December 30, 2018

MOVIES: "MARY POPPINS RETURNS"




The new "Mary Poppins Returns" is a soaring success, a rousing romp and a tremendous triumph! If I thought I wouldn't get trounced, I might even say I like it as well or better than the original (I feel the urge to duck right now). Emily Blunt (who sings and dances splendorifically) is practically perfect in every way for the role of the world's favorite nanny--a role which she nails and owns while captivating and commanding the screen. From her mysterious, shaded British eyes that exude both steely resolve and an impish glow, to her affected and snooty accent, Blunt's every turn of the head, every under-her-breath witticism hits the mark with precision.

BLOWN IN

The setting is exactly as the title says: "a return." The children in the first Mary Poppins film, Michael and Jane, are all grown up. Michael is a widower with three young children who are growing up before their time. They are responsible and capable, but also sad and cynical. Michael is a bit of a scatterbrain and terrible with finances. His patience has worn completely thin and he's at his wit's end, about to lose the storied (pun intended) family home. Enter Mary Poppins, dressed in her old-world, eccentric, spit-spot attire. (It's a kite that brings her back to the Banks' family.)

In no time, Mary revives the children's joie de vivre, has them believing in magic (although MP firmly denies her magical powers as "absurd" and "rubbish") and agog at the world around them. The kids set out to save the house with schemes they've concocted themselves, under the watchful eye of Miss P.

BLOWN AWAY

Lin-Manuel Miranda (the lead in Broadway's "Hamilton") is OUTSTANDING as Jack the lamplighter. A big dance number with Jack and the other lamplighters (including a kind of lamplighter improv rapping) steals the show. I love, love, love the opening song about "holding your loved ones close" and hoping for "blessings from above." Yes.

No effort was spared on the rich, magnificent, but never overblown sets, props, camera angles, cinematography, FX, details, animation (yes, it's all there, even strains of the original songs and constant references to the original story with important story elements and plot points originating in the past). I do hope these new tunes will be sung and memorized every bit as much as "Feed the Birds," "Let's Go Fly a Kite," etc. The lyrics express wonderful sentiments, mostly about not giving up hope, not listening to naysayers--making us feel, with Mary Poppins, that, pish-posh, ship-shape: "nothing is impossible." The cinema experience is truly exhilarating. (I was responsible for initiating the applause in my theater at the end of the movie.)

It's delicious to see Colin Firth (usually playing a complex dramatic role) as a one-note, cardboard villain. He plays it to the teeth. Meryl Streep and Angela Lansbury also join the fun. The biggest show stealer, or rather show stopper, of course, is the beloved Mr. Dick Van Dyke, dancing away at 92 in top form.

BLOWN DOWN

There is one bawdy song in which the umbrella-clutching governess herself dons 20's flapper gear and takes to a stage. I live with a Sister from Florida who is an aficionado of all things Disney, and she was horrified: "Mary Poppins is NOT bawdy." The words of the song go by so fast (nothing visually objectionable) that kids might miss it. Might. Something about not judging a book by its cover till you're under the covers. I get why Sr. Carly was upset--it almost makes us think that MP's devoted, disciplined, modest front is just that, a front. And that maybe the point is (wink, wink, adults) Miss Mary Jekyll turns into Miss Hyde at night, frequenting dives and speakeasys. Well, maybe it's not that bad, but Hollywood just can't seem to refrain from an injection of lasciviousness into everything, almost like a subversive trademark.

LOOKING FOR MARY POPPINS

There are--thankfully!--no modern-day anachronistic agendas and ideologies plopped into London of the 1930's. However. I have a question for all us women viewers. We all love Mary Poppins, right? But why don't we want to BE Mary Poppins? Why don't we see more current-day women LIKE Mary Poppins on the screen? This is a great tragedy. Women are so good at children. We are so gifted by God for nurturing good little men and women into great adult men and women ("the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world"). But it takes time. Lots and lots of time. And attention (of which we have a sore deficit, even when families are physically together). Children are not like cats (hardly any care required) or dogs (a little more care required). They need constant conversation and supervision and adventures and formation and instruction and correction and consolation and education and leading and role-modeling and inspiration and encouragement and TLC. Love gives of the very marrow of the self (not just money, things, and busy busy actions/deeds/tasks on behalf of the other)--but this is often the hardest gift to give--not just for women, but for everyone. And yet, it seems women used to give this gift more easily and naturally and now it has become foreign to us. Perhaps the point of the bawdy song was to separate MP from the children...she has a life of her own! But it's almost back to the "virgin or harlot" false dichotomy/false choice. There's another way. I shall call it "The Mary Poppins Option."

