Saturday, July 21, 2012

We Bought A Zoo

I didn't see this movie right away when it was released because the reviews and other people were telling me that it was a sad story. And, quite frankly, when I wanted to go to the movies or watch a DVD I wasn't in the mood to be too sad. So, tonight, after a great, enlightening day, I felt I had the emotional stamina to endure a really sad movie. I brought out the tissues and was ready.

But.....that's not what this was at all! I mean, there are emotional moments and the reality of people dealing with deep grief, but it's a story of new beginnings, of new hope, of laughing at ourselves and with others, and of finding joy in the present moment.

This is a true story based on the memoir by Benjamin Mee (played by Matt Damon), who really did buy a fully-functioning zoo with like, all the animals. I thought only municipalities and governments have zoos. I never heard of privately-owned zoos. So, this was enlightening.

In the movie, Benjamin's wife had died and in order to deal with the grief, for him and his children, he wanted to move away from all that reminded him of her. They found a perfect house with lots of acres of beautiful countryside. But, there was one was a working zoo with staff and all. Wanting a new beginning, Benjamin gives it a go. This is where the wonderful drama of human interaction takes place--between him and the zookeeper and staff, him and his daughter, him and his son, him and the zoo inspector, him and the animals. With all the love we can have for animals, the human element in relationships cannot be replaced. We need people. We need love. We need community. This is played out in the scene of the "re-opening" day of the zoo. Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), the zookeeper, is with her niece, Lily, watching Benjamin and his children taking pictures and laughing. Lily, who really likes Benjamin's son, Dylan, says to Kelly, "If you had to choose between people and animals, who would you pick?" When Kelly doesn't respond because she is staring at Benjamin who she is developing a crush on, Lily says, "Me, too. People!"

There a many great lines in this film and a lot of humor. I was laughing out loud at everything Thomas Hayden Church, who played Benjamin's brother, Duncan, said! Brilliant script-writing. And, you can't but help find Benjamin's seven-year-old daughter, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) just simply irresistibly endearing and charming. The emotional connection with the audience is established right from the beginning of the film because of Rosie. The film also shows how people at all different ages and stages of life cope with grief. The child often enables the adult to find life, joy and hope after a time of great suffering.

There are many values to be discussed in this film and is a great movie to share about. Definitely a family drama that can be viewed and reflected on together. The thought that recurs over and over in the film is words of Benjamin to his son, "Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it." Sometimes we need to risk it in life and shoot for the moon. We never know what we would have missed if we don't try. Pope Pius XII said, "To live without risk is to risk not living." Maybe we don't have to go and buy a zoo, but we can step out toward another person to offer a hand and maybe our heart in friendship and love.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

This is a delightful movie about faith, persistence and humility. Dr Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), Britain's fisheries expert, is drafted into pulling off a most extraordinarily improbable feat. A sheikh (Amr Waked) loves fishing and wants the sport of fly-fishing to be brought to a man-made river in the Yemen desert so people can experience the peace and serenity of salmon fishing. He has a consultant of his investment firm, Harriet Chetwoode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), make it a reality by contacting Dr Jones. 

The sheikh convinces Dr Jones ("Fred") to embark on this project for which money is no object. He tells Fred that he needs to have faith. Faith and fish have a lot in common he says. Salmon spend years wandering the deep oceans only to return to spawn in the freshwater rivers where they were born. They swim upstream, often jumping up small waterfalls to reach their destination in the great salmon run. It seems to be almost an impossible feat of nature. Yet, like faith, these salmon go against the odds and follow what is most deeply ingrained in them. There is a wonderful shot in the film where we see Fred on a crowded city sidewalk going the opposite direction of the stream of people. It's like he's going against what is most reasonable and scientific and stepping out in faith, and sometimes that means going against the crowd. But, "why fishing?" Fred asks the sheikh. And he says because, "fishermen have the virtues of patience, persistence and humility."

Prior to the completion of the project of getting 10,000 salmon into a dam-created river, the sheikh tells Fred, "Sometimes we do something to glorify God. Instead I wonder if we did something to glorify man. That's a very fine line." And this is where humility comes in. We can do great things but always recognize that we are still finite creatures. We can try to manipulate nature but we can't control it. The three together achieve their goal only for disaster to strike.  But, somehow, this whole experiment for Fred and for Harriet was not about fishing at all. They both, through persistence and patience, found life, new life...and love.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Media Literacy Education

Familiar with Media Literacy? If not, here is a link to the core principles of media literacy education. This is becoming a necessity in education of children but also in religious education. The document from the Pontifical Council for Social Communication, Dawn of A New Era, says that media literacy is no longer an option in faith formation, but is a necessity. This program is a quick overview. Enjoy!

Core Principles of Media Literacy education

Monday, July 16, 2012

Billboard Charts

Canadian Carly Rae Jepsen's song, Call Me Maybe, has been on the top charts for 20 weeks now, hitting the number 1 spot for the summer. So what is it about this cute, pop, catchy ballad that has everyone singing it? It's a combination of the strings and synth-sounds, the catchy lyrics and the pop rhythms that make it irresistible. Carly says that she and a friend wanted to make a song similar to Walking on Broken Glass from decades ago that just gets everyone up and dancing while at the beach or on vacation. 

What song does this for you? For me, I enjoy many genres of music--pop, rock, R&B, soul, country. Music speaks to the soul and the emotions, so depending what mood I'm in is what style I listen to. For anyone who really knows me, if you want to see me move, just put an MJ song on.....I'm done for.

Seriously, music has a power all it's own. It's touches us deeply in the core of our being--that place where we meet God. Music, like the Psalms which were written to be sung, touch on the gamut of emotions. It helps us cope with the challenges of life. Music touches us in the place where no one but God can reach us. What song has touched you at your depths and left a resounding chord?

Alberione Film

Trailer for the Blessed James Alberione film-in-the-making, the founder of the Pauline Family.

Red Dog

The last movie of the Windrider Bay Area Film Forum was Red Dog, a movie about a small miners town in the Northwest of Australia and a dog who brought together an unlikely group of people. The movie takes place in the 1970s in the small mining town of Dampier. A Red Kelpie dog wanders into the town and into the hearts of all the people. He becomes the "common dog," which means he has no owner but belongs to everyone. Through this touching and humorous film, we see how Red Dog becomes the catalyst for each person to share their story, their pains, their struggles and their hopes.

At one point, John Grant (Josh Lucas), an American, comes to Dampier. For reasons unbeknown to him, Red Dog takes to him and follows him everywhere. They soon become best friends and everyone recognizes Red Dog as belonging to John. John falls for a young woman named Nancy (Rachael Taylor) and Red Dog takes to her as well. After a large party at which John proposes to Nancy, they take off on his motorcycle. John tells Red Dog to stay and wait for him in the morning. After dropping off Nancy, John is killed in an accident. Red Dog stays outside John's home waiting for him to return. He waits for three weeks. After that he takes off and travels all over the Northwest of Australia--traveling for years searching for John. He finally makes his way back to Dampier and finds Nancy.

This depressive, mining town brings together people from all nationalities and races. Everyone gathers around Red Dog who brings a sense of purpose and meaning to this motley crew. New life springs out of sadness and loneliness. People talk to one another, share their stories and find new meaning in life. As the screenwriter, Daniel Taplitz says, "Red Dog is a mirror of ourselves." We deal with grief and pain which is all a part of the cycle of life. Communion comes out of a shared experience and these people shared a sense of hope in life because of Red Dog.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Hammer

Directed by Oren Kaplan, this docudrama depicts the life of Matt Hamill, the first deaf wrestler to win the National Collegiate Championship. He grows up in a hearing world and navigates the challenges to achieve his dream of being the best. This true story has a profound lesson in true communication. With those who are deaf, often people focus on their mode of communicating rather than their content, as Shoshannah Stern who plays Kristi, Matt's girlfriend, in the film says. In the film, Matt grows up learning to speak English instead of Sign. He struggles with communicating when he goes to Rochester Institute of Technology for wrestling where there is a deaf campus and a large student body who speak Sign. Matt eventually grasps this new language and realizes that there is more to communicating than speaking. The transformation in Matt focuses him on being less centered on himself and becoming more other-centered. This is a film about Matt's search for himself.

Matt has a deep and profound relationship with his grandfather with whom he lived growing up. His grandfather did not want to admit that his grandson was different and so taught him to speak and sent him to regular schools while refusing Matt's mother's request to send him to school to learn Sign. He was also Matt's best fan for his wrestling and encouraged him to follow his dream. On his deathbed, he surprised Matt by Signing some phrases and telling him how much he loved Matt. He finally said that Matt is different and that's a wonderful thing. His acceptance meant the world to Matt.

We all have various strengths and weaknesses. We all have struggles in life and must search to find who we really are within this larger universe. God makes each of us unique and special in our own way. We are all called to greatness--the greatness of giving of ourselves in love to others. As Paul says, "Love never ends...." 1 Cor. 13:8.

Rising From Ashes

Rising From Ashes is an amazing full length documentary about the first Rwandan National Cycling Team. This is about the journey of a country trying to rise from the depths of horror of the 1994 genocide and its need for heroes to believe in once again. This group of cyclists go through a six-year journey of training by the first American to ever race the Tour de France, Johnathan Boyer. As the cyclists struggle with their own pain--mental, emotional and physical--Johnathan goes through his own journey of finding redemption, hope and new life in giving himself to the Rwandan people. T.C. Johnstone, the director, producer and editor of this emotionally charged documentary, says that, "This is a film about transformation. For Jock (Johnathan) it was a transformation in humility." For the Rwandan cyclists, it was a transformation out of a nightmare constantly relived in their minds to an opportunity to overcome their past and to be recognized as united Rwandans.

The bicycle is a powerful tool. As T.C. Johnstone says, "Everyone has one. And no one gets on a bike and doesn't smile." It is therapeutic. It gives the rider a chance to process the suffering of the mind and soul and connecting them to a sense of redemption.

Adrien Niyonshuti, one of the cyclists, made the qualifying round for the London Olympic Games 2012. Look for him on the last day of the Olympics on August 12th during the mountain bike event. His story of loss and perseverance, struggle and redemption is so compelling and profound. He will represent his country at the opening ceremonies. No one can know what that means to this young man representing Rwanda.

Windrider Film Forum

This week is the annual Windrider Film Forum here in Northern California, specifically Menlo Park.
Windrider is about making the space for conversation and community regarding the medium of film. It gives us the chance to bring our faith into active conversation with the media culture and experience some marvelous filmmaking. Here's more info: