Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Why Catholic-Bashing Should Concern All Christians

In the recent DVD release, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, the historical conflict between Catholics and Protestants takes center stage. The Protestant Queen Elizabeth I is threatened and undermined by the Catholic King Phillip II of Spain. The Catholics in the film are nearly all blind zealots looking to undo the more rational Queen. The Queen herself is presented not as a figure of any notable Protestant belief, but more as a stalwart secularist protecting her homeland from its mystic foes. The film is not a balanced view of this important time in European history, but rather a half-baked diatribe against religion in general.

Filmmakers casually giving the Catholic Church a swift kick in the shorts isn’t a new phenomena. There have been a few films that take swipes at the church like: Stigmata, The Da Vinci Code, The Order, Priest, Constantine, Jeffrey, Hudson Hawk, Dogma, Saving Silverman, The Golden Compass, The Name of the Rose, Primal Fear, The Pope Must Die, Hail Mary, The Devils, The Magdalene Sisters, Chocolat, The Agnes of God, The Boys of St. Vincent, Mystic River, Casanova…It goes on from there. Add your titles to the list.

Why is the Catholic Church so often the focus of attention rather than other Christians? First because the Church has a broad, international reach, and it has a deep influence on every culture it touches. The impact of the church as a worldwide organization is undeniable. This wide reach didn’t happen overnight. The Church has a long history that goes back to Biblical times. You cannot tell the story of mankind without talking a great deal about the workings of the Church. It is the backbone of the Christian faith.

Another reason Catholicism is so readily used as the entertainment industry’s personal diaper is because Catholics are so dang easy to spot. Priests, nuns, cardinals and Popes all wear easily identifiable uniforms. No one has ever said, "Hey, I was down at Chuck E. Cheese and thought I saw the Pope, it turned out it was Jerry." Even if Jerry likes to wander around with a large bejeweled hat, the Pope is the Pope. Think of it, if you’re a filmmaker and have a point to make about Christianity, what do you do? How do you readily show a Baptist preacher? You'd have to show a guy with big hair and a bad sweater. Even if you do this, you'll still have to point out he’s a Christian and not just some poorly dressed guy with a lot of opinions. For the sake of economy, it would be easier to just slap a collar on the guy and give him an Irish last name.

When filmmakers take shots at Christians in general it always causes an uproar. When the target of the insult is Catholic, the cries of foul often are quieter. Sure, with groups like The Catholic League and the well organized online bloggers few insults go unanswered. For non-Catholics the attacks are usually treated as someone else's problem. If a Christian sees a cheap shot at a priest or a story centering on the Church's misdeeds (both imagined and real) and that Christian isn't troubled, there's a problem. The truth be told, all Christians should react strongly when any of our brothers and sisters - even those we disagree with - are maligned. The fact is that when filmmakers attack the Catholic faith more times than not their real intent is to attack ALL Christians from Catholic, to Lutheran and Baptist to everyone in between. Religion in general is the target, not just one branch of it. If you look at films that specifically focus on the Catholic faith such as Elizabeth: The Golden Age, or The Golden Compass study what they are really saying. They're usually not just attacking the Catholic religion, they're attacking all religion. The following of Christ is the issue. If one can injure Christians and dismantle our collective faith, the vacuum that is created can be filled with a secular belief system. When actor Ian McKellen stated on the Today show “I've often thought the Bible should have a disclaimer in the front saying this is fiction.” he speaks for a large number of people in the entertainment industry. Should it come as any surprise that McKellen, a proud hater of the Christian faith, has had ample opportunity to star in a number of films that are openly hostile to God (The Da Vinci Code, The Golden Compass, For the Love of God)? Those who loathe Christ and his teachings have a voice and they use it freely with the support of the film industry. Do not fool yourself, those willing to tear the Catholic Church down do not usually trouble themselves with the distinction in theology between the Pope and Billy Graham. When they throw these cinematic eggs at the Vatican they are meant to splatter on us all.

Pro-Life Film "The Human Experience" Promotes Consistent Respect for Human Life

An excellent review by Colin Mason

cross-post from The World...IMHO

I'm sitting at a worn desk in the headquarters of Grassroots Films in Brooklyn, NY. Humming Macs surround me as the company dog, a sand-colored mutt named Daisy, wanders aimlessly around my feet. Across the desk, Michael Campo is describing the experience of visiting a leper colony in Ghana.

"At first I was a little afraid, because I didn't know what to expect," he reminisces. "But all that fear was gone in five or ten minutes . . . they found such great joy and happiness together."

Campo, 28, co-stars in Grassroots Films' latest project, The Human Experience.

Fast-paced and modern, The Human Experience is a you-are-there documentary that claims to offer an unprecedented look at the human condition. After being thoroughly excited by the trailer (available at www.grassrootsfilms.com), I had the pleasure of being invited to screen this film in Brooklyn, as well as speak to all of the major players at Grassroots Films.

Simply speaking, I was deeply impressed by The Human Experience. It is possibly the most truly pro-life film I have ever seen.

Many pro-life films present the cause of life in a compelling way. Others attempt to show the consequences of a disrespect for life, by shocking or horrifying the viewer.

This film does neither. Instead, it moves beyond the ever-present politics of our day to something much more fundamental, closer to the issue.

The Human Experience aims to truly portray the human person, not as an issue or a political cause, but simply as “a breathtaking reality; a new, unrepeatable, unprecedented adventure.”

In the words of Chuck Kinnane, the film’s director, “the whole idea was to show people in some pretty dire situations, but they're making the best of it and they're still finding a way to be happy.”

The rest of the review here

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Book: The Signs of the timeWhen I first received The Signs of the Times "Understanding the Church since Vatican II by Fr. Richard W. Gilsdorf I wasn't much enthused. I thought "Oh great a 500 plus page book from someone I hadn't heard of and it is probably a crank complaining about Vatican II. " A chapter into the book thought I was spending any of my spare time racing through this book and finished it in relatively short order. I am quite thankful to have been introduced to the writings of Fr. Gilsdorf who passed away in 2005.

This book is a compilation of a life's writing from a former seminary professor, parish priest, and scripture scholar. The books main title comes from a series of columns he wrote for The Compass, the newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay. The book contains these columns along with a wealth of his other writings that were published in places like Homiletic & Pastoral Review and the The Wanderer. Also included were various speeches he gave at conferences along with several book reviews. The book is edited by Patrick F. Beno who took on the task from Fr. Gilsdorf to take his published as well as unpublished writings to be made into a book for publication. The editor has provided copious footnotes to give the reader context and background information on persons and events describes as well as translations for Latin phrases used throughout.

The "Signs of the Times" columns were written during the Pontificate of Paul VI and largely address the errors that were being promulgated in the aftermath of Vatican II. Father describes himself as a "Vatican II liberal" where liberal is meant in the older and truer sense of the word. He fully supports the Council and the documents of the Council and it is the dissent and the "spirit of Vatican II" that he sets himself in opposition to. One phrase used a couple of times in his writings is that he is "As liberal as the Pope is liberal and as conservative as the Pope is conservative." I think this is a great definition and much better than the left/right descriptions so often bandied about that contain so little clarity.

As a convert and someone that often writes on dissent within the Church I found it quite interesting to see a history of some of the errors that are now quite familiar and how they developed in the first place. Father's writings often include the history of how certain theology and practices entered the Church in the first place. Practices like no confession before First Communion, Communal penance services without integral sacramental communion, downplaying of devotional practices, and the loss of Eucharistic piety. He details these movements and the lack of response to these errors by the large majority of diocese. As a priest who lived during these times and saw first hand these practices he has great insights into the reasons for these developments, but most of all great insights into the error of these practices and the harm they cause.

What I really enjoyed about Father's writings that even though there were on contentious subjects he writes with great charity and sometimes great humor. At multiple points in the book he will write something that made me laugh out loud such as when he described the "Holy Office of Greeley" or when he writes about a priest-lecturer who had found "a fertile crop of itching ears." Another example is:

"One of the abused words is 'relevance.' It nauseates me even to type the blasted word. Where is the emesis basin?"

A thought I totally concur with.

One of the best aspects of Fr. Gilsdorf writings is that he never lets bitterness creep in or to show frustration at the lack of response to dissent and liturgical abuses. He never falls into name calling and while he has severe disagreements with the thoughts of several people addressed in the book, his criticisms are always pointed to the subject of the disagreement itself. He was not the type to just whine and complain, but to respond with thoughtful commentary and to take action where he could. I found reading this book that he was the founder and first president of the excellent Confraternity of Catholic Clergy which continues to do great work and is totally faithful to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

One of my favorite pieces in the book was a short column that appeared in his parish bulletin called "A little corner of Heaven" It is quite touching his reflection of his small parish Church and the baptisms, marriages, and funerals that took place there. His great love for his parish shines through. The editor of the book notes that because of Fr. Gildorf's forthright orthodoxy he was likely relegated to this parish in a town of of only 550 persons where his influence would be minimal and where he served for the large majority of his life.

The book though is chock full of great writing and some influential pieces that evoked a lot of support. One of these excellent pieces is "The Pirates of Penance" (I just love that title) on the bad times that the great sacrament of penance has fallen on and the theology that lead to the downplaying of confession. No doubt the downplaying of sin is the error that lead to this. He gave me lots to think about from this essay and several others that addressed this sacrament and will certainly lead me to post on this in the future. Another great piece is The plight of the papist priest" which at the time was printed anonymously. This addresses the tension of being totally faithful to the Pope and the Magisterium of the Church while at the same time being faithful to your Bishop who is not faithful for the most part to either. This article was great encouragement to other "papist priests" throughout the world and ended up being printed in five different languages and the most requested piece at Homiletics & Pastoral Review.

Several chapters of the book also address the writings of scripture scholar Father Raymond Brown and how destructive some of his ideas were especially regarding the consciousness of Christ and how the "Ignorant Jesus" came to be taught in seminaries and every outlet of Catholic education. He shows multiple instances where Father Brown's writing totally conflict with Magisterial teaching and wonders just how it is that he became so influential and supported by so many bishops without an qualms. Since Fr. Gilsdorf is a scripture scholar himself he is able to ask some excellent questions and give some rebuttals to the some of Fr. Raymond Brown's writings. His scripture scholarship also is quite evident is several other pieces he writes on the papacy and the priesthood, and really throughout the book.

There were in fact so many great pieces in the book that I could easily turn this review into a summary of every chapter in the book since I just plain loved and enjoyed this book so much. Instead I would encourage everyone to pick up this book for their own enjoyment. For those already aware of Fr. Gilsdorf they will be rewarded with his other writings and for those such as myself for who this was a new introduction - the joy and education of reading his works.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

6 Little Books That Pack a Big Punch

These small books would make good gifts for the various events that happen in the spring ... First Communion, entering the Church, weddings, baptisms, etc. ... it just depends on the occasion. In fact, I have several of these earmarked for various friends in the near future.

What Catholics Believe
A Pocket Catechism for Kids
by Mike Aquilina and Father Kris Stubna
These differ only in the increased complexity of information offered in the first books. Both are in question and answer format and offer very simple but clear answers to likely questions about Church teachings. Each also has a section of traditional prayers, a guide to making a good confession, and an explanation of the Mass. Both of these are small enough to easily slip into a pocket or purse. Not to mention that they are handy to have around for quick answers that one might run across ... for instance we were all at a loss when trying to remember the theological versus cardinal virtues the other day (yes, that's the sort of home we have ... don't ask!)

Meditations from the Oratory: Praying the Creed
by Father Benedict Groeschel
This is a series of meditations that are fairly short but quite powerful. Designed to be weekly meditations used by a group, these could also be used by an individual. For instance, I am planning to do one each Sunday. Each begins with a substantial Scripture reading, goes on to a brief meditation, followed by a quotation which is usually from a saint or church document such as the Catechism. A quiet time is then followed by a few questions to consider and then prayer closes the session. All of this, naturally, follows the framework of the Creed.

Praying in the Presence of Our Lord: with St. Thomas Aquinas
by Mike Aquilina
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote superlative poems in praise of the Eucharist. Mike Aquilina gives us both the Latin and also beautiful English translations while providing seven meditations for each. These focus on helping us pray as St. Thomas prayed, in the presence of the Eucharist. Needless to say these will be helpful for any meditative time but especially during Adoration.

Living the Mysteries: A Guide for Unfinished Christians
by Mike Aquilina and Scott Hahn
This devotional takes us through key teachings of eight of the Church Fathers. The focus flows from understanding mysteries and revelation through individual sacraments. Each of the 50 meditations has a brief introduction, the writing of the Church Father for that week, a few key sentences to "Take to Prayer" throughout the day, a phrase recommended for memorization, and a thought about applying this teaching to real life. This is the only devotional style book that Tom has ever been interested in reading which says something about its accessibility.

A Prayer Book for Catholic Families
This is a resource I really wish I'd had when the kids were younger and I was wondering how to integrate prayer into our family life. Simply written but amazingly thorough, this book doesn't just present prayers, it describes key parts of Catholic devotion. This includes the order and liturgy of the Mass, simple Morning and Evening Prayer as an introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours, the Stations of the Cross and Devotions to Mary. Although the cover looks more oriented toward those with children, this also would be a good book to give a new convert or as a practical wedding gift.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Movie Review: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

Should I see it?

Short Review: What's more pathetic than a bunch of goofballs wasting their lives playing Donkey Kong? A bigger one writing a review about them wasting their lives playing Donkey Kong.

In many ways, this is one of the better documentaries I've seen in recent years. I know its strange to say that about a movie about geeks fighting for the world record score in Donkey Kong. Many may consider this to be a frivolous movie about frivolous people. In some ways this is true, again, at it's core its just about losers attaching their self identity to their ability to score fantastically high scores on a 1980's arcade game. The arguments, conniving and shed tears in this piece are anchored in human stupidity - then again so are most things we strive after.

What did I find so wonderful about this film? First off, it is hilarious to see geeks in their natural habitat and completely unfiltered. Their awkwardness that comes from the odd mix of high intelligence/low social skill is on full display. Grown up and amongst their own, these geeks revel in their foolish pastime with glee. This peek at geeks is a superficial benefit of the film, a little deeper is where the movie takes shape.

The film follows perpetual loser Steve Wiebe as he attempts to break the world record for Donkey Kong. Amazingly, this is no easy task, not because the game is so hard (it is) but because of the competitive nature of the current champ Billy Mitchell. Mitchell has no intention of relinquishing his crown easily and manipulates the 80's arcade playing society (yes, there is one) against Wiebe. The level of deceit and competition that is shown in this movie is truly surprising.

Documentarian Seth Gordon has a perfect sympathetic hero in Wiebe and couldn't ask for a better villain than Mitchell. Gordon lays out a brilliant competition that almost seems scripted in many spots. The odd human drama in this movie plays like nerd Shakespeare and this is where the movie gets its depth. The display of our ability to squabble and actually hurt one another over things so massively trivial is striking to see. The fact that it is being played out by geeks is just the cherry on the sundae.

The natural reaction for most people is to ignore this documentary. It is about Donkey Kong after all. I'd suggest you give this one a second look. If there is any part of you that is intrigued, I'd recommend you pick it up. At the worst, you have ninety minutes of some serious nerd viewing to enjoy.

Click on the geek to see the trailer

Worldview: Regardless of the ridiculous pastime of these men, they are caught up in an ethical drama. The followers of Mitchell want nothing more than their hero to succeed over the usurper Wiebe. Mitchell pathetically plots to destroy his foe and his starstruck geek minions are more than happy to cheer him on. Wiebe, a perfect Everyman, has spent his life getting the short end of the stick and even in a world of nerds, he cannot find a break.

Mitchell for all of his winning and perceived glory is chasing a meaningless end. He boldly talks about "making history" and likens his achievements to the Red Baron of World War I (he's given to egotism). He seems utterly blind to the foolishness of his efforts, the meaninglessness of his goals. It is interesting that Mitchell's own parents casually explain that he is a manipulative guy who will do what he has to do to win. As I watched him scheme to keep his fragile identity intact, I kept thinking of a verse:

"Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun." Ecclesiastes 2:11

In the end, Mitchell is protecting an empty title, a meaningless concept maintained by men who should be doing better things with their lives. Having the best Donkey Kong score isn't inspirational (actually, Wiebe almost makes it so) and it doesn't improve things. Seeing Mitchell's willingness to be cutthroat over something so petty can be a reminder to the rest of us. What do we hold dear and protect too strongly? Is your identity invested in empty fleeting moments of glory, titles or things or is it in the only thing that actually lasts - God? A person who submits to the Lord is spared from having to cherish the frivolous. See, you can get all of that from a bunch of nerds playing games.

Cautions: I don't recall any cursing and this thing is brimming with nerds, so there's no nudity or sex (just like in real life with these guys). This isn't for the whole family since I can't imagine younger viewers getting into it. Overall, it is a safe flick for those sensitive over content.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Supreme Court will decide on broadcast decency limits

The Supreme Court will decide on how much profanity to allow on broadcast networks, according to Focus on the Family Citizen Link.
"The four largest television networks — Fox, CBS, NBC and ABC/Disney — sued the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) for the right to air profanity at any time of day. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the networks last year; the FCC appealed the case to the nation's highest court.
"The Commission, Congress and, most importantly, parents understand that protecting our children is our greatest responsibility," FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said in a statement. "We have an obligation, then, to enforce laws restricting indecent language on television and radio when children are in the audience."
Penny Nance, special adviser to the FCC on indecency issues, said America is at a precipice on the issue of indecency in broadcasting. "

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Movie Review: Vantage Point - PG13

I saw Vantage Point today. The first half was tough for me to get through. In the beginning, they show the President being shot, and an explosion, as you've seen in the previews. The next scene, they repeat it and they add a few minutes before that. The next scene, they add a few minutes after that. They repeat this process through the first half of the movie, adding a few minutes each time to gradually reveal the story. This was tedious. About half way through, they proceded with the story. It turned out to be a good movie. There were a few recognizable names: Dennis Quaid, Sigourney Weaver, Forest Whitaker, and William Hurt. There were no sex scenes, There was some violence: shooting, a couple explosions, the language was milder than you would expect, and if you make it through the first half, you will enjoy it.

cross-posted on The World...IMHO

Book Review: Beach Music

Pat Conroy makes me wish I grew up in the South Carolina Low Country--and I really don't like hot, humid weather.

Growing up during the 1950's and 1960's, the children in that region had remarkable freedom. They swam, they fished, they boated, they camped out, and rarely did an adult cross their path. Which was probably a good thing, since most of the adults were alcoholic, passionate, and violent. They had Standards, and woe to the child who did not meet them. The mothers were beautiful, gracious, tremendous cooks, and psychologically vicious. The men were handsome, intelligent, frustrated, and madly in love with their wives even as they beat them. When their wives finally had the gumption to divorce them, the men were devastated.

The entire town knew what went on in the homes of everyone else. The children formed fierce friendships that lasted a lifetime. Religion was an important part of life, whether you were Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, or Jewish. Beach Music is no different.

The story opens with Jack McCall, former resident of Waterford, South Carolina, is living in Rome with his young daughter, Leah. The year is 1985 and Jack and Leah have lived in Rome since 1980, a year after Leah's mother committed suicide and her grandparents sued her father for custody. Jack, who writes cookbooks and culinary travel articles, has severed communication with his family and friends. But that is about to change.

Two childhood friends, Mike and Ledare (who was Jack's girlfriend in high school), have come to visit. Mike is a successful producer of action movies who wants to make a miniseries about Waterford and he wants Jack and Ledare to write it. Both are reluctant, for their own reasons. Ledare's ex-husband, Capers, is running for governor--their divorce was bitter and Capers has turned their children against their mother. Writing the miniseries would mean going back and dealing with her memories. Jack, of course, would also have to return and confront his demons.

And there is another issue they would have to address: Jordan, who may or may not have committed suicide because of a Vietnam war protest gone bad.

Jack's sister-in-law has also come to Rome to visit and to urge Jack to forgive her parents for their actions. They need to connect with their granddaughter--she is their only link to their dead daughter.

Still, Jack remains resolute: he will not return to Waterford. There is too much pain, too many emotional land mines.

And then he receives a telegram from one of his brothers. Their mother, Lucy, is dying of leukemia.

At the hospital we meet Jack's four brothers, all damaged in some way by their parents and coping with it the best they can. We meet Jack's father, the Judge, brilliant, abusive, and alcoholic. We meet his stepfather, who loves Lucy and is neither alcoholic nor abusive, but doesn't understand the dynamic of the five McCall brothers. Their love for their mother brings out the best--and the worst--in each of them.

Jack begins to make amends with the members of his family and his in-laws, who live next door t the house where Jack grew up. Ruth and George Fox are Holocaust survivors and have their own burdens of sorrow and secrets.

When Lucy goes into remission, Jack returns to Rome and makes plans to bring Leah back to Waterford for an extended visit. He realizes she deserves to know her relatives and her background. Jack needs to reconcile with his mother, his brothers, and even his father. And Lucy has her own secrets to confess.

Plus there is the matter of Mike's miniseries, Jordan, Capers, and Ledare.

Religion plays an import part in this story. Jack McCall is a fallen-away Catholic who sends his daughter to Catholic school in Rome during the week and to shul on Saturday because he promised his wife to raise his daughter Jewish. In Waterford he drops Leah off at her maternal grandparents house Friday evening for the Sabbath and picks her up on Saturday. Mike's grandfather, known as The Great Jew, plays an important part in the history of Waterford. Father Jude, Lucy's confessor, challenges Jack's lack of belief. (This story was published in 1995 and takes place about ten years earlier. Some of Jack's arguments against the Church are dated and don't include the more recent scandals.)

Mostly, this is a story about a generation--the generation born during the late 1940's, just after the war, the events leading up to the protests against the Vietnam war on college campuses, and how those protests split communities, separated families. Students who didn't really care about the war became caught up in the consequences of the protests, when college administrations reacted (or over-reacted) and inflamed passions further.

Now those college students are adults, married with children, careers, mortgages. This novel is about reconciling yourself with the results of the decisions you made back then. Rather than a "coming of age" novel, this is a "middle-age" novel, when Jack and his friends stop running from their pasts and truly become adults.

There is no gain without loss.

By the end of the book, the characters and the town of Waterford were real to me. I laughed, I cried, I recognized some of the family dynamics. I was very glad my family had much less drama growing up--I was exhausted! At 630 pages, Beach Music is not a quick read. But it's a satisfying one.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks

Words of Light: Inspiration From the Letters of Padre Pio

Book Padre Pio Words of LightThe book Words of Light: Inspiration From the Letters of Padre Pio was released at the end of February of this year. This book is edited by Father Raniero Cantalamessa who is also a Franciscan Capuchin lke St. Pio and of course Fr. Cantalamessa continues to be the preacher to the papal household.

Previous editions of this book have been released in Italian and the recent edition is by Paraclete Press. After the very good introduction by Fr. Cantalamessa we get a very brief biography off Padre Pio and his life. The thrust of the book though are his letters and we end up getting a biography of St. Pio's interior life. I had previously heard that during his lifetime at one point he was receiving more letters than anybody else living at that time and it is quite obvious that he wrote quite a large number of letters to people giving spiritual advice.

What Fr. Cantalamessa has done with this book is to select portions of St. Pio's letters and to divide them up by topic into various chapters. By doing this we get a very good idea of the type of advice he gave and about his deep prayer life. The dark night of the soul is quite evident in his letters to his spiritual director and to other priests and when you combine this with the spiritual and physical attacks by Demons you can see just how stark his sufferings were. Like the Curé of Ars, St. John Vianney. who also poured himself out in the confessional and suffered similar attacks we see a life of pure faith. That even as he cries out in suffering he is crying out to the person of Christ, Mary, and the saints.

Many of the segments of letters written in some of the earlier chapters lets you feel to some extent the torments that he suffered. There are many tensions in what he describes. Like St. Paul there is the driving desire to be in Heaven while at the same time to be totally obedient in using his time on earth to save souls. For him Fiat is a continuous living of his live. The love of Christ and love of neighbor is so evident in St. Pio as it is with all saints, but you get to look into his though process on this to a greater extent than we can with most saints. Much of what he has written in his letters reminds me also of the struggles that Blessed Mother Teresa also wen through and I find it rather interesting that so much was made of her dark night of the soul in the press and nothing as far as I am aware of was mentioned about this in regards to St. Pio.

Though there is so much more to this saint than the behind the scenes torment and total faith despite deprivations. I found the letters that referenced Mary to be quite beautiful, for example this one snippet. "May she who entered the world without stain, obtain for us from her Son the grace to leave the world without fault." The chapter on letters in reference to his spiritual direction show the wonderful effects of his deep prayer life and the encouragement he would give others.

So often when we hear of St. Pio it is focused on things like his stigmata and the supernatural events surrounding his life such as bilocation. It is quite moving to see the supernatural movements of grace in his spiritual life that directly lead to him helping so many towards repentance and growing in grace. Fr. Cantalamessa selection of segments of letters helps you to get a much better of St. Pio the person. I certainly recommend this book to anybody interested in Padre Pio.


Book Lourdes: Font of Faith, Hope, and CharityThis being the 150th anniversary of the apparition in Lourdes of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Bernadette, Paulist Press commissioned Elizabeth Ficocelli to do a book covering Lourdes - Lourdes: Font of Faith, Hope, and Charity. The author found that while there was a wealth of books on the saint and Lourdes in other languages, that there were not that many in English.

This book is not just another biography on Saint Bernadette, but goes much farther. The first three chapters do an excellent job of going over Bernadette Soubirous early life and the history and circumstances of the time along with a nicely detailed description of the apparition and the reaction by Bernadette and the towns people. You get easily drawn into the times and the reactions both positive and negative that occurred. Also covered is her life in the convent and just how accurate was the Virgin Mary telling her "I cannot promise you happiness in this life, only in the next."

A subsequent chapter covers the growing coverage on Lourdes and some of the battled between various authors documenting the events and the errors that cropped up. I found this chapter highly ironic for those covering the life of the saint were quite willing to expose the errors of other authors while never correcting there own.

The next two major sections of the book cover the start of the pilgrimages to Lourdes, Bernadette's canonization, miracles both physical and spiritual, and the reality of Lourdes today. One thing I really liked about the book was that it was pitch perfect in its theological descriptions. It contained one of the best descriptions of canonization and sainthood that I have read and even got the detail right that papal canonization are in fact infallible. Throughout the book this same attention to detail is quite evident.

Another aspect of the book I enjoyed was the descriptions of Lourdes today and the large number of volunteers that help make possible the throngs of pilgrims who visit possible in the first place. Since a large number of people who visit Lourdes have physical disabilities a lot of care and attention is needed and these volunteers certainly see there work as a sacred responsibility and as a service to Christ himself. These chapters also cover some of the authenticated miracles in the history of Lourdes along with an explanation of the extremely thorough process for recognition and why only a relatively few number of miracles are recognized. Also covered are spiritual conversions at Lourdes and while these would not be considered officially by the Church as miracles, they are obvious examples of God's grace. While the large majority who go to Lourdes will not experience a physical healing, there are quite a number of spiritual healings that occur there and of course sometimes there are both physical and spiritual healings. One interview of a person who was healed and his healing recognized as one of the authenticated cures is quite interesting in that he had pretty much given up hope and that his brother was the one who brought him to Lourdes. He now brings pilgrims to Lourdes everywhere himself.

The is really quite an excellent book even for those who are quite familiar with St. Bernadette's biography and even includes an excellent introduction by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR where he say he owes much to his recovery after the accident to Our Lady of Lourdes. Normally I am quite skeptical to books put out by Paulist Press, but I have zero qualms over this one and highly recommend it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Movie Review: Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

Should I see it?


Short Review: Queen Elizabeth I longs for the embrace of Sir Walter Raleigh but he starts to diddle the help and gets one of Lizzy's court members knocked up. This puts Lizzy in a tizzy and - wait, there was something about some Spanish Armada or something and something else about some loony chick in Scotland or Ireland or Vermont or something...anyway, so Raleigh is like real hot and...

Just because something is interesting doesn't mean its worth watching. This clumsy film about the private life of Queen Elizabeth I (played quite well, again, by Cate Blanchett) does hold some moments of passing interest but the piece as a whole poorly framed and a waste of time. The story tracks the budding love interest between Elizabeth and adventurer (read pirate/thief) Sir Walter Raleigh (not played quite well by Clive Owen) and the international dealings between England and Spain. The real focus of the piece is the love relationship. Despite the advertisements pushing the war with Spain scenes, including the image of Elizabeth donning armor in the film's poster, there is surprisingly very little of the war in the actual movie. Much of the movie is Owen and Blanchett breathlessly stating their lines while trying to show how much of a drag it is to be queen.

The screenwriters William Nicholson (
Gladiator) and Michael Hirst (Have No Fear: The Life of Pope John Paul II) seemed to be battling with one another for dominance - assuming Nicholson handled the historical Elizabeth stuff and Hirst managed the theological. It doesn't matter because at the helm, director Shekhar Kepur (Elizabeth, Four Feathers) couldn't help but allow his meandering style muddy the works. I find it interesting that a film that sells itself as being about a fight between Catholics and Protestants is controlled by a man who appears to have no connection to either denomination. From the text of his website, it would appear Kepur isn't even Christian. While his non-involvement in the faith doesn't automatically disqualify him from being able to work on a film like this (it is of course possibly for a non-believer to have valid opinions on the faith), it is still worth noting considering how poorly rendered the faithful are in the piece. Given the historical, and still existent, tensions between Catholics and Protestants, being so frivolous in dealing with the conflict is a sign of arrogance and stupidity.

Ultimately, this film spends so much time working the rom
ance angle it fails as a whole. When the Spanish invasion comes, there's no time left and the whole war is handled in a passing series of scenes as if they were a distraction for the Queen. Ten thousand people dead is one thing but darn it! The Queen is lonely! Don't be fooled by the trailer, don't be mislead by your expectations, this is a mishandled work and your time is best spent elsewhere.

Click on the Queen to see the movie trailer

I give away some points of the film going forward, although none of it will really hurt viewing this film too much - but you're warned just the same.

