Wednesday, May 31, 2017

CatholicSkywalker Blog 5th Anniversary

(5/31/17: Feast of the Visitation)

It's had to believe that it has been 5 years since a started this little blog.  And I'm still here.  

And more importantly, you, faithful reader, are still here.

For this I thank you.

This past year has been especially challenging to keep up with the regular blogging between going back for my master's degree,  health problems, and lots of projects at work, I found I was not able to give this blog as much attention in times past.  But you stuck by me, dear reader, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that.

And what is amazing to me is how my readership has grown from a few dozen a week to a few thousand.  I don't pretend that I am anyone making gigantic waves on the interwebs, but it is consoling to know that my ideas are heard and perhaps are enjoyed.

I will endeavor to be better at keeping up to date.  I am now getting a small break this summer, but that window will close rapidly.

Here is a list of all of the content I hope to get out before the end of summer:

And for a blast from the past, here is my first essay posted on my first every blog post:

-Film Reviews for: Kong - Skull Island, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Wonder Woman, Baywatch, Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Men Tell No Tales, Spider-Man - Homecoming, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Mummy, Cars 3, Transformers - The Last Knight, and Dunkirk.

-Continue the Catholic Skywalker Dialogues that I have let languish for over a year.

-Cover the upcoming Fall TV shows.

-A return to weekly essays including: Half Great/Half Terrible Movies, Almost Terrible Movies That Are Great, The Manliest Movie of the 1990's, The Most Morally Subversive Movie of the 1980's, Greatness vs. Goodness.  Love the Art/Hate the Artist, The Frustration of Indefinable Words, Who I'd Be.

-Finish the series of reflections I began on Doctor Who and Interstellar

-Finish out my list of Top 25 Superhero Films of All Time.

Perhaps that is overly ambitious, but I will raise the bar high.  I also try to keep the content fresh and interesting for you, dear reader.  

I know it is a small thing, but I receive an immense amount of satisfaction in this medium.  I am especially delighted when one of you finds any of my ramblings enjoyable to read.  

You are all constantly in my prayers.  Please keep me in yours.  

And please let me know of any suggestions you have for this blog or any topics you would to see tackled: serious, silly, or anything in between.

And so once again, thank you for hanging on with me these last few years.  I will work even harder to make the next five years the best that this blog as been.

Finally, as is my custom on this day, I have reprinted my first essay ever on this blog.  


-Catholic Skywalker

God is a Joke

As a kid, I loved riddles. Still do. I can remember being a pluckish 9-year-old, bored out of my mind at my cousin’s wedding. I was too young to simply enjoy the celebration of friends and family, but I was too old to just sit in a corner pretending the tiny plastic swords from the bar were
miniature lightsabers. I sat at a table of adults and teens sharing riddles. I remember it vividly because I realized that I could figure out most of the answers. While other adults were puzzling with furrowed brows, I paced up and down the banquet hall in my little suit and tie, trying to think while blocking out the lyrics to “Dancing Queen.”

Riddle: “A man ties a dog to a 10 foot rope. The dog’s water dish is 20 feet away. How does the dog get the water?”
Answer: (see bottom of essay)

Riddle: “In 1980, Sarah was 15 years old. In 1985, Sarah was 10 years old. How can this be?”
Answer: (see bottom of essay)

If you’re anything like me, you took a few moments with the above riddles. You stopped reading and thought it through. You looked at the data over and over again. You hesitated to skip down to the answer, because you wanted to see if you could reason it out for yourself. Did you get it right? Did you get the mental cramp from twisting your mind around a dozen possible answers? And did you get the thrill of vindication at the end of your cerebral gymnastics, when you looked at the answer and saw that you were right?

And did you feel smart?

That is the purpose of a riddle. It acts as mental exercise. Riddles are different than trivia because to be good at them you don’t have to be like Hans Gruber and reap the benefits of a classical education. Even a 9-year-old, bored at a wedding can jump into the fray. And we tend to intuitively regard the master of riddles above the master of trivia. The riddle master may not have as much content in his mind, but he has insight. He looks at the problem with his laser-critical eye and is able discover the truth.

The riddle strengthens the riddle master. Riddles force you to think laterally. You need to alter your normal way of thinking because something does not fit. The data has to be examined from another angle. Only then can the answer present itself. And the reward for your strain is the simple knowledge that you are right. You have figured it out. You are smart.

At least this was how 9-year-old me felt. I looked at the clues, made the deductions, and discovered the truth. In my mind I was a pint-sized Sherlock Holmes. And I fell in love with riddles.

But riddles aren’t jokes.

And herein lays, I believe, the fundamental point of frustration that so many of us run into when pursuing the question of God. We treat God like a riddle. We look at the problem with our laser-critical eye; we examine it from every possible angle. How old is God? Is He all good? If so, why is there evil? What is His nature? His will? Philosophers since ancient Greek times have wrestled with these questions. Here were riddles worthy of Oedipus and the Sphinx. And let us not forget the fundamental question: Does God even exist? What are the clues we can use to unlock the answer to this riddle? So many of us believe that if we just put the pieces together the answer will reveal itself and the riddle will be solved.

But God is not a riddle. Yes, there is an answer to this question, the deepest of all our questions. But it is not the kind of answer we are looking for. We will never solve the riddle of God for one very simple reason:

God is a joke.

Before we go any further, let’s contrast the riddle and the joke.

