January 15, 2018

MOVIES: THE GLASS CASTLE




 "The Glass Castle" is a unique film about a real family, focusing on a love-hate father-daughter relationship. The film is based on a book written by the daughter, the daughter who was closest to her Dad and believed in him the most. He kept promising to build the family a fantastical house made of glass (and never stopped tweaking the floor plans) that never materialized.

 A nonconformist, fiercely independent, contrarian alcoholic father and his free-spirited artist-wife drag their 5 children across the USA in the 1960's, moving every few months--on the lam from the law. Dad picks fights, breaks laws and squats in what looks like condemned housing. HIs saving grace is that he's a charmer, a raconteur, quite brilliant when it comes to engineering, and  in a strange way loves his kids--even though he doesn't do right by them. His daughter says of him later that he could also be "cruel," a fact we certainly witness--mostly in his drunken stupors, but also in his wanting to keep his grown children at home and not let them break out on their own.

The dad, Rex, is played by Woody Harrelson in what I'm calling the best role of his career. If you don't think Woody is much of an actor, you will change your mind. The adult daughter role is played by the wonderful Brie Larson who, amazingly, dials in the performance. She is a stoic mannequin for the most part. Why oh why? Maybe there's a directorial reason? Maybe this is the real daughter's personality? Maybe she's portraying a tough, shut-down personality? But just keep your eyes on Woody, he'll steal every scene. Naomi Watts--looking preternaturally youthful--plays hippie Mom with a frustrating irresponsibility that makes us want to slap her.

For most of the film, we get to watch brilliant child actors. Jeannette, the daughter through whose eyes we live  the story has a gift for writing. This gift will eventually catapult her to fame and fortune in New York City, covering fashion for New York Magazine, a Cinderella rags to riches story. But as she tries to escape her embarrassing past, her aging parents pull at her heartstrings. She is also bound to her father by their similarities: a dogged persistence and ability to survive.

For anyone who has struggled in this way with a parental relationship--eternally grateful to them, but finding it hard to forgive past and present hurts and inconsistencies that never seem to resolve themselves; parents who may even promise to change but never do--you will find much to bawl about in this well-crafted film full of symbolism and passion and unfairness and grit and the joy of living. HOWEVER: THIS IS NOT A HALLMARK STORY. I REPEAT, NOT A HALLMARK STORY. IT'S A FILM FILM.

The first people in life we have to forgive (and thank) are our imperfect parents who, like us, never stop wrestling with their demons.

OTHER STUFF:

--Watch the credits. You'll get to see the real family. Rex reminded me somehow of Woody Guthrie. And a Woody plays him.


January 14, 2018

CREATION, BIBLE, CHURCH


"Three in One"

Sr. Nancy and I attended the Hollywood Short Film Festival last night (in Hollywood) to accept an award for a short film by one of our Polish Society of St. Paul Brothers! would be proud! The film is very Theology of the Body, happening to illustrate the chart below.





January 11, 2018

SR. HELENA' S "DIGITAL CATHOLICS" DVD (AS SEEN ON EWTN)

You can get my "Digital Catholics" mini-series on DVD! (As seen on EWTN.)
(Five 30 min segments) $25

1. Catholic Church & Media
2. Parenting /Teaching Media
3. Theology of Body & Media (Porn & Sexting)
4. R U a Digital Catholic? (Using Media Well)
5. The Future of Media: Where Are We Going?

SEE QUESTIONS BELOW FOR EACH SECTION:

1. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH & THE MEDIA
--What did you used to think about what the Church might teach on media?
--What have you heard today that was surprising? How will it change you?
--Do you already do Media Literacy with yourself, family, friends, colleagues, students? How?
--Do you teach critical thinking skills with regard to media? How?
--Which media skills are you strongest/weakest at? QUESTION / EVALUATE / CHOOSE / ENGAGE
--How can you be a more “active, listening presence in the world created by a media culture”? In the world of your family, friends, colleagues, students?
--How do you fact-check the news?
--What are your go-to sources of Catholic news? Why those sources? (Sr. Helena's go-to sources: www.tinyurl.com/BestCatholicNewsSources)


2. PARENTING / TEACHING THE MEDIA
--How do you or can you help yourself and young people develop media skills (beyond technical skills)?
--What are 3 personal/family/classroom media guidelines you might want to institute?
--What do you find hardest about communicating with young people about media / media use? How can the situation be improved?
--What has been your experience with young people and media filters?
--What are some ways to help young people synthesize Gospel & Culture, Church & World, Faith & Reason together in everyday life?
--Describe your attitude toward media (and what you might want to change about that).
--How can you incorporate praying about media (more) into your life?
--How do you put using or creating media/art together with your Catholic faith life?
--Where do you seek and where do you find God in media?


3. THEOLOGY OF THE BODY & MEDIA (PORN & SEXTING)

--What do you know/have you heard about Theology of the Body? Are you intrigued to learn more? Discuss.
--Were you aware that porn is a serious addiction? Discuss.
--Have you known porn addicts & the toll it has taken on their lives/families? Discuss.
--What are your ideas for dealing with the porn epidemic? How can we better “porn-proof” kids and teens?
--Have you always understood that we ARE our bodies and don’t HAVE bodies? Explain.
--Porn must be dealt with on the PHYSICAL / SPIRITUAL / HUMAN level. How can we deal with it better on the HUMAN level?


4. R U a DIGITAL CATHOLIC? (USING MEDIA WELL)
--How can we change some ways we use social media to use it BETTER?
--What are 3 problems / 3 solutions for the world of digital media?
--How can we be more like Christ online?
--How can we be better digital Catholics?
--What resources do you use to grow in faith online? How do you evangelize / do the spiritual works of mercy online?


5. USING MEDIA HUMANLY (THE FUTURE OF MEDIA: WHERE ARE WE GOING?)
--What kind of world do you want to live—with regard to the use of media devices? Describe. Do you like where the world seems to be headed in regard to digital media? Discuss.

--If we continue to use digital media constantly and/or obsessively, how will human life, family life, society change?
--Are you happy with the way you / family / friends / colleagues / young people use media? Why? Why not? What example can you set?
--What is your personal plan for your media / social media / media device use?
--What conversations do you need to have with family /friends/ youth about social media? When/how will you have these conversations?
--Where is God (specifically) in your digital life? Where does He need to be?






January 8, 2018

MOVIES: "DETROIT"


"Detroit" is one of the best films I've seen in quite a while. I was truly moved. It's a grow-up film for grown-ups, of which we have a great paucity these days. (Foul language, "mature themes," our favorite seasoned actors regurgitating ossified Hollywood ideologies [wink, wink] does not a grown-up film make. In fact, it's the perfect recipe for an immature film.) The name of the game with "Detroit" is nuance, nuance, nuance.

Everything about this film is Oscar worthy. The acting, writing and cinematography are over the moon. Director Kathryn Bigelow ("Zero Dark Thirty," "Hurt Locker") is a genius here. I have not heard much Oscar buzz or much buzz at all about "Detroit." This is a shame and I wonder if it isn't because the film is basically a bunch of unknowns. I, for one, don't go to the theater to see my favorite actors (and I thought there was a trend to that day being over!)--I go to see good acting and a good story well executed. Detroit is all of these and more.

NUANCE, NUANCE, NUANCE

Set in 1967 during the Detroit riots, we are plunged intimately into the lives of a loose collection of fated young people: several young black men, two young white women, and a host of law enforcement: city police, state police and national guard. Before you think this might be a simplistic #BlackLivesMatter propaganda piece, it is not. The lines are not clearly drawn between white-bad/black-good, and it's not police-bad, either. This is about each individual in the drama choosing their "side," choosing their attitudes and actions. There are devilish cops and compassionate cops and cops with a conscience. There are black looters and black peacekeepers and black heroes. As with all gatherings of human beings, it's a mixed bag in "Detroit."

The film opens with a trigger-happy young white cop who is not just banally racist, he's also something of a psychopath. We get the sense that he really has no regard for human life whatsoever, especially that of black people. Somehow, in his estimation, their lives just aren't worth that much. Adding to the already volatile situation in Detroit (and other major U.S. cities) is the fact that some Vietnam vets have gone into law enforcement with a kind of full-combat mentality.

YOUNG MOTOWNERS WITH ONE FOOT IN THEIR GRAVE

A Motown singing group of talented young black men hoping to get a record deal find themselves at a motel after a show. They pick up two young white women and some more young black men join the party. Foolishly deciding to mess with the jumpy lawmen outside, one of the men shoots a toy (starter) pistol out the window in their direction. (Detroit was already rife with real snipers aiming at police.) The night then becomes a torturous nightmare as Officer "Trigger" comes to the motel to investigate.

Officer Trigger holds sway over his two fellow cops (both as young as he is), and the older law enforcement coming in contact with the unorthodox situation commit the grave sin of omission and not wanting to "get involved."

One young black man is the real hero in my book. He makes an incredibly courageous decision and action. It's almost glossed over in the film--but it haunts. See if you know what I'm talking about.

There's a real 60's feel, with many general elements of the day feeding into our specific story: Is nonviolence the way for Black America?; America was at war without (Vietnam) and within (Civil Rights); the times they were a-changin' with the Sexual Revolution and young people breaking down color lines and so many traditions of the past; young Americans wanted to figure out life for themselves, to experience everything, to get rid of social stratification, to get to know their peers--regardless of their backgrounds.

NAILBITER

"Riveting" truly fits this story. It's almost like an action film. The cinematography never leaves the thick of things and we are constantly seeing what each characters sees. We are inside the house, hands against the wall, being interrogated. But we are also the young cops whose bullying went too far--now what do they do? This is an edge-of-the-seat experience. What will happen? Is someone going to get killed? What must one do to stay alive? We are in agony over these fine young men--full of hopes and dreams--whom we were just getting to know and love. (Incidentally, one minute of "Detroit" is far, far more nerve-wracking and tense than thirty minutes of "Dunkirk.")

The film also gives us a lengthy aftermath of the horrifying incident. This would have been a rare move for more formulaic filmmakers, but it's a brilliant, needed and effective part of the full story.

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE

For white people who have no idea what it feels like to be a black man (young or otherwise) in a tense situation with a white racist in a position of power (or to be a woman or anyone else in a situation where you are powerless against an aggressor)...you will.

If you're wondering--yes, this is based on a true story.

"Detroit" is not a feel good film. And yet, it's not a feel bad film, either. I was left with a sense of hope, even though, as comedian and activist Dick Gregory said before his recent death: After all we've accomplished, we're still dealing with the same problems.

We need accountability, to keep communicating, keep dialoguing, keep solving problems, keep trying to change minds and hearts, keep reaching out, and keep telling stories like "Detroit."

OTHER STUFF:

--It's often hard to tell the actual historical footage from present day footage.

--There's a very interesting character of an upstanding young black man, Dismukes (John Boyega), who's a security guard and a witness to the evening's events. He's heartbreakingly naive in his thinking that keeping rules and keeping your head down will keep you alive, that honesty will win the day, that the system in 1967 will work for black people and there will be justice in the end. This actor's face (frequently played on by the camera) is like a silent Greek chorus, telling us the whole story. Magnificent.

--This is a film about men, power, rule of law.





January 7, 2018

MOVIES: "DUNKIRK"



The almost unbelievable story of the massive evacuation of cornered Allied troops on the beaches of France toward the beginning of World War II was begging to be told. Almost half a million men were trapped against the shores of the English Channel--being bombarded from above--and, astoundingly, civilians--in every kind of sea-faring vessel imaginable--played an important  role in rescuing them. 

Unfortunately, Chris Nolan's "Dunkirk" doesn't really do the saga justice. The camerawork is jerky and uneven (and I don't mean "heat of the battle" jerky), the soundtrack is grating and conspicuous, the acting is mezza-mezza, the editing is abominable, and worst of all, the pacing is so dreadful that the tension and danger is constantly broken every few minutes. In the beginning of the film, strange and confusing subtitles appear and then they stop--also creating fragmentation. So many scenes are so lengthy that I found myself bored--even in the midst of unexpected life-or-death dogfights in the air. I never once forgot that I was watching a movie. A movie that was not well made.

Nowhere in the film did my heart pound and leap into my throat as it should have. The reality of the gore of war is whitewashed, and all the horror winds up looking like some commonplace, ho-hum historical re-enactment with a few perfunctory informational lines of dialogue, trying to dredge up a sentiment or two in us. Nothing ever felt actually desperate to me. Nothing connected with my head or heart beyond a few facts about the event that I was unaware of. The narrative was easy enough to follow, but dull, if that's possible. Was it unfair of me to be comparing "Dunkirk" with "Saving Private Ryan" the entire time? It just didn't hold a candle. "Saving Private Ryan" should have upped the ante for war filmmaking for all time. Although nothing can capture the true misery and hell of war, "Hacksaw Ridge" is another fine example of recent war filmmaking. But I suppose for audiences to learn a little something about this battle/non-battle/"miracle" (Churchill), it wouldn't hurt to take a look at Nolan's work.

Many, many times I lost my ability to concentrate on the actors, the action, the story-line, the dialogue. Our main character is the most unconvincing of all. For some unfathomable reason, he casually smirks through the entire film. Conversely, Harry Styles, in his silver screen acting debut, has potential. 

May I suggest a highly-readable, firsthand, anecdotal account of this uncanny episode in The Good War? The name of the book is "The Sands of Dunkirk." The one line I remember from the book is that--fully expecting to be slaughtered or captured by the Nazi-barbarians--the retreating Allied forces had been commanded to free any pet birds from their cages that they might find in the abandoned houses along the way to the sea. Mercy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunkirk_evacuation

January 2, 2018