March 27, 2010


Miley Cyrus puts in a solid performance in the prolific novelist Nicholas Sparks' latest book-to-film offering: "Last Song." There's something genuine about this not-quite-sure-of-herself-yet, husky-voiced, sassy country girl singer-actress. In "Last Song," Ronnie's (Miley Cyrus) parents are divorced, and she and her little brother are spending the summer with their Dad (with whom Ronnie shares an exquisite musical talent). Only she hasn't forgiven her father (played with nuance by Greg Kinnear) for the break-up, and so has given up on music. Ronnie is real hard on her Dad. Real hard.

Ronnie makes some new friends, including a beau named Will (Miley's now real-life boyfriend, Aussie Liam Hemsworth). So much of "Last Song" looks and feels like "Dear John": the hunky blonde, the seaside summer romance, rich parents with expectations of a different match for their child, etc., etc. But it's a formula we like and a formula that works. (Channing Tatum was a better actor than Amanda Seyfried in "Dear John," and Miley is a better actor than Liam in "Last Song.")

Ronnie is righteous. Almost too righteous. Her unswerving commitment to justice can burn even those she loves. The message of this film—in contrast—is: "Nobody's perfect, we all make mistakes." Over and over again. The film doth protest too much! At a certain point it sounds like making excuses.* And it sounds like just generalized excusisization, not just about the divorce. It is said in the film that love is a "fragile thing" that we just hope lasts. I understand that 1,000,000 things can go wrong between man and woman, but I don't believe that love in general (of which marriage is the core and epitome) is fragile because love is not just a whimsical feeling that comes and goes. It is attraction, sympathy, friendship and a commitment of the will. "Love is strong as death" (Song of Songs 8:6). Please note which book of the Bible that's from. How apropos.

Part of Nicholas Sparks' genius is that he has something for everyone. The little brother (played by Bobby Coleman) is an astonishing little actor and quite the comedian (as are many in this next generation of thespians! They're a bumper crop!) His tears were so real and he looked so distraught that he kind of acted everyone else under the table (without overacting). As in "Dear John," everyone's perspective, everyone's story is given a full hearing, everyone in the audience can relate to at least one of the characters. Sparks seems to be offering healing for relationships, healing for families through his tales. He creates webs of love and forgiveness. There's a sweetness and cordiality to his characters' interactions that are almost instructive. "Life is what you make it," is what his stories seem to say. "It doesn't have to be this bad, this harsh." "Just have a little courage." Sparks is a master at small dramatic, romantic moments. Just Ronnie and Will taking turns stealing glances at each other is like a sonatina.

The visuals are a smorgasbord: mud fights, sea turtles, piano playing, stained glass making, volleyball, trying on dresses. Again, something for everyone.

The dialogue and scenes, for the most part, are to-the-point, not idle, believable, amusing and well-calibrated. Just what we need to know, then a twist and on to the next thing. Some of the dialogue is throwaway and expected. When Ronnie finally lets down her guard with Will, she quickly throws it back up again because she is afraid she is just one of many to him. Will begins feeding her the lamest lines which she doesn't buy and so he just shuts her up by passionately kissing her and all is well again. There are lots of little scenes to deliver us bits of information and make sure we're tracking. There are some rather stretched out saccharine scenes that the audience in my cinema didn't seem to mind. They only whooped and hollered at what they LIKED. (I've noticed that free screenings seem to bring out the whoops and hollers.) News of a super-tragic death suddenly drops like a bomb to add some gravitas (which almost made me laugh, but then I would have been the only one in the theater laughing).

Maybe audiences eat up the slight melodrama and schmaltzy moments because it's actually something new for them (although it harkens back to "old movies"). We don't see/hear any of these tender things in movies any more, and I think we're starved for it! Another incredible feat Sparks has accomplished is that women AND men like his love stories and they watch them together--just like the "old days."

We do a lot of skits in the convent. One was "I'm Only Human!" about all the excuses we could make for ourselves. Ha ha ha.


Q: You seem to be single-handedly saving the love story genre. WHAT IS YOUR SECRET???

A: There's really no secret. I write stories for myself, for my readers. Something everyone will enjoy. I try to always write something better than anything I've ever done.

Q: Why do you think even TEEN BOYS like your movies?

A: Because they're GOOD STORIES! They can relate to them. It's their own experiences, which makes the story feel more real. Or at least you'll know someone like that. Or some girl like that. And I let them know what that girl is thinking!

Q: Why did you choose the romance genre to write in?

A: I write love stories, not romances. They can be kind of sad subjects. My first novel was "The Notebook," which was inspired by my wife's grandparents. It did so well that I figured: if it ain't broke, don't fix it, keep going.

Q: What's your creative process? Where do you get all your ideas? You seem to have so many!

A: Well, I do have a lot of ideas, but most of them are bad! Ha ha. I get 10,000 ideas and have to discard most of them. Some sequences of ideas just feel right. Yes, sequences of ideas. I'm always thinking of my next story. It needs to feel fresh. It takes me four to five months to write a story, then one month to edit it. I keep asking myself about the characters: Is she 17 or 30? What difference would that make?

Q: So the characters don't come to you fully formed?

A: No. I keep working with them. Sometimes I know one or two things about them that I know is intuitively correct, but the rest comes later. Like I didn't know right away that Ronnie reads Tolstoy.

Q: What are your inspirations as a writer?

A: I read a lot: novels, non-fiction. My family is also my inspiration.

Q: I know that some fiction authors don't read fiction while they're writing fiction….

A: Oh, no! Not me! I could never do that. I love to read. Reading is my passion. I read all the time.

Q: How does faith inform your writing if at all? [Sparks is Catholic]

A: A lot. When you're writing a love story, the characters can't be together. You have to find a reason to keep them apart. The easiest reason is that one character is married, and I'll never write adultery in (or profanity). I put in explicit faith if it's integral to the story, like in "A Walk to Remember."

Q: But you do put in pre-marital sex, like in "Dear John." Why?

A: Because nobody's perfect. I won't put in sex between teens, though. Only when they're older.

Q: You make writing sound so simple! But it's hard to write simple.

A: Thank you. That's sweet.


"Letters to God" is based on the true story of a little boy with cancer who wrote letters to God that he would then hand to the postman. And you think you have dilemmas at YOUR job. LTG is directed by none other than David Nixon, the director of "Fireproof" and "Facing the Giants." All we need to do is clone Mr. Nixon so that he can make lots and lots more movies.

LTG is a bright story of a child's faith that is more grown up than everyone else's around him. Although dealing with sickness and death, this is a real "feel good" movie for the whole family. For cynics who may think (with regard to faith): "Nobody thinks or talks that way"—think again. Millions of Christians think and talk this way. Tyler Doherty (the effervescent Tanner Maguire) is a mischievous, soccer-playing kid who just happens to be bald due to his chemotherapy. His best friend is a spunky tomboy , Sam (the equally ebullient Bailee Madison), who defends Tyler from teasing at school. But Tyler's not worried about being teased. The only thing Tyler is worried about is forgiving, being like Jesus, and trying to help others get to know God. It's all so obvious to Tyler, but not to his Mom, his older brother or his classmates, and certainly not to his troubled postman, Brady McDaniels (Jeffrey S. S. Johnson).

