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Movie review: 'Annabelle: Creation'

Most of the mayhem wreaked by the figurine-haunting demon at the center of the horror prequel "Annabelle: Creation" (Warner Bros.) is restrained. Yet, as the film progresses, director David F. Sandberg and his collaborators allow their imagery to become briefly but disturbingly graphic.
 
Accordingly, only those grown moviegoers willing to brave flashes of intense gore should say hello to this particular dolly.
 
This also is not a good fit for those insistent on strict logic or those who expect the characters on screen to behave rationally. As for Catholic viewers, they will likely be both annoyed and distracted by the wildly inaccurate, albeit incidental, portrayal of their faith incorporated into the proceedings.
 
In 1950s California, a group of female orphans shepherded by kindly nun Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) have somehow -- by circumstances not specified in returning screenwriter Gary Dauberman's script -- been displaced from their former dwelling. They've been offered refuge, of a sort, at the rambling, spooky home of dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his invalid wife, Esther (Miranda Otto).
 
The Mullins are still overcome by grief following the death of their young daughter, Bee (Samara Lee), in a tragic car accident a dozen years before. So their hospitality is extended in an effort to brighten the tone of their funereal household. The outcome, of course, is quite the opposite.
 
No sooner has polio-afflicted Janice (Talitha Bateman) been warned by her brooding host to steer clear of Bee's perpetually locked bedroom than she somehow finds herself inside that very chamber, mucking about and stirring up trouble.
Discovering a hidden key to the closet in which the toy of the title has until now been confined, Janice unleashes her, much in the manner of Pandora opening her ill-fated box. Cue a reign of terror for nosy Janice, her BFF, Linda (Lulu Wilson), and the rest.
 
Darwin has clearly had no place in these girls' education. No matter how hair-raising the terrors to which Annabelle and her guiding fiend subject them, they always move toward danger, never away from it. Even allowing for youthful curiosity, this stubborn refusal to learn from experience becomes a tiresome trait.
Even more taxing, however, is a scene in which Sister Charlotte hears Janice's confession of her disastrous trespass, not in the context of a confidential conversation but in what is clearly meant to be a formal sacramental encounter.
 
Thus Janice kicks things off by requesting, "Bless me, Sister, for I have sinned," and Sister Charlotte wraps things up by imposing a penance, though no absolution intervenes.
 
The fact that only bishops and priests can administer the sacrament of reconciliation is hardly a bit of inside-baseball religious arcana. And the mistake is all the more glaring in a movie that clearly wants to position itself, in some vague way at least, as faith-friendly. Equally out of place in that proposed context is the counter-scriptural concept that infernal beings can somehow "steal" human souls.
 
There are some old-fashioned shivers awaiting the restricted audience for which this follow-up to the 2014 original -- itself a spinoff of "The Conjuring" franchise -- can be labeled appropriate. But lapses in reason, believability and even the most rudimentary knowledge of Catholicism may inspire more frowns than frissons.
 
The film contains a distorted presentation of Catholic faith practices, mostly stylized but briefly very bloody violence, numerous gruesome images and at last one mild oath. 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 R – restricted, under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
 
 

Book review: 'Things My Father Taught Me about Love'

By Lois Rogers
 
In her small book, “Things My Father Taught Me about Love,” author, editor and educator Mary Regina Morrell offers a bouquet of insights on faith, spirituality and family life gleaned from her own garden.
 
Brushed with humor, tenderness and a sense of reverence for the way small and meaningful moments can illuminate life, Morrell’s 54-page book opens the door to her world and bids readers come inside and experience the spiritual gifts of her loving father.
 
Over the years, she has shared these lessons with readers of her award-winning, syndicated column, “Things My Father Taught Me,” which weaves together insights drawn from life as daughter, wife, mother of six and friend to many.
 
In what she calls “just a snippet of our lives, a whirlwind of blessing and loss, joy and heartbreak, grief, frustration and accomplishment,” Morrell gifts us with endearing glimpses into her own life and a reflection of our own.
 
She begins with a simple litany of these gifts which run the gamut from doing good and loving well to laughing often as we embrace the mystery of God.
 
Traveling with her in the all-too-brief pages, we see the possibilities that emerge as “life unfolds while we are not looking.”
 
The landscape Morrell creates winds through the garden nurtured by her father which, in turn, inspired her boundless ability to marvel at God’s creation.
 
It surfaces in a pond full of koi where, leaning over to view the aquatic parade, her own reflection in the water brings to mind the myth of Narcissus – the Greek youth in love with his own image. She notes presciently how this ancient and sometimes fatal character flaw seems sadly to be “flourishing in this day and age.”
 
It’s a vision that ranges from pathos – Morrell writes movingly of the deaths of her parents – to the joy experienced when the ordinary suddenly becomes  extraordinary; the immeasurable gratitude of a friend, for instance, when one of her six sons bestows upon him a huge container of cannoli cream rescued from the shore bakery where he worked as it closed for the winter.
Morrell’s fluid and approachable style is, in itself, a gift to readers. She’s able to weave a considerable body of knowledge into a book filled with basics that everyone can savor.
 
In demand as a speaker and catechetical consultant, she begins each entry with a quote, drawing mostly from Scripture, the saints or Catholic apologists including G.K. Chesterton and Thomas Hardy.
 
Opportunities to pause and enter into prayer and reflection with excerpts from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, provide welcome respite in these troubled times.
 
Rabbi Irwin Kula, author of “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred the Messiness of Life,” captured the essence of this book in his endorsement: “If you want to find God, know love and truly understand these are the same, read this beautiful book. But be prepared to have your heart opened up, to laugh and to cry, to take many deep breaths of awe and wonder and to shout out to the Heavens and to the people in your life, ‘Thank You! Hallelujah!’ What a perfect dose of grace this book is for people of all backgrounds.”
 
“Things My Father Taught Me,” with cover designed by Clara Baumann, is available on Amazon as an e-book.
 
Lois M. Rogers is a long-time journalist and creator of “Keeping the Feast,” an award winning blog on food, faith and family.
 
Mary Morrell is a life-long writer who has served as associate director of religious education in the Diocese of Metuchen; assistant editor and catechetical consultant for RENEW International; managing editor of The Monitor, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton, and is author of Angels in High Top Sneakers, Loyola Press. She may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 

 
 

Movie review: 'The Emoji Movie'

Tech savvy viewers will especially enjoy the wacky proceedings of "The Emoji Movie" (Columbia). But patrons of all stripes will appreciate the film's themes of loyal friendship and faithful romance.
 
Set within the smartphone of high school freshman Alex (voice of Jake T. Austin), this lighthearted animated comedy tracks the adventures of a trio of misfits on their quest to reach the internet Cloud.
 
Gene (voice of T.J. Miller) is a "Meh" icon meant to express only indifference. But the first time Alex makes use of him, the native enthusiasm of his personality, together with nervousness at making his professional debut, causes him to register a strange mix of emotions instead of the bland apathy he was supposed to convey.
 
This malfunction immediately makes Gene an outcast and draws the ire of the chief emoji, maniacally cheerful Smiler (voice of Maya Rudolph). She condemns Gene to be deleted. So he goes on the run and joins forces with upbeat hand symbol Hi-5 (voiced by James Corden) and rebellious codebreaker Jailbreak (voice of Anna Faris).
 
Once one of Alex's favorites, Hi-5 has fallen into disuse and longs to regain his former popularity. Jailbreak resents the regulated life she is forced to lead on the phone and hopes to enjoy much greater freedom by transferring herself permanently to the Cloud.
 
As the three newfound friends bond, and something more than friendship blossoms between Gene and Jailbreak, the challenges of their journey force them to prove their mutual devotion. Messages about teamwork and putting the interests of others ahead of your own goals balance the emphasis on Gene's right to break the mold and be himself.
 
