The Better Beauty and the Beast

large_tnml0g604pdrjwgj5fsusykfo9After months of fasting from watching the latest Disney live-action remake, I finally got to look over Emma Watson’s most anticipated film. And actually, after all the negative views I’ve read on it, I still walked away with some surprises. This version of the 1991 classic is slower paced, and not as compelling (some scenes actually bored me enough for me to pull out my phone and check the news, waiting for the lame parts to pass). It’s lacking musical beauty, the CGI was sub-par, and the story is too top heavy, trying desperately to out-do its origin by adding tacky changes. From the start, this remake was in trouble since it was trying to perfect an already perfect original, and you just can’t fix what ain’t broke. Instead of trying desperately to improve, they should have desperately tried to honor the original. But despite these failures, here are some things I appreciated more than I thought I would, and things I think you never noticed:

—SPOILER ALERT—

  1. Right from the get go, I noticed the fly-by camera in the opening Disney Castle logo sequence. I wondered and replayed it, and took a screenshot. Here’s what I saw:StMikeDisneyThat’s right! Atop the Disney Castle logo in this film (it’s usually a flag in other films) is a gold statue of St. Michael defeating Satan. And then at the end of the film, when the curse is broken and the Beast’s castle transformed, we see yet another gold statue of St. Michael, transformed from a gargoyle into the Archangel slaying the evil one. This leads me to wonder why Disney and the director (Bill Condon) okayed these clearly traditional Christian images, especially in a film that was supposedly designed in some scenes to push immoral same-sex relationships. Could it be that despite the attempts at evil, St. Michael was snuck in to show that Mickey and company belongs to St. Michael and company?6f17a9903a9e5487675b308eec8e8f28-hamburg-germany-munich
  2. Continuing the peculiar positive portrayal of the Church is the reverend/priest in the movie, who Belle meets with regularly to borrow his books. Granted that not many were literate in that time, it’s still strange to change Belle’s connection to literature from being with a bookstore (in the 1991 version) to a Catholic priest in the remake. And how do we know it’s a Catholic priest? Because there’s a giant crucifix statue, and Protestants and Orthodox don’t use crucifixes or statues. Also, the setting is France: a traditional stronghold of Catholicism (think St. Joan of Arc).
  3. Beast also has an almost throw-away line rebutting Lumiere’s claim of Belle being “the one” for Beast. Beast says: “there’s no such thing as the one.” This immediately reminded me of the correct understanding of love and marriage without the false fantasy of fate that negates freedom, without the this-was-meant-to-be lies. Blogger and author Matt Walsh explains this hilariously and clearly in this article: My Marriage Wasn’t Meant To Be. Here’s an excerpt (but seriously read it all):

    We think that our task is to find this preordained partner and marry them because, after all, they’re “The One.” They were designed for us, for us and only us. It’s written in the stars, prescribed in the cosmos, commanded by God or Mother Earth. There are six or seven billion people in the world, but only one of them is the right one, we think, and we’ll stay single until we happen to stumble into them one day.

    And when that day happens, when The One — our soul mate, our match, our spirit-twin — comes barreling into our lives to whisk us off our feet and take us on canoe rides and deliver impassioned romantic monologues on a beach in the rain or in a bus station or whatever, then we’ll finally be happy. Happy until the end of time. We can get married and have a perfect union; a Facebook Photo Marriage, where every day is like an Instragam of you and your spouse wearing comfortable socks and sitting next to the fireplace drinking Starbucks lattes.

    Yeah. About that. It’s bull crap, sorry. Not just silly, frivolous bull crap, but bull crap that will destroy you and eat your marriage alive from the inside. It’s a lie. A vicious, cynical lie that leads only to disappointment and confusion. The Marriage of Destiny is a facade, but the good news is that Real Marriage is something so much more loving, joyful, and true.

    We’ve got it all backwards, you see. I didn’t marry my wife because she’s The One, she’s The One because I married her. Until we were married, she was one, I was one, and we were both one of many. I didn’t marry The One, I married this one, and the two of us became one. I didn’t marry her because I was “meant to be with her,” I married her because that was my choice, and it was her choice, and the Sacrament of marriage is that choice. I married her because I love her — I chose to love her — and I chose to live the rest of my life in service to her. We were not following a script, we chose to write our own, and it’s a story that contains more love and happiness than any romantic fable ever conjured up by Hollywood.

    Indeed, marriage is a decision, not the inevitable result of unseen forces outside of our control. When we got married, the pastor asked us if we had “come here freely.” If I had said, “well, not really, you see destiny drew us together,” that would have brought the evening to an abrupt and unpleasant end. Marriage has to be a free choice or it is not a marriage. That’s a beautiful thing, really.

    God gave us Free Will. It is His greatest gift to us because without it, nothing is possible. Love is not possible without Will. If we cannot choose to love, then we cannot love. God did not program us like robots to be compatible with only one other machine. He created us as individuals, endowed with the incredible, unprecedented power to choose. And with that choice, we are to go out and find a partner, and make that partner our soul mate.

  4. And now the question of freedom and love: Beast finally learns this when he frees Belle from being his prisoner, even though she has become a willing prisoner. Being yet not fully free, her love is unable to be true, and his love is prevented from maturing also. But once Beast let’s Belle leave, once he allows himself to lose and become incredibly vulnerable to Belle’s rejection and abandonment, only then does Belle’s return mean anything. This insight isn’t unique to this remake, but is also in the original, and is a timeless truth about how love becomes true love. It reminds us that only a heart that can break is an honest heart, a real heart. And when Beast accepts his broken heart for love of Belle and her freedom and dignity, then does love truly bless and bloom, not wilt as the cursed rose.beauty_and_the_beast_emma_watson_rose
  5. That’s all I have to say about the remake. For more about the 1991 original masterpiece and all the bursting Christian and biblical symbols in it, please see Beauty and the Beast and the Bible. Finally, it should be obvious that I believe the better Beauty and the Beast is certainly not this remake. Sorry fans. Everything that was good in this version was already in the original.
  6. For another, more thoughtful review, please see here.

BeautyBeast

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Figuring Hidden Figures

hidden-figures-750x315_origThis film is not one I would normally pay any attention to, yet someone I love enlightened me to it! And so, in her honor and in the honor of the hidden figures, may I share my insights:

—NO SPOILERS—

——1) The film tells the story of three Black women working for NASA during the American Space Race with the USSR. During this heated time between the two world powers, we see the Soviets outpace the U.S. time and again: they get to space first, they send animals to space first, and they send a human to space first, and they bring him home safely, first. It’s all about first.

That leads me to my sole criticism of the film: it overemphasizes the worth of being first in something, it seems to claim that being first is the reason something should be done, but this is a dangerous idea. Sure, being the first female engineer at NASA is great! Sure, being the first person to explore a jungle is great! Sure, being the first in your family to finish college is great! But what about being the first sinner (Adam and Eve)? The first murderer (Cain)? The first to betray Jesus (Judas)?

And so, being first in something does not automatically make it meritorious or worthy. One must be first in something virtuous, just, holy and true; yet even if one cannot be first in those things, being last also works because goodness doesn’t matter if you’re at the top or bottom, but only if you are faithful.

——2) This film is also not just about women! It’s about healthy women who are in healthy marriages and good families. In sum, it is about the feminine genius that St. John Paul II talked about a lot, about how there is a false feminism and a true feminism. Here are the differences between the two:

False feminism advocates that women must be exactly like men in order to succeed, that men and the male lifestyle are the standard, and in order to win, that women must crush men and replace them. The woman must become manly in order to beat the man.

True feminism sees that women and the female lifestyle have their own standards, that a woman never needs to compare herself to a man, because she is incomparable! Men have their own weaknesses and flaws, and so they should not be imitated, but rather challenged and inspired by the women around them to rise to greatness. The feminine genius, and the way God meant for men and women to be, is to support one another as each grows into greatness! We are not opposing teams, but we are a family!

And Fulton Sheen summarizes this well:

To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood.  When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.

hf-gallery-05-gallery-image——3) We also see that a nation that is divided by racism and sexism is unable to accomplish great things. A nation suffering from prejudice and unjust discrimination is wounding itself. This point is clear when we see that only when such unfairness is set aside do we see America rising and outpacing her opponents. I hope we have learned this lesson.

