Busted Halo

Busted Halo contributors examine the spiritual themes of your favorite movies. Join us for a unique look at the intersection of faith and Hollywood.

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October 7th, 2013

don-jon-1In Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Jon Martello, a New Jersey man dedicated to, as he puts it, “my body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my guys, my girls, my porn.” Jon is a ladies’ man, but his greatest addiction is not sex, it’s porn. Even when he sleeps with a woman, he is seen sneaking out of bed to go masturbate afterwards — that is, until he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and, later, Esther (Julianne Moore), two women who challenge his view of what relationships and sex really mean.

Don Jon tackles a great many issues — pornography, addiction, relationships, and society’s view on women to name a few — but the moments that hit home with me the most were the ones that focused on change. Take, for example, what might just be my favorite moment of the whole film: the confessional scene.

Throughout the movie, Jon and his family are shown going to church every week, and every time we get a close-up shot of Jon in the confessional from the perspective of the priest, as Jon runs down his laundry list of sins. “Since last Sunday, I have had sexual intercourse out of …

September 6th, 2013

world's-endEdgar Wright and Simon Pegg, the duo behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, have done it again with The World’s End. Clever and biting, the film offers up a less bland version of the “man-child stuck in the past” edge that we’ve already seen in this summer’s The Hangover Part III and Grown-Ups 2 with an excellent sci-fi twist that’s straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The World’s End starts out as a movie about a man desperate to re-live his youth by means of a 12-bar pub crawl. It morphs into a tale of robots who aren’t robots and humanity facing off against a galactic threat, but at its heart the film is always a story about humanity’s flaws and imperfections, embodied particularly in Simon Pegg’s character, Gary King.

King, in brief, is a screwup. He’s an oblivious 30-something who never moved past his “cool kid” days in high school, and still lives his life as though he’s the same rebellious teen he was then, drinking his days away with no regard for himself or anyone else. But when everything hits the wall and he suddenly comes face-to-face with just how bad his life has …

August 20th, 2013

Jose Pablo Cantillo and Matt Damon star in a scene from the movie "Elysium." (CNS photo/Sony)

Jose Pablo Cantillo and Matt Damon star in a scene from the movie “Elysium.” (CNS photo/Sony)

This summer’s latest blockbuster, Elysium, shows its audience two separate worlds — the space station Elysium, paradise of the rich, where the sun perpetually shines on Beverly Hills-style mansions and any injury or disease can be cured with the touch of a button, and the ravaged and polluted Earth, home to the poor, where millions live in squalor hoping for even a chance to get to Elysium, legally or otherwise. Among them is Max (Matt Damon), an orphan raised by nuns who dreamed from the time he was a child of working hard enough to buy his place in Elysium. When a workplace accident threatens his life, however, getting to Elysium shifts from dream to necessity for Max.

At the heart of Elysium is an important message for all of us about the disparity between the poor and wealthy in our society. Early in the film, when Max is telling one of the nuns about his dream of one day reaching Elysium, she tells him in response: “That place is not for you, and not for me.” She explains to him that, stratified as …

August 6th, 2013

Hugh Jackman stars in a scene from the movie "The Wolverine." (CNS photo/Fox)

Hugh Jackman stars in a scene from the movie “The Wolverine.” (CNS photo/Fox)

In Marvel’s The Wolverine, we see Logan (or Wolverine, depending on how you like to refer to him) struggling with the issue that plagues many superheroes in their second solo movie outing: Are superpowers worth the sacrifice that comes along with having them? It’s been done over and over again, from Spider Man 2 to The Dark Knight, yet in The Wolverine it feels somehow fresh, deeper at times. Perhaps this is because in grappling with the issue of whether or not to keep his power, Logan also faces the ethical dilemma of whether or not to allow himself to be immortal.

In the movie, a rich Japanese businessman named Yashida, whom Logan rescued from the bombing of Nagasaki decades earlier, calls for him on his deathbed, under pretense of saying a final goodbye to the man who saved his life. But when Logan arrives in Japan, he is met with a different situation than he expected. Instead of just wishing to bid him farewell, Yashida offers Logan a chance to cast off the effects of his genetic mutation, to lose his healing factor and his immortality …

July 19th, 2013
Technology at its best and worst in Pacific Rim and the world today

pacific-rimIn Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, we see the world attacked by alien creatures called the kaiju (Japanese for “giant monsters”), which arrive through an interdimensional portal in the Pacific Ocean. In response to the kaiju assault, humanity responds by banding together internationally and inventing the jaegers, giant robots named after the German word for “hunter.” As protagonist Raleigh Becket admits in the movie, “to fight monsters, we created monsters.”

Why this classification, though? What is it that makes the jaegers just as monstrous as the creatures they were built to destroy? It appears that their danger lies in the way they appear to represent technology out of control. In the first few minutes of the film, it is revealed that early jaegers were intended to be piloted by only one human, but people were injured and possibly even killed by the process that linked them to the machines, thus leading to the invention of a two pilot system. But even this was risky, we learn, because it involved a practice known as “the drift,” by which the two pilots would link their thoughts, and essentially be inside each other’s minds. This could prove deadly to the pilots or to …

July 11th, 2013

Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer star in a scene from the movie "The Lone Ranger." (CNS photo/Disney)

Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer star in a scene from the movie “The Lone Ranger.” (CNS photo/Disney)

“There come a time, when good man must wear mask.” These words, uttered by Native American guide, friend, and partner Tonto as the introduction to The Lone Ranger, cut straight to the core of the film. In The Lone Ranger, Texas Ranger John Reid responds to the death of his brother by trying to bring the men who killed him to justice. Tonto, however, in favor of protecting not only Reid, but the people he cares about, suggests that in order to do this, he put on a mask, and adopt a new identity — that of the Lone Ranger.

However, by the end of the film, these are not the only reasons that John acts as the Lone Ranger. John is given the choice between accepting a life of fame and prosperity if he removes his mask and renounces the Lone Ranger identity or remaining the Ranger and standing for justice in his own way. Naturally, he chooses to continue with his life as the Lone Ranger. Why leave a charmed life behind, though, to stay a vigilante? And how can we …

June 28th, 2013

A scene from the movie “World War Z.” (CNS photo/Paramount)

A scene from the movie “World War Z.” (CNS photo/Paramount)

This past weekend, World War Z opened with box office sales of $66 million, topping Mr. and Mrs. Smith as Brad Pitt’s best opening weekend to date. The film, based on the Max Brooks novel by the same name, stars Pitt as former United Nations investigator Gerry Lane, whom the U.N. calls to duty once again when the outbreak of a mysterious virus begins causing zombie-like infections in people across the globe. Lane’s mission is to aid in the discovery of a cure for that virus, and in exchange he is promised the safety of his family aboard a U.N. ship miles off the coast of New York City.

Now, I’ve written about zombies previously for Busted Halo, but I assure you, the core issue at the heart of World War Z isn’t the zombies, but rather the way the non-infected treat each other in the aftermath of this apocalypse. In the film, Gerry Lane travels around the world in search of anything that could lead him to a cure (or even a defense) against the disease that caused the zombie outbreak. His travels take him to South Korea, Wales, …

June 20th, 2013

man-of-steelFaster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound — painted from his early incarnations as an incredibly powerful savior to mankind, Superman has been compared to Jesus Christ time after time, and the case is no different in Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. In this film, there are overt references to the level of allegory present (in one scene, Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent sits in a church as the camera zooms in on his face, a gigantic stained glass window of Jesus acting almost as a mirror in the background), and then there are the bits and pieces of the allegory itself.

Clark is sent to Earth as a child by his well-meaning father (“He’ll be a god to them,” says Jor-El as he loads baby Supes into the rocket that will guide him to our planet). When he arrives on Earth he is raised by an average, rural family who knows of his power and otherworldly origin, but also are aware that he will fulfill his destiny when the time is right. He convenes with his father in spirit throughout the movie, who tells him …

June 11th, 2013

after-earth-1“Danger is real. Fear is a choice.” Plastered everywhere on posters bearing the faces of the father-son duo Will and Jaden Smith, this phrase casts an ominous tone over their latest film After Earth. Yet while the tagline may initially seem foreboding, promising some “real danger” in the film, its second half also sends an uplifting message that rings just as true throughout the movie: “fear is a choice.”

After Earth is the tale of Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith), a young cadet-in-training, and the father in whose footsteps he aspires to follow, General Cypher Raige (Will Smith). A thousand years after humanity’s destruction of Earth because of disrespect for the environment and mistreatment of resources, Cypher and Kitai are among the human population settled on a distant planet called Nova Prime, locked in combat with alien life forms that prey on humanity and can literally smell fear (through the pheromones that people secrete when frightened). The only two survivors of a spaceship crash that strands them on a post-apocalyptic Earth, Cypher and Kitai must develop their relationship (as Cypher was absent through much of Kitai’s life because of his military status), learn to trust in each other, and put fear …

May 31st, 2013

Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms in a scene from the movie "The Hangover Part III." CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms in a scene from the movie “The Hangover Part III.” CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Love and marriage loom large in the Hangover series. After all, the core premise of these films is to jokingly illustrate the confusion that follows a night of drinking and partying, particularly a bachelor party, the typical wild night before the wedding for the groom. The original Hangover showed us the Las Vegas bachelor party of Doug (Justin Bartha) and the struggles that it caused his friends as they tried to find him in time to get married. The Hangover Part II followed a similar vein, depicting a bachelor party gone awry in Thailand for Stu (Ed Helms), and the wild search for his brother-in-law-to-be in the foreign city of Bangkok. However, for The Hangover Part III, gone are the bachelor parties, and gone are the half-remembered drunken escapades to be figured out. Instead, we get a funeral, an intervention, and a promise to fix parts of the lifestyle that led to the extreme events of the first two movies.

The Hangover Part III is surprisingly … mature. Not “mature” in the way that some people use the word as …

May 14th, 2013

Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan star in a scene from the movie The Great Gatsby. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan star in a scene from the movie The Great Gatsby. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

The Great Gatsby has been touted as many things: one of the contenders for the title of “The Great American Novel,” a flash game, and now, a summer blockbuster. But for all the things that The Great Gatsby has been, a good example certainly is not one of them. The way that the story’s characters embrace the wild lifestyle of the 1920s seems almost like a “how not to” guide for living your life. In fact, there’s a character or situation in Gatsby for practically all of the seven deadly sins that humanity is to avoid. Let’s take a look at some of those sins, the characters and actions behind them, and what we can do to avoid falling into the same snares in our own lives.

One of the basic facts about Jay Gatsby is that he throws amazing parties at his house every weekend. Alcohol flows, dancing abounds, and people aren’t even invited — they just show up. These partygoers, it would seem, exhibit the sin of gluttony, in that they eat and drink and dance and party to …

May 9th, 2013

ironman-3This past weekend, Marvel’s Iron Man 3 opened in theaters, earning $175 million in the United States. The story focuses on Tony Stark’s struggle to deal with the events of last year’s The Avengers as well as the new threat posed by a terrorist called the Mandarin (played by Sir Ben Kingsley). Yet below the standard hero vs. villain standoff we’ve come to expect of a summer blockbuster, Iron Man 3 offers a glimpse at not only the psyche of a superhero, but also at a core challenge that we face all too frequently in life: How can we reconcile redemption and revenge?

There are several paths of atonement and vengeance showcased throughout the film, all centered around the “demons” Tony Stark claims to have created for himself. Chief among the demons seeking their own form of justice against Stark are Aldritch Killian, a scientist whose offer of a research partnership Tony turned down coldly, and the Mandarin, who incites attack after attack on the U.S. government for reasons also tied to Stark (which I will here leave ambiguous in order to remain spoiler-free).

