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SDG

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Everything posted by SDG

  1. Best of 2016?

    Somewhat belatedly, my top films list (there are 10 runners-up and 10 honorable mentions): Paterson Cameraperson Silence The Red Turtle O.J.: Made in America Love & Friendship April and the Extraordinary World The Witch Arrival Queen of Katwe I also did my usual round-up of top 10s from Christian cinephile friends and peers… and the top picks look strangely familiar…
  2. We don't have a Politics forum any more and for good reason. This post is not an attempt to do an end run around that exclusion. I am not interested in getting a conversation going here, much less a debate. This is an appeal for input. For a number of overlapping prudential reasons, I don't post a lot about politics on social media, but I don't post nothing either. I try to post strategically, picking my battles and maintaining a balance among the topics I post about. Another thing that has happened for a number of overlapping reason is that media coverage on Trump has been overwhelming. Every day is an avalanche — some of it wrong, and not all of it of ongoing importance. Trump, meanwhile, is doing that thing he does of diverting conversation to other topics. (Full disclosure: I am very far from the most politically savvy and informed of individuals, and I don't follow the news as closely as I wish I did. There are a lot of things I don't do that I wish I did.) I'm trying to step back and get some perspective and clarity on the big-picture angles that matter, but it's hard. When some critical sources worry that "President Trump has done a lot in only a month" and other equally critical sources claim that "President Trump has done almost nothing," it's hard to cut through the static and pin down the substance. One way to frame what I'm trying to do is this: Suppose you wanted to address Trump supporters who were underinformed about the most serious issues that have emerged from the Trump presidency in a way that they would find persuasive. Which big-picture issues and angles would you focus on? Note that this is not necessarily the same as the issues and angles that most concern you about the Trump presidency, unless of course you are or were a Trump supporter and are now concerned. Throughout the Trump campaign Trump opponents talked a lot — justly so — about sexism and womanizing, racism, Trump's business interests, and a lot of other issues and angles that were very persuasive to Trump opponents but which most Trump supporters blew off. Obviously in saying this I must immediately add that I realize there are a lot of Trump supporters who will never be persuaded by anything. So you have to pick your audience as well as your issues. Writers know it often helps to write your piece with one particular reader in mind, as if you were writing it just for them, even with a work (like a movie review) ostensibly addressed to a broad audience. With that in mind, I can think of a number of Trump supporters I know who are reasonable people who are open to dialogue, but who spend too much time immersed in the world of Fox News and other rightwing sources. They are not necessarily totally blind to issues with Trump but who were motivated by horror over Hillary, concern for the Supreme Court, and a few hot-button issues like abortion, religious liberty, and maybe Muslim refugees and national security (e.g., pointing to increased rape and violence in those European countries that have taken in a lot of refugees). If you know anyone who fits that description, or can imagine one, what issues would you broach with them? Follow-up question: Which online resources (news stories or analysis) would you cite — again, in an effort to persuade Trump supporters, to awaken or deepen concerns in them about the Trump presidency? The Michael Flynn resignation is the biggest thing, I guess. Is there currently one really good source to go to on that story? And now we're hearing that "High-level advisers close to then-presidential nominee Donald Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to US intelligence" (CNN). Another bizarre angle: Apparently the White House kept Pence "in the dark for weeks about the warning it had gotten about national security adviser Michael Flynn from the Justice Department" (NBC). What other issues and angles are most promising?
  3. The Trump presidency

    That's a fair response to one style of what I try to do on social media, but that's not really what I'm after here. I'm not looking (here) for outrages, like Trump's "It's all about me" responses to almost everything including questions about antisemitism (which I did recently post about on Facebook, and which your comments above seem to me an apt response). I'm not looking to have persuasive conversations about what a bad person Trump is. I may be more optimistic about the value of such conversations than you are, in part because of my different mode of social media engagement, but I'm looking for something different here. I'm looking for issues that have emerged in the Trump administration — policy decisions, appointments that sort of thing — where important problems emerged or important mistakes were made, either because it became necessary to backtrack or because of bad consequences. What are things Trump has done or is doing that everyone — or, if not everyone, a lot of people including many Trump supporters — can recognize are a problem? "Trump appointed a national security advisor who apparently wasn't truthful about his contacts with Russia and was vulnerable to blackmail by Russian intelligence — and Mike Pence didn't find out about it for weeks" seems like a good example of this. Thanks, Joel, I appreciate that. I'm still trying to find my approach given my own clerical vocation. Of course when and where one chooses to broad these topics is a separate question from "What are the topics that we should be talking about?" I'm looking for input on the latter.
  4. Lego Batman Movie

