Sunday, December 29, 2013

Movie Review: Grudge Match - PG13

Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (DeNiro) and Henry "Razor" Sharp (Stallone) are two local Retired fighters who have a famous rivalry, tied at 1-1.   They are coaxed out of retirement for the decisive 3rd matchup by boxing promoter Dante Slate Jr., the son of their original promoter.

McDonnen reunites with his son and  is trained by him.  Sharp reunites with his ex Sally Rose (Kim Basinger) and  is trained by la ong-time friend and trainer  (Alan Arkin).

I enjoyed that this movie kept it real....they acknowledged the age and condition of both  (Stallone is 67 and DeNiro is 70) and showed their difficulty even with training.  They didn't try to ignore their age and pretend they are younger.

I won't spoil the ending, but I liked the way their match was handled.

A funny and entertaining movie.

Content Warnings include a couple of crude scenes and crude language, but both are brief and infrequent.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Music Review: "A New Day" by Steve Angrisano

It was a treat to listen to this CD, which features Steve's beautiful guitar playing and smokey voice ('smokey' is not a word I use often,  but it accurately describes his voice, and it is used in the most complimentary manner :)

  There is a lot of bible reference:
'Psalm 40: Here I am Lord' is obviously based on that Psalm
'Magnificat' is the well-known visitation of Mary to Elizabeth 
'Remain in Me, I Am the Vine' resounds the words of Jesus himself  

The tempo is fairly consistent across most of the tracks, with a couple of tracks, such as 'Alleluia! Love Is Alive' and 'May Your Kingdom Come' using a faster tempo.  

The guitar playing is also appropriate for each track, using soothing notes and powerful chords.   The most important aspect of the CD for me is that it remains totally focused on the Lord.

 It was a pleasure to review this CD, and I highly recommend it.

  I think Steve's greatest asset is his voice.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Struggle of Good and Evil in the Disney Movie "Frozen"

[Disclaimer: Plot spoiler warning!]

This movie was a delight, with an original story set in beautiful Scandinavia, complete with some unexpected twists and elements not usually seen in a Disney movie.  Elsa is a princess born with the unusual ability to turn anything into ice, a skill she develops while playing with her little sister Anna.  However, she discovers that she loses control of her talent when she becomes overemotional.  This results in an accident in which Anna’s brain is frozen.  The magical gnomes are able to unfreeze her brain but must remove Anna’s memory of Elsa’s ability.  The overcautious King and Queen seclude the royal family and keep Elsa locked up, even keeping her away from Anna.

As Elsa attempts to keep her ability restrained, she becomes both physically and emotionally inaccessible.  Anna, deprived of her sister’s companionship, longs for love and human camaraderie.  She thinks she has found it the day that the palace gates are open for Elsa’s coming of age and crowning.  But this day teaches Elsa that by keeping her emotions and powers completely restrained for so long, she has completely lost control of both.   She escapes into the mountains, where she builds her own ice castle and feels free once again, unwittingly unleashing a powerful ice storm on her people.  When Anna follows her and tries to get her to stop the ice storm, Elsa once again loses control of her emotions and powers, sending ice through Anna’s heart.  Thus the movie teaches the seemingly contradictory concept that we must express our emotions while also controlling them.

The magical gnomes tell Anna that the damage can only be undone through an act of true love.  She assumes that this must be romantic love, but herein lies some of the movie’s surprises. First, she finds that what she thought was “love at first sight” was deceiving (a lesson not usually taught in animated movies).  Second, the love that Anna is looking for to save her does not come from a romantic admirer.  Rather, it comes from within, as she risks everything to save Elsa, and both their hearts are thawed.  In the end, the sisters save each other from the damage that was done by keeping secrets.

Whereas animated films tend to portray heroes as attractive and villains as ugly and scary looking, this film teaches children that people are not always what they seem.  Another very different element of this film is that the characters are neither purely evil nor purely good.  The complicated character of Elsa is her own enemy in this film, depicting the internal struggle that is part of the human condition*. The love of her sister is what helps her to use her unusual power for good in the end.  Thus the message of the film is a very Christian one, calling us to conquer evil by loving one another!

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good”, admonishes St. Paul (Romans 12:21).  And the First Letter of John encourages us: “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His Love has been perfected in us” (I John 4:12).  When Anna gives of herself freely she allows a pure love to operate through her, healing her wounds.  Then, when Elsa opens up her heart to allow Anna to reach her with this love, this unlocks the good in her to overcome the sinful part of her nature that is harming others.

Because of the romantic elements and the focus on love between sisters, this film will primarily attract a female audience.  However, the snow monster, talking snowman, and talking reindeer will appeal to young boys.  The unexpected turns in the plot will keep adult viewers interested as well.  Altogether this is a beautifully produced movie with an original story that is appropriate for families.

*The scriptural basis for the internal struggle of good and evil can be found in these words from the  apostle St. Paul:
“For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” - Romans 7:14-25

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Book Review: Yes, God!

Yes, God! What Ordinary Families Can Learn about Parenting from Today’s Vocation Stories
by Susie Lloyd
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2013

Have you ever looked at a priest or religious and wondered how it was that he or she came to be there – what made that person willing and able to say “yes” to God’s call? Susie Lloyd, author of Please Don’t Drink the Holy Water and Bless Me, Father, For I Have Kids, decided to find out. She interviewed ten priests and religious to discover what their families of origin had been like in order to learn what lessons those families had to teach. As Lloyd states, “I wanted to raise heroic kids – kids who could say yes to God in whatever way he calls. Or at least, I didn’t want to blow it.”

It is heartening to know that there is no one right way to be a parent and these families illustrate this point quite nicely. Some families were large and others small. Some struggled with poverty. Some homeschooled, while others attended public or Catholic school. Some lived lives literally dripping with the Catholic faith while for others it was more subtle. Yet each of these families has something to teach the rest of us, a virtue or practice we can emulate. These include generosity, love of God and neighbor, respecting duty, treasuring the inheritance of our faith, being strong, and embracing spiritual poverty. 

Lloyd is best known as a humorist and she brings her sense of humor into these pages. She is willing to laugh at her own parenting mishaps and challenges, and in her laughter, parents will recognize some of their own challenges. (For the record, I actually have had a child drink a bottle of holy water – I would like to say it brought instant sanctity, but there seemed to be no discernible effect.) She is a mother who, even with her vast experience as a mother of six, is willing to admit she is not perfect and that there is still much to learn.

As Lloyd hoped when she set out on this literary and spiritual quest, there is much to be learned from the families profiled in Yes, God! It is also great reading for those who wonder how it is that a young person receives and answers a call from God. It can help make all of us more open to God’s small quiet voice speaking in our lives.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Book Review: "Like a Woman Scorned" by Randi Hart

Alison Carson meets attorney Rick Waterman while he is in town for a month-long trial.  During that month, they carry on an affair,  and all seems ideal.    
The problems begin when the trial, and their affair, are over.  At first, Alison is angry and secretly seeks revenge, then she fears she may have gone too far, especially when Rick apologizes and they start to rekindle their past feelings.  Then,  Rick becomes suspicious.....  

Randi takes the reader on a real roller-coaster of a story.   From one chapter to the next, you aren't sure  who is more sympathetic.

 It is a relatively short book...a novella, about 118 pages.  It will keep you hooked, and guessing the whole time.  

A very good story that is sure to entertain.  Good job Randi!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Movie Review:The Hunger Games:Catching Fire - PG13

After their victory in the last Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark must reluctantly go on a Victor's Tour of the Districts. President Snow soon announces The Quarter Quell games, a competition among the Hunger Games Victors, which promises to be more challenging than ever.  Not only do the Victors have to face other winners, they must contend with the Capitol and the challenges and threats they put in the Games.  

When reviewing a sequel, it is difficult to do so without comparisons to the original movie:  the original tends to set expectations for any sequels.  

Overall, it was entertaining, but not as good as the first Hunger Games movie.   The first had more interaction and fighting among the tributes (competitors), and that was somewhat lacking in 'Catching Fire'.  There was more focus on their struggle against the Capitol.  And the way it ended was abrupt and unclear.   

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Movie Review: Coming Home for Christmas

Sisters Carly and Britt McKillip play sisters Kate and Melanie, who haven't spoken in 5 years.  Since then,  their family hasn't celebrated Christmas, their parents have separated and the family home has been sold.    Kate comes up with an idea to reunite her family for Christmas at the old house, but there is someone else living there now....  

A very nice story of forgiveness, reconciliation and the importance of family.  Also, an appreciation for Christmas. The story is nice, and the script plays it out well.    

My main issue is with the casting and acting.  The two McKillip sisters both over-acted their roles.  The rest of the cast seemed uncomfortable in their roles, as if they were unsure how to play them.  Amy Jo Johnson was too young to play the mother....she wasn't convincing in the role, and at times seemed more like a third sister.  

A heartwarming story that will put you in the mood for Christmas.  It is also a story of doing for others.  Each of the cast does that, making it about the season of giving.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Music Review: "Don't Stand Idly By" by Thomas Jude Shaheen

I finally get to review Christian/Catholic music that actually sounds and feels like worshiping :)

  Thomas includes 12 solid tracks in his new CD.

I listened to all 12, and here are my thoughts:  

Thomas has a strong, clear voice, so it's easy to hear and understand the lyrics even without reading the insert that has them on it.  

The tempo and rhythm of each song is unique, and just right for that particular song's message.  

'Blood of the Lamb'  is probably the most powerful song on the CD, about how Jesus has conquered all and rules all.  

One word I would use to describe the CD is 'biblical':
'All Generations' is to the Blessed Mother and includes the words Elizabeth spoke to Mary at the Visitation.   
'It's Your Life' includes Jesus' words to take up our cross and follow him.
'Yasu'ah'  is the Arabic name of Jesus (This name was also used in 'Passion of the Christ).

  My two favorites are:
'All Generations' is to the Blessed Mother (I have a strong devotion to the Rosary)
'Don't Stand Idly By'  exhorts us to defend ALL life (I pray weekly at an abortion clinic)  

An excellent CD that will bring you closer to the Lord.

  I encourage you to stop by his site and order a copy! (and hear sample tracks :)


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: Pope Francis: I Believe in Mercy

by Regina Doman
Art by Sean Lam
Dexter, MI: Manga Hero, 2013

Known for their work on the Manga Hero edition of Habemus Papem which told of Pope Benedict XVI, the creative team of Regina Doman as writer and Sean Lam as artist has once again joined to tell a pope’s life story. This time the attention is on Pope Francis. Intended for teens and young adults, Pope Francis: I Believe in Mercy hits all the crucial points of Pope Francis’ life to date. 

It begins with Jorge Bergoglio as a twelve-year-old who thought he was in love with a young lady. When her father told him to leave her alone, he jokingly told her he would become a priest instead. But his true call wouldn’t come until years later. The manga tells of Bergoglio’s lung disease which resulted in the removal of part of his lung and a difficult recovery. It also shows his joining the Jesuits and his efforts to help priests during the political turmoil of Argentina. Pope Francis follows the future pope as he ministered to the people of Buenos Aires, reaching out to the poor and marginalized. In 1992, he became a bishop and as the Archbishop instructed him, the Diocese of Buenos Aires became his bride. When the Archbishop died in 1998, Bishop Bergoglio took over the role but eschewed all of the trappings that came with the office. The manga emphasizes his desire to live simply and minister to all. It concludes with his election to the papacy and the continuation of his simple way of life.

The story of Pope Francis is interwoven with scenes of Jesus from Scripture. There are also passages from Pope Francis’ writings and homilies. 

Because of the subject matter included, especially in the dark days of Argentina, Pope Francis: I Believe in Mercy is definitely intended for teens and young adults rather than children. It may be helpful to have a previous acquaintance with the life story of Pope Francis as well – it is possible one might become confused in some parts without it (either that or one might read this, then go on to read more about him to learn more). Overall, however, Pope Francis: I Believe in Mercy is extremely well done and is a way to inspire young people to follow Jesus as Pope Francis has striven to do in his own life.

Music Review: 1 Girl Nation

When I listen to Christian music, I am very particular that its Christian identity isn't lost. Although the music is enjoyable, Only 2 songs spoke to me as 'Christian'...."Vertical" talks about helping others, remembering they are all Jesus. "Love Like Crazy" tells us to live like Jesus and be a light to others.  

Although it is oriented toward young people,  I still enjoyed all of it.  It just didn't feel like I was listening to Christian music.  It still delivers a more positive message than most of today's music :)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Movie Review: Veggie Tales: Merry Larry and the True Light of Christmas (2013)

Merry Larry and Phillip are decorating the Spring Valley Mall and are determined to make it a grand display.  When Larry starts asking the children what they want for Christmas, he is taken back by a little girl named Christina, who only wants to help her neighbor Mrs. Crespie, who lost her house in a fire.  Larry thinks of a way to use the decorations to bring attention to her situation, just as the mall manager arrives.  It is then that they all learn the true meaning of share God's love for us, with others.  

Veggie Tales tells the story, and teaches a lesson, in a way that will keep kids' attention and entertain them.  And Uncle Si is in it as the narrator  too!

A very entertaining story, with an important lesson.  

Both kids and parents will enjoy it...I know I did  :)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World - PG13

Malekith is back to try to plunge  the universe into darkness using the aether, which happens to end up in an unexpected person this time.  Fortunately,  Thor is also back to stop him with help from an unlikely ally.  

The cast, particularly those who were in the first Thor movie, were more natural in their roles this time, and Tom Hiddleston was especially  entertaining as Loki (He stole the show).  

There is plenty of action and the dialogue is entertaining as well.  

The plot was a little more involved than you might expect, and the ending was especially  cool with an unexpected plot twist which practically guarantees a Thor III.   

Content warning: scenes of violence, destruction and murder.  

Very entertaining and worth seeing. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Book Review: "The First Christmas Night" by Keth Christopher

A beautiful retelling of the birth of of Jesus.  It's a story we've all heard many times and celebrated over the years, but nevertheless, one of the things I enjoyed about it is its faithfulness to the biblical telling.   You'll see the familiar characters of the 3 wise me, the shepherds in the field, and the legion of Angels that appear to them.  

The story is told in rhyme, similar to many poems, and I think this will appeal to younger children and perhaps help their reading ability.  

By far, one of the high points is the beautiful illustrations.  They are very life-like and well-done. 

  An excellent book for small children to learn the Christmas Story :)

Movie Review: Ender's Game - PG13

The last time the Formics attacked earth, 10 million people  were killed.   To prepare for a future attack,  Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) has been training only the best and brightest minds to lead the international forces against the next invasion.  

Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is one of the most promising students to attend Battle School.  He excels, and becomes a leader among his fellow students.

Ender even succeeds at his final test,  which is where the problems begin with this movie.  

After enjoying a nearly two-hour movie, the last ten minutes completely ruined it.   The last ten minutes negated the whole premise of the story and made us feel 'duped' for sitting through the whole story.  The ending actually tried to make the good guys look like the bad guys. I would not recommend this movie.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Book Review: "Can't-Wait Willow!" by Christy Ziglar

Willow is so excited.  She's been looking forward to the circus coming to town and it is finally here!   She starts on her way, but....she makes some poor decisions along the way.  

Willow really does learn from her mistakes and fortunately, she gets a second chance.

  For a short story, there are several lessons included for kids.  It teaches them  about making the right decisions, learning from the wrong ones, forgiveness and second chances.  

A well done story that kids will relate to, and learn from.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Book Review: "Audrey Bunny" by Angie Smith

Audrey is a stuffed bunny who is concerned that she won't be picked by anyone because of a mark she has over her heart.  Even after Caroline picks her and then  treasures her, she tries to hide the mark, fearing that Caroline won't love her anymore if she sees it.   

Audrey continues to hide it until Caroline brings her to school for show-and-tell.  After everyone sees the mark, Caroline tells Audrey that the spot is the very reason she chose Audrey, and how much she loves her.  

A very simple story with an important message about loving people as they are.     

The illustrations are very well done and convey the story very effectively.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

A review of 'The Christmas Cat' by Maryann Macdonald

Just on time for the season of Advent comes a new picture book that Christian parents will not want to miss.  The Christmas Cat by Maryann Macdonald is an original story, beautifully illustrated by Amy Jane Bates, that the entire family will enjoy and want to pass on to the next generation.

The author was inspired by one of a series of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, who drew many illustrations of a young child Jesus holding and playing with a cat.  Dated between 1480 and 1481, this series is known as Madonna del Gatto, or the Madonna of the Cat.  There is also a legend about a cat who purred Jesus to sleep in the stable in Bethlehem the night he was born.  Macdonald wondered if this cat could have become Jesus’ special pet and, if so, what their relationship might have been like.

The book cover shows a kitten licking the hand of a contently smiling Baby Jesus, the evening light coming through the stable window and casting a golden glow on the hay.  On the first page is a panorama of shepherds on a twilight hill, overlooking the city of Bethlehem, which is bathed in a heavenly light.  The title page depicts the Holy Family holding Baby Jesus, with stable animals looking on.  Then we are introduced to a crying Baby Jesus.  His family and the animals are unable to soothe him.  Then a kitten enters the stable, nuzzles Baby Jesus, and gently purrs him to sleep.

Baby Jesus grows into a young child, and he and his Mother Mary are portrayed playing with the cat, who has now become his pet.  When the Holy Family flees from Herod, they fear they have left the cat behind.  Just as the Child Jesus becomes upset, the cat comes out from hiding and comforts him.  The book closes with a painting of Mary, an older Child Jesus, and the cat, cuddling contentedly.  Next to the author’s endnote is a print of da Vinci’s drawing, which is similarly composed.

The story is told in a beautiful narrative style, which adults will enjoy reading aloud.  It is clear, descriptive, and does not ‘talk down’ to children.  I read this book with my seven-year-old daughter, who was delighted by the pictures and story.  I asked my sixteen-year-old daughter, a fine arts student, to critique the artwork; she admired the “loose” style of the paintings.  The artwork is soft, playful, and appealing to children.  The skillful use of light illuminates the focus of each painting.   

I loved the story and have found myself thinking about its thesis.  Although the Bible does not mention “pets” per se, it does speak of dogs being under tables in houses, eating the scraps that fall.  We know that domesticated cats were around from the time of the Egyptians – so it is possible that a stray cat could have befriended the Child Jesus.  The book comes at a perfect time, with Pope Francis bringing worldwide attention to the humble Saint Francis of Assisi, who had such a special relationship with animals.  Pope John Paul II once said, "Also the animals possess a soul, and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren." 

We think of pets as being there to comfort us, and any family with children and a dog or cat knows how animals instinctively cuddle up to them whenever they are upset.  The simple but intriguing idea that Jesus could have had a pet makes him seem more human, and thus more relatable to children.  As his humanity was God the Father’s gift to us that we celebrate on Christmas, this book presents the perfect opportunity for children and their parents to think about what Jesus could have been like when he was a child.  He cried, he got hungry, and he played – just like them – thus he can understand them and be their special friend.

Maryanna Macdonald, who grew up with seven brothers and sisters, shows that she really understands children, and is able to write at a level appropriate for their stage.  I also reviewed her young adult novel Odette’s Secret, which presents a child’s view of the holocaust.  I believe I have discovered a great writer and look forward to seeing more from her.

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers October 2013 U.S. $16.99/Canada $18.00

For publishing information see the author’s website at