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The Jewish Cardinal
The Jewish Cardinal
DVD ~ Laurent Lucas
Price: $19.32
26 used & new from $13.21

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting Biopic, January 9, 2015
This review is from: The Jewish Cardinal (DVD)
A French film that depicts the life of Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger, "The Jewish Cardinal" focuses on his last 28 years (1979-2007), with flashbacks to his early family life. Minding his own business as a parish priest, Lustger is catapulted into prominence when Pope John Paul II elevates him to Bishop of Orleans and, soon after, Archbishop of Paris. Lustiger's dual identity as both a Jew and a Catholic leader can no longer be contained and he often runs afoul of both camps. Gradually, he assimilates the agile gravitas of JP2 and becomes one of his closest advisers (along with Ratzinger/later Pope Benedict). I especially enjoyed the scenes of Lustiger with JP2, because they reminded me of why I admired JP2 so much. Vigorous and passionate, the great Pope could step on people's toes (as did Lustiger), but was flexible enough to listen and sometimes be persuaded. The movie played this out well when Lustiger repeatedly tries to get JP2 to order the transfer of a community of Carmelite nuns devoted to St. Edith Stein out of the Auschwitz death camp (where Stein, a Jew, was murdered).

Also touching were the scenes of Lustiger with his cousin and especially with his father, Charles, a secular Jew who struggled mightily over his son's conversion and meteoric rise within the Catholic Church. Jean-Marie never fully reconciled with Charles, most likely because he experienced many of the same struggles. Losing his mother, Gisele Lustiger, at Aushchwitz had just about everything to do with it and visiting Auschwitz brought this out. By the end, Lustiger mellows as he serves out his term in Paris and dies two years after his Petrine mentor. In the film, JP2 reminds Lustiger of his papabile status (eligibilty to be elected pope), but a quick check of Wikipedia informed me that Lustiger disavowed any interest whatsoever in the papacy. "The Jewish Cardinal" gets a bit melodramatic at times, but still is worthy of a five star rating, in my opinion. Fr. Dennis
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 2, 2015 6:47 AM PST


The Railway Man
The Railway Man
DVD ~ Colin Firth
Price: $7.99
60 used & new from $2.61

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Emotionally jarring, yet ultimately redemptive, January 8, 2015
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This review is from: The Railway Man (DVD)
After months of gearing up to view and then review the Jolie film "Unbroken," about "Lucky Louie" Zamperini, I now feel that movie can wait and I'll review this one instead. Set in early 1980s England, "The Railway Man" tells of Eric Lomax, a former British POW forced into slave labor on the Thai-Burmese railway project (AKA "the Death Railway"). This included much of what Alistair Urquhart reported in his gut-wrenching book, "The Forgotten Highlander," and also depicted in the 1957 Best Picture, "The Bridge on the River Kwai." Less sanitized than "Bridge," "Railway Man" shows forlorn and enslaved officer POWs, as well as Lomax, a geeky lieutenant and train enthusiast, who was savagely beaten for constructing a radio receiver (without transmitter), so that he might hear Allied reports about the true progress of the war.

Where the film "Unbroken" ends, this one picks up with Colin Firth as the lonely, aging Lomax. A mature, if younger, woman (Nicole Kidman) enters his life and Lomax decides that love is worth the risk. However, years of stuffing his PTSD can no longer be kept at bay and Lomax spins out of control. His new wife tries to save their marriage by encouraging him to open up and resolve his distress. An opportunity arises for him to return to Japan and possibly meet one of his former captors. Wanting to face down his inner demons, Lomax travels to Japan.

For Lomax, what ultimately transpires is redemption in its purest sense. Unlike Zamperini's failure with "the Bird," Lomax meets one-on-one with his former tormenter, Takashi Nagase, and after much turmoil, decides to take the high road. By this, Lomax grows in generosity of heart and lifts up his remorseful opponent too. Recognizing that both were victims, a bond is forged. There are no real winners in modern warfare, just survivors. In the face of great adversity, some of the most wounded people have gone on to become great souls, like Nelson Mandela. Although less celebrated, Eric Lomax came a long way too. As did Louis Zamperini. Having a faith that bore fruit in redemption had much to do with it. Fr. Dennis


