Saturday, October 18, 2014

SHORT FEATURE: PRIVATE SNAFU – SPIES

So, I watched “Fury” for Aleteia this week, David Ayer’s new flick starring Brad Pitt as the commander of a Sherman Tank in the waning days of WWII. While I’m still not quite sure what message (if any) the movie was trying to convey, the film definitely gets points for realism. If nothing else, “Fury” lets you feel what it must have been like to spend most of your day crammed inside a rolling metal box approximately the size of a standard hall bathroom with four other sweaty guys. And for the one or two of you out there who might actually find that idea attractive, remember that the Germans were consistently lobbing grenades at you the whole time.

Of course, as Private Snafu could tell you, enemy combatants aren’t a soldier’s only concern. What’s that, you’ve never heard of Private Snafu? He was the Warner Brothers animation department’s contribution to the military’s training program during WWII. All of their top talent worked on the series, which was shown only to members of the armed forces. Snafu, as his name suggests, was an idiot who never followed proper military protocol. As a result, he pretty much ended up imprisoned, hospitalized or flat out dead by the end of every episode. Where’s his final destination in “Spies?” Let’s find out…

Well, as it says in Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Because of that, later on in Proverbs 21:23, we are advised that “Those who guard mouth and tongue guard themselves from trouble.” If we don’t follow that advice, then James 1:26 warns us, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain.”

Yep, it certainly sounds like it would be a good idea to follow the example of the Psalmist, who prayed in Psalms 141:3, “Set a guard, Lord, before my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips.” That’s an excellent prayer for us all, from the lowliest privates to the highest ranking generals, from the laymen in the pew to the loftiest princes of the Church. Not that any Cardinal would ever be in need of such a prayer… right?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

HOLY HORRORS FOR HALLOWEEN FILM FESTIVAL II: THIS NIGHT I’LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE

This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse

“Tonight I'll Possess Your Corpse, episode two in the Coffin Joe trilogy, more or less reprises the story from the first installment. Zé Do Caixão (José Mojica Marins) resumes his search for a bride who can bear him a child, in order to ensure himself a kind of immortality via future generations. His central criterion: to locate a woman "immune" to terror. Thus, with the help of cracked assistant Bruno, he begins to kidnap girls and exposes one after another to "fear tests," which involve planting tarantulas on their nude bodies and evaluating their responses. Subject after subject caves, until Zé meets Marcia (Nadia Freitas), who seems rather unfazed by the furry, multi-eyed critters. Yet Marcia does balk at Zé's habit of throwing his rejected betrotheds into a snake-filled pit to watch them die. Marcia's attitude induces Zé to break up with her -- he reasons that she isn't quite tough enough (and thus, not a suitable match), but he can let her go without worry, because he feels confident that, bound by love, she will never disclose the secrets of his macabre torture games. Subsequently, Zé and the gorgeous Laura (Tina Wohlers) become sexual partners -- they share a connection of atheism and a contempt for the supernatural. Zé impregnates Laura, but her health conditions demand that the couple choose between the life of the mother and the life of the baby. These developments are too much for Laura's parents and the rest of the villagers, who decide to put a nasty and brutal end to Zé. As Zé struggles to evade capture, the curse issued by one of his prior snake-pit victims (who promised to "possess" his body as she succumbed to death) fills the murderer's ears.” ~ rovi’s AllMovie Guide

“Is life everything, and death nothing? Or is life nothing and death everything?” – Coffin Joe

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23, NABRE

Until the advent of home video, Brazil’s Zé Do Caixão (that’s Coffin Joe to you and me)was only a whispered legend amongst impressionable young American horror fans, his ghoulish antics occasionally garnering a mention in genre magazines or books. But in recent years, the movies featuring José Mojica Marins’ black clad alter ego have become widely available to viewers worldwide and… yeah, the first few of them have pretty much been worth the wait.

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For those not familiar with Coffin Joe, the character first appeared in 1963’s “At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul.” An undertaker by trade, Joe is an evangelistic atheist who preaches (a lot) that any form of religious belief is a sign of weakness. Believing himself to be the avatar of human perfection, Joe’s singular goal is to find the equally perfect specimen of womanhood and mate with her. Their son (Joe doesn’t seem to allow for the possibility of a daughter) will naturally be a superman destined to usher in a golden age in which mankind finally overthrows the false notions of God and Satan. You just know Richard Dawkins cosplays this guy at home when nobody is looking.

Like any good villain, Coffin Joe is convinced he is in the right, and he wastes no time in trying to convince others of the same. Seriously, at least a third of the running time of any given Coffin Joe film is spent listening to the little megalomaniac rant and rave about his beliefs, or general lack thereof as the case may be. It sounds tedious, but Marins (as both an actor and director) always manages to find a way to make it entertaining. Just when it reaches the point where you don’t think you can listen to another word, Marins sends in the tarantulas or snakes or obligatory scarred hunchback to liven things up.

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The centerpiece of “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse,” and the reason so many name it as their favorite out of all the Coffin Joe flicks, is Joe’s vision of Hell near the end of the movie. You see, it turns out that Joe is completely devoid of conscience except when it comes to one thing. Joe, unrepentant murderer that he is, loves all children, born and unborn (Where did all those kind of atheists go?). So enthralled is he with the purity of the young that he vehemently declares, “Damned are all those who destroy human life!” This may sound odd coming from a man who just tossed five women into a pit full of poisonous snakes, but by Joe’s logic, those who show fear, love or compassion are sub-humans on a level with lab rats, so killing a bunch of frightened women doesn’t really count as murder. Or as Joe explains to one of his victims, “Not sadism, my dear. Science.”

At any rate, once Joe learns that one of the women he killed was pregnant, he is overcome by guilt and dreams he is dragged into Hell. In a weird Wizard of Oz moment, once Joe arrives in Hell, the film switches to color. But because the film stock in Brazil at the time wasn’t all it should be, the color is strangely saturated, and it makes the whole scene feel off-kilter even before it treats us to the torments of the damned. And boy are those torments freaky. Hordes of naked sufferers crawl through fire and ice while men in red leotards jab them with pitchforks. Bodies are halfway fused into walls while demons whip and stab the visible parts. Something is going on under a blanket, and while it remains unseen, it must be horrible based on all the screams. In fact, the constant drone of wails and moans from the damned is probably the most unnerving part of the scenario, and it’s likely what prevents the whole scene from descending into early 60s camp.

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It still comes pretty close, though. It has to be admitted, by today’s standards, the vision of Hell presented in “This Night I’ll Possess Your Soul” seems a bit dated what with its prancing devils and all. These days, as we discussed way back in our review of “The Burning Hell,” the Church just sticks to describing Hell as a “definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed,” leaving the possibility of lakes of fire and other such gory details to our imaginations. Despite that, however, the Church remains firm in its teachings that Hell, regardless of whatever state of existence it turns out to be (I’ve got serious doubts about the red tights), is horribly real, and people should fear going there.

This doesn’t sit well with lots of modern folks, including many Christian denominations. People should come to God out of love, they say, not out of fear. But as Msgr. Charles Pope wrote…

“Frankly, many are still at a spiritual stage where the fear of punishment is both necessary and salutary. Jesus certainly saw fit to appeal to the fear of punishment, loss, and hell. In fact, it is arguable that this was his main approach and that one would struggle to find very many texts where Jesus appeals more to a perfect contrition and a purely holy fear rooted in love alone as a motive to avoid sin… Now why should we, who are summoned to preach and teach in Jesus’ name, reject a key strategy that he and his chosen apostles employed?… By our silence in this regard we mislead God’s people and become, in effect, deceivers who do not preach the “whole counsel of God” (cf Acts 20:27).  While it is true that we can help to lead God’s people from an imperfect contrition (rooted in fear of punishment) to a more perfect contrition (rooted in love for God), it remains a rather clear fact that many of the faithful are at different stages and are not yet at the perfect contrition stage.  For this reason the Church has always allowed that imperfect contrition was sufficient to receive absolution… But this act of contrition also helps the penitent recall the journey we ought to make out of the fear of punishment to the deeper and more perfect motive of love of God and neighbor to avoid sin.  But for most of us, this is a journey that is underway, and some have made more progress than others. Meanwhile, the preachers of the Church do well to appeal to the fear of punishment among other motives to avoid sin.  Jesus and the Apostles never hesitated to recall the fearful results of sinful obstinance. And neither should we who Preach today. Fear of punishment is needed after all.”

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That makes sense, really. As a parent myself, I know that if I find reason and compassion aren’t enough to stop a child from doing something to hurt themselves, then I’m not above using the fear of consequences to get the job done. If it saves the child, at least I’ll have the chance later on to help them understand better reasons than just fear to avoid dangerous actions.

Of course, some folks take a lot more scaring than others. Even after Joe challenges God and is immediately struck by a tree felled by lightning, he defiantly screams, “This doesn’t convince me!” It’s only in the very end, as the skeletons of his victims begin to drag him down to Hell for real, that Joe finally admits there is a God, crying out to the Lord for mercy as he sinks below the swampy waters to the strains of Ave Marie. After an hour and a half of half-baked atheist rants, it’s a pretty satisfying ending. Yes, Marins, ruined it forty years later by coming out of retirement and filming a seriously goofy sequel, but as a standalone film, “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse” makes a fine addition to our Holy Horrors Film Festival.

(Warning: This trailer is from Brazil where public tastes are different than they are in the States. You might not want your kiddies watching it.)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

NOW SHOWING AT A BLOG NEAR YOU

Now Showing Marquee 6

It’s Halloween season, so you know what that means, don’t you? Exactly. It’s time for wholesome, family friendly films at the movie theater! Wait, what? That doesn’t seem right. That’s what we get, though, as this week’s review for Aleteia is “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” The film is something of a throwback to the days when Dean Jones used to appear in every other movie Disney released, and I for one kind of appreciate that.

But still, it’s Halloween, so if you’d like something more befitting the season, why not stop by Thomas L. McDonald’s place where has a new series going on about ghosts and the early church.

And, since witches and Halloween kind of go together, at least where the people selling decorations are concerned, why not revisit one of the most famous movie witches of all as Nick Alexander ponders a few gospel lessons from “The Wizard of Oz.”

If you prefer something a little bit more recent, Catholic Skywalker has you covered as he takes a look at the latest YA novel turned movie, “The Maze Runner”.

Carl E. Olson from The Catholic World Report has also dropped by the theaters to see the reboot of “Left Behind” starring Nick Cage and declares it to be the worst rapture movie ever made.

Meanwhile, Jason Dietz over at Non-Modern has decided to stay home and rent the Dean Koontz adaptation, “Odd Thomas.”

And finally, just because I’m not above shamelessly promoting myself, we’re still spinning tunes over at my new blog, The Jukebox Hero Hymnal. The latest additions are Lord Give Me A Sign by DMX and When The Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash.

Happy reading. See you next time.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

HOLY HORRORS FOR HALLOWEEN FILM FESTIVAL II: BRIMSTONE & TREACLE

This week over at Aleteia, I reviewed “Annabelle,” a surprisingly Catholic friendly horror movie. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect, but it gets a lot (not all) of the religious stuff right. Now, even though “Annabelle” deals with demonic infestation, watching it reminded me of our Holy Horrors for Halloween film festival from a couple of years back. That’s where we offered some suggestions for a few good (or at least watchable) religious themed genre movies that avoid the standard trappings of exorcism and miserable priests on the verge of losing their faith, movies like The Wicker Man, Bless The Child, & The Believers. Well, we’re certainly not ones around these parts to let a free blog post idea go to waste, so this year we’re doing it again. First up is…

Brimstone & Treacle

“The arrival of a mysterious stranger disrupts the lives of the members of a British family in this dark, psychological thriller. The stranger is one Martin Taylor (Sting), a dangerous charmer who ingratiates himself with the Bateses, a dignified, older couple (Denholm Elliott and Joan Plowright). The couple becomes especially fond of Martin after he demonstrates a strong, caring rapport with their daughter, a disabled invalid. It is only when he has become a part of the household, unofficially serving as the daughter's caretaker, that Martin's true, potentially demonic nature begins to show itself. Based on a script by Dennis Potter, the creator of the brilliant British television miniseries Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective, the film layers its already charged situation with hints of the supernatural, aspiring to be both disturbing family drama and provocatively ambiguous morality play. Some moments of MTV-like stylization threaten to diminish the mood of slow suspense and unhealthy obsession, but Potter's distinctly warped sensibility and the solid performances generally carry the film over its rough patches.” ~ rovi’s AllMovie Guide

“There is no God. There is no hope for Patty. There are no such things as miracles. (bad dad Tom Bates)”

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ (Psalms 14:1, NABRE)”

Sting! Dr. Stinglehoffer! The McStingster! Stingatolla! Sting! Stinga linga ding dong…dong… Sting! Let’s face it. Sting’s movie career has been spotty at best. Just when you watch “Quadrophenia” and think to yourself, you know, that Sumner boy ain’t too bad, someone pops in “Dune” and you pray to God he never acts again.

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Fortunately, the role of Martin in “Brimstone & Treacle” seems tailor made for Sting. Well, him or a young Malcolm McDowell whom Sting is obviously aping, but still, he’s excellent in the role. After the opening credits scroll to a rousing chorus of “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” we first encounter Martin as he emerges from a cathedral surrounded by ecstatic choirboys. That means he’s one of the good guys, right? Well, maybe not, as just a few moments later he covers his ears in pain as the church bells toll. Get used to this dichotomy as, for the rest of the film, it’s kept very vague as to who or what Martin really is.

Martin wanders the city looking for someone to con, eventually singling out Tom Bates, an atheist who owns and operates a religious greeting card company. Bates lost his faith after his daughter Patricia was struck by a truck and left incommunicative and possibly brain damaged. Of course, as the movie quickly reveals, the only reason Patricia was in the middle of the street in the first place was because she was blindly running from her father’s office after walking in on him having an affair with his secretary. Mr. Bates is not a pleasant man.

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That’s probably why it’s so easy for Martin to ingratiate himself with Mrs. Bates, who has spent her every waking moment since the accident either tending to Patricia’s needs or catering to Tom’s thankless demands. It only takes a day for Martin to bend Mrs. Bates’ (yes, her name is Norma) to his will, convincing the beleaguered wife to take the afternoon off and leave Patricia in his care. Unfortunately, once Norma is out of the house, Martin wastes no time in molesting the girl. As Patricia is unable to communicate with anyone, this crime goes undetected, allowing Martin to ingratiate himself further into the household. Even Mr. Bates eventually crumbles to Martin’s charms, joining the lad and Norma in a rousing hymn.

(Necessary spoilers ahead.) It all ends suddenly later that evening as Martin attempts to rape Patricia while her parents sleep. Roused from the confines of her own mind, Patricia begins to scream, alerting her parents. Mr. Bates manages to drive Martin from the house, but to his dismay, finds that his daughter has recovered her memories and capacity to speak. As Martin runs off into the night, Patricia reveals her father’s indiscretions to a stunned Mrs. Bates. Tom will surely face repercussions for his sins. Meanwhile, Martin makes his way back to town and begins looking for his next victim. But in a strange twist, the man Martin chooses turns the tables on him and begins to drag him back towards the church, explaining that the bishop has been crying his eyes out since Martin disappeared.

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Like the rest of the movie, the ending is ambiguous. While it’s possible that Martin might just be a sociopathic con artist, there are also hints that he is a supernatural being of some sort, possibly a demon. There is the aforementioned scene in which church bells cause him pain, as well as his efforts to avoid the painting of Jesus which hangs in the Bates’ home. The supernatural element is most apparent in the scene in which Martin leads Mrs. Bates in a histrionic prayer over Patricia (the devil knows his scripture, after all). Thunder rolls and lightning flashes inside the house, yet it remains sunny and calm outside. The thing is, regardless of Martin’s origins, he ultimately brings Patricia out of her mindless state and exposes Mr. Bates sins to the world. Is it possible, “Brimstone & Treacle” asks us to consider, for good to come from evil?

The answer is yes, in a way. The Catechism explains to us that “in time we can discover that God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures: ‘It was not you’, said Joseph to his brothers, ‘who sent me here, but God… You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.’ From the greatest moral evil ever committed - the rejection and murder of God's only Son, caused by the sins of all men - God, by his grace that ‘abounded all the more’, brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption. But for all that, evil never becomes a good.”

In other words, we humans can’t intentionally try to bring about good by committing an evil. That’s still a sin. But God can take our sinful actions and bring good from them. We see that at work in “Brimstone & Treacle.” Whatever Martin is, his actions are evil, but by the grace of God, what results from them is good. Including a sometimes uncomfortable, but ultimately watchable movie.