Sunday, January 31, 2010

Movie Review: Edge of Darkness - R

cross-posted from A Catholic View

Warning: Potential Spoilers

Mel Gibson is Tom Craven, a Boston detective. When his daughter comes to visit, she is killed in front of his house. At first, it is not clear which one was the target. The more Tom looks into it, the more he discovers about why she was killed and who did it.

I really enjoyed the storyline and the action, but my main problem was the audio quality. Many of the people spoke in a garbled manner that was difficult to understand.

Content Warning: The main content warning is language. The F word is used a lot throughout the movie. As you'd expect, there is also plenty of violence.

The final scene is a death scene, but it is actually quite uplifting.

Overall, I'd give it a "see it" :)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The downward spiral of pop culture

Monsignor Charles Pope on the Archdiocesan Washington website  has a great post on what we have lost through the coursening of our culture using clips from "Blast from the Past".

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Book Review: My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories

My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories

Compiled by Heidi Hess Saxton
Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009

I was so excited to get “My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories” in the mail. Well- known Catholic writer and editor Heidi Hess Saxton has done an incredible job pulling this valuable resource together. Over 175 Bible Stories have been culled from the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition text. To supplement these, Saxton has included an introduction, a prayer, and a “Going Deeper” section for each story. The “Going Deeper” features further references relating to the story and actions one can take to further one’s knowledge or put the Bible lesson into practice. For many of the stories, there are also “Did You Know?” features which add a little bit of extra information, a “Quote of the Day” from a saint, or “Special Words” which emphasizes vocabulary one might not be familiar with. She has also interspersed pages dedicated to Catholic prayers.

“My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories” is attractively designed, with kid-friendly headings and color-coded sections. The beautiful illustrations by Natalie Carabetta only add to the experience. This is a book that children will greatly enjoy looking at and sharing with their parents. It is primarily targeted to the 7 – 12 age range, although children younger and older could certainly benefit from it. I heartily recommend “My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories” to any Catholic family searching for a kid-friendly Bible. Perhaps the best endorsement is how much my two boys (ages 7 and 8) enjoyed looking through this book. They said it was much better than the kids’ Bible that they currently have!

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Book Review: "Do I Have to Go?"

Do I Have To Go?
by Matthew Pinto and Chris Stefanick
West Chester, PA: Ascension Press, 2008

"Do I Have to Go? 101 Questions about the Mass, the Eucharist, and Your Spiritual Life" is primarily written for teenagers and young adults who are questioning the reason for needing to go to Mass each Sunday. Yet, Matthew Pinto and Chris Stefanick have gone far beyond their intended purpose. This book is a succinct study in why our Mass is the way it is and the benefits it holds for our lives. It is worthwhile for anyone who wants to learn more about the Mass. The question and answer format makes it very readable. The questions are ones that many may have asked. Examples include, "How do we know that God exists?" "Why does Mass have to be so boring?" "Do I really have to go to Mass every Sunday?" and "What evidence is there that the early Church believed in the Real Presence?" Pinto and Stefanick are able to take some very complex realities and make them understandable. "Do I Have to Go" is also a great resource for when someone asks a question about our Mass and you aren't exactly sure of the answer. In reading this, I learned several things about why we use the words we do and make the gestures we do at certain points in the liturgical celebration. I highly recommend "Do I Have to Go?" for anyone who has questions about the Catholic Mass.

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Things I've Learned from Flannery O'Connor ... and "The Abbess of Andalusia"

Joy in the face of suffering might seem impossible to achieve, but to avoid gloominess Flannery relied on God's grace -- a grace, she told one correspondent, that came through the sacraments. Writing to T.R. Spivey, a Protestant, she acknowledged that many things that bring Catholics grace -- going to Mass, regular fasting -- are done out of obligation, or become "merely habit." However, she believed that it was better to "be held to the Church by habit than not to be held at all." What's more, she believed that by prescribing such habitual obligations, the Church showed itself to be "mighty realistic" about human nature, since obligations provide needed structure. They also bring opportunities for grace.

Flannery believed there was something we can do to make ourselves more receptive to God's free gift of grace: "You have to practice self-denial," she told Spivey. For her that meant immersing herself in writing: "I never completely forget myself except when I am writing," she wrote to Hester. She also practiced self-denial by giving money to charity rather than spending it on herself. ...

This is a long overdue review which was delayed only by the holidays and my subsequent busy schedule, not by my enthusiasm for the work itself (generously provided by Tan for my review).

Lorraine Murray has done a splendid job of giving us a view of Flannery O'Connor which skillfully reveals the author's spiritual journey through her writing and life. Most of us are at least vaguely aware that O'Connor wrote what is often called Southern gothic stories. As such, her stories often feature the uncomfortable and grotesque, although O'Connor insisted that her stories always have a very Catholic core.

I must admit that I am one of the many who has merely dipped my toe into O'Connor's work and after finding it both difficult and uncomfortable had determined to let it strictly alone. However, this book has changed my mind. Murray does enough explication of various stories as she traces O'Connor's career that I was left interested despite myself in exploring her stories again. Believe me, this is no small accomplishment.

I also was left feeling that Flannery O'Connor and I have much more in common than I ever would have dreamed.
  • Flannery delighted in the ridiculous and her descriptions of the priest's St. Patrick day decorations left me feeling that we surely would have agreed on our amusement and dismay over much of the "dumbed down" architecture, art, music, and liturgy that is encountered in the Church today.
  • She sparred with her mother regularly while still loving and appreciating her. This is not my situation with my mother at all as we generally agree on many things, but it certainly is helpful to keep in mind when I encounter others who I really like but who sometimes drive me to distraction nonetheless.
  • Her generosity to other writers is well chronicled. Lately I have had the honor to be asked for advice in a similar way by those I do not know at all. When I thought despairingly of my busy schedule, I remembered Flannery whose schedule was limited by her physical frailty but never failed to give her best advice and support to others. Thus I attempt to do likewise.
  • Flannery seems to have had the same duality of feeling that I do about such places as Lourdes. While not overly caring about pilgrimages and steadfastly resisting a well meaning benefactor's donation of a trip to Lourdes, she finally went, viewing the entire thing as a sacrifice. That would have been me to a T. As she wrote, "It is obvious to me that faith has to be shown, acted out."
  • She never succumbed to self-pity but always presented things with a light-hearted approach. What a great example she is. This is not my tendency unfortunately. However, may I do likewise, Lord hear my prayer.
  • A disciplined schedule to accomplish is necessary if you are serious about achieving something. Here I am thinking of Flannery's set time for writing each morning, at a desk that faced a white wall so there were no distractions. That's a lesson that many of us in this twittering, facebooking, emailing, IMing world would do well to remember.
  • There is a pure enjoyment that comes to us from nature and the creatures in it which can't be found elsewhere. Flannery's love of her peacocks, chickens, mules, and other animals around the farm is a tonic, especially in a society where we are beginning to hear about Vitamin D deficiencies becoming widespread since we don't get outside enough.
  • Hand in hand with nature went Flannery's love of her friends as evidenced through the of letters she wrote and received. I am working my way very slowly through The Habit of Being which is a chronological collection of her correspondence. Her personality shines through with a great sense of humor. We can't be isolated. We need community, friends, family to be complete.

 The only thing I was missing in this book was the recommendation of a book that would help in tapping into O'Connor's stories, especially for those of us who are uninitiated into the world of critical reading and symbolism that they seem to require. However, Murray does use some key stories (with spoilers) to make points about O'Connor's spirituality and perhaps that is guide enough.

Highly recommended.

For another excerpt and the realization it gave, please click through.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Movie Review: Extraordinary Measures - PG

cross-posted from A Catholic View

based on a true story.

John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) and his wife Aileen (Keri Russell) have 3 children; two of those children, Megan and Patrick have Pompe disease, which is slowly killing them by destroying their muscles and organs. Crowley does research and finds Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), who has discovered an enzyme that may be able to treat Pompe. Most of the movie focuses on raising funds for the research. This is accomplished by starting a foundation and yet another company. They are continually fighting against the odds.

I would not classify this as a "feel good" movie. Although there are humorous moments, it is fairly serious story. The themes most prevalent are perseverance, hope and people doing for others. The strongest quality is how well Brendan Fraser, Keri Russell and Harrison Ford play their roles.

Very good movie. I recommend seeing it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Review of "Poet": Forty Poems by Paul Gerard Dextraze

Paul Gerard Dextraze has self-published a book of his forty poems. Originally the purpose of his book was to preserve them as a legacy for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. However, as he began to share his writing with his friends he was encouraged to publish his work for the enjoyment of others. He sought out beautiful photographs to complement the subjects of his poems, obtained permission from the photographers to share them, and printed up his book. The purpose of the book was to share his gift with others as a blessing.

Paul’s poems follow the traditional rhyme with rhythm. Most of the poems are in quadrants, either with rhyming couplets or with every other line rhyming with each other. I found this to be a refreshing change from the often confusing ramble of non-traditional poetry. There is even a poem on “Modern Poetry” that discusses this pet-peeve of classic poets.

The poems are on a multitude of topics that hit the high and low notes of every emotion. The humourous poems made me laugh out loud. The sad poems bring tears to the eye but, unlike the poems of Robert Frost, they still have an undercurrent of joy.

Section I, entitled “Humour”, discusses the writing of poetry, animals, aliens, and chastity (in a play of words entitled “Unchased Virgin”). The last of these is followed up by a cartoon in the back of the book in which a reader, puzzled, asks, “Doesn’t he know how to spell ‘Unchaste’? Oh wait - I get it!”

Section II, “Nature”, is a collection of lovely poems about various animals, accompanied by colorful photographs. Even my three-year-old was delighted by them. With the author’s permission, I quote the shortest of them…

A Northern Cardinal Visits a Fool (By Paul Gerard Dextraze)

December rose, I dare to ask
The reason why you wear a mask –
To shield your eyes when snows are bright?
Chip! He says, and takes to flight.

Section III, “Sorrow”, delves into Christ’s life and death, and personal pain. Section IV, “Grief” is composed of some tear-wrenching poems about the loss of a child. Section V, “God’s Love”, shares the omnipresence of God throughout our trials. Section VI, “Rejoicing”, celebrates autumn and Christ’s sacrifice. Section VII, “ Romantic Love”, brings to mind Shakespearean love poetry; it includes a chaste look at marital love. Section VIII, “Love of Child”, covers both the joy of a parent in his or her child and the sorrow of a child who has passed on. Section IX, “In Defense of Babies”, has both an anti-abortion poem and a poem rejoicing in pregnancy.

Anyone interested in this quality book of poetry may email Paul at for the free pdf. A limited number of free hard-copies of his book are available for serious poetry fans.

The picture above is taken from the cover of the poetry book. This picture was taken by Fred Walsh and is copyrighted to him. The link for this picture of the northern male cardinal is

For more of Fred Walsh’s beautiful photographs of birds, please visit his picture blog at

Crisis Pregnancies the focus of BUMP

A press release from Yellow Line Media

Yellow Line Studio announces the premiere of BUMP+, a web series that follows three women facing crisis pregnancies. The pilot is scheduled to launch on Friday, January 22, 2010. Thirteen episodes will follow in February and March; and the final cliffhanger is so unpredictable, even the writers and producers don't know how the series will end.
From Juno and Bella to Glee and Desperate Housewives, a woman's right to choose has been explored across the media landscape. What makes BUMP+ different? We're letting the viewers decide how our characters' stories will end. We've opened the official website to comments and invited people to share their personal stories. Our team will craft the final episodes, including the ultimate decision about each pregnancy, based on audience feedback. This isn't a moral or political statement - it's an experiment to see if story can succeed where nearly four decades of angry rhetoric and political posturing have failed.

That experiment is already underway at A trailer for the pilot has attracted several comments and personal stories from viewers; and the YouTube, Facebook and Twitter following is growing quickly; and as someone with a strong commitment to quality, thought provoking entertainment, we'd like to invite you and your audience to be part of it. For more information, or to schedule an interview with members of the BUMP+ creative team, please contact me personally using the email address or phone number below, or visit our website

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes - PG13

cross-posted from A Catholic View

Warning: Possible spoilers

This was a somewhat different portrayal of Sherlock Holmes than we have been accustomed to through literature; He was much more physical than intellectual. I thought this rendition of Holmes reminded me somewhat of Charlie Chaplain or inspector Closeau. Quite honestly, He didn't come across as particularly intellectual until the end, when, as usual in Holmes stories, he put all the clues together.

Holmes is pursuing Lord Blackwood, with the help of Watson and some involvement by Irene Adler, the only woman to have bested Holmes. Blackwood is attempting to takeover Parliament. The odd thing is that Blackwood was hung in the beginning of the movie :)

The movie itself relied more on action than special effects to entertain. It was, indeed, very entertaining.

Robert Downey Jr. was very good as Holmes, and Jude Law delivered a Dr. Watson who was much more intelligent and capable than the 'sidekick' portrayed in literature.

Not much in the way of content warnings. No objectionable language, but there was one scene where Holmes was naked, but his crotch was covered.

It appears likely there will be a sequel because in the end, Holmes receives a warning regarding Professor Moriarty, whom many of you will probably remember from Sherlock Holmes literature.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bill Donohue on "The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special"

cross-posted from A Catholic View

Catholic League president Bill Donohue will appear this Sunday, January 10th, on "The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special" on Fox (airs 8:30 pm ET). The New Haven Register had this to say about whom the special will feature:

"And what a mix of celebs and places it is: John Waters, Sting, the theme-song musicians, Dan Rather, Seth Myers, Mike Judge, Trey Parker and cohort Matt Stone, James L. Brooks (producer and godfather of the show) and even Bill Donohue of the Catholic League."

story here

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

‘Avatar’ sports both stunning graphics and environmentalist Gnosticism

cross-posted from A Catholic View

CNA’s review of James Cameron’s new film “Avatar” highlights the stunning visuals as well as the disturbing and blatant New Age agenda the movie embodies. It shows the film to be a 21st century version of “big, bad American soldiers vs. simple, innocent natives” in a simplistic manner comparable to a Warner Brother’s cartoon.

“Avatar” is the realization of a long-term dream on the part of James Cameron, director of “Titanic” and “Terminator 2.” He wrote the film’s script 14 years ago, long before the technology to make the movie possible became available in 2005. While that technology creates absolutely breathtaking visual cinematography, the plot itself is a thinly-masked push for a very secular environmental agenda.

full review here

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Vatican newspaper pays tribute to Bono, U2

A week after reviewing books devoted to the Beatles and Rolling Stones, Gaetano Vallini has examined the bibilical themes found in the lyrics of the Irish rock band U2, whose principal vocalist and lyricist is Bono. In his article, which appears the January 4-5 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, (English translation) Vallini reviews Andrea Morandi’s new book U2: The Name of Love and discusses references to the Psalms, Habbakuk, the Magnificat, and other biblical passages in Bono’s works.

story here

"Brace for impact." "You must choose."
Two voices, one epiphany: reviewing Flight of Faith

I looked out at the city skyline and then at the wing. The water was closing in. I squinted to try to estimate our altitude, and wondered what a river ditching would feel like. Into my mind flashed images of the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 767 off the coast of the Comoros Islands. Not two months prior, I had seen a television documentary on aviation disasters, and I remembered how that plane had careened across the ocean and broken into several pieces, killing most of the passengers on board. A video camera, operated by a vacationing tourist on the shore, caught the crash in the last few seconds. It had been startling to watch, and now the scene played over and over in my mind's eye.
It is extremely embarrassing to be reading a book while riding an exercise bike and to be wiping away tears simultaneously. Even if the only witness is one's husband who I am sure would have merely asked what I was reading if he had turned his head and witnessed it. Granted, he would not have had to ask since I had been peppering him with quotations from the air traffic controller's conversation with the pilot of the famously miraculous safe landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River.

This slender volume is extremely well written and easily achieves its goal of taking us with Fred Berretta to the point where his presence as a passenger on that flight is instrumental in hearing and answering God's call when he is facing imminent death. The book begins with Berretta's daily routine on that fateful morning and then, through a series of flashbacks, shows us how his spiritual struggles, whether for better or worse, has primed him for being able to honestly consider death, eternity, and salvation in the very short time he was given. We know by then that Berretta is a pilot himself, having long been fascinated with flying, and well able to judge the danger in which everyone was placed when the engines were destroyed by a random encounter with a flock of geese.

The skill of the writing becomes apparent when one considers that we already know the outcome. The flight was landed safely, The passengers were all rescued. The crew performed their duties heroically and received accolades modestly. Berretta had a spiritual epiphany which he joyfully mentioned whenever given the opportunity. However, by interspersing Berretta's eye witness passenger testimony with the conversation between the air traffic controller and the pilot, tension is maintained as the increasingly incredulous and frantic controller struggles to offer options which the aircraft cannot achieve. We also are very interested in what Berretta will experience within his soul as his last moment reflections are gradually revealed to our anxious gaze.

As I mentioned, this is a slender volume, extremely slender in fact at only 36 pages of text with five additional pages of photos. I began to read thinking that $14.95 was surely too much to ask for so little. By the end I had revised my opinion, realizing that such an honest testimony would be worth that amount to someone who needed it.

However, there is one big problem with the book. Just at the moment when we are primed to hear a resolution, a conclusion to the adventure, the story ends abruptly. Had not the author survived to write the book we would have thought that he dictated to someone on the way down and died during rescue. At that point the reader is aching to know Berretta's further spiritual progress or realizations, what happened to the stout man of his acquaintance he greets earlier (otherwise, why bother mentioning him at all?), and, at the very least, about the landing of the plane. To simply drop the story at that point is a huge letdown.

I read a pre-publication proof of the book so am hoping that the publishers and author will consider finishing the story to which I would otherwise give a big thumbs-up. Certainly there is wiggle room in the page count versus the cost, tons of it. It is only that consideration which prevents me from giving it a "highest recommendation" rating. C'mon publisher, give us the rest of the story!

The publisher sez:
I will save you from your frustration and tell you that it was just the first five chapters – it is 12 chapters total. ;-) No worries – you will get the read the end!

It is not unheard of to publish advanced reader copies with only a few chapters as a teaser. Especially as we were hoping very much to publish this book by the anniversary of the crash, we had to move quickly to get the advance reader copies out.
If the galley said that anywhere it wasn't obvious. However, imagine my relief!

Monday, January 4, 2010

For Your Viewing Enjoyment...Or Not

We spent considerable time watching movies this past holiday season, either in the theater or at home. I don't have time to write individual critiques and some might find it interesting to learn what my family watches.

A couple of caveats: with the exception of DD#2 who is 16, my "children" are adults. My antennae are not quite so finely tuned to the occasional swear word (although overuse of the "f-bomb" bothers me) or sexual situation.

Plot holes to big to ignore, however, are another story...

Avatar: DD#1 summed this movie up nicely--Pocahontas with aliens. Only Pocahontas had better songs.

The graphics were stunning. The acting, with the exception of Sigourney Weaver when she was being a diva of a xenobiologist, was serviceable considering the characters were little more than one-dimensional. At one point during his impassioned soliloquy, I fully expected the hero to yell, "They may take our planet, but they will never take OUR FREEDOM!"

How bad was the story and the acting? When the xenobiologist dies, I didn't cry. Throughout the entire movie, while I marveled at the vision and the special effects, I kept thinking, "Imagine what Ursula K. LeGuin (whose father, Alfred Krober, earned the first Ph.D. in anthropology in the U.S. and founded the department of anthropology at Cal) could do with this!" I rather wish James Cameron had decided to forgo the story all together and just made a film about Pandora and the indigenous population, the Na'vi. An xenopological study, as it were. Ms. LeGuin did that with one of her books, which included a cassette tape of the "natives" playing their songs.

The rest of the family was able to overlook the lack of story and was blown away by the effects. We had several discussions on the importance of story and plot, believability, and internal consistency in fantasy and science fiction.

On the March Hare scale: 2.5 out of 5 Golden Tickets. Go for the razzle dazzle, so spend the bucks to see it in 3D IMAX. Go to the bathroom before the film starts; it's a long one. Definitely not for younger children or those who are sensitive to loud sounds and violent action.

The Princess and the Frog: Hubs was off with the older kids, so I took DD#2 to this one. I've been curious about Disney's "return to classic animation" since Hubs & I went to Disneyland this summer and saw the trailers.

I was impressed. The Disney magic is definitely there and the twist on the old story is clever and well-done.

Set in 1920's New Orleans, there is food and music and lush scenery everywhere. The heroine is Tiana, a young African-American (Creole?) girl whose mother sews for a white family. The daughter of the white family, Charlotte (or Lottie), loves princesses and the movie opens with Tiana and Lottie listening raptly while Tiana's mother reads the story of the frog prince while she finishes the latest princess gown for Lottie.

Historically accurate relationships between blacks and whites are ignored. Lottie's father, The Colonel, treats Tiana's mother respectfully. On the trolley home, Tiana and her mother sit in the middle of the car. They live in a modest home and there is a hard-working dad who comes in just after they do. Dad is proud of his daughter's precocious cooking skills and invites the neighbors over when she makes gumbo. His dream is to open a restaurant, called "Tiana's Place", and he shares that with his daughter. And while she may wish upon a star, like Lottie does, her parents remind her that success takes hard work.

Work she does, two jobs as a waitress, carefully saving her tips in coffee cans so she can put a payment down on the old sugar mill that she wants to convert to a restaurant. Meanwhile, Lottie is looking forward to the arrival of a Prince and the chance to become a "real" princess.

The Prince loves jazz and parties and hates to work.

There is voodoo, a gator whose ambition is to play jazz with Louis Armstrong, a Cajun firefly, an old blind "Mama" in bijou with mysterious powers. There is music--I especially liked the zydeco number. But while there is black magic and white magic afoot, the message about working hard to achieve your dreams and the satisfaction it brings is always present. Along with messages about the importance of love and family. No fairy godmother magically resolves our heroine's problems: she does the heavy lifting herself, with help from her friends. Oh--the Prince learns a few lessons, too. But DS#2 would definitely categorize this as a "girl film" based on the system he set up when he was four or five.

There was plenty of wit and humor in the dialog to keep the adults in the audience entertained. DD#2 enjoyed it as well.

On the March Hare scale: 4.5 out of 5 Golden Tickets

Sherlock Holmes: Honestly, with eye candy like Robert Downey, Jr., and Jude Law as Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson, even if this movie was horrid, I'd still want to see it.

I read my first Sherlock Holmes story when I was ten and was hooked immediately. I've read the canon as well as some of the "undiscovered" stories, like The Seven Percent Solution. I don't have quite the same familiarity with the movie version, although I've seen several.

But I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this version. Robert Downey, Jr., is definitely too short and stocky and Jude Law is too thin, but they captured the essence of their characters. The movie takes place after Holmes and Watson have become a team; in fact, Watson is moving out as he plans to marry his Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly). And Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) shows up with barely an introduction--you have to listen as clues about who she is and her importance to Holmes are dropped throughout the movie. (Unless, of course, you've read the stories.)

But this story is not based on any of the stories of the canon, although it uses details from many of them. Someone is killing prostitutes and Sherlock Holmes is on the trail, which leads to a secret society and Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). He is convicted and before his death, he asks to see Holmes. He tells Holmes that three more will die. The next day Blackwood is hanged and Dr. Watson pronounces him dead.

The next day, the groundskeeper of the cemetery swears he saw Lord Blackwood walk out of his grave. Holmes and Watson are called in to investigate. As the investigation continues, we also see the relationship between Holmes and Watson and how dependent Holmes is on Watson to keep him grounded and how Watson relishes the excitement Holmes brings to his otherwise conventional life.

Dr. Watson walks with a limp, keeping with his injury in the Afghan wars. Holmes has no use for social graces or conventions; he seems to enjoy insulting everyone he works with, even Watson. True to form, Holmes's knowledge is eclectic, encompassing esoteric poisons, botany, chemistry, biology, and music. He is a master of observation and of disguise. He smokes a pipe, though not a meerschaum, and he wears hats, though not a deerstalker cap. Watson is no intellectual slouch, either, having learned much while accompanying Holmes on his "adventures."

I thought the director, Guy Ritchie, did a terrific job recreating Victorian London through the judicious use of CGI as well as capturing the spirit of Sherlock Holmes without slavishly recreating him. Purists may disagree.

Hubs enjoyed it--there was plenty of action and he was able to follow it, although he is not as familiar with the Holmes-verse as I am. DD#2 also enjoyed it; DS#2 was the only one who thought it was just "okay."

I wish Mr. Ritchie, Mr. Downey, and Mr. Law return for another romp. (I hope Ms. McAdams does, too.) However, I don't think Sherlock Holmes will bring the kind of revenue or buzz to encourage a second one. Plus, Mr. Downey is in the midst of a multi-series, Iron Man, and he may not be eager to commit to another. Too bad--I enjoyed the clever story and the witty dialog.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Tickets.

Julie & Julia: DD#2 and I came home and later that night ordered this movie from the Comcast On Demand menu. The movie is based on the experiences of Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a mid-level government employee dealing with the aftermath of 9/11, and Julia Child (an amazing Meryl Streep), the wife of a diplomat assigned to Paris who finds herself at loose ends. Their stories intersect when Julie decides she is going to write a blog as she cooks her way through all the recipes in Julia Child's, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. As Julie blogs, the movie cuts to Julia Child's life in France (and beyond). After taking classes in hat making and bridge, Paul Child (Stanley Tucci) asks Julia what she likes to do. She replies, "I like food. I like to eat!" Her first day at the famed Cordon Bleu was less than successful. The class, Julia carefully explains, is too basic. She wants the more difficult class. That class, she is told, is for professional cooks, is all men, and is very expensive. No problem to Julia, who finds herself in the class, but behind in some very basic skills. Undeterred, Julia practices and perseveres.

Julie, too, perseveres. Her blog begins to gain readers other than her mother. Suddenly this isn't just a small thing she is doing--her goal and her blog are dominating her life, causing stress instead of relieving it.

Both Julie and Julia have supportive husbands. There are several small scenes where Julia and Paul show their shared grief over their inability to have children. Julie and Eric Powell (Eric Messina) have a rockier relationship--Julie is a drama queen and a bit neurotic and Eric puts up with her histronics patiently (for the most part).

Meryl Streep does an amazing job capturing Julia Child's voice and her physical presence. DD#2 commented how annoying it was and I told her that was how I remembered it. She was also a pioneer: the first woman to graduate from the Cordon Bleu, writing a cookbook making French cooking accessible to American women (which took eight years and while living in a different city, then country from her co-authors), then bringing cooking instruction--live!--to American T.V.

Amy Grant makes Julie Powell cute and endearing and plays some of her foibles for laughs. There is a gratuitous slam against "Republicans" by Julie's boss (as well as a scene where Paul Child is questioned by a Congressional committee about his time while serving in the OSS in China during WWII); otherwise this movie is really about food, finding your passion, and the amazing places that can lead.

This movie is also available on DVD.

On the March Hare scale: 4.5 out of 5. Made me want to get my own copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and trying out the recipes. But then I had a drink and came to my senses. :)

crossposted at The Mad Tea Party

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Holy Father is praying for us

His January 2010 prayer intention is for young people and media. 
That young people may learn to use social communication media for their personal growth and in preparation to serve society.
We are here to serve the evangelizing mission of the Church, and appreciate your prayers, Your Holiness. 

Review of "Up"

Carl and Ellie became childhood friends in the 30’s through their mutual admiration of Charles Muntz, a world traveling adventurer modeled on Charles Lindberg. The little house where they met becomes their home when they marry and spend a lifetime dreaming of moving the little house to the top of Paradise Falls, in South America where Charles Muntz is still searching for his monster. Carl sells balloons in the Zoo where Ellie is a guide in the tropical birds house. When their plans to move to Paradise Falls are never realized, and Ellie dies, Carl is bereft, hardening into a stereotypical cranky old man. Their charming little house is surrounded by skyscrapers, and though Carl intends to stay put, he loses his temper with a construction worker, hitting over the head with his cane, and finds he has been forced by the court into leaving the home he loves. He hatches a plan in the night; he will float his home away with thousands of helium balloons, sail to South America and finally plant the little house on top of Paradise Falls. What he doesn’t realize is that he has a stow-away. Intrepid Russell the Wilderness Explorer has spent the night under his porch and suddenly finds himself on a floating house in the middle of Carl’s escape plan. The crusty Carl is none too pleased at this wrinkle in his plans, he was doing this for Ellie and wants nothing to do with this pesky little boy who is fascinated by his “floating house”.
When UP came out in theatres this summer, I avoided seeing it. Those who know my tastes as a family film reviewer will find this odd, so let me explain. This summer, I heard that UP, as lighthearted as it seemed in previews, had a theme about death. Since my own mother was succumbing to cancer, I was not ready to deal with my own intense feelings in a cinema, so I stayed home. I gave the DVD to my girls this Christmas, yet they insisted I avoid showing this film to my father. You see Carl’s beloved wife in UP was named Ellie. Like Mom.
So, when I finally saw this little film, it was with trepidation. I needn’t have worried. The sweetly sentimental treatment of a lifelong love was utterly charming. The tenderness of the couple living the ups and downs of marriage set to the lilting strains of a waltz was so delightful, I have the melody stuck in my head. And I love it there. UP reminded me of two things on this New Year’s Eve as the family watched it together; cherish even the boring everyday moments you share together; they may become your fondest memories when loved ones pass away. And when they do, and life seems stalled in the past, it is merely taking a new turn. If you keep your heart open, you will find someone to care for, someone who will bring a sparkle to your eye and a spring to your step. And that’s just what Ellie would want.
Pixar has done it again. Taken a theme of high flying adventure, bolstered it with unforgettable characters, exciting action and wonderfully clever humor and wowed family audiences. How do they find such great stories with such loveable characters as Carl the Curmudgeon and Russell the rotund Wilderness Explorer? How did they know my dog’s personality quirks and insert them into Dug?  This is the type of film a family should own to develop their own inside jokes (remember the time we saw Grandpa’s teeth besides his bed in a cup?) Crusty old age is as gently teased as is the youthful know-it-all, but in UP, its all in good fun. Only the bad guys lose altitude.
UP manages to deal skillfully with several themes not considered standard fare for children’s movies; disillusionment with childhood heroes, death, depression, and absent fathers. My hat is off to Pixar who always makes me look forward to the next film. Issues of death, and marriage are fleetingly but properly set inside a church, and Carl looks heavenward when talking to his late wife, implying a belief in the afterlife. Childlessness is seen as a source of suffering, and adults are respected by children. No language or nudity, fleeting potty reference, some frightening scenes may bother younger viewers. Ages 8 and up.
Highly recommended.