Mailbag #17

Clint Eastwood, Avatar, Hotel Rwanda, Children of Men, Hayao Miyzaki, Lenten viewing, The Last Temptation of Christ, Dogma, Harry Potter and more.

Re. Into Great Silence

The new layout and your more interactive approach to your site are very appealing. We refer to your reviews and commentaries frequently as my wife and I struggle to find movies worth watching for our four home-schooled kids.

You have put me on to several movies I would never have heard of otherwise, in particular Into Great Silence and Grave of the Fireflies. Silence I was able to catch during its brief run in a local (Dallas) theater. I also recently watched it with my three older children (12/14/16) and they not only sat patiently through it, but found it quite involving. What a gem.

Thanks for making our job as parents a little easier!

Few things are more rewarding than to help a reader connect with a film like Into Great Silence or Grave of the Fireflies.

I watch Into Great Silence every Lent. (I almost feel guilty looking forward to it as much as I do.) My eldest daughter (now 15) has watched it with me every year since its theatrical release. My elder sons (now 11 and 9) watch for long stretches.

This year my six-year-old daughter watched a good bit of it with us — and she remembered specific details from last year’s viewing. (When I pointed out that we see the old grey-bearded monk preparing lunch and then one of the monks eating in his cell, but haven’t yet seen how the food gets to the cells when the monks don't usually interact except during liturgy, she remembered that we later see the food being distributed to the cells through cubbyholes. [There are doors on both sides facing the corridor on one side and the cell on the other, sort of like post office boxes.])

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Re. Clint Eastwood

So, from your comments about the Oscar nominations, I see that Eastwood films aren’t your favorite? Only watchable, not remarkable? Even Unforgiven and Gran Torino? (I can see your reviews for Flags of Our Fathers and Million Dollar Baby.) Can you quickly name a director or two whose films are remarkable, in contrast to Eastwood’s? Thanks!

My sense is that Eastwood pretty consistently directs in the three-star range these days, doing perfectly respectable work without much depth, challenge or surprises. That’s not to say every film of his is in that category. I found the companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, remarkable enough to put on my top 10 for 2006. Gran Torino and Invictus I would put at that typical Eastwood three-star level, along with Changeling and Space Cowboys. Unforgiven is outside the phase in Eastwood’s career I’m considering (I haven’t rewatched it recently enough to be able to comment critically on it).

There are plenty of remarkable directors. To keep it roughly in the apples to apples range, we would want a contemporary director (not someone like Frank Capra, John Ford or Billy Wilder) with a well-established body of work (not a comparatively new talent, like Brad Bird, Wes Anderson or Christopher Nolan) of Hollywood entertainments (not someone like Terrence Malick, Hayao Miyazaki or Werner Herzog).

That narrows the field a bit. Steven Spielberg is an obvious candidate, of course. I hate to say it, but James Cameron is another. Lots of people would mention Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen; I haven’t been crazy about what I’ve seen of their recent work (and I don’t know their older work very well), but there’s an ambition to Scorsese’s recent films that is at least interesting, where Eastwood seems to me to tend to play it safe.

Peter Jackson probably deserves a lifetime achievement award for The Lord of the Rings, which is like six or eight regular films; he remains an interesting filmmaker, though it remains to be seen whether he can be consistently good again. Peter Weir is always interesting, though in his long career he hasn’t made a lot of films. The Coens and Tim Burton are worth mentioning, as uneven and arty as they are.

That’s what comes to mind for now.

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Re. <i>Avatar</i> and the Meaning of Life

I found a kind of grim irony in the Avatar blues” phenomenon. Tolkien wrote in Tree and Leaf that one purpose of fantasy was to help us recover our sight or “clean our windows”:

By the forging of Gram cold iron was revealed; by the making of Pegasus horses were ennobled; in the Trees of the Sun and the Moon [or, one might hope, Pandora] root and stock, flower and fruit are manifested in glory.

It is kind of sad then that rather than helping viewers realize what an exciting world our own planet it is, Avatar has had the opposite effect on some (though not all; I recovered my sight of panthers, horses, and gunships).