The Catholics in this film are represented by King Phillip II of Spain. Phillip is shown as a dark version of Snidely Whiplash twilling his mustache waiting to pounce. Elizabeth isn't presented as being a Christian of any real depth and only makes passing references to her faith, just enough to oil the plot. The Queen is shown more as a secular, very material woman who must fight against the imposing forces of theology and control. The minor Catholic characters in the piece are all wild eyed terrorists or nuts. Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton) is shown to be a hapless, loopy, birdbrain - which may have been the case, but Morton overcooks the character and completely saps her of any humanity. What is being done here is that the faithful are shown to all be horrid, evil folks while those more aligned with humanism are shown to be the real saints. When Elizabeth finds her confidants are disloyal she transforms into this odd super human. She "marries England" - having defeated the Catholics and her own need for human love (she's defeats God and human needs); she becomes a bride of the state. She gives herself to her post and sacrifices her self for the sake of her country. She is then shown in one of the more heavy handed scenes I've seen in a long time (and this is coming from someone who has seen Michael Moore's works), Elizabeth is shown with angel wings standing in a shaft of light glimmering from the heavens.

From what I can tell, the film asks us to trade one set of oppressing set of values (using the film's definitions here) for another. One is set by the church the other by the state. I'll cast my lot with God, thank you very much. Overall, this film is a disappointment. I'd like to see an adult version of this piece done where a fair depiction of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants is handled. It is good for both sides to honestly look at our differences and a film is a great place for this to happen. As it stands, this work only serves to spit on both groups in favor of offering vacuous secular remedies that help no one.

This film has some violence including torture. There's a good deal of blood. There's some sensuality but nothing you wouldn't see on television...wait, I take it back, it's not that harsh.


cross-post from The World...IMHO

Comedy Central is at it again, with its blatant Catholic-bashing

Last night (Wed), Comedy Central aired the first show in a new series, “Lewis Black’s Root of All Evil.” Black played a judge ruling on who was more evil—the Catholic Church or Oprah Winfrey. That's an easy one for me :) Click here for a partial transcript.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue raised questions about it today:

“No group in the U.S. sexually molests minors more than public school teachers; their rate is estimated to be 100 times that of Catholic priests (see the work of Dr. Charol Shakeshaft.) Moreover, the teachers unions still make it near impossible to fire a molesting teacher. Yet it wasn’t the public school industry that was labeled evil by the show, it was the Catholic Church.

“Radical Muslims behead their enemies, real and contrived, terrorize non-combatants, run planes into buildings, shoot nuns in the back, kidnap and kill bishops, burn churches to the ground, legally murder those who want to convert, but no one associated with Lewis Black’s show has the guts to get them. So instead they rip the Catholic Church for its role during the Inquisition. And that role, if truth be told, was miniscule compared to the role of the civil authorities. Indeed, the role of the Catholic Church back then, as compared to the role of radical Muslims today, was positively angelic.

“The worst part of the show was the assault on Our Blessed Mother and Pope Benedict XVI. This is a direct quote: ‘The Catholic Church is also evil because it has such a grip over the mindless masses that they’ll wait in line, thousands of them in the rain for hours, just to get a glimpse of a pork rind in the shape of the Virgin Mary…God impregnated Mary. We have a whole religion based on one woman who really stuck to her story.’ The pope was called ‘a hypocrite in his Prada loafers and his ball gown. How can he condemn homosexuality when he dresses like he is on his way to nickel cosmo night at the Veiny Shaft Tavern?’

story here

Three times

It appears that three times the charm in regards to making Dr. Suess' movies in recent years. The Jim Carrey Grinch move was just bad, The Cat in the Hat went beyond bad into hateful. I heard Steven D. Greydanus review on Catholics Answer for Horton Hears a Who! and I was delighted at the very positive review. I love his reviews because they are enjoyable in and of themselves even if you have no desire to see the movie reviewed. This time he gives a review using Suessian verse and it is a wonder in itself.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

T.V. Series & Books: Dexter

Dexter appeared on Showtime last year and is scheduled on CBS soon. The series, based on the books by Jeff Lindsay, has an interesting premise: Dexter is a forensic blood-splatter specialist with the Miami-Dade Police Department. He's also a serial killer, but one with a code. Dexter's foster father, Harry, was a police officer. He recognized Dexter's tendencies, but rather than send him off to years of therapy, Harry taught Dexter a code. Dexter could kill only those who escaped conventional justice. And Dexter must follow very strict procedures so he won't get caught.

Part of Dexter's disguise is to appear normal. He has a girlfriend. He on the police force bowling team. He has a foster sister who he protects and who loves him very much. Still, in the books, Deborah suspects something is not quite right with Dexter. Sgt. Doakes, a detective on the force, also has his suspicions.

So this series isn't for everyone. Dexter is, after all, a killer. And he gets away with it. Yes, his victims are guilty of heinous crimes, but Dexter is judge, jury, and executioner which is not condoned by society nor by the Church.

So why do I enjoy this so much? There's something fascinating with the idea of the outsider looking in, trying to figure out what he can do to fit in. There is the cat-and-mouse aspect: will Dexter be able to get away with murder? Will Sgt. Doakes catch him in the act? Will Dexter become human? For that's really what this series is about--Dexter learning to love.

F-bombs are used liberally, both by males and females. I think the writers think this adds an aura of "authenticity," but do real cops swear quite so much and so often? Sex is frequent and often casual. Interestingly, the language and the sex in the novels are considerably tamer, yet manage to convey the same impressions and ideas.

I am rather curious to see how CBS handles this series, taming it for network television.

Overall, Dexter is well acted and raises some fascinating questions about morality and what it means to be human (especially in the second season, which has already played on Showtime). This series is not for everyone--I would be especially cautious with pre-teens and impressionable teenagers. We watch it as a family and have had some interesting discussions about vigilantism, casual sex, lying, deceit, and the use of sex as a tool of manipulation.

On the March Hare scale: 2.5 out of 5 Golden Remotes; 3 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks

Quick Review: New Amsterdam

John Amsterdam is a homicide detective who really has seen it all. He's 400 years old, thanks to having saved a native girl from a fate worse than death ... or maybe it was from death itself. She rewarded him, if it can be called that, by putting a spell on him so that he would live until he meets his true love. This results in an understandably brooding man who views death as a gift that he would like to earn. His current homicide cases usually remind him of a past part of his life. They are well handled and serve to lift the series above the standard show. Most interesting of all, the show consistently reminds us that immortality is a hollow gift and one of which most of us would tire. This is a message quite at odds with what we often see in modern thinking.

This reminds us most of Moonlight, in which a man, turned vampire against his will, wants nothing more than to be human again. It consistently reminds us that to be human with all the accompanying pain is still better than a false "superiority." New Amsterdam, however, has more depths to plumb and is the better show.

Review of "Vantage Point"

90 minutes
How many TV shows have you seen about the conspiracy theory behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy? Imagine if they had the technology now available to examine and re-examine the event from a multitude of vantage points.
That is the premise of this hard-hitting action film which is about a terrorist assassination plot of the President of the USA as he takes the podium to address a rally in Salamanca, Spain. At the center of the investigation is a Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes, (Dennis Quaid), who has taken a bullet for President Ashton (William Hurt) and is just re-entering active duty. Barnes’ paranoia over concerns for the President’s safety prove an obstacle in finding the perpetrators of the bombing, and it takes the tape on the camcorder of American tourist Howard Lewis (Forest Whittaker) to get Barnes on the right track. Lewis is an ordinary citizen who refuses to stand by and ‘let the authorities take care of the situation’. He knows he has seen something amiss, and films the action, putting himself at great risk.
The unique format of the film which constantly sets the clock back at noon on the same day, gives the moviegoer a different vantage point each time, and serves the purpose of uncovering who the perpetrators are. I found it somewhat annoying as the film seemed stuck in a 15 minute time slot, until towards the end when the pieces came together and the complex assassination plot was finally revealed.
I enjoy a film which makes me ask questions during and afterwards.” Vantage Point” had me constantly asking my daughter, “Who is that guy, is he bad or good?” during the film, and afterward, “What did they think they were doing, giving more ideas to Al Qaiada?” The plot was designed to keep the audience guessing whose side everyone was on until the very last minute, overturning assumptions of who the good guys were at every turn. Certainly the intricate plot is something akin to the long term planning which led up to the 911 attack. When I awoke the next morning to see a bomb had been tossed at an Armed Forces Recruiting Center in Times Square in Manhattan, the sickening reality of our vulnerability to just such an attack hit home.
One of the best features of “Vantage Point” was the contrast between the innocence of a young attendee of the gathering in Salamanca. Anna (Alicia Zapien), a sweet little Spanish girl who reappears throughout the film at crucial moments in sharp contrast to the ruthlessness of the terrorists. In the midst of a terrorist bloodbath, Anna served as a symbol of the value of innocent human life. She is protected by Howard Lewis, who met her in the film’s beginning, and is part of his reason to reach out and get involved in the crisis.

Warp speed car chases, a tense, ever-morphing plot, moderate violence, disturbing images, and strong language make this film acceptable for adolescents and up. There is no sexual content and the presence of two men of valor make this morally sound entertainment. The men will love this one!

Leticia Velasquez

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Academy Awards this year got lowest ratings

According to Ted Baer, founder of MovieGuide a Christian movie review group which holds the Faith and Values Awards. He says what I felt while watching the Oscars, that the nominees don't reflect the tastes and values of the American public.
Conservative film critic Michael Medved explained to Raymond Arroyo last month on "The World Over" that the Academy is made up of former nominees, actors and directors, and that they are increasingly out of touch with what the American public wants. Wildly popular films like "National Treasure" or "Spiderman" almost never get any nominations. Let's not forget the cold shoulder given to "The Passion of the Christ" which received only three technical nominations: for cinematography, makeup and musical score and only got the makeup award. Here's a list of the many other awards given to "The Passion" including the People's Choice Award" for Best Film. The only exception was the year "The Lord of the Rings" swept the Oscars.
Read the entire story here.
HT One News Now

The Wall-E Trailer

We're suckers for Pixar and have been eagerly awaiting Wall-E. The trailer does nothing to make me any less eager to see it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

American Idol supports abortion

American Idol has a give back program which sponsors UNICEF and Save the Children, which sound as though they help children in poor nations."As recently as October UNICEF sponsored a campaign that included a call for "safe abortions.
"Life Decisions International, an American pro-life group that organizes boycotts of companies that support the Planned Parenthood abortion business, tells LifeNews.com that UNICEF has a long history of supporting abortion. "

"Meanwhile, LDI tells LifeNews.com that Save the Children has a "working relationship" with several pro-abortion groups.The pro-life group says Save the Children took part in a 2001 campaign sponsored by Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocates to promote population control."

Don't be fooled into giving to these organizations that think that the best way to help the poor is to deprive them of their children. This is NOT charity, it is thinly disguised population control.

Read the entire story here at Life News.com.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The World's "Most Dangerous" Spiritual Guru: Oprah Begins 10-Week Online New Age Class

Cross-post from The World...IMHO

What's up with Oprah? First she is fundraising for Obama, and now she's pushing this new age nonsense?

This past Monday Oprah Winfrey, considered by many to be the world's most influential woman, began a ten-week long online course on the best-selling book, "A New Earth," by New Age guru, Eckhart Tolle. "A New Earth" has already sold some 3.5 million copies worldwide, thanks largely to the publicity given to it by Oprah. According to Oprah, 500,000 people from across the world signed on to the first segment of the online course, to spend an hour and a half listening to Ekhart and Oprah talking about chapter 1 of the book, and taking calls from participants.

In recent years Oprah has been inviting an increasing number of representatives of new age spirituality onto her talk shows, including figures such as Marianne Williamson, Barbara DeAngelis, LaVar Burton, Richard Carlson, Betty Eadie, and many others. Oprah has strongly endorsed many of their works, and has included some of them in her "Book Club" list.

Since the beginning of this year Oprah has offered daily classes on her XM radio station on the book "A Course in Miracles." "A Course in Miracles" (or ACIM for short) was written by another major player in the New Age movement, Helen Schucman, who claims that the book was dictated to her by an interior voice, which she identifies with Jesus Christ. In that course, the listener is taught that there is no sin (Yes there is.), is told not to make the "mistake" of "clinging to the old rugged cross,(I absolutely will cling to the Cross...We are saved by the Cross)," and that the name of "Jesus Christ as such is but a symbol." What the....? The Son of God is just a symbol?

Oprah, who is a self-labeled "Christian", was recently named the "most dangerous woman in the world" by Bill Keller, considered by some to be the world's leading Internet evangelist. He accused Oprah of peddling the equivalent of "spiritual crack." Keller has been warning the subscribers of his Daily Devotional for years about Oprah and how she uses her TV program to promote every New Age philosophy in the world, including the wildly popular book and DVD last year, "The Secret," which teaches readers or viewers that simply by desiring them strongly enough, one may obtain wealth, health and happiness. LMAO :)

story here

Cinema Vita Film Festival Showcases Pro-Life Movies Focusing on Abortion, Bioethics

cross-posted from The World...IMHO

A good review by Deal Hudson (and some positive media news :)

A new and unusual film festival focused on pro-life issues will be held in San Francisco today. The Cinema Vita Film Festival is "dedicated to encouraging emerging filmmakers, showcasing movies about contemporary issues concerning life, and exploring life's deep significance."

Sponsored by the Archdiocese of San Francisco, the Diocese of Oakland, and St. Ignatius Press, Cinema Vita was conceived by four pro-life laywomen. With the help of San Francisco's pro-life community, the festival became a reality.

I had the chance to view the films and I was very impressed.

Submissions of these short films -- most in the five-minute range -- were made in three categories: high school, college, and open, the highest number of entries being in the high school category. Festival judges are actress Jennifer O'Neill; Rev. Michael Morris, O.P., film and art historian at Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology; Doug Sherman, founder and chairman of Immaculate Heart Radio; Vicki Evans, Respect Life Program Coordinator at the Archdiocese of San Francisco; and me.

Bill and Marjorie Campbell are one of the two couples helping to underwrite the fledgling festival. "We see this as an ongoing project that will grow like the San Francisco Walk for Life," Marjorie told me. "We were inspired to support it because of the success of films like Bella and Juno. The arts, especially film, are much more effective at conveying a pro-life message than strident political debates."

One of the biggest stories concerning religion in the past several years is the explosion of Christian interest in producing films, ignited by the success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. The grassroots marketing campaign for The Passion left in its wake a spate of companies and ad hoc networks attempting to tap into the same audience.

This interest in film as a medium of evangelization clearly appeals to Catholic investors like the Campbells.

"You have a much better chance to change people's minds when they go to movies, because the movies are not an attack on you. Films invite people to reflect; political debate often creates division and separate camps."

story here

The Secular Media and Your Family's Best Defense: A Review of Noise by Teresa Tomeo

An excellent review by Cheryl Dickow

If you want to read a book on today's media and the Catholic family there is absolutely no better source than Teresa Tomeo. Teresa is the Catholic talk show host of "Catholic Connection," produced by Ave Maria Radio that can be heard on over 120 Catholic stations through EWTN Global Catholic Radio, the Internet, and Sirius Channel 160. She has deep roots in the media milieu, having spent most of her high school years, college internships, and all of her career in the trenches, as they say. Not only has Teresa, herself, been "in the business," but as a talk show host she has interviewed countless people who have contributed vastly to her understanding of the secular media's impact on the Catholic family.

