Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Film Review: Hobbs and Shaw

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

For those who thought that the Fast and Furious franchise was too grounded in reality, I give you: Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw.

This movie is like they took the Fast and Furious formula and maxed out the over-the-top action and decreased any sense of drama.

The movie picks up after The Fate of the Furious.  Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is enjoying a brief break from being the US Government's best tracker.  Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is getting into all kinds of violent trouble as a sort of underworld James Bond.  However, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) is part of a British spy team that has just recovered a deadly virus when they are attacked by Brixton (Idris Elba), or as he calls himself "Black Superman."  Her team is killed and she escapes with the virus to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.  Hobbs and Shaw are called in and will have to put aside their differences in order to save the day (I'll give you three guesses if they do or not).

Director David Leitch is no stranger to the action genre with films like Deadpool 2 and Atomic Blonde.  It is clear that his action aesthetic tends towards the outrageous.  And there is plenty of that in Hobbs and Shaw.  If you are simply here to watch things go "boom" while muscly men fight, then this is your kind of movie.  And there is nothing wrong with enjoying some mindless, action spectacle.  The movie is smooth and slick, but lacking substance.  This is not the kind of movie that reaches any depth like Die Hard or Lethal Weapon.  Heck, this movie doesn't even get to the depth of the regular Fast and Furious movies.  But to be fair to the movie, it isn't really trying to be anything other than what it is.

A great deal of the film's enjoyment comes from the chemistry between the leads.  Both Johnson and Statham vie for the alpha-male status, which causes them to constantly seek to one-up the other.  Most of the energy of this relationship comes from their internal competition which inadvertently leads to greater respect.  This movie is at least insightful enough to see that men often becomes friends after being adversaries because the struggle reveals in the other qualities that are admired.  Kirby holds her own very well with these two larger-than-life characters.  She brings a strong feminine quality to the story.  The movie does a good job of tapping into the "rescue the princess" story without ever having her feel like a damsel in distress.  Elba is always charismatic, but he is given so little to work with here that it feels like a missed opportunity.

The script by Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce feels like it was written around the actors' personalities and finds no way to challenge them.  It also feels like Leitch allowed for a lot of improvisation.  There are some surprisingly pleasant cameos that overstay their welcome because the actors drive the joke into the ground.  The film tries to tap into the classic Fast and Furious theme of family, but to less success.

The greatest flaw in the movie has to do with events from the previous in the franchise.


Shaw was introduced in Furious 7 as the main villain and he has now been rehabilitated in this movie as a full hero.  This wouldn't be as big of a problems except for the fact they never address his greatest act of villainy: he murdered Han.

Han Seul-oh was one of the most charming members of Toretto "family."  He was not accidentally killed or caught in the crossfire.  He was the victim of premeditated murder by Shaw.  This is a fact that was resting at the back of my mind the entire movie.  Whenever he grew closer to Hobbs, all I could think was: "He's a murderer."  It would be one thing if this was addressed and Shaw went through some kind of atonement/redemption.  But no.  Thor: Ragnarok had this same problem in making the mass murderer Loki into a hero.  I feel like Michael Corleone at the end of The Godfather walking up his brother-in-law, except I walk up to Shaw and say, "You have to answer for Han Seul-Oh."


If you want to spend your money on some big, bold, shoot-em-up (and I often do), then Hobbs and Shaw will work for you

Monday, August 19, 2019

New Evangelizers Post: Reverence and Protest at Mass

I have a new article up at  
Very recently at St. Francis Church in Portland, Oregon, a group of parishioners thought it would be a good idea to stage a protest during Holy Mass.

The main issue revolves around Fr. George Kuforiji, a priest who came from Nigeria to take over the parish. In the year he has spent there, Fr. Kuforiji has rolled back a number of liturgical practices. He removed the de-gendered language from mass. He no longer used a number of parish vestments and decorations. He discontinued a community commitment that was recited after the Nicene Creed.

I am not here to praise of criticize Fr. Kuforiji’s choices in this article. There could be much more to the story than initial news services have uncovered. However, the issue at hand are not Fr. Kuforiji’s reforms, but the response of some of the parishioners.

During Holy Mass on June 20th of this year, many parishioners entered holding protest signs. They shouted during the liturgy. They recited the banned community prayer. Someone shouted a lecture from the pews. After Mass, this same person went up to the pulpit and gave another speech while Fr. Kuforiji stood in the back, hands folded in prayer, smiling and waiting to greet his parishioners.

A lot of words have already been written online either in condemnation or support for their position. Regardless, these parishioners are not necessarily in the wrong because they protested the authorities.
They are in the wrong because they protested at Mass.

When I was younger, I used to get bored at Mass all the time. After my conversion experience at 17-years-old, I have never once been bored by the Mass. A fundamental Copernican shift in my soul took place thanks to the Grace of God through Fr. Larry Richards. What happened was that my eyes were opened as to what the Mass truly is: It is the great miracle of Christ’s Death and Resurrection. At Mass space and time fold in on itself and we are transported to the Last Supper, Calvary, and the Empty Tomb. In that time, the Lord makes Himself present in the appearance of bread and wine. And the deepest mystery of all is that I get to become one with Him at Communion.

Lumen Gentium states that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian Life.” (LM 11) It is the source because Christ, the source of our life, is present in a substantial way at the Mass. It is the summit, because our lives are oriented towards union with Christ, which is what happens at Mass.

When we enter the Holy Mass, we enter into the presence of a miracle. That is why I have never been bored since. How can anyone in their right mind find miracles boring?

Have I encountered homilies I don’t like? Of course. Have I witnessed liturgical practices that made me uneasy? Yes. But even the masses where something illicit occurred, it was still valid. Therefore, I could not help but show reverence.

The main problem with the protestors is their irreverence.

CS Lewis, who was not Catholic, understood the necessity for for reverence at Liturgy. He wrote, “The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping… “ (CS Lewis, Letters to Malcolm).

The protestors, as demonstrated by their actions, are taking the focus off of Christ and onto themselves. They become the center of the activity. In all of my research, I could find no one who argued that Christ was not made present at that altar. But instead of helping each other reverence the Lord, they attempted to drown out His voice.

How can we possibly see God when we are only looking at ourselves?

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Sunday Best: Top Ten Arnold Schwarzenegger Movies

Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the most unlikely movie stars of all time.  But it is hard to argue that for over a decade he was one of the biggest box office draws in the world.  In that time he made some great movies and some terrible movies.

A friend of mine recently requested that I do a list ranking Schwarzenegger's movies.  Having made around 50 movies, I decided to focus on his top ten movies.  As was suggested, I wouldn't focus on his top ten performances, as some of his greatest movies do not include some of his best acting.

10.  The Running Man
The Running Man (1987) poster.jpg
The concept is better than the execution, but the production design was incredibly creative and the plot is pure action pulp.  Stephen King hated this adaptation, and I understand why.  The movie became a futuristic gladiator film with colorful villains.

9. Conan the Destroyer
Conan the destroyer.jpg
Most people will point to Conan the Barbarian as the superior film, but I disagree.  The first movie is so dark and self-serious and almost feels like being in a nightmare.  Conan the Destroyer is a fun fantasy romp with a rag-tag group of heroes facing unlikely odds.  This movie is so incredibly fun to watch.

8. Kindergarten Cop
Kindergarten Cop film.jpg
I was incredibly skeptical of this movie when my dad took me to the theater to see it.  And yet it works so well to bring his action-movie persona into a family comedy.  At the same time it is actually a decent crime/mystery movie.

7. Twins
Twins Poster.jpg
This was one of Schwarzenegger's biggest risks.  In fact, the story is that the studio had such little faith in it that Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, and Ivan Reitman all had to trade a salary for a percentage of the movie.  It turns out it would be one of the largest pay days for all of the stars.  The movie showed Schwarzenegger's comedic side and allowed him to put on an actual performance.  At the same time, he had heart-felt chemistry.

6. Total Recall
Total recall.jpg
This movie is insane.  I've always said that it is one of the most original films I've ever seen.  Where else could you watch a movie where a midget prostitute is standing on top of bar shooting Martian cops?  The movie is an exercise in extremes while at the same time being a mind-twister as you try to figure out what is real and what isn't.  It is one of his most violent films, but it works incredibly well.

5. Pumping Iron
Pumping Iron movie poster.jpg
I am so glad I didn't see this one until I was older.  If I had seen what a jerk Schwarzenegger was in real life as a body builder I don't think I would have enjoyed his movies as much.  Having said that, this movie is fascinating and insightful into the world of body-building.

4. Commando
I cannot explain how much I love this film.  This is the most over-the-top action film Schwarzenegger made.  It should be B-movie schlock, which it is at some level.  But there is something about the ridiculousness that makes you buy into the movie.  It has some of his absolute best one-liners and builds to Arnold killing an entire island of soldiers all by himself.  My friends and I spent a night doing an estimate of how many people he killed and if you average 10 soldiers per building he blows up, Arnold kills 180 people.  It was a good movie night.  And it is a testament to Schwarzenegger that I did not completely tune out when he ripped a pipe off of the wall and throughout it through a man and a boiler.  Instead of rolling my eyes, I cheer each time.

3. The Terminator
This movie is a low-budget genius.  The story is so tight and the action is so raw.  Schwarzenegger uses his lack of range to his advantage here by creating an intimidating and emotionless machine.  The movie plays out like both an action movie and a horror movie, so the fate of the heroes is constantly in question.  The movie is also incredibly fun on rewatch, as you see how James Cameron was able to craft such a visually arresting story.  It also has the first instance of Schwarzenegger's signature catch phrase "I'll be back."  When you watch the context, you can understand why it became so iconic.

2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
This movie is amazing for several reasons.  Some movies are better that their predecessors, but that is rarer still when that first movie is a real masterpiece.  T2 expands the story in fascinating ways so that it follows a great deal of the same familiar plot structure of the first while adding new twists.  The directing is incredible.  Most people point to the special effects (which still hold up incredibly well almost 30 years later), but the stunt work is beyond compare.  And the end is always so strangely compelling to me.

1. Predator
Predator Movie.jpg
This might be a perfect movie.  I read that poll in Bride magazine found that 80% of men preferred this movie to a happy marriage.  Everything about this movie works.  The characters are so well-defined in their roles in a way that most action movies do not.  The film does an incredibly flip from pure action film to horror movie.  The score is powerful and manly.  It is actually one of the best man vs. monster films besides Jaws.  At this time in his career, Schwarzenegger was seen as an almost unstoppable action machine.  This placed him in the vulnerable position where we actually worried he wouldn't make it through.  I can put this movie in and watch it from start to finish without being bored once.  In fact... I think I know what I'm doing when I get back from church today.


Saturday, August 17, 2019

Film Flash: Blinded by the Light

Blinded by the Light (2019 film poster).png

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

Nice film that captures how music can inspire the callowness and exhilaration of youth.

Thursday, August 15, 2019


Now that Marvel has purchased Fox, they have stated their intention to bring in the Fantastic Four into the MCU.  While some of the previous movie versions have had their charm, I don't think we've really seen a truly great FF movie (if you don't count The Incredibles).

Casting is always a very important part of this process.  Normally, I would go though and place a separate poll for each part.  But this time I am going to do something a little different.  I'm going to put four potential combinations of the First Family of Marvel, and you will vote on which combo you think is best.  Results will be posted next week.

Group A:

image by Kristen Dos Santos
image by Geoges Biard

File:Ving Rhames 2014-05-29 20-33.jpg

File:Joe Keery by Gage Skidmore.jpg
image by Gage Skidmore

Mr. Fantastic: John Krasinski
Invisible Woman: Emily Blunt
The Thing: Ving Rhames
The Human Torch: Joe Keery

Krasinski and Blunt have great chemistry as demonstrated by their work together on A Quiet Place, besides the fact that they are married in real life.  Krasinski can do comedy and action.  He also projects intelligence and has the body type for Reed Richards.  Blunt carries with her class and intelligence.  As I am assuming that the Thing will be mostly CGI like the Hulk, the most important thing for me is imagining the phrase "It's clobberin' time" being said with real believability, and I can just hear it so clearly with Rhames.  Keery is the wild card, but his ability to play loose and comedic and charismatic as Steve Harrington on Stranger Things tells me that he is ready for the next level.

Group B:
File:Oscar Isaac by Gage Skidmore.jpg
image by Gage Skidmore
File:Cannes 090 (27830786580).jpg
image by Gabbo T
File:Mark Wahlberg at the Contraband movie premiere in Sydney February 2012.jpg
image by Eva Renaldi

File:Dave Franco LG-Funny or Die (cropped).jpg
image by LG전자

Mr. Fantastic: Oscar Isaac
Invisible Woman: Blake Lively
The Thing: Mark Wahlberg
The Human Torch: Dave Franco

Isaac is one of the best actors in the Star Wars sequels with real charisma and intelligence.  He is definitely leading man material.  Lively has done already done a comic book movie when she played Carol Ferris in Green Lantern, but she has improved incredibly as an actress, showing poise and brains.  Wahlberg can bring a lot of fun to Ben Grimm, bring that strong working-class charm and ethic to the character.  And Franco can pull off the daredevil, cocky youth that is Johnny Storm.

Group C:

image by Caroline Bonarde Ucci

File:Kristen Bell by Gage Skidmore.jpg
image by Gage Skidmore

image by Gage Skidmore

File:Jack Lowden.jpg
image by Isban73

Mr. Fantastic: Ewan McGregor
Invisible Woman: Kristen Bell
The Thing: David Harbour
The Human Torch: Jack Lowden (not pictured)

McGregor is a seasoned veteran of big franchise films and can easily pull off both the maturity and physicality of Richards.  Bell has been able to command the loyalty of several followers over the years, especially in Veronica Mars where she holds the complex narratives together through her skills as an actress.  Harbour has a sullen weariness that weighs on Ben Grimm that would be very interesting to explore.  Lowden was great in Fighting with My Family.  He could bring both dynamic arrogance and vulnerability to the Human Torch.

Group D:

File:Rami Malek in 2015 (portrait crop).jpg
image by Dominic D

image by Gage Skidmore

File:John Cena May 2016.jpg
File:Solo A Star Wars Story Japan Premiere Red Carpet Alden Ehrenreich (41008143870).jpg
image by Dick Thomas Johnson

Mr. Fantastic: Rami Malek
Invisible Woman: Emma Stone
The Thing: John Cena
The Human Torch: Aiden Ehrenreich (not pictured)

Malek is a fantastic actor who could bring a very quirky take on Richards to the big screen.  Stone is now a seasoned, Oscar-winning actress who is great at the dramatic and comedic parts of the role.  Cena would be an over-the-top take on Grimm.  It may even be conceivable that they could use prosthetics with Cena rather than CGI.  Ehrenreich got a really tough break when Solo performed below expectations, but he did a decent job as the main character.  I think he deserves another crack at the big time.

I will put the poll up on my blog.

Unfortunately, Blogger discontinued the online poll widget.  So if you want to vote, you will have to hit this link to a google form.

You can vote for one each actor individually, so you can mix and match from each group or add your own suggestion.

I look forward to hearing from all of you!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Wednesday Comics: Sinestro Year of the Villain #1 - Why Do Comic Books Hate Religion?

Image result for sinestro year of the villain

I am a big fan of the character Sinestro.  He is one of the most interesting villains in the entire DC Universe.  So, naturally I picked up the solo issue released last week.  The plot was simple enough: Sinestro is tasked to fight a race of immortal space conquers who heal themselves.  What he discovers is that they heal themselves because there are microscopic humanoids living in their cells in tiny civilization that make it their lives' work to repair their hosts. 

Sinestro sends projections of himself into these tiny civilizations to try and talk them out of aiding their hosts.  What follows is some truly terrible religious satire. 

The story begins with Sinestro confronting the aliens on a theocratic planet.  The god-ruler is a fraud and his people are portrayed as dumb sheep.  The same holds for the microscopic civilizations.  When Sinestro tries to convince them that their hosts are evil, these tiny people respond with the worst straw man arguments for God.  Sinestro sneers at them, inviting the reader to do so as well.  Eventually his solution is to increase the life-span of the microscopic creatures.  Once they have free time, the begin to question their religious beliefs.  I suppose this is meant to be analogous to how the more technologically advanced and leisurely a society becomes, the less religious they also become.  This could be an interesting commentary about religion and society, if it was not so directly pointed against people of religious faith.

This is not an isolated incident.  Writer Mark Russell also wrote the controversial Second Coming, which satirized Jesus Himself.  I don't know why Russell has a chip on his shoulder about religion, but he is not alone.  Comic books tend to be incredibly hostile towards religious faith.  I will never forget the first page of the 25 cent X-Men special which began with "More people have died in the name of religion than have ever died of cancer.  And we try to cure cancer."

I don't recall much outrage over that.  It seems par for the course in comic books. 

To be fair, there are some writers who do a good job telling stories even from the perspective of the believer.  One of those is Alan Moore.  This might be surprising considering his pagan tendencies and penchant for violence and pornography.  But in his superhero cop series Top Ten, Moore wrote a born again Christian hero named Peregrine.  While he allowed others to criticize her faith, she was presented with respect and dignity.  In one scene, she shared her faith with a dying man to help give him hope and was shown praying after he passed.  When someone else took over the book, she was an intolerant zealot who would do shout things at her coworkers like, "Heretic!  Blasphemer!"  You know, things normal Christians say to their friends.

Geoff Johns also did an excellent job with the origin of the Blue Lantern Saint Walker.  His story was harsh and challenging, but ultimately respectful of the faith that Saint Walker placed in his Higher Power.

As a man of faith I don't expect or demand that comic books cater to my religion or promote any kind of devotion to God.  All I ask is that I don't get punched in the face every time I read a story on religion.

Look, writers and publishers can make whatever kinds of comics they want.  But I don't fancy myself as someone who pays to get punched in the face by a simple super hero story.  All this comic book has done is make me aware of the name Mark Russell and to be on the lookout for books of his so I don't accidentally buy another one.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Film Review: The Lion King (2019)

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

There is nothing really bad about The Lion King remake.  It's just that everything truly great is directly from the original.

The movie follows the same plot, almost beat-by-beat, as the first Lion King:  Simba (JD McCray/Donald Glover) is born the Lion King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Sarabi (Alfre Woodard), much to the chagrin of Mufasa's brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor).  For reasons know to anyone who saw the original, Simba flees his home to be raised by the meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner) and warthog Pumba (Seth Rogen).  But his childhood friend Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph/ Beyonce) comes to rouse him back to the throne.

I have to say that this movie really made me appreciate the original.  I never realize how utterly iconic the movie is, and I mean that literally, not culturally.  The frames from the original are so vivid and burned into my memory that it would be impossible to not recreate them.  Think about all of the other modern Disney remakes.  Many of them may borrow some of the most important shots, but they are, for the most part, the product of the director's vision.  Not so with the new Lion King.  Director Jon Favreau is completely bound by the visuals set forth by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, the directors of the original.  The fortunate thing is that the visuals are so powerful that the lack of originality is forgivable.

There is a process in film called rotoscoping.  In the past, someone would capture a performance on film and then hand draw animated cells on top of the captured images.  This was used very famously in A-Ha's music video "Take On Me."  This movie feels like reverse rotoscoping where they laid down the original animation cells and covered them over with photo-realistic CGI.

The animation is gorgeous.  The creatures and the environments look and feel real, almost as if you could reach out and pet Simba's mane.  But this ultra-realistic approach as two distinct disadvantages.  The first is that it is difficult to distinguish characters, particularly the female lions.  There is a scene where the hyena Shenzi (Florence Kasumba) is about to begin a dramatic face off with a lion and I had no idea if it was Nala or Sarabi.  It was also hard to keep track of which was Simba and Scar in their final confrontation.  The second is that the human face is so incredibly expressive and we are attuned to even the most subtle changes there.  Because all the anthropomorphism is removed from these animals, a great deal of the nuanced emotion that you got in the original is lost.

Watching this movie feels like going to to see a live stage production of a movie you've seen or vice-versa.  It is different, but if the quality is high enough, you don't care.  And the makers of this film did a fine enough job.  All of the voice actors are spot on, especially James Earl Jones who hasn't lost an ounce of the regalness in his voice.

The movie kept intact all of the wonderful themes of responsibility, dignity, and memory.  The movie serves as an important reminder for the role of fathers in shaping the souls of their sons.  The few times Favreau deviates from the original, he attempts to show how in the eyes of a son, the father is a larger-than-life giant, one to whom the son can't imagine living up.  Combining the themes with the timeless Elton John music, makes the time spent in the theater even more enjoyable than this summer's other Disney remake Aladdin.

The Lion King delivers exactly what you would expect and it does it very well.  It has all of the original's beauty and heart and is just different enough to warrant a viewing.