Hitler Was My Friend: The Memoirs of Hitler's Photographer
Hitler Was My Friend: The Memoirs of Hitler's Photographer
by Heinrich Hoffmann
Edition: Hardcover
25 used & new from $5.96

4.0 out of 5 stars Hitler was bad news, but not quite the way we caricature him., November 30, 2014
Historians, especially those on the winning side, need to guard against painting history with broad strokes. So it is with some critics of Heinrich Hoffmann's "Hitler was my Friend." Hitler was not some non-human embodiment of evil, but a man, and there but for the grace of God go I. Hitler did make a lot of wrong and immoral choices that ultimately led to disaster. Yet arguably, he was not clinically insane during most of his 56 years (although some experts suggest he had a "borderline personality" disorder). At the bitter end, despair and exhaustion no doubt fueled a breakdown, which Hoffmann describes in detail.

Hitler could in the same breath be both egotistical and charming. His charm was not necessarily faked, even though Proverbs 31:30 says "charm is deceitful." Perhaps charm was all Hitler could muster. In Hoffmann's view, Hitler came across as someone who genuinely enjoyed the company of his friends, and reveled in giving gifts to and surprising them. He held a deep affection for his (step-) niece Geli, but his was of the clinging, possessive sort. Letting go was not his strong suit. Hitler was a narcissist who thought far too highly of himself than he ought to have thought (ref. Romans 12:3). As such, he was rather incapable of any sacrificial love or compassion, although at times he displayed an active kind of empathy. Appeals to the heart could sway him.

Nonetheless, Hitler lacked humility and detachment. Although he was not nearly as antagonistic toward the Church as, for example, Martin Bormann, Hitler apparently abandoned the spiritual life. Hoffmann makes no mention of him ever praying. Instead, Hitler tended to brood, often pacing the floor all night as the fortunes of war turned against him. Hitler enjoyed no inner peace. Another result of his egocentrism was his meticulously fashioned cult of personality. In this, both Goebbels and Hoffmann assisted him greatly. And the Hitler cult bred many other self-seekers who, thirsting for power, drank deeply from the Fuhrer's well.

Hitler's inner circle reads like a veritable rogues' gallery: Goebbels, Bormann, Goering, Himmler, Heydrich, Ribbentrop, etc. But it was Hitler himself who cultivated this environment of selfishness and ruthlessness that all but guaranteed that his decisions would be executed without mercy. Hitler made sweeping threats, especially against European Jews. Shades of England's King Henry II who said, "Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest [Thomas Becket]?" At the same time Hitler spoke of a dislocation of Jews toward the East into Russia, a clever ruse earmarked for public and international consumption, he opened a back door to the Holocaust. Hoffmann mentions none of this specifically, and the reader ought to fault him for it. Hoffmann may have been Hitler's very good friend, but he should not have abandoned critical thinking. Hitler made too many threats and threw too many tantrums for Hoffmann to ignore. He should have bid the Fuhrer "Auf wiedersehen," unless, deep down, he too was terrified of him and his henchmen. Fr. Dennis
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 27, 2014 9:43 AM PST


God's Not Dead
God's Not Dead
DVD

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Has flaws, but the main thrust is all there, October 11, 2014
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Although noticeably imperfect, this film's strengths easily outweigh its weaknesses. Josh, the college freshman who defends his faith, is outstanding. The arguments he presents in his three classroom sessions mark him a skilled, nearly professional, debater. Perhaps beyond all reasonable expectations, but after all, he is a budding lawyer. I especially liked his use of material from John Lennox and Lee Strobel, two of my preferred sources. Also, Josh is genuinely good and compassionate. Although hurt, he is mature enough to let his girl friend leave him without rancor. And he proves to be a true friend and guide for Martin, a student from the PRC.

In one subplot, a hedonistic son visits his aging mother, suffering from dementia. As he gets antsy to leave, she surprises him with a sublime insight. The reason for his prosperity (versus her suffering) is that the devil has him in a kind of gilded cage, living an indulgent, easy life. The door to it has been left wide open and he can freely walk out anytime, but he chooses to stay put. His lust for life allows him no room for sacrifice or commitment. She then lapses back into dementia and asks him, "By the way, do I know you?" Such poignant moments like this hit home and lend great impact to "God's Not Dead."

While this movie's flaws have been clearly expressed by others, I will mention a few. Sorbo's character, Prof. Jeffrey Radisson, is a bit unrealistic. I think he got the sneering, atheistic intellectual part right, but he rides roughshod over the class' academic freedom by demanding a signed statement and even manhandles Josh in the hallway. Actions like these are grounds for dismissal, and I think any professor who is so quick to do so would have been long gone. Some of the other religious students at least would have complained to their parents or to someone in the school administration. Also, Ayisha's father, a devout Muslim, is stereotyped as a sinister, brooding man with a violent temper. After shoving Ayisha out the door, he manages to redeem himself a little by crying his eyes out in remorse. Finally, the ending cuts short dramatic events and serves up a glitzy warm fuzzy. Still, a fine overall performance with a timeless message of hope. Fr. Dennis
Comment Comments (27) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 27, 2014 2:47 PM PST


The Great Gatsby [Blu-ray]
The Great Gatsby [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Leonardo DiCaprio
Price: $10.00
124 used & new from $3.02

4.0 out of 5 stars The latest Gatsby: good, but not quite great, August 30, 2014
This film impressed me as very well put together and entertaining. As befitting a worthy adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel set during the zenith of the Roaring 20s in New York City, it was also very glitzy (reminding me of "Chicago"). The main actors -- Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway -- all gave strong performances, in my opinion. For example, I don't discount Maguire's efforts here, just because he starred in three Spiderman movies. He also appeared in "Seabiscuit" and many others, and will star as the late chess champion Bobby Fischer in the soon-to-be-released "Pawn Sacrifice." Even Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan, miscast as Gatsby's Jewish mentor, also did a very good job.

With that said, the 2013 Gatsby betrayed at least one notable shortcoming, in my opinion. Although entertaining and of the correct style, the music was anachronistic. One person I know likened it to Rock-and-Roll. I wouldn't go that far, but the Jazz presented here was far more up-to-date than the 1920s. Adding some period-conscious music would have enhanced this film's credibility. Throw in a touch of Ragtime and a little more Gershwin. And yes, "Old Sport" did get tedious -- just as in the book, I'm told. Nonetheless, a solid, four-star worthy effort. Fr. Dennis


Kundun
Kundun
DVD ~ Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong
Offered by Sparks DVD Sales
Price: $15.95
42 used & new from $2.21

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 14th Dalai Lama vs. Mao and Company, August 23, 2014
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This review is from: Kundun (DVD)
The film title "Kundun" refers to the name given to the 14 Dalai Lamas of Tibet. Each was a young boy when selected, and then trained to be Tibet's spiritual and temporal leader. The present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was forced to grow up quickly when Mao Zedong's forces took over mainland China in 1949. At first, Tenzin strove patiently to reconcile differences and forge an agreement with Mao's government over the status of Tibet. But after a meeting with Mao, the Dalai Lama knew that his days in Tibet were numbered. Although a gracious host, Mao made it a point to end the meeting with the following words, "Before you leave, there is one thing you must know: Religion is poison. It keeps people backwards. We have a new China now." Although "Kundun" seems unusual for a Martin Scorsese effort, it need make no apologies. This fine movie highlights the spirituality and courage of the 14th Dalai Lama. He is a leader on the world stage and a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (1989), the (US) Congressional Gold Medal (2007), and the Templeton Prize (2012). Fr. Dennis


The Forgotten Highlander: An Incredible WWII Story of Survival in the Pacific
The Forgotten Highlander: An Incredible WWII Story of Survival in the Pacific
by Alistair Urquhart
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.23
46 used & new from $4.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of war's ugliest realities, August 22, 2014
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The late summer and fall of 1995 found me on active duty in England. It was a sunny mid-August day that I visited London, fine weather for the VJ Day parade and fireworks. While at a restaurant before the festivities, I happened to glance at that morning's copy of The Times, which included a large spread about how badly UK POWs were treated in the Far East prison camps during World War II. Of course I had seen the film "The Bridge on the River Kwai," but the gravity of it hadn't registered with me.

Before reading "The Forgotten Highlander," I read Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken" about American POW Louis Zamperini, sobering enough about the hellish conditions. Now I had an inkling, but even armed with that, I could not have imagined "The Forgotten Highlander." What Alistair endured and lived to tell about was so incredible that only one who knows human nature can truly fathom it. "Man's inhumanity to man" may be a catchy phrase, but it captures the depths to which anyone without a moral compass could go. We do ourselves a disservice when we say, "Not I! That could only happen at the hands of imperialist Japanese captors or Nazis." Better to say, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." Lest we forget and partake in new atrocities.

This book should be standard reading for military service personnel going into harm's way. Better to dispel illusions of wartime glory before one's first deployment. Alistair certainly never expected his tour in Singapore to end up the way it did. Some day, I hope to see a movie based on his story, as one on Zamperini's experiences is scheduled for release in December. I will see "Unbroken" when it comes out, but only after viewing "The Bridge on the River Kwai" again. And I will keep in mind that Alistair called the latter film "sanitized." Fr. Dennis
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 10, 2014 3:36 PM PDT


There Be Dragons
There Be Dragons
DVD ~ Charlie Cox
Offered by HOLLYWOOD DEALS
Price: $3.99
64 used & new from $0.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There be Redemption, August 2, 2014
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This review is from: There Be Dragons (DVD)
"There Be Dragons" is strikingly similar to "For Greater Glory" in that both feature persecution of the Catholic Church during a time of civil war. Also, there is a focus on conflicted characters, each with one notable exception. "For Greater Glory" showcases the martyrdom of the saintly youth Jose Sanchez del Rio and "There Be Dragons" tells of the early life of the (nearly martyred) priest Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei. Little had I known that the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s was as bad for the Catholic Church in Spain as the suppression of the Cristero revolt was for the Mexican Church. On the other hand, some differences between the films do stand out. In "For Greater Glory," the politically active "good guys" resort to violence, while Fr. Escriva shuns all violence. "Dragons" narrator Manolo takes "many wrong turns" in life, descending into the violent abyss of both major factions (fascist and communist), but he never betrays his old friend Josemaria. Such loyalty is rewarded at the end. Fr. Dennis


Noah (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD)
Noah (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD)
DVD ~ Russell Crowe
Offered by The Big Lebowski
Price: $14.73
101 used & new from $2.98

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This is Noah!?, August 2, 2014
We watched the Blu-ray version and the CG effects were stunning. The "fountains of the deep" bursting up through the earth's surface to accelerate the flooding especially impressed me. The basic story line was more or less according to the original, and brief, Genesis account. With that said, much of "Noah" was downright strange to me. The Nephilim/"Watchers" seemed more like a craggy version of Transformers. We may not have any specifics on them, but this is stretching artistic license a bit too far. Also, Noah's late and bizarre fixation with ensuring the utter demise of fallen humanity struck me as way out of character. Again, we don't know much about him and he did have his faults, but was that necessary? Otherwise, the film was interesting with Ray Winstone as the antagonist Tubal-Cain, an early metal smith and weapons maker, and Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah, Noah's grandfather whose name meant: "When I die, it [calamity/the Flood] will come." Fr. Dennis
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 31, 2014 3:22 AM PDT


Of Gods and Men (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Of Gods and Men (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
DVD ~ Lambert Wilson
Price: $13.53
41 used & new from $9.20

5.0 out of 5 stars A French-language film with heart, July 12, 2014
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Not your typical Hollywood fare, "Of Gods and Men" beckons to the viewer who is patient and willing to plumb the depths of the soul. Those who enjoyed "Into Great Silence" should also enjoy this. Some violence is portrayed, as might be expected, but much of the film is quiet and reflective. Martyrs come in all temperaments, and while these monks come across as exceptionally meek, they all have steel in their backbones. Contrast them with the more boisterous martyrs in "For Greater Glory" and you will see what I mean. There is even quite a variance among these Cistercians: some are adamant about staying, some undecided, while others prefer to leave. And with the bad guys (Taliban-like Islamists) about to storm the gates, they can hardly be blamed. One, presumably the youngest at less than 50, first considers the option of staying as sheer lunacy. In time, however, he sees that his community's role in helping its distressed Muslim neighbors clearly outweighs any individual preference. The final vote bears this out and with that, the film draws to a close, not with fanfare, but with a profound sense of mission fulfillment. Fr. Dennis


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