Saturday, November 29, 2008

What does a slumdog know? The answer. (Reviewing Slumdog Millionaire)

In the case of Jamal Malik, the answer he knows is not necessarily the one that will win him millions of rupees on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The answers he knows are loyalty, love, perseverance, and truth.

In a story largely told in flashbacks, the movie opens with Jamal being tortured by the police as they are sure that no uneducated slumdog would know the answers to win 10 million rupees. As the detective takes him through the background for the answer to each question, we see that Jamal's life has extraordinarily prepared him for this moment. Each answer is the linchpin to a hardwon bit of information in key events of his life which begins as a tyke in the Bombay slums. Jamal and his older brother Salim exemplify brotherly love in this Dickensian tale which shows us modern India in a way that surpasses documentaries. To a point that is. We watch warily as Jamal retains his tenacious grip on truth and loyalty while Salim is only to willing to use brutality to achieve his goals. In the mix is Latika who the brothers encounter as children and who Jamal loves for herself in contrast to Salim who uses her as a playing piece for his own purposes.

As the story begins to catch up to current time, the viewer then finds many other questions such as how Jamal got on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire at all and why he is doing it. This is where the story picks up speed and intensity as the past gives way to the future which the movie characters don't know either.

As with Charles Dickens' way with a story, Slumdog Millionaire shows us a classic tale of adversity and the human spirit told with passion and peril. Yet, despite the bleak slum setting there always are swirling the gleams of hope and humor that keep this story from being depressing. Directory Danny Boyle uses his trademark "canted shots" (Rose has the correct name for everything, being fresh from film classes), swift cuts, close-ups and speed to convey the spirit which carries the film. Anyone who has watched even a few movies set in India knows to expect vivid color and vivacity. Boyle uses this to great effect not only to show us past and modern India, but to express life which is always moving forward despite what has preceded it.

In fact, it just occurred to us that the current tragedy in Mumbai (Bombay) of which Get Religion says, "India, of course, is a culture soaked in religion. It should not be surprising that this massacre is soaked in religious content and imagery..." is reflected to a degree in this movie as well. As modern as the techniques being used by terrorists are, the fact remains that human nature and India are timeless.

Allow me to drop the hint not to miss the credits which express India in a way unique to the movies. Also, the soundtrack deserves credit for keeping us definitely in place. I want it for my repeated enjoyment, but then I'm a sucker for modern Indian music.

The movie is rated R and the rating is earned. However, I will add that Boyle used inference to a large degree for some of the most disturbing scenes and it was these that honestly brought Charles Dickens to mind. There is not much in that movie at which Dickens would not have nodded knowingly. The types of poverty may have changed over the years but the human capacity for both vileness and love have not. I have seen PG-13 movies which have shown greater explicitness than this movie. It is the content of Slumdog Millionaire which is adult, as it rightly should be. This is a story with themes which should be pondered by adults. Those who do so will find themselves enriched on many levels.

Highest recommendation.

Gift Idea: Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine

Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine is known as a "pulp": printed on cheap newsprint, a little bit larger than a standard paperback. The format is a throwback to the pulps of the 1940's and '50's where now recognized Grand Masters--like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Theodore Sturgeon--first refined their craft. And in that tradition, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine publishes short stories and novellas from current authors like Connie Willis and Alan Steele and new authors as well.

The stories vary in length, style, and subject. Some are hard SF, some are soft, occasionally there is fantasy. Each issue includes poetry, editorial columns, book reviews, web site reviews, and a Convention Calendar.

Subscriptions for one year (10 issues), U.S., is about $33.00. There are "double issues" twice a year. Check the website ( for details. There is also an online version.

I've been a subscriber off-and-on since the mid-1980's. A subscription is now on my permanent Christmas list (Thanks, Mom!). Some issues, some stories, some authors stand out more than others. Other authors have used the stories first published in Asimov's as a basis for their novels.

Content warning! This is not a magazine for children. Some stories contain adult language, adult situations--including sex scenes and drug use--and violence. Some authors are not sympathetic to organized religion--and that bias may show up in some of their stories.

A warning is usually included in the front of the stories the editors think might be the most offensive. However, everyone has different triggers. Over the years, I've noticed the themes of the stories come in waves: a spate of bionic soldier stories, a spate of global cooling stories, a spate of global warming stories, a spate of First Encounter stories.

Overall, the quality of the writing is excellent. The short story and novella format allows for a lot of experimentation with themes and ideas that isn't possible with a novel because a novel is a significant investment of time and money on the part of the author and the publisher.

Asimov's is my favorite "commuter" magazine: it's small and there's a lot of variety, both in story length and content. I usually find one story I really enjoy and there are some, like Connie Willis's annual Christmas story, that I look forward to. A year of enjoyment for the cover price of a single hardback!

On the March Hare scale: 4.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks, excellent for the discriminating SF reader.

crossposted at The Mad Tea Party

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book Review: Hannibal

Hannibal open seven years after the Silence of the Lambs. Clarice Starling, now a full FBI agent, is on a drug bust with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the D.C. police, and the Drug Enforcement Agency. They're bringing in a woman who is running a meth factory and who Clarice has arrested previously.

The bust goes bad. Clarice, who is a champion pistol shooter, ends up killing the woman. Unfortunately, the woman was carrying her infant in a sling and used the child as a shield. Clarice was able to kill her without harming the child, but the TV news clips don't show the woman firing. Her family files suit and someone's head must roll to appease public opinion.

In the midst of all this turmoil, Clarice receives a letter. She recognizes the handwriting--it's from Hannibal Lecter who has been silent for these seven years. His letter alternately taunts and comforts Clarice and reignites the search for Hannibal.

The FBI, however, isn't the only entity looking for Hannibal. His sixth victim, Mason Verger, has been looking for him and is offering a reward. Because of the attack, Mason is bedridden and a paraplegic and, with nearly unlimited wealth, revenging himself on Hannibal has become his reason for living. Mason has his contacts within the FBI and knows what they know, usually before they do.

Hannibal, in the meantime, is now living in Florence, Italy, and is a curator, the previous one having mysteriously disappeared. His appearance has been altered during his stay in Brazil, including the amputation of the sixth finger on his left hand. He is content until a local police inspector begins to suspect who "Dr. Fell" really is. However, greed gets the better of the good inspector and he tries to capture "Dr. Fell" outside normal police channels, with disastrous consequences.

Thus Hannibal finds himself back in the Eastern United States and his seduction of Clarice Starling begins.

During the course of the story,the author, Thomas Harris, gives us some insight to Hannibal Lecter, clues as to how he became the monster he is. We also see more of what makes Clarice Starling tick and her frustration at being thwarted from rising in the ranks of the FBI. But I never felt any real sympathy for either of them as people. Mason Verger is absolutely evil--there are no redeeming qualities about him at all. His sister is hardly better. In fact, the character I thought was most fleshed out was the Italian police inspector: his motives for his actions were clear and plausible. The rest of them--eh, not so much.

I admit I have not read Silence of the Lambs and there might have been some important information about the characters there. Or Red Dragon, which I believe is the first book about Hannibal Lecter.

The ending was a let down.

Fortunately, I bought this copy at a Used Book Sale at my local library, so I'm not out full price. :)

Content Warning! Hannibal is still a cannibal. Graphic descriptions of what Hannibal does to his victims and of Mason Verger's physical state. Also graphic descriptions of what Mason does to his victims. Lots of morally unsavory characters as well.

On the March Hare scale: 2 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks

crossposted at The Mad Tea Party

Monday, November 24, 2008

Quick Looks at Two Good Books for Advent: The Rosary and Christmas with the Holy Fathers

Can you believe that we are in the final days of the end of the liturgical year?

As much as I love Ordinary Time (and I love Ordinary Time), I actually am really looking forward to Advent. I feel it will be so calm and meditative and ... I have absolutely no reason for thinking so. Work is still nutty, as it should be at this time of year, and there is Christmas shopping and the Beyond Cana retreat prep continues apace and then there's the podcast and guest reading for StarShipSofa and ...well you get the idea.

However, I'm going with the power of positive thinking and going to try hard to make at least my prayer time calm and meditative and connected to God. As it should be always, indeed, but with the special emphasis on looking forward to Jesus, the Light of the World, as well as reflections on Last Things.

Which is all a very long introduction to these two books that I've meant to tell you about for at least a week now. (But craziness at work, etc. ... so ... ) Maybe, just maybe, my sense of calm is due to having been reading these and thinking about them.

Your beloved knocks. The door opens. You meet Mom.

And she turns out to be the nicest person you've ever met.

She welcomes you into the family, and she radiates kindness and beauty. All that worrying, all those moments of self-doubt subside, and in a matter of seconds you feel excited to be in her presence. You look around and don't see the father, but you sense that he is everywhere in this home.

Now let's take a step back. You have never experienced a love like the one you have with your beloved, and, while you feel an openness, you admit to yourself that this person can be a mystery to you. You have questions. It's not that you don't feel close to your beloved, it's just that you begin to hunger and thirst to know everything about this love that has come into your life. And to be perfectly honest, you feel intimidated, because your beloved is such a complete person, and you feel more often than not, less than whole.

What were you like as a child? What were your parents doing before they had you? What were your friends like? Did you ever get lost? What were some of the loneliest times of your life? Why did you come into my life?

You've held off asking some of these questions of your beloved, but here in front of Mom, you feel strangely comfortable to let loose. It's as if she is standing there ready to embrace you and help you understand everything. Who better than your beloved's mother to answer all these questions swirling in your mind? Who better to provide insight than the woman who carried your beloved in her body for nine months and who experienced the pain and joy of bringing her child into the world?

You begin to ask all your questions, and this woman who you've just met seemingly transforms into your own mother. She smiles and takes down a scrapbook and the two of you begin looking at pictures. This is a picture of me when I first found out I was going to have a baby, she says. This is a picture of my cousin and me, we were both pregnant at the same time. Here's one right after the birth. So many people came to visit us. Here are a few pictures of a wedding we attended, and this is a picture of . . .

So you sit in her presence and page through the scrapbook of their lives. These pictures tell stories, and you begin to understand what was once a mystery. You feel this family's happiness, their sorrows, their illuminations, and the glory of their lives. Allof a sudden, the worries, the fears, the doubts, the brokenness, the distractions that you seem to feel on a daily basis fall away snd you are transformed by love.

That is the Rosary.
I have admitted before that I have an on-again, off-again relationship with saying the rosary. However, even during the "off" times I notice that when I have to make a difficult phone call, I am saying a "Hail Mary" under my breath as I dial. It reminds me that I am to be a disciple as she was the most perfect disciple ... it gives me calm ... and, hey, it can't hurt to have Mary saying a prayer for you!

This book made drove away the "off" time even though it is simply a decade or two during my morning prayer walk. Perhaps that is because it is elegant in its simplicity, just as the rosary really is if we do it without complicating matters. Gary Jansen introduces us to the rosary in his own life, gives us the basics, and then provides some lovely art as a meditation aid for each of the mysteries. Even in this basic format he give us much to ponder, as with the excerpt above. That put Mary in a whole new light during my meditations.

Not only is the book lovely but it also reaches out to other than Catholics. I always am curious about how people from outside Catholicism explain devotions that are seen as being strictly "Catholic." Jansen does such a good job that it will help slough off any labels put on this timeless meditation on Christ's life, death, and passion. Highly recommended.

Christmas with the Holy Fathers
Compiled by Peter Celano
Light in Darkness
Pope Pius XII
Christmas Message, 1942

His light can overcome the darkness, the rays of His love can conquer the icy egoism which holds so many back from beoming great and conspicuous in their higher life. To you, crusader-volunteers of a distinguished new society, live up to the new call for moral and Christian rebirth, declare war on the darkness which comes from deserting god, of the coolness that comes from strife between brothers. It is a fight for the human race, which is gravely ill and must be healed in the name of conscience ennobled by Christianity.


The Lesson of Silence--A Prayer
Pope Paul VI
Reflections at Nazareth
January 5, 1964

The lesson of silence: may there return to us an appreciation of this stupendous and indispensable spiritual condition, deafened as we are by so much tumult, so much noise, so many voices of our chaotic and frenzied modern life. O silence of Nazareth, teach us recollection, reflection, and eagerness to heed the good inspirations and words of true teachers; teach us the need and value of preparation, of study, of meditation, of interior life, of secret prayer seen by God alone.
It is easy to see from the two samples above, the messages of past Holy Fathers during Advent and Christmas are timeless. Both those excerpts give us so much food for thought, good reminders of how to recenter our lives, how to reorder our priorities rightly. As our modern lives are even more chaotic and busy than of times past, this is the perfect time to pick up this little book for regular contemplation during Advent and the Christmas season. These meditation-sized pieces come from as far back as Pope Saint Gregory I the Great (590-604) right into current time with our own Pope Benedict XVI. They are divided into sections covering: Advent (Including the Feast of the Immaculate Conception); Christmas Eve, The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord (a.k.a. Christmas); Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God; and The Feast of the Epiphany. It is surprising how many topics can be covered under those categories. All of them looked like things that I needed to be reminded of and many of them I have taken to prayer since reading them. You may find the same for yourself. Highly recommended.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Twilight hit the theatres this weekend; is it good for our daughters?

I have just read the book and I say definintely not. Catholic Mom who writes here, agrees.
Here is another post on the "Twilight" phenomenon from a man who graduated from St Thomas More College and works as a DRE in Illinois.
Here is a review from Julie at a Connecticut Catholic Corner. She works in publishing and seems to be an ardent Catholic. She also has a movie review on the blog.
I'll be posting reviews of both shortly.
Just let me add my own warning; I have been a teacher for 20 years, and I never saw such mass intoxication with a book, yes, even compared with the Harry Potter series. This near hysteria came to a head in my seventh grade study hall Friday afternoon, when I could not keep the girls quiet enough to study; they were all a flutter about their plans to see "Twilight" that evening. This is a phenomenon which Catholics must examine before embracing; anything that the Culture of Death embraces with such ferocity can't be healthy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Book Review: The Vatican

The Vatican: Secrets and Treasures of the Holy City

A few weeks ago I received an elaborate mailing piece for this book. I looked through it longingly and then resolutely threw the pieces in the trash. I had no business purchasing a book right now, even if it was a DK Publishing book ... those grown-up picture books that I love so much.

You can easily imagine my delight then when I received an email offering a review copy the next week.

What you may not be able to so easily imagine is just how beautiful this book is. In fact, I took it to my Scripture Study class the night I received it and was afraid I wouldn't get it back. Person after person paged through, lingering over the beautiful photography of the gardens, treasures, and buildings. Each of them asked the price ($35) and then would say, "That's all? But it's such a big book with so much in it..."

Actually, upon checking, I found that DK offers it for a nice discount and Amazon for an even steeper one.

So now that all those preliminaries are out of the way, just what is in this book?

The author is a historian and former Vatican employee who clearly knows his way around the ins and outs of Vatican City. He also knows the Vatican officials well enough to have gotten full cooperation and to be able to display some things that the regular visitor would never see.

Divided into six sections that cover the Church year, history, architecture, daily life, people and treasures, the book goes into much more depth than one would expect. True, many of the 320 pages feature the stunning photography that is DK's trademark. However, the history section has a succinct yet thorough overview of popes and their accomplishments than I expected. In fact, it is nice to see one that handles the basics so well without getting bogged down in the details. Admittedly I tend to read some very indepth books.

I think that my favorite section features people and their jobs. We see at work those famous Swiss Guards (and their training), the ceremonies assistant, the mosaic restorer, the papal photographer, and even what extensive practice that one must have to sing in the choir. All these have multiple photos and captions that put us in place with them.

However, I also enjoyed the architecture section more than I thought I would. Let's face it. It is unlikely that I will ever go to Rome, much less the Vatican. This book puts me there where so much that is integral to the Catholic faith takes place and has taken place for hundreds and hundreds of years.

This is well worth the price and would make a wonderful special Christmas gift for someone. Highly recommended.

To see more inside spreads, visit

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Genesis Initiative

A new company in Hollywood, dedicated to providing authentic Catholic films is always good news. The Genesis Initiative states in its mission statement:
The Genesis Initiative’s purpose is to ensure that great movies, reflecting great Catholic stories and themes, are properly produced as magnificent works of art so we can re-establish a Catholic presence in the culture for future generations.

The Genesis Initiative has some ambitious projects in mind; feature length films on Our Lady of Fatima, Blessed Father Junipero Serra, and 16 Carmelite Nuns who died trying to quell the violence of the reign of terror in 16th Century Spain. These are stories of courage and miracles which should be told, and if they are done well, may be quite successful.

Take a look at their website and see if you can support their work.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

22 Weeks; shocking true story of abortion

This movie may be one which changes history.
Too often we have to be shocked into action by a terrifying confrontation with the truth we have been ignoring. It worked with "Uncle Tom's Cabin" it worked with the nightmarish Holocaust footage. This may be the film which is their equal. Read about the true story in World Net Daily.


MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEATHMom's true-life abortion horror story hits big screenWND article about born-alive baby made into motion-picture
Posted: August 19, 200811:25 pm Eastern
By Drew Zahn© 2008 WorldNetDaily
A movie has just been finished based on the true story reported by WND of a woman trapped in the bathroom of an abortion clinic who watched helplessly as her baby, who was born alive, died.
The film, "22weeks," made by a young, Puerto Rican filmmaker, Ángel Manuel Soto Vázquez, will soon be released in private screenings in select cities as it ramps up for hopeful showings at the Toronto and Cannes Film Festivals.
The film, with promotional pages on
MySpace and Facebook, describes the movie on its homepage as follows:
A young woman is locked in the bathroom of an abortion clinic after her aborted baby was born alive. A film about decisions, their effects and the echos [sic] they leave behind. Based on the shocking WorldNetDaily article by Ron Strom, on victim's testimonies, and real 911 calls about one of the most controversial subjects of our time, "22weeks" achieves to confront both sides of the spectrum and their perspective to the on going [sic] question: "what would you do?"

A horrific story, 22 Weeks (trailer) describes what happened to a young woman whose aborted baby was accidently born alive at 22 weeks, and when she tried to save him, she was locked in a bathroom. Profoundly isturbing and revealing of what exactly is behind the phrase "Culture of Death", this true life story details what the Born Alive Infant Protection Act which was signed into law by President Bush now prevents.
Do you remember who voted to block this legislation three times in the Illinois Legislature?

Senator Barack Obama.

Vote Pro Life.