April 30, 2011
April 25, 2011
April 23, 2011
April 20, 2011
“There Be Dragons” is a film about many things, mainly the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Although St. Josemaria Escriva is a character, the film is not about him or the organization he founded, Opus Dei. The acting is pretty captivating, the art direction SUPERB, the cinematography solid, the music moving, the dialogue good and sometimes great, but the story has several major problems that break several of the most basic rudiments of filmmaking.
FIRST—Who is the main character? By all rights, it should be the character we are introduced to in Act One, who also happens to be narrating the story. He is a middle-aged Spaniard who is writing a book about St. Josemaria. Upon discovering that his father—who fought in the Spanish Civil War—actually knew the saint, we suddenly switch off to the father narrating the flashback story of his association with Josemaria. But the story of Escriva is quickly eclipsed by the far more exciting story (not just backdrop) of the war, and the writer’s father’s role as a spy for the Fascists (pretending to be a Communist) unfolds. But his story is quickly eclipsed by the far more exciting story of the dashing Communist leader (think Che Guevara) and his comrade lady interest whom the writer’s father is also in love with.
The author of the Escriva biography drops out of the film for almost the entire Second Act (except for a few quick “present-day” scenes where we learn how much he dislikes his father), then reappears at the very end when a BIG REVEAL takes place. But we are not interested in this character or his problems because we have not seen him for the entire movie. We barely saw him in Act One either, because we mainly just heard his voice narrating. His place in the movie is more “bookends” than main character. His father as a young man is an unsympathetic fellow. The Communist leader is committed and passionate, but the show-stealer turns out to be the young woman whom they’re both in love with. What is motivating a rather delicate-looking woman to take up arms and fight this fight? She seems to have more depth and backbone than anyone else in the film.
The film-Escriva is a one-dimensional, angelic person, seen through the eyes of the unsavory double-agent-author’s-father who grew up with Escriva and was in the seminary with him for a time. The feeling one gets is that perhaps this movie started out to be about Escriva, but it was feared that a priest is not interesting enough to make a movie about, so we will simply watch him from time to time through the eyes of a more conflicted man. I think it would have worked better to have Escriva be the main (developed) character and see the soldiers and other characters through HIS eyes.
Escriva is beloved, cheerful, unflagging, always at his priestly ministry, no matter the cost. He is pastoral and gives good spiritual advice. However, we do not seem him struggle, except for a few tears when a priest-friend is murdered. He seems to float above all the goings-on around him, ever smiling. (Charlie Cox, who plays Escriva is not at fault here. He does a great job with the character/lines he is given, and I’d love to see him in other vehicles. Seems he came back to his faith by playing this part!)
One thing we do learn from Escriva is how it is possible to be a Christian in the midst of war and forgive one’s enemies. We can see from his countenance (in a similar vein to war-survivor Blessed John Paul II) that Escriva was truly a man of charity and peace.
SECOND—Who is the bad guy? (The antagonist.) We are given such logical motivations for all persons and sides in the war, that any real venom is COMPLETELY removed. There may be generic “dragons in the land,” such as war, but nothing more specific or personalized than this.
THIRD—What is the story about? What is the takeaway? Or rather, what did I learn that I didn’t know before from watching “Dragons”? Sadly, I have to say that I know nothing more about the (albeit terribly complex and confusing) Spanish Civil War or St. Josemaria and Opus Dei than I did before. I was really looking forward to learning more about all three. There were many missed opportunities when we could have gained some insight.
FOURTH—What is the theme? I couldn’t decipher one, but we know at the end that it was intended to be forgiveness. The author must learn to forgive his father. But this theme did not permeate the rest of the movie. We did not even know there was anything TO forgive until the BIG REVEAL. The one scene of Escriva exhorting others to forgive in the midst of war was the only other reference to forgiveness. “Dragons” seems to be rather themeless. And because of this, I fear “Dragons” will ultimately be very forgettable. We will not be referencing much from it in the future.
The best lines in the movie are from an extremely minor character who has suffered much. She says: “I have accepted that God can be terrible. And now my prayers are deeper. I fight Him with love.”
