Tuesday, May 31, 2016

4 Years of Blogging

(5/31/16: Feast of the Visitation)

It's had to believe that it has been 4 years since a started this little blog.  And I'm still here.  

And more importantly, you, faithful reader, are still here.

For this I thank you.

This past year has been especially challenging to keep up with the regular blogging between going back for my master's degree, family health problems, and lots of projects at work, I found I was not able to give this blog as much attention in times past.  But you stuck by me, dear reader, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that.

I will endeavor to be better at keeping up to date.  I am now getting a small break this summer, but that window will close rapidly.

I hope to get up more reviews (I still have not yet posted my full Deadpool review) and to take up again the CatholicSkywalker Dialogues.  I hope also to finish out my series of reflections on Interstellar and Doctor Who.  

I know it is a small thing, but I receive an immense amount of satisfaction in this medium.  I am especially delighted when one of you finds any of my ramblings enjoyable to read.  

You are all constantly in my prayers.  Please keep me in yours.  

And please let me know of any suggestions you have for this blog or any topics you would to see tackled: serious, silly, or anything in between.

So once again, I leave you with final thank you.  

And for a blast from the past, here is my first essay posted on my first every blog post:

God is a Joke

As a kid, I loved riddles. Still do. I can remember being a pluckish 9-year-old, bored out of my mind at my cousin’s wedding. I was too young to simply enjoy the celebration of friends and family, but I was too old to just sit in a corner pretending the tiny plastic swords from the bar were
miniature lightsabers. I sat at a table of adults and teens sharing riddles. I remember it vividly because I realized that I could figure out most of the answers. While other adults were puzzling with furrowed brows, I paced up and down the banquet hall in my little suit and tie, trying to think while blocking out the lyrics to “Dancing Queen.”

Riddle: “A man ties a dog to a 10 foot rope. The dog’s water dish is 20 feet away. How does the dog get the water?”
Answer: (see bottom of essay)

Riddle: “In 1980, Sarah was 15 years old. In 1985, Sarah was 10 years old. How can this be?”
Answer: (see bottom of essay)

If you’re anything like me, you took a few moments with the above riddles. You stopped reading and thought it through. You looked at the data over and over again. You hesitated to skip down to the answer, because you wanted to see if you could reason it out for yourself. Did you get it right? Did you get the mental cramp from twisting your mind around a dozen possible answers? And did you get the thrill of vindication at the end of your cerebral gymnastics, when you looked at the answer and saw that you were right?

And did you feel smart?

That is the purpose of a riddle. It acts as mental exercise. Riddles are different than trivia because to be good at them you don’t have to be like Hans Gruber and reap the benefits of a classical education. Even a 9-year-old, bored at a wedding can jump into the fray. And we tend to intuitively regard the master of riddles above the master of trivia. The riddle master may not have as much content in his mind, but he has insight. He looks at the problem with his laser-critical eye and is able discover the truth.

The riddle strengthens the riddle master. Riddles force you to think laterally. You need to alter your normal way of thinking because something does not fit. The data has to be examined from another angle. Only then can the answer present itself. And the reward for your strain is the simple knowledge that you are right. You have figured it out. You are smart.

At least this was how 9-year-old me felt. I looked at the clues, made the deductions, and discovered the truth. In my mind I was a pint-sized Sherlock Holmes. And I fell in love with riddles.

But riddles aren’t jokes.

And herein lays, I believe, the fundamental point of frustration that so many of us run into when pursuing the question of God. We treat God like a riddle. We look at the problem with our laser-critical eye; we examine it from every possible angle. How old is God? Is He all good? If so, why is there evil? What is His nature? His will? Philosophers since ancient Greek times have wrestled with these questions. Here were riddles worthy of Oedipus and the Sphinx. And let us not forget the fundamental question: Does God even exist? What are the clues we can use to unlock the answer to this riddle? So many of us believe that if we just put the pieces together the answer will reveal itself and the riddle will be solved.

But God is not a riddle. Yes, there is an answer to this question, the deepest of all our questions. But it is not the kind of answer we are looking for. We will never solve the riddle of God for one very simple reason:

God is a joke.

Before we go any further, let’s contrast the riddle and the joke.

Question: “What’s E.T. short for?”
Answer: (see bottom of the essay)

Question: “What’s the definition of ‘procrastination?’”
Answer: (see bottom of the essay)

Now, unlike the riddles at the beginning of this essay, I’m sure you didn’t wait and puzzle out the answer to these questions. You went right to the bottom to see the answer. Of course we don’t call the end of a joke “the answer.” We call it the “punch line.” This phrase, which probably has its origin in early 20th Century American slang, is a vivid contrast to the “answer” we find in a riddle. “Answer” carries with it a sense of discovery. A page has been turned; a door has been unlocked. “Punchline” comes at you sideways when you weren’t even looking. The rug has been pulled out from under you. Like the magician, the comedian has dazzled you with a surprise.

But the single most glaring distinction between riddles and jokes is the element of joy. By “joy” I mean mere delight and mirth. I would use the word “pleasure,” but I want to talk about that which lightens the heart and bursts through our egos to cause, quite against our wills sometimes, that singularly human activity of laughter. (In contrast, the marital act, which I’m sure most would call “pleasurable,” would probably suffer if one of the partners engaging in it spontaneously broke into giggles).

Now we come to the “question” of God. And this I think is where most everyone has come upon the fundamental mistake. As I stated earlier, the “question” of God is not a riddle. It is a joke.

This is not to say that God is illogical. Far from it. The best jokes are the ones that have a very clear logical thought process. If they did not, we could not follow the comedian from set-up to punch line.

Joke: A mailman comes to the front gate of a fenced in house only to be greeted by a vicious barking dog on the other side. The mailman looked up at the man sitting on the front porch and asked, "Is your dog going to bite me?" The man on the porch said "No." The mailman went to unlock the gate, but the dog did not back down. Again he asked the man on the porch "Is your dog going to bite me?" Again, the man on the porch said "No." So the mailman entered the gate and the dog immediately jumped on him and attacked him. The mailman shouted, "YOU LIED! YOU SAID YOUR DOG WOULDN'T BITE ME!" The man on the porch shouted back, "That's not MY dog."

The joke is very logical. It follows a very clear line of thinking. And so does the question of God. When it comes to God, we do not need to abandon our reason in order to enter into the joke. In fact, it is more logical to approach God as the Great Joke rather than the Great Riddle. You can figure out a riddle. But you shouldn’t figure out a joke.

If there is delight to be found in the riddle, as my younger self found, it is from the pride received at feeling so clever. I pieced together the clues to understand the answer. But this CANNOT be done with God. All of the great saints understood this, especially St. Thomas Aquinas, who made clear that human reason would always fall short of understanding God because God is, above all, mystery. He is too big to fit into our little brains.

One of my favorite stories about the nature of mystery involves the other great medieval mind: St. Augustine of Hippo. The legend goes like this: Augustine had been in enveloped in great frustration because he could not understand the dogma of Trinity. How could there be 1 God and 3 Persons? It literally pained his mind. One day Augustine was walking down a beach and saw a little boy running to the ocean. Filling a cup with water, the boy dumped it into a hole that he had dug. After watching for a bit, Augustine asked the child what he was doing. The child said “I am going to put the whole ocean into this hole.” Augustine replied “But child, it is impossible for you to put the whole ocean into this hole. The ocean is too big, and the hole too small.” The child looked at him and said, “And so it is impossible for you to understand the Trinity,” and he disappeared. (Rim shot)

After that, Augustine understood: Trinity is a joke, and not a riddle. But rather than this causing him to abandon reason, he was now better equipped to talk about the Trinity in a more rational way. Augustine at last understood that Trinity was not something to be could be fully understood. The Trinity is something to enjoy.

Have you ever simply enjoyed the Trinity? Have you let yourself be caught up in the Love Story of God the same way we get caught up in the love story of Sam and Diane, Pacey and Joey, Jack and Rose, Ross and Rachel, etc. etc. We should. It is the greatest love story of all time and beyond.

Love stories are very much like jokes. You have the set-up followed by the unexpected punch line. And every time love is discovered between 2 lovers, it is always a surprise. There’s always something new about it, as if it has been discovered for the very first time. Happily married couples wonder whether anyone in the world could possibly be as happy or if only they have unlocked this magical secret of the universe. Romantic love goes beyond the logical realm of the riddle and finds its home in the joyous delight of the joke.

Romantic love, at its best, should be a reflection of the Divine love. And this too is better reflected in joke than riddle. Because with love, as with the joke, you have to give over a little of yourself. When 2 people share riddles, they engage in mental jousting. They are Bilbo and Gollum, dueling not with swords or fists but wits. Riddles are designed to create distinctions, i.e. I am smarter than you. Jokes are not designed to focus conflict AT the other, but to draw you closer TO the other. How often when we try to make friends do we crack jokes? Probably more so than riddles. If our jokes make someone laugh and vice-versa, it means that our minds have entered into a common frame where we can meet, not compete.

The dueling nature of riddles cannot be overemphasized. Here, the riddle master and the riddle solver are both active. But with jokes, the comedian is active while the audience is passive. Here is another reason why we tend to approach God like a riddle. In our hubris, we think that we can understand Him, and by understanding, conquer Him. Of course, most of us don’t admit to this, but often we want to learn about something to gain power over it. We read computer manuals so that we can figure out how to get our WI-FI to find the Xbox. We read about cars so that we can maintain it ourselves and not have to take it in to Leon at the Jiffylube. If we understand God, understand how He works, then we can best “manage” God and fit Him more efficiently in our lives. At least I believe that is the secret Promethean motive behind keeping God at a distance by treating Him as a riddle.

But with God, as with the comedian, there must be on our part self surrender. When we hear a joke, we listen as we are taken down a long, seemingly aimless road until we turn the corner and find a mini-surprise party waiting for us. The joy of a joke is not figuring out the ending, as in a riddle, but in being led to the ending. In fact, if we figure out the punchline to a joke before we are led there, our delight is diminished.

This can be easily seen in the life of Christ. Often, the Pharisees would pester him and test him and try to figure out who He is. In fact some got so frustrated that they came right out and ask, “Can’t you just tell us plainly who you are?” They thought the Messianic prophecies were riddles to be deciphered. But when Jesus came to them, he was not at all what they expected. He came at them sideways. He could not simply tell them who He was because that would have been like giving away the punchline before the set up. He had to lead them from the beginning: his conception in Nazareth (Can anything good come from Nazareth?). Then he brought them to Bethlehem, where He is born in a barn, like something out of an 80's sitcom.

In His public life, Jesus winkingly toys with the Syrophonecian woman (even the dogs get scraps), winds up his disciples (Why don’t you give them something to eat yourselves), and enters Jerusalem majestically on His Messianic ass (i.e. His donkey). But all that is still only the set-up for the ultimate joke: the Paschal Mystery. How confounded everyone was at the scandalous Passion! How the called out to Him “Come down from the cross and we will believe!” As if that would produce the logical evidence to command their assent! Almost no one could figure Him out, even the thief on his left. But the thief on his right got it. Rather than taunting or teasing Jesus, the good thief says, “Remember me when you come into Your Kingdom.” He got the joke. Why him and so few others? The good thief doesn’t just suffer alongside Jesus. He suffers with Jesus. He travels on that way to dusty death metaphorically holding His hand. He did not fully understand Christ, but He fully experienced Him. And by experiencing Him, he came to know Him.

He got the joke.

Now, if the story ended at Calvary, then we would have to say that the Gospel was a bad joke. But the punchline does not end in pain.  It ends in joy; it ends in Resurrection.

The people wanted a Messiah to free them, and so He has.  But He did it in a way that no one expected. He came at them sideways.  And now they are free not just from political oppression but from the oppression of sin and death. In our life, we want a God who loves us. And He does, but He does it in an unlooked for way: He died for us. We want to be happy in the here and now. He brings happiness in the now and forever. We Christians should always believe in happy endings. Our story is the happy ending. We let the Great Comedian lead us down the long winding road of our lives so that when it comes to the great punchline, our hearts will be filled with mirth and our spirits with laughter as He says to us, “Welcome home by good and faithful servant.”

And if He doesn’t say that, try telling Him the one about the man who named his dog "Stay." Then shimmy up and over the pearly gates while He’s laughing.

ANSWER RIDDLE 1: The other end of the rope is not tied to anything
ANSWER RIDDLE 2: The two years in question refer to B.C. not A.D.

ANSWER JOKE 1: “He has little legs.”
ANSWER JOKE 2: “I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday Best: Memorial Day Movies

There are many ways to honor our fallen heroes this Memorial Day by attending parades in their honor, donating funds to their memories, and praying for their souls.

One way that I like to remind myself of their heroism is through the art of movies.  Understanding that the dramatic representation of their experiences is nothing compared to the reality, I find that I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude when I see the price of freedom presented on screen.

For Memorial Day, I prefer to spend time with movies based on true stories rather than fictional war films like The Patriot.

Here are the best Memorial Day movies to watch.

1.  Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan poster.jpg
Spielberg won his second directing Oscar for this movie and I believe it was primarily for the Normandy invasion scene.  What I saw was ordinary men doing extraordinary things in horrific circumstances.  Not only was I riveted by the awful violence faced, I was moved by acts of courage and compassion, like seeing a priest hearing a dying soldier's confession amidst gun-fire.  They paid in blood the freedom we enjoy.  And I always think of the line in the final moments of the film: "Earn this!"  That echoes with me on Memorial Day and reminds me that I have to use this dearly bought freedom to make the world better.

2.  Glory
Glory ver1.jpg
Very few movies underscore the importance of valor in combat like Glory.  These men ran into the jaws of death with little hope of victory, but it was their courage that made all of the difference for the larger war in front of them.

