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Movie Review: Wonder Woman

Close to eight decades ago, William Moulton Marston -- whose name seems more suited to a stodgy novelist than a writer of comic books -- created Wonder Woman. In the years since, the character has, of course, become a staple for DC Comics.

She has also had a successful and varied career in other media, including a late 1970s live-action television series that aired on ABC for one season and on CBS (in a revamped version) for two more. While somewhat short-lived, the show -- which starred Lynda Carter and Lyle Waggoner -- exerted a considerable cultural influence.

Now, embodied by Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot, who also played her in 2016's "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," the familiar superhero holds the spotlight in the enjoyable adventure "Wonder Woman" (Warner Bros.).

Director Patty Jenkins keeps the mayhem through which Gadot passes mostly free of gore. And the dialogue in Allan Heinberg's script is unspotted by vulgarity. Yet tinges of sexuality make the film safest for adults, though some parents may deem it acceptable for older teens.

Opening scenes take us to Wonder Woman's native environment, the picturesque, Aegean-style island of Themyscira. Populated entirely by Amazons, Themyscira is isolated from the rest of the world by an invisible, protective but not impassable shield thoughtfully provided by Zeus.

After chronicling some of Wonder Woman's childhood (during which she's played by Lilly Aspell and known as Princess Diana), including her military training under the isle's chief warrior, Antiope (Robin Wright), the screenplay introduces an outsider in the person of Capt. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine).

An American who's spying for the British during World War I (an event of which the Amazons know nothing), dashing Steve drops from the sky when the German aircraft he purloined in an emergency is shot down. Diana takes his startling arrival as a signal that her race is being called to restore peace to humanity.

Since her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), the ruler of Themyscira, disagrees, Diana undertakes the mission on her own. Guided by Steve, and with the support of Sir Patrick (David Thewlis), a high-ranking government official in London, Diana uses her battlefield skills to take on real-life German commander Gen. Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), the fictional, sinister scientist who runs Ludendorff's chemical weapons program.

Steve recruits three additional allies for Diana from among his old pals. This gallant but shady trio is made up of Moroccan veteran Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Scottish sniper Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and a Native American black-marketer known only as The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock).

The movie's fundamental values are sound, if not always clearly expressed. Wonder Woman chooses to see the underlying goodness in human nature that the slaughter of the trenches masks. And she consistently strives for concord, though she shortsightedly imagines that this can be achieved by killing the last surviving Olympian, Ares, the god of war.

Believing that Ares has incarnated himself in Ludendorff, Diana is convinced that assassinating him will end the current conflict and prevent any future ones. This sets her at odds with both Steve and Sir Patrick since they believe an armistice is imminent, and fear that the prospect of peace would be ruined by Ludendorff's death. Despite the tension, however, everyone on Diana's side seems to be striving to do good.

On a more personal level, Steve and Diana -- who have, of course, come to be more than mere comrades to each other -- are discreetly portrayed as spending a night together, though the camera cuts away shortly after Steve locks the bedroom door behind them. In a more peculiar encounter earlier on, Diana walks in on Steve just as he is emerging from a bath. Incongruously for a man reared a century ago, he makes no effort to cover himself. Instead, he casually stands there while Diana satisfies her curiosity.

It was probably inevitable that "Wonder Woman" would play on the humorous potential of the fact that its heroine has never set eyes a man before, though a subtler approach could certainly have been adopted in doing so. Along the same lines, the situation described above is followed up by some comically awkward wordplay that would not be appropriate for kids.

Together with the pagan details incorporated into the movie's milieu and backstory, these incidents suggest a cautious attitude on Mom and Dad's part.

The film contains frequent stylized violence with minimal blood, nonscriptural religious ideas, implied premarital sexual activity, a scene of immodest behavior, some sexual humor, at least one mild oath and a single crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Movie review: "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales'

Iconic and eccentric buccaneer Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) hoists the black flag for a fifth time in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" (Disney). The result is a flashy but ultimately unsatisfying journey for the theme park ride-based franchise that first set sail in 2003.
 
