Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanks for Nothing (repost)

Last year a received a lot of wonderfully positive feedback on this essay, so I thought I would share it again.

After all of my health issues this past year, these words mean more to me now than they did a year ago.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(originally published November 22, 2012)

Thanks For Nothing

When I was 15-years-old, I got a little sick.  In what was obviously an over-reaction on his part, my dad took me to the Emergency Room.  As it turned out, I had pneumonia and my blood oxygen level was down to about 50%.  If he had waited much longer to take me I might have died.

I share this with you so that you will understand why I am a little bit of a hypochondriac now.  I don't freak out at every sneeze or obsessively lather myself in Purell.  But whenever I have chronic problem, I begin to have a persistent fear of the worst.

For the past 4 weeks I've had a persistent cough.  I cannot remember having one that has lasted this long.  So of course, my mind helplessly gravitated to the worst case scenarios, despite the constant assurances from my long-suffering wife.  After weeks of fretting, I went yesterday morning for a chest X-ray.

After they were taken, I was asked to wait for a moment alone in the exam room.  I stood there for 5 minutes in that room with its claustrophobic white walls and antiseptic smell and thought about all those people who came to that room and got bad news that resulted in a lot more time between claustrophobic white walls and antiseptic smells.

Finally, after hours of fretting (and trying to distract myself with a viewing of Wreck-It Ralph) we got the results.

And what did they find?


They found nothing.  I was worried about nothing.

I was put on some new medication and I've been feeling a bit better.

I didn't realize how much the storm clouds had been hovering over me until today.  I was walking around, doing chores and errands with such a light heart.  It was because I knew that my cough, though a bit annoying, was ultimately nothing.


Today is Thanksgiving.  It has always been one of my favorite holidays, and not because I eat enough turkey to put a man twice my size into a literal coma (although that is a plus).  I love that we take time out of our year to appreciate the blessings of life and give thanks to our Provider.

My boss, a man I greatly admire, once said to me that you cannot be truly happy unless you are truly thankful.  Happiness only comes when you acknowledge that everything thing you have is a gift from God.

I have tried to take those words to heart and be thankful for everything I have.  I have an holy wife, a loving family, loyal friends, a fulfilling job, and more action figures than you can shake a stick at (if that's your idea of a good time).  Bing Crosby sang that we should count our blessings instead of sheep.  But I never get to the end of count because God has been so very generous to me.

But all this time I have been overlooking something else to be thankful for.


I wrote earlier about how much I have come to realize what a blessing it is to feel normal.  But I did not take it the necessary step further.

There is nothing wrong with my lungs.  But it could have been something.  And that something could have been not-so-bad to catastrophic.  But God, in His goodness, gave me nothing.

About 2 years ago I was on the highway on my way to work in the middle of winter.  I was in the left lane when I noticed a car had skidded off the road.  I tried to get a better look, but I must have not been paying attention to the road.  Because I then hit a patch of ice and my car spun out and did a 180 degree turn that hurled me across the other lane.  And do you know what I hit?


For one of the only times I can remember, there were no cars around me on that part of the road.  I skidded off to the right embankment facing the opposite direction.  But I was fine.  Nothing happened.

A few weeks ago during Hurricane Sandy, the wind was so strong it blew down a tree in my back yard.  What did it hit?


A little to right and it would have destroyed my shed.  If it fell in the opposite direction it would have caved in the roof and crushed my wife and I.  But instead, nothing happened.

This world is so full of darkness and danger, disease and disaster.  Some of it falls on us.  But a lot of it doesn't.

So today I'm going to give thanks not only for the all of the things God has given me this past year, but I'll also praise Him for the "nothings" too.

No sudden falls down the stairs that break a limb.  No food poisoning from that new restaurant.  No angry student deciding to respond to his detention with his fist.  No home burglary in the middle of the night.  No careless accident to hurt anyone I love.

I do have my share of crosses, many of them of my own making, but I have not been crushed by them. And I am not saying that any of the aforementioned catastrophes won't one day be mine to bear.  One day, an X-ray may find something.

But not today.

Today, I am thankful for nothing.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Film Review: Hunger Games - Catching Fire

When I saw the first Hunger Games movie, I had not read the book.  As a result, I found the tension to be wonderfully unbearable and the plot twists fresh.  After that movie I quickly read the two sequel books.

When you have a movie built on suspense, knowing what is going to happen becomes problematic.  The experience of watching the sequel The Hunger Games - Catching Fire was quite different than watching the first movie.

That is not to say that it was worse, but only different.  Knowing what was to come, tension is replaced with foreshadowing and irony.  For those who have not read the books, the plot revolves around the returning characters from the last Hunger Games


Less than a year has gone by since Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) survived the Hunger Games together.  They posed as lovers who would rather die together than kill each other.  That act is the spark that lights the film's plot.  Katniss is caught in a love triangle between Gale, her tall and handsome best friend, and Peeta, the kind and sensitive soul who went through the games with her.  But the real problem is that President Snow (a deliciously evil Donald Sutherland), the dictatorial ruler of Panem, saw their lovers' ruse as an act of defiance that might spark a rebellion.  Katniss and Peeta are forced to go on a victory tour to convince the other 11 districts that they are really in love and not in any way defiant of the Capitol.  More plot twists ensue which I will not spoil here, but it involves a return to the Hunger Games by some of our returning characters.

Director Francis Lawrence is an improvement from Gary Ross, particularly in the more moderate use of  shakey-cam.  I paid for a bit extra to see the movie in IMAX, because I had heard that Lawrence wanted to exploit the medium as best as possible.  And I have to say I love how when the characters are brought up into the Hunger Games Arena, the IMAX screen widens out to fill up more of your vision.

He also does a great job of getting you into Katniss mindset.  Early on in the film, Katniss has a jarring flashback that helps you realize how scarred she is by the events of the previous film.  Lawrence also does a good job of subtly toning down some of the more outrageous elements of the last movie.  Effie's (Elizabeth Banks) makeup is not as kabuki-like, the new game maker Plutarch does not have a crazy beard like his predecessor, etc.  There is still some outrageous pageantry, but it feels more grounded than last time.

Lead actress Jennifer Lawrence is a great as ever.  In the last film, Katniss was much more in control of her emotions.  In this movie, Jennifer Lawrence allows herself to become more vulnerable.  Her pain, both physical and emotional, is palpable on the screen and it draws you in at every moment.  She is the emotional anchor that tethers you to this fantastic story with killer baboons and poison fog.  And Jennifer Lawrence shows us Katniss agony as every choice that she makes and that others make about her, lead to suffering and death.  She carries the burden of unwanted heroism.  The moments just before the games start might be the most heartbreaking and Jennifer Lawrence makes you feel it.  It is another exceptional performance from one of the best young actresses today.

