Friday, August 29, 2008

Movie Review: Tropic Thunder

Update: Legitimate concerns have been raised about how the mentally challenged are portrayed in Tropic Thunder. I don't think Ben Stiller is making fun of those who are challenged per se; rather he is making fun of the fact that the movie industry often rewards actors and actresses who take on those roles to gain "gravitas" within the industry. In fact, there is a scene between Tugg Speedman and Kirk Lazarus where Kirk explains why actors such as Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man), Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump), and Sean Penn (I Am Sam) did or didn't get nominated for the Oscar for these roles. During this discussion, Kirk utters the line, "They didn't go full retard."

Unfortunately, someone in Marketing thought "Don't Go Full Retard" would be a terrific line to license for t-shirts, etc. And it's now showing up at local malls. And, yeah, I can understand why that line would appeal to a certain segment of the population, especially young adult males who are not noted for their subtlety and empathy.

Apparently Ben Stiller is among them.

Mr. Stiller could have made his point about the movie industry honoring only those actors who make "serious" movies, about "issues" using a different example. In fact, he missed a great opportunity since Jon Voight, who made his film debut in Midnight Cowboy dealing with male prostitutes, makes a cameo in Tropic Thunder. He could have used gays or films where physically beautiful actors or actresses get into the gutter. Mr. Stiller would have upset a different population, but it would have been a population that could fight back on their own. That would have been the braver choice.

Also, Mr. Stiller mocks current celebrities adopting children from the Third World, fulfilling a need within themselves rather than any need of the child. Because Tropic Thunder is a spoof, this all goes horribly wrong and Tugg Speedman seems to be throwing a child off a bridge who, at the time, was stabbing Tugg in the back. To me and DD#2, it was obvious that he threw a dummy--but still.

Again, parts of this movie are funny. Again, I would not rate this movie a "must see." But there will be teens and young adults who see this movie and the above are issues that should be discussed.

Hubs saw Tropic Thunder first and then dragged me to theater to see it. DD#2, who is now 15, came along, too. Commercial reviews of the movie were mixed. But Hubs was adamant that I'd enjoy it, so we went.

Looking back, I didn't realize the movie was rated "R." Had I paid attention, I might have been more cautious about bringing DD#2 along.

The movie opens with a "commercial" for an energy drink and a series of "trailers" that are so seamless done I didn't realize the movie had started. My first clue was that they were really over-the-top. My second clue was one of the trailers featured Ben Stiller, only he wasn't called Ben Stiller.

Then comes a voiceover, reading the opening lines on the screen about a mission to Vietnam. Ten men went in, four came out, two wrote a book, only one was a bestseller and this is a movie about that bestseller. Jump to the movie s The director, Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) is shooting key scene and the leading actor, Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) can't bring the right emotion to the fore because the other actor in the scene, Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.) is spitting on him. Cockburn has a meltdown, which causes the special effects director to blow up the jungle.

The movie is two months behind schedule and it's only the second day of shooting.

After Cockburn is royally chewed out by the studio head, the author of the book the movie is based on, Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), suggests that they go for more realism by setting up cameras in the jungle, dropping the actors off, and shooting the film as they make their way back to the helicopter. Cockburn thinks this is a wonderful idea.

At the dropoff, he collects the actors' cellphones, hands Speedman the outline of the script and a map, tells them he has the only radio that can summon the chopper, and steps on an old French landmine, blowing himself up. The actors are appalled--except for Speedman, who thinks this is a stunt. But he needs to make this movie, so off the band goes.

And a what a band it is. Tugg Speedman is the star of a disaster movie franchise who also played the lead character in Simple Jack, who is retarded--a performance ignored by the Academy. Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) is noted for playing multiple characters in a series of comedy movies where the main jokes--the only jokes--revolve around farts. He's also a drug addict. There is a young black rapper, Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) whose only acting experience is in music videos and advertisements for an energy drink called "Body Sweat." He resents that Lazarus is playing a black man when he is, in fact, white and an Aussie. Lazarus is a "serious" actor and never drops out of character, even when the cameras are not rolling. Problem is, his character is a stereotype. Finally, there is Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) who is the straight guy. He's read the book, the script, the in-flight magazine. He's also been in the Army and is the only one who can read a map.

They are not alone, however. They have been dropped in the midst of territory controlled by the Golden Dragons, a drug cartel who think the band of actors are D.E.A. agents.

What happens next is pretty predictable. The band splits up, with Speedman insisting that this is a movie set and the helicopter is one way and the rest of the crew going the other. Speedman is captured and taken to the headquarters of the drug cartel. The rest of the group finds him by accident.

Meanwhile, the special effects guy and Tayback go looking for the Cockburn and the band, finding only the site of the explosion and the walkie-talkie.

At the drug cartel HQ, Speedman is recognized as the lead in Simple Jack. Turns out it's the cartel's favorite movie and they want him to reprise his role. In turn, Speedman re-evaluates his life and decides to "adopt" a cute little toddler living at the compound.

Has the movie taken a turn toward the Serious and Introspective?

C'mon! This is Ben Stiller!

Tropic Thunder is rude and crude. The "F-word" is used liberally. Ben Stiller uses a sledge hammer to make his point about race, sex, drugs, and Hollywood.

I found myself laughing out loud. Several times.

The actors look like they were having fun on the set (I'd love to see the outtakes--this was filmed in Kau'i). Lots of cameos by different actors who played off their public personas. Nothing is sacred; no one is safe.

Did Tropic Thunder deserve an R rating? Yes, due to language, over-the-top violence, and portrayals of drug use (although those were not sympathetic--Jeff Portnoy is shown as being out-of-control). Although there are no scenes of explicit sex, there is much discussion about it, usually at the "locker room" level.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie, though I wouldn't rank it as a "must see." DD#2 enjoyed it as well, although I'm glad she's not any younger.

crossposted at The Mad Tea Party

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Review of "Fireproof"

Fireproof- coming to theatres September 26th
A prominent couple married for seven years realize they are heading towards divorce. He is a firefighter who has his eye on an expensive boat, and an addiction to internet smut, she is a PR person for a major hospital with her eye on a charming doctor. They don’t speak, except to argue, neither feels any love for the other. He feels like the whole world values his heroism except his wife. She is humiliated by his pornography addiction and insensitivity to her mother’s needs for a new wheelchair and hospital bed. Her friends say it’s time to get rid of him, and move on. She makes up her mind to file for divorce. Is there any hope for this marriage? Why should the couple try to save their marriage if the love is gone and there are no children to be hurt?
The startling assertion of “Fireproof” is in its tag line, “never leave your partner behind”. No matter what the conditions of the fire, you bring your partner with you. You may get burned, but you make sure your partner emerges from that fire safely. Caleb, (Kirk Cameron) is the husband who just wants peace. His father however assures him that not all peace is equal, and gives him a book he wrote called, “The Love Dare”. It is a 40 day program of loving acts to do for one’s estranged spouse in order to repair an ailing marriage. Caleb reluctantly puts the book’s suggestions into practice, but assures his father that it’s a hopeless cause, and warns him against talking about Jesus with him. Caleb wants to hear none of his parents’ newfound Christian faith; he says “it’s not for me”.
At first, Catherine is taken aback by her husband’s unusual behavior; he’s buying her flowers, cleaning up around the house, and bringing her coffee. She girlfriends warn her he’s just ‘buttering you up for a divorce’, so, to protect herself, she takes the first step of calling a lawyer. Caleb is crushed and wants to give up on “The Love Dare”,’ it’s over’, he tells his father. How could he, as an unbeliever, know how the powerful prayers of his parents and friend at the firehouse, could change hardened hearts?
“Fireproof” is a powerfully counter-cultural film in an age where Christians have a similar divorce rate to unbelievers and the relevance of marriage is under attack. Caleb’s dogged persistence in performing acts of love without feeling love or receiving any sign of their effectiveness in changing Catherine’s heart, seem unrealistic at best, if not downright irrational. Catherine’s hostile response seems to confirm the common assumption that once the love is gone, the marriage is over. But halfway through the forty days of trial, Caleb meets another Man whose love was rejected. A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He meets Jesus Christ, who, while we were still sinners, died to save us. The powerful use of symbols, 40 days, firefighter partners, the large wooden cross in the woods, make this an intensely personal movie for married couples in the audience, inviting comparisons of one’s own marriage to that of Caleb and Catherine.

“Fireproof”, written and directed by the Kendrick brothers whose low budget sleeper hit “Facing the Giants” made an astounding $10 million, find themselves with a larger budget ($250K) and the backing of a major studio (SONY Pictures faith based division, Provident Films) for this film. Their didactic methods are subtler, and more effective than the somewhat predictable “Giants”. Nail-biting action scenes, comic relief characters, a lush natural setting, and a moving score make “Fireproof” a film which should appeal to an even larger audience.
Many film critics decry the obvious agenda of their films, but the Kendrick brothers view filmmaking as a ministry, not a profession: the book “The Love Dare” will be available in the same leather-bound edition used in the film. “Fireproof”, though means of a familiar, engrossing story, teaches this generation, many of whom are the children of divorce, about the covenantal nature of marriage, and sacrificial love.
As a Catholic, the only feature of the story which bothered me was that, after seven years of marriage, the lack of children was never discussed. In “Facing the Giants” the couple’s infertility was seen as a source of suffering, in “Fireproof”, children seemed extraneous to the marriage. Catholic teaching that marriage must be faithful and fruitful indicates that this was one of the marriage’s major flaws, and mentioning this would have helped delineate the selfishness of the couples’ lifestyle.
Nothing offensive in this film, even references to indecent content on the internet were subtly handled; the PG rating was for the tense rescue scenes, heated arguments, and mature subject matter (not ‘adult’, just not for young children who might be upset or simply bored). Highly recommended for adolescents adults who want to grow up and learn to live for others.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

'Basic Instinct' author writes book about faith

cross-posted from A Catholic View

Having seen both Basic Instinct and Jagged Edge, I was a bit surprised to read of Joe's Catholicism.

Joe Eszterhas' latest book is a shocker, but not the kind that made him rich and famous.

The upcoming release from the man who penned dark thrillers such as Basic Instinct and Jagged Edge tells the story of his spiritual conversion and his newfound devotion to God and family.

In Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith, to be published Sept. 2 by St. Martin's Press, Mr. Eszterhas describes how his life got turned around during the summer of 2001.

He and his second wife, Naomi, had just moved from Malibu to a suburb of Cleveland - where he had grown up; she was from nearby Mansfield. They felt Ohio would be a better, more wholesome place to raise their four boys (he had two grown children from his first marriage).

story here

Mr. Eszterhas told The Blade that despite his mixed feelings over the church and the abuse scandal, the power of the Mass trumps his doubts and misgivings.

"The Eucharist and the presence of the body and blood of Christ is, in my mind, an overwhelming experience for me. I find that Communion for me is empowering. It's almost a feeling of a kind of high."


"Henry Poole is Here"

PG 1 hour 40 min

All Henry Poole wants to do is to be left alone. In most neighborhoods, this would not be a problem, but, in this unpretentious LA neighborhood, for some odd reason, people care. It begins with his perky real estate broker Meg, (Cheryl Hines) who is baffled by Henry’s insistence on buying a certain home which isn’t on the market and his refusal to bargain down the price of the drab bungalow he does buy from her. She even has the place re-stuccoed and painted as a surprise for him, since he insisted on paying full price, and he is rather ungrateful in his reaction to her kindness. She informs his next door neighbors of his peculiar behavior, who start to look in on him, provoking Henry’s exasperation. His middle aged next door neighbor Esperanza (outstanding performance by Adrianna Barraza) tries to establish ties with a plate of tamales, but Henry rebuffs her. Just why is he so insistent on being alone when he is obviously miserable?
Henry Poole is a complex character ably played in a memorable performance by Luke Wilson whose portrayal reaches deeper into his emotions than any male character since Jose in “Bella”. He has the same air of tragedy without Jose’s nobility of character, in Henry Poole, it’s the women who are gallant. All of them have seen heartache; Esperanza has just lost the love of her life, Dawn was deserted to raise her daughter alone, yet their private grief has made them more sensitive to the pain which Henry is feeling, and inspire them to reach out to their neighbor who is hurting.
“Henry Poole is Here” has an intriguing title, and begs the question, why everyone around him cares for drunk, gloomy, intractable Henry. Indie films have a penchant for leaving clues which are only intelligible later in the film, keeping the viewers mentally perched in the edge of their seats.” Henry Poole is Here” is no exception, and the miraculous image of Christ which appears on the wall of his home does not, turn this into a simplistic religious-themed film. This film is about the interior workings of a human heart which is raw with grief, and completely bereft of hope. It is rich in visual cues, such as the moonlit nights which give way to dawn, which happens to be the name of Henry’s beautiful next door neighbor(Radha Mitchell) whose oddly silent daughter (Morgan Lily) has been watching and recording him on her tape recorder. Even the lyrics of the songs in the soundtrack provide insights into the tenor of Henry’s emotions. Patience, hope, and especially love are missing in the life of this man who has sought out his childhood home to find peace at the end of his life. The film flashes back to his childhood in unhappy scenes, parental feuds, and a lonely boy writing his name under the bridge. Henry has just been told that he is going to die young. This is why he is angry at the whole world, pushing it away, and seeking peace by reconnecting to his unhappy childhood, as the Hound of Heaven locks His sights on Henry.
Director Mark Pellington, who lost his wife to cancer, has visited that of the valley of shadows, and gives us a film which, as dark as it is in places, drawing us into Henry’s agony, suddenly bursts open with potent moments of joy in which the love of his neighbors and the quirky store clerk Patience (Rachel Seifert) are the conduit of grace into his life. They believe that the face of Christ has appeared on his wall, and won’t rest until Henry surrenders and accepts the love of his neighbors and comes to believe in the mysterious image which, like them, won’t allow Henry to give up hope. He does have a future, and somebody loves him.
This marvelous film will have you talking long after your after-film lattes are finished, examining your own reaction to the ways in which God has tried to touch your life through others, and your response. References to the Catholic Church are respectful, and George Lopez plays the priest who is organizing the investigation into the alleged miracle on the wall. His portrayal of a priest, though not a major part of the film, was warm and engaging yet displayed the mind of the Church in the face of extraordinary signs as that which appears on Henry’s wall.
Recommended for adolescents and older, due to sober content, mild language, revealing outfits and outbursts of rage.

Book Review: "Roadmap to Holland"

By Jennifer Graf Groneberg
292 pages

Those of us who give birth to children with Down syndrome have been likened to travelers to Italy who find that their plane unexpectedly lands in Holland. The title “Roadmap to Holland” is a reference to that famous essay by Emily Perl Kingsley, who worked for decades writing for Sesame Street and whose son Jason has Down syndrome.
She has for generations provided this invaluable wisdom for new parents of children with Down syndrome. In “Roadmap to Holland” we meet Jennifer, a new and compassionate companion on our journey raising a child who is both very different, and yet surprisingly similar to our other children.

Jennifer and her husband Tom had the perfect life; both writers, they lived on a peninsula on a lake in Montana; they worked in their home office down the hill from their home, surrounded by peace and tranquility of nature. Their life was enlivened by the joy of a young son, Carter. Just what inspired them to test fate by conceiving again? This question kept returning to Jennifer’s mind as the difficulties in her journey to Holland began to reveal themselves. Twin boys, Bennett and Avery and were born seven weeks premature with the daunting possibility of lifelong repercussions. Just when Jennifer thought the news couldn’t get worse, she was informed that Avery, her little blue-eyed boy with a full head of blond hair, had Trisomy 21, an extra 21st chromosome. Jennifer’s first reaction, like so many, was an urge to flee, leaving all the fears behind. She, however being the valiant woman she is, stayed the course, and, for months commuted to the hospital, pumping her milk round the clock, holding her babies by turns, caring for her older son, longing for a full night’s sleep, until, finally, her little boys came home, one by one to the little house by the lake.

Jennifer’s story is a vivid, day by day journal of some of the most devoted mothering in modern literature, tempered by her honest descriptions of her personal growth in acceptance of Avery’s diagnosis. Her vivid descriptions of each scene, draws us into her life’s journey so deeply that we are reluctant to see the book end. “Roadmap” evoked so many of my own fond and painful memories as the mother of a daughter with Trisomy 21, that I feel as if I could easily spend a quiet winter afternoon at the little house by the lake chatting with her by the fireplace, sipping tea as our children play at our feet.

Still searching for the spiritual underpinnings of life, Jennifer is not afraid to admit that she has not found all of life’s answers, yet she is powerfully articulate describing the beauty of what she has found; that life with three little boys, one of whom has an extra chromosome, is a blessing she never would have anticipated. She has been enriched by her experience in ways which, until this book came out, many other mothers could not appreciate: she cites the tragic statistic that 90% of expectant mothers whose unborn child is diagnosed with Down syndrome choose to end it’s life. Books like “Roadmap to Holland” provide support to mothers facing the daunting prospect of raising a special needs child; they know that they are not alone. They can pick up this volume; and enter into Jennifer’s world of challenges, tears, and triumphs, where, through sleep-hooded eyes; a grateful mother can still see the sun shine.

I recommend this book for mothers who are facing challenges, and seek companionship on their journey. Jennifer has an extraordinarily detailed description of the therapies available for our children, coupled with a complete appendix with resources for parents of children with Down syndrome. I hope that “Roadmap to Holland” joins “Gifts” on the bookshelves of obstetricians and genetic counselors who want to give their patients a realistic yet inspiring idea of what it’s really like to raise a child with Trisomy 21 in today’s world.
Order the book here.
Read Jennifer's blog Pinwheels.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Kung Fu Panda - PG

Po is a panda who works in his father's noodle shop. He is a real fan of kung fu, especially the Furious Five -- Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey, who are being trained by Master Shifu. One day, because of a mishap, Po is designated as the legendary Dragon Master. No one...not the Five, or Master Shifu, or Po himself think he is ready to be the Dragon Master. Reluctantly, Master Shifu trains Po in Kung Fu. Then they find out that Tai Lung, a former student of Shifu, and a kung fu master, escaped from jail and guess who is called upon to stop him?

The only content warnings I have are a couple of crude bits of humor.

An entertaining movie with good animation.

cross-posted on A Catholic View

What Teenage Girls Read

A very insightful blogpost from the Mirror of Justice site examines the problems with the literature marketed to young women and lists some good alternatives to the paperback novel mire.

Crossposted on .

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Now and Forever by Ray Bradbury

In some ways the most interesting part of the two novellas that make up this book are Ray Bradbury’s introductions. He explains that both “Somewhere the Band is Playing” and “Leviathan ‘99″ have their origins in his long ago days as a Hollywood screenwriter. These explanations hang on in the listener’s mind and provide insights and color for the stories that follow. ...
My review of the audio book is up at SFFaudio. Highly recommended for Ray Bradbury aficionados!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Review of “Heaven’s Song: Sexual Love as it was Meant to Be”

Prepare yourself to be profoundly moved. It’s nearly impossible to read Christopher West’s new book, ”Heaven’s Song” without a radical regeneration of your view of marriage, and it’s relationship with the Church. It’s no accident that George Weigel called Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body a “ticking theological time bomb that, when it goes off, will ignite the New Springtime of Evangelization”. This is the book with the secret to renewing the Church by revealing the secrets of the most beautiful love poem in the world, the “Song of Songs” which tell us what Our Lord intended for marriage to be; a foretaste of ‘heaven’s song’.

“Heaven’s Song” is based upon recently discovered writings on the Theology of the Body, the lectures given by the late Pope John Paul II in his Wednesday audiences. These lectures were considered ‘too sensitive’ for delivery in such a public forum, out of respect for young ears. This book is for those of us who want to understand why Christ used marital imagery in describing His relationship to the Church, and why His first public miracle was the turning of water into wine at the Wedding of Cana. Marriage is a central theme of Catholic theology, and once this is properly understood by theologians and laymen alike, a new wave of evangelization will be initiated. This most timely explanation of the “Good News” has the irresistible attraction of the tender invitation of Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well, to leave her life of sexual sin and drink of living water. This is the language which will be able to reach the sin-saturated, disillusioned youth who have been searching for love and are about to give up on finding it.

West asserts that society is obsessed with sex, not because they are on the wrong track but precisely because they are unto something; the marital embrace can be a taste of unearthly bliss. But they are going about it all wrong, and they need the timeless wisdom of the Catholic Church, which, now, more powerfully than ever, through the Theology of the Body can set a twisted society straight. According to West, society’s sexual obsession with sex is like a man who has the key to a door wherein lies a treasure, however he remains fascinated with the key, and never uses it to turn the lock to discover the treasure. This treasure is available in it’s richest form to Catholics as they unite their marriages through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, with the cross of Christ. This gift of the fullness of marriage is Christ’s gift to His Bride the Church, and this new explanation of this concept may well be the greatest legacy of Pope John Paul II.

The beautiful imagery from the “Song of Songs” long used as meditations by mystics like St Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Louis de Monfort, were interpreted by Pope John Paul, and West unites these insights in comprehensible and often poetic language. Some passages of “Heaven’s Song” just beg to be read aloud, and prayerfully shared between spouses as a meditation. You can almost hear the heavenly music playing within the poetic language. I read parts of the book in front of the Blessed Sacrament, while preparing for Holy Mass and it re-awakened my appreciation for Christ’s self-donation in the Blessed Sacrament, as well as the gift of my marriage.
Nearly all marriages fall far short of the Lord’s plan for marriage to be the mutual sincere gift of spouses to one another, a reflection of Christ’s complete gift of Himself on the cross. The emotions I felt as I read “Heaven’s Song” were partly remorse at how far we fall short of this ideal, and partly joy at the splendor which a married couple can achieve, through the grace of the sacrament, to bring marital love closer to perfect, self-sacrificing love of Our Lord. “Heaven’s Song” brought my own nuptial Mass to mind where we read the prayer of the wedding night of Tobit and Sarah, a central piece of this book. The importance of seeing the sacrifice necessary to obtain the joys of marital bliss, offered to God in prayer, united with the Holy Sacrifice, is explained in a powerfully convincing fashion.

Christopher West has been presenting Theology of the Body in seminars and on TV for some time now, and has “heard it all”. Each chapter begins and ends with a story of a couple whose marriage is in trouble, and he uses TOB to diagnose where they went wrong. The origins of many marital problems can be resolved by a careful reading and discussion of this book. This makes this book a natural for marriage preparation courses, and marriage renewal retreats. I hope it is also taught in universities and seminaries so that future leaders in the Church can reach the next generation of Catholics with the revolutionary message of this book. “I remember thinking, as I read it (Theology of the Body) for the first time, that somehow I had chanced upon the long-lost treasure that every person longed for, the path to the banquet of love that truly satisfies the hungers of the human heart.”
This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Heaven's Song.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mirrors - R

Kiefer Sutherland is an ex-cop with a drinking problem, but he's been sober for 3 months. They make reference to a shooting he was involved with, so that, and the drinking, are why he retired from the force. He has a wife and 2 kids, but he and his wife are separated. He is staying with his sister.

He gets a job as a security guard at a burnt-out department store (there was a fire there years ago, but it hasn't been demolished because the insurance hasn't been settled). This is where the problems begin. He begins to see and hear things because of some demonic force that dwells in mirrors. He finds the wallet of the security guard he replaced (that guy kills himself early in the movie). He (Kiefer) discovers that these "forces"are looking for someone named Anna Esseker. She was a patient in the hospital that the department store had been built over. He tracks her down, and she is now a cloistered nun. He gets her to come to the store with him, which you think would appease the spirits, right? NO.
I'm not going to ruin the ending, but it is NOT the happy ending they lead you to expect. I did not like the ending. It made me feel like I sat through the 2nd half of the movie for nothing.
Content Warnings: A few very graphic scenes; In the beginning when the guard kils himself, and when his sister dies while taking a bath. Also brief partial nudity. The F word is used a couple of times.
cross-posted on A Catholic View

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Book Review: A Pocket Guide to the Bible

Written by Scott Hahn, this Guide is part of a series of Pocket Guides published by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division. And this Guide truly is pocket-sized.

First is a short explanation of what the Bible is: the Word of God in human words. Mr. Hahn then discusses the organization of the Bible into the Old and the New Testaments, who wrote the Bible (meaning the human authors--he notes right off that God is the Author), how the different books were chosen to be included--and why the Jewish Old Testament and the Protestant Bibles are different from the Catholic Bible--finishing the first section with the relationship between the Bible and the Church.

Mr. Hahn next discusses how to understand the Bible. The Bible is literature and can be read that way, but it contains many different types of genres. There are the stories, the history, the laws, the census count, the poems, the advice column, the letters, and the prophecies. I especially liked Mr. Hahn's explanation that the Bible is the history of our salvation and can be seen as a series of covenants between God and humanity, beginning with Adam and ending with the New Covenant through Jesus Christ. I had never thought of the Bible that way before, but it makes great sense.

There is a section about reading programs, specifically mentioning three: reading straight through, following the Lectionary, or reading your favorite stories. It really doesn't matter which one(s) you choose. The important thing is to read the Bible.

The longest chapter covers all the different books of the Bible with a brief synopsis of what each book covers. The last chapter is titled "Where to Find..." and then has several sections with the corresponding book, chapter, and verse. Mr. Hahn includes the Mysteries of the Rosary and the Liturgy of the Mass in this section, which is handy for apologetics. I also find this type of listing useful because Catholics don't place as much emphasis on quoting chapter-and-verse as some of our Protestant brethren do. Often I know there's a section dealing with the subject under discussion in the Bible; I just don't quite remember where. "Where to Find..." will help.

(BTW, I think it's more important to read the Bible and understand it as a whole than to memorize bits and pieces. The difference in emphasis might be why many Protestants think that Catholics "don't read the Bible." --Ed.)

Mr. Hahn manages to cram an awful lot of information into 79 pages the size of a quarter-sheet of paper. The language is simply, the size is not intimidating--this Guide would be excellent for Middle School and High School faith formation classes, such as Confirmation. In fact, DD#2 (a sophomore in high school) will be starting her second year of Confirmation preparation soon and I'm going to "test" this Guide out with her as well as share it with our parish Youth Minister. But I'm going to buy another copy--I'm keeping this one next to my Bible!

On the March Hare scale: 5 out 5 Golden Bookmarks

This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on A Pocket Guide to the Bible.

(cross-posted at The Mad Tea Party)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Jeffrey Overstreet's Insight into Woody Allen's Newest Movie

As he broadens his geographical interests beyond Manhattan, Allen's understanding of love seems to be narrowing. His work should be taking him deeper into complex and revealing stories about the heart. Instead, he's becoming more and more preoccupied with the lurid and the lewd. In the end, like Cristina, he comes away knowing only what he doesn't want, never managing even a glimpse of what he, his characters, or his audience, really need."
Jeffrey Overstreet reviews Vicky Cristina Barcelona at Christianity Today. He does a great job, as always, in a comprehensive review.

However, the excerpt above really struck me as this is something I have been noticing as well. It is sad, really, as one would have hoped that Allen's horizons would have broadened over the years. Of course, Allen has always been bewitched by sex, oftentimes to the exclusion of broader visions. And there is that old saying ... there's no fool like an old fool.

Batman The Dark Knight - Should We Fear Imitation of the Joker?

A very good review of "The Dark Knight" by John-Henry Westen

I finally saw the movie which has grossed $400 million in its first 18 days - well on its way to overtaking Titanic as box-office champ. The movie was visually and viscerally stunning but deeply disturbing, even diabolic.

My concerns were confirmed when co-founder Steve Jalsevac told me he had also just seen the film and shared my unease.

Some have pointed to the extreme violence in the film, but my concerns go well beyond that. In a Canwest News Service review Jay Stone refers to Joker as a "psychotic butcher"; Jenny McCarthy in her August 2 review in the London Telegraph wrote, "The greatest surprise of all - even for me, after eight years spent working as a film critic - has been the sustained level of intensely sadistic brutality throughout the film." One reviewer even called the film "torture porn."

cross-posted on A Catholic View

full review here

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Decent films about the disabled

In the heat of the blogosphere battle over the treatment of the mentally disabled in the new film "Tropic Thunder" the most common accusation hurled at those of those us who object is "this other film depicts such individuals, why didn't you complain about that?"
Here is a post in which I describe my favorite films which feature individuals with disabilities. What's the difference between them and "Tropic Thunder"? In each of these, disabled individuals are treated with dignity and their gifts, often in their personality and character, are allowed to shine. No one is stereotyped, or dismissed because of their appearance or score on an IQ test. And yes, some of them, particularly "The Ringer" are really funny. You see, DreamWorks, we understand a joke. We also know an excuse when we see one. As commenter Elisabeth's Mom said... Who are they fooling, right? I can't believe they think we're gonna fall for the "satire of industry standard."
Haven't we had enough marginalizing the mentally disabled in this country? To learn more about the sad history of how disabled individuals were treated in US history, read my article at Catholic Exchange.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Kids can earn a free book at Barnes and Noble.

For the third consecutive year, Barnes and Noble has been giving away select titles to students in grades 1-6. Kids, simply fill out the form with the titles, authors, and favorite parts of eight books you have read this summer, bring it in to your nearest B&N by September 2nd, and pick up the coupon for your free book. This year's giveaway books include Ramona Quimby, age 8, by Beverly Cleary, Half Magic, by Edward Eager, and The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo. Enjoy!

Monday, August 11, 2008

'Render Unto Caesar' answers crucial questions about intersection of faith and politics

Fr. Imbelli reviews Archbishop Chaput's new book for Catholic voters.

cross-posted from A Catholic View

On August 12, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver will release his latest book, which focuses on a question of undeniable importance for Catholics in the U.S. but also around the world: What is the role of faith in the public square? Fr. Robert Imbelli S.J., a Boston College assistant professor of Theology, gives readers an insightful and well-written review of the archbishop’s book, which will be published in L’Osservatore Romano.

By Fr. Robert Imbelli S.J.

This new book by the Archbishop of Denver, Colorado, though addressed primarily to his fellow Catholics, will also serve to foster a much-needed conversation both within and outside the Church. Moreover, it appears at a particularly significant time: the eve of one of the most important presidential elections in recent American history.

story here

Saturday, August 9, 2008

cross-posted from A Catholic View

I guess the V-chip isn't programmed to defend marriage, or the family.

A study of broadcast network television prime time shows reports that depictions of or references to marital sex are either non-existent or negative, while depictions of or references to non-marital sex and deviant sex acts are shown or alluded to with “alarming frequency.” The study also finds that the V-chip ratings parents use to block unacceptable programs are significantly inaccurate and inconsistently applied.

According to a Parents Television Council (PTC) study called “Happily Never After: How Hollywood Favors Adultery and Promiscuity Over Marital Intimacy on Prime Time Broadcast Television,” verbal references to non-marital sex outnumbered references to sex in the context of marriage by a ratio of nearly 3 to 1. Scenes depicting or implying sexual relations between non-married couples outnumbered such scenes between married couples by nearly 4 to 1, LifeSiteNews reports.

story here

Friday, August 8, 2008

The "R" word in "Tropic Thunder"

The leadership of The Arc, a group of communities for those with intellectual disabilities will be pre-screening the upcoming Dreamworks Comedy "Tropic Thunder". In the film about spoiled actors filming a "Rambo" like film on location, Ben Stiller plays an actor who is rehearsing a role as a retarded man in a film, "Simple Jack" whose tag line is, "Once upon a time. . there was a retard".
Ben Stiller should know better. Stiller who wrote the screenplay and directed the film, should know better than to base a film gag on mocking the disabled. I am deeply disappointed that Hollywood, who bends over backward to be politically correct, could callously offend so many. Ben, if you are so hard up for comedy, leave the screenwriting to those who can do funny without hurting anyone.
Read Patricia Bauer's entire column here.

UPDATE: The viral website of Tropic Thunder has been temporarily shut down pending a meeting between film officials and advocates for the mentally disabled. I will keep you posted about whether the film is changed to be less offensive.
BAD NEWS From The Arc
A small number of disability advocates was able to screen the film on Friday, August 8. Their assessment of the film was that it was far worse than anything they could have anticipated. According to David Tolleson, the Executive Director of the National Down Syndrome Congress who attended the screening, "it provides real ammunition for cruelty" especially for the film's target audience of adolescent males. "Not only is the Simple Jack character highly central to the film's plot, it is portrayed in the most demeaning way," according to Tolleson. Watch the controversial scenes here (viewer discretion nudity, profanity, tasteless humor, blood and gore, racial religious and ethnic slurs. . did I miss anything?) Stiller sure didn't!
In perhaps the single most offensive scene in the film, Matthew McConaughey, who plays a Hollywood agent, speaks to the film's main character who wants to adopt a child. "Well, at least you still have a choice. I'm stuck with mine," states McConaughey while pointing to a photograph of his teenage son who appears to have an intellectual disability.
There has been mounting outrage from the disability community as the film's content is gradually becoming known.For excellent coverage of the issue, see Patricia Bauer's Column and related posts. Hundreds of comments have been posted on the blog expressing outrage about the movie. Representatives of a number of national disability organizations, including The Arc's Executive Director Peter V. Berns, met with DreamWorks and Paramount studio executives in Los Angeles, California on Wednesday, August 6. The purpose of the meeting was to express concerns, request a viewing of the film, and discuss possible solutions.
Take Action
Depending on negotiations with the studio executives over the weekend, The Arc and its coalition partners may be calling on its membership to take appropriate action. Such action includes a protest at the premier in Los Angeles on August 11 and/or national boycott when the film is released on August 13.
Stay tuned......
To prove that I don't want an absolute ban the portrayal of the mentally disabled in film, I enjoyed the irreverent comedy, "The Ringer", after an enthusiastic endorsement from the National Down Syndrome Society. Patricia Bauer comments on in "The Ringer" this New York Times article.
The difference between this film and "Tropic Thunder" is that the characters in "The Ringer" are seen as dignified human beings not pathetic stereotypes, they poke fun at themselves and the foolish stereotypes about the disabled, so you find yourself laughing with them, not at them.

Gail Williamson head of the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles, talked the producers of "The Ringer" into casting actors such as the hysterical Ed Barbarell who has Down syndrome in the film which was about the Special Olympics. The producers were actually going to fake DS with masks, because they thought there were no actors with DS up to the parts. They must have forgotten the hit TV series of the 1990's "Life Goes On" which was written around Chris Burke, an actor with Down sydndrome.
Chris Burke, and Ed Barbarell are excellent role models for individuals with intellectual challenges, and they both have a great sense of humor.
UPDATE: The protests held at today's opening of the film garned a lot of media attention. Here is my post at Causa Nostrae Laetitiae on who's paying attention, and how to join the protest.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Quick Book Review: No One Sees God

No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers by Michael Novak goes on sale today. I cannot comment too much since I got my copy of the book last week.

However, I did take the time to read the introduction and first chapter, which are my test of whether I will read the book. (That's a defense mechanism designed to leave me any time at all to read book of my own choosing.) I was hooked by Novak's honest, respectful approach to how to discuss faith with atheists. It went to the top of my nonfiction stack and will be picked up very soon, after which I will do a proper review.

In the meantime, please read Steven Riddle's review. I trust him completely and this review simply whets my appetite to dive into Novak's book. Steven begins thus:
In a word--superb. A quick review of this book shows that it is the same tightly reasoned, compassionate, engaging call to conversation and, it is to be hoped, conversion from one believer to other believers and non-believers. Mr. Novak's theme in the book might well be summed up in this excerpt:
from No One Sees God
Michael Novak

In my own life, I have tried to keep the conversation up between the two sides of my own intellect. The line of belief and unbelief is not drawn between one person and another, normally, but rather down the inner souls of all of us. That is why the very question stirs so much passion. I have known people who declaim so passionately and argumentatively that they do not believe in God that I am drive to wonderment: Why are they so agitated, if, as they insist, God does not exist? Why then do they pay so much attention? Some of the greatest converts, in either direction, are those who wrestled strenuously for many year to maintain the other side
Now go read the rest of the review and then pick up the book.

Informative: The Vatican and Harry Potter

Mark Banks writes to let us know:
You may remember some months ago the Vatican’s official newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published an article on Harry Potter that received a lot of coverage both in the Catholic and Secular press. Well, with the generous help of an Italian friend I’ve managed to translate the original articles from Italian into English. The two essays that constitute the article make for interesting reading and I thought you might like to mention them and/or provide a commentary on them on HC and CMR. Clearly there’s a lot of interest in Harry Potter throughout all ages, but these essays might be of particular interest to parents still unsure how suitable the books (and films) are for their children.
Find the article here.

I am eagerly looking forward to printing this out and reading it. Much thanks to Mark for taking the initiative to make this translation available.

I would like to add that Soul Food Cinema is not only an attractive site, it is a venue for Catholics to air their opinions in essays about movies. Take a look at just how many good ideas Mark has posted that can serve as a springboard into a thoughtful essay. If you are at all interested in films and faith but don't want to have your own blog, I encourage you to take a look around and think about contributing.

Bill Cosby Hangs with Catholics

cross-post from A Catholic View

Bill Cosby can speak on any stage in the country with no questions asked – except for the lawn of St. Ambrose in Park Heights.

Father Paul Zaborowski, O.F.M. Cap., the church’s pastor, had one demand for the comedian before he addressed a crowd of hundreds at a July 31 Baltimore City-organized neighborhood block party: He needed to speak with the youths of the parish.

The legendary entertainer and activist happily obliged.

“That’s all we asked for, and the children just loved it,” said Father Zaborowski. “He came from inner-city experiences as well and made it big. It’s a really good example for them and it’s very important.”

Minutes after offering words of encouragement for the children of St. Ambrose, Mr. Cosby emerged from the church’s front doors to a throng of admirers. Locals pressed forward to get close to a gate surrounding the large stage on the church lawn, and camera flashbulbs popped as he came into view.

story here

Nicolosi warns us not to revisit "Brideshead"

Normally I like to decide on whether a film is anti-Catholic on my own, however, Barbara Nicolosi makes such a compelling case here NOT to see the new remake of "Brideshead Revisited" that I think I'll spare myself the agony of seeing Evelyn Waugh's novel completely reversed to bash Catholicism and promote the gay agenda.
"The ethical question that is here to be discussed is this: In adapting someone else's work, do you owe any fealty at all to the original author's intentions? Would it be a problem, for example, to do a Christian Mein Kempf, you know, and actually make it a lovely, inspirational piece about the power of the human spirit? Do I, as a writer, have a right to take something that has come out of someone else's brain and heart, and using it's name for notoriety and marketing, gut out its heart?
Obviously, it is one thing to violate source material because you are too stupid to understand the heart that you are gutting. This diminishes moral culpability, although it seems to me you could still end up in hell for having the hubris not to step aside when a task is so far above your skills and experience. (I would call this obama-ishness.) It is quite another problem morally, to hate the heart you are about to gut, and then willfully subvert it.
In the case of this new version of Brideshead both of the above are coming into play to render the project a mess. The task was above the intelligence, insight and skills of the adapters, AND they hate what the book is really about: "that Catholic thing."

It appears that screenwriter Davies, a typical naughty minister's son, had to do away with the elegant dialogue of the novel as well, since it so elegantly expressed the Flyte family's dedication to and struggles with their Catholic faith, in order to produce what one critic called, the most romantic gay love story since "Brokeback Mountain". In the BBC series, the relationship between Charles and Sebastian is explained as a phase of adolescence which is outgrown, not a lifestyle choice, and to make it a gay love affair is the worst kind of revisionism.
Avoid revisiting this strange new Brideshead, and rent the BBC series from your library or better yet, read the novel.
John Muldering offers a similar if less clarion warning not to expect a faithful film.

Book Review: 1776

David McCullough begins 1776 on October 26, 1775. His Royal Majesty, George III, is addressing the opening of Parliament on "the increasingly distressing issue of war in America." The King and Parliament see the war as rebellion. The Americans, in contrast, really do not want to be independent from Britain. Rather, they want their rights as Englishmen to be recognized. They want representation. They want their concerns heard. The idea of independence has been whispered, but has not yet taken hold.

The year 1776 proves to be a pivotal year. By July, independence from Britain is declared and those who sign the formal Declaration fully understand the cost. The American "rabble" have proven themselves equal to the British Army, then the finest in the world, on several occasions. But they also have made serious strategic mistakes and, but for the grace of Providence, the rebellion could have been over in a year. And these men and women do believe the hand of God is guiding their affairs.

Mr. McCullough uses many primary sources: letters, journals, memoirs. But he includes not only those of the famous men and women--Washington, John Adams, Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox--but those of the common soldier, the ordinary men who left home, their fifteen-year-old sons who joined them, the twelve-year-old drummer boys and fifers. We read the frustration of Washington who pleads for money from the Continental Congress, who is unsure of what the British Army and Navy are planning, who waits almost too long before evacuating Brooklyn Heights, who plans an audacious raid on Trenton and succeeds. The British generals and admirals underestimate the courage and tenacity of the common American; still, had the weather cooperated or had they been a bit bolder, the British would have defeated the colonials.

At the end of year, Washington has learned much. Still the war doesn't end until 1783 and the Treaty of Paris, six and a half years later--a fact we present-day Americans tend to forget.

The Revolutionary War also laid the foundation for the "American character." Washington was a self-educated man, a fact that he felt keenly, especially among the Virginia aristocracy. But he had tremendous strength of character: whatever doubts or misgivings he had, he kept private. He also promoted men of talent, no matter their age, experience, or station in life. He inspired tremendous loyalty which held the Continental Army together through defeat and privation. He was also a consummate politician and established the tradition of civilian oversight of the Army.

Washington also learned from his mistakes. And he made plenty of them--another fact we tend to forget. Wars never go as planned.

France and the Netherlands offered financial assistance as well as troops and ships to the young American colonies, but only after it seemed that the Americans might win.

Mr. McCullough's decision to concentrate on one year--and to focus on the military battles, rather than the political ones--keeps the narrative from being overwhelmed. Using primary sources from those in the trenches as well as the generals brings an immediacy and intimacy that is often lacking in standard history texts. I find Mr. McCullough's style easy to read and absorbing (although I wish he had included modern maps of the battle fields as well as the contemporary ones drawn by the British and American armies). 1776 might not be your typical "beach book," but it's not your dry history tome, either.

Most importantly, this book reminds us of the cost of our freedom from Britain. The Declaration of Independence was paid for in blood and in the personal fortunes of many of those we now consider patriots. Families were torn apart, with many Loyalists fleeing to England, leaving behind their friends, family members, livelihoods, property. The cost in lives equaled 1% of the population, a figure that would not be exceeded until the Civil War.

In my not-so-humble-opinion, 1776 should be required reading for every high school student taking U.S. History.

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

crossposted at The Mad Tea Party

Monday, August 4, 2008

Free Family Movies this summer

Regal Entertainment is offering free films at selected theatres for families to enjoy.
Click on this link to see what's being offered in your area. I have my sights set on "Charlotte's Web", "Clifford's Really Big Movie", and "Curious George" for my six year old. Yes, she's already seen them, but it will be so much fun to bring her to the theatre!
HT Faith and Family Live

A Word from the founder of Illuminati Pictures

I'm Molotov Mitchell, an award-winning film director with Illuminati Pictures, and I'm currently producing ads for the general election. In recent months, we've made national headlines, reached millions through television and the internet with our conservative Christian projects and just a few days ago, we released a powerful new piece about Obama's support for "born alive abortions". According to several prominent political figures, if enough Americans see this piece, it could significantly damage Barack Obama's support base. In this rare situation, pro-lifers and pro-choicers agree that "born alive abortion" is a form of murder. If enough people see this ad, Obama's support for it will appall most voters, both liberal and conservative, and hopefully cause many to withdraw their support (as many have from our other videos).
Please help us get the word out.
Here's the link:
Thanks for your time and remember,
"Illuminati Loves You!"
Molotov Mitchell,
President Illuminati Pictures, LLC

Former NFL pro Danny Abramowicz to host new EWTN television show

cross-posted from A Catholic View

Former NFL all-pro wide receiver and coach Danny Abramowicz has created a television show which uses a sports show format to encourage men to get themselves into spiritual shape.

The show, called “Crossing the Goal,” was created in conjunction with the EWTN Global Catholic Network. Segments include “The Kickoff,” where the problem of the day is presented; “The Game Plan,” where two hosts examine the facts relevant to the topic; “The Red Zone,” where the hosts talk about how they’ve dealt with the problem in their own life; and “The End Zone,” where each host gives the audience something to think about for the week in hopes of providing real solutions to the spiritual challenges men face.

“We talk to men about the things that are happening in their lives right now and we challenge them to do something about it," said Abramowicz. "Guys respond to a challenge. The Lord will help them, but they have to admit that something is not right in their life."

Abramowicz will be joined on “Crossing the Goal” by co-hosts Peter Herbeck, who is vice-president of Renewal Ministries, the founder of Fellowship of Catholic University Students Curtis Martin and professional broadcaster Brian Patrick.

story here

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Dangerous Days of Daniel X

James Patterson's new hit novel calls itself, "Spider-Man meets Men in Black" on the jacket, and the novel lives up to this claim. Seemingly written for the big screen, this fast-paced adventure story is a perfectly fine piece of fiction for summer reading. I like Daniel, the 15 year old human-yet-alien-orphan with superpowers who is hunting down the evil aliens who inhabit Earth and try to destroy us.

Also on the jacket, you will find the following statement:

"In the spirit of the most enduring hit movies and books, James Patterson has written this story for readers from ten to a hundred and ten. Special care has been taken with the language and content of The Dangerous Days of Daniel X."

Hoorah! Of course, now my curiosity is piqued. What is the language and content of James Patterson's other books like?

And now, I solemnly resolve to read Stephenie Meyer's "No.1 bestselling teen vampire Twilight saga."

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor-PG13

I found it quite unbelievable to watch Brendan Frazer (born in 1968) playing the father of Luke Ford (born in 1966). That was a pretty big negative for me. It made the whole movie less believable.

Approximately 2000 years ago, a curse was placed on a brutal Chinese emperor Han (Jet Li). He was seeking immortality, but the sorceress instead turned him, and his army, into clay. Now, in 1946, Alex O'Connell discovers the tomb and raises the Emperor. Alex is soon joined by his parents Rick and Evelyn O'Connor (Brendan Frazer and Maria Bello). If the Emperor drinks from the pool of immortality, which he does, he will become immortal. He then raises his army, and if they cross the Great Wall of China, they will be indestructible. There is only one way to kill the Emperor, which I won't spoil here. Another army is also raised to combat the Emperor's army. The O'Connells are joined by the daughter of a General that Han had killed, and her mother.

Comments on content:

The Emperor embodies evil...he thinks he is God, and he seeks to conquer all and become immortal. He is also a "shape shifter" who can appear as one point, he does become a 3-headed dragon.

There are a few scenes of self-sacrifice, which I though added to the plot of the movie.
There was plenty of action and neat special effects.

My favorite characters were the yetti.

A very cool movie.

cross-posted on A Catholic View