December 20, 2013


Are we all agreed that “Saving Mr. Banks” is the Worst. Movie. Title. Ever? Good. First: Who is Mr. Banks? He’s the father of the little family in “Mary Poppins,” and the filmmakers must have assumed that we all had massive group recollection on that one. Second: “Banks” rhymes with “Hanks” who plays Walt Disney. Third: Tom Hanks was in the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” All so bloody confusing. Maybe they were trying to testosterize the title (seeing that the main character is a woman), but they didn’t really need to do that because just Hanks’ presence in the film is enough for moviegoers, AND there’s such a wonderful interplay of the masculine and feminine between them, as well as flashbacks to the authoress’ relationship with her own father.

Notwithstanding the title, “Saving Mr. Banks” does succeed as a movie, which must have been a very difficult feat to achieve. Think about it: A prickly, precise, practically perfect British authoress does not want to sell (sell out) her “Mary Poppins” character to Walt Disney so he can turn her into a singing, dancing bit of fluff. And God forbid he should cast Dick Van Dyke or add animated, soft-shoe-ing penguins.  That’s the unexceptional premise. So how does the movie unfold?

At least half of the movie is set in authoress Mrs. Travers’ (a spot-on Emma Thompson who should get an Oscar for “facial expressiveness”) childhood. The flashbacks are mainly about Mrs. Travers’ relationship with her beloved father, who, although he loved his little princess and was probably responsible for her fertile imagination, was an alcoholic and did not provide well for his family. An alternate title for this film could easily be: “When Life Disappoints.”

Many of the laughs come from Mrs. Travers’ utter disdain, no, horror at all things American. She shuns our optimism, vulgarity, juvenility, food, and even our sunshine. But she is in a predicament where she desperately needs the money that selling the Mary Poppins character to Disney would bring her. However, Mary Poppins is “family” to her, so she postpones signing over the rights while still micromanaging every step of the script. Walt Disney and his collaborators know that she could pull the plug at any time, and that’s what makes it all so precarious every step of the way. She keeps recalling her father’s suspicious attitude toward money and his love of make-believe (what he called his “Celtic soul”).

Disney simply does not know how to please her, but as a fellow artist/creator, he knows how difficult it is to let go of a character. That’s exactly the way he feels about The Mouse. But that doesn’t mean he’s taking “no” for an answer. To arrive at “yes,” he must dig deep into Mrs. Travers’ soul and find out what makes her tick. Even here, it turns out, they are very much alike.

There are some fleeting visual glances intimating that Mrs. Travers might practice Buddhism, or be inspired by it. And her father’s “this life is just an illusion,” is a little disturbing. (Also, the bookends: “feeling it all happened before.”) If you’ve ever lived in L.A., you know that Buddhism is the religion of choice (for Westerners not raised in Buddhism). When Westerners graft Buddhism onto their existing Western mentality, it can quite literally mean that “we’re not real,” and “nothing really matters.”A fellow student  (Christian turned Buddhist) in my UCLA screenwriting program incorporated an abortion into his screenplay. Because of his belief in reincarnation, he reasoned: “It doesn’t matter if we kill the baby’s body, because its soul will get to come back in another body.” Ideas have consequences. But I diverge.*

If you enjoy behind-the-scenes looks at Hollywood, how things came to be, or hashing out stories, this is your film. It’s great to watch the writing/songwriting team trying to find the heart of the story. This is Disney Films telling a story about a Disney film story. As I watched, I thought: I’d love to see Walt Disney’s own story.

What is the takeaway? Forgiveness, letting go, healing, redemption through imagination (love this concept!), finding interior freedom, choosing joy over sadness.
*And don’t get me started on “Kung Fu Panda” and "Eat, Love, Pray"! What is the Christian view here? The world is NOT an illusion, but it is passing away “as we know it” (1 Corinthians 7:31). There will be a “new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17, Revelation 21:1), but it is very dependent—for  us--on what we do in reality here and now.


--Look for the “Sleeping with the Enemy” scene!

--Stuffy London meets Swinging L.A in the 1960’s. Very funny.

--I am not a fan of Hanks, but he is very enjoyable in this film. Ditto Colin Farrell.

--The soundtrack is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious by the stratospheric talent of Thomas Newman. It’s old-timey without being sappy, grand, contemporary and fresh. One of the performances included in soundtrack is by the wondrous Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. Yessssss.

--In the beginning, the flashbacks are very heavy-handed. EVERYTHING reminds her of her childhood and whoosh! we are transported back in time. But the uneven storytelling eventually evens out and we become invested in her early life.

--Good to see Kathy Baker! And Rachel Griffiths!

--So American! If a word doesn’t exist, we just make it up! (And just about everything else, too.)

--THEOLOGY OF THE BODY: Mrs. Travers sticks up for motherhood (when male writers want Mrs. Banks to have a job because she isn’t “doing anything.”)