THE MARY POPPINS OPTION

"The Mary Poppins Option" is how women can truly "have it all"--but not in the usual, improbable sense. In my book, the mysterious Mary Poppins is the best of what a woman can be. She is more of a matrix, a Maria Montessori, a galvanizer, a (healthy) enabler, more a mediatrix than a savior, and certainly a shepherdess and wisdom figure. She's a helpmeet who assists children and adults in finding the ingenuity, will and gumption in themselves. The Mary Poppins Option is that: a woman can be smart, sweet, supercilious and sassy all at the same time (like the all-the-rage melange of sweet and salty, or the sweet and sour soup that we all love); primp her appearance (if she wants); have a meaningful, challenging job; use her resilient, resourceful and receptive womanly gifts with all she meets, enriching them and making herself and them better people for having encountered her; hold the reins to the zeitgeist of a culture and steer it toward virtue and heroic sacrifice (sacrifices of both men and women); put the person, people first, love expressed in deeds, commitment, loyalty and precious time poured out.

Only out of Mary's prim and proper, well-ordered life, inside and out, could emerge true daring, could emerg educated risks, trust in an unknown future, taking the heat when plans fail, the courage to soldier on in the face of hardships, and...abandonment to carefree fun and imagination. They seem mutually exclusive don't they? Wise order and crazy antics? Or perhaps they're not really crazy antics but constructive, creative play that one should never outgrow. Only through self-denial, training and inner growth will be able to discern the difference and be able to truly cut loose...in the most delightful way. Only when we live according to the divine order can beauty and joy manifest.

"Mary Poppins Returns" is a solid project, a brilliant new classic--where the adult actors are as good as the child actors--that should win many awards and thrill audiences of all ages for years to come.

OTHER STUFF:

--Take the kiddos! See it in the CINEMA! Hurry up! Jiggety-jog!

--Julie Andrews wouldn't do a cameo because she didn't want to upstage Emily Blunt.

--2 Millennial Sister that I live with say they "don't trust" Emily Blunt/MP. They only trust Julie Andrews/MP. Interesting! But, of course, they also love Mr. Rogers whom I used to mock even when I was a child. Granted, Julie Andrews/MP was sweet. Emily Blunt/MP is not sweet.

--After the long, boring and not terribly inventive opening credits (besides the fact that it is probably supposed to be the paintings of Michael, dabbling in the new art form of "Impressionism"), the opening scene bursts out in song with Jack the lamplighter riding his bike, going from lamp to lamp, turning them off in the first few streaks of morning light. (I thought to myself: that looks like the guy from "Hamilton," but I hadn't done any research beforehand.) The song was fabulous and I was completely one over and knew I was going to love this film. I particularly liked the lyric: "You'll be blessed from above." #God

--The only miscast thespian was Michael, IMHO. I didn't care for him, Sam I am. And his hair was all wrong for the time period. Sideburns? Are you kidding me?

--There are all-out boisterous, celebratory songs and some incredibly tender, tear-jerking songs (especially "Where the Lost Things Go" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TFOZF0DokE ).

--"falderal"

--It would be fun to go back and view the original "Mary Poppins," as well as "Saving Mr. Banks": the story of the female author of the MP series making Walt Disney's wait a very long time to obtain the rights to do the film, which, according to Sr. Carly, became his favorite work.

--"Grownups forget. They always do." --MP

--"Today or never, that's my motto." --MP

--"We're on the brink of an adventure, children, don't ruin it with too many questions."

--"Mary Poppins never explains anything."

--I watched this with Ma and she guessed the resolution immediately.

--The balloon scene really made me think of Jesus' Ascension. Don't laugh. I'm dead serious. Think about it. The human spirit longs to ascend. "No Place To Go But Up."

--2 hrs and 10 min did NOT feel long.

--The best "time lock" in a movie ever! And it's steam punk! (A "time lock" is a device that adds to the suspense. Characters only have a very limited, exact amount of time or disaster will strike and all will be lost.)

--Some BMX-like action makes it feel a bit modern, along with the "rap," but we know every age had its version of everything else. "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." --Ecclesiastes 1:9

--Jesus said: "It is no part of your Father's plan that any one of these little ones should ever come to grief." That means us. Little ones grow up. God wants us all to be saved, to choose salvation.

--MP is kinda like the woman of Proverbs 13. She laughs at troubled times because she knows there's a big picture and the story isn't over yet.

--I think it's silly to have MP be vain. I wonder if that's in the original stories and, if it is, why.

--Some VERY jazzy musical offerings that make rock n' roll look like Lawrence Welk.

--Two informative interviews with Blunt and Miranda: https://www.cineplex.com/Magazine

--A young Dad:








December 21, 2018

MOVIES: "INSTANT FAMILY"



"Instant Family" starring Rose Byrne and Mark Wahlberg as foster parents is pure boosterism, as well as simultaneously clever, touching and coarse. A young couple--who flip homes for a living, get it?--aren't even sure if they want kids ever, but all it takes is some online surfing looking at pics, profiles and quotes from some pretty adorable kids in need and they're sold on fostering. Their naivete is matched only by the eager, elephantine energy they put into trying to make three siblings feel happy and at home--including, uh-oh-they-were-warned, one TEEN girl.

More than anything, the film is a comedy. It's trying very, very hard in the beginning NOT to be maudlin, to let so many F-bombs and names of unmentionable body parts fly that we'll never mistake it for a Hallmark film. Manic dialogue, exaggerated conflicts and generalized slapstick kookiness rules the day. However, the film slowly gets better and better, hitting its stride and addressing virtually every trope about what goes on in the foster system: the good, the bad and the ugly. The dialogue settles down a bit and is often great sassy fun. "Instant Family" is actually a smart and novel way to educate the public--and the filmmakers know that we know we're being edutained. Olivia Spencer and Tig Notaro play tough officials from the county (a comedy duo of their own) who guide potential parents through the ropes (the parent support group meetings are a hoot). They make no bones about the fact that: "It's not going to be easy." These young people have been abandoned and betrayed over and over again. To ask them to trust is to almost ask the impossible of  them.

At one point, the rebellious teen asks her new guardians: "Why did you suddenly want to become foster parents, huh?" When they're at a loss for an answer, all seems lost. On top of this, the children's birth mother reappears and it looks like the family will reunite (the ultimate goal of the foster program--if it's the best thing for the kids).

Of course, in our hearts, we know there's going to be a happy ending of one sort or another, but it will only be through a lot of heartache and growth--on everyone's part. The film wraps up well and with some unexpected flourishes and...lots of joyful celebration. (Oh, and watch for the Joan Cusack cameo.)

Kudos to the creative minds (and hearts) behind "Instant Family" for taking up such a delicate, fraught and needed conversation about the young minds and hearts who fall through the cracks and need a helping hand, a place to crash (and maybe a sledgehammer with which to smash) while families mend, dissolve or reconfigure themselves.

The MPAA rating is PG-13, but should be R because of persistent salacious language and subject matters talked about (no objectionable visuals). 

OTHER STUFF:

--The portrayal of Wahlberg and Byrne as awkward, average chumps is in line with the government's current foster program campaign: "You don't have to be perfect to be a parent."

--Rose Byrne always does such wonderful light comedy.

--"Instant Family" is often genuinely hilarious and has gotten good reviews for being a very atypical film for its topic (and a very atypical feel-good film).

--Faith in God is hanging around the film a bit, and it, too, is pretty hilarious.

--This film is better than heartwarming because it's beyond heartwarming to the definition of true love: "willing the good of the other as other, no matter what it costs me."

--Solid plot turning point: Thanksgiving scene where everyone's true feelings come out.

--Another great film about fostering (group homes): "Short Term 12" with Brie Larson

--"The Florida Project" is a spendid film about kids in precarious situations, but seems to lean toward the argument of staying with birth parents even if there's certain risk involved.

