Thursday, May 23, 2019

Trailer Time: Terminator - Dark Fate

I'll be honest, I have no idea what to make of this movie.

If this had been the third Terminator film, I think I would be fairly excited.  But the every movie in this franchise since T2 has been sub-par to total disaster (although Terminator: Salvation does have some cool moments).  So Terminator Part 6 doesn't have nearly as strong as shine on it as its predecessors.

It seems to hit all of the Terminator boxes:

-someone needs a protector to save the future

-that protector is outmatched by a more advanced death machine


I also get a weird feeling based on the visuals that there is going to be a strong political allegory running through this film.  Maybe I'm wrong.  But if I'm not, this would disastrous.

Though it is nice to see Linda Hamilton and Arnold together again.

I don't know... does this franchise still have any legs?

I'm not saying it looks bad.  It's just that they still need to sell me.  When they cast Joaquim Phoenix as the Joker, I thought it was terrible casting.  But that first teaser sold me 100%.  I can still be persuaded on Terminator: Dark Fate, but they need to give me more.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Film Flash: John Wick - Chapther 3 - Parabellum

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

Creative, hyper-violent, choreographed carnage with an ever-expanding hitman universe.  Bloody satisfying.  Reeves is a legend.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sunday Best: Summer Box Office Predictions

I know I am late on this, but I wanted to throw my hat into the ring with predictions for this year's summer box office.

 In 2016, I got 6 out of 10 right.  By 2017, I improved to 8 out of 10. Last year I made it to 9 out of 10 and my order of highest grossers was even more accurate.

I am not that confident about this year's list, but I am going to give it a try.  This year, I'm betting big on Disney owning the summer.  The one that is hardest for me to figure out is what effect putting The Lion King and Aladdin so close to each other will have on their respective box office takes.

1.  Avengers: Endgame

This is a little bit of a cheat since as of this posting Endgame has already broken so many box office records.  But it had to be put at the top because this is the movie that kicks off the season.

2.  Toy Story 4

Of all the Disney movies coming out this year, I think this one has the most anticipation.  Unlike The Lion King and Aladdin, we don't know what will be in store for our heroes.  On top of that, the emotional connection that millions of movie-goers have with these characters makes this a must see for the summer.  The last Toy Story made $415 million.  Combined with the fact that Finding Dory made $486 million, I think this is a good bet.

3.  The Lion King

Unlike Toy Story, we know exactly what we are going to get with this remake.  This is a movie that has simply been transformed into a photo-realistic version of the original and there are many people who will simply enjoy the experience of seeing something familiar as if for the first time.

4.  Aladdin

Robin Williams is irraplacable, but this movie should have enough nostalgia and energy to bring in an all-ages crowd.  I put this under The Lion King, because the changes in casting here are significant.  It shows great insight that Jon Favreau made sure to get James Earl Jones to once again play Mufasa.  We will see if Will Smith can bring his own spin to the Genie.

5.  Spider-Man: Far From Home

The previous Spider-Man made over $334 million.  But I think that this one will top that because it is leaning so heavily into Endgame.  Last year's Ant-Man and the Wasp, also came out after the Avengers movie, but it was not emotionally connected to the events of the story.  This one could be a cathartic experience for audiences still reeling from Endgame

6. The Secret Life of Pets 2

I really did not care for this first film, but it made $368 million.  This is a movie that is geared right towards little kids who ate it up the first time and I see no reason they won't go for it the second time around.

7.  Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw
Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw - theatrical poster.jpg

This is the first spin-off of the Fast and Furious franchise.  Internationally, these are gigantic hits and the last movie in the franchise made $226 million.  If you give Dwayne Johnson the right material, people will come and see his movies, as we saw with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.  This looks like silly, high octane action that audience may eat up.

8.  Men in Black: International

The reason I have this on the top ten is because of it's connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The last MIB movie made the least at $179 million.  I think this one will make slightly more as the two leads are the stars of the last Thor movie and they are also going to be riding the Endgame wave.

9.  Godzilla: King of the Monsters

The last American Godzilla movie made $200 million.  However, it's most immediate predecessor of this new shared universe, Kong: Skull Island, made $168 million.  I think this will top Kong, but it will hover around the other Godzilla.

10.  Dora and the Lost City of Gold

This is my wild card.  It is dropping late in the summer with little competition and it just might pull in the little kids who remember Dora fondly and parent who think that their kids will like it since so many of them grew up with her.


X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Adjusted for inflation, X-Men: Apocalypse is the second lowest grossing X-Men movie.  On top of that, this story was already done in X-Men: The Last Stand.  It could ride some of the Endgame wave, but I don't see that happening.  


This mixture of action and comedy might hit just the right note for summer audiences.  The R rating may be a problem for box office.


This might be the sleeper hit of the summer.  It is such an original story and The Beatles's music is as enjoyable and popular as ever.  This may bring in older and younger audiences alike.

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Taratino's last movie, The Hateful Eight, was a disappointment both commercially and artistically.  However, his two previous bows made over $100 million each.  Combine that with the star power of DiCaprio and Pitt together in a movie, this might break through the R-rating barrier and become a hit.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu teaser poster.jpg

Pokemon was a phenomenon after my time.  So I have a hard time wrapping my head around its popularity.  But it is still big with kids and young adults.  This one may push through, but I don't know if general audiences will be on board.


Friday, May 17, 2019

Film Flash: The Public

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

Like a secular "Christian movie" with heart-felt uplift and 1-dimensional villains.  Very odd ending.

Monday, May 13, 2019

New Evangelizers Post: Christianity and Communism

I have a new article up at  
A few days ago, I had a friend of mine ask me what are the differences between Christianity and Communism. He asked because some of his associates were stating that the two world-views were compatible with each other.

Communism is the political/social system where the government owns property and the means of production and is supposed evenly distributes the resources to its people so that no one is in need. Karl Marx, the founder of Communism, believed that if everyone had their bodily needs met and everyone was equal, then you could attain a utopia on Earth. Throughout history, Communism has led to the brutal subjugation and mass murder of millions. And still, there are those who claim that there is some compatibility between this and Christianity. This is despite the fact that Communism is explicitly atheistic.
Those who take this view often cite Acts of the Apostles Chapter 4, where it says, “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. “ (Acts 4:32). On a surface level, it sounds like a Communist utopia where goods are evenly distributed. But that is only on a superficial view. Once you dig even a little bit down, you can see how the two cannot be compatible.

As we see in the quote above, the Bible does say that the ancient Christians shared their goods in common and distributed to those in need. But the reasons and goal are very different than the Communists. Even if an action has a similar result, the intention can make a huge difference. For example, one man may kill a man and another man may kill a different man. Both acts are homicide. But the reason and the goals of each killer may radically alter the meaning of the action. One may be murder, but another may be self-defense or an accident or something else entirely.

The early Christians laid their possessions at the feet of the Apostles to demonstrate their complete surrender to God. It is God, through the administration of the Apostles, who will providing for the needs of the poor. In Communism, people’s property is confiscated by force and redistributed evenly. On the Communist view, the men who run the state are given supreme authority over the individuals. For the early Christians, God is supreme, which is why Peter says in chapter 5 of Acts “It is better to obey God rather than men.” In Communism, it is better to obey men, rather than God.

Notice that the act of surrender on the Christian is an individual choice, an act of charity and love. Becoming a Christian is a free commitment, but it is a full commitment, like marriage. In ideal Communism and ideal Christianity, both should result in every individual having their material needs met. But it will end up having very different results because it is done for different reasons

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mom and Me

It was March 29th, 1987. 

It was a Sunday and my family got up and went to Mass and lunch as was our routine.  A few hours after we returned home, my mom found me and said, "Come with me."

We walked out to the car and then she began to drive.  This was strange.  At this time, we lived in a full house with my mom, dad, grandparents, and four kids.  To have one-on-one time with mom was very strange.  I asked her where we were going.  She said, "You'll see."  Her crypticness made me worried that I had some kind fo clandestine doctor's appointment that required something horrible like shots.

But then she pulled the car into the Front Row Theater where I knew they were holding a closed circuit screening of WrestleMania III live!

At this time in my childhood, I was a wrestling fanatic.  My mother would sometimes bring my brother and me to the Richfield Coliseum to see live matches of the WWF.  By this time, my older brother had grown out of it, but I still subscribed to my wrestling magazines, bought the posters, purchased the action figures, and would watch wrestling any night I could on Television. 

WrestleMania III was a big deal for me.  It was the culmination of a number of plot-lines that had been drawn out over the wrestling year.  Andre the Giant had betrayed Hulk Hogan.  Rowdy Roddy Piper was going to have his last match before retiring.  And most importantly, Ricky the Dragon Steamboat, my favorite, was going to take on Randy Macho Man Savage for the Intercontinental Belt after Macho Man crushed Steamboat's larynx with the ring bell.

Of course, my mother didn't care about any of that.  She would often bring a book to these live events.  But she knew that it mattered to me.  I honestly don't recall asking my mom to take me to Wrestlemania, though I'm sure it was all I talked about at home.  And so my mom decided to do something special with just me and her and so she spent her entire evening watching a giant TV screen of bulky men in tights hitting each other.

As Mother's Day came around this year, about a year-and-a-half after my mom's death, this is the memory that keeps coming back to me. 

It is easy to idealize the dead.  And my mom had her share of human failings, as we all do.  But that doesn't take away from all of the special things that made her my mom. 

We all have our own love languages.  That means there are particular ways that we express love and receive love.  The two most important love languages for me are quality time and gift-giving.  And for me, that Sunday night with my mom was a perfect example of both.  Anyone who has kids can understand that you never have enough time for anything.  But my mom set aside time just to spend with me in a place she almost surely detested.

But most of all, she gave me this special gift of WrestleMania.  The reason why gift-giving is one of my love languages is because of what it signifies.  It is not about the material cost to a person.  That part is irrelevant.  But the giving of a gift is an opportunity to let the other person know how well you know them as a person.  And my mom knew me.  She knew this was important to me, even if it was unimportant to anyone else.

I had a strained relationship with my father for most of my childhood.  Even though he loved me and worked his best to provide for me, he didn't know me.  He didn't understand me.  I'm glad that as I have gotten older, my father and I have gotten closer and all those old hurts have gone away.  But my mom always knew me, even if she didn't fully understand her odd son.

To this day, that Sunday in March is one of my fondest memories of her.  I don't know if I told her at the time, but it meant the world to me that she was there with me.

As I said, my mom wasn't perfect.  Those of you who are parents understand that you will make many mistakes raising your children.  There is always the fear that you have made that one big mistake that will ruin them.  My mom made a lot of mistakes, but I just wanted to say that those mistakes don't outweigh all wonderful things she did that made her my mom. 

To all the mothers reading this, please know how special you are to your children.  Even if you they never tell you, even if you end up with a weird child like me, when you die to yourself to validate your children in the things they love, it won't be forgotten.  Thirty-two years later, the memory of that night still fills me with childlike excitement for the event and warm affection for my mom.  I'm sure the car ride home with her was something else for her as I talked her ear off about the amazingly epic battles we just witnessed

I never much cared for car rides.  For me, a car is just a means of transportation and the sooner the ride is over the better. 

My mother loved car rides.  She loved looking at the sights wherever we went.  In the Summer of 2017, she began to feel sick.  Her health had never been great, so we didn't know that she had already developed stage four ovarian cancer.  I knew that she loved car rides, so I called her up and asked her if she wanted to go for a drive.  By this time she was having trouble walking on her own so I wheeled her to the car and we drove.  First we drove to the park overlooking Lake Erie.  She loved the water and found it so peaceful.  We sat there as I held her hand and we watched the waves.  Then we started taking the lake road and drove West for almost an hour.  I didn't know that this was the last car ride we would ever have together.  I don't know if she suspected it either.  All I knew was that I wanted to spend quality time doing something she loved.  I learned that these are the things you do when you love someone.  And I learned that from her.

And I will never forget what she said after about an hour on the road.  I asked her, "What do you want to do now?"

She said, "Just keep driving."

I don't know why God called her to the mother of my siblings and me.  I don't know why God called me to be her son.  Of the billions and billions of souls that God ever made, He chose us to be a family.  He knew that she was the mother we all needed. 

She was the mother I needed.

Happy Mother's Day, mom.

I miss you.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Trailer Time: IT - CHAPTER TWO

This is a great trailer!

I have lost my taste for most horror movies, but IT, hits me at a primal level.  While the monster is important, the main reason why this movie connected to people was because we fell in love with the characters.  And now we get to see the trauma of childhood play out in adulthood in a visceral way.

The director, Andy Muschietti, is masterful at the use of atmosphere, color, and framing.  Those closeups feel so claustrophobic, terrifying you because you cannot see your environment.  But best of all, he knows how to use the background space to create tension and fear.

And I particularly love the shot of the Losers looking at their youthful reflections.  Bill Hader particularly looks great and I can't wait to see if the Old Spice Guy can bring that charisma to the part of Mike.

I will be there to see this opening night.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Film Flash: The Long Shot

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

With a premise this good and actors this charming, this movie shouldn't be this boring!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Sunday Best: A Tribute to Peter Mayhew

image by Florida Supercon

One of my favorite stories about Peter Mayhew is how he was cast as Chewbacca in the original Star Wars.  He was in a room waiting to meet George Lucas.  When the director entered the room, Mayhew's polite English manners kicked in and he stood.  His over 7-foot size shocked the director who looked at him, I believe said a few passing words, and then left.  The impression Mayhew left, simply by being a gentleman, earned him one of the most iconic science fiction roles of all time.

It wasn't until after his death that I found out he played the character of Minoton, the mechanical minotaur in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.  Besides that, almost all of his film credits are Chewbacca related.

Mayhew took his job as Chewbacca very seriously.  He researched animal behavior such as bears and apes to capture the human, yet-not-quite-human qualities of his Wookie character.  You can see this especially in his body language performances.  I can still see so vividly, Chewie shaking his head in fear, refusing to go near the trash compactor.  For me, though, the best part of his performance was his eyes.  His fierce frame would not have had as much of an impact if not for his soulful eyes.  Mayhew's eyes always expressed gentleness and trust in his friends.  And yet he was able to turn them to deadly rage when his friends were in need.  Mayhew made us all want to have a friend like Chewbacca: a gentle protector who would fiercely fight on your behalf.

I've encountered some famous actors who feel embittered because they are remembered only for one role.  That was not Mayhew.  He adored the fan base.  I was able to see him once at a convention.  He had trouble walking at that point and he used a lightsaber-shaped cane (I believe given to him by a fan), as he walked the convention floor.  He was completely kind and gracious to everyone.  Mayhew would often dress as Chewbacca and visit sick children in the hospital to raise their spirits, knowing that the Wookie was enouraging them to fight.

Twenty-two years after Star Wars, at age 54, Mayhew married the love of his life Angie.  The two of them moved to Texas where they raised three children.  Peter eventually became a naturalized American citizen a few years later.  Together they continued to go to the convention circuit.  But they used their celebrity to help others.  They started the Peter Mayhew Foundation, which helps sick children, often aiding with expenses through organizations like Make-A-Wish. 

Probably my favorite story about them is Daniel and Ashley Fleetwood.  This young married couple loved Star Wars.  But tragedy struck when Daniel developed fatal spinal cancer.  He would not survive to the premiere of The Force Awakens, but the film makers arranged a special screening for him before he passed.  Daniel died in November 2015 at the young age of 32.  After this, Peter and Angie personally reached out to Ashley and invited her to spend the holidays with them so that she wouldn't be alone.  Ashley gladly accepted.  The thing I love most about this story is the deep sense of compassion the Mayhews have.  They understand that for whatever reason, Mayhew's connection to Chewbacca makes him someone important to the lives of many people.  Peter and Angie decided that if that importance can help someone whose life has been devastated, then they gladly opened up their home and hearts.

Thank you, Peter Mayhew, for opening up your heart to all of us.  You will always be remembered with tenderness for giving us Chewbacca.   But more importantly, you will be honored for the man under the mask. 

When it came to the affection of our hearts, we always let the Wookie win.

Rest in Peace, Peter Mayhew.

Monday, April 29, 2019

New Evangelizers Post: Mercy is an Act of Faith

I have a new article up at  
Yesterday was the Feast of Divine Mercy. It is a devotion of special significance to me. The Mercy of God has been the focal point of my spiritual life since it truly began.

At the services yesterday, the priest preached about God’s great Divine Mercy for us. But he also emphasized that it does not end with God. We are called to be merciful to the people in our lives. This includes not only those who are sorry for hurting us, but also the unrepentant. This, the priest acknowledged, was a tall order.

I have written before about the distinction between justice and mercy as well as the relationship between the two. And while both are good, mercy is the higher and better thing. The great religious thinkers and saints always said that if you are to make an error, you should err on the side of mercy.

To be clear, our calling must sometimes include acting with justice. You need justice in order for mercy to make any sense. As a parent (or in my case a teacher), bad behavior must be tempered with just punishments. If not, the child will have a malformed moral center. You see this in those people whose parents do not discipline them or teachers who do not hold their students accountable. In both of those cases, the children are less prepared to be strong, responsible adults. And this principle can be applied to our system of civil laws and punishments. It would be irrational to simply empty all of the prisons in the name of mercy.

But when the decision is unclear or where either mercy or justice would be an appropriate response, we are called to act with mercy. This is difficult for many reasons. We often have to swallow our pride, deny our anger, and not brood over injury. But above all, giving mercy over justice is an act of faith.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Feast of Divine Mercy 2019

Very few feast days are as important to me as today.

Much of what is printed below I have written before.  But with each year I age, I become more and more aware of how much I need God's Mercy.

There is a story about Socrates I heard once.  A phrenologist came to Athens and claimed to be able to read people's souls by studying the contours of their head.  Socrates, being a person who was open to new ideas asked to be tested.  The phrenologist examined Socrates and said that his skull showed he was proud, lustful, greedy, wrathful, and other things like this.  Socrates' followers began to laugh at this diagnosis of their moral teacher.  But Socrates very seriously rebuked them and said, "This man is telling the truth.  I struggle with these every day of my life."

I bring this up because sometimes when I tell people that I am the biggest sinner that they've met, they think I am only giving some kind of pious hyperbole.  But it is far from the case.  The only soul I can see into is my own and I see much darkness there.  No, I am not about to catalogue all of my vices.  But sometimes when I receive compliments of a moral or spiritual nature, I burn a little inside.

This is partly my fault.  I have found that when people give you compliments the most gracious thing to do is to accept it and say thank you.  Otherwise, that person feels admonished.  Also, I think I put on too much of a holy exterior image.  That isn't to say that I am not spiritual.  But sometimes I feel like the charge Jesus leveled against the Pharisees applies to me:  "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." (Matt 23:27)

Especially as a religion teacher, the weight is sometimes overwhelming (though I speak as a weak man).  I stand in front of others proclaiming Christ while I too often fail in following Him.  Every day I pray before Jesus, "Please do not hold my sins against my students, but help me to give them only You!"

I bring all of this up only to emphasize how absolutely important today's feast is to me.

The Feast of Divine Mercy reminds me that though my sins burn and blister my heart, Jesus has an ocean of Mercy to drown that fire.

I know that God owes me nothing.  Or rather, what He owes me is wrath.  But He wants to give me Mercy.  It would be just if I received punishment.  But He wants to pour out forgiveness.

If it were not for Christ's incredible emphasis on His Mercy, I think that I would fall into despair.  It takes so much faith to believe that God is not fed up and disgusted with my lack of progress in the spiritual life.  But even that is my own projection of my weak love onto the infinite love of God.

And even here in this struggle, there is a grace.  As 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, "But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. "

My own weakness is there to keep me from ever thinking that the good that comes about through me is somehow from me.  All the good that I have ever done is only by the power of God.  He is the treasure, I am the earthen vessel.  Glory be to Him.

So today, please turn to His Mercy.

It does not matter what your sin is, He wants to forgive you!  He wants to put that old life behind you and begin again.

It does not matter how many times you've turned back and turned away.  Today, return to His Mercy.

Yes, you have sinned.  Join the club.  I am a lifelong member who has not graduated from even the most basic lessons.  I say this not to minimize my sins or your sins.  Every sin is another nail to pierce the Flesh of the Lamb of God.  We must be truly sorry and accept responsibility for them and resolve to sin no more by God's grace.

And then we must embrace His Mercy.

As one website writes:

The Divine Mercy message is one we can call to mind simply by remembering ABC: 

A - Ask for His Mercy. God wants us to approach Him in prayer constantly, repenting of our sins and asking Him to pour His mercy out upon us and upon the whole world. 

B - Be merciful. God wants us to receive His mercy and let it flow through us to others. He wants us to extend love and forgiveness to others just as He does to us. 

C - Completely trust in Jesus. God wants us to know that the graces of His mercy are dependent upon our trust. The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will receive. 


And on this Feast Day, I invite you to pray with me not only the Chaplet of Divine Mercy (click this link to learn how) and pray with me the Divine Mercy Litany:

The Love of God is the flower—Mercy the fruit. 

Let the doubting soul read these considerations on Divine Mercy and become trusting.

Divine Mercy, gushing forth from the bosom of the Father,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, greatest attribute of God, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, incomprehensible mystery, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, fountain gushing forth from the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity
, I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, unfathomed by any intellect, human or angelic,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, from which wells forth all life and happiness,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, better than the heavens,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, source of miracles and wonders, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, encompassing the whole universe, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, descending to earth in the Person of the Incarnate Word,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, which flowed out from the open wound of the Heart of Jesus, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, enclosed in the Heart of Jesus for us, and especially for sinners, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, unfathomed in the institution of the Sacred Host,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in the founding of Holy Church, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in our justification through Jesus Christ,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, accompanying us through our whole life,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, embracing us especially at the hour of death,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, endowing us with immortal life, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, accompanying us every moment of our life,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, shielding us from the fire of hell, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in the conversion of hardened sinners,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, astonishment for Angels, incomprehensible to Saints,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, unfathomed in all the mysteries of God,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, lifting us out of every misery, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, source of our happiness and joy, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in calling us forth from nothingness to existence,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, embracing all the works of His hands,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, crown of all of God's handiwork, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in which we are all immersed, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, sweet relief for anguished hearts, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, only hope of despairing souls, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, repose of hearts, peace amidst fear, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, delight and ecstasy of holy souls, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, inspiring hope against all hope, 
I Trust in You.

To The Divine Mercy
I fly to Your mercy, Compassionate God, who alone are good. Although my misery is great and my offenses are many, I trust in Your mercy, because You are the God of mercy; and, from time immemorial, it has never been heard of, nor do heaven or earth remember, that a soul trusting in Your mercy has been disappointed.

O God of compassion, You alone can justify me and You will never reject me when I, contrite, approach Your Merciful Heart, where no one has ever been refused, even if he were the greatest sinner (1730).

[For Your Son assured me:] Sooner would heaven and earth turn into nothingness than would My mercy fail to embrace a trusting soul (1777).

Jesus, Friend of a lonely heart, You are my haven, You are my peace. You are my salvation, You are my serenity in moments of struggle and amidst an ocean of doubts. You are the bright ray that lights up the path of my life. You are everything to a lonely soul. You understand the soul even though it remains silent. You know our weaknesses and, like a good physician, You comfort and heal, sparing us sufferings — expert that You are (247).

In Thanksgiving
O Jesus, eternal God, I thank You for Your countless graces and blessings. Let every beat of my heart be a new hymn of thanksgiving to You, O God. Let every drop of my blood circulate for You, Lord. My soul is one hymn in adoration of Your mercy. I love You, God, for Yourself alone (1794).

To the Mother of God
O Mary, my Mother and my Lady, I offer you my soul, my body, my life and my death, and all that will follow it. I place everything in your hands. O my Mother, cover my soul with your virginal mantle and grant me the grace of purity of heart, soul and body. Defend me with your power against all enemies, and especially against those who hide their malice behind the mask of virtue (79). Fortify my soul that pain will not break it. Mother of grace, teach me to live by God's power (315).

O Mary ... a terrible sword has pierced your holy soul. Except for God, no one knows of your suffering. Your soul does not break; it is brave, because it is with Jesus. Sweet Mother, unite my soul to Jesus, because it is only then that I will be able to endure all trials and tribulations, and only in union with Jesus will my little sacrifices be pleasing to God. Sweetest Mother, continue to teach me about the interior life. May the sword of suffering never break me. O pure Virgin, pour courage into my heart and guard it (915).

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Film Review: Avengers - Endgame

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

It has all come down to this.

11 years and 21 movies have led to the culmination here in Avengers: Endgame.  This movie feels like the finale to a TV series, but on a much larger scale.  And like a series finale, the goal has to be to give a proper send off to what has come before. 

So does Endgame succeed?

Emotionally?  Absolutely!
Character Arc?  Yes (for the most part).
Story?  A mixed bag.

This is an incredibly difficult movie to review because (if you haven't seen it yet) it is not the movie that you are expecting.  I have to hand it to Marvel's marketing department for keeping the main plot completely under wraps.  Some of the early decisions were bold and shocking and made me immediately re-adjust my expectations for what I was going to watch.

I am going to endeavor to avoid any spoilers here.  This is a movie where a great deal of the enjoyment comes from the myriad of surprises that are in store.  To give those away is to give away some of the joy that comes from watching this epic film.

The movie begins less than a month after Avengers: Infinity War (SPOILERS FOR INFINITY WAR BELOW).  Half of all life in the universe has been eradicated by Thanos and his Infinity Gauntlet.  Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Karren Gillen) are floating in the Guardians' space ship, marooned and losing life support.  On Earth, the rest of the Avengers are dealing with the aftermath, trying to deal with their failure.  This is the first five minutes of the movie and I honestly don't think I can speak any more of the plot without spoiling some real surprises. 

There is so much to admire about this movie, but I am going to start with the negatives, of which there are a few.  This movie is not perfect.  And those who are expecting this movie to be like Infinity War may be disappointed.

The biggest issue is the plot and its structure.  Infinity War was a long movie with dozens of characters to juggle, but it had a really tight story that had a straight, strong through line.  Endgame meanders a lot in the first hour.  It feels like the writers were so constrained by the forward momentum of Infinity War's story that once they got past that, they felt like they could relax and make their scenes feel more leisurely, letting them scenes go on, some a bit too long.  The movie is over three hours long, but there was quite a lot that could have been trimmed, especially in the first hour.

The main quest is also incredibly complex.  In order to achieve their goals, the heroes have to do something bold, but there are some very specific rules that they have to follow.  The problem is that the rules are never adequately explained.  On top of that, the rules do not make much sense.  They are all immediately broken.  But when it really matters, the heroes refuse to break them.  The rules are there as a plot contrivance in order to complete some character arcs. 

And while the movie does an incredible job with some character arcs (more on this later), there are some characters that feel ill-treated.  The two who are brought to mind are Thor and Hulk.  In the original Avengers, these guys were the heavy hitters and had one of the best moments in the entire film.  In this movie, they have been reduced to comic relief.  This is particularly annoying when it comes to Thor.  I just rewatched the original Thor, and that character is nothing like the one found in Endgame.  Both Thor and Hulk have been tainted by Thor: Ragnarok, which was basically a full out action-comedy.  As a result, Thor is essentially a punchline throughout all of Endgame, which tarnishes his grandeur.

The last complaint I have is a minor one, since it is a major part of the movie.  But now that the this film series is coming to a major endpoint, the filmmakers feel like they can insert subtle political messages in Endgame.  They are free to do whatever they want with their story, but it is annoying, because it immediately takes me out of the movie and causes me to roll my eyes.  One of the standards of film criticism I have (adopted from the mighty John Nolte), is that a movie should cast a spell on you and never let go.  If the movie causes you to breaks that spell for any reason, it is a problem.  And these moments were like that for Endgame.  Though thankfully, those were few and far between.

I lay out these criticisms, because I think it is important to note that Endgame is not perfect.  But it is still a great movie. 

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, as well as writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely understand that the core of this movie is the emotion.  The opening scene is completely devastating and that is tone for most of the film.  We sat at the edge of our seats because the filmmakers make us care deeply for these characters.  Think about this: people graduating high school this year have been growing up with Iron Man since the first grade.  The filmmakers tap deeply into this vein and let the emotions flow.

The plot structure is simply the connective tissue that leads to some truly amazing moments.  I cannot share any of them with you, but there are so many wonderful scenes that I cannot remember them all.  There are callbacks to some of the best moments of the MCU.  It also constantly reminds us how utterly expansive this film franchise has been and the cinematic miracle of bringing them all together.  There were moments I laughed out loud and cheered.  There were others that twisted my guts and broke my heart.  There was one moment in particular that had been oh-so-subtly hinted at in an early Marvel film that comes to fruition during the climactic fight.  And it was pure comic book fanboy joy!  And based on the reaction of the people in the theater with me, most people felt the same way.

The Russo Brothers once again prove that they were the correct choice as directors.  As a big CGI spectacle, they know when to move to Steadicam work to make the emotions feel more raw and upsetting.  But then they can immediately flip the switch and create an amazing hero pose moment that stays with you in your memory.  Yes, they choose not to tighten the story with editing, but they decided fans who have taken this journey over the last eleven years would want more, rather than less time to say goodbye.  And the action set pieces are incredible.  There are many of these types of movies where the long clash at the end goes on too long.  But as long as the final battle is, I never felt it drag.  In fact, they dot the scene with so many small but emotional character moments that each of those snippets were like sweet chocolate chips inside of an already sweet cookie.

But the three characters who are at the center of this movie are Tony Stark, Steve Rodgers/Captain America (Chris Evans), and Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).  The emotional stakes for all of them are the heaviest, even though the movie balances most of the other characters incredibly well.  This might be Downey Jr.'s best performance, not just in a Marvel movie but of his career.  He reaches emotional levels I have not seen, all the while trying to cover it with Tony's cool veneer.  Downey Jr. can devastate with a single look and express more with his eyes than with a page of dialogue.  Because the Oscars don't take this genre seriously, they will not give him the Best Actor nomination he deserves.  Evans also brings his A-Game, as we see the weight of his failure crushing him as he is expected to be the pillar holding everyone up.  The same is true of Johansson, who takes a reluctant leadership role.  We can see how the responsibility has drained her spirit and the desperation she feels to set things right.  The other person who deserves note is Gillen who has to do a number of complex performance moments all while keeping within the confines of Nebula's cold exterior.

Once again, we see laid out in a super hero film what Pope John Paul II called the war between the Culture of Death and the Culture of Life.  Thanos (Josh Brolin) is the perfect embodiment of the Culture of Death.  The lives of others are weighed only in proportion to their value to "society" and can be extinguished for the sake of convenience.  And when the perfect result does not occur, the solution is more death.  The Culture of Life values persons and does not look at anyone else as disposable.  In this Culture of Life, death is an accepted reality.  But instead of something to be taken from others for my gain, life is something given away for others their gain.  This very Catholic idea of Christological giving has been present throughout the superhero genre and we find it again here in Endgame.  This is both emotional and inspiring.

One of the best compliments I can give is that this movie is sticking with me days after I left the theater.  I am replaying the scenes and refeeling the emotions.  I will see this movie again in the theaters because I want to spend a little more time with these characters that I love.

Avengers: Endgame may be a bit confusing at times.  But if you let it, it can make your heart glow like Iron Man.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Film Flash: Avengers - Endgame

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

Not the Avengers movie you are expecting. Complex to the point of convoluted. Amazing moments!

image by Yasir72.multan

Heroes in Crisis # 8 - The Worst Comic Book I Have Ever Read

Image result for heroes in crisis 8

The first comic book I ever bought was Cosmic Odyssey #1 in a Waldenbooks in 1988. I was soon a regular at my local comic book store. So I have
been a serious comic book reader for over 30 years. I share this with you to emphasize the
gravity of the follow statement:

Heroes in Crisis #8 is the worst comic book I have ever read.

It is a failure on every level as a story.

But it is also a slap in the face to most of the loyal DC fan base.

Back in the mid-1990’s, Hal Jordan’s comic book was not selling well. So DC decided to turn
him into a murderous villain. There were a number of people so upset by this that they actually
called for the writer to be fired. I remember being upset, because I liked Hal, but I didn’t understand
the level of anger that people had.

But I do now.


Writer Tom King began this series by sticking a thumb in the eyes of the fans. He demonstrated
the divide between his readers and himself in that first issue. The difference is this: the readers
care about these characters and Tom King does not.

Mr. King would probably object to this and he would probably claim that he knows these characters
and their histories. But that is not the same as caring about them. He lacks compassion for them
and that is demonstrated by the lack of empathy he has for the readers. We are emotionally tied
to these heroes in ways that King does not understand. That is why he cannot write them well.

That first issue began with the deaths of several heroes including Roy Harper (the original Speedy)
and Wally West (the Flash). I wrote about how horribly this was done in that issue. But things got
so much worse.

The last six issues have been incredibly boring. On top of this, none of the characters act or speak
like themselves. It is a common problem for some writers when they make all of their characters
speak with the author's voice. This is particularly annoying when it comes to Booster and Harley,
who don't ever sound completely human. Tom King is writing dialogue in a way that is supposed
to show off his wit instead of giving opening up a window into the characters. His use of the
"confessions" is a cheap shortcut to this, but it never feels humanly natural.

But the big reveal this issue is what has many fans like myself up in arms: Wally West is the killer.

There are so many problems with this that it is hard to know where to begin.

From a purely marketing standpoint, DC's decision here is quite insane. After the fervor for the
New 52 waned, Geoff Johns initiated the "Rebirth" wave at the company which saw the return of
fan favorite Wally West. The story of his return was so emotional that I found myself choking up
while reading it. Then, it seemed that he was once again dispatched for no reason other than
shock value.

But now it turns out that he is a full-on villain. Since the New 52 erased him from the timeline, i
t also took away his marriage to Linda Park and erased his children. So Wally went to Sanctuary to
get better. This issue we find out what happened. Not only is it a betrayal of the character,
but nothing, and I mean NOTHING about this story makes any sense.

Wally feels like the therapy isn't working. Rather than speaking to Barry Allen or Batman or
someone else, Wally's solution: peep on everyone else's therapy confessions. Since these
conversations are deleted immediately, Wally uses his speed powers to put all of the data back
together and watch the videos. It is watching this that causes Wally to say, "It broke me."

Okay, let's take a breather here before we get to the truly bad parts of the book. First of all, who
would think that listening to other people's confessions would help them with their own problems?
I have never stood in line in Church, waiting for the sacrament of Reconciliation, and thought "
You know, my sins really trouble me. Maybe I should spy on the person confessing now and that
will help me get better." You could argue that Wally is not in his right state of mind. Fair enough,
but to do something this drastic, we have to come up with a compelling reason, and there is none.

Second, there is zero chance that this information would break him. The only way this would work is
if the confessions were so emotionally devastating that Wally couldn't process them. Tom King has
spent the last seven issues showing us these confessions. If any of them made the reader feel
anything, then there might be the slightest chance that this story beat could work. But the
confessions were boring. BORING! There was nothing in them that made an emotional
connection to the reader. I am not alone in this analysis. Not only that, but there is nothing in the
content that could possibly "break" Wally. The heroes confess how they are scared or insecure or
damaged and... that's it. Tom King seems to think that his writing is so good and so emotionally
scarring that if you were to read it all at once instead over the last six months that we would be

We wouldn't.

We aren't.

Now, after being "broken," Wally runs out into the field. The other people there try to help him.
Wally says that every speedster is holding back their lightning energy. But because he was "broken"
he lost control for a moment and shot lighting out around him, killing all the people there to help him.

Again, this makes no sense.

There is nowhere in any of the Flash lore that says that any speedster is holding back this energy.
But even if there was, it makes no sense that this would be the place where he would lose control.
At one point, Wally's unborn children were killed by Zoom. If that moment didn't "break" him and
cause him to lose control, then watching Batgirl show her bullet scar or Arsenal talk about addiction
wouldn't either. This would also mean that Barry Allen is a ticking time bomb that will explode if he
ever gets too stressed. All speedsters should now be considered an immanent threat.

So far, so terrible, but now this is where things get worse. Instead of calling to the Justice League for
help (or even Barry Allen who would understand about the lighting discharge), he decides to cover up
the crime and frame two people.

First, he makes it so that the only two residents he didn't kill, Booster Gold and Harley Quinn, think
that the other person is the killer. Second, he stages the bodies in a way to fool Batman and the
Flash into thinking someone else killed everyone. But the third part of his plan is quite possibly the
dumbest thing I have ever read. To throw suspicion off of himself, Wally time travels 5 days into the
future, kills his future self, and brings the body back to place it among the victims.

Okay, I have a question: if Wally was going to time travel, why didn't he go back in time to stop
himself from exploding or stop himself from putting together the confessions or stop himself from
going to Sanctuary in the first place? You could say that this would mess up the time stream.

Of course, none of this matters to Tom King. Wally West doesn't matter to Tom King.

Tom King had a cool idea for a story: super heroes going through PTSD and one of them breaks.
It didn't matter who. It didn't matter how. It didn't matter why.

Wally was going through an emotional crisis, so he would do. It didn't matter what his crisis was.
Wally was the sacrificial lamb on the altar of Tom King's story. Tom King shows he lacks even the
most basic understanding of the character. It reminds me of what Mark Hamill said to Rian Johnson
when they were filming The Last Jedi: "I fundamentally disagree with your entire take on Luke Skywalker." Tom King just through out thirty years of character development because he thought his idea was cool.

Tom King is currently writing a run on Batman that is alternately amazing and wretched. He has no middle ground. Imagine if someone where to suggest to Tom King that he end his run by having Batman be so enraged at losing Catwoman that he punches Alfred, killing him, and then framing Tim Drake for the crime. Tom King would most likely say, "No. That would ruin everything about the character and it would be impossible to fix." He would be right, too. The difference is that Tom King clearly cares about Batman. Tom King does not care about Wally West.

So many writers in comics do not understand that they do not own these characters. They are stewards of these characters that have been handed to them and one day they will hand them on to others. Again, this isn't about taking characters into a dark place or even killing them. Geoff Johns took the character Connor Kent to an incredibly dark place and then eventually killed him. We were okay with this because Johns understood Connor and the steps that led to this end flowed organically from the character. Aristotle was correct when he said "Plot is character." Tom King says, "Plot is whatever I say it is, even if it is out of character for these characters." (You can see this in other moments in the series, as when Booster callously tells Barry that Wally is dead or Harley defeating Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman).

I once had a group of friends over for a get together. One of them picked up a comic book I had been reading. He pointed to the form-fitting outfit of the super heroine on the cover. He said to someone else, "Look at this smut." He then proceeded to throw the comic across the room, ruining it. Because he was my friend and he was going through stuff, I let it go. But I was hurt because he took something that was important to me and treated it carelessly because it was not important to him.

That is what Tom King has done to Wally West.

The only way Wally can be fixed is if we find out that he was possessed by some outside force like Hal Jordan was by Parallax. Barring that, Wally West is ruined and his legacy is destroyed.

All because Tom King had a cool idea for a story.

The story ruins a character loved by fans.
The story is based on motivations that make no sense.
The story requires an emotional crisis that the confessions cannot provide.
The story invents potentially fatal problem for all speedsters going forward.
The story uses time travel in the least effective way imaginable.
The story fails at all of its goals: logical and emotional.
The story makes me less likely to buy the next issue.
The story makes me less likely to buy more DC comics.
The story makes me less likely to buy anything by Tom King.

Perhaps this article will be dismissed as fanboy rage. I have no control over how this will be received.

But I believe I have laid out the case as to why Heroes in Crisis #8 is the worst comic book I have ever read.