Friday, November 15

Nancy Pelosi describes herself as a "conservative Catholic.'

Guess Who begs to differ.

Archbishop Milingo will start saying Mass publicly again next week.

Well, we got that over with.

Harry Potter, that is.

You know, I've read all four books and thought the first three were rather good. Not great literature, but good enough. The fourth - well, the fourth really was in need of a good editor who could chop at least 300 pages out of it. I even thought the first movie was okay. Slavishly faithful to most of the book, but that's okay.

Well, this afternoon, I sat in that theater filled with excited Catholic school kids (out for the day - take that self-defined religious Potter-haters). and about four minutes into the movie, I thought,

I. Hate. This.It just sort of surged throughout my being. And it wasn't because I was facing almost three hours in a movie with Joseph (who was, actually, pretty good). It was, I suppose, because I was going to be viewing almost three hours of, again, slavishly faithful adaptation beginning with the obligatory hateful and piggish aunt and uncle at the beginning, ending with cheers in Hogwarth's dining hall, and full of surprisingly bad British child actors and very good British adult actors with very little to do. I'd forgotten that Alan Rickman played Snape, and when he first appeared, I rapidly constructed my "A movie with Alan Rickman is always worth watching" riff, only to abandon it at the end of the movie, when all Rickman had to show for his effort were about ten evil looks from beneath his oily black hair. Kenneth Branagh is in it, too, as a media-crazy wizard adored by all the women, but proven (natch) to be a fraud at the end, but even he comes across as flat.

I'm not a film critic, and I don't know enough about direction to be able to pinpoint what I felt was wrong, but all I can say is that I'm glad Columbus is out and a new director has been brought on board.

I think that one of the problems - and this is a problem with the books, too, as I recall, is that the plot has such an expository feel to it. Bad stuff happens. No one can figure out why. Two-thirds of the way through, Harry, Ron and Hermione put it all together, then spend the rest of the movie battling the bad thing, which then, in a final confrontation with Harry, spends many minutes explaining how everything connects together, followed by his conquest, followed by celebrations in the dining hall. I thought this dining hall finale, incidentally, was particularly tiresome and strangely anti-climactic.

But you know, who cares what I think? My daughter liked it better than the original, and the children I heard talking as we walked out all raved.

After that critique, I have to offer a couple of notes in support.

First, much has been made of the "darker" more violent tone of this movie. Well, yes, but it's mostly on a level of healthy fright (big spiders and that big ol' snake) and some gore that's certainly beyond cartoonish, but not gruesome. "Not suitable for young children" we're warned. Well, of course not, and that's okay. It occurred to me that there are hardly any movies made for children 9-13 in mind. There are the cartoons, which do reach across age groups, but are mostly targeted at young kids (Shrek being an example of the exception - the movie that even teens will go see without the excuse of a younger sibling they have to take), and then there are the movies targeted at the older teens. That middle school age group is really ignored, or rather - they're being pushed up into the films that aren't suitable for them. This is a good middle school movie, and that's fine.

Secondly, as I watched this, once again, the whole controversy about magic struck me as even more ridiculous than it has before. I can barely even stand restating it - the magic is a device. It's a device to express the challenges of learning who you are and how to use the gifts and talents you've been given in responsible, and even heroic ways. The grand finale of this movie, in fact, barely even involves magic of the spell-casting kind.

And once again, I am struck by the ultimate message, offered by Dumbledore to Harry near the end. Harry is concerned because it has become clear to him that the evil Lord Voldemort, when he killed Harry's parents and left him with the scar on his forehead, shifted some of his power - not a good thing - to Harry. What this means is that Harry has become aware of his potential to do wrong. Dumbledore assures him that he is not defined by this. What will define him are the choices he makes with the powers and possibilities within him, and, as we've just seen in the past almost-three-hours - the choices he makes have been heroic, brave and selfless.

This, to me, is the fascinating thing about Rowling's work - what she is doing with this theme - which is, in the end, about everything good, and nothing to be afraid of.

We had snow today.

A light, constant flurry throught the afternoon and into the evening. Looking out the window, Joseph promptly identified what he was seeing:


Here's a link to the biishops' Statement of Episcopal Commitment to enforce the norms.
The ever-reticent George Neumayr offers a mild look at the Bishops' statement on Iraq

Had Ronald Reagan taken the peacenik advice of the U.S. bishops during the Cold War, the Soviet Communists would have won it. Undaunted, the bishops continue to offer advice to U.S. leaders on defense policy. American bishops who can't protect their own church are confident that they know how to protect America. Passivity in the face of evil has worked so well for them that they are recommending it as a policy to President George Bush.

In their "Statement on Iraq," the bishops who couldn't take preemptive action against molesters in their midst fret about preemptive action against Saddam Hussein. They want Bush to step back from the "brink of war." They "find it difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature."

This sounds about as prudent as reassigning molesters until lawsuits threatening the church's reputation and finances emerge. One wonders what would meet the evidentiary bar of the American bishops, given that clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature on their own church, presented to them for decades by lay people, never impressed them very much.

Stephn Holden reviews El Crimen del Padre Amaro for the NYTimes.(LRR) It is, of course, the notorious Mexican film that opens today in selected US cities. I think the Catholic League should really hold its fire:

The scandalous nature of "El Crimen del Padre Amaro," directed by Carlos Carrera from a screenplay by Vicente Leñero, has helped make it the highest-grossing home-grown film in Mexican history. But what probably accounts for its popularity isn't its indictment of money laundering and conspiracy but its prurient, nostril-flaring portrait of a handsome young clergyman violating his vows of celibacy....

The film's most disconcerting element is its confusing mixture of satire and melodrama. One minute the movie appears to be making nasty fun of Father Amaro and Amelia's affair. The next it is wallowing in their passion as shamelessly as any heavy-breathing Latin American soap opera. As the story accelerates, Father Amaro's troubles multiply along with the lies he is forced to tell, and the movie builds to a strident, intentionally shocking finale that finds the young priest morally bankrupt.

But Father Amaro's spiritual downfall involves very little internal struggle. Although we are supposed to assume that he is a naïve idealist at the beginning of the film, his acquiescence to the corrupt status quo is accompanied by only the faintest protestations. Instead of emerging as a hero with a tragic flaw, he comes across as a fuzzy-minded weakling who is all flaws.

At a certain point Amelia urges Father Amaro to quit the priesthood and leave town with her. He replies that he wants to remain in the church because as a priest he can help others, but we don't see him offering much help to anyone. Terrible things happen in "El Crimen del Padre Amaro," which opens today in Manhattan, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Dallas, but the movie ultimately has no tragic dimension. It's just the lurid portrait of a man who'll do anything to keep his job.

Accusations and counter-accusations in Oklahoma


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