Friday, September 27, 2019

Film Flash: Ad Astra

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

A film with moon pirates and space baboons sounds awesome but isn't. Pretentious snoozer

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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Film Review: Blinded By The Light

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

Sometimes, especially in your teens, music reaches you in a way that is hard to describe.  Your emotions are running in every direction and you have a hard time expressing them or even understanding them.  But then there is a song or a singer that seems to capture exactly what you are feeling and saying it better than you could.

That is the experience that is captured in Blinded By The Light.

Javed (Viveik Kalra) is the son of a Pakistani immigrant in 1980's England.  He is constantly surrounded by prejudice while at the same time feeling the pressures from his traditional Pakistani home.  His father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) pushes his lower-middle class family hard.  All money they earn comes to him so that he can pay the bills.  He wants his son to pursue practical careers to make money to help the family.  But Javed wants to be a writer.  The pressure continues to build as his father loses his job, his relationship with his best friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) becomes strained, and he falls for his classmate activist Eliza (Nell Williams).  Feeling torn apart, he begins listening to a cassette tape given to him by his classmate Roops (Aaron Phagura) that contains the songs of Bruce Springsteen.  Javed has an almost ecstatic experience listening and so he begins to build his whole life on the worldview presented by Springsteen's music.

Blinded By The Light does a great number of things very well.  It's greatest strength is that it accurately captures that time in a young person's life that so many of us experience.  There are moments of incredible, overwhelming exhilaration, like when we see Javed, Roops, and Eliza dashing through the streets to "Born to Run."  There are the moments when an adult encourages you to nurture your talents, as when Javed's teacher, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell), pushes him to sharpen his writing.  But the movie is not an overly sweetened view of teen life.  Writers Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha, and Sarfraz Manzoor are careful to mostly avoid oversimplifying the characters.  Adolescents tend to be horribly self-centered, and Javed is no exception.  The movie does an amazing job of showing you Malik's struggle and humiliation as he is unable to be the provider that he knows he should be.  It is true that he is standing in the way of Javed's dream, but Javed is too selfish to see how much his family is struggling.  There is a scene in the movie where Javed sneaks out of his sister's wedding to buy Springsteen tickets.  This moment is not without consequence as Javed puts his own needs ahead of his family.  There are times when you want to be Javed, experiencing the thrills of life.  There are times you want to slap Javed because he is behaving like an entitled punk.  All of the characters are flawed, but rather than repelling, it makes them more relatable.

The performances are very good.  Kalra carries the movie on his shoulders and he is likable enough.  He and Williams have good chemistry throughout.  The real winner is Ghir, whose performance as the father should not be overlooked.  He knows that he is asking too much of his family and there is the constant presence of shame in his eyes that all too understandable.  It is the shame that any husband or father feels when they feel in their bones that they have failed somehow in the most fundamental way.

Director Gurinder Chadha does a perfectly fine job with the movie.  As I said, there are moments of insight and elation.  He has some incredibly creative ways of incorporating Springsteen's lyrics visually into the narrative.  But the movie never really reaches greatness.  Everything about it is good.  It just never soars too high.

One of the things that acts as an anchor is how the movie very oddly political.  All of the troubles that the family is experiencing are explicitly and repeatedly laid at the feet of Margret Thatcher.  I am not an expert on this time and place in history, but I have the feeling that things are much more complicated than the movie lets on.  Also, anyone who does not share the activism politics of Eliza is painted as a right-wing bigot.  In and of itself, this isn't really a problem, but the movie goes out of its way to co-mingle all right-of-center politics with hateful white supremacy.  These moments take you out of the movie, which is a shame because the film gets so many other things right.

Blinded By The Light is a fine and dare-I-say delightful film that has some real moments of insight, nuance, and heart.  While it didn't reach levels of greatness for me, I could see how someone could watch this movie and have it speak to them the way Springsteen has to people over the years.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Sunday Best: Emmys 2019 Predictions

photo by Alan Light

Tonight are the 71st Emmy Awards.  In the past I would have set up a guessing game to see who could guess the winners.  But this year, I didn't feel up to it since I haven't seen most of the shows nominated.  For the most part, I have no dog in this fight.  The only show I am really rooting for is Game of Thrones, which evolved from empty pornography to a story about complicated choices and sacrifice.  Fans of the show might say that those elements were always there.  I would say that they were obscured by the sheer volume of vulgarity.  This season jettisoned most of those disgusting elements and was the most watchable and, in my opinion, the best season of the series.  (I will write more on this later in its own post)

I predict that this Emmy Award will be very low-rated for that reason.  The most watched shows of the year (The Big Bang Theory and NCIS) have few nominations.  While popularity is not always a sign of quality, it can be a sign of how in-touch TV critics are with mainstream audiences.

