Monday, February 27, 2017

Rest in Peace Bill Paxton

photo by Gage Skidmore

Bill Paxton was one of those actors that you always thought would be around.

I know very little about his personal life, but his presence on the screen created such an emotional connection to me throughout my childhood.

The first movie I saw him in was as one of the street punks killed at the beginning of Terminator.

"I think this guy's a couple cans short of a six-pack"

He then had another small part in Commando.

But for me, he will forever be remembered as Private William Hudson in Aliens.  When I first saw the movie as a kid, I loved Hudson.  He was funny and cowardly and macho and wimpy and smart and stupid all at the same time.  You couldn't help but find one of your own virtues or vices reflected in him.  And through it all, Paxton made him so incredibly likable, even at his worst.

I remember when I first discovered the internet, I found that I could download sound clips from my favorite movies.  I can't tell you how many Husdson quotes I searched for.  Paxton's delivery was perfect.
 (hat tip:

Private Hudson: Yeah right, man, Bishop should go.  Good idea! 
Private Hudson:  You're dog-meat, pal! 
Private Hudson: Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man? 
Private Hudson: Is this gonna be a standup fight, sir, or another bug hunt? 
Private Hudson: We're on an express elevator to hell, going down! 

Private Frost: Hot as hell in here. 
Private Hudson: Yeah man, but it's a dry heat! 

Private Hudson: Hey, maybe you haven't been keeping up on current events, but we just got our a**** kicked, pal! 

Bishop: I'm afraid I have some bad news. 
Private Hudson: Well, that's a switch. 

Private Hudson: Stop your grinnin' and drop your linen! 

Private Hudson: Man, this floor is freezing. 
Sergeant Apone: What do you want me to do, fetch your slippers for you? 
Private Hudson: Gee, would you, sir? I'd like that. 

Private Hudson: Maybe we got 'em demoralized. 

Private Hudson: That's it, man. Game over, man. Game over! 

Private Hudson: [after Bishop performs the knife trick on his hand, hysterically] That wasn't funny, man! 

He could definitely play more unlikable characters, as he did in True Lies and Weird Science.  He could also pull of the tough, leading man as he did Twister.  His work as a supporting actor helped shape some truly great film including not only Aliens but also Titanic, Apollo 13, and Tombstone.

And his time on Marvel's Agents of SHIELD was one of my favorite parts of the series.

But Paxton's best performance, hands down, is as Hank in A Simple Plan.

Most of Paxton's performances had a charismatic showiness to them.  But A Simple Plan stripped all that away.  Here was where we saw his full range as an actor as he plumbed the depths of the human soul.  Not only do you see the slow erosion of his conscience, but the final scene with him and Billy Bob Thorton is so powerful that it overcomes any of the film's deficits.  The movie is dark and not for everyone, but I was mesmerized by how Paxton held my mind in those moments.  Only a great actor could have made that scene work.

And Paxton was a great actor.

I will miss him.  Please pray for him and his wife and two children and the rest of his loved ones.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.  May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.  Amen.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sunday Best: Oscar Predictions 2017

Tonight are the 89th Academy Awards.  Besides the show being too long, to pretentious, too insufferable, and too bland, I do enjoy making predictions.

You can still enter the Catholic Skywalker Oscar Contest here!

I've received a number of messages from people who are reluctant to play this year because they have seen so few of the movies predicted.  I sympathize and this continues to be a real problem for the Academy.  This would have been a much more highly rated Oscars if Deadpool had been nominated.

But without further ado here are my choices and my predictions:

Some notes:


I am going a little rogue here and predicting that Lion will win Best Picture.  This goes against all the other awards shows, but I am using the best model that predicted last year's Best Picture winner Spotlight that upset against The Revenant (two movie few people really care about anymore anyway, just saying).  And based on those predictors, Lion has the edge over La La Land.  I am going way out on a limb here and will probably be wrong, but I'll take the shot.


Again, most of the trends are going to Casey Affleck, but since Denzel won the SAG award, I think he is going to get most of the actor votes.


This should go to Arrival, but it is going to go to Moonlight.  For some reason, Moonlight was considered an Original Screenplay with the Writers Guild of America, but it is an Adapted Screenplay for the Oscars.


