Monday, August 31, 2015

Why Did American Ultra Fail?

Over at One Perfect Shot, Allan Mott wrote a fascinating article about why the new movie, American Ultra, failed at the box office.  It is a good read, but I warn that he uses some vulgar language.  If you are interested, click this link.

Trying to predict what will and will not be a hit.  Studios spend millions trying to crack the formula for success, but there is none.  No one can predict what will be a hit or a bomb with any incredible accuracy.

The movie received great reviews, but despite that, I had no desire to see it.


The plot revolves around a stoner guy and his stoner girlfriend.  It turns out that the stoner guy is really a sleeper agent and doesn't even know it until he gets activated.  Action and hilarity are supposed to ensue.

Mott lays the failure squarely on the two leads: Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart.  For some reason, they both come off as extremely unlikeable.  Mott blames Eisenberg's lack of appeal to his perceived arrogance.  He says Stewart is unfairly maligned for the Twilight films and her aloof attitude.

I think that Mott is right on the money.  Both of them are talented actors.  But there is nothing about them in their public life or their body of acting work that has engendered any affection.  I can tell you that Eisenberg is my biggest source of skepticism about Batman v. Superman.

But I don't think that was event he full extent of the problem.

Now, I cannot say why the vast majority of people did not see this movie.  I can only speak from my own perspective here.  I propose that maybe some of what I feel was a part of the feeling of the general populace, but I will leave that for you to decide.

For me it came down to drugs.

Drugs have always been an issue, but they have never been as mainstream as they are right now in our society.  Before it was fringe and counter-cultural.  Now it almost seems like you are strange if you lived like me and have never partaken.

The problem with marijuana particularly is that you cannot point to it an categorically call it a life ruiner.  As a teacher I have seen the horrible effect it has had on students by robbing them of any desire for higher pleasures and joys that come through fulfillment of maturity, satisfaction through accomplishment, and letting God fill your life with grace.  But, that isn't always the case.  For every kid who has all of his potential sucked away by this drug, there is someone else who partakes but still finds success.  As a result, many indulge freely thinking that they also could easily be a success and enjoy the intoxication.

I remember seeing the trailer for American Ultra and recognizing that it was playing out this particular stoner fantasy.  The movie War of the Worlds played into the fantasy of a dead beat dad who, when the chips are down, saves his family.  American Ultra is plays into the fantasy of someone who is lost to drugs but still has within them the ability to do superhuman things.

At least that is the impression I received from the trailer.  Again I haven't seen the film.  And it might be just as good as the critics are saying, but I'm turned off by the subject matter.

One of the reason I love the move Ted, is that even though there is a good deal of drug humor, it shows how it retards the soul and can lead to great unhappiness (Sadly this message is completely overturned by the sequel).

I have always had a distaste for drug culture, but it has become so mainstream to the point of embarrassment. If any of you watched the MTV VMA's last night (I did all that I could to avoid it), I'm sure you saw a constant push for "drugs are cool."  I heard an audio clip of the crowd going wild when Kayne West mentioned being high.

But I am tired of it.  It isn't even that I am horribly offended.  I'm just find it so worn out.

Yes, we get it, you want to lose yourself in mindless, intense pleasure.  And you've gotten society to the point where you can do it legally in many places.

But please don't expect me to pay money to watch you do it.

I submit that most Americans, even if they are libertarian on this, are tired of Hollywood trying to push the virtues of intoxication.

Am I wrong?

Please let me know what you think.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday Best: TV Dramas of All Time #20 - Sherlock


There is a reason that the character of Sherlock Holmes has endured.  He is both a powerful and pitiable person.  We all long to be as smart as he is and yet we see the burden of that genius on his heart or lack thereof.  The great detective has had many incarnations in movies and TV.  But this show added the slightest of innovations that added an additional hook:

What if Sherlock was alive today.

Rather than have him be a relic of a Victorian era gone by, this Sherlock is a man who is more knowledgeable and is more disconnected from his fellow man.  This makes him a wonderful commentary on our internet age where knowledge is abundant but human intimacy wanes.  The show fully embraced a bold visual style to bring the character into the 21st century and play around with the old Arthur Conan Doyle stories.

Another wonderful innovation that sets this show apart is the formatting.  Most dramas are 42-50 minutes in run time.  Sherlock about doubles that, making each episode its own full-length feature.  This allows for a slower and richer unfolding of plot and mystery.  It also allows for more twists and turns and complications than you could get in your regular detective show.

Great credit should be given to creator Steven Moffat for breathing such life into Holmes and Watson.  Simply transporting them in time is not enough.  He had to make them and their adventures feel relevant to today's audience.

But the most credit should be given to lead actors: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

There are many in this generation who now see Cumberbatch as THE defininitive Sherlock, and it is hard to argue.  This role has made him a star.  His Sherlock is terse, flippant, boarding on psychopathic.  He is, as he says of himself, "I am the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant, and all-around obnoxious [person] that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet. I am dismissive of the virtuous, unaware of the beautiful, and uncomprehending in the face of the happy."

If this was all there was to the performance, I do not think that the show would have lasted.  But underneath all of that is a vulnerability, almost a childlike vulnerability.  Cumberbatch shows us that at the heart of Sherlock's frustration is that he can see so much of what others cannot, but he cannot see what everyone else can.  He tries to understand the human heart from the outside-in and in galls him.

And Martin Freeman is just as much a reason for the shows success.  He is our window into Sherlock and he is truly the heart of the show.  His Watson is not simply a sidekick.  Freeman shows us a man of great contradictions, like Sherlock.  He is a healer and a soldier who now does not know where he fits in the world.  It would be to simple to call him an everyman, because Freeman's Watson is extrodinarily brave, kind, and clever.  You understand immediately why he, and almost no one else, was able to break through Sherlock's steely exterior.  And you understand why Watson puts up with Sherlock's prickliness.  Freeman is incredibly moving when he says, "I was so alone, and I owe you so much."  Such a plainspoken statement of affection could fall horribly flat, but Freeman gives it the perfect delivery to cut to the heart.

I also have to say that this might be my favorite depiction of Moriarty.  The idea behind it blew my mind in a way that created a villain that was in every way Sherlock's equal and yet was unlike anything I had seen before.

And above all, Sherlock is a good mystery show.  You want to follow the clues to try and figure out the impossible problems, of which Holmes and Watson have no shortage.

"A Study in Pink"

The pilot was fantastic and has all of the elements in itself that make the show great.  Not only is that innovative visual style present from the first moments, but the mystery is intriguing.  3 people are found who have apparently been forced to commit suicide.  How do you get someone to do that?  What could possibly drive someone to that?  And why?  Not only was the mystery horribly interesting, but the draw of the characters was completely amazing.



"The Hound of the Baskervilles"

There are only 3 episodes per season of Sherlock.  This episode solidified that the idea that the middle episode of each season is the worst.  And this episode lacks a strong tie to the overall continuity, but the mystery is not that interesting and the answer to the problem is less-so.


"The Reichenbach Fall"

This was the height of the show's strength.  The mental chess match of Sherlock and Moriarty came to a head and Sherlock was faced with an impossible problem.  One of the great things about the episode is that Sherlock is smart enough to see that he may not be able to come out victorious and that melancholy permeates the whole episode.  Not only that, but it is very exciting to see someone we come to think of as almost superhuman face off against a challenge that is believably scary.  I will not spoil how the episode ends, but it is tense, exciting, dramatic, and emotional.


Sherlock is something special.  And part of what makes it special is how rare it feels.  Each episode feels like an event.  There are still more episodes to come and I cannot wait to see where it goes.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Lack of Updates (part IV)

I am sorry for the recent lack of updates.  I usually like to get 3-4 posts a week, but I have been falling behind.

I began my school year on Monday and I have been going non-stop ever since.  My schedule includes, but is not limited to, 4 classes in a row, which means I am talking for 3 and a half hours straight every day.

In addition to this I have just returned to graduate school and it is kicking my butt.  I am trying to stay about a week ahead of my work because I am going to start falling behind very, very soon.

So as a result, I have not been able to spend as much time composing my thoughts on this blog as much.  I like to take time and collect my thoughts into something cogent before I write them down (though I do not know how successful I am in getting that across).

I am going to try to keep up better, but the next few weeks may be a little sparse.

Let me say, again, how grateful I am to all of you who take time out of your day to read this blog.  I always have you in mind and I strive to write something for you that will be worth your time.

Any prayers you can send my way would be appreciated.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday Best: TV Dramas of All Time #21 - Star Trek


It is truly amazing how a show which has become such  cultural touchstone was only on the air for a quarter of the length of dreck like 2 and Half Men.

And if this list were about the most IMPORTANT shows of all time, Star Trek would rank much, much higher.  Very few shows in the history of television have influenced so many people's lives.

There have been a lot of science fiction space shows.  Some are well known like Lost in Space or Battlestar Galactica.  And others have fallen into obscurity like Space 1999.

But Star Trek set itself apart from all of those for the following reasons:

1.  Iconic Characters.
The show not only created distinct, well-defined characters, but they each occupied such a unique space on the enterprise.  Their personalities and points of view were such that they were not interchangeable.  Notice the arguably bland first crew of the original pilot under Christopher Pike.  Only the standout Spock remained into the series.  Each character brought a fresh, unique voice to each situation.  You could not take Spock's lines and have Kirk say them believably.  That is because the characters embodied these complimentary personalities.

2.  Creativity
Star Trek really swung for the fences when it came to coming up with the wildest ideas.  True, not everything was a home run (sorry Tribbles), but they brought some of the most memorable shows to life.  All the while, they made sure not to go too psychedelic and weird so that their audience could not follow.

3.  Thematic Exploration.
While sometimes hitting the allegory a little too hard, Star Trek heavily emphasized the thematic side of their adventures.  It wasn't just about exploring strange new worlds out in the cosmos.  It was about exploring the universal condition of the human soul.  We saw in the Klingons man's warlike nature.  We saw in Kirk-Spock-McCoy the constant battle between, Eg-Super Ego-Id.  We saw the battle between eros and phileo when Spock went though Pon Farr.

4.  Acting.
People sometimes deride the acting on the show, particularly Shatner's unique cadence.  But I think they overlook the power of not only his performance but of many in the cast.  No one else could have played Kirk like Shatner.  Nimoy brought an amazing depth to the cool veneer of Spock.  DeForrest Kelley brought a down-home realism to the spectacular setting.

5.  Design.
To this day, the idea of phasers, shields, transporters, warp speed, and the like are part of our cultural consciousness.  Not only that, but the gorgeous set and costume design burned its way into your brain in ways that most shows do not.


"The Naked Time"

This classic episode involves the crew being overcome with an intoxicating effect.  It is always fun to watch people act strangely, but this episode is not only fun, but poignant.  It also highlights the science-minded approach to dealing with problems.  This is the first truly iconic episode of the show.



Star Trek ended too early, and so never outgrew its welcome.  There were still so many stories to tell, as evidenced by the amazing film franchise.


"The Way to Eden"
This is an episode that will have you overdosing on hippie.  Not only that, but this terrible episode about a cult leader who hijacks the enterprise to take them to a prospective paradise is eerily similar to the plot of the terrible Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

"Amok Time"

There are so many great episodes from which to choose: "Space Seed," City on the Edge of Forever,"  "Mirror, Mirror," and "The Squire of Gothos," come to mind.

But for my money, "Amok Time" beats them all.

This is the best of the series for a number of reasons.  Notice the incredibly moody use of shadow and light in the direction.  Look at the sophisticated development of Vulcan sexual politics and primal insanity.  Enjoy the over-the-top fight score.  But most of all, revel in the tour-de-force performance of Nimoy.  He takes you on a journey of rage to resignation to joy.


Sadly, Star Trek never fully realized its TV potential.  It at times feels too much a creature of its age and is surpassed in quality by two of its subsequent series.

But Star Trek is the progenitor of them all.  While it so often noted how important and influential it is, it must not be forgotten that it is also a great deal of fun to watch.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Before and After: Movies from Fall/Winter 2014

Since I just posted about a week ago my thoughts about the upcoming movies for Fall/Winter 2015, I thought it would be fun to take a look back a year ago to what I thought about the upcoming movies and compare it to what I found.

I decided to start with a year ago, because there are a number of films from that time that I only recently got around to watching.

Below are my original anticipatory thoughts.  Following those are my Film Flash reviews if I saw it in the theater, or a quick summary of My Thoughts if I saw it at home.

I've also updated my ratings from some of my Film Flashes.  Looking back, I think I tend to give higher scores on many of my initial impressions.  But then over time, they slightly adjust downward.  This is not always the case, but I think I try as much as possible to see the good in a film.  But that good may not have as much staying power over time.

Scale of 1-5 stars my likelihood of seeing it in theaters (1 being “Not at all” 5 being “Cannot wait!”).

So here are some of the movies that are coming out along with my level of excitement.

The Maze Runner -
THEN - I find the trailer incredibly intriguing and I think I'm going to see this one in the theater if I can (****)
FILM FLASH - Cube meets Hunger Games.  Better than average teen dystopian future film.  ( 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Hector and the Search For Happiness
THEN- I like the look of this film and it reminds me of the previews I saw for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  I just hope its better than the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (***)
MY THOUGHTS - A movie with unnecessarily dark turns that doesn't go deep enough.
(2 out of 5 stars)

The Equalizer 
THEN- It looks like Denzel is trying to encroach on Liam territory.  And the trailers look like he pulled it off (****)
FILM FLASH: Denzel goes full Liam Nesson in Taken and maybe even outdoes him.  Graphically violent fun. (3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Gone Girl 
THEN- I'm not sure why, but the trailers have me so intrigued.  And Affleck is currently in the full bloom of his Ben-aissance.  I'm there opening night (*****)
FILM FLASH - Expertly filmed movie with great performances about ugly people doing disturbing things.
(2  out of 5 stars)

THEN- I'm sure he's a lovely person, but I really don't like Miles Teller.  And I don't care for Jazz, so there isn't a big draw for me here in this story about a struggling Jazz drumming student.  (*)
 comeback (**)
MY THOUGHTS - Ambiguous themes and message don't dull the power of this film. (4 out of 5 stars)

Kingsman: The Secret Service
THEN- This feels like Kick Ass but in England.  Not a big selling point (**)
MY THOUGHTS - A little too violent for me and too much emphasis on uncharismatic lead. (2 and 1/2 out of 5 stars)

St. Vincent
THEN- I like Bill Murray, but this looks like nothing special (**)
FILM FLASH Like a vulgar version of Up.  One of Bill Murray's best performances in years.
(3 out of 5 stars)

THEN- Unfortunately this is not a movie about one of my favorite X-Men, but it is a movie about a creepy news reporter starring a creepy Jake Gyllenhal (*)
MY THOUGHTS - A mesmerizing dark satire with an amazing performance (4 out of 5 stars)

THEN- Christopher Nolan has not made a bad movie and I found the trailers enthralling. (*****)
FILM FLASH - Like 2001, but good.  Epic scope and emotional depth.  (Beware the chunky 3rd act) (4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.)

Big Hero 6
THEN- Disney's digital studios have grown up a lot in the last few years and this is brought to us by Marvel who has a great cinematic track record (****)
FILM FLASH - A fun superhero cartoon, though not as nostalgic as Wreck-It-Ralph or as magical as Frozen. (3  out of 5 stars)

The Theory of Everything
THEN- This is pure Oscar-bait and I can't wait to see it (****)
FILM FLASH - Like A Beautiful Mind?  Then you'll hate this movie with a completely opposite theme. (1 out of 5 stars.)

THEN- I love Steve Carrel, but I can't get my head around this one (***)
MY THOUGHTS - Hated this film.  It wasn't that it was morally offensive or anything.  But it was completely dark, pretentious, and ultimately pointless.  Nothing in this movie made any sense. (1/2 out of 5 stars)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
THEN- I thought the last 2 movies were very good, so I will be there opening night (*****)
FILM FLASH - Best Hunger Games movie yet.  Refreshingly different, but incomplete.  Can't wait for part 2! (4  out of 5 stars)

The Imitation Game
THEN- I know the history behind this story and it is very sad.  I might wait for Netflix (**)
FILM FLASH - Fascinating story about secrets on top of secrets and lies on top of lies.  (3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Exodus: Gods and Kings
THEN- If Ridley Scott can bring the same intesity that he brought to Gladiator, then this could be all kinds of awesome (****)
FILM FLASH - Come for the Biblical inaccuracy.  Stay for the not-so-bad sword and sandal epic.
(2 and 1/2 out of 5 stars)

December 19

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies
THEN- I am so excited to see this.  I can't wait to see all of the heartbreakingly powerful parts of the book come to life (*****)
FILM FLASH - A fond, fitting farewell to Jackson's Tolkienverse (WARNING: the character Alfred = Jar Jar) (4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Friday, August 21, 2015

TARDIS Travels: Exploring Doctor Who Part 5 - Better Than Imagined

Here is the next part of my continued exploration of the rebooted Doctor Who.  I've already written about my impressions of Season 1 and how I believe the TV Threshold can be found in the fourth episode of season 2, "The Girl in the Fireplace." 

I have also completed my Season 2 review and my Season 3 review.

So now here are my impressions of the 4th Season (SPOILERS BELOW).

1.  I was wrong about Donna Noble
When I saw Catherine Tate in season 3, I thought she would be horrible, cloying companion.  I was relieved when Martha Jones took that spot.  When Tate returned as Donna Noble, I was dubious to say the least.  But boy was I wrong.  The dynamic between her and the Doctor was so refreshing and fantastic.  He says to her in the first episode, "I just want a mate," tired of all the complications from romantic feelings between him and his companions.  This lack of romance makes Donna a great companion.  Together, they are two friends having adventures.  And she is much more adult than Rose or Martha and is not shy about speaking to the Doctor like an equal, which is also a breath of fresh air.  But I was most surprised by her dramatic acting range.  In "The Fires of Pompeii" I was bowled over by her performance and I forgot all about her as my least favorite character from The Office.  She may actually be my favorite of his companions.

2.  Great Single Episodes
I made this point in my last post, but there are also some great single (or 2-part) episodes. 
a.  The Fires of Pompeii - I loved the way that Donna brought a whole new perspective and inquisitiveness to the Doctor's travels.  And the emotional intesity of this first travel together was not what I was expecting.  It had me hanging on, unsure of what the Doctor would do.  

b.  The Doctor's Daughter - a weirdly compelling story that attempts to pry a little more of the Doctor's closely guarded history.

c.  The Silence of the Library and The Forrest of the Dead - I have rewatched these episodes a few times.  This is one of the few times we get to feel confusion with the Doctor and that horrible heartache at realize that there is so much more that is going on that we don't know.  The introduction of River Song (Alex Kingston) blew open the doors to the Doctor's future in a way that was exciting and tragic.  And I love how the end has such an amazing emotional shift that I did not see coming.  Not to mention I love how the Vashta Nerada tap into our universal experience of fear of the dark.

d. Midnight - This was actually the first episode of Doctor Who I ever saw.  It was recommended by a friend years ago.  Seeing it again, I can feel the different layers of context that make the episode even better.

e.  The End of Time - Heartbreaking.  But more on this later.

3.  Closure
I am so glad that they took their time to close out the story of the 10th Doctor.  I loved the fact that his story takes time to say goodbye to everyone.    The Doctor gives everyone around him the happiest endings he can, especially Rose Tyler.  I think it so interesting how she can have the Doctor, but he can't have her.  And it broke my heart that the last person he wanted to see was her before the end.  But sad as it was, I'm glad the show gave you a chance to say a proper goodbye.

4.  Christ-like Sacrifice
I've always found the essense of heroism in self-sacrifice.  The Doctor isn't just a Time Lord, he is a hero.  Ultimately, he is in many ways a tragic figure.  He reminds me of the line from The Lord of the Rings "I give hope to men.  I leave none for myself."  Even though he has the power to regenerate, they do a good job of explaining that "it feels like dying."  So any sacrifice is real.  And I love the fact, that when it came down to it, the Doctor was called to choose not lay down his life for "the world," but for one man.  It reminded me of how St. Augustine said that Christ died not for mankind but for each man.  Wilfred tries to explain how his life is nothing compared to the value of the Doctor's life.  But the Doctor would not hear it.  I love how un-stoic he is about it and is angry and sad, but ultimately noble.

5.  David Tennant is my Doctor Who
I am sorry to put down any previous Doctor or to pre-judge any Doctor to come, but David Tennant is my Doctor.  His performance is so embedded in my mind that I will have a hard time accepting anyone else in that role.  He won me over so quickly and carried in himself all of the wonderful contradictions that make his character so fascinating.  His final words echo my feelings too:

Stay tuned for my reflections of Season 5.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Making Monsters of Men

I was going to write a blog post called "The Soul Detector Test."

I would have invited readers to participate in a test to see if they posses a human soul.  This test would be much like the one administered in Blade Runner, but simpler.  Readers would click a link to watch a video and if they did not respond with outrage and revulsion down to their core, then I would be sad to inform them that they lacked a soul.

The video in question would be the undercover Planned Parenthood video where they nonchalantly explore the profitable remains of a murdered baby.

I admit that I am desensitized to the horrors of this world, but I was shaken by this video.  The words "another boy" kept ringing in my ears for days.  I was so outraged and I became outraged at the lack of outrage by so many people to the obvious horror.  Hence the Soul Detector Test.

But then I thought better of it.

Am I still nauseated by what I saw and heard?  Of course.  Do I find the scavenging of organs from baby corpses intensely evil?  Yes.

So why did I not write the article?

Because thankful I recognized a darkness in myself that would have blunted any good that would have come from that writing.

When we are passionate about a great injustice, we fall too easily into the trap of viewing our adversaries not as human beings but as monsters.

To be sure there are people in the world who have made themselves into monsters.  It is sad when we encounter in history those who embrace evil like Hitler or Bin Laden.  It is even worse when we encounter it in our own lives.  I remember a friend of mine told me about how she was almost raped in college.  She fought her attacker off, but she came across the horrid reality that there are people who will look at you and not see a human being.

We are fools to believe that there are no monsters in this world.  But we are equally foolish when we label people as monsters simply because they do not see the same truth that we do.

And this growing tendency is leading to a further breakdown of our ability to connect to other human beings.  There is nothing wrong with opposing someone on an issue of conscience.  But I've noticed more and more that we are quick to label our opponents as monsters.  This gives us a sense of moral self-righteousness, but that is not the complete danger.  The problem is that when we designate them as monsters, it gives us moral freedom to act horribly to them.  When battling monsters, drastic measure can be taken.  When battling monsters, you seek only victory by any means.

I remember a few years ago, there was a man who was convinced that the Family Research Council was evil because of their beliefs regarding homosexuality.  So he went to their headquarters and opened fire, intending to leave a Chick-Fil-A sandwich on each corpse.  In his mind he was completely justified in his action because he was vanquishing monsters.

Not all examples of this are as extreme.  I've chronicled the troubles that Orson Scott Card has had in maintaining a business relationship with DC Comics.  Internet agitators made a ruckus when was going to write a Superman comic. He was deemed by them as unworthy of employment because he gave money to a group supporting traditional marriage.  And in their eyes, he got what he deserved because of his monstrosity.

I think of my friend who was attacked in college.  Her attacker continued forward despite the unimaginable harm it would have caused because she was not human to him.  What is sad is that a form of this dehumanization occurs when we undeservedly label others as monsters.

There is much that Nietszche said that I disagree with.  But one of his most famous quotes is "Do not do battle with monsters, lest you become a monster."  If you perceive your opponent as evil, there is the danger of building a desire to return evil upon them.

Look at the way we demonize each other, especially if you read any online disputes.  It is easy to paint others in broad brush strokes and then tear them down viciously because, after all, that is what monsters deserve.

And this brings us to my original idea for the essay: The Soul Detector.

Notice my reasoning behind the original idea.  I experience moral outrage at this injustice.  I then presumed to sit in judgment of those who did not meet my level of anger.  I was going to imply that they had no soul.  Notice that I was not going to direct my ire towards the abortionists, but on those who were not as outraged as I was.

I want to be clear that my outrage has not diminished.  But even if my anger is righteous, I would have perverted any attempt to rectify the injustice.

When we see a great injustice, there is a pleasure in "hitting back." We feel self-satisfied when we get in a good dig or zinger.

But what good is winning the argument if we lose the arguer?

Winning the intellectual argument is a means, not an end.  It is a way to remove any impediment that the soul has to accepting a moral truth.  But the will must be active in reaching for that truth.  Unfortunately, our passions can have more of a grasp on our will than our reason does.  Let's face it, how often have we continued to argue with someone way past the point where we know they are right?  We do it because our emotions won't' let our will accept the truth.

I am not arguing that we should be wishy-washy in our convictions.  Nor am I saying that we should avoid speaking truth to ensure that no one is offended.  Jesus spoke the truth and some people were so offended they crucified Him.  But Jesus offered His mercy to them all.

These videos are an opportunity to shed light.  There are some that are so committed to the abortion cause that they are unwilling to admit that these revelations shake them.  And then there are some who might have an erroneous conscience and honestly believe that abortion is a moral good.  Perhaps no on has truly presented the truth of human dignity to them in a way they can understand.  Maybe I am wrong, but I think that if I attacked them the way I was planning, it would only further harden them in their resolve.

My goal should be not to defeat these people, but to convince them.  The truth I am seeking to share must be given without compromise, but with compassion.

If we turn our opponents into monsters at the drop of a hat, then we no longer seek to engage in rational discourse to the destination of truth.  We lose all pretense of reason and rely purely on strength.

And there are times when strength must be used in the cause of righteousness.  We fought a bloody civil war to end the sin of slavery.  We saw the largest war in the history of the planet in order to end the Holocaust.  Sometimes we must take up arms when men become monsters.

But we must be sure that we are not the ones making monsters of men.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Film Review: The Gift

Movies like this are all about ratcheting up the tension until a big reveal in the finale.

That is also what makes reviewing movies like this difficult without getting into spoiler territory.

The Gift is the story of Robin (Rebecca Hall) and her husband Simon (Jason Bateman).  They have just returned to Simon's home town on the west coast to get a fresh start.  By seeming chance, Simon bumps into an old, awkward schoolmate named Gordo (writer/director Joel Edgerton).  What begins as an awkward encounter grows into more contact.  Simon finds Gordo intrusive and Robin is a bit more understanding.  But tensions arise, especially over a past that Simon and Gordo share, but hide from Robin.  Things get more intense as questions come up.  What is this secret past?  Is Gordo creepy or simply misunderstood?

For the first 2/3 of the movie, this works very well because our main character is Robin.  She is in essentially every seen and we see the events of the movie play out through her eyes.  When knowledge is withheld from her, it withheld from the audience as well.  We identify with her and want to know what she doesn't.  She is also incredibly kind without being naive.  Hall is very good in this understated performance.  In fact the entire cast is excellent.  Edgerton particularly deserves a lot of credit by making Gordo a blank slate onto which you can project either your hopes or your fears.

But the movie has 2 fundamental problems and they are both things that should have been resolved at these script level.

First, the last 3rd of the movie shifts focus away from Robin and onto Simon.  We begin to see the movie through his eyes and not hers.  There is a narrative reason for this, but it doesn't feel right.  After following her journey for most of the movie, we then have to let her character get into the passenger seat and we have to let the very unlikeable Simon take the wheel.  This is also especially annoying because Robin gets demoted from hero of the story to pawn in the Simon/Gordo conflict.

Second has to do with catharsis.  I think Edgerton wanted to avoid cliches as much as possible and attempted to let the drama exist more internally than externally.  But this is a pretty big let down.  I understand why he chose to do things this way, but the first act only works so well because you feel like it is building to something big.  The resolution of the story makes sense, but it feels much less like a satisfying conclusion than a missed opportunity.

But Edgerton's directing is very subtle and moody.  I especially love the way he used the red tail light of a car to fill a scene with menace.  He is also very sparing with music and lets the story unfold with its own tension in the first act.  But again, the resolution is where he fails to deliver.  Still, I see a lot of potential here.

The film does raise some interesting thematic questions.  Do people really ever change?  And if they do, can they change for the better or worse?  There is also a twistedly Catholic idea of Providence in this film.  The title refers to a line that Gordo says, where he tells Robin and Simon that the worst things that happen to you in life are gifts if they make you a better person.  The movie actually tries to work this idea into the overall narrative, but you will have to be the judge of whether or not Edgerton was successful.

Overall The Gift has some promise and shows some skill in directing and acting.  But it never becomes anything more.

3 out of 5 stars.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Fall-Winter Movie Season 2015

Now that Summer Movie Season is over, its time to turn to the upcoming Fall-Winter movies.  This is the time usually when the "important" movies come out.  The reason being that studios want Academy and other awards groups to have their movies fresh in voters minds.

Lately, however, some studios realized that this is a good time to release a big blockbuster because there is less competition, even though more people are home watching television. 

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 are some of the movies that are coming out along with my level of excitement.

  • Everest - Okay, this is horrible, horrible of me.  But I have trouble feeling sympathy for people who encounter danger people to climb one of the most dangerous mountains in the world.  Looks thrilling, though.  (**)

  • Captive - I am incredibly curious about this movie.  I still cannot believe that this is a mainstream movie (albeit a small one).  (****)

  • Cooties - Most horror/comedy seems played out to me. (*)
  • Black Mass - I like the trailer and Depp can deliver like few can. (***)

  • Hotel Transylvania 2 - I wanted to like the first one more, but was lukewarm.  Not interested in the sequel (**)

  • The Intern - It looks like a reverse Devil Wears Prada.  Could be fun.  (***)
  • The Green Inferno - Looks like more horror/torture porn.  Defenitly not interested (*)
  • Sicario - This looks like it could be good, but I haven't found a hook yet (**)
  • The Walk - I didn't care for the documentary that this was based on, but a Robert Zemeckis movie starring Joseph Gordon-Leavitt with some truly stunning visuals in the trailer?  I'm there (*****)

Oct 2

  • The Martian - Castaway meets Interstellar, directed by Ridley Scott.  I think this could be really good. (****)
  • Freeheld - Looks way too preachy to be enjoyable (**)

  • Pan - The trailers continue to get better, but I'm not very excited about it (***)
  • Steve Jobs - I find Jobs a fascinating person, but I've seen so many movies about him, I'm not sure what more can be said about him.  (***)

  • Goosebumps - Looks like silly fun, but not my type (**)

  • Crimson Peak - Looks like tired, warmed over gothic horror.  Bored.  (*)
  • Bridge of Spies - This could be a good Spielberg film, as long as he doesn't go the Munich route and make a moral equivalency between the US and the Soviets.

  • Burnt - I like Bradley Cooper, but cooking movies aren't exciting to me.  (**)

  • Jem and the Holograms - This doesn't look like the train wreck I thought it would be, but it doesn't look like my type of movie. (**)
  • Secret in Their Eyes - A good cast and it could be an intense thriller.  But I'm not a Julia Roberts fan and I'm worried that she will be a net drain rather than a net gain to the movie. (***)
  • Rock The Kasbah - I love me some Bill Murray.  But his independent movies are sometimes an acquired taste.  I think I'll wait on this (**)
  • Spectre - Casino Royale is my favorite Bond.  Quantum was a misstep and Skyfall was a step in the right direction.  So Spectre could work if they make it more action-oriented like Royale. (****)
  • The Peanuts Movie - This looks better than I expected, but I might still wait on this one (**)

  • Room - Brie Larson is an amazing young actress.  I like the fact that this movie looks like it's taking a potentially lurid concept and focusing on something life-afirming. (****)

  • Trumbo - Bryan Cranston is an amazing actor, but I have trouble rooting for someone who supported a murderous dictator bent on the destruction of America. (**)

  • The 33 - I already know the story, so I'm not very excited about the miners' story.  (**)
  • By The Sea - The trailer gave me no information, really.  It looks like a weird relationship drama where people cry a lot.  No thank you.  (*)

  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II  - I will be there opening night to see the concluding chapter of this very enjoyable franchise (*****)

  • The Night Before - As I mentioned already, I am a fan of Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, but this very Seth Rogan-y comedy looks anything but funny.  Raunch is fine as long as there is wit, which seems lacking here (*)

  • The Good Dinosaur - As I've said before, PIXAR has not made a bad movie that I have seen.  And that goes a long way with me.  And I read about one scene between the dinosaur and the boy that made me want to cry.  I'm there. (****)
  • Creed - I am a big fan of the Rocky series.  I wonder how this will hold up.  I am cautiously optimistic (***)

  • In the Heart of the Sea - I don't know what it is, but I really, really don't care about this movie about a killer Moby Dick-ish whale.  (*)
  • The Ridiculous 6 - Adam Sandler just took a beating from the critics, but I think a comedic version of the Magnificent 7 (I'm guessing that's the plot), looks like it could be a nice comedy in the vein of 3 Amigos

  • Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip - I actually like these movies.  They are silly and childish, but they work on a little kid's level.  I will see this eventually (***)

  • Point Break - The most pointless remake since Total Recall (**)

  • Daddy’s Home - I really like this cast.  I usually don't like Will Ferrel's movies, but this could work (***)
  • Joy - Jennifer Lawrence might be the best actress working today.  And I've really liked the last two movies she's made with this director.  I'm hoping this will be good too (***)
  • Snowden - Could be interesting, but this isn't grabbing me (**)
  • The Hateful Eight - I don't know why I'm so excited about this movie.  I'm not the biggest Tarantino fan, but I think his skill as a director has been growing with each film. (****)

  • The Revenant - This looks like a bad foreign film that is going to make America look ugly.  No thanks (**)