January 31, 2008


A colossal monster attacks New York in 2008. "Godzilla--you've come a long way, baby."
 I remember that after 9/11 we Americans began questioning ourselves: "How many times have we destroyed either New York or Los Angeles in our movies that get exported all over the world? Maybe we gave people some ideas...." However, the only "people" who might get ideas to follow suit by watching "Cloverfield" would be huge, Gollum-like sea creatures.
I would never have chosen to see "Cloverfield" for my own entertainment, because (full disclosure) I'm not a fan of CGI (too fake), monster (too cheesy), or disaster (too over-the-top) movies, but: J. J. Abrams' experimental (in a populous way) TV/filmmaking is continually raising the bar; "Cloverfield" had such a big buzz, especially with young adults; and since it was a pet project (pun intended) of the wonder-phenom, J. J. Abrams ("Alias,"* "Lost"), I had to go. And I'll tell you, to my surprise, it worked for me.
There's no real sense of ominousness for quite some time--only a prolonged, hand-held video-documenting of twentysomething Rob's (Michael Stahl-David) "going away to a job in Japan" party in an upscale Manhattan pad. We don't see the videographer, Hud (T. J. Miller), Rob's "best friend," till later. His shallow, cowardly commentary lends both veracity and comic relief to an intricately-detailed "real life" feel of a movie. The characters are not well-developed (the movie is only 85 minutes) except for a love triangle involving Rob and sophisticated beauty, Beth (Odette Yustman).
We hardly see the monster at all, and hardly anyone talks about him or seems to care about him (perhaps hell hath no fury like a monster scorned?) as the characters focus on protecting and rescuing each other. (And isn't that what we'd really do, after all?) However, it was anti-climactic when we first saw the monster (on the news) and there was absolutely no explanation or even reaction. When the monster strikes, a killer soundtrack kicks in with all kinds of constant roaring, helicopters, creaking buildings, explosions, machine-gun fire. Although I don't believe surround-sound was employed (?), I felt "the earth move under my feet," every time the creature from the black New York Harbor lagoon went steppin' out. But still my heart did not race, my pulse did not increase. It's not meant to be that kind of movie. I only tensed up when the survivors began walking through subway tunnels in the pitch dark. (Note to self: Get one of those super-bright LED keychain flashlight thingies.)
"Cloverfield" is not about relationships. "Cloverfield" is not about the monster. "Cloverfield" is not about New York City. "Cloverfield" seems to be one of those proto-beta-movies (like "Polar Express") where the movie-wizards are trying out all the colors in the palette, all the gizmos in the toolbox, and the tres-simple movie line is actually irrelevant. We may never know exactly why "they" made the movie or what "they" were testing, but we've been invited to come along for the ride (and finance it).
Do check out a minor scene where the incomparable Lizzie Caplan ("Mean Girls") defers to talk to the camera at the party because she barely knows Rob. You will swear she's not acting. If you're the swearing type.
I won't tell you who doesn't make it in the end, but of course, Abrams is also a genius at raising the dead.
What does "Cloverfield" mean? What was the monster and what did he want? (Notice I assume he's a "he.") What do monsters ever want? Do they all want the same thing--mindless annihilation? Is the monster really us or Mother Nature out of control? We may have to wait for the sequel. I remember thinking to myself in the cinema that perhaps Abrams wants us to substitute our own demons (rather than fears) for the monster.  Beyond this, there is no profound message here. "Cloverfield" is sheer entertainment by a master of the mysterious.
* TV uber-spy series starring Jennifer Garner that I watched faithfully until graphic torture scenes (not unlike "24") took over every episode.


The fact that "secular" folk don't seem to mind the pro-life message and Christian folk don't seem to mind the vulgarity is amazing. There's some new paradigm here! Crudity is here to stay (for a while at least, until it suddenly becomes rude to be polite). I also think the fact that the screenwriter was a one-time stripper gave her impeccable street creds for secular folk. In an experiential culture, that's what it takes.
Backstory: the screenwriter had a teenage friend who got pregnant that inspired the movie.
By the way, fellow-Canadian to actress Ellen Page, director Jason Rietman is BRILLIANT.
Don't miss a quiet little scene where Juno goes upstairs in the home of the soon-to-be-adoptive parents of her baby. She tries on some face cream and perfume. It shows that she's still a mischievous kid, and is more interested in frilly girly stuff than she might be willing to admit.
Although at the beginning of the movie Juno focuses on "body parts," and gives us a rare cinematic glimpse of "women's needs/wants/desires," it's clear by the end that her focus is on the whole person: mind, will, heart, and, yes, body.


"JUNO" MOVIE REVIEW by Sr. Helena Burns, fsp
Five hearts out of a possible four. I can't say enough about this movie. The hype is well-deserved and even understated. I want to see 10,000 more movies like this. I can't stop replaying scenes from this perfect movie in my head. I can't stop describing these scenes to the underprivileged who have not seen this film.
Although everything about "Juno" is quirky right off the bat, and this non-precious quirkiness is sustained to the end, it's really the dialogue that makes the movie. Funny, honest, refreshing. In a broken, non-commital world, one blank-slate of a young woman learns through (and trusts) her own experience of life enough to figure out what's real. Juno (Ellen Page), a pregnant teen, often admits that she "doesn't know," even though she is mightily opinionated. "Juno" is like a phenomenological rediscovering of everything that is right, true and good. Juno is sixteen years old, middle-class, eccentric, and besides her parents' divorce (she lives with her father and stepmother), doesn't seem to have any major drama going in her life...until the pregnancy.
Although I read much about "Juno" before actually viewing it, I hesitated to call it a "pro-life" movie because it didn't seem that this was the particular intention of the screenwriter, Diablo Cody. However, I must now definitely call this a pro-life movie, and not only that, it has an unmistakable Catholic sensibility. Diablo--real name Brook Busey-Hunt--went to twelve years of Catholic school, and may not even realize it, but somewhere along the line ingested the best of the blood-and-guts-rock-and-roll Catholic ethos. In her capable hands, her version of that ethos has the possibility to reach more people and do more good than any book, sermon or pro-life campaign. "Juno" says: You can get on with your life after giving birth.
"Juno" is not just a pro-life movie because a decision is made to have a baby and give it up for adoption, it's pro-life because it's all about what comes before and after a pregnancy, about the loving "life-support" systems we need to surround ourselves with, no matter our path in life. It has much to say about the male/female relationship, marriage, and maturity. This movie is a fine, fine example of John Paul II's Theology of the Body at work (minus the one rather fruitful extra-marital act of sexual intercourse). Dare we hope that "Juno" is chronicling the youth-driven "turning of the tide" with regard to abortion, and, perhaps, even sex? In regard to adults' query: "Are you sexually active?" Juno asks, "Is it really something you can turn off?" This, too, is classic Theology of the Body, which teaches that we are always sexual beings. Everything we do is as either male or female.
If one pays attention to detail, the fact that this is a "pro-life" movie--in a hip, twenty-first century way--is unmistakable throughout. When Juno first plans on an abortion, it is obvious that she doesn't want her boyfriend (Michael Cera) to blithely go along, even though he does. What makes Juno change her mind? A lone young woman (her Asian classmate) witnessing outside the clinic: "All babies want to be borned!", who tells Juno that her baby has fingernails. (The fact that it had a heartbeat didn't cut it for Juno, it had to be something more original.) I could enumerate scene after scene where abortion admittedly involves a baby. Juno (with her usual sarcasm): "Well, we've been learning in health class that pregnancies often result in infants." It reminded me of "South Park's" ridicule of abortion and other scientific facts that become twisted in blatant intellectual dishonesty. Young people aren't stupid. I have a pro-life activist friend who says: "Abortion simply isn't funny" when it is made light of, made the butt of jokes. I agree. However, "Juno," makes abortion not funny, but ridiculous. A pro-life youth organization's slogan is "Abortion is mean." Maybe it's time for: "Abortion is ridiculous."
Another reviewer mentioned that Juno's parents are not the dolts that teenage parents are often portrayed as. In fact, Juno gets her caustic wit from her Dad. She has a solid relationship with her stepmother (Allison Janney), who is her polar opposite. Juno hides her delicate beauty, fierce independence, and womanly feelings for her boyfriend under a tomboyish exterior, which softens just enough at the end, due to some solicited advice from her Dad. "Juno" could also be a clue to parents how to react to a teen pregnancy.
The absolute clincher-scene is Juno's ultrasound. She is joined by her best friend (a non-stereotypical cheerleader) and stepmom. The three women joke, cry and rejoice, all to the dismay of the ultrasound technician who is disgusted by the whole thing. Here, in this antiseptic little room, five-hundred years of cold scientific rationalism (represented by a woman) comes to a head with the keepers of life and love (also represented by a woman). While light in tone, there is a longing for wholeness in this movie, a plea for a little human warmth and the milk of human kindness (no pun intended).
Jennifer Garner (the adoptive mother) does an impressive portrayal of an uptight, baby-hungry yuppie. Her relationship with worlds-apart Juno changes them both.
"Juno" reminds us that young love can be true love. How many of us know happily-married couples who were high school or even childhood sweethearts?
If you would like a primer on the latest sexual slang, and teenage slang, for that matter, this is your movie. "Juno" will make excellent time-capsule fodder while being timeless in its purview. Actress Ellen Page affirms that the script "reminded me of an aspect of what a lot of young women are like that absolutely never gets reflected in popular media."
"Juno" is the funny "Bella," and because of this, it soars. Oscar Wilde once said: "If you're going to tell someone the truth, you'd better make them laugh or they'll kill you." Of "Juno" we could say: "If you're going to show someone the truth, do it with a whole lot of heart, and they'll willingly come along for the ride."

January 25, 2008


Soul Searching:The Journey of Thomas Merton
This hour-long documentary is an excellent introduction to the life and spirituality of Thomas Merton, one of the greatest and most influential thinkers and writers of the twentieth century. Black-and-white stills, re-enactments, readings from his works, stock footage and newspaper clippings all enhance the presentation of this prophetic American who continues to be eminently contemporary and intelligible. Merton's bald honesty with himself is, perhaps, one of the most critical features of his writing talent, and one that is most useful to his readers.
The presentation is a little disappointing at first, easily summing up Merton's "first" conversion to Catholicism and entrance into the monastery, without much depth of insight into the man. However, this is only to create a contrast with his many further conversions within the enclosure walls. Merton is the saint of restlessness and disastisfaction, never content with his present answers. His peace activism, struggles with superiors, profound seeking for God which led him to embrace a hermit's life, brief falling in love with a nurse during a hospitalization, turn as novice master, and dialogue with Buddhism are all given their due and commentated on by a rather broad range of associates and authors including past novices, Daniel Berrigan, SJ, John Dear SJ, and Sr. Kathleen Deignan. Also disappointing at first is Merton's first-fervor notion and impulse that true prayer and spirituality means separation from the world, but that too changes dramatically.
"Soul Searching" is one of those works that just gets better and better as it goes along. There's a need to stick with it to the end. We are left satisfied that we have dipped our bucket into the well of Merton's legacy, and now want to run and get a sump pump.
"I find Merton, not so much a relic of the '60's, rather I don't know if we've caught up with him yet."
--Sr. Kathleen Deignan

January 15, 2008


Movie veterans, old pals swap sharp barbs online

By Patrick Goldstein
Tribune Newspapers: Los Angeles Times

January 9 2008

HOLLYWOOD -- When was the last time you heard anyone get excited about a new film critic? That was my reaction when "Michael Clayton" director Tony Gilroy began raving to me about the review he'd seen on YouTube. "It was terrific," he said. "I sent it to George [Clooney] right away." On Ain't It Cool News, Wes Anderson made a point of singling out a review of his film "Darjeeling Limited" from the same YouTube site.

The complete article can be viewed at:

January 11, 2008



January 7, 2008


(the things in bold i'm NOT too happy about)
--pro-life (he's an OB/GYN) Paul calls himself "strongly pro-life,"[131] "an unshakable foe of abortion,"[84] and believes regulation of medical decisions about maternal or fetal health is "best handled at the state level."[132][
--as on OB/GYN he delivered 40-50 babies a month, refused Medicaid payments, preferring to work pro-bono
--Paul also spends extra time in his district (an area larger than Massachusetts)  to compensate for "violat[ing] almost every rule of political survival you can think of".[34] He often logs over 300 miles (500 kilometers) daily, and attends civic ceremonies for veterans, graduates, and Boy Scouts, often accompanied by his grandchildren. His staff helps senior citizens obtain free or low-cost prescription drugs through a little-known drug company program; procures lost or unreceived medals for war veterans; is known for its effectiveness in tracking down Social Security checks; and sends out birthday and condolence cards.[34][69]

--Paul continued delivering his constituents' babies even while serving in Congress. In 2001, he was one of only eight doctors in the House; even fewer continued to practice while in office. He is occasionally approached by younger area residents to thank him for attending their births.[34]

--was drafted and served as a military surgeon in Korea
--anti-Iraq war, wants to end Iraq war and bring troops home
--he's the only Presidential candidate NOT to vote for the Iraq War Resolution of 2002, but he did vote for military action in Afghanistan
--has a non-intervention foreign affairs policy
--anti-Patriot Act: Civil liberties concerns have led him to oppose the Patriot Act, a national ID card, federal government use of torture, domestic surveillance, presidential autonomy, and the draft.
--because the 300 pg Patriot Act was voted on without being read by anyone in Congress (it was handed out and had to be voted on immediately), he institute "daylight legislation" which means 72 hrs must be given from the handing out of something that needs to be voted on to the actual voting 
--called "the most honest man in Congress" by McCain
--he was an early Reagan endorser
--Paul supported his children during their undergraduate and medical school years, preventing their participation in federal student loans because the program was taxpayer-subsidized. He has rejected a Congressional pension for the same reason
--he was married in the Presbyterian church and his five children were baptized Episcopalian
--he always votes for things that foster education, libraries, homeschooling
--advocates withdrawing from the UN and NATO for resasons of maintaining strong national sovereignty
--founding member of Congressial Wildlife Refuge Caucus
--96% of his campaign funds come from individuals, not big business
--sued Clinton (with 17 other members of Congress) for unConstitutionally bypassing Congress when ordering air strikes in Kosovo
--tons of grassroots support on internet, youtube
--on Dec 16, 2007, broke the record for campaign fundraising by raising $6mil in one day online
--has authored 6 books on economics (he favors some kind of "standard" for our money. not exactly a return to the gold standard, but....well, it's really complicated and i don't get it, but it sounds good)
--he supports free trade but rejects NAFTA and the WTO as "managed trade" (this basically means that he is against lots of government regulations which are actually regulations that line the pockets of special interest groups and the rich, eliminating the middle class, and really bad for the poor) Sr. Helena: NAFTA is very bad news all around!
--he is for tigher border control, against welfare for illegal immigrants, against birthright citizenship, voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006. (My question here is does he strong support immigration reform???)
--he regularly votes against new government spending, taxes
--supports right to bear arms (anti-gun control), freedom of the internet, habeas corpus for political detainees
--He also opposes federal regulation of the death penalty,[132] of education,[137] and of marriage. He has voted against federal funding of joint adoption by unmarried couples (including same-sex adoption); he also supports revising enforcement of the military "don't ask, don't tell" policy to focus on disruptive behavior and include members with heterosexual as well as homosexual behavior issues.
--He also opposes the federal War on Drugs, wishing to leave the decision on whether to regulate or deregulate drugs, including medical marijuana, to the states. Paul advocates for the elimination of federal involvement and management of health care, which he argues would allow prices to drop due to the fundamental dynamics of a free market.
--he basically wants to leave much more to the states rather than federal government
--don't know where he stands on universal healthcare.....
check out the lengthy Wikipedia entry from whence I got all this: