Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Best: Top 10 Episodes of How I Met Your Mother

I have loved How I Met Your Mother since it premiered in 2005.  It was about people from my exact age who spoke about things that I cared about like Star Wars.  Not only that, but it had a knack for twist endings that would hit you emotionally because above all it has a large, beating, romantic heart.

But the series has always had two major drawbacks:

1.  The comedy can be too broad - As the show wore on, there was a lot of mugging at the camera, cheesy jokes, and a silliness that just broke the spell.

2.  Vulgarity - The show pushed the envelope, especially with the show’s Lothario Barney.  I like how people have commented that most of the stories that Ted tells his children are wildly inappropriate.  

But the show was not afraid to take risks and swing for the fences.  And as a result, while there is a lot of fluff, there is also a lot quality television.

It has the best directing of a four-camera sitcom I have ever seen.

And it had a fantastic cast. I watched originally because as a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan I saw that Alyson Hannigan was in it and I was curious to see a show with an adult Neil Patrick Harris. I had not watched Freaks and Geeks, so I didn't know about Jason Seagal. And Cobie Smulders and Josh Radnor were wonderful surprises. And all five of them had great chemistry together.

And tomorrow is the final episode, so I think that it's time to look back on the top 10 episodes from the past 9 years.

10.  Spoiler Alert
This episode touches on that universal experience of ignoring and then realizing the flaws of the people we care about.  I like this one particularly because of the truth it describes: once you realize the flaw, you can’t NOT see it.  But the larger point is that even though it’s there and you see it, you look past it because of the love you have for the other person.

9.  Time Travellers

For the most part this is a standard time-loopy episode.  But what sets it apart is the ending where Ted gives one of the best written speeches of the entire series, where he imagines himself speaking to his future wife 45 days before they meet.  It also might be Josh Radnor’s best performance.

8. Trilogy Time (s7e20)
I have to admit I am a bit emotionally attached to this episode, as it centers around watching the Star Wars Trilogy once every 3 years.  This is an impulse I can fully understand and practice.  But the fun of this episode is comparing their expectation three years in the future to the reality.  It resonates with our own plans verses the reality.  It is especially fun to see how someone lacking the maturity of those following 3 years imagines their future details.  And, as usual, there is a wonderful emotional ending.

7. The Final Page (s8e11-12)
This two part episode leads up to a fantastic finish.  What sets this episode apart is that it reaches back all the way to beginning of the season and showed you all of the misdirection.  This episode is important, because one of the central themes of the show is how all the little moments of the past lead up to a great and wonderful life changing event.

6. Ten Sessions (s3e13)
Ted’s search for love is the central plot of the show.  His tragedy is that he falls for women who are not for him.  But we always root for him because he has a big heart is an enormous romantic soul.  His chemistry with Stella is fantastic.  And his 2-minute date sequence might be one of the most sweetly romantic moments I’ve seen on television

5. Pilot (s1e01)
This was the episode that set the precedent.  It set up the tone and the flashbacks and the wit and the humor.  It still holds up along with the rest of the series.  But the best part was the last 30 seconds: the hook.  All of the promotions implied that Robin was the eponymous mother.  But with the words, “And that’s how I met your aunt Robin,” I realized that this show was much more than it seemed.  And I was in until the end.

4. Bad News (s6e13)
This episode is not funny.  Okay, it has funny moments, it might be the most emotionally devastating in the entire series.  Beyond the usual emotional gut punch, the tragedy is punctuated by a count down.  It starts with the number 50 in the first shot, as it slowly counts down to one.  Once you know that its there, it hurts in such a beautifully crafted catharsis, with the most horribly honest words, “I’m not ready for this.”

3. Swarley (s2e07)
This might be the funniest episode of them all.  While some episodes might have had funnier jokes, this episode made me laugh the entire time.  It used the trademark time distortion to set up jokes with great payoffs, particularly the midget hunchback.

2. Slap Bet (s2e09)
Not only is this episode incredibly funny and has long term ramifications all the way until the final season, but Robin’s secret was something that took me by absolute surprise and made me laugh so hard.  Not only did they capture the absolute cheesiness of 80’s teen pop stars and their videos, but they made sure to make her anthem “Let’s Go to the Mall” horribly catchy.

1. Sunrise (s9e17)
In this case, the best episode I’ve seen was saved almost for the end.  Barney is off on a drunken stupor passing on his Bro-found wisdom, Marshall imagines a fight with Lilly.  But it is the Ted and Robin on the beach scenes that make this episode work so well.  The writers sum up the journey that has led these two characters to this point so well and precisely.  We know that this relationship is doomed.  We’ve known from the pilot.  But this is not a will-they-won’t-they moment.  It is simply about the honesty of saying goodbye.  And the last scene on the beach made my heart catch.  It was everything good about the show, using what would otherwise be silly and strange visuals to instead hit you with an emotional punch.  Perfect ending.


The Duel - fun sword fighting and “lemon law”
The Pineapple Incident - learning that karaoke is “hauntingly beautiful.”
Drumroll, Please - wonderful build up to a romantic ending.
Nothing Good Happens After 2am - a great episode about making bad choices
Mary the Paralegal - some of the funniest jokes in the series.
Come On - emotional ending both good and bad
Ted Mosby: Architect - nice twist to the episode that you should see coming, but might not.
Arrividerci, Fiero - I cannot here that Proclaimers song without thinking of this ep.
How I Met Everyone Else -Almost made the top 10.introduced Blah-blah and the Crazy-Hot Scale
The Naked Man - Outrageous humor.
The Playbook - funny, short, creative vignettes.
Symphony of Illumination - Also almost made the top 10.  Sucker punch ending.
How Your Mother Met Me - we get to know the title character and it connects to so many past episodes.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Trailer Time: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

When I was a kid I made my mother wait in line for three hours with me and my little sister outside of the movie theater in the cold (this was before giant movieplexes were common) to see the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Our feet hurt, our backs ached, and my mom would never forgive me.

Totally worth it.

I am curious about this new Turtles movie.  It hasn't won me over completely, but at least it doesn't look like it will be totally awful.  I can't say that I'm excited that they cast Megan Fox as April O'Neil.  I would have much rather had someone like Kata Mara who looks at least a little like the character.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Summer Movie Season 2014

I know that it is only the middle of March, but its time to look forward to one of my favorite seasons of the year: Summer movie season.

The reason for the pushed up schedule is the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier this April.  Before, a movie this big would wait for a May release.  But with that month getting so crowded and there being very little competition in April, I think it was smart of Marvel to push ahead.  But this means we'll have to start planning our summer movie excursions earlier.

Here is a list, with a few brief thoughts of my own, including on a scale of 1-5 stars my likelihood of seeing it in theaters (1 being “Not at all” 5 being “Cannot wait!”).

So here is what is on the horizon:

Apr 4

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - This looks very different than the first Captain America, but it looks more sophisticated and the action looks awesome.   (*****)

 Island Of Lemurs: Madagascar - This nature documentaries don't grab me (*)
Under the Skin - I read somewhere that this movie was reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick.  That's enough to get me to pass (*)

Apr 11
 Rio 2 - Didn't see the first one (*)
Hateship, Loveship - I saw a trailer for this and it looks like it good be a good performance from Kristen Wiig in a drama, but it could also be awful.  Not sure.   (***)

Apr 16

Heaven Is For Real - I love Randal Wallace as a writer and a director.  The trailer was strong, so I'll probably see this one in theaters (****)

Apr 17
Transcendence - While Depp can be brilliant, this looks like standard sci-fi horror. (*)

May 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - I loved the first Amazing Spider-Man and I think this one is going to be strong visually and emotionally.  (*****)
Walk of Shame - At one time I really liked Elizabeth Banks.  But I think after Zach and Miri I stopped liking her.  This movie doesn't look that funny (**)

May 9
 Neighbors - I don't know, this movie looks like its going to be horrible people doing horrible things to each other and we're supposed to laugh (*)
 Chef - I don't know anything about this movie other than Jon Favreau directed it, which is enough to have me intrigued (***)
Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return - There would have to be some strong word of mouth praise for this film for me to see it (**)

May 16

 Godzilla - This looks leaps and bounds above the last American Godzilla movie.  (****)

May 23

X-Men: Days of Future Past - I have high hopes for this movie, which means that it will unfortunately have a lot to live up to for me not to be disappointed (*****)
Blended - This looks like a typical Adam Sandler no-brain comedy.  But that doesn't mean it can't be fun (***)

May 30
Maleficent - Sleeping Beauty is my favorite Disney movie.  So I'm not sure why this live action version isn't really grabbing me (**)

A Million Ways to Die in the West - I loved Ted.  This doesn't look as good, but I'm going to give it a shot (****)

Jun 6

Edge of Tomorrow - I find the trailer surprisingly compelling.  I didn't think I would want toe see it as much as I do (****)
The Fault In Our Stars - I don't know.  It just looks so depressing (**)

Jun 13
22 Jump Street - Didn't see the first one (*)

How to Train Your Dragon 2 - I waited a long time to see the first and I was so delighted.  I'm going to be there for opening night of this one (*****)

Jun 27

Transformers 4: Age of Extinction - I can't say that any of the Transformer movies have been great.  But darn it if I'm not a sucker for those big, bold action scenes.  And now that Shia LeBouf has been replaced by Mark Wahlberg, I think this has the potential to be the most mature of them. (*****)

Jul 11
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - I was lukewarm to the first one.  I think I'll wait for Netflix (**)

Jul 18
Jupiter Ascending - I still can't wash the stink off of the Wachowskis' last movie Cloud Atlas.  But the effects look good (**)

Jul 25
Hercules: The Thracian Wars - I'm curious if the Rock will be a better Hercules than a dubbed Lou Ferigno (**)

Aug 1

Guardians of the Galaxy - I'm going to see it, but I have low expectations.  As I've said before, it looks like The Fifth Element, and that has me worried.  (****)
Aug 8
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - I need to see more before I'm convinced to spend my money (***)

Aug 15
The Expendables 3 - I'm a sucker for stunt casting and I'll probably see this one in the theater as well (***)
Aug 22
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For - it looks just like the first, and that one was a little too dark for me (**)


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Film Flash: Veronica Mars

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

For non-Veronica Mars fans: witty, enjoyable mystery.  For Veronica Mars fans:  awesome movie experience. 

4 out of 5 stars

Sunday Best: Actors of All time #3 - Gary Oldman

CORRECTION:  in my original post,  I incorrectly said that Oldman played Mozart in Immortal Beloved.  Astute reader Poppabear pointed out that he played Beethoven.  I have since made the correction below.   


The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
 Batman Begins
 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Air Force One
 Murder in the First
 Immortal Beloved
Léon: The Professional
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

Gary Oldman is the film world's greatest living actor.

In terms of chameleon actors, who can lose themselves completely in a role, Oldman is unsurpassed.  I cannot tell you how many times I've mentioned to people how Commissioner Gordon is Sirius Black and they are shocked.  This is not simply a matter of makeup and costume but Oldman's total commitment to becoming his character.

As with #4 Johnny Depp, Oldman swings for the fences and sometimes he strikes out.  His villain in The 5th Element is a horrible cartoon caricature.  You can also see unimpressive performances in The Scarlet Letter and The Book of Eli.

But his body of amazing work overwhelms any misfires.  Even in bad movies, Oldman can shine.  In Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Oldman plays a simpleton/savant against Tim Roth's more cerebral character.  Oldman brings an openness and an optimism to his character that also comes off as vacant as Bill and Ted in their excellent adventure.  The movie itself is pretentious and boring, but Oldman makes it watchable by making Rosencrantz simply likable.

My first experience of Oldman was in JFK, where he plays Lee Harvey Oswald.  It is actually a fairly restrained performance and he must perform as a character mostly from people's memories.  He infuses Oswald with a seething anger under a stoic exterior.

But where I first took notice of Oldman was in Bram Stoker's Dracula.  His performance as the title monster is larger-than-life and requires him to chew scenery like crazy.  And yet what grounds all of it is that it fueled by an intensity of emotion.  He is absolutely fascinating to watch as he plays old man Dracula, monster Dracula, young gentleman Dracula... he transforms in body and voice while keeping the consistency throughout the performance.  And I love all of the small looks and gestures he puts into his scenes, like where he catches himself before drinking his own blood in front of Harker and then covers his mistake with his creepy, plastered smile.

And his corrupt cop Stansfield in Leon: The Professional might be his most over-the-top performance, but it is a controlled insanity.  There is a menace in the big moments and the small moments.  His is a drug-addled psychotic that is absolutely terrifying in a way that Dracula was not.  In the hands of any other actor, this would have been just another one-dimensional bad guy.  And while Oldman performs him without any redeeming qualities, only he could pull off that craziness in a believable way.  I can't think of the word "everyone" without thinking of Oldman screaming it.

His commitment to his craft is evident in Immortal Beloved.  He committed himself to learning how to play piano like Beethoven in order to play the famous composer.  Like his previous characters, Oldman's Beethoven has little to no redeeming qualities.  But he burns with his trademark intensity.  Watch the overwhelming sadness as he lays his head on the piano and plays the notes he cannot hear.

I should pause a moment here to talk about his intensity a bit more.  I don't want to confuse intensity with simply large emotional displays.  By intensity, I'm talking about the emotional energy that fuels the character.  And each display of that intensity is distinct from each other.  You can feel how his Dracula's passion for Mina is a much different  kind of passion that Beethoven has for his great love.  And the violence of Stansfield comes from such a different place as the monstrous actions of Dracula.  Bruce Lee once said (quoting Eastern Philosophy) that you should be like the nature of water which takes the shape of whatever vessel it enters.  Oldman brings his rich skill to every role but he shapes it to whatever is necessary.

While he plays villains very well, he has also broken out in some fantastic heroic roles.  His Sirius Black from the Harry Potter series is a fantastic take on a man who is almost broken by injustice.  In Prisoner of Azkaban, you can watch his big reveal scene on multiple levels.  He has to appear like an insane murderer, but you have to be able to see the same performance again through the lens of a man who is about to get righteous vengeance after years of torture.  Oldman also let his character evolve into a man of quiet sadness.  His speech to Harry about good and evil is beautiful and fatherly.  And yet Sirius is a broken man.  He is too wounded by his life.  He delivers his final line in Order of the Phoenix with an exhilaration that only enhances the underlying sadness.

But one of my favorite performances of Oldman's is that of Jim Gordon in Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy.  You can see none of Dracula, Stansfield, Beethoven, or Black in Gordon.  He is a completely changed.  Gordon is a multi-layered character, but he might be the most virtuous person in the series.  Playing villains gets more attention (see the series' Joker and Bane).  But Oldman's Gordon is one of the best performances of Oldman's because he plays him as a good, straight-as-an-arrow man while making him fascinating to watch.  The thing that underlies his entire performance is a deep and abiding sadness.  He is a good man who is surrounded by evil.  Watch him in the first movie when he puts a jacket on young Bruce.  He is kind and comforting, but even there you can see a sense of helplessness.  As Lt. Gordon, you can see how trapped he feels.

In The Dark Knight, he brings that intensity to fuel his righteousness.  And when it all falls apart in the final scene, he has to be alternately confrontoational, apologetic, consoling... all while keeping his character consistent and intact.  And as a good man who has done wrong, he shows the weight of his choices in his character in The Dark Knight Rises.  He is a man who has lost so much but cannot stop doing what he is doing.  He is a wounded warrior going once more into the breach.  And he keeps his character in control and resists most scenery chewing in order create a stable spine on which the Dark Knight Trilogy can rest.

I am amazed by Gary Oldman.  He can contort his behavior in ways that few actors can.  For that reason he is the greatest living actor and the #3 greatest actor of all time.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Lack of Updates (part III)

Dear faithful reader,

I know that I have been lax in getting up essays and more articles. 

About a week and a half ago, my basement flooded.  In and of itself, that would be a chore to deal with, but the leak that caused the flood was right above my comic book collection of 26 years!

So most of my free time has been dedicated to salvaging what I could, cataloguing my losses for the insurance, and beginning the general cleanup.

I know that when I shared this news with my friends they were devastated for me, and I love them for their sympathy.  They have been and continue to be incredibly helpful.

But in the end, I know that it is just stuff.  There are a lot worse things in this world than the loss of toys and comics.  And this tiny, tiny cross just makes me more grateful for all of the blessings in my life.

When things settle down, I will return with more of my ramblings including:

-a rant against pornography in television
-a layout of Summer Movie Season
-my #3 Actor of all time (who is also today's greatest living actor)
-my review of Forever Evil
-thoughts on fighting pessimism

Thanks for your patience!


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

New Evangelizers Post: St. Joseph - Wonder Worker

I have a new article up at

I pray to St. Joseph every single day.

Someone once said to me that St. Joseph actually had it pretty hard in his house.  He sat down at the dinner table between the Incarnate Word and the Immaculate Conception; if someone was screwing up in that house, it had to be him.

But in seriousness, Joseph did not have it easy.  Very little is known about his life with certainty.  There are stories from things like the non-canonical Proto-Gospel of James, but we take those traditions with a grain of salt.  The Bible itself doesn’t give us that much information.  Was he young?  Was he old?  Was he popular?  Was he charismatic?  None of this is in the Scriptures.
The Gospel of Matthew tells us that he was a righteous man.  This meant at the very least that he was consciously religious and he kept the law.  But it is his action that reveals his character.

Matthew tells us that when he found Mary was with a child not his own, he decided to divorce her quietly.  I know some people point to this as a moment of selfishness or weakness.  But there is a great deal we can learn about Joseph in this moment.

At this point in the story, Joseph mistakenly believes that Mary is with child by another man.  The penalty for adultery could be death.  If Joseph wanted to exact his righteous indignation at his tarnished honor, he could expose her to the law.  But the fact that he was to divorce her quietly means that he would subject her to trial.  Yet Mary would still be pregnant.  Who would people think was the father?

Joseph, of course.

You can read the entire thing here.

Trailer Time: The Maze Runner

I am completely ignorant of this book series, but the trailer looks very good.  It conjures for me thoughts of Theseus, Cube, Lord of the Flies, and The Hunger Games.  I know there is a lot of hype on Divergent, but I just can't get too excited for that. 


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday Best: Actors of All Time #4 - Johnny Depp

photo by Anne Althiede
 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
 Finding Neverland
 Secret Window
 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
 Donnie Brasco
 Don Juan DeMarco
 Ed Wood
 What's Eating Gilbert Grape
 Benny & Joon
 Edward Scissorhands

If you look past all the celebrity hype and the sometimes painfully quirky projects he chooses, Johnny Depp is one of the greatest living actors around.

He is one of the great chameleon actors who morphs into whatever role he needs.  The transformation from part to part is nearly unparalleled (except by our #3 actor).

Depp has always been a bit of an iconoclast.  He seems to intentionally choose parts that are strange.  While not every attempt at this works (see the awful Dark Shadows), it has given him a diverse body of work that highlights his particular set of skills.

His first great performance was as the title character in Edward Scissorhands.  Depp had very little dialogue to perform.  He had to get his character across mostly with non-verbals like facial expressions and body language.  Considering his horrific appearance, Depp had a huge challenge ahead.  But he delivered beautifully.  Who doesn't remember Edward's gentle soul when thinking of that film?

Depp continued to use his physical skills in Benny and Joon.  As Sam, the Buster Keaton enthusiast, Depp had to be able to mimic the physical genius of silent movie stars like Keaton and Charlie Chaplain.  And Depp rose to the occasion and became so physically dynamic that he completely stole the show.

He toned things down physically for his solemn performance in What's Eating Gilbert Grape?  People often point to Leonardo DiCarpio's Oscar nominated performance here.  But just as powerful is Depp's Gilbert who is a young man trapped by a family that he loves.  Depp plays him as guilt-ridden and hypocritical; Gilbert is a man of contradictions.  And through it all Depp makes us care about him and his relationship to his family.

One of my favorite performances of his is as Edward D. Wood Jr. in Tim Burton's Ed Wood.  It is a heavily stylized performance with quirky accents and tones.  But Depp does not turn Ed into a caricature. He plays him as full of optimism and frustration and feeling beneath his manic smile and wide-eyed enthusiasm.  I think of the scene where he confesses to a girl on his first date that he likes wearing women's clothes.  He doesn't lose any of his outward affectations, but he uses them to get deep into the vulnerability of the character.

Depp then does a complete 180 in his performance as of the title character in Don Juan DeMarco.  What is incredible is the absolute and supreme confidence of the performance.  Depp seduces the audience with his absolute conviction and charm.  He projects a charisma that you could chalk up to being simply natural to him as a person, but I think does a disservice to his skill.  He is able to project that confidence because Depp is able to give his character everything that he needs.

This acting-witin-acting is even more potent in Donnie Brasco (I never noticed until now how many movies Depp is in where he plays the title character).  The challenge of the undercover cop movie is that you have to be able to see both sides of the character without it being too obvious, or we would not believe that they could pass as criminal.  One of the things that I liked about the performance is that as he gets pulled deeper in, he pulls away from his family and the audience.  He makes us care about him getting lost in his own lies.

His first Oscar nomination was as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribean: Curse of the Black Pearl.  In retrospect, we can see how wonderful Depp's choices were.  But at the time they were a risk. What I love about his take on the character is how fully he committed to an unorthodox take on the script.  I think of Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker, where all of his acting choices were things I never would have thought of.  Depp did this same thing with Sparrow.  But, like Ledger, he infused such conviction and believability into the life of Sparrow, that he made the material soar.

And Depp once again threw out all of his acting tricks to play the very straightforward part of JM Barrie in Finding Neverland.  Instead of covering his character with too many quirks, he tones down all of those instincts and plays the part straight.  But with Depp that does not mean dull.  His Barrie is as alive and vibrant as any of his other characters.  And he gives him a reality that makes his emotional journey so fulfilling.

Depp is a risk taker when it comes to his roles as an actor.  And while this means making plenty of mistakes, it also leads to great success.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wednesday Comics: Charles Soule

When new writers come onto the scene, it usually takes awhile for me to take notice.  But there is that wonderful discovery when I'm reading that I'm enjoying and then I see that it written by someone I know writes another title I enjoy.

This is the case with Charles Soule.

I have only noted his work in the last few months.  After the complete revamp of the creative teams in charge of the Green Lantern universe, Soule was given the reins to Red Lanterns.  I had been collecting that title, but more out of continuity to the other Lantern stories.  It followed the rage-fueled Reds who are led by the sympathetic but brutal Atrocitus.  One of the problems for the book was that the inherent ugliness of the characters (both moral and physical) made it hard to connect to the stories.

Soule's solution is excellent.  Guy Gardner has been tasked by Hal Jordan to go undercover as a Red Lantern.  In and of itself, that is interesting, but in Donnie Brasco like fashion, Guy not only has embraced the Reds, but he ousted Atrocitus as their leader.

Soule has given us a hero we can root for.  Not only that, but he has given strong personalities to the other Reds that makes us care about them.  And even though the Reds are still violent, Guy has taken them on a more heroic bent.  I'm not sure where it will go, but I am greatly enjoying the ride.

I started buying the Superman/Wonder Woman title because I thought the idea was intriguing.  I didn't realize Soule was writing it until I finished the 3rd issue.  This has so far been one of the consistently best books each month.  Soule does a fantastic job of exploring these unique characters and their relationship while setting against a heavy action backdrop.  I love his insight that Superman doesn't think of himself as above humanity because he was raised in a human family.  Wonder Woman is in many ways more of an alien than he is because of this.

The romance is handled delicately but not schmaltzy.  What could have been a simple gimmick book is actually a fun exploration of the different corners of the DCU.

After realizing how much I enjoy his writing, I was in the comic book store and saw that he started writing for Marvel's She-Hulk comic.  So I picked up the 1st issue and it was very good.  Unlike the action heavy books that he also writes, She-Hulk focuses on the character as a celebrity lawyer.  Soule's background is that he is a licensed attorney, so he brings a great deal of inside-baseball insight into the story.  While there is some punching and action, the book reads much more like a legal procedural show set against the characters of the Marvel Universe.  In the first issue, she takes on a woman suing Tony Stark aka Iron Man for stealing a technology design from her late husband.  Oh, and her late husband was a super villain.

If you get a chance, I would pick up something Soule is writing now.  I look forward to even bigger and better things from him in the years to come.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

UPDATED -True Detective: The Most Anti-Christian Show on Television?


I just caught up with every episode of HBO's True Detective in preparation for the finale tonight.  This show has been talked about quite a bit on the inter-webs.

The Good:
The acting is great.  McConaughey is fantastic and Harrelson does a very good job.  The directing and cinematography are superb.  There is a much-mentioned single take sequence in episode 4 that is mind-boggling good.

The Bad:
It's mostly boring.  This is a series from the same guy who made AMC's The Killing, a show that took a 5-episode story arc and turned into 13.  The same applies to True Detective.  The show meanders and lingers in ways that strain the patience.
The sexual content is explicit.  In an upcoming essay, I'm going to tackle this topic in more detail, but suffice to say that it is unnecessary and distracting.
Also, the characters are completely unlikable.  I struggle to care about what happens to our leads because they are such jerks.

But what I want to focus on for this article is the anti-Christian sentiment on display on the show.

Unlike channels that take on sponsors, HBO has less to worry about regarding offending viewers.  So they can make a full court press on Christians.

Below are examples of the anti-Christian point of view the show has.


1.  The main villains appear to be Christian leaders.  A Billy Graham character is a participant in child sexual abuse and murder ring that includes satanic rituals.  I am not saying that a Christian character shouldn't be a villain.  We have plenty of those in history.  But the show goes out of its way to tie the hypocritical evangelist to horrible crimes.

2.  Christian schools are scams.  The Billy Graham preacher started a number of religious schools.  They were places to collect and victimize children.  Also, he was making money off of the state by using a voucher system to fund his house of horrors.  The implication is that school vouchers help to sponsor child abuse.

3.  Christians are hypocrites.  While no one will deny that all of us are sinners, anyone who espouses Christian beliefs on the show appears to be horribly two-faced.  The only person with integrity appears to be the nihilistic atheist, Rust Cohle (McConnaughey).    This brings us to the next point.

4.  Christians are idiots.  At a tent revival, Cohle muses about the collective IQ of the Christians gathered.  The show goes so far as to make one of the main helpers at the revival a mentally retarded man, just to emphasize that Christian preachers prey on the weak minded.  This could have been a nice moment that showed the Christian faith is for all people, and even those with mental handicaps are treated with love and dignity.  Instead, it is clear that the producers are implying that all Christians lack brains.

5.  The show ignorant of Christian faiths.  It is clear that the Billy Graham character is some kind of Protestant minister.  And yet all of his Christian schools are filled statues of the Virgin Mary.  Seeing as how most Protestants believe that Catholics honor Mary too much, it is very unlikely that the schools would be decorated in that manner.  This is a common problem in television and movies.  Producers don't know how actual devout Christians live in their various denominations, so they grab an religious iconography that they think is evocative.

I could go into more detail, but I think that this will suffice.

Now, there is one more episode left.  It is possible that I have misunderstood the producers' intentions.  Maybe the character will come to some kind of epiphany and that the earlier parts will be seen in a new light.

But I'm not holding my breath.


So I watched last night's finale.  And most of what I've said about the show holds up.  But there are 2 very interesting, redeeming things in the end.


After Cohle and Hart track down the killer, both are wounded, possibly mortally.  Hart wakes up, but Cohle is in a coma.  After Hart wakes, his ex-wife and daughters come to his side.  He is then overwhelmed with tears.  I took this to mean a real acknowledgement of the goodness of family life that he rejected by his infidelity.

But Cohle eventually wakes from his coma.  There is a moment where he is lying there all in white that he looks quite Christ-like.  Cohle's nihilism stemmed from the loss of his little daughter years earlier from a drunk driver.  After that, he was convinced life was purposeless and void of meaning.  But in the final scene of the show, Cohle confesses that while he was in his coma he could feel his daughter in the afterlife.  He wasn't critical of the feeling, he accepted with ontological certainty.  He finishes the show with certainty that there is life and love after this world.

The last line of the show is about the stars.  It reminds Cohle of the battle between good and evil, and while there is a whole lot of dark, the light is breaking through.  Cohle ends by saying that the light is winning.

That is a huge turnaround for the characters.  So it turns out that the characters did come to some kind of epiphany.  Whether this is redemptive enough, I will leave that up to you.

Sunday Best: Oscar Results

Okay, so the Oscars were last Sunday.

I tried to live tweet the entire event, but I did something I haven't done in years: I fell asleep during the awards.  I've made it through some of the worst, most bizare, most offensive broadcasts in my life.  But I couldn't make it through this one because it was SOOOOOOOO boring.

Ellen was a terrible host.  I don't think she is untalented.  But nearly every single one of her jokes fell flat.  There was way too much dead time and the bits were beaten to death.

There were also way too many tributes.  As I've written before, only the In Memoriam should be kept.

As a Catholic, I was very pleased that two people specifically thanked God for their success.  I know that this is a small drop in the bucket of self-importance, but even these baby steps should be encouraged.  When you have an audience of millions listening, it is a truly wonderful thing to take that moment and give praise to the Lord.


Best Picture:
My prediction - American Hustle
Winner: 12 Years a Slave
I bet big on American Hustle and I lost.  I did acknowledge that I was in the minority and that the odds were stacked on 12 Years a Slave.  I have not seen the movie, (like some of the Academy members who voted for it, apparently) but I have heard that it was incredibly powerful.

Best Director:
My prediction - David O. Russel
Winner - Alfonso Cuaron

I was very pleased to be wrong here.  As you have read here on this blog, I believe that Cuaron is the best director this year, but I predicted that the Academy would lean toward one of their favorites, Russel.  The visual power of Gravity cannot be denied and so I'm glad that the Academy recognized Cuaron's great work.

Best Actor:
My prediction - Matthew McConaughey
Winner - Matthew McConaughey

I haven't seen Dallas Buyers Club, but McConaughey hit all of the right buttons.  I was not surprised at all by this win.

Best Actress
My prediction - Cate Blanchette
Winner - Cate Blanchette

Ultimately, I figured that the stink of Woody Allen's depravity would matter little to the Hollywood elite and they would honor Blanchette for her performance.  I don't see Woody Allen movies, so I don't know if she was better than Amy Adams, but from everything I've heard, she was excellent.

Best Supporting Actor
My prediction - Jared Leto
Winner - Jared Leto

He wasn't not going to win.  Shoe-in.

Best Supporting Actress
My prediction - Jennifer Lawrence
Winner - Lupita Nyong'o

I went with Lawrence because of the performances I've seen, hers was the best.  But from the few clips I've seen of Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave, I see glimpses of strong, raw energy.

So, even though I am immersed in the pop culture, I apparently lack the ability to apply this knowledge to accurately predict awards.  I have a good friend of mine, Rick O, who once mentioned that I predict based not on my knowledge but on my hopes.  Looking at last week's Oscars, maybe he's right.

Anyway, below are a reprint of my live tweets up until I fell asleep, chronologically from bottom to top.  Enjoy (or mock mercilessly)

  1. you can tell how long this show is by looking at how much kate hudson has aged
  2.  Retweeted by 
    Bette Midler is actually flapping her wings during WIND BENEATH MY WINGS. "Lookee here! I have wings!"
  3.  Retweeted by 
    The oscars remind us of what's important. And it's not the Oscars.
  4.  Retweeted by 
    And remember that, in her later years, Hollywood all but abandoned Judy. Tragic.
  5. Why, Whoopie, why? I don't need another tribute song. Just get on with the darn awards!
  6.  Retweeted by 
  7.  Retweeted by 
    without the hard work of editors, every movie would be wolf of wall street
  8. Bill Murray's mention of Harold Ramis is my favorite moment of the night
  9. We interrupt this interminably long show for a pizza break for rich people
  10. I don't think I'm gonna make it... Fading fast... Show is soooo boring....
  11. Why did Liza hug her. I must have missed Ms. Minnelli's contribution to 12 Years a Slave
  12. That selfie moment... I think we just saw everything we hate about awards shows in miniature
  13. I'm just thinking how Homer snuck in backstage to see U2: "Potato Man!"
  14. I was thinking that what this show needed was to slow things down with a song from the makers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

  15. These "Previously on the Oscars" moments should include all the awards we don't care about
  16.  Retweeted by 
    Ha ha YAY Kevin Spacey does his famous Foghorn Leghorn impersonation!!
  17.  Retweeted by 
    One hour later: Darlene Love still singing, nobody knows what to do
  18. A real Frank Underwood would be welcome at this full show
  19. Hey, God got mentioned. I thought they'd bleep that
  20.  Retweeted by 
    Short films are important, but I don't know if they're "TV" important.
  21. They need to cut ALL shorts from the telecast

  22. Why was Ellen holding a guitar? Are all of the jokes random?
  23. This is a nice song and all, but with the show dragging, how many of you want Beluschi to come out and smash the guitar?
  24. Tribute to real life heroes in movies (Jesus conspicuously missing)
  25. Frozen! Well deserved! Should also win best song
  26.  Retweeted by 
    McConnaughey-Novak buddy cop movie coming THIS FALL
  27.  Retweeted by 
    “The presenter banter works every year let’s definitely keep doing that”
  28. Wow, this banter is the worst I've ever heard. Painful
  29.  Retweeted by 
    Ellen DeGeneres-Bradley Cooper shtick just a time suck.
  30.  Retweeted by 
    Three awards. 45 minutes. But at least Channing introduced us to the teen UN
  31.  Retweeted by 
    I was hoping they'd showcase a bunch of children who made 60 second movies but I didn't dare myself the dream.
  32. The academy did a nation wide search to find young filmmakers to make the oscars LONGER
  33.  Retweeted by 
    Harrison smoked a few crystal skulls before taking the stage.
  34. We're nearly 30 minutes into the telecast. Number awards given: 1. Number awards remaining: 23
  35.  Retweeted by 
    A hatless Smokey the Bear waits impatiently offstage.
  36. Is the Oscar telecast doing a live Old Navy Commercial?
  37. Oh no... a full song... Reason #89 why this telecast is so long
  38.  Retweeted by 
    The kids love the Bruce Dern impressions! The kids over 50.
  39. Tribute to animated heroes: Reason #88 why this telecast is so long
  40.  Retweeted by 
    “He really gets us” - Ukrainians
  41. Let used the 2 ways to improve Oscar wins: Men - if straight, play gay Women - if pretty, uglify yourself
  42. Okay, I was going to make fun of Leto, but he just gave such a nice speech about his mom
  44. "Possibility #1: 12 Years a Slave wins best picture. Possibility #2: you're all racists." That does sum up 12 Years a Slave Oscar Campaign
  45.  Retweeted by 
    I hear that army of semi transparent Oscars comes to life and fights to the death with shirtless Christian Bale.
  46. "Who's the wine captain now?" I'm having Uma/Oprah flashbacks.
  47. I didn't realize that Austin Powers suits were back in style