3.  We Were Soldiers
Weweresoldiers poster.jpg
Not only is this a harrowing war film, but this is one of the best Memorial Day movies that reminds us of the sacrifice that the families of soldiers must also endure during war time.

4.  13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
13 Hours poster.jpg
This story is important because it reminds us what Memorial Day is all about: we must remember those who sacrificed.  Unfortunately, this story is such a political football that people forget that it is primarily about soldiers who put their lives on the line to protect others even with no help in sight.

5.  American Sniper
Chris Kyle is seen wearing desert fatigues army BDU, while his wife Taya embraces him. They are standing in front of a tattered US flag.
A friend of mine has said that there are a lot of bad things about Chris Kyle's life that the movie glossed over.  I have not had a chance to investigate those claims yet.  Nevertheless, the film is the best one that Clint Eastwood directed and it focuses so much on the cost of fighting evil on not only the lives of our soldiers but on their souls.  And I finish the movie with a much deeper appreciation of the heroic fight against our enemies but also the fight to regain a normal life.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wednesday Comics: DC Universe Rebirth - Spoiler Free Review

This review will be very brief because it is almost impossible to talk about this comic book without spoiling its surprises.  And in this case, I think the label "spoilers" is very appropriate.  If I had known what happened in this book before I read it, then my joy would have been spoiled.

DC Universe Rebirth is the potential swan song of Geoff Johns at DC.  I hope that's not the case because he is the greatest comic writer of all time.

Back in 2011, DC rebooted the entire DCU with the New 52.  As a sales technique, it was very effective for a few months.  I enjoyed a number of the fresh takes, but there was also a lot that was lost in terms of DC's history and legacy.  Some beloved characters were either removed or reinvented beyond recognition.  When you spend years with these characters, it can be difficult to see them go.

But DC Universe Rebirth feels very much like Johns way of addressing this problem and fixing it.

The art is fantastic.  I was so thrilled that some of my favorite artists working now contributed: Gary Frank, Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver, and Phil Jimenez.  The visuals are gorgeous and Johns knows how to use them for maximum story and emotion.  And there are clues in the visual design of the comic before the big reveal that comic fans will notice especially on a second read.  Johns and the artists hit some truly iconic images and incorporate them into the story in a way that doesn't feel gimmicky, but organic and evocative.

Thematically, Johns again gets right to the core.  In fact the chapter titles spell it all out: Lost, Legacy, Love, and Life.  The hero who takes us through the narrative lays out the lead up to this problem and the potential pathway going forward.  As a Catholic, I love the idea that beyond all of the fancy mystical and science-fiction elements at play in these comics, it's the universal and transcendent truths that give our heroes their purpose.  What is life without faith, hope, and love?  Johns raises this question and foils it against the ultimate comic foe.

I will have to end my review here because to say any more will rob you of the joy of reading this book for only $2.99.  But one more thing about the big and sure-to-be-controversial reveal at the end.

The revelation and its implications would be stupid and silly in the hands of any other writer.  It would feel forced and cynical, like a gimmick beyond all gimmicks.  But I believe in Geoff Johns.  If he takes the story towards where it looks to be heading, he could have the makings of the greatest DC Comics story ever written.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Trailer Time: Beauty and the Beast Teaser

This reminds me very much of the original teaser to Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella, which I very much enjoyed.

I enjoyed the lavish environments and hearing Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellan's voices was a fantastic treat (this may be the closest thing we will get to Obi-Wan meeting Gandalf).

I think the animated Beauty and the Beast is an excellent film, but I am not as enamored of it as others are.  The music is fantastic but it always seemed to hit its theme a little too hard on the head.

This teaser makes me want to see more of what the remake has in store.


Monday, May 23, 2016

New Evangelizers Post: The Preacher Trap

I have a new article up at  

A little while ago I wrote about “The Teacher Trap” where teachers of the faith place themselves morally above those that they teach.

But there is another aspect to this vein of corruption that I like to call The Preacher Trap.
This goes beyond the usual problem of hypocrisy where we do not practice what we preach. All of us fall short of this in one way or another.

No, here I am talking particularly about those who have been given the charism of actual preaching in the same way that others may have been given the charism of teaching. While there is a great deal of overlap between the two, they have a fundamental distinction.

Teaching involves helping people know and understand certain moral or religious precepts. Preaching primarily is about moving a person with words towards the Kingdom of God.
Another way to look at it is that teaching is aimed at the head and preaching is aimed at the heart. One involves the gift of clarity, the other involves the gift of rhetoric. Again, these often overlap, but I’m sure we’ve all encountered good teachers who were not good preachers and good preachers that were not very good teachers.

