Monday, December 5, 2016

New Evangelizers Post: The 10 Commandments in the Modern World Part 3 – Keep Holy the Sabbath

I have a new article up at  
We Christians do not celebrate the Sabbath per se.  The original Sabbath, still observed by our Jewish brothers and sisters, is Saturday, the day God rested from creation.  For Christians, the Sabbath has been replaced by “The Lord’s Day,” which is the day we remember Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead: Sunday.  In fact, every Sunday is holy because it is a “mini-Easter.”  So the 3rd Commandment applies to us in terms of keeping holy the Lord’s Day.

I remember back in college eavesdropping on a heated discussion in the computer lab about going to Mass on Sunday.  One student vigorously shouted, “The commandment says ‘Keep Holy Sabbath,’ not ‘Go to Mass on Sunday.’”  This person seemed particularly proud of themselves for making such an astute scholarly observation.  Of course the follow up question to that should be: “How did the early Christians understand what it meant to keep holy the Lord’s Day?”

The answer, of course, is go to mass.  In fact, to intentionally skip the Lord’s Day mass has always been understood to be a mortal sin.

Sometimes someone will say to me in class, “I don’t go to Church, but I love God.”  My response is always the same: “No you don’t.”

Judgmental of me?  Perhaps.  But let us look at the facts.

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunday Best: Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time #19 - Dredd

Do not confuse this with the terrible Sylvester Stallone film about the same character titled Judge Dredd.  That film was close to the Batman and Robin mindset: "It's a movie based on a comic book so let's make it without any depth, substance, or reason to care."

The 2012 film goes in the exact opposite direction.  Whereas the 1995 film was a silly near-comedy (the presence of Rob Schneider prevented any seriousness), the modern version is a serious thriller.

Set in the future, most of the world is unlivable.  Human civilization crowds together in mega-cities.  Because of the chaos that so easily erupts, justice must be swift.  So the cities have combined police with judges.  So when these new judges respond to calls, they not only arrest, but judge and pass sentence (even death) right there on the spot.

The movie centers around Dredd (Karl Urban), a stoic and mysterious figure who we never see behind the helmet.  Like Darth Vader, this creates an imposing aura of intimidation.  Dredd is partnered with the mildly psychic rookie Anderson (Olivia Thrilby).  She has severe moral reservations about acting as judge, jury, and executioner, but she is placed on duty with one of the most brutal of the law enforces in Judge Dredd.

One of the things that makes this movie work so well as opposed to the convoluted original is that it actually has a deceptively simple plot.

Dredd and Anderson enter a high rise building to do a routine arrest.  These buildings stretch high and hold populations the size whole neighborhood cities.  The interior is dark and bleak like an urban ghetto enclosed in run down apartment building.

The problem is that the person they are arresting has information on the crime boss of that building, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), who specializes in selling a drug called Slo-Mo which makes everything you experience feel like it is in slow motion.  Before Dredd and Anders can leave, Ma-Ma locks down the building.  She then makes an announcement to everyone in the building that she will greatly reward them if they kill Dredd and Anders.  The rest of the movie is race to see which happens first: Dredd and Anders can make it to the top apartment and stop Ma-Ma or Ma-Ma and the rest of the building kill the judges.

There is no winking at the camera in this film.  Some might find it humorless, but instead I found it sobering.  The despair the people felt was palpable, but the forward momentum of the story kept it from weighing the narrative down.  The objective was so clear that I could easily assess their progress and their setbacks.  And with the darkness of the film, the outcome of the journey always felt in question.

The production design was fantastic.  You got the feeling that this movie had a very small comparative budget to the first one.  But they use the space effectively.  The claustrophobia of the building works for the tension but it never feels like you are limited in your scope of the story.  And the special effects, especially the ones involving Slo-Mo are so visually engaging.

The action is incredibly violent, but it does so with great effect.  Because of the violence, we fear much more for our heroes.  Even those who come after them are given some sympathetic treatment.  Most of the residents are pushed around like the peasentry under a feudal lord Ma-Ma.  They either obey or they die.

And while there is a message here about urban corruption and police indifference, it never feels preachy.

The performances should be noted here too.  Above all Urban knocks it out of the park.  Because his face is obscured the entire film, he has so much less to work with and yet he makes a much bigger impression with this character than Stallone ever did.  Dredd isn't just a character, he is a presence.  When characters speak about him in hushed tones, Urban's presence legitimizes that awe.  You feel his power, his control, and his rage.  Thrilby more than hold her own.  Rather than throw her in as some kind of weird eye-candy, her youth and beauty work to underscore the ugliness of Dredd's world and her own inexperience.  Her character takes the most significant journey and Thrilby gives it everything she has.  And you would need a very strong actor as a villain to match up the power of Urban's performance the titular hero.  And Headey also brings all of her charisma and menace to believably portray a person who could coldly order the deaths of entire families to increase her power.

Dredd is not a pleasant movie.  But it is an excellent one.  It is a reminder that when you take comic book movies seriously, you can do something pretty special.

Monday, November 28, 2016

St. Andrew Novena Starts Tomorrow

Much of what is below is a repost from years earlier.

I think about St. Andrew quite a bit.  He was one of the first four called by Christ.  It was James, John, Andrew and Andrew's brother Peter.  But of that quartet, only the trio of Peter, James, and John ended up being Jesus' closest friends.

I wonder if Andrew was like us and got jealous.  According to the Gospel of John, it was Andrew who brought Peter to the Lord, and the Lord seemed to like Peter better.  How often have we introduced a sibling or friend to our inner circle only to have them become more popular or have a greater aptitude for what you enjoy?

But I bet that Andrew was better than most of us.  He was probably a model of humility.  I like to imagine that he was happy for his brother and he was content to have others loved and esteemed more than himself.

My favorite story is about when he died.  They tied him to the cross, but for days and days he preached non-stop to the point where the officials realized it was doing them more harm than good.

But when they came to take him down, Andrew looked at Jesus and told him he was tired and he just wanted to go home to heaven and be with Him.  So the soldiers were unable to take him down and Andrew finally went home to the Jesus and his brother Peter on November 30th 60 AD.

Tomorrow is the feast of St. Andrew.  And there is a special novena prayer that is prayed between now and Christmas.  It goes as follows:

St. Andrew Christmas Novena

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born Of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother. Amen.

That prayer is prayed 15 times a day until the ends.  My wife and I pray this together every year and have found many graces through the intercession of St. Andrew.  I pray that all of you do as well.

God Bless.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Film Flash: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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

Enchanting and exciting re-entry into the Potter Universe (sans Harry).  Leaves you wanting more.

4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday Best: Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time #20 - The Crow

Watching The Crow feels like jumping into a time machine to the early 1990's.  The music, the fashion, and the general atmosphere all exude the grunge spirit of the age.  And while this could be a detriment that makes the film feel dated, this is actually one of its strongest selling points.

The Crow is not a perfect film.  But what the movie does incredibly is set mood.  The cinematography, the score, the costume design all work together powerfully to enter you into the ecstatic sadness of the story.  Even years from last seeing it, the impressions that the movie left in me are still strong.

It might be easy to dismiss this accomplishment by thinking that all that would be required to achieve the desired effect would be to go to the nearest Hot Topic and take its wardrobe and store music.  But look at any of the subsequent Crow films and you will see quickly that this effect is not easily duplicated.  Eric Draven's world is dark and violent, but it is not repulsively ugly.  There is something almost attractive and cathartic about Eric's deep sadness and the world in which it is reflected.

Of course the movie got a great deal of infamy because of the tragic death of its lead star Brandon Lee during a horrible accident with a gun.  Brandon had been slowly working his way up the action movie ranks through B-list material.  Perpetually in the shadow of his legendary father, I believe that this movie would have opened new doors for him.  Rather than relying on his extensive martial arts training, Lee pushed his emotional boundaries.  He mixes pain and rage and regret and fear all at once.  His performance is not perfect, but you can see the blossoming of his talent.

And while there is a good deal of action, the movie doesn't make action the focus.  Instead, the story is ultimately about loss and grief.  Eric Draven's whole quest for revenge centers around his need to come to peace with the senseless death of his beloved fiancee.  Eric has no desire to move on.  When his mission is done, there is no future for him.  He simply wants to fulfill his duty as the survivor and then leap into the dark to be back with his beloved.  The movie embraces the pain of lost love like a man hugging a cactus: the closer you hold it, the more it hurts.

But there is something almost beautiful about this tragedy.  CS Lewis said that romantic love makes no promises of happiness; it only promises eternity (whether it keeps its promise or not).  The theme of the movie that real love is forever resonates as strongly as Lewis' other point about romantic love: the lovers desire each other more than they desire happiness.  "Let our hearts break, so long as they break together."

And in the deep darkness of The Crow, we can feel that heartbreak more so than most super hero movies.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

New TV Show Mini Review: Gilmore Girls - A Year in the Life

Any fan of the original Gilmore Girls series will love this revival.

A Year in the Life picks up about 8 years after the series finale.  The course of the series follows the adventures of Lorelai, Rory, and Emily Gilmore through the course of the four seasons.  The series begins shortly after Richard Gilmore has suddenly died.  Because of an incident at the funeral, Lorelai and Emily's relationship is as frosty as ever.  Rory is wandering between journalistic jobs.  And Lorelai is navigating changes in her business and personal relationships.

But just as important is the town of Star Hollow itself.  Everything about this idyllic place is enchanting.  Even when the residents are infuriating, they are still as endearing as ever.

In the original series, my least favorite aspect was the devolution of Rory's character.  When the original series began, she was sweet and smart.  Once she became and unrepentant homewrecker, my affections for her never recovered.  And this series did very little change this.  Rory consistently insists that she is not a member of the "30-Something crowd," a group of millennials who are jobless and have moved back in with their parents.  But her insistence that she is not one of them only serves to highlight her own personal arrogance.  She thinks she deserves the most prestigious jobs rather than starting small and working her way up.  On top of that, Rory's romantic relationships are as disastrous as ever.  And all of this is because of her own poor choices.

Watching Emily's journey was heartbreaking.  The grief she feels is palpable.  She says "half of me is gone."  And everything that the script and acting convey makes us feel that with tangible effect.  Watching her break down and slowly try to rebuild her life was one of the most emotionally satisfying journeys of this series.

But the central character has always been Lorelai.  Her rebelliousness has been the source of her independence, but it is also is the source of her greatest flaw.  When it comes to her mother, she is reflexively dismissive and cruel.  When it comes to Luke, she is unappreciative and controlling.  When it comes to the problems she faces, they are mostly of her own making.  And yet, unlike Rory, I could not help but root for her.  I think the main difference is that Lorelai recognizes her flaws and at least feels badly about them, whereas Rory does not.

While there are some moral qualms with some of the shows plot lines, the morality it espouses is not preachy.  As a result, it doesn't serve to alienate the audience too much.

And even with its flaunting of much traditional morality, there are actually someone wonderful points made about things like marriage.  Emily harps on the fact that Luke and Lorelai are not married and calls them "roommates."  Lorelai is so insistent on not being like her mother that she pushes away the idea of marriage.  But her mother's insights on marriage haunt Lorelai throughout the entire show.  And her fear causes her to run away from this possible commitment rather than towards the permanent joys of marriage.

As a side note, one of the inside joys of this show was seeing all of the cameos from Amy Sherman-Palladino's short lived show Bunheads.  I counted at least 4 actresses from that show (who were not originally in Gilmore Girls).  And I became inexplicably giddy watching Lauren Graham and Sutton Foster share a short scene together.  I adore Sutton Foster and hate that she is currently in the horrible show Younger.  But on this show, she got to play a small and silly, but emotionally stirring part that still is sitting with me.

And this series ends the way Sherman-Palladino always intended.  Years ago, she was kicked off her own show and never got to end it the way she wanted.  She famously claimed that she always knew what the four last words of the series.  And this series ends with those four words.  And while I can imagine some viewers being disliking the ending, upon reflection, it is the perfect way to end the series.  And while the show gives a cathartic closure to a lot of characters, there is the open sense of possibilities and future stories that could still go on in Stars Hollow.

As a fan of Gilmore Girls, I watched each extra long episode of this revival, hoping that it wouldn't end.  And that is the sign of a good series

Friday, November 25, 2016

Film Review: The Accountant

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

Any movie that can make accounting thrilling deserves respect.

The Accountant follows Christian Wolff (Ben Aflleck), a high functioning autistic accountant.  As a child, it was recommended to Christian's father (Robert C. Trevelier), that the child be placed in a special school to deal with his difficulty in the everyday world.  Christian's father, a military man, instead decided to train the young Christian (Seth Lee) and his brother (Jake Presley) to face their pain and fight for themselves.  As Christian has grown up, he uses his accounting skills to aid several organized crime groups.

However, on a legitimate gig, Christian uncovers some irregularities with a tech company with the help of the in house accountant Dana (Anna Kendrick).  This seemingly innocuous job leads to violence and murder, as Christian begins to play cat and mouse with a mysterious hitman (Jon Berthnal).  At the same time, Christian is being pursued a Treasury agent Ray King (JK Simmons) and a brilliant analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson).

One of the things that makes The Accountant work is that it is fascinating.  It pulls you slowly into Christians world and you begin to see the things the way he does.  His life is so efficiently Spartan, like perfectly-synced gears of a watch.  And then we get to see Christian's hidden trailer where he stores his weapons, gold bars, and priceless works of art.  I admittedly geeked out when he opened a drawer and revealed a mint condition All-American Comics #1, the first appearance of the Golden Age Green Lantern.  (I'm glad the producers didn't limit themselves with the obvious choices of Action Comics #1 or Detective Comics #27).  But this fascination is not limited to the more action-oriented scenes.  Watching Christian work an accounting problem is like something of a cross between A Beautiful Mind and Sherlock.

And much of this excitement is done using only the visuals.  Director Gavin O'Connor does a fantastic job of drawing you in deeper and deeper.  Writer Bill Dubuque does a good job of giving us a story that is full of nice twists throughout.  Stories like this can only work if we identify with the main character, who is a killer.  The storytellers wisely give Christian a very strict, albeit non-traditional moral code.

Where the story is weakest is relationship between Christian and Dana.  The actors have good chemistry, but the budding romance could have been integrated better into the story, especially in the third act.

Speaking of the actors, Affleck once again delivers.  This year he has put in two outstanding performances, first as Bruce Wayne/Batman and now as Christian Wolfe.  Kendrick also bring her usual charisma, but she has much less story space to work in other than to be the love interest of the hero.  Bernthal is oddly charming and scary as the hitman.  We also have some nice smaller parts played very well by Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow, and Jean Smart.

The movie builds very nicely with some great action set pieces.  And while the third act is not bad or in any way poor, it does not push the intensity to the boiling point the way the rest of the movie builds.  There is a reason that the finales of most action movies end with big explosions.  It isn't simply the visual spectacle, its that there is a cathartic dynamic finale.  While the third act brings the action, I was hoping for a little more.

The movie does bring up some interesting ideas about the value of individual human lives.  Christian kills, but only according to his code.  And while this is problematic, you can see how he is doing the best he knows how based on his upbringing.  Some of the scenes of violence can be very disturbing, especially in one scene where someone is forced to commit suicide.  But there are some valuable insights into how people are not limited by their disability.

The Accountant is a rather exciting thriller that is definitely worth your time.

4 out of 5 stars