Question: “What’s E.T. short for?”
Answer: (see bottom of the essay)

Question: “What’s the definition of ‘procrastination?’”
Answer: (see bottom of the essay)

Now, unlike the riddles at the beginning of this essay, I’m sure you didn’t wait and puzzle out the answer to these questions. You went right to the bottom to see the answer. Of course we don’t call the end of a joke “the answer.” We call it the “punch line.” This phrase, which probably has its origin in early 20th Century American slang, is a vivid contrast to the “answer” we find in a riddle. “Answer” carries with it a sense of discovery. A page has been turned; a door has been unlocked. “Punchline” comes at you sideways when you weren’t even looking. The rug has been pulled out from under you. Like the magician, the comedian has dazzled you with a surprise.

But the single most glaring distinction between riddles and jokes is the element of joy. By “joy” I mean mere delight and mirth. I would use the word “pleasure,” but I want to talk about that which lightens the heart and bursts through our egos to cause, quite against our wills sometimes, that singularly human activity of laughter. (In contrast, the marital act, which I’m sure most would call “pleasurable,” would probably suffer if one of the partners engaging in it spontaneously broke into giggles).

Now we come to the “question” of God. And this I think is where most everyone has come upon the fundamental mistake. As I stated earlier, the “question” of God is not a riddle. It is a joke.

This is not to say that God is illogical. Far from it. The best jokes are the ones that have a very clear logical thought process. If they did not, we could not follow the comedian from set-up to punch line.

Joke: A mailman comes to the front gate of a fenced in house only to be greeted by a vicious barking dog on the other side. The mailman looked up at the man sitting on the front porch and asked, "Is your dog going to bite me?" The man on the porch said "No." The mailman went to unlock the gate, but the dog did not back down. Again he asked the man on the porch "Is your dog going to bite me?" Again, the man on the porch said "No." So the mailman entered the gate and the dog immediately jumped on him and attacked him. The mailman shouted, "YOU LIED! YOU SAID YOUR DOG WOULDN'T BITE ME!" The man on the porch shouted back, "That's not MY dog."

The joke is very logical. It follows a very clear line of thinking. And so does the question of God. When it comes to God, we do not need to abandon our reason in order to enter into the joke. In fact, it is more logical to approach God as the Great Joke rather than the Great Riddle. You can figure out a riddle. But you shouldn’t figure out a joke.

If there is delight to be found in the riddle, as my younger self found, it is from the pride received at feeling so clever. I pieced together the clues to understand the answer. But this CANNOT be done with God. All of the great saints understood this, especially St. Thomas Aquinas, who made clear that human reason would always fall short of understanding God because God is, above all, mystery. He is too big to fit into our little brains.

One of my favorite stories about the nature of mystery involves the other great medieval mind: St. Augustine of Hippo. The legend goes like this: Augustine had been in enveloped in great frustration because he could not understand the dogma of Trinity. How could there be 1 God and 3 Persons? It literally pained his mind. One day Augustine was walking down a beach and saw a little boy running to the ocean. Filling a cup with water, the boy dumped it into a hole that he had dug. After watching for a bit, Augustine asked the child what he was doing. The child said “I am going to put the whole ocean into this hole.” Augustine replied “But child, it is impossible for you to put the whole ocean into this hole. The ocean is too big, and the hole too small.” The child looked at him and said, “And so it is impossible for you to understand the Trinity,” and he disappeared. (Rim shot)

After that, Augustine understood: Trinity is a joke, and not a riddle. But rather than this causing him to abandon reason, he was now better equipped to talk about the Trinity in a more rational way. Augustine at last understood that Trinity was not something to be could be fully understood. The Trinity is something to enjoy.

Have you ever simply enjoyed the Trinity? Have you let yourself be caught up in the Love Story of God the same way we get caught up in the love story of Sam and Diane, Pacey and Joey, Jack and Rose, Ross and Rachel, etc. etc. We should. It is the greatest love story of all time and beyond.

Love stories are very much like jokes. You have the set-up followed by the unexpected punch line. And every time love is discovered between 2 lovers, it is always a surprise. There’s always something new about it, as if it has been discovered for the very first time. Happily married couples wonder whether anyone in the world could possibly be as happy or if only they have unlocked this magical secret of the universe. Romantic love goes beyond the logical realm of the riddle and finds its home in the joyous delight of the joke.

Romantic love, at its best, should be a reflection of the Divine love. And this too is better reflected in joke than riddle. Because with love, as with the joke, you have to give over a little of yourself. When 2 people share riddles, they engage in mental jousting. They are Bilbo and Gollum, dueling not with swords or fists but wits. Riddles are designed to create distinctions, i.e. I am smarter than you. Jokes are not designed to focus conflict AT the other, but to draw you closer TO the other. How often when we try to make friends do we crack jokes? Probably more so than riddles. If our jokes make someone laugh and vice-versa, it means that our minds have entered into a common frame where we can meet, not compete.

The dueling nature of riddles cannot be overemphasized. Here, the riddle master and the riddle solver are both active. But with jokes, the comedian is active while the audience is passive. Here is another reason why we tend to approach God like a riddle. In our hubris, we think that we can understand Him, and by understanding, conquer Him. Of course, most of us don’t admit to this, but often we want to learn about something to gain power over it. We read computer manuals so that we can figure out how to get our WI-FI to find the Xbox. We read about cars so that we can maintain it ourselves and not have to take it in to Leon at the Jiffylube. If we understand God, understand how He works, then we can best “manage” God and fit Him more efficiently in our lives. At least I believe that is the secret Promethean motive behind keeping God at a distance by treating Him as a riddle.

But with God, as with the comedian, there must be on our part self surrender. When we hear a joke, we listen as we are taken down a long, seemingly aimless road until we turn the corner and find a mini-surprise party waiting for us. The joy of a joke is not figuring out the ending, as in a riddle, but in being led to the ending. In fact, if we figure out the punchline to a joke before we are led there, our delight is diminished.

This can be easily seen in the life of Christ. Often, the Pharisees would pester him and test him and try to figure out who He is. In fact some got so frustrated that they came right out and ask, “Can’t you just tell us plainly who you are?” They thought the Messianic prophecies were riddles to be deciphered. But when Jesus came to them, he was not at all what they expected. He came at them sideways. He could not simply tell them who He was because that would have been like giving away the punchline before the set up. He had to lead them from the beginning: his conception in Nazareth (Can anything good come from Nazareth?). Then he brought them to Bethlehem, where He is born in a barn, like something out of an 80's sitcom.

In His public life, Jesus winkingly toys with the Syrophonecian woman (even the dogs get scraps), winds up his disciples (Why don’t you give them something to eat yourselves), and enters Jerusalem majestically on His Messianic ass (i.e. His donkey). But all that is still only the set-up for the ultimate joke: the Paschal Mystery. How confounded everyone was at the scandalous Passion! How the called out to Him “Come down from the cross and we will believe!” As if that would produce the logical evidence to command their assent! Almost no one could figure Him out, even the thief on his left. But the thief on his right got it. Rather than taunting or teasing Jesus, the good thief says, “Remember me when you come into Your Kingdom.” He got the joke. Why him and so few others? The good thief doesn’t just suffer alongside Jesus. He suffers with Jesus. He travels on that way to dusty death metaphorically holding His hand. He did not fully understand Christ, but He fully experienced Him. And by experiencing Him, he came to know Him.

He got the joke.

Now, if the story ended at Calvary, then we would have to say that the Gospel was a bad joke. But the punchline does not end in pain.  It ends in joy; it ends in Resurrection.

The people wanted a Messiah to free them, and so He has.  But He did it in a way that no one expected. He came at them sideways.  And now they are free not just from political oppression but from the oppression of sin and death. In our life, we want a God who loves us. And He does, but He does it in an unlooked for way: He died for us. We want to be happy in the here and now. He brings happiness in the now and forever. We Christians should always believe in happy endings. Our story is the happy ending. We let the Great Comedian lead us down the long winding road of our lives so that when it comes to the great punchline, our hearts will be filled with mirth and our spirits with laughter as He says to us, “Welcome home by good and faithful servant.”

And if He doesn’t say that, try telling Him the one about the man who named his dog "Stay." Then shimmy up and over the pearly gates while He’s laughing.

ANSWER RIDDLE 1: The other end of the rope is not tied to anything
ANSWER RIDDLE 2: The two years in question refer to B.C. not A.D.

ANSWER JOKE 1: “He has little legs.”
ANSWER JOKE 2: “I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday Best: Memorial Day Movies (updated)

There are many ways to honor our fallen heroes this Memorial Day by attending parades in their honor, donating funds to their memories, and praying for their souls.

One way that I like to remind myself of their heroism is through the art of movies.  Understanding that the dramatic representation of their experiences is nothing compared to the reality, I find that I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude when I see the price of freedom presented on screen.

Here are the best Memorial Day movies to watch.

1.  Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan poster.jpg
Spielberg won his second directing Oscar for this movie and I believe it was primarily for the Normandy invasion scene.  What I saw was ordinary men doing extraordinary things in horrific circumstances.  Not only was I riveted by the awful violence faced, I was moved by acts of courage and compassion, like seeing a priest hearing a dying soldier's confession amidst gun-fire.  They paid in blood the freedom we enjoy.  And I always think of the line in the final moments of the film: "Earn this!"  That echoes with me on Memorial Day and reminds me that I have to use this dearly bought freedom to make the world better.

2.  Glory
Glory ver1.jpg
Very few movies underscore the importance of valor in combat like Glory.  These men ran into the jaws of death with little hope of victory, but it was their courage that made all of the difference for the larger war in front of them.

3.  We Were Soldiers
Weweresoldiers poster.jpg
Not only is this a harrowing war film, but this is one of the best Memorial Day movies that reminds us of the sacrifice that the families of soldiers must also endure during war time.

4.  13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

13 Hours poster.png
This story is important because it reminds us what Memorial Day is all about: we must remember those who sacrificed.  Unfortunately, this story is such a political football that people forget that it is primarily about soldiers who put their lives on the line to protect others even with no help in sight.

5.  American Sniper
Chris Kyle is seen wearing desert fatigues army BDU, while his wife Taya embraces him. They are standing in front of a tattered US flag.
A friend of mine has said that there are a lot of bad things about Chris Kyle's life that the movie glossed over.  I have not had a chance to investigate those claims yet.  Nevertheless, the film is the best one that Clint Eastwood directed and it focuses so much on the cost of fighting evil on not only the lives of our soldiers but on their souls.  And I finish the movie with a much deeper appreciation of the heroic fight against our enemies but also the fight to regain a normal life.

6.  Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge poster.png
Everything that is ideal in a soldier is displayed in Desmond Doss.  He is valiant and compassionate.  He placed himself into harm's way to help others while not condemning those who used violence to defend us.  And all at the same time he witnessed to his faith in God as his guiding light while suffering through the hell of war.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

I know that it might be cinematic sacrilege to criticize the original Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, but it is essential to understand this for the rest of this review:

The original Beauty and the Beast is too short.

I don't means simply in terms of run time.  The fundamental problem with the movie is that it leapfrogs the development of the plot and character in ways that are paced too quickly.  The story goes from abduction and revulsion to love and affection too quickly.  Yes, it is a children's cartoon.  And for that reason it gets somewhat of a pass.  But you could not make something that flat in a live-action remake.

Thankfully, the new Beauty and the Beast fixes this problem.

The story is the same as the original:  A vain and selfish prince (Dan Stevens) is transformed into the Beast and all of his servants are likewise receive a cursed transformation into semi-animate objects.  Meanwhile in the local village, the smart and beautiful Belle (Emma Watson), yearns for more than her small-town life and a marriage to the walking pile of machismo Gaston (Luke Evans).  When her father (Kevin Kline) is imprisoned by the Beast, Belle takes his place and I'm sure you know the rest.  After all, it is a tale as old as time.

I came to this movie a bit skeptical of its necessity.  But I am very glad that they made it.

First of all, the movie is gorgeous.  The production design is enchanting and the colors are dazzling.  As Disney did with its live-action remake of Cinderella, they adopted a color pallet that was vibrant like the cartoons but grounded enough in reality to make it tangible.

The performances are also pitch-perfect.  One of Belle's defining characteristics is her intelligence.  Watson is able to project a strong sense of dignity and wit throughout the film along with an incredible amount of charm.  She is able to carry the movie as the central character because we connect to her immediately.  Though Stevens performance is layered under CGI, their chemistry is strong.  Here is where giving the movie some breathing room really helps the actors.  Stevens is able to take us on a more believable journey from snob to Beast to love interest.  Evans stands out as Gaston.  He actually infuses the character with a little bit of sympathy through a good portion of the movie.  Evans plays him as a man who is doesn't realize who sexist and overbearing he is, which gives him almost a touch of child-like innocence underneath the alpha-male exterior.  But when he turns on the menace is it strong and scary.

Josh Gad plays LeFou and brings his strong comedic screen presence to the movie.  Kline is wonderful as Belle's father, but Kline is wonderful in everything.  His Maurice is a man struggling with that universal problem of wanting their daughters to be strong and independent but also wanting to protect them from the evils and harms of the world.  And finally Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, and Ian McKellen turn in some enchanting vocal performances as Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, and Cogsworth respectively.

It also doesn't hurt this movie that the music hasn't aged at all.  Musical tastes in a culture are fickle things.  Our affections for certain songs wanes, especially if that music sounds too much like a product of its era.  Thankfully Beauty and the Beast has a song book that transcends its origins in the early 1990's and feels timeless.  It is true that Watson and others may not have the voices of Broadway belters.  But their voices are melodious and heart-felt.  Music is a strong shortcut to character: when characters sing about what their feeling we know and empathize in an immediate way.  And the emotional bonds created here are strong.

Director Bill Condon deserves a lot of credit for filming a movie that has an epic feel to it like a classic fantasy film for adults while at the same time making this a completely accessible and enjoyable film for small children.  That is no easy feat, rarely accomplished outside of PIXAR studios.  And this is a sweeping romance that deserves to be a classic.  If you have an ounce of affection for lavish love stories, then this film, especially the ballroom scene, will sweep you off of your feet.  It is a wonderful visual spectacle of the cosmic dance of the masculine and the feminine in perfect opposition and harmony.

From a moral point of view, there are some wonderful insights on the nature of love.  GK Chesterton said that the universal truth behind Beauty and the Beast is that "Sometimes you have to love something before it becomes lovable."  Or as St. Paul wrote, "While we were still his enemies, Christ died for the ungodly."  (Romans 5:8)

For a good portion of the movie I kept wondering, "What is the difference between the Beast and Gaston."  In fact, Gaston seemed slightly more likable.  I kept thinking that maybe if Belle showed Gaston affection, then he might change from his bestial nature.  At first I thought this was a flaw in the story, but then I saw how the narrative turned.  But the characters are defined by choices.  When faced with the prospect of losing Belle, the Beast turns to heroism.  For Gaston, he turns to murder.  The reason why the Beast can be redeemed is that he is redeemable.  He is open to making the choices needed to change.  Gaston is not.  His heart is too hard to place anyone above himself.

There are some wonderful lines that this film adds.  When asked if Belle could be happy here with the Beast, she says, even though her heart is falling for him, "Can anyone be happy if they aren't free?"  This touches on one of the most profound Christian truths: love has to be free.  God gives us a free will which allows us to sin.  But in order for love to be real it has to be free.  The Beast has to give Belle her freedom even if it means losing her in the same way that God gave us all free will even if it means we reject Him.

Shrek deconstructed the ending to the tale by saying that it was too shallow.  However, Shrek misses the point: love transforms us.  When we are loved we are not the same.  Real love should change us into better people.  And in the end, love will transform the whole world at the resurrection.

Now some concern has arisen about the "gay scenes" in the film.  Particularly, the focus has been on LeFou's obsession with Gaston.  If you look for it, it is there.  But it not uncommon for lesser men to worship at the feet of their perceived superiors in hopes of getting some spilloff from that glory.  In that sense, it wasn't explicit.

The two other instances are these:
Three men are magically dressed up in women's clothes.  Two run away screaming and the third simply shrugs.  The other is at the very end when LeFou ends up dancing with another man for about 2 seconds.

There is little doubt that these points are intentionally there and that Disney is appealing to the LBGTQ community.  However, my judgment is that it is not to the level where it would be a concern to show children.  I am very sensitve to parents wanting to protect the innocence of their kids, but the content here is at about the level of Bugs Bunny dressing up as a man to "seduce" Elmer Fudd.  Those early Looney Tunes didn't propogandize kids back in the day I really don't believe this movie will either.  But parents should be aware of the content and make their own judgments as best they see fit.

When the movie ended I left the theater feeling elated.  So many movies fail to make you feel things and worse still their impact fades like reverse polaroid pictures.  But Beauty and the Beast as stayed with me because Disney has given us a new classic.

And a classic never gets old.

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

New Evangelizers Post: The Little Saints of Fatima

I have a new article up at  

On May 13th, the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of Our Lady of Fatima, Pope Francis canonized Jacinta and Francisco Marto.

These siblings were two of the visionaries of that extraordinary event, along with their older cousin Lucia. With this, they have become to the two youngest non-martyrs ever to be declared saints.

Most people know the story of how Mary appeared to these three shepherd children in the Covo di Ira in Fatima, Portugal. They were for all intents and purposes ordinary children of their day. They did their chores and their duties as children did, with reluctance since it took them away from play time. To fulfill their duty to pray the rosary, they would only say the first two words of each prayer “Our Father” and “Hail Mary,” as a quick short cut.

But then Mary made herself present to them and everything changed.

At first Francesco had difficulty with the vision and could not apprehend clearly. Lucia even asked, “Will I go to heaven?”
“Yes,” replied Mary.
“And will Jacinta?”
“And will Francesco?”
Finally Mary replied “Yes, but only after many rosaries.”

This always gave me pause. If young Francesco needed that much work, I shudder to think how many rosaries it would take to lift up my soul.

Regardless, over the course of the next few months, Mary showed the children several things and the children lived that witness despite the persecution of the local government and the pressures of the people.

But that in-and-of itself is not why Francesco and Jacinta are saints.

You can read the entire article here.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Trailer Time: Battle of the Sexes

This movie should be fun.  I emphasize the SHOULD.

It was a funny story and it was a big media event.  A good writer could have a lot of fun and be able to get a lot of laughs out of this premise.  And the cast is fantastic,

But it looks like this movie is trying to be IMPORTANT, like it's trying to say SOMETHING.

I get the feeling that this movie is going to be super-preachy and is going to suck all of the joy out of the idea.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Best: Ranking the Alien Franchise

With Alien: Covenant being released this past Friday, I thought we should take a look at the Alien movies that have come before and rank them (these only include ones that are purely of the Alien Franchise do not count the Alien/Predator movies).

5.  Alien Resurrection

Everything about this film is awful from concept to execution.  Nothing about this film works.  I remember that the script was originally written by Joss Whedon, who has publicly disavowed the film as a travesty.  The director was all excited about going "full frontal" with the aliens, meaning that would see them better in action as computer animated models.  But this is a clear case where CGI makes things look worse.  The movie has a distinct ugliness to it that I think is a carry-over from its distinctly European, pretentious influence.

And just when you think it can't get any worse, we get to see a queen alien give birth to Pumpkinhead.

4.  Alien 3

If they had gone from the first Alien film to this one, it may have worked out better.  But this movie lost all of its potential good will by needlessly killing off main characters from the last film in first moments of the story.  It was a such a stunning narrative betrayal that I don't think I ever recovered from it.

3.  Prometheus

The ideas behind this film are so intriguing, but they are never properly explored.  But this is an example of a movie where the themes are betrayed by the plot.  Red Letter Media's takedown of all of the plot holes is one of their funniest bits because it is accurate.  As I wrote in my film review for the movie:

When they finally arrive on the planet, we open up a host of great and lofty questions: If we are not alone in the universe, what does it mean? How do we understand faith at this point? Do we have free will? These are fantastic questions that I would love the film to explore in the context of this sci-fi epic. But it can never reach those heights because the characters are too stupid to convincingly engage in the debate. I don't mean that they lack sophistication. I mean that all of the characters do incredibly stupid things that only make sense as a means to let horrible things happen in the movie. In my review for For Greater Glory, I said that reaching for the stars elevated the movie, even if it fell short. The opposite is true for Prometheus. The work suffers because, like a high-schooler quoting Nietzsche, it doesn't seem mature enough to really deal with its own questions.

You may think I am being too hard on the script. But I have numerous examples. SOME SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH. SKIP AHEAD TO REMAIN SPOILER FREE. You are on an unexplored planet where the air is unbreathable. You find one room in ancient cave where the instruments say that the air is breathable. Do you take off your helmet for no reason? Yet that is what all the characters do. Let me repeat: ALL of the characters do this. None of them say to themselves, “You know, since we have no idea what kind of alien mahambi is out there, I'll stay safe in this suit.” When you see an alien that looks like a cross between a cobra and a piece of a Y-Chromosome bearer's anatomy, is your first instinct to pet it? If you were told that life forms were wandering a cave thousands of years old, would you bunk in a room oozing black puss? If you saw a crew member suddenly appear out of nowhere folded up like a Russian contortionist, would you immediately bring them into the ship? If the answer to these questions is “no” then you would not qualify for a seat on the Prometheus. And that is but a sampling of the stupidity. It didn't need to be this way. You could come up with a logical reason why someone would take off their space helmet (“Oh no, I tripped and cracked my helmet... oh wow, I can breathe!”) and the like. But they didn't. And because their actions are unfathomable, I cannot follow them as they continually make decisions that no person interested in self-preservation would make.

2.  Alien

Now many people would put the original first.  And it is a fantastic film.  It is a tense and smart thriller that plays around with lots of expectations.  By today's standards it may seem slow, but it does a great job of creating atmosphere and terror.  And what I don't think is appreciated as much because of familiarity is that the story takes some truly unexpected twists.  Ripley does not start off as the main character, but one of several in an ensemble.  This was incredibly smart in that you start off by thinking Tom Skerrit's Dallas is the lead.  But when he is taken out of the story it creates such a horrible sense of unease because you don't know if anyone is safe.  

On top of that you have fantastic performances by an all-star cast that make every ounce of fear believable.

1.  Aliens
This is one of the rare cases where the sequel to a classic film is better than the original.  As I wrote previously on this blog:

"[Director James Cameron] then took a major risk when he made a sequel to one of the most revered science fiction movies of all time: Alien.  People told him that if it was bad, it would end his career.  If it was good, they'd give all the credit to Ridley Scott, the director of the first.  But Cameron had a story to tell.  And dare I say, he had a better story to tell than Scott.  I have always maintained that Aliens is the best action movie I have ever seen.  It is not because of the visual action spectacle alone.  The thing that sets it apart is that you cannot help but attach to all of the surviving characters.  You root for them and feel a real sense of jeopardy in losing them.  Aliens shows that Cameron knows how to make a movie that is both scary, exciting, and dramatically compelling.  Sigourney Weaver got a Best Actress nomination for her performance, something very rare for an action movie but well deserved.  It should also be noted his use of visual catharsis.  The scene with the loader is set up in the beginning, and there is some flaw in the rationale for using that in battle when you have a ship full of weapons.  But there is a unique thrill watching Ripley stand there in her "battle-suit" to go mano-a-mano with the queen.  It is intensely satisfying."

Aliens is one of the few perfect films out there.  Everything about this movie works.  In fact, as good as Ridley Scott's original film is, I truly believe that it is because of James Cameron's Aliens that the series has any enduring power as a franchise.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday Best: TV Moms of All Time (repost)

(repost from May 2016)

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

Now this is not as easy as it sounds, considering that television is, for lack of a better term, a moral cesspool.  But we cannot deny that what we watch on tv influences the culture, so we should try to find good examples of motherhood out there on the airwaves.

So these are not the funniest moms or even necessarily the best written or acted characters.  These are simply the characters that are best at being moms on television.

10.  Beverly Goldberg ("The Goldbergs")

Yes, she mixes in too much and she overbearing and a bit of a bully.  But she is always trying her best to be the best mother she can be.  And when she goes too far (which is every episode), she does pull back and make amends.

9.  Frankie Heck ("The Middle")

The opposite of Beverly, Frankie tends to be much less involved in her kids lives.  But as wrongheaded and unrealistic her plans sometimes get, she always comes back to the realization that her simple life in Middle America is pretty terrific.

8.  Kitty Foreman ("That '70's Show")

She is a bit of a caricature, but Kitty was constantly there for all of her children and even her children's friends, prompting her husband to take in the wayward Hyde who had no one else.  While the kids found her attitude to be a little much like child-like pandering, they came to appreciate how much care and attention she gave them throughout the years.

7.  Virgina Chance ("Raising Hope")

Very tough and not that bright, Virginia always came back to a full beating heart when it came to taking care of her kids and grand kids.  And she gave an amazing example of taking care of elderly family in the way she unquestioningly supported her grandmother no matter how her zany mind deteriorated.

6.  Joyce Summers ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer")

For years, Joyce had to be the oblivious Lois Lane character who was blissfully unaware that someone she loved had a secret super hero identity.  But when she found out she had to work through all of the fear, trauma, and mistakes that a single mother with an extraordinary child can make.  In the end, she gave her daughter as much comfort as she could while preparing her to be strong and independent after she was gone.

5.  Debra Barone ("Everybody Loves Raymond")

Tending to be the sanest person in the family, Debra was the rock on which the whole household was built.  She brought stability to counteract Ray's stupidity.  She was, of course, not perfect.  But her imperfections only highlighted her virtues.  And I love the fact that for her, giving up her career to raise her children was a choice that she freely and happily accepted, without bitterness, longing, or complaint.  She showed that it was okay to choose family over jobs without it being a sign of weakness.

4.  Lorelai Gilmore ("Gilmore Girls")

A lot of people could complain that Lorelai was too much of the "cool mom" who tried to be the best buddy to the child rather than a stable authority.  But that overlooks the fact that when it came crunch time, she played the mom card.   Two moments stick out to me.  1.  Lane was out without her moms permission and she called Rory.  Rory said that she would call Lorelai and assured Lane that Lorelie would not tell Lane's mom.  Upon receiving the phone call, Lorelai tells Rory that she is immediately going to call Lane's mom.  Despite Rory's please to "be cool," Lorelai understood that motherhood involves not being cool sometimes.  The second moment is when Rory sleeps with a married man.  Rory desperately wants Lorelai to be approving, but Lorelai will not budge because of the great moral wrong her daughter has unrepentantly done.

3.  Claire Huxtable ("The Cosby Show")

Claire Huxtable is a wonderful role model for a number of reasons.  She was a smart, but tough mother; you did not want to get on her bad side.  She was a successful lawyer, pushing her children to achieve their dreams with hard work.  And she was a loving and devoted wife.  Often when you have two parents who have successful careers while raising children there can be a lot stress.  But the best example they can give is how the mom and dad love each other.  For those of feminist philosophy, Claire Huxtable had it all.

2.  Marge Simpson ("The Simpsons")

Homer Simpson would never make a list of best fathers because he is a terrible father.  But Marge is a good mother.  Or at least no one tries harder at being a good mother than Marge.  In her you see the embodiment of all the stresses that motherhood has to offer: unhelpful husband, problem children, social pressures from the community to be perfect, etc.  And she sometimes lets those pressures get to her.  But she never lets them keep her down for long.  The main unsung hero of the series is Marge.  Without her, none of the Simpson family would be redeemable.  She is the "angel in the house," even if she sometimes is a little bit of a fallen angel.

1.  Martha Kent ("Smallville")

The best TV mom I have ever seen is Martha Kent on Smallville.  The whole point of the series was about how the values Clark received from his parents are what truly made him a hero.  She left a successful business career to help her husband run a struggling farm.  She wasn't attracted to Jonathan's success, but his inherent goodness.  Martha was a fantastic example of an adoptive mother who constantly welcomed and embraced Clark with all of his differences and longings to find his physical heritage.  She was not afraid of her son or his power but always stood her ground when she believed he was going wrong.  And after her husband died she didn't let that grief diminish her attention to Clark.  When he became independent she became a strong leader in politics, bringing all of her experience to public service in the same way that Clark used all his power to serve the people.  Martha Kent is the best TV mom of all time.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Film Review: Logan

There isn't another super hero movie like Logan.

This movie is sober, contemplative, visceral, and heartbreaking in a way I haven't seen in this genre before.

The movie takes place in the not too distant future.  Most mutants have died there seem to be no new ones.  Logan (Hugh Jackman at his best), also known as Wolvierine, is a limo driver who is hustling to scrape enough money to take care of a senile Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in run down abandoned factory in Mexico.  Logan is old and weary.  His healing factor is nearly spend and even his claws won't pop out all the way.  Logan is a man burdened by age and responsibility.  But through circumstances against his will, Logan crosses paths with a silent young girl named Laura (Dafne Keene).  Once in his life, Logan must take her and Xavier on a cross-country trip with a mysterious enemy in hot pursuit.

The most important thing to understand about this movie going into it is that it is actually less of a superhero film and more of a classic Western.  Logan is the hard-travelling hero who has lived too long and seen too much killing.  Director James Mangold films the movie with all of grand, deserted landscapes that you would see in a Western: wide-open vistas empty with potential.   There is significant motif regarding the movie Shane and the parallels are clear without feeling too preachy.

Mangold also gives us a story that is filled with tension and dread.  From the moment the main quest begins, a deep and pervasive sense of unease fills the movie.  Unlike most superhero movies, there tends to be excitement with little surprise.  But you get the strong sense from Logan that disaster and tragedy are lurking around every corner and our heroes may not come out on top.

The performances are also superb.  Jackman, Stewart, and Keene deserve Oscar nominations, and that is not hyperbole because I love the genre.  Their performances are stunning.  Jackman makes us feel every ache and pain in his body.  It is literally exhausting to watch him work as we see his body and spirit breaking.  Jackman is still able to bring the big, insane rage inherent in the character.  But he also is able to able to show the silent, stoic sadness of a man whose world is slipping apart.  Stewart's Xavier is gut-wrenching in its decrepitness.  Is Xavier wise or senile?  Or both?  And what does that mean for anyone around him.  Stewart plays him as a man who is angry because he feels guilty and does not know why.  And so he lashes out at those around him.  And Keene is amazing as Laura.  Most child actors get a bit of a pass from me because they are young and should not be held to the same standards as fully trained adults.  But Keene is mesmerizing in her role.  Every look, every action, every pose conveys so much emotion and character that she seems to be someone three times her age.

The violence in this movie is more graphic and emotional than any other X-Men film.  As someone who grew up with the comics, this is was how I always imagined Logan cutting loose.  And while it at first as the same vicarious thrill as watching Deadpool or John Wick, after a while the graphicness of the violence gets to you, which I think is part of Mangold's point.  We've reveled in Wolverine's ability to cut his enemies to shreds over the last 17 years.  Now we get to feel what that does to a person's soul.  And yet the action sequences are still enough keep you on the edge of your seat.

One of things I loved most about the film was its depiction of simple, ordinary love.  There is a moment in the movie where our three main characters spend the night with a farmer family.  Mangold fills the scenes around the dinner table with such humor and warmth that part of you wants to leave all of the violence and just settle in.  This family is depicted as faith-filled, hard-working, and trying to get by in life with larger forces arrayed against them.

But the real treasure of the film is in the relationship between Logan and Xavier as well as Logan and Laura.  The thing that struck me the most about the Logan/Xavier relationship is how much Logan endured to take care of Xavier.  At first it felt like was doing it out a sense of duty or obligation forced on him.  But as the movie progresses you cannot come to any other conclusion than this: Logan loves Xavier.  It was so touching to see this strange father/son dynamic play out between two grown men who care so deeply for one another.  And despite all of his complaining,  you can see in Logan's actions how much Xavier means to him.  I cannot speak too much about the Logan/Laura relationship since that develops along the main plot of the movie.  But that is also incredibly touching to watch.

Logan is not a perfect movie.  The film's main antagonists are paper-thin, mustache-twirlers with no real depth.  But this is forgiveable because the real enemy aren't the villains.  Logan's real enemies are time and death.

There is also something that is done with a cross at the end of the movie that isn't necessarily blasphemous but made me just slightly uncomfortable.  It fits with the rest of the story but as a devout Christian anytime someone does something with the cross other than venerating it, it fills me with unease.

Logan is powerful and emotional film that has stayed with me in my mind and my heart long after watching it.  When so many movies disappear from our consciousness like smoke, the solid and strong Logan is something to treasure.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, May 8, 2017

New Evangelizers Post: 10 Commandments in the Modern World Part VIII- Don’t Bear False Witness .

I have a new article up at  

“Do Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor.”

The most basic reformulation of this principle is “Don’t lie.” Most of us understand this idea as something that was instilled in us as soon as we could talk. We are taught to speak only the truth. But we learn quickly that by telling lies we can get out of trouble, get things we want, and get power over others.
But honesty is an essential principle of the Christian life. Even the “little white lies” must be avoided. Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…” (John 14:6 ) We must live in truth because Christ is Truth Himself.

It is important to fight against the poison of subjectivism, which is the idea that truth is a relative thing. When a student asked me once if the 9/11 hijackers went to Heaven, I told them I did not know, but that their actions were evil. My student responded: “But that’s what they believed!” as if the belief in the thing made the thing true for them. But that is not who truth works. There is no “your truth” and “my truth.” There is just one truth.

All falsehoods are not of God because God is a God of truth. This, of course, does not count social conventions like acting and jokes. The reason why is that as a social convention, they are not meant to deceive, but are forms of mutual amusement where everyone understands that when Christian Bale says “I’m Batman” that he is not trying to convince you that he is in real life the Caped Crusader. Deception in our words is not compatible with our religion because it is not compatible with Christ’s mission who “Came to bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:37 )

We are also allowed to keep legitimate secrets, which is why it is okay for priests to keep the seal of confession. This is not a sin against truth because while we are forbidden from speaking falsehoods, we do not have the right to everyone’s information. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to have it. Secret keeping is an important part of our intimate relationships and should be honored when applicable.

In addition we cannot skirt the truth with misleading statements. We are very familiar with advertisements that intentionally make simply untrue things to get us to buy certain products. I remember the joke by the late comedian Richard Jeni about the product “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!” He said, “It could be car oil for all we know! If we said to the makers of it, ‘Hey, this isn’t butter!’ they could say, ‘Hey! We never said it was!’” Or in a movie example, Obi-Wan Kenobi told Luke his father died. When Luke confronts him Obi-Wan says, “What I told you was true, from a certain point of view.” This is obscuring the reality that Obi-Wan intentionally deceived Luke.The point is that if we say things that are not exactly untrue but are intentionally misleading, we still break the commandment.

When dealing with others, Jesus said that we should “let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no.” (Matt 5:37) We shouldn’t have to swear gigantic oaths on stacks of Bibles for people to believe us. If we are honest, then we are a small witness to the trustworthiness of Christ.

All of our convictions need to be rooted in truth.

This takes us to the problem of gossip.

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sunday Best: Movies with the Virgin Mary

In anticipation of the 100th anniversary of Mary's appearance at Fatima, this Sunday Best is dedicated to the best movies that portray the Virgin Mary.

The Bible (and Son of God)

This TV mini-series (and the recut theatrical film), do a good, albeit brief, job of creating the context into which Jesus is born and help us understand the world and environment that shaped them.

The Nativity Story

Some people have an issue with how Mary is portrayed here and think that she comes off as too much of a moody teenager.  I have no argument against that.  But this is a film not made explicitly by people of faith that is ultimately respectful of the faith.  It is beautifully shot and ultimately takes us on an emotional journey that helps us understand the unique love shared between Joseph and Mary

Jesus of Nazareth
Jesus of nazareth.jpg
Some people have the opposite issue with this TV Mini-Series.  Whereas in The Nativity Story Mary may seem too much like one of us, some have complained that Jesus of Nazareth makes her too ethereal.  Her looks are often inscrutable.  There is something other-worldly about her as she lives her life in Nazareth as other call her an unusual girl.  But the portrayal is completely reverent and it is my favorite interpretation of the Annunciation.

The Song of Bernadette
Song sheet.jpg

Like Christ in Ben-Hur, we don't hear a word she says.  Other people tell us.  The Blessed Mother is portrayed in her celestial glory in a way that I don't think a major studio would do today.  This is a beautiful story of faith in an unbelieving world.

The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima
The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima VHS cover.jpg
I remember seeing this as a child and being fascinated, terrified, and inspired.  The part I remember the most is when they convinced the children that they would be boiled in oil if they did not change their story, but they refused.  It made my young self think about if I was brave like they were.  But based on the visions they had of Mary, I understood where they found their courage.

The Passion of the Christ
There is someone I know who is not the most religious person but has a deep respect for Mary.  I asked him about this film and he said to me in an unusually reverent tone, "I never knew the Blessed Mother went through that."  The Passion of the Christ brings the Virgin Mary into the suffering of Jesus in a way few films do.  I remember sitting next to my mother during the movie and hearing her cry when Mary saw Jesus fall and remembered picking Him up as a child.  The movie taps in to something primal about the suffering of mothers and shows us how we can find a compassionate heart in Our Blessed Mother.

Hunchback of Notre Dame
All that appears here is a statue of Mary.  But when Esmerelda is told for the first time that Mary is the Mother of God, she is overwhelmed with devotion.  And when they come to take her away, she cries out in faith to the Mother of God.  This moment always reminded me how devotion to Our Lady can bring others to faith.

An Affair to Remember
When was the last time you saw a big-budget Hollywood Romance take time to show the main characters praying before a statue of the Blessed Virgin without irony.  The scene is so touching because we can see Deborah Kerr's sincere devotion and Carey Grant watches her with love and then turns to the Blessed Mother and prays too.  I always loved the metaphor here about how good and holy women can bring their husbands to faith in a way that few people can.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Film Flash: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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

Love the original? You'll like the 2nd.  But WAY more violent and naughtier.

4 out of 5 stars

Our Lady of Fatima Novena

I meant to get this post up yesterday, since the novena started yesterday.  But you can still start it today.

We are coming up to the 100th anniversary of the appearance of Mary to the 3 shepherd children at Fatima.  Our Lady of Fatima has been a huge influence in my life and I cannot recommend devotion to her enough.

Below is a novena to pray leading up to the anniversary:

Most Holy Virgin, who has deigned to come to Fatima to reveal to the three little shepherds the treasures of graces hidden in the recitation of the Rosary, inspire our hearts with a sincere love of this devotion, so that by meditating on the mysteries of our redemption that are recalled in it, we may gather the fruits and obtain the conversion of sinners, the conversion of Russia, and this favor that I so earnestly seek, request which I ask of you in this novena, for the greater glory of God, for your own honor, and for the good of all people. Amen. 

Pray 3 sets of: 1 Our Father, 1 Hail Mary, and 1 Glory Be