ReasonForOurHope

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sunday Best: Transformers Movies Ranked

With the release of this last Transformers film, I thought we should take a look back at this multi-billion dollar franchise and rank its ups and (mostly) downs in its cinematic history.

There have been 6 Transformers films if you also count the animated movie from the 1980's.  Here there are, ranked from lowest to highest.


6.  Transformers: The Last Knight

As I wrote in my review, this is the worst of the series.  It is an incomprehensible mess that could not be saved with all of its amazing special effects.  Worst of all though is their exclusion of Optimus Prime from most of the movie.

5.  Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Watching a tiny robot hump the leg of the dead-behind-the-eyes Megan Fox was a real low point for the series.  This film also included an autobot farting out a parachute, a person with a marijuana freak out,  and the heroes torturing a Decepticon with a blowtorch.  I've noted before that this movie started shooting without a script and it shows.

4.  Transformers

The original film is silly and has a lot of stupid parts like the Autobots hiding in Sam's yard in a sequence that goes on way too long.  But this was the first time we saw a live-action Transformers and it was marvelous to see.  So much was forgiven in this.

3.  Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

I maintain that if you re-edit this overlong movie and remove as many scenes as possible with Sam Witwicky, you actually have a darn good action film.

2.  The Transformers: The Movie (1986)

This film does not hold up as well in reality as in memory, but it is still a benchmark for the franchise.  It is horribly emotional in ways the rest of the Transformers movies are not and it is the only movie where the Transformers are the main characters, not the humans.  It's biggest drawback is the cynicism in which it was produced as a way to clear away the old characters to make room for new ones (with new toys to sell).  Notice how the poster itself doesn't feature any of the classic Transformers but the new crew.

1.  Transformers: Age of Extinction

I liken this movie to Independence Day, which is a great movie with bad parts.  This Transformers movie has an improved cast and improved Autobots (ones with personalities and distinct looks).  But most of all, it has the best Optimus Prime story.  I felt like there was an actual character arc for him.  And in many ways this was the one movie where Prime stands out as a main character along with Cade Yaeger.

Those are my thoughts.

What are yours?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Film Review: Wonder Woman



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

I must admit from the outset that I have been a fanboy for the DCEU movies for a long time now.  I adore Man of Steel and think Batman v. Superman is genius (though I was lukewarm on Suicide Squad).  I say this at the beginning so that you know my prejudices up front when reviewing the latest entry into this cinematic universe:  Wonder Woman.

This story is told almost entirely in flashback.  Diana (Gal Godot) was raised on the mystical island of Themyscira by her mother Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons.  They are an all-female, ageless people created by the Greek gods.  Diana tells the young Diana (Lilly Aspell) that the god of war Ares destroyed the other gods, but was defeated in the process.  The Amazons stand watch should Ares ever return.  Hippolyta does not want Diana to fight, but the young girl insists on learning to be a hero and trains with her warrior aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) until adulthood.  Things change when WWI allied pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) lands on Themyscira and tells the isolated Amazons that the world is being consumed with war.  The allies are particularly being hounded by German leader Ludendorff (Danny Houston) and his evil scientist Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya).  Diana steals away with Steve into the world of men.  They are sent on a mission to the front by Steve's boss Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) and form a motley crew of secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), actor Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), drunk sharpshooter Charlier (Ewen Bremner), and smuggler The Chief (Euguene Brave Rock).  Diana believes that if she can find the returned Ares and kill him, she can bring peace back tot he world of men.

Director Patty Jenkins has been given a lot of credit for telling a compelling origin story and she deserves it.  She said she took as her inspiration the original Richard Donner Superman, which shows in how she builds up the ancient and alien mythology before plunging Diana into the world of men.  There is even a nice homage to the "stopping the bullet" scene from Superman in Wonder Woman.  This is also evident in the way she allows Diana's quest to burn slowly.  It isn't until late in the movie that we see her in her full super hero costume.  But rather than feel like we were waiting to long, the moment feels like everything built to that moment.

The movie does something that all good movies should: it gets better as you watch it.  It is said that most people decide if they like a movie within the first ten minutes.  With this in mind, I would imagine many filmmakers frontload the beginnings of their films and struggle with the middles and the ends.  But Wonder Woman becomes more enjoyable as it goes.

The visuals of the film are fantastic.  Jenkins has been getting some flack for how desaturated and colorless she makes early 20th Century Europe look.  But this overlooks the visual themes she is working with.  Themyscira is so visually bright and arresting that it really does feel like Paradise Island.  It is some of my favorite design work since The Lord of the Rings.  The vividness of Diana's world is set up in such stark contrast to the bleak world of WWI.  This creates a strong emotional resonance, the way our innocent memories feel so vivid and our current world can seem so murky.

Her action style is also reminiscent of Zack Snyder's 300, which works well for this film and the ancient Greek aesthetic connects both.

The character of Diana feels unique in the pantheon of superheroes.  She comes off as innocent to the point of naiveté.  She is not motivated by revenge or guilt or glory.  She honestly comes off as someone who has a certain moral compass and cannot understand why others do not.  Her conviction that the world's problems can be solved by killing Ares works to highlight her biggest flaw and virtue: her belief in the inherent goodness of man.   It is her biggest flaw because she blinds herself to the complexities of the modern world.  But it is her strength because this belief is ultimately the only thing that can save us from war.  I found in this, as a Catholic, a similar struggle.  We are made in God's image, but we debase ourselves with sin.  We can make ourselves into monsters, but we can also make ourselves (with God's grace) into saints.  Setting the movie in WWI was a smart choice, because the audience knows that her quest to free men from war will fail.  This should take the wind out of the narrative sails, but instead it draws us in to find out how Diana will react when confronted with what is best and worst in man.

Gadot is great is Wonder Woman.  She is in every way feminine without feeling at all less powerful.  I am not someone who usually makes a big deal about the gender of a director, but I do think Jenkins brings a respectful version of womanhood here.  Diana is filmed as outrageously beautiful, but I never felt that the camera was objectifying her, unlike Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad.  As one person on Twitter put it, "I'm sure Gal Gadot has a great [butt], but I'm just glad I didn't see it once in the movie."

Her portrayal as Wonder Woman is charismatic and at times funny.  Her innocence never makes her feel weak.  Her resolution always feels like it comes from a place of goodness.  Every scene she is in, she commands the attention of everyone.  When she does come into her own completely as a superhero, I felt like I was witnessing an iconic moment of an epic.  I love the thematic undertones as Wonder Woman crosses No Man's Land and gives her allies the courage to follow her towards righteous victory.

The chemistry she shares with Pine's Steve Trevor is the heart of the movie.  I was glad that they didn't reduce him to a caricature of machismo.  He is a man of his time, but I never felt like they used his masculinity as a negative foil to Diana.  Pine's performance was both funny and action-hero exciting.  The other bright standout was Lucy Davis as Etta Candy.  She hasn't lost any of her comedic timing from her days starring in The Office.

The movie is not perfect.  While they don't sexualize Diana, there is a scene where Steve is nearly completely naked on screen, covered only by his hand.  This movie also struggles in the same place most super hero movies struggle: the villain.  One of the reason I think people revere The Dark Knight is that it had a villain that was as memorable as the hero.  The bad guys in this movie are serviceable, but could have been better.  Also, the movie would make little modernist digs at the lack of advancement turn of the century man had in terms of race and gender relations.  These were the least subtle parts of the film and took me a bit out of the experience.  Thankfully, these were not constant drumbeats the way they are in many modern comic books today.

I found the movie incredibly enjoyable and I am probably going to see it again in theaters.  While this is a movie that is part of a large shared universe, Wonder Woman stands on its own.  And I cannot wait to see the next chapter in her story.

4 out of 5 stars.



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Film Review: Transformers - The Last Knight



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

This review may be more of a rant than a rational evaluation of Transformers: The Last Knight.  Please allow me to explain.

I have been a fairly devoted fan of this series.  I have always said that I cannot say that any of the Transformers movies are good.  But I have found most of them entertaining enough to warrant multiple viewings.  This was especially true of the last film, Transformers: Age of Extinction.  I thought the addition of Mark Wahlberg and the subtraction of Shia LeBeouf added some fresh and more mature air to the series.

That isn't to say I was blind to the series' flaws.  They all have terrible writing, flat characters, and action scenes that go on so long that they become fatiguing.  But there was enough creative spectacle to keep me entertained, especially any scene with Optimus Prime.  Those things were like the spoon full of sugar to help the putridness go down.  

But none of that helps The Last Knight.

In my review for Transformers: Age of Extinction, I wrote:

Speaking of Optimus, this is his movie.  I have never seen this character this PO'd.  And it works so well.  We feel his dilemma.  He fought and sacrificed so much for humans (or as he always says, "huuuumans.").  And in return they have killed his friends and hunted him.  He feels betrayed.  He is betrayed.  But with that rage we see a powerful, aggressive, kick-butt side to him that is so much darn fun to watch play out on the screen.

If you've given up on Transformers movies, give this one a shot.  It may seem like mindless action but, pardon the phrase, its more than meets the eye.


But Optimus Prime is hardly in The Last Knight.  And this is unforgivable (more on this below).

I will attempt glimpses of a plot summary, but that will prove to be difficult since I'm not sure that even the screen writers (which includes Akiva Goldsman who won an Acadmey Award winner for A Beautiful Mind ) could do so.  Everything is so jumbled together.  It honestly feels like the movie starts being one kind of movie and then part way through gets bored and becomes another movie until it gets bored and starts a different movie.  This happens throughout the film.  I almost imagine that each writer submitted a script and director Michael Bay grabbed pages he like from each different script and stapled them together.

Normally I am very careful of spoilers, but I do not think that this movie was ever fresh enough to be "spoiled."

SPOILERS THE REST OF THE REVIEW

The movie begins in the Dark Ages.  King Arthur (Liam Garrigan) is at war and he needs Merlin's (Stanley Tucci) help.  Tucci plays Merlin like a drunk fraud for stupid jokes.  As an aside, many people rip on the DCEU movies like Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman for not being "fun" enough.  I resist this because to many in Hollywood, fun = stupid, as evidenced by the lame attempt at humor.  Anyway, Merlin finds a Transformer ship and asks for aid.  They give him a staff that will help him control the 3-headed dragon that the twelve Transformer "knights" turn in to.

Let me pause here for the movie's first innanity.  Why would the Transformers need to give Merlin the staff?  If they are helping, why would they need to give him something to control them?  That would be like agreeing to help my buddy move and then have him put a shock collar on me to keep me working.

After an exciting battle scene, the movie shifts to the present day.  Optimus Prime (the always amazing Peter Cullen) is in space flying towards the Transformers' maker Quintessa (Gemma Chan).  She brainwashes him and turns him into Nemesis Prime.  This will be the last time we will see Prime until the last act of the movie.

I cannot stress how amazingly stupid of a move this is on the part of the film-makers.  One of the reasons I was such a fan of the last Transformers was because it felt like Prime had a real character arc.  He is the real hero of the franchise.  He is the one that figures most prominently in all of the advertising.  And every scene that doesn't use him is a waste.  

This means that most of the film is pointless.

On Earth, Transformers have been crash landing into the populated planet randomly, causing massive destruction.  Humans have formed anti-Transformer tasks forces and human no-go zones, such as the city of Chicago.  But a bunch of kids decide to enter the no-go zone and are accosted by robots.  They are rescued by Izabella (Isabela Moner), a 14-year-old orphan living in the ruins of Chicago with her little Transformer friend Sqweeks (Reno Wilson).  

I hesitate to talk about this next part because maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but I was very uncomfortable with how they were filming Moner.  In the last film Nicola Petlz played an underage girl on whom the camera creepily lingered.  In The Last Knight Moner is often filmed in a tank top and shorts that are a bit too revealing for someone her age.  Perhaps I'm being a fuddy-duddy, but I kept expecting Chris Hanson from To Catch a Predator to show up and halt filming to talk to director Michael Bay.

With the introduction of Izabella, it feels like the movie is going to become a Stranger Things/Goonies type adventure until Cade Yaeger (Wahlberg) shows up.  He rescues the kids and all of them but Izabella disappear from the movie.  Cade tries to help a dying Transformer Knight who gives him a talisman that attaches to him.  Meanwhile, the trigger happy anti-Transformer task force, led by Col. Lennox (Josh Duhamel from the first three Transformers films), try to hunt down Cade.  By now everyone has learned about Merlin's staff and wants it.  To get it, the governments make a deal with Megatron (Frank Whelker).

This brings us to another moronic scene.  Megatron makes a deal with the government lawyers to release certain Decepticons into his care.  Instead of drawing from the rich roster of famous evil Transformers like Frenzy and the Stunticons, Bay and company invent some truly stupid bad robots to join Megatron with names like "Mohawk" and "Nitro Zeus."  The deal makes no sense, but is simply done to move us to an action sequence.

Cade goes to a junkyard in the Badlands where the other Autobots are hiding.  Awesome additions to the series like Hound (John Goodman) and Drift (Ken Watanabe) are back, but have much less to do.  Fan favorite Grimlock is also there, but never used again. 

Once again this is an idiotic decision.  I would watch a whole movie based on around Grimlock alone, but for some reasons the screenwriters don't find him very interesting.  There is a line between "fan servicing" and "fan frustrating."  I would almost rather not have them in the film than to tease them but have them do nothing.  Imagine if Rogue One only had Darth Vader in the scene on Mustufar and not his scene in the last few minutes of the movie.  That's what it felt like with Grimlock.  If he was in the last act of the film I completely missed him, which also says a lot about how badly he is used.  

Izabella sneaks into the encampment and we are forced to have some father/daughter type bonding with Cade and Izabella.  If the relationship feels rushed it's because Izabella will soon disappear from the narrative until the final act.  After the requisite action sequence, Cade is brought to England by Cogman (Jim Carter, famous for playing the head butler from Downton Abbey), a Headmaster Transformer.  

For those unfamiliar with Headmansters, these are human-sized Transformers that transform into the head of another robot.  But don't worry, they never explain this in the movie nor show him use his power.

Cogman takes Cade to Sir Edmund Burton (Sir Anthony Hopkins) who is the last member of the order of Witwicky (yes, that Witwicky), a centuries-old order that has dedicated itself to preserving the secret of the Transformers.  He also brings along Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), who plays a "hot librarian" type who is also the last descendant of Merlin and is the only person who can get Merlin's staff.

I could go on with the plot, but honestly I'm tired of recounting it and its inanity.  It reminds me of my friends and I back in high school when we would talk about cool story ideas for us to write.  But when we actually sat down to write it, we found that our skill for words didn't match our imaginations.  The same thing is going on here.

Michael Bay, I maintain, is an incredibly talented director.  Give him the right script and he will churn out a great movie like 13 Hours.  But give him a bad script and he will churn out a big, bold, bad movie.

I honestly couldn't follow what was happening.  Apparently the plot involved Cybertron coming to Earth to destroy it.  But I thought Cybertron was destroyed in Transformers: Dark of the Moon?

Very few of the characters actions make any sense.  Towards the end, Anthony Hopkins single-handedly confronts Megatron.  Why?  I have no idea!

They introduce fan favorite Hot Rod and give him a French accent.  Why?  Who knows!

Wouldn't a giant planet coming close to Earth's atmosphere cause havoc to our gravity?  Forget physics!

And the constant Bay-hem by the end of the movie was fatiguing.  Rather than being more amped, I kept waiting for it to end.

There were some moments that attempted to provide some real heart.  But the tonal silliness prevented this from happening.

I don't understand why we can't have a simple Prime vs. Megatron movie.   The human parts of the film are always the weakest.  Wahlberg does what he can with his lines, but they feel like they were written by a 5-year-old.  Haddock has little to do but be less vapid Megan Fox.  Hopkins looks like he's having fun, but he may be the only person who is.

The only thing that keeps this movie from being a complete disaster is the fact that Bay is able to wring out some cool action moments.  Any scene with Prime caused me to snap to attention.  And the movie returns to that classic Catholic theme "Without sacrifice, there can be no victory." But beyond that it was inexplicable dumb shows and noise.

As I said, this might be the worst of the series.  And that is saying something seeing how much I loathe Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  But the only leeway I give that film is that it began shooting without a script.  The Last Knight has no such excuse.

Rather than return the loyalty that the fans have given the series with a more thoughtful film, Bay and company have turned in a lazy series of disconnected explosions.

The Last Knight might be the last Transformers movie I see.

2 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Film Flash: Transformers - The Last Knight



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

Might be the worst Transformers movie. Incomprehensible plot. Prime is hardly in it.


2 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 19, 2017

New Evangelizers Post: Remember Who You Are


I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com.  

There is important liturgical concept called “anamnesis.” Literally translated it means “remembering.” It is so fascinating to me how important this concept is in the Scriptures.

In the Exodus, God says of the Passover, “This day you are to remember; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord – a lasting ordinance.” (Ex 12:14)

In the Gospels, Jesus says after He institutes the Eucharist, ““This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19)

For the ancient Jews, remembering was not simple recollection. Instead, it was a reenactment. More to the point, it was to make the past present. There is a scene I love in the movie Memento when someone is asked about his deceased wife. The man begins to recite words, but then the person who asked tells him to stop and “Remember her.” The man then closes his eyes and instead of reciting description, he enters into his memory in little flashes. In these moments in his mind, she is more present to the memory of his senses than when he was describing her.

When God calls us to remember, He is calling us not simply to recall facts and events. He wants to put us back into the life situation we once found. How many of our traditions with friends and family are based around this simple idea. On the television show This is Us, a young couple with three children have their car break down on Thanksgiving, This causes them to hike to camp ground where a man in a strange hat calling himself Pilgrim Rick shows them to their cabin where all they have to eat are hot dogs and all they have to watch is Police Academy 3. But through a turn of events, this night turns into the best Thanksgiving they ever had. So every Thanksgiving, they go on a hike, eat hot dogs, watch Police Academy 3, and someone wears a hat and calls himself Pilgrim Rick.

The point of this is that when something is momentous or special to us, we don’t just file the memory into our brain data-banks. Instead, we try to make that past moment present to recapture some of the magic.
And this is essential to the Christian life because we are in a constant state of spiritual amnesia.

I do not mean that we literally forget facts in our own history. I mean that the impression of those facts begin to fade with time. How many times have we found ourselves surprised by something we already knew? You watch a Marx Brothers movie and find yourself laughing and saying to yourself, “I forgot how funny this was.” But it wasn’t that you forgot the fact that you found it funny. It was that the immediacy of the humor was not brought in a powerful way to your memory. Of perhaps you hear a song you once loved in high school and you are suddenly awash in the memory of your prom and dancing closely with that special someone and are filled with the immediacy of that emotion.

This happens in our relationships as well. How often do we take for granted the good things that our loved ones do for us? That first time someone tells us they love us can be magical. But after a lifetime, we may barely notice it. This can lead to feelings of hurt and neglect.

And in this remembering is never more important than in the spiritual life. Have you ever wondered what was wrong with the Hebrews freed from Egypt? They saw the 10 plagues. They saw the pillar of fire. They saw the parting of the Red Sea. And yet almost immediately, they doubt God. I had a student once who said something that many of us may think: “If I ever saw a miracle, I would have no problems believing.” But that doesn’t seem to be what happens in the Bible. Miracles constantly occur and then over time people turn away and lack faith. Why? Because we have this horrible spiritual amnesia.
This amnesia is common but in a way horrific. What are we if we are not our memories? Our memories shape everything that we are at present. If I lose my memories, do I not also lose myself?

And yet this is what happens when we forget all that God is and all that He has done for us. This spiritual amnesia is the source of so many of our spiritual defects.

Do you ever think about the zeal you had in your youth and wonder why age has cooled your enthusiasm? Are you ever plagued with doubts about God helping you even though He has come through for you over and over again? This is not an isolated problem. But how do we fix this?

We must remember.


You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday Best: TV Dads of All Time (UPDATED)

In honor of Father's Day today, I thought we'd recap the best TV dads.

Now this is not as easy as it sounds, considering that television is, for lack of a better term, a moral cesspool.  Too often the dads are the "cool" dads who buy their kids condoms or they are buffoonish bums.  But we cannot deny that what we watch on tv influences the culture, so we should try to find good examples of fatherhood out there on the airwaves




10.  Benjamin Sisko ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine")
Star Trek DS9 logo.svg
Unlike other commanders in the Star Trek Universe, we got to watch Sisko deal with the trials of being a single father, watching his son grow up to be a man as he balanced his responsibilities against his family, but never forgetting either.

9.  Angel ("Angel")

The main character of this Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off has a lot of flaws.  SPOILER ALERT, but when it came to his son Connor, there was no price he wasn't willing to pay, whether it was giving him up as an infant so he could have a chance at life or giving him away again as a teenager so that he could have a chance to be happy.

8.  Murray Goldberg ("The Goldbergs")
File:The Goldbergs 2013 logo.jpg
I don't know why, but I am partial to "yelly" dads on TV.  For some reason I find them to be more reflective of life.  And having grown up in the 80's, there is a truth to Murray's parenting style.  He isn't into all of the touchy-feely schmaltz, but he does whatever his kids need, even if its them needing to be called morons.  And above all, he does everything he does so that his kids can have a better life than he has.

7.  Joe West ("The Flash")
The Flash Intertitle.png
Joe is a great dad because he sees being a father as the center of his life and he never stops trying to be a great dad.  He is protective (maybe overly so) of his only daughter Iris.  He raised Barry as his own son and never let him feel as if he wasn't as special to him as Iris.  And when he found a son he never knew, Wally, Joe didn't hesitate to open his life and his heart completely to him and do everything that a father could do.

6.  Harold Weir ("Freaks and Geeks")

Simple, yet relatable, Harold is the average father doing his best.  And even his flaws in parenting, like always being more worried about his daughter than his son simply because she's his daughter, are understandable and endearing.

5.  Red Foreman ("That '70's Show")

While nearly everyone on that show was a moral degenerate, Red was the constant boot in their you-know-where to help them grow up.  Tough as nails, he gave what structure.  And though he wasn't warm and fuzzy, he was always there for his kids (even his kids' friends).

4.  Keith Mars ("Veronica Mars")

This was a smart, funny, hard-working dad who put everything he had towards the happiness of his daughter.  Yes, he bent or broke the law every once and a while to do it, but he always did it with his daughter's happiness in mind.

3.  Philip Banks ("The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air")
Fresh Prince Bel Aire logo.svg
Uncle Phil could have been a simple over-bearing stereotype.  But he was tough and tender as needed.  He was as much a father to Will as he was to his own children.  The episode where Will's dad comes back is particularly poignant and shows what a real father is.

2.  Heathcliff Huxtable ("The Cosby Show")

[The text below was written before most of the scandals regarding Cosby came to light.  If you look at the show outside of the real-world context, then the following text still applies]

No television dad reminds me more of my father.  I think people misremember Cliff as being wacky and fun-loving.  In fact, he was a stern disciplinarian who pushed his kids to make good life decisions.  The humor tended to come from his exacerbation at the idiocy of his children.  But he always put them first and was a great role-model.

1.  Jonathan Kent ("Smallville")
Smallville 2001 logo.svg
Speaking of role models, there is none better than Jonathan Kent on Smallville.  In fact, that is his whole function to the Superman mythos.  He gets his powers from his Kryptonian parents, but he gets his heroism from his earthly ones.  Jonathan gives Clark the moral compass he needs to understand that his powers are a gift to help others.  And while he did make mistakes, he always did so with the intent to help his family.  He was the one who taught Clark not only how to be a Superman, but how to be a man.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Trailer Time: Black Panther




CLICK THIS LINK TO SEE THE TRAILER ON YOUTUBE

One of the good things about having an extended cinematic universe is that you can open the door to some very interesting story elements.

I know there were a number of complaints about introducing both Spider-Man and Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War in order to launch their own film series.  But this is actually a plus for the characters.

Having been introduced to the character in the previous film, I am now horribly intrigued by this movie.  I especially love the thematic elements about the tension between morality and leadership.  The voice in the trailer seems to be under the Machiavellian philosophy that it is better to be feared than loved and that a good man cannot be a good king.  Since T'Challa is a good man, he will have to prove the opposite to be true.

I also got a big kick out of the opening scene of the trailer being a reunion of Bilbo and Gollum.

Thoughts?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Film Flash: Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Men Tell No Tales



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

Much better than the last 2 Pirates movies. Guillotine scene alone worth price of admission.


3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Sunday Best: Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time # 11 - Captain America: Civil War



This is the movie that people wanted Avengers: Age of Ultron to be.  In this film you have your core heroes, your pillars go to war against each other.  And a house divided cannot stand.

One of the things that makes this movie work so well is that neither Iron Man nor Captain America are the bad guy.  There is manipulation by a villain, but there is no mind-control silliness.  Both sides make excellent points and you can see where each is coming from.  But their paths are too divergent.

From my review:


As a philosopher, I love the fact that this is a superhero movie about ideas.  Tony and Steve are fantastic friends whose convictions are pulling them apart.  Anyone who has any kind of political or religious divide in their family and friends understands this tension.  And as in our own relationships, we hope that our mutual respect and affection will overcome all of the differences.  That is what makes Civil War so universal and so tragic.

And the ideas are not simply black and white.  Even though Captain America is the title hero, Tony is not necessarily in the wrong.  Not since watching the TV series Battlestar Galactica have I had the wonderfully frustrating experience of seeing two points of view that are in a sense both right, but sadly leads to great conflict.  

Tony has experienced the destructive power of playing God first hand.  He believes in the frailty of human judgment.  He does not trust his own inclinations and so desires to place the power he wields in the hands of legitimate authorities.  He thinks that great power in the hands of someone who doesn't think they could be wrong is too dangerous.

Steve is someone who has never doubted his inner moral compass.  His conscience is too solidly formed for him to ignore it.  As he says, "The safest hands are our own."  He doesn't see himself as above legitimate authority.  But he does say that the duty to what is right, even when the authorities tell you not to, is the most important thing to being a hero.

Steve thinks Tony doubts himself too much.

Tony thinks Steve doubts himself too little.

Because there is so much philosophy behind there is a lot of down time for exposition, but this only serves to deepen the tension and character development.  Because this is a sequel, very few introductions need to be made at this point and the characters can begin growing from the first scene.

But the large amounts of exposition do not take away from a fantastic action film.  I have read a number people who said that this movie was reminiscent of childhood when you would take all of your superhero action figures and have them fight each other.  And truth be told, there is a child-like joy in watching this come to life.  This is especially true when it comes to Spider-Man (Tom Holland) who brings a whole new life an energy to an already high-octane show.

The actions sequences are spectacular.  The hit you with small details (like showing our heroes run faster than cars through the streets) along with the eye-popping special effects.

But even through the philosophy the Russo Brothers remember that art must not only be provocative but evocative in order to work.  Ultimately, the battle comes down to some primary emotional chords that are so simple that they pull at the heart (but I will not spoil those here).  There is also an "evil villain" plot that is essential to moving the story forward, but is much less interesting (or so it seems) than the hero conflict.

...

The biggest downside to this movie is how much it feels like a transitional movie.  So many different stories will have their jumping-off-point from the events of this film.  Even though Winter Soldier was also open-ended for sequels, that film had more of a sense of completion and closure than this.  I came away with a distinct feeling that this film was mainly about setting the board for the big battle later.

As a Catholic, one of the things I really loved was that this movie was ultimately about conscience.  It is a great illustration of how two people could have developed their consciences in different ways and yet they are morally bound to obey them.  It is a story that is about standing up for one's convictions.  

And as Dumbledore said, it is one thing to stand up to your enemies but another thing entirely to stand up to your friends.


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SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE REST OF THE ARTICLE

One more note on the movie regarding the ending.  It was gratifying to see Tony come to a epiphany after the confrontation at the airport and go to help Steve against Zemo.  And I know that there are a lot of critics who are tired of all the last-minute twists regarding movie villains.  But the twist as to Zemo's motivations was exciting.  And the video he showed was powerful.  

I wrote in an earlier post:

"This is the best performance Downey Jr. has done as Tony Stark.  He has been funnier and more charming, but he has never been this intense.  You can feel his anxiety as he sees everything slowly slipping towards destruction and Downey Jr. makes you twist inside the way Tony does.  I really think he should (but won't) get an Oscar nomination for this."

Having re-watched this performance, I can see even more what Downey Jr. has done with the role.  He has taken the cumulative history of the character as he has been battered around in the last five movies and makes us feel those scars.  Tony has grown a conscience that is tearing him apart.  It is heartbreaking to watch his desperation as his shining dream of the Avengers begins to escape his grasp.  And when you can see how he hates himself for not being able to stop his attack on Captain America all the way to the end.


And this is never more evident as when he watches his parents get murdered.  He becomes a little boy again in that moment and you can see that powerless child use all of his powers as a super hero to try and avenge their deaths.  And you can see the guilt in Steve.  He screwed up.  The whole point of the Civil War was Cap's moral authority and now it has crumbled regarding Tony's life.

This movie deserves its place on the list not only because of the high-flying action, because of the strong philosophical and emotional punch it packs.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Film Flash: The Mummy (2017)

The Mummy (2017).jpg

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

Cruise makes this the most fun Universal Monster Movie since Monster Squad

4 out of 5 stars

Adam West: God Rest His Soul

Photo by Alan Light

My feelings about Adam West mirror those which many people go through regarding their parents: adoration to embarrassment to appreciation.

Some of my earliest television  memories were of watching the old Batman show.  The bright colors and dynamic style immediately made an impression on my young senses.  I remember my older brother and I would safety-pin towels around our necks and play as Batman and Robin because of that show.  Adam West was, in my young mind, the epitome of a hero: brave, true, and virtuous with that unmistakeable voice that carried with it absolute resolution.

For a long time the show wasn't on TV.  And then when I was older one of the local stations announced it would air the Batman movie that West starred in from 1966.  I was so excited that I set up the VCR and made it an event.  I remember sitting there on the couch in my family room in front of the TV and being... disappointed.  I found that this show that had been such a big piece of my childhood had become silly and obnoxious in my mind.  The lines made no sense: "The crime was done at sea.  'Sea!" Don't you see?  'C' for Catwoman!"  And that stalwart personality that West gave to Batman seemed ironic and cheesy.

By this time I had graduated to actual comic book reading and my take on the Dark Knight was nothing like the show any more.  In fact, after some digging I found how the original Batman as designed by Bob Kane (and later I discovered Bill Finger) was much closer to the darker Michael Keaton Batman than the bright and cheery Adam West.  I also learned that in the 1950's comic books had become the scapegoat for a lot of social ills among the young.  So DC bleached away all of the darkness and made incredibly campy comics.  The Adam West Batman was an outgrowth of that.  As a teenager, I saw this as a betrayal of the "real" character and would often deride and make fun of West and his portrayal of the Caped Crusader.

But as I have gotten older, a new sense of appreciation has come over me.  This especially hit me when I watch my nieces and nephew rediscover the Adam West Batman.  I watch their eyes light up the way my young eyes did at the color pop and visual spectacle.  It made me realize how important those early Batman viewings were to my young imagination and how it planted the seeds of my love of superheroes.

From what I gather, West was a man who appreciated his fans and treated them well.  He had been divorced twice, but his third wife married him after the show went off the air and they remained together until his death 47 years later.  West died surrounded by his family after a brief battle with leukemia.

Adam West was a special part of not only my childhood but so many others who remember him fondly.  Many of us could do worse than that legacy.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.  May his soul and all of the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.  Amen.


Friday, June 9, 2017

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


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

The sequel to any great film comes with some inherent challenges.  The biggest is that it often suffers by comparison to the original.  And Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. is no exception.

The original Guardians was like a bolt out of the blue, both at the same time original and nostalgic.  And Vol. 2 is enjoyable inasmuch as it gives you more of the same but it also makes it feel not nearly as fresh.

The story takes place soon after the original ended.  Peter "Starlord" Quill (Chris Pratt) is leading the Guardians: Assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), literalist brute Drax (Dave Bautista), cynical and sarcastic Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel).  The movie wisely thrusts you right into the action.  The Guardians a race called the Sovereign, but they quickly run afoul of them and are once again on the run.  Circumstances force them to split apart when they encounter Peter's long lost father Ego (played by the mighty Kurt Russell).  I won't reveal much about Ego in this review for fear of spoiling the very interesting surprises as the movie unfolds.  Along the way Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his Ravagers are brought in to play as well as Gamora's adopted sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Ego's innocent assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff) until it all converges into a big cosmic battle.

The good thing about Vol 2 is that if you liked the characters in the original you get to spend more time with them again.  And they are just as charming as ever.  In fact, this second outing is aimed at delving deeper into their characters and their relationships to each other.  This allows for some of that fantastic chemistry to come to the forefront, like the romantic tension between Peter and Gamora or the fraternal antagonism between Rocket and Drax.  It is wonderful that these characters have very clear relationships to each other that are worth exploring.  The biggest surprise for me was the layers that they gave to Yondu, who in most films would be reduced to space-redneck.  Instead, director James Gunn peals back the layers to see the good and not-so-good lurking beneath.

Visually, the movie is spectacular.  You can tell that no expense was spared making the movie pop in both the CGI and makeup effects.  The Sovereign look particularly fascinating with their lavish yet cold culture.  The action is dynamic and sufficiently epic.

The movie also continues with its trademark humor, some of which will stay with you much longer after the movie is over.  There is a particularly fantastic running joke about a mutineer leader that I still quote more than a month after seeing the film.  And there a sequence where Baby Groot is attempting to break some of his compatriots out a jail cell that is one hilarious visual gag after another.

And the actors have not lost a step.  Pratt is as charming and affable as ever while adding the emotional layers in the meeting with his father.  Saldana also reaches some very interesting emotional places with with Gillan and their sibling rivalry to the Nth degree.  Bautista's chemistry with Klementieff is also one of the nicest and well-handled parts of the film.  It seems like a very simplistic relationship, but there is a lot going on under the surface of the performances.  The scene where Mantis touches Drax as he remembers his family is particularly and unexpectedly moving.  Russell is also a great addition to this group.  He fits in perfectly with the personality and aesthetic of the cast and you can feel the believable father/son connection to Pratt.  But once again it is Rooker who is the biggest surprise.  He loses none of his deadly edge while making us sympathize with him and his repressed emotional state.

As much as there is to enjoy, this movie does have its flaws.

The main problem is that it is way too violent.  I don't just mean that more people die, but that is also true.  In this movie the heroes engage in some pretty violent killing.  Early on as they are chased by the Sovereign, Rocket tries to kill the soldiers following them.   However Peter stops them pointing out that those soldiers don't deserve to die.  I wish that this sentiment had remained throughout.  Two scenes in particular were bothersome.  The first is when a number of people are execute by being thrown out an airlock.  I tend not to have a big problem with killing in movies, but when people beg for their lives, it makes my stomach turn.  After that discomfort, our heroes go on a killing spree against the murderers.  As visual spectacle, this scene is one of the best in the movie.  And as someone who loves movies like John Wick, this normally wouldn't be a problem for me.  Except that super heroes are supposed to live up to a higher moral standard and this movie was directly marketed to children.  I would be very squeamish if I brought any little ones to the theater.  This includes several sexual jokes and references that seemed very out of place.  Again, the movie is PG-13, but it realistically marketed to a much younger audience.

The other drawback is hard to avoid, which is that it feels a bit pandering to fans of the original.  This is especially evident when Rocket asks to play some of Peter's Awesome Mix while he goes on a killing spree.  It was as if they were trying to repeat the success of the original by continually mixing in the original ingredients.

Despite this, the themes of family, care, and compassion were very evident throughout.  One of the marks of family is that family forgives and we see that in the Guardians and how they hurt each other and try to reconcile.  And all of the characters have pronounced abandonment issues.  This is especially evident in Peter's and Rocket's story arcs.  This can lead to too hasty attachment or in driving people away as a defense mechanism.  Either way it was satisfying to see how these relationship stresses played out against the backdrop of a cosmic struggle.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a little too dark and a little too much of a retreat of the original to be as good as Vol. 1.

But that doesn't mean it isn't a heck of an enjoyable film.

4 out of 5 stars.