December 13, 2014

MOVIES: "EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS"




"Exodus"--the story of Moses--proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that atheists make the best Bible movies (see my review of "Noah": http://hellburns.blogspot.com/2014/03/movies-noah.html#.VI0ZVSvF-Sp). I don't know that atheists necessarily make the best contemporary movies about faith or people of faith, but they certainly do the oldies well. Perhaps this is in part because they mine an amazing text/source that believers might take at face value and/or are afraid to delve to deeply into. Also, atheists are hungrier than us spoiled, slothful believers who take everything for granted. Simply having faith doesn't mean we have mastered the human depths of a Bible figure's journey. That's pretty much open to anyone. To do a Bible story well, an atheist filmmaker must suspend their OWN disbelief and ask "what if"? I think Ridley Scott has done that here.

BALE AND EDGERTON. LIKE BOSSES.

Does Christian Bale pull it off as Moses? Oh yeah. At first, I disliked his trim little facial hair and cropped-but-artfully-tousled hair that didn't look like it fit the era, but it leaves him room for growth and aging. Ramses is played by the unearthly, superlative, uber-uber Joel Edgerton. Edgerton plays Ramses (backstory: unaffirmed by his father) with complexity: a royal that is weak, sniveling, and yet utterly ruthless and driven at the same time. (He reminded me a bit of the dauphin in "Joan of Arc" with Ingrid Bergman.)

Bale is Welsh and Edgerton is Australian, and it just shows. Americans are too American and the British are too British. I'm really digging these other-accented male actors (include New Zealanders) for the Big Roles (although Brooklyn-born John Turturro as Seti, Ramses' father, made me forget all his other, often humorous, deeply American roles).

FLAWS & APPLAUSE

In general, this is a well-made film, part of a new generation of Bible films. I am thrilled that our visually-oriented youth are being treated to these nouveau masterpieces. Most young people have not seen any of the older Bible films or lives of Christ. The special effects are phenomenal--nothing new that we haven't seen in recent years, but it's still awesome to see it applied to Bible stories--and it does pay to see "Exodus" in 3D. The dialogue is rather minimal--and once in a brief while unintentionally laughably simplistic or expository--but the great Ridley Scott mesmerizingly pulls us through visual sequence after visual sequence of battles and plagues. I'm not usually one for epic films with wars and lots of noise and action, but Scott is a genius and is really moving the story ahead through the action-reactions of characters to these grandiose, sweeping events.

There are a few scenes that could have been re-shot. The actors looked like they were trying to remember lines, weren't sure how to play the scene, or it just wasn't their best take. Dude. Just reshoot.

But these are my only complaints. It's a great film.

ANCIENT YET CONTEMPORARY

Although the Bible is an "ancient" text about ancient times and peoples, human nature doesn't change, and so "Exodus" has a contemporary feel. I could totally relate to Moses as he struggled to relate to God. I loved seeing this incredible, incredible man of God questioning, fighting with and arguing with God. Remember, Moses saw God. He did so many epic things like, oh, leading the Hebrew people to freedom after four hundred years of slavery, parting the Red Sea, the Ten Commandments, etc., etc. But I love how the film starts him off as a skeptical, practical man with no faith.

GOD

The film has ample room for God as a huge player, a huge character. In fact, God makes it abundantly clear that mostly, once Moses has obeyed (a very creative, two-way-street type of obedience), God will DO everything. In a colossal way. There are no other explanations for why the cataclysms visit the mighty Egyptian empire. It reminds me of a quote of Blessed James Alberione: "Always start from a stable, start in Bethlehem, because God wants to show that it is He who is doing everything. Those who begin the works of God with money are naive."

This larger-than-life drama of the Exodus is faithful enough to Scripture (with some poetic license as it should have, but not as rock-and-roll as "Noah"), and  although this event is just so foundational for the Jewish people, it is also our foundation as Christians: as Pope Pius XII said: "Spiritually, we are all Semites." I couldn't help thinking of the Easter Vigil liturgy and Fathers of the Church that rely so heavily on the imagery of the Exodus for celebrating Baptism and the Redemption: freedom, transformation through water, the Passover.

The supposed cruelty, arbitrariness, and unreasonableness of God is also dealt with--and not just that of the Hebrew God, but that of the gods of other peoples in the region. That there IS a diety(ies) is assumed, taken for granted, obvious, almost unquestioned . But just what this God is like is hotly debated: "What kind of God would...?" Do we ask these same questions today with the same seriousness of purpose?

THEOLOGY OF THE BODY?

This is a very male movie. Women barely play a part. Sigourney Weaver is miscast as the young pharaoh's mother, Miriam has two small (albeit significant) scenes. Zipporah, Moses' wife, is truly the love of his life, but we see so strongly how faith, leadership, the direction of tribes, nations and history is patriarchal. As I will always maintain, patriarchy--although a system massively open to massive abuse--is not evil, and in a certain sense, God has ordained and used this system throughout salvation history (it's also deeply rooted in simple biology but has nothing whatsoever to do with superiority--just a different task in life than women).

It is up to men and women (with the onus on women) to bring to light and emphasize the unique identity, heroism and essential contribution of women throughout history and salvation history. And we do not have to do this in a strident way, just a firmly insistent, truthful, and complementary way. It is up to us to read the Bible with women's eyes and see all the amazing strong women of God everywhere in the Bible--and imitate them. And yes, much of this revolves around motherhood and the protection of vulnerable human life (um, what could be more noble and important)? Men, too, are called to protect vulnerable life, but they do it in a different way. Moses' mother, his sister and Pharaoh's daughter are directly responsible for saving Moses' life as a baby. Liturgists have often commented what a tragedy it is that the story of the Hebrew midwives in Egypt is not included anywhere in our liturgical readings! They are even named which is always significant in Scripture. (Exodus 1:15-21)

One more word about patriarchy and the absolute need for good men, for good men to lead. When good men lead, women and children flourish. When good men lead, women and children flourish.  Just before the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, a husband and father of two, a very good man (who leads) said this:  "I hope they start the Synod with 'the father.' Because if there is not a good father in the family, he will not do the right thing, and the children won't know right from wrong. He must imitate St. Joseph when it comes to his wife, and their marriage has to be Christ-centered."

I hope that men in particular will feel called to a deeper, truly masculine relationship with God through this film.

A PRAYERFUL, CATECHETICAL, EXEGETICAL EXPERIENCE

I hope audiences will sit back and consider their own wrestling with God, their own prayer life, their own dilemmas and choices alongside those of Moses. Enter into the story with their own story. I received tremendous insight through this film. Many years ago, I was once told by a Jesuit spiritual director that I could "negotiate" with God. "What?!" said I. "What do you think Abraham and Moses did?" he asked me. This conversation changed my life and my relationship with God forever. Of course, the Jews totally understand this as they have continuously and intimately wrangled with God and kept their conversation with Him going for millennia: collectively and individually.

This bargaining with God is not meant to be a venal begging for things or circumstances that we want, but as intercession for the good, for others, to become better people ourselves. Although not all of Moses' life is covered in this film, I was reminded of him so often "standing in the breach" for others.

There's a touching and tender scene regarding the Ten Commandments where it is evident that Moses is still free at every step to agree or disagree with God. And of course, by this time, the fiery Moses had become "by far the meekest man on earth" (Numbers 12:3).

FAITH AND LOVE

There is much explicit talk about "faith" in this film, but little about love (beyond familial love). Of course, for men, love is often summed up in silent deeds. If a man loves you, he'll mow the lawn and fix your car but not necessarily say: "I love you." Again, think St. Joseph who says exactly nothing in the Bible. I wonder if Scott was toying so much with faith that he forgot about the great love of God for Moses and Moses for God that motivated everything. Or maybe it is just implied. At UCLA, we were taught that in all good screen love stories, "I love you" must be shown in a plethora of different ways whether or not it is ever voiced. The story of God and Moses is nothing if not a love story amongst God, Moses and "his people."

OTHER STUFF:

--I need to read WHY Ridley Scott made this film.

--During the film I kept thinking of Ridley's filmmaker brother, Tony, who committed suicide not too long ago. At the end of the film, there is a dedication: "For my brother, Tony."

--My verdict: Bale did Heston proud.

--"Exodus--Gods and Kings" is not violence porn.

--Remember, the Hebrews were promised "a 'prophet' like Moses"--who was Jesus! (Acts 3:22)

--Unlike "Noah," which was the vegetarian Bible film and set animals apart as the "innocents" and almost the apex of Creation--or at least a remembrance of lost innocence--"Exodus" has plenty of animal sacrifice, as well as animals living, working and dying en masse alongside humans. It's a much more realistic view of a postdiluvian "we're all in this together" Creation. And let's remember, it was JESUS who ended animal sacrifice.

--Whenever I see any Old Testament movies, I just heard this drumbeat: wait for it...He's coming...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus.

--LOTS of guyliner. And gal-liner.

--God uses nature, not man to punish the Egyptians.

--Really creative visual storytelling with a challenging genre--communication with the Divine--(besides the easy spectacles). Sumptuous sets. And of course, with CGI, we can do ANYTHING now. Anything. Whatever is inside a person's imagination can be displayed on a gigantic screen.

--"Noah" and "Exodus" really showcase the majesty and magnificence of God, albeit in a kind of raw, brutal way. And it reminded me that GOD REALLY DID THESE THINGS. THESE THINGS REALLY HAPPENED. And then He became a little Infant. NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD.

--The physicality of the landscape, climate, and daily life of the times is impressive.

--A hint of modern psychobabble.

--The film is sometimes like a big, romantic Western. Set in the Middle East.

--Dear Jewish people: If you are not chosen, neither are we.

--"I thought you people were good storytellers."

--"Not one Hebrew child died."

--"Leaders can falter, but these rules [10 Commandments] will guide them in your stead."

--I really wanted to see ALL of Moses' life and more of Aaron and Miriam.

--Fr. Barron's review of Exodus shows what's missing. I still like film & believe u should read Bible 1st so u can mentally fill in:  (I totally agree that we needed to see/hear "Song of Miriam" after the crossing of the Red Sea!)


November 26, 2014

DO YOUR CHRISTMAS SHOPPING WITH THE NUNS & HELP A GOOD CAUSE!



The nuns have NEW thank-you gifts that make excellent Christmas presents!

THANK YOU!

CLICK HERE:



NOVEMBER 26: HAPPY FEAST OF BLESSED JAMES ALBERIONE!


Documentary to be released January 25, 2015

Recording interviews about documentary at Boston Catholic TV

Read books about & by Fr. Alberione free online www.tinyurl.com/AlberioneBooks
Watch documentary trailer: www.MediaApostle.com


November 22, 2014

MOVIES: "THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART I"



The third installment of The Hunger Games: "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay--Part I" does not disappoint. Director, Francis Lawrence, who also directed "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," keeps the momentum going in a sleek, seamless film. As we all know, sequels are hardly ever as good as the original, but in serial films it seems, as long as all the elements of the story are kept consistent and evenly measured out, this doesn't have to be true (think the "Harry Potter" films).

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is in the fortress-like District 13, essentially a huge underground bunker of a city run by President Coin (Julianne Moore) in opposition to President Snow (Donald Sutherland) of the Capitol. Katniss must agree to be the icon of the rebellion if it is to succeed, but her only concern is to save Peeta, held hostage with Johanna and Annie in the Capitol.

JOAN OF ARC?

There are definite "Joan of Arc" overtones at certain points. Katniss' Mockingjay outfit is almost like armor, and her banner with fire behind it feels like a scene right out of "Joan of Arc" starring Ingrid Bergman. (Joan prided herself on never having actually killed anyone herself--similar to Katniss.) I do think Katniss could be a role model for young women to be strong as young women. Sometimes to have a bit of needed nonviolent, feminine "fight back" in their spirits.

"Mockingjay" gets off to a very quiet start with lots of dialogue bringing us deeper into the human drama of the story (not just telling us what happened in the first two films). The filmmakers and actors know they have us eating out of their hand, and we, in turn, trust this is going to be good, so we go along with it for quite some time with no action. But once the action comes, it is purposefully tense and pregnant with meaning because of this build up. We now know what it takes, we know the stakes.

COMMUNISM?

"Mockingjay" could have been unbearably grim, but we have our comic relief in the personages of Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks). The laughs come due to Haymitch being only a semi-reformed addict and Effie being the fashionista doomed to a gray, Communist-like jumpsuit existence. Stanley Tucci as the almost-evil game show host, Caesar Flickerman, plays his role to the fullest with TMZ relish.

Although District 13 may look so drab and prison-like, and the Capitol so elegant and charming, the reality is the opposite. The Capitol (even sporting a red-background-with-yellow-emblem flag) operates on a Communist principle: You exist to serve the State. The State provides order, security and what you need--for you to continue working for the State, which is supreme and will bridge no opposition. This is a great history lesson. Another history (and current events!) lesson is that of propaganda and Media Literacy. The war between District 13 (and Panem) and the Capitol is also a media war. Isn't the fatal "reality show" what started it all? Katniss now goes nowhere without her "media team," shaping, shooting and framing the freedom fighters' image and message. Screens continue to dominate till there's a showdown between Katniss and President Snow. This whole media theme would make an excellent Media Literacy class discussion! Art is actually imitating life right now in Thailand, which has outlawed the three raised fingers of defiance that real-life dissidents are borrowing from "The Hunger Games"! (The mockingjay image is also outlawed by President Snow in the film.)

Some of the dialogue feels like kidstuff (after all, the books were not written for adults), sometimes overstating what is going on so that everyone can keep up, but it never gets too heavy-handed, and is actually a welcome relief from too-subtle or too-complicated plots and characters.

I still have huge problems with the whole "Hunger Games" concept of kids killing kids (although the author's goal is to teach young readers about the evils of war right before they may actually be asked to fight in or support a real one). However, this installment is not about any kind of killing games, but rather about the real-life escalation of revenge bombings from the Capitol for the uprising, so actually seeing individuals being killed one by one is not part of "Mockingjay." There are two gruesome, but tidy (just bones) scene of the dead of District 12 (being picked at by a vulture and a dog), and a slightly disturbing scene of a kind of torture (of one of the young tributes).

LOWPOINTS & HIGHPOINTS

How does "Mockingjay" leave one feeling? Because of all the heroism on the part of the "good guys," we can feel swept up in wanting to "always do the right thing" as they do--even though sometimes arriving at a moral strategy for going good can be murky waters. My complaint with the character of Katniss (in the films, that is--I'm told that in the books we can overhear her inner workings which are not always as perfectly virtuous) is that she is too perfect. She always chooses the most noble, heroic and correct thing to do without any fear or compromise. It's like she's programmed and can't do otherwise. This is very poor character development. There are no questions in our mind like: Oh, no! What will she do? Because we already know: she will choose the high road and do good and keep on fighting and never give up. Even if she has a slight dilemma about the right course of action, she resolves it quickly and she never seems broken by it all. Even though we know our heroine can't die, a good writer/filmmaker can put them in such peril that we can't begin to imagine how they will ever get out of it, and we forget for a moment that, well, our heroine can't die (yet).

"Mockingjay" keeps your attention, never feels long, and boasts a sure-footed pace to ensure this. The soundtrack is rich, creative and surprising as Katniss even sings a kind of chain-gang blues song that becomes a rallying anthem. The constant use of intercuts is very effective (back and forth between simultaneous action in different locales). It's so refreshing to see an imaginative film with warriors who have no superpowers, their greatest strength being that they are human and humane.

OTHER STUFF:

--Katniss should be with Gale.

--Bittersweet to see Philip Seymour Hoffman again....

--Like "Twilight," "Hunger Games" is one woman adored by two men. But Katniss should be with Gale.

--Why do adults love young adult stories so much? I think because they are big and bold (good), we're kids at heart (good), and we've become a very literal, surface, face-value, obvious one-dimensional society, with no time, talent or taste for nuance (not so good).

--Katniss should be with Gale.

--It dawned on me that the tributes are like Africa's child soldiers....

--Did I mention Katniss should be with Gale?






November 17, 2014

WE NEED MORE NUNS! HELP THE NUNS!


Help end the nun shortage!
Nuns don't grow on trees! You can't print nuns with 3D printers!

Donate to our Daughters of St. Paul VOCATION VIDEO!

Many of you so generously helped fund the filming of our Vocation Video last year.
Now we need to assemble this short sneak peak and tell the FULL STORY!


This video is unique in that it will center on what it's like to discern a vocation
as well as Sr. Maria Kim's perpetual profession at her home parish:
becoming the bride of Christ--what religious life is all about!
(The vocation video will be given away free online & as a DVD.)

We need $18,500(US) by DECEMBER 31 to finish the video. Can you help us?

DONATE HERE:

CLICK HERE TO DONATE SAFELY ONLINE:
https://secure.acceptiva.com/?cst=4cb355
No donation is too small!

Needed: $18,500
Raised: $3,000 (as of December 11, 2014)


Keep checking back
to see the progress!

To show our gratitude, here are a few gifts we are offering you!
Our Thank-you gifts make great CHRISTMAS PRESENTS!
(We can mail to USA and CANADA)

$20--"Media Nun pack" The Life of Venerable Mother Thecla Merlo, her medal, holycard
Co-Foundress of the Daughters of St. Paul--a friend in every need

$50 --Large Vigil Candle (with your name or name of a loved one on it) will burn in the
Boston Motherhouse Chapel next to Tabernacle constantly for 2 weeks.
(We can send living loved one to notify them.)

$50--"Christmas" Rosary, 23" stainless steel (while supplies last)

$100 -- Bejeweled icon of Mary & Jesus: perfect for workplace, baby's crib, any place!
Frame is 3 x 3". Comes in pretty blue & gold satin gift box. (while supplies last)


$500 -- St. Raphael  approx 12" (while supplies last)
$500 -- St. Paul the Apostle, curved lucite, approx. 10" (while supplies last)
$500 -- St. Therese 10 x 12"  ready to hang (while supplies last)

$500 -- Have you ever seen the Magi HOLDING Baby Jesus?  Kneeling Magi=9" (while supplies last)



$500--Blessed James Alberione 12" statue (while supplies last)
Founder of the Daughters of St. Paul & the Pauline Family

$500 -- Set of 3 angels with birds. Seated angel approx 10" to top of wings (while supplies last)


How/when do you receive your
"Thank-you" gifts? 

After you donate, indicate via email which gift you want!
HELRAPHAELFSP@AOL.COM 
(Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, FSP)
We will send your gift promptly!

THANK YOU & GOD BLESS!
You are in our prayers.


Sr. Maria Kim Bui's perpetual profession with Bishop Olmsted
& young women in discernment, Diocese of Phoenix, AZ

Filming with Greg from Spirit Juice Studios in 118° heat wave in Arizona

Jib shot of the big moment!

Learn more about the www.DaughtersOfStPaul.org!

CHECK OUT OUR VOCATION PHOTO ALBUM BELOW

Vocation Discernment Days with Eucharistic Adoration



Serious "selfies" with Totus Tuus missionaries











Nun Moms!


Senior Sisters = Prayer Warriors!

Our Native American Sister at St. Kateri's Canonization

One Love: Jesus Christ, One burning desire: Give Him to souls

 Some Sisters in formation -- various stages

Sr. Fay Josephine is from Samoa, now our superior in Hawaii

Renewing our vows on Valentine's Day



With parents of young woman about to enter the convent








GLORIA DEO + PAX HOMINIBUS