Sunday, January 31, 2021

Film Flash: The Dig


The Dig poster.jpg

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

A movie so pretentious, boring, and morally incomprehensible that it should have stayed buried.


Film Flash: The Little Things


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

An unsatisfying murder mystery that doesn't want to answer the questions the audience has.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Trailer Time: Godzilla vs. Kong

I know that there are people who are huge devotees to both the Godzilla franchise and the original King Kong.  I don't have those same emotional attachments, but I have enjoyed many of their adventures in the past.

This film appears to be a direct sequel to Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Kong: Skull Island.  They've made sure to enlarge Kong so that he can stand toe-to-toe with Godzilla.  

My sense of this film is that the fight scenes are going to be awesome and the human "story" scenes are going to drag and be the worst part.  That has tended to be the case with movies in this series.  I get the feeling that when watching this at home, I'm going to skip the human parts and replay all of the fight scenes.

I have to admit the sight of Godzilla popping up out of the water after Kong screams was pretty awesome.


Sunday, January 24, 2021

Sunday Best: Top 10 Vince Vaughn Movies

image by James Caws 

Yesterday, there was a mini-Vince Vaughn movie marathon on TV.  It got me to thinking about him and his career.  He's been making movies for over 20 years and that is nothing to sneeze at.  I've been acutely aware of his career with his and Jon Favreau's breakout film Swingers.  I found that there is something strangely relatable to a number of his films.  It might be the fact that he is only a few years older than me.  It could be that he has the coolness that the average man wishes they had.  Or it could be that he seems like a genuinely relatable guy that you sit down and have a beer with.

Regardless, I reflected on his film career and decided to break down his ten best movies.  

These are not all movies in which he stars.  Sometimes his screen time is limited.  The following movies are ranked not according to the specific quality of his performance but on the overall quality of the movie.  Often the two things are linked.

And there a number of films of his that I haven't seen where I heard were excellent, like Riot in Cell Block 99 or Dragged Across Concrete.  This list is based only on the films of his I have seen.

10. Four Christmases

Four Christmases-Movie Poster.PNG

The movie has many flaws and it never quiet makes it to the level that it needs to be.  But what holds this thing together is Vaughn's performance.  He absolutely commits to every situation, like the utter terror when he is about to be punched in the face by a child or his absolute certitude in lines like "Honey, haircuts don't lie."  He carries the ball all the way into the end zone.

9. Return to Paradise

Return to paradise.jpg

I don't think I could watch this movie again.  It wasn't because it was bad, but that it was so upsetting to watch.  In the movie, Vaughn's character must decide whether he will accept a prison sentence in a foreign country, which is the only way to save the life of his friend played by Joaquim Phoenix.  The movie takes some truly harrowing emotional turns that stick with you in a very unpleasant way.  I recognize that this was the intent of the film makers, so I acknowledge it here on this list.

8. Fighting With My Family

Fighting With My Family poster.png

Vaughn takes a supporting role as a talent scout for the WWE.  There is a maturing element to his performance here.  It is not as showy as some of his earlier parts.  There is a quiet mean, mentorship that you only find out later is tough love.  He makes sure to ground his aloofness in actual care.  He perfectly facilitates the main character's transformation from the beginning to the end.

7. Wedding Crashers

Wedding crashers poster.jpg

This movie would be much higher on the list if it wasn't a bit too long.  This movie has so many funny moments that it is hard to recount them all here.  It is hysterical to watch Vaughn move from his typical cocky ladies' man into a man trapped and hunted.  To be sure the movie is on the vulgar side, but it ultimately moves the characters into a place of growth.  His chemistry with Owen Wilson and Isla Fisher is fantastic.

6.  Rudy

Rudy (1993 movie poster).jpg

Vaughn's part in this movie is very small.  But the movie itself is excellent.  It does a great job of giving you and emotional investment in the modest dreams of the title college student so that you want to cheer his name along with the crowd in the final game.

5.  Made

Made film.jpg

This is a very underrated film directed and Favraeu.  Not only is the movie completely quotable, but Vaughn's character has an unhinged, wild side to him that is at times likable, but sometimes takes a dark turn.  In fact, as the movie goes on Vaughn's Ricky Slade gets so dark that you are tempted to write him off completely.  But Vaughn's performance keeps him just on the right side of endearing to make sure that you stick with him until the end.

4. Couples Retreat

Couples retreat.jpg

Like Wedding Crashers, this one is a bit too long, but also like Wedding Crashers, the funny moments are too many to count.  This is a film that is helped by having an incredibly good cast that all bring the right elements of chemistry to this group dynamic.  Besides being hysterical, the movie is also incredibly relatable.  Within the 4 couples, we can find dynamics in marriages and friendships that will have some aspects that are familiar to the audience.  I also love how this movie marks a very clear point in Vaughn's film trajectory from ladies' man to family man.

3. Dodgeball

Movie poster Dodgeball A True Underdog Story.jpg

This movie is pure silliness and it that is perfect.  There is no depth here.  There is no deeper meaning other than the desire to make the audience laugh.  Whenever this movie is on TV, I end up watching it because I know that I'm going to have a good time.  It is over-the-top and cartoonish and it absolutely works, with lines that I still quote to this day.  It also has one of my favorite film jokes of all time: "Allow me the pleasure of introducing you to: Blade!  Laser!... Blazer!"

2.  Swingers

Swingers ver2.jpg

I encountered this movie at just the right time in my life, when I was a young, single guy in college.  This movie struck a chord in a way that few movies do because it harmonizes with something true in your real-life experience.  It captures the depression of heart-break, the agony of being single, and bond that good buddies have where they may fight but they have each other's backs.  It's roughness is part of its charm and Vaughn became a well-deserved star after this film.

1.  Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge poster.png

Vaughn only has a supporting role here, but he is excellent.  As Sgt. Howell, he is a commanding presence who belittles and berates his men, whipping them into shape from carefree boys into well-trained soldiers.  He is tough-as-nails, but he is able to show a paternal side when needs be.  While Vaughn is not the center of the film, he certainly adds to the overall quality of this masterful war movie by Mel Gibson.  The movie is harrowing, exciting, heartbreaking, and uplifting.  And Vaughn's "man's man" quality as an actor is perfect in this role.


Friday, January 22, 2021

Film Review: Greyhound


Sexuality/Nudity No Objection
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy No Objection

Tom Hanks has earned a lot of cache in the genre of World War II stories.  His iconic performance in Saving Private Ryan notwithstanding, he has also produced the series Band of Brothers and The Pacific.  Outside of film, he was a huge supporter of the World War II memorial in Washington DC.

This time Hanks returns to WWII with a script he wrote himself called Greyhound.  The title refers to the code name for the ship that he captains.  Hanks plays Captain Krause, who is given here his first command of an Allied convoy.  Battleships like his must protect cargo ships transporting, troops, fuel, supplies, weapons, and all manner of help for the war.  The problem is the German U-Boats.  The convoy is safe when they are within a certain distance from an Allied airbase where planes can bomb the subs out of the water.  But for several days during the crossing, the convoy is vulnerable at every moment.  The battle ships must keep constant watch for attack at any moment.  Any single bad choice could jeopardize the lives of everyone in the convoy.

Unlike Saving Private Ryan, this is not a movie that is a character study soldiers on the field of battle.  I would venture to say that most people would have a hard time remembering the names of any of the characters.  There are no big speeches about life back home or the inhumanities of war.  The sailors are too busy with fighting to talk about fighting.  While this is a bit of problem, Hanks and director Aaron Schneider compensate for it in two ways.

The first is that the movie is an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.  Every moment is soaking with tension.  We do not have an omniscient view of all of the events happening.  We tend to be locked completely into Captain Krause's perspective.  We never see what the captains of the other boats are doing or feeling.  Like Krause, we have to discern how they are doing from brief flashes of communication.  The U-Boats are actually quite terrifying.  Like the shark in Jaws, they are a mostly unseen menace in the ocean that can pop up at any time to bring death.  How many U-Boats are following them?  Krause doesn't know, and neither do you.  You take the ride along with him as you white-knuckle your way through hoping to buy more time.

The second thing that helps is that the movie is utterly fascinating to watch.  Schneider throws us right into the thick of things.  When a U-Boat is spotted, we see the well-oiled machine of naval training kick in.  The navigator plots a course, measures time and speed, the captain assesses the field and tries to strategically uses his limited artillery to blast them out of the water.  I couldn't take my eyes off of the screen and even though I did not understand a great deal of what was being said, I felt like I was experiencing real life on a battle ship.  You are not only in Krause's position, but you also feel like a member of the crew when he makes a decision you think is wrong.  You have to trust the chain of command, but you are uneasy as your life is in the captain's fallible hands.

Hanks holds the movie together with the power of his charisma.  Like his performance in Cast Away, Hanks is able to draw you in with very little dialogue or action.  You cannot wait to see what he is going to do next, but he never goes over-the-top.

As a Catholic I absolutely loved the spirituality that is present in the movie.  Krause is a religious man, a man of prayer.  He begins his day on his knees before God.  He is humble and pious while being bold and courageous.  Hanks and Schneider treat Krause's spirituality with great dignity and respect.

Because it never tries to delve too deeply into the characters the way Saving Private Ryan does, Greyhound never quite achieves the heights of that film.  But if you want a fun, thrilling, and fascinating couple of hours, I would check this movie out.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Film Review: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom


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

A few minutes into  Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, I came to realize that this wasn't a movie.  This was a play.

I found out later that this movie is in fact a stage play by August Wilson.  Adapting a play to a movie is actually a tricky business.  Theater is really an actor's medium whereas film is a director's medium.  A movie is primarily told through the decisions and vision of the director.  But on stage, the actor must command the attention of the audience for the entire time and use every technique they can to draw in the audience.  This is one of the reasons that the movie does not work as well.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom takes place almost entirely at a recording studio in 1927 Chicago where Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) is recording an album.  Her band is made up of the talented and cocky Levee (Chadwick Boseman), lead musician Cutler (Colman Domingo), common sense piano player Toledo (Glynn Turman), and Slow Drag (Michael Potts).  The day is hot and tensions flare up as delays and conflicts in the group build with dramatic and devastating results.

This is a difficult movie to accurately review without giving spoilers so be warned:  SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THE REVIEW.