This will be Emma Stone's night.  Gosling will not win Best Actor.  And if I am right about Best Picture, La La Land will not be Best Picture.  So Stone will be the most recognizable winner for their film.  This gives me someone to root for because she was my pick for Best Actress for the Kal-El Awards.  I'm hoping the Academy finally gets one right.


La La Land will win all of the design and technical awards for which it is nominated.  It does a fine job in all of its categories, but it will overpower any of the better nominees.


Of all the nominated films in the major categories, Hacksaw Ridge is the best that I have seen.  And while Mel Gibson has the Hollywood door open to him, his overtly spiritual and patriotic themes will not play well with voters.


If the previous award shows are any indication, the winners (except for Denzel) are going to use their platform to speak about politics.  This will make for a long and uncomfortable night.  I predict at least 10 President Trump jokes in the opening monologue alone.  This is why I miss Billy Crystal as host: he kept the show light and fun even when it became slow and bogged down.


And if you want to see again what the REAL best achievements in film were this year, click this link to see.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Film Review: Patriots Day

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable 
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

I have a hard time with movies that are docudramas about terrorism since 9/11.  That isn't to say that these movies are bad.  But they hit me in an exceedingly emotional way.  Sometimes I think my critiques of them are more visceral rather than artistic because they represent and portray the world that we all live in today.

And Patriots Day is no exception.

The movie, directed by Peter Berg, depicts the events of the Boston Marathon Bombing of 2013.  The movie is an ensemble piece taking a look at the attack from several different points of view.  The main character is Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) a fictional Boston police officers who is the primary way most of the characters will be connected.  The rest of the cast includes Tommy's wife Carol (Michelle Monaghan), Commisioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese (JK Simmons), Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and many others.  While Tommy provides a major through-line in the film, it is really made up of smaller vignettes of the events told from various perspectives.

While the events of the movie are only a few years old, director Peter Berg weighs the sensitivities while creating a compelling drama.  Some have criticized that the movie is too soon.  But if it has any potential flaw in this regard its that all of the real-life characters (with the exception of the bombers and accomplices) are treated with very little criticism.  It's not that the movie would be served by being a hatchet job on any particular individual, but you can almost feel the gentle treatment given to people, particularly political figures.

But with aside, Patriots Day works incredibly well as a film.  One of the challenges of doing a story based on famous news events is that you can lose a lot of the dramatic tension because we know how the story starts and ends.  But Berg never lets us feel safe.  In fact, the moment the bomb goes off, even though we know its coming, is an incredible shock on screen.

The movie is surprisingly tense.  As we follow the path of the bombers we see other innocents who get caught up in their crimes.  Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze do an excellent job as the Tsarnaev brothers.  The evil and hatred that emanate off of them is so palpable.  The movie goes out of its way to make sure that Muslims are not broadly demonized, but Berg never shows the monsters behind the attack in any kind of sympathetic light.  Rather than being a detriment to the story, this simply raises the stakes for our heroes who have to stand up to this utter evil.  I found myself emotionally invested in the story in a way that I am normally not.  My anger rises at the events on screen as I think about how evil men like these terrorists are work in the world I live in now.

The imagery is incredibly powerful.  One trooper is ordered to stand guard over the body of a young boy who was killed.  And hours after everyone else has gone, he stands at his lone post, watchful.  And when the body is taken away, he tearfully salutes the fallen child.  Berg fills his movie with other strong images of Boston, giving the city a strong sense of character.

The performances are also top notch.  Simmons, Goodman, Monaghan, and Bacon are all at the top of their game.  But the real standout is Wahlberg.  He goes through the entire gamut of emotions.  He doesn't play Tommy with too much sympathy or cynicism.  You can see the physical, psychological, and emotional toll the story takes on him.

Also, towards the end of the movie, Wahlberg gives one of the best movie speeches I've heard in years.  When reflecting on the evil in the world and what to do about it, he says, “When the devil hits you like that the only way to fight back is with love…That’s the only thing he won’t touch.”  As a Catholic, I was surprised at how beautifully and succinctly Christian that message was.

The movie does end with interviews and footage of the real-life survivors of the event.  This is an increasing trend that we see in movies like American Sniper and Hacksaw Ridge.  And while the effect is powerful, its strength is a bit diluted by going on a bit too long.  It hands just a little too much of the movie over to feeling like 60 minutes.  Berg should have taken a cue from Spielberg's Schindler's List which used the real-life people in a silent and powerful epilogue to the film.

Patriots Day is an excellent movie.  It almost makes you forget that Berg also directed the atrocious Battleship.  But this film completely gets him out of the cinematic dog house.

This movie is well worth your time.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunday Best: Superhero Movies of All Time #15 - Spider-Man 2

Against a New York City background, Spider-Man hugs Mary Jane Watson, with a reflection of Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man's eye as Spider-Man shoots a web.

Many would say that of all the Spider-Man movies thus far, Spider-Man 2 is the best.

And I would agree with them.

Picking up after the events of the first Spider-Man, we see how our hero Peter Park (Tobey Maguire) trying to make his way in the world and as the web-slinger.  He is still in an estranged romantic relationship with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and a strained friendship with Harry Osborn (James Franco).

What the movie captures so well so early on is how much of burden it is for Peter to be Spider-Man.  Unlike Batman or Iron Man, Spider-Man does not have unlimited resources.  Heck, even Clark Kent does better than him in the same field of journalism.  But Peter's life is on the rocks.  Director Sam Raimi captures in such nice visual touches Peter's poverty.  It is such a nice carryover from the first film to see how Peter refuses to make money off of his power.  That path led to the death of his Uncle Ben.

And these early scenes set up the main struggle of the film: is being Spider-Man worth it?  Being the hero leads to an overall decrease in his quality of life.  He barely makes rent, he cannot help his Aunt May, he cannot be with the woman he loves... and he still tends to be hated.  This is a crucial step in the hero's journey, reminiscent of the events of Superman II.

And when he does turn away from his life, I love how he has an internal conversation with Uncle Ben that is framed the same way as their last conversation from the first film.  I know some people find the "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" sequence a bit silly, but that is part of the point.  For Peter, the clouds have seemingly lifted.  He is finally getting his life in order and his is free from the cross he carries.

But Raimi does a great job of showing the toll this freedom takes on his soul.  When Peter witnesses a mugging and resolutely walks away, it eats away at him and the audience.  The mugging is kept in the distance so that you and Peter intentionally keep the victim faceless and forgettable.

The movie uses this selfish turn to allow Peter to make a real choice.  He really needs to know what he is sacrificing.  This brings us to one of the best speeches in any comic book movie:

Aunt May says "He knows a hero when he sees one. Too few characters out there, flying around like that, saving old girls like me. And Lord knows, kids like Henry need a hero. Courageous, self-sacrificing people. Setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them, cheer them, scream their names. And years later, they'll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who taught them how to hold on a second longer. I believe there's a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams. "

I don't think I've ever seen a speech in a movie that best sums up why Superhero movies matter.  They can teach us how to be heroes in our own lives.  And they embody those two rare traits: courage and self-sacrifice.  Aunt May explains the difference between a person with super powers and a superhero.  And it isn't Peter getting the accolades May describes.  It's about the positive effect you have on other people.

And on top of all of this thematic content, the movie an action spectacle.  There are so many good moments (like the terrifying moment Doc Ock's arms come to life), but the train fight might be one of the best action sequences ever in a super-hero film.

It is shot with such visual dexterity and energy that if it happens to be on TV, I will stop everything to watch it.  I also love the Christological way in which the sequence ends and the way the people on the train stand up for their hero.

Maguire and Dunst are great.  Their chemistry is always fantastic.  Franco's performance is a bit too bland and broad, lacking depth.  Alfred Molina was perfectly cast as Doctor Octopus.  He is beefy enough to embody the comic character without being obese.  He also projects incredible intelligence without insanity.  Unlike Dafoe's Green Goblin, you actually like Otto Octavius before he becomes the villain.

The only thing holding this movie back from being higher on the list is that it too often indulges in camp.  While Aunt May is given the best monologue of the series, most of her lines (especially when she is kidnapped by Doc Ock) are silly.  Also the pseudo-science behind Doc Ock's strains even the widest suspension of disbelief.  That isn't to say that the movie can't have light fun.  But if you lean too hard on the cheesy side of things, it can make the dramatic tension feel compelling.

The movie also suffers from having a terrible final shot.  I understand it's purpose leading in to the third film, but it is like listing to symphony and having the final chord fall flat.

But despite this, Spider-Man 2 is a great movie and deserves its place on this list.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Charity of the Month: International Red Cross

There had been a lot of talk in the news about refugees from around the world and what the United States should do regarding them.

Some say we have a moral responsibility to bring them into our country.  Others say that unfettered immigration poses a threat to national security.  There are good arguments on both sides.

But regardless what side of the issue you find yourself, all of us have an obligation to look out for the least ones in the world.

The very least that we can do is help out with the basic necessities of life.  The International Red Cross is (as far as my research goes) a very reputable organization that uses its funds well to take care of food, shelter, and medicine for those claiming refugee status.

The question of immigration is a political question that I do not wish to engage in on this blog.  But the question of how to help our fellow man is something we must always ask ourselves.

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


Friday, February 17, 2017

TV Mini Review: Powerless

I am a DC Comics fanboy.  I am also a big fan of shows like Arrow and The Flash.  So when it was announced that they were doing a DC Universe Sitcom on NBC, I was very excited.

Powerless takes place in Charm city where Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens) has just moved.  Obsessed with superheroes, she takes a job at Wayne Security to work for Bruce's idiot cousin Van (Alan Tudyk).  She supervises a group of misfit inventors and engineers that include Teddy (Danny Pudi).  Together they attempt to create safety equipment in a world of super-powered beings while navigating the foibles of every day office life.

The biggest drawback so far is that the show leans in too much to the silliness of its own concept.  Rather than take the world they live in absolutely seriously and letting the comedy come from there, there is a constant winking at the camera pushes the show to feel much closer to a SNL sketch than a workplace comedy.

Right now, the comedy is too broad and the characters too flat.  It feels very much in tone and style to the short-lived Better Off Ted, which covered a lot of the same satirical ground.  In general, comedies that take place at work suffer in comparison to The Office, which also tended to address universal job experiences.  Now when sitcoms make fun of things like idiot bosses, you can't help but feel "The Office did it better."

But Powerless is not hopeless.

Other shows began with too simplistic a start, like The Goldbergs.  But if given enough time, I can see the show really growing into itself.  Powerless actually has a lot of things going for it.

They have pretty great cast.  While they are playing things a bit dimensional, it is more a failing in the writing than their acting.  Hudgens is has a natural likability that prevents her from being too cloying.  Tudyk as a fantastic comedic delivery.  And Pudi is great as always.  Two other standouts are Christina Kirk as Van's cynical assistant Jackie and Ron Funches as Ron, the science nerd from Atlantis.

So far, three episodes have aired and they've been getting subsequently better.  Right now its current strength lies in its quick-paced dialogue.  The scripts try to pack in jokes at a mile-a-minute, which I love.  The little DC easter eggs are incredibly fun for me, but may not appeal to the general viewer.

And the writing is improving, or at least the jokes are making me laugh more.  Funches delivered a line that made have to pause the show.  When discussing the possible secret identity of one of their co-workers, Funches says, "It's like my theory about how Bruce Wayne is the Flash or how Stephen Baldwin is really just a character played by Alec Baldwin."

As the show improves, my enjoyment grows.  I hope NBC gives it a chance to find its way.

3 out of 5 stars.

Monday, February 13, 2017

New Evangelizers Post: 10 Commandments in the Modern World Pt 6 - Don't Commit Adultery

I have a new article up at  
I cannot imagine I have anything original to say about this topic, nor should I. The problem of lust as long been the bane of many human lives. It has destroyed families, ruined lives, and caused general guilt and shame to countless people.

Rather than catalog each sexual sin and why it is wrong, I will instead focus on the lusts in the heart. Yes, having sex outside of marriage is a mortal sin and therefore worse than struggling with a lustful thought. But if we can heal the disease at the source, we can keep it from becoming malignant. A person may avoid sexual contact with another (maybe not for lack of trying) but still have lust gripping their souls. But if a person can be free of lust in the heart, then it will keep them from committing mortal sin with another.
This sin itself as not changed. What has changed is the cultural intensity. Since the sexual revolution, sins that once remained private are now mainstream. What once brought shame is now an object of pride.

To be clear, we should not act as the elders who wanted to stone the adulteress to death for her sin. But even Christ acknowledged that she was not living the right way when He said to her “Go and sin no more.”

There are also several difficulties in speaking about this subject as opposed to others. A frank discussion about a person’s anger problems can be a path to healing. But a frank discussion about sexuality can actually lead another person to lustful thoughts.

CS Lewis and his best friend Arthur Greeves would share all of their secrets with each other as young men. To unpack the hidden burdens of the heart can be a great relief. But they also shared with each other their personal sexual fantasies and desires. It was something both men later regretted as it only served to stoke those illicit desires in them rather than relieve them of its pressures.

When talking about sexuality, we have to realize that if we get too specific with some people, this will only strengthen their lusts. And to make matters worse, everyone is the not the same in this regard.

We can easily say that we should avoid viewing pornography. But for some, regular television or music videos on youtube may provide too much temptation for some. I remember someone once got rid of all of their comic books because they found the images too tawdry Some may think this an overreaction if they do not find drawn images like that stimulating. But to this person, it may be too much to handle. Everyone’s temptations and triggers are different. This isn’t to say that we should be puritanical in our speech and avoid talking about this sin. We simply must do it with caution.

And before we speak about it, we must do our best to live chaste lives. We must model chastity. Of course, this is easier said than done. A priest once said to me that many priests experience their strongest sexual temptations during mass. The Devil knows that this is a sensitive point for many of us and the guilt regarding our failings here is deep. A famous theologian said of his struggles with pornography that it “sapped all of my spiritual strength.” The percentage of Catholics who habitually look at pornography, even Catholics who regularly attend mass, is staggering.

Many blame our toxic culture. And to be sure there are those who are constantly pushing the envelope of sexual degradation and exploitation in our media. The young are especially susceptible to this because this is the culture in which they grow. In The King and I, the children of Siam disbelieved the reality of snow because they have never experienced it. When adults try to explain to teens and children that the overtly sexual elements of our culture are not appropriate, all they may hear is the “Back in my day…” speech that makes us sound and feel out of touch.

So what is the solution?

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sunday Best: Superhero Movies of All Time #16 - Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Batman mask of the phantasm poster.jpg

For a long time, this was the best cinematic Batman movie.

The Batman Animated Series did so much right in terms of capturing who Batman was from the comic books.  The show did it in a way that seemed to elude previous film installments.  But there is a big difference between making a story for the big screen.

But this movie delivered.

In order to set this movie apart, the story had delve in to Batman in a way we had never seen before.  This led to a deep examination of Bruce Wayne and his life before and after taking on the mantle of the Bat.

It is always risky to try and introduce a new villain to the already rich rogues gallery of the Dark Knight, but this movie does it incredibly well.  While Batman is taking down a mob ring, a new masked vigilante, the Phantasm, who begins killing the mob bosses.  Batman gets the blame and he is now hunted by both police and criminals.  The addition of the Phantasm creates a nice tension to Batman's war on crime.  You can see and feel Bruce's struggle with this increased extremism.

We are also introduced to another new character, Andrea Beaumont.  When Bruce began his crusade he fell in love with this wealthy socialite and almost abandoned his mission.  But she jilted him with a Dear John letter only to return years later.  With the increased pressure from the Phantasm, Bruce is tempted once more to leave his never-ending campaign.

But this film does not ignore other important aspects of the Batman legacy.  The Joker factors very prominently into the story.  And rather than feeling shoe-horned into the plot, he is an integral part, organically woven into a story that at first seems very boilerplate Batman adventure takes you to the very heart of the character in the way that had not been seen on film.

This is a Batman movie that has something to say about the sacrifices we make for our obsessions and whether or not they are worth the price.  Most times the dilemma of the superhero regarding the choice of giving up their fight against villainy feels forced and trite.  But you get a distinct sense from this movie that this could be the capstone to the Batman story and that he could finally lay down his burdens and walk away free.  And the audience feels conflicted about this: we want the hero to have a happily-ever-after but it would be at the cost of so many others.

The only thing holding this back from being higher on the list is that the animation is not quite up to the cinematic experience.  To be sure it is better and more polished than a regular episode of the series, but it never raises to the level that it should.  If you had taken the exact same script and made a live-action film, the emotional impact would have been greater.

But for now, let's not think about what Batman: Mask of the Phantasm wasn't.  Instead let us honor what it is.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Film Flash: John Wick - Chapter 2

John Wick Chapter Two.png

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

 Slow start, but bloody, ultra-violent thrill-ride.  Like Harry Potter but the wizards are hitmen.

4 out of 5 stars  

Friday, February 10, 2017

Film Review: Live By Night

Sexuality/Nudity Mature 
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

I have been a big believer in Ben Affleck and an enthusiastic supporter of the Ben-essaince.  Ever since Gone, Baby, Gone, Affleck has shown more and more promise as a director and as an actor, as seen in his follow-ups The Town and Argo.

That is why Live By Night is a disappointment.

Set in post WWI, Prohibition era Boston, Affleck stars as Joe Coughlin, a two-bit hood how tries to stay clear of getting absorbed by the local mobs.  He is in a tense circumstance as he romances Emma (Sienna Miller) the girlfriend of the head of the Irish Mob Albert White (Robert Glenister) and friction with Joe's police chief father Thomas (Brenden Gleeson).  Things spiral out of control and Joe eventually goes down to Florida where he carves out a mini-empire with his friend Dion (Chris Messina) and a partniship with the Cuban rum-runners Miguel (Esteban Suarez) and Graciela (Zoe Saldana).  Things get even more complicated when Joe runs afoul of the KKK and the local Chief of Police (Chris Cooper) and his troubled daughter Loretta (Elle Fanning).

If that plot sounds complicated, it is.

The problem isn't the complexity, but that it seems needlessly muddled.  The movie spends way too much time Boston before heading to Florida.  The background on the character is nice, but all of it seems like a prelude to a movie that hasn't yet begun.

This is an example of a movie where the plot gets in the way of the story.  That is a shame because there is actually quite a lot here that is interesting to explore.  Joe is like Vito from the Godfather: he wants to make his own rules but wants to keep a sense of honor.  He fancies himself as no-nonsense rogue rather than a villain.  He runs alcohol and supports gambling, but he refuses to engage in the heroin trade or prostitution.

As a Catholic, I have always appreciated Affleck's religious allusions and moral quandaries in his films.  He really likes to explore the deeper questions of good and evil in mature ways.  (Although that one abortion line in Argo still bothers the crap out of me).  He tries to do the same thing here in Live By Night with mixed results.

The most fascinating dynamic I found was between Joe and Loretta.  Without giving too much away, Loretta goes through a spiritual revival which makes her sway public opinion against Joe's interests.  Joe goes to try and talk to her, bribe her, and reason with her to get her to soften her tone.  What I found so fascinating about this scene was that Affleck, both in his direction and performance, shows that Joe honestly believes that Loretta's crusade is misguided and goes against common sense.  And yet, he is filled with such admiration for her faith and goodness that he cannot bring himself to condemn her.  Affleck as a writer/director could have taken the easy way out and filmed her simply as a superstitious hick (as her followers seem to be).  But it was a bit refreshing to see admiration for religious conviction and virtue even when it was at odds with the main character's beliefs.  And while the film is sympathetic to Joe, it never lets him off the hook for his vice.

But not all scenes are this complex and rich.  Too often the characters are painted with to simple and broad brushstrokes.  Loretta's father is reduced to simple madness.  Dion is a not-so-bright buddy.  The KKK troublemaker (Mattthew Maher) is pure inbred hillbilly.  Saldana brings a sophisticated class her character, but we never get much deeper than someone who also represents a different kind of virtue to Joe.

Another problem is something that historical movies tend to have.  Instead of simply presenting life and actions of the day, the movie constantly and not-so-subtly virtue-signals to current political issues of race, poverty, immigration, and legalization of contraband.  If the movie had more confidence in itself, it would trust the viewer to draw its own conclusions.  But when the main character talks about how one day there will be a political upheaval that sounds like rhetoric from recent election campaigns, it only serves to take you out of the movie.

The performances are mostly good, even with these writing deficits.  Fanning's performance is particularly interesting.  When she is preaching, I thought she was going too over-the-top.  But when the layers were pealed back, we could see how her character was using her rhetorical skills in different situations.  Affleck is also as good as always, showing the conflict of a man drawn to the light but comfortable in the shadows.  He wants love but lives in sin.  He admires faith but refuses to repent.  He desires peace but lives violence.  Rather than repel us with this hypocrisy, Affleck helps us see our own struggle between our sinful and saintly natures.

Visually, Live By Night is an excellent film.  He captures the feel for the time and both Boston and Florida feel like they could be different countries in terms of color and tone.  The action sequences are brutal and bold.  With the exception of one incredibly odd and uncomfortable single-take shot towards the end, Affleck demonstrates his ability to tell a story visually.

My hope is that Live By Night is merely a minor stumble to the continuing upward trajectory of Affleck's career.

But it is a stumble, nonetheless.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Making Monsters of Men (repost)

I have already reposted this article once already.  But a discussion I was having last week involved this article.  My friend requested that I repost it with a very specific YouTube clip added at the bottom.

Though I first posted this a year an a half ago, I think the ideas are just as timely.


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.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sunday Best: Most Entertaining Superbowl Commercials (repost)

(repost from 2015 with slight update)

I watch the Superbowl every year.  Although I really couldn't tell you much about the games themselves.  I don't follow sports for the most part.

But for some reason, companies put together their big event commercials on during this game.  And I always find that the following day more people talk about the commercials than the game.

Below are, what I think, are the most entertaining commercials that have appeared at the Superbowl.

-these are not necessarily the most important.  Many consider the original Apple Computer "Big Brother" ad to be the one that made the Superbowl commercial an event unto itself.  But the ad is actually not that entertaining.
-these are not necessarily the best commercials.  As my good friend Rick O. points out, a good commercial makes you buy the product or service.  The below are not in that category.
-these are not necessarily the funniest.  By most entertaining, I simply mean the ones that stick with you, that you remember and go, "That was good!"

I know that this list is even more highly subjective than any other list on this blog.  But here goes.


This came out while I was in high school and everyone was copying it.  I don't know why it was so catchy, but it got the product name out there in a very creative way.


Isaiah Mustafa came onto the small screen as a model and mockery of manliness that had people talking about the "Old Spice Guy."


Please don't judge me, but I know this tune by Ray Charles better than any of his other songs.


This commercial made me laugh and laugh and made me look at the movie Cast Away in a whole new way.


I remember watching this and thinking, "If Clint Eastwood was running for president, he just won the election."


It was so silly and ridiculous for little Claire Piller shouting that cloying refrain, but it resonnated throughout the '80's.


I always complain about the quality of the Transformers films, but they always sucker me in with spots like this.  I mean come on!  It's Optimus Prime riding a Dinobot!


I have watched this commercial over and over again.  It delights me in a way that I don't think any other commercial has.  I don't know why someone with the handle CatholicSkywalker would think that, but there you are.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Film Review: La La Land

Sexuality/Nudity Mature 
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

La La Land is almost a great movie.

 It is almost a classic.  I remember half-way through the filming thinking about how I would go out and buy the soundtrack and later on the Blu-ray.  But by the end I had no interest.

La La Land opens with a big, bold musical number that turns a traffic jam on the LA freeway into song and dance spectacular.  We are then introduced to our leads: Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress and current barista, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), an old school jazz musician who balks at compromising his artistic integrity.  After a jilted first introduction, the two find a slow burning attraction that soon burns hot.  Not only do they inspire romance in each other, they inspire each others' artistic passions.  But both success and failure in these endeavors places strain on their relationship in ways that place it in jeopardy.

The most refreshing thing about La La Land is how much it feels like an old-school Hollywood musical.  The directing does not feel like the rapid-fire flash edits of a YouTube music video.  The camera holds for long dance numbers that are beautifully staged.  So much credit must be given to choreographer Mandy Moore (not singer/actress of the same name).  The dances have an exciting flair that is reminiscent of West Side Story.  And Stone/Gosling are superb in their dance steps.  They make these complex dances look effortless but feel emotionally resonant.

Director Damien Chazelle seems to have studied the musical classics and creates a beautiful, colorful vision of LA, a place where dreams can come true.  The production design lights up the eye.  This is a gorgeous movie to watch.  Chazelle uses great technical care when to hold the camera for the long shots and when to whip the camera around for a kinetic jolt.  And when he breaks from the smooth, old-school style, you can feel the rawness of it, especially when he uses the hand-held camera to show the rockiness of the relationship.  He is also able to capture visually those feelings of first hand-holding and discovery of love and the ache of what has been lost.

I am no fan of jazz, which is plays heavily into this movie.  But this film does what a good story will do with any esoteric art: it will help the audience experience it in a new way to find a new appreciation.  Not only are many of the songs excellent, but the musical themes are used incredibly effectively.  One theme is played instrumentally throughout the film and only towards the end are any lyrics attached to it.  And by then the emotional ties to the notes have a strong effect in heightening the impact of the lyrics.

As stated before both Stone and Gosling are terrific.  Stone is particularly good and should probably win an Oscar for her role.  Her Mia is always dealing with the layers of being an actor and stone shows us those layers constantly.  And while she constantly has to put on characters for her auditions and her roles, everything she does feels genuine.  She not only sings and dances with entertaining flourish, she uses those elements as opportunities to delve deeper into who Mia is.  While we get very little about each characters early life, much is hinted at and felt by their portrayals.  Gosling once again plays a character of effortless cool.  And his a mixture of the sensitive and stoic.  And while there are smaller roles played by JK Simmons and John Legend, this is clearly the Stone/Gosling show all the way.

The writing is charming, showing the battle of wits between Mia and Sebastian before their minds accept what their hearts feel.  But there is a thematic and structural problem with the film.  And though I hate making any reference to how a movie ends, I believe the the entire enjoyment of the film will depend on how you view the ending.  Some have said that the movie only works because of the ending.  Others like me say that the ending is problematic.  I shall try to be as vague as possible but...


The entire film is set up like a classic Hollywood musical.  And as the film progresses, there is nothing to indicate that this will not be the case until the end.  In such Hollywood musicals, the focus of the emotional investment is in the romantic relationship.  And I use the word "investment" because that is what you do with a good story: you invest part of your emotional concern and hope in to get a rewarding cathartic return on the investment.  The deeper the investment, the bigger the return for which you hope.  This does not always mean that the story has a happy ending as you can see in movies like the aforementioned West Side Story.  But even in that tragedy, there is a sense of the romance surviving beyond the killing: a love stronger than death.

La La Land sets you up for a big investment and in the end comes up way short.  I finished the film feeling cheated.  And while there are some beautifully artistic elements in the last ten minutes of the film, all of the good will it had accrued in me was completely and utterly wasted.

Imagine going to a restaurant and eating a delicious and satisfying meal that delighted your throughout.  But then right before you finished you took a big gulp of milk only to find out too late that it was spoiled.  As good as the meal was before, that rancid taste ruins the memory of the meal.  The same is true of La La Land.

Ultimately the film feels like a tragedy.  I am perplexed by this obsession with creating excellent art and achieving career success in life if it means sacrificing the things that make life worth living.   I've always believed that art exists to help us experience real life in a better life.  But it seems almost an offense to God to sacrifice real life for the sake of art.   Chazelle explored these themes in his previous effort Whiplash, but he left it ambiguous enough to create a fruitful discussion.  But here, everything feels so wasteful.

I think the temptation to be edgy got the better of what could have been a movie that would be watched and loved for decades.

But La La Land, while filled with good elements, sacrifices excellence for edge.

3 out of 5 stars.

Film Flash: The Space Between Us

The Space Between Us poster.jpg 
15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

A Chestertonian story of romance and wonder that could be great with slightly better writing 

3.5 out of 5 stars