Grim irony, indeed. In the movie’s own words:

Neytiri: Sky People can not learn. You do not see.

Sully: Then teach me how to see.

Neytiri: No one can teach you to see.

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Re. Avatar

I haven’t seen Avatar, I don’t like all the silly new age/eco stuff Hollywooders like to pass on as morality either; but I was reading your review and you mentioned that they were searching for a substance called “unobtainium”. I’m wondering if James Cameron stole this from the movie The Core. In the core the scientist who develops their ship to travel to the earth’s core develops a special subtance that gets stronger and powerful with heat. I think it is also Unobtainium. I think if this is true perhaps they should be called out on this.

I haven’t seen The Core, but online plot synopses confirms that a substance called “unobtainium” figures in the plot. The Core did not introduce the word, though. “Unobtainium” is a tongue-in-cheek term for a theoretical substance posited to have highly useful properties but difficult or impossible to come by. According to Wikipedia, the term has been used since at least the 1950s. Wikipedia also lists the more or less synonymous terms “wishalloy” and “handwavium.” In film discussions you may hear the term “McGuffinite.”

No wrist slap for Cameron and company, therefore.

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Re. Hotel Rwanda, Children of Men

I’m the same writer who was troubled about the scene from Hotel Rwanda regarding Paul’s discussion with his wife. I was completely satisfied with your response to the question I asked and now find I can watch the film without worrying. I noticed in your review of the film Children of Men you objected to the euthanasia scene presented as a “loving and merciful choice.” Would you be able to explain the difference between these two scenes, and why you consider one characters moral calculus to be understandable, if not acceptable, while the other is gravely objectionable?

Good question. Admittedly, the difference between the two may be a fuzzy one, not a hard, clear moral distinction.

That said, in my judgment Children of Men romanticizes and sentimentalizes the euthanizing of a mentally incapacitated loved one in a way that Hotel Rwanda does not similarly endorse the proposal of suicidal acts as a desperate escape from extreme duress.

Paul’s proposal in Hotel Rwanda that his family leap from the roof rather than fall into the hands of raping, genocidal assailants is meant to make us shudder — not necessarily because we disagree with his judgment, but because of the magnitude of the two great evils he is trying to choose between. Jasper in Children of Men tenderly poisoning his wife to the sad, sweet strains of Franco Battiato’s cover of “Ruby Tuesday” is meant to break our hearts, but I think the film asks the audience to approve this concrete, onscreen act in a way that Hotel Rwanda doesn’t ask us to approve Paul’s unrealized contingency plan.

Note that while Jasper kills his wife only as government forces close in and he expects to die covering for the escaping heroes, there is no reason to think that heinous crimes would then have been committed against his catatonic wife, as would have been committed against Paul’s family. Perhaps she would merely have been institutionalized, or perhaps she would have been euthanized by the government. Either way, it’s not clear that he is motivated by a desire to save her from a “fate worse than death.” Perhaps he simply feels that there is no point in her going on after he is dead, or that if she is going to die anyway it should be by his hand.

It may also be worth noting that the scene in Hotel Rwanda merely reflects the actual choices of real people (I checked), rather than any particular bias or interest of the filmmakers. By contrast, the scene in Children of Men was added to P. D. James’ fictional story by the filmmakers, so it seems to reflect something that the filmmakers specifically wanted to say. This redactional (editorial) consideration doesn’t directly affect the narrative significance of either scene, but it does say something about the filmmakers’ motivations, which goes to the larger critical meaning of the scenes.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about the roof-jumping business, and on reflection I’m not sure that a case couldn’t be made from the moral principle of double effect that to jump off a roof to escape murderous attackers may actually be morally justifiable. While it would not be morally licit to seek death as a means of preventing oneself from being able to suffer at the hands of others, it could be argued that the purpose of leaping off the roof is not to die, either as a means or as an end, but rather to place oneself (physically, not existentially) beyond the grasp of the assailants on the roof. That leaping off the roof results in falling to one’s death would be a foreseen but unwilled consequence of the physical leap away from one’s assailants.

Even if one doesn’t accept this line of thought, the earlier considerations still seem to me to make the Children of Men scene problematic in a way that the Hotel Rwanda scene isn’t. Incidentally, this isn’t to say that I don’t understand Jasper’s decision and have human sympathy for him. I even sympathize with Clint Eastwood’s character’s climactic decision in Million Dollar Baby. Nevertheless, I deplore the way that film manipulates events and audience sympathies in order to elicit approval for a reprehensible decision.

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Re. Avatar

Steven, love your critique. However, this time I thought that I’d chime in response to this review. Not necessarily to complain but add to the discussion.

A slight disturbance set over me after watching Avatar. There is a whole lot more going backstage here. This is better articulated in Ross Douthat’s New York Times column “Heaven and Nature.”

The cultural impact is grave. The medium of cinema provides a wider platform and this subtle propagation of new-age thinking just romanticizes it further. I see two extreme points of today’s thinking facing head-on, scientism versus pantheism. With latter winning the battle (the rest of the trilogy should portray who wins the final war). There is little or no room for Christianity. And this brings a whole new range of problems.

I see pessimism and hopelessness of atheism in regards to the bleak future of humanity. Transhuman thought and initiatives being one of them. The final scene has the protagonist give up his body for the another. And this demonstration works! Not sure what, how or who makes this decision, but I see problems with this. Being a work of fiction, the specifics are rathery muddy, but I see signs of anti-life propaganda; euthanasia? eugenics? I might be reading extra but what’s up with this “man” chosen for another species?

I quite appreciate and enjoy Ross Douthat, and his brief comments on Avatar are spot on. (His column about Dan Brown circa Angels & Demons was equally insightful.)

I would quibble with only one word: Douthat calls Avatar Cameron’s “apologetic” for “the Gospel According to James.” I’ve worked as an apologist as well as a film critic. I would agree that The Da Vinci Code is an apologetic for what I’ve called the Dan Brown Worldview (which Douthat describes so ably in the column linked above). I would call Million Dollar Baby an apologetic for euthanasia, and Brokeback Mountain an apologetic for ending patriarchal heteronormativity.

I wouldn’t call Avatar an apologetic, though, any more than Star Wars or The Matrix were apologetics. Avatar expresses and embodies Hollywood’s hippy-dippy, West-bashing, New Age, tree-hugging milieu on a mythic level; it is not a defense of that worldview. I think it will resonate with people who embrace that worldview; I doubt whether it will actually affect the worldviews of many people. Many people watching and reading The Da Vinci Code are likely to believe that Brown has actually done his homework and offers a construal of history that is actually reliable or at least plausible in significant part; few people watching Avatar are likely to accept that anything in Avatar is particularly plausible.

Unlike Star Wars and The Matrix, Avatar doesn’t strike me as a film likely to burrow deep into the collective consciousness. It’s too generic, too shallow, too vague. As my friend Jeff Overstreet pointed out, kids growing up with this movie are not likely to care about Jake Sully and Neytiri the way my generation cared about Luke, Han and Leia, or the way a younger generation cared about Neo, Trinity and Morpheus. There are self-proclaimed “Jedis” today who make “the Force” an actual religion; I don’t see a lot of people declaring themselves “Na’vi” or getting passionate about “Eywa.” (In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of people who see this film even two or three times wouldn’t be able to tell you afterward who “Eywa” was even if you supplied the name.)

Also, unlike The Da Vinci Code, Million Dollar Baby and Brokeback Mountain, Cameron isn’t pushing any envelopes. He is a filmmaker profoundly of his cultural moment; he speaks from and to the zeitgeist, which is not an approach particularly likely to change anything.

Perhaps if Avatar began posting box-office numbers comparable to Titanic, or if people began talking about it with the same passion that Star Wars and The Matrix have elicited, I might have to rethink my position. Yet even in the case of those films, can any of them be said to have actually advanced a particular cultural agenda? I can believe that Million Dollar Baby might actually be a factor contributing to shifting cultural attitudes toward euthanasia. Does anyone think that Titanic contributed to shifting cultural attitudes toward e.g. premarital sex?

In the end, what Cameron is really selling here is … Cameron. The big message of Avatar is not “We are all connected” or “Western culture is corrupt and has lost something that noble savages still remember,” etc. The real message of Avatar is: “I’m still the king of the world!”

A friend of mine says, “It is as silly to take this as a ‘message’ film as one of the Star Wars prequels.” I think that’s about right. Hope that helps.

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Re. Hayao Miyazaki

I have a request. Give Howl’s Moving Castle and Princess Mononoke another try! They’re much better movies than you give them credit for. I think you just have to let them grow on you. They may not as good as some of Miyazaki’s other movies (Spirited Away, Totoro), but still, the animation is exceptional and the stories and romances are very original. All three of these qualities are very rare these days. Furthermore, besides violence, language, and pagan references (mostly on the part of Mononoke), the material isn’t objectionable. I would think you would find them highly recommendable.

You said this about Howl’s:

And Howl’s Moving Castle is the only Miyazaki I’ve ever seen that (after a typically brilliant opening) outright disappointed me. His plots are often dreamlike and confusing, but here he seems lost and listless.

Could you explain exactly what you mean by that? What feels lost and listless about it? And even if you felt that way, is such a vague objection really reason enough to make you dislike such an imaginative film?

I’ll be reviewing Princess Mononoke in the near future. Howl’s I have already seen more than twice now (I watched it twice and then saw part of it again), and while I’m quite willing to watch it again, I don’t think my opinion of it will change any time soon.

I don’t dislike Howl’s, exactly. I just don’t find that it holds together. The characters don’t draw me in, especially Howl, who’s an angsty pretty boy, a tortured artiste who doesn’t know what he wants and doesn’t deserve Sophie’s attention. As one critic notes, he refuses to participate in the war, except when he leaves his castle every night to participate in it. What’s up with that?

The revelation of Turnip Head as the missing prince from the kingdom next door — a kingdom we didn’t know about, with a missing prince we didn’t know about — is a complete letdown, especially since the Prince is boring compared to Turnip Head (my six-year-old daughter was so disappointed when Turnip Head vanished), and we don’t even get the satisfaction of finding the prince we were looking for. The war theme is given short shrift; everyone agrees it’s pointless, and there’s no sense of how it got started, what it was fought over or who was to blame.

Spirited Away works in part because Chihiro’s quest has a shape, a goal: She needs to survive the bath house long enough to save her parents. Ponyo works in part because the central relationships are so winsome. Howl’s has individual scenes that work, and of course it’s gorgeous to look at. I love the walking across the air scene in the opening act. As soon as Sophie ages, though, I find that the film loses energy and direction and doesn’t know where to go.

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Re. Into the Desert: Lent and Film

Would you consider supplementing an English-only list? I love the idea of a Lenten movie night, but I have several children under reading age, and my husband just dislikes reading his movies. LOL. I will have to carve out time on my own during the week to watch the intriguing foreign films you have included.

Good question. I admit it didn’t occur to me as I drew up my list that four of the six films require reading dialogue! (Two of the films, The Passion of Joan of Arc and Into Great Silence, have intertitles even in their native languages; the former is a silent film, and the latter is dialogue-free for long stretches, though it does have some sung Latin and spoken French.)

In general, I’m not very sympathetic to adults who don’t like subtitles — and even less so during Lent, when we should all be willing to compromise our preferred comforts and take on hardships. Tell your husband he should watch the subtitled movies with you as a Lenten sacrifice! Certainly he should see these films at some point in his life.

Pre-reading kids, though, that’s a different matter.

For what it’s worth, some context: The problem isn’t my preference for foreign films, it’s simply that English-speaking cinema and Hollywood in particular hasn’t produced much in the way of genuinely spiritual fare compared to the rest of the world. As I’ve pointed out before, Hollywood is well represented in the 1995 Vatican film list under the categories of Values and Art, but sadly underrepresented in the Religion category.

Adding family friendliness as a criterion narrows it further. The Vatican film list’s Religion category includes two British films (both scripted by Robert Bolt), A Man for All Seasons and The Mission, that are the right language, but both are too sophisticated for young viewers, and The Mission has some mature content. You might consider either of those films for viewing with your husband — both are appropriate Lenten fare — but it doesn’t help with the kids.

For more family-friendly fare, you might consider, say, The Song of Bernadette or The Reluctant Saint. Perhaps neither is quite as Lenten in spirit as A Man for All Seasons or The Mission, but they’re lovely films and among Hollywood’s best religiously themed fare.

Going back to my original list, The Miracle Maker is eminently appropriate family fare, and children might benefit from watching at least part of The Face: Jesus in Art (note that there is some gruesome Passion art in the second half). Also, some people might think I’m crazy, but I’ve watched Into Great Silence, or long bits of it, with pre-reading children. So much of it is dialog-free that language hardly matters (and what dialog there is one can easily read aloud for their benefit). They don’t necessarily sit raptly through the whole thing, but they may watch a good bit of it and sort of walk in and out while you have it on. It’s worth doing even if they don’t watch the whole thing.

Besides The Miracle Maker, there are other Jesus films you might consider. Some years during Holy Week my kids and I have watched the second half of The Gospel of John, comprising the Johannine Passion narrative. (It works quite well on its own, without the first half.) We’ve also watched bits of “Jesus of Nazareth” and The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Finally, I’m a great fan of watching silent movies with children (you can comment freely on the action and explain things to kids without worrying about missing dialogue). A great Jesus film to watch with even the youngest kids is The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ, a very early silent film with no dialog at all. You might also consider Cecil B. DeMille’s silent The King of Kings (not to be confused with the similarly named 1961 film).

Hope that helps. Have a blessed Lent!

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Re. <i>The Last Temptation of Christ</i>: An essay in film criticism and faith

I’ve just recently seen The Last Temptation of Christ for the first time, and, as a devout atheist, can tell you that it’s the only bit of biblical fantasy I’ve ever come across that engenders a sense of plausibility. It accommodates human nature in all its facets. (And keep in mind Jesus as half-human was also possessed of human nature.)

Your believer-based critique does what believer-based opinions always do: exceedingly complicate matters in order to avoid facing the simple (usually most fascinating) realies.

For example, your assessment is tainted by your opening disclaimer “that Jesus Christ was fully human as well as fully divine.” That’s the sort of absurdity that no rational person could — even at a stretch — see as plausible. It’s just not possible to be 200% of anything.

I think the story, with the elegance of simplicity, tells the story of a zealot (Judas) who decides (or is sent) to manipulate a weak-willed, typically Jewish-mummy’s-boy neurotic, and not real bright Jesus into becoming the easily-controlled figurehead for the long-awaited Messiah who’s supposed to lead the various zealots in overthrowing the Roman oppressors. He’s the perfect target for such an ambition: thick, a traitor/crucifix-maker, afraid of pain (recall the reaction when Judas threatens to knife him if he doesn’t co-operate), and gullible enough to come to believe that he’ll survive the experience because, after all, he’s the Messiah; Judas told him so. (There’s a delicious little delight in the thought that the Romans would eventually kill their own crucifix maker in the cause of the zealots.)

But wait! There’s more! In the best traditions of film-making, there needs to be a “twist,” a logical proposal that’s unexpected. And the final “temptation” scenes provide that in droves. The “dual-spirit” of not only Jesus but all of humanity is described and employed insomuch that the temptation-experience can be seen as both “in the mind” and “in reality” at the same time.

And the “climax” is that Jesus redeemed himself in the eyes of the world, and Judas came to believe his own propaganda, thus redeeming himself in the eyes of god! Y’gotta love it! One of the five (?) best movies I’ve ever seen.

For what it’s worth, I’m not sure you haven’t misunderstood my statement that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. This thesis, which is simply historical Christian orthodoxy confessed by countless Christians every week of the year, does not mean that Jesus is “200 percent of anything.” Rather, it means that he possesses the fullness of divine nature and also the fullness of human nature.

