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Filtering by Tag: The MovieGoer

The MovieGoer: Disney's Planes: Fire & Rescue

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I am genuinely shocked at how much my kids and I enjoyed watching this movie together! We have a tiny movie ticket budget and a family of seven. We're ruthless about the distinction between what movies we spend a fortune on to see in a theater and what movies we rent for $1 from Redbox. When we first saw the trailer, this movie didn't make the cut. Free press tickets to a premier made me change my mind--radically!

I love Disney's Planes: Fire and Rescue because its a rare kid's movie that has layers of beauty. The animation is spectacular. The early flying shots remind me of the old films at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. It's thrilling to have that sense of flight inside a quiet movie theater. The bulk of the movie takes place inside a National Park. The artistic landscape scenery is in itself, so inspiring, that I recommitted to someday, somehow, taking our entire family on a long deferred car-trip out West.

Do not attend this movie thinking that it is simply another "Cars 2." Planes: Fire and Rescue is a straight-up action flick with funny, one-line jokes thrown in. My nine year old son said he likes this movie because "It has both action and jokes. Those are my two 'things', and they are so rarely found together." I can't remember another kiddie flick that had genuine suspense built into the narrative. The fire-fighting scenes are real, without being overwhelming.  My 11 year old and 7 year old daughters left the movie saying "I never knew how serious a fire-fighter's job was before!" I'm sure our nightly prayers for the safety of first responders will be more intense during the next few weeks, and this from a family whose Grandfather was once a cop.

As a parent, I appreciate the subtle, non-preachy, values showcased in the story. Disney's publicity experts describe the film as showing "Teamwork & Sacrifice." As a Catholic, I'd rephrase those values as the virtues of obedience and perseverance. In this movie, a know-it all, show-boating newcomer has to learn how to follow the exact commands of his Team Leader in order to not risk either himself or others while fighting dangerous forest fires. It's hard to explain to a sullen kid that the daily grind of "eat your carrots, put on your seat belt, do your homework" is ultimately for the greater good. Against the dramatic backdrop of firefighting, this movie underscores the value of obedience. I'd cheerfully pay $50 for a family movie date that has my 9 year old son say unprompted "This movie shows the value in doing what other people tell you to do." Bingo!

We had the joy of watching this film with a bunch of real life firefighters and their families. I've never seen so many burly men laugh so hard in a movie. This is truly their world! At the end of the credits, there were thank yous to over 20 firefighter consultants. This attention to detail is what makes Disney's Planes: Fire and Rescue more than simply an enjoyable 90 minutes spent in cool air-conditioning on a hot summer day. A children's film that makes you gasp in wonder, makes you belly laugh, makes you grasp another's hand in suspense, and makes you think deep thoughts on the car ride home, is the best kind of movie to share with your kids.

The Young Victoria - The MovieGoer

alec vanderboom

Totally fantastic flick to enjoy during a Baby Moon. This is one of the BEST movies about the healing power of Marriage. It will also make you thank your lucky stars that you weren't born into royalty. (Those inner family feuds of the royals were seriously messed up).

At age 18, Princess Victoria is the product of some seriously deranged home-schooling philosophies. The poor girl is never allowed to be alone, never allowed to walk down the stairs without holding an adult's hand and never allowed to visit the court of her Uncle, the King of England. She's about to become one of the youngest rulers of the Modern Age. Her first cousin, Albert, is the one person in her life who isn't filled with self-interest. He loves the Princess for herself alone. Can she overcome her fears of intimacy and marry him?

Available for Instant Download from Netflix.

(Do yourself a favor and quickly read the Wikipedia site on Prince Albert before you dive into this thrilling historical romance. A little historical background on 19th Century England will greatly enhance this film.)

The Moviegoer- "Pressure Cooker"

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This is an enchanting documentary about an inner-city culinary arts teacher who coaches her public school students to win full college scholarships.

I found the personality of Mrs. Wilma Stephenson to be amazing. She is so tough on all issues related to attitude and discipline! Yet in her heart, she's a softy who buys prom dresses for her poor students. She also PRAYS every single morning for her students. (No wonder her seniors take away almost all the culinary art prize money in the city of Philadelphia each year!)

Even though this documentary focuses on the wonders of "teaching", I watched this film thinking about the wonders "motherhood." Mrs. Stephenson's life in her kitchen is extremely similar to my life as a stay-at-home mother. I felt so affirmed by seeing the results of 41 years spent serving children with both consistent discipline and unconditional love.

