Saturday, December 13, 2008

Review: Mobile Gabriel

Mobile Gabriel is a website that has the readings for Mass, both Daily and Sunday. It's available for viewing over your computer or you can download it to your PDA or smartphone (iPhone, Treo, Blackberry, Centro, etc.) through an e-book reader called "Mobipocket." Mobipocket is available free of charge and Mobile Gabriel has instructions.

You can also download Mobile Gabriel to your PDA/smartphone through AvantGo, which is how I found Mobile Gabriel originally. (AvantGo has other sites, secular and religious, you can download as well.)

Mobile Gabriel is free. (I like free!) Besides the Daily and Sunday Mass readings there is a reflection written by Don Schwager which focuses on a key phrase from the Gospel.

The readings of Daily Mass either continue the theme of the readings from the previous Sunday or lead into the themes for the coming Sunday. Many of my favorite parables and Psalms appear in these readings. The same stories will often appear, but from a different Evangelist, so the same event will be told with a slightly different emphasis.

Reading the Daily Mass helps put the Sunday Mass into context and is especially useful for those weeks I'm a lector. By the end of three years (Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C), I will have read most of the Bible. And I don't have to flip through the different Books of the Bible to find the correct Chapter and Verse. Because I have my Centro with me, I'm more likely to follow the Daily Mass readings--I usually read them waiting in line for my BART train at the end of my work day. Waiting in line might not be the ideal time to contemplate the Divine; on the other hand, I'm reminded that God and Jesus are with me always. Besides, Jesus didn't just preach in the Temple. :)

On the March Hare scale: 5 out of 5 Golden Bytes.

crossposted at The Mad Tea Party

Sunday, December 7, 2008

“Take it to The Queen; A Tale of Hope”

Here's a great book to give to a family member for Christmas.
"Take it to the Queen; A Tale of Hope"
by Josephine Nobisso
illustrated by Katalin Szegedi
Gingerbread House Books

Imagine a kingdom, whose benevolent King gave His subjects fresh water to drink which poured from golden fountains, fields of hearty grain for baking fragrant bread, fine foals in their stables for transportation, and best of all, a beautiful and gentle Queen from among their own people, whose Son would come to visit them. You can only imagine how grateful the King’s subjects would be, thanking Him each day for His kind providence, and enjoying loving fellowship with the Queen and her Son.
Anyone familiar with human nature darkened by Original Sin knows that this scenario could only exist in a fairy tale. The vices of greed and pride would soon take over, spoiling the perfect gift of the King for all. Man would soon find himself in self-imposed misery, and blame the King, doubting his very existence.
Like her popular book, “The Weight of a Mass”, “Take it to the Queen” is a captivating allegory of the life of faith. But don’t let Katalin Szegedi’s whimsical illustrations fool you into thinking that this book solely for young children. “Take it to the Queen” is a story which has a wealth of meaning which challenges readers of all ages, and the more you read the book, the deeper you are able to mine its riches. Author Josephine Nobisso has included extensive notes under the book flaps to help the reader interpret the deeper meaning of the story and the meticulously crafted, illustrations. She does years of research around the globe for each story she writes. In “Take it to the Queen”, she has incorporated elements of the popular devotion begun by Luisa Piccaretta; the Divine Will. Notes from Mrs. Nobisso at the end of the chapter explain this devotion and how it is incorporated into the story. After careful reading of this thought-provoking story, I found myself not only questioning my response to the generosity of the King, but whether I trusted my meager gifts to the loving hands of the Queen and her Son who would bring them to the King in the most beautiful form possible

Read this story with the entire family, and enjoy the powerful story without looking at the clues. Have the children suggest any allusions to the Gospel or the life of faith on their own. Then, ask the children to uncover the symbols in the story, and watch their excitement as they recognize elements from each. I read this story to students from 5th through 8th grade, and was amazed at how enthusiastic were the reactions from each class, though each enjoyed the book on a slightly different level. The children loved the story, and so did their teacher, though I had to fight the tears at the moving depictions of God’s merciful love. The sign of a masterpiece of children’s literature is that it speaks to all ages and that the book is saved to pass on to the grandchildren. “Take it to the Queen” is on its way to becoming a well-loved Catholic classic like “The Weight of a Mass”.
This book is highly recommended for all children of the Queen!

Catholic Reluctantly a True to Life Reflection on the New Girl at School

by Christian M. Frank
312 pages
A shy new girl in school would not usually have to fight off new friends, unless, like Allie, in Catholic Reluctantly, you go to John Paul 2 High, with only 6 students. Such was the misfortune the pretty blonde teen who was forced by her mother into the fledgling school, after a terrifying incident with a gunman in public school. In her first encounter with her fellow students, she overhears them talking about a “psycho kid” in the hallways, only to be followed by having whipped cream sprayed in her face by an unseen attacker in the girl’s room. Allie assumes that her fellow students think she is a mental case after her incident with the gunman, and have decided to humiliate her. After this dismal beginning, it takes the other students of John Paul 2 High a long time to gain Allie’s confidence. Then there is the strange Catholicity of the school. They pray the rosary before school and something called the “Divine Mercy Chaplet” after the day has ended. Allie can’t wait to escape from this strange place into the familiarity of her boyfriend’s car.
Handsome athlete George Peterson, however, has his eye on Allie, and as he tries to fit in as the new member of the public school wrestling team, George discovers how little respect Allie’s boyfriend Tyler has for her, and struggles with the decision on whether or not to tell her what he is really like. He is afraid that his growing affection for Allie might meet with her scorn.
Author Christian Frank understands the minds of today’s Catholic teens and the six main characters, who run the gamut from on fire members of the JPII generation, from judgmental zealots, and shy former homeschoolers, to worldly young women like Allie. Puzzled by her encounter with these strange young Catholics, and faced with new ideas, about the faith she only practiced at Christmastime, Allie doesn’t know what to think about the strange kids at the tiny school. “Catholicism, Truth. It was hard to talk about things like this—it was using muscles she’d never used before”. At first, she is put off by their straightforward class discussions; they are convinced that the truth can be found, and that it isn’t relative. Soon the truth begins to pursue her, and open her mind to different ways of thinking about what love is, and isn’t. The “Truth Guy” as Allie has learned, from a poem read in her English class, has a way of tripping you up in your former ideas of right and wrong, making life more complicated, and beautiful.

If the theme of “Catholic Reluctantly” is to show Allie’s conversion from typical teen to a teen in pursuit of the Truth, it is done with subtlety and with likeable, believable characters. Nothing happens in this story which couldn’t happen in any high school in America. The overly-zealous, heavy handed Catholic is not the hero of this story; it is the quietly charitable Catholics who only seek confrontation when no other means will do. There was a bit more detail about high school wrestling than I would have liked; perhaps this was aimed at attracting young men.
No inappropriate material, though there is some reference to pornographic magazines, it is dealt with in a Catholic manner. Relationships are examined in the light of Catholic teaching which makes “Catholic Reluctantly” the perfect book for those who enjoy contemporary Catholic fiction with a purpose.
This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Catholic, Reluctantly.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Prince Caspian is out on DVD/Blue Ray

A few weeks ago, I attended my first Hollywood press junket to interview the lead actors of "Prince Caspian" which has just been released on DVD in time for Christmas. I highly recommend it.
Until my article on the interviews is complete, here is a review of the DVD from Narnia Web, a complete resource for all Narnia fans.

Movie Review: "Twilight"

A moody, intellectual young woman, Bella is the product of divorced parents who seem to have difficulty handling their own life challenges, much less that of their lonely daughter. Bella leaves her home in sunny Phoenix to begin small town life in her father’s house in gloomy Forks, Washington, since her mother is pursuing a love interest and has no time to wait for her daughter to finish high school. Bella (Kristen Stewart) is instantly surrounded by slavish new friends, but none of them inspire her respect like the one who won’t speak with her, the aloof, eerily handsome Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) who glides into the school cafeteria with his eccentrically beautiful siblings. Legends swirl around the Cullens but Bella’s father, Charlie, the small town sheriff (Billy Burke) dismisses them as unfair. He cites Dr Carlisle’s stellar reputation as a surgeon in the local hospital, who has taken in an odd assortment of foster children, who don’t mix with their peers yet are the talk of the town.
Soon Bella and Edward are thrust into a crisis which forces her to confront Edward about what makes the Cullens so different. Bella discovers that they are vampires, but unlike the murderous types who have been stalking the locals, the Cullens have learned to satisfy their cravings for human blood by hunting and killing wild animals. They are ‘vegetarian vampires’. “It’s like humans living on tofu. You are not hungry but you are never fully satisfied”, Edward explains to Bella. That is why he has been so cold to her, all the while drawing her in with his sultry silence. Soon Bella finds herself recklessly in love with a man who, every moment they are together, has to fight a relentless lust, not as much for her body as for her blood.

Following on the heels of one of the cultishly popular book series, “Twilight” filmmakers had a distinct advantage: millions who have read the series were longing for this film to come out, selling out entire theatres in advance, with many women planning parties to celebrate the film’s premiere, and to go in groups to see this film. This undoubtedly insured the film’s all-important opening box office returns. However, this advantage of a vast built in audience was also fraught with peril. Devotees of a book, particularly a romance can be adamant that certain details ( i.e. the romance) be done right. Director Catherine Hardwicke wisely included author Stephanie Meyers on the movie set to advise her. Most of the big decision makers; casting, production, etc. were women, so one would assume that the magnetic pull of the book would make it to the screen in its purest form. It seems they were wrong. One week after the film’s successful opening, I attended a sparsely populated matinee the day after Thanksgiving. How could the incredible furor this film created have died out so rapidly? Teen fans of the books told me of their bitter disappointment before I saw the film. “They (the romantic characters Edward and Bella) looked like they hated each other.”
Could it be that in their devotion to the perception of the romance, readers of the book overlooked the darker aspects of the story? After all, Edward’s reaction to meeting Bella, the new student in the small town high school did convince Bella that he was sorry she had the seat next to him in science class. His interior struggles to overcome his particularly keen blood lust for her were plainly and chillingly stated in the book. Did fans assume that his unearthly physical attractiveness or the pathos of the tragic vegetarian vampire, trying to overcome his bloodthirsty nature overcome this cold-blooded fact in the reader’s minds? I read many an online discussion of the book when the darkness of the love affair where Edward who is fighting the urge to kill his beloved is defended on both these terms. Did women refuse to face the bald fact that Bella’s abandonment into the hands of Edward and his kind is ultimately going to cause her pain? Or was the danger part of the attraction? I assumed it was. Apparently so did the producers of “Twilight” as they had begun production on the sequel before the release of “Twilight”. Read a review of the book here.
Perhaps the darkness of Edward’s true nature when seen onscreen was too unsettling for even the most loyal fans. Maybe Bella’s blind devotion to Edward pales in the gloomy light of the cinema, and this film dwindles in stature from a modern rendering of the gothic “Wuthering Heights” down to just another unhealthy teenage relationship?

Perhaps a generation of young women who haven’t read such classics are seeking the darkness into light of a true gothic romance, or a strong, strangely chivalrous romantic man (it admit it’s a unique device to make Edward seem noble for saving Bella from himself!) Couldn’t these young women so hungry for masculinity, self-sacrificing love, and romance find a better story than “Twilight”?

The film, with its nightmarish mood, constant undercurrent of sexuality, and jarring score, might just have succeeded too well in conveying the dream of Stephanie Meyers which inspired the series in the first place.
Disturbing violence and overt sexual content.
Not recommended.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Being Dead is the Least of His Problems: Review of Already Dead

I lent this audiobook to a friend. Later, listening to me waxing enthusiastic over the book, he said in a dubious tone, “That’s the book where the zombies and vampires are fighting?”


It is true that vampirism is a key element of detective Joe Pitt’s character as practically everything he does entails watchful details to stay alive and undetected for what he is. Already Dead is, first and foremost, heart and soul, a hard-boiled detective novel. One might be forgiven for thinking that Charlie Huston is merely another author taking advantage of the recent trend featuring vampires as key characters in fiction. However, they would be dead wrong. What becomes very clear is that Huston is taking advantage of this fantastical setting to examine good versus evil, rising to humanity versus sinking to the level of animals, the societal urge to define oneself by the group one joins, and, of course, what constitutes true love. It is no surprise then to find that some of the greatest intentional evil is perpetrated not by vampires but by mere human beings. All of these themes are set forth for us in crackling dialogue that hearkens back to the best of Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder, who one is irresistibly reminded co-wrote the screenplay for the film-noir classic Double Indemnity. In fact, a scene toward the end of the book between Joe and his girlfriend Evie is a noir-style dialogue masterpiece that sends thrills through the listener and that would not be out of place in that movie.
Already Dead by Charlie Huston is for adults (unlike Twilight) and you can read my complete review at SFFaudio.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Movie Review: Australia

First Disclaimer: I would pay to watch Hugh Jackman read the phone book. So, no, this review is definitely not unbiased.

Australia is told from the point of view of a young boy, Nullah (Brandon Walters). He is a "creamy": half-white, half-aborigine. His grandfather, King George, is a "magic" man who is teaching young Nullah the songs that impart all the wisdom of the Aboriginal people. Nullah has some magic in him, too, but he also realizes that he does not belong to the Aboriginal world. Neither does he belong to the white world. He has to find his own spot.

Complicating matters, the Australian Government is removing mixed-blood children from their Aboriginal mothers, forcing the children to attend boarding schools with the intention of "breeding the black" out of them. So Nullah and his mother are ever watchful for the local law.

The year is 1939. World War II has begun, but is confined to Continental Europe for the moment. A young English woman, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), flies to Darwin, Australia, to persuade her husband to sell his cattle ranch and come home to England where he belongs. However, her husband's cattle station, Faraway Downs, is the only competition for the local cattle baron, King Carney (Bryan Brown). Carney is trying to drive Lord Ashley out of business so he will be the sole provider of beef cattle to the Australian Army.

Lord Ashley has sent his cattle drover (Hugh Jackman) to meet Lady Ashley at the pier in Darwin and bring her to Faraway Downs. The drover is self-employed, working for whomever he chooses. While waiting for Lady Ashley in the local bar, one of Carney's men insults him, calling him a "Boo lover." Drover slugs the man and the fight is on, moving out into the street, where Lady Ashley's luggage becomes part of the melee. She is horrified to see her lingerie scattered across the dirt street. Drover--for that's the only name he's called during the film--mutters an apology. They begin the two-day journey to Faraway Downs in a beat-up truck, overtopped with what ends up being a couch and arm chair.

Of course, Lady Ashley and Drover despise each other. She thinks he has designs on her. He informs her that he wouldn't sleep with her if she were the last female on Earth.

We know where it's going to lead--right?

Thirty minutes (or less--I wasn't looking at my watch), Drover has his shirt off and is washing up. For those who remember Mr. Jackman in Leopold and Kate, it's obvious Mr. Jackman has been working out. With good results.

When they reach Faraway Downs, Lord Ashley has been killed and King George is the primary suspect. Lady Ashley discovers that the foreman of the station has been working for Carney as well as beating Nullah (whom she suspects is his son) and Nullah's mother on a regular basis.

She fires him. He leaves, taking his men with him.

But there are 2000 head of cattle that need to be driven to Darwin if she is to have a chance at the government contract. She needs Drover's help. He's not sure that a well-bred Englishwoman can survive the tough ride.

And this is just the first half of the movie.

If you've ever watched a Western that involves a cattle drive, you know what will happen, more or less. What makes this drive different is Nullah. His grandfather is always watching from a distance. And Nullah is a special boy--he has learned his lessons well and he is brave. Frankly, Brandon Walters steals this movie from Ms. Kidman and Mr. Jackman, much as the director tries to limit his screen time.

There are lots of soulful looks between Lady Sarah and Drover. A lot of close-ups, which will probably play better on the small screen once this movie is released on DVD. There are discussions about the land and the importance of having a story and of song.

The cattle drive ends in Darwin, which sets up the next scene: a charity ball to fund the Mission where the mixed-blood children will live. This provides an opportunity for Ms. Kidman to wear a beautiful gown and for Mr. Jackman to clean up and wear a white dinner jacket. He does clean up well. The scene also gives Ms. Kidman a speech about how horrible it is to tear these children from their mothers and to show how small-minded and prejudiced the average white Australian was in 1939.

There is an interlude of relative calm until 1942. Using newsreel footage, the move jumps forward to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and on the movements of the Japanese through Southeast Asia. Drover accepts an assignment from the Australian Army: a six-month "drove" of cattle. Nullah wants to go walkabout with King George. Lady Ashley doesn't want either of them to go, so Nullah sneaks off and she tells Drover that if he leaves, he shouldn't return. So (of course), he leaves.

However, Nullah hasn't gone walkabout--he's been taken by the sheriff and is going off to Mission Island, which is directly in the path of the Japanese. Lady Ashley can't save him, but she can help with the war effort, monitoring the radio transmissions from the priest at Mission Rock.

Meanwhile, Drover is having his psyche dissected by his best friend, who happens to be an Aborigine. They notice planes flying over--Americans--and Drover figures that this is not a good sign. They ride back to Darwin in time to see the place in flames. Drover assumes Lady Ashley is dead and, when he hears that Mission Island has been attacked, commandeers a boat to find Nullah.

The acting is uniformly good. The writing could have been tighter and more true to the time: would an English lady really leave the manor to travel to the Outback? Would she really go against the conventional thinking about Aborigines? To her credit, Ms. Kidman makes it seem plausible. Mr. Jackman plays the quintessential cowboy, albeit an Australian. His toughness covers his vulnerability. His actions speak instead of his words.

The love scenes are discreet. The language is clean for the most part.

I was happily surprised that this was not another "Convicts come to Australia" movie. I tend to forget how close to Southeast Asia and the Pacific Theater Australia was. I wish I had looked at map beforehand, though, to get oriented as to where Darwin is on the continent. In the opening credits, it looks like the film was signed off by a group representing the Indigenous People (I don't remember the exact name and it's not listed on IMDb). Their characters and their traditions are presented very respectfully. In fact, I wish there had been more about them in the movie.

At the end of the movie, there is a note that the forced removal of children was ended in the 1950's and the Australian Government issued a formal apology to the "Stolen Generation."

Word of warning: do not drink a large soda prior to the movie. There is no intermission. ;)

There wasn't quite enough action to keep Hubs completely engaged. (Nicole Kidman is too thin for his tastes.) DS#2 (18), DD#1 (22), and DD#2 (15) want to see it--and I'd be willing to see it with them.

A good movie if you need a break from the holiday madness.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out 5 Golden Tickets

crossposted at The Mad Tea Party