May 30, 2014


I know this pic is blurry, but it really captures the sense of the film.

"Locke," starring Tom Hardy*--and only Tom Hardy--is being dubbed "Hamlet of the Highway," and it's exactly that. The premise of this one-actor film is simple and brilliant. The execution is also brilliant. A husband/father/expert construction foreman strayed once and only once in his marriage and got a middle-aged woman pregnant in a drunken one-night stand when he was working away from home. He has made a decision to "do the right thing" (according to him) and accompany this "fragile" woman (who has no one else in the world) as she gives birth. He is decidedly not in love with her.

The entire film is him, in his car, at night, driving to the hospital, placing and receiving hands-free phone calls through his dashboard computer. The many voice actors are so amazing that we think we have actually seen them onscreen and we don't even realize there is just one actor that we ever see. Perhaps, (as in the movie "Her") because of our tech-as-part-of-our-marrow-lives, we will be seeing more of this films substantially employing voice-only thespians. The daring use of this device totally works in "Locke."

We don't get bored with the visuals--not only because of Hardy's intriguing emoting, but because the camera is sometimes outside the car, the police sirens and menacing trucks and wooshing cars adding to the tension. The sparse and sparsely-sprinkled soundtrack is perfect. I don't think I've ever called a soundtrack "perfect" before.

To add to his woes, Locke must oversee an historical (because of its magnitude) multi-million dollar construction operation remotely from his vehicle during the trip.

"Locke" is a rich "conundrum" and journey film. Did Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) make the right decision? Does he make the right decisions all along the road? Should he have involved others in his decision? Was he actually acting selflessly or selfishly? What were his deepest motivations (the woman, the baby, being a better man for his own family, his own self-respect, because he's a control freak, proving something to his dead father, putting people before things/work or work before people/things)? Did he understand what he was risking when he started out on the journey?

I was hoping this film would be an ode to husbands/fathers/working men (for Father's Day!) and it is not quite that. I was alternately infuriated at Locke for what seemed to be his arrogance, cowardice and loutishness, and pitying him for his plight and even identifying with how he handled it. The question rises: How necessary is the truth when people don't really want to know it? Is total transparency always the best answer?

We are true voyeurs in this film, watching this poor man's every twitch, every use of tissue (he has a bad cold on top of everything). Are we supposed to judge him? Are we not supposed to judge him? It's easy to follow his logic and see his point of view (as it is to empathize with everyone else on the phone, too). Does one out-of-character act truly define us (even though it can mess up the trajectory of our lives)? Or is it how we react, our pre-meditated second move that defines us? The Founder of my religious congregation, Blessed James Alberione, was kicked out of the seminary. Had he not been given a second chance, my life would be very, very different. And so would the world. Worse off. St. Patrick himself had an indiscretion in his younger years that people wanted to use to derail his becoming a bishop. "Locke" drives home the point how much each of us is in need of mercy.

This is a man's film if ever there was one: all the burdens men carry, all the things they are responsible for, the weight of "father," the way men go about things, the way they get things done, the pride they take in their work, the many and varied gifts God has given them, the way they relate to other men, the way they relate to women, the collision of work and home, wanting good order, wanting things to go about "normally," so many responsibilities, family heritage.

Every man should listen carefully to Locke's wife's reaction, so when they are tempted, they can think of it. Alice Cooper claims to never have cheated on his wife even once in 37 years. "For a momentary pleasure I'm gonna risk my marriage to the woman I love the most and want to be with for the rest of my life? That's insane."

If you really don't like F-bombs, do not see "Locke." They're used like water--in that casual British Isles way. New Yorkers use them like water, too, but it sounds bad. Much of the time it's really quite appropriate to the dire goings-on, and--I never thought I'd say this** but in the mouth of the comic relief, Donal,*** it's really quite hilarious.

The filmmakers wanted Hardy and only Hardy to play this role. They couldn't have been more on the money. His accent is unusual at first (a kind of Northern England thing that sounds almost Irish), but I got used to it. Sometimes his accent sounds decidedly working class, at other times, snooty, but there's always something soothing and calm about it. Is he trying to mollify himself ultimately?

I won't tell you if the ending is happy or sad or even hopeful because Sister wants you to see this worthy film. I, personally, am conflicted about the ending. It's not what I predicted would happen, and I can't tell whether I like it or not. Which might be a good thing in a film. "Locke" certainly raises many, many human questions.
*Tom Hardy was Bane in "Batman."
**Except for hilarious use by Steve Martin at the rental car place in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles."
***Glorious English names like "Bethan" and "Gareth."


--I would love to know where this film came from, why it was made. Is it based on anyone's personal experience?

--This is a thoughtful, but not cerebral, human drama. Visceral too, but thoughtful.

--Locke's relationship with his sons is so detailed, so tangible, so realistic.

--"If you make one ****ing mistake, the world comes crashing down around you."

--"cider" is "booze"

--Tom Hardy is only 37, but is made to look like he's in his 40's or 50's. He really brings the gravitas--only once in a while you'll see a younger man's twinkle in his eye. But I totally bought that he was older.

--If my husband (if I had a mortal husband) ever cheated on me, I really think that I would always love him (I don't know that we have much choice as women or as Christians in that department) and forgive him (eventually), but I couldn't forget, and I just couldn't go on living with him. He broke the marriage. Men say the same vows as women, but they don't seem to mean them the same way. If the "double standard" is inevitable, then we should have different marriage vows for women and men, which of course makes no sense. If sex is "no big deal" to men? It needs to start being a big deal. Because it is. Because they promised.

--IS this one deed really out of character for him? Or is it a hidden part of his character? Is it part of his bigger need to justify himself, and therefore everyone/everything is subordinated to that? It makes us really ask ourselves: what is REALLY first in my life? When push comes to shove, what is REALLY first? (Not what I wish was first or think is first or say is first.)

--Locke is conscientious. He's reasonable. He's capable. He does love his family. He's a good man. But is that enough if everything has to be on his terms?

--God is mentioned a few times, and is present and lurking in the film.

--Both women in the film show what a total commitment we need from men, personally and when children are involved.

--Alcohol abuse is a mighty player in the lives of Locke, Locke's father, Donal.

--Oscar worthy? In every way, except cinematography which was good but not great, especially exterior shots. Otherwise, this is just one big fat Oscar.

May 20, 2014




The new Christian movie, "Alone, Yet Not Alone" is a very expensive-looking period piece (the $7 million shows!), based on true events that took place during the French-Indian War around 1755. As happened more than once in our history, settlers (women and children) were captured by Native Americans and made to assimilate into the tribe and adopt Native ways. (The grown men were killed.) This story is about the Leininger family, farming settlers from Germany, and their dramatic escape from the Delaware tribe.

The goings-on are situated within the larger formation of the United States, the State of Pennsylvania, with even Benjamin Franklin getting into the action. The main character is a little daughter of the family, Barbara, who was captured and spends many years with the tribe.

 "Alone" features great music, makeup, wardrobe, lighting, cinematography, set design, and really gives the feeling that we are in these times. The acting? For the first three-quarters of the film: well done. Especially the kids. As I always say, kids today bury adults in the acting chops department.

But then, something very terrible happens to this film. It takes a nosedive in acting and impetus. Our main character grows up, and the actress that plays the older Barbara is simply not believable.The rest of the film also slows down considerably, and we're not left on the edge of our seats any more, but rather meandering aimlessly in the forest with our cast who seem to have no further goals than...existing. You know those kind of movies? Even when things heat up, it's a slow boil. There continue to be some great dramatic devices and plot points, but they are too placidly served up.

I am trying very hard not to be mean, because this film is quite an extravaganza. Quite the eye candy. Probably one of the "biggest" productions I've seen in a Christian film: Bravo! But truly, the last fourth of the film feels like a completely different screenwriter and director, and, of course, we have our grown up Barbara to contend with. To demonstrate what a turn for the worse this film takes: I burst out in muted (I was watching alone), prolonged laughter when "Native Barbie" first came on screen. (It's true the Natives darkened the light Germans' hair and skin, but this actress looks like she just stepped out of a spa.) She is extremely thin, delicate, mellow, with twenty-first century tics and sensibilities; I kept expecting her to whip out her phone to Snapchat.