As I said, theater is an actor's medium and the performances are fantastic.  You can see how an actor would love to be in this movie.  The best of all the performances is Boseman as Levee.  As I wrote in an earlier article, "Boseman's performance as Levee is utterly fantastic.  His character has a heart that is a black hole of self-centeredness that he covers with swagger.  But when the damn breaks, Boseman pushes Levee to emotional depths that are so incredibly difficult to perform well without going over the edge.  Leevee is charming, funny, scary, detestable, and sympathetic, sometimes all at the same time.  And Boseman plays those contradictions wonderfully.

Normally I don't like to pull real life into the dramatic experience, but while I was watching, I could not help think about how Boseman was dying while he was making this film and he knew it.  The dramatic weight loss alone in him is shocking.  I could not help but think about how this actor's own mortality was weighing on him and yet he either puts that away or uses that experience to fuel his best performance in a career and life ended too soon."

Boseman is not alone in bringing his performance to a higher level.  Particulalry good is Turnman.  As I wrote in an earlier post, "One of the things I respect from an actor is when they are able to "Do nothing effectively."  I teach my students that "acting is reacting."  To be a truly effective actor, you have to exist as a real person in the moment.  Turman actually hooked me with a single reaction shot.  Throughout the movie, Turman is the voice of reason and conscience.  He dispenses common sense wisdom and he does so with the weariness of a man who has earned this wisdom through a life of bad choices.  You can see his frustration as he tries to impart this wisdom to Leevee.  Then after some gentle ribbing, Levee bursts into a devastating monologue about the family tragedy that defined him.  During that monologue it cut to Turman's character as he listened.  His eyes were red and pained, his face a mask of horror and sympathy.  In those brief seconds, Thurman not only conveyed everything his character was feeling and the depths of sympathy he had, but he gave Boseman's character an added emotional boost that pushed the emotional thermometer even higher.  And that is what a great supporting actor does."

Davis, as always is great.  Her Ma Rainey is a bold bully, who kicks up a big deal to get her way even over something as trivial as a Coca-Cola.  But you can understand why there is no agreeableness in her.  The moment she becomes at all conciliatory, there are people surrounding her ready to take advantage of her talent and success.  She is constantly on the attack as a defense.  Davis gives her a fury that is seething beneath every look.

So if the performances are so good, why doesn't the movie work?

The first reason is that director George C. Wolfe forgets he's making a movie.  What I mean by that is that the movie is blocked and shot in a way that feels like a stage play.  This works with something like Hamilton, but not here.  The script also needed to be edited down more to keep things moving at a clip.  The monologues are long and repetitive and indulgent.  Often in film, less is more when it comes to dialogue.

The second is that the movie has a very ugly, blasphemous overtone.  As I wrote in an earlier post, "Some movies this year had small moments of blasphemy like An American Pickle and Palm Springs.  But Ma Rainey's Black Bottom gave one of its most pivotal scenes to a character who spent it uttering the most horrible blasphemies against God.  Now, there is more nuance going on in this play than what you find in most simplistic anti-Christian scripts.  I think that it is possible that you could make an argument that this movie is not anti-Christian based on how this horrid character ends up.  I make a similar case for the movie The Devil's Advocate."

This can be seen particularly in the character of Levee.   In one scene, he calls out God directly, shouting terrible things to Him, threatening Him, insulting Him.  These moments are so indulgent and linger so long that they border on disgusting.

To be fair, Levee is an evil person.  This is made clear by the end of the play.  He thinks his musical talent will bring him incredible worldly success.  When his dreams are dashed, he lashes out at Toledo for stepping on his new shoes and proceeds to stab him in the back.  While Toledo is dying, he tries to justify his action because of Toledo's imagined offense.  Levee's heart is a black hole of narcissism where he justifies his wrath in psychotic ways.  Regardless, his blasphemy makes the movie difficult to watch.

If you are interested in great performances, you could do worse than this movie.  Just don't expect to enjoy it.

Monday, January 18, 2021

New Evangelizers Post: Evangelization Begins with Love



I have a new article up at  

If you are anything like me, watching the news about our country is very upsetting. We are all Americans and yet we often appear more and more divided. To be honest, I have spent less and less time watching the news and instead focusing on praying for our people.

Everywhere it seems like all we find is bad news.

Why are we so divided?

I won’t pretend to have all of the answers here. But one of the things that I see happening is that we are no longer talking to each other. We are talking at each other. We are quick to think of those who are on different sides than our own as villains who need to be defeated.

This made me think about the mission of evangelization. Christ commanded us to “make disciples of all nations.” (Matt: 28:19) We are called to engage the world and bring them to the Gospel message. We cannot be shut up in our own little closed lives. We must engage the world. And sometimes, people may not be receptive to the message.

An easy trap to fall into is to think about evangelization or apologetics the same way we look at other debate tools. We think that the best way to bring people into the kingdom is to argue them into belief.

Before proceeding, I want to be absolutely clear that apologetics and logical argumentation are an indispensable part of our mission. Our God is a God reason. The charge against people of faith is often that they abandon reason, science, and logic in favor or irrational belief. This is a big stumbling block for many people in the modern world. They have bought into this lie about Christianity. Great theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas and CS Lewis do a wonderful job of removing that accusation against the Christian faith.

But as I have written in previous articles, we must remember that apologetics has its place. Many people have these mental impediments to coming to faith. For example, someone may have a problem believe that a good and love God would allow suffering. Reading a book like The Problem of Pain can help remove these stumbling blocks to faith. But even if all of these obstacles are removed, this does not guarantee faith. In other words, you cannot argue someone into believing, you can only argue away their obstacles. In the end, they must make the choice whether or not to make the leap of faith.

But why will they make that leap?

Recently, someone asked Fr. Larry Richards what was the best way to convert an atheist. He responded that too often we try to hit people with the truth of God before they’ve ever experienced the love of God.

God is love.

Love is the beginning and the end of evangelization.

As a high school theology teacher, I am sometimes able to argue students out of their objections to the faith. This act on my part is not all that impressive since I have spent many years studying these things and often their arguments are ones that they have heard from others (lately a lot of them are coming from YouTube). But even when I am able to refute their argument, faith is not immediately kindled in them.

Faith is a relationship. This is why Jesus wants us to believe IN Him, not simply believe THAT He is the Son of God. To believe IN someone is to have a relationship with them.

A student once asked me how they could believe in a God they have never met. I told them that they couldn’t. You can’t believe in someone, even God, if you have never met them.

So how do we help people meet God?

The first and most important thing is to love them.

One thing I have learned in my years of teaching is that the will can often override the intellect. You can remove every logical objection to faith, but if the person feels like they are being bullied or pushed towards God, they may reject faith simply out of a desire to not give in.

But when the people know that God truly loves them, they are drawn to Him in a deep and profound way. And this is part of our job in spreading the Gospel. We must give people the love of God.

When speaking with others, we must let them know that they are loved. Their lives are uniquely and particularly special. We must listen to them and care for them. We must show them that we care about them, not just in a general sense of Christian charity, but in a particular sense of human friendship.

If a person experiences that love and acceptance in us, it will turn them to the perfect love and acceptance that comes from God.

I remember listening to a speaker at a conference set up by my bishop. The speaker was a woman with same-sex attractions who was not raised Catholic. But in college, she somehow fell in with a Catholic college group. She was very up front about her attractions and her lifestyle, but she said that no one in that group ever put conditions on their friendship. She felt loved and accepted just as she was. To be clear, they never compromised the Church’s teachings on human sexuality, but they let her know that living in accordance with the Gospel was not a prerequisite to being loved by them or by God. As a result, she developed a deep longing for God, particularly in the Eucharist. The speaker came to realize that she wanted to be with Christ who loved her and so she embraced the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality.

The point is that the best way to bring people to the love of God is simply to love them. I know that seems obvious, but in these days, we are so quick to turn people who disagree with us into the villains of our story.

You can read the whole article here.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Film Review: Godmothered


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

The most frustrating thing about this movie is that it is almost a modern holiday classic.  If only they stuck the landing, this would be approaching the same stratosphere as movies like Elf or Enchanted.  But it falls short.

Godmothered centers around Eleanor (Jillian Bell) who lives in a magical school that trains women to be fairy godmothers.  She is the worst in her class but makes up for it with pluck and enthusiasm.  However because of the rigidness of the headmistress Moira (Jane Curtin), the school is falling apart because no one is turning to their fairy godmothers.  Eleanor decides to do something about it: she finds a letter in the archives from a little girl named Mackenzie who asks for help finding her true love.  Our hero travels from her magical land to our world only to find that Mackenzie is now a grown-up single mother played by Isla Fisher.  Undeterred, Eleanor unloads her unpredictable toolbox of fairy godmother tricks to help Mackenzie, often resulting in hilarity.

I was so impressed with Bell in Brittany Runs a Marathon.  She handled the mature material of that movie with great humor and charisma and she does equally well in Godmothered.  Her enthusiasm is contagious.  Playing a character like this could easily devolve in to cloying Pollyannaishness that serves as a portrait of naïveté in a fallen world.  Instead, Bell makes us believe in Eleanor's drive and desire to spread joy.  She is not a perfect figure.  She is incredibly flawed and has to overcome those flaws throughout the movie, which provides a nice character arc.  And requires Eleanor to be someone who has to do a lot of physical comedy and sell a silly joke.  I must admit, the movie began to own me when she told a truck driver that she was looking for a place called "Mass-a-cahoo-sets."  

Fisher is a perfect foil to Bell.  I've always thought that Fisher should be a marquee-name, A-list comedienne.  Watching her world spin out of control by the chaotic Eleanor is a great deal of fun.  She allows us to see the different layers of personality to her character and she hones in how to get the funniest take on those layers.  

The script is not meant to be too terribly complex or deep.  In many ways, it is a very by-the-numbers Disney fairytale/fish-out-of-water film.  Mackenzie's world is defined by fear and the desire to protect her family.  Eleanor's job is to help Mackenzie learn not how to be safer but braver.  You can see these same themes play out in movies like Finding Nemo.

Director Sharon Maguire hits just the right silly and sweet tone throughout.  There is a delightful moment that sticks out where Eleanor is helping Mackenzie's daughter Jane (Jillian Shea Spaeder) overcome her fear of singing in public.  They sing "My Favorite Things" on a public street full of cynical city-dwellers.  But as the persist in their song, it draws in the crowd and the audience at the same time.  I'm not ashamed to say that my wife and I began to sing along as well.  Maguire not only is able to set up scenes like that as well while making the film a fun and colorful spectacle.

The only real problem with the movie is the ending.  Everything builds to a confrontation between Eleanor and Moira.  It involves Eleanor calling for us to redefine happily-ever-after.  And while there is something interesting there, the film-makers took it as an opportunity to try to be more cutting edge of social issues.  They try to do it the same way they did in the live-action Beauty and the Beast or Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.  All three of these films try to introduce commentaries on modern issues in a way that has nothing to do with anything that has come before.  As a result, these moments have only one result: they break the spell the movie is casting on the audience.  Once that happened, Godmothered makes you feel like Cinderella after the clock strikes midnight.

And that is the real shame here.  This movie should be more present in my consciousness and memory because so much of it is admirable, enjoyable, and magical.  But when you are casting a spell like this, you have to carry it all the way to the end.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Sunday Worst: Bizarro Awards 2020

 My good friend the Doctor said that I should do a parallel list to my Kal-El Awards that reflect to worst in pop culture from the year.  He suggested that I call them the "Lenny Luthors" after the horrible Jon Cryer character from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.  The rational for choosing Lenny was that "he is terrible in every way that Superman is awesome."

I liked the idea, but I thought instead of Lenny Luthor we would name the awards after the true opposite of Superman:


Bizarro is the anti-Superman, literally.  He even maintains speech patterns that are the opposite of what he means.  "Good-bye, me am not Bizarro.  Me like you!  Live!"  said by Bizarro actually means "Hello, I am Bizarro.  I hate you! Die!"

So since Superman is my mark of excellence.  Bizarro will be my mark of utter awfulness.   Unlike the Kal-El awards, these will be focused only on movies.  The reason is that serialized work like television and comics require a longer time commitment in order to understand the material.  You may have to watch a show or read a comic for several months before you discover if it is truly bad or good.  It took me a few episodes to understand the logic behind Vincent D'Onofrio's performance in Daredevil.  The investment of time and/or money also precludes a lot of unnecessary sampling, so my exposure to bad material is a bit less.

With a movie, you can have a complete understanding of the product after 90-180 minutes.  So I only have two TV categories:

-Worst TV Show I Stopped Watching
-Worst TV Show I Still Watch

In both of these cases I will be giving my critical condemnation of shows about which I have some significant experience and thus have a basis for calling them critical failures

So now, here are the Bizarro Awards for movies this past year.  (based on the movies I have seen).


BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

As I wrote in my BEST IN MOVIES post for the year, I am very easy to please when it comes to super hero films.  I'm not a snob.  I can enjoy a film filled with plot holes like WW84 as much as one with a sharp script like The Dark Knight.  

But BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is not only the worst movie of the year, it might be the worst super hero film of all time (though I think that dubious honor still goes to Batman and Robin).  

Birds of Prey is a failure on every single level of film-making.  This movie isn't so much a movie as it is a rant.  Nothing is fun, nothing is funny.  As a comic book critic I follow says, the movie is filled with "LOL so random!" humor that it never actually approaches anything like real comedy.  All of this would be tolerable if we connected on any level to the characters, which we do not.  There is nothing enjoyable, likable, approachable, or sympathetic about any of them.  And while I know that movies tend to deviate from their comic counterparts, what they did with Cassandra Cain is a complete waste of a fantastic and interesting character.  

What makes it worse is that the movie is completely and utterly smug in how it presents itself, right to the final frame of the film.  The only time the movie has life is during some of the action sequences, particularly in the jail breakout.  For a moment we get a glimpse of what a real Birds of Prey movie could be, but it quickly collapses under the weight of its own inanity.  

10. The Midnight Sky
9. An American Pickle
8. The Lovebirds
7. Artemis Fowl
6. Enola Holmes
5. Dads
4. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
3. Palm Springs
2. Mank
1. BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn


Ewan McGregor - BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn


Ewan McGregor is truly talented actor, whose has gotten better over time.  But I don't know what happened here.  As I wrote in my review: "This might also be the worst performance of McGregor's career. Nothing he does is coherent. He plays everything in such utter broad strokes that he feels like a talking mime, over exaggerating every emotion to point where nothing he does seems genuine. In an age of CGI comic book villains, it is sad that Thanos came across as more human than Sionis."

My only guess is that McGregor decided that in order to really show the themes of the film, he had to be the embodiment of "toxic masculinity."  But that is not a character.  And so he had nothing to play accept broad emotional swings that lack any character logic.


Ella Jay Basco - BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

I usually try to give a lot of slack to younger actors.  They are still learning their craft and often are not at their best with their early film experiences.  But in a film with terrible performances, Basco was the worst.  As I wrote in my review:  "She is a charisma black hole... 90% of her performances is walking around with a slack-jawed, dull expression. She is the main person that brings the "heroes" together. But she is so unlikeable that you are half-tempted to root for the bad guys."

There is no sense that she is a real character, but a series of personality traits that have to be in place for the plot to happen, but she doesn't even play those traits very well.  


Cathy Yan- BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

From my review of BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn:

The fundamental issues is that the director Cathy Yan isn't really interested in making a fun, super hero film.  Instead it wants to say something about men and women, while at the same time be a fourth-wall-breaking meta comedy like Deadpool.  But that is an ambitious undertaking and Yan is clearly not up for the task... 

As I said, Yan wants to say something about men and women.  And that message comes down to this: men are awful.  I wish there was more nuance than this, but there isn't.  Every man, and I do mean EVERY man in the entire movie is awful.  It was like Yan told every guy in the film, "Okay, in this scene, I want you to look smug and condescending because you are talking to a woman, and all men hate women."  If you see this film, you will understand that this is not an exaggeration.  A lot of movies can be critiqued for objectifying and demeaning women.  But this feels like an over correction.  Catholic teaching is clear that men and women, though clearly distinct, have equal dignity. 


  • Christina Hodson-
 BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

From my review of BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn:

Christina Hodson's screenplay fails to give us anything resembling a sympathetic lead character.  Even Deadpool used its first act to show the tortured Wade Wilson become the Merc with a Mouth.  Seeing his horrible pain, we immediately empathize and thus follow him even during his more morally questionable turns.  But Harley is simply a woman who was dumped.  And while that is a common experience, it isn't enough to follow her horrid violence.  Early on, she spills a drink on a man.  When he complains, she breaks his kneecaps.  And the film makers don't seem to understand that this excess is actually repugnant.

They also don't have any idea how to write these characters.  I understand that there have to be adjustments when adapting any character to the screen.  And tweaking their circumstances can change how they behave.  But all of the great texture of the source characters is lost in big broad strokes.  In the comics, Zsasz is a fearsome psychopath on the level of Hannibal Lector.  Here, he is just a thug.  Sionis was originally written as a sophisticated, cold-blooded mob boss.  Here he is insane like Joker-Lite.  The worst example, though is Cassandra Cain.  In the comics, she is someone who was raised by the world's greatest assassin who only really communicates through fighting.  All of that uniqueness is tossed into the garbage can for some super-generic latch-key kid thief.  What a waste!


Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Some movies this year had small moments of blasphemy like An American Pickle and Palm Springs.  But Ma Rainey's Black Bottom gave one of its most pivotal scenes to a character who spent it uttering the most horrible blasphemies against God.  Now, there is more nuance going on in this play than what you find in most simplistic anti-Christian scripts.  I think that it is possible that you could make an argument that this movie is not anti-Christian based on how this horrid character ends up.  I make a similar case for the movie The Devil's Advocate.  

But the reason that this movie remains in this spot is because of the way it relishes in the blasphemies.  Recently the Netflix movie Cuties came under harsh criticism over its over-sexualization of minor children.  The director has stated on the record that her film is a critique of the exploitation of young girls.  Perhaps that is so.  But regardless of the intention, the way that people say the camera provocatively focuses on these girls, the film moves from a critique of exploitation to exploitation itself (to be fair I have not seen the movie).  This same critique is analogous to what happens in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.  The goal may ultimately be to show how someone with no God in their heart will implode under their own selfishness.  But the graphic and disgusting blasphemies weren't just stated: they were repeated with such force and drama that it felt like the film-makers were reveling in the audacious sacrilege.  

As I said, I am open to differing opinions on this, but this left such a horrid taste in my mouth that it turned me off to the rest of the experience.


Palm Springs

From my review:

The problem is that this movie takes the lessons of Groundhog Day and views them through a post-modern lens.  In both movies, our heroes try to first find meaning in illicit pleasures, followed by suicidal despair.  The difference though is that Groundhog Day wisely understands if you draw happiness from being a good an moral person, then the external consequences have less meaning.  Palm Springs uses morality like a Pelagian bargain where good actions should somehow earn grace.  And if they do not, then the good actions are viewed as pointless...

The movie is also incredibly vulgar, not only its graphic language, but in its raunchy approach to sexuality.  While there is no nudity, sex acts are shown in explicit detail for comedic effect.  But instead, it all serves as a gross turn off.  Samberg is famous for getting great laughs out of incredibly juvenile humor, and more power to him.  But Palm Springs is not helped by this tone.  It depicts Nyles as cavalierly engaging in depraved sex acts with women and men out of some kind of sheer desperation out of the morass of his meaninglessness.  But the humor never takes gets insightful enough about the nihilism that this movie offers.

There is also a joke that is so pointedly anti-religious, that I cannot understand why it is put in there.  I suppose that it there to show how Nyles is adrift in a sea of meaninglessness, but he never seems to come in to shore and find purpose.  True, the love story is supposed to be the heart, but there is something lacking here too.  It feels too narcissistic, like two people who turn their back on the consequences of the world and the moral life to focus on each other.  I've known couples like this who look at life as "You and me against the world," and it isn't a healthy philosophy.  


Star Trek: Picard

Cobra Kai is one of the best show around because it knows how to draw in a new audience while being so respectful to the history of the franchise and its fandom.  Star Trek: Picard seems to have looked at this blueprint and said: "You know what, we'll do the opposite."

Years ago, a friend of mine said that JJ Abrams 2009 Star Trek ruined the franchise.  I didn't understand what he meant at the time because I thought it was a good movie.  But now I understand.  It was a good movie but it was not a film where the film-makers adapted themselves to Star Trek.  It was a movie where Star Trek was changed to meet the style of the film-makers.  Now we can see the fruits of this in Star Trek: Picard.

I was open to the first few episodes, though the style was incredibly different than Star Trek: The Next Generation.  And there were moments that made me hopeful.  But most of that went out the window as the series went on.  It became dark and violent in a way that Star Trek usually is not.  And it was so oddly vulgar.

This show is the Star Trek equivalent of The Last Jedi.


Saturday Night Live

(Below are my comments from last two years, but they still apply to this year)

I still hold out hope that in 90 minutes of television there may still be at least 5 minutes of good humor.  But it takes a lot of endurance through horrible sketches to come across a gem like "Crucible Cast Party."

The show has two major problems in its current era.

1.  The Election of Donald Trump.  If you watch the skits before the election they were harsh but there was still a great deal that was funny.  But after the election, especially after that somber cold open (and it is not an exaggeration to say that it was the most somber cold opening since 9/11), with Kate McKinnon playing a heartbroken Hillary Clinton, something broke in the show.  Donald Trump is the president and he models incredibly unusual behavior, so there is fertile ground for jokes.  But the writers don't seem to be interested in jokes and are instead only interested in attacking someone they hate.  That's all well and good, but you need to at least make it funny.

2.  The Anti-Comedy skits.  Pete Davidson (who still shows up on the show) and Kyle Mooney seem to be hellbent on making the most un-funny comedy sketches on the show, particularly with their digital shorts.  I was never a big fan of Andy Sandberg's digital shorts, but you could tell he was working hard on trying to get you to laugh no matter how silly he was.  Davidson and Mooney present sketches that are so odd that they fail to do anything but make you say "What the hell was that?"  And that might be their point, but it makes for incredibly bad television.

Monday, January 4, 2021

New Evangelizers Post: Start Over with Jesus



I have a new article up at  

Every year we make New Year’s resolutions. When the calendar resets, we often take that as a moment to hit the reset button on our lives. There is nothing magical about the change in date, but it speaks to the deep human need to start over.

I once read about a true insomniac, someone who never slept. It was very interesting, but the part that I thought was most harrowing was that for this person, their day never ended. The sun would rise and set, but it would continue to be one long, unending day.

Before this, I had never considered what a night’s sleep, even a bad night’s sleep, gives me from day to day. When I sleep, I end that chapter of my life that I call that day. And whether it was good or bad, I get to start my day all over again.

As I wrote, we have a deep need to start over, to begin again. We sometimes feel trapped by our own history, particularly our failures. We carry with us the fruit of poor decisions, whether they are the extra pounds around our mid-section, the small numbers in our paychecks, or the fractures in our family relationships. It is especially true when it comes to our sins.

Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas point out that our moral choices are done in a vacuum, divorced from who we are. Our virtues shape our character into who we are supposed to be. But our vices warp who we are down to our core. Movies like The Godfather or TV shows like Breaking Bad do a wonderful job of showing how when good people make sinful choices, the very core of their character twists into something wicked.

The same is true about all of us. We make choices every day, some large but most small, that shape the contours of our soul. The change is so incremental that we tend not to notice it until a gulf has formed between who we are and who we were. I wake up one day to discover that I’ve lost the courage to stand up for my convictions or that I’ve closed my heart to the affections of the people in my life.

This epiphany is a gift from God, but the problem is that the deficit in our character seems so insurmountable that we are too far gone.

That is why God lets us start over.

John’s Gospel begins with the same three words that open up the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning…”

The coming of Jesus was not another link the the chain of Salvation History. He was not simply the successor to the kings and the prophets of the Old Testament. In fact the reason why we divide the Bible into Old Testament and New Testament is because Jesus’ arrival into this world is so radical. It is not the next step in the story.

The coming of Jesus is a new beginning. Redemption is Re-Creation. God is starting over.

And what is true on the macro-scale of history is true on the micro-scale of our own lives. We are called to have a new beginning.

The personal history that we try to escape from can be the fertile soil from which springs forth a vine in the vineyard of the Lord. That language may seem overly flowery and optimistic, but it is rooted in the reality of Christ’s saving power. We get to begin again.

When the Prodigal Son returns to the father, he is clothed with a robe, sandals are put on his feet, and a ring is put on his finger. In the Bible, clothing represents authority, slaves would be the ones to walk around barefoot, and the family ring would give the son access to the family fortune. Upon his return, the Prodigal Son is immediately restored to full sonship.

That is what happens to us when we return to the Lord. Christ has given us the sacraments of Baptism and Confession. Here, the entire accumulated sins of our lives are washed away and we become a New Creation. We get to start over.

In God’s eyes, the sin is no more. However, we mortals let our bad memories linger. And worse, the bad habits of vice may still be firmly rooted in our daily lives. But this doesn’t mean we cannot truly start over.

To begin again, we need to live as if we believe in the new creation God has made us. This doesn’t mean that the consequences of all of my past behavior magically vanish. If I repent of my gluttonous ways, it does not mean my body immediately becomes fit and trim. If I repent of my addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or pornography, it does not mean that I am no longer an addict. There is a brokenness that comes into the world by our sin.

But we can overcome that brokenness by living like that new creation. I may be overweight, but I can begin to live a healthier lifestyle. I may be an addict, but I can begin to live my life free of those addictions. I may need to do more work, but I have to believe that I really can start over.

We may have damaged our relationships. But if we value these people in our lives, we must have the courage to reach out and start over. Many times relationships fracture because of mutual acts of injury. Rather than waiting for the other person to apologize, do you have the humility to reach out and admit your wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness without seeking an apology in return? Can you swallow your pride enough to do that? Can you forgive others the way Christ has forgiven you?

And all of this requires a gift of time.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Magi Me (repost)

 (This is my Christmas essay from 7 years ago.  A very dear friend of mine contacted me and asked if I would repost it on this Feast of the Epiphany.)

Christmas is a time for giving gifts.

We are sometimes frantic with the pressure to find just the right gift to give to those we love.  We spend hours walking the malls or surfing the inter-webs until we find something that speaks to us.  It must be a gift that not only shows value to the receiver, but it must also express the relationship to the giver.  Gifts are a way for us to acknowledge how much we truly "get" the other person.

I remember one year my father's fiancee got me a set of Hot Wheels cars.  I don't know why.  I never have owned a Hot Wheels or Matchbox car in my life.  Maybe she really was trying and my adolescent brain was too prejudiced against her to realize this.  But my only thought was, "She has no idea who I am."

When I get gifts for my wife, I try very hard to think of things that she would enjoy or find beautiful (all of which are attainable through a Catholic school teacher's salary).  And every year she outdoes me with her choices.  She knows me.  She gets me.

But then I started thinking about the source of all our Christmas joy: Jesus.  He is the Gift from Heaven and we give gifts in turn to replicate that generosity.  So we shop for or make gifts to give each other.

But what about Jesus?

He is the One Who gives.  But do we give back to Him?

That's what the Magi did.  They travelled from the East to give Him gifts.  Of course these gifts were only tokens; they were symbols of their admiration.

But what about a gift that was not symbolic?  What about a gift to the Lord that showed that we truly "get" Him.

I started thinking about it and I realized what a seemingly insurmountable problem this was.  This is literally case of "What do you get for the Man Who has everything?"

I thought first about the obvious: money.  I could always drop a few more coins into the collection plate.  But then I thought that God doesn't need my money.  To be sure His children are in constant need of charity, but Jesus doesn't need money.  He was never attached to it.  Throughout the Gospels he warned against being too enthralled with money.  He could have chosen to be born into palatial opulence.  Instead He traded a gilded cradle for a straw-filled manger.

I thought about doing some work of art for Him.  After all, isn't that what the Little Drummer Boy did? (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum?)  What wonderful expressions of Divine praise we have from paintings of Michelangelo, the hymns of Thomas Aquinas, the meditations of St. Ignatius of Loyala, etc.?  I know that I cannot produce anything of that grandeur, but I could do something.  Yet doesn't all of my talent come from God anyway.  Isn't He, like the parable says, the Giver of the talents.  Any artistic ability I have is not mine, but only on loan to be from God.

I thought about simply surrendering my life, body and soul to Him.  But what kind of gift would that be?  He made me out of nothing.  Everything I have, physical or spiritual,  I have from Christ.  To give Him my soul as a gift would be like giving telling someone they can keep the sandwich they just made for themselves.  It already belongs to Him, which is why our rebellion is a kind of theft.

I thought about giving Him the sum of all of my good actions.  But even this would be a fraudulent gift.  I am powerless to be good without His grace.  Every act of kindness and charity is not mine to give Him.  He is Charity Itself.  If I have any Charity in me, it is simply the work of His Nature acting upon this mortal man.  Any good I have done could have been done by another.  But Christ kindly let me work with Him.  Even the good that I do is His gift to me.

So is there anything I can give Him this Christmas?  Is there anything that I can lay down at His feet that is not His already?

And then it struck me.  The answer is yes.

There is something that Christ does not have.  There is something that only I can make.  And I make it apart from any of His influence.

My sin.

The Lord gave me a will that is free and the power of action.  But all of this He gave me so that I might work with Him and choose the good.  But all too often I have not done so.  I turn away from that Eternal Fountain of Joy and drink the poisonous bitter waters of sin.  That is why I need a Savior.

That is why Christ was born on Christmas day.

There is only one thing that I can give to Jesus that He does not have.  I can give Him my sin.

And here is the amazing part: that is the gift He wants from us.  Those Bethlehem shepherds knelt before the Lamb of God Who takes upon Himself the sins of the world.  He came to this world because we have sin.  And He will not take it away from us by force.  He respects our free will too much for that.  Instead, we must give it to Him.

Sin must be our gift to the Lord.

I must let go of my sin and lay it down at His feet.  And then, as St. Paul says, He Who knew no sin can then become sin on the cross.  All sin must be punished if God is a just and fair God.  Jesus does not want us to bear that punishment.  He wants that burden to fall on His mighty shoulders.  It is odd to think of that tender child in that stable as the bearer of all humanities horrors.  But Christ is as innocent on that night as He was on the day they nailed Him to the cross.

Jesus wants to save us.  To do that we have to let go of the one thing that did not come from Him.  We must let Him relieve us of the burden of our sin.  That is what He wants.  Even when He receives He gives.

If I can do that, then maybe I can show the Lord that I really "get" Him.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Happy New Year 2021

 Happy New Year!

A few years ago I co-wrote a musical.  I thought I would share the lyrics from the song that the characters sang on New Year's.  It seemed appropriate: