Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Film Review: Nobody


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

All men want to be dangerous.

This is something I have found to be universally true.  It isn't that men necessarily want to be violent.  In fact, I would imagine most of us would avoid a physical fight if we can.  But all men want to believe that they are capable of inflicting great violence should the need arise.

This is what made the movie Taken such a hit.  The original premise for that film was simple and primal: fathers want to believe that if their daughters are in danger that they can kill their way to the top to rescue her.  

Nobody taps into a similar vein.  

Nobody is the story of Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk).  He is a middle-aged, put-upon, workaday person.  His wife (Connie Nielsen) is distant from him.  His teen son Blake (Gage Munroe) thinks he is a loser.  Only his little girl Abby (Paisley Cadorath) looks up to him.  One day there is a home invasion.  Hutch chooses not to fight the burglars, much to the chagrin of his family.  This leads to a series of events where Hutch finally has enough.  It turns out that he is actually a deadly assassin living in anonymous retirement.  But because of an intense desire for vengeance, he ends up accosting members of the Russian mob who are harassing an innocent girl on a bus.  This sets the mob against him in an escalating ladder of violence.

If the story sounds similar to John Wick, it is.  The script is from the same writer Derek Kolstad and it has the same story beats of a man pushed too far to hold in his deadly skills.  But unlike John Wick, Nobody does not take itself as seriously.  While the world of assassins in John Wick is fantastic and arguably absurd, that movie series also treats that world with deadly gravity.  Nobody leans much more into the comedic elements.  The further you get into the story, the more over-the-top it becomes.  The final showdown is like an R-Rated Home Alone.

This comedic tone is not necessarily a bad thing.  Nobody is actually incredibly fun to watch.  As I wrote, it taps into that primal vein of wanting to be dangerous.  This film is pure catharsis for that sentiment.  It really scratches that itch.

Odenkirk is fantastic.  He gives the best performance of his that I have seen.  He is both funny and believable in the role.  He reminds me of Bruce Willis in the original Die Hard.  But whereas John MacLane became more of an invincible super hero as the series went on.  Hutch is clearly a fantastic killer, but age has caught up with him and you can tell his is pushing past his prime.  You can feel the ache in his bones.  I also got a particular kick out of Christopher Lloyd as Hutch's father.

The fight choreography is as good as anything in John Wick, which makes this a real visual treat.  The villains are very one-dimensional and are forgettably generic, except for Pavel (Araya Mengesha), who looks like he has an interesting backstory, but is not in enough of the movie.

Nobody lacks any heavy substance.  It's casual attitude towards violence is treated with very little gravity, unlike John Wick, which actually meditates on the price such violence has on the soul.  

But sometimes you just want to watch stuff blow up.  And that's what you will get with Nobody.

Monday, August 2, 2021

New Evangelizers Post: See the Good in Others



I have a new article up at  

I don’t know if you are like me, but I constantly have to fight against making snap judgments.

For example, at my church, there is one non-handicap space towards the front of the building. In the morning, I try to leave early in order to get that space. But more times than not, someone else is parking there. As I pull into the parking lot to spend time with the Lord at Holy Mass, I already taint the experience by getting angry at the person who parked there.

This is not a rational reaction, I know. To have a feeling of annoyance is not, in and of itself, a sin. But I have to guard against uncharitable thoughts.

The challenge is separating my feeling of annoyance with an objective assessment of the way things are. Sometimes we are quick to assign malice towards actions where there is none. The person who got to the parking space first is not trying to hurt me. They probably have no idea about my extra effort to get the spot. So there is no reason for me to be angry.

In reality, I imagine that most of our feelings of being insulted or slighted come from this perspective. Someone may step on my foot accidentally. Perhaps I should be angry at them for not being careful. But I easily could fall into the trap of reading into their actions some kind of ill-intent.

I may not be able to control how I feel, but I can control my judgment of another. I remember being in college and asking a girl out. She said no and I was devastated. But instead of simply acknowledging my own pain and dealing with it, I held a grudge against her for a long time. It shames me that I would think this way and it speaks to my great immaturity. But her moral guilt was in no way tied to my own sense of injury.

But how often do we look at people this way?

Especially with our social media culture, there is a greater sensitivity in people. Feelings seem to be hurt more easily. That in and of itself is not the problem. Unfortunately, those who are hurt ascribe ill intent and moral guilt on those who hurt them. And while this may sometimes be the case, it is not a good idea to look at the world through this lens.

To be sure, the world is a dangerous place and there are people who wish us harm. We sadly have to teach our children stranger danger and we keep our doors locked at night. And sometimes when we are in authority over others, we have to be wary of deceitful actions.

But barring these, we should try to see the good in people.

Let’s say you see someone you know at a public event. You walk over to them and say hello. But they simply walk away. You feel hurt and slighted. Did they do this to you intentionally? It is possible. But why jump to that conclusion. If there is another rational explanation of their behavior, then we have a moral duty in charity to give them the benefit of the doubt.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

He who interprets doubtful matters for the best, may happen to be deceived more often than not; yet it is better to err frequently through thinking well of a wicked man, than to err less frequently through having an evil opinion of a good man, because in the latter case an injury is inflicted, but not in the former. (Summa Theologiae, II-II.60.4)

The Angelic Doctor is reminding us that giving someone the benefit of the doubt may be a mistake. But it is by far a better mistake to make than judging ill-intent when it is not there. To do that would be to fall into the chief of all sins: pride.

Anything that moves us towards that demonic vice is poisonous to the soul. As soon as we start pushing others down to raise ourselves up, no matter how justified we feel, then we are taking a step closer to the Devil.

Pride and love are mutually exclusive. The more of one will mean less of the other.

You can read the whole article here.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Film Review: The Tomorrow War (Amazon Prime)


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

This movie highlights why Chris Pratt is one of the few movie stars left.  Without him, this movie would not be nearly as enjoyable.

The Tomorrow War takes place in 2022.  Humans from the future inform us that an alien force is destroying humanity.  They need to conscript soldiers from the present to fight in that war.  Ex-soldier and high school science teacher Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) is conscripted in the waning days of the war with fewer and fewer soldiers returning to the present after their tour.  He does not want to leave his wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong).  He goes to seek help from his survivalist father James (JK Simmons), but their relationship is too strained from the abandoment that occured when Dan was a child.  So he is sent into the future set up against terrifying violence where he gets the attention of a colonel (Yvonne Strahovski) and works with her on a last ditch effort to save humanity.

The biggest detriment to this movie is that the writing just isn't very good.  While it avoids the landmine of becoming a preachy mess, it isn't able to plot out a coherent enough story.  This is a shame because the concept is interesting and with a little tweaking this could be an amazing movie.  There are some super obvious tropes that play out.  Early on, they spend way too much screen time on one of Dan's students talking about volcanos.  Inwardly I was groaning, knowing that this kid and his obsession was going to somehow be important to the third act.

Aristotle said that plot is character and the problem is that the characters don't get fleshed out enough.  Again, this is a shame, because we have some interesting personalities set up.  We have Charlie (Sam Richardson) a doughy everyman who makes jokes to cover up his fear, Lt. Hart (Jasmine Matthews) a no-nonsense soldier who knows more than she reveals, Dorian (Edwin Hodge) a man dying of cancer who has done three tours in the hellish future, Norah (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and Cowan (Mike Mitchell) as two average people who are completely out of their element in the fight.  These characters make up the ingredients of a hearty cinematic experience if they are put together with the correct recipe.  But most of them are left as caricatures of what they could be.  Movies like this make you appreciate the writing of James Cameron in a movie like Aliens where you can feel a strong sense of character connections and personality.

Having said all of that, The Tomorrow War is actually a lot of fun to watch.  I heard a reviewer compare it Independence Day, where if you suspend your disbelief a bit more than normal then you are in for a fun ride.  I agree with that sentiment, though The Tomorrow War takes itself a bit more seriously than Independence Day.  

There are two things that hold the movie together.

The first is the charisma of Pratt and the other actors.  Pratt has charisma by the bucketload and he is extremely likeable.  He feels like the kind of guy you can hang out and have a beer with while playing board games and at the same time he is totally believable as a guy who will dive off of a helicopter and on to a savage alien in order to protect someone.  

The other performers also elevate the material.  Richardson is the standout.  On the page, his character could be completely cloying and annoying like Rob Schneider in Judge Dredd.  But instead, he is so incredibly likable that he lightens any scene he's in.  Simmons brings his amazing screen presence to this film and steals every scene.  He pulls off both the drama and the comedy with pitch-perfect timing in a way that makes his connection to Pratt seem completely believable.  The other actors also do a good job at getting us to care as much as possible for thinly written characters.

The second thing that makes this movie better than average is the action.  Director Chris McKay has a real knack for exciting action sequences.  Whenever I felt myself disconnecting from the story, he drew me back in by putting something incredibly interesting to watch onto the screen.  Action directing is a real and underrated art.  It isn't simply a mater of adding more explosions and spinning the camera.  McKay lays out his sequences to ratchet up the tension and throw twists that force our heroes to improvise, which gives a lot more excitement to the scenes.  And he knows how to set up a shot.  There was one towards the end of the second act that got burned into my memory.  I can still see it now as I write these words.

Underneath it all is a story about fathers and the future.  Thematically, fathers are all fighting a "tomorrow war," trying to secure a better future for their children.  But the mistakes made in the present can poison that future.  You see this clearly in the toxic relationship Dan has with his father at the beginning of the film and how the abandonment left a hole in his life.  But Dan has to confront this in himself as the story goes forward.  I say "fathers" because this movie doesn't give the mothers a lot to do.  Emmy Forester is given a bit of a side story as a counselor of veterans, but there isn't much more for her to do except wait for Dan to come home.  But this isn't necessarily a detriment to the story: it is actually refreshing to see a story that meditates on the unique and important role of fathers.  I just would have liked her, as all the other characters, more fleshed out.

The Tomorrow War is not the type of movie that will be ranked a classic.  And it is a shame because with just a little more time spent in the early stages of the story and character development, it could have been.  But in spite of this, it will be an entertaining couple of hours of your life with an exciting story and likable actors.  There are worse ways to spend an evening.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Fixing the Broken Table

 When I was in high school I was in a play called My Favorite Year.  In the show, I had to give a monologue where the main character talks about the importance of the family table.  On stage I spoke about how it was the center of family life and "if they ever find the center of the universe they're going to find there a dining room table."

Even speaking the words on stage, I felt a strong disconnect.  I understood what it meant, but it did not resonate with me.

I'm sure at some point my family ate together at the kitchen table besides special occasions.  I have vague memories of my brother and I sitting on tall chairs at a counter as my mom made us breakfast.  But after the divorce and my mom left, meal times were non-existent.  Everyone in the house basically fended for themselves.  We never had want of food, but I mostly remember my grade school dinners being preceded by staring sessions into the microwave as my crinkle cut fries cooked.  High school dinners usually consisted of fast food or peanut butter sandwiches while sitting in front of the TV.

Whenever I would stay at a friend's house, I found it odd when we sat together for meals.  Once my aunt made dinner for our family and had us sit down at the kitchen table.  All of us kids felt strange about it and complained the whole time.

Looking back, I think there was something missing from my childhood because of this, though I didn't realize it at the time.  Family life is crazy and as the kids grow up, everyone is being pulled in different directions.  But the dinner table anchors the family lines of communication.  There we can sit and share.  Even if each conversation isn't a complete revelation about life, the time spent builds and strengthens the relationships simply by weaving together our lives.

The closest I think I came to understanding this in high school was the lunch room.  To this day, when high school students get their schedules, the first thing they check on is what period they have lunch and who will be in there with them.

Sharing a meal is something deeply social and deeply primal.  Throughout human history and across human cultures, the table is the place where we come together.  The sharing of a meals implies an openness to the other.  How often do dates involve the sharing of a meal? When you think about it, it is kind of odd to sit across from another person and watch them shove food into their mouth.  But then again, that inward directedness forces us to focus on the other.  

During college, a number of my pals lived in the area.  Somehow we ended up in a tradition of meeting up for dinner every Sunday night at Denny's.  We would spend an hour or two in happy conversation, touching base with each other and then be refreshed to start the new week of classes.  In fact, I can remember walking into the Denny's and sitting down at a booth where my friends were sitting.  I then took out a box with a diamond ring in it and placed it on the table, announcing my intention to propose to my girlfriend.

As time went on and we grew older we began to outgrow Denny's.  The restaurant fits the temperament and time constraints of a college student with its 24-hour service.  But depending on what hour you enter, it can begin to look like the cantina scene in Star Wars.

We continued to do Sunday dinners at different restaurants.  And as many of us began to get married and have kids, our tables got longer and scheduling became more difficult.  But it was always something that I looked forward to at the beginning of my week.

Someone once said that extroverts are refreshed by socializing.  I am not extroverted, but I understand what this means.  With all of the craziness of life, there is something special about being in constant connection with the people who grew up with you and because of you.  There is something relaxing about the freedom to be yourself with people you know care about you and still choose your companionship despite your flaws.

I often tell my students that most of them will not be friends with their high school buddies in ten years.  But if you don't want that to happen, then you need to get together once a week and have a meal.  You need a chance to gather around the table and just be a human being with your people.  Incidentally, I think this is one of the reasons Christianity has persisted so long: we get together once a week around the Table and eat the Bread of Life.

For those who were out of town, we began to play Halo once a week.  I honestly don't remember many of the matches, but I can remember the conversations we had while playing.  We couldn't be together to share a meal, but we shared an activity together that opened up the pathways to conversation.

And as children began to get older and schedules became strained we began making time for once-a-month game nights.  Again, the board games created a wonderful medium where we could talk about life while trash-talking the opponent across the table.

But then the table was broken.

By God's grace, most everyone I know was not severely affected health-wise by COVID.  And I know that a silver-lining to the lockdowns was that people got to spend a lot more quality time with their families.  I know that with the exception of the anxieties involved, spending 24/7 with my wife for months was a great blessing.  But my pals and I could not connect as well.

We reached out as best we could.  We did a few zoom meetings.  In that first summer, we got together a few times at a park, catching up on all the serious and frivolous things of life.  We even watched movies together while online chatting.

I think we worked so hard on these connections because we know how important they are.  And taking time around the table makes those bonds strong.  I had a friend once with whom I hadn't spoken for months.  When we reconnected, we did so around a table.  

Even though the lockdowns broke the table, it did not break the bonds of fellowship.  But as things open up more and more, I can only hope that we fix the broken table and find a way to meet in that common space where the universe of friendship finds its center.

I often think about how Jesus would reach out to people and ask to sit at their table.  In doing so, He was telling them how much He valued them and their company.  I wonder if He felt the same way about the table.  I wonder if He looked around at His best friends at the Table of the Last Supper and felt some kind of joy despite the trials to come.  

I don't know the answer to that.

All I know is that when I look across at the people I care about, whether we are eating, playing a game, or just engaging in simple conversation, I am truly grateful that I have a seat at that table.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Wednesday Comics: The Redemption of Wally West

 The Flash Annual 2021 #1 Reviews

DC Comics destroyed Wally West.

As I wrote in an earlier post, Heroes in Crisis #8 was the worst comic book I have ever read in my life.  Tom King decided to turn Wally West into a villain because he didn't care about the character at all.  

To recap, Wally was dealing with post-traumatic stress because during the post Flashpoint reboot, he lost his marriage and his two children.  While recovering at a therapy retreat for heroes, Wally had a panic attack and lighting came out of him killing all the heroes there.  He then travelled to the future to try and cover up his crime.  As I wrote:  "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."

So for the last few years, DC hasn't quite known what to do about Wally. They tried this a little bit with 2019's Flash Forward, but it didn't really land well.

However, new Flash writer Jeremy Adams has done a good job of bring back one of my favorite heroes.  

When Adams took over the book, I did not notice at first.  However, he began to do something that hadn't happened in a while: he made Wally the center of the story.  For the last ten years, Barry Allen has been the main focus of DC as the main Flash, which is fine.  Barry, when written well, is a noble and heroic character to follow.  But the focus on Barry pushed Wally to the side: first by erasing him from the continuity and then turning him into a villain.  Adams decided to bring Wally to the spotlight.

The storyline begins with Wally enjoying his newly returned family and deciding to retire from being a superhero.  He has lost all confidence in himself and he does not think that he should continue to be a hero.  However, there is a "surge" in the speedforce and thrusts Wally throughout the timestream.  This surge has to be contained or the universe could be destroyed.

The smartest thing that Adams does besides writing Wally in character (unlike Tom King), is that he makes this adventure incredibly fun.  Wally is first sent to the ancient Earth where he has to fight with dinosaurs.  All the while, Barry is speaking to him through some kind of temporal com-link.  Adams also wisely uses other characters from DC to help Barry like Mr. Terrific and Green Arrow.  The heroes can see and hear everything Wally does, but he is on his own.

The story that made me jump up and take notice, however, was The Flash # 770.  Wally ends up inhabiting the body of Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick in a fight with Hitler.  The story was fun, fast-paced, well-written, and felt like a throwback to the classic stories of the DCU.  The seamless incorporation of Wally, Barry, and Jay reminded me of the way Geoff Johns was able to keep all the Flashes in balance and makes their relationships so interesting to read.

Speaking of relationships, the next issue has Wally go to the future to speak to his kids.  The best parts of that story were the quieter moments of conversation.  Adams knew it was time to take a little breather and let the reader prepare for the finale but setting the emotional stakes.  It also was a good reminder of what makes Wally such a great hero: he isn't a person born of tragedy.  He is just a decent man trying to do the right thing.  And he loves his life.

The finale of the story in the 2021 Annual has Wally return to the events of Heroes in Crisis.  I will not spoil how it is all resolved, but Adams wrote a moment that was so wonderfully affective and powerful.  During Heroes in Crisis, Wally killed Roy Harper, Green Arrow's original sidekick.  In this new issue, Roy and Wally fight side-by-side against a great evil.  But at one point, Roy asks "Can Oliver see and hear me?"  When Wally says yes, Roy's words were like dagger in the heart.  It reminded me of what an amazing character he is and how carelessly he was tossed aside by Tom King.  Here, we can have proper cathartic end of this arc.

If you haven't read The Flash in a while, go back and pick up all of Jeremy Adams issues.  You will not regret it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Trailer Time: Ghostbusters: Afterlife - Trailer #2

This is pure nostalgia bait.

And I love it!

The last trailer focused on the son, but this one focused more on the daughter.  I liked how part of the natural journey for kids is that they should get into trouble.  They need to explore the scary world and test boundaries.

The callbacks to the first movie are clearly meant to bring back the fanbase to this franchise.  It may be cheap and pandering, but it this movie is trying to say to its potential audience, "We revere and love the first film as much as you do."

I liked the little innovations too, like the ghost trap on the remote control wheels.  

Above all, this looks like fun.

The plot is still mostly unknown, which is fine with me.  There does seem to be a bit of very obvious product placement, which is annoying, but not a deal-breaker.

All the promotional material has to do is not turn me off and I will be there opening night.  And so far, so good.


Monday, July 26, 2021

Film Flash: Gunpowder Milkshake (Netflix)


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

Like an unopened jigsaw puzzle box: all the pieces are there, but not assembled correctly.