I feel that the film portrayed Native Americans more or less as equals to the colonists/settlers, but with their own way of life, obviously. (Perhaps because of my own understanding and reading of events.) They do seem a bit fierce and warlike with harsh punishments for those (their own included) who don't do as they're told. (Let's remember that the Native Americans lived mainly outdoors and the discipline and cohesiveness of the tribe meant survival: life or death.) The policies and brutality of the occupying countries, soldiers and officials (living indoors, with the benefits of technology and imported goods) are completely missing.

There is a rushed recounting at the very beginning of the film during a Native council meeting: "They brought us the pox, took our hunting lands, etc." which could quickly be forgotten. There is also a quick mention of Natives being defrauded of their land, and that's why there is this hostility after seventy-three years of peaceful coexistence.

Why was this film made?

At first I questioned the purpose for making this film: A history lesson? Illustrating the living out of Christianity under duress? When I researched it online I discovered that Dr. James Leininger, a descendant of the Leininger family, owns Enthuse Entertainment that produced "Alone"!

I do still question if the script/film was passed through any Native American organizations for their side of the history. Scalping is presented as a purely Native American practice. Such was not the case. Some even believe it was the white man who introduced scalping to North America, and not all Native American tribes engaged in it. The French paid the Natives for British scalps. (How the heck do you know what nationality a scalp is?)

Is it worth seeing?

Yes, if you like history, and just to see how far Christian filmmaking is coming! If you take the kiddos, talk to them about and teach them correctly about Native Americans.


--When I was a kid at Camp Pesquasawasis in the woods of Portland, Maine (Camp Pesky for short), we used to have our own "French and Indian Wars": water balloon fights. Ruth Bassett (a Penobscot Native) was in my cabin. Years later, I find out that Ruth is our Sr. Marie James Hunt's cousin! Sr. Marie James' Mom is full-blood Penobscot, and Sr. James got to go to Kateri Tekakwitha's canonization in Rome and present a gift at the altar during the Mass. Sr. James' reflection on St. Kateri: "My people have carried so much sorrow. Ever since the canonization, I have seen just so much joy, so much joy and healing!"

The Penobscot (Panawahpskek) are an indigenous people of the Northeastern Woodlands, located in Maine. The Penobscot Nation, formerly known as the Penobscot Tribe of Maine, is the federally recognized tribe of Penobscot people.[3] They are part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, along with the Abenaki, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Mi'kmaq nations. Their main settlement is now Penobscot Indian Island Reservation. (Wikipedia)

--The title "Alone, Yet Not Alone" refers to a hymn that successfully threads through the story (sung by Joni Eareckson Tada!). Here's just a cool video of Joni preaching/singing: Very Theology of the Body.
The song was up for an Oscar, but the nomination got rescinded when it came to light that the producer emailed some Hollywood friends about the nom. It was considered "lobbying" which is done ALL the time, and in very blatant campaigns! Here's Joni's take on the incident:

--This film can present a feeling that there were three parties involved on some kind of level playing field: Native Americans, British, French. It is not stressed that this was the Native Americans' land! (Even though Native Americans don't believe land can't be owned, technically speaking.)

--Dig against Catholics? The German family narrates: "With the French, you had to be French and Catholic, the British welcomed all." Really???

--Twice: once when white kids steal food from colonists and once when colonists attack and Indian village (and don't seem to notice all the white people there--their skin and hair were not darkened at this point), there was a chance for the captives to escape, but nothing is made of it....

--I prefer the Canadian term for native, indigenous peoples: "First Nations." Make no mistake. Lest we forget.

May 10, 2014


Just in time for Mother's Day comes a genuinely fun and funny film about the crazy adventure that is parenting, specifically motherhood (with a serving of fatherhood on the side). If you've seen the snappy trailer, the movie does deliver on its promise, and there's lots more LOLs where that came from. But....

