ReasonForOurHope

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

New Evangelizers Post: Pastoral Orthodoxy

I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com.  

A few weeks ago, Pope Francis released his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) in response to the recent Synod on the family. Some were hoping that the document would move towards normalizing and validating sexual relationships that are contrary to the Gospel. Some were hoping for a stronger denunciation of these relationships.

But besides a few misleading headlines, neither side seems to have gotten what they desired. The Holy Father reaffirmed all of the Church’s doctrines of regarding marital ethics.

But it also called for a renewed effort to reach out to those who are not living in accords with those ethics. Francis challenges the Church to meet people in their real-world situation and to not paint all non-ideal relationships with the same broad brushstrokes.

To many, this latter point seems antithetical to the Christian message. Are we not always to speak the truth, even when it is difficult?

I think that problem occurs because of a perceived divide between the orthodox and the pastoral.

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sunday Best: TV Dramas of All Time #3 - Buffy the Vampire Slayer

7 SEASONS
(1997-2003)



I don't think I had ever seen a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I remember when it originally came to television I resisted watching.  Younger people may not remember that the show was based on feature film of the same name which was, to be charitable, atrocious.

But Joss Whedon, who wrote the movie, decided he would take creative control of the character and execute his vision as purely as possible.

The result was a unique television experience.

The story, for those unfamiliar, revolves around Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar).  She is pretty, blond, high school girl who is the typical victim in the typical horror movie.  Instead, Whedon makes her the Chosen One, a Slayer who has super-strength and fighting acumen to take on the forces of evil.

While the plot of the show is unique, that is not what set it apart.  Whedon was able to create a show that was equal parts scary, funny, thrilling, and tragic with nary a misstep.  This is a tremendously difficult balancing act.  If any one of the elements is out of order or proportion, it will fall apart.  This is particularly true of the comedy aspect.  The characters on the show were incredibly funny and had some of the wittiest lines on television.  But as Whedon explained, if you made it too funny or silly, if you had the characters "wink at the camera" as they did in the movie or in shows like Hercules to Xena, then all of the tension, drama, and heartbreak becomes moot.

And Buffy employed not only some fantastic writers, but the actors were incredible.  Allyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Anthony Stewart Head, David Boreanaz, Seth Green, and James Marsters all turned in some fantastic performances.  Special note should be taken of Gellar's amazingly complex character, but also of Marsters work as Spike.  His portrayal of the evil vampire that you cannot help but like is one of the best television performances I have ever seen (and as you have noted, dear reader, I watch a lot of TV).  His monologue at the end of "Beneath You" is still stirring.

This was also one of the first shows where I really noticed the directing.  While budgets were limited, I noted how much work was put into how the scenes were filmed to get the maximum emotional effect.  This was the place where I began to see the revolution in television to a much more cinematic scope.  It was never quite fully realized in this series, but you can see how it changed things.

Another thing that makes this show so relatable is that it is thematically rich.  The ultimate metaphor is that high school is a hellish place of monsters.  Anyone who has ever been to high school can relate.  The outward scariness is there to reflect the universal inward terror of adolescence.  I have never seen a better interpretation of a relationship going sour after pre-marital sex than in the second season.

Of course since this is a Joss Whedon show, his philosophical nihilism slowly begins to creep in as the seasons progress.  You can begin to see this more and more in season 4 when the characters go off to college and start making some incredibly poor life decisions.  As a Catholic, watching this slow descent into darkness is heartbreaking, because you want the characters you have come to love to reach out into the light and find happiness.  Instead, they are caught up in addiction, apathy, and empty sex.  Whedon tries his best to pull out of this tailspin and there are some real moments of light in the darkness.  But his mind overwhelms his heart a bit too often and the show slowly covered itself in shadow.

But despite this, that heart of Whedon still believes in goodness and heroes.  And though it is overwhelmed, it tries to fight through and present some hope in goodness.

TV THRESHOLD
"Angel"
(1x07)
This was the episode that set the tone for the rest of the series.  So often a show will introduce a character and reveal everything about them way too soon.  Angel (Boreanaz) was introduced in the pilot as a mysterious friend.  It isn't until this episode that the truth (or part of it was revealed).  Not only that, but a recurring character that you thought would be around for a long time was killed.  This set off the tone of danger and surprise.  The last shot of the episode is also rather haunting.

