Friday, May 31, 2013

Catholic Skywalker Flashback: My First Blog Post

Again, seeing as this is the one year anniversary of this blog, I thought I'd bring back a little blast from the past:  the first post I ever made.

Check it out here

CatholicSkywalker 1 Year Anniversary

(5/31/13 : The Feast of the Visitation)

It was one year ago today after grading my first set of final exams that I finally launched the CatholicSkywalker Blog onto the interwebs.

Before I write anything else, I would like to make a few notes of thanks.

Of course I wouldn't be CatholicSkywalker if I didn't first give thanks to the Lord for this time.  This past year with all the crazy health issues, I've tried to remember that every single day, every single moment is a gift from Him.  I try very hard not to waste that gift and use what time I have to make the world a little more the way He would want it.

And this blog would not be possible without the constant patience of my most beloved wife.  Time spent here writing is often time not spent with her, and there is no place I would rather be than with her.  But she has read all of my posts and offers me her kind support and encourages me to continue.

I also have to thank bloggers John Nolte and Christian Toto.   Over at the Big Hollywood Blog, the held a small writing contest.  I entered on a lark and I somehow won.  This validation of my small skills got me thinking that I would like to write more.

And this blog would never have come into existence without the encouragement of Blimpy.  He was actually the first person who suggested to me that I write online.  Not being the most tech-savvy person, this seemed like a tremendous undertaking.  I would not have gone forward if not for his support.

This is also true for all of my friends who have taken the time to read this blog.  I cannot tell you what an unexpected delight it is for me when out of the blue, someone I know will say, "Hey, I saw on your blog that..." and proceed to comment on what I wrote.  Feedback from all my friends, Rick O. Pluckarious, The Doctor, Mr. Pink... and my family have meant so much to me.

Finally, I would like to thank all of you constant readers.  I know that the last few weeks have been uneven, but you have held with me.  I don't have any illusions that my words are having any gigantic impact on the universe, but I pray that reading these humble scribblings makes your day just a little brighter, happier, and better.

At least a little.

After a year of blogging and nearly 550 posts, I have a few thoughts on the subject:

Blogging has helped me think.

I used to spend most of my time with very vague opinions and attitudes towards all manner of things like movies, politics, culture, spirituality.  But having to put those thoughts into words in some kind of intelligible way forces me to take these out of focus jumbles and sort them in a clear, coherent order.  If I like a movie, like the little seen foreign film Teddy Bear, I have to be able to plainly and directly explain why.  If get a bad feeling from a book's success, like 50 Shades of Gray, then I can't just sight some kind of icky feeling.  I need to be able to articulate my insight and judgment so that others can evaluate my thoughts for themselves.

Blogging has made me more disciplined.

I am quite possibly the most naturally lazy person you will ever meet.  My old spiritual director said that I am caught up in inertia.  If I am not engaged in an activity, it takes a great deal of effort to change my sluggard state.  But blogging has forced me to budget time.  Not only did I have to make room in my day, but I knew that it would time working.  Granted that blogging isn't shoveling coal, but it does take a bit of concentration to write anything even semi-decent.

Blogging makes me think more broadly.

When I put out an essay or a movie post, I know that people from many different walks of life might be reading.  While everything I say is my own thought, I have to keep in mind the wide variety of tastes and temperaments out in the world.  I have to remember that not everyone has my strange tastes in films and television, so I try to keep that in mind when I recommend a movie.  Your time is valuable and I would want you to waste it on something that only suites my peculiar enjoyments.

Blogging has created a constant monologue in my head.

I don't mean that I hear voices.  But whenever I begin to think deeply about any subject, I find myself composing the words of a new blog post to explain it.  I remember I was sitting in the chapel at school reflecting on a passage from that day's Scripture.  Something occurred to me in my reflection that delighted me.  And before I could catch myself, I imagined the sentence "I remember I was sitting in the chapel at school reflecting on a passage from the day's Scripture..."  And then I stopped and realized that by thinking about how to explain what I was experiencing, I was missing out on the experience of it.  I don't know if this is necessarily good or bad, but I find that it happens a lot.

Blogging has forced me to be more creative.

If I want to add my two cents on a subject, I feel a good deal of pressure to think of some way to express it in an original way.  If not, then I would just use the blog like a series of links to more interesting writers.  If all I did was regurgitate what was already speeding around the world wide web, then it would give you no reason, dear reader, to spend your precious few minutes a day here.

Blogging has made me more thankful.

I think the advantage of being small blog like this is that the people who post comments tend to be the ones who do it out of kindness rather than venom.  I get way too excited when I get a notice that someone commented on something I wrote.  But the overwhelming emotion I feel is gratitude.  I have a few regular commentators (you know who you are), and I am always so thankful for your kind words and thoughts.  Often your points have more insight than the article commented upon, but you are kind enough to keep coming back and reading.

Thank you all for this past year.  God willing we will continue this journey together for many more to come.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Film Flash: Now You See Me

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

If the first minute gets you, then you are in for a fun, fast-paced ride.

Opening June 7th

Lawn Chair Catechism

The editor of is working on a catechism study this summer.  It sounds like a great opportunity.  Check out the text below:

We're hosting the "Lawn Chair Catechism" at on Wednesdays this summer, beginning on May 29. We're using Forming Intentional Disciples, by Sherry Weddell, as the basis for our study.

We have put together a discussion guide that includes both the executive summary of each chapter and discussion questions, and a two-page discussion question-only download.

We'd love to have you participate! You do not have to read the book to participate.

Our Sunday Visitor is offering the book for the incredibly low price of $10 through June 8, with free shipping. After June 8 and through the conclusion of our study, they'll be offering free shipping.

You can find all the information on the Lawn Chair Catechism page at

Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

(I know that this review is a few weeks late, but I figured better late than never)

JJ Abrams makes Star Trek movies for people that have never seen Star Trek.  That was the impression people received from his 2009 outing with the crew of the Enterprise.  But with his sophomore effort, Star Trek Into Darkness, this is literally the case.

The plot picks up a few years after the events of the last film.  Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) uses his trademark "to hell with the rulebook" attitude to rescue a crew member from harm.  When Spock (Zachary Quinto) reports him to high command, Kirk receives harsh dressing down from his superior Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood).  That scene in particular is quite good.  Pike points out all of the obvious problems with Kirk's command style and how the young Captain uses his dumb luck as an excuse to justify his reckless behavior.

This sets up the fact that this movie is about Kirk truly learning what it is to be a captain of a ship.  He has to learn how to make tough choices and own his failures.  This also puts him at odds with Spock and creates a wonderful tension throughout the movie.

While this is going on a terrorist named John Harrison, played fantastically by Benedict Cumberbatch, has murdered a number of Starfleet members, throwing the whole organization into disarray.  In the chaos, he flees to an abandoned part of the Klingon homeworld.  Kirk is tasked with going to Klingon space and assassinating Harrison with long range photon torpedoes.

To speak more about the plot would be to give away some very interesting developments.  A new member of the crew Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) joins the mission as another member of the old crew is kicked out.  The remaining crew members are not give much else to do.  There is very little character development with Sulu (John Cho) or  Chekov (Anton Yelchin).  Uhura (Zoe Saldana) does have a few good moments to show her bravery, but the focus is mostly on her troubled romance with Spock.  This part of the story is well-written.  As a friend of mine noted, the writers captured the way real couples fight.

But back to the main point about Star Trek fans vs. non-Star Trek fans.  JJ Abrams decides to use this movie to revisit some very familiar Trek territory.  A kind way to say it is that he is paying homage to some of the his favorite Trek lore.  But here's the problem: for anyone who is a fan of the adventures of the original crew, the story is all too familiar.  Some events that should be shocking, lose their sting.  I could not help getting a sense of deja vu where I felt, "Hadn't I seen this somewhere before?"

I believe that is how most Trek fans will feel about the events that unfold in Star Trek Into Darkness.  However, speaking with people unfamiliar with the older stories, they were excited and moved by the plot twists and drama in a way that can only happen if the story is new to you.

But apart from that, the movie is still rather fun.  Particularly, Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Bones (Karl Urban) steal the show with their humor and charm.  Watching Bones hit on Carol Marcus is quite hysterical.  Alice Eve's performance is acceptable, but you can't help but feel that she was cast more for her anatomy than her talent, especially in one illogically unnecessary scene that puts her in her underwear.

But the movie is grounded in the performances and story around Kirk, Spock, and Harrison.  Harrison is a fantastic villain whose backstory changes how you perceive him.  Spock's character is taken to places in this movie that I have never seen in any other Trek adventure.  And Kirk is brought very low, to the point of breaking.  This is his trial by fire that will either make him the captain he could one day be or destroy him utterly.

Abrams fills the screen with wondrous spectacle and the Michael Giancchino score is top notch.  The film's post-9/11 allegory is a little heavy handed, but the dedication to the armed forces at the end was a nice touch.

And that touches on the important theme of leadership.  What does a real and true leader do?  Some in the movie interpret leadership as doing whatever it takes, including some truly evil acts, for the safety of those under them.  But can a good leader do evil for the sake of a good end?  Trek wrestles with these questions as Kirk tries to understand what his decisions will cost.

If you like the last Trek movie, you will like Into Darkness.  If you are a long-time Trek fan, try to let go of what you already know and enjoy this film on its own terms.

4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day: The Last Full Measure of Devotion

I was trying to think of something profound to say about remembering those who gave everything for our freedom.  But I figured that someone else already said it better than anyone.

Why the Cannes Film Festival Doesn't Matter

The Cannes Film Festival was this past week.

I know, how could you have missed it?

Anyway, the top prize was given to a movie called Blue is the Warmest Color.

Right off the bat, any movie with a name that pretentious needs to be disqualified.  But, no, it's ponderous title must have signaled to the judges that it was indeed very deep.  I know that you should not judge a book by its cover or film by its title... but come on!

Of course it needed more than a horrible title in order to get noticed.  The movie is about lesbians.  Giving an award to a movie that portrays a homosexual lifestyle in a positive light is just the sort of brave statement the cultural elites needed to make in order to tell the world how open-minded they are.

Not only that, but it has a 12-minute-long graphic sex scene.  I've heard it described as "hardcore."  If this adjective is used in the technical sense (and I cannot tell from the articles I have read), then the film captures an actual, not simulated, sex act on camera.  Finally!  That's really what we needed!  A movie that obliterates the line between art and pornography.  How enlightened!

And finally, the sexual relationship is between an older woman and a 15-year-old girl.  This reminds me of the original script for the Vagina Monologues where a young girl talks about how she was plied with alcohol and forcibly seduced by an older woman.  But since it was a lesbian woman and not a straight man, it was portrayed in a positive light.  The character said, "If it was rape, then it was a good rape."

Now, I'm sure the acting is superb and the directing is top notch.  But a film is more than the sum of those parts.  If the visuals are vulgar and the theme is vile, then the attempt to cosmetically enhance something intrinsically ugly is doomed to failure.

But don't tell the judges at Cannes.  Let them bask in the warmth of their own self adulation as we plebes await their judgments as our arbiters of excellence.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sunday Best: Top Ten High School Movies Part 1.

As it is graduation season, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the high school experience and how it is captured in film.

To my mind, far too many movies set in high school are soaked in alcohol, sex, and drugs. It is hard for me to relate because that wasn't my high school experience. Maybe I just didn't get invited to the cool parties, but I find that those movies usually miss out on the either the intense drama of high school or its utter absurdity.

So here are the Top Ten Movies about High School from the students' perspective (next week's will be from the teacher's point of view).

  1. High School Musical.

    I know that this is an overly sweet and sugary take on that time, but it does deal with the heart of finding yourself and breaking through your defined boundaries. And I am not ashamed to admit that I think music is very well-written with fantastic choreography by Kenny Ortega

    9. Clueless.

    This movie is like a little window into the youth culture of the early '90's. It was fun and silly.

    8. Ordinary People

    While this movie is more about the broken family at its center, it also captures the emotional fragility of high school. When Timothy Hutton finally finds someone he can bare his soul to, her inattentiveness stings so badly and her smallest slight cause him great distress.

    7. Juno

    One of the best things about this movie is how it shows the main characters think of themselves above the common high school crowd, only to find that they are just as petty and short-sighted as the ones they judge. How often do the outsiders trash the popular kids and convince themselves that they are not as immature? Using a big vocabulary does not make you wise.

    6. Pump Up the Volume

    This is a movie that grasps the catharsis of high school rebellion. When you are that age, so much of life seems unfair and one-sided. This movie gave a voice (albeit a very vulgar one) that could vent those frustrations and, for lack of a better word, angst to a sympathetic audience.

    5.  Some Kind of Wonderful

    This is the best high school movie that navigates that strange territory of friendship, crushes, and romance. It captures the intensity and confusion of it all in a way that is honest and not pandering

    4.Ferris Bueller's Day Off

    This is the ultimate day-dream fantasy of an ideal high school life. John Hughes was great at capturing the real high school experience, but he also knew our secret hopes and wishes and he put them onto the big screen in this movie.

    3.  Can't Hardly Wait

    There is nothing in this movie that is too terribly deep. But my goodness, is it a fun time. So much of high school life, reflected in the 6 main characters rang true, and because of that it also hit my funny bone.

  1. American Graffiti

    Like Can't Hardly Wait, it is a single night at the end of high school with interlocking stories. But George Lucas also caught the conflict of moving on verses leaving behind. How do you say goodbye to your high school friends? Should you? Can you?
  1. The Breakfast Club

    No surprise here. This movie is still as relevant today as it was in the '80's. As I wrote one before on this movie, the 5 main characters are not stereotypes. They are archetypes. That is why the resonate so deeply even 30 years later. No high school movie comes close.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lucky '13

I am not one to believe in old wives' tales or superstitions, but I'm not sure about this year: '13.

I've never had surgery until this past January.  And I just had my second emergency surgery this morning. Don't worry, it was once again nothing life-threatening, just painful.

So please be patient with my delay of blog posts as I recuperate.

Any prayers that can be spared, would be appreciated.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Honest Trailers: Star Trek

I meant to post this before the premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness, but I figure this is still timely and funny.


Found After the Tornado

Please keep praying for the people of Oklahoma.  I cannot imagine the devastation, loss, and terror of going through that.

There is so much terrible loss, but this following video touched me.

A woman was being interviewed live on the site of where her home and been obliterated.  She lived alone with her dog, but came out of it alone, but with nothing.

You can watch the whole thing, or you can skip to about 1:30.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Best: Star Trek Movies

In recognition of this weekend's premiere of the latest Star Trek movie, this Sunday Best article is a ranking of that film and the the previous 11 from worst to best.

I've had to leave Star Trek Insurrection off of the list, because I have not yet seen it.

11.  Star Trek The Motion Picture

 From the director of The Sound of Music comes a science fiction movie that is so preposterously boring and pretentious that it could be the second cousin of 2001: A Space Oddessy.

10.  Star Trek Nemesis

 This movie feels like they dusted off an old Next Generation script and inflated it into a full length feature.  Plus there is such a horrible cheat at the end that it loses all of its emotional weight.

9.  Star Trek Generations

I wanted to like this movie so much.  And the parts with Kirk are awesome, but it always leaves me a little flat.

8.  Star Trek: First Contact

This was one of the most action-packed in the series.  It was taught and tense.  Probably the best of the Next Generation movies.

7.  Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

William Shatner's vanity project fails on nearly every level, except when he focuses his scenes on the complex friendship of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  Moreso than any of the films, do you see the archetypal space that each character inhabits.

6.  Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

This used to be my favorite, but the time travel story now feels dated.  It's environmental message also feels a bit too preachy.  But once you get past that, it is one of the funniest and enjoyable of the Star Trek movies.

5.  Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

 This might be the darkest of all the Trek films.  It takes the characters to places that are not always comfortable.  Watching the Enterprise fall or seeing Kirk fall out of his captain's chair with grief always get me.  This one has actually gotten better with time.

4.  Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

 You would think that the last film with the entire original cast would be one of the worst.  Instead, it is one of the best.  It is a mystery.  It is a thriller.  It is epic space opera.  It hearkens back to the past movie and breaks new territory.  No Star Trek fan should miss this.

3.  Star Trek: Into Darkness - (full review to come)

2.  Star Trek (2009)

 I've probably watched this one more than any of the others.  JJ Abrams made a sleek, exciting, and epic film full of fun and adventure.

1.  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

 I don't think I truly appreciated this film until years of watching.  It's story structure is perfect.  It's villain is one of the best I've seen onscreen.  It's themes are rich and multi-layered.  It reminds us that science fiction takes us to strange new worlds only to use them as a mirror to examine the unexplored depths of the human heart.  It has the most moving moment in the entire series that always stops me in my tracks.  It has the best performances of the entire cast.  People often mock Shatner's shouting of "Kahhhnnnn!" or Montalban's scenery chewing performance.  But that is only because in any other setting done by any other actors, it would not have worked.  But here it is pure movie magic.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

Film Flash: Star Trek - Into Darkness

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

Not as good as the first, with nostalgic baggage.  But still thrilling, funny, and action-packed.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New Evangelizers Post: St. Peter - One of Us

I have a new post up at


I sometimes imagine a dialogue between God and Humanity where we complain to Him.

HUMANITY: God, you are too far above us!  How can we ever hope to be perfect as You are perfect?

GOD:  I understand.  So I shall become one of you.  I will be the Man Jesus and I will show you how you are to live a perfect human life.

HUMANITY: But that isn’t fair!  Jesus is a Divine Person!  We are mere creatures.  How could we, your creation, possible imitate someone so perfect?

GOD: I understand.  So I shall give you the Blessed Virgin.  She is no God.  She is a creature.  And she shall be your model of human holiness.

HUMANITY: But that isn’t fair!  She has no Original Sin.  We are fallen creatures!  How can we base our lives on her-

GOD: FINE!  You can’t deal with perfection!  Then I’ll send to you the biggest screw-up I can find, and HE will be your leader and role model.  Now you have no more excuses.


You can read the whole thing here

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday Best: Directors of All Time - Who Didn't Make the List

When I started this list of best directors of all time I had a hard time cutting some people.  And as I published the different lists, I received feedback that was at times surprising or stunned.

There are a number of directors that are praised for their ability that did not make the list.  And there are others that I very much enjoy but also did not make it.  Here are a list of famous directors who did not make the list and why.


Jon Favrau:  The first Iron Man is a great deal of fun.  And Made is a great mobster comedy.  And Elf was the best Christmas movie to be made since Scrooged.  But none of these were able to bring put him on the list.

Sam Raimi:  He is a unique talent that always makes things visually intersting.  Even his underrated movies like The Quick and the Dead have got great personality.  He even showed some real subtle restraint in A Simple Plan.  He was just edged out.


I can only comment on the directing of those whose movies I have seen.  Even though I have watched over 2200 movies, there are still far more movies that I have not seen.  Some acclaimed directors who did not make the list are:

Cecil B. DeMille: I have only seen his amazing classic The Ten Commandments.

Orson Wells: The only one of his movies I've seen all the way through was Citizen Kane (and it is overrated)

John Ford: Not being the biggest Western fan, I haven't seen any of his movies.

David Lynch:  While The Elephant Man is an excellent movie, I couldn't bring myself to watching any of his other strange concoctions.

Elia Kazan: He is a director I would like to become more acquainted with, but I've not seen his classics like A Streetcar Named Desire, Gentlemen's Agreement, or On the Waterfront.


I said that to qualify for best director, they needed multiple great movies to show that they could summon their skill at will and that a single success was not a fluke.

George Lucas:  Since Star Wars Episodes 1-IV are all part of the same franchise, I consider them one movie.  And while the directing of especially Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope are excellent, Lucas's other movies don't make the grade.  THX-1138 is awful.  And American Graffiti is a great movie, but it has more to do with the writing than the directing.

Ridley Scott: I am not as impressed with Ridley Scott as everyone else.  Alien is excellent and so is Gladiator, but his other films leave me lukewarm at best.

Frank Capra: It's a Wonderful Life is in my top 10 movies of all time.  But the only other movie of his I have seen, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, is only truly significant because of Jimmy Stewart's amazing performance

Jeannot Szwarc:  Somewhere in Time is also in my top 10. And Jaws 2 is a worth successor to Jaws, but his other movies are sub par.

Oliver Stone: JFK is a fabrication from Stone's bungled read of history, but it is also a fantastic movie.  All of his other ones, though, are bloated, boring affairs.

Brian de Palma:  The Untouchables is brilliance.  Mission:Impossible is fun.  Beyond that, he's nothing too special.


There are some directors who are generally admired, but I have a different take on them.

Woody Allen:  I still have no idea why people see his movies.  They are humorless comedies about horrible people.

Stanley Kubrick:  I'm sorry, but he is a TERRIBLE director.  I know I am in the minority here, but Kubrick chooses not to tell stories but blind you with his cinematography.  All style and no substance.

The Cohen Brothers:  They came close to perfection with No Country for Old Men, but then spiked the ball with 20 minutes to go.  Their humor eludes me.  Their dramas bore me.

Ang Lee:  He's experimental, I'll give him that.  But his movies don't quite hit the right emotional note.

Quentin Tarantino:  I'm sorry, but he is just not a very good director.  His writing is also over-rated.  His movies are too long and lose too much focus.  Even his greatest movie, Reservoir Dogs, finds little of its success from it directing.

Clint Eastwood:  I don't understand why he's won so many Oscars for directing.  He is a great actor, but his directing style is minimalist with long, dark, boring scenes.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Sirach 22:2

As I wrote earlier, these past few weeks have been so busy that I wasn't going to be able to keep up with my regular blog posts.

Yesterday, however, I had a good swatch of time to organize my thoughts and write an essay.  I didn't get very far, because I spent most of that time playing Candy Crush on my phone.  Before I knew it, the minutes had evaporated and I was left with a half-finished article.

But that got me thinking about laziness.  I once talked with my spiritual director about how I struggled with sloth.  It is so difficult for me to get motivated into action.  I'm one of those people that wake up each morning for work and almost start crying because I love sleep so much.  I put off projects that loom because of the perceived dent in my time.  Friends have sent things to read that I haven't even touched yet.

It isn't that I don't have the time.  It's that I don't make the time.

I remember when I 17-years-old, Fr. Larry Richards told me to go to mass every day.  To my young mind, that seemed an impossible task.  I was too busy.  It would take too much time.  But as it turns out, I could easily fit mass into my day.  Eventually I came to build my day around the mass.  We find time for the things that are important to us.

But my spiritual director pointed out that my problem really wasn't laziness but what he called "inertia."  When I get involved in a project, it will eat up tons of time.  I will spend whole days cataloguing and reboxing my comic books.  I will take an entire weekend to re-watch the Harry Potter movies.  But are these things worth the time I give them?

So my laziness is a reflection of my selfishness.  I will spend hours playing a video game, but how many hours to I volunteer to charity or give to God in prayer?  The mistake is to think of my time as my own gift to myself rather than thinking of it as a gift to give to others.

Sometimes I try to overcompensate by multi-tasking.  I'll do my grades while trying to listen to the latest news.  I'll watch a movie with my wife while checking my email.  But rather than being the opposite of laziness, it is only another version of it.

Greg Gutfeld pointed out that multi-tasking is really just sloth re-invented.  It is actually a way to divide your interest and your mind because you are too lazy to give your entire focus to one thing.  When you divide your mind it means that you cannot summon the strength to do the best job you can on the task set before you.

So what is the solution?

Of course there is habit.  As I've written before, this provides a framework to help continue on when the will is weak.  It's one of the reasons I have weekly article topics on this blog rather than have it just be freeform.

Adequately understanding time is another.  I don't just mean managing it.  You can't schedule every part of your life.  But Scripture says that we should ask God to "Teach us to count our days," (Ps 90:12) so that we may know how to properly use them.  I work best on deadlines.  I'm running a project at work where we set the deadline next week.  Someone there asked if we could push it back until summer.  I said no because if we do not keep to the deadline, we will never finish.  All of us have a literal "dead" line.  And when we hit that, there will be no more time.  If I understand my time is an opportunity, I can use it better.

Finally, I have to see the value in what I am doing.  Some tasks I enjoy.  Some are drudgery.  But if I can wrap my mind around why this task is important and why it makes my life or the lives of others better, then I can give it my full attention and energy.

So now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some living to do.

Community Season 5? That's Streets Ahead!

Cool, cool, cool.

Community will be returning for a 5th season!

I think everyone universally agrees that this past season has been the worst in the series.  I am convinced that it is because of the departure of creator and show runner Dan Harmon.  He was fired over his conflict with Chevy Chase.
Dan Harmon (photo by Gage Skidmore)

But now that Chase has quit, there is a chance Harmon will return and bring the show back to what it once was.  Deadline Hollywood as the story here.

And while this season wasn't nearly as good as seasons past, it still made me laugh more than most of what was on television.  And they had some great moments like puppet Jeff or Annie pretending to be Mrs. Winger.

Its renewal has less to do with how great it's been doing in the ratings, but rather how much worse every other show has done.  NBC has cancelled every other sitcom they aired this year except for Parks and Recreation.

And by now, the students of Greendale are like old friends.  Even if they've lost a step, I still have great affection for them and want to spend more time with them.

I pray that Dan Harmon comes back.  When Community was popping, it was one of the best television shows ever.  He made a simple game of Dungeons and Dragons in a cramped study room feel like and epic adventure.

And most of its themes are solid.  At the beginning of the series the main character espoused moral relativism: morality is whatever he says it is.  But by the end of season 3, he recalled that first day and showed how his time at Greendale changed him.

The show also has one of the most outwardly Christian characters on TV, Shirley Bennet, who is not constantly mocked for her beliefs.  She and atheist Britta exchange barbs about religion, but Shirley is not held up as an object of ridicule (e.g. Ned Flanders) and she gives as good as she gets.

I think that Community has one more chance to either catch on so that Abed's prediction will come true ("Six seasons and a movie.") or to wrap up everything in a satisfying way.

Check out Community from the beginning if you get a chance.  I cannot recommend it more.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Trailer Time: Ender's Game

I think that when you adapt a popular book into a movie, the first teaser has to be geared towards fans of the book to get them on board, to show that you respect the material.  That was the case for the first teasers for Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games.  And that appears to be the case for Ender's Game.

But that doesn't do a lot for those unfamiliar with the book.  It leaves more questions than answers.  It looks interesting, but I need to see a lot more before I'm sold.


Film Review: Iron Man 3

"I am Iron Man."

These were the words that closed out the first Iron Man film back in 2008.  It is also one of the main themes of this second sequel directed by 80's action super-scribe Shane Black (who many remember as Hawkins from Predator).

But these words can only be understood as spoken by lead actor Robert Downey Jr.

He IS Iron Man.

This is the last movie that Downey Jr. is contractually obliged to appear as the titular hero.  But it is unthinkable that anyone can fill his iron boots.  I have often said that the success of the Marvel Universe of movies can rest primarily on Downey Jr.'s shoulders.  He makes you love Tony Stark.  Guys want to be him and women want to be with him.  There is a charisma there that cannot be faked, which is on top of his amazing talent as an actor.  We judge Tony for his flaws, but we love him because of Robert Downey Jr's charm.

And this special role the actor plays explains much of the structure of Iron Man 3.  It begins with Tony years before he became the hero in the suit.  It shows his careless lothario days and how he toyed with the hopes and dreams of aspiring scientists like the partially crippled Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and one-night-stand Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall).  As Tony says during his beginning voice-over, "I didn't know it, but I was creating demons."

The story jumps forward to life after the events of The Avengers.  Tony is having trouble dealing with his near-death experience and is overwhelmed with panic and anxiety.  This causes strain on his relationship to Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow).  His fears causes his thoughts to race and he cannot turn his mind off.  Through events in the story, Tony is then drawn into a conflict with an international terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley).

It is difficult to talk about the Mandarin and his significance without giving away major plot points.  Suffice to say that when a confrontation finally occurs between Tony and the Mandarin, it is not what you might expect.  Online there is a lot of debate about what occurs.  Some love it, some hate it.  I apologize for being vague, but I should not like to ruin this for you.  My own take is that I think that what the film makers had in mind was very cool.  But I don't think it quite hit the execution.

That is the main problem with Shane Black's movie: it tries too hard to be cool.  Make no mistake, this is a cool movie with a cool superhero.  In fact, it is the coolest of the Marvel movies.  The cool factor is through the roof.  But sometimes Black will take Tony on little diversions that are fun and awesome in themselves, but detract from the main thrust of the story, like when Tony encounters a super fan when he hijacks a news truck.  When Tony and his friend Rhodie (Don Cheadle) aka the Iron Patriot team up, you can see the DNA of Black's Lethal Weapon scripts peaking out.  They banter like Riggs and Murtaugh for the 21st Century.

But beyond that, Iron Man 3 is an excellent movie.  If you've noticed, I've been primarily calling Downey Jr.'s character Tony and not Iron Man.  The reason is that Black focuses much more on the man in the iron mask.  Through the course of the story, Tony is stripped of all of his usual technological safety nets.  It's as if he returns to the days in the Afghani cave where he had to win his freedom with his mind and determination.

The dialogue zips and zings.  The best lines are between Tony and a little boy tinkerer named Harley (Ty Simpkins) he encounters.  This lets Downey Jr. lay out some of his meanest, most insensitive lines you could level against a child.  These were the lines that made me laugh the most.  And we laugh because we have come to love his embodiment of Tony.  He's like the best friend that makes jokes about your misfortune.  You let him because you trust his heart.  Again, this falls squarely on Downey Jr.'s shoulders.

The other performances are also spot on.  Pearce chews the scenery but does it enliven the story, not detract.  Paltrow's Pepper is much more assertive and combative this time around, which fits the dire circumstances.  Even those unhappy with the Mandarin admit that Kingsley's performance is wonderfully delicious in its evil and ambivalence.

And the movie is feast for the eyes.  The scene oft played in commercials where Iron Man must save people falling through the sky is captivating.  Black wisely comes up with new ways to use the Iron Man armor that hold surprises half way through and at the end.  The final battle is played out with such high-octane action that I could scarcely keep track of all the explosive spectacle.

I do like the theme of the haunted past.  This deals very much with the Catholic idea of atonement.  After the events of the first Iron Man, Tony is a changed man.  He experiences that metanoia, which means a complete change of heart.  But while his soul is reforged, that in and of itself does not undo the damage he has caused to the people in his life.  Even though we can receive forgiveness, we have to take on the responsibility of setting right what we once set wrong.  We have to make reparation.  Tony may be a hero, but he has to clean up his non-heroic messes or people will suffer.

This is the movie that Iron Man 2 should have been.  Unlike that movie, the events of the film feel like they change the characters permanently.

Will there be an Iron Man 4?  Or will Iron Man be in Avengers 2?

If they don't have Robert Downey Jr in it, I'm not sure I'd want to see.

After all:  he is Iron Man.

4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Spock Schilling for Audi

Some might look at this as pandering and selling out.  And it very well might be.

I thought it was hysterical.


(I particularly like the Bilbo Baggins part)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sunday Best: Directors of All Time #1 - Steven Spielberg

-Raiders of the Lost Ark
-ET: Extra Terrestrial
-Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
-Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
-Jurassic Park
-Schindler's List
-Saving Private Ryan

-Twilight Zone: The Movie
-Close Encounters of the Third Kind
-AI: Artificial Intelligence
-Minority Report
-Catch Me If You Can

-The Terminal
-Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
-War Horse
-War of the Worlds
-The Lost World: Jurassic Park


No other living director's name can be so immediately associated with great movies.

Steven Spielberg is standard by which all great movies are made.

Steven Spielberg has changed the way the movie industry works.

Steven Spielberg is not a director.  He is a wizard.  His movies cast a spell on you.

To be sure, some of the spells backfire.  He has made some truly bad films.  But even in most of those films, you can find memorable gems.  The Lost World has genuine thrills in it.  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull can be kind of fun if you turn off your brain.

The shortcomings of his mediocre movies tend to stem from the fact that Steven Spielberg's favorite director is also Steven Spielberg.  After AI, he has not been able to edit his movies down to an appropriate length.  And that can be the difference between a good movie and a great movie.  AI changed Spielberg as a film-maker.  His friend, Stanley Kubrick, died before he could make AI.  So Spielberg decided to make the movie for him.

Now, I think Stanley Kubrick is a terrible director.  Don't get me wrong, his visuals are amazing.  But the visuals are a means to an end.  The visuals should serve the story.  Kubrick believed the opposite.  After AI, you can see much more Kubrick in Spielberg.  And because of that, he will keep visually interesting sequences in that detract from the trust of the story when they should be cut.  If you take 30 minutes out of Catch Me If You Can, the narrative is tighter, more exciting, and ends on a high note.  Take an hour out of Munich and you have a movie that is morally comprehensible as well as an edge of your seat thriller.

As I noted when I began this series, many directors are never able to recapture the magic of their early days.  I am more optimistic for Steven Spielberg, because his skill is still evident, as in his latest movie Lincoln.  He has learned more subtlety, but this has not diluted his power.  The opening scene of that movie does so much with the visuals and the story without you realizing it.  Lincoln is a man apart.  Admired, adored, but aloof and lonely.  You get all of this from the first 5 minutes.  Spielberg can still weave a powerful spell.

But let us go back to those early movies that made his name what it is today.

Jaws:  One of the 10 best films ever made.  It has a solid script and good acting.  But that movie is what it is because of Spielberg.  Everyone today is familiar with the problems they had with Jaws.  The mechanical shark was supposed to be shown in most of the movie.  But it barely worked.  The young Spielberg had a choice: stick with the original plan or try something bold.  He chose the latter.  He understood that while movies are visual, it is not always about showing the audience something.  You can give them a visual cue that will send their imaginations into overdrive.  To this day, the night scene at the pier still thrills me.  And you never see the shark.  You see a tire and a broken section of the pier. And those two things stimulate my mind to fill in the blank with something horrible.  I don't think people realized the first time they saw Jaws how little the saw of the shark.  That's because Spielberg cast a spell on you.

Raiders of the Lost Ark:  If you think about it, very little in that opening sequence that makes sense.  But you don't care because Spielberg pulls you into the excitement.  Raiders is actually much darker than I think people remember.  Indiana Jones is a rather dark person, full of cynicism and doubt.  But Spielberg keeps putting him in more and more dire situations so that you never stop rooting for him.  And even when the movie moves slowly, you are filled with wonder.  The scene in the map room is essentially Indy reading and standing.  And yet Spielberg's use of light and shadow (not to mention John Williams music) draw you in.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom:  There is no question that this movie has flaws.  But it is hard to argue with how exciting the movie is.  The action sequences are bigger and more arresting than Raiders.  Everything in the movie from when Indy starts freeing the slave children is pure movie magic.  And he tops it all off with the best scene in the movie: the bridge.  Willie Scott's reaction is a perfect reflection of what is going on the mind of the audience.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:  I remember a few years ago I did a mini marathon of Indiana Jones movies to get ready to see Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  I skipped through Raiders and Doom, but I found I was glued to every frame of Crusade.  This is not only the best of the Indiana Jones series, it is the best adventure movie of all time.  Put it up against the other 2 movies and not only does it move faster, is more fun, has more twists, is more exciting, but it also has a completely enthralling emotional truth about fathers and sons.  Spielberg shows the ever present gap between a man and his father.  The experience of raising a son and being raised by a father leave vastly different impressions.  Indy and his father are different in ways that can never be changed.  But the bond of love is so strong.  The son just wants the father to recognize the man he is.  And as Indy reaches for the Grail, his fingertips nudging it, Henry says "Indiana."  All the sound drops away, the focus of Indy's world shifts and returns to the real treasure in front of him: the love of his father.
Also, I will never forget the thrill, both emotionally and intellectually, when Indy said those 7 words: "That is the cup of a Carpenter."

ET:  I just re-watched this early Spielberg film and it holds up just as well now as it did in the early '80's.  This is a testament to the timeless nature of many of Spielberg's movies.  But this film is, at its heart, a fairy tale.  It is a story told from the perspective of a child.  But it is also smart and sophisticated.  It is child-like without being childish.  Besides all of the great use of lighting and color, I only noticed something very important on my last viewing.  With the exception of the mom and the main scientist who talks to Elliot, you don't see any of the adult's faces for most of the movie.  Spielberg captured the worldview of a child, for whom grown ups are strange and distant like aliens.  It is only after ET dies that the masks literally come off and Elliot has entered the world of adults.  He lost his innocence.  But then Spielberg tries to bring the wonder of childhood back to a broken world and he does it beautifully.

Jurassic Park: This is a movie that made you love and hate the dinosaurs at once.  They were wonderful and terrible, just as any force of nature.  This could have been another action/adventure.  The other 2 Jurassic Park films are mediocre at best.  But the first one absorbs you completely in the majesty and terror of the park.  Many talk about the movie as a breakthrough in computer animation, and this is true.  But Spielberg, unlike George Lucas, knows when to use CGI and when not to do so.  You never felt that the danger was unreal because of the special effects.  He also knew when to hold back until a reveal of a dinosaur would have its greatest effect.

Saving Private Ryan is one of his most important movies.  His staging of the invasion of Normandy carries with it a realism and horror seldom seen in a movie.  From the moment the camera pans down onto the metal barriers on that gray beach until the camera slowly pushes into Tom Hanks' haunted eyes, I am riveted.  The rest of the movie is also excellent, if a bit too long.  Spielberg shows that war is hell.  But he does not condemn it.  He understands the heroism of the soldiers, even as the bend and break under the stress of combat.  And because of that hell, you respect them all the more.  One of the simplest and most arresting moments for me is when Hanks' Capt. Miller simply stares longingly at simple pleasures like hot coffee, sandwiches, and shaving razors.  Too much is asked of him and too little given.  And Spielberg makes you understand that it has to be this way.

But the crown jewel of his career, never to be topped is without question his utter and ultimate masterpiece: Schindler's List.  There is no movie like it.  There never will be.  I just re-watched this a month ago and every shot, every frame, every edit is genius.  It was as if he summoned his entire will towards making a movie that would transcend everything else.  I could write a book about how amazing this film is, from its use of light, shadow, color, symmetry, movement, music, etc.  But the best way I can describe it is to describe the experience I had in the theater.  Spielberg showed us the hell of being good.  Schindler is broken by his virtue.  His conscience comes alive and it breaks his heart.  His line, "one more person..." is so haunting because he is damning himself for the good he failed to do.  And yet this tortured Schindler is better than the oblivious Schindler at the beginning of the movie.  As the movie finished with that incredible transition from narrative to documentary, that silent 7 minutes drilled its way into your heart, reminding you that you did not just watch a movie.  You watched real life.  And when the credits began to role, not a single person in the theater could move.  It was like coming up for air.  I had been completely transported away from my life in 1993 America.  I wasn't in a movie theater.   I was in World War II Poland.   And when I came back, I felt like my life had changed.  I felt as if I was somehow different inside.

Very few great works can do this.  I've only had this experience two other times: seeing Return of the Jedi as a child and seeing The Passion of the Christ as a man.

And one more note on Spielberg.  It amazes me how respectfully he treats faith.  I do not know if he is a religious man, but he treats those who believe with more deference than most in Hollywood.  The soldiers praying in Saving Private Ryan are not freaks to be mocked.  He does not couch the hatred of the Jews in Schindler's List with some kind of religious animosity.  In Amistad, there is this incredibly moving scene where an illiterate slave tries to figure out the Gospel story from the pictures drawn in a Bible, and this gives him a melancholy hope.  In that same movie, the Catholic judge turns to God for help in making a just decision.  Even the Indiana Jones movies (not Crystal Skull) hold the artifacts of religious faith with great respect.

As a devout Catholic I cannot tell you how important that has been for me.  Steven Spielberg has not only been a shining light but also an oasis from the cynicism and sneering of the movies.  Apparently there are many in Hollywood who cannot stand Spielberg's movies, which is why he did not win again for Lincoln.  But I guarantee that at the heart of that is jealousy.

When it comes to film, no one will ever match what Spielberg has accomplished.  To paraphrase what Ben Johnson said of William Shakespeare:

Steven Spielberg is not a director of our time, but a director for ALL time.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Film Flash: Iron Man 3

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

The Avengers is still the greatest Marvel movie.  But Iron Man 3 is the "coolest."

4 out of 5 stars

Free Comic Book Day

Today is National Free Comic Book Day.

Go to your local comic book store and get some free comics!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Lack of Updates

It has been nearly a year since I began this blog (more on this later).

The idea for starting it was given to me in mid April.  But I remember why I didn't start it until the end of May.  It was because the end of April and early May are the busiest time of year for me.  Last year I was at work till 10pm for 2 weeks straight.

It hasn't been that bad this year, but kind of close.

So I apologize for the lack of updates.  I'm not going anywhere and I intend to get back to our regularly scheduled program soon.

Thank you for your patience.


New Evangelizers Post: To Follow (or Not to Follow) Your Heart

I have a new article up at

 To Follow (or Not to Follow) Your Heart

Our hearts burn within us, especially when we are young.  God did not make us emotionless robots, but creatures of intense feeling and passion.  There is a reason that most of the songs on the radio are songs about love and romance.  These feelings pierce us to the core.  And they inspire us to act.  I’m sure we can all recall a time that love turned us into fools.  We experience the stirring and we feel the need to act on it.

Sarah Reinhard, our editor here at New Evangelizers, shared her insight that “Follow your heart” is the dogma of our current culture.  I couldn’t agree more.

The deepest sin you’ll find in most of our pop culture is to not do what your heart says.  I was watching the movie He’s Just Not That Into You where the character played by Scarlett Johansson became attracted to a married man.  Her friend (played by Drew Barrymore) encouraged her to go after him anyway because she needed to follow her heart.

(Read the whole article here)