Dear Southern Christian filmmakers,
You're making some really great films these days. You've got a lot of the right stuff, all the elements, but you must, puhleeeeze: PICK. UP. THE. PACE. We are contracting narcolepsy watching your characters SPIT. IT. OUT. and WRAP. UP. THE. SCENE.
Ever so grateful,
Northern Christian audiences

As I was saying, this is a great little film, but about that pacing? The film starts of at frenetic, breakneck speed with voiceover from Allyson (Sarah Drew), the most stressed-out Mom (with three little kids) in her group of Mommy friends. She's really in a bad place, allowing her perfectionism and control-freakiness get the best of her. We're given lots of rapid-fire information in a little time to set up the rest of the film. There's a great use of visuals: intercuts, animation, graphics, cutaways, freeze frames, subtitles, etc. (the best is the pop-up texts with one Mom's hilarious "auto-correct" fails). But then, like an inverted pyramid, the film just gets slower and slower and s-l-o-w-e-r. We're already enjoying the film, so we have no problem going along for the ride, er, crawl.

The premise is simple: a bunch of Christian Moms from the same church, including the pastor's wife (Patricia Heaton), just want a break, a few hours to themselves at a fancy restaurant. However, as the saying goes: "Man's work is from sun to sun; woman's work is never done," and the rather inept hubbies/fathers can't quite handle things on their own. Actually, none of the adults in this film seem terribly grown up. A baby goes missing (not belonging to any of our Moms) and the film becomes about finding the baby (last known whereabouts: a tattoo parlor). Or rather, the film SHOULD have become about saving the baby (Hello? Missing baby?). The problem is, the baby is not directly connected to our protagonist, (it's her husband's half-sister's) so we now have a conflict of focus. Quite often, and rather jarringly even for a comedy, other petty concerns that are closer to our main character's (or another character's) heart take precedence. Sometimes the baby gets lots in the shuffle of the three ring circus that is this movie, and even the baby's mother seems to forget her objective. There's a real lack of desperation and urgency, along with very unreal (mild) reactions to this emergency.

All that being said, the dialogue is superb and truly humorous all the way through (UNLIKE so many supposed "comedies" today). The acting is also quite excellent. At UCLA, we were taught that comedy is HARD. It's the hardest genre of film, believe it or not. The only measure of a comedy's success is if people laugh. That's it. And we do. Timing is everything in comedy. Our actors were fine with the timing, but the overall pace of the film diminished its effectiveness. Our minds already figure out a few split-seconds ahead what's going to happen. Had the film been cut smart and terse like the trailer, it would have tightened things up a lot and we would have had gag upon gag without time to breathe between guffaws. (Perfect timing is part of what makes "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" so successful.) Get into the scene late, leave early.

I hope I'm not being overly critical, because the film really is enjoyable (epic silliness!) and has great advice for Moms in the end, throughout its multiple endings.

Without giving too much away, let's just say that the takeaway of "Mom's Night Out" is about letting ourselves off the hook when we're beating ourselves up or are totally unrealistic in our expectations. We need to step back and question where the SCRIPT is coming from that we are trying to follow. Our own overblown dreams? Our friends? Peer pressure? Our parents? The neighbors? Images that the media tells us we should live up to? Worries about the future? Why don't we write our OWN script? Why don't we count our blessings? Why don't we "resign as general manager of the universe" for our own peace of mind? Why don't we start with what's possible, what's right in front of us?

This is a Christian-produced film: Provident Films and Pure Flix, and you'll recognize actors from "Fireproof" and "Courageous." Christian invective: "Oh, crud."

The story takes into account the reality of today's living without getting too gritty or serious, but tries to steer us (though the characters' foibles) toward the path of contentment in the midst of duty, sacrifice, the unexpected, the disruptive and the uncontrollable. God is always our answer and our Rock, but how that practically plays out will look different for each of us, depending on our personalities, issues and life experiences.


--Cutsie, but relatable, I'm sure.

--Dear Hollywood, please stop the trend of loud pop song singing through dialogue. Thank you.

--Directors: Erwin Brothers ("October Baby")

--A word about parenting (as though I would know):
Allyson's kids aren't brats, but they are little banshees. You do NOT have to let your kids scream and holler whenever it occurs to them to do so. I really think that at least two generations of parents (Boomers and Gen Xers) are possessed of the false notion that if we say "no" to our kids, it will repress, oppress and otherwise warp them. But I think it's simply because we can't say "no" to ourselves. Discipline (self- and otherwise) is a beautiful thing. As my mother says, when you don't discipline a child so they can fit in nicely into a civilized society, you're doing that child a disservice because no one wants to be around them. Methinks we need a little more "British nanny" childrearing these days and a little less "raised by wolves." Allyson is hyper-vigilant and organized, perhaps, but hyper-undisciplined, and therefore, so are her children. (Dad travels a lot).

--Check out this article from the Toronto Star: Overwhelmed: Why overwork is the new American status symbol 

May 6, 2014


Are you 18-35? Discerning a religious vocation? Join young women from across the USA and Canada August 1-3, 2014 at the Daughters of St. Paul in Chicago!

WHO: Young women discerning religious life.

WHAT: A weekend retreat with conferences, Eucharistic Adoration, one-on-one guidance, sharing, silent time, discernment tips, fellowship!

WHEN: August 1-3. (Arrivals: Friday, August 1--retreat starts with supper. Retreat: August 2-3. Departures: Monday, August 4--or Sunday night if necessary).

WHERE: Pauline Books & Media/Daughters of St. Paul Convent 172 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60601 (Do not contact Chicago Sisters--they are only hosting us!)

FEE: Free--you simply need to get yourself there!

TRAVEL DETAILS: We can pick you up at train stations and airports.
Midway Airport is closest and easiest. Southwest Airlines goes to Midway (cheap tickets/free bags)! You can also take the CTA--Chicago city trains from both airports, right to our doorstep! Very easy. MIDWAY AIRPORT: (orange line--the only line at airport) get off at Randolph/Wabash stop, directly behind us.
O'HARE AIRPORT (blue line--the only line at airport) get off at Clark/Lake stop and walk a few blocks north to N. Michigan Ave. or call us for a pickup.
DRIVING--You can park at Assumption Church 323 W. Illinois Street, Chicago, IL 60654 and walk several city blocks (about 15 minutes) to us, or call for a pickup. Put large sign on dashboard: "DAUGHTERS OF ST. PAUL. CELL: 617 850 5584. PERMISSION FROM FR. JOE."

HOW TO REGISTER & FOR MORE DETAILS: Contact Sr. Michael OR Sr. Helena for registration form.

God bless & hope to see you!

Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp & Sr. Margaret Michael Gillis, fsp
Daughters of St. Paul

May 5, 2014


The movie "Heaven Is for Real," based on the book by the same name, is the true story of four-year-old Colton Burpo who claims to have seen heaven. First off: Do NOT watch the trailer if you haven't already! It's a great trailer, but it gives away a bit too much. Second off: DO see this movie!

Colton Burpo (played by the cherubic Connor Corum, who looks a lot the real Colton AND my nephew, Christopher, when he was that age--that's alot of "C"'s) is worth the ticket price. So is Greg Kinnear, who plays his pastor-father, Todd. Actually, all we needed in this movie was Colton and Greg together. Their chemistry is amazing and they are both just so believable.

The story arc is rather simple, and we are treated to a RARE long Act One which is such a welcome change. The action does NOT follow the now-tired: Happy, happy family life and then--after seven minutes--BOOM, massive tragedy strikes. I had not read the book so I simply did not know what to expect, or what was coming, and found it on the unpredictable side.

The stakes are not that high in this film. I found myself asking: so...what IS at stake here? Family finances, a pastor's mild crisis of faith? But we don't really care about the stakes, we are hooked because we just want to know for ourselves whether or not heaven is for real.

I think anyone could enjoy this film--even though it sometimes slips into pollyanna "Christian movie" territory, especially in the character of Todd's wife (British actress, Kelly Reilly, whose accent comes out a little when she's flustered), a consistently sweet, supportive, fawning, coquettish, fun-loving dream wife who always looks amazing. She also gets a bit maudlin at times. But I considered whether this was the actress or the thinly-written part, and I think it's a bit of both. Was she portraying a "pastor's wife"? She just seems such a throwback--in all her relationships and demeanor--to another era, almost. "On the other hand" (Tevya), it's refreshing to see a woman who chooses (much of life is a choice) to be...gentle, tender.

There are genuinely funny moments--marvelously expressed by Greg Kinnear's facial reactions. But there are dreadful moments as well, namely when the film...sigh...tries to SHOW us heaven. When the angelic music cued up and the screen got brighter and brighter I was muttering under my breath: "!" But they didn't hear me. Clouds that we see out any standard airplane window, blurry white laughing CGI angels, and a duck-footed Jesus in a machine-sewn, bad Christmas pageant robe that comes only mid-calf, ankle-high Roman sandals*...shall I go on?

For anyone who has lost someone to death, especially a child, this is your film. And that's pretty much all of us, isn't it? This film is comforting and challenging at the same time. There are no easy answers. There is still mystery to it all. When a woman wonders if her adult son went to heaven, the pastor urges her to trust in God's love and mercy.

Todd's conversation with a psychologist he turns to for help must have been written by a Christian. Like the recent movie "God's Not Dead," it doesn't really grasp the mind of a nonbeliever--this conversation could have been prolonged and could have stood in for the much larger scientific discussion regarding near-death experiences.

We really, really, really don't want to be underwhelmed when it comes to heaven. The images of heaven in the film are like that in a children's Bible story illustration or a Jehovah's Witnesses book I saw once. But thankfully they are not like the oil painting bogs of "What Dreams May Come." As beautiful as heaven is, the point is that the most beautiful thing in heaven is God and people!

When Hollywood does "religion" well, they do it well. "Heaven Is For Real"--for the most part--is one of those occasions.

"Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." John 20:29

"Though you have not seen him you love him." 1 Peter 1:8
*my Jesus wears more Birkenstock-y sandals


--Jesus has a horse.

--Greg Kinnear is one of those actors you forget to mention when someone asks: "Who's your favorite actor?" But once you see he's in the film, or he appears on the screen, you know everything's going to be just fine.

--I totally and completely believed that Greg Kinnear was a Christian and a pastor and a Dad and a husband. Such good acting.

--Actors are people who are full of life.

--Thomas Haden Church is so much fun.

--Just when things start to get too twee, they get gritty.

--Passing kidney stones in a movie??? Is this a first? I didn't even think it was a real thing!

--Pastor Todd's congregation must not have known their Bible too well. They kept asking how Todd could have been to heaven if he hadn't died. (See  2 Corinthians 12:2.)

--Dad gets his sign, Mom gets hers.

--Nonbelievers need to know that believers really joke about the God stuff. They need to know that believers WOULD sing "Amazing Grace" and call 911 at the same time.

--"If God forgives anything, He forgives everything."

 --"Nobody will hurt you."

--"On earth as it is in heaven."

--"That's HIM??!!"

--Sometimes good is banal, too.

--It is not irrational to believe what is beyond reason's grasp/experience.

--There are "lots" of animals in heaven. Colton Burpo says so. Boom. (I knew it.)

--You would think the kid would miss heaven.

--There are astounding bookends to this film of a young girl, Akiane Kramarik (Google her art), who had a similar experience to Colton when she was four. Her painting of the face of Christ is approved by Colton as what he saw. Wanna know more about the devotion to and relics of the Holy Face of Christ through the centuries? I highly recommend the book (NOT the documentary): "The Face of God" by Paul Badde, Ignatius Press.

--Older book/video on near-death experiences: "Life After Life" by Dr. Moody

--New book by formerly unbelieving neurosurgeon who has since "changed his mind" (pun intended) after his own experience: "Proof of Heaven" and "To Heaven and Back" by a female doctor.

--Check out my friend's amazing new DVD on Purgatory, also: