More on Boondock Saints

I rewatched The Boondock Saints over the weekend (I first wrote about it here). It gave me a headache. I forgot how violent the movie is- every scene has blood, fighting and/or screaming. It never dawned on me that as much as this is an “angel film” it’s also a mobster film in the vein of Bronx Tale or Donnie Brasco. If you combine Wings of Desire, The Godfather and WFF Wrestling, you end up with something akin to The Boondock Saints.

While the script clearly points to Murphy and Connor MacManus as angels- Agent Smecker even directly calls them “angels-” Rocco’s role is vague. Is he an angel, or human? Something in between? If human, are Murphy and Connor his guardian angels? Why is Rocco always screaming and freaking out? Bad acting or is there a deeper meaning? My sense is that Rocco is an “angel in training” because he tells Murphy and Connor “See ya on the flip side” – an allusion to heaven? But their strange allegiance and protectiveness of Rocco makes me think perhaps they are his guardian angels. Then again, why would an Italian mobster have Irish guardian angels?

I remain cringingly puzzled by Willem Dafoe’s weird performance as a gay FBI agent. Was the portrayal his choice or was he following Duffy’s direction? If it was at Duffy’s direction, what was the reasoning behind it? Is Agent Smecker, too, supposed to represent something larger than life?

While rewatching I asked my husband what other films Troy Duffy has directed; he looked confused and said he wasn’t sure beyond the Saints sequel. This surprised me as my husband is a human encyclopedia for all things Hollywood.

It turns out Duffy never did make any films beyond the Saints movies, in large part because he was blacklisted by none other than the now infamous Harvey Weinstein! Weinstein was first to purchase the rights to The Boondock Saints, only to drop it after various falling outs with Duffy. Saints was eventually produced by Franchise Pictures with half the original budget proposed by Miramax. There’s actually a documentary about the whole ordeal that I’m dying to watch, but it’s not on amazon, netflix or youtube.

One detail I picked up: in “the cat scene” Murphy (played by Norman Reedus of Walking Dead fame) refers to himself and his brother as “7-11.” This immediately brought to mind the Matthew 7:7-11 passage that is well known to christians: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door shall be opened… If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Not sure if the reference is intentional, but it’s certainly apropos to this wildly dark film.



13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

13 Hours is a 2016 film depicting the 2012 Islamist siege on diplomatic and CIA american compounds in Benghazi, Libya. I kept noticing it on amazon prime so decided to give it a try. It took me three days to get through the film, in part due to my ankle biters, in part because the film is long- nearly 2 1/2 hours.

While watching this film what amazed me the most is that it was made at all. How did this get through liberal Hollywood? (No matter what your politics, you have to admit Hollywood is quite liberal!) While not directly addressing politics, the film depicts the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi siege as at best inept, and at worst willfully indifferent to the lives of its ambassador and agents.

The first 45 minutes of the film are slow and choppy. The cinematography employs an annoying “shaky cam” technique which I guess is supposed to make us feel close to the action, but to me it just looked sloppy. Interspersed with the shaky cam are sweeping panoramas backed with melancholy music. I guess this was supposed to make the film feel atmospheric. But instead of atmospheric or edgy, the end result is discombobulated. However, the depiction of the siege begins around 0:43 and the remainder of the movie functions as a much better executed “film within a film.”

13 Hours is based on a book of the same name by Mitchell Zuckoff, written in cooperation with the annex security team that single handedly defended the compound where nearly two dozen CIA agents, including women, were housed. These men were former special forces now employed as private military contractors– a controversial phenomena that is increasing worldwide, with nebulous moral and legal boundaries.

While the overview of the battle is likely accurate, I’m not sure if smaller plot details really happened or if they were interspersed for dramatic flavor. Was there really a beautiful CIA agent with a french accent, who brattily rebuffs attempts to save her life? Was the CIA chief really a thickheaded blowhard? Did Boon really quote Joseph Campbell?

The slow opening notwithstanding, this is a good film that provides a fascinating and tragic glimpse into the events of the siege. If you’re curious about the events of Benghazi, 13 Hours comes highly recommended.

Mystical Allegory in The Good Catholic

[contains spoilers]

On the surface The Good Catholic is a sweet if awkward story of an unconsummated romance between a catholic priest and a free spirited, artistic young woman. Yet while watching, I kept catching hints there might be an intentional deeper, ‘supernatural’ secondary narrative, not unlike Boondock Saints. Like Boondock, The Good Catholic sprinkles easter eggs pointing to a hidden meaning, some more obvious than others.

The most obvious ‘hint’ that this is more than a simple love story is the bingo scene. Strangely in this scene the only person who seems to be able to see Jane is Father Daniel. Even when they burst into an argument, and Jane storms out after throwing a bible at him, no one looks up from their bingo cards. Believe me if a catholic priest was seen in public arguing with a beautiful young woman, people would notice!

Then it occurred to me: in both cafe scenes where Jane is singing, again, the only person who seems able to see her is Father Daniel. In the second scene Jane even makes a point of chastising the crowd for ignoring her.

With the theme of ‘seeing god’ introduced early on in the film it becomes clear that the Jane character is meant to represent more than an attractive young woman: she represents god, or belief in god. So the ‘relationship’ that develops between her and Father Daniel is, on this deeper level, in fact the story of his evolving relationship with god.

If Jane does in fact represent god, her strange assertion that she is dying suddenly makes sense; it is a nod to the nietzschean ‘god is dead,’ a nod to loss of faith in a relentlessly secularized world. And it is only after Father Daniel has fallen in love with her that she ‘comes back to life’ and admits she is not, in fact, dying.

There may be a further, even more wild mystery to the film regarding the priests. Note how many times the three priests are shown eating at the table in the exact same position. This is an unmistakable nod to the famous “three angels” holy trinity icon:

(note the three frames, and the three panes of glass in the background door)

The origin of this image is Genesis 18, where Abraham is approached by three angels who tell him his wife will conceive a son. Abraham then feeds them a meal. Christians believe these “three angels” represent the holy trinity, thus why you often see three angels sat around a table in orthodox icons.

The only scene where Jane is recognized by anyone other than Father Daniel is when she visits the rectory for dinner. Why does such a small parish have three priests? Even huge Staten Island parishes only have two priests. And why are the three priests repeatedly visually referenced to the holy trinity?

For non-christians out there, the catholic concept of the trinity is “three in one.” So while you may have three separate aspects to the trinity, they are ultimately considered one entity. An argument could be made here that, allegorically, these three priests are all aspects of Father Victor’s personality, and Father Victor is in fact the only priest in the parish. There are hints to this too scattered throughout the film; note how Father Victor tells Father Daniel that he “reminds him of a younger version of himself.”

Furthermore Father Victor is the only black person in the entire film (I would have to rewatch it, but I’m pretty sure even the crowd scenes are all white). Why was Father Victor cast as a black man? Was it the chance of catching a famous actor (Danny Glover) or was this deliberate and part of the script?

The reason this is important is because both catholic and orthodox churches have a mysterious tradition of depicting the madonna as having black skin- the “black madonnas.” These vierges noires are associated with miracles, mystery, and spiritual revelation.

If you watch (or rewatch) the film with these two points in mind: Jane as a representation of god/ belief in god, and the three priests as aspects of a single priest’s personality and struggles, I guarantee you will start picking up on the many hints and easter eggs scattered throughout. Pointedly the final dinner exchange between Jane and Father Victor lays it out plainly:

Jane: Was that, like, supposed to have some sort of deeper meaning?

Father Victor: In our work, everything has deeper meaning.

When viewed through this lens the film is not about a priest who abandons his faith for a romantic attraction, but rather about the psychological turmoil of a priest who ultimately ‘falls in love’ with god. It’s no mistake that the final scene is of Father Daniel about to knock on Jane’s door. Even casual christians will know Jesus’ famous statement: Knock and the door shall be opened.




The Good Catholic

[spoiler free]

The Good Catholic is a 2017 drama-slash-comedy, written and directed by Paul Shoulberg, about a catholic priest who finds himself drawn to a woman who wanders into his confessional. The priest then wrangles with his emotions, faith, and vocation.

The film is clearly low budget, with a video look and fixed scenes. But the acting is excellent; Zachary Spicer is poignant as the straight laced Father Daniel; Wrenn Schmidt is striking as the artsy, intense, annoying Jane; Danny Glover delivers an excellent performance as the glowering Father Victor, and Father Ollie- my favorite character- is beautifully acted by John McGinley.

I intentionally have avoided reading reviews of The Good Catholic, because while watching it I couldn’t tell if this is something catholics would love or hate. Catholics are weird- you never know what will offend them. I’ve had casual catholics freak out on me over the vaguest slight to their faith, even when I meant no harm.

I’m going to guess catholics will split 50-50 over this film. While yes there are offensive scenes where Jane is disrespectful toward priests, the priests themselves and the church are displayed in a highly affectionate and favorable light. There is no catholic bashing as Hollywood is wont to do.

So yes I recommend this film. It’s kind of a fluff piece and in places tries too hard to be profound, but the relationships and character development are sweetly intriguing and the acting on point throughout.

The film is available on netflix as of this posting.


Game of Thrones Methadone

[mild spoiler Vikings season 401]

Here is one of the better scenes in Vikings 401, where Aethelwulf attempts to rescue Queen Kwenthrith at the behest of King Ecbert. She’s been locked in a tower with her illegitimate son (fathered by Ragnar).

If anyone out there is in Game of Thrones withdrawal, this should scratch the itch. In fact Vikings has long been recognized as Game of Thrones methadone. Be sure to watch both parts through to the end- that final line is priceless!


Vikings Season 401

[spoiler free]

I finished the first ten episodes of season 4 Vikings, History channel’s epic rendition of Ragnar Lothbrok’s campaigns into foreign lands. As I mentioned in my previous review of Vikings I was genuinely surprised by how visually stunning and dramatically gripping the first three seasons were. Truly this is a magnificent- and more or less historically accurate- show.

Unfortunately season 401 lags behind its predecessors; the writing is weak and pacing sloppy- at times the writers unsuccessfully attempt to inject humor into the scripts. Some episodes occasionally, and not intentionally, border on farce (in fact there is a farce of Vikings, Norsemen– it’s terrible) and in some more awkward dramatic exchanges it is again painfully clear the actors playing vikings are in fact stuntmen by trade. Ex-model Travis Fimmel spends a lot of time grimacing, not too convincingly.

One of the stranger aspects of season 401 is Ragnar’s bizarre relationship with Yidu. Aside from the fact their encounter would be 99.9% historically implausible, I have my own theories on this: I think Yidu is a figment of Ragnar’s imagination. Their interaction is just too strange to explain otherwise, unless the writers just felt like being weird.

talking to himself?

Vikings fans can take heart because by episode 6 the snoozefest stops and the action picks up. It felt like the normal Vikings again, with well paced plots, astonishing panoramas and breathtaking battle scenes. Aethelwulf’s strike against Mercia is not to be missed (one of the few good scenes in early episodes) and Ragnar’s recalculation against Paris is amazing in recreation. Rollo’s procession through Paris alone makes this choppy half-season worth watching.

I was disappointed by the treatment of religion in this season. What was adroit and nuanced in previous seasons (Athelstan’s turmoil with conflicting belief systems, for example) felt kind of sloppy and forced here. Some episodes had literal montages of viking – saxon – frankish customs, cutting from a religious event of one group to another. It was like paging through a textbook. However I did learn the christmas custom of mistletoe is of viking origin. Who knew?


Vikings and Common Core

I had a decent long weekend (long due to the snowday- one school had both thurs and friday off), even helped my 4th grader with math. Her school, like most schools these days, uses a kooky common core approach for basic math. All these weird grids, charts, nebulous instructions and strange doodles for simple division. Was this some kind of sick joke? Anyway I showed her how to divide the way I was taught in school, the ‘tableau’ method.

After just ONE example her eyes lit up! ‘That’s so simple,’ she said, sounding genuinely surprised, and she abandoned her crazy charts, quickly polishing off three workbook pages. I warned her to keep trying the way her teacher instructs math… I don’t want to piss anyone off.

I don’t like to discuss politics but suffice it to say I’ve seen nothing good since the catholic school converted to common core standards and tests.

Anyway I spent much of Saturday watching vikings season 4. I absolutely loved vikings season 1-3 but season 4… well it sucks. Much to my heartbreak. The plots are erratic, there are weird nonsensical sex scenes, and I highly doubt vikings spent much time pondering their inner true selves, but apparently season 4 vikings are filled with ontological doubt.

Then I started to feel sick. At first I was in denial but by midnight I was awake with a fever, body aches, and a killer sore throat. Not again!

I could barely sleep and sunday morning limped into urgentcare. Sure enough I have strep AGAIN! This time the doctor prescribed a stronger AB, I limped back home and spent the remainder of the day languishing in bed.

I have a few theories. 1) god is mad at me 2) I re-infected myself somehow (I did buy a new toothbrush!!) 3) one of my children is an asymptomatic carrier- a few days ago I ate a few bites of leftover chicken off one daughter’s plate. What can I say, I was starving!

More Thoughts on Game of Thrones

[spoilers seasons 1-7]

I finished all seven seasons of Game of Thrones in the fall, catching up to and watching season 7 shortly after it aired. I am now slowly rewatching the series, presently on season 2. While I still find the series amazing, it also still gives me a feeling after viewing like I just ate a huge piece of chocolate cake. I hesitate to use the word pornography, but just as food porn can be, well, food porn, likewise is game of thrones cinematic porn (and no I don’t mean that in the sexual sense). The sets, scenery, costumes and effects are so visually luscious that I often feel blinded by prettiness.

Things that made no sense to me last time still make no sense this time. Why does the witch kill khal drogo’s horse to save his life, only to let daenerys’ baby die? Surely the khal would have given his life for his child. How do we know the baby is really dead? Daenerys has no memory of the birth and we never see a body. When daenerys ‘projects’ and sees her husband and child, the child is not deformed as the witch describes.

Why does daenerys kill the witch to hatch her baby dragons? Do they need a sacrificial victim or something?

If jon snow is targaryen, why does he burn his hand when throwing a lamp at the zombie? Or is his hand otherwise hurt?

Why does jon snow sharpen targaryen steel with a rock? Targaryen steel is strong enough to break zombie swords, but a rock is going to sharpen it?

Why isn’t samwell tarly executed for abandoning his post when he leaves the citadel?

Why does the sexy priestess lady randomly sacrifice people… or just need a drop of blood? What is the decision making process here?

If the sexy priestess lady has the ability to give birth to assassin demon babies, why hasn’t she simply taken over the seven kingdoms on her own?

The most annoying characters for me are Sansa, Littlefinger, sexy priestess lady, Stannis (although my 15 year old loves him, she calls him STANNIS THE MANNIS), Missandei, Varys, all the Sand sisters and their evil mom, Catelyn Stark, Meera and her brother (seriously she’s whining that the one eyed raven isn’t affectionate enough??), High Sparrow, and Mance Raydar.

My favorite characters are Daenerys, Jon Snow, Arya, Bronn (Bronn may in fact be my all time favorite!), Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, Ygritte, Jorah, Tormund, Gilly and her cute baby, Bran, Samwell (LOVE Samwell!), and Olenna.

All the other characters I’m kind of neutral on, even the evil ones like Ramsey and Cersei. Yes Ramsey is a terrifying sadist, and Cersei is a bitch, but they are both intrinsically watchable and believable in terms of character development.

I always wonder which Game of Thrones characters fans identify with. I identify with all the mothers, whether they be Gilly or Cersei; they all want what they believe is best for their children. But I would say I most identify with Bran. While I can’t enter the minds of animals, I do have the ability to project outside my body and see what is beyond this world. Of course, unlike Bran, I cannot control it nor can I gather perfect information (though I have had a few solid validations). But people like me who can easily astral project are, in a sense, real life wargs.

What about you? Which characters do you identify with?

I L L I D I A N and S T O R M R A G E

Yesterday I was watching TV with my husband- or rather I was re-re-rewatching Game of Thrones while he was buried in his iPad, periodically giving gleeful play by plays of the latest sex scandals plaguing hollywood- when my 6 year old daughter trotted into the room.

Her: Mommy, I just fell in the lava.

Me: Can you talk to the angel? (running back to her body is, as of yet, too complicated)

Her: But I didn’t die.

Me: Oh… [pondering advice. Find the ramp to climb out? is there a ramp? I’ve never fallen in Ironforge lava. But Undercity has ramps and steps to climb out of sludge. Jump? Jump really, really high (slamming the space bar)?]

Uh… I finally said, Just click your hearthstone.

Okay! she said brightly, and trotted off.

My husband looked up from the iPad, blinking. That has to be the strangest conversation I’ve EVER heard.

I laughed because you know what? He’s right. Say what you will about the game, but once within the warm embrace of World of Warcraft, no matter how amateur or deep your involvement, you have migrated to a different dimension with its own lingo.

And don’t knock video games for little kids! My now 18 year old learned to read playing WoW. As a young child she struggled for years with reading. Despite our coaching she could barely sound out words, much less understand what she was struggling to pronounce.

Anyway… I think she was 8 or 9… World of Warcraft entered our house. She was transfixed!  Mesmerized! And absolutely desperate to read those darn quests.

It took a while but within 6 months she was, for the first time in her life, able to read with meaning. By age 10 she could read with complete fluency and tore through books as though they were going out of style. She read through the entire young adult section of one library branch (just as my son read through the entire adult history section) necessitating that we switch to a different library branch.

All my kids learned to read at different ages. My oldest son could read before he could speak, and could read fluently by age 5. We caught him reading Money Magazine over my husband’s shoulder at that tender age of 6.

My two next youngest daughters learned to read around age 5 with fluency. Then the next daughter- she struggled terribly and couldn’t read at all until age 9 or so (Minecraft, not WoW was her inspiration) but once up and running she too burned through books with alarming speed. The next daughter after that struggled, not quite as much as her older sister. She prefers graphic novels and draws her own snarky comics depicting the horrors of math class.

This 6 year old appears to be in the “struggle group.” She developed an aversion to books and refused to let us to read to her.

Recently I decided to renew my subscription to WoW. Not sure why- I mean I’m two expansions behind, don’t have much free time, and I occasionally find the game tedious. But the 6 year old took an instant liking to the game- as her sister before her, she was absolutely mesmerized and desperate to understand what exactly was going on.

She can now read and spell a number of emotes- you know, /sleep, /dance, /sit- meticulously typing them out at the keyboard. She listens intently as we read the quests, copies down server names (imagine I L L I D I A N and S T O R M R A G E penciled in cute little girl handwriting) and has learn to navigate the maps. She began asking about other words outside the game. How do you spell “look?” What does c-l-i-c-k spell? She no longer has that aversion to books, spelling, or even her homework. Yesterday she was pestering me midday to hit the books- usually homework with her is a last minute, teeth pulling enterprise.

So if your kids love video games, don’t panic. Look for games that are language heavy, require map navigation, and make sure to have a little faith. As far as my WoW subscription, can you say CLASSIC SERVERS??? I’ll gladly hand over my non-existent paycheck for that.

Manhunt: Unabomber

Manhunt: Unabomber is a Discovery Channel miniseries about the 1990s hunt for the Unabomber that culminated in a raid of his Montana cabin. This dramatized series was surprisingly good, with outstanding performances by Sam Worthington as FBI agent ‘Fitz’ and Paul Bettany as Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

Bettany’s performance as Kaczynski is particularly poignant. Not appearing until a few episodes in, Bettany plays the role in heartbreaking duet of genius and inner chaos. The result is a highly sympathetic- but not forgivable- portrait of Kaczinski as a man psychologically ground down by his inability to meld with the world.

I had no idea that Kaczinski was subjected to MKUltra experimentation while an underaged math student at Harvard (he entered Harvard at age 16). In fact, I had no idea MKUltra experiments were run on Harvard students at all! It sounds like a wild conspiracy theory, but is in fact sad truth and assuredly part and parcel to Kaczinski’s bizarre reign of terror.

Bettany’s performance aside, the most fascinating element of the series is its emphasis on language and linguistics. I don’t know how closely this holds to the actual investigation, but it is only through Kaczinski’s idiosyncratic actes de plume that the case cracks open with an accurate profile; investigators are able to match his writing to an obscure style guide briefly followed by The Chicago Tribune, thus pinpointing him as having learned to read and write in the Chicago area.

All in all the series is well paced and highly watchable. I’m ashamed to admit I spent an entire saturday glued to the screen. Manhunt: Unabomber is available on netflix streaming as of this writing.