In Memoriam: Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher

I grew up listening to my Mom and my Aunts’ fascination with Debbie Reynolds. When I was in Fifth Grade my grandparents took my cousin and me to see THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN at Radio City Music Hall for our August birthdays. When Debbie/ Molly was in danger of drowning during the titanic disaster I cried because I so much equated Miss Reynolds with my Mom and Aunts who followed her career (“How could that Eddie Fisher have left her for Elizabeth Taylor! Bad Eddie. Good Debbie! ) Debbie in MOLLY BROWN will always be a favorite of mine because of the empathy Debbie evokes in the role and the fact that the story is ultimately about the need for acceptance and belonging — a very catholic sensibility. Plus the dancing in the HE’s MY FRIEND number in the film’s Third Act Is sensational and always makes me smile. It’s a great expression of Joy and life’s energy And makes me want to dance. (follow the link. The best dancing starts in at 1 min. And 30 seconds!). I thought I might marry a woman like Debbie Reynolds one day (or was it Molly Brown I wanted?) but I ended up focusing on the bigger theme of Catholicity for my life. All the same, may Miss Reynolds and her daughter Carrie Fisher (reflection below) sing and dance with the Angels who I trust will lead them to paradise! God bless them!

 

 

PS: the above video always inspires me.  Of course, I only get to dance at weddings!

Carrie Fisher: Her memoir WISHFUL DRINKING was hysterically funny, poignant and sad as was her one-woman show that featured the same material. I saw WISHFUL DRINKING on Broadway and later almost bumped elbows with Miss Fisher in a New York Barnes and Noble Bookstore. She was a very gracious and humble lady. Her candor about her bipolar disorder and its challenges and the traps and illusions of fame offer some powerful “down to earth” insights for people of faith and “nones” alike –for those of us in the baby-boomer generation like her and the generations beyond. May the angels lead her and her Mom Debbie Reynolds to paradise.

 

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Fences – Movie Review by Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

by August Wilson, Directed by Denzel Washington

When you go to see FENCES (and I urge you to go), don’t expect to see a movie.  Expect a play on the big screen.  Like those FATHOM EVENTS or the MET OPERA HD LIVE BROADCASTS in movie theaters.  August Wilson’s play is profound and when his writing is coupled with the actors’ close-ups, depths of character are on display. Still, it takes a bit getting used to.  The dialogue is poetic–musical and rhythmic with ideas and images that crackle and pop–but we’re just not accustomed to this much dialogue in movies these days. It’s a true “talkie.”  For all that, director / actor Denzel Washington wisely kept FENCES a play-on-film.  How else could he be true to the character he plays with such bravado: the extroverted, extremely chatty TROY?  Denzel insists we experience Troy as Wilson conceived him—larger-than-life, a grand stander who dances around his angst, hurt and despair to the tune of ATTENTION MUST BE PAID!  Yes, writer and director could have made this a more cinematic experience, and that would have been wonderful, too, but why deprive us of this language and the reality of characters who speak their way through life the way most of us do?

In more than a few ways, FENCES is an African American DEATH OF A SALESMAN although it’s not quite as tragic.  Its pathos is not as draining but it is deeply moving.  I think it’s because Troy is more likeable than Willy Loman (SALESMAN’S central character), and, as an African American in 1950’s and 1960’s USA, he is more complicated.  Troy has more phantoms, more layers of social oppression to navigate than Loman and August Wilson surrounds him with a set of less deflated, more earth-centered family and friends.   Troy’s devoted wife, Rose, has fire in her belly (Viola Davis –WOW!) and her decision to love (yes, friends, love is ultimately a “Decision”) brings rays of light into the proceedings.  Also: Troy’s son, Cory (played by Jovan Adepo, a natural) has more going for him than Willy Loman’s sons.  The primary reason for that is Loman and sons lived in a fantasy world of Willie’s own making–his version of “The American Dream;” his misguided definition of “success.” In contrast, Troy, the patriarch of Wilson’s drama, has taken a very hard look at America and all the prejudices and limitations it imposes on African American life.  It is his blessing and his curse, his wisdom and his folly.  His tragedy is that he transmits his pain, intentionally and unintentionally, on his wife and son without ever transcending it.  Is it because he cannot or will not aspire to reclaim a different, richer dignity? The answer is “YES: to both.  Which is why Rose reaches a nobility her husband can only covet.  And that is sad, indeed, for unlike so many fathers who abandon their wives, girlfriends and children in search of some other kind of manhood, Troy takes responsibility for his family, extended family and friends.  His tragedy is that he is not fully present to the life he leads. Instead he indulges an undercurrent of resentment, chasing phantoms of release rather than being at ease in the stillness of sacred silence.  But we cannot judge him. He had had a moment of being on the cusp of greatness- a major league baseball career, for if not for social bias toward race, age and its obsession with youth (yes, even THEN), he could have been a contender.  And he, and we, live in a culture that values little else. God help us.

The power of FENCES—its situation and ideas, the faces of its characters—lingers profoundly long after watching it.  I guarantee your appreciation for the film will grow in the days and weeks ahead just as it has in the world’s response to Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN and Lorraine Hansberry’s A RAISIN IN THE SUN with which this photographed film has a strong affinity.  The play is alive with exciting performances of flawed but fascinating people who convey many truths about the nature of marriage, parenting, family and friendship.  I hope you will treat yourself to experience some of the depth of drive and feeling FENCES evokes—feelings we too often sublimate or eschew.    Of this much you can be sure: as you gather for celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and a Brand-New-Year, your investment in FENCES will offer you and your loved ones a great deal to talk about.

MOONLIGHT, a reflection and review

MOONLIGHT directed by Barry Jenkins; written by Jenkins from a story by Tarell Alvin McCraney

A Review by Fr. James DiLuzio CSP

 

Human nature and human sexuality are filled with mystery.

All cultures, all peoples, each society and every religion continue to mine the depths of what it means to be a person, a human being, a child of God.

The best of these entities strive fearlessly beyond the known and comfortable regions of the psyche and soul toward encounters with “The Other” -i.e., God Himself / Herself, but also with “others” whose lives, faiths and cultures are different from their own.  Think of Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek (Genesis 14: 17-24)  Jesus and the Canaanite Woman (Matthew 15:21-27-8). 

When we encounter those who are different, those who are unique –yet always equally human, equally children of God–thoughts and feelings that may have been brewing inside our bowels seem to come out of nowhere and may make us feel uncomfortable. These feelings can generate fear, and because of fear, we may project hatred towards those whom we do not know or do not understand. We may feel compelled to mistreat them because we see in them manifestation of shadows within us: feelings we would navigate differently, choices we could but would not make; thoughts that otherwise would never have entered our minds.

It takes great maturity, confidence and humility to address those feelings without resorting to hate and prejudice, or worse, violence. It takes compassion and deep faith in God to scale the heights of knowledge that lead to understanding, to empathy and compassion. These are the challenges of our times and it is good to take every opportunity to address them.

“Moonlight” offers us this kind of opportunity.

It is an art film filled with pregnant pauses, lingering moments of silence, minimal dialogue and strong visuals that invite contemplation and soul-searching regarding our aesthetics and attitudes, prejudices and fears.

It is a character study that moves from the particularities of sexual identity (the film’s surface topic) into something universal – everyman’s need for acceptance and affection.

It is a coming-of-age story in which the actor playing the boy (nine-year-old Alex Hibbert) is reflected in the actor playing the adolescent (Ashton Sanders) and both are ever-present in the one who becomes the man (Trevante Rhodes) even though the younger actors have long left the screen.

This is not trick photography but the workings of the script, the director and the three major actors whose ghost-like presences permeate everything we see and hear — and each actor is phenomenal. Trevante Rhodes’ penetrating eyes and body language are particularly impressive in the ways they express the spirits of his younger selves. Watching him impresses upon us the knowledge that no matter our age or life’s circumstances, the child within remains with us always. “Moonlight” reminds us how the conscious and subconscious wounds of a child may only be reconciled to adulthood when the milk of human kindness is applied, i.e., when forgiveness reigns and self-acceptance and love abound.

It’s a beautiful message. A beautiful film.

For those who have not yet seen “Moonlight,” some more plot details:

This film looks at the life of a Black American coming into a gradual awareness of his sexual identity amidst poverty and its corresponding fears and despondencies. We meet Chrion (aka “Little”) at home and school where he is surrounded by fellow students who are equally unsure of who they are and what they truly feel, but who possess greater bravado and who seem to know (How do children know these things?) that one of their own is somehow “different.”

Yes, he is reticent to a fault, shy and self-conscious and likely to be scapegoated on those counts alone. And yet they sense something more about him — that this boy’s sensitivity has a sexual component he does not know he has and that this includes an attraction to students of the same sex. The film lets us sit with that — the confusion, the sadness, the violence and cruelty before it moves us into the next phase of important relationships.

Although the adults who teach in his school are mostly clueless, and the boy’s mother (an excellent Naomie Harris) is a drug addict, a compassionate drug dealer and his caring girlfriend take the boy under their wing. Played compellingly by Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monae, these two characters prove welcomed Good Samaritans whose empathy toward the boy evokes our own. And what a powerful statement is made as we watch a somewhat disgraced and compromised grown man claim his irrepressible dignity by fathering a boy so desperate for true fathering. These scenes alone are worth the price of admission.

From here on in, the film eases us through levels of understanding that lead to compassion and hope. And, in the final scenes, when the adult Black encounters the adult Kevin (another character played chronologically by three terrific actors (nine-year-old Jaden Piner, 16-year-old Jharrell Jerome, adult André Holland) we realize we have been greatly privileged to have entered into this story. And, we just may be — if we are humble enough, honest enough, courageous enough — more fully human.


Paulist Fr. James DiLuzio is a member of our preaching apostolate, leading parish missions and retreats across the United States. He is the creator of “Luke Live.” 

– See more at: http://www.paulist.org/the-conversation/brewing-inside-film-review-moonlight/#sthash.yLgNUNd1.dpuf

Movie Review & Reflection: LA LA LAND

Movie Review & Reflection:  LA LA LAND

Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

Do you have to enjoy Hollywood musicals to enjoy LA LA LAND?  Yes and No.  YES, if you have ever had the urge to break into a song and dance in moment of comfort and joy.   YES, if you enjoy dancing and appreciate it as one of humanity’s greater pleasures.  YES, if you have a trace of nostalgia for that great AN AMERICAN IN PARIS ballet. (I956, MGM, Gene Keely, Leslie Caron; available on Blu Ray and Streaming.)  Director Damien Chazelle and Choreographer Mandy Moore’s (not the actress /singer) song and dance finale (almost finale) is a tribute to that ballet and it’s charming and magical.  But, oh, how I wish they had kept the company dancing in a flowing, ever-enlarging dance spectacle. So.  If you answered YES to all the above: GO!  If you answered “No” because you are the kind of person who interiorizes your moments of joy and/or never add a dance to your step or skip about for the fun of it, or find musicals silly, silly, silly, then stay home.  But before you settle in beside your Christmas / Hanukkah fire, be forewarned: there’s more to LA LA LAND than song and dance.

LA LA LAND focuses on the creative artistry, goals and objectives of two young lovers who, as they fall in love, exemplify the simple joys of love, music and art for their own sake.  These segments are the heart of the film and offer its greatest pleasures (the “almost-finale” notwithstanding). Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, the consummate jazz pianist seeking ART not popularity, and he plays the role well. As always, he’ a photogenic, attractive leading man and, in this film, he even has a dancer’s physique so when he glides aspiring actress Mia (the charming Emma Stone) into the gentle choreography of a starlit summer night, it all seems (almost) natural.  Now don’t expect Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers because Gosling and Stone are not polished professional dancers or singers. But that reality is precisely one of the points this movie makes:  Don’t leave everything to the professionals!    Sing a little, dance a little.  Walk on the “Sunny Side of the Street.”  (Or live in Los Angeles along with everyone else who wants to be Fred and Ginger who never get to sing or dance or act for pay and just keep basking in the sunshine year-round.)

The First Act of LA LA LAND could be tighter.   Gosling and Stone have chemistry, so we would have a lot more fun if the sparks of antagonism, approach/avoidance were ignited more fully at the onset.  (There’s a moment after the opening number where you think the sparks will fly but the script postpones the joy.)  Instead we get a good deal of the clichés of “the struggling artist.”  (The limited National Endowment for the Arts notwithstanding – will Americans ever truly support the ARTS in Education and local communities beyond buying high-priced concert tickets?)  But once Sebastian and Mia’s romance is in bloom, the film enchants and gives us a bit of punch, too, in some very well acted dramatic scenes.  Odd for a musical but it’s these dramatic scenes that help us care about the couple and give us reason to want to care more.  The songs they and others sing are better than serviceable but I found only a couple memorable.  I liked the ballads CITY OF STARS, the emotional and dramatic context of FOOLS WHO DREAM (engaging lyrics) and the rhythmic START A FIRE, the latter enhanced by the performance of John Legend, a most welcomed guest star. The jazz arrangements and orchestrations for all the numbers are excellent.  (Music by Justin Herwitz, Songs by Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul.)

LA LA LAND is a Hollywood Musical more about the ordinary than the glamorous, more about the reality than fantasy of show business. Meanwhile, it kind of insists that we keep romance and music in the picture.  As it is in this picture, may it be in YOUR picture, too.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Now most people would agree that “popular’ isn’t necessarily better (although it can be). BUT how can creative people earn their living when their work does not prove popular, remunerative or classifiable as genius?
  2. Is it a waste of time to attend to things you enjoy (especially singing, dancing, acting/ play-acting) if you are merely good but not spectacular at them?
  3. Can people follow their bliss, carve out a generative, joyful life without having to be on the big screen, the great white way or go viral streaming on the internet? Must there always be an audience for every act of creativity? (Can “ART” be its own reward?)
  4. Our competitive culture practically demands SUCCESS. How do you identify it?  Is it all relative? How important is it to you? Is it the same as recognition (an important human dynamic) or is it recognition-run-amuck?
  5. No one wants to be “left behind.” No one wants to be taken for granted yet society offers a living template of “winners” and “losers.”  Who “wins” and who “loses” in LA LA LAND?  Sebastian or Mia?  Director / Writer Damien Chazelle or YOU as a moviegoer?

 

 

 

Fr. DiLuzio’s Short Movie Reviews: FANTASTIC BEASTS and BIRTH OF A NATION

 

The best of FANTASTIC BEASTS and WHERE TO FIND THEM occurs in ACT THREE—the last 1/3 of the movie. It’s engaging, exciting and a fine example of the kind of storytelling one would expect from author J.K. Rowling and team.  Unfortunately, the first two acts don’t build the appropriate suspense primarily because the characters and elements that should contribute to the climatic conflict have not been presented well.  They are ambiguous and hint at possibilities rather than clearly foreshadow them.  For my part, one important clue was particularly obscure.  Too bad because the characters are interesting and they are wonderfully portrayed by a fine cast and the movie embraces important themes.  And, yes, there is one more problem:  the supporting characters are more intriguing than the leading character, Newt, played coyly and with charm by Eddie Redmayne but poorly written.  And some of the “Fantastic Beasts” he tries to preserve and protect take a bit getting used to.  Too many look like they stepped out of STAR WARS CANTINA BAND.  I found them off-putting even though they embody an essential moral: we must not judge by appearances.  Furthermore, we spend a lot of time in Act One with one of the cuter critters named Greedy who does provide humor and exasperation but who doesn’t factor much into the balance of the script.  In the end, I enjoyed the film. But, oh, it could have been so much better.

 

THE BIRTH OF A NATION lost a lot of momentum since its debut in theaters and you may be hard pressed to find it – although it may get a re-release if OSCAR dubs it worthy.  I DO dub it worth your time and consideration.  It’s a well-made in the very best old-fashioned sense of movie-making as it tells the story of Nat Turner, the infamous anti-hero who staged a revolt against the horrors of slavery.  The movie takes a romanticized view of his heroics very much akin to BRAVEHEART.  Because we see slavery’s cruelty first hand, one feels compelled to root for Nat and companions with all the emotional empathy of an unquestioning adolescent:  YES!  Kill all those cruel slave owners AND THEIR wives and children. The music swells triumphantly and “Why Not?”  American and European characters who dealt similarly with their adversaries have been hailed and honored for centuries.  GET those Indians!  Wipe out the evil doers!  Who cares about collateral damage? AND MAN, can my “INNER CHILD” HATE all those people who still have the audacity to want to raise the Confederate Flag!  (How easy it is watching movies like this to indulge my emotions and put my priestly identity aside!)  At the film’s conclusion, there is genuine catharsis and sadness.  For no matter the situation, violence breeds violence and more violence and prefigures more violence to come.  WHY MUST THE WORLD BE THIS WAY?  Is violence the only way to address injustice, cruelty, racism, sadism? The fact that BIRTH OF A NATION leaves you with that question makes it a valuable piece of film-making, wondering what kind of true nobility Nat Turner could have nurtured if he were born into a different era, a different economy (and YES, our current economy still embraces forms of slavery), a different United States?

Happy Saint Nicholas Day!

HAPPY SAINT NICHOLAS DAY to all who like to honor that noble and charitable Bishop of Myra in the 4th Century. Patron of children and safety for sailors and fisherman. I invite you to celebrate the day listening to my rendition of the Christmas Story. Available for free at
 
You may also download your own copy of this track on Amazon or Itunes or CDBABY. Only 99 cents and you help my ministries! God bless!