Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wednesday Comics: AvX Consequences

Sometimes my favority part of a story is resolution at the end.  I love the Deathly Hallows epilogue and still listen attentively to the shrink who explains Norman Bates' psychosis. 

And I think the same is true of AvX: Consequences.  This mini-series is presented to tie up the loose character ends from the Avengers vs. X-Men event.

I find it ironic that this follow-up is necessary considering the length of Avengers vs. X-Men.  There was a lot of story padding to get them to 12 issues.  They could have dedicated a good portion to an extended epilogue in the story proper.

But the thing about AvX: Consequences that is particularly good is establishing the new status quo for two particular characters.


The classic struggle in the X-Men universe has been Xavier vs. Magneto. 

That is all out the window now.  The new fault lines are around Wolverine and Cyclops.  X-Men Schism started the fissure, but it is now complete in this series.

The X-Men series began with Xavier and Magneto already enemies who were once friends in the past.  But we've grown up with Scott and Logan as, if not friends, allies banded as brothers.  To experience that comroderie and see where it is now is heartbreaking.

Wolverine, for good or ill, is now the main custodian of Xavier's dream.  He is the new father-figure who must guide his children into a new era of human/mutant piece. 

Cyclops' descent has been painfully gradual.  We can see the seeds of it all the way back in Grant Morrison's run on the book.  He started adopting more militant and paranoid tactics.  But the real difference occured when he decided that he was not a hero to all people, but for the mutants.  Once that happened, his ends-justify-the-means ethic led inexorably to his tragic fall.

Thankfully, this rivalry feels genuine, unlike the forced hatred between Captain America and Iron Man in Civil War

If they stick with this story, then we are the beginning of one of Marvel's greatest potential villains. 

It is sad and exciting at the same time.

Can Non-Christians Go to Heaven?

I have a new article up at

Check it out here

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A New Hope for the Walt Disney Empire and Star Wars

So George Lucas just sold Star Wars to Disney for $4 Billion and they are planning to film Episodes VII, VIII, and IX

A few thoughts:

1.  George Lucas has earned his retirment from the Star Wars universe.  He has given us endless hours of wonder and excitement.  There were lots of problems with the prequel trilogy, but with that done he has finished the story he set out to tell.

2.  Under new management, Disney will infuse some fresh blood into the franchise.  And it is a franchise that is still going very strong.  The Clone Wars cartoon show alone shows that there are still lots of great and fun stories to tell in this universe.  And because they are spending so much money on it, Disney should be very careful with this property in order to make it lucrative.

3.  I have thought about it a lot, and I HATE the idea of doing another Star Wars Trilogy.  Episodes I-VI cover the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin Skywalker.  If they had done another trilogy 20 years ago, it would have made more sense.  Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire Trilogy might be the best of the Expanded Universe stories.  But those take place about 5 years after Return of the Jedi.  I don't see how they can connect the last trilogy unless they turn Luke into an Obi-Wan character and start a new generation.

4.  IF they have to do it, Disney should turn to the PIXAR writers.  They are some of the best storytellers in the industry today and if they can't unlock the secret to making another trilogy, no one can.

5.  If older fans were disappointed that the prequels were more juvenille than The Empire Strikes Back, then they will hate what will happen with the future of the franchise.  Disney's audience is children.  They have the little girl market locked up with the Disney Princesses.  Now with Marvel and Star Wars, they are trying to shape the tastes of the boy market.  They would be stupid to try and please older fans over younger ones, since they are the future consumers.  They can make entertainment aimed at children, but enjoyable by adults (again, see PIXAR), but Disney will never forget what side it's bread is buttered on.

6.  We should be able to buy Star Wars toys at the Disney Store soon.  In fact, I'm hoping (though not expecting) an overhaul of their toy division.  For the past 5 years they have been recycling the same old action figures in different casings for higher prices.  Now, they have an opportunity to expand its line for more diversity.  I'm personally hoping for a shift to 6.5 inch scale figures.

7.  Disney World needs to either create a whole section of the the park dedicated to Star Wars (no counting Star Tours) and/or create a Star Wars themed Disney resort.  Could you imagine going to dinner at the Mos Eisley Cantina or sleeping in an Ewok Village themed room?

8.  Speaking of Disney Princesses, does this mean that they can now add Princess Leia and Padme Amidala to their collection?

9.  I wouldn't be surprised if they did a cartoon where Iron Man fights Darth Vader.

So all in all, I am cautiously optimistic.  You would think that Catholic Skywalker would be more enthusiastic, but I need to see the plan before I get on board. 

There are so many creative people who have wanted to have a hand in shaping the cannonical Star Wars universe.  Now it's time for them to step up and give us the Star Wars we've been waiting for.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday Poetry: The Worst Poem Ever Written

I hate this poem so much.

I first read it in high school and I never forgot it.

It offends me, not morally, but aesthetically.

Maybe I am a heathen who can't recognize genius, since many consider this the masterwork of this 20th Century poet.

But it is just



The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
William Carlos Williams

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Election Day Novena

It is nine days until the election.  As many of you know there is a Catholic tradition of dedicating nine days of prayer for a special intention. has a novena we can all pray together for our country.  I would invite everyone to join my wife and I as we pray for God's will to be done for our country.

O God, we acknowledge you today as Lord,
Not only of individuals, but of nations and governments.
We thank you for the privilege
Of being able to organize ourselves politically
And of knowing that political loyalty
Does not have to mean disloyalty to you.
We thank you for your law,
Which our Founding Fathers acknowledged
And recognized as higher than any human law.
We thank you for the opportunity that this election
year puts before us,
To exercise our solemn duty not only to vote,
But to influence countless others to vote,
And to vote correctly.
Lord, we pray that your people may be awakened.
Let them realize that while politics is not their salvation,
Their response to you requires that they be politically active.
Awaken your people to know that they are
not called to be a sect fleeing the world
But rather a community of faith renewing the world.
Awaken them that the same hands lifted up to you in prayer
Are the hands that pull the lever in the voting booth;
That the same eyes that read your Word
Are the eyes that read the names on the ballot,
And that they do not cease to be Christians
When they enter the voting booth.
Awaken your people to a commitment to justice
To the sanctity of marriage and the family,
To the dignity of each individual human life,
And to the truth that human rights begin when human lives begin,
And not one moment later.
Lord, we rejoice today
That we are citizens of your kingdom.
May that make us all the more committed
To being faithful citizens on earth.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Film Flash: Cloud Atlas

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

Cloud: "Insubstantial shaped gas."  Atlas: "Something big."  Cloud Atlas = "A big, gaseous, mis-shaped, insubstantial movie."

Sunday Best: Directors #23 - Michael Bay

Michael Bay
photo by Romina Espinosa

Great Movies:
The Rock

Decent Movies:
Pearl Harbor
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The Island

Bad Movies:
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

I know that there is a lot of internet hatred for Michael Bay. They think that he is all style and now substance. But even this criticism is an admission of his talent.

He has a very distinctive filming technique. He loves using large sweeping shots, even in very intimate settings. While some find this distracting, I actually find it invigorating. He gives unique sense of energy to his films. I know that no matter what else I find in a Bay movie, my eyes will be constantly drawn to the screen.

But Bay is often said to sacrifice story and acting for visual spectacle. This is, of course, a legitimate gripe of his super successful Transformers trilogy. But I hold this much more to be the fault of the writers (or in the case of the 2nd movie, a victim of the Writer's Guild strike, lack of writers). But I do not know how that can be said about his amazing film Armageddon.

If you remember, there were 2 “Asteroid threatens to destroy the earth” movies that year. The other was Deep Impact, which was thought to be the more mature and serious piece. But Armageddon is not only more successful as a piece of entertainment but also as a work of drama. Each character is given a distinctive voice and a different function to the story. The plot ratchets up slowly and intensely, with sharp, witty dialogue all the way through.

But one most important moments is the last scene shared between Harry and AJ (Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck). He allows two very masculine characters a moment to rend their hearts to each other without shedding any of their manhood. The other is the moment when Harry pushes the button. The visuals he conjures are so evocative that I doubt anyone watching was not moved.

I also love his very open patriotism in his movies.  In a time when Hollywood thought it was cool to talk the nation down, Bay always tries to use images like the flowing flag to stir up pride in America. 

He has not been able to top this early success. And much of the criticism heaped on him for the problems with Transformers is understandable. But there is a reason his movies are so successful. I've read some critics blame it on the stupidity of the American audience who only want dumb shows. I respectfully disagree because I hold the average American moviegoer in higher esteem. I think it should be looked at the other way around: in a hands of a lesser director, the failures of the script would have led to certain failure.

His directing is so skillful that he can make even a bad story fun to watch.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Theory of Film Criticism (aka “I Like Good Movies”)

I was having a conversation with my good friend Rick O. about movies.

I know that this may come as a shock to many of you but I talk about movies a lot. In fact, I would say that in terms of frequency, movies are the topic of most of my life conversations. With my friends we love to trade our insights and reminisce about our film-watching experiences. In my family, the one the that we could always talk about no matter how far apart we became was the movies.

Rick O. noticed that I was considering choosing The Avengers as best movie of the year over The Dark Knight Rises (so far). But he was confused because he said that The Avengers, while fun, was not nearly as deep as the final Batman movie. I agreed, but I did not think that this was necessarily a slam dunk.

So Rick O. said that he wanted me to lay out my criteria for judging films. By what standard do I judge the quality of a movie? Since I am writing film review after film review, that is an important question. What is my frame of reference? What are the important elements that make a movie great or awful?

First of all, it should be remembered the nature of our subject: art.

Movies are first and foremost an art form. Because of that, there is always a subjective element to them. Imagine Michelangelo’s sculpture of the David with several people ringed around it. Depending on where you are standing, you may come away with a different impression. If you are raised to eye level of the statue, you may be struck by the look of fear in David's eyes. If you are standing in to the side from the floor, you may not how majestic and large the statue is. If you are directly behind you may be thinking, “Why am I staring at a giant naked butt?”

Movies are very much about perspective. You bring your own mental and emotional state to the subject and it will affect how you experience it. I remember the line from a Jewel song “Saw a movie, it just wasn't the same 'cause it was happy or I was sad.” We take those things with us into the movie theater. I remember the first time I watched This is Spinal Tap, I found it boring. But then I watched with a group of people and we were all doubled over with laughs. I've often found that comedies are actually funnier if more people are laughing together.

I also think of the great movie critic John Nolte, whose criteria for a good movie is: “It casts a spell on me and never breaks it.” It is hard to argue with such poetic logic. But the problem is that this standard leads him to say that both Apocalypse Now and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo are great movies. But they both are not.

If movie criticism is all subjective then that last sentence makes no sense. But while all art is subjective, art is not ALL subjective.

I believe that there is also an objective element to art. The main subject of art is beauty. I believe that Beauty Itself is a real thing. Keats was on to something when he said “Truth is beauty, beauty is truth. That is all ye know on Earth and all ye need know.” Movies are better or worse depending on how much of a window they give us into the True and the Beautiful.

So how do we know if it closer or further away from the True and the Beautiful?

If you've noticed, I have a tendency to rely heavily on the great minds of history like Socrates, Thomas Aquinas, CS Lewis, etc. And in this case I have fallen to the irreplaceable Aristotle.

They said that if anything could be known in his day, Aristotle knew it. He wrote not only on philosophy, but on physics, biology, ethics, politics, botany, and (most important for this essay) dramatics.

What I find especially appealing about Aristotle is that he had great respect for human nature and human experience. He valued basic intuition, or what we would normally call “common sense.”

How many times have we seen a movie, thought it was great, but then struggled to explain why? We've all been there. We know that it affected us and moved us, but we may not be sure how it did so. Aristotle understood that experience and he simply put into logical organized terms what we think and feel when we see great pieces of art.

When it came to dramatics, Aristotle that any good play had to have 6 elements: plot, character, diction, rhythm, spectacle, and theme. I apply those same elements to modern movies.

This is, simply, what happens in the film. And simplicity in this case in not always a bad thing. A good plot is one that can be followed by the audience. It has to be a story. I remember when I was a kid I was a huge fan of the Monkees. So I was excited when I found out their movie, Head, was going to be on TV I sat down and watched and it made me feel literally ill. I didn't understand at the time that what I was watching was an experimental film, one that wasn't interested in telling a story. Because of that I tried until a vein popped in my forehead to figure out what was going on. Nothing made sense! It was like being in a kind of hell.

Most movies we watch are narrative, meaning that they are designed to tell a story. Everything needs to be in service to the story. But if I can't make heads or tails of what is happening, I will become incredibly frustrated and want to punch someone.

Batman and Robin is the worst film I have ever seen in the theater. One of the many reasons why is that nothing in the plot makes sense. Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy work together. Why? It doesn't matter. One wants to freeze the world the other to turn it into a jungle. Wait, aren't those opposite? Never mind

A bad plot will shout at you from the screen.

Let us not forget the Richard Grieco classic: If Looks Could Kill. It sounds like a fun idea, where a high schooler gets mistaken for a spy. But the events make no sense. His French teacher is mistaken for a secret agent whose code name is “the French teacher.” Towards the end of the movie Greico desperatly says to her, “You ARE the French teacher.” At this she immediately takes a gun and fights the bad guys. Nothing about this made sense.

Even a good idea can be killed in poor plotting. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace actually has a fascinating idea behind it. What if Superman wanted to force the world into giving up its weapons? That would be a deep, complex meditation on human freedom and super powers. Instead, all of the countries of the world simply say, “Okay, we'll let you neuter us!” The plot makes no sense (and don't get me started on the solar powered super villain).

A good plot will hook you. As I said, it doesn't have to be complex, although the human mind loves complexity. Whether it is simple or complex, a good plot should always leave us wanting to find out what happens next. You can tell that your story is stale when it doesn't matter to you one way or another where the next scene progresses.

Let's take a look at 2 different Tarantino movies: Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. The first has a straightforward plot: a jewelry heist goes wrong in a bloody way and the thieves try to find out who is the rat. But as the story progresses, it draws you deeper into the intrigue and pushes you forward to the edge of your seat to see what happens next.

Pulp Fiction, on the other hand, is harder to nail down, since there are multiple storylines. But that isn't the real problem of the movie. The problem is that the plots are terrible. The last story was particularly grating because it involved bad people doing bad things with no real character development played out in long, slow scenes. I know I may be in the minority here, but Pulp Fiction commits the cardinal sin of movie plots: it's boring.


My boss once told me that people don't donate money to charities. They give money to people.

In the same way, you don't simply invest your interest in a plot. You invest it in characters. A good character is relatable. I can see the world through their eyes and sympathize with them.

Or if they are not relatable, they have to be fascinating. Hopefully we don't see the world the way Hannibal Lecter does, but he is charming, brilliant, and terrifying. All of these things draw us to the character.

Good characters are not flat. Watching a good character in a movie should be less like reading a person's wikipedia page and more like meeting them at a party. You should feel as though you get a sense of who they are as a person even if you don't know all of the nitt-gritti details about their lives.

By feeling like we are meeting them and getting to know them (as opposed to knowing ABOUT them), we care about their character arc. And the journey of the character should be the essence of the plot. As quoted in the movie Shadowlands, “Plot is character.”

If you don't want to watch the characters, you will not care about the rest of the plot. A movie like Reality Bites fails mainly because the characters are so shallow and self-absorbed that you cannot connect to them. But even a movie like Wag the Dog, which has no redeemable characters, makes the people in it charming, smart, and fascinating. And even though they have a bad goal, you almost root for them (and then the movie wisely reminds you that they are bad people).

(there are of course exceptions to this, as in parody movies like Airplane and The Naked Gun. But even then, there is a clear plot through-line and the characters, while not deep, take the story that they are in seriously)


Dialogue is a means to plot and character. It should reveal something about the speaker by what they say, choice of words, etc. But it should also move the story forward. You only have a limited time in a movie to get across a lot of information.

But while this occurs, a movie should avoid exposition (explanation of what is happening) when possible. Sometimes you can't avoid it. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring needed a scene like the Council of Elrond to set up the rest of the film.

Also, each character should have a distinctive voice. You shouldn't be able to give Luke Skywalker lines that belong to Han Solo and have it feel natural to the character. The dialogue should be believable, even if it isn't natural. Yoda has a very distinctive syntax that is very unnatural to modern ears, but we buy into the idea that this ancient Jedi would speak in such a strange way.

But one of the great things we can find in good dialogue is subtext, where ideas are conveyed without being explicit. This moves the story from an external event to an internal experience. As Captain America prepares to crash the his plane into the ice, he talks to Peggy about a date that they will never have. The speak of dinner and dancing as he careens to his death. That dialogue has great subtext, because we can feel what they are doing. They are holding on to a happy thought before he dies, even if it is a lie. Subtext forces you to “get into the head” of the characters.

But the most important thing about dialogue is knowing when not to use it. There is an old adage in film is “Show. Don’t tell.” You reveal plot and character through action more than dialogue. Willy Wonka has some great lines. But Gene Wilder made sure that the first time you see him that he looks crippled but then does a somersault Why? Because Wilder said that from that moment on, you would never know if he was lying or telling the truth.


There are two aspects to this that I would like to focus on: Music and Editing.

A good movie score is invisible, but unnoticed it creates in the audience the intended emotional response. A great movie score, like a bad movie score, causes you to pay attention to it.

On editing, there is an intuitive sense of timing that we feel when watching movies. One of the biggest mistakes most amateur film makers commit is leaving everything the shot in the scene. There is a reason that most director's cuts are not as good as the theatrical cuts. Often, less is more. Trimming the fat is essential for an effective, lean story. And inside of each individual scene , the rhythm of the moment will effect the tone and emotional goal of the director.


Films are primarily visual. George Lucas once said that ideally, you should be able to watch a movie with the sound off and still be able to follow the story. I think he is spot on. Even if you have great dialogue, films are not stage plays. You need to make them visually interesting.

Some people complain that movies are too much about spectacle. Particularly they rail against the overuse of CGI. I am not one of those people. I understand the spectacle without substance is empty. But you need a visual “wow” factor to your movie.

This can sometimes be through special effects, but that is not really the point. The director needs to use all of the visual techniques at his disposal to hold my attention visually. The movements, angles, colors, etc don't have to be showy. The movie 12 Angry Men takes place almost entirely in one room and yet I couldn't take my eyes off of it.

Acting is also key here. This is also a part of the Character element, but the performance also should add to the total experience. There are some actors like Brando who didn't care if the audience understood him as long as he felt like he found the character. That's awful. The actor must always remember the audience. He or she is in service to the audience. They have to, as Hamlet said, “hold as 'twer mirror up to nature.” A bad performance is repellant I could not stop focusing my anger on Ryan Philipe in Cruel Intentions. A great performance is riveting I feel like I'm hypnotized whenever I watch Jimmy Stewart's desperate descent and ascension to joy in It's a Wonderful Life.

This should give the story depth and consistency. This is what the story is “about.” This is not to be confused with the plot, which is what happens. Theme is what it “means.” The Godfather movies follow the rise of Michael Corleone to power and the results of that. But that is just what happens. The movie is about how the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.

This is the transcendent element of the story.

Art is about the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. The theme tries to break bring together all of the other above elements and make the movie more than the sum of these parts.

A good theme will give you insight into life. There are many movies about the horror of the Holocaust. But Schindler's List is a movie that touches the deep and abiding question: how much is one life worth? Oscar Schindler learns this and we also learn that in the world is often horrible and heroism has a painful cost.

I would say that theme is the difference between a good movie and a great movie. It is also the difference between a great movie and a classic. A great movie should have something about it that is timeless. As with any piece of art, it will be a product of its age. But if they can find the right theme and express it well, it will speak to all generations hence. Star Wars is still relevant because heroism is the same from age to age. The same is true for movies like Casablanca and Braveheart. This is what Rick O. was getting at when he pointed out that since The Dark Knight Rises touched on higher truths and deeper insights than The Avengers, it is a better film. I think that this is why most Best Picture nominees are dramas rather than comedies. I'm not sure that this is fair, but I will write on this at another time.

But while theme is essential, it cannot be delivered effectively if the other elements are out of balance. I think this is why a lot of “message movies,” particularly Christian films, fail artistically. They often have wonderfully uplifting themes, but they lack to the other elements to deliver the theme to our minds and hearts in an effective way.

So a movies quality depends upon an interesting plot, a connection to characters, judicious dialogue, flowing music/editing, an impressive spectacle, and a transcendent theme.
(when I talk about what I believe is the greatest movie ever made, I will demonstrate how all 6 of these elements work in divine harmony)

This leads me to the role of the critic. When I criticize a movie, I am not trying to tell you what is good and what is bad per se. You already know that. Aristotle believed that all people intuitively understood the above elements, even if they could not lay them out formally.

My job is to point out what is good and bad in a movie. Your time and your money are limited and precious resources. If a movie is bad, I want to spare you the experience of it. I respect you enough to not waste yourself on a movie if I did not think that it would be worth it.

But my job might also be to change your perspective. If I see that you hate the statue of the David because it you are staring into the marble buttocks, then I should try to get you to see him from a different vantage point so you can appreciate the rest of what Michelangelo intended. A critic can provide that same service by giving an insight that can change a person's perspective of a movie.

I remember I was not impressed with the directing for the Oscar winning film The King's Speech. Director Tom Hooper broke a lot of conventions and filled the screen up with a lot of empty space. I mentioned this to a friend of mine who works in the film industry. She pointed out that this was Hooper's way of showing how the character feels swallowed up by his surroundings. Now you might say that if I needed someone to explain that to me, then the director did a bad job of conveying this. Nevertheless, from the point on I began enjoying the movie much more, not because someone told me that I should but because they gave me a key that unlocked a new perspective.

I am also reminded of the words of Anton Ego, the critic from the movie Ratatouille, which I quoted in my very first film review: In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the *new*. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends... Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist *can* come from *anywhere*.”

I have seen nearly 2200 movies. Many of them have been awful. But there are so many many that are good and funny and sad and scary and whimsical and profound. Many of them have given me a good deal of inspiration, a great deal of joy and, dare I say, a little bit of wisdom.

I talk about movies because I want to share that inspiration, joy, and wisdom.

ET pointed at Eliot's heart and said “I'll be right here.” And that is exactly what a great movie says to us.

David Lo Pan Style

If you've seen Big Trouble in Little China (and if you haven't you are missing out on one of the greatest experiences of cinema), then this will all make sense to you.

If not, then I'm sure this will be deeply stupid.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wednesday Comics: National Comics: Looker #1

Last week I reviewed National Comics' Rose and Thorn.  I was able to pick up another #1 National Comics issue:  Looker.

Looker is actually a character that has been around for a long while and was once a member of the Batman assault group: the Outsiders.  Here she is getting a chance to take the spotlight.

From the outset they spill the beans that Looker (real name: Emily Briggs) is a vampire.  And while lately vampire stories have been a dime a dozen, this story still felt very fresh.  Vampires characters tend to take one of two paths:  either they are tortured by their transformation or they grow drunk with blood and power.

Looker doesn't take either route.  The first pages show her transformation when she was just an rising star in the modeling industry and then we transition to her new state in a rather matter-of-fact way.  Her vampirism is not a curse.  Nor is it a corruption.  She deals with it like she developed a life-changing disease that she now manages.

By taking this new route, the book can let her personality really shine.  Looker is hardened by years of being in the brutal fashion industry, but she has grown a new sense of responsibility.  What is so fascinating about the character is how much of her old life that she holds on to and folds into her new life.

The story centers around 2 of her models from the company she now runs.  She uses her resources (both natural and supernatural) to track them down.  It's like The Devil Wears Prada meets an episode of Joss Whedon's Angel.  And it works because writer Ian Edgington takes both the world of fashion and the world of fantasy very seriously.

When Looker gets into a fight with the main bad guy, he slashes her arm.  She looks at the cut through her coat, gets angry and screams as she attacks, "That was COUTURE!"

What should be an absolutely ridiculous line actual works incredibly well.  She knows that she's in the fight of her life, but she focuses on her obsession with fashion to keep her from losing her composure.

It is also a nice touch that now that she is a vampire, she can no longer be a  model because her image cannot be photographed.  And because of her condition, she has to shrink from the spotlight.  Besides her close assistants, the only one who ever really "sees" her is a blind sculptor.  And because he can recreate what he "sees" with his hands, he's able to give her back a kind of reflection.

This book could have easily been throw-away schlock.  But it is a fun story with a charismatic lead.  Artist Mike S. Miller does a great job of making the book sleek and vibrant.  He does a great job of interpreting character through body language.  There is one panel in particular where Emily is huddled in the shadow, testing the sunlight with her finger.  It is such a sad and vulnerable shot that I couldn't help but feel for the character.

I am close to saying that National Comics is the best book DC is publishing.  I think the idea to give the spotlight each month to a new character with a new creative team means that each issue is forced to knock it out of the park.  And so far they have.

So far I would recommend any comic under the National Comics banner.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Trailer Time: Iron Man 3 Teaser

The thing about teasers as opposed to trailers is that you generally don't get a strong sense of the story.  Instead, it leaves with an impression, a sense of the tone.

I'm not sure what the story is about, but I really dig the darker tone that Iron Man is facing.  I'm not one who likes darkness for the sake of darkness.  But to see his home, the one we've been with for years, destroyed beneath his feet while Pepper is hurled helplessly through the air... that got me.

And as visuals go, I love the idea that the armour has now become a burden literally as we can see in the last shot.

I can't wait to see a full trailer that explains the story to us.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Poetry: Holy Sonnet 10

(public domain in US)
John Donne was one of the greatest composer of sonnets (a poetry favorite of mine) who rivals even William Shakespeare in supremacy.

His most famous opening line "Death be not proud" is something that we should always keep in mind.  For those with faith, Death is not permanent but temporary.  It is the "short sleep."  It is the last big nap.

In the New World, He will "wipe away all tears from our eyes and there will be no more death.  Neither sorrow, nor crying, no more pain for the former world has passed away."

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy'or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Best: Directors of All Time

This is not an easy list to compile.

Feature films are a director’s medium. He or she is the one who handles and guides the artistic vision of a film. But there are so many moving parts and essential jobs on a movie that it is truly a collaborative art. If any of those elements are out of balance, even a great director can falter. That is why failure is more common than success. And that success may be due to other factors. For example, It’s a Wonderful Life is a great movie, but so much of the magic there is found in the amazing performance of Jimmy Stewart. Pulp Fiction is praised as a great movie by many, but the directing is not very good.

So when compiling the list, it had to only include directors who made more than one great movie. You can make one amazing film as a fluke. Jeanot Szwarc made one of the best films ever made, Somewhere in Time, but he was never able to make anything nearly as sublime. But to summon your talent at will is a sign of greatness. I’m also requiring that these different movies cannot be the part of a same series. For example, the George Lucas did an amazing job directing Episodes III and IV of Star Wars, but outside of Star Wars, he has not shown us his skill as a director (American Graffiti is an excellent movie, but the directing is not what makes it shine. And THX 1138 is bad).

Another problem is that often directors get better and better, and then they begin to decline. They seem to hit a peak and then decline. Hitchcock’s last movies were often panned as terrible, which they were. And even though this leads to a sour experience of the director, it does not take away from their earlier successes. So though today a director may have devolved into a hack, their earlier great successes should still be credited to them to remind us that they were once great directors.

So who are the best directors?

Today I will start with #24, and I will dedicate the follow Sunday Best articles to counting down to #1. You may also notice that many of the directors are ones from the last 30 years. This is less a comment on the older, classic directors but on my own lack of experience seeing older films.

(incedentally, I would have started with #25, but that would have been Ben Affleck, and I already wrote extensively about his directing prowess in my Argo review)

Best Directors
#24- Edgar Wright

photo by Gage Skidmore

Great Movies: Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Decent Movies: Hot Fuzz
Bad Movies: none

Edgar Wright is one of the most energetic and visually exciting directors. He knows the visual cues for standard horror, comedy, and action fare and he turns it on its head.

Watching Shaun of the Dead was a revelation. He seamlessly blended real, true horror with insane comedy. Normally when people try this, either the comedy falls flat or the threats become trivial. Amazingly, he keeps both the laughs and the screams completely intact. Think about that scene where Shaun climbs the silly children's slide only to reveal a street full of the undead.

He uses visual repetition to highlight the developments in the story. Early, there is a single continuous shot of Shaun walking through his mundane neighborhood. This exact same set up is revisted after the zombie apocalypse. The scene is scary and hilarious.

He also infuses his camera moves and edits with such kinetic chaos that another director could easily lose himself in it, but there is always a consistent through-line to follow.

His next film, Hot Fuzz was a love-letter to buddy cop movies, but it was his last film, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World that truly set him apart. He fills his movie with a dream-like quality that allows for true visual insanity while holding to the movie own internal logic. Everything is strange, but it all makes sense if you follow it.

He lets the visuals tell you what the characters are thinking and feeling. When Scott first kisses Ramona, we see that crazy animation of Scott, surrounded by hearts, playing the bass. In one visual he sums up the uplifting feeling of triumph and romance Scott feels. Or when he breaks up with Knives, he drops out the entire background with nothing but black. This sucks you into Knives' complete sense of devastation. If any other director had tried that, it may have seemed like a cheesy afterthought. But Edgar Wright effortlessly invites you to see the world through his strange eyes.

He trusts his audience to follow along the funky flow of his films.   

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Film Review: Argo

After re-watching both Gone, Baby, Gone and The Town in the same timeframe as seeing Argo, I can safely say that Ben Affleck is one of the best directors working today.

Argo is alternately fun and tense without feeling out of balance or out of place. The story begins with the taking of the US Embassy in Iran in 1979. The sense of claustrophobia and fear is palpable as the angry voices in the distant get louder and louder, breaking into the seeming security of the buildings. While most of the Americans are taken hostage, 6 of them manage to make it out the back door and they hide with the Canadian Ambassador (played by a solid, but underused Victor Garber).

The story then shifts to CIA headquarters where Tony Mendez (Affleck) comes up with a crazy idea: create a fake movie, go into Iran and have all of the Americans leave pretending to be a Canadian film crew. In order to make the cover story believable, he flies out to Hollywood to work with his contact, make-up genius John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) as they navigate the illusory world of movie-making to give substance to their subterfuge. The last act then takes us back to Iran to put the plan into motion.

The most notable thing about Affleck as a director is that he lets his movies get better as they unfold. It is a quality that you don't notice is lacking in many movies until you see it in one like Argo. There tends to be a lot of focus on the opening, which is good because most movie audiences decided if they like a movie or not in the first 10 minutes. But often movies either peak too soon or they plateau Affleck grips you in the beginning and he lures you deeper and deeper until the tension is almost unbearable.

And for this movie, Affleck really puts you into the period. He even starts it with the old 70's Warner Bros logo. I can't tell you what a simple and wonderful set up that was at transporting me to a different time. He lets the film grain and technique harken back to that era as well. And while I'm not a fan of most movies made during that time period, I was taken by its authentic feel and tone.

This is, however, not Affleck's best movie. And I think the main reason is that he did not have a hand in writing the script. Lest it be forgotten, he won an Academy Award for writing, and with good reason. He has the ability to make even the most extraneous characters interesting and empathetic. The script for Argo always seems to keep you at arm's length. We feel badly for the Americans in hiding, but in the same way we feel badly about people we see in sad news stories. We don't really get to know them as people.

For example, one of the Americans, Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy), has this very sad, moving monologue about how his wife (played by the also underused Kerry Bishe) begged to leave Iran with him, but he refused. And now he is afraid that they both will die. It is a very nice monologue. But something was off. Then I realized he's talking ABOUT his wife, not WITH his wife. She's right in the next room and this bit of story information could have been given to us through a dialogue between the two. Doing so, we would have seen more of both their characters revealed and become more invested in their relationship.

In this movie, you never get close enough to anyone, and that is its biggest flaw. If they had added this x-factor, Argo would be moved from good to great. The same can be said of the performances. They are good, but they never reach the greatness of their potential. And again, I think this falls less on Affleck's shoulders as it does the script.

Some may criticize another aspect of the story where the evils of the American backed Shah are constantly revisited and set against the backlash created in the Ayatollah's regime. Though it may seem like this a back-handed “blame America” point, I would disagree. In all of Affleck's movies, he tries to pull you into the perspective of all the characters, whether they are drug-addicts, cop-killers, or Islamofacists. He makes you see things through their eyes without condoning or condemning.

Two side notes: First, there is a moment in the movie where Mendez uses an abortion analogy to describe extraction. He says, “Extraction is like an abortion. You don't want to need one, but if you do, you don't do it yourself.” Not only was this line unnecessary, it took me completely out of the movie. I spent the next few minutes thinking about that line and not about the action on the screen. It was a totally needless jab against over half of the US population that is pro-life.

Second, this movie did something I have never seen before. It sampled other movie scores and credited them in the soundtrack. Sometime a movie will lift the Superman or Star Wars themes, but here it applied another movie's music, like from 2001's Spy Game, and used it as its own score. I know that I've done this with student movies, but I've never seen it done like this.

But I have to say that one of my favorite thematic elements is the universality of movies. Film unleashes a whole new echelon of creativity and communication. As an art form, movies can reach across geographic and cultural boundaries. In one scene in the movie, one of the characters explains the plot of the fake film to some Iranian soldiers. The plot is standard sci-fi fare, but the themes he related of family, honor, and freedom resonated because they are universal themes. And in the context of science fiction and fantasy, we put aside our everyday prejudices and have an experience of those catholic ideas.

I used “catholic,” not “Catholic” to describe how movies can touch all of us. But Affleck is, despite the above line on abortion, one of the most Catholic film-makers around. His movies are full of Catholic imagery and themes. He is wonderfully subtle about it, like where one of the American's puts a holy card in his “Argo” script and nothing more is made of it. He fills his world with churches and holy sites in such a matter-of-fact way that the strength of it is in acknowledging the solid existence of religion in everyday life. As a Catholic, I am grateful that he brings that sensibility to his film.

Argo is a very good movie. In fact, it's one of the best movies I've seen this year. It's biggest detriment is that it is not great. And that's not so bad at all.

4 out of 5 stars

Thank You, Lord, For Teaching Me Humility (#2)

So today I volunteered to work the phone bank for the candidate I am supporting in the Presidential race.  These fancy phones are like little computers where you hit buttons to move you to the next call and then you hit buttons to record the results of your call.  Then you hit the "next call" button and a new name pops up so that you know who you are talking to.

So I make a few calls.  After about the 20th call I hit the next button again.

And the phone dials the number for the first girl I ever asked out.

I try hanging up the phone, but it doesn't end the call.

I hope that I get a voicemail, but no.  She answers.

I panic.

I took my voice down about 5 octaves (My normal voice is weirdly high-pitched).

I say, "Hello, my name is [CatholicSkywalker] and I'm a volunteer for the ["Person-I'm-Voting-For"] campaign.  Can he count on your vote this election?"

Her response, "Sorry.  I'm not interested."

And I thought: From her, that sounds oddly familiar.

Wednesday Comics (on Saturday): National Comics Rose and Thorn #1

National Comics is an experiment by DC Comics. You can read my review for the last issue they released: Eternity #1. This time the National Comics imprint has just released Rose and Thorn #1. And like Eternity, it was a great read.

The set is simple and shocking. A teenage girl named Rose wakes up in her very pink, feminine room only to find that she is soaked in blood (not her own). She then goes to school and everyone begins to talk about her bizare behavior the night before. The normally quiet and reserved Rose took on a whole new personality that she cannot remember who called herself Thorn.

Like Eternity, Rose and Thorn is a mystery at heart. And that is part of its great appeal. Both books hit you with a powerful hook in the beginning and urge you on with the deep desire to find out what happens next. This story could have easily devolved into a cliché split-personality story. But writer Tom Taylor keeps the story fresh.

One of the best parts is that we barely see the Thorn personality. And when we do, she feels so completely different than Rose. I don't just mean that she has a different attitude, but they structure the story so that Rose is like a different person. Think Smeagol/Gollum but in the technology age. Thorn feels completely outside Rose that the story feels more like a demonic possession than a split personality.

Taylor keeps the story completely from Rose's perspective, not Thorn. We can easily put ourselves in the place of this main character. He also does an excellent job of hinting at the larger story (the death of a parent, Rose's time in an asylum) without giving away the store.

As I said, this book is essentially a mystery, one with many twists and turns. Art by Neil Googe is fine, but not my taste.

National Comics is wonderful and frustrating. Twice now they have hit it out of the park. And twice I have to sit with the realization that I won't be getting the next part of their story any time soon.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Force of Habit


When I was a freshman in high school we had to write an essay in order to get into Honors English the following year.  The topic was: “How humans want habit and routine to help them in life.”  I remember hating this topic.

 I hated the idea that the teacher assumed we would agree with the premise that we want life built around routine.  I didn’t.  Like Thoreau I wanted to live deliberately, not like the drones I saw who would sleepwalk through life.  I fancied myself a non-conformist.  I saw all of our school traditions (rallies, retreats, dances, etc) as blind devotion to a thoughtless system.  We did things because we had always done them that way. 

I could even see that in everyday life.  We went to church on Sunday because that’s just what we did.  We went to the mall afterwards because that just what we did.

That life seemed to lack so much spontaneity and excitement.  Shouldn’t I want to go to Church?  Shouldn’t I want to be excited about homecoming at school?  If I wasn’t, was I not being a hypocrite for participating when I didn’t feel it?

Anyway, that’s what my 13-year-old self thought.  Now that I have gotten older and the harsh hands of experience battered me around, I can now see more of the wisdom I missed when I was younger.

Habits are important.  In fact, for the great philosopher Aristotle, they are everything.   Most moral philosophies focus on actions: “Is it morally okay to do x?”  “Is it morally wrong to do y?” 

Aristotle was less interested in the action but on the person.  For him, your actions only matter inasmuch as they affect you as a person.  And the way that action affects you is by increasing or decreasing in you a habit.

Habits aren’t onetime events in our lives.  They shape our lives.  Think about a nice small patch of fresh dirt.  If you pour water over it, it will splash all around the area.  But next time, take your finger and trace a path down the middle.  Then do it a few dozen more times.  Soon you will see that you have carved a depressed path.  Pour the water over the area again and you will find that much of it collects into the depression and flows from one end to the other.

When we do something habitually, our lives take shape around it.  We carve out our pathways to action.  Like the water, the more we’ve built up a habit the more we can direct our actions without thinking about it.

My wife and I have dinner every night together.  A while ago, we happen to have some cookies left over from a party.  So I had some for desert after dinner.  And then I did it again the next night.  And the next.  Now, I don’t even think about it, but after dinner I assume I’m going to eat a cookie.  If I eat dinner and I don’t get a cookie after, I get sad.  It isn’t even that I’m hungry.  It’s that habit has directed me towards it and if I don’t, then I feel like I’m missing something.

And good habits are supposed to make life easier.  When I was in high school, I ate fast food whenever I could.  I love McNuggets.  I would buy them by the 20-pack.  I remember once my brother and sister and I went there and bought 40 nuggets and just scarffed them down.  But then for a few months I stopped going to McDonald’s.    For the first few weeks I won’t lie, I was jonesing for some of that McGoodness to enter my McBelly.  But then after a few months, not only did I resist the desire, but I found that I had completely lost my taste for it. 

Habits have that power.  In morality, they are especially potent.  St. Francis was someone who was very attached to his material things.  But then after having a conversion to the Lord, he began giving things away.  By the constant habit, charity became normal for him and greed in his soul atrophied and died. 

If a bank truck dumped a pile of untraceable gold onto the street in front of us and no one was around, many of us would be tempted to take it for ourselves.  I’m not saying we would do it, but we would sure have heck feel the strong pull of gold’s luster. 

Not Francis.  He wouldn’t think twice about returning it to its rightful owner.  Why?  Because the habit of honesty and non-material attachment had directed his thoughts, feelings, and actions to that good end.  It wasn’t a struggle for him, because of the habit.

Human beings are broken.  We have an attraction to things that are bad for us.  We constantly wrestle with our pride, greed, lust, anger, laziness, vanity, and gluttony.  And we are so weak we often give in to these temptations.  Good habits are like a solid cast around a broken leg.  The cast is a framework that creates an environment in the leg that allows it to be healed correctly.  Bad habits are like bad casts.  If the cast is not straight and aligned, the bone will malform and weaken the person.

I have a lot of bad habits, and my life is poorer for it.

But I have also tried to build up good habits.  Particularly, I have tried to do this in my prayer life.

I don’t know what prayer is like for you, but for me it takes a lot of effort.  I get distracted so easily and I often turn to some distraction before I turn to the Lord.  So with the help of my wife, I have set a cast of habitual prayer to help set straight my soul.

Every morning I fall on my knees and thank God for the new day and for dying on the cross for my sins.  I then surrender my day to the Holy Spirit.  This is followed by prayers for blessings on those who are in special need.

On the way to work I pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  Before I arrive I call my wife and we pray the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be and the intercession of the saints.

At work I take 15-30 minutes of chapel time.

In the evening, my wife and I pray the Rosary, the Chaplet for the Unborn, and the novena to Sts. Ann and Joachim.

And then in the evening I do an examination of conscience.

Looking back on what I have just written, I feel embarrassed.  People may think I am trying to brag over how much time I spend in prayer.  But that is not the point.  I’m writing all of this out not say that I am holy, but to show you how much I need to do to my soul it get it in even semi-decent shape.

In all honesty, of all that time in prayer, I might have a good 5 minutes truly with the Lord.  As I wrote, I get distracted so easily.  I’ll be in the middle of praying the rosary and start thinking about writing my review for Argo and how Ben Affleck would be a good Batman like my blog poll said, which reminds me that I should check on how the current poll is doing so I can write my next article, but only after I finish grading the papers that my students turned in, even though they don’t use spell-check, which I would have if I had it back when I was in high school, but I only had a Magnavox word-processor/printer that only worked some of the time… And the next thing I know, the rosary is over.

So if my mind wanders, does that mean I should stop praying?  No.  The only reason I have even the smallest spark of a spiritual life is because the habits, these routines, have made it possible for me to experience God in my prayer life.  Maybe you are different and can spontaneously enter into union with God.  I need all the help I can get.

Good habits hold things together.  Most adults are not friends with their buddies from high school.  I am.  I have friends that I have known since grade school, high school, and college days.  One of the ways we’ve been able to hold everything together is that every Sunday, we get together for dinner. 

Sometimes it’s that simple.

If someone’s out of town we play Halo or Starcraft or something once a week.  Each appointment is like another dash of the needle and thread that sews the fabric of our lives together.

Of course habit is not enough.

I should build habits of charity, faith, generosity, temperance, etc not for the sake of simply building up the habits.  I build up the habits so that it becomes easier to give love.  St. Teresa the Little Flower understood that while habits create a solid framework for action, are works only take on eternal meaning if we act with great love.

And that is habit’s true force.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Why I Don't Like Liars

Sorry if this post is a bit on the rambly side, but I have no real plan except to rant a bit, so bear with me...

Nobody likes being lied to.

I'm not alone in this feeling.  But I have another reason for not liking them:  I can't tell when someone is lying to me.

Some people have an intuitive BS meter that can parse through a person's words and body language and confidently stand by their instincts regarding someone's truth.

I'm not that way.  I wish I was.  I wish I could tell if someone is telling the truth.

I think part of the problem is that I want to believe everyone I talk to.

I remember once a guy in a Wal-Mart parking lot asked me to "help him out" by buying a $50 gift card from her for $20.  He needed quick cash and he wasn't going to shop at Wal-Mart.  Now you might ask yourself, "Who would be stupid enough to fall for the most obvious scam in the history scams?"

That would be me.

It never occurred to me that the guy could be lying.  I feel like Alan from the Hangover, "He seemed like a real straight shooter!"

The point is that I learned my lesson (one that earned be a gift card with $0.67 on it) not to trust strange smoking men in beat up sports cars hanging out in Wal-Mart parking lots at 11:48 at night.

But it didn't teach me how to spot a liar.

Liars take advantage of people like me because we want to be people of trust.  Liars must prey on the good nature of others in order for their lies to have advantage.

Now I am not above reproach here.  I'm not straight as an arrow, nor am I a George Washington type who cannot tell a lie.  But I try to live my life as honestly as possible.

And when I hear someone intentionally, willfully, and forcefully tell me something that is not true, I get angry.

There is a lot of distorted rhetoric floating around the country during this election season.  Some of it is exaggeration and some of it is spin.

But then I will see a candidate for office intentionally, willfully, and forcefully tell a lie to the American people, I get offended.  I know that is "just part of the political game," but lying so blatantly requires the candidates to depend on the good nature of the voters.  We don't want to believe that someone could be so mendacious as to assert something so completely counter to reality.

I cannot tell you how angry this makes me.  A liar of this nature and this magnitude expects you to participate in his lie by you giving them your belief.

And we must refuse.

As a teacher, I've said things that turned out to be not true.  And if a student brings me the evidence to prove their point, I gladly take correction.  I don't want to be wrong.  I want to be on the side of truth.

This is one of the reasons it is SO important that we have an informed electorate.  We don't have to take the candidates at their word.  We can look up the truth for ourselves.

And that truth can set us free.

Honesty matters.  Not just in things like politics, but in the strands of every day life.

My closest friends and I don't see eye to eye on a number of things.  We disagree on politics, religion, movies, etc.  Sometimes the arguments are intense and can get pretty heated before all is said and done.

But the reason they are my friends is that even if we are at complete opposite ends of the intellectual divide, we don't lie to each other.  We don't have to lie to prove our point.

And because of that honesty I am blessed with a great set of pals.  I love them because they are honest with me and I with them.

My wife and I have never had a fight in all the time we've known each other.  One of the reasons (besides the fact that my wife is so amazing I have nothing to complain about (pssst, she reads these posts)), is that we have always been open about everything.  We don't lie to each other.

Sometimes if something is bothering us or burdening us, we'll hold on to it for a while and not share.  But in the end, we talk to each other about what we are thinking and feeling.

My wife doesn't lie to me.

Now, I said earlier that I couldn't tell if someone was lying to me.  But I'm betting everything on her.  And I trust her with everything.

Honesty matters.

When we lie, we turn the person we are lying to into an object.  They are merely a means to a certain end, some other advantage for ourselves.  But when we realize that the person is not an object but a subject, then we will treat them with honesty because we will know that they deserve the truth.


I am a pop culture junkie and I love television. One of my favorite past times is to rest on the couch with my beautiful wife and watch some good stories.

And I am one who is eternally optimistic that TV can provide something smart, entertaining, and moving. And just maybe it can also show us something truly profound (e.g. Lost). So how does this new season of shows line up?

Elementary: This might be the best new show. It is a copy of the amazing BBC hit Sherlock, which places Holmes and Watson in modern-day London. Elementary places them in today's New York City. They've kept him British, but they've turned Watson into Joan, not John, and is played by Lucy Liu. I find her very off-putting as an actress. And yet, the show works and is highly entertaining.

The Mindy Project: I held off on this Office alumn solo project, but found myself breezing through the first 3 episodes. It is smart, quirky, and above all it is funny. It is probably the funniest new comedy this season.

Ben and Kate: I watched the first 5 minutes and did not laugh once, so I stopped.

Guys with Kids: Awful. It's a great set up that fails on the punchline. It is horribly lazy writing all the way around.

Arrow: I was expecting to simply watch a light episode of Smallville, but Arrow was really good. It is much darker than the comic, and has hints of Revenge. But what sold me completely was the parkour chase in the middle. I'm easy to please sometimes.

Go On: The pilot was incredibly strong mixture of humor and sadness. But now it has leveled off. It isn't bad, but it is coasting at mediocre. I actually put a lot of that on Matthew Perry. The supporting cast is pretty good, but Perry (who is capable of some great acting) doesn't seem to be trying very hard.

Nashville: I was watching the pilot about a rich, backstabbing family when I suddenly realized why it felt so familiar. Then it hit me. I'm watching Dallas. Dallas:Oil::Nashville:Country Music.

And of course there's The Neighbors.  You can read my review here.

I still have yet to see 2 shows that I wanted to: Last Resort and Beauty and the Beast. I will report on them when I see them.

And the returning shows? How are they doing?

Castle: Still as strong as ever while also moving the characters' relationships forward.

How I Met Your Mother: I still have great affection for this show, but it is winding down.

Modern Family: I don't think it will ever recapture the magic of that first season.

New Girl: The show started to lose some steam towards the end of the first season, but have come back renewed and refreshed and have had some really funny moments.

Parks and Recreation: Still one of the funniest, if not the funniest show on the air.

Raising Hope: I fell in love with this show over the summer. It is weird and it knows it. This season is just as good.

Revenge: About on par with the last season, though the addition of Jennifer Jason Leigh is quite a coup. And the love triangle now becomes a square.

Survivor: Decent season so far. I'm not really rooting for or against anyone yet.

The Amazing Race: There's really only one team I'm rooting for, which is not great.

The Office: It's going really dark this year. I'm hoping its one of those “only darkest before the dawn,” kind of things.

The Simpsons: Everyone knocks this show for not being as good as it was 20 years ago. It's not. I don't think it ever will be. But there is probably more enjoyment in 20 minutes in Sprinfield than most tv towns.

The Walking Dead: Last season the show was nicknamed “People Arguing a Lot and Sometimes Zombies Show Up.” This first episode got back to basics. If each episode is as good as this (which it probably won't be), this could be the best season.