Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sunday Best: Biggest Best Picture Mistakes

Tonight are the Oscars.  This is a reminder that this is your last chance to join this year's Oscar Game.

I will try live-tweeting the show, but I find that I am not very good at it.  When I try to be funny, I come off as snarky which I do not think is very charitable.  But I will give it a go.

For today's Sunday Best, I thought we would look at the movies that were nominated for Best Picture that should have won but did not.

This is not always as easy to decide.  Personal preference plays a huge role here and I want to be as objective as possible.  Here were some guiding principles:

1. If I had not seen the winner for Best Picture in a particular year, I could not say another movie was deserving.  For example, in 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark was nominated for Best Picture.  It lost to Chariots of Fire.  I want to say that Raiders should have won, but I have not seen Chariots, so I cannot make that call.

2. There must be a significant difference in quality from the winner to the nominee.  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The Wizard of Oz both lost to Gone with the Wind.  The Shawshank Redemption lost to Forrest Gump.  While I think those nominated movies are better than the winner, I have to grant that the quality of the winners is such that it is a respectable win and should not be categorized as a "mistake."

3. Focus on timelessness.  One of the worst trends in Oscar voting is to give the award to a movie that will be forgotten quickly.  The award really should go to a movie whose quality is such that it will still be remembered and admired years later.  This is admittedly a harder standard to apply to more recent films, but the fact that most people don't remember off the top of their heads the last few Best Picture winners is proof of this bad trend.

So here are the Top Ten Best Picture Mistakes

1980 - WINNER: Ordinary People
SHOULD HAVE WON: The Elephant Man
This is one of the tougher ones because Ordinary People is an excellent film and is an example of how to tell a good story with adequate restraint by director Robert Redford. But The Elephant Man is clearly a better film with its use of the black and white, special effects makeup, and the outstanding performances.

2009 - WINNER: The Hurt Locker
From above a flat. and dry desert floor, a person in a green military uniform with heavy padding holds red wires attached to seven pill-shaped bomb canisters scattered around him. At the top of the poster are three critics' favorable opinions: "A near-perfect movie", "A full-tilt action picture", and "Ferociously suspenseful". Below the quotes is the title "THE HURT LOCKER" and the tagline, "You don't have to be a hero to do this job. But it helps."
A house is floating in the air, lifted by balloons. A dog, a boy and an old man hang beneath on a garden hose. "UP" is written in the top right corner.
This is an easy call. The Hurt Locker is an overrated drag of a film that does a few things well, but is highly forgettable. Up is an amazing piece of animated film making. It is not only beautiful to watch but reminds us how visual storytelling can move us so deeply. Not to mention, that amazing score that adapts to every single emotional state is one of the most affective I have ever encountered. Everyone I know who has seen Up mentions how emotional it is. Very few even remember The Hurt Locker.

1973 - WINNER: The Sting
SHOULD HAVE WON: American Graffiti
American graffiti ver1.jpg
This is also one that is a bit of a closer call. The Sting is fine movie with some good action and not bad writing. But American Graffiti, is much more influential and timeless. Though both films are period pieces, Graffiti, feels much more relevant to the American experience. It is funny and moving and it actual shows that George Lucas knew how to be subtle with his storytelling. It's ensemble/ fractured narrative is mimicked now in most television shows, which is why the movie is not stuck in the era in which it was made.

2014 - WINNER: Birdman
Birdman poster.png
SHOULD HAVE WON: 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.
Birdman is a bold directing experiment, which is why I can understand why some Academy voters were taken with it. But it has no lasting significance. It's the flavor of the month which excites the palate with its uniqueness, but leaves no linger desire to experience again. American Sniper is, to my mind, Clint Eastwood's best film he has directed. It is the film of a young and hungry director, which shows that Eastwood still hasn't lost a trick.

2002 - WINNER: Chicago
Chicago (2002 film).png
SHOULD HAVE WON: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers.jpg
While the Academy did end up honoring the series with The Return of the King, it is clear that The Two Towers is better than Chicago. Not only are they diametrically opposed in theme, but the movie cannot capture the essence of the live show. The movie is not without merit, but it is ultimately hollow, while The Two Towers is heavy with artistic merit.

1986 - WINNER: Platoon
Platoon posters 86.jpg
The Mission (1986 film poster).jpg
Both films deal with the ugliness of violence and war. But Platoon is a highly overrated film that is nihilistic at its heart and strips too much of the humanity from its soldiers until only the ugliness remains. The Mission also shows us the ugliness of the world but it shows us the beautiful courage and conscience that stands up to those powers. Also it has one of the greatest scores ever written that perfectly accentuates the beautiful performances and cinematography.

1999 - WINNER: American Beauty
Poster of a woman's abdomen with her hand holding a red rose against it.
File:The Green Mile (movie poster).jpg
When I first saw American Beauty, I thought it was very good.  As I've gotten older, the creepiness of its central story has worn on me.  I know that the film ultimately makes the case that the main character's obsession is creepy, but it is way too indulgent in his fantasies.  On top of this, the movie is about filming ugliness in a beautiful way.  It attempts a redemptive move at the end and its success is going to be subjective to the viewer.  The Green Mile, is one that has only increased in esteem with audiences.  It is beautifully shot and it still has an emotional wallop.  When you finish the film, you feel like you went on deep, tragic emotional journey.

1979 - WINNER: Kramer vs. Kramer
Oscar posters 79.jpg
SHOULD HAVE WON: Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now poster.jpg
This one may be tinged by my absolute disgust for Kramer vs. Kramer. The mother abandons her child. There is no compelling case after that. The fact that the movie tells me that we should even consider that she should get custody is, frankly, insulting. The performances are great, but I cannot get over that obstacle. Apocalypse Now is dark, nihilistic, and violent. But Francis Ford Coppola mesmerizes with his film as if placing you in a trance for a few hours. You feel absolutely transported by this movie and it is a relief to return to the real world, hoping that that its insights into human nature are not all true.

1977 - WINNER: Annie Hall
I literally cannot fathom why Woody Allen has a career.  His movies are terrible.  They are neurotic, nihilistic, and indulgent.  I could forgive these, as I do with Apocalypse Now, if they had any artistic merit.  But they do not.  Compare the first few seconds of Annie Hall where Woody Allen narcissistically lectures you right through the camera against a blank backdrop to the first few seconds of Star WarsStar Wars might be the most popular film ever made and part of the reason is that it is a true masterpiece.  I would never use "masterpiece" to describe anything by Allen.  

1998 - WINNER: Shakespeare in Love
File:Shakespeare in Love 1998 Poster.jpg
SHOULD HAVE WON: Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan poster.jpg
This is the one that most people remember as the great upset. Shakespeare has its moments, but it is mostly a forgettable period piece. Saving Private Ryan is considered by many as THE war movie. Even excepting that the first 20 minutes are some of Spielberg's best work in his amazing cannon of films. The rest of the movie is a fantastic work of art. While the last battle goes on a bit too long, you are so emotionally attached to the story that you are on the edge of your seat. I can still, over 20 years later, be completely caught up in every part of this movie no matter how many times I have seen it.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

New Evangelizers Post: Courage and Conviction

I have a new article up at  

“I have loved justice and hated iniquity. Therefore, I die in exile.”

These were some of the last recorded words of Pope St. Gregory VII. He was one of the great reformer popes you stood up to the corruption that had infested the Church. The largest example of this at the time was the practice of lay investiture. This was where kings and lords of a country would choose the bishops rather than having them appointed by the pope. This practice led to a great deal of worldliness in the Church and coalescing of religious influence and political power. Gregory resolved to put an end to this ecclesial disease.