Here are my thoughts about the major categories.


Simply because has a lot of heat on him now and I've heard good things about the show, I think this might win.  Of course, with politics being what it is, Veep might come away with it.

BEST ACTOR, COMEDY - Bill Hader, Barry

I don't watch any of the shows for which the actors are nominated, but again, because of the heat he has in the last few weeks, I would guess he would get it.

BEST ACTRESS, COMEDY - Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag

I haven't seen this show, but Waller-Bridge is very popular with the Hollywood elite, so-much-so that they brought her on to play the feminist droid in Solo.  Something tells me they want to give her an award.


He won last year (I think), and Emmy's tend to stick with the same horse for years (look at David Hyde Pierce).


She just won an Oscar and TV critics like to think that they are just as cultured as movie critics, so I would guess that this would follow.  Haven't seen the show, but she is a talented actress.

BEST DRAMA: Game of Thrones

I'm going out on a limb on this.  There was such a big backlash against this final season, but I think that voters will want to honor the series as such in the finale.  I could be horribly miscalculating on this one, though.  We will see.

BEST ACTOR, DRAMA - Sterling K. Brown, This is Us

He won last year and his performance this year was even better.  Like I said, Emmy tends to stay with their favorites.

BEST ACTRESS, DRAMA - Sandra Oh, Killing Eve

Critics love this show (which has Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a writer).  This really should go to Emilia Clarke this year, but whatever.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, DRAMA - Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones

Dinklage is fantastic in the role and this year was no exception, even if most people didn't like the story.  I would hope that this year Chris Sullivan would be recognized for his under-appreciated role as the ever hopeful Toby.  But we will see.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, DRAMA - Maisie Williams, Game of Thrones

Williams has always done a terrific job on this show and her skill hasn't faltered.  This would be the last chance for Emmy voters to recognize her body of work in this series, so tonight might be her night.


I don't think this has anything to do with quality.  If it did, The Amazing Race would win every year.  I think the political climate will dictate that the winner will be either this or RuPaul's Drag Race


Saturday, September 21, 2019

Film Flash: Rambo - Last Blood

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

A gorier and darker version of Taken.  Seriously, it is gory.  (I miss Rambo's mullet)

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Film Flash: Brittany Runs a Marathon


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

Funny, insightful dramedy about gaining self-respect and accepting the love of others.

Monday, September 16, 2019

New Evangelizers Post: Journeying As Evangelization

I have a new article up at  
In my last article, I wrote about how if you give tacit approval to people who are doing something morally evil then you are complicit.

However, I believe I should also make a bit of a clarification. We want to avoid giving scandal and leading people into sin. But we also want to be careful about cutting ourselves off from others that we deem sinful. Pope Benedict XVI once wrote that the Christian and the atheist both struggle with uncertainty as part of God’s plan. He said that if either could be shut away in their towers of absolute certainty, then they would not encounter each other as fellow travelers on an uncertain sea. God wants us to not only love Him, but love each other. And we can only really love people with whom we share life’s journey.

To be sure, if the company we are keeping is a bad influence on us, we may need to separate ourselves for the good of our own souls. There is no shame in admitting when we lack the spiritual strength to be heroically virtuous. God can give strength to all situations, but we should not be arrogant about our own holiness.

Having said that, if we can, we are called to journey with others, even if they are on the wrong path.
In the movie Speed, Keanu Reeves’ character is on a bus that will blow up if it goes below 50 miles per hour. At one point, they have to get an injured man off of the bus. So the police drive a truck parallel to the bus so that the man can be transferred and taken to safety.

If someone is living a life of sin, they are on that bus to destruction. That bus is going to blow up. The only way to get someone off is if you pull up alongside them and run parallel to them in their life and travel the same path next to them. You cannot save someone from the sidelines and just shout “Stop sinning.” You need to be journeying with them.

It is also important that this journey is one of genuine care. Sometimes people feel like we are simply trying to entice them onto a different path without actual care for their lives. As a teacher, I teach God’s word to large groups of young people several times a day. And while this is an important part of the processes, it is also important to let the students know that you care about them individually as persons. It is fine to talk to groups, but you cannot love groups. God doesn’t not love mankind. He loves each man. Jesus refused to be crowned king by the crowds, because He is not the leader of a mob. Jesus is the King of individual hearts.

God did not simply send life-instructions from His heavenly throne. He became one of us in the Person of Jesus and He journeyed with us as a man.

So how do we journey with others effectively with others?

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, September 15, 2019


#24 - War of the Worlds

We are still in the bottom half of Steven Spielberg's filmography.  And there is a period between 1998 and 2012 where he made a truly excellent movie (Catch Me If You Can).  I call this his "Blue Period."  This partly because the movies tended to be darker in tone but also because there is actually a blue tint to a lot of the color in these films, including War of the Worlds.

The basic conceit of the movie is that it is an alien invasion movie told from the perspective of an average man-on-the-street.  There was a strong post-9/11 feeling to the tone of the entire movie.  The strongest part of the movie is the first half when Tom Cruise is doing everything he can to keep his children safe from this overwhelming and terrifying force.  That half has some really powerful images of disasters in the streets.  Spielberg uses some incredible single shots to give you a claustrophobic sense of panic while moving through the winding streets.  Also, the horrifying image of bodies floating down the river in full view of Dakota Fanning is a shocking moment of brutality destroying innocence. 

But the second half falls off the rails.  The son inexplicably runs off to fight somehow.  And then Spielberg decides to get weirdly metaphorical about how 9/11 turns Americans violent and crazy.  It only served to underscore how stitched-together and episodic the story was.  Another critic once said that this movie was a dead-beat dad's fantasy: you are a terrible father most of the time, but when the chips are down, you rise to the occasion and save the day. 

#23 - The Post

From my review on this blog:
Steven Spielberg is the greatest filmmaker of all time.  But even Babe Ruth would have a swing and a miss.

Having just rewatched All the President's Men, I know that the era and the subjects involved in The Post are ripe for some real political drama.  Unfortunately, the filmmakers decided on telling the story from the least interesting perspective imaginable.

... And when the story is told through the eyes of the leaker Daniel Elsberg (Matthey Rhys), it hums along with real tension.  But the movie always feels like it is walking two steps behind the real story.  The entire time you want to follow the The New York Times as they break the story.  Or you want to stay with Bagdikian as he hunts down the clues for the Post.  But instead, we are stuck in the family drama and moral dilemma of [The Post's publisher] Graham.  I always felt like I wanted to leave that story and get to the real story.

There is a clear attempt on the part of screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer to capture the supposed zeitgeist of the time, capitalizing on the "I'm with Her" movement in anticipation of having the first female president.  The fingerprints of this thinking are unmistakable in its ham-fisted highlights of the casual sexism of the day.  There is a scene towards the end where a female legal aid is being yelled at by a US District Attorney and we are meant to take it as a snapshot of how women are demeaned.  All I kept thinking about was how all legal aids are put through the ringer by those in power.  And if that wasn't subtle enough, one of the last shots of the film shows Graham walking slow motion down the steps of the Supreme Court as a line of young women look at her in awe of her persistence.  The message itself is not the problem, but that it feels like a finger-wagging lecture rather than a piece of entertainment.

Spielberg is still using all of his visual skills to make the movie come to life.  The close-up shots of the newspaper machinery are fascinating to watch.  Still the master of the single-shot, he knows how to draw out the drama and when to cut it up.  It is able to visually increase the paranoia and pressure on the people involved so that there is some real tension.  But all of this is undercut by going back to Graham's storyline.  If her story had been another facet in an ensemble picture, it would be fine.  But putting her in the spotlight unbalances the whole narrative.

And it's a shame because there are some really wonderful questions to be explored here between freedom of speech and the necessity of state's secrets.  Where is the line?  And the movie does explore when to follow your conscience even in the face of existing law and loyalties.  These are all things that should have been explored in much more depth, but time was taken away to admire Graham's bravery in every scene.


The Post is not in any way a bad film.  But there is little to recommend it in an already crowded field of films.  It clearly belongs to the category of "Lesser Spielberg."

#22 - The Lost World: Jurassic Park

This movie has so many problems in terms of its actual substance.  The biggest problem is how little it regards human life and places the lives of the dinosaurs as higher.  This is embodied in Vince Vaughn's eco-terrorist character.  His actions lead to the deaths of dozens of human beings both on the island and on the mainland.  And this character never pays a karmic price.  He is presented as virtuous and the people capturing the dinosaurs are evil.  This is so morally absurd that it takes away so much of the film's re-watchability.

The reason that this film is not placed lower is that some of Spielberg's action sequences are wonderfully done.  I can still see clearly the glass beginning to crack under Julianne Moore's hands, the tall grass pathways being made by the unseen raptors, the giant T-Rex sticking its head in the tent, and the raptor diving at into the hold under the door.  Spielberg intentionally made a film with a different tone than the first Jurassic Park, but he lost all of the wonder and awe and instead had the movie devolve into a monster movie.

#21 - A.I. Artificial Intelligence

I hated this film when I first saw it.  I still don't care for it as much, but it has grown on me.  This movie was originally being developed by Spielberg's friend Stanley Kubrick before he died.  You can see that this is his attempt to make a Kubrick movie with Spielberg touches.  This is different than Minority Report, which is a Spielberg movie with Kubrick touches.

AI is visually rich and it wants to take on the tone of a modern fairy tale.  And to his credit, there are moments that work along with Haley Joel Osment's performance.  It touches on the the primal need of a child for their mother's love.  To be clear, the movie is too long and often a bit boring, but David's journey is intense and pure in its quest.  The final scene is overly long, but has the benefit of being emotionally satisfying.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019



Absolute Horror.

Horror met with Heroes.

Heroes to the end.

18 years ago.

Never Forget.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Film Review: IT - Chapter 2

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

Sometimes when people dig for gold, they turn up little nuggets here and there.  But sometimes they hit a rich vein and all that comes out is gold.

That is what it was like for IT: Chapter One.  Director Andy Muschietti and writers Chase Palmer, Cary Joji Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman really hit the mother-load.  I am not a huge fan of horror, but I was able to look beyond that because these filmmakers tapped into such a rich thematic content.  They captured the horror and wonder of that awkward stage between being a child and being a young adult.  I felt such an immediate kinship to the Losers and their experience.  On top of that, the visual style was firing on all cylinders.  Not only were their the strong jump-scares, but there was a constant air of subtle terror in the background (as in the scene with Ben in the library).  And the movie was not confined to its genre, but it felt like a sweeping coming-of-age epic.  Albeit a coming-of-age epic that involved a child-killing immortal clown.

Could IT: Chapter Two capture that same kind of magic?

The short answer is "no."

IT: Chapter Two takes place 27 years after the events of the first movie.  Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) has once again returned to prey upon the citizens of Derry, Maine.  The only one of the Losers to remain in town is Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa).  Once he confirms the reappearance of IT, he calls the other Losers back on the strength of their promise to return:
-Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) is a horror novelist who has trouble writing good endings.
-Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) is a self-loathing stand up comedian.
-Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) is a successful designer in an abusive marriage.
-Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan) is a wealthy architect who has lost all of his former fat.
-Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone) is an insurance analyst who is married to woman just like his over-bearing mother.
-Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) is a happily married man planning a vacation with his wife.

Once all of them get the call, the repressed memories of their days in Derry hit them like a ton of bricks.  Each reacts differently as they are called to an awkward and terrifying reunion.

The thing that works best about this movie is the absolutely terrific cast.  There are so many variables in casting an ensemble piece like this, but Muschetti hit a home run with these actors.  Not only are they all fantastic in their respective parts, but their chemistry as a group is phenomenal.  When they all first arrive together at the Chinese resturant, the movie really comes to life.  I could have spent a lot more time than is necessary just watching these old friends slowly reminisce and then fall back into routines and relationships as familiar and comfortable as a pair of old slippers.  The real breakouts for me are Hader and Mustafa.  Hader's Richie uses his humor as his armor against his terror and self-hatred.  This is honestly some of the best work I've ever seen Hader do both dramatically and comedically.  You want to see him on screen more and more and are disappointed when he's not in a scene.  Mustafa completely disappears into the role of Mike so that you cannot see his "Old Spice" persona.  His Mike has a haunted, hunted look that is a bit off-putting, but feels genuine for someone who has been living inside of his worst nightmare for 27 years.

It is just a shame that the movie that these actors are in doesn't match their talent.

This time, the movie was written only by Dauberman without Chase Palmer and Cary Joji Fukunaga.  Based on the resulting screenplay, this was a huge mistake.  Like Chapter One, this movie also wants to tap into some big, universal themes.  Particularly, the film wants to touch on how our childhood traumas continue to haunt us into adulthood.  In the first movie, the Losers had to face their fears.  As adults, they have to face their pasts.  But whereas with the kids it felt like an important step to adulthood, with the grown-ups it feels less important and more like some kind of metaphor for cathartic therapy.  To present the town of Derry the same way to the kids as to the adults is a mistake.  As a kid, all adults seem a little scary.  But when the adults have that same experience when they come back to their hometown, it feels condescending.  Normally, healthy adults grow up and see the humanity in their parents and the adults of their childhood.  Unhealthy adults turn their normal childhood setting into one completely monstrous.  Most of the Losers are no longer of Derry, so their constant hatred of the town and its people feels too bitter.

The structure of the movie is incredibly flawed.  The movie really sings when the Losers are all together.  But the middle act necessitates all of them splitting up to find a special token needed to defeat IT.  These lead to a number of horror vignettes that are meant to deepen our connection to each character, but instead feels like it is there to pad the runtime.  To give each token meaning, each Loser has an extensive flashback with the younger cast.  I know they had to use de-aging CGI on a number of the actors because they grew up during the last 2 years and it shows.  But these flashbacks don't add a whole lot.  Some of the tokens feel important like the ones for Bev and Bill.  But others feel incredibly odd.  On top of this, a new subplot is added where one of the Losers is a closeted homosexual.  This wouldn't bother me as much if this had any root in the book or even in Chapter One.  Instead, it felt like a cynical attempt to score "woke" points with critics.  But all this did was take me out of the movie.

What also took me out of the film were the horrible special effects.  In one of the first trailers, the director showcased his ability to be subtle and terrifying with quick flashes of images.  But in the movie when the horror is revealed, it looked quite silly.  The scariest shots in the first movie were the ones that were intensely creepy practical shots like Pennywise's slow appearance in the slides.  But when his monstrous forms would appear, they looked less like something out of a nightmare and more like something out of Beetlejuice.  Everything looked too much like a cartoon.  This is a movie that probably would have improved greatly if its effects budget had been slashed in half, forcing the director to rely on practical scares.  This is especially true in the final confrontation, which lacks any real horror.

As an aside, Skarsgard's Pennywise loses a lot of his impact in this movie.  In the last film, I thought he was fine.  But this movie really made me miss Tim Curry, who had to create a completely terrifying villain with just his voice, body language, and some prosthetic teeth.  But Skarsgard's Pennywise became less scary and more annoying.  As the movie went on I didn't want to run away from him so much as wanted to punch him.  Also, in the last movie, even though the rules are never clearly established, it felt like it made a little more sense when Pennywise would let the kids go and not kill them.  Here, I cannot fathom why any of the Losers survive their individual encounters with Pennywise.  It makes no logical or emotional sense.

This brings us to the finale


The final confrontation tries to capture the same feel as the one from the first movie.  In Chapter One, the Losers had to face their fears embodied in Pennywise.  This worked perfectly.  In Chapter Two, they have to confront their past demons.  They do so, by coming to realize that their past hurts are small and cannot actually hurt them.  They way this is manifested in the movie, quite frankly, stupid.  It feels like simply calling out a bully and bullying them back.  I know what the film makers are going for, but it comes off as some mystical manifestation of call-out culture, thus creating an unsatisfying conclusion.


And yet for all this criticism, the good parts of the movie are so endearing to me.  This may be a carry-over from the good will of the first.  But the portrayal of adult friendship that grew out of childhood bonds was something that touched me.  It is so refreshing that friends can openly express their love and care for each other as men and women.  I am the same age as the Losers.  I remember what it was like to live when they lived and I remember how horrible a time it was growing up and how only my friends saw me through my worst times.  Those friends are still some of the most important people in my life.  This movie reminded me of that fact and made me feel gratitude that we all walked that path together.

So for all of its flaws, there are still things to admire about IT: Chapter Two.  The movie may not have hit a vein of artistic and thematic truths, but they at least unearthed a few genuine nuggets of goodness.

Sunday, September 8, 2019


#28 - The BFG

From my review:

This is much more a Disney movie than a Spielberg movie. 

Specifically, I am referring to the classic Disney Live-Action films of the 1960's-1970's like Mary Poppins, Bednobs and Broomsticks, The Absent-Minded Professor, and Swiss Family Robinson.  They only real difference is that the cinematic technology is much more advanced.

This is not necessarily a negative.  I love the above movies and they are sweetly innocent in their way.  And so is Spielberg's latest: The BFG...

Visually, the movie is big and bold and colorful.  There is something very childlike and wonderful about exploring a world that is magnitudes larger than yourself.  I think that it touches on that perspective we had as children but lost as we grew up, where the world seems so horribly huge and wondrous.  And there is some real beauty to the world created that children will very much love. 

The big problem with the movie is its complete lack of depth.  ET was a children's movie that didn't talk down to children.  The parallels to ET are there: lonely child and lonely fantastic creature form an unlikely friendship.  In fact, not only Spielberg the director of both, but both movies are written by the late Melissa Mathison.  Yet The BFG feels like adult filmmakers have taken a knee to get eye-level with their audience and talk in slow small words so we can understand.  This may be a result of the source material (I have not read it).  But if that was the case, more depth could have been added.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (one of my favorite books) does not have incredibly sophisticated character relationships and development.  But in the movie version, the filmmakers wisely added dimension to the story.  The BFG could have benefited from such treatment.

#27 - War Horse

War Horse is an ensemble movie about World War I where we get to encounter different episodes in the lives of people throughout the war by their interaction with a horse.  This movie could have been right up Spielberg's alley if they had stayed with the first story.  But rather than feeling an interconnectedness to all the action, it worked against the purpose. 

This may sound like a very strange analogy, but in the 1980's they made a cartoon show about R2-D2 and C-3PO called Droids.  At first I watched it every week.  But then they did something strange.  Every few episodes, the droids would get a new set of masters so that the entire cast would change except for the main two.  As a result, I found I could not get attached to any of the stories because I knew that these characters would go away sooner rather than later. 

War Horse has the same effect.  Spielberg still uses all of his power to tell the story with emotional power.  The shots of the horse running through the battlefield are harrowing.  But the horse is not the main character and the horse is not enough to carry the emotion of a movie that needs the audience to deeply care.  When we do return to characters, instead of feeling mini-nostalgia over seeing them again, we think, "Oh, I forgot all about him already."  Once again, Spielberg is let down by the script.

#26 - The Adventures of Tintin

This co-directed animated feature along with Peter Jackson is actually an incredibly impressive and visually dynamic movie.  The chase scene through the city is particularly bold and thrilling.  Like The BFG, this movie probably works best if you look at it through the eyes of a child, but also like The BFG, it feels as though the movie is talking down to the audience.

The movie also suffers from the same thing that Peter Jackson faced with his King Kong remake: over-enthusiasm for the source material.  Now, there is nothing wrong with being in loved with the source material.  In fact, in the case of The Lord of the Rings, this paid out great creative and financial dividends.  But in King Kong, Jackson assumed that the audience was as enthralled and nostalgic for the original movie as he was.  This resulted in an over-indulgent narrative.  Tintin suffers from the same problem.  Spielberg and Jackson clearly love the source material, but its look is odd and dated that it makes it hard for modern audiences to relate.

#25 - Indiana Jones and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I would go so far as to say that this is the only bad Indiana Jones movie.  I lay most of the blame on George Lucas, who gave the story a McGuffin that does not fit the rest of the franchise.  In addition, this movie is shot like the Star Wars prequels, actors surrounded by green-screen.  The original Indiana Jones movies were shot like the original Star Wars films, with as much practical sets as possible.  This is especially important for Indy, because he is an archeologist.  The places he travels have to feel tangible and ancient.

But Spielberg does not get a pass here.  He was clearly not as careful to craft a visually compelling story.  Think about the scene where Indy receives his vision from the crystal skull.  All we have is him tied to a chair, looking uncomfortable.  Couldn't we have received at least flashes of what was going on in his brain?  And even if we didn't, compare that scene to the one where Indy gets brainwashed in Temple of Doom, and you can see the difference.  But the worst is the re-introduction of Marian.  She is arguably the most important romantic lead for Indy.  Go back and think of the scene where she is first introduced in Raiders and how iconically she was lit and filmed.  Everything about how she appeared on camera made her one of the great on-screen heroines.  But when she shows up in this movie, it lands with a thud.  THIS IS MARION!  But she makes an entrance that would find its home in any sitcom.  I could almost feel Spielberg's exhaustion in making this film and that is one of the reasons it is so low on his list.

That is not to say the movie is not without merit.  The chase through the college is fun and Mutt Williams is not as bad as everyone remembers.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Film Flash: IT - Chapter 2

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

Great cast and good moments, but nowhere near as amazing as Chapter 1

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Quicksteel Game Kickstarter

A good friend of mine is Kickstarting a game that he has designed.  It is called Quicksteel.  

The game is a self-contained card game that is made to capture the feel, the pace, the strategy, and the fun of a real-life fencing match.  A lot of time was spent in development and design.  I have had the privilege of playing this game several times and I can tell you that it is an incredibly fun game.  

While collectable card games like Magic and Pokemon are fun and have their appeal, they sometimes feel overwhelming in how expansive they are and matches sometimes can last hours.  With Quicksteel, you don't need to buy any more cards than what come with the deck and each match that I've played has been about ten to fifteen minutes.  But I've found that I never play just one match.  I always want to face off at least two or three times.

Below is a letter that my friend wrote promoting the game.  Click the link at the end of this post and consider funding this game.

As you may have heard, I created and designed a fencing card game that I’m working on getting funding for to have distributed on a large scale. To do this, my game is on a website called Kickstarter, which allows people to financially back and invest in projects they’re interested in that have yet to be distributed in mass quantity. This is called ‘crowd-funding,’ where a large group of people pledge a little money to help bring a new and undistributed project to life.
My goal is to request 100 people give $1 on the first few days of the campaign (September 3rdand 4th, etc). This will help to build early traction and draws other people to the page. If the project doesn’t reach its funding goal (which is the amount needed to get it made professionally), no one will be charged any money, but if it does meet its goal, I’ll be able to print my game and get it distributed to as many people and retail locations as I can!

Your support would mean so much and I literally cannot do any of this without backers like you. If you are able to, I would greatly appreciate if you would consider giving $1 today or tomorrow and sharing my project with others who might be interested in and willing to help, too.

Here’s the Kickstarter link for my game:

Monday, September 2, 2019

New Evangelizers Post: Ferrymen on the Way to Hell

I have a new article up at  
Recently there was a news story about a man named Robert Fuller. He was a man dying of cancer who took his own life. This, in and of itself, is sad and tragic. What makes this story sting is that it was promoted in the media with photos of him being blessed in church by a priest and several first communicants who raised their hands over him in prayer a few days before his suicide. Members of the parish were present at his death, apparently not to talk him out of this evil act, but to support him. Fuller even stated on social media that a Jesuit priest told him that his decision to kill himself was morally acceptable.

I am not writing this to vilify any particular person involved. As with any fresh news story, more details may emerge later. The Jesuit priest, Fr. Dupont, who blessed him in church has clearly and categorically denied that he was the priest who gave Fuller approval to kill himself. Further, Fr. Dupont has stated that no one told him of Fuller’s intention to kill himself before the church blessing. Fr. Dupont stated that he was simply told that Fuller was dying and that this was his “last mass.” I have no reason to doubt Fr. Dupont’s statements so unless other evidence comes forth, I think it is reasonable to believe him.

In addition, I am not directing this article at Fuller specifically. While the act of suicide is always morally wrong, I will leave the judgment of Fuller’s soul to our Merciful Lord. Out of charity, I would ask that we all pray for Fuller and those who loved him. But I am compelled to address a problem that must be dealt with in the most serious fashion:

Catholics supporting moral evil.

Medically assisted suicide has been legal for many years in some parts of the country. Unlike other complicated moral issues, the Catholic Church is unequivocal in its position: there is never a morally justifiable reason for suicide. The Catechism states: “Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2277)

Pope St. John Paul II stated in Evangelium Vitae “ I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” (Evangelium Vitae, 65)

And yet if you read the media coverage of Fuller’s suicide, it is treated with glowing sentiment. There is the focus on the music that was played or the fact that he entered into a same-sex “marriage” with his boyfriend just before he killed himself. There is a disgusting air of approval and admiration for someone engaging in an act of ultimate selfishness.

I must pause and be incredibly sensitive here. Sadly, many of us know people who have taken their own lives. The heartache that this produces is incalculable. And it is very easy to speak about the evils of suicide when you are not personally facing the nightmarish pain of slow death by cancer. As Christians, we are called to summon every ounce of Christ-like compassion for those who suffer to the point of suicide. But real compassion can only be done in truth. And the truth remains that suicide is a sin of self-importance.

But it feels like it goes against compassion to hurt the feelings of someone who is facing agony. Earlier this year, a Dutch teenager named Noa Pothoven was allowed by the Dutch government to starve herself to death, not because she was dying, but because of post-traumatic stress from being abused. When she posted her decision on social media she asked that no on try and talk her out of her decision.

How much more is the responsibility of the Christian to talk the suicidally resolved out of this path?

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Sunday Best: 2019 Summer Box Office Review

Summer Movie Season has come and gone once again.  And what is our conclusion?

In terms of box office success, it was a mixed bag.  Movies are about a 6% down from last year.   Before I go further, there were a number of movies that I did not get a chance to see, so I cannot speak intelligently about them.  

In terms of box office, the top 10 highest grossing films of the summer are as follows:

1. Avengers: Endgame
2. The Lion King
3. Toy Story 4
4. Spider-Man: Far From Home
5. Aladdin
6. John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
7. Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw
8. The Secret Life of Pets 2
9. Pokemon: Detective Picachu
10.  Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

My predictions were as follows (along with my rationale):

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.

I did put Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood and Detective Picachu in my alternates, but I did not predict John Wick.  Last year I got 9 out of 10 correct.  But this year is earning me some humility as my record this time is 7/10.

So here are my conclusions.

Just like last year, Marvel/Disney dominated the box office.  If you count Spider-Man as a Disney related property (though it is a Sony film), then these movies took up all five of the top spots.  Not only that, but the gulf between hits is extrodinary.  #5 Aladdin made $354 million which is more than double #6 John Wick at $170 million.  This wasn't just a close call.  In fact, if you add up the TOTAL box office for #6-10, it is less than Avengers: Endgame box office.

2. Franchise Films (AGAIN)
Only Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood  is the non-franchise film in the top 10.  Critics constantly complain about the glut of franchise films, but they clearly are a safer bet at the box office if you build up good-will with the audience.  Even the spin-off film Hobbs and Shaw did incredibly well.  

3.  John Wick
Nothing threw off my predictions more than John Wick.  I didn't put it into the predictions for top ten because it is an R-rated film, and those tend not to make as much money.  Also, the last film failed to make it to $100 million.  Most franchises like this begin to lose steam by the 3rd film.  But something must be going on in the pop culture where John Wick  is really catching on.  It is constantly played on TV now and there are strong connections to Fortnite.  The second John Wick doubled the first one's box office.  And miraculously, Chapter 3 has doubled Chapter 2 and made it to $170 million.  The success of this series is a suprise, but one that I greatly enjoy.

4.  Quentin Tarantino
The Hateful Eight was a terrible film.  Whenever someone who is thought to be some kind of auteur loses his way, the question becomes if they have gone over the hill.  Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood has proved that Tarantino can still make original content and bring in audiences.  As I wrote in my review, I wasn't the biggest fan of this movie.  But it was intriguining enough to have me talking about it for weeks and weeks after.  


1.  Franchise Films
While franchise films were big winners, they were also big losers.  Godzilla, Shaft, Men in Black International, and Dark Phoenix all seriously under-performed.  This is an important warning that while having a movie in a popular franchise is a safer bet, there is no sure thing.  

2.  FOX

The highest grossing FOX movie this summer was Dark Phoenix, which was a specatacular bomb.

I'll be finishing up my summer movie reviews soon, but there was a lot of hit or miss this year.  

Here's the thing: I want to go to the movies.  I am willing to spend my hard-earned dollars to be taken away inside of a darkened theater.   But if you don't give me a good quality, I will save my money and binge-watch Stranger Things Season 3.

But in terms of ranking by quality, here are the rankings of the summer movies I saw in 2019.

Avengers: Endgame
Toy Story 4
Spider-Man: Far from Home
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
The Lion King (2019)
Blinded By the Light
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Angel Has Fallen
Late Night
All Is True
Long Shot