15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)
A few days ago, an act of evil was perpetrated at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
I'm sure we all join in prayer for the victims and their families. I will be completely honest, I've tried to read more details about what happened, but I find it incredibly difficult. I opened one article that had family photos of the children who were killed. My heart cracked down the middle. Who could see these beautiful, innocent faces and even dare to think of doing them violence? It is an unfathomable abyss of evil that terrifies me to even contemplate.
I have nieces and nephews the age of the victims. When I think that someone could see them and do them harm in a similar way, my mind forces my thoughts away to something else.
This is my experience as someone so far removed from these events. I cannot imagine what the families are enduring right now. Moments like these remind us how awful and fallen this world is.
I have nothing horribly original or insightful to say. Like most of us, I am still trying to wrap my mind around this level of malevolence. All I can say is that this is a time to grieve. There is so much pain and fear caused by this crime. People are going to process this in many different ways. In the age of social media, there is a pressure for everyone to comment. You could argue that this is what I am doing now. But all I want to do is offer my prayers and support.
Our Lord is walking with us in these dark times. As Herod slaughtered the holy innocents, the shooting in Uvalde is an outrage before the Lord. Times like this remind us that we do live in a Vale of Tears. But even if we aren't ready to fully embrace it, we must remember the words of hope from Our Lord:
"Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn... you will grieve, but your grief will become joy." John 16:20
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Recently, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco made the pronouncement that the Catholic Speaker of the House was to be denied reception of the Holy Eucharist because of her support of abortion. Cordileone stated that the Speaker was not to be administered communion in his diocese “until such time as you publicly repudiate your advocacy for the legitimacy of abortion and confess and receive absolution of this grave sin in the sacrament of Penance.”
We should take a moment to examine this turn of events and what our proper reaction to it should be.
Does Archbishop Cordileone have this power? Yes he does.
It is the calling of the bishop to look after the moral and spiritual welfare of his flock. Sometimes this requires harsh measures at the discretion of the bishop. One of the most famous stories was involves St. Ambrose. Emperor Theodosius had ordered the massacre of several people at Thessalonica. Because of his role in the slaughter of these innocents, St. Ambrose decided to take action. When the Emperor approached the Cathedral at Milan to go to Mass, St. Ambrose stood in his way and informed him that he would not be allowed to receive the Eucharist until he had publicly repented of his role in the slaughter.
There is a parallel to the modern situation
While I avoid getting specifically political, it is clear that abortion is the murder of innocent life. Someone who is actively seeking to expand the legal right to kill the unborn is someone who is working to promote great evil. A politician who promotes the murder of innocent life stands in grave sin. Therefore there is scandal in such a politician receiving the Eucharist. This could lead to a great deal of confusion among Catholics as to the morality of abortion. And if you read most modern polls, there is a significant percentage of Catholics who support the killing of unborn human life.
So Archbishop Cordileone does have this power. But it must be indulged with great caution.
Denying someone the Eucharist is something that cannot be done lightly. It must be for the most serious of reasons. To be sure supporting the mass murder of innocent children is clearly evil. So on this count, the ban makes sense.
The second question should be what the purpose is of the ban. In other words, what is the end goal? The purpose, ideally, is that the seriousness of the situation will be felt by the offender and that this action will bring them to repentance. The ban should be reformative, to help the offender see the error of his or her ways. Above all, the purpose of the bishop should be the salvation of his lost sheep’s soul.
And yet, even if everything is right and just about the ban, the question becomes: what is my reaction to this?
Am I excited that a sinner is receiving discipline?
As someone who has been working hard and praying hard for the end of abortion, I have a strong frustration with Catholic politicians who promotes the murder of the unborn. I am ashamed to say that when I heard about a Catholic pro-abortion politician being held to account like this, my reaction was a feeling of vindication: finally the enemies of unborn life are being held to account.
However, I had to remind myself that there is great spiritual danger in taking delight in this. Perhaps someone holier than I would not have to guard against this, but self-righteousness must always be guarded against. The pharisees stood in judgment of the prostitutes and the tax collectors. And to be sure selling your body or cheating your neighbor is a sin. But the deeper sin lay with the pharisees who saw themselves as above the other “sinners.” They looked for sinners to be punished, not redeemed, as we saw when they brought Jesus the woman caught in adultery.
This does not mean the the Eucharistic ban is unjust. But even a good action should not be done from a bad motive. If I desire that those Catholic who promote the murder of innocent unborn children should be banned from Communion, then even more-so is my obligation to seek after their salvation.
|photo by Luigi Novi|
George Perez was not just a comic book artist.