Brady is a divorced veteran with a dark secret and a drinking problem. (Kudos to Christian filmmakers for showing a bottle of Jack Daniels in context! Showing tragic behavior AS tragedy is not condoning. That sounds simple, but Christian filmmakers tend to shy away from portraying "bad stuff.")

When I first heard about "Letters to God," I thought: what a fantastic concept! Why didn't someone think of this before? Forget the letters to the man in the red suit! How about letters to the Man in the crimson suit of His own blood who brings us the best gifts of all? OK, that's a little florid, but I just got so enthusiastic about the premise of this film. And then I found out that the film was based on a true story of an actual little boy who thought this all up.

The best part of LTG (besides it being WELL-LIT—many thanks to the key grip or best boy or gaffer or whoever is responsible—and filmed in what looks like glorious TECHNICOLOR) is that it teaches us how to pray without being pedantic in the least. Grandma just naturally holds hands with her grandson and prays when there's a need. People bust out in short prayers whenever and wherever appropriate. Again, if anyone thinks that millions of people DON'T do this on a regular basis, maybe they need to get out more. Mingle more.

QUASI-SPOILER ALERT: Tyler gets almost his whole town writing "letters to God." He shows them how easy it is to pray. Yay! We get to hear not just all the townspeople's different prayers, but the unique voices and styles that people pray in—because everyone IS a unique individual with a unique relationship with God. (You can write your own letter to God at the movie's website: under the tab: "Share the Hope"!)

The pace of the movie is definitely Southern. Mayberry slow. Deal with it. LTG never dips down into the dregs of the pain, loss, horror, or chaos of terminal illness, but I daresay not everyone experiences terminal illness the same way, either, and some may be little chosen "warriors" like Tyler. Tyler is a wonderful new kind of film hero. One who never loses faith, hope or love (when he has every excuse to). In fact, he defends God, faith, hope and love to everyone around him as he tries to get them to "ut cognoscant Te" ("to know Thee" is eternal life--see John 17:3).

The theme of community is strong in LTG. Together we "bear one another's burdens" and sorrows become lighter. Those characters that isolate themselves suffer most.

Tyler knew that we come from God and are going back to God, and that life—no matter how many years we are granted—is short.
Tyler knew where he was going. Do we?


--When I first heard the film title: "Letters to God," it reminded me of a great song by the father of Christian Rock, Larry Norman (1947-2008), called "Note from Mr. God." Here's a music video a college student created to go with it:

--Our Evangelical brothers and sisters keep it refreshingly simple.

--Awkward, intrusive use of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music).

--Is LTG too pollyanna? No, barring a few hokey moments. It doesn't shy away from people's generalized anger at God or from life's Big Questions, and doesn't answer them with easy (and often ghastly) "God's will" answers.

--Awesome film campaign: FB, texting, YouTube, Twitter….

--Best use of eyebrows in a film.

--Film's tagline: "Hope is contagious."

--A word about lighting on TV and in films. I am sooooo sick of murky. Sometimes I have to turn all the lights off in the room to kill the glare on my (old) TV screen, and I still can't make out what's going on in that back alley or office or hospital room or courtroom or whatever (cop/lawyer/doctor TV shows are the worst offenders). And God help you if it's a dark, RAINY night. The murk will then be SHINY and indecipherable. Splurge on some lightbulbs, people!

--Jesus knows we get discouraged: "Pray always and never lose heart," Luke 18:1. There's a fantastic book of Blessed James Alberione's called "Pray Always" which is out of print but I'm sure can be procured on Ebay for one of your kidneys. For some reason, out-of-print religious books sell for megabucks.

--How do you spell relief? P-R-A-Y-E-R

--I always tell teens: "Anything that makes prayer sound complicated is not of God. Anything that makes you not want to pray is not of God. Guess who doesn't want us to pray?"

March 24, 2010


Pat teaches moral theology & TOB at Northridge Prep (all boys Catholic Opus Dei high school).

[Sr. Helena's dreck in brackets.]

How do good Catholic teens answer why it's wrong to have sex before marriage (before they learn TOB)? (Pat makes it real: "What do you tell your buddy at a party when he's ready to go upstairs with his girlfriend?") The students usually say: "It a mortal sin." (And after a little theology/philosophy: "It's INTRINSICALLY evil." They love that.) Then Pat says: do you really think that will stop your friend?


1. It's always using someone.
2. You're not giving a total gift and the language of the body (sex) says: "forever."
3. It's adultery in advance. (You are being unfaithful to your future wife/husband.)
4. It's re-gifting yourself.
5. We're supposed to be mirroring the "forever" love of the Trinity in our one flesh union, but in pre-marital sex we're sending a message of defiance to God. How does that feel?

It can be a lot of FUN with teens, actually, when you do apologetics with them and let them come up with their own ways of explaining TOB to their peers.

Youth need STRUCTURE. So even if you can digest JP2G's TOB, you need to break it down for teens into easily memorizable soundbites (that they can feel confident using with others).

We need to convince teens that the Catholic Church has something they are missing and need.

We don't challenge teens enough. We really lower the bar. They want the "ethos"—we need to show them the big picture (in a way their not-fully formed brains can handle).


What enabled those young boys to do what they did?
"aim small, miss small"
--love for their brother
--confidence in their father

We're in a cultural war, a spiritual battle. "Steady…" You can do this…


E—EXPERTS: we have to consider ourselves experts and make ourselves experts in this area (TOB). When adults get into TOB, they realize their own woundedness, and that's good! We can grow, too! We have DA COACH: VJP2G
T—TREAT them as LEADERS. Let teens know that we believe in them and want them to advance and be even better than us! Isn't that what good parents, do? Let them know that their friends/peers need them. Teens need to hear adults say: "I believe in you."
H—HANDLE HOT BUTTON ISSUES. Go there. We are not shadowboxing. In "Patriot," Mel Gibson's kids knew what they were doing. HEAR THEM OUT. Young people have a lot to say.
O-- ORIENT THEM TO CHRIST AND THE CHURCH. They HAVE to see the relevance of the Christ and the Church. Where can they go for answers in this crazy, mixed-up world? God came to re-integrate the spiritual and physical.
S—SHOWTIME: Using movies for TOB: the world is NOT that far off in the sense that we are all desiring the same good things…. Show teens how they can find TOB in the pop culture! Let THEM be creative.

Men are called to be warriors, defenders, lovers (not players), priest-father. (4 archetypes: men are more simple)

4 Original Archetypes of Man:

  1. King

  2. Warrior

  3. Lover

  4. Priest-Father

Women are:
(12 original mysteries of women: women are more complex)

  1. God's Masterpiece

  2. Model of the Human Race

  3. Garden Enclosed

  4. Fountain Sealed

  5. Master of her own mystery

  6. Genius (in her receptivity)

  7. Creator of Culture

  8. The First Evangelist

  9. Icon of the Church

  10. Icon of Heaven

  11. Daughter, Sister, Bride, Mother

  12. Sum total of all beauty

In short, the one who is loved.