Hopefully, “Dragons” will inspire audiences to learn more about St. Josemaria, Opus Dei, and the Spanish Civil War. It could be a great discussion starter if Opus Dei members and/or those versed in this segment of history would lead a forum after viewing. I, for one, am doing my own digging!
--Is “Dragons” worth seeing? Yes—if only to whet your appetite for more….
--The “Manolo Torres” character (the author’s father) is a purely fictitious character.
--Act One is choppy, choppily edited, and a little hard to follow.
--Good line: The Communist leader says he read many books in jail. The young woman says she hasn’t. “Then how do you know what life has to offer?” he asks her. [Book authors, lovers, publishers and sellers everywhere rejoice.]
--It seems like everything needed a little more exposition and a little more weight. Why would people risk their lives (including the priest) to avail themselves of the priestly ministry? (Mass and sacraments.) What position and platform exactly did the various sides in the war want/stand for? (Also, I don’t remember hearing “Franco’s” name even once, but I could be wrong.
--One might come away from “Dragons” thinking that the Communists weren’t so bad. There is still much (strange!) romanticism about Communism, and false-but-widely-accepted-notions that it’s the “religious wars” that have killed the most numbers in history. Time for enlightenment. Let the record speak for itself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Book_of_Communism
--An elderly Opus Dei member told me that there was a famous movie starring Gary Cooper that gave the wrong impression (favorable) of the Communists during the Spanish Civil War (some Americans fought on the side of the Communists) which got stuck in the American public’s consciousness. Ah, the power of film!
--This same Opus Dei gentleman (I’ve been doing research with some of my Opus Dei friends) told me that the Communists (in other countries as well) always made allies of the Socialists and then killed them all. They did this prematurely in Spain, which lost them the war.
--The Church was ruthlessly persecuted during the war. 8,000 priests and religious were murdered.
--About the title: Although “There Be Dragons” sounds like a rap song, it’s a literal translation from the Latin, which probably could have been better translated to “There Are Dragons” or “Dragons in the Land” or something?
--Sr. Anne (@nunblogger) said “Dragons” portrays Escriva as a “man without issues.”
--A movie on St. Josemaria Escriva and Opus Dei is yet to be done! I can’t wait to see it!
--I know it’s very difficult to make a movie and very easy to be a critic…but I did so want to like this movie.
April 16, 2011
Pope Alexander VI became pope in 1492 (an auspicious year!), and I think it no coincidence that he was a contemporary of Machiavelli, the “greed is good,” “might makes right,” “raw power,” “by any means necessary” political philosopher.
It remains to be seen if Jeremy Irons was well cast. (I think he was more suited to his role as gentle Fr. Gabriel in “The Mission.”) So far, he looks more apprehensive and afflicted with ennui (along with his saucer-eyed stare) than ruthless and driven. OR he is playing Alexander as a deceptively mild-mannered, sometimes sarcastic politico. Perhaps his character will yet develop some teeth.
Pope Alexander is portrayed as having some kind of twisted, lackadaisical, yet genuine faith in God--since belief in God was part of the prevailing worldview of the times--(often telling his priest-son “God will forgive us” before they sin). Yes, he has a family, as do most of the Cardinals around him. “We must APPEAR to be chaste” is the rule of the day.
After a slow start, “The Borgias” kicks into higher gear, deepening all the characters, it seems, but that of the Pope himself. The irony (or, perhaps sarcasm again) is Alexander’s constant references to his being a “reformer” of the Church. Gasp! Sr. Anne (the famous @nunblogger http://romans8v29.blogspot.com/ ) with whom I live, says: “Alexander VI is the pope we can all love to hate on.” The man was probably the worst pope ever and a just a total disgrace. One can see how desperately in need of true reform the Church was, but corruption was such a deeply embedded way of life—in all aspects of life—that we have to ask: were even the good-willed able to see their way clearly out of it at all?
Of course, these were also the times when the pope had significant temporal power, could crown and de-crown the monarchs of Catholic countries, headed a standing army, and owned significant land in Italy (“the papal states”). Probably one of the best things that ever happened to the papacy was the loss of all but the tiny Vatican-City State, so that the pope could truly focus on being a spiritual leader (with temporal impact) and Vicar of Christ.
Is “The Borgias” any good? There’s explicit nudity (is that redundant?), gorgeous costuming and settings, good acting (mixed Brit and American cast) and good-enough plots/dialogue, BUT the question is: Do you find corruption, subterfuge, deceit, murder, betrayal, bribery, greed, lust and lust for power interesting? I for one do not find this kind of intrigue intriguing. Never did. “The Sopranos,” “The Godfather” and other gangsta shows and cultures are grindingly predictable. Will they lie? Yes. Will they kill? Yes. Will they go that far? Yes. Why? Because they have no conscience, only a code of “ethics” that they made up (subject to change). The conclusion of the excellent book “The Sociopath Next Door,” by a psychologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School, is simply that the conscience-less are BORED out of their gourds, and so life has to become a game to save them from their utter and total lack of inhibition and empathy.
I simply do not find this train-to-nowhere-or-worse trajectory faintly interesting. Actually, I find IT kind of BORING, like Satan, who is not capable of spinning one original thought in his horned head, who can’t create anything new, but can only distort.
Final verdict: I did not find myself invested in this tiresome historical muck.
--This stuff really did happen, perhaps even worse than Showtime is showing it.
--APOLOGETICS—Bad popes prove that God is with the Church, otherwise they would have destroyed her long ago. “The gates of hell” are always more effective from the inside, and “the weeds grow with the wheat.”
“If the Church weren’t both divine AND human,
there’d be no place in it for us.”
–Blessed John Paul II the Great
--“The Borgias’ help us easily see—in this clandestine “you hide my sin, I’ll hide yours” culture—where the clergy sex abuse scandal came from and how it stubbornly persisted for centuries.
--It’s so jarring to see a pope who hypocritically goes through the motions, blessing crowds, paying lip service to God, etc., after the 20th century’s truly extraordinary and holy men on the chair of Peter!
--The very Cardinals that elected Alexander VI call him a “mitred ape.” Ha ha ha ha.
--Lots of forced Church-y talk that sounds like the dialogue was ripped from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
--There’s one truly decent and prayerful Cardinal.
--Lots of twitchy sword-drawing at the least provocation. Touchy times.
--There’s a confusing scene where a woman confesses an abortion and during the course of her conversation with her confessor (the pope) it sounds like abortion is an “unforgiveable sin” (which it is not), even though he gives her absolution in the end.
--"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." --Lord Acton
April 14, 2011
The concept of truly family friendly fare--as is “Truth Be Told”--is a welcome one. (FOX’s and ABC’s so-called “Family Channels” certainly don’t always fill that bill!)
“Truth Be Told” has something for everyone: parents, kids and teens (featuring fleshed-out characters in all age groups). The pace of the movie is simple and slow so it’s easy to follow. It feels like a Disney-Hallmark-Christian film (although this is not a Christian film: there’s not mention or portrayal of God-church-faith). The values are rock-solid.
The theme is ALWAYS telling the truth, and although it’s the adults who mess up here, they are otherwise very ethical and good people (not dissolute morons), and the young people are not the perfect, smart-alecky wisdom figures, but real, flawed people as well.
“Truth Be Told” may be too pollyanna for some, but families can relax and enjoy this light entertainment without fear of having their sensibilities assaulted, and can see modeled romantic and family relationships that could-be-real-if-we-make-it-so.
About the Film:
What’s the secret to a successful marriage? According to Colorado’s leading marriage counselor, Annie Morgan (played by Candace Cameron Bure from "Full House" and "Make It Or Break It"), honesty is the key to successful long-term relationships. Ironically, Annie has never been married and doesn’t always follow her own advice...
Production Company: Staircase Productions
April 9, 2011
April 8, 2011
$10 includes a DVD of the film (in English, Spanish, Polish).
There will also be a Q & A with the cast and crew.