JUMP THE SHARK
"Hell's Belles"
(6x16)
Xander (Brendon) is finally marrying his former-demon fiancee Anya (Emma Caufield).  But as always, complications arise.  That in and of itself is not the problem.  Instead it revealed the real weakness of Whedon's art.  He is so mired in pessimism that it eventually infects things that normally would not be affected.  The breakup at the end of this episode is so artificial and out of left field that it rings false to the characters.  It was as if Whedon could not let this couple find happiness because he believes that life is ultimately tragic and painful.  The problem wasn't that it was sad, which is a common mood on the show.  It was that the tragedy was imposed from without and not organic from within.

WORST EPISODE
"Teacher's Pet"
(1x04)
The show was still finding its way, but if this was the first episode of the series you watched, I could understand giving it up.  The episode was cheesy, badly written, badly acted, and badly directed.  It was so silly that any peril was ignored and the jokes fell flat because of the "After School Special" vibe.  Terrible episode.

BEST EPISODE
"Becoming"
(2x21-22)
There have been many great episodes of Buffy.  I am particularly fond of the musical episode "Once More with Feeling."  But the best episode is the 2-part season final "Becoming."  The greatest villain on the show was Angelus, Buffy's boyfriend Angel who has lost his soul.  Throughout the season, Whedon pushed the audience to move from affection for Angel to utter and irredeemable hatred for Angelus.  Thus we followed Buffy's reluctant journey to the resolution that the man she loved had died and that she had to kill this monster who wants to end the world.  The ending to this episode is one of the most exquisitely tragic things I have ever seen on television.  I know I speak with a lot of seeming hyperbole about this show, but I truly believe it is justified.  The convergence of acting, directing, writing, music, and special effects to create the final climactic moment is so unbelievably heartbreaking that I can still see it vividly in my mind's eye years and years after it has passed.  Here all the threads came together to break all hearts.  And it was glorious.


OVERALL

As I wrote early, Buffy eventually descended into a confused nihilism.  The later episodes were tainted by this darkness.  But that does not take away from the real artistry and skill that came across in the early episodes and which was still present (though obscured) in the later ones.  When I remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I prefer to honor what it was rather than what it eventually became.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Summer Movie Season 2016

We are nearing the end of April, so it's time to look forward to one of my favorite seasons of the year: Summer movie season.

I know as a cinephile I should be more interested in when the "important" movies come out just before the major awards.  But I think the movies of summer are pure cinema and tend to be the ones remembered long after people have forgotten the plot of Birdman.

Here is a list, with a few brief thoughts of my own, including on a scale of 1-5 stars my likelihood of seeing it in theaters (1 being “Not at all” 5 being “Cannot wait!”).


MAY 6
Official poster shows the Avengers team factions which led by Iron Man and Captain America, confronting each other by looking each other, with the film's slogan above them, and the film's title, credits and release date below them.
Captain America: Civil War - (*****)  I think that the last Captain America movie was the best movie of the year and the same people who made that are back for this one with an even bigger cast of characters.  This could be awesome!


 Elstree 1976 - (**) An interesting documentary about the making of the Original Star Wars and how no one making it realized that it would be a phenomenon.  But I'll wait for Netflix


MAY 13
Money Monster poster.png
Money Monster (*) - I would be so much more interested in this if it wasn't for George Clooney and Julia Roberts.  I have a feeling that this is going to be one long lecture about greed

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty (*) - Wow does this look terrible.

Last Days in the Desert poster.jpg
 Last Days in the Desert (***) - I love Ewan McGregor, but I am extremely apprehensive about any Jesus movie to come out.  Unless they go out of their way in the advance publicity to court Christians, that usually says to me that they are looking to stoke controversy.  We'll see.

High Rise 2014 Film Poster.jpg
High Rise - (*)  This looks like Snowpiercer in a building.  And I hated Snowpiercer.

MAY 20
The Nice Guys poster.png
The Nice Guys - (****)  This looks to be on the raunchy side, but I'll be darned if the trailer didn't make me laugh out loud.  This could be a nice buddy action-comedy.

Angry Birds 2016 film poster.jpg
Angry Birds - (*)  It doesn't look like a terrible movie.  I just have no interest.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising - (*) Didn't see the first one and have no desire to see the sequel.


MAY 27

X-Men: Apocalypse - (**)  This would be much higher on my list if it wasn't for the blasphemous statement in the trailer.  For that reason alone, this movie won't get my money unless someone makes it clear to me that the villain is lying to undermine the confidence of the heroes.

Official poster
Alice Through the Looking Glass - (*) Didn't see the first one and have no desire to see the sequel.


JUN 3
Me Before You (film).jpg
Me Before You (*) - SPOILER ALERT FOR THIS MOVIE.  I saw the trailer and was intrigued because it looked like a charming romantic dramedy.  But something didn't sit right and I went to look up the book on which it is based.  This movie, if it follows the book, is a piece of propaganda for the culture of death.  I will avoid this at all cost.

Leo and Mikey are on top of a truck being driven by Don with Raph as passenger
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (**) - The first TMNT remake wasn't as terrible as people were saying, but it also wasn't very good.  I'll wait for Netflix.


JUN 10
Warcraft Teaser Poster.jpg
WarCraft (**) - Maybe I need to be a big Warcraft player to really appreciate this, but this doesn't really appeal to me.  Although I have to say I've seen the trailer dozens of times now and I went from hating it to kind of liking it.  Maybe this movie will be better than I think.

Now You See Me 2 poster.jpg
Now You See Me 2 (***) - The first movie wasn't a great movie, but I enjoyed the heck out of it.  I'm hoping that they bring back that same magic (pun intended).



JUN 17
Finding Dory.jpg

Finding Dory - (****)  I haven't seen the last few PIXAR films, but I think I'm going to see this sequel.  There is still a lot of character and story to explore in that ocean.

CentralIntelligencePoster.jpg
Central Intelligence - (***)  There is something I find really funny about the pairing of Kevin Hart and The Rock.  They seem to have good chemistry and the plot seems like silly fun.

JUN 24
Independence-Day-2-poster.jpg
Independence Day Resurgence - (****)  I love the first ID4, as flawed a movie as it is.  Everything I've been seeing in the upcoming trailers tells me that this movie will take the characters to new places while keeping the spirit of the original.  I'll be there opening night.

The Shallows poster.jpg
The Shallows - (**)  It looks like 127 Hours and Soul Surfer had a baby.  Not grabbing me.

Free State of Jones poster.png
Free State of Jones - (***)  This could be good, but something is holding me back from getting excited and I can't quite put my finger on it.

Swiss Army Man poster.png
Swiss Army Man - (*)  This movie looks so terrible that it defies my ability to describe it.


JUL 1
The Legend of Tarzan poster.jpg
The Legend of Tarzan - (**) No matter how hard I try I cannot get excited about any Tarzan movie.  This movie looks decent but ultimately forgettable.  Maybe if they cast someone in the lead for a reason other than his abs.

The Purge Election Year.png
The Purge: Election Year - (**) I haven't seen any of the other Purge films, but this one looks like it actually has a plot connected to the overall mythology.  Still, I'll wait.

The BFG poster.jpg
The BFG - (***)  I love me some Spielberg, but I completely unfamiliar with the source material.  I want to see more before I decide if this is the next ET or the next Hook.

Equals Movie.jpeg
Equals - (**) This reminds me way too much of THX-1138, and that is not a good thing.

Our Kind of Traitor (film).png
Our Kind of Traitor - (***)  This could be an intriguing thriller in the Tom Clancy style, but I am a bit skeptical.

JUL 8
The Secret Life of Pets poster.jpg
The Secret Life of Pets - (***)  This looks cute but I think I'd only see this if I brought I was babysitting some little kids.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.jpg
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates - (****)  This movie looks very much on the raunchy side, but I think the cast is incredibly funny and the over-the-top characters might play well.


JUL 15
Ghostbusters's logo, with the film's famous slogan "who you gonna call?" above, and the film's release date below.
Ghostbusters (**) - I am going to see this, but my expectations are very low.  But I felt the same way going in to Guardians of the Galaxy and I'm hoping that I will also be delightfully surprised.

JUL 22

Star Trek Beyond (***) - I've enjoyed the Star Trek reboot universe, although the last film was a bit too much of a retread.  I'm hoping some new creative blood will give the series the shot in the arm it needs.
Sid pressing his lips, nose and hands against ice
Ice Age: Collision Course (**)  These are not bad films, but I'm not a fan of the series.

JUL 29
Jason-bourne-poster.jpg
Jason Bourne (**)  - I found myself getting less and less intrigued with the series the further it went on.  Not very excited about this film.

