March 31, 2014

MOVIES: "NOAH"






UPDATE! What I--and many others in favor of this film--did was a Judaeo-Christian read of "Noah." And it almost totally works. I can explain (by doing a Judaeo-Christian read) many elements that people say are Gnosticism or Kabbalah. However, some pieces didn't seem to fit. Especially the snakeskin (a concrete relic of the Garden--so that they will always remember they are sinful beings and from what they have fallen, just like the angels fell? Creation started off not fallen?)

In addition to my review, PLEASE also read this review by a theologian because I think what he's saying could be convincing on some levels.



Chattaway's response to Mattson's accusation of Gnosticism (also includes more explanations by Aronofsky): http://www.patheos.com/blogs/filmchat/2014/04/no-noah-is-not-gnostic-say-that-ten-times-fast.html

I still think there is much good to be gained from doing a Judaeo-Christian viewing/contemplating/discussing of this film, a biblical film like no other, served up in a way that people will take seriously for its cinematic quality. Fr. Robert Barron agrees: https://wordonfire.org/Written-Word/articles-commentaries/April-2014/Noah--A-Post-Modern-Midrash.aspx

Only Aronofsky knows what he actually intended throughout this movie (where he drew inspiration from at various moments). There are actually several different ways to read this (see "Comments" section below). On the "Colbert Report," he sounds like he's trying to be utterly faithful to the Jewish Bible (with added artistic license, of course). Perhaps even more explanation by Aronofsky will surface?

Sr. Helena recommends carefully reading the whole Noah story in the Bible before (or at least after seeing the film). It will clarify a lot!


*************

Months ago, when I first heard that "Noah" was coming out, I, like the biblical Sarah, laughed to myself. "It'll be this big, ugly, off-the-mark extravaganza, just trying to make money off believers, and it'll flop." Like Sarah, I had to eat crow. Not literally! (Noah is a vegetarian in the film.)

"Noah," written and directed by atheist(?) Darren Aronofsky, is coming from a very good place. Aronofsky is Jewish, and his favorite Bible figure since he was little was Noah. He particularly set out to explore this momentous, but unplumbed Bible passage (Genesis 6:5-6) where God is sorry He made mankind (because of our wickedness) and decides to wipe mankind out. What is completely blowing my mind is that Aronofsky puts himself squarely in the place of a believer and enters so deeply into the psyche of Noah and those around him (as well as attempting to understand why a GOOD Creator would "feel" this way, and come to this conclusion).

GOD

Aronofsky lets God be God. God permeates the film. And He is not an ogre or a caricature. He is personal but ineffable. He is mercy and justice. "We are made in His image" is repeated over and over. I never really gave Noah much thought at all till now. Wow.  Everything refers back to the Garden of Eden. Aronofsky is careful that we don't just start in the middle--he wants to hold the whole story together.

"Noah" is the best Bible movie ever made. Yes, I just said that. It marries what was orthodox and more verbatim from the Scriptures in older films like "The Ten Commandments" with Charlton Heston--and combines it with today's sensibilities and filmmaking genius (in all ways). But when I say "today's sensibilities" I don't mean politically correct and anachronistic. In "Noah," men are men, women are women, fertility is everything. Family is everything. Fidelity to God is everything. The tension between fatherlove and motherlove is palpable, and we see why we desperately need both to be in balance! Oh, and women kind of save the day as well--in their womanly way. That's all I'm going to say.

A little study of WOMEN IN "NOAH" (and in other of Aronofsky's films, and perhaps life) would be very interesting!

ANIMALS

The only thing that smacks of any kind of agenda might be the heavy stress on treating Creation well, especially animals (which I have absolutely no problem with and cheer heartily). The script even goes so far as to say (at one point) that the reason God is wiping out mankind is for the way we treated Creation. If this was ALL the script offered as explanation, I would have to give "Noah" big, big demerits. But in several other places, it tells/shows that we were corrupt in every way, in our dealings with each other (and treatment of women!), killings, wars, etc.

