Phillip Seymour Hoffman Found Dead

This just in from the NY Post:

Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead of an apparent drug overdose inside a Greenwich Village home on Sunday, cops said.
Hoffman’s body was found by a friend at 11:30 a.m. Sunday morning in an apartment at 35 Bethune St., sources said.
Cops are at the scene and are investigating, sources said.
Hoffman has admittedly struggled with drug addiction in the past, and reportedly checked himself into rehab last year for heroin abuse.

I loved him as a actor. He was brilliant. Apparently, that brilliance was muted by the demons of addiction. So sad. And tragic to lose someone so young and so talented. A true artist who touched the lives of so many.

My colleague, Fr. James Martin, S.J. got to work with him when Hoffman directed the play “The Last Days of Judas Isacriot” written by the great Stephen Adly Guirgis. Martin told of meeting and talking with Hoffman:

Martin: “My sister told me to tell you that she thinks you’re a genius.”

Hoffman: (Laughs) “I think I like your sister!”

Humble and yet evident of a man who was not totally comfortable with himself at times. Addiction is quite awful and masks what is truly painful, too painful for someone to deal with at times. I hope that Mr. Hoffman is now free of that pain.

While I have never struggled with addiction, myself, I know many who have. I thought it would be important to try to understand them as best I could. In doing so I have found much empathy for them and a greater understanding of the grasp addiction holds on people. It’s not that people don’t want to stop using. It’s that people are powerless to do so. Addiction’s grasp is that great. The admission of that powerlessness is indeed the first step in 12 step programs, the only thing that consistently has worked in keeping addiction at bay–along with the knowledge that one can fall easily and at any point along the way.

Hoffman knew this well:

If that’s not a disease, I’m not sure what is.

And it’s taken too many lives. Too many healthy lives. Too many young lives that are over before it starts.

And addiction has taken too much talent out of our world.

So today, friends, let’s pray for those who suffer from addiction. That they might be humble enough to admit their powerlessness over their choices and seek help frequently. And that they might be free of any pain that has led them down this road. We all try to fill up that hole in our lives with something that helps us endure and be resilient when we are unable to cope. Let us pray that people can find a healthy answer to that need when they seek assistance from others.

Let’s also pray for understanding. We often give short shrift to the addicted and blame them for their lot in life. Truly, we need to open our hearts to understand addiction and the addicted just a bit more.

And let’s pray for Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Here is my favorite clip from Hoffman’s work in the movie Doubt:

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Do You Hear the People Sing?

I was a freshman in college the first time I saw Les Miserables on Broadway. I loved it. I spent hours with a borrowed soundtrack in the radio station listening to the songs on (of all things, an ancient artifact) the newsroom turntable. So I was skeptical that I would love the movie version of this grand story of the French student uprising of 1832 and the inner turmoil of the characters of Fantine (Anne Hathaway), Jean Valean (Hugh Jackman) and Javert (Russell Crowe).

Plays often don’t translate well to the big screen in my opinion but Tom Hooper, the movie’s director does a great job in dismissing that in the opening scene where prisoners sing the chain-gang opening “Look Down” while pulling a massive boat to shore as waves crash all about them. You even don’t recognize an emaciated Jackman as Valjean and get to sneer at Crowe as he walks a ledge above them as they taunt him…the taunts from below that eventually drive Javert to his suicidal death.

The story is really less about a group of revolutionary students being put down by the oppressive government, as it is about the inner-turmoil of both Valjean and Javert. Valjean is a paroled prisoner, who was sent away for 5 years for stealing bread so that his niece might survive the night (we never know if she does, and I often assume she doesn’t, driving his hatred for the law further) and then nearly 15 more for trying to escape. Now free, he discovers that he must reinvent himself to survive because nobody will give an ex-con a chance, a fate that often befalls many who have served their time. So he breaks parole and tries to live life on the lam from Inspector Javert who is obsessed with bringing him to justice. He successfully becomes a Mayor of a small town and runs the town factory–a seamstress factory presumably. It is there we encounter Fantine, who is fired from her job by one of Valjean’s underlings after a scuffle with her co-workers who have treated her unjustly. Forced to the streets to sell her body—and not just as a prostitute, she sells her hair and teeth too, to support her daughter, Fantine curses her life.