In general, the performances are better.  Hutchenson plays Peeta much more mature.  In fact, the entire cast feels more grown up than last time.  There are also some fantastic new additions.  Finnick Odair (Sam Clafin) brings a swagger to the role that is at one time charming, but creates a sense of distrust.  Joanna (Jenna Malone)  is a wonderful foil to Katniss.  Where Katniss is guarded and reluctant, Joanna is open with all of her emotions and unapologetically violent.

The special effects are fantastic in this movie and makes a welcome change to the last film.  The horrors of the arena feel like something out of a horror movie.  The baboons feel a bit too animated, but they are used in a way that makes fairly scary.

The movie is not without its flaws.  Catching Fire adds a sizable cast, but it never gets very deep with them, even in the midst of the games.  We have to be content with what Haymitch tells us about them and their motivations are.  I would have like to have gotten to know most of them as full, three-dimensional characters.  There are some exceptions.  The movie does a good job of showing the slow awakening of conscience in people like Effie Trinket and other inhabitants of the Capitol.

Another problem is that much of the story beats feel repetitive from the first movie.  This is not a flaw of director as much as it is of the story itself.  Catching Fire tries to recapture a lot of the same feeling that were found in the original story.  Thankfully, however, there are enough twists to keep the story fresh.

A final flaw is that the movie is truly a transitional movie.  Unlike The Empire Strikes Back, a chapter in the Star Wars saga that felt epic and momentous in itself, despite ending on a cliffhanger, Catching Fire is more like The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, a movie that mostly serves as a bridge between the beginning of the story and its resolution.  That isn't to say that Catching Fire or The Two Towers are bad films.  But they float in a limbo, completely dependent on what comes before and after.

But my favorite part of the movie, especially as a Catholic, is the theme of moral character.  Snow does not want to simply kill Katniss. That would be too dangerous.  Katniss is placed in a position where she either has to give into fear and become a murderer or she has to have faith in others and put them before herself.  None of the characters with whom she is allied seem totally trustworthy, thus making her decision all the more difficult.  What I loved about this aspect of the story was that the movie captures the idea that moral evil is worse than physical evil.  Katniss might save or lose her life.  But the more important question was will she save or lose her soul?

Catching Fire is worth successor to The Huger Games, and it makes very excited to see the Mockingjay

4 out of 5 stars.

New Evangelizers Post: Public Revelation vs. Private Revelation

I have a new article up at

After my conversion experience at 17-years-old, I was on fire.  I wanted to be Super Catholic and share that passion with everyone, much to the annoyance of many.  I have learned to temper much of my enthusiasm, I hope, with a bit more wisdom.  One area where this was incredibly helpful is in the area of private revelations.

There is a buzz going around on the interwebs that the Vatican will soon make some dramatic conclusion regarding the supposed apparitions at Medjugorje.  Since the 1980′s, several children (all now adults) said that the Blessed Virgin appeared to them every day with messages and warnings.  Pilgrims from all over the world have gone to witness these miracles.

Fr. Larry Richards, whom I wrote about on this website, travelled there and witnessed the fruits of repentance in the confessionals.  I purchased a Medjugorje prayer book that I used daily for years.  When the internet was all new to me, I found Medjugorje forums where Mary’s messages were posted.  I printed them out and gave them to others.  I’ve travelled to hear one of the visionaries speak.
But things have started to unravel there.  The spiritual director of the children was laicized by Pope Benedict XVI.  The CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith at the Vatican) has issued a letter to churches in America not to sponsor any pilgrimages to Medjugorje or have speakers from Medjugorje if they assume the visions’ authenticity.  Word going around is that soon the Vatican will make an official pronouncement.

So how does this affect my faith, since I invested so much in these visions?

It doesn’t affect it at all.

Why is that?

You can read the whole thing here.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Best - Thanksgiving Movie and TV

We're taking a break from our countdown of the best movie actors of all time to look at what to watch this Thanksgiving Holiday season.


In terms of what is the best Thanksgiving movie, there is no contest.  The winner is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

There is no Thanksgiving movie like it.  It is fully of deep belly laughs, but it also has one of the finest last scenes in movie history.  What makes this a great Thanksgiving movie is that it is all about the quest to get home for the holiday.  Most Thanksgiving movies focus on the chaos of family reunions.  And if you only watch those, you would wonder why anyone would want to ever celebrate the holiday.

But Planes, Trains, and Automobiles never questions the impulse to do whatever it takes to get home.  It assumes that the holiday is so important that it MUST be celebrated with family, either those made by blood or by long, hilarious road trips.


Three Thanksgiving episodes come to mind when I think of this holiday.

The first is the "No Fat" episode of Everybody Loves Raymond.  The show would annually do a Thanksgiving episode, but this one emphasized the absurd importance of the food.  Marie tries to do a fat free Thanksgiving, and the resulting chagrin by her family is hilarious.  I also love the ending:

The second is "The One With All the Thanksgivings" from Friends.  Told through a series of flashbacks, this episode shows how Thanksgiving can be both wonderful and awful throughout the years.  I also enjoyed seeing how much the relationships between the friends changed over time.  It is also might have the most awkwardly funny "I love you" on TV

But the one I might like the most is "Pangs" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  It's Buffy's first year in college and she tries to put together a Thanksgiving for her Scoobies, including the chair-bound Spike, while the spirit of a Shumash Indian curses Xander's body.  This results in extended debates about the meaning of the Holiday for both Indian and European immigrant, as well capturing the awkward frenzy of trying to have a nice meal when the world seems to be going to hell.  I also got a kick out of Spike's darkly insightful take:

Great final shot too

What are your favorite Thanksgiving pop culture moments?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

There is no Holy, in Holy Motors

I just subjected myself to what could be the worst movie I have seen.

Most cheap movie that are badly made at least understand that they are cheap and bad.

But Holy Motors is a movie that thinks it is bold and brilliant.  And what drove me nuts was how most critics seemed to think the same.

I first read about Holy Motors on  The reviewer was hyperbolic in his praise.  Of course in that same article he had similar words about Cloud Atlas.  That should have been my first clue.

The movie is about a guy being driven around Paris putting on disguises and getting in weird situations.  This plot actually sounds intriguing.

The result was not.

Nothing in the movie made sense.


The movie won several awards and received a 91% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

This movie is vile.  I don't mean that it shows graphic nudity and violence (it does).  It offends me not so much morally, but as a movie goer.

I want good art!  I demand good movies.  This is not the rant of petulant child.  This is a plea from someone who LOVES movies.

Ultimately I believe that all art, if it serves the end of its nature, is a window into the the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

Holy Motors felt like a window into the awful, the unreal, and the ugly.

For a little while I felt like I was the only one who saw that the Emperor has no clothes.  But then I found a review of the film from Le Movie Snob.  I highly recommend reading it (though the language gets a little salty at times)  Click here to read it.   (I am not endorsing the whole site, just this one article)

Holy Motors represents, to me, the biggest problem with not only movies but art in general.  The powers that be, the art critic establishment have engaged in (to paraphrase Nietzsche) a transvaluation of beauty.  Beauty is now ugly.  Truth is now pretension.

And there is nothing good.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Film Flash: The Hunger Games - Catching Fire

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

More Two Towers than Empire Strikes Back.  Transitional movie, but improved from the first one.

CS Lewis - Once a King or Queen of Narnia...

Statue of CS Lewis - photo by GeeJo

My great teacher died 50 years ago today.

My first experience of CS Lewis was from the poorly animated cartoon movie The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Made on the cheap, it does not hold up to most adult standards.  But as a boy, I was transfixed.

When I was young I didn't just want to learn about knights and magic and adventures.  I wanted to believe that we could travel to a magical world and experience those things directly.  That cartoon showed me a world I wanted to explore: Narnia.  And it was not far away.  The walls between the worlds were thin.  I watched that movie every chance I got when it was on TV.

Then I discovered that it was based on a book.  And not only that, it was only the first book in a series of 7 books.  The Chronicles of Narnia represent not only some of the most important reading in my life, but they also represent some of the most joyous.  I loved Narnia.  I loved Aslan and the Pevensies.  I remember always going to the back of my school library where the books were filed.  I always made sure that they were in the proper order.  I also pushed them back in the stack so that they were different than all the other books around them.  It seemed as though I was the only one who read them, like they were my secret, hidden treasure. 
It took me longer to get through them than perhaps it should have.  I remember finishing The Last Battle at my mother's apartment just as it was beginning to really sink in that my parents' marriage was truly over.  Lewis gave me an escape.  He brought me into a world that was not drab and depressing.  It was not a place where love ended, but instead love never ended in Narnia.

The stories you read as a kid shape how you look at the world.  Lewis' strong emphasis on honor and friendship, courage and faith forged those ideals in my life.  I have not always lived up to them, but their value has always been iron-clad because of Lewis.

As I grew up I moved on to more sophisticated writers like JRR Tolkien and his wonderful sagas in Middle-Earth.  It gave me no small amount of pleasure to learn that Lewis and Tolkien were close friends.  It seemed as though my books were keeping good, accommodating company with each other.

But it wasn't until my conversion that I learned about Lewis' Christian writings.  To be sure The Chronicles of Narnia are Christian.  But his books of apologetics are a true marvel to behold.  Whenever someone has questions on the faith, I almost always turn them to CS Lewis.  He had such a natural gift for taking some of the most mysterious elements of the faith and putting them in a new light with amazing clarity. 

His take on Trinity is one of my favorites.  He not only agreed that God is Trinity, but God MUST be Trinity.  Why?  Because God is love.  And in order for there to be love, there must be at least one other Person.  And God's love is so powerful that this love must be alive as well.  Hence the Trinity is not just a fancy mystery, it is a metaphysical necessity.

I particularly love the way he twists the questions I would bring back onto myself.  "Why does God let me suffer needlessly?" Lewis made me question if my suffering really was needless.  Maybe God was allowing me to suffer so that I could grow.

His fictions also continued to bring forth new insights into life.  The beautiful words from Perelandra fill me with joy and hope.  If you ever want to get a sense of what masculinity and femininity are in essense, read the last chapters of Perlenadra.  He makes you feel how every part of the universe is significant and every part is part of the plan.

His own favorite work was Till We Have Faces.  It took me years to get through this book.  It is not long, but I would start it and only get a few dozen pages in before I would stop and put it down for a few years.  I didn't get it.  Finally I resolved to finish the whole thing and I cannot overemphasize what a feat this book is.  It resolves this question: if God has the power to show us He is real, why doesn't He just do it?  Why does He make us rely on faith when He could simply show us Who He is?  If you've ever struggled with this, read this book and it will resolve it for you.

I have consumed what I can of Lewis' wisdom.  He has been more influential on me than most writers I have read combined.  He is the most Catholic non-Catholic writer I have encountered.  Over the years he has taught me so much about my faith in this life and my destiny in the next.

And I have grown a deep and abiding affection for him.  As a Catholic I believe in the communion of saints, and so I pray to CS Lewis every day.  Though he was not Catholic, I would find it very difficult to imagine heaven without one of its true defenders.  I ask him daily to pray for me, so that I might have wisdom like his so that I can teach the faith as effectively as he did.

Aslan once said, "Once a King or Queen of Narnia, always a King or Queen of Narnia."  Lewis was never truly at home in this world.  He was always a Narnian. 

And 50 years ago today he went off to the real Narnia, the true Narnia, where he can take up his Kingly Narnian crown. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Trailer Time: Noah

I would be so much more excited for this movie (I mean look at the terrific cast) if I had not read about the storyline in the script. 

Apparently (and I can only speak from the article I read, which means the final movie might be different than the original script), Noah is super-environmentalist who at one point tries to kill his pregnant daughter-in-law because he believes human beings are a scourge on the planet.

Again, I don't see anything like that in the trailer, so maybe I'm wrong.  Thoughts?

Wednesday Comics - DC's Villain's Month

I know it has been a while since I have done a Wednesday Comics article.  Besides my usual excuse for being too busy to write, I have fallen behind in my comic book reading.  I finally caught up with about half of my comic book stack and decided that this would be a good time to comment on DC's Villains Month.

As a tie-in with the Forever Evil mini-series, all of the main titles in DC had one or more issues dedicated to that comic's villain(s). 

This can be a very effective tool for serialized storytelling.  Geoff Johns was particularly good at this in his run on The Flash.  He would take a single issue to get you into the mind of one of the Rogues.  Sometimes you came to be more afraid of them (Heat Wave).  Sometimes you became more frustrated with them (Mirror Master).  But always you came to care about them more.  His Captain Cold issue, especially the last panel, still moves me.

So with that in mind, this was an opportunity for all the DC books to do this.  The result?

As you would expect, it is a mixed bag.

But I have two general thoughts before I move forward with specific insights.

1.  There is a difference between villains and rogues.  A "villain" is a bad guy who does bad things that is in many ways monstrous.  A "rogue" is a bad guy who does bad things but is just walking down the wrong path.  There is an honor to a rogue.  There is a code.  And because of that, there is something interesting and redeemable. 

2.  Spending too much time with villains is depressing.  After binge reading many of these stories, I was left with a very icky feeling.  I was not surprised by what I found, but the total lack of redemptive qualities, especially among Batman's villains, made for a very unpleasant experience.  That isn't to say that it wasn't effective, but I wanted to read something more fun when I was done.

So, below are my assessments of the Villains Month issues:

-I was surprised by this book.  I thought it would be a straightforward monster story, but there was a moment of humanity at the end I was not expecting.
-Great opening page that pulled me in and had me completely invested in the character.
-I have always viewed him as the Dr. Doom of the DCU and this backs up that idea. 
-This new take on Lobo was fascinating.  He is someone completely amoral and that is scary.
-What does a villain fight against when his main adversary is dead?  Manta struggles with that question and tries to find meaning in his life. 
-This story makes Mongul feel like the terrifying cosmic despot that he is.  He is the Ghengis Kahn of space.
-What made this story so good was how it captured Orm's completely alien way of thinking.  He is inhuman in a literal sense.
-An interesting story that I thought was about humanity and innocence buried under an evil exterior.  Interesting ending.
-Reminds us why Ra's Al Ghul is such a formidable adversary to not only Batman but the entire DCU
-A new villain at the center of the "Lights Out" story in Green Lantern.  This is truly a villain who is the hero of his own story.
-I finally understand this character and why precise shooting is so important to him.
-For years he was treated as a joke, but the Riddler is more dangerous than anyone thought.
-I love stories about the Rogues.  This was no exception.
-This gives a greater insight into the world of the Crime Syndicate.  It was fascinating and tantalizes upcoming story threads.
-I never realized I did not know the story of how Sinestro became a Green Lantern.  This is the perfect origin story for that character.
-I was iffy on this story until the very end.  Great ending.
-A nice, twisted tale that shows the bifurcation of Havery's mind
-When you understand Zod's childhood experience by the end of this story, everything else about him makes sense.

-funky art and inventive story 
-I like this as a setup for a larger story, but it was a bit flat
-Same as with Trigon, I can see this starting a larger story, rather than being self-contained.  

-Morbid.  A bit too morbid.

-A nice story about a powerful villain without enough brains to use them to his advantage
-A fresh take on the character and an explanation of his motives in the original Justice League Story
-fascinatingly dark, but a bit too dark.

-boring and one-dimensional
-I can't even remember what this story was about.
-I did not find these characters compelling at all.
-like a super-violent mob-movie.
-I had a hard time caring.
-I can't believe they completely retconned Cyborg Superman.  He's no longer Hank Henshaw?  He's now a hybrid Zor-El?  That's lame.
-This is another retcon disaster.  He's now Barry's future brother in law?
-a decent story, but it never connected with me.
-This read like a straight Stephen King-type horror story.  The art was good, but I felt horrible afterwards.



Sunday, November 17, 2013

Film Review: Thor - The Dark World

Your enjoyment of the second Thor movie will depend on 2 things:
1. How much you enjoyed the humor of the first movie
2.  How much you enjoy Tom Hiddleston as Loki

Like Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World picks up soon after The Avengers.  Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is returned to Asgard in chains and Thor strives to keep the 9 realms safe.  Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has been pining away for him while visiting a mentally unbalanced Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard).  But Jane stumbles upon an ancient weapon known as the Aether which is sought after by Malekith (Chris Eccleston), leader of the Dark Elves, who plans on using the Aether to plunge the entire universe into darkness.  

There are a number of improvements over the first Thor in the sequel.  The chief among them is scope. Whereas the first essentially only had 3 locations (Frost Giant World, Asgard, and New Mexico), this new story crosses many of the 9 realms.  We also get an expanded view of Asgard, which is given a lot more tangibility by the production design.  It feels like something more like something out of Lord of the Rings than The Phantom Menace (though there is still heavy use of CGI here).

The action sequences are also more exciting than the first.  They are bigger in scale and a bit more creative.  In addition, I really dig the design for the Dark Elves' technology.  Their attack ships have a sleek, non-symetrical design that is so funky I couldn't take my eyes off of them.  

The performances are a mixed bag.  Hopkins phones in Odin even more-so than the first movie.  And Kat Denning's Darcy is nothing but snark in a crocheted hat.  But Hemsworth brings more maturity to his Thor than the last time.  You can see the interior difference in the character.  Portman is believably love-sick.  The Warriors Three have more screen time and have a chance to show a bit more charm and subtlety.  Renne Russo's role as Queen of Asgard Frigga is expanded greatly over the last movie.  And Eccleston does a fine job as the malicious Malekith.  

Regarding Hemsworth, I particularly like watching him struggle between his duty as future king of Asgard and his affection for Jane.  The difference in their lifespans looms over them and he is constantly reminded of that parting which will come sooner than he would like.  The movie also hints at a love triangle between Thor, Jane, and Sif (Jayne Alexander).  I would have liked the movie to delve more into that relationship, but director Alan Taylor is content to hint at it with looks and gestures.

But it is Hiddleston who steals the show.  Every scene he is in, he draws you with his charisma and biting humor.  You cannot help but like him even though he is a mass murderer.  You can see his brokenness hidden behind illusion and quips.  He is written much differently than the first movie and reflects the Whedonesque tone he found in The Avengers.  Unlike Denning's performance, Hiddleston uses the humor to get you deeper into his character.  One of the great things about how they use his character is that even as you like him, you feel like he is setting you in a trap.  And you just don't care.

The most interesting thing about the movie is the tonal bounce.  There are moments that are meant to be  profound, shocking, and heartbreaking.  But very quickly the movie will break in with a gag to releave the tension.  Even in the middle of the final action sequence, the movie would pause for extended jokes.  This almost throws movie off the rails.  If the film treats the threat like a joke, so will the audience.  But it never quite crosses that line, even though it move dangerously close.  

And as I said at the beginning, your enjoyment will depend on your reaction to the humor.  I've picked on Dennings here, but even though she is one dimensional, I did not find her that annoying.  In the same way, if humor of the first movie turned you off, you will not like this movie.  But if you found that it gave the film a fun vibe, then you will enjoy Thor: The Dark World.

4 out of 5 stars.

(One more thing: as a comic book geek, the first after credit scene blew my mind with the realization of the story lines to come and the fact that those elements had been in front of me the entire time.  I cannot say more without spoiling)

Sunday Best: Actors of All Time #12 - Geoffrey Rush

photo by gdcgraphics
The King's Speech
 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
 Shakespeare in Love
 Les Misérables

Like Alan Rickman, success on the big screen came later in life for Geoffrey Rush.  But his first major role also won him an Academy Award.

It would be easy to dismiss his portrayal of broken piano genius David in the film Shine as a collection of quirks.  And indeed it is difficult to see past all of those outer twitches.  But Rush does not fill his performance with showy gesticulation for its own sake.  His character is so completely vulnerable and raw like an exposed nerve.  He simply acts what he feels, even if he cannot understand why.  And Rush lets you see how David's world only makes sense when he plays music.  He is a transfixing figure to behold when he lets his inner light shine (pun intended).

Rush is a chameleon type actor who can mold himself into whatever part he needs.  Simply look at two of his Victorian era performances: one as a manipulative courtier in Elizabeth and another as a witless stage manager in Shakespeare in Love.  Notice the complete difference in posture, cadence, and mannerisms, all coming believably from a character of the time (even though neither movie is that great).

He is also a master of restraint.  His role as the handler Ephraim in Spielberg's Munich is small but powerful.  He has very little to say and is often masking his thoughts with an unassuming smile.  And yet Rush imbues him with a sense of authority and power, though the outward signs would not indicate as such.  In The King's Speech, he plays another man of simplicity.  A frustrated actor-turned-therapist, he is a common man who must help an uncommon one.  He acts wonderfully as our window into the world of monarchy and we trust his sympathetic ear and his encouraging demeanor.

But when he needs to go big, Rush can go big.  People often speak of Johnny Depp's performance in Pirates of the Caribbean, and rightly so.  But Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbosa is also a bold and grand performance.  He uses uneducated sea fairing parlances without sounding uneducated.  He carries with him cruelty but intelligence beneath a hard-barnacled exterior.  He has the ability to turn his droll diction from humorous to menacing with incredible ease because we completely believe that he is the embodiment of old-timey sea fairing pirates.  If there was a Platonic ideal of movie pirates, it would be found in his Barbosa.

But his best performance to my mind was his Inspector Javert in Les Miserables.  Playing off of the amazing Liam Neeson, these two actors create a clash of charisma that explodes on the screen.  Rush's Javert is a man of iron.  There are no soft edges to him.  He is rigid and inflexible and a danger to Valjean at every step.  Rush does not give him a soft center the way Crowe does in the musical version.  There is a hardness through and through.  And yet… I cannot help but feel for Javert.  All of his softness has been squeezed out of him like a diamond under pressure.  But he tries to do what he thinks is right.  Even when Javert is unfair, you can never be too angry at him.  He is driven by a need to set the world right.  I completely believe that he sees Valjean as an evil man in need of capture.  And when Javert's world starts to crack, part of my heart broke for him.  Rush shows a man trying to hold together a world of contradictions, but trying his best never giving an inch to the outside world.  You don't see it, but you feel it.  And that is the genius of the performance.

Geoffrey Rush is still a much in demand actor and I want to see even more of his talent on the screen.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Trailer Time: Heaven is For Real

I am a skeptical person by nature.  So when a book was made called Heaven is For Real, which is about a little boy with a near death experience who saw Heaven, started making the rounds I did not pay it much attention.

I still have no stance on the story's veracity.  But they have just made a movie based on the book.  And I was struck that they got a fairly decent sized star in Greg Kinnear.  And the trailer is unabashedly religious.  It show what so many of us do in times of crisis: pray and ask for prayers.  I rarely see this in a Hollywood film.

But then I found out that it was directed by Randal Wallace.  I have always been a fan of his.  He wrote the screenplays to movies like Braveheart and Pearl Harbor.  He also wrote and directed the horribly underrated The Man in the Iron Mask and We Were Soldiers.  His movies have strong values, bold drama, and big heart.

Check out the trailer below and let me know your thoughts (it made my wife cry).

Film Review: Delivery Man

I must state my prejudice at the outset: I am a Vince Vaughn fan.  I think he is one of the funniest and most naturally charming actors working today.  That doesn't mean that all his movies are good.  I hated The Break-Up and was lukewarm on The Internship.  But I found myself very much enjoying Delivery Man.

The story is about a near-middle-age screw up Dave Wozniak who finds out that due to a screw up, sperm that he had donated years ago was responsible for the birth of 533 kids.  Many of those kids sue the clinic to find out the true identity of their biological father, who donated under the pseudonym "Starbuck."  Against the advice of his best friend and lawyer Brett (an hilarious Chris Pratt) he begins to look into the lives of his children and find ways to help them, often to very funny ends.

And the movie is funny.  There were at least 2 or 3 big bursts of laughter that Delivery Man drew out of me.  But about halfway through the movie, "Starbuck's" involvement in his kids lives becomes even deeper.  He is drawn in an unforeseen way to the circle of "The Starbuck Children."  What struck me was that writer director Ken Scott (who wrote and directed the movie Starbuck, on which Delivery Man is based), decides to start trading laughs for pathos.  It was an interesting economy to see how and where he would take a scene, either to a place of silly humor or a place of emotional drama.

That isn't to say that the movie is bait and switch where you think you are getting a comedy, but instead are getting a drama.  The movie is a comedy and it remains one throughout the film.  But Scott makes several conscious choices to divert away from the comedic in order to pull at the heartstrings.  Sometimes it goes a little too dramatic.  There is a subplot about a loan shark debt (which is important to the story) and a child who is a drug addict.  But the movie doesn't stay long in some sort of permanent shadow.  Delivery Man could have been a funnier movie, but I think Scott's choices makes it a better movie.

This is one of Vaughn's best performances in a while.  He is still his charming self, which is important because you have to like this scamming screw up from the start.  But when the gravity of his situation comes to him and the responsibilities that this entails, Vaughn brings a great deal of sincerity and maturity to his character.  Vaughn has always been an excellent dramatic actor; his dramas unfortunately don't do well.  Here, he gets to spread his dramatic wings a little more and it works well juxtaposed to his comedy.

A word must also be made about Christ Pratt, who is understandably an up-and-coming star.  It takes someone with a lot of comedic skill to keep up with Vaughn and Pratt does fantastic and has some of the biggest laughs of the movie.  Like Vaughn, he plays the well-intentioned screw-up to a T.

As a Catholic, I loved all of the religious imagery in the film.  Scott makes subtle nods to the faith of the family.  When Dave's father asks them to pray, he children complain, but it doesn't take away from the very religious atmosphere.  In another scene Dave visits a religious nursing home and the subtle Catholic imagery added a strong emotional layer to the scenes.  There is one off-hand abortion joke that was off-putting, but done so deadpan that it didn't sting as much as it could have.

And while the movie does not come out and condemn donations to fertility clinics (in fact at one point Pratt's character implies their importance), there are two things I noted:

1.  The movie underscores the reality of what a donation means.  I once had a student ask me why it was okay to donate blood but not make a donation to a fertility clinic.  The reason I said is that when you donate there, the result will be you becoming a father of a child for all eternity.  Forever and ever you are that child's father.  In Delivery Man, the story removes that separation and David is confronted with the real consequence of that choice.  I am a big fan of stories that show characters accepting and dealing with the consequences of their actions instead of avoiding them.

2.  Fathers are important.  Wholly absent from the movie are any of the mothers of the "Starbuck Children."  They are not present.  And all of the children he encounters have some kind of need, be it emotional, financial, or whatnot.  Whether the movie intends to or not, it is a critique of a culture that encourages women to have children without husbands.  Because then those children are raised without fathers.  And that absence is sorely felt in the "Starbuck Children."  And it is an absence that can only be filled by a father.

Delivery Man made me laugh and it made me a little happier.  If that is your idea of a good time at the movies, I would check it out.

Delivery Man premieres November 22.

4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

New Evangelizers Post: Darwin's Dead End

I have a new article up at

I was speaking with a former student recently.  Like most people in their first year of college, he has become enamored of new subjects, new ways of thinking.  We had a very in-depth discussion on the meaning of life, the universe, and many other things.

One of the ideas we kept coming back to was that of life’s meaning.  He postulated that people can find meaning in the perpetuation of the human race and the continuation personal life.  And while these are most assuredly good things, I argued that this cannot be the summom bonum or greatest good.  This perspective is a bit too reductive of human nature to that of beasts.

First of all, continuation of this earthly existence is ultimately impossible.  We are all subject to death.  And to continue the expanse of this life for no other reason than to expand it is ultimately meaningless.

According to Darwin’s view of the world, creatures struggle for survival so that they can live long enough to pass on their genetic material to the next generation.  The species that does this most successfully will continue on while other species will die out.  This makes perfect sense for beasts, because they operate on sense and instinct.  Humans, however, are the rational animal.  And because we have reason, our motivations must be more.

You can read the whole thing here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Charity of the Month: Typhoon Appeal

I know that the economy could be stronger and that money is tight.

But I've been looking at some of the photos coming out of the Philippines and my heart is breaking.

My father came to this country from the Philippines, and so this cause is personal to me.

There are whole communities completely wiped out and many are still searching for loved ones.  I could not imagine the turmoil and terror that they are enduring.  I remember last year after Hurricane Sandy we were without power for a week.  That was a challenge for us, but nothing compared to the desolation and devastation in my father's homeland.

The Red Cross is a wonderful organization that makes sure that 91% of the money gets to the people who need it.

Please pray about it and consider donating to the Typhoon relief here.

And as always, I will never ask of you anything I am not willing to do myself.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Best: Actors of All Time #13 - Russell Crowe

photo by Danrok


 Man of Steel
 Les Misérables
 American Gangster
 3:10 to Yuma
 Cinderella Man
 A Beautiful Mind
 The Insider
 L.A. Confidential
The Quick and the Dead

I feel like I discovered Russell Crowe.  I remember my father dragged me kicking and screaming to see the movie The Quick and the Dead.  I mean, who wants to see a Sharon Stone western?  But that was where I first saw this unknown Aussie actor.  I was transfixed by him.  It wasn't just that his story was more interesting than the main character's, it was that Crowe's performance was beautifully understated.  He played a man named Cort who had a violent past but was now a priest trying to atone.  And yet that dark side of his nature was always bubbling right below the surface.  You could feel the itching in his hands for violence (this was helped by Sam Raimi's wonderful direction).  But I was fascinated by this man who was trying to live virtuously when he desired so much vice.

He continued the "tough guy" regimen with LA Confidential.  He held his own well against other great actors like Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey.  But unlike them, he much of his character was buried under a stoic facade.  But he does a powerful break towards the end.  When he finally commits a sin that he detests in others, the anguish in his eyes is heartbreaking.  And yet even with this vulnerability, he was still terrifying in his rage.

Both of the above roles illustrate Crowe's knack for playing complicated characters.  Even though he can play people of paternal virtue (Jor-El in Man of Steel), he still adds layers to each performance, usually with his naturalistic style.  Even though he has gotten flack for his singing in Les Miserables (which I actually thought sounded good), he played Javert much more lost an vulnerable than I have ever seen on screen or stage.  He was a man and soldier in the way a child imagines a man and soldier to be.  You can hear that naivitee in his rendition of "Stars."

He is often remanded to "tough guy" parts, but Crowe has the chameleon's ability to disappear into a role.  I love his risky take on Jeffrey Wigand in The Insider.  He plays a man with almost no charisma and very little social skills.  The story does very little to endear you to Wigand, a whistle blowing scientist.  And Crowe never opens himself up in a simplistic way.  He keeps the characters tough outer shell the entire film, but Crowe quietly grows in your esteem by playing this stubborn man with a sense of righteous dedication that runs underneath his coarse exterior.

All this talk of subtlety and stoicism does not mean that Crowe cannot reach incredible emotional depths.  His Oscar winning performance in Gladiator is proof of that.  Most remember the overwhelming charisma of his Maximus, who exudes leadership with every look and gesture.  Notice that nearly 30 minutes of the 2nd act, he never says a word.  And yet the audience completely believes that others would be drawn to him and lavish him with respect.  But the first act ends with such a horrifically emotional scene where he finds his murdered wife and child.  One of the things that makes that moment so strong is that not only do we see his manly shell crack, but the agony of the moment rings so true to his performance.  We see on his face and hear in his voice that secret inner fear we all have come to light and the shattering experience is reflected in his performance.

His John Nash in A Beautiful Mind is also a fantastically layered performance.  There nuances on top of nuances, but Crowe is not doing it to be showy.  All of his words and gestures come from a place of truth.  We feel for this complicated genius while he frustrates us.  People often focus on his portrayal of mental illness, which is fascinating to behold.  But the story is actually not about the breakdown of Nash's mind but the awakening of his heart.  And Crowe shows how this character "with half a helping of heart" has to move from his comfortable ivory tower to a place where is totally vulnerable.  I love the scene where he sits on the bed, asking his wife to not send him away.  He is totally powerless in this scene.  Watch his performance, especially in his eyes, as he hears the car leave, and then he hears the footsteps on the stairs.  Crowe shows you so much with so little.

Crowe is a very physical actor who can play the strong, action oriented leads of an epic film.  But he also has great inner control over his emotional reality so that he can move you with the simplest expression.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Film Flash: Thor - The Dark World

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

Alternately it's incredibly melodramatic and goofily funny, yet it somehow works.  Loki owns this movie.

4 out of 5 stars

Comic Book Movie and TV Roundup

I know I have been lapse in updating this blog, but as I have whined about ad nauseum here, I have been busier this year than any other year.

However, there has been a plethora of comic book movie and television news so I thought I would add my two cents.

-I will have a film flash / film review of this one up soon.


Marvel studios has just contracted with Netflix to make 4 new comic book tv series:

Iron Fist
Power Man
Jessica Jones (based her comic Alias, not to be confused with the Jennifer Garner show).

I think this is good news because these characters come from much grittier backgrounds and can explore the more mature side of the Marvel Universe.  I hope that this won't be an excuse for needless sex and violence.  But you can take the characters places that I don't think you could on network television.


DC is not wanting to fall behind on this TV trend either.  They are already spinning of The Flash from Arrow.  But they just announced that they are developing an Hourman show.

The Golden Age Hourman was Rex Tyler who invented a pill called Miraclo that would give him super strength for an hour at a time.  This obviously doesn't translate as well to the modern time seeing as how this would make him a short burst steroid junkie.

This Hourman will be based on the idea from Geoff Johns' run on Justice Society, where the main character would have a vision of a calamity that would occur 1 hour in the future, giving him only that amount of time to stop it.  This could like a super hero version of 24.


An upcoming episode of Agents of Shield will apparently deal with the fallout over what happened in Thor: The Dark World.  I really like this synergy between Marvel's movies and TV.  Hopefully they can feed off of each other well.  But to me it feels like an old school comic book crossover event.


DC is still looking to build its Justice League franchise and the rumor going around is that they are looking to bring Wonder Woman into the new Batman/Superman movie.  So far I've heard a lot of buzz about 2 actresses:

Jamie Alexander plays Sif in the Thor movies.  I think this is an excellent choice and if you see the last Thor film, she captures that warrior stature without feeling mannish.

The other name I've read is Olga Kurylenko, who I only remember from the awful James Bond movie Quantum of Solace.  I haven't seen her in enough movies to have a strong opinion, but I think she could be okay.

 I still say that they look at Yyvone Strahovski.  I think if she darkened her hair she would be great.


I was so excited to hear the rumor that Nightwing would be in the new Batman/Superman movie.  This is very cool because we've had several movie incarnations of Dick Grayson, but never in his current incarnation as Nightwing.  This would also play into the idea that's been released that Batman is an older, more experienced and world-weary fighter in this new Justice League universe.

But then I just read who they are thinking of casting.  Adam Driver from the show Girls.  This is a TERRIBLE idea.  I'm sorry, but I feel very protective of the Dick Grayson character.  I accepted that Chris O'Donnel would play him.  But you CANNOT give this part to Adam Driver.  I know people were up in arms over Affleck being cast as Batman, even though I had the opposite reaction.  But their revulsion is something I feel regarding this casting.  Again as of now it is all rumor, but I hope it comes to nothing.


I really like the last Wolverine film.  I thought it was the portrayal of the character.  So I was happy to hear that the same director will be bringing us another installment of the adventures of Logan starring Hugh Jackman.

The announcement seems to be striking while the X-Men iron is hot.  The Days of Future Past trailer is burning up the inter webs.  With this upcoming Wolverine film, that will make it the 8th time Jackman has played the character on screen.  I hope he never quits.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Film Flash: Delivery Man

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

Trades big laughs for big helpings of heart and charm, and that's not bad.

4 out of 5 stars.

Film Review: Ender's Game

Film adaptations of books are a tricky business.  The needs of a good movie are often in conflict with the needs of a good book.  Books can be expansive down a long, winding road of digressions and disparate events.  Movies often need a simpler, more straightforward narrative.  The biggest question is how much to diverge from the source material to make a successful movie.  The first Harry Potter movies made very few changes.  The Lord of the Rings films made several drastic ones.  And yet both were successful film. 

I get the feeling that Ender's Game, based on the hit novel by Orson Scott Card, could have worked better if they had diverted more from the book.

The story is this:  Set several years after a devastating alien attack, Earth has become a united military coalition with the sole purpose of fighting the enemy.  Children are used specifically because of their ability to process information rapidly.  Ender (Asa Butterfield) is a young strategic genius.  He can think strategically in all manner of situations (games, bully defense, social hierarchy), and thus comes to the attention of Col. Graff (Harrison Ford) who picks him for special training on a military school in space.  There, he must learn to overcome obstacles (sometimes literally) and become a leader. 

This is where the film began to fall apart for me and why I think it would have been better to diverge from the book.  I have never read the book, so my assessment may be off.  But during his time at this academy, it felt as if the story was there to get you to certain moments and plot points in the book.  Nothing about how the story unfolded felt organic.  "Here's the scene where ender stands up to the bully.  Now here's the scene where Ender makes friends.  Now here's the scene where Ender proves how smart he is.  Now here's the scene where Ender feels badly about something he's done."  This section of the film may have worked better if any of Ender's relationships were fleshed out, other than his connection to Petra (Haliee Steinfeld) who creates the only believable relationship to Ender other than his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin).

It also doesn't help that I couldn't take his main antagonist in this section seriously.  Ender gets transferred at one point to another unit (the strangely titled Salamanders).  The student leader there is the most unimpressive bully I have ever seen onscreen (and that includes Boots McAfee).  First of all, his name is Bonzo.  Second, he looks perpetually constipated.  Third, he is at least 6 inches shorter than Ender.  So when the character tries to act menacing, all I can do imagine myself slapping him.

The other big disappointment is Harrison Ford.  The only adjective I can come up with for his performance is "tired."  I don't know what happened to his energy and intensity, but it isn't in Ender's Game.  He had it for Cowboys and Aliens, but not here.  Age is no excuse.  When Ben Kinglsy comes onto the screen in the last act as an enigmatic officer, he has the pep, energy, and charisma of someone half his age.  Even Butterfield has a better performance than Ford, though that too suffers from his young age and inexperience.

The movie is not without merit.  Much of the second act is built around competitions that take place in a zero gravity arena.  And these sequences are quite awesome to behold.  Director Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), makes the most of these scenes.  They are fun and exciting and draw you completely into the movie for a time.  It is here that the story works best as we see Ender's strategic mind and leadership at work.  You tell a lot of work went into these set pieces and it pays off fantastically.

The movie also has an interesting twist that I will not spoil here.  It highlights all of the ethical questions raised regarding war, defense, and military aggression.  If it had ended on this note, that would have been fine.  But then there is another twist that comes even closer to the end that I found, quite frankly, kind of stupid. 

Ender's Game is not a bad movie.  There are fun moments and some Twilight Zone-esque gut punches.  But the clunkiness of the story kept jarring me out of the movie and kept me from truly getting caught up in the game.

2 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"The Grey" Summed Up in 2 Sentences

I just watched the movie The Grey staring Liam Neeson.  A very well made movie, but I did not care for it.  I was looking up more information about it on Wikipedia when I found this quote from Siobhan Synnot, and I just had to share it:

"On the down side, there's a lot of dull pretentious philosophizing about the heartlessness of nature and God. On the up side, you get to see a man punch a wolf in the face."

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday Best: Actors of All Time #14 - Anthony Hopkins

photo by GDCGraphics


 The Mask of Zorro
 The Edge
 The Remains of the Day
 The Silence of the Lambs
 The Elephant Man

Hannibal Lector.

Let's deal with this cannibalistic elephant in the room.

Often people remember Sir Anthony Hopkins' performance for its unique lines ("I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.")  His performance in The Silence of the Lambs is often imitated but never duplicated (not even by Hopkins himself).  To understand the sheer genius of his work you need to go back and watch the very first shot of him in the movie.  The film had done a good job of building him up by attribution.  But then he is finally revealed.

He stands with complete and utter confidence.  He owns the moment.  He is not a killer in a cell.  He is a nobleman allowing an audience.  Without saying a word, just by standing, he establishes his gravitas.  And every word and look and gesture is calculated.  Watch as he says, "Jack Crawford sent a trainee to me."  You can see his eyes pregnant with at first insult but then delight, conceiving how he can manipulate Starling.  And nothing he says or does rings false.  He is alternately courteous and crazy, but he is always true to his character.  His work on Lecter is so powerful because we could believe that Hopkins could eat a man's face right off.  And strangely enough, Hopkins gets us to like him in a way despite his evil.  It is a diabolically good performance.  That is why even though he has only in 16 minutes of a 118 minute movie, Hopkins presence looms large and earned him is Academy Award.

But I would say that this is not his best performance.

Hopkins has played refined English gentlemen, as he did in The Elephant Man.  He performance in The Remains of the Day is a lesson in acting restraint.  His character holds all of his emotions so tightly bottled that it almost hurts to watch how fastidiously he controls his feelings.  But he can also turn on the wit and the charm.  He is my favorite on screen Van Helsing.  He is arrogant and violent, but he has a darkly humorous charm that adds much needed relief to the horror and melodrama.  In fact, his dialogue is at time absolutely brutal, but Hopkins gives his Dracula-nemesis a winking charm.

Hopkins also shines in sub-par and even bad movies.  Nixon is not a good film, but Hopkins gives a great performance.  That is, it is a great performance if you realize he is not playing the actual historical Nixon and is instead playing the figment of Oliver Stone's imagination.  It is wonderfully frustrating to see him play a man with greatness in him but who is his own worst enemy who is beaten down by his own inferiority complex.  Hopkins makes a man of no charisma and questionable character believable as someone who could run a nation.  In movies like Amistad, he does a great job of a man fallen from greatness who strives to find meaning in goodness.  It is especially fun to watch his John Quincy Adams revel in the low expectations of his associates.

Hopkins even shows off his more physical side in Mask of Zorro and The Edge.  In both films, he plays a man pushed to the brink who tries to find redemption in helping others.  Hopkins proved that he was an actor not just of skill and talent, but of great physical prowess.

But his finest performance, for me, was his portrayal as CS Lewis in Shadowlands.  The movie itself has a number of flaws, not the least of which is its meandering length.  But Hopkins makes the movie watchable.  And while I have qualms with his portrayal of the historical CS Lewis, as with his role as Nixon, he still creates a compelling screen character.  Like his character Mr. Stevens, in The Remains of the Day, Hopkins' Lewis is a man who holds back his emotions.  When Joy Gresham comes into his life, Hopkins shows you how Lewis' armor is slowly whittled away and how he falls in love without realizing it.  When Joy gets sick, Hopkins gives, to my mind, an Oscar worthy performance showing the dam begin to break:

But that wasn't even the big break.  As the movie progresses Hopkins shows the continued struggle inside his soul to either give in to faith, love, and pain or to put stone around his heart and numb himself to the world.  It isn't until the last few minutes of the movie that Hopkins shows us the broken man's choice.  And it was like watching a frozen waterfall suddenly melt and the torrents of heartbreak flooded out of him.  I don't think I've seen another actor so emotionally naked on screen in the way Hopkins was and it felt like such a cathartic release after the entirety of his amazingly graceful performance.

Anthony Hopkins is a rare actor who is still capable of reaching heights that few actors can.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Trailer Time: Labor Day

I really like Jason Reitman as a director.  I also like the fact that he is trying different things as a director.

I really don't know quite what to make of this movie.  I am intrigued and the actors in it are excellent.

I can't tell if this is supposed to be a tragic case of star-crossed lovers or stockholm syndrome gone rampant.  And that has me curious.


What's in a Name?

When I was a boy I didn't like my name.  I don't know why, but I didn't.  I preferred my middle name.

In fact, I remember being a child and making friends with a neighboring family, I asked them to call me by my middle name.  I was sad when that didn't take.

I've since changed.  I heard once that every person's favorite word is their own name.  This is why people who want to make you feel good use it often in a conversation when they meet you.  I have no idea how scientifically accurate this is, but it makes sense to me.  There is that tiny thrill that goes through me when I see a character on TV or in a movie with my name.  It feels like in some strange, miniscule way the name connects us.

It is amazing how important our names are to us, and yet most of the time we don't choose them.  Sure there are exceptions.  CS Lewis was, I believe, 3-years-old when he declared to his entire family that we would no longer answer to his first name: Clive.  From that point on, he would answer only "Jacksie" or "Jack."  And for the rest of his 64 years on earth, that is what his friends and family called him.  It was, to say the least, a precoscious action.  But it asserted his independence.  He would be the master of his own destiny.

But Jack's case is rare.  The rest of us are given a name.  And whether we like it or not, we stick with it for the entire crazy trip we call life.  I think one of the reasons why we keep it, even if we don't like it, is because of who gave us our name.

The doctor doesn't name us, the state doesn't name us, the Church doesn't name us.

Our parents name us.

In the Bible, naming something is a sign of your power and authority over something.  God names Adam.  Adam names the beasts.  Adam recognizes the Woman, but he does not name her (until after the Fall, which is an effect of Original Sin).  And re-naming shows a special paternal relationship, as when God renamed Abram to Abraham, Moses renamed Hoshea to Joshua, or Jesus renames Simon to Peter.

Our parents get to choose our name because they are the ones who have true power and authority over us in our young lives.  They are the ones who shape us.  They care for our bodies.  They build up our minds.  They establish the contours of our souls.  We are invested in them for everything.  Of course they should name us.  They made us, not just in conception, but they made much of who we are today.

I think that's why some nicknames stick and some don't.  I'm not talking about the mean ones that people throw at you to bully and taunt.  I think we accept those names as signs of acceptance and affection, even if those names come from strange places.  I often write about my good friend, the Doctor.  Whenever I greet him, I always say, "Doctor..." instead of his name.  I wish it was for a reason that makes sense, like the fact that he has a PhD in Biblical Studies.  Instead it was because we both liked the movie Spies Like Us and quoted the "Doctor" scene all the time.  But that was 20 years ago that this started.  And we still do it.  I think its because any real friendship forged has its own little language that puts us in an inner circle.  The nicknames remind us that we made it into the club, and my name means something.  I mean, hey, sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

I also think that's where our little endearments in marriage come from.  We call each other, "Dear," or "Honey" or "Baby" or "Schmmoopie" or whatever.  Everyone else calls us by our own names (or worse) in the outside world.  But only that one other person, that person with whom we are most vulnerable, can look at the worst part of us and still call us by a name of affection.

Although I do have to say this: as I mentioned earlier, I used dislike my first name.  But I don't anymore.  It might be my favorite sound now.  And it is that for no other reason than that I love hearing it said by my wife.  The first time she ever said "I love you" and called me by name is a moment I will never forget.  It was as if someone said my name for the very first time.  In it, she encapuslated the whole totality of who I was and yet she still saw something loveable there.  No, not just something.  She loved it all.  Me.

And my wife took my name as her own.  I remember going with her to the social security office where she had to make it all legal.  It struck me what a huge deal this was: taking on your husband's name.  Her wanting it made it feel like it had a value that I never thought it had.  The name is even more special to me because it is now her name too.

And then on Monday, my sister gave birth to her first son.  And his parents gave him my middle name as his first name.  And I discovered that he was named after me.

That was a singular moment, to realize that my name had been given to another, that this child would be indelibly marked with a part of me.  In the moment I saw the text message with his name, two things occurred to me:

The first was that there is a kind of immortality that comes with having someone named after you.  You leave a mark on this world that will exist after you.

The second was that I now had tangible evidence of my sister and her husband's love.  I'm often a goofball and can often be annoying and rather flakey, especially to my family.  I never doubted that they loved me, but to choose something so important as their son's name...

And I began to cry.

Our names matter.  It is the symbol of who we are and the sum of our experiences.  Fantasy writer Neil Gaiman often makes the point that our names have power.  Our names our magic.  And they are.  When we recall our absent friends and family and speak their names, a part of them is conjured.  they are present with us.  We have their names and we know them.