Thursday, May 31, 2018

CatholicSkywalker Blog 6th Anniversary

(5/31/18: Feast of the Visitation)

It's had to believe that it has been 6 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.

I looked back on my output this year and it dwindled quite a bit.  When my mom got sick I took a leave of absence not only from my Master's program but also from New Evangelizers.  After my mother passed away, I was inundated with projects that have kept me consistently busy until now.

For those who have stayed with this blog during this time, thank you for your patience.  I promise to return your faithfulness with more content this coming year.  

Here is a list of all of the content I hope to get out before the end of summer:

-Film Reviews for movies that have already come out: Coco, The Post, Pitch Perfect 3, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, A Wrinkle in Time,  Ready Player One, Life of the Party, and Deadpool 2

-Film Reviews for movies this summer: Ocean's 8, The Incredibles 2, Tag, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Ant-man and the Wasp, Mission:Impossible - Fallout, and Christopher Robin

-Continue the Catholic Skywalker Dialogues that I have let languish for over a year.

-Cover the upcoming Fall TV shows.

-A return to weekly essays including: Half Great/Half Terrible Movies, Almost Terrible Movies That Are Great, The Manliest Movie of the 1990's, The Most Morally Subversive Movie of the 1980's, Greatness vs. Goodness.  Love the Art/Hate the Artist, The Frustration of Indefinable Words, Who I'd Be.

-Finish the series of reflections I began on Doctor Who and Interstellar

-Update my list of Top 25 Superhero Films of All Time.

-Return to writing for New Evangelizers

-A deep analysis of the flaws and merits of The Last Jedi.

Perhaps that is overly ambitious, but I will raise the bar high.  I also try to keep the content fresh and interesting for you, dear reader.  

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.

And so once again, thank you for hanging on with me these last few years.  I will work even harder to make the next five years the best that this blog as been.

Finally, as is my custom on this day, I have reprinted my first essay ever on this blog.  


-Catholic Skywalker

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.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Film Flash: Solo - A Star Wars Story

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

Fans who hated The Last Jedi will enjoy the fun-filled Solo (and I did too)

image by Yasir72.multan

Film Review: Solo - A Star Wars Story

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity No objection
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

I think the last two years of Star Wars will be known as its "Dark Ages."  Rogue One and The Last Jedi were two of the darkest entries in the entire saga (and this in relation to Revenge of the Sith).

But Solo: A Star Wars Story is a return to the fun adventure movie in pulp serial tradition.

This movie takes place between Episode III and Episode IV.  We come to find a young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) as he tries to escape the slums of Corellia with his girlfriend Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke).  Things become complicated and he ends up a soldier in the Empire where he happens upon the wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suatomo), the rogue Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his partners in crime Val (Thandie Newton) and Rio Durant (Jon Favreu).  Together they begin a caper that has a lot of twists and turns that I will not spoil here.

I will be the first to admit that I came in with incredibly low expectation.  This may contribute to my generally positive impression of the movie.

Director Ron Howard understands Star Wars better than the last two directors in the franchise.  It is a place of danger, but also of excitement and fun.  Han's adventures are thoroughly fun to watch. The chases and action set pieces carry with it a strong visual flair, but they also are full of charm.  Writers Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan know how to make our anti-hero roguish enough to make him relatable, but heroic enough to make him likeable.  Han is skilled, but he is too cocky and so much of his survival is a combination of that arrogance and dumb luck.   Some critics have pointed out how much Solo comes off as a lovesick boy in this film, but it works because we are seeing how he slowly becomes the man we find in A New Hope.  On top of this, the writers make the dialogue fun and slick.  You feel like you are on the inside of a cool heist gig.

Ehrenreich is surprisingly good in the role.  No one can touch the iconic work of Harrison Ford, but he makes the wise decision of voiding an impression of his predecessor.  Instead, he plays him a lot closer to Mark Hamill in the original Star Wars: full of unearned confidence and not enough world-weary experience.  But part of the fun of the movie is watching the cynicism of the world creep into his world-view while still maintaining a generally virtuous disposition.  He wants to be good, but he learns to not be naive.  In particular, I loved watching the relationship between Han and Tobias develop throughout the film as Tobias plays a kind of dark Yoda, guiding Han through the underworld.  But each of Han's relationships takes on a different flavor, whether it be with Tobias, Qi'ra, Chewie, or Lando (Donald Glover).  And each different type of chemistry adds some enjoyable texture to the character's journey.

The most controversial character is probably L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Lando's droid co-pilot whose dialogue feels like it was written by a college freshmen who just took their first gender-studies class with a Marxist professor who gives extra credit for "die-in" protests.  L3 is constantly hectoring the other character about equality and their own bigotries, which makes her horribly unpleasant.  But she played much more for laughs as indicated by how the other characters roll their eyes when she begins ranting like Britta from the TV show Community.  This is in sharp contrast to Rose Tico from The Last Jedi, who was not only preachy and condescending, but had a completely morally insane morality.  L3 may be cut from the same cloth, but Solo has enough sense to understand how annoying such a character is.  This allows audiences to both laugh at and/or with the character.

Glover is also fantastic as Lando.  Like Billy Dee Williams, he oozes confidence and charm but is markedly different than the rougher-around-the-edges Han.  He looks down on Han the way Han looked down on Luke and constantly emasculates him by calling him "kid."  You can see the seeds of the friendship/rivalry that are planted in this movie and you want to see it develop more.

This movie explores some of the moral murkiness that Rogue One and The Last Jedi explored, but the tone was very different.  Although the movie swims in shades of gray, it is not dark.  The Han we find at the beginning of the movie is in some ways better and worse than the one we find at the beginning of A New Hope.  Han is not a saint, but he is someone who is trying very hard to live by his conscience, which is something that his experience should have crushed out of him.  In some sense his virtue is more heroic because he has no one on which to model his morals.  And it is this daring that is admirable despite his moral flaws, some of which become deeper as the story progresses.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that Solo is a great movie.  While it is long on fun and high on spectacle, it is low on depth.  Although, the movie's final confrontation is one that I found surprisingly compelling.  I look forward to seeing this movie again, which is not something I thought I would have said going in.

If Solo is an indication of the direction the Star Wars franchise is headed, then I am ready to strap myself in for the ride.

image by Yasir72.multan

Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day 2018

Today is the day that we honor those who fought and died for our country.  I doubt that I can add any deep, universal insight into the meaning of this day that has not already been given by those more eloquent.

I do have some friends who are cautious about the elevated status we give those in the armed forces.  They worry about the glorification of war or that it trains citizens to put too much trust in their government agents.  There are some arguments to be had there.  To be sure, while war may make soldiers into martyrs, it does not always turn soldiers into saints.

But in this moment I will not speak for them.  I will speak for myself and why this day is especially reverent for me.

Some answered the call to fight for our nation.
I did not.

Some left spouses and children to enter into violent conflict for their country.
I did not.

Some lost their innocence, their friends, or their health in the crucible of war.
I did not.

Some gave every last measure of devotion down to their lives for our country's freedom.
I did not.

I write this not as some kind of admission of guilt.  Being a soldier is not my calling. 

But some did answer the call.  Some paid a price higher than I have had to pay.  I am in this present moment enjoying the fruits of their sacrifice.

Winning and preserving freedom is a bloody business.  I do not want to be in a blissful bubble where I treat my freedom too casually, not remembering that it was purchased at a price of blood.

Today as we rest from our labors, let us remember the fallen martyrs of our freedom.

Let us pray for them and for our country.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday Best: Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time #1

Before we reveal the greatest superhero movie of all time, let us look back on our list of the Top 25 Superhero Movies thus far:

25. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
24.  Deadpool
23.  Avengers: Age of Ultron
22. Thor
21. The Incredible Hulk
20. The Crow
19. Dredd
18. Batman Begins
17. Batman
16. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
15. Spider-Man 2
14. The Dark Knight Rises
13. The Wolverine
12. X-Men: Days of Future Past
11. Captain America: Civil War
10. Superman II
9.  The Incredibles
8. Iron Man
7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
6. Guardians of the Galaxy
5. The Avengers
4. Man of Steel
3. The Dark Knight
2. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

I began this series in October of 2016 and a number of great superhero films have come out since then.  After this posting, I will present a revised list for mid-2018.

But now, without further ado, I am proud to announce the greatest superhero movie of all time is...


This is, hands down, the masterpiece of superhero films.  It is THE standard by which all others in the genre are compared.  When Christopher Nolan did Batman Begins and Patty Jenkins did Wonder Woman, they both cited Richard Donner's Superman as their template.