--My half-sister fostered kids and wanted to adopt one in particular. His birth Mom wouldn't agree, but to this day, with kids of his own, he still calls my sister Mom.





December 20, 2018

MOVIES: "ROMA"



An elegantly-shot, black-and-white, English-subtitled Oscar contender is Alfonso Cuarón's new film "Roma." (Cuarón is known for "Children of Men," "Gravity," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"). The story is about a young woman named Cleo, a domestic servant and nanny to a young family with four children in the "Roma " neighborhood of Mexico City in 1971. She has much more of an indigenous look while the family is extremely fair.

A LOVE LETTER TO WOMEN

More than anything, this film is a "slice of life," a love letter to women and a celebration of quotidian life in the midst of the shocking abandonments of women and children by men. Or rather it's about women being "left alone" with the children while men pursue false ideals and dreams. But nothing is dull, nothing is formulaic, nothing is stereotypical in this telling. Women are resilient, women are resourceful, women survive, women are the glue that holds everything together. (Later in the film we find out that feisty, passionate Mom is actually a biochemist, and it's obvious she also loved her husband, it's just that he loved something else more.)

CINEMATIC

The film progresses with a gentle, quasi-sleepy rhythm--almost unfolding in real time--and we are enchanted by the wide angles and long shots of a well-appointed home, streets filled with dogs and rag-tag marching bands, fields, beaches and wherever else the boisterous family finds themselves. There are only two settings that feel narrow and congested: the garage into which the Ford Galaxy barely fits (and scrapes, if Mom's driving) and the servants' kitchen and quarters. The entire mise-en-scène is mesmerizing and captures the slower pace but also more energized human interaction of just a half a century ago. (I was told to see this film in the theaters, and how I regret that I didn't!)

There is NO music in "Roma," only some of the richest and most realistic ambient sounds you've ever heard in a film. The DeMille-sized cast of thousands feels intimate and personal (no actor is ever a prop to this director), the screen teeming with life, peopled and populated, filled and subdued. There is unbelievable attention to detail, without ever overemphasizing any one detail, without ever being self-conscious, precious, precocious, twee or squee. There are many of life's giggle-inducing moments that, I'm certain, evinced hearty chuckles among movie lovers in the theaters I did not go see this film in.

If we are waiting for something violent or intrusive to happen, we shall wait in vain. The only intrigue is the mystery brewing when Dad leaves on a business trip and is delayed in returning.

CHILDREN ARE PEOPLE, TOO

There is one unexpected scene of prolonged full-frontal male nudity. Cleo's boyfriend performs a fierce martial arts routine for her, naked as a jaybird. There is not even a hint of female nudity in the film. Why is this? I'm really wondering if it has something to do with fertility. All the children in the film are the result of a man initiating new life...but then disconnecting from his own offspring (and thereby, himself) (Malachi 4:6).

Children are real characters with budding lives of their own, with age-appropriate dialogue and behavior, but of course this is 1971, before DMDRE (Digital Media Devices Ruined Everything). The organic relationship of mothers, grandmothers and female caregivers with their male and female progeny is truly organic and refreshing to behold. This is also a story about the dignity of children, and could easily have been entitled: "Women and Children."

SILVER LININGS

Rather than glibly treating profoundly sad events with a light touch, Cuarón does delve into the depths a bit (but it's hard to contemplate emotions when the only semi-close-ups will be of Cleo's face). Instead, "Roma" reminded me of Viktor Frankl's dictum that the last of the human freedoms is to choose one's attitude in any given situation. Mom and Cleo turn travesty into "a new adventure" for the kids...and themselves.

Life is peppered with both calmly and urgently uttered prayers--a pre-emptive and reflexive reaction to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

If you read about Cuarón's life, it becomes evident that "Roma" is reconstructed snatches from the recent past of a place in Mexico he is very familiar with, having grown up exactly there at exactly this time in history. There are recurring side-themes of water, airplanes, militarization/revolution.

Once in a great while, a man attempts to make a film from a woman's perspective, a film to honor women's experience--and gets it right. The visually-stunning "Roma" is one of those films.

OTHER STUFF:

--Realistic sibling squabbles.

--We see how Dad's absence affects his sons--the heaviness of the loss of fatherlove.

--Cleo's boyfriend likes focus.

--Children bring the life, joy, TRUE focus to life.

--Now, instead of Mom or Dad or even Cleo, we have Alexa raising children.

--"Women don't heal." (movie: "Tully")  But men also don't heal--in a different way.

--YouTube has lots of free oldie goldie movies. Although "The City That Never Sleeps" (1953) is noir, the themes are similar to "Roma." Plus ça change...

--Revolutions come and go, families remain (but in what way do they remain...without fathers?)

--Children used to be part of the Modern Project. It's when we cut them out that it all went to pot. Literally.

--And what happens to the divine order without men? What happens to civil and familiar order without men? It becomes overly feminized and therefore lopsided.

--The film is rated R most likely because of the male nudity. The sophisticated simplicity and lack of any real story arc would probably bore kids any way.

--Although Cuarón is fond of long shots in his work anyway, it made me think of the all-inclusive horizon-love of women. Before Eve, Adam was all by himself with God and the animals. The personal only came into view later for him. But for Eve, persons were always in her purview.

--"Roma" reminds us why we love the unique medium of film.

--In Hollywood, the way people communicate with the big execs is through billboards (I'm not joking: to get to the studios, their limos have to drive on the same roads as all us ham-and-eggers, commoners, rank and file, hoi polloi, pluggers, plebs, the proletariat, the unwashed masses)--it's also the way the head honchos communicate with everyone else. So, I was just in L.A. and there was a big billboard with a (b & w) still from the film stating that Yalitza Apiricio (Cleo) should receive the Academy Award for Best Actress. :)






December 11, 2018

THEOLOGY OF THE BODY CERTIFICATE COURSE IN TORONTO--JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2019!






MOVIES: "SEARCHING"




A brilliant new film entitled "Searching" is about a loving father and his teenage daughter who are both grieving the recent loss of their wife and mom to cancer. What makes this film brilliant--beyond nailing the experience of grief and sometimes awkward or tense father-daughter dynamics? The fact that the entire film is told through screens. When I heard about this film, I thought "not possible," or "gimmicky," but it's nothing of the sort. Instead, we watch just how organic our online lives have become (without it even feeling hi-tech or unnatural). The human elements of life are wonderfully preserved. However, the peril of anonymity and illusion are showcased as well.

What is utterly fascinating is the blend of video and the printed word (mostly texting and online posts) forwarding the story. The thoughts and sentiments people begin typing and then, on second thought, erase is just as important as what they actually wind up sending.

The father-daughter pair actually have a very close relationship and are in constant communication via media devices. The question for parents that always arises as young people individuate and maintain secrets and private lives is "how well do I really know my child NOW"? And, of course, the intense and fluctuating emotions, challenges and choices that pave the way to adulthood are exponentially exacerbated by these digital tools. But it is also these same tools that give insight into and externalize what young people are dealing with and may find hard to express otherwise--at least they give insight in this film where Dad eventually has access to his daughter's innermost world.

BUT why is it that parents who are doing a pretty darn good job at parenting always beat themselves up--and those who could use years of classes on parenting skills think they're amazing? This cinematic Dad falls into the first category. If you watch and listen carefully for the moral of the story, it's the fact that it's always better to talk about it, to go there. Our young people--despite all appearances and attitudes--desperately want and need to talk it out with us, but WE have to provide that space and keep at it.

"Searching" is a mystery, a crime drama, a twisty thriller and a tender familial love story all in one. Kind of a perfect film.

(Perfectly OK for pre-teens and teens.)






December 10, 2018

GREAT INTRODUCTION TO DR. JORDAN PETERSON


Not too familiar with Dr. Peterson?

This is a great introduction. He gets contraception wrong (thinks it's a good thing), but the rest is mighty fine.

Of course, Natural Family Planning is a good thing, but it is qualitatively different from contraception and a completely different lifestyle. In fact, the difference between contraception and Natural Family Planning is so huge that JP2G called it: "two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality" (Familiaris consortio, 32). 

EWTN: McCARRICK CLERGY SEX ABUSE SURVIVOR SPEAKS OUT