Check out the documentary "Pressure Cooker." It's an instant down-load on Netflix. Then catch an update on Mrs. Stephenson by the Rachel Ray show online.


alec vanderboom

This is an incredible movie about the friendship between an Orthodox Jew and a Muslim. Their joint search for true love is charming. It's also an amazing description of the challenges of living as a woman of Faith in the secular, modern age. Available in instant down-load from Netflix. Watch it today!

Movie Review-Molokai: The Story of Father Damien

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If you haven't heard about America's most recent Saint, Father Damien, go rent the movie "Molokai". (This movie is even available as an instant download from Netflix). Saint Damien was a 19th Century Belgian missionary who ministered to a remote colony of lepers in Hawaii. The cast is filled with big names, including Peter O'Toole. I found this movie to really make me reflect profoundly on the nature of the priesthood. I left with a new appreciation for the Sacrament of the Sick, and the tender love the Church has for those souls who are in mortal peril.

The MovieGoer- Nowhere in Africa

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If you have any patience for subtitles whatsoever, please add “Nowhere in Africa” to your Netflick’s queue. Visually, this German film is stunning. The image a little girl dancing on a weathered front porch with her father to a beat up radio, while the camera slowly pulls back to reveal the extent of their isolation in an African desert is one of many haunting images. These special effects are nothing compared to the intensity of inter-family drama and reconciliation.

Within moments the film sets up the central tension between a Father, a Mother and a Daughter. As a German Jewish lawyer in 1938, the father has fled to the remote British Protectorate of Kenya. Once he finds work at a remote sheep-farm, he writes to his wife “follow immediately on the next ship available. Trust no one, not even our closest friends. I dread what this news will do to your mother.” The wife is reluctant to leave their close-knit family and all the familar comforts of a rich life. As she says her goodbyes, her loving father-in-law states, “This is all so unnecessary. Why did my son leave? This unpleasantness will all blow over in a year or two.”

The tension between obedience to her husband, whose flight to rural Kenya seems extreme in the eyes of their family and practically negligent in regards to the safety of their four year old daughter, and the longing for the comfort of home sets the tone for dramatic tension over the family’s nine year exile. The father & child quickly adapt to their new life. They learn Swahili and befriend many Kukuri tribe members. The mother constantly longs for home: for former comforts and familiar faces.

One of the most amazing scenes occurs when the little girl tries out her new grasp of Swahili to point out a brush fire. The mother (understandably) freaks out that a wildfire is suddenly burning a few yards from their farmhouse. She says “I’m going back to Germany, with or without you. We can never live here. Besides, how is our daughter going to learn how to read if she can’t go to school?”

At that point, the Father starts screaming that no one realizes danger they faced in Germany. The Father admits to hearing about Kristallnacht that morning from a Swiss radio station. “We were lucky to get out of their with our lives!” he screams. “Don’t you see that it doesn’t matter if or when our daughter learns to read? She’s alive!” In a stunning movement of camera work, the audience follows the two parents gaze at their daughter, happily skipping beside the brush fire, unaware that she maybe the only remaining descendant of a large Jewish family.”

I don’t want to ruin the rest of the surprising plot twists. I will say that this film, based on a true memoir, is a beautiful anatomy of marriage. Not surprising, the husband and wife deal with their loss of their homeland and family in radically different ways. The husband describes the distance he feels with his wife. "I feel like we are two packages next to each other on a train. We've come a long way together, but we are all wrapped up. In the end, we don't really know what lies inside the other." The interior movement that each character has mades by the end of nine years, makes their geographic journey seem tame by comparison. (I am excited to pick this film apart with someone, so please leave a comment after you check it out) Happy viewing!

(Rated R- there are two extensive nude scenes between the husband & wife).

In Praise of Fathers

alec vanderboom

I came of age in polite, liberal circles where the term “two parent households” replaced the vernacular “nuclear family.” My sociology professor at Smith carefully footnoted each study which praised children raised with both a mother and a father in the house by stating between sips from her Clearly Canadian water bottle, “this also applies to gay and lesbian families. What matters is there are two people concerned about the children, not their gender.” When I got to law school, these studies were pushed away even farther due to the many single moms in my class with happy, sweet-faced kids.

I had a great shock to find, when I started my own family, that Fathers are so very, very important. My husband isn’t just another pair of arms to hold a fussy baby or another pair of eyes to watch for a toddler who likes to escape out the patio door. His contribution to family life is more than earning money for our daily bread or running trips to the grocery store when Mom is laid up with pregnancy pains.

My husband’s gender has a powerful effect on his parenting style. Fathers are just different. That is a good thing, a necessary thing. A newborn's screams will send her nursing mother into a panic. Her cries don't have the same effect on her father. This difference insures that a baby will be fed promptly and yet will also transition into a crib at some point in her life.

In my family, Dad handles the tough jobs, bath time for wiggly infants, first-aid for bloody cuts, dog walks in the sleet. He’s also the one who actively encourages “dangerous” activities such as crossing the monkey bars at age 18 months and using real golf clubs at age 3. Dad is the one who says go ahead and or leap into leaf piles with your church clothes on or jump into mud puddles higher than your rain boots.

Some how kids seem to come out better with a “be careful” voice of motherhood and the “go for it” adventurousness of fatherhood. I was still counting a “mom and a dad” as a plus, instead of a necessity as insisted by the Catholic Church.

Lately, I've run into the subtle scars with children in our neighborhood who are growing up in divorced families. “You can’t move! It’s dangerous on the first floor” the three playmates of my daughter solemnly stated when Hannah said she was moving from apartment number 304 to 103.

Jon and I puzzled over that statement. The girls live in the same apartment building on the fourth floor with their mother. “Why would the girls and think the first floor is dangerous? They must have heard that from their mom.” We live on one of the safest streets imaginable. “It must be because she feels more vulnerable as a single-mom,” was my husband’s final conclusion.

I had this sense of how lucky I was, to have a 6-foot man in my house and his ferocious looking, but gentle lamb of a Samoyed, Sara. My children and I sleep in deep security, even in a large metropolitan city.

That feeling of blessedness came again while I watched “Pride.” In the movie, the swim coach goes head to head with a gang leader to save some of his swim team from heading down a dangerous path. “It was important for the guys that their coach was a man,” I said. “They sort-of have a fatherly feeling towards him. I’m not sure a female coach would have gotten the same results.”

“It would have been even more powerful, if it one of the boy’s actual fathers confronted the gang leader. That coach just says that he’d take a bullet for his swim team. I would actually take a bullet for Lex.” His tone is extremely firm. I take a look at his normally gentle eyes; they are flashing a steely blue. He’s serious, I think.

It’s wonderful having a father. He gives cuddles and reads “Black Beauty” and brings home leftover chocolate cake from work. He also has a quiet strength that protects our family.

This advent season I have some many people to pray for. I’m adding prayers for all those white, African-American, and Latino children who are growing up without fathers in their houses. Their childhood monsters are real, not imaginary ones that hide under the bed. Even though these sons have a greater need, they are less likely to have a noble man risk a bullet to pull them out of harm’s way.

St. Joseph pray for us. Protect our children from the modern day King Herrods and inspire more men to follow your holy example

The MovieGoer-Into the Great Silence

alec vanderboom

Impossible to overstate how much I've enjoyed this latest Netflick pick- a peep into the life of the monks from the Grande Chartreuse monastery. The life of the monks first made me homesick for my former life as a scholar. The "father" monks live in alone in cells, spending time in prayer and study. A lower order, called "brothers" who wear blue denim habits delivers steaming vegetable stew, clean laundry and letters from home through a small door in the cells. All time is spent in silence, except for the powerful words of the literary and few "recreational" visits.

The difference between these two types of monks is briefly described in their official website.

"A Carthusian community consists of cloistered monks, priests or those destined to become priests (Fathers) and monks converse or donate (Brothers). Cloistered monks live in the strictest of solitude. They do not leave their cells other than when allowed by the rule. They occupy their time with prayer, readings, and work (sawing wood to heat themselves during winter, gardening, transcribing, pottery, etc.) The Brothers ensure that the various needs of the monastery are met by their work outside of the cells (cooking, carpentry, laundry, work in the woods) It is a unique ideal, lived in two different ways. The Brothers work in as much silence and solitude as possible. They have their share of life in the cell for reading and prayer, yet it is less demanding than the Fathers. That is why their cells are smaller. Both ways of life complement one another to form the unique Charterhouse and correspond to the different aptitudes of those who wish to lead a Carthusian life."

When I rented this documentary, I thought I'd long for the life of a father. Uninterrupted time for contemplation of the sacred scripture. Time for writing, thought, prayer. Clean laundry delivered through a window in my cell. Such a contrast to my currently inability to string two sentences together in a blog post without being interrupted by a hungry baby, battling siblings, a husband who has misplaced his wallet or a dog with diarrhea.

Instead, it was the humble life of the little brothers in blue which drew me. The way they carefully cut the celery for the stew. They way they shoved snow from the garden tracks while the Mass bells were calling their fellow monks to prayer. This is the way most similar to my life as a stay-at-home mother. Watching the simple, necessary tasks done with such love and devotion had an uplifting effect on me. Even the acetic monks need clean clothes and full bellies.

