He is: Servite Father Dennis Kriz, associate pastor of Annunciata Parish on the Southeast Side. Popular movie reviewer with his blog, “Fr. Dennis at the Movies.” Ordained in 1999.
Youth: “My younger sister and I grew up mainly in Mount Prospect. I went to Prospect High. Dad was a chemist for a company that made specialized toners and paints (including some for the Space Program). Mom was an artist who had a degree in dress-designing from the Art Institute. My dad never had to buy her a new dress during their marriage. She even made her wedding dress. And as a good Czechoslovakian immigrant, she loved the resale stores.
“Faith was always important to our family though mostly at home with the immigrant experience as part of it. We’d all consider ourselves believers, but in terms of Church attendance, we’d have to admit that we were the “three times a year” variety – Christmas, Easter and St. Wenceslas Day -- until my mom came down with cancer.
“I got hooked on movies as a teenager. ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ was perfect: History, Archeology, the Bible and Nazis all mixed in. How great was that!?”
Vocation: “I went to the U of I and studied chemical engineering. Then I went to grad school at USC in Los Angeles. While at USC, my mom died. That was a life-changing experience for me. I got involved at the USC Catholic Center, staffed by the Servites. I was in my 20s and enthusiastic. I found religion much more meaningful and explainable to others than my chemistry work. How much can you say about microscopic polymer beads? At least if you’re talking about religion — everyone has an opinion. But I finished my doctorate in chemical engineering, because ‘You finish what you start.’
“I was searching for something bigger, and entered the Servite community. I spent my first year at Berkeley at the Franciscan School of Theology, and then did my novitiate. At the end they sent me to our international college in Italy to finish my theology. Our final thesis project was to be based on an aspect of the culture we came from. In the USA our culture is so diverse one has to talk about some form of mass media, and the easiest for me was movies. My thesis title: ‘Marian Imagery in “The Terminator.’”
Parish life: “Since our parish is involved in “To Teach Who Christ Is,” my contribution has been giving up a movie or two a week that I would otherwise see. We’ve been asking parishioners to give sacrificially. I believe in the value of my blog, but I wanted my participation in the Parish Campaign to hurt a bit. So it comes to about $50/month (plus missing 6-8 movies a month). I’m responsible for our youth group at Annunciata. I’ve been here 10 years and started the blog 4 years ago. I try to alert kids to be aware of messages in films and especially who’s portrayed as a ‘good’ person and who’s a ‘bad’ person. A lot of times the ‘bad’ people portrayed are darker skinned and foreign (yet as Catholics we believe that we’re all children of God).
“I’ve found the Marvel Comic book movies – Iron Man, Spider Man, Thor – actually quite good. Even though they’re “superhero” types, the characters are usually complex and even the villains have their story. Not all comic book films are like that. In Batman/Superman (DC Comics), the heroes are super-good and the villains super-evil, and the rest of us are nothing. In contrast, the Marvel Comic stories there’s almost always a moral message to them: “With great power comes great responsibility” is the message of the first Spider Man film. It’s hard to argue with that message and it’s expressed in a manner a teenager can understand.
“I use movies in my homilies, only when it really applies. But everyone in the parish knows I do movie reviews. They know I see the more obscure ones than the average movie-goer. By visiting my blog, they’ll know these other movies are at least out there. I’m drawn to a film by its story – if I see a point to it.”
His Blog: “I blog several times a week at frdennismoviereviews.blogspot.com. My ideal audience would be young adults in their 20s-30s. The culture tends to pander to teens by calling them young adults, but they’re still too young. However in their 20-30s is when people have options and are most free to learn and grow.” His blog lists reviews for the past four years, with various age group categories – For instance, he gave the 2013 kids’ movie “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” 3-stars and a good review! His blog has nine genres of movies, including documentaries and foreign. He also carries reviews by others, like the USCCB when available.
Film and dialogue: “For the millennium I led Servite parishes with youth groups to Italy for a youth experience. I helped lead a group to the Servites in the Amazon, where we have a mission, and led two groups to a Servite mission in Mexico. Nice projects but very expensive. The Servite Order is using Facebook now to build bridges to share what Servites are doing around the world. Movies fit in with this as well. While the cost of flying to visit the missions in Brazil or South Africa would run thousands of dollars, for 10 bucks you can pick up a movie that’s also about that culture and community. And foreign film festivals exist all over the place.” He speaks English, Czech, Italian and Spanish. There are four Servites who live in community at the Annunciata Priory. They have morning and evening prayer, Mass, and meals in common.
Favorite Scripture verse? “Peter’s words, ‘To whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life.’” (John 6:68)