Monday, November 28, 2016

St. Andrew Novena Starts Tomorrow

Much of what is below is a repost from years earlier.

I think about St. Andrew quite a bit.  He was one of the first four called by Christ.  It was James, John, Andrew and Andrew's brother Peter.  But of that quartet, only the trio of Peter, James, and John ended up being Jesus' closest friends.

I wonder if Andrew was like us and got jealous.  According to the Gospel of John, it was Andrew who brought Peter to the Lord, and the Lord seemed to like Peter better.  How often have we introduced a sibling or friend to our inner circle only to have them become more popular or have a greater aptitude for what you enjoy?

But I bet that Andrew was better than most of us.  He was probably a model of humility.  I like to imagine that he was happy for his brother and he was content to have others loved and esteemed more than himself.

My favorite story is about when he died.  They tied him to the cross, but for days and days he preached non-stop to the point where the officials realized it was doing them more harm than good.

But when they came to take him down, Andrew looked at Jesus and told him he was tired and he just wanted to go home to heaven and be with Him.  So the soldiers were unable to take him down and Andrew finally went home to the Jesus and his brother Peter on November 30th 60 AD.

Tomorrow is the feast of St. Andrew.  And there is a special novena prayer that is prayed between now and Christmas.  It goes as follows:

St. Andrew Christmas Novena

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born Of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother. Amen.

That prayer is prayed 15 times a day until the ends.  My wife and I pray this together every year and have found many graces through the intercession of St. Andrew.  I pray that all of you do as well.

God Bless.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Film Flash: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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

Enchanting and exciting re-entry into the Potter Universe (sans Harry).  Leaves you wanting more.

4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday Best: Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time #20 - The Crow

Watching The Crow feels like jumping into a time machine to the early 1990's.  The music, the fashion, and the general atmosphere all exude the grunge spirit of the age.  And while this could be a detriment that makes the film feel dated, this is actually one of its strongest selling points.

The Crow is not a perfect film.  But what the movie does incredibly is set mood.  The cinematography, the score, the costume design all work together powerfully to enter you into the ecstatic sadness of the story.  Even years from last seeing it, the impressions that the movie left in me are still strong.

It might be easy to dismiss this accomplishment by thinking that all that would be required to achieve the desired effect would be to go to the nearest Hot Topic and take its wardrobe and store music.  But look at any of the subsequent Crow films and you will see quickly that this effect is not easily duplicated.  Eric Draven's world is dark and violent, but it is not repulsively ugly.  There is something almost attractive and cathartic about Eric's deep sadness and the world in which it is reflected.

Of course the movie got a great deal of infamy because of the tragic death of its lead star Brandon Lee during a horrible accident with a gun.  Brandon had been slowly working his way up the action movie ranks through B-list material.  Perpetually in the shadow of his legendary father, I believe that this movie would have opened new doors for him.  Rather than relying on his extensive martial arts training, Lee pushed his emotional boundaries.  He mixes pain and rage and regret and fear all at once.  His performance is not perfect, but you can see the blossoming of his talent.

And while there is a good deal of action, the movie doesn't make action the focus.  Instead, the story is ultimately about loss and grief.  Eric Draven's whole quest for revenge centers around his need to come to peace with the senseless death of his beloved fiancee.  Eric has no desire to move on.  When his mission is done, there is no future for him.  He simply wants to fulfill his duty as the survivor and then leap into the dark to be back with his beloved.  The movie embraces the pain of lost love like a man hugging a cactus: the closer you hold it, the more it hurts.

But there is something almost beautiful about this tragedy.  CS Lewis said that romantic love makes no promises of happiness; it only promises eternity (whether it keeps its promise or not).  The theme of the movie that real love is forever resonates as strongly as Lewis' other point about romantic love: the lovers desire each other more than they desire happiness.  "Let our hearts break, so long as they break together."

And in the deep darkness of The Crow, we can feel that heartbreak more so than most super hero movies.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

New TV Show Mini Review: Gilmore Girls - A Year in the Life

Any fan of the original Gilmore Girls series will love this revival.

A Year in the Life picks up about 8 years after the series finale.  The course of the series follows the adventures of Lorelai, Rory, and Emily Gilmore through the course of the four seasons.  The series begins shortly after Richard Gilmore has suddenly died.  Because of an incident at the funeral, Lorelai and Emily's relationship is as frosty as ever.  Rory is wandering between journalistic jobs.  And Lorelai is navigating changes in her business and personal relationships.

But just as important is the town of Star Hollow itself.  Everything about this idyllic place is enchanting.  Even when the residents are infuriating, they are still as endearing as ever.

In the original series, my least favorite aspect was the devolution of Rory's character.  When the original series began, she was sweet and smart.  Once she became and unrepentant homewrecker, my affections for her never recovered.  And this series did very little change this.  Rory consistently insists that she is not a member of the "30-Something crowd," a group of millennials who are jobless and have moved back in with their parents.  But her insistence that she is not one of them only serves to highlight her own personal arrogance.  She thinks she deserves the most prestigious jobs rather than starting small and working her way up.  On top of that, Rory's romantic relationships are as disastrous as ever.  And all of this is because of her own poor choices.

Watching Emily's journey was heartbreaking.  The grief she feels is palpable.  She says "half of me is gone."  And everything that the script and acting convey makes us feel that with tangible effect.  Watching her break down and slowly try to rebuild her life was one of the most emotionally satisfying journeys of this series.

But the central character has always been Lorelai.  Her rebelliousness has been the source of her independence, but it is also is the source of her greatest flaw.  When it comes to her mother, she is reflexively dismissive and cruel.  When it comes to Luke, she is unappreciative and controlling.  When it comes to the problems she faces, they are mostly of her own making.  And yet, unlike Rory, I could not help but root for her.  I think the main difference is that Lorelai recognizes her flaws and at least feels badly about them, whereas Rory does not.

While there are some moral qualms with some of the shows plot lines, the morality it espouses is not preachy.  As a result, it doesn't serve to alienate the audience too much.

And even with its flaunting of much traditional morality, there are actually someone wonderful points made about things like marriage.  Emily harps on the fact that Luke and Lorelai are not married and calls them "roommates."  Lorelai is so insistent on not being like her mother that she pushes away the idea of marriage.  But her mother's insights on marriage haunt Lorelai throughout the entire show.  And her fear causes her to run away from this possible commitment rather than towards the permanent joys of marriage.

As a side note, one of the inside joys of this show was seeing all of the cameos from Amy Sherman-Palladino's short lived show Bunheads.  I counted at least 4 actresses from that show (who were not originally in Gilmore Girls).  And I became inexplicably giddy watching Lauren Graham and Sutton Foster share a short scene together.  I adore Sutton Foster and hate that she is currently in the horrible show Younger.  But on this show, she got to play a small and silly, but emotionally stirring part that still is sitting with me.

And this series ends the way Sherman-Palladino always intended.  Years ago, she was kicked off her own show and never got to end it the way she wanted.  She famously claimed that she always knew what the four last words of the series.  And this series ends with those four words.  And while I can imagine some viewers being disliking the ending, upon reflection, it is the perfect way to end the series.  And while the show gives a cathartic closure to a lot of characters, there is the open sense of possibilities and future stories that could still go on in Stars Hollow.

As a fan of Gilmore Girls, I watched each extra long episode of this revival, hoping that it wouldn't end.  And that is the sign of a good series

Friday, November 25, 2016

Film Review: The Accountant

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

Any movie that can make accounting thrilling deserves respect.

The Accountant follows Christian Wolff (Ben Aflleck), a high functioning autistic accountant.  As a child, it was recommended to Christian's father (Robert C. Trevelier), that the child be placed in a special school to deal with his difficulty in the everyday world.  Christian's father, a military man, instead decided to train the young Christian (Seth Lee) and his brother (Jake Presley) to face their pain and fight for themselves.  As Christian has grown up, he uses his accounting skills to aid several organized crime groups.

However, on a legitimate gig, Christian uncovers some irregularities with a tech company with the help of the in house accountant Dana (Anna Kendrick).  This seemingly innocuous job leads to violence and murder, as Christian begins to play cat and mouse with a mysterious hitman (Jon Berthnal).  At the same time, Christian is being pursued a Treasury agent Ray King (JK Simmons) and a brilliant analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson).

One of the things that makes The Accountant work is that it is fascinating.  It pulls you slowly into Christians world and you begin to see the things the way he does.  His life is so efficiently Spartan, like perfectly-synced gears of a watch.  And then we get to see Christian's hidden trailer where he stores his weapons, gold bars, and priceless works of art.  I admittedly geeked out when he opened a drawer and revealed a mint condition All-American Comics #1, the first appearance of the Golden Age Green Lantern.  (I'm glad the producers didn't limit themselves with the obvious choices of Action Comics #1 or Detective Comics #27).  But this fascination is not limited to the more action-oriented scenes.  Watching Christian work an accounting problem is like something of a cross between A Beautiful Mind and Sherlock.

And much of this excitement is done using only the visuals.  Director Gavin O'Connor does a fantastic job of drawing you in deeper and deeper.  Writer Bill Dubuque does a good job of giving us a story that is full of nice twists throughout.  Stories like this can only work if we identify with the main character, who is a killer.  The storytellers wisely give Christian a very strict, albeit non-traditional moral code.

Where the story is weakest is relationship between Christian and Dana.  The actors have good chemistry, but the budding romance could have been integrated better into the story, especially in the third act.

Speaking of the actors, Affleck once again delivers.  This year he has put in two outstanding performances, first as Bruce Wayne/Batman and now as Christian Wolfe.  Kendrick also bring her usual charisma, but she has much less story space to work in other than to be the love interest of the hero.  Bernthal is oddly charming and scary as the hitman.  We also have some nice smaller parts played very well by Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow, and Jean Smart.

The movie builds very nicely with some great action set pieces.  And while the third act is not bad or in any way poor, it does not push the intensity to the boiling point the way the rest of the movie builds.  There is a reason that the finales of most action movies end with big explosions.  It isn't simply the visual spectacle, its that there is a cathartic dynamic finale.  While the third act brings the action, I was hoping for a little more.

The movie does bring up some interesting ideas about the value of individual human lives.  Christian kills, but only according to his code.  And while this is problematic, you can see how he is doing the best he knows how based on his upbringing.  Some of the scenes of violence can be very disturbing, especially in one scene where someone is forced to commit suicide.  But there are some valuable insights into how people are not limited by their disability.

The Accountant is a rather exciting thriller that is definitely worth your time.

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanks for Nothing (repost 2016)

 I am very grateful for all of the wonderfully positive feedback on this essay, so I thought I would share it again.

Last night, I was sitting on my recliner and I was unconsciously flexing my feet, a habit I picked up during my therapy.  I looked down in amazement at being able to do such a simple thing.  My time in the hospital, in the wheelchair, with the walker... it all seems like a distant and bizarre dream.  Recently I finished directing a play.  On closing night, I was able to walk up the steps to address the audience.  This is something I was not able to do when we started rehearsals.

And I know that I have so many blessing of which I am oblivious.  But today I will endeavor to be thankful for them all.

And I am thankful for all of you who read this blog as well.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(originally published November 22, 2012)

Thanks For Nothing

When I was 15-years-old, I got a little sick.  In what was obviously an over-reaction on his part, my dad took me to the Emergency Room.  As it turned out, I had pneumonia and my blood oxygen level was down to about 50%.  If he had waited much longer to take me I might have died.

I share this with you so that you will understand why I am a little bit of a hypochondriac now.  I don't freak out at every sneeze or obsessively lather myself in Purell.  But whenever I have chronic problem, I begin to have a persistent fear of the worst.

For the past 4 weeks I've had a persistent cough.  I cannot remember having one that has lasted this long.  So of course, my mind helplessly gravitated to the worst case scenarios, despite the constant assurances from my long-suffering wife.  After weeks of fretting, I went yesterday morning for a chest X-ray.

After they were taken, I was asked to wait for a moment alone in the exam room.  I stood there for 5 minutes in that room with its claustrophobic white walls and antiseptic smell and thought about all those people who came to that room and got bad news that resulted in a lot more time between claustrophobic white walls and antiseptic smells.

Finally, after hours of fretting (and trying to distract myself with a viewing of Wreck-It Ralph) we got the results.

And what did they find?


They found nothing.  I was worried about nothing.

I was put on some new medication and I've been feeling a bit better.

I didn't realize how much the storm clouds had been hovering over me until today.  I was walking around, doing chores and errands with such a light heart.  It was because I knew that my cough, though a bit annoying, was ultimately nothing.


Today is Thanksgiving.  It has always been one of my favorite holidays, and not because I eat enough turkey to put a man twice my size into a literal coma (although that is a plus).  I love that we take time out of our year to appreciate the blessings of life and give thanks to our Provider.

My boss, a man I greatly admire, once said to me that you cannot be truly happy unless you are truly thankful.  Happiness only comes when you acknowledge that everything thing you have is a gift from God.

I have tried to take those words to heart and be thankful for everything I have.  I have an holy wife, a loving family, loyal friends, a fulfilling job, and more action figures than you can shake a stick at (if that's your idea of a good time).  Bing Crosby sang that we should count our blessings instead of sheep.  But I never get to the end of count because God has been so very generous to me.

But all this time I have been overlooking something else to be thankful for.


I wrote earlier about how much I have come to realize what a blessing it is to feel normal.  But I did not take it the necessary step further.

There is nothing wrong with my lungs.  But it could have been something.  And that something could have been not-so-bad to catastrophic.  But God, in His goodness, gave me nothing.

About 2 years ago I was on the highway on my way to work in the middle of winter.  I was in the left lane when I noticed a car had skidded off the road.  I tried to get a better look, but I must have not been paying attention to the road.  Because I then hit a patch of ice and my car spun out and did a 180 degree turn that hurled me across the other lane.  And do you know what I hit?


For one of the only times I can remember, there were no cars around me on that part of the road.  I skidded off to the right embankment facing the opposite direction.  But I was fine.  Nothing happened.

A few weeks ago during Hurricane Sandy, the wind was so strong it blew down a tree in my back yard.  What did it hit?


A little to right and it would have destroyed my shed.  If it fell in the opposite direction it would have caved in the roof and crushed my wife and I.  But instead, nothing happened.

This world is so full of darkness and danger, disease and disaster.  Some of it falls on us.  But a lot of it doesn't.

So today I'm going to give thanks not only for the all of the things God has given me this past year, but I'll also praise Him for the "nothings" too.

No sudden falls down the stairs that break a limb.  No food poisoning from that new restaurant.  No angry student deciding to respond to his detention with his fist.  No home burglary in the middle of the night.  No careless accident to hurt anyone I love.

I do have my share of crosses, many of them of my own making, but I have not been crushed by them. And I am not saying that any of the aforementioned catastrophes won't one day be mine to bear.  One day, an X-ray may find something.

But not today.

Today, I am thankful for nothing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Film Review: Shin Godzilla

Godzilla Resurgence Theatrical Poster.jpg
Sexuality/Nudity No Objection
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

Friends of mine who are devotees of Godzilla have informed me that Godzilla is a genre unto himself.  There is not American equivalent to what Godzilla represents and what he represents.  And I freely admit that I don't get it.  I am not inculcated into the cult of Godzilla.  When I watch a Godzilla film, I am a true outsider to this subculture.

Having said that, my point of view has value.  Movies need to stand on their own and communicate themselves to people even outside of their prospective fans.  While Star Wars fans may have deeper insight and perspective of the franchise, the non-fan should be able to bring their point of view to the table.  If defenders of the Harry Potter movies need to keep pointing to things in the book in order to advocate for the quality of the films, then something has gone wrong with the film.  The movie must communicate as it is on its own terms.

And it is with this perspective that I begin my review of Shin Godzilla.

The story begins in the "found footage" style of an abandoned boat just when a strange phenomenon occurs in the waters below.  We then follow a series of political figures from the Prime Minister of Japan all the way down the line.  Mostly we follow an idealistic political aide Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) who tries to get the slow and often intransigent bureaucracy working to save the country from the looming threat that they call Godzilla.

For the most part, the movie is a political satire of the all red tape that the nation faces in midst of a crisis.  Apparently it is a cynical view of the inefficiency of the government during the Fukushima disaster.

And the idea for the movie is clever.  The ideas they are playing around with are very interesting.  And Rando is a fascinating character.

The problem is the execution.

First of all, the cutting together of the found footage style is incredibly disjointed.  The filmmakers don't commit to this style, but that is probably for the best.

Second, the creature design is rather absurd.  Throughout the film Godzilla evolves.  But until he reaches his final form, the look of the creature borders on silly to disgusting.  I did enjoy the fact that they went back to the traditional man in the suit style Godzilla.  And the destruction of Tokyo was the most realistic they have done.

Third, the movie is ultimately rather boring.  There is not nearly as much Godzilla in it as I would like.  This also happened to be my problem with the most recent American Godzilla remake.

Fourth, there was a strong anti-American sentiment throughout the film.  Given the historical context and references presented, this isn't necessarily a gigantic problem except that I found it constantly distracting to have my home country specifically called out constantly.

Finally, the movie feels like it wastes good characters.  A lot of the motley crew that Rando pulls together have incredibly interesting moments.  You can't help but feeling a much more interesting film was lurking behind the surface.  Perhaps if the filmmakers did not go so heavy on the political satire, they could have concentrated on telling a more coherent, character-driven story.

Fans of the Godzilla franchise may see something different.  But for me, I saw what you usually see in Tokyo after an encounter with Godzilla: a bit of a mess.

1 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Monday, November 21, 2016

New Evangelizers Post: What I Learned from the Year of Mercy

I have a new article up at  
With the Jubilee Year of Mercy closing, I thought that it would be an appropriate time to reflect on what, if anything, I have learned about the Mercy of the Lord during this year. It turns out I learned a great deal. But it was not what I was expecting.

My year of mercy began with a great deal of family stress. I have written extensively here at New Evangelizers and on my blog about how anxiety and worry are the antithesis to faith. However, it comes as little surprise that I do not live up to the ideals that I preach. I struggled, sometimes daily, with severe worries. And as I wrote about in my reflection on the Year of Faith, these trials are opportunities to exercise my faith so that it may become real.

But what these worries also did for me was it provided an opportunity to reflect upon Our Lord’s mercy. At one point my wife and I were seriously worried about losing our home. By His grace, we have been able to make ends meet and remain where we are. But every day that we can wake up in this home we have made together, we are filled with gratitude that God was merciful enough to let us continue here. It becomes more and more apparent that we are living under the shelter of His mercy.

And this became all the more apparent with my spiritual journey.

I became gripped with an overwhelming sense of my own sin.

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Cacophony fo Comic Book Movies

One my dear friends and constant readers recently complained about my current "Sunday Best" list regarding the top 25 super hero films.

His major issue was that I would have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to fill out my list.

To the contrary, I had to cut out a great number of films to reduce the number to 25.

Simply to make my point, here are a list of super hero films that I have seen.  This does not represent the entire Cape and Cowl Cannon.  I am leaving off of the list not only films I haven't seen but TV movies or movies that went directly to video.

Batman (1966)
Batman (1989)
Batman Returns
Batman Forever
Batman and Robin
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman Begins
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight Rises
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Hero at Large
Superman II
Superman III
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Superman Returns
Man of Steel
Swamp Thing
The Return of Swamp Thing
The Punisher (1989)
The Punisher (2004)
Punisher War Zone
Captain America (1990)
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: Civil War
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
The Rocketeer
Meteor Man
The Crow
The Crow II: City of Angels
The Mask
Judge Dredd
The Shadow
The Phantom
Blade II
Mystery Men
X2: X-Men United
X-Men: The Last Stand
X-Men: First Class
X-Men: Days of Future Past
X-Men: Apocalypse
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
The Wolverine
Spider-Man 2
Spider-Man 3
The Amazing Spider-Man
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Men in Black
The Incredible Hulk
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Fantastic Four (2005)
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Sky High
V for Vendeta
My Super Ex-Girlfriend
Ghost Rider
Iron Man
Iron Man 2
Iron Man 3
Jonah Hex
The Green Hornet
Thor: The Dark World
Green Lantern
The Avengers
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Guardians of the Galaxy
Suicide Squad
Doctor Strange
The Incredibles
Big Hero 6

If you add comic book movies apart from super hero films (though this is not my current list) it would include:
Cowboys and Aliens
Dick Tracy
From Hell
Heavy Metal
Josie and the Pussycats
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Road to Perdition
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Sin City
Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight

So as you can see, keeping it to 25 took some discernment.

Sunday Best: Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time #21 - The Incredible Hulk

When Ang Lee made his big screen Hulk in 2003, I was incredibly excited.  I loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and I was in great anticipation to see what this auteur director would do with one of the top tier Marvel heroes.

And it was awful.

So when Marvel took another crack at the character I was especially skeptical.  But The Incredible Hulk was the movie about the Green Goliath I had been waiting for.

This movie skips over the entire origin story and starts with Banner (Edward Norton) already on the run, hiding out in Rio de Janeiro as a simple factory worker.  While living underground he tries to search for a cure to his problem.  This eventually leads him on a journey back home and through the country until he has a final epic confrontation in Harlem.

The biggest improvement on this film to other (of which there are many) is the fact that the Banner scenes are incredibly (pun intended) exciting.  In fact, when I think back on this movie, the scene that sticks out most for me is the scene where Banner is being chased by General Ross' (William Hurt) thugs led by Emile Blondsky (Tim Roth).  Director Louis Letterier expertly used his camera to not only create a dynamic action sequence but also to show off the unique city scape of Rio.  Norton is particularly effective as a man who is hounded and hunted, but he never appears weak.  He fights back with his wits, but that does not preclude him from being a man of action.  Roth is also very effective as Blondsky.  While his character is single-minded, Roth gives the character enough scrappy charisma to make him very interesting to watch.

The love story between Banner and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) was also tender and poignant.  You could feel the sadness at the barrier between them.  No matter how close they became emotionally and physically, they could never truly connect with each other because of the Hulk.  This leads to a particularly funny scene where they are being amorous and Banner tells her that he cannot get too excited.  "Not even a little excited?" she asks.

Letterier knew how to fill the shots with awe or heartache or dynamism.  I still can see so vividly his ariel shot of Rio as he sweeps across the mountainous homes stacked on each other like a house of cars in a seemingly endless landscape of poverty.  And he made such a beautiful frame of the sitting Hulk next too the comforting Betty as the monster feels childlike rage at the thunder.

And while the movie is wonderfully effective as a superhero version of The Fugitive, it does not overlook how to use the Hulk.  One of the big problems with the original Hulk movie was that it had horrible opponents.  Can anyone say "atomic poodles?"

But this film nicely amps up the challenges.  We first see the Hulk dispatch some common thugs.  Then he takes on a state-of-the-art military.  And finally, he must face off with the Abomination, a monster every bit as evil as others fear the Hulk to be.  I especially love the shot of Banner falling out of the helicopter as Betty slips from his fingers.

And like Thor, this movie has one of the best scores in the Marvel Cinematic universe.  It was exciting and scary and gave each scene the added adrenaline rush.

After getting the Hulk right, Marvel used him to even greater effect in the Avengers.  But without this movie, we may never again have seen Hulk smash!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Film Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

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

I once made a list of my favorite Westerns and a friend of mine pointed out that the biggest problem with my top choices is that the top movies on my list weren't really Westerns.  He said that they were action movies set in the West.

Upon reflection, I think it was a great insight.  I grew up in an era where the Western film was a rarity.  In the '80's, action movies were the most exciting genre you could see in the theaters.  Successful Western films tended to mold themselves mostly in that style.  That is why I found myself gravitating to Westerns like Young Guns and Tombstone rather than Academy Award-winning Unforgiven.

I bring this all up front of my review for The Magnificent Seven in order to explain my response to this film.

Directer Antoine Fuqua brings to the screen a fairly entertaining remake of the classic Western starring Yule Brenner and Steve McQueen.  The story revolves around a small town of Rose Creek.  The settlers of this small town are being pushed out by the evil mining baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard).  When her husband is killed by Bogue has her husband murdered, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennet) seeks to hire fighters to defend them.  She hires the cool-as-ice bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington).  Chisolm then assembles a patchwork rogues to help out Rose Creek:
-charming and deadly gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt
-legendary marksman Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his blade-throwing friend Billy (Lee Byung-hun)
-wanted outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo)
-wild-man tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio)
-Indian warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier)

Together they must work together to survive the coming onslaught.

A movie like this lives or dies by the cast and the chemistry.  And for the most part it works.  Washington is outstanding as always as the leading man.  His natural charisma makes his ability to pull such disparate types of men to a common cause a believable feat.  As much as I love Yule Brenner in the original, I am confident in saying Washington is an improvement.  He has all the gravitas of his age but the energy of a young man.  Pratt also does his best Han Solo/Star Lord take on his Old West outlaw.  Hawke actually brings a very layered and nuanced performance as the killer/coward.  Byung-Hun and Sensmeier bring a strong, cool stoicism.  Aand D'Onofrio and Garcia Rulfo add a bit of madman edge.  Sarsgaard chews the scenery, but always remains engaging.   Bennet also brings along a strong presence that rivals even the most seasoned actors in this group.

But while the performances are good, the chemistry of characters could be better.  The script builds in several "dude-bonding" scenes that are meant to be funny.  Yet they often feel a little too forced, as if the movie is screaming at you: "See!  See!  They're joking with each other so now they are like brothers!"

And it is when the movie veers away from the more action-oriented moments to these dramatic or comedic scenes that the film drags a bit.

Which is a shame because the action sequences are exciting and fantastic.  Each of the actors gets to shine in their own particular way as they fight tooth-and-nail.  Fuqua nails these scenes and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

There were several interesting changes made from the original.  The most noticeable one is the racial one.  Instead of a Mexican village being raided by roaming Mexican bandits, the village is made of mostly white people with a white villain.  And in the remake, the heroes are a veritable United Nations made up of white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American members.  For most intents and purposes, it makes not impact to the quality of the story.  But there is one area that became problematic.

The main villain, Bogue, enters the film by crashing an Rose Creek assembly at the local church.  For some reason he goes off on an insane speech about how capitalism is willed by God.  It felt like such a direct social justice sermon demonizing capitalism.  It set the film off on an incredibly odd political note that I wasn't quite able to shake.

But overall the changes are good.  Because Fuqua does not slavishly follow the original, he is able to throw in a number of surprises.  This keeps the story fresh and sometimes shocking.

The Magnificent Seven is an enjoyable film that could have been better.  But for what it is, it is an enjoyable Western adventure.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Trailer Time: Beauty and the Beast Trailer #1

I have to say I've been a little skeptical of these live-action remakes by Disney.  I didn't see Maleficent.  But I thought Cinderella was charming and wholesome.

And I have to say this trailer for Beauty and the Beast makes me feel nostalgic and surprised at the same time.

For some reason I had GK Chesterton's words running through my head.  When he spoke about the truth conveyed in this story he said: "You must love a thing before it can become lovable."

I found this trailer rather enchanting (pun intended)


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Film Flash: Hacksaw Ridge

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

Powerful movie about the viciousness of war and the virtue of the human soul.

4 out of 5 stars

Sunday Best: Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time #22 - THOR

I thought it was a very interesting choice to hire director Kenneth Bragnagh to bring to life Marvel's god of Thunder.  But upon reflection, the story of Thor is very Shakespearean.

You can feel the threads of Henry IV and Prince Hal.  You can also see the Machiavellian moves of Richard III.  And there is the twisted relationship of Othello and Iago.

But ultimately, the story is about fathers and sons and the relationship between brothers.

That is what makes Thor work more than anything else.  It touches on the universal family experience in the crazy cosmic setting of Asgard.

One of the things that makes the story work so well is that for the first half, Loki is clearly cast as the main hero.  In most modern stories, the brash and arrogant bully would get his comeuppance and the younger, smarter, and more sensitive son would be raised up by the father.  Thor is not a good person when the film starts.  It is one of the reasons casting Chris Hemsworth was an excellent choice.  He brought a manly charisma to the part that I believe is often overlooked when compared to fellow Marvel actor Robert Downey Jr.

But this allows for some real character development.  When Thor is sent to Earth, there are some fun "fish out of water" sequences, but not much changed.  It is when he finally learns some humility that we can see him start the path of the hero.  If you've seen the movie, watch it again and notice the performance of Hemsworth at the beginning of the movie and the end.  Observe the subtleties of voice and body he uses.

And of course this is the movie that introduced us to Tom Hiddleston.  While it wouldn't be until his turn in The Avengers that he would truly shine, we can see the seeds of that performance here.  Hiddleston's Loki is duplicitous and manipulative, but there is always an element of sympathy in him.

The production design is also gorgeous.  Cheesy things like the Rainbow Bridge could have appeared hokey as heck, but it feels tangibly logical to this world.  Asgard works as a strange amalgam of the mythical and the mechanical.  And though the world is alien, it carries with it a beauty that makes you want to spend more time there.

Some people complained about the quipy nature of the dialogue.  But in a movie about gods coming to our world, that humor helps ease the audience into the absurdity of the plot.

Others complained that Natalie Portman's Jane Foster was too gaga over Thor.  But it was actually kind of refreshing to see a simple womanly attraction to the uber-masculine presence of Thor.  This in no way took away from her independence or genius as a scientist.  I do not understand why people think a woman in love is somehow weaker.  As Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer said, "Love makes you do the wacky."

And I could not end this without talking about the score.  Patrick Doyle give the best musical theme that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has.  I was so sad to see that it wasn't used in the sequel.  But Doyle's score is bold, epic, and distinctive.  It is a shame that they do not employ his iconic taste to the other Marvel heroes.

Kenneth Bragnagh gave us a fine super hero film in Thor.  And he brought a bit of mythic wonder to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Making Monsters of Men (repost)

I was having a discussion about some of the recent rhetoric on social media following the election.  I referenced this essay I wrote to a friend who had not read it.  So I am reposting it here.


I was going to write a blog post called "The Soul Detector Test."

I would have invited readers to participate in a test to see if they posses a human soul.  This test would be much like the one administered in Blade Runner, but simpler.  Readers would click a link to watch a video and if they did not respond with outrage and revulsion down to their core, then I would be sad to inform them that they lacked a soul.

The video in question would be the undercover Planned Parenthood video where they nonchalantly explore the profitable remains of a murdered baby.

I admit that I am desensitized to the horrors of this world, but I was shaken by this video.  The words "another boy" kept ringing in my ears for days.  I was so outraged and I became outraged at the lack of outrage by so many people to the obvious horror.  Hence the Soul Detector Test.

But then I thought better of it.

Am I still nauseated by what I saw and heard?  Of course.  Do I find the scavenging of organs from baby corpses intensely evil?  Yes.

So why did I not write the article?

Because thankful I recognized a darkness in myself that would have blunted any good that would have come from that writing.

When we are passionate about a great injustice, we fall too easily into the trap of viewing our adversaries not as human beings but as monsters.

To be sure there are people in the world who have made themselves into monsters.  It is sad when we encounter in history those who embrace evil like Hitler or Bin Laden.  It is even worse when we encounter it in our own lives.  I remember a friend of mine told me about how she was almost raped in college.  She fought her attacker off, but she came across the horrid reality that there are people who will look at you and not see a human being.

We are fools to believe that there are no monsters in this world.  But we are equally foolish when we label people as monsters simply because they do not see the same truth that we do.

And this growing tendency is leading to a further breakdown of our ability to connect to other human beings.  There is nothing wrong with opposing someone on an issue of conscience.  But I've noticed more and more that we are quick to label our opponents as monsters.  This gives us a sense of moral self-righteousness, but that is not the complete danger.  The problem is that when we designate them as monsters, it gives us moral freedom to act horribly to them.  When battling monsters, drastic measure can be taken.  When battling monsters, you seek only victory by any means.

I remember a few years ago, there was a man who was convinced that the Family Research Council was evil because of their beliefs regarding homosexuality.  So he went to their headquarters and opened fire, intending to leave a Chick-Fil-A sandwich on each corpse.  In his mind he was completely justified in his action because he was vanquishing monsters.

Not all examples of this are as extreme.  I've chronicled the troubles that Orson Scott Card has had in maintaining a business relationship with DC Comics.  Internet agitators made a ruckus when was going to write a Superman comic. He was deemed by them as unworthy of employment because he gave money to a group supporting traditional marriage.  And in their eyes, he got what he deserved because of his monstrosity.

I think of my friend who was attacked in college.  Her attacker continued forward despite the unimaginable harm it would have caused because she was not human to him.  What is sad is that a form of this dehumanization occurs when we undeservedly label others as monsters.

There is much that Nietszche said that I disagree with.  But one of his most famous quotes is "Do not do battle with monsters, lest you become a monster."  If you perceive your opponent as evil, there is the danger of building a desire to return evil upon them.

Look at the way we demonize each other, especially if you read any online disputes.  It is easy to paint others in broad brush strokes and then tear them down viciously because, after all, that is what monsters deserve.

And this brings us to my original idea for the essay: The Soul Detector.

Notice my reasoning behind the original idea.  I experience moral outrage at this injustice.  I then presumed to sit in judgment of those who did not meet my level of anger.  I was going to imply that they had no soul.  Notice that I was not going to direct my ire towards the abortionists, but on those who were not as outraged as I was.

I want to be clear that my outrage has not diminished.  But even if my anger is righteous, I would have perverted any attempt to rectify the injustice.

When we see a great injustice, there is a pleasure in "hitting back." We feel self-satisfied when we get in a good dig or zinger.

But what good is winning the argument if we lose the arguer?

Winning the intellectual argument is a means, not an end.  It is a way to remove any impediment that the soul has to accepting a moral truth.  But the will must be active in reaching for that truth.  Unfortunately, our passions can have more of a grasp on our will than our reason does.  Let's face it, how often have we continued to argue with someone way past the point where we know they are right?  We do it because our emotions won't' let our will accept the truth.

I am not arguing that we should be wishy-washy in our convictions.  Nor am I saying that we should avoid speaking truth to ensure that no one is offended.  Jesus spoke the truth and some people were so offended they crucified Him.  But Jesus offered His mercy to them all.

These videos are an opportunity to shed light.  There are some that are so committed to the abortion cause that they are unwilling to admit that these revelations shake them.  And then there are some who might have an erroneous conscience and honestly believe that abortion is a moral good.  Perhaps no on has truly presented the truth of human dignity to them in a way they can understand.  Maybe I am wrong, but I think that if I attacked them the way I was planning, it would only further harden them in their resolve.

My goal should be not to defeat these people, but to convince them.  The truth I am seeking to share must be given without compromise, but with compassion.

If we turn our opponents into monsters at the drop of a hat, then we no longer seek to engage in rational discourse to the destination of truth.  We lose all pretense of reason and rely purely on strength.

And there are times when strength must be used in the cause of righteousness.  We fought a bloody civil war to end the sin of slavery.  We saw the largest war in the history of the planet in order to end the Holocaust.  Sometimes we must take up arms when men become monsters.

But we must be sure that we are not the ones making monsters of men.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Film Review: Pete's Dragon (2016)

With the wild wilderness of our world being slowly overtaken by the expanse of human civilization there are many advantages.  But there are also some losses.  Chief among them is the loss of mystery and wonder at that this world has to offer.  The more we turn the world into a mundane reflection of our own expectations, the less we see the magic in what we cannot control.

This admittedly strange philosophical point of view is key to understanding what is so wonderful about the remake of Pete's Dragon.

The movie is set in the 1980's, but you can hardly notice.  Technology makes little impact on the story because you are more concerned with the environment that you are in.

The story begins with a tragic car accident deep in the woods that claims the lives of a young couple.  Their toddler son wonders into those woods and encounters a dragon who he names Elliot.  A few years later this little boy, Pete (Oakes Fegley)  is living like Mowgli in the Jungle Book, wild and free with Elliot.  But he then begins to become curious about humans when he encounters a forest ranger named Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard).  Through events in the story, Pete is brought into Grace's life along her fiance Jack (Wes Bentley) and Jack's daughter Natalie (Oona Lawrence).  In addition to this, there is a growing threat to Elliot as Jack's brother Gavin (Karl Urban) keeps pushing their family's logging company further and further into the forest towards Elliot's home.  Grace has a difficulty believing Pete's tales, even though her own father Meacham (Robert Redford) is a local legend for his tales of seeing dragons in his youth.

What follows is a tale of family, adventure, kindness, and magic.

As I wrote above, the environment is one of the biggest selling points of this movie.  Director David Lowery makes the forests feel expansive and magical.  You get the feeling that a world could get lost in those woods and so you have no trouble at all believing that they could hide something as massive as Elliot.  In addition, the forest comes off as a truly magical place, full of danger and possibilities.  Lowery films these locations beautifully.

But the other thing that really makes this movie work is Fegley's performance as Pete.  The problem with most child actors is that they tend to go over the top with overacting or deliver a monotone underacting performance.  Fegley does a fantastic job of delivering a performance that is powerful, effective, and yet feels restrained.  There is a naturalness to what he does that was truly impressed.  And since Pete must express himself quite often in non-verbal, Fegley is able to do quite a bit while not going too big.  No small feat for a child.

The other performances are also perfectly fine.  Howard creates a warm, feminine presence that attracts the orphaned Pete.  Lawrence matches Fegley's childlike innocence while not appearing unintelligent.  Bentley is solid and Redford brings a sage stability.  Even Urban's performance brings more life and layers to what could easily be a one-dimensional character.

This movie makes you look at the beauty of the natural world while at the same time not hitting you over the head with an environmental message.  Nothing kills a good story faster than preaching a message at the audience.  Lowery opts not to take this route.  Instead he makes you fall in love with the beauty of unspoiled nature.

A small note is that I was disconcerted that it appeared as if the lead adults were engaged and living together in this children's movie.  But my wife pointed out that this was something I inferred rather than something that was implied.  I was glad that I was only reading into things, because it was the only thing keeping me from being completely absorbed in the story.

And above all the movie is good-natured and has a tone of awe that is lacking in so many movies.  We want to see a movie like this because when we see Elliot and Pete soar through the sky we want to feel our hearts soar with them.  And when this movie clicks, that is exactly what happens.  This is a movie that

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, November 7, 2016

New Evangelizers Post: The Place of Practical Politics

I have a new article up at  

With the election tomorrow, people are very much concerned with the result. This is understandably so since whoever we elect will in effect not only be leader of our country by leader of the free world. I have spoken to many devout people, however, who have great reservations about the candidates from both political parties. For them, Election Day is not about choosing the best candidate, but choosing the candidate who is the least bad.

And people put a lot of themselves into their politics. Some people are even defined by their political beliefs. For these people, come Wednesday morning, they may be either incredibly pleased or horribly crushed.

But how is a Catholic to view the election?

First of all, it is important to understand the proper place that politics should have in our lives.
We live in a democratic republic. As such, the responsibility of self-governance falls on us. Because of this freedom we enjoy, we must use that freedom wisely by making informed decisions. This is not merely good citizenship, this is a moral obligation.

The US Catechism says “Catholics must participate in political life and bring to bear upon it – by their voice and their vote – what they have learned about human nature, human destiny, and God’s will for human begins from his self-revelation.” (501-502)

When it comes to how we should vote, the US Catechism says, “Catholics have the duty to vote, to participate in the political arena, and to help shape society in light of Catholic teaching.” (380)

In other words, we have a moral obligation to promote the good and an obligation to not promote the bad. We incur sin on ourselves if we vote for things which are intrinsically evil. For example, if your state put a ballot initiative to legalize euthanasia, you would be committing sin if you voted for that initiative because euthanasia is an intrinsic evil.

But there is a wrinkle when it comes to voting for candidates for public office. It is incredibly unlikely that any candidate will be perfect. The two major political parties both often find themselves on the wrong side of the moral line. Democrats tend to be closer to the Catholic Church’s position on the death penalty but horrible when it comes to the intrinsic evil of abortion. Republican candidates tend to be better regarding the unborn but many are open to allowing torture of terrorist prisoners, also and intrinsic evil.

So what is a Catholic to do? Are you allowed to vote for a candidate who supports and intrinsic evil?

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Sunday Best: Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time #23 - Avenger: Age of Ultron

Joss Whedon had an impossible set of expectations to meet with his sequel his critical and commercial blockbuster that was The Avengers.  His goal was to make a superior film in the mold of The Empire Strikes Back.  And while the sequel falls short of the original, it is still an excellent comic book film.

Avengers: Age of Ultron follows the events of the previous Marvel movie outings.  After retrieving Loki's scepter from Hydra, Tony Stark aka Iron Man decides to use its to create an artificial intelligence that can protect the world that he names Ultron.  But Ultron, as happens in most science fiction, decides to kill humanity rather than save it.  What follows is a world-spanning, action epic that pushes the Avengers to the limit.

But as eye-popping as the action is, what makes this movie work is the work Whedon puts into the characters and their relationships.  The plot feels a little too familiar with an evil villain trying to destroy the world, etc, etc.  Instead of using the plot to drive the story, he uses the plot to give us wonderful little character moments.  These moments could have been better integrated into the plot, but they are wonderful nonetheless.

An example of this is a story I read where the Marvel executives wanted to put a scene in where Thor goes to have a vision in a cave but they wanted to cut the entire sequence at the farm.  Whedon argued that the farm sequences were the heart of the story and refused to put in the cave scene if the farm was cut.  This illustrates the two different aesthetics:  Marvel wanted to build into the movie future story elements while Whedon wanted to slow things down and spend quality time digging deeper into the characters.

Whenever I rewatch this movie, the parts to which I always gravitate are less the action set pieces but the character scenes.  When those two things overlap well, as they did in the opening scene, it is a pure joy.  But mostly we find these moments in the down time.  The party in the Avengers tower is full of fun and humor.  I especially love the after party where they try to lift Thor's hammer.  And here is an example of Whedon setting up something in the first act that serves as a major character tipping point right before the third act with Vision.

I particularly like the relationship between Banner and Black Widow.  The seeds of their relationship can been seen in the original Avengers, but it is nice to not only see it grow but make sense of it.  When she talks about how Banner is different because he avoids a fight because "he knows he'll win," their entire attraction makes sense.

And of course, bringing Hawkeye up to center stage was an excellent move.  Rather than being the "useless" Avenger, Whedon shows how his humanity is the grounding for the team.

Everyone else does a fantastic job as well.  And we can see the second part of what I like to call "The Iron Man Breakdown," which began in Iron Man 3 with Tony's post-traumatic stress.  In Age of Ultron, we see him try to avoid the next world-threatening calamity by passing the buck to Ultron.  We see it finally come to a head where he finally tries to over-correct and become and authoritarian in Captain America: Civil War.

While I have been focusing on the character interactions, there are some truly wonderful action moments as well.  The best and most memorable is without a doubt the Hulk vs. Iron fight.  Creative, exciting, funny, and immensely satisfying.

Part of drags this movie down a bit is the incessant feeling that Age of Ultron is not its own movie.  It is a vehicle to set up Thor: Ragnarok, Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man, and the next Avengers films.

The other thing that keeps this film from being higher on the list is the creeping nihilism that sneaks into Whedon's stories after too long.  The Avengers is bright and optimistic.  But there is an underlying pessimism under Age of Ultron.  When Ultron says to Vision that humanity is doomed, Vision does not argue.  In fact, he agrees.  The Empire Strikes Back is remembered for being dark, but that was done in order to give meaning to the hope the rebellion had.  Age of Ultron is dark in a way that feels as if we are pulling back the curtain on human nature and finding it wanting.

Despite these two deficits, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a movie that deserves its place in the comic book movie cannon as the #23 greatest superhero movie of all time.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Film Flash: Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange, wearing his traditional costume, coming out from a flowing energetic portal, and around him the world and New York turning around itself with the film's cast names above him and the film's title, credits and billing are underneath.

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

Another origin story, but clever with trippy visuals.  Cumberbatch is perfectly cast as Doctor Strange.

4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Trailer Time: Wonder Woman Official Trailer

I think this film looks fantastic!

It has the historical feel of Captain America: The First Avenger mixed with a visual style and tone of 300.  And for me that is a good thing.

The two parts that stand out to me are the little alley fight where Diana is using her deflection bracelets.

The other is when she is boldly walking across no man's land.

The only big fear I have is if this movie does what a lot of the DC TV shows do: preach.

I am scared that they are going to use the time period as a means to have Diana preach some kind of modern egalitarianism in a way that detracts from the story.

But otherwise, I am completely excited for this!

You can go to the YouTube and check out the video by clicking this link.