Category Archives: Random Reviews

A Rumor of Angels Review

A Rumor of Angels: Quotations for Living, Dying & Letting GoI’d to share a wonderful review I received for A Rumor of Angels: Quotations for Living, Dying & Letting Go. I’m copying it from where I recently started selling my books.

“I’m a new Hospice Aide in Home Care. It’s my passion and I’m very excited to enter this field. A Rumor of Angels will live in my work bag for years to come. It’s a great tool for caregivers, aides, nurses or anyone in healthcare. For those quiet moments, I plan to read my favorite poems/quotes out of this book to my patients and their loved ones. It’s simple to read and understand, yet I’m amazed at how well the quotes and stories flow within the chapters. The quotes are SO fitting, meaningful and motivational for both the living and dying. For the low price, I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality. This book isn’t limited to those dying or healthcare workers. It’s for anyone who loves reading inspiring quotes.” —Kendall Morales

Thank you, Kendall, you’ve really encouraged me!

Brief Review of Movie Chef

Chef movie reviewChef is about a lot more than cooking. It’s about creativity and what is at stake when a person’s creative spirit is crushed. It’s about social media—its glory and anguish—how it can severely impact an individual and move the masses. It’s also about about a boy. As a parent, I thought the boy story was particularly genius.

The boy, the chef‘s son, is at the age when a kid is smart and incredibly capable, but still on the younger side of puberty. As such, he can tear up easily and be extremely vulnerable. The boy openly craves to be with his dad at work, around the house, with his dad’s friends, etc. The chef doesn’t entirely understand the significance of his son’s requests or know how to deliver for him, but—thanks to upheavals at work and a supportive ex-wife—the dad comes through fantastically.

I’m not a psychologist, but I imagine it’s at this stage in a boy’s life that anger might take root and grow; that is, if a boy is not initiated into manhood with the help of dad or mentor and is not validated as a person that matters, a person who can contribute. If you’ve already seen the movie, that silly cornstarch scene…well, I’m a woman, but I think that was an initiation of sorts. And the hard work the boy did to clean the truck? That lifted his self esteem way up—even though there was a big argument at the end, revealing that good parenting is still messy and far from perfect.

I hope this movie encourages parents to stay in touch with their kids during the transition-into-adulthood years. Not just parents; adults in general, if given the opportunity, can validate kids who are so capable but still so young. It’s really a beautiful phase.

The movie Chef has a lot to it, more than what I’ve touched upon here, as I haven’t even mentioned the cooking. Be sure to stay for the credits. You don’t want to miss the final clip, which is about a grilled cheese sandwich. How generous to end with something we all can do.

Gravity and what is prayer?

scene from Gravity movie

I’m happy to have seen “Gravity” just a few days before the Academy Awards. If I could cast a vote for it, I would. Here, I would like to call attention to one little line in the movie. The one where our main character says, “I would pray…but nobody ever taught me how.”

For a long time it has bothered me that screenwriters, directors, and other powers that lie behind the big screen give us catastrophic situations with no “Help me God” in the midst of them. Anyone who has had a brush with death knows an honest portrayal of such situations would often include a call for help from a higher power.

I have come to understand this missing ingredient in movies in this way: a simple bowing of the head is a powerful thing. If a character prays, even if he is in the background, all eyes would go to him and the trajectory of the movie would be thrown off. But maybe there’s another reason. Possibly nobody ever taught the movie people themselves how to pray and they just don’t know what to do with it.

Which brings me to Gravity. What a precious scene. Sandra Bullock has never played a more beautiful part. I dare say that in her humble admission that she would pray if she knew how, God is rushing in. (I won’t mention the fun, mystical experience that happens next in case you haven’t seen the movie yet.)

Prayer is just a word for communicating with God. It is basically an invitation for God’s presence and direction in your life. Sometimes it involves talking or thinking in sentences. Sometimes it’s turning to Him in silence, then waiting to see if an inspired thought comes to mind. (Contrary to rumors, God is encouraging, not condemning.) If you like writing like I do, you can try writing your prayers. Think of Anne Frank’s honest, vulnerable letters to “Dear Diary” but address them to an attentive God instead.

C.S. Lewis said, “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.” But even then, in the end, if you are tethering from an air hose in outer space, you can pray. I just taught you how.

The meaning of cats in Inside Llewyn Davis

inside-llewyn-davis-meaning of catsAfter seeing Inside Llewyn Davis last night, a friend and I immediately started speculating about the significance of the cats. Here’s what we came up with:

The cat reveals that Llewyn had a heart
When Llewyn seems to be a heartless person, the cat reveals otherwise. Llewyn passionately chases the cat through the village and grieves over getting it back to his friends. That said, it’s usually easier to care for animals than it is to care for people. Possibly, the cat represents how far Llewyn has to go: Llewyn shows care for the cat, but is unwilling to take the exit to Akron to find and care for his 2-year-old child, which leads me to the next point.

The cat reveals that Llewyn is careless
Llewyn is careless with his actions and words, hurting those closest to him. The cat scenes are clearly descriptive of his carelessness. Whether intentional of not, Llewyn lets the cat escape; he picks up the wrong cat; he deserts the cat in the car, and so on. Remember when the professor’s wife discovered that Llewyn returned the wrong cat? She screams at him, “Where’s his scrotum, Llewyn?! Where’s his scrotum!” This same question can be asked of Llewyn who is acting like an irresponsible kid, not a man.

Similarly, Llewyn is bothered whenever he is asked if he is Hugh Davis’ son, the reason being that he should have grown up by now into a man in his own right; he is a father himself, yet has not earn the title.

The cat represents hope
According to folklore, cats have nine lines, symbolic of Llewyn’s experience as a folk singer. Llewyn’s hope is killed, then it rises, if just a little, then it is killed again. The cat’s eventual return to his friends’ home (also a home of sorts for Llewyn) represents another round of hope for Llewyn.

The cat reveals that Llewyn has a soul
When others doubt it, the cat seems to look deeply into his soul. Most significantly, a cat seems to sacrifice himself for Llewyn in the snowy car scene. Llewyn was falling asleep at the wheel, but hitting the cat brought forth his full attention, not to mention his capacity to feel emotion again. The cat is like an angel: when Llewyn wakes up in his friends’ home, the cat is there, looking down on him with acceptance, representing love that is unmerited, undeserved.

If the cat gives grace, the man in the suit in the alley gives Llewyn what he deserves. Having received experiences of both mercy and justice, we can only hope that Llewyn is ready to grow up.

The Truth in The Butler

The ButlerMost movie trailers give away too much, so I tend to watch them after a movie—to relive its poignant moments—rather than before. That’s why I went to The Butler last night expecting to see an intimate, fairly accurate look at the life of an amazing man; a celebration of the person who served eight presidents in the White House and was virtually unknown until the Washington Post did an article on him.

The Butler, as I will call him in this article, was a real person (his real name being Eugene Allen), but it turns out that the movie doesn’t try too hard to be accurate with his story. In real life, for example, the man had only one son; in the movie he had two: one fought in Vietnam and the other—completely fabricated—became an activist.

I usually don’t like scripts that mess so much with the known facts, but I’m pondering this one. The movie uses the Butler to tell a bigger story: that of the civil rights movement. The Butler, as dramatized in the movie, experiences a ton of loss. I am happy to tell you that his real life did not include all those terrors, and, no, he was not informed on his birthday, right after his wife brought out the birthday cake, that his son was killed in the war. But maybe there’s a reason for piling up the pain on this one man. Scriptwriters know we can better understand anything from a simple concept to a entire era if there’s a human face to it. And here we are, in our comfy chairs with just two hours to understand a whole lot of suffering. The Butler helps us get it.

In the beginning of the movie, when the Butler is a young boy, his father tells him, “This is a white man’s world; we are just living in it.” The boy grows up and learns how to survive in such a world. He works hard, supports his family, and earns respect — from the presidents of the United States, no less. It’s an understatement to say his life is better than that of his parents.

But one of the Butler’s sons wants even more and choses the life of an activist. This scenario must be a reality in countless families coming out of oppression: parents advancing the cause through patient, respectable work, while the children won’t settle for such slow progress. The movie portrays the tension between father and son well, with amazing scenes that juxtapose the Butler’s delicate routines in the White House with his son’s dangerous encounters on the streets. We feel for the son who doesn’t understand that his father’s gentle march toward liberty allowed his children to grow up strong, healthy and ready for the next step. We also feel for the father who fails to understand that his son isn’t all much different than he; both suffer inside, both want a better world than that of their parents and both are incredibly courageous.

The acting of the main characters in this movie is stellar. The casting of the presidents is fun, although you can guess which ones are portrayed negatively, while one in particular has a glow around his head. That’s Hollywood. Most movies, we should all know by now, mess with the truth.

But in this case, there are deeper truths that make up for it: the painful truth, for starters, that evil and wretched injustice exists; but also the truth that courage, reconciliation, and love exist—and if you get to live as long as the Butler, you’re better inclined to see these greater truths prevail.

When grief begets grief

photo of griefGrief needs time, but if you were to give it, say, the whole house to reside in, instead of just a room or two, then your grief becomes more than a necessary part of the healing process. It becomes, instead, a source of more problems. I will try to explain.

Sticking with the house analogy, if every room in the house becomes a complete mess (use your imagination here), then the house’s disorder becomes a new thing to grieve. Eventually, your grief may have little to do with its original source. Basically, you start grieving new misfortunes and painful experiences that are the fallout from your initial grief.

The poignant scene in the Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln shows two extremes in regards to handling grief. The president tells his wife that he cannot allow himself to indulge in the pain of their son’s death. He resists the pain so he can uphold his commitment to the country, something greater than himself. His wife, on the other hand, shows the devastating impact of grief and possibly wallows in it. Who can say how much control either of them had in their situation? No one really knows, but we can still listen, learn and consider what applies to our own lives.

I believe God has given each of us the strength of a will; that is, the ability to make a decision regardless of our emotional state. But there is a range here: people have feelings in different intensities and some have a stronger will than others.

I am grateful President Lincoln was able to use his strong will to section off his grief so he could help bring an end to the pain of many others. I am also grateful for his wife’s demonstration of how tormenting grief can be. She too, come to think of it, had a strong will, one which was influenced by her intense grief. In fact, her grief, in part, became her resolve that the amendment be passed so she wouldn’t lose a second son. This resolve, no doubt, helped her carry on.

Sooner or later, this is what we do: carry on. When grief is allowed to grow to the point of filling every nook and cranny of a house, it is hard to even move, and the carrying on is similar to trekking through waist-high mud, or worse. But even then, when grief begets more grief, healing can still happen. The house can be brought back into shape. Things can be picked up. Especially if friends and a cleaning team (grief professionals) come over and help.

Whether you handle grief like Lincoln, his wife or somewhere in between, I wish for you at least one clean room in the house. Spend time there, as much as you can muster, breathing deeply and sipping from the cup of blessings, however small, that is sure to be present on the table.

Blame it on the Brave Little Toaster

BraveLittleToasterWhy my daughter wears tight jeans

When my kids were little, they loved the animated movie The Brave Little Toaster. My husband and I delighted in the fact that our kids chose a show that celebrates adventure, warmth, and above all relationships. In a way, the movie is a statement against our disposable society. The little toaster and his friends are old, neglected appliances and household items, but they are still worthy. With great effort, they find their former owner who repairs them and decides to keep them around.

But there’s a fallout from the influence of this movie: my daughter, as a rule, resists throwing anything away. This morning, when I dropped her off at school in tight jeans that should have been retired in the fifth grade (she’s a junior now), I blamed it on The Brave Little Toaster.

I need to have a talk with her. In our beloved movie, I’ll explain, inanimate things were given personalities, but the movie’s lessons of loyalty, courage, and attachment should be applied to people—not to things and not to our jeans.

Two years ago, I confiscated a pair of her pants that had enormous holes in the knees and a poorly stitched up hole in the crotch. I handed them to my husband. “These need to be thrown away,” I said, “but I’m afraid of my daughter’s wrath.” He was man enough to take care of it. My daughter was flabbergasted. Occasionally she mentions the atrocity of the crime. The worst part is, her friends came to the rescue with hand-me-downs, so now she has even more jeans that are way too tight.

I realize I could have it worse as a parent. I may think my daughter’s pants are too small, but her friends don’t think she has a problem and I’m sure her boyfriend doesn’t mind one bit. Generally, my daughter is a great kid becoming a wonderful adult. And thanks to The Brave Little Toaster, she is extremely thrifty, an overall positive trait. Notwithstanding the expensive prom dress I just bought her, she hardly ever asks for anything new.

Life of Pi ending explained

Life of Pi If you have not read the book, or at least seen the movie, please don’t read one word of the following post. The book is too awesome to spoil.

After pondering the ending for some time, here’s my theological take on it. It may satisfy you, as it did a few people who commented on my Screen Rant post.

Pi’s tragedy of being shipwrecked and losing his family, being exposed to the elements and being at the hands of a tiger, was horrific. Could it get any worse, we wondered as readers (and viewers). When we are in a tough situation, we similarly think things are at their worst.

Then, came the “second story” which was, surprisingly, much worse! All of a sudden, Pi’s animal story didn’t seem so bad; it seemed almost gracious.

“And so it goes with God,” which means this: when we experience tough times, God is still working behind the scenes; He is still sparing us of the worst that could happen; He is still revealing to us His beauty (as in Pi’s delight in the sea and sky); and even when we feel powerless in the face of terrible circumstances, in truth, God is still giving us challenges we can master (as with Pi’s ability to train the tiger).

Finally, in both stories, God still saves us, as in Pi’s ultimate arrival to shore, financial aid, and ability to have a family of his own. Similarly, God ultimately saves those who seek him (as Pi so earnestly demonstrates).