The cynicism of the 1970's was everywhere in cinema.  Yes, Star Wars had broken through the general movie malaise, but Superman was an entirely different story.  He was a bold, heroic character, dressed in skin-tight primary colors speaking about truth, justice, and the American Way.  It was a time when a character like this should have seemed hopelessly out of lock step with the spirit of the age.

Richard Donner's genius was to not try and have Superman fit the age he was in, but to have the world be drawn to the goodness of Superman.

Donner communicates his intentions with that genius opening shot:  It begins with the theatrical curtains being pulled back and the words "June 1938" appearing.  We then see the pages of a comic book as a child's hand flips through the pages and begins reading.  As he does, the camera is pulled in to a panel and the picture comes to life.

There is a great deal to unpack here.  Using the theatrical curtains and the comic book, Donner is signaling that this movie is to be a theatrical experience but one that is firmly rooted in the experience of the comic book.  The child's voice resonates with innocence and nostalgia.  Many of us were first drawn to comics because of the bright colors and exciting pictures.  Not only did we read them, but they seemed to come alive in our imaginations.  Donner's transition from comic panel to movie image is the perfect representation of how those images would come alive in our child-like minds.

And that is what he does with Superman.  Donner takes all of the wonder and imagination of reading a comic book and infuses that into a cinematic masterpiece.

Another incredibly important thing Donner did was that he decided not to make an action movie.  Yes, Superman does have plenty of grand-spectacle set-pieces.  But the pace and the tone do not conform to the modern sense of an action movie.  Instead, Donner takes his time with beautiful, lingering shots.  Compared to most superhero film today, the movie may seem to move at glacial slowness, but Donner chose to let the emotion of the film gradually sink in.  Instead of an action movie, Donner made the story of an American god-hero.

Superman's story is the classic one of the Greek demi-god.  He has the parentage from on-high as we see on Krypton, a world that lacks so much heart that everything appears to be ice.  This makes the shocking use of red during its destruction all the more jarring.  But then Superman is raised by human parents on a simple Kansas farm.  You can feel Clark's frustration as he kicks the ball into the stratosphere and his exhilaration as he outruns the train.  The whole time in Kansas feels like something out a John Ford movie, with its sweeping, grand vistas that beacon you to become completely enveloped into it.  And Jonathan Kent's death to this day breaks my heart.  His simple "Oh no," filled with so much meaning.  You can feel how he isn't ready but is powerless.

Every version of Superman that gets the character right are ones that recognize Clark's humanity is learned from his simple American parents.  I do not use "simple" here as a pejorative.  The story of Superman would be much different if he grew up in the suburbs or the big city.  Growing up on a farm, Clark would have learned, as the singer Rich Mullins would say, "hard work, good love, and real life."  In the short scenes we see at the farm, you get the sense of his upbringing with very little dialogue or exposition.  This creates such a jarring feeling when he gets to Metropolis.

Part of Donner's genius was in how he contrasts all three worlds: Krypton, Kansas, and Metropolis.  Once we get to the big city, the pace picks up, the shots are tighter, more claustrophobic, and everything is noisier.  After all that set-up, Donner plops our hero into the "real world," where no one knows who he is and the audience feels in on the secret (this is especially true when Clark breaks the fourth wall briefly after he catches the bullet).

The tag line of the movie is "You will believe a man can fly."  In the pre-CGI world, this was a tall order.  But I maintain that the effects in Superman hold up today.  Donner understood that the most important thing when depicting flying is that it isn't so much about what you see but what you feel.  He made Superman's flight feel natural and beautiful.  And in the case of his night flight with Lois, it was also incredibly romantic.  The scenes where Superman first comes on to the scene are thrilling and joyous.  Each one of those moments is timeless.

This all leads to the most powerful moment in the movie: the death of Lois.  I have watched this sequence over and over again.  It is a powerful visual experience, free of dialogue, dependent on the visuals.  Donner puts the camera in just the right places as you feel suffocated with Lois and helpless with Superman.  Those overhead shots has he hovers over her body make the Man of Steel look so incredibly small and powerless.  He goes to kiss her, but watch her fall away helpless gives him no closure.  The injustice and unfairness of that moment is palpable.  After only doing good things and saving so many, is this to be his reward?  The sadness turned to rage is explosive. 

That is why the ending works.  Many have complained about the "turning back time" ending either from the illogical of the science to the narrative loophole it creates.  But the reason why people accept it is because they cannot accept the pain of Superman's loss.  This ending was originally planned for Superman II, but Donner was forced to move it to the end of the first where it works better.  The reason it works better is because Donner created an emotional debt that the audience was willing to pay with their suspension of disbelief.  Superman made us want to believe.

And this belief was earned by Christopher Reeve's performance.  Many good actors have played the part, but he will always be THE Superman.  His performance is genius.  When he speaks about truth, justice, and the American way, he does so with complete conviction and authority.  He does not come off as naive.  He walks in his outfit not like its a costume but a royal garb.  He exudes confidence in everything but not arrogance.  Once again we see that simple virtue come forth that is so hard for modern people to understand.  The best display of Reeve's genius is when he picks Lois up for their date.  He takes off his glasses for a moment and we see the physical transformation Reeve goes through from Clark to Superman.  By simple facial movements and posture changes, he becomes someone else.  It is amazing.

I must also say a few words here about the late Margot Kidder, who died early last week.  Kidder created a Lois Lane that was fierce, funny, and feminine.  I've seen the screen tests of her and other famous actresses and she was by far and away the perfect choice.  She found the golden balance between strength and vulnerability to maximize drama and comedy.  The chemistry she had with Reeve was perfect.  Through her, we all fell in love with Superman a little more.  Gene Hackman's comic turn as Luthor also works incredibly well.  While I prefer a more serious version of the character as seen from the modern comics, Hackman infuses him with both humor and menace so that you never forget to take him seriously.  When he tricks Superman with the kryptonite, watch the evil glee Hackman gives us.  Donner filled his movies with great actors like Marlon Brando, Terrence Stamp, and Glen Ford.  He took this movie seriously in a way that the subsequent sequel directors did not.

Finally, not enough can be said about the score by John Williams.  Outside of Star Wars, it may be his finest work.  The music is so evocative and it creates a concrete sense of the movies.  When I hear the music, the entire experience of Superman floods into my memories in a very powerful way.  He captures the humor and evil of Luthor, the grandeur of Krypton, the sadness of leaving home, the romance of flying at night, and power and virtue of the hero himself.  No super hero team has even come close.

And no super hero movie has come close to surpassing the greatness that is Superman

In the end, Superman is an experience that makes you feel good inside.  It is a film that touches the right chord of harmony between fantastic power and moral virtue.  Superman is the ideal we all strive for: using our strength for goodness.  When we finish the movie a new day dawns as Superman looks right at us and smiles, we feel like everything is going to be okay.  As he flies into the unknown, he does so with hope and encourages us to hold on to that same hope: hope that we can be better and that the world can be better.

And that is why Superman is the greatest super hero film of all time.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Film Flash: Deadpool 2

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

Not as good as the first.  Raunchy, gross, violent, but it made me laugh.  

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother's Day 2018

You were there on the first day of my life,
I danced with you when I married my wife.
You chauffered this child all over town
and held me so close when I would feel down.
You tripped on the stairs when I left a mess.
You wiped off each tear, each sneeze you would bless.

But when you left dad, I felt so alone.
I wish you had stayed until I was all grown.
Each night you would miss me drown in my tears
I grew old, but not up, adding my years.
I needed you mom, so my heart would not crack.
Time that we lost we will never get back.

Despite all of this, if I had to choose
I'd pick you as my mom, knowing I'd lose
so much when you left.  You were my one:
Imperfect mom of an imperfect son.
In the time we had left, I'm glad we forgave
each other and took our love to your grave.

Gone once again, let's forget all mistakes
I'm glad even now that my heart still breaks.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Film Flash: Life of the Party

Life of the Party.png

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

Back to School, but with McCarthy for Dangerfield and emotional validation instead of jokes.

image by Yasir72.multan

Monday, May 7, 2018

Harry Anderson: Good Night, Magic Man

photo by Alan Light
I'm not sure how we choose our idols.  Actually, I'm not sure if we choose them at all.  Like falling in love, we encounter the right person at the right time and something clicks inside of us.  And maybe no one else sees it, but that's okay.  You can see your heroes as heroes and that's enough.

Of course I had plenty of people I idolized as a child: Bruce Lee, Luke Skywalker...

And Harry Anderson.

Again, I don't quite know how it happened, but Harry Anderson became very important to me.  I probably first saw him casually watching an episode of Night Court.  But casual turned in to devotional and I never missed an episode.  I even bought his book Games You Can't Lose: A Guide for Suckers.  As far as I know, I was the only person in 8th grade who had it.

I sometimes look back and it seems so odd.  Why him?

Harry Anderson was a street magician who wanted nothing more than to make a living making magic.  And it wasn't like he was limited.  Valedictorian of his high school class, Anderson had wide vistas.  But he went with his passion and as luck would have it, he made a good living at it.

He is best known for playing Judge Harry T. Stone on Night Court.  And while co-star John Laroquette received most of the accolades and awards, for me the show was all about Harry.

It's especially easy when you're young to blur the lines between fictional character the real life actor behind them.  And yet I always had the sense that Harry Stone and Harry Anderson weren't all that different.

His look was of a classic era of sharp suits and fedoras.  Way before it was cool to be this retro, Anderson embraced this style, giving him an sense of class that elevated him.  Since my teens I have donned the fedora as a tribute to him.  I even tried to be a magician like him.  I spent so many hours trying to learn the most basic tricks.  All I was ever able to make disappear was my dignity as I humiliated myself in front of my friends and family.  I'm sure Anderson may have felt this way when he told the people in his life that he wanted to pursue magic.  But he didn't care.

At the same time, he was wonderfully juvenile.  He popped with a child-like innocence that was so endearing to me as a kid.  He would go from a pun to a card trick to a pratfall with expert timing.  It always felt like the jokes he told were just for me.  You have to remember that back in the 80's, adults did not embrace the pop culture of their youth.  When you became a man, you put aside childish things.  But Anderson refused.

I suppose I could try and analyze what factors caused me to be this way.  My parents divorced when I was in grade school.  Perhaps I experienced some kind of arrested development that caused me to cling to the familiar toys and comics of youth well in to adulthood.  Maybe I found adult concepts like divorce too dark and dreary for me and I wanted to rebel against those two horribly bleak words: "growing up."

In Harry Anderson I saw a man who loved the silly joy of youth while still taking on the burden of being a man.  He was informal, but not callous.  He was goofy, but not flakey.  He was a practical joker who made you feel like you were also in on the joke.  That was the magic of his Harry T. Stone: he could bring the light of wonder and innocence to a cynical world.

Years later when I would read Chesterton, his words felt wrapping myself in a warm and comfortable blanket.  It felt so familiar to me because Anderson projected in his characters an idealized Chestertonian life of wisdom and innocence.  If growing up meant losing your innocence, then I wanted no part of it.  But I saw in Anderson someone who could live in the world, contend with the world, but not be overcome by the world.  I wasn't foolish enough to imagine him saintly.  But there was still so much there for that lonely, lost boy to admire in him.  He could make smile from ear to ear with his pranks, pratfalls, jokes, and jibes.

And now like that man that I saw on my TV, I am surrounded by the toys and trappings of youth, try to be quick with a joke, and do my best to look at life with child-like wonder.

Whether or Anderson really lived this or if this was just a persona, I do not think I shall ever know.  He was never able to capture the success he had with Night Court.  He starred in another sitcom, Dave's World, and had a memorable turn in the TV movie It.  And when the starring roles no longer presented themselves,  he stepped into the shadows without complaint.  He was content to make his living making his magic until he passed away on April 16th, 2018.

Mr. Anderson, I pray that you are now resting with the Lord.  And though we never met on this earth, please know that you were a bright spot of joy for me and that you helped in some way form me into the man I am today.

And to me, that is truly magic.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Trailer Time: Ant-Man and the Wasp Trailer #2

After the emotional wringer that was Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel is treating us to slightly lighter fare with Ant-Man and the Wasp.  

And I am perfectly okay with that.

As I've stated before, the original film never really lived up to its size-changing potential by taking you into a new and fascinating look at our world from a new perspective.  But this movie might swing for the fences and try.  It looks to be more enjoyable than the original. 

The villain seems generic and inconsequential, but I think they the conflict is just an excuse for fun set pieces like we see at the beginning of the trailer.