...
(AND I just figured out the podcast feed for the "Personally Speaking" radio show. Woohoo!)

Game Review: Super Mario Galaxy


A wonderful sounding game is reviewed by our guest blogger, Thomas McDonald. This game sounds much like the ones that we bought for our kids when they were little ... the sort we wanted to play ourselves after they'd gone to bed. As Thomas pointed out in an email to me, "... parents should be in touch with this material. This is the imaginative landscape of this generation, much like Lovecraft, Poe, sci-fi, Planet of the Apes, Universal Horror, Star Wars, Star Trek, etc were for mine. Parents should understand that. My kids are exposed to a huge range of material (they love the classics, audio books and old time radio), but things like Mario and Zelda will be part of the well of imaginative memories they draw from. They could do far worse. There's a real sense of wonder in some of these game worlds."

Super Mario Galaxy

Nintendo, Wii: $50, Rated: E

Content advisory: Absolutely nothing any reasonable person could find offensive, except maybe for the brutal and unfair caricature of short Italian plumbers.

People play games for many different reasons: the challenge, the cathartic effect, role-playing, exploration, or just plain escapism. Simple, exuberant joy is a rare reaction to most games, but it can be found, most frequently in the family-friendly titles produced by Nintendo.

I came late to the Nintendo party. I was past console gaming and into computers when the first Mario games hit. (When I was a kid, we had Pong, and we liked it!) It wasn’t until I began writing about video games as a regular beat that I started to get familiar with the Nintendo family of characters. At first, Mario, Link, Kirby, and the rest were cute cartoon characters without any depth or appeal for an adult. As I dug deeper into the actual gameplay of titles like Super Mario Bros. or Legend of Zelda, however, I started to appreciate the depth and skill of the design. Beneath the cute veneer, Nintendo’s major games are masterpieces of imagination and puzzle-craft, and Super Mario Galaxy is the best one yet.

This is the game Wii Watchers have been waiting for. Ever since the system was announced, Super Mario Galaxy was one of the titles that got people itchy to grab the controller. We’ve waited a year for it, but it was worth it.

Year ago, I committed to never spending more than one sentence talking about the plot for any Mario game, so here it goes: Peach is kidnapped by Bowser, and Mario has to save her. Didn’t see that one coming, did you?

Bowser is Mario’s perennial enemy, an old-school hissable villain who does everything but tie Peach to the railroad tracks and wickedly twirl his moustache. He’s pretty much Nintendo’s version of Baragon, one of Godzilla’s old foes, with a spiky turtle shell, a pair of horns, and a mouthful of razor sharp teeth. He spends most his time fighting the plucky plumber by proxy, leaving Mario to take on wave after wave of lesser miscreants before the final boss battle.
As always, it’s the setting that distinguishes these games, whether it’s a haunted mansion, a sun-drenched paradise, or a paper world. In Galaxy, the setting is the entire universe. Bowser has disappeared to the far reaches of space, and Mario needs to hop from planet to planet collecting stars to power his way to the rescue.

Each of these tiny planets is a small self-contained puzzle. Mario can walk around the entire surface (and often inside), sometimes traveling upside down and being pulled in different directions by the forces of gravity. On each planet, Mario needs to unlock a launch star to shoot him to the next planet, but there are plenty of obstacles to overcome and tasks to complete along the way. There are about 50 galaxies, each containing anywhere from one to seven little planets. Some aren’t really planets, but dazzlingly imaginative challenges, such as racing on the back of a skate (the stingray kind, not the roller kind) on a water track suspended in space, or flopping your way through a pill-shaped planet with constantly shifting fields of gravity.

Along the way, Mario uses his basic skill set (jumping, spinning, sliding, climbing), but also picks up a number of costumes along the way to add new skills. Dressed as a bee, he can fly; as a Boo (a ghost), he can float and pass through certain objects; made of ice, and can freeze water; and so on. These add a bit of diversity to the levels and help solve certain puzzles while keeping things fresh.

As Mario completes each galaxy, new galaxies with new planets are unlocked, with the difficulty level increasing very gradually. The game is designed to be a pick-up-and-play experience for the new gamers, but ramps up to the harder challenges which Mario fans expect. Challenges never get too hard, and the Wii controls aren’t gimmicky or cumbersome. Everything is designed to keep you in the game with a minimum of controller fuss.

All of this seems to come short of explaining just why this is one of the best Mario games ever, and certainly the finest title Nintendo has released in years. But the thing that keeps bringing us back is the simple “joy factor”. Game should make you happy, and everything about Mario Galaxy—all its little touches and characters, its wild imagination and casual cleverness—brings a smile to your face.

Watching my son kick around inside Super Mario Galaxy drove that joy factor home for me. He seemed to almost levitate with happiness at the pure, nonthreatening environment and unbounded imagination and invention on display. “Nonthreatening” may seem like an odd word for a game full of life-threatening traps, challenging puzzles, and plentiful foes. But consider, for a moment, our violence-saturated, porn-infused culture, where a game like Manhunt 2 lets you mutilate people and Grand Theft Auto is little more than a carjacking sim. A game where kids dispatch polka-dotted piranha plants by butt-bouncing them with a plumber dressed in blue overalls and a jaunty red cap becomes the very definition of “nonthreatening.”

With some games, kids simply zone out and grimly watch the screen as they twiddle their thumbs. With Mario Galaxy, they smile, they laugh, they wiggle the controller, they solve problems, they’re engaged. That doesn’t mean this is one just for the kids. Any adult who isn’t charmed by a game like this has a stone for a heart. There’s something here for any age.

When Mario shrinks to access a hidden room, or grows to stomp his ways through an obstacle, or turns into a bee and takes flight, he’s living out every childhood fantasy, for both kids and adults. We put too much emphasis sometimes on “putting away childish things.” For a little while, even in the rectangular looking glass world of a light hearted video game, we can access a bit of that childhood exuberance, and be happier for the experience.

And hey, Mario is Italian, so he’s gotta be a Catholic, right?

Thomas L. McDonald is Editor-at-Large of Games Magazine. He has covered games as a writer and editor for 17 years for numerous magazines and newspapers. Among his books are Tom McDonald’s PC Games Extravaganza (Sybex) and Sun Tzu’s Ancient Art of Golf (Contemporary, with Gary Parker Chapin). He’s also a certified catechist in the Diocese of Trenton and teaches 8th Level Catechesis and Confirmation.

I’ll Have Nun of That, Amy

Here's some nonsense to avoid :)

Amy Adams wears full sister regalia on the set of Doubt in the Bronx, New York on Saturday. Amy plays a nun who has suspicions that a priest, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is a pedophile. The film also co-stars Meryl Streep.

Cross-posted on The World...IMHO

story here

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My March for Life 2008 Montage

Movie Review: Rambo - R

I saw Rambo today, because I am a big Stallone fan. The setting is Burma, where the army is cracking down because of the Monks' protests. This, of course, is a horror that is happening in real life.
A Christian missionary group hires Rambo (although he wouldn't take money from them) to take them to where the violence is. They have food and medical supplies and they want to try to help the people who are being persecuted. He tries to tell them :"You can't change anything.", but one girl with them convinces him they should try to help who they can. This struck me, because that is what God expects from us in any situation: to do what we can. We can't necessarily 'fix' all all the wrongs in the world; we can do whatever we can, and allow God to work through us. For the most part, it is a standard 'Rambo' movie with lots of killing. The main difference is he doesn't do it alone. He is working with a group of mercenaries to save the missionaries. The violence is very graphic. The language is just as graphic. I like the ending, which I won't give away, because it does show how Rambo was affected by one of the missionaries.

Cross-posted on The World...IMHO




Saturday, January 26, 2008

A quality year brings more films than a top-10 list can hold

A recap of the winners and losers of 2007's films, from Catholic News Service.

Though on-screen violence, like sexuality, can often be gratuitous, 2007 saw a surfeit of major films in which it played a strong -- but dramatically essential -- part. Each of them was artistically outstanding and has already been widely honored by many of the awards competitions and in top-10 lists.

These blood-tinged titles include "No Country for Old Men" (A-III, R), "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" (L, R), "Eastern Promises" (L, R), "Gone Baby Gone" (L, R), "3:10 to Yuma" (A-III, R), "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (A-III, R), "Michael Clayton" (A-III, R), "There Will Be Blood" (L, R) and "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (L, R).

All of these sometimes difficult-to-watch films were well received by the Office for Film & Broadcasting, as they were morally grounded beyond their aesthetic excellence.

But in selecting a 10-best list, we endeavored to find movies that would perhaps more directly reflect Catholic and/or strongly humane values. Thus, while we acknowledge the qualities of those aforementioned films -- along with others such as "Atonement," "Into the Wild" and "Charlie Wilson's War" -- our final list breaks down as follows, in alphabetical order, followed in parentheses by their USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification and Motion Picture Association of America rating:

"Amazing Grace": Compelling historical biography about William Wilberforce, the great 18th-century British abolitionist who, with the help of the young British Prime Minister William Pitt and other like-minded friends in Parliament and elsewhere, managed -- after tireless and courageous struggle -- to pass an anti-slave-trade bill in Parliament. With its solid performances, accessible script and handsome production design, the film recalls some of the best historical dramas from Hollywood's golden age, and is all the more admirable for its unabashed portrait of a passionate man of God (A-II, (PG).

"Bella"/"Juno": Two films that take different approaches to the same theme vie for this slot, with each beautifully affirming the value of human life. "Bella" is the sweetly sentimental story about an unmarried New York waitress who loses her job after becoming pregnant, and her restaurant's empathetic chef -- an ex-soccer star whose career ended after his car fatally struck a child. He gives the young woman emotional support, takes her to visit his loving family and gently tries to persuade her to keep the baby. The sensitive performances, positive depiction of the chef's warm Latino family, and most of all, its affirmative pro-life message -- along with themes of self-forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption -- should resonate with Catholic viewers (A-II, PG-13). "Juno" is a smart, funny and ultimately moving comedy-drama with an equally strong pro-life message about an unwed teen who decides not to have an abortion, and promises the coming baby to a childless couple who long to adopt. The narrative has just the right moral wrap-up; performances and direction are tops, unfortunately marred by the high expletive level of its appealing but sassy heroine. (A-III, PG-13).

story here.

cross-posted on The World...IMHO

A Call for Pro-life Films


There's a new kid in town . . . opening in San Francisco on March 7, 2008: the Cinema Vita Film Festival. "

The Cinema Vita Film Festival has been established to encourage young, emerging filmmakers and to showcase movies about contemporary issues concerning the meaning and value of life. Coordinated by the San Francisco Archdiocesan Office of Public Policy, the Oakland Diocesan Respect Life Ministry, Marriage for Life, and Ignatius Press, the festival is based on the recognition that art, especially the medium of film, shapes the popular imagination and has a tremendous influence on culture." (read more)

Inspired by the success of Bella, the organizers are putting their money where their hearts are and have established three categories for submission of 3-5 minute, original "visionary works that focus on the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death". The categories are (1) high school (2) college and (3) open classification. EVEN BETTER the prize in each category is $250 AND a Canon HG10 High Definition Camcorder (value $1100). You can read the submission criteria here. Entries must be postmarked by February 14.

The winning films will be shown at the festival on March 7, 2008 at the Delancy Street Theater in downtown San Francisco, along with the award-winning feature film After the Truth, a provocative look at a fictional trial of Dr. Josef Mengele, the notorious Angel of Death at Auschwitz.

Via Deal Hudson.

Cross-posted at Catholic Fire.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Pope calls on media to adopt "info-ethics"

I am glad to see the Holy Father speaking about this, but I hope his words don't fall on deaf ears. Unfortunately, it can be very profitable to market what is inmoral.

Pope Benedict called on the media on Thursday to practise "info-ethics", saying it was often used irresponsibly to spread violence and impose "distorted models" of life.


In his message for the Catholic Church's World Communications Day, Benedict said that while the media did much good, it was also often used for ideological reasons and tried to create reality rather than report it.

"When communication loses its ethical underpinning and eludes society's control, it ends up no longer taking into account the centrality and inviolable dignity of the human person," he said in the three-page message.

"For this reason it is essential that social communications should assiduously defend the person and fully respect human dignity. Many people now think there is a need, in this sphere, for 'info-ethics', just as we have bioethics in the field of medicine and in scientific research linked to life," he said.

The media, he said, often risked being transformed into what he called "systems aimed at subjecting humanity to agendas dictated by the dominant interests of the day".

Under Benedict and his predecessor John Paul, the Vatican has often accused the media of promoting consumerism and elements of lifestyles that it considers unethical, such as pre-marital sex and homosexuality. Absolutely right...couples are regularly portrayed having sex outside of marriage. And the homosexual agenda is heavily pushed in the media. Young, impressionable people see this and accept it as normal behavior.

story here

cross-posted at The World...IMHO

Thursday, January 24, 2008

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

“National Treasure: Book of Secrets” PG Action/Adventure
Benjamin Franklin Gates reunites his scattered treasure-hunting team, Riley Poole(Justin Barth) a wanna-be celebrity author with financial problems, ex-girlfriend Abigail(Diane Krueger) and his father Patrick (Jon Voight) for another fast-paced historical adventure with looming disaster if the treasure isn’t found. National Treasure has developed into a blockbuster movie serial, a la Indiana Jones, or Spider Man whose focus is on US History. The stellar cast rescues the flick from mediocrity, as Helen Mirren joins the cast as Jon Voight’s estranged ex-wife to join the quest. A fun family adventure, the film delivers on its promise of back to back clues, impossible break-ins, and a tantalizing Book of Secrets for the President’s eyes only.

The action begins in the midst of celebrations of the end of the Civil War, where Confederate conspirator Jeb Wilkinson meets with Thomas Gates, to have him to decode codes leading to the lost City of Gold. The Confederates hope to recover the gold and continue to fight the Civil War. Thomas, refusing to help them, tears the page out of the diary containing the codes, for which Jeb shoots him in front of his young son, Charlie. Thomas, mortally wounded. attempts to destroy the codes, throwing the page into the fire. Jeb Wilkinson was part of the conspiracy with John Wilkes Booth, whom we see assassinate President Lincoln moments later.

Back in the 21st century, Thomas’ great-grandson Patrick and his son Ben Gates are giving a presentation on the very diary whose code page Thomas tried to destroy. Suddenly, from the back of the room, Mitch Wilkinson(Ed Harris) ancestor of Jeb, announces in a dramatic Southern drawl, that he has the missing diary page, rescued from the fire, and it proves that Thomas Gates was a co-conspirator with John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Lincoln. Father and son are incredulous, but the diary page is a perfect fit, and seems to incriminate their ancestor. Ben springs into action to inspect the diary page, and clear the Gates’ family name. He must find out why Thomas Gate’s name is in that diary.

The pace of the film shifts to high gear, as the trio pursue leads to Paris, London, and back to the USA, all the while they are pursued by Wilkinson. Edge-of-your seat car chases, creative burglary including Buckingham Palace and the White House, kidnapping of the President of the United States, convincingly played by Bruce Greenwood, and a series of enticing clues, keep the audience involved through the first two thirds of the film.

In order to decipher the Olmec code they discover in their raid of the Houses of Power, Ben seeks out his mother, Emily Appleton, (a smoldering Helen Mirren) a college professor, dragging his father along into a tense reunion after 32 years. The couple provide comic relief and romantic interest as they pick up arguments and chemistry where they left off 32 years ago. Ben Gates’ friend FBI agent Sadusky (Harvey Keitel) alternates between revealing the truth about the Book of Secrets and pursuing them with the full forces of the FBI, to lead to a climactic chase to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Most of the historical details are skillfully woven into the fabric of the film, but the location of the Pre-Columban Mexican City of Gold in South Dakota is ludicrous, which for me, deadened the impact of the film’s conclusion.

The teenagers who packed the theatre seemed more interested in special effects and action than history, however, and the danger of them confusing the true history with the false won’t be as big a problem as their history teachers fear.

Solid performances by some of my favorite veteran actors Mirren, Voight and Harris provide something for the adults to enjoy.

PG is for violence, and brief sexual innuendo. Some positive treatment of American presidents and institutions, and the rewards of forgiveness between Patrick and Emily, though the protagonists Ben and Abigail are portrayed living together without marriage.
Recommended for older children and up.

Book Review --Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ

Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ
by Brother Andrew and Al Janssen
[Mustafa, a radical Islamic terrorist, has been assigned by his sheik to write a book revealing the distortions of the Christian faith. To do this he has had to read the Bible.]

For the last several days Mustafa had decided to concentrate on the prophecies in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and the Injil that referenced the Prophet Muhammad. Though he couldn't find the name Muhammad in the Holy Book, there were twenty-six texts that supposedly pointed to him. Eagerly he had read the first one, Genesis 49:10: "The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to Shiloh." Al-Haqq had said that "Shiloh" was Muhammad, but when Mustafa had investigated to prove this linguistically and rhetorically and legally, he'd concluded that Isa the Christ clearly fulfilled the prophecy much more than Muhammad did.

He had turned to Deuteronomy 18:15: "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to hm." Al-Haqq had explained that Isaac's sons and Ishmael's sons were brothers, and thus Muhammad was a brother of Isaac's sons. But when he'd referenced the Quran, it said that the prophet would be from the Arab people and speak Arabic. The Torah text spoke of a prophet form the Hebrews who spoke Hebrew. If this prophet was Muhammad, then I would distrust the Quran. That was a dangerous thought.

Mustafa had exhausted himself with study and concluded that none of the twenty-six texts spoke of Muhammad. And now he stared at this verse from sura "The Table" of the Quran: "People of the Book, you will attain nothing until you observe the Torah and the Gospel and that which is revealed from your Lord." The Quran affirmed the authority of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. He turned to sura 3:84 and read: "Say: 'We believe in God and what is revealed to us; in that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael, to Isaac and Jacob and the tribes; and in that which their Lord gave Moses and Jesus and the prophets. We discriminate against none of them. To Him we have surrendered ourselves.'" But how could the Christian God be the same as Allah? He'd read in the Gospels: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." Allah commanded exactly the opposite in the Quran. In the sura "Repentance," God commanded: "Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them." It was impossible that the two Gods were one and the same. It was impossible that the two books, the Holy Bible and Quran, were both right. While the two books agreed on some things, the differences were startling. One of them had to be wrong.

The prayer time was over and the flow of activity on the street was back to normal. But now Mustafa knew what he had to do--pray. Allah, God, which is the real book? Show me which book is right?

A peace washed over him, and Mustafa felt confident that God would reveal the truth.
Mustafa is just one of the people we travel with as we see various encounters with Christianity deep within the world of Islam. Some encounter Jesus (Isa as he is called in the Quran) through reading the Bible. Others find him in the stories told them by friends who are eager to share a new knowledge of God as a loving father, instead of the stern God as commonly communicated in Islam. These believers run the gamut of personalities, from a young girl who is cast off by her family for her Christianity to a Christian couple who return to their country following God's call to minister to native Christians to a highly influential government official who must keep his Christian faith hidden. We are shown just what it means to claim faith in Jesus in a place where religious ecumenism is given lip service but where hate crimes against Christians are given a blind eye by authorities.

Anyone who has read a book by Brother Andrew will recognize a familiar pattern. I first read his book Gods Smuggler when I was lent a copy in high school. It was the compelling story of Brother Andrew's efforts to smuggle Bibles to persecuted Christians in countries under Soviet control. I found it so compelling that I have remembered it to this day and eagerly accepted this review copy based on that memory.

As former Communist countries became free for religious practice, Brother Andrew turned his ministry to countries where Christians are still persecuted and where even owning a Bible will bring them under attack. This book does not show us much of Brother Andrew, however, but focuses on the stories of a group of persecuted Christians in an Islamic country. We follow them over quite a bit of time and get a a good feel for the daily crosses that a Christian experiences under Islam.

Despite the opportunity to show only one extreme, the book authors take pains to stress all sides of Islam's and Christianity's coexistence. For example, when Brother Andrew makes one of his infrequent visits there is a particular university professor who always invites him to visit so that they may contrast and compare their faiths. If Islam were practiced with the attention to kindness that this professor proclaims as the Islamic ideal, our view of Islam would indeed be different than it is today. Another positive fruit of the persecution is that all denominations of Christianity cooperate as fully as possible in order to find ways to exist at all.

One of my favorite sections of the book was when a Protestant lay worker seeks a Catholic priest's advice for how to find a substitute for the daily Islamic prayer structure that some recent converts are desperately missing. The priest suggest a simple adaptation of the liturgy of the hours. He also overlays it with meditations adapted t0 the liturgical year so that they have a way to key their faith into the Islamic calendar, which the men will miss as well. This is not only a wonderful look at ecumenism but at the ways in which Christian faith are adapted within a particular culture. While I read this I found myself thinking of the first century Christians working with both their new found faith and the Roman liturgical calendar.

The book ends with a section called "How Shall We Respond?" which has many insightful commentaries about the reality of the need for Christians to meet the challenges that Islam presents. It is presented in a way that puts a human face on our brothers and sisters who are separated from us by their Islamic faith. Regular readers may recall that this book was the last of a trio that gave me a new prayer resolution. I believe that this eye opening book will do that for many and highly recommend it.

Interestingly, after finishing this book, I began reading George Wiegel's newest, Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism, which is much more intellectually based than Secret Believers. I had seen this book highly praised in many places and expected to enjoy it. However, what I did not expect was that so many of his excerpts from books about Islam would resonate so deeply as being true because I just had read about that very reality as experienced by the persecuted Christians in this book. Readers may want to consider reading these two books together for that very reason.
Although Muslims like to enumerate the 99 names of God, missing from the list, but central to the Jewish and even more so to the Christian concept of God, is "Father"--i.e. a personal God capable of a reciprocal and loving relationship with men. The one God of the Qur'an, the God Who demands submission, is a distant God; to call him "Father would be an anthropomorphic sacrilege. The Muslim God is utterly impassive; to ascribe loving feeling to Him would be suspect.
Cross-posted at Happy Catholic.

The Pope praises the internet

Pete Vere has recently mentioned this blog in The Wanderer (Jan 17 issue).
The Holy Father recently discussed the lack of ethics in the media,
"He praised new media such as the internet, which were "changing the very face of communications".
It seems that the efforts of faithful Catholic bloggers are making a difference. Pro-life bloggers were told at the Blogs for Life Conference January 22 in Washington DC that we must carry the stories of the pro-life movement, because there is a virtual media blackout on this issue, with the exception of EWTN. I posted on my observations on the media covering the March here.
A pro-life friend, a Franciscan brother, advised me that the days of internet freedom are coming to an end in the near future, especially if Hillary is elected.
This horrifying prospect was seen in the Democrats' attempts to impose the so-called fairness doctrine in Congress, where this blog would have to register to a governing agency who would make certain that we gave the other side equal time. Equal time, they OWN the mainstream media! We're the beacon of the Culture of Life, we'd better shine brightly now, before we are shut down.
HT Spirit Daily

"Bella" available on DVD May 16


Good news for those who missed seeing the film "Bella". I met producer Leo Severino at an event after the March for Life, in Washington DC this week, and he announced that the "Bella"DVD will go on sale this May 16.
I know many people who weren't able to see "Bella" near their home will be pleased to buy this fine film for home viewing.

Westboro Baptist 'Church' to picket Heath Ledger's Funeral

Cross-Post from The World...IMHO.

These people at Westboro are really sick, and very hypocritical. I don't consider them a church, because all they do is spew hatred.

I didn't agree with 'Brokeback' either. But there is a huge difference between speaking out about something that is wrong and playing God and condemning people. They also said he is in Hell. Only God will judge us and decide who goes to heaven, hell or purgatory.

There is NO point to their protest. It will only hurt his family and friends.

The Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for their anti-gay protests at funerals have announced they plan to protest at Heath Ledger's funeral. The Kansas-based church believe that nearly every tragedy in the world is linked to homosexuality and that society's increased tolerance and acceptance of homosexuals is to blame. The group also regularly picket the funerals of US servicemen saying they are fighting for a government that defies God's word. In 2007 The Church were the subject of the Louis Theroux documentary The Most Hated Family In America.

Citing Heath Ledger's part in the gay love story Brokeback Mountain the Church have announced their intention to protest at his funeral.

story here

American Idol's Anti-Virgin Bias

By Jean M. Heimann

I am not much of a TV watcher. Other than EWTN and an occasional classical movie, the only program I really enjoy watching is American Idol. I am a music lover and like listening to the different genres of music presented on Idol, as well as having the opportunity to vote for the contestants. Recently, however, I was irritated by the Idol judges' reactions to 19 - year - old contestant Bruce Dixon.

Dickson, a contestant from Bostrop, Texas, at the American Idol Dallas auditions was asked to share something interesting about himself. He told the judges he had never kissed a girl.

Catholic News Agency shares the dialogue:

"What?" Randy Jackson asked. "On purpose?"
“On purpose," Dickson said.

"On my wedding day, that will be my first kiss."

Jackson's advice to Dickson after the judges sent him packing: "Go kiss some girls."

Simon Cowell, eyebrows raised, told him: "Avoid Ryan (Seacrest) on the way out."

Seacrest himself ended the segment featuring Dickson with these words: "Maybe next year he'll come back less a boy and more a man."

Dickson told Cybercast News Service "A real man would rather wait than just do whatever with whoever."

Sarah Preston, a writer and editor for Playboy’s web site, spoke about Dickson’s decision on Thursday on the “Fox Report” television show, asking how he could compete in the contest without “sex appeal.”

"I'm not belittling Bruce's Christian beliefs, but I do think being in tune with one's own sexuality goes a long way in being confident with yourself," Preston said.

"Confidence is key, especially for 'American Idol.'”

”These kids become sex objects, thrust into the spotlight," she continued. "And while I know they're all trying to stand out, especially during the audition period, using your Christian beliefs and the fact that you've never kissed a girl is not going to bode well for you while trying out to be America's next big sex object,” Preston said.

Dickson responded to some of the criticisms. "I respect women and don't think of them as a sexual object, and I'm the freak?" Dickson said to Cybercast News Service.

Dickson, the second eldest of six children, said his parents had challenged their children to practice abstinence.

"It wasn't anything they forced on us," Dickson said. "It was something they talked to us about. Something they taught us the importance of."

Dickson wears a key around his neck, while his father wears a matching heart, which he wears for Dickson’s future wife. The jewelry signifies Dickson’s promise to remain abstinent until marriage.

The American Idol contestant won admiration from Jason Burtt, national director of the teen abstinence organization Silver Ring Thing. The organization promotes events and distributes rings for children to wear to symbolize their commitment to chastity.

"What we are all about is supporting kids like Bruce," Burtt told Cybercast News Service. "Most kids are mentally pushed through the media and pop culture that everyone is doing it.

"Bruce has said he's going to walk the hard walk, and instead of lifting him up and praising him, we're mocking him," Burtt said. "I think that's because when someone is up on a chair, it's easier for people to pull him down than to pull everyone else up off the floor. Maybe they feel bad they couldn't do it themselves.”

Dickson is working on a demo album and could return to audition for the next season of American Idol.

I certainly hope this young man does return next year (or that is successful on his own) and I also believe that judges Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell should apologize to him for their rude remarks. I would like to add that there are many young women who would be happy to marry a man who saves himself for her and values the gift of chastity. As for Sarah Preston's remarks about being confident in yourself -- having sex before marriage has nothing to do with confidence. In fact, it's those teens who have low self esteem who tend to be sexually active before marriage. Getting pregnant or acquiring a sexually transmitted disease does little for improving one's self-esteem.

cross - posted at Catholic Fire.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why did Heath Ledger's death hit our family so hard?

I don't think this falls into the region of Catholic Media but it obviously is connected to the movies, so I'll merely put a link to my ruminations on Heath Ledger's death.

Actor Heath Ledger Dead at 28

This is tragic to see someone die so young.
We should all pray for him and his family.

cross-post from The World...IMHO

An autopsy Wednesday morning on actor Heath Ledger was inconclusive, and a cause-of-death determination will take 10 to 14 days, a medical examiner's spokeswoman said.

The Academy Award-nominated actor was found dead Tuesday of a possible drug overdose in a Lower Manhattan apartment, the New York Police Department said. He was 28.

Flowers, notes and a candle left by mourning fans remained on the sidewalk outside the Soho apartment building, but only journalists and the occasional tourist were gathered there Wednesday morning.

Ledger's former girlfriend, actress Michelle Williams, who was shooting a movie in Sweden, was informed of his death late Tuesday night, a movie production company spokesman said.

Williams left early Wednesday morning
with 2-year-old daughter Matilda Rose, the spokesman said. Ledger was the child's father.

Ledger, Oscar-nominated for his role in "Brokeback Mountain," was found by a housekeeper trying to wake him for an appointment with a masseuse, said police spokesman Paul Browne.

story here

January Reads

I enjoyed and recommend The Misadventures of Maude March, by Audrey Couloumbis. Told by younger sister, Sallie, Maude's adventures are the result of misfortune and mistake. Sallie and Maude are orphans, raised by Aunt Ruth, who loses her life to a stray bullet in the first chapter. Their home is taken by the bank and they are forced to live with the preacher and his family. The never-ending chores and the loss of all their family possessions to their caretakers, does not deter the girls from making the best of a bad situation. When the preacher arranges a marriage for Maude to an elderly man and the girls are threatened with separation, they run away. They take the two broken-down horses, leaving their new dairy cow in exchange. Soon, they discover that the media can't be trusted. They find a newspaper article with Maude's name and description, claiming that she has lost her mind with grief and stolen the horses. Sallie is never mentioned.

The girls are headed for Independence, Missouri, hoping to find their long-lost uncle. Along the way, they meet Aunt Ruth's shooter, and star of "dimer" novellas, Joe Harden. Joe teaches the girls how to survive in the wilderness but Maude can't forgive Joe's unlucky shot and they part ways. Maude realizes her mistake and the girls set out to find Joe. They see his horse in front of a bank, and remembering his admonition, "Take your gun everywhere," they enter the bank with rifles. Of course they are mistaken for robbers, and the adventures continue to an eventual happy ending for all.

One scene in which Maude, who has been disguised as a boy for most of the book, decides to recover her feminine identity, visits a house of ill repute, is handled in a delicate and sensitive matter. The heavily made-up ladies of the house donate clothes and fix Maude's hair for no charge. The author does a masterful job of presenting the action without any information about the real occupations of the characters. Highly Recommended.

Robin McKinley's Dragonhaven is a young adult novel, written in a stream-of-consciousness style, over the span of about ten years. Fourteen year old Jake lives at a national wildlife preserve called Smokehill, one hundred miles from anywhere. Somewhere on the 500 million acre property, real, endangered, fire- breathing dragons live, but are rarely seen. Jake gets to go on his first overnight into the wilderness, and comes across the unthinkable. First, there is the dead body of a dragon poacher, next to a dying dragon. Lastly, Jake notices five dead baby dragonlets, and one still living. Jake takes the surviving dragonlet and puts it down his shirt. Dragons are like marsupials, in that their young spend at least one year in their mother's pouch. This single action changes Jake, the fate of Smokehill, and the world's treatment of dragons forever.

There are a few troubling points in the book. Jake's widowed father has a relationship with another researcher and the two decide to wed when it is discovered that they are expecting a baby. As a young adult, Jake falls in love with his childhood playmate, Martha, and they decide to get married. Before the wedding, Jake gives Martha's sister, Eleanor some thankful acknowledgment for letting he and Martha use their shared bedroom for a few hours here and there. Finally, there is the tacit acceptance of a character's homosexual identity, and the theme that this character is a kinder, better person because he has a gay lover.
Young adult novels are all too often merely juvenile fiction with adult themes thrown in. Dragonhaven is a fascinating story, and if the author would stick to Jake and the dragons, I could recommend it. As it stands, there are too many issues to overlook. Not Recommended.

List of the 80th Annual Oscar Nominees

Here is the complete list of 80th annual Academy Award nominations announced Tuesday:

1. Best Picture: "Atonement," "Juno," "Michael Clayton," "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood."

2. Actor: George Clooney, "Michael Clayton"; Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood"; Johnny Depp, "Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street"; Tommy Lee Jones, "In the Valley of Elah"; Viggo Mortensen, "Eastern Promises."

3. Actress:
Cate Blanchett, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"; Julie Christie, "Away From Her"; Marion Cotillard, "La Vie en Rose"; Laura Linney, "The Savages"; Ellen Page, "Juno."

4. Supporting Actor: Casey Affleck, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"; Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men"; Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"; Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Charlie Wilson's War"; Tom Wilkinson, "Michael Clayton."

5. Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett, "I'm Not There"; Ruby Dee, "American Gangster"; Saoirse Ronan, "Atonement"; Amy Ryan, "Gone Baby Gone"; Tilda Swinton, "Michael Clayton."

6. Director: Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"; Jason Reitman, "Juno"; Tony Gilroy, "Michael Clayton"; Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men"; Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood."

7. Foreign Film: "Beaufort," Israel; "The Counterfeiters," Austria; "Katyn," Poland; "Mongol," Kazakhstan; "12," Russia.

8. Adapted Screenplay: Christopher Hampton, "Atonement"; Sarah Polley, "Away from Her"; Ronald Harwood, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"; Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men"; Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood."

9. Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody, "Juno"; Nancy Oliver, "Lars and the Real Girl"; Tony Gilroy, "Michael Clayton"; Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava and Jim Capobianco, "Ratatouille"; Tamara Jenkins, "The Savages."

10. Animated Feature Film: "Persepolis"; "Ratatouille"; "Surf's Up."

11. Art Direction: "American Gangster," "Atonement," "The Golden Compass," "Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street," "There Will Be Blood."


12. Cinematography: "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," "Atonement," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood."

13. Sound Mixing: "The Bourne Ultimatum," "No Country for Old Men," "Ratatouille," "3:10 to Yuma," "Transformers."

14. Sound Editing: "The Bourne Ultimatum," "No Country for Old Men," "Ratatouille," "There Will Be Blood," "Transformers."

15. Original Score: "Atonement," Dario Marianelli; "The Kite Runner," Alberto Iglesias; "Michael Clayton," James Newton Howard; "Ratatouille," Michael Giacchino; "3:10 to Yuma," Marco Beltrami.

16. Original Song: "Falling Slowly" from "Once," Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova; "Happy Working Song" from "Enchanted," Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz; "Raise It Up" from "August Rush," Nominees to be determined; "So Close" from "Enchanted," Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz; "That's How You Know" from "Enchanted," Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz.

17. Costume: "Across the Universe," "Atonement," "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," "La Vie en Rose," "Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

18. Documentary Feature: "No End in Sight," "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience," "Sicko," "Taxi to the Dark Side," "War/Dance."


19. Documentary (short subject): "Freeheld," "La Corona (The Crown)," "Salim Baba," "Sari's Mother."

20. Film Editing: "The Bourne Ultimatum," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," "Into the Wild," "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood."

21. Makeup: "La Vie en Rose," "Norbit," "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."


22. Animated Short Film: "I Met the Walrus," "Madame Tutli-Putli," "Meme Les Pigeons Vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven)," "My Love (Moya Lyubov)," "Peter & the Wolf."

23. Live Action Short Film: "At Night," "Il Supplente (The Substitute)," "Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)," "Tanghi Argentini," "The Tonto Woman."

24. Visual Effects: "The Golden Compass," "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," "Transformers."

Which of these would you like to see win an Academy award? Which do you think will actually win? Which film(s) not mentioned here do you think deserves an award?

Monday, January 21, 2008

BSG

Barbara Nicolosi has some interesting reflections on Battlestar Galactica in two separate posts.

Frakking with my brain

BSG is great but is it good

Here perspective is interesting since she is a screenwriter and not really a SF fan. For those that don't know, Barbara is a Catholic and the former director of Act One in Hollywood which provides "Comprehensive training and mentorship to form the next generation of Christian artists and professionals."

The new Battlestar Galactica has a large following withing St. Blogs which includes myself and as a certified SF geek it is great to have great writing and storytelling that is of the same quality as some of the best ever television series.

Director David Kinsella explains purpose of documentary "Killing Girls"

"Killing Girls" to be completed by Christmas this year; Kinsella presents facts to let audience make their own decision

By Jean M. Heimann

Yesterday, I wrote about a new documentary film entitled "Killing Girls", which is about a late term abortion department in Russia for teenage girls and is in production for release in 2008. David Kinsella, an award winning photographer and filmmaker, is the director/photographer of "Killing Girls." I could not find a release date for the film and wanted to learn more about the film itself.

Kinsella, who is on his way to Romania to edit "Killing Girls", responded to my query, explaining, "The film will be completed by Christmas. The film brings us into the whole history of abortion in Russia, with the main focus on a speciallate term clinic for teenagers, these girls are as young as 12 and abort over 18 weeks to in some cases way over 7 1/2 months. I am not making a pro life or pro choice film, I am showing the facts and letting the audience decide. but yet again this is not easy to finance, this is why it is taking time to finish."

FOR DISCUSSION

One of my regular commenters at Catholic Fire, Christina at Real Choice, shared this view about the situation in Russia: "Start with Godless communism, let it collapse and ferment, and add a dose of good solid western materialism, and you get this. Time to quote Ogden Nash: 'There has been a lot of progress during my lifetime, but I'm afraid it's heading in the wrong direction'."

The concern I have is, " If this can happen in Russia, it is also possible that in the not so distant future, it could happen (80% of women having 2 - 8 abortions in their lifetime, girls as young as 12 having abortions up to eight months) in this country if atheism, secularism, materialism, and modernism continue to grow and flourish as they have been?" (WARNING EXPLICIT CONTENT: View the trailer at Youtube first before responding.)

Related Post: New Documentary on Teenage Girls and Abortion

Cross-posted at Catholic Fire.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents: Book Review

The story begin in 1989. The third Garcia daugther, Yolanda, has returned to the family compound on the Island--the Dominican Republic. Yolanda hasn't been back in five years, an eternity in this close-knit family of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Yolanda hasn't told her family yet, but she's thinking of staying permanently this time, not returning to her family.

There are four Garcia girls and they left the Island with their Mami and Papi in the 1960's because of Papi's political activity. In the Dominican Republic, they lived surrounded by servants and family, but also constrained by social conventions. Their lives in the U.S. were harder: mastering a new language, new social expectations, new customs. The girls are sent "home" every summer so they do not forget who they are. They manage to evade the watchful eyes of Mami, Papi, and the Tias, and learn to become Americans. But assimilation comes with a price.

Sofia (Fifi) is the youngest and adapts the easiest, but is alienated from her Papi. Carla, the oldest, is a psychologist but has been married, divorced, and now remarried. Yolanda (YoYo or "Joe") was married, divorced, is a poet and a professor, but is having an affair with a married colleague. Sandi was the artist, but a traumatic experience back home has stifled her creativity. Now her connection to reality is tenuous.

The story moves backwards in time, beginning in 1989 and ending in 1956. And the story moves among the viewpoints of the sisters as well as the third person. Reading this book is sort of like watching a movie backwards. We don't fully understand the actions of the girls or of their parents until later. And it can be kind of confusing trying to remember whose story we're reading.

In fact, Carla's story gets short shrift, as do the college years of most of the girls, especially their early years at an all-women's college. Mami and Papi are presented mostly through the eyes of the girls, although Mami does get a few short chapters.

All in all, the book left me frustrated. I wanted to know more. Why and how did the girls fall away from the Church? How did Mami cope with losing the support of her family, her status? What happened with Carla's first marriage? Besides Sofia's children, did the other girls have any?

I thought this was going to be a story about the Americanization of these four young women, but I found that the author, Julia Alvarez, seemed to take shortcuts, stating the girls became American without showing how. Why was YoYo considering returning to the Domenican Republic to live? Did she feel more secure? Was she trying to recapture something from her past? Was she looking for a sense of belonging?

I did enjoy the interaction of the sisters: the jealousies, the closeness. I felt those scenes were faithfully captured, based on my experiences with my sisters and from what I've seen with my cousins and friends.

One of the reasons I read is to live another life, another's experiences, at least vicariously. I guess what I was looking for was a sense of experiencing the lives of the Garcia girls, at least vicariously. I never got that sense with this book, and I was very disappointed. The stories were interesting, but not particularly engaging.

The girls come of age during the 1960's and 1970's, so there is plenty of sex, casual and otherwise. There's some drug use, mostly marijuana. The girls have much to hide from their parents, especially when they are in college, which involves some elaborate schemes and lying. Except for Sofia, the girls do not seem particularly happy with their lot in life, with the choices they made. Their relationship with each other seems strong, their parents do love them, and there is much strength in their extended family, if only they could see it.

On the March Hare scale: 2 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks.

crossposted at The Mad Tea Party

The Tale of Sweeney Todd: TV Movie

This non-musical version of Sweeney Todd stars Ben Kingsley in the title role and Joanna Lumley as Mrs. Lovett. The basic story is the same as the musical: Sweeney Todd is a barber on Fleet Street who murders those clients he feels do not deserve to live and Mrs. Lovett takes care of the bodies by baking them into her "specials" whose secret ingredient she does not disclose. And, in the end, Mr. Todd is killed by his apprentice.

The motivation for Mr. Todd's wrath is different, however. Instead of suffering at the hands of a particular magistrate, Mr. Todd has spent time in Her Majesty's Army in Africa. One of his comrades-in-arms was a man who died there, leaving behind a young daughter, Alice, whom Mr. Todd vowed to raise and to protect.

What happened to Mr. Todd and his comrades in Africa and its importance is revealed slowly. And, in fact, Mr. Todd's actions might never have been revealed except that he happened to kill a rich merchant. And a young American, Ben Carlyle (Campbell Scott) comes to London, looking for this merchant who owes Ben's employers either $50,000 or the equivalent in diamonds.

Ben happens to be staying at the inn where Mr. Todd's ward, Alice, is a maid. As Ben tries to locate the merchant, who has been missing for several weeks, he and Alice fall in love. Alice confides in Mr. Todd, who is less than pleased.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Lovett has calculated that she and Mr. Todd finally have enough money to escape from London--and a pretty dismal place this London is, too. A war has been going on for years and is a drain on the economy and the morale of the common folk. (I'm guessing it's the Napoleonic war, but it's never stated.) Additionally, there are the "Runners," a quasi-police force, led by a "Major." They are supposed to keep order, which they do by use of force and bullying. They aren't really interested in finding the missing merchant, unless there is something in it for them.

Mr. Todd also has an apprentice, a young mute whom Mr. Todd has rescued from the asylum. Charlie knows that Mr. Todd has killed the merchant Ben is looking for, but he since he cannot talk, and is intimidated by Mr. Todd, he doesn't tell anyone.

Except for Lucy, who works in the basement of Mrs. Lovett's, grinding the meat Mrs. Lovett feeds into the hopper. On a rare break from work, Charlie makes Lucy understand that he knows what happened to the merchant. Mrs. Lovett becomes suspicious and asks Mr. Todd to "take care of her." He does. And he also chains Charlie to the wall in the basement because he is fond of the boy, in his way, and decides not to kill him.

Ben has learned enough to start to put the pieces together. Mrs. Lovett can feel the net closing but Mr. Todd will not leave. Mrs. Lovett arranges to kidnap Alice and tells Mr. Todd that she will release Alice when they are safely on the ship away from England. Ben shows up at the barber shop and he and Mr. Todd begin a dangerous dance of words, where Mr. Todd reveals what happened in Africa to him and to Alice's father.

The movie ends with the death of Mr. Todd at the hands of his apprentice. Alice and Ben are free to go off to America, with Alice never realizing the truth about her guardian.

Ben Kingsley's Sweeney Todd is much more likable than Johnny Depp's. He is a charmer, obsequious to his customers, who include the local vicar. He chatters while he shaves, sharing the local gossip. Joanna Lumley's Mrs. Lovett's relationship with Mr. Todd is more a matter of convenience than love, as is Mr. Todd's with her. The madness of this Mr. Todd lurks far beneath the surface, with few clues surfacing. The only person Mr. Todd really cares for is Alice.

There are a couple of scenes with partial nudity, one where Mrs. Lovett is "spanking" (with a leather strap) the Major, one with Mrs. Lovett and Mr. Todd in bed, and one where Alice is rising from Ben's bed and puts on her chemise. The throat-slitting scenes are not as dramatically bloody as in the musical version. Mrs. Lovett's butchery is done behind closed doors. Ben discovers the decomposing bodies in the sewer, munched on by rats.

This is an Irish-British production, originally shown in the U.S. on the USA Channel in 1998, so there is no MPAA rating. Because of the subject matter, I would definitely rate this PG-13 or higher, depending on the child. And because this version is less theatrical, the horror is more subtle. Mr. Todd's reason for revenge is less obvious and so his revenge is less focused and more diffuse. This movie also recreates the London of the 1800's, illustrating the squalor and the hardships of the lives of the common citizens of that time. (It's not Jane Austen country, certainly!) Plenty of opportunity for discussion across many subjects.

Hubs didn't care for it as much as the musical, but then he's partial to musicals. I was fascinated, especially by Ben Kingsley's performance.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out 5 Golden Tickets

crossposted at The Mad Tea Party

Movie Review : Cloverfield - PG13

I saw Cloverfield today. As I expected, from previews and commercials, some type of creature attacks New York City. What I did not expect was the story is told from the perspective of a camcorder, much like 'Blair Witch Project' was. At first, I didn't care for that perspective, but as the movie progressed, I realized how integral that technique was to the story and the movie. It made it that much more realistic, and added to the 'fear factor' of the movie.

The setting is a going-away party for Rob, who is going to Japan on business. Hud is given the job of filming the party, and everyone's farewell messages for Rob. During the party, it is revealed that Rob slept with Beth. She leaves the party. After the creature starts attacking the city, a group of 4 people, including Rob, runs to find safety from the attacks. One of them, Marlena, is bitten by a creature, and then dies. When Beth calls Rob, their focus becomes getting to Beth's place, and trying to save her. They do get to her place, and then they all get into helicopters, but I won't say more to spoil the movie for anyone.

I agree with what Premiere magazine said about Cloverfield in Rotten Tomatoes: " It's not the life-changing movie experience the intense viral marketing attention would lead you to think it is, but its decision to focus on ground-level humanism rather than epic disaster is what separates it from the pack."

As you would expect, there is some cursing, and some gore. Overall, I didn't find anything too offensive beyond what you would expect from previews and commercials you may have seen.

Cross-posted at The World...IMHO


New Documentary on Teenage Girls and Abortion

A new 54 minute documentary about a late term abortion department in Russia for teenage girls is in production for release in 2008. David Kinsella, an award winning photographer and filmmaker, is the director/photographer of "Killing Girls."

This film is being made as a TV movie and a full length Cinema version, which is one hour in length. In Russia, women have between 2 and 10 abortions each, despite the availability of contraceptives (I am not endorsing contraception here.). Teenagers abort up to eight months gestation.

I took a look at the trailer for the Killing Girls film on Youtube and it is shocking and at the same time, deeply moving. Warning: It is an explicit film.

Here is a summary of "Killing Girls" via Norwegian Films:

St. Petersburg, Russia. An abortion clinic that specializes in late term teenage abortions. Young girls arrive at the clinic through the back door, sometimes with their mother or a friend. But all of them have to go through it alone. Here, abortions are performed even after 7 months of pregnancy. The procedure is standard. When the girls arrive at the weekend, they are put in one big ward. All at the same time, eight girls are given drinks in order to encourage their contractions to start on Monday morning. When the contractions start the doctors and nurses will help the girls to deliver. Most girls do not want to see their babies. They stay for the night and in the early morning they leave the clinic again to get back to their lives.

"Killing Girls" is a story about moral and economic choices in today’s Russian society. It is the story of three girls that at one point in their life decided to end a pregnancy at a late term. It is the story of the doctor who performs these late term abortions. Who are these people? What is their story?

In the film we follow these characters closely for three years. Through them we learn about the living conditions for the younger generation in Russia, those that dream of a glamorous western lifestyle, but are condemned to live hunting for money to buy a moment of happiness. Nobody has time to have children any longer. Fighting to find an income in a society with badly paid work, children have become a problem.

I am in the process of learning more about this film and will keep you updated. More to come...

Cross-posted at Catholic Fire.