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Catholic Movie Review - The Hunger Games

NEW YORK - Though presumably targeted -- at least in part -- at teens, the dystopian adventure "The Hunger Games" (Lionsgate) involves enough problematic content to give parents pause. Responsible oldsters will want to weigh the matter carefully before giving permission for clamoring kids to attend.

At first glance, the depressing futuristic premise of the piece -- inherited from Suzanne Collins' best-selling trilogy of novels, on the first volume of which the film is based -- makes it seem unlikely fare for a youthful audience.

In a post-apocalyptic North America, have-not youngsters from oppressed outlying districts are chosen at random to participate in the titular event, a televised survival tournament staged each year for the entertainment of the decadent elite who populate their society's luxurious capital city.

Chesterton gives us best understanding of Dickens

As the English-speaking world celebrates the bicentennial of Charles Dickens’ birth — according him a crown second only to William Shakespeare’s for sheer fecundity in the service of literary genius — we should also acknowledge how our understanding of Dickens was framed by the great Catholic writer and apologist G.K. Chesterton.

His acclaimed biography of Dickens was published in 1906 when Chesterton was 32. Today a literary biography usually includes a fair amount of material recounting its subject’s life. That was not the tradition a century ago, when biographical detail was lightly sketched and most attention paid to a writer’s books. It might be more accurate to call Chesterton’s biography a critical study, though even that term would mislead, suggesting as it does a level of objective detachment which the ever-exuberant Chesterton never displayed. It might be truest to call it a celebration.

The value of all of Chesterton’s biographies, particularly his Dickens, wasn’t so much their biographical veracity — the strokes were much too broad and even reckless for that — as Chesterton’s uncanny ability to isolate and magnify important truths about his subjects’ writing and thinking that no one had identified before. 

Early on in the book — and writing at a time when not so much was known about Dickens’ appalling treatment of his wife or the tetchiness of his relations with his publishers and professional colleagues — Chesterton makes a situation from Dickens’ infancy serve as a kind of template for his life. Commenting on how Dickens’ father would get the boy to sing for his elders, Chesterton writes:

“Some of the earliest glimpses we have of Charles Dickens show him to us perched on some chair or table singing comic songs in an atmosphere of perpetual applause. So, almost as soon as he can toddle, he steps into the glare of the footlights. He never stepped out of it until he died . . . Dickens had all his life the faults of the little boy who is kept up too late at night
. . . . In all the practical relations of his life he was what the child is in the last hours of an evening party, genuinely delighted, genuinely delightful, genuinely affectionate and happy, and yet in some strange way fundamentally exasperated and dangerously close to tears.”

Chesterton’s book appeared 36 years after Dicken’s death in 1870 at the age of 58, so the gap between their lifetimes was not unfathomably large. It would be like someone writing today about J.R.R. Tolkien or P.G. Wodehouse. Though Chesterton was born four years after Dickens’ death, in most ways they occupied the same world. Chesterton wrote at a time before Dickens was regarded as a classic writer.

The cultural overlords of the time tended to sneer at Dickens as today’s academic and critical writers reflexively dismiss a novelist who cranks out bestsellers a little too quickly. In the years between Dickens’ death and Chesterton’s book, the literary fashions of realism and expressionism led to criticism that Dickens’ world view was un-lifelike, that the perils his characters faced were exaggerated and their outcomes overly optimistic.

Chesterton argued that, of course, Dickens exaggerated, but like any self-respecting artist he only did so “when he found a truth to exaggerate. It is a deadly error (an error at the back of much of the false placidity of our politics) to suppose that lies are told with excess and luxuriance, and truths told with modesty and restraint. Some of the most frantic lies on the face of life are told with modesty and restraint; for the simple reason that only modesty and restraint will save them. . . . Truth alone can be exaggerated; nothing else can stand the strain.”

Chesterton believed Dickens achieved a rare and mystical balance in his books that awakened a drive for social reform. He makes the salient point that “this happy dreamer, this vulgar optimist
. . .  alone of modern writers did really destroy some of the wrongs he hated and bring about some of the reforms he desired. Dickens did help to pull down the debtors’ prisons. . . Dickens did leave his mark on parochialism, on nursing, on funerals, on public executions, on workhouses, on the Court of Chancery. . . If Dickens was an optimist he was an uncommonly active and useful kind of optimist.”

Chesterton’s biography of Dickens was an enormous commercial and critical success which, one typical review said, “marks the definite entry of its author into the serious walks of literature.” The book not only established Chesterton, it re-established Dickens as marked by the publication the very next year of the Everyman editions of Dickens’ entire oeuvre, with specially commissioned introductions by Chesterton to all two dozen volumes.

(Goodden is a freelance writer in London, Ont.)

Catholic Movie Reviews - Message of pro-life 'October Baby' film hits close to home for one of its stars

WASHINGTON - Actress Shari Rigby sat right across from her interviewer, her legs crossed. On the instep of her right foot was a tattoo of a flower. She was asked what it was.

"Her name would have been Lily," Rigby answered, "and so that's there to remind me."

She was talking about the baby she had aborted 20 years ago.

Bite the dust: Vatican Museums employ old-fashioned way to preserve art

VATICAN CITY - To counteract the onslaught of 20,000 visitors a day -- upward of 5 million a year -- the Vatican Museums have adopted an old-fashioned method to help protect its priceless works of art: dusting.

Current best practices for the preservation of museum pieces entail preventing or hindering problems from developing in the first place, Antonio Paolucci, director of the museums, said at a March 15 conference.

So-called preventative conservation includes high-tech solutions like climate control, protective displays and lighting systems that keep delicate colors and media from damage and deterioration, he said.

But the most overlooked -- and yet, best -- solution is the low-tech practice of dusting, buffing and tiny touch ups, he said at a conference on the museums' efforts to better protect the Vatican's artistic heritage.

With 200,000 objects -- 20,000 of which are on public display -- 27,000 square feet of frescoes, and 4.35 miles of exhibit space, the Vatican Museums have plenty to keep clean and cared for.

Past practice had been to care for items by restoring them after they succumbed to the forces of time and nature, said Vittoria Cimino, head of the museums' Office of Conservation.

Prevention, however, is the best medicine and in that effort, Paolucci established the conservation office in 2009 to be "the eye of the museum director to track the health of the (museums') heritage," he said.

The office then began a systematic protocol of dusting, monitoring and documenting every object, and storage and display room in the museums' custody.

Five days a week, every afternoon, four specialists trawl a designated area with brushes, dust cloths and specialized vacuums strapped to their backs. Workers may be mounted from cherry pickers, ladders or scaffolding to reach high ceilings, window sills and walls, bent over floor mosaics, gently polishing pottery and marble or sucking dust from the velvet drapes of gilded papal carriages.

The experts photograph every object and area they clean and write up a report documenting its current state and potential problems, Cimino said. Every department, including the restoration department, then have access to the data and know exactly what got cleaned and how it looks.

The cleaners make at least two rounds a year while heavily trafficked areas get a cleaning seven or eight times a year, she said.

The office has also installed nearly 100 sensors in various places to monitor and record everything from temperature to humidity and UV light intensity. Remote radio sensors relay the data to the central office in real time, allowing workers to pinpoint problems immediately and contact the appropriate technicians to intervene, she said.

Unfortunately, only a small portion of the museums is properly climate controlled. And custodians opening the windows to alleviate the stifling heat and humidity in the summer only make the problem worse, she said.

Some areas now have special drapes that reflect the sun's rays cutting down on the amount of heat and light pouring through, she added.

Paolucci said establishing the conservation office was one of his proudest achievements.

He said it is helping him fulfill his duty to his clients: preserving what was handed down from the past for "the men and women who stand in line waiting to see the museums and the men and women who have yet to born."

Autistic Edmonton artist finds a voice with her work

EDMONTON - Meghan Burnside has been painting proficiently for seven years — about as long as she has been able to speak more than a few words.

The 27-year-old Edmonton artist is autistic and for the first 18 years of her life barely uttered a word. But last month one of her paintings — The Sacred Heart of Jesus — went on display at City Hall after she won first prize in a competition sponsored by Grant MacEwan University.

Tapping on heaven's door: New York Seminarian keeps a foot in the dance world

VATICAN CITY - David Rider still does the occasional barrel roll, but now he usually does it wearing a Roman collar. He's kept his tap shoes since entering the seminary, but his goal has changed dramatically.

"I just want to be a normal parish priest. What I see myself doing is the thing I'm preparing to do, which is celebrate the Mass devoutly, hear confessions, baptize babies, and bring God to people in their suffering and their joy," the 27-year-old New York archdiocesan seminarian said.

Getting to the heart of the legend of Joan of Arc

The product of a decidedly old-world upbringing, French-Canadian filmmaker Dany Chiasson has produced a thoughtful meditation on one of the world’s great saints that feels utterly timeless.

Chiasson grew up with her five siblings in the remote Iles de la Madeleine region of Quebec. Raised in a devoutly Catholic home, as a young girl Chiasson would make the long trek to Mass each Sunday and would listen, enthralled, as her grandmother talked about the saints, most particularly Joan of Arc (1412-31).

“Through Joan of Arc’s story, I learned about devotion, courage, going beyond our limits, France, the medieval times, women, the Catholic Church, the big schism, royalty . . .  all that was fascinating to me,” said Chiasson, wife of Toronto director Bruce McDonald.

Catholic Movie Reviews - 21 Jump Street, The Deep Blue Sea & A Thousand Words

This week's movie reviews feature the week's big release, the re-boot of the 1980s TV show 21 Jump Street, the new Eddie Murphy film and a look at Terence Davies' Deep Blue Sea.

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Getting to know Jesus from a Jewish perspective

Jesus was a Jew. Mary and Joseph were Jews. All 12 apostles were Jews. The first ecumenical council of the Church was held in Jerusalem in about 50 AD and everybody there was Jewish — even if they were there to decide what to do about non-Jewish followers of Jesus.

Very few of the people you meet at Sunday morning Mass are Jewish. Still, all these gentiles who surround us in church want nothing more than to know Jesus better. The Jewish Annotated New Testament is an invitation to do just that — know Jesus better.

Catholic movie reviews - John Carter & Silent House

Planning on a trip to the movies this weekend? We have reviews of a the year's first big blockbuster from Disney and a new horror starring Elizabeth Olsen.

God's Word: New exhibit shows Bible's evolution, beauty, perseverance

VATICAN CITY - Desecration, censorship, the ravages of time and even nesting mice have been unable to destroy the word of God, handed down for millennia by people of faith.

The endurance of sacred Scripture is the centerpiece of a new interfaith exhibit called Verbum Domini, which brings to the Vatican rare biblical texts and artifacts spanning a period from the third century B.C. to the 17th century.

"We seek to tell the amazing story of the preservation and translation of the most loved, most debated and the best-selling book every year and of all time," said Steve Green, an entrepreneur and the primary benefactor of The Green Collection, a private collection of more than 40,000 biblical antiquities.

A Pope’s story through a brother’s eyes

ROME - Recounting their rural Bavarian childhood and subsequent lifelong friendship, the elder brother of Pope Benedict XVI offers a privileged look at the personal side of the spiritual leader of 1.3 billion Catholics.

My Brother the Pope, published March 1 by Ignatius Press, is based on interviews with Msgr. Georg Ratzinger by German writer Michael Hesemann and was originally published in German last year.

Catholic movie reviews - The Lorax, Project X, Tyler Perry's Good Deeds & more

Looking for a movie this weekend? We've got reviews of five of the week's new releases for you.


Dr. Seuss' The Lorax