Saturday, July 14, 2018

Film Flash: Skyscraper

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

Like a Die Hard balloon: bigger and bolder but less substance inside.  Popcorn flick fun.
image by Yasir72,multan

Friday, July 13, 2018

Film Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

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

Of all of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man is one of my least favorite.  That doesn't mean that it is a bad movie, but it does not rise to the level of its other cinematic siblings.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is an improvement on the first but it never reaches great heights (no pun intended).

The movie takes place two years after Captain America: Civil War, but just before the events of Avengers: Infinity War.  Our Ant-Man, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), is days away from being done with house arrest at his home in San Fransisco.  This was part of a plea deal he made because of his participation with Captain America, who is currently a fugitive.  Scott's actions have also made the original Anti-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) fugtitives as well.  Pym has become obseesssed with finding his way into the Microverse, a subatomic universe that Scott went to and returned from in the previous film.  Hank's wife Janet (Michelle Pfeifer) was lost in the Microverse, so Hank and Hope want to retriever her, but they need Scott's help.  But to complicate matters, they must deal with a black market gangster Sonny Brunch (Walton Goggins) and the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who can phase through objects and seems bent on thwarting Pym's plan.

My favorite part of the original Ant-Man was how it used it's size perspective to look at the world in a new and creative way.  Thankfully, the sequel has plenty of that, though it could use more for my tastes.  The advantage to a character like Ant-Man is that you can see the ordinary world in a way that makes it strange and kind of magical.

The performances are also as good as the last one.  Rudd makes for a solid leading man and Lilly earns her title billing.  The chemistry between the two characters is good, but it is strangely downplayed in this film, probably in an attempt to strain their relationship for dramatic purposes.  Or perhaps they thought the more overly romantic elements would make Hope appear to be weaker.  If that was the thinking, it was a mistake, because their flirtation helps bring life to both characters.  Douglas does a decent job as Hank, but does not really push himself.  Michael Pena steals the show again as Scott's best friend Luis.  His likability and sense of wonder continue to bring a smile.  John-Kamen does an excellent job as our conflicted villain and Laurence Fishburne brings his gravitas to the movie as an old colleague of Hanks, but the script does not give him much to do.

There isn't much thematic depth to the story, especially in contrast to the last Marvel movie.  But it doesn't have to be all that deep.  This movie isn't trying to be something other than light, popcorn fare.  Yes, the movie touches on issues like consequences of actions and responsibility for failure.  It also gives us one of the more interesting MCU villains since the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming.  With that storyline, they bring up an essential pro-life question whether it is ever morally okay to kill a life in order to save a life.  But the movie does not plumb the depths of human profundity.  It is too busy making you laugh with a giant ant in a bathtub.

The most important thing to remember in order to enjoy this movie is that it is primarily a comedy.  Like the last film, director Peyton Reed leans heavily into the silliness of the concept so as not to strain credibility with the audience.  He knows this is ridiculous, but if you accept the ridiculousness, he offers to take you on a fun action ride, which is what this movie delivers.

The jokes work for the most part and the action set-pieces are creative.  Bobby Cannavale and Judy Greer return in this film but are given almost nothing to do, which is a waste of their talent.  In fact, the biggest criticism I have for the film is that perpetual sense of missed opportunities.  There are so many fun things you can do with a size-changing movie. And while this movie has a large share of those ( Ant-Man use a truck like a scooter was one of my favorites), it could have done so much more.

But if you want a fun time at the movies with laughs and action-spectacle, Ant-Man and the Wasp will scratch your itch.

image by Yasir72,Multan

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Comic Books and the Strange Anti-Marriage Trend

Image result for batman catwoman wedding

Most people believe in love.  This love includes for most of us to grow up, fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after.

But for some strange reason, modern comic books seem completely opposed to this idea.

Over time, our favorite character develop in their relationships to the point where they need to move on to the next step and get married.  But it is becoming quite too common now for comics to either prevent these marriages or to undo them all together.

Maybe I am in the minority, but I happen to be the type of person who gets completely invested in the emotional lives of the characters and get genuinely (though perhaps pathetically) excited when characters I come to care about find that special love.  But comic book culture doesn't seem to have this perspective.

(I am going to get very spoilery in the rest of this article, so please be warned).

Take for instance, the last two much trumpeted comic weddings: Kitty Pryde and Colossus at Marvel and Batman and Catwoman at DC.  Both had long build-ups.  Both sold tie-ins to ratchet up anticipation.  And both ended up going nowhere.  In both cases, someone was jilted at the altar.

In the case of Batman, I blame more DC marketing than writer Tom King.  King is now halfway through his planned 100-issue run.  I can see how this would amke an important climax to the story and lead to its inevitable resolution.  But the X-Men story feels like a complete waste with no real rhyme or explanation.  Kitty asks Colossus to marry her and then dumps him at the wedding.  She can give no logical explanation for it and the audience is left feeling cheated.  At least with King's Batman story, the characters have been dealing with this conundrum: can Bruce Wayne be happy and be Batman at the same time.  This leads to some serious character drama that at least makes narrative sense.  But DC promoted this story too much to not give a satisfying payoff.

On top of this, Superman has recently seen his wife and son leave Earth so that writer Brian Michael Bendis doesn't have to deal with them in his stories.  Not only do I think that this is weak thinking on Bendis' part, I am ashamed of myself for being pleased with the fact that at least they are alive and Bendis didn't just kill them off.

In my time reading comics, here are some of the super heroes who have had their marriages either ended or retconned:

-Spider-Man and Mary Jane: Our hero literally makes a deal with the devil that costs him his marriage.

-Superman and Lois Lane: retconned when they did the New 52 (though restored around Rebirth)

-Barry Allen (Flash) and Iris West: New 52 retcon

-Wally West (Flash) and Linda Park: New 52 retcon

-Green Arrow and Black Canary: New 52 retcon

-Storm and Black Panther: Divorce

-Cyclops and Jean Grey: ends with the death of Jean Grey but not before Cyclops cheats on her with Emma Frost.

It is this last one that irks me the most because it permanently ruined Scott Summers.  No matter how much his superhero actions appear heroic, he will always be a piece of crap for cheating on his wife who loved him.  Writer Grant Morrison betrayed a lot of X-Men fans in order to do something shocking (a charge that critics of The Last Jedi will find all too familiar).

But besides that, so many writers want to undo the marriage bond because they think that they cannot write interesting stories otherwise.  Mark Waid said years ago that if he was in charge of Superman, he would undo the marriage.  Spider-Man was removed from MJ because it was thought that having him grow up in this way made him less relatable to younger viewers.

There is something to be said about writing romantic tension.  It is an easy way to draw in readers.  How many people got hooked on Moonlighting or more recently The Office because they wanted to see the leads get together?  But these writers find writing married couples more difficult.

I think this speaks to their lack of imagination more than anything.  It also speaks to an immature view of relationships that sees the thrill of the chase as more powerful than the life of devotion.  How often do we hear about marriages breaking up because a spouse was bored or wanted to have some of the early romantic thrill of courtship and conquest?

But we know that this is an immature view.  This perspective assumes that the audience will not grow and mature along with the characters.  We also know that it is not a particularly heroic view.

Staying with your spouse in good times and in bad is quite a heroic thing in this day and age.  It is not something that young people find unrelatable.  Many of them see this in their own homes with a loving mom and dad.  And even if they don't, it is still the ideal to which most of them aspire.  So why not have our heroes not only be role models of valor but also of fidelity?

Some of the most enjoyable comics I've read in years has been Peter Tomasi's run on Superman, where we see Clark and Lois raise their son to be the hero he is destined to be.  Modern writers who are afraid of marriage should look to Tomasi for how to write a superhero marriage with heart and excitement.

Too many writers see marriages as the end of the story.  But they are wrong.  To a good writer, it is the beginning of the great adventure.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Film Review: A Wrinkle in Time

Sexuality/Nudity No Objection
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity No Objection
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

This is a difficult movie to review for two reasons:

I am a big fan of the book series and spoilers are required to explain my problems with it.

While I believe my criticisms of the film to be rational and accurate, my subjective bias here may incline me to be a bit harsher on the movie than it deserves.  With that in mind, be warned:


The story follows the Meg Murray (Storm Reid), a tweenager who is dealing with the disappearance of her father (Chris Pine) after he had been working on inter space travel through something called a tesseract that bends or "wrinkles" space and time.  She lives in her lonely house with her little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and her mother (Gugu Mbatha Raw).  Meg is awkward and isolated from her peers, even though she has a huge crush on her classmate Calvin (Levi Miller).  But one day the mysterious Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) enters the house during a thunderstorm to let them know that tesseract is real.  These leads them to the other mysteries beings like Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who only speaks in quotes (though this is dropped later in the movie when, I'm assuming, the writers realized how stupid this was).  And finally they encounter the literally gigantic Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey).  Together, the go on a planet-hopping adventure to save Meg's dad from a creature of pure malevolence called "the It" ("the" being added so as not to confuse the audience with Pennywise the Clown, I'm guessing).

Let me say that director Ava Duvernay makes the movie beautiful.  The cinematography, with its use of light, color, and shape is fascinating to watch.  It's visual palate shifts from Marvel movie to Kubrick with great ease.  This is sometimes done with great emotional effect.  The scene where the children are flying along with a transformed Mrs. Whatsit is uplifting and magical.  The moment that Meg is reunited with her father is emotional and powerful, filled with genuine emotion brought out by the strange visuals.

But those positives are not enough to outweigh the movie's deficits.

In terms of performance, I tend to give a lot of leeway to children and not expect as much.  Reid is actually quite good as the smart, but insecure Meg.  Miller also is adequate as Calvin.  But McCabe cannot quite meet the challenge of playing a character like Charles Wallace, who is someone smarter than his years should let him but still lacks the maturity that should go along with it.  When Charles Wallace becomes enthralled by the It, he should carry with him a sense of powerful menace.  But McCabe cannot be anything more than an annoyance.  And all that is fine, since these performers are so young.  The main problem lies with the adults.

Oscar-winner Witherspoon turns in one of the worst performances of her entire career.  It feels like DuVernay said to her, "Be Elle Woods but weirder."  Her eyes go wide with excitement, but there is no thought behind it.  None of her actions make sense outside looking to be quirky.  Kaling's character is supposed to be so old and wise that she has moved beyond language.  Fair enough.  But none of that is conveyed by the performance.  Rather than infusing her quotes with her ancient presence, it feels like Kaling is randomly reading mediocre fortune cookie slips that have no connection to the action.  But the most annoying is Winfrey.  Throughout the entire film she has an irremovable sneer of smugness on her face.  I got the impression that we are supposed to be impressed by her mere presence and she knows this.  But her character lacks any real emotional or mystical power that it all seems strangely unwarranted and mildly repelling.  Pine and Raw do fine, but their scenes are too short.

I also found the constant emotional validation such a narrative turn off.  Meg is told every few minutes that despite how she feels, she is wonderful and beautiful and powerful.  This completely undercuts her journey.  Harry Potter constantly beaten down by his enemies at Hogwarts, but his friendships and his accomplishments build him into a hero.  Meg is constantly told that she already is amazing and she only needs to realize it.  This is so much more less interesting than someone who earns their heroism to trial and failure.

This leads to two of my biggest bugaboos with this film.  The first is a line towards the end when Meg says, "I deserve to be loved," or something to that effect.  These words are like nails on a chalkboard to me.  It is very true that the deepest need inside each human heart is to be loved.  So much of what we do is done to "earn" the love of other people.  Nature moves us to love of family members.  Social interactions push us to love friends and spouses.  And God's command orders us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  But nowhere in that equation would I ever think to say that I "deserve" to be loved.  I deserve to be treated with dignity and with my rights.  But I do not deserve love.  I am not good enough to have the friends I have.  I am certainly not good enough to be blessed with greatest wife in the world.  And I will never in a billion years be good enough for God's love.  None of these things are things that I deserve.  Because love, in order to be real, must be a gift freely given.  It is not something one is owed.  It is something one is undeservedly given and accepted.  This sense of entitlement to love can only lead to deep resentment when other people in their frailty will fail to love you the way you desire.

But the second problem is the one that ruins a good portion of the movie.  After Meg is reunited with her father, the It, through Charles Wallace, attempts to keep them both imprisoned.  In the book, Meg's father realizes their peril and despairs of being able to save Charles Wallace.  So he pushes Meg and Calvin to safety through the tesseract and reamains with his possessed son on the evil planet.  In the movie, Meg's father, in an act of pure cowardice, tells Meg that they have to abandon Charles Wallace and save themselves.  It then becomes Meg who pushes Calvin and her father to safety and she stays to free her brother.

This destroys the heart of the story.  It was about a girl trying to save her father.  After this, her father isn't worth saving.  Perhaps I am being too harsh, but it is so unfathomable for me to watch that scene and feeling anything but contempt for that man.  I understand that this gives Meg the opportunity to stand up as a hero on her own, but the book accomplishes this without ruining the father.

What it comes down to is that the writers (Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell) and director DuVernay simply did not understand the source material.  While changes have to be made in any adaptation, you should never stray from the core of the story.  The writers mentioned in interviews how they deemphasized the Christian themes of the book.  The filmmakers of The Lord of the Rings understood how Tolkien's Catholic faith influenced the plot and themes of the book and made sure not to tear it out of the narrative.  The same can be seen with the makers of The Chronicles of Narnia movies.

But DuVernay and company have done great violence to the story.  So instead of this movie soaring to new heights, it is to eviscerated to ever really take flight.

image by Yasir72.multan

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

New Evangelizers Post: Not Changed, but Perfected

I have a new article up at  

We live in strange times. I’m sure people of every age feel this way. There is a constant tension between the past and the future. New ideas and ways of thinking are scrutinized against a long tradition.
But the last century or so has brought with it a strange idea that human nature can be changed.

I know that there are other purveyors of this idea, but I always come back to Karl Marx, the father of socialism and communism. Marx saw a society in a constant state of conflict because of social classes. Fear, envy, and resentment between the classes would constantly lead to violence. He believed that if you could abolish social classes, you would abolish this violence. Once everyone had all of the same material needs and desires met, then no one would be fearful, envious and resentful. Human nature would change once we achieved the classless society. This may be a radical oversimplification, but that is the nub of his idea.

Throughout the years there have been many cultural fads and political movements that have claimed that they could change human beings for the better. And some have had varying degrees of success. But they have yet to succeed in bringing about their Utopias.

The social engineers like Marx see human nature as lump of potential mass, like Play-Doh, that can be shaped however they see fit. If just apply the right education or social program, they think we can reshape the essence of human beings. This is why you will tend to find people who hold these ideas to have positions of influence in academia or in government so that they can experiment on the populace to prove their theory. But the ones that claim to radically change human nature, as Marx did, are doomed to ultimate failure for one very important reason:

Human nature cannot change.

You can read the whole article here.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Film Flash: Ant-Man and the Wasp

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

Better than the first Ant-Man. Equal parts action/comedy with fun size-related visuals.
image by Yasir72.Multan

Friday, July 6, 2018

Film Review: Ocean's 8

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

Doing a soft reboot of a popular franchise is difficult because comparisons to the original films are inevitable (see Ghostbusters 2016).  Even if the new movie is good, if it suffers by comparison, then it is less enjoyable.

Ocean's 8 is not nearly as good as Ocean's 11.  It is also not as good as Ocean's 13. 

Thankfully it is better than Ocean's 12.

The movie follows much of the same pattern as Ocean's 11.  Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has just been paroled from prison after being framed by her ex-boyfriend, artist Claude Becker (Richard Armitage).  She meets up with her old partner-in-crime Lou (Cate Blanchett), where she tells her about the heist plan: steal the Toussaint, a Cartier necklace valued at over $150 million dollars.  The plan is to get the celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hatheway) to wear it to the annual Met Gala where it can be stolen.  To do this, Debbie and Lou assemble a crew: bankrupt fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling), hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), pick-pocket Constance (Awkwafina), and fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson).  By the way, if you do the math and something doesn't add up, you're not wrong.  What follows is your standard heist flick, with lots of intricate planning until the execution.

Director Gary Ross does a competent job of telling the story, but there are some fundamental script problems that he has trouble overcoming.

The first is the object of the heist.  Ocean's 11 and Ocean's 13 both did something essential to making us root for the thieves: they made the victim of the theft a villain.  In both of those movies, they made the mark so unlikeable, that it almost felt like justice that their fortunes were stolen.  In Ocean's 13, the mark is Cartier Jewelry, an actual company that does nothing wrong.  I know this is meant to be a fantasy of sorts, but I couldn't help thinking of all of the people's whose lives were ruined because of this heist from the Cartier employees, hosts of the gala, and the security detail, all of whom do nothing wrong.  Ocean's 13 was smart in making sure that any innocents injured in the heist were compensated.  Ocean's 8 casually walks over these problems.  Theft, by its very nature, is illegal and immoral.  Great care must be taken to bring the audience to the side of the thieves, and the movie does not take that time.

The second is a structural problem.


Most heist movies end very quickly after the job is done.  But Ocean's 8, lingers and deals with the aftermath.  While this does tie up some loose ends, it makes the movie feel overly long.  It tries to cover this by introducing the funny and charming insurance investigator John Frazier (James Corden).  But the addition of new story elements this late in the game feels odd.  It prevents the story from ending on the high note that it really should.


Finally, the movie cannot match the original in that illusive trait that it so much fun: coolness.

This has nothing to do with the fact that this heist gang is made of an all female cast.  Bullock and Blanchett have great chemistry.  If they had populated the rest of their gang with personalities at their level, it would have helped a lot.  But the rest of the gang doesn't help as much.  Bonham Carter does an excellent job of the overwhelmed designer and Rihanna does have an effortless swagger.  But Awkwafina always looks like she's trying way too hard.  Kaling's comedic skills are never utilized properly.   Paulson's character lacks all sense of cool. Hathaway turns in an incredibly shallow performance.  In this last case, the character is meant to be vapid, but she comes off much more caricature than character.  Regardless, this crew is just too much in the shadow of their predecessors.

Despite all of this, there are some nice moments.  The film is interesting enough to make you interested in the final outcome.  It does have a few nice twists as well.  Ross also adds some nice visual flourish and style, especially at the end of the gala, to draw your attention the entire time.

Ocean's 8 is a movie that will hold your interest while you watch it, but it will fade from memory quickly on the drive home.

image by Yasir72.multan