Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday Best: Actors of All Time - The Criteria

I have been working on a list of best film actors of all time, but I keep running into a bit of a snag: what is the definition of great acting?

Making a list of best directors is a bit easier because the skills needed are a bit more subject to objective observation.  There is a such a stronger subjective element to an actor's performance that I've been running in circles for weeks.

I reject out of hand Brando's definition of good acting as simply when the actor feels the pure emotion of the character.  He thought that his job was to completely inhabit the character's mind and heart.  My problem with this is that it only works if it translates into performance.  Apparently Brando would often mumble his words so that the audience couldn't hear.  He didn't care because he felt like his character.  But if you neglect your audience, you are not doing your job as an actor.

Another criteria I reject is the chameleon quality.  Sometimes we marvel when an actor is completely different from film to film or they sound and look just like a real-life person they are portraying.  And to be sure, that is a skill that must be taken into account when evaluating a performance.  But impressions are not the heart of acting.  Bill Hader, for example, is a great impressionist, but that does not mean that he is a great actor (this isn't a comment on his acting, just that the impressions are not enough).  If you look at Jimmy Stewart, he does not disappear into each role.  In every movie, he is Jimmy Stewart.

Charisma is another quality that I reject as essential to great acting.  I went back and forth on this, because performance requires something at which to look.  There needs to be something to draw your attention.  But someone could be charismatic without being skilled.  John Wayne always commanded attention on screen and he was larger than life.  But that in and of itself did not mean that he was at the top of his craft.

So what makes a great actor?

The one key factor I have found is this: believability in the role.

The actor needs to inhabit the character in a way that we believe in their reality.  They can accomplish this by disappearing into a role like Johnny Depp or Gary Oldman.  Or they can bring their use their own life to make the character tangible, like Jimmy Stewart or Humphrey Bogart.

Believability means that I the performances should make me emotionally invested in the character.  Investment should also come about through directing and story, but a great actor will pull you in with their performance.  Their journey should move you to love, hate, heartbreak, fear... whatever the story requires.

Believability also means that you shouldn't catch the actor "acting."  The words and actions should feel like they are coming spontaneously from the mind and heart of the actor.  Some actors simply put on a persona and go through the motions.  Samuel L. Jackson has had some amazing performances.  But often you see where he simply acts lout and large to make a big show, instead of simply inhabiting the character.  The same is true of Johnny Depp and Adam Sandler.

Finally, the mark of a great actor is if they can bring that believability to several different roles.  Acting is not only a talent, it is a skill.  And if you have a good technique, you should be able to summon your talent at will.  One of the marks of a poor actor, even one very talented, is one who cannot give a good performance because they aren't "feeling it."  A great actor will be able to perform well in several different projects.  Also, it is possible for a great director to cobble together a good performance from reams of footage.  A great actor should be able to work with several different directors and still make his performance shine.

So with that in mind, I will begin my list of 25 Best Movie Actors of All Time.  After that, I will make the list of 25 Best Movie Actresses of All Time.

Feel free to send me your suggestions and I look forward to your feedback.

(And no, Steven Seagal does not make the list)

Saturday, July 27, 2013


photo from Gustavo Facci

When I heard that the Pope was on Copacabana beach for World Youth Day, all I could hear in my head was this:

His name FRANcis
The Holy FAther.
An Argentinian
Who is now Italian

He got on an Airplane
And crossed the Ocean
He carried his own bag
And fights the jet lag

To bring the LIGHT OF GRACE
to the millions IN THAT PLACE
who came to see their Papa FACE TO FACE

At the Pope-a!
More Catholics than you've ever seen-a
At the Pope-a!
Living Christ's Passion is always the fashion at the Pope-a....
Come feel the love!

Film Review: The Way Way Back

One of the most difficult things about trying to blend families is the tension between the children and parents.  And the new movie The Way Way Back captures that in a touching and painful way.

The movie centers on Duncan (Liam James), an awkward teen who is spending the summer with his mom (Toni Collete), her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell) and his daughter (Zoe Levin) at Trent's summer house on the New England Coast.  Duncan has no friends and is the picture of isolation.  On top of that, Trent continually tries to assert his fatherly authority over him.  Duncan instantly becomes attracted to the neighbor girl Susanna (Annasophia Robb), but it is obvious that he has no experience talking to to girls.  All in all, we see on screen the complete awkwardness of adolescence play out in a humorous and truthful way.

But the most poisonous and painful thing is the complete breakdown of maturity among the adults.  Duncan's mom spends her days and nights with Trent and his friends acting like irresponsible teens.  They freely get wasted, run off to the beach in the middle of the night, sneak off to be amorous, and even buy pot from on of their own children.  As Susanna says, "It's like spring break for adults."

Without getting preachy, the movie shows how this childish attitude among parents is corrosive.  It isn't even that they are giving their children bad examples.  But we can see on Duncan's anguished expressions that as his mom loses herself, Duncan also loses any stability he has in his life.  His world is drab and dark and full of angst.

That is why it is such a relief when Duncan finds himself at the Water Wizz Waterpark.  Visually, the film pops and sparkles with vivid color.  This place is a real oasis for Duncan, especially as he finds a friend and something-like-mentor in the devil-may-care, wise-cracking Owen (Sam Rockwell), the manager of the water park.  Owen seems like the first person to genuinely take and interest in him, even though Duncan does not make it easy as he hides under layers of awkwardness.  But Owen takes him under his wing and Duncan finds a sense of community and identity during his days there.

And while Carrell is the headlining star, Rockwell owns this movie.  He charms his way into your graces from his first moments on screen, so that you are as gravitationally drawn to him as Duncan.  He obviously cares deeply about others, though he covers it with aloof humor.  This is the most charismatic I have ever seen Rockwell and it is the most noxious that I have ever seen Carrell.  Trent is a bully who sees Duncan as a rival to his mother's affections.  Despite that, I could almost feel for Trent's dilemma of trying to be in the possible position of quasi-authority.

The thing I like best about Liam James' Duncan is how relatable he was.  I could immediately see myself in his awkward shoes.  He does a magnificent job of capturing the helplessness of his situation and his yearning for connection.

