Monday, September 28, 2020

New Evangelizers Post: Faith in Science



I have a new article up at  

This article is a follow up to the one I wrote last month about Faith and Science.

As I wrote there, while modern people have a strange notion that scientific truth and religious truth are in conflict, the reality is that they are not. However, this cultural perception is so strong that it leads some young people to leave the Church. In his article “Young People Leaving the Church Because of ‘Science’ “ Christopher M Grany points out a 2017 study from St. Mary’s Press of Minnesota and Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate that a number of younger Catholics are leaving the Church. While this is not necessarily new information, what was fascinating was the significant percentage of respondents who pointed to science as a reason for their loss of faith.

There could be a great many factors to this. I suspect also that for many that using “science” as a reason for leaving is a fig leaf for other more personal and moral reasons. But leaving that aside, let us take this at face value.

One thing that I have noted as a teacher is a very strange notion that science will eventually overcome faith and make it obsolete. As Scott Neidich wrote in his article “Denying the Resurrection: An Atheist’s deconstruction of Historical Arguments for Jesus,” the author claims “ Science explains that which is previously unexplained, and one day will answer questions we don’t have an answer to.“ In other words, take anything that we can only possibly attributed to God, like miracles. The modern notion is that a miracle has a scientific explanation, but we have not reached the level of sophistication yet to explain it. A similar line is said in the first Thor movie where they say magic is just science we don’t yet understand. However, the modern notion holds that one day we science will peel back the curtain and remove all superstition and religion.

When St. Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa Theologiae, he tried to answer every possible question about the faith. When doing so, he would always come up with at least 3 of the best arguments for his beliefs and refute them. Even non-believers tend to agree that St. Thomas did not give “straw-men” or weak versions of his opponents arguments, but only gave the opposing side the strongest arguments possible. And as I wrote, he always have at least 3 objections to his own position.

Except for one place: the question of God.

On the question on whether or not God exists, St. Thomas only gives 2 objections. This is not because he is afraid of the other arguments. It is because he can only find two arguments against God’s existence that are worth considering. You may believe that he is wrong about this. But St. Thomas was not inclined to side-step difficult arguments.

The reason why I am bringing this up is that one of those objections touches on this modern misconception that science. St. Thomas says that one of the only strong arguments against the existence of God is the belief that science will one day explain away those things that can only currently be explained by religious faith. St. Thomas writes:

“For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God’s existence.” (Summa Theologiae I.2. q2 a3 obj. 2)

In other words all that is miraculous could eventually find a cause in the natural world, thus making God an unnecessary hypothesis to explain anything. And from this point of view it is thought that scientific fact will one day overcome and eliminate faith and belief.

However, there is an enormous logical flaw with this way of thinking.

The idea that science will one day overcome belief is itself a belief.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Sunday Best: Emmy Results 2020


I wrote last week about how the Oscars have become irrelevant.

This week it is the Emmys.

The award show for 2020 was the lowest rated in its history.

There are several factors to this that include the lack of a red carpet, which draws a great deal of interest.  I know my wife always likes watching what the stars are wearing for the ceremony.  The lack of a live audience also makes the show less interesting. Yes, the nominees were connected like the most star-studded zoom conference in history, but that is not the same as the energy you get from a live audience.  The jokes on these award shows tend to be flat and boring, but without even the polite laughter of the audience, the silence underscores the lack of humor.

On top of this, you had Jimmy Kimmel as a host who brought with him a lot of politics.  In fact, many of the winners took the time to speak out about the election.  Again, whether they like the president or not, about half of the audience does.  It seems strange to alienate half of your potential customer base.

I've also mentioned in the past the problem of winners coming from obscure TV shows.  But this is just a result of the larger problem that no one seems to talk about:

There are too many TV shows.

I don't mean that there shouldn't be a wonderful variety of things to watch.  I mean that there is too much content to sift through and judge in terms of quality.  At least for the Oscars I sometimes try to make an effort to see all of the movies nominated for the major awards so that I have some context as to how people are voting and why.  This requires a few hours a week to catch up in time.  

But for TV, you would need to watch hundreds of hours of programming in order to be caught up on all the nominees.  I just caught up on Cobra Kai, a show that has been around for a few years.  How am I to have time to watch the entire series of Schitt's Creek and Succession, even if I wanted to?  I have a list of shows that I still want to watch that have since been cancelled like Person of Interest, Once Upon a Time, Bones, and Heart of Dixie.  

Before the inclusion of cable and streaming shows, the Emmy's only awarded things on broadcast television.  While this may have been a tad elitist, it also made it possible for more people to engage in the awards.  You catch a few episodes of each of the nominated shows and get a sense of what they were all about.  And even if you didn't watch one or two of the shows, you still had a good handle on the rest.

With that being said, you can understand that people would not be that interested to tune in to see the unpopular Schitt's Creek sweep the categories.  That isn't a knock on it's quality.  I have a very good friend of mine who swears by its humor.  My wife and I gave it a few episodes and it wasn't our taste.  I would have been ecstatic if The Good Place swept the categories, but that is also a show that not a lot of people watched.  The Emmy's tried to suck us in by nominating popular shows like The Mandelorian  and Stranger Things in the Best Drama category, but I can't help but feel tricked.

And this should have been a much bigger year for television.  With the lockdowns people had time on their hands to gobble up TV shows.  But instead of rewarding viewers for tuning in, the Emmy's once again held up content that most people have never seen. 

So what were the results last week.

1.  Schitt's Creek Sweeps

Again, I don't watch the show, but swept the comedy categories.  

2. Watchmen wins big.

I don't have HBO, but as a huge fan of the original source material, I am curious about this show.  I've heard that it starts off like political allegory, but then it moves beyond that to tell an actually compelling story.  I will try and catch this on DVD when I get the chance.

3. Succession

I have no idea what this show is about but people love it.

4. The Ubiquity of Comic Book Characters

I was struck by how many of the winners have also played comic book characters in movies or TV.  Obviously, you have the content for Watchmen, but 5 of the acting winners total have played characters in super hero films.

5. Only 2

Only two winners were from show's I have seen: 

Julia Garner from Ozark.  She is very good, though the show is just way too dark for me.

Billy Crudup from The Morning Show.  Again, he was good, but the show was so insufferable that I dropped it in the middle of the fourth episode.

6.  MIA

Now, I am usually an advocate for cutting down the amount of awards given on the night, but I looked at some of the shows that won awards in the secondary categories and they more like shows I watch or want to watch like: Dave Chapelle: Sticks and Stones, Rick and Morty, Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, SNL, This is Us, The Mandelorian, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Masked Singer, Star Trek: Picard, The Superbowl, and Stranger Things.

It's almost like the things that run towards my tastes have been rated to the "kids table" of awards while the adults can honor the more "sophisticated" material.

Perhaps it is foolish of me, but I'm sad that I have lost my excitement for these award shows.  Perhaps I am finally putting aside childish things.  But I miss the fun of it all.


Thursday, September 24, 2020

Chaplet of Life


I do my best to avoid politics on this blog simply because I find that this subject can dominate and overshadow all other considerations.  What I am about to write is not political in intention, but it involves the political process.

As there is an absence on the Supreme Court, a new justice may possibly be placed on the bench.  With this comes the possibility of finally overturning Roe v. Wade, the court case that opened the door to legalized abortion and the slaughter of millions of children in the womb.  All that is needed are five justices on the Supreme Court who understand that all people, even those unborn, have the right to life. 

There have been times where the possibility of overturning Roe has come up but not realized.  For that reason, I am not terribly optimistic, but I am always hopeful.  In fact, I would say that at this moment we are closer to overturning Roe than at any time since it was handed down.

A common misconception is that if Roe v. Wade is overturned that abortion becomes illegal throughout the country.  That would not be the case.  If Roe is overturned, then the laws return to what they were before the case was decided, which is that each state gets to make its own laws regarding abortion.  I believe that is why in the last few years some legislatures, like in New York state, have passed laws that legalize abortion up until birth.  So if Roe is overturned, states like New York will still be able to legally kill children in the womb.  But my state, Ohio, might pass more restrictive laws.  

With that in mind, we must remember that the most important thing we can do is pray.  Yes, making our voices heard to our politicians and being present at the marches is important as well, since these are public demonstrations of our morals.  But we will not be able to achieve this important goal except by the grace of God.  Only He can save the unborn.  We are merely workers in His vineyard.  Christ said that some demons you can only remove by prayer and fasting (Matt 17:21).  And if we want the demonic murder of these children to end, we must also take up prayer and fasting.

For the last twelve years, my wife and I have been praying a Chaplet of Life for the unborn every day.  I would like to share this Chaplet with you and invite you to pray with us, especially at this moment in history.

The Chaplet is prayed on a rosary like the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  The way you pray the Chaplet of Life is this:

Pray 3 "Glory Be's."

Pray 1 "Our Father."

Then on the "Our Father" beads you pray a "Hail Mary."

Then on the "Hail Mary" beads you pray:

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph... we love you, save souls and unborn children."

After 5 decades, you close with the Memorare:

"Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.

Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.


However you pray, let us join together in prayer that Our Lord may deliver our country from the scourge of abortion.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Trailer Time: Marvel's WandaVision

Marvel is trying a very bold experiment with their MCU by bring the characters to series.  Yes, we've had MCU series before like Daredevil and Agents of SHIELD.  But this is really the first time that main members of the Avengers cast have a series of their own.  The gamble seems to be paying off in Star Wars with The Mandelorean, so this may also be a good thing.

The show looks... funky.  I don't mean that as a bad thing.  It looks like the concept is going to be incredibly trippy and will intentionally mess with your head and make you question what is real and what is not.  I'm glad they dealt with the elephant in the room right away by addressing Vision's death in this trailer.

I really like the conceit to classic TV as well as the nods to the characters original comic book costumes.  Everything about this series screams "experimental."  I'm good with Marvel taking chances, as long as they keep true to their characters.


Sunday, September 20, 2020

Sunday Best: Oscars Are Irrelevant

 I love the Oscars.

Growing up I would stay up all night to see who would win in the big categories.  For someone who loved movies, this was my Super Bowl.  There was excitement, competition, upsets, drama... the works.

For one reason or another, the Oscars was supposed to be the night where those who had achieved excellence in the field of movie-making would be honored.  However, I doubt that anyone looking back on the last 10 years could make that claim.

Instead, the Academy voters chose movies that had buzz or were edgy rather than looking at actual artistic merit.  Feel free to disagree with me, but I saw The Shape of Water.  There is nothing in that movie that would ever make me think that it was worthy of a Best Picture Oscar.  The only thing that seemed to be in place was that it was thematically in line with the world-view of those working in the film industry.  But best picture?

I have often stated on this blog that I tend to dislike Christian movies.  As a devout Catholic, these movies often are perfectly in line with my world-view and values.  But for the most part, I can evaluate them on artistic merit.  And yet Hollywood cannot seem to do the same.  I maintain that one of the greatest comic books ever written was Watchmen, even though its central philosophy is absolutely opposed to what I believe.  But Watchmen is not a propaganda piece focused on changing your world-view.  It is a piece of art that challenges you to think differently.  Ultimately I reject the world-view it shows, but I cannot deny its artistic merit.  I can say the same thing about a film like Apocalypse Now, which seems to say that the root of the human soul is horror.  But the movie still deserves all the accolades for its artistic merit.

Recently, the Motion Picture Academy set out a set of criteria that movies will have to meet if they wish to qualify for a Best Picture nomination.  I have looked at the criteria and there is nothing terribly shocking about it.  I have read many people upset because none of the new criteria have anything to do with artistic merit.  I'm not very shocked, because the Motion Picture Academy is merely codifying what it was already doing culturally: rewarding films for having the approved world-view.

The best movie from last year that I saw was Joker.  It was a film that raised a lot of interesting and disturbing questions without giving very clear answers.  In other words it made you think and let you draw your own conclusions.  I actually don't know if I agreed or disagreed with its world-view, but I recognize the mastery that it took to make it and I appreciate that it lets its audience be active engagers instead of passive recipients in the theme.

I have no problem with the Academy imposing technical restrictions on a film.  They already do.  Movies need to be at least a certain length and (at least pre-COVID) have a limited theatrical run.  But as I said, the criteria are not technical, nor artistic, they are cultural.   This has nothing to do with whether the criteria is a social positive.  Even though I am a Christian, I would be opposed if the Academy stated that a certain percentage of those involved in the production had to be Christian and in order to qualify for Best Picture.  The point is that art should be judged on its artistic merits.  That doesn't mean that themes don't have a place in these artistic judgments, but that theme is one aspect of art, not its only aspect.  And while the cultural condition in which a piece of art arises is important, it is different than the art that these conditions produced.

But the Academy disagrees.  Instead, in a few years, you will have a Best Picture that was chosen first for its non-technical, non-artistic qualities before other considerations.  As I said, it seems like the Academy has already been doing this in practice, which is how we get Best Pictures that are as irrelevant as they are forgettable like The Shape of Water and The Artist.

The Academy Awards have already slipped into cultural irrelevance.  To give you an idea of how out of touch the Oscars are, the combined domestic box office of the last SIX Best Picture winners (Parasite, The Green Book, The Shape of Water, Moonlight, Spotlight, and Birdman) is less than the domestic box office of Joker.  And while box office does not equal artistic merit, it is a good indicator of how much of an impact you have on the culture.

Will I keep watching the Oscars?

I suppose I will.  But as a ceremony awards excellence and crowns future classics, it has never been more irrelevant.

My advice?  Do what I have been doing for the past few years: make your own awards list and share it with others.  You may take a lot of flack and get into a great deal of debate.  But it will be a lot more fun than watching the Oscars.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Film Review: Bill and Ted Face the Music


Sometimes a lot of goodwill carries a movie further than it has any right to go.

That is the case with Bill and Ted Face the Music.  

Thirty years after they were supposed to unite the world with song, Bill S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted "Theadore" Logan (Keanu Reeves) are nowhere near where they thought they would be.  Like many musical acts that have been left on the cultural ash heap, our heroes are playing smaller and smaller venues while exploring more and more experimental sounds.  Their lack of practical focus has been a strain on their wives (Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays) and the scorn of Ted's father (Hal Landon Jr.).  However, they are idolized by their daughters: Thea Preston (Samara Weaving) and Billie Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine), who carry their fathers enthusiasm for life, music, and friendship.  The plot kicks off when Kelly (Kristen Schall), Rufus' daughter, comes and brings Bill and Ted back to the future.  There, they are told they must produce the song that unites the world by that evening or the universe could end!

