How Do You Solve a Problem like Cecilia?: Saint Cecilia

This Saints post exists because I owe Saint Cecilia a favor.  First, here’s some backstory:
Last weekend, I was on a LifeTeen retreat (not as a teen, of course.  I’m a Core member).  On Friday my throat felt scratchy and by “lights out” time, my voice was heading down the drain.  All day Saturday, I had a raspy, chain-smoker voice and it hurt to talk.  As luck would have it, I had to give a teaching on authentic prayer.  Normally Saint Blaise is an obvious person to go to for throat trouble because that’s his patronage, but then Saint Cecilia, patroness of music, came to mind.  I said, “Okay, Cecilia, if you can help me deliver my talk in the exact way that I had practiced it, I will bump you up in my posting schedule and you will be the next CGB Saints post.”

I delivered my talk without forgetting a single word.  Remember when I said that it hurt to talk?  As I gave my teaching, my throat felt just fine.

The hills are alive with the sound of Cecilia!
The hills are alive with the sound of Cecilia!

Saint Cecilia has the typical 2nd century A.D. Roman girl backstory; she was born into a wealthy family.  They were all Christians, but she had been betrothed to Valerian, a Pagan man who had a brother named Tibertius, who will be important later, so remember him.  Anyway, between this and my Saint Lucy post, you have figured out by now that in those days, love was not a central ingredient to marriage.  It takes two prominent families to get their younglings to tango.

Of course, Cecilia had promised God that she would be His bride, consecrating her virginity to Him alone.  Instead of adorning herself in the fine dresses and jewels that her family could afford, a sackcloth was her clothing of choice.
Cecilia and Valerian were married and so began the wedding night.  I’m just gonna paraphrase how I think their conversation went:

CECILIA: Honey, I know I’m your wife now and I have to fulfill my duty to you, BUT…I consecrated my virginity to God and because of that, my guardian angel will be standing guard to protect my purity.
VALERIAN: Uh…all right, prove it.  I want to see the angel.
CECILIA: Tell you what; you go visit Pope Urban and get yourself baptized.  When you get back, you will see my angel.
VALERIAN: Well, it is fashionable to see the Holy Father and such a visit could benefit our families, so why not?

I came so close to referring “the angel of music” from Phantom of the Opera as I was typing this.

Valerian visited Pope Urban and was baptized.  When he returned, his jaw hit the floor.  A magnificent angel was standing alongside his new wife while she played the piano.
I’m just gonna go ahead and sing this: “Then I saw her face.  Now I’m a believer!  Without a trace or doubt in my mind…I’m a believer, I couldn’t leave her if I tried!”
The angel had two crowns, one for Cecilia and the other for Valerian.  The crowns were placed on the heads of husband and wife.

Earlier I told you to remember Valerian’s brother Tibertius.  That’s because Tibertius also became a believer once he saw the crowns on Cecilia and Valerian’s heads.  Two is plenty, but three’s a crowd.

Now in their day, Christians were being martyred left and right.  The prefect of their city had a serious case of bloodlust; not only were Christians were being killed off faster than a Game of Thrones character, but their bodies were left on the streets as a warning to Roman citizens.  Valerian and Tibertius were persuaded by Cecilia to bury the martyrs.  When onlookers would approach them, the brothers would direct them to Valerian’s home, where Cecilia would tell them about Jesus Christ.  A woman in love with Jesus, her eloquence and compassion for nonbelievers brought visitors to their knees as they converted to Christianity.

There is no exact timeline of when shiz went down, but we do know that the prefect of the city put a stop to Valerian and Tibertius’ martyr-burial operation.  The brothers were captured, brought before the prefect, and joined the dead.

Preparing her home to be a church, Cecilia turned around when she heard the door open, thinking it was her husband and brother-in-law.  Her smile left her face when Roman soldiers stood at her door.  She took a breath, entrusting her fate to God.

Standing before the prefect as Valerian and Tibertius had, Cecilia was ordered to be executed by suffocation in the bathhouse.  Thrown into the bathhouse, she was locked inside and the flames arose, whipping at her skin and hair.  The guards waited for the agonizing screams of the woman caged in the inferno.
They didn’t hear a peep from her.
Then the fires were cooled, the doors unlocked and reopened; Cecilia stood very much alive.

