January 15, 2018


 "The Glass Castle" is a unique film about a real family, focusing on a love-hate father-daughter relationship. The film is based on a book written by the daughter, the daughter who was closest to her Dad and believed in him the most. He kept promising to build the family a fantastical house made of glass (and never stopped tweaking the floor plans) that never materialized.

 A nonconformist, fiercely independent, contrarian alcoholic father and his free-spirited artist-wife drag their 5 children across the USA in the 1960's, moving every few months--on the lam from the law. Dad picks fights, breaks laws and squats in what looks like condemned housing. HIs saving grace is that he's a charmer, a raconteur, quite brilliant when it comes to engineering, and  in a strange way loves his kids--even though he doesn't do right by them. His daughter says of him later that he could also be "cruel," a fact we certainly witness--mostly in his drunken stupors, but also in his wanting to keep his grown children at home and not let them break out on their own.

The dad, Rex, is played by Woody Harrelson in what I'm calling the best role of his career. If you don't think Woody is much of an actor, you will change your mind. The adult daughter role is played by the wonderful Brie Larson who, amazingly, dials in the performance. She is a stoic mannequin for the most part. Why oh why? Maybe there's a directorial reason? Maybe this is the real daughter's personality? Maybe she's portraying a tough, shut-down personality? But just keep your eyes on Woody, he'll steal every scene. Naomi Watts--looking preternaturally youthful--plays hippie Mom with a frustrating irresponsibility that makes us want to slap her.

For most of the film, we get to watch brilliant child actors. Jeannette, the daughter through whose eyes we live  the story has a gift for writing. This gift will eventually catapult her to fame and fortune in New York City, covering fashion for New York Magazine, a Cinderella rags to riches story. But as she tries to escape her embarrassing past, her aging parents pull at her heartstrings. She is also bound to her father by their similarities: a dogged persistence and ability to survive.

For anyone who has struggled in this way with a parental relationship--eternally grateful to them, but finding it hard to forgive past and present hurts and inconsistencies that never seem to resolve themselves; parents who may even promise to change but never do--you will find much to bawl about in this well-crafted film full of symbolism and passion and unfairness and grit and the joy of living. HOWEVER: THIS IS NOT A HALLMARK STORY. I REPEAT, NOT A HALLMARK STORY. IT'S A FILM FILM.

The first people in life we have to forgive (and thank) are our imperfect parents who, like us, never stop wrestling with their demons.


--Watch the credits. You'll get to see the real family. Rex reminded me somehow of Woody Guthrie. And a Woody plays him.

January 14, 2018


"Three in One"

Sr. Nancy and I attended the Hollywood Short Film Festival last night (in Hollywood) to accept an award for a short film by one of our Polish Society of St. Paul Brothers! would be proud! The film is very Theology of the Body, happening to illustrate the chart below.

January 11, 2018


You can get my "Digital Catholics" mini-series on DVD! (As seen on EWTN.)
(Five 30 min segments) $25

1. Catholic Church & Media
2. Parenting /Teaching Media
3. Theology of Body & Media (Porn & Sexting)
4. R U a Digital Catholic? (Using Media Well)
5. The Future of Media: Where Are We Going?


--What did you used to think about what the Church might teach on media?
--What have you heard today that was surprising? How will it change you?
--Do you already do Media Literacy with yourself, family, friends, colleagues, students? How?
--Do you teach critical thinking skills with regard to media? How?
--Which media skills are you strongest/weakest at? QUESTION / EVALUATE / CHOOSE / ENGAGE
--How can you be a more “active, listening presence in the world created by a media culture”? In the world of your family, friends, colleagues, students?
--How do you fact-check the news?
--What are your go-to sources of Catholic news? Why those sources? (Sr. Helena's go-to sources: www.tinyurl.com/BestCatholicNewsSources)

--How do you or can you help yourself and young people develop media skills (beyond technical skills)?
--What are 3 personal/family/classroom media guidelines you might want to institute?
--What do you find hardest about communicating with young people about media / media use? How can the situation be improved?
--What has been your experience with young people and media filters?
--What are some ways to help young people synthesize Gospel & Culture, Church & World, Faith & Reason together in everyday life?
--Describe your attitude toward media (and what you might want to change about that).
--How can you incorporate praying about media (more) into your life?
--How do you put using or creating media/art together with your Catholic faith life?
--Where do you seek and where do you find God in media?


--What do you know/have you heard about Theology of the Body? Are you intrigued to learn more? Discuss.
--Were you aware that porn is a serious addiction? Discuss.
--Have you known porn addicts & the toll it has taken on their lives/families? Discuss.
--What are your ideas for dealing with the porn epidemic? How can we better “porn-proof” kids and teens?
--Have you always understood that we ARE our bodies and don’t HAVE bodies? Explain.
--Porn must be dealt with on the PHYSICAL / SPIRITUAL / HUMAN level. How can we deal with it better on the HUMAN level?

--How can we change some ways we use social media to use it BETTER?
--What are 3 problems / 3 solutions for the world of digital media?
--How can we be more like Christ online?
--How can we be better digital Catholics?
--What resources do you use to grow in faith online? How do you evangelize / do the spiritual works of mercy online?

--What kind of world do you want to live—with regard to the use of media devices? Describe. Do you like where the world seems to be headed in regard to digital media? Discuss.

--If we continue to use digital media constantly and/or obsessively, how will human life, family life, society change?
--Are you happy with the way you / family / friends / colleagues / young people use media? Why? Why not? What example can you set?
--What is your personal plan for your media / social media / media device use?
--What conversations do you need to have with family /friends/ youth about social media? When/how will you have these conversations?
--Where is God (specifically) in your digital life? Where does He need to be?

January 8, 2018


"Detroit" is one of the best films I've seen in quite a while. I was truly moved. It's a grow-up film for grown-ups, of which we have a great paucity these days. (Foul language, "mature themes," our favorite seasoned actors regurgitating ossified Hollywood ideologies [wink, wink] does not a grown-up film make. In fact, it's the perfect recipe for an immature film.) The name of the game with "Detroit" is nuance, nuance, nuance.

Everything about this film is Oscar worthy. The acting, writing and cinematography are over the moon. Director Kathryn Bigelow ("Zero Dark Thirty," "Hurt Locker") is a genius here. I have not heard much Oscar buzz or much buzz at all about "Detroit." This is a shame and I wonder if it isn't because the film is basically a bunch of unknowns. I, for one, don't go to the theater to see my favorite actors (and I thought there was a trend to that day being over!)--I go to see good acting and a good story well executed. Detroit is all of these and more.


Set in 1967 during the Detroit riots, we are plunged intimately into the lives of a loose collection of fated young people: several young black men, two young white women, and a host of law enforcement: city police, state police and national guard. Before you think this might be a simplistic #BlackLivesMatter propaganda piece, it is not. The lines are not clearly drawn between white-bad/black-good, and it's not police-bad, either. This is about each individual in the drama choosing their "side," choosing their attitudes and actions. There are devilish cops and compassionate cops and cops with a conscience. There are black looters and black peacekeepers and black heroes. As with all gatherings of human beings, it's a mixed bag in "Detroit."

The film opens with a trigger-happy young white cop who is not just banally racist, he's also something of a psychopath. We get the sense that he really has no regard for human life whatsoever, especially that of black people. Somehow, in his estimation, their lives just aren't worth that much. Adding to the already volatile situation in Detroit (and other major U.S. cities) is the fact that some Vietnam vets have gone into law enforcement with a kind of full-combat mentality.


A Motown singing group of talented young black men hoping to get a record deal find themselves at a motel after a show. They pick up two young white women and some more young black men join the party. Foolishly deciding to mess with the jumpy lawmen outside, one of the men shoots a toy (starter) pistol out the window in their direction. (Detroit was already rife with real snipers aiming at police.) The night then becomes a torturous nightmare as Officer "Trigger" comes to the motel to investigate.

Officer Trigger holds sway over his two fellow cops (both as young as he is), and the older law enforcement coming in contact with the unorthodox situation commit the grave sin of omission and not wanting to "get involved."

One young black man is the real hero in my book. He makes an incredibly courageous decision and action. It's almost glossed over in the film--but it haunts. See if you know what I'm talking about.

There's a real 60's feel, with many general elements of the day feeding into our specific story: Is nonviolence the way for Black America?; America was at war without (Vietnam) and within (Civil Rights); the times they were a-changin' with the Sexual Revolution and young people breaking down color lines and so many traditions of the past; young Americans wanted to figure out life for themselves, to experience everything, to get rid of social stratification, to get to know their peers--regardless of their backgrounds.


"Riveting" truly fits this story. It's almost like an action film. The cinematography never leaves the thick of things and we are constantly seeing what each characters sees. We are inside the house, hands against the wall, being interrogated. But we are also the young cops whose bullying went too far--now what do they do? This is an edge-of-the-seat experience. What will happen? Is someone going to get killed? What must one do to stay alive? We are in agony over these fine young men--full of hopes and dreams--whom we were just getting to know and love. (Incidentally, one minute of "Detroit" is far, far more nerve-wracking and tense than thirty minutes of "Dunkirk.")

The film also gives us a lengthy aftermath of the horrifying incident. This would have been a rare move for more formulaic filmmakers, but it's a brilliant, needed and effective part of the full story.


For white people who have no idea what it feels like to be a black man (young or otherwise) in a tense situation with a white racist in a position of power (or to be a woman or anyone else in a situation where you are powerless against an aggressor)...you will.

If you're wondering--yes, this is based on a true story.

"Detroit" is not a feel good film. And yet, it's not a feel bad film, either. I was left with a sense of hope, even though, as comedian and activist Dick Gregory said before his recent death: After all we've accomplished, we're still dealing with the same problems.

We need accountability, to keep communicating, keep dialoguing, keep solving problems, keep trying to change minds and hearts, keep reaching out, and keep telling stories like "Detroit."


--It's often hard to tell the actual historical footage from present day footage.

--There's a very interesting character of an upstanding young black man, Dismukes (John Boyega), who's a security guard and a witness to the evening's events. He's heartbreakingly naive in his thinking that keeping rules and keeping your head down will keep you alive, that honesty will win the day, that the system in 1967 will work for black people and there will be justice in the end. This actor's face (frequently played on by the camera) is like a silent Greek chorus, telling us the whole story. Magnificent.

--This is a film about men, power, rule of law.

January 7, 2018


The almost unbelievable story of the massive evacuation of cornered Allied troops on the beaches of France toward the beginning of World War II was begging to be told. Almost half a million men were trapped against the shores of the English Channel--being bombarded from above--and, astoundingly, civilians--in every kind of sea-faring vessel imaginable--played an important  role in rescuing them. 

Unfortunately, Chris Nolan's "Dunkirk" doesn't really do the saga justice. The camerawork is jerky and uneven (and I don't mean "heat of the battle" jerky), the soundtrack is grating and conspicuous, the acting is mezza-mezza, the editing is abominable, and worst of all, the pacing is so dreadful that the tension and danger is constantly broken every few minutes. In the beginning of the film, strange and confusing subtitles appear and then they stop--also creating fragmentation. So many scenes are so lengthy that I found myself bored--even in the midst of unexpected life-or-death dogfights in the air. I never once forgot that I was watching a movie. A movie that was not well made.

Nowhere in the film did my heart pound and leap into my throat as it should have. The reality of the gore of war is whitewashed, and all the horror winds up looking like some commonplace, ho-hum historical re-enactment with a few perfunctory informational lines of dialogue, trying to dredge up a sentiment or two in us. Nothing ever felt actually desperate to me. Nothing connected with my head or heart beyond a few facts about the event that I was unaware of. The narrative was easy enough to follow, but dull, if that's possible. Was it unfair of me to be comparing "Dunkirk" with "Saving Private Ryan" the entire time? It just didn't hold a candle. "Saving Private Ryan" should have upped the ante for war filmmaking for all time. Although nothing can capture the true misery and hell of war, "Hacksaw Ridge" is another fine example of recent war filmmaking. But I suppose for audiences to learn a little something about this battle/non-battle/"miracle" (Churchill), it wouldn't hurt to take a look at Nolan's work.

Many, many times I lost my ability to concentrate on the actors, the action, the story-line, the dialogue. Our main character is the most unconvincing of all. For some unfathomable reason, he casually smirks through the entire film. Conversely, Harry Styles, in his silver screen acting debut, has potential. 

May I suggest a highly-readable, firsthand, anecdotal account of this uncanny episode in The Good War? The name of the book is "The Sands of Dunkirk." The one line I remember from the book is that--fully expecting to be slaughtered or captured by the Nazi-barbarians--the retreating Allied forces had been commanded to free any pet birds from their cages that they might find in the abandoned houses along the way to the sea. Mercy.


January 2, 2018

December 18, 2017


"Blade Runner 2049", despite its amazing, atmospheric sets and production design, is a blistering disappointment. I am huge Philip Dick fan--both print and film--(e.g., "Through a Glass Darkly," "Minority Report") and the original 1982 "Blade Runner" (director's cut), is one of my all-time fav films. But now I am questioning my love of BR after seeing the sequel. Read on.


For starters, one really needs to have seen the original BR for the sequel to make any sense at all. It's actually very satisfying for the audience to already know what a "replicant" is and what the heck is transpiring as the film gets off the ground, cutting deep into the BR world.

For those who haven't seen the original BR, here's a rundown. The fictional "Tyrell Group" robotics company (slogan: "more human than human") creates the world's most life-like human robots to do the superhuman and dangerous work of planetary expeditions. They are forbidden from returning to earth. However, as the computer-machines self-evolve, they don't want to be "retired" aka terminated (just like us humans--who could blame them?) Some models also have an indeterminate expiration date. Lest their kind mutiny and take over, futuristic human cops called "blade runners" must hunt these immortals down and kill them if they return to earth. Harrison Ford (incidentally, Fr. Harrison Ayre @christian_state is named after Harrison Ford) is the main character, a blade runner cop (LAPD) named "Rick Deckard." Only problem is, it's very hard to tell replicants from humans, AND Deckard manages to fall in love with a replicant (Sean Young).

Rutger Hauer (incidentally whom I met at a Santa Monica U-Haul) plays a replicant resisting his demise. The film ends with a subtle question: At one point might we consider these creatures (of human creating) human? Have they earned their stripes? Are they somehow becoming human? (My answer: NEVER!)

SPOILER ALERT! And then there's the question, is Deckard himself really a replicant, beknownst or unbeknownst to himself? In some fan literature, it seems to be a settled question (supposedly settled by Philip Dick himself).


Ryan ("Hey, girl") Gosling plays a  replicant blade runner (LAPD is now hiring replicants!) without a name (replicants don't get names so he's just called "K") sent to kill immortal replicants (the "older models") of which he is also one. In the opening scene he is about to kill "one of his own kind." The doomed replicant utters a mysterious sentence about why he wants to live: He claims he has witnessed "a miracle."

In his spare robot time, "K" listens to Frank Sinatra and enjoys time with his hologram Stepford wife named Joi (hologram wives are allowed to have names) who is utterly adoring, waits on "K" hand and foot and keeps changing her tailored clothes mid-sentence (incidentallly, Gosling also stars in "Lars and the Real Girl" about a young man in a relationship with a doll). This diaphanous woman is so scary--scary, that is, if there's a future for her ilk IRHL (In Real Human Life). Please tell me this is NOT what real men really want.

Without giving too much away, the "miracle" has something to do with replicants replicating or, rather, reproducing--even though that's not supposed to be possible.


The few humans in BR 2049 are rather nasty, cynical folks, while the plastic people--save one femme fatale replicant--are rather affable (self-loathing filmmaking humans, anyone?) Little by little we see more and more "human" traits in the robos. The question of what makes us human is all over the film. The film's answer seems to be: "a soul," "birth," "memories" and "feeling desired." The robots want to become the best of what is human while the humans are devolving into the worst of ourselves and becoming, well, robotic: unfeeling and coldly calculating. On second thought, maybe the filmmakers are not self loathing. Maybe a mirror is being held up to us.

The Tyrell Group also is briefly reprised, now helmed by the evil Mister "we lost our stomach for slaves" Wallace (played with aplomb by the always reliably trippy Jared Leto). Many other elements from the original BR are also revisited, including some hard-boiled dialogue which is always a hoot: some good but heavy-handed maxims about humanity and nobility.


I read an article that queried: "Are Millennials too impatient to appreciate the new Blade Runner?" Er, no. Millennials have great tolerance for science fiction and in-depth, intricate stories. But they, wisely and discriminatingly, as with any age cohort, do not have patience with snail-paced, predictable films.  

For me, the question of the co-existence of humans and robots (before The Singularity, that is) was already answered eloquently by HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey." Yes. They will eliminate us.

The mythology is tight, but, as in  Spielberg-directed Kubrick's "A.I.," what makes the whole enterprise a failure (even if you can endure its utter bleakness), is the fact that in "A.I." and "Blade Runner 2049", we are not watching humans (even though it's easy to forget that fact). We are watching robots. They are not human and never will be. And, quite frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn about the so-called emotional lives of robots.


--One big plot hole: they coulda used some kind of IVF on the robos to get them to "reproduce" or otherwise manufactured them. It wasn't clear why they had to have "faith births" (to quote the fine film "Gattaca").

--To answer at the most basic Theology of the Body level: "What makes us human?" It's not how we're conceived or birthed or our memories or desirability. (Incidentally, all humans are loved by God and by other humans who love all humans.) What makes us human is first of all that we're "made of human stuff." If you're made of human stuff, you are human. God obeys us even today when we play God and scientists manufacture human life in the lab (e.g., IVF): God endows that child with a soul. God--not humans--makes us human, and God is the Source of the dignity of all human beings without exception.

--My mother: "Let's go see that movie, 'Rollerblade.'"


The new coming-of-age film, "Lady Bird," is one of the funniest films of the year and possibly one of the best-edited films I've ever seen. The eponymous main character is a more-precocious-than-rebellious teen (Saoirse Ronan)  who places a high premium on originality (real name: Christine). Lady Bird lives in boring Sacramento ("the Midwest of California") and dreams of breaking away, but her options are limited due to her family's constrained finances. Her mother (Laurie Metcalf) is a hard-working lady who doesn't appreciate her daughter's non-traditional approach to life. For Mom, realism means thinking inside the box and putting a price tag on just about everything, at one point, even the cost of raising Lady Bird. Not only that, she is brutally honest and perpetually critical of her only child. Thank God for Lady Bird's dad who runs interference.

Lady Bird goes to an all-girls Catholic school against her will, but finds it to be a rather reasonable place, and she eagerly joins the drama club.


Despite the seriously fraught family dynamic, there does exist an underlying, undying love, it's just that mothers and daughters have what writer-director describes as "spiky" relationships. (Yes!) What of the Catholic trappings in "Lady Bird"? Gerwig, who is not Catholic, went to a Franciscan Catholic high school in Sacramento, and found it to be a very positive experience. "Making fun of Catholic school has been done. I didn't want to do that. When I went to Catholic school, I met great priests and nuns who were real people, and I wanted to show that." "Lady Bird" is a bit of an ode to Catholic education. Gerwig was also required to take four years of theology and it shows (except for Theology of the Body). She approaches Catholicism as an interesting and valid worldview and religion. (I got to attend a screening with Gerwig in Los Angeles, and during the Q & A afterward, she gave an elegant, spot-on definition of grace.)

Gerwig even went through the pains of getting a real priest to play the priest who offers the school Masses that punctuate the film. (Since the film is set around 2003, the priest authentically adjusted the words of the liturgy to what it would have been before the recently-renewed liturgy.) The school Masses--taking us through the liturgical year--are so genuine, with a touch of levity. Nuns are spouses of Jesus who care about their students. Priests are good at what they do. (One sacerdotal football coach side-splittingly fills in as the drama coach when the drama priest falls ill, and tries to transfer his bullish methods to the intricacies of acting.)


The only trite handling of teen life in "Lady Bird" pertains to teen sexuality. All the same old jokes and ribaldry are played out. It's almost as though the filmmaker is trying to protect something. "See? This is the way it is. All teens want to and will have sex when they're teens and this is exactly how it will happen with a few slight variations and always of course with irresponsible colluding adults on the side." (There is a touching portrayal of a young man discovering he's same-sex attracted, however.) Lady Bird's mother who is on her case for absolutely everything big and small is suddenly out-of-character and unconcerned about if/when her daughter is having sex: "College is the best time to have sex, but if you don't wait, be safe like we talked about." SERIOUSLY???

One of the biggest problems with cavalier teen sex in almost all media today is that it's so, so, so, so shallow with not even any higher, unfulfilled aspirations. Again, it's like the filmmakers are trying to drum their own mantra into us and re-establish over and over: "See? Sex has no meaning, no meaning at all. Pre-marital sex won't affect you one iota, beyond a few bruised romantic feelings." Where's the ANGST? How can this be? Sexuality is one of the biggest sources of angst for teens. And teens' experience of sexuality is not one-size-fits-all, thankyouverymuch.

True, "Lady Bird" is a comedy, but there were other poignant moments in the film. Oh, and as in other films, teen sex is always awkward, of course, so not only are we supposed to be pervy voyeurs of minors having sex, we're supposed to laugh at them, too. It's all just so mean on so many levels.


After watching a few of Greta's films (in which she acts), I became rather incensed with her and wrote her off. She always plays a bit of a ditz, and I suspected (rightly) that she wasn't in real life. (Greta presents as an incredibly insightful, disciplined, precise, gentle, genteel and articulate person. I could listen to her for hours.) Why would I be upset that GG plays a ditz? Because in one of her ditzy films, she (oopsy doopsy) gets pregnant and has a (oopsy doopsy) little abortion. Tee hee hee. I don't want to get all personal here, but Greta's mother is an OB/GYN (don't know if she's pro-life or not). Perhaps that has colored Greta's view of new life in the womb.

I entered the screening of "Lady Bird" gritting my teeth, and lo and behold, the topic of abortion is dealt with again. This time a shiny, pleasant, pro-life speaker comes to the high school. A bizarre, supposedly-funny (there's nothing funny about abortion), deflecting, non-sequitur-ing, avoiding-the-real-issue dialogue transpires between the speaker and LB which results in LB getting expelled for being rude to a speaker. I'm going to reproduce the short conversation here and pull it apart, so you should move on to the next subtitle if you don't want a SPOILER.

LB: (from what I could gather, pictures of aborted babies were circulating in the student audience) "Just because something's ugly doesn't mean it's morally wrong."

Speaker: (deftly not getting caught up in equating ugliness with immorality) "You think dead babies aren't morally wrong?"

LB: (not answering the question, but continuing with her "ugly" theme) "Pictures of my vagina during my monthly period would be disturbing, but that's not immoral." Yes, Lady Bird, it would be, but so would pictures of boogers and a lot of other non-sexual things, so you can drop your false line of reasoning now.

Lady Bird being expelled for rudeness is a cop-out similar to the miscarriage in "Citizen Ruth." Whether she realized it or not, Gerwig's highlighting the Catholic Church's rock steady consistent position on abortion is almost like a compliment. Or a conundrum. What the heck does the Catholic Church know that the rest of the world doesn't seem to?

My beef with Greta is somehow personal: woman to woman. Every pro-abortion woman breaks the circle of life that strengthens our sisterhood. My hope and prayer is that GG is on a journey, not at the end of her quest for the truth about women's true liberation, the heart of which is women's epic, kick-ass mission of protecting the beginning of every human life.


Is "Lady Bird" autobiographical? Gerwig says no. She says she was a rule-keeper in school. But I wonder if LB is her alter-ego, her shadow side?


There are many themes in "Lady Bird." One very intriguing theme is the fact that Lady Bird lies constantly, but doesn't like being lied to. And sadly, LB doesn't learn her lesson by the end of the film, but continues lying, even when she moves to a new locale. LB is not as original as she thinks she is because original people don't lie. The whole point of their originality is that they are true to themselves and their convictions, however embryonic or misconstrued they may be. Maybe LB lies because she doesn't really know who she is or what she believes. It seems she only knows what she doesn't want. One can only hope that she "grows out of it" as we see her progress in other ways.


A lovely aspect of Christine/Lady Bird's journey is the moment--far away from home--when she realizes where/what home is and even claims her heritage a bit. Gerwig speaks of it like this: "We receive so many gifts in life, and so often we don't recognize them at the moment, only later."


"Lady Bird" gets all the Catholic trappings and surface goodwill and niceness right, but utterly misses the core of Christianity: the Gospel of the body. And if you get that wrong? You got it all wrong.

"The language of Christianity is the body."


--This film is NOT for teens (thankfully, it's rated "R"). Unless you want (yay!) pre-marital sex and (yay!) abortion to be reinforced inside of a cool, funny, feel-good film. Is this not the most insidious and effective form of spreading evil as unquestioned "everyone's doing it" normalcy? You can't spoof a spoof.

--Greta Gerwig never went to film school and comes from an acting background. May I say that this has only helped her filmmaking and not harmed it in anyway? She writes/directs with the freedom and confidence of an insider who knows exactly what and how to make a scene pop. There is not one extra line or character or minute. Gerwig is the master of the "many little scenes and little beats" that should make up a film. Every scene is lean and trim, and not episodic, either. Gerwig's time in mumblecore is beneficial here. People speak at the same time, talk over and through each other like real human beings, always ensuring that hilarity ensues. She is also the "mistress" of one-liners that fit into the film as a whole and brevity being the soul of wit.* Some extraordinarily ticklish little sight-gags, too. "Lady Bird" is a true laugh-fest.

--GG says that mothers are usually portrayed as either monsters or angels and she wanted to nuance that. (Yes!)

--Only four women directors have ever been nominated for an Oscar. GG may be the fifth. And a win would be warranted. Certainly "Lady Bird" could garner "Best Original Screenplay." But also how tragic is would be that an Academy Award would be given to a film with a "D-" in Theology of the Body?

--GG's advice to women filmmakers: "Do enter the industry. Pay attention to your gut as a filmmaker: if it's your project, it's all you've got." GG likes a film to be a "good dance partner." You can trust the film because it's telling you: "I've got you."

--One of the best, funniest "pre-inciting incidents" ever in Act One (resulting in an arm cast for Lady Bird).

--Some good God humor (which is different from religious humor).

--There's a constant kind of tender irreverence. Not toward religion, but towards humans.

--I suppose I'll never get used to parents and offspring regularly using F-bombs together. It just wasn't a thing in my family. I think it will always feel jarring and line-crossing to me.

--The perfunctory poking of fun at dear old Ronald Reagan pops up yet again, but this time in a film set in the early 2000's. Whateverfor? I think I've finally figured it out. RR, more than a conservative figure or even an authority figure, is a FATHER FIGURE. I will let you suss that out by your lonesome.

--Gerwig is a startlingly feminine filmmaker. ("Feminine" does not mean girlie and sweet and delicate and frou frou. It means whatever flows naturally from being a woman, body and soul, and it looks different on different women.) But I find that so many women filmmakers set out to be tough and macho and to prove themselves and make films that any man could make in a mannish way with "masculine" sensibilities. Not so, Greta. In fact, a male filmmaker friend of mine, present at the screening, noted her feminine filmmaking on display: completely assured, but never cocky. In command, but trusting in the actors' own instincts to bubble to the surface. Highly collaborative, but in a palpably womanly way.

--In a totally candid and unPC comment, Greta (I hate calling women by their last names) said: "Sometimes teen films are about that one boy. I don't think high school is really that." The female gaze!

--Some may say: "But overall, the film is pretty good! It's just a shame about that one [MOST IMPORTANT] little part...." But I, conspiracy theorist that I am, say: "Hmmmm, but isn't that the way it goes with most of these ohbuttheyjustgotthesexpartwrong films?" Sure they leave us jaunty, but it depends on what "little part" you get wrong. It can mar the whole thing, undermine the whole operation. Like a bomb planted in a pretty garden of petunias. And portraying cavalier teen sex is unforgivable (cinematically speaking). I stand for the teens.

--"Lady Bird"--at the time of our screening--had broken the Rotten Tomatoes record for the highest ratings: and this is a small film with religious overtones with a female protagonist and female writer-director, essentially exploring a mother-daughter relationship. Could it be that the world is ready for a woman's perspective (and excellence in comedic filmmaking)? Let's hope Gerwig has raised the bar permanently, a new standard. I think people are tired of big, sloppy, brainless, tiresome movie messes.

I just hope that the high ratings were not because it was a fun, religion-tinged film that let us keep our precious pre-marital sex and abortion intact. I'm wondering if and hoping that it isn't just the comedy that's resonating. Perhaps the truth that we can be ourselves (human originality and individuality are, after all, God's idea) and connect with God in our own, unique, one-of-a-kind way--is given flesh and bones by this red-headed lass.

* "Take my wife. Please." --Henny Youngman

December 12, 2017


Do NOT watch the trailer. I repeat, do NOT watch the trailer.
It makes "Glitch" look like a gorey action film which it is not.
It's a drama with well-placed, well-paced action.

Looking for a binge-worthy Netflix series? Look no further than the fine, fine Australian thriller: "Glitch." I'm not even going to sub-categorize it because that might give away the answer to the mystery of several people in the same town, in the same cemetery crawling out of their graves. Creepy? Not really. And before you groan and think: "ANOTHER zombie story"?...maybe it's not. I'm no fan of zombies myself. OK, that's my last and only revelation.

The careful exposition, the unfolding and interweaving of relationships are masterful. What connection, if any, do all these returning bodies and souls have with each other? Why were they chosen to come back? Do they even know why? (Some even lived a couple of centuries ago, which makes it all the more fascinating.)


The acting is superb, all except for one actor (not his fault) who--inexplicably--is hardly given any lines at all. His is almost like a non-speaking extra role. His character is a dashing, middle-aged naval officer from the 19th century, and this handsome thespian is reduced to brooding and flashing prime smouldering looks whenever the camera frequently gloms onto him. But this is the series' only major "glitch."


Another character--also from a long-faded past--is an unlikeable Irish fellow, an estate owner who treats Aborigines as his slaves. His backstory and role are incredibly rich. What if you got to come back and meet your descendants, several generations into the future? "Glitch" avoids the trope of the dead coming back to right wrongs or finish something. Rather, it's more about the sacramental act of  reconciliation.

Every character is utterly believable, especially a mature woman who plays a Swedish scientist. Is she a good guy or a bad guy?

There is one extremely short, unnecessary and awkward view of a couple having sex--caught in flagrante--which proves that watching other people have sex is ridiculous.


The solid first season sets us up for an even better second season. May I add that this outstanding series has a woman writer and a woman director?

In film school (UCLA), it was mentioned that Australian films are "life-affirming," which I have always found to be the case. "Glitch" is no exception. In fact, when the topic of dementia is brought up in the film, in an extremely interesting way (all kinds of bio-ethical and philosophical questions are pondered in "Glitch")--the answer, the ultimate answer given is one of the most human and beautiful ever put forth in screen drama.

Albeit without any explicit show or support of religion, God is not absent from this "film." In fact, God--as a defined and distinct entity--is present, mostly, I believe, somehow embodied in the filmmakers' and actors' consciousnesses.


December 4, 2017


The new fictitious film, "Novitiate," set in the early 1960's, about a young woman entering a strict monastic order of nuns is...an unholy mess. It's as if someone made a film about football players to show us that football players are not really about football at all.

I don't believe this film is coming from a malicious place, just a clueless and lazy place. (Even the music starts off slothfully repeating the same sweet piano trill no matter what the mood.) The filmmaker, Maggie Betts, is not Catholic, but you don't have to be Catholic to make a Catholic film. Just do your homework. I'm sure Betts did some minimal research (at the TIFF--Toronto International Film Festival--she stated that she never even met a nun, just read some books about them, especially nuns who had left the convent)--but she could have had someone do some fact checking: the micro- and macro-inaccuracies are legion. Betts did have a former nun as an advisor, but it seems this woman was more intent on how nuns ate and walked than on basic Catholic doctrine and vocabulary.


But what of the heart of the film? Did the filmmaker get that right? Not really, except that life, all life, is about desire. According to interviews with the writer-director and actresses, what they were most impressed with was the fact of the "literal," "passionate" love/romantic/marriage relationship Sisters have with God--however, it's portrayed in a really outre, unbalanced way. (So, in regard to the filmmaker, maybe there is something to that dictum that everyone always hears in film school: "write what you know"--meaning the emotional territory/landscape you are familiar with, no matter the setting. Betts does not seem to be familiar with this emotional territory, i.e, human-divine/divine-human love.)

"Novitiate" is all about desire, but at a certain point you realize "desire" lacks transcendence here. It's just about what I "feel," what makes me comfortable, what I like. It's simply about following my bliss of the moment. There is zero objectivity. Desire is extremely horizontal and self-absorbed (and not all the nuns are young, either, so it's not that "oh, they're just young"). There's nothing about sacrificial service to others, growth in virtue, etc., beyond a bunch of vapid ascetical practices.

The few scenes of sexuality and nudity had a certain gratuitousness to them, but I suspect this is because for the filmmaker (and countless others), there is nothing more "contrast-y" than (ooooh!) nuns and sex, and also, for a non-religious person, there's often nothing higher in life, nothing more aspirational than expressions of physical affection and/or sensuality. But more about that later.


Can a non-Catholic make a film about nuns? Sure. We're fair game. All's fair in love and war. Hollywood often gets nuns and other Catholic stuff "right," (the good, the bad and the ugly): "Dead Man Walking," "Doubt," "Song of Bernadette," "Spotlight," "Of Gods and Men," "Tree of Life," "Ida," "The Innocents," etc. I did a paper for my Masters in Media Literacy Education called, "The Changing Image of Priests and Nuns in Film," and I maintained that Hollywood is watching us and often just reflecting us back to ourselves (e.g., "Mass Appeal," "Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows," "Change of Habit.") Even when poetic license and flights of fanciful imagination are employed in a film (as they should be in creative storytelling!), a certain integrity to the subject (any subject) can always be maintained that doesn't totally misconstrue and mythologize history. With regard to portrayals of priests, here are some fine examples of this: "Sleepers," "True Confessions," "Gran Turino," "On the Waterfront."

Did anything ring true in "Novitiate"? Yes, the habits weren't heinous, and there were several disjointed elements regarding antiquated religious life practices and attitudes that were spot on. How do I know this? I'm an "insider," have heard many firsthand anecdotes, and when I first entered religious life, I experienced the tail-end of old-school formation myself.


The big, screaming tragedy of the whole film (similar to the emptied-of-all-meaning, off-the-mark, absurd, picayune rules and regulations in "Nun's Story") is the true-to-life unhealthy dealing with human sexuality in religious life prior to Vatican II. Young women--still in their teens--were accepted into the formation process, and pretty much the only formation given them with regard to human sexuality was to repress not only sexual expression/temptations, but any form of physical contact. Catherine (our seventeen-year-old protagonist) can't even hold her mother's hand on visiting day. 

Needless to say, this did not form anyone, only deformed them and exacerbated the living of celibacy. THANKS BE TO GOD FOR JOHN PAUL II'S "THEOLOGY OF THE BODY" WHICH--SADLY--IS STILL NOT TAUGHT IN-DEPTH IN ALL CONVENTS AND SEMINARIES. But at least we have the answer now. The answer (Theology of the Body) is not repression or indulgence (a concurrent heresy of the 1960's Sexual Revolution!) of body/sex/desires, but rather the redemption of body/sex/desires! And how do we live this "redemption of the body" of which Paul's Letter to the Romans speaks? Through the practice of the amazing and holistic virtue of chastity. Chastity is an everyday, working virtue for everyone on the planet. Chastity doesn't mean "no sex" because married people are also called to chastity. JP2 the Great isn't being all judgy by saying "only the chaste are capable of true love." He doesn't mean perfection. He means trying. Because if we're not taking up the challenge of chastity every day, what are we doing? Whatever it is, it's certainly not love.

But don't we already know that another human being can't fulfill my deepest desires? (The young may not know it yet, but anyone who has lived a little longer does, unless, as C. S. Lewis says: our desires aren't big enough.)

I could be wrong, but I suspect that although director and actresses are fascinated by the "romance" of nun and God, if their own faith is undefined or non-existent, you simply can't imagine a life without sex, without a significant other, and you may even admire but ultimately pity these poor, deprived women.


SPOILER ALERT: Two big boo-boo's of the film (both of which are THE major plot points/turns) are so big that they're veritable trainwrecks.

The first is something the filmmakers get exactly backwards. The (male, hierarchical) Church was not who was "forcing" nuns to "renew" or "update" religious life. It came from the nuns themselves. In certain cases and places where "renewal" got out of hand (e.g., in contradiction of the most basic tenets of religious life), it was the bishops who tried to reign the nuns in (usually with very little success). So many people who reference the vaporous, chimerical "spirit of Vatican II" have either never read the 16 Documents of Vatican II, or use them as a false justification for their own whims and agendas. If you read "Perfectae Caritatis," the Vatican II document on religious life, you will find none of the wild, doctrinally and pastorally unsound innovations Mother Superior says the Church is demanding of nuns (when she finally addresses her community--in babyish language!--about the goings-on of the Vatican II Council that she had been concealing from them). In fact, most bishops have had a long-standing "hands-off" policy with regard to the inner workings of authority structures and day-to-day practices and activities of religious orders (both male and female) in their dioceses.

The second boo-boo, which not only breaks the tension of "who will get kicked out of the convent next??" (a big concern in this film), but completely deflates any stakes: the fact that Catherine is not sent home after she publicly confesses to "having been intimate with another Sister." What happened? Catherine sneaks into a fellow novice's room at night and begs to be "comforted." Now, that could have been a hug or holding or snuggling, but no. It's lengthy, full-on, lesbian-like lip-locking. Even though Catherine is a bit of a favorite of the severe and legalistic (and sometimes psychotic and sadistic) Mother Superior, girls were sent home for much, much, much less. In reality, acting out sexually is cause to send someone home from the convent--whether they are in formation or vows. Yes, mistakes and failings happen, and it's a case by case situation, but if someone is bent on another vocation or finds it impossible to live celibate chastity, religious life is not their calling.


I don't know if the director has any faith in God, but she stated in an interview that she wanted her film to be a requiem to this tribe of women and their lost way of life. (Betts is into "telling women's stories.") But why would you want to immortalize something so harsh, torturous, humiliating and inhumane? And if one does not have Christian faith, then these poor women are simply a bunch of delusionals pouring their lives out to nothing and no one (as they often appear to be in the film). As a priest observed in a great homily I heard: "In 'Novitiate,' the women are extremely self-absorbed. There is nothing about living a life for others. St. Therese was also cloistered, but she is the patroness of the missions because her love and prayer wasn't just for herself or even just for God, it was for others." There's not even any mention of "saving souls" with one's prayers and sacrifices, which is a huge raison d'etre of contemplative life and was a ubiquitous pre-Vatican II catchphrase.

So many intriguing subjects are broached in "Novitiate," but then they are mishandled and bungled. "Novitiate" is an inauthentic piece of failed filmmaking--a truly missed opportunity.


God doesn't have to be a character in a religious film (unseen or otherwise), but He does have to be real to at least one mature, non-psychotic character. Religion without God is an empty cult. "Novitiate" is an atheistic film on religious life, concerned mainly with trappings while taking stabs at a maudlin, glamorized, nostalgic emotionality.

 And may I say that the magnificent Melissa Leo (who made the most of her half-dimensional character and mostly unoriginal, stock religious dialogue) deserved better: especially her last scene where she is ridiculously sprawled on the sanctuary of the convent chapel after excoriating her "Husband" for the supposed "changes" to religious life of Vatican II.

Want to see some three-dimensional (Anglican) nuns? Watch the BBC series: "Call the Midwife." I can't say enough about this series in general. These women are "real" (the series is also based on a memoir),  human, flawed, trying, charitable, holy, and nuns for all the right reasons.


The ending is rather good in the sense that it keeps us guessing: Does Catherine go ahead in religious life or not? If there really IS a God, AND she really believes in Him AND really loves Him AND is really called to religious life, then He IS the "more" she is seeking. But the first three components of the last sentence you just read apply to every human being, don't they? Who can give you "more" (according to your vocation in life)? God or another human being or "the world"?


Should you watch this film? I don't usually give recommendations either way about whether I think someone should or shouldn't see a film. But this one is a definite "skip it" film. Why? Unless you can distinguish what is accurate and inaccurate about religious life (past or present), you may wind up with a pretty mangled, skewed understanding of my life. :)  I would especially recommend you NOT see "Novitiate" if you are discerning religious life! Even if you are beginning to have a good grasp on convent life, you will be left with lasting images and impressions which are really quite twisted.


Would you like to know what the heck actually went down with Vatican II and religious life?
Read the definitive, even-handed and nuanced "Sisters in Crisis--Revisited" by Ann Carey, an extremely readable account of a simple-and-complex-all-at-the-same-time saga. 

Do you want to read an account of some of the sad, cold indignities that religious women endured in the past? Read Karen Armstrong's "The Spiral Staircase." Armstrong left the convent as well as belief in God--but it is doubtful whether she ever had faith, even in the convent. It's important to know that many (though not all) religious women really did suffer immensely before Vatican II from what was a devolution of religious life practices that, over the centuries, had turned into something punitive and "austerity for austerity's sake," doused with a good measure of Jansenism. Religious life often becamse obsessed with a formalistic, external perfectionism.

"Corita Kent" by Sr. Rose Pacatte, describes the life of the famous IHM Sisters of Los Angeles' resident artist-nun who eventually left the convent and the Catholic Faith. Similar to Karen Armstrong, one could question whether or not she had faith even in the convent. This book also outlines the leadership of L.A.'s Archbishop McIntyre with regard to the IHMs--albeit only from the point of view of those Sisters in the forefront of experimental changes.

Here's another short account of a pre-Vatican II disaster: "Sister Jaguar," abused at home and then abused in the convent: http://globalsistersreport.org/blog/gsr-today/spirituality/sister-jaguars-journey-takes-healing-odyssey-amazon-rainforest-48176

Do you want to know what the Church actually teaches about religious life? Read "Perfectae Caritatis," the document from Vatican II on religious life (and subsequent Church documents on religious life such as "Essential Elements of Religious Life," "Vita Consecrata," "Fraternal Life in Community," etc.)  The CMSWR (Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious) also put out this fine tome in the light of the true "spirit" and documents of Vatican II: "Foundations of Religious Life." 

Would you like to know the beating heart of religious life? Read "And You Are Christ's" by Fr. Thomas Dubay. 

Would you like to know the soaring heights of religious life? Read any women religious saints' own writings or "Enduring Grace" by Carol Flinders.


--I'm not going to bother listing the umpteen, thunderous, blunderous narrative inconsistencies and religious inaccuracies in the film.

--A great film on "vocation" (the secular vocation of serving the common good in public office): "Amazing Grace," the true story of William Wilberforce who made slavery illegal in England (and passed so much other good legislation, founded the SPCA--that's why there's lots of animals running around in the film). A then-unknown Benedict Cumberbatch plays his good buddy who becomes Prime Minister and they join forces. Albert Finney plays former slave trader, John Newton, who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace." This is one of the finest Christian films ever made.


The film "Novitiate"--which just premiered at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival)--is a piece of inauthentic, failed filmmaking. I'm sooooo disapppointed because the above trailer looked sooooo promising. Too bad the trailer doesn't show us what the film is really about.

Why was I looking forward to "Novitiate"? I love Melissa Leo's fine acting (Mother Superior), and the trailer suggests that the film is going to explore what happened to religious life when the upheavals of the so-called "spirit of Vatican II" hit the fan, does it not? Religious life boasts a venerable tradition that just won't quit, and can be a kind of impenetrable subculture. So, what transpired to garner such radical changes in the Sisterhood--particularly in North America--almost overnight in the 1960's and 70's? What caused the exodus of 33,000 U.S. women religious from their vows and congregations during these turbulent times? This film, evidently, is not actually interested in that, and so the story still remains to be told. What do I mean by "evidently"? I did not see the film myself (I planned to, but was out of town). Instead, a movie-maven friend, Theodora, saw it and was horrified. (Theodora and I call ourselves "The Empresses of Film." Get it? Theodora and Helena?)

Probably the saddest thing about "Novitiate" is not the missed opportunity, but the fact that PEOPLE BELIEVE WHAT THEY SEE IN MOVIES and are going to think "this is what it's like" in the convent. On the heels of the clergy sex abuse scandal, why wouldn't they? Take it from an insider (moi): No, it's not. And it wasn't like that back in the day, either.

Here's what Theodora reports:

I cannot stress enough how awful this film was. Just a steaming pile of unredeemable garbage
The laziest example of filmmaking ever. Made no sense.
Not one positive thing about it. They didn't even get the look of the 60s right. Priests vestments were of a later period. Just distractingly terrible.
You should not watch it! It will be time you can never retrieve. The girls all spoke with California voice fry... I wanted to stab my ears with an ice pick. Sexy girls, two scenes of masturbating, they were like totally in love with Jesus, praying to the sanctuary lamp (the light of christ) no tabernacle in sight, one girl wasn't even catholic but still accepted into the convent cause she was totally in love with jesus, shots of naked sexy nuns, comforting themselves by making out...
It was a horror show!
The director/writer spoke about how she wasn't religious but spiritual. She was inspired by reading the bio of mother teresa, never heard of the church before, and was intrigued that this woman was so passionate and in love with her husband Jesus. So she looked up other bios of nuns on Amazon (i kid you not this was her research...i wish i videoed the interview) and she saw in all the synopsis that there was mention of vatican 2 and novitiate....
So she decided to pick one at random and read it... Read a lot of books. No mention of actually consulting living nuns or ex-nuns
I had my hand up the whole time straining to ask a question ... Wasn't picked

I love controversial films and this film was banal and plain stupid.... So many things were irritatingly terribly lazy. For instance, I'm livid about this one, the nun teacher when the protagonist is a little girl writes in TERRIBLE cursive on the black board. No way in heck would a teacher let alone a nun in the 50s get away with such cursive.

Get the warning out there!! It was horrible. Just horrible.