Yes, the premise is convoluted and silly, but Bill and Ted Face the Music never pretends to be anything other than convoluted and silly.  Like the other films, the plot has more than enough holes to be ridiculous.  But the power of a Bill and Ted film is that the leads are so likable and charming, that the plot holes don't really matter.

And that is still true for this film.

Winter hasn't lost a beat as Bill.  He still has the same wide-eyed energy and enthusiasm that he had decades ago and he never lets up.  Reeves is a slightly different story.  His performance is in now way bad.  But while Winter is still able to capture the innocent and optimistic outlook of his character, Reeves feels a little too hard-boiled.  He still comes off as kind and affable.  But there is always just a hint of John Wick peaking out of his eyes so that you get the feeling that Ted could make a dark turn at any moment.  Despite this, Reeves and Winter still have terrific comedic chemistry and have a wonderful rhythm like Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey.  

Weaving and Lundy-Paine take a larger role in the story than the trailers may let on.  They have their own B-story that feels very similar to Excellent Adventure.  Like their on-screen dads, the actresses are affable, but it doesn't feel as genuine.  Lundy-Paine in particular feels like she is doing a constant impression of Keanu Reeves from the original films.  Despite that, they understand that the key to these characters isn't that they are necessarily the funniest, but that they are incredibly endearing.  The movie pivots a little too much to the daughters and even though this move is telegraphed way in advance, it feels like a bit of cliche let down.

There is something unrelentingly nice about Bill and Ted.  That sounds as though it makes them bland, but it is quite the opposite.  They are like the buddies you had in high school who you enjoyed hanging out with, because they could always lift your spirits with their attitude.  That is why when Bill and Ted encounter increasingly dark versions of themselves in the future, it is particularly appalling and funny.  The movie explores that mid-life identity crisis where our characters have to decide how much they have to let go of their dreams of youth without morphing into something jaded and cynical.

Schall, Hayes, and Mays are fine and fit into the feel of the Bill and Ted universe.  Anthony Carrigan is a wonderful addition as an inept death robot sent from the future.  Carrigan is able to crack up the audience with his wide-eyed facial expressions.  William Sadler is also a welcome return as the over-the-top embodiment of death.

The movie does look like it was filmed on the cheap side.  The CGI looks like what you could find in a high-end fan film.  But the movie doesn't rely too heavily on these gags, but focuses on the silly comedy where it takes place.  He is able to make the movie sail better than Bogus Journey, but it never quite reaches the audaciousness of Excellent Adventure.  

The directing is serviceable, but nothing that will blow you away.  Dean Parisot knows how to visually bring these characters to life.  Writers Chris Mattheson and Ed Solomon (who have written all of the Bill and Ted movies), give the movie just the write tone.  There is a dumb, silly joke in the third act that is so stupid that I could not stop laughing.  But I think I was more receptive to the movie's silly humor because of all the good will that has been built up, especially from Winter and Reeves.  It is clear that everyone involved is having a good time making this movie.

The movie's themes are about how love and kindness, along with the power of music, can unite us as a people.  I remember when I was in high school, a mused to a friend of mine that I wished that there was a universal language.  She replied, "There is: music."  Without trying to get too deep, Bill and Ted Face the Music presents and optimistic message that what unites us all as human beings across all time is much stronger than what divides us.  And if we could someone communicate with each other, maybe by entering into the same song, we wouldn't be at odds all the time.  While this might be overly naive, you buy into it because Bill and Ted and the other characters are totally invested in this most excellent idea.

Bill and Ted Face the Music is not a movie that is earth-shattering in its importance or excellence.  It is just a movie that is filled with good times, good laughs, and good characters.  And with the amount of cynical garbage floating around the enterainment industry now, this movie feels like a breath of fresh air to remind us to be excellent to each other and...



Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Trailer Time: The Mandalorian Season 2

The Star Wars fandom has been fractured ever since The Last Jedi.  People have staked out strong and definitive opposing camps as to what Star Wars should and shouldn't be.

But one thing that I think most Star Wars fans agree upon is that The Mandelorian is great.

The first season exceeded all of my expectations as to what the show could be and got my award for Best TV Drama for the year.  This trailer teases more excellence.

The heart of the show is the bond between our main anti-hero and the Child.  It is an odd and unlikely pairing that is both endearing and dramatic.  And this trailer puts that relationship at the center of everything.

The opening shot is fantatic, with Din Djarin's ship limping along, struggling to get to the planet ahead.  It portends the struggles and dangers our heroes will face.  Their success is not guaranteed.  We saw the return of Cara Dune and Greef Carga.  We saw a return to Tatooine and perhaps some Jedi spying on the heroes.  And we saw a LOT of stormtroopers.

My favorite part, though, is when the Child understands that horrible violence is about to happen and hides in his shell.  

I cannot wait for this new season.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

New Evangelizers Post: Made to Be Gift - The Theology of the Body



I have a new article up at  

One of the hallmarks of Pope St. John Paul II’s spiritual teachings was his “Theology of the Body.” When looking at how the modern world had lost the meaning of marriage, the great pope called Catholics back to its original meaning.

John Paul II looked to the Gospels when he was challenged with questions on marriage and divorce. They said to Him, “They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” “ (Mark 10:4) But Jesus said that they didn’t look in the proper place to understand marriage. He took them back to the beginning, to the creation of man and woman in Genesis.

And that is where John Paul II centers his Theology of the Body.

Many books have been written expanding and explaining the Theology of the Body. This article could not do justice to all of that profound writing. However, we will focus on what might be the most important insight into the meaning of life for man: his nature as gift.

In Genesis 2, God makes Adam out of the earth and breathes life into him. With that life, God infuses the human soul and creates us in His image. God, being pure spirit, does not make man in His image physically. We reflect God’s image because we have intellect and free will, as He does.

But from the beginning, John Paul II notes that humanity was created in an Original Solitude. We are separate and distinct from the beasts, as we see when Adam names them but none of them are suitable partners for him in life (Genesis 2:20). He is also separate and distinct from the angels, who are purely spiritual beings and we are embodied. Finally, man is separate and distinct from God, who is infinite while we are limited. This final distinction is real, even though man is also born with Original Holiness, where we share in the Divine Life. But even in this sharing, man is incomplete. He is isolated in some sense in his body. The body is a border, a separation from all other things. He is not merely a part of something else. Even though He is God’s creation, He is distinct in himself.

So God made woman. He put Adam into a deep sleep and formed her out of his flesh. John Paul II makes clear that this sleep is mentioned to show that man has no active part in making woman. Man can claim no dominion over woman the way God can claim over man. When he sees her for the first time, he says, “This one at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” (Genesis 2:23). Finally man has another who is not a beast, an angel, or God to be his companion. But notice that this is not another man. She is like him but not like him.

Here we see God’s plan for Original Unity. It should be noted that men and women are more alike than they are different. We are both equally made in God’s image. We both equally have intellect and free will. We both have the intrinsic dignity and rights that come from being human. And we are both creatures who exist in the body. But the differences are significant. Men are not women and women are not men.

This last point may seem obvious, but in the modern era, it bears repeating. We live in an age where this truth is being denied more and more. It is one of the many reasons I believe John Paul II was one of the greatest prophets of our age. God set up humanity so that we were not all the same. We needed each other.

As a priest once said to me, human sexuality points to this intrinsic unity. Look at any other bodily system you have. You have everything you need in your body to pump blood in your circulatory system. You have everything you need to oxygenate your body in your respiratory system. You have everything you need to repair your body with food in your digestive system.

But your reproductive system?

You need another person. Not only do you need another person, you need one who is of the opposite sex. In this is the great sign of Original Unity. Man needs woman and woman needs man. Humanity is incomplete without both sexes.

The last line of Genesis 2 says “The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:25). John Paul II makes clear that this is not the same as the same childlike naivete that causes children to run around without clothes. It is true that Adam and Eve are created in Original Innocence, but that is not the same as not knowing any better, as children sometimes behave. In fact, John Paul II points out that as many times as nakedness is referenced in the Bible, never anywhere else does it say that someone was naked and felt no shame.

There is something profound being brought up in this Original Nakedness. To be naked in front of someone is a big deal for most humans. Take, for example, a husband and wife who have saved themselves for marriage. On their wedding night, they are naked in front of each other for the first time. There are many intense feelings that accompany this, but we tend to recognize a few things. When we are naked to the other, we are completely exposed. Nothing is withheld. You present all you are, all that is hidden from the world and all that you might not like about yourself physically, to the other. You are vulnerable. When you are naked, no defense is offered. There is a complete exposure to any response from the other. And there is openness. In being naked before the other, you offer yourself, your entire person, to the other. And in their Original Innocence, they looked at each other not as objects of lust, but as persons to whom they must give themselves.

And with all of these elements, we see God’s plan for humanity.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday Best: Christopher Nolan Movies - UPDATE 2020


With Tenet out in theaters, I thought I would take moment to look back at the films of Christopher Nolan.   This is an update to the list originally made after the release of Interstellar and Dunkirk.

Nolan has now made 11 films and none of them are bad.  It helps that he is very selective about his films and he has incredible personal control over all of the stories he's ever filmed.  I also like that for the most part he has a strong hand in the writing of his stories.

Also, I've rewatched some of his some of the films and have rearranged the rankings a bit.

