Monday, November 30, 2020

St. Andrew Novena 2020


St. Andrew Novena Starts Today

Much of what is below is a repost from years earlier.

I think about St. Andrew quite a bit.  He was one of the first four called by Christ.  It was James, John, Andrew and Andrew's brother Peter.  But of that quartet, only the trio of Peter, James, and John ended up being Jesus' closest friends.

I wonder if Andrew was like us and got jealous.  According to the Gospel of John, it was Andrew who brought Peter to the Lord, and the Lord seemed to like Peter better.  How often have we introduced a sibling or friend to our inner circle only to have them become more popular or have a greater aptitude for what you enjoy?

But I bet that Andrew was better than most of us.  He was probably a model of humility.  I like to imagine that he was happy for his brother and he was content to have others loved and esteemed more than himself.

My favorite story is about when he died.  They tied him to the cross, but for days and days he preached non-stop to the point where the officials realized it was doing them more harm than good.

But when they came to take him down, Andrew looked at Jesus and told him he was tired and he just wanted to go home to heaven and be with Him.  So the soldiers were unable to take him down and Andrew finally went home to the Jesus and his brother Peter on November 30th 60 AD.

Today is the feast of St. Andrew.  And there is a special novena prayer that is prayed between now and Christmas.  It goes as follows:

St. Andrew Christmas Novena

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born Of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother. Amen.

That prayer is prayed 15 times a day until the ends.  My wife and I pray this together every year and have found many graces through the intercession of St. Andrew.  I pray that all of you do as well.

God Bless.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Sunday Best: Non-Bond Sean Connery Movies

 We sadly lost the great Sean Connery a few weeks ago.  He is, of course, best known for creating the cinema icon of James Bond.  But he was an actor that had a long and prestigious career outside of that franchise (Zardoz not included).

Below are the 5 best Non-Bond Sean Connery films.  I limited to movies where he has a large role, so movies like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is not included.

This is also not necessarily a list of his best performances.  He does an excellent job in movies like Robin and Marian and The Man Who Would Be King, but those are not very good films.  

Movies that did not quite make the list but should also be mentioned are Time Bandits, where he played a wonderfully grounded King Agamemnon in a world of silliness and The Name of the Rose, which is an excellent film, but is a bit too graphic in nature for this list.

5. The Hunt for Red October

The Hunt for Red October movie poster.png

As I wrote earlier on this blog: "The Hunt For Red October is given a much heavier tension because of Connery's performance as the defecting Russian captain. The part could have been easily played as straightforward hero. But Connery adds a menace to him as he casually murders a KGB agent and eats his steak as he informs his conspirators that he leaked their plans to Moscow. He projected not only power, but a little bid of madness. There is always a question mark hanging over his head: is he really a defector or is he crazy? Connery adds that edge to his performance."

4.  The Rock

The Rock (movie).jpgI am not a cinema snob and I think big, bold action movies can be great.  When I first went to the theater, I was not expecting to like The Rock as much as I did.  It is a little overstuffed, but it is full of some incredibly fun action sequences.  The entire movie is grounded in Sean Connery's antihero who acts like he could just as easily kill you as help you.  He plays the part with incredible charm and wit, giving the film more gravitas than I expected it to have.  

3.  Highlander

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This should have been a simple B-Movie, sci-fi entry that was swept down the memory hole like Solar Babies or The Lawnmower Man.  But there was something so imaginative yet simple about the story of waring immortals.  And Connery brought a touch of class and legitimacy to this film.  He came in with a voice of authority and mentored the film into an underground hit.  He actually doesn't have a lot of screen time as Ramirez, but he is steals every scene he is in.

2. The Untouchables


This is a fantastic film and still holds up just as well over three decades later.  This might be Brian DePalma's best directed film and the screenplay by David Mamet is fantastic.  This is the movie that won Connery his only Oscar and it is well deserved.  He moves seamlessly from tough-as-nails, to nervous fidgets in a completely believable way.  He portrays his James Malone as someone who fancies himself a teacher and mentor, but you can see how knows he doesn't have the moral authority to be either.  He wants to be the kind of hero that he is training Elliot Ness to be.  His final scene is powerful and painful.  Watch as he uses every last ounce of strength and what little breath he has left to grip Ness with all of his might and challenge him: "Now, what are you prepared to do?"

1.  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.png

As I wrote in an earlier post: "But I have to say that his most impressive performance was in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He traded his usual machismo for frailty in frame, but he had amazing strength of character. I always marvel when watching him and remember that this man is also James Bond. But his Henry Jones is tweed-wearing academic who can still level his son with a paternal tone. This also was the best showcase of Connery's underused comedic talents. Notice how he is able to elicit laughs with his the simplest expression when he stares at Indy across the table or sheepishly smiles after he says, 'She talks in her sleep.' And once again, he showed us that his characters have beating hearts under their armor. It always gets me as he embraces Indy and says 'I thought I lost you, boy.' And his soft, authoritative voice so believably cuts through the fog of obsession when he says, 'Indiana... Let it go.'

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Thanksgiving List

 Happy Thanksgiving, Dear Reader.

This has been a rough year for everyone.  But that is all the more reason that this day is so important.  Even when things are dark and dire, we must be people of thanks.

A few days ago, I did an exercise with my students.  I would like to invite you to do the same if you have the time.

On a piece of paper make 2 columns.  Label the one on the left Column A and the right Column B.

Then label Column B: "Reasons to be Upset."

Take a few moments to write down all the reasons that you should be upset.  Yes, you can write down things that are going on around the world, but really you should focus on things that are directly affecting your life.

-Are there problems at home?

-is money tight?

-have you lost someone you love?

-is work stressful?

-are things going wrong with your Thanksgiving plans?

There are many more things to think about, but just take a minute or two to make that list.

When you finish, go to Column A and label it "Reasons to be Thankful."  Then begin writing down all things in your life for which you should be thankful.

Keep in mind that you are not writing down things that you feel thankful for, but things for which you know you should be thankful.  Very often we are not experiencing the feeling of gratitude for our blessings that we know we should, but we can still acknowledge how we are blessed even if we don't feel it.

-Do I have anyone in my life who cares about me?

-Do I have a roof over my head?

-Will I eat today? (there are millions who will not)

-Can I walk?

-Can I talk?

-Do I have any material things in my life that I enjoy?

-Am I able to contribute to the world in a positive way?

-Am I relatively free from pain at this moment?

-Are there people I care about who are healthy?

-Do I live in relative peace where I live?

One of the things I have learned in life is that you cannot be truly happy unless you are truly thankful.  I have known people who have beaten and battered by horrible tragedies and injustices in life.  Yet these same people were so thankful for what little good fortune they had that they were always filled with joy.  On the flip side, I have seen people with every conceivable material and social comfort.  And yet because they were not grateful for these blessings, they were filled with misery.

Six years ago, if you had asked me what one of my least favorite activities was, it would be walking.  I hated it.  If I had to walk from one end of the school to the other, I would complain up and down.  If we went to a place or an event that required us to walk around for hours, I would mutter and moan the entire time.And you would not want to get me started on stairs.

Then five years ago, I broke my back and couldn't walk anymore.  After a month-long hospitalization, two surgeries, and several months of physical therapy, I was finally able to walk on my own right around Thanksgiving.  

Since then, walking has become one of my favorite things.

Not a day goes by that I am not filled with joy that I can walk from one end of the house to the other, that I can go to the store and do the shopping for my wife, that I can go to my sister's and play with her kids, that I can stand in the presence of Our Lord at Holy Mass.

I should have always been thankful for that blessing, but I didn't feel gratitude because I did not keep in mind what a gift I had been given in the ability to walk.  I'm reminded too of the first Mass I attended after the lockdowns.  Receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist caused me to tremble with emotion.  When I was able to bring my wife Communion so she could receive Him for the first time in months, we were both overcome with gratitude and we were reminded how thankful we should be for this wonderful sacrament.

This life is joy and sorrow and everything in between that ebb and flow.  When you are feeling pulled down to sadness, I would recommend looking over the list you made.

If Column A is longer than Column B, use that as a reminder of how blessed your life is and how the blessings outweigh the burdens.

If Column B is longer than Column A, then bring this to Our Lord in prayer.  We always have to approach God with how we honestly feel.  If it appears as though our burdens outweigh our blessings, then we must reach out to Him and ask for two thing: that He give us relief from our pains and that He open our minds and hearts to the blessings we do not see.  

In either case, let us use this Thanksgiving List as an opportunity to cultivate this attitude of gratitude.

I am thankful for so many things in my life:

-Our Lord and all the saints

-My wife

-My family,

-My friends

-All of my material, social, emotional, and spiritual blessings.

-For all the blessings that our Lord has given to the world.

-And for you, dear reader.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Film Flash: Hillbilly Elegy


Hillbilly Elegy (film).png

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

Alternately boring and moving, feels like a Lifetime movie with bad writing and great performances

Monday, November 23, 2020

New Evangelizers Post: Refuting New Abortion Arguments



I have a new article up at  

In the last few decades, I believe that we have been winning the culture war on abortion. When I first started teaching, I would say that the majority of my students were in favor of abortion. As the years have gone on, the tide shifted in the other direction. Granted, I teach at a Catholic school, but young people tend to be on the more progressive end of social issues.

However, in the last few years, we have seen a strong pushback from the pro-abortion side. In pop culture more and more movies and TV shows are portraying abortion in a positive light. In politics, many states like New York have passed laws that remove most restrictions on abortion. While these push backs are real, I believe that this is the desperate flailing of a side that knows that it is in the processes of defeat.

But between now and final victory, we have to be vigilant in prayer, compassion, and knowledge. New arguments are becoming popular that require some response.

One that I have recently encountered is this: “The fetus is a parasite.”

The argument is that, like a parasite, a fetus is a foreign organism that leeches off of the body of the host (the mother) and puts her health at risk. And since we have no moral problem with removing other parasitical creatures from human hosts, abortion would be morally the same.

There are many things wrong with this argument. The first is that the fetus is not a foreign invader. While the sperm must be provided from without, the embryo is not simply a developing sperm. The female provides the egg and together with the sperm you have a brand new organism that originates inside of the mother.

The second problem with the analogy is that a parasite works against the natural functions of the body. In Ridley Scott’s classic film Alien, a creature implants an embryo into a human and that creature grows and is “born” by bursting out of the chest. In this case, it would be parasitic, because the human host does not have within itself a nature to carry this embryo safely.

But with human beings, we have an entire reproductive system. The natural end of the sexual act is the reproduction of new life. The woman has within her body by nature the means to conceive, grow, and give birth to a child.

Now, to say that pregnancy can be taxing on a mother’s body may be a great understatement. As a man, I imagine any words of mine will be poor at fully capturing the experience of pregnancy. Many go through great discomfort, morning sickness, and in some parts of the world the mortality rate for mothers is too high. In this case, couldn’t say that the fetus is a parasite causing harm to the host?

Again, the answer would be no. The discomfort and the sickness are the results of changes in the body. To a lesser extent, developing children may experience physical “growing pains,” but these changes are natural and good. Even things like menstruation, even though there can be great discomfort (or a “nuisance” as my wife calls it), it is still a natural process of human biology. If a mother dies in childbirth, this is a bug not a feature of pregnancy. When that happens, something has gone wrong and worked against nature. The natural end of birth requires a living mother to help raise and nourish the child. Please forgive me for focusing on the purely biological aspects of motherhood. I in no way mean to reduce this wonderful vocation to it’s bodily components, but the above argument for abortion is a biological one, so it requires a biological response.

Another recent argument I have heard is that the fetus or the embryo is not alive. I had someone recently say to me that there are seven signs of biological life and the fetus/embryo fails to meet them.

These seven qualities are:
-respiration (eg. metabolizing oxygen)
-sensitivity (e.g. reacting to surroundings)
-ability to reproduce
-nutrition (e.g. taking in nutrients)

The pro-abortion side places the focus on the embryo here rather than the fetus because unlike the fetus, the embryo may not have a brain, heart, nervous system, and other bodily systems that we normally see in the human person. The argument is that the embryo lacks the totality of these qualities and therefore cannot be categorized as biological life. For example, While an embryo may grow, metabolize oxygen and take in nutrition, may be immobile in the womb and an embryo does not generally reproduce other embryos.

Let us leave aside the fact that these qualities cannot account for some other biological creatures like viruses. Even with that caveat, this pro-abortion argument is a poor one.

Dr. Peter Kreeft has pointed out that there is a trick of the English language that occurs when talking about the fetus/embryo. We forget that we are ultimately using adjectives and not nouns. When we call someone a “teen-ager,” we use that word like a noun. But in English, this is simply shorthand for an adjectival description. When we say “teen-ager” we normally mean “Teen-aged human.” If my dog was 13-years-old, I could also call him a “teen-ager.” But I do not mean to say that my dog and my freshmen students are somehow of the same kind. A teen-aged dog is not the same species as a teen-aged human. In the same way “newborn” is really an adjectival shorthand for “Newborn human.”

And we must remember that this is also the case with “fetus” and “embryo.” In our common conversation about abortion, we are using then as an adjectival shorthand for “fetal human” and “embryonic human.”

This is important to recognize, but this current argument looks at the embryo as a distinct life from a human person. But it is simply an embryonic human.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Sunday Best: Thanksgiving Movies and TV 2020

We're taking a break from our countdown of the best Steven Spielberg of all time to look at what to watch this Thanksgiving Holiday season. 

 Much of this is a repost from 2013 


Planes trains and automobiles.jpg
 In terms of what is the best Thanksgiving movie, there is no contest. The winner is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. There is no Thanksgiving movie like it. It is fully of deep belly laughs, but it also has one of the finest last scenes in movie history. What makes this a great Thanksgiving movie is that it is all about the quest to get home for the holiday. Most Thanksgiving movies focus on the chaos of family reunions. And if you only watch those, you would wonder why anyone would want to ever celebrate the holiday. But Planes, Trains, and Automobiles never questions the impulse to do whatever it takes to get home. It assumes that the holiday is so important that it MUST be celebrated with family, either those made by blood or by long, hilarious road trips. 

There is so much artistry in this film and it goes unnoticed because John Hughes covers it with very broad comedy.  It is actually a magical kind of movie in the sense of the best magic tricks.  You think that the quest is to get home for Thanksgiving.  But the real quest is to create that special home we call friendship.  The entire forward thrust of the movie is Neal (Steve Martin) doing anything and everything to get to his house while Dell (John Candy) unwittingly gets in the way.  But penultimate scene is the crux of the film.  Neal is finally on his way with no more obstacles, but then he has an epiphany about Dell.  And in that moment, the entire movie is flipped on its head and Neal leaves the pathway home and goes back to Dell.  It is one of my favorite movie friendship moments, followed by that amazing shot of Dell and Neal walking down the street carrying Dell's steamer trunk.  It is such a potent image: a friend helping another friend carry their burden as they walk side-by-side to the place they call home.

This movie reminds me on Thanksgiving that I have been blessed with friends and family who have helped me carry my burdens and walk with me on the journey home.


 Four Thanksgiving episodes come to mind when I think of this holiday. 
Everybody Loves Raymond logo.png

 The first is the "No Fat" episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. The show would annually do a Thanksgiving episode, but this one emphasized the absurd importance of the food. Marie tries to do a fat free Thanksgiving, and the resulting chagrin by her family is hilarious. I also love the ending: 

Friends logo.svg
 The second is "The One With All the Thanksgivings" from Friends. Told through a series of flashbacks, this episode shows how Thanksgiving can be both wonderful and awful throughout the years. I also enjoyed seeing how much the relationships between the friends changed over time. It is also might have the most awkwardly funny "I love you" on TV.     

The Big Bang Theory (Official Title Card).png
The third is "The Thanksgiving Decoupling" from The Big Bang Theory.  There is an incredibly funny storyline where Penny realizes that she got married to someone else in Las Vegas.  What makes that work is how everyone else reacts to the Thanksgiving drama.  But the main reason I love this episode is the way that Bernadette's dad and Sheldon bond.  These two are so opposite and yet there is an unlikely emotional connection that is bitter sweet and at the same time incredibly funny.  

Buffy the vampire slayer.svg
But the one I might like the most is "Pangs" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's Buffy's first year in college and she tries to put together a Thanksgiving for her Scoobies, including the chair-bound Spike, while the spirit of a Shumash Indian curses Xander's body. This results in extended debates about the meaning of the Holiday for both Indian and European immigrant, as well capturing the awkward frenzy of trying to have a nice meal when the world seems to be going to hell. I also got a kick out of Spike's darkly insightful take: Great final shot too.        

What are your favorite Thanksgiving pop culture moments?

Saturday, November 21, 2020

To the (HBO) Max


Wonder Woman 1984 poster.jpg

COVID-19 may have killed the movie theater experience.  And cable TV may not be far behind

There will always be movie theaters.  And I am not as pessimistic as others, but it is clearly possible that a seismic shift in premium movies is coming.

When COVID hit us in March, big tent-pole movies were postponed until the lockdowns ended.  Then few months ago, Warner Bros. released Tenet into the theaters, trying to see if things had returned to normal.

They hadn't.

I remember going to the movie and there were only 4 other people in the theater.  Shortly after, a number of studios, including Warner Bros. postponed even more films, some until next year.

But there were some that decided to forgo the theater entirely and put their premium movies on their streaming services.  Disney put movies originally slated for theatrical release like Hamilton and Artemis Fowl and put them on Disney+.  They even tried to squeeze more money out of their movies by putting Mulan (2020) on their streaming platform, but viewers would have to pay an additional $30.00 to watch.

Why this move to streaming?  I would recommend reading the mighty John Nolte for his much more in depth analysis of these issues.  But keep in mind that billions of dollars have been spent on movies that are sitting on the shelves for months and months without bringing in any revenue.  A movie like Black Widow, being part of the can't-miss Marvel Cinematic Universe could potentially bring in $1 billion all on its own, but instead, it is collecting dust.

This brings me to HBO Max.

Warner Bros. owns HBO Max and they have been struggling.  First of all, they had a disastrous launch a few months ago, because people became incredibly confused between the this and the other streaming service HBO GO.  In addition, Warner Bros had other streaming services with some high-demand content.  For example, DC Universe had a huge number of DC Superhero films as well as original content like Stargirl.  Also, Warner did not reach a deal with Roku, which has a gigantic market share of streaming services.  So even if you wanted a subscription, unless you had something like a PS4, you would be able to stream the content on your TV.

But now Warner Bros is going all in on HBO Max.

The fire shot across the bow is the announcement that Wonder Woman 1984 will now stream on HBO Max on Christmas day.  Unlike Mulan, users will be able to stream WW84 at no additional cost.  Rather than milking their existing customers, Warners is trying to lure people to their subscription service.  As Nolte pointed out:

So during the fiscal quarter when Mulan dropped on Disney Plus, 16.2 million new subscribers signed on for that service. Let’s be conservative and say 13 million were going to sign up anyway, but for the rest, Mulan was the reason they signed up. So 3.2 million signed on for Mulan.

Let’s again be conservative and say only two million will subscribe to HBO Max so they can see Wonder Woman 1984. If those two million stick for just six months, that’s $180 million in revenue for Warner Bros. It’s $360 million over the course of the year.

I'll tell you that I was already planning on at least getting a trial subscription because of the Snyder Cut of Justice League.  This is honestly making it more likely for me to pick up the service permanently, particularly if more premium content is release here.  In addition, most of the premium content on DC Universe has been migrated over to HBO Max.  They are also moving entertainers like Conan O'Brien over to their platform.  And there are rumors that they are close to a deal with Roku

This could also affect cable providers.  HBO is an expensive channel to have.  If I am paying for it streaming on demand, why would I pay for the cable subscription.  This could cause a significant drop in cable TV revenue.  Cord-cutting has been hurting the cable industry for years, and this could push them even closer to the a-la-carte model that many people have been hoping for, where you only pay for channels that you want.

There are two things that are three things that are keeping me from being too enthusiastic about this:

1. Content - One of the reasons I don't have HBO on my cable is that there is a great deal of content that I do not want in my home.  I know that this is a problem with any streaming service, but as someone who grew up with HBO as a kid, I'm not keen on it.

2. Price - Right now, it is priced at $14.99 a month, which makes it one of the most expensive services around.  This would be $180.00 a year.  Unless they provide a theatrical quality film at least once a month, it wouldn't provide the value for the cost.

3. Theaters - I may be in the minority, but I love the theatrical experience.  I love going out, because it makes the movie feel like an event.  I love that it is often a point of social contact, where friends and family gather together for the shared experience.  I love being in a crowd of people and have that wave of collective emotion wash over us, whether it involves laughs or screams or tears.  I love that the lights go down and the movie demands your full attention.  No matter how good a movie is at home, there are too many distractions.  In a theater, a movie can cast a spell on you.  At home, the magic doesn't really take hold.  Anything that jeopardizes that theatrical experience makes me sad.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The 50 Most Disappointing Movies Of All Time - The Top 10

 So we are now at the top 10 most disappointing movies of all time.

To recap, here are the other 40:


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Batman: The Killing Joke
Romeo + Juliet
Ghost Rider
Punisher (2004)


Suicide Squad

The Hateful 8

A Star is Born

Raw Deal

Red Heat

Career Opportunities


Reality Bites


Cowboys and Aliens


Gone Girl

The Lovely Bones

Absolute Power

The World's End and Paul

The Watch

The Magnificent Seven



Robin Hood: Men in Tights

The Saint

The Village


The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Batman and Robin

The Crow: City of Angels

Escape from LA

Look Who's Talking Too

The Hangover 2

Quantum of Solace

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey

Highlander: Endgame

Ted 2

Tron Legacy


10. Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Dragonlance dvd cover.jpg

This is the only movie on the entire list that did not have any theatrical run.  But the disappointment in this movie runs so very deep.

The Dragonlance Chronicles series is one of my absolute favorite.  While The Lord of the Rings is better written, Dragonlance is much more fun and enjoyable.  The characters are distinct and interesting.  The rag-tag group of misfit heroes checks every hero's journey box in the most engaging and entertaining way.  I have wanted them to do a movie trilogy of these books for years.  It was announced that there was going to be a direct-to-DVD animated film with major voice talent like Kiefer Sutherland, Michael Rosenbaum, Lucy Lawless, Michelle Trachtenberg, and others.  I went out to buy a copy the day it was released.

It is difficult to describe the level of disappointment found in this film.

This really isn't an animated movie.  It's a previsualization animatic with a bit more color and movement.  An animatic is something that movie studios use to get an idea of what a very special effects heavy picture might look like.  It has crude drawings that is given awkward motion to kind of give the gist of how the movie would be directed.  Think of the animation from the YouTube channel "How It Should Have Ended."  That is how bad the "animation" of this movie is.  They then had the actors perform the voices, but it all feels so stunted.

To make matters worse, the script was actually pretty terrible.  There as an odd sexualization of the character Tika and a lot of the other characters just seemed off.  

Trust me, if you have read and enjoyed anything from Dragonlance, stay away from this movie.

9.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Prisoner of azkaban UK poster.jpg

There are very few movies that can live up to the books they came from.  Most of us simply accept that when a story goes from page to screen, something will be lost in translation.  But Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is particularly odious.

The third Harry Potter book is a gripping story.  I remember I was supposed to go to dinner with family, but I found I could not put the book down and so took it with me to the restaurant and very rudely buried my nose in the book the entire night.  This was a transitional book in the series that went deeper and darker than the previous episodes.  It brought the characters to a completely different level as JK Rowling's ability to craft a fantastic story truly began to shine.

And the movie, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, completely botched it.

Cuaron had no idea what he was doing.  You can tell by the way he directed the film that he really had no interest in the source material per se.  He gleaned from it the themes he liked and focused on those.  He did not understand anything that was truly important to the story.  Think about how much time he spent on Aunt Marge and Monster Book of Monsters in proportion to the big reveal at the Shrieking Shack.  I remember hearing a story where he wanted the people in Hogwarts to be listening to what looked like phonograph, but was really a miniaturized band.  Rowling asked him who these small people were, what was their story, and how they would fit into this magical eco-system.  He had no answer, he just thought it would look cool.  That sums up his approach to Harry Potter's world.

The directing is amateurish to the point of being bad.  You can use the handheld style to great effect like in 1917.  But so many of the dialogue scenes feel awkward and unplanned, as if the actors were rehearsing and Cuaron simply followed them around at a distance.

The result is a movie that takes one of the best stories in the series and turns it into the worst Harry Potter film.

8.  Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

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If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I am a big fan of Kenneth Branagh.  I give him a great deal of credit for opening my eyes to the beauty of William Shakespeare.  So when I heard he was directing Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, I was super excited.  This was a bookend to Bram Stoker's Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola, which was movie that I loved at the time (since then I have more mixed thoughts).  I was so excited that even though I was just shy of my 17th birthday, I begged my way through the box office and into this R-Rated movie.  

And oh, how truly awful this movie was.

The entire film moved with a mad energy that made it difficult to follow.  That might be tolerable, but he kept using the exact same technique over and over again.  Scene after scene he would spin the camera around his actors.  Rather than feeling bold and experimental, it felt like the whim of an amateur who just learned that you could but a camera on a dolly track.

Robert DeNiro was also horribly miscast as the Monster.  Like Coppola, Branagh decided to pivot heavily away from the classic Universal Movie Monster template.  That's fine, but his Monster is very uninteresting.  He carries none of the wonder and horror that the Monster should feel to the world around him.  He seems more like a deformed grouch than a freak of nature.

The score is good and the scene of the Monster's creation is exciting, but everything else falls so horribly flat.  There is no terror, no emotion, no feeling.

7.  Live By Night

A man in a white suit, sitting a large brown armchair, pointing a gun.

Ben Affleck directed three movies in a row that were excellent: Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo.  In that time he had also starred as Batman, which has been my favorite interpretation of the character.  Live By Night was supposed to be his Godfather: a gangster period piece with a strong ensemble cast that explored the moral lives of amoral people.

As I wrote in my review:

The problem [with the plot] isn't the complexity, but that it seems needlessly muddled... Too often the characters are painted with to simple and broad brushstrokes.  Loretta's father is reduced to simple madness.  Dion is a not-so-bright buddy.  The KKK troublemaker (Mattthew Maher) is pure inbred hillbilly.  Saldana brings a sophisticated class her character, but we never get much deeper than someone who also represents a different kind of virtue to Joe.

Another problem is something that historical movies tend to have.  Instead of simply presenting life and actions of the day, the movie constantly and not-so-subtly virtue-signals to current political issues of race, poverty, immigration, and legalization of contraband.  If the movie had more confidence in itself, it would trust the viewer to draw its own conclusions.  But when the main character talks about how one day there will be a political upheaval that sounds like rhetoric from recent election campaigns, it only serves to take you out of the movie.


This is the kind of movie that happens to a director when they have been gifted with great success.  It is a film of hubris, but not confidence.  Its ambition exceeds its excellence

6.  Alien 3

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James Cameron's Aliens is the greatest action movie of all time.  While other movies may have better action set pieces, this movie is the best the action is grounded in amazing characters.  Ripley, Hicks, Hudson, Newt, Vazquez, Gorman, Burke, Apone, and Bishop created an unforgettable ensemble that pulled us to the edge of our seats, desperate for them to survive the horror they encounter.  By the end, we felt like we had gone on a meaningful journey with those who survived and we experienced strong and significant character development and relationships in our heroes.

Alien 3 decided to take all of that goodness that was handed to it and flush it down the toilet.  

Alien 3 is so bad that in my mind, the series stops after the end of AliensAlien 3 makes Aliens a pointless endeavor in futility.  

Alien 3 trades distinct characters with their own personalities and voices and trades them for a bunch of bald men that are almost completely interchangeable.

Alien 3 takes the hard-earned, sweetly subtle romance between Ripley and Hicks and spits on it by having her jump into the sack with the first guy on the prison planet that doesn't seem like a psychopath.  

Alien 3 destroys the motherly tenderness and toughness that Ripley found in the previous movie and reduced her to a victim of circumstance.

I would recommend never reading the original plans for Alien 3 and Alien 4.  The simple concepts of those stories alone will spark your imagination and fill you with pangs of sadness that something so great was so utterly destroyed.

5.  Batman Returns

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Tim Burton's Batman came out just as I was seriously getting into comic books.  The synergistic timing has cemented that movie into my mind and heart.  Looking back, I can see a number of places to criticize Burton in the handling of the characters.  But all of that is forgiven for providing a dark, twisted, and compelling look at the Dark Knight.  

Batman Returns doesn't come anywhere near the heights of the first.

The look of the movie is great and in keeping with the previous film.  But the movie lacks any of the nuance or heart that was in the first.  In the first movie, Bruce Wayne/Batman was an enigma, a mystery surrounded by shadow.  You couldn't really get at the depths of who he was because he covered himself in literal and emotional armor.  But you knew there was so much more than what was on the surface.  In this movie, we lose a lot of that mystery and depth.  It comes out a bit more in the final act, but the middle part of the movie doesn't feel like the character we came to love.

The real problem is Danny DeVito's Penguin.  I don't fault the actor with the portrayal.  But instead of giving us a person who is a parody of elite society, we simply have a crude caricature of low-brow humor.  Even though the story attempts to do so, there is no depth to the character.  He is a series of growls and foul comments.  He is never really a threat or darkly comic foil the way Jack Nicholson's Joker was.  Christopher Walken's Max Schrek is also equally lifeless, an empty suit of villany that never really gives you anything substantial to hate.  Michelle Pfiefer's Catwoman is over-the-top, but it works enough for the movie that it is the best thing it has going for it.

When I left the theater after seeing the original Batman, I felt excited and inspired.  I left Batman Returns disappointed.

4.  Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

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There is no need to rehash all of the ways that The Last Jedi fails as a Star Wars film.  But once again we see the same thing that happened with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban happen here: a director with no understanding of the subject matter runs roughshod over the franchise.

At least Cuaron did not destroy any of the essential elements of Rowling's story.  Rian Johnson twisted the characters in a way that made them irredeemable in the eyes of many fans.

The Force Awakens was not the greatest film in the world, but it was good and enjoyable.  And it ended on a tease about my favorite film character: Luke Skywalker.  The Last Jedi was going to finally show us the fully matured Jedi that Luke was always meant to be.

Instead we are presented with a Luke who never really becomes who he should have been.  We have a Luke that is written in such a way as to make himself look badly so that the new hero looks better.  To be sure, he has some fantastic moments.  And I don't mind that we see him start the film as a man broken by bad choices.  But the cathartic character moment that I had been waiting for and yearning for in my childhood hero never occurs.  Even Luke's final scene feels completely unearned and instead feels like Rian Johnson dropping the mic daring anyone to follow his audacious take on Star Wars.

There has never been a more disastrous writer/director for any multi-billion dollar film franchise than Rian Johnson.

3.  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull


There are still many parts of this movie that I enjoy.  The opening scene at the warehouse is fun, as is the chase through the university.  But this movie is very much un-Indiana Jones.

I know that George Lucas dragged his feet for years until Spielberg and Ford both agreed to do his flying saucer story.  But it doesn't work for the Indiana Jones world.  

The other problem is that all of the heart is gone.  This was a franchise that did an amazing job of introducing new characters with each installment that were memorable and interesting like Short Round, Willie Scott, Ilsa, and Henry Jones Sr.  Crystal Skull has got Mutt.  This character never completely works and that isn't Shia LeBeouf's fault.  He is simply written too flatly.  And the others: Mac, Ox, Dean Stanforth... they are insubstantial nothings.  Willie Scott at her most annoying was more entertaining than any of these non-entities.  Cate Blanchett does the best she can, but she is never given the same time of material as Belloq, Molaram, or even Walter Donovan.  

Even worse is that the classic characters are treated so terribly.  The moment that Marion Ravenwood re-enters Indy's life should be a profoundly powerful moment.  It can be dramatic or comedic, but it should be iconic.  Instead, she is dumped onto the screen like a sack of dirty laundry.  There is no artistry in this.  Go back to Raiders of the Lost Ark and watch the scene where we first see Marion and compare it to her re-introduction in Crystal Skull and you will see what I am talking about.

This movie also had the misfortune of following the best of the series, The Last Crusade.  That film was exploring Indiana Jones as a son.  Crystal Skull should have been an exploration of Indiana Jones as a father, but the movie never gets close to the perfection we found with Ford and Connery.  It is easy to fall short of that, but Crystal Skull missed the mark entirely.

2.  Dick Tracy

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You have to understand two things about why this movie is on this list.

1.This movie came out the year after Batman

2.I was young and completely bought the hype.

There as a full-on media blitz telling us that this movie was going to be as good as my beloved Batman.  It went for an incredibly bold retro-style with eye-popping colors.  I watched Madonna and Warren Beatty on Arsenio Hall talking about how this was the most exciting thing ever.  I went gaga over the brightly packaged toys and merchandise.  I bought Dick Tracy's yellow hat (which I would actually wear in public) and a Dick Tracy book so I could familiarize myself with all of the crazy and colorful characters.

I so bought into the hype that I could not bring myself to admit how disappointing the movie was.  I had begged my big sister to take me.  As we left the theater I thanked her up and down, telling her how much I loved it.  Perhaps I was trying to talk myself into liking it too.  But within minutes of the movie starting, I knew that I had been lied to:  This movie was no Batman.  Take away the "comic" art direction and you are left with a mediocre-at-best mobster movie that lacks anything that should make it memorable.  Beatty and Madonna have no chemistry, and even at my young age I could see that.  The movie's twists should have thrilled and delighted, but they felt hollow.

And there is something about this movie that feels dirty.  It isn't horribly graphic in that way, but layered in a violence and sensuality that feels insidious because this was a movie clearly marketed towards kids like me.  Sure there are elements of sex and killing in Batman, but those were much easier to process than what we had in Dick Tracy.  

The movie is like getting socks for Christmas: it's a brightly-colored package with nothing but disappointment inside.

1.  Superman Returns

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This isn't the worst movie I have ever seen.  

This isn't even the worst Superman movie ever made.

But this is hands down, this is the most disappointing movie I have ever seen in the theaters.

Superman is one of my favorite characters of all time, near and dear to my heart like Luke Skywalker.

The original Superman movie was magical.  I mean that in the purest sense of movie magic.  I cannot remember the first time I saw Richard Donner's Superman, but it is part of my earliest memories.  To me, there is no distinction between Christopher Reeve and the character he portrayed.  He perfectly embodied the Man of Steel in his absolute command of every scene, whether dramatic or comedic.  

The Richard Lester cut of Superman II is incredibly flawed but still has enough iconic moments to make it a classic.

Lester's Superman III is a disaster of a film that still manages to give us a few entertaining moments.

And somehow Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is even worse that Superman III.  But perhaps I was too young and naive to see all of these movies' flaws.  I saw Superman IV twice in the theater and even read the novelization of the movie (which is actually pretty good).  

But Superman Returns disappointed me the most.

You have to understand that there had been two fairly serious Superman reboots that had fallen apart before this and both looked disastrous.  Tim Burton's Superman Lives looked like monstrosity.  Years later and more details leaked have shown that this film might have had potential, but at the time this Nicholas Cage-led movie looked awful.  Next, McG, director of the Charlie's Angels movies took the helm.  Early script leaks and rumored casting also made this look like a disaster waiting to happen.

But then Bryan Singer came on board to direct.  Singer had just successfully revived the super hero genre with the incredibly competent X-Men and X2: X-Men United.  At the very least, he took the genre seriously and didn't seem to see it as empty spectacle.  But what made me even more excited was that his Superman movie was going to be a sequel to the first two Richard Donner films.  And then he cast an actor who seemed to embody the look of Christopher Reeve and two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor.  Everything about this looked like it would be one of the truly great super hero films.

So what went wrong?

Someone once said that the devil cannot create, he can only ape.  That is what I think of when I think of Superman Returns.  It feels like really bad fan fiction, where you can tell the author really likes the world their exploring but doesn't really understand it.  It is absolutely clear that Singer approached Donner's work with reverence.  Some say he had too much reverence, but that isn't the problem.  He had too little understanding.

The look, the costumes, the casting, and the tone are all superficially in line with Donner's movies.  But there is no heart.  None of the characters feel like they have any real relationships or friendships.  Lois and Clark/Superman have no chemistry.  They act like they are practically strangers to each other.  Kate Bosworth is one of the worst Lois Lanes I have seen.  It really isn't her fault.  Like Katie Holmes in Batman Begins, she lacked the gravitas for the part.  There is a little bit of madness in Lois that is completely lost on the young Ms. Bosworth.

And this relationship is the heart of the movie.  There are a few decent action set pieces, like the plane rescue.  But Singer focuses on Lois and Clark over Superman saving the world.  And this relationship is so horribly cringey.  Superman becomes a super stalker and a deadbeat dad.  But he isn't much of character.  In Donner's movies, and also in Zack Snyder's films, we get to see the emotional heart of the "man" behind the "super."  We never get that with Superman Returns.  Brandon Routh is a good actor, but Singer never lets him be anything but an image.  Also, instead of letting Spacey play Luthor like Spacey, Singer has him play Luthor like Gene Hackman, which is a bad fit.

Also, the movie is too dark.  I don't mean in tone, I mean it is literally dim and difficult to see.  At first I thought it was just the print at the theater where I first watched the movie.  But subsequent viewings show this poor cinematography.

This is also the movie that tried to get beyond the wholesomeness of the original.  When Joss Whedon wrote Captain America in The Avengers, he understood that his idealism was "old fashioned," but he knew that was part of what defined his character.  Singer tries to "modernize" Superman so that he doesn't necessarily stand for truth, justice, "and all that stuff."  

I actually saw the movie twice in the theaters and bought the special edition DVD.  

As I said, the Superman movies were magic to me.  Imagine going into a magic show expected to be dazzled with wonder, but instead were presented with an amateurish display with easily detectible tricks that left you more cynical about ever feeling wonder again.

That is what it was like watching Superman Returns.

And that is why it is the most disappointing movie of all time.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Sunday Best: Rest in Peace Alex Trebek

 File:US Navy 070329-N-8591H-134 Alex Trebek of the trivia game show Jeopardy^ along with USO members and the Jeopardy film crew receive a brief about USS Kitty Hawk's (CV 63) capabilities.jpg

It is so strange when someone who has been in your life for so long is suddenly not there.

Alex Trebek is known to most of us as the host of Jeopardy!  I also remember him from the daytime TV game show Classic Concentration.  But Jeopardy! was where I encountered him the most.  I remember watching the show with my family, particularly my big brother.  We even got a device that let you play along with contestants on TV.  We would, of course, bet everything on the Daily Doubles and more often than not we would lose it all.  But it didn't matter, because it was so much fun.

Trebek was such a reassuring presence on the TV.  Unlike most game show hosts, Trebek never tried to make himself the center of attention.  He was always charismatic and witty, but he didn't try to dominate the time with lots of jokes or funny expressions.  He took the game seriously and the constants seriously.  And because of that, we took the game seriously too.

When people answered correctly, he had the tone of an encouraging teacher.  When they were wrong, there as sympathy in his tone that never let you feel too discouraged.  For some reason, I felt like if I met him, I'd want to impress him.

The thing that marked him most was his humility.  If you read his interviews, he was someone who always felt that the show was bigger than him.  He also downplayed the affection that the audience had for him.  While he was confident and decisive, you rarely found any trace of ego.  He never made it about him.

This was true even when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the same cancer that took my grandfather.  Trebek kept going to work and showing us how to carry on with dignity.  He could have done a big farewell season and soaked in the decades of admiration from the viewing public and no one would find fault with it.  Instead, he continued doing what he loved until the day he couldn't.

I read somewhere that he was often tempted to depression, which is understandable.  When my mother received her cancer diagnosis, she fell deeply into a depression that overshadowed her until she passed.  But Trebek said that he fought hard against this feeling, because it would a betrayal to his wife, his family, his fans, and God.  I do not know how accurate this quote is or what Trebek's relationship with God was like.  But to the public eye, he appeared to be living this ideal as best he could.

For someone who downplayed how much he was loved, it has been interesting to see the overwhelming tone of sympathy from well-wishers all over the world.  Alex Trebek had a sense of class that is rare today and he commanded respect without demanding it.  To all appearances he seemed to be a genuinely decent person.  His work on Jeopardy! inspired many people, myself included, to find joy in learning.  

And that is not a bad legacy to leave.

There will never be another.

Who could ever replace Alex Trebek?

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Wednesday Comics: Batman - Three Jokers #2-#3

 Pin on The Joker

I wrote my review for the first issue of this mini-series a few months ago.  At the time I thought I knew where the story was going.

Boy, was I wrong.

The subversion of expectation has become a staple of post-modern storytelling.  We've seen it done very poorly, as we saw in The Last Jedi.  But if done correctly, it can be enlightening and moving.

And that is what I found in these last 2 issues.

In the first issue, we found out that the goal of the three Jokers was to "make a better Joker."  With that in mind, I thought I had figured out who they were going to choose.  To my surprise, not only did they not choose that person, but the Joker actually calls out this expectation in his dialogue.

Writer Geoff Johns has mentioned how this story is about scars.  This is the story of three broken people, and we are not talking about the Jokers.  Our three main heroes of this story (Batman, Batgirl, and Red Hood) are all broken in serious ways, some maybe beyond repair.  This story has pushed our heroes to the limits, not just physically, but morally.  

I have to say that this is one of my favorite Jason Todd stories.  He has been set up as the anti-hero of the Bat-Family, but I have never seen him so humanized.  You can feel his yearning to connect out of his loneliness.  There is a wonderful scene where he starts to realize that Barbara lives a life of pain the way he does and there is just a little bit more light in his life.

One of the best things Johns does is that he gives us moments that we remember.  At one point in the story, Batman has to go to Blackgate prison to speak to Joe Chill, the man who killed his parents.  The moment he speaks into his cell is something I will always remember in my Batman lore.

There will be some who will be disappointed that this story does not completely explain who the Three Jokers are.  Johns is not about to completely take away the mystery and mystique of the character.  But he does offer a revelation that blew my mind.  It is something that retcons something very traditional in Batman mythology, but it works emotionally.  

Again, the story is about scars and the question of whether or not we can heal.  And the deepest scars are the one that we cannot see.  In this story, Batman has to confront his biggest wound in a way I have not seen and it was beautifully written and presented.

Jason Fabok's art is beautiful.  I would let my eyes linger on the page longer than I normally do because of the way he is able to draw out the dark beauty of Gotham City and the people who live there.  His drawings feel like they have heft and weight in a way that many comic book art does not.  I can feel the impact of Batman's punches and hum of the Batmobile's engine.

Three Jokers is not the greatest Batman/Joker story ever told, but it is definitely in the top 10.

Monday, November 9, 2020

New Evangelizers Post: The Long Defeat and Final Victory




I have a new article up at  

JRR Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings once wrote: “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ – though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.”

Note here that he attributes this seemingly pessimistic view on his Roman Catholic faith. Tolkien tells us that Catholicism views human history as the “long defeat.”

As I have gotten older, the truth of this sinks in. Though I think everyone begins to feel this way with age. The sunny days of youth are idealized and the younger generation begins to cast off the values that served as the solid foundation for our own lives. It leaves us feeling unmoored from the world, as if the culture is moving away from us and beyond us to the point where we begin to feel irrelevant.