Where you have a contraceptive mentality (more about women) you have a pornographic mentality (more about men).

PORN gives you a template to see all of the world:

Porn D-E-S-T-R-O-Y-S:

D- Acts lie a DRUG

E- Escalatory

S- Stealth/ Sneaks up on you

T- creates a new TEMPLATE

R- Replaces Reality

O- One-sided

Y- Stikes YOUTH

S- Seductive


  1. How far is too far? (You start by telling them the question itself is wrong, but then you can get more explicit with them.) Teens are black and white, they really want to know, BUT we have to start leading them toward the ethos and not asking: "How close can I get to sin?"
  2. Is oral sex sex? Is it wrong? (also "grinding"—dancing while rubbing body parts together, sometimes in a group) It's not sexual intercourse, [but it's mutual masturbation, it's sexual activity], so we as Americans like to compartmentalize. We live on the BELL CURVE. All of life is rhythm: agriculture, a novel /film(rising action, climax, denouement, etc.), the liturgical cycle. Sex is a "movement," a symphony, so you are doing "foreplay." You are pulling it out of its context, like going to the Tabernacle and just helping yourself to the Eucharist because you don't want to go to Mass. Don't we ask the same question about Mass? At what point am I technically late for Mass? (Pat doesn't tell them "it's sex," he just keeps talking about the context.)
  3. What about homosexuality?

VIRGINITY needs to be looked at through new eyes! It's sexual integrity. Integration of body and soul. What is sexual integrity? You have the capacity to give yourself totally to another (when the time comes). ["I adjure you, do not stir up love before its time." –Song of Songs 3:5 (the most erotic book of the Bible telling us to wait!)]

4 promises of marriage vows: total, faithful, fruitful, free

No longer a virgin? God can RE-CAPACITATE you to have the CAPACITY to make a total gift of yourself! ["See, I make all things new!" Revelation 21:5]

Teens are BOMBARDED with the SECULAR ethos constantly so we have to REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT, DRILL, DRILL, DRILL.

Married couples don't "LOSE" their virginity (sexual integrity), they share it with each other.

Q: What does Pat tell teens about masturbation? (Once you give the TOB ethos/principles, tens can apply it themselves! One teen answered: "It's half flesh union." Instead of the "one flesh" union.)

Teens love: LANGUAGE OF THE BODY, THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE ISN'T HATE IT'S USE, GIFT OF SELF, TABERNACLE (guys love the concept that a woman's body is a living tabernacle—no man is really ever worthy to consecrate the Host OR to approach a woman). A man even genuflects when he proposes!

Give them assignments: Girls, dress like tabernacles! Guys, when you see a woman think: "Tabernacle"! [Not "hot." Dave Den Braber, former free agent with the Dallas Cowboys, now a Catholic youth speaker tells guys to stop using that term because it's a porn term.]

There are very few "stories": boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy fights for girl, boy gets girl. It's like the Mass, the Jesus story.


Pat assigns his seniors to write "TOB personals"!! Our teens are capable of A LOT!!










March 22, 2010


Fantastic new book by Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP!
Can be used for CCD, homeschool, Catholic school, extra credit, summer camp, afterschool, Brownies, Girl Guides, you-name-it! Each lesson is stand alone and integrates the Catholic Faith!

Bookmark and Share

March 21, 2010


"Diary of a Wimpy Kid" is the best movie of 2010! Hands down. It's what we call in the biz "a perfect movie," because everything about it is sterling: the acting, the story, the dialogue, the soundtrack, the pacing, the humor, the editing, etc. Everything clicks. And pops.

Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) is going to Middle School for the first time, and is trying to navigate and negotiate the labyrinthine, unspoken rules of popularity, coolness, behavior, traditions, rituals, etc. But mostly popularity. Greg is an overly-articulate little operator who desperately wants to be popular and is constantly scheming new ways to get to the top. He is even willing to sell out his decidedly uncool best friend, Rowley (Robert Capron). There are many layers to a tween's life, and Greg's include: a sadistic older brother, baggage from kindergarten (yes, kindergarten), where to sit in the cafeteria, bullies, girls, sports, growth spurts (or lack of them), and general pre-teen angst.

Greg is a keen observer of his own life, and journals and doodles it all. He is precociously civilized, dignified and refined for his age. But he's hell-bent on using his gifts (rather unsuccessfully) only for his own advancement. The moral of DOWK? Ambition and temptations to compromise on what's right start young. Greg is off to a bad start for most of the movie. Greg's only hope for salvation is learning the meaning of true friendship.

DOWK avoids all kinds of movie-making tropes, and is a surprisingly fresh and profound take on young people's development of character. There is no snarkiness or smart-aleckiness. Just kids as kids trying to survive and make their way in life, getting involved in downright hilarious, yet not too impossible, adventures. DOWK is non-stop entertainment—including adolescent boy gross-out humor—but it's never quick and cheap: it's all expertly folded in to a fully-fleshed out story. Every scene deftly advances character and plot. DOWK could be a model for how movies are supposed to be made, without being textbook, formulaic or trite. We don't see what's coming next (unless, perhaps, you've read the books, which I haven't). The props, sets and scenery are jam-packed with delightful sights. Visually, DOWK reminded me a bit of the kid-favorite movie "Matilda," especially the schoolyard scenes.

A wimpy kid exorcising his demons by writing about his own wimpy life and thus becoming a star is just a great underdog concept. I've always thought that growing up is harder for boys than for girls, what with all that stress on being macho and tough. Greg is a small for his age and it seems his only defense is to live by his wits. But Greg is often too clever for his own good. Even dorky kids are eventually liked for persistently and genuinely being themselves. Greg's grandiose ideas of himself and his future need to be tempered by the things that really matter in life. Can we adults learn from a wimpy kid's diary? You bet.

--My favorite movie of 2009 was "Gran Torino," but even IT was not a "perfect movie"!

--ALL the many families in my theater stayed through the credits (a great rarity in Chicago).

--On the way out of the theater, the Mom of a family with three young boys said: "They [the boys] said this is the best movie they've ever seen. And it was just like the book."

--Great TOB scene involving the older brother: Mom confronts him with a sports magazine found his room with a scantily-clad woman on the cover.

--The slacker older brother is very funny.

--The kid actors have great comedic timing. This is truly one of the funniest comedies I've ever seen. VERY creative. Why aren't there more movies like this?

--Something like "Malcolm in the Middle," but way better.

--The filmmakers really remember what it was like to be in Middle School.

--Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I should NOT have stifled my laughter in the theater!!! This movie was very, very, deep-down, belly-laugh funny.

--Stellar transitions and cuts. The movie NEVER bogs down or loses your interest.

--The adult and kid actors in DOWK do not have perfect looks! Braces galore! All kinds of imperfections!

--Greg can't catch a break and just digs himself in deeper and deeper (like Jennifer Aniston's character in "The Good Girl.") This is great drama. "Oh, what an evil web we weave…."

--There are too many funny predicaments to count: The safety guards with the kindergartners! Drawing the three teenagers' ire by scratching their red pickup truck! THE CHEESE! Ha ha ha. -

--Your tween vocabulary word from movie: "tool." Look it up in

--Michael Phillips—The Chicago Tribune's movie reviewer—gave DOWK only 1 ½ stars. He was sooooo wrong.