——4) Lastly, in President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech about America’s lunar mission, we hear him say that:

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win …

From this, I saw that the hardest thing to do of all is not going to the moon, or going to Mars, or wherever/whatever. The hardest thing to do in life is to love! Real, true and selfless love for God and for others! And only through this love do we have a chance to accept God’s invitation to enter Heaven!

Common misconceptions of love see it as a good, mushy feeling, but true love is actually a pure decision to keep caring even when everything feels terrible, even when being devoted feels tortuous. In fact, if all those NASA engineers and staff did not love the astronauts they were blasting into orbit, didn’t love the country they represented, didn’t love the mission, then nothing would have happened! John Glenn would never have reached the heavens!

And we will never reach Heaven either if we do not love truly and selflessly.

American Idolatry

m_americanidollogo630_113011As 2017 begins, I’d like to share how we all can make this new year a better one. First, we can must stop committing American idolatry. Here’s what I mean:

  1. Idolatry is worshiping, loving and serving someone/thing other than God. Here’s why idolatry is stupid and wrong: because no one except God can save you. He made you, He saves you, and He raises you from the dead (no matter how decayed you are in the grave). No one and nothing else can do that. So when we love a person more than we love God, when we love a thing more than we love God, we’re entrusting ourselves to something that will fail us in the end. Even we ourselves will fail ourselves in the end.
  2. And that’s the problem. We entrust ourselves to money, science, technology, education and career. Those are all great tools to help us serve God and others, but they are not gods! And we’re the dumber for thinking and living like they are.
  3. Even worse, we trust in our favorite celebrities and politicians as if they are all mighty and all perfect. We think Taylor Swift will save the world, we have recourse to Donald Trump, we find hope in Hillary Clinton, we hang on Pope Francis’ every word, and we believe in ourselves.
  4. But the only person we should ever really believe in is Jesus Christ. We cannot believe in anyone else! Because everyone else dies! And they stay dead! But only Christ came back to life, and only He can make you come back, too.
  5. Never believe in yourself. It’s a useless lie. Because even you die. I stopped believing in myself long ago when I realized the problem with me is me, and the only solution is He who made me and can remake me into a saint. Just think about it, really think about it…
  6. So if we all let God remake us into saints, this 2017 and forward will be really something. The best way to start is to pray, asking Him to give us the grace to let Him do what needs to be done.

 

I Love La La Land

942e8cfb6448873d60ac9821b77b44e5La La Land got me as soon as its trailer came out the past summer. It’s not the usual fare that I like to chew on and sift for Catholic Christian insights, but it is what I love to enjoy: a well-made film with great score and music. Yet, here are a few highlights it made me think of (no spoilers):

——1) I smiled during much of the musical. It was so happy (except for the sad parts, of course). It reminded me of a particular philosopher’s (Peter Kreeft, to be exact) speculation on the after-life. Paraphrased quote goes:

The language we speak in Heaven is music.

And I agree wholeheartedly. Song is super expressive, universal, personal and social, and every time we sing, it comes out new. Even the angels sing for eternity. St. Thomas Aquinas lays bold claims that music is the highest and most spiritually-tuned of all arts, and St. Augustine says:

He who sings well prays twice [as much].

Meaning that when we sing our prayers well, the prayer becomes worth double! (Which is why the Church always prefers Gregorian Chant [or similar] in her liturgies). And this leads me to my own speculation that when God said “Let there be light…” He did not just say it–He sung it. God sang creation into being, into reality. God sings us into existence. This makes sense to me because if we, who are His children, love music so much… then how much more does God Himself, since He created music and our ability and capacity to recognize it, appreciate, love, and create it. Answer: infinitely more.

And think about this: music is just highly organized noise. The order of the sounds is what makes a song, and nobody teaches us how to recognize a song as different from a pandemonium of noise: we’re just created with this capability to hear it, conceived ready to love it.

——2) Speaking of our creation: God did not make us to sit an offices and push papers. He did not make us so that we can stand on assembly lines, or wait in waiting rooms, or slave over tiresome toil. God made us to sing! To dance and to play! To live lives of music! The world was meant to be our playground and dance floor, but our sins (i.e., Original Sin) made us forfeit it all. So watching musicals like La La Land remind me that we who make it to Heaven will find an incredible musical experience waiting for us. An eternity of play and dance, enjoying what God meant us to be and to do: exploring His creation, meeting His creatures, and wandering His infinite creativity and love.movies_imgs_431478241912

——3) As for dance, the numbers in the film remind me of what a truly great dance between a man and a woman should do. Quoting myself from Just Too Beautiful:

A woman’s beauty and a man’s beauty are not the same, not equal, not interchangeable.

A woman is as different as she can be from a man – and still be 100% human. A man is as different as he can be from a woman – and still be 100% human.

Anyone who believes a man can become a woman must also believe that the night sky can become the stars, that the frame can become the painting, the page can become the story, the dress can become the body.

But no matter how similar the two – it is impossible for one to become the other, because the one is meant for the other, and the other for the one…

Because when man holds woman – he supports the stars, he protects and presents the painting, he carries the tale, he embraces the beautiful body. He gets to hold beauty, gets to be with beauty. He gets to care for beauty. He gets to love her.

la-la-land-movie-soundtrack——4) Finally, the prolonged car horn in the musical tells me something. The first time we see and hear Sebastian honk the car horn, it’s out of his hatred for Mia. He is disgusted with her and insults her.

But later, as they learn to love each other, the car horn becomes a sign of love. In fact, each time we hear the horn again, the love is at a higher level, until it becomes an even sacrificial love to care for the other person even if the “feeling of love” is absent (meaning only a pure love based on selfless concern remains).

And that wraps up by first impressions of LLL. I’ll probably be savoring this musical again and will update if I see more depth in the film. But I leave you with a bonus:

——Bonus) Might be a stretch, but Sebastian’s name originates from St. Sebastian, a Roman martyr who competed in life as an athlete and died when he refused to abandon his love for Jesus. Kind of reminds me of how Sebastian in the musical competed and refused to abandon his dreams and Mia’s, also. He urged Mia to not give up and not give in, and they encouraged each other when the other started stumbling. This is exactly how fellow Christians should encourage each other! Never give up faith, hope and love. Never give in to sin. Always reach for the dream of Heaven.

The Sound of Snow

snow-933283_1280I know the sound of snow.

Sister taught me how to listen to it whenever Mom and Dad fought. She told me that snow was the sky coming down—Heaven touching the ground with little tip-toes.

Once, I listened so carefully by the window that I didn’t even know the window broke. Sister pulled me from the glass while Mom and Dad threw more things through it. She touched the cuts on my face, she touched the tears on hers, she smeared her cheeks red. She led me to her room and shut the door—the cold reached through under it and tickled my ankles. Sister sang a song while she put clothes in our backpacks. She knew which were my favorite and folded them carefully.

She put everything inside and zipped the bags. She wrapped me in more clothes and closed a coat around me. She called me an astronaut, safe in my suit, and told me we were going to the moon. When she opened her window, we climbed into space and watched the stars fall. She shut the window and erased our tracks while we walked.

We walked until the sky fell faster. The trees turned white and the houses were icebergs. I waited in Sister’s footprints and watched her climb the floating ice. She crawled into its caves. Her flashlight sparkled like an icicle wand.

She waved to me and I followed her inside, brushing our footprints behind me. The cave was big and empty. We found old bottles and boxes, leftovers from other explorers. We found a tub full of mud and a bed full of bugs. They were dead. They fell on the floor like sand.

Sister unrolled her sleeping bag and turned off her light. She put me inside and we shared the bag. I felt her breath on my cheek and her stomach shake. She started to shiver. I turned around but she turned away. I listened to her. She wanted to go home.

“We can go back now,” I said, “we can come again tomorrow.” The moon and the iceberg and the cave were not fun anymore.

Sister was quiet for a long time.

“We can’t,” she whispered.

“Why not?”

“It’s not safe,” she said, “just listen to the snow. Go to sleep.”

I listened.

I woke from deep inside the whale’s belly. The sleeping bag swallowed me. There was enough room now for me to swim, to reach, to wonder where Sister went. I squirmed from the bag like a cocoon. I walked to the window. The sun melted the snow and made it smell like rain.

Sister was in the backyard picking up snowballs. A snowman held her hat in his skinny hand. An igloo sat like a sea turtle on the beach. Sister crawled inside the white shell. I ran outside following her footprints.

“Why didn’t you cover your tracks?” I asked.

Sister stuck her head out from the shell, “Because we’re safe here.” She smiled and tucked back inside. I tucked inside, too. The turtle shell was just big enough for us, and quiet enough for us to hear our breaths and heartbeats—and our stomachs.

“Where are you going?” I asked when Sister ducked out the turtle’s neck.

“Getting our stuff. I brought snacks!”

She disappeared into the brightness outside. I listened to her footsteps munch the snow. Inside, the sun glowed through the shell like a cloudy day. I lied down and tried to guess where the sun was. I listened to it melt the snow. I poked a hole into the ceiling, peeked out, and tried to spot the sun. I knew I found it when a little lightning bolt shot inside.

Then I heard thunder.

I crawled from the igloo and found a mountain. It was black, brown, and made of broken wood. I looked at the other dark houses, but they were not the cave.

I followed Sister’s tracks to the mountain, but she did not come out.

I tried to climb it, but the steps kept moving, the mountain kept breaking. I watched the wood and waited.

Then I heard Sister’s shivers.

I put my ear to the mountain’s side and tried not to breathe.

But her breaths stopped instead, and all I heard was the sound of snow.

 

©Evan Pham, 2016 (Written Dec. 11-13, 2016)

I Saw Hacksaw

imgNot many directors have my full trust in their story telling; besides Christopher Nolan, there is only Mel Gibson. After a decade of recovering and rehabilitation from his downfall, Gibson’s first film since Apocalypto and The Passion of the ChristHacksaw Ridge (based on a true story)—is very telling, even if I did not like it as much as I thought I would.

—SPOILER ALERT—

——1) Heroes are not spotless, they have pasts and histories, and Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is a fine example. His youth is peppered with violent, even homicidal episodes, and he exemplifies this famed quote well: Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future. And most importantly, a saint is someone who starts on the path of sainthood again and again, never staying down, never giving up. If you apply this to Gibson, or to St. Paul, or to St. Peter, St. Mary Magdalene, then you see what I mean. And if you apply this to yourself, then you have found the path to Heaven.

——2) Of all the things she could give Desmond before he ships off to war, his beloved Dorothy gives him her tattered Bible. They share their faith with one another, and in this love for God, their own mutual love grows. If couples do not ground the roots of their love in the infinite Love, into infinite Life, then how can they hope their love will survive? If you do not believe in something greater than yourself, then you will never have anything greater than yourself. And if you do not anchor your love first in eternal love, then your love does not get any greater: it will not survive when you die (and we all eventually die).327

——3) Speaking of death, we see also the jarring juxtaposition of two cultures with clashing values: one that tries to preserve and save life at the risk of one’s own (the devout Christian West), the other disregarding life and glorifying death through suicidal kamikaze tactics and seppuku  (the Japanese). In today’s culture we see a similar struggle: one that strives to honor all human life from conception to natural death, the other advocating that life is only valuable if we want it to be. In other words, the Christian rooted cultures know each life to be of infinite worth and not to be given up on lightly, whereas certain cultures see human life as expendable as if it were a mere resource. Most importantly, if human life is only a resource, only valuable if we decide so, then who is the judge for whether another life should be ended? Who is so “enlightened” and “fair” that they can decide who lives or dies? And who says that judge has to be yourself? It can easily be someone else… in fact, if it is not God, then it very well might be someone else much less loving and merciful.maxresdefault

——4) Love for enemies is never easy, but here in the film we see Doss even extend mercy toward the enemy soldiers. He treats them as his own, only hesitating because of fear they would attack him, not because he hates them. In fact, we do not see Doss express any malice toward the Japanese troops! For a war film, it was strange to see such little animosity from the protagonist against the foe. But there we see the point of the story: the primary foe is not the Japanese military: the foe is Desmond Doss himself.

——5) The foe is Doss himself because we are waiting to see if he will drop his promise. We are watching to see how committed he is to non-violence, how long he will go before picking up a rifle and shooting the Japanese. We expect to see him cornered, desperate, and succumb to breaking his vows. We wonder how much will it take before he snaps. Yet, he does not. His resolved conscience is so solid that we are forced to think whether we ourselves are that resolved on anything!

——6) It is there the film reaches out to us, Doss reaches out to us, to challenge us whether we have the courage to keep our promises, to stay faithful, to try over and over, praying God helps us one more time, and always one more time, no matter what came before, which reminds me of a prized quote from St. Paul (so prized I made a meme for it):

 

Malice and Maleficence

MALEF_001A_G_ENG-SG_70x100.inddRecently, a dear friend of mine requested I should view and review one of her favorite films. At first I was reluctant, because I had heard negative reviews about Maleficent, and I also secretly dislike Angelina Jolie as an actress (yes, she bores me). But after giving the film a look, here are the really powerful moments of the tale:

—SPOILER ALERT—

—–1) The reviews I tend to read before considering an unknown film saw Maleficent as a poor remake of the original Sleeping Beauty. Now I am not a fan of the original, so this gave me even more reason not to see the remake. However, seeing Maleficent as a standalone (isolated and without memory of the original) film is the perspective I am sharing from, and from this point of view, let me continue…

—–2) “Don’t curse in the first place! You will spend your lifetime regretting it.” In the film, we see Maleficent take revenge on the selfish Stefan by cursing Stefan’s most loved one: his daughter Aurora. As the film progresses, we see that Maleficent seeks to undo the curse, but it is impossible.

This reminds me of some advice from St. Philip Neri about gossip (and other sins we commit). The story goes: Once a woman came to confess her sins, and the priest gave her a penance to help her make better choices in the future. He told her, “Take a pillow filled with feathers, and climb to the highest point in the city. From there, shed all the feathers from the pillow and let the wind catch and scatter them across town. Afterwards, climb down to the ground and collect every feather, stuff them back into the empty pillowcase. This is to show you that when you sin, even when merely gossiping, your sins and malicious words spread out and cause evil everywhere. And you can never undo and unsay everything.”maleficent536acd244e2df

—–3) From this tragic and irrevocable curse, we see that it is never right to punish a child for the sins of the parent! NEVER. So what Maleficent does is unacceptable, is evil, and malicious (hence, her name). This may seem obvious, but there are many people who indeed even murder their children in order to escape the responsibilities and consequences of their actions. I wrote about this just a few weeks back, so please check it out here: Children of Crime.

—–4) Once the curse takes hold and sends Aurora into indefinite sleep, we see the metaphor: her perpetual sleep is a death, with only a glimmer of hope that is more like hopelessness. Desperate to raise the girl from sleep (think of Luke 8:40-56 when Jesus woke Jairus’ dead daughter!) but unable to because the Prince has no real love for Aurora, Maleficent (who at this point has become like a mother to the girl) kisses Aurora’s brow, saying goodnight and goodbye.

It is here where we see that true love is not necessarily romantic or sexual! In this world, so many people confuse sex and romance for love, when actually the greatest love does not depend on those things. When parents love their children, when friends love one another, when children love their parents, when God loves us and tells us to even love our enemies, none of these loves should ever be sexual or romantic, and they are all powerful examples of love, true and chaste.

Of course, the love between a husband and wife have romance and sexual aspects, but the point is that their love is not based on those aspects, that even when their is no sex or romance, their love is still true because they choose to be faithful, loyal, selfless, and generous. Love is based on how we help get each other to Heaven, not on how much we can get from each other.maleficent-kiss-aurora

—–5) Lastly, we see that despite the evil Maleficent did, forgiveness is always possible if there is love, and only if there is love. Her many sins are forgiven, for she loved much, and love makes forgiveness always possible! Evil does not win unless we let it. For a great post about this, please see: Forgiveness is For Giving.

—–End) All in all, though not a film I think everyone must see, if you do see it, it wouldn’t be a waste!