These three main characters are played brilliantly in the movie and we start with Anne Hathaway. There are several songs from the big screen that come to mind immediately: Judy Garland with “Over the Rainbow”, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, “As Time Goes By” in Casblanca, and who can forget, Gene Kelly “Singing in the Rain?”

Add one more to the list with Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream” which is the highlight of the film. Hooper has his actors sing live instead of matching a lip synched version with a soundtrack and the results are unpredictably off the charts fantastic, but more so, with Hathaway’s haunting, chin-quiverring, tear soaked solo. She shows great acting chops here, as well as a great voice and probably has the Oscar for Best Actress wrapped up. Here’s some of it in the trailer.

It’s the biggest moment of the show, but it’s not the only highlight. Jackman as Valjean, initially left me a bit flat at the start of the film. He lacks a bit of depth and seems at times overmatched by the high falsettos required. Colm Wilkinson, who invented this role on stage has a cameo as the Bishop who saved Valjean and sends him off to become a better man. However, after the death of Fantine, Jackman comes into his own in the role, comforting the young Cosette and taking her into his care. It’s the sensitive Valjean that he plays well, while the haunted Valjean never heats up until we get to the barricades and the sewers.

Russell Crowe has a weaker voice than Jackman in general, but he over-delivers in this, capturing Inspector Javert perfectly. I’ve heard Crowe sing before and he’s often good and here his tones are a bit muted, but that fits the conflicted Javert well.

The surprise of the film comes in the form of Eddie Redmayne who plays Marius, the young revolutionary who falls in love with Cosette and who Valjean saves from harm so that he can care for her. His rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is believable, appropriately sad and well-acted and sung. His duet with Eponine “A Little Fall of Rain” (Played by Elizabeth Barks, who also starred in the role on stage and also shines here) is also well done. A nice surprise.

Less of a surprise but, a wonderful respite from the melancholy story is Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter who play the Thenardiers, the so-called “Master of the House” and his wife. They have taken Cosette into their care but they abuse her and then try to shyster Valjean into overpaying for her after Fantine’s death. They are comic relief and not at the same time. “Wickedly delightful” is how I would describe the role and they both deliver well, Cohen especially. The cinematography here tries a bit too hard, but the acting is superb, especially when Cohen gets the child’s name wrong on several occasions.

Crowe shines in Javert’s suicide and for the first time, this character’s actions add up to his eventual choice. In previous versions it didn’t seem to make sense to me that Javert would choose to kill himself but, here Crowe makes the case both believable and haunting. He walks the tightrope on the ledge more than once providing great foreshadowing and excellent acting and singing. The fall into the water is gripping and is one of the places that the film takes advantage of the opportunity it provides over the stage version.

Lastly, there is the role of religion in the film. Besides the obvious of the Bishop’s forgiveness and Valjean’s running to the convent and the schmaltzy final words of Valjean “To love another person is to see the face of God” religion’s role is stronger here than in the stage version. Redemption is the central theme. What kind of God would have the poor suffer in such a way? As the students are slaughtered, including a horrid scene of a child being shot (Gavroche), one cannot help but think that the age old question not of why-do-bad-things-happen-to-good-people, but rather, why-do-GOOD-things-happen-to-BAD-people instead. Valjean on the run never really catches much of a break, while the hateful Javert lives shielded by law and order.

Forgiveness also runs through the film as a secondary theme. Fantine wants forgiveness from her daughter for placing her in harm’s way. Hathaway’s appreciation of Valjean seems to get him off the hook, albeit for Valjean’s inability to forgive himself for what he knows is an imperfect life despite his valor. It is only in Marius where Valjean can have redemption. The wide-eyed revolutionary who is too headstrong but has honor and a heart for the poor ends up back with his bourgeois family, but something seems to change both him and his family tree. Perhaps a light at the end of the tunnel, rests now in the prodigal son’s return to his family, now forever changed by the experience of nearly losing him? Or perhaps it is the realization that upholding the law does not equate to grace?

