“Saving Santa” on Netflix – A lowly stable elf finds that he is the only one who can stop an invasion of the North Pole by using the secret of Santa’s Sleigh, a TimeGlobe, to travel back in time to Save Santa – twice.
“A Fairly Odd Christmas” on Hulu – Timmy Turner’s been going overboard with his wish granting, and now that Christmas is just around the corner, there’s almost nothing left for Santa to do! Can he save Christmas and get off the naughty list too?
“Shrek the Halls” 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC – This half-hour animated TV special features the Shrek characters putting their own spin on holiday traditions.
December 9, Second Friday of Advent:
“Albert” 7 p.m. ET/PT on Nickelodeon and available on Nick.com and the Nick App – The network’s first original animated movie. based on the Big Golden Book about a tiny Douglas fir tree that goes on a journey to become the city’s most famous Christmas tree ever.
Since I started working at Family Theater Productions, I acquired a daily commute, so I resonate with Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron’s reliance on the company of audiobooks while navigating the L.A. area’s interminable traffic.
I’ve been working my way through some purchases from Franciscan Media during the recent Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, while Bishop Barron — formerly Father Barron of Chicago, the founder of media apostolate Word on Fire — has been matriculating through C.S. Lewis’ religious fantasy work, “The Great Divorce.”
It follows several ghosts that get a respite from Hell and take a bus trip to Heaven, where, apparently, they have an option to stay. Surprisingly, many don’t take it.
A 2014 essay in Crisis Magazine on “The Great Divorce” explains:
The majority of the characters in Lewis’s novel—given the choice after they visit the Bright World and learn of its conditions—prefer the Grey City to the Bright World for a variety of motives but ultimately for one main reason. A heretical bishop rejects the invitation because “I have to be back next Friday to read a paper. We have a little theological society down there.” To the cynic called “the hard-bitten ghost” the Bright World offers the same old thing: “A human being couldn’t live here. All that idea of staying is only an advertisement stunt.” To enter the Bright World the ghosts must surrender their attachments, opinions, addictions, and pride.
The narrator (C.S. Lewis), one of the ghosts who desires to enter the heavenly kingdom and not return to the city, enjoys a conversation with the Spirit addressed as Teacher, George Macdonald, one of Lewis’s mentors in the art of fantasy literature. The Teacher explains the strange psychology of the Ghosts as the mentality of Milton’s Satan who boasted, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Macdonald compares these ghosts to a petulant child who “would sooner miss its play and supper than say it was sorry and be friends.” Of course Macdonald is defining the deadly sin of pride in all is many expressions, whether it assumes the form of Achilles’ wrath or Satan’s sense of “injured merit.”
In his essay, Bishop Barron observes that, while Hell seems immense to those entombed there:
However, when the narrator, in dialogue with a heavenly spirit, wonders where precisely Hell is in relation to the heavenly realm, the spirit bends down, pulls a single blade of grass and uses its tip to indicate a tiny, barely perceptible, fissure in the ground. “That’s where you came in,” he explains. All of Hell, which seemed so immense to the narrator, would fit into a practically microscopic space in Heaven. Lewis is illustrating here the Augustinian principle that sin is the state of being incurvatus in se (curved in around oneself). It is the reduction of reality to the infinitely small space of the ego’s concerns and preoccupations. Love, on the contrary, which is the very life of Heaven, is the opening to reality in its fullness; it amounts to a breaking through of the buffered and claustrophobic self; it is the activity of the magna anima (the great soul). We think our own little ego-centric worlds are so impressive, but to those who are truly open to reality, they are less than nothing.
In regard to another chapter, he says:
What I especially appreciate in this episode is Lewis’ spot-on representation of how the soul clings desperately to what is actually killing it, preferring, in W.H. Auden’s phrase, “to be ruined rather than changed.”
In my former life as a journalist covering television, I’ve seen any number of episodes of home and personal makeover shows — from “What Not to Wear” to “Clean House” — in which people desperately want to different lives, but just as desperately don’t want to change anything to achieve them.
I saw it so often that I’ve concluded it’s a fixture of human nature. It’s like wanting to have been a marathon runner while never going further than from the front door to the mailbox.
Here’s a peek at a stage production of “The Great Divorce”:
Image: HarperCollins Edition cover
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The Hundred-Foot Journey is a charming film (based on the best-selling novel) about the Kadam family, who was forced from their home of India and make their way to a quiet village in France to open their family restaurant. But there is one problem…they are opening it next door to a very respected and celebrated French establishment run by Madame Mallory, played by the always fabulous Helen Mirren. Madame Mallory wants them gone, until she discovers that the young Hassan Kadam has potential to be the next 3-star chef, and she takes him under her wing.
It’s a wonderful story about love. Love is found all around…in the bond between father and son, in the blossoming relationship between the son and his neighbor, and of course, in the love of food.
The love of food is what draws all the film’s characters together as a family. The love of food is what helps them to discover, that although they are all different culturally, they are all part of the same human family. And it’s the love of food that brings them home to their family. As Papa Kadam notes when asked by his son where was home, “Home is where your family is.”
Audiences will find this film to be a lovely two hour retreat into the French countryside, a film that doesn’t have any unnecessary sex, violence, or bad language…a rarity these days. But a word of advice before watching this film in the theater: DON’T GO HUNGRY! This film will make you want to run right out and eat at the best French restaurant in town.
Do you believe in Heaven? Do you really believe in Heaven? That is the question that is asked in the new film by Sony/Tri-Star Pictures, Heaven is for Real, opening this Easter weekend. Based on the book of the same name, the story is about the Burpo Family and their son Colton, who had a near death experience when he was just 4 years old. After his recovery, Colton starts to talk about how he went to heaven, what it was like, and the people he met there. These statements shake the small rural town the family lives in and the small church family that is ministered to by their Pastor, Colton’s father. As Christians, they have always said they believed in Heaven. But now they are forced to decide if they really do believe what they always have said they believed.
Heaven is for Realstars Greg Kinnear as Pastor Todd Burpo. Kinnear gives a convincing performance as a man who is confronted with the beliefs that he preaches. Connor Corum debuts in his first major role as Colton. For a 4 year old, he does quite well in the role and is adorable and endearing to the audience. The rest of the cast is rounded out with veteran actors such as Thomas Haden Church, Margo Martindale, and Kelly Reilly. Audiences will appreciate the portrayal of a loving family who rely on their faith to stick together during the difficult times. They will also enjoy the loyal friendship seen between Greg Kinnear and Thomas Haden Church.
As Christians it can be easy to “talk the talk” but more difficult to “walk the walk”. This film will inspire you to look inside and ask yourself if you really do believe what you say you do. Heaven is for Real is a sweet and gripping story for the whole family that is perfect to enjoy this Easter Season.
The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty by Father Dwight Longenecker is a wonderful book about the quest that we all take and the treasure we all seek. Father Longenecker shares with us, that inherent in our own humanity, is the longing for both the adventure of the quest and the treasure found. That treasure is God who is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty Himself.
We love stories that express this on the big screen. The box office doesn’t lie. Audiences are drawn to these stories because they are caught up in the quest of a hero that is representative of their own journey in life…or what they wish that journey to be. It’s part of their DNA.
The next time Hollywood moguls are sitting around wondering what the formula for the next big blockbuster is…I would highly recommend they read The Romance of Religion. They may be surprised that the formula has always been the same.