Friday, May 31, 2019

CatholicSkywalker Blog 7th Anniversary

(5/31/19: Feast of the Visitation)

It's hard to believe that it has been 7 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.

It is clear that my writing output has been slowing.  I still carry within in the zeal to share my thoughts and insights with all of you.  But the older I get, the more life responsibility creeps into to my free time.  Partially this is sloth on my part, as writing does take time and concentration.  I am going to re-commit to insuring that the quality of the content here has never been higher.

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: The Public, The Longshot, John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parrabelum

-Film Reviews for movies this summer: Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Spider-Man: Far From Home, The Lion King, Aladdin, Toy Story 4, Yesterday, Once Upon a Time in Hollywod.

-Continue the Catholic Skywalker Dialogues that I have let languish for over the last few years.

-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

-Create new Sunday Best list to carry through the remaining half of the year.

-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, my custom on this day, I have reprinted my first essay ever on this blog.   It will be reprinted below.  But I also wanted to re-share an early satirical essay that I wrote.  I was sick and tired of Bible scholars twisting themselves into academic knots trying to deconstruct the Scriptures.  Particularly, I was fed up with these self-professed experts telling us that Paul did not write Paul's letters or that John was not an eyewitness to the events of the Gospel, even though he clearly writes that he is.  So imagined a future a thousand years from now when the writing of the Harry Potter stories had been obscured by time and legend and all that remained are a set of the seven books.  Using the same tools that modern Bible scholars use, I had our fictional author, Meleka Dodgers, set out to prove that the Harry Potter series had five different authors.  

You can read that satirical essay here


-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.”

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Wednesday Comics: A Week of DC Hell and DC Heaven

Image result for heroes in crisis 9
The final issue of Heroes in Crisis came out today.

I wrote in a previous post that the issue that came out before was the worst comic book I have ever read in my entire life.  The final issue of the mini-series did nothing to improve this.

Almost nothing happens in this issue except Booster Gold, Harley Quinn, Batgirl, Blue Beetle, Poison Ivy, and two Wally Wests talking and hugging.  All of this is interspersed with more of those talking head shots of heroes spilling their guts directly to the reader.  The issue has writer Tom King trying to bring his story to an emotional conclusion.

The only thing that is conclusively proven is that Tom King does not understand super hero comics. 

It is abundantly clear that when he sees these iconic characters, he sees them as a heap of psychological problems.  He does not see the whole person, just their issues.  He thinks because he can find some mild or severe psychological problem in a character then he has discovered the core defining characteristic of their personality.  King does not understand that we are more than our traumas.  Batman's life has been shaped by his trauma, but he is more than his pain.  Heroes in Crisis took Wally West, stripped away all that was relevant to his personality and his heroism and defined him by his loss. 

What was really disgusting was Booster Gold telling Wally that he would work with him to help smooth over his crimes when he says, "Bros before Heroes."

That is the antithesis of heroism.  It says that dealing with emotional trauma trumps what is morally right.  This is an ethically insane thing to believe and it is particularly noxious because it foists it on someone who is supposed to be a hero.  Heroes are the ones who go above and beyond.  Heroes are the ones who take on the burdens that no one should ask of them, but no one else can.  That is the Wally West we all know.  Anyone who has read Geoff Johns' "Blitz" storyline would find the Wally West in Heroes in Crisis unrecognizable.  And the transformation is not earned, not by a long shot.  I have heard rumors that King was mandated to do this to Wally by DC Editorial.  It makes no difference.  He should have said no.

The entire affair is capped off by Harley Quinn kneeing Wally in the crotch for... reasons?  Seeing that scene felt like the entire mini-series summed up in one panel. 

On top of all of its problems with theme and plot, it is a horribly written comic.  King does not seem to understand that comics are a visual medium.  Page after page is flooded with dialogue that almost pushes out the images, not that it matters much since all of them are mostly just standing around an open field for 20 pages. 

I am convinced people will look back on this mini-series as a complete debacle up there with Marvel turning Speedball into a masochistic character called Penance.  Heroes in Crisis is the bottom of the barrel.

It is DC Hell.

Image result for doomsday clock 10
However, this week also brought us Doomsday Clock # 10.

My biggest worry about this book is that I do not know how Geoff Johns is going to pay off all of his narrative debts in the two remaining issues.

Having said that, this issue walked us through Dr. Manhattan's entrance into the DCU proper.  Johns plays around a lot with time in this narrative and does not spoon-feed you the implications of all that is happening.  He makes you work for it, but in a way that is rewarding rather than frustrating.

One of the most admirable things about Johns' writing is that he is constantly breaking open the conceptions we have of the DCU and he opens up all new vistas.  In the DC Multiverse, the main action of most of the comic books takes place in what we would call "Earth-1."  Traditionally, this has been viewed as just one Earth in a series of infinite Earths from infinite parallel universes in the multiverse.  But Johns sees something deeper and he delves into why this Earth is so special.  In the process he shows us why Dr. Manhattan was drawn to this Earth from the Watchmen  universe and Johns shows us how this Earth is consistent with all of the retcons over the years.

Notice I said he "shows" rather than "explains."  Johns doesn't so much explain as he lets the events unfold and he lets you experience Dr. Manhattan's story.  This is in sharp contrast with Heroes in Crisis which has such a convoluted narrative that it tries to over-explain its ending.  With Doomsday Clock, Johns lays out the narrative and we can now feel why everything in this whole story must come down to Dr. Manhattan and Superman. 

Gary Frank's art is as gorgeous as ever.  I have already re-read the issue just staring at his work, letting the personalities and the moods come forward in bold and in subtle ways.  I was so moved to see a scene from another Johns/Frank collaboration: Superman - Secret Origins.  Only this time, we see the scene where Clark learns about his alien origins from the perspective of a spying Dr. Manhattan.  I have never seen anything like this where it feels like an alternate take from the original comic is transplanted into a new one.  And it isn't limited to this one mini-series.  Frank transposes scenes from other classics like John Byrne's Man of Steel that feels completely consistent with that comic's aesthetic while still being clearly Gary Frank's style.  It is quite remarkable.

The title of this chapter is "Action."  But really it is more of a set-up to the action that has to take place over the course of the next two issues.  Like Heroes in Crisis, there is a lot deconstruction of the super hero.  But Johns is not tearing down.  He stripping away all the artifice to build up again.  The coming confrontation feels like it may be the most emotionally epic thing we have read in years.

The pieces are set.  Now the endgame must begin.

And I guarantee that at no time from now until the end will Superman look at Batman and say "Bros before Heroes."

If have not been reading Doomsday Clock, go out and pick up the rest of the series and catch up before it all ends.  This has the potential to be the best thing Geoff Johns and Gary Frank have ever done.

This is DC Heaven.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day 2019

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 26, 2019

Sunday Best - The Rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Part III - Infinity War and Beyond

By the time Marvel reached Avengers: Infinity War, it had developed a rich, wide, inter-connected mythology.  Infinity War was sold as the culmination of the 10-year journey for the cinematic universe.  Even though it was not a secret that there was going to be another Avengers movie the year after, Marvel gave the strong impression that this was the ultimate end of this first generation of the MCU

Infinity War was a monster hit and rightly so.  As I wrote in my review for the movie, I was in awe of of how the writers and directors balanced the amazing cadre of characters that Marvel had assembled over the last 10 years.  I was even more impressed by the boldness that their narrative structure took by making Thanos' quest take the place of the traditional hero's journey.  The movie was a big and bold spectacle that popped because of the chemistry between the odd mash-ups of film franchises.  The Iron Man movies are so different than Doctor Strange, and yet the interaction between the two worlds was fun and fascinating.

But the most important thing that Infinity War did was letting our heroes lose.  Up until this point, the heroes had never really lost.  Even Captain America: Civil War was a kind of stalemate.  But here, the best that the MCU had to offer failed horribly.  And the price that was paid devastated fans as we watched some of our favorite characters disappear.  To this day, people still quote: "Mr. Stark, I don't feel so good."  And the emotions that this line dregs up are unpleasant.  I have likened this film to The Empire Strikes Back, because (as I have said often) after the first Star Wars you wanted the Rebels to win but after Empire, you needed the Rebels to win.  Handing the Avengers their worst defeat made audiences desperate to see them come out on top again.

And as with the original Avengers, there was a bump in box office for the following films.  Ant-Man and the Wasp earned $36 million more than the first Ant-Man.  It would have helped more if this film was more closely tied to Infinity War.  I think this is why the next movie was placed so close to Endgame.

Captain Marvel came to the box office amidst controversy.  There had been a lot of rumbling online about the movie's content, but particularly there were those who found star Brie Larson to be abrasive towards a significant portion of the fan base.  There were those who were predicting that because the pre-buzz on the movie was so negative that this could lead to a soft box office and derail the MCU.  However, that did not happen as Captain Marvel has made $424 million domestically, making it highest grossing non-Avengers film in the MCU besides Black Panther.

So why didn't this supposed backlash manifest?  Here are a few reasons:

1.  Endgame Pre-show.
Many people who were hungry for any hints as to what was going to happen in Endgame were excited to take in any clues regarding the more anticipated film.

2. The Marvel Brand
In an age when no franchise, not even Star Wars is a guarantee of quality, Marvel has been zealously engaged in quality control over its franchise.  As I have stated in previous articles, people criticize Marvel (unfairly in my view) of playing it safe to the point of mediocrity.  But Marvel knows that it has created a certain set of expectations in its viewers and that they are guaranteed a certain level of quality and a certain type of film. 

3.  Oblivious to Controversy.
While many on the Internet raged against elements in Captain Marvel, the general public was mostly unaware of them.  All they knew was that this was a Marvel movie that opened close to Endgame.

And then finally we reached Endgame.  The box office records shattered as this movie entered theaters.  This, rather than Infinity War, was the true send off to the first decade of the MCU.  The movie was all about wrapping up the major story lines in a cathartic way that would be emotionally fulfilling for the audiences.  Again, Marvel understood something that many movie franchises need to learn: the economy of emotional investment.

Audiences not only invested their time and money into the MCU, but they also invested their emotion.  They bonded with the characters in a special way.  And this was not a simple investment of a couple of hours.  This was an investment over several years through multiple movie series.  This was unlike any emotional investment in movie history.  However, the "in thing" to do in movies, it seems, is to subvert expectations.  However, if you do this at the expense of the emotional investment of the audience, they will feel as though they have been robbed, cheated by the filmmakers.  But the Russo Brothers and Marvel were smart in subverting plot expectations while using that as a set up for enormous emotional pay-offs.  Because of this, Endgame struck a chord with so many audience members and will go on to be one of the highest grossing films of all time.

We will see if the the Spider-Man movie gets an Avengers bump, which I believe it will.  But this takes us to the end of what Marvel calls "Phase 3." 

So what is in store for the future for Marvel?

We know that we are going to be getting sequels to Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and Guardians of the Galaxy.  They are also developing a movie about The Eternals.  It has been widely stated that Captain Marvel would go on to be the figurehead of this next phase, the way the Iron Man was of the first decade.  I think that this would be a mistake.  Though her movie made a great deal of money, general audiences are not emotionally connected to her the way they are to the one who should be the new figurehead: Spider-Man.

Not only is Tom Holland young enough to show a much longer evolution to the character, Spider-Man is one of the most popular, if not THE most popular, super hero ever created.  Now that Marvel has them back in their stable of characters, this should be a no-brainer.

A friend of mine asked if it was all downhill after Endgame.  I said yes and no.  The next few movies will not make nearly as much as Endgame, nor should they be expected to do so.  Marvel has ended their first major story-arc.  They now have to start over with the seeds planted in their current series.  If they take the same care as they did this last decade, I do not see a reason why they can build over the next ten to another mega-hit like Endgame.  And keep in mind, with the acquisition of Fox, we will see a reintroduction of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four into the MCU.

But the question is: will Marvel stick to their winning formula or experiment with it?  Can they keep telling exciting stories about the traditional values of heroism and courage?  Or will they slowly start declining into irrelevance.

Only time will tell.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Trailer Time: Terminator - Dark Fate

I'll be honest, I have no idea what to make of this movie.

If this had been the third Terminator film, I think I would be fairly excited.  But the every movie in this franchise since T2 has been sub-par to total disaster (although Terminator: Salvation does have some cool moments).  So Terminator Part 6 doesn't have nearly as strong as shine on it as its predecessors.

It seems to hit all of the Terminator boxes:

-someone needs a protector to save the future

-that protector is outmatched by a more advanced death machine


I also get a weird feeling based on the visuals that there is going to be a strong political allegory running through this film.  Maybe I'm wrong.  But if I'm not, this would disastrous.

Though it is nice to see Linda Hamilton and Arnold together again.

I don't know... does this franchise still have any legs?

I'm not saying it looks bad.  It's just that they still need to sell me.  When they cast Joaquim Phoenix as the Joker, I thought it was terrible casting.  But that first teaser sold me 100%.  I can still be persuaded on Terminator: Dark Fate, but they need to give me more.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Film Flash: John Wick - Chapther 3 - Parabellum

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

Creative, hyper-violent, choreographed carnage with an ever-expanding hitman universe.  Bloody satisfying.  Reeves is a legend.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sunday Best: Summer Box Office Predictions

I know I am late on this, but I wanted to throw my hat into the ring with predictions for this year's summer box office.

 In 2016, I got 6 out of 10 right.  By 2017, I improved to 8 out of 10. Last year I made it to 9 out of 10 and my order of highest grossers was even more accurate.

I am not that confident about this year's list, but I am going to give it a try.  This year, I'm betting big on Disney owning the summer.  The one that is hardest for me to figure out is what effect putting The Lion King and Aladdin so close to each other will have on their respective box office takes.

1.  Avengers: Endgame

This is a little bit of a cheat since as of this posting Endgame has already broken so many box office records.  But it had to be put at the top because this is the movie that kicks off the season.

2.  Toy Story 4

Of all the Disney movies coming out this year, I think this one has the most anticipation.  Unlike The Lion King and Aladdin, we don't know what will be in store for our heroes.  On top of that, the emotional connection that millions of movie-goers have with these characters makes this a must see for the summer.  The last Toy Story made $415 million.  Combined with the fact that Finding Dory made $486 million, I think this is a good bet.

3.  The Lion King

Unlike Toy Story, we know exactly what we are going to get with this remake.  This is a movie that has simply been transformed into a photo-realistic version of the original and there are many people who will simply enjoy the experience of seeing something familiar as if for the first time.

4.  Aladdin

Robin Williams is irraplacable, but this movie should have enough nostalgia and energy to bring in an all-ages crowd.  I put this under The Lion King, because the changes in casting here are significant.  It shows great insight that Jon Favreau made sure to get James Earl Jones to once again play Mufasa.  We will see if Will Smith can bring his own spin to the Genie.

5.  Spider-Man: Far From Home

The previous Spider-Man made over $334 million.  But I think that this one will top that because it is leaning so heavily into Endgame.  Last year's Ant-Man and the Wasp, also came out after the Avengers movie, but it was not emotionally connected to the events of the story.  This one could be a cathartic experience for audiences still reeling from Endgame

6. The Secret Life of Pets 2

I really did not care for this first film, but it made $368 million.  This is a movie that is geared right towards little kids who ate it up the first time and I see no reason they won't go for it the second time around.

7.  Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw
Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw - theatrical poster.jpg

This is the first spin-off of the Fast and Furious franchise.  Internationally, these are gigantic hits and the last movie in the franchise made $226 million.  If you give Dwayne Johnson the right material, people will come and see his movies, as we saw with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.  This looks like silly, high octane action that audience may eat up.

8.  Men in Black: International

The reason I have this on the top ten is because of it's connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The last MIB movie made the least at $179 million.  I think this one will make slightly more as the two leads are the stars of the last Thor movie and they are also going to be riding the Endgame wave.

9.  Godzilla: King of the Monsters

The last American Godzilla movie made $200 million.  However, it's most immediate predecessor of this new shared universe, Kong: Skull Island, made $168 million.  I think this will top Kong, but it will hover around the other Godzilla.

10.  Dora and the Lost City of Gold

This is my wild card.  It is dropping late in the summer with little competition and it just might pull in the little kids who remember Dora fondly and parent who think that their kids will like it since so many of them grew up with her.


X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Adjusted for inflation, X-Men: Apocalypse is the second lowest grossing X-Men movie.  On top of that, this story was already done in X-Men: The Last Stand.  It could ride some of the Endgame wave, but I don't see that happening.  


This mixture of action and comedy might hit just the right note for summer audiences.  The R rating may be a problem for box office.


This might be the sleeper hit of the summer.  It is such an original story and The Beatles's music is as enjoyable and popular as ever.  This may bring in older and younger audiences alike.

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Taratino's last movie, The Hateful Eight, was a disappointment both commercially and artistically.  However, his two previous bows made over $100 million each.  Combine that with the star power of DiCaprio and Pitt together in a movie, this might break through the R-rating barrier and become a hit.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu teaser poster.jpg

Pokemon was a phenomenon after my time.  So I have a hard time wrapping my head around its popularity.  But it is still big with kids and young adults.  This one may push through, but I don't know if general audiences will be on board.


Friday, May 17, 2019

Film Flash: The Public

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

Like a secular "Christian movie" with heart-felt uplift and 1-dimensional villains.  Very odd ending.

Monday, May 13, 2019

New Evangelizers Post: Christianity and Communism

I have a new article up at  
A few days ago, I had a friend of mine ask me what are the differences between Christianity and Communism. He asked because some of his associates were stating that the two world-views were compatible with each other.

Communism is the political/social system where the government owns property and the means of production and is supposed evenly distributes the resources to its people so that no one is in need. Karl Marx, the founder of Communism, believed that if everyone had their bodily needs met and everyone was equal, then you could attain a utopia on Earth. Throughout history, Communism has led to the brutal subjugation and mass murder of millions. And still, there are those who claim that there is some compatibility between this and Christianity. This is despite the fact that Communism is explicitly atheistic.
Those who take this view often cite Acts of the Apostles Chapter 4, where it says, “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. “ (Acts 4:32). On a surface level, it sounds like a Communist utopia where goods are evenly distributed. But that is only on a superficial view. Once you dig even a little bit down, you can see how the two cannot be compatible.

As we see in the quote above, the Bible does say that the ancient Christians shared their goods in common and distributed to those in need. But the reasons and goal are very different than the Communists. Even if an action has a similar result, the intention can make a huge difference. For example, one man may kill a man and another man may kill a different man. Both acts are homicide. But the reason and the goals of each killer may radically alter the meaning of the action. One may be murder, but another may be self-defense or an accident or something else entirely.

The early Christians laid their possessions at the feet of the Apostles to demonstrate their complete surrender to God. It is God, through the administration of the Apostles, who will providing for the needs of the poor. In Communism, people’s property is confiscated by force and redistributed evenly. On the Communist view, the men who run the state are given supreme authority over the individuals. For the early Christians, God is supreme, which is why Peter says in chapter 5 of Acts “It is better to obey God rather than men.” In Communism, it is better to obey men, rather than God.

Notice that the act of surrender on the Christian is an individual choice, an act of charity and love. Becoming a Christian is a free commitment, but it is a full commitment, like marriage. In ideal Communism and ideal Christianity, both should result in every individual having their material needs met. But it will end up having very different results because it is done for different reasons

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mom and Me

It was March 29th, 1987. 

It was a Sunday and my family got up and went to Mass and lunch as was our routine.  A few hours after we returned home, my mom found me and said, "Come with me."

We walked out to the car and then she began to drive.  This was strange.  At this time, we lived in a full house with my mom, dad, grandparents, and four kids.  To have one-on-one time with mom was very strange.  I asked her where we were going.  She said, "You'll see."  Her crypticness made me worried that I had some kind fo clandestine doctor's appointment that required something horrible like shots.

But then she pulled the car into the Front Row Theater where I knew they were holding a closed circuit screening of WrestleMania III live!

At this time in my childhood, I was a wrestling fanatic.  My mother would sometimes bring my brother and me to the Richfield Coliseum to see live matches of the WWF.  By this time, my older brother had grown out of it, but I still subscribed to my wrestling magazines, bought the posters, purchased the action figures, and would watch wrestling any night I could on Television. 

WrestleMania III was a big deal for me.  It was the culmination of a number of plot-lines that had been drawn out over the wrestling year.  Andre the Giant had betrayed Hulk Hogan.  Rowdy Roddy Piper was going to have his last match before retiring.  And most importantly, Ricky the Dragon Steamboat, my favorite, was going to take on Randy Macho Man Savage for the Intercontinental Belt after Macho Man crushed Steamboat's larynx with the ring bell.

Of course, my mother didn't care about any of that.  She would often bring a book to these live events.  But she knew that it mattered to me.  I honestly don't recall asking my mom to take me to Wrestlemania, though I'm sure it was all I talked about at home.  And so my mom decided to do something special with just me and her and so she spent her entire evening watching a giant TV screen of bulky men in tights hitting each other.

As Mother's Day came around this year, about a year-and-a-half after my mom's death, this is the memory that keeps coming back to me. 

It is easy to idealize the dead.  And my mom had her share of human failings, as we all do.  But that doesn't take away from all of the special things that made her my mom. 

We all have our own love languages.  That means there are particular ways that we express love and receive love.  The two most important love languages for me are quality time and gift-giving.  And for me, that Sunday night with my mom was a perfect example of both.  Anyone who has kids can understand that you never have enough time for anything.  But my mom set aside time just to spend with me in a place she almost surely detested.

But most of all, she gave me this special gift of WrestleMania.  The reason why gift-giving is one of my love languages is because of what it signifies.  It is not about the material cost to a person.  That part is irrelevant.  But the giving of a gift is an opportunity to let the other person know how well you know them as a person.  And my mom knew me.  She knew this was important to me, even if it was unimportant to anyone else.

I had a strained relationship with my father for most of my childhood.  Even though he loved me and worked his best to provide for me, he didn't know me.  He didn't understand me.  I'm glad that as I have gotten older, my father and I have gotten closer and all those old hurts have gone away.  But my mom always knew me, even if she didn't fully understand her odd son.

To this day, that Sunday in March is one of my fondest memories of her.  I don't know if I told her at the time, but it meant the world to me that she was there with me.

As I said, my mom wasn't perfect.  Those of you who are parents understand that you will make many mistakes raising your children.  There is always the fear that you have made that one big mistake that will ruin them.  My mom made a lot of mistakes, but I just wanted to say that those mistakes don't outweigh all wonderful things she did that made her my mom. 

To all the mothers reading this, please know how special you are to your children.  Even if you they never tell you, even if you end up with a weird child like me, when you die to yourself to validate your children in the things they love, it won't be forgotten.  Thirty-two years later, the memory of that night still fills me with childlike excitement for the event and warm affection for my mom.  I'm sure the car ride home with her was something else for her as I talked her ear off about the amazingly epic battles we just witnessed

I never much cared for car rides.  For me, a car is just a means of transportation and the sooner the ride is over the better. 

My mother loved car rides.  She loved looking at the sights wherever we went.  In the Summer of 2017, she began to feel sick.  Her health had never been great, so we didn't know that she had already developed stage four ovarian cancer.  I knew that she loved car rides, so I called her up and asked her if she wanted to go for a drive.  By this time she was having trouble walking on her own so I wheeled her to the car and we drove.  First we drove to the park overlooking Lake Erie.  She loved the water and found it so peaceful.  We sat there as I held her hand and we watched the waves.  Then we started taking the lake road and drove West for almost an hour.  I didn't know that this was the last car ride we would ever have together.  I don't know if she suspected it either.  All I knew was that I wanted to spend quality time doing something she loved.  I learned that these are the things you do when you love someone.  And I learned that from her.

And I will never forget what she said after about an hour on the road.  I asked her, "What do you want to do now?"

She said, "Just keep driving."

I don't know why God called her to the mother of my siblings and me.  I don't know why God called me to be her son.  Of the billions and billions of souls that God ever made, He chose us to be a family.  He knew that she was the mother we all needed. 

She was the mother I needed.

Happy Mother's Day, mom.

I miss you.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Trailer Time: IT - CHAPTER TWO

This is a great trailer!

I have lost my taste for most horror movies, but IT, hits me at a primal level.  While the monster is important, the main reason why this movie connected to people was because we fell in love with the characters.  And now we get to see the trauma of childhood play out in adulthood in a visceral way.

The director, Andy Muschietti, is masterful at the use of atmosphere, color, and framing.  Those closeups feel so claustrophobic, terrifying you because you cannot see your environment.  But best of all, he knows how to use the background space to create tension and fear.

And I particularly love the shot of the Losers looking at their youthful reflections.  Bill Hader particularly looks great and I can't wait to see if the Old Spice Guy can bring that charisma to the part of Mike.

I will be there to see this opening night.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Film Flash: The Long Shot

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

With a premise this good and actors this charming, this movie shouldn't be this boring!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Sunday Best: A Tribute to Peter Mayhew

image by Florida Supercon

One of my favorite stories about Peter Mayhew is how he was cast as Chewbacca in the original Star Wars.  He was in a room waiting to meet George Lucas.  When the director entered the room, Mayhew's polite English manners kicked in and he stood.  His over 7-foot size shocked the director who looked at him, I believe said a few passing words, and then left.  The impression Mayhew left, simply by being a gentleman, earned him one of the most iconic science fiction roles of all time.

It wasn't until after his death that I found out he played the character of Minoton, the mechanical minotaur in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.  Besides that, almost all of his film credits are Chewbacca related.

Mayhew took his job as Chewbacca very seriously.  He researched animal behavior such as bears and apes to capture the human, yet-not-quite-human qualities of his Wookie character.  You can see this especially in his body language performances.  I can still see so vividly, Chewie shaking his head in fear, refusing to go near the trash compactor.  For me, though, the best part of his performance was his eyes.  His fierce frame would not have had as much of an impact if not for his soulful eyes.  Mayhew's eyes always expressed gentleness and trust in his friends.  And yet he was able to turn them to deadly rage when his friends were in need.  Mayhew made us all want to have a friend like Chewbacca: a gentle protector who would fiercely fight on your behalf.

I've encountered some famous actors who feel embittered because they are remembered only for one role.  That was not Mayhew.  He adored the fan base.  I was able to see him once at a convention.  He had trouble walking at that point and he used a lightsaber-shaped cane (I believe given to him by a fan), as he walked the convention floor.  He was completely kind and gracious to everyone.  Mayhew would often dress as Chewbacca and visit sick children in the hospital to raise their spirits, knowing that the Wookie was enouraging them to fight.

Twenty-two years after Star Wars, at age 54, Mayhew married the love of his life Angie.  The two of them moved to Texas where they raised three children.  Peter eventually became a naturalized American citizen a few years later.  Together they continued to go to the convention circuit.  But they used their celebrity to help others.  They started the Peter Mayhew Foundation, which helps sick children, often aiding with expenses through organizations like Make-A-Wish. 

Probably my favorite story about them is Daniel and Ashley Fleetwood.  This young married couple loved Star Wars.  But tragedy struck when Daniel developed fatal spinal cancer.  He would not survive to the premiere of The Force Awakens, but the film makers arranged a special screening for him before he passed.  Daniel died in November 2015 at the young age of 32.  After this, Peter and Angie personally reached out to Ashley and invited her to spend the holidays with them so that she wouldn't be alone.  Ashley gladly accepted.  The thing I love most about this story is the deep sense of compassion the Mayhews have.  They understand that for whatever reason, Mayhew's connection to Chewbacca makes him someone important to the lives of many people.  Peter and Angie decided that if that importance can help someone whose life has been devastated, then they gladly opened up their home and hearts.

Thank you, Peter Mayhew, for opening up your heart to all of us.  You will always be remembered with tenderness for giving us Chewbacca.   But more importantly, you will be honored for the man under the mask. 

When it came to the affection of our hearts, we always let the Wookie win.

Rest in Peace, Peter Mayhew.