    I admit I don't know anything about Lego Batman outside these two movies, but is Lego Batman a rocker / recording artist anywhere else? My impression was that this was introduced in The Lego Movie and taken up here. If that's true, that's a pretty notable connection. Also, all the cross-franchise villains — Sauron, Daleks, King Kong, etc. — certainly resonated with the first film putting Star Wars characters and DC superheroes in the same story, etc.
  5. Lego Batman Movie

    Eek. If I'm reading this correctly, that strikes me as a harsh thing to say. I hope I'm misreading. Toward the DC Extended Universe movies to date, I certainly have animus, yes. And while that's not entirely irrelevant to this review, I don't think it's relevant in the direct way this seems to suggest. I have no animus regarding DC characters per se. If anything, my animus toward the DC Extended Universe movies to date inclines me favorably to a project like The Lego Batman Movie. The tack taken by a number of reviewers that Lego Batman Movie is "one of the best Batman movies ever" or "the best Batman movie since The Dark Knight" appeals to me, in part precisely because of my DC EU animus. I would love to write something like that; going in, I was hoping to. Also, while I did mention my disappointment that LBM missed an opportunity to make a joke about the discrepancy between Zod's fate in the two movies, this was a mere parenthesis compared to my larger, systemic disappointment that the film passes on making fun of "superhero movie culture" and the audience thereof — which most emphatically includes, indeed is predominantly defined by, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (of which I am somewhat passive-aggressively a fan, and of whose characters I am more straightforwardly a fan). IOW, what I most wanted to see "trashed" here, if that's the right word, was not superhero-universe specific. I wanted to see the nervy wit of TLM making fun of itself and its own corporate culture and its own audience turned on superhero-movie culture generally. I wanted LBM to make fun of its own superfluity, of the inevitability of sequels, of the dominance of superheroes in contemporary culture. Instead, we got a little bit of making fun of the whole concept of lawless vigilantes and some pointed questions about Batman's effectiveness as well as his emotional maturity, which is great as far as it goes, but I wish it went further. By the same token, I think Jeffrey is barking up the wrong tree when he suggests that perhaps my more negative reaction is due to my being more "invested in the Batman legacy" than he. On the contrary, the things I most appreciate about LBM — as I think is pretty clear from my review — is precisely that it makes fun of the character who more than other embodies superhero cool, whose aura of invincibility far surpasses Superman's in spite of the almost archetypal power gap between them, whose very name is practically an explanation for invincibility ("Because He's Batman"). I'm a Batman fan, but again, in the passive-aggressive sense that I think Batman is too cool, too iconic, his invincibility played up too much out of fan service to the Batman cult. I want to see Batman taken down a few pegs, and that LBM does this is, again, what I like about it. Another factor that favorably disposed me to LBM is that it's a superhero movie that is family-friendly. The default hard-edged PG-13 milieu of all superhero movies has long been a bugaboo of mine; I've ranted about it on Twitter repeatedly. Plus, it's a sequel to TLM, which I pretty much loved, and who doesn't want to love the sequel to a movie they loved? P.S. Reminder that my Man of Steel rating is C+. I have issues with the film, but I don't advocate "trashing" it.
  6. The Trump presidency

    Possibly related and worth bearing in mind: I just read on Twitter that Gallup finds public confidence in the news media has hit a new all-time low.
  7. Silence (2016)

    My follow-up piece on "Apostasy, ambiguity and Silence":
  8. Lego Batman Movie

    I was entertained but not thrilled. The Lego Batman Movie is about par for what I was expecting from The Lego Movie. It's frenetic, it's pretty funny, lots of jokes, very silly. What it doesn't have, pretty much at all, is The Lego Movie's subversive, daring humor. To wit:
  9. Paterson (2016)

    This is my no. 1 film of 2016. (My 2016 year-end write-up, with 10 runners-up and 10 honorable mentions.) Apparently I am a sucker for films that fit this pattern: My review talks about the "Ecstatic Quotidian" (which is related, though I don't say this, to Thomas Howard's "Bravo the Humdrum"), and why Golshifteh Farahani's character is not a Manic Pixie Dreamgirl, and how Paterson offers a welcome alternative screen image of masculinity — with the capacity of rising to physical heroism if needed. "Taxi Driver reimagined by Fred Rogers," in the memorable phrase of Jeffrey Overstreet, in his final (sniff) Viewer Discussion Advised column for CT on the film. Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield: MVPs of 2016.
  10. Sing Street

    I see nothing unbitter in the portrayal of Catholicism. If the final musical number — with the Brother Baxter masks! — isn't a middle finger to the Church, I'm not sure what would be. Note that Catholic sexual morality is blamed for the breakup of the family, or rather for their ill-advised wedding, since they didn't love each other and only wanted to have sex.
  11. Sing Street

    I suspected that this was the case. I am curious whether Carney would say he knows or suspects that Brother Byrne was a sex offender. Artists shape their work in a particular way for particular reasons. Saying that there was a real-life basis for Brother Baxter doesn't change the fact that the film comes off as lapsed-Catholic bitter — and that this interferes with my enjoyment of the film's more winsome elements. I would be surprised if Carney wouldn't self-identify as a bitter lapsed Catholic. (I admit I could be surprised. But I don't think I would be. That's why it would surprise me.)
  12. Sing Street

    Also, significantly, the angry bully trope is subverted: The bullying skinhead character is ultimately redeemed. So is the seemingly-unattainable love interest trope (subverted, I mean); Raphina turns out to be considerably more vulnerable and broken than most teen-movie fantasy love interests. The self-absorbed/clueless parents trope isn't necessarily subverted, but the movie doesn't end by giving them a middle finger either.
  13. Sing Street

    You notice that the priest isn't just angry/physically abusive, but probably a sex offender as well. He specifically admires Conor's "pretty" features, gives him a pat on the cheek — and then calls him into his private washroom to wash off his makeup. And Conor may know it — it may not be merely youthful rebellion that prompts Conor to walk out of his office at that moment. (Nor is it merely anger at Conor's defiance that prompts the priest to chase after him and violently half-drown him washing off his makeup.)
  14. Sing Street

    So…I'm the only one so far who finds the physically abusive, probably-child-molester priest and the overall Catholic-negativity to be even a caveat in a "feel-good" film?
  15. I'm starting this topic for a specific reason: I want to know if anyone, particularly literary Catholics hereabouts, are aware of any good, in-depth critiques of this book. I also have a secondary reason relating to dragons as they have been portrayed specifically in the literature of Western Christendom. A Landscape With Dragons is a conservative Catholic examination of good and evil and imagery in children's literature and entertainment. O'Brien's basic thesis is that in contemporary post-Christian culture images and themes of good and evil are often highly muddled, compromised by pagan or Gnostic impulses. I wouldn't disagree with this basic premise, but I disagree with many of the particular applications he makes. Among other things, O'Brien is concerned with good or friendly portrayals of dragons and other monsters, which he sees as a symptom of a Jungian impulse to embrace or befriend our dark side, to tame evil and turn it into good. He is aware of good or mixed portrayals of dragons in Eastern and classical mythology, but chalks that up to blurring of lines between good and evil in dualistic cultures. In Western Christendom, informed by the New Testament, he says, the dragon received its definitive imaginative form as an embodiment of evil, a stealer and hoarder of treasure, a killer of innocents, etc. I've critiqued O'Brien's thesis in the past, but I'd like to write more about this. First, though, I'd like to know what if anything has been written. I am aware of some critiques of O'Brien, many of which focus on his anti-Harry-Potter writings, but I don't know of any critiques specifically of A Landscape With Dragons or of this argument that dragons ought to be images of evil. Beyond the question of specific critiques of O'Brien, I'm obviously interested in cases in the literature of Western Christendom that complicate O'Brien's narrative. The draconian associations of Wales and King Arthur Pendragon are obviously one example. Anything else come to mind?
  16. Star Wars: Rogue One

    Four interrelated articles on moral and spiritual issues in Rogue One: First, Jeffrey wrote a piece for CT called "Will the Force Be Strong with Rogue One?" Jeff's central contention: I quoted from this passage in my own recent critique of Rogue One's moral murkiness, "What we lose when Star Wars goes to the Dark Side": Yesterday I learned that a professor of theology and culture at John Paul the Great Catholic University had written a rebuttal of my article for Catholic World Report, defending Rogue One (and interacting with Jeff's original piece), "On the Dark and the Light in Star Wars": My reply, which I just blogged ("John Paul the Great professor defends Rogue One"), begins on a note of agreement… …and ends with one of the stronger statements of disagreement:
  17. I think it's damned unfortunate that Silence has been so inaccessible to so many so far. I also think it's the film to beat for this jury. On the one hand, I don't like the idea of pushing back the vote. On the other hand, I understand why Greg is tempted. If we don't push back the voting this year, would the film be eligible for 2017? If not, then I would say absolutely, push the vote back. We can't just let this film fall between the cracks. I don't know which is the better solution.
  18. FWIW, my feeling is that the Top 100 list should be revisited on some kind of fixed schedule. The very first list we made, we revisited one year later. That's clearly much too quickly. Every five years would be a reasonable schedule, but we missed 2016 so that ship has sailed. Every 10 years is also defensible — like the Sight & Sound poll — but perhaps people feel that's too long to go. Still, every 6 years would seem like an odd interval. Perhaps every 7 years? I could live with that. In which case the next Top 100 would be due in 2018.
  19. Silence (2016)

    Thanks, Brian D. FWIW, I saw the film a couple of weeks ago at a NYC screening with Scorsese in attendance. There was a Q&A afterward, and I was sitting right in the front row, not six feet from Scorsese. Somehow the first audience member the mod called on was the guy right next to me, and after that he called on people all over the theater. In the end a publicist gave the moderator the high sign, and he said, "I'm sorry, they're telling me that was the last question, sorry, no more questions." But I kept my hand up and actually said, "Please." And Scorsese looked at me and said, "That guy really wants to ask a question." So the moderator gave me the mike! And, to my delight, when I said my name and affiliation, Scorsese blinked in recognition and said that he read my work! I had a hunch he might possibly recognize my name because of, well, because of this, from Ebert's 2008 essay on Last Temptation which went into his book on Scorsese: I confess I was a little concerned that he might be a bit irked with me, but he couldn't have been more gracious. Gave me a great answer to my question (I'll post it later) and shook my hand afterward and said he enjoyed reading me. It was a big deal for me in more ways than one. From my review of Silence:
  20. The Young Messiah (was: Christ the Lord)

    I'm so happy to see this film get some love here. It's currently a dismal 33% (!) at Metacritic, 46% at RT. I've seen it twice and I'm convinced it's a better and more interesting film than that. I had hoped that it would prove creative enough to be interesting to the critics without, like Noah, being so out there to be offputting to the faithful. I'm crestfallen to see that the reverse happened: Critics found it boring and safe, and many of the faithful (certainly in conservative Catholic circles) found it off-puttingly unorthodox! I must have been really busy when this opened not to post about it here. Here's my enthusiastic review and my interview with Nowrasteh, and my (controversial in conservative Catholic circles) essay on Jesus' divine omniscience and the limits of his human knowledge. From the last piece:
  21. La La Land (2016)

    I'm with Brody. So is Suz, who was irked by the film.
  22. Spirited Away

    Oh, I also have a different perspective now on the question of whether Chihiro remembers her adventures in the spirit world: With or without the extra line of dialogue thrown in in the English dub (which was approved by Ghibli in any case), I can't conclude that Chihiro's adventures might as well not have happened.
  23. Spirited Away

    In honor of Spirited Away's 15th anniversary, for two days only, you can see it in about 400 theaters across the country — tomorrow (Sunday 12/4) in English dub and the next day (Monday 12/5) in subtitled Japanese. Also in honor of its 15th anniversary, I've written a brand-new review that reflects how my thoughts have shifted on this film as it has grown to become one of my top films of all time, and my favorite Miyazaki (eclipsing My Neighbor Totoro — only by a whisker, but for very definite and specific reasons). In spite of what I've said in the past, I now watch Spirited Away with my whole family, even the four-year-old (though I would still totally respect a parent's decision to do otherwise). Partly this is because I figure that his inner world is shaped more by the balance of all the things he watches rather than any one film. Of course the fact that we have older kids who watch it has also contributed to moving the goalposts. And being an older parent, and a parent of older (and more) kids, has probably mellowed me too. Mostly, though, I now think about the film differently. As I write in my new review:
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