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Showing posts from 2015

Andy Warhol in Toronto

Today I popped into the Andy Warhol exhibit (no pun intended) on Bloor Street. There was a very large stack of Campbell's vegetable soup cans (which were very real). Then I caught Vladimir Lenin scowling at me, both in black and red. Although separate pieces, the Gotti and Lenin I put side by side for comparison. They represent criminal minds who get popular appeal: Despite his many complex struggles , Warhol was practicing Catholic, of the Ruthenian rite, who would slip into church in Manhattan. This was the only religious work at the exhibit, labelled as St. Apollonia, a 3rd century martyr.   In the documentary film, I overhear Warhol being asked if he is original or not. He says "no." Confounded, the interviewer asks: "Don't you want to do something original?" He replies: "No. This is easier." The well-known dollar sign print: Warhol, famously shy and

It’s a Wonderful Life

Review by John D. O'Brien S.J. Director: Frank Capra. 130 min., U.S.A, 1946. Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers Plot The townspeople of Bedford Falls are sending up prayers for George Bailey (Stewart), who is in great distress. Their prayers are heard and the angel Clarence (Travers) is assigned to come down and convince George to not commit suicide. George is a good man, who sacrificed the dreams of his youth to serve the needs of his neighbours. He gave up traveling the world and going to university, and inherited the savings and loan business from his father. Over the years he resisted the proposals of avaricious banker Mr. Potter (Barrymore) to buy out the family business. He married the lovely Mary Hatch (Reed) and had four children with her. When his Uncle Billy (Mitchell) loses $8,000 of their clients’ money, George believes he is facing ruin and that he is worth more dead than alive. Once Clarence sees he is not

Of Gods and Men

Review by John D. O'Brien, S.J. Director: Xavier Beauvois, 122 min., France, 2010. Starring: Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin Plot Based on the true story of the eight Trappist monks of the Monastery of Notre-Dame de l’Atlas, who in 1996 found themselves caught in the midst of the Algerian Civil War. The monks live a quiet life of work and prayer and friendship with the Muslim villagers of Tibhirine. Threatened by terrorist factions, they are urged to flee the country. This triggers an excruciating discernment: to leave or to stay with the people they have come to know and love. Film History Nominated for many awards, and winning three at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, including the Grand Prize of the Jury. Spiritual Reflection It is rare to see a religious film of such power as Xavier Beauvois’s Of Gods and Men . It is not a film about the monks’ deaths, which were hailed as martyrdoms, but rather about how they lived and why they were willing t

Il Vangelo Secondo San Mateo

Review by John D. O'Brien, S.J. (The Gospel According to Saint Matthew) Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini, 137 min., Italy, 1964. Starring: Enrique Irazoqui, Margherita Caruso, Susanna Pasolini Music: Bach, Mozart, Prokofiev, Bacalov, Odetta. Plot In the Judean countryside, Jesus begins to preach, attracting disciples and sometimes multitudes. His is stern and demanding: “I have not come to bring peace but the sword”. He is also in a hurry, constantly moving from place to place. His teachings often criticize the powers that be, which attracts the attention of the Pharisees, elders and chief priests. He is arrested, beated, tried and crucified. Afterwards he appears to his disciples and gives them instructions. Film History Filmed in the style of Italian neo-realism, which is stark, gritty, and believed that ordinary people, rather than actors, were best suited to play characters (not any character, but the one they were born to play ), the film was the creation of

To the Wonder

By John D. O'Brien, S.J. Director: Terrence Malick, 112 min., U.SA., 2013. Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams Plot Neil (Affleck) and Marina (Kurylenko) fall in love in Paris and at Mont St. Michel (called by the French “la merveille” –  the wonder). Marina tells Neil that she will go with him wherever he goes, hinting that she would marry him. Although Neil is noncommittal, they return, with Marina’s young daughter Tatiana, to live in Neil’s home in suburban Oklahoma, where tensions arise in their relationship. There we learn that a Spanish-born priest, Father Quintana (Bardem), is struggling with his faith, while continuing his regular rounds of pastoral ministry. Later, Neil encounters a woman from his past (McAdams). All characters, it becomes clear, are looking for love. Some succeed at penetrating love’s veil, while for others it will remain elusive. Film History To the Wonder was reviewed by Roger Ebert, the well-known Americ

