Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Film Flash: Uncut Gems

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

Classic case of great acting / good directing used to tell a story not worth telling.


Film Flash: Midway (2019)

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

Good movie that could almost be great with better acting and a more connected story.

Monday, May 25, 2020

New Evangelizers Post: Die, Rise, and Go - The Process of Evangelization

I have a new article up at  

In the liturgical year we are now reliving the first novena: the original nine days of prayer between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday. In that time, the disciples gathered in prayer and preparation for the day that they would burst forth into the world and spread the Good News. We are also called to spread that message. But in order to do that, we have to live out the three parts of the evangelist’s life: 

Die, Rise, and Go.

One of the main issues with trying to pass on the faith is that people try to jump to the third part of the process without spending enough time in the first two. I see this sometimes when parents try to instill the Catholic faith with little success. They bring their children to church and send them to a Catholic school, but the faith does not seem to take root. Part of the problem seems to be in the fact that taking them to Church and sending them to a Catholic school is the extent of their parental evangelization. They were brought up Catholic, so they are bringing up their kids Catholic. While the dynamic may be more complex than this, it is something that I have seen play out.

Christianity is not simply a set of theological precepts to which you subscribe, like a political philosophy. It is a lived out relationship with Christ. We need to live it before we can give it.

The first step is to die.

Before we can follow Christ, we have to die to our old selves. That is what the entire lenten journey has been about: putting away our past selves. In the Gospels, Jesus calls the disciples to repent. This involves the realization that I am not living the way Jesus wants me to live and I have to change. For those struggling with addiction, the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. If you don’t admit your problem, then you cannot die to your addiction.

Most of us, if we are honest, probably think that we are doing okay. We may not be saints, but we are “good enough.” But we are not called to be “good enough.” In fact, if we were to do an honest assessment of our lives under the light of Christ, we could probably see how we have put ourselves before God and others. It is only when we recognize this that we can say that this old way of living must be put to death. This may involve uncomfortable changes in my life. I may have to give up more of my free time. I may have to break off certain relationships that are leading me away from God. Or I may need to swallow my pride and put the needs of other people first. But first and foremost, I have to die to anything that is keeping me from being the saint God is calling me to be. As stated earlier, Lent was the time to help us let go of our former way of life.

But that is not the complete process. In Christianity, death is only the beginning. There are some people who never get beyond the cross. What I mean by that is their focus is purely on dying to self and increasing penance for sin. While this can be part of the answer for some, it is not the whole formula. We do not die simply because we are bad and must extinguish that part of us. We die so that we can rise to new life.

So I ask myself: have I truly died to self?

Remember, Christianity is a transformation. God does not simply want people of repentance. He wants people who have found new life in Him. We are meant to be a new Creation. I think perhaps many of us have experienced the Catholic penance of dying to self. But I think fewer of us experience that amazing fulfillment of living a new life in Christ.

This risen life is not simply a different way of doing things. It is a whole new world. Some of us may have experienced this fire, where we feel His joy and His peace and then want to share it with the world. We want everyone to feel this, to experience this joy. And we cannot give people what we do not ourselves have.

I look to St. Paul who described it perfectly. Paul once persecuted the Church. But when he was struck blind by the light of Christ, he had to die to his old life. He had to abandon everything he knew to live a new life in Jesus. He wrote “For I have been crucified with Christ, and yet I live. And the life that I live now is not my own, but Christ lives in me. Inasmuch as I live in the flesh, I live in the faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:19-20). In this we see Paul describing how he has died to his old self and is now living a new life with Christ.

Do I live my life knowing that I am alive in Christ? Do I live knowing that I am loved beyond all words and that the God of the universe lives inside of me?

That is the only way the third part of the program can work: to go.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sunday Best: Memorial Day Movies (Update 2020)

There are many ways to honor our fallen heroes this Memorial Day by attending parades in their honor, donating funds to their memories, and praying for their souls.

One way that I like to remind myself of their heroism is through the art of movies.  Understanding that the dramatic representation of their experiences is nothing compared to the reality, I find that I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude when I see the price of freedom presented on screen.

Here are the best Memorial Day movies to watch.

1.  Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan poster.jpg
Spielberg won his second directing Oscar for this movie and I believe it was primarily for the Normandy invasion scene.  What I saw was ordinary men doing extraordinary things in horrific circumstances.  Not only was I riveted by the awful violence faced, I was moved by acts of courage and compassion, like seeing a priest hearing a dying soldier's confession amidst gun-fire.  They paid in blood the freedom we enjoy.  And I always think of the line in the final moments of the film: "Earn this!"  That echoes with me on Memorial Day and reminds me that I have to use this dearly bought freedom to make the world better.

2.  Glory
Glory (1989 film) poster.jpg
Very few movies underscore the importance of valor in combat like Glory.  These men ran into the jaws of death with little hope of victory, but it was their courage that made all of the difference for the larger war in front of them.

3.  We Were Soldiers
Weweresoldiers poster.jpg
Not only is this a harrowing war film, but this is one of the best Memorial Day movies that reminds us of the sacrifice that the families of soldiers must also endure during war time.

4.  13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

13 Hours poster.png
This story is important because it reminds us what Memorial Day is all about: we must remember those who sacrificed.  Unfortunately, this story is such a political football that people forget that it is primarily about soldiers who put their lives on the line to protect others even with no help in sight.

5.  American Sniper
Chris Kyle is seen wearing desert fatigues army BDU, while his wife Taya embraces him. They are standing in front of a tattered US flag.
A friend of mine has said that there are a lot of bad things about Chris Kyle's life that the movie glossed over.  I have not had a chance to investigate those claims yet.  Nevertheless, the film is the best one that Clint Eastwood directed and it focuses so much on the cost of fighting evil on not only the lives of our soldiers but on their souls.  And I finish the movie with a much deeper appreciation of the heroic fight against our enemies but also the fight to regain a normal life.

6.  Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge poster.png
Everything that is ideal in a soldier is displayed in Desmond Doss.  He is valiant and compassionate.  He placed himself into harm's way to help others while not condemning those who used violence to defend us.  And all at the same time he witnessed to his faith in God as his guiding light while suffering through the hell of war.

7.  Midway (2019)
Midway Movie HD Poster.jpeg
I have not had a chance to write up my full review, but what impressed me about this movie is that it gives you a strong feel for how up-in-the-air the war in the Pacific was.  It also highlights how big of a difference one or two brave men can make in turning the tide of a conflict.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Justice League Snyder Cut is Coming!

Readers of this blog will know that I am not only a gigantic DC Comics fanatic, but I am a great admirer of Zack Snyder as a director.  Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is the best movie of the 2010's and Snyder is ranked for me as the 19th greatest director of all time.

You can imagine how excited I was to go and see Justice League when it originally came out in 2017.  Snyder had finished principle when his daughter took her own life.  At first he tried to bury his grief in working on the film, but he saw how much his family needed him at home instead of at the studio.  As a result, he did the right thing and walked away from what could have been a career-defining project in order to take care of his family.  He wrote "In the end, it's just a movie."

Joss Whedon was tapped to finish the film.  When I saw the theatrical release, I wrote this:


As always, director Zack Snyder has made a film that is gorgeous to watch.  Even though he left the project early because of a family tragedy, replacement director Joss Whedon keeps much of that same aesthetic intact.

You cannot review this movie without addressing this directing shake-up.  It is clearly evident in the movie.  This film was intended to be the capstone of a Zack Snyder DCEU trilogy.  And there are times when you can feel the thematic and tonal ties to Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman.  But then Whedon plays around in this world, but tries to make the film more like his breakout hit The Avengers.  Rather than letting the two styles harmonize completely, it feels like the movie cannot commit to a tone.  You see this most especially in Ben Affleck's performance.  His performance in Batman v. Superman is nuanced and powerful, always smoldering with barely-contained rage.  And there are many scenes where this can be seen in Justice League.  But then there are scenes where he comes off as relaxed and aloof like Tony Stark.  I would stake my paycheck that those latter scenes were filmed by Whedon.  Neither performance is bad, mind you.  But it feels a bit inconsistent.


But apparently, Whedon's revision was less of a polish and more of a complete overhaul.  Snyder said recently that only about 25% of his original footage made it into the final theatrical cut.  That means that Joss Whedon directed 75% of what we saw on screen.  For years, fans have been clamoring Warner Bros. to "Release the Snyder Cut."  This call to action was made under the belief that Snyder had made a cut of the film that was laying dormant in some film vault on the Warner lot.  I must admit I tangentially participated in this crusade on social media.  But I never truly believed that we would ever see it.

Until now.

It was just announced today that HBO Max, which is launching its new streaming service soon, will have the Snyder Cut on their platform in 2021.

To be honest, if they announced that it was coming out launch, I would have pre-ordered my subscription today.

There are a lot of rumors going around, so I do not know what is actually true except that the "Snyder Cut" has been greenlit and will be shown.  The rest of the news is on shakier ground, but I still find it fascinating.

The film still needs to be finished, so Warner Bros. is coughing up another $20-30 million for special effects.  However, the rumor is that included in that budget are potential reshoots with the cast.  Ben Affleck has been my favorite cinematic Batman and I love the idea of him donning the cowl again to give his time as the Dark Knight a proper farewell.

The other rumor is that this cut is going to be four hours long and will be divided into 6 episodes.  While this may have been too much to watch in one theater sitting, I could definitely see myself binging the whole thing in an afternoon.  Also, this may give more room for the characters to be introduced and full character arcs.  

I am not sure how the movie will overcome its biggest deficit: Steppenwolf.  While the CG can be improved, he lacked the gravitas that the main villain of a movie of this scale should have.  And to be sure there is no guarantee that this cut will please the fans who have been clamoring for it in the last few years.

Regardless, I am incredibly happy that Warner Bros. listened to its fans and are giving Snyder the opportunity to finish his super hero opus.  As I said, I will be purchasing a subscription.  Because if studios like this are going to listen to fans like us, then we need to show them our support with our dollars as well as our voices.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

TV Review: "Stargirl" Pilot

When a beloved property gets adapted to movies or tv, there tend to be one of two extreme reactions from the fanbase.  Either they love it and overlook its flaws because of the joy of seeing the story on the screen or they hate it because of the flaws and how the story is warped by what is on the screen.

I have been a big fan of Courtney Whitmore aka Stargirl for decades now.  She has this unique dynamic in how she is presented in comics.  She is teenager, basically a child, who still is able to rise to the level of courageous feats while never losing that spark of innocence.  I've always loved that her design is clearly youthful and feminine without being over-sexualized, as often happens in comics.  This makes sense since the might Geoff Johns designed Courtney after his late sister.  And Stargirl acted as a legacy character to the great DC Golden Age while letting us see the DCU through young eyes of wonder.

So as a super fan, how did I feel about the Stargirl pilot?

I loved it!

For those who are unfamiliar, the basic plot of Stargirl is this:  Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger) is a teen girl from Los Angeles who has to move to Blue Valley, Nebraska because her mother Barbara (Amy Smart) married the affable mechanic Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson).  Soon they along with Pat's middle-school-aged son Mike (Trae Romano) find themselves in small town Midwest, where things may not be quite what they seem.  As Courtney feels greater alienation she accidentally discovers Pat's secret:  He was the sidekick to Starman (Joel McHale), who died ten years earlier along with most members of the Justice Society of America.  But for some reason, Starman's cosmic staff, a device that seems to be part pseudo-Iron Man weapon and part magic carpet from Aladdin, calls to her and sets her up on some misadventures.

One of the things that struck me about the pilot is how cinematic it felt.   Not only was the opening sequence like something out of a theatrical super hero film, but even the more emotional moments that followed were filmed with a care that I don't usually see on TV.  This is not a knock at television directors, as the time pressures are usually much more demanding.  But Stargirl felt like it could have fit in right alongside SHAZAM!

Along with that film, it shares a similar tone.  The pilot juxtaposes the innocent wonder of being a child who discovers super powers with the darker elements of adolescents.  But it does so while maintaining a strong sense of humor.  It was very reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, except not as steeped in melodrama and cynicism (in fact I get the feeling as the show progresses, it will feel even more and more like the Buffy).  Sometimes this tone works really well, as when we are filled with excited joy as Courtney discovers what the staff can do.  Sometimes it doesn't work as well, as in odd humor during Starman's death scene.  All the while the score by Pinar Toprak (who composed the music for Captain Marvel) elevates the pilot to make it feel even more like a movie.  The colors and production values, especially on Pat Dugan's beautiful vintage car, are fun to watch.  Add to that some of the best special effects I've seen for a DC TV show and I was thoroughly entertained the entire time.

Bassinger is a little rough around the edges.  There are times when she is clearly "acting" and doesn't feel as natural as she should.  I tend to be a little more forgiving of younger actors, and in this case her youth works for her.  One of the things I like about her casting is that she doesn't feel like some overly-mature supermodel playing a teenager.  She feels like a real teen, with that adorable and frustrating mixture of maturity and immaturity.  Wilson is fantastic as Dugan.  He is perfect as the seeming nice guy who finishes last.  He still feels in awe and in the shadow of Starman and the rest of the JSA.  You can see how his feelings of inadequacy as a sidekick and step-father continually frustrate him, but not to the point of despair.  Wilson is doing something actually incredibly difficult: portraying basic decency in a dramatic way.  Smart doesn't seem to have aged a day since she came on the scene in the 1990's.  She wasn't given a lot to do in this episode, but I like how the family dynamic is going to play out.

Now, as I mentioned at the top of the article, I am probably falling into the camp that overlooks the flaws of the show a bit too much.  A lot of the side characters are given brief introductions and appear to be stereotypes of typical high school shows.  But their brief appearances don't weigh too heavily on the pilot.

As big fan of Starman and the JSA, it was so exciting to get glimpses of Golden Age Flash, Hourman, Dr. Fate, Johnny Thunder, and the rest.  While the show, for simplicity's sake, conflates The Star-Spangled Kid/Skyman (Sylvester Pemberton) with Starman (Jack Knight), it is completely forgivable and actually removes an unnecessary layer of complexity.  I am someone who reads the entire run of James Robinson's Starman every few years and to see the Cosmic Staff figure in so prominently and in such detail is a lot of fun.  I love the innovation of giving the staff a kind of personality.  It helps nudge Courtney onto the heroic path and helps make up for any early deficits in her superhero fighting skills.

The episode ends on a nice little cliffhanger and left wanting more.

I watched the show on the DCU app, but it will be premiering on broadcast TV tonight at 8pm on the CW.  I can't guarantee that the quality will maintain past the pilot, but right now I think episode is one of the best comic book pilots I have seen.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The 100th Birthday of Pope St. John Paul the Great

In German-occupied Poland, soldiers entered an apartment building and rounded up all the residents.  They were taken to Auschwitz and executed by firing squad just outside the room where St. Maximillian Kolbe was martyred.  Every person in that building was taken there and killed.

Except one.