On the upside, the crowded, overlong proceedings are relatively family-friendly. So parents willing to overlook some adult punning may give mature teens the go-ahead to board.
 
This time out, Jack joins forces with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a young science scholar whose ahead-of-her-time learning has led her to be charged with witchcraft, and with Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), an equally youthful sailor. Henry is the son of Jack's old associates Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) Turner.
 
All three main characters are seeking the same magical artifact, the Trident of Poseidon, each for a different reason. They're pursued along the hunt by the British navy, by the ghost of Capt. Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), one of Jack's old adversaries, and by living but one-legged freebooter Capt. Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).
As directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, "Dead Men" is a special effects-driven adventure long on spectacle but short on human interest. The mayhem is almost all stylized, however, and the dialogue is virtually free of vulgarity.
 
One scene, played for laughs, finds an incidental character -- who subsequently turns out to be married -- in a compromising (though not directly sexual) situation with Jack.
 
The humor, such as it is, jokingly reinforces Jack reputation as a womanizer while also deflating the ego of the cheater's husband, a pompous town official on the island of St. Martin. It's a frivolous treatment of a serious subject, but the script quickly passes on to other matters.
 
On the other side of the moral ledger, late plot developments set the stage for a climactic act of self-sacrificing parental love. And Henry and Carina, who are obviously destined for each other, content themselves, once their bickering morphs into love, with kissing.
 
The film contains much action violence with little blood, brief implications of adultery, a single gruesome image, occasional mature wordplay and at least one crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
 

“Jesus: The Story You Thought You Knew”

“Jesus: The Story You Thought You Knew.” By Deacon Keith Strohm. Indiana:  Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2017. 176 pages. Paperback: $10.17; Kindle: $9.68; Nook; $10.99.
 
It was in chapter six of Deacon Keith Strohm’s latest book, “Jesus: The Story You Thought You Knew,” that I encountered a discussion about why many Catholics find even the word “evangelization” to be so intimidating. After stating that everything having to do with God is profoundly personal, Deacon Strohm notes that “[a] ‘personal relationship with God’ might be an unfamiliar or uncomfortable concept to a lot of Catholics. Many of us have experienced some of our Christian brothers and sisters asking us if ‘we have accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.’ This notion can feel foreign to our own experience as Catholics.”
 
Yet, it is the very personal nature of God’s relationship with us that is the subject of this book; not only is this relationship available to Catholics, he insists, it is at the core of our faith. Deacon Strohm, whose ministry centers on this liberating understanding of discipleship, takes the reader through the story of salvation, beginning with our first parents in the Garden of Eden, continuing through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, then culminating with our call to be His followers in our daily lives here on Earth.
 
One of the challenges to this idea that some Catholics need to wrestle with, Deacon Strohm contends, is an “institutional relationship with Christ rather than an intentional or personal one. … Many people participate in the external practices of their faith…without forming any explicit personal connection with Jesus.” That is not to say that such practices should be ignored or discarded; indeed, as Deacon Strohm asserts, such things are “instrumental in building and shaping a deep intimacy with God.” What he encourages readers to do is take that relationship one step further:  “The Great Story of Jesus is a clarion call, a declaration of love made over all God’s people, and an invitation to enter into the depths of that love.”
 
That is why Deacon Strohm approaches all of this, not as a study in theology, but as a love story between God and us. Over and over he shows how God goes out of His way to bring us to Himself, not because we are good, but because He is. There is no one who can “fall through the cracks” with God, and Deacon Strohm states that explicitly when he says in Chapter Two, “You matter. You. Yes, you. And the proof is that God himself became man for you.”
 