More precisely, the eternal Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, without in any way diminishing his eternal divine nature, assumed to himself a complete human nature, uniting two complete natures in one divine Being. To call him “half God and half man” is incorrect if by this you mean that he combines partial traits of divinity and humanity into a single hybrid nature.

Ironically, the most historically rigorous movie about Jesus may be an animated film with puppets, The Miracle Maker. Thanks to expert advice from historians like N. T. Wright, the filmmakers were able to situate what is known about Jesus in a plausible Hellenistic, second-temple Jewish context under imperial Rome. For example, the depiction of Jesus living in the tiny village of Nazareth but working as a handyman (tekton probably had a broader meaning than “carpenter”) in nearby Sepphoris is historically reasonable; the depiction of Jesus in Last Temptation making crosses for the Romans is merely a conceit.

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Re. Small-Screen Aardman: Wallace & Gromit Shorts and Shaun the Sheep

If you want your Aardman animations even smaller-screened (say 256x192 pixels, usually one-bit color) you should check out the 12 or so animations they did for the Japanese internet service provider Hatena, and their Flipnote Studio portal.

(Flipnote Studio being the freebie flipbook-animation application that Nintendo released for their DSi handheld game system — users all over the world have been able to create simple animations using the DSi’s touchscreen and upload them to Hatena’s Flipnote Studio website. If you want a good window into an eight-year-old’s soul, give them an animation program and watch what they produce.)

They’re not much, but it’s further proof that in the hands of a master, even the most basic tools can create something sublime (or at the very least whimsically amusing — I mean diverting!).

Um, wow. Thanks for the tip. I’ll check it out.

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Re. The Time Machine

I was perusing some of the reviews on your site. There is one film on your which has a minor theme of evolution. The film is the 2002 version of The Time Machine. I don’t think your listing did not mention this about the film.

I’m not sure if you missed this when watching the film or whether you choose not to include it. While the Catholic Church’s position on evolution may be ambiguous (based on what I have read), I think it is worthy to mention it. Catholics and Protestants (such as myself) have varying beliefs when it comes to the creation/evolution controversy.

Thanks for writing. You raise an interesting point. I’ve never considered evolutionary depictions of life on earth to be problematic per se, although I have Catholic and Protestant friends and relatives who would. I don’t want to go crazy with the content advisory listings — I usually point readers to for more detailed information — but even ScreenIt isn’t going to help here. I will bear this in mind in the future and think about how to deal with this for future movies.

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Re. What Are the Decent Films?

Where’s your list of the most spiritually significant movies? Loved it.

I’m not completely sure which list you’re referring to. You could mean:

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Re. <i>Twilight</i> Appeal: The cult of Edward Cullen and vampire love in Stephenie Meyer&#8217;s novels and the new film

I just wanted to let you know that Bella and Edward eventually get married and have a baby in the books. You said in one of your reviews or articles that their sex would be fruitless even if they did get married etc. But that’s not the case in the books. I only read the first book and it’s one of the worst books I have ever read. But my younger sister read all of them and she told me about the couple having a child. It’s a vampire baby obviously, but still, they do procreate after they get married. Just a heads up.

Actually, in my first article on the Twilight phenomenon, “Twilight Appeal,“ I noted the very point you mention:

Reinforcing the point, Meyer — a Mormon housewife and mother of three — has Edward and Bella wait until the fourth volume to get married and only then have sex (Meyer’s vampires can do that, though they apparently don’t ordinarily reproduce that way).

You might be thinking about a later passage in my review in which I wrote:

As typically imagined, and certainly as presented in Meyer, vampirism makes a sickly, twisted metaphor for sexuality. Nothing like mutual complementarity can exist between humans and vampires — at least, not without completely rewriting vampire nature somehow. Vampires have nothing to give and everything to take; humans have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Humans may complete vampires, but vampires don’t complete humans, any more than a lion completes an impala.

I was writing here about vampirism per se, i.e., drinking blood, which is good for vampires, not so good for humans. If there is any mutual complementarity between Edward and Bella, it’s insofar as Edward is male, not insofar as he is a vampire.

In addition, on the radio I’ve repeated Stephen King’s quip that ”vampires are dead from the neck down.“ That refers to traditional vampires, not those of Meyer’s series.

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Re. Dogma in <i>Dogma</i>: A Theological Guide

Your article “Dogma in Dogma” bothered me, along with the F rating you gave the movie. Your article seemed extremely critical.

Your explanations about angels are to be read assuming I believe in angels, right? I’m definitely not here to argue religion, but explaining the realities of angels is laughable. I felt like I might as well be reading about the realities of the unicorn or Pegasus.

Metatron lacks a Spanish accent? Wondered why it was even mentioned.

Being of a Spanish Catholic upbringing, the Mary joke is taboo, and one of my favorites.

You say “That God approves of a vague spirituality and doesn’t care if we believe in him or in the Church he founded upon Peter…” Everything after your “or” is a fat ol’ YES!

Your comment “He gave them the true faith, and they made smart-alecky and ignorant movies about it” seemed very passive aggressive.

The movie actually sent me back to church by rekindling someThing.

“Extremely critical”? Really? I thought I was being pretty fair and accommodating coming up with that “The angels are really bad at theology” spin on all the film’s theological fallacies.

Bear in mind that my “Dogma in Dogma” article is essentially a work of theological “fact-checking,” not entirely unlike the analysis of movie science at the Bad Astronomy blog. It’s not meant to be a critically even-handed response to the film as a whole — though my review of the film is meant to be that.

Whether you believe in angels or not, the essay takes its point of departure from Roger Ebert’s thesis that the film “takes Catholic theology absolutely literally.” Angels are part of Catholic theology, and therefore part of the theological critique of the film. Even with unicorns, if you have them at all, they have to have one horn. If you do something else, you’re not dealing with unicorns.

Belief in angels follows from acceptance of the Christian faith. Belief in Jesus is quite different from belief in unicorns or Pegasus. Unlike the associates of Pegasus (Perseus, Bellerophon, Zeus), who lived no one knows when or where, Jesus of Nazareth, upon whom Christian faith is based, can be fixed quite precisely in history. For example, his disciples Peter and John and his kinsman James were personal acquaintances of Paul of Tarsus, who wrote several books of the New Testament.

My critique of Metatron’s lame Spanglish (“Dos tequilas and an extra glass”) was a joke.

I don’t think the movie’s “Mary joke” is a joke. I think Smith is serious. Either way, a “taboo” is a vestigial prohibition from an atrophied belief system. For Smith, the “Mary joke” might be a “taboo”; for countless Catholics, it’s merely an insult to their mother. Not to care about other people’s sensibilities in this regard is the mark of a cad.

If God didn’t care about the Church he founded upon Peter, why would he bother to found it in the first place? (Again, remember, the premise is that the film takes Catholic faith seriously.)

I think the critical freight of my “ignorant and smart-alecky movies” remark is pretty direct and straightforward, not “passive” (and thus not passive-aggressive) at all.

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Re. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

First of all, I love your reviews. I think I’ve told you before, but I agree 100% over 90% of the time. I don’t know what the math works out to. :)

I haven’t liked a single Harry Potter film since Chris Columbus jumped ship (or whatever happened). To me, Harry Potter is great because of the personal relationships. It seems to me that only Chris Columbus got it. Everyone else seems to only be interested in pushing the story and the effects.

Do you agree? Or am I totally missing the mark?

I’ve enjoyed all of the Harry Potter movies exactly once, which doesn’t mean that I found them unenjoyable after that, but that I’ve never found it necessary to watch a Harry Potter movie a second time.

I do think you’re right to say that a number of the later films have given the characters, and thus the relationships, short shrift. It seems plausible to me that the earliest films did better in this regard. I thought that the latest film, The Half-Blood Prince, was an improvement in this respect over several of its predecessors.

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Re. The 12th Day of Christmas: St. Lucy Nativity

I heard you on the radio speaking about video footage you took of a New Jersey Nativity scene, Is it still available to view? Thanks for your help.

You can indeed see my iPhone video of St. Lucy’s in Newark on my blog or at YouTube (search on “St Lucy Nativity” at YouTube, it’s the first match).

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