Initially Tony Stark is not overly concerned with the Mandarin (or Killian, for that matter), preoccupied …

April 30th, 2013

batman-3Recently, the Vatican tweeted an article entitled “Holy Switcheroo! Batman has grown bitter, more vengeful with the years.” In it, Adam Shaw discusses the increasing darkness of the character since Bob Kane and Bill Finger created him in 1939. While the Vatican has stated that the tweet was an accident, the article nonetheless remains on the Vatican Communications website and Twitter feed. It also begs the question — in the growing darkness that surrounds Batman in all media (from TV and movies to video games and comic books) is there any room for light?

The short answer, of course, is yes. Otherwise, this article would’ve been called “Batman Dances With the Devil in the Pale Moonlight” instead of “The Not-So Dark Knight.” Still, what does the Bat have to do with the Catholic Church? Let’s take a look at Bruce Wayne’s alter ego in each medium, and see how he stacks up to the Church’s teachings.

Serving others

Here at Busted Halo® we’ve already discussed Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, but one movie does not a character’s history make. Since the superhero’s debut, Batman has been the focus of at least eight feature films, as …

March 12th, 2013

angelsdemonsWith all the excitement surrounding the conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI’s successor, I was reminded of a certain fictional depiction of a papal conclave: Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons, specifically the 2009 film version directed by Ron Howard.

In Angels & Demons, Brown’s Robert Langdon (who is also the protagonist of The Da Vinci Code) finds himself once again embroiled in controversy regarding the Catholic Church, this time in connection with the death of the pope and a bomb threat against the conclave and Vatican City.

Although Brown has been criticized for misrepresenting the Church, when recently re-watching Angels & Demons, I actually found that he isn’t that far off in regard to certain traditions, specifically some elements of his portrayal of the conclave. That’s not to say, though, that Dan Brown is always right — the man makes his errors, too. To help you sort out fact from fiction, here’s a breakdown of some story points from the movie and how they relate to Conclave 2013.

March 6th, 2013

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in a scene from the movie Skyfall. (CNS/Columbia Pictures)

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in a scene from the movie Skyfall. (CNS/Columbia Pictures)

Having just won two Oscars for Best Original Song and Best Sound Editing (and recently out on DVD), the James Bond film Skyfall is certainly in the midst of some media spotlight at the moment. But there’s another reason that Skyfall is particularly relevant right now — the way its themes coincide with the season of Lent.

In quick summary for those of you unfamiliar with Skyfall, the film follows James Bond, Agent 007, as he faces off against a terrorist named Silva who wages war on Britain, the secret service organization MI6 and its leader M. In addition to his foe, Bond must also overcome the challenges raised against him by his age and the wounds (both physical and mental) that his job as a secret agent has afforded him.

So just where, then, do the season of Lent and the film Skyfall overlap?

The idea of mortality

“Think on your sins.” When Silva broadcasts this message to M, it carries a sinister and foreboding terror — clearly, this man is out for revenge, to make M pay for the “sins” …

February 22nd, 2013
Daniel Day-Lewis stars in a scene from the movie, Lincoln. (CNS/DreamWorks)

Daniel Day-Lewis stars in a scene from the movie, Lincoln. (CNS/DreamWorks)

Daniel Day-Lewis has long been one of my favorite actors, and I’m not alone. This year he’s sweeping the awards circuit and taking home every best actor prize (and will most likely take home the Oscar this Sunday) for his portrayal of the 16th president of the United States in Lincoln.

Day-Lewis becomes Abraham Lincoln on screen. We aren’t that familiar with what Lincoln was actually like because he wasn’t president in the era of the 24-hour news cycle. Reporters didn’t blog about him, replay or even play sound bites from his speeches. He was the first president (along with the first family) to be widely photographed, though it was nothing like the White House Flickr page.

We know Lincoln led the country through a bitter, bloody Civil War (and the film pays tribute to the soldiers who fought, died and were wounded.) After Lincoln’s own personal beliefs about slavery in the United States progressed, he worked to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery. Lincoln was known for his oratorical skills, despite having what some historians characterized as a reedy, high-pitched voice (or higher …

February 20th, 2013

pi-largeWhat happens when a bookworm sees a novel-inspired movie? Personally, I get very nervous. I don’t like to see my favorite books exploited by Hollywood to attract large crowds to the box office. Many times directors lose sight of important aspects of the book and focus on sensational visual effects. Having read the novel by Yann Matel, I think Life of Pi was a perfect balance of effects and the original story. The movie was also able to capture the spiritual and religious significance of the book — what to me made Life of Pi a moving read.

Simply put, Life of Pi is a story about a boy who really just wants to love God. We learn that Pi was first introduced to God through Hinduism; however, he yearns to understand many religions. He meets people who share Christianity and Islam with him. I found this so interesting because most people are born into their parents’ faith and go their whole lives practicing it without questioning it. I have always been curious about other faiths, and I’ve enjoyed learning about them in the various theology classes I’ve taken. But I never once considered that I would practice them in …

February 5th, 2013

Bipolar disorder, depression, obsession, loss and isolation — not topics that you would think add up to an Oscar-nominated love story. But Silver Linings Playbook shines a light into the dark corners of life that we often try to ignore and balances them with touching moments of connection and healing. Not to mention healthy doses of football and dancing. David O. Russell, the film’s writer and director, uses humor and empathy to draw attention to serious issues in a story about a flawed man who transforms his life with the help of love and family.

When we meet Pat Solitano, played by Bradley Cooper, he has had a rough year. He spent eight months in a mental institution being treated for bipolar disorder. His unfaithful wife has left him and he has no job. Pat’s endgame — to win back the love of his estranged wife — is misguided, but it gets him out of bed in the morning. It’s only after he meets Tiffany, a young widow with her own mental health issues played by Jennifer Lawrence, that Pat realizes he needs to change course. Tiffany and Pat lean on one another, celebrate small victories, and …

January 23rd, 2013

Warning: This article contains some spoilers about the movie.

It’s the perfect Hollywood plot: “the story of history’s greatest manhunt for the world’s most dangerous man.” You couldn’t ask for a more sinister villain — Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for history’s worst terrorist attack on the American people. And even before its release, controversy surrounded the film. Does the movie take a pro-torture stance? (Director Kathryn Bigelow responded to these accusations for the first time this week.) Did the filmmakers have access to classified materials during their research of the film? Is it a docu-drama or a work of fiction? Hollywood loves this type of publicity because it draws attention to a film and helps sell the story. It certainly piqued my interest and I was curious to see how the filmmakers interpreted the real life drama for the big screen.

Zero Dark Thirty did not disappoint. Look, we all know the ending. Bin Laden is killed. Yet I was on the edge of my seat the entire movie, along with the rest of the audience. You could hear a pin drop in the theater. I was expecting a Hollywood action thriller, and those elements were there, but …

January 14th, 2013

In any normal, and might I add boring, cinematic year, the results of the past week’s Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice awards would strongly indicate this year’s big Academy Award winner for Best Director and Best Picture will be Ben Affleck and his 1980s Iranian hostage crisis rescue-film, Argo. But Affleck was snubbed at last week’s Oscar nominations (along with Kathryn Bigelow, among others,) so despite Argo winning both Director and Best Picture prizes at these latest awards shows, the field remains (sort-of) wide open. Now critics, fans and those in the industry can all finally agree on one thing: that this is one of the most interesting, exciting and hard to predict Awards Seasons in years (excluding Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathway, of course, who are virtual locks in their acting categories.)

But enough about predictions. Here at Busted Halo®, we don’t pride ourselves on prognosticating so much as we specialize in spirituality, even where Hollywood is concerned, and strive, as the Jesuits do, to find God in all things. So we present to you A Spiritual Side of Cinema, a guide to the religious and faith aspects of this year’s nominated films.

Ever …

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