ReasonForOurHope

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Helpless



The thing that first struck me was the view.

I never noticed how blank and empty the ceiling was even though I must have glanced at it thousands of times.  It made me realize that all of the things I wanted to see were around me and not above me, but it took too much effort to look.

I had been having chronic back pain for a while.  After it got intolerable, I was told to go on bed rest.  Then sometime before noon three weeks ago, I noticed something was off.  I looked down at my left foot and I noticed I couldn’t flex it.  I immediately texted my wife who was at work.  It was decided that she would leave right away and bring me in for medical attention.  By the time she arrived, my right foot followed suit and I was unable to flex it either.  So my poor wife had to carry me to the car.

I have not been able to walk on my own since.

When we got to the hospital it was decided that I would have surgery.   They discovered that my L3 disc in back had shattered and the fragments were pressing on the nerves causing what they called a bilateral foot drop.  The surgeon told me that it was so bad that when he cut open my back, fragments of the disc popped out.

Since then I have remained in the hospital.

There is much for which I should be very thankful.  For all intents and purposes, the surgery was a success.  However the damage to the nerves will take a very long time to heal.  The nerve runs from my spine to the tip of my foot and it can take up to a centimeter a month to regenerate.  But I am no longer in any serious pain.  There is still soreness and weakness from the surgery, but that, I know, will pass in time.  Also during my recovery I have had many friends and family members help ease the passage of time with refreshing fellowship.  And of course, my wife has been a saintly pillar of support throughout, working all day at her job and then spending all night sleeping in a hospital chair by my bed.

But the biggest struggle for me is the feeling of utter and total helplessness.

Those first few days were the most humiliating and difficult.  Every turn, every movement was painful.  My back was not strong enough for me to even sit up on my own.  Even with support, the strain was incredible.  

Please forgive these next sentences if they are too vulgar.   But I think there are very few things more humiliating for an adult than to not be able to use the bathroom independently.  You feel gross, disgusting, embarrassed, humiliated, and weak.  You are literally infantilized and cannot help feel concretely the powerlessness of your situation.  In an activity for which we normally demand and expect total privacy, I had to call and ask for help.  And while the hospital staff went out of their way to alleviate my sense of shame, it lingers nonetheless.

I came to realize how utterly dependent I was on the staff here at the hospital.  Anything that was out of reach for me, even putting socks on my own feet, was something that required their assistance.  I now have an incredible amount of empathy for residents of nursing homes.  The feeling of absolute dependence on medical staff is terrifying because you keenly feel the power imbalance.  If you get even the slightest inkling that a member of the staff is annoyed or upset with you, fear grips your insides because that person has complete power over your life.

And as I lay there flat on back staring up at the ceiling of my hospital room, I thought about Jesus as a little baby.  I imagined Him lying flat on his back in a little crib.  And in that image I saw Our Lord take on a voluntary helplessness.  If I could through sheer force of will, like the Bride in Kill Bill, get my feet to move the way I wanted, there is little doubt that I would.  But in that manger at Bethlehem you had total and complete Omnipotence crying helplessly because He was hungry or in pain or covered in his own waste.  Can you imagine the restraint of that Divinity that patiently endured the slow passage of seconds to minutes to hours to days to weeks to years before even the smallest bit of independence could be managed?

Here’s the kicker for me: no one would blame Jesus if He used His Godly powers as a baby.  Imagine this baby being able to perform miraculous feats as if by magic.  In fact, I think that many would come in wonder and offer gifts Magi style.  So why did He not?

Because when you love someone, you want to be as close to them as you can.  God wanted to know our helplessness.  While He is always exalted above us, He is also with us.  He knows our struggles and feels our pains.  I cannot think of a single miracle He performed that was done purely for Himself?  If I had access to His power, I would be worse than Bruce Almighty.  But the Lord only used that power to help others and bring them to faith.  He never cheated.

I cannot walk on my own.  But on the road to Calvary, neither could He.  Even as He was fulfilling the purpose to which He was born, He was helpless.  Simon of Cyrene helped Him along the way to where he was crucified.  And all the while He had the power to stop it but did not.

This is a love that is complete.  Nothing was held back.  And now I can never doubt that He is with me in my suffering.  When I struggle to walk, I remember so did He.  When I am gripped with crippling fear, I remember He sweat blood in Gethsemane.  When I feel shamed and humiliated, I remember they stripped Him naked in public and mocked Him as king.  When I lose someone I love, I remember He wept at Lazarus’ tomb.  When I feel the pangs of rejected affection, I remember the hollow kiss that betrayed Him to death.  When I feel lonely, I remember that all of his best friends abandoned Him the night He needed them most.  And when the day comes for me to die, I will remember how he had to endure the slow movement of time from second to minute to hour after hour on that horrid cross.

The angel said that of Him that He shall be called Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

And He is a God who is with us.

Maybe that was the reason He took away my ability to walk.  Because as I lay flat on my back helpless, I have no choice but to look up to Heaven.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Film Review: Ghostbuster (2016)




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

It is incredibly difficult to review this movie in a vacuum.  Not only is this movie a reboot of a beloved franchise but the publicity campaign for this movie got oddly political and polemic.  But I shall try my best to judge this movie on its own merits and deficits.  But comparisons between this movie and the original Ghostbusters are inevitable and necessary.

This Ghostbusters begins with a tour of an historical landmark.  Right from the beginning, the jokes begin to fall flat as the tour guide makes remarks about "enslaving" elephants.  When a ghost appears, the curator (Ed Begley Jr.) goes to see ghost expert Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig).  Erin is embarrassed by her ghost-investigating past and is afraid that these paranormal dabblings will risk her attempt to get tenure.  This leads to a confrontation with her old paranormal science partner Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) who is working with the quirky engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon).  When our heroes have an encounter with a ghost, they end up going in to business for themselves.  Joining them is subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and ditzy hunk/receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth).  Together they get in to the Ghostbusting game which leads them into confrontation with villain Rowan North (Neil Casey) and with the political powers of the city.

One of the things that struck me while watching this is was how much this movie reminded me of the original Iron Man.  Both movies spend a great deal of time on the testing and development of novel technologies in flashy montages.  What this said to me is that writer/director Paul Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold were not making a horror/comedy like the original.  Instead they were making a superhero/comedy movie.  This resulted in a common problem with the first installment of superhero films: they do not have completely self-contained story arcs but feel very much like only the first act of a larger stories.  It was a bold choice that I think actually would make a solid distinction between itself and the original if the execution was better.

And now we have to make the necessary comparisons to the original.

It has to be noted that the nature of the humor is much different.  This is the most suggestive element of the review because humor is so subjective from generation to generation and person to person.  The original used classic comedy structures of set-up/punchline, hitting the joke on the third line, double takes, etc.  The remake employs modern awkward humor, the type made popular in shows like The Office and Arrested Development.  Instead of using punchy, tight jokes in the dialogue which hit the punchline and then hop off to the next joke, Feig preferred to drag out the jokes and keep circling back to the central humorous anecdote, hoping that the awkwardness would increase the absurd humor.  This works incredibly well in the above mentioned TV shows.  It does not work at all well in Ghostbusters.

The reboot was wise in not making their female characters simple analogs to their male counterparts from the original.  But the problem here is the same problem that plagued the recent Kevin Hart/Dwayne Johnson comedy Central Intelligence: characters are replaced by caricatures.  The characters lack any sense of three-dimensionally.  This is ironic because this movie delves more into to the history of their relationships more than the original.  But the performances are broad but shallow.  None of the characters feel like real people.  If you go back and look at the original, even the cerebral Egon feels like a fully fleshed out man with depth, history, and passion.

That isn't to say that the actresses lack talent.  Wiig and McCarthy can be very funny as we saw in Bridesmaids.  McKinnon seems to think that being odd is a substitute for being funny.  That might be overly harsh because I get the feeling that she did a lot of improv with her character but Feig's humor instincts made some poor choices.  The only one who made me really laugh was Jones.  He performance was as broad as the others, but she give it such a passion and energy the leaps off of the screen.  She gets at least 4 really big laughs (the biggest of the movie) when the Ghostbusters go on their first case.

The movie also makes a horrible misstep with their main villain.  He is a creep with no real sense of menace.  Feig has worked with Casey before and uses him to play the part of the perverse oddball.  He does this well, but this leads to no actual humor.  Andy Garcia as the mayor is incredibly funny in his short time on screen.  Hemsworth's idiocy is beyond reason, but he manages to be charming enough to get you not to hate him.

The cameos are hit and miss.  Often it is more distracting than anything.  MINOR SPOILER THIS PARAGRAPH.  But I cannot help find symbolism in the fact that these new Ghostbusters inadvertently kill off Peter Venkman.  There are so many reasons why this scene does not play well, but it kills a good deal of good will fans of the original would give.  END SPOILERS

The original even had some nice Catholic elements like the Cardinal with the mayor and Venkman standing up for a destroyed Church.  And there was also that wonderfully unnerving dialogue about the Book of Revelation.  But the new one never attempts to touch those depths.  I can't think of anything terribly offensive, but there is a lot that is unexplored.

The movie ends with a line akin to "It's not terrible."  This sums up my assessment of the film.  You have a talented cast who is hamstrung by a poor script and a director with increasingly poorer comedic instincts.  Humor is awkward and crude.

Instead of leaving feeling happy, you'll leave feeling slimed.

2 out of 5 stars


Trailer Time: Hacksaw Ridge



HACKSAW RIDGE TRAILER LINK

Braveheart is one of the finest movies ever made and the idea that the writer and director of reunited to make another movie is exciting for me.

The first half of the trailer looks a bit too reminiscent of Captain America: The First Avenger.  On top of that, it feels like it leans heavily on the preachy side.

But the second half of the trailer gave me chills.  It looks like it is striking a curious balance between the horror of violence and the heroism of soldiers.  The hero is a pacifist but that is not an indictment of the soldiers with whom he stands.

I particularly like the distinctive religious visuals and themes throughout.

I'm sold.

Thoughts?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Film Flash: Batman - The Killing Joke

Batman The Killing Joke

15 words or less film review

Darkest animated Batman.  Engaging but disjointed and lengthy prologue make the movie good, but uneven.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Monday, July 25, 2016

Trailer Time: Justice League Comic Con Trailer





I've already made my effusive love for Batman v. Superman on this blog.  So it should be no surprise that I have been fanboying out to this little taste of the upcoming Justice League movie that was released at Comic Con.

Here are a few thoughts:

-Fun.  I think the film makers are trying to work against the dark and angsty tone of the the last two DCU movies.  There was a lot of humor put up front for our first look at this movie.

-Focus on Batfleck.  Even the biggest critics of Batman v. Superman agreed that Ben Affleck's Batman was a highlight of the film.  So it is no surprise that he figures most prominently in this trailer.  They seem to be playing up more of his charm than his Batman persona, making him the Tony Stark of the DCU.

-Flash looks good.  One of my biggest reservations was the casting of Ezra Miller as Barry Allen aka The Flash.  But the footage of him interacting with Batman was a delight to watch.  I'm not sure how much I like him in the costume, but this trailer went a long way in assuaging my doubts.

-Aquaman rocks.  I am a huge fan of the Peter David era Aquaman that seems to be a huge influence on this film.  Jason Momoa looks to be a significant presence in this film.

-Superman?  The conspicuous absence of Superman tells me the Man of Steel will be missing from at least the first act of the movie and he might actually be the Maguffin ala Han Solo in Return of the Jedi.

-Who is missing?  The original poster that was released for Mamoa's Aquaman last year said "Unite the Seven."  While this could be a reference to the Seven Seas, I always took it to mean the seven members of the League.  But including Superman, there are only six.  I wonder if we are going to get a surprise member like Green Lantern or Shazam, or if they are going to keep it at six.

-Story?  This trailer gives no sense of the overall story.  I'll be waiting for any details as they come out.

Thoughts?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday Best: Star Trek Movies (Updated 2016)

In recognition of this weekend's premiere of the latest Star Trek movie, this Sunday Best article is a ranking of that film and the previous 12 from worst to best.


I also had a chance to finally see Star Trek Insurrection, so this list should be comprehensive, unlike the ranking from 3 years ago.

13.  Star Trek The Motion Picture
Star Trek The Motion Picture poster.png
 From the director of The Sound of Music comes a science fiction movie that is so preposterously boring and pretentious that it could be the second cousin of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The aesthetic is the most dated of any of the Star Trek films

12.  Star Trek Nemesis

The more I think of this film, the less I enjoy it.  I accept that there is a lot in Star Trek that makes little sense (e.g. why do they send the Captain down on away missions?), but this pushed all bounds of logic.  Why would you clone Picard?  Why?  And the cheat at the end leaves things so empty.

11.  Star Trek Insurrection
Star Trek Insurrection.png
Moreso than any Star Trek, this feels like a script from the series that they threw a bunch of money at to make it look like a feature film.  Not terrible, but inconsequential.  Plus, I never want to see another space face-lift.

10.  Star Trek Generations

I wanted to like this movie so much.  And the parts with Kirk are awesome, but it always leaves me a little flat.

9.  Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
William Shatner's vanity project fails on nearly every level, except when he focuses his scenes on the complex friendship of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  Moreso than any of the films, do you see the archetypal space that each character inhabits.  But the bad parts are so bad.  I go back and forth on this one.

8.  Star Trek Into Darkness 
Originally I ranked this one much higher.  But the more time has gone on, my affection for it lessens.  There is something about the central mystery that feels cheap.  And the allusions to Wrath of Kahn become more grating with time.  Still, it is not a bad film but the wasted potential is a bit of a drag.

7.  Star Trek: First Contact

This was one of the most action-packed in the series.  It was taught and tense.  Probably the best of the Next Generation movies.



6.  Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek IV The Voyage Home.png
This used to be my favorite, but the time travel story now feels dated.  It proves CS Lewis' principle that there is nothing so quickly out of date than what is in fashion.  It's environmental message also feels a bit too preachy.  But once you get past that, it is one of the funniest and enjoyable of the Star Trek movies.

5.  Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Dominating the center is the head of a man with arched eyebrows and pointed ears. At the edges, the head dissolves into the background of blue and magenta stars. Above, two starships fire multicolored bursts at each other. Below are three smaller figures, the front of which is a man with brown hair, wearing a red coat over a white shirt. The rest dissolve into the background.
 This might be the darkest of all the Trek films.  It takes the characters to places that are not always comfortable.  Watching the Enterprise fall or seeing Kirk fall out of his captain's chair with grief always get me.  This one has actually gotten better with time.

4.  Star Trek Beyond
The USS Enterprise flying through the universe, with the film's title "Beyond", and the film's billing below.
I will get a full review for this up soon.  But this was a great deal of fun and it was one of the most visually imaginative of the series.  And it finally moved the New Star Trek universe films into a true ensemble instead of it only being a Kirk/Spock series.

3.  Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

 You would think that the last film with the entire original cast would be one of the worst.  Instead, it is one of the best.  It is a mystery.  It is a thriller.  It is epic space opera.  It hearkens back to the past movie and breaks new territory.  No Star Trek fan should miss this.



2.  Star Trek (2009)

 I've probably watched this one more than any of the others.  JJ Abrams made a sleek, exciting, and epic film full of fun and adventure.

1.  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan.png
 I don't think I truly appreciated this film until years of watching.  It's story structure is perfect.  It's villain is one of the best I've seen onscreen.  It's themes are rich and multi-layered.  It reminds us that science fiction takes us to strange new worlds only to use them as a mirror to examine the unexplored depths of the human heart.  It has the most moving moment in the entire series that always stops me in my tracks.  It has the best performances of the entire cast.  People often mock Shatner's shouting of "Kahhhnnnn!" or Montalban's scenery chewing performance.  But that is only because in any other setting done by any other actors, it would not have worked.  But here it is pure movie magic.  

Sunday Best: Star Trek Movies (Updated 2016)

In recognition of this weekend's premiere of the latest Star Trek movie, this Sunday Best article is a ranking of that film and the previous 12 from worst to best.


I also had a chance to finally see Star Trek Insurrection, so this list should be comprehensive, unlike the ranking from 3 years ago.

13.  Star Trek The Motion Picture
Star Trek The Motion Picture poster.png
 From the director of The Sound of Music comes a science fiction movie that is so preposterously boring and pretentious that it could be the second cousin of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The aesthetic is the most dated of any of the Star Trek films

12.  Star Trek Nemesis

The more I think of this film, the less I enjoy it.  I accept that there is a lot in Star Trek that makes little sense (e.g. why do they send the Captain down on away missions?), but this pushed all bounds of logic.  Why would you clone Picard?  Why?  And the cheat at the end leaves things so empty.

11.  Star Trek Insurrection
Star Trek Insurrection.png
Moreso than any Star Trek, this feels like a script from the series that they threw a bunch of money at to make it look like a feature film.  Not terrible, but inconsequential.  Plus, I never want to see another space face-lift.

10.  Star Trek Generations

I wanted to like this movie so much.  And the parts with Kirk are awesome, but it always leaves me a little flat.

9.  Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
William Shatner's vanity project fails on nearly every level, except when he focuses his scenes on the complex friendship of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  Moreso than any of the films, do you see the archetypal space that each character inhabits.  But the bad parts are so bad.  I go back and forth on this one.

8.  Star Trek Into Darkness 
Originally I ranked this one much higher.  But the more time has gone on, my affection for it lessens.  There is something about the central mystery that feels cheap.  And the allusions to Wrath of Kahn become more grating with time.  Still, it is not a bad film but the wasted potential is a bit of a drag.

7.  Star Trek: First Contact

This was one of the most action-packed in the series.  It was taught and tense.  Probably the best of the Next Generation movies.



6.  Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek IV The Voyage Home.png
This used to be my favorite, but the time travel story now feels dated.  It proves CS Lewis' principle that there is nothing so quickly out of date than what is in fashion.  It's environmental message also feels a bit too preachy.  But once you get past that, it is one of the funniest and enjoyable of the Star Trek movies.

5.  Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Dominating the center is the head of a man with arched eyebrows and pointed ears. At the edges, the head dissolves into the background of blue and magenta stars. Above, two starships fire multicolored bursts at each other. Below are three smaller figures, the front of which is a man with brown hair, wearing a red coat over a white shirt. The rest dissolve into the background.
 This might be the darkest of all the Trek films.  It takes the characters to places that are not always comfortable.  Watching the Enterprise fall or seeing Kirk fall out of his captain's chair with grief always get me.  This one has actually gotten better with time.

4.  Star Trek Beyond
The USS Enterprise flying through the universe, with the film's title "Beyond", and the film's billing below.
I will get a full review for this up soon.  But this was a great deal of fun and it was one of the most visually imaginative of the series.  And it finally moved the New Star Trek universe films into a true ensemble instead of it only being a Kirk/Spock series.

3.  Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

 You would think that the last film with the entire original cast would be one of the worst.  Instead, it is one of the best.  It is a mystery.  It is a thriller.  It is epic space opera.  It hearkens back to the past movie and breaks new territory.  No Star Trek fan should miss this.



2.  Star Trek (2009)

 I've probably watched this one more than any of the others.  JJ Abrams made a sleek, exciting, and epic film full of fun and adventure.

1.  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan.png
 I don't think I truly appreciated this film until years of watching.  It's story structure is perfect.  It's villain is one of the best I've seen onscreen.  It's themes are rich and multi-layered.  It reminds us that science fiction takes us to strange new worlds only to use them as a mirror to examine the unexplored depths of the human heart.  It has the most moving moment in the entire series that always stops me in my tracks.  It has the best performances of the entire cast.  People often mock Shatner's shouting of "Kahhhnnnn!" or Montalban's scenery chewing performance.  But that is only because in any other setting done by any other actors, it would not have worked.  But here it is pure movie magic.