Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Movie Review: The Genesis Code - PG

Warning: Possible spoiler.

Kerry Wells becomes friends with Blake Truman when she is assigned to interview him for the school  paper (he is the star player of the hockey team).

 Kerry is a devout Christian, and her father is the pastor of the local Church.   Kerry and Blake soon find themselves at odds, because Blake believes that science disproves Genesis, the story of creation.  That makes it hard for him to turn to God through prayer for his  mother, who is in the hospital in a coma.

Kerry's brother and his friends (all science majors) put together a presentation to reconcile Genesis and science.  Kerry has a challenge to her faith as well through one of her professors, who insists she must forfeit her beliefs to be successful, so the presentation also helps her with that.  My favorite line of the movie is when Kerry says "science has caught up to the bible".

I've reviewed a number of Christian themed movies, but this one is especially effective in making people proud to be Christian and unafraid to defend our beliefs.

There are a few well-known actors you'll enjoy seeing: Lance Henriksen, Catherine Hicks, Ernest Borgnine and Fred Thompson.

A very inspiring, effective and entertaining movie.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review, "For Greater Glory" the story of the Cristeros

Mexico in the 1920’s was a genteel society where ladies and gentlemen dressed in their Sunday best, casually strolled to Mass through the town plaza. The parish priest was a pre-eminent figure in the community, and no one imagined that President Plutarco Calles would send their gracious world into a tailspin with his sudden enactment of Mexican anti-clerical laws in 1926. Mexican churches closed their doors in protest on August 1, 1926 and the people saw their Catholic schools and churches confiscated, their priests exiled and even murdered before their horrified gaze.  Their first reaction was to organize boycotts through the National League for Religious Liberty, but the Calles retaliation grew bloodier and soon many Mexican Catholics felt that their only recourse was to take up arms. The Cristero Movement was born, from landowning peasants whose religious faith was strong, and who fought to reclaim their rights to freedom of religion. Their battle cry was “Que viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King!) As they carried banners with Christ’s image into battle and attended Holy Mass in their camps, they knew they were fighting to maintain religious freedom in their homeland.
Andy Garcia plays General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde a renowned retired general whose civilian life as head of a soap factory leaves him anxious to return to battle even though his atheism has his wife Tulita (Eva Longoria) cynical as to his role in a conflict over religious freedom. General Gorostieta says he’s fighting so his daughters can receive Confirmation, but soon the inspiring valor of 14 year old José Luis Sánchez del Rio (Mauricio Kuri) who begs to join the Cristeros spurs the general to greater personal investment in the cause for religious freedom.
A once-hidden epoch in Mexican history is brought unflinchingly to life by riveting performances by such venerable actors as Oscar-winner Peter O’Toole as Fr Christopher an aged foreign priest who incredulous to learn that he is no longer welcome in the nation whose people he served all his life, and newcomer Mauricio Kuri as his young protégé in the defense of the Faith. The power of religious conviction to drive self-sacrifice is the inspiring theme in this extraordinary film, portrayed with equal power by both militant priests Fr Vega (Santiago Cabrera) and pacifist activists Blessed Anacleto Gonzalez Flores (Eduardo Verastegui).
Director Dean Wright does not dwell on the violence of the conflict, but focuses on the state of the characters’ souls as they valiantly embrace sacrifices required to combat by the cruel suppression of the Federales. Stirring portrayals of good and evil set amid colorful Mexican landscapes suffused with Catholic iconography create an unforgettable cinematic experience comparable to “The Mission”. Andy Garcia gives the performance of his career, filling the screen with his character’s powerful transformation from mercenary to hero, but Mauricio Kuri’s screen debut is the showstopper. Blessed José Luis Sánchez del Rio is first seen as a insolent adolescent who Fr Christopher mentors as an altar boy but his lessons on moral courage are driven home when the boy witnesses the elderly priests’ martyrdom. Jose insists on bringing his friend along to join the Cristeros, and humbly accepts his position as a non-combatant, until destiny thrusts him into the spotlight.
Do not miss this remarkable salute to the little known heroes of the Cristeros rebellion, an opportunity not only to educate your family about past religious persecution and the heroes who fought for religious liberty in Mexico, but a spellbinding experience to inspire your own reaction to similar threats in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. It is providential that “For Greater Glory” is coming out as the USCCB’s Fortnight for Freedom initiative is about to begin.
I give “For Greater Glory” my highest recommendation. Suitable for ages 13 and up, like “The Passion of the Christ”, the film is rated R for violent and disturbing content. (Sexual content is minimal; there is one bedroom scene with a discussion between husband and wife, and a brief scene of women in 1920’s style undergarments)  Greatest respect for the highest expressions of human dignity; sacrifice, love and faith is exalted in this film. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Book Review: Catholic Philosopher Chick Makes Her Debut

Catholic Philosopher Chick Makes Her Début by Rebecca Bratten Weiss and Regina Doman Front Royal, VA: Chesterton Press, 2012

Catholic Philosopher Chick Makes Her Début is the intelligent Catholic woman’s beach read. This book is so much fun that you won’t want to put it down until you have turned the last page with a blissful sigh of contentment! Rebecca Bratten Weiss and Regina Doman bring Cate Frank to life and make her a heroine you would want to share a slice of cheesecake with.

Cate, a former fashion writer, has struck out on a new path in life. A Jewish convert to the Catholic faith, she is headed to the Dominican University of Houston in order to immerse herself in the works of Thomas Aquinas and to find the perfect guy. She convinces the intimidating Dr. Hastings to allow her to take the famous “Suminar,” devoted to the study of the Summa Theologica, even though she is a first year graduate student and therefore not eligible, but when she walks in the door she finds herself to be the only woman in a group of men. Among those men, of course, is Justin, “the perfect man,” and Sean, who is anything but.

Cate manages to balance weight issues, her love of good food, fashion disasters, a party-girl roommate, parents who think she has gone off the deep end, and her own natural inclination for getting into difficult situations, along with heavier philosophical concerns. On her journey, she will make some valuable friends and learn a few lessons about herself and her place in the world. One of my favorite lines in this book is when Cate muses, “Whatever God wants me to be, it must be something as unique as a snowflake.” Any woman who has struggled with what it means to be a Catholic woman today and what one’s individual vocation is will appreciate and sympathize with Cate’s inner turmoil.

While having studied St. Thomas Aquinas in depth is not necessary to appreciate this book, it helps to have a nodding acquaintance with his style of writing and philosophical thought. Also, if you are like me and your Latin has gotten a bit rusty over the years, you will want to have a Latin/English dictionary or your favorite on-line translator handy to fully appreciate the wit of the chapter titles.

 “Catholic Philosopher Chick Makes Her Début” is a great addition to the genre of Catholic fiction. Weiss and Doman make an incredible writing team, and one can only hope that more books of this quality will be coming our way in the future from this talented duo.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Movie Review: Men in Black III - PG13

Warning: possible spoiler 

When Agent J (Will Smith) learns that Agent K's life, and the fate of earth, are in danger, he must travel back in time to prevent a catastrophic event.   Ironically, he ends up teaming with a young Agent K (Josh Brolin) to stop it.

J also learns there are secrets that his partner had not told him.

The special effects are unbelievable, particularly that aliens often appear so quickly it appears like out of nowhere.  Lots of action, and a better-than-expected story.  Will Smith is charming and witty as usual, but Josh Brolin is especially good in his role.

Content warning: the first 15 minutes has two gross scenes.  Tough it out, because it's worth it:  at the end, the whole audience applauded. 


Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Hunger Games: A Side-by-Side Review of the Book and the Movie

(I am going to try to do this without spoiling anything for those who have not read the book or seen the movie! I will not reveal the end!)

A Prelude..

I delayed seeing this movie as long as possible. When it first came out, I found the very idea of kids watching kids kill each other repulsive.  However, I read a few reviews that said the book had some excellent political overtones, and that the book was food for thought.  So I put the book on reserve at the library.

First I read the book and found it to be a very good read, with no objectionable content for my teenage daughters. The book, the first in a trilogy, is itself divided into three parts.  Part I , “The Tributes”, gives the history of 16-year-old Katniss, her family, town, and the games in general; Gale, her best friend, an older boy with whom she has hunted for years; and Peeta, the bakers’ son, who will be selected as the other tribute.  Part II, “The Games”, is the suspenseful story of the games.   Part III, “The Victor”, contains the climax and conclusion.

I passed the book along to my 14-year-old, who stayed up all night reading it and begged me to take her to the movie, which was still playing in some local theatres. I figured the movie would be comparable to one of the classic science fiction movies my husband and I have enjoyed, such as “Logan’s Run”.   I asked my 13-year-old to read Part I as a requirement to go. I felt that Part I gave enough background for her to understand where the main characters were coming from and the political purposes of the games.  Part II and III were largely composed of action which would be played out in the movie; she could catch up on Katniss’ thoughts later if she wished.

Briefly, the background story from Part I is…

Basically, America has been transformed into 12 districts, ruled by the Capitol.  There had been an uprising, which was squelched by the Capitol, followed by a period of peace.  To keep all the districts in their place and remind them never to try to revel again, every year each district must send 2 tributes, a boy and a girl ages 12 to 18 to fight to the death. The children are selected via a Reaping.  One victor emerges, bringing showers of gifts and wealth to the family and district.

Katniss is from District 12, which is very poor. She and Gale hunt outside the district borders, which is illegal, but they are not punished because the town officials like to buy their meat and fruit on the black market.  They dream of running away, knowing they can fend for themselves, but know they cannot because their families depend upon them for survival.  Katniss’ mother was mentally incapacitated when her father died, and she has been taking care of her 12-year-old sister Primrose for years. 

The unfairness of poverty is shown by how it related to the odds of being selected.  For extra food for the family, an eligible adolescent can put his or her name into the drawing more than once; Katniss and Gale often have had to do this. Gale’s name is in the drawing 42 times this year.  Primrose, whose name was only in once, is chosen, and Katniss volunteers in her place.  Peeta is the boy who is chosen.

Peeta has been in love with Katniss since they were children – but she does not know this until much later.  She knows that once when she was very young and her family was starving he threw her a loaf of bread; she never forgot this and felt indebted to him.  She doesn’t know his true feelings for her and distrusts him, knowing they may have to kill each other in the end.

My thoughts…

I was not disappointed by the movie.  I was glad I had read it in advance, partly because I knew what Katniss was thinking from the book, and her thoughts were not narrated in the movie, but also because I knew when to avert my eyes, because I knew when the deaths and injuries would occur.  My daughters laughed at me, watching the scenes wide-eyed.  Watching sideways, I could see not too much was shown.  (“No gratuitous violence”, one review had promised.) 

I was disappointed, however, that the movie changed the origin of the Mockingjay pin.  In the movie, Katniss finds it on the black market.  In the book, it was given to her as a gift from the mayor’s daughter, a rich girl with little chance of being selected as tribute.  The Mockingjay, an accidental mutation left over from experiments done by the government, was significant as a symbol of the government’s totalitarianism.

The movie added in outside perspectives that I had wondered about during the book, but which could not be revealed as Katniss was narrating from her singular point of view.  Katniss’ mother and sister were shown watching her on-screen. So was Gale, as she feigned romantic feelings for Peeta and kissed him in the cave.  Haymitch, their mentor, was shown talking it up with the sponsors to get the much-needed gifts of medicine sent to them, and even persuading the game makers that they should allow Katniss and Peeta to continue on because the audience would love the romantic angle.

A poignant scene in the book was the death of Rue, the 12-year-old girl from District 11 who reminds Katniss of her little sister.  The two girls had temporarily teamed up, and Katniss found Rue trapped in a net. She didn’t get to her on time; she was pierced by a spear.  In the book, Katniss shoots Rue’s killer partly out of revenge, partly out of self defense, and later realizes that was her first intentional kill.  In the movie, she gets Rue out of the net and then sees her attacker; she shoots defending Rue, but the spear still pierces Rue.  She holds Rue in her arms as she dies, singing her a lullaby she remembers her father singing.

In the book it had also been revealed that she did not like to sing, because it reminded her of her father, who used to sing to the mockingjays, and who had died in a mining accident.  Gale’s father had died in the same accident.  The movie had opened with her singing this same lullaby to her little sister, which was lovely for the effect of her later singing to Rue as if it was her little sister, but this really would not have happened because she did not like to sing.  She does it for Rue, however, because she is the first real human contact she has had since the games began.

In the book, Katniss remembers what Peeta had said about hoping he could do something that made a difference in how people thought about the games.  She weaves flowers around Rue’s hair, knowing that they will have to show this on television.  She honors the girl, and for this she is thanked doubly by District 11: first, by sending her a piece of bread shaped in the symbol of their district, and second, by the boy from District 11 later sparing her life in appreciation.

In the movie, Katniss is shown picking the flowers and placing them around Rue. Then she puts up a hand sign, one that had been shown by her people after she volunteered as tribute, rather than giving the expected applause.  It seems to be a sign of solemn respect, one that recognizes that something is wrong with the way things are being done here.  The movie cuts away to a scene of the people of District 11 watching her, giving the sign back, and then starting an open rebellion.  This (I believe) is the foreshadowing of what will happen in the next installment.  General Snow is pondering what to do with her, and this is when Haymitch pulls strings to persuade him to let her live.

In conclusion…

I won’t go into how the others died. It comes down to Katniss and Peeta in the end. I also won’t reveal what happens here, but there is emotional deception which is necessary for survival, and the way it ends is not quite satisfactory to the Game Makers.  Katniss is warned that they will have it in for her.  There is much to look forward to in the next installment, “Catching Fire”, which I am going to put on reserve next.

Just a bit about the name “Catching Fire”. Katniss’ stylist, wanting to ensure she is never forgotten, designs outfits for her and Peeta that spurt out fire. He says he wants everyone to remember Katniss as “the girl who was on fire”.  During the games, when Katniss has run far toward the edge of the arena, the game makers send fire balls to chase her back near the others.  I can see “Catching Fire” as a book about rebellion she has incited, as well as her being pursued by the government.

I do think this book and the movie, seen together with your teen, can be an excellent starting point for conversations about poverty, government, and respect for life.  I would advise reading it ahead of time so you know exactly what to expect. Only you know if your child is ready for it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Movie Review: The Avengers - PG13

Thor's evil brother Loki gets hold of a cosmic cube which will give him ultimate power.   To stop Loki,  Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) and the S.H.I.E.L.D organization pull together Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye to form the Avengers.

But before they can stop Loki, will they stop fighting each other?

LOTS of intense action.
Content warning is mainly scenes of  violence and destruction

 The plot gets more involved than you might expect, with several sub-plots occurring at the same time.

  A very exciting and entertaining movie...don't miss it!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My Peace I Give You -- Book Review

As a Catholic adult who was sexually abused as a child, I pre-ordered My Peace I Give You, waiting eagerly to receive it. To say I was notdisappointed would be an understatement. If you are a Catholic who was sexually abused as a child, this book is for you. Even if you were not, if you have suffered from other abuse or neglect...indeed, whatever you suffer, there is much that you, too, can learn from this book. And if you are close to someone who was sexually abused as a child, it will give you a greater understanding.

It took me nearly fifty years to understand that my having been sexually abused as a child affected me in more ways than one. Dawn Eden explains, offering both affirmation and hope. She speaks of one man suffering also from his "family's failure to provide him with protection"...and she speaks of our need as children for belonging and identity...and of "the lonely sense of isolation that is the result of having one's self-image disfigured by abuse".

Dawn applies her knowledge of theology and the lives of the saints to the suffering we have in our own lives in ways that I hadn't understood in my forty plus years of being a committed Catholic. Even though I already knew many of the saints whose stories she included, she presented them with fresh clarity and insight.

Dawn does not minimize either our past suffering or the effects of past abuse, as she shares her story and the stories of saints with delicacy and compassion. Yet, at the same time, she shows us God's great love and how he heals us through our wounds.

My emotions in reading this book were relief in understanding more clearly, and overall, a sense of hope and joy.
Guest post by Margaret Mary Meyers