Thursday, January 17, 2019

Trailer Time: John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

I am a huge fan of the John Wick series of films.  The first one was such a jolt of energy into the action movie genre that had been afflicted with too much shakey-cam, quick cuts, and cartoonishness.  And while the action is at time over the top, both of the previous films have been incredibly fun.

The 3rd movie appears to pick up exactly where the 2nd left off, which is exciting to me to see John against the entire world of assassins. 

The action looks great.

The story looks good.

Reeves looks as awesome as ever.

The only thing that worries me is Halle Berry.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Trailer Time: Spider-Man: Far From Home


I really like this trailer.

Setting aside the fact that this spoils part of Avengers: Endgame, what I like most about this trailer is that it still feels like a high school movie.

One of my favorite Spider-Man comics was one written by Sean McKeever called Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane.  It was very much a teen soap set in the Spider-Man world.  This movie feels very much a kindred spirit to that.  I love the fact that the first half of the trailer barely has any Spider-Man, but I didn't care.  I enjoy watching Peter's interactions with May, Happy, MJ, and Ned.  I even like how MJ's militantism is softened and joked about.

The overall plot doesn't look to be anything too special.  I'm not looking for too much specatacle in the wake of Endgame.  I think this could be a great palate cleanser and a great deal of fun.


Monday, January 14, 2019

Film Review: The Green Book

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

One of the things that I hope happens when I see a movie is that I encounter the sense of being transported.  Sometimes the spell is so complete that it is almost a shock to return to reality when the credits role.  But at the very least I hope to be taken to some time or some place that is other.  And The Green Book felt like an immersive time warp back to the early 1960's.

The story centers around Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a scamming, middle-aged bouncer who never had a corner he couldn't cut.  When the club where he works is shut down for a while, Tony has to find work to keep supporting his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) and their kids.  He finds it by being hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali).  Shirley is a piano virtuoso who is embarking on a concert tour of the country, including parts of the segregated deep south, which could lead to trouble for Dr. Shirly who is black.  To help them, Tony uses a guide called "The Green Book" which is a triptik for safe places for minorities below the Mason-Dixon line.  Tony and Don could not be more opposite.  The result is a story of great humor, heart, and drama.

I have to give director Peter Farrelly an inormous amount of credit for his work as director.  If you had told me that the one who made the gross-out films of There's Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber could make a movie this serious and subtle, I would have been very sceptical.  But Farrelly injects a lot of wholesome beauty into this picture.  There is a stylish simplicity to the entire aesthetic of the film.  Even in the rougher sections of the country, Farrelly captures something beautiful about it.  When Dr. Shirley is denied entrance to certain places, Farrelly does not take the easy path of making these dens of segregation look seedy and unwelcome.  Instead, Farrelly films most of them with bright, welcoming lighting and lets the injustice of segregation sink in through the performances of the actors.  Farrelly also uses a good deal more restraint than I would have expexted.  All scenes dealing with sexuality are presented in an non-exploitative way that get across the deep secret feelings of the characters.

A movie like this also works based on the chemistry of the two characters.  If one is obviously the hero and the other is obvisously the one who needs to be "enlightened," then the relationship is not nearly as interesting.  But both Don and Tony have opposing flaws and opposing virtues.  This movie could easily have been about Don civilizing the racist Tony.  But Tony is not that simple.   He is flawed and lacks a great deal of compassion.  But he has a code and has genuine street smarts.  Don has sophistication, but he does not come off as too stuffy.  He learns from Tony and Tony learns from him.  We see in their story the basis of every good friendship: each friend makes the other a better person.

But what really kicked the movie into high gear for me was the moment I began to partly see it in terms of analogy:  this is a Barack Obama/ Donald Trump road trip movie.

I am not here to make any political statements.  But if you take the broad brush with which the media has painted these two presidents, you cannot help but see the parrallels.  Obama is portrayed as a sophisticated intellectual who is a bit lofty and out of touch.  Trump is portrayed as an unsophisticated hustler who is there to get the job done.  See the movie through this lens made it fascinating and amusing.  It made me think that perhaps if we could all see our polticical adversaries in these human terms, much of our strife would be lessened.

Issues of homosexuality are raised, but they are treated with care.  The purpose of those scenes are not so much to promote a lifestyle, but to show us a characters insecurity and vulnerability.  The only comment on the issues is Tony saying, "Life... it's complicated."  A simple as that statement was, it allows the audience to simply watch these characters and draw their own moral conclusions.

Ali is fantastic as Don Shirley.  You can see the smooth control he has on the character that comes from a practiced politeness.  But he is able to show you so much with a simple look.  One scene in particular comes to mind.  Don is sitting comfortably in his car while Tony fixes it.  On the side of the road are black farm laborers looking at his luxury.  This makes Don incredibly introspective and uncomfortable.  No words are said, but Ali lets us see all of the conflicting emotions at play.  Mortensen captures the essense of Tony's character, but I cannot help to say I was distracted by his accent.  DeNiro or Pesci sound completely natural with their New York accents.  But while Mortensen hit every cadence correctly, it still felt artificial and not natural.  Cardellini does a very good job and you will wish that she had more screen time.

One of the things I loved about the film was that it was very focused on moral courage.  How do you change the world when so much of the world hates you.  I remember a time I spoke to my father, who is an immigrant, about if he ever experienced any racism from Americans.  He shrugged his shoulders and said yes.  When I asked him how he handled it, he said, "I was the best at my job and it forced them to respect me."  I can see a lot of this in Don Shirley's journey.  He enters into these racist territories and is excellent in their presence.  Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn't.  But he doesn't give up and he helps show Tony what this kind of strength means.

The other moral foot of the movie is about connection to your fellow man.  Don Shirley may be a humanitarian, but he has trouble connecting to people.  Tony helps him with this and Don helps Tony see past his own prejudices.  The movie also does a good job of not stereotyping any of the races, even after bad encounters with our main character.  The question the movie asks often is: where do I belong.

And the answer it gives is that as long as you are loved, your are where you belong.

image by Yasir72.multan

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sunday Best: Thoughts on Golden Globes 2019

The thing that I found most shocking about the Golden Globes this year was that a number of the winners were from movies that I had actually seen.  Like the Oscars, the Golden Globes had been reaching out and lifting up films that were obscure to most of the general audience.

I was very surprised that crowd-pleasers like Bohemian Rhapsody and The Green Book won so big on this night.  Bohemian Rhapsody is a bona-fide international hit.  And even though The Green Book has a much more modest box office return, it sits with a very high A+ Cinemascore.

What does this mean for the Oscars.

As I've written in years past the Golden Globes are less and less of a predictor of Oscars than they used to be.

2001A Beautiful MindMoulin Rouge!A Beautiful Mind
2002The HoursChicagoChicago
2003The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the KingLost in TranslationThe Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2004The AviatorSidewaysMillion Dollar Baby
2005Brokeback MountainWalk the LineCrash
2006BabelDreamgirlsThe Departed
2007AtonementSweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet StreetNo Country for Old Men
2008Slumdog MillionaireVicky Cristina BarcelonaSlumdog Millionaire
2009AvatarThe HangoverThe Hurt Locker
2010The Social NetworkThe Kids Are All RightThe King's Speech
2011The DescendantsThe ArtistThe Artist
2012ArgoLes MiserablesArgo
201312 Years a SlaveAmerican Hustle12 Years a Slave
2014BoyhoodThe Grand Budapest HotelBirdman
2015The RevenantThe MartianSpotlight
2016MoonlightLa La LandMoonlight
2017Three Billboards...Lady BirdThe Shape of Water
2018Bohemian RhapsodyThe Green Book

2015 saw The Revenant and The Martian take home the Globes while Spotlight won the Oscar.  for 2016,  Moonlight ended up taking the Oscar and the Golden Globe, but we saw a return to the trend with The Shape of Water taking the Oscar but no Globes.

Last year there were very few things to root for.

The top 10 highest grossing movies of 2017 were:

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Beauty and Beast
Wonder Woman
Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Thor: Ragnarock
Despicable Me 3
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Justice League

NOT ONE OF THE TOP TEN FILMS received a nomination.

In 2018, the Best Picture Globe winners have a combined box office of $60 million, which is almost 1/4 of the Justice League.

This year was a bit different.  The top 10 highest grossing movies this year were

Black Panther
Avengers: Infinity War
Incredibles 2
Jurassic Word: Fallen Kingdom
Deadpool 2
The Grinch:
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Solo: A Star Wars Story

As you can see, the highest grossing film of the year received a nomination.  Not only that, but Bohemian Rhapsody is the 13th highest grossing film of the year at around $200 million.  And with an Oscar campaign, it could crack into that top 10 as well.  The combined grosses from this year's winners is 4x the combined grosses of last year's winners.

Other nominees like A Star is Born ($203 million) and Crazy Rich Asians ($174 million) have been seen by a good number of people.  And while most of the nominee slots were filled with low-grossing films, there has been a little improvement toward popular tastes.

And while TV ratings are harder to gauge because of streaming services, I would venture to say that most of the highest rated shows are left out of the nominations.  I think there could be an argument that some highly-rated shows and big box office hits are appealing to the lowest common demonenator and for that reason can be a bit flat artistically.  While I am open to that argument and think that it has merit, the larger problem for these awards is the fact that they tend toward the more obscure and irrelevant.  It would be different if by placing the spotlight on an obscure film that it would then become a big hit.  This would be wonderful in the case of The Green Book.  But many of the past obscure winners receive their moment in the spotlight and then fade into irrelevance.


-I'm glad to see my that my pick for Best Actor of the Year, Rami Malek, was honored with the Golden Globe

-Olivia Coleman is a wonderful dramatic and comedic actress.  Her work on Broadchurch alone is proof of her skill.  But The Favorite looks like a truly atrocious film.

-Even though I know it is a joke, not a fan of Christian Bale thanking Satan in his acceptance speech.

-I was very happy for the makers of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse they has some serious competition this year.  But not only is this movie a real crowd-pleaser, but it is also a truly creative artistic endeavor.

-While I wasn't a fan of the movie, I'm glad that "Shallows" won best song, just like my Catholic Skywalker Awards.

-I did not see any of the TV shows that won any awards this year.

-This year's hosts were fine, but bland.  I enjoy watching Ricky Gervais if for no other reason that I have no idea what he is going to say next.

-Seeing Dick Van Dyke made me very happy

-Oscar Nominations are January 22.  We will see how much the Globes prognosticates these nominees.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Film Flash: The Upside

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

Never achieves greatness, but excellent performances and touching story make for a nice movie

image by Yasir72.multan

Monday, January 7, 2019

New Evangelizers Post: The 5 Kings at Christmas

I have a new article up at  

Yesterday was the feast of the Epiphany. This is the story about how the magi came and adored the Child Jesus. Matthew’s account of the story is very sparse. The word “magi” is a very difficult word to translate as it could mean a king or a wise man or something else. Also, Matthew never tells us how many magi were there. Tradition assumes there were three because of the three gifts. It is from this traditional view that we will take today’s reflection.

What can we take from the idea that there were three foreign kings? First, we must be aware that being a king means sovereignty. A king is at the top of a system of authority with those subject underneath. In the human soul, we have three divisions that all vie for supremacy in the person.

The first is the intellect. This is the rotational/analytic part of the soul. This is where our knowledge and our logic reside. This is represented by the gift of gold, which shines with the luster of light, like the light of reason. It also is represents the practical end of worldly success that prudence would give.

The second is the passion. This the emotional center of the soul that is concerned with feeling and the pleasures and pains of the senses. The pleasing aroma of frankincense reminds us of the appetites and delights of being a body with five senses.

The third is the will. This is the part of the soul that directs the whole person to action. Here is where we make the internal choice to do what we think is right or wrong. This is symbolized by the myrrh. It reminds us of the act of sacrifice which is the supreme expression of the will’s power.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Sunday Worst: Bizarro Awards 2018

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 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).


A Simple Favor

To say that I hated this movie is an understatement.

This movie is a failure at almost every level.  It is a cynical piece of garbage that I feel has made my life slightly worse by the experience of it.  It does not work as mystery.  It does not work as drama.  It does not work as comedy.  It is so expressly and directly opposed to anything resembling common decency and good film-making that I can't help but believe that this was its intention all along: to make something trashy.  Movies like this reflect a worldview in the film-makers that disturbs me deeply.  What makes it even more infuriating is the smug sense of superiority that radiates out of this horrid film.  It is condescending while it is itself so lowly that it can only sneer at its betters.  Avoid at all cost!

10. Ocean's 8
9. Tag
8. A Wrinkle in Time
7.  Skyscraper
6.  Welcome to Marwen
5.  A Star is Born
4.  Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
3.  Life of the Party
2.  Life Itself
1.  A Simple Favor


Pierce Brosnan- Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Brosnan is a very good actor.  But this performance is so phoned-in that I'm surprised it wasn't outsourced to customer service.  He walks around the set delivering his lines as if he is doing the read through for the first time.  At least Colin Firth and Stellan Skaarsgaard look like they are having a silly good time with the script, but Brosnan looks so bored by it all.


Melissa McCarthy- Life of the Party

If you give McCarthy the right material, she can make it soar to comedy gold.  But this movie does the opposite.  It trusts McCarthy to lead the comedy instead of leading the comedy to McCarthy.  It is a subtle difference, but important.  In this movie she is outrageous without being humorous.  She is sincere without being endearing.  And in a movie that depends completely on the personality of the lead, this was a fatal mistake.


Paul Feig - A Simple Favor

From my review of A Simple Favor:

Feig fails at every level to tell a good story.  He wants to say something about powerful, empowered women, but it comes off as so completely uninspired.  When Stephanie first enters Emily's house there is a nude painting of Emily hanging that thrusts her genitals towards the viewer's face as if Feig is trying to make some super awkward "girl power" statement.

Feig also fails at making anything out of the mystery of Emily's disappearance.  In fact, he reveals the truth way too early.  The denouement tries to copy the movie Gone Girl, but fails at that too.  The final confrontation is intent on making shocking twists and turns that it defies all logic.  If you ever watched the show Community, they did an episode where characters kept pulling out guns in a parody of twists on top of twists.  It worked on the show because they were doing comedy.  It fails in the movie because you are supposed to take it seriously.  And the ultimate take down of the villain is something out of a Will Ferrel movie and has no place in anything we've seen before.


A Simple Favor

Nothing in this script makes any logical sense.  The characters are not only completely shallow, but their motivations lack any clear rational.  When they turn on a dime, it is less shocking than it is annoying as we wait for the next >gasp< twist that our simple, plebeian minds did not see coming from the genius of this screenplay. 


A Simple Favor

This dishonor is not very enthusiastically given in that the movie did not seek to actively attack Christians.  The most that it did was portray the Christian summer camp as very lame.  However, in this year's movies that I saw, this was the worst instance of anti-Christian bias.  That is a very good thing.


A Simple Favor

From my review:

This film is a cesspool.  When people talk about how Hollywood creates moral rot, this is Exhibit A.  Rather than saying something universal about women or relationship, all this film does is show us the jaundiced moral world-view of people like Paul Feig and all you can do is thank God that you do not live in his morally messed up world.


Murphy Brown

The Roseanne relaunch was a ratings juggernaut.  So naturally people looked to other popular mid-90's shows with strong female leads and came to Murphy Brown.  However, the original series does not have the same nostalgic place of affection in the TV audience's hearts.  Whereas Roseanne's tribute to working-class families seems more and more universal and relevant, Murphy Brown's original run seems too tied to the politics of the era.  Does anyone really care about the Dan Quayle controversy?  And the new version came off as strident and shallow.  This was a show not so much with a universal comedic message, but a political axe to grind.


Saturday Night Live

(Below are my comments from last year, but they still apply to this year)

I still hold out hope that in 90 minutes of television there may still be at least 5 minutes of good humor.  But it takes a lot of endurance through horrible sketches to come across a gem like "Crucible Cast Party."

The show has two major problems in its current era.

1.  The Election of Donald Trump.  If you watch the skits before the election they were harsh but there was still a great deal that was funny.  But after the election, especially after that somber cold open (and it is not an exaggeration to say that it was the most somber cold opening since 9/11), with Kate McKinnon playing a heartbroken Hillary Clinton, something broke in the show.  Donald Trump is the president and he models incredibly unusual behavior, so there is fertile ground for jokes.  But the writers don't seem to be interested in jokes and are instead only interested in attacking someone they hate.  That's all well and good, but you need to at least make it funny.

2.  The Anti-Comedy skits.  Pete Davidson and Kyle Mooney seem to be hellbent on making the most un-funny comedy sketches on the show, particularly with their digital shorts.  I was never a big fan of Andy Sandberg's digital shorts, but you could tell he was working hard on trying to get you to laugh no matter how silly he was.  Davidson and Mooney present sketches that are so odd that they fail to do anything but make you say "What the hell was that?"  And that might be their point, but it makes for incredibly bad television.