Thematically, there is great contrast between the immaturity of the parents and that of the adults at the water park.  The parents act childish and relinquish their responsibilities to engage in illicit pleasures.  They turn inward and selfish when they have the duty to seek after their own children first.  The film captures this regressive attitude in our society in a very real way.  The parents aren't simply held up for ridicule.  Instead the movie simply shows you how that behavior emotionally impacts the children.

The adults at the water park are also juvenile.  Owen is a constant prankster, but he is always trying to make everyone else feel better.  He includes everyone he can into friendship with a child-like openness.  There are times when he does devolve into irresponsibility, but he tries to do better.  In that way, Owen is the most adult person Duncan's life.

Oscar winners Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have written and directed a nice film.  It feels alive and honest. How many of us as teens felt so alienated from everyone except our closest friends.  Duncan cries to Owen about the water park "This is the only place I'm happy."  The movie captures that innate human desire to know and be known.  One of the most touching moments for me was when Duncan's mom finally begins to understand her son's life outside of the house, which she has completely missed because of her selfish hedonism.

There are many other layers and subplots to The Way Way Back, but it does not detract from the straightforward, clear narrative.  It is a movie worth seeing.

4 out of 5 stars.

The Person Most Indispensable to Star Wars

There is no greater film composer alive or dead as John Williams.  In fact, I would put him in the great composers of all time.  His compositions have inspired more wonder and imagination than anyone else.

Now that they are gearing up for the next Star Wars, it is comforting to see how eager he is to continue on with the journey.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Film Flash: The Wolverine

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

The best cinematic take on Wolverine yet.  Good action.  Good story.  Extremely satisfying superhero movie

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Learning the Lesson of Orpheus

Your first year as a teacher is unlike any other.  Over my many years, the classes blend into one another  and it becomes difficult to keep track.  But the first year remains fairly much intact because it was the first to make an impression.  It was the first tell you what teaching was about.

At the end of the first year, the seniors I taught were graduating.  I was, perhaps, a bit more emotional than I should have been.  I worked very hard that year to connect to them all.  And while I never descended to the level of being their "buddy," I did form a kind of friendship with many.  It was a rookie mistake, I know.  But while they were seniors, I was really a freshmen at teaching.

When the awards assembly was over, we shuffled out of the gymnasium as as friends hugged and family members gathered for pictures.  But as I left, I noticed a small group of students gather around the head of our music ministry.  As I watched, they presented her with a parting gift.  There were hugs and tears and a great deal of genuine affection shared.

Now I share with you my reaction to this sight.  And please, I write this is in utter embarrassment.

I thought:  "What about me?  I listened to their problems, I worked hard with them after school, I gave every ounce of effort to make their classes fun and exciting.  Didn't they laugh at my jokes?  Didn't they appreciate what I did?  Am I going to be forgotten and everything I've taught erased from their memory?  Am I simply going to be that teacher that they have trouble recalling at the reunion years later: 'What was that guy's name?  The one who taught religion and was obsessed with Star Wars?'  Didn't I rank at least a card or a small trinket from the dollar store?"

It was the sting of the perceived slight.  It is that feeling we get that says, "I love you more than you love me."  And I loved my students.  I prayed for them every day and I begged God to give me to grace to teach them well.

But what did I expect for that?  A standing ovation.

Here is the sad part: the answer was yes.  It wasn't just that I wanted acknowledgment, I thought I had somehow earned it.  Esteem and gratitude was something I believed owed me for my hard work.

Now, think about this for a moment.  I had only been teaching a year.  I was surrounded by people who had more experience, dedication, and success in teaching than I will ever have.  And yet, somehow I was supposed to be raised above all of them and singled out?  I would call it arrogance, but that doesn't sound like a strong enough word.

I don't think I'm alone in desire acknowledgment.  Most of long for praise.  Maybe I'm wrong, but I think all of us harbor a secret fantasy that someone will one day notice us in our ordinary lives and see that we are, in fact, a cut above the rest.  At Kareokee we want someone to say, "You should be on Broadway."  At work, we want them to say "You're the best guy we've got."  At home, we want the people there to say, "we would be lost without you."  That desire may loom larger in someone like me, but I think there is a small part of us that craves this.  We want to be praised for our brains, our looks, our character, our work, our talents and anything else we think sets us apart.  We want it!

Here's the problem: if you want it, you probably shouldn't get it.

I don't mean to say that you, dear reader, are not worthy of praise.  But if you are motivated by accolades, you will miss the real task in front of you.  To do so would to act like Orpheus.

In the tragic Greek myth, Orpheus was a masterful musician who was married to the beautiful Euridice.  Sadly Euridice died, but Orpheus was determined to win her back.  He found the entrance to the nether world and climbed down the cave until he found Hades, god of the dead, and his wife Persephone.  Orpheus then used all of his talent and skill to play a song so beautiful that it moved even the Queen of the Dead to tears.  He was allowed, therefore, to bring Euridice back to the land of the living on the condition that he not look at her until they escape the cave.  Orpheus grabbed Euridice's hand and they took the long journey forward.  After a long while they were almost to the cave entrance when Orpheus heard Euridice slip.  He instinctively turned to help her, but because he did so, he lost her forever.

Orpheus wanted Euridice.  But that was not the task set before him.  He had to get her out of the cave.  He could not worry about anything else.  If he focused on his desire, he would lose the thing he loved.

Some of the things we desire most in life we have stop chasing if we want to have them.  How often have you heard someone say to the lovelorn: "Love will find you?"  What they mean is that if you try too hard to romance someone, it will push them away.  We see that in friendship too.  I was a huge fan of the TV show The Office.  Michael Scott was an immature, affection-starved man-child.  He desperately wanted friends and attention.  But when he tried too hard to force people's affections, it was very uncomfortable and off-putting (often to hilarious effect).  Yet when he stopped trying, and he was just genuinely kind without thinking about it, people were drawn to him.

Focussing on getting what you want from others makes you what Fr. Larry Richards calls a "Black Hole Personality."  This is the kind of person who always has to make themselves the center of attention and pull everything back to themselves.  This repels people from them, thus starving them of the thing that the crave the most: affection.  But the great irony is that if they want to get what they want, they have to not be like Orpheus.  They have to be a friend with no agenda and then the affection they desire will come.

And that is what I had to learn as a teacher.  After that first year and after confronting my horribly narcissistic desires, I had to change.  I had to forget about being liked.  I had not care about being remembered.  I had to focus only on doing what was best for the students and be satisfied that their lives were better even if they never remembered why.  I had to focus on the task at hand and get them out of the cave.

And so I went forward and found where I could help most.  I became a strong disciplinarian because I found that it helped the students even though they hated it.  I threw myself into my lessons, trying to come up with even more novel and profound ways to teach the subject.  I joined and started more clubs because I wanted the students, especially the ones on the fringes, to have a sense of connection and community.  Some students liked me, some hated me, but I did not let either affect how I behaved.

For budgetary reasons, I was let go from that school a few years later.  I had quickly lined up another teaching job, praise God.  But it was with a heavy heart that I sat through my final awards assembly as the seniors began to say their goodbyes.

But before the ceremony was over, one more student went to the podium.  And she said my name.  She said to those in attendance words that I will never forget.  I will never forget what she said, nor will I ever be worth of those words.  Among her generous remarks, she said that those who did not have my class were unfortunate and that those who attended should treasure their memories.  She then presented me with one of my cherished possessions:  A Justice League folder containing hand written letters from the graduating class telling me how I touched their lives.  And then to my deepest surprise, I received a standing ovation from those gathered.

I share that last story not to imply that this honor was necessarily deserved.  But I can tell you if I had worked specifically for that accolade, I don't think I could ever be the kind of person who would get one.  It reminds of the words of St. Francis: it is in giving that we receive.

I am surrounded by people more giving and with greater humility than I have with me.  I am sure that you are too.  Take a moment to day and affirm them in their work, their talent, their effort.  They don't do it for the recognition, I'm sure.

But if they've helped you out of the cave, you should give them your thanks.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New Evangelizers Post: What God Has Joined

I have a new article up at


While beginning this article, I am reminded of a moment in C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain where he was greatly worried about sounding callous to the suffering of others.  “How can I saw with sufficient tenderness what needs to be said here?”  When talking about divorce, the pain experienced is widespread throughout our world and profoundly deep.

I am a child of a divorced couple.  I am, however, unusually blessed in that my parents maintained a very amicable relationship for the sake of their children and I had both my mother and my father as a daily part of my life.  I realize that this is not the case for everyone, but even in this scenario, there are things that you miss out on as a child.

I remember when I was in sixth grade, I had forgotten to do all of my homework for all of my classes.  Finally, my teacher pulled me aside into the teacher’s lounge, which I thought meant that I was in REAL trouble.  Instead of punishing me, she asked me what was wrong, if there was anything bad going on at home.  I needed to think of a lie on the spot.  I remembered that my older sister had hinted that my dad and the woman he was currently dating (his first girlfriend after the divorce) were talking about getting married.  I found out later that this wasn’t true because she was some cultish moon worshipper.  But I didn’t know that. So I figured I had a good excuse to get me out of trouble with my teacher, so I said, “My dad is getting remarried.”

But before I could finish the sentence, I started sobbing genuine, overflowing tears.  It was as if saying the words out loud made the situation real.  And the horror of that, the concrete reality of my parents never getting back together hit me for the first time.  I cried for what seemed like an hour, as my teacher told me everything was going to be okay.

You can read the rest here

Wednesday Comics: Top 10 Best Wolverine Stories

Seeing as how The Wolverine comes out this Friday, I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on America's favorite Canadian superhero.

Wolverine is one of those characters that is actually difficult to lock down because he is in SO many comics that different writers all have a hand in shaping his character.  Some have done very well with him (e.g. Chris Claremont), while some have crashed and burned (e.g. Garth Ennis).

But there is still something compelling about this character who was just supposed to be a colorful diversion in yellow spandex for the Hulk to smack down.

So here are Wolverine's Top Ten Stories

10. Logan's Wedding

The followup to Frank Miller's iconic mini-series, we find Logan ready to settle down with his love, Mariko Yashido. Of course things go wrong, but what makes this story amazing is the very last panel of the very last page of the wedding issue. Perfect.

  1. Morlock Massacre

    This is actually a brutal storyline in which many innocent people are murdered by a savage group called the Marauders But it is significant because it has one of the best knock-down, drag-out fights between Wolverine and his nemesis, Sabertooth.

  1. Wolverine #9

This is a strange issue, almost like a horror movie, where a group of men go hunting in the woods and are slowly killed one-by-one. But the monster who is hunting them is our hero, Wolverine. His reasons for doing so are unnerving and heartbreaking. And his final monologue gave me one of the deepest insights into what truly motivates him and why someone like Logan would be an X-man.

  1. Wolverine First Class #9

This is a fun, and sometimes silly issue. Wolverine goes to the Kung Fu Master and asks for his help in training to fight Sabertooth. The Kung Fu Master explains that Logan's problem is not physical, but mental. He has not learned the importance of being Zen. The secret is in the riddle that Logan struggles with the entire issue. The Kung Fu Master presents him with an apple and asks, “What is this?” The answer is delightful. (and incidentally, I use this story to illustrate the main principle of Zen Buddhism)

  1. Wolverine #25

A gang lord cashes in a favor and asks Wolverine to protect his child the night of a big rumble. He spends the night telling him a story of how he grew up as a child, raised by savage wolverines. It is very much in the Jungle Book tradition and is a wonderful story that shows why kids particularly are fascinated by Wolverine.

  1. Old Man Logan

I was not expecting this story to be as good as it was. Set in the future, the world has been conquered by the super villains ever since they killed all (or most) of the heroes in a single night. Since then Logan has not popped his claws. He is a simple farmer with a wife and 2 children, whose lives are threatened by the inbred children of the Hulk. But Hawkeye shows up and promises to give Logan the money he needs if he escorts him on a dangerous road trip to New York city. Imaginative and heartbreaking, the penultimate issue has the most satisfying rendition of the sound effect “SNIKT”

  1. Kitty Pryde and Wolverine

    For some reason, Wolverine ends up as the guardian/mentor for many young female mutants. He is like the stalwart who protects the princess. In this story, we see this relationship solidified in how he helps Kitty Pryde go from scared child to brave warrior. And in it, we see Wolverine confront the greatest samurai ever, Ogun, his teacher. It is a story that defines Wolverine's role as the one who looks after the innocent with savage fury

  1. Uncanny X-Men #251

    All of the other X-Men have disappeared and Wolverine is ambushed by the Marauders He is then crucified on a decussate cross and is left to bake in the Australian sun. It is a tale of endurance and survival that only Wolverine could do.

  1. What if Wolverine Became Lord of the Vampires?

    The concept of this issue is insane. And yet I cannot express how truly awesome it is. Whether it was watching vampire Wolverine fight Dracula or the Punisher melting vampire Colossus with a water cannon, this crazy story is one of the most fun and fantastic I read as a kid. I must have read it dozens of times before the pages started to wear.

  1. Uncanny X-Men Annual #11

    An evil alien forces the X-Men to retrieve a crystal that grants omnipotent power. But the tower tempts those who enter with their heart's desires or taunts them into accepting their deepest fears. One-by-one, the heroes succumb to the overwhelming power of that place. So it is up to Wolverine to see it through, but not without sacrifice. My favorite image of Wolverine ever is the very last one of him at the end of the story. His pose speaks volumes about his character. It has always stayed with me and reminded me that even though he often acts like an animal, Wolverine strives with all of his heart to be a man.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Film Flash: The Way, Way Back

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

Nice film shows ugliness of adults being childish and beauty of others being child-like.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Film Review: Grown Ups 2

Let's cut to the chase.

 Grown Ups 2 is not a good movie.  It is lazy, indulgent, and often poorly acted.  But the only reason that it will not be completely trashed in this review is that it fulfilled the main objective of any comedy: it made me laugh.

Grown Ups 2 is the first sequel Adam Sandler has made.  It is a follow up to his successful ensemble nostalgia piece Grown Ups.  In that movie, Sandler's character and his childhood friends return to their hometown for the funeral of their old grade school basketball coach.  While there, they try to instill the values and joys they experienced to their children.

The sequel takes place a few years after and all of the main characters have inexplicably all moved to that small town.  It feels like Sandler wanted to skip all of the messy logical exposition involving things like his world renowned designer wife (Salma Hayek) leaving her fashion empire to run an empty boutique in New England.  The movie instead begins with a dear peeing into Adam Sandler's mouth.

The whole movie takes place over the course of a single day in this town.  There is no real plot to speak of.  Some kind of story is cobbled together, but it is merely a shakey frame around which to put the characters into funny situations.  Kevin James regresses into a mama's boy, David Spade has a hoodlum son, Chris Rock's wife forgets his anniversary, etc.  By the way, you'll notice I haven't been using any of the character names.  The reason for that is that there really isn't much acting in this movie.  You can feel the guys on set joking around and then just continuing on as they yell "action."

The themes are a little different in this movie, with the main characters having children in full blown adolescence.  This causes them to reflect on their own lives as teenagers and respond to their children accordingly.  This backsliding regression is actually kind of fun to watch.  And it is fun to watch the movie make fun of the idiotic self-esteem movement with children and hippie ideas about education.

And that is the maddening thing about this movie.  It has great potential and wastes it.  And I want to hate it, but I caught myself laughing more than I wanted.  To be sure, most of the jokes are lazy scatological gags.  But done right, those can be comedy gold.  And sometimes the humor of watching these boy-men make fun of their age is truly funny.  I tried not to laugh as David Spade went rolling down the hill in a giant tire, and yet the I couldn't help it.  But I would still say that more often than not, the jokes fall flat, as they did in another indulgent comedy, The Heat, from earlier this year.

The worst is the addition of Nick Swarsdon.  I don't know why he is constantly being elevated.  I find him incredibly off-putting, more so that anyone else on the cast (and that includes a movie with David Spade).  But there are some truly fun moments of stunt casting, from Taylor Launtner to Jon Lovitz.

And I would not recommend this movie for children.  There is way too much oggling and innuendo for me to be comfortable showing someone younger.  Sandler is capable of making movies that are family friendly, but it feels like Grown Ups 2 cannot decide how adult of juvenille it wants to be.

The movie coasts on the charm of its actors.  If you have great affection for them (a trait Sandler has cultivated with his audience) then you will enjoy this movie, but not as much as his other movies.

2 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Best: Top 10 Comic Book Movies of All Time

With Comic-Con wrapping up this year, I thought it would be nice to take a moment and look at the greatest Comic Book movies of all time.

There have been several comic properties that have been optioned and many of them have been awful. I believe the main reason for this is that those who make this failed cinematic pieces of colorful garbage don't truly understand the property that they are inheriting. One needs only point to Joel Schumacher's visual vomit called Batman and Robin.

I have found that the ones that work the best are the ones who understand the material and know how to get to the main themes, while realizing that movies are not always serialized storytelling, where you can take a year to tell and origin story.

So here are the 10 Best Comic Book Movies:

Nolan followed the same origins path that was used in the first Superman, and this is a good thing. But what he did that was a huge improvement on the Tim Burton film, was that he realized that the movie was about Batman, not the villain. Batman Begins, sets the table for the rest of the trilogy and shows us how a lonely, messed-up orphan found his way to becoming the great hero that he is. The movie also does a great job of interweaving the theme of overcoming fear into the plot and character development.

  1. Iron Man (2008)

    Fun from start to finish, thanks to Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. I still maintain that the main success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be traced back to this film, particularly Downey Jr. His Iron Man is a rogue, a scoundrel, a loveable lush. But the movie is far from cynical. In fact, the great fun is watching Downey's ironic armor melt away to something like sincerity so that he can put on his “iron” armor.

A worthy followup to the original that makes you sad that Richard Donner was not able to truly complete his vision. Donner was fired after shooting much of the footage and the inferior Richard Lester took over as director. But putting Donner's Cut together, you can see the much darker turn this movie had, with a smarter Lois and an iconic Terrence Stamp as Zod.

    Sam Mendes' bleak tale of an assasin and his son on the road during the height of prohibition is achingly beautiful, violent, and sad. Tom Hanks and Paul Newman give great performances as men conflicted by their affections and their compulsions. The gravity of the line, “I'm glad it's you,” hits like a fist to the chest. And the moral ambiguity is cathartically wrapped up in the last line of the movie.

    This movie is insane, by that I mean insanely good. Director Edgar Wright gives one of the most visually stimulating pieces of cinema I have seen in a long time. Watching Scott Pilgrim is like walking into a dream. But Wright captures with odd and exact precision the emotions that his characters go through. But when he showed sadness, rejection, elation, or triumph in some new and funky visual and shows them in such unique ways I couldn't escape the feeling that the image mirrored what I felt in my own life.

