December 12, 2017

NETFLIX: "GLITCH"

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.)

A GLITCH IN GLITCH

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."

RICH CHARACTERS

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.

A SEQUEL BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL

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.


ONE. OF. THE. BEST. NETFLIX. SERIES. EVER.



December 4, 2017

MOVIES: "NOVITIATE"




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.

IT'S ALL ABOUT DESIRE

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.)

"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.

NUNS IN MOVIES

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.

NUNS AND HUMAN SEXUALITY

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.

TWO BIGGEST BOO-BOO'S OF THE FILM

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.

DELUSIONAL WOMEN

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 AS A CHARACTER

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.

DOES SHE OR DOESN'T SHE?

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?

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.

RECOMMENDED READING

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 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.

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.

OTHER STUFF:

--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.




--BELOW IS MY ORIGINAL "NON-REVIEW" BEFORE I SAW THE FILM, WITH COMMENTS FROM MY FRIEND WHO HAD SEEN THE FILM AT TIFF:

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.


November 20, 2017

SR. HELENA'S TOP THEOLOGY OF THE BODY BOOK PICKS


...and I'm just getting started....come back often!

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