The focus on solitude and silence and aspects I wish to embrace more fully in my life. In contrast to the more communal life of the Benedictine monks, the Carthusian monks embrace a more solitary life. The basic premise is this:

"It is because of this solitude that each of our cells is called a Desert or Hermitage.

The cloister and cell only assure an external solitude. It is only the first step whose goal is to encourage interior solitude, or purity of heart: to keep one's soul away from any and all things not of God or which do not lead to God. It is at this level that the Carthusian meets the sudden impulses of his thought and the changes of his feelings. As long as the monk discusses with his "self", his sensibilities, his worthless thoughts, unreal desires, he is not centered on God. It is here that he experiences his weakness and the power of the Spirit which he learns bit by bit "...the habit of the tranquil listening of the heart which allows God to enter by all path and access." (Statutes 4.2) (quote from their official website.

"The War"- Episode Four

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I've really got to hand it to Ken Burns. The interweave of the stories of soldiers from four US towns seemed clumsy at first. It took me a while to get the hang of making the dramatic transitions between people and places in the massive theater of this war. Now that we're in the fourth episode, I find myself really appreciating the brilliance of this structure on its own terms. WWII is such a huge war to get you head around. Knowing how things interrelate, and returning again and again to individual families, helps the viewer gain perspective on the full scope of the war AND emotionally feel the human sacrifice involved. I really encourage anyone who missed this series to check it out on Netflix once it become available.

To wet your appetite, here are a few highlights from this episode:

A paper boy talks about the shock of seeing the blue service stars hung in the front windows of the houses in his home town suddenly turn to gold stars whenever a death in the family occurred.

The combat pilots over Germany faced such terrible odds, it makes Heller's Catch-22 seem rather Pollyannaish. One fighter pilot described how one mission was so awful that on his way back to the airstrip he suddenly lost control of his right hand. The right hand started involuntarily shaking so hard that he had to land his airplane using his left hand on the control stick. He continued to have terrible nightmares of this mission after the war, for over 50 years. Whenever he dreamed of this mission, when he woke up his right hand would be shaking and virtually useless. Those mornings he would go downstairs for breakfast, and his wife Jackie would see his right hand shaking. Without a word being said, she would always hand him a cup of coffee in his left hand. I can't quite explain it, but that silent communication of handing a cup of coffee sensitively to your husband's left hand seemed sort of the essence of a good marriage.

One more story, which actually comes from episode three. An American family with three children (the youngest being only 3 months old) is swept up in an internment camp after the Japanese invade their home on the Philippines. The parents do their best to provide a stable home life in the midst of this chaos. The mom said "for as long as possible, we are going to eat our dinner (a simple meal of rice & fish) at our good wooden table, with a table cloth and on our colored plates." Something to think about as we go about our common tasks of preparing & eating our daily bread with our families.

Questions from "The War"

alec vanderboom

I'm just beginning the new Ken Burns saga on PBS. (How nerdy is it to have opening night stenciled on my calender for over three months?) I'm sure I'll have a lot of questions which arise from this journey. Here's my first one.

One of the featured veterans describes himself as raised in a Christian home. He said that he struggled over the question of whether he should join the army before 1941 because he was taught "that it was wrong to kill." He lived on one of the Pacific island's attacked early by Japanese war planes. A friend was horrifically killed in front of him. As the plane cleared away from the blast, the veteran said "I could see the pilot smiling and then I didn't have any trouble killing Japs . . . It was my job to kill as many as I could a day."

Leaving aside the whole fighting a just war philosophy (which I'm pretty sure WWII neatly qualifies into), is the veterans response truly "Christian?" It's a natural human response, but aren't we called to go beyond revenge killing? Christ's urge to forgive our enemies also happens to apply to those who directly kill, even our dearest friends.

I'm not for one second suggesting that as a Christian nation we should not have gone to war against the Japanese, or Axis powers. It just troubles me in this individual story that a Christian boy who struggled with his conscious against killing had one horrific act of sin done to a dear friend, and this suddenly "flipped a switch" which powered his to feed his revenge for four years of fighting.

My husband's suggestion is that the boy's parents stressed "Don't kill" but didn't explain "why." Some examples of the "whys" would include, Christ admonishes us to be the peace we seek in the world, we must master our emotions for revenge, and the familiar line "turn the other cheek." Any killing in the army service of a just war should be done with great regret and be motivated from love rather than hate. (This is sort of hard to qualify, but makes sense to me intuitively as a mother. I'm extremely strict with an abrupt & immediate discipline with my older children when one of them does something dangerous around the baby. My motivation is never out of hatred of the offending party, but rather out of concern for a helpless newborn.)

Does this line of thought makes sense to you? Or is it too Ghandish to be Catholic? What would your thought process be as a Catholic before signing up to fight in a war? Has anyone faced this issue directly with the Iraq War?

The MovieGoer-The War, Ken Burns

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If you're not currently taking in Ken Burn's new documentary about World War II called simply "The War," here's is how to repeat episodes on PBS:

Sept 23-26,30, Oct 2 at 8 PM.
Repeat 23 & 26 at 10:30 PM, Sept 24 & 25 at 10 PM, Sept 29 at 5 PM-2 AM, Sept 30 at 11 PM

Tune in a few nights and get a new appreciation for the WWII veterans in your family.

The MovieGoer-- Spartacus

alec vanderboom

Spartacus was one of those movies I compared to eating fresh spinach- good for you, but not enjoyable. So it languished on the bottom of my Netflix pile. It took me not getting the punchline of the Diet Pepsi commercial to convince me that it was finally time to see this movie classic.

What was I waiting for? Amazing acting, sensitive plot, historical accuracy. Who knew that we could so closely relate to the times in pagan Rome?

Spartacus is an elegant study on the meaning of human freedom. There were scenes that could be directly linked to John Paul II ideas. There is one speech, where our former pope basically quotes "Freedom is not the ability to do whatever we want, whenever we want. It is the ability to live out our life in an authentic relationship with God."

Spartacus is a slave who is originally trained as a gladiator. To encourage his training, he's given a slave woman as a reward. At first, Spartacus spies the pretty lead with lust. Then he is horrified to see that his owners have drilled a hole in the roof of his cell, and wish to watch him "mate" as a sort of early form of pornography. Spartacus then grabs the bars on the window and howls "I AM NOT AN ANIMAL." To this the girl softly replies, "I'm not an animal either." Then an ashamed Spartacus hands the girl her clothes back, clothing her nakedness. She's removed from his cell. However, the conditions have changed so that an actual relationship based on mutual love can now begin between them.

I thought this scene so perfectly illustrated the complex teachings of "Theology of the Body." Men can look at women with lust, and denigrate sex into an animalistic mating. Or, a man can treat a woman with modesty, as an being with equal dignity to himself. That is the only way for true love to develop when a woman is a person and not a thing.

In the movie, freedom is defined as respect for others, including women, children and the elderly. Freedom is work with dignity, the ability to do humble tasks such as spinning and hunting, for a noble task- to free all slaves in Rome. Freedom is also the ability to raise a family.

Freedom is not, the ability to have your own "unique" set of goals, your ability to return evil for evil (such as when the former slaves wish their former masters to fight in gladiator like duels), or tolerance for alternative opinions when they condone acts of injustice. Freedom involves self-sacrifice and is the necessary ingredient for living a life of truth.

I love finding hidden spiritual gems like this movie, because while the director may not have been Catholic, his faithfulness to "truth" makes his art the perfect Catholic catechism.

The MovieGoer- Walking With Dinosaurs

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If you've got a dinosaur lover in your family, add "Walking With Dinosaurs" to your Netflick's queue. This incredible TV series from the BBC equally entertains kids & adults. Kenneth Branaugh's narration & computer animation recreate the wonder of the Mutual of Omaha productions that we all remember from our childhood. Rent it today and add the word "Postosuchus" to your toddlers vocabulary.

For more dino fun, and so you look oh so knowledgeable at your next visit to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, check out the series website to get the proper spelling and pronouncation of all your new favorite dinos. (This is how I keep up with my 2 year old son. My two years of high school Latin, unfortunately, did not include nearly enough dinosaur names.)

The MovieGoer-- The Last Kiss

alec vanderboom

While I won't really recommend watching Zach Braff in the "The Last Kiss," which was falsely touted as a romantic comedy, especially if as a Catholic you already know that co-habitation is a BAD IDEA. As displaced Madisonians,however, we did enjoy a rare cinimatic peak at our fair city. "There's the Capital Building, there's Bascom Hill, there's our beloved Terrace on Lake Mendota!

It also lead to this priceless exchange.

Zach Braff,a best-man, newly informed father-to-be who is also unmarried: "Weddings always depress me. I now know that there's going to be no more surprises in my life."

My beloved husband of six years, holding newborn baby number four:"No more surprises after marriage? What is he talking about?"

Me:"No honey, not surprises like new discoveries, kids, and moving across five states in four years. He means no surprises as in not kissing another girl"

Husband:"Hmpf! Kissing the same girl is what makes the rest of this crazy life possible!"

Well said, my love, well said.