ReasonForOurHope

Monday, February 27, 2017

Rest in Peace Bill Paxton

photo by Gage Skidmore

Bill Paxton was one of those actors that you always thought would be around.

I know very little about his personal life, but his presence on the screen created such an emotional connection to me throughout my childhood.

The first movie I saw him in was as one of the street punks killed at the beginning of Terminator.

"I think this guy's a couple cans short of a six-pack"


He then had another small part in Commando.

But for me, he will forever be remembered as Private William Hudson in Aliens.  When I first saw the movie as a kid, I loved Hudson.  He was funny and cowardly and macho and wimpy and smart and stupid all at the same time.  You couldn't help but find one of your own virtues or vices reflected in him.  And through it all, Paxton made him so incredibly likable, even at his worst.

I remember when I first discovered the internet, I found that I could download sound clips from my favorite movies.  I can't tell you how many Husdson quotes I searched for.  Paxton's delivery was perfect.
 (hat tip: imdb.com)

Private Hudson: Yeah right, man, Bishop should go.  Good idea! 
Private Hudson:  You're dog-meat, pal! 
Private Hudson: Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man? 
Private Hudson: Is this gonna be a standup fight, sir, or another bug hunt? 
Private Hudson: We're on an express elevator to hell, going down! 

Private Frost: Hot as hell in here. 
Private Hudson: Yeah man, but it's a dry heat! 

Private Hudson: Hey, maybe you haven't been keeping up on current events, but we just got our a**** kicked, pal! 

Bishop: I'm afraid I have some bad news. 
Private Hudson: Well, that's a switch. 

Private Hudson: Stop your grinnin' and drop your linen! 

Private Hudson: Man, this floor is freezing. 
Sergeant Apone: What do you want me to do, fetch your slippers for you? 
Private Hudson: Gee, would you, sir? I'd like that. 

Private Hudson: Maybe we got 'em demoralized. 

Private Hudson: That's it, man. Game over, man. Game over! 

Private Hudson: [after Bishop performs the knife trick on his hand, hysterically] That wasn't funny, man! 


He could definitely play more unlikable characters, as he did in True Lies and Weird Science.  He could also pull of the tough, leading man as he did Twister.  His work as a supporting actor helped shape some truly great film including not only Aliens but also Titanic, Apollo 13, and Tombstone.

And his time on Marvel's Agents of SHIELD was one of my favorite parts of the series.

But Paxton's best performance, hands down, is as Hank in A Simple Plan.

Most of Paxton's performances had a charismatic showiness to them.  But A Simple Plan stripped all that away.  Here was where we saw his full range as an actor as he plumbed the depths of the human soul.  Not only do you see the slow erosion of his conscience, but the final scene with him and Billy Bob Thorton is so powerful that it overcomes any of the film's deficits.  The movie is dark and not for everyone, but I was mesmerized by how Paxton held my mind in those moments.  Only a great actor could have made that scene work.

And Paxton was a great actor.

I will miss him.  Please pray for him and his wife and two children and the rest of his loved ones.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.  May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.  Amen.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sunday Best: Oscar Predictions 2017

Tonight are the 89th Academy Awards.  Besides the show being too long, to pretentious, too insufferable, and too bland, I do enjoy making predictions.

You can still enter the Catholic Skywalker Oscar Contest here!

I've received a number of messages from people who are reluctant to play this year because they have seen so few of the movies predicted.  I sympathize and this continues to be a real problem for the Academy.  This would have been a much more highly rated Oscars if Deadpool had been nominated.

But without further ado here are my choices and my predictions:




Some notes:

BEST PICTURE

I am going a little rogue here and predicting that Lion will win Best Picture.  This goes against all the other awards shows, but I am using the best model that predicted last year's Best Picture winner Spotlight that upset against The Revenant (two movie few people really care about anymore anyway, just saying).  And based on those predictors, Lion has the edge over La La Land.  I am going way out on a limb here and will probably be wrong, but I'll take the shot.

BEST ACTOR

Again, most of the trends are going to Casey Affleck, but since Denzel won the SAG award, I think he is going to get most of the actor votes.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

This should go to Arrival, but it is going to go to Moonlight.  For some reason, Moonlight was considered an Original Screenplay with the Writers Guild of America, but it is an Adapted Screenplay for the Oscars.

EMMA STONE

This will be Emma Stone's night.  Gosling will not win Best Actor.  And if I am right about Best Picture, La La Land will not be Best Picture.  So Stone will be the most recognizable winner for their film.  This gives me someone to root for because she was my pick for Best Actress for the Kal-El Awards.  I'm hoping the Academy finally gets one right.

LA LA LAND TECHNICAL SWEEP

La La Land will win all of the design and technical awards for which it is nominated.  It does a fine job in all of its categories, but it will overpower any of the better nominees.

HACKSAW SNUB

Of all the nominated films in the major categories, Hacksaw Ridge is the best that I have seen.  And while Mel Gibson has the Hollywood door open to him, his overtly spiritual and patriotic themes will not play well with voters.

POLITICS

If the previous award shows are any indication, the winners (except for Denzel) are going to use their platform to speak about politics.  This will make for a long and uncomfortable night.  I predict at least 10 President Trump jokes in the opening monologue alone.  This is why I miss Billy Crystal as host: he kept the show light and fun even when it became slow and bogged down.

Thoughts?

And if you want to see again what the REAL best achievements in film were this year, click this link to see.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Film Review: Patriots Day


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


I have a hard time with movies that are docudramas about terrorism since 9/11.  That isn't to say that these movies are bad.  But they hit me in an exceedingly emotional way.  Sometimes I think my critiques of them are more visceral rather than artistic because they represent and portray the world that we all live in today.

And Patriots Day is no exception.

The movie, directed by Peter Berg, depicts the events of the Boston Marathon Bombing of 2013.  The movie is an ensemble piece taking a look at the attack from several different points of view.  The main character is Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) a fictional Boston police officers who is the primary way most of the characters will be connected.  The rest of the cast includes Tommy's wife Carol (Michelle Monaghan), Commisioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese (JK Simmons), Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and many others.  While Tommy provides a major through-line in the film, it is really made up of smaller vignettes of the events told from various perspectives.

While the events of the movie are only a few years old, director Peter Berg weighs the sensitivities while creating a compelling drama.  Some have criticized that the movie is too soon.  But if it has any potential flaw in this regard its that all of the real-life characters (with the exception of the bombers and accomplices) are treated with very little criticism.  It's not that the movie would be served by being a hatchet job on any particular individual, but you can almost feel the gentle treatment given to people, particularly political figures.

But with aside, Patriots Day works incredibly well as a film.  One of the challenges of doing a story based on famous news events is that you can lose a lot of the dramatic tension because we know how the story starts and ends.  But Berg never lets us feel safe.  In fact, the moment the bomb goes off, even though we know its coming, is an incredible shock on screen.

The movie is surprisingly tense.  As we follow the path of the bombers we see other innocents who get caught up in their crimes.  Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze do an excellent job as the Tsarnaev brothers.  The evil and hatred that emanate off of them is so palpable.  The movie goes out of its way to make sure that Muslims are not broadly demonized, but Berg never shows the monsters behind the attack in any kind of sympathetic light.  Rather than being a detriment to the story, this simply raises the stakes for our heroes who have to stand up to this utter evil.  I found myself emotionally invested in the story in a way that I am normally not.  My anger rises at the events on screen as I think about how evil men like these terrorists are work in the world I live in now.

The imagery is incredibly powerful.  One trooper is ordered to stand guard over the body of a young boy who was killed.  And hours after everyone else has gone, he stands at his lone post, watchful.  And when the body is taken away, he tearfully salutes the fallen child.  Berg fills his movie with other strong images of Boston, giving the city a strong sense of character.

The performances are also top notch.  Simmons, Goodman, Monaghan, and Bacon are all at the top of their game.  But the real standout is Wahlberg.  He goes through the entire gamut of emotions.  He doesn't play Tommy with too much sympathy or cynicism.  You can see the physical, psychological, and emotional toll the story takes on him.

Also, towards the end of the movie, Wahlberg gives one of the best movie speeches I've heard in years.  When reflecting on the evil in the world and what to do about it, he says, “When the devil hits you like that the only way to fight back is with love…That’s the only thing he won’t touch.”  As a Catholic, I was surprised at how beautifully and succinctly Christian that message was.

The movie does end with interviews and footage of the real-life survivors of the event.  This is an increasing trend that we see in movies like American Sniper and Hacksaw Ridge.  And while the effect is powerful, its strength is a bit diluted by going on a bit too long.  It hands just a little too much of the movie over to feeling like 60 minutes.  Berg should have taken a cue from Spielberg's Schindler's List which used the real-life people in a silent and powerful epilogue to the film.

Patriots Day is an excellent movie.  It almost makes you forget that Berg also directed the atrocious Battleship.  But this film completely gets him out of the cinematic dog house.

This movie is well worth your time.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunday Best: Superhero Movies of All Time #15 - Spider-Man 2

Against a New York City background, Spider-Man hugs Mary Jane Watson, with a reflection of Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man's eye as Spider-Man shoots a web.

Many would say that of all the Spider-Man movies thus far, Spider-Man 2 is the best.

And I would agree with them.

Picking up after the events of the first Spider-Man, we see how our hero Peter Park (Tobey Maguire) trying to make his way in the world and as the web-slinger.  He is still in an estranged romantic relationship with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and a strained friendship with Harry Osborn (James Franco).

What the movie captures so well so early on is how much of burden it is for Peter to be Spider-Man.  Unlike Batman or Iron Man, Spider-Man does not have unlimited resources.  Heck, even Clark Kent does better than him in the same field of journalism.  But Peter's life is on the rocks.  Director Sam Raimi captures in such nice visual touches Peter's poverty.  It is such a nice carryover from the first film to see how Peter refuses to make money off of his power.  That path led to the death of his Uncle Ben.

And these early scenes set up the main struggle of the film: is being Spider-Man worth it?  Being the hero leads to an overall decrease in his quality of life.  He barely makes rent, he cannot help his Aunt May, he cannot be with the woman he loves... and he still tends to be hated.  This is a crucial step in the hero's journey, reminiscent of the events of Superman II.

And when he does turn away from his life, I love how he has an internal conversation with Uncle Ben that is framed the same way as their last conversation from the first film.  I know some people find the "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" sequence a bit silly, but that is part of the point.  For Peter, the clouds have seemingly lifted.  He is finally getting his life in order and his is free from the cross he carries.

But Raimi does a great job of showing the toll this freedom takes on his soul.  When Peter witnesses a mugging and resolutely walks away, it eats away at him and the audience.  The mugging is kept in the distance so that you and Peter intentionally keep the victim faceless and forgettable.

The movie uses this selfish turn to allow Peter to make a real choice.  He really needs to know what he is sacrificing.  This brings us to one of the best speeches in any comic book movie:



Aunt May says "He knows a hero when he sees one. Too few characters out there, flying around like that, saving old girls like me. And Lord knows, kids like Henry need a hero. Courageous, self-sacrificing people. Setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them, cheer them, scream their names. And years later, they'll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who taught them how to hold on a second longer. I believe there's a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams. "

I don't think I've ever seen a speech in a movie that best sums up why Superhero movies matter.  They can teach us how to be heroes in our own lives.  And they embody those two rare traits: courage and self-sacrifice.  Aunt May explains the difference between a person with super powers and a superhero.  And it isn't Peter getting the accolades May describes.  It's about the positive effect you have on other people.

And on top of all of this thematic content, the movie an action spectacle.  There are so many good moments (like the terrifying moment Doc Ock's arms come to life), but the train fight might be one of the best action sequences ever in a super-hero film.



It is shot with such visual dexterity and energy that if it happens to be on TV, I will stop everything to watch it.  I also love the Christological way in which the sequence ends and the way the people on the train stand up for their hero.

Maguire and Dunst are great.  Their chemistry is always fantastic.  Franco's performance is a bit too bland and broad, lacking depth.  Alfred Molina was perfectly cast as Doctor Octopus.  He is beefy enough to embody the comic character without being obese.  He also projects incredible intelligence without insanity.  Unlike Dafoe's Green Goblin, you actually like Otto Octavius before he becomes the villain.

The only thing holding this movie back from being higher on the list is that it too often indulges in camp.  While Aunt May is given the best monologue of the series, most of her lines (especially when she is kidnapped by Doc Ock) are silly.  Also the pseudo-science behind Doc Ock's strains even the widest suspension of disbelief.  That isn't to say that the movie can't have light fun.  But if you lean too hard on the cheesy side of things, it can make the dramatic tension feel compelling.

The movie also suffers from having a terrible final shot.  I understand it's purpose leading in to the third film, but it is like listing to symphony and having the final chord fall flat.

But despite this, Spider-Man 2 is a great movie and deserves its place on this list.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Charity of the Month: International Red Cross

There had been a lot of talk in the news about refugees from around the world and what the United States should do regarding them.

Some say we have a moral responsibility to bring them into our country.  Others say that unfettered immigration poses a threat to national security.  There are good arguments on both sides.

But regardless what side of the issue you find yourself, all of us have an obligation to look out for the least ones in the world.

The very least that we can do is help out with the basic necessities of life.  The International Red Cross is (as far as my research goes) a very reputable organization that uses its funds well to take care of food, shelter, and medicine for those claiming refugee status.

The question of immigration is a political question that I do not wish to engage in on this blog.  But the question of how to help our fellow man is something we must always ask ourselves.

As always, I will never ask anything of you that I am not willing to do myself.

DONATE HERE TO THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS

Friday, February 17, 2017

TV Mini Review: Powerless




I am a DC Comics fanboy.  I am also a big fan of shows like Arrow and The Flash.  So when it was announced that they were doing a DC Universe Sitcom on NBC, I was very excited.

Powerless takes place in Charm city where Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens) has just moved.  Obsessed with superheroes, she takes a job at Wayne Security to work for Bruce's idiot cousin Van (Alan Tudyk).  She supervises a group of misfit inventors and engineers that include Teddy (Danny Pudi).  Together they attempt to create safety equipment in a world of super-powered beings while navigating the foibles of every day office life.

The biggest drawback so far is that the show leans in too much to the silliness of its own concept.  Rather than take the world they live in absolutely seriously and letting the comedy come from there, there is a constant winking at the camera pushes the show to feel much closer to a SNL sketch than a workplace comedy.

Right now, the comedy is too broad and the characters too flat.  It feels very much in tone and style to the short-lived Better Off Ted, which covered a lot of the same satirical ground.  In general, comedies that take place at work suffer in comparison to The Office, which also tended to address universal job experiences.  Now when sitcoms make fun of things like idiot bosses, you can't help but feel "The Office did it better."

But Powerless is not hopeless.

Other shows began with too simplistic a start, like The Goldbergs.  But if given enough time, I can see the show really growing into itself.  Powerless actually has a lot of things going for it.

They have pretty great cast.  While they are playing things a bit dimensional, it is more a failing in the writing than their acting.  Hudgens is has a natural likability that prevents her from being too cloying.  Tudyk as a fantastic comedic delivery.  And Pudi is great as always.  Two other standouts are Christina Kirk as Van's cynical assistant Jackie and Ron Funches as Ron, the science nerd from Atlantis.

So far, three episodes have aired and they've been getting subsequently better.  Right now its current strength lies in its quick-paced dialogue.  The scripts try to pack in jokes at a mile-a-minute, which I love.  The little DC easter eggs are incredibly fun for me, but may not appeal to the general viewer.

And the writing is improving, or at least the jokes are making me laugh more.  Funches delivered a line that made have to pause the show.  When discussing the possible secret identity of one of their co-workers, Funches says, "It's like my theory about how Bruce Wayne is the Flash or how Stephen Baldwin is really just a character played by Alec Baldwin."

As the show improves, my enjoyment grows.  I hope NBC gives it a chance to find its way.

3 out of 5 stars.


Monday, February 13, 2017

New Evangelizers Post: 10 Commandments in the Modern World Pt 6 - Don't Commit Adultery


I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com.  
I cannot imagine I have anything original to say about this topic, nor should I. The problem of lust as long been the bane of many human lives. It has destroyed families, ruined lives, and caused general guilt and shame to countless people.

Rather than catalog each sexual sin and why it is wrong, I will instead focus on the lusts in the heart. Yes, having sex outside of marriage is a mortal sin and therefore worse than struggling with a lustful thought. But if we can heal the disease at the source, we can keep it from becoming malignant. A person may avoid sexual contact with another (maybe not for lack of trying) but still have lust gripping their souls. But if a person can be free of lust in the heart, then it will keep them from committing mortal sin with another.
This sin itself as not changed. What has changed is the cultural intensity. Since the sexual revolution, sins that once remained private are now mainstream. What once brought shame is now an object of pride.

To be clear, we should not act as the elders who wanted to stone the adulteress to death for her sin. But even Christ acknowledged that she was not living the right way when He said to her “Go and sin no more.”

There are also several difficulties in speaking about this subject as opposed to others. A frank discussion about a person’s anger problems can be a path to healing. But a frank discussion about sexuality can actually lead another person to lustful thoughts.

CS Lewis and his best friend Arthur Greeves would share all of their secrets with each other as young men. To unpack the hidden burdens of the heart can be a great relief. But they also shared with each other their personal sexual fantasies and desires. It was something both men later regretted as it only served to stoke those illicit desires in them rather than relieve them of its pressures.

When talking about sexuality, we have to realize that if we get too specific with some people, this will only strengthen their lusts. And to make matters worse, everyone is the not the same in this regard.

We can easily say that we should avoid viewing pornography. But for some, regular television or music videos on youtube may provide too much temptation for some. I remember someone once got rid of all of their comic books because they found the images too tawdry Some may think this an overreaction if they do not find drawn images like that stimulating. But to this person, it may be too much to handle. Everyone’s temptations and triggers are different. This isn’t to say that we should be puritanical in our speech and avoid talking about this sin. We simply must do it with caution.

And before we speak about it, we must do our best to live chaste lives. We must model chastity. Of course, this is easier said than done. A priest once said to me that many priests experience their strongest sexual temptations during mass. The Devil knows that this is a sensitive point for many of us and the guilt regarding our failings here is deep. A famous theologian said of his struggles with pornography that it “sapped all of my spiritual strength.” The percentage of Catholics who habitually look at pornography, even Catholics who regularly attend mass, is staggering.

Many blame our toxic culture. And to be sure there are those who are constantly pushing the envelope of sexual degradation and exploitation in our media. The young are especially susceptible to this because this is the culture in which they grow. In The King and I, the children of Siam disbelieved the reality of snow because they have never experienced it. When adults try to explain to teens and children that the overtly sexual elements of our culture are not appropriate, all they may hear is the “Back in my day…” speech that makes us sound and feel out of touch.

So what is the solution?

You can read the entire article here.