Whatever the case, we’ll not know from the film. But the Victor Hugo book explored that theme throughout and is well worth a re-visit.

Head out and catch the film, it’s well worth it. And not only will you hear the people sing, but you’ll find yourself doing that as well.

But as good as the film is, there’s nothing like the play.

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Thinkin’ Lincoln

If you haven’t seen the movie Lincoln yet…it’s a must-see and a very introspective movie. Daniel Day-Lewis has sewn up the Oscar for Best Actor and I think Sally Field will get much consideration for her role as Mary Todd Lincoln as well.

The strength of the movie is how much they humanize Lincoln and his family. We get a you-are-there feel on the inside of the Lincoln White House. We forget about Lincoln’s tragic humanity. We forget that he lost a child and that his marriage was not always easy after that. We forget that Mary Todd Lincoln suffered from mental illness long before there was much known about these ailments and that Lincoln almost had her committed to an asylum.

But we also see that Lincoln was a man of great introspection. We see how he wrestled with the ideals of the day. He wanted to end slavery, but also longed for peace. He saw these two things as being connected and not in any way mutually exclusive. Others disagreed. Many thought that the President should prioritize the plan for peace over and against the abolition of slavery. And Lincoln listened to those voices, sensitively, but always seemed to have one more trick up his sleeve that brought people into a deeper consideration of all the issues.

We forget often how human our leaders are. We hold them to the highest of standards, we test their beliefs and their mettle and we often disregard their stress and personal lives unless it helps us sell a paper or two or keep the news cycle on MSNBC or Fox News running.

Do we in the church, both on the right and the left, put our leaders through the same kind of dehumanization? While we hold our Bishops and priests to the highest of standards, and rightfully so, do we also forget that they are human beings worthy of our love, despite their failings and our disagreements?

We often come to our convictions not about facts and ideals but instead about people. And while people should be punished for mistakes, they should also be given the opportunity for redemption. That does mean that we place priests who were child molesters back in harm’s way, but it does mean that we don’t let our hatred of them control us to the point where we treat them as less than human, despite their revolting behavior and even their own dehumanization of others.

One of my college roommates and I once had the conversation about how we felt about capital punishment. He believed that criminals lose their rights when they commit atrocities and then he also believed that that gave us the right to do anything we please to them.

I disagree. And I think Lincoln subscribed to the same kind of mercy. He didn’t dehumanize slave owners for owning slaves, nor did he punish secessionists. Instead he moved into reconstruction, which I think is called for in all walks of life. How do we move on and no longer let hatred control us?

Lincoln surely struggled with that. And perhaps he was a bit of a dangerous person because of that. So dangerous that someone wanted him dead. His life, we remember not as tragic, but as heroic and I believe that’s so because of his humanity.

The words of the Gettysburg Address are short and simple and yet they reveal much about Lincoln the man. They stirred in my heart just as they did for the people of his time. Let us use those words as our prayer for peace:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Amen.

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Martin Sheen on The Way and More

If you haven’t seen the movie “The Way” yet, you are missing something indeed. This interview with Martin Sheen is incredible and discusses more than the movie. It dives into his inspiring life as a Catholic and as an actor who can simply be himself on the journey. Thanks to Jen Belock who pointed me to this interview on Facebook:

For a sample of the movie check this out:

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Those Sexist Muppets

Peacebang, who is always insightful, mentioned her love for the muppets today but, also mentioned her distaste for an underlying (or perhaps not so underlying) sexism that runs through the recent movie.

I get that the movie is a bit retro in its attitudes, as it’s trying to keep things innocent and fresh. I appreciate that. What I did not appreciate, however, is that the screenplay makes a strong point that women are nothing without their men (or frog, as the case may be). Really, Muppets? In 2012? In 2012, the female character can’t go out for the day by herself or eat lunch by herself without falling into despair about it (and singing a big musical number about it)? Her big first number has to voice her ultimate (and apparently only) desire that her boyfriend marry her?