AUG 5
The Squad team stands on the poster with a painted face. The Joker standing on one of the "X" for the eyes, with the rest of the Suicide Squad standing at the same positions where the teeth should be. The film's title, lead cast credits, release date is written underneath.
Suicide Squad - (****)  I have a few reservations about this movie (particularly about Harley Quinn), but the more I see of this film, the more excited I become.  This could be a nice combo of DC and The Dirty Dozen

The Founder poster.jpg
The Founder - (**)  Michael Keaton really wants an Oscar.

Nine Lives poster.png
Nine Lives - (**) Not a cat person.

AUG 12
Petes dragon 2016 film poster.jpg
Pete's Dragon - (***)  I need to see more, but I loved the original as a child.  I am intrigued.

AUG 19
Ben-Hur riding on a chariot with the slogan "First to Finish. Last to Die"
Ben-Hur - (**)  Pointless remake


Thoughts?






Friday, April 22, 2016

Trailer Time: The Magnificent Seven



This may be a cinematic blasphemy, but I prefer some of the more modern Westerns to the older ones.  A friend of mine said that it was because I was more of an Action Movie man than a Western Man.

Regardless, my tastes in Westerns tend towards the Young Guns and Tombstone variety.

And this trailer for the Magnificent Seven seems right up that alley.

Denzel is one of the most charismatic actors of all time and last year's Equalizer proved that he still has a great physical presence.  Pratt is also someone who is really coming into his own and might be able to push some perceptions here.

Usually I am not excited about remakes (especially since this is a remake of a remake), but I think this could be really good.

Thoughts?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunday Best: TV Dramas of All Time # 4 - Battlestar Galactica

4 SEASONS
(2003-2009)




I've already spilled a lot of ink over the years regarding my affection and admiration for this show. 

Based on the original science fiction show from the 1970's, the new Battlestar Galactica was planned to take a lot of the same basic ideas but change them around for a modern audience.  The basic story is that somewhere in space, human beings have colonized 12 planets.  But a group of sentient robots known as Cylons have made war on the humans.  The last remaining humans must find their way to the mythical planet known as Earth.  But to complicate matters, some Cylons can appear human, causing rampant paranoia throughout the series.

Starting off it had a few things going against it:

1.  It was a reboot.  Doing a rebooted show is a notoriously bad idea.  Usually anything good feels derivitatve and anything bad is blamed on the updaters.

2.  It was on the SciFi Channel.  This was a channel known for giving us old reruns and orignal schlock movies that had very little artistry.

3.  Hyper-sexualized.  The promotions for the show highlighted the model Six Cylon (Tricia Helfer) who plays very much the part of the seductress.

But when the mini-series which introduced the show premiered in 2003, everything changed.  

I was a latecomer to the show.  I had been resistant because of my passing familiarity with the original and had no desire to see a rehash of that.  But my friends who watched the show, particularly my friend Blimpy, kept heaping praise upon praise for the show.

When I finally did begin to watch, I was hooked.  This may have been my first experience of what we call today "binge-watching."  

It is no accident that the premiered after the events of 9/11.  Lead actor Edward James Olmos said that the script to the pilot was the first thing he had read since the attack that captured the emotion of that day.  And he is correct.  Some might find it offense to explore our national psyche in science fiction, but I could not disagree more.  Science fiction offers a removal from immediate reality which allows us a safer mental space to explore larger themes.  Shows like The West Wing or 24 dealt with intense questions of security vs. freedom.  But because they are set in our world, there is too much political baggage attached to those stories.  We bring too much of our real world political point of view, which closes us off to certain avenues of storytelling.  But when you transpose these to science fiction, as long as you don't hit the allegory to heavy on the head, it allows a freedom to see things from a different perspective.  And that is what occurs with Battlestar Galactica.

As the show progressed it became less like 24 and more mystical.  Many thought that this mixing of science fiction and fantasy to be disjointed.  But again, I enjoyed it immensely.  Too much science fiction has come under the influence of those like Gene Roddenberry, who attempted to remove or demythologize all of the mystery and mystical from the universe.  Just because we traverse the heavens does not disprove that there is a Heaven.

The ethics of the show were challenging at the best of times.  This was clearly a non-Christian society.  In fact, you could call it astro-paganistic.  And sometimes that lack clear connection between the divine and the moral led even our heroes in morally murky mud.  Sometimes seeing the absence of Christ, even in those trying to do good, can be an enlightening thing to experience.  The before-mentioned over sexualization remained a problem throughout the show, though not nearly as bad as on shows like Game of Thrones.  But mostly that sexualization was depicted as an empty cry against the emotional pits of despair.

The show was also shocking in that I truly had no idea what would happen.  Characters could be killed at any moment.  Over the course of the series I found that the show could change my mind completely about people and characters.  The person I hated the most at the beginning of the series, Executive Officer Saul Tigh (Michael Hogan), became my favorite character by the end of the series.  
On of my favorite pieces of writing on any television show was in the 3rd season finale.  Gaius Baltar (James Callis) had been the show's main human villain.  He had betrayed the humans to the Cylons multiple times for various reasons.  He was placed on trial but was being defended by one of the show's main heroes Lee "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber).  This made no sense to me as Baltar was obviously guilty and deserving of death.  The trial held no tension for me because it seemed a foregone conclusion that this bad guy should be punished and it seemed artificially ridicululous that one of the heroes would defend him.  But then Apollo gives a speech that completely changed my entire perspective on the series.  To this day I marvel at that piece of writing.

And the acting was incredible.  Edward James Olmos should have won multiple Emmys, as well as Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, Tahmoh Penikett, and Aaron Douglas.  They put so much amazing skill and talent into those performances that it made this sci-fi world so real and tangible.

TV THRESHOLD

"33"
(1x03)

As good as the pilot is, it is this episode that sets the rest of the tempo.  I know a number of people who actually had their TV Tap Out moment in the pilot when Cylon Six murders an infant.  I completely understand.  The producers even admit that they pushed a little too much in that scene (if memory serves).  But if you can move past that to this episode, it will set up the tone for the rest of the series.  The remaining human fleet keeps hyperjumping away from the Cylons.  But exactly 33 minutes later they are found and have to jump again.  This occurs over the course of several days and the humans are working on no sleep and severe stress.  The tension in this episode is wonderfully intense and echoes through the rest of the show.

JUMP THE SHARK

N/A

WORST EPISODE

"Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down"
(1x07)

The series got their worst episode out of the way early on.  It was an ill-fated attempt to try and insert some sitcom-like humor into the show to mix in with the paranoia.  It doesn't work at all and leaves everyone looking a bit stupid.

BEST EPISODE

"Daybreak"
(4x21-22)

 As Ovid said, "Call no man happy who is not dead," because he may still suffer great sadness until the end. Many tv shows start off wonderful only to devolve into muddled messes. Think of the last 2 seasons of Friends.  Battlestar Galactica began and ended with amazing power and precision. The finale was one of the finest I have ever seen. There were a number of people who did not like it and felt like it did not answer enough questions.  But for me it did what good finales should do: give you a chance to say goodbye to the characters with whom you have journeyed.  I do not wish to give anything away to those who have not had the treat of experiencing this wonderful storyline, but suffice to say that I finised the journey of the Galactica with a sense of awe at what had come and gratitude that I had been able to tag a long for the adventure.

OVERALL

Battlestar Galactica was a series that I do not believe could ever be duplicated.  The acting, directing, and writing were so powerful that they are now the standard for me of all science fiction space TV shows.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Trailer Time: Doctor Strange



Meh.

I like Benedict Cumberbatch and I think his American accent is interesting.  But this trailer really didn't show me much of anything except that it has a very Matrix/Inception vibe to it.

It could be simply the fact that I am not the biggest fan of Doctor Strange, so my excitement meter isn't going up.

I'm going to need to see more before I hop on board with this movie.

Thoughts?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Gaming with Faith: Star Wars - Knights of the Old Republic

I was asked by another Catholic blogger to scribble my thoughts on some classic video games.  So I wrote a review/reflection on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.



The Force is strong with this one.
From 1999 through 2005, the Star Wars franchise enjoyed a resurgence in, if not popularity, pop culture saturation. George Lucas finally delivered on the long gestating prequels. The quality of those films has been endlessly debated. But in the midst of all of this Star Wars media blitz, a surprise was waiting:
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
There had been Star Wars video games since the dawn of the Atari era. The quality of these games varied greatly under the broad Lucasfilm license. But in 2003, Bioware developed a game unlike any that had come before.

You can read the entire article here.