    5. Man of Steel (2013)

    I know that reviews have been mixed about this, but I truly love this movie. Aside from the shakey-cam, Zack Snyder gave us a movie full of excitement and visual spectacle, but also one with great heart and moral weight. I felt Clark's burden throughout the entire film. And I cheered every time he sent one of the alien bad guys flying through the air with his mighty fist.

    Christopher Nolan's conclusion to his Batman epic is long and it is dense. But that is because he tries to wrap up all of his plots and themes in a satisfying way. And the movie is exciting while at the same time examining deeply human themes like sacrifice, fairness, and courage. Tom Hardy's Bane is completely terrifying and acts as a metaphorical mountain that Batman is unsure he can conquer. Very cathartic.

  1. The Avengers (2012)

    There is no movie on this list that is more fun that The Avengers. Even after dozens of viewings, I can still pop this movie in and enjoy every minute of it. Joss Whedon does a fantastic job of intergrating characters from their own franchises in a way that does not diminish them. In fact, together they are more than the sum of their parts. And it is a delight to watch this witty, action-packed adventure movie over and over again.

  1. This is the best of the Batman movies. Much is made of Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning performance as the Joker, and rightly so. But the movie does not fall into the above mentioned trap that making the movie about this killer clown. He is the catalyst for our three main heroes: Batman, Gordon, and Harvey Dent, must pass through a crucible of fire (represented by the opening blue flames) and come out the other side. They are damaged and beaten, but this powerful investigation into the best and worst of human nature continues to move with its heavy heart.

  1. Superman (1978)

    I have written much about this movie already. The tag line is: You will believe a man can fly. The main credit for this goes to Christopher Reeve. What could have been a simply sci-fi action film is a mythological epic that fleshes out the character that is full of magic and wonder. I recently had a discussion with a fellow fan about this movie. He pointed out that the first hour of Clark's journey is a sweeping, lush drama. But Metropolis is filled with cartoonish damsels and dangers. But I said that this was part of the point. In Clark's world, Metropolis is the land of make-believe where he plays the character “Clark Kent.” In Metropolis, the most real and genuine person is Superman. This gives his character a dramatic gravity that makes you believe in not only his powers but in his goodness. Amazing film!

Veronica Mars Returns

I was a huge fan of the show.  I loved how each episode was an intriguing mystery that held another piece of a large puzzle that held the entire season together.  Sure it lost some steam in the 3rd season, but it was a gem.

Below is a video released at Comic-Con about the upcoming Veronica Mars movie that was funded by kickstarter.

I'm hoping this begins a Copernican shift in movie financing.  As I've written before, consumers of pop culture can choose to buy the product after it has been finished.  In this new model, we can use our dollars to support the creation of the art we want.


Avengers 2: Based on a Mediocre Story Arc

So the big announcement at Comic-con for Marvel was for Avengers 2.

The first movie was based in spirit on the original Avengers story from the comics where Loki manipulated the heroes for his own ends, but then it backfired.  

Marvel has just announced that the sequel to the insanely successful Avengers is:

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron was a story that just wrapped up un the comic books last month.  In it, the evil robot Ultron, who was built by Ant-Man (Hank Pym), takes over the world.  Most of the heroes die and when some realize that Ultron came from the future, they travel there to fight him.  But Wolverine and Invisible Woman go back into the past to kill Hank Pym.

As excited as I was about yesterday's Superman/Batman movie, I am inversely exited about this.  

Age of Ultron started strong, but fizzled out badly.

Also, the main characters in it were Wolverine and Invisible Woman, two people who are not part of the Avengers movie universe.  Granted, you can interchange a lot of characters, but that seems like a lot of effort for not the greatest story.

Now, the movie may only be very loosely based on the Age of Ultron comics.  Also, Joss Whedon is someone I trust to make a good movie.  But with the entire cannon of epic Marvel stories... This?


Saturday, July 20, 2013

The World's Finest Movie

It's actually happening!

The sequel to Man of Steel was just announced and this was the teaser poster:

photo from supermanspoilers

Not only that, but it was introduced by a quote from the end of the Frank Miller classic: The Dark Knight Returns.

I am in comic book nerd heaven!

Read more about it here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sympathy for the Devil

By now many of you have seen the cover of Rolling Stone that has a glamour shot of the Boston Bomber.  I didn't read the article, but Greg Gutfeld has a brief synopsis.  WARNING: FOUL LANGUAGE AFTER THE LINK.

Usually there is a waiting period before evil people are glamorized.  Charles Manson didn't make it onto t-shirts until decades after his conviction.  It wasn't until a few years ago that I saw one of my students wearing a picture of mass murdering Commie Che Guevara.

But even before the trial has happened, this murderer is being sent love letters from pop culture elites.  

Could you imagine if they did a cover story about George Zimmerman with such a flattering picture?

No, I didn't think so.


The Verdict and Conviction

One of my friends asked me why I have not blogged on the not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.  I usually do not follow court cases closely, but I did on this one and I would often ask others their opinions at get togethers.

But why haven't I written about it?

I have tried to steer clear of things that are political in nature on this blog unless it has to do with issues of faith or pop culture.  And it is very clear that this trial has become a political football.

The reason why I try to avoid these topics is because I can be have strong convictions about them.  I know that sounds counter-intuitive; if you have strong convictions, should that be a stronger reason to write?

But unlike my convictions of faith, which are everything to me, or my convictions about art, which are by their nature subjective, political convictions are a bit different.  These convictions are not merely matters of opinion or taste.  I don't address the question about whether I like abortion of capital punishment.  Political convictions deal with beliefs regarding objective reality.  I really believe that this or that particular issue is objectively better for myself and the community at large.

And yet, I do not stand on the surety of faith here.  My conviction in the truths taught by the Catholic faith is something for which I would go to the cross.  I would (God give me strength) die for this conviction.

But I would not go to the cross over what tax policy I think is wisest.  I would not lay down my life on the question of gun control.  I hope that in these areas where I am not certain, I should be open minded to good arguments from either side.

On this blog I know that I speak boldly about the Catholic faith.  Should I speak as boldly on political matters, could not some conflate religious conviction (which is certain) and political conviction (which is not)?  And I don't discount myself from this problem.  I struggle to keep the two distinct.  Of course religious conviction should inform your political conviction.  It must.  But in my struggles in faith, I know that my ultimate opponent is Satan.  If I mix that with my political conviction, I might too easily mistake my political opponents as demons, not fellow children of God.

And even though this is a murder trial, the media has made it political.  Members of congress, popular journalists, and even the President of the United States have weighed in on this.

So, with that in mind, here is my analysis of the Zimmerman case.

-Martin did nothing wrong when he went to the store to get Skittles
-Zimmerman did nothing wrong when he initially called the police.  There had been 8 burglaries in his neighborhood in the past 14 months, one while a young mother had to barricade herself in her bedroom.  The police told him to back away.  I do not know if it was right for Zimmerman to still pursue.
-The only one who knows who started the fight is Zimmerman.
-Martin stood over a knocked down Zimmerman and continued to beat him.  If Zimmerman fought back, he never landed a significant hit.
-From this position, Zimmerman shot Martin and killed him.

So now a 17-year-old will never grow to be a man.  And the man who killed him, though found not guilty, is still being subject to federal investigation for the crime.

Do I think that the jury's decision was correct?  I will keep that one to myself.

I could share my thoughts, but I was not in the courtroom to hear all of the evidence.  My above analysis is only based on what limited information I have gleaned from news sources.  And I would be happy to take correction if I am wrong on anything.

Instead, I think the most productive thing I can do is pray.  I can pray for the soul of Trayvon Martin.  I can pray that the Lord will comfort his family.  I pray His justice and mercy fall upon Zimmerman and his family.  And I pray that we as a nation turn ever more to the Lord in unity and not away from each other in division.

Wednesday Comics: Justice League of America #6 - Trinity War Part 2

Last week I wrote about all of the build up and beginnings of the DC Event: Trinity War.

This week, we get the fallout of the explosive events of the first issue.  When last we left our story, the two Justice Leagues were squaring off and one member killed someone.  I shall refrain from mentioning who the killer is at this time.  But suffice to say that last issue surprised me.

But I was also surprised by this issue as well.  I expected the entire issue to be a brawl between the two leagues that escalated throughout the entire book.  Instead, it comes to an end quickly, surprisingly, and very dramatically.  And while the immediate conflict ends, the mystery really begins.

This leads Wonder Woman to strike out on her own.  The source of the problem is Pandora's box, which released sin into the world.  Once again, we get a wonderful (but short) discussion on the origin of evil in man: is it internal or external.  But because the box is mystical in origin, she realizes that she has to go outside the wheelhouse of the Justice League or the JLA.  She then seeks out the Justice League Dark.

The JLD deal with the seedy underbelly of DC's magical universe.  Their involvement is essential to unraveling the mystery of who is setting up the league and what can be done about it.  But the situation seems to only get more and more dire.

Today I was thinking about how this JL vs. JLA story felt similar to Marvel's Civil War storyline which set Captain America's team against Iron Man's.  That story also raised some fascinating questions and had some wonderful character moments.  But like most Marvel stories, it fell flat at the conclusion.  I have higher hopes for Trinity War.  We'll see.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pope Hamilton Nolan Excommunicates All Non-Athiests From Science

I read this article on that originated on

The gist is that Hamilton Nolan rakes former New York Times technology write Virginia Heffernen over the coals because she is not a materialist.  A materialist is someone who believes that all that exists is the material world.

Apparently, according to Pope Hamilton (who I guess is the self appointed pontiff of science), you cannot believe in anything beyond the limits of the senses.  He pretty much calls her a stupid, superstitious rube.

Now, I do not know anything about Heffernen.  Maybe she truly is a stupid, superstitious rube.  But I did not note any criticism of her writings on science.  Pope Hamilton simply held up her heretical belief in God as a sign of her insanity.

Heffernen is not convinced about the science of global warming.  Neither was Michael Crichton and a number of other scientists.  Maybe they are right and maybe they are wrong.  But Pope Hamilton simply points to this as evidence of her unscientific mind.

He describes her as "angel-beliving," as if this were an insult.  If so, he insults those who hold to orthodoxy of most Western religions.  Fine.  He doesn't have to like any of us.

But a few thoughts:

1.  Science is based on empiricism.  But God, angles, grace, etc, are not material things that can be measured and quantified.  They are beyond the scope of science.  Pope Hamilton assumes that which cannot be empirically measured cannot be real.  Otherwise, he would not mock Heffernen as he does.  Of course, Pope Hamilton would also have to eschew other non-material realities like love, courage, good and evil, the intrinsic value of human life, the laws of logic, etc.

2.  Pope Hamilton has set up a criteria where only atheists can be scientists.  He attacks Heffernens reasons for her faith, which is fair game for intellectual critique.  But he also attacks the belief itself.  He says that all of her scientific writing should be suspect because she believes in Biblical truths.    I imagine him Pope Hamilton thinks Christians can only so science like this.  Hamilton's critique would be laughable, except that he appears to be serious.

3.  This is another part of the overall pattern I have been noting about how the purveyors of popular culture, in this case blogging, are delegitimizing anyone of faith.  Orson Scott Card cannot make science fiction because he holds to Mormon morality.  Heffernen cannot write about technology because she believes in angels.  Soon those like Pope Hamilton will have to hold atheist inquisitions to make sure no one secretly holds the thought crime of faith.

Film Review: World War Z

I was not particularly impressed with the trailers to this movie.  And I read articles about how they halted production in order to do a re-write of the whole story: always a bad sign.  So instead of seeing the movie on opening night, I waited a little while and headed to the theater to see it as a matinee.

I wish I had seen it opening night.  World War Z is one of the best movies I've seen this summer.  And it might be the best zombie movie I have seen (I emphasize the might because 1. I have to reflect on this point more and 2. I am not the biggest zombie movie aficionado).

World War Z begins with Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), looking very much like Thor on his day off, and his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) waking up in domestic bliss with their two young daughters.  The family packs themselves into their SUV and begin their commute through the city.

And then all hell breaks loose.

World War Z begins the action very early and the tension really doesn't let up at all until its conclusion. Director Marc Foster captures both the monster/horror aspect of zombie fiction but also the complete social breakdown.  It was fascinating watching the chaos as the zombie outbreak began in a crowded city, something I don't think I've ever really seen.  Usually we find the post-outbreak wasteland, or we already find a zombie horde in force.  But here we see the chaos of people running like mad, so you cannot tell who is a human and who is a zombie.

The second thing that I enjoyed about WWZ was how smart it was.  In one scene, Gerry is preparing to enter dangerous territory.  He duct tapes a kitchen knife to the end of his rifle for a makeshift bayonet.  But then he duct tapes a thick fashion magazine to his forearm.  I watched him for a moment perplexed, but then I realized he just made a flexible forearm bite-shield.  And he never explains it either.  The movie expects you to keep up and figure things out.

The third thing that I really like is that the movie was full of surprises, at least for me.  Gerry, it turns out, is retired operative for the UN who was an expert in going into hostile territories.  He trades his skills for safe harbor for his family on board one of the US military's floating command center.  So Gerry is paired with Dr. Andrew Fassbach (Elyes Gabel), who is labeled the last best hope of curing the zombie plague.  As they embarked, I thought I knew the trajectory of the story, and I was wrong.  And wherever Gerry goes, things do not go quite the way I expected them.  This is especially pleasing in an age when so many movies are formulaically predictable.

One of the things I was not prepared for was how much the movie felt like a mystery.  How do you fight this seemingly undefeatable enemy.  Throughout the film, clues are dropped.  Maybe I'm just slow, but I found the evidence deliciously difficult to put together.  It kept me intrigued the entire time.

Much has been said about the zombie dynamics in this movie, how they move like an army of ants.  I found this to be a fresh take on the genre.  Also, rather than the groaning, Foster has his zombies constantly chomp their teeth.  The violent clacking is viscerally unnerving.

The performances of the actors are fine.  Pitt's Gerry is mostly a man of action who has to project a lot of charisma in order to work with various groups around the world.  Enos does a wonderful job of being the emotional anchor of the Lane family, carrying the inner stress while projecting comfort and strength to her kids.  David Morse does a creepy turn as a toothless prisoner with a secret.  I also very much enjoyed Pierefrancesco Favino as person who has leadership thrust upon him.  There is also the "blink-and-you'll-miss-him" performance of Matthew Fox.  I can't help but think that his part was much larger but left on the cutting room floor.

World War Z exceeded my lowered expectations.  I was scared, excited, and exhilarated.  What more can you ask for from a summer movie?

Sunday Best: Top 5 Adam Sandler Movies

I am fascinated by the idea that we have very few real movie stars left.  A "movie star" as defined by the great John Nolte, is someone who can draw in an audience to see a movie just on their name.  I remember back in the '80's, movie posters would write in huge letters "Schwarzenegger" and then in smaller print, the name of the movie (sometimes not even his own).

Anyway, I think that Adam Sandler is one of the few remaining movie stars.  People go to see "Adam Sandler Movies."  His movies tend to make money.  He has 13 movies that have made over $100 million, and I don't believe it is because they are big budget "event" movies.  They are draws because of his name.

And he tends to be resistant to negative criticism.  Even the horrible looking Jack and Jill made $75 million domestic.  That's My Boy was a bomb, however, due in large part to alienating his broad audience with a vulgar R-Rated film.

But Grown Ups 2 looks poised to be the #1 movie this weekend.  So, what Sandler's top 5 best films?

5.  Grown Ups

Like its sequel, there is no real plot to speak of here.  But it has such a goofy joy about it.  You can feel the fun that was has by the cast and crew soak into the screen.  Silly and nostalgic

4.  Billy Madison

Sandler swung for the fences with his first big staring role.  And in some ways, he hasn't been able to get past it.  The movie is totally insane, barely holding together with any kind of logic.  But he gives you just enough of a plot with constant recurring gags to keep you going.  It is also his most eminently quotable film "Chlorophyl?  More like Boro-phyl!"

3.  Reign Over Me

Adam Sandler can actually act.  I know that sounds strange since most of his movies are like extended skits.  But his performance in Reign Over Me is fantastic as a man going through post-traumatic stress after the loss of his family.

2.  Click

This was a strange movie for me.  It started off like one of his broad, fart-joke comedies.  But as it began to unravel, he was actually saying something moving and profound.  It is a wonderful critique about modern life and a warning against going on autopilot.  Funny and uplifting.

1.  The Wedding Singer

This is a magical little movie.  He brings his signature strangeness along with his penchant for tapping into nostalgia.  But he also pulls you in so that you are completely invested in whether or not Robbie and Julia find love.  Think about how heartbreaking and ironic the scene is when he looks at her through the window in her wedding dress!  And the movie still holds up.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lionsgate Buys Indulgences from Gay Purgatory

Orson Scott Card should not be employed because he holds a belief that Pope Francis, half of America, and Barak Obama (from 18 months ago) have.

As a result, people are calling for a boycott of a movie based on one of his novels, Ender's Game.

The movie studio has sinned by employing someone with such obviously bigoted views, like the one Bill Clinton and Joe Biden had when they passed the Defense of Marriage Act.  They are now receiving a purgative fire from the new Thought Police.  In order to avoid this fire meant to purge anyone who holds orthodox beliefs regarding human nature, Lionsgate (the studio producing Ender's Game) has announced that they will be holding fundraisers for gay causes (TBD).

I think they assume paying these indulgences will get them back into a state of grace with those intolerant of religious orthodoxy.  My prediction is that it will fail.  The haters have called out for Card's pound of flesh.  Soon, some of the cast and crew will be trotted out to not only contradict card, but they will outright condemn him.  They will hang him out to dry.

Better for one career to die and the movie survive, right?

So don't forget you who are faithful to the truth of the Gospel: you have no right to be employed.  You are a bigot.  You are to be held up for contempt.

They are coming for you next.

Film Flash: Grown Ups 2

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

A deer urinates into Sandler's mouth in the first 2 minutes.  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.

3 out of 5 stars

Friday, July 12, 2013

Trailer Time: How To Train Your Dragon 2

I remember I stayed away from the first How to Train Your Dragon for a long time because of how horribly juvenile the title was.

But I found it to be so unexpectedly fun and moving.  A wonderful family movie for all ages.

This teaser is so... beautiful.  I have no idea what the story will be about, but I think it will look fantastic.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

D'Oh!... I'm Homer Simpson!

photo by Paulbe

Actually, I've been very aware of this problem for years.  But the below article only confirms my suspicion.

I think it is a very specific generational phenomenon with my age group where we started watching the Simpsons because we saw ourselves in Bart.  But the older we've become, we realize that we are Homer.

Read the whole thing here.

But Who's Going to Be with Abed in the Morning?

photo by Cameron Yee

It was announced that Donald Glover will only be portraying his character Troy Barnes in 5 of the 13 episodes of next season's Community.  

This is sad since Troy has evolved into a real comedic centerpiece and brings a lot of heart to the show. Apparently Glover wants more time to work on his music career.  

I hate that we'll have less Troy, but I cannot blame Glover.  Even though Community is one of the best shows ever in the history of TV (and no, that is not hyperbole), it is a sinking ship.  It is a near miracle that it came back for one more season with creator Dan Harmon being rehired.  But with only a 13 episode pickup, it feels like NBC is just waiting to dump it off.  The cast and crew are all probably trying to line up their next projects.

I'm more concerned with how this will affect Abed.  "Troy and Abed" are like "Laverne and Shirley" or "Mork and Mindy" or any other great TV duo.  Their relationship is one of the central things that defines the characters.  Remember when they were having problems?  It led to the great war between Blanketsburg and Pillowtown.


Application and Allegory

Last year I watched the movie Lincoln.  I came in with very low expectations since the trailers did not impress me and I do not like the the writer.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  I was drawn into the moral maze that Lincoln and others had to navigate in order to get the 13th Amendment passed.

I remember one scene in particular that was treated with such stirring complexity.  Senator Thaddeus Stevens wants full equality of blacks with whites.  But he knows that if he makes this case in front of Congress, they will balk and not agree to the minimal step of outlawing slavery.  So, he makes a moral compromise and says he does not hold to full equality, only equality under the law.  And while Mrs. Lincoln is impressed with Stevens' restraint in order to get the amendment passed, Mrs. Keckly, an African-American observer has to excuse herself because she is too hurt and upset.

The movie raises some of the big questions, particularly, how much can you compromise to achieve progress?  As I was watching, I could not help but think about the struggles of the Pro-Life cause.  Since we believe that every human life is sacred, our ultimate legal goal is a ban on all abortions.  But the introduction of such legislation now would be seen as so radical that there would be large blowback.  So we start at half measures like banning late-term abortion.  But that still leaves all the babies vulnerable in the first two trimesters.

But the more I pondered, I thought that other groups could also see their cause reflected in the movie Lincoln.  I image those in favor of "gay marriage" also observe the need for incremental change at the state the federal level to achieve their goals.  First they started with civil unions.  Then recognition only within certain states.  Now the scales are tipping toward full acceptance in the entire country, except of course in the Churches.  But I imagine that will be the next frontier.

I was struck by how I could see two very divergent political views could be so closely paralleled in a movie set over a hundred years in the past.  And yet the movie is not about either modern issue.  It is not about any modern issue.  And yet it is.

It was here that I reflected upon JRR Tolkien's distinction between application and allegory.

Tolkien spent decades building the world and history of Middle-Earth and produced one of the most popular novels of all time: The Lord of the Rings (which, incidentally, did not make EW's top 100 novels).  But he was distressed when people tried to say that his story was an allegory for the atomic bomb, something so powerful and evil that it could not be used, only destroyed.  He dismissed this interpretation out of hand.

He said, “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

In an allegory, you take the topic or idea that you have in mind and you create a symbol of that idea and tell your story with those symbols.  The prophet Nathan told a parable to King David about a rich man, a poor man, and the poor man's sheep.  This would be an example of pure allegory, since each character symbolized someone else (rich man = David; poor man = Uriah; sheep = Bathsheba).  And while this does not stop Nathan's parable from being a good story, it limits its application.

I would venture to say that most modern stories are not pure allegories.  But many heavy-handedly tell you that "this is a substitute for that."  James Cameron's Avatar has clear allegorical critiques of the American military, especially with lines like "We're going fight terror with terror" and "Shock and awe."

But my problem with allegory tends to be that it takes me out of the story and makes me think too much about the thing to which it is referring.  One of the reasons I am reluctant to see the upcoming movie Elysium is that has clear allegorical elements to the themes of last year's Occupy Wall Street movement.  That isn't to say that it cannot be a good movie, but allegories tend to focus on preaching rather than entertaining.  They seem to shout "Are you getting the lesson, children?" instead of simply presenting a piece of art for your mind and soul to digest.  Lincoln didn't do that.  It held up to you the fundamental questions of life and let you ponder.  This is what Tolkien was saying when he said that allegory is all about how the author is using the story as a delivery system for his message, but applicability is about the audience using the art to more fully engage and reflect on life.

Take, for example, The Hunger Games.  The movies and books have been huge hits.  One of the things that amazed me was how philosophically diverse the acceptance was.  For example, the plot centers around the super-rich in the Capitol, where the government there imposes its horrific will on the other districts.  Those who lean politically left saw the evils of the 1-percenters.  Those who lean politically right saw the dangers of totalitarian government control.  

Some criticized the story as being too devoid of traditional values, for example, there is no religion ever mentioned.  But I found that to be one of the book's strengths.  Unlike other futuristic fantasy where religion has been eliminated, like Star Trek, you felt the absence of faith in Panem.  The people were lost because they had lost the great light, only they never knew it.

And I think great stories should be like this.  People should be able to come from wide and varied life situations and use the story as a lens with which to see the world through.

Does this mean that great art is a Tabula Rasa, a blank canvass that can mean anything you want?  No.

But the great stories go deeper than the modern problems and fashions of the day.  That makes them too quickly worn out and dated.  As CS Lewis said, "Whatever is not eternal, is eternally out of date."  Am I the only one who roles their eyes now at the Star Trek IV: Save the Singing Whales or a Giant Space Pencil Will Blow Us Up?  Great stories dig down into the fundamental truths not just of our times, but all times.  And no matter when or where you experience these stories, they will strike a chord, because you also share the same universal human nature we all do.  And the great stories will find some aspect of the grand human experience raise it up to our consciousness for us to behold.  

This does not mean that allegories cannot be good or enjoyable, but they are limited.  There, the author is trying to get you to see their truth. 

 But in the great and grand stories, the author helps you experience THE truth.