Sunday, August 29, 2021

New Evangelizers Post: Reclaiming the Strangeness of Christianity



I have a new article up at  

I used to teach a class on world religions. In the process of my research, I became fascinated with the different belief systems that developed all over the word.

When studying these religions, especially the Eastern ones, I was able to appreciate them from the outside looking in. There was something elegant in many of the beliefs. For example, Hindu balance of karma, dharma, and samsara creates a harmonious understanding of metaphysics, anthropology, and ethics. Or there is a serenity in Buddhism that is on many levels admirable.

I then took this outside/in perspective to Christianity and I came to a startling realization:

Christianity is the strangest religion of all.

Compared to the claims of Buddha, Mohamed, or even Moses, the claims of Christ are shocking nearly beyond belief. Even compared to newer religions, Christianity is incredibly strange. If you belong to a religion where you believe aliens came and started human life, you have a belief that is less strange than what Christians believe.

One of the reasons I think most Christians don’t see how our faith is so odd is that we are surrounded by it and its effects. Many of us were raised in families that went to church. Our culture still celebrates the birth of Jesus at Christmas and His resurrection at Easter. Our philosophy of rights come from a Judeo-Christian idea that all are made in the image of God.

But we forget how strange a foundation this is. That we would say “Amen” when someone holds up the Host and says, “The Body of Christ,” is something that should strike us every time we say it.

This is beyond things like miracles (although one miracle in particular is foundational, which we get to later). Most religions have tales of their founders performing miracles by access to some divine power.

When I teach Christianity, I make this point to my students. Jesus said and did a lot of weird stuff. He said “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12). I don’t recall Moses saying anything remotely like this. Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches” (John 15:5). This is not like anything I’ve read Mohammed say. Christ also said, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even though he dies, shall live.” (John 11:25). Buddha did not say things like that.

As Dr. Peter Kreeft points out, all the founders of the major religions pointed beyond themselves. Moses pointed to Yahweh, Mohammed to Allah, Buddha to the Dharma. But Jesus points to Himself.

Christ claims to be divine (John 8:58). He says to His followers “You must eat my flesh and drink my blood.” (John 6:53)

That is weird.

Why am I harping on this point?

In the modern world it is very fashionable by those outside of Christianity to claim it is an elaborate construction to fool people into belief in God. My point is that no rational person would make up a religion like Christianity.

Christianity is a mysterious religion. It asks much of the believer that goes beyond (but does not contradict) reason. If you were to invent a religion, wouldn’t you make it palpable for even the most basic minds to grasp and wrap their heads around?

But Christianity asks you to believe that there are Three Persons in One God. This is not Three Names for the same Person or Three Gods in Unity.

Christianity asks you to believe that Jesus is the God Man. This is not to say that He is a hybrid demi-god like Hercules or Perseus. He is not a Hindu Avatar like Krishna or Rama. He is 100% God and He is 100% man.

The Catholic Church believes that we must eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of Jesus. The Eucharist not a symbol of Christ’s Body and Blood. We really consume His Flesh and Blood at mass.

Perhaps I lack the imagination, but I cannot see how any of these beliefs are something that would be invented by those who wanted to fool others into religion.

Of all the religions I have encountered, Christianity is the strangest. I tell my students that it is so strange that there is absolutely no reason to believe it except one:

Because it is true.

You can read the whole article here.

Film Flash: Coda (Apple TV)

Coda poster.jpeg

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

Heart-warming film about family and growing up.  Excellent performances, would be better if less vulgar.

Sunday Best: 2021 Summer Box Office Review


Summer Movie Season has come and gone once again.  And what is our conclusion?

In terms of box office success, the numbers were very low.  No movie made over $200 million in the theaters.  Also, we may be seeing the effect of streaming on the theater dollars.  Things were so spooky that some films that were supposed to be big summer hits were pulled like Hotel Transylvania.  

In terms of box office, the top 10 highest grossing films of the summer are as follows:

1. Black Widow
2. F9: The Fast Saga
3. A Quiet Place Part II
4. Jungle Cruise
5. Cruella
6. Free Guy
7. Space Jam: A New Legacy
8. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
9. The Boss Baby: Family Business
10. The Suicide Squad

My predictions were as follows (along with my rationale):

1.  Black Widow

Black Widow (2021 film) poster.jpg

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 2021 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 Movie Poster.jpg

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.

This year I did fairly well with the top part of the chart:

- If you allow for the fact that the Hotel Transylvania sequel was pulled from the lineup, I got the top four earners in the correct order.
-I correctly got 7 out of 10 into the top ten.
-I was way off on In the Heights potential box office, as well as Snake Eyes.
-I did not think Cruella would be as popular as it was.  I should know by now not to underestimate Disney
-I honestly forgot about The Boss Baby and I should have kept that one in mind.

So here are my conclusions.

Four of the top ten films were from Disney, with Marvel's Black Widow taking the top spot.  While I do think that the next two Marvel films (Shang-Chi and The Eternals) will be underwhelming, fan enthusiasm for the next Spider-Man film is incredibly high.  As I've said, Marvel is starting to get a little experimental with Phase 4.  If things go as I predict, I think Marvel will course correct and stick with movies to please the widest audience.  Disney does an excellent job of marketing their films as something where you can bring the whole family.

2. Franchise Films (Qualified)
Only Free Guy and Jungle Cruise are the non-franchise film in the top 10.  And Jungle Cruise is piggybacking of the name recognition from the Disney ride.  F9 is a close second for the top box office and it is the latest in a franchise that is over two decades old.  However, with the diminished box office totals, this may not be good news for franchises.  The budgets tend to get inflated and the returns aren't huge.  A Quiet Place Part II and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, had more modest budgets and got a bigger return.


1.  Warner Bros.
While franchise they got three films in the top 10, none were spectacular hits.  The Suicide Squad barely made it to the top ten and it looks like it will lose money and so too maybe will Space Jam: A New Legacy.  And they were banking on a big return on In the Heights, but that never materialized, I would imagine mostly by bad word-of-mouth.  I have HBO Max and I still haven't seen it.  I'm hoping that Dune  will turn things around.

2.  Movie Theaters
I love the theater experience, but people are not coming back to Pre-COVID levels.  The future is now a bit uncertain.

I'll be finishing up my summer movie reviews soon, but there was a lot of hit or miss this year.  

But in terms of ranking by quality, here are the rankings of the summer movies I saw in 2021 (I'm including streaming).

A Quiet Place Part II
Those Who Wish Me Dead
Black Widow
The Tomorrow War
Free Guy
Army of the Dead
Gunpowder Milkshake
The Suicide Squad
The Woman in the Window

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Film Review: A Quiet Place Part II


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

Let's get this out of the way up front:  A Quiet Place Part II is not as good as the original.  But it is a very worthy continuation of the story.  It's like comparing Jaws 2 to the original Jaws.  By itself, the sequel is an excellent movie.  But the bar is raised os high by the original that it suffers by comparison.

After a flashback scene to the day of the invasion, A Quiet Place Part II picks up moments after the end of the first film.  With their farm on fire, Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) takes her deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), terrified son Marcus (Noah Jupe), and newborn baby and they leave to find a new place to shelter.  All the while they must avoid the monsters who hunt by sound.  Along the way, the encounter Emmet (Cillian Murphy), a friend of the family they have not seen since the monsters arrived.  While sheltering with him, Marcus discovers a radio signal being broadcast.  Regan decides to head out on her own to find the radio station and help them broadcast the power her hearing aid feedback gives them in defeating the monsters.

Writer/Director John Krasinski has lost none of his skill at visual storytelling.  The tension he builds in the flashback is palpable.  We know that this idyllic small town life is about to be horribly shattered, its only a matter of when.  And when the chaos hits, it is an explosion of chaos.  In the main story, he is able keep you glued to the edge of your seat, getting you to scream at the characters on the screen.  One of the best thing he does is that he leaves visual remnants of horrible scenes that play out in your imagination.  At one point, Regan gets to an abandoned train stop that is scattered with high-heeled shoes.  You can just imagine the terror of those who were there who abandoned these shoes to run in horror.

One of the things that elevated the last film beyond a simple monster movie is that it was so thematically rich that it touched a primal chord about the nature of parenthood and family.  This film continues that exploration, but its main focus is less on the parents and more on the children.  After the events of the previous film, Regan and Marcus have lost any innocence they had before: their childhood is over.  Rather than look to their parents to watch out for them, there is a shift in the dynamic.  They have to grow up and take adult responsibility.  That isn't to say that there is a complete role reversal.  Evelyn is as protective and heroic as before.  Emmett reluctantly realizes that Regan will not get far without some adult help.

Thematically, this is a wonderful continuation of the first film.  Parents spend so much time trying to keep their children safe.  But for the children to grow up, they have to willingly face the dangers of the world.  The job of the parent doesn't end, but it does change.  You don't so much shield them from the danger, but you face the danger with them.  

The performances are as good as the first.  For child actors, Simmonds and Jupe do a great job.  I do feel a bit of pity for Jupe.  His character is mostly in a state of abject terror that his face is burned in my mind in permanent fright.  Also, his character feels weak in a way that is unfair to him.  In one scene, he gets his leg caught in an animal trap.  He cries out in pain as his mother tries to shush him.  I know that I would be screaming my head off even worse, but I just kept thinking, "Shut up you wimp!"  As I said, unfair.  Murphy captures the look and feel of a working class small town guy so perfectly that I never once questioned it.  And Blunt continues to give a great performance.  She asks too much of her children and the strain of it lines every part of her face.

The movie's biggest flaw is that it doesn't feel like it is a complete movie.  It feels like an extra-long episode of The Walking Dead.  It moves along well and wouldn't necessarily benefit from a longer run-time.  But the movie ends with things still feeling a bit fragmented.  The first one finished in an open-ended way but it could also work as a standalone.  The sequel leaves too much unreselved to have the same kind of satisfaction.

A Quiet Place Part II is a fine continuation of the story and is well worth the watch if you enjoyed the first.  Just don't expect it to be as good or better.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Trailer Time: Spider-Man: No Way Home - Official Trailer

So an unfinished version of this trailer leaked online a few days before.  And now they have released the full version.

The movie appears to be borrowing heavily from one of the most controversial stories in Spider-Man history where Peter makes a deal to have people forget his identity.

There isn't a lot of content here, but the rumors that have been circulating around appear to be true: the characters from the previous Spider-Man film series will be in this movie.

Now here's the thing: this is right up my alley as a comic book fan.

Remember that the idea of a cinematic universe was very strange and rare before the MCU.  But one of the reason it works with Marvel is that it reflects the kind of storytelling you find in comics.  The series all take place in a shared universe where the characters from other books could cross over.  And now we have that in movies.

With the addition of these other cinematic Spider-Man characters, it feels like The Flash of Two Worlds, the comic where the Golden Age Flash first met the Silver Age Flash.  This led to epic crossovers and events as well some incredibly imaginative storytelling, because a whole new world of characters opened up.

I am very excited for this.


Sunday, August 22, 2021

Sunday Best: STEVEN SPIELBERG MOVIES RANKED - #5 - Jurassic Park


This could have been a simple monster movie.  And if you look at many of the sequels (including Spielberg's own The Lost World), you can see how quickly it can fall down that rabbit hole.

But Jurassic Park holds such a high place on this list because Spielberg didn't just terrify us.  The scares were real, but they came from a place of pure awe.

The opening scene is a work of genius where so much is communicated without a word having to be said.  The utter terror of the workers as they get ready to place the raptor in the cage is enough to scare you without any violence being shown.  The dramatic lighting makes the experience of the dinosaurs less a scientific experiment gone wrong.  Instead it feels more like a supernatural experience of contacted something from another world, as in Poltergeist.

I remember being in the theater on opening night, not knowing exactly what to expect.  But it is around the 17-minute mark that the whole world opens up.  

Spielberg gives you that incredible sequence of the helicopter arriving to the island.  Just as those green mountains appear, John Williams' genius score swells.  Much credit must be given to Williams here for creating such a majestic melody, but it is Spielberg who marries the visuals to the music.  How many movies have scenes like this where the helicopter arrives and yet they are as forgettable as they are bland.  Here, Spielberg in announcing himself and he is announcing Jurassic Park.  This beginning sequence does not have any dinosaurs, and yet you are filled with a sense of ancient awe.  He tries to capture the feeling you have of leaving the old world behind and entering Fairyland.  It is the equivalent of Dorothy opening the door from her black and white world to the technicolor MunchkinLand.  

But just four minutes later, Spielberg hits us with the first real look at the dinosaurs and they are awesome in the literal sense.  The YouTube channel "Film&Stuff" points out Spielberg's genius in choosing the aspect ratio that he did for this film.  Normally, aspect ratio would be a super-technical, superficial area to talk about for general audiences.  But Spielberg knew he needed to choose an aspect ratio that was not ultra-wide, but instead one that had a greater height to width ratio.  The reason for this was so that he could capture the dominating height of the dinosaurs and put the humans into diminutive scale next to them.  It is a subtle choice, but one that is incredibly affective.  The entire movie, Spielberg puts the humans in the position of ant beneath the boot-heel of the dinosaurs.

That isn't to say that it they are all fearsome.  The moment with the sick triceratops is amazing.  The best part about it is how Spielberg films the scene with such tactile intensity.  You watch as the characters touch this once-extinct creature.  The pure joy of watching Grant rise and fall on the breathing creature makes you feel as if you could almost reach out and touch it yourself.

A lot of credit has to go to screen-writers Michael Crichton (based on his book) and David Koepp.  Unlike a lot of big budget movies today, Spielberg knows how to use the script to build up the tension.  Notice we don't see any of the scary dinosaurs (not counting the baby raptor) until over an hour into the film.  

Before this, we have lots of character building with fantastic dialogue and snappy jokes.  Don't overlook how hard it is to film dialogue to make it visually interesting. He has a four-minute philosophical conversation about cloning that is as richly framed and lit as any scene in the film.  And even after that, he still won't show you everything yet.

He teases you the way he did with the shark in Jaws.  But those teases are promises.  The movie builds story debt that it pays off.  It explains how raptors hunt, it teases the spitting dilophosaurus, it leaves the helpless goat in front of the T-Rex paddock.  In fact, I remember so clearly that awesome cut when Hammond asks "Where did the vehicles stop?" and it cuts immediately to the goat.  Everyone in the theater groaned in fear.  And even then, Spielberg let the fear build deliciously.  The visual cue of the water vibrating is beautiful and affective.  In order to get the effect, they had to tighten a single guitar string under the cup.  They would pluck it because it was the only way to get that exact surface ripple that makes the perfect visual.  

And once the T-Rex appears, the entire movie is pandemonium.  That scene alone should have gotten him a second Oscar nomination that year.  If you want to see someone who knows when to use a practical effect and CGI and how to blend them seamlessly, watch that scene.  The shot where Lex turns on the flashlight and the T-Rex sees it is genius as Spielberg has a real dinosaur head in the shot and then moves the camera to seamlessly replace it with a CGI copy.  The effect of this is that makes the computer animated monster more concrete.

The entire scene is contracted with such tense genius that you can hardly look away.  In fact, it is so well-done that Spielberg doesn't need to use any of John Williams' score to heighten the emotion.  In fact, the lack of score makes it more intense.  The only "music" we hear are the screams and roars of the people involved.

And even in all of this, the sense of awe is never lost.  This is what the other Jurassic Park films were never quite able to have.  In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, we are supposed to empathize with the trapped dinosaurs at the end of the movie and so understand the inexplicable choice of the little girl.  But that movie reduced dinosaurs to animal monsters so the feeling never materializes.  But here, even in the worst moments, there is a sense of respect for nature.  In the scene where the T-Rex is hunting the gallimimus, the humans are utterly captivated by seeing this apex predator live out its nature.

The scariest sequence is by far the scene in the kitchen.  Again, notice how the situation deteriorates so quickly.  The two kids should be safe, they've made it back to the main building and are gorging themselves on deserts.  But now, they are alone for the first time since Gennaro left them in car.  Grant cannot help them.  The monster comes to the window of the kitchen.  I cannot tell you how many people jumped when it fogged up the glass.  Then it figures out how to open the door.  And then not one, but two raptors enter.  This scene is also the best one that holds up the main theme: man vs. nature.

The dinosaurs ruled the world and now humans are the dominant species.  As Grant says, what will happen when the two are put together.  We've spent the entire film watching the dinosaurs tear apart humans.  But the only things the humans have to defend themselves are their wits.  The entire scene is about out-thinking the dinosaurs and will that be enough to save them.

Everything builds to a head until that final moment when T-Rex comes in to "save the day." The moment is the punctuation on the theme which says that nature always wins.  But nature is not malevolent, it is merely indifferent.  The T-Rex is not there to save the humans.  It is only hunting.  And by acting according to its nature, the T-Rex claims its dominance.  I know some find that moment hokey when the banner saying "When Dinosaurs Ruled the World" falls before the T-Rex, but I always loved it as a perfect, if not unsubtle, point.

Jurassic Park is a perfect popcorn film.  And I don't mean that as a detriment.  Spielberg does not dumb down the material but he makes it accessible to everyone.  It is filled with visceral thrills, deep questions, thrilling visuals, and real heart.  After almost three decades it has not lost a single ounce of its power.  When the heroes fly off into the sunset, you feel as though you have been through an epic journey and through it all you have been changed.

Dare I say... evolved.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Film Review: Fatherhood (Netflix)


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

This is a movie that is all about concept and emotion and not about plot.

My problem with the movie may be more specific to my tastes rather than an inherent flaw.  I am someone who tends to be very attuned to plot.  If the plot is not strong, I tend to lose interest.  And Fatherhood really doesn't have a plot.

The movie is about Matt Logelin (Kevin Hart).  His wife Liz (Deborah Ayorinde) dies shortly after giving birth to their daughter (played mostly by Melody Hurd).  The movie is about the hapless Matt doing the best he can to raise Melody on his own.  

To the film's credit, Hart does a great job.  He has always been an excellent comedic actor, but he is really growing as a dramatic actor as well.  He is able to let his emotional guard down and show incredible range and vulnerability.  Hurd is also wonderful for her age.  The two of them have a fantastic chemistry that will tug at your heartstrings in different ways.

Again, the problem is that the movie is just a series of loosely connected vignettes that really don't hold together.  The closest thing to a major plot thread is how his overbearing mother-in-law Marion (Alfre Woodard) intrudes on his life and seeks to take Melody for herself.  But this conflict gets semi-resolved way too early in the film.  As a result, the movie has to double-back later and reignite the fire after it has already been put out.

There is another subplot about how is boss (Paul Reiser) is having trouble with Matt's work performance now that he is a father.  We also have his friends Jordan (Lil Rel Howery) and Oscar (Anthony Carrigan) try to help him for comedic effect.  The main thrust of the second and third act also involve Matt starting to date again a woman named Swan (DeWanda Wise).  These moments are actually the most interesting of the movie as it shows the difficulties in navigating a romantic relationship when someone has children.  Finally, there is a very annoying subplot involving Catholic school uniforms.

Everything feels disjointed and there is no strong through-line.  There is no sense of how the story is progressing because it basically lolligags in scenes that it wants to revel in.

With a tighter plot, this movie could have worked better.  A plot is like a skeleton, it holds the story together.  No matter how strong your muscles are, without that skeleton, you have no real strength.  The same is true of this movie.  It has some powerful emotional beats, but it can never stick the landing.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Trailer Time: Eternals (Final Trailer)

This movie has been a hard sell for me.  

For those who read this blog, you know I am easy to please when it comes to comic book films.  But this will probably be the first Marvel film I skip.

Everything I've read about this movie behind-the-scenes tells me that this is going to be a break from the traditional Marvel formula.  Now that we are post Endgame, Marvel is getting experimental, which I understand.  But from what I've read, this movie seems less in line with classic MCU and more in line with current year Marvel comics, which is not very good.

I've tried to keep an open mind, so I was hopeful watching this trailer.  But there is nothing to sell me on it.  

Although, I do have to say, I enjoyed that they're looping back to the Celestials from Guardians of the Galaxy.


Monday, August 16, 2021

Film Review: Free Guy

 Sexuality/Nudity Mature

Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

This is another movie where the concept does not live up to the execution.

Free Guy is the story of Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a Non Playable Character in a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game called Free City.  Guy does not know that his world is just a video game.  He is an average guy who gets pushed around by the game users.  He spends his free time hanging out with his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery).  But one day he comes across the player Millie (Jodie Comer) and falls in love.  Millie is on a mission to prove that the game creator Antoine (Taika Waititi) stole a game she designed with her friend Keys (Joe Keery) who now works for Free City.  Guy gets drawn in her mission and enters a journey of self-discovery about the truth of the world around him.

The movie has several problems that prevent it from being more than a fine, forgettable piece of entertainiment.

The first thing is that it seems to cost on its premise.  The idea of an NPC coming alive and throwing the dynamic of an MMORPG out of balance is actually very intersting and funny.  But the script thinks that this clever premise is enough.  The jokes are sporadically funny, but a lot of that has to do with Reynolds and Comer.  The way the other NPC's brush off the mayhem imposed on them is humorous, but the script never gives the jokes enough punch to make them truly funny.  Instead we are left with a middling feeling that you get when you see how a joke is funny but it doesn't make you laugh.

Another problem is the villain.  Taika Waititi is very popular as a director, but this movie highlights one very important reality: he cannot act.  His Antoine is not only completely flat, but the performance is lifeless.  He stalks around like and over acts like a freshman in a high school production of Grease.  His voice inflection and facial expresssions don't match up.  He delivers the WORST reading of the line "Whatchu talkin' about, Willis?" I have ever heard, and I have watched several seasons of Diff'rent Strokes.  With a villain this hollow, the threat is less serious.

The movie is also too long.  At nearly two hours, it drags a bit longer than it should as you wait for the movie to cross the hurdles of the requisette story beats.

There is also a scene with Channing Tatum that has several increadibly dirty innuendos that would be fine in an R-Rated film, but feel very out of place in a PG-13 film.  This cameo and the cameos of several Twitch streamers serve to take you more out of the movie than draw you into it.  And that is in addition to hot button cultural words like "privilidge" and "toxic" that only break the escapist illusion that movies are meant to give.

But one of the biggest problems is the ending.  I will try to be as vague as possible, but I don't think I can explain it without giving away spoilers so:


The entire movie we follow Guy and his awakening humanity.  This happens primarily through his love for Millie.  Throuhought the movie, she slowly falls for him, at first thinking he is just another player.  But even after they realize he is an NPC, their affection is real and serves as the emotional core of the movie.  We find out part way through that Keys wrote Guy to be someone hopelessly in love with Millie. 

But the love between Guy and Millie continues as the throughline until the last few scenes.  Suddenly, with very little set-up, the movie pulls a How I Met Your Mother finale.  That is as vague as I can be about why the ending is so unsatisfying.


Despite all of the above, Free Guy is not a bad movie.  There is enough to like about it from it descending into chaos.  

The biggest assest are Reynolds and Comer.  Reynolds plays his Guy broadly, but infuses him wiht such an an enthusiastic earnestness that you cannot help but be charmed by him.  Comer does an excellent job of showing the difference between her online persona and her real-world introvert and how this separation slowly breaks down because of Guy.  Keery does a fine job, but he has little to work with.  The same is true for Utkarsh Ambudkar, whose character has a kind of arc, but it has little impact on the story.  Howery is funny and charming, but his part requires very little for him to do except be himself.

When the movie tries to get philosophical about the meaning of existence, it veers a bit into a kind of existentialism.  However, there was a moment when Buddy is confronted with the possibility that the world isn't real.  He delivers one of the best lines in the movie where he says, "I'm here with my best friend, trying to help him through a tough time.  If that ain't real, I don't know what is."  It was a nice moment that reminds us that love is at the heart of reality and that if our existence is to have any meaning or purpose, it has to be rooted in love.

The movie also has a moment towards the end where it shamelessly exploits its access to popular IP's.  It is both cheap fan-service but also irresestistably enjoyable.  It reminds me of a watered-down version of the the finale to Rogue One.

Finally, I loved that that repurposed the score from the animated short Paperman for this movie.  That little cartoon had one of the nicest scores I have heard and it struck a strong emotional chord as it played in this film.

Free Guy was a fair, somewhat fun diversion at the theater.  There aren't a lot of big laughs, but you may have just a bit of fun.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Film Flash: Free Guy

 Free Guy 2021 Poster.jpg

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

Thoroughly average film with likable lead actors. some laughs, but odd villain and unsatisfying ending.

New Evangelizers Post: Lessons from the Fall of King David



I have a new article up at  

o this day, King David is revered as the greatest of the Old Testament kings.

God directed Samuel to the house of Jesse to find someone after God’s own heart to lead His people Israel (1 Samuel 13:14). The prophet was directed to a shepherd boy, the youngest son of Jesse. This boy had so much faith that he was able to defeat the giant Goliath and God sustained him through many trials under King Saul until David himself ascended the throne. He loved God so much that God entered into the last Old Testament covenant with him, promising him that his house and his kingdom would endure forever (2 Samuel 7:16).

But then David fell.

During the time when kings should go to war, David instead stayed at the palace. While walking, he saw Bathsheba bathing on a roof. After finding out she was married, he still took her into his bed. He thought he had timed it correctly so that she would not get pregnant, but she did. When he schemes to pass off the child as her husband’s failed, he has him murdered. When Nathan the prophet forced David to confront his sin, David was punished with the death of his infant son and a life of perpetual warfare.

The rest of David’s life is a very sad story. So what are the lessons that we can learn from his fall?

1.No one is immune from falling.

One of the reasons the Catholic Church never declares someone to be a saint while they are still alive is that everyone is capable of falling into terrible sin. I cannot tell you how many heartbreaking stories I have heard of priests who had impeccable reputations for holiness only to have their hidden abuses come to light.

Anyone who thinks that they are impervious to certain sins are foolish. It is true, many of us think that crimes like murder are unthinkable horrors which most of us would never do. But I’ve