Thursday, February 28, 2008

Book Review: Miles from the Sideline by Maura Weis

Ave Maria Press 176 pages
Parenting a child with special needs is one of the biggest challenges a marriage can face. Coach Charlie Weis and, his wife, Maura had the heart and the head to deal with the crisis of their daughter Hannah’s mysterious disability, and turned what seemed like a tragedy into a triumph.
Charlie and Maura Weis were living on Long Island, NY while he worked as offensive coordinator for the New York Jets. Their life seemed ideal, it was springtime in the lovely community they called home, and they were blessed with two children, Charlie Jr. age 4 and a vivacious, blue-eyed daughter Hannah age 2. Hannah’s serious kidney problems at birth seemed a distant memory, and the road ahead looked smooth and uneventful. Then, one symptom at a time, it became obvious to Maura and Charlie that something was not right with her beautiful daughter. Not only, she wasn’t developing at the rate of other children her age, was losing interest in her surroundings, and was upset easily. She was not the same child she had been only five months ago. Her preschool teacher said, “It’s as if she’s in a world of her own”. (p19) At two and a half years of age, the dreaded diagnosis “autism” hit the Weis family like a Mack truck. Nothing in their lives would ever be the same.
In this emotionally honest and expressive book, Maura Weis describes her personal struggle to get a complete diagnosis for and learn to live with Hannah’s autism. Maura describes some of her daughter’s challenges, “To this day, Hannah, now twelve, can’t dress herself or make her own breakfast. She has a limited vocabulary and feels frustrated when she can’t communicate with those around her “. Through the difficulties in raising Hannah, Maura has learned what truly matters in life, and she credits Hannah’s special sensitivity to the emotional needs of other for helping her grow spiritually. This is something which all special needs children do for their parents, according to Maura. “God entrusted Hannah to our care and called her to fill our special needs.” (p156)

If you are parenting a special needs child, this book will bring you to tears many times, as Maura’s vivid descriptions of her struggles to accept the dramatic lifestyle changes associated with raising an autistic child bring back your own painful memories. If you have family or friends with a child with unusual behavior you just can’t understand, “Miles from the Sideline” will help you grow in sensitivity to the pain the child and her family often endure when they face rejection and judgment from others. This is exactly what Maura hopes to accomplish by sharing her private struggles in this book, to make the world a better place for children with special needs to find acceptance, inclusion and purpose.

This book shares Maura’s spiritual growth while mothering Hannah has some profound spiritual insights, yet there are some areas which cause concern for Catholics. The first is the fact that the Weis family had two Baptisms performed for Hannah, an emergency baptism performed in the hospital and another performed by their parish priest (p 138). This is against Catholic teaching, since individuals with a valid baptism may not repeat this sacrament. Perhaps her parish priest was unaware that Hannah had been given an emergency baptism in the hospital.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1272
Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation.83 Given once for all, Baptism cannot be repeated.

The Christian’s incorporation into Christ at Baptism empowers her to overcome all evil forces and live beyond superstitionwhich brings up another area of concern, Hannah’s participation in Reiki with Sr. Claudia (on page 92). Although this is practiced by some Catholics, it is against the teaching of the Church as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
"2117. All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others -- even if this were for the sake of restoring their health -- are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion . . . Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity."
Maura sought the guidance of the Church in both of these situations, so who is responsible for it?
Maura Weis is a devoted mother to her two children, and is to be commended for refusing an abortion when it was offered as a solution to Hannah’s medical problems when they were pre-natally diagnosed. Her determination to find adequate medical treatment and education to optimize Hannah’s development is inspirational. Her humility is touching as she shares her darkest times, her spiritual growth, and her uncertainty about Hannah’s future. “Miles from the Sideline” is valuable as a sources of insight into the trials and triumphs of the special needs mother, and as a means of coming to appreciate what people like Hannah have to offer the world which too often rejects them.
Maura and Charlie have also founded “Hannah & Friends” in 2003. This non for profit foundation focuses on providing a better quality of life for children and adults with special needs. The proceeds from the sale of “Miles from the Sideline” will go towards building a residential facility, set on 30 acres near South Bend, IN, complete with jobs for the residents, a petting zoo, and a riding program. But the larger purpose of the foundation is, “to promote awareness of and compassion for people with disabilities” (p12)
Profits from the sale of “Miles from the Sideline” will benefit “Hannah and Friends”.


Cross-post from The World...IMHO

Every time Maher opens his mouth, I think he couldn't be possibly be any more ignorant. And every time he does, he surprises me....

performer, author, TV star, brilliant, incisive, iconoclastic, pain in the behind, acid-wouldn't-melt-in-his-mouth Bill Maher is at it again. Having already voided on all things political, he now sits poised to take his drawers down and express his opinion on religion. Any religion. All religion. God in general. Last year I told you he was doing this. This year I tell you he has already done this. It's finished and, come late spring, on its way to a theater near you. The man has made an inflammentary. That's a documentary sure to inflame whoever sees it.

He and that equally refined sensibility of "Seinfeld" writer Larry Charles, who directed our all-time great cinema triumph "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," have spent one year making this film. Confirmed agnostic Maher has created a scathing, searing, stabbing, scabrous sacrilegious attack on Divinity, Devotion, Prayer, the Supreme Power.

He did this in secrecy. He actually interviewed many of today's great religious minds. There are filmed pieces at every holy site - Rome, Jerusalem, Utah, the Middle East and, excuse the expression, God knows where else. He's photographed the place of Jesus' crypt. Cameras catch Maher Himself at the Vatican. You see him being thrown out of a number of holy places. Gee... for an atheist, he spends alot of time studying religion :) Every religion will be down his throat because he attacks each and, as he preaches in his concert act, says: "If there weren't religion, there wouldn't be war." What an ignorant statement....were WW I and II about religion? how about Vietnam? What about Korea? What about Desert Storm?

story here

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Vatican newspaper rips Hollywood's "hopeless" vision

It seems the Vatican doesn't think too highly of the movies that won Oscars. I agree with them. We need films with positive, life-affirming messages.

An essay in the official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano argues that this year's Oscar awards went to films that portray America as a society "without hope."

The signed column by Gaetano Vallini was critical of Oscar-winning films such as No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. These movies and others nominated for Academy Awards are "sinister, filled with violence, and above all, without hope," the writer said.

Vallini found fault especially with No Country for Old Men, saying that the film by Joel and Ethan Coen-- which garner 4 Oscars including the coveted "Best Picture" award-- was marred by "absurd and mindless acts of violence." While praising the craftsmanship of the Coen brothers, he said that their picture showed a "lack of moral conscience." The message of the movie, he said, seemed to "obliterate the American dream."

Worse, the L'Osservatore Romano critic continued, "this clearly pessimistic view that the United States offers of itself through movies" was confirmed by the Oscar awards, in which the film industry honored the pictures that offered this grim vision.

cross-posted on The World...IMHO

story here

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

We Will Be Like Him

We Will Be Like Him "Growing Toward Got at Every Age of Life" is a new book by Msgr Vincent Rush. If I had not gone past the title page I would have liked this book. Unfortunately I read the book instead.

There is a popular saying now "that there is not there there" and with this book there is mostly no "Him" there. Jesus is not even really mentioned until the next to the last chapter. You would think that a book with this title would be about growing closer to Christ and would focus on the spiritual life.

This book mainly focuses on self-awareness, transformational change (not necessarily spiritual transformation), and the development of understanding, psycho-sexual Development. and development of ego. There is some interesting information of developments in psychology that have covered these areas in how we understand ourselves and relate to others. There are plenty of tables of development in multiple areas that show the various levels of development. The book uses examples of the interrelationships between some made-up people to describe how these relate to the real world. The stages of moral reasoning as outlined by Kohlberg's stage theory seem to partly ring true, but they are not without criticism in the academic world.

The examples used in the book are somewhat annoying such as using a draft-dodge as an example of the higher stages of moral reasoning. Surely there could have been much better examples used. Much of the book has a very secular feel to it and this is partly understandable since is uses much from the field of psychology. I would have found it much more useful if the author had translated it into a Catholic moral view and to see it within the framework of Catholic understanding. Instead much of the book is ambiguous and confusing since there is no clear relation to the Catholic worldview.

Not surprisingly the most problematic chapter was on Psycho-Sexual Development and discussions that reference masturbation (though not directly), sexual fantasy, etc are totally isolated from the Church's sexual ethic. There are no disclaimers or caveats or any reference points to this development in relationship to Church teaching whatsoever. Plus most the discussion in this chapter seemed to me to walk the edges of Catholic teaching without really ever really saying anything against them. A lot more could have been done to clarify this to avoid this confusion. A comment about how a sex addict and an anti-pornography activist probably being closely related I think gives the idea of the type of moral relativism the author holds.

Towards the end the chapter that actually deals with spiritual practice is rather vapid and says nothing new or says anything in a way that can help you in the spiritual life. Blurbs like:

Practice is the way we master a skill to get better at doing something. We improve our accuracy at fitting our performance to the requirement of the situations.

The other italicized blurbs in the book are not that much more insightful either. You can read any random paragraph from the Gospels or the Imitations of Christ and would have done yourself much better than anything this book had to say. The other thing that annoys me about this type of book is that once again out of all the examples of holiness of the saints of the Church you pretty much always get referred to as examples Gandhi, Buddha, Martin Luther King, and of course Thomas Merton. Now I have read a lot of Thomas Merton and like his diaries and earlier books, but please he is not the best example that you can find when looking at the treasury of the Church. Now to be fair a couple more traditional saints are mentioned later in the book briefly, but they are called moral geniuses like the others.

The other thing that annoyed me about this book is that it only confirmed my general prejudices concerning Paulist Press. Sure occasionally they have some solid titles, but for the most part they are not exactly orthodox. Though I do have a review coming of another Paulist Press book that was excellent and never set off my theological spidey senses.

New Catholic Media Campaign for Lapsed Catholics

Catholics Come Home
There’s a new advertising campaign originating out of Phoenix called Catholics Come Home. Using slick commercials and a high-tech web site, the campaign seeks to goad the conscience of lapsed Catholics to re-discover (or discover for the first time) why their Catholic faith is important to their lives, their families, and their eternity.
They have three commercials at the moment: “Epic 120”, which is a two-minute tour through the impact the Catholic Church has had on history and still does today; “Movie” which reminds us that after our lives end we will review our lives (like a movie) and will get to evaluate what we have done; and “Mix”, which shows individual Catholics explaining how they left the Church, why they came back, and what a difference it’s made.
The local Phoenix Catholic newspaper, The Catholic Sun, did a story on the start of the campaign in that diocese recently. They say the average Phoenix household will see the commercials 13 times between now and Easter.
And if it’s successful—and they have the money for it—they’ll expand into other dioceses. Looks promising.
I don't know about you, but this looks like a good place for my Lenten almsgiving.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Oscar Winners 2008

Because we all spend time reviewing movies, I thought I'd devote a post to the Oscar winners.

The Coen brothers completed their journey from the fringes to Hollywood's mainstream on Sunday, their crime saga "No Country for Old Men" winning four Academy Awards, including best picture, in a ceremony that also featured a strong international flavor.

Javier Bardem won for supporting actor in "No Country," which earned Joel and Ethan Coen best director, best adapted screenplay and the best-picture honor as producers.

Accepting the directing honor alongside his brother, Joel Coen recalled how they got their start in a career that has seen them advance from oddballs with a devoted cult following to broader audiences. He noted they have been making films since childhood, including one at the Minneapolis airport called "Henry Kissinger: Man on the Go."

"What we do now doesn't feel that much different from what we were doing then," Joel Coen said. "We're very thankful to all of you out there for continuing to let us play in our corner of the sandbox."

Daniel Day-Lewis won his second best-actor Oscar for the oil-boom epic "There Will Be Blood," while "La Vie En Rose" star Marion Cotillard was a surprise winner for best actress, riding the spirit of Edith Piaf to Oscar triumph over Julie Christie, who had been expected to win for "Away From Her."

All four acting prizes went to Europeans: Frenchwoman Cotillard, Spaniard Bardem, and Brits Day-Lewis and Tilda Swinton, the supporting-actress winner for "Michael Clayton."

The only other time in the Oscars' 80-year history that all four acting winners were foreign born was 1964, when the recipients were Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews, Peter Ustinov and Lila Kedrova.

Cross-Posted on The World...IMHO

story here

2 Book Reviews: The Way of the Cross in Times of Illness and Caring for the Dying with the Help of Your Catholic Faith

These are little books but they deliver a big dose of food for thought that seems especially appropriate during Lent.

The Way of the Cross in Times of Illness
by Elizabeth Thecla Mauro
3. Jesus Falls the First Time
Why do we always assume that this first fall came from your weariness and physical pain? Could you have fallen in fear? You, Jesus who are both God and human, you understand how fear and anxiety can paralyze the will, paralyze the strength of the body, and sometimes paralyze even the strength of the spirit.

I admit that there are times when I am overtaken with fear, and I feel unable to move, to think, to pray--even to This fear brings with it a weariness that defies description and snatches away the small pockets of peace I am seeking in my life.

So, I fall now with you, Jesus, prostrated in fear, knowing that I must rise and go on. My face is dirty; I am gasping through the dust of the road.

But I get up with you. I breathe in deeply, and breathe out.

With you, I move slowly forward.

Yahweh, I called on your name from the deep pit. You heard me crying, "Do not close your ear to my prayer." You came near that day when I called to you; you said: "Do not be afraid."
Lamentations 3:55-57 (JB)
I rarely do the Stations of the Cross although I often have one catch my eye during times when I am waiting for Mass to begin, thereby beginning thoughts about it. Most often I will think about them when contemplating the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. Although this simple, inexpensive book is presented as being for a time of illness, when reading through it I found much that is worthy of contemplation during Lent. It is worded so that the stations can apply to illness, but not so specifically that the contemplations cannot be used at any time, especially in any time of distress. Highly recommended.

Caring for the Dying With the Help of Your Catholic Faith
by Elizabeth Scalia
The Long Tunnel
Some people say the process of dying involves the appearance of a long tunnel through which one passes, moving toward the light. Just as those who report back from a "near death experience" say they felt "pushed along" through a tunnel, you may feel like you are being "pushed along" by circumstances, and unable to halt the forward motion -- a prisoner of sheer momentum. You would be right. As the journey's end nears, there seems to be no further chance to hit the brakes or to pull back a bit.

This is a scary feeling. A new skier would never attempt an advanced trail, and yet here you are moving through this experience at a breathtaking pace. Everything seems out of your control. This might be a good time to make an assessment of what you can control. You can control being wholly present to a person who is dying. That doesn't seem like very much, but it is everything.

Together with Our Lady
When Mary, the mother of Jesus, was told that her Son had been arrested, her world also began to spin out of control. In truth, you are very much Mary's companion right now, just as she is yours. What you are living through, she has survived:
  • Just as your access to your loved one is decreasing as their need for sleep increases, Mary's access to her Son was closed off.
  • Like you, Mary had to stand by and watch helplessly while her loved one took on the "job of dying."
  • Like you, Mary had to watch the one she loved let go of her to take His leave.
  • Mary, too, had to let go, and to trust that she would see Him again.
  • As you lean on family and friends, remember that Mary had John and Mary Magdalene beside her for support.
  • After Jesus' death, Mary had to live and eat and worship with an imperfect "family," some of whom had let her -- and her Son -- down. It is not really a unique experience, as families go.
Being "wholly present" may not feel like you are doing very much. It may seem like a pitiful amount of "control" for an adult to have over any person or event. But as Mary taught us, being "present" to another person has power. It is saying, "I will be a witness to your whole life and death, so that all you are and have been will remain in me,when you have gone. And I will help you say goodbye."

Being wholly present to a dying person is a great responsibility, one that requires all the control of which you are capable.
In the midst of our very busy lives, the last thin we are likely to think about much is how to handle the details of death. for that very reason, when tragedy occurs, we often are faced with many details which we don't understand and about which we are not prepared to make decisions. This immensely practical book is instructive on several levels. Naturally, the main information conveyed is of those modern practicalities so that we can understand them not only conceptually but in relation to Church teachings. Pain management, organ donation, hospice care, living wills, grief management are but a few of the issues upon which this slender book gives straight forward information.

What raises this volume to a different level than a "how to" book, however, is the sensitive and thoughtful spiritual commentary that is intertwined with the practical information. As one can see in the above excerpt, the anguish our souls feel during such a time is met with reminders of how our faith is there to provide comfort and encouragement ... and even, possibly, beauty, grace, and joy.

As I read through this book, I was moved to contemplate Jesus' passion as experienced by those around him, which is most appropriate for this time of Lent as we draw closer to Holy Week. It is not the sort of book I would normally read but some of the images have remained with me and will doubtless feed my contemplation during Holy Week. This is a book that I would recommend everyone keep on hand for those unexpected times when our lives are thrown into anguish and we need solid advice of both the practical and spiritual sort. Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Questions and Answers

I just finished Questions and Answers by Pope Benedict XVI put out by Our Sunday Visitor which is a collection of various question and answer sessions from various audiences that includes sessions with children, youth, and clergy at multiple locations. This s a very worthwhile collection and with the amount of these type sessions I am sure we will see more of these books in the future.

Pope Benedict XVI really opens himself up to these types of sessions which I think for the most part of quite unique in the history of the Church. The questions themselves are interesting, but it is the way the pope answers these questions in his own style that is quite remarkable. Reading through his sometimes lengthily answers you would think he had days to work on responses to questions put before him ahead of time. He is an amazing extemporaneous speaker and his answers reveal just how thoroughly he has integrated the faith and is able to speak on almost any topic to reveal his knowledge and contemplation on a subject. It is obvious as to the level of detail that he has given to these subjects in his own mind before hand.

I also found it quite amazing his ability to really answer a question and put together a synthesis of Church teaching and his own practical experience to give almost a mediation on a question. The book opens up with questions from children and I think they way he answers them is the very model that people working with children and youth in regards to religious education should follow. He is able to answer serious questions to them in a serious manner that does not "talk down" to them, but at the same time making it understandable to them. He sees no reason to water down a serious subject just because he is talking to children and is able to tailor it to their intellects in such a way that even as an adult I found his answers fruitful for me.

His answers, especially to fellow priests, are often long discourses - but he doesn't talk just to hear his voice. In one question he felt that the questioner had answered his own query and the Pope simple said for other to listen to what this priest had to say and not feel the need to add anything to it. You get the feel of his real humility when he answers questions in that he defines the limits of what he is able to answer and when speaking to clergy talks about their pastoral experience in taking his suggestions in.

The questions run the gamut and some of them overlap. I especially enjoyed his discussions on marriage and his insight in regards to marriage. I loved how he referred to one large family as a parish. Some of his answers in regard to science are quite interesting especially in regards to the recent controversy and protests at the La Sapienza University in Rome calling the Pope anti-science. In on answer he talks about Galileo the great and the proper and supporting roles of faith and science. In another he talks about the false tensions between creationists and evolutionists and where they both go wrong and makes a fairly strong statement in regards to the science of evolution. When Pope John Paul II made a comment about evolution it got a lot of press and so I find it rather strange the Pope Benedict's comments in this regard did not get the same publicity. I guess it didn't fit their template.

This book was edited by Michael Dubruiel and the Latin translation footnotes were provided by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf which as you would expect are quite informative.

Review: "The Human Experience"

Last October I attended a pre-screening of the first feature film of independent filmmakers at Grassroots Films, "The Human Experience". I was familiar with their previous work: they had done an powerful infomercial on the priesthood called, "Fishers of Men" for the USCCB, and a short documentary about a Eucharistic Procession on the streets of New York City which was beautifully done. Both showed that these two men had great promise as Catholic filmmakers."The Human Experience" is the story of two young men, Clifford and Jeffrey Azize, who, as young men are prone to do, seek the meaning of their own existence. Since they hail from Brooklyn, you might expect them to seek meaning on the streets of New York, and they do, only they put themselves in the shoes of the homeless in order not only to film them, but to understand them. On the coldest night of the year, with temperatures near zero degrees.The plight of the homeless in New York is something I both studied as a graduate student of Social Work in Manhattan, and labored with as a Social Worker with Catholic Charities. I set up literacy programs in soup kitchens and tutoring programs in poor parishes. I taught high school in poor neighborhoods to angry teens who had never met their fathers and had already committed felonies. I thought I knew the poor of New York. But I have never lived with them, not even for one cold night as these men did. The open discussion which they were able to film between themselves and these homeless individuals was something I've never seen whether in my personal experience or on film.What moved me most was the optimism of these poorest of the poor. Many of those interviewed were absolutely certain that God had his Hand on them, and that He had a plan for their lives. They were hurt by the indifference around them, but not crushed. Perhaps part of God's plan was the way they would touch us by their testimony that frigid night in New York. They taught us that having a great job or fancy home is NOT the meaning of life.

I was looking forward to the next segment with the disabled children in Peru. My daughter has Down syndrome, so the joy in these children's faces is part of my daily experience of motherhood. I was not disappointed. The children, most of whom lived in deplorable conditions of poverty and neglect, were absolutely bursting with enthusiasm for life. They ate up the attendtion of the men and their friends, and within a simple therapy trip to the hospital, it was obvious that another powerful life lesson was learned. Physical perfection is NOT the meaning of life. Loving one another is.
Then, off to Africa to visit the desperately ill within the dreaded leper colony, and the modern plague, HIV. Again, hope in the midst of illness, societal rejection, and grinding poverty. Death is looming for many of these people, and an uncertain future. But the sense of hope and loving community somehow upholds them. What is their secret? The filmmakers interject black and white shots of modern day philosphers offering their ideas on the meaning of life, including Fr. John Neuhaus. The sequence of the Eucharistic procession through the African rain forest, and the words of the muslim cleric divulged part of the secret to the happiness of these ill and dying financially destitute people. Their eyes were able to see beyond this world to the one beyond.To someone who loves them. The meaning of life is having an eternal purpose.By far the most powerful part of the film is the surprise ending where one of the young men puts his newfound knowlege into practice in an unexpected way. An unforgettable way.
At the disccussion following the standing ovation, Fr. Benedict Groeschel praised the film for it's role in the New Springtime of Evangelization. I was perpelxed, the religious content of the film was far less than their previous work. He went on to explain that those in this culture need to be met where they are in order to be brought to the Truth.
And it's a LONG journey, this discovering of the meaning of the Human Experience.

Is there a new spirit in Hollywood?

On this week's "The World Over" Raymond Arroyo interviewed movie critic and conservative talk show host Michael Medved regarding the Oscars. Raymond, always asks the right questions, he never fails to hit the one I would have emailed in, if I had seen the show live. He asked Michael if the pro-life trend in films this year was merely a coincidence or rather a cultural sea change. Michael looked a bit surprised by the question, and replied that people like Raymond at EWTN have been working for such a change from the Culture of Death why should he be surprised that it has been sucessful? "The abortion rate is the lowest it's been in 29 years, Hollywood is just a couple years behind in noticing this".
Tonight's Spirit Awards was confirmation. Ellen Page, who played the title role in this year's sleeper hit, "Juno" won the best actress award, and "Juno" won best feature film. Amazing.
I wish the moving work of Eduardo Verastegui, Leo Severino, and Alejeandro Monteverde in "Bella" had won the same accolades, however, I'm thrilled about a pro-life film winning over Hollywood. From within the belly of the beast. No matter how independent they tried to dress, sloppy shirts and sneakers onstage, the same A list stars were there giving out awards. The Spirit Awards represents the Hollywood establishment, and they voted for "Juno" twice.
A new spirit is blowing through Tinseltown.
Let's see what tomorrow's Oscars bring. "Juno" has been nominated for Best Picture, and Ellen Page for Best Actress.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

"The Passion of the Christ" Producer on "Life On the Rock" this week

Steve McEveety, producer of many of Mel Gibson's films including "Braveheart", "We Were Soldiers",, and "The Passion" was interviewed Thursday on EWTN's youth show, "Life on the Rock". You can view it online or see the encore presentation at 11PM this Sunday evening 2/24.
He discussed how his faith was renewed by producing "The Passion" and how this has led to his work in promoting good films, such as "Bella" for whom he acted as Executive Producer, and the formation of his own company MPower Media. MPower has two branches, one which is working on a powerful new technology which will remove all sexual content from your TV shows, commercials including. Imagine that! What a boon for weary Catholic parents who are afraid to let even our teenagers handle a TV remote!
He says it will be a couple more years until it's available, but I can't wait to sign up. Of course, there won't be much left to watch on TV after the sexual content is gone, but I know my favorite shows will make the cut!
The other branch of McEveety's company will be producing films which may not be expilicitly religious in nature, but will promote good moral values, like "Bella". One of the films his company is promoting in conjunction with Focus on the Family is called, " The Star of Bethlehem". McEveety says, "it's a good film for Easter". I will review it here.
Another project will be a feature film based on the bestselling book, "Left to Tell" by Rwandan refugee, Imaculee Ilibizaga. Imaculee, a Tutsi, spent three months hiding from Hutu neighbors who, because of the genocide sweeping the nation, sought her to kill her. She hid in the bathroom of a Hutu neighbor, a Protestant Pastor, with seven other women, with only her rosary to keep her from going crazy. It's a story akin to "The Diary of Anne Frank" and has the spiritual impact of "The Hiding Place". I will make certain to keep readers informed when this powerful story is portrayed on film. My girls (14 and 10) were completely mesmerized by "Hotel Rwanda" which has no real spiritual component, though the love of the main character for his family was central to the story. I was initially afraid to let them watch it for fear of the frightening themes, but this experience has shown me that young people have to see films which show them the power of love and faith in difficult situations. Gabbi, 14 was deeply impacted by Corrie' Ten Boom's book, "The Hiding Place, and I remember reading at a tender age, "The Passing of the Night" by Col. Robinson Risner about his years in the Hanoi Hilton, a notorious Viet Cong Prison. I will never forget his 'Sunday service' where one prisoner whistled the "Ave Maria" for his fellow prisoners in solitary. I have often wondered since then if I could survive such an ordeal. It makes me appreciate and use my religious freedom before it's taken away
These stories, like those of the martyrs make great drama and sterling examples for our children when told properly, and Steve McEveety has proven himself worthy to produce the best in moral, Christian films.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Move Review: Spiderwick Chronicles - PG

We took my nephews to see Spiderwick Chronicles, and it is a very good movie.

Jared, his brother Simon, his sister Mallory and his mother move into the house of his great aunt Lucinda. Jared soon finds a book called 'The Field Guide', which tells about fairies, goblins and the ogre Mulgarath. The guide was written by Arthur Spiderwick, Lucinda's father. It also explains about the 'circle' around the house which was created by Arthur to keep the house safe. Mulgarath wants the book, and the power it will give him. Eventually, he gets a couple of pages from the book, and is able to remove the circle of protection. I won't tell you what happens to Mulgarath, but everything turns out ok in the end, and a 'reunion' takes place at the end.

I recommend this movie; it is very entertaining, there is no offensive language, no sexual content.

Cross-posted on The World...IMHO

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Disney and decency

ABC has been fined $1.43 million dollars for a shower scene in "NYPD Blue" which shows a woman entering a shower shocking a little boy. The Disney Company owns ABC, so it's lawyers did their best to twist the meaning of the FCC law to justify showing partial nudity on broadcast televsion. Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center has some interesting commentary on Disney's influence on the media.
"Was this scene necessary to the story line? No. Was it there to titillate? Absolutely. ABC claimed it was "nonsexual nudity," and therefore okay.
When it was finally rapped on the knuckles, Disney-owned ABC was petulant. It responded first by joining the crowd in Tinseltown now asserting in federal court the "right" to drop the F-bomb on millions of children. Then the lawyers insisted to the FCC that there's nothing inappropriate in an ABC show lovingly fixating the viewer on the young woman's bare behind several times. It was only seven seconds, they protested."

What would Walt say?
HT Catholic Exchange

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Book Review: Annihilation

Although this book has strong religious elements which makes it appropriate to suggest for Easter reading, it most assuredly has excellent writing first and foremost, telling a compelling story that engaged my interest the entire time. I read it in three days.

Without wanting to, for the hundred-and-eighth time, Mephistopheles relived the scene. Their Guard, unbreeched. The way the Cherub had screamed for God. Camael's energy drilling into Gabriel. The Cherub unable to move, unable even to cry out by the end as they disconnected one piece from the next from the next from the next. That flash of raw light as Lucifer finished.

Mephistopheles sat on the floor and closed his eyes.

I made that possible.

Remiel insane. Angels not singing. Raphael crippled.

I did that.

A great victory. Everyone said so. A crowd of revelers chanted so. Even the minions of Heaven seemed to think so. Victory.

Mephistopheles' eyes flew open.
Jane Lebak gives us a fantasy novel with an interesting premise. What would happen if Satan, in his unending battle to overcome Heaven, discovers how to kill an angel? This raises not only the question of whether God would allow such an action, but of how the Heavenly host would react, and what long-term ramifications would result.

Satan's angels kidnap Gabriel to test their newfound annihilation discovery. The Heavenly angels storm to the rescue but cannot break through Hell's defenses. It would seem that Gabriel has been destroyed. However, things are not what they seem, as one might expect. The story proceeds with strategizing, rescue efforts, battles, and, less typical of an action novel, personal encounters with God. Intertwined are the personal struggles of the angels to do the right thing. One Heavenly angel goes insane. Will she condemn herself to Hell? An angel from Hell is overcome with regret. Will he turn to God and repent?

This story operates on several levels beyond the action. We are reminded forcibly that Hell also is populated by an angelic host, albeit one that is creatively directed toward destruction fueled by their resentment against God's supremacy. Although visits to earth are sometimes included, most of the story takes place in Heaven and Hell, showing us the angels as they interact during this emergency. Naturally, this also includes the Heavenly host's interactions with the persons of the Trinity.

As with the human condition, God will not interfere directly but leaves the angels to their calling in resolving the situation. The Heavenly host can hear God's answer to their prayers clearly, yet this does not mean that His answer to prayer is any less cryptic than the answers we may feel we sometimes receive. A favorite interchange of the novel for me illustrating this point is when Gabriel is under attack.
A moment later, Raphael's urgent voice: God says "Remember your strength."

Gabriel shored up Israfel, slipped out of Satan's hold again, and then had to brace Israfel once more.

Quit being cryptic, he prayed. I've got a lot going on here.
This book is quite satisfying as a straight action novel, however a thoughtful reader will find much to ponder.

Lebak follows Catholic theology for how angelic classifications but then goes on to her own imaginings of the need for angels to be bonded with others in a match that is complementary to each one's nature. This opens the story to considerations of friendship, with all the benefits and abuses that can result therein. This becomes especially telling when one sees that the demonic angels necessarily also bond with each other. Satan cannot stand and it drives him to distraction as an inherent weakness of angelic nature. Even in Hell, he is set apart because he denies his nature in a way that the other angels do not or cannot. This plot point leads to the consideration of evil as the denial of one's true nature.

Heavenly angels are so close to God that they hear his voice clearly in their hearts. They see Jesus face to face and walk with him as he gives friendship, support, and guidance. The Holy Spirit is almost tangible for them. This leads us to consider our own relationships with the Trinity. On a personal note, I took some of these images into my own prayer life and it has been a very helpful reminder about God's nature.

The weakest point of the book is Lebak's handling of Mary, Mother of God, as a character. In a depiction as the perfect disciple, Mary is a quiet figure constantly in the background. Her suggestions are always followed up on by the angels without comment and those suggestions often are given with the comment "Jesus instructed." Mary shows her support for the Heavenly angels by baking and making hot beverages. The angels must incorporate real bodies to consume these treats which they protest but then do to humor her. A bit of this makes the point about discipleship but Lebak carries it on to the point that by the time Mary shows up somewhere with banana bread and hot chocolate it struck me as almost a running joke. It may not strike others this way, however, a little went a very long way.

I will not call this Christian fiction as it stands well as a fantasy novel. That said, anyone who does not subscribe in some form to basic concepts of God and Heaven, necessarily is going to find this heavy going because of the subject matter. Although Lebak is Catholic, those who are not Catholic will find that her writing, as one person asked me, "Is it not overwhelmingly Catholic but still sort of Catholic?" Lebak is informed by Catholic theology, as mentioned above with the angelic classifications, but it is not anything that should intrude on any Christian's enjoyment of this book. For example, although Peter very briefly appears twice in the book, I defy anyone not to thoroughly relish his last line.

Highly recommended.

For those who would like to sample the book, the first few chapters can be found online.

Cross posted at Happy Catholic.

Monday, February 18, 2008

What Does It Mean to Be Human?

Marcel LeJeune, at Mary's Aggies, has a rave review of a documentary about what it means to be human. Here is a bit of it but there is much more and it is well worth your time to read it. I also am putting the movie trailer below. If you watch, please view the trailer in its entirety as the beginning seems rather grim, but actually is setting up the reason the movie was made.
The story of the film revolves around a young man and his brother and their quest to find what it means to be human in light of their own experiences and struggles. They have three different life-transforming experiences in search of the answers to the questions about the meaning and purpose of life. What does it mean to be a human? Why do we have to suffer? Where is God? Where can we find hope?

The movie never gives an explicit answer to these questions and I believe that it achieves it's ends much more effectively because it doesn't provide the answer for us. It challenges us to do the same as the young men in the film - go and find what it means to be human. They never get preachy in the film, but rather witness to what makes us all human by experiencing those situations where hope seems distant. ...

"I teach Sunday school ..."

I am positive that this Stephen Colbert clip has been making the rounds but haven't caught up with blog reading this morning after being gone all weekend. An author tries to make an argument for Lucifer having been justified in tempting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and Colbert takes him to school.

Warning, this contains an epithet, bleeped out.

The clip above also makes me think of last week's House, which we watched last night. It delved into matters of faith and whether a person can ever really change. As a person who has changed for the better (as House's patient had claimed to do), I was interested to see where the writers took this question. One of the main delights, as above, was in watching the patient's husband, a Hassidic Jew, point out logical fallacies and groundless assumptions in the statements of the doctors. Which for me, is connected with watching Colbert above. I have said it before and I'll say it again, House is the one show on television that consistently examines the human condition evenly from both sides. Whichever result they choose to show "winning," there always is an evenhanded look at matters of conscience, philosophy, and theology.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

2008 Catholic Blog Awards

It's that time of year again. Nominations are now open for the 2008 Catholic Blog Awards.

Please stop by and nominate us!
UPDATE: Thanks to whoever nominated us.
We appreciate your support.

Movie Review: Step Up 2 The Streets - PG13

OK, I admit it...I like 'dance movies' :). One of my favorite movies was "Save The Last Dance". This movie was better than the first "Step Up" movie. The main character is Andie. She belongs to a street dance crew called the 4-1-0. She lives with a guardian (her mother died when Andie was 16) who wants to send Andie to her aunt in Texas, but agrees she can stay if she attends the Maryland School of Arts. When Andie spends too much time at MSA, the 4-1-0 kicks her out. Andie decides to start her own street dance crew with some fellow MSA students. This gets her kicked out of MSA .The dancing is very suggestive, and some of the dress is suggestive, but the language was surprisingly tame. And the only violence is a scene where one of Andie's friends gets beat up. And their dance studio is trashed, but you only see it afterwards.
Eventually, her new dance crew faces off against the 4-1-0 in 'The Streets'. I won't spoil the ending. I really enjoyed both the music and the dancing.

Cross-posted on The World...IMHO

Friday, February 15, 2008

Movie News: Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus will keep on filming

Terry Gilliam fans knew that Heath Ledger's death carried a blow beyond that of his loss. Heath Ledger was starring in Gilliam's upcoming movie and his scenes weren't done shooting.

However, Ain't It Cool tells us that the twists and turns of the story make it possible for his character to be played by other actors (this I've gotta see). Three actors have been confirmed to step in for Ledger as a final tribute. Three of my faves as it turns out ... find out who they are here.

To see how Heath Ledger and Terry Gilliam worked together, go watch The Brothers Grimm. Odd but good ... we really liked it. Via Jeffrey Overstreet.

"This ain't gonna be easy."
"Not as easy as it used to be."

Also in movie news, here's the new Indiana Jones trailer. So far so good ...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Book Review: A Grace Given

A Grace Given by Kent Gilges, paperback 279 pages
Cider Press Publishing

One of the hardest things to bear is the illness or loss of a child. I brushed up against this terrifying possibility briefly last December, when my five year old daughter with Down syndrome, normally so healthy, was suddenly stricken with double pneumonia. For six days, we dwelt in the valley of the shadow of death with her, holding an oxygen tube in front of her mouth day and night, our eyes fixed upon the monitor who measured her blood oxygenation, thumping her back and chest with our cupped hands, the simple treatment which saved her life. There was never a more joyful Christmas Eve procession as that of our family bearing her out of the hospital past the hospital chapel overflowing with worshippers who turned as I prayed aloud, “Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory!”
But for Liz and Kent Gilges the dark night of sorrow didn’t end. Life saving surgery on their firstborn infant girl, Elizabeth Nyanga Gilges, whom they called “Elie” caused brain damage from which she would never recover. They lovingly nursed her, unresponsive in a persistent vegetative state, for ten years before Jesus took Elie home. Liz, a devout Catholic, had her faith to sustain her, but her husband, Kent was raised without any religious faith. His deep love for Elie, however, brought him down a path he never expected to travel, one towards faith in God. Just before the crisis with Elie began, he had asked Jesus for a sign that He was real, and, paradoxically, Elie’s suffering and death was His answer. It was the same response Jesus gave in the Gospel, “If you wish to be my disciples, you must take up your cross and follow me”, St. Matt16:23.
“A Severe Mercy”, the classic by Sheldon Vanauken, speaks of his beloved wife Davy’s death as God’s way of calling him home to faith in Christ, His severe mercy. Kent, whose heart, still raw with his daughter’s loss, admits that her suffering is God’s megaphone, which got his attention. However, he is still stumbling over the cross he experienced in his daughter’s suffering. “Why did Elie have to die?” her brother Alexander asks, and Kent has no answer. Yet. But he does know why she lived. “Elie is the greatest gift we as a family could have received. She made—and still makes-- our lives far richer, more contemplative, and full of joy than they ever would have been without her. She was a beloved and essential part of our family and would have been as long as she was with us. Elie has given us an awareness of suffering’s noble beauty.”
“A Grace Given” is a beautifully written treatise on love. It is one of the most pro-life books I have ever read. The love of a father for a child that can give him almost nothing in the traditional sense, no open arms, no endearing words, no loving glances, no soft caresses, is so complete, that we are transformed and ennobled merely by witnessing it. The story, even though we are told of its heartbreaking ending near the book’s beginning, is so engrossing, I read the entire 260 pages in only two sittings.
Kent Gilges’ gifted use of language transports the reader with him around the globe, to the various places he’s traveled, from Africa, to Rome, Oxford, Manhattan and to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. His precise use of detail and ability to build the drama of a scene, powerfully evokes the intensity of the emotions which he and Liz were going through in their ten year odyssey with Elie. Kent Gilges draws you into the sea of love that is his family, and helps you understand the depth of their devotion to their beautiful, helpless little girl. A little girl whose intercessory prayers he suggests may already be working miracles in the lives of others, and will certainly work a miracle in your heart. Read”A Grace Given” and you will be renewed in your hope in the power of a father’s love, and the gift which the disabled child is for a family who knows God.

Sixpence House: Book Review

As a biblioholic, how could I resist a book subtitled: Lost in a Town of Books?

Paul Collins, his wife, Jennifer, and their one-y.o. son, Morgan, sell their apartment in San Francisco and move Hay-on-Wye in Wales (I won't attempt the Welsh version of the name). Paul and Jennifer discovered Hay on a previous visit and had returned several times. Hay has a population of 1500 and boasts forty bookstores--most of them selling antiquarian or used books.

Paul has just finished his first novel, but publishing has been delayed because the latest Harry Potter book has literally used up all the supplies of paper available. So while Paul waits for his novel to be published, he goes to work for the self-proclaimed "King of Hay," Richard Booth. Richard bought the old castle and is personally responsible for turning Hay into a booklover's destination. He buys books by the containerload, mostly from the U.S. and puts Paul in charge of the "American section."

The problem is, Richard is an anarchist at heart. Paul tries to make order out of the chaos of books in Richard's store, but just as he begins to get a handle on the mess, Richard changes his mind about how the books should be organized and tells Paul to start over. Paul learns from the other employees that this is not unusual behavior.

And then there is buying a house. Paul and Jennifer want to buy something in Hay proper. They want something old, a house that has been around for awhile. But British real estate laws are not quite as straightforward as they are in the U.S. (especially in California). Home-buying turns out to be a quirky as the plumbing.

Interspersed with all the drama of every day life and learning to live in a different country are Paul's musings on books. He and Jennifer have about two thousand when they leave San Francisco, but there are always more. In a town with so many booksellers, there are gems to be rediscovered; books that are well-written, insightful, funny, and forgotten. Paul finds a book of verse by Princeton students that includes the first published poem of F. Scott Fitzgerald. He finds a book by Leopold Louth, which includes a review lauding him as "our most arresting humorist since Kingsley Amis." Louth wrote three books during the 1950's and then disappeared. Paul reads one, Cabbage in the Grass, which he deems a very good book, yet when he tries to track down the publisher to reprint the book, he comes to a dead end.

Sixpence House is full of these little nuggets of information about books no one reads now. Paul wonders over inscriptions written on the cover, on the arcane art of bookbinding, on the eccentricities of the rest of the villagers. He notes the difference between the British and the American views of the world, usually without the customary snobbery of "British is better." (In the case of showers, it isn't.) Paul appreciates that the pace of life in Hay is different, in part because of its history--when you're looking at 1000 years, what's 10?

I've now added Hay-on-Wye to my list of places I want to visit. And I've got to pass this book on to my sister, who lived in Reading (just outside of London) with her family for a couple of years.

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

Radio Review: Talk Radio

Cross-post from The World...IMHO

I was glad to come across this article, because it gives me the opportunity to address an issue I've been wanting to address.

I started listening to Rush Limbaugh in 2000, during the Florida recount fiasco during the Presidential election. I started listening to Sean Hannity about the same time.
I now listen to neither of them, but for different reasons:
Sean Hannity is 'Catholic', but a couple years ago, he decided to come out in support of birth control and embryonic stem cell research.
These are both serious contradictions of Catholic teaching; I happen to believe that a Catholic in the public eye has a special responsibility to not publicly oppose Catholic teachings. I am NOT saying I expect every Catholic to 'preach' the faith, but taking positions like this, he is going to cause confusion as to true Catholic teachings.
I recently stopped listening to Rush, because I truly believe he has 'lost it' and gone too far to the extreme right. I particularly disagree with his constant and relentless attacks on McCain and Huckabee, presumably because they are not conservative enough for him. Rush has a large audience, and this is very damaging to the conservative cause he claims to support. Likewise for Ann Coulter, who has gone so far as to say she would actually campaign for Hillary against McCain. Both Rush and Coulter are causing a rift in the GOP. They are making it easier for Hillary (gag!) or Obama(gag!) to win in 2008.
I work from home, and I have radio on all day (Sirius satellite) However, As far as radio goes, I will not be listening to Rush, Hannity or Coulter.

article here

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lenten Reading Ideas

Although not complete reviews in some cases, these may provide ideas for anyone who is still considering what to read during Lent.
  • Sarah has just finished reading one of my favorite books, Adventures in Orthodoxy by Fr. Dwight Longenecker. I don't know if she chose it specifically as Lenten reading but it is Lent and she did just finish reading it. So that counts. Go check out her review of a really wonderful book you probably never heard of that both The Curt Jester and I really love.

  • Darwin Catholic continues his Lenten tradition (it's the second year so that makes it tradition) of commenting on Dante's Divine Comedy. His first post answers the question, "Why read Dante for Lent? Why read Dante at all?" As someone who is very slowly working her way through Dante and has made it to the beginning of Paradisio ... it has changed how I think about my life and sin. Consider that I began reading Dante to cross it off my reading list and then think about how it might change your life ... or go see what Darwin has to say.

  • Woodward at Thursday Night Gumbo tells us what he's reading and invites us to tell him what we're reading.

  • The Anchoress just received Questions and Answers: Pope Benedict XVI and also The Greatest Gift; The Courageous Life and Martyrdom of Sister Dorothy Stang. She has a bit about them.
I am reading two books which I began long before Lent but got sidetracked from by other books. Part of my overall Lenten resolution to focus and simplify is to finish these excellent books.
  • The School of Prayer: An Introduction to the Divine Office for All Christians by John Brook. Interestingly Brook partially presents this introduction to promote ecumenism for he points out that praying from the Psalms makes Protestants feel right at home in the practice. This book not only tells about the divine office, but has an explication of the psalms commonly prayed so that we more easily find Christ in them.

  • Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom. This book is written with complete simplicity but yet somehow contains depths that one thinks of for some time afterward. Let's just begin with this ... "If you look at the relationship (us and God) in terms of mutual relationship, you would see that God could complain about us a great deal more than we about Him. We complain that He does make Himself present to us for a few minutes we reserve for Him, but what about the twenty-three and half hours during which God may be knocking at our door and we answer 'I am busy..."
Also, thinking ahead for Easter reading recommendations, I am reading a couple of review books ... sci-fi and fantasy, both of which I am thoroughly enjoying I will put links here so you can take a look if you are interested. Reviews will come when I have finished the books which I do not anticipate being long as I am finding these riveting and that makes me read even faster.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Movie Review: Sunshine (2007)

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

Should I see it?
If you don't mind lousy endings.

Short Review: The second half doesn't mesh well with the first. Its like having a tilt-a-whirl at an festival that also has a hot dog eating contest. Sure, both on their own are fun, but when mixed...

Click below to view the trailer

Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Millions, Trainspotting) is one of those directors who can be relied upon to build films that reinvigorate my love for cinema. Unfortunately, he is also one of those directors who can be relied upon to frustrate me by pulling me into a narrative only to fall apart in the final act. His works all begin wonderfully. They are visually engaging, his set ups are perfect and his talents are in full effect. Following the reversal scene in the middle of the film (at the literal middle of all stories there is a reversal where the plot is turned on its ear) Boyle's works all begin to stumble and eventually fall. Like his other works (except Millions which is simply dreadful) Sunshine is mostly brilliant with a touch of lame tossed in - which is a little like a chef spitting in your manicotti florentine for flavor. It does matter how good the cuisine is if the chef botches a part of the plate.

To give this film credit, it is a very smart work and will likely impress most lovers of science fiction. Until the final moments of the film this piece works brilliantly and provides one of the more engrossing science fiction films of recent years. A group of astronauts are sent on a mission to reignite the sun. The sun has begun to dim and the cast must send a payload of explosives into it in order to save all of humanity from dying in darkness. Their ship is the second mission to perform this act, the first group disappeared. As the group approaches the burning globe they slowly descend into insanity, paranoia and fear. Things turn stranger when they come across the first ship drifting in space, sending out a distress signal. This is the makings of a thoughtful character-centered piece and for the most part it delivers. Screenwriter Alex Garland's script is an intelligent and well crafted work and is rich in character and handles the narrative with a masterful hand. The brewing conflicts between the astronauts set against the slowly building stress of their circumstances is a thrill to watch. The elements of insanity and spirituality are likewise interesting. While I hammered home that the ending of this piece is clunky and disappointing, I also want to make certain you understand the piece leading up to it is just as marvelous.

The rest of this review has plot spoilers, consider yourself warned.

The cast is populated with some solid actors who are given meaty scenes to perform. Cillian Murphy (Red Eye), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon), Chris Evans (Fantastic Four) and Cliff Curtis (Whale Rider) all flourish in their roles and succeed at bringing this strange story to life. Curtis in particular stands out as the spiritually drifting Dr. Searle. Curtis' performance sets up the film's undertones of insanity and prepares the way for the final acts battle with the ghost (or is he real) of the first ship's captain, Capt. Pinbacker (Mark Strong). Curtis is at once off his nut while also being completely rational and calm. His eventual sacrificial death by exposing himself to the sun is one of the film's better scenes.

The ghostly Captain Pinbacker brings us to the downfall of the piece. As you can guess, the first ship is haunted and the crew of the second ship begins to see strange things and then people start to die. This change in direction throws the film off the trail and it fails to regain its footing as Boyle and company then descend into a pedestrian Alien-esque structure where we wait for the next crew member to get bumped off by the violent Pinbacker. This second half doesn't mesh well with the first. This is reminiscent of Boyle's 28 Days Later which has a first half that is easily the best horror film of the last thirty years but then turns into another lame flick through the introduction of an exterior and unneeded villain (the soldiers in 28 Days Later/Captain Pinbacker in this film). If Garland and Boyle would have relied more on the strength of their story and kept with the pressure cooker they constructed from the beginning they would have made a classic.

To summarize, there is plenty to recommend this film. Even with its faults, it is still heads and shoulders above most science fiction fare.

Again, I'm gonna ruin the plot

Worldview:There is a serious spiritual side to this film and its not all good. The mystical Dr. Searle fawns over the sun and looks to find spiritual meaning in it. He stands before the sun with eye protection and bathes in its light. His sensual reaction to the light heightens the spiritual tone of these scenes. As the characters approach the sun Searle gets weirder in his thoughts and actions, like a zealot coming closer to holy ground.

In the end of the film, Captain Pinbacker, the ghostly captain of the first ship, is a frightening specter that attacks the crew members. He is a blurry demonic image who rambles about God making statements like "For seven years I spoke with God. He told me to take us all to Heaven." His destructive religious fervor is the main thrust of what he has become. While this may have been an attempt to cast all religious people in a poor light (pun unintended) the handling of this part of the script is so unfocused and inorganic that Pinbacker becomes a mushy stereotype rather than a polemic caricature.

The themes of man's solitary relation with God are touched upon but not investigated except under the shadow of Pinbacker's raging vengeance. In a story where people have been sent out into the vastness of space heading towards their probable doom, the lack of God in the proceedings (other than as a propellant for the villain) is illogical and a let down. People grow more towards God when alone and when under stress. It is interesting that some characters turn to paganism to quench this search for the Almighty but none of them seem to consider God, as he's normally presented, as a viable solution. The wispy references to spiritual matters only serves to undermine the otherwise intellectual flow of the piece. It's not that this movie should have had a never ending stream of Jesus references, but to remove him completely leaves a hole in the works. Ultimately, the work strives to be spiritual without committing to any theological strain and it therefore ends up being completely nonsensical in this regard. In other words, the script is so concerned with being abstract that it doesn't even do us the favor of being wrong - its just senseless.

There's plenty of violence and on-screen death. This is a movie for adults.

Book Review: The Daring Book for Girls

The Daring Book for Girls is intended as a companion to "The Dangerous Book for Boys" with it's title and similar cover design, but it has a very important difference. Since I have no sons, I relied on the opinon of some of my Catholic friends who loved that book for their sons. I was thrilled for my adventurous 10 year old to have a similar book. Isabella loves outdoor activities, sports, and tradtional music, and this book contains all this and more.
I got a preview copy to review for a possible TV appearance on the "Good Morning America" with my girls to endorse the book before it came out in October. Within five minutes of reading this attractively packaged book, I noticed the occult elements and had to decline the invitation. I couldn't speak positively about a book which may lead young women into sinful practices (fortune telling, necromancy) which are forbidden by the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
2116 "All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan, demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to 'unveil' the future. (Deuteronomy 18:10) Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens or lots, the phenomenon of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone."

This book with all it's interesting chapters like flower pressing, making your own rip line, campfire songs, etc. mixes in harmful elements like Palm Reading p 8, evoking "Bloody Mary" p102, and Yoga on p 191. That these elements are included within a largely wholesome book is even more insidious as it implies they are harmless. I asked author Miriam Peskowitz to consider removing these elements, and haven't heard from her. She would have my most hearty endorsement if she did.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Catholic Channel on Sirius Satellite Radio

I just had my Sirius Satellite Radio re-activated this week, and I have really enjoyed listening to The Catholic Channel on channel 159. My favorite shows are 'Seize the Day' with Gus Lloyd and 'The Catholic Guy' with Lino Rulli. They both do a very good job of talking about living as a Catholic in today's world. This week, they've been talking about Lent quite a bit. In fact, our very own Curt Jester, who also blogs with us here on CMR, has been interviewed on The Catholic Channel (I think it was The Catholic Guy show).
I also enjoyed listening to the Mass from St. Patrick's Cathedral; I used to work in New York City and I attended Mass at St. Patrick's fairly regularly, so it brought back some memories :)

I am a big fan of Sirius.
They also have EWTN on channel 160. Of course, I also listen to the music channels and the news/talk channels. I will warn you that they also have thePlayboy channel (on radio?... I don't see the point :), but you have to order that specifically. They also have 2 channels of Howard Stern who is foul-mouthed. But overall, I really like Sirius.

You can see program information and schedule here:

Cross-Posted on The World...IMHO

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Book Review: Through a Screen Darkly

I've always had this sense that there is another language I once knew, a joy that was mine before I was born. When I get a glimpse of that glory through art, I can feel the memory of it pressing against the back of my mind, and the longing for that peace and resolution wells up inside me. I can't quite grasp it. I can't speak my native language. Not yet ... but I'm learning.

If I do the difficult thing and pull myself away from art that is merely entertaining and start searching for those currents of truth that reside within beauty and mystery, I will be drawn off the path of familiarity and comfort. The reality of God is not bound to a particular earthly language, country or style. His spirit can speak through anything. But He is far more likely to be encountered in those things that are excellent rather than shoddy, particular rather than general, authentic rather than derivative. I will find myself investigating art and expression that never played for audiences in this country -- art that waits overlooked on the shelves of foreign and independent films at the video store. And I will be changed, concerns with cares and disciplines that make no sense to Hollywood movie publicists.

It could be a lonely road. But it's a road that leads farther up, farther in, to greater majesty and transforming truth.
Through a Screen Darkly by Jeffrey Overstreet
Not exactly what you'd expect from a book about movies is it?

The measure of a good book is when I find myself on the second chapter without even noticing I finished the first. I was on the third chapter before I looked up from this one.

I never thought about my passion for movies as a passion for art. However, I have learned from reading Overstreet's reviews that he can pull your thinking to a new place. I have never forgotten that it was his review of Hero that made me even consider watching it. His ability to communicate some of that intangibles I fell in love with in that movie, now one of my favorites, was what made me eager to read his book. From the excerpt above, I think you can see that this book delivers much more.

Suffice it to say that he is sufficiently convincing to make me add Babette's Feast to my movie list although I swore nothing would drag me through that movie again. In my own defense, I watched it many years ago and believe that I wasn't ready for it. Not that I necessarily am now, because no matter how persuasively he wheedles, I am just plain not interested in watching The New World (for that Walt Disney's travesty can take part of the blame ... but I am completely disinterested in Pocahontas in any guise). I also, reluctantly, am adding Born into Brothels to my "to watch" list. Buyer beware, that is just how well Overstreet makes his case.

I really only had one complaint, which was that not only do they use endnotes (nothing breaks the mood more than having to go hunt down endnotes) ... but they put the endnotes at the end of each chapter! So not only do I have do go hunting endnotes but first I've got to track down the end of each chapter. Sheez!

You can see that these are all just very minor quibbles. I really can't praise this book highly enough. Overstreet looks at how to approach movies as art and an education to enrich our lives and raise our souls to an experience of God. I certainly am grateful to the high school teacher who made it his mission to educate Overstreet and his classmates as to how to think and appreciate movies. This experience has been enlarged upon and passed along to us, along with choice selections from various movies for illustrations.

I will end with another little bit for you to sample.
There are so many different lenses through we can examine a film. We benefit when we bring in to focus each movie's writing, editing, lighting, performance, direction, the intended audience and the film's political, spiritual and cultural perspectives and agendas. Questions about these aspects can lead us to discover strengths, weaknesses and new insights. For some filmmakers, movies are just illustrated narratives. But others aim higher. In treating film as art that is no less profitable for study than great literature and painting, they organize what we see and hear in such a way as to encourage the viewer to examine relationships between character, image, color, music and camera angle...

In this way, film is uniquely qualified to explore spirituality. More than any other art, it mirrors our experience in time and space. Reflecting our world back to us, it gives us the opportunity to explore and revisit moments. Offering imaginative visions of alternative worlds, it helps us glimpse aspects of our own that we might otherwise have missed. Slowly, we begin to discover the universal in the particular, the timeless in the temporal, the miraculous in the mundane.
This review originally appeared in several different posts at Happy Catholic.

Jeffrey Overstreet's thoughts on the one year anniversary of this book and the amazing chain of events that led to its being written and published. He's also planning a sequel and soliciting subjects so this is your chance to have some input.

The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner PG-13 127 min.

In the Academy Award Nominated film, The Kite Runner, the friendship of two boys is set in pre-war Afghanistan, in a wrenching, memorable drama of betrayal, forgiveness, and redemption. (summary)
Amir (Khalid Abdalla) a married Afghani immigrant in San Francisco is thrilled to receive a shipment of his first book in print. The moment is shattered by a phone call from Rahim Kahn (Shaun Toub), a family friend who calls him back home saying cryptically, ”There is a way to make it good again”.
A flashback takes us to Amir’s childhood in the last peaceful days of the Afghani monarchy. The son of a prominent secularist businessman young Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and his best friend Hassan(Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada) his servant, are constant companions. Amir, a timid boy, is often defended by Hassan against local bullies, getting himself injured in the process, a fact which doesn’t escape Amir’s Baba (his father, played by Homayoun Ershad) who wishes Amir would learn to stand up for something. Hassan, who is illiterate, admires Amir for his storytelling ability, asking him to read traditional Afghan tales. It’s an unequal friendship, but Hassan in his fierce loyalty to Amir, doesn’t care, he’s content to dwell in Amir’s shadow, as the pair passionately pursues kite flying, the Afghani national pastime. Hassan doesn’t fly the kite, his role is that of the kite runner, or the one who fetches the downed kite from an air battle, where the string of an opponent’s kite is cut. Amir says that Hassan has an uncanny ability to sense where the kite was overhead without looking up, by merely following its shadow on the ground.
On the day of the kite flying championship, Amir, anxious to impress his Baba, is thrilled to be the winner, with the last kite in the air. Hassan runs for the kite, and is cornered by the local thugs, lead by Assef (Elam Ehsas). Hassan refuses to give up the kite which is a trophy for his friend, and is raped by Assef. Amir, to his enduring shame, has witnessed the entire incident, and fails to rescue his friend. To cover up his shame, Amir attempts to distance himself from Hassan with anger. Ali, Hassan’s father(Nabi Tanha) concerned about his son’s depression, tries to get him to open up, but Hassan denies that anything is wrong. Amir refuses to divulge his dark secret to Rahim Kahn, a friend of his father with whom he shares his stories, Kahn knows something is amiss, but doesn’t pressure him. Amir is despondent, yet pushes Hassan away even further, by accusing him of stealing his watch. It is touching to see that Baba quickly forgives Hassan, who takes the blame, yet his father Ali chooses to leave his position as the family servant, taking Hassan with him. The Russian invasion forces Amir and his father to flee to relative obscurity and poverty in California. His Baba never loses his dignity despite the dangers of the trip and the ignominy of working at a gas station to support his son. Amir pursues his education, and tries to forget the past, as he falls in love with and wins the hand of Soraya (Alossa Leoni) the beautiful daughter of a prominent Afghan general.
An engaging plot draws one into the heretofore foreign world of Afghani culture, by the immediacy of the human drama. The theme of atonement is emerging as a popular them in Oscar-nominated films this year; lead characters. angst-ridden with the consequences of their moral failings, strive to set things right, or “Make it good again.” Amir’s melancholy when crowned with his publishing success seems incongruous until his childhood secret is unveils the reason behind the pain in his eyes. A pivotal scene takes place in a mosque, where Amir, pursuing Hassan’s son, answers the call to prayer, repents of his sin, and makes his peace with Allah. This repentance gives him the moral courage to face the shadows of his past, which now comprise the Taliban, holding his beloved homeland in an iron grip.
The role of an admirable father in character development in a son is something which is less common, puts a human face to what could have been simply an action film. Set against a bland landscape of desert beige, blue skies, and distant mountains, the vibrant emotions of the men in “The Kite Runner” paint a vivid canvas. This is, a masculine film, in the mold of “Braveheart”, where tests of character amidst wrenching tragedy create a deeply moving drama which is hard to watch, and equally hard to forget. This is truly Oscar-worthy film which haunts the memory long afterwards.
The centrality of a man-boy rape scene, with partial nudity which, though not particularly graphic, is quite disturbing, adultery and rape are later implied in the film. There is a depiction of a Taliban-style stoning in a stadium and a brutal beating. This film is highly recommended, but for mature adults only.