Rooting for the “Good” Bad Guys

Rooting for the “Good” Bad Guys

I watch a lot of TV.  Well, not necessarily TV shows, although I do watch plenty of them, but other things on TV, like mini-series and movies (and things from England, for some reason).  Let’s just say, I thank God for Netflix on a daily basis.  This isn’t generally a problem, but at times, a show that sounds good from the description turns out so terribly that I turn it off before the opening credits role. Recently, while watching a mini-series from England that focused around the lives and loves of a group of young women in the British Women’s Land Army, I was struck by something.  They wanted me to root for the bad guys.  I don’t mean the Nazis or anyone like that.  No, it was much more subtle, and therefore more morally dangerous, than that.  No.  These were what I like to call the “good” bad guys.  For instance, in a love triangle composed of the Lord and Lady of the manor house and one of the “Land Girls,” it became clear early on that the narrative being pushed by the author was meant to garner sympathy for the poor Land Girl, and contempt for the evil, mean, emasculating wife.  True, the wife was a terrible wife, and true, the hussy Land Girl was a much pleasanter companion for the husband.   The former belittled her husband; the latter befriended him.  Everything was done to elicit cheers for the two lovebirds when they finally connected.  The problem is this: They had no right to be together.  Like it or not, he was married.  And yet, somehow,...
The Church, Unoriginality, and My Failure to Communicate

The Church, Unoriginality, and My Failure to Communicate

One of Christianity’s many charms is its history of assimilating pagan cultural practices and recalibrating the character into something more pleasing to the palate of the faithful. Like the Borg (face it, “Keep calm and Catholic on” is a religious rendition of “resistance is futile”). Be it wedding rings, Christmas trees or pipe organs, we outfit our lives and worship with highly religious tackle that used to serve as divorce repellent or entertainment during gladiator events. Perhaps, in a subconscious attempt to flatter Mother Church, I have adapted this method of culture recycling in my own life through the use of quips and complements sprung from the minds of those more creative than I: screenwriters. I am a thief who, to his own detriment, wants to be caught, as what is more valuable than a comment is the sharing of uncommon knowledge. Most people don’t think it to be more valuable. Like the time that Katie (my wife and copy-editor) and I were dating long-distance, talking on the phone for hours at a time, growing more and more in love with each other’s minds. The context of the conversation is a little hazy, but at some point I found myself explaining why I was drawn to her. I had laid an honest foundation about her fervor for daily Mass and passion for the Blessed Mother, but was blanking on lighter compliments. I took a deep breath and started to speak, “You’re very generous. You’re kind to strangers and children, and when you stand in the snow you look like an angel.” Silence. “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever...
Not New Movie Review: The Seventh Seal

Not New Movie Review: The Seventh Seal

Why did I like Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal? I knew its basic premise beforehand: a knight returns from the Crusades, questioning God’s existence, and engages in a chess match with Death. I knew that its conclusion wasn’t exactly sympathetic to faith. I knew that it starred a young Max von Sydow, who in the DVD extras for my favorite movie stated plainly that he thought religion was fairy tales. After watching it, I chuckle at how religion is portrayed at its worst and secular humanitarianism at its best. Not much for a faithful Catholic to enjoy. The knight (Antonius Block) and his squire (Jöns) return home to Sweden after ten years with a Crusade just as the Black Plague is sweeping across Europe, leaving thousands dead. A shell-shocked Block is torn between the faith that prompted his departure a decade ago and doubts about God’s existence/goodness given what he’s seen of war and disease. His foil is his squire who, having witnessed the same events, uses his unbelief to cushion the blow. On their return, they befriend a husband and wife acting troupe; the husband is given to spiritual visions of which his wife gently teases him though she is unable to shake his childlike faith. Steven Greydanus at Decent Films has a good summary of the rest of the plot. I found myself disagreeing somewhat with Steven’s criticism though. [I]t’s very telling that, though Block spends the whole film longing to hear from God, we never see him actually doing much of anything by way of seeking him. At least not on screen, to be sure, though I can’t...
Movie Review: For Greater Glory

Movie Review: For Greater Glory

Three Catholic friends and I had the great fortune of seeing For Greater Glory on opening night.  Of course, this is no great feat considering we live in the middle of Baptist country. For those of you who are unfamiliar, For Greater Glory is based on real life events during the Cristero’s War, a rebellion against persecution of Christians by the atheistic Mexican government resulting in over 100,000 deaths.  The movie follows various characters in the rebellion, primarily General Velarde and his young little friend, Jose, as well as various other members of the Cristeros. After returning home from the movie, I found an anti-review by Frank Weathers titled Why I Won’t Be Seeing “For Greater Glory”, in which the blogger bases his entire refusal on a movie critic site Metacritic, which gave For Greater Glory a 35.  (For a little perspective, Metacritic awarded the blasphemy-laced Dogma a 62.) Last Sunday, while folding laundry, I watched a documentary called FUBARIf you don't know what FUBAR means, go watch Saving Private Ryanabout WWII.  At one point, an interviewee recounts going to the theater and the audience erupting with applause when John Wayne shoots down the Japanese pilots in Flying Tigers, not because the quality of the movie-making was unsurpassed, but because the audience related to and celebrated the triumph of good over evil.  The nation was at war, Japan was the enemy, and the audience loved it because they could relate to the story. The same is true with For Greater Glory.  Certainly it’s not Oscar material, but the characters were endearing and the message of the movie is certainly...
The Human Brokenness Found Within ‘October Baby’

The Human Brokenness Found Within ‘October Baby’

Over the last couple of weeks, my wife has been suggesting that we rent the movie Courageous, which after seeing the preview, we both agreed would be a good flick.  In spite of this, I’ve put off renting it because, while the theme story may be encouraging or even inspiring, the format of similar films made by the same group (Facing the Giants, Fireproof) is rather formulaic and in such a way that doesn’t exactly gel with Catholicism – Main character conflict, wisdom from an elder, main character is saved/comes back to Jesus, everything works out, everybody else gets saved.  Since one of the main goals for these movies seems to be surface-level evangelization, I don’t get much from them, spiritually speaking. October Baby stands apart from these other movies not only in execution, but in the depth to which it speaks to the human person.  Plot summaries of the movie can be read anywhere on the internet but, suffice it to say, it is a story about a young girl who discovers that she is the survivor of a failed abortion.  While the scene-to-scene pacing of the movie may not be as polished as larger-budgeted movies, the script and absolute power within many of those scenes communicates a message that resonates much more deeply than anything I have seen in a long while. Aside from the actual topic of abortion, the main character is on a path that will lead to either lasting resentment or forgiveness.  Rather than a surface-level evaluation of the soul, October Baby probes the depths of a spiritual reality that all humans share –...