So below are all 10 of Nolan's movies ranked in order from least to greatest.

11.  Insomnia

Of all Nolan's movies, this one is the one that feels the least Nolan-y.  And as far as I know it is the only one that is a remake of another film.  But it is still very dark and moody with some excellent performances.  Pacino's guilt is so visibly felt throughout the film and Robin William's turn as a mastermind killer showed a bold choice.  And the film still deals with big ideas about truth and conscience.

10.  Following

I caught this one on Netflix and it is a fascinating noir film about a man who becomes obsessed with following random people that he sees in public.  This could have easily devolved into some kind of psycho-sexual nonsense.  But he sets out early on that it about this a man who cannot connect to people who is drawn into a strange world of pulling the curtain back on people's lives.  It also is the first film that shows Nolan's funky use of chronology.

9.  Dunkirk

This is probably the best work that Nolan has done with the camera.  This is a essential filmed with a silent movie aesthetic where he wants to tell the movie purely by the visuals.  It is gripping from start till finish.  However, upon reflection I realized that I do not have a strong affection for this film.  That doensn't mean it is bad, just that my emotional connection to the material isn't really there.  This movie is fantastic as a technical piece of filmmaking, but would not be counted among my favorites

8. Tenet
File:Tenet movie poster.jpg
I will have my full review up later, but Tenet is a glorious film to watch with mesmerizing visuals.  But, like Dunkirk, there is an emotional distance that prevents a fascinating story from becoming a great story.

7.  Batman Begins

Nolan modeled this film after Richard Donner's Superman and it shows.  He tells a story that is epic in its scope and takes us on Bruce Wayne's journey in a way that no other cinematic Batman has.

6.  The Dark Knight Rises

Unlike many of its detractors, I think the final chapter of Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy is fantastic.  He does an excellent job of drawing elements from the previous movies and weaving them into a film that feels like a definitive goodbye to his story.  To this day I get chills when Selina Kyle tries to get Bruce to leave with her saying that he doesn't owe anything to people of Gotham and that he already gave them everything, to which he responds: "Not everything.  Not yet."

5.  Interstellar

This is Nolan's most emotional movie.  It is not that his other movies are cold or are not moving.  But this was the first time I ever saw him reach deep and pull at the heartstrings while once again wrestling with the big ideas of life.  It's biggest fault is that leans too much into sentimentality at the end, but after watching his last two films and their lack of sentiment, I've come to appreciate Interstellar a lot more.

4.  The Prestige

This is a movie that will mess with your head.  Even when you figure out one twist (which I did a bit too early), when the film finishes and you understand the implications of what the last 5 minutes reveals about obsession… it sticks with you long after the movie is over.  I have rewatched this movie several times in the last few months and it gets better and better with repeated viewing, which alone makes it different than most movies out there.

3.  Inception

I have seen this movie over and over and I find it fascinating every time.  The layers that stack upon layers never suffocate the action through line of the story that holds you up until the very last second.

2.  The Dark Knight

Arguably the greatest super hero film ever made, Nolan understood that he could make a film that transcends traditional genre walls and talk about something deep about human nature.   People often play up the violent and dark nature of the Joker, but it shouldn't overlook Nolan's ultimate message which is that people are naturally decent.  That is a radical message in today's cinema.

1.  Memento

I have never seen a movie like this.  The level of complexity, artistry, execution, and transcendence continues to blow me away more than a decade later.  When people see this movie they rethink what movies can be.  And that is why this is his best film.

Friday, September 11, 2020


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Absolute Horror.

Horror met with Heroes.

Heroes to the end.

19 years ago.

Never Forget.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Film Flash: Tenet


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

Nolan's technical mastery still astounds, but humanity lacks.  An example of concept overwhelming character/story.

Labor Day Prayer to St. Joseph - 2020


Happy Labor Day!

As often as I unjustly complain about work, I am very grateful for my employment, especially at a time when many people had to experience furloughs from work..  I love my job and I pray that I am making a difference in the world.

I credit St. Joseph for all of my jobs.  I pray that, like him, I can be a good worker and provider for my family and work the best that I can to be a model of moral manhood.

I pray that St. Joseph bless all the work of our hands that we all build up the Kingdom of God together.

Oh, St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God. I place in you all my interests and desires. Oh, St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.
Oh, St. Joseph, I never weary of contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls - Pray for me.

Sunday, September 6, 2020



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The main problem with Steven Spielberg in the 2000's is that he lost the ability to edit himself.  You can see him talk about this problem early in his career with films like Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark, where other people had to come in and make cuts to the film that were harsh.  This upset him because he worked so hard to get all of those shots.  But he allowed it, because he was able to see past his ego and admit that sometimes less is more.

But something happened in his later career where he either had too much cache or did not trust his editors enough.  Instead, his movies became too long.  The entire opening with the TV show is useless, as is the the scene with the prostitute.  And there are some storylines that can be completely lifted out, like the subplot about how his girlfriend is on the outs with her family because she had an abortion, and you wouldn't miss a thing.

Once, as a film exercise, I re-edited Catch Me If You Can.  If you take about 45 minutes out of the movie, it is nearly perfect.  

The story works because part of us wants to be Frank Abagnale Jr., played by Leonardo DiCaprio.  He is smart, charming, and successful at his deceptions.  We want to believe that we could, by the power of our own personality, get whatever we want.  But the film also works because you have Carl Hanrady (Tom Hanks) constantly working as a combination of Javert and Jimminy Cricket reminding Frank and the audience that what he's doing is wrong.

That isn't to say that the movie is super serious the entire time.  In fact, Catch Me If You Can is both fun and fascinating.  Even though DiCaprio leans in to his movie star good looks, you can't help but imagine yourself in his shoes.  And while you're doing that, he's doing the same: imagining himself to be something more, as in that amazing shot of him watching Goldfinger.  You can see in that moment the reverence Spielberg has for movie theaters as this gargantuan spaces where larger than life characters make deep impressions on us.

The fascination comes at trying to figure out Frank's next scheme.  I love how this is often done visually, without Frank having to narrate the process, thus making it more cinematic.  I love how he soaks the model airplane to get the TWA sticker off of it to use on the check.  Then when that works, Spielberg does that wonderful reveal of the tub filled with model airplanes.  You can't help but smile and chuckle at his ingenuity.

That isn't to say that the dialogue is not as good.  In fact, even the exposition is interesting.  When Carl explains check fraud with his slide show, I was utterly pulled in.

Another thing that Spielberg does incredibly well is that he draws you in to the era in which he is filming.  It is fairly common to make a period piece.  But when Spielberg does one, it is utterly transportive.  It isn't simply about the cars or costumes or props.  There is a feel to this era that makes you feel as though you've left your own time.  What Spielberg does in this movie is something that most film-makers miss.  To really do period piece well if it is from recent decades, you don't try to re-create it as it actually was.  You try to re-create it as it is remembered.  Spielberg grew up in this era and most of the movie has very soft lighting and a colorful brightness that is reflective of the nostalgia in his mind.  While things might not have been as bright in reality, those that remember that time will have their memories similarly colored.  And for those like me who weren't born yet, this take still feels familiar because my own memories of childhood are similarly colored.  

And still the movie has its share of intensity and thrills.  As Carl gets closer you want Frank to get away.  Their final confrontation in France is incredibly intense with the slow rhythmic beating getting imperceptibly louder and louder until it is deafening.  The dialogue works because you can't tell if Frank is projecting his own dishonesty on Carl or if Carl has truly adapted to Frank's ways.  Watch as Spielberg creates unease with his dutch angels and claustrophobic framing, even in the wide shots.  Most movies you can tell what the outcome will be, but you are completely in Frank's position and have no idea what's waiting for you on the other side of the door.

Thematically, Spielberg is dealing with broken homes.  Like Frank, Spielberg's parents got divorced and it had huge impact on him.  Both he and Frank threw themselves into creative endeavor, though Spielberg's was not illegal.  But no matter how much success either had, there was an emptiness that was never fully healed.  Sometimes Spielberg hits these moments like a sledgehammer over the audience.  But others are more subtle.  When the FBI comes to see Frank's mom and asks for a picture of him, she says that she has his yearbook somewhere.  It took me a few times to watch the movie to realize something: she doesn't have Frank's picture displayed in her house.  She has moved beyond her son and wiped away most traces of him from her life.  This culminates in the moment Frank peaks through his mom's window on Christmas Eve and Spielberg does that heartbreaking reveal that completely destroys Frank.  Ultimately, all Frank wanted was to have his family back together.  When he realizes that this dream is dead, there is tragedy, but he can now begin to heal.  As a child of divorce myself, this resonates in ways difficult to describe.  

I cannot end this post without special mention of the performances.  DiCaprio is an actor who has kept getting better and better.  He plays both the wide-eyed innocent and the steely-eyed con man perfectly.  He is a master criminal and naive child at the same time.  Hanks is fantastic, letting himself play the bumbling straight man at times, but keeping a sense of overall constancy and competence.  He is like the way teenagers view their parents: alternately embarrassing but also dependable.  Christopher Walken does some of his best acting in years here.  Look at the brave face he puts to his son, but the look of utter desperation he has when asking for a loan.  I love the way the subtly costume him to show his move from entrepreneur to mail carrier without bring too much attention to it.  Amy Adams is fantastic in her role.  You immediately understand why Frank wants to be her hero, but when she gets caught up in his lies, you can see how she is too overwhelmed.

Again, there is a perfect movie in Catch Me If You Can if you can wade past all of the fat that Spielberg failed to trim.  Thankfully with home video, you can do your own trimming and enjoy the great parts that are there.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The 50 Most Disappointing Movies Of All Time - Wasted Talent

 With these films, I was super excited to see them in the theater because of previous encounters I had with these directors, actors, and writers and I thought I was going to see a quality picture.  However, even if the talent was present, the films failed to deliver.

Gone Girl

A man in a blue shirt standing by a body of water, wispy clouds in the blue sky above. A woman's eyes are superimposed on the sky. Near the bottom of the image there are horizontal distortion error lines.

I am a very big Ben Affleck fan, and I thought this was going to be a fantastic murder mystery.  Instead, we get a very hollow, cynical take on murder sensationalism that wastes the talent of the everyone involved.  

The Lovely Bones

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Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings Trilogy is a masterpiece.  His King Kong is overblown and self-important, but is impressive in some parts.  But The Lovely Bones is a train-wreck of a film.  It has a fantastic performance by Stanley Tucci and one great moment where the killer almost gets caught.  But the movie makes no sense on a logical or emotional level.  It was at this point I began to suspect that the success of the trilogy was less about Jackson and more about Tolkien.

Absolute Power

A angry man looks to the viewer while the US Secret Service logo and a dead woman is in the bottom with the film's title

Just before this movie, my favorite Clint Eastwood movie came out: In the Line of Fire.  Here was another thriller set around the presidency with Eastwood and his Unforgiven co-star Gene Hackman.  But what should have been a tight-nit thriller was a sloppy mess with an inexplicable ending.

The World's End and Paul

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Shaun of the Dead is a revelation of a film that is a perfect horror/comedy.  Hot Fuzz is not as good but it is a great deal of fun and wonderfully quoteable.  Simon Pegg and Nick Frost work amazingly well as a comedy duo.  But they lost me with these two films.  At World's End is a movie that is so hollow that the movie does a complete 180 on its own themes in the last five minutes and the filmmakers don't seem to even notice.  Paul loses any goodwill by being incredibly mean-spirited to ordinary fly-over country America and Seth Rogen does nothing to engender any kind of empathy.

The Watch

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Dodgeball ruined me for Ben Stiller.  His performance with Vince Vaughn is comedy gold.  But without fail, all of his comedies leave me disappointed.  I don't understand why, but his humor just completely misses me.  When he re-teamed with Vaughn for this movie, I thought we would get something like Dodgeball.  Instead it was just a tired rehash of outworn gags.

The Magnificent Seven

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I have been wanting another strong action, western film with manly characters who face incredible odds while forging strong bonds of friendship.  That is what this remake tries to do.  It is not a bad movie in any way.  But early on you see the potential that is never fully realized.  This is a movie that lives or dies on the chemistry of the characters.  Look at the Regulators in Young Guns or Wyatt Earp "and his immortals" in Tombstone and you will see what I mean.  The bonding in this movie feels forced and none of the friendships seem very real.  None of these Magnificent Seven really feel like pals.


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Here is another Chris Pratt film.  This, I think, was also the movie that really stalled Jennifer Lawrence's career.  The entire movie is built around a love story that is so creepy in its origins, that there is no way that an audience could totally get behind it.  They wanted Titanic in space.  Instead they got something closer to a Lifetime Movie of the Week.


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Steven Spielberg directing.

Robin Williams starring.

John Williams composing.

This should have been perfect.

This movie epitomizes disappointment.  All of the talent was perfectly assembled, but none of it worked will.  Instead of being child-like and uplifting, it was gross and immature.  It was an assembly of movie magicians without any magic.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights

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Mel Brooks is hit or miss, but you can see how he was on the wane in this film.  This is a movie that tries way too hard to be funny and is constantly hitting you over the head with jokes.  It also is sad that towards the end he kept having to reference his funnier movies in order to spice up the jokes.

The Saint

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People may forget what a big star Val Kilmer was at one point.  This movie should have been his James Bond.  And he does pull out a few fun performances that show off his range.  But the movie's script is so disappointingly stupid, from the priest hunting down orphans with wild dogs to the kindly prostitute who rescues the heroes even though her family hates her.  This was such a slog and I didn't want to come back for any more.

The Village

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This was the turn for Shymalan.  The Sixth Sense was a phenomenon.  Unbreakable was not my taste but I respected what he was trying to do.  Signs is actually a very good film if you don't pay attention to the one big plot hole.  

But The Village is where it all started going wrong.  This is a premise that could have worked... maybe.  But it has three things that destroy the enjoyment of it.

1. The "monster" in the movie looks completely unbelievable and ridiculous.  That might be part of the point, but that turns you off as a member of the audience.

2. One of the big reveals about the "monster" happens way too early in the film.  When they try to bring up the threat again later, it doesn't work.

3. The blind girl will be fine alone in the woods because she is guided by love.


Stay tuned for my next set of most disappointing films: Sequel Stumbles.