Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Best: Top 10 James Horner Scores

RIP James Horner: 1953-2015

Sadly, the great composer James Horner died a week ago.

He was one of the best film composers I had ever heard.  I only became aware of his name during the big Titanic craze.  But when I looked back at his body of work I realized that I had been an admirer of his for a long time, I just did not know it.

So in honor of him, here are his 10 best scores

10.  Apollo 13.

Horner captured the grandeur of spirit found in the Apollo astronauts while keeping things taught and tense.

9.  Swing Kids.

There is a haunting sadness to the light main melody that juxtaposes so powerfully against the intensity of the swing music.

8.  Aliens

That use of the metallic clanging in the chase scenes give it a unique and scary doom.  And even the final credits music stays with you as the credits roll.

7.  Star Trek II and III

There space battles in these great films are not very dynamic.  Horner's music gives it a thrilling and moving undercurrent.

6.  Glory

Even though the charge of the fort is not his original score, the rest of the movie captures the power found in its title.

5.  A Beautiful Mind

The movie is mostly about the interior of the mind, something very difficult to make tangible on film.  But Horner's score touches the intellectual and emotional reality of Nash's fractured genius.

4.  Krull

To this day, when I hear the march of the Firemares, I am transported to 1983 and I am a little kid again watching with wonder.

3.  Titanic

His most iconic score and rightfully esteemed.  His music was the emotional anchor that drove home to sad romance of this story.  He captured both the exhilaration and despair in such beautiful musical notes.

2.  Braveheart

The music for this movie is perfect.  The stirring use of bagpipes and strings touches something primal and noble in the human spirit.  Whenever I listen to the last 7 and a half minutes of score, I can't help but say the words of dialogue out loud: "You have bled with Wallace.  Now bleed with me."  Perfect down to the last chord.

1.  Willow

For years I had simply assumed that John Williams had written this score.  I know that sounds like an odd way to praise this music, but it might be the highest compliment I can give.  It is magical through and through.

Thank you, Mr. Horner, for all of the beauty you have us.  May you rest in peace.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Film Flash: Ted 2

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

Lots of laughs, but loses character development and good will from the first.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Batman v. Superman: A Priest's Perspective

(hat tip to Rick O.)

I really love this analysis.

It reminds me of the second essay I ever wrote on this blog.  (you can read that one here).


Friday, June 26, 2015

If Truth Loses, Love Cannot Win

"We are through the looking glass, people!  Up is down.  Black is white."
-Jim Garrison, JFK

Like many of you, I have been sorting through my thoughts and feelings on today's decision by the Supreme Court.  Ever since they ruled last year that California's ban on same-sex "marriage" was unconstitutional, it was only a matter of time before all such bans were overturned in the country.

This has been on the cultural road ever since the acceptance of contraceptives by the majority of Catholics.  Instead of our leaders in the American Catholic Church standing up forcefully and clearly in 1968, confusion reigned.  And the logical progression unfolded.

If artificial contraception is morally acceptable, then it must mean that sex has no intrinsic connection to procreation.

If sex has no intrinsic connection to procreation, then there is nothing morally illicit about homosexual sex.

Add to this the acceptance of no-fault divorce.  Marriage was seen as the permanent bond that was necessary to raise children well.

But if marriages are easily ended, then they must not be necessary for raising children well.

If they are not necessary for raising children well, then it would seem that procreation and education of children has little to do with marriage.

If procreation and education of children has little to do with marriage, then there should be no impediment to homosexuals marrying.

This has been the on the horizon for a long time.

Still, though expected, today is a game-changer.

But this is not the end.  It is only the beginning.

I was not alive in 1973 when Roe v. Wade overturned most (eventually all) bans on abortion.  I wonder if faithful Christians felt then the way we feel now.  I wonder if abortion proponents thought that by winning the day they had won the war.  And I wonder how those then feel now that we are winning that war.

I have no doubt that we will eventually overturn Roe v. Wade.  We are over 40 years past it, but we are making headway.  But that is because, by the grace of God, people have fought tirelessly to protect the unborn.

Are we ready to answer the call to save marriage?

And let us be clear: the 5 justices on the Supreme Court of the United States did not redefine marriage.

They cannot.

If the Supreme Court said that it violates the Constitution if the federal government seizes a farmer's raisin crop because it wanted to affect raisin prices, then the court could because that is an interpretation of a man-made law.

If the Supreme Court decreed tomorrow that a "square" would not be legally recognized as "a flat, enclosed plane figure whose points are all equidistant from one point," it would not therefore follow that all squares will become circles.  The reason why is because the laws of geometry are not man-made.  They are man-discovered.

The same is true about marriage.

Marriage is in our human nature.  It is part of God's plan.  It is not a mere cultural construct.  If it were man-made then man could change it.  But it is not.

But even though the Supreme Court has broken with God and human nature, be prepared, O faithful Catholic, for the deluge coming at you.

George Orwell wrote in 1984, "Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two makes four."  What he meant was that freedom is the right to recognize objective reality and make arguments and conclusions from that.  But in his novel, the State wanted to be the guardians of truth.  Big Brother decided what was true.

And that is what is coming for us.  Like Captain Picard, we must say that there are 5 lights or face the full power of the state and the media.

For years we have heard that we should accept that which we know is morally wrong as long as it "doesn't hurt me."  A couple wants to contracept?  Doesn't hurt me.  Two people of the same gender want to have sex?  Doesn't hurt me.  A man wants to have his genitals cut off and be called a woman?  Doesn't hurt me.

But it does hurt.

It hurts because each link in that chain makes a chainsaw that cuts down the branch of the tree on which we are sitting.  Accepting each of those things is to deny truth.

And once you accept that there is no truth, you are lost.  All that remains is the will to power.  If we accept a common objective world of facts and logic then we can change each other through argumentation and ideas.  If there is no objective truth, then whoever shouts loudest and longest with the most violence behind it wins.  That is a world where might is right.

One of the most moving films I have ever seen is The Mission.  And this line has stayed with me for 20 years: "If might is right then love has no place in the world."

In a world without truth, love will be reduced to an ephemeral sentiment.  It will be another commodity for which we will try to find a chemical substitute.  Love will be robbed of all of its meaning and power in this world.

That is why if truth loses, love cannot win.

Film Flash: Aloha

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

Pleasant (but meandering) love story with likable leads and some real heart (at the end)

3 out of 5 stars

Modernized Matthew 19:1-12

God have mercy on me for rewording His Holy Word, but I thought a modernized retelling of this passage may be insightful for all of us, especially today.

MATTHEW 19:1-12

* When Jesus* finished these words,* he left Galilee and went to the District of Columbia across the Potomac.2Great crowds followed him, and he cured them there.3Some lawyers approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to marry another man?”4He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’5and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?6So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”7They said to him, “Then why did The Supreme Court of the United States command that the man be allowed to marry another man?”8He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts SCOTUS allowed you to do this, but from the beginning it was not so.9e I say to you, whoever "marries" a person of the same sex commits adultery.”10[His] disciples said to him, “If that is the case.. it is better not to marry.”11He answered, “Not all can accept [this] word,but only those to whom that is granted.12Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage* for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

Jesus was in the original passage (printed below from the NAB) talking about divorce and remarriage.  But the logic is still valid with different terms.

Remember, Jesus was a reformer of marriage too.  Or rather He was a marriage reclaimer.  We must reclaim God's design.


1* When Jesus* finished these words,* he left Galilee and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan.2Great crowds followed him, and he cured them there.3a Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him,* saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?”4* b He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’5c and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?6So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”7* d They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?”8He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.9e I say to you,* whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”10[His] disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”11He answered, “Not all can accept [this] word,* but only those to whom that is granted.12Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage* for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Trailer Time: The Martian

This looks like Castaway Meets Apollo 13

I'm in

(warning, mildly vulgar language)


Film Review: Inside Out

This movie has stayed with me for days and has already become a small part of my metaphorical vocabulary.  Just the other day I felt badly for something, so I looked at my wife and said, "Sadness is in control now."

PIXAR has once again built up one of the most imaginative and resonant worlds with Inside Out.

The premise of the movie is that when we are born, we have sentient creatures running a little universe in our minds.  Think of Descartes' "ghost in the machine," except with 5 major emotions running the show: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyliss Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), and Anger (Lewis Black).  These emotions move you to action in the world.  And when you make memories, it is their job to store them away.  And some of the these memories become "core memories" that create an essential part of our personality.

The movie centers around the emotions living inside a young tween named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias).  She is a typical young girl living in the Midwest when suddenly she is uprooted with her mom (Diane Lane) and dad (Kyle MacLachlan) to urban San Francisco.  This makes it very difficult for Joy to maintain Riley's happy disposition and dominance over the other emotions, particularly the hangdog Sadness.  And when something happens to cause Riley to gain a new core memory that is marked by Sadness, not Joy, it leads to a chain of events causing Joy and Sadness to get lost in the deeper recesses of Riley's mind.  Now, Riley can only feel Fear, Disgust, and Anger, while Joy and Sadness try to make their way back to "headquarters."

To speak much more about the plot and what they encounter would take away a good deal of the fun to be had at this movie.  While other stories have tried to tackle the idea of fighting interior personalities (like the '90's TV show Herman's Head), I have never seen one that is so fully realized.  Everything in this movie is new and fantastic.  But the real genius is that it all seems way too familiar.  Every new turn explored in this world has the feeling of "Of course!" to it.  Why can't I remember all of the presidents?  Because unused memories literally get thrown away.  What do we do with our biggest fears?  We lock them away in a vault!
Inside Out makes tangible and concrete the ephemeral world of feeling and thought.  I have never seen a movie literally make such a good concrete representation of abstraction.

And this is also part of the fun of the movie: you can imagine this interior life within yourself.  I found myself imagining what my core memories were and if they were happy or sad or scary.  I imagined how studying made the literal train of thought from long-term memory to consciousness.  And I imagined how even now, different emotions vie for control of my current mental state.  Everything directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen rings true.

The voice talent for this movie is perfect.  Poehler has spent years playing the Pollyannaish Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation, and she brings that same zanny enthusiasm to joy.  Smith also should get special mention as Sadness.  She is able (with the help of the animators) to makes Sadness lethargically dour without making her repulsive.  Instead of wanting to avoid Sadness, you want to put your arms around her and try to cheer her.  And while the rest of the cast a very good job, I should also mention the perfect casting of Lewis Black.  Normally, his shtick would be a distracting piece of stunt casting.  But I cannot imagine any other voice embodying Anger than his.

It makes sense that PIXAR would do a movie about emotions like this, since their movies are all about hitting you with an emotional punch.  The jokes are hysterical, the sad parts are heart-breaking, and the film is overall heart-warming.

And yet there is a deep pallor of sadness throughout the film.  This is not a criticism.  In fact, the film wisely raises the question: "Why do we even need Sadness?"  But the sadness here is not somber.  It's the sadness of growing up.  Growing up is a wonderful thing, especially for the child.  But for the parent, it is a different experience.  While still wonderful, watching you child put aside childish things is sad because you know that there is a part of that person that is lost forever.  I don't think any child who watches this movie will get that point.  But as an adult, I felt it with every frame.  But that sadness is not necessarily a bad thing.  How can sadness be good?  I'll let the movie answer that for itself.

As a Catholic, I love the depiction of this traditional family trying to make things work.  The marriage feels real and the child's perspective, where the problems of grown ups seem scary and distant, also felt real.  And I found it to be a stinging indictment of our society which tries to numb sadness.  That isn't to say our society is not emotional.  In fact is may be overly so.  But we want to distract and defuse our sadness so that we don't feel it.  We turn to alcohol, drugs, TV, the internet, and every other distraction to keep us from feeling the sadness inside.  But as I said before, this movie answers the question of why we NEED Sadness.  It reminded me of the verse from Oscar Wilde's "Ballad of Reading Gaol" :

"Oh happy they whose hearts and break and peace of pardon win!  How else may man make straight his path and cleanse his soul of sin? How else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in."

And then maybe by allowing ourselves to really feel these things we will be more open to true Joy.

Inside Out is PIXAR's best movie since Toy Story 3 and it deserves to be as embraced.

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Trailer Time: Captive

I know about this true story and I thought it would make an interesting movie.  What surprises me so much is that this is not a small-time, Christian themed studio that is producing it.  Instead you have some real Hollywood up-and-comers who are in a movie that takes the everyday faith of believers seriously.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pope Francis Vs. Godzilla: Impressions of Laudato Si

It is summer and I am inclined to be very lazy.  I had not intended to read Pope Francis' encyclical because, to be honest, it's really long.

But Rick O. reminded me that I promised to read it and blog about it.  (Of course I have no memory of this conversation so maybe this was just a big trick).  Regardless, I finished reading it late last night and here are my impressions (they may be subject to correction and change):

1.  A rejection of a man-centered cosmos.
I have written an article for New Evangelizers that will be posted soon on this particular topic.  The most fascinating part for me was that Francis rejects the philosophy we inherited from the Renaissance and Enlightment: the conquest of nature.  Francis wants to remove man from the center of our cosmology.  But he does not place nature at the center.  Instead he places God at the center.  Nature and man are made by God and for God.  He condemns a "technocratic paradigm" that looks at the world as a blank slate for us to manipulate for our own ends only.  The point is that God designed everything, even man, with a nature and we must respect that nature.

2.  Urgency.
I could not help but think of the character played by Russell Simmons in Forgetting Sarah Marshall singing "We've Got to Do Something!"
You gotta do something,
We gotta do something,
Sometimes I sit in my room and I don't know what to do,
but we've gotta do something!

 If you accept the premise that man is causing great damage to the planet and causing it warm unnaturally, then the conclusion is that man must act now to stop the damage.  Pope Francis constantly laments that various nations and conferences have not acted boldly to save the environment.  The encyclical is filled with a strong sense of urgency.  But there is a problem…

3.  Uncertainty.
Francis mentions a few times that the letter is not written to give specific solutions because the nature of the solutions are scientific and the Church is not an authority on science.  As a result you have strong impression that SOMETHING has to be done, but it seems as though Francis only wants to get us talking.  He does reject some schemes like the selling of carbon credits.  But he still says SOMETHING has to be done.  For example, he writes, "That is why the time has come to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth." (p. 193)  But he doesn't say what areas would have to be sacrificed for the growth of others.

4.  Cultural change.
While Francis points to the work need for governments and technologies to work to help the environment, his main point is that the change is cultural.  Pope St. John Paul the Great wrote Evangelium Vitae.  But John Paul used a different approach than Blessed Pope Paul VI used in Humanae Vitae.  In HV, Paul VI focused on a specific moral issue: artificial contraception.  John Paul instead focused not on fighting a particular wrong but in transforming the culture in general.  His goal was to move the culture from a Culture of Death to a Culture of Life.  Francis writes, "Any technical solution which science claims to offer will be powerless to solve the serious problems of our world if humanity loses its compass" (p. 200)  The environmental pollution he views as ultimately a symptom of a spiritual problem.  And the solution can only be sustainable through appreciating nature as God's gift.

Overall, reading Laudato Si reminded me of watching a Godzilla movie.  Francis says that the Earth is a precious gift.  But our technocratic paradigm has harnessed the power of nature and caused it harm.  The result is a catastrophe that requires a worldwide response and should change us internally.

And this is what happens in a Godzilla movie.  Humans harnessed the power of the atom and atomic testing have awakened the monsters of the deep.  As Ken Watanabe's character says in the last Godzilla movie, we make the mistake of thinking that nature is within our control.  As a result, monsters (including sometimes Godzilla), attack mankind causing a catastrophe requiring a untied response from countries.  In the aftermath, humanity can fundamentally change their approach to nature or Godzilla will return. 

Anyway, that's my overall impression.  I would love feedback here.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Best: Jaws 40th Anniversary

I can't believe Jaws is 40 years old.

The fashions and hairstyles in the movie are horribly dated. But beyond that, Jaws is timeless.

It isn't even that the movie is scary (which it is). Jaws is a film that purely cinematic. It a audio/visual spectacle that is thematically rich, character intensive, written to perfection, and paced to brilliance.  

It is also the emblem of how restrictions are the friend, not the enemy of creativity. Spielberg famously took the production's greatest weakness (the failure of the mechanical shark) and turned it into one of its greatest strengths. It's easy for masters of visual storytelling to rely on what is on the screen rather than trusting the audience with what is off the screen.

And that score that starts to sync with your heartbeat as its primal power beats its way into a frenzy cannot be duplicated.

I have never seen it on the big screen and I'm going to the theater to see it tonight.  I cannot wait!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Catholic Skywalker Dialogues PART 2 - ON DEFINING THE PARTS OF DRAMA

Catholic Skywalker: So, Rick O., we defined our central problem as this: “Is it morally acceptable for a Catholic to enjoy an immoral movie?”
Rick O.: Yes, I believe that is the case.  And we used “movie” for simplicity, to stand in the place for any audio/video art.
CS:  Very good.  So before we can answer that question, we should first identify the parts that make up a drama.
RO:   Why?
CS:  If we say something is morally bad, we must understand how it is so.  Is the mere presentation of moral badness enough to make a movie morally bad?
RO: It depends.
CS:  On what?
RO: On how it is presented.
CS:  I agree.  So before we can judge the presentation, then we must understand the parts to drama.
RO: And how shall we define it.
CS:  I think the best way is to look at Aristotle’s categories.
RO: Aristotle?  Didn’t he believe that some people should naturally be slaves.
CS:  Yes, but even though he was wrong about things like that, he was correct about many other things.  And he wrote extensively and philosophically about the nature of drama.  Of course he was writing about the theater in his day, but I believe that everything he said about theater could be applied to movies.
RO: If you say so.  So what did Aristotle say?
CS:  I think we should go to an expert.  I’ll call up my old Greek Philosophy professor: Dr. Looney.  He should be online right now.  We’ll get him up on Skype. [Catholic Skywalker logs in to Skype and calls up Dr. Looney.  He answers]
Dr. Looney: Hello, Catholic Skywalker!  Who is your friend there?
CS:  This is my good friend, Rick O.
DL:  Hello, friend of Catholic Skywalker.  What can I do for you?
CS:  We were hoping you could help us with something from the Ancient Greeks.
DL:  Of course!  Is it about Plato?  Because Plato rules!
CS:  No, it’s about Aristotle.
DL: Aristotle?  You know he said some people should naturally be slaves!
RO: I know.
CS:  Nevertheless, Aristotle analysed the parts of drama and we were hoping you could give us an explanation of his categories and how it would apply to movies today.
DL:  Gotcha.  Well, Aristotle (who I must say again is not as good as Plato), said that there are 6 parts to drama: Plot, Theme, Character, Rhythm or Music, Dialogue, and Spectacle.
CS:  Could you give us more detail on each?  And even though Aristotle was talking about theater, could you apply the information to movies?
DL:  Of course.  Plot is what happens in a movie ; the order of events, the story as opposed
to the theme. what happens rather than what it means.
RO:  What’s the difference?
DL:  Theme is what the film means as opposed to what happens; it is the main idea within the film.
CS: Could you give us an example of the difference?
RO: Of course.  The Plot of Hamlet is a young, depressed prince is told by the ghost of his murdered father that he has to avenge that murder by killing Hamlet’s murderous uncle Claudius.  But the Themes of the play go beyond the plot.  Shakespeare uses that plot to explore the concepts of life and death and madness and a slew of other things.  This is the transcendent element of the story that usually touches on something universal to the human experience.  You can even have different Themes for the same Plot.
CS:  Could you explain that?
RO: Yeah, how could that be?
DL:  Have you seen the original and remake of Clash of the Titans?
CS:  Yes.
RO:  I saw the original, but not the remake.
DL:  Well, both movies have essentially the same plot: the son of Zeus and a human woman must set out to save the princess Andromeda from the Kraken by getting the head of Medusa.  But the first one had themes of heroism and grand adventure.  But the second had a strong anti-religious theme based in the nihilist philosophy of Nietzsche.
RO:  Couldn’t you be reading into the remake a little too much?
DL:  Perhaps.  But the point is that Plot and Theme are not the same.
CS:  Thank you.  What are Aristotle’s other parts to drama?
DL:  Character.  This involves the the arc or journey of the character in the story.  This is intimately linked to plot.  In fact, Aristotle said that Plot is Character revealed by action.
CS:  Go on.
DL:  Dialogue, which could mean either the word choices of the screenwriter or the way in which the actor says the lines.
CS:  Next?
DL:  Next is Rhythm.  Aristotle originally meant by this the Rhythm and melody of the dialogue and speeches.  For movies I think it could mean 2 things: 1st, it could be the musical aspect of the film regarding how it helps the story flow.  But Rhythm could also mean editing.  Movies are built in the editing room and the edit is what determines the flow and content of a story.
RO:  Got it.  And last?
DL:  Spectacle.  This involves the visual element of the production that is meant to draw the eye and engage that senese.
CS:  And since movies are primarily visual, the Spectacle would be a large factor.
DL:  It would seems so.
CS:  Thank you Doctor Loony.  You’ve been very helpful!
DL:  Remember: Plato rules!  [disconnects from Skype]
RO: That was kind of boring.
CS:  But helpful.  We now know and basically understand the 6 elements of the art of movies.
RO:  Yes.  So now what?
CS:  Now we examine each one and see if a movie could be immoral in regards to any of the 6 elements.
RO:  Shouldn’t it be yes to all of them?
CS:  I do not know until we investigate.  Let’s do that next.