March 11, 2018


(I often dub Netflix series "films.")

"The Frankenstein Chronicles" is the Brits at the top of their dramaturgical game, showing off. The FC is a fascinating, intelligent, somewhat contemplative, sophisticated, nuanced, suspenseful, imaginative examination of the first half of nineteenth-century Christian England (pre-Darwin!) where sickness, disease and early death run rampant. Religion, superstition, the occult and science all attempt their cures. But what everyone really wants, then as now, is immortality, to live forever, to come back from the dead, to see our loved ones again. Mary Shelley herself is a character: "Mightn't we break the laws of God in order to see our loved ones again? What wouldn't you do to see your loved ones again?" Um, that's not how we see our loved ones again. God wants us to see our loved ones again. Love God and neighbor and we will see our loved ones again. Only God can give, "take" and give life again.


The world of yesteryear is so well created, the diction so tight, the research of the times so in-depth ("science" is correctly called "natural philosophy"), the acting so superb, the story and dramatization engrossing. Sean Bean (extraordinary acting here--that man is so good at rich, manly emoting when he understands the part) plays a tough lawman who is looking for a body-snatcher who supplies bodies for Frankenstein-like experiments. Children are also the body-snatcher's victims, which makes it all the more abhorrent.

The characters are deeply Christian. Christianity is simply assumed and permeating the culture. And not stupid, superficial, naive, mean Christians (as often portrayed in American cinema set in any time period, often anachronistically. What do I mean? I mean Americans, in their often ahistorical and feverish progressivism can find it hard to reach back in time and plumb a different mentality. The portrayals of Christians [really caricatures] wind up looking like Jerry Falwell is the representative of true Christianity of every time and place). Not so in FC. FC's Christians are a mixed bag, a cross-section of society itself: kind Christians; charitable Christians; wealthy, socially-conscious Christians who care for the poor; Christians who are trying; Christians who are struggling with faith; Christians who take up their cross;  hypocritical Christians, or Christians who just pay lip service to God because it's respectable to do so or there's really no other worldview circulating to choose from.


I really must commend those enigmatic Brits on this ability they have to suspend all their current-day ethea, assumptions and prejudices and totally enter a past world. This is also done in an astonishing way in "Call the Midwife," a BBC series based on the true-life reminiscences of a young nurse mid-wife working with Anglican nuns in the poor East End of London in the 1950's--where most births were home births. The series is extremely pro-life, wherein everyone is rooting for the baby and the Mom no matter how dire the circumstances. Abortion is illegal and rarely even thought of as an option. Abortion would be an affront to the hope of these hardscrabble citizens of the realm who work hard and love hard for a better future for their progeny. "Call the Midwife" is a deeply joyous celebration of human life, human possibilities and human thriving in the midst of hardship. It is a tribute to the human spirit and to the filmmakers who, even today, can re-imagine such a beautiful, kindly, more human world. But I digress.

FC is filled with organic intrigue. Just so well performed. Lots of bio-ethical questions that are only MORE pertinent today--now that we have so much bio-tech.

Sean Bean's character is the equivalent of a modern day detective (representing the magistrate's office), a haunted man who doggedly rescues women and children almost as a kind of penance for having lost his own wife and child (a baby girl) due to his "carelessness." (I never quite figured out what his "carelessness" was. Perhaps passing on the syphilis from which he suffers?) We also witness the creation of the modern day police force, or "bobbies," in 1829, named for Robert Peel, the Home Secretary.


FC is definitely dark--figuratively and literally--poorly lit (a huge peeve of mine) mostly by lanterns, and we can almost feel the grime and dankness of the pre-Victorian city rising off the screen. There is a fair amount of blood and dismemberment and throat-slashing. But not gratuitous in my estimation. FC's core deals with life and death and the body, and it palpably "goes there." This is an incredibly fascinating Theology of the Body work with room for endless discussion. I am still marveling at it in my mind. There is so much to unpack.

GOD is all over this film. He is woven in everywhere as a character, as a force, as a nemesis to be defeated or a deity to be trusted. He is in every cell of this living, breathing film. This is profoundly religious art, not just because it re-presents the vibrant, bygone faith of millions, but you can hear and feel and see (three of the five senses) the filmmakers grappling with the postmodern supposed "absence of God," and yet, the tenets of postmodernity are not imposed or overlaid on this fine work. It is the perennial cri de coeur that is the heartbeat of "The Frankenstein Chronicles." I would love to meet the minds behind this filmic, metaphysical expedition that breaks through the fourth wall of pure virtuality in a return to the body, the body, the body. And it is not a disgust or hatred of the body or its so-called limitations, even the limitation of death. The creators of FC know we can't be fully human without taking the body with us, without being our bodies into the next life, the afterlife, any life. They are dancing all around the ANSWER. They are "not far from the kingdom of God." Well done, as the Brits themselves say.

I wanted to scream at the screen: "See? You Brits know how to do this! You know how to pray! (The Anglican nuns in "Call the Midwife" praying and living from a faith-stance is also exquisite.) You know how to ask all the right questions! You know how to be moral and memento mori and think about a judgment and a final reckoning and that it's not just impolite and nasty to murder people and cut them up and treat them like raw material for research--there's a bigger, cosmically accountable dimension to it all! Perhaps FC is a form of England, "Mary's Dowry," reclaiming its God-heritage, at least and for now in a make-believe world? You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one. 


Over and over we hear this phrase in FC: "A world without God," which has several layers. But of course, there is really no such thing as a world without God, just as a fish dreaming of a world without water is to dream of the impossible, or rather it means his certain death--something very bad for him. "A world without God" is understood by the believing characters as a horror.

Today, the English are such hardcore atheists. It seems their atheism has morphed from the empiricists to the economists to the evolutionists to the survivors of World War II. They are known for their brilliance, wit, sarcasm, pessimism, "stiff upper lip," and a certain coldness--so much so that the government of England has recently instituted a "Ministry of Loneliness" for all the old people and others living in social isolation! But isn't that the sweetest and most realistic thing ever? Calling the ailment and problem by its actual name? Is that because England has a female PM?


But England has a rich and beautiful Christian history--its iterations and developments stretching back all the way to the first century A.D. The English OWN the Bible. The Scriptures are still embedded everywhere in their speech whether they even realize it or not. When I watch British TV/films, the dialogue is often LITTERED with Scripture. So many common English expressions come straight of out the beautiful and poetic language of the King James Bible. The Bible is a touchstone for the true, good and beautiful in English culture (along with Shakespeare who also drew on the Bible--a double whammy). The British know they cannot just throw those words, English words--and their meanings--away. England is enmeshed with God and His Word. She just needs to rediscover Him--not by going backwards, but by going forwards, because the Word of God stands forever, and there is much yet to be brought to fulfillment in it!


FC, like the original "Frankenstein" is a kind of science fiction playground to examine God and human destiny. Frankenstein/FC is no suicidal deathwish or fever dream of despair! It is a fierce desire and will for life without end--but accomplished by disastrous human machinations. But even by crossing lines and trashing ethics and breaking laws human and will not succeed. It hath not the power. And not only that: Frankenstein/FC is not just about humans attempting to overcome death, it's also human beings attempting to usurp God. But the "god" these scientists aspire to be is not even a benign God, but a despot and a puppeteer.

In the midst of all the destructive, desecrating horror, there is tender love between lovers, spouses, parents and children. But is there also the creeping sense (not on the part of the believing characters but on the part of the storytellers) that perhaps that is the only love that exists (sans God)?

The film ends with the ocean. Does our main character lose faith--and the mystery of something as large as the ocean is all that is left? Does the ocean stand in for the "primordial soup" from which we all supposedly sprang (and which "restores life" in the film)? Or is the ocean the vastness of God Himself? Does the ocean signal that the search for God continues?

"Lead me to the rock that is higher than I." --Psalm 61


--Brave police, valiant priests, mad-scientist villains!

--FC is a long meditation. With lots of action.

--The moral and religious imagination is on full, full display here.

--Abortion is not a good thing in FC. At one point, abortion is correctly countered by a beautiful, intelligent young Christian woman who disagrees and says: "Suffer the little children to come unto me."

--"Beware the beast." Yes, beware the beast (Revelation 20:2). (There are occasional overtones of the occult leading up to...?) What/who is "the beast"? The "resurrected"? The devil? The monsters who tamper with human life (i.e., Nazi-scientist types)? The body-snatcher(s)?

--"There is no God. As soon as you grasp that, anything is possible."

--"They died for science. I make no apologies. I will make any sacrifice for the work." [No, you murdered them for science.]

--"God will judge you for this!"

--At a certain point, a character is told that there is no God. He is asked if he saw God in his "near-death" experience. He did not, which seems to cause him some doubt. But let's remember the unnaturalness of his "near-death" experience. (I hope I'm not being like Dan Quayle talking to Murphy Brown here.) :)

--There is a twisty, twisted, almost-ending twist that could have been the ending, but it is not. "Life" goes on. It gets a little draggy at first at this point, with tons of dream sequences that we keep getting jolted out of ourselves: Oopsy! It's a dream again! Now where the heck were we in the story? This is the only flaw in FC, as well as some long, silent, visually dark scenes where we're on a kind of "pause."

--One of the best screen portrayals of the afterlife/heaven: "Tree Of Life"? "Heaven Is for Real"? "Miracles From Heaven"? I can't recall. Shows the interwoven tapestry of people known and barely known in our lives.

--Suggested book: The glorious and gloriously readable "Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People."

Psalm 61
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. Of David.
Hear my cry, O God,
    listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy.
Let me dwell in your tent forever!
    Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah
For you, O God, have heard my vows;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
Prolong the life of the king;
    may his years endure to all generations!
May he be enthroned forever before God;
    appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!
So will I ever sing praises to your name,
    as I perform my vows day after day.

February 16, 2018


All I knew about the film "The Florida Project" was that it chronicled the lives of motel dwellers, people too poor to pay a month's rent, but able to pay week to week. I imagined this film would be rather solemn and sorrowful, but it's not. It bursts forth from the opening scene with the chutzpah and brashness of those for whom it is imperative to hustle for their next meal. It is also suffused with the contentment of those who can only afford life's simple pleasures.

The joy in the film is provided by the protagonist, a little six-year-old upstart girl named Moonee who is as feral and mouthy, tough and vulgar as her young, tatted, rainbow-haired, party girl single Mom. But Moonee is not the only wild youngster left to fend for herself most of the day during summer vacation on and around the grounds of the purple "Magic Castle"--a motel near Disney World. The motel is a bit of a paradise for kids to be kids. Moonee and her merry ragamuffins have very little money or gadgets. They incessantly chatter to each other and scream and laugh and know everyone's business and roam about and pull pranks and taunt grown-ups.

The way this film is shot is unique, unusual, but with a non-pretentious indie air. There are lots of long shots and establishing shots of the colorful and fanciful buildings and architecture on the tourist-trap strip where Moonee lives. The acting is a kind of "direct cinema" at its finest. Especially this little girl. This extraordinary little ingenue. You can't even call her a great little actress. She is somehow real, breaking through the fourth wall at every turn. One scene of her in a bathtub (where she is forever shampooing her toy horse's and doll's hair) makes us believe we are seeing the real Brooklynn Prince (the name of this child actress) who has perhaps forgotten that the camera was left running. The other children too, while we sometimes catch them acting, we catch them having immediate emotions and reactions even more often.

Willem DaFoe plays the kind-hearted but firm-handed motel manager who often finds himself doing double duty as watchful parent to the herd of little banshees and troublemakers. The fact that these kids spend long hours unsupervised, with nary an adult in sight is quite discomfiting. We're just waiting for something bad, really bad to happen.

Moonee's mother is pretty terrible with the parenting skills, but she certainly teaches her daughter survival skills. Not only that, she truly loves and enjoys her child--playing with her with abandon, like a kid herself. But Mom's life is also a risky one, always one wrong move away from the brink of disaster. Is it better that Moonee be taken away and put into the dreaded "system"? Or is it better for kids to be with their birth parents if at all possible--albeit with much support and oversight from child welfare services? That seems to be the question of this mesmerizing film, "The Florida Project." Six-year-old Moonee seems to answer it for us.

(It's rated "R," most likely for the myriad F-bombs and other language. Otherwise, it could be PG-13.)


--Excellent article on a huge debacle in Toronto where children were taken from their parents due to faulty drug testing. Many excellent points made about spending energy and resources to keep parents and children together:

"Rich parents who are alcoholics don't have their children taken from them after a single relapse. Few rich parents have their children taken from them at all."

"What parents, kids needed was help."



Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour" is more than just the role of an actor's lifetime. It's England's story, humanity's ultimate story of the 20th century that risked being forgotten as new threats, tensions and dramas play out and capture our attention on the world scene in a new century, a new millennium.

This rotund, vigorous, idiosyncratic, stogie-chomping, alcohol-swilling, Cicero- and Horatio-quoting, alternately jolly and irate, almost default Prime Minister of England was just the right combination of brains, wit and humanity to get the job done. His wife (played exquisitely by Kristin Scott Davis) was his equal and his foil and his cheerleader--comprehending her husband through and through. The King (yes, the stuttering King George VI of "The King's Speech," played by the unrecognizable and always sterling Ben Mendelsohn) gives him the last nudge of confidence to do what he knew he must: what was growing in his heart as the undisputed right thing.


The characters are not just three-dimensional, they're five-dimensional. The grand but not grandiose, ebullient, lively and varied soundtrack beating throughout, sucks us back in time, and although there are lots of mini-speeches leading up to "The Prime Minister's Speech," the film is a foreigner to boredom and a friend to unpredictability, and lots of historical yuks.

England in 1940: What an admirably ordered and orderly society. Everyone had a part to play and there were no little parts. There is great honor and nobility in doing one's job well and being one's self well. Order is something our chaotic world now eschews at the risk of its own free-willed demise. We must convince it of the benefits and rewards of living in accord with reason, the divine plan and one's own nature.


For all the brilliance of this film--as well as the complete makeup magic transformation of Gary Oldman (the phrase "inhabiting the character" comes to mind)--I was disappointed by the lack of exposition in a slightly larger context. "Darkest Hour" takes much for granted of our knowledge of this segment of the World War. After Churchill's rallying speech to Parliament that they should not accept or even hear any terms from Hitler (which is the end of the film), we are only told what happened to Neville Chamberlain (Churchill's immediate predecessor) and to Churchill himself. Yes, this film is cutting close to the bone and rigidly and tightly following a personal story as a historical piece should, but we desperately needed the Epilogue to tell us more. We needed to know that London was indeed bombed to smithereens, and that the Underground (London's subway system) served as a massive bomb shelter. We saw this beautifully foreshadowed when Churchill descends below and polls the commuters as to what he should do. Should England surrender or stand strong? The people wouldn't hear of surrendering.


One statement of Churchill's that has always stayed with me (that I was aware of before this movie was ever made) is: "We may show mercy, but we shall not ask for it." Was this a foolhardy, reckless provocation? Was Churchill drawing down a deeper doom upon his countrymen's heads (while he would most likely be safely locked away in a bunker during the bombardment)? Not at all. Churchill was not being a stubborn, proud, patriotic man. He was telling the world that you don't make a truce with evil. You fight it head on. "What fellowship does darkness have with light?" 2 Corinthians 6:14. Not only England, but the planet needed a man such as Winston Churchill, right at the beginning of the hostile conflagration, to say "Enough!" A little evil, a little savagery is too much. If we compromise here and now on this and that, there is no stopping the slippery slope. (E.g., there is now a pilot program called "Porn Literacy" in high schools in the USA. The thinking is: "We can't stop teens from using porn. At least we can teach them to be discerning and discriminating. To know what might be real and what might be fake." No.)


Churchill's instinctive plan was to claim VICTORY, win or lose. Which is the truth. You are already the victor if you are on the side of right. "Nations that go down fighting rise again." "Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for."

"The Darkest Hour" is a masterful, artful, engaging dramatization with no false notes that depicts a truly inspired man, a flawed genius with a clownish visage. A hero, not with swords, but with much-needed words who simply could not stomach evil.

Hindsight is 20/20, but would that each of us learned to respond as quickly and unflinchingly as Winston Churchill to the siren lay of compromise and mediocrity and neutralization in the never-ending battle of good vs. evil swirling all 'round us.


--The face is Churchill's, the eyes are Oldman's.

--Such highly civilized, clever dialogue.

--Such a fine work, fine acting, fine everything.

--As "The Post" is to the age of newspapers, "Darkest Hour"  is to the age of speechmakers.

--"state of nature" = "naked" :)

--My father did not like Chamberlain. He would angrily mimic: "There has never been such peace in our time...."

--"Blood, sweat and tears" is a WC quote.

--So many great WC quotes: "You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!" One more reason not to deal with the devil (1 Peter 5:8).

--"We must all die, but let us die well."

--In his great speech, Churchill paints the picture of the so-called "peace" they were being offered: "The swastika flying over Buckingham Palace?!" Then they get it.

--Churchill "mobilized the English language and sent it into battle."

-- A lovely speech WC gave at his old school in 1941 (the "never, never, never give up" speech):

--Churchill knew that a sense of humor and the warm, common touch were the greatest medicine of all.

--My mum taught me that the hand signal "V" for victory was done as Churchill first did it in the film.... (Otherwise it's just a peace sign!) ????

--The History Channel has a devastating series called "Nazi Collaborators" about heads of nations and other groups who capitulated to Hitler--either passively, reluctantly or willingly. These people and groups are now associated with infamy.

February 10, 2018


                                          Sometimes, it takes a Canadian.

JBP deconstructed: how to converse like the good professor.

Twitter: @jordanbpeterson.

January 31, 2018


Classes begin March 17!

This course will also be offered ONLINE.

(Online students also have a choice to audit classes or be awareded Certificate. Classes will not be live-streamed. Online students may watch filmed classes at their leisure. Online students may join us from Canada, USA and beyond.)

For more information and to register:

January 22, 2018


"A Ghost Story" is dismal, dreary, ghastly and mournful. A dreadful view of the human person and afterlife. A bombastic, trying-to-be "brilliant" speech is plopped in the middle of the film (instead of the end of a film as is customary). The speech-maker is some guy who knows more than God and tries to sum up the mostly wordless film. But for all his hot air, he really doesn't say much. "A Ghost Story" feels like a postmodern attempt to make sense of it all, but postmodernism does not have the tool kit or skill set, so it winds up in empty nihilism, beating the air. It winds up in emo-music-enhanced sadness and infinite melancholy. Postmodernism can't really define or say anything substantive about the physical world, so when it attempts the metaphysical world it's an even more confusing jumble of important-sounding words and vaporous, impressionistic, "ghostly" notions.


The eschatology in the film is abysmal and hopeless. The more we stray from the Biblical worldview, the more our imagination returns to a been-there-done-that-already paganism which is an endlessly looping, reincarnating cycle, NOT a linear "story." So this was NOT a ghost "story." A story has a beginning, middle and end, like each of our lives, like history, like salvation history. 


"A Ghost Story" is truly episodic with a capital "E." The only thing it can desire, really, is to cling to human love beyond the grave, maybe, for a little while (see the film "Ghost" and countless other love stories). Not a bad thing, that. But don't try to tell us about a bigger picture if all you believe in is physics-as-we-know-it-in-2017. Or speculative, theoretical physics or imaginative physics. And if postmodernism only believes in science, why does it believe in love at all?


Perhaps there IS an image of a kind of purgatory here? Some kind of purification (but what?) and then one is "released"? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Anyhoo, what is eternity without God? I think the filmmakers were really trying. But no.


"A Ghost Story" taps into our deepest fears: of dying, of being forgotten, of losing someone, of dying a sudden death, of what comes next, of nothingness, of some shadowy "in between" half-life state after death. It's good that we think on these things! But we will not evaporate. We will not be forgotten by God or those who have gone before us, the communion of saints. We are immortal. We will endure. Human beings are indelible, carved on the palms and the Sacred Heart of God.


In actuality, God has revealed enough to us to know that we have a choice. Read the entire book of Revelation at the end of the Bible. We know how it ends: both our individual lives and all Creation. We humans love freedom and choices? Well, we all have to make the most important choice of our existence: "to spend eternity with God who loves us or Satan who doesn't" (Fr. Amorth, former head exorcist of Rome). Our God is "a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29) who sets us on fire with love (heaven), or we experience His love as torment--not because He is tormenting us, but because we torment ourselves with our rejection of Love (hell). There are only two choices.

Christians in particular shouldn't be looking to the secular imagination for inspiration on the most important things in life (and death) when it's certifiably off base.


The afterlife is very important, isn't it? Our storytelling around the afterlife is very important isn't it? Salvation is very important, isn't it? Actually, it's the only thing that matters. We can lose everything else, but if we lose at eternity we've lost everything forever. So choose well.


--The best explanation of hell you will ever read. But you must read the whole thing:

--Books by Blessed James Alberione on the afterlife:
"Lest We Forget"
"The Last Things"


"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri" is NOT all that. It has the feel of a Coen Brothers' dark comedy (and not just because Frances McDormand is in it). The writer-director is Martin McDonagh, known for "In Bruges" and "Seven Psychopaths," both filled with sudden, pop, surprising, vicious violence that's supposed to be funny in its casualness. "Three Billboards" is no exception.

At film school we learned that "in a comedy, nobody really gets hurt." Perhaps that's why so many comedies today are "dark." The rule doesn't apply.

McDormand plays Mildred, a divorced mother of two teens, a boy and a girl. The girl was brutally murdered and Mildred's anger at local law enforcement dragging their feet in finding who's responsible has reached a boiling point. She pays for a message spaced out on three billboards to demand WHY?--naming the popular Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) on one of them. The whole town is incensed and Mildred becomes very unpopular. She's a self-righteous vigilante with a heart of gold who can point out everyone else's sins, but just when she's becoming dull and one-dimensional...oooh...we get to see her flaws.

Ebbing is a hick town with inept, backward, uber-politically-incorrect police who play fast and loose with the law, in particular, Officer Dixon (an unhinged Sam Rockwell). Obnoxious conversations are par for the course, and be prepared for crudeness and shock-value-everything. McDormand does her usual deadpan McDormand tough chick schtick, this time as a woman with nothing to lose.

An interesting comment is slipped in the middle: "There's no God, so it doesn't matter what we do to each other? I hope not."

A beautiful-philosophical, warm-fuzzy, funny suicide note is left by a character that feels like it's meant to get us to (smilingly) agree that suicide was the right decision here.

The plot is watchable, clever, amusing and twisty until the very end when it kinda falls apart. A different kind of ending. Not untidy, but unlikely, a bit meh.

Methinks there's just too much material out there. A glut. When cable came 'round, the saying was: "100 channels and nothing's on," meaning nothing good to watch. Now we have the internet, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Hulu, etc., all doing their own original programming. They've got to grab our attention somehow, right? Oh, and torture is hysterical, right? ("Three Billboards" doesn't have torture, but just about every other "mature" show does now, doesn't it? Graphic, horrible torture that doesn't look away. And there are no warnings, you just start watching something and voila--you don't have to wait long.)

"Three Billboards" is more minor Hollywood desensitizing dissolution. Eminently forgettable.


--A swipe is taken at a priest for clergy sex abuse. In a sense, it's a well-deserved observation, not just some easy, crass wisecrack.

--"I didn't come into the world alone, my mom was there."

--Great young actor, Caleb Jones.

--Could also have been named: "Three Billboards and Two Angry People."

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:

--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) 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