--As Goldilocks would say, this movie is JUST RIGHT.

March 18, 2010


Finally! St. Joseph has his own movie! "Joseph of Nazareth" on DVD, distributed by Ignatius Press. How is it? Not bad. Italy has been producing some ambitious full-length feature-film saint movies of late ("St. Maria Goretti, "Fr. Gnocchi"—quickly changed to "Father of Mercy," "St. Anthony," "Blessed John XXIII," etc.).

Joseph (Tobias Moretti, who looks a bit like Charles Bronson) is a strong, hard-working man of peace, but he's also a man of justice and his temper flairs when provoked by injustice. (He is not beyond grabbing someone's burlap tunic or smashing a clay pot or two. No milquetoast, this Joseph.) One thing that struck me funny is that Joseph is rather, well, talkative! (As is well known, Joseph has absolutely NO lines in the Scriptures. Not even "Yes, Lord." And I've always loved this because he doesn't need them. He was a man of action and obedience.)

Joseph has a lovely British accent, as do most of the other actors. If you liked "Jesus of Nazareth," you'll like "Joseph of Nazareth." It's a full-blown Bible movie of the grandiose sort we are now well-used to: sweeping, symphonic, Middle-Eastern-y soundtrack; elaborate costuming; elaborate scenery and props—sandy terrain, goats, humble huts, the Temple, evil kings and good kings, camels, Roman soldiers.

I was picking the film apart for Scriptural and theological errors as I watched, but it seems to pass muster in the main. (Ignatius Press is very choosy about the movies they carry and are pretty unimpeachable in their choices.) Each DVD case contains a 10-page booklet which includes an article by apologist Carl Olson on Joseph in Scripture. "BetaFilms," who produced "Joseph," were definitely trying to get it right, without being slavish about literally reproducing a verbatim rendition of Bible accounts. There are some clever plot points and reveals that will delight those knowledgeable about Scripture.*

The much-talked-about Joseph in the movie "The Nativity Story," who almost seemed to steal the movie from the Blessed Mother, is a younger, more carefree man than this Joseph who keeps stressing that he's older than Mary (for the census in Bethlehem he says he is 37). This Joseph agonizes over what to do with the suddenly pregnant Mary. He must physically protect her and Baby Jesus as they flee from Herod into Egypt in some tense scenes. He has a backstory with the treacherous Herod.

This Joseph knows who he is. He gradually comes to understand his role as the true earthly father of Jesus (heartily acknowledged by Jesus and Mary). But this Joseph was always a good man, which prepared him for the momentous part he would play in the drama of salvation history. He always trusted God's promises, God's unquestionable ways, while others around him lost faith or railed against God. Actor Moretti has incredibly large, luminous eyes that convey Joseph's inner life of prayer and an ability to imagine the unimaginable as it's unfolding. Joseph's God just gets bigger and bigger.

What about Mary? She is very pretty. Not beautiful. Pretty. Very pretty. She doesn't seem to age, either (a result of original sin). In "Joseph of Nazareth," SHE is the silent one! She doesn't say much, (the Magnificat at Elizabeth's house is reduced to one sentence), she seems to worry a bit which makes her appear vulnerable and truly in need of Joseph! She seems a little clueless now and again. Mary's pregnancy is handled rather awkwardly. At a certain point she says to Joseph: "It's not what you think" (after he ascertained she wasn't unfaithful or forced). I almost laughed. Poor Joseph! Um, what else could it be?? There could have been LESS fictional intrigue and exposition, and MORE non-fictional historical-theological exposition which is even more exciting! It's not clear exactly where Mary's baby came from. Suddenly, she is the pregnant "Mother of the Messiah." St. Anne and Joseph look a bit gullible in this scene by just accepting Mary's word about a "voice." The phrase: "The Holy Spirit will overshadow you" is left out. Every single syllable of the Annunciation dialogue is important, and I think these immensely vital scenes could have been fashioned better. Believers will fill in the blanks, but when we watch a movie, we shouldn't have to do that--the movie should tell us everything we need to know. I also watch religious movies with a "secular eye." Will this at least make some kind of logical sense to a non-believer?

Mary's intent to be a perpetual virgin is not totally clear (she tells Joseph what she told the voice at the Annunciation: "I asked him how this could be since I'm not married yet"). This kind of changes the meaning of what Mary actually said. Mary would never have asked the angel "How can this be?" UNLESS she intended to remain a virgin even after "living with Joseph." Mary was already betrothed to Joseph (but had intended to remain a virgin, most likely with Joseph's knowledge/agreement, or with his knowledge/agreement forthcoming) and it would have been the most natural thing in the world for her to become pregnant by Joseph soon enough IF she wasn't planning to remain a virgin. (The angel didn't tell Mary exactly WHEN she would become pregnant.)

There is some pain in her childbirth, but then a sudden (miraculous?) birth. The pain depicted in Mary's childbirth in "The Nativity Story" caused some Catholics to boycott/badmouth the film. It is true that pain in childbirth is a result of original sin (which Mary was free of), but God told Eve: "your pain in childbirth will INCREASE," suggesting that there was some kind of at least discomfort in childbirth before original sin. As C. S. Lewis writes in "The Problem of Pain," not all pain is a bad thing, and he gives the example that after running for the sake of exercise, our muscles ache in a good way. See Paul Haffner's excellent book: "The Mystery of Mary," for what the Fathers of the Church teach on this.

Mary dances for the Lord a little in the beginning. Very sweet. There is genuine affection and admiration between Joseph and Mary, a natural, chaste, tactile interaction between them. It's just wonderful watching the interchange of the Holy Family, the most chosen among the Chosen People! They reason things out together with God's reasoning.

"Joseph" is a great film to show the concept of vocation: people knowing who they are and what God is calling them to be and do, and then following it unreservedly, even when things are difficult and unclear. Even the twelve-year-old Jesus is fully struck--in His humanity—by His mission as He enters the Temple for the first time and knows He is home. (I love that He is upset by the moneychangers NOT because it was commerce in the Temple, but, as He says: "How can anyone PRAY with all this noise?" The moneychangers that the older Jesus gets angry with were selling in the Court of the Gentiles, where non-Jews could go to pray. That's why Jesus says in His anger at that moment: "My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples!"

The lack of using angels in films (I like angels! I wanna see their beautiful wings, or at very least their human form!) almost obfuscates what God is doing. There are no angels for the Annunciation, Joseph's dream, and not even, for pity's sake, the Christmas angels! There's just a really strong sun, a voice, and a really bright star. Soooo people are just acting on the direct voice of God in their heads. But that's NOT what the Scriptures say. There's a reason God uses intermediaries, witnesses as it were. Messengers who speak God's word out loud. It makes Mary and Joseph sound "less crazy" to an unbeliever. Bring back the angels! Away with the blobby lights!