We can feel this in politics, the popular culture, and even in our local communities. But we especially see this in how our society treats our faith. We are told that we have lost the the next generation on things like abortion, same-sex “marriage,” drugs, materialism, and atheism. Society, it seems, has evolved and we are told we too must evolve or die.

Pope Benedict XVI once wrote that in the modern world, the believer feels more and more like the outcast. He tells the story of a traveling circus that catches fire, so one of the clowns goes to the local town to scream for help. Seeing him in his clown outfit, the townsfolk think he is joking and begin to laugh. The more emphatically and emotionally he pleads for help, they laugh all the more. Pope Benedict said that this is how many modern Christians feel when trying to share the faith with the modern world.

And notice that Tolkien’s view is completely at odds with the modern notion of progress. There is a notion out there that even as we jettison the old religious traditions that somehow we will, through our technology and our politics, achieve an undreamt of utopia.

Of course CS Lewis pointed out that this idea of the inevitability of progress is a myth. He wrote in The World’s Last Night that , “The idea of the world slowly ripening to perfection, is a myth, not a generalization from experience. “ But this myth must be kept in place in order for us to “move beyond” the Christian faith.

Christ Himself warned us about this future. He told His disciples, ““If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’[a] If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. “ (John 15:18-20)

Jesus was not a Utopian idealist. He even told His followers that “The poor you will have with you always.” (Mark 14:7) Fallen human nature can have a gravitational pull on the souls of men, whereas the life of grace requires us to swim upstream, to go against the tide.

In many ways, you can see how Tolkien was right.

God makes the world. And what follows?
-Adam and Eve fall
-Cain kills Abel
-everyone becomes sinful but Noah
-the tower of Babel
-Sodom and Gomorrah
-Jacob steals the birthright
-Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery
-Hebrews build the golden calf
-Moses strikes the rock twice
-Saul tries to kill David
-David becomes an adulterer and murderer
-Solomon commits idolatry
-Civil war in the kingdom
-the Babylonian Exile
-the Roman occupation
-Christ is condemned to death by His own people and crucified by the Romans

And the book of Revelation tells us of the tribulations that are to come.

But we should not despair.

Remember the entirety of Tolkien’s quote. “History” is the long defeat.

But Christians look beyond history into eternity.

And that is where we will find final victory.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Sunday Best: Top 10 Political Movies

 Seeing as how everyone is reeling from the current election, I thought it might be a good time to look at the best political movies.

The challenge here is to find films that do a good job of exploring politics in an interesting and entertaining way without devolving into partisianship.  This isn't easy since movies of this type to easily become political propaganda.  Nevertheless, here is is my list.

10. The Distinguished Gentleman

This a fun and light-hearted comedy about a con man who worms his way into the US House of Representatives and tries to live high on the hog the way life-long bureaucrats do.  Murphy is charming and funny in this, though the script doesn't play to his strengths as much at it should.  Rather veering into total cynicism, this film gives a glimpse at how our system can work with some good people in it.

9. 13 Days

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From what I understand, this movie goes out of its way to put the Kennedys in the best possible light for this movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Regardless, it is a fascinating insight into all of the political dealings that have to be done in the midst of an international crisis while keeping a cool head  at all times.

8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

One of the reasons this is one of the best Marvel movies is that it is a movie about something.  The questions of freedom and security are at the heart of this film and the filmmakers do a good job of bringing those timely topics front and center without seeming to come down on the side of any particular political party.

7. Captain America: Civil War

Even though Winter Soldier is a better movie, Civil War is higher on this list because it is able to make the political questions at the center of this conflict so incredibly interesting.  I have watched the scene with Steven and Tony arguing at the conference table several times.  One of the things I love about what this movie does is that it shows how too people can have unwavering political convictions but neither of them are the "bad guy."  Yes, they are in conflict, but they don't demonize the other.  That is great lesson for today.

6. Hamilton

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Besides the epic and emotionally devastating music, Hamilton takes us on the founding father's political journey.  One of the things that I truly enjoyed about it is how it showed the way political ambition can utterly destroy a person's life, even with the best of intentions.  

5. 1776

While the music for Hamilton may be better, I watch this movie every year because I love hearing the arguments from the members of the Continental Congress as to why we needed to be free and independent.  This is a movie that is a good reminder why we broke away and created the greatest country the world has ever seen.  It is also a reminder that without the work of these incredible but flawed men, we would not be here as a people.

4. Dave

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This is an underrated gem about a man impersonating the president who ends up having to become the president.  It is a wonderful critique of politics without being nakedly partisan.  Kevin Kline is fantastic, not overplaying the comedy and showing just the right amount of restraint and energy.  I love his final speech to Congress, as corny as it is, especially when he says about being president that he was sent there to do a job "and a temp job at that."  It is a nice reminder that our political leaders should only be there temporarily and we do not elect dynasties.

3. Lincoln

I don't think I ever truly admired the political genius of Abraham Lincoln until this movie.  It is a fascinating exploration of how you can achieve great political progress through compromise, persuasion, and strategy.  Watch how Lincoln had to juggle such polarizing members of not only congress, but his own political party.  All the while he has a ticking clock and a war to manage while dealing with a crazy wife.  Amazing to watch.

2.  Wag the Dog

Pure cynicism.  This might be the most cynical film I have ever seen and yet I don't find it a turn off.  There is something not only incredibly interesting about the way the characters underhandedly try to manipulate the country, but something rings true about the deep corruption of our media/political system.  I remember the first time I saw this film, the ending was so shocking to me that I really disliked it.  Now I understand that without the film's ending, you completely misunderstand the point of the movie.  Brilliant.

1. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

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The most idealist movie about politics.  And yet, if you watch most of the film, it is about how utterly corrupt our politics has become.  The story is about a political outsider named Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) who is appointed to the US Senate.  He thinks of Congress a place of high ideals and statesmanship, only to be confronted with the its utter depravity.  Even his best friends and allies are pure cynics who make fun of goodness and idealism.  Eventually, the evil of the system falls upon him to destroy him.  But then comes the greatest third act of any political movie.  

The filibuster sequence is Jimmy Stewart at his best: sincere, passionate, dramatic, funny, and wise.  To this day I get chills when he looks up in despair at the man who betrayed him and says with an incomprehensibly compassionate smile, "I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Payne."