Saturday, August 31, 2013

Trailer Time: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

I've been meaning to put this one up for a long time.

Ben Stiller has a long track record of disappointing me.  For me, he's like Tina Fey: I get their jokes, and I see how they are supposed to be funny, but they just don't make me laugh.

But the visuals on this movie look stunning.  I particularly love the director's use of color temperatures and the interplay between advancing and receding colors.  

The story of a man caught up in his daydreams is easily relatable and this could be really good.  But I need to see more.  


Miley's Evil Body Language

Last year I had a distinct feeling of deja vu when I saw Bane's Evil Body Language in last year's The Dark Knight Rises.

I had that same feeling seeing picture of Miley Cyrus, especially after the brouhaha at the VMA's.

She has this vacant expression in her eyes with her tongue sticking out.

You can see it here:

or again here:

That look seemed familiar, but I couldn't remember where.

Then it hit me!

Truly evil indeed!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Film Flash: The World's End

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

Imaginative.  But not nearly as funny as Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz
3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Film Review: The Spectacular Now

I remember the first time I drank Crystal Pepsi.  For those too young to remember, Pepsi once manufactured a version of its drink that was clear like Sprite.  I knew it was Pepsi, but my eyes told my mouth to expect Sprite.  I tasted it and it was just like Pepsi, but I spit it out in disgust, because it was not what my mouth expected.  There was nothing inherently bad about it, but the twisting of my expectations led to a sour experience.

Why am I bringing this up?  Because that's how I felt watching The Spectacular Now.

This movie is being advertised as a romantic coming of age story in high school.

It's not.

It is a movie about the destructive nature of alcohol on people's lives.

The movie centers around Sutter (Miles Tiller), an affable scamp who has just broken up with his girlfriend towards the end of senior year.  After a drunken confrontation at a party, Sutter passes out on a lawn to be found by Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a poor girl from his school on her paper route.  Drawn to her innocence, though not wanting to admit it, Sutter begins to hang out with her more and more.  He has very little else as his mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) works all the time, his father is out of the picture, and his adult sister (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is married to a rich lawyer.  Sutter takes Aimee to parties and teachers her to drink and to cuss and to get angry at her mom.  But as they grow closer, the relationship becomes more toxic.

One of the reasons the movie doesn't work very well is that Sutter is so distasteful.  Like many teens, he is self-centered and an emotional vampire, drinking down ecstatic feelings drawn from his relationships.  The movie tries to make Sutter funny and charming, but it always falls flat.  Tiller, at his best, comes off like a kid doing a Vince Vaughn impression.  That isn't so much his fault as the material.  I kept trying to find a reason to care for Sutter but always came up short.

Another thing that turned me off early was the ubiquitous drinking.  As a high school teacher I see how corrosive excessive alcohol is in the life of young people.  In the beginning it is treated as a matter of fact part of life.  Most of the audience I was with found the alcohol jokes sly and funny.  I did not.  However, I did not realize until halfway through the film that the filmmakers were not glorifying alcohol, but demonizing it.  It acted as a subtle poison to everything in Sutter's life.  His grades, his home life, and his relationships suffer.

But the thing that made me most uncomfortable was the seduction of the innocent Aimee.  Woodley was great as the everygirl who is so simply sweet that being around her feels like a sugar high.  The sex scene in the middle of the movie was meant to be awkward and funny.  But I was filled with rage.  At this point, Sutter does not realize what an amazing gift Aimee is and he takes her innocence.  Later in the movie his self-hatred mirrored against her selflessness leads to some disasters.

If the writer's intent was to show how alcohol subtly seduces and then destroys, then they have done the job very well.  Director James Ponsoldt, who directed another alcohol related drama Smashed, does a good job handling the visuals, with moody light and shadows.  To be clear, The Spectacular Now is not a bad movie.  But it was so different from the movie I was expecting that I found myself rejecting it the further it went on.  Maybe in time I will revisit it and it will have a different effect on me.  But for now, it was a disappointment.

2 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Monday, August 26, 2013

MTV and Miley Prove My Point

My good friend Rick O. just called me a prophet.  I usually don't get compliments from him, so I'm going to run with it.  But the much publicized sleaze-a-palooza that was the past VMA's only seems to support my thesis from my essay Mouse Poison.

I haven't been able to bring myself to watch it, though I have heard quite an earful from many sources already.

We should all pray for that poor, lost child.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunday Best: Actors of All Time #22 - Edward Norton

photo by Lucas Street


Everyone took notice of Edward Norton when he came on the scene with his role as a murder suspect in Primal Fear.  The movie was suppose to be a Richard Gere vehicle, but Norton stole the show.  This is no slight to Gere, but Norton's part was much showier, allowing him to transform from cherubic innocence to demonic hatred in a fraction of a second.  What impressed most people was how he was able to inhabit those personalities so believably.  You rooted for his innocence but cowered at his evil.

In Rounders, Norton had the daunting task of making us care about a terrible person.  His character, Worm, is best friends with Mike (Matt Damon).  And throughout the entire film, Worm gets into trouble and brings Mike down with him.  He is a liar, a manipulator, and he is nowhere near as smart as he thinks he is.  He is exactly the kind of toxic personality that audiences instinctively revile.  But Norton fills Worm with just enough charm and sympathy to make us care about him.  Like Mike, we cannot help but want to help him even though he is nothing but trouble and refuses to listen.  Norton makes you like him until he hits you with his array of character flaws that makes you realize that you are TOO invested in the character and should backed away a long time ago.

A lot of people focus on Brad Pitt's great performance in Fight Club, but you cannot overlook Norton's.  His character is filled with a sad desperation throughout that only intensifies as paranoia and panic set in.  He inhabits the life of a bland metro-sexual man searching for any kind of catharsis, starving to feel anything, until he slowly starts to lose his grip.

But by far, his best performance was in American History X.  Norton has to play Derek Vinyard, at completely different stages of life in ways that highlight such radically different personalities.  He shows Derek as naive, impressionable teen, as violent, hateful neo-Nazis, and as reformed convict trying to undo his sins.

When watching his performance, what amazed me most was how small, yet powerful his changes were.  It would have been easy to changing from innocent to savage by but gravel in his voice ala Batman.  But instead, the timbre of his voice is the same throughout.  His posture shifts only slightly.  Most of his changes occur not in the obvious ticks, but in the subtleties that only film can capture.  Ben Kingsley once said that film acting is stillness, stillness, stillness.  You need to be able to show great emotion and character with the smallest of shifts.  Very few actors can accomplish this, but Norton did it fantastically here.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bored to Death

The news recently of the Australian man killed in Oklahoma by a group of wayward teens is enough to fill you with heartbreak and rage.  But it does so all the more by the fact that one of the perps said they did so because they were bored.  This follows closely the story of the teen who attached explosives to kittens and blew them up to post on Facebook because, he too was bored.


We've all felt it.  We all dread it.  How many of us have balked at some outing or obligation just at the mere specter of boredom hovering over the event like Dementor of Azkaban waiting to suck out all of our cheer.  And while I don't think that most of us are bored to the point of homicide, I think it is important enough to take a moment of reflection.

I once read a book by Dr. Peter Kreeft where he made the most shocking claim: ancient people were not bored.  His evidence is that the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews had no word for boredom.  The concept was foreign to them because their lives were full.  They worked all day and took what time they had free to enjoy food and recreation when they could.  It wasn't until much, much later in history that a word was even need to describe this new feeling: ennui.

So it seems we are more bored today than people of the past.  Why is that?  I think that there are three reasons for this:

First, people in the ancient world had shorter days.  Sundown was the time for most people to wrap up the day.  Any activity at night would require the lighting of lamps and the consumption of oil, rather than the flicking of a switch.  To be sure there were some who used such light to work through the night, but I would imagine it was rarer.  Think of the bustling night life we have now.  Good tv doesn't even begin until 8pm.  Many of us still rise before the sun, but we stay up way past its setting.  So now we have much more time to fill.

Second, humans are intelligent and desire increasing complexity.  We don't play tic-tac-toe much anymore because its outcome is predictable (as proven by War Games).  But we addictively seek to enter increasingly difficult stages of candy crush.  When varied complex stimulation is available, we seek it out.  And we feel their absence.  How many times do we check the same website in a single day, hoping that they've updated their information?  How often to we check new posts on Facebook or twitter in a single hour?  How often do we check our phones because we think we felt it vibrate when it really did not?  Once we get used to that stimulation, our minds have trouble living without it.

But the third thing is the most important: we don't know how to be silent.

It is in our nature to be filled with excitement, a sense of "living."  When we are bored, we feel malaise that robs us of this exhilaration.  We feel empty.  So we will fill our lives with the most inane nonsense rather than fill that emptiness.

But I think we mistake emptiness with silence.

I once went on an 8-day silent retreat.  The first day was amazing in that I was so frustrated at not having an outlet for my desire to talk.  I was just left with my thoughts.  And in those thoughts I was trapped.  I could only speak to myself.

And God.

In those 8 days, my mind was so starved of external things, that I could finally open up and accept the interior voice of God.  Normally my prayer life is jumbled.  In the hour I spend in prayer each day, I think that maybe five minutes are free from distraction.  I'm always thinking about the next thing I need to do or the movie I just watched or the worry weighing on me that the next thing I know, my rosary is done and I barely remember it.

But at the 8 day retreat I was given 2 gifts: silence and time.  As I said, the first day was tough because my mind was on anything else but God.  But as the days wore on, I found that I had nothing but God to fill my mind.  And I was not rushing off to the next thing.  I could walk barefoot in to the softly carpeted chapel at midnight and sit before the Lord in the Tabernacle.  I had no place to go, no promises to keep, and nothing but God until I would sleep.

And in that silence, I found that I wasn't bored.  How could you be bored when your mind is present to the Mind of God, when your heart is present to Love Himself?  I could sit on a rock and look at a tree for an hour with fascination.  I could rest comfortably in a chair and really notice how I was comfortable in that position.  I could appreciate these things more because I was filled.  I didn't look at the things of this world with a greedy eye, seeking the satisfaction of mental stimulation.  I was satisfied in my own thoughts in my own mind so that I could simply appreciate what was in front of me.

I think if I can keep the lessons I learned there, then boredom will be less of a problem.  I think for all of us can see silence as not a punishment but an opportunity.  In those quiet moments we can make our minds present to God.  And he can make our minds present to the present.  When I'm stuck in traffic, can I appreciate the architecture of the buildings around me?  When I'm waiting in line at the super market, can I reflect on how fortunate I am to have the opportunity purchase such abundant food?  And when I'm at the opera...
...okay, I've got nothing...

The point is that is a prison imposed from without and shackles the person within.  Its walls darken and obscure the outside world.  And it deadens you to the real beauty around you.  That numbness can be so abysmal that some would do anything to escape it, even kill.  They year for freedom from boredom. But they will not find it there.

Freedom from boredom can only come from within.

Proof That Readers of This Blog are Brilliant

So a year ago, I put a Casting Call Poll on who should be cast as Batman for the upcoming DC Cinematic universe franchise.

Readers of this blog voted and said that the best choice would be Ben Affleck.

photo by Medill DC

Lo and behold the news from Deadline Hollywood:

Ben Affleck cast as Batman!

The movie is set for a 2015 release.  So once again The Avengers will battle The Dark Knight for summer movie dominance.  (not to mention this is the same year as Star Wars Episode VII)

I think Affleck is a great choice.  Some people had issue with his Daredevil.  I did not, and I think that movie is an underrated film.  But even if he lacked a certain gravitas in that movie, look at how much he has grown as an actor in films like Argo, but particularly check out The Town.  Watch the latter and you will not doubt that Affleck can be Batman.

And the readers of this blog predicted this a year in advance.

You guys rock!

I have the best readers in all the inter webs.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wednesday Comics: Infinity #1

I was very happy when Jonathan Hickman took over writing for Avengers and New Avengers.  His run on the Fantastic Four was one of the most epic arcs I've ever read in comics thanks in no small part to its deeply rooted long-form storytelling.  Things that happen in the first issue, both in terms of plot and theme, are woven into the entire fabric of the series.

Hickman is now doing the same thing in both of his Avengers books.  The Avengers deals with cosmic beings coming to our world and an expanding Avengers roster to deal with it.  New Avengers is about the secret cabal of heroes known as the Illuminati working together to prevent the collision of universes by destroying and universe that could destroy ours.  Both of these stories merge together for Infinity, a mini-series where Thanos is the bad guy.

Beyond that, I'm not sure what I can tell you about the book.  It's not that it's a secret.  It's that I finished the first issue and I really have no strong idea what's happening.  Maybe the fault is mine and that I'm just not paying close enough attention.  But trying to figure out a story's plot should not be this hard.

My biggest critique of Hickman's Fantastic Four run was that he was a bit obscure and obtuse.  He brought in tons of historical plot threads from every corner of the Marvel universe in a way that always made me feel like I was missing something.  But the story was still comprehensive enough so that when the characters and emotional investments had their payoff, I didn't mind.  I don't feel that with Hickman here.

I remember when I saw the movie Independence Day, I thought it was a good movie with some really bad parts.  It was a huge hit and the makers went on to do the American Godzilla.  But with that movie, it felt like they took all the bad parts of ID4 and used them for a terrible film.

I have the same impression with Infinity.  The thing about Infinity is that is should feel like two massive epics are coming together into a larger adventure, like DC's Infinite Crisis.  But I was bored by Infinity. Most of the story is spent with a nameless character and focused on characters in Hickman's other series that I do not care about.

The disadvantage of long-form story is that you have to be incredibly patient for any kind of real payoff.  When I read Hickman Fantastic Four, I did so after he had finished.

I think I'm now going to do the same with all Hickman related Avengers stories, including Infinity.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Film Flash: The Spectacular Now

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

Dark.  Darkest movie of the year.  Movie about alcoholism packaged as coming of age romance.

2 and 1/2 stars out of 5

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Best: Actors of All time #23 - Ed Harris

photo by GDC Graphics


Gone Baby Gone
 A Beautiful Mind
 Enemy at the Gates
The Truman Show
 The Rock
 Apollo 13
 Just Cause
 China Moon
 Glengarry Glen Ross
 The Abyss

The thing that sets Ed Harris apart from so many actors is his amazing knack for infusing humanity into his characters.  If you look at his filmography, it is filled with tough, stoic, forceful figures.  Many actors could have also done servicable jobs.  But Harris always takes you a layer deeper.

Particularly I'm thinking of his performance as Christoff in The Truman Show.

The part is written in a very flat way.  He is the godlike character pulling the strings on Truman's life.  Through most of the movie, that is the exact impression we get from him.  But it is only at the end that we can see the genuine affection underneath it all.  Here was a man who, in his own mind, cared for Truman like a parent over a child.  But he was always separated from him between the impossible barrier of the world he created for him.  When he finally gets an opportunity to talk to him, Harris makes us feel Christoff's affections, misguided though they are.  

You can see him do the same infusing of humanity with his struggling salesman in Glengarry Glen Ross or his cold-blooded sniper in Enemy at the Gates or his hard-edged cop in Gone Baby Gone.    Even as the main antagonist holding an entire city hostage with VX poison gas, his General Hummel from The Rock was someone who could not help but sympathize with and in some way admire, despite the horrible things he had done.  The only time I can recall him actively seeking to dehumanize his character was his scenery-chewing performance as a crazed serial killer in Just Cause.

There are two performances, though, that stand out for me.  The first is his Kyle Bodine in China Moon.

He first comes onto the scene like a modern Sherlock Holmes with the confidence of most tv detectives, full of swagger and insight.  But when he is ensnared in an obsessive affair, he is put into the position of having to cover up a killing.  It was fascinating to watch Harris take his character to the opposite side of a murder investigation, using all of his skills to outthink the evidence he would look for.  All the while, Harris shows the absolute toll this takes on his character as he digs himself deeper and deeper into a world of death and deceit.  Watching his disintegration was harrowing.

But the performance that sticks with me the most is his Bud from James Cameron's The Abyss.

His character is a working class hero who embodies the best of humanity.  Villains are always much easier to play that heroes, because, as CS Lewis said, all we have to do is remove the shackles of our moral imagination.  But playing virtue is more difficult not because it is less appealing, but because it is hard to do authentically.  Harris plays Bud as a simple, not simplistic, man who understands that he needs to put others before himself.  When he gets abandoned by others who cannot endure what needs to be done, he lays no guilt on them.  His most desperate moments are when someone else must make the sacrifice.  His love/hate relationship with Lindsey works so well because of all the emotion he puts into it, much of it under the surface, until desperation makes it boil over like a volcano.  And consider some of the pivotal scenes in the movie when he has limited voice and body language available to convey the deep decisions of his character.  I have a very hard time imagining anyone playing that part anywhere near as well as Ed Harris.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Trailer Time: ACOD

"You are the least parented generation ever!"

I am a big fan of Parks and Recreation, but Adam Scott's last movie, Friends with Kids, was SOOOO horrible that I am trepidatious about this one.

But I am very curious how they will handle the subject.  What happens to the children who grow up without two parents?  We all know that a stable, 2-parent household is best for children.  Now that they are grown up, will they be missing something essential in understanding what it is to be an adult, spouse, and parent?

As an ACOD myself, I would like to see what happens.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wednesday Comics: The Case Against Grant Morrison

photo by Luigi Novi

Grant Morrison is a genius.  Let's get that out of the way.

No one denies the intensity of his creative imagination.  He has been given accolades for writing some of the most iconic stories of classic superheroes.  But there is a problem.

Morrison is a bad writer.

I feel very much in the minority here among not only industry insiders, professional critics, but also regular comic enthusiasts.  Morrison is lauded for capturing the magic and majesty of superhero comics.  So either I am dead wrong or I am the one jumping up and shouting "The Emperor has no clothes!"  I shall leave it to you to decide.

My first experience with Morrison's work was in his classic run on JLA.  At the time, he was exactly what the franchise needed.  He brought in the 7 Olympian heroes of the DCU and he put them in adventures that boggled the mind.  Who can forget Green Arrow and the Atom taking out Darkseid or Superman wrestling with an angel?  His run is full of great moments.

But that's just the thing: it is all moments, not stories.  Morrison has an uncanny talent for setting a scene or an action that makes you take notice and say "Whoa."  But his ability to satisfactorily close the circle and tell a satisfying story is very much lacking.

Take a look at his much lauded run on JLA.  He had built up a giant threat against the entire world that necessitated giving superpowers to everyone on the planet for a short time.  While that is fascinating in thought, it was only mediocre in execution.  The end lacked the necessary speactcle and cathartic impact, and it simply imploded anticlimactically.

His next most lauded work is All Star Superman.  The All Star line was one of DC's several attempts to compete with the Ultimate Marvel universe.  And, once again, the plot is intriguing.  Superman gets a lethal dose of solar radiation and is slowly dying.  But rather than being a fascinating look into the soul of a righteous man who is doomed, Morrison always keeps you at arms length from Superman.  His story is full of imaginative aliens and costumes, but it is ultimately empty.  I could never care about his Superman because he was never humanized.

Morrison later took over Batman.  He is most famous for introducing Damian Wayne, Bruce's illegitimate son with Talia al Ghul, to the world.  But he also introduced the comic world to the creatively named Dr. Hurt and Dr. Pyg.  He based his Caped Crusader killing story, Batman RIP, on an obscure story from early Batman called the Black Case Book.  This culminated in a last page reveal that Batman has transformed into the Batman of Zur-en-Arrh!

I think my reaction was typical of Batman fans around the world.

It was at the same time that Morrison was being heaped with praise for his in-depth knowledge of Batman's past and for folding its sillier elements into continuity.  But I had a different take: Morrison was showing off.  Other writers like James Robinson and Geoff Johns also dove deep into obscure DC lore to inform their stories.  But you never felt like you were on the outside looking in.  Morrison always made you feel like you weren't smart enough to keep up, that only the REAL comic book aficionados would get his brilliant hat tips.

But his worst offense has got to be Final Crisis.  In the first issue he kills off Jack Kirby's New Gods, which had been in the works for awhile.  But then he kills off DC icon the Martian Manhunter without any fanfare.  To be fair to Morrison, he wanted its suddenness and senselessness to underscore the brutality of the killing.  But then there is no chance to let the emotional resonance sink in at all.  It was a slap in the face to an important character.  It took another writer, the great Peter Tomasi, to give any closure to the Manhunter.  But silly things like emotion and character couldn't stop Morrison from continuing his plot, which is, by the way, insane.

I won't bore you with all of the inane details, but not only does the story not make a lick of sense, but it also has the added of bonus of being filled with characters you don't care about and have probably never heard of for most of the book.  And it is only after Darkseid is defeated and Superman builds his wish-granting machine (no, that is not a joke), that the main bad guy is revealed: Mandrakk!

I know, right?  Can you believe it?!?  Mandrakk!

Oh wait, you don't know who Mandrakk is and why he is so important that he is the main evil even more pre-eminant than Darkseid?

You are not alone.

In order to get even a hint at who Mandrakk is you would have had to have purchased the psychedelic 3-D tie-in Superman Beyond, that featured... actually it was so strange I couldn't explain it to you except that there were a bunch of Superman from differnent dimmensions, including Barack Obama.  Anyway Mandrakk is introduced there.  So when he appears in the last issue of Final Crisis, it was supposed to Blow.  Your.  Mind!

Oh, and Batman gets sent back in time by Darkseid's eye beams, even though they've never done that ever in the history of the character.

As I said, Grant Morrison is a genius.  But I think the problem with being called a genius is that you start to believe the falaccy that if I am a genius, all my ideas are genius.  And they are not.  Morrison is still lauded with praise, and these accolades only serve to make me revile his work even more.

But as I said, maybe I'm the one who is missing the greatness.  Morrison's books sell and DC continues to give him their flagship characters.  His name can still generate sales because he is a comic book icon.

But he is not a good storyteller.


The Importance of Today

August 15th.

The worst part of my morning is the parting.

Indulge me, please, a moment.  I know I come off as overly sentimental, but I cannot get enough time with my wife.  This past Monday was taken up by hours of doctors visits, wandering from one office to another.  But even all of that expanse of time was preferable to the next morning when we both had to head to our respective jobs.

Throughout the day we will talk or text about various things.  Usually while whichever one of us is last to come home, we pray the rosary over the phone.  And while I can't say that I am inconsolable when I'm not with her, there is a part of me that feels missing.  Speaking through a phone or hitting a small screen with my thumbs helps, but it is not enough.

The best part of my day is usually the moment I hear the door open and she walks through.  I feel like kid who has woken on Christmas morning.  Because she's here.

But one day, there will be another parting.  It is one that neither of us can avoid and it looms over us inevitably.  One day, unless we both leave together, one of us will cross over the threshold to the undiscovered country leaving the other here alone.  It is, to say the least, a most unpleasant thought.

I try not to think about it.  But the older I get and the more trips I take to the doctor I awaken more and more to the reality that this coil really is mortal and will be shuffled off.  The thought of living in a world without her is unbearable.  And I think that way of all of my dear family and friends.  I wrote back in January that a childhood friend with whom I had lost contact died.  Even though I had not spoken to him in years, the concrete reality that I would not hear his voice again or shake his hand hit me profoundly.  It is easy to take for granted those whom you can easily contact.  It is difficult to shake the heavy shadow of the dead.

I believe that if, God forbid, I lose my wife then the Lord would see me through.  I know that I will be tempted to despair.  I know that I could surround myself with pictures of her or home movies so I could hear her voice.  And there may come a day when I can feel her spirit with me.  But it would be nothing compared to each night when I would put my arms around her.

And that is why today is important.

Today is August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Mary lived one of the most authentically human lives, second only to her Son.  She never fell into the spiritual cesspool of sin, so that its stench never touched her.  And yet she suffered.  After Jesus' birth, the prophet Simeon said to her, "And a sword shall pierce your heart."  At the foot of the cross, she had to watch the love her life, her baby boy, be murdered by the people He was trying to save.  And then he died.  He rose.  He flew off to Heaven.

He promised He would always be with us.  Where two or more are gathered in His name, so too He is there.  And He gave us the Eucharist, His substantial presence in our lives.  And when we die, our souls will touch His divinity directly.

But it is not enough.

And we see that with Mary today.  It is not enough that her soul, beautiful and pure as it is, be taken to the presence of the Lord.  But the hands which held Him as a babe, the hands that lifted him when he fell, the hands that fed him, changed him, held him tight when he was scared... that these hands should be taken up to heaven to touch His hands again.

Mary, this day, reminds us that we are human.  We are bodies as well as souls.  Mary is the first one us creatures (as opposed to Christ the Creator) to experience the fulness of the Resurrection.  She is not dead, but like her Son, she is alive, physically alive.  She is not simply the spiritual remains of the Woman that once was.  The Assumption is about the necessity of being fully human, body and soul, in the end.  It is high-minded and pious to speak of our souls living in eternal light.  But it is indelibly stamped into our bones that we want to embrace our loved ones again, not figuratively, but literally.

And today promises that literally we will be able to do so.  Mary had to endure a parting from her Beloved Son, but only for a little while.  He was with her in spirit and in the Eucharist, but what mother does not long to embrace her child?  How many of us have had those we love go before us to the Lord and feared that we should never feel the warmth of their embrace?  Because of today, we need not fear it.

Mary is the first creature of God's creation to go before us to show us what we shall be.  The simplest of bodily affections are not scuttled, but sanctified.  God does not want us to get beyond the body.  We are our bodies.  We were always meant to feel and express and receive love not just with our minds but with all of ourselves.  And we will continue to do so at the Resurrection, the day when we awaken from these Shadowlands and into real life.

I am able to endure the long expanses without my wife because I know that at the end of the day I will  once again hold her in my arms.  And when the parting that we call death comes to us, I will be able to endure.

Because just like Mary on this day, I will be one day able to hold the one I love in my arms forever.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

New Evangelizers Post: 3 Catholic Responses to John Boswell’s “Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe”

I have a new article up at

As of late, the internet has been buzzing about a book written nearly 20 years ago called Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe.  It was written by homosexual activist John Boswell and was published just after he died.  But there has been a flurry of references to this book as if Boswell were just to begin a book tour.

The main supposed revelation of the book was that Christianity had no problem with homosexuality and that it even married same sex couples until the 13th Century, when the Church suddenly decided that homosexuality was wrong.  High-trafficked websites like Huffington, have all posted very favorable articles about the book, accepting Boswell’s findings as Gospel (pardon the pun).

You might wonder why a two-decade-old book is suddenly popular.  Our current context cannot be ignored.  People who are in favor of “gay marriage,” can feel the tide turning, where more and more states, nations, and elected representatives in support.  The largest and strongest opposition to this radical overhaul of society comes from orthodox Christians.

But if Boswell’s claims are true, this knocks the legs out from under the opposition, making victory swifter for them.  If his findings are reported enough, the hope is that the popular culture will just take for granted that the Church’s teachings on homosexual actions are just the strange peccadillo of an irrelevant tradition.

Notice how nuts the mainstream media went over the non-story that the Pope said that homosexuals must be treated with respect.  NBC host Donny Deutsch thought that this signaled a sea change in Catholicism, thus exposing his utter ignorance.

The advantage, however, is on our side regarding Boswell’s book.  Most of the time, a fringe author will publicize a radical heterodox theory that the media simply accepts.  It then falls to us to do the legwork and catch up.  By the time we have found the refuting evidence, the media has moved on to some other story.  But Boswell’s book has been thoroughly vetted and reviewed.

The remainder of this article is not a point-by-point dismantling of Boswell’s book.  Other, more scholarly people, have already written these.  The following are just a few points to keep in mind as you hear and read stories about it.

You can check out the entire article here

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ted vs. Paul

I've been thinking about this for a long time.  Probably longer than I should.

Within almost a year of each other two movies came out that were strikingly similar in many ways:

-Both were budgeted between $40 million - $50 million
-Both had a CGI main character
-Both movies were named after this CGI character
-Both leading voice actors, named Seth, were ironic in their casting
-Both had lots of marijuana references
-Both were steeped in obscure geek references
-Both were foul-mouthed and R-Rated
-Both had nearly identical run times (around 1:45)

And yet the difference between their worldwide box office is around $450 million dollars.

The first movie to come out was Paul, staring Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz alums Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

The story revolves around a pair of geeky British friends on a road trip through the desert who befriend an escaped stoner alien named Paul.

The second, more successful movie was Ted.

Written, directed, and starring Seth MacFarland of Family Guy fame, the film centers around Mark Wahlberg who plays grown up with a teddy bear best friend who came to life when his was a boy from a magical wish.

On paper, I would have been inclined to say that Paul would have been a better movie.  Pegg and Frost had two original buddy comedy movies under their belt and MacFarland had never done a feature like this.  And yet, Ted is head and shoulders above Paul.


I think it comes down to three things.

The first is that Ted is about something.

Having watched Ted several times, I've noted how well MacFarland wove the theme of arrested development and growing up to the plot and characters.  Ted himself acts as the living symbol of holding onto a childhood that prevents you from growing into a full adult.  Wahlberg's character is very real in that sense and his struggle between hanging out with his goofy friends and maturing for the love of his life is very relatable.

Paul doesn't really have that thematic cohesion.  The characters have arcs, but it doesn't feel like they get anywhere worthwhile.

The second is the performance of the voice actors.  Seth Rogen brought his usual self-amused tone to his Paul.  But while Seth MacFarland's Ted sounds just like Peter Griffin in dialect, he still gives him sympathetic and likable humanity.  Voice acting is its own art and MacFarland's experience over Rogen is obvious.

But the third is the most important: Paul is mean.

Both movies make fun of lots of people, Paul is much more pointed.  Particularly, it goes out of its way to make fun of religion.  Kristen Wiig plays a woman who experiences an awakening only when Paul releases her from the illusion of faith.  Ted also pokes fun at Christians, but with the same broad strokes that it slams on everyone, so that it never seems mean-spirited.  Paul keeps driving the point home that if you are a Christian you are a hateful, ignorant moron.

Most of us are fine with a good-natured ribbing from time to time, unless we have very thin skin.  But we can usually tell the difference when someone is joking around with us or joking at our expense.  Paul is sneering and smug.  The main characters are above everyone else they encounter.  In Ted, the main characters are working class schmoes and they see the absurdity in all walks of life, so you don't take them too personally.

I wanted to like Paul so much.  But the movie kept lecturing me that I was an idiot.  It made the jokes sting.

I went in very skeptical of Ted.  But when jokes were directed at me, I couldn't take it personally because the movie made fun of everyone and itself with jovial delight.

What do you think?

Film Review: We're the Millers

Cards on the table: I have a strong aversion to the stoner genre.

Maybe its that I work in a high school where I can see the corrupting, or at the very least corrosive effects pot.  So the premise for the new stoner film, We're the Millers, was a tough sell.

In reviewing this movie it is impossible to get beyond its thematic schizophrenia regarding traditional family life and stoner culture.  The movie centers around David Clark (an hilarious Jason Sudeikis) as a loser pot dealer who lives like he's still in his college years even though most of the people his age have grown up to careers and families.  The movie tries to make him a "likable" drug dealer by keeping to a code of not selling to kids, that includes the 18-year-old latch key dork in his building Kenny (Will Poulter).  The two of them try to help a street kid, Casey (Emma Roberts), from being harassed by street punks, but he gets robbed by them of his entire stash and savings.  When his supplier finds out, David is forced to drive up a shipment of drugs from Mexico.  In order to do this, he gets his stripper neighbor Rose (Jennifer Anniston), Kenny, and Casey to pretend to me a loveably bland family: the Millers.  The plan is to use this subterfuge to cross over the border without suspicion.

On the plus side, the cast is great.  Sudeikis makes the most of his leading man status by cracking wise early and often to make him likable as all get-out.  Poulter, who is probably most recognized as Edmund from the 3rd Narnia movie, also infuses his character with such goofy earnestness that lights up his scenes.  Anniston layers her humor with a lot of rage.  Her Rose hates her life, she hates that she's a stripper, and she hates that she's broke.  That venom bubbles over hilariously at Sudeikis, with whom she has a wonderful love/hate chemistry.  Roberts acts as the cynical gadfly, but it is fun to watch those layers slowly peal off as she enjoys her fake family a little too much.

The hijinks are outrageous and often hilariously vulgar.  For example, Luis Guzman has a small part as a Mexican cop who shakes down the "Millers" for a payoff, either money or something... more intimate.  David casually tells Rose to take one for the team, but then the cop reveals that he would instead prefer more manly contact.  Rose then throws the David's words back at him.  The situation continues to escalate with more and more shock laughs.

Now, I don't have a problem with vulgarity in general, as long as it is intelligently used.  I never was a huge fan of the American Pie series because their gross out humor was shallow and evaporated once the shock wore off.  We're the Millers actually has some wit behind it and I laughed often during the film.  But is this a good movie?

The problem with answering that is the movie's thematic problem.  The movie is about a drug dealer using others to become a drug trafficker.  The drug trade is an ugly, life ruining business, that the movie goes out of the way to soften the characters.  David is forced to do this by more evil people.  Rose is only doing this because she quit stripping and has been evicted.  And the upper management of the drug cartel are shown to be horrid people.  But middle people like David, and the actual act of smoking pot is given a pass.

The movie's biggest problem is how it views the traditional family.  David chooses a caricature of the nuclear family because he sees it as the essence of lameness.  They encounter a red-state whitebread family on the road played by Nick Offerman and Katheryn Hahn and their geek daughter Molly C. Quinn.  They are portrayed as bland losers who have no spice in their lives.  But they are at their heart kind.

Throughout the movie David has to take the role of "dad" to Kenny.  And Rose tries to steer Casey towards good decisions like a mom (which Casey grows to like).  The movie clicks and is most likable when the characters stumble onto the joys of ordinary family life.  But the film keeps this ideal at arms length and continually ridicules it.  This isn't just a light-hearted ribbing.  It mocks the nature of simple family life while yearning for it.  Because of this, the characters never get to really and truly grow to the place the story is taking them.  The main characters are "too cool" to fully commit.

This unsatisfying thematic conflict leaves an awkwardly bad aftertaste after viewing We're the Millers, despite the genuinely funny moments to be had.

2 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Trailer Time: August Osage County

I was in the theater when I saw the trailer for this upcoming bit of Oscar bait.  I was intrigued that it drew in actors I like: Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch.

But the story looks horrible.  It feels like a drab deconstruction of marriage and family.  It is based on a play that won Pulitzer and Tony awards.  So I looked them up on the show's wikipedia page to see the plot breakdown.

It.  Was.  AWFUL!

The story is mired in vulgar, perverted, pretentious, depressing dreck, that of course I'm sure the movie will get critical acclaim.  I am TIRED of people thinking that dark and depressing = "real."

All families are dysfunctional in some way.  Yet, surprise surprise, we actually love each other.

It is clearly intended to be a vehicle for its cast and crew to win awards.  If this movie gets heaped with nominations, it will be another nail in the coffin of Oscar Irrelevance.

Of course I'm basing this only on the trailer.


Sunday Best: Actors of All Time #24 - Gene Hackman


The Royal Tenanbaums
Superman II
Crimson Tide
The Poseidon Adventure
Now Way Out
Young Frankenstein
The Quick and the Dead

Gene Hackman is best known for playing tough guys.  As a result, much of his career is littered with over-the-top machismo.  But the reason why he was chosen for those roles is because he had a chance to shine as a man of hulking authority, not in frame, but in screen presence.

Hackman won an Oscar for the overrated Unforgiven.  The flaws in this movie are much more reflective of Clint Eastwood's inefficient style, not because of the performances, particularly Hackman's.  His Little Bill is a sadist who wraps himself in the law to justify his violent tendencies.  He goes from smiling to scowling in a way that fills you with terror.

His characters always project strength as he did in Crimson Tide, where is tough-as-nails captain is in a battle of authority with his first officer.  But he doesn't play these characters as 1-dimmensional.  His performance as Herod in The Quick and the Dead has some truly wonderfully understated moments where he realizes he has to fight his son or when he begins to experience real fear for the first time in years.  You can also see that fear in his trapped performance in No Way Out as he feels the walls closing in on the cover up for the accident death of his mistress.  You get a knot in your stomach just hearing the stress in his voice.

That does not mean that he doesn't have a wide range of emotions.  His coach in Hoosiers is very stoic and understated.  But when he very simply and unguardedly says, "I love you guys," it echoes deeply because of the depth that Hackman brings.  And no performance of is more heartbreaking for me than his Rev. Scott in The Poseidon Adventure.  The movie captures in a concrete, physical way the frustration that evangelizers feel every day.  Scott is trying to save everyone, but they won't listen.  And when they don't listen, they willingly embrace destruction.  He can only bring a few on the narrow path and many of those won't make it.  I will never forget his embracing the comic-tragic Mrs. Rosen and crying.  And it all culminates with his love/hate relationship with God over all of the pain they have endured.

But he also had a strong comedic side.  Many criticize the goofy tone of Lex Luthor in the Superman movies, and rightly so.  But given that it was his job to play Luthor the way Richard Donner prescribed, Hackman did an excellent job of being a callow con-artist.  It is particularly funny how he uses all the powers of his sycophantic scurrying to not only incur favor with Zod, but avoid his wrath.  And his turn as the blind man in Young Frankenstein is hysterical.

Gene Hackman, like Sean Connery, has quietly retired from acting.  But he has left us a great body of work to admire.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Trailer Time: Her

I find shy, introverted characters endearing.  And Joaquin Phoenix's character fits the bill, looking much like a mustachioed Leonard from The Big Bang Theory.

I can't tell if this movie is going to be profound or perverse.

If the AI is an actual mind, and not a program meant to simulate a person, then falling in love makes sense, since you have to minds (souls) making a connection.

But if it is just a program, then I think this could be an interesting reflection for our Siri-soaked society, where the line between illusion and reality blurs and we mistake artificial intimacy for the real thing.


Film Flash: We're the Millers

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

Genuinely funny movie soaked in thematic moral depravity, paradoxically ridiculing and admiring traditional families

2 and a 1/2 out of 5 stars

Friday, August 9, 2013

Trailer Time: Muppets Most Wanted

I enjoyed the last outing of the Muppets.  It was very interesting to see the movie made by adults who grew up with the Muppets try and recapture that same innocent magic.

Ty Burrell is a good fit for this new movie with his ability to present a child-like disposition.  But I am leary of the fact that Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey are so prominent.  They are the epitome of cynicism and snark in comedy.  I don't know if their jaded baggage will drag down the fun.  But we'll see.

New Movie Stars: Anna Kendrick's "Cups"

I've written at length about the death of the traditional movie stars and how there are very few people with enough of a following to open up a movie with the strength of their name.  Tom Cruise and Adam Sandler, minus a few missteps are a couple of the few.

But I've tried to find who has the potential to be big.  I remember when I saw The Quick and the Dead in the theaters, I was fascinated by newcomber Russel Crowe and I remember thinking that this man should be a star.  A few years later I was proven right with the release of Gladiator.

I think the same thing about Anna Kendrick.  So far, movies where she has played the lead have done fairly well, but have not been blockbusters.

But last year's Pitch Perfect is an interesting case.  She was the lead actress in a charmingly fluffy movie that made a respectable $65 million at the box office.  But this movie got such good buzz after it left theaters that DVD sales skyrocketed.  This is especially important since sales of DVD's have been on a steady decline.  The soundtrack also sold amazingly.  But strangest of all, a short accapella solo that Kendrick sang broke through the top 100 on iTunes.

Capitalizing on that, the music studio has done a fully produced version of the song along with this music video:

Looking ahead, Kendrick is slated to appear in a lot of smaller, independent movies.  But she is also going to be playing Cinderella in Into the Woods and is signed on to do Pitch Perfect 2.  She seems like a serious young actress who does not strut around for the paparazzi party scene.  But if she builds on this fan base, I think she has it within her to become a new movie star.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mouse Poison

There was a very interesting article written in the LA Weekly by Nick Schager regarding Disney's television programming and its corrosive impact on young women (hat tip to Big Hollywod).  In it, Schager writes:

Disney Channel and Teen Nick preach the merits of being a brat by creating fictional worlds in which kids operate without -- or without any regard for -- adult supervision. Embracing the example set by the otherwise more wholesome granddaddy of the genre, Saved by the Bell, grown-ups are either altogether missing in these shows or, in the case of Wizards of Waverly Place andGood Luck Charlie (and the superior, now-canceled, iCarly), infantile sidekicks with no legitimate influence on their mischievous charges. When adults are around, they're depicted as buffoons, and their threats of punishment are toothless, mere narrative devices designed to provide drama while also underscoring the kids' awesome and lionized do-what-I-wanna-do behavior.

The whole article is worth reading here.

I don't completely agree with all of his points.  He sees the weakness of parental characters as a kind of commentary on the how unnecessary parents are.  But that has been a staple of child-driven shows for as long as I can remember.  The Goonies had to save their community for their parents.  Adults don't have voices in the Charlie Brown universe.  And when his father screwed up, Spanky had to give his dad a spanking.

But I am glad that Schager raised the issue of the influence of shows directed at tween girls from the Mouse House and from Nickelodeon.  I think the problem is less in terms of actual content.  One of the reasons why these shows are so saturated among the young is that parents feel much more comfortable having their kids watch this than anything on the ironically titled ABC Family or network television.  Schager is upset at the smart-alecky attitude these shows exemplify.  But is a truism in most pre-teens that doesn't need a tv show to encourage.

My real issue with these shows is the next stage.  Let's turn back the clock to the Mickey Mouse Club with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.  The show featured these two talented young women sharing the innocent joys of singing and dancing.  But by their mid-teens, they took the fast track to superstardom.  When Britney was still under 18 she became a media sensation by: a) dancing as a half-naked Catholic schoolgirl and b) posing provocatively in other various states of undress for Rolling Stone.  (You know Rolling Stone?  The magazine that recently did a glamour cover of a mass murderer?)  This led to constant debasement of one-upsmanship in trashiness between Britney and Christina culminating in both of them making out on stage with Madonna.

If this was just another example of the corruption of a young girl with dreams of stardom, it would be just another sad story.  But look at where they came from.  They were farmed out from Mickey Mouse. This is becoming much more of a problem as the young stars are drawing an audience around themselves.  I would venture to say that few kids knew who Britney and Christina were when they were on the Disney Channel.  But how many of them know Selena Gomez, Victoria Justice, Ashley Tisdale, and Vanessa Hudgens?  And of course, Miley Cyrus.

Part of the problem is the common challenge young actors have as they get older: they don't want to be seen as kids.  Many, like Joseph Gordon Levitt and River Phoenix, played more "mature" parts, like that of male prostitutes, in order to shed their childish image.  But this is even more common for young female actresses.  But it is worse than this phenomenon by itself.  There is a concerted effort to sexualize these young women as soon as possible.

Let us take a look at Miley Cyrus.  Unlike Britney or Christiana, she was already a big name with her Hannah Montana show.  Parents liked the inoffensive programming.  Young girls liked the colorful hijinx and the peppy music.  What little girl watching that show would want to be Miley as she got to play dress up and have adventures as a superstar?  Miley herself seemed like a safe role model, espousing good morals and saying things like "I believe in being pure before marriage."

But then two public things happened.  First was the semi-nude photo of Miley taken for Vanity Fair by legendary photography Annie Leibovitz.  The then 15-year-old starlet showed off her bare back, covering her front by a bed-sheet.  It didn't show any real nudity, but it was provocative enough to be clearly sexual in nature.  Leibovitz claims her photo was mis-interpreted.  But how many of us buy that?  Perhaps I'm wrong, but it seems clear that Leibovitz was moving Miley into the transition from sweetheart to sweet tart.

The second incident a year later was her debut performance of her hit song "Party in the USA."  The song itself is not explicit, though it leans heavily on references to raunch from Britney Spears and Jay-Z.  But her performance on stage at the Teens Choice Awards was more overtly sexual in style than anything she had done before.

Many people who were uncomfortable with the photo spread and the icky dance number that were told that they were reading too much into what was there.  They were seeing their own fears and hang-ups in this girl.  And if these prudes saw that in these things that Miley did, its spoke more to their own pre-occupation with sex.

But look at the trajectory of Miley then to Miley now and tell them again that they were off base.  Her latest song and video is an ecstatic embrace of hedonism, lust, and shamelessness.  This is from the girl whose poster graced millions of young girls rooms around the world.

My point is not simply to point out the tragedy of a corrupted youth, but to point out that this is something cynically gauged by the entertainment industry.

Does anyone else notice that Nickelodeon is owned by the same company as MTV?

MTV has ceased being a television station about music.  It exists to promote a lifestyle.  That lifestyle involves self-centered, perpetual adolescence that eschews responsibility and embraces the pure pleasure principle.  But even if it was still focused on music, it would still be the same.  The music industry glamorizes all kinds of abhorrent behavior from drugs, to violence, to sex in order to titilate and entice those whose hormones are just waking.

What better way to ensnare these young ones into your to bait your trap with the happy friendly faces they idolized as children?  How much easier it is to sexualize the young ladies of the world by showing that behavior in their stars from Disney and Nickelodeon?

I see so few good role models in the popular culture for young women.  And even when I do, I worry that they will also lose their minds Amanda Bynes-style and corrode the character of their fans.  I look at someone like Taylor Swift who as of right now seems to be a very level-headed, kind, dignified young woman.  But I cannot restrain the cynical thought: "How long till she goes nuts."  Swift once said: "I think it's my responsibility to know it, and to be conscious of it. And it would be really easy to say-- you know, I'm-- I'm 21 now. I do what I want. You raise your kids. But it's, that's not the truth of it. The truth of it is that every singer out there with songs on the radio is raising the next generation. So make your words count."

I think she understands very clearly the influence of pop culture on the young.

So what is the solution?

I don't think this is the place a lengthy discussion on winning the culture war.  But at the very least, parents should remind their children that we can admire someones talent and skill, but that we should not model our lives after anyone who doesn't bring us closer to God.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Trailer Time: Thor the Dark World Trailer #2

"That was for New York."

This movie hasn't elaborated much more in terms of plot.  But I have to say about half-way through I got chills.  I love the dynamic of the characters and how they've changed since the first movie.

And visually, the movie looks better than the last.  I can't wait to see this.


Film Review: The Wolverine

There are some actors that are are indelibly connected to a character: Ford as Indy, Downey Jr. as Iron Man, and Jackman as Wolverine.  When he burst forth from the screen in 2000's X-Men, he was the best cinematic version of the character that any fan could hope for.  But he hasn't been able to fully realize the character on screen.

Until now.

The Wolverine is the best movie about adamantium-clawed super hero yet.  One of the things that makes this such a departure is that it is the first movie that he has been in that is not an X-Men movie.  This is not only true in title (his first solo movie was titled X-Men Origins: Wolverine), but also in style.  Yes, there are throwbacks to X-Men the Last Stand and there we will see others with superpowers, but for the most part, this is Wolverine standing alone from crazy costumed capers.

The story takes place a few years after the events of X-Men the Last Stand (Full disclosure: I am in the extreme minority who think that this was the best of the X-Men movies.  Take this information as you will as you continue with this review).  Wolverine, or Logan as he is also known, is living as a hermit in the woods, as far away from civilization as he can (but within a day's walk to buy hard liquor).  He is a broken, brutal beast.  But then the mysterious sword-weilding Yukio (Rila Fukushima) approaches him on behalf of her benefactor, a dying Japanese billionaire whom Logan once saved from a nuclear blast, Yashida (Hal Yomanuchi).  At his compound are Yashida's suspicious son Shingen (Hioryuki Sanada) and granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto).  It is here that Yashida offers Logan a chance to be "cured" of his healing factor so that his immortality can end.

From there the story takes some nice twists and turns.  The movie eschews the familiar settings and characters and drops Logan into the real-world setting of Japan.  This refreshing change not only breathes new life into the look of Wolverine's films, but it grounds this one much more in a reality that is lacking from his other outings.  Here things are a little rougher, more raw, and more violent.  But the best part is that director James Mangold finally fully realizes Logan as a character.  And to that end, he balances the two contradictory sides to Wolverine: the beast and the stalwart.

This is the first movie that we really see Wolverine cut loose like he does in the comics.  We caught a small glimpse of that in X2, but here, he mows down Yakuza thug after Yakuza thug with savage intensity.  He explodes with a feral rage that is primal and cathartic for anyone who ever felt their anger bottle up inside.  The fight scene on the bullet train, while done before in Mission: Impossible, is some high-octane fun.  The movie is full of enough exiting action for any summer movie enthusiast.  It is chock-full of explosive, well choreographed, dynamically filmed action.

But the other side of him is the noble protector.  There is something deep within him that desires to protect the innocent and take the bullets (sometimes literally) for those in need.  Jackman gives us his best Wolverine as he juggles these contrary motivations in a way that is not only believable, but enriches the movie.  Logan is at his best when he ruthless, but for a good cause.

Growing up as a young Catholic, I always resonated with this part of Wolverine.  It was not because I was a tough guy or anything.  But it was as if he had two spirits wrestling for control of his soul and at any time he could fall to one or the other.  Trying to follow Jesus while struggling against human sinfulness always seemed to me something like that same interior fight.  We aren't completely in control angels and we aren't blessedly conscience-free beasts.  We are something in the middle that fights against our own (fallen) nature.

And this internal pull is manifest in the Logan's interactions with Yukio and Mariko.  Yukio is a warrior like him who has seen the ugly side of life and knows how to navigate the seedy side of the world while trying to walk with the angels.  She sees Logan's animal side and encourages it.   Mariko is the ideal princess figure that embodies all of the chivalristic nobility that Logan desires and she inspires Logan to be more samurai than ninja.  So does he go with someone who accepts him as he is or does he turn to the one who makes him want to be more?  Mangold does a fantastic job of balancing Logan's story with both women so that the the audience can choose for themselves who is the better match.

The film's biggest flaws come out when it re-enters X-Men territory and introduces mutants and monsters to this otherwise straightforward movie.  My other problem is that the main mutant villain is, for lack of a better word, stupid.  There is an incredibly broad cannon of X-Men related characters from which the filmmakers could have chosen, and they picked one that was several layers of lame.

But the story fires on all cylinders when it is Wolverine against the world or Wolverine against himself.  He is more vulnerable and more wounded in this film than any other I have seen with him.  That simply raises the stakes and leaves more on the edge of your seat.

If you want to see a an excellent superhero/action movie, you should check out The Wolverine.

4 out of 5 stars

New Evangelizers Post: On the Necessity of Marriage

I have a new article up at


When Pope Paul VI wrote his (now in hindsight) prophetic work Humanae Vitae, he made clear that marriage is not simply a societal institution or norm.  Marriage is a part of God’s plan for humanity.

This is an important point for us today.  More and more people are eschewing marriage entirely because they fail to see its purpose.  Or some are trying to redefine marriage so as to include lifestyles that are contrary to the Gospel.  Marriage and its modes and practices is looked at as the old order, whereas the more modern and enlightened can carry on just fine without it.  In other words, marriage appears unnecessary.

But Paul VI was absolutely correct.  Marriage is necessary for the human species.

You can read the whole think here

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sunday Best: Actors of All Time #25 – Sean Connery

photo by Alan Light

The Untouchables
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The Hunt for Red October
The Presidio
The Name of the Rose
From Russia with Love

There are many reasons why James Bond has endured as a cinematic icon, but none are as important as the one and only Sean Connery.

I think we often forget how bold and different he was when he jumped out of the silver screen. Watch his performance in Dr. No and you see not only the swagger of self confidence, but we also see the deadly coldness that the franchise forgot until Casino Royale.

Connery's best turn is in From Russia with Love, his second outing as bond. It was a movie that is unlike modern Bonds, heavy on the gadgets and action. It is a movie of tense espionage and Connery carries you through 007's adventures so that you feel like you are there with him.

His post-Bond career has been as fruitful, if not as iconic. His turn as the mentoring Ramirez in Highlander is some over-the-top fun that leant that small-budgeted movie some gravitas. And his performance as old-tough-as-nails-convict in The Rock established him as the elder statesmen of action stars.

But the real showcase of his talents came in the late '80's – early '90's. The Hunt For Red October is given a much heavier tension because of Connery's performance as the defecting Russian captain. The part could have been easily played as straightforward hero. But Connery adds a menace to him as he casually murders a KGB agent and eats his steak as he informs his conspirators that he leaked their plans to Moscow. He projected not only power, but a little bid of madness. There is always a question mark hanging over his head: is he really a defector or is he crazy? Connery adds that edge to his performance.

In The Presidio, he was once again playing a tough guy, but the he showcased a more emotionally vulnerable side while trying to relate to his daughter but he also showed the intensity and pain of man who saw his world slipping away.

And it is The Name of the Rose that showed some of his greatest emotional intensity In it, he plays a Sherlock Holmes-like friar who solves mysteries with arrogant impunity. But he is then confronted with his past horrors at the hands of the inquisition. Connery mixes a potent cocktail of fear, resolve, defiance, and tenderness that shatters the earlier veneer to show a deeper truth. Particularly haunting is a scene where he recounts his tortures to his young pupil. The scene is covered in shadow and Connery has to convey everything with only his posture and voice.

He finally won an Academy Award for his turn as Malone in The Untouchables. What makes that strong performance so good is that underneath all of his bravado, you can see below the surface two strong emotions: fear and disgust. He is afraid of what walking the righteous path will cost him and he is disgusted that he has gone alone with it so long.

But I have to say that his most impressive performance was in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He traded his usual machismo for frailty in frame, but he had amazing strength of character. I always marvel when watching him that this man is also James Bond. But his Henry Jones is tweed-wearing academic who can still level his son with a paternal tone. This also was the best showcase of Connery's underused comedic talents. Notice how he is able to elicit laughs with his the simplest expression when he stares at Indy across the table or sheepishly smiles after he says, “She talks in her sleep.” And once again, he showed us that his characters have beating hearts under their armor. It always gets me as he embraces Indy and says “I thought I lost you, boy.” And his soft, authoritative voice so believably cuts through the fog of obsession when he says, “Indiana... Let it go.”

Connery is retired from acting, which I think is a shame. But after giving us so many great performances, he deserves his rest.