Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Trailer Time: West Side Story

For the life of me I cannot understand why Steven Spielberg is making this movie.

The original West Side Story is a movie that is exquisitely of a specific time and place and nearly perfect.  Who in their right mind would try to remake that classic?

I can understand Spielberg wanting to tackle a big musical before he retires from directing, but he could have chosen one that didn't win an Academy Award for Best Picture.

On top of that, I am not a fan Ansel Elgort.  It is very hard for me to imagine him taking on the role of the wide-eyed.  I also notice that it looks like they've replaced Doc with a woman.  Little changes like this make me wary that by tinkering with perfection, all you can do is make something worse.

Having said all that, I have to admit that the trailer gave me chills.  I do not know how much of that is simply the iconic music that reaches behind my critical mental shields and simply hits me in the emotions.  I have to say the movie looks gorgeous.  If there had never been another movie of West Side Story I would be way more excited.  Right now, Spielberg has moved me from skeptical to intrigued.  

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Film Flash: Mortal Kombat (2021)

Mortal Kombat (2021 film).png


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

Better than the original until 3rd act.  Too gory and they ruin the best character.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

New Evangelizers Post: True Love Leads to Loving Truth



I have a new article up at  

There are days when it feels like no one is listening.

Part of this is the fact that I am getting older and the world I used to know is slipping away. All people begin to feel this way with age. The solid ground of values on which we were raised begin to be replaced by the next generation. Some of this is natural. But some of this is a specific attack on the Christian foundations of our society.

As this continues, our world begins to become more and more separated from the truth. We begin to feel like we are living in the times St. Paul described where the people “exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever, Amen.” (Romans 1:25)

Because of this, we lose more and more common ground. We no longer feel like we are able to talk to each other, but instead all we do is yell at each other. Social media hasn’t helped with this. I have very rarely ever seen a thoughtful, humble, nuanced debate on Twitter. Instead, we look to each other as our enemies and scream at them that they are wrong.

But are we really reaching anyone that way?

Fr. Larry Richards has a phrase that I love, “Too often Christians try to hit people with the truth of God before they’ve ever experienced the love of God.”

We must take a moment and look at the faith from the outside from the perspective of those who have been taught about Christianity by the secular world. From the outside, the Church is an old, out of touch institution run by a superstitious patriarchy that stands in the way of progress and equality in the world. The Church’s main function to act as a moral busybody getting involved in everyone’s personal life so as to control them.

I am oversimplifying a bit, but based on my conversations with my students, not by much.

And while the faithful balk at this image and are scandalized that people would say such horrible things about Holy Mother Church, we must remember that this is where many people begin. And we must always reach people where they are. We are a missionary Church. Some think this means that we must travel to distant lands to preach the Gosepl. But what it really means is that we must go to the people who don’t know Christ, even if they are in our own backyard.

With this in mind, the truths of the faith are filtered through these ingrained prejudices. The world already views the Church as guilty of things like homophobia because we stand by the truth that marriage is only for one man and one woman. This perception poisons a great deal of the message.

Imagine if there was someone in your community who was widely understood to be a virulent racist. Now imagine this person coming to you and lecturing you on morality. Would you not be disinclined to listen. This is how many perceive the Church as sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc.

Is this true? No.

Is it fair that this is the perception many have? Also, no.

But life is not fair and we are living at a time when this is where many people begin. Shall we now be cultural missionaries to them.

I remember the movie The Mission, where it opens with a remote tribe murdering a Jesuit who came to preach the Gospel. They viewed him with fear and suspicion and so killed him. Soon after, his superior Fr. Gabriel goes back to that jungle. Before he meets with them, he sits in the woods and plays a beautiful song on his oboe. This attracts the people. Some are still suspicious, but some are intrigued. He met them where they were and let them know he was their friend.

When we encounter those who are hostile to the Church, we must make sure that before anything else that they are loved. This does not mean that we in any way soften or deny the truths of the faith. But many will never listen to those truths unless we show them that they are loved.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday Best: Oscars 2021 Tonight


(My apologies for the lack of content the past week.  Last week I had a term paper due and it was show week for a play I was directing.  This week I have to study for my final exam (20% of my total grade) and edit the play to have it ready for streaming by Friday.  This is in addition to my normal work as a teacher.  So this week may also be light on content.  Thank you for your patience, dear reader)

Tonight are the Academy Awards!

My prediction is that these will be the least watched Oscars in history.  The vast majority of the movies nominated have never been seen by most people.  I'm sure there are those who will blame the lack of interest on the pandemic, but this would be a bit of a dodge.  While this year had less content available, the Oscars are still going with more and more obscure films.  

As I have always said, just because a movie is popular and successful, it does not therefore make the movie good.  But there is also a reason why many of the movies nominated fail to find an audience: they aren't very good either.  

I used to think that the reason Hollywood kept nominating and awarding these more obscure movies was because they wanted to be the taste makers: they wanted to tell you what you should and shouldn't like.  It used to be that if a movie won a Best Picture Oscar, there would be a bump in interest in revenue by the general public.  But now, I'm not so sure.  With these awards, I don't think they actually care whether or not general audiences ever see them.  The Oscars feel more like a closed club of members who are only trying to impress each other.  More and more I get the feeling that we are not invited to watch, but instead we are the plus one of someone else who got the invitation and the Academy doesn't care what we think.

That's all well and good if they want to go that way.  But all of the fun and interest in this Oscars will evaporate.

Tonight I will be watching, but without much interest.

You are invited to play our amended Oscar game this year.

Click the link below to fill out the form

Here are my choices so far:

NameCatholic Skywalker
Do you want me to use your real name on my blog?
BEST ACTOR - MY PREDICTIONChadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”
Leslie Odom Jr., “One Night in Miami”
“Speak Now” (“One Night in Miami”)
“Quo Vadis, Aida?” Bosnia and Herzegovina
“If Anything Happens I Love You”

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Sunday Best: What Should Have Won The Best Picture Oscar

 With the Oscars next week, it had me thinking about the awards and how they often fail to recognize what film is truly worth of the title "Best Picture."

I've been thinking about a post like this for a while.  But this week one of my favorite online writers began his list going through every single decade of the Academy Awards.  His knowledge of film and its history exceeds mine, so I do not think I will be that extensive.  

I've decided only to comment on what should have won Best Picture in a given year if:

1. I have seen the Best Picture winner.

2. I have seen at least one other nominee in the category

As I began to review the winners, I realized that while the number of movies I have seen is extensive (a number approaching 3,000), most of those films have been from the 1980's and forward.  My experience of "classic Hollywood" is very limited.  Feel free to use this as a critique of my film tastes and judgment.

The list reflects only films that have been nominated.  I've listed what films I think should be considered "Best" every year on this blog.  Most of them did not receive Oscar nominations for Best Picture.  So while I think that The Passion of the Christ is the best film of 2004 (and also tied for choice for best movie ever made), I cannot put it against the actual Best Picture winner, because it wasn't nominated.

If you want to know which movies I think were best in general per year, I have written about them multiple times, though it should probably be updated.

And now, here is my list.  Feel free to let me know your thoughts and where you agree or where you think I am going wrong.


WINNER:  Gone with the Wind

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Wizard of Oz


I am not one of the people who think that Gone with the Wind is as great as everyone says.  To be sure, it is a technical achievement, with incredibly complex characters, and great performances.  The main problem is that it is centered around an incredibly unlikeable main character who never really grows on you.  On the other hand The Wizard of Oz is not only a technical masterpiece for its day that still captures the imaginations of children in every generation, it is a story that still resonates.  How many of us can still conjure up the precise images from the film because they have burned into our brains.  And it has some of the most memorable songs in movie history.


WINNER:  Casablanca

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: The Song of Bernadette


The Academy got this one correct.  I could go on and on about how amazing Casablanca is and how Incredibly watchable it still is today.  The Song of Bernadette is also an excellent film with a powerful message of faith, but it cannot beat Casablanca


WINNER:  The Best Years of Our Lives


WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  It's a Wonderful Life

The Best Years of Our Lives is a great movie that I have seen multiple times since I first saw it just a few years ago.  It is a complex story about the lives of returning soldiers after WWII.  But It's a Wonderful Life is in my top ten movies of all time.  It is a film experience that can change who you are as a person and the way you look at life.  It is the kind of movie that makes you thank God that the art of cinema was invented.


WINNER:  Gentlemen's Agreement


WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  Gentlemen's Agreement

Neither one of these films is bad, nor are they spectacular.  But the Gregory Peck film about lurking anti-semitism in society, despite its preachiness, has more depth.


WINNER:  An American in Paris

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Quo Vadis, A Streetcar Named Desire


An American in Paris showcase some fantastic song and dance numbers, but Quo Vadis is an epic that should be held up along with The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur.  If Charlton Heston had starred, I have no doubt that it would.  Quo Vadis is a love story between a Roman soldier and a Christian hostage that takes place against the backdrop of the 1st Roman persecution.  This is a movie I have seen dozens of times and it is a technical marvel with an amazing performance by Peter Ustinov as the evil Emperor Nero.


WINNER:  The Bridge on the River Kwai



I expect that this will be one of my most controversial pics.  The Bridge on the River Kwai has much about it that is admirable, but it is a film that ultimately leaves you empty and borders on nihilism.  12 Angry Men has a wonderfully engaging script and the film manages to pull you in even though it is almost all set in one single room.


WINNER:  Ben-Hur



Even though Anatomy of a Murder is one of the best courtroom dramas I have seen, it cannot compete with the epic nature of Ben-Hur.


WINNER:  West Side Story



West Side Story is one of the few movies that improves upon an already fantastic stage musical.  It's bright and bold colors work at first to show its romantic and idealized youth but then draw you deeper into violence and madness.  Guns of Navarone is a fine war movie, but it is not a better movie.


WINNER:  Lawrence of Arabia


WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  Lawrence of Arabia

Like Bridge on the River Kwai, much of Lawrence left me cold.  But the sheer audacity of the directing and its amazing scope make the movie an experience that I am glad I had.  To Kill a Mockingbird is almost a better film, but it was close.


WINNER:  The Sound of Music


WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  The Sound of Music

Another good choice by the Academy.  The Sound of Music is another timeless film that you can enjoy as a child and as an adult without losing any of its magic and wonder.  Doctor Zhivago is interesting, but ultimately empty.


WINNER:  In the Heat of the Night

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Sydney Poitier was in the film that won and the one that should have won.  In the Heat of the Night is intentionally ugly and raw, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but once the central mystery is solved, it does not have any appeal for a rewatch.  Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, though it handles issues of race in an often awkward manner, is an interesting portrait of clashing generations, which makes the movie unstuck from its particular time period.  I've watched The Graduate several times and while it is very evocative, I cannot get over my constant annoyance at every single character.


WINNER:  The French Connection

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: A Clockwork Orange, Fiddler on the Roof

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  Fiddler on the Roof

Speaking of getting stuck in time, The French Connection is very much a movie of its decade and that is not a compliment.  It is full of grime and grit that is typical of films of the decade and has not aged nearly as well as most critics think.  Fiddler on the Roof, however, is as timeless as ever with its universal themes and its classic songs.


WINNER:  The Sting


WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  American Graffiti

This is also a controversial choice, but George Lucas' coming of age story, with its interweaving narratives, is a much more enjoyable watch.  Redford and Newman have star power and chemistry that make The Sting work so well, but American Graffiti moves on the strength of its script and the director's ability to help you connect to the characters.


WINNER:  The Godfather Part II


WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  The Godfather Part II

How Coppola filmed both these movies in the same year is beyond me.  But The Conversation is actually not a good film.


WINNER:  Rocky

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: All the President's Men


Again, the Academy chose correctly.  Seeing this movie as a stand alone film and not a part of the long franchise that it became, it feels very much a movie of its time, except that Stallone was able to connect Rocky's journey with the struggle for dignity that we all face and so made it timeless.


WINNER:  Karmer vs. Kramer



Both of these movies are dark in their own ways and both are pessimistic.  And Apocalypse Now is arguably completely nihilistic in its world-view.  But that movie is hypnotizing in its direction as it feels like you sink further and further into perdition.


WINNER:  Oridnary People


WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  Ordinary People

The Elephant Man is better looking film, but Redford's very confident and restrained direction makes the emotional beats of this movie so incredibly poignant.


WINNER:  Chariots of Fire

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Raiders of the Lost Ark

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  Raiders of the Lost Ark

Chariots of Fire is movie a pure boring pretension.  Raiders is a timeless crowd-pleaser that people will still be watching in 100 years.


WINNER:  Platoon

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Children of a Lesser God, The Mission


Granted I have not seen Platoon since I was a child, but it cannot compete with the sheer power, beauty, and tragedy of The Mission.  Watching The Mission is like having your soul raised up and your heart broken.  Children of a Lesser God is fine, but cannot compete.


WINNER:  Rain Man



The right movie won.  Working Girl is a good picture, but Hoffman and Cruise made a classic.


WINNER:  Driving Miss Daisy

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  Field of Dreams

This was a tough one, since all the movies are good, but Field of Dreams is the most original and only works because it is able to make the audience believe in the magic of baseball.  That is no small feat.


WINNER:  Dances with Wolves

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Awakenings, Ghost, the Godfather Part III, Goodfellas


This is another controversial choice and I know I have to give Dances with Wolves another watch, but Awakenings is such a moving story with one of Robin Williams' best performances.  The movie is engaging and heartbreaking while still being incredibly hopeful.


WINNER:  The Silence of the Lambs



This is not an endorsement of its historical accuracy, but as a film JFK draws you and keeps you on the edge throughout.  Not a lot of movies could end their third act with such a long monologue, but Oliver Stone causes you to become so invested in the story that you hang on every word.  The Silence of the Lambs is also a classic, but JFK just narrowly beats it out.


WINNER:  Unforgiven

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN:  A Few Good Men, Scent of a Woman


Another controversial choice.  I rewatched Unforgiven a few months ago and it is better than I orginally remember.  But Clint Eastwood, as a director, tends to let his movies plod along a little too long.  A Few Good Men is on of the best courtroom dramas with a killer script and a great cast.


WINNER:  Schindler's List

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: The Fugitive, The Piano, The Remains of the Day

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  Schindler's List

This is a no-contest winner in any year that it would have been nominated.


WINNER:  Forrest Gump

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Four Weddings and A Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  The Shawshank Redemption

This is one of the years where nearly every single film nominated is deserving of the honor (except Four Weddings and.a Funeral, which is terrible).  Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, and The Shawshank Redemption all have stood the test of time (sadly the excellent Quiz Show has not).  But Shawshank stands above the other nominees.  I believe it is still the highest ranked movie of all time on IMDB and it is also in my top 10.  Possibly a perfect film.


WINNER:  Braveheart



Again, either film deserves all of the accolades they receive.  But Braveheart, being another one of my top ten films, stands above.  To steal a phrase from The Simpsons, watching this movie embiggins the soul.


WINNER:  Titanic

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: As Good as it Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, LA Confidential.


If the Academy voted the way it does now, I'm guessing that The Full Monty would have won Best Picture.  This is one of the rare occasions where I have seen all the other nominees and all of them are actually good (The Full Monty is a movie that should absolutely repel me and yet there is something endearing about it despite its sleazy topic).  But Titanic is a masterpiece of movie-making.  Look past the hype and you will see masterful direction of a love story that hits all the romantic chords you could want.


WINNER:  Shakespeare in Love

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Elizabeth, Life is Beatiful, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  Saving Private Ryan

I have been thinking about making this list ever since the night that Shakespeare in Love beat out Saving Private Ryan.  In the grand scheme of things, this is not a big deal, but I was so upset at the time beacuse of he artistic injustice of it all.  Saving Private Ryan is one of Spielberg's best movies and that is no small compliment.  It is a movie that is still dearly loved by audiences and is constantly found by younger viewers who are affected deeply.  Life is Beautiful is also a fantastic film that could also have won, but either would have been better than Shakespeare in Love


WINNER:  American Beauty

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: The Green Mile, The Insider, The Sixth Sense


At the time, I thought American Beauty was great.  As I have gotten older, I have soured on the movie in general.  But The Green Mile is still has touching and sad as ever


WINNER:  Gladiator

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Traffic


One of the last great movies by Ridley Scott, this movie made Russell Crowe a star and is one of the best sword and sandal epics.


WINNER:  A Beautiful Mind

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

This was a tough one because A Beautiful Mind may be Ron Howard's best movie and it is fantastic.  But put up against Fellowship, the Peter Jackson epic first chapter wins.


WINNER:  Chicago

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

This one is easier.  Chicago does not hold up nearly as well as Two Towers after nearly two decades.


WINNER:  The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King


WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

While Lost in Translation has some wonderful performances and character moments, it cannot compete.


WINNER:  The Departed



I know people rag on this movie as a lesser Scorsese film, but I think it is excellent and definitely better than Little Miss Sunshine


WINNER:  No Country for Old Men



No Country for Old Men would retain is place if it did not completely and utterly fall apart in the third act to become a different film.  Juno is offbeat and delightful from start to finish.


WINNER:  The Hurt Locker

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Avatar, The Blind Side, Inglorius Basterds, Up, Up in the Air


The Hurt Locker is raw, but it actually fairly boring.  Up is one of the best films to come out for the last twenty years.  It is a perfect film from start to finish.


WINNER:  The King's Speech

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter's Bone


Even after all the hype died down, Inception is still an incredibly smart, slick, and visually stunning film.  The King's Speech is a fairly good movie (though it has some odd moral problems with it).  Toy Story 3 could be another worthy winner, but I'll have to go with Inception.


WINNER:  The Artist

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Moneyball, War Horse


None of these nominees are truly great, great films.  But of the ones nominated, The Help is probably the best of them, with the best writing and performances.



OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Django Unchained, Lincoln, Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark 30


This was a tough one.  Back in 2012, I chose Les Miserables as my best picture.  But as time has gone on, it's emotional impact has come more from its music than the directing and performances.  Argo is also an incredible film, that still holds up and is worthy of the prize, but Lincoln is just too good and too much of a timeless film to not have won.  


WINNER:  Birdman

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: American Sniper, Boyhood, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  American Sniper

Birdman has its moments, but it is a film that is too self-indulgent and up its own rear-end about the artistry of performance.  American Sniper might be the best movie that Clint Eastwood has directed, which makes it even more compelling that he did so this late in his career.  The movie is tense and dramatic while knowing how to use emotional restraint properly.


WINNER:  The Shape of Water



The Shape of Water might be one of the worst movies ever to win Best Picture.  And while Dunkirk is not Christopher Nolan's best, it is head and shoulders above the other nominees.


WINNER:  Green Book

OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Black Panther, BlackkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star is Born.

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON:  Bohemian Rhapsody

I greatly enjoyed Green Book, so I was pleased when it won.  And even though I am deeply conflicted about Bohemian Rhapsody's themes, the artistry with which it was made told a very human story where my heart broke constantly for Freddie Mercury.  The effective incorporation of Queen's greatest hits didn't hurt either.


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Film Flash: The Trial of the Chicago 7


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

Could have been interesting if it wasn't weighed down by its own sense of self-righteousness.

New Evangelizers Post: Jesus, Race, and the Syrophoenician Woman



I have a new article up at  

A little while ago, a video on Tik Tok went a little viral that accused Jesus of being a racist. The proof of this was Our Lord’s interaction with the Syrophoenician woman. She is a non-Jewish person who comes to Jesus (who is Jewish) to ask Him to help her daughter. Here is the story as told by Mark.

From that place he went off to the district of Tyre. He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it, but he could not escape notice.Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She replied and said to him, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Then he said to her, “For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.” When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone. (Mark 7: 24-30)

The blasphemous interpretation of the story is that Jesus looks at this non-Jewish woman through the lens of His own racial prejudice and proceeds to insult her by calling her a dog. The woman then makes Jesus confront His own racism and changes His mind.

There are, of course, several problems with this interpretation. For any believer, this view of the story would be dismissed out of hand. Racism is a sin. To say that Jesus engaged in racism is to say that Jesus sinned and thus He could not be our Savior. If Jesus sinned, then He would need someone to save Him from His sins.

But for the non-believers, they can try to use this as evidence that Jesus was not Divine because of a supposedly racist remark He makes. For that reason, we should take a few moments to explain the interaction He has with this woman.

When I was in high school, we had an assignment where our teacher had us go through the entire Gospel of Mark. Part of the assignment was to point out the stories that seemed strange or uncomfortable to read. I must admit the first time I read Jesus’ interaction with the Syrophoenician woman, I was shocked and didn’t know how to react. I mean, Jesus calls a woman a dog. How am I supposed to take that?

However, there is a larger point that Jesus is making in this story. A very important point in the Gospels is that Jesus comes first to save the children of Israel. Throughout the Old Testament, God made them a promise that He would save them. The prophets spoke His word foretelling the coming of a Messiah. This person would restore the throne of David forever and save the Jewish people.

It is important to understand that though this Savior is foreshadowed in the Old Testament all the way back to Genesis 3, He is only promised to God’s chosen people. In other words, God made a promise to save the Jewish people and He did not make a similar promise to the Gentiles.

Does this mean that God does love the non-Jewish people as much as children of Israel? No. But because of His promise, He has made a commitment to the Israelites that He did not make to others.

When I teach this section in class, I take out a candy bar and I ask anyone if they want it. If someone volunteers, I tell them that I promise them that I will give them the candy bar. I ask if anyone else wants the candy bar. When someone else volunteers, I walk over and act as though I am going to give the candy bar to them. I ask the class who should get the candy bar. They overwhelmingly say that I should give the bar to the student to whom I made the promise. But I object. I tell them that I want to give the candy bar to the second student first. The class points out that this motivation on my part doesn’t matter because I have to honor my commitment first. So I give the candy bar to the first student. But then I produce a second candy bar and give it to the second student too.

The point is that if I want to give a gift to someone, that is a good thing. But my promise binds me in a commitment that must be fulfilled before the other. In a similar way, God made a promise to the people of Israel that He would save them. Because of this, He owes them a debt based on this promise. (Incidentally, this is one of the reasons that God’s covenants are so incredible: God binds Himself by a promise to His people so that they can make claims on Him).

Jesus came to save everyone. But He must first make good on His promises to Israel. That is the point of the story of the Syrophoenician woman. He does not look at her as less of God’s child because of her race. He is explaining that there is a prioritization because of commitments.

You can read the whole article here.

Divine Mercy Sunday 2021


(repost from 2018)

Very few feast days are as important to me as today.

Much of what is printed below I have written before.  But with each year I age, I become more and more aware of how much I need God's Mercy.

There is a story about Socrates I heard once.  A phrenologist came to Athens and claimed to be able to read people's souls by studying the contours of their head.  Socrates, being a person who was open to new ideas asked to be tested.  The phrenologist examined Socrates and said that his skull showed he was proud, lustful, greedy, wrathful, and other things like this.  Socrates' followers began to laugh at this diagnosis of their moral teacher.  But Socrates very seriously rebuked them and said, "This man is telling the truth.  I struggle with these every day of my life."

I bring this up because sometimes when I tell people that I am the biggest sinner that they've met, they think I am only giving some kind of pious hyperbole.  But it is far from the case.  The only soul I can see into is my own and I see much darkness there.  No, I am not about to catalogue all of my vices.  But sometimes when I receive compliments of a moral or spiritual nature, I burn a little inside.

This is partly my fault.  I have found that when people give you compliments the most gracious thing to do is to accept it and say thank you.  Otherwise, that person feels admonished.  Also, I think I put on too much of a holy exterior image.  That isn't to say that I am not spiritual.  But sometimes I feel like the charge Jesus leveled against the Pharisees applies to me:  "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." (Matt 23:27)

Especially as a religion teacher, the weight is sometimes overwhelming (though I speak as a weak man).  I stand in front of others proclaiming Christ while I too often fail in following Him.  Every day I pray before Jesus, "Please do not hold my sins against my students, but help me to give them only You!"

I bring all of this up only to emphasize how absolutely important today's feast is to me.

The Feast of Divine Mercy reminds me that though my sins burn and blister my heart, Jesus has an ocean of Mercy to drown that fire.

I know that God owes me nothing.  Or rather, what He owes me is wrath.  But He wants to give me Mercy.  It would be just if I received punishment.  But He wants to pour out forgiveness.

If it were not for Christ's incredible emphasis on His Mercy, I think that I would fall into despair.  It takes so much faith to believe that God is not fed up and disgusted with my lack of progress in the spiritual life.  But even that is my own projection of my weak love onto the infinite love of God.

And even here in this struggle, there is a grace.  As 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, "But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. "

My own weakness is there to keep me from ever thinking that the good that comes about through me is somehow from me.  All the good that I have ever done is only by the power of God.  He is the treasure, I am the earthen vessel.  Glory be to Him.

So today, please turn to His Mercy.

It does not matter what your sin is, He wants to forgive you!  He wants to put that old life behind you and begin again.

It does not matter how many times you've turned back and turned away.  Today, return to His Mercy.

Yes, you have sinned.  Join the club.  I am a lifelong member who has not graduated from even the most basic lessons.  I say this not to minimize my sins or your sins.  Every sin is another nail to pierce the Flesh of the Lamb of God.  We must be truly sorry and accept responsibility for them and resolve to sin no more by God's grace.

And then we must embrace His Mercy.

As one website writes:

The Divine Mercy message is one we can call to mind simply by remembering ABC: 

A - Ask for His Mercy. God wants us to approach Him in prayer constantly, repenting of our sins and asking Him to pour His mercy out upon us and upon the whole world. 

B - Be merciful. God wants us to receive His mercy and let it flow through us to others. He wants us to extend love and forgiveness to others just as He does to us. 

C - Completely trust in Jesus. God wants us to know that the graces of His mercy are dependent upon our trust. The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will receive. 


And on this Feast Day, I invite you to pray with me not only the Chaplet of Divine Mercy (click this link to learn how) and pray with me the Divine Mercy Litany:

The Love of God is the flower—Mercy the fruit. 

Let the doubting soul read these considerations on Divine Mercy and become trusting.

Divine Mercy, gushing forth from the bosom of the Father,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, greatest attribute of God, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, incomprehensible mystery, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, fountain gushing forth from the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity
, I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, unfathomed by any intellect, human or angelic,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, from which wells forth all life and happiness,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, better than the heavens,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, source of miracles and wonders, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, encompassing the whole universe, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, descending to earth in the Person of the Incarnate Word,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, which flowed out from the open wound of the Heart of Jesus, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, enclosed in the Heart of Jesus for us, and especially for sinners, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, unfathomed in the institution of the Sacred Host,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in the founding of Holy Church, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in our justification through Jesus Christ,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, accompanying us through our whole life,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, embracing us especially at the hour of death,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, endowing us with immortal life, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, accompanying us every moment of our life,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, shielding us from the fire of hell, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in the conversion of hardened sinners,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, astonishment for Angels, incomprehensible to Saints,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, unfathomed in all the mysteries of God,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, lifting us out of every misery, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, source of our happiness and joy, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in calling us forth from nothingness to existence,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, embracing all the works of His hands,
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, crown of all of God's handiwork, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in which we are all immersed, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, sweet relief for anguished hearts, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, only hope of despairing souls, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, repose of hearts, peace amidst fear, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, delight and ecstasy of holy souls, 
I Trust in You.
Divine Mercy, inspiring hope against all hope, 
I Trust in You.

To The Divine Mercy
I fly to Your mercy, Compassionate God, who alone are good. Although my misery is great and my offenses are many, I trust in Your mercy, because You are the God of mercy; and, from time immemorial, it has never been heard of, nor do heaven or earth remember, that a soul trusting in Your mercy has been disappointed.

O God of compassion, You alone can justify me and You will never reject me when I, contrite, approach Your Merciful Heart, where no one has ever been refused, even if he were the greatest sinner (1730).

[For Your Son assured me:] Sooner would heaven and earth turn into nothingness than would My mercy fail to embrace a trusting soul (1777).

Jesus, Friend of a lonely heart, You are my haven, You are my peace. You are my salvation, You are my serenity in moments of struggle and amidst an ocean of doubts. You are the bright ray that lights up the path of my life. You are everything to a lonely soul. You understand the soul even though it remains silent. You know our weaknesses and, like a good physician, You comfort and heal, sparing us sufferings — expert that You are (247).

In Thanksgiving
O Jesus, eternal God, I thank You for Your countless graces and blessings. Let every beat of my heart be a new hymn of thanksgiving to You, O God. Let every drop of my blood circulate for You, Lord. My soul is one hymn in adoration of Your mercy. I love You, God, for Yourself alone (1794).

To the Mother of God
O Mary, my Mother and my Lady, I offer you my soul, my body, my life and my death, and all that will follow it. I place everything in your hands. O my Mother, cover my soul with your virginal mantle and grant me the grace of purity of heart, soul and body. Defend me with your power against all enemies, and especially against those who hide their malice behind the mask of virtue (79). Fortify my soul that pain will not break it. Mother of grace, teach me to live by God's power (315).

O Mary ... a terrible sword has pierced your holy soul. Except for God, no one knows of your suffering. Your soul does not break; it is brave, because it is with Jesus. Sweet Mother, unite my soul to Jesus, because it is only then that I will be able to endure all trials and tribulations, and only in union with Jesus will my little sacrifices be pleasing to God. Sweetest Mother, continue to teach me about the interior life. May the sword of suffering never break me. O pure Virgin, pour courage into my heart and guard it (915).

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Film Review: The Little Things


The Little Things tries to be No Country For Old Men.  

And that is not a good thing.

Set in the 1990's, the movie is about Joe "Deke" Deacon (Denzel Washington), a former LAPD homicide detective who, for reasons that are revealed throughout the movie, is now a lowly Sheriff's deputy far away from the big city.  Circumstances force him back to town where he happens to run into his old coworkers and the new hotshot detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) who are running an investigation into a serial killer.  Despite his best intentions not to be involved, Deke finds himself drawn into the case and starts finding clues that the others are missing.  This eventually leads him to Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), a creepy repairman who may or may not have something to do with the murders.

It should be said that this movie has some great performances.  It is almost a given that Washington is going to be amazing he does not disappoint.  He put on the pounds to make himself look like the middle-aged man that his character is.  There is lethargy and weariness in his body, with his eyes slightly glazed with age.  He is constantly haunted by his own mistakes, but you can see the desire for just and to prove himself again keep pushing through.  Leto is perfectly creepy as Sparma.  He plays the character with just the right amount of detachment so that you really cannot tell if he is a psychotic killer or a con-man who like the attention.  It's like he is intentionally making himself look suspicious and you cannot help but feel like that is the point.  Malek is decent as Baxter, and he is able to keep up with Washington and Leto, but he never really breaks through.

Director John Lee Hancock does a great job of building tension and setting the mood.  The opening scene is fantastic and gripped me right away.  A young woman is driving down a dark desert highway singing along to the B-52s, when a pair of headlights rides up on her tail.  You see how quickly things go from fun and carefree to uncomfortable, to concerning, and then to terrifying.  Throughout the film, he gives the film the right noir feel for the script that he wrote.

Everything here is set for a truly enjoyable murder mystery.  But it drops the ball.

This is one of those films that I cannot accurately review without going into the ending, so be warned:


The Little Things makes the mistake that I am noticing more and more in modern stories: it ignores the plot to focus on theme.

Don't get me wrong, theme is absolutely important as the transcendent element of the story.  But you need a good plot in order for the theme to take hold.  If the story does not grab you, the theme will not take root.

The plot of this movie is that it is a murder mystery.  You are following the detectives in order to follow the clues in order to catch the killer.  Along the way, we are introduced to the themes of justice, guilt, and redemption.  All of this is good and all of this works.

But then the movie decides to pull a No Country for Old Men.  That movie had a tight and tense plot until the third act when the Cohen brothers decided that they were no longer intersted in the plot and instead wanted to focus on the theme.  The main through-line we had been following is completely abandoned (although to be fair, I think this is also the case in the novel from which it is adapted).  

The Little Things does the same thing in the last 10-15 minutes of the movie.  Once a decision has been made by one of the main characters, the story no longer tries to answer the question of who the killer is.  Instead, the movie focuses completely on the moral implications of the character's choice and how it affects the themes of justice, guilt, and redemption.  

To be clear, the issue isn't that we never get a clear answer as to who the killer is.  Ambiguity itself is not the problem.  The problem is that the movie no longer cares who the killer is.  The main narrative engine comes to a complete stop and the movie expects us to jump the tracks and get on a new train for the last leg of the journey.  

I'm sorry, but that is completely unsatisfying.  When you write a story with a set up like this, you take on a certain amount of narrative debt that you must repay somehow to the audience by the end.  Hancock refuses to do so and as a result, you feel cheated.

I read a review that argued critics misunderstood Hancock's themes.  I disagree.  I get his themes.  I like his themes.  He just short-changed me on the plot.  

As a result, The Little Things is a mix of very talented people making an ultimately unsatisfying film.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Wednesday Comics: Nightwing #78


Nightwing #78 review | Batman News

Tom Taylor is a writer that I have been paying more attention to over the last year or so.  His Suicide Squad was decent and engaging.  But his DCeased was incredible.  What could have been a gimicky DC version of Marvel Zombies was instead a riveting, devastating, funny, and moving story.  The core reason why Taylor's stories work is because he understands the characters.

Taylor put these classic characters into extreme situations in DCeased, but everything they did, even when they acted in ways different than in their normal series, had a resonance with all we knew about them before the zombie apocalypse.  Villains like Deathstroke believable could evolve into something like a hero without feeling false, because Taylor did not force an alien personality onto the character, but instead hit the character's pressure points so that their evolution was believable. 

My point is that in an age when many comic book writers simply impose whatever personality they desire onto the characters they write, it is refreshing to have a writer who takes the character on his own terms.

And that is what you get with Nightwing #78.

Dick Grayson, as a character, has been through the ringer.  Because of Tom King, he got shot through the head and became an cynical amnesiac named "Ric Grayson."  While creative team on Nightwing did a decent job with the premise they were given, they were not writing the hero we all know and love.  Because this character is near and dear to me, I have continued buying the book, despite its flaws.  But I have good news for Nightwing fans:

Tom Taylor has brought back the real Dick Grayson and it is wonderful.  

Dick is back in Bludhaven and is doing his best to clean up the streets.  His personality has always been a foil to Batman.  Whereas Bruce is sullen and imposing, Dick is light and quippy.  I even like the tongue-in-cheek mocking of the recent "Ric Grayson" story that Taylor inserts.  There is a humor that is intrinsic to the original Robin that makes him so charismatic and likable.  At the start of the story, we see Dick getting back to basics as his endless bank account has evaporated along with the Wayne fortune.  However, in the issues most touching moment, Dick receives an unexpected letter that changes his direction.  

Back too is Blockbuster, the hulking genius mobster intent on ruling Bludhaven.  I like the fact that Taylor is taking us back to the roots of Chuck Dixon's iconic run on the character.  Taylor delves even deeper into the Nightwing mythos, setting up some truly interesting conflicts down the way.

Artist Bruno Redondo (along with Adriano Lucas and Wes Abbott) do a wonderful job.  Unlike a typical Bat-book, most of the action here takes place in the daylight, which fits thematically with the new dawn of the character.  There is a fantastic two-page spread that I stared at for a good long while.  This creative team understands that comics are a visual medium and they can be transportive.  The double-splash page conveyed a sense of grandeur, joy, and freedom.  For a moment, you feel like Dick seemingly weightless, tumbling through the air.

If I had one quibble it would be that the adult Barbara Gordon is played just a little too cutesy in how she talks.  But this could be a simple humorous affectation as she becomes enamored of a rescue dog that Dick brings back to the apartment.

I don't know where the story is going, but Taylor has earned enough trust and good will from me that I will be eagerly anticipating each issue that comes out.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Kong


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

I usually do not look at reviews for movies about which I have not written a full review.  But I could not help but look at Red Letter Media's take on the movie.  And they said something that perfectly encapsulates this movie: "This is both a pro and a con: it felt like it was written by a child."

Godzilla vs. Kong is the fourth installment in the "Monsterverse" started by Godzilla (2014) and followed by Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla: King of the Monsters.  After his defeat of King Ghidorah in the last film, Godzilla became the apex monster that all of the monsters bowed to.  Fearing that Godzilla would sense Kong to be a challenge to his apex status, the monster agency Monarch has been hiding the giant ape in a VR dome like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show.

This is usually the part in the review where I give a detailed set up of the plot.  However, the plot is so inconsequential and idiotic that it makes any of the Michael Bay Transformers films look like Aaron Sorkin.  But I shall attempt to do my best:

For reasons unknown, Godzilla attacks an American city where the shady company Apex is doing research.  This makes people turn on Godzilla, who they looked at as their giant lizard protector since the last film.  The little girl from the last movie (Millie Bobby Brown) refuses to believe that Godzilla has turned evil and so gets her best friend who was the fat kid in Deadpool 2 (Julian Dennison) and a conspiracy theory podcaster (Brian Tyree Henry) to do their own investigating which somehow gets them all the way to Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the clearly not evil any possible way owner of Apex (Demian Bichir) gets a lonely scientist (Alexander Skarsgard) to lead an expedition into the center of the Earth, which they believe is the source of the monsters.  The clearly not evil in any possible way owner of Apex claims that there is a power source that can be found there to help save mankind from the now-evil Godzilla.  Lonely scientist goes to talk to his Kong caretakers scientist friend (Rebecca Hall) because the lonely scientist thinks that Kong can lead them to the center of the Earth through a hole they dug in Antarctica.  So they take a bunch of ships and a little deaf girl who is the Kong Whisperer (Kaylee Hottle) across the ocean.  However, once Kong is out of his protective bubble, Godzilla can sense him.

I didn't bother writing any of the names of the human characters because they honestly don't matter.  Like most of these types of movies, they merely serve as the connective tissue to get the monsters to their different fight set-pieces.  In fact, the two main human stories don't really intersect.  It's almost like they filmed the main Kong storyline and then added the Milli Bobby Brown stuff as an afterthought.  I can't really say anything about the performances because they aren't particularly good or bad.  They are all just kind of... there.  

While not nearly as bad as the Godzilla from the 1990s, this movie makes me more appreciative of the recent Shin Godzilla.  While I had a lot of problems with that movie at least the script was about something.  There were strong thematic ideas about governments and disasters.  In addition, the movie was much more grounded in reality like the 2014 GodzillaGodzilla vs. Kong throws all of that out the window.  None of the science in this science fiction makes a lick of sense.  These range from small things like generally non-human apes can't swim to how the hell can Godzilla's atomic breath dig down 2,000-4,000 miles into the center of the Earth?  And when the clearly not evil in any way leader of Apex explains his evil plan, it's actually not really that evil.  In fact, it is absolutely reasonable in principle, but the script needs to turn him into a bad guy so that Godzilla is not seen as evil.

Michael Dougherty, the writer/director of Godzilla King of the Monsters,  only gets story credit for this movie.  With all of its flaws, Dougherty's movie had a clear love and (more importantly) respect for the Godzilla mythology.  Godzilla vs. Kong does not.  

And for a movie titled Godzilla vs. Kong, the headliner is reduced to the antagonist.  This is clearly Kong's movie.  He has the clearest character arc (and that includes the humans) and is the most sympathetic.  Godzilla comes off as a lumbering bully.  They give a reason to explain his attacks on the human cities, but it doesn't change the fact that hundreds would have died because of them.  At least the first two Godzilla movies in this series kept the human toll in sight.  Here, deaths are played for laughs.  There is no sense of peril or even wonder.  Director Adam Wingard does a find job of giving us spectacle, but there is nothing here resembling substance.  Gone is any sense of awe or mystery to these creatures. Godzilla (2014) made the mistake of being too serious and not showing us nearly enough Godzilla.  Godzilla vs. Kong makes the mistake of being to unserious and showing us almost too much of the monsters. Watching this movie is like playing the video game Rampage (which they also made into a movie).

Having said all of that, this review is not a complete pan.  In fact, I enjoyed this movie probably more than I should.  King Kong and Godzilla are two of the most famous movie monsters.  And while they did have their own movie before in the 1960's, this is a more fully realized match up that little kids might imagine.  When I was a kid I loved the idea of fantasy match ups.  My cousin had a copy of Superman vs. Spider-Man that filled up my imagination (probably because he wouldn't let me read it).  This movie is like that.  There is very little logic to the fights.  Godzilla's atomic breath should end almost every fight immediately.  But view through the lens of a child's fantasy fight, the movie is a great deal of fun.

If two famous giant monsters fighting doesn't fire those happiness synapses in your brain, then you will probably find this movie dull and tedious.   As I wrote in previous Godzilla reviews, Godzilla movies are a genre unto themselves and the fans of these movies have very specific tastes.  I shall be curious as to their take on this movie.

I plan to watch this movie several more times.

But I'll be sure to skip all of the human parts.  Give me more monkey punching lizard!