Thursday, July 31, 2008

Saint Batman?

cross-posted from A Catholic View

Some insightful commentary from Fr. Raymond de Souza. He greatly expands on some of the questions I had as I watched The Dark Knight.

Heath Ledger is mesmerizing in The Dark Knight, the latest Batman film. Here in his Australian homeland, his posthumous appearance as the Joker has been a major news story for two weeks.

It's an extraordinary film, even if you are, inexplicably, unmoved by the addition of futuristic gadgets to the most reliable blockbuster combination in cinema: explosions, firearms, car chases and more explosions. This Batman comes with the bonus of some of the more combustible questions in philosophy. What is evil? Is there a moral order built into our world, or is to speak of such a moral design delusional?

This Joker does not permit us to dismiss him as delusional; he comes with an argument. This is not the maniacal buffoon of Jack Nicholson's star turn nearly 20 years ago. This Joker is diabolical.

story here

portrait from Dan Lacey at Faithmouse

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Book Review: Audrey

When you read the pages that follow you will see how Audrey was privileged to have that heightened sense of God's presence, and how that led her to do things "here and now" (learning her French verb tables, doing a sacrifice to console Jesus...) ... But the most winning thing about Audrey is that she doesn't lecture you. She just seems to invite you to sit down on that hospital bed beside her, she cuddles up to you like any little girl her age, and with the simplicity and depth of her actions she invites you and shows you how to love more sincerely, more simply, more completely. ...

I am sure you will enjoy reading about Audrey, and I am also sure that something in this book will change you.
Father Anthony Bannon, from the introduction to Audrey
I told Chris Cash from The Catholic Company "surprise me" when he wrote asking what book I'd like. He did. I inwardly groaned when I received Audrey -- True Story of a Child's Journey of Faith. One look at the title tells us that we are looking at a story about a "holy little one" who surely has died from some lingering illness or other. I was falling prey to the standard preconception (imagine that! my besetting sin, surely) about how holiness is shown. Never having a connection with St. Therese of Lisieux, her story nevertheless flashed through my mind and I resigned myself to reading a saintly, "too good for this world" story. However, I'd agreed to read and review the book so I picked it up and prepared to soldier on.

"Audrey" exposed me to a sort of holiness I'd never seen so well expressed as in this book. As recounted in a series of vignettes, we see how Audrey naturally expressed God's grace in her life from the time she was a small child. Her parents' repeated mystification at this in their faithful but normal family, her siblings' lack of a similar gift, and Audrey's own very human nature all serve to emphasize just what a gift of God this was. Gloria Conde's skill at unveiling Audrey's joie de vivre and growing faith are apparent as we, too, come to see and believe Audrey's self-sacrificial love for Jesus, her pouring out of herself in prayer for others even as she suffers physical pain.

Perhaps most telling of the fact that Audrey's faith is God's doing, is her mother's sudden realization that the most famous child saints she could think of had all suffered trials from illness. Following this presentiment came the painful diagnosis of leukemia. It is then when we see Audrey's faith blossom and how others in praying for Audrey are actually blessing themselves. I was especially touched by her small brother's satisfaction in being allowed to suffer for his sister when he is chosen as a bone marrow donor. His mother perfectly captures the feelings of a heroic boy tilting at dragons for Audrey's sake. As well, in the midst of pain and suffering, we are not allowed to forget Audrey's human side. The practical joke she plays on a nurse soon after being put into a sterile bubble makes us laugh and remember that Audrey is still a child with high spirits that cannot be quenched.

Told in an unsentimental style, Audrey's story contains great grace, courage, and faith. It is one that I highly recommend to others, especially if they, like me, cynically doubt a small child's holiness except as a reflection of others' sentimental projections. Audrey is the real deal. This morning I found myself asking for her intercession for a special intention as well as thoroughly enjoying thinking of her getting to know our two children in heaven. I will not soon forget her story ... or her prayer from shortly before she died.
For mothers who have lost a child, so that they will understand that this child of theirs is a small servant of Christ in heaven.
Father Bannon was right. This book has changed me. Thank you, Chris, for choosing better than you knew.

This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Audrey - True Story of a Child's Journey of Faith.

Newsflash: Not for Wimps

Cheryl Dickow discusses Teresa Tomeo's latest book Newsflash!, which is an autobiography.

Newsflash! is Teresa’s powerful testimony, in which she shares her public and private tragedies and triumphs. Like Archbishop Chaput’s message, Teresa’s isn’t for the faint of heart: she calls each and every Catholic to live out his or her baptismal vows in a more conscientious way. As Teresa pointedly admits, “Being a Catholic isn’t for wimps!”

Teresa begins by sharing a key event behind the telling of her story: the suicide death of a friend and former colleague. Teresa then takes her reader behind the scenes of the life of glitz and glamour that is secular television, to give the reader a sense of what this dear sister-in-Christ had experienced. Once behind the scene, Teresa tells of her own very public fall from fame, when she was unceremoniously fired as a secular anchor, and then the ensuing road to recognizing and accepting God’s graces.

cross-posted on A Catholic View

story here

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Book Review: The Shack

The Shack is a book I was peripherally aware of but never intended reading. It is one of those "inspiring" Christian novels that seem to be always floating out there in conversation and on blogs. I rarely am interested in them as they usually have both sloppy writing and sloppy theology. (Hey, let's tell it like it is ... we hoe a Catholic row 'round here!)

Then a friend told me how much she liked it and lent me her copy.

Essentially, The Shack is the story of a family that has suffered the tragedy of having their six-year-old daughter kidnapped and murdered by a serial killer. They are suffering from all the reactions one can imagine, from intense sadness and guilt to extreme anger with God for allowing this to happen. Mack, the father, finds a mysterious card in the mailbox one day. It appears to be from God and invites him to come to the shack where the last evidence was found of his daughter, a blood-stained dress. When Mack gets there he encounters the Trinity in a Narnia-style adventure that strives to inform about God and our relationship to Him.

With one eye open for things that would lead me away from Church teachings, I plunged in. This is clearly a book written by someone who has not studied the craft, but who is passionate about how we can better be in a relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I found much to praise, inspire, and ponder in the first two-thirds of the book. The author's own obvious enthusiasm is communicated to the reader in an imaginative setting that helps the reader to grasp a bit better the Trinitarian God, Jesus as fully human and fully God, and our relationship to God as humans. At times this dips far enough into sentimentality while making a point that it leaves the reader wincing. However, overall I was intrigued and swept up in the way that love and relationship with God were being expressed and explained to Mack. I especially enjoyed the personification of the Trinity and that of Wisdom. (On a side note, I would be very curious to hear from any well-catechized Catholics who have read this and could comment on how this view of the Trinity falls into line with Catholic teachings.)

There were some glaring problems in the last third of the book, however. One such problem is in the author's lack of honesty in story telling when Mack finally asks Jesus about his daughter's fear and suffering at her kidnapper's hand. In a story that is supposedly about how one deals with true evil in the world, the answer glossed over any semblance of reality in a fashion that practically screamed "I can't answer this so let's just not deal with it." The author lost a golden opportunity to do some real good in giving people a chance to wrestle with this issue.

Additionally, when Mack leaves the shack and reenters reality, the family's story is sped to a satisfactory conclusion a la, "a shot rang out and everyone fell dead." As the essence of the book is found in the shack this can be understood but it left a somewhat unfinished feeling for this reader.

However, as I was not expecting much literary virtue from the author in the first place, my main problems came from the divergences between his representation of Christianity and mine as a faithful Catholic. The book suddenly takes a turn into an almost New Age mentality and I'm not just talking about the night scene where Mack is given the gift of "true sight." There is a repeated disdain expressed especially by Jesus for churches and religion as "institutions" and "buildings." Jesus tells Mack at one point of his love for his bride, the Church. He then explains that he isn't talking about what people call "church" but about every person who believes and has a relationship with him ... including Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus. While I am on board with the idea that other faiths have relationships with God (as is the Catholic Church), as a Catholic I know that we have Jesus present with us in the Eucharist. This is not simply symbolism but true presence, body and blood, soul and divinity. That is the entire reason for the Church and for any Catholic church building in the first place ... as a meeting place with Jesus in physical form. Even taken from the Protestant understanding (as I am aware of it) this is a clear disdain for the church as "community," which is what God has been talking about for a good portion of the book. Despite the "broken world" explanations given to Mack, one winds up with the feeling that if we would all waft through life just loving God and being all that we can be, then eventually we'd all wind up holding hands and singing together.

Once I read The Internet Monk's review and discovered that the author is of the "emergent church" persuasion much more about the problems I had became clear. I encourage you to read the Internet Monk's review which reflects much of my own reaction to the book. Here's a bit, but please go read it all.
Young is not a master of elegant prose (though his descriptions of the indescribable are well done), but he is wonderfully passionate about the love of God. This is a book that will leave certain aspects of the Gospel indelible impressed on the reader: the nature of the Trinity, God’s personal love for us, the meaning of trust and forgiveness, and the constant creative presence of the Holy Spirit. Young takes many chances, and while not all of them pay off equally, those that do are pretty magnificent. ( I can’t remember setting in a classroom and being moved to tears by a novel before, certainly not one in the “Christian” market.)

Those inclined to look for emerging church error or general heresy won’t be disappointed, and I am sure Young enjoys some of this theological and traditional mischief. I’d recommend putting up the doctrine gun for the duration of this book, and letting the story entertain and explore. This isn’t a confession or a catechism, but it is something a lot of people will read and absorb. It is difficult to not be drawn into the central character’s “Great Sadness,” and the transforming experience that sends him back into the world a changed man is one all readers will find themselves envying. If you can read this book as what it was meant to be, and not as a chapter of someone’s Systematics, it will work on the level we most need such a story: our own sense of intimacy with God.
I did enjoy this book and definitely am going to reread it, if for no other reason than many of the things in it are true and inspiring. However, this is a work of fiction and the reader is warned not to swallow the author's occasionally dubious theology whole and adapt it as their own. As the Internet Monk says, it is a work that can help inspire our own intimate relationship with God. If we take that message and actually use it in our prayer and daily life, not merely read it and feel good, then The Shack can be of great use to any Christian.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Holy Moses! PBS documentary suggests Exodus not real

cross-posted from A Catholic View

Once again, secularists take it upon themselvs to rewrite our faith.

Abraham didn't exist? The Exodus didn't happen?

The Bible's Buried Secrets, a new PBS documentary, is likely to cause a furor.

"It challenges the Bible's stories if you want to read them literally, and that will disturb many people," says archaeologist William Dever, who specializes in Israel's history. "But it explains how and why these stories ever came to be told in the first place, and how and why they were written down."

The Nova program will premiere Nov. 18. PBS presented a clip and a panel discussion at the summer tour of the Television Critics Association.

The program says the Bible was written in the sixth century BC and that hundreds of authors contributed.

"At least the first five books of the Bible come together during the Babylonian exile," says producer Gary Glassman.

The program challenges long-held beliefs. Abraham, Sarah and their offspring probably didn't exist, says Carol Meyers, a religion professor at Duke University.

"These stories are unlikely to represent real historical events, but rather there's some kernel of ancient experience in there which has survived and which helps give identity to the people at the time the Bible finally took shape centuries and centuries later," Meyers says.

story here

Monday, July 21, 2008

In Plain Sight -Don of the Dead

Warning: contains episode spoilers

I happen to like a few of the series on USA Network, including "In Plain Sight", about an agent, Mary Shannon, in the Witness Protection Program. Last night's (7/20) episode, was"Don of the Dead". It opened with a married Catholic couple, Don and Ruth, meeting with a priest, because they really can't stand each other anymore, and they really don't meet the conditions necessary for an annulment. They also witness the murder of that priest, which is why they are now in the Witsec program.

Together, they started, and continue to run, a soup kitchen. They stay together because they feel that it was God's will that they were married, and Ruth won't divorce, and they can't get an annulment.

When Mary is questioning why they didn't just divorce, she reveals that she too is Catholic, which was never mentioned on the show.

When Don is found dead, Ruth's true feelings are revealed: she really did love him. After it is discovered that the deceased was an alcoholic, Mary finds out that Don is not really dead. In the end, he decides to remain "dead" to give Ruth a chance to find real happiness. He says "she deserves it".

I was struck by Ruth's faithfulness to the Catholic Church and Catholic teaching. Both Ruth and Dan seem to be very good people who live Christian lives. They cared for eachother more than they realized.

cross-posted on A Catholic View

If you'd like to see this episode, you can see it online at the site below.

Sony's new group; The Priests

Three Irish parish priests have one love besides the Lord; traditional Catholic music. Father Eugene O'Hagan, Father Martin O'Hagan, and Father David Delargy have been singing together since childhood but never took their talent seriously until their studies brought them to Rome. Now they have signed a contract with SONY and may be the next big religious hit since the "Chant" CD topped the European charts.
Listen to their rendition of Ave Maria and O Holy Night and visit their website here. Their superior musical gift is apparent, and traditional arrangements reflect their background in Church history. They are authentic and uniquely talented to re-present traditional music at a time when the Traditional Mass is making a comeback. I wish them every success, and will be looking forward to their first New York concert.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Batman: The Dark Knight - PG-13

Warning: Possible Spoilers

Although my nephews and I all enjoyed the latest Batman story, I really don't think it lived up to the hype surrounding it.

There is plenty of action and violence, mostly explosions.

Heath Ledger is indeed brilliant as the Joker.

One of the aspects of superhero movies that interests me is the origin of both the hero and the villains; how they became who they are. In the case of sequels and remakes, I find it interesting to compare how they handle the telling of that aspect of the story.

They specifically indicate they have no idea of the Joker's background, his DNA, fingerprints, or any other information. (in the Michael Keaton/Jack Nicholson Batman movie, we see Jack Napier fall into a chemical vat, causing him to become the Joker).

Right after Rachel Dawes agrees to marry him, we see DA Harvey Dent become Two Face after the Joker leaves him with drums of chemicals, which run over his face, causing him to becomeTwo Face. (In the Val Kilmer/Tommy Lee Jones Batman movie, we only see a brief flashback reference to a criminal throwing acid at Dent, causing him to become Two Face.

I found it sad that Batman, who fights criminals, was so afraid of becoming the villain.
Harvey had said to him "You either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain". He seemed to be really be afraid of that happening to him. Considering how the Joker was able to turn Harvey, who was also considered a hero, into Two Face, The underlying theme seemed to be the idea of good succumbing to evil. It was good to see Lieutenant Gordon get promoted to Commissioner.

I didn't care for all the loose ends the ending left.

What happened to the Joker? (although they may have had to leave his fate unknown, because there is an indication that he will be back).
How/when will Batman be back? (We see him ride away at the end, but you know they'll be a sequel :).
Will Lucius Fox be back?
I don't mean to sound too down on The Dark Knight, it really was a cool movie.
Your comments welcomed!

cross-posted on A Catholic View

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Place to Report Email Spam Related to Child Pornography

A reader was good enough to alert me that there actually is a place where you can report email spam related to child pornography.
I get a LOT of spam on my work email account -- they use Yahoo business service. Too many of them are porn spam.

But this evening I received a spam advertising Web sites for child pornography. I won't go into details of what it pitched, but it listed 5 Web sites with Russian domains.

I was so disturbed by this, I couldn't just delete it (which I do with the rest of the spam). After some research, I discovered that it is possible to report cases on even email spam related to child pornography.

In case anyone else might receive this kind of spam, I thought it would be good to at least let them know it can be reported.

The CyberTip line of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children will collect reports of child pornography spam.
I applaud this reader's initiative. I am fortunate enough to not have this sort of thing coming through our email filters but I know it is an increasing problem so am happy to be able to tell about this resource.

Why is the Ghetto Culture is glorified in the Media?

Wheelie Catholic wonders why there is a fascination with violent crime in the media, particularly in video games like "Grand Theft Auto", in light of the Holy Father's comments on consumerism at World Youth Day. "Why have we turned social problems into entertainment? What kind of distance from solutions does that cause for the next generation? Does it normalize the existence of violence and poverty in urban areas? Have we considered the concept of stewardship regarding monies we pay toward products that glorify violence rather than putting it toward solutions?"
I worked for years teaching in inner city high schools like those she describes. The teens in these areas have no hope for a better future. No one they know is married, gangs rule their social lives, and many of their friends are drug addicted and in and out of jail as a peverse type of second home. I had a student commit a crime in order to spend Christmas with his friends in jail, but get out in time to go to the beach in the summer.
They often lack fathers to discipline them, little or no Christian faith to believe in an eternal reward, and few with the tough love to teach them moral behavior. They accept and even embrace the culture of crime as their reality, perhaps despairing of a better life. Who could blame them for feeling despair?

What frightens me is when so called middle class kids, mostly from broken homes, glorify crime, violence, gangs through video games, film and RAP music. According to Ebony magazine, over 80% of Rap musis is purchased by whites. Here in semi-rural suburbia, my 15 year old daughter passed a schoolyard walking the dog, and was verbally accosted by a young man with blonde hair whose trash talking came straight from a RAP video. Why did he think he would impress her with this kind of talk? To her credit, he didn't.
The Holy Father pointed out in his talk to the youth at Dunwoodie, that these youth, both within and outside the inner city need the hope of the Gospel and the reclaiming of the culture from the culture of crime. Catholics must never support this types of entertainment which seek to glorify the suffering of the poor, regardless of the misguided souls who find a sense of pride in it.

Critics Slam Mattel's New Barbie, Calling S&M Outfit 'Filth'

cross-posted from A Catholic View. Visit to take our poll.

Why does everything have to be sexualized for kids?

I just heard this morning on EWTN radio how doctors are pushing birth control pills on teenage girls by prescribing them for many symptoms of their period.
I also heard how some abortion activists are handing out condoms at World Youth Day in Australia.

Barbie’s new S&M look has whipped up a storm — with protesters dubbing it "filth."

The doll’s image is transformed with kinky fishnets, motorcycle jacket, black gloves and boots.

Maker Mattel says Black Canary Barbie, out in September, is based on a DC Comics superhero of the same name.

But religious group Christian Voice said: "Barbie has always been on the tarty side and this is taking it too far. A children’s doll in sexually suggestive clothing is irresponsible — it’s filth."

story here

Indeed, it does resemble the DC Comics hero:

But apparently, she didn't always look that seductive:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gregor Overlander or Tunnels?

Going underground is a popular frontier for adventure today. Two best selling juvenile novels paint very different landscapes of the world beneath us.
First, Tunnels, "soon to be a major motion picture" according to the back cover, by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams is two and a half novels in one. In Part One The Groundbreaking, Will and his father, Dr. Burrows, share a love of digging and collecting the archaeological remnants they uncover. Dr. Burrows is especially keen on finding old subway tunnels and sewer lines that have been closed off for decades. Will introduces schoolmate Chester to their excavations and soon, he too is avidly digging with Will after school. To make a very long story short, Dr. Burrows disappears. Will figures out that his father had a secret tunnel in the basement of their house which has mysteriously closed up from the inside out! Will and Chester re-dig the tunnel and enter an underground world. Thus begins Part Two The Colony.
Will and Chester are taken by the police to prison. There they are each tortured and interrogated by a race of sinister men known as the "Styx," who are described as "avaricious priests." After several days of this, Will is release to a Mr. Jerome, who claims to be Will's father, but Chester is still kept in dark and solitary confinement. It turns out that Will is a native of this underground world, and his birth mother escaped to the "Topsoil," taking her young son, Seth, with her, but leaving her infant, Caleb, behind. Somehow he was adopted into the Burrows family. Will realizes he really is Seth, and finds his place in the Macauly home with Grandma, Uncle Tam, and Caleb. Caleb takes him to a bizarre type of mandatory religious service, presided over by the Styx.
Apparently, the Styx require daily attendance at an Anglican type service, three times a day. The founder of the underground colony, Martineau, is worshipped as a saint, complete with portrait in the church, called the "Breaking of the Ground." The other item of note in the "church" is a large, iron crucifix. The colonists came below nearly 200 years ago, because of Martineau's belief that the topsoil world was corrupted beyond conversion. In the Colony, anyone who comes from Topsoil is enslaved or banished to the dark unknown abyss of the earth, and anyone who escapes to the Topsoil is hunted down and executed. The Styx keep the colonists below by preaching the following,
"The surface of the earth is beset by creatures in a constant state of war with one another. Millions perish on either side, and there is no limit to the brutality of their malice. Their nations fall and rise, only to fall and rise again. The vast forests have been laid low by them, and the pastures defiled with their poison...Their gluttony is matched only by their appetites for death, affliction, terror, and banishment of every living thing. And, despite their iniquities, they aspire to rise to the firmament..but, mark this, the excessive weight of their very sins will weigh them down."
The Styx enforce the belief that "when the judgment comes...they will be hurled into the abyss and forever lost to the Lord...and on that day...we...will once again return the new Jerusalem."
This disturbed vision of faith and what it does to people is why I have decided that Tunnels is Not Recommended .
Will convinces Caleb to doubt his lifelong religious training and escape with him Topsoil. They succeed with the help of Uncle Tam, but discover that above ground, they will be forever hunted by the Styx. Will realizes that he can't leave Chester to a long, slow death, and that he would also like to find his father, so they return to the colony with a plan to free Chester and take off for the Deeps.
In Part 3 The Eternal City, there are some battle sequences and chases, but Will, Caleb, and Chester hop a train headed for the Deeps in search of Will's father. Depressing, but I can see how it would be fascinating for a twelve year old boy. I have allowed my son to read it, but am pointing out to him the skewed images of faith along the way.
On the other hand, in Gregor Overlander, the first of the Underlander Chronicles by Suzann Collins, Gregor and his toddler sister, Boots fall into a world of giant insects, bats, rats, and ordinary sized people. Like Will in Tunnels, Gregor's father is also missing. Gregor and Boots are not exactly imprisoned, they are kept in a luxurious castle suite, but they are guarded nonetheless. Gregor discerns that the water must come from above and attempts an escape with Boots, but is attacked by giant, vicious rats. The Underlanders rescue him and tell him that he must stay to fulfill the Prophecy of Gray. The Prophecy of Gray tells of an Overlander who will come to save the Underlanders from destruction and to find a long-lost prisoner of the rats.
Making unlikely allies, and discovering treachery in the ranks, Gregor succeeds in fulfilling the prophecy, while always putting Boots' safety and well-being first and foremost. And guess who the long-lost prisoner is? Gregor, Boots and his father return to the Overland and his dear mother. Before they go, Gregor's return to the Underland is predicted, thus setting up the cause for a sequel.With heroism, family, and love as the central themes of this book, it is Highly Recommended. Even though most of the novel takes place underground, the admirable characters and hopeful plot make Gregor Overlander feel light and airy, unlike the suffocating and grim Tunnels.
Cross-posted on A Catholic Mom's Guide to Good Books

Monday, July 14, 2008

ABC, FX get high marks from gay, lesbian alliance

The marriage between the gay characters Kevin and Scotty in the season finale of ABC's "Brothers & Sisters" helped the network win the highest praise Sunday from an advocacy group that pushes for more visibility of such characters on television.

It was the first wedding of two gay or lesbian characters in a prime-time scripted series, said the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. ABC has had other historic moments, including introducing a gay character to "Soap" in 1977, having a gay teen in "My So-Called Life" and Ellen DeGeneres coming out on "Ellen" as well as in real life.

story here

For Catholics, an On-Air Mix of Sacred and Silly

cross-post from A Catholic View

I sometimes listen to "The Catholic Guy", and I enjoy it.
Check out the article...they have some good audio clips.

Mike from El Paso was on the phone line to “The Catholic Guy,” the afternoon drive-time talk program produced via the unlikely partnership of Sirius Satellite Radio (familiar to most people as “Howard Stern’s network”) and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

“I called the other day?” said Mike. “About how much I miss confession?” This would be the Mike who was barred from the sacrament of confession under church law because he married a divorced woman whose first marriage was never annulled.

“Yes, I remember!” bellowed the host, Lino Rulli, the Catholic guy of the show’s title. “Mike the Adulterer! O.K., Mike. Are you ready to play ‘Let’s Make a Catholic Deal’?”

story here

Sunday, July 13, 2008

HellBoy II - PG13

I saw the first Hellboy on cable.
Maybe it was the big screen this time, maybe I sat too close to the screen, but I felt like there were too many close-ups of Hellboy :)

Here's the story:
An ancient king had a "golden army" of unstoppable creatures. He realized the threat they were to mankind, and made a truce not to use them. His son disagreed with this truce and went into exile.

Now, the son, Prince Nuada, is trying to awaken the army, and he is accompanied by his sister, Princess Nuala. He also kills his father. He needs the 3 pieces of his father's crown in order to awaken, and control, the army. He had 1 piece, his sister has the 2nd, and the 3rd came from a surprising source, which I considered a betrayal.

Throughout the movie, Liz is trying to tell Hellboy that she is expecting. After he is injured, and healed, it is this fact that "keeps him going". In the end, we find out it is twins :)

Content warning: The violence is to be expected, but one scene in particular was pretty gross.
At one point, I was pretty uncomfortable with how close the prince and princess (brother and sister) were.

I have heard that Hellboy will be a trilogy, so lookout for a possible III.

cross-posted on A Catholic View

Catholic Radio International hosts CD raffle

Catholic Radio International will be giving away two copies each month of Theosis, the CD containing the angelicvoices of the members of the choirs of Annunciation ByzantineCatholic Church from Homer Glen, Illinois, just for subscribing tothe CRI newsletter.
Directed by Timothy Woods, we are certain thatyou will enjoy this beautiful CD. To win a free copy, simplysubscribe to the CRI Newsletter, and check the "A Body Of Truth"update box when you do. That's it! Every two weeks we will pull aname out of the cyber hat and mail a CD to the lucky winner.
Subscribe To The CRI Newsletter by clicking ">here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Book Review: Willing America Right

A very good review by Elizabeth Scalia

Marking each chapter of George Will's latest book, One Man's America: The Pleasures and Provocations of Our Singular Nation, is a simple graphic of the sort of round, wire-rimmed glasses that are as recognizable to Will as was the plain black suit and slim tie to Albert Einstein.

The graphic is charming and also definitive. The glasses illustrate both Will's erudition and the laser-like focus that he brings to bear on any particular topic, be it politics, society, education, books, baseball, or intelligent design; a focus that seems to burn away distracting edges to present a refined and exacting perspective.

cross-posted on A Catholic View

rest of the review here

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Book Review: A Haystack Full of Needles

Ask a mother who home educates her children, ask which question she encounters most frequently and she will undoubtedly respond, “What about socialization?” In the decade since I began teaching my three daughters at home, this question has remained, even as other questions like, “Is that legal?” and “are you qualified to teach?” have vanished due to the increasing prominence of home instruction.
Now, thanks to the experience and literary gifts of home educator and author, Alice Gunther we have not only an eloquent answer to this question, but an inspiring guide on how to help our children find friendship and acceptance outside the domestic church. “A Haystack Full of Needles” is the book we have been waiting for, the book we may give as a gift to questioning family members, but one we will also keep close as we seek opportunities to help our children develop socially.
Alice, like so many of our family members had concerns about a home educating mother’s ability to meet her children’s need for social interaction. She takes us back to the days when she thought home educators were doing the impossible, to her early attempts at finding companions for herself and her young daughters, to the successful support group she is a the center of on Long Island. She inspires the mother who feels alone in her decision to home educate with her fond anecdotes and down to earth suggestions on how to find other Catholic home educating families, how to build community, how to run a successful social event, and how to support one another in good times and bad.
“ Home-educating mothers share a unique cultural experience. We understand one another, and a large part of "socialization" should be geared toward nurturing friendship for mothers who choose this narrow, but incredibly rewarding, path"
Haystack is far more engaging than a dry how-to manual, however. Alice, whose childhood involved many trips to family in the Emerald Isle has inherited the legendary Irish facility with language gives her prose a poetic lilt which leads to such picturesque images as,
“The truth is homeschooling groups are not founded—they trickle together gradually, like a barrel filling up with rain. Still, there are ways we can help the process along, fastening the hoops around the staves of the barrel, lest we lose a precious drop.”
The secret to the success of Alice’s home schooling groups is her heartfelt compassion for the struggles of the home educating mother and her natural generosity in reaching out to meet their needs. “Socialization for homeschoolers is every bit as much about friendship for mothers as it is for the children. Many best friends have been made around the kitchen table”
Haystack includes an impressive array of Alice’s social involvements, nature study groups, Shakespearean plays, creative crafts woven into celebrations of the liturgical year, but the greatest strength of this book lies in the fact that no one in the community is overlooked, not even the special needs child who is shy to become involved in a group activity. Alice has tips for getting these children involved and making them feel loved, “One trick I have is to pull out something especially fun, like a game or interesting little novelty. Not only does this entertain the child who happens to be alone—it also attracts others to be his companions." She describes the pains she has taken to teach her children the art of making the newcomer to the group feel welcome in her home, and that explains why at some of her Little Flower meetings, her lawn is filled with hundreds of happy participants.
Many people wonder if home educating is possible through high school. Alice admits that though many high school age boys attend school; home education social groups nurture the teenage soul as well.
“When I think about home schooled teenagers, the image that presents itself in my mind is that of a rose freshly blooming. Those little children who once played in our house or crafted at our table are fine young men and women now, and they are a joy to behold. How many mothers of teenagers are able to say that they love all their children's friends? Yet this is what I can say wholeheartedly, and I believe that these vivid roses are even more beautiful when arranged together in a bouquet.”

That is why I recommend Haystack for all mothers seeking a sense of community in a fast-paced world in which children fail to savor the sweetness of childhood in their headlong rush to emulate questionable role models. Alice Gunther in her distinctly poetic manner, reminds us of the riches of a childhood fully lived in the loving embrace of the Body of Christ. The advice she offers in Haystack, is valuable even if your children are in school you are seeking ways to find like-minded friends for your family. She explains her balanced view of home educating here,
" As I mention this, let me be clear in saying that I do not think families who are not called to home educate are any less faithful or blessed by God. Yet, I do think, for whatever reason, God calls some of us to serve him in this specific way—not a more exalted way—but a different and necessary one."
I agree with my friend Alice that communities like the Immaculate Heart of Mary group which we enjoy on Long Island may just be the seedbed of the New Springtime of Evangelization which our dear Pope John Paul II predicted. One innocent child spending a pleasant afternoon among friends in the garden, one family sharing the joy of the Faith with another, young families are rediscovering Christian community and renewing the Body of Christ.

this book by Alice Gunther is available for pre-order from Hillside Education

Wall-E the true romantic

As film opens, a dismal landscape of ruined buildings and skyscrapers made of compacted trash, clash with the catchy song, “Put on Your Sunday Clothes”, tells us that there is more to “Wall-E” than lifeless devastation.
Wall-E is a small robot with eyes that look like binoculars, a square body which compacts trash, and an unlikely attitude of optimism. It’s hard to figure why this little machine is so cheerful, but for some reason, it’s contagious. Each evening as wild dust storms overtake the bleak terrain, Wall-E, snug in his trailer, watches the video with the romantic song, “It Only Takes a Moment” from the movie “Hello Dolly”. Wall-E is lonesome. Left behind to clean up the mess on earth by humans who boarded a luxury spacecraft for a five year ‘space cruise’, 700 years ago, Wall-E is the only cleanup machine left on the job. Not only does he work day after day compacting trash into blocks, but he collects items of interest, a Rubik’s cube, a rubber ducky, a fork-spoon, and his proudest new discovery, a real live plant.
This plant seems to be the only living thing left on the planet, and soon a sleek white robot named Eve is dropped down to earth from her space ship. Eve soon captures Wall-E’s heart, and he tries to befriend her in an endearing way, as he dodges her explosive defenses. Wall-E proudly shows Eve his collection, she zeros in on the plant, snatches it, and goes into a coma like state, and signals to the Mother Ship. Wall-E sadly continues to court the unresponsive robot, until he hitches a wild ride on her ship to the luxury space craft Axiom where the humans are. Wall-E struggles to keep up with his friend, and soon, the romantic little robot has a big impact on the humans aboard.
The irrepressible Wall-E who walks to the beat of a different drummer has won the hearts of the critics, and audiences despite the fact that there is almost no dialogue in the first hour of the film. Pixar has outdone themselves in character development, and viewers strongly relate to the peculiar little robot who’s longing for love in a wasteland. The soundtrack effectively juxtaposes the tenderness of Wall-E’s ‘humanity’ and the ruins of civilization. The forty year old song” It Only Takes a Moment” has always been one of my favorite show tunes, showing how unabashed romanticism ennobles relationships contrasting sharply with the barrenness of today’s hook-up culture.
Younger children may not understand the plot, and some scenes may frighten them. Older children, adolescents, and adults will love this outer space adventure in which love triumphs over selfish materialism.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Movies Have Meaning in Our Lives

One of the most common complaints I get about my film reviews is that I give too many negative reviews. To some readers it seems like I don't like anything. It is true, most of my reviews are negative, and I don't recommend most movies. In my estimation, most cinema is a terrific pile of steaming dung and I advise you to avoid it. I've had more than one reader tell me that I read too much into movies or that I need to relax and just enjoy them more. This kind of dismissive thinking couldn't be more wrong. The last thing a person should do is stop thinking about the kind of muck they're cramming into their minds via their eyes.

Escaping from our everyday lives is a natural human reaction. Often this escape is done through the medium of film. We sit down in front of a flickering screen and have the light and sound of film fill our heads and the curses of our daily lives melt away, at least for ninety minutes. Every time we partake in this seemingly mundane task we are actually allowing ourselves to be hypnotized to a certain extent. Have you ever gotten “lost” in a movie? The characters are so rich and meaningful, the plot so surprising and original that you lose track of time and sense of yourself? Have you ever been swept away to another land and delved deep in the struggles of an on screen hero? Our seemingly harmless escape from reality is actually a form of hypnotism. Merriam-Webster defines hypnosis as:

A trancelike state that resembles sleep but is induced by a person whose suggestions are readily accepted by the subject

Instead of looking at film as a means of entertainment, look at it for what it actually is – a mode of communication. The images on the screen are something more than simple flashing pictures, they blend together to give the illusion of movement. These pictures are composed and edited to make a statement, to say something to be interpreted by you, the audience. The filmmaker intentionally molds the images and sequence of images in a film to massage your subconscious in the way he wants. When you watch a movie you’re not a passive lump of meat in front of a screen. You are a vibrant, active soul experiencing a part of your life reacting to the filmmaker’s work as he plays with your emotions. This is why when the villain kills a person we loathe them and when the hero kills someone we cheer them on. A gifted director knows how to use film to influence the thoughts of their audience.

Steven Spielberg made millions give a second thought about heading into deep waters with his film Jaws. The influence of Spielberg’s classic film was so strong even people who found themselves in fresh water lakes began to question what lurked under the surface. Hitchcock, to this day, still has some unnerved when they are taking a shower thanks to the murder scene in Psycho. A gifted director knows how to use film to ignite emotions and influence the thoughts of their audience. There are many filmmakers who want to take the power of people’s reaction to film to change the way you think about a myriad of subjects. They would love to explain the world to you. Each time you watch a film you give them an opportunity to alter how you think. While this sounds threatening it is important to remember that not all filmmakers are out to do harm and many provide uplifting and moral tales. But what about those who are looking to do harm? What about those who wish to influence people away from traditional lines of thought and lead them towards dead-end thinking?

For the reactionaries in the audience, I am not saying that someone who watchings a torture porn movie like Saw or Hostel is going to immediately turn into a raging murderer. In most cases, seeing a single film will not deeply injure someone. It is the steady diet that changes people. It feeds into their own personal flaws that led them to the low content in the first place and often inflames that part of their personality. Much like most people don't become alcoholic from a single sip but rather a developed behavior of getting drunk.

Films can and do change us. They stick with us whether we want them to or not. Today, pay attention, how many times do you or those around you quote or refer to films? The entertainment industry has been allowed to seep into every aspect of our culture and controls more of our daily life than most people are comfortable admitting to. It is this inherent power in films that should make us throw away the dismissive attitude that "its just a movie". When I recommend or trash a movie, its more than just because a film did or didn't entertain. Heck, if its only about entertainment then some screensavers would be Oscar worthy. As an audience, we need to consider what is being said, what message is being imparted by the film and just as important, what is its effect on the culture at large?

There are so many people complaining about the lousy movies being pushed by Hollywood. All they make are remakes, sequels or rehashed crap from 1970's television shows. Hollywood makes bad product because we're willing to buy bad product. If we come to understand the real potency of film and its impact on our lives, we will demand the medium be used with the respect it deserves. If we turn away from the muck and call for the producers to make quality, they will. If you look at your culture and are ashamed, its up to you to change it. Its not the filmmaker's fault, it's ours.

Originally published on Good News Film Reviews

Review of FX program "30 Days"

Heidi Hess Saxton, editor of Canticle Magazine, has an excellent review of the FX series "30 Days" about adoption by homosexual couples. An adoptive mother herself, Heidi offers valuable insight into why the Catholic Church opposes such adoptions, and how they are harmful for children.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Hancock- PG13

Hancock is a superhero who is not always welcomed by the very people he tries to protect. He is an alcoholic, and doesn't relate well to people. That all changes one day when he saves Ray Embrey, who happens to be a public relations manager. He seems eager to help Hancock clean up his image and be welcomed by people, partially because Hancock saved him, but also because Ray is really trying to make a difference in the world. Charlize Theron is Mary Embrey, Ray's wife. I sensed something "different" about her, and I was right: look for a revelation about Mary's past.

I do feel that Hancock is treated somewhat unfairly. There is always damage and destruction in superhero movies when the hero is fighting bad guys. This was the first time I saw the hero blamed for it.

Because of the damage he caused in apprehending criminals, Hancock agrees to spend time in jail. During the movie, Hancock does re-make his image with Ray's help.

Content (and spoiler) Warnings: Lots of crudeness and some cursing. In particular, he hates it when he is called an a-hole, which happens several times. The crudest scene is when one bad-guy's head is is literally shoved up the butt of another. It might sound humorous, but it is a very crude, disgusting scene. There is also a scene where someone (a bad guy) loses a hand.

There is plenty of action, and I especially liked the ending.

cross-posted on A Catholic View

Friday, July 4, 2008

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl

G 100 minutes
What happens to a happy-go-lucky ten year old girl when the bottom falls out of her world? When she looks around to see that things are changing for the worse all around her? If she’s an “American Girl”, she follows the advice of her father, “Kit, don’t let it beat you”. That’s the motto of Kit Kittredge (Abigail Breslin), the heroine of the first “American Girl” film to hit the big screen. Previous films based on Samantha, Molly, and Felicity debuted on TV, but this first film to hit the silver screen may be paving the way for more “American Girl” films to open at cinemas.
Kit’s family live in a picturesque middle class suburb of Cincinnati, where she has a club in her tree house with her friends Ruthie Smithens (Madison Davenport) and Stirling Howard (Zach Mills). Kit’s father (Chris O’Donnell ) owns a car dealership and her mother (Julia Ormond) is a stay at home mother. Her older brother, whom we never see, has already left home to join the CCC forgoing college to help out. Adults may see the handwriting on the wall when hobos Will Shepherd (Max Thierot) and Countee (Willow Smith) arrive at the Kittredge home willing to “work for food”, but Kit and her friends don’t realize something is amiss until her next door neighbor’s home is foreclosed, and they see them thrown out on the street. She is stunned to discover that she too is facing poverty when during a school service project, she sees her father eating at the local soup kitchen. He loses the car dealership and leaves for Chicago in search of work. Kit’s mother takes in a motley assortment of boarders to make ends meet, and Kit is moved out of her pretty bedroom into the attic.
Kit an avid writer, finds solace by reporting on events around her, from the wallet theft she witnesses in town, to the hobo camp by the railroad tracks she visits in an effort to understand why so many people are in dire straights. She has to get to the bottom of the mystery called the Depression, and tries to offer her perspective in her first submission to the Cincinnati Register, announcing to the gruff editor Mr. Gibson(Wallace Shaun) “I want to be in print!”. Kit’s story on the hobo camp is roundly rebuffed as too controversial; public opinion still points fingers at the hobos as lazy, undeserving troublemakers. Kit knows in her heart that her friends Will and Countee are honest, and soon she has to use her best investigative journalism skills to prove this.
Authentic costumes, sets, and excellent casting make this period film work, the story line and characters are engaging if stereotyped, and the packed house on opening day gave the film a hearty round of applause. The house lights revealed tweens dressed up, and carrying their American Girl dolls. This mother-daughter event was obviously the highlight of their summer. One mother shared her approval of the “good family values” she saw reflected in the film. Her eleven year old daughter sometimes asks difficult questions about some of the music she hears, but with an American Girl movie, she said, “ a mom can just enjoy the film”.
Kit is respectful to authority figures like her teachers and her parents, yet shows just enough spunk not to back down to Mr. Gibson’s growling, nor be intimidated at some of her rougher tenants. The film’s themes of kindness to the poor, the importance of loyalty, and the fact that pain of separation of families is worse than economic troubles, warm the heart of this mother of three girls. The only thing missing was, in the final scene at the Thanksgiving table, though a spirit of gratitude was apparent, no one said grace. The conservative families I saw shopping at the American Girl store in New York would have approved heartily if a simple prayer was said. Maybe next time.
Nothing offensive, and difficult themes are dealt with gently. Enthusiastically recommended for all audiences, even boys should give this charming film a chance.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Book Review: The Time Traveler's Wife

Six-year-old Clare Anne Abshire is in The Meadow, an isolated area behind her family home, when a naked man suddenly appears. He asks for the beach towel she is using and she gives it to him. He introduces himself: he is Henry DeTamble. Clare does not know him but Henry knows her because he is her husband in the future.

Henry has a problem: he is a Time Traveler. In times of stress, he returns to important scenes or places in his life. He can't control his comings and goings and he can't bring anything backward with him (which means he always arrives at his location naked--a problem in the winter). Clare is normal, living her life one day at a time in sequence. This causes some unusual problems in their relationship. In the beginning, Henry knows about her future; later, she knows what will happen to him before he does. For example, when Clare finally meets Henry in her present, she is 20 and he is 28. She recognizes him from her past. He hasn't met her yet and doesn't realize that she will become his wife.

And there are paradoxes. Older Henry often visits his younger self, acting as a mentor, teaching him how to survive in the time he's in until he jumps back to his current present. And when he visits events that are personally traumatic, like the death of his mother, there is nothing Henry can do to prevent it.

Audrey Niffenegger does an excellent job keeping all this straight. She tells the story both from the point of view of Clare and of Henry, noting the relative ages of each (or of each Henry if the scene is one where Henry meets himself) at the top of the each section. Henry's problem causes peculiar difficulties not only for him but also for his relationship with Clare and with others in his life: his friends, his co-workers. Henry and Clare search for a cure or a way to control his jumping. And Clare desperately wants a child. Theirs is not a fairy tale life, although perhaps their jobs are (Clare is an artist, Henry works at a rare book library).

The Time Traveler's Wife is a romance and a science fiction novel, albeit "soft" science fiction (Henry's ability to time travel is given only a cursory explanation). Still, they are a team and they remain faithful to each other through it all.

DD#1 (who is 21) also enjoyed the story. We both liked it better than The Secret Life of Bees. An excellent vacation book.

As a side note: Clare is Catholic, or has been raised Catholic and I believe Henry is Jewish. However, except for a scene at Midnight Mass and their wedding, religion is not discussed. Henry is agnostic or atheist; Clare does not seem to practice her religion at all. I think Ms. Niffenegger missed an interesting opportunity here.

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

crossposted at The Mad Tea Party

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Movie Review: WALL*E

The folks at Pixar have done it again. WALL*E is a work of art, both technically and as a story.

But first, the short!

Like the short in Ratatouille, this short has no dialogue. It does, however, involve a rabbit, a carrot, a magician, and two magic hats. The rabbit is a cute, white bunny who is definitely not shy or retiring. He knows what he wants and he's going to get it.

The magician, on the other hand, has an act to perform.

Whomever wrote this short was definitely a Warner Brothers fan. There's more than a little Bugs Bunny here! In fact, at one point the orchestra breaks into a song I know was used in a Bugs and Elmer episode.

I like Pixar's tradition of opening the movie with a short (shades of my childhood when every Disney film was a double feature-plus-short) and I hope they consider releasing the shorts on a DVD at some point.

Okay, on to the main feature.

Much has been written about the storyline of WALL*E in other reviews. And strong stories are a Pixar trademark. So I'm going to spend a little more time on the ambiance of the movie.

It opens with a song from Hello, Dolly! Cornelius is telling Barnaby there's a whole world out there beyond Yonkers and breaks into the song, Put on Your Sunday Clothes. That song and one other, Dancing, serve as touchpoints, appearing at significant moments in the film.

With eyes shaped like binoculars and a body that's basically a metal box, WALL*E is no mere machine. Although his job is to compact trash into blocks and then stack it into tall, imposing structures, he also collects odd objects: a garbage can lid, rubber duckies, a Rubik's cube. And he has a pet. ten minutes in (or less), I forgot I was watching an animated feature. WALL*E is a character, with personality and feelings.

The humans don't appear until more than halfway through the film, and--with one interesting exception--they definitely look animated. But it looks like a deliberate choice and isn't jarring. (John Ratzenberger keeps up his string of voicing characters, by the way.)

The other major character is another robot: EVE. For much of the movie, she's an egg, but as the action unfolds, she develops a full-fledged persona.

There are a lot of references to pop culture as well: the Blue Danube Waltz plays at an appropriate time and there is a steward robot named "Gofer." I probably missed as much as I caught--which means we're going to have to buy the DVD and watch it again. :)

Hubs and I saw this at a Sunday afternoon matinee and there were plenty of kids in the audience. However, during the climax, the theater was dead quiet. Not easy to do, but Pixar did it, just like the best Disney movies do. The technical quality of the film is amazing, combining some "live action" with animation seamlessly. It all fit. The character voices didn't overwhelm the animated characters (a pet peeve of mine with Dreamworks animations), but complemented them.

Yes, there is a social message. But I thought the message didn't overwhelm the story and the ending was hopeful and uplifting.

For the ending credits, Pixar used several different styles of art, from cave dwellings to Egyptian hieroglyphics to Impressionism to Van Gogh--kind of a mini art history. I wouldn't have caught it unless the woman behind me mentioned it to her son. I thought it was rather clever.

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

crossposted at The Mad Tea Party

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Get Smart

PG-13 1:50
Maxwell Smart (Steve Carrell) is a pencil pushing bureaucrat in CONTROL a US government spy agency whose moment has finally arrived. After eight attempts to pass the field agent’s exam, he eagerly awaits the good news that he has passed, and is finally given an assignment. To his disappointment, the Chief (Alan Arkin) says that headquarters needs Max’s meticulous though boring reports on the Russian terrorist agency KAOS, and can’t spare him. To make matters worse, macho Agent 23(Dwayne Johnson), struts in from his latest mission abroad, garnering the affection of the blonde receptionist. He leaves of the office dejectedly, feeling that all is lost. Max’s frustration is short lived, however, for headquarters is attacked by KAOS and all the field agents’ identities are compromised, opening an opportunity for the rookie. He is sent to Russia to intercept a nuclear bomb plot to blow up the US. Sophisticated Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) isn’t thrilled to be paired with the bumbling Max, a fact she pointedly asserts, ignoring him on their flight to Russia. Max, thanks to his techno-geek friends Bruce (Masi Oka) and Lloyd (David Koechner) who fitted up a Swiss Army knife complete with flamethrower and mini cross-bow, shows it off in an effort to impress 99, and the pair’s famous chemistry begins.

Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of sultry yet hard-hitting Agent 99 is first-rate, and Steve Carrell is the consummate Maxwell Smart; brainy yet klutzy. The film has enough classic spy action, evil enemies, and humor to keep the audience engaged. A spirited tango competition at a Russian party and testy banter between the two, are reminiscent of the 1960’s TV show we are soon reminded that we are not in the 1960‘s anymore. The humor gets progressively raunchy; the sexual elements are too blatant to go over the heads of anyone; a male to male kiss, fondling, and simulated homosexual acts. There was no nudity beyond bare buttocks, but has Hollywood lost all subtlety? Director Peter Segal apparently tried to cover for the lifeless dialogue in the screenplay with overdone sexual content. To say times have changed since the 60’s is no excuse. Why not wow the audience with spectacular special effects, keep the slapstick gags, and leave out the smut?

There were several adolescent boys in the audience who were obviously bored, just what audience was Segal aiming for? If this was a film for adults, and the sexual content obviously makes it so, the film should have aimed for an R rating so families would know enough to ‘Get Smart’ and stay home. Wait for a TV showing of this film where you can enjoy the action and humor, and the offensive language and overt sexual references are deleted.
Not recommended.