Monday, July 29, 2019

Film Flash: The Lion King (2019)

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

I didn't realize how iconic the first movie was until this digital remake  Still good.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sunday Best: Top 5 Rutger Hauer Movies

image by DWDD
This past week we lost Rutger Hauer.  As intense of an actor as he was, Hauer was never someone you could pin down.  He could play dark and menacing, but he could also be as effectively cowardly or noble in such incredibly believable ways.  His filmography is a scattered patchwork of diverse roles.

In memory of this actor, I wanted to go over the Top 5 Rutger Hauer movies.  I'm choosing to look at which of his movies were great, rather than strictly great performances.  For example, I detest the movie The Hitcher, but Hauer is fantastic in it.  Therefore that movie is not on the list.  I'm also leaving out movies where Hauer had very small parts, like Batman Begins

5.  Blade Runner

This would probably be #1 on most people's lists.  I have never been a huge fan of this film, though my introduction to it was confusing.  However, no one can miss Hauer's amazing portrayal as the murderous replicant who only wants to live.  His "Tears in the Rain" speech, which he improvised mostly himself, is profound.

4.  Blind Fury
This is pure B-Movie pulp, but Hauer does it so well.  He layers his performance as a blind martial artist with humor, drama, and rage.  He is so completely watchable in that movie which makes the movie watchable as a result.

3.  Wedlock
Another B-Movie that is so incredibly clever in its conventions.  Hauer's character and Mimi Rogers' character must remain within 100 yards of each other or explosive collars will blow up their heads.  The movie constantly puts them in absurd situations, like one of them being taken down an express elevator in a high rise building while the other desperately runs down the steps.  The movie is not necessarily a great film, but if you buy into the concept, it is a great deal of fun.

2.  Escape from Sobibor
Escape From Sobibor.jpg
This is a tough movie to watch, but Hauer brings a great deal of power to the movie.  He comes in about half-way through the story as a Russian soldier imprisoned in the concentration camp.  He gives the prisoners the added strength they need to proceed with their overthrow of the camp.  He is stoic and restrained, but he allows his emotional side to show when he realizes that one of the women in the camp has fallen for him.  The movie is harrowing to watch and lacks the beauty and artistry of Schindler's List, but it worth the one-time viewing.

1.  Ladyhawke
Ladyhawke ver1.jpg
This under appreciated Richard Donner actioner is fantastic and Hauer is fantastic in it.  He is hopelessly hopeful while also being violent and noble.  His pain at getting only the slightest glimpse of his beloved is heartbreaking.  But the best part is when he is in the church at the end and he realizes that he has made a terrible mistake that could destroy his love.  His desperation and despair are fantastic and help make the movie what it is.


Saturday, July 27, 2019

Film Flash: Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

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

Plotless movie that somehow kept me interested with great performances and beautiful cinematography.  Typically Tarantino.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Film Review: Late Night

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

Many years ago, Aaron Sorkin created a follow-up series to The West Wing called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.  The show was about a failing SNL type sketch show that hired two supposedly legendarily funny writers played by Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford.  The cast of Studio 60 was good and the directing was sharp.  However, when it came time for the show to display how funny these two characters were when their first skit debuted on the air, it was... lame.  Ultimately I think the show failed because when you make a show about comedians, you MUST make them extremely funny.

This is the problem with Late Night.

The movie is about Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), the host of a long-running late night comedy show, whose ratings have dropped and whose comedy has become stale.  After firing one of her writers for asking for a raise to support his family, she insists that they hire a woman of color to replace her.  Molly Patel (screenwriter Mindy Kaling) works at a chemical plant but dreams of being a comedy writer.  She gets the job because she fills the diversity requirements, much to the chagrin of the rest of the writing staff, especially monologue writer Tom Campbell (Reid Scott).  Molly has to work hard to prover herself while at the same time pushing Katherine to break free from the comedy rut that she is in.

To be clear, Late Night  is not a bad movie.  But as I wrote earlier, if you put out a movie about comedy, it had better bring the jokes fast and furious.  If you fail to do that, you cannot earn the audience's trust.  The only way Molly can make us believe that she is the necessary voice to lift up the show is if her comedy breaks through the noise and has us rolling in the aisles.  I'm thinking about Barbara Streisand's character Judy in What's Up Doc?, who immediately cuts into the audience with her sharp wit and humor.  That is what Molly should do in Late Night.  And she doesn't.  Kaling's writing is fine and there are some laughs to be found, she never reaches the bar set by the movie's premise.  How can I root for her jokes to win out if she isn't as funny as everyone else?  Humor being subjective, this may be an incredibly difficult standard to meet, but it must be met nevertheless.  Director Nisha Gantara comes from mostly a television background and it shows.  The movie is visually competent without being compelling.

Molly hates it when people point out that she is a diversity hire, even though she clearly is.  The movie does a good job of setting forth the idea that while political correctness may earn you a chance, merit is what will earn you respect.  Molly pushes Kathryn to gain a more authentic voice.  To be sure, people are more likely to listen if you have a strong point of view.  But she is also advised to get more political and get "woke."  This is incredibly ill-advised seeing as how entertainment endeavors that do this tend to simply turn away fans and lose money.  We see this happen in movies, TV, video games, comic books, etc.  Kathryn joking about pro-life people is portrayed as brave and appealing.  However, in real life you can even see the ratings decline of most of the late night talk shows and how they correlate with getting more political.  This aspect of the film seemed much more like wish-fulfillment than insight.

Despite this, the main trajectory of Molly's story was written quite well.  I especially like the way her relationship with Tom doesn't go in the way I was expecting, but changes as the story unfolds.  Kaling is perfectly charming in her role as well as Scott.  Thompson is also very good in her role, but the character is tough to crack.  She abhors feminist stereotypes while embodying them.  She is callous and vindictive, but we are supposed to care about her feeling's of depression and despair.  She worries about her relationship with her husband (Jon Lithgow) even though she stole him from his wife when they were younger.  Instead of these contradictions making her more interesting, they make her a bit more infuriating.  And yet Thompson makes us feel enough sympathy for her that we want to see what is next.  

This goes back to this recurring theme I have noted in other recent reviews where talented people are supposed to be given a kind of moral pass because their talent elevates them above normal people.  This elitism is something I have always found appalling and distasteful, and it applies to this film as well.

And again, much of this could be overlooked if it was funnier.  Laughter covers a multitude of cinematic sins.  But rather than focusing on being funny, the movie wanted to tell us something "important."  When comedy becomes a lecture, all the laughter will die.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2019


I honestly don't know what it was about Mr. Rogers that made him so darn compelling.

He was a soft-spoken, wisp of a man who was the most non-dramatic TV star in history.

And yet there is something about him that draws you into is orbit.

I'm hoping this movie explores this well.  It seems like they are, without trying to find out some kind of "dark side" to his life.  I especially love the shot of him praying by his bedside.

Hanks looks very amiable in the role.  His cadence is a little bit like Forrest Gump, but I don't mind too much.  I'm guessing from the shots that the approach will be more about how Mr. Rogers affected other people rather than a deep look into his inner life, but I could be wrong.  I have to say the part at the end where this incredibly diverse group of people on the subway sings to him was very touching in the simplicity of the affection.

It seems like this movie will be a celebration of ordinary decency and kindness.  And isn't that a good thing?


Monday, July 22, 2019

New Evangelizers Post: You Don't Have to Be a Saint to Save Someone

I have a new article up at  
One of the biggest internal obstacles to people sharing the Gospel is their own personal sense of sinfulness. “How can I tell others to live more Christ-like when I don’t live the way I should?” This is the question that plagues so many of us. We all know that we are sinners. And yet we lament that the truths of the faith are not more easily shared in our society. We are shy about speaking up because of our shortcomings. It is similar to the feeling that parents feel when they try to enforce the rules on their children that they themselves flouted growing up.

But it goes deeper than that. Some people simply dismiss out of hand the idea that they could be called to a higher service to the Gospel. Perhaps there is an announcement after mass that they need volunteers for RCIA and you think, “I barely know my faith as it is, how do I help another?” Or perhaps there is a call for Eucharistic Ministers and you say to yourself, “I barely make it to Church on weekends as it is, they wouldn’t want me.” Or you might be in a conversation with a drinking buddy and he mentions that he doesn’t believe in God anymore. You want to say something but think, “He’s seen me at my worst and knows I shouldn’t be a hypocrite with any God talk.”

All of this points to the fact that we have generally accepted a great cultural lie that only the saints should do the preaching. But the opposite is actually true:

You don’t have to be a saint to save someone.

Do not misunderstand: all of us are called to be saints. We must make it our life’s work to live a life free of sin. Not all sin is deadly, but all sin is bad and destructive and it must be excised from our lives. The above statement is not meant as a bland acceptance of our fallen state, a shoulder-shrug to our sins as we go forward ignoring them. That is not at all what this means. The moment you simply accept any sin as a part of your life without working hard to eradicate it, then the soul is on its way to death.

However, this spiritual paralysis that I described at the beginning is also a real problem. One of the things I have learned in my time teaching religion is that so many of our young people reject the Catholic faith because no one has really shared it with them. This is more than a few words at PSR classes or the like. Many have not really experienced the explicit witness of Christ in their lives. Young people, whether they know it or not, are hungry for the Good News.

But if we all waited to be perfect, then the Gospel would never be proclaimed.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Sunday Best: Comic-Con Report 2019

image by Gage Skidmore
Many made the pop culture pilgrimage to Sand Diego this year for the annual Comic-Con.  This is an exciting time for people like me because this is the time that many movie, television, and comic book announcements are made.

As of right now, Sunday, there is still one more day to Comic-Con, but most of the major announcements have been made.

So what are the big pieces of news?


Top Gun: Maverick Trailer.

Over thirty years have passed since the original Top Gun, a movie that, in my opinion, is remembered with greater nostalgia and affection than it deserves.  However, this trailer was a great blend of nostalgia and innovation.  The iconic music, costumes, and sets evoke the feelings that people remember about the movie.  But the fantastically dynamic visuals are unlike most things I have seen in movies.  I have a gigantic appreciation for Cruise's desire to use as little CGI as possible and give the audience as close the real experience as possible.  I was mildly interested in this film before.  But now I am actually excited to see it.  And that is the whole point of doing things at comic-con.

Superman Returns

It was announced that in the upcoming Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover that Brandon Routh would be reprising his role as Superman.  As sub-par as the movie Superman Returns was, I thought Routh did the best he could with the material at hand.  He is a very likeable actor who is the best thing about Legends of Tomorrow.  I have pretty much given up on all the CW DC shows, except for the still-great Flash.  But I will watch this entire crossover if only to see Routh don the cape again.  Also, Burt Ward will be making an appearance.

IT: Chapter 2 Trailer

IT is the highest grossing horror film of all time.  So Warner Brothers is banking heavily on the follow up being as big of a hit.  The trailer was not as effective as the original teaser that played out a good portion of the Beverly scene with the old lady.  This trailer was again short on plot, but long on tone.  I think they are working hard to keep the novel's twists out of the trailer, even though I would imagine that most people who read the book or seen the mini series know them.  However, the trailer did its job and the movie looks very good.

Picard Trailer

Star Trek: Discovery has been very controversial.  The same producers are bringing back Jean-Luc Picard with this sequel series.  What is incredibly intriguing is that we will be getting our first look into the post-Star Trek: Nemesis universe.  The plot details are sketchy, but I have to say three things impressed me: 1) The cinematography looks like movie quality, not TV quality.  2) The plot has me very interested.  3) The Voyager cast member makes me think this show will be more expansive than I thought.  This might be the one to deliver what Trek fans have been waiting for.

Walking Dead Movie

There was a trailer for Season 10, which looked fine, but nothing too terribly exciting.  However, there was a very short teaser that told us that we would see Rick Grimes again, but not on TV.  They are going to try a Star Trek and attempt the from TV to movies.  I am incredibly curious as to where this is all going to go.  If they go theatrical they have to up their game in a major way.


Mahersala Ali was announced as the new Blade and this is fantastic.  He is a great actor and this is a franchise that has a lot of good will (despite its mediocrity).  With the MCU touch, this could be another major hit.

X-Factor action figures.

They are going to be releasing Havok and Polaris from the Peter David X-Factor.  If this is a success, I hope they release the rest of the team: Multiple Man, Quicksliver, Wolfsbane, and Strong Guy.


Westworld Season 3 Trailer

I have found this series to be more interesting than entertaining.  But I think I will check it out to see where the story goes.  It seems really misanthropic on the surface, but it shows moments of real depth fo humanity.

Dark Crystal Trailer

The show looks to be very much in keeping with the original movie as I remember it.  I will give it a chance.

The Witcher Trailer

I know basically nothing about the source material, but the trailer has me at least curious.

Halloween Trilogy.

The Halloween reboot last year will now be the first part of a trilogy.  I have not seen it, but I have heard from fans of the genre that it was one of the better entries into the franchise.


Super Hero Media Bubble Is About to Pop

For years, people have been predicting that people are going to get sick of the super hero genre.  And for years they have been constantly wrong, as proven by Avengers: Endgame now becoming the highest grossing movie ever made.  But that is about the change.

Star Wars was the most beloved movie franchise ever.  The film makers decided to take that good will and insert a strange world view into their movies.  Before The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson was going to do another trilogy, they were getting ready to do a Kenobi and Boba Fett movie as well.  But with the bad fan reaction from The Last Jedi and Solo bombing, things have been stalled.  Even Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is underperforming (probably because it de-emphasizes the original trilogy).

My point is that the producers thought that audiences would pay for anything that said Star Wars.  And so they thought they could change it in any way possible and see no change in their audience.

They were wrong.

And now Marvel is doing the same thing.

Black Widow will be a hit because she is a beloved character.  But they are introducing some more obscure IP's like Eternals and Shang-Chi.  They can make them great like the did with the then-obscure Guardians of the Galaxy.  But it feels like this is the time when Marvel is going to do some Star Wars style experimentation.  We can see this especially with the new Thor movie which will be more explicit in its positive views of same-sex relationships.  Speaking of Thor, the title of the new movie, Thor: Love and Thunder is the most awful Marvel title I have heard.  Doctor Strange is taking a turn towards horror with this sequel.  I thought this was a bad idea for The New Mutants and I think the same thing about this.

Also, we see the move by Marvel to transition to new legacy heroes with Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor, and the like.  This seems to be a strong turn towards the incredibly unpopular current roster of comic book heroes and away from the classics.  I don't think this is a good idea.  Now that the MCU has the Fox properties, they should focus on the following properties, old and new:

-Fantastic Four
-Doctor Strange
-Guardians of the Galaxy

Other properties that they should take advantage of:

-Silver Surfer

I take solace in that the plans that were announced were only for the next two years.  If this is the experimental time, they still have time to do a course correction later.

On television, things seem to be petering out as well.  After the CW's Crisis on Infinite Earths, I can see most all of the DC shows fading away, except for Flash.  I think Batwoman is DOA.  It will open big for curiosity, but it feels more like a lecture than a super hero show.

The Marvel Netflix shows have gone away as well as Agents of SHIELD.  Marvel is going big by putting their movie stars into streaming series onto Disney+.  It makes sense that they are making such a bold investment here, because they want people to see the new service as something wroth their money.  But even here, the focus on legacy characters.  The one I am looking forward to the least is the Hawkeye one, because Kate Cain is a terrible character who is always emasculating Clint Barton in the comics.  Hopefully, Marvel will do what they did with Miles Morales in Into the Spider-verse: take a sub-par legacy character and make them great while not denigrating the original.

Watchmen Trailer

This show looks terrible.

The producers have decided to use this show as a political allegory.  The original Watchmen was political, but it was not an allegory.  In this new Watchmen, the cult of Rorschach are now right-wing Christians who kill cops.  This makes no sense at all.  Rorschach was an existentialist who was not religious.  Also, he didn't target cops.  He did fight them when cornered, but he focused on criminals.

Also, the cops are now masked like Antifa.  This also makes no sense.  This imagery was one of the things that I think sunk the Robin Hood movie last year.  I don't know why Hollywood keeps trying to frame them as the good guys when they are despised by the majority of Americans.  Also, Antifa tends to be anti-law enforcement.  It would make more sense for the Rorscachs to be more like Antifa and the cops to be more like Rorschach.  But that doesn't fit the political allegory they have brewing.

This lack of understanding of the source material and the shoe-horning of political allegory tells me that this is going to be terrible.

Cats Trailer

While this isn't specifically tied to Comic-Con, its release was clearly done to jump on the hype band wagon.

A lot has been said about this, but they made a gigantic mistake in its design.  They are either going to have to a major CGI overhaul or just go all-in on their characters who came out of the wrong side of the uncanny valley.

His Dark Materials Trailer.

Hollywood is taking another stab at the anti-Narnia book series.  While the producers are claiming that the story is not anti-religious, color me dubious.  A story whose central premise is about a hero taking a journey to find God and kill Him... I don't know.  That's like saying a movie that portrays Hitler in a positive light is not anti-semetic.

Harley Quinn Cartoon.

I don't mind mature animation, but the style is very much in keeping with children's cartoons and the ultra-violence and vulgarity is unsettling.  You wouldn't find this level of mature content in the average comic book, so I find it off-putting.


Friday, July 19, 2019

Film Review: Long Shot

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

Charlize Theron is charismatic and charming.

Seth Rogen can be charismatic and charming.

So why is their latest comedy so boring?

Long Shot is the latest Rogen collaboration with director Jonathan Levine.  It stars Rogen as Fred Flarsky, a left-wing investigative reporter who has just lost his job because his paper has been purchased by a right-wing business man named Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis).  Flarsky is invited to a party by his best friend Lance (O'Shea Jackson Jr.).  At the part he bumps into Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron).  Field used to babysit Flarsky when she was in high school and he had a gigantic crush on her.  Field decides to hire Flarsky as a speech-writer to help her prepare for a presidential run.  Flarsky's uncouth style often puts him at odds with Field's handlers Maggie (June Diane Raphael) and Tom (Ravi Patel).  While travelling the world on a diplomatic tour, the Fields and Flarsky grow closer and closer.

Theron is fantastic in this movie.  She shows charm, grace, strength, intelligence, and leadership without losing any of her femininity.  When you couple Rogen and Theron, it is the classic "I don't know what she sees in him" situation.  Rogen has no trouble selling his affections for Theron, because it is easy to understand.  But Theron's greatest feat is that you completely buy into her falling in love with Rogen.  The script doesn't help nearly as much as it should, so Theron has to convince us with her performance and it surprisingly words incredibly well.  Rogen does his best and is adequate in the role.  He even reaches some level of charm and sophistication, however briefly.  Raphael is fantastic as the sardonic Maggie.  Her disdain at all things does not come off as cloying but as a welcome pressure release for the ridiculousness of the premise.  

But the movie ultimately does not work.

The primary reason is that it isn't funny.  Humor is very subjective, so perhaps other people will find more laughs than I did.  Particularly, I am not a fan of drug humor.  Flarsky gets picked up by Secret Service and brought to a federal building, there is a scene where he has to empty his drug paraphernalia before he enters.  I heard some people laughing in the theater, but the moment passed by me without a giggle.  And that is the way most of the jokes went for me.  The jokes were also directed primarily against those at the political right.  Flarsky releases a lot of venom on his political opponents, but this could alienate anyone whose politics are not aligned that way.  It is possible to do a political comedy that makes fun of all sides, but this movie fails.  This is despite the fact that the movie calls itself out for its own political bias.  By the time that scene comes around, it is too little, too late.

On top of that, the movie is simply gross.  And while there is a place for gross-out humor, it doesn't really fit into a romantic comedy.  At one point, Flarsky does something (a thing I will not repeat on this blog), that causes him to say "Yucky!"  And that was the feeling I had about the entire film.  The movie wants to say something insightful about media, politics, and feminism.  It keeps dropping lines like little truth bombs for us to digest.  But the movie fails in maturity so it cannot be taken in any way seriously.

It isn't even that the movie falls short and slightly misses the mark.  The film's failures begin to drag on the narrative.  It becomes a boring slog where you begin to yearn for the finale.  There is a sequence in the film where Fields lets Flarsky get her high on ecstasy, but then she has to deal with an international crisis.  There is nothing funny about this scene.  In fact, I was getting angry at her character.  This scene alone completely steps over the movie's objective.  We are supposed to want Fields to be president.  This scene alone shows you why this would be a terrible idea.  The movie's content makes you root against their protagonists' objectives, and that makes for unpleasant movie-watching.

Ultimately, the movie could have done something with the raw materials assembled, but the script is too self-satisfied without being funny enough to endear itself.

A "long shot" is something that could succeed but the odds against it mean that it probably won't.  And that is the case with this film.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Twitter Telepathy

Recently, actor Chris Pratt was said to be wearing a "white-supremacist" shirt while out with his new wife.  I found this to be shocking.  How could anyone in this day and age, let alone a person with such a high profile as Pratt, go out in public advertising his belief that the white race is superior to other races? 

Of course, the headline was not just misleading, it was downright fraudulent.  Pratt was wearing a t shirt that had the image from the Gadsden flag on it.  This is the one used during there Revolutionary War that pictures a coiled snake with the saying "Don't Tread On Me" emblazoned on it.  I first became familiar with this flag through the Tom Hanks produced John Adams mini-series and then with Rob Lowe's character Sam Seaborne on The West Wing, where the flag was hung in his office. 

The article went on to say that some people who are far-right have used this image.  I guess the logic goes like this:

The Gadsden Flag is used by the far-right.
The far-right are white supremacists.
Therefore the Gadsden Flag is for white supremacists.

Of course, this does not follow.  You could use this same analogy

Oxygen is used by the far-right.
The far-right are white supremacists.
Therefore oxygen is for white supremacists.

Do racists use the Gadsden flag?  I suppose so. 

Do non-racists use the Gadsden flag?  I suppose so.

But that did not stop people on Twitter from condemning Pratt for his far-right display.  Is Pratt far-right?  I do not know the man's politics.  If I were to guess, he is more conservative than most in Hollywood.  He is a devout Christian, but I haven't heard him advocating for any particular issue.
And yet, the Twitter mobs came after him.  And I think I figured out why:

People on Twitter have telepathy.

Now, hear me out:  in rational discourse, you listen to another person and hear what they have to say.  After this, you ask clarifying questions and then restate their beliefs in your own words until they are satisfied that you understand them.  It is only then that you attack the idea. 

This is what we learned from Socrates.  Now, the give and take of dialogue like this cannot always take place.  But at the very least, we should listen to the words of our opponents and do our best to understand what they are saying before we respond.  We always begin by taking their words at face value.  But not anymore.

Nowadays, there is a lot of talk about "dog-whistles" and "code-words" in our discourse.  This is when someone says one thing, but they are actually signaling something else to their followers.  For example, we are told that "women's equality" is a code word for "abortion on demand."  Or we are told that "border security" is a dog-whistle for racism.  I am not saying that this form of communication does not exist.  But I have noted that we go very quickly to this explanation of a person's statement instead of starting with what they are actually saying.

Why would anyone make this radical leap so quickly?  My only conclusion is that these people have telepathy.  They can read the minds of the people with whom they are discoursing.  Because of this, they can see beyond the veil of words to the truth that lurks in their hearts. 

Someone I watch on YouTube has been accused of encouraging his followers to harass his critics.  When his supporters on Twitter point out that he specifically says not to harass his critics, they are told that "Don't harass them" is a dog-whistle for "Do harass them." 

I have to say I am impressed by this feat of super-human skill: to read the minds of those with whom you disagree.  It certainly saves a lot of time.  You no longer have to listen to the words or arguments someone is making when you can simple tell the world what they are thinking.  And what an insight into these wretched souls!  I saw someone tweet that the word "communist" was a code word for the n-word.  These telepaths are so powerful that they have discovered thoughts inside their opponents that even their opponents didn't know they had!  That is amazing!

If they are not telepaths, then we are in real trouble as a society. 

Instead of trying to discover the meaning of another person's words, we could then simply impose whatever meaning we desire onto what they say.  The world turns solipsistic, where we no longer encounter the thoughts and minds of others.  Instead, we simply encounter our own thoughts and opinions about others as we cover other people in our own pre-judgments.  In this case dialogue is impossible because my words have no meaning beyond what someone else chooses to give them.

And now we can see this move beyond words into actions.  Pratt is just one example of this.  And I'm sure he will not be the last.  See how quickly it can descend.  Wearing Nike's?  This is a dog-whistle for "I hate America."  Wearing an American flag?  This must be a dog-whistle for "I hate non-Americans." 

One of the reasons this trend is so disturbing is that it goes directly against Christ's command to not judge one another.  Only God can see the heart and can know our thoughts.  We can and must call out wrong actions.  But these Twitter telepaths claim the power of God in that they can see into the souls of men and judge them to be unworthy.  This is hubris beyond degree!

Another reason is that our whole civilized society is based upon the idea that we can be ruled by reason and argument.  This is why we have had 45 bloodless transitions of the presidency.  People in the country disagree on how it should be led, each candidate makes their case and then the people vote.  If the election does not go the way I want, I work harder at convincing more people that my position is correct.

But if we remove the ability to interact and argue and if we still want to enact change, then I cannot see a way to avoid violence.  In this brave new world of Twitter telepaths, a person does not need to have better arguments to win you over.  They only need more power to defeat you.

I am not naive enough to think that we ever lived in an ideal state where reason perfectly ruled over men's passions and prejudices.  But rational argumentation has always been at least an important part of how our society has functioned.  But the Twitter telepaths have shown us a world where reason and evidence are abandoned, a world where words and actions don't have meaning besides whatever I say, and a world where we can judge our fellow man as evil.  This world is one that would descend into madness and chaos.

And to see that, you don't need to be a mind-reader.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Film Review: Stuber

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

Stuber is a difficult movie to review not because it was amazingly good or horribly bad.  Instead, it was exceedingly average.  For that reason, it is difficult to be passionate about anything in the movie one way or another.

The movie is about Vic Manning (David Bautista) who is after a very dangerous drug dealer who got away six months earlier.  On the day that he gets Lasik surgery, Vic gets a tip as to a big bust going down.  Since he cannot see, he orders and Uber driven by Stu (Kumail Nanjiani): hence the title: Stuber.  Stu desperately needs a five-star rating or he will lose his Uber job, so he goes along with Vic's increasingly insane demands.  All the while, Stu wants to get together with Becca (Betty Gilpen), with whom he is stuck in the friend-zone.  Vic wants to get his bad guy, but he also wants to make sure his estranged daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales) is kept safe.  Each step of the journey gets crazier and crazier until it all comes to a head.

All of the plot points are fine and by the numbers.  The action sequences are adequate.  The jokes are average, with some clever lines here and there.  But there is nothing about this movie that is very memorable.  

That is a shame, because the cast is actually very good.  Bautista carries the movie a lot more than I was expecting.  He is a brutal action tank, but his line delivery is spot on for the humor.  He also plays Vic like a real, three-dimensional character instead of a bland stereotype.  That doesn't stop him from going extremely hyper-masculine, but Bautista makes it work.  Nanjiani is also very likable in his role of Beta Male, metro-sexual.  He is a great yin to Bautista's yang.  Their completely opposite personalities and physiques give the movie all the energy that it has.  Morales comes off as very cool and grounded.  Gilpen does have strong comedic talents, but is only allowed to show them off a bit in the first act.  Other than that, she is very underused.

The movie wants to say something about Vic's hyper-masculinity, but for the most part it is a commentary on Stu's lack of masculinity.  As Stu gets dragged from horrible situation to horrible situation, he constantly has to dig a little deeper and man up.  Stu tries to get Vic to be a bit more sensitive, especially regarding his daughter, and there is movement here.  Yet it seems strange to me the turnabout.  I try not to let anything outside of the movie enter my review, but I heard a little bit of an interview with Nanjiani about how this movie was going to rip on the narrow ways traditional masculinity is defined.  I took this to mean that Vic would be the butt of most of the humor.  But the final product produced the opposite effect in me.  Vic was brave and driven.  Stu was weak and feckless.  The entire film had me wishing Stu would become more like Vic and not vice versa.

Still, the message did not distract from the movie because I took most of it to be Stu's cowardly ravings.  Director Michale Dowse does an adequate job of telling the story.  The opening action scene offers a nice glimpse into his talents visually, especially in the scene where Vic jumps from a balcony.  But that spark never really builds into a flame in this movie.  Perhaps all involved would have produced a better film with a better script or punchier jokes.  It gets a bit raunchy at times, visiting male strip clubs and the like, but most of the explicitness is in the dialogue.

It wouldn't be a stretch to say that I enjoyed my time in the theater watching Stuber.  I like the actors enough to want to see them in other films.  But the memory of the movie began to fade as soon as the credits rolled.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Film Review: Godzilla - King of the Monsters

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

I have found that die-hard Godzilla fans are their own sub-culture.  I don't say this in any way as an insult.  But from the outside looking in, Godzilla is just another classic movie monster.  But on the inside, there is a rich history and tradition with a level of complexity that I find quite astonishing.  

This is why whenever you review a Godzilla film, you have discern if the movie made for Godzilla fans or for general audiences.  There can, of course, be overlap between both, but each film seems either to be expecting the audience to already Godzilla devotees or else the movie acts as an ambassador to non-Godzilla fans.

Writer/Director Michael Dougherty made a movie for Godzilla fans.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a follow-up to often maligned 2014 Godzilla remake.  Both movies take place in the same cinematic universe as 2017's Kong: Skull Island.  A group of scientists led by Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) have found a way to awaken the titanic monsters: in this case Mothra.  They do this with the use of special device called "The Orca."  However, Emma and her daughter Madison are taken by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), the leader of an environmental terrorist group.  The monster experts at the organization known as Monarch, led by Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), seek out Emma's husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) to help them track down Emma and the Orca before more monsters awake.  As this occurs, Godzilla stirs and seeks to restore his dominance over the other monsters.

What works about this movie is that it does a much better job of taking us ring-side into the big monster fights.  One of the biggest criticisms of the 2014 film was that director Gareth Edwards would often cut away from the action when it became interesting and he would choose to view the combat from the least interesting perspective.  While this new Godzilla film often films the action from the point of view of the humans, it focuses a lot more of its time on letting us see these fights play out.  The special effects are very good and fill you with a sense of our own smallness in the face of these gargantuan creatures.  Doughtery knows how to use his monsters to build up tension and then release it in a cathartic explosion.  There is a sequence towards the middle of the film with the fire creature Rodan that is as exciting as anything I have ever seen in a Godzilla film.

The movie also does a good job of presenting Godzilla himself as a character without making him too relatable or too human.  Godzilla is terrifying to all the humans, but he is less terrifying than the more destructive monsters like King Ghidorah.  It reminds me of a line from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where the Beavers caution the children about the mighty Aslan: "He's not a tame lion."  There is nothing tame about this Godzilla.  The movie draws the fine line between awe, respect, and fear of the great monster.

The script is better than most Godzilla movies I have seen, but it still isn't very good.  The dialogue is stilted and unnatural.  The human characters are painted flatly, with little to make us feel connected to them.  Particularly annoying is Mark, who is very much a Mary Sue in this movie.  With the exception of his intense drive to kill Godzilla, Mark constantly makes out of left-field suggestions that almost always turn out to be right.  Yet there is almost no reason that anyone at Monarch should listen to anything he say.  The script also has the same problem as most Godzilla films: we really don't care about the human story.  There is a thematic subplot about broken families, but it feels like a distraction from the monster fights.

The performances are fine, but most are nothing spectacular.  A few exceptions are Watanabe, who brings a noble reverence to his relationship to Godzilla, and he has one of the best scenes in the film.  Dance always carries with him strength and dark charisma.  But almost no one else makes an impression, even established actors like Bradley Whitford, David Strathairn, or Ziyi Zhang.  They do what they can with their parts, but they don't have much to work with.

I found it very interesting that the main villains were environmental extremists.  Pope Francis emphasized care for the planet in his encyclical Laudato Si, but I have noticed a strain of misanthropy in some environmental movements.  These groups talk about humanity as a blight on the planet and that we have to preserve other life instead of human life.  This is such a diabolical flip to the words of God in Genesis when He told us to fill the Earth and subdue it.  This corruption is understandable in a society where we de-emphasize God.  Humans need to have their actions directed to a higher cause.  Without God, many would look to the world to give them meaning, but they fall into the trap St. Paul warned of:  "For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.  " (Romans 1:25)

But never explores the issue too terribly deeply.  The movie is there to show us fantastic monster destruction.  And if that is what you want, Godzilla: The King of the Monsters will satisfy.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Film Flash: Stuber

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

An average buddy cop comedy with very likable leads.  Not bad, but not great.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Terminator is the New Ghostbusters

Terminator Dark Fate poster.jpg

A beloved 80's film with sequels.

A devoted fan base.

A modern remake with mostly women leads.

A trailer that most people found terrible.

Filmmakers attacking the fans as sexist for not liking the trailer.

This is what we saw with the bomb that was 2016's Ghostbusters and now it looks as though Terminator: Dark Fate is following in the same footsteps.

I want to say at the outset that I have no idea if T:DF is good or bad.  The following analysis has no bearing on the actual final product.  We saw echoes of something similar with Captain Marvel's promotions, but that turned out to be a fairly good movie. 

The thing that needs to be addressed is how the T:DF like Ghostbusters are adopting a strategy of antagonism towards potential customers rather than trying to win them over.

In a recent interview with Variety, director Tim Miller discussed the action lead played by Mackenzie Davis.  He said of her: "If you’re at all enlightened, she’ll play like gangbusters. If you’re a closet misogynist, she’ll scare the f–k out of you, because she’s tough and strong but very feminine. "  There is a heavy problem with his logic and his implications if you do not like the character he has created.

Let us take a look at his first syllogism.  Forgive this slightly technical digression on syllogisms.  I fear that it may come off as techno-babble, but I could not think of a way to make my point clear and avoid it.

There are parts to a hypothetical syllogism, the antecedent (IF statement), the consequent (THEN statement), the affirmation or denial of the consequent or antecedent, and then the conclusion
-IF: You are enlightened -THEN: You will love this character
-I do not like
-THEREFORE: I am not enlightened.

This is a valid syllogism where by denying the consequent then the premise must be false.  He is stating that his character is such a clear and shining example of a great film character, that if you do not like that you are not only lacking in taste but are morally flawed or unenlightened. 

In the next syllogism, affirming the consequent doesn't prove the antecedent.  So she could scare the you-know-what out of you for reasons other than the antecedent.  But what I find fascinating is his use of the adjective "closet."  Without that adjective, the statement is straightforward and makes sense.  Misogynists hate women and the lead actress is a woman so it would make sense that they would not like her.  But the added qualifier implies that someone who hates the character and shows no outward signs of misogyny is actually a closeted misogynists.

This is similar to a particularly distasteful idea known as "dog-whistling," which means that someone could say something that is on the surface innocuous, but it has hidden meanings that are communicated.  In this case, "I hate this character" is taken as a dog-whistle for "Women are bad."  The reason I find this type of implication so distasteful is that it eliminates the meaning of words.  How can I defend against a charge of dog-whistle misogyny if my arguments defending myself can be interpreted as more dog-whistles.  Instead of people trying to discover the meaning of each other's statements, the way Socrates would do, we would now simply place whatever meaning we judge on top of the words of another.  Anything you say to me can be a compliment or an insult depending on my judgment of you.

And this seems to be what Miller is doing to people who do not like what they have seen so far of T:DF.  Don't like my character?  Then you are an unenlightened potential misogynist.

Can someone please explain to me how this type of promotion is supposed to increase ticket sales?  The cast and crew of Ghostbusters came hard at their critics and the movie bombed.  Why would you poison the well like this and what is the alternative?

I remember when it was announced that Joaquin Phoenix was cast to play the new Joker.  I thought it was a terrible idea.  I'm sure that there were other skeptics online as well.  I do not recall how vocal any of them were.  But then they released the first teaser and I was mesmerized.  If people didn't believe that Phoenix could pull of the character, the point of the teaser was to show you how amazingly he embodied the character in body, voice, and performance. 

In other words, Joker won me over.  I am now very excited to see this movie.

People are skeptical about this new Terminator.  The last three were also not well-received.  The fact that Miller is making a preemptive strike ad hominem strike against his critics tells me that he is not confident about his work and is not convinced that it will be popular. 

I wish Miller and the Terminator franchise all of the best and I truly hope that it is a good movie.

But Miller shouldn't assume that people who don't like his movie have a character flaw.

It could just be that the movie has a flawed character.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Film Review: Aladdin (2019)

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

I am not someone who is opposed to the concept of live-action remakes.  In fact, I am one of the few people who think the modern Beauty and the Beast is an improvement on the animated version.  But with Aladdin, there is an incredibly big problem with any attempt to recapture the magic: Robin Williams.

Williams once said that Aladdin was a Looney Tunes cartoon in "Disney drag," meaning that even though it was under the Disney name it had an insane aesthetic like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.  But that is only true with Williams as the Genie.  Without him, you are left with a pleasant and enjoyable fairy tale, but far from a classic.

Aladdin is the story of the title character (Mena Massoud) who falls in love with the strong-willed Jasmine (Naomi Scott), but he is forced into the Cave of Wonders by the evil Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) where he finds and befriends the Genie (Will Smith).  Most of the story follows the original, though writer John August and co-writer/director Guy Ritchie are much more efficient at introducing the characters and setting up the story.

The big question is whether or not Smith can replace Williams.  The answer is a simple "no."  But that isn't really fair to Smith, who is not trying to mimic anything about William's mad comedic genius.  Instead, the Genie is a hyper-stylized version of the Will Smith persona.  In this way it absolutely works.  It isn't nearly as funny, but Smith has enough charisma to keep us watching.  Underneath it, he actually layers some of the more heartfelt moments with some actual depth.  But it is his swagger and magnetic personality that make his anachronistic style work so well on screen.

The other performances are decent.  Massoud has near-perpetual smirk on his face for most of the film that is more annoying than endearing.  But the further the film goes, the more you get used to him.  The chemistry between him and Smith as well as him and Scott is excellent.  Scott is wonderful as Jasmine, sharp and strong.  But they go a bit overboard in the script to emphasize the "girl power" aspects of her character.  Kenzari does a nicely understated Jafar, making him intelligent a little bit cool.  Nasim Pedrad is a nice addition as Jasmine's handmaid Dalia and provides some nice comedic moments.

The best parts of the movie are the song and dance numbers.  If you put up a sceptical wall when going to see this film, that barrier will melt away once "A Whole New World" starts.  The beauty of the song and the nostalgia factor, along with some nice staging, cannot help but lighten the heart.  Ritchie also wisely hired an excellent choreographer in Leah Hill, who infuses the live-action musical numbers with some great spectacle.  This is also evident in the chase scenes that feel very balletic and whimsically light of foot.

There is one exception to this.  For this version of the movie, they gave Jasmine her own solo power ballad: "Speechless."  While it is from the original composer of Aladdin, Alan Menken, it just doesn't seem to fit.  It feels like a 2nd-class Demi Lovato song.  The song is supposed to represent Jasmine's struggle with being taken seriously in a Middle Eastern society a thousand years ago.  But the placement of the song, especially the refrain, is less empowering and more cringy.

I found myself enjoying this film more than I expected, which is a compliment to the filmmakers for winning me over.  While it cannot match the unique magic of the original, it is a fine and enjoyable children's musical.