If you are a Catholic adult you'll want Teresa's book, Noise, in your home. You'll want it because, even if you feel there isn't anything new that could be said about the media and its influence on you and your family, I will suggest that you are wrong. Not only is Teresa's book full of the latest in statistics that will shake you, and wake you, but I see her book as an anointed way to open dialogue between yourself and your children and to make a real difference in how you and your family view the secular media.

cross-posted on The World...IMHO

story here

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Terri Schiavo's Family Launches New Radio Program on Protecting the Disabled

cross-post from The World...IMHO

I thought I'd share some positive media news :)

The foundation that Terri Schiavo's family created after her death is continuing its efforts to help the elderly and disabled obtain appropriate medical care. The foundation is launching a new radio program on a Tampa station that will be simulcast on the Internet and later expanded to other Florida stations.

The Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation will start the new America's Lifeline program this weekend life from the Tampa studios of Talk Radio 860 WGUL, You can listen online at this link. a Christian station.

Prominent radio health care advocate Cary Hall will co-sponsor the program along with Terri's brother Bobby Schinder and her sister Suzanne Vitadamo, the foundation's directors.

Hall is also the host of a successful radio show called The Health Insurance Advocate which broadcasts from two Midwest stations.

"America's Lifeline is something we've wanted to do for some time," Vitadamo told LifeNews.com on Thursday.

"With Cary Hall's health care expertise my family's experience trying to save Terri, and now running her foundation which works to save those like Terri, we'll be able to educate Americans and raise awareness about the euthanasia movement like never before," she added.

Vitadamo said the program would focus on controversial cases of people who have been subjected to potential euthanasia or denial of lifesaving medical treatment, such as Lauren Richardson in Delaware.

story here

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Have you seen "The Passion of the Christ" yet this Lent?

Four years ago, in 2004, I had an incredibly easy Lent. I saw "The Passion of the Christ" two days after Ash Wednesday, and without any effort on my part, I found myself absorbed into the Passion of Christ in a way I had never experienced before.

I saw the film countless times, not just to boost the box office, but because I felt drawn to be with Jesus in His hour of darkness. I would say to Him as the film began, "I'm here again". Every time I saw "The Passion" I would take away another insight, understand another detail, or experience a deeper conversion of heart. I filled my house with images from the film I printed from the computer, bought the coffee table book with photos, and listened to the sound track incessantly in my car, where I could cry at will. It was a magnificent obsession, one I try to re-live each Lent, for the good of my soul.
I thank God for Mel Gibson and Jim Caviez for going through tremendous trials during the making and marketing of "The Passion". If you haven't seen Mel's EWTN interview about the making of the film, do so. He and Jim Caviezel suffered their own passion of sorts during the filming, even though they both went to daily confession followed by the Tridentine Mass. If you haven't seen the video "Lives Changed by the Passion" rent it, the testimonials of conversion range from a Neo-Nazi, to a thief who turned himself into authorities, to the choice for life of an abortion-minded woman.
How was I converted by the film? Nothing mattered me that Lent, except my pursuit of holiness by serving God in my family and in my prayer life. I had a sense of perspective which I am still trying to regain. I began writing in response to the film, I felt convicted of not using my God-given talents in His service, and inspired by the effect this one film had worldwide. I began to believe that using the media to evangelize was not only possible but necessary. My calling, which has led me to writing film criticism and starting this blog.
Speaking of criticism, I am so happy not to have to write a professional review of this film. I am way to personally involved with it to be objective. I did think that Jim Caviezel's Christ trumped Robert Powell's in my erstwhile favorite, "Jesus of Nazareth", however I struggle with Maia Morgenstern's Mary, as I still love the wide-eyed innocence of Olivia Hussey in "Jesus of Nazareth". I appreciate Zeffirelli's direction as innovative for his time, he took Biblical epic out of the statues posing for paintings phase and made each scene real and immediate, but lost the sense of the mystical, which Mel Gibson manages to portray without going over the top with special effects.
The soundtrack of the "Passion" is a work of art, worth listening to on it's own, for the haunting lullaby of Mary to Jesus. John Debney was wrestling with this piece, and said a prayer before falling asleep. He awoke with that haunting song in his head. I like to think it was the lullaby Our Lady sand to Our Lord as a child.
I appreciate the cut away scenes during the most brutal scenes of the scourging and crucifixion; not only did they relieve tension, but they added a vivid contrast between the forgiving mercy of Christ and the merciless torturers. The Last Supper and Sermon on the Mount scenes at the Crucifixion are a study in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and again, many Catholics came to a deeper understanding of Sacred Liturgy as an unbloody re-presentation of Calvary.

I can say that anyone who missed seeing this movie has deprived themselves of a great film which deserved recognition by the Academy Awards, and an outstanding opportunity to experience the Passion with Christ.
I wish Mel Gibson would re-consider doing another film with Jim Caviezel before he's too old to be Jesus in a prequel. The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal were collecing signatures to convince Mel Gibson to do a life of St. Francis of Assisi, since he was so devoted to Our Lord's Passion.
We're waiting, Mel.


I Am Legend: Alternative Ending

The alternative ending (the original ending) for Will Smith's film I Am Legend has been leaked to YouTube. The DVD hits shelves on March 18th.

***Spoiler Warning***
Don't read the rest of this post
I ruin the ending if you haven't seen the film

I'm not impressed with this version. While the ending that was released in theaters was meant to be the more easily consumable version, this one saps the story of its grander overtones. Without Neville's sacrifice the film loses its point. Removing the transferring of the vial of blood and the arrival of Anna in the Eden-like human retreat at the end also drains the piece of some rich symbolism. There's a theological angle to the end of the original ending that this version simply doesn't supply. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Ben Stein's dangerous new movie "Expelled"

It's about scientists who are persecuted for doubting Darwinism.
View the provocative trailer here. See the website here.

Book Review: Infinite Space, Infinite God

Infinite Space, Infinite God
edited by Karina and Robert Fabian

Science fiction has always explored human nature in a variety of imaginative settings and situations. Infinite Space, Infinite God stretches a bit further and examines the human soul. This science fiction anthology's theme is Catholicism and outer space. In one guise or another, each story raises an element of spirituality, faith, and worship for our consideration.

The editors have grouped the stories in various categories such as humanity, evangelism, mission, and souls. The commentary provided for each category is insightful and well written. The only complaint one might have is that each story's plot is slightly revealed therein. Those who wish to let the stories unfold without preconception would do well to read the editors' section comments after finishing the stories. Whichever method one uses, the comments provide good food for thought and should not be missed.

It has been a very long time since I have read a science fiction anthology and this one reminded me of the pleasure to be had in sampling a variety of writers' work this way. Especially thought-provoking for me were:
  • Hopkin's Well in which a soldier encounters settlers on Mars who force im to consider what constitutes a soul
  • Brother Jubal and the Womb of Silence where a monk who seeks the ultimate solitude for contemplation has a mystic experience that leads him to the exact opposite of what he expects.
  • Far Traveler where a secret project sends a man back to witness an event in Jesus' time that has unexpected repercussions in the future.
  • Cruel and Unusual Punishment in which a terrorist chooses a punishment called "the light" instead of the death penalty and discovers that hey may not have chosen the lesser of two evils.
No anthology is without its weak stories and this one is no exception. A few are included that treat faith and Catholicism both obviously and unimaginatively, leaving the reader with no maneuvering room for their own thoughts o a subject. Thankfully, there are very few of these and the other stories are so good that the reader can quickly move on.

This book would be a good one to consider for Easter reading, when new possibilities and new life in Christ is vividly with us. This is not available in regular book stores but check the link above to order it from Amazon.

Thank You for Nominating CMR

The voting is open at The Catholic Blog Awards. You can only vote once so choose carefully.

Catholic Media Review was nominated for Best Group Blog, Best Insider Catholic News Blog, and Most Informative & Insightful Catholic Blog. You have made all of us very happy ... possibly even happier than if we were given tickets to an advance screening of Prince Caspian. (Possibly.)

Do go check out all the nominees. There are a lot of good blogs to be found there.

And then, if your vote should happen to be for us, we appreciate it!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Movie Review: There Will Be Blood (2007)

***Cross-Posted at Good News Film Reviews***

Should I see it?

Films geeks: Yes.
Actual humans: No.

Short Review: This has been hailed as a masterpiece. When did we redefine “masterpiece” to mean a self-indulgent bore?

Watching a 2 1/2 half hour slide show of what Paul Thomas Anderson ate for breakfast may be more invigorating than watching his sprawling, and ultimately pointless “masterpiece”. This film has been praised to a ridiculous level with easy comparisons to Citizen Kane and other cinematic milestones. There are honestly stunning moments in this work but it is not – and I repeat NOT – one of the greatest movies ever made. If critics would step back and stop belching out overstated and sycophantic articles like this one they’d see that this is unwatchable for most audiences and demands an unfair amount of patience from those of us who are more inclined to put in the time. It is at least forty-five minutes too long (there’s thirty seconds of men hammering stakes into the ground – that’s it, that’s all they’re doing, hammering stakes - where's the editing?), there’s no defined characters outside of the main figure (brilliantly portrayed by Daniel Day Lewis), there’s no deep central external conflict driving the plot and the resolution comes in a dry whimper offering no proposals or reason.

Why is this film getting such overwhelming praise when the piece is so imperfect? First, to be fair, Paul Thomas Anderson is a talented writer/director, he is easily one of the great talents of his generation. The problem is that he is unrestrained with his talents and apparently hasn’t met one of his own ideas he hasn’t liked. His works, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch-Drunk Love are all moving pieces with stark performances and some great scene work. They are all, just like this piece, also very indulgent and dismissive of the audience. Anderson’s work often feels like someone has taken the podium and refuses to relinquish control it until they’ve had their say regardless if it’s on point or not.

Another reason this is getting such high marks is because Anderson’s crew outperformed him. It is beautifully shot by cinematographer Robert Elswit and the sets and costumes are marvelous. There is a feeling of realness to the whole production that is attention getting. This is a carefully plotted and created film and the attention to detail gives the piece more gravity than it otherwise would have gotten.

The main reason this film is critically acclaimed is easy to identify – Daniel Day Lewis. His portrayal of the cruel oil man Daniel Plainview is one of the great on-screen performances. This is where you’re going to find your masterpiece. Day-Lewis is the film. Now, to be fair Anderson’s script focuses with unblinking concentration on Plainview (to the detriment of the overall piece) and the supporting cast is weak by comparison. Day-Lewis’ performance of this complicated and disintegrating man places him in a realm of achievement in his field rarely reached. His performance is so real, so deep it actually makes this boring film worth sitting through. It is a thrill to see an actor so buried in his character. It is a reminder of how the craft of acting can be transformed into art.

This could have been the masterpiece others would like it to be if Anderson would have stuck with his story. Plainview’s nemesis in the film is the wimpy voiced preacher Eli Sunday, passively portrayed by Paul Dano. Sunday hopes to build a congregation from his small town and compile enough money from them to build a church. As Plainview’s fortunes increase, so do Sunday’s since his congregation is made up in part by Plainview’s employees. In Plainview’s eyes this makes the young preacher a distracting parasite. Sunday claims to be able to heal through channeling the Holy Spirit. When he is unable, or unwilling, to heal Plainview’s son when he goes deaf, the two men are sent on an unavoidable collision. Anderson uses this conflict to burn some matches on the heels of Christianity. But his efforts to show the errors of religion fall flat. Sunday is a straw man that is knocked down to no effect. The character is a caricature and while there are certainly thieves and bad ministers in the world, the one in this film never comes across as real. Much of this has to do with Dano’s pathetic performance. His performance would have been passable in a normal situation but when placed next to Day-Lewis’ groundbreaking performance, Dano looks like a dinner theater version of Harry Powell. The conflict with, or more aptly – the abusing of Sunday was the film’s real story. The story is in the conflict between the material and the heavenly, the contrast of the filthy oil workers and the clean parishioners, greed vs. charity. If Anderson had put more into Sunday to make him into a complete character and if he had cast an actor who could have put more love (and talent) into the role, this film would really have been something special.

To sum it up, if you’re a film geek you’re probably going to enjoy how intricately crafted this piece is. If you’re not a loser, er – film geek, you should avoid this movie like the plague.

Click below to view the trailer

***Spoiler Warning***
The rest of this review ruins the movie

If you do a search for this film it won't take you too long before you find cheerful reviews citing this as some atheistic blow against religion. This film puts the main character Daniel Plainview up against a poorly rendered pastor character named Sunday. The conflict between the two can be taken as Plainview's materialism confronting the false pretenses of Sunday's theology. Plainview and his men spend their lives clawing in the earth trying to extract its oily blood. Sunday slowly builds his church, speaking in a wispy voice and moving with a nearly feminine way. The two lock horns throughout the story with most conflicts end with Sunday being humiliated and defeated. In the final scene, when Sunday attempts to sell some property to him, Plainview having the upper hand forces the preacher to exclaim "I am a false prophet, God is a superstition!" over and over again. Sunday recites this heresy in hopes of making money he dearly needs. Having lured the pastor to literally selling his soul Plainview then beats the man to death with a bowling pin. This undoing of Sunday is taken by some as a symbolic undoing of religion itself. These "some" are what I like to refer to as "morons". Showing a single man, symbol or not, breaking from his loyalties doesn't mean that that which he was loyal to was a fraud. This couldn't be more true than with members of the clergy and their loyalty to God. Christians do not make Christianity - Christ does. The fall of any of its members does not prove the non-existence of God. It simply solidifies the fact that we need him.

The ending of the film is more about the final result of Plainview's doomed soul than about the frailty of theology. Plainview is the personification of the Godless man. He is cruel, petty, materialistic and infertile. He lies, murders and cheats without a second thought. Without God this is what we are, since there is no reasonable point to keeping a strict moral code. Pleasure and might makes right rule the day.

Throughout the film Plainview pushes everything and everyone away. His final act of damning Sunday and then killing him serves to sever Plainview completely since he symbolically kills God with this action. He is finally truly alone in the universe, which is his life's main goal. In the final moment of the film he states "I'm finished" as he rests bloodied and tired on a bowling alley, literally sitting in the gutter. He is the existential hero - alone in the universe and without reason. Yippie! No thanks, I'll cast my lot with God. Having a purpose to life makes it so much nicer to live.

This film unashamedly sets up Christianity to be its whipping boy. The Christians in the film are two dimensional and never approach reality. The leader Sunday is likewise thin. Paul Dano portrays Sunday as an effete charlatan who wouldn't be able to collect a bunch of head lice, let alone parishioners in real life. Anderson's film is so carefully crafted that his poorly drawn preacher sticks out like Rosie O'Donnell kicking in line with the Rockettes. Anderson doesn't give religion a fair hearing and simply puts it out there to kick around. This is a shame because Christianity can withstand the scrutiny and is the only religion deserving of the discussion.

Most Christians will probably look at the portrayal of their faith in this film with a smirk. Its become so pedestrian to see the dimwitted, zombie-like parishioners along with the bellowing preacher, it actually makes me laugh at this point. The stereotype has been so overdone it is embarrassment to Anderson to see it dragged out yet again.

Cautions: There is blood. The violence in this film isn't gory and hardly unsettling to anyone who has been exposed to cinematic violence before. There is a brutal murder that can be disturbing to some viewers however. No sex, the language is mild considering this is an R-rated film. The biggest concern here is all of the time you're going to kill just sitting there waiting for something interesting to happen.