March 3, 2017

TORONTO--LENTEN DAY OF REFLECTION--MARCH 25, 2017


This event is for men and women.

For young women discerning the Sisterhood, there will be a combined vocation discernment component to the day. If you are interested also in the vocation segment, please RSVP to: srhelenaburns@gmail.com

March 2, 2017

MICRO MOVIE REVIEWS

New feature of mah blog. Tiny reviews.






















COP CAR -- Kevin Bacon (the sheriff) and two pre-teen boys who steal his car.
Great fun. I thought the cop would find the kids right away, but he doesn't.
Delightful tween dudes. Funny, but not really a comedy. So much suspense just waiting for the FIRST shoe to drop. Kind of a modern day "The Ransom of Red Chief." Kind of.
There is NO back story.
There is NO exposition.
We cut in so deep we have no idea who these people really are or what their intentions really are and it totally works without being postmodern or "just the middle of the story" or "just an Act 2."
Brilliant filmmaking.
Kevin Bacon and the boys are a revelation.
6 stars out of a possible 5.

GET OUT -- Race relations in the U.S. are complicated. This psychological suspense thriller is a woke, meta, savvy commentary on how crazy (northern?) white people (not ALL white people are crazy, of course) simultaneously despise, fear and envy black people. With an hilarious, unlikely hero: a TSA agent.
5 stars out of a possible 5.

UNDER SUSPICION -- (Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Monica Bellucci) While pretending to be shocked and outraged by the rape and murder of young girls, this film is a chic, well-acted and sophisticated defense of adult men's interest in underage girls. Pathetic. If Hollywood is the playground for pedophiles that it's rumored to be, this film is evidence.

SLEEPLESS --  (Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan) Well acted and well filmed with all the state-of-the-art everything (only sore thumb is the repeated use of "dirty cop"), this tense and plot-twisty action flick of big-time crime alongside intimate family drama is just more of the over-the-top graphic and sadistic treatment of the human person that is par for "entertainment" today. Even 10 to 20 years ago, these multiple scenes of creative torture would have been reserved for one small debased scene in a Scorcese film. I can't imagine what a steady fare of this evil is doing to the children of today who are allowed to watch R rated films, let alone the adults.
Oh, and skinny, hi-heeled women in mano a mano fighting with huge male bodyguards? ONLY in the movies.
5 stars for unrealistic: human bodies are not made of rubber. One does not walk away and continue fighting and shooting after crashing through a plate glass window. One does not miss a human target after 5 minutes of shooting an automatic weapon. "Sleepless" is obscene (ditto for "The Equalizer," even though both of these main characters are unequivocal "good guys," doing what they do to protect the innocent....). Of course, this gore-pain-torture-as-entertainment is pretty ubiquitous these days. :(



BOSS BABY -- Hilarious. Reminiscent of "Storks," only way funnier. I laughed uncontrollably at the projectile vomit scene, followed by the toilet head scene. But then again, I have the sense of humor of an 8-year-old boy. Alec Baldwin was the perfect choice for the fast-talking, all-business baby. The premise: PEOPLE LOVE PUPPIES MORE THAN BABIES NOW, AND THIS BABY IS ON A MISSION TO FIND OUT WHY. Can you say "pro-life"???? However, strange origin of this baby. He's been manufactured at "Baby Corp." (The puppies come from "Puppy Co.") Or is it so strange?

Some interesting theological overtones: sarcastic-y references to "the Baby Jesus," a TRIANGLE is superimposed on Mom, Dad and kid ("3 is the perfect number"), a take-off on WWJDO, "I've come for your soul!" (riffing on a horror film), baby says: "God, I hate that." In the end, this is about LOVE, specifically family love, even more specifically SIBLING LOVE. What starts out as sibling rivalry turns into: "I want nothing more than a baby brother." A+++. The baby's facial expressions are riotous.

THE OUTSIDERS -- (1983) This novel-turned-movie about teen boys, written by a teen girl is unusual and eclectic in so many ways. It's set in the 1950's (remember, the 1970's was coming off a 1950's revival) and is reminiscent of "The Warriors," or "West Side Story": highly "produced," old-timey Hollywood. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola! Lyrics written and sung by Stevie Wonder! Starring the biggest brat pack ever: Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Leif Garrett, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Diane Lane, Sophia Coppola (little girl) and strange cameos by Tom Waits, Flea and Cam Neely!
The soundtrack is lots of Elvis, lots of rockabilly, lots of twangy surf rock. The story line is pretty simple: Greasers (poor boys) vs. Socs (rich boys). But what's so surprising is that these young men can cry, hug each other, talk about their feelings, express a full range of human emotions. The boys are a mixture of ages and have each other's backs. The feel is more like something from the Depression era--where everyone is "looking for the silver lining" (only this time it's gold). It's beyond pollyanna, and comparing it to today's increasingly rough fare, graphic gore, torture-as-entertainment--the contrast is...virtually unbelievable. Did we really watch such sweet stories not so long ago?
It seems the only reason this was made into a movie was because some librarian and her class in Fresno, California suggested it. (See panel before closing credits.)

ST. VINCENT -- (Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy) This is a heartwarmer if ever there was one. (Incidentally, 2 Chicago Irish Catholics in the lead roles.)
What I like about it:
--Follows Italian filmmaking trope of a grown man and a young boy learning to be men together.
--The Catholic stuff is cutesy and positive. In a modern sort of way.
--The little boy is very mature, takes the big view on everything, and doesn't seem terribly effected by the gargantuan downers in his life. This is very unrealistic, but wouldn't it be nice?
What I don't like about it:
--Prostitution looks...adorbs. (Naomi Watts as a perky Russian prostitute. Yup. You read that right.)
--And, OF COURSE, if your wife has dementia in a nursing home, you need to frequent prostitutes, right?
--Mom leaves kid with grouchy old total stranger?
--Mom sits happily next to ex at elementary school to watch son in assembly (after bitter custody battle)?
--Some things are so sweet as to be unrealistic. Or, rather, very, very optimistic. Which actually might not be a bad thing, especially in today's filmmaking which is often so negative, dark and hopeless (under the guise of "realism"). Film stories can show us POSSIBILITIES. Especially in ATTITUDES we can choose to adopt in life.

SLEEPING GIANT -- This intimate indie Canadian teenage male coming-of-age story is named for the imposing reposing island in Lake Superior off the coast of Thunder Bay, Ontario (finally--Canada exploiting her amazing landmarks in film!). It involves a Dad who knows how to coax (and allow) his son and his friends into manhood during a nature-soaked summer. What's Canadian about it? The accents, "chirping," "eh," and the more simple lifestyle, and way of being. No cellphones. No braces. The minimalistic music is tribal and perfect. The transitions are exquisite. Adam, the main character, finds out this beloved Dad is having an affair. The boys engage in some drugs, drinking and sex talk. Similarities to "A Separate Peace" and "The Kings of Summer," but better in some ways. Nature itself plays a big role, which is also typically Canadian. (Not for the kiddos. Too many bad examples: grandma lets 15yo grandson smoke, graphic sex talk--also in mixed company (once), adultery, teens smoking pot with older guy, dangerous stunts....

SNATCHED -- (Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack) Amy the Exhibitionist keeps the raunch-talk to a minimum, but just can't stop herself exposing a breast. Goldie is her amazing queen-of-light-comedy-self, but tones down her super-ditz-self in order that Amy can shine, I'm sure. Amy is genuinely funny when she's G- or PG-13-rated. The storyline is a hoot (a mother-daughter getaway in Colombia goes sour when they're kidnapped) and well-executed. This is old-fashioned comedy: chase/adventure/caper stuff with interesting new situations. There are no agendas or feminist overtones (except for the "you can't degrade me because my self-degradation is worse than anything you can do to me" type feminism). The mother-daughter relationship is actually very tender and so true to life. I don't think we've seen this before. (People are always asking: Where are the women "buddy movies"? This is one--if you can get past several vulgarities.) I've watched some of Amy's standup online. It's unbelievably debased and inhumane. Sadly, the women comedians are so much worse than the men today and are messaging that women really don't care about their dignity, so men shouldn't either.

LIMITLESS -- (Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro) Would you take a drug that would let you use ALL of your brain, so you could get incredible amounts of work done, have a 4-digit I.Q. and, of course, become very, very rich? What if you weren't sure of its long-term side effects? This is an exciting and very watchable thriller, but too much sadism, unblinking gore, Machiavellianism, torture-as-entertainment (see "obscene" above), and winds up being an argument for mind-enhancing drugs, and maybe all enhancing drugs (don't forget to include energy drinks here, either). The movie was made in 2011, but it would have been incredibly responsible to make a film like this today with the resurgence of recreational drugs like heroin, and the current epidemic of opiod abuse and fatalities. "Limitless" has an eponymous spin-off.

CRIMINAL -- (Kevin Kostner, Gal Gadot, Gary Oldman, Ryan Reynolds) A CIA operative dies with crucial information in his brain (Reynolds). A criminal psycho (Kostner) with an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex has the operative's brain "downloaded" into his, in order to recover the information. Along the way the psycho becomes a bit civilized and falls in love with the CIA operative's wife (Gadot). This is an old-school "spies that save the world" plot with hi-tech filmmaking. Kostner and Gadot are just such warm and likeable actors. The body count is high, but this movie is good-hearted, not mean-spirited. I do recommend. Good to see Kostner again, and he's great in this unusual role. But then again, I've always liked Kostner. And yes, I loved "Water World." Deal with it.

CRIMSON PEAK -- (Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam) Super atmospheric. Victorian creepy (the best kind of creepy!). Lush sets. Stunning FX. Lavish, flowy costumes. A bit too much violence and head-on brutality. Jessica Chastain's best role ever (who knew she was such a great villainess?). Mia (Aussie) employs her opaque "musing on my role as I go" almost-method-acting style of acting. Hiddleston's eyes are riveting. Hunnam (the Brit with the American vibe!) is solid, but looks like he's ready to laugh at any moment (not taking the role serious enough or something: a bit tongue-in-cheek). Now I know what's so great about Guillermo Del Toro. You simply cannot look away for a second (except for the gore). Total eye candy. The attention to detail is intense. Stay for the credits (finishes the story off). This needs a spin-off TV series. "Ghosts are real, this I know."






MOVIES: THE SHACK



Should you see the film? Yes.

Now for my review. Wow. Where do I begin? "The Shack," the book, is a New York Times bestseller, first published in 2007. It was written by Canadian William P. Young, who experienced healing in his own life, and as a Christian, needed to wrestle with the perennial "problem of evil" question. That's what the whole film is about: one long Job-style interrogation of God. Now. I highly recommend you read the book first. If you will not, try to read the book after. I eagerly anticipated this film because I loved the book so much, but as I watched the film--reasonably well-done as it is--I began to wonder if this book should ever have been made into a film. A book is mysterious and haunting (as we use our own imagination), but a film is "on the nose," spelled out, flat,  and one-dimensional in comparison. This book in particular is mysterious and haunting as it deals with the Trinity and suffering!

SOUND THEOLOGY

First, the theology. I am hearing accusations of "The Shack" being New Age. No. This is thoroughly Christian and Trinitarian (which, of course, is redundant). The book and film boldly take on depicting the Trinity and somehow it works. This is not a literal: Here's exactly what God "looks like" (the First and Third Person of the Trinity did not become incarnate). It's rather a: what if I got to have a long conversation with God, face to face, about how I don't like how He "set things up" (forgetting that we keep rejecting His original plan of how He set things up), how the world is, how my life is? What if I got to go to the Source to ask why? Certainly, we can do that in prayer. Certainly, we can read the Bible (it's all in there, germinally, at least). "The Shack" is quite a feat, really. Although lots of answers are creatively given for the problem of evil, we don't get trite, cliché answers. And it's not cerebral. The answers all come about relationally. There are no answers outside of relationship. In fact, there exists nothing in God's Creation outside of relationship. God Himself is pure relationship.

HELL BURNS

Without giving too much away, I will tell you that Mack, the troubled husband and father of three, is summoned by "Papa" (God the Father) to meet Him and Jesus and the Holy Spirit in a shack in the woods. Sound corny? It really isn't. Especially if you read the book first. Actually, if you read the book first, anything potentially corny or even offensive will have its edge taken off. So much of the filmic "Shack" is pretty much exactly as I pictured it. But the visuals really aren't that important. It's the heart. It's the essentials that the visuals should never distract us from (and here I'm not denigrating corporeality at all, only saying that "The Shack" deals primarily with the spiritual matters that explain and manifest themselves in and through the physical). If we don't understand spiritual matters, how will we ever understand physical matters?

"IF WE LOOK FOR THE BAD...
WE WILL SURELY FIND IT." --ABRAHAM LINCOLN

If you come at "The Shack" assuming it fits into orthodox Judaeo-Catholic-Christian theology, I think you will find that it fits. If you come at it with suspicion, ready to attack, to nitpick, you could probably twist almost anything from the film into cannon fodder. My one (big) reservation is about hell. There is no mention of hell, only of love and forgiveness. God does say that "no one gets away with anything," and that His will is salvific (as it certainly is!), but hell exists, and there is the possibility that any one of us will choose it. (God doesn't send anyone to hell. Heaven is a gift and a gift can be refused.) This might simply be a glaring omission of the film, but a strange one since the film deals with the problem of evil, punishment, redemption, forgiveness and the afterlife. One of the explanations in the film for the evil people do is: they are just a product of their environment (Jean Jacques Rousseau!). Father beats son because he was beaten by his father, all the way back to Adam. Where is personal responsibility? However, the film suggests that personal responsibility involves forgiving those who have hurt you (Jesus' mandate and the words of the "Our Father.") "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay" (Deuteronomy 32:35/Romans 12:19).

Hell is even more on my mind at the moment since Jesus is preachin' about it in today's readings as I write this review: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/022317.cfm

OUR NEED FOR MERCY

At one point, a separate Wisdom figure (a woman) demands that Mack judge God and judge the world because he seems to be so good at that. She helps him see the logic of and need for mercy.

GOD IS A WOMAN?

The Trinity was well cast. Yikes. I know this all sounds so blasphemous and sacrilegious, but it is not. There is nothing glib about "The Shack," and it's coming from a very good place. I've spoken to faithful, orthodox Catholics who have endured terrible losses who found the book very helpful. God the Father is played by Octavia Spencer (there were rumours that Oprah would be in the part, and she would have done a great job, but Oprah always portrays such strength. Octavia exudes the warmth and gentility needed for the role.) Why is "Papa" shown (initially) as a woman (but still called "Papa")? Because Mack  had a drunken, abusive father who beat him and his mother. "Papa" tells Mack: "I didn't think you could handle seeing a father just now." It's not a statement that God is not Father, or has not revealed Himself to us as the "masculine principle" of Father and Son, or that He is some kind of androgynous, amorphous Being. Mini-spoiler: Eventually, He will appear to Mack as Father (Graham Greene!) at a stage of Mack's healing where God says: "for this next part, you will need a father."

God in His divinity “transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman, He is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood...: no one is Father as God is Father." --CCC #239

I kneel before the Father,
from whom every family in heaven
and on earth derives its name.
                                   Ephesians 3:14-15

Jesus is a Jewish carpenter (played by Israeli Avraham Aviv Alush). The Holy Spirit is an Oriental woman (Japanese actress Sumire Matsubara). Again, this is not a statement that the Holy Spirit is female. If I recall, in the book, she is shimmery and constantly appearing and disappearing--not so in the film. The three actors do marvels with these larger-than-life (what else could we call them?) thespian tasks.

THEODICY

Rather than try to dialogue with every bit of this jam-packed yet not over-stuffed exploration of the problem of suffering and evil coinciding with a good God, I would just like to applaud and second its explanations. My one criticism might be that it feels a little mild, a little tame. Where is the passion? Where is the rage? Sam Worthington (whom I really enjoy as an actor) is terribly miscast (and he's the main character). He doesn't seem to know what to do with the part. He is not believable, and he adopts a strange, husky, whispery tone for most of the film. He has a non-typical Australian accent that almost sounds like a speech impediment (I'm not being mean or facetious here). His pronunciation of words sounds almost like a thick Welsh accent--lots of "th" sounds where there are none in English--so between the low, mumbling tones and the accent, it's often very difficult to catch his words, and it makes him unrelatable. He doesn't seem like your average Joe. He doesn't seem like he has suffered (like Casey Affleck in "Manchester By The Sea"!) He seems like a deer-in-the-headlights actor who is making us work hard to understand what he's saying.

Like Jacob, we are called to wrestle with God. But there must come a time when we move on, marked by the struggle. As the saying goes: suffering can make us bitter or better.

PRODUCTION VALUES

The film has the look and feel of a Hallmark film. The soundtrack is as vanilla, beige and generic as you can get. It really, really, really could have benefited from a sparse modern soundtrack rather than the full-blown, sappy treatment at all moments. It would have given it a whole different feel that would have been more appealing to a younger crowd and given it some gravitas. (Full disclosure: I also loved the young boy God figure in Ridley Scott's "Exodus." I think I go for gritty when it comes to God in cinema. This does not mean that I personally want to suffer.  I know God is reading this review, so I just wanted to state that for the record.)

The Southern twangy voiceover at the beginning, coupled with the tired, recycled Muzak soundtrack sets the tone as "Southern Christian Movie." I have spoken of this flaw repeatedly in my reviews of "Christian" films. And I deeply respect Southern Christian culture! I have been a recipient of its goodness! Nevertheless. Dear Southern Christian filmmakers: If you want to appeal to a wider audience--even though the film may actually be set in the South--there must be more to Southern culture than a lulling, milquetoast approach to God.

Also, advice for ALL movies: We needn't see the "old world" in Act One as perfectly shiny, giddy and blissful. It can be happy, but nuanced. There will still be a healthy contrast when the bomb drops.

STRIKING A CHORD AND HITTING A NERVE

Reports are that people are weeping in cinemas. Tears of healing. I'm so glad that the film has managed to connect, especially with a new audience or an audience that never will read the book. I felt that the book preserved and honored the horror of the tragedy better than the film, but perhaps that's just my perspective. Perhaps today in our literal, visual society, people DO need things spelled out for them, perhaps they need to SEE a little something in order to believe--and that's OK, too. May this film do much good to people who need family/relationship/tragedy healing to get over their frozen anger at God and others, and gain a better understanding of reality.

OTHER STUFF:

--Theology of the Body? Right on, as far as masculinity-fatherhood, femininity-motherhood goes. Really shows how the father-relationship, the father-wound either orders or disorders individual, family and societal lives.


























--However, the wife is near-perfect. She is perfectly supportive and hardly has an emotion of her own. Some of the reactions and dialogue are not realistic, under these or any circumstances. People just don't talk like that. And I'm not even referring to the Godtalk. In screenwriting, there's something called "the writer's objective" (what the writer is trying to say/get across--and this must be absolutely invisible). "The character's objective" is what the character is trying to say/get across--which should be the only thing we hear. We hear the writer's objective all over "The Shack." It shows the screenwriter's lack of patience and/or craft in burying the need to give the audience information and move the story ahead deep inside the character's objective.

--Bizarre Indian princess story at the beginning, almost intimating a bizarre and necessary sacrifice. Can't remember if that was in the book. I sure hope not.

--Possible film heresy: The Holy Spirit is not Jesus' soul/spirit. Jesus has/is His own human soul.

--Some REALLY great lines and nuggets and quotes. The Holy Spirit brilliantly (of course!) condemns moral relativism and being our own arbiters or right and wrong (what the tree of knowledge of good and evil is really about).

--I like Graham Greene (Canadian!) better than Morgan Freeman as God. :)

--Read the fascinating story of how "The Shack" came to be: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shack. This Wikipedia entry also includes Protestant objections to its theology, including an accusation of "modalism." Read about William P. Young: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_P._Young.
Beautiful "Shack" website: www.theshackbook.com