ReasonForOurHope

Friday, October 31, 2014

Film Review: The Equalizer



I am a fan of action movies, especially with smart protagonists.  I am not averse to violence.  In fact, I rather enjoy an over-the-top, bloody spectacle.  I'm not that difficult to please here.

What is so interesting to me about Denzel Washington's latest film, The Equalizer, is that violence is so unexpected and welcome.

The story revolves around Robert McCall (Washington), a single man living a monkish existence working at the movie equivilant of Home Depot.  He is amiable and mentor-like, but his life is a tinged with sadness.  He strikes up a strange sort of friendship with an underage prostitute named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) who he sees nightly in the local diner.  When her "handlers" put her in the hospital, Robert decides to help out.

By this time, the story has been working on a very slow burn.  Washington plays Robert with retiring grace and restraint.  But when his encounter with Teri's bosses goes poorly, Robert unloads a hellfury of action in a neatly calculated and destructive manner.  At this point the story picks up as Robert becomes more and more involved in the daily injustices around him.  But this brings down the wrath of the Russion mob, who sends an enforcer named Teddy (Marton Csokas) who is just as violent and intelligent as Robert but with none of his scruples.  These two powerful forces are set in opposition to each other like a bloody chess game.

Director Antoine Fuqua knows when to use restraint and when to go over the top.  His slow burn beginning might be fatiguing to some, but I found to eventual release of violence to be immensly satisfying.  And he continually ups the ante throughout the film.  He does allow quieter moments to have their power too.  The scenes where Robert and Teddy talk are potent.

This movie is a reminder of why Washington is a star.  He can command the screen like few actors working.  And even at his age, he has lost none of his power and potency.  Like Liam Neeson in Taken, Washington has an edge that only older actors have.  He is world-weary and tired.  There is no thrill in the violence for him, but he has survived long enough to do what needs to be done efficiently.  Csokas is also deliciously evil as Teddy.  All of his scenes are filled with danger and menace.  He reminds me of early Russel Crowe.  Moretz and the other actors are passable, but nothing special in this film.

The film meditates a bit on nature vs. nurture.  Are we who we are by choice or by fate?  Robert fights his violent skill set because he fears the darkness.  But can he make that vice into a virtue?  It reminds me of something I read once where God can take our faults and use them for a good end.  If we have a temper, we can focus that anger on injustice.  If we are stubborn, God help us be stalwart in faithful resolution.  Robert is a violent man.  But can he use that violence for a good end?

So if you enjoy healthy dose of violence and some star-quality acting, then check out The Equalizer.

4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

New Evangelizers Post: Policy vs. Doctrine


I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com

The 2014 Synod has come to a close and more has been made of it in the media than most synods in recent history.

Going into the synod, we knew that since the topic related to all things regarding the family, controversial issues surrounding divorce, homosexuality, and communion would all be brought up.  Our news media enjoy hitting these hot button topics to drum up controversy. 

And drummed up it was when the synod released their “Relatio post disceptationem,” which means “report after the debate.”  In a very narrow section it brought up some points made by some of the cardinals at the synod.  They suggested that under they use a principle called “The Law of Gradualness,” divorced and remarried couples should be allowed to receive communion and also that there should be greater acceptance of homosexuality in the Church community.

A few things before I move on to the main point of this article:  

1. The “Relatio” was not an official pronunciation but was instead a report of the different arguments made.  When I run debates in my debate club at school, I encourage students to think out and entertain every position brought to them, even if they disagree.  The fact that these suggestions were made does not mean that they are part of Church teaching.

2. There were many other issues behind the scenes that caused controversy.  As Jeff Miller writes, it was like watching a soap opera “As the Synod Turns.”

3. In the end, there was not major, earth-shaking policy change.
It is on this third point that I would like to remain.  

What if a change did occur?  What if people living adulterous marriages (as described by Christ) would be allowed to receive communion?  What if those “living in sin” would be allowed to receive the sacraments?  Wouldn’t that violate Catholic doctrine?

The short answer is no.

You can read the entire article here.

Wednesday Comics: Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 3

Okay, I don't have time to blog about this, but I couldn't let this simply pass by.

Phase One began with Iron Man and went through to the first Avengers.  Phase Two With Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel Phase Two ends (actually it ends with Ant-Man, but I'm splitting hairs).

So what do we have in store next?

Marvel Answered that on Tuesday with its announcement of its Phase Three slate: 9 movies in 5 years.

I don't think that it's a coincidence that this happens so soon after DC announced it's ambitious movie slate.  Marvel does have the advantage as already being a marketable cinematic brand.  DC is still finding its audience.

But here is the breakdown (text via aintitcool.com):



·        5/6/16 –     CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
·        11/4/16 –   DOCTOR STRANGE 
·        5/5/17 –     GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 (previously dated 7/28/17)
·        7/28/17 –   THOR: RAGNAROK
·        11/3/17 –   BLACK PANTHER
·        5/4/18 –     AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR PART I
·        7/6/18 –     CAPTAIN MARVEL
·        11/2/18 –   INHUMANS
·        5/3/19 –     AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR PART II
Some thoughts:

-We've known about the Captain America: Civil War movie for a little while now, but this makes it official.  Still not a fan of the idea, but we'll see how it plays out.

-There has been a lot of buzz over Doctor Strange the last few days.  A few weeks ago rumors were spreading that Ewan McGregor was zeroing in on the role.  Now its reported that fan favorite Benedict Cumberbatch is the frontrunner.  I think either would be good, but Cumberbatch would be (pardon the pun) stranger.

-Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was originally slated for the end of summer, but since it was the highest grossing movie this year so far, they made it their May tentpole.

-I dig the idea of the 3rd Thor being a Ragnorak story.  "Ragnarok" for those unfamiliar, is the Norse myth about the end of the world.  This has the potential to be epic and tragic..

-Marvel has been getting a lot of flack for not including more movies about women and minorities.  At least this has been the focus of the stories regarding Black Panther and Captain Marvel.  I personally don't care as long as they are good stories.  And you have some very new insights into the Marvel universe.  I find Black Panther particularly interesting because he is a hero who is also a king.

-I'm not crazy about an Inhumans movie.  These characters never really connected with me in the comics and I am surprised that Marvel is pushing them, although I heard it was their answer to the problem of no mutants in the their movies.  But I was surprised at how good Guardians of the Galaxy was, so who knows?

-Like Justice League, Mockingjay, Breaking Dawn, and Deathly Hallows, Avengers: Infinity War is being broken up into 2 parts.  After seeing the box office returns the above movies (though still waiting on Justice League), I can't blame them.  And it if it leads to more epic stories, all the better.

-What about after Phase Three?  With the introduction of the infinity stones, anything is possible, even a reboot.  But by 2019 Robert Downey Jr. will be 54.  The other main actors will age.  What will happen to our beloved Phase One actors?  I know that it is not uncommon to recast characters, even in the current Marvel Universe (I'm looking at you, Hulk).  But I would hate the idea of saying goodbye to these founding fathers of Marvel Movies.

Thoughts?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Best: Top 5 Movies to Watch on Halloween

With All Hallow's Eve coming up, I thought it was appropriate to take a small break and make a list of recommended movie watching for the night.

Full disclosure: I really do not enjoy horror movies.  Or scary movies in general.  My basic philosophy that life is horrible enough.  I don't need to pay someone to make it more horrible for me.

But I do see real artistry in many scary films.  It is amazing that a piece of audio/visual stimulation can elicit such a strong emotional response.

The following recommendations are NOT the 5 scariest movies of all time.  Some of them are scary and some are not.  But I would recommend watching them for an entertaining Halloween.

5.  The Monster Squad.

This is like a discount Goonies fighting classic Universal monsters.  The quality of the film is not the greatest in terms of writing or acting.  But I can't tell you how much this movie captured my imagination as a kid.  There is something wonderfully cathartic about a little fat kid kicking Wolfman in the Nards.

4.  Shaun of the Dead.

This is heavily on the vulgar and violent side, but this is a comedy that completely understands the genre it is parodying and does so with great love.  It is both funny and scary.  A modern classic.


3.  Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Like Monster Squad, this is has the traditional stable of Universal movie monsters, but it also has the incomparable genius of Abbot and Costello bring insane life to every scene.  I can't tell you how many times I watched this as a kid with great delight.  Perfect comedy.  Perfrect for Halloween, at least.

2.  Poltergeist.

If you are in the mood for somethings scarier, this is the one I would recommend.  It does such a wonderful job of creating a scary atmosphere in that cookie-cutter community and the scares still hold up.  It made the supernatural both awe-inspiring and awful.  Watch, but turn off the TV when you're done.

1.  Ghostbusters

Whether you are into the supernatural or not, Ghostbusters is the perfect movie to watch on Halloween.  It is fun and creative, full of lots of tricks and treats.  You can't go wrong with these guys.

New TV Show Mini Review - Selfie



I originally thought the concept of this show was too gimmicky, a way to cash in on whatever the current social media trends are today.  But I like the lead actor, John Cho, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

The story centers around Eliza Dookley (Karen Gillen), who is a social media maven working at an ad agency. She is self-centered and vapid. She is essentially a Kardashian without the money. But then she has an embarressing experience that is plastered all over he beloved social media and she comes to the realization that virtual friends are not real friends. So she decides to to turn to new, refined, uptight co-worker Henry Higgs (Cho), who makes an experiment of making Eliza into a normal person.

If the names and plot remind you of My Fair Lady, then you hit the bullseye.

And that is actually a good part of the shows's charm. This Eliza is as unrefined as the original, but we can see in her the same self-obsessed narsisicm that infects much of society. And yet Gillen has the unenviable task of making her relatable and likable, which she does by making her vulnerable and , in a weird way, innocent.  Like so many young people who grew up not knowing a world without the wide web, you feel a sense of pity for her.

And the chemistry between her and Cho is excellent. Eliza, while clueless in many ways, helps Henry come out of his shell.

The writing also is incredibly witty. Not only is it astute in its observations about social media etiquette and protocol, it keeps the other human interactions strange and funny.

And while all of the ethics of the show aren't perfect, there are some nice insights
Unfortunately, the show is very low rates and will probably get the axe.  But this is a show with potential.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Lack of Updates (part IV)


Dear faithful reader,

I know that I have been lax in getting up essays and more articles. 

This school year I have taken over as the director of the Fall and Spring Plays.  We are coming up on our production debut, so my time is very crunched.  Often do not get home until very late at night.  

As a result, I have not been able to spend as much time on updating this blog as I would like.

Please be patient with me over the next few weeks as I try and learn how to manage my time better (I know, I know, "there is no try.")

When things settle down, I will return with more of my ramblings including:

-complete my New TV Show Mini-reviews
-finish my Best Sitcoms of All Time
-write about the Most Morally Subversive Film of the 1980's.
-write about the descent of Kevin Smith
-start a new feature on the blog tackling some core themes
-write a film review for The Equalizer and Gone Girl
-Do a "Fixing Movies" article about The Amazing Spider-Man 2


Thanks for your patience!

Sincerely,
CatholicSkywalker

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Trailer Time: Avengers - Age of Ultron

So the interwebs gave us an early gift.  Marvel announced that the new Avengers trailer would premiere during next week's Agents of SHIELD.  But it leaked early.  Marvel wisely decided not to fight it and released the trailer early.  They even showed some humor by tweeting this:





Anyway, I really like the trailer.  It is very dark, which I find interesting for 2 reasons.

1.  The original Avengers came out the same year as The Dark Knight Rises and there were a lot of comparisons between the lightness of Avengers as opposed to the darkness of TDKR.  And yet a lot of those same people are excited about the darkness of Age of Ultron.

2.  I'm wondering if the Avengers series is going to go Full Whedon.  What I mean by that is that I've noticed that Joss Whedon's stories start out light and fun, even a little campy.  But then they degenerate into existential dred.  This is something that I believe is an outgrowth of his atheistic philosophy.  I am curious as to how dark he is going to let the Avengers get or how dark Marvel will let him make it.

Here is the trailer:



I especially like the creepy Pinocchio music.

Thoughts?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Best: Sitcoms of All Time #7 - The Cosby Show

8 SEASONS
(1984-1992)


The Cosby Show sometimes takes hits with TV critics for being too milquetoast, too normal.  But that is exactly the show's strength.  It is a show based on universal experiences of family that are told through the lens of the greatest stand up comic of all time.


Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad gave us in Cliff and Clair Huxtable role models of successful parents.  And by "successful" I don't just mean financially.  They were successful parents in that their children had strong values and character, even at their worst.

But it would be a mistake to lump in this show with the overly sappy and bland family comedies of the 1950's.  The Huxtables were a non-dysfunctional family, a rarity in TV today.  And yet there is part of its genius: making the seemingly normal hysterical.

To be sure, there was a lot of hyper-reality stretching, such as the day they all played make-believe that Theo was living in the "Real World Apartments" or where the family got to meet Stevie Wonder.  But beyond that, The Cosby Show drew its humor from they every day insanity of family life in a way that few other family sitcoms had.

A note should be made about "The Cosby Kids."  The show was famous for featuring an incredibly young cast of children that was ever expanding with husbands, nieces and cousins.  It should be noted how talented these young performers were and how they grew in their comedic instincts.  Even when they weren't the most ranged actors, they could still elicit great laughs from simple line delivery.  One double-take from Elvin or a confident smile by Theo could set off major laughs.

Some people might mis-remember Cliff Huxtable as being a fun, indulgent dad.  But re-watch the show and you will see a tough father, one not afraid to yell and make waves.  The children are constantly hitting the parents with the insanity that only children can bring and Cliff and Clair react with amazing deadpan exacerbation.

I should also note something about race, in that it was mostly a non-issue for the show.  That isn't to say that The Cosby Show shied away from its African-American heritage.  Not at all.  Instead, it embraced the heritage and history of the Huxtables in a way that made the audience appreciate their own heritage as well.  The Huxtables were America's family for 8 years.

But above all, the show was funny.  Even after being off the air for over 20 years, every episode still holds up as if it were filmed this year.

And there are too many great moments to count, like: the horsey ride, Cliff's vacation, the Gordon Gartrell shirt, Mrs. Westlake over for dinner, Vanessa introducing Dabnis, the Pinocle game, Kentabo, the wilderness store, Sandra and Elvin's apartment, Cliff and Olivia and the cake, the romance contest, Sondra's engagement prank, "We heard there was going to be a rainstorm so we thought we'd watch," and so on.

TV THRESHOLD
Pilot (1x01)

Everything you needed to know about The Cosby Show and its greatness was in that first episode.  You immediately understood Cliff's relationship to his wife and each of his children while understanding his success and his frustrations.  And of course, what sets it all apart was the two scenes with Theo:

The first has one of the funniest bits in the entire series where Cliff lays out to his son how limited his options will be if he does not get an education.

But its that second scene that sets it all apart.  Theo gives a heartfelt speech about he should be loved and accepted not because of what he does but because he is Cliff's son.   Listen to how the audience applauds with approval to that monologue.  To which Cliff responds: Theo… That's the Dumbest Thing I've Ever Heard In My Life."  And it was at that moment that we understood that Cliff was not an idiot.  This was not going to be one of the shows where the children are wiser than the parents.  This was a show that reminded us that in a parent-child relationship, the parent needed to be the adult, and sometimes the bad guy.  And all the while it was clear that it was done out of complete and utter love.

JUMP THE SHARK
Period of Adjustment (7x04)

The Cosby Show took flack for adding a younger child in Raven Symone to bring back the funny bits that Cliff used to have with Rudy.  But little Olivia was a welcome addition to the cast and served the dynamic well.  But in the 7th season they added cousin Pam (Erika Alexander), who had a harder edge than the other Cosby kids.  This was an attempt to bring a little more sharpness to the series just when shows with more aggressive humor like The Simpsons started to become popular.

However, Pam never really clicked.  It felt a little like pandering and it began to feel like the show was running out of ideas.

BEST EPISODE
Denise: The Saga Continues (6x01)

There are so many fantastic episodes of The Cosby Show.  But the one that drives home the humor at the heart of the show is this episode.

Cliff and Clair paid for their second oldest, Denise, to take a trip to Africa to "find herself" expecting her to return home and continue on with college studies.  Instead, she turns up married to a divorcee with a 3-year-old daughter.

I would encourage anyone to watch the show again.  One of the great things is how Cosby himself recedes into the background and let the other actors do most of the dynamic work.  And yet the biggest laughs come from he and Rashad reacting to the insanity around them with patience pushed to the limit.

You can see the joy and hope deflating out of them like a leaking balloon especially with the realization that this is going to mean that they will have to continue to support their daughter and her new step daughter.

Everything about this episode is funny!

OVERALL

I don't think I will ever see a show like this again.  Too often, sitcoms feel like they need some sort of twist or edge to make sitcom families look like a modern family.

But there really is no trick to it.  Bill Cosby understood that if you made a show that was universal in theme and outstanding in its comedy, then people will come to love and respect it for years and years.






Friday, October 17, 2014

A Note on My Wife

(originally posted 1 year ago)

If you do not like sappy stuff, skip this post.


I was reflecting a few days ago on marriage.  I told my students that my wife and I never fight and they were incredulous.

But it is true.  We have never had a fight.  I attribute this to 3 things:

1.  We don't have kids yet.  I can imagine that when our children come into our lives and learn how to try and play one of us against the other, it may fray a few edges.  The fatigue alone might wear away at us.

2.  Faith.  We dedicated our marriage to the Lord and pledged to do our best to love each other as Christ loved us.

3.  Her.  I often fail at the pledge mentioned in #2, but she has not.  I often marvel that out of all the men in the world, she chose me.  I feel like George Bailey saying to his wife, "You could have had your pick of any guy in town...why'd you pick a broken old guy like me?"  But she did.  And when I screw up, act thoughtlessly, interrupt her plans, ask more of her than I ought, she is kind and patient and giving.

Everyone who knows us can see how blessed I am with her.  (Meanwhile they give her that pitying look of "Well, if that's who you want, who am I to judge?")

I often think how close we came to not meeting.  I was signed up to make a retreat weekend where my best friends were not going.  It was the first time I had been on my own like that.  I honestly don't know why I went.  Based on who I was at the time, I shouldn't have and yet I did.

And that is when I met her.

My life has never been the same, nor will it ever be.  Even with all of my recent struggles with my health, I can honestly say that my life has gotten better each day because there is more of her in it.

She is irresistible, iridescent, and irreplaceable.

And I am blessed to say that she is my wife.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Either He Looks at Porn or He Looks at Me."

I have refrained from commenting on the recent celebrity picture hacking that occurred recently.  I couldn't think of anything productive to say.

But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Jennifer Lawrence spoke about her experience and what she thought and felt about how this affected her life.  There are many things that she said that people have already discussed.  And there are some who criticize her speaking out about naked photos being published while being photographed naked for Vanity Fair.   I am not interested in those topics.

Instead, I would like to focus on something that she said about why the photos were taken at all.  She said that she was in what she called a "healthy" relationship.  Her boyfriend was away at the time, so she took the photos of herself to give to him to look at.  Her rationale was this:

"Either he looks at porn or he looks at me."

Let preface what I am about to write by saying that I am not interested in judging Miss Lawrence.  Objectively, engaging sexual relations with someone with whom you are not married is always wrong.  But I do not know her soul and her conscience.

Instead, I want to talk about the attitude that she has adopted that I find so pernicious because I think it has infected much of society.

Notice her attitude regarding pornography.  It has become so pervasive that she assumes that it is simply what men look at.  It is accepted as fact that men will look at illicit images online and all she can hope to do is slake his lust with images of her body and not that of another woman.

Now, I don't claim that she is wrong that many men are enslaved to lust and pornography.  Fr. Larry Richards once said that there are men who go to daily mass who struggle with pornography.  I actually feel great pity and sympathy for women whose significant others are involved with pornographic media.  And as Fr. Larry said, there are men who want to break free but cannot seem to end their addiction.

My problem with what was said is not that the sin is a reality.  My problem is with the idea that the sin is acceptable.

Miss Lawrence throws up her hands and takes for granted that her man will engage in that activity.  I am overcome with a great sense of sadness that she and others like her would think that this would be okay.

I could imagine that it must be heartbreakingly difficult for a couple where one person is enslaved to pornography.  The woman must feel betrayed and unloved.  The man must feel guilt and shame.  I can understand the temptation to try and avoid the negative feelings by saying that the pornography is not a sin but an expression of "healthy" sexuality.  I can imagine that it is similar to the temptation for those with homosexual loved ones who decide that sex between those of the same sex is not a sin so as not to deal with the negative feelings.

But the problem is that simply because we decide something is not a sin does not therefore make not sinful.

Sin isn't just something that is morally bad.  It is bad for us.  It is a disease of the soul.  And just like physical disease if ignored will do great damage to the body, moral disease will do great damage to the soul if left unchecked.

Lust, even in marriage, dehumanizes the other because it turns a human being into an object.  Acknowledging that your significant other has lust is difficult.  But to feed him pornographic images will not make his struggles any less.  It will make them worse.  There is a train of thought that says that giving him that outlet will take away his temptations to stray.  But I have never heard of any addiction where feeding it makes it weaker.

It saddens me so deeply that the coming generations, raised on the internet and the illicit material found there, will think that pornography is a de facto activity of men.  Watch most prime time television shows, and you'll see that not a single one comes down on the side of pornography as an evil.  That '70's Show, The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Blackish, and others tell us that women should just accept that men will watch porn.

And this cripples the ability of both men and women to live virtuously.  If we accept that men will objectify women sexually, women will begin to accept being treated as objects.

I wish there were easy solutions.  The answer is simple, but not easy.  Simply, we need to keep striving for chastity.  But that is much easier said than done.  The more and more of us that are raised in what some have called "Generation Porn," the struggle for natural and virtuous sexual identity will become harder and harder.  The sexualization of culture has not slowed down since the 1960's.  And more and more people have fallen victim to it.

But how do you deal with such an intimate problem?  There are several ways, I think.  Above all, there must be a constant struggle, no matter how many times failure occurs, to return to the grace of God.  As I wrote above, I do not judge Miss Lawrence and others like her and her boyfriend.  I feel incredibly sad.  It must be such a struggle.

But I do know that surrendering to pornography will not appease its pull on the soul.  Instead it will take over more and more of the person until it becomes impossible to experience true love and intimacy.  So therefore, no matter how hopeless it may seem, we must fight on.

Let us pray for all those struggling with pornography and those who love them.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wednesday Comics: Movie Talk - Civil War, Justice League, and Dr. Strange



There has been a lot of comic book movie news that's dropped recently.  Here are the biggest ones:

1.  Captain America: Civil War.

The big news earlier this week was that Robert Downey Jr. confirmed that he would be returning as Iron Man outside of the Avengers movies.  And the movie he will appear in is the 3rd Captain America.  Apparently this will not be a cameo like Cap in Thor: The Dark World.  This will be a full blown leading part.  This has led many to believe that Captain America 3 will be based on Marvel's Civil War storyline.

I think that this is a terrible idea.

Civil War is a story that centers around a conflict between Iron Man and Captain America over the Superhero Registration Act.  It is a dark and tense and emotional story.  And I hated it.

Hated.  It.

This story was one of the reasons that I decided to land firmly into the DC camp.

And I think that this would be a terrible idea for the Marvel movie franchise.

SPOILERS FOR THE NEXT PARAGRAPH

Civil War, at its heart, is a story about how there are no heroes.  There are only destructive people with super powers.  The story is wasteful and pointless.  They could tweak the story, but if they follow the through line, audiences will either hate Captain America or Iron Man.  And essentially this story would make Iron Man just like Hydra.  This story would clearly make him the villain of the movie.  That is a horrible thing to do to your audience and your brand.

END SPOILERS

Marvel has taken some big risks, and they've all paid off.  But this just might be a bridge too far.

2.  Justice League Part I and II

Aintitcool.com posted today the planned schedule for DC movies.

Here are a few highlights

-The big news is that the Justice League movie is going to be divided into 2 parts.
   -Part 1 comes out in November of 2017
   -Part 2 comes out in June of 2019
   -the first part will be preceded by a Wonder Woman movie (June 2017) instead of following it.
   -in between the two parts we are going to have a Flash movie (March 2018), an Aquaman movie (July 2018), and a SHAZAM! movie (April 2019).

-Apparently they've already cast The Flash.  His name is Ezra Miller and I have not seen any movies he's been in.  My first impression is that I don't like it.  But I wasn't keen on Grant Gustin as the TV Flash, but I like him now.
 
-in 2016, the same year as Batman v. Superman, they are going to be doing a Suicide Squad movie.  This is a bold choice and difficult to pull off.  For those who don't know, the Suicide Squad is made of imprisoned super villains who go on highly dangerous missions for the US Government in exchange for reduced sentences.  If you don't hit the right tone, this could be a mess.  But if done well ala Gail Simone, it could work.

-Cyborg is set for a solo movie in 2020.

-Green Lantern is going to get a full reboot in 2020 as well.  I understand, but it really hasn't been that long since the under appreciated Ryan Reynolds film.

-They are also developing solo Batman and Superman films.

Overall, I am super excited, especially by the idea of dividing the Justice League into 2 parts.  I hope that means that they won't try to cram too much exposition into one movie.

3.  Dr. Strange Casting

Marvel's first choice for Stephen Strange, Joaquim Phoenix, passed on the role.  Rumors were flying that Keanu Reeves was considered, which I actually think would have been a good choice.
photo by Nicolas Genin

But inside word is that they are serious about landing Ewan McGregor.  I can completely see him as the Sorcerer Supreme.  I thought he was one of the best things about the Prequel Trilogy (which I love) and he would bring a great acting presence to the role.

Thoughts?



New Evangelizers Post: On the Necessity of Petition Prayer

I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com

In a previous article, I wrote about how there is no prayer too small to be brought before the throne of God.  I wanted to follow up a bit more about the concept of petitionary prayer and why we need it.

There are generally four types of vocal prayer in Christian spirituality (by “vocal prayer” we refer to that type of prayer where we speak to God):
  • Praise = giving adoration to God in His Glory
  • Thanksgiving = give gratitude to Him for all of his blessings
  • Penance = asking God for forgiveness for your sins
  • Petition = asking God for your needs
We are called to ask God for our needs and the needs of others.  We pray for peace in the world, the healing of the sick, for our daily bread, etc.  We are commanded to bring our desires up to the Lord.

But the question arises: why?  

Doesn’t God already know what we need before we ask it?  In fact, the Bible tells us this very thing.  Jesus says, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask.” (Matt 6:8)  
So if God knows what I need, why do I need to ask?  Is God like Jack Nicholson’s character from A Few Good Men who sits up there looking down on us saying, “You gotta ask me nicely”? 

Of course not.  God does not ask us to do that which is pointless.  Here are some reasons why petition prayer is necessary.

You can read the entire article here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Newsflash: The Church is STILL Catholic

For anyone freaking out about all of the news that's been coming out of the Family Synod at the Vatican regarding same sex relationship, adulterous communicants, and "living in sin," there are a few things to keep in mind.

1.  The document that was recently issued was a summary of the DISCUSSIONS that the bishops had.  It was in no way binding or doctrinal.  We should be glad that the bishops are open-minded enough to look at different possibilities and examine them before making a decision.

2.  A lot of what has been published is already what the Church teaches.  For example, the Church should be welcoming and accepting of those with a homosexual orientation.  The Church already teaches this.

3. We must be prayerful and ask that the Holy Spirit guide the bishops in their pastoral judgments.  From everything I've been gathering, the big news issues would be shifts in POLICY not doctrine.  Whether those policies will or won't change and whether it would be wise or unwise remains to be seen.

4.  We have to remember that the media will distort everything.  There is a narrative floating around that Pope Francis is someone who is a breath of fresh air who will change Catholic doctrine to be more in line with what the secular world wants.  Anything that supports that narrative is upheld.  Sometimes though, they are grasping at straws.  For those who don't remember, Pope Benedict XVI once said that a male prostitute who insists on using condoms so as not to infect his costumers is making a first step towards love because he is thinking about someone other than himself.  What did the media hear?  "The Pope said I can have the condom!"


Anyway, that is my understanding of what has been happening.  If I am wrong, please correct me.

New TV Show Mini Review - The Flash


"My name is Barry Allen.  I am the fastest man alive."

I was very surprised when the CW announced that they would be doing a television show of The Flash.  Some might remember that this super hero had his own TV series many years ago in the post-Batman world.  That pilot had the distinction of being the most expensive pilot ever shot up until that time.  But the show flopped and was cancelled after 1 season.

So based on the pilot, how is this Flash for the new millennium?

Wonderfully fun.

The show is from the same producers as Arrow.  While it has the same aesthetic, the tone and tempo are much different.  Whereas Arrow would sometimes go for gritty realism (though in an comic booky way), The Flash fully embraces the world of super powers.

The show focuses on Barry Allen (Grant Gustin).  We see in a flashback how he was a physically slow but moral strong child.  But then his mother is murdered under mysterious circumstances and his father is wrongfully convicted of the crime.  By the way, it is a wonderful bit of casting to have John Wesley Shipp who played Barry Allen in the old Flash TV show to play Barry's dad in this incarnation.

Barry becomes a perpetually tardy forensic scientist for Central City.  One of the parts that I really dug was watching Barry's mind work as he figured out the details of a crime scene.  It reminded me of how the way they show Holmes' mind observe evidence on the BBC show Sherlock.

The connective tissue of the series is an explosion that occurs at a particle collider at STAR Labs in Central City.  A giant wave of energy is released that causes a freak lightning bolt to hit Barry and give him super speed.  But the energy also triggered unexplained powers in people all over the city.  This will be the main driving force of this series: Barry encountering and dealing with people with powers like Smallville's meteor freaks.

The biggest drawback of the pilot is that it feels like a 2-hour story cramped into 1 hour.  There is a lot of exposition and tons of character relationships to set up, all the while highlighting The Flash's visually stunning powers.  I'm hoping that the other episodes do not feel as constricted.

The cast is fantastic.  Gustin has this youthful openness and optimism that fits perfectly with Barry Allen.  Most heroes are dark and brooding, even Superman in his latest movie.  But Barry has always been different.  And even though he has a tragic and emotional backstory, there was always something a bit lighter about the character.  It is refreshing to see a super hero show that has a little fun to it.

Jesse L. Martin is a great piece of casting as Det. Joe West.  He carries with him a very grounded Law and Order vibe that anchors the show in a strong suspension of disbelief.  Candice Patton has great chemistry as Iris West, the girl that Barry pines after.

At STAR Labs Barry finds a support team in the hipster techie Cisco (Carlos Valdes) and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker)  who foil each other nicely as the perky and the dour respectively.  And then there is Tom Cavanaugh as Dr. Harrison Wells who has been riding in a wheelchair since the STAR Labs accident.  Cavanaugh's performance is actually wonderfully layered the more you watch.

Thematically, I like the idea of Barry struggling with what responsibility he has with his powers.  Wells talks about the greater good, but Barry wants to help out the people immeadiatly in the area.  Neither is wrong, but it reminded me of the Catholic need to help people out in the concrete, not just the abstract.

As a comic book geek I noticed a ton of inside jokes and gags.  But even for the uninitiated, there is plenty of fun.  The special effects are excellent for television.  The adventures seem fun while keeping an emotional core throughout.

Right now, it is one of the shows I already most look forward to each week.

(oh, and if you watch the pilot, watch until the very end, post end logo scene)

4 out of 5 stars

CHECK IT OUT

Sunday, October 12, 2014

New TV Show Mini Review - A to Z



Best New Show of the Season.

I didn't even know about this show until Hulu started automatically playing it after watching something else.  I never would have seen this wonderfully funny show.

How to describe it?  It's like a single-camera How I Met Your Mother or (500) Days of Summer the series.

The show is about Andy (Ben Feldman) and Zelda (Christin Milioti (the mother from HIMYM)) who meet and have a relationship (hence A to Z).  He is a hopeless romantic who works at a cynical online dating site.  Basically he is the new Ted Mosby.  Zelda is a lawyer who has given up on relationships.  The two meet and have an instant chemistry.  On a side note, I love the fact the show does not start off with them sleeping together, but builds as they slowly get to know each other.

There are a few things that bring this show above its cookie-cutter premise.

1.  Terminal Show.  The context of the show is stated in the opening credits:  Andrew and Zelda date for eight months, three weeks, five days, and one hour. This television program is the comprehensive account of their relationship.  So this means that the relationship ends at some point (to begin again later?) or it evolves into something else.  Regardless, there is a terminal point to the story.

2.  Spectacular Writing.  The jokes fly fast and furious, they way I like them.  And there is a weird, quirky personality to it.

3.  The Geek Factor.  Like HIMYM, there are so many story points that seem to speak directly to my life as an adult geek.  The pilot makes a big reference to the Back to the Future II television special where Robert Zemeckis said hover boards were real.  The main character believed it as a child.  I stopped the episode and turned to my wife and said that the exact same thing happened to me.  Then there was a reference to a couple dressing up like Nightwing and Starfire for comic con, but if that wasn't enough, it was clarified as costumes from the Marv Wolfman run on The New Teen Titans.  I was in Geek heaven.

4.  The Cast.  While Feldman is okay as the lead, Milioti is fantastic as Zelda.  She was one of my favorite things about the last season of HIMYM and the chemistry she has with Feldman is good.  But for me, the breakout star is Henry Zebrowski as Stu.  He is like a combination of Jim Gaffigan and Zach Galifinakas.  He has the best lines of the show and delivers them with absolute abandon and has had me belly laughing more than any show this season.

The show is doing awful in the ratings so it does not look like it will likely be around much longer.  So check it out while you can.

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

MUST SEE

New TV Show Mini Review UPDATE - Blackish



In my original review of this show, I said that it was worth checking out.  After watching the second episode, I'm out.

I apologize if I get a little graphic, but it is hard to describe why I'm dropping the show without pointing to the content.

In the second episode, the main character, Andre, catches his son in an act of self abuse.  That, in and of itself is not the problem, though I do find it disturbing that already they are delving into the sexual behavior of children.  But what turned me off was the response of the parents.  The mother thinks it's cute.  The dad decides to give his son tips on how to pick up women.

Never is the morality of what happened brought up.  In fact, they parents are enabling their son to be caught up in a world of sexual debasement and addiction.

Look, I'm not that hard to please.  When this was brought up on the show Roseanne, the response of the parents was to say, okay it's happening, but let's not talk about it.  That is problematic, but there is a difference between ignoring a moral bad and encouraging it.

This is especially disturbing because it involves a child.

I found this so distasteful that I was completely turned off.  Blackish has already gotten a full season pick up, but I will not be watching.

1 out of 5 stars
AVOID

Sunday Best: Sitcoms of All Time #8 - Arrested Development

4 SEASONS
(2003-2013)


This is the story of a TV show unlike any other that was one of the best sitcoms ever made, and the one season that almost destroyed it all.  It's Arrested Development.

Like the characters on Seinfeld, there is a lot that is unlikeable about the Bluth family, the ones at the center of this insane show.  The only semi-sane ones appear to be Michael (Jason Bateman in a career reviving performance) and his son George Michael (a doughy Michael Cera).  But over the course of the series, all of the cast memebers with their quircky and crazy ways somehow become endearing.  As you do with family, you look past a lot of the flaws to the affection that lays dormant underneath.

In terms of writing, the show was amazingly crisp and effecient.  By that I mean that every 22 minute episode crammed enough jokes and stories in for a 90-minute movie.  The plotlines of each episode were incredibly intricate, with many dangling threads that would all somehow mash together at the end for some insane comical explosion.  The show also did a great job of playing with time and perspective, letting you see old scenes from new perspectives.

The performances were spot on.  They knew when to go big and over-the-top and when to pull it back and ground it in a stronger reality.  The big standout is Will Arnett as Gob is both infuriating and endearing as an older brother constanly jealous of the more competant Michael (Bateman).   Some of the show's best and most insane jokes come from that fragile ego.

The humor ranged from witty, to broad, to absurd.  But at the end they would tend to deliver that "schmaltzy ending" that was just enough to get you to feel great affection for the cast, despite any horrible thing they had done.  There was something in that Catholic perspective of Man.  We acknolwedge the sin that is there, but we love Man anyway and see the good that is there because of who Man is.

Like Seinfeld, this was a show that rewarded you for paying attention.  The inside jokes slowly built from the first episode on.  And the setups were long.  Look at how many episodes in advance they set up the joke about Buster's hand.

But that quality of the show was also its biggest ratings downfall.  By the time it came to the 3rd season, nearly half of the jokes were inside jokes.  Hysterical though they were, it became very difficult for anyone new to jump onto the story without saying, "I've made a huge mistake."  Any fan of the show could immeadiately get stung with humor at the oft repeated lines: "Come ON!" "Mr. F!" "Bob Loblaw." "There's always money in the bananna stand." "No touching." "Her?"  "There are DOZENS of us!" "Steve Holt!" "Annyong."  "Hey, brother."  "My eyes are up here, Michael."  and of course, the chicken dances.


The show was cancelled prematurely after 3 seasons.  But then Netflix revived it last year for an unprecedented 4th season.

And it was a disaster.

They changed up the format so as to accomodate the cast's schedules.  Each episode centered on a different member of the Bluth family rather than feature everyone at once.  This in and of itself was not a problem and actually led to some very clever twists and turns.  The problem was that once the producers left the bounds of network television, they felt that they could push the boundaries of manners and good taste.  By episode 7 of the 4th Season, my wife (who loved the show too) gave it up.  Up until then, the show had gentle ribbed Christians, which is fine by me as we should all have a sense of humor about ourselves.  But in that episode Christ and religion were directly mocked.

And it got worse from there.

By the time the season ended, all of the good will built up towards the Bluths was completely gone.  The stories felt disconnected and empty.  Ironically, instead of using the Netflix deal as a chance to grow, the show reverted to immature shock.  It was Arrested Development.

TV THRESHOLD
"Key Decisions" (1x04)

The pilot hit the audience with its fast and furious humor.  But there was a still a lot about the famillial relationships that did not feel strong and genuine.  But in this episode, not only did they intricately lace a plot that involved a prison break, Spanish-language Daytime TV awards, and a staircar, but it did it with great humor and a strong sense of affection.  Michael falls for his brother Gob's girlfriend and is torn on what to do.  And what is great about this episode is that it is the first time that you as the audience member realize that you also have come to have affection for Gob and the rest of this strange family.

JUMP THE SHARK

"Colony Collapse" (4x07)
This was the worst episode of the entire series and it soured everything that came after it.  In this episode, Gob decides to do one of his tricks- I'm sorry- "ILLUSIONS" in a church where he gets up on a cross and says he's going to reenact what Jesus did.

It was distasteful and disgusting.

The show had already been on a downswing by really destroying the Michael character.  One of the fun things about the show in general was that Michael would try to bring sanity to his family, only to be caught up in it himself.  But in the end, he would recognize this problem and resolve to try and be better.  But that was gone this season and he only became worse and worse.  By the time the season ended, you hated everyone.  And it started with this episode.

BEST EPISODE
"Development Arrested" (3x13)
The original series finale was the best episode of the series.  It was the best of what the series had been up until that point.  It was strange and quircky, but it had just the right amount of heart.  It resloved most of the dangling plotlines in a fairly satisfying way,  but it stopped in a way that left you wanting more.  Bateman's performance was particularly great as you see the crux of the entire show rest on his final decisisions.  And the main story ends on the perfect note: "It was Arrested Development."

OVERALL

Sometimes a show is just lightning in a bottle and you cannot recapture the magic.  Maybe that's the case with Arrested Development.  The show was executed with incredible skill and talent.  But the self-indulgence of the writing, particularly with the desire to be "edgy" in the 4th season, only left a sour note on the whole process.  I try not to let the degredation of series affect what was good that had come before.  But the corruption of the characters and the story was so precipitous, that I believe my judgment of the show may become more critical as time goes one.

But for now, I would like honor the show for what it originally was before what it then became.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Fr. Benedict Has Gone to St. Francis

Fr. Benedict Groeschel has passed away.

There are few modern Catholic writers who have had as much of an impact on me as Fr. Groeschel.

The first time I remember encountering him was a from a cassette tape of one of his talks.  I was part of a prayer group that would meet in an old church garage.  We would pray, sing, and listen to audio cassettes from people like Fr. Larry Richards and Fr. John Corapi.  One day my friend, The Bishop, brought a cassette from some priest I never heard of.

And he sounded like Winnie the Pooh.

That was the single salient feature I took from his talk.  There was something soft and gentle in his way of speaking that made him endearing.  That wasn't to say that he was wishy-washy or lacking conviction.  He had wisdom and strength but was not forceful.  He was inviting.  Whereas Fr. Larry got your blood pumping like you were at a big tent revival Fr. Groeschel felt like your grandfather telling stories by the fireside.

In 1987, Fr. Groeschel founded the Capuchin (Franciscan) Friars of the Renewal.  They were dedicated to two things: preaching the Gospel and serving the poor.  Soon after he did this, he met with Mother Teresa and said to her, "Mother, I have 7 friars and only $500.00 in our bank account.  What are we going to do?"  She replied to him, "Don't worry.  God has lots of money."  Soon after a stranger came by the friary and asked if he could spend the night.  They said yes.  The next morning he was gone and had left a cashier's check for several thousand dollars.  God has lots of money.

When I had my conversion experience I spent a lot of time chasing after different private revelations and apparitions.  My good friend The Doctor turned me onto Fr. Groeschel's book A Still, Small Voice, where he laid out so clearly and logically the Church's teaching on private revelations.  It was one of the most important books I've read in my spiritual development and reminded me why we need not only direct experiences of God, but a Church that helps us understand those experiences and bind them to an understanding of truth.

His book on Listening at Prayer was also a very insightful and practical approach to reaching deeper levels of the spiritual life.  Heaven in Our Hands reinforced to me the reality that we can have happiness in our lives if we just take and that the sad reality is that most of us don't.  Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones was, again, a very real guide to dealing with suffering.  I could go on and on about different books, but you get the idea.

He was idealistic but he was not naive.  I remember the story he told about a phase he went through where he stopped praying the part of the "Hail Holy Queen" that mentioned how we live in a "Valle of tears."  At the time he thought that the world was too filled with God's goodness and beauty to say that.  It was too pessimistic.  But that excised phrase was the only thing he could think of as he stood in the rain outside the house of a young man he was counseling who had committed suicide.

He knew the ugly side of life, but he never let it get him down.  He got his hands dirty with hard work, but he never took his eyes off of heaven.

I had the privilege of meeting him once.  He was kind and funny and gracious.  He had a very wry, New York sensibility while feeling completely accessible.

He was wise and patient and loving and funny.  I remember when that horribly anti-Catholic show Nothing Sacred appeared on ABC, he said, "I could get really angry at this show, but its a bomb.  If you're going to attack the Church, give me a Voltaire.. someone with a little class."  When Fr. Cozzens wrote a controversial book about the priesthood, Fr. Groeschel concretely laid out his case but ended by saying:  "We have very different views of the Catholic Church and where it is going. I can only say that I hope he's wrong and he's surely hoping that I'm wrong. But, let's put the differences out on the table. Let's admit that there are profound differences of approach, values and even, perhaps, belief. At the same time, we do belong to the same priesthood and the same Church.
I can only pray that in the future these profound differences will be resolved. Since both of us are getting on in years, I suspect that we will have amply opportunity to discuss our differences when we arrive in purgatory."

Fr. Groeschel suffered much.  He was hit by a car and carried injuries for the rest of his life from that.  He suffered a stroke that diminished his faculties, which must have been so frustrating for someone with such a sharp wit.  In this state he poorly phrased an idea he had on the clergy sex abuse scandal.  After that, the long knives came out for him and he had to step back from a good deal of public life.

Fr.  Groeschel was a modern American St. Francis of Assisi.  On the vigil of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Fr. Groeschel went home to meet him.

Fr. Benedict Groeschel, pray for us!


Sunday Best: Sitcoms of All Time #9 - Seinfeld

9 SEASONS (1988-1998)



This show should not work.

The characters are flat.
The dialogue is unrealistic.
The plots are overly silly.
There is no development and growth.
The main main star was a terrible actor.
And everyone on the show is generally immoral and unlikeable.

This show should not work.

But it does for one simple reason: it is funny.

For the first few seasons, Seinfeld was a cookie-cutter sitcom about a group of friends living in the big city.  There were some creative moments, but for the most part it was nothing terribly special, with the ratings to prove that.

But then they started taking chances by really making the show "about nothing."  The show became a random series of strange experiences that elicited big laughs.

To this day, my friends and I still will randomly quote from the show like a second-hand language:

"Poppy was a little sloppy."
"She had man hands."
"As I reined blows upon him I thought 'There has to be a better way!'"
"In medieval times, they would throw you in prison just for suggesting that."
"It's the SUMMER OF GEORGE!"
"World's are colliding!"
"The Ukraine is weak!"

This was also a show that rewarded you for paying attention.  In his book, Everything Bad is Good For You, Steven Johnson points out that most TV sitcoms up until this point had to have very simple, repeatable stories because of the way people watched television.  But when Seinfeld became big, more and more people were collecting the episodes on VHS and were re-watching them.  As a result, the show would sometimes deliver punchlines to jokes years away from the setup.  And if you paid close attention and got the joke, you felt like you were in the the know.

And also Seinfeld did have an element of truth.  It captured the fun, judgmental inanity of regular conversation.  How often do we encounter people we don't really know and only refer to them among our friends by some quirky salient feature: Denim Vest, Close Talker, a Two-Face, "Crazy Joe," etc.?  When close ranks in on our closest friends, we look at everyone outside that circle as "other," and Seinfeld captured that incredibly well.  When I said that great comedy had to come from truth, I didn't mean that those truths were always nice.  But there is something pleasurable about pointing at others and mocking them, otherwise people wouldn't be doing it all the time.  Seinfeld let you feel that pleasure without feeling badly.

It is one of the reasons I think the finale to Seinfeld works so well.  The creators were not trying to tell you that these people were role models.  The fact that they freely admit to how self-absorbed these people are only contributes to the sharp insight the writers had not only on the big things, but the small things.  Notice how the humor binds you to the main characters, but that affection has a limit.  They are the cool social circle, not your intimate friends.

And as a Catholic, it is noticeable how the characters all go after their own selfish pursuits and are perpetually unhappy (especially George).  The more they live their own way, the less happy they become.  I know some Catholic hated the moment that a priest told Putty and Elaine the consequences of "just having a good time."

But what I liked about it was that the portrayal of the priest, while silly, did not have him say anything that wasn't true to Catholic teaching.  It showed it in a strange and humorous way.  The show was oddly respectful of religion, as when Jerry went to Confession.

In that way, Seinfeld found humor in selfish behavior without glorifying it.

TV THRESHOLD
"The Boyfriend/The New Friend" (3x17-18)

As I wrote above, Seinfeld took a long time to find its voice.  As a result it has an incredibly long threshold.  It really begins with "The Chinese Restaurant" where the group spends the entire episode waiting for a table.  Here is where the show starts to realize its ability to take the simple and make it funny.

But it really discovers its personality with the two part episode where Jerry becomes friends with Keith Hernandez.  This episode so clearly captures the weird experience of making a new friend as an adult man .  It is a strange social and emotional mine field that should be straightforward but isn't.  And it brought up so many unspoken truths about modern men.  "He asked you to help him move?  That's like going all the way in a guy relationship!"

And then there is the absolute silliness of the JFK-spitter storyline.  It was here that the show really became what it was meant to be.  They took something so small and trivial and raised it to the level of the JFK assassination while making fun of how seriously they took it.

This was the episode where it all really clicked.  Soon after followed by "The Limo" episode where George and Jerry steal a limo from a guy named O'brien, who it turns out is famous to some and infamous to others.

Finally, Seinfeld had become Seinfeld.

JUMP THE SHARK
NA

Seinfeld almost jumped the shark.  At the end of the 7th season, they killed off George's fiancee Susan, to which the group reacted with nonchalance.  If you were unclear about it before, this hit home that these were terrible people.  The disgust that you feel towards them at the end of the season almost turns you off to the show.

But realizing this, I think, the writers realized that they needed to bring in their A-Game of humor to not lose viewers.  I remember my friend, the Doctor, was a huge fan of the show but was so nonplussed by the tone, he almost stopped watching.  But the returning episode had one moment that he rewound on his VHS over and over again.  George felt like he was free of his dead fiancĂ© when he gets roped into running a foundation in her name because of a quote from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.  The result was hysterical.

 Seinfeld was still Seinfeld.  It ended when it was still humming.  It ended on its own terms.


BEST EPISODE
"The Opposite" (5x22)

There are so many great episodes of the show that it was difficult to choose.  "The Betrayal" is a brilliant piece of writing.  "The Strike" gave us the holiday of "Festivus" for the rest of us.  "The Red Dot" has the funniest thing George ever said.

But "The Opposite" from top to bottom was the best episode of the series.  It interwove disparate story elements in creative ways.  It was unique to anything I had seen on TV.  The jokes war humming throughout.  It played up how the self-centered behavior of the characters ruins their lives and how if they just did the opposite of what they were doing, they could be happy.  I could watch this episode over and over again and never get tired.

OVERALL

Seinfeld has been often imitated but it has never been duplicated.  Most of the shows that tried to be like it made the mistake of taking terrible people and trying to get you to like them because they are terrible. Seinfeld never let you forget how terrible the characters were and it never apologized for them nor excused them (that's why the finale is so important to the series).

But the main reason no one has ever come close to it is because almost nothing was ever as funny.