Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sunday Best: Summer Movie Season 2019

We are nearing the end of March, so it's time to look forward to one of my favorite seasons of the year: Summer movie season.

It used to be that Summer movie season would begin in June.  But then it became standard for the big movies to come out in May.  Now things are pushed all the way to April.  So we will look at the upcoming releases for April through August.  

I know as a cinephile I should be more interested in when the "important" movies come out just before the major awards.  But I think the movies of summer are pure cinema and tend to be the ones remembered long after people have forgotten the plot of whatever film won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Here is a list, with a few brief thoughts of my own, including on a scale of 1-5 stars my likelihood of seeing it in theaters (1 being “Not at all” 5 being “Cannot wait!”).


Pet Sematary

Not a big fan of the first one.  This one looks better, but I don't think this is to my taste (**)


I saw this one already (full review coming soon), but I think I'll check it out in the theater again (****)

The Best of Enemies

This looks like this could be this year's Green Book.  I like the cast and this could be a good story.  (***)

The Public

I am a huge fan of Emilio Estevez, not just of his acting but also of his directing.  His last film, The Way, was one of the best films I had seen in a while.  This film looks very interesting and it has a good cast.  (****)

Teen Spirit

It looks like it wants to be a serious movie about the pop music, but it doesn't look horribly interesting to me (**)



I enjoyed the original but I didn't love it.  This movie looks like a lesser version of the first one so I don't think I'll be checking it out in theaters (**)


Could be a cute story, but the trailers didn't make me laugh (**)

Missing Link

Something about the animation here looks really cheap.  I don't just mean the expense, but it feels like a pale imitation of something from PIXAR

Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene (2018 film).png

I don't know a lot about this film, but I am highly sceptical that this will be faithful to the Scirptures (*)

Her Smell
A movie about an aging punk rock star that gets the prize for worst title of the year (*)


Breakthrough film poster.jpg
I'm usually wary of Christian movies because they put message before art, so they suffer in both areas.  But this one looks very interesting to me with a surprisingly well-known cast (****)


Avengers: Endgame

I have been trying to prepare myself emotionally for this film, to say goodbye to these characters after all these years.  I know this sounds strange, but I'm hoping this film breaks my heart in a good way.  As soon as tickets are available, I'm getting them for opening knight.  (*****)


Ugly Dolls

Does anyone care about this brand?  Maybe I'm just out of the loop, but I this feels way past the window it should have come out, like the Angry Birds movie.  (**) 

The Long Shot
Long Shot (2019 poster).png

Seth Rogen's humor has worn on me over the years, but the chemistry between Theron and him seems exciting and their comedy bits seem to work.  I think I'll be checking this out (****)

Tell it to the Bees

Just from the trailer, I could write out the entire plot from start to finish without seeing the film (*)

MAY 10

There is a great story here, I'm just unsure of how well they are going to tell it.  (***)

The Hustle
The Hustle film poster.png
This female remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels doesn't look like it will be as good as the original, but it still looks pretty funny (***)


There was one joke in the trailer that made me want to see this film.  It looks like it could be funny, but it could collapse under the weight of its own sentiment (**)

MAY 17

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

This series will go down (as long as this one doesn't suck) as one of the greatest action franchises of all time.  I cannot wait to go into the theater, turn my brain off, and see some wonderfully gratuitous violence  (*****)

A Dog's Journey
A Dogs Journey Movie Poster Art.jpg
Again, another film where the entire film from start to finish is told in the trailer.  I don't need to see it now.  (*)

The Sun is Also a Star

A pretentious indie romance.  No thank you (*)

MAY 24


Of all the Disney remakes, this is the one I am most trepidatious about.  Without Robin Williams I'm not sure if you can recapture the magic that this film needs.  (***)


This dark twist on the Superman story has a lot of people excited, but it looks like a premise whose idea is exhausted after the first act.  (**)


This movie looks truly awful, but artistically and morally (*)

MAY 31

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

This looks like it could actually be a Godzilla movie that I enjoy.  I am not a devotee of the franchise, but I've heard buzz that this will please both fans and non-fans alike.(****)


I think they want this to be this year's Bohemian Rhapsody, but I just don't find Elton John's life all that interesting.  (**)


X-Men: Dark Phoenix

I'm sorry, I'm just going to say it: the movies about the First Class X-Men are bad.  Days of Future Past only worked because they used the original cast to raise up the new guys.  But Apocalypse was no good and this feels like a retread of The Last Stand.  (**)

The Secret Life of Pets 2

Did not like the first one.  I will not be seeing the second.  (*)


Men in Black: International

I've always been lukewarm on this series.  In fact, I've only seen the first one all the way through.  It looks like it could be fun, but there is nothing new or innovative about it in the trailer.  (**)


This seems way more light-hearted than the last remake and it looks like it could be a great deal of fun.  (***)


Toy Story 4

I will see this because I trust this studio to not kill their golden goose, even though Toy Story 3 had such a perfect ending.   (****)

Child's Play

This looks like a decent remake, but I'm just not interested (*)

The Art of Self-Defense

Looks like indie-movie drivel. (*)


The idea about a man who takes credit for the Beatles music when the world forgets them is intriguing.  Plus I am Beatlemaniac. (***)


Spider-Man: Far From Home

I really enjoyed the first MCU Spidey solo film and I am looking forward to spending more time with these characters. (****)


The Lion King

This feels like a shot-for-shot remake of the animated movie, but for some reason I am more open to this one than I am Aladdin.  Maybe its because they had the wisdom to keep James Earl Jones as Mufasa.  (****)


Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Tarantino's last movie, The Hateful 8, was awful.  This movie will determine for me if that was a one-off or if he has lost his touch.  (***)


Dora and the Lost City of Gold

It looks like Tomb Raider Junior.  Not my cup of tea, but it might be fun.  (**)

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw
Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw - theatrical poster.jpg
I am not up to date on this series, but the trailer made it seem like cartoonish fun. (***)

The New Mutants

They are marketing this film like a horror movie.  Why would I want to see an X-Men horror movie?   (**)


Artemis Fowl

A friend of mine says that this book series is very good.  I may wait to hear the buzz on the movie (**)

Where'd You Go Bernadette

Oh my goodness, does this movie look awful!  (*)


Good Boys

Like Booksmart this is a movie about young people doing morally horrible things.  It makes me cringy and in no way makes me want to see this (*)

The Angry Birds Movie 2
I guess the first one made enough money for a sequel?  I won't be there, though. (*)


Friday, March 29, 2019

Film Review: Glass

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

M. Night Shyamalan is a tricky director to review.  He has made some truly great movies like The Sixth Sense and Signs.  And he has made some especially horrid films like Lady in the Water and The Happening.  One of the things that makes his movies difficult to review is that many of them hinge on his trademark twist endings.  The overall experience of the film often stands or falls on how well this twist works.  But film reviewers try to avoid talking about the endings for fear of spoiling the movie.

Hence the conundrum.

And with his latest film, Glass, this same problem still holds.

Glass is the third part in an unexpected trilogy starting with Unbreakable and then with Split.  The plots and characters of those two movies now converge in here.  David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is continuing to play the subtle superhero with the help of his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark).  His current mission is to take down the Horde aka Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a villain with multiple personalities that includes the superhuman "Beast."  This early conflict leads to these two being taken to a mental hospital that also houses Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), the bad guy genius from Unbreakable who has brittle bone disease.  They are there because Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) believes that they are all suffering from delusions of grandeur that only makes them think that they have super powers.  The film spends most of its time investigating the intriguing possibility that all of these powers are the results of some deeper trauma or psychosis.  Meanwhile, Joseph tries to help his father get out.  Also Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), the only survivor of the Horde, is also trying to reach him.  Finally, Elijah's mother (Charlayne Woodard) is constantly trying to explain to Dr. Staple how extraordinary her evil son is.  All of this builds to a final confrontation with the players at hand.

Most of this movie is actually very entertaining.  There is something special about bringing back the original cast of movie from 19 years ago to reprise their roles.  It evokes a stronger sense of nostalgia than I had anticipated, since I was lukewarm on Unbreakable.  The action sequences are actually fairly well shot and Shyamalan does build up the tension nicely.  Watching the first clash between David and the Horde feels like a comic book crossover, which is exactly what Shyamalan intended.
However, like most of his movies, it is way too talkie.  Shyamalan always seems so self-satisfied by the cleverness of his dialogue that he lets the scenes go on longer than they should.  He has a right to recognize his own significant talent here, but he always needs to watch against his tendency to be indulgent.

But what really sells this movie is not the script or the spectacle, but the performances.  McAvoy brings all of his energy to playing the hell out of every single one of the Horde's personalities.  He loses all restraint and can devolve into pure showiness, but that doesn't diminish the skill and talent necessary to pull of this part.  I've heard others criticize Willis' performance as low energy, but I think that his stoic choices work especially as a sharp contrast to the manic energy of McAvoy.  Yet the real show stealer is Jackson.  Even though he plays catatonic for a good portion of the film, when he comes to life, his Elijah explodes with charisma.  You never forget that he is an evil man, but you cannot help but root for him a little and for his evil plan to succeed.  Jackson makes us believe every level of Elijah's genius as well as his obsession to rise to the rank of "super villain" with the name "Mr. Glass."

The supporting cast does a fairly good job as well.  The biggest standout is Taylor-Joy who actually is the beating heart of the narrative, with her odd love/hate relationship to the Horde.  Clark does a fine job as does Woodard.  Paulson's overly sincere performance was a bit grating.  Her over-emoting may have been an affectation of being a therapist, but he dripped with condescension to the point where it made her unpleasant to watch.  Her softness made her assertiveness a bit maddening, like being suffocated by a giant marshmallow.

The reason why we feel for Elijah and attach to his journey is that he wants something that all of us want:  we want to matter.  We want to believe that there is something special about us.  Dr. Staple wants us to believe that we are all ordinary, like Syndrome for the PIXAR classic The Incredibles.  We want to believe that extraordinary things are possible and that we are capable of them.  Shyamalan wisely never lets you forget that Elijah is an evil man.  This movie is not about Elijah's redemption, but about his revenge.  He hurts many innocent people to serve his own egotistical need to matter.  But in the power struggle with Dr. Staple, her duller world is much less attractive than Elijah's world of wonders.

There is nothing wrong with the very Catholic idea of finding beauty and holiness in the ordinary.  But the point of this is to elevate the every-day to greater heights.  Dr. Staple wants to flatten the world and make everything not so much ordinary but empty.  But we believe that God made us all extraordinary, "a little less than a god." (Psalm 8:6).  This means we are capable of extraordinary good like David or extraordinary evil like the Horde and Mr. Glass.  The solution of those like Dr. Staple is to remove all of the extrodinariness from the world.  God's plan seems instead to let his extraordinary creatures choose for themselves.  While Elijah and the Horde may make evil choices, they at least choose to be be extraordinary.

So why doesn't this movie score higher with me.  It's because of that trademark twist ending.  As I wrote earlier, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

This time it doesn't.


I will try to write this next part as vaguely as possible, but it may give away the ending.  The problem with the movie is that it finishes out one of the character's arcs in such a horribly unsatisfying way.  It isn't even that the arc defies expectations ala The Last Jedi, but it feels like a spit in the face for anyone who cared for the character.  Imagine if in the next Avengers movie, Tony Stark's story arc ended by him, in the middle of a fight with Thanos, slipping on a banana peel and becoming paralyzed from the neck down.  It would be such an ignoble conclusion to a character's years-long journey that you could not help but feel cheated.  That is how the ending to Glass made me feel.  I left the theater with a very clear emotion:  pissed.


There is a lot of talent and skill mixed up in making the ambitious Glass.  This could have been a fantastic finally if only Shyamalan had stuck the landing

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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Film Review: Isn't It Romantic

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

I am a sucker for a good romantic comedy.  I'm one of those people that can get invested in the "meet cute," in the "will they/won't they" of it all until the final declaration of love.  When it is done right, these types of movies can give no small amount of joy.  But that's just me.  There are those who hate the entire sub-genre of romantic comedy with all of its silly tropes.

The new Rebel Wilson vehicle Isn't It Romantic plays like a parody of the genre, but the mockery comes from a place of love.

The movie is about Wilson's Natalie, an up-and-coming architect in a New York film.  She cannot stand rom-coms because of all of the stereotypes and cliche's found throughout.  But most of all, she hates that it gives unrealistic expectations about romantic love.  She vents to her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) and her friend Josh (Adam Devine) all of her frustrations about work and love.  Then on the way home, Natalie is mugged and she ends up knocking herself out.  When she awakes, she finds herself inside of a Rom Com movie.  As Natalie puts it, "it's like they put a beauty filter on New York."  Her apartment is unrealistically large, her workplace is bright and open, musical numbers break out constantly, and the like.  Also in this world, the hunky Blake (Liam Hemsworth) falls madly for Natalie and tries to sweep her off her feet.  Throughout the movie, Natalie moves from trying to escape to embracing the genre and then finally to breaking through.

Like most films in the genre, the tone is light and inconsequential.  Director Todd Straus-Schulson makes such a colorful contrast between our world and the rom-com world.  Here the artificality of the world only enhances the spell rather than acting as a distraction.  Writers Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Siberman know their rom com tropes and play them out to maximum effect.  If you hate the genre you can enjoy the parody of it.  But if you love the genre, you can still follow the rom-com story structure that we find in Natalie's journey.  It helps that the movie gives Natalie some fairly good zingers.  My favorite was when she looked around her rom-com world and said, "This is like the Matrix for women."

Wilson is funny as Natalie.  She carries the film and makes her flawed but likeable.  She has good comedic timing and does the physical comedy bits well.  Her chemistry with Devine, something they have developed over three movies together, gives the film its central through-line.  Devine comes off as likeably doofy, but dotting on Wilson's character.  Gilpin does a nice double turn as Whitney.  In our world she is mousy and love-lorn.  In the rom-com, she is a cold queen bee.  Gilpin is able to land her jokes with skill by playing up the emotional reaction on her face.  I laughed out loud as her character was trying to describe how rom-coms lift her spirits.  Her expressions were so goofy, yet understandable.  Hemsworth is there only to be eye-candy, but he shows a good deal of charm.  Priyanka Chopra plays Natalie's romantic rival, and she plays the part with as much energy as this intentionally one-dimensional character can be played.  Brandon Scott Jones does a fairly funny turn as Natalie's gay best friend who embodies every Hollywood stereotype that can be imagined.

The movie doesn't get into too much moral depth.  Natalie tries to sleep with Blake but because she is in a "PG-13" world, she never gets the chance.  We never get the characters learning about the immorality of illicit sex.  But we explore the familiar trope of finding true love not in physical beauty but in deep care and friendship.

Isn't It Romantic is a diverting time at the theater whether you romantic comedies are something you love or something you hate.

image by Yasir72.multan

Monday, March 25, 2019

New Evangelizers Post: I Have Held the Grail

I have a new article up at  
 love the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In that story, our hero has to save his father and find something I had not heard of until I saw the movie as a child: the Holy Grail. The Grail is the cup of chalice that Christ used at the Last Supper and it also supposedly captured his blood as it dripped from the cross at Calvary.

Since viewing that film I have encountered Grail lore throughout history and literature. In fact, the Grail has become synonymous with an object of supreme value, worthy of every effort to attain it. But the idea of going on a long quest to hold it is not necessary. I know this for a fact for one very important reason:
I have held the Grail.

Recently I became an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist. The first time I was called to distribute Holy Communion, I was nervous to say the least. I reflected on my unworthiness of such a ministry. In addition, I was terrified that I was going to be a butter-fingers and drop the sacred vessels in the middle of mass. Regardless, I approached the altar and received the chalice to distribute the contents. I walked down and the first person to approach my station was my wife. I got nervous and when she bowed, I bowed back. Then I held up the chalice and said, “The Blood of Christ.”

We Catholics believe in some fairly strange things. One of the strangest of these is the belief that the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus. We do not believe that the Eucharist is only a symbol of Him. We believe that the Eucharist IS Jesus Himself: the same Jesus who walked around 2000 years ago, who raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, who calmed the storms by His word, and who told the crowd that He was the Bread of Life.

It is such an awesome thing to take in that the constant routine of weekly and daily mass can make it seem so commonplace. I heard someone once say that if we only saw the stars once a century, we would look up in utter awe. But because we see them every night, we forget what a miracle it is to see their heavenly light shining from billions of miles away.

Holding that chalice and saying, “The Blood of Christ,” was something that hit me like a ton of bricks. If I take my Catholic faith seriously (which I do), then when I hold up the chalice at mass to offer my fellow believers, then I truly am holding the Holy Grail. If the Grail is that which holds the Blood of Christ, and the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, then I must conclude that I am holding the Grail.

This thought left filled me with a wonderful sense of the significance regarding the role of Extraordinary Minister. What a humbling privilege to offer the Cup of Christ to others. The words of our Lord echoed in my head, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:53) To be even a small part of that experience is an honor.

But then I reflected on the fact that I do not need to be a Eucharistic Minister in order to experience this joy. A little while ago, my little niece made her First Communion. Afterwards, I came up to her and gave her a big hug.

I realize now that when I did that, when I held my little niece in my arms, I also held the Grail.
You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Film Flash: Captain Marvel

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

Excellent hero origin story that only fumbles when it tries to preach.

image by Yasir72.multan

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Film Flash: SHAZAM!

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

The Anti-"Batman v. Superman" Movie.  Goofy, funny,  action/comedy with "family" at its center.

image by Yasir72.multan

Friday, March 22, 2019

Film Review: The Upside

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

Kevin Hart is trying his hand at expanding his range and The Upside is a good first step.

Hart plays Dell Scott, a paroled ex-con who is is simply trying to get potential employers to sign a paper saying he looked for work.  He accidentally ends up at an interview to be the caretaker of Philip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston), a wealthy quadriplegic who has essentially given up on life.  While all the other interviewees are sickeningly tender, Dell's brash style impresses Philip and he decides to hire him.  This unlikely odd couple spend the rest of the film experiencing a whole new view of life.

Director Neil Burger does a good job at making these two worlds look and feel different.  Dell's ex-wife and son live in the Harlem Projects and you can feel the decay in their home eating away at them.  Philip's apartment is fancy but cold, lacking all warmth.  We also get some beautiful moments where music is brought to life in a stirring way.  In one scene, Dell brings Philip to the opera, the former is bored to tears and mercilessly mocks the strangeness of it.  However, the haunting beauty of the performance eventually breaks through Dell's cynical exterior and he becomes enamored with it.  It was quite a touching to see the power of art and its effect on the soul.  Dell returns the favor by introducing Philip to the beauty of the late Aretha Franklin.  Beyond this, Burger's direction is adequate, but lacks the emotional depth that this movie requires.

But this is not a movie that succeeds primarily on the visual direction, but on the performances.  Hart is very good as Dell and he found a character that allows him to play to his comedic strengths while letting him believably reach new dramatic depths.  He never quite breaks out of his comfortable performance space, but he does his job well.  Cranston, as always, is fantastic.  He plays his character with great restraint until his emotions boil over.  Philip is someone who has been wounded by life and Cranston holds his emotions in check as much as possible.  His performance is that of a man who has so little in his control that anything within his power is something that he grips tightly.  Nicole Kidman does a good job as Yvonne Pendleton, a former executive to Philip who now acts as his personal secretary.  Her part should have been expanded greatly, as there is a wonderful story here between her and Philip.  Their relationship is complicated and retrained, but sad and beautiful.  Kidman takes what the script gives her and fleshes out her character as best as she can.

The movie presents marijuana use and prostitution with accepting humor, which I always find uncomfortable.  The drug use is introduced in relation to relieving Philip's pain, but it devolves into recreational use.

Beyond that, the movie does have a wonderful pro-life message.  When the film begins, Philip is upset because Yvonne brought him to the hospital to save him from choking.  Philip does not want to extend his life.  His hiring of Dell is partially a response to this death wish.  But Dell pushes Philip to see that there is still much more to life.  This is not a simple message.  Sometimes when Philip is pushed, terrible things happen.  Dell goads Philip into pursuing a woman in whom he is interested (Julianna Margulies).  What follows is a scene that explores the complicated reality of the life of a quadriplegic.  And yet through everything, the film points to the inherent worth of every life and that there can be some great joy if you open your heart.

The Upside is a movie that is worth the watch but one that will probably pass from memory sooner rather than later.

image by Yasir72.multan