I applaud ANY film that tell us that, no, it's not OK to trash God's Creation. Dominion is not domination. Creation is sacred and it's God's and we are called to be good stewards and treat it with integrity.

Animal lovers (of which I am one) gonna looooove "Noah."

I think this means ALL the animals were CGI which I actually wouldn't have guessed.
I thought a few were real at least.

"Noah" is how you make a Bible movie. "Noah" is how you take the Word of God and seriously and humbly explore it in all its depth, complexity, nuance, raw human and divine drama without preconceived judgments on it, employing the best actors, composers, visual effects. This film breathes and sends you into deep contemplation/meditation. I didn't think it was possible to do that with the Bible in film.

ARTISTIC LICENSE

What of the "artistic license" taken? Filmmakers had better take artistic license or they are not making films. Even if it's the Bible. Aronofsky uses "moral imagination" to the utmost. He is 95% faithful to the Bible in all that is essential, the heart of the story, and 5% is fanciful, but still informed by the text itself. For example, the most outrageous liberty taken is "The Watchers," giant stone creatures way-too-similar to Transformers who try to help blundering mankind. But these creatures are inspired by the enigmatic Genesis 6:5-6.

The editing is superb, superb, superb. The story never, ever lags. Nothing is drawn out, belabored and taxing as in most Bible and other epic films. Totally engrossing. I don't want to spoil here, so I won't, but Noah struggles with what God is asking of him, even in the clarity of it. Aronofsky imagines: what if Noah misunderstood a key piece of his mission--at first?

The nature of good and evil is dissected at length. Tubalcain represents how evil reasons, an alternative way to see oneself "in the image of God." Tubalcain believes that simply "taking" what one wants, harshly dominating the earth, and killing is what makes us like God. In contrast to Tubalcain, God's providence explicitly overarches Noah and his family's life. They trust in God, they wait on God. They imitate God's compassion and gentleness.

LOST IN THE SHUFFLE?

Probably my biggest criticism of this film is that God seems to get lost at the very end. It seemed to all shift to Noah (I didn't even see the rainbow that is there), and I don't remember any mention of the covenant. Noah seems to be the one in charge now: "I tell you go forth and multiply, etc." Perhaps, as throughout the rest of the movie, WE don't see or hear God, and so we are meant to understand that Noah is acting on God's word to him here. But it's REAL weak.

LECTIO DIVINA / CINEMA DIVINA

"Noah" shows how much is really up to us. We are to choose either darkness or light. We are to choose to love and obey God or not. There are real consequences, outcomes, repercussions and costs to our choices. Lectio divina,the centuries-old practice of prayerfully reading and contemplating a small portion of God's Word, alone or with others can also be transferred to the screen as "cinema divina." "Noah" is the ultimate example of "cinema divina" in my book.

OTHER STUFF:

--One of the many amazing features of "Noah" is that when Noah has to make his Abrahamic /Solomonic choice, it is NOT even solved "Deus ex machina" as it would have every right to in THIS movie if any! It is solved by a human choice. Then confirmed by God. Perfect.

--Sadly, it seems Catholics don't know their Bible well enough to critique this film. Other Christians only want word-for-word, super-simplistic, one-dimensional, literal portrayals. :(

--How desperately we need good men to lead.

--For those who are saying "Noah" is a "mockery" or doesn't mention God,  they either:
a) didn't see "Noah"
b) didn't see the "Noah" I did
c) had 3D glasses on (it's not 3D) and earplugs in during film

--I could go on and on about this film. After reading a few reviews, I knew it would be good, but I didn't know HOW good. I literally could write for days....

--It always makes me sad when Jews are atheists. It just seems so wrong. As the Christian Liturgy prays during Holy Week: the Jews, God's Chosen People, were "the first to hear the Word of God." But Jews have also always wrangled/wrestled/negotiated with God and His Word. Perhaps "Noah" is a new way of doing this. The "Via Negativa."   http://americamagazine.org/issue/suspicious-minds


--Russell Crowe is back (after some lackluster performances of late).

--Noah wanted to shield his kids from seeing evil and violence.

--Darren Aronofsky has rescued Noah from Fisher-Price arks & nursery murals! Yay!



--A note on vegetarianism. We are allowed to eat animals (after the Flood) (Genesis 9:3), but they must have a good life, be treated humanely and with integrity, and be dispatched the same way. I have tried twice to go veggie for health and ethical reasons, but (even though I really don't enjoy meat), it's not good for my health. I have a B12 defiency and my body needs just a little bit of animal protein several times a week. I am always aware when I eat meat that an animal gave its life for me, and it's not the same thing as eating a donut.

--@DecentFilms calls "Noah" a "rare gift"! Right on, righteous reviewer! Here's Steven D. Greydanus' 60 sec take: youtube.com/watch?v=9xJgpM

--Can an Atheist Make a Good Bible Movie? thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/?p=4

--Why Noah Is the Biblical Epic Christians Deserve http://variety.com/2014/film/news/noah-is-the-biblical-epic-that-christians-deserve-1201150333/

--The Ark featurette (see disclaimer at end about how filmmakers really want film to reflect Bible account, even WITH the "artistic license")  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InxsexEeIkc

--Colbert Report: Writer/Director of "Noah": Darren Aronofsky thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/77oyfl/

--Excellent Review from Toronto Star that made me want to see "Noah" (I agree that it's about free will, but not predestination): http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/movies/2014/03/27/noah_floods_the_screen_and_mind_review.html

--Noah fun facts: http://www.catholicregister.org/arts/movie-news/item/17824-noah-sparks-debate-over-one-of-the-world%E2%80%99s-oldest-and-most-beloved-stories

--Here's the great Noah debate on Relevant Radio: me, Jason Jones, Elizabeth Scalia, Brian Godawa. What I didn't get to finish saying is that it's not that God left everything completely up to Noah, but that God wants human beings cooperating with Him to carry out His plans (He COULD just do it all Himself), and it's not easy for those humans! I'm sure the patriarchs, prophets and saints struggled mightily to "get it right"! Also, it's not just Kabbalah--most likely--that Aronofsky drew from, but also Jewish rabbinical writings and stories.

"The notion that the human will, when united with the divine will, can play a part in Christ's work of redeeming all mankind is overpowering. The wonder of God's grace transforming worthless human actions into efficient means for spreading the kingdom of God here on earth astounds the mind and humbles it to the utmost, yet brings a peace and joy unknown to whose who have never experienced it, unexplainable to those who will not believe."
~Fr. Walter Ciszek, "He Leadeth Me," pg. 117 (Ignatius Press)


























March 23, 2014

MOVIES: "MUPPETS MOST WANTED"



The Muppets are at it again. The clever new caper takes us to a gulag in Siberia, Russia, and several other international cities, as "The Muppet Show" reunites for a world tour. But all is not as it seems. All is not well. Constantine--the World's Most Dangerous Frog--who looks exactly like Kermit, except with a dark mole above his lip and a thick Russian accent, has Kermit kidnapped so that he can take his place and steal England's crown jewels during the Muppets traveling show. Kermit winds up in Constantine's place at the gulag.

Ricky Gervais plays "Mr. Badguy" a conniving talent agent (in cahoots with Constantine) who makes the Muppets think they are selling out every venue (he's actually giving tickets away free) just so they can eventually wind up in London in a venue next to the Tower of London which houses the gems.

As always in a Muppets flick, there are cameos after cameos by all kinds of big name stars--too many to name, sometimes just appearing for a few seconds on screen. For example, when an usher is needed, Usher shows up. But the show stopper is Tina Fey as a tough Russian guard at the gulag who takes a shining to Kermit, and therefore never wants to let him go. Her accent and facial expressions are deliciously funny as she generously embraces the role and lets herself go. Russia seems to be Hollywood's  favorite go-to "evil nemesis" nation as evidenced by "Despicable Me" and other live action films.

Another hilarious pairing is Sam Eagle (playing a CIA agent) with a French Interpol agent "Jean" (Ty Burrell) whom Sam Eagle keeps calling "Sean."  Besides being in constant competition, the French agent is always taking exceedingly long lunches, ending his workday early and just always being terribly French. Russian and French accents never get old for laughs.

The delightful signature Muppet show tunes (almost vaudevillian) are spot on, starting with two introductory songs about making this sequel: "They've Ordered a Sequel" and "We're Doing a Sequel."

(Welcome to) "The Big House" (the gulag) is a fantastic true blue disco number, and "Working in the Coal Mine" (the actual R & B hit) is amusingly sung/danced by the gulag inmates. You gotta hand it to them: the Muppets really handle musicals well.

As the plot thickens, Constantine proposes to Miss Piggy (who thinks he's Kermit). Will the wedding  of the millennium finally take place?! If so, will the groom be Constantine or Kermit?!

As much fun as this movie is--especially all the gulag scenes--the repetitive Muppet formula of "How do we stay together as one big happy Muppet family forever?" feels hackneyed and predictable.

The poignant message of "Muppets Most Wanted" is a question that will naturally spring up in the mind of the audience: How could the Muppets not know that Constantine was NOT Kermit (despite the green makeup covering his mole and accounting for his strange accent by saying he had a cold)? Is Kermit so easily replaceable? Even Miss Piggy is fooled, although she feels that something is not right. Before Kermit knows that he has been replaced by Constantine he simply thinks his friends have forgotten about him.

Another message is that wolves can come in sugar daddy clothing. Mr. Badguy let the Muppets do whatever they wanted and promised them the moon, while Kermit was a realistic, loving disciplinarian.
Many of the jokes and messages are slow and spelled all the way out (obviously for the kids in the audience), but it isn't terribly distracting for adults.

OTHER STUFF:

--"Muppets Most Wanted" is truly PG. Nothing questionable or objectionable. And all in good taste.

--I smiled a lot. With stifled laughter every time "Jean" said "Meuppettes."

--Miss Piggy's outfits were amazing as always. I loved her Marlene Dietrich look for Berlin.

--It's always disconcerting to see Kermit's legs. He did some soft-shoe dancing, or rather soft-webbed-feet dancing.

--"It's not easy being mean." --Constantine

--Overall, a good time was had by all.





March 20, 2014

25 YEAR OLD ITALIAN NUN ON "THE VOICE"!


Click on "CC" at bottom of video for good translation of the dialogue she has with judges afterward.

When asked why she went on "The Voice" Sr. Cristina says that she has a gift that she is giving away: shouldn't it be like this? She adds that God doesn't take anything away from us, He only gives us more.

WOWZAAAAAAAAAA.






March 17, 2014

MOVIES: "GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL"



"Grand Budapest Hotel" is the latest quirky caper by director Wes Anderson ("Moonrise Kingdom," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "The Royal Tenenbaums"). Everything about GBH looked fun, fantastical, and perhaps even profound: It seemed to be about a pre-World War II, spit-and-polish, top-of-his-game, uber-devoted hotel concierge (a smashingly comedic Ralph Fiennes) from a made-up Eastern European country who is a  tribute to a more gracious bygone era that will never return. But, alas, GBH does not make this case.

With more stars than a red carpet on Oscars' night, GBH tells a story within a story amidst Anderson's signature highly-stylized sets that are toy-like and perfect without being meticulous (Anderson has too much of a sense of humor to take himself that seriously). The story of said concierge, "Monsieur Gustave," is recounted to a writer (Jude Law) by his faithful young protégé, now an old man, played by the why-don't-we-see-more-of-this-fine-thespian F. Murray Abraham.

The tone of the film is deadpan, tongue-in-cheek with quick banter, and chock-full with jokes and gags just for the sheer fun of it. Fiennes is often talking so fast, and with the varied accents and camera sometimes off the faces of the speaker, it's hard to catch all the good stuff. I'm flattered that the director thinks we're sharp cookies, but he really did need to make all of the jokes (spoken and otherwise) "catchable."

