ReasonForOurHope

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wednesday Comics: DC Universe Rebirth - Spoiler Free Review



This review will be very brief because it is almost impossible to talk about this comic book without spoiling its surprises.  And in this case, I think the label "spoilers" is very appropriate.  If I had known what happened in this book before I read it, then my joy would have been spoiled.

DC Universe Rebirth is the potential swan song of Geoff Johns at DC.  I hope that's not the case because he is the greatest comic writer of all time.

Back in 2011, DC rebooted the entire DCU with the New 52.  As a sales technique, it was very effective for a few months.  I enjoyed a number of the fresh takes, but there was also a lot that was lost in terms of DC's history and legacy.  Some beloved characters were either removed or reinvented beyond recognition.  When you spend years with these characters, it can be difficult to see them go.

But DC Universe Rebirth feels very much like Johns way of addressing this problem and fixing it.

The art is fantastic.  I was so thrilled that some of my favorite artists working now contributed: Gary Frank, Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver, and Phil Jimenez.  The visuals are gorgeous and Johns knows how to use them for maximum story and emotion.  And there are clues in the visual design of the comic before the big reveal that comic fans will notice especially on a second read.  Johns and the artists hit some truly iconic images and incorporate them into the story in a way that doesn't feel gimmicky, but organic and evocative.

Thematically, Johns again gets right to the core.  In fact the chapter titles spell it all out: Lost, Legacy, Love, and Life.  The hero who takes us through the narrative lays out the lead up to this problem and the potential pathway going forward.  As a Catholic, I love the idea that beyond all of the fancy mystical and science-fiction elements at play in these comics, it's the universal and transcendent truths that give our heroes their purpose.  What is life without faith, hope, and love?  Johns raises this question and foils it against the ultimate comic foe.

I will have to end my review here because to say any more will rob you of the joy of reading this book for only $2.99.  But one more thing about the big and sure-to-be-controversial reveal at the end.

The revelation and its implications would be stupid and silly in the hands of any other writer.  It would feel forced and cynical, like a gimmick beyond all gimmicks.  But I believe in Geoff Johns.  If he takes the story towards where it looks to be heading, he could have the makings of the greatest DC Comics story ever written.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Trailer Time: Beauty and the Beast Teaser



This reminds me very much of the original teaser to Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella, which I very much enjoyed.

I enjoyed the lavish environments and hearing Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellan's voices was a fantastic treat (this may be the closest thing we will get to Obi-Wan meeting Gandalf).

I think the animated Beauty and the Beast is an excellent film, but I am not as enamored of it as others are.  The music is fantastic but it always seemed to hit its theme a little too hard on the head.

This teaser makes me want to see more of what the remake has in store.

Thoughts?

Monday, May 23, 2016

New Evangelizers Post: The Preacher Trap

I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com.  

A little while ago I wrote about “The Teacher Trap” where teachers of the faith place themselves morally above those that they teach.

But there is another aspect to this vein of corruption that I like to call The Preacher Trap.
This goes beyond the usual problem of hypocrisy where we do not practice what we preach. All of us fall short of this in one way or another.

No, here I am talking particularly about those who have been given the charism of actual preaching in the same way that others may have been given the charism of teaching. While there is a great deal of overlap between the two, they have a fundamental distinction.

Teaching involves helping people know and understand certain moral or religious precepts. Preaching primarily is about moving a person with words towards the Kingdom of God.
Another way to look at it is that teaching is aimed at the head and preaching is aimed at the heart. One involves the gift of clarity, the other involves the gift of rhetoric. Again, these often overlap, but I’m sure we’ve all encountered good teachers who were not good preachers and good preachers that were not very good teachers.

So here I am dealing with those who seek to move the hearts of men and women by the power of their words. The impact of this type of speaking cannot be overstated. Maya Angelou once said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This points to the lasting impact a powerful preacher can have.

In my own life, I can look to its turning point when I encountered Fr. Larry Richards. His ministry as a preacher cut through me like a sword and broke open the hardness of my heart. I know hundreds, if not thousands, of people who could say the same thing of him. In the preacher there is great power.

But in that power there is always great danger.

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Film Flash: The Nice Guys


The Nice Guys poster.png

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

A fun detective/mystery movie buried under too much sleaze.  Crowe and Gosling are funny!

2 out of 5 stars

Sunday Best: Upcoming TV Shows Fall 2016

One of the things I like that television networks have been doing in the last few years is giving us extended trailers to their upcoming fall shows.

I watch a lot of TV (arguably too much).  I do not have time to see everything that I want to.  This summer I plan to finally catch up on a show that a friend of mine has been asking me to watch for the past 5 years.  But that still leaves me with a huge list of things I want to see.

So youtube now has a lot of these trailers and I can begin to make my decisions about which shows look like a good investment of time.

Here are the top trailers for shows that look either good, have potential, or not-sure-but-I'll-give-it-a-try.  What I find interesting is how similar many of them are:

(for some reason, most of the trailers are not publishing to this blog, so I am making links in the titles)

SHOWS BASED ON MOVIES

Time After Time



 I love the movie that this film is based on, even though it has the most demasculinized hero in the history of cinema.  The trailer brings up a lot of the classic lines and plot points.  I am curious about an expansion of the story with the new twist at the very end.

Lethal Weapon


This is a show that I think is going to suffer from the name more than being helped.  If it was called something else, the action might be more effective.  But with the name I cannot help of thinking of the amazing work done by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover

Training Day


The only thing that is anchoring me to this show is Bill Paxton.  The idea is intriguing as a battle of souls, but I'm waiting to see how it goes.

Frequency


I think highly of the movie, but there is something about the way this show is shot that is intriguing me.  I also think the gender swap of the child character adds a whole different emotional dynamic that I will enjoy exploring.


TIME TRAVEL SHOWS

Not only do we have Time After Time, but we have:

Timeless



Again, this seems like standard time travel fare, but the end of the trailer has me incredibly intrigued.


Making History



This could run out of steam very quickly, but the trailer made me laugh and laugh.


TECH GENIUS SHOWS

APB



The plot sounds a bit like Robocop, but I'm looking forward to exploring the relationship between law enforcement and technology

Pure Genius



I was not sold on this until the little girl's coma words.  If this show can bring that kind of emotion each week, I might be hooked.


THE REST

These last ones aren't in any specific category, but I might give them a try.

The Good Place



Normally, the concept of this show would turn me off completely as a devout Catholic, because ultimately it is saying that my religion is a lie.  However, I like the producers and cast and I'm hoping there is more to it than there appears.  I am going to give it at least one episode.

American Housewife



This comedy could be a little too broad, but there is some great potential here.

Downward Dog



This could be too gimicky, like the 3rd Look Who's Talking movie, but I like the cast and it made me laugh and it gave me the feels too.

THE BEST

The following are my favorite two trailers.


The Great Indoors



I adore Joel McHale as a comedian and this trailer made me laugh more than any of the ones that I've seen.  I've lost my taste for most laugh-track comedies, but this one has some real potential.


Designated Survivor



This show I think has the greatest potential to be great, if they can keep up the momentum I saw in the trailer.  Kiefer Sutherland is one of the best TV actors around and I can't wait to see what he does with this part.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Film Review: Captain America - Civil War



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


When they first introduced the Marvel Cinematic Universe all those years ago, I think its safe to say that Captain America was many people's least favorite Avenger.  Perhaps that is too harsh.  At the very least, many people found him a bit on the bland side.  

But now after two fantastic solo movie sequels, Captain America is without a doubt the main hero of the MCU.  This is fantastic reminders that in the hands of great writers and directors, there are no bland characters.  This a great credit the directors Joe and Anthony Russo.

Captain America: Civil War is amazing in the fact that it feels like both an Avengers sequel and a Captain America movie.  All of the main heroes have their strong moments where it almost feels like an ensemble film.  But you never lose the fact that above all this is a story about Captain America.

The story follows the events of both Age of Ultron and The Winter Soldier.  The Avengers enter into an international conflict which leads to civilian casualties.  The Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) has taken a step back from his Hulk-hunting obsession to inform the Avengers about the Sokovia Accords.  Essentially this plan states that the Avengers would be overseen by the United Nations and that the would only intervene with UN approval.

This splits the team down the middle along philosophical lines.  Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is still feeling the aftershocks of his own lack of control in Age of Ultron and so backs the Accords.  Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) is suspicious of them and sees them as a burecratic obstacle to doing the right thing.  The other Avengers line up behind one or the other.  Things, however, go from tense to hostile when a terrorist attack is blamed on Cap's oldest friend "Bucky" Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and the lines which were once ideological become so much more.  

As a philosopher, I love the fact that this is a superhero movie about ideas.  Tony and Steve are fantastic friends whose convictions are pulling them apart.  Anyone who has any kind of political or religious divide in their family and friends understands this tension.  And as in our own relationships, we hope that our mutual respect and affection will overcome all of the differences.  That is what makes Civil War so universal and so tragic.

And the ideas are not simply black and white.  Even though Captain America is the title hero, Tony is not necessarily in the wrong.  Not since watching the TV series Battlestar Galactica have I had the wonderfully frustrating experience of seeing two points of view that are in a sense both right, but sadly leads to great conflict.  

Tony has experienced the destructive power of playing God first hand.  He believes in the frailty of human judgment.  He does not trust his own inclinations and so desires to place the power he wields in the hands of legitimate authorities.  He thinks that great power in the hands of someone who doesn't think they could be wrong is too dangerous.

Steve is someone who has never doubted his inner moral compass.  His conscience is too solidly formed for him to ignore it.  As he says, "The safest hands are our own."  He doesn't see himself as above legitimate authority.  But he does say that the duty to what is right, even when the authorities tell you not to, is the most important thing to being a hero.

Steve thinks Tony doubts himself too much.

Tony thinks Steve doubts himself too little.

Because there is so much philosophy behind there is a lot of down time for exposition, but this only serves to deepen the tension and character development.  Because this is a sequel, very few introductions need to be made at this point and the characters can begin growing from the first scene.

But the large amounts of exposition do not take away from a fantastic action film.  I have read a number people who said that this movie was reminiscent of childhood when you would take all of your superhero action figures and have them fight each other.  And truth be told, there is a child-like joy in watching this come to life.  This is especially true when it comes to Spider-Man (Tom Holland) who brings a whole new life an energy to an already high-octane show.

The actions sequences are spectacular.  The hit you with small details (like showing our heroes run faster than cars through the streets) along with the eye-popping special effects.

But even through the philosophy the Russo Brothers remember that art must not only be provocative but evocative in order to work.  Ultimately, the battle comes down to some primary emotional chords that are so simple that they pull at the heart (but I will not spoil those here).  There is also an "evil villain" plot that is essential to moving the story forward, but is much less interesting (or so it seems) than the hero conflict.

I should take some time to make notes about the performances:

-Evans once again brings a level of steady maturity and charisma to a part that could be seen as bland and naive.  His Captain America is one who is idealistic and realistic while playing both those contradictions at once.
-This is the best performance Downey Jr. has done as Tony Stark.  He has been funnier and more charming, but he has never been this intense.  You can feel his anxiety as he sees everything slowly slipping towards destruction and Downey Jr. makes you twist inside the way Tony does.  I really think he should (but won't) get an Oscar nomination for this.
-Chadwick Boseman is introduced as the super hero Black Panther.  Boseman comes on with a kingly stature and presents an intriguing and charismatic figure who will be easily be able to lead his own feature.
-Tom Holland as Spider-Man is refreshingly young and it shows.  The youthfulness of the character sets him apart from the others and brings a wonderful fun to all of the tension.
-Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan have a great chemistry as Falcon and the Winter Soldier, each pushing against each other in a side-kick rivalry over Cap.

The other actors do an excellent job as well, never breaking the spell by breaking that fourth wall.  

The biggest downside to this movie is how much it feels like a transitional movie.  So many different stories will have their jumping-off-point from the events of this film.  Even though Winter Soldier was also open-ended for sequels, that film had more of a sense of completion and closure than this.  I came away with a distinct feeling that this film was mainly about setting the board for the big battle later.

As a Catholic, one of the things I really loved was that this movie was ultimately about conscience.  It is a great illustration of how two people could have developed their consciences in different ways and yet they are morally bound to obey them.  It is a story that is about standing up for one's convictions.  

And as Dumbledore said, it is one thing to stand up to your enemies but another thing entirely to stand up to your friends.

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday Best: TV Dramas of All Time - What Didn't Make the List

Before I finish my list of greatest TV dramas of all time, I thought it was appropriate to take a moment to explain why some of the most popular and critically acclaimed dramas are not on this list.

Some of my friends have been taken aback by some of the absences so far from the list and have been surprised by some of my more obscure choices.  But when reading this list it is important to rememberBefore I finish my list of greatest sitcoms of all time, I thought it was appropriate to visit the issue of importance vs. greatness.

Some of my friends have been taken aback by some of the absences so far from the list and have been surprised by some of my more obscure choices.  But when reading this list it is important to remember:

For this list, I am looking at the best dramas of ALL TIME.  One of the big drawbacks of a show if it is cutting edge and modern.  That is because the modern becomes dated very quickly.  As CS Lewis said something akin to: nothing is so quickly out of fashion that that which is in fashion.  That isn't to say that modern shows don't make the list.  In fact, if you did an analysis of my picks, many of them are from the last 20 years.

Critics like the mighty John Nolte have said that while there appears to be a dumbing down of Hollywood movies, TV is the place with real complex story and character development.  And for the most part I agree.

However, there are a lot of shows that are not on this list for the following reasons:

1.  I HAVEN'T WATCHED THEM
X-Files, The Wire, Friday Night Lights, My So Called Life, Dexter, Fringe, Homeland, Sons of Anarchy, Babylon 5, The Shield, Boardwalk Empire, Justified, Twin Peaks, NYPD Blue, Deadwood, and Mad Men are among the shows that are outside my experience.  Should I watch them one day, the list may change.

I would also add to this The Twilight Zone.  By all rights, this show should be high on my list or any list.  I have certainly seen many episodes.  The issue with The Twilight Zone is that I do not have a strong idea of the series.  What I mean by this is that when I think back on a show that may have been a Twilight Zone episode, I cannot be sure if it was from that show or if it was an Outer Limits or Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  These other shows were also in the same vein and also lead to similar confusion.  I full admit this is a flaw on my part, but I was not able to overcome it before making this list.

2.  TOO GRAPHIC OR DARK
Game of Thrones is a classic example of this.  There is fantastic writing, directing, and acting on this show.  But it is too filled with unnesccary ugliness.  It is a show I could never recommend and eventually its content overwhelmed me to the point where I had to stop.  House of Cards is the same.  When Kevin Spacey spit on a crucifix, that was my wife's TV Tap Out.  You can say the same thing about True Detective and Jessica Jones.

3.  TOO PREACHY
You would think I am referring primarily to Christian themed shows, and there are some of those.  But I'm mainly thinking of shows like The West Wing.  I binged watched that series and there are some truly great TV moments.  Some episodes I go back and watch several times.  But why the series is not on the list is ultimately because it feels like an 8-year lecture.  Even if you agree with the politics, you cannot escape the feeling that often Aaron Sorkin is treating you like a student in his TV classroom.  Glee was also this way, where any message they wanted to convey was lost in its preachy tone.

4.  HOSTILE TO AUDIENCE
There are some TV shows where I am convinced that the producers have disdain for their audience.  I will write about this in an upcoming article, but watching the show feels like you are being punished for watching.  As mentioned above, Game of Thrones would be in this category too.  Included too would be ER and The Sopranos.

5.  NOT TIMELESS
By "timeless" I don't mean that the show isn't clearly from a specific era.  But if a show truly has universal themes, ideas, and emotions, then it should still be rewatchable years from now.  Of course filming technology can improve, but the essence of televised storytelling is not in the amount of tools you have but in how you use them.  A lot of the great mystery shows from the 1970's and '80's are in this category.

6.  TOO EARLY
Some shows have some great potential, but they haven't proven themselves yet.  I did put newer shows like The Flash and Daredevil.  But there are many others like iZombie, Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter, Better Call Saul, Elementary, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow that have still much room to grow into their potential.

These are the reasons why some of your favorite shows are not on the list.

We'll see you next week for the # 2 TV Drama.