Where Be Story Editor?

Roland Joffé’s new movie, There Be Dragons, is about half a good movie.  What is good is so good that it makes the bad parts doubly frustrating.

Let’s start with the good.  The best part was, happily, Charlie Cox, who plays Opus Dei’s founder, Josemaria Escriva.  Knowing very little about the actual man, I had none of the mental baggage that can trouble a fan (“That’s not how I pictured Mr. Tumnus!”).  The Fr. Josemaria he portrays is a strong, happy, humorous man who is not like other men.  When he commands a room with quiet authority, you feel it.  Despite the drama that surrounds him, his actions are not hammy or melodramatic.  You care about him, and want him to succeed.  When he learns to love everyone he meets, you believe it, and you feel glad that you met him, even if only on screen through an actor.  There are several original and memorable scenes which demonstrate the humanity, holiness, and appeal of the man.

When he’s not on screen, however, the movie is kind of a mess.  The first half hour or so is so cluttered with flashbacks, flash forwards, voice overs, text explanations, and a panoply of cinematic hokeyness, it’s a struggle just to figure out what story is being told.

I know what happened here.  The director knew he had a good story on his hands:  Josemaria Escriva was an amazing guy living in amazing times.  But if you just do a biopic of a Catholic boy who becomes a priest and starts a religious movement, who’s going to watch it?  So they decided to give the story some theatrical heft by telling two stories simultaneously:  Josemaria and his onetime friend, Manolo Torres, who works as a fascist government mole in the trenches with the communist rebels.  But that’s not all:  the dual story is being uncovered by the alienated son of Manolo, who is writing a book about Josemaria, who was friends with Manolo, who is telling his son not to write the book, who is writing it because he’s mad at his father, who is mad at Josemaria because he’s  . . . if this is making any sense, I’m telling it wrong.

Any time Manolo, or his son, or Manolo’s rebel beloved, or the beloved’s lover are on screen, the movie descends into — how do you say?  – silliness.  The characters are paper thin, the dialog is contrived, the voice overs never clarify anything, and the acting stinks.  Again, I think I know what happened:  the director has seen one to many Francis Ford Coppola movies, and was desperate to do the whole “violence and sacraments” juxtaposition thing.  A rosary next to a pistol!  A shattered statue of Mary amid the rubble of war!  An angel amid the lunatics in the asylum!  Or is it a devil!  I know it’s not fair to say, “This is no Godfather,” but what can I say?  Coppola pulled it off; this guy didn’t.  The effect is just squirmfully corny.  You really can’t zoom in on someone’s eyes, and then turn the screen into a swirling, glowing snowglobe to signify that God Is Talking.  You just can’t.  I, the marginally sophisticated viewer, will not stand for it.

At the same time,  so many moments that could have been incredibly powerful cinema are just squandered.  For example: the sniper is on the hillside, squinting through his gunsight at Josemaria and his friends below as they celebrate a makeshift Mass during their perilous escape  in the middle of the Pyrenees.  That could have been a gorgeous scene.  With a little movement by the camera, it could have been the pivotal point — could have carried the weight of the whole movie.  Instead, they just kind of  . . . filmed it:  here’s the sniper, here’s the priest.  Bang!  Next scene.  So frustrating.

At a certain point in the movie, I felt as if I was watching a slide show or an especially melodramatic Powerpoint presentation which covered the plot, more than an actual story.   There was no rhythm to the way it was told, just lots of stopping and starting — which isn’t the same.  There was no deeper meaning to the double stories, just added complexity — which isn’t the same.  There were no deeper themes of fatherhood and faith and forgiveness, just lots of talking about those things — which isn’t the same.  They could have cut thirty minutes and half the characters without losing anything.

Well, now I feel like a jerk.  This was a very sincere movie, and believe it or not, I still recommend it.   It made me interested in Josemaria Escriva — I just wish they had stuck with him more, and skipped all the tacked-on extras of the other plot. I think high school students and younger would probably be pretty impressed by this movie, and it would make a great introduction to the saint for a confirmation class.    I can see someone leaving the theater inspired and encouraged by what happened on the screen.  As I said, the good parts (which occur mostly in the middle third of this two-hour film) are quite good.  The bad parts aren’t unwatchable so much as frustrating:  you keep thinking how much better it could have been.

I guess I’m just not willing to go whole hog and rave about it, just because it presents Catholics in a good light and had a budget of more than $750.  I’m awfully, awfully tired of Catholics being the boogeyman in popular culture, but I’m also awfully, awfully tired of being told that everything that’s wholesome is a MUST SEE, a piece of CINEMATIC BRILLIANCE that will CHANGE YOUR LIFE, and is about FIREMEN.  So, this movie was okay.  I liked it.  But it wasn’t an especially good movie.

It was extremely refreshing to see the Catholic faith represented as something that inspires generosity, courage, manliness, and heroism.  I just wish that someone had been inspired to edit this movie, and heavily.

You can see the official trailer here.


A “Lifetime Contribution” is exactly right.

Speaking of Dostoevsky, I just heard that my dear literature professor, Dr. Mary Mumbach, the former dean and co-founder of Thomas More College, and now dean and co-founder of The Erasmus Institute of Liberal Arts, has just been awarded the2011 Russell Kirk Paideia Prize for Lifetime Contribution To Classical Education.

I am absolutely delighted to see Dr. Mumbach being recognized.  This is a woman who eat, drinks, and breathes literature, and who has poured her entire life into passing her love on to hundreds and hundreds of college students.  Last time I read The Brothers Karamazov, it was in her Russian Novel class . . . let’s see, about fifteen years ago, almost to the day, I think!  And here I am picking up the book for the third or fourth time.  How I would love to be able to sit in the cafeteria with a cup of coffee and have a chat with Dr. Mumbach.

Hey parents, if your kids are approaching college age, do yourself a favor and check out The Erasmus Institute, where Dr. Mumbach is Dean and professor.  It is a small, rustic, intense place, joyfully Catholic and utterly dedicated to the love of learning.  And there’s a Rome semester!  And look at this curriculum! And if you act fast, your child could have the delightful experience not only of soaking up the best of Western Civilization, but of soaking it up in a chair next to such celebrities as my own brother, my niece, and my nephew.

Seriously, my three brothers and four sisters and I, my husband, and two of my husband’s siblings were all students of the folks who founded Erasmus.  This is a good place – take a look.

One more thing:  as I write,  it occurs to me that, for some reason, I never thanked my teachers for the extraordinary education I got.  I can see much more clearly now how much love, care, and energy went into each class, and I am very grateful!  Thank you, Dr. Mumbach, and Dr. Sampo, Mr. Shea, Ms. Enos, Ms. Bonifield, and Mr. Syseskey.  Life is so much richer because of those four years.


Guest Post: Fyodor Dosteovsky

My husband and I have started rereading The Brothers Karamazov, and are zipping through it  the blinding pace of nearly 2-3 chapters per week.  At this rate, we’ll have it finished before our kids borrow the book for college.  I thought you guys might appreciate this passage, as the monk Fr. Zosima recounts a conversation  with a famous doctor:

‘I love mankind,’ [the doctor] said, ‘but I marvel at myself:  the more  I love mankind in general, the less I love human beings in particular, separately, that is, as individual persons.  In my dreams,’ he said, ‘I would often arrive at fervent plans of devotion to mankind and might very possibly have gone to the Cross for human beings, had that been suddenly required of me, and yet I am unable to spend two days in the same room with someone else, and this I know from experience.  No sooner is that someone else close to me than her personality crushes my self-esteem and hampers my freedom.  In the space of a day and a night I am capable of coming to hate even the best of human beings:  one because he takes too long over dinner, another because he has a cold and is perpetually blowing his nose.  I become the enemy of others,’ he said, ‘very nearly as soon as they come into contact with me.  To compensate for this, however, it has always happened that the more I have hated human beings in particular, the more ardent has become my love for mankind in general.’

‘But then what is to be done?  What is to be done in such a case?  Is one to give oneself up to despair?’

[and Fr. Zosima responds:]  No, for it sufficient that you grieve over it.  Do what you are able, and it will be taken into consideration.  In your case, much of the work has already been done, for you have been able to understand yourself so deeply and sincerely!  If, however, you have spoken so sincerely to me now only in order to receive the kind of praise I have just given you for your truthfulness, then you will, of course, get nowhere in your heroic attempts at active love; it will all merely remain in your dreams, and the whole of your life will flit by like a wraith.  You will also, of course, forget about the life to come, and you will end by somehow acquiring a kind of calm.

I’m also reading Jurassic Park.  How about you?  What book is currently lulling you to sleep or keeping you awake all night?


My son, the problem-solver.

7-year-old son:  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  I’M A ZOMBIE KILLER!

5-year-old daughter:  Well, I’m not a zombie.

7-year-old son:  Wait here, I’ll get my other gun.


Also, my post is up at the Register:  Pro-Life Euphemisms:  What Do You Think?


Also, last day to enter in the contest! Email your answers to simchafisher@gmail.com(sorry, I can’t seem to get WordPress to make that a live link).  I have to say, I think I figured it out from other clues around the house . . . and  NO ONE HAS GUESSED IT YET.  So go ahead and make a second guess, if you like.  If no one guesses it, I’ll just figure out some silly way of choosing a winner tomorrow.


Inside the bag was . . .

cruel defeat for you all.

There were 116 entries, and nobody guessed it!  Are you ready?  Inside the bag was . . .

mix for making homemade vanilla ice cream.   How can I be sure?  After some deep cleaning, we noticed a carton which was split open, from which a stray bag might reasonably have been separated.  The box held most of the pieces of an ice cream maker, as well as other little similar bags holding ice cream-making things, like rock salt.  Also in the box were instructions (for an ICEE machine, but still).  Also a piece of wood, and a blue sweater.

So I was fairly sure that I was dealing with something edible, so I opened the bag and smelled and tasted the contents.  Yep, that’s what it was:  ice cream mix.  We actually went so far as to use the ice cream maker one time, and I remember the powdery, gritty texture of the mix and the odd, buttery smell.  I did a dramatic Geraldo-esque video of myself opening it up, but my newly teenaged daughter just couldn’t resist turning the camera on herself from time to time, and the end result was not especially intelligible.  Also “Panic In New York Detroit” (definitely panic in somewhere!) was playing in the background for some reason, and drowned out most of what I was saying.  (I was saying, “Oh, it’s ice cream mix.”)

So.  Now what?  I may have missed a few, but here are the guesses:

Iocane powder

zombifying neurotoxin powder called Tetrodoxin

instant chai

masa harina

Cocaine (5)

priming sugar for beer


beer bread mix

powdered milk

wheat flour


instant mashed potatoes

cornstarch and water

rice flour

embossing powder for rubber stampers

cake mix (including Easy Bake) (16)

plaster of paris for hand/foot print, stepping stone, or misc. craft (19)

muffin or scone mix (4)

arrowroot (3)

potato starch

pancake mix (5)


tapioca flour or tapioca (2)

cremains (2)

diaper dust

clay powder

gum arabic

reagent powder for chemistry kit

laundry detergent

drink or lemonade mix (2)


grout powder

chickpea flour

onion powder (4)

bubble gum kit mix

bulk vitamin C

pizza dough  mix

brownie mix

muffin streusel


soy flour

Barkeeper’s Friend

flea powder

baby formula

silica powder

xanthan gum

wall paper paste

sand (from craft kit, ant farm, or Sinai Desert, or rock polishing kit) (8)

Moon Sand

magic ecumenical fairy powder

vanilla pudding (5)

ice cream smoothie

I think that last one comes the closest, don’t you?  And so . . .

I’m happy to announce that the winner of our stupid contest is Elaine Miletic!

Congratulations, Elaine!  Please email me with your shipping address, and I will get your two-year subscription to Faith and Family set up!

And to everyone else, you won’t come away empty handed.  To you, I impart this valuable piece of advice:  making homemade ice cream once every thirteen years is about right.



ITEM!  My new post is up at the Register:  “Hey, You:  God Is Here.”  We all know God is everywhere, but how do we help ourselves remember it, and feel it?  Rejected title:  “You Can’t Have Prayed, You’re Still Dry!”

ITEM!  The Faith and Family Mom’s Day Away last weekend was really wonderful.  I’m going to write about it this week, and steal other people’s pictures, because I couldn’t find my camera.  Danielle, if you’re reading this:  sorry I forgot to give you that wine.  We’ll have to toast you from here, instead.  Salut, lovely lady.  You made a lot of moms happy this weekend.

ITEM!  Don’t forget, there’s still time to enter into the “What’s in the bag?” contest.  Don’t put your answers in the comment box; email them to simchafisher@gmail.comby Thursday, April 7 to win a two-year subscription to Faith and Family Magazine!

ITEM!  Lucy gets her stitches out today!  I have never seen a kid heal so fast, and I attribute that to all of your prayers.  Thank you, my friends.

Here’s a picture of her, so you can see how well she’s doing.  She was hiding in a tent, so I said, “Lucy, come out so I can take a picture of you!”  She scrambled out, grinning and covered with magic marker (I’m hoping).  I was going to wash it off for the picture, but this is, after all, SO Lucy.  This is what she looks like less than a week after her terrible fall:

She is still processing what happened to her.  This morning, she asked me, “Mama, is a floor the same as a ceiling?”  Yes, Lucy, when you are made out of monkeys, it certainly can be.

ITEM!  Does anyone want to have an open thread about working moms and NFP?  Several people mentioned in the comments that working women often get left out of discussions regarding Catholics practices.  I don’t have anything personal to add, but I would be more than happy to host a discussion about it.  If you have discussion ideas or questions I can use to start the conversation going, please email me atsimchafisher@gmail.com and put “working moms discussion” in the subject.



#1 –  Go see my post today at the Register:  “Santo Commodius, Ora Ro Nobis.”

#2 –  Okay, this may be the stupidest contest ever, but here we go.

I had a bunch of ideas, but chose this idea among all the fabulous ones that set my mind aglow with whirling transient nodes of thought, careening through a cosmic vapor of invention.  As you may have noticed, my mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought, cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives!

But I finally settled on this:


I found this bag at our house.  “What’s in it?”  I wondered.  I did not know.

I asked the kids, “What’s in this bag?” but they did not know, either.

I asked my husband, and he said, ” . . . Um, that terrible miso soup?”  So there’s your only hint:  it’s definitely not miso soup.  Because I ate it all, and besides, that came in little red envelopes.

Oh, and the prize?  The prize is actually the reason I wanted to have a contest, because it’s something that I believe more people should have.  I am giving away a TWO, count ‘em, TWO year gift subscription to Faith and Family Magazine!  If you already have a subscription, you can either add this on as a subscription renewal, or give it away to someone else.  Maybe your local library, even.  And if you don’t win, you should get a subscription anyway.

I will be honest with you, when I first heard about this magazine many years ago, I thought, “Oh, yawn, another glossy ad for how to be a perfect mommy, with some token religious trappings stuck on the outside.”  But it’s not.  There is something good in every single issue:  something useful, something funny, something moving, something unexpected.  It’s accessible, but not fluffy; smart, but not snooty; upbeat, but not sappy.  Also, you can see my spring cleaning quiz in the upcoming issue, AND my “how to get your kid to sleep” article.  I think?  Or in an issue soon!

And it is beautifully put together.  Let’s face it, Catholics have something of a problem with putting out a nice product.  It’s partly because some Catholics seem to think, “Yes, but I’m delivering the TRUTH! That in itself is beautiful enough; why trivialize the message by using spell-check or making sure the photo is centered?”  Which reinforces the impression that Catholics are morons.

The other reason you see some less-than-professional Catholics products, though, is that that kind of thing costs money.  As you may know, Faith and Family went through a tumultuous time, and has recently changed ownership.  This kind of thing is hard on everyone involved, and it would be an excellent time to show your support for the magazine by buying a subscription.  It’s $19.95 for a  year’s subscription, $29.95 for two years, and $39.95 for three years — not bad!  The website, Faith and Family Live, depends on revenue from magazine subscriptions, so buying a subscription means you’re helping to keep the website afloat.

So here’s the plan:  Take a good look at the bag.  Think about what’s inside.  (Don’t pray; that’s silly.)  Just think about it.  And when you’re ready to make your guess, DON’T put it in the comments section — email me at simchafisher@gmail.com.

One week from today, I will open the bag and find out what is actually inside.  From all the correct guesses, I will randomly choose one, and will announce the winner on the blog.  If no one guesses right, I’ll pick the answer that seems closest.  I can’t give you any hints, because I don’t know what’s in it.

Okay, so again:

1.  Look at the picture.

2.  Send your guess to simchafisher@gmail.com by Thursday, April 7.

3.  The contents will be identified and the winner randomly chosen and announced on Friday, April 8.

Pass it on!