His mind blown from this incident, the prefect ordered her to be beheaded.  The executioner approached her, armed with a sword that promised to impale flesh and bone.
The first strike hit her neck, but was ineffective.
The second strike cut through skin and nothing else.
The third strike caught the jugular, but her vocal cords remained.
He ran away after the third blow.

Mortally wounded, Cecilia was left to die in a cell.  She was in dire pain, but continued to preach the Gospel as blood flowed down from her maimed neck, soaked up by the sponges and cloths of those who came to hear her speak.  She used her final breath to share the Good News.

Saint Cecilia, pray for us.

CGB Review of Minions

BANANA!
How else am I supposed to start one of my most delayed reviews on CGB?

This is my review of Minions!

Banana!
Banana!

I’m not kidding when I say that this review is long overdue.  I think I’ve posted three times promising that I would see and review this movie.  Special thanks to my good friend and CGB follower “M.P.” for getting me to the local theater to see it.

Anyway, Minions is a prequel to Despicable Me and it tells the origin story of those little yellow guys who are always following Gru around.  Apparently in the time before Gru (it’s actually called B.G. as opposed to B.C.), the minions spent their days trying to find an evil leader to serve.  They pursued the T-Rex, Dracula, the pharaohs of Egypt, etc., but most of their prospective masters ended up kicking the bucket.  Three minions named Kevin, Stuart and Bob embark on a Moses-style quest to save their kin by finding a baddie to serve (I say Moses style cause it reminded me of Moses wandering to the desert only to end up coming back with the Ten Commandments).

It’s not as innovative as Inside Out, but this movie is ten times better than the last animated movie I reviewed “Pup,” which had no concept of what a sheepdog is.  The animation in Minions is PDG; pretty darn good.  The angles and fast-paced energy allows the witty banter and comedic movements to look and feel natural rather than stilted.  Throughout the entire film, Kevin, Bob and Stuart speak their own language with French accents and no subtitles.  This can be a risky move, but the filmmakers were wise to use body movement, facial expressions and even changing the pitch of their voice to develop their characters.  In fact, having the minions not speak English sort of added to their bizzare personas.  It gave them a separate identity from the English-speaking characters.

It’s obvious that all the actors, especially Sandra Bullock as Scarlet Overkill are having the time of their lives voicing these characters.  I really love Scarlet Overkill, mostly because I have a soft spot for comedic villains.  I found her relationship with her equally-baddie husband Herb to be oddly endearing.  A bad screenwriter would have had him be just the hopelessly-in-love wimpy husband, but these writers know what they’re doing and gave Herb as much character as they gave to Scarlet.  Like George and Serena Pemberton in “Serena,” Scarlet and Herb are equally intelligent and sinister.

If I do have one issue with Minions, it’s that because the Minions start out as single cell organisms that come into being and automatically form personalities because banana…and potatoes….there are a lot of questions surrounding the Minion culture.   Are there any female Minions?  Is the tribe of Kevin, Stuart and Bob the only Minion tribe or is there another group of Minions somewhere else in the world?  Who named the Minions? I get it, it’s a kids movie, but even LEGO Movie and Inside Out covered enough ground with their world-building.

Final verdict: Minions is a surprisingly witty and clever comedy that can be enjoyed by anyone from a 6-year old to a 60-year old.  I’m glad that “M.P.” got me to finally see the film and I just might be picking up a copy of Despicable Me 1 & 2 just to see these little guys again.

Retro Reviews: The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Am I the only person who actually likes Joel Schumacher’s interpretation of Phantom of the Opera?
I guess I’ll just have to review, wait and see…

This is my review of The Phantom of the Opera!

The Phantom of the Opera is there...inside your mind!
The Phantom of the Opera is there…inside your mind!

The Phantom of the Opera tells the story of a Swedish chorus girl named Christine Daae (pronounced as DIE-EH) who lands the lead role in an opera.  Unbeknownst to anyone else, she has been coached from afar by her “Angel of Music,” who turns out to be a disfigured composer only known as the Phantom.