George Perez was THE comic book artist.
For me, he was the greatest comic artist ever to work in the medium. He had a style that was so powerful, dynamic and vivid. But at the same time, his work was not overly stylized in the way that the Image generation of artists was. His work was completely and utterly accessible. That may sound like a back-handed compliment, but it absolutely is not. Some artists turn you off by the quirks of their style. I don't know anyone who was not enamored of Mr. Perez's work.
My first memory of seeing his art was in The New Teen Titans #39. The second page was a gigantic splash page of all the Titans taking on the villains. What drew my attention was how he drew Dick Grayson as Robin. At this point, Dick was about to leave the role behind him because he had outgrown it. But he was still wearing the classic costume he had worn since his debut decades earlier. While it is clear that he had outgrown it, I was amazed that Mr. Perez drew him in a way that did not make him look silly. That is no small feat given the nature of the costume, pointy-ankle-booties and everything. Mr. Perez could do this because when we looked at Dick, we were looking at the man beyond the costume.
One of the greatest sequences he ever drew, in my opinion, was in that same storyline, The Judas Contract, where Deathstroke attacked Dick Grayson in his apartment. In just a few panels, Perez was able to create cinematic motion and incredible dramatic tension as Dick tries desperately to escape the clutches of a man he know he cannot beat.
In the middle of the 1980's The New Teen Titans was the biggest selling book at DC. This is a tribute to writer Marv Wolfman's work to be sure. But Mr. Perez's art style was a gigantic draw. He had the difficult task of making sure our heroes looked mature, on the verge of adulthood, but not too mature. They still needed to keep their youth and innocence. They also had to be incredibly cool, which they were. The art was stunning and dynamic. He designed the look for Nightwing and the others and set tone of style for other books.
Mr. Perez's best work is, without a doubt, Crisis on Infinite Earths. I truly believe that series would not have been nearly as successful without his deft hand. He could create scenes of the most epic scope, filled with hundreds of characters. Some of his pages I would simply stare at in awe, looking at all of the characters he put into it. And even in these pages and panels you could see his genius as a micro-storyteller. His details of body language and facial expression told little stories about how characters felt about each other and how they interacted. The scale showed his power as a macro-storyteller. Crisis was a story of unimaginable size and he made everything feel larger-than-life. I read and re-read Crisis so many times that the images are burned into my imagination.
He also did amazing work for Marvel. Although I never really connected with the book, his art on Avengers defined the look of the team. He also drew one of the greatest Hulk stories every written: Future Imperfect. Everyone who talks about that story remembers the Rick Jones trophy room shot. If I remember the story correctly, Peter David wrote that Thor's hammer would be hanging on the wall. But Perez, who loved the character, reminded David that it would have to be on the ground, since only someone worthy could lift it.
Mr. Perez also drew the first few issues of The Infinity Gauntlet, where brought his epic Crisis style to that book. My favorite shot is a strange insert of Captain America, bleeding into the background.
Since he was such a respected artist at both companies, they commissioned him to draw their Justice League vs. Avengers comic. But company politics caused the book to be cancelled, even though Mr. Perez had already been drawn several pages. Fortunately after many, many years, the big two companies were able to work out the problems and they very wisely returned to Mr. Perez to draw the book. This comic is a visual feast. You can see how much fun Mr. Perez had playing with all the Marvel and DC toys while at the same time showing his utter reverence for the characters.
He was able to complete revamp Wonder Woman after Crisis, but I have never gotten around to reading that book. I was so pleased that Mr. Perez, my favorite artist, was able to work with Geoff Johns, my favorite writer, on Legion of 3 Worlds. That is another book that truly, no one but Mr. Perez could have drawn.
There is too much in his illustrious career to capture in this small remembrance.
He married his second wife, Carol, in the 1980's. From what I was able to gather, she was a professional dancer and she helped him understand how to incorporate more dynamic and graceful movements in his art. They did not have any children.
He suffered from several health problems over the years including diabetes and liver disease. This past December, he was diagnosis with inoperable pancreatic cancer. He was given no more than a year to live. He opted to forgo treatment and enjoy his last few days with his wife as best he could.
His last words to his fans were these:
Well, that’s it for now. This is not a message I enjoyed writing, especially during the Holiday Season, but, oddly enough, I’m feeling the Christmas spirit more now than I have in many years. Maybe it’s because it will likely be my last. Or maybe because I am enveloped in the loving arms of so many who love me as much as I love them. It’s quite uplifting to be told that you’ve led a good life, that you’ve brought joy to so many lives and that you’ll be leaving this world a better place because you were part of it. To paraphrase Lou Gehrig: “Some people may think I got a bad break, but today, I feel like the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”
It brings me comfort to know that so many people were able to reach out Mr. Perez and let them know how much he touched their lives. This is the bond that the artist has with his audience. He opens up a window into the good, the true, and the beautiful which feeds the soul and lives. That is what he did for me. He opened up an entire universe of heroic virtue and endless possibilities that still inspire my imagination.
But above all, his art gave me joy.
And for that, I will always be grateful.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Rest in Peace, George Perez
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature
One of the criticisms leveled at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most successful movie franchise in history, is that they smother the creative vision of the directors. Executive Producer Kevin Feige and the production team at Marvel Studios enforce a certain "Marvel Style" on their films to keep them from deviating too much from the formula. As a result
For Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Marvel hired director Sam Raimi. Not only is he famous for giving us the original Spider-Man trilogy, but he also made some of the strangest, most iconic horror films in the Evil Dead trilogy. Say what you will about Raimi, he has a very distinctive style, tone, and vision.
And it is when Marvel lets Raimi be Raimi that this movie really comes to life.
Multiverse of Madness is a sequel to the original Doctor Strange, but it is also a sequel to WandaVision. This movie goes all in on the audience being up to speed on that Disney+ show. Without that context, much of the plot will not make sense.
The story begins as Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a guest at a wedding where he begins to reflect on his life and his choices. He saved the world several times but at a terrible cost. And even though he has emerged victorious, happiness seems to elude him. He doesn't have time to think about it, but a young woman named America Chavez (Xochiti Gomez) needs saving from a monster. With the help of fellow sorcerer Wong (Benedict Wong), they rescue America and find out that she is from another universe and that she has a unique gift: she can travel the multiverse. However, some person is after her to steal her power. In the wrong hands, this power would be a threat to all realities. With so much at stake, Strange reaches out to fellow magic user and Avenger Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), hoping that she can help defend America against this malevolent force.
I cannot speak too much more about the plot without spoiling things.
When it comes to movies, I like being fooled. What I mean is that so many movies today have plots that are so predictable that they border on tedious. But there were a number of twists to the story that I did not see coming (although based on all the information out there I probably should have). This, along with a lot of stunt cameos, made my jaw drop in geeky-joy.
One of the things I really liked about this movie is that it got better as the movie went on. The first act feels very much like boiler-plate Marvel fare. Action sequences with witty banter fill up this part of the movie. But the further the story goes on, the more you begin to see Sam Raimi's very distinctive flair. There are moments when the great evil is attaching the sorcerer's sanctuary that you can see glimpses of that awful and off-putting body horror from Evil Dead, and I mean that as a compliment.
This movie is much darker than most Marvel films, so it is not for little children. This is the closest thing I have seen the MCU do to a full on horror movie. There are lots of visual homages to its horror movie roots like Evil Dead and Carrie. And as this horror feel takes hold, you can feel Raimi weaving more and more of his spell on you to draw you in. By the time you get to the final act it is so ridiculous, but in a way that makes think of how awesome everything is. If that last statement doesn't make sense to you, then you've never seen a Sam Raimi film.
Visually, the movie is great. I plan to go back and see it in 3-D, because there are times when the visuals feel like they want to completely envelope you and I want that experience. Raimi knows how to use the camera to create a sense of dread and terror, but he also knows how to make ridiculous things look amazing. There is a fight sequence towards the end that involves a combination of sorcery and music that is one of my favorite parts of the movie.
Many of the performances are good too. Cumberbatch has charisma for days. He is very different than Robert Downey Jr., but he has a similar ability to pull you to him despite his arrogance. Olsen is better than she's ever been in a Marvel movie. She has to play so many contradictory emotions with real truth and she does so excellently. Even when the script calls for her to go over-the-top, it still all feels very real to her character. The moral push and pull between her and strange is the heart of the movie. Wong is very good, carrying with him a weariness that being Sorcerer Supreme weighs on him. Gomez is decent but not great as America. She is not distractingly bad, but she doesn't really shine in this movie.
One of things that really intrigued me about this film is it's exploration of happiness. It asks this implicit question: do we have the right to be happy?
Is happiness something that we deserve?
