ReasonForOurHope

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

New Evangelizers Post: The 10 Commandments in the Modern World Part 5 – Do Not Kill


I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com.  
When it comes to this commandments, most people think of themselves as scot free regarding the fifth.
“I never killed anyone!”

And to be sure most of us (I pray) are not murderers.

But this commandment goes beyond the mere act of killing. Yes, most of us will not willfully take an innocent human life. And a lot of ink has already been spilled on issues of abortion and euthanasia. These are incredibly pressing and important topics, but I would like to spend time on something a little closer to home.

But do we kill people with our anger?

Let me be clear, there is nothing sinful about anger speaking purely about it as an emotional reaction. We may not have control over our immediate emotional response. If someone steps on our toes or cuts us off in traffic, we may feel the made flush of anger rise up in us. This is not a sin, it is only a feeling.

And to go further, not all anger is bad. Jesus never sinned. But if you look at the Gospels, Jesus got angry quite a lot. Anger at sin and injustice can be a positive force that can fuel the fire for positive change in the world. Abolitionists were angry about the dehumanization of slavery. Pro-lifers are angry about the murder of the unborn.

CS Lewis wrote, “Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery We ought to hate them… But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry the man should have done such things, and hoping… he can be cured and made human again.” (Mere Christianity Book III, Ch. 7, Paragraph 6)

You can read the entire article here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Film Review: Passengers



Sexuality/Nudity Mature 
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

Passengers is a good movie that could be great with a little more attention paid to the third act.

The story revolves around a very high-concept sci-fi premise:  Earth is colonizing planets outside of the solar system.  In order to get there, people go into hypersleep for the nearly more-than-century-long trip.  Due to an accident, Jim Preston's sleep pod malfunctions and he wakes up more than 80 years too soon and cannot go back to hibernation.  As a result he is alone on the ship, the Avalon, with only the robotic bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) to keep him company.  Even as he breaks into most of the amenities that the Avalon has to offer, the isolation starts driving Jim insane.  Things change when Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) wakes up.  Together they explore this isolated life together as things begin to go even more horribly wrong.

The movie's concept is excellent and it explores the ideas of human loneliness even with every technological comfort.  I couldn't help but make the connection to the modern world where we get better at interacting with technology but have an increasing sense of isolation.

The design of the film is also beautiful. Director Mortum Tyldum does a wonderful job of making the Avalon a spectacle to behold.  And the outerspace scenes are made with the appropriate balance of terror and wonder.

The production design also wisely makes this future not too distant from our own.  Everything things familiar enough so we are not lost yet fantastic enough to stimulate the imaginations.  And the use of special effects is not too showy but is very creative.  Watching gravity fail inside of a swimming pool was stunning to watch.

The performances are also fantastic.  Pratt has to carry most of this film and it is probably his best performance to date.  Tyldum probably could have pushed him a little more, but the actor pulls off the lonely madness while still being sympathetic.  Lawrence also does a great job.  She is able to play all kinds of conflicting emotions all believably.

A lot of ink has been spilled over what I call the movie's "original sin."  To adequately review this film, it is not possible to do so without getting into spoiler territory  So be warned:

SPOILERS FROM HERE TO THE END OF THER REVIEW

The main controversy of the film regards Jim and Aurora.  After a year of loneliness, Jim is suicidal.  But then when he sees Aurora's sleeping pod he reads up about her and in his mind he falls in love with her.  He then is tempted with the idea of waking her up.  If he does he will be able to spend his days with the one he has been pining for.  But in doing so, he would condemn her to death aboard the ship before reaching their destination.  Jim struggles for a long time about what to do, knowing it is wrong but being overwhelmed by temptation.  But in the end, he wakes her.

While this is a deplorable act for our main character, the movie does an excellent job of showing that it is deplorable.  Jim knows what he has done, but once he chooses, it is irrevocable.  Tyldum films Pratt (who does a remarkable job with the layers here) in such a way that the weight of his choice is always present.

But this does lead to a particularly problematic story dynamic:  the film wants us to be invested in this relationship.  But the circumstances of its genesis are so creepy that it becomes difficult.  This is not an impossible task and movies like Ben Affleck's The Town do this incredibly effectively.  And for the most part, Passengers does get you to buy into this romance.  Lawrence and Pratt deserve a lot of credit for this because of their chemistry.

And part of the tension is in whether or not the sin will be revealed.

And here is also where the third act falls short.

Because of the emotional complexity of the first two acts, the thirds act required a lot of nuance and delicacy to untangle these moral knots.  Instead, the third act is a series of contrivances that force our characters into extreme circumstances that only happen because the writer needed them to happen to get the ending that is desired.  This is a real shame because most of the story is about how each choice has a consequence.  But there is so much sheer coincidence in that third act that it can feel like a betrayal of the early sophistication.

The movie deals with a lot of deep moral questions regarding conscience, loneliness, sin, atonement, and forgiveness.  With the exception of unrepentant fornication, I would say that this is an excellent movie that you can use to explore moral issues in the human condition.

Your satisfaction with the movie will probably rely on whether or not you believe that Jim has sufficiently atoned for his sin or not.  That is the key to making the movie work.  If you don't believe that Jim has "earned" his redemption and Aurora's love then you will think that the film is too pat and contrived.  On the other hand, if you think that even though he did something awful, mercy and forgiveness makes sense, then the movie will be satisfying.

Passengers promises a much more sophisticated payoff than it gives.  Because of that, it's not great.  But even so it is still pretty good.

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, January 16, 2017

Martin Luther King Day

(originally posted 3 years ago)


I just have a few random thoughts on the secular feast of Martin Luther King.

As cliche as it sounds, I still marvel at his I Have A Dream speech.  It is a marvel of rhetoric and too many people have tried to imitate with its lofty rhetoric and his echoing voice.

I have always held his principle of a Color Blind Society as the true end goal of the Civil Rights Movement.  Anything which seeks to sub-divide us by race is antithetical to the American Dream.

My father began working with American doctors at Clarke Air Base in the Philippines.  I once asked him at dinner if he ever experienced racism from the white doctors there.  He he gave a little shrug and said "Sure," and then continued eating.  When I asked him how he handled it, he said, "I worked harder than anyone to be the best doctor there so that they knew to respect me."

To me, that is best way to fight back against racial bigots.  Success is the best victory.  But that only comes with hard work and perseverance.  My dad had no chip on his shoulder over ill treatment.  He figured you're going to get stupid people in life.  The only thing to do is be excellent.

On a lighter note, there is a reason beyond his importance that MLK is revered today as a secular saint. Ask any school child about him, and they will say that he is a great man.  How do children know this intuitively?  Because they get the day off of school because of him.

Ask them who the greatest presidents are and they will say Washington and Lincoln?  They get a day off of school because of them too.



You can imagine how important Jesus is: you get 3 weeks off because of Him.  He must have been great!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Film Flash: Live By Night

A man in a white suit, sitting a large brown armchair, pointing a gun.

15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Surprisingly mediocre outing for director Affleck.  Like Godfather-lite.  Not bad/not great
2.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday Best: Golden Globes 2017 Results

I was going to live-tweet the Golden Globes last Sunday like I have the past few years.  But to be honest, I couldn't bring myself to do it.

Not only could I not find myself very excited about most of the nominees, I couldn't even bring myself to a sufficient level of anger to make sarcastic comments.  I had, for the most part, an emotionally nil reaction to the whole affair.  This is indifference is far worse than any negative reaction, because it means that the Golden Globes are sliding further and further into irrelevance (though I know many of you say they are already there).

The best part of the evening was the opening number.  Having seen La La Land, I enjoyed the homage and loved seeing all of the celebrity cameos.

But it was all downhill from there.

To be honest, I'm having trouble even remembering who won in each category.  The most memorable thing about the night and all that most people are talking about is Meryl Streep's speech for accepting her lifetime achievement award.

Speaking of Streep, and this following comment is not meant to be political in any way, I found it very odd that she took this opportunity to speak about Donald Trump.  She was receiving an award for a lifetime of work in the arts.  And instead of thanking the people who made her career possible or sharing anecdotes about her time as an actress, she focused all of her words against someone she despised.  And I did not understand her attack on the NFL and MMA.  I don't know what those sports organizations ever did to her so I found her denigrating of them baffling.

If I had not seen La La Land, the only movie I would have seen that won an award last night was Zootopia.  And none of the TV shows I watch won anything.  Without a dog in the fight, why should I care?

The Globes are sometimes a barometer for the Oscars.  That has been less and less of a factor, but La La Land is building steam and movies about movies tend to win Oscars.

But otherwise, this awards season looks incredibly boring coming up.  That is why part of me is really hoping the dark hours campaign to get Deadpool an Oscar nomination for Best Picture comes through.  I don't believe that Deadpool will win or is even one of the best films of the year.  But that nomination would make the Oscars just a little more watchable.

Thoughts?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Sunday Worst: The Bizzaro Awards 2016

My good friend the Doctor said that I should do a parallel list to my Kal-El Awards that reflect to worst in pop culture from the year.  He suggested that I call them the "Lenny Luthors" after the horrible Jon Cryer character from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.  The rational for choosing Lenny was that "he is terrible in every way that Superman is awesome."

I liked the idea, but I thought instead of Lenny Luthor we would name the awards after the true opposite of Superman:

Bizarro.


Bizarro is the anti-Superman, literally.  He even maintains speech patterns that are the opposite of what he means.  "Good-bye, me am not Bizarro.  Me like you!  Live!"  said by Bizarro actually means "Hello, I am Bizarro.  I hate you! Die!"

So since Superman is my mark of excellence.  Bizarro will be my mark of utter awfulness.   Unlike the Kal-El awards, these will be focused only on movies.  The reason is that serialized work like television and comics require a longer time commitment in order to understand the material.  You may have to watch a show or read a comic for several months before you discover if it is truly bad or good.  It took me a few episodes to understand the logic behind Vincent D'Onofrio's performance in Daredevil.  The investment of time and/or money also precludes a lot of unnecessary sampling, so my exposure to bad material is a bit less.

With a movie, you can have a complete understanding of the product after 90-180 minutes

There will be 2 new categories that I will add:

-Worst TV Show I Stopped Watching
-Worst TV Show I Still Watch

In both of these cases I will be giving my critical condemnation of shows about which I have some significant experience and thus have a basis for calling them critical failures


So now, here are the Bizarro Awards for movies this past year.  (based on the movies I have seen).


WORST MOVIE

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Some movies are so bad that they get you angry, like last year's Bizzaro winner Terminator: Genisys.  But this is not the case with TMNT: OOTS.  The problem with this movie is that it so incredibly lame.  The first movie was not good and this was even worse.  Not only did the plot make absolutely no sense, but the movie was utterly boring.  The only reason I ended up seeing it is because I won it free in a contest.  The shame of it all is that the main concept has potential for hundreds of enduring stories.  And what resulted was something so empty that it feels amazingly wasteful.

TOP TEN WORST MOVIES
10. The Nice Guys
9. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
8. Bad Moms
7.  Batman: The Killing Joke
6.  Central Intelligence
5.  The Secret Life of Pets
4.  Ghostbusters
3.  Shin Godzilla
2.  Independence Day: Resurgence
1.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.

WORST ACTOR

Forrest Whitaker - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

When I reviewed Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I wrote: "And when it comes to Whitaker's performance, I honestly cannot tell if it is great or awful.  His Saw Gerrera is so over-the-top that that he may have pushed past his outrageousness to a point of brilliance.  But I cannot make up my mind about it."  

Well, I decided.  His performance is awful.  And what is the deciding factor is this: his performance is distracting.  A great performance casts a spell on you and draws you in.  But as I watched him, I kept trying to figure out why he was making these strange choices.  I never saw Saw Gerrera.  I only saw Forrest Whitaker trying to be weird.


WORST ACTRESS

Megan Fox- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Empty.  That is how I feel about this movie and this actress.  There is nothing behind her exterior.  This performance is the film equivalent of a hollow chocolate bunny.  Everything that is interesting on the outside.  I don't mean this as a comment about her looks.  But her performance is all about unmotivated actionIn fact, I cannot even bring myself to get angry enough to be mad at her bad acting, because there is nothing there to attack.

WORST DIRECTOR

Paul Feig - Ghostubusters

I wrote in my review for Ghostbusters: "The remake employs modern awkward humor, the type made popular in shows like The Office and Arrested Development.  Instead of using punchy, tight jokes in the dialogue which hit the punchline and then hop off to the next joke, Feig preferred to drag out the jokes and keep circling back to the central humorous anecdote, hoping that the awkwardness would increase the absurd humor.  This works incredibly well in the above mentioned TV shows.  It does not work at all well in Ghostbusters."

And it was Feig's inability to understand his own subject that puts him on this list.  Feig is not without talent, but he doesn't grasp the core of what makes his own concept work.  His humor has also transformed into a weird smugness.  Some humor is broad and crude, but Feig's movies present the jokes and then you get the distinct impression that he looks down on you if you don't get it.

WORST SCREENPLAY

Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Again, it is almost more fun to rage against a terrible film, but it disappointing to express nothing but vacant apathy on a story that is so hollow that it may as well be a donut.  There are literally hundreds of hours worth of stories that are better than the one presented here.  If they simply took the script from 4 random TMNT cartoons it would be better than this.


MOST ANTI-CHRISTIAN MOVIE

N/A

I am grateful that didn't see anything this year that I found directly offensive to the faith.  The closest I saw was in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but it was vague enough that I may have been projecting onto the film.  I'm sure there were some awful things out there in the movies (like X-Men villain Apocalypse telling us that he is the God of the Bible), but I didn't spend any money seeing them.

MOST MORALLY OFFENSIVE

Bad Moms


From my review: "But the biggest problem with Bad Moms rests with the themes.  Movies like this need to follow a general structure in order to be satisfying

1.  Get a sense of how stifling the character's world is at the beginning of the movie.
2.  Enjoy the liberation the characters feel in rejecting their old life and responsibilities
3.  Pull back from the reckless total rejection and find balance between the two.

Bad Moms does one and two well, but they don't really get to the third.  I imagine there is something cathartic and satisfying parents, especially mothers, might feel in being able to complain about the foibles of their children while being understood that they lack no affection for them.  The second act is filled with these vent session and we are treated to the sense of freedom they have from the pressure to be perfect.  But instead of coming to a strong understanding that total irresponsibility is bad and so is expecting perfection, the movie embraces being a bad parent.  At the end of the movie there is a scene where several moms confess how they are bad.  But instead of it being a session to air contrition for their shortcomings, they all celebrate each others badness.

On top of this, the movie takes a very dim view of marriage.  When Amy's husband wants to come back and reconcile, they try counseling, but the counselor (an unfunny Wanda Sykes) says that they should get divorced.  The movie tries to move you to root for Amy to leave her husband and hook up with Jesse.  And while I understand that marital infidelity may be a bridge to far for some couples to reconcile, the easy dissolution of this marriage speaks to how impermanent the filmmakers see it.  In fact, none of the marriages in the movie are happy.

And it is any wonder that when the marriage are devoid of the love of God and the self donation that is a part of sacramental Christian marriage that the result would not only be bad marriages but bad dads.

And Bad Moms."


WORST TV SHOW I STOPPED WATCHING

Superstore

The first season of the show was fun and silly.  But the second season took a weird turn.  Suddenly it became horribly preachy and strangely political.  It portrayed people who opposed the abortion pill as insane.  And if you believe that men are men and women are women the show labeled you a bigot.  So rather than sit through another series that decided to punch me in the face on a weekly basis, I gave up.

WORST SHOW I STILL WATCH

Supergirl

I stopped watching the first season of Supergirl about halfway through.  But I started up again when it came to the CW.

The reason I still watch is because when the show works it is a lot of fun.  When it digs deep into its comic book roots and seeks to tell epic sci-fi stories that are open to a world of imagination, Supergirl is fun.

But the show is bogged down in its constant virtue signaling.  Every week it cloyingly makes a ham-fisted attempt to teach us a message.  Whether or not I agree with that message is irrelevant.  When message-sending trumps storytelling, there is a real problem.

Supergirl is redeemable.  The show wants to use it's sci-fi premise to talk about the real world.  It could take the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a model.  While the show landed on the same ethical side as Supergirl, Joss Whedon focused on telling the story first and let the moral flow from it naturally.  Take for example how both shows turned characters into lesbians.  On Buffy, Willow's relationship with Tara slowly became more intimate over the course of thirteen episodes.  Whedon took the time for the audience to follow Willow's journey on an emotional level (again I am not making a comment on the morality presented one way or another).  But on Supergirl, Kara's sister Alex meets a lesbian police officer and in two episodes the previously straight character has made a radical life change.  The show was more interested in making a statement than bringing the audience on a journey.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New Evangelizers Article: Catholic Pop Culture 2016


I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com.  
As I have for the last two years I shall recall any good things from the popular culture that are harmonious or helpful to Catholic culture. There were many things past year and many things coming up in 2016 that are antithetical to the Gospel. But there were a few bright spots in 2016.

And as I have previously written it is not necessary to indulge a fascination with pop culture (e.g. you don’t have to Keep up the Kardashians and Kanye), but we should have some awareness of it and maybe (if it is our charism) to engage with it to make it more Christlike.

I would like to focus on the most Catholic moments in pop culture from the past year. As a teacher, I have found that using the language of modern television, movies, and the like can be very effective at illustrating all manner of theological truths.

It should be noted that any mention of positive examples from movies or television shows below is not an endorsement of the entire of the entire project. Some stories have mixed messages. Or some may be too explicit or violent. This is merely a touchstone to highlight any good moments that came out of pop culture in 2016. And feel free to disagree. But here are some points that I intend to use in the classroom.

Beware, in order to discuss the Catholicity of the movies and television shows below, SPOILERS may be introduced.

You can read the entire article here.