Male characters in this movie have dreams. They make things happen. They save the theatre, and find their talent. The ladies just go along for the ride and complain about not getting the guy. After the muppets save the theatre and treat us to a big, happy ensemble number, the movie comes to a satisfying conclusion. However, just to emphasize the point that all happiness comes from gettin’ yer man, the film adds a penultimate scene with Gary getting down on one knee and proposing to Mary. Blergh.

Part of me wants to say, relax they’re puppets. But they’re also role models, which is her point. I think the movie says a bit about helicopter parenting too. Walter needs to grow up and not depend on his big brother so much and Gary (Jason Segal) has know when to let Walter go and face the world on his own. Is he a “man or a muppet?”

But back to the sexism thing, Peacebang also notes that Miss Piggy has a bit of this subservient attitude towards her man, er frog as well. She’s the plus sized fashion editor for Vogue and….

Miss Piggy is living the dream! She’s not wasting her life away at a dive bar in Reno like Fozzy or wiling away her days in a gated mansion like her old paramour, Kermit. Piggy is important, successful and happy.

However, in what I’m sure most people thought was a throwaway moment, Kermit confesses to Miss Piggy that he misses her and needs her, and asks her to stay in Hollywood “for him.” Without hesitation, Piggy squeals, “Of course, Kermie.”

Are you kidding!? Piggy!! Who let that dialogue happen? She should have said, “Oh, Kermie, come with me to PARIS!” Then, voila, set-up for a Muppet movie in France!

Is the converse also true? Why does Kermit need to go and find Piggy in the first place? He’s single handedly gotten all the Muppets together to save the day. Would Piggy make that much of a difference? There’s something in here about family in a larger sense I think that goes beyond “living the dream” and says that things aren’t the same unless everyone is here. It’s like when someone skips the family reunion and we just have to call them on the phone when everyone is around. Peacebang and I have a mutual friend in Dr. Rachel Bundang and she recalled a trip to the Phillipines where she passed the phone around to all her family members so they could talk to her mother and father and share in the joy of family.

Perhaps this is how God looks to each one of us and it’s the true beatific vision of the last days when all division ceases and we move into a new life of union with God?

I think it’s less about sexism and more about unity–that one just can’t be apart from the ones that they love.

And that means everyone–whether that means marriage for some, or reunion for others or even Gary’s longing to connect with who he really is–I think the show is all about not living life in a vacuum. That life is to be shared and that just work success, or financial success isn’t enough. Or even when we try to ignore who we really are, we end up removing ourselves from the world and end up in disharmony.

And that’s not a happy song…but this is:

Notice the clergyman in the wedding scene and that they got married in the church! We have a need for one another–and that’s church, folks.

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Pop Culture and Religion = Trying Too Hard

Over on Facebook, my colleague Tony Rossi over at the Christophers blogged a piece about how Greg Plageman a longtime TV writer got into the business because he noticed his then-students were more influenced by “Saved by the Bell” then by him as their teacher.

My first thought was …Saved by the Bell?? You’ve got to be joking. I don’t know what age the students were that he was talking about but I’m hoping it’s middle school. Regardless, pop culture certainly has some influence but often when Christianity tries to make something in the pop culture realm, it tries way too hard.

I won’t out the group that was singing but at a conference I attended there was a music group from a university who put on what I called “a Sister Act” type of show. It tried way too hard to be “cool” and ended up being a bit nerdy. The students weren’t bad singers, it was just overdone. You could tell that they were trying too hard to be relevant but it smacked of the disingenuous. When asked if we had any questions for the performers I had to stop myself because I wanted to ask:

“How often do you guys get beat up?”

Christians just try too hard sometimes.

Tony makes the point that Christians should have more of an influence in pop culture and he’s probably right–but not if their work isn’t up to snuff. I’ve seen too many syrupy-sweet movies that smack someone in the head with their overdone theme that I can’t possibly take them seriously.

Even the movie, Bella, a good movie about pro-life themes falls short of the standard. It’s better than most, but another movie about pro-life stole the show. It’s name: Juno.

People even started to say that that movie, created by fairly secular producers has a greater effect on teens and others considering abortion than Bella did. They often referred to “The Juno Effect” when discussing the film’s influence–some said it glamorized teen pregnancy and others said that it was a strong pro-life message. Even the USCCB included both Bella and Juno in a tie for their 2nd best movie of 2007.

What did most others say about Bella? Next to nothing. I did an informal poll today on my secular campus of 20 students. Not one student knew about the movie Bella, but they all knew about Juno.

Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen’s movie, The Way, seemed to strike the right chord. I think that’s a must see.

Even the Passion of the Christ, while a huge hit, needed a controversy to get an audience.

The truth is that faith is often subtle and when it is, it often has a greater effect. Nobody makes another person believe in anything. We can influence them certainly, but that takes great care, patience and love.

It also takes trust and conversation. A former student of mine said that he first met me on an alternative break when he sat next to me on the bus headed for New York City. He didn’t know what to talk with me about but he knew my past as a sports radio person and he began a conversation with me about that. In coming to see me as a “normal” person (for lack of a better term), he grew to trust me. I know I had several profound experiences on other trips with some others in similar ways. One even stayed up talking to me deep into the night about some serious matters.

But it all started rather subtly. God whispers through us much more readily than a scream or a shout or an obvious hammer blow. Movies and TV programs should do the same most of the time.

But that’s just my opinion! Inspiration strikes us all at different places on the journey. Where in the modern media has inspiration struck you?

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FOX Business Claims Muppets Are Communists

The Huffington Post has the scoop on the latest lunacy from FOX. I’d have watched it myself but I actually don’t like bile with my lunch.

Last week, on the network’s “Follow the Money” program, host Eric Bolling went McCarthy on the new, Disney-released film, “The Muppets,” insisting that its storyline featuring an evil oil baron made it the latest example of Hollywood’s so-called liberal agenda.

Bolling, who took issue with the baron’s name, Tex Richman, was joined by Dan Gainor of the conservative Media Research Center, who was uninhibited with his criticism.

“It’s amazing how far the left will go just to manipulate your kids, to convince them, give the anti-corporate message,” he said.

“They’ve been doing it for decades. Hollywood, the left, the media, they hate the oil industry,” Gainor continued. “They hate corporate America. And so you’ll see all these movies attacking it, whether it was ‘Cars 2,’ which was another kids’ movie, the George Clooney movie ‘Syriana,’ ‘There Will Be Blood,’ all these movies attacking the oil industry, none of them reminding people what oil means for most people: fuel to light a hospital, heat your home, fuel an ambulance to get you to the hospital if you need that. And they don’t want to tell that story.”

Or it’s just a name. I report. You decide. And read the rest here.

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How I’ll Spend Black Friday

Muppets!

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Being Elmo

OK, so you know I love the Muppets and therefore this movie is on my must see list.

Kevin is amazing. I’ve seen him interviewed with Elmo a few times and he’s really got the whole “He’s Elmo, I’m Kevin” thing down. When Donny Deutch of NBC asked Elmo about a contract, Elmo rebuked him and reminded him that Elmo doesn’t know anything about those matters. “Ask Mr. Kevin. Elmo doesn’t know about that!”

But my favorite Elmo story comes from my former colleague at WOR, Heather Cohen. She loved Elmo. I even gave her an Elmo doll for her birthday one year. She also had an Elmo watch. When it broke, her husband, Michael, went and got the watch fixed. Her comment was:

“It cost him $125 to get the watch fixed. Too bad I only paid $75 for the watch itself! So he’s a schmuck! But he loves me!”

Today let us pray for artists, that they might express themselves with the vigor that Kevin has done with his enthusiasm for his now beloved character. May they move us to express ourselves and what we are passionate about to others.

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