Strange knows the morally correct thing to do, and yet he still ends up lonely and sad. Another character has suffered great loss and therefore is willing to cross any moral line in order achieve their happiness. It made me think of how narcissistic and self-centered so much of our culture has become. You see reflected in the villain this same moral vanity: other people's lives are disposable so long as I can achieve my own personal happiness. It makes me think of how human beings exploit each other for our own gains or how the unborn are disposed of because they are seen as obstacles to happiness. It was refreshing to see that narcissism play out as a villainous perspective, even if the villain comes off as sympathetic at times. And Strange always runs the risk of falling into this same moral quagmire. What separates Strange from the villain is that Strange is willing to sacrifice his own happiness for the greater good. That is what makes him a hero
The film also touches on the idea of using evil means to bring about a good end. One of the points made is that if you use things that are intrinsically evil, even though you have good intentions, there will be a bad consequence. Both this idea and the one above it are very Catholic ideas that play out nicely, though not perfectly, in this film. Like a lot of movies today, it glorifies non-traditional marriages in a way that really doesn't add anything to the story.
When it comes to comic book films, I am fairly easy to please. And while this movie started off slow, it gained more and more of my interest as the it went on. And that is not an easy spell to cast.
As of this writing, it looks very likely that Roe v. Wade will soon be overturned. This was the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized the scourge of abortion in all 50 states. The decision declared that a woman’s right to privacy superseded the state’s interest in life. For that reason, a woman had the right to abort her unborn child and any law that restricted this was declared unconstitutional.
Since that decision, the pro-life movement has been working tirelessly to have this ruling overturned. We have be voting for pro-life candidates that would eventually nominate and confirm pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. By God’s grace, it looks as though that after almost half a century, all of this hard work will pay off in the courts.
To be clear, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion does not become illegal in the US. Instead, abortion laws will default back to each individual state. There are some states like California and New York that will have very permissive abortion laws. And there are other states like South Dakota and Texas that may have very restricted abortion laws.
This is why the pro-life movement does not end with the overturning of Roe.
It is only getting started.
One of the reasons that this Roe was so controversial is that it took the question of abortion out of the hands of the electorate. Now “we the people” will get the chance to make the arguments for and against in the arena of ideas.
But the end goal of the the pro-life movement has never been purely legislative. Even if we win every single argument in every state, making abortion illegal everywhere in this country, we would still not have achieved the goal, nor would it end abortions. A country like Brazil has very severe anti-abortion laws. But according to The International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, one in five Brazilian women have had abortions.
Does this mean winning a victory of Roe is pointless.
Of course not. The legal victory would be an important step on the journey.
But the real victory is not in changing the law.
It is in changing hearts.
We are called to help create a Culture of Life as described by Pope St. John Paul II. Pro-life legislation should not simply be the end in itself. Instead, it should be the natural outgrowth of a culture that values each human life.
In order to achieve this, we must win the hearts of the people of our culture.
So how do we do this?
I do not think that I have the magic bullet that will fix everything. But in the next few weeks and months, here are some important reminders.
We can do nothing without God. If Roe is overturned, it must be acknowledged that it is by God’s grace alone that He has allowed this victory. Going forward, we have to remember that the power to change hearts is in His hands, not ours. We must continue to turn to Him in prayer, fasting, and adoration, begging for His grace in the fight to save the unborn.
2. Humility in Victory
A very good friend of mine (who is wiser than I am) wrote to me about the possible overturning of Roe and he wrote: “Besides gratitude, magnanimity in victory may be the most important response to this unexpected act of Divine Mercy. It took time and effort to dissuade some people that treating another human being as property was wrong. Getting some to think of the unborn as human beings will also be a challenge.”
Tensions and emotions are already running very hot. When Roe is overturned, there may be a desire on the part of some to take a victory lap. To be sure, it will be a fantastic cause of celebration. But it is important to do so in a way that does not seek to denigrate and humiliate those on the other side of this issue.
We believe with all our hearts that they are in the wrong. But we are all made in God’s image. Our goal is not simply to defeat them in the courts. We want to convert them to the Gospel of Life. As my friend pointed out. This will take time and patience.
"Smile! Your Mom Chose Life!"
Some of you may have seen this bumper sticker. I was thinking about that today as I began to write this post. With the real possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned in the near future, it made me think about how I was born after this horrendous decision. Because of this, my mother could have aborted me.
When I was born, my family was traveling from state-to-state for my father's job. My mom had two kids already. On top of this, my father had both of his parents living with us. That is already a very busy household. Yet, when my mom became pregnant with me, there was no hesitation to bring me into the world.
There were no serious considerations about abortion (as far as I know). Both of my parents were Catholic and my mom had wanted a large family. Still, if she had wanted to, she could have decided that three was too much.
My mom chose life.
Today is a day to honor all of our mothers. Your life may have been planned or unplanned. But for many of us, once we were conceived, our mothers had a choice whether or not to let us be born.
Even if it was never really an option in your mom's mind and heart, today would be a good day to thank your mother for choosing life.
Later today when I visit my mother at the cemetery, I plan to tell her this. The separation of death is overwhelming at times, but I try to remind myself that it is temporary. My mother is alive in Jesus Christ. And right now I pray she is in Heaven with my sister Tori.
I often forget that I have another sister. She died before she was born. My mother never got a chance to hold her and tell her how loved she was. I don't pretend to know how the mysteries of the afterlife work, but I feel in my bones that Divine Mercy would allow them to finally embrace. It is incredibly comforting to think that my mom is with one of her children right now and that she will not be alone until the rest of us join her.
I think about all of the children whose mothers did not choose life. I imagine them in Heaven, praying very much for those mothers so that one day they too will be reunited by Gods' gentle mercy.
Today too, I am blessed that my mother-in-law lives with us. Today is a reminder that through marriage, I have someone here on earth to honor as a mother on this day.
For all mothers out there, know that I am praying for you and thanking God that you chose life! The effect you will have on the minds, hearts, and souls of your children will be felt for all of eternity.
Yours in an eternal work and an eternal glory. Every purely human endeavor on this world will disappear. The greatest novel, the most beautiful work of art, the grandest scientific achievement, the most momentous political movement... these things will all be swallowed up by the death of this mortal universe.
But the soul is immortal. We are immortal. The person will persist forever.
And you, mothers, are shaping that eternal work of art that is your child's soul in a way that no one else will.
Today, I honor you!
Happy Mothers Day!
15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)
Starts as typical MCU film, evolves into exciting superhero horror with Sam Raimi's distinctive style.
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Objectionable
Regular readers of this blog will know that I am not given to hysterical moral outrage when it comes to movies. In fact, one of my most frequent critiques from readers is that I am excessively tolerant of content that they find intolerable. When it comes to works of art, I keep a very open mind regarding the moral content, especially because there is a subjective element to all art. My read of a story may be at odds with another and I am often circumspect about definitive moral judgments because of this. Keep that in mind when I say this:
Turning Red is a piece of pro-abortion propaganda aimed at children by Disney/PIXAR.
Now you may wonder how a movie that does not center on abortion could be abortion propaganda. It is in how the audience is primed to accept the worldview that abortion culture is rooted in.
The story centers around Melin (Rosalie Chiang), a 13-year-old Chinese Canadian. She is an overachieving student, driven by her Mother Ming (Sandra Oh). As Melin begins to have overwhelming feelings, they explode and turn her into a gigantic red panda.
The premise sounds very simple. But let me start at the end.
One of my favorite comic book reviewers has an observation about why many modern comic writers are terrible. He states that they "write backwards from the punchline." What that means is that the writers have a final point or message that they want to make, so everything in that story is written to get you to that final "punchline." There is, of course, nothing inherently bad about beginning a story with the end in mind. But in the case of these writers, organic character development, nuance, ambiguity, and subtlety are all thrown out so that they make sure we "get it."
SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THE REVIEW
At the end of the story Melin has come to accept the panda part of her life. She is about leave with her friends when her mother that has her tail showing. When Ming says "You're not going out like!" Melin rolls her eyes and says:
"My panda my choice, mom!"
And there it is.
When I heard it I honestly could not believe it. I suppose I should be grateful that writing this morally wrong is also very horribly done.
The entire journey of the movie is to get you to this moment where Melin accepts bodily autonomy and so spouts the abortion slogan in panda terms.
Even before this moment, the movie was terrible. In the first act, Melin begins to develop hormonally charged feelings for boys for the first time. I'm remembering a much better PIXAR movie, Inside/Out, where they made a joke reference to puberty, but were smart enough to avoid it. Handled with intelligence and care, you could tell an excellent story as a metaphor for adolescents. But it fails horribly for two reasons:
The first is that the writers abandoned the idea of subtle, symbolic story-telling. Melin turns into a giant panda and comments on how she smells, is hairy, and feels no longer at home in her own body. Ok, super-obvious analogy, but it could still work. But instead of leaning in this direction, the movie begins moving into the biological realities of female development. Again, this is not necessarily unworkable, but this is a movie directed at small children. I don't know how many parent were aware that these things would be talked about in a kids movie.
The second is that Ming is the WORST Disney mother I have ever seen in a movie (and that's saying a lot). When she discovers that Melin has drawn a shirtless merman that looks like the 17-year-old who works at the local convenient store, Ming drags her daughter to the crowded store, throws the pictures at the boy and tells him to leave her daughter alone. What human parent would ever do this?!? Your daughter draws a FANTASY MERMAN bears a resemblance to someone and you go out of your way to humiliate him and your daughter? This is only done because they are working backwards from the punchline. Melin must be so overwhelmed emotionally to trigger the change.
And then later, Melin is at school, Ming creeps around outside by the window to her class. A security guard tries to tackle her. Ming breaks free and runs to the window, shouting Melin's name and holds up a pack of menstrual pads announcing to everyone that her daughter needs them.
Again, in what world did the writers think that this would make any sense. If your child forgot their lunch, would you find the window their class and shout at them like a lunatic while pelting pudding packs at the school?!?
This is once again done to put Melin into an emotional crisis for her to change.
Now, I will admit that there are other reasons why I couldn't connect to the material. The movie centers around Melin and her friends wanting to see their favorite boy band in concert. There is such gravity placed on it that I could not grasp. To be fair, I know that this is a common experience for many teenage girls, but this was completely lost on me.
The movie his no moral compass. Everything works on pure, irrational emotion. For example, there is a boy who acts as the "bully" to Melin and her friends. Never mind the fact that they are as bad to him as he is to them. But towards the end of the movie, they notice that he is also at the concert. As soon as they know him as a fan, they accept him as one of their own and all is forgiven.
It is true that friendships begin because people see the same truth together. But in this case, it was simply a matter of this boy liking the "correct" thing. There is no character growth, arc, learning for this boy or this group of girls.
But one of the most disgusting moments comes towards the end. It turns out that Ming also had the panda curse. When she loses control in the third act, she turns into a Godzilla-sized panda. Melin has to distract her and get her riled up. So Melin confronts her and they get into a verbal confrontation about Melin growing up. In a fit of rage, Melin begins to dance in such a grossly inappropriate way that if she had done it in human form, I'd be worried that the movie was illegal. But make no mistake, this movie depicts a 13-year-old girl dancing in a horribly sexually provocative way, but they cover her in her "panda form," so we are meant to find it endearing and funny.
As I said, all of this is about creating a culture where Melin embraces her own desires, irrational or not, immodest or not. The point is that she has complete autonomy over her own body and gets to make her own decisions about being a panda or not. This takes us to the horrid punchline. Turning Red is attempting to indoctrinate its audience (children) into accepting a worldview where you can do anything you want with your body because it is your body.
You will read reviews on this blog where movies deal with abortion, sexuality, and other moral issues. And on some of those, I will often find positive things to say, even if I disagree with the messaging. Sometimes people are trying to work out their own thoughts through their storytelling. But those are movies that are made for adults.
Turning Red is made for children.
You know, I watched an interview with PIXAR founders about animated movies. The interviewer said that an advantage to animation is that you could give political messages in a way that was packaged in innocent fun. But both founders protested. They said that they intentionally removed anything political from their content. To do so, would drag down the art, making a screed of its particular time rather than something universal and timeless for everyone.
I wish PIXAR still heeded this message. PIXAR built up so much good will with me because of their long track-record of quality.
They have lost all of my trust.
Years ago in Wolverine #9, Logan says in a narration that the only thing that he really values anymore is innocence. He says that it is so rare in this world that he has learned to cherish it.
Turning Red has no interest in innocence or the preservation of innocence in children. All that matters is making a piece of propaganda that directs the minds of children to be more open to pro-abortion ideologies.
And propaganda is not art.
Last night a supposedly authentic draft of a Supreme Court decision was leaked. It appears that 5 justices on the Supreme Court have decided to overturn Roe v. Wade.
I will be honest, I did not think that this day would come in my lifetime. And perhaps it still will not. With this leak, there is bound to be strong political pressure exerted.
Please pray for our country. This decision will probably lead to more division in our politics and more vitriol. Pray that this law is overturned.
Remember, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, it does NOT make abortion illegal. What will happen is that things will revert to the way things were before this case: each state will make its own abortion laws.
Overturning Roe has never been the endgame for the pro-life movement. It is an important milestone, but more importantly, we must build a culture of life. If this happens, our work is just beginning.
The Lord said that some demons can only be exorcised with prayer and fasting.
I invite us to do the same.
I read someone online suggest that we do a "floating novena" which is praying 9 Memorare prayers.
So let us turn to the Virgin Mary and call upon her intercession for the unborn!
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection,
implored your help, or sought your intercession,
was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence,
I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother.
To you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but in your mercy, hear and answer me.
After going over the movies that are coming out this summer, I always enjoy trying to predict the summer box office for the following year.
Michael Crichton once said that studios spend millions of dollars every year trying to predict box office. But in the end, it is all guess work. There is no magical formula and no one gets it right all the time.That is certainly the case with me.
15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)
Anti-Catholic Philosophy No Objection
This is not a family movie, but it is a very powerful Catholic movie.
Father Stu tells true story of Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg), a failed boxer, struggling actor, and generally a charming lothario. He traumatized by the death of his young brother and his strained relationship with his estranged father Bill (Mel Gibson) and his cloying mother Kathleen (Jacki Weaver). While in Hollywood trying to make it big, he falls in love with a Catholic girl named Carmen (Teresa Ruiz). When she stipulates that she cannot date someone who isn't baptized, Stuart goes through the motions of become a Catholic. All of this is done only so he can jump through the requisite hoops in order to become physically intimate with Carmen. However, Stuart gets into a traumatic accident but miraculously survives. He attributes his life to God's intervention and decides to become a priest.
I remember back in college I started writing a script about a priest and a teenage girl have a all-day conversation about faith. Looking back on it, I did not have the required skill to make the story work. But I do remember including a great deal of vulgarity in it. At the time, I felt that most Christian movies were so sanitized that it bleached out the stains of real life. What was left was something that didn't speak to many people's lived experiences.
I bring this up because this movie made me think of that abandoned script. It is incredibly vulgar. Not only are there F-bombs that fly all over the place, but there is a lot of frank sexual talk. And especially early on in the movie there a great deal of casual blasphemy. At one point, a drunken Stuart punches a statue of Christ.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, though I think children should be cautioned from seeing this. In fact, this is part of what makes this movie work so well. It doesn't flinch away from this aspect of Stuart's life (although I've heard that in real life he was not nearly as vulgar, but I'm getting that third hand). There is a scene later in the movie where Stuart and another seminarian Jacob (Cody Fern) go to speak men in a prison. Being unfamiliar with this world, Jacob stumbles and stutters. The convicts mock and dismiss him. But Stuart talks to them as someone who has spent some time behind bars, who has lived a rough and tumble life. He brings with him a sense of authenticity and believability.
The script by writer/director Rosalind Ross does two things very well and two things not so well.
First, the story does something I have seen so few Christian movies do: it shows that conversion is not sanctification. As my friend the Doctor reminded me, many of our Protestant brothers and sisters sees justification and sanctification as simultaneous once you accept Jesus. But the story of Stuart shows how that is often not the case. Stuart has a life-changing conversion, but he still has a long way to go. You can see him work out his bullying and violent tendencies even in the seminary. Conversion is where you turn your life to move in a new direction. But getting to the destination of Christ is the journey of sanctification. And Stuart is thrown for a loop when that journey involves an indescribable amount of suffering.
Even though this was revealed in the trailer, Stuart develops a muscular disease similar to ALS. This breaks him down until there is almost nothing left. Just when he was getting his life together God lays on him this heavy cross. He doesn't understand why he has to go from someone so incredibly able to someone who cannot even go to the bathroom by himself. But in there is part of the glory. Throughout the movie, Stuart keeps saying that if he works hard enough he can accomplish anything, whether it is an acting career or becoming a priest. But as his physical strength wanes, he learns he has to surrender to God and to the aid of others. This humiliation leads to some beautiful humility)
The second thing the script does well is that all of the characters have three dimensions. Carmen is devout, but she is also fallible and will give in to sin. The head of the seminary Monsignor Kelly (Malcolm McDowell) could have been a one-note bureaucrat. Instead, we see all the contradictory feelings he has about Stuart play out in a very sympathetic way. Stuart too is no simply a villain turned hero. All throughout there is light and dark fighting for dominance in him.
The script struggles when it falls into the trap that a lot of biopics do. There is a pressure to hit important elements of Stuart's life so it all sometimes feels like it is shoe-horned into a two-hour story structure. So things like the actual movement to conversion are covered in an awkward montage rather than in the time that it needs to be fleshed out. The second issue is that very often Stuart's post-conversion dialogue feels a little cliché. He breaks out this little spiritual zingers, but feel a bit artificial and not organic.
The performances are phenomenal, some of the best I've seen all year. This is Wahlberg's best performance, hands down. He is own of the few actors that can go effortlessly between comedy and drama, and that is no small feat. He takes you on a complete journey of Stuart's interior life and everything is completely believable. He does an amazing job of making Stuart relatable without turning him into saintly statue, too distant to understand. Wahlberg shows some great emotional range, which would be over-the-top in some places, but he makes it work and feel honest.
This is also the best Gibson performance I have seen in a long time. It was so powerful to see his character's rough, atheistic persona slowly melt away in the presence of his son's faith. The same can be said of Weaver's performance as she constantly tries to "unbrainwash" her son from the Catholic faith. Ruiz also shines. You can absolutely believe a man would change religions for her, but she does not idealize her or make her impossibly inhuman.
Ross does a very good job of directing, giving a strong visual sense of the different stages of Stuart's life. While nothing is sanitized, there is a rough beauty to everything
(My only strong objection is that there is a scene where Stuart as a seminarian playfully touches a woman's bottom as a joke. Even though it is played for laughs it bothered me a bit to see him behave immodestly)
Finishing the movie I was struck by what a gift the priesthood is and how our priests give their lives away for us. They are called to model Christ, especially in His suffering so that we can model ourselves after Christ too. The movie reminded me in a beautiful way that no one is beyond redemption and that if we give ourselves over to God, He will not only transform our lives, but the lives of the people around us.
I highly recommend this movie.
“Company, villainous company, hath been the spoil of me.” In this comedic line, Falstaff blames the people around him for his vices. While he may be stating this simply to deflect his own personal guilt, there is great truth in what he says. The company you keep shapes your character.
St. Edith Stein was a brilliant philosopher. She wrote extensively on the human person. She was particularly interested in how the people around us shape who we are. She claims that a person’s community greatly influences our own identity. As we grow and change, the people around us are like the shaping hands of a potter. To be sure, we have great freedom in how much we allow this influence on us. We are not simply passively made by others. But we would be foolish to think we are completely self-made men and women. Many people, particularly the people in our company, help shape us.
You can see this in our popular fiction. Han Solo begins Star Wars as a greedy smuggler. He’s only involved because of selfish profit. But in the end, he becomes a selfless hero. That is because Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia awakened something noble in his character. They opened his eyes to the reality that there is more to life than money. Without them, he would be another smuggler outlaw.
In the Harry Potter books, Voldemort is held up as a constant foil to the main hero. They both have a great deal in common, they both feel like life has been unfair, and they are often taken by a strong sense of rage. In one of the best scenes in the entire film series, Harry is being tortured by Voldemort and the young wizard is especially tormented by how much he has in common with the Dark Lord. But then Harry sees his friends and he says to Voldemort “You’re the weak one. Because you will never know love or friendship. And I feel sorry for you.”
With that, he is able to exorcize Voldemort’s influence. The main difference between the two is that Harry knows love. He has Ron and Hermione as well as his other friends. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore says that “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” These choices are influenced by the company we keep.
That isn’t to say that we are PURELY social animals with no interior and individual identity. But the the company we keep helps to shape even those internal experiences. In The Confessions, St. Augustine writes about his moment of conversion. He was by himself when he heard a voice says “Tolle Lege,” which means “Take up, read.” He followed the voice to a Bible that as open to Romans 13. There he read, ” Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Romans 13:13-14).
Augustine had been on the road to conversion before this point. But he was struggling because he loved have sexual encounters with as many women as he could. But the he could feel in his heart something changing. It finally hit a turning point when he read the passage. He has this solitary experience of reading from the Scriptures and having an internal conversion of heart. Even though he is by himself, I would argue that he would not have had the openness to those words if it had not been for the influence of those in his life. Before his conversion, Augustine had run away from home and was taken in by the Manichean cult, which told him that he could give into all of his sexual desires and still be a moral person. He remained with them for ten years, but he found he was not happy. This villainous company almost completely ruined him. But he had the influence of others who came into his life. His mother, St. Monica, was a constant source of prayers and spiritual strength. St. Ambrose had taken Augustine under his wing. Ambrose not only demonstrated great holiness, but Augustine could see in him the faith and reason bound in a harmonious bond. Without them, I do not know that Augustine would have had the openness to God in his private encounter with Scripture.
Even in our private moments, our tastes, our dispositions, and our perspectives are shaped by our company.
On a personal note, I am still best friends with people from grade school, high school, and college days. I remember on the last day of high school, one of my friends said on the car ride there, “You are my best friends. I grew up with you and because of you.” It was a beautiful statement about how friendship shapes our lives. My friends help support each other in virtue, but we also share many of the same vices. We must always be on guard that we are not being led down path of vice or (possibly worse) we are not leading others into our own vices. Friendships carry with it this danger and we would be foolish not to acknowledge this.
But my friends are such a defining part of me that I do not know who I would be without them.
The same would be true of my best friend: my wife. When God said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genes 2:18) I believe it is a reflection of Stein’s point. We need another person to help shape the borders of our being.
We are nearing the end of April, so it's time to look forward to one of my favorite seasons of the year: Summer movie season.