Monday, September 23, 2013

Review in Five Bullets: In A World...

This weekend we saw a really enjoyable indie comedy about a female voice actor trying to find her place in the competitive, male-dominated world of professional voiceover acting.  Quite the premise, hm?

Five bullets, in no particular order:

1) I like movies that allow you to get inside an obscure community or esoteric field of knowledge - to immerse yourself in some little pocket of humanity that you didn't even know existed.   In this case, it's the voiceover acting industry.  No idea, obviously, if it's true to life or if such a community even exists as distinctively as it's shown in the film.  And I would hope that it doesn't consist entirely of self-absorbed narcissists, as also shown.  But it's fun to consider nonetheless. 

2) Demetri Martin as Louis was the stand-out performance.  I loved him in Flight of the Conchords, but have been very bored by both his stand-up and his short-lived sketch show, which somehow managed to be both bland and off-puttingly bizarre.  However, he's fantastic in this role, which requires high-level comedic skills but also has some depth.  The scenes between him and Lake Bell are charming and hilarious.  He should do more indie comedies.  Lake Bell's character, Carol, has some of the qualities of what's usually called the Manic Pixie Dream Girl - socially incompetent in a way that is improbably attractive, has a tendency to mumble/ramble, etc.  This bugged a little but not as much as usual.  Bell has great timing and her character is much more developed than the typical Zooey Deschanel or Greta Gerwig creation.  

3) This movie is rife with absolutely loathsome characters, as well as more sympathetic ones who make some terrible choices.  One thing that was nice to see was that bad moral choices are portrayed as bad moral choices: characters are accountable for their actions.  One character is unfaithful to her husband - in a lot of movies, this might be shrugged off or at least softened somewhat with "everybody makes mistakes" language or a shifting of blame onto her husband or her circumstances.  Not here - the hurt she causes her husband is not glossed over, and when she apologizes it is with a complete acceptance of responsibility for her choice and its consequences.  Her husband's forgiveness and their effort to begin repairing their marriage are acts of love, but are not presented as an implicit excusing of her actions.

4) Also unusual is the way the romance develops between Louis and Carol.  The series of miscommunications and missed connections that comprises the first two thirds of the film is pretty standard rom-com stuff, but better written and executed than most.  When they finally do connect and admit they "like" each other, they spend an evening out doing fun get-to-know-you activities.  It ends with a kiss at the door but not the normally requisite bed scene solidifying their Status As A Couple.  Not that it's implied that this is off the table for them later, but it was still refreshing to see a romantic relationship take shape around shared interests and clear enjoyment of each other's company instead of just physical attraction.

5) I love, love, loved the scene at the end where Carol has started a workshop for women to "find their voice."  Throughout the movie, she encounters several women with the sort of infantile, pouty vocal inflections a lot of women seem to think make them feminine or attractive or influential with men.  At the end she's shown with a number of them gathered in a recording studio, ready to learn to use their voices in a way that reflects their dignity and allows them to communicate powerfully and effectively.  The right kind of feminist message.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Seven Quick Takes

Still digesting the Holy Father's beautiful interview.  My whistle-into-the-wind from yesterday was a small attempt to counteract some of the knee-jerk negativity I observed from people who read a couple of headlines and reacted to those without reading the interview itself.

 I don't have anything more to add at the moment, other than to direct you back to my post from before the interview hit about the need to be grateful for the gifts being given to the Church at this point in history.

If you've reached saturation point on interview talk, turn off your tablet and go say a quick prayer for a lovely and very sick young man, L., a friend of my husband's who's reached the end of his strength in dealing with his mental illness and needs some supernatural aid.

If you haven't reached that point yet, please pray for L. anyway, but enjoy this handful of links from some sensible and articulate people about our beloved Holy Father and what he has to say:

1) Aggie Catholic
"I challenge you to see Francis as an earthly spiritual father. Sometimes he is going to ask us to grow in ways we don't want to. But, it may be good for us anyway."
2)  JoAnna Wahlund
 "So please, fellow Catholics, the proper response when reading a MSM headline about the Pope changing a long-held doctrine of Catholicism is not panic or rage or despair. Rather, it’s a yawn, an eye-roll, and a resigned sigh – as well as a realization that we’re once again called upon to engage in the new evangelization for the sake of the Kingdom in the realm of social media and among our friends and family."
3) Stephen White
"Being a Christian is not, first and foremost, about ideas and rules. That is not to say our faith does not engage our minds or demand obedience (it obviously does both); it is simply to observe—and this is fundamental—that faith does not begin there. Everything Pope Francis says in his interview should be understood in this light."
 4) Mark Shea (I promise he doesn't call anyone a bedwetter in this one)
"When you focus too much on fighting the world you start to think like the world, trying to run the Church by rules and laws and slogans and power and fear and punishment and not by putting first things first: which is Jesus Christ and our personal encounter with him. The press can’t be expected to get that. But we Catholics *must* get that.”
5) Simcha Fisher
"The one thing that everybody knows is that the Church is against abortion.  What the world doesn't know is why the Church is against abortion.  What the world doesn't know is what the Church can offer instead of abortion.  The world doesn't know why life is worth living. This is the message that every pope in recent memory has been preaching -- that life is good!"
6) Cardinal Dolan
"It is becoming more evident every day that we are blessed with a Pope who is a good shepherd after the heart of Christ. "

7) And for my last quick take, I'm going to link back to the interview again, because really...just read it yourself.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Interview

Just finished reading the Pope's interview.  I'll get back to you about it once I've had a chance to mop up my heart, which seems to have melted all over the floor.

What a beautiful gift this man is to the Church.

And in the meantime: you know how the media is going to distort, misquote, and butcher his words?


Just read it yourself.  Ponder and delight in what our Holy Father has to say to us.  Enjoy being Catholic.

More from The Porch

More on Pieper, language and the truth over at The Porch!  Fun.

Also, a very insightful and much-needed look at various flavors of dissent within the Church today.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Say Thank You

“The Church is not falling to pieces. It has never been better. This is a wonderful moment for the Church, you just need to look at its history. There are saints that are recognised by non-Catholics as well as Catholics – I’m thinking of Mother Theresa – but many men and women perform acts of holiness every day and this gives us hope. Sanctity is greater than scandal.”

 -- Pope Francis, yesterday

I tend to hang around with people who are very protective of the Church's doctrinal, liturgical, and cultural heritage, which makes sense, because I am one myself.  So I get a front row seat on some of the ways that something good - the desire to safeguard the Church's heritage - can sometimes start warping over time into something bad - defensiveness, panic or elitism in the face of the perceived societal onslaught against the Church and those who love her.

When our thinking starts to trend this way, it can be poisonous for all kinds of different reasons.  Lack of charity is one: I've been a bit troubled lately by some things I've read from people who seem to think Pope Benedict's words about a shrinking Church are a mandate rather than a warning.

However, the words of Pope Francis yesterday highlight a different pitfall we can encounter when we allow ourselves to be too focused on the problems in the Church and the world.  That pitfall is envy.  My brother wrote about envy yesterday, which got me thinking about the different ways that particular deadly sin can trap us.

Sin causes us to see the truth less clearly.  Envy specifically blinds us to the good things we've been given and the way grace is active in our lives.  We focus on what others have and what we don't have, rather than recognizing and thanking God for his gifts.

But envy can be focused not just on ourselves personally but on the Church in the context of its two-millennium history.  We can find ourselves looking back with increasing jealousy to that wonderful time fifty years ago, or one hundred years ago, or back in the thirteenth century when men were men and heretics got their comeuppance. 

Part of that is just nostalgia, but part of it is a little more insidious, I think.  It's envy, which causes us to focus on the gifts the People of God received at other points in our history and to become less alert to ways He is active here and now.  And that leads us to something even more poisonous: ingratitude.

The well of grace hasn't just dried up - God is, in this particular time and place, quenching the thirst of a parched Church both generally and in all kinds of specific and concrete ways.  Believe me - in a generation or two, Catholics are going to look back at this period in the history of the Church and marvel at the holy and wise people who guided us, at the theological developments that increased our understanding of the deposit of faith, at the ways the Gospel took hold in new cultures and how those cultures enriched the Church...the list goes on.

We don't have to wait for generations to pass.  We shouldn't wait.  We should thank God now for the way his Holy Spirit, unchanging yet always new, is at work in the world, actively, dynamically, now.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


My brother recently posted this word on Facebook - he encountered it in his class on Old Norse.

(Pause for the customary moment of University Envy. *I wish I was studying Old Norse.  Latin, Old English, and Sanskrit are not enough.  Being a grown-up is stupid!*)

Anyway, that reminded me that Norse Sagas are pretty awesome.  My other brother and I used to sit around sometimes reading out loud from the Prose Edda.  One of us would read the English and the other would follow along with the original language, stopping at interesting words.  The sagas aren't just of linguistic interest, though; they are legitimately great stories and often drily and beautifully hilarious.

Right now I'm reading a marvelous book recommended recently by Jen Fulwiler: The Long Ships, by twentieth century Swedish author Frans Bengtsson. It's set in northern Europe during the period when most of the sagas were being recorded and is itself a contemporary saga of sorts, following the life of a Viking chieftain named Red Orm.

It's very much in the spirit of the sagas stylistically, though smoother and more cohesive narratively.  It has the same slight long-windedness, flawed but lovable characters and unbelievably dry but gut-busting moments of humor.

The role Christianity plays in the story is interesting as well, and I would imagine pretty accurate historically.  A lot of the Vikings have converted to Christianity, but with vastly different levels of sincerity.  Some notice that this new god seems to be gaining influence and figure they might as well jump on the bandwagon; others are baptized at swordpoint or to improve their "weather-luck."  Christian beliefs and rituals are sort of mashed in with the traditional pantheistic ones: at one point, a Catholic priest interrupts a pagan ceremony and accidentally causes the priest conducting it to fall to his death.  The participants barely bat an eye, and just swap out the old priest for the new one, forcing him to step into the ceremonial role.

Mostly, The Long Ships is a great adventure story: lots of fighting and feuds and love-making and travel.  It's simply fun to read and a great break from my usual navel-gazing and morose reading fare.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Porch

This new blog by a group of twenty-something Catholics seems nifty.

The most recent post is a brief commentary on the relationship between some of my own philosophical hobby horses (language, meaning, the dignity of the human person), with some quotes from the marvelous Josef Pieper.

Which reminds me: I still owe myself a series of essays on Leisure: The Basis of Culture.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Seven Quick Takes

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

1) It occurs to me that anyone visiting for the first time probably thinks this is a Doctor Who fan blog.  Sheesh.  Thing is, the things I'm thinking about tend to be filtered through whatever literary or artistic work I'm currently engrossed in, thus the multiple Who posts.  However, I'm on to Baby Hipster Who now, and I'm not really feeling it, so this will probably be the last of those for a while.  Yes, I know I said the same thing about darling David Tennant.  Hush.

2) We got to see Cardinal Dolan speak last night at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Pallium Lecture.  He sold out a 4,000 seat theatre, and it was exhilarating to walk around downtown right before the event started and feel like we landed in some kind of Catholic utopia. A trio of Franciscan friars would walk by, and then we'd sit down next to a group of Catholic teenagers discussing religious freedom.  And there were priests EVERYWHERE.

3) The lecture itself was titled "Who Do You Say That I Am: Encountering Christ and Responding to Christ Through His Living Body, The Church."  The Cardinal talked about how vital it is that we as Catholics return to a deeper understanding of the essential relationship between Christ and his body, the Church.  He gave three suggestions for restoring this understanding: 1) recognize the Church as our spiritual family 2) strive for a renewal of effective apologetics and 3) become a repentant Church uniting our woundedness with that of Christ.  Fantastic.

4) I skimmed through a few news articles about the lecture this morning, and found them surprisingly balanced and positive.  The Journal-Sentinel article actually demonstrated a decent understanding of some of the themes Dolan raised, and didn't even mention the bankruptcy, lawsuits, etc etc etc.  Of course, the need was felt to bring up the one minor (and in my mind, irritatingly unnecessary) political reference of the evening, which actually came from Fr. Paul Hartmann, not the Cardinal.  Ah, well.

5) Moving on to sports.  I would like to triumphantly note that, before to the start of last night's NFL season opener, I told my husband that Peyton would be incredibly hungry this year and would be playing like it was his last season.  Was I right or was I right?  

6) However, I probably arrive at my stunningly accurate sports predictions from a slightly different perspective than, say, an ESPN sports analyst.  It's the same way I'm able to predict the story arc of a book or TV show - by looking at the narrative.  In this case, it's Peyton's personal narrative as an athlete.  He's one of the most insanely driven and ambitious NFL players ever, and a couple of years back had to sit out an entire season due to a neck injury that would have ended most careers.  He decided instead to go overseas for some terrifying Frankenstein treatment that is ILLEGAL in the United States, making me nervous every time I watched him play last year that his head would just pop off or something.  Despite the fact that he's back on the top of his game, he's clearly playing on borrowed time and gosh darn it if he isn't going to at least match little brother Eli with one more Super Bowl win.  Thus ends the lesson in applying literary analysis principles to athletic careers.

7) As evidenced by these mildly slap-happy Quick Takes, the Summer of Shakespeare is finally over and we're slowly regaining our sanity.  I'm oh-so-glad it's over, but grateful for what we learned, especially about the the value of time.  The ability to once again balance our time between work, relaxation, time together, time with our families, art, education, prayer...well, it's just making me giddy.  I think we are in for a truly grace-filled autumn.  

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!