Monday, February 24, 2014

Harold Ramis Is Gone

photo by Justin Hoch

Russel Ziskey.

Egon Spengler.

Harold Ramis.

I didn't know about him as a director and writer until years later.  As a kid I watched Stripes and Ghostbusters over and over again.  Ramis was hysterical in his deadpan delivery.  Standing next to Bill Murray, he might have been mistaken as the straight man.  But he was every bit as funny, he just had a different style.

And he had a a wit to his writing that melded perfectly with the comedic sensibilities of his day.  But when he wanted to, he could be heartfelt.  Groundhog Day is not only a showcase for Bill Murray's acting talent, but it is a beautiful meditation on how only goodness can make man truly happy.

From what I've been able to gather, he and Murray had a falling out after that movie.  It's a shame, because I think that they made one of the great movie pairings.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, making movies isn't the most important job in the world.  But I can't help but feel like a part of my childhood has gone with him.  It is strange how we can develop an affection for people we have never met.

And I'm sad.

God rest his soul.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Best: Actors of All Time #5 - Daniel Day Lewis


 There Will Be Blood
The Last of the Mohicans
My Left Foot

There is only one actor in history to win 3 Best Actor Oscars:

Daniel Day-Lewis.

While he does not have as lengthy a resume as most people on this list, what he lacks in quantity, he makes up in quality.

In My Left Foot, Day-Lewis won his first Oscar his portrayal of Christy Brown was a physically daunting challenge to imitate his cerebral palsy.  Watching him work is almost exhausting as he gives a kinetic performance that uses every ounce of his physicality.  But that was just the outer shell of the deeper character Day-Lewis created.  His Christy is difficult character to like, but Day-Lewis doesn't take the easy way out and playing on our sympathy too directly.  He makes Christy full of pride, insecurity, and humanity.

Day-Lewis is a true chameleon as an actor.  He makes a different use of his physicality as Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans.  He stands as a man of action, full of charisma and conviction.  He delivers a performance that was also Oscar worthy.  He completely transformers into a pre-revolutionary American torn between two worlds.  The best part of his performance is the total conviction that he imbues Nathaniel.  His body language, his voice, and the still intensity of his gaze project a sense of total command.

The dark side of that confidence was on full display in There Will Be Blood.  The movie is beautifully shot but pretentious and a bit dull.  However, Day-Lewis' performance is absolutely mesmerizing, which earned him his second Oscar.  The first 20 minutes of the film has no dialogue and the action is fairly mundane.  Day-Lewis fills the screen with his presence.  His character is layered and larger than life.  If he was not in the film, no matter how wonderful the cinematography is, it would be unwatchable.  There is an acting principle called "doing nothing effectively," where you have to be seen doing very little, but not bore the audience.  Day-Lewis could hold the audience with a simple close up stare.  Behind his eyes you could see his evil machinations turning in his mind.  And he could also chew the scenery in a way that few can do as well.  For weeks I still had his line stuck in my head: "I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!  I DRINK IT UP!"

But I think his boldest performance was as our 16th president in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln.  I remember writing on this blog that the trailers really worried me.  I saw the snippets of Day-Lewis' performance and was taken aback by his acting choices.  His voice and his mannerisms were so different than every portrayal of Lincoln I had scene.  Lincoln is traditionally played with statuesque broadness with a deep timbered voice.  Day-Lewis made him a wiry reed with a high, cracking voice.  It wasn't until I saw the film and watched him completely disappear into the role that I recognized its brilliance.  He intentionally broke from Lincoln movie tradition in order to create something truly unique.  His Lincoln is wrapped in a weak but tall frame.  But Day-Lewis uses that to set it in relief against the monumental intelligence and resolve in the man's character.  Playing good is always more difficult than playing evil.  Day-Lewis does not play the man as infallible, but he knows that he has to step into the shoes of an historical hero.  And this earned him his 3rd Oscar.  And as cheesy and as unhistorical as it sounds, after watching his performance I felt like I encountered Abraham Lincoln.

Daniel Day-Lewis does not go up to bat in a starring role as often as most people on this list.  But when he does, he is almost guaranteed a home run

Thursday, February 20, 2014

New Evangelizers Post: Music - God's Arrow to the Heart

I have a new article up at

Most of my articles here at New Evangelizers have focused on apologetics: giving a logical and systematic defense and explanation of the faith.  As a religion teacher, this has been the focus of my career, to remove the intellectual obstacles that my students have to understanding the Lord.

“Why is there a hell?”  “Why do we have to go to Mass?”  “How can we trust the Bible?”

Most of my efforts involves laying out the evidence and giving evidential or logical proofs for our beliefs.  And I know that this is a proper thing to do because, as St. Thomas Aquinas constantly emphasized, our faith is rational.  God is the author of Reason, and so Reason should give light to the Lord.

But, of course, we are more than rationality.  We are not like Mr. Spock, devoid of all but logic.  Christ does not only appeal to the mind, but to the heart.  Most of our great conversions to the Lord might begin with reason.  But the final push is almost always involves a metanoia or change of heart.  We need the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts and light a fire.

But like any fire, it has to be fueled, stoked, and enkindled.  And there are few way better to do this than music.

You can read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Film Flash: The Lego Movie

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

Almost suffocated under its own cynicism masquerading as sincerity.  But the Batman parts are cool.

2 out of 5 stars.

Trailer Time: Guardians of the Galaxy

I have loved all of the Marvel movies since Iron Man.  Or at the very least, I have gotten my money's worth for the price of admission.

And now we have the first trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy.  Watch here.

Before I stopped reading, one of their contributors commented that Guardians of the Galaxy will be Marvel's first flop.

After this trailer I'm inclined to agree.

The special effects look great.  Chris Pratt looks awesome.

It's John C. Reilly that's bothering me.

It isn't that he is playing a big part (I don't know one way or another).  But if you listen to his tone, his cadence... It feels like he belongs in something closer to Spaceballs than Star Wars.

I get that Marvel movies have strong elements of humor.  But this might be too much.  It has a very 5th Element vibe to it.

And I HATED The 5th Element.

I'm open-minded.  But I'm pessimistic.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Great Movies Ruined By Their 3rd Act

Yesterday I showed my wife one of my favorite movies growing up: Explorers.

But we skipped most of the 3rd act because it is, quite simply, awful.  The first 2 acts are full of wonder and imagination.  The 3rd act is utterly stupid.  And it is such a shame.  If they had a even a semi-decent falling action, I think that Explorers would be as loved as movies like Goonies.

3rd acts are important.  Not only do they give us resolution of emotion and character, but they are the last note that resonates when the movie ends.  Even if everything else is great, that ending can ruin all of the good will the movie engenders.

But this got me to thinking about other movies that are great except for their 3rd acts.


No Country for Old Men

The first 2/3 of this movie are absolute brilliance.  It is visually stunning and emotionally thrilling.  But then the movie comes completely off the rails.  It was originally a story about a man who finds millions in drug money on the run from a killer.  Then it becomes a ponderously tedious meditation on death.  It is so disappointing because the Cohen Brothers could have made a great movie.  Instead they made something exciting into something pretentious

Inglorious Basterds

The movie is essentially 2 stories: a Jewish girl out for revenge and an American group seeking to attack the Nazis.  One of the most intriguing parts of the build-up is waiting for the 2 stories to intersect.  But they don't.  They merely overlap, which misses out on such a great opportunity and it feels like a horrible cheat.

The Great Escape

I know this might be movie blasphemy, but the 3rd act of The Great Escape is not nearly as awesome as the first 2.  Yes, everyone remembers Steve McQueen on the motorcycle, but everything else is kind of slow and lacks the vim and vigor of the the actual escape.

Young Frankenstein

There are so many good jokes in the first 2 acts.  I can barely remember anything funny from the last act.  I remember what happens, but I don't remember laughing at anything.

The Exorcist III

I think this is one of the most underrated horror movies of all time.  Most of it is stunning in its visual scares and the dialog is terrifying.  In fact, most of the frightening parts come from the killers monologues.  But in the last act, the visuals are kind of silly and it ends rather abruptly

AI: Artificial Intelligence

There is actually much to admire about this movie.  The emotional core is very strong.  But when David finally reaches his destination, it is like the writers did not know how to handle the end.  So they tacked on a 20 minute epilogue.

The Fugitive

This is one of the most potent examples for me.  This is an awesome movie until the 3rd act.  Right after the St. Patrick's Day Parade, something is lost in terms of momentum.  And the denouement feels lazy and contrived.  When I watch this movie I usually stop before the 3rd act begins.

Cast Away

To be honest, the first act is all that great either.  The middle act is fantastic, and it never is able to recapture that magic.  When Chuck gets back from the island, the movie meanders with only a few great moments.  I usually scan through most of it.

Catch Me If You Can

There are a lot of parts that can be edited out of this movie throughout.  But after his time in prison, Frank's story line with the FBI plays out way too long.  It feels like a retread of parts from the beginning of the film.

Super 8

There is so much that I like about this movie.  And there is an emotional resonance with the last moments.  But there are too many story problems in the final act that makes me unable to enjoy it.  The adult characters act so illogically and the alien is too monstrous.

So what do you think?  What movies do think are ruined by their 3rd act?

Put it in the comments.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Film Review: Frozen

The short of it is that Frozen is the best Disney musical since Aladdin.

Growing up I was a sucker for the great Menken/Ashman Disney Renessance movies: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.  None of the musicals since, not even The Lion King, have been able to capture that magic.

Until Frozen.

Like The Little Mermaid, it is loosely based on a Hans Christian Anderson story.  It is about two sisters: Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell).  These princesses are close to each other, but Elsa has the ability to freeze things.  After accidentally hurting Anna, their parents decide to wipe her memory of Elsa's powers and teach the older Elsa to hide her powers from the world.  This causes a rift between the sisters as they grow up with Anna not understanding Elsa's distance and Elsa held back by her secret.

Without giving much of the plot away, circumstances force Elsa to flee to the mountains.  Anna must leave behind her love-at-first-sight fiancee Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) to search for her sister.  Together with with a working class ice merchant Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his trusty reindeer Sven, and a magical snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), they must climb the mountain to save (in more ways than one) Elsa.

There is a great deal to admire about this movie.  The visuals are just beautiful.  The design of the characters is consistent with traditional 2D Disney animation, but they made the right call by going computer animated.  The ice effects, with all of their translucent textures and subtle reflections give the move a tangible quality that you would not have been able to mimic in hand drawn cells.

And the music is top notch.  "Let it Go," Elsa's ballad of liberation is beautiful and powerful.

But each of the numbers is fun and moving.  You cannot underestimate the power of good music.  I am convinced that Randy Newman's awful soundtrack to The Princess and the Frog is what caused that movie to fail the way it did.

Not to mention that the story is both moving and funny.  I love the way this story explores the relationship between sisters, something I don't think has been really developed in a Disney princess movie.  But Olaf, Sven, and Kristoff bring the right amount of laughs to the story.  Olaf is particularly funny with his inability to grasp how his desire for Summertime could be his undoing.

But my favorite part of the movie is the theme.  Like most films of this kind, it is centered on true love.  But what impressed me most was that Frozen does not stay down at the level of mere sentiment or even high romance.  That a movie aimed at children would try to instill in them the fundamental idea that love is not a feeling but a choice… I think that is a profound statement to make.

In the classroom, I have already used Frozen as a concrete example of Christian love.  Anna, Elsa, Kristoff… all of the characters have to confront the idea of love and sacrifice.  And our faith reminds us that love is putting the needs of others before your own and that this love must be expressed in some kind of sacrifice.

I left the theater moved and delighted.

And isn't that what we are looking for in a fairy tale?

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Happy Presidents Day

Today is the day we celebrate our two greatest Presidents: Washington and Lincoln.

I am convinced that the reason we reflexively honor these men is that we get the day off of school for for their holiday.

But that does not mean that they were not great men.  I could go on and on about their virtues and accomplishments.  But I always focus on these two:

Washington said no to a crown.  After the Revolutionary War, his generals planned to acclaim him King of America.  It seems an easy call in the abstract, but how many men in that concrete situation would lay aside absolute power?  And by doing so, Washington reminded us that power is a tool of service, not gain.  His presidency was the model of all presidencies.

Lincoln said no to ending the Civil War.  That war was essentially a battle of wills between Lincoln and General Lee.  The first one to blink would lose.  And Lee gave Lincoln so many reasons to blink.  There were so many missteps and failures from the North.  But Lincoln never gave in, no matter how long the bloody business continued, through the death of his son, through never ending public pressure... I cannot imagine the strain it took on him.  But he held on for the greater good.

I also think that they are safe men to honor.  Because of the politically charged climate, if you choose a favorite president from the last 50 years, it tips your political persuasion too sharply for polite company.

But we can all agree that Washington and Lincoln are worth of honor.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday Best: Actors of All Time #6 - Tom Hanks


Road to Perdition
Cast Away
The Green Mile
 You've Got Mail
 Saving Private Ryan
 Apollo 13
 Forrest Gump
Sleepless in Seattle

There is a reason Tom Hanks is one of the most celebrated actors of his generation.

And I never would have pegged it based on his early career.

Hanks' performance were not bad.  In fact, they tended to be very good.  But as is often in the realm of comedy, great acting can be overlooked.  Also, his early work was a little too smirky; they were fun but they also lacked depth.  And yet he turned in some hilarious turns in movies like Dragnet, Splash, and The Money Pit.

The first time I took real notice of Tom Hanks as an acting powerhouse was in the movie Philadelphia.  I remember thinking it so strange that a comedic actor like Hanks would be given such a tragically dramatic role.  Much was made of his weight loss for the role, but the real work was in his face.  The movie itself is actually pretty bad (though I've seen few critics willing to admit it), but the performance Hanks gives is Oscar worthy.  Director Jonathon Demmi let the camera in close, uncomfortably close, and Hanks uses that intimacy with the audience for great effect.  Watch as he closes his eyes and is taken away by the sadness and emotion of his favorite opera:

After this, I went back and watched his other Oscar nominated performance in Big.  At first glance, I thought that it was just another comedic turn.  But watching it again, I saw the layers that Hanks was putting into his role.  He was playing a boy pretending to be a man who becomes a man but needs to be a boy.  That is a complicated persona to present, and yet Hanks is wonderfully open and vulnerable the way a child in an adult world would be.

This next role might be his most iconic: Forrest Gump.  This is a character that is often imitated, but (pardon the trite expression) never duplicated.  I think in most people's memories, Hanks simply affected an accent and acted simple.  But like his performance in Big, he used the outward layers to help inform a deeper character.  One of the amazing things about the performance is that it wears its tone and accent like a costume.  The real acting is underneath it.  I think almost anyone else would have been lost in those layers.  But Hanks by this time learned the power of stillness and how to pierce the heart with minimal movement.  Not only could he ring deep, genuine laughs, but he could move you to tears.  Hear the pain in his voice when he says, "I'm not a smart man, but I know what love is."  It is such a deep admission of his failings and yet a defiant proclamation of his wisdom.  And look at the killer scene when he comes to realize who Jenny's son is:

These big dramatic roles also helped his comedy.  He was able to bring that depth to movies like Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail.  In the former, Hanks added a melencholy flavor to his widower Sam that did not drain from the humor, but acted as salt to something sweet and highlighted the comedy.  And his Joe Fox in the latter could have been played as a one-dimensional corporate jerk.  But he brought great humanity to the role, especially the times when he is hurt by the woman he loves.

He got to stretch his adventure/leadership acting skills in movies like Saving Private Ryan and Apollo 13.  What I really like about both of those performances is the level of control Hanks uses.  In both, he plays men of discipline.  And he plays the honesty of that role all the way through.  In Ryan, Hanks holds in much of his emotion in order to appear strong for his men, only letting himself cry when no on is looking.  I read a story that said there was a heartfelt speech in the script about his character's wife and how much he loved and missed her.  The article hinted that this speech could have one him another Oscar.  But Hanks told Spielberg to nix the speech because his character would not talk about something so private.  That character integrity earned so much respect from me.  You can see that again with his astronaut Jim Lovell.  He is a man trained to not panic.  And Hanks trusts the audience enough to understand that the situation calls for panic without him losing his cool.

Hanks has even played a little notorious.  His darkest role is without a doubt Road to Perdition.  As a hit man out for revenge, Hanks had to project the look of a cold-blooded assassin while at the same time being sympathetic enough to keep us watching.  This is no easy task, and yet Hank infuses his character with enough contradiction to keep him interesting.  He is a killer and a man of faith.  He is a father who scares his son.  His main enemy is someone he loves dearly.  And Hanks plays all of those parts for everything they are worth.

But his best role by far is as Chuck Nolan in Cast Away.  Once again, he went through a radically physical transformation, but that was only the icing on the cake.  Whenever Cast Away is on, I cannot stop watching.  And the reason is because of Hanks' performance.  It is amazing to watch his slow descent into madness.  And it is a madness borne out of necessity to hold onto even one shred of sanity.  Director Robert Zemekis demonstrates complete faith in Hanks' acting by taking away all safety nets while he is on that island: no musical score, not narration, no monster from which to hide, no other actors with whom to dialogue.  Hanks must hold the movie together purely on his skill and talent.  Is there any scene more heartbreaking than Chuck and Wilson's last scene?

We believe because Hanks gives every ounce of emotional strength to get us to feel for a volleyball we KNOW is not a person.  We are under no illusions.  We never see what Chuck sees in his mind.  Wilson is just a ball.  There is no doubt about that.  And yet it kills us to see that scene.  And check out the look in Hanks' eyes on his plane trip home: that haunted, hunted look.  He snaps "into character" as soon as someone talks to him, but you can tell that he is fundamentally changed.  The look that always gets me is when he turns on the lighter.  In that one look you can see his utter disbelief at something he knows is real but cannot fathom it.

And finally there is is monologue at the end.  It is a pitch perfect expression of loss and hope.

Tom Hanks is one of the true greats.  Just to say his name conjures great memories of great performances that will be with us for many years to come.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Movie Title Breakup

I watched this video and laughed so hard.

What makes this so special for me is that my wife and I used to play this game while we were dating of having conversations using movie titles every time we spoke.  So watching this was like in a weird way nostalgic.


I'm Done With

Most of us have those top 5 or so websites that we go to once or multiple times a day.  Among mine for the past few years

There is a lot of good stuff on  It's a website dedicated to science and science fiction.  As a self-professed geek, I have spent a lot of time reading fascinating articles about the latest advancements in technology and all the latest rumors about upcoming movies, television, video games and comic books.

However, there has always been a huge flaw with the overall ethos of the site.  For them, "pro-science" had to also be in essence "anti-religious."  

This is, of course, a strange way of thinking.  How many of our great scientific advancements have come from people of faith.  Copernicus was a priest.  Gregor Mendel was a monk.  And Werner Heisneberg (of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, once said "TThe first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”  (hat tip to my friend, whom we will call "The Bishop" for sending me the quote)

We would not even have modern science without Christianity.  Because the early Church Fathers embraced the classic Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, they did everything they could to point to the rationality of the faith.  And going further, if the faith is rational because God is rational, then all of God's creation is rationally designed.  The world is not pure chaos.  If a God of order created it, then there is a order in the universe.  It must have laws.  

It was on this principle that some of the great scientific advancements took place.  

And yet would constantly throw up snide articles sneering at religion or people of faith.  The message boards and comments were even worse, but that is to be expected at any website.  I put up with all of the hatred because it was still a fascinating source of information and I attempted to be charitable in remembering that not everyone has experienced the love of God.

But then writer Rob Bricken wrote an article that was ignorant and intentionally hurtful to people of faith.  His article was not simple a questioning of God's actions in the Old Testament.  It was a screed against the actions of God throughout.  But it was also done with such venom and vulgarity, that it paled to almost anything I have seen on the site.  

Bricken also seems to be unaware of the inherent problem with his takedown.  He is using the Bible to attack God.  But if the Bible is a book that is meant to inspire faith in God, then obviously these stories are meant to show God's goodness, rather than an evil God.  Bricken takes no time to investigate this.  If he considers it, his conclusion must be that the human authors of the Scriptures (he obviously does not believe God is the author) are either too stupid to realize their error or they are so sadistic to see the blatant evil of their God.  We should be thankful that the wise, insightful, compassionate, and enlightened Rob Bricken is here to bully us out of this barbaric belief.

It is ironic that he ends his article by accusing God of horrible actions against Job.  This is one of the most profound and mysterious books of the Old Testament.  Job goes through great suffering by Satan, permitted by God.  Job honestly wrestles with the question of why bad things happen to good people.   Bricken reduces it to God playing with Job's life for kicks.  He also misses the entire point of God's answer to Job.  I don't blame Bricken for not understanding the answer and finding it unsatisfying.  I didn't like it either the first time I read it.  

Of course I was 13 at the time.

But Job accepts God's answer.  But rather than trying to figure out why Job understands and Bricken does not, Bricken cops out.  

I wonder if he would be so dismissive and shallow with any other piece of literature.  It is amazing to me how on they will commit to long, in depth, nearly scholarly exegesis of The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, even Batman: The Killing Joke.  Great concern is given to understand a piece of writing before critiquing it.

But not the Bible.

How unenligthened!

How unscientific!

And for that reason, I am done with

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Wednesday Comics: Why AMC's Preacher TV Show is a Stupid Idea

As a comic book fan, I am usually up to date on the latest TV and movie adaptation of comic book properties.

News has gotten around that AMC has greenlit a pilot adaptation of the critically acclaimed comic book series Preacher.  AMC has found unbelievable success with another dark comic series turned TV show The Walking Dead.  The network is obviously looking for their next big hit.  And Preacher, like The Walking Dead, is violent, has a devoted fan base, and is has been given incredibly high accolades from people inside and outside of the comic book industry.  I'm assuming that this is why AMC has chosen Preacher.

This is also a monumentally stupid idea.

And by a stupid idea, I do not mean that I personally do not like it or find it offensive.  I am saying that the idea is an unwise move for AMC

Below are the following reasons why.

1.  Blasphemy Chic.
The plot of Preacher is that a man who is contaminated by a half demon/half angel called Genesis decides to go on a quest to kill God, who is an absentee tyrant.  Throughout the series, the story takes shots at God, Jesus, religion and the like with a darkly humourous hipster vulgarity.

If you think religion and religious people are weird and cultish, then this story would be viewed as a cool way to knock them.  I think that this idea is prevelent in much of the entertainment industry.  This is evidenced by much of the way faith and Christianity are presented in much of the pop culture.  (e.g. last year's ABC comedy "Good Christian B**ches.")

But this is the attitude of the minority.  The majority of people do not thin that is cool to point at the pious and laugh.  This may appeal to a small subset of the culture (like HBO's Girls), but it is not an idea that has big ratings appeal.

You can say that meth cookers and zombies are also out of the mainstream.  But those were just mediums and methods to tell universally human stories.  Disdain for God is not universally human, nor is it enormously popular.

2.  Moral Hits.
Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead are AMC's biggest hits.  They are dark and they are violent.  But ultimately, both shows are about morality.

Breaking Bad shows that making bad moral choices leads to bad things and corruption of character.  The Walking Dead asks the question about how to keep you soul, your humanity in a world gone wild.

And while they do explore the darker side of moral questions, there is little doubt that there is a right and wrong.  We get angry at Walter White or Rick Grimes when they stray from doing what they know is morally right.

Jesse Custer, the main character of Preacher, also has a sense of morality.  But it is so devoid of a traditional moral sense that I believe it will repel most viewers.

3.  Snark.
Garth Ennis, Preacher's creator, is an atheist who said that he wasn't worried about the blasphemous tone of his work.  He said that if there is a God, Ennis was sure He has a sense of humor.

This is telling in terms of how Preacher approaches the topic of God: a joke.  Even the horrifically heretical hit The DaVinci Code wrapped their sacrilege in a tight, taught thriller.  Preacher's tone is adolescent thumbing at the faith of mom and dad.

And you need more than shock and snark to pull in audiences week to week.  Game of Thrones satirizes religion often with vulgarity and pornography.  But Game of Thrones does have compelling characters with understandable goals.  (I am not excusing the bad morals of the show, but simply explaining why people keep coming back to it).  Game of Thrones also has the advantage of taking place in another world that has a completely alien religion.  Preacher directly mocks the faith and the love people have for their Lord and Savior.

The Walking Dead comic book has tackled religion.  So has the show.  But even when it is portrayed negatively, it is not done with the dismissive disdain of Preacher.

4.  Precedent.
Let's look at history.

The last major TV show or movie with a similar premise was The Golden Compass, a children's story about a young girl on a quest to kill God.  The movie made less than half of its $180 million dollar budget back.

The only major adaptation of any of Ennis' work is Thomas Jane's ill-fated Punisher movie.

Finally, the pilot is being written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.  These guys are steeped in shock humor, so it is not surprising that they have been tapped to do this.  But they don't have much to suggest that they have what it takes to translate the foul nature of Preacher into something that people will be compelled to watch week after week.

5.  Backlash.

I am sure that there will be outrage and people calling for boycotts of AMC.  I don't know if this would be a good or bad idea.  It will generate publicity for the show.  But there is very little AMC could do to defend the content.

Unlike HBO, AMC needs sponsors.  And I'm not sure sponsors would be willing to jump onto a show that is built around a hero on a quest to kill God, who for many millions is the most important person in our lives.

Those are my thoughts.  I could be wrong.

What do you think?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday Best: Actors of All Time #7 - Mel Gibson

photo by Alan Light (cropped by Cesar)


 The Beaver
 We Were Soldiers
What Women Want
 The Patriot
  Conspiracy Theory
 The Man Without a Face
 Forever Young
 Lethal Weapon 3
 Lethal Weapon 2
 Lethal Weapon

Not only is Mel Gibson one of the greatest directors of all time, he is also in the top 10 actors ever on the silver screen.

The single biggest attribute that is common in all of Gibson's performances is intensity.  There is an explosive fire underneath all of his performances.  Sometimes it explodes onto the screen.  Sometimes it smolders beneath the surface.  Either way, few actors can fuel their acting with such high-octane emotion.

His first great performance was as Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon.  Gibson plays the character with cold detachment coupled with wild-eyed insanity.  He is a madman who happens to be on the side of the angels.  Hard-boiled heroes are a dime-a-dozen in action movies, but Gibson's Riggs is both steely and emotionally vulnerable.  Watch again the scene where he puts the gun in his mouth and how he struggles with pulling the trigger.

 He pain is palpable and scary at the same time.  And throughout the movie, Gibson shows his dramatic and comedic chops.

Continuing with the series, Riggs is a character that grows and Gibson shows him move by inches.  In Lethal Weapon 3, Riggs has changed in such subtle ways where he actually is very different internally, though outward appearances look otherwise.  He goes from a man with nothing to lose with everything to lose.

Speaking of Lethal Weapon 3, it is in my mind the best of the series because of the chemistry between Gibson and Danny Glover as Roger Murtagh.  The opening scene with the bomb is exciting and hysterical.  Their shorthand is familiar and funny.  But it is also wordlessly potent.  There is small scene in the movie where Murtagh's gun accidentally goes off in the locker room.  Riggs immediately begins to knock over lockers and act crazy to make people think he fired the shot.  Gibson then sits down and silently exchange a look with Glover.  In that simple stare there is concern, friendship, fear, and respect.

I would have to say the first time I truly understood Gibson's greatness was his Hamlet.  I first discovered this Franco Zefferelli interpretation when it was played ad nauseum on HBO.  I had not yet fallen in  love with Shakespeare and found the Bard's words distant and foreign.  But I found Gibson mesmerizing.  He captured the Danish prince's melancholy, but what grabbed me was his madness.  When he says, "Now could I drink hot blood..." it doesn't feel like a metaphor.  He makes Hamlet run the emotional gamut, but there is a real insanity to his actions that is electric.

You can see this intensity throughout his career.  I can think of so many moments where he broke through to me emotionally.  In The Patriot, when he collapses and repeats reflexively "God help me!  God help me!"  I cannot help but see myself reacting in the same way in response to such loss.  In the mediocre movie, The Beaver, Gibson shows his character's breakdown from depression to actual insanity.  He makes the fear palpable and catch in your throat as the human face in Signs.

And as mentioned before, Gibson has a talent for comedy.  He trades a lot on his natural charisma and charm.  Maverick, though a bit overlong, is watchable and enjoyable because of how affable Gibson's scheming scoundrel card shark is.  And in What Women Want, Gibson milks every ounce of comedic juice out of going from a misogynist jerk to a weeping womanish boyfriend.

But I think that his two greatest performances are from the early '90's.  In Forever Young, Gibson plays a man out of time, dealing with love and loss.  This is his most romantic role of his career.  He captures the complete desperation of a man in love beyond all hope.  The character is fairly written, but Gibson uses his skill as an actor to get across most of his pain and longing non-verbally.

But his greatest performance is in Braveheart.  Gibson himself talked about being rushed in making this film because he also directed it.  It amazes me that he not only crafted the look of one of the greatest films ever made, but he had to intuitively direct himself into his best performance.  His William Wallace is complex, layered, and multi-faceted.  Re-watch that performance and you will find a tour-de-force effort by Gibson, employing all of the tools in his skill set.  Wallace is charming and funny.  The first act courtship of his love is full of cute body language and line delivery.  Gibson is also able to use all of his action movie acting to create a believable warrior.  He plumbs the emotional depths of loss and sorrow.  He projects a cold-blooded killer instinct as he spends a good portion of the movie silently slitting throats and smashing in faces.  And even through all of that, Gibson projects a nobility of character that is so strong that you can believe that other men would fight and die for him.  There is a reason that his Battle of Sterling speech is still so often quoted and remembered.  It is not just because of writer Randal Wallace's fantastic words.  It is because Gibson creates a character who is both larger than life and inspires the noblest warrior in every man.

Mel Gibson is an actor of rare talent that has left his mark in movie history.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Film Flash: Frozen

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

Profound meditation on the nature of true love beautifully wrapped in classic Disney musical style.

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

New Evangelizers Post: Don't Think Like An Atheist

I have a new article up at

We live in a much different society than in ages past.  Modernity tends towards skepticism in a way that no other age has.  In this regard, it is important to meet the questions of the day and the people in doubt where they are at.  We must understand how they think in order to lead their thoughts to higher truth.

But as we open the door to the atheist mind, it is important to remember that doors mean travel in either direction.  We hope to be bring the light of faith to atheism, but we have to remember that the darkness of atheism can dull our light of faith.

I am not talking about mere open-mindedness here.  We should listen to the arguments and ideas of the non-believers.  While Catholics have the fulness of truth, we do not have a monopoly on truth.  If someone in their atheism speaks truth and wisdom, we should acknowledge and accept it because all truth an wisdom ultimately comes from God.

The danger to which I am referring is the subtle assumptions that a skeptical culture has plastered on the walls of our mind.  We’ve already ceded much of the high ground, so our task is already difficult.  Rightly or not, there are several ideas floating around the culture that are taken as given truth that we must also avoid.

Below are a few points to keep in mind to resist having our minds match in lock-step with an unbelieving culture.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Surprise Comic Book Casting

In my many discussions I've had with others about Jesse Eisenberg being cast as Lex Luthor, I began reflecting on other surprise casting moves in comic book films.

(I'm going to avoid any of the Joel Schumacher movies, since even the perfect actor would have had an impossible time giving a good performance in one of those films)

ACTOR: Michael Keaton
photo by George Biard

This is the quintessential odd casting as Tim Burton hired someone who was best known as Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice.  Fears were sharp that this Dark Knight would be too comedic.

Keaton's Batman was dark, brooding, serious, and brought a gravitas to the role that very few people believed was possible.  For many, he surpasses even Christian Bale as the embodiment of Batman

ACTOR: Tobey Maguire
photo by David Shankbone

Spider-man is arguably the most popular comic book character out there.  Maguire was known mostly for his indie work and people weren't sure if he could be an action man.

Maguire not only captured Peter Parker's dorky side, but he embodied the physical heroism of the character.

ACTOR: Kate Bosworth
photo by MARVEL

As with most expected franchise movies, the studios wanted a younger cast so that over the course of a decade or so, they would not get too old.

Cast way too young, Bosworth lacked all of the maturity and sense of history required of a character who is a pulitzer prize winning single mom in love with an alien.

ACTOR: Nicholas Cage
photo by Kirk Weaver

Cage is a long time comic book fanatic and finally got a chance to jump in as one of Marvel's darkest characters.

Besides the movie itself being terrible, Cage's performance doesn't capture any of the brooding melancholy of Johnny Blaze, but instead made him closer to insane.

ACTOR: Hugh Jackman
photo by Franz Richter

No one knew who Jackman was when he had to come in at the last minute and replace Dougray Scott in the first X-Men movie.  All we knew about him was that he was a song and dance man who had most recently played the lead in Oklahoma!

I literally cannot imagine anyone playing the part better, so iconic is his turn as Wolverine.  It was such a delight to see him fully realize the concept of the character onto the screen.

ACTOR: Heath Ledger
photo by Howie Berlin

The Australian actor was best known for his indie fare like Brokeback Mountain and a few spots in popular films like 10 Things I Hate About You and The Patriot.  But nothing in his resume portended a successful interpretation of the Joker like Jack Nicholson.

Winning a posthumous Oscar was only a token tribute to a performance that rocked the cinemas.  I believe so much of The Dark Knight's success rested on Ledger's mesmerizing turn as the Clown Prince of Crime.

ACTOR: Adrianne Palicki

Wonder Woman had been out of commission since the Lynda Carter era.  Mega Producer David E. Kelly thought he could bring back the magic with Palicki

(click link to see the infamous costume)

I'm not sure how much of the failure rests on Palicki as opposed to the overall vision of the production department.  But she could not carry the regal power of the character with believability.

ACTOR: Ian McKellen

While everyone paying attention was stoked at the idea of Patrick Stewart playing Professor X, not many were familiar with McKellen.  They weren't sure if he had the menace of fan-favorite Terence Stamp (an incidentally, doesn't Michael Fassbender look like a young Stamp?).


While McKellen did not present the obvious evil that Stamp would have, he instead brought an intelligence, charisma, and humanity to a character that caused the audience conflicting emotions (in a good way).

ACTOR: Jessica Alba
photo by Mark J. Sebastian
Sue Storm is one of the smartest people in the Marvel Universe whose mind is every bit as sharp as Reed Richards or Victor Von Doom.  Some questioned whether Alba could match that level of believable intelligence.

This may have been a problem of age.  Like the nuclear physicist played by Denise Richards in a James Bond movie, Alba did not project the requisite bookishness that is inherent to her character.

ACTOR: Chris Evans
photo by MyCanon

Cap is the embodiment of all that is good about America, full of strength of body and character.  Evans was best known for his loutish, immature Johnny Storm.  Some questioned if he could play sincere as well as sarcastic

Evans not only physically embodied the character, but you can feel his straight-as-an-arrow earnestness throughout his movies.

ACTOR: Jackie Earl Haley

The central character of Watchmen was given to an actor who was best known for his role as a child in The Bad News Bears.

A fantastic and powerful performance that captured the character's righteous insanity.

ACTOR: Matthew Goode
photo by ASingleManCastVenhice66

A pivotal character in the story, he must embody a complete sense of heroism and virtue

Everything about Goode's performance was creepy.  His smile, his looks, his voice… all of it drew suspicion on him rather than making us admire him by all outward appearances.

What about you?  Any thoughts on surprise casting hits or misfires?  Share in the comments below.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sunday Best: Actors of All Time #8 - Kevin Kline

photo by Gordon Vaszquez


As You Like It
 The Emperor's Club
 The Ice Storm
 Grand Canyon
 A Fish Called Wanda

I remember I read an interview in Entertainment Weekly where the Kevin Bacon said that every actor wants to have a career like Kevin Kline, who can film slapstick comedy one week and play Hamlet on Broadway the next.  As I said with Jack Lemmon from the previous week, this skill is not to be overlooked.

There are several of Kline's early films that I have not had a chance to see, like Sophie's Choice or The Big Chill.    My first (and I daresay best) experience of Kline's work was in A Fish Called Wanda.  Perhaps I have a short memory, but I cannot recall a time since that performance that someone won an Oscar for doing comedy.   And it is so well deserved.

 I just rewatched his turn as the psychotic pseudo-intellectual Otto.  There is an absolute presence to that role.  Even when he isn't doing anything he's doing so much.  He milked more laughs from the smallest looks than most modern day comedians.  And he used the vulgarity to his advantage.  A lot of raunchy comedy loses its shock value over time, and with that, a good deal of its humor.  But Kline backs up his obscene tirades with a wit and an energy and made his award well deserved.  I can still watch his performance with incredible glee.

He made use of this skill his turn in Soapdish.  While not as intense as A Fish Called Wanda, he chews the scenery like only a great actor playing a bad actor can do.  It was such fun to watch his character, a disgraced former soap star on a comeback, blur the lines between acting and real life.

But if this was all you've seen of Kline, you could mistake him for a hammy, one-note actor.  But he is also capable of incredible subtlety.  In comedy, he brought his big personality way down to great effect in Dave.  But even in ponderous dreck like Grand Canyon, Kline shines as a man of privilege trying to connect to the larger mysteries of life.

This subtlety comes into great effect in his role in The Ice Storm.  He is a adulterous hypocrite who vainly tries to raise moral children.  You can see in his two-faced performance how Kline infuses this infuriating immoral father with humanity.  He knows that his children are going down the wrong path.  But all of his words ring hollow.  And he knows it and we can see that in his eyes.

But one of my favorite performances of Kline's is in The Emperor's Club.  Not only does he transform in age throughout the film, but he captures the frustration of teaching moral truth.  His Mr. Hundert tries to import wisdom and virtue and you can feel his slipping confidence and increasing frustration when students begin to ignore his words.  Kline makes you feel his elation as progress is being made, but he also breaks your heart as you keenly feel his failure.

And Kline can bring both his comedic and dramatic sides together as is evidenced in his performance as Jacques in As You Like It.  He plays his character as a melancholy Hamlet-like thinker who is brought alive by the humor and mirth of a clown.

Watch Kline as he goes through the highs and lows of the scene, channelling his inner Otto, but watch the mirth slowly deflate to a ponderous Mr. Hundert.  And all of it feels as natural as his breath.

Kevin Kline is an actor of incredible skill and adaptability and that is why he has earned this spot in the greatest actors of all time.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

We Wanted Heisnenberg, Not Eisenberg

Okay, I've been trusting of the casting for the Batman/Superman movie.   I have defended Batfleck to anyone who was skeptical.  I accepted Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, even though I have no idea who she is.

But Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor?
photo by Steve Rogers

I'm sorry, that is a bit too much.

Luthor is supposed to be Superman's great nemesis, not because of his strength, but because of his mind and his charisma.  As much as I love Gene Hackman's Luthor, he was not the comic book villain he should have been.  And Kevin Spacey's Luthor was just a retread of Hackman with just a little more menace.

But Hackman and Spacey had with them the gravitas that made us believe that they could stand eye to eye with a man of steel and not blink.

Eisenberg's most dramatic role is, arguably, his leading turn in The Social Network.  And while he expressed the coldness of a villain, there is just a bit too much immaturity to fill the role.

Everyone on the inter-webs knows that Bryan Cranston would have been perfect as Luthor.  I don't know if he was ever approached or would have even considered it.  But it would be easy to see a man like that being a force to fight Superman.

Check out this fan made trailer below, and tell me I'm wrong.

I think the choice of Eisenberg has completely overshadowed the casting of Jeremy Irons as Alfred.  Irons can be a great actor if he wants to be.  If he can channel his role from The Mission rather than Dungeons and Dragons, then there is a chance.