The Hits
The first half of the film is amazing!  I have always been fascinated by the toxic relationship between Christine and the Phantom.  There’s so much sexual tension without them getting physical.  I think that a relationship that is physically chaste yet emotionally sexual is far more compelling than an explicit sex scene.  Christine is both enamoured with and intimidated by her “Angel of Music.”  The Phantom has a possessive grip on her even when he’s not in the room.  Even if he has his hand on her shoulder or his arm around her waist, there’s a prevailing sense of his dominance and power over her.   I’ve always felt that the most dangerous villain is the villain who the protagonist needs.  Christine needs his instruction to be a better singer.
I really appreciate that the relationship is emotionally abusive and portrayed negatively unlike a more recent film that was based on a certain Twilight fan fiction.  Anyway, there’s a misconception, especially in film and television, that abuse is only physical.  Emotional and psychological abuse are silent forms of violence, like a toad in a pot of boiling water.
All of the actors give top-notch performances.  Emmy Rossum is sweet and sympathetic as Christine, Patrick Wilson brings the kind and passionate Raoul to life, and for the most part, Gerard Butler’s possessive, tormented Phantom is a great antihero.  All of the singing is high quality and professional…well, actually, almost all of the singing.  There is one actor who makes it obvious that he’s not musically trained and had only so much time to prepare…

The Misses
Gerard Butler’s singing…yeah.  Let me put it this way: He sounds great when he sings, “Night time sharpens, heightens each sensation.  Darkness stirs and wakes imagination…” But it’s when he sings “close your eyes and let your spirit start…to…SOAR!” that I rub my ears and say, “Oh, honey, high notes are not up your alley, are they?”  He does get better as the movie progresses, but once you know that he was the only non-musically-trained actor in the PotO cast and you hear him during the first couple of songs, it gets distracting.
The second half of the film is where the story gets formulaic.  Once Raoul steps into the picture…well, is it bad to say that I wish there was no love triangle between Christine, the Phantom and Raoul?   Christine and the Phantom alone make for a great character study of a parasitic semi-romance.  In my opinion, instead of throwing Raoul into the mix, how about have Christine come to realize on her own that she’s a great singer without the Phantom’s help?  Then have Phantom remind her, “I’m the one who made you the star that you are,” and build the story around this psychological conflict?   Christine’s journey could either lead to her breaking free and standing on her own two feet, or she sinks deeper into the depths of Phantom’s manipulation and waltzes with her master to a tragic end.

All that being said, I don’t hate Joel Schumacher’s 2004 version as much as some people do.  For what it is, I think it works.  I have the soundtrack to this film and I listen to it all the time because the music is great.  I like that Christine is younger in this version, and her interaction with the Phantom is riveting to watch.

Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us.

Christian Movie Reviews: Right to Believe

I don’t want to beat around the bush, so I’m just going to attach a disclaimer from both the CGB Facebook page and my personal profile:

My next review requires a disclaimer.
I will be posting my review of a Christian film called “Right to Believe.” It tells the story of a Christian journalist interviewing a gay man who is organizing an LBGT pride parade in their home town.
I will try to be as charitable to both Christian readers and LGBT readers as possible, but my motto is, “If I was interested in making friends, I wouldn’t blog.” Keep in mind that I am critiquing it as a film and nothing more.
The review will be up soon.

This is my review of Right to Believe!

#TruthwithLove
#TruthwithLove

After journalist Tony Morris is demoted when his high-profile article is discredited, he is assigned to cover a “community fluff piece,” which happens to be a gay pride parade.  Though reluctant, Tony takes the assignment and meets LGBT parade organizer Markus Fry.  The first interview goes smoothly, though it is interrupted when Markus gets a distressing phone call.  However things get complicated when, during the second interview, Markus calls out Tony when he sees how uncomfortable Tony acts around him [Markus].  From there, the next series of interviews are a rigorous discussion/debate between Tony and Markus on the topic of homosexuality and the Bible.

The Hits
In my new movie review notebook (my old one was starting to fall apart), the first thing I wrote down was, “how does this Christian film handle homosexuality?”  I am pleased to say that Right to Believe treats the topic with the best care that it can.  Markus Fry is not a gay stereotype; in fact when we first meet him, you don’t know what his sexual orientation is.  An approachable, mild-mannered man who happens to be gay, Markus is written as a character and not an agenda prop.  I could see myself meeting someone like him at Starbucks or a concert.  His homosexuality is an aspect of who he is, not the entirety of who he is.  The movie makes sure that there is more to him than his sexual preference.
The first half of the film is the strongest.  Tony’s situation is believable; after being demoted, he must take the fluff piece in order to keep his job and lay low.  Also Tony’s pride is the reason behind his hesitance to take the assignment.  This is a guy who does infamous murder trials and political scandals, so to be given a task that is mostly for newbie reporters is, in his eyes, beneath him.  His Christian faith adds to his resigned demeanor when approaching the assignment.  Also I would like to point out that the Christian character [Tony] is shown as being less virtuous than the non-believing character [Markus], which is shockingly rare in a lot of Christian films.  In fact, there are times where the script allows Markus to look more logical than Tony.  Overall Tony and Markus are presented in an honest and humanistic way, which is something to be appreciated.

The Misses
Every story has a formula, and how this type of story usually goes is that the two characters from opposing sides would start out forming a friendship or some form of acquaintanceship before tackling the controversial issues surrounding their identities.  Here, it’s an interviewer-interviewee relationship that jumps right into debate partner mode.  Their debate on the Bible and homosexuality is too rushed and could have use a smoother transition.
The actual debate plays out like a heated discussion you would see between two people talking at a café.  A LOT of the dialogue gets preachy and this criticism goes to both Tony and Markus.  Some of what Tony says about the Bible frustrated me, and Markus became unrealistically nasty from time to time.  Also I would have liked to have seen Tony meeting a friend or boyfriend of Markus, or even having Tony’s wife bump into Markus without Tony present; humanize the opposing characters to each other, show the complexities of their positions by having Tony see Markus happy with a boyfriend or vice versa.  Granted, that doesn’t mean that either man should recant his beliefs, but Christian filmmakers should keep in mind that adult issues are always complicated.
What really bothered me as a Catholic Christian is the “only belief in Jesus will get you to Heaven; good works have no say” rhetoric that Tony preaches.  I’m sorry, but I can’t let this go.  If you believe in Jesus, but your actions contradict His teachings, then that’s hypocrisy.  Saint Paul the Apostle says, “faith without work is dead.”

The final verdict is that Right to Believe handles homosexuality the best way it can.  It’s a noble attempt where even though the agenda gets in the way at times, the filmmakers never forgot to tell a story about two human beings.

Update: I have been corrected.  It wasn’t Paul the Apostle who said, “Faith without works is dead.”  Actually here is the real passage:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. “
–James 2:14-26

CGB Review of Ant Man

The following is an actual post on my personal Facebook page:

People of Facebook, I am in need. A huge task has fallen upon my small shoulders and it’s going to take more than the power of one to accomplish it…
I need you all to come up with jokes and puns for me to use in my CGB Ant Man review!  They have to involve shrinkage, small vs. big, uncles and aunts, being a “shrink” (therapist), any ant or aunt puns you can think of.
Just keep it clean and clever.
Now if you’ll excuse me…(puts on shrinking suit and runs off into the grand horizon).

My friends who did participate will be credited in this review using only their initials to protect their privacy.
This is my review of Ant Man!

“INCREDIBLE SCIENTIFIC POWER! …itty bitty living space.”
–J.S.

“Ant Man?  What, was Uncle-Man taken?” says R.L.  Alas, it is true; the titular character’s name is Ant Man, a small-scale hero taking on one big challenge.
Ant Man is, as said by J.L., “A small idea by Marvel, but made with big plans.”  It tells the story of Scott Lang, a savvy thief who just got done serving time in San Quentin for a robbery.  He is recruited by tech billionare Hank Pym and his daughter Hope.  Hank needs Scott to become the Ant Man and, I quote verbatim, “Break into some houses and steal shiz.”  The shiz in question is a shrinkage suit called the Yellow Jacket, which would be used in combat, but if made into copies and given to the masses, could spread chaos in its wake.  Scott, Hank and Hope have to steal the suit and destroy it in an orchestrated heist.

Witty banter is my favorite style of comedy, and Ant Man doesn’t disappoint.  Like Guardians of the Galaxy and the first Avengers movie, the humor in Ant Man is mostly dry, sarcastic banter between the characters.  Every joke is timed perfectly and the sarcasm is spot-on without becoming mean-spirited or unpleasant.  The movie is very self-aware and focuses on being a fun action comedy rather than going to dark-and-bruiting route.
This movie is particularly interested in the relationship between fathers and daughters, and this is displayed in the complex relationship between Hank and Hope Pym.  He doesn’t want to lose her, but fails to express this to her.  As a result, this makes her feel discounted and ignored by her own father.  The death of Mrs. Janice Pym haunts this fractured family.
Meanwhile, Scott’s motivations are driven by his love for his daughter Cassie.  In fact, interwoven into the film is a great message about rising above your past and being the best version of yourself.  Scott is reminded more than once to, “Be the hero Cassie already thinks you are.”  This is what pushes him to seek redemption and turn his life around so that he can be the knight in shining armor that his child deserves.

I only have two issues: For one, Darren Cross is not a compelling villain.  Actor Corel Stoll looks like he’s having the time of his life playing Darren Cross, but the actual character is not that intimidating.  He’s your typical evil corporate scumbag who wants to make millions and control the world and blah blah blah.
My second issue is that because this movie offers nothing new to the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), it’s fun but forgettable.   Granted, mindless action has its place, but it’s kind of sad when a film doesn’t stand out.

Overall Ant Man is a small-scale popcorn flick and a welcome addition to the highly-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Bad Animated Movies: CGB Review of Pup (2013)

So the dog character in this movie is described as a “sheepdog.”
Does this dog in the poster look remotely anything like a sheepdog to you?!
This is my review of Pup!

THAT'S NOT A FREAKING SHEEPDOG!
THAT’S NOT A FREAKING SHEEPDOG!

This garbage is the story of a lamb and a “sheepdog” who try to go to the moon while encountering a fashion designer wolf, Chinese spiders (I wish I was making that up) and other hijinks because…FLIPPIN’ POTATOES!  This autopilot script is so dull, so not-engaging that I had it playing on my laptop while I tidied my room.  Clearing off my desk was more entertaining than sitting through this flick.

The animation is awful.  They use the same curly design for the trees and sheep wool, the colors are bland and pasty, the animals range from mediocre to just plain ugly, and of course Kanuto the “sheepdog” looks nothing like a sheepdog!
Why does this get on my nerves?  Because THIS is a sheepdog:

My Old English sheepdog Sophie 11/10/99-5/11/15
My Old English sheepdog Sophie
11/10/99-5/11/15

I understand that the movie’s budget would make a pack of gum look expensive, but at the very least they could have tried to make Kanato resemble a sheepdog. Just slap some curly fur on his body, make him a Sheltie or a Polish lowland; do whatever you need to do.  There would be no problem if they just said “herding dog” or just “a dog.”  But if you label a dog character’s breed, then you’ve got to draw him/her that way.

Then again, no effort went into this horrid mess at all.  The voice acting is lifeless because every actor sounds like they’re either daydreaming or half-asleep…or both.  The jokes are dead on arrival, the “story” feels ad-libbed with no creativity, and the music…argh, the background music is just annoyingly ear-bleeding; there’s a scene where Kanuto is running to find Blackie and they have this bouncing sound effect accompaning his running.  I titled my head and said to myself, “Um, you do know he’s not hopping, right?” Then I remembered that the filmmakers didn’t care and I didn’t care, so I went back to organizing my bookshelf.

I’m just end this review with accurate pictures of the sheepdog family, which are more enjoyable to look at than this shizzy movie.

Belgian sheepdog
Belgian sheepdog
Polish lowland sheepdog
Polish lowland sheepdog
Shetland Sheepdogs (Sheltie)
Shetland Sheepdogs (Sheltie)

Pray with the Colors of the Wind: Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

Every time I hear someone say, “The Catholic Church is so sexist and prejudiced,” I always respond with, “You should come visit my church, Saint Kateri Parish. Our patron is a Native American woman who had a facial disfigurement and was even partially blind.”  The stunned silence that follows is priceless.

Now I can’t paint with all the colors of the wind, but I can tell you the story of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha!

Before Disney's Pocohantas, there was Kateri.
Before Disney’s Pocohantas, there was Kateri.

Okay, I know that this is a more glamorized depiction of her, but she really did have a scarred face and weak eyes.  Before I explain how that happened, let’s go back to the beginning.

Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in Auriesville, which today is known as upstate New York, so technically she is a New Yorker.  [DISCLAIMER: Get ready for some seriously hard-to-pronounce-words in 3…2…1] She was the daughter of a Mohawk chief and a woman named Tagaskouita, who was an Algonquin Christian.  In her day, small pox was the kiss of death.  If you had it, it was game over for you.  Only the most hardy souls survived, and among them was a four-year old girl.  When small pox wiped out her entire village, including her parents and younger brother, the little girl was adopted by her uncle, an Iroquois chief who was disgusted by her scarred face and poor vision.  As a result, he gave her the derogatory name Tekakwitha, which means, “she who bumps into things.”  The scars on her face made her less attractive to potential suitors, so her uncle felt the need to arrange a marriage for her at the tender age of eight.

In her day, Jesuit missionaries were frequent visitors to that territory due to their mission to convert the Native Americans to Christianity.  As a child, Tekakwitha often had exposure to the words of the humble yet passionate missionaries.  She was moved by the promise of Salvation, and in particular, the emphasis on God’s deep love for each human being.  “Even me,” she probably thought as an outcast in her own tribe.  This led her to open her heart to a God who would accept her when no one else would.  Keep in mind that her mother had been a Christian, so faith was weaved into her youngest memories.  It was the message of the missionaries that has reawakened the faith of her childhood.  Nature was where she felt closest to the Creator, for she would make a cross out of sticks and pray among the trees and woodland creatures.  However she couldn’t be baptized just yet because, well…

In 1666, the Mohawk’s strongholds on the south bank were demolished by a group of French soliders and hostile Natives from Canada.  Tekakwitha and the remaining Mohawks crossed over the north side of the river and sought refuge in a village called Fonda where, at the age of 18, Tekakwitha was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church in secret and took the name Catherine, also known as Kateri.

There was just one major problem: Her uncle was not only repulsed by her, but like Professor Radisson in “God’s Not Dead,” he loathed Christianity.  So when he learned that his niece had become a Christian, he only accepted her decision under the condition that Kateri never leave their tribe.  The Iroquois people may have tolerated her facial disfigurement and blindness before, but now that she was a Christian, the gloves were off and she was made a pariah.  Public ridicule, scornful neighbors, false accusations; Kateri was at the center of the mob mentality.  Yet she never caved or recanted her faith in Jesus.  If anything, the rejection and hate from others only made her stronger.  It assured her that she was on the side of Truth.

Two years after her baptism, Kateri was forced to flee after her life was threatened. She escaped to the Mission of St. Francis Xavier in Caughnawaga, Canada, where she lived with fellow Natives who had converted to Christianity.  She spent the last years of her life here, where she dedicated her days to prayer, self-mortification and acts of charity.   On April 17, 1680, twenty-four year old Kateri Tekakwitha drew her last breath after suffering from a grave illness.  Upon the entrance of her soul into Heaven, the scars on her face faded away, revealing the true beauty of who she was.

On October 21, 2012, Kateri was canonized after prayers to her miraculously healed Jake Finkbonner, whose life had been on the line due to a flesh-eating virus.  She became the first Native American to be declared a Saint.

I think that certainty was Kateri’s defining characteristic.  She was certain that Jesus is Truth.  She was certain that her countercultural faith was worth the scorn of her tribe.  Christianity had empowered her to remove the blanket from her scarred face and shine with the Light of Christ for all to see.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, patroness of my home parish and of Catholic Girl Bloggin’, pray for us.