“To Be Born” is a 15-minute short by Chicago filmmaker, Rob Kaczmark and Spirit Juice Studios (http://www.spiritjuicestudios.com/). It will be available in English, Spanish and Polish. It’s a layered look at the terrible decision that faces many women: an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy.
Why are there so many “unplanned, unwanted pregnancies” in the first place? How can there be a “decision” to be made when a human life is already in existence? These two questions--important as they are--are not the focus of the film. The sad fact is that abortion is legal in the United States, and “the law is a teacher.” Unfortunately, not everything that is legal is good. Far from it. The fact that abortion is legal makes it a quick, easy option, a concrete possibility, when a law-abiding woman (or man) is under duress.
The film is beautifully shot and the young woman’s plight sensitively and compassionately presented. The story weaves in and out of reality, allowing any woman, any person to vicariously step through the stages of abortion and give it some hard thought. Is this really the best way? Do I really want this regret? What is the alternative?
Too often it seems, people are not really informed about what an abortion is. There is a vague notion of removing “tissue.” There are walls of denial and intentional suppression of the facts. “To Be Born” removes the wall and reveals the facts. This is not a condemnatory piece. It is filled with the power of love and hope. It’s a unique addition to pro-life filmography, and the fact that it is brief (in our short-attention-span society) makes it all the more valuable. (It will be available on YouTube.) It tells a rich, visual story. Although textured, there is also a simplicity and quietude to every second of imagery. We make our best decisions not in haste and panic, but in moments of calm reflection and often solitude.
"To Be Born" has elements of the horror film genre, in order for the audience to enter into the personal and real horror (for parents and child) that marks this momentous decision. Although it can't be controlled who sees what these days, especially on the internet, the intention is that "To Be Born" could be a preventive tool for young (and not so young) people to stop and think BEFORE finding themselves in crisis.
How might post-abortive mothers and fathers react to “To Be Born”? If they have not begun to seek healing, “TBB” could definitely be a catalyst. If shown in a group-setting, it might be helpful to have post-abortion counselors available (and introduce them before the screening).
“To Be Born” includes a brief depiction and verbal description of an abortion procedure. There is blood, but no nudity or pictures of aborted fetuses.
Suggested age of viewer: 13 and up.
www.ToBeBorn.com (the film will be available for viewing on this website after May 1, 2011. DVDs will also be on sale.)
April 3, 2011
I am very, very, very excited about this movie. It has been a while since I really lost myself in a movie and forgot that a) I was watching a movie b) I was supposed to be reviewing a movie c) I don’t usually lose myself in movies. “Soul Surfer” is the true story of Bethany Hamilton, the 13-year-old Christian surfer girl in Hawaii who had her arm chomped off by a shark. And she got right back out there and kept surfing: her love for Christ and surfing stronger than ever.
The story of how “Soul Surfer” was made is almost as exciting as the story of Bethany and her amazing family. At the screening I attended, a Christian VP of marketing for Provident Films (a division of Sony) told us that some Christians convinced Sony to tell the real story of Bethany (which is inseparable from her faith in Jesus), and to do a big budget film: $20M. Sony’s money was well spent. “Soul Surfer” looks and feels big budget, and is just a fabulously successful film all around. The sweeping aerial, under-water, over-water, all-water cinematography of Hawaii and surfing is MESMERIZING and BREATHTAKING. Hawaii’s tourism industry and the hang-ten sport should shoot up like a Blue Whale blowhole after this film hits 2,000 screens April 8.
Director Sean McNamara did a swell job here. If I knew how to say “swell” in Pidgin English, I would. Da kine. “Soul Surfer” is a family drama; a sports movie (all-girl surfing!); a story of faith, hope and love; and, well, almost a nature action film. I’ve never really seen anything quite like it. I liked the movie more and more and more as I watched. The crisis sequence (you get so wrapped up in the story and the gorgeous scenery you forget what’s coming) is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Not gory, not overdone, but pulls no punches at the same time. The pacing, emotions and reactions are perfect.
Helen Hunt—looking tanned and beautiful--plays Bethany’s mom. Hunt has never particularly been one of my favorite actresses, but this role fits her like a glove (perhaps because in real life she surfs!). She’s a joy to watch. Dennis Quaid plays Bethany’s Dad. Kevin Sorbo is Bethany’s best friend’s Dad, Carrie Underwood plays her youth minister, and Bethany is played by the truly luminous AnnaSophia Robb. Bethany, her parents and her two brothers all surf, so all the actors had to learn to at least stand up on a surf board, but from there on out, professional surfers do the fancy stuff, including the real Bethany! The family dynamic is realistic and FUNCTIONAL. A functional family on the big screen! Take a picture! Oh wait—it is a picture! (Sorry—couldn’t resist being a tad sarcastic.) Parents talk to teens like they are human beings. Teens talk to parents like they actually love them, and might even like them. Family members help and care for each other. Christianity is just a taken-for-granted, matter-of-fact factor in the life of the Hamiltons (as it is for millions of non-surfing families). It is not portrayed fakey-like, and “We are Christians, Praise Jesus!” does not pop up every five minutes, although as a Jesus freak myself, I wouldn’t have minded that.
This is not a movie that you will need to go to the theater to “support,” because it’s a “good, Christian film and we hope they make more like this.” You will love this film. It is the best film of 2011. You will not be ashamed to take your friends, Christian or non-Christian. It is a very cool film. Your friends may not even be cool enough to see this film. But go and “support” it any way, especially on opening weekend--April 8--because that’s what counts when Hollywood is crunching numbers.
Just when you think “Soul Surfer” might be going to get a little hokey…it doesn’t. Best. Epilogue. Ever. Tons of footage of the real Bethany through the years and today. (You’ll also glimpse how faithful the movie was to the real events of her life.) I hope there’s a “making of” documentary on the DVD/Blu-ray.
--Is this a chick flick? If you consider a Something-For-Everyone film that deals with life’s Big Mysteries and Questions and entertains with Non-Stop, Mind-Blowing Photography and Action and features some of the World’s Coolest Surfer Grrrl Chicks a chick flick, then, yes.
--Evidently, the actors were FREEZING and turning blue, but had to look like it was balmy.
--THEOLOGY OF THE BODY? There is, naturally, a preponderance of teens in bikinis—true to Hawaiian surf-and-turf-wear--and although the girls talk about wanting to look good on the waves (as well as the fact that they have company/product sponsorships), they are first of all athletes sold out to their sport, and not into flaunting their 0% body-fat buff bods. I would welcome a guy’s take on this who has seen the movie. Otherwise, a glorious celebration of the human body and the grace it is capable of and how good it can look when you exercise a lot and don't eat lots of transfats. Also, and more obviously (even though BJP2G says that his TOB doesn't take up the experience of bodily suffering and death), Bethany's bravely accepting the challenge of what happened to her body could be considered some "theology of the body."
--How did they get rid of the actress’ arm? Wrapped it in green screen stuff.
--Great conversation between parents about whether it’s better for her to continue surfing or not. Great. --Magnificent, creative twist to “love your enemies.”
--This movie shows a kind of lack of sense of horror on the part of Bethany. It reminded me of what Antoine de St.-Exupery (author of “The Little Prince”) said in his book “Wind, Sand and Stars” when it seemed his plane was crashing. How there was no horror to it at all. He was very calm and just looked death in the face.
--If you search for “Soul Surfer” on YouTube, you’ll find tons of stuff on Bethany. She works with amputees, also: “Friends of Bethany.” But DON'T watch those other lame trailers!
--OK—you know how the story ends. Sort of. Like you know how “Secretariat” ends. But you'll WANT to see “Soul Surfer.”
--“BEST MOVIE OF 2011!”
--“NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, EAT YOUR HEART OUT!”
--“YOU TOO, ESPN! (UNLESS, OF COURSE, YOU HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE MOVIE!)”
--“HELEN HUNT IS A GNARLY SURF-MOM!”
--“A FUNCTIONAL FAMILY!”
--“NO EASY ‘GOD’ ANSWERS!”
--“TIMMY, BETHANY’S BROTHER, REALLY DOES EAT LOTS OF SPAM!”
--“HEARTFELT, GENUINE EMOTIONS!”