The presence of a minor character named Poop -- voiced, amusingly, by no less a personage than Sir Patrick Stewart -- typifies the predictable potty humor running through director and co-writer Tony Leondis' script, penned with Eric Siegel and Mike White. Together with episodes of peril, these jokes may make "The Emoji Movie" a less than ideal choice for the youngest film fans.
 
The feature is preceded by an eccentric, enjoyable short called "Puppy!" which involves a young lad, a giant, disruptive dog named Tinkles and the boy's indulgent grandfather -- who just happens to be Count Dracula.
 
The film contains characters in jeopardy, mild scatological humor, a suppressed crude expression and a slightly 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: 'Dunkirk'

“Wars are not won by evacuations," British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously observed. As writer-director Christopher Nolan's compelling historical drama "Dunkirk" (Warner Bros.) demonstrates, however, fine films can be made about them.
 
May and June 1940 were indeed, in Mel Brooks' sarcastic phrase, "Springtime for Hitler." Using blitzkrieg tactics and a surprise attack through the supposedly impassible Ardennes Forest, his forces rapidly defeated and encircled the British Expeditionary Force and its French allies. Eventually hundreds of thousands of troops were left trapped in a small pocket centered on the English Channel port of the title.
 
Though the Fuhrer called a halt on the land assault and assigned the Luftwaffe the task of finishing off the Allies from the air, the prospects for Britain remained dire. Were the vast bulk of its army to be taken prisoner in France, the outlook for defending against a Nazi invasion of Britain itself would be virtually hopeless.
 
In picking up the story at this point, Nolan takes an Everyman's view of the situation. Dividing the action into events on land, sea and air, he apportions story lines among an ensemble cast, with sometimes confusing and dramatically diffuse results.
 
Representing the cornered forces on the beach is a trio of ordinary soldiers, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) and Alex (Harry Styles). Among the few officers portrayed in the film are the senior naval representative on the scene, Cmdr. Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and his army counterpart, Col. Winnant (James D'Arcy).
 
Embodying the many hundreds of British seafaring civilians who answered the call for fishing and pleasure craft to join in the rescue is small yacht owner Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance). Dawson is accompanied by his teen son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and by Peter's equally youthful friend, George (Barry Keoghan).
 
In the middle of the channel, they rescue an unnamed soldier, played by Cillian Murphy, whose shell-shocked condition and frantic determination not to return, however temporarily, to Dunkirk pose a fresh and distracting challenge for them, with ultimately grim results.
 
Up in the skies, a duo of RAF Spitfire pilots -- Collins (Jack Lowden) and his higher-ranking comrade, Farrier (Tom Hardy) -- battle the German fighters and bombers seeking to wreak havoc on both the hapless soldiers and the shipping below.
 
The perils of the desperate, against-the-odds operation are fully exploited for dramatic tension, with near-death experiences awaiting almost every character. The measures resorted to by some of them in their efforts to survive seem questionable -- at least as viewed from a comfortable theater seat.
 
Yet these ethical lapses are balanced by a general sense of heroic pluck and by incidents in which humane justice and generosity of spirit are upheld. The altruism motivating Dawson and others to risk life and limb for the sake of strangers also elevates the moral tone.
 
While "Dunkirk" is not for the fainthearted of any age, the movie's educational value and relative freedom from objectionable content makes it probably acceptable for older teens.
 
The film contains intense, stylized combat violence, brief gore, a couple of uses of profanity and at least one instance each of rough, crude and crass language.
 
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: 'Despicable Me 3'

Director Pierre Coffin's animated comedy "Despicable Me 3" (Universal) -- the second direct follow-up to the 2010 original -- turns out to be something of a disappointment, falling short when compared to its predecessors.
 
There is good news about the film, though, because its weak central plot is offset not only by amusing side stories but by strong values as well.
 