So here I am dealing with those who seek to move the hearts of men and women by the power of their words. The impact of this type of speaking cannot be overstated. Maya Angelou once said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This points to the lasting impact a powerful preacher can have.

In my own life, I can look to its turning point when I encountered Fr. Larry Richards. His ministry as a preacher cut through me like a sword and broke open the hardness of my heart. I know hundreds, if not thousands, of people who could say the same thing of him. In the preacher there is great power.

But in that power there is always great danger.

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Film Flash: The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys poster.png

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

A fun detective/mystery movie buried under too much sleaze.  Crowe and Gosling are funny!

2 out of 5 stars

Sunday Best: Upcoming TV Shows Fall 2016

One of the things I like that television networks have been doing in the last few years is giving us extended trailers to their upcoming fall shows.

I watch a lot of TV (arguably too much).  I do not have time to see everything that I want to.  This summer I plan to finally catch up on a show that a friend of mine has been asking me to watch for the past 5 years.  But that still leaves me with a huge list of things I want to see.

So youtube now has a lot of these trailers and I can begin to make my decisions about which shows look like a good investment of time.

Here are the top trailers for shows that look either good, have potential, or not-sure-but-I'll-give-it-a-try.  What I find interesting is how similar many of them are:

(for some reason, most of the trailers are not publishing to this blog, so I am making links in the titles)


Time After Time

 I love the movie that this film is based on, even though it has the most demasculinized hero in the history of cinema.  The trailer brings up a lot of the classic lines and plot points.  I am curious about an expansion of the story with the new twist at the very end.

Lethal Weapon

This is a show that I think is going to suffer from the name more than being helped.  If it was called something else, the action might be more effective.  But with the name I cannot help of thinking of the amazing work done by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover

Training Day

The only thing that is anchoring me to this show is Bill Paxton.  The idea is intriguing as a battle of souls, but I'm waiting to see how it goes.


I think highly of the movie, but there is something about the way this show is shot that is intriguing me.  I also think the gender swap of the child character adds a whole different emotional dynamic that I will enjoy exploring.


Not only do we have Time After Time, but we have:


Again, this seems like standard time travel fare, but the end of the trailer has me incredibly intrigued.

Making History

This could run out of steam very quickly, but the trailer made me laugh and laugh.



The plot sounds a bit like Robocop, but I'm looking forward to exploring the relationship between law enforcement and technology

Pure Genius

I was not sold on this until the little girl's coma words.  If this show can bring that kind of emotion each week, I might be hooked.


These last ones aren't in any specific category, but I might give them a try.

The Good Place

Normally, the concept of this show would turn me off completely as a devout Catholic, because ultimately it is saying that my religion is a lie.  However, I like the producers and cast and I'm hoping there is more to it than there appears.  I am going to give it at least one episode.

American Housewife

This comedy could be a little too broad, but there is some great potential here.

Downward Dog

This could be too gimicky, like the 3rd Look Who's Talking movie, but I like the cast and it made me laugh and it gave me the feels too.


The following are my favorite two trailers.

The Great Indoors

I adore Joel McHale as a comedian and this trailer made me laugh more than any of the ones that I've seen.  I've lost my taste for most laugh-track comedies, but this one has some real potential.

Designated Survivor

This show I think has the greatest potential to be great, if they can keep up the momentum I saw in the trailer.  Kiefer Sutherland is one of the best TV actors around and I can't wait to see what he does with this part.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Film Review: Captain America - Civil War

Sexuality/Nudity  No Objection*
Violence  Acceptable**
Vulgarity  Acceptable**
Anti-Catholic Philosophy  No Objection**

When they first introduced the Marvel Cinematic Universe all those years ago, I think its safe to say that Captain America was many people's least favorite Avenger.  Perhaps that is too harsh.  At the very least, many people found him a bit on the bland side.  

But now after two fantastic solo movie sequels, Captain America is without a doubt the main hero of the MCU.  This is fantastic reminders that in the hands of great writers and directors, there are no bland characters.  This a great credit the directors Joe and Anthony Russo.

Captain America: Civil War is amazing in the fact that it feels like both an Avengers sequel and a Captain America movie.  All of the main heroes have their strong moments where it almost feels like an ensemble film.  But you never lose the fact that above all this is a story about Captain America.

The story follows the events of both Age of Ultron and The Winter Soldier.  The Avengers enter into an international conflict which leads to civilian casualties.  The Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) has taken a step back from his Hulk-hunting obsession to inform the Avengers about the Sokovia Accords.  Essentially this plan states that the Avengers would be overseen by the United Nations and that the would only intervene with UN approval.

This splits the team down the middle along philosophical lines.  Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is still feeling the aftershocks of his own lack of control in Age of Ultron and so backs the Accords.  Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) is suspicious of them and sees them as a burecratic obstacle to doing the right thing.  The other Avengers line up behind one or the other.  Things, however, go from tense to hostile when a terrorist attack is blamed on Cap's oldest friend "Bucky" Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and the lines which were once ideological become so much more.  

As a philosopher, I love the fact that this is a superhero movie about ideas.  Tony and Steve are fantastic friends whose convictions are pulling them apart.  Anyone who has any kind of political or religious divide in their family and friends understands this tension.  And as in our own relationships, we hope that our mutual respect and affection will overcome all of the differences.  That is what makes Civil War so universal and so tragic.

And the ideas are not simply black and white.  Even though Captain America is the title hero, Tony is not necessarily in the wrong.  Not since watching the TV series Battlestar Galactica have I had the wonderfully frustrating experience of seeing two points of view that are in a sense both right, but sadly leads to great conflict.  

Tony has experienced the destructive power of playing God first hand.  He believes in the frailty of human judgment.  He does not trust his own inclinations and so desires to place the power he wields in the hands of legitimate authorities.  He thinks that great power in the hands of someone who doesn't think they could be wrong is too dangerous.

Steve is someone who has never doubted his inner moral compass.  His conscience is too solidly formed for him to ignore it.  As he says, "The safest hands are our own."  He doesn't see himself as above legitimate authority.  But he does say that the duty to what is right, even when the authorities tell you not to, is the most important thing to being a hero.

Steve thinks Tony doubts himself too much.

Tony thinks Steve doubts himself too little.

Because there is so much philosophy behind there is a lot of down time for exposition, but this only serves to deepen the tension and character development.  Because this is a sequel, very few introductions need to be made at this point and the characters can begin growing from the first scene.

But the large amounts of exposition do not take away from a fantastic action film.  I have read a number people who said that this movie was reminiscent of childhood when you would take all of your superhero action figures and have them fight each other.  And truth be told, there is a child-like joy in watching this come to life.  This is especially true when it comes to Spider-Man (Tom Holland) who brings a whole new life an energy to an already high-octane show.

The actions sequences are spectacular.  The hit you with small details (like showing our heroes run faster than cars through the streets) along with the eye-popping special effects.

But even through the philosophy the Russo Brothers remember that art must not only be provocative but evocative in order to work.  Ultimately, the battle comes down to some primary emotional chords that are so simple that they pull at the heart (but I will not spoil those here).  There is also an "evil villain" plot that is essential to moving the story forward, but is much less interesting (or so it seems) than the hero conflict.

I should take some time to make notes about the performances:

-Evans once again brings a level of steady maturity and charisma to a part that could be seen as bland and naive.  His Captain America is one who is idealistic and realistic while playing both those contradictions at once.
-This is the best performance Downey Jr. has done as Tony Stark.  He has been funnier and more charming, but he has never been this intense.  You can feel his anxiety as he sees everything slowly slipping towards destruction and Downey Jr. makes you twist inside the way Tony does.  I really think he should (but won't) get an Oscar nomination for this.
-Chadwick Boseman is introduced as the super hero Black Panther.  Boseman comes on with a kingly stature and presents an intriguing and charismatic figure who will be easily be able to lead his own feature.
-Tom Holland as Spider-Man is refreshingly young and it shows.  The youthfulness of the character sets him apart from the others and brings a wonderful fun to all of the tension.
-Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan have a great chemistry as Falcon and the Winter Soldier, each pushing against each other in a side-kick rivalry over Cap.

The other actors do an excellent job as well, never breaking the spell by breaking that fourth wall.  

The biggest downside to this movie is how much it feels like a transitional movie.  So many different stories will have their jumping-off-point from the events of this film.  Even though Winter Soldier was also open-ended for sequels, that film had more of a sense of completion and closure than this.  I came away with a distinct feeling that this film was mainly about setting the board for the big battle later.

As a Catholic, one of the things I really loved was that this movie was ultimately about conscience.  It is a great illustration of how two people could have developed their consciences in different ways and yet they are morally bound to obey them.  It is a story that is about standing up for one's convictions.  

And as Dumbledore said, it is one thing to stand up to your enemies but another thing entirely to stand up to your friends.

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday Best: TV Dramas of All Time - What Didn't Make the List

Before I finish my list of greatest TV dramas of all time, I thought it was appropriate to take a moment to explain why some of the most popular and critically acclaimed dramas are not on this list.

Some of my friends have been taken aback by some of the absences so far from the list and have been surprised by some of my more obscure choices.  But when reading this list it is important to rememberBefore I finish my list of greatest sitcoms of all time, I thought it was appropriate to visit the issue of importance vs. greatness.

Some of my friends have been taken aback by some of the absences so far from the list and have been surprised by some of my more obscure choices.  But when reading this list it is important to remember:

For this list, I am looking at the best dramas of ALL TIME.  One of the big drawbacks of a show if it is cutting edge and modern.  That is because the modern becomes dated very quickly.  As CS Lewis said something akin to: nothing is so quickly out of fashion that that which is in fashion.  That isn't to say that modern shows don't make the list.  In fact, if you did an analysis of my picks, many of them are from the last 20 years.

Critics like the mighty John Nolte have said that while there appears to be a dumbing down of Hollywood movies, TV is the place with real complex story and character development.  And for the most part I agree.

However, there are a lot of shows that are not on this list for the following reasons:

X-Files, The Wire, Friday Night Lights, My So Called Life, Dexter, Fringe, Homeland, Sons of Anarchy, Babylon 5, The Shield, Boardwalk Empire, Justified, Twin Peaks, NYPD Blue, Deadwood, and Mad Men are among the shows that are outside my experience.  Should I watch them one day, the list may change.

I would also add to this The Twilight Zone.  By all rights, this show should be high on my list or any list.  I have certainly seen many episodes.  The issue with The Twilight Zone is that I do not have a strong idea of the series.  What I mean by this is that when I think back on a show that may have been a Twilight Zone episode, I cannot be sure if it was from that show or if it was an Outer Limits or Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  These other shows were also in the same vein and also lead to similar confusion.  I full admit this is a flaw on my part, but I was not able to overcome it before making this list.

Game of Thrones is a classic example of this.  There is fantastic writing, directing, and acting on this show.  But it is too filled with unnesccary ugliness.  It is a show I could never recommend and eventually its content overwhelmed me to the point where I had to stop.  House of Cards is the same.  When Kevin Spacey spit on a crucifix, that was my wife's TV Tap Out.  You can say the same thing about True Detective and Jessica Jones.

You would think I am referring primarily to Christian themed shows, and there are some of those.  But I'm mainly thinking of shows like The West Wing.  I binged watched that series and there are some truly great TV moments.  Some episodes I go back and watch several times.  But why the series is not on the list is ultimately because it feels like an 8-year lecture.  Even if you agree with the politics, you cannot escape the feeling that often Aaron Sorkin is treating you like a student in his TV classroom.  Glee was also this way, where any message they wanted to convey was lost in its preachy tone.

There are some TV shows where I am convinced that the producers have disdain for their audience.  I will write about this in an upcoming article, but watching the show feels like you are being punished for watching.  As mentioned above, Game of Thrones would be in this category too.  Included too would be ER and The Sopranos.

By "timeless" I don't mean that the show isn't clearly from a specific era.  But if a show truly has universal themes, ideas, and emotions, then it should still be rewatchable years from now.  Of course filming technology can improve, but the essence of televised storytelling is not in the amount of tools you have but in how you use them.  A lot of the great mystery shows from the 1970's and '80's are in this category.

Some shows have some great potential, but they haven't proven themselves yet.  I did put newer shows like The Flash and Daredevil.  But there are many others like iZombie, Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter, Better Call Saul, Elementary, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow that have still much room to grow into their potential.

These are the reasons why some of your favorite shows are not on the list.

We'll see you next week for the # 2 TV Drama.

Monday, May 9, 2016

New Evangelizers Post: The Lord's Prayer Pt 6 - Mercy and Forgiveness

I have a new article up at  

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Most of us would readily acknowledge that we need the forgiveness of the Lord. I know that the older I get, I can see the scales of justice in my life tip heavily towards all of the sin I have accumulated. So it is necessary for us to turn to God to seek forgiveness. This is why Christ came into the world and died on the cross. Jesus said at the Last Supper when He took the chalice: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins “(Matt 26:28). Jesus wants to forgive us.
But when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we not only ask Jesus for forgiveness. We give Him permission to limit His forgiveness.
All of us want to be forgiven unconditionally. When we screw up, we want a complete reconciliation to occur and let bygones be bygones. We would burn with shame should someone bring up the past transgression. We would like to see disappear from everyone’s view in the rear-view mirror of life. We want our relationship with God to be completely restored as if the sin never happened. And that is what Christ offers to us by His sacrifice. He holds nothing back.
But in the Lord’s Prayer, we tell God to forgive us only as much as we forgive the people who hurt us.

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sunday Best: TV Moms of All Time

In honor of Mother's Day today, I thought we'd recap the best TV moms.

Now this is not as easy as it sounds, considering that television is, for lack of a better term, a moral cesspool.  But we cannot deny that what we watch on tv influences the culture, so we should try to find good examples of motherhood out there on the airwaves.

So these are not the funniest moms or even necessarily the best written or acted characters.  These are simply the characters that are best at being moms on television.

10.  Beverly Goldberg ("The Goldbergs")
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Yes, she mixes in too much and she overbearing and a bit of a bully.  But she is always trying her best to be the best mother she can be.  And when she goes too far (which is every episode), she does pull back and make amends.

9.  Frankie Heck ("The Middle")
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The opposite of Beverly, Frankie tends to be much less involved in her kids lives.  But as wrongheaded and unrealistic her plans sometimes get, she always comes back to the realization that her simple life in Middle America is pretty terrific.

8.  Kitty Foreman ("That '70's Show")

She is a bit of a caricature, but Kitty was constantly there for all of her children and even her children's friends, prompting her husband to take in the wayward Hyde who had no one else.  While the kids found her attitude to be a little much like child-like pandering, they came to appreciate how much care and attention she gave them throughout the years.

7.  Virgina Chance ("Raising Hope")
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Very tough and not that bright, Virginia always came back to a full beating heart when it came to taking care of her kids and grand kids.  And she gave an amazing example of taking care of elderly family in the way she unquestioningly supported her grandmother no matter how her zany mind deteriorated.

6.  Joyce Summers ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
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For years, Joyce had to be the oblivious Lois Lane character who was blissfully unaware that someone she loved had a secret super hero identity.  But when she found out she had to work through all of the fear, trauma, and mistakes that a single mother with an extraordinary child can make.  In the end, she gave her daughter as much comfort as she could while preparing her to be strong and independent after she was gone.

5.  Debra Barone ("Everybody Loves Raymond")
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Tending to be the sanest person in the family, Debra was the rock on which the whole household was built.  She brought stability to counteract Ray's stupidity.  She was, of course, not perfect.  But her imperfections only highlighted her virtues.  And I love the fact that for her, giving up her career to raise her children was a choice that she freely and happily accepted, without bitterness, longing, or complaint.  She showed that it was okay to choose family over jobs without it being a sign of weakness.

4.  Lorelai Gilmore ("Gilmore Girls")
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A lot of people could complain that Lorelai was too much of the "cool mom" who tried to be the best buddy to the child rather than a stable authority.  But that overlooks the fact that when it came crunch time, she played the mom card.   Two moments stick out to me.  1.  Lane was out without her moms permission and she called Rory.  Rory said that she would call Lorelai and assured Lane that Lorelie would not tell Lane's mom.  Upon receiving the phone call, Lorelai tells Rory that she is immediately going to call Lane's mom.  Despite Rory's please to "be cool," Lorelai understood that motherhood involves not being cool sometimes.  The second moment is when Rory sleeps with a married man.  Rory desperately wants Lorelai to be approving, but Lorelai will not budge because of the great moral wrong her daughter has unrepentantly done.

3.  Claire Huxtable ("The Cosby Show")

Claire Huxtable is a wonderful role model for a number of reasons.  She was a smart, but tough mother; you did not want to get on her bad side.  She was a successful lawyer, pushing her children to achieve their dreams with hard work.  And she was a loving and devoted wife.  Often when you have two parents who have successful careers while raising children there can be a lot stress.  But the best example they can give is how the mom and dad love each other.  For those of feminist philosophy, Claire Huxtable had it all.

2.  Marge Simpson ("The Simpsons")
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Homer Simpson would never make a list of best fathers because he is a terrible father.  But Marge is a good mother.  Or at least no one tries harder at being a good mother than Marge.  In her you see the embodiment of all the stresses that motherhood has to offer: unhelpful husband, problem children, social pressures from the community to be perfect, etc.  And she sometimes lets those pressures get to her.  But she never lets them keep her down for long.  The main unsung hero of the series is Marge.  Without her, none of the Simpson family would be redeemable.  She is the "angel in the house," even if she sometimes is a little bit of a fallen angel.

1.  Martha Kent ("Smallville")
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The best TV mom I have ever seen is Martha Kent on Smallville.  The whole point of the series was about how the values Clark received from his parents are what truly made him a hero.  She left a successful business career to help her husband run a struggling farm.  She wasn't attracted to Jonathan's success, but his inherent goodness.  Martha was a fantastic example of an adoptive mother who constantly welcomed and embraced Clark with all of his differences and longings to find his physical heritage.  She was not afraid of her son or his power but always stood her ground when she believed he was going wrong.  And after her husband died she didn't let that grief diminish her attention to Clark.  When he became independent she became a strong leader in politics, bringing all of her experience to public service in the same way that Clark used all his power to serve the people.  Martha Kent is the best TV mom of all time.