The Call Collective

Exploring God's presence and call within the culture.

Tag: Film

Our Delight with Disaster

The recent film The Disaster Artist portrays how the oracular Tommy Wiseau achieved his dream of writing, directing, and starring in the cult-classic and enigmatic move The RoomThe Disaster Artist has garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews, and James Franco demonstrates his talent with a masterful portrayal of Wiseau, a character who remains ageless and placeless.

The story is certainly intriguing: Wiseau, a man who claims to be from the Big Easy despite his heavy Slavic accent, uses his vast financial resources from occult origins to produce “the best worst movie that was ever made.” Though The Room was released in 2003, it still plays in theaters all over the world. Wiseau originally paid to have The Room screened in theaters for two weeks, so that it would be eligible for award contention. While the original film didn’t acquire any nominations, The Disaster Artist may give Wiseau a ticket to the Academy Awards, after all.

While the film sets out to depict Wiseau semi-sympathetically, I remained slightly uncomfortable throughout my viewing. In college I had no qualms about mocking the original film to the delight (and acceptance) of my friends. But today, being a bit older and more mature, I have to ask: what was motivating my desire to see a movie about a man with no artistic talent waste millions of dollars on a terrible film?

You can read the rest of the article at Aleteia.

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“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and God’s Mysterious Providence

The much anticipated next installment to the Star Wars saga, Episode VII: The Force Awakens, has finally made its way to video. The film, carefully and effectively piloted by director J.J. Abrams, crossed the $2 billion mark worldwide at the box office only two months after its December 2015 release. Of course, no one is surprised. Disney spent $4 billion dollars acquiring the franchise and they knew—without any doubt—that they would earn their money back and then some when all three films were said and done. No force required to see this one.

Overall the film garnered positive reviews. The biggest criticism, with which I’m partially sympathetic, is that it was too redolent of A New Hope: an obscure, though unknowingly gifted desert-dweller, the Death Star-esque weapon with the capacity to obliterate entire planets (or in this case planetary systems), the sinister—though vastly less iconic—relative of Vader with the same propensity to force-fully threaten his incompetent underlings. Still, and maybe because there is nothing like sitting in a packed theater, the smell of buttered popcorn and Milk Duds thick in the air, and having that famous score burst in my ears while watching bold Franklin Gothic Demi typeface glide out into space on the screen, I enjoyed it. I just can’t shake its nostalgic charm, I guess. Continue reading

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“A Very Murray Christmas” Has Heart but Misses the Soul

Earlier this month Netflix began streaming its very own Christmas special, A Very Murray Christmas—a short musical comedy written by Bill Murray, Mitch Glazer and Sofia Coppola. In it, we’re introduced to a rueful Bill Murray playing himself—steeped in an aching loneliness that’s so raw and unadulterated that it’s, well, funny. To a point.

Murray’s character is all set to host a Christmas special in New York City, but an encroaching blizzard has kept all of the show’s other stars from attending. Despite his self-deprecating pleas, the show is scheduled to go on. And it does—kind of—but the power goes out just as Murray and Chris Rock are droning out one of the most unsettling yet disturbingly captivating renditions of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Murray, having nothing else to do on Christmas Eve, does what you would fully expect and saunters to the Carlyle Hotel’s bar. Continue reading

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God’s Warning About Judgement: Why Shouldn’t We Judge?

It’s easy to judge others by our own measure. Part of this can’t be helped, since we have no other context to judge anything by other than our own experience—we only have one pair of eyes with which to peer out into the world. And if we’re all playing by the same rules, then it’s easy to assume we’re all playing with the same set of equipment as well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, about the idea of grace working differently in other people’s lives. It’s not difficult to give a nod of admiration to people who demonstrate admirable heroics—like missionaries proclaiming the Gospel in politically volatile regions of Africa, religious brothers and sisters ministering in the squalid streets of South America, or soldiers sacrificing their comfort, safety and wellbeing for others. We see—quite clearly—the sacrifice they’re making for humanity. And it’s easy to judge not only their actions, but their character as good and honorable.

Yet, what does Christ mean when he tells us not to judge? For one, he discourages us from judging others because we only have a fraction of information—of conclusive evidence, so to speak—in order to determine one’s culpability. In other words, we don’t know how difficult or easy, based on one’s circumstances, general propensities, and prior experience, it is to do or not do something.

It’s comparable to two athletes running a marathon. One may seemingly be the stronger runner, perhaps winning the race and clocking a superior time. The other may be slower, perhaps blatantly not as physically gifted as the former. Yet, unknown to us, the slower runner could have physical or genetic limitations that make running such a race a profoundly more difficult feat than it is for the one with favorable genetics. It’s impossible to know completely, of course, but perhaps if the better runner had been handed the same set of limitations at birth, his performance would pale in comparison to the one with those same physical obstacles—he might not even have the strength or fortitude to train and start the race, let alone finish it.

And so the small heroics of others often goes unseen by us. Continue reading

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“Inside Out” and God’s Gift of Sadness

This post was first published at Fr. Robert Barron’s Word On Fire blog.

(Warning: This piece contains details about the movie Inside Out.)

Pixar’s newest film, Inside Out, serves as another brilliant addition to their oeuvre of computer-animated films. Just as critics were growing suspicious of this famous animation studio due to its recent reliance on less memorable sequels, Pixar released one of their most stunningly original and beautifully touching films yet, complete with a charming cast of characters and compelling narrative as well as a seamless integration of deep, complex themes about growing up and, essentially, learning what it means to be human. They have answered any and all critics with an impressive rebuttal: a confident wagging of their Midas finger.

The film masterfully explores the danger of avoiding sadness and exhausting joy, a theme we can see in our culture without much eye straining—an inordinate drive to secure emotional happiness at all costs, avoiding, ignoring, or destroying all obstacles that could hinder it. Yet, as we witness in the film, there is a necessary “growing up” that reveals not only the benefit of sadness, but also the inescapable need for it to allow a deeper sense of richness in our lives and, paradoxically, a more lasting joy. The merging of these two emotions—joy and sadness—serves as a reminder of the way of discipleship. By following Christ on a path that requires us to carry our cross while at the same time exuding joy, we come to regard this bittersweet bond as a gift—an opportunity to receive and give love more fully.

The film follows the manifestations of five emotions—named Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger—in the mind of a girl named Riley. These emotions dwell in her mind’s “headquarters,” a control room where the characters control Riley’s emotional states (as you can guess, each character is responsible for the emotion of its namesake). The film casts Riley’s mind as a wondrous, orderly landscape, complete with “islands” that reflect different aspects of her personality, colored orbs that signify memories and, most importantly, a hub located in headquarters that stores her “core memories.” Continue reading

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What “Jurassic World” Teaches Us About Pope Francis’ New Encyclical

This post was first published at Fr. Robert Barron’s Word On Fire blog.

(Warning: This piece contains details about the movie Jurassic World.)

Fourteen years after the third installment of the Jurassic Park trilogy, the fourth film has finally come to theaters. Unlike the last two, this one takes place on the fictional island named Isla Nublar, home of the original Jurassic Park. Like Disney World to its older, smaller and less awe-inspiring sister Disneyland, Jurassic World towers over the original park with its vast technological advancements, luxurious amenities and, not surprisingly, much bigger and more terrifying dinosaurs.

It’s an enjoyable summer film. I don’t think it rivals the original one, which still holds a special place in my heart. My preference for the first one might partially have to do with nostalgia over merit, but Spielberg’s version has stood the test of time. With quirky characters like Dennis Nedry and Dr. Malcolm and unforgettable scenes involving night vision goggles, a rippling cup of water and a toilet, there was just no way this one was going to top it. Still, Jurassic World is a decent film. The story is very similar to the original one–throw in a big dinosaur that makes its way out of an enclosure, some greedy and arrogant businessmen, two awkwardly-aged siblings and, of course, some velociraptors and you have the recipe for a summer blockbuster.

It’s interesting that this film, which is blatantly cautionary about the misuse of nature, science and technology, came out right before the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si (On Care for Our Common Home). At moments, it’s as if the filmmakers anticipated the papal warnings about the exploitation of technology, the moral implications of genetic modification and the unhindered drive toward “progress” for the purposes of consumerist entertainment and soaring profits.

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How to Discern Your Calling (Part 2)

This is the second part to the three-part series titled How to Discern Your Calling.

How to Discern Your Calling (Part 1) >

Often times, I think that if I uncover God’s plan for my life, things will get easier. If I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, then shouldn’t it be smoother? Shouldn’t I be coasting?

I wish. Truly.

The invitation to co-create your life with God is only the first step. As I talked about in Part 1, we have to take the time in prayer to discern where God might be calling us and then act despite not having it all figured out. It’s a step that has to be taken over and over again as our calling evolves due to the changing seasons of our lives. We never stop discerning what our calling is, always needing to sense God’s gentle direction in the midst of our ever-transmuting lives.

Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny…To work out our own identity in God, which the Bible calls “working out our salvation,” is a labor that requires sacrifice and anguish, risk and many years.
New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton

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The Tightrope of Technology

This post was first published at Fr. Robert Barron’s Word On Fire blog.

One hundred and fifty. That’s how many times a day the average American checks his or her phone (according to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’s annual Internet Trends report). I don’t doubt it. In fact, it could have said 250 and I probably wouldn’t have been surprised. I can’t tell you the number of times I check my phone, but I’m embarrassed to say, it’s probably right around the average. I’m no different than old Pavlov’s dog at times, rooting that little contraption out of my pocket at every alert. Just the other day I caught myself driving home from work and reaching for my phone at nearly every stoplight, reviewing my emails, texts, Facebook, etc. When I realized this, I committed to fasting from my phone for the remainder of my trip home. It was surprisingly difficult.

We live in an incredible era. The access we have to information is magical. We can tap into a seemingly infinite repository of information with a device that tucks snugly in our front pocket. We can know exactly what’s going on halfway around the world in the time it takes to say “halfway around the world.” The amount of knowledge and information, thousands of years’ worth of human development, toil, and discovery, is a mere swipe of the thumb away. We’ve been submerged into a stream of abundant knowledge that’s dulled just how miraculous this is. As Pope Francis observed in Evangelii Gaudium:

This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid, and cumulative advances occurring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and of life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.

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Mad Max and the Quest for Redemption

This post was first published at Fr. Robert Barron’s Word On Fire blog.

(Warning: This piece contains some spoilers.)

Much of our entertainment these days seeps of Christian imagery and symbolism—what can rightly be called a Catholic imagination—that Hollywood just can’t seem to avoid. Our culture has yet to shake a rooted Christian worldview that served as the foundation of modern Western civilization. Filmmakers who don’t intend to draw on Christianity’s wisdom and beauty, by exploring general human themes and struggles, still find themselves unintentionally pointing to Christ.

One of Hollywood’s latest blockbuster flicks, Mad Max: Fury Road, is loaded with this religious imagery and symbolism. In this case, I don’t believe the director and creator, George Miller, set out to draw parallels to Christ. Yet, with a depiction of a fallen world in search of redemption, it’s hard not to see, at least loosely, a story redolent of the Christian Redeemer.

This film marks Miller’s fourth installment of the cult classic trilogy originally starring Mel Gibson and it’s masterfully done. Aside from the out-of-this-world special effects, oddly endearing though grotesque characters and a gripping story that never lets up, it provides a level of depth that one would not expect from a sci-fi summer action flick. And what a lovely action flick it is. Continue reading

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