I like almost all the "Life of Christ" movies. Each one has something to offer and some great parts. But none fully satisfies. That's how I feel about "Joseph of Nazareth." But there's some parts that you're really, really, really going to love.* Joseph, the virginal father of Jesus (not "foster father"), who LITERALLY—more than any other man with his child—was called to take the earthly place of God the Father, is the greatest saint in heaven. And this movie is a swell attempt to give him his due.
*I'll never tell which ones. Watch it!


--The Magi are from Persia! Correct! Yay!

--Joseph uses the Magi's gifts to get to Egypt! Yay!

--The shepherds give gifts, too! I never thought of that! What do they give? Why, a LAMB of course! (And remember, Jesus ended animal sacrifice!)

--Why does Joseph force Mary to go to the census? Because he's a "just man"? Do you think Jesus ever got counted in the census? Are censuses evil? Remember David regretting having his people counted? There's some talk in the movie about "only God can count his people."

--Big emphasis on us being God's "servants."

--Actors are not cardboard! Lots of fluidity and emotions!

--Methinks there were better means of communication back in the day than portrayed in the film. Merchants, pilgrims, etc., were constantly travelling around the ancient world…. And word of mouth is still effective. Even today!

--I wish they had called "Jesus" "Yeshua." Woulda sounded more authentic-like.

March 15, 2010



March 7, 2010

Street Art That’s Finding a New Address


FOR the current fifth-anniversary exhibition at his New York gallery Jonathan LeVine has filled it with works by 35 artists, most of whom he represents. The space is in Chelsea, but there’s no cerebral conceptualism, cool abstraction or painterly gesture on view.

Instead this work, variously labeled Lowbrow Art, Pop Surrealism and perhaps most accurately Pop Pluralism, is the skateboarding, graffiti-tagging, sometimes bratty and rebellious younger sibling of the art shown in most of the neighborhood’s locations. Still, the art in the Jonathan LeVine Gallery seems at home in Chelsea in a way it did not five years ago. After years on the fringes of the art world, “we’ve come to a turning point,” Mr. LeVine said recently. “The mainstream is embracing this work.”

Many artists in the show, who are mostly in their 30s and 40s, were schooled in fine art. But their hearts and minds belong to punk rock and hip-hop, “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” cartoons and tattoos. Their work is typically figurative and often narrative, in a populist, accessible vein. Giant robots stride across Jeff Soto’s spray-painted landscapes. Scott Musgrove’s six-foot bronze statue depicts a cartoonish imaginary creature. Kathy Staico Schorr’s paintings strand Halloween witches, clowns and Popeye in menacing Surrealist settings. The mosaics of Invader, who took his name from Atari’s Space Invaders game, recreate his favorite album-cover art with tiles from deconstructed Rubik’s Cubes.

Unlike Pop Art, which drew on similar sources to comment on art and culture, “for this generation, who grew up on TV, pop-culture imagery is their language,” Mr. LeVine said. “Their culture is pop culture.”
The art establishment was slow to warm to these artists, and vice versa. In the 1980s and ’90s they created their own scene, more youth culture than high art. They illegally postered and painted city walls or hung their work in hip, funky spaces like Psychedelic Solution, a storefront gallery on West Eighth Street in Greenwich Village, and La Luz de Jesus, above a pop merchandise shop on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. The first shows Mr. LeVine organized in the mid-’90s were in clubs and bars like CBGB and Max Fish in Manhattan and Maxwell’s in Hoboken, N.J. The movement even had (and still has) a magazine of its own, Juxtapoz, founded in 1994.

But in the last decade the genre gradually found more acceptance in the art world. Influential dealers like Jeffrey Deitch, Tony Shafrazi and Earl McGrath now represent some of the artists, and institutions from the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney to Fondation Cartier in Paris show their work. Corporate marketers, meanwhile, line up to enlist them in their branding efforts.

Despite such successes, though, the artists still tend to speak in anti-elitist terms about their work. “This movement, whatever it’s called, is very blue collar in a way,” said Mr. Soto, 35, who grew up in Orange County in California, majored in illustration at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and supplements his fine-art income by illustrating magazine covers, rock posters and advertisements.
The artists who first inspired him “were designing the skateboards I looked at in the mid to late ’80s,” he said, “just guys working for studios trying to make cool images.” He sees the appeal of his own art and other work represented in the LeVine show as largely a matter of how easily it can be grasped: “People who like fine art can get into it, but also people who don’t know anything about high art, because it tells a story and it’s interesting to look at.” Adam Wallacavage, a Philadelphia photographer and sculptor who created the humorous octopus-armed chandelier that hangs in the show, echoed Mr. Soto. “I don’t like making things that are inaccessible,” he said. He made his first chandelier for his own dining room a decade ago and said he likes that some its descendants now hang in nonart spaces like the clothing shops Mishka in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and RVCA in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, “where anybody can see them.”

“The typical gallery scene is too egotistical and creepy for me,” Mr. Wallacavage, 40, added. “Art is treated like a sacred object. Openings are like weird religious services where the artist is a messiah. Ew. No, you’re not.”
The genre’s roots reach back to the West Coast of the 1960s, where Robert Williams, now its elder statesman at 67, created hot rod illustrations, psychedelic rock posters and underground comics. That background in demotic, countercultural imagery remains evident in his trippy paintings of crashing hot rods and miniskirted vixens in psychedelic landscapes, which he began describing as Lowbrow Art in the late 1970s. The term celebrated what he calls the work’s “devil-may-care vulgarity” and its contrast to the “snobby, blobby, gobby stuff” of much high art at the time. It came to be applied to artists and illustrators of a similar aesthetic, including Robert Crumb, Gary Panter, Ron English and Josh Agle (who signs his work Shag).
But as the genre was passed down to a generation that draws from a wider spectrum of pop iconography, the Lowbrow label has largely fallen out of use. “It’s too limiting,” Mr. LeVine said. “The work is far too diverse now.”
Several artists in his show began as artists. Shepard Fairey, for example, combined his training at the Rhode Island School of Design with his experiences in the graffiti and skateboard cultures to create a widely seen series of stickers and posters in the early 1990s. One of the most ubiquitous pictured the wrestler Andre the Giant above the legend “Obey” — a reference to the sci-fi film “They Live.” During the 2008 presidential campaign this design morphed into Mr. Fairey’s famous image of Barack Obama over the word “Hope,” now in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery. (The Obama poster is also the subject of a lawsuit brought against Mr. Fairey by The Associated Press because, the suit claims, he based it without permission on an A.P. photograph.)

Mr. Fairey, 40, now has a solo exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, and last year he had one at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, where he was arrested, on his way to an opening event for the show, on outstanding warrants in connection with graffiti. In May he is scheduled to be the last artist shown at Deitch Projects, the prominent SoHo gallery.
Mr. Deitch, its proprietor, who is moving to Los Angeles to become director of the Museum of Contemporary Art there, also represents the street artists Barry McGee and Swoon (who is now in the permanent collection of the MoMA) and mounted a group show of skateboard art, complete with a replica skating bowl, in 2002. He said he sees this work as extending a legacy that goes back through Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat to Andy Warhol.

“The people in the more establishment side of the art world are just beginning to get it,” he said. “They still have no idea how huge street art is.”

Eddy Desplanques, who calls himself W K and signs his work with a fingerprint, began as a street artist in France; he is one of three French artists in the LeVine show, along with Invader and Blek le Rat. He moved to New York in the early 1990s and soon, working late at night, was painting stark black-and-white figures on walls all over Lower Manhattan. “It was totally illegal, very not appropriate,” Mr. Desplanques recalled. But it also earned him instant notoriety, and within a couple of years, he said, “all these brands started contacting me and other street artists because we were trendy, and they wanted to be part of what was going on.” He has created murals, window displays and other public works for Nike, Adidas, Commes des Garçons and other clients.

“At first some other artists picked on me and said I sold out,” he said. “Then everybody did it.”
Mr. Desplanques, 41, said he began showing in galleries about a decade ago, “but the art for me was on the street. I didn’t really want to go to the gallery because it was too much a certain type of people, and not enough people.” Today, besides Mr. LeVine’s gallery, he shows in galleries in London and Paris and said his work sells for $10,000 to around $50,000.
He still puts work up on city walls too and said he was recently caught by the police as he postered a wall in Chinatown at 3 a.m. “I got lucky. The cops knew my work.” They still confiscated the posters, he added.

Even Mr. Williams, the godfather of Lowbrow, is not quite the consummate outsider his reputation suggests. Tony Shafrazi Gallery has shown his work since 1990; he just had a show there last fall. (A review by Ken Johnson in The New York Times called him an “uncommonly inventive, albeit often puerile image maker.”) And he has six watercolors in the current Whitney Biennial.
“Robert’s always had a huge following, but it was outside the art world,” Mr. Shafrazi said. “He never got the recognition he deserved. Curators have always been reluctant to deal with the subversive. Now the time seems right for him. He’s still not as celebrated as Jeff Koons or whoever, but it’s happening.”

Mr. LeVine came to the movement the same way his artists did. He grew up in Trenton and earned a degree in sculpture, but he was less attracted to fine art than he was to underground comics, punk and hip-hop, “anything subculture and edgy.” With a loan from his parents, he opened his first small art gallery in New Hope, Pa., in 2001. After two years he moved the gallery into Philadelphia, and two years later, in 2005, “I spent every dime I had to move to Chelsea. I wanted to try to take it to the next level I felt it deserved.”

Mr. LeVine, who is 41, said his typical collector is between 35 and 45, “my generation, people who grew up on television and collect popular-culture imagery that resonates with them.”
Madonna, Marilyn Manson and the Nike chief executive, Mark Parker, have bought work from him, he said, adding that “my bread and butter is doctors, lawyers, real estate people, a pretty cool bunch who maybe have a little more money to spend than the average person.”
Back to Top Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

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March 14, 2010


March 14, 2010

On Sunday morning, Father John Moulder slipped into his red and white vestments and sermonized to the congregants at St. Gregory the Great Church, on North Paulina Avenue.
On Monday evening, jazz musician John Moulder strapped on his electric guitar and unleashed torrents of sound at the Jazz Showcase, on South Plymouth Court.

At first glance, the two identities might seem opposed — a man of the cloth igniting some of the most incendiary jazz music to be heard on Chicago's stages. Aren't religious leaders supposed to be above this sort of thing?

Not really, according to Moulder, who believes his callings as priest and jazz musician originate from the same source. He has made this point eloquently in the last two decades, emerging as one of Chicago's most admired jazz artists, as well as a spiritual figure to uncounted parishioners.
Come Tuesday, Moulder will dramatically underscore his belief in the power of jazz to express the divine. For on that night he'll launch the first Chi-Town Jazz Festival, a geographically sprawling event he invented, persuading Chicago-area jazz musicians and club owners to donate their services to feed the hungry. Proceeds from the festival — which Moulder hopes will raise $15,000 to $20,000 — will go to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Northern Illinois Food Banks, among others.

No one can remember another Chicago jazz event of this magnitude — featuring top-flight artists — fashioned not for fame or fortune or CD sales but, rather, for the greater good.
"The festival definitely is born out of my desire to help people and my love of jazz," says Moulder, speaking in the residential quarters adjoining St. Gregory the Great Church, his guitars and discs and scores stashed all over the place.

"It's also an expression of something that I seek to live by in my faith, which is really helping people in need and realizing the dramatic increase in need that has been out there. …
"Catholic Charities has said that requests for food have gone up … and I had this crazy idea that maybe I could put something together to help."

Moulder dared to dream big. Last year he began calling Chicago's top club owners, urging each to give him the run of the club for an evening, allowing him to book the musicians and keep the gate for charity. The venue owners, to Moulder's delight, embraced the idea, as did some of Chicago's best musicians.

When word got out about Moulder's venture, institutions as formidable as Symphony Center downtown and as grass-roots as the Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest asked in. Both already had ticketed jazz events lined up for the week of Moulder's festival, so they wondered if they might urge their audiences to contribute to Moulder's cause.
No problem.

In effect, a flicker of an idea last fall rapidly has become a major Chicago cultural event, at least on paper. And only one person in Chicago would have had the jazz savvy, the noble intentions and the personal credibility among musicians and club owners to launch it.

Moreover, the same impulse stands at the heart of this festival and the core of Moulder's identity — an expression of faith through religion and jazz. Never mind that jazz long has been caricatured as the music of sin and vice. Moulder and his mentors know better.

"Father John Moulder has an extraordinary musical talent and, like all people so talented, he shares his gifts through teaching and performing," writes Cardinal Francis George, in an e-mail.
"Since who he is is a Catholic priest, and sharing his musical ability means sharing who he is, the gift of his priesthood is also shared in his performances."

Jazz and faith, in other words, are inextricably intertwined in Moulder's work, a fact that becomes apparent when you listen to him play. At his best, his solos surge from one soaring climax to another, his improvised melody lines sounding at once utterly spontaneous and thoroughly inevitable. You don't have to know he's a priest to sense the spiritual undertow of this music.

"You listen to his solos, and they were meant to be," says drummer Wertico, who has collaborated with Moulder in concert, on recordings and on tour since the early 1990s.
"As a guitar player, he's totally melodic, but he's also totally fiery. He's got passion in everything he plays. …
"I think one of the reasons he wanted to become a priest was to try to help people, and that's what his playing is about. … It's like he's on the planet just to do good."
Looking back, Moulder's arrival at this juncture may seem almost preordained. The youngest of six siblings growing up in the Lake Forest/Lake Bluff area, he was smitten with music before he could talk and soon wanted to play a piano, says his mother, Echo Moulder.
But with the boy's parents divorced, there wasn't enough money for a piano, so the nascent musician turned to guitar briefly at age 8, then again at 10. "He was always creating his own compositions, from I can't remember how young," says Echo Moulder.

By eighth grade, young Moulder fell in love with the blues and quickly progressed to jazz, lured by its harmonic challenges and technical demands.
At the same time, though, Moulder was drawn to religion, in Catholic school and in church.
"I remember reading scripture on my own when I was younger and thinking about those types of things," says Moulder, 48. "My father was very religious. … My grandmother was an important wisdom figure for me, in terms of my own unfolding spirituality.
"I have recollections of her being one of the first people to pray with me. I would be going to bed, and she would tuck me in, and we would pray for different people who were living. I have very fond memories of that."