There was a small room under the basement steps that the Germans overlooked in their haste.  If they had noticed, they would have found and executed a young seminarian named Karol Wojtyla.  But because they missed him, the world was forever changed by this man who would later be known as Pope John Paul II.

And today is his 100th birthday.

I have a personal love for this pope.  For most of my life, he was the only pope I had ever known.  And to some extent, I think I have been spoiled as a Catholic by being formed in the papacy of JP2.
He was such a monumental and holy figure that it would be easy to forget that the history of the papacy is filled with pontiffs who are nowhere near as virtuous or wise.  It was easy to forget that the greatness of John Paul II is the exception and not the rule.  But it is a testament to him that he has become the archetype for the modern papacy.

I do not think I am overselling to say that he changed how popes are to perform their ministry.  The most visible change is the evangelical shift in the papacy.  Before John Paul II, it was very rare that a pope would travel outside the confines of the Vatican.  There were many practical reasons for this.  But the reality was that the pope was a shepherd who lived on his mountain and would guide the sheep through his authoritative  voice.  John Paul II remained a shepherd, but he understood that he was also to follow St. Peter and be a "fisher of men." 

John Paul travelled the world over and over, reaching out to every corner of this universal Church.  How many people were brought to Christ and discovered vocations to the priesthood and religious life because of his participation in World Youth Days?  He went out to the ends of the Earth like St. Paul to spread the good news.

I had the privilege of seeing him in Toronto in 2002.  I was only a few yards away from him at one point when he passed.  I try to explain to people what it was like to be in his presence, and the best way I can describe it is that it was like being in the presence of Aslan.  Either you understand this our you don't.

He was fearless in is defense of truth.  He understood so keenly that the modern moral fight of the 20th century was a battle between two cultures: the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death.  This same battle rages on, but he helped give us the vocabulary to understand where the cultural battle lines are drawn.  From him we have the beautiful Theology of the Body which has become even more relevant now as the basic truths about how we are as men and women are being denied because of fashionable philosophies.  His teachings were clear and bold, allowing for the complexity of life while not falling into the trap of ambiguity. 

But he was above all someone who lived a life in closeness to Christ.  He was shot at point blank range but survived.  He not only proclaimed Jesus teaching of forgiveness, but lived it.  John Paul went to the prison and embraced his would-be assassin.  He met with him privately.  He spoke with him.  He prayed with him.  John Paul II took to heart and embodied the fact that if we are forgiven by Christ, we must forgive others.

And he lived a life sustained on prayer.  When his body began to break down, he showed us that we don't have to be afraid of suffering if we are in friendship with God.  He never stopped, he never gave up, he never gave in.  He showed us that Jesus must continue reign as the modern world tries to push Him out.

There are those who criticize him for policy mistakes he made or faults in his practical judgment at times.  I am not here to argue those now.  Like all of us, his life was filled with complexities and he was not (as many people misunderstand) infallible in all things.

As for me, whenever I hear the word "pope," the first face I will always see is that of St. John Paul the Great.

Sunday, May 17, 2020


We are returning this week to ranking the movies of Steven Spielberg, the greatest director of all time.

For those keeping score at home, the rankings so far have been:

16The Twilight Zone
19Minority Report
21A.I. Artificial Intelligence
22The Lost World: Jurassic Park
23The Post
24War of the Worlds
26The Adventures of Tintin
27War Horse
28The BFG
29The Terminal
32Empire of the Sun
33The Sugarland Express
34The Color Purple

Today we will tackle #15-#11. 

15.  Always

This is one of Spielberg's most sentimental movies, and that is saying a lot.  The story is about Pet Sandich (Richard Dreyfus), a pilot who fights forest fires with his best friend Al (John Goodman) and the his girlfriend Dorinda (Holly Hunter).  But when Pete dies in a fire, he invisibly haunts Dorinda and Al as they grieve.  Pete then slowly watches a romance bloom between Dorinda and new hotshot pilot Ted (Brad Johnson)

There are some script problems with this movie.  Particularly that it gets WAY too talkie at the very end and that the movie clearly should have involved Dorinda with Al.  But besides, that, you can see Spielberg using all of his powers to pull at the heartstrings.

The firefighting scenes are harrowing.  You can feel the constant danger from the hellish landscape, which only accentuates the courage of those who fly into danger.  Throughout the movie, Spielberg makes the lives of these fire-fighting pilots so visually engaging and interesting, that the romance is almost a distraction.

I have never been a big fan of Holly Hunter, but Spielberg films her in the most attractive lighting so that you can easily understand how Pet and Ted fall in love with her.  Goodman does a great turn that is both comedic and dramatic, proving early in his stardom that he could tackle and amazing range.  Dreyfus is also charming and charismatic as Pete and he carries us throughout the film.  There is even an ethereal Audrey Hepburn as Pete's spiritual guide, Hap, who brings a quiet peace and grace.

The afterlife images are so incredibly gorgeous.  The scene where Hap and Pete walk through the Illisum Fields is pastoral and peaceful that you can almost feel the paradise around the corner. 

Ultimately, the movie is about love, grief, and letting go.  People often accuse Spielberg of being sappy.  If they do, they could certainly turn to this film, which is unabashedly a tear-jerker.  I cannot help but get emotional watching Pete and Dorinda's ghostly dance late.  It is such a beautiful picture of complete intimacy and tragic distance at the same time.  It is a moment that so visually captures the grieving process.  If you want a good emotional catharsis, I would recommend this film.

14.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) theatrical poster.jpg
There are many people who would put this film higher on the list.  And there is much to admire about it and much for which Spielberg should be proud.  Not the least of which is that this is one of the few movies that he also wrote.

The biggest flaw with the film is a stylistic one.  In this film, like AI: Artificial Intelligence (which Spielberg also wrote), the movie is focused more on giving the viewer a unique theatrical experience than it is in telling a straightforward story.  As someone who places narrative as primary, this approach tends to be a big turn-off.  Spielberg himself admits that there are things he would not have written in the film now that he is older, particularly how the main character Roy (again Richard Dreyfus), leaves his family to pursue his obsession.

However, Spielberg is mostly able to overcome this deficit by creating such a rich and moving atmosphere to the film.  There is a choking feeling of encroachment as the characters begin to encounter these other-worldly beings.  Spielberg is able to create a strong horror-movie vibe, as seen in the abduction of the child.  But above and beyond that, there is a strong sense of almost existential dread at human powerlessness in the face of such an overwhelming and mysterious alien force. 

What is absolutely incredible about this focus on atmosphere is that Spielberg is able to make the shift from horror to wonder without it feeling like a false step.  Roy is surrounded by all of these seemingly sinister forces like the US Military and the aliens themselves.  But in the final scenes, we can see the bare and innocence in everyone, including the aliens.  We can see two people taking the first steps in communicating.  It is powerful in its use of its visuals and music (who can forget that amazing set of tones from the mighty John Williams?).  But it is also a powerful statement of hope and optimism.  It says that in the black void of space there could be friendly faces waiting for us.  And even more wondrous, that we could receive them with a friendly welcome.

13.  Ready Player One
Ready Player One (film).png
From my review:

Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One has been called "nostalgia porn" for its plethora of inside-joke, '80's geek references spread throughout the film...

And yet Ready Player One is a great deal of fun.  The virtual world is gorgeous.  I know many people might be turned off by its artificiality, but I found it to be a new and creative way to film and frame the action in ways not bound by the real world.  Often movies that look like video games can feel passive, like someone else is playing that video game and you are only watching.  But the way the movie is filmed, Spielberg makes you feel as if you are the one leading the action.  The visual dynamic was incredibly exciting.  The nostalgia factor added layers of texture to what is already a thrilling spectacle.  Spielberg still employs is trademark single shots to get across the emotional effect he desires.  The environment of the stacks makes you feel closed in and claustrophobic.  He also does a great job of distinguishing how he films the real world and the Oasis, employing hard lighting and hand-held cameras for the former and using bold colors and smooth camera moves for the latter.  Spielberg shows us the wonders of the Oasis, but wisely shows us how ridiculous people look from the outside with their VR gear on.  He constantly tries to show the balance so that you don't make the false choice of one world over the other.

I am also a sucker for a good treasure hunt movie, whether it be Indiana Jones, The Goonies, National Treasure, or the much underrated 1980's Disney film Midnight Madness.  Ready Player One is just a scavenger hunt on a large scale that overlaps with my personal wheelhouse of 80's pop culture.  The narrative moves well as each discovery leads to the next clue which leads to the next challenge and so on.  This continues as our heroes grow closer bonds to each other as the story progresses. 

In the most stunning scene in the film, our heroes have to enter into a famous movie that Haliday loved.  When I say "enter into the movie" I mean that in a literal sense.  This was one of my favorite visual spectacles in years as the digital avatars enter into the movie's environment faithfully recreated with film grain, lighting, and music.  It was so completely immersive that I found myself having to often look away (you will understand what this means when you see the movie).  I have honestly never seen anything like this scene.

Haliday is Spielberg.  Spielberg helped create the popular culture we all live in.  He was a kid who dreamed of becoming the greatest filmmaker in history, which he has.  Movies are expensive and this is understandable.  But in many ways he has become a corporation.  And in that there is a loss of that innocent artistic purity.  The same thing is seen in Haliday, who knows that something has been lost along the way and hopes that the next generation will set right what he did wrong.  Both Haliday and Spielberg want to draw you in to a fantasy world in order to enrich life in the real world.  But how many of us get stuck in fantasy.  The movie asks the question whether or not our interactions with games and art are making life in the real world better or worse.

To be sure, Spielberg good have gone much deeper with implication of technology as he did with AI and Minority Report.  Instead he just wanted to tell a fun adventure story, which is no bad thing.

So whether you know what the Glave is from the movie Krull or you are only a casual movie-goer, Ready Player One is a fun, visual spectacle that you will enjoy watching.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

DC Comics: Dodging the 5G Bullet.

A few months ago, I first heard rumblings about the next planned big event in DC Comics called "5G."  Besides the title being incredibly stupid and confusing, I could not find a lot of details until recently when it became rumored that the project is dead.

When I looked into what 5G was intended to be, it is clear that DC wised up and dodged a bullet.

5G was a planned DC event where the main heroes of the DCU were to be replaced by a next generation of characters in all of their main books.  For example Clark Kent would be replaced with his son Jon.  Bruce Wayne would be replaced with Luke Fox.  The "5G" was meant to mean "5th Generation" of super heroes.

In DC, there have been a lot of legacy characters who have taken up a title hero's role with varying success.  The best examples of this are the Flash and Green Lantern, who both were smash hits when they replaced their Golden Age characters (Jay Garrick and Alan Scott) with their Silver Age successors (Barry Allen and Hal Jordan).  They even managed to do it years later with the Wally West Flash and Kyle Rayner Green Lantern. 

But those are the exceptions, not the rule.  Some heroes are so tied to their original character that you any substantial change will not take.

Clark Kent is Superman.
Bruce Wayne is Batman.
Diana of Themyscira is Wonder Woman

There have been times when other people have taken on the mantle.  And to be sure, there have been interesting stories found in those replacement arcs, like Reign of the Supermen or Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin.  But even in the best of those times, it always felt like those characters were borrowing the costume until the real hero returned.

That is one of the fundamental flaws with something like 5G.  No matter how expansive the story would be, it would never feel like it was one of lasting consequence.  All of us would simply wait until Clark, Bruce, and Diana would return.  And if they delayed the return too long, fans would become fed up.

As far as I can tell, this idea was the brainchild of Dan DiDio.  I am no industry insider, so take everything in this following paragraph with a grain of salt as I have had to cobble it together from unverified sources.  But nearly everything I've ever hated in the modern DCU has come from Dan DiDio.  He notoriously hated legacy characters like Dick Grayson and has pushed for them to be killed off.  After the buzz from The New 52 wore off, he tried to make the comic line hip and cool with his "DC-You" push where they depowered superman and a mohawked Jim Gordon wore a metal suit that looked like the Tick and became the new Batman.  DiDio was the one who mandated to Tom King that he make Wally West a murderer in Heroes in Crisis

5G smacks of desperation to get media attention and appear cutting edge and relevant.  It also does something I hate DC doing: copying Marvel. 

Marvel has done a lot to replace their main heroes over the years and it hasn't worked.  Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Logan were all replaced in the last few years only to be brought back (thought a number of them are weird cosmic clones but I don't want to get into that now).  The original Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) replaced Captain Marvel, but the only reason why this sticks is because the original has been dead for decades and Marvel refuses to admit that this character's selling comic is not popular with fans.

My point is that 5G is not only copying the strategy of Marvel, it was copying a losing strategy.

It appears as of this writing that 5G will not happen and I can understand why.  The comic industry is on the brink because of the pandemic shutdown.  Stores are starting to reopen, but when they do DC has decided not to bet all of their chips on unknown characters who most people do not know.  Remember, 5G was not going to be some isolated mini-series.  All of the main books would go through this hero replacement.  That would be like the time that the Dukes of Hazard were replaced with their unknown, lookalike cousins.  In that case, the ratings tanked and viewership was never the same.  I imagine DC is worried that the same thing could happen with 5G.

What DC needs to remember that in terms of story, the superhero name is not a brand.  To the fans, a superhero is a person.  There is a reason why Clark, Bruce, and Diana have remained the icons that they are for so long.  You can't just put anyone in the suit and call them "Superman," "Batman," or "Wonder Woman." 

Perhaps DC, and the entire comic book industry for that matter, should stop focusing on keeping up with trends that are here today and gone tomorrow and instead focus on the characters that we know have endured the test of time. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Feast Day of Our Lady of Fatima 2020

photo by TrapistMonkStuff

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima.

As I've written on this blog before, Our Lady of Fatima has been an important source of spiritual growth in my life.  Her message of prayer, penance, and peace is one to which I often aspire, but as often fail.

She came at a time of war and within a year, little Jacinta and Francesco Marto had died in the Spanish Flu pandemic.  And yet, she is a constant sign of hope from Heaven.

I would like to invite you in joining me in prayer to Our Lady of Fatima with a Fatima Litany:

Our Lady of Fatima,pray for our dear country.
Our Lady of Fatima,sanctify our clergy.
Our Lady of Fatima,make our Catholics more fervent.
Our Lady of Fatima,guide and inspire those who govern us.
Our Lady of Fatima,cure the sick who confide in thee.
Our Lady of Fatima,console the sorrowful who trust in thee.
Our Lady of Fatima,help those who invoke your aid.
Our Lady of Fatima,deliver us from all dangers.
Our Lady of Fatima,help us to resist temptation.
Our Lady of Fatima,obtain for us all that we lovingly ask of thee.
Our Lady of Fatima,help those who are dear to us.
Our Lady of Fatima,bring back to the right road our erring brothers.
Our Lady of Fatima,give us back our ancient fervor.
Our Lady of Fatima,obtain for us pardon of our manifold sins and offenses.
Our Lady of Fatima,bring all men to the feet of thy Divine Child.
Our Lady of Fatima,obtain peace for the world.
O Mary conceived without sin,pray for us who have recourse to thee.
Immaculate Heart of Mary,pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Let Us Pray
O God of infinite goodness and mercy, fill our hearts with a great confidence in Thy dear Mother, whom we invoke under the title of Our Lady of the Rosary and our Lady of Fatima, and grant us by her powerful intercession all the graces, spiritual and temporal, which we need. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, May 11, 2020

New Evangelizers Post: Evangelization By Listening

I have a new article up at  

The goal of evangelization is not to win arguments.

If you are a reader of this website, you probably come here sometimes for answers on how best to answer some religious objection you’ve encountered or for some new way to explain the truth of Christianity to someone who is opposed. And to be sure, logic and apologetics has an incredibly important place in this process. We are defenders of truth and we must fight for that truth at all costs.
But the mistake many of us make, including myself, is to try to win the argument. This looks at the encounter with our theological opponent as a joust of words and we use arguments as weapons to disarm and defeat them. In this way, we somehow think our arguments can conquer them for Christ. But that looks at it all wrong.

We don’t want to win the argument.

We want to win the person.

I have found that when entering an argument, instead of reaching the opponent to change their minds or hearts, the opposite occurs. Arguments often impel us to fight back and defend our positions, even if they are on shaky ground. You can see this especially if the debate is public, for example on the internet. There is a lot of pressure to not lose face and admit that you are wrong. So it sometimes occurs that our opponent will dig into a theological position simply to not have to admit defeat for others to see.
Once when I was in class, I had a student who insisted that the unborn child was simply an extension of the mother’s body because they were attached. I dismantled her argument by showing her how absurd her position was by asking her this: “Are conjoined twins the same person if they are attached to each other?” It would be ridiculous for her to hold that these twins are the same person, but it would have to be true if physical attachment meant the fetus was simply a part of the mother. But she answered “Yes” to my question. She could not admit defeat so she had to defend an illogical position.

In moments like these, I sometimes use them as an opportunity to give light to the others who are listening. They can see before them the light of reason shines brighter. But even in those cases, there has been a failure to reach the arguer. I know that not everyone’s heart is open and I know that I am not the greatest apologist for the faith. But the question remains: how do we reach those who have their mental defenses up?

I think we can look to St. Dominic for inspiration.

In the High Middle Ages, a heresy arose that began to sweep through Europe called Albigensianism. These heretics believed that all material things, including the human body, were evil. As a result, they embraced lives of poverty, criticized the worldliness of the Church, and condemned marriage. Obviously, their central thesis about matter being bad must be refuted. God made all things, including the material world. And all things made by God are good.

But one of the reasons that the Albegensians had such power was that they tapped into some truths that were evident at the time. Particularly, the Church was in much need of renewal because of its exceeding worldliness in that era. St. Dominic could have simply engaged in apologetic jousting to defeat his opponents. The danger here is that it might cause those sympathetic to these heretics to dig into their position. Instead, St. Dominic did something quite radical.

St. Dominic listened to them.

When I say he simply listened to them, I don’t mean that he heard their arguments, analyzed them, and then figured out a way to defeat them. Instead, he sought to truly and fully understand their beliefs. And then he did something even more radical:

St. Dominic agreed and defended his opponents’ beliefs when he could.

He was able to find the truth of their beliefs that was mixed with the error and then he was able to stand with them to defend the truth they held in common. St. Dominic understood that they were correct that the Church had become too worldly. So he started one of the first mendicant or “begging” religious orders. He and his followers voluntarily embraced poverty so as to be more detached from worldly desires. They also took vows of chastity and remained celibate. In outward appearance, they seemed to be the same as the Albegensians. But they took these radical vows not as a condemnation of the material world as evil, but as a sign one can live in this material world while keeping your heart in the next world.

As a result, the Dominicans won over many Albegensians until the heresy essentially became no more. St. Dominic never compromised essential truth, but he was humble enough to reach out to the truth held by his opponents.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mother's Day 2020

We went to the cemetery today.

My mom has been gone for two and half years, and I still miss her every day.

Strangely, thought, today was not a melancholy day.  My family gathered at the grave.  My wife arranged for a nice bouquet to be placed and my nieces and nephews had made paper flowers that were as beautiful as they were wholesome in their childlike innocent devotion. 

We stood around in masks, of course.  Being so close to each other without embracing broke my heart a little.  But to be reunited with them, to be in their presence was invigorating and joyful.  As we stood around our mother's grave, our talk was jovial, even in the sadness of the setting.  My eldest nieces prayed a Hail Mary at the grave and we spent time in remembrance of her.  A fresh grave was dug very closely to mom and one of my little nieces commented on how that "wasn't very nice."

Part of me feels a little guilty that the time was so light-hearted, but it's what my mother would have enjoyed.  And reunions with those we love should be times of joy.

Being so close to everyone but having these social distancing barriers between us made me think of my mom now.  I still talk to her every day.  As a Catholic, I believe in the communion of saints and that our relationship didn't end when she left this world.  But there is a real barrier between us, just like there is between my family gathered at the grave.  But despite the sadness, I know that the barriers between us will one day melt away.  I'm not just talking about the social distancing and the masks.  I'm also talking about that barrier of death.  I call to her into the great silence, but for now I can receive no answer. 

But I know that even this barrier of death will be removed. 

If I am judged mercifully, then one day I will see my most beloved mother again.  I will see the woman who gave me life and loved me into becoming the person I am now.  When that time comes, though I hope it is not anytime soon, she will be proud of the man I have become since our parting.  On that day I will rejoice.

Because reunions with those we love should be times of joy.

Until then, I continue to pray her this Mother's Day and every day until the end of all things.

And my thoughts and prayers are with all of the mothers who read this post.  God bless.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

TV Review: Ozark

File:Ozark TV series logo.png

I think Breaking Bad is one of the greatest TV shows ever made.  As dark as the show became and as Walter White descended further into evil, the show nevertheless had a strong hold on the viewer.  It did quite an amazing feat in that you understood that Walter was clearly in the moral wrong, but you never stopped rooting for him to somehow turn it around.

I bring this up, because I think perhaps Breaking Bad set the bar too high.

Ozark is a Netflix series that recently released its third season.  What intrigued me most about the show most was the unusually high number of people who compared this show to Breaking Bad.  With the lockdown in place, my wife and I decided to give it a try.

What I found was that Ozark was not the next Breaking Bad.  It was the new Sopranos.  And for me, that is not necessarily a compliment.

Ozark focuses on the Byrde family.  The father, Marty (Jason Bateman), is a money manager who launders money for the 2nd largest drug cartel in Mexico.  When he and his business partner run afoul of that cartel, Marty makes a desperate bid to save his life and life of his family: let them go to the lake of the Ozark and set up multi-million dollar laundering network.  His cartel handler Del (Esai Morales) knows Marty's skills and is intrigued enough to let him start this venture on a probationary basis.  But if he does not meet the cartel's expectation, his entire family dies.

On top of this, Marty has learned that his wife Wendy (Laura Linney) has been having an affair.  Saving her life is more of a calculation to keep their family intact.  Wendy, knowing already of Marty's life, becomes his default business partner.  They have to then uproot their children from their current life.  Teenager Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) is understandably upset and middle-schooler Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) takes his confusion out in strange ways.  Once in the Ozark, things immediately derail from the plan.  For reasons I won't get into here, Marty's life becomes intwined with the non-juvenile teen criminal Ruth (Julia Garner) and her family.  Ruth is cunning, though lacking in book-smarts.  She alternately is an aid and an obstacle to the Byrd's goals.

The acting on this show is fantastic.  This is some of the best work Bateman has done, all the while he keeps everything very restrained.  Linney also does a great job, overwhelmed by the state of her family's survival while continuing a loveless marriage.  Garner is a real standout as Ruth, allowing her to play the contradictions of youth and innocence with sin and cynicism.  The writing is also very sharp, allowing a great deal of subtext laying on the table for the audience to pick up, causing us to be more actively involved in the story.  And the directing has been consistently strong, using powerful visuals to draw us in while maintaining the show's bleak tone.

However, this is where the show's similarity to The Sopranos becomes its biggest detriment.  I watched the first two full seasons of The Sopranos and then began the third.  But a switch went off in my head and I dropped the show cold.  The epiphany I came to was this:  "All of these characters are terrible and spending time wallowing in their evil is incredibly unpleasant."

That is how I feel about Ozark.

Where Breaking Bad spoiled me is that there was this wonderful moral tension in the show where you didn't want Walt to get caught, but you also didn't want him to get away with it.  For a good portion of the show, it always felt like Walt's redemption could be just around the corner.  A few choices and he could drink the wholesome, but bitter cup of justice.  But you never get that sense from the Byrd family.

Marty fancies himself as, if not a good man, at least not an evil man.  He is a pure pragmatist who does what he can to achieve his goal.  But there is no sense that he wrestles with the moral implication of what he is doing.  Wendy also is morally bankrupt.  At least Walter White could feel his soul slipping from his hands.  Marty and Wendy are already soulless.  Yes, they try to avoid hurting people unnecessarily.  But even that is not an impediment to their self-preservation.

This plays out most clearly in the story of Mason the preacher.  I will not spoil what happens, but this very sincere and earnest Christian is caught up in Marty's schemes with tragic consequences.  I don't mind that bad thing happen to good people in fictional stories.  This only serves to enforce their realism.  But the whole series feels very Godless and Christless.  Life in Ozark is but a walking shadow, with no sense of deeper meaning or transcendence.  With the exception of Ruth, most of the characters simply descend deeper and deeper into the abyss.  In fact, in the third season, Wendy does something that is Walter-White-level evil.  She emotionally distraught by this choice, but it feels so hollow, like a self-indulgent expulsion of emotion without any moral insight.

After three seasons, I think I am done with Ozark.  The souls of the characters continue to circle the path to destruction without reaching out for any kind of redemption.  Unless something radically changes, I don't think I can stare into that abyss any more.