The most famous example of this was when he excommunicated King Henry IV or Germany for continuing the practice. This was a devastating blow for Henry, not only spiritually but politically as divine right was a major claim to kingship. So Henry went down to Gregory. There he knelt in the snow and fasted, begging Gregory to forgive him. The pope relented and reconciled the king back into the Church. Upon his return to Germany, Henry raised an army and invaded Rome with the intention to kill Gregory. The pope escaped, but Henry set up his own antipope and Gregory spent the remainder of his days in exile.

Why do I tell this story?

Because Gregory needs to be our model of courage in the modern world.

Gregory knew that if he wanted to do the will of God that the powerful of the world would hate him. The world we live in is horribly unjust. What little justice there is can only come from the goodness that God has placed in the hearts of men. But the glowing embers of that goodness need to be stoked with the fanning flames of courage.

In my last article I focused on how we need to have calm heads and compassionate hearts for our enemies. This is the teaching we received from the Lord. But Christ was uncompromising when it came to speaking out against the evils of the world.

This is a difficult concept for the modern mind to accept. The old saying was “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” But we’ve come to a place where if we hate the sin, we are accused of hating the sinner. In the name of a misguided compassion, there is tremendous pressure to not talk about the sin in the world for fear of alienating the sinner.

When was the last time you heard from the pulpit that if you get divorced and remarried without an annulment that you are living in adultery? What about a bold statement that your God-given sex and gender cannot be changed and is not a mistake. There is a fear by many that using such striking language that you turn away those who are living in this state and so keep them away from the mercy of God. I am not saying that these are not legitimate concerns. But we do no one favors by withholding from them the truth.

And the truth is something for which there should be no compromise. The price we pay for it is too dear.
Recently, New York state adopted one of the most horrendous abortion laws in our country. This was greeted with thunderous applause by the legislators and by the Catholic governor. I firmly believe that this monstrous measure would not have come to pass had our Bishops taken a firmer stance against “pro-choice” politicians.

Back in 1968, many Catholics publicly dissented from Pope Paul VI’s reaffirmation of the Church’s ban on artificial contraception. Instead of excommunicating them, they were allowed to remain in error. This led to one of the most destructive ideas in the Catholic Church to take hold: “I can disregard Church teaching and remain Catholic.”

Once you accept this idea, then all of the truths of the faith are up for grabs. Now we are at the point where Catholics can enthusiastically sign laws allowing for the murder of unborn babies and still boldly proclaim their Catholic identity. This leads to confusion among the people and destruction of the moral fabric of our world.

Gregory VII knew this. He knew that he had to draw a red line and hold to that line. He knew that this might cost him everything. But he also had enough faith to believe that even if the powers of the world defeated him in his own lifetime, that his example of justice would have a longer-lasting effect.
Even if our own Bishops refuse to speak up or even actively capitulate to the world, we must be strong. We don’t need to wait for marching orders from above. We must begin the work ourselves.

St. Francis of Assisi began his reforms seeing himself as a common man living out the Gospel. Dorothy Day saw the needs of the poor, so she rolled up her sleeves and began her ministry. Someone like Justin Fatica of Hard as Nails Ministry had a profound conversion experience from Fr. Larry Richards and so began to evangelize the truth to anyone who would listen.

Where do we start?

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sunday Best: Top Ten Romantic Comedies

For Valentine's Day Weekend, my wife and I went to go see Isn't It Romantic.  The sheer plethora of Rom Com movies referenced got me thinking about the best examples of the genre.

Now there are many romantic movies that have comedy and many comedies that have romance.  So in order to be on this list the movie's main theme must be romantic love and it must be primarily comedic.  So, for example, An Affair to Remember is romantic and it has some comedy, but it is primarily drama.  Can't Hardly Wait is comedic and has some strong romantic moments, but it is more an ensemble piece about graduation.  But a movie like Isn't It Romantic is a comedy whose central idea is romance, so it could be on the list (it is not).

So here are the ten best Romantic Comedies of All Time:

10. Serendipity
Serendipity poster.jpg

This movie works well for the same reason Sleepless in Seattle works: we feel the link between fate and romance.  When we find "the one" it feels as though the whole universe has placed everything where it should be so that this love could be found.  I love Cusack's performance when he opens the gift from his fiance and even before he opens the book, you can see that he knows because the hands of fate have led him to this moment.

9. You've Got Mail
You've Got Mail.jpg

While this movie's greatest fault is that it goes on just a little long, the chemistry between Hanks and Ryan is fantastic.  Their rivalry/romance crackles to life on the screen so that you love watching them fight while hoping for them to stop to realize how much they love each other.  A fantastically romantic last scene.

8. Coming to America

Eddie Murphy was the king of the R-Rated comedy, so this Rom Com diversion was surprising but it so well done.  Murphy's ability as an actor has always been overlooked in my opinion.  His Prince Akeem exudes wisdom, goodness, and stately dignity.  I love watching him win over the woman he loves not by putting on airs, but by simply being a good man.  All this is happening while at the same time having some of the funniest lines of any Eddie Murphy movie.

7.  Three to Tango

This is probably the most controversial one on the list as it was a box office bomb and most people think little of it.  But I saw this 3 times in the theater because I found it so incredibly funny and charming.  Matthew Perry should have gotten more work as movie star.  The movie was light and it popped and it made you really care about the attraction between the two characters.  Watching Perry try to fight his way out of the ultimate friend zone was hysterical.

6. When Harry met Sally

This is actually a much darker movie than most people remember.  There is a pall of depression that hovers over most of the film as Harry deals with his divorce and Sally her breakup with Joe.  There are also plenty of heavy dramatic parts for the actors to chew on.  Finally, the movie does not have a solid, forward-driven narrative, but it ambles around the lives of the characters in these little vignettes.  Despite all of that, the movie works because the actors make us laugh and the dialogue is witty and we just want them to see what everyone else around them sees: they are made for each other.  I love the scene at the end as Harry runs through the city.  It perfectly captures the desperation of romance.

5.  Much Ado About Nothing

While you can't go wrong with Shakespeare's words, it doesn't always translate well onto the stage or screen.  But Kenneth Branagh creates a lush, light, and luminous romantic comedy that does the Bard justice.  The all-star cast is at the top of their game and the romantic hi-jinks are expertly staged.  The Benedick/Beatrice scenes are classic.

4.  The Wedding Singer
The Wedding Singer film poster.jpg

Adam Sandler's previous two films (Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore)  made him a movie star.  But this movie earned him a lifetime of goodwill from audiences.  I will always give an Adam Sandler movie a chance because he gave us one of the truly great romantic comedies.  The music, the costumes, and the jokes all work in harmony as Sandler and Barrymore fall deeper in love on screen.  The filmmakers knew how to create obstacles of character and circumstance to the point where you are almost screaming at the screen for the characters to realize that they love each other.  And everything builds to that final, classic song that is a beautiful anthem to marriage and life-long fidelity.

3.  Sleepless in Seattle
Sleepless in seattle.jpg

Like the movie Up, this movie breaks your heart in the beginning so that it can fill it with delight for the rest of the time.  The older I've gotten, the more I've come to appreciate listening to Hanks's Sam talk about his wife and what life was like with her and then without her.  It is also a marvel of screenwriting that Hanks and Ryan have an amazing chemistry while only appearing in two scenes together.  Writer/Director Nora Ephron (who wrote When Harry Met Sally and was writer/director for You've Got Mail) made her best film here. 

2.  While You Were Sleeping

This movie is just pure enjoyment.  While it has a great deal of heart it never feels heavy.  Everything about this film is irresistible, especially the performances of the two leads.  Pullman and Bullock are perfect in their roles as two incredibly affable people who fall in love with each other despite themselves.  One of things that makes this film so good is that it taps into the reality that when you enter a relationship with someone, you enter into a relationship with their family.  Watching the family bring Bullock's character deeper and deeper into their wonderful dysfunction makes the build up to the ending scene even more wonderful.

1.  Love Actually
Love Actually movie.jpg

This movie is a comedic meditation on love in so many of its forms.  I have seen people try to duplicate this formula of having an all-star cast with interweaving stories around a central holiday, but all of them have failed miserably.  Each story-line could have been its own feature, but instead of feeling like you are getting 5 or six small movies, you feel like you are getting several full-blown movies in one sitting.  The film does delve into some surprisingly mature and darker sides of romantic love where it earns its R-rating.  For that reason I can understand some people not wanting to engage with this film, which is perfectly reasonable there is also a distinctly negative view of America and Amerianism whenever it is portrayed (I would hardly call the women of Milwaukee portrayed in the movie as good examples of our best).  However, I think that the movie nails the romantic comedy genre so well that its detriments do not drag it down.


Saturday, February 16, 2019

Film Flash: Glass

Glass official theatrical poster.jpg

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

Too talky/expositiony, but better than I expected. Willis/Jackson/McAvoy make the movie interesting.

Film Flash: Isn't It Romantic

Isn't It Romantic poster.jpg

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

Mocks the Rom-Com genre while being a good example of it with a few good laughs.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Film Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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

This is the best Spider-Man movie that has been made.

I don't say that lightly or in the mode of a fanboy who is pre-set to love anything comic book related.  I have several times noted my dislike of Miles Morales (the main Spider-Man character in this movie) from the comic books.  He was made up out of thin air by Brian Michael Bendis and inserted into the Spider-Man mythos with no connection other than his powers were similar.  He had no connection to Peter Parker or any of the larger Spider-Man family.  He was also incredibly boring as a character, not given any real flaws or even universal appeal.  He was as bland and as uninetersting as you could make a character.

Thank goodness for Into the Spider-Verse.  It is the best thing to happen to Miles Morales.

The story centers around Miles (Shameik Moore) who is the son of a cop Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry) and a nurse Rio (Luna Lauren Velez), who send him to an elite school in New York City.  Miles is smart, but he doesn't want to lose the connection he feels to the neighborhood.  He tags street signs with stickers and spray paint, much to his father's chagrin.  He enjoys the the more laid back style of his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), with whom he is hanging out when he gets bitten by a spider.  Before he knows it, Miles is drawn into a plot involving all different versions of Spider-Man from across the multiverse (the collection of multiple alternative universes) who have been brought here accidentally by a device made by the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber).  The two most important allies of his are:

-Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) - a washed-up slacker version of Peter.
-Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) - a teenage girl who was bitten by the spider instead of Peter.

Also helping them are:

-Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage) - a version of Spider-Man from the dark 1940's
-Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) - a genius with a robot spider from an anime style universe
-Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) - a pig version of Spider-Man from a Looney Tunes type world.

If the description above seems outrageous, it is.  And yet it all works!  Like my experience with Guardians of the Galaxy, everything in the previews told me that I was going to hate this movie and I was so delighted to be wrong.

Credit must first be given to writers Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman.  First of all, they completely embrace the concept of multiple universes into the story and weave it in without dumbing it down for the audience.  They throw you into the deep and and challenge you to keep up.  Second, they have crafted a very powerful hero's journey.  All of the other Spider-men are seasoned veterans.  Miles is all new to the hero business.  He is scared and unsure, prone to mistakes and lapses in judgment.  But throughout the whole process, he has to grow and step into the role.  Nothing about this journey seems pat or easy and when Miles finally does step up it is immensely satisfying.  Finally, Lord and Rothman have crafted on of the funniest scripts all year.  I laughed out loud so many times, not only because of the punchlines thrown, but because they had gotten me to care about the tangled relationships of the characters.  Character driven jokes mean more because it draws you deeper into the lives of ones on screen.  The best gag in the entire film is when Miles, who has no technical expertise is told to hack into a computer in the enemy's lair.  Miles' ultimate solution to the problem had me laughing long after the joke had passed.

Directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman all should get special accolades for their bold visual style.  I don't know of a single other movie that looks like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  If you go too idyosyncratic with your style, you could alienate a lot of casual viewers.  But their risk paid off in this truly gorgeous film.  I don't think I've ever seen a movie that feels more like an actual comic book come to life.  The spotted-color effect makes gives the impression of old newsprint.  The digital stylings make for some truly dynamic visuals.  And I love how they seamlessly blend different animation styles.  Spider-Ham will pull out a cartoon mallet that looks like it just teleported from a Bugs Bunny cartoon while Peni Parker moves and feels like something out of modern anime.  And while the visuals are flashy, they are all there to serve the story.  All of this is about making Miles into a hero.

And, like a comic book, it isn't afraid to make deep cut references to a host of stories past that may go over the head of casual viewers but do not distract from the story.  It also throws in crazy complications.  What happens when a Peter Parker from another universe sees the MJ from this one?  Even if he knows they aren't the same, how would you react if you saw an alternate version of your family?  Those kind of conundrums are sprinkled throughout the film.

A good Spider-Man movie always has at its heart the central theme of "with great power comes great responsibility."  And this movie is no exception.  Unlike the comic book version, this Miles Morales is someone you can easily relate to in his ordinariness.  His reactions to the extraordinary circumstance of the movie feel like actual human reactions, not reactions of noble characters as need by the script.  The power of this is that it opens up the idea that ordinary people like us could rise to the occasion if we are called.

The movie may be just a little too violent for smaller children.  And even though they don't dwell on it, Miles' parents are not married.  This would probably go over the heads of children, but parents should know that this is present in a movie geared towards kids.

This is the kind of movie that comic book movies should emulate.  We have the mythic hero's journey told in a new, exciting style that both honors the history of the characters and forges a whole new path.

This movie is a must-see for anyone who loves superhero films.

image by Yasir72.multan

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sunday Best: Superbowl Commercials 2019

I am not a football fan, but I do enjoy watching Super Bowl commercials. 

This year's selection wasn't the most memorable or creative.  It feels like a lot of advertisers are playing it safe, worried about offending the wrong people.

But of the commercials aired, here are my top 5


This was the only commercial that really made me laugh and it got its point across well about offering a service that takes away the pain of car shopping.


I think I would have enjoyed this more if I was a fan of the game.  But even so, I understood the good-natured spirit of it and it was enjoyable.


I imagine one of the worries about having a child with a chronic condition is that they will miss out on some of the simple joys of childhood like gaming.  This commercial touched me because I know that the market for these types of controllers may be small, but it brings a great deal of joy these children's lives.


This one got me only because I was not expecting the emotional twist, even though you should see ti coming a mile away.  The fact that these are real people and we get to see something so good and kind in this world... it was very nice.

Avengers: Endgame

Needless to say, this was the one everyone was talking about.  The visuals were scarce and it didn't give us much more detail.  But I am fine with that, because I want to go into the final movie surprised.  They are capturing such a tone of finality that I will be relieved if any of the heroes make it out alive.

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Film Review: Creed II

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

I only caught the first Creed movie on TV a few days before going to the theater to see Creed II.  Watching them back to back, I was struck by how natural the sequel felt as a continuation of the story.

The story picks up a few months after the original film.  Adonis "Donny" Creed (Michael B. Jordan) finally has has another shot to become the boxing champion.  (MILD SPOILER IN THIS PARAGRAPH).  Early in the film, he finally becomes the champ like his father, Apollo.  But he is still dogged by his sense of inadequacy, even though he has the loving support of his trainer Rocky Balboa (a once again amazing Sylvester Stallone), his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and his adopted mother Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad).  Things get more serious when Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) challenges him.  Viktor is the son of the disgraced Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) who killed Donny's father in Rocky IV.  This raises the emotional stakes for everyone and leads to a dramatic confrontation.