Oftentimes we can become oblivious to this because the story is so familiar to us.  Deacon Strohm therefore, makes a point of introducing us to Jesus, not only as the second person of the  Blessed Trinity, but as a person like ourselves, “in all things but sin,” with whom we can form an intimate friendship. He urges us to enter into the story of Scripture in a very personal way so that the words engage us on a gut level. 
 
For me, for instance, the most powerful chapter in the book is Chapter Four, entitled “Jesus Embraces the Cross;” although I have participated in the reading of the Passion for as long as I can remember – not to mention the many times I have read it outside the season of Lent – the full meaning of what happened on those days we call Triduum opened up in a way I had never considered before. I will never think of the Garden of Gethsemane the same way again.
 
Deacon Strohm’s book is written with both the individual reader and small groups in mind. At the end of each chapter he has written a section for further reflection, followed by several questions suitable for one reader or a group to consider. For any person or parish looking to be empowered as “evangelizers,” Deacon Strohm’s book is a good place to begin.
 
Author bio
 
Deacon Keith Strohm is a well-known international speaker and teacher on the subject of evangelization. A deacon for the Archdiocese of Chicago, he is the former director of the Office for the New Evangelization there and currently the executive director of Ablaze Ministries (ablazeministries.com). He is a long-time collaborator with the Catherine of Siena Institute in Colorado, dedicated to making formation resources available to parishes and the laity.
 
 
 

Movie Review: 'Born in China'

Forget worrisome headlines about our trade deficit with China. Instead, relax and drown your concerns in the veritable tsunami of cuteness that flows from "Born in China" (Disney), a warm and fuzzy animal documentary, narrated by John Krasinski.
 
The latest entry in the Disneynature series -- released, like several of its predecessors, in conjunction with the April 22 observance of Earth Day -- "Born in China," directed and co-written by Lu Chuan, rests on the tried-and-true premise that critters in the wild act just like us when no one is (supposedly) watching.
 
And so, animals are given names and personalities in the script, on which Chuan collaborated with David Fowler, Brian Leith and Phil Chapman. Complex family relationships are mapped, and every goofy moment highlighted for comic relief.
 
There's also plenty of life-and-death drama on display, as the documentary captures astonishing footage of the animal kingdom across the four seasons.
 
As winter approaches, "Dawa," a mother snow leopard, fears for her two cubs. She struggles to maintain their food supply atop one of China's tallest peaks.
 
Down in the forest, "Tao Tao," a golden snub-nosed monkey, resents the arrival of a baby sister, doted on by his parents. It's the perfect excuse for him to leave home and join a renegade bunch of orphaned simians nicknamed the "Lost Boys."
 
Lastly there is "Ya Ya," a mother panda, who is perfectly content to sit and eat bamboo all day with her baby son, "Mei Mei," at her side.
 
While "Born in China" may tug too hard on the heartstrings at times -- the effect is occasionally cloying -- its breathtaking cinematography, together with the total absence of anything objectionable, makes the film well worth the price of admission.
 
The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G -- general audiences -- all ages admitted.
 

Movie review: 'The Case for Christ'

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Christian apologetics, the branch of theology devoted to proving the reasonableness of belief in Jesus, is almost as old as the faith itself. Three documents in this genre, for instance, survive from the writings of St. Justin Martyr, who died in the middle of the second century.
 
In 1998, former journalist Lee Strobel published a memoir of his spiritual odyssey from aggressive atheism to evangelical Christianity that also grounded his faith in objectively assessed evidence. Nearly 20 years later, and just in time for Easter, a screen version of Strobel's book, "The Case for Christ" (Pure Flix), arrives in theaters.
 
Set in 1980, the film charts Strobel's (Mike Vogel) effort to uses his investigative skills -- he was a rising star on the staff of the Chicago Tribune at the time -- to disprove the Resurrection and thereby debunk the faith as a whole. He was provoked to do this by wife Leslie's (Erika Christensen) recent conversion, an event that sparked discord in their previously serene marriage.
 
Strobel consults a variety of experts, from archaeologist-turned-Catholic-priest Father Jose Maria Marquez (Miguel Perez) to Purdue University professor of psychiatry Dr. Roberta Waters (Faye Dunaway). Each knocks down one of the lines of defense that Strobel has erected to bar acceptance of Christ's return from the dead, e.g., that the 500 witnesses to it mentioned in the New Testament were suffering from a form of mass hysteria.
 
It makes for an intelligent quest, though one that includes a detailed exploration of the medical effects of crucifixion that would be upsetting to many kids.
Director Jonathan M. Gunn and screenwriter Brian Bird intertwine Strobel's intellectual journey with his involvement in a headline-grabbing criminal case -- Renell Gibbs plays the defendant, James Dixon. They also work in a low-key study of Lee and Leslie's strong bond and of the problematic relationship between Strobel and his father, Walter (Robert Forster).
 
While not as heavy handed as many message movies, "The Case for Christ" -- which is acceptable for a wide audience -- succeeds more as a vindication of the rationality of belief than as entertainment. On the other hand, those looking for an informal way to bolster their religious education during the holiest of seasons could hardly find a more fitting choice.
 
The film contains graphic descriptions and images of scourging and crucifixion and a single crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
 

Movie review: 'Beauty and the Beast'

Disney's live-action adaptation of its beloved 1991 animated film "Beauty and the Beast" arrives in theaters amid a swirl of controversy over the updating of one of its characters into an openly gay man.
 
The decision of the studio, director Bill Condon ("Dreamgirls"), and screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos to reimagine LeFou (Josh Gad), sidekick of the villainous Gaston (Luke Evans), as Disney's so-called "first gay character" is a regrettable one. A cherished family film has, in essence, been appropriated for an underlying agenda that is firmly at odds with Christian values.
 
Parents will have a hard time explaining to their kids -- as most know the cartoon by heart -- why LeFou has jumped on the homosexual bandwagon. His amorous advances to Gaston, proud display of a bite mark from Gaston on his stomach (due to "wrestling"), and ultimate dance in the arms of another man will raise eyebrows, to say the least.
 
Admittedly, many grown moviegoers will take LeFou's transformation in stride. "Beauty and the Beast," however, is a must-see film intended for children. Given the clear intent to make a statement with the character in question, the restrictive classification assigned below is a caution for viewers of faith, especially parents.
 
The pall cast over "Beauty and the Beast" is unfortunate, as the film is largely an imaginative and engaging work with an arresting visual style. An old-fashioned Hollywood musical at heart, it brims with familiar songs by Alan Menken and whirling dance sequences worthy of Busby Berkeley.
 
Like the cartoon, this film is loosely based on the 1740 fairy tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. The eponymous lovely, Belle (Emma Watson), is a spirited maiden in a French village who longs for excitement.
 
"I want adventure in the great-wide somewhere," she warbles. "I want so much more than they've got planned!"
 
Be careful what you wish for, dearie. No sooner does she spurn the advances of the vain hunter Gaston than Belle winds up imprisoned in a haunted castle, having swapped places with her kidnapped father, Maurice (Kevin Kline).
 
Enter said Beast (Dan Stevens), aka The Prince. We learn in an extended prologue that this handsome royal was transferred into a horned (but infinitely more dapper) version of Chewbacca from the "Star Wars" franchise by Agathe (Hattie Morahan), a local enchantress, as punishment for his selfishness.
 
Agathe's curse extended to The Prince's staff, who became not furry creatures but household objects. These exceedingly loquacious items include Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), a stuffy mantel clock; Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), a dancing candelabra; twirling feather duster Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw); Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), a motherly teapot, and her cup of a son, Chip (Nathan Mack); and musical duo Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), a harspichord, and Garderobe (Audra McDonald), a wardrobe.
 
Only if Beauty grows to love the Beast will the spell be broken, which seems a very long shot for this odd couple. A courtship ensues -- with a nice lesson on looking beyond outward appearances for true love -- until a vengeful Gaston raises an angry mob to kill the Beast, casting doubt (for newcomers, at least) on a happy ending.
 
Even in the absence of the hot-button issue already discussed, young children might be frightened by several dark moments in the movie, including attacks by wolves and Gaston's violent assault on the Beast's castle.
 
The film contains a few scenes of peril and action violence, a benign view of homosexual activity and some sexual innuendo. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
 

Book review: 'All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters'

“All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters.” By Pat Gohn. Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2017. 193 pages. Paperback: $13.06; Kindle: $12.41; Nook: $10.99.
 
In her new book, “All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters,” author Pat Gohn presents many good arguments for remaining in or joining the Catholic Church, but one theme runs through and holds her entire narrative together: “Let me offer one truth that has proved stabilizing for me, an anchor amid storms and scandals,” she writes. “The Catholic Church is the bride of Christ. That means that Jesus, who is God, the second person of the Trinity, is the bridegroom.”  Furthermore, she states, “And what God had joined, we must not divide.”
 
For Gohn, the fact that Jesus has wedded Himself irrevocably and permanently to the Church gives meaning to everything else that comes after. At the beginning of the book, she acknowledges that in recent years the Church has experienced tremendous turmoil, serious enough to discourage and dishearten even the Church’s most loyal children; she illustrates the situation by describing the thoughts and feelings of a friend who was seriously thinking of leaving the Church because of it.  While not dismissing these concerns – “As a cradle Catholic in midlife, I’ve had my fair share of dealing with the flaws, shortcomings and outright poor conduct of Catholics and Church authorities I’ve known” – she acknowledges that what keeps her “all in” is not so much the imperfections of the institution, but the perfection of the bridegroom.
 
Jesus’ relationship with the Church, she points out, is mirrored by the vows couples make at their weddings – to be faithful “for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, in good times and bad” – vows which are meant to last a lifetime. What is remarkable, she continues, is that even when the Church – the bride – is unfaithful, Jesus never is and never will be.  He is, as it were, “all in” with us.
 
With Jesus unshakably in the center of the Church (and her relationship to it), Gohn goes on to discuss other realities that make up what it means to be Catholic. She discusses the incarnation and the resurrection, as well as the role of the sacraments and the importance of Mary.  She explains what it means to say that we are part of the Mystical Body of Christ and how we too must be reflections of the mercy of God.
 
Often she draws on her own experience of having – and surviving – cancer to illustrate the concepts of Divine Mercy and love. For instance, during one particularly grueling medical test, she described how her husband accompanied her to help her cope with the claustrophobia she felt during the procedure; however because the machine she was in enclosed most of her body, he could only hold on to her toes to let her know he was there.
 
 
 
It was only later that this simple gesture found an echo in the all-encompassing presence of Jesus. In the chapel she frequents for adoration, Gohn describes a crucifix, the feet of which are very much in her line of sight as she kneels. While praying there one day, she had a kind of epiphany:  “My knees hit the floor and I bend low, praying: My Lord and my God!” she says. Looking up, she saw the crucified feet of Jesus, and then, something else. “Not insignificantly, my Lord and my God has toes. As I gaze upon Jesus in the Eucharist, I find that this God, undeniably magnificent as the creator of the cosmos, is, in his humanity, very much loved by my down-to-earth sensibilities. We have a God with toes. Isn’t that amazing?”
 
For those who are already practicing Catholics, this is an affirming book. For others who may need a boost for their faith or who are not yet part of the Church but are considering becoming Catholic, Gohn’s book provides plenty of reasons to be “all in.”
 
Pat Gohn is no stranger to Catholic publishing. Besides her award-winning book, “Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious,” her work has appeared in Catholic Digest and Catechist magazines, as well as online at Patheos, Amazing Catechists and CatholicMom.com. She hosts a podcast, Among Women, and is currently the editor of Catechist magazine. She earned a master’s degree in theology and has various certificates in theology and spirituality. She currently lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Bob.
 

Movie review: ‘Rock Dog’

"You ain't nothin' but a hound dog," Elvis Presley famously crooned six decades ago. That pretty well describes "Rock Dog" (Summit Premiere), a feeble animated comedy about a canine with unlikely musical aspirations.
 
On Snow Mountain, high in the Himalayas, a Tibetan Mastiff named Bodi (voice of Luke Wilson) is stuck in the shadow of his stern father, Khampa (voice of J.K. Simmons). Their two-dog mission is to guard the village from marauding wolves eager to eat the resident sheep population.
 
Bodi prefers playing his guitar to sentry duty. When a passing airplane drops a radio from the sky, it's like manna from heaven. Turning the dial to a rock 'n' roll station (reception is remarkably clear), Bodi is entranced by the music of legendary rock-and-roller Angus Scattergood (voice of Eddie Izzard).
 
The village elder, fittingly named Fleetwood Yak (voice of Sam Elliott), convinces Khampa to let his son leave the village and seek his destiny in the big city.
 
"It's your life. Make it a happy one," Fleetwood tells Bodi.
 
And so Bodi hops the bus (mass transit is also surprisingly good), lands in the nearby metropolis -- filled with anthropomorphic species -- and seeks out Angus' heavily guarded compound.
 
The aging rocker, a hipster cat with a British accent and a sassy robot butler named Ozzie, invites the awestruck fan into his lair, but his motives are not sincere. Angus needs a new hit, and Bodi's fresh talent might be just the ticket.
 
Meanwhile, the big bad wolf pack, led by Linnux (voice of Lewis Black), is inspired by Bodi's departure to mount a final assault on Snow Mountain. Sporting gangster attire and driving stretch limos, these cool dudes have one goal in mind: feasting on grilled lamb chops.
 
Director and co-writer (with Kurt Voelker) Ash Bannon keeps the story moving while borrowing heavily from other animated films, including "Zootopia" and "WALL-E."
 
Despite the dangers characters occasionally face and Angus' mildly intemperate language (he says things like "stupid bloody idiot!"), "Rock Dog" is mindless fare acceptable for all -- except possibly the most easily frightened.
 
The film contains a few scenes of peril.
 
The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
 
 

Book review: 'The Best is Yet to Come'

“The Best is Yet to Come: Living Fully in Each Moment.” By Sister Anne Bryan Smollin. Indiana: Sorin Books, 2016. 192 pages. Paperback: $15.95; Kindle: $10.99; Nook: $10.99.
 
Let’s talk about a number, and that number is 86,400.
 
This is how Sister of St. Joseph Anne Smollin begins her final book, “The Best is Yet to Come: Living Fully in Each Moment,” and it becomes clear very quickly that she has not chosen this number arbitrarily. In the first of many parables – this book is full of them -- Sister Smollin proposes this hypothetical situation: Suppose you win a contest and the prize is a bank account in your name. Each day, the bank deposits $86,400 into that account, and you are free to spend the money any way you want.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?
 
But there are a few rules you must abide by. The first is that you and only you can spend the money. Second, you can’t transfer any of the money to someone else’s account. And third, anything you don’t spend is taken away at the end of the day. At the beginning of the next day, the bank deposits a fresh $86,400 into your account for you to spend on that day and that day only. The final rule is that the bank can close your account at any time without warning, and you will not be issued a new one.
 
We all have such an account, Sister Smollin says; it’s called time, and 86,400 is the number of seconds, or moments, we are gifted with each day.  How we spend this gift is totally up to us; we can use it to live in love and joy or we can squander it on complaining and negativity. What Sister Smollin’s book does is show us, through humor, personal experience and stories just how to do the former.
 
As a counselor and educator, Sister Smollin spent her life helping people learn to use God’s gift of time to the fullest. Many of the anecdotes in this book are drawn from those people and experiences; quite a few of them take place in airports and on planes. (She was an international speaker and spent her share of time traveling.)  All of them are positive and affirming, and several are just plain funny – Sister Smollin obviously took great pleasure in conveying an important lesson by way of a good joke. And she is just as apt to let the joke be on her; she has that rare quality of taking her message seriously and herself lightly.
 
There are 27 chapters in this book, and each one is easily manageable in a sitting.  This does not mean, however, that what is written is trite. On the contrary, these seemingly simple stories tend to creep up on the reader until he or she is suddenly aware that what made them laugh (or cry) has also made them think.
 
Sister Smollin died unexpectedly though peacefully on Sept. 25, 2014, having just celebrated 50 years of religious life.  This book was published posthumously, and the foreword, written by her best friend Sister of St. Joseph Patricia A. St. John, stands as a testament to the authenticity of Sister Smollin’s life and her words. “We never know what another person is carrying in their heart: what sorrow, pain, discouragement, devastation,” Sister Smollin once told her friend. “Let’s always err on the side of kindness.”
 
This is ultimately both a kind and a wise book, one which shows us the way to live in God’s joy, every minute of every day.
 
Sister of St. Joseph Anne Bryan Smollin (1943– 2014) was an international lecturer on wellness and spirituality. An educator and therapist, she earned a doctorate in counseling psychology from Walden University in Florida and was executive director of the Counseling for Laity center in Albany, N.Y. She is also the author of “Tickle Your Soul” (Sorin Books, 1999), “God Knows You’re Stressed” (Sorin Books, 2001), and “Live, Laugh, and Be Blessed” (Sorin Books, 2006).
 

Movie review: 'The Lego Batman Movie'

In 2014's "The Lego Movie," Will Arnett voiced an amusingly self-absorbed version of Gotham City's Dark Knight. With the entertaining spinoff "The Lego Batman Movie" (Warner Bros.), Arnett's character, together with his inflated ego, takes center stage.
 
Despite occupying the spotlight, however, this time out, the Caped Crusader will have to learn some important lessons in humility, teamwork and emotional openness if he's going to meet his latest challenge. That's because his longtime adversary, the Joker (voice of Zach Galifianakis), is leading an army of bad guys in a bid to prove that he is Batman's most important enemy.
 
Just as the isolated, relationship-shunning hero insists on working alone to fight crime, so he slaps the Joker down when the Clown Prince of Crime puts himself forward as the Cowled One's indispensable foil.
 
"You're nothing to me," Batman growls in a scene that cleverly inverts a familiar trope, substituting the Joker's longing to be told he's hated for the more usual goal of exacting a declaration of love. Soon the spurned villain is scheming to destroy Gotham and thus bring his rivalry with Batman to a decisive close.
 
To vanquish him, Batman will have to accept the help of the trio of supporters who have rallied to his side: would-be adoptive son Dick Grayson, aka Robin (voice of Michael Cera), love interest Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl (voiced by Rosario Dawson), and father figure (as well as butler) Alfred Pennyworth (voice of Ralph Fiennes).
 
Still burdened by the loss of his parents -- their murder is only hinted at by a childhood photo taken at a moment aficionados of chiropteran lore will recognize as laden with doom -- Bruce Wayne, and therefore his alter ego, finds it difficult to make himself vulnerable again. It will take all of Robin's irrepressible good spirits and Alfred's patriarchal concern, as well as Barbara's head-turning effect on Batman, to break through his barriers.
 
Fast-paced fun is the order of the day in director Chris McKay's animated treat for viewers of almost every age. Still, scenes of danger and a bit of potty humor as well as a few joking turns of phrase designed for grownups suggest that small fry would best be left at home. The wide remaining audience will find the screen chockablock with good guys, black hats and monsters -- and the dialogue enlivened by sly wit.
 
The film contains perilous situations, including explosions, and a couple of instances each of vaguely crass language, scatological humor and mature wordplay. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
 
 
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