This time out, Gru (voice of Steve Carell), the once slightly wicked villain who turned good guy over the course of the first two films, is up against an unlikely opponent. Balthazar Bratt -- an ex-child actor whose 1980s TV show, "Evil Bratt," was abruptly canceled when his voice began cracking and he developed acne -- is out to wreak delayed vengeance by destroying Hollywood.
 
As Gru battles to thwart this plan, he also discovers that he has a brother named Dru (also voiced by Carell) that his unnamed mother (voice of Julie Andrews) never told him about. Predictably, the siblings quickly bond, though Dru tries to convince Gru to return to the dark side, citing their father's career as a criminal as precedent for a family tradition.
 
Along with the newfound brothers' mutual affection, clan closeness is celebrated through scenes of Gru's interaction with his supportive wife and crime-fighting partner, Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig), and their shared nurturing of their trio of adopted daughters, Margo (voice of Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (voice of Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel).
 
Jokes riffing on Reagan-era fads and fashions -- shoulder pads and the like -- generally fall flat. But Agnes' determination to find and take in a live unicorn -- and Gru's reluctance to tell her the truth about her favorite creatures -- are endearing. So too is her bedtime prayer on the subject.
 
Additionally, the pixilated minions (voiced by director Pierre Coffin) who once carried out Gru's bidding -- and who featured in their own 2015 film -- are on hand to get things back on track.
 
The references to puberty involved in Bratt's show biz downfall might provoke some uncomfortable questions from young children. Beyond that, Gru winds up in an embarrassing state of undress at one point and there's some bathroom and body-parts humor.
 
Since there's also some danger portrayed along the way, parents of the smallest, most easily scared tykes may not find this a good cinematic choice. For everyone else, it makes acceptable if not outstanding summer entertainment.
 
The film contains characters in peril, brief partial nudity played for laughs, mild scatological and anatomical humor and a couple of vaguely crass slang terms.
 
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.
 
 

Book Review: 'The 15-Minute Prayer Solution'

"The 15-Minute Prayer Solution: How One Percent of Your Day Can Transform Your Life.” By Gary Jansen. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2015. 195 pages. Paperback:  $12.95; Kindle: $9.62; Nook: $10.99.
 
St. Philip Neri, who died in 1595, was known for two important things – his holiness and his humor. In contrast to what St. Teresa of Avila quipped about “sour-faced saints,” Philip Neri often won hearts and converts with his both pleasing personality and a good joke. So it was this particular saint that I thought of when I read Gary Jansen’s book, “The 15-Minute Prayer Solution: How One Percent of Your Day Can Transform Your Life,” because he too, has the gift of combining solid spirituality with great good humor.
 
He is also a gifted storyteller, and one of the most honest stories he relates is his own. It begins in his childhood when, as he says, “There was God talk all around me – at home, at school, at church and even in dreams. … Everyone else seemed to know God. He was well liked. … Still, for whatever reason, I just didn’t feel a connection to God, who was supposedly so important in our lives.” Interestingly, it was an encounter with a white rabbit in the woods when he was 12 (yes, God does work in mysterious ways) that got him seriously involved in prayer and ultimately changed his life.
 
What he discovered is that even 15 minutes a day of true prayer – not, he says, “the half-hearted, going through the motions” type of prayer or the “jabbering, making-deals-with-the-Almighty kind of praying” but “serious, formal prayer,” led him to finally “glimpse the eyes of God. … What I realize now was that I had been suffering from a form of spiritual anorexia,” he explains. “Even though I had grown up with religion all around me— and it was just about everywhere I went— I hadn’t let it enter into me.”
 
Hoping that his book will be like “a good pair of walking shoes” on the journey toward authentic prayer, Jansen begins by explaining what a spiritual exercise is:  “any practice that draws you closer to an experience of union with the divine.” Such practices can take the form of prayer, meditation or contemplation, but all of them share one surprising characteristic not normally associated with our relationship with God. “In many ways spiritual exercises are like courting a beloved,” Jansen says.  “You have this desire, this yearning for another, and you suffer this gravitational pull to do something…doing a spiritual exercise is like going on a date with God.”
 
In subsequent chapters he discusses souls and how they need to be nurtured, what he discovered about the real meaning of faith and mustard seeds, and why so many well-meaning Christians have ended up being lukewarm instead of alive with the Spirit (something, by the way, that Pope Francis has spoken about repeatedly.)  He explains the difference between prayer, mediation and contemplation and that the object of it all is to move us into a place of being perpetually present to God.
 
The balance of the book might be termed the “how to” part – how to enter into prayer, meditation and contemplation and what to expect and not expect from each.  He speaks about using one’s imagination, especially when reading Scripture, so that “conversion, a movement toward God, happens when the words become flesh to us.”  He guides the reader through such traditional practices as Lectio Divina and the Examen as well as praying with the parables, the Jesus Prayer and Centering Prayer.
 
But as rich as the entire book is, it is the Coda at the end that I found to be the best and most moving part of all and the most profound explanation of what God always intended prayer to be.
 
Short but powerful, this book is highly recommended.
 
Gary Jansen is senior editor of religion and spirituality at the Crown Publishing Group at Penguin Random House. Author of “The Rosary: A Journey to the Beloved,” his work has been featured in the Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches and USA Today.  He has also appeared on A& E, the Travel Channel, CNN.com and NPR. Jansen, who lives in New York with his wife and two sons, is currently working on a new book, “A Supernatural History of the World.”
 
 
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Movie review: 'Cars 3'

Fasten your seatbelts and start your engines for a wild (and often ear-splitting) ride in "Cars 3" (Disney), the latest installment of the family-friendly animated franchise.
 
Six years after the initial sequel and 11 since the series began with "Cars," the anthropomorphic autos are back with a vengeance. Director Brian Fee ramps up the racing action (and the roar of the engines) while introducing a fleet of new characters sure to please young viewers -- not to mention toy manufacturers.
 
Happily, there's much more than the dizzying blur of NASCAR-like action.
 
Screenwriters Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich inject a nice amount of heart and pathos into the comedic plot and add winning messages about second chances and the value of mentoring.
 
The years have been kind to ace racer Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson). He's still at the top of his game. But just over his shoulder is a new generation of faster vehicles, like the brash rookie Jackson Storm (voice of Armie Hammer).
 
"Enjoy your retirement," Jackson tells Lightning as he whizzes past.
 
In a flash, Lightning is sidelined by an accident. Disillusioned and depressed, he retreats to his adopted home of Radiator Springs. There he draws on the support of his loyal tow-truck sidekick, Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy), and comely Porsche sweetheart, Sally (voice of Bonnie Hunt).
 
Sally knows Lightning must look to the future. "Don't fear failure," she insists. "Take a chance. Try something new."
 
A spiffy fresh paint job by Ramone (voice of Cheech Marin) helps. "It's so beautiful," Ramone says of his own work, "it's like the Sistine Chapel!"
 
With his spirits buoyed, Lightning heads to the training center run by his sponsor, Rust-Eze, and its new owner, the "businesscar" Sterling (voice of Nathan Fillion). His eager young coach, Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo), is thrilled with her new, if elderly, charge.
 
"You're my senior project!" she gushes.
 
As the bond between veteran racer and rookie wannabe grows, Lightning recalls the wisdom of his dearly departed mentor, Doc Hudson (voice of Paul Newman). On a whim, he takes Cruz on a road trip to find Doc's original trainer -- a grizzled '51 Ford named Smokey (voice of Chris Cooper) -- to recapture some of the old magic.
 
"You'll never be the racer you once were," Smokey intones. "You can't turn back the clock, kid, but you can wind it up again."
 
"Cars 3" is full of surprises, and there's a nice twist in store well before the finish line.
 
The film contains a brief, highly stylized crash scene.
 
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: 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.
 
 
 
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