The movie works incredibly well because it balances two in proper proportion: familiarity and novelty.  This movie is essentially Rocky VIII, so it requires the movie to hit certain thematic, plot, and character beats that we expect in a Rocky film, like the training montage, the inspiring romantic relationship, and the final match.  In fact, the movie feels like it condensed the plot points of Rocky II, III, and IV, all into one film, and that is not a bad thing.  But writers Cheo Hodari Coker, Ryan Coogler, and Sascha Penn understand that if all they are offering is a rehash of the the old series then there is no way to distinguish it from what came before.  Like Donny himself, Creed II has to forge its own path with its own unique flavor.  Donny is not Rocky.  While both struggled to find their place in the world and their own self-worth, they both come at it from very different ways.  Rocky was always sad about being a "bum from the streets."  Donny is angry that he never got to have his father in his life.

Jordan is fantastic as Donny.  His performance is not too emotional, but is rather restrained and stoic the way his character should be.  Whereas Rocky was always naturally kind and affectionate, Donny struggles to be vulnerable and Jordan makes us see this.  His performances in the boxing ring are particularly good.  One of the things that helps sell a good fight is not only the physical prowess of the actors but their ability to make you feel their action vicariously.  When Donny gets hit, Jordan makes us feel as if we have taken a sharp crack to the ribs.  Stallone is amazing as Rocky.  He has built up so much good will with audiences over this character that watching him on screen feels like spending time with an old friend.  I was surprised how good Lundgren was here.  His Drago wears his humiliation around him like a Scarlet Letter and we can see the bond and the strain this puts on his son.  Thompson does an excellent job as someone who is not a fan of watching her man put himself into harms way and Rashad provides a quiet sense of dignity and heart.

Director Steven Caple Jr. does a good job of moving the story forward and getting us to connect o the character's journeys.  He is not as bold and innovative as Coogler was in the first Creed, but that is not a knock on Caple's talent.  Instead of being showy with the camera, he lets the characters drive the story and that is something he does very well.  And he makes the action and training scenes exciting and fun to watch.

The movies are also thematically rich in their content and complex in their characters.  The Rocky movies tend to do a good job at giving the main antagonists some depth.  With the exception of Clubber Lang, all of the boxing opponents had layers to them (and Lang's lack of depth was compensated by Mr. T's charisma and brutality).  Even Drago in Rocky IV had more depth beneath the surface, which came out before his final round.  Drago was a Frankenstein's monster who was put together to fight.  Ivan is doing the same thing to his son, but only to help his son have a sense of worth that he lost.  All of the characters are dealing with the roles of fathers in the lives of their children and how if those bonds are not nurtured well, they can leave the biggest scars.  This is such an important and refreshing message as mainstream society keeps dememphasize the importance and necessity of fathers.  It reminds me why Jesus told us that we always have a Father in God and a mother in Mary.  We need those relationships to help mold us and guide us into the people we are meant to be.  Our earthly parents are supposed to be that.  In this movie Rocky and Mary are that for Donny: they show unconditional love even when you are at your lowest.

Creed II feels like a natural progression of the main character's story and I cannot wait to see where he goes next.

image by Yasir72.multan

Monday, February 4, 2019

New Evangelizers Post: Loving Your Enemies in the Internet Age

I have a new article up at  

“Love your enemies,” is one of the most shocking and important moral precepts that Christ gave us. It is the complete inversion of all of our fallen instincts of revenge and even our natural instincts of justice. But Jesus calls us to be more of Him than of the world.

There are many ways to demonstrate this, as the great martyrs did in Ancient Rome or the way missionaries enter into hostile territories to preach the Gospel. For today’s reflection, I thought it would be good to look at how we can do this online.

Being nasty online can be incredibly easy. The internet often gives us a sense of anonymity. It is like a mask we can wear to avoid consequences for the words we put up there. This is especially true of social media like Twitter.

We can begin with the obvious idea that we should only place things on there that we would be proud of even if we were not anonymous. That has been one of my guiding principles online, even under my current pseudonym. Would I be okay with my employer, my pastor, or my students seeing any of these words?

But I would like to take it a step further today. We often fail at loving our enemies online even before we chime in with our own thoughts. It begins with the spirit in which we receive news about those we do not like.

In matters like these, I always go to my great teacher, CS Lewis. Even though he died decades before the internet, his insights can be most helpful here. He wrote in Mere Christianity, “Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Sunday Best: Oscar Game 2019

OBJECT: Get the most points!

HOW TO PLAY:  Fill out a score sheet for each category with your choice (who you want to win) and your prediction (who you think WILL win).  


-Best Picture
-Best Director
-Best Actor
-Best Actress
-Best Supporting Actor
-Best Supporting Actress
-Best Original Screenplay
-Best Adapted Screenplay
-Best Original Score
-Best Original Song
-Best Animate Feature

On the night of the Oscars, give yourself 1 point for each correct guess in MY PREDICTIONS.  If you get a prediction wrong, subtract 1 point.  Give yourself 1 point for each correct guess in MY CHOICE.  There is no penalty for incorrect guesses for MY CHOICE.

For example:

-MY CHOICE = Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman”
-MY PREDICTION = Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”

-MY CHOICE =Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
-MY PREDICTION = Christian Bale, “Vice”

-MY CHOICE = Glenn Close, “The Wife”
-MY PREDICTION = Glenn Close, “The Wife”

If Alfonso Cuaron wins Best Director, gain 1 point for a correct guess in MY PREDICTIONS, but no points for an incorrect MY CHOICE  (total points = 1)

If Rami Malek wins Best Actor, gain 1 point, for a correct MY CHOICE, but subtract 1 point for an incorrect MY PREDICTION (total points = 0)

If Glenn Close wins Best Actress, gain 1 points for correct MY CHOICE and 1 correct MY PREDICTION.  (total points =2)

You may NOT make a guess for a MY CHOICE in a category if you have not seen any of the films in the category.  You may, however, make a blind guess for the MY PREDICTION section even if you have not seen any of the nominees.

-Best Editing
-Best Cinematography
-Best Visual Effects
-Best Sound Editing
-Best Sound Mixing
-Best Makeup
-Best Costumes
-Best Production Design

For these, give yourself 1 point for each correct guess in MY PREDICTIONS.   Give yourself 1 points each correct guess in MY CHOICE.  There is no penalty for incorrect guesses for MY PREDICTIONS or MY CHOICE.

-Best Documentary Feature
-Best Documentary Short
-Best Animated Short
-Best Live Action Short
-Best Foreign Language Film

For these, give yourself 1/5th of a point (.2) for each correct guess in MY PREDICTIONS.   Since so few people have seen these, there is no MY CHOICE section.  There is no penalty for incorrect guesses for MY PREDICTIONS.


Fill out the below score sheet and send it to me.  I will be the designated score-keeper.  You may change any choice up until the broadcast begins.

The winner will receive bragging rights and recognition on this blog.

Click the link below to fill out the form

Here are my choices so far:

NameCatholic Skywalker
Do you want me to use your real name on my blog?No
BEST PICTURE - MY CHOICE“Bohemian Rhapsody”
BEST ACTOR - MY CHOICERami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
BEST ACTOR - MY PREDICTIONRami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
BEST ACTRESS - MY CHOICELady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - MY PREDICTIONRegina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - MY CHOICE“A Star Is Born,” Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - MY PREDICTION“Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - MY CHOICE“Green Book,” Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE - MY CHOICE“Black Panther,” Ludwig Goransson
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE - MY PREDICTION“Mary Poppins Returns,” Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
BEST ORIGINAL SONG - MY CHOICE“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice
BEST ORIGINAL SONG - MY PREDICTION“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM - MY CHOICE“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM - MY PREDICTION“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY - MY CHOICE“A Star Is Born,” Matthew Libatique
BEST COSTUME DESIGN - MY CHOICE“Black Panther,” Ruth E. Carter
BEST FILM EDITING - MY CHOICE“Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Ottman
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN - MY CHOICE“Black Panther,” Hannah Beachler
BEST SOUND EDITING - MY CHOICE“A Quiet Place,” Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl
BEST SOUND EDITING - MY PREDICTION“A Quiet Place,” Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl