18 December 2014

Review: The Battle of the Five Armies is worse than The Desolation of Smaug

Sir Peter Jackson has succeeded in doing what I thought was beyond the realms of possibility: he has a made a film worse than The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug which made Middle-earth no longer feel real. So disappointed have I remained in The Desolation of Smaug that as last night's release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies in Italy approached, I did not feel the same excitement I once felt awaiting the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. I had also thought that if anyone could film a battle of five armies, only Peter Jackson could do it. I was wrong.

It is safe to say that I went to the theater last night to watch The Battle of the Five Armies simply to say that I had watched all three of the films. I had no real expectation of enjoying the movie. In fact, my one thought was that it could not possibly be worse than The Desolation of Smaug. I was, I am sad to say, incorrect.

Far too much of the movie was made not with human actors in exquisite costumes, as was done with The Lord of the Rings films, but with CGI, from individual characters to entire armies to landscapes to buildings. To make it worse, the CGI is very easy to detect and does not seem to have been blended in (for lack of a better phrase) as it was in previous films Jackson has made.

As if this were not frustrating enough, far too much of the movie focused on the characters that Jackson and Company simply created, like Tauriel, Alfred, and Bard's children, at the expense of focusing on the true principle characters of the film, like Bilbo, for one, and Thorin, for another.

The movie seemed to move from one scene to another without ever really developing any of them and had the feel more of a lame video game than of an epic movie. Each scene seemed to move toward a climax that never came and then we were off yet another scene. Each succeeding scene became more and more predictable.

If you are a fan of The Hobbit, particularly of the last few chapters, do not see this movie; it is not worth your time.


I sat through the movie with two questions continually running through my mind:
  1. Is it almost over yet? And,
  2. Will they just kill Tauriel and get this over with?
The fact that she never died is probably the most disappointing aspect of the entire film. Now, on to a fuller review.

My favorite lines in Tolkien's The Hobbit come from the narrator at the beginning of the book ("it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort") and from Thorin toward the end of the book ("If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world"). Just as Jackson and Comfort thought they could improve on the first phrase, they also thought they could improve on the second. This was another disappointment.

The best part of the film involved the fall of King Tranduil's reindeer after he catches four orcs in its antlers and cuts off their heads (in a cartoonish scene remniscient of Bombur-in-the-barrel from The Desolation of Smaug) and the fall of King Dain's armored boar.

Without explanation, Thorin and Company mount goats - that must be the size of ponies - and go charging up the mountain in another cartoonish scene. Where the goats came from is never explained.

Also without explanation, Thorin can understand the speech of ravens, but the thrush has no involvement at all with the fall of Smaug (which, incidentally, also happens anti-climatically). In the film, it is Bard himself who notices Smaug's bare patch.

Thorin's struggle with the dragon sickness is anti-climactic, at best. He struggles. We hear several voices speaking in flash back. And then, suddenly, he has overcome it.

At the end of the film, two important questions remain:
  1. Who now is King Under the Mountain? Thorin dies and Bilbo rides off for Bag End as the ten remaining dwarves of the original company wave goodbye. In the book, Dain becomes King of Erebor, but in the movie the successor of King Thorin is not even hinted at.
  2. What became of the Arkenstone? So much of the movie is spent on Thorin's obsessing over the Arkenstone and of Biblo's theft of it. Bard has it at the gates of Erebor, but we don't know what happens to it after the battle of five armies.

In the end, perhaps Steven D. Greydanus said it best when he concluded his review of The Battle of the Five Armies, suggesting: "The sketchy end-credit imagery often feels more Tolkienesque than anything in the preceding two-plus hours, leaving one wistfully contemplating: what might have been, what might have been."

What do you mean the Catholic Church no longer expects Jesus' return?

A news story of sorts is slowly circulating its way through social media, spread largely by Protestants with a certain animosity toward Catholics (as several friends have indicated after seeing it on their Facebook news feeds). When you see it, don't believe it.

The news story purports that on April 25, 2014, Giorgio Cardinal Salvadore, whom the article describes as "a spokesperson for the Vatican" announced that the Catholic Church is no longer expecting the Second Coming of Jesus Christ because "'he was probably drinking wine' at the time when he made the comments."

This is, of course, absurd and completely false. How do I know. Because Cardinal Salvadore does not exist. See for yourself and check the list of living Cardinals.

There is, however, a Salvatore Cardinal De Giorgi. the Archbishop Emeritus of Palermo, who retired in 2006 and was certainly not a Vatican spokesman in April of 2014. In fact, he was too old to vote in the conclave that elected Pope Francis. Curiously, despite not seeming to have died (at least I did not find a mention of his death), he isn't listed among the living Cardinals. I'm not quite sure what to make of that.

It's the oldest trick in the book. Take a foreign name and tweak it a bit so that it still sounds like a name, attribute a position to him he never had, and assign words to him he never spoke. If it's a fictitious character, he can't really accuse you of slander or libel and he can't defend himself. That, and people who will simply assume the false words are true because the name and the position sound true.

Remember: You can't believe everything you see on the Internet. Especially from people who hate Catholics.

Made for Glory - Advent Thursday 3 - He was a just man

17 December 2014

Final Fantasy released 27 years ago today

Not only is today Pope Francis' 78th birthday, but it is also the anniversary of the first release of what maybe my favorite video game of all time (I do not think I have ever been able to decide if Final Fantasy is better than The Legend of Zelda, or vice versa):
That's right: 27 years ago today. Do you feel old yet?

If you no longer have the original Nintendo Entertainment System and the original cartridge, you can get the game for your iPad (unfortunately with updated graphics). You can also listen to the soundtrack while you're working via YouTube:


Big Island church saved from lava

The Hawaii Catholic Herald's Darlene J.M. Dela Cruz has written a very interesting story on the little church that escaped the lava on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Star of the Sea church, one of the Big Island's three "painted churches," escaped the lava flow issuing forth from Kilauea that recently threatened (and maybe still does) the village of Pahoa in a way that is both clever and ancient:
Saved from calamity was a lucky little Catholic church. Star of the Sea, a historic “painted church,” was transported by flatbed truck out of the lava’s path to a safe area in neighboring Kaimu.
I had the good fortune to visit this beautiful church this past summer when Bishop Silva asked me to help in the parish in Kona and posted pictures of the church to Facebook a few moments ago (because I apparently forgot to do so over the summer).

Made for Glory - Advent Wednesday 3 - Hope of the World

Today is Pope Francis' birthday

Today, the Holy Father Pope Francis celebrates his 78th birthday. Part of the celebrations included a little surprise at the usual Wednesday morning General Audience:
May the Lord in his goodness grant His Holiness good health, unquenchable joy, and a stout heart as he shepherds the universal flock. Happy birthday, Pope Francis!

16 December 2014

Archbishop of Baghdad calls for fasting and prayer before Christmas, and no worldly celebrations

As we approach the celebration of the Lord's Birth with ever increasing anticipation in these days as the Church's prayers begin to shift from awaiting the Lord's advent on the Last Day to awaiting his advent at Bethlehem, the joyful memories of Christmases past and the hopeful expectation of the glories of this coming Christmas no doubt fill our hearts and minds.

Many homes and yards, businesses and streets, and, yes, even churches, already display the festivity of Christmas with garlands of evergreen, lights of different colors and hues, snowmen, statues, and Nativity sets. The ringing of bells and the singing of carols fill our ears and the taste of cookies, cakes, and pies fill our mouths.

On the one hand, this is as it should be. How can we not rejoice with our salvation so close at hand? Yet, on the other hand, there are many of our brothers and sisters who cannot share in our joy in this same way, and this is not because of poverty, but because of a continuing and increasing persecution.

A Nativity display set up in a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq
His Beatitude Louis Raphael I Sako, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans (whose cathedral is in Baghdad, Iraq and whose faithful have been driven from the Nineveh Plain by the Islamic State), has called for a period of prayer and fasting leading up to the night of Christmas. As Asia News reports:
For this reason, he urges them to fast from Monday 22 December until night on 24 December, not touching food or drink until noon, as "in the days of Ba'utha". The Fast of Ba'utha commemorates what the prophet Jonah brought to the people of Nineveh for their conversion.
The reason for his appeal for a period of fasting is simple and straightforward: "We fast for the liberation of Mosul and the villages of the Nineveh plains, so that peace and security will return to these areas, and everyone will be able to return to his or her home, job and school."

What is more, His Beatitude has called upon all Christians "not to organize any kind of worldly celebration at Christmas or New Year, given such bitter circumstances, as a sign of solidarity with their displaced brothers and sisters who are going through indescribable suffering."

Even so, the Patriarch is not without hope: "We are certain that the birth of Christ, who shared our personal history and that of humanity, will listen to our prayers and will accept our fasting and realize our hope and desire to return to our homes and live our lives as normal as before." 

I cannot pretend to know what the Christians of Iraq and Syria are experiencing now that they have been driven from their homes. Nor can I can pretend to know what are other persecuted Christians are also experiencing now in Nigeria and Kenya and many other places. But as I will not be returning home this Christmas, I can experience something of their longing to be home to celebrate the Birth of the Savior.

I plan to take up the Patriarch's call and I urge you to do the same. Keep your Christmas celebrations subdued and remember to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters with your family and friends. Several months ago, Patriarch Sako composed this prayer which you might wish to use as you gather around your trees and tables:
the plight of our country
is deep and the suffering of Christians
is severe and frightening.
Therefore, we ask you Lord
to spare our lives, and to grant us patience,
and courage to continue our witness of Christian values
with trust and hope.
Lord, peace is the foundation of life;
grant us the peace and stability that will enable us
to live with each other without fear and anxiety,
and with dignity and joy.
Glory be to you forever.
 To give you a better sense of the Iraqi Christians are enduring, have a look at these pictures from the refugee camp in Erbil.

Praying for our oppressors and for the persecuted

As the peoples of Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Kenya, Pakistan, and many other parts of the world are suffering from repeated attacks, we would do well to remember to pray for their persecutors, remembering that we are N.

Here is a prayer you might employ, taken from the Mass for Our Oppressors as found in the Roman Missal:
O God, who have laid down by your precept of charity
that we should sincerely love those who afflict us,
grant that we may follow the commands of the New Law,
striving to return good for evil
and bearing one another's burdens.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
It is also good for us to remember to pray for our brothers and sisters enduring these persecutions. Here is a prayer taken from the Mass for Persecuted Christians:
O God, who in your inscrutable providence
will that the Church be united to the sufferings of your Son,
grant, we pray, to your faithful who suffer for your name's sake
a spirit of patience and charity,
that they may be found true and faithful witnesses
to the promises you have made.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas

It takes only a short time of living in Rome before you can find anything in the Eternal City, even various pieces of merchandise from the United States of America. But only if you know where to look, which isn't easy to learn as most Roman shopkeepers do not enjoy customers who browse about.

Several days ago as I walked past the front window of a Roman shop, I thought I saw a small display of Yankee Candles (for which I had been looking for almost a year now), but I didn't have time then to stop.

Scented candles can be found in Rome, but typically these are of poor quality vanilla or various berry or fruit scents. Even in the U.S., I'm not sure another candle can compare to the quality of Yankee Candles.

At any rate, after classes concluded today I decided to go for a walk before the rains return. As I walked by this same store, quite by happenstance, I popped inside and was very pleased to find that my eyes had, in fact, not deceived me.

Although the store only had five or six different scents (none of which was my favorite, Midsummer's Night, or my second favorite, Sun and Sand), they did have Christmas Garland.

It may still be 60ºF in Rome (grazie a Dio!)
and it may not be Balsam and Cedar (my third favorite), but it is now beginning to smell a lot like Christmas.

An ecclesial media disconnect: pictures and words

Sometimes I wonder who is in charge of selecting photographs to accompany news stories.

As just one very simple example, News.va posted this photograph yesterday from the Holy Father's Angelus address this past Sunday to its Facebook page:

I happen to like this photograph of Pope Francis, both because it shows him as he is frequently seen (by which I mean that he, like me, does not have a natural smile on his face most of the time) and because it is a perfectly meme-worthy photo.

Now, looking at the photo above, what words do you think would fittingly accompany it? Something about the Pope correcting someone or giving an admonition or a directive, right? Of course.

Here is the text that actually accompanied the photograph, without any changes:
Pope Francis at Angelus: “Be missionaries of joy!!”

“Be missionaries of joy! Pray with perseverance, to always give thanks to God, to seek what is good and avoid what is evil. “If this is our way of life, the Good News would be able to enter into so many homes and help people and families to rediscover that in Jesus there is salvation!”
I don't think much - and clearly not enough - thought went into the selection of this photograph.

It is also best to accompany a news story - however brief - with a photograph that not only corresponds to the story being presented, but that is also from the same (the recent debacle of the media stories about the Pope's alleged words about dogs going to heaven is but one glaring example). Now, it is certainly possible that Pope Francis did not smile at all during the Angelus address, but other photographs from Sunday prove such a theory to be incorrect, like this one, which is also from L'Osservatore Romano and was also posted to the Facebook page of News.va:

Isn't this a far better picture to accompany the text above? I thought so, too.

14 December 2014

Gaudete! Rejoice!

The man wandering about in the video is in Assisi.

Armored boars?

One of the still shots released from Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies includes what appears to be a dwarf mounted on an armored boar:

Image: Warner Bros. Pictures
Is it just me, or does this seem a bit ridiculous? I suppose it is a logical regression along the lines begun with The Desolation in Smaug, which resulted in Middle-earth no longer feeling real and cartoonish.

If armored boars are found in Tolkien's legendarium, would someone please refresh my memory as to where?

13 December 2014

Made for Glory - Advent Saturday 2 - Coming Down the Mountain

Photos from the Papal Mass

His Holiness Pope Francis celebrated the Holy Mass in honor of Our Lady Guadalupe yesterday in the Basilica of St. Peter. Together with two or three hundred priests, I concelebrated the Mass and took a few photographs once the Mass was ended:

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe enshrined near the papal altar.

I'm not sure who this is or what was going on.
Praying before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
I was sitting on the aisle.

What Pope Francis actually said about animals

By now you've surely seen the many media stories boldly claiming that Pope Francis "recently" said something to the effect that all animals - dogs especially - go to heaven. Many people have completely accepted this story as fact, without ever noticing that the date of the Pope's alleged remarks is never given and a full quote from him is never given, nor is anyone else ever quoted. They accept this story from the same media outlets that routinely report dishonestly on the Church.

My suspicions were first raised when I realized that this story took almost a week before it began to circulate. If it were based on reality, it would have spread like wildfire.

If you search for an official transcript of the Pope's words, you will not find one. In point of fact: The whole event doesn't seem to have actually happened.

Some reports even went so far as to claim the Pope was attempting to console a boy whose dog had died. The New York Times admits that claim - and the summation of the Pope's words - is untrue. This should raise serious questions for all intelligent readers.

This morning I was going to sit down to write a post on what appears to be another false news story about a Pope when I read Christopher S. Morrissey's answer to the question, "Did Pope Francis realy say all dogs go to heaven?" He beat me to it and answered well:
Look again at what the media made of that long paragraph I just quoted from his general audience. They apparently invented a new Bible verse and attributed it to Paul. Then they apparently took an interpretive paraphrase of Francis’ words and attributed it directly to him.
Be sure to read his full response. The Pope's address of November 28th, to which the media weakly attempt to link their stories, is available here.

Please, do not let the media do your thinking for you. Question their reports. Look for their sources. Double check their sources. If you cannot find their sources, the story is likely make believe.

12 December 2014

A news round up - 12 December 2014

Some news you may have missed:
    • An 85-year-old man has been fined in the Italian town of Pinerolo for crossing the street too slowly. To his credit, the mayor of Pinerolo will refund the man the fine from his funds.