--LOOSE ENDS: When asked if she has children, Mrs. Travers answers “not precisely.” Mrs. Travers keeps looking sadly at couples, but nothing it said of her love life, and it’s never resolved. The stakes of Mrs. Travers' needing the money to save her house (remembering how she lost her house as a child) should have been higher, more dire, more urgent, IMHO.

--Mrs. Travers: “Rain makes things grow.” Limo driver (Paul Giamatti in a very humble role): “So does the sun.”

--The reveal/conclusion/speech in Act 3 is a bit convoluted.

--Movies feels a tad long, but it’s only 85 minutes.

--This movie could have bored us to death, but it didn’t.

--May I just say that “catharsis” used to mean being able to experience the pain of OTHERS. Now it’s just about experiencing our OWN.

--Commerce and Art are NOT mutually exclusive.

--There are two kinds of people: those who love musicals and those who don’t.

--Oh-oh. I found myself identifying with Mrs. Travers sometimes. I prided myself on having lived in SoCal for 5 years and coming away unscathed by a visit to Disneyland. (I couldn’t imagine a place on earth that would make me UNhappier.) I’m more of a Warner Brothers girl: Roadrunner, Wile E. Coyote, Tweetie, Taz, Bugs Bunny and my fav: Daffy Duck. Thuffering Thuccotash!

--I would never have seen this movie on my own (were it not assigned me by sweet gig at LifeTeen) due to Disney and Hanks.

--Filmed in nice, bright, popping colors!

--Was Walt Disney really a nice guy?

--A woman savior! A strong maternal woman of mystery! Nannies rock. Everyone needs a nanny. Especially grownups.

--How we wish the ones we love would change, even just a little bit.

--"Don't you want to finish the story?" Our stories aren't finished yet....

This review with cool graphics:

December 17, 2013


“Nebraska”--the latest offering from director Alexander Payne (“Sideways,” “The Descendants”)--is more of Payne’s unblinking look at the difficulty of human relationships and relatedness. Reminiscent of David Lynch’s “The Straight Story,” “Nebraska” is in the road trip film genre, a physical journey of an old man (a mesmerizing performance by Bruce Dern, of whom it has been said that he has an “unmatched natural acting style”) trying to set things right for himself.

Woody, the old man in question, is a flawed human being, but no more flawed than anyone else. He is completely average. His demon side is his drinking, and his angel side is that he wants to help everyone (and thus gets taken advantage of). Oh, and he also “believes what people tell him.” Because of this, he believes he has won a million dollars when he receives a sweepstakes mailing promotion. His son David (Will Forte in a serious role, enhanced by his sad, droopy eyes is a bit of a revelation) is an enabler, a dutiful son, a buddy, and almost a tender parent to his father. He humors him and goes along with the charade.

Does Woody REALLY believe he won a million dollars when everyone around him (except David) is telling him he didn’t? Somewhere down deep, probably not, but the sweepstakes letter has become his great hope, his raison d’etre, and he even sleeps with it. When you discover the reason for Woody’s fantasy (I’m no spoiler!), you will realize this film is NOT about dreams as I first thought it was.

The screenwriter has an incredible understanding of the older generation. I think we will all see our elderly parents, grandparents, relatives or neighbors in Woody and his contemporaries.

THEOLOGY OF THE BODY? Two contrasting views of marriage! Woody and Kate (Woody’s wife who is constantly berating him, June Squibb) knew that marriage was what you did. You commit and then you stick it out. David and Noel--his live-in girlfriend of two years who just moved out—aren’t as sure about commitment. But in both cases, the men are more concerned about sex and the women are more concerned about getting on with the permanency of the relationship. There are some good-natured digs at (along with some admiration of) Catholics being about having babies--(Yay! I wear that proudly!)—and then a questioning of the whole notion of divorce today (say what?—that’s even a question today??? In a film???): “Divorce used to be a sin. I guess God changed his mind.”

Don’t be turned off by the vulgarities you may see in clips of this movie. (Most of the vulgarities come from Kate, and are not all throughout the film.) I guess marketing figured it would be a selling point. But I know people who lost interest in the film because of these clips. Even if you’re incensed by profanity (and the name of the Lord being frequently taken in vain), I would encourage you to look beyond to this touching (and very funny) story about truth, hope, marriage, but mostly about a father and a son who have already reached an understanding even before they set out together on an impossible (or is it?) trek.


--“Nebraska” is a black and white film which suits it so perfectly. We are caught up in people’s expressions, and the small, rather desolate farming towns are bleak anyway.

--Pleeeeeeze give Dern an Oscar! I know there’s stiff competition with Chiwetel Ejiofor from “12 Years a Slave,” but pleeeeeze! Dern’s an old man! This is his last chance!

--Kate says the nastiest things with the most gleeful look on her face. You will criticize, judge, condemn, giggle with, forgive and applaud Kate at different times in this film. I would NOT be surprised if June Squibb is nominated for Best Supporting Actress. She is Woody’s perfect foil.

--I thought David’s brother, Ross, was Kevin Costner for the whole film. It’s Bob Odenkirk. Tell me he does not look uncannily like Costner. With a little plastic surgery.

--Life is tough. Love is tougher.

--There were several points in the film I just wanted to CHEER.

--This film is not about fading away gracefully or ungracefully or about closure. It’s about living. It simply doesn’t matter how old you are. We can always grow and change and LIVE. (Notice how much Woody sleeps and then when he finally perks up.)

--I cried when Peg Nagy almost did.

--Men will understand the theme of HONOR in this film.

--The most broken and ordinariest of lives matter. These two lines from “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” kept rolling around in my head during the movie: “And we'll guard each man's dignity /
And save each man's pride.”
Watch how David does this for his father.

--You DO know that Bruce Dern is Laura Dern’s father, right?

--Another Korean war vet story (like “Gran Torino”).

--Watch how many times people say and do the exact opposite of what they just said/did.

--I would die in a non-talkative family!

--Woody’s sad, roughed-up childhood “doesn’t matter,” but he looks forward with hope to a bright future.

--Love the attention to detail (character has to get a chair and pull it up to the table), and the old-fashioned language: “cool your jets,” “it’s a total come-on,” “you dumb cluck.”

--Yummy, homey, homely settings.

--Is that what humans look like watching TV? Truly terrifying.

--This story is partly told in SIGNS. All kinds of signs: highway signs, store signs, neon signs. My favorite: “MONSTER TAN” in the middle of a sparsely-populated, dilapidated center of town.

--Payne went to UCLA for film. Me too! Me too!

--Payne has gotten kinder and kinder to his characters through the years. “Election,” “About Schmidt,” “Sideways,” “The Descendants.” So let me go on record that I pretty strongly disagree with most of Chris Nashawaty's review in "Entertainment Weekly," November 22, 2013.

--The only time Woody looks ashamed in front of his son (and he has a few things to be ashamed of) is when Woody’s old frenemy tells David—right in front of Woody—about Woody’s infidelity when he was married to David’s mother.

--Some interesting excuses for exposition: going to a graveyard and talking about the folks at their tombstones, driving down the road and talking about who lives in the houses.

--There’s a fair amount of unnecessary repetition in the film, but it’s not annoying. Only two lines stuck out as totally on-the-nose (and they happen toward the beginning): “He didn’t care s*** about us,” and the constant threat to put Woody in a “home.”

--“Nebraska” is a master class in set-ups and pay-offs in film. Payoffs are so often visual.

--Truly VISUAL storytelling and some great use of AUDIO.

--The humor is sheer Midwestern deadpan.

--My favorite line is whenever Woody says: "It doesn't matter." #KnowingWhatMattersIsEverything

--Some of the ribald humor actually works well to comedic effect (and unexpectedly reveals something about Kate).

--Some very clever and creative mis-en-scenes: looking through the windshield while driver and passenger exchange places. Just LOTS of visually interesting shots. No shot feels perfunctory. Payne is meticulous and precise in everything he does, anyway. According to, Payne is on a short list of directors who have final cut rights to their own films. “Nebraska” feels like an indie film. A welcome relief from the formulaic, super-shiny, more-android-than-human characters in so many Hollywood blockbusters.

--We need way more HUMANIZING films like this. Thank you, Alexander Payne!

--In Alexander Payne’s own words (I love his philosophy of filmmaking!):

I want all of my films to belong to me. There is an audience out there for literate films - slower, more observant, more human films, and they deserve to be made. Which is why I want Sideways (2004) to succeed, to encourage other film-makers.

While accepting his Director of the Year award for Sideways (2004) at the Palm Spring Film Festival: "I thank you for this award, though I think there may be a problem with a world in which making small, human and humorous films is 'an achievement.' It should be the norm".

We don't have movies about ourselves, and we don't have a national film culture. It shouldn't be an epic aspiration to make simple human stories, but it is.

Where is it written that if you are not getting your money from a studio you have more freedom? If I had tried to make Sideways with independent funding I would have had to secure foreign presales and cast big stars in order to get my budget. This movie took a studio to say 'We're gambling on you. Cast whoever you want.'

It's my hope that we're getting into an era where the value of a film is based on its proximity to real life rather than its distance from it. To do that, you need actors - stars, basically - who don't necessarily look like Ben Affleck.

When I'm shooting I don't care who the star is. I have an actor playing a part, and I'm serving the script, not serving anyone's career. My hope is that, after twenty minutes, perhaps the audience forgets it is George Clooney or Jack Nicholson and just sees the character.

One of cinema's greatest uses or values lies not just in it's ability to capture reality, but to capture or suggest dreams. And silent films excelled from the start in fully embracing the weirdness of real life and dream and how the two can be combined into a story, the likes of which I think, we've not seen in the talkies - a fuller, weirder totality of human experience.

Great interview with Payne about his getting into filmmaking: (Sadly, though, Payne also made "Citizen Ruth" because he thought the contention between pro-life and pro-abortion people made great fodder for comedy.)

November 30, 2013


Celebrate Christmas
Daughters of St Paul
2013 Christmas Concert

Ramsey, New Jersey
Tuesday, December 3 at 7:30pm
St. Paul Catholic Church
200 Wyckoff Ave.
Ticket information: Tel. 201-327-0976 | Web:

Piscataway, New Jersey
Wednesday, December 4 at 7:00 pm
Our Lady of Fatima Parish
499 New Market Road
Ticket price: $20 / $10 children under 14
Tel. 732-968-5555

Staten Island, New York
Thursday, December 5 at 6:00 pm
Benefit for the Daughters of St. Paul
Staten Island Hilton Garden Inn
1100 South Avenue @ Lois Lane
Ticket price: $125
For more information: 718-477-2100 x 226

Cleveland, Ohio
Friday, December 6 at 7:00 pm
Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist
1007 Superior Avenue
For more information: 216-696-6525 x 5510 |

Alexandria, Virginia
Monday, December 9 at 7:00 pm
Good Shepherd Catholic Church
8710 Mount Vernon Highway
Tel. 703-780-4055  Email:

Framingham, MA
Thursday, December 12 at 7:00pm
St. Tarcisius Church
562 Waverly St.
Tickets: $5
Tel. English: 508-875-8623 | Portuguese: 508-875-6347 |

Marshfield, MA
Friday, December 13 at 7:00 pm
St. Ann by the Sea Parish
591 Ocean Street
Tickets: $10
Tel. 781-834-4953

Boston, Jamaica Plain, MA
Now 3 performances
Saturday, December 14 at 7:00pm
Sunday, December 15 at 3:00pm AND 7:30pm
Daughters of St. Paul Chapel
50 Saint Paul’s Avenue
Tel. 617-522-8911

For more information, visit our Facebook page:


See this film! See this film! See this film!

Suicide / abortion / hypocrisy / bullying / Theology of the Body / meaning of life / problem of suffering

NO trite Christian blather. Lots of realistic situations.

What "choice" do men have when it comes to abortion?

This is going in my "Theology of the Body Films for Men" list.

A boy grows up and becomes a man by the end of  high school. What a concept.

November 22, 2013


 “Hunger Games: Catching Fire”—the film series adapted from the young adult books--has changed directors! (New director: Francis Lawrence, “I Am Legend.”) The difference? A little more slick and polished rather than gritty, handheld. A little more lush, shiny “Harry Potter” and less “Where the Wild Things Are.”

“Hunger Games” is set in a world where young people are like gladiators, hunting each other down for TV entertainment and “distraction”* from their government-run lives of deprivation. (You really need to see the first movie first, 'cause this movie don't explain nothing to ya.)

Jennifer Lawrence (as Katniss, the main character) carries the story through like a pro, showing us why her Hollywood star just keeps on rising. This is a quality, pull-out-all-the-stops, blockbuster production. It’s mostly non-graphically violent, loud, but also very beautiful. “Catching Fire” is well stocked with seasoned and believable actors: Donald Sutherland, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks and always-good-for-laughs Woody Harrelson. 

Katniss continues to be her noble self, doing her best to protect others and save lives (starting with her family and friends) in a brutal and impossible Catch-22 situation. But the Districts are starting to rise up—with Katniss as their icon, beacon and sign of hope—something she doesn’t want but can’t avoid. She feels partially responsible for every further death that occurs, but the revolution is bigger than Katniss.

Katniss’ strong romantic feelings for both Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) continue. Who will it be?

The movie doesn’t have a strong beginning at all (visually, action-wise or dialogue-wise), which is a bit of letdown.  It’s even stiff and dry, until the conversation between Katniss and President Snow raises the stakes. But once it quickly gets into the groove, it takes off with a heart-pounding “turn” every  few minutes, all the way to the last frame, which, of course, is not the end of the story.

“Catching Fire” is long: 146 minutes, but extremely watchable and never tiresome. There seems to be an underlying theme of goodness and friendship: “Why can’t we all just get along?” But since we can’t, we must protect our own and forge allegiances, and then be fiercely loyal. It’s never just about saving one’s self, but often self-sacrificing to save others.

Why "Hunger Games" Is a Problem

The one problem with the series—and it’s a big one—is the underlying dystopian setting of young people killing young people (“Catching Fire” includes older tributes, also). There’s even a tribute who filed her teeth so she can kill by biting people’s throats. What are we telling/showing youth and why? That life is war? That this is a future we’re heading to? That we must be vigilant about authority, oppressors, totalitarianism? How to keep one’s humanity in the direst and trickiest of situations? Or is it just a juicy, dark story?

As with most Hollywood films, there is no God (or religion) in “Catching Fire.” Only people acting like God (the State). Of course, human beings are the image of God, so from that standpoint, every movie is filled with God.

Good is good and evil is evil in “Catching Fire.” The good guys are really good and the bad guys are really bad. There is a moral clarity here. But there is not much backstory for any of the characters to tell us why they are the way they are. People seem born good or bad and locked into that categorization. There have been no real transformations or conversions throughout these first two films.

Human dignity (not just human freedom) is what Katniss and her friends seem to be fighting for, so there is a comprehensiveness and a human richness to the “good guys” and their ideals that is lacking on the side of the grotesque, plastic, vain, shallow, ruthless rulers and denizens of the “Capitol.”

As I complained about the first installation of “Hunger Games,” Katniss is almost too perfect. Her flaws are negligible, and she always does the highest moral, heroic thing with great courage. (My friends who have read the books assure me that the books reveal more of her inner dilemmas and shortcomings.) Good storytelling must zero in on the main character’s weaknesses as well as strengths to be realistic.

Despite its shortcomings, “Hunger Games” is a very entertaining, life-is-worth-living-affirming tale.

Age appropriateness? Every child is different, but any 10-year-old used to loud noises and a fair amount of violence and “peril” in their media should be fine.
*So, I thought to myself, I thought: "Here we are in a temple of entertainment (and trust me, the Cineplex at Silvercity, Yorkdale Mall, Toronto, is a TEMPLE) being entertained by a story about people who are being manipulated by, um, entertainment."  


--Wanna see this movie review in chill Web 3.0 rather than lame 1.0 graphics?

--We missed you, Jena! You, too, Amanda Plummer (Christopher Plummer's daughter)!

--The wedding dress.

--Oh joy. "Hunger Games Theme Parks"

--Suzanne Collins (author of "The Hunger Games") dishes on her favorite young adult lit growing up (OMGosh, more than half were MY favs!)

--There just never was a more "us and them" movie. The game-maker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) even uses this very language.

--Lots of obvious overtones of decadent, ancient Rome this time, right down to the chariots. Can you say "bread and circus"?

--Culture of surveillance.

--I love how Katniss, even when totally gussied up, still looks, talks and acts like a tough backwoods gal.

--Most adorbs little baby and toddler with Mom and Dad in front of me in cinema. Toddler very well behaved, baby having a ball screaming and interacting with the ginormo screen. Was I bothered? Nope. The KIDS is what it's all about. We have forgotten this. It's all about THEM.

--Effie (Elizabeth Banks) has a soul. She is a fragile, pathetic, pitiful creature--that's why Katniss and Co. don't hate her. I wouldn't be surprised if she joins the other side....

--Excellent balance of SILENCE in story telling and dialogue.

--Dystopian young adult literature is "so over"? Really? Maybe 'cuz NOW 55% of readers are over 18. (No longer cool when Mom is reading it. Ha ha.) Dystopian literature is so over. What will be the next big genre in young adult fiction?

--Hunger Games author, Suzanne Collins, gives a rare interview to TIME magazine, November 2013. Her father was a veteran and believed children should be taught about the realities of war. Can't read whole interview? You should probably subscribe to TIME! :),9171,2157467,00.html

November 18, 2013


Why keep up with "Catholic news" from (trusted, authentic) Catholic sources? Why also get "secular" news from a (trusted, authentic) Catholic perspective? (If you're reading a Catholic blog, I'm probably LITERALLY preaching to the choir, but here goes.)

1. There's a lot going on in the Church and in the world today, good and bad. We just can't afford not to know. Ignorance is not bliss, it's blindness. It's not knowing where we're going or why. Lack of knowledge leaves us open to be easily manipulated, misled, disillusioned.

2. There's a lot going on in the intersection of the Church and the world today, good and bad.

3. If we don't keep up, we'll drift from our Faith and suddenly be surprised by developments and not comprehend them. Because we weren't keeping up. If we love something, we want to know it always better and keep pace with it. If we love Jesus' Church, we'll do the same.

4. We need knowledge first and then wisdom to understand the times we're living in and the challenges and opportunities for the Faith.

"The sons of Issachar, who were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do...." 1 Chronicles 12:32

5. Jesus admonished those who couldn't "read the signs of the times."

What are some top sources for Catholic news? Here are my picks in order of my preference. (I checked with two mainstream Catholic news radio personalities, a Catholic newspaper editor and young adult Catholic journalist to get their input as well.)

These are not just websites, but can be followed/subscribed to on both Twitter and Facebook (you can usually just go to the site and sign up from there, as well as follow by email: they'll send updates into your email inbox). is my #1 source of breaking Catholic news. Wanna get started on Twitter? It's pathetically simple to sign up. Then just "follow" me: @SrHelenaBurns and click on "Tweets" and then "Lists" at the top of my Twitter page. I only have one list: "news-secular-and-Catholic." Click on it and voila! You are instantly following 150 top Catholic (and secular news sites), as well as some very informed individual Catholics (including bloggers) who will keep YOU informed. I don't agree with ALL the sources/folks on that list, just so you know. I personally read "everything."

However, the following sources ARE vetted, and I recommend 'em:   Bishop Robert Barron instantly comments on current issues with solid Catholic guidance via short YouTubes (see also his YouTube channel). Fr. Barron's YouTubes are easily shareable and very popular among young adults. It seems even young atheists will watch his stuff because "at least this guy makes sense." Or as Brandon Vogt says: "Fr. Barron is on a mission to show that Catholicism is smart, and has one of the world's most brilliant intellectual traditions." (from Ignatius Press--thoughtful in-depth articles about stuff I promise you you didn't know and need to. They JUST discontinued their fine, fine print magazine which was my all-time favorite Catholic periodical.)  (can subscribe via email) See also:  (Listen online!) Hi-quality 24hr Catholic radio station mostly in Chicago & Midwest. Get their app for iPhone & Android: Constant secular and Catholic news updates as well as in-depth instruction, talk shows and news analysis from Emmy-winning journalist, Sheila Liaugminas (show: "A Closer Look"). Shows are also instantly archived and easy to find on their website. is the most pathetically simple way to keep with all things papal and Vatican. 

Support Catholic radio in your area (and online)! Radio apps for mobile technology means you can take it wherever you go, too.

From U.S. Bishops regarding religious liberty (free): text "FREEDOM" to 377377 (for Spanish: "LIBERTAD")

(get on their e-newsletter list) AND simply put "Theology of the Body" in Google alerts! Global Catholic TV and radio network. Multimedia, tons of resources, streaming online. Also in Spanish. (Full disclosure: I'm on their Sonrise Morning Show once a month--radio.)  (Owned by EWTN) National Catholic Register (can subscribe via email) print edition also available. Simply the finest, most balanced, faithful-yet-super-contemporary take on Church and world news. Bravo. (daily headlines from Vatican--unofficial, but quick & easy way to get Vatican news) THE voice of faithful millennial Catholics. But are you hip enough to read it? The Catholic news blog of Texas A & M's amazing Catholic campus ministry, St. Mary's (a model for the nation). Young adult friendly.

www.News.VA/en  The new, revamped Vatican media site!!! Includes the official Vatican Newspaper (L'Osservatore Romano), Vatican Information Service, Fides New Agency, Vatican Radio, etc.

Blessed James Alberione reading his favorite newspaper:
L'Osservatore Romano (with Bro. Silvio de Blasio, SSP)
Below is L'Osservatore Romano (the official Vatican Newspaper, I believe it's weekly in English). Print edition is well worth the subscription price. It was printed in English in the USA (for USA and Canada) for a little while, but is now mailed directly from the Vatican. Full texts of Holy Father's talks and doings and other important stuff from the Vatican Offices.    

Email.  This is Chicago's Archdiocesan newspaper. Subscribe to your own diocese's! You'll get international, national and local Catholic news. (Full disclosure: I was the movie reviewer for Catholic New World for 6 years.) (Canada) Voted BEST North American diocesan newspaper (weekly). From Archdiocese of Toronto, but goes all over Canada. Canadians are just so classy and literary and in-depth on the issues and such. Especially read Fr. Raymond J. de Souza column: it's incisive like a Ninja. Digital subscription available.  Weekly news from the U.S. Bishops (important statements from Bishops individually and as a whole). Pricey, but worth it. Print or online.  This is the user-friendly "CNS" news service of the U.S. Bishops. This website compiles a lot of news resources, including movie reviews (which are short, dry and focus mostly on what is appropriate for children or family viewing, don't look for an appreciation of artistry). It includes links to top news stories from Origins and international  Church news. See at bottom of website: --int'l Catholic multimedia directory! A lot of my trusted Catholic sources think this site is a little radical, sensational and inaccurate (I disagree), but boy does LifeSiteNews crank out pro-life news in a constant, exciting fashion! They are not mean-spirited or confrontational, and they REALLY know how to use new media and graphic arts. I often hear about important life issues news from them first. This is a monthly NPR-style audio magazine (CD or mp3-download subscription, well worth the shekels, about $40 a year) that keeps you up on the latest books (often by Christians) examining our culture under many different aspects. Lots of interviews with authors and professors. MHA is not Catholic, but very Catholic friendly. Wicked fun, non-highbrow apologetics. Gorgeous graphic design. Patrick Madrid.  Weird title, good info. Dedicated to any issue dealing with human dignity. In-depth and thoughtful digest.  Like philosophy? Me, too!!! Watch world-class Catholic (and other) philosophers on video. This amazing Institute (set up by Cardinal George at the University of Chicago, his alma mater) is revitalizing Catholic philosophy. Kind of a think tank. If you live in Chicago you can go to these talks in person. FREE. My hipster Catholic young adult friends swear by this Evangelical mag. Even the ones who never read. Please note the amazing layout/graphics.  Just like it says. It's a Christian review from Not high-brow, but definitely meant for ministry and often examining intersection of pop culture and faith. You can get their e-newsletter or print edition. Or both. (Our Sunday Visitor) Weekly online and print. Looking for a FUN, positive, family-oriented, EASY-READ-but-still-informative Catholic news source? Look no further. Best of its kind.  One of my consultants swears by this site. It's where religion journalists and editors go to vent. And analyze religious stories in the news.  (top stories) (I've never used it, by all 4 of my "consultants" do) (out of Boston) 24 hr, streaming online.  (out of Brooklyn) 24 hr, streaming online. What's going on on "Catholic" college campuses....

Oh yes, and a last-but-not-least reason to keep up with Catholic news:
Papa B asked us to be "an engaged, articulate and well-informed Catholic laity"
specifically in the United States! He said this to a group of U.S. Bishops on their ad limina visit (Jan. 2012)
because of  how religious freedom is being threatened in this country. 

PUHLEEEEZE do not get your Church news from the New York Times. 
When it comes to religion (especially Catholicism) they are intellectually dishonest (misrepresenting, withholding information, pretending they don't grasp the issues) and hostile.

As a matter of fact, why trust secular news to:
1. report accurately (it's just all that draconic mumbo-jumbo that doesn't make sense anyway, right?)
2. care
3. comprehend
4. be honest (see #1.)
5. interpret what it all means for us?

AND our dear Papa Francis can be seriously misunderstood by the secular press. I have recently been embarrassed by my fellow Catholics whose ignorance of what Jesus and their Catholic Faith say, coupled with blind trust of secular media has caused them to react in all kinds of unCatholic ways to statements of the pope (and sometimes faulty translations of his words, too). 

Stop it, people! Time to wise up, keep up, and get your Best Catholic News Sources on!

End rant.

November 17, 2013


Join us in the Novena of Blessed James Alberione, leading up to his feastday, November 26!
(He died November 26, 1971.)

Read his biography, "James Alberione--Marvel of Our Times" free online!

Want prayercards, 3rd class relics? Comment below with your snail mail.
God bless!

Join us in praying for the good health of:
Sr. Anne (migraines), Sr. Paul (migraines), Debbie S. (back injury), Angela (seizures)
Conrad (cancer from asbestos), Anthony (young father with debilitating mystery illness)
Allen (seriously injured in industrial accident)

Lord, glorify Blessed James Alberione in your Church.
Let him be for all of us a light, guide and support in the work of our sanctification
and in our apostolate. Open the way for evangelization through the media
so that the presence of Jesus Master, the Way, Truth and Life
may shine on the world through Mary, Mother and Queen of Apostles.
Grant me the grace I am praying for at this time.....

            Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.

Pope John Paul II at Fr. Alberione's tomb

November 10, 2013


The newest film on the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Mary of Nazareth” (, is coming from a good place--directed by acclaimed European film director Giacomo Campiotti (BAKHITA, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO--2002, ST. GIUSEPPE MOSCATI) and written by Francesco Arlanch (RESTLESS HEART—ST. AUGUSTINE, PIUS XII, POPE JOHN PAUL II). It’s another attempt to depict what it may have been like for the Mother of God and those around her to believe and live the unimaginable. As biblical films go, this is not a departure. It looks and feels like so many other Bible movies, which are, in a sense, their own genre. On this count, it feels comfortable and familiar.

There are many inspiring elements in this film, as well as many distracting and detracting elements—almost a 50:50 ratio. For enthusiastic believers (“the choir”) who are not concerned with demanding dramatic standards or rigorous historical accuracy and just want to see Our Lady (and Jesus) walking and talking through Gospel events, “Mary of Nazareth” will fill the bill. For the rest of us, I’m afraid we won’t be able to fully get behind this work, and I’m especially concerned what savvy young people who are used to today’s smart secular acting/dialogue might think of it. Can religious films that are lacking in certain modern sensibilities actually turn people OFF on their subject IRL (in real life)? Are borderline laughable-when-supposed-to-be-solemn moments in these films opening up the sacred to mockery and ridicule? Or just opening up subpar filmmaking to mockery and ridicule?

My biggest objection in “Mary of Nazareth” is that Mary often appears—for a good chunk of the film—well,…simple-minded. Perhaps the thirtysomething actress is trying to appear wide-eyed and youthful, but it doesn’t work. Mary is constantly overgrinning and mincing about without ever seeming to have any tasks to do (she also has a favorite boulder that she rests on a lot). This portrayal of Mary is pretty much the opposite of the teenage actress in “The Nativity Story,” who is sullen and hardly ever smiles (until Jesus is born).
The sullen teenage Mary from "The Nativity Story"
Newborn Baby Jesus (finally sporting brownish skin!) is adorbs, and you have GOT to see how he worshipfully (no heretical pun intended) gapes at and gives Mary the gummiest little smiles. Joseph: “Just like any other little boy….” (Joseph has all the best lines.)

Joseph (as in “The Nativity Story” and “Joseph of Nazareth”) is pretty awesome. Maybe it’s just harder to get Joseph wrong or something.

The grown-up Jesus is not bad. Looks something like Jeffrey Hunter in “King of Kings.” Wears Carl Bloch red and blue colored garments. He’s not goopy, and he’s not the typical hang-ten, laid back, California surfer Jesus.

The 153-minute “Mary of Nazareth” is a tad on the slow side, but is consistently so, lending itself to a new contemplation of oft-pondered Gospel pericopes. Mary begins to be much more sober and somber at the Dedication/Purification in the Temple when Simeon prophesies that Jesus will become a problem for his nation and fellowmen, and that she will suffer along with Him. At this point, Mary and the whole story feel much more grounded. She almost becomes Our Lady of Sorrows from this point on (not in a morose way, but with the approaching Passion a constant undercurrent). There are even flash forwards to the Passion when she is with the boy Jesus (similar to Mary’s flashBACKS during the Passion in “The Passion of the Christ”). Great idea, but could have been better executed.

My absolute favorite part of the film is the recurring sense of Jesus Bridegroom and Mary (the Church) Bride. It is so obvious (after the death of Joseph) that only THEY truly understand each other, only THEY get this Big Divine Secret for now, and their love is so pure and so tangible. If I didn’t know Theology of the Body, I don’t think I would have appreciated this dimension, and I think I would be annoyed by the long, loving, comprehending looks Mary and Jesus engage in. But how else could they communicate/convey this supernatural reality? How else can actors do it? How else can lovers* do it?

There is some truly awful dialogue and some truly spectacular dialogue.
Awful: (Pregnant Mary on donkey to Joseph, halfway to Bethlehem) “Exactly which town are we going to, Joseph?”
Spectacular: (Jesus to a fretful Mary before His Passion) “Remember, whatever happens, it’s all out of love. It’s all love.”

There are also some cool scenes that throw things into a beautiful new light/interpretation:
--a snake approaches Mary under a tree before the Annunciation
--The Magnificat
--Mary and Joseph’s relationship
--Mary clambering up the hillside to the Cross

In my book, “The Passion of the Christ” is still the gold standard for any Mary, Jesus or biblical film, with “Peter and Paul” running a close second (this amazing three hour drama in which Paul is played by a young Anthony Hopkins with hair needs to be much more known and watched). “Jesus of Nazareth” and its follow-up “A.D.” (Acts of the Apostles) are also of unimpeachably high quality.

See “Mary of Nazareth”? Yes!


--There is another, earlier film with the title “Mary of Nazareth” (1995), and one called “Mary, Mother of Jesus” (1999) (produced by Eunice Kennedy Shriver with Christian Bale as Jesus!) Each with their own merits like this present film.

--Blessed James Alberione produced the FIRST color film ever done in Italy: “Mother of God” (1950), in neo-Realistic style. The government of Italy restored it in 2000 for its 50th anniversary!

--Mary’s simpleton qualities for the beginning part of the film make her very unrealistic. Perhaps she was an outwardly joyful person (who wouldn’t be, without original sin and filled with the Holy Spirit?), but she seems, instead, to be living on her own planet and incapable of gauging actual human nature and reactions around her.

--Much of the acting is stiff human interactions with people speaking in DECLARATIONS!, overblown melodrama and general mugging, but that is rather par for the course in Bible films.

---Some more great Joseph lines:
“This is too much for me, I’m just a man.”
“Do you think people will understand a family like ours?”
“The Baby will take care of us.”

--The Annunciation is pretty hideous. I’m still waiting for a good one, maybe modeled on some masterpiece artwork.

--Awful: Mary trying to explain her pregnancy to Joseph. Oy vey!

--Annoying: If Mary had nothing to do before her pregnancy, you should see her after. Her hand is just constantly holding her belly and the camera keeps zooming in on that.

--WOULD Joseph have proposed to Mary directly? WOULD Mary and Joseph have had a wedding celebration with her very pregnant? WOULD the townspeople just suddenly have “forgiven” her?

--“Mary of Nazareth” is way better than “The Nativity Story” in that we see Mary’s FAITH/relationship with God.

--Love the birth/stable scene, and especially the shepherds. The Magi are ALL wrong (they did not arrive right after the shepherds—that’s why Herod had all boys up to two years old murdered), and they were all Persian, not from different countries. Love that the animals, domestic AND wild, know that something big is going down this night (Isaiah 1:3).

--Following along the lines of traditional art/piety (as with the Magi and many other), Jesus drags His cross as a big, flat, smooth, already-assembled affair.
Olivia Hussey ("Jesus of Nazareth")

--Mary kind of looks like Olivia Hussey (dimples, eye teeth). 

--Mary quotes prophesies from Isaiah about HERSELF. Oy vey! Oy vey!

--Mary to Joseph: “Without you, Jesus wouldn’t be the man he is.” J

--Nice pauses, not all yakking.

--Mary asks God if she can suffer in Jesus’ place. J True mother!
Alissa Jung ("Mary of Nazareth")

--The Apostles even try to stop Jesus’ Passion by telling Mary: “He’ll listen to you like He did at Cana!”

--Mary Magdalene is a harlot. Sigh. And she starts off as one of Herod’s bimbos. But I like the actress.

--Love Mary’s last line in film.

--The end of the film has a beautiful dedication to all mothers and some words of Pope Benedict!
*By “lovers,” I am in no way suggesting even a hint of Oedipal-complex type love. The heavenly Bridegroom/Bride love is of a nature that we can’t fully grasp yet: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard…” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.

Revelation 22:17
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

Revelation 22:20
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.