Millions

By John D. O'Brien, S.J. Director: Danny Boyle, 98 min., U.K., 2004. Starring: Alex Etel, James Nesbitt, Daisy Donovan Plot The UK is about to switch its currency from Pounds to Euros, giving some criminals a chance to rob a train loaded with banknotes destined for incineration. During the robbery, one of the bags falls onto playhouse belonging to Damian, a young boy who talks to saints. Damian then starts seeing what the world and the people around him are made of. Ethics, being human, and the soul all come to the forefront in this film. It asks us to consider our basic interior dispositions as we enter into our own film-based spiritual journey this Fall. Film History Premiered at TIFF. Won a number of film awards, including “Best Screenplay” at the British Independent Film Awards. Proved that Danny Boyle cannot be pigeon-holed as a director. He has made compelling films about Scottish heroin addicts ( Trainspotting ), mad zombies ( 28 Days Later ), and a gam

The Day Immanuel Kant Was Late

Millions Director: Danny Boyle, 98 min., U.K., 2004. Starring: Alex Etel, James Nesbitt, Daisy Donovan Plot The UK is about to switch its currency from Pounds to Euros, giving some criminals a chance to rob a train loaded with banknotes destined for incineration. During the robbery, one of the bags falls onto playhouse belonging to Damian, a young boy who talks to saints. Damian then starts seeing what the world and the people around him are made of. Ethics, being human, and the soul all come to the forefront in this film. It asks us to consider our basic interior dispositions as we enter into our own film-based spiritual journey this Fall. Film History Premiered at TIFF. Won a number of film awards, including “Best Screenplay” at the British Independent Film Awards. Proved that Danny Boyle cannot be pigeon-holed as a director. He has made compelling films about Scottish heroin addicts (Trainspotting), zombies (28 Days Later), and a game-show contestant in Mumbai (Oscar-winning

Lord of the World revisited for Holy Week

By John O'Brien, S.J. Many in the media have  noticed that Pope Francis has, on several occasions, referred of a novel which he recommends to readers across the globe. It might be considered a strange choice for a pope whose public image is that of a progressivist who is shattering traditions and heralding a bright new world future. The book is a 1907 futuristic apocalypse by Robert Hugh Benson called Lord of the World . Some have called it prophetic in its portrayal of a dystopian post-modern future. My father has cited it as a major influence on his own Children of the Last Days   novels . Others, such as journalist John Allen, Jr., have speculated that this endorsement may indicate the Holy Father is thinking that his own time might be short. I am not going to review the novel here, but rather quote a remarkable selection from its third chapter. The passage describes an experience that its protagonist, the English priest Percy Franklin, has when he enters into prayer

The Tree of Life

By John O'Brien, S.J. 2011. Director: Terrence Malick, 139 min. U.S.A. Stars: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn Music: makes use of many different classical and operatic pieces. Plot An impressionistic portrait of a young family in Waco, Texas in 1956, in which the eldest son Jack (Hunter McCracken) struggles with his loss of innocence and coming to terms with two “ways” in life: the way of “grace”, represented by his luminous mother, Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) and the way of “nature”, the win-at-all-costs philosophy represented by his father (Brad Pitt). There is a flash-forward to 1968, when his mother receives a telegram telling of the death of her other son (presumably in Vietnam), and a flash-forward to present day, where we see an adult Jack (Sean Penn) grapple with the memories of his childhood and the legacy of his choices; and to scenes at a mysterious seashore in an eschatological future, where the child and adult Jack interact with his parents, and

Calvary

By John O'Brien, S.J. 2014. Director: John Michael McDonaugh, 102 min. Ireland/U.K. Stars: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Marie-Josée Croze Music: Patrick Cassidy An anonymous man in the confessional tells Father James (Brendan Gleeson) that he was abused by a priest who's now dead, and so he's going to kill him in one week instead -- not because Fr. James is a bad priest, but because he's a good priest. Fr. James spends the next week reaching out to members of his small-town Irish parish, attempting to help them in their various scurrilous moral problems, and to comfort Fiona (Kelly Reilly), his fragile daughter. The days go by quickly, and he feels sinister and troubling forces closing in. He begins to wonder if he will have the strength to face his own personal Calvary at the week's end. This film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014, and Brendan Gleeson won Best Actor at the British Independent Film awards that ye