Monday, May 31, 2021

Memorial Day 2021


(repost from 2019)

Today is the day that we honor those who fought and died for our country.  I doubt that I can add any deep, universal insight into the meaning of this day that has not already been given by those more eloquent.

I do have some friends who are cautious about the elevated status we give those in the armed forces.  They worry about the glorification of war or that it trains citizens to put too much trust in their government agents.  There are some arguments to be had there.  To be sure, while war may make soldiers into martyrs, it does not always turn soldiers into saints.

But in this moment I will not speak for them.  I will speak for myself and why this day is especially reverent for me.

Some answered the call to fight for our nation.
I did not.

Some left spouses and children to enter into violent conflict for their country.
I did not.

Some lost their innocence, their friends, or their health in the crucible of war.
I did not.

Some gave every last measure of devotion down to their lives for our country's freedom.
I did not.

I write this not as some kind of admission of guilt.  Being a soldier is not my calling.

But some did answer the call.  Some paid a price higher than I have had to pay.  I am in this present moment enjoying the fruits of their sacrifice.

Winning and preserving freedom is a bloody business.  I do not want to be in a blissful bubble where I treat my freedom too casually, not remembering that it was purchased at a price of blood.

Today as we rest from our labors, let us remember the fallen martyrs of our freedom.

Let us pray for them and for our country.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Sunday Best: Memorial Day Movies (Updated 2021)

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

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

Here are the best Memorial Day movies to watch.

1.  Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan poster.jpg

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

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

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

4.  13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

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

5.  American Sniper
Chris Kyle is seen wearing desert fatigues army BDU, while his wife Taya embraces him. They are standing in front of a tattered US flag.

A friend of mine has said that there are a lot of bad things about Chris Kyle's life that the movie glossed over.  I have not had a chance to investigate those claims yet.  Nevertheless, the film is the best one that Clint Eastwood directed and it focuses so much on the cost of fighting evil on not only the lives of our soldiers but on their souls.  And I finish the movie with a much deeper appreciation of the heroic fight against our enemies but also the fight to regain a normal life.

6.  Hacksaw Ridge

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

7.  Midway (2019)
Midway Movie HD Poster.jpeg

The thing that strikes me the most about this movie is the absolute commitment of some of these sailors and pilots like Dick Best who gave everything they had for the opportunity to keep fighting.  In one scene, a pilot is clearly injured and could take a break.  Instead, he pushes himself so that he can take the fight to the enemy.  This is a level of bravery that moves and inspires me to no end.

8. Greyhound

One of the best things about this movie is how it isolates you into the perspective of the head battleship of a convoy making its way from America to Europe.  Like the men on the boat, you have no idea where the next crisis is coming from and you cannot see where the enemy is or how many are out there.  But you have to push through and protect as many as you can.  Once again, you see amazing, sacrificial courage on display.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Trailer Time: The Tomorrow War

They did a small teaser for this movie a few weeks ago and I was not very impressed.

I do have to say that this trailer has me intrigued.

The premise is that humans from the future have come to let the world know that some non-human threat is about to wipe out humanity in the years to come.  As a result, people in the present are drafted to fight in a war in the future.

The monsters seem achingly generic and there seems to be a treacherous political allegory brewing in the theme.

But what is selling this for me is Chris Pratt.

Pratt is one of the few Hollywood stars that has not lost his good will with me.  He is an incredibly funny actor, as can be seen from his years on Parks and Recreation.  He is also a believable action lead.  Pratt uses both of those skills and employs all of his charisma in this trailer.

Too often I will watch a trailer where the main characters appear incredibly unlikeable.  But Pratt's character seems funny without being cynical.  He appears brave without being cocky.  He seems strong without being a brute.  I love how the grand scale is tied to a simple emotional core: saving the world means saving his daughter.

I also really like the supporting cast. 

Right now this movie is giving me a very strong Edge of Tomorrow vibe, which is a film that has only improved with time and repeated viewing.


Friday, May 28, 2021

Film Review: Army of the Dead (Netflix)


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

This is a movie where the execution just doesn't live up to the concept.

Army of the Dead is a heist movie set in a zombie film.  Las Vegas has been overrun by zombies.  The US government has blocked all of the zombies in with a giant wall until the drop a nuclear bomb on the city to wipe it out.  This means that all the unclaimed cash will be destroyed.  That's when down and out zombie fighter Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is approached by Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) with a proposition: sneak into Vegas and retrieve $200 million from a casino vault and he will get to keep $50 million.  Ward then puts together a team to go in:

-Maria (Ana de la Reguera) and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick): friends from his zombie-fighting days.

-Dieter (Matthias Schweighofer): Nerdy German safe-cracker

-Lilly (Nora Arnezeder): a coyote who can get them past the wall

-Marianna (Tig Notaro): sarcastic helicopter pilot

-Martin (Garrett Dillahunt): Tanaka's security chief.

There are few other members, but you get the idea.  In addition to this, Ward's estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) wants to go into the city to rescue a refugee who may have been taking by the zombies.  

The first act of the movie is actually incredibly enjoyable.  Getting the rag-tag group and coming up with the plan was exciting in the way that a good joke set-up will hook you.  You start seeing how each of the characters starts fitting into the puzzle they have to solve in order to have their big pay day.  It's also fun to put yourself in their shoes and wonder how much danger you would risk for that amount of money.  But once they start actually getting into Vegas, things never quite reach their potential.

My critics of the movie center mainly around the execution of the events, so it is going to be difficult to explain my problems without getting into spoilers, so:


Upon entering the city, we come across a new type of zombie.  Instead of being mindless beasts, they are savage but have some kind of intelligence and tribal hierarchy.  It felt like writer/director Zack Snyder was taking a page out of I Am Legend.

One of the first things that happens when they enter is the coyote essentially shoots one of the group and offers him to these smart zombies.  It is justified by saying that this sacrificial lamb is an evil person.  I don't mind that the movie gets into morally murky territory.  That would actually be incredibly interesting to explore.  But there is no getting around that she is straight up murdering someone and no on ever brings it up again.  There seems to be a bit of moral discomfort, but no one has to reflect on the fact that they are all now a party to a murder.

Another problem is the lack of surprise with Martin.  The other characters constantly talk about how they don't trust him and how they all know he is going to betray them.  Instead of raising this in a way that twists expectations, his eventual betrayal feels so cliché.  His reasons for doing so are just like those from the Jurassic World series, and even then they seemed stupid and tired.  If you look back at Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead, he did the opposite.  In that movie he took characters that you knew were going to be stereotypical villains and instead gave them layers and nuance and heroism.  Not so here.


The movie also feels like it lacks restraint in its mature content.  Snyder has been working with famous characters in the DCEU for a while now and so he needed to be constrained in how he portrayed them.  Here, he amps up the violence to 11.  The deaths are gross and gory.  There is gratuitous nudity in the opening montage.  The movie is also about an hour too long.  It's narrative flow seems to languish, especially in the extended epilogue to the main story.  It feels like Snyder is feeling unrestrained and so doesn't have the discipline to reign himself in.  It reminds me of how Arrested Development moved to Netflix and nearly ruined their entire series because they no longer had to keep up to broadcast standards.

This movie should be WAY more fun.  It should be Ocean's 11 but with zombies.  

That isn't to say that the movie is terrible.  Snyder has become one of my favorite directors and he knows how to set up the visuals.  His movies are always visceral and dynamic.  Bautista does a great job of centering the film.  Unlike other wrestlers turned actors (e.g. Dwayne Johnson and John Cena), Bautista knows how to play things with effective understatement.  Notaro has some fun lines in the movie, but most everyone else is forgettable.  The action set pieces are fun for the most part, but also not very memorable.

I don't know anyone who will love Army of the Dead.  But if you just want some mindless entertainment, it might do for a couple of hours.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Film Review: Those Who Wish Me Dead (HBO Max)

 Those Who Wish Me Dead.png

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

I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I expected.  I watched this a day after the very disappointing The Woman in the Window.  There is something to be said about when you experience a film that influences how you enjoy it.

Those Who Wish Me Dead centers on a forest firefighter Hannah (Angelina Jolie).  She has entered a self-destructive and reckless life-pattern ever since making a bad call during a raging forest fire that got some people killed.  She is constantly lectured by her ex-boyfriend and Sherrif's deputy Ethan (Jon Berthnal).  However, while doing duty at a lonely fire lookout deep in the woods, she comes across a bloody little boy named Connor (Finn Little).  It turns out that Connor's father Owen (Jack Weber) has some particularly damning evidence against some very shady and powerful forces.  Owen has gone off the grid with his son to seek help from his brother Ethan.  However, they run across two brilliant and brutal hit men: Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Hoult).  These two will stop at nothing to get to Connor and kill anyone in their path.  Hannah take it upon herself to protect the boy and get him to safety.

The thing that struck me the most about the movie was how smart it felt.  The biggest plot hole is that you have to believe that the information Owen has cannot simply be sent to the press in the mail or on the internet but must, for some reason, be given in person.  If you accept that, then you have a chase that occurs between hunter and prey where both constantly try to outthink each other.  Hannah and Ethan use all of their resourcefulness against the hitmen, who constantly and brutally adapt to each new situation.  Jack and Patrick are not super-human monsters.  They make mistakes along the way, but they are terrifying in their ability to think on their feet and engage cross any moral line.  At one point they have Ethan's pregnant wife Allison (Medina Senghore) hostage.   Because we have seen how ruthless these two have been, you have no idea if Allison and her unborn child will make it through the scene alive.  (In fact, there is only moment towards the end where someone makes a decision so stupid that it felt completely out of character).

The movie also does a fantastic job of depicted that rough, enterprising spirit found in people living in this part of the country.  There is a toughness here that can be abrasive, but also one that is strong enough to face the dangers of nature and man.  (I laughed at the way some of the fire fighters laugh at the hipster boyfriend of a local bar girl).  Hannah is not some Mary Sue, nor is she some kind of anti-hero.  She is broken in a lot of ways, but we see her redemption play out when she turns away from her inward guilt towards helping others.  She takes a beating from all of the dangers present and she still pushes forward.  There is a moment I love where Ethan is being forced to help Jack and Patrick.  But Ethan refuses and simply says, "I'd rather keep my dignity."  He makes a calculation about his chances for survival and decides to die rather than violate his conscience (I will not spoil here if Jack and Patrick make good on their threat).

And yet the characters also never felt too stoic.  Hannah's fear is palpable, as well as her bravery.  I was even shocked at the level of humanity that the hitmen show.  At one point, one says to the other, "I'm fading, partner."  There was an odd bond of fellowship communicated between these two monsters that let you see that even in their horrible evil there was something like humanity beneath.

Director and co-writer Taylor Sheridan does a great job of showing you the beauty and the terror of nature.  These woods are alternately serene and scary.  He also knows how to pace a story.  It was quite incredibly how much he was able to pack into a tight 90-minutes.  I also enjoyed the fact that the movie didn't feel overstuffed with needless and extended action sequences.  

Jolie is great in this movie.  She is still every bit the action star she was and hasn't lost an ounce of charisma.  You easily believe that she is someone would follow into danger, despite her recklessness.  Bernthal does a great job too.  You can feel his anxieties rise while at the same time trying to keep them in check long enough to think his way free.  Senghore was a real surprise for me, never having seen her work before.  Not only does she carry off the nurturing, mother-to-be role, but she is completely believable when turning into a mama Grizzly, acting out violently to protect her own.  Gillen and Hoult have a chemistry about them as well, where you can see Patrick is always trying to impress his older partner.  Even Little holds his own with this cast, which is no small feat for a child actor.

And while there is a lot of violence in this film, it has an incredibly strong moral core.  The evil of the antagonist is clearly seen as wicked.  But moreso, there is a nihilism that seems to undergird their world, though this is never clearly articulated.  Our heroes, as broken as they can be, still believe in family and sacrifice, which is something that the bad guys cannot comprehend.  At one point Jack says, "I hate this place," to which someone replies, "It hates you back."  Evil cannot comprehend simple goodness and dignity and courage.

If you are looking for a fine, tense, and entertaining 90-minutes, you should check out Those Who Wish Me Dead.

Monday, May 24, 2021

New Evangelizers Post - Pentecost: A Return to Unity


I have a new article up at  

Yesterday was the Feast Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down upon the Disciples.

Most of us are familiar with the story, but I wanted to take a moment and look a little deeper. St. Luke gives us some details about the event that help show the significance of this day in light of the Old Testament.

After the Fall of Man, humanity became broken. Our relationship to God and our relationships with each other became stressed and strained by sin. You can see this particularly in the story of The Tower of Babel.

Most people think that the sin of the people of Babel was that they tried to reach Heaven by making their tower so tall. That isn’t quite the case. When the Bible tells us their motivations, it states: “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky,* and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.'” (Genesis 11:4)

So we can see that there are two reasons to build the tower. The first is that they want to make a name for themselves. This is a very common human desire. We want our name’s to be known, revered, and recognized. We honor people by naming buildings after them so that their memory does not fade from the Earth. We even seek more followers on social media so that we are known. In some ways, seeking to make your name great is a search for immortality in the world.

The problem is that only God can truly make your name great. Most people who have ever lived, even the very powerful ones, have eventually been forgotten. This world is not the place for your name to last. The saints will be the ones whose names will never fade from the Book of Life.

The second reason they wanted to build the tower was that they did not want to be scattered. This sounds like a very understandable reason, but this actually goes against God’s first command to humanity: “God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28). God gave us this whole world of creation. He wanted us to fill the Earth, not stay in one small corner of it.

So because of the people’s selfish motivations, God scattered them by confusing their language. Being able to speak a common language is one of the great unifying factors. You can even feel the distance between different generations of people who speak the same language when they use a different vernacular. When you were young, didn’t you get frustrated when the adults couldn’t understand you? And adults, are you frustrated when you can’t understand the slang of young people? And how often do our politics separate us to the point where it feels like those on the opposite end of the political spectrum are speaking a different language than we are? This lack of ability to communicate causes a separation. This is exactly what happens at Babel.

And throughout the Old Testament people turn away from the Living God. In fact, when Moses came down from the mountain with the 10 Commandments, he found the people worshipping the Golden Calf. All of the Levites joined Moses, who commanded them to slay the calf-worshippers. It says that a total of 3,000 men were killed that day for turning away from the Living God and thus embracing death.

This brings us back to Pentecost.

One of the great miracles that happened that day was what happened with Peter’s preaching. Upon receiving the Holy Spirit, Peter immediately began to preach to the people of Jerusalem. Pentecost was already a Jewish Holy Day. Because of this, Jewish people of different countries and different languages were present in Jerusalem with the Apostles. Peter preached, but “At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, ‘Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?'” (Acts of the Apostles 2:6-7)

Here, we see an undoing of the Babel event. Whereas at Babel, the people had their language confused and were scattered, here the language barrier was removed and they came together in unity. It says there in Acts, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.” (Acts 2:41). Once again, we see the undoing of the sins of the Golden Calf. Whereas 3,000 men worshipped a false God and received death, at Pentecost 3,000 men turned to God and received everlasting life.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Sunday Best: STEVEN SPIELBERG MOVIES RANKED - #6 - ET: the Extra-Terrestrial


E t the extra terrestrial ver3.jpg

In a decade that had 3 Indiana Jones movies, 2 Star Wars movies, Ghostbusters, Batman, Back to the Future, Gremlins, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Rain Man, Top Gun, and The Little Mermaid, only onle movie came out on top of the domestic box office:

ET: the Extra-Terrestrial.

This is pure movie magic.  

Steven Spielberg created a modern fairy tale for the ages.

This is really a movie that only Spielberg could pull off. 

Many have criticized Spielberg's early work, saying that he had a childish way of looking at the world and that he had to out-grow his Peter Pan persona.  This radically misunderstands the man.  Spielberg is not childish; he is child-like.

A childish world-view is one that is completely centered on the self and the petty insecurities and wants of the immature ego.  A "mature" movie like the most recent version of A Star is Born is actually an incredibly childish movie where all the characters lack the basic maturity to see beyond themselves.

A child-like world-view is one that sees how big, scary, and wondrous this world is in a way that rejuvenates the spirit with the right balance of wisdom and innocence.

ET is a movie that could only be told from the point of view of a child.  And yet because of this, I think people tend to overlook how sophisticated the directing is.  They get caught up in the sweeping, heart-felt adventure (because when you are a child, anything can be a sweeping, heart-felt adventure) that the sentiment overshadows the artistry.  But ET is meticulously crafted to bring you into the child's world.

I watched the movie a few years ago as an adult and I marveled at how much I changed as a person.  When I was young, I completely identified with Elliott.  As a man, I would not have made any of his choices.  If a strange creature of unknown origin was lurking around my home at night, I would become incredibly defensive.  That isn't necessarily a bad thing.  A man understand that the world is dangerous and that he has a responsibility to protect he people in his life.  But a child, in his innocence, can see the potential unlikely friendship.  And Spielberg draws you into Elliott's world.

Something I did not notice until a few years ago is that for most of the movie, the adult faces are absent.  With the exception of Elliott's mom and The scientist played by Peter Coyote, we really don't see any adult faces.  Look back at the science classroom scene and notice that we never see the teacher's face.  Spielberg capture how distant and alien adults feel to us.  Even the mom is kept at arm's length emotionally as she is outside the emotional journey until the third act.

Spielberg wisely doesn't not immediately make ET safe.  He employs the lessons he learned from Jaws to hint at his presence with swinging swing sets and flapping gates in the dark.  Much of the original action of the movie takes place at night because when you are a child, night is full of monsters.  But Elliott confronts his fears because his sense of wonder and curiosity are too strong.  Notice the wonderful child-like way Elliott makes friends with ET: candy.  It is so simple and understandable (which is why we have try so hard to train children not to take candy from strangers).

Watch as he captures what it's like to have a real best friend.  When you are the middle kid, you are too young to play with the older kids and you are old to be the baby.  There can be some loneliness, even if you are not alone.  But when you find a best friend, it feels like you are two halves of the same person, which is what you find in ET.  The scene where ET gets drunk and it affects Elliott isn't just a humorous moment.  It shows what it's like to make a bond with someone like this.  You feel what they feel and your emotional journey becomes intimately tied.  Their connection is so strong that they start become one.  It is no mistake that the first and last letter of the main character's name are "E" and "T."

That scene also captures how Spielberg himself sees the world.  Notice how ET watches The Quiet Man and Elliott mirrors the actions in real life.  Spielberg was raised on movies and that gave him a frame of reference for looking and acting in the world.  That is true of so many of us raised on movies and television: our images of who we are and what we should do usually find some reference point in a movie.  I know that I would often think of how Luke Skywalker would act in a given situation if I wanted to act heroically.  I'm sure many kids today think the same about Iron Man or Captain America.

As I said before the movie is magic.  John Williams score enhances and solidifies what Spielberg put on the screen.  Everyone remembers the night flight scene and it is so beautiful that Spielberg chose it out of all his shots to the be logo of his Amblin Entertainment.  He captures the part of growing up where you have to encounter something scary only to discover the joy and exhilaration to be found.  Spielberg doesn't have to articulate it in words, he just shows you in the visual the innocent ecstasy of joy.

And he brings you in to the heartbreaking agony of loss.  As we grow up, we guard our hearts against the suffering of the world.  We are not quick to embrace things for fear of what bad things may come of it.  But children are whole-hearted.  Elliott gives his entire self to ET, so much so that as ET gets sick, so does Elliott.  When you are a child, anything you give your heart to has the potential to break it.  I remember being in the theater for Avengers: Infinity War and hear all these children crying when their heroes died, especially Spider-Man.  Some adults may have cried too, but we know how to put things in perspective and minimize the pain.  But we forget that this also minimizes the love.  The pain is so great because the love is so great with Elliott and ET.  Spielberg makes you feel every moment of this loss.  And it is only after ET dies that we finally begin to see the faces of all the other adults.  At that moment for Elliott, childhood is over and the world is a little less mysterious and magical.  The adult scientists are not monsters.  They are just people.  Ordinary, boring people.  And Elliott is now one of them.

Or is he?

Here is where Spielberg's genius in executing Melissa Mathison's script can be seen.  It also gives you an important insight into Spielberg himself.  You cannot remain a child.  You have to know that the world is going to hurt you.  But then you have a choice: do you harden your heart or do you accept the pain that comes with love.

Elliott chooses love.  It is no mistake that the final act involves the kids versus the adults.  You can seen Spielberg's child-like innocence rebelling against the forces of fear and violence.  It is here that Elliott can finally also see some adults as something like himself.  His mom and Peter Coyote's character come down to his level.  They embrace the emotional truth of the journey and meet him at the end.  In fact, when you rewatch the movie as an adult, you see that Spielberg has given you a window into this single mother that you may not have noticed as a child.  He gives you just enough to piece together her world but frames it through Elliott's eyes.

And the end journey is a journey towards heartbreak.  As magical as the final adventure is, it leads to a final goodbye.  Elliott learns that love is not the childish need for emotional fulfillment.  Love is about sacrifice.  The simple dialogue is so profound.  In the hands of a lesser director, it would be schlocky.  In Spielberg's hands you feel emotions so deep that pages of words couldn't express them:





"I'll be right here."


And as they embrace, Elliott looks at his mom, who has dropped to his height.  It's seems as though they are really looking at each other for the first time.  Elliott's friendship with ET has helped him see the love in his life he had been ignoring.  The great friendships are not ones that draw you away from others but instead make you a more loving person to others.

You also cannot overlook the spiritual analogies.  Spielberg is not a Christian, but he understands the power of that spiritual and mythic imagery.  A visitor comes down from the heavens who brings love, friendship, and healing.  He dies and he rises only to return to the heavens.  

The final shot always makes me so emotional.  It isn't of ET's ship flying off to some distant galaxy, as we saw in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Instead, it is a shot of Elliott.  He is changed.  The journey has turned into someone who has been hurt, but not broken.  He has taken a step to become the man he should be, the man Spielberg wants to be too.

You leave ET rejuvenated and more in touch with the child-like wonder that you need to make your adult life magical.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Film Flash: Army of the Dead (Netlfix)

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

Starts as fun zombie Ocean's 11.  But it declines in fun/quality as it goes.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Trailer Time: Dear Evan Hansen

Okay, I am weirdly conflicted about this trailer.

I've heard about this musical before.  It seems to be very popular among high school theater kids.  Watching the beginning of the trailer, I can't say that I'm really keen on the story.  It seems very typical teen-angsty.

Yet despite myself, I found I was breaking out in goosebumps halfway through the trailer.  So even though my brain is telling me that this is not going to be very good, my heart is telling me that I will probably see it.

I like Amy Adams, Kaitlyn Dever, and Julianne Moore.  Not totally sold on Ben Platt, but maybe it will come together in the film.


Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Film Review: The Woman in the Window

 The Woman in the Window.jpg

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

Generally speaking, it is not a good idea to put clips of better movies inside of the movie you're filming.  But early on in The Woman in the Window, director Joe Wright shows us a clip from Rear Window.  The effect is that you almost wish you were watching that movie instead of this one.

The Woman in the Window is about Dr. Anna Fox (Amy Adams) an agoraphobic living in a large, multistory home in Manhattan.  She has a musician/handyman tenant named David (Wyatt Russell) living in her basement.  A new family movies in across the street.  The teenage son Ethan (Fred Hechinger) comes to drop off a housewarming gift and Anna gets the feeling that not all is right in their family.  Things then take a turn when one night she sees a woman (Julianne Moore) being in the new home.  But Ethan's father (Gary Oldman) claims that all is well.  The police have trouble believing Anna, especially because the mixing of her meds and alcohol could be causing her to hallucinate.  So is Anna hallucinating or is some foul play happening across the street?  That is the central mystery of the movie.

Wright desperately wants this movie to be a modern-day Hitchcock.  He constantly uses super fancy and stylistic shots that feel very much like he is showing off.  But he forgets to do some of the basic work.  For example, even though we spend almost the entire film inside of Anna's house, we really don't get a clear sense of the interior geography until much later in the movie.  In fact, there is a shot later in the movie that tracks down the steps to each floor and I said to my wife: "You needed that at the beginning of the movie."  There is nothing wrong with being fancy, but you also have to the workman parts to help orient your audience to the basic environment.

Adams does a great job, as always.  She threads the needle between sympathy and repulsion, vulnerability and stoicism, sanity and insanity.  The wild look in her eyes could be read a someone losing their grip on reality or someone overflowing with frustration that no one believes the truth of her claim.  The movie does go out of its way to make her look as unattractive as possible, though I am not sure why.  Moore is a scene stealer who is able to turn on her charisma like it's nothing.  But the movie criminally wastes Oldman and Jennifer Jason Leigh (in a role I will not spoil).  Both of these actors are immense talents.  But the structure of the narrative causes you mostly to see them from across the street through the windows.  Hechinger is decent, but his performance is a bit showy.  Russell does a good job of finding just the right balance of innocence and menace.  In a movie like this, each character has to be ambiguous in terms of their guilt or innocence.

The movie tries to tackle not only the issue of paranoia but also of loss and guilt.  Screenwriter Tracy Letts tries to weave these themes into the main mystery, but it feels more like a distraction.  All the while, I kept expecting a movie that would have me on the edge of my seat.  Instead, I kept leapfrogging the narrative and figuring out the twists.  I couldn't help it as we are treated to extended scenes where Anna goes into a panic attack searching for her cell phone.  I'm sure that this was supposed to show us her anxieties, but scenes like these made me feel like the movie was spinning its wheels.

There is one moment where a character, overcome with guilt, talks about how desperately they want to be forgiven.  It made me think of how blessed Catholic are to have sacrament of Reconciliation, where we can take all of our sins to God through the priest and hear the words of absolution so that we know that have forgiveness and the peace that comes from that.

Overall, the movie is not actively a bad movie.  It just feels needlessly mediocre, especially given the creative talent at work.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Film Flash: Those Who Wish Me Dead

Those Who Wish Me Dead.png

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

Surprisingly simple, smart, taught, and tense action/thriller.  Best movie of the year so far.

Sunday Best: Summer Box Office Predictions 2021

 I know I am late on this, but I wanted to throw my hat into the ring with predictions for this year's summer box office.

With things getting back to normal, a question that everyone in the movie business is asking:

Will people go back to the movies?

Most people have not been in a theater in over a year.  At this point, will people return for the theater experience.

And the summer box office is when the biggest blockbusters tend to be released.  I always enjoyed trying my hand at predicting what would be the big winners.

In 2016, I got 6 out of 10 right.  By 2017, I improved to 8 out of 10. 2018 was my best year, where I made it to 9 out of 10 and my order of highest grossers was even more accurate.  2019 I did great with the top 7, but the bottom three I had all wrong.  I didn't do it last year because of the pandemic.

I am not that confident about this year's list, but I am going to give it a try.  This year, I'm betting big on a desire to return to normalcy and people wanting to return to things that are familiar.

1.  Black Widow

In the last 10 years, 5 Marvel movies have been the top Summer movies at the box office.  Black Widow has the advantage of being the first major Marvel release in years and it is a flashback into Phase 3.  The trailers look fun and I don't think people are ready to jump off the Marvel train just yet.

2.  F9

F9 film poster.jpg

Fate of the Furious had a steep drop off in box office from the 7th movie, but it was still a big hit.  This is a two-decade-old franchise that has brought in more money than I think people ever dreamed it could.  Rather than its age being a detriment, in a post-COVID world, it could actually be a plus, where people want to return to things they know and grew up with.

3.  A Quiet Place Part II
A Quiet Place Part II.jpg

This is a movie where the first did well at the box office but only gained more esteem when people discovered it on home video.  As a PG-13 horror movie, it can bring in a younger audience than a lot of the R-Rated fare.  The studios have also been really pushing for the idea that this is a theatrical experience to be had.

4.  Hotel Transylvania: Transformania

Hotel Transylvania Transformania poster.jpg

I always bet big on kids movies.  This franchise has been plugging away for a long time and this could be a big draw for families looking for an escapist theater experience.

5.  Jungle Cruise
Jungle Cruise - theatrical poster.png

I'm reckoning that this will have a similar box office to the Jumanji sequels.  Dwayne Johnson is one of the last stars that can draw a box office.  And with Disney marketing, I expect a big push for this as an adventure that will be for the whole family, especially for those who have kids two little for Marvel movies.

6. In the Heights
In The Heights teaser poster.jpg

This is one of my wild cards that I'm taking a big bet on.  The people I know who are anticipating this movie are incredibly intense about it.  Hamilton is a massive hit in the popular culture and this has been heavily pushed as Lin Manuel Miranda property.  And people want to be uplifted with a feel-good musical.  The two big drawbacks are that it will simultaneously be on HBO Max and I get the feeling that they are going to touching on some hot-button political issues, which may turn off a huge percentage of the movie-going public.

7.  The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
The Conjuring - The Devil Made Me Do It.png

These mid-budget films make big-budget numbers.  I was actually incredibly surprised at how well this franchise is doing in terms of ticket sales.  Like In the Heights it will premiere on HBO Max, but it also might make a big appeal to the teen demographic looking for a good horror movie that isn't R-rated.

8.  Space Jam: A New Legacy

I don't think that LeBron James is as popular as Michael Jordan, which is why this movie is lower on the list.  But this movie looks like Warner Bros. is pulling out all the stops and putting all of its IP into this film.  So you know that they are going to push this movie as THE sports film/kids movie that EVERYONE will want to see.  Again, this will be an HBO Max release too so this may hurt the box office.  We will also see if any of the controversy over the film (e.g. Pepe LePew and the Droogs) or James himself will have any affect on getting people into the theater.

9.  Free Guy

Free Guy Theatrical First Poster.jpg
This is also one of my wild card picks.  I'm thinking this is going to be pushed like a PG-13 Deadpool.  It will have the same kind of tones, but set in a video game world where the violence can be toned down.  This one is going to depend, I think, on the buzz from the early screenings.  If the buzz is good then I think the audience is going to come.

10.  Snake Eyes: GI Joe Origins
Snake Eyes - G.I. Joe Origins, official poster.png

While people pan the first two GI Joe movies, they actually made hundreds of millions of dollars.  I'm waiting on a trailer, but this might just click.  While the producers have noodled a lot with the main character, I don't think that mainstream audiences are going to care much about that.



Spiral Official Poster.jpg
Horror movie fans may be oddly nostalgic for the Saw movies.  And with a more prestigious cast, this might bring in viewers.

Peter Rabbit 2

Peter Rabbit 2 - RT poster.png

The first movie did well, but it didn't set the box office on fire.  I don't know how much love their is from parents and kids to bring people into the theater.

The Suicide Squad
The Suicide Squad official poster.jpeg

A lot of people are banking on this one to make the top 10.  I am dubious for a few reasons:
-R-Rating: this will make it difficult for a lot of the target super hero audience to see
-Lack of Interest: The original Suicide Squad made money but left a lot of audiences cold.  Birds of Prey was a big bomb of a film.  Now this is the third Harley Quinn movie and I don't think general audiences are that interested.
-Confusion:  Calling the movie The Suicide Squad is going to be confusing to mainstream audiences who will wonder why they are re-releasing Suicide Squad
When James Gunn is given full creative control, his movies tend to be violent, ugly messes.  When he is forced to be creative, we get something like Guardians of the Galaxy.  I don't know what this is going to be. 


Saturday, May 15, 2021

Film Flash: The Woman in the Window

 The Woman in the Window.jpg

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

Mediocre Rear Window remake that desperately wants to be like Hitchcock but falls short

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Film Review: Mortal Kombat (2021)


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

My first thought at the beginning of the new Mortal Kombat movie was:  "This feels like a fan film."

And that isn't necessarily an insult.

Back in the early 2000's as internet videos were starting to emerge and people could do their own computer special effects at home, we saw the emergence of fan films.  While the budgets and the acting were not always great, on many of them you could feel the care and love in the crafting.  The first scene in Mortal Kombat is like that.

The movie begins in feudal Japan with the family of Hanzo Hasashi aka Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) being attacked by Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim).  This scene is so well crafted that I was hooked for the rest of the movie.  Sanada is particularly affective in his performance.  It is here that you feel the love for the characters.  In this scene, Scorpion is given a powerful and poignant backstory in a way no other character was given in the Mortal Kombat from 1995.

The movie flashes forward to the present age where nearly washed-up MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan), is trying to make ends meet for his wife (Laura Brent) and daughter (Matilda Kimber).  He is approached by military man Jax (Mehcad Brooks) and is soon attacked by Sub-Zero.  Cole is thrown into a strange new world where he must work with military specialist Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), criminal mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson), and martial arts devotee Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) to join the thunder god Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) in defending Earth.  The forces of Outworld must win 10 Mortal Kombat tournaments.  At the beginning of the movie, they have won nine.  Mastermind Shang Tsung (Chin Han) decides to cheat and hunt down the chosen fighters who have been marked from birth or who have received their mark by killing someone else with the mark.  Raiden works with this motley group to help them find their secret hidden power or "arcana" to help them win.

For the first two-thirds of the movie, I was of the solid position that this movie was better than the 1995 version.  Yes, it has massive plot holes and contrivances, but that really didn't bother me.  The openning scene was a good hook, and Cole was a scrappy family man/ underdog I could root for.  The fight scenes were not spectacular, but they were entertaining.  

This was especially true for Lawson's Kano.  He demonstrated more charisma than all of the other actors combined.  His "I don't give a crap" attitude mixed with his incredibly cynical one-liners had me laughing way more than I should have.  But when you get to like a character, you find their humor all the more charming.  There was also something oddly childlike about him, as he sketches himself in violent victory after defeating an enemy.  Having Kano feature so prominently and giving him the best lines of the movie was a great touch.  For that kind of entertainment, I can tolerate some stiff acting (like Asano and McNamee) and inanity about finding an inner power that lets you shoot lasers out of your eyes.

All of the other actors do a serviceable, but not great job.  Brooks is fine as Jax, but Asano has none of the screen presence of Christopher Lambert from the original.  Bridgette Wilson, the original Sonya, was not believable in her role, but she had good chemistry with the other actors.  McNamee cannot seem to do the same, but that may be because the script makes her an exposition machine who is constantly on the outside of the action.  Tan does a decent job, but he would have been better suited to a supporting character, rather than a leading man.

Director Simon McQuoid has a decent eye for the visuals.  I especially like the way he takes familiar settings and twists them, as he does in the final fight of the movie.  

But it was the third act when everything fell apart.  

It is very difficult to explain my critique of the movie without revealing some plot detail, so...


The first turn off is that the movie turns incredibly gory.  There was a great deal of violence and blood up front.  But when things begin to pick up in the third act, things get WAY more graphic.  You see people get cut in half and have their organs spill out.  One character gets graphically disemboweled on camera.  Other such visceral attacks occur.  Granted that the most recent version of the video game are just as graphic, it was still way too jarring to suddenly pivot to this gore so late in the film.  I don't mind violence, but I tend to find graphic body horror a turn off.

The second (and worse) thing is that they ruin Kano in the third act.  To be fair, Kano is never a hero.  But as he journeys along with the main characters, he takes on an anti-hero quality.  The film makers had to know that he was their most likable character.  If they meant his mean quips to turn the audience against him like a wrestling heel, they did a terrible job by casting such a fun actor in Lawson.  You cannot take your best, albeit morally flawed, character and throw him away like that.  It would be like Han Solo showing up at the Death Star run to shoot at look because the Empire paid him more money.  You would feel like all the emotional investment in him was a betrayal.  On top of that, he is set in a showdown with the wet blanket Sonya.  Whereas Kano is funny and cool, Sonya is strident and lacks any sense of fun.  You are "supposed" to root for Sonya, but I was secretly rooting for Kano.  Once I realized that there would be no turn from heel to babyface for him, I began to tune out.


Mortal Kombat also suffers from that same problem that so many big-budget movies have in that they do not tell a complete story.  Instead, this is supposed to be the first chapter of a franchise.  Not to keep going back to Star Wars, but the original film did it right by telling a self-contained epic that could stand on its own or act as the first installment of a larger arc.  But so much Mortal Kombat feels like it is keeping its powder dry for a sequel.

If you are a fan of this franchise and these characters, then the movie might be worth your time.  The first scene is worth the time you take.  But the movie is far from a flawless victory.  In fact, it's lack of cohesion in the final round is its main fatality.

Monday, May 10, 2021

New Evangelizers Post: Answering the Question: “Do We Become Angels?”


I have a new article up at  

“Do we become angels when we die?”

The short answer is “no.” But in this article I want to explore not only the answer, but how the answer should be given.

A common misconception about human life is that when we die we become angels. You can see this play out in famous movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, where Clarence is a deceased man who is earning his wings as a guardian angel. You can understand the confusion since we believe angels are spiritual beings in heaven and at death our spiritual souls go to live in heaven.

However, we do not become angels when we die.

Angels are a different species from human beings. In the same way, dogs are a different species than us. When a dog dies, it does not become a man. When a man dies, he does not become an angel. This would change each being’s essential nature.

Like the angels, human beings have a spiritual nature in our rational soul. But we are, by definition, body and soul together. Part of what makes us essential human is that we are a unity of soul and body. The angels are spiritual beings without bodies. It is true that in the Bible, angels can take bodily form. We see this when Raphael comes to visit Tobiah or when Gabriel speaks to the Virgin Mary. But in these cases, the body is not the same as our bodies. With us, there is a unity between our body and our souls. If I were to drop a heavy box on your iPhone, you may say “You hurt my iPhone. You iPhone is something you own, but it is not a part of you. If I drop that same heavy box on your big toe, you may say “You hurt my big toe.” But you may also say “You hurt me.” You are essentially connected to your body. With the angels, their bodily manifestations are not necessarily like that. That can be akin to putting on a costume to play the part of a man without being a man.

To be clear, I am not defining the relationship between the spiritual angel and the manifestation of their bodies in Scripture. That is something too complex for this article. My point only is that these embodiments from the Bible are not like how human beings are embodied.

When we die, we do not become angels because we do not change species. Again, we are like the angels in that we will have a purely spiritual existence in heaven. But unlike the angels, we are not complete in this state. This is why at the end of the world, there will be a resurrection of the body. Here we will become like Christ and have a glorified body for all eternity and will be fully human again.

Now, having made the case very theologically clear here, I want to also say that when answering this question to someone who is still learning the faith, that you should be careful.

Even though the idea of humans becoming angels is not something that has ever been taught by the Church, there is a strong impression that this has always been taught. Be careful how you undermine what someone thinks is an essential belief, even if that belief is incorrect. Breaking down a belief that someone thought was essential and foundational may cause great uncertainty in other areas of the faith. To be sure, we need to make the correction, but be sure to give the issue its proper time and care.

Another reason to take care here is a relational one. I have found that when this topic comes up in class, I will usually have a student say something like this: “When my grandma died, my mom told me that she became my guardian angel, looking out for me. Is that not true?”

Again, be very careful how you answer. A person’s whole understanding of the communion of saints can be shaken if not handled correctly. This is especially true when someone they love is taken from them. Many young people today struggle with the belief of a life beyond this one. If they get the feeling that they have been lied to, this could prove a true stumbling block.

In a situation like this, I say something like this:

“What is it that a guardian angel does? A guardian angel watches over you from heaven. A guardian angel prays for you and intercedes for you before God. You guardian angel loves you and brings down graces from heaven in your life. All of those things that a guardian angel does, I’m sure you grandma is doing right now. So when you mom said that she became your guardian angel, it means that your grandma will do all of those things: she watches over you, guards you, and prays for you. My own mom passed a few years ago, and I know she is in heaven acting like an angel on my behalf.”

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Mother's Day 2021


I tried to sit down an write something thoughtful and profound this Mother's Day.

Instead, all I could think of was the healed-over emptiness in my life since my mom passed.  It's like there is scar-tissue in my soul: there is healing, but it reminds me of the wound and the loss.

Our parents loom like giants in our lives.  They can't help but be that.  That's what they literally are to us when we are small.  And even as we grow, no one can take their place.  

It's strange, because when we become the age they were when were raising us, they seem both smaller and larger at the same time.  We start to realize that they were human and fallible like us, and yet often we still have this awe that they seemed to have a better handle on so many things.  Or maybe they didn't.  Maybe their faults and failures have caused a brokeness in us that lasts to this day.  

Because of their place in shaping who we are, it is easy to canonize or demonize them in our memories.  It is hard to see them just exactly as they are.

Or were.

My mom loved me.

My mom left me.

For some reason I hold both of these contradictory actions in my heart.  Life is messy and life can be complicated.  I would never have done what she did.  But I cannot stop believing in her love for me.

Whenever the temptation to doubt her love comes to me, I remember lying in a hospital bed in the ICU when I was 15-years-old.  And night after night, she slept in an uncomfortable chair near my bed, just so I would know that I was not alone.  I am not qualified to do the moral calculations to say if moments like these outweigh all the mistakes.  

I remember being a child and snuggling with her in front of the fireplace, just silently enjoying each other's affection.  I remember watching her dance up a storm at my brother and sister's college graduation party.  I remember her voice so clearly that sometimes I can almost hear it my ears.  

All I know is that when I think of "Mom," that is what I remember.

I learned a long time ago that God is the judge and that I am not God.  I learned that forgiveness is better than holding on to anger.  I learned that love is always the right choice.

For all the mothers out there: if you ever have moments of doubt, if you ever worry about the mistakes you make, if you ever feel like you are not the mother you should be, then I have something to say.  I cannot speak for anyone else, but when all is said and done, my mother will always be a part of me.  And she is still alive in the man I am now.  Her love brought me into this world and it still glows in my heart.  My mother was my first love, before all others.  And that is what you are to your children.

That first love is the seed that grows in the heart into the shape of what you think love should be.  When you look at your children today, remember that you are their first love and love is the only legacy that matters.

And I hope to return that love to my mom when we meet again.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

TV Review: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Disney+)


The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (TV Mini-Series 2021) - IMDb

I heard that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was supposed to be the first MCU TV show on Disney+, but that the pandemic shifted the schedule around so that WandaVision came out first.

This turned out to be a good choice.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is not a bad show.  In fact, there are parts of it that I really, really liked.  But whereas WandaVision, understood how the medium of television works differently that feature film and used that to its advantage, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier feels like a regular MCU movie stretched out over several hours.

The story picks up after Avengers: Endgame.  Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) decides that instead of taking up the mantle of Captain America from his friend Steve Rogers, he hands the shield back to the US government.  Rather than sit on the shield, the government decides to give it to their new Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell).  In the meantime, since the Avengers brought back half of the world's population in Endgame, there has been chaos.  Many of the people who were not snapped away have been pooling resources, living in empty houses, and ignoring national boundaries.  Now that half the world returns, these people are being kicked out of their years-long living arrangements.  There is now scarcity and a refugee crises.  This brings out the "Flag Smashers," a terrorist group that wants things to go back to the way they were before everyone came back.  They are led by Karli (Erin Kellyman) and a small group of friends who have somehow become super soldiers too.  Sam must work with Bucky (Sebastian Stan), who is also dealing with evil past while brainwashed as the Winter Soldier.  This bickering duo have encounters with Walker and his parter Battlestar (Cle Bennett), as well as some other MCU veterans like Barron Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), and Ayo (Florence Kasumba).

The biggest drawback of this show is that it seems to bite off more than it can chew.  

Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War both were "political" in the sense that they took on some basic political principles in ways that it didn't feel like you were being preached at about any real-world issues.  They dove into issues of privacy, security, freedom, national sovereignty vs. moral obligation, and the like.  Looking back, I am amazed at how well they treaded the needle.

The story centers around Sam's journey centers on all of the issues that come up with a black man taking on the mantle of a hero who represents all of America.  At a time in history when so many people are on edge regarding all things racial, this is a very difficult subject to tackle.  To its credit, the showrunners work very hard at making everything as balanced as possible.  They bring up issues of racial identify as well as prejudice both past and present.  You can see this especially with the introduction of Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) a man who became a super soldier, but was betrayed and buried by his own government.  But with all of this, Sam is still a patriot who loves his country and refuses to give up his belief in America.  They try to thread the needle too, but I don't think they are nearly as successful as the Captain America movies.  I've heard critiques from both the political left and the political right.  Perhaps that in itself is a sign that the show tries to stay in the middle.  

The show also tries to handle other international issues like national borders and refugees.  To its credit, it admits that the issues are too complicated to be wrapped up in a six episode series.  But, they can't quite seem to pull off the inspirational push that this topic needs other than "Do better."  

You can see this play out in how it tries to take a balanced approach to even the antagonists.  Karli is portrayed in the most sympathetic terms, but I could not fully invest in her because she is a murderer.  Once she crosses that line, every speech she gives falls on deaf ears with me.  If she had accidentally caused the death of some people the complication of her position would have been much more interesting.  Walker is clearly set up as a foil to Sam, but the show does not take the easy way out and portray him as a flat soldier bully.  He is no Steve Rogers, but he is brave and loyal.  However his insecurities lead to overly violent reactions that make him the wrong choice for the mantle.

As an action show, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is very good.  The fight scenes are as good as anything in the MCU.  Sam and Bucky are a perfect foil to each other like Riggs and Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon.  They resent each other because of how much they need each other.  These are two men who live in the shadow of man greater than either of them.  They talk about Steve with awe and mutual affection.  This gives the series an emotional core that makes this feel like a super hero buddy cop show.

Mackie is a great leading man.  He is charismatic but is able to play subtlety well.  He plays all of the complications of his journey in a believable way.  Stan continues with his seething rage under the surface of his Bucky, but you begin to see his personality begin to thaw.  Kellyman plays the innocence of her character's point of view, but she never quite raises to a believable level of violent rage.  Her anger comes off more as a childish tantrum than a thirst for vengeance.  Russell balance the bluster of his outward bravado with that interior doubt that makes for an interesting contradiction.

As I wrote earlier, the show is enjoyable, but feels stretched out with subplots about Sam's sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye), as well as trips to Europe and Asia.  I will say that the final episode was my favorite and caused a number of internal cheers, especially as Sam finishes his arc and becomes his own man.

Despite its shortcomings in handle hot-button political issues, if you enjoy the MCU, you will probably enjoy The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.  

I know that I did.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Wednesday Comics: Geiger #1


Geiger #1 (Fabok Variant) – The Comic Shop

Readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of Geoff Johns.  Very few writers have brought me more delight and joy from reading.  His output of comics lately has been sparse, so I've jumped on everything that he has published.

A few months ago it was announced that he and artist Gary Frank would be doing their own independent comic called Geiger.  While I love their collaborations on DC Comic properties, I was incredibly excited to see these two working again.  I made sure to have this on my pull list at my local comic book shop.  The last thing that these two worked on was Doomsday Clock which was not only beautiful to look at, but gave me one of most impactful experiences reading a comic book.

But perhaps I have now set the bar to high for them.

Geiger is the story of a post-Apocalyptic hero.  A nuclear war occurs in the near future.  Our main hero built a bomb shelter with supplies for his family for years.  But just as the bombs are about to drop, he and his family get attached by some racist neighbors who want the shelter for themselves.  In order to save his family, our hero closes them in, leaving himself to bear the brunt of the nuclear holocaust.  But instead of dying, he is an irradiated man of power.  Years later, Las Vegas has turned into something out of the Fallout series with little fiefdoms built on the ruins of old structures.  Our hero fights off those who would encroach on his territory so that he can make sure no one disturbs his family.

Gary Frank's art is as beautiful as ever.  I wish Johns' writing matched what I saw.

To be fair, this is only the first issue.  I was not terribly impressed with the first issue of Doomsday Clock either, and that story ended up knocking my socks off.  But rather than hooking us with strong emotional ties, it almost feels like Johns is trying to get the origin out of the way so that he can show us all the cool world-building he has done.  Things feel a little too forced and flat.  For example, there is no nuance or subtlety to the racism of the attacking neighbors.  I think back to 10 Cloverfield Lane where people were trying to get into the bunker and how in that short span you saw a whole range of emotions play out in their desperation.  Johns is a better writer than this, so I am surprised.

Right now we are still in the "mystery box" phase where several people and places are referenced without any context given.  Again, this would work better if there was a stronger emotional hook.  Right now the main antagonist appears to be a child king.  How is he a king and why are people listening to him?  No idea.  Will we find out so that it makes som kind of logical sense?  I hope so.

If this was an other writer, I might tap out.  Comics are expensive and this is not only an investment of my time, but also my money.  

However, this is where a writer can cash in the good will they have built up over time.  I trust Geoff Johns to tell a story that is worth telling.  

He hasn't let me down.


Monday, May 3, 2021

Trailer Time: Marvel Phase 4

The future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is far from certain.

The entire series had been building up to Avengers: Endgame with Spider-Man: Far From Home acting as an epilogue.  But with that milestone past, can Marvel continue to reign as a box office powerhouse and a pop culture touchstone?

One of the biggest challenges is that without Tony Stark or Steve Rogers, the franchise is going forward without its two pillars.  I don't think anyone in the MCU is as loved as those two characters.

In addition, it seems that Marvel is drawing from some of its more recent comic creations, which have nowhere near the popularity and likability as its more iconic heroes.

So the video announcement of Phase 4 is very important.

Here are my assorted thoughts:

Stan Lee
That unique voice conjures the wonder of the comic book universe he created.  As someone who grew up hearing that voice before his Saturday morning cartoons, I cannot help but feel a waive of childlike nostalgia.  In fact, the look back at the entire MCU up until this point makes me appreciate how far the series has come.

Black Widow
It is kind of serendipitous that this movie is the first to come out as theaters are reopening.  This is a movie that looks backwards rather than forwards.  Black Widow was an incredibly popular part of the first three phases and this movie will hopefully have the same feel as Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  I think Florence Pugh is a great young actress and I am curious as to how well the mantle will be transferred to her.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Not a fan of Akwafina, but she didn't bother me much in what I've seen.  I grew up a huge fan Kung Fu movies so I like the feel, but I'm not sure if this feels like a Marvel film.

This is the first time we've seen anything from this movie.  I've said before that this was probably the first movie in the MCU that I was going to skip and nothing in this tease has changed my mind.

Spider-Man: No Way Home
I have been enjoying the MCU Spider-Man series a great deal so I'm excited to see this.  I hope that they sign on this cast for more films.  I know that the original plan for Phase 4 was to have Captain Marvel step into the role of Tony Stark, but honestly, it should be Spider-Man.  He is the most popular remaining character and he is the flagship character of the entire Marvel brand.

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness
I am incredibly curious to see what Sam Raimi is going to do with this character and what, if any, threads are continued from WandaVision.  The confluence of movies and TV leads to an interesting conundrum that I will write about in another post: they need to keep continuity for people who don't watch the TV shows.  So this will be interesting how they thread that needle.

Thor: Love and Thunder
While it was not my least favorite Thor movie, I was not a big fan of Taika Waititi's previous film, so I'm not very excited about his return (though I have to give him credit that his Thor made the most money at the box office).  I am looking forward to Natalie Portman's Jane Foster returning.  I hope they are able to address some of the more somber elements of the comic run.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
With tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman, this new title reveal feels like the focus is going to be diffused on the supporting characters from the previous film.  Honestly, I think Boseman's Black Panther would have been the best person step up into Steve Rogers role for the MCU as its moral conscience, but this movie is making me sad over his loss.

The Marvels
This is interesting.  Instead of Captain Marvel 2, the movie is being refocused on other heroes with "Marvel" in their name.  We have Carol Danvers and Ms. Marvel (who will be introduced on Disney+ soon).  But I'm more excited to the Monica Rambeau's Captain Marvel making her debut.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
With this title, I think this movie is going to be crazy.  This series hasn't been the best of the franchise, but I get the feeling that they are going to go for broke on this one.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3
I know that Vol.2 was a let-down, but I dind't expect it to be as good as the original, which is one of the best movies in the entire MCU.  But I have to say, this is the movie I'm looking forward to the most out of the entire Phase 4.  I've developed a deep affection for all of these characters and even a mediocre film with them is enjoyable.

Does anyone else notice that the Phase 4 logo at the end looks suspiciously like the insignia for Marvel's First Family?  With the rights from Fox returning to the Disney MCU, will we see the set up not only for the Fantastic Four but the X-Men?