All the while, Moulder's musical skills deepened — so much that he didn't really feel he needed to go to music school to continue studying the art: "I could get a lot of what I needed from playing or listening to records, transcribing," he says.
Instead he majored in psychology at Southern Illinois University, playing in Carbondale bars to sharpen his musical craft.
"At that point I had the idea of bringing a couple of these worlds together: music and some kind of helping profession, either counseling or going into pastoral work," recalls Moulder.
After a brief sojourn in 1984 to Boston, where he took private guitar lessons, he returned to Chicago and enrolled in Mundelein Seminary in 1986, meanwhile plunging into Chicago's robust jazz scene. Both arenas suited him well, he says, and his dual life "just kind of kept snowballing together."

Musically, Moulder made a striking impression with his debut CD, "Awakening" (Mo-Tonal Records, 1993) and with his most explicitly sacred work "Trinity" (Origin Records, 2006). His newest recording, the profound "Bifrost" (Origin Records), was one of the best of 2009, a sure indication that Moulder continues to mature as artist and man.

"I've always felt that you participate in the life of the spirit by using the gifts that God gave us," says Moulder. "I enjoy thinking of God as a creator, and that the artist participates in that creative enterprise in their own way, and that the spirit inspires that in us. … And when I say spirit, I mean God's spirit and the human spirit kind of joined."

By all appearances, Moulder is flourishing both as pastor and musician, his Chi-Town Jazz Festival just the latest manifestation of his impact on life and culture in Chicago.
"If he had to make a choice" between religion or jazz, says his mother, "if he had to leave one or the other, I'm not sure which he would choose. The combination seems to work for him."
And us.
Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune
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March 12, 2010

March 8, 2010


"The Hurt Locker" won big at the Oscars, a total of six awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Film Editing), making history in the process: Kathryn Bigelow is the first woman to win in the "Best Director" category. Did it deserve it? And what is the Academy trying to say by this sweeping bestowal of accolades?

First of all, "The Hurt Locker" is a fine movie with bold sound, "you-are-there" cinematography, and some incredible acting, not only on the part of the main character, SSG William James (Jeremy Renner, nominated for Best Actor), but also his two comrades-in-arms: Sgt. J T Sanborn (Anthony Mackie, who could have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor), and Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), the scared, stressed soldier in therapy between missions. Although the movie is placed in the buzz of war, there's really only these three characters, so when you think about it, this is a small movie in a mid-size war. It reminded me immediately of a movie about three other soldiers in the First Gulf War, "Three Kings," but without the surreality. And for all its gritty, meticulous re-creation of scenarios that have become familiar even to us back home, HL is not a strict re-enactment of anything. It is a fictional drama, a sophisticated Hollywood movie, plopped down in the midst of America's long war.

Part of Bigelow's genius and artistic vision is that she slowed down much of the action to very long, yet tense and riveting scenes that require our full attention and appreciation, and from which we cannot look away.

The story begins by cutting deep into a day in the life of a specialist detonating IEDs. He is dressed in a protective outfit that looks like something from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." He doesn't make it and is promptly replaced by SSG William James--a crack, reckless and preternaturally-gifted bomb-dismantler. (HL is not a violent explosion or gorefest as I thought it might be.)

There have been several other Iraq/Afghanistan War movies made, but none have captured our imaginations until HL. Why? Perhaps because HL doesn't seem to be saying anything "political," doesn't seem to be taking "sides." Some criticize Bigelow for not overtly condemning war with her movie, but she defends herself by saying her movie shows what war is and what it does to people on both sides. I found that she did portray the Iraqi people as real characters, and although the audience is "embedded" with our troops, we are made to feel very much that we are obviously and unavoidably in someone else's territory. There is an acknowledgment that a different people thinks and lives somewhat differently than we do. Nobody's life is "realer" than anyone else's, everybody's life is precious. No one is demonized, no one is canonized, and yet the moral framework of every situation, every decision to be made, stands tall. What doesn't stand tall is the overall question of war, and this particular war. But perhaps it is no longer politically correct, patriotic or polite to ask these questions. But maybe what is more insane than war itself is NOT asking "Why?"

James is a not a typical or orthodox soldier. But at the end of the day, he's a very good soldier, one of the best, which makes one question what it takes to be a good soldier. As has been said in other reviews, James is a creature of war. But I thought he'd be portrayed as a little crazy. But he's not. He's perfectly sane. And kind to all. After all, his job is not combat, it's protecting lives. My fear and complaint about HL is primarily a visual one. Although James is not a combatant, is he not still the image of the immortal, invulnerable American warrior? His heart in the right place in a war without end, a war with endless resources? SPOILER ALERT: No one we get to know, no one we have come to love and care about in HL gets killed.

As John Paul II says, "War is an adventure from which there is no return." Perhaps war is also a lie: a man is wired to answer the call to defend family and homeland, but the call to war takes him far away from family and country, and he deprives his wife and children of what they need most from him: his presence. Warfare and his buddies become his life, and he is often rendered incapable in mind or body (or both) to ever return to his hearth.

With all due respect to Jeremy Renner, I thought Anthony Mackie was a slightly better actor who never, ever slipped out of character for even a whisper of a nanosecond. One of the times that I felt Renner did this was probably not his fault. It was towards the end of the film when James sums up the whole theme of the movie in one exposed-like-a-wire, on-the-nose statement. If you haven't seen the movie yet...wait for it. We really didn't need that. We get it.

Was HL deserving of all this praise? Yes, although not as consistently excellent as "Precious." And what are the Tinseltown powers-that-be telling us by this choice? Hollywood—at first unsure about our present wars--has come around to a kind of unmitigated support of them. Do they feel guilty? Grateful? Or are they just saying that HL is high-quality entertainment? Can war be entertainment?

HL raises lots of questions and so do its awards.


--As a story, there's really not much to HL. It's more a "slice of life," "day in the life" type of experience. The characters barely have an arc (except for quick switch at the end for Sgt. Sanborn). Our main character changes not a whit. We are so caught up in the fantastic filmmaking and character study that we might fail to notice this. But maybe this stasis, this tautology, speaks loudest of all. Have we, as Americans in particular, accepted, made peace with a "permanent state of war"? Why are we not asking the big questions we asked at the beginning of the war(s)? (Like: What does Iraq have to do with 9/11? What about international law?) Are we afraid to denigrate the sacrifices of our service men and women? Do we not want to clarify and understand what they ARE sacrificing for? What happened to being pro-soldier (pro-all human beings, pro-life) and anti-war?

At the end of every movie, we are supposed to ask: "So what?" What would it matter if this movie were never made? What have I gained from seeing this film? Or at least, what does the journey of the movie mean for the characters? If they made a journey.

--Was the choice of name "William James" connected to the fact that American philosopher William James (my fellow Bostonian) was a pragmatist? (Pragmatism--as a philosophy--is considered to be a truly American philosophy.)

March 4, 2010


Star-studded Oscar-contender "Up in the Air" showcases not only what is wrong with jobs/the economy in America, but something even more profound: What's wrong with love, sex and marriage in America. If "UIA" is representative, we haven't a clue what it is. How can love be the organizing principle of our lives and relationships if we don't even know what it is? May I suggest reading (slowly--it's the only way one CAN read it) Karol Wojtyla's "Love and Responsibility"? Here's a (non-comprehensive) definition of love gleaned from it: "Love always does what is best for the other." "Up in the Air" does not show us this kind of love. The closest it comes is when hired gun, Ryan Bingham (the versatile, world-weary George Clooney)--who flies around the country firing people for large companies--infuses some dignity and compassion into his work.

Are the filmmakers aware of this parallel (both jobs and love in decline in America)? The film is based on the book by Walter Kirn, so maybe we need to look to the author also for an answer. My sense was that the storytellers DIDN'T have a problem with the ingrained, persistent, promiscuous, casual sex throughout, and were trying to find some redemption, some rebuilding of male/female relationships BASED on these shambles. Although the tone of the movie is light and the acting superb, I left the cinema with a creeping depression that grew and grew. It made me forget all the funny and brilliant parts and just focus on the bleak, arid, exhausted, spent, mechanistic, behavioristic panorama of the sexual revolution. (Yeah, this movie is THAT sad.)

The women in "UIA" are the ones who (true-enough-to-life) seem to push for commitment, but this doesn't mean that they know what love is either (Natalie, Ryan's young uppity upstart protégé has one of those destructive, damaging laundry lists of "requirements" for her future mate). Love is also about playing lots of games. (And knowing/following the "protocol" of those games.) Oh dear. I tell teens: "The surest way to NOT find true love is to start playing games. Even if at first it's just to defend and protect yourself, or because others are playing you." Better to get hurt and stay open to true love than trample on love.

Neither of the two approaches to "love" in "UIA" (the older and wiser "sloppy, lower-your-expectations" approach NOR the younger and rigid "aim high, never settle" approach) come close to true love. They are all "me"-centered and consumeristic, rather than other-centered and personal/interpersonal. Check out SNL's "Me-Harmony": (Actually, Ryan's occasional sex partner, Alex (Vera Farmiga), says something very similar to the comedians in the spoof!)


A new book contends that we as Americans have a built-in conflict of interest when it comes to marriage: We love the idea of marriage, but our society was founded on individualism which we take into our marriages and often treat marriage as a means for our own self-fulfillment, and when we don't get what we want out of marriage, we end it (and are expected and encouraged by those around us to end it): "The Marriage Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today," Andrew J. Cherlin, 2009, Knopf.

It's interesting that there are different interpretations for the "Unity Candle" (used in the marriage ceremony in the film)!

(Wikipedia entry)

It is sometimes performed to symbolize the joining together of the two families, and their love for the bride and the groom, into one united family that loves the new husband and wife. More often it is to symbolize the union of two individuals, becoming one in commitment. The popular explanation is that the taper candles are lit by representatives from each family to symbolize the love and allegiance that each family has for either the bride or the groom.[1] As the bride and groom use these two flames to light the unity candle, they bring the love of both families together in a united love of the new couple. Generally, the two tapers are left burning and replaced in their holders (because each family's love for their own will continue). However, in some ceremonies they may blow out their individual candles.

When the ceremony is alternatively performed to symbolize simply the joining together of the bride and groom, the tapers may be blown out, to indicate that the two lives have been permanently merged, or they may leave them lit beside the central candle, symbolizing that the now-married partners have not lost their individuality.[2]

I was recently doing an introduction to Theology of the Body for junior high students with some parents in attendance. When I asked them if they thought true love was possible, a few girls enthusiastically squeaked "Yes!" and the rest remained silent. One boy offered: "There's a lot of fighting." I went on to soothe their doubts by saying: "Lovers' quarrels, perhaps?" And "We can't judge a couple's relationship from the outside, true love often looks kind of ordinary, even frumpy." (I have a slide of a happy, frumpy couple in my Powerpoint.) I asked them if they had seen couples of whom they could say: "THAT'S what I want my marriage to be like…." One or two hands went up. I turned to the parents for some back up: "Is it worth it? Would you do it all again?" The ten or so parents in the room sat in torpid silence. "Parents???" A few mumbled "yes" and smiled wistfully. I hurriedly told the students to "keep on looking!"

We have a love and marriage problem in the USA! (Even though we are a people who like to GET married much more than our European counterparts, and multiple times.) I like to stress with students that true love is not something that descends on us from on high, like Cupid's arrow. There isn't necessarily "the one" out there just for me. I tell them that marriage is what you make it, your marriage can be whatever you want it to be—it doesn't just happen. But of course, this presupposes that we know what true love is.

I truly believe we WANT to know what true love is, what marriage really is, and we keep trying different theories and praxis. One is a desperate attempt at trivializing the physical element of a relationship while at the same time being addicted to it (UIA). One big mistake we make in love is to put the physical first when it is actually the last stage in a relationship.

I am more and more and more convinced that Venerable John Paul II's greatest legacy and gift to us is his straightening out of our notions of love. Human love. Romantic love. Life-giving love (life-giving in every way). I have to confess that I am being converted more and more (daily!) in my own understanding and living of self-giving love as I study VJP2G's masterwork "Theology of the Body" in conjunction with his other writings. I still shock myself at my own ignorance of what he calls "education in love." What course of study could be more important?

VJP2G's vision of love is God's vision, the Church's vision, the most ancient vision, the most beautiful vision, AND the most challenging vision—kind of knocks the wind out of you. In a good way.

DO see this movie. There's a lot to it. But have your TOB resources close at hand so you don't despair.


--Some people, on discovering TOB, cry: "Where was this when we needed it??!" TOB is not too late. It's right on time.


--When I saw the "happy talk" used at the firings, it made me think of a new book out regarding American eternal optimism (that says it's harming us): "Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America," by Barbara Ehrenreich.

--ANNA KENDRICK ROCKS. I would just like it to go on record that I saw her great potential immediately in "Twilight." You can check my old reviews.

--Everyone uses strong profanity in "Up in the Air," even Ryan's plain, down-home sister in northern Wisconsin. This gives every character the exact same "voice" (bad screenwriting) and feels very forced. (Good screenwriting might have—understandably and realistically—saved the cussing mainly for the newly-fired.)

--Only a hint of poetry: "I FERRY WOUNDED SOULS"—but Ryan was on the right track here! Most of life IS poetry! We need so much more poetry than statistics.

--Much talk of people acting like "grown-ups" and "children," but no one is grown up till we take responsibility.

--"Nice touch"—Everything is self-conscious spin and marketing! Arrrgghh.

--New media is "put on hold" at Ryan's job! Good testing of the spirits, we can go back, we can use media intentionally, humanly, etc.

--We need to save our humanity. Just when we think no one could be more cutthroat than Ryan, the next generation, Natalie, outdoes him in newer, even colder ways. And not only outdoes him, but almost replaces him.

--LOTS of subtle product placement in this movie.

--Great visual of landscapes of empty offices in large glass office buildings. If there's any "objective correlative" (an object that is a symbol for the theme of a whole film) it would be the no-longer needed (stacks of) office chairs.