There is plenty of lewd humor, often flipped off furtively at the end of a scene, much like what would come from the mind of a sex-obsessed teenage boy-man. The fleeting nudity is all female. All. The pinnacle of which is a disturbing and rather grotesque Toulouse-Lautrec-ian painting of lesbian sex that gets quite a bit of screen time. Sex is all farce. But then, so is life. All the protocols and rules and codes that Monsieur Gustave clings to and insists upon and instills in his underlings are absurd in the end. (Many nihilistic statements are made to this effect.) But, it's all he has, so...carry on. And the Nazi-like army that takes over the Grand Budapest Hotel are just as efficiently absurd.

Wes Anderson's soft spot? He really does honor pure and true male-female love in his films--at the core of everything--and treats it with great tenderness. Oh, and poetry. Poetry is very worthwhile. People bust out in beautiful recitations, only to be cut short by some immediate, life-threatening exigency.

Monsieur Gustave is gay, but he seems to swing both ways, so much so that the lobby boy keeps warning him not to flirt with his girlfriend-then-wife. Gustave's good taste serves him well everywhere he goes, even in prison where we witness a delightful sequence of him going from cell to cell to serve prison slop as if it were caviar. He gains and commands respect with his "civilized" ways, attentiveness to hotel patrons and details, and his deploring of "barbarity," but a good prison scrap is not below him either, in order to protect himself.

Monsieur Gustave's job is spoken of as a "vocation," but in the end, whom is he "helping," but "rich, blonde, vain, insecure, needy old people," "like himself" (the movie even states as much).

I have to say that, as much as I wanted to and tried, I did not "enjoy" this movie. It wasn't tedious, it was just so incredibly unreal (think "The Perils of Pauline") that there was nothing, nothing to sink one's teeth into: much like the Dr. Seuss-like pastry confections served at the GBH.

I didn't feel so much like I wasted my money (artists are worth their due) on this film as my time (which is way more precious than money). I'm basically trying to erase it from my head because I keep racing around the story over and over in my mind, and I really can't find much of lasting value in it. Sadly. But maybe I'm treating a Keystone Cops comedy like a Tolstoy tale? Ugh. I guess I just always want a takeaway and there is none. Silly, frilly, frivolous froth.

I also didn't do my homework in the raunch department--I was in a massive hurry to review this film on time--or I would have skipped GBH all together. As I watch its various trailers on YouTube, some of the worst stuff is there (but I also watch never watch full screen, so I still might have missed stuff).

OTHER STUFF:

--I applaud the inclusion of the knitting nun and helpful monks. Anderson matter-of-factly weaves in religion as a part of everyday life as it was in those days.

--Cannot Ed Norton do an accent?

--Tony Revolori, who plays the lobby boy, is unflinchingly magnificent. Terrifyingly--for those of us born earlier in the 20th century--this kid was born in 1996.

--I actually expected the concierge-to-beat-all-concierges to be a bit more noble. Not so cavalier, foul-mouthed and fatalistic. But he truly knows and loves propriety, elegance, beauty and the "finer things in life."

--A bit of a screwball comedy, but the pace is moderate enough.

--The scattered violence is insensitive and gory.

--F. Murray Abraham's character declares that the grandeur of the old hotel was "too decadent for today's tastes." I beg to differ. Victorian sensibilities embraced a rich, humanistic ideal and design--starkly contrasted in the film with the 1968 uglification of squat vinyl chairs, barren wood paneling and bleak, unadorned spaces where everyone is silent and isolated (compared to the ebullient bustle and chatter of yesteryear). But perhaps the emptiness of the sham is just made manifest in latter years?

--The secret society of concierges made me wonder: What is MY tribe? Who has MY back? It's the 'vent! (as one of our postulants calls the convent). The worldwide Sisterhood.


March 16, 2014

TV: "PRETTY LITTLE LIARS"


I need to do a blog post SOON about everything that's RIGHT with "Pretty Little Liars" (I've watched every episode of the first three seasons.) BONUS: The girls are always cute, stylish, but never overexposed!


The show is on ABC Family Channel, but they air all kinds of non-family friendly stuff and always have. I would say this show might be OK for 13+.

March 3, 2014

MY REVIEW OF THE OSCARS -- 2014


Ellen's Epic Selfie That Temporarily Broke Twitter

So, why watch the Oscars? Do they matter? Is it just Hollywood patting itself on the back? The Oscars matter because the stories we all partake of matter. Stories are the very form Jesus used to teach us eternal truths. The Oscars (although judged by Hollywood peers from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) reveal which stories get privileged and are seen as most important and well executed in our media culture.

Films are one of our last shared cultural "carriers" because so few movies are made each year that get wide distribution (only a handful of movies are in the cinemas at any given time), and we have so many ways to view or "catch up" with our movie-watching today: cinemas, VOD, Netflix, Hulu, streaming, DVDs, "On Demand," movies on airplanes, even illegally uploaded movies on YouTube. Young and old all watch the same stories. People talk about stories when they get together: "Seen any good movies lately?"

The 86th Academy Awards (or Oscars) on March 2 were hosted by Ellen DeGeneres who brought humor and a homey, folksy feel to the proceedings. She conducted a good portion of the show from the audience by taking star-studded group "selfies" on her phone (posting them immediately to Twitter) and ordering in pizza for the nominees. The celebrities cooperated grandly, ad-libbing and really having fun--tuxedos, shimmering gowns and all.

The four most prestigious awards are always reserved for the end. These were scooped up by: Best Director, Alfonso Cuarón for "Gravity"; Best Actress, Cate Blanchett for "Blue Jasmine"; Best Actor, Matthew McConaughey for "Dallas Buyers Club"; Best Picture, "12 Years a Slave." In my estimation, these were excellent and diverse choices. "Gravity" was a heart-pounding, nail-biting feat of technical genius. "Blue Jasmine" was a lighthearted tragicomedy with a standout female performance. "Dallas Buyers Club" was a difficult story of a man dying of AIDS, and "Twelve Years a Slave" was another difficult-to-watch story of the triumph of the human spirit in the face of egregious injustice and cruelty.

The highlights of the evening were undoubtedly some truly wonderful and inspiring acceptance speeches. It's marvelous how many thank parents, wives, husbands and children first. This is also when the actors and filmmakers speak unscripted and we get to hear what they're thinking and see who they really are.

Jared Leto (Best Actor in a Supporting Role) set the tone for the evening with a serious speech thanking his mom and brother and mentioning Ukraine and Venezuela.

Lupita Nyong'o (Best Actress in a Supporting Role) won her Oscar for "12 Years a Slave," her very first film role! Her elegant speech was aimed at children, telling them that "no matter where you're from, your dreams are valid."

Darlene Love (Best Documentary) burst out full-throatedly in a famous Black Gospel hymn for her "speech" and got a standing ovation.

Cate Blanchett (Best Actress in a Leading Role) thanked her "glorious" three boys, "legendary" husband, "goddess" agent and "sublime" co-star while playfully dissing two other nominees. To the great joy of women everywhere, she added that her winning role in "Blue Jasmine" proves to "those of us in the industry still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center" are not "niche experiences." "Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people." Multi-winning "Gravity" was also practically a one-woman show, with Sandra Bullock.

Matthew McConaughey gave a protracted shout-out to God, and Steve McQueen (Best Picture) thanked his "hard-headed" mother twice, and reminded us that many humans are still enslaved today.

"Gravity" mopped up with a whopping seven Oscars (it deserved to win in all technical award categories--even though that meant Smaug got left out), but I would rather have seen the Best Original Score go to "Philomena" or "Her," notwithstanding the gem of a brief speech by first-time Oscar winner, Stephen Price, who thanked his parents for putting up with all the noise he made growing up.  ("Gravity's" music was run-of-the-mill, overwrought, and mawkish.) The best live performance of the night was Pink's fresh rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in her contemporary, husky, easy-on-the-ears voice.

Three films that were completely shutout (although nominated in multiple categories) were "American Hustle" (fun, but not even Oscar material, IMHO), "Philomena" and "The Wolf of Wall Street."