Sunday, October 20, 2019

Lack of Updates - October 2019

Dear Reader,

Thank you for you patience.  You may have noticed that I've only been able to get out a couple of articles a week for the last few weeks.  The reason for this is because of the following:

-I have a major writing project that must be completed by the end of the month that has been taking up most of my writing time.
-I am currently taking a Master's Degree class in Aristotle and I have been writing and reading about the Philosopher for the last two months.
-The grading quarter is coming to an end and I am spending a great deal of time grading.
-I am directing a play and we are less than a month away from opening.

For these reasons, my blogging time is going to be very limited until the end of October.

As always, your loyalty to reading this blog means a great deal to me and I never want to take you for granted.  Once November rolls around, I should have more time to write.  Some things to look forward to:

-Film Review of Brittany Runs a Marathon
-Film Review of Ad Astra
-My next in the countdown to the Best Spielberg Movies
-A reflection on the final season of Game of Thrones
-An essay about qualitative rise and fall of writer Tom King
-Reaction to the final The Rise of Skywalker trailer
-Poll results for Fantastic Four Casting Call.
-and much more.

Until then, thank you again for reading.

Monday, October 14, 2019

New Evangelizers Post: The Failure of the Saints

I have a new article up at  
St. Francis of Assisi went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. When he returned, he found out that two of his vicars has made changes to the Franciscan community. Francis was shocked to find his brothers living in a wealthy monastery in Bolonia. His dream of a community completely dedicated to poverty appeared compromised. He worked the rest of his life to restore this vision.

St. Joan of Arc put all of her faith in God that she had been called to lead the armies of France, expel the English invaders, and place the rightful prince of France on the throne. All of this she did. Her reward: she was betrayed by the man she placed on the throne. He allowed her to be captured by the English, who burned her at the stake as a heretic.

St. Francis Xavier had a life-changing friendship with St. Ignatius of Loyola. Filled with zeal, he wanted to preach the Gospel to mainland China. He was able to go throughout all of Southeast Asia, but he kept missing opportunities to get to his goal. At one point he was on a boat setting sail for mainland China when he remembered he left his essential paperwork at his last port. He waited and waited for the opportunity to preach in mainland China. He died of a fever while waiting.

St. Charles Borromeo wanted to throw a jubilee celebration for his home city of Milan. He worked tirelessly to bring this about until his dream came to fruition. Several people came from all over the region to celebrate. Unfortunately, they also brought with them the plague. Charles emptied out all his and the church’s treasuries to deal with the crisis.

Dorothy Day had a deep conversion to the Catholic faith from her atheistic world-view. Unfortunately, the man she loved and the father of her child, Forster Batterham, refused to come to the Lord. She had to choose God over her romantic love. This caused her so much distress that she had to be hospitalized.
St. Paul met the disciples of Socrates in Athens and was able to explain to them that the Unknown God that the Socrates worshiped was, in fact, Jesus. Despite this, Paul was grieved because he found very few converts in Athens.

St. Peter was the first pope. And yet at Antioch, he behaved so scandalously that Paul had to criticize him in front of the entire Church.

The list goes on and on. I could write an entire book about the failure of the saints.

What is the point?

Failure is a part of the journey.

All things are possible for God (Matt 19:26). With Him there is no limit to what we can accomplish. But some people become discouraged when on the road to righteousness, we stumble. Of course there is the constant struggle of sin, but that isn’t really what I’m talking about here. When we decide to follow God, we may be surprised to find that we still fail at our mission. If God is with us, shouldn’t we have success? Is this because we lack faith?

I can tell you that I have been teaching Theology for twenty years and I am constantly confronted by my own failures. I have a deep, burning desire to share the love of God with my school community. Often that fire appears to only be barely keeping a few embers warm rather than setting the world on fire. Why is that?

In my case, I’m sure I have a lot of spiritual growth to do. I am not a saint, so there are probably a great deal of spiritual graces I’m failing to bring into my community because of my own lack of holiness.
But even the saints experienced failure. How do we account for their failures if they were holy? There are few things to keep in mind:

1.Failure is a Matter of Perspective.
Did Joan of Arc fail? If her mission was to free France, then no. She could have died gloriously in battle, but then she would have remembered mainly for her military campaigns. But Joan was called to witness to her complete faith in God even when all the powers of the world and the church turn against you. She was true to the end. In fact, she was able to receive the Eucharist before her execution (which proves her conviction was a sham) and was able to look upon a crucifix as she endured her martyrdom. God allowed a perceived failure in order for her to witness to a greater glory.
2.God’s Plans are Not Our Plans

We have plans and ideas and goals. But God knows what will work out better for us and for the world. We are only failures if our plans are not completely surrendered to the Divine Plan. If this wasn’t the case, then Christ would have been a failure, dying abandoned on the cross. But of course this isn’t the case. As Jesus said, “Not my will, but Your will be done!” (Luke 22:42). God’s will was done and Christ mission is not a failure.

The deepest spiritual pitfall on the journey is pride. God’s power can allow for miraculous successes. And this is a great thing. But the person through whom these things are accomplished may make the mistake that the power to change lives comes from themselves and not from God. This could have a much worse effect on the soul of the potential saint. But failure reminds us that we are in constant need of God. This humility is more valuable than any perceived victory. Those we are trying to reach have the freedom to accept or reject the word. We have to remember that any change comes not from us, but God in us.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Sunday Best: Ranking Movie Jokers

I don't know what it is about the Joker that inspires so many actors to give great performances.  My guess is that his extreme insanity pushes the actor beyond their normal range and forces them to a higher level of performance.

Not every Joker has been great.  But here are the performances ranked from worst to best.  I've only included theatrical movie performances, so there will be a few people who will not make it to the list who only performed the character on TV, video games, or direct to video movies.

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7. Zach Galifianakis - The Batman Lego Movie

There is nothing wrong with his vocal performance as Joker, but it is so forgettable, that I actually had to look up who did the voice work.

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6. Jared Leto - Suicide Squad

Leto got a lot of flack for his portrayal.  I think he had the unfortunate disadvantage of being the first on-screen Joker after Heath Ledger.  I wasn't a big fan of his take either, but it is not an intrinsically bad performance.  I think the production design was flawed from the start.  To make him a tatted-up gangster made him feel more like a punk than a psychopath.  His relationship to Harley also served to undercut his cold-bloodedness.  I think if Leto was given a better starting point, he would have turned in a better performance.  But as it is, it is sub-par.

5. Caesar Romero - The Batman Movie

This performance is burned into my mind as the foundation, the base for what the Joker is.  All other performances, even the ones that improve on it, have to begin here.  As campy and as silly as the 1960's Batman was, Romero leaned heavily into that tone but still managed to make a wonderful performance.  The key was that the Joker took glee in mayhem and that is core to his character.

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4. Mark Hamill - Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

The only reason Hamill is not higher on this list is that I have to limit my scope of his Joker work to this one film.  Hamill might be the most prolific Joker actor, with work in TV, video games, and movies.  One of the great things about him is that rather than phoning it in as the years went on, he got better and better.  In Mask of the Phantasm, Hamill gives us a classic Joker vocal performance.  I would have to say that when I hear the Joker's voice in my mind, Hamill's voice is what I hear.

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3. Jack Nicholson - Batman

Stan Lee once said that Tim Burton didn't make a Batman movie, he made a Joker movie.  And he is mostly correct.  You can see how much Nicholson built off of Romero, except that Nicholson went way more murder-y.  His performance is especially fun when you see his pre-Joker Jack Napier, who is cool, refined, and restrained at time (though still very murder-y).  To see that character cut loose was a great deal of fun.  I remember the first time I saw him step out of the shadows in full makeup, I felt like the comic book had come to life.  The best scene, though, is the one where he talks to the mob boss he just murdered.  That gives you a real window into his utter madness and it is actually pretty terrifying.

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2. Joaquin Phoenix - Joker

This was a tough choice.  As I wrote about in my review for the movie, his performance is stunning.  The talent and technique on display is evidence of an actor at the top of his game.  Phoenix pulls us into Arthur Flecks insanity as we see him slowly lose the tenuous grip he had on his soul.  If he does not win an Oscar for this, it would be another Academy injustice.

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1. Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight

It really was a toss up between Phoenix and Ledger.  And I hate to take anything away from Phoenix's performance, which does something completely different.  Phoenix is in every scene of Joker whereas Ledger is only in 33 minutes of The Dark Knight.  Ledger's job is to be mysterious, charismatic, and electric, and then get off the stage to let his performance linger in the air.  In some ways that is more difficult, because he has to make such an impression that you feel him present in the entire film, even when he is nowhere to be found.  And Ledger does this.  Whenever he is on screen I cannot help but be drawn in.  I remember the first time I saw the movie I was shocked by his acting choices.  Every choice I would have made as an actor, he did the opposite.  When I would have brought my voice low, he went high.  When I would have gone menacing, he was nonchalant.  It was such a rebellious performance that it embodied the chaos of the character.  Some of complained that his Joker was the least in line with the comic book version and that is a fair criticism.  But Ledger captured the essence of the character with his "agent of chaos" speech.  My theory is that his Joker is literally, not symbolically, the devil: the embodiment of evil.  And Ledger captured that perfectly.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

New Evangelizers Post: All That Lasts Forever

I have a new article up at  
A short reflection this Monday:
According to our best scientists, the universe will end.

Entropy is a real thing where all of the energy will eventually be used up. The cosmos will then either fade away like the dying embers of a late-night campfire. Or the universe will collapse in on itself in a final gravitational crunch. Of course by then, the Earth will be long gone. Eons before the universe runs out of fuel, our sun will grow into an old red giant that will consume our planet before it too will eventually be destroyed.


Sometimes in life we need a little perspective.

Today, think about things that are important to you. They could be the worries of the day, the project that needs to be finished, that job that is still not done. Or it could our larger life goals. They could be the ways that we hope to leave our mark on this world. There is a strong urge in most of us to have something on this Earth that will be around for generations to come. Some of us want build the tallest building. Some of us want to write the great novel. Others seek after the great scientific discovers. And others still seek power either in politics or the world in general.

And yet all this is going away.

Every work of art, every building, every invention, every nation, every part of our physical world will become cosmic ash. And even if we slip the surly bonds of Earth and colonize other planets, there is nowhere to escape from the final entropy that will consume all physical things. Soon or later, every physical thing dies.

So do we give in to despair? Of course not. The reason is because we do encounter things that will last beyond the destruction of our world: each other.

CS Lewis once wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.” (The Weight of Glory)
If we measure a thing’s value by how long it lasts, then the most valuable thing in the world is a human soul. Twenty billion years from now, the Earth will be no more. But Seventeen trillion years from now we will be living our eternal existence. All of the people we encounter each day: they are the ones who will last. And while we may be the ones to build the tallest building or the greatest novel, the greatest art we can engage in is in the shaping of the human soul. It is something we already do, whether we want to or not. The way we live affects the souls of the people around us.

And Lewis made it very clear that we have one of two destinies: “immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” That is who we are all becoming, one or the other.

When you are in a hurry today to finish you pursuits, do you do so at the expense of others? Do you accomplish your tasks while ignoring the people in your life? In the end, all of it is rubbish if it isn’t rooted in cultivating these immortal works of art. Because when we do that, we are living out God’s calling for us. He is the great artist and we are His art. As the Scripture says in Jeremiah 18, He is the potter and we are the clay. He is cultivating us to grow in His eternal garden of delights, a new Eden forever.


You can read the whole article here.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Film Review: Joker

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

"I don't believe in anything."

This simply delivered line towards the end of Joker is actually the black heart at the center of this look into the moral void.

Joker is an original take on the famous Batman villain that is completely divorced from any origin story to have come before.  Writer/director Todd Philips, best known for comedies like The Hangover, has produced what many are calling a dark masterpiece.  I will say that at the very least, this is one of the most disturbing films I have seen in years.

The story follows Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a mentally ill, poverty-stricken man who lives in the slums of Gotham City with his ailing mother Penny (Frances Conroy).  By day, Arthur tries to make a living as a street clown, hired out by a run-down agency.  The city is infested with piles of garbage and the streets are filled with hopeless and violent people.  Arthur dreams of one day becoming a stand up comedian, even though his desires clearly overshoot his talent and skill.  He  even fantasizes about being embraced by a Johnny Carson-like late night host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro).  To matters worse, Arthur is plagued by a brain-damage-induced tick that causes him to laugh uncontrollably when he gets tense.  This often leads to even more awkward confrontations.  The only one who seems to show him any real warmth and compassion is his neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beetz), but life keeps tearing him down.  But then an act of violence sends him on a collision course to utter chaos in Gotham.

Much has been written about Phoenix's performance and it is not hyperbole.  It is the best acting I have seen all year and as of now I cannot imagine anyone more deserving of an Oscar.  A lot of people have focused on Phoenix's facial expressions and laughs.  And to be sure, he has masterful technique on display in these areas.  His expression can go from helplessness to demonic with subtle speed.  And his voice carries with it both pain and menace.  But what kept captivating me was his body language.  Watching him slowly awaken the monster within was captivating.  Phoenix played it out methodically and horribly with the way he carried himself.  Arthur's evil and violence became his armor against the cruel world that hurt him.  Phoenix makes every move, every gesture, every word count.  I would often use the word "mesmerizing" regarding Heath Ledger's take on the Joker in The Dark Knight.  I would use the same language to describe Phoenix.  But whereas Ledger's Clown Prince of Crime was a supremely confident mastermind, Phoenix's Joker is a man who is nothing but a ball of rage at the powerlessness he feels in life and acts out like short-fused monster.  The rest of the supporting cast does a fine job, but there is no mistake that this is Phoenix's movie.  He is in every single scene and everyone else is scene the lens of his experience.

Philips, along with cinematographer Lawrence Sher and Production Designer Mark Friedberg,  deserve a great deal of credit for creating such an amazing atmosphere film.  Gotham is an oppressive 1970's hell hole from which there appears to be no escape.  All beauty and safety are removed from the film and it forces you into the claustrophobic landscape that slowly turns you a little mad too.  Philips makes the movie intentionally ugly, but endlessly fascinating.  If there is a complaint I have about the film is that the script by Philips and Scott Silver lacks focus in the first two acts.  The story meanders from scene to scene.  I suppose that Philips would argue that his point was not to make a plot-centric film.  Instead, he was letting the audience experience the emotional conditions that created the Joker.

The score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is haunting and tense.  It was reminiscent of the score from the British show Broadchurch that filled you with a sense of sadness and dread.

Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is often cited as being an incredibly dark (no pun intended) film especially with the presence of the Joker.  That is not an accurate analysis, as the movie ultimately says that normal people are decent and good.  Joker has the opposite message about the human condition.  It says that people are not only capable of great evil, but the little human compassion that seems to be the antidote to this darkness is sorely lacking in the world.  Arthur is constantly turned away from the compassion and understanding he so desperately needs.  He has no friends.  He is alone.

However, Philips is clearly not laying the blame for Arthur's evil at the feet of society.  Arthur himself blames the heartlessness of the world for his own acts of violence.  But Philips never makes it that easy.  Arthur is too self-centered to see that he lacks the compassion that he yearns for.  Being a victim of ridicule does not mean that you are a virtuous hero.

I usually try to avoid any reviews for a movie before I write my own, but I came across one that had such an amazing insight into how this movie works.  The reviewer said that human beings are naturally empathetic.  So at the beginning of the movie, our hearts go out to Arthur and we yearn for him to overcome his odds and be treated with dignity.  But the reviewer pointed out that Arthur doesn't become a monster.  He always is a monster who only slowly lets go of his inhibitions.  As this happens, we also slowly lose our empathy with him.  Arthur revels in his violence.  After his first murder, he takes a moment in a public bathroom to do a slow dance of triumph and ecstasy.  It is as lyrical as it is disturbing and ugly.  He is finding glory in literal and moral filth. While Philips brings into Joker's messed-up world, he is clearly not advocating for his deranged world-view.

There has been a lot of talk about whether the movie is political.  It is, but it is not partisan.  It points out that when elites do not take care of basic services and those at the bottom are overly burdened, social unrest follows.  The wealthy leaders are viewed with the same level of ugliness as the violent rioters.  Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) calls the protestors "clowns."  The protestors embrace that image and escalate their actions.  There really are no good sides in this fight, but it points out that creating a deeper divide will eventually reach a tipping point.  The movie reminded me that Church's emphasis on taking care of the poor is not just a spiritual necessity but also a pragmatic one too.  If their needs and their dignity are not addressed, then society collapses.  If there is a political message, it is that mob mentality will lead to chaos.

This brings us back to the quote at the beginning.  Arthur is asked towards the end of the film if he is political.  He responds that he doesn't believe in anything.  More-so than his mental illness, this is the root cause of the moral void inside of him.  He believes in nothing bigger than himself.  He says at another point, "I used to think my life was a tragedy, but now I now it's a comedy."  That is actually a horrifying shift.  Life is tragic if the pain we experience is not the way it's suppose to be.  All suffering in this world is the tragic effect of Original Sin.  But there is hope because we know that there is a higher ideal, even if it is not something we are currently experiencing.  But Arthur's view that his life is comedy means that life is a joke: an empty meaningless practical joke that is playing out to his expense.  His only response to to return the pain of this practical joke in kind to those who dish it out to him.  This is what I see more and more in the world with those who act out in large-scale violence.  Life, to them, is a horrible joke.  And in their minds, the only way we will get the joke is when they lash out at us.  As good as this movie was, I cannot say it was enjoyable and I'm not sure I would want to sit through the whole thing again.

I left the theater much more uneasy than when I walked in.  My eyes looked with more suspicion at the people that surrounded me.  I am not saying the movie is at fault for my heightened paranoia.  All it did was make me realize even more horrible insight:

If the Joker's nihilism takes a deeper hold onto our world today, then the last laugh will be on all of us.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Sunday Best: New Fall TV Shows 2019

I watch a great deal of television with my wife and we are always on the lookout for new shows.  Of course, we don't have time to watch every show we want.

But here is my assessment of the new shows I've seen offered up this Fall.

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Bob Hearts Abishola (CBS, Mondays 8:30)

Bob has a heart attack and falls for his nurse, Abishola.  It's a classic story of two people from different worlds who fall in love.  The cast is likable enough, but none of the jokes made me laugh and they didn't sell the immediate chemistry between the leads.


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Prodigal Son (FOX, Mondays 9:00)

A profiler for the NYPD is the son of a deranged serial killer.  Together, they solve murders.  The premise was intriguing and very well shot.  However, the lead actor hasn't quite found his rhythm.  He has the haunted, semi-crazy look, but something about his delivery is a bit off.  The rest of the cast is fine.  Lou Diamond Philips is as good as ever.

VERDICT:  3 Episode Probation.

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Bluff City Law (NBC, Mondays 10:00)

A corporate attorney returns to her father's small civil rights law firm to help fight for the little guy.    Jimmy Smitts is great and so is the lead actress.  There is a subplot about how people who cheat on their wives can still be good people, which is a trend I find incredibly annoying.  The pilot had a good emotional payoff, so I am curious if they can keep this up.

VERDICT:  3 Episode Probation

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Emergence (ABC, Tuesdays 10:00)

A plane crashes in a small town.  The local sheriff finds a young girl at the crash site and mysterious forces are trying to get her.  Also, she may have super powers.  I love high concept shows.  The pilot was incredibly tense and very well done.  And I love any time I get Clancy Brown in anything.  This show could run out of steam very quickly, but I am intrigued.

VERDICT:  At least Half a Season.

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Stumptown (ABC, Wednesdays 10:00)

Of all of the new shows, I might be enjoying this one the most.  Cobie Smulders is great as a self-destructive wannabe PI.  This show has a lot of intrigue, charm, suspense, and action.  The supporting cast is excellent so far as well.  One of the things that is impressing me the most is that they are allowing Smulder's character to not be awesome at everything.  She is clearly an extraordinary observer and she is a good fighter, but she often gets fooled and gets beaten in physical combat.  She has enough flaws to make her interesting, almost to the point of repellent.  She may push the envelope a bit too much down the road, but right now, it feels a lot like watching Castle.

VERDICT: Full Season Watch

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The Unicorn (CBS, Thursdays 8:30)

Walter Goggins plays a widower who is raising two girls and whose friends are pushing him to date again.  Goggins is very good and the supporting cast is fine, but there were two things that rubbed me the wrong way.  In the first episode, his eldest daughter, who looks about 12, is caught with a boy getting to 2nd base.  I have a real problem with shows that introduce this kind of sexuality to young kids.  It's one of the reasons I dropped Blackish after the 2nd episode.  The second thing is the way his friends keep pushing him to date.  He is raising two daughters and his focus should be on them.  It is possible to do both, but his friends pushing him to date feels awfully intrusive and disrespectful to his wife.  I could not imagine my friends doing the same to me.


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Carol's Second Act (CBS, Thursdays 9:30)

Like Nate Fillion's The Rookie, but substitute "Doctor" for "Cop."  Patricia Heaton plays a middle-aged woman who is just now becoming a doctor.  I want to like this show so much because I've enjoyed Heaton's work on TV for the past 20 years.  But this show is a dud.  I didn't laugh once in both episodes I saw.  The jokes are lazy and they never get anywhere near as insightful as a show like Scrubs


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Perfect Harmony (NBC, Thursdays 8:30)

The show is about a recently widowed and suicidal big city choir director who ends up leading the choir in his wife's rural hometown.

The comedy is incredibly broad to the point of being blunt.  But the jokes work and I laughed a lot during the pilot.  On top of that, there were some surprisingly touching moments I was not expecting that involved silly things like the song "Eye of the Tiger."  Bradley Whitford hits exactly the right note.  And so far, they haven't made fun of Christianity, just Christian foibles.  It could be looked at as talking down to rural America, but Whitford's character is just as much the butt of the jokes as anyone else.

VERDICT:  Full Season Watch

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Sunnyside (NBC, Thursdays 9:30)

Kal Penn plays a disgraced New York City Councilman who is trying to find a modicum of redemption by helping some privileged people become citizens.  It is a fine premise, but I didn't laugh once during the entire pilot.


There are still a few new shows rolling out this month and I will update the list as they come out.  Tonight I'm going to check out the new Batwoman show (though my expectations are very low).


Saturday, October 5, 2019

Film Flash: Joker

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

Just give Joaquin Phoenix the Oscar for this deeply disturbing view into a monster's mind.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Film Review: The Peanut Butter Falcon

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

I will say that the biggest shock for me coming out of the theater was this: Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson are actually good actors.

The Peanut Butter Falcon centers around a young man named Zak (Zack Gottsagen) who has Down's Syndrome and is living as a ward of the state in a nursing home for the elderly.  He wants to go off on his own, but he has been judged incompetent to care for himself.  His case worker Eleanor (Johnson), cares for him, but treats him as a child.  But what Zak really wants to do is escape and go the a professional wrestling school run by his hero, The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church).  Zak escapes and finds himself hooked up with Tyler (LaBeouf), who is run afoul of the law and some violent people after burning their fishing equipment.  Tyler is trying to make his way down to Florida from the Outer Banks.  He agrees to let Zak accompany him until they reach the wrestling school which is along the same path.  During that time Tyler and Zak strike up a touching and unlikely friendship, while Eleanor searches up and down the coast looking for her wayward ward.

This movie is incredibly sweet without being overly sentimental.  Tyler is foul-mouthed and crusty, but he is not cruel.  He talks to Zak like an adult and not like a child.  At one point Zak tells Tyler that he has Down's Syndrome.  Tyler's response is "I don't give a $#!*"  This statement is not an insult.  Instead, it's Tyler's way of saying to Zak that he sees him as a man, not defined by his disability.  Their brotherly bond is strange, but believable.

Along the way, they encounter incredibly colorful characters, especially in the poorer regions along the water.  Normally I find these moments cliche or condescending.  But writers/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz never take away the character's dignity.  They may speak with unsophisticated accents or live in run down trailers, but they are never flat caricatures.  Always he lets you see their deep humanity.  This is especially true in Tyler, who becomes increasingly more mature as the film progresses.  There is a scene where meets The Salt Water Redneck and he is not what they are expecting.  I won't ruin the moment, but in most movies, Tyler would lay down guilt or judgment The Salt Water Redneck for not being what the characters were hoping.  Instead, Tyler simply states what he has to do now and he apologizes to The Salt Water Redneck for bothering him with their problems.  It is a moment both stoic and heartbreaking.

And La Beouf carries all of that to perfection.  There is not a single false note in his performance.  I still cannot believe this is the same person who stuttered their way through the Transformer movies.  He is masculine, caring, arrogant, and unsure all at the same time.  His chemistry with Gottsagen is great.  He never feels like he is pandering.  Gottsagen himself is very good.  There is a moment early on in the film where you can see that he knows how to layer his emotions to get what he wants.  Johnson conveys poise, concern, and dignity.  She lets us see her character's slow evolution from seeing Zak as patient or problem into seeing him as a fully-fleshed out person.  There are also some wonderful brief cameos from actors like Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal and wrestler Jake "The Snake" Roberts.

The directors do a good job of showing us the intense poverty of this area of the country but also at the same time showing us its beauty.  There is something almost magical about the water and the way that it is shot.  Seeing Zak, Tyler, and Eleanor all riding on their raft down river, you couldn't help but think of Huck Finn.  This is not an original insight, nor is it one that the film makers makes subtle.  It is clear they are trying to capture that spirit of rebellion and adventure in the Twain story.  And this movie is all about the journey.  What happens when they get to where they want to be?  Who knows.  The way you get there and who you get there with is what matters.

I was struck so completely by the Catholic principle of human dignity.  Eleanor cares for Zak, but she doesn't treat him with the dignity that he desires or deserves.  His dream of being a professional wrestler may seem silly to some.  But if we respect his choices as a man, then that means helping him follow through on his goals.  

The only thing holding this movie back is that it feels like they didn't go deep enough.  They hint at Eleanor's incredibly interesting backstory, but they never go very far.  It feels like the journey was just beginning when it came to an end.  Something about it felt just a little too condensed and therefore just a little stilted.

But other than that, the movie was an enjoyable and moving time in the theater.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus 2019

Today is the feast of St. Therese the Little Flower.  I made this reflection a few years ago about the lessons learned from this wonderful saint:

1.  The Blessing of Ordinary Life.

I am someone who consumes epic stories of heroism and adventure.  Both religious and secular stories are shared about larger-than-life figures that make their mark on the history of our world.  It is easy to give in to the temptation to think that these figures are the truly important people as opposed to the "ordinary" ones.  But St. Therese wanted her life to be extraordinary in how ordinary it was.  Simple, ordinary life is a beautiful thing.  I am remind of the play Our Town and how the mundane things of this world are some of its greatest pleasures.  It is like Bilbo said in The Fellowship of the Ring: "It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life." 

My mark on the great pages of history will probably be too small to notice.  But Therese shows me that it is not how big a mark you make in this world that matters.  All that matters is if I lived this beautiful ordinary life as best as I could.

2.  Everyday Holiness.

Closely linked to the first idea is how Therese found sanctity in the ordinary life she lived.  This offers to us the challenge to do everything we do each day with great love.  In some ways, that can seem more daunting than the most epic quest.  Which is more difficult: to climb the highest mountain or to be at every moment be indefatigably loving to people who annoy you day in and day out?

And yet as difficult as it seems, what Therese has done is quite extraordinary.  When we often think of the saints, we picture the astounding miracles or acts of heroic physical martyrdom.  But most of us do not perform miracles and we hopefully will not have our blood shed in witness.  And yet we can all become fully alive saints.  Therese showed us that the crown of sainthood is within our grasp in our daily life.  No longer do we have to imagine that we can only be saints through stupendous, far-flung marvels. 

We can find holiness in the simple moments of our lives.  All of us can do this by the grace of God.

Therese reminds us not only are we all called to be saints, but in the context of each of our lives all of us can be saints.

Today I prayed the St. Therese Novena.  You can click the link here regarding how.

The sign that St. Therese has heard your prayer is that you should see an unexpected rose.  The moment I left the school chapel, I looked across the hall to the open door of another teacher's room and I saw this:

God is good!

St. Therese: Pray for us!