Friday, May 30, 2008

"Sex and the City" -- a Microcosm of Real Life?

On the other hand, these story lines do raise questions that young women do well to consider, if only in their own hearts: Are their own dating habits, acquired over decades of "no strings" encounters, going to mellow into, in the words of Sam's friend Carrie, "... ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can't live without it love"? Love that keeps the husband gazing warmly at his wife's photo on his desk instead of the perky new secretary's caboose? Love that trusts (with good reason) when an "old friend" blows into town for a week? Love that perseveres when one or both lose that six-figure income and they need to start paying for college and/or a triple bypass?
Heidi Saxton has not only seen the series (so she's one up on me ...) but she has given it a great deal of thought. An excellent post with what seems to me to be wonderful analysis of young women in our society as viewed through the show.

Book Reviews: Raising Up Mommy and Let Nothing Trouble You

Raising Up Mommy
Virtues for Difficult Mothering Moments
Heidi Hess Saxton
Hospitality: The Feminine Face of Generosity

Order and proportion, beauty and moderation. To embrace these principles of artistry within the home is to create an environment where the senses of family members are liberated to appreciate the fullness of God's design. A single bit of sun-ripened peach dances on the tongue with a far greater satisfaction--and far less guilt--than a quart of factory processed frozen yogurt.

True hospitality--the ability to tend to another person's needs while simultaneously putting that person at ease--demands both an empathetic perspective and an artistic touch. The generous person slips a check in a get-well card; the hospitable individual also leaves a jar of homemade chicken-and-dumplings or an inspirational book on tape.

But what does practicing the art of hospitality have to do with combating greed, one might ask? Just as the greed attaches to material things out of fear or pride, the one who practices true hospitality meets the physical needs of others out of an inner conviction of faith and trust, demonstrating by their own detachment a firm reliance on the only true Source of good things.

The motivation behind the act is as important as the act itself. Some people, for example, give not out of a sense of gratitude, but out of neediness--a need to be liked, or to be in the limelight.....
Contrary to the title, this book is actually about how women can practice the virtues in their lives, whether they are mothers or not. As Saxton guides us through the virtues, showing how they are antidotes for the seven deadly sins, we can see how practicing the small opportunities yields spiritual flowering in our own lives and those around us. I could relate all too well to Saxton's frequent confessions of her less than perfect moments of mothering or wifeliness. However, I think it is the rare women who cannot relate this realistic linking of sins and virtues to their own lives, whether at work, with friends, or even when alone.

I am a big fan of the virtues but all too frequently I am good at reading about them but then forget to practice them. This book will help anyone who reads it, myself included, see the many opportunities we are given to practice the virtues every day. Saxton makes the goal of living our vocations as Christians eminently more "do-able" through the insights in this book.

Highly recommended.

Update: I see that Heidi also has a new book out ... about Mary. Read a review at Just another day of Catholic pondering.

Bonus Review

When I was looking around for sales links to put with the above book, I realized that I have been an unwitting fan of Heidi Saxton's for a long, long time. At the time I became Christian, I was looking around for books about prayer and came across a short series of books about praying with the saints. I really wish the series had been longer, however, it was through these that I was introduced to my first two saintly "pals," St. Augustine and St. Teresa of Avila. (The other two books feature St. Thomas More and St. Francis of Assisi.) Saxton wrote the Teresa of Avila book.

I still love these books which combine simple but insightful combinations of 60 day's worth of morning and evening readings featuring scripture and readings from the saint. I pick up used copies whenever I come across them to give to new converts. Recently, I gave one to a friend of Hannah's who just entered the Church and heard back that she really loves it.

A much belated, but heartfelt thank you for that book!

Highly recommended.

Heidi tells me that she has copies of this for sale at her place. Just click through.

Book Review: Divine Canine

The Eyes Have It
With our own dogs, from the earliest days of puppyhood we stress the importance of contact between human and canine. Our puppies, after the first few weeks, are handled constantly and affectionately. But as important as this physical contact is, we put just as much effort into eye contact, which is key to establishing a relationship that will blossom as puppies grow into dogs.

Good eye contact serves several different purposes in the adult dog. A kindly, gentle look tells the dog that she is loved and accepted. But it is just as vital to communicate a stern reaction to bad behavior. A piercing, sustained stare into a dog's eyes tells her who's in charge; it establishes the proper hierarchy of dominance between person and pet. We don't do this with anger, but with firmness. Such eye contact rivets the dog's attention and can help curtail unruly behavior. It also encourages respect and ensures that the dog is paying attention. A well-positioned training collar is the key to establishing eye contact; lifting the dog's head up and keeping it firmly pointed at your face virtually guarantees the dog will look into your eyes.
I fell in love with this book. It is not just that it is packed with stories and photos of adorable dogs unlearning bad training. It is that it reminded me of how much there is to appreciate in the pets right in my own household. I have a bad habit of being too busy to properly pay attention much of the time. I have to remind myself to stop what I am doing and pay full attention to the business colleague or even family member who is talking to me at the moment. Our animals, especially our dogs, are so patient that they will put up with days when I forget to even pet them, although the food and water bowls are filled.

Every time I pick up this book and look through it, I see reminders of just how much there is to learn from our animals as well as how they enrich our lives ... if we let them. Whether you are preparing to train a dog or trying to work your pet out of bad habits and into good ones, I highly recommend this book for the monks' humane and unique approach to remembering that "a caring attitude and honest communication can turn any dog into a divine canine."

Oh, yeah ... and if you want to train your dog whether to new habits or out of bad ones, this has some wonderful techniques.

Popular Pro-Life Movie Bella Becomes Novel, Headed to Bookstores Nationwide

Great news for Bella fans..I think this is one book review we'll all want to do :)

The popular pro-life movie Bella is prepared to make another nationwide impact as the film has been turned into a novel that is available at bookstores across the country. The novel provides a more in-depth look at the movie and the characters who have touched millions of lives.

As a movie, Bella took on some of the giants of the summer season in 2007, earning more ticket sales per theater than some of the most popular movies at the time.

Then, Bella became the most popular pre-sell DVD in its category at after the movie went to video.

Now, the producers of the film tell about the latest chapter in the Bella saga.

"Bella has become such an amazing phenomenon that book publisher Thomas Nelson and award-winning author Lisa Samson decided to adapt the Bella story onto the written page and make it available in both English and Spanish," Bella producers Sean Wolfington and Leo Severino said.

story here

cross-posted on A Catholic View

Father Raymond J. de Souza on Sex and the City: The story of four insecure women searching for love

Father Raymond comments on the Sex and the City movie, which opens today.

To great popular culture fanfare, the Sex and the City movie opens on Friday. I don’t expect that I shall see it, so I thought I might offer a comment beforehand. Indeed, I rather missed the entire television series, but for a rather extraordinary confluence of events.

Some years ago, I was asked by my friends at Maclean’s to arrange for the participation of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec City, for their big 100th anniversary bash in Toronto. The program featured leading Canadians from industry, literature, science, show business, politics, etc., all giving various summaries of the decades of Maclean’s history. The cardinal was to arrive late from the airport, so he was assigned the last decade. Which was just as well, as the 1960s were introduced by Canadian actress Kim Cattrall, of Sex and the City fame, but of whom I was only vaguely aware. She did her bit in character, and had I known her character, I would not have wondered why a woman would present herself in public as more than a little bit trampy. At any rate, I was relieved that I did not have to explain to Cardinal Ouellet why I had asked him to be part of such a production, and nothing was said when he finally did arrive.

source here

cross-posted on A Catholic View

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Review of "Behold Your Mother"

“His soft spot smelled of lambskin
as I lifted him from his tiny bed,
He nestled close, wisps of hair glued with sweat,
his eyes closed with concentration.
First feeding, my favorite moment.
So still, before the house awakens, it is just you
and I and no one else in the world,
My little Lord”
If you were fortunate enough to nurse a newborn, this passage evokes tender memories, yet you may be taken aback by the last line, ‘my little Lord’” But why is it surprising? Surely this typical moment between mother and infant was repeated many times in the life of the Holy Family. The problem is, as cradle Catholics, we sometimes lose touch with the more intimate moments of Our Lady’s life, awed as we are by her purity and holiness. This often leads to an unintentional emotional distance from Mary, and sterility in our prayer lives. She is placed on a pedestal when she wants to hold our hand.

Because of her sinless nature, we may assume that obedience was effortless for Mary, yet in “Behold Your Mother”, the trials of Our Lady’s life are described with an immediacy that shows her extraordinary grace of her Immaculate Conception in action. We see that Mary’s “yes” in the Annunciation wasn’t a solitary act, but a constant challenge in her life as Mother of the Lord, one that is possible to imitate in our own lives.

We remember that loneliness and doubt touch every life, including that of Our Lady. She had a life where joys were always tinged with sorrow. We remember that the Flight into Egypt was exhausting, and that Our Lady may have pleaded for God to give her rest. We feel the anxiety of St. Joseph and Mary when young Jesus is left behind from the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and their bewilderment when they find Him so at home in the Temple, teaching the teachers. “Behold Your Mother” finally reminds us how much the Passion of Our Lord cost his Mother. That Man on the Cross was once her baby, He was beaten and bleeding, and there was nothing she could do but stay near Him and pray.

“Her obedience had thwarted Satan’s plan.
But the snake would strike again. . .
From the cradle to the tomb, her greatest Joy
was touched by sorrow. Her mother’s heart
knew full well the price of Love’s victory:
The apple of her eye.”
Have we ever pictured ourselves at the foot of the Cross with one of our children on it? “Behold Your Mother”, helps us to do so here,

“I can’t even wipe that precious forehead
I used to kiss each night.
Or bring a cup of water.
My Son, if I could take your place,
my broken heart for yours I’d do it. “
The last meditations take a few of the more well-known titles of Mary, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, and bring us into the moments when she touched human lives powerfully, yet always maternally, reminding us that once Our Lord gave her to us as mother, she was walked by our side, ready to help hear our burdens, and bring them to her Son.
After reading this book I had a renewed sense of Our Lady’s tender presence in my life, as my mother and friend, my companion as I mother my children and care for my husband. Because I feel more comfortable sharing the little things which life brings me, I find myself thinking about her, and turning to her more often in prayer.

Blessed Mother Teresa had written me a letter in 1990 while I was discerning my vocation. In the letter, she repeated advice from her own mother, “put your hand in Mary’s hand and she will lead you to Jesus”. The final meditation is just that, an invitation to let our renewed friendship with Our Lady lead us to the embrace of her Son Jesus.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - PG13

I saw "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" today, and I really enjoyed it, as I have enjoyed all the Indiana Jones movies and I am a real Harrison Ford fan.
However, I have to admit that it felt like something was missing; I think that may be because of his age. I don't mean to sound discriminatory or critical, but it just wasn't the same. The theme here was consistent with the other Indiana Jones movies, he is looking for something (you can tell by the title it is a crystal skull), and so are the "bad guys", who in this case, are the Russians. Keep in mind the year is 1957, during the "cold war". Cate Blanchett was the main "bad guy", and she really reminded me of the story of Adam and Eve, because her quest was really for infinite knowledge, which is ultimately her downfall.
In this movie, Indiana Jones is reunited with someone from his past, and finds a relative he didn't know about. That was one of the things I liked best about it.
There was also a UFO/alien connection which I didn't expect.

In terms of content warnings, there was no nudity or sexual situations and there was no objectionable/offensive language.
Despite my initial comments at the top, there was still plenty of action.
At the end, look for a hint of the future of "Indiana Jones".

cross-posted on A Catholic View

Thursday, May 22, 2008

McCain on 'DeGeneres Show': Marriage Between Man, Woman

cross-post from A Catholic View

I give both John McCain and Ellen credit for being willing to discuss this issue, each knowing the other has a differing viewpoint.

Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, long opposed to gay marriage and even civil unions, appeared on Thursday's "The Ellen DeGeneres Show,' saying that he disagrees with the California decision, but wishes her all the best as she makes plans to walk down the aisle with girlfriend, actress Portia de Rossi.

DeGeneres tried to sway McCain's opinion by explaining to the senator that she views the issue in the same way as when blacks and women didn't have the right to vote.

'Women just got the right to vote in 1920, and blacks didn't have the right to vote until 1870,' she noted, adding, 'It just feels like there's this old way of thinking that we are not all the same. We are all the same . . . You're no different than I am.' Sorry Ellen... all people are equal, but a homosexual relationship is NOT the same as marriage.

'I've heard you articulate that position in a very eloquent fashion,' McCain countered. 'I just believe in the unique status of marriage between man and woman, and I know that we have a respectful disagreement on that issue; and I along with many, many others wish you every happiness.'

At times looking uncomfortable, McCain acknowledged the necessity of partnerships for legal agreements: 'I think people should be able to enter into legal agreements. And I think that it is something we should encourage, particularly in the case of insurance and other areas where decisions have to be made.'

'So, you'll walk me down the aisle?' DeGeneres said to laughter and applause from the audience. 'Is that what you're saying?'

'Touche,' was the senator's response to loud applause.

story here

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Backlash begins as a New York magazine boycotts Sex And The City

When I saw this article, I was glad to see someone speaking out about this movie. I was quickly disappointd to see they were only complaining about the over-saturation, not the content. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Like the show, it is sure to contain graphic sex scenes. Anyone who is trying to live their faith should NOT see this film.

It appears the relentless promotional blitz surrounding Sex And The City movie has reached saturation point for some - and it hasn't even opened in cinemas yet.

New York's Time Out magazine, which has a reputation for capturing the city's Zeitgeist, has hit stands promising a Sex And The City free edition (albeit using an image of the women on the cover).

With Sarah Jessica Parker and co's mouths all taped up under the strap line "No Sex!", the magazine declares "Enough already - we love 'em, but it's just too much."

story here

And they're not the only ones:

Forum Films, the Israeli distributor of the soon-to-be-released "Sex and the City" movie, won't be hanging advertising posters and billboards in Jerusalem and Petah Tikva because officials there don't want the word "sex" on display, said company spokesman Arye Barak.

Municipal officials there asked to have the word "sex" removed from the posters, Barak said. "We told them, the way you don't remove the word "Coca" from "Coca-Cola" and just leave "Cola," we can't do it in this case," he said. "It's ludicrous."

Advertisemnts for the movie, based on the popular TV series, were to go up elsewhere in Israel on Tuesday night, said an official at Maximedia, the Israeli company that is handling outdoor advertising for the movie.

cross-posted on A Catholic View

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Prince Caspian": Christine's Review

I saw Prince Caspian today, I thought it was great. The 4 kids (well, a couple of them are teens :) from the first Narnia movie are back in Prince Caspian. They are referred to as the Kings and Queens of Narnia. As you can see by the previews and posters, Aslan is also back. However, his role is more brief than in the first.

This movie takes place 1 year, in our time, and 1200 years in Narnia time, after the first one. As they are standing on a subway platform, Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy are returned to Narnia. They find it quite different than the first time they were there. They meet Prince Caspian, who is in hiding from King Miraz, his uncle. Miraz wants to kill Caspian so his own newborn son can be Prince. The talking animals and creatures are missing, at first.

In the first Narnia movie, there were some stark biblical images: Aslan giving his life for Edmund, then being resurrected, etc.
I did not see such images in this one, but Aslan did say a couple of things with a somewhat biblical reference. When Lucy first sees Aslan, she tells him the others didn't believe she had seen him. He says "that should not keep you from coming to me." This kind of reminded me of when Thomas did not believe the other apostles had seen the risen Christ. Also, when he refers to Caspian as King, and Caspian says "I'm not sure I am ready." Aslan responds: "Perhaps that is what shows that you are." This reminded me of "Whoever is last shall be first" I found myself actually looking for biblical refernces. I think that might be because of the Christianity of C.S. Lewis.

After the talking animals return, it becomes more like the first Narnia. My favorite part of the movie was a climactic fight between Peter and King Miraz.

The only content warning is some violence in the fight to restore Narnia. I thought of it as exciting and entertaining, but I can see where small kids might view some parts as scary.

At the end, look for a hint about who will, or won't be in the next Narnia movie.

Overall, an excellent movie well worth seeing.

cross-posted on A Catholic View

Some Reflection on the Battle Theme of Prince Caspian

Peter Pevensie has grown physically since his last foray into Narnia, yet he still carries the schoolboy swagger that causes trouble for him in school in London, and on the battlefield of Narnia. He has forgotten that he was no king until crowned by Aslan, whose death and resurrection made the stunning victory over the White Witch possible. Prince Caspian who has never known Aslan personally, does not know how to rely on his power, and is driven by a sense of revenge and a desire for justice. It takes young Lucy whose faith has kept her heart open to Aslan, to remind the young men from whence their power comes, and turn tragedy into triumph.
How often in Western Society, we are full of the pride of our technical, economic, and military capabilities, and are tricked by the enemy into feeling that we have outgrown our need for God. We look down upon less educated, poorer nations like the Philippines where their Catholic faith is still vibrant, certain we have little to learn from them. We are wrong, according to the author of “Prince Caspian”. We are sowing the seeds of our own decline.

CS Lewis lived in the century of the fiercest persecution of Christians in the history of the world, and Prince Caspian is centered on a battle. What kind of battle is he suggesting? A battle for freedom from oppression in which Aslan, or Christ guides us, and the pure of heart are leaders. The oppression is a spiritual one; we have enslaved ourselves to our own pride, materialism and secularism. Perhaps this allegory should be seen as an indictment of our culture where religion is relegated to the realm of innocuous hobbies, in an attempt to dissuade us from entering the fray. The beauty of society is dimmed as our lack of faith allows evil to creep in, one court ruling at a time. This is a dramatic representation of the facts presented in "Expelled".

Pope Benedict recently said, at a meeting at the Pontifical Council for Culture,

"the secularization that is present in cultures as an arrangement of the world
and of humanity without reference to Transcendence is today invading every
aspect of daily life, and is developing a mentality in which God is effectively
absent, in whole or in part, from human existence, and understanding. . .It
deeply undermines the Christian faith from within, and in consequence undermines
the lifestyle and daily behavior of believers.
They live in the world and are often not affected, if not determined by the culture of the image that imposes contradictory role modes and impulses in the practical denial of God: there is no longer any need for God, for thinking of Him and returning to Him.
And furthermore, the predominant hedonistic and consumerist mentality fosters,
among both faithful and pastors, a tendency towards superficiality and
egocentrism. . .there is a risk of falling into spiritual atrophy and into an
emptiness of heart, sometimes characterized by surrogate forms of religious
membership and vague spiritualism. (Caspian resorting to witchcraft in the film)

It is clearly more urgent than ever to react to this trend, through recalling the lofty values of existence, which give meaning to life and can calm the disquiet of the human heart in it’s search for happiness: the dignity of the human person and it’s freedom, the equality among men, the meaning of life and death, and of that which awaits us after the conclusion of earthly existence. ”
March 9, 2008
HT Spero News.

Both CS Lewis and the Holy Father say we must not forget that we are merely pilgrims on earth, that heaven is our home, meanwhile, we must take up our swords, and plunge ourselves into the culture wars.

“put on the armor of Christ that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” St. Paul in Ephesians 6:11-12 DR

As Aslan gently reprimands Lucy for taking so long to seek his help out of fear of the opinion of others, one must ask; what’s holding me back?

"Prince Caspian": Leticia's review

Prince Caspian: Resident of a Darkened World
PG 2 hours 20 minutes
The four Pevensie children found everyday life in London tiresome following the high adventure of defeating the White Witch and establishing the Golden Age of the Kingdom of Narnia with the help of Aslan(voice by Liam Neeson), the lion. Their reign in peaceful Narnia had come to an abrupt end as they re-entered the wardrobe and tumbled back into wartime England of the 1940’s. Peter (William Moseley), once High King Peter the Magnificent, especially, seems to be in constant conflict with his schoolmates. The four long for the land where they spent so many happy years, when, in of all places the London Underground, they feel themselves pulled back into Narnia. A beach of unearthly beauty appears in front of them and at first they were overwhelmed with joy and release at being back in their true home.
But this wasn’t the Narnia they remembered; no longer did the water sing, the trees dance and the animals speak. There was a savagery and oppression in Narnia, and soon the children discovered the secret; they had returned to Narnia centuries after their reign and their beloved homeland is in dire need of their help. Prince Caspian(Ben Barnes), the heir to the throne of Telmar, a fugitive from his uncle King Miraz(Sergio Castellitto) who wanted the throne for his newborn son, had summoned the Pevensie children with Susan’s magic horn.
In the dark kingdom of Telmar on the other side of the river, the inhabitants had long considered the story of Aslan’s salvation of Narnia, and the brave deeds of its Kings and Queens, fairy tales for children and the simple-minded. Prince Caspian whose parents were dead, was forbidden by King Miraz to learn of such things, yet his wise and gentle Professor (Vincent Grass) had secretly told him the truth. The young Prince hardly dared believe in such nobility, living as he did in a kingdom of darkness, ruled by his uncle, a violent usurper to the throne.
Prince Caspian and King Peter form an alliance which is fraught with tension, caused by Caspian’s’ desire for revenge, and Peter’s pride. Lucy(Georgie Henley), however, has seen Aslan who wants to lead them. Would the proud and impetuous princes heed the faith of a child?
“Prince Caspian” was written by CS Lewis in 1951, as Europe, recoiling from the savagery of World War II, was dismayed to find the nations liberated by the Allies from Nazis under a new oppressor; the Soviet Communists. The Cold War snuffed the glow of the Allied victory and overshadowed the ensuing decades with the specter of international nuclear war. Lewis, who died in 1967, never lived to see the break up of the Soviet Empire, and one wonders if, by using the name ‘Caspian’, he meant to evoke the Caspian Sea, which borders Russia, and the rejection and oppression of religious belief in Telmar, the atheistic dogmatism of Communism. Director/Producer/Screenwriter Andrew Adamson seemed to imply this by having the swarthy Telmarines speak with Eastern European accents, and cloaking their Kingdom in darkness, suggesting an evil empire. Telmarine-oppressed Narnia, though brighter than Telmar, reflects little of its former glory, even the animals are no longer civilized. As Narnian Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage) explains the change, “If you are treated like a dumb animal, that is what you become”.
Prince Caspian speaks powerfully of bravery, self-sacrifice, and the importance of remembering one’s cultural heritage as a means of comprehending the present. Pride is seen as a vice, which forgets faith, yet violence itself is not eschewed, as Caspian and the Pevensies defend the rights of the oppressed. The heroes of Narnia are no lambs, after all they are led by a lion.
Spectacular natural scenery seen in powerful aerial shots combined by the familiar lyrical musical themes from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, effectively transport the audience into another world. A teenage girl who attended the movie with me, said, “it’s depressing to come out of this movie because you have to leave Narnia and face reality”. Like the Pevensie children, you find that the longing for Narnia remains a part of you.
Recommended for children ten and up. Some frightening though unbloody battle scenes, a noisy though non-graphic birth scene, one kiss on the mouth, and a disturbing scene of delving into the occult may frighten younger children.
12/2008 UPDATE: I had an opportunity to interview William Mosely the actor who played Peter Pevensie, last month, in Hollywood. He's taking a photography course in London, and snapped the photo in the blog header out the hotel window after I commented on what a great theme it would create for CMR.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Monsignor Barr has another review of Prince Caspian

On the moral lessons to be gleaned from Prince Caspian over at his blog Anamchara .
He gives Prince Caspian his highest rating; five grails!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Henry Poole is Here: I Really, Want This to Be a Good Movie

Not only does this have an interesting premise ...
HENRY POOLE is HERE is a comedic drama about a disillusioned man who goes hiding in placid suburbia only to discover he cannot escape the forces of hope. Returning to the middleclass neighborhood where he grew up, Henry chooses to live in indulgent isolation. Real life, however, refuses to cooperate with his plans. Nosy neighbors interrupt him with curious visits and prying questions. Then the situation escalates as a stain on Henry's stucco wall is seen to have miraculous powers. His last-ditch hideout becomes a shrine; his backyard turns into an arena for passionate debate about faith and destiny. Seeking anonymous oblivion, cynical Henry Poole instead finds himself right at the center of the human comedy. ...
... but it also has Luke Wilson who I always find endearing. Plus I love the song that they use in the trailer.

Much thanks to Corby for sending me the link to this trailer. You're right ... it is well worth blogging about.

An Interesting Commentary on the Prince Caspian Adaptation

Lars at Brandywine Books points out a major flaw he noticed in the adaptation of Prince Caspian for the movie world ... and why it matters.

[...] What set me off was a statement that director Andrew Adamson decided to make Susan Pevensey a warrior in the battle (in the film), though Lewis had made it a point to keep her out of it (in the book).

The more I think about this, the more it bothers me. I understand that I’m touchy and obsessive on the subject, but there are times when madmen (like me) can see the truth that sane people can’t, because we look where nobody else is looking. If it’s true that the truths that are most important to defend in any age are precisely those that are most despised, then madmen are sometimes the bloodhounds who smell out what the truth-hunters don’t see.

The decision to kick aside a plot point that mattered to Lewis, just because it’s unfashionable, is not a minor matter (or so it seems to me). In this situation it’s a declaration that there is no special calling for a man to be warrior and protector in the world. Nobody seems to see this, but to me it’s obvious—such a view has dangerous, catastrophic consequences, not only for boys and men but for society as a whole. It’s an assertion (one at which Lewis would have snorted in contempt) that there is no essential difference between men and women; that there are only interchangeable hominid units. [...]
Read it all here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Boston Legal" takes shots at the the Catholic Church

cross-post from A Catholic View

Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments today on last night’s episode of the ABC program, “Boston Legal”:

“There is no one in Hollywood more fascinated—and angry—about the Catholic Church than ‘Boston Legal’ creator David E. Kelley. That was obvious with his show "The Practice" also. Last night he shared with us once again his wish list. The episode focused on the plight of yet another terribly oppressed woman. The source of her oppression, of course, is the Catholic Church. She wants to become a priest, but she refuses to walk down the block to join the Episcopal church. So she realizes Kelley’s dream by evincing a hatred for diversity and tolerance: she sues the Church for discrimination.

“Orthodox Judaism, Mormonism, Islam and Orthodox Christianity merit honorable mention in the show (they have the same clergy strictures), but they don’t really count: it is the big bad Catholic Church that Kelley wants to knife. For example, in the courtroom lies are told about the Catholic Church’s alleged support for slavery, the execution of witches and the Inquisition. [Note: It was the Catholic Church—not any other religion—which first opposed slavery, and it was St. Patrick who was the first public person in history to fight against it; and for the most part, it was the civil authorities, not the Church, who punished witches and were responsible for the Inquisition.] In the end, Kelley’s biggest fantasy is realized—the Catholic Church’s tax-exempt status is revoked. Oh, yes, Kelley also speaks vicariously about sodomy: it should not be a sin. Let's leave that to the Pope, okay?

“In the real world, now that imperial judges in California have overturned the express will of the people by allowing Sam to marry Steve (they have not ruled on whether Sidney can make it a trifecta), Kelley must be gushing. But it won’t last: he’ll get another reality check in November.”

story here

Monday, May 12, 2008

The making of 50 Reasons to Pray the Rosary

A group of 50 high school friends in Madrid organized themselves to "give back to the Church who has given so much to us", by saying why they pray the rosary in this month of Mary.This video, seen more than 150,000 times on YouTube, has become the most viewed video in Spain. Increible!So much for the death of the Church in Spain.
Read the entire article here in Spanish. If anyone finds it in English, kindly let me know.
HT Air Maria

50 Reasons to Pray the Rosary

Iron Man ... the Catholic Batman?

Or so Enbrethiliel's pal points out ...
"I guess I was never interested," my friend continued," because he has no innate superpowers. I read a description of him somewhere that fits perfectly: the Catholic Batman. I mean, like Bruce Wayne, he just built everyth--"

I practically knocked Skairuz's glass over in my excitement. "The Catholic Batman??? Why? How? Speak!"

"Well . . . his motivation to fight crime is based on his discovery of how his past actions have caused others, including innocents, to suffer. He's trying to atone for his sins, do penance, as it were."

As you can see, Skairuz got the best out of fifteen years of Jesuit education. ...
She's not alone. Well, The American Culture doesn't go so far as to call Iron Man a Catholic Batman, but it does a very nice piece on the redemptive quality of the movie and concludes:
It's no surprise that Iron Man benefits from impressive special effects and action sequences, but it is somewhat surprisng and pleasing that it has some truly serious ideas and characterizations and explores them with sincerity, wit, and sophistication.
Decent Films concurs:
... Here is a popcorn movie with a will to entertain, at turns evoking James Bond, Batman Begins and Transformers; if it’s not in the same league as Batman Begins, it’s better (and shorter) than Transformers, with a redemptive angle foreign to James Bond.

Directed by Jon Favreau (Zathura), Iron Man is a rare superhero origin story that is also a conversion story. ...
I have been trying not to read reviews because I really want to see this in the movies and not know every turn of the plot. However, even a cursory scan of these reviews shows that this is a superhero movie with a lot of heart. Do go read them all for a good look behind the standard superhero story.

Oh, and to answer Enbrethiliel's question ...
Is there anything more embarrassing than having Barb Nicolosi beat me to posting about a superhero movie?
No, no there isn't. As I can say from experience right now.

Review of Opening the Scriptures: A series that lives up to its name

Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life:
Insight and Inspiration
(Opening the Scriptures series)
by George Martin
"Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?"
Luke 24:32
"Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life" is a commentary that made the above verse from Luke occur to me again and again. George Martin has given us a thorough and fascinating yet highly accessible scriptural commentary that truly does let us see the Gospel of Matthew with new eyes.

The structure of the book follows this outline as Matthew is covered, section by section:
  • An orientation, if needed, of the scriptural passage.

  • The scriptural passage in its entirety

  • Listing of Gospel parallels, Old Testament related passages, and New Testament related passages

  • Verse-by-verse explanation of the text. Occasionally this is a phrase-by-phrase explanation when necessary for clarity. The Gospel phrase or verse is always bolded within these so that one can see easily what is being explicated. The explanation will often reflect a connection to the present day life in the Church. If an explanation has not been agreed upon by scholars, Martin may offer his own possible explanation or clarification but this is always within Church teachings.

    • Full quotations of related Old Testament passages within the explanations when they are necessary
    • Cross-references to Old and New Testament passages that are related to each explanation
    • Listing and page numbers of related background information that might be in other sections

  • Reflection questions that provide opportunities to relate the scripture to one's own life

  • Boxed-in background information which provides contextual information on such varied subjects as farming life in Palestine, the meaning that the word messiah had for Jews at the time of Jesus, how cosmic signs were interpreted, and what the roles of servants and slaves were in that time.
Over the years I have used many scriptural commentaries, some Catholic and some Protestant. Each has their advantages but this is the first I have encountered that has gripped me with such interest that I read it to the exclusion of all else. After perusing so many commentaries, I thought that I had a grasp of the basic considerations for many of the most commonly quoted gospel passages. Although Martin definitely covers what I already might have known from other sources, he does so with many citations to Old Testament passages that other sources have not necessarily included. As well, he is continually surprising me with a consideration that I had not thought of before. It may be a subtle point but is usually a telling one and has given me much food for thought already. I am positive that Tom already is tired of me piping up with, "Hey, listen to this!" after only reading 80 pages so far. For example:
[The Homage of the Magi
1 When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, a magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, 2 saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage." ...]

2 The magi come to Jerusalem saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage." They observe a star at its rising--at its first appearance in the sky. What might they have seen (a supernova? a conjunction of planets? a comet?) is a matter of conjecture, but Matthew's concern is the significance of what the magi saw, not its nature. The magi interpret the rising of the star as signaling the birth of a king of the Jews. There was ancient belief that heavenly signs marked the birth of great men. Some Jews applied the Scripture passage, "A star shall advance from Jacob" (Num 24:17), to the coming of the Messiah, and the magi may have known of this. The magi come to Jerusalem and ask about the newborn king of the Jews so that they may do him homage. The star alerted them to his birth, but Matthew does not portray it guiding them on their journey. The magi simply come to the Jewish capital city -- Jerusalem -- looking for its newborn king.
This may seem obvious to everyone else but it simply never occurred to me that the star was what began the magi on their journey but that they simply had to apply their own logic after that in going to Jerusalem since that would be a good place to begin looking for the king of the Jews. Later in the commentary, Martin points out that Herod hears about the magi, calls the priests and scribes to him to ask where the messiah was to be born, and then calls the magi to tell them to look in Bethlehem. Now, he is doing all this for his own reasons, which we know through hindsight are nefarious. I had never caught that sequence of events so clearly ... that Herod ascertained the location and then summoned the magi. I just never read the text that clearly.

Then Martin sums it up for us in another connection that I'd never made, and couldn't have made without having the previous sequence pointed out to me.
9 After their audience with the king they set out. The magi begin their quest for Jesus because of a star, a revelation through nature. (Paul writes that God reveals himself through his creation: Rom 1:19-20.) Natural revelation goes only so far: it leads the magi to Jerusalem, but not yet to Jesus. God's revelation through nature must be completed by God's revelation to his people and through their writings, the Scriptures. The prophet Micah [quoted to Herod by the scribes and Pharisees] provided the link that leads the magi on their next step toward Jesus. ...
Could you hear my mind blowing? That made such sense, clicked into place so perfectly, yet I had never come across that before.

It is not a slender book, clocking in at 668 pages, however not one page has been wasted. As you can see from above, the care which Martin gives to the commentary requires length in order to be easily understood. His thoroughness also can be appreciated when one considers that the selected bibliography contains 89 books. This book also has both a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur which are like a Catholic Church seal of approval on the accuracy with which the facts reflect Church teachings.

Word Among Us and George Martin are to be lauded for this series which I hope will continue at least through the Acts of the Apostles. I especially appreciate having relevant Old Testament passages quoted in their entirety so that the flow is not interrupted while I dash to the Bible to see the related text. Let's face it, few of us go to the actual trouble of doing that, although we should, so this is doubly welcome. As well, I like having the background information reference given wherever it might come up as a question. It is wonderful not having to thumb to end notes or search the index to find extra information.

It is still true that no one commentary covers every aspect of scriptural commentary. Others have a more specific focus on Church fathers or archaeology for example. I will still be using them. However, this is probably the most complete I have come across yet and will be the one I recommend for anyone who is interested in really learning what scripture can show us when we take the time to read through it slowly, with attention, and with prayer.

Word Among Us also generously sent Bringing the Gospel of Mark to Life, mentioning that they had heard some comments that the books were "too scholarly" and this concerned them as the books are specifically meant to be easily accessible to any level of knowledge from beginner to scholar. After reading some from both books, the only explanation I can imagine for those comments are that perhaps the purchasers expected the commentary to be similar to that of Word Among Us devotional magazine. You can see, by clicking through on the link, that the commentary in that publication is entirely personal and designed for reflection on relationship. Martin's commentary, although based on explaining the scripture verses, is no less accessible and no less suited for personal reflection. In fact, in the introduction he says that his "fondest wish" is that readers will be able to use these books for lectio divina (sacred reading) and prayer. I believe this is an entirely valid use and, in fact, am planning on this use myself.

I do have one criticism. The scripture passages from Matthew quoted in their entirety at the beginning of each discussion need to be visually delineated more clearly. Currently these sections simply blend into the overall pages which makes it very difficult to pick out where a section begins or ends. As I begin each chapter, I have been using a red pencil to box in the scripture. This has made a big difference in helping to organize the page visually, for me at any rate. Certainly it makes each chapter less intimidating when one can leaf through and see the many "sections" into which it is actually divided. Although this quibble would seem minor, I hope that the publishers of future editions would consider it.

Highly recommended.

I will be including nuggets on this blog as I continue reading through Matthew. For those who wish to begin with Mark, I leave you with this background information which, again, blew my mind, as I hadn't ever considered what he says about John the Baptist. I also appreciate the fact that Martin spends almost as much time reminding us not to read into Mark what we know from other sources as he does in other commentary. This section also gives an excellent example of Martin's extension of his commentary to an idea for our personal reflections.
COMMENT: TO READ MARK We will be most sensitive to the message Mark wishes to proclaim in his gospel if we read it as a Gospel in itself. We bring a great deal of knowledge to our reading of Mark, including what the Gospel of John tells us about John the Baptist. In the fourth Gospel, the Baptist recognizes and proclaims Jesus as the one who comes after him (John 1:26-34). In arriving at a final assessment of John the Baptist, we need to take into account all that is said about him in all four Gospels. But reading Mark's Gospel for the message it proclaims is a different matter. To do so we need to pay attention to what Mark says--and doesn't say-- and not automatically import information into Mark's Gospel from the other Gospels.

There is a second, related requirement. In reading Mark's Gospel we need to distinguish between what we know because Mark tells us and what the characters in Mark's Gospel know or do not know. Mark has told us that John the Baptist is the one sent to prepare the way for Jesus (1:1-3). But John the Baptist has not read Mark's Gospel and might not know what we know. Mark has told us from the very beginning that Jesus is the Christ (1:1), but those Jesus meets in the course of his ministry will be slow to recognize who Jesus is.

If John did not recognize Jesus, what does that tell us about the Baptist's call? Perhaps it tells us that God asked John to play a particular role but did not inform him of the full implications of his role. Something similar may well be true for many of us. We have been given certain responsibilities by God, perhaps even a clearly defined mission in life. But we may be in the dark about the ultimate outcome of our actions. We know what to do but not what it will accomplish in God's perspective.

Real-Life Skull Worship Inspires New Indiana Jones Movie

I've been looking forward to the new Indiana Jones movie. I did not know that it is based on real beliefs of the Mayans.

There is a legend that the ancient Maya possessed 13 crystal skulls which, when united, hold the power of saving the Earth--a tale so strange and fantastic that it inspired the latest Indiana Jones movie.

Experts dismiss the hundreds of existing crystal skulls as fakes that were probably made by colorful antiquities traders in the 19th century. But Mayan priests worship the skulls, even today, and real-life skull hunters still search for them.

The true story of the skulls stretches over continents and hundreds of years, and may be even more extraordinary than the tale portrayed in this fourth installment of the Harrison Ford franchise.

It's unclear what version of the tale will appear in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls," which opens in U.S. theaters on May 22. The plot apparently revolves around a race against the Soviets to find the skulls.

Distributor Paramount Pictures refused requests for interviews or information on the film, the first Indiana Jones movie since "The Last Crusade" came out in 1989.

cross-posted on A Catholic View

story here

Review of "Prince Caspian"

It premieres on Friday May 16, and I hope to review it here the next day. We are fortunate to have a guest post from Monsignor Eric Barr who has written an review of the film' with emphasis on it's relevance to modern Catholics.
Monsignor Barr is the Vicar for Clergy and Religious at the Diocese of Rockford, Ill. and blogs on literature and film at Anamchara.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Literary Giants, Literary Catholics

I Recently finished Literary Giants, Literary Catholics by Joseph Pearce. I always enjoyed hearing him speak when I have heard him on Catholic radio and finally got around to getting one of his books. It now looks like I need to buy the rest of his books. I can't say I normally read with pleasure 400+ pages of essays, but I certainly did in this case. The book largely covers converts to the Church, especially from England, whose lives are often remembered by their literary output. So there is coverage of John Henry Cardinal Newman, Chesterton, Belloc, Ronald Knox, T.S. Eliot, J.RR.Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, Roy Cambell, Evelyn Waugh, and a slew of others.

The first part deals with tradition and conversion in modern English literature along with the landscape of the 20th century. From there we go on to The ChesterBelloc (I loved this section), The Wasteland which deals with the war poets and the ultramodern poets and other literary stars, a section dealing with the Inklings, and finally various essays that take as their launching pad the literary converts, but also goes into other subjects. Each of these section contain a large number of essays and while there is a lot of overlap between them, it is a positive overlap. Joseph Pearce is a fine literary writer himself and even though his specialty is biographies he has great insights into these writers and is able to write quite wonderfully about them.

It really is rather amazing how many converts there were that came from the literary world, especially the high number of conversions from the writers known as the Decadents. It is also interesting how much consternation this caused among other writers who were shocked at people like T.S. Eliot (Anglicanism) and Evelyn Waugh entering the Church. We really don't have anything comparable today of large number of literary authors entering the Church, but then again we hardly have anything comparable to the quality of these authors in the literary world in the first place. These people surely are literary giants.

I am a bit ashamed to say that if I myself had never entered the Church I might never had read any of these authors in the first place. I kept myself pretty much in a SF, fantasy, and horror ghetto and only occasionally delved into other genres. Coming into the Church I would find these other writers mentioned quite often and so started reading these authors. It is hard to imagine life without these authors now who have become like old friends to me. Though there are plenty of other authors referenced in the book that I will also need to familiarize myself with.

What I so enjoy about Pearce's writing is his enthusiasm on the subject and he pulls you in along with him into the topic at hand. It is an enthusiasm based on a deep knowledge of the authors filled with a wealth of biographical details to help you better understand their work. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The History of Eugenics is in "Expelled"

The dark history of the shameful movement underpinning the biggest human atrocities of the 20th century was powerfully outlined by Ben Stein in his important documentary which is a must-see for anyone serious about science, about faith, and about freedom. Did I leave anybody out?
Stein followed the scientific community's lockstep loyalty to Darwinism backwards in time, and ended up at the Nazi gas chambers, which first killed disabled people. They were just practicing Darwinism, by speeding up the process of natural selection, formerly called survival of the fittest, by eliminating "useless eaters". Society bought into this toxic mentality because it came from doctors and scientists.
Stein followed the eugenicist trail to Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, who worked overtime to rid the world of people like my immigrant grandparents. While she was ostensibly offering women choice, secretly she was seeking to rid American society of the 'unfit'. More Darwinism in action. We are still in the midst of the nightmare of Sanger's legacy; 46 million Americans have died of abortion, far surpassing the darkest dreams of Hitler and Stalin together.

Ben Stein did us the invaluable favor of holding a spotlight of truth on some of society's darkest secrets, and those valiant scientists who have dared to reveal them to academia. They were expelled from their positions and blacklisted from obtaining further employment. Oxbridge and Ivy League graduates who have produced world renowned work. They mentioned Intelligent Design once and they were gone. Nothing but strict Darwinism will be tolerated by academics. What happened to scientific inquiry and academic freedom?

Stein then exposed the utterly laughable theories of scientists who would rather make up grotesque fairy tales about Extra Terrestrials coming to earth and planting "human seeds" from which we emerged, to life's beginnings as molecules bumping together as they "rode the backs of crystals".

With his trademark aplomb and vintage film clips adding humor and highlighting the outrageous statements captured by his camera, Ben Stein has created a classic which will one day be appreciated, as the film that drew society bent on self-destruction, back from the precipice.
If it's not too late.
If we continue to allow ourselves to be dominated by dogmatically atheistic scientists whose agenda blinds them to the fact that evolution is a 150 year old theory which has NOT withstood scientific advances, we will find ourselves in a totalitarian state. The scientists themselves admitted on camera that they wish to destroy the power religion holds on culture, and relegate it to an innocuous hobby, like knitting.
Global warming and political correctness will have replaced the Judeo-Christian belief in the dignity of man, the pinnacle and master of God's creation. We will find ourselves enslaved to a materialistic ideology. Our very right to exist will be determined by what the powerful consider a worthwhile contribution to society, against our carbon footprint.
Many of us may not make the cut.
Terri Schiavo didn't.
46 million unborn Americans didn't.
See the trailer here.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Ever Seen the Message in a Movie? – New Catholic Website Launches

This new site is just my cup of tea. Mark has thoughtful essays that look below the surface of movies to give us insights into the bigger picture. Y'all know that I love that because it is what makes movies into art that stretches our souls instead of simply entertaining us.
A new Catholic website, SoulFoodCinema, launches today with the aim of educating and evangelising through the medium of the movies.

Soulfoodcinema differs from other faith and film websites, in that the focus is on providing education and insights for those that are curious after having watched a film, rather than providing extensive ratings and reviews for those that are curious before watching a film.

Managing Editor Mark Banks is keen to remind people that the worldwide film industry now produces hundreds of films each year that can primarily be described as ‘character studies’, and says that these films, whether we are aware of it or not, are all communicating a message to us, either implicitly or explicitly, on how to lead our lives. In such a world Mark believes it important that Catholics filled with the Holy Spirit and a love for Jesus Christ, use their wisdom, knowledge and discernment to understand these messages and to communicate them to as wide an audience as possible; especially amongst young people. For this reason Soulfoodcinema enables readers to contribute essays on one of over 700 films already viewed by the Managing Editor, which can then be published on the internet.

Soulfoodcinema also features weekly updates of links to news stories in the field of faith and film, as well as a community chat room dedicated to discussing all aspects of the movies from a Catholic-Christian point of view.

Through his letter to the Romans Saint Paul reminds us "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will" (12:2). Mark asks that Catholics pray Soulfoodcinema will assist the Church in doing just that.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Iron Man - PG13 -My own review

Warning: some spoilers included

I took my nephews to see Iron Man today. I'm just not sure who enjoyed it more...them or me :)

They also informed me I have to take them to the new Batman the Dark Knight movie in July and the Incredible Hulk movie in June, so I'll be reporting on those when we see them :)

As many of the reviews and previews have shown, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is kidnapped in Afganistan and forced to make a weapon. Instead, he builds a suit (the prototype for Iron Man) to escape. He owns a weapons company, and when he sees the effects of his weapons, he becomes Iron Man and vows to destroy the weapons rather than let terrorists and other bad guys have them and use them. I was impressed by that theme of redemption and atonement.

The employees of his weapons company are not exactly thrilled that the company's main product won't be made anymore. One of his executives makes a weapons deal under the table, and gets hold of the original prototype suit. He becomes Iron Man's first opponent.

As far as content warnings, there was one sex scene early on, but it was very brief and there was no nudity. There is some violence, as you would expect, and the gore is mild...some of it is actually implied, but not shown, like when some people are shot, they cut away and you hear the gunfire but don't see the death.

The part that gave me the biggest chill was to see Gwyneth Paltrow put her hand in the hole in his chest.

The biggest surprise for me was at the end. in a press conference, he announces "I am Iron Man" (usually super heros keep their true identity secret :)

cross-posted on A Catholic View

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Grand Theft Culture: The Entertainment Industry Goes for the Jugular

Grand Theft Auto IV just came out this past week.
This review by Cullinan Hoffman would give any of us reasons to not get it for our kids. I know I wouldn't get it for my nephews.

The debut of "Grand Theft Auto IV", a highly-realistic video game in which players "win" by committing violent criminal acts, is notable for several reasons, but most importantly because of what it says about a society that is engaged in an orgy of self-destruction, and cannot even recognize what is happening.

The Grand Theft Auto series makes the player into a criminal who wins points by stealing cars, assassinating rivals, killing police, running over pedestrians, and even murdering a prostitute with a baseball bat rather than paying her. It is, in short, a game that glorifies brutal criminality and enables players to fantasize their participation in mind-numbing barbarism.

The fact alone that Grand Theft Auto IV is expected to earn more than $400 million during its run, rivaling the most popular movie releases, speaks volumes about what has happened to the U.S. during the last fifty years. What would once have seemed like a blatant and massive assault on our society by a commercial interest, is now a blockbuster form of entertainment.

Mainstream publications such as Business Week yawn at the moral objections raised against such software, and instead rave about the realistic graphics, referring to the game as "Grand Theft Awesome". "We have a hard time imagining anyone picking up this game and not feeling like this is one of the best $60 purchases they've made in a long time," says the reviewer, seemingly unconcerned that he is talking about a murder simulator.

The new version of the game and the mentality it promotes have already claimed their first victim. A man standing in line waiting to purchase the game on the first night of sales in south London stabbed a passer-by. "It was a scene straight from the game itself," said one witness.

"Grand Theft Auto", as monstrous as it is, is only a single example of the Culture of Death that is overwhelming what is left of Anglo-American civilization.

cross-posted on A Catholic View

Full Review here

Friday, May 2, 2008

Gut Check

Gut Check: Confronting Love, Work, and Manhood in Your Twenties is a interesting new book by Tarek Saab. I only recently became aware of Mr. Saab as I heard him being interviewed on several Catholic podcasts and he presents an interesting story. One of his claims for fame is that he was a contestant on the reality show The Apprentice and he advanced fairly far before being fired by Donald Trump. I've never seen the show since so-called reality shows aren't my thing. But the book itself only talks very peripherally about his experience on the show and the book addresses much more serious topics.

Tarek Saab is the son of a Lebanese father and American mother and grew up Catholic. The book mostly begins with his experiences in college and the story he tells will be familiar to many. His schooling becomes a time when faith is put on the back burner and partying and chasing after women becomes the number one priority. Though Tarek never quite loses his faith in school and would still attend Mass as more of a social thing than out of any love for the Mass. While going to school at times he evaluates his life and sees the wrong in it and then sets himself out on the right path only to stumble and fall back once again into familiar habits. Something else that many of us can relate to. He relates these periods of self-reflection and the pursuit of a belief in God.

This book follows around the course of a conversion story, but it is not an overtly apologetic one of coming to fully believe in specific doctrines and making the case for them. His story is more of someone who never quite leaves faith out of his life, but at the same time never fully lets his faith enter into his whole life. He kept his faith in a sphere separate and groups of friends within each sphere. After college he enters a Fortune 500 company and is soon on the fast track in the corporate life.

Reading through the book I was reminded of St. Augustine's "Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.", something that he also later goes on and quotes in the book. He writes in a forthright manner and is quite frank on his failings and the various episodes in his life before his fuller conversion. I found his spiritual biography to be quite insightful with many things to ponder. You could see the hound of Heaven following him and while at first he was not fully living a life as a Catholic, his Catholic faith was always there even if in a weakened state. This is a good reminder to those with children who have left the practice of the faith or have only made it a cultural expression. God is always pursuing is and there are those moments of grace when we slow down and actually let him catch us.

I found this to be a quite enjoyable read and Tarek is a good writer who could write about himself without at the same time making the book all about himself and making his story relatable to others.

Iron Man - PG13

A good review from CNN

You might attribute it to 9/11, or simply blame director Joel Schumacher, whose camp take on "Batman" derailed that franchise for several years. But, lately, Hollywood superhero movies have taken themselves awfully seriously.
Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark, a billionaire who remakes himself into "Iron Man."

Ang Lee, Bryan Singer and Christopher Nolan have produced solemn, almost morbid versions of the Hulk, Superman and Batman, respectively. Even Sam Raimi succumbed to this gravity in the "Spider-Man" trilogy.

Enter Robert Downey Jr., riding to the rescue, a glass of Scotch in his hand and a sardonic smile on his lips. As everyone knows, Downey is not the hero type. Not in his public persona and not on screen either, where his dissipated narcissism has been most often effective in supporting roles ("Zodiac," "A Scanner Darkly," "Wonder Boys").

Downey is one of those actors who likes to doodle in the margins, to ad-lib and fool around, instincts that give Jon Favreau's "Iron Man" movie an immediate fillip. The star's bad-boy past becomes part and parcel of the character's redemption drama: This is where he shows his true mettle.

One of the lesser-known Marvel heroes, Iron Man is basically Batman in a shiny new suit and a more global perspective. Like Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark is a wealthy industrialist, a weapons manufacturer with the means and know-how to create his own impregnable armor (Stan Lee allegedly based him on Howard Hughes). Iron Man made his debut in 1963, when he was captured by the Viet Cong and put to work.

Forty-five years later the theater of war has shifted to Afghanistan, but the same mechanics are in play. Stark is demonstrating his latest smart bomb -- part of the "Freedom" line -- when he falls into the hands of a murderous warlord who turns out to have a well-stocked arsenal of Stark hardware. The warlord then demands his own, homemade weapon of mass destruction.

Badly wounded, Stark feigns compliance, but actually hammers out the prototype for a bulletproof jet-suit that he uses to escape.

In the original comics, Stark's brush with mortality only made him angry; he took the war to the Commies. Favreau's reconstructed Iron Man is still a human gun, but he's no longer gung-ho, exactly. He's more of an aggressive pacifist.

Back in the USA, he announces he's a changed man, embraces nonviolence and joins a Buddhist commune. OK, I'm kidding, but not by much: He announces that Stark Industries is quitting the arms trade. As the stock plummets, he quietly holes up in his modernist Malibu home to perfect his one-man missile defense system.

True to type, Downey has a ball as the cavalier playboy in the early scenes. This Tony Stark is so much fun to be around we're almost sorry to see his transformation take place. Or we would be, if not for Downey's deliciously deft physical performance, which insists that the melding of man and machine is no walk in the park.

However, his business partner, Obadiah Stane (a splendidly bald, bearded Jeff Bridges), is unhappy about the change.

It's not difficult to guess where this is heading -- Marvel stories are all permutations on a handful of stock scenarios -- but Favreau doesn't blow it up any more than he has to. In "Elf" and "Zathura" he showed he could integrate special effects and carry the story, but like Downey, he's almost always looking for a comic spin.

A scene in which Tony invites his assistant, Pepper Potts (an appealingly valiant Gwyneth Paltrow), to reach into the hole in his chest and fix his battery is a cheeky cocktail of trust, disgust, love, sex, fear and courage (it's also a key plant for subsequent developments), but above all it plays funny. When a movie is firing on all those cylinders, you know it's a winner.

The character stuff is so light on its feet that the action scenes seem flat in comparison -- the effects are first-rate, but they're nothing we haven't seen before, and the climactic showdown is a bit heavy-handed (if satisfyingly crunchy).

Even so, "Iron Man" is a supremely confident, well-tooled entertainment. It's bound to be the early pace-maker for the oncoming glut of summer blockbusters.

source here

Movie Review: Cloverfield (2007)

***Cross-posted on Good News Film Reviews***

Should I see it?


Short Review:
MTV makes a monster movie.

The whole movie is held hostage by its own novelty. The hook for the flick is that a giant monster attacks New York City and the whole thing is caught on tape by civilians on the ground. This may seem like a great premise for a film until you learn that this means you'll spend ninety minutes with a gaggle of vacuous snot nosed twentysomethings who can't hold a camera still. If you're even remotely prone to seasickness or enjoy films that involve character arcs and plot, you want to steer clear of this pointless mess.

The story is cobbled together to keep the novelty alive. Since the characters need to keep filming for there to be a movie, screenwriter Drew Goddard is forced to have them make foolish choices or be the victim of ridiculous coincidences. Honestly, the monster seems drawn to recognizable land marks and only seems compelled to destroy them once the heroes get within range to shoot the carnage. Goddard's plot is frustrated by having to keep his story alive under the conditions of the gimmick. Since the characters would logically try to avoid the lumbering giant monster Goddard has to invent a way for them to remain in peril even when hiding. His answer? The giant monster sheds evil spiders that impregnate people and makes them explode. This stupid concept may have been cool on paper but in reality all we get is the characters being assaulted twice in quick scenes that are all filmed with a shaking camera. There's no reason given for any of these monsters, but then again, there's no real reason to provide one. This isn't supposed to be Shakespeare. Too bad its not even good enough to claim to be Stephen King.
You can forget this mindless drivel and go rent Godzilla - at least he didn't poop spiders.

Cautions: There's some gore, although it is brief. Swearing abounds and there's a ton of death. This isn't for small children obviously...then again, with how stupid this is, it's not for adults either.

There has been some fleeting comments pointing out the tenuous connections between this movie and 9-11. Fair enough, let's look at it. The opening of the film, when the monster strikes it breaks up an oil rig, and then comes to New York and beheads the Statue of Liberty. Following this, it knocks down some prominent skyscrapers choking the streets with huge billows of dust and smoke. The citizens huddle in small shops as the devastation passes by. One can easily look at all of this and see linkages to the images of 9-11.

Even though they appear to be mindless and without meaning, horror movies are loaded with symbolism and messages, usually these are intentional. One of the staples is what i call "the death of God" at the beginning of a movie. When a monster first attacks it is normal for it to kill a priest, destroy a church, or defile another religious symbol. What is the first thing blown up in Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds? A Church. Where does Jim, from 28 Days Later, discover the zombies? A Church - and the first person he sees in zombie form? A priest. Even Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit has the first victim of the beast be the town Reverend. The next time you watch a horror movie watch for this image. What is happening here is the evil is transplanting itself in place of God. Without God there is no hope. In this film, this usual religious movement is altered and it is the Statue of Liberty - the world's biggest symbol of freedom - that is toppled. This is how I can make a connection between this film and terrorism. Now that I explain all of this, I should add that
the film, being a senseless pile of crud, doesn't do anything with this symbolism. Following these striking images, the movie falls into a tedious first-person yarn that can seem to decide how its going to resolve itself.

Before I go, I just want to add that it is just bad film making to have a disaster film set in New York City and have crowds of people running and there's no children in any of the shots. Heck, there's barely any minorities or old people. According to this movie Manhattan is populated by handsome whites between the ages of 18-26 and their hot black girlfriends. Cheap film making.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Book Review - Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana

[Jesus speaking to the devil in the desert]

"Those aren't your nations," I said. "The kingdoms of this world aren't yours. They never were."

"Of course they're mine," he said. It was almost a hiss. "I am the ruler of this world and I always have been. I am its Prince."

"No," I said. "None of it belongs to you. It never has."

"Worship me," he said gently, beguilingly, "and I will show you what is mine. I will give you the victory of which your prophets sang."

"The Lord on High is the One whom I worship, and no one else," I said. "You know this, you know it with every lie you speak. And you, you rule nothing and you never have." I pointed. "Look down, yourself on this perspective that is so dear to you. Think of the thousands upon thousands who rise each day and go to sleep without ever thinking evil or doing evil, whose hearts are set upon their wives, their husbands, their fathers and mothers, their children, upon the harvest and the spring rain and the new wine and the new moon. Think of them in every land and every language, think of them as they hunger for the Word of God even where there is no one to give it to them, how they reach out for it, and how they turn from pain and misery and injustice, no matter what you would have them do!"

"Liar!" he said. He spit the word at me.

"Look at them, use your powerful eyes to see them everywhere around you," I said. "Use your powerful ears to hear their cheerful laughter, their natural songs. Look far and wide to find them coming together to celebrate the simple feasts of life from the deepest jungle to the great snowbound heights. What makes you think you rule these people! What, that one may falter, and another stumble, and someone in confusion fail to love as he has striven to do, or that some evil minion of yours can convulse the masses for a month of riot and ruin? Prince of this world!"

"I'd laugh at you if you weren't unspeakable. You're the Prince of the Lie. And this is the lie: that you and the Lord God are equal, locked in combat with one another. That has never been so!"

He was near petrified with fury.

"You stupid, miserable little village prophet!" he said. "They'll laugh you out of Nazareth."

"It is the Lord God who rules," I said, "and He always has. You are nothing, and you have nothing and rule nothing. Not even your minions share with you in your emptiness and in your rage."

He was red faced, and speechless.
If I were to excerpt all the sections that presented new, stirring, and inspiring ways to consider Jesus as fully human and fully God, I would have to include about two-thirds of this book. Time and again I was astounded at Anne Rice's mastery of delicate subtlety in conveying a truth in her meditation of Christ among us as he comes to his ministry.

Some reviewers have mentioned their difficulties with various aspects of events portrays in village life such as a stoning or of Jesus' attraction to a local maiden. However, for me these were believable incidents. Perhaps that is because I was prepared by having read Two From Galilee by Marjorie Holmes long ago in my truth-seeking days. I enjoyed that book, and the sequel as well, but those books contain nothing near the power and insight that Rice has when conveying Jesus to us in everyday life. I especially enjoyed the contrast between his tendency to "hang back," as his relatives termed it, while still being able to love and appreciate the people around him. Even when being chewed out by a fellow villager, Jesus can still appreciate the beauty with which the enraged fellow gesture. This gives us the feeling that he can always find something to love in his fellow man, even when we would not under similar circumstances.

The vivid contrast between "hanging back" and his sudden assertive command after baptism is definite and startling. We see this emerge in the way Jesus speaks with the devil in the desert and then later when he is asserting that the Messiah is working in time to bring God to everyone. One gets a sense that in Jesus' complete trust and willingness to do God's will, that he is becoming fully "himself" and all is becoming clear to him on the journey.

Rice's writing is so masterful that readers may need to remind themselves that these are personal meditations of Jesus' life. She makes remarkably few false steps and these are not a matter of lacking adherence to the truth as much as when her personal meditation may not match step with those of the reader.

It is no secret that I did not enjoy the first book in this series (Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt), as the midrash felt false and forced to me. Therefore, I was stunned but quite pleased to find this book such a personal revelation of inspiration for my own meditations on Jesus. Anne rice has given us a treasure if we use it wisely. Personally I can tell you that it will be going into my regular rotation of meditative reading to provide ongoing food for thought.

I wish I could write as good a review as this book deserves. I cannot. All I can do is to exhort you to read it for yourself. And, of course, to thank Anne Rice for sharing her talent in this area.

Highest recommendation.