Monday, October 31, 2016

Trailer Time: Gilmore Girls - A Year in the Life

As a huge fan of this show, I want these four 90-minute Netflix movies to be good.  There is a crispness to the cinematography that I really like and most of all seeing the entire cast together is a blast.

But I am very wary after the debacle that was Arrested Development's Netflix season.

My biggest concern is that they are making it look like Lorelai is going flake out on Luke.  Again.

And the most emotional moment for me was seeing Richard's funeral.

This better be good...


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sunday Best: Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time #24 - Deadpool

Official poster shows the titular hero Deadpool standing in front of the viewers, with hugging his hands, and donning his traditional black and red suit and mask, and the film's name, credits and billing below him.
Among Superhero movies, Deadpool is unique.

And for that reason alone it deserves a place on this list.

There is much that could be criticized about this movie.  But there is so much excellent work done in it as the same time that it cannot be overlooked.

Like the movie Watchmen, Deadpool is a deconstruction of the whole genre.  But unlike Watchmen, Deadpool sees joy in the ridiculousness.  There are several snipes at genre failures like Ryan Reynold's own turns as Green Lantern (a movie that I actually enjoy) and his previous outing as Deadpool (a movie I did not).

While watching Deadpool you feel like you are inside and outside the film.  Deadpool constantly mocks the tropes of the superhero and yet he dives into these tropes with abandon.  So you get the thrill of a traditional superhero flick and the laughs of a screwball comedy without compromising either.

The opening credits alone pack in more humor and visual stimulation that most movies.

One of the reasons I think that this is the most successful of the all the X-Men franchise films is because it is a film with a singular vision and voice and it never waivers from it.  That isn't to say that all of the choices are good.  But you can feel the difference between a movie like this where those involved are passionate about the material and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where you get the distinct feeling that the production was run like a committee.

Passion goes a long way here because it creates a bond with the fans.  Rather than a simple cynical cash grab, the filmmakers reach out in a personal way and invite you into this weird little world.

Deadpool dares to be funny.  It dares to be outrageous.  It is almost as if it dares you dismiss it as a piece of juvenile fantasy and overlook all of the skill it took to craft this incredibly well-toned story.

Like the movies John Wick and Mad Max: Fury Road, Deadpool knows what kind of movie it is and it never tries to be something else.  And even in this insanity we do get moments of real character development and drama, as with Wade's years of torture.

For a full examination of this, see my review for the movie here.

Deadpool would be much higher on this list if it was not weighed down by its own vulgarity.  That is danger of a singular vision: when you are right you do something amazing (e.g. Inception) and when you are wrong you crash and burn (e.g. The Lady in the Water).  Deadpool is a mixed bag in that regard.

But for what it does right, it has earned the #24 spot on the Best Superhero Movies of All Time.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Film Review: Deadpool

Sexuality/Nudity Objectionable
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Objectionable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

I know this review is months and months overdue, but it just got away from me.

I probably don't have anything too terribly original to say about this movie, the highest grossing R-Rated film of all time.  But I am incredibly conflicted about it.

The movie takes place in the X-Men cinematic universe.  It centers around tough-guy-for-hire Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds).  He is a foul-mouthed, incredibly violent anti-hero with a heart of gold.  He falls in love with the equally foul-mouthed prostitute named Vanessa (Monica Baccarin).  But their romance is cut short when Wade is diagnosed with inoperable cancer.  However, he is offered a chance for a possible cure by a shady organization that seeks only to trigger a mutation by systematic torture.  Once he breaks free he seeks revenge on those who did him wrong and win back his love.

As you can see, the plot is nothing too terribly original or special.  What makes this movie stand out is how the writers and director have approached the material.

Deadpool is an action comedy that knows when to take itself seriously and when not to.  The parts that entertain the most are the ones with the shockingly silly, violent, and irreverent gags.

Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick walk an interesting line: Deadpool is all about making fun of the superhero genre while not being a parody.  Parodies are elaborate comedy sketches devoid of any stakes or drama.  The writers manage to give the humor the insane, "anything goes" quality of movies like Airplane and The Naked Gun while at the same time making the quest of the character feel consequential. This is no easy feat.  Unbalance the movie a little in either direction and the either the humor or the drama falls horribly flat.  But somehow they make it work.  They constantly break the fourth wall and insert an amazing amount of meta-humor that creates a unique movie-going experience.  The humor feels tonally like it came from the mind of a fourteen-year-old boy, but the execution of it feels like the work of seasoned writers.

A lot of credit has to be given to Reynolds.  And in the reviews I have read of this movie I don't think I've seen proper credit given to his acting ability.  Yes, his natural charm and humor are cited as part of his overall charismatic personality that brings Deadpool to life.  But I think this misses something very important.  Deadpool is not a one-note, one-dimensional character.  I think a lot of people leave the theater thinking that he is.  But Reynolds shows us something different.  Deadpool isn't simply silly: he's broken.

While being tortured in the "clinic," he is told by the main villain "Ajax" (Ed Skrein) that Wade's sense of humor will not survive.  This is the only type of resistance Wade can mount.  He is helpless as they add torture upon torture.  The only way he can fight back is to keep his sense of humor.  His laughter is his armor.  His jokes are his weapons.  I was so impressed watching Reynolds in these scenes because you can see all of the layers to his performance while playing contradictory emotions like mirth, terror, despair, and arrogance all at the same time.  The violence he endures is harrowing.  There is a device in this film that is the closest thing I have seen modern minds have come up with that compares to the agony of crucifixion.  Reynolds makes the horror of this reality feel very real and unfunny.

And it has to be remembered that Deadpool spends most of the movie in a suit that covers most facial expression.  So Reynolds one of his most important tools as an actor (his face) removed from his toolbox and must rely on his line-delivery and body language even more.  And on this score he more than delivers.

Also director Tim Miller should not be overlooked for his incredibly dynamic storytelling.  The action sequences are often so funny that it is easy to overlook how masterfully they are staged.  The stunt work and fight choreography is top-notch.  And all of this even more impressive when you realize it was done with a relatively modest budget.  In terms of visual spectacle, Deadpool stands up to most summer blockbusters.

The rest of the supporting cast of characters never quite matches up to what Reynolds brings to the show.  Baccarin is fine as Vanessa, but she has little to work with except being the non-"damsel in distress" in distress.  Skrein is menacing but not much more.  TJ Miller plays Wade's friend, but his dead-behind-the-eyes performance continues to be a turn off.  Brianna Hildebrand does an interesting turn as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, an X-Men trainee with a acerbic adolescent wit.  But she is not there to do much but be a cynical sounding board to Wade's ramblings.

This movie is incredibly violent and so deserves its R-rating.  However, I have to say I quite enjoyed the creative use of the action.  Some may object to how violence is portrayed for humorous reasons, but it really did not bother me.  As someone who is a big fan of bloody, violent, and humorous spectacles like Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, I found Deadpool fit nicely into that niche.

Please allow me this digression for those who are confused as to how I could find this level of violence acceptable.  The bloody mayhem in Deadpool is always directed toward those to whom it is karmically deserved.  I emphasize that it is karmic, not providential.  We know that God wills not the death of any sinner.  But when wicked people do evil, they owe a debt that feels justified in most storytelling.  Films like Taken bank on this audience intuition in order to make the violence acceptable.  What would make the violence unacceptable is if our "hero" made someone pay a debt they did not karmically incur.  James Gunn's movie Super is a film I detest because of how it portrays superhero violence.  A typical scene has the hero, The Crimson Bolt, crack a man's skull because he cut in line at the movies.  While the victim was a jerk, the "hero" crossed a horrible line and made all of my sympathies and allegiances fall away from him.  Deadpool wisely caries with it the sensibilities of Taken and directs the violence only at those who karmically earn their deaths.  The closest the movie gets to crossing this line is when Deadpool encourages his cab driver (Karan Soni) to murder his romantic rival (but since this action never achieves fruition it does not drag down the movie).

And the movie acknowledges that Deadpool is not living the right way.  The X-Man Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) plays the part of the traditional hero who is constantly trying to act as Deadpool's conscience.  And while his mocked as lame, Colossus nevertheless supplies a necessary voice and potential path to heroism.  Do not misunderstand, Deadpool falls WAY short of the heroism embodied by Colossus.  But there is enough of a connection there to envision a possible redemptive path (though very little progress is made in this first film).

The place where the film is dragged down is in the raunchiness of its sexuality.  I know there are some who find violence more abhorrent that explicit sex.  I have no argument against them at this time.  I respect those opinions and sensibilities.  But for me, it detracted from the story.  Wade and Vanessa's courtship is so sexualized that it actually caused me to become less invested in their romance.  And the constant references to sex in the jokes (both dialogue and visual gags) mostly turned me away.  Once again I refer to Army of Darkness that some bawdy sexual humor but it never felt overly dirty.  Deadpool felt like it crossed the line from naughty to filthy.

Which is a shame because this one major flaw weighs down the film way too much.  Therein lies my conflict: I want to like this movie a lot more and I wonder if at the same time I already like it more than a should.  With just a little bit of tweaking, this movie would be much more enjoyable.

But regarding the parts that do work: they work incredibly well.

4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Knights of Columbus Novena for America

Image result for immaculate mary

As we draw nearer to the election I have noticed that tensions are running high on both sides of the political aisle.

It is important that we remember that no matter who wins, our loyalty is not to the princes of this world but to our God in Heaven.

America is the greatest country that the world has ever seen.  But we cannot be so without the grace of God.  We are ever in need of His providence.

The Knights of Columbus have published a novena to Mary of the Immaculate Conception, the Patroness of our country.  With Americans going to the polls and deciding our nation's course and destiny for the next four years, it is more important than ever to put that choice into the hands of our Lord and our Lady.

I will be praying this novena every day from now through election day, but the Knights particularly ask that it be prayed from October 30-November 7.  And I invite all of you to pray with me.

God Bless America!

Prayer to Mary, the Immaculate Conception, Patroness of the United States

Most Holy Trinity: Our Father in Heaven, who chose Mary as the fairest of your daughters; Holy Spirit, who chose Mary as your Spouse; God the Son, who chose Mary as your Mother, in union with Mary we adore your majesty and acknowledge your supreme, eternal dominion and authority.
Most Holy Trinity, we put the United States of America into the hands of Mary Immaculate in order that she may present the country to you. Through her we wish to thank you for the great resources of this land and for the freedom which has been its heritage.
Through the intercession of Mary, have mercy on the Catholic Church in America. Grant us peace. Have mercy on our president and on all the officers of our government. Grant us a fruitful economy, born of justice and charity. Have mercy on capital and industry and labor. Protect the family life of the nation. Guard the precious gift of many religious vocations. Through the intercession of our Mother, have mercy on the sick, the tempted, sinners – on all who are in need.
Mary, Immaculate Virgin, our Mother, Patroness of our land, we praise you and honor you and give ourselves to you. Protect us from every harm. Pray for us,that acting always according to your will and the will of your divine Son, we may live and die pleasing to God.  Amen.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

New Evangelizers Post: 10 Commandments in the Modern World Part 2 – DO NOT TAKE THE LORD’S NAME IN VAIN

I have a new article up at  

As I wrote in an early article about the “Hallowed be Thy Name” section of the Lord’s prayer, the name of God is sacred. His name is the greatest revelation that was given to the Hebrew people as sign of His intimacy with them.

For this reason, any offense against the name of God is a sin. His name is so special and to not treat it with reverence is an insult. How much worse then is it to use it as a curse?
The Apostle Peter said “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” (Acts 4:12) The name of the Lord has power. To this day our priests drive out demons by the power of the name of God. And it is under the name of God that we are baptized: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore to use that same name as a curse is to sully something sacred.

Take your name, for example. Imagine if someone decided to take your name and use it as a malediction. Let’s say that at your work or school people began to use your name as a synonym for some awful quality.

“Don’t be a lazy jerk, you don’t want to be a [insert your name].” “What’s that smell? It stinks as bad as [insert your name].” “I’m attractive, I’m not a [insert your name].”

Perhaps you have a thick skin, but I think this would wear down most of us. It would hurt because our names, which are the verbal summary of who we are, are sullied.

And that is what we do to God when we use His name as a curse.
You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sunday Best: Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time #25 - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Back in the day before multiplexes took over the market, most cities had the theaters with only one or two screens.  And in my town, this was the only theater that was playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  So my mom waited for 90 minutes in the ticket buyers line and then 90 minutes in the ticket holders line so that my little sister and I could see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

And it was totally worth the wait.

Based on the popular comic book and the even more popular TV show, TMNT is about 4 turtles who are mutated into humanoid form and are trained by their ninja master rat/surrogate father Splinter.

I don't think anyone would call this movie high cinema, but sometimes a movie aims to hit a certain target and it does it incredibly well.

Without a doubt the film is directed at pre-teen kids.  One of the reasons the concept of the TMNT works so well is that they are the embodiment of what teenagers are in the mind of a child.  Teens, from the pre-teen view, are empowered, rebellious, and incredibly cool.  Young children often feel like they have no power over their life or their environment.  But they could imagine what they would do if given the choice: they would learn ninjitsu, they would skateboard, and they would eat pizza all day long!  And that is what kids see in the Turtles.

On top of that, the design of the turtles is fantastic.  The updated version of the TMNT in recent years is fine, but while their hulking frames make look formidable, it also makes them less approachable.  The work Jim Henson did on the turtles in 1990 is wonderfully magical.  There is a fantasy quality along with a tangibility that rivals his work in The Dark Crystal.  If you can get into the mindset of a child, the turtles are as solidly real as anything else in this movie universe.  In subsequent sequels, somehow this technique was degraded.  But in this first installment it's top notch.

As a super hero movie, they did not skimp on the fight choreography.  The battles between the turtles and the evil foot clan is fast-paced and fun.  There is a silliness to their fights ("A fellow 'chucker, eh?"), but they still maintain a sense of peril.  What child didn't feel for Raphael as the Foot Clan threw him through the skylight?  And what child didn't cheer as Michelangelo tucked his head into his shell to avoid the axe and shout "I love being a TURTLE!"

The human actors are serviceable.  Judith Hoag does a very likeable and believable April O'Neil (much better than the perpetually vacant Megan Fox).  And Elias Koteas is strangely cool as Casey Jones.

But one of the most important factors that makes this movie work is the sense of family.  What the Fantastic Four films never quite captured, but desperately needed, is the primal truths about family.  The turtles are brothers who develop different personalities that push each other away while binding each other in love.  Leonardo is like the typical eldest child who tries to act as a second parent.  Raphael is the one who chafes at that authority and acts out accordingly.  Michelangelo is the clown who tries to calm everyone with a laugh.  And Donatello is the worrier who focuses on his learning.  Anyone who grew up with several brothers and sisters can relate to this.  One of my favorite moments is when Leonardo and Raphael are arguing and Michelangelo and Donatello silently walk between them into the kitchen and away from the discomfort.  This is a moment familiar to anyone who has exited an uncomfortable family fight.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles does not try to be more than it is: a fun kids' movie that is meant to delight the pre-teen mind.  And on that level, it succeeds.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Trailer Time: Logan Teaser

One of my favorite comic book character performances has been Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.  When I heard he was planning to retire the character I was incredibly sad.

So this is apparently his swan song.  And it looks heart-breaking.

The use of the Johnny Cash version of the Nine Inch Nails is my favorite version of that song.  And this film looks like it is saying a hard goodbye to this world.

I'm hoping for a riveting and emotional send off.  I want it to be as sad and moving as Deadpool was silly and funny.

Jackman looks to be at his best here as the character.  And Patrick Stewart is breaking my heart as an ailing Professor X.



Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Trailer Time: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - Teaser

"There are only two types of beings in the universe: those who dance and those who do not."

Not a lot shown in this teaser, but I love what I do see and I am very intrigued.

This second film is going to have a lot to live up to.

And that last shot makes me happier than most things I've seen on the internet.

Click the link for the youtube video


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sunday Best: Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time - Why Superheroes Endure

Welcome to the CatholicSkywalker list of the Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time.

I am not an expert on much, but if there is one area where I think I have some insight and competency it should be in the synergistic fusion of the superhero genre and the art of film.

In other words, I am a certified comic book nerd and film geek.

Critics keep talking about "Superhero movie fatigue," where the glut of films in this genre will eventually lead to the general public losing interest.  While this is something that may eventually happen, I do not see it occurring any time soon.  The reason why is that super hero films capture a purely cinematic experience.

Here are some reasons why since 2000, superhero movies continue to dominate.

1.  Spectacle.
Most superheroes are lifted from comic books, which is a genre which has to create strong, dynamic visuals without the advantage of motion.  In that sense, the characters and stories come pre-charged with a kinetic energy that works well in cinema.  The characters are already iconic.  They also lend themselves to the visual spectacle that has defined the modern blockbuster.  Twenty years ago, characters like the Hulk or Iron Man would just look silly.  Now the technology matches the imagination of the genre.

2.  Traditional Morality.
In a world that is increasingly slipping down the hole of moral relativism, the superhero genre stands in the breach.  No, not every superhero is a paragon of virtue.  But for the most part the genre is about a person understanding that there is good and evil in the world and that in order to prevent evil from spreading, good people must stand and sometimes fight.  There are exceptions like the deconstructionist Watchmen.  But I would even argue that Captain America: Civil War, with its hero-on-hero violence, is ultimately about people doing their best to follow their conscience.  These movies don't have to espouse a bland black-and-white morality with no ambiguity.  But the genre tends to point to the universal trait of heroism: self-sacrifice for the good of the other.

3.  Taking the Genre Seriously.
Before Bryan Singer's X-Men, Hollywood didn't take superheroes seriously.  There were, of course, exceptions.  But most studios considered the genre either juvenile or based merely on dumb shows of brightly colored special effects.  This isn't to say that superhero film should be devoid of humor.  But even the incredibly funny Guardians of the Galaxy still took the internal drama of its characters seriously so that we were invested in the steaks and heartache of the characters.  Watch Batman and Robin or the Shaquille O'Neil classic Steel and you will find filmmakers who treat their properties with pandering kid-gloves.  By taking the genre seriously, it opens the audience to greater investment in the characters and allows them to follow on the journey.

4.  Cinematic Universes
Many critics decry the creation of the myriad crossover films that constitute a cinematic universe.  But there is a reason why these franchises spawn so much success.  One of the reason Soap Operas endure is because people become attached to characters and desire to spend more time with them in their stories.  By taking the genre seriously, audiences connect to the characters.  This creates a desire to see them in more and more stories.  And by interweaving them with other stories, the sum becomes greater than the parts.  Each movie can begin to feel like a window into a large, epic story.  How great is it that you could be watching a movie not staring Batman, but have him appear for a few awesome scenes?  Cinematic Universes are born primarily in the superhero genre.

5.  Great Talent
Even though most movie critics do not take the genre seriously (how many have been nominated for Best Picture), there is still an amazing talent pool involved.  Even leaving out the outliers like Christopher Nolan, some fantastic visual storytellers have been chosen to bring superheroes to life: Richard Donner, Zack Snyder, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, The Russo Brothers, Sam Raimi, Brad Bird, Kenneth Bragnagh, Tim Burton, Ben Affleck, and many others.  And the casting has also been superb in many cases.  I could not imagine another actor taking some of these iconic roles: Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man, and Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool.  And even when a character has been played by multiple people they often choose excellent actors.  As long as they keep making the investment in talent, the superhero movie should be around for a long time.

All of the movies chosen on this list will be about superheroes.  Not all will have their origins in comic books.  Conversely, this is not a list of greatest comic book movies because there are many comics that are not superhero based.  And many of these have their own film adaptations.  Also, these movies will based on characters created during and after the 20th century, so classic heroes like Hercules and Sinbad will not be included.

Also, this list will ultimately be fluid as more and more films are being added to this genre every year.

Tune in next week as we begin our countdown to the top 25 Superhero movies of all time.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Film Flash: The Accountant

The Accountant (2016 film).png
15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Enjoyable action/thriller.  Like A Beautiful Mind meets Leon: The Professional.  (Could use more action)

4 out of 5 stars.

Trailer Time: John Wick Chapter 2

I was late to the John Wick train.

I remember hearing the title and thinking it was terrible.  And then I heard the premise: someone kills Keanu Reeves' dog and he goes on a bloody rampage of revenge.  Again, not impressed.

But people whose judgment I respect said it was good.  So I finally saw it.


I always tell people that the movie doesn't try to be anything other than it is: a bloody, violent romp.  And it does it amazingly.

I have a feeling that a lot of people missed out on John Wick in the theaters but discovered it on DVD.  As a result, I think John Wick Chapter 2 will have a bigger box office opening.  At the very least, I will be there opening night.


(click link here to see trailer)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Film Flash: Shin Godzilla.

Godzilla Resurgence Theatrical Poster.jpg
15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

They got the first word in the title wrong by one letter.

1 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

99th Anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima

Bl. Jacinta Marto, Lucia Santos, and Bl. Francesco Marto

99 years ago today, the sun danced at Fatima.

One of the reasons that the apparition of Mary at Fatima is so famous is that Our Blessed Mother predicted the miracle five months in advance and tens of thousands of witnesses saw it.  In a world where people constantly demand for signs from God like a message in the sky... I can't think of a better sign to point them towards than that of Fatima.

Next year it will be the centennial of that great event.  I pray that in the last 100 years we have moved closer to living her message: pray the rosary daily, wear the brown scapular, go to mass on the first Saturday of the month, offer up your daily duty to God, pray for the conversion of the world (especially Russia), and unite your sacrifices to Christ.

Those three children (Lucia, Jacinta, and Francesco) lived out their calling and are now with their Lady in Heaven.

May we follow their example and be so blessed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

New Evangelizers Post: 10 Commandments in the Modern World Part 1 – YOU SHALL HAVE NO GODS BEFORE ME

I have a new article up at  

Many years ago I wrote an article here for New Evangelizers called “Disclaimers When Talking About Sin.” That article was based on the preparation I do in class before we go into the 10 Commandments. However I came to the realization that with that article I did the preparation without the content.

This article will be the first in a series that will act as in depth reflection of how the 10 Commandments given to Moses and the Hebrews thousands of years ago apply to our modern lives. Of course there will always be more insight that can be mined from these Commandments than what we can discuss in a single article or even a series of articles. But we will use these as starting points to reflect upon how well we measure up under God’s Law.

As you may know, there are two different listing of the 10 Commandments. The first can be found in Exodus 10:1-17 and another found in Deuteronomy 5:4-21. While they cover the same material, they order them and combine them a little differently. In Exodus, the 1st Commandment is to place no gods before God and the 2nd forbids the creation of “graven images.” Also in Exodus, the final commandment admonishes to covet your neighbors wife and goods. The list of Commandments in Deuteronomy combines the first two in Exodus into one Commandment and splits the last Commandment in Exodus into two separate ones.

Why does this matter? It is important for purely referential reasons. Most Catholics learned the list of Commandments that were based on Deuteronomy while most Protestants use the listing from Exodus. So when we reference the “Seventh Commandment,” Catholics will think of “You Shall Not Steal” and Protestants will think of “You Shall Not Commit Adultery.”

We, of course, will use the traditionally Catholic ordering of the Commandments.

The first Commandment is actually the most important of all the Commandments. And yet how often do we Catholics confess sinning against the first Commandment?

Why is it the most important? Because every sin is a sin against the first Commandment. It is the description of a perfect human life. When it says “You shall have no gods before me,” it is not primarily speaking to us modern Christians about avoiding worshiping Zeus, Ra, or Baal. Instead, if you were to the Commandment into the form of a question it would be:

Is God first in my life?

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sunday Best: Top 10 Special Needs Romances

Over the weekend I watched a movie about a romance between two people, one with a special need.  It made me think about how many movies involve these kind of relationships.

I did find quite a few.  Some of them are problematic like Me Before You (which I did not see) and The Theory of Everything.  Both of these movies depict the disability as stronger than love.

The other problem I tend to find is that people try to "fix" the disability in the film.  By this I don't mean that the other person simply tries to make life better, but that they try to change the unchangeable rather than loving the person as they are.

So here are the top 10 films that feature romances with special needs.

10.  Children of a Lesser God
Children of a Lesser God film poster.jpg
What makes this movie work more than anything are the performances.  The story struggles, but William Hurt and Marlee Matlin have great chemistry and charisma.  And when he tries to "fix" her, it causes problems in their relationship.

9.  The Time Traveller's Wife
The Time Traveler's Wife film poster.jpg
This is a science fiction take on loving someone with a disability.  What makes this work, and why it is on the list, is that this couple struggles so much with how to learn to cope with his disorder and they spend a good deal of time with the concern about how this will affect their ability to have children.  While the disease is fictional, the struggles feel real.

8.  50 First Dates
The movie is pure silliness.  But what makes this work is that Sandler's character tries to figure out a way to have a relationship with a girl that forgets everything from the previous day without trying to cure her.  He instead accepts the disability and tries to build his life around her.

7.  Lovely, Still
Lovely, Still Poster.jpg
Not all of these movies are happy.  Watching Lovely, Still is a devastating experience but one that makes you feel something deeply about the nature of love and marriage and what those commitments mean.

6.  Regarding Henry
Regarding henry ver1.jpg
This is a movie about the before and after of a disability's onset.  It is a moving film about how to accept the new normal and rebuild relationships again.

5.  The Notebook
This movie gets a lot of shade for being schmaltzy and bland.  But when you strip everything else away from it, the reason why it works is because you get to see a love that is completely bound up to the other, in sickness and in health till death do us part.

4.  Shadowlands
Shadowlands ver2.jpg
One of the beautiful things about this movie is that is shows that sometimes tragedy can force us to confront our feelings.  When Joy is diagnosed with cancer, Jack must face the feelings he has been trying to bury.  And even though he knows he is opening himself to a world of pain, he chooses to love her and be with her for as long as he can.

3.  Jane Wants a Boyfriend

This is a small movie that just came out last year, but it was so delightful and charming.  Jane is a 20 something autistic girl who wants to have a grown up relationship.  When Jack finds her interesting, their chemistry is real.  The best part, for me, is that Jack really delights in the way she acts, talks, and thinks.  He likes her for who she is, not in spite of who she is.  And this was very touching.

2.  Lars and the Real Girl
Lars real girl.jpg
Lars has a little mental breakdown at the beginning of the movie and he develops a delusion that a "love doll" he ordered online is actual a real person named Bianca.  What sounds like a lewd premise is actually an incredibly sweet movie.  The entire community decides to play along with Lars to help him through it.  And when a real girl, Margo, begins to get closer to Lars, she accepts him as he is.

1.  A Beautiful Mind
A Beautiful Mind Poster.jpg
This might be Ron Howard's best film and it is rightly honored as an amazing work of writing, acting, and directing.  But the most beautiful part about this is the faith that John's wife Alicia has in him.  When she says, "I have to believe something extraordinary is possible," you can feel how she places her life into John's hands.  And the struggles they go through are real.  But the movie teaches us that love is stronger than any struggles here in this world.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Film Review: Bad Moms

Sexuality/Nudity Objectionable
Violence No Objection
Vulgarity Objectionable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Objectionable

Somewhere inside of Bad Moms is a good movie.

Unfortunately, that movie is obscured by too much vulgarity, shallow characters, and insipid themes.

The movie focuses on Amy (Mila Kunis), an overworked and underappreciated mom who hustles her kids (Emjay Anthony and Oona Laurence) everywhere while working too many hours for her millennial boss (Clark Duke) without the help from her lazy husband (David Walton).  On top of this she is made to feel inferior by the domineering PTA president Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate).  Finally after a particularly trying day, she snaps and declares to a room full of moms that she gives up and embraces being a bad mom.  She is joined in this liberation from perfection by stay at home mom Kiki (Kristen Bell) and already bad single mom Carla (Kathryn Hahn).

In its defense, there is a lot that the movie does well.  First of all, the lead actresses are fantastically funny.  Unlike the forced girl power camaraderie from this Summer's Ghostbusters, the chemistry between Kunis, Bell, and Hahn is real.  They all bring something different to the table but they all share a strong screen presence and charisma.  They are helped by some genuinely witty lines from writers/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore that send up the modern pressures to be a perfect mom and to shield your kids from every possible risk and harm.

But unfortunately, Lucas and Moore do not have enough confidence in their own joke-writing ability and instead rely on a lot of shock-comedy instead.  For the most part, I do not mind vulgarity in film.  But this film decides lean so heavily in area of outrageous adult behavior that it is off putting.  Like this summer's Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Bad Moms uses prolonged full frontal nudity to try and drum up laughs.  The result is less funny and more extremely uncomfortable.  The problem always with shock comedy is that it does not linger in the affections of the mind the way wit and simple silliness do.

In terms of characters, all of the female leads, including the villain, actual present layers in a way I was not expecting.  There is a particularly affective moment towards the end when when we see deeper into Applegate's character and her motivations.  However on the flip side, every male character is one-dimensional.  Amy's husband is a cheating horn-dog.  Period.  There is a widowed single father Jessie (Jay Hernandez) that comes in as a love interest for Amy.  But while Hernandez is charming, his character is a completely flat perfect boyfriend cliche.  Kiki's husband (Lyle Brocato) is a straight-up misogynist.  Even when you compare Amy's two kids, the son has much less screen time, much less depth, and much less of a character arc than the daughter.  While it is true that many other movies are guilty of making all the female characters flat stereotypes, simply inverting the error does not make it better.


But the biggest problem with Bad Moms rests with the themes.  Movies like this need to follow a general structure in order to be satisfying

1.  Get a sense of how stifling the character's world is at the beginning of the movie.
2.  Enjoy the liberation the characters feel in rejecting their old life and responsibilities
3.  Pull back from the reckless total rejection and find balance between the two.

Bad Moms does one and two well, but they don't really get to the third.  I imagine there is something cathartic and satisfying parents, especially mothers, might feel in being able to complain about the foibles of their children while being understood that they lack no affection for them.  The second act is filled with these vent session and we are treated to the sense of freedom they have from the pressure to be perfect.  But instead of coming to a strong understanding that total irresponsibility is bad and so is expecting perfection, the movie embraces being a bad parent.  At the end of the movie there is a scene where several moms confess how they are bad.  But instead of it being a session to air contrition for their shortcomings, they all celebrate each others badness.

On top of this, the movie takes a very dim view of marriage.  When Amy's husband wants to come back and reconcile, they try counseling, but the counselor (an unfunny Wanda Sykes) says that they should get divorced.  The movie tries to move you to root for Amy to leave her husband and hook up with Jesse.  And while I understand that marital infidelity may be a bridge to far for some couples to reconcile, the easy dissolution of this marriage speaks to how impermanent the filmmakers see it.  In fact, none of the marriages in the movie are happy.

And it is any wonder that when the marriage are devoid of the love of God and the self donation that is a part of sacramental Christian marriage that the result would not only be bad marriages but bad dads.

And Bad Moms.

3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

New TV Show Mini Review: The Good Place

The Good Place.

It's not.

Let me say that I am a huge fan of Kristen Bell.  I think she is an incredibly likable actress who can play comedy and drama with excellence.  That is why I wish that she would choose better material.

The Good Place is brought to us by the same people who gave us the great Parks and Recreation and the very enjoyable Brooklyn 99.  The show is high concept:

Eleanor (Bell) wakes up in the afterlife.  She is greeted by Michael (Ted Danson) that she is in the good place: an idealized neighborhood of only good people where they get to live out eternity in idealized comfort.  She is even paired with a soul mate: Chidi (William Jackson Harper), an ethics professor from Nigeria.  This afterlife is a reward only for the truly good people of the world.  There is only one problem: Eleanor is a terrible person.  She is selfish, vulgar, hedonistic, and mean.  She is in the good place by accident.  And her presence begins to unravel the order of the place causing horrible chaos.

The concept sounds like rich territory to explore for comedy and insight.  Unfortunately everything about the show is so off-putting that it chokes out all of the laughs.

The show does eschew almost all traditionally Christian views of heaven.  In and of itself this is not a flaw.  A number of years ago Albert Brooks wrote, directed, and starred in a movie called Defending Your Life which also took a rather unique, irreligious take on judgment and the afterlife.  But the departure from the Christian beliefs about heaven did not seem like an insult, but simply posed itself as an inoffensive thought experiment.  The Good Place doesn't have that feel.

There is a nastiness to The Good Place that sours the entire project.  Anyone not in the good place is in some version of hell.  So the intended inhabitants of this "heaven" are those who lived by the idealized moral life that the producers imagine.  Again, not in and of itself the problem, but the inference is that anyone who does not live by their moral code is condemned to everlasting torment.  And the secular morality that this show espouses feel devoid of any larger, transcendent element.

The challenge is already very large: take an incredibly unlikable person as the main character and get the audience to care about their journey.  This opens the door for long-form character development, but if you cannot find something about the main character to latch onto, the whole project will be for nought.

And as charming as Bell is, she cannot overcome the horridness of her character.  In addition to this, the other supporting characters are also not that likeable.  Mike is a fumbling functionary.  Chidi is moralizing intellectual.  When he decides to help Eleanor become a better person, he turns to philosophy texts to begin her moral training.  This overly cerebral approach to morals feels so incredibly cold that Chidi feels more like someone who isn't so much a moral person as he is a moralist.  The rest of the populace are either overly bland or annoying that an eternity in this place doesn't feel like much of a reward.

The long and the short of it is this:  The Good Place is not good.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Film Review: Suicide Squad

Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

I was very late in getting to see this film.  By the time I was able to get to the theater, the reviews for this film had been generally miserable.  This was disconcerting to me because I had been so incredibly psyched to see it.

And for the most part, the critics are wrong.

Suicide Squad is the third film in the DC Extended Universe, following Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  It is an unusual choice to say the least.

The plot revolves around assembling a task force of super villains to go on impossible missions in exchange for reductions on their prison sentences.  Essentially its a comic book movie version of The Dirty Dozen.  The one assembling the squad is Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a shadowy government official who coldly calculates the perceived greater good against the lives of others.  She chooses an eclectic group of dangerous killers:  Deadshot (Will Smith), the world's deadliest assassin; Diablo (Jay Hernandez) a former gang-banger pyrokinetic; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) a part-man, part reptile hulk; Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a thief whose shtick is boomerangs; the Enchantress (Cara Delevinge) an ancient evil force of nature who shares a body with the innocent June Moon; Slipnot (Adam Beech), an expert climber; and last but not least Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the insane paramour of the still-at-large Joker (Jared Leto).  Supervising them are Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnamen), who is in love with June Moon, and Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a masked fighter whose sword captures the souls of those it kills.

Things quickly get out of hand with this group.  The Enchantress is able to escape and wreak havoc in Midway City and the rest of the squad is sent to rescue a high value asset from the chaos.  Each squad member has a bomb implanted in their necks that will explode should they try to escape or disobey.  From the moment the mission gets started, the movie revs up the action, tension, and fun.

It is said that director David Ayer was forced to do a good deal of re-shoots in response to the financial success of Deadpool and the critical attacks on Batman v. Superman.  And there is some disjointedness to the story.  Whereas it should be the simplest and most straightforward plot of any DCEU film, it goes off into digressions and flashbacks throughout the film.

However, despite this Suicide Squad is an incredibly enjoyable film.  Ayer does an excellent job of giving the film its dynamic action.  Thankfully we don't have any of the annoying shakey-cam that is prevalent in so many modern action films.  The violent spectacle is fresh and clear to behold.  And while it is clear that the integration of pop music into the action is there to mimic the tone of Guardians of the Galaxy, the score and soundtrack give the fight sequences a very satisfying rhythm.  Ayer also wisely uses the action sequences to highlight the character's personalities.  We get to understand who they are and how they think by the way they attack their enemies: e.g. Deadshot precisely aims every deadly hit in rapid succession, Harley wildly swings her bat at any nearby opponent, and Captain Boomerang tries to hide and let most others do the heavy lifting.

But what makes the movie work more than anything is the chemistry with the members of the squad.  These are not good people, but they are so charismatic that they draw our attention.  And over the course of the film, they develop a rapport that seems genuine and enjoyable to watch as they fight off the threats together.  Credit here should be given to Ayer as writer/director, as well as the cast.  This movie also truly feels like its a part of a large cinematic universe with cameos from other famous characters in the canon.

This movie also has Will Smith at his Will Smithiest.  It felt like he shook off the dust of a number of his more serious performances and let his natural charisma shine.  That isn't to say that his performance isn't good.  In fact, he adds unexpected layers to his contract killer.  Davis is the perfect fit for the Waller character as her tough-as-nails personality is the strong center of this film.  Going into the theater I was very worried about Robbie's Harley, but she captured the broken, manic personality of the cartoon character.  And I cannot believe how much I loved Jai Courtney in this film.  Readers of this blog may remember how I raked him over the coal for his awful performance in Terminator Genisys.  But his Captain Boomerang is made me laugh more than any character in the movie.

Not all of the performances reach this level.  Both  Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Hernandez have their performances obscured by their makeup.  Kinnaman and Fukuhara aren't given much to do with their characters.  And Delevinge is just all wrong for the part she played; she is too young to come across effectively as either the ancient Enchantress, the brilliant June Moon, or the love interested to the older Flag.

A lot has already been written about Leto's Joker and all I have to say is that it isn't a terrible performance, but it doesn't break through the way Heath Ledger's or even Jack Nicholson's did.  And he is really there to service Harley's character arc rather than his own.

And one of the enjoyable things to watch is that the characters do go through a journey.  The tricky part for Ayer is that he wants these characters to grow, which means an increase in virtue.  But he needs them to stay villains for his story to work, so he cannot take them too far.  And if he reverts them even further down into darkness, the audience will disconnect.  So while the characters do not really make the journey to full-fledged heroes, they do make some steps towards virtues like loyalty, responsibility, and personal atonement.  There remains a long way to go before these characters become morally good, but Ayer gives you just enough hope at their future redemption.  As a Catholic I am happy with the general direction the characters are pointed but disappointed that they don't make sufficient progress.  You will have to decide how acceptable or unacceptable this progress is.

The biggest problem I had with the movie was one scene with Waller.  Throughout the film she was portrayed as an amoral pragmatist, like a less sentimental Jack Bower.  But a little more than half-way through the film, she straight up murders 4-5 seemingly innocent people.  This was not the case where it was a kill-or-be-killed situation.  It was a cold-blooded act of evil.  And the other characters don't seem to think this is a big deal.  One even calls the move "gangsta."  This one scene alone, because it portrays no serious moral or character consequences, is disturbing and makes the film less enjoyable.  I can even understand if for some they disengage completely.  At the very least I went from caring about Waller to hoping she would meet justice.


The other big problem the movie has is that it has a pretty terrible villain in the Enchantress with once again a generic "destroy the world" plan with a faceless army.  And the Enchatress' plan apparently involves the need for Delevinge to swing her arms and hips around while casting a spell half-dressed for half the movie.  Speaking of attire, I was not a fan of the immodesty of Harley Quinn's outfit.  When she was first introduced in the cartoons and comics, her most salient feature was her insane personality.  Over the years in the comics, games, and now movies, she has been become more and more a piece of eye candy.  I see nothing wrong with casting attractive people, but Harley is sexualized much more than I would expect in a comic book movie.  Even though there is no nudity and there aren't any sex scenes, it was still just a bit much.

Suicide Squad is not a perfect movie.  But if you are looking for a good, violent, action-spectacle with a lot of chemistry between the actors then this is a movie for you.

4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sunday Best: Emmy Results 2016

I meant to get this up last week but I was a bit sidetracked.

So Hollywood has declared to us once again what the greatest achievements in television this year.

Here are my observations:

1.  On Time
The best compliment I can give to the show is that they kept it brief enough to end on time.  The show removed a lot of the fluff and that made the viewing much less annoying.  Yes, there was the strange Stranger Things sandwich gag that went on too long, but for the most part, Jimmy Kimmel kept the show moving fairly well.

2.  Making the Edgy Mainstream

Game of Thrones, though always popular with the Geek Community and Emmy voters, pushes the envelope with its explicit sex and violence.  The show is now the most awarded show in Emmy history with 38 Emmys.  And I do not want to diminish all of the show's competence in the skills of film making, but I do think the Emmy Awards want to elevate the cutting edge.  I see that also in its accolades given to Transparent.  Now that the battle for gay "marriage" has been won, transphobia is the new cause celeb.  And in awarding the Best Actor and Actress in the Drama category to two young actors, the Emmy's are once again trying to show how with the times they are.  Though to be fair, I've heard nothing but amazing things about Tatiana Maslany's work.

3.  Politics

As always, our celebrity betters, who are obviously more informed and enlightened than the rest of us, made clear who we should vote for in November over and over again.  While this was to be expected, it was done at such an intense level that even I was taken aback.

4.  Low Ratings

The ratings for the show were even lower than last year.  As I mentioned in my previous post on the subject, I do not think that this is a reflection of the host or the awards show production itself.  It is a reflection of the fact that there are very few things for people to root for.  If The Walking Dead and The Big Bang Theory (two of the most popular shows on TV right now) were nominated in all of the major categories, you would see a ratings boost.

5.  Highlight of the Night: Patton Oswalt's Acceptance Speech.

I have always like Patton Oswalt.  I was so sad for him when his wife passed away unexpectedly earlier in the year.  Listening to him speak very candidly about the pain he and his young daughter have endured is truly heartbreaking.  But what moved me so much was when the outspoken atheist comedian accepted the award he thanked his daughter who was waiting at home and another who was "waiting somewhere else I hope."  I do not want to read too much into this statement, but I thought it was a beautiful tribute to the love he has for his wife and the instinct that love is stronger than death.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus 2016

My wife and I have a special devotion to St. Therese.  In fact, one of the things I remember so clearly when first getting to know my future wife was her utter devotion to the Little Flower.

What I see two things in St. Therese's life more than anything else.

1.  The Blessing of Ordinary Life.

I am someone who consumes epic stories of heroism and adventure.  Both religious and secular stories are shared about larger-than-life figures that make their mark on the history of our world.  It is easy to give in to the temptation to think that these figures are the truly important people as opposed to the "ordinary" ones.  But St. Therese wanted her life to be extraordinary in how ordinary it was.  Simple, ordinary life is a beautiful thing.  I am remind of the play Our Town and how the mundane things of this world are some of its greatest pleasures.  It is like Bilbo said in The Fellowship of the Ring: "It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life."

My mark on the great pages of history will probably be too small to notice.  But Therese shows me that it is not how big a mark you make in this world that matters.  All that matters is if I lived this beautiful ordinary life as best as I could.

2.  Everyday Holiness.

Closley linked to the first idea is how Therese found sanctity in the oridnary life she lived.  This offers to us the challenge to do everything we do each day with great love.  In some ways, that can seem more daunting than the most epic quest.  Which is more difficult: to climb the highest mountain or to be at every moment be indafatigably loving to people who annoy you day in and day out?

And yet as difficult as it seems, what Therese has done is quite extrodinary.  When we often think of the saints, we picture the astounding miracles or acts of heroic physical martyrdom.  But most of us do not perfrom miracles and we hopefully will not have our blood shed in witness.  And yet we can all become fully alive saints.  Therese showed us that the crown of sainthood is within our grasp in our daily life.  No longer do we have to imagine that we can only be saints through stupendous, far-flung marvels.

We can find holiness in the simple moments of our lives.  All of us can do this by the grace of God.

Therese reminds us not only are we all called to be saints, but in the context of each of our lives all of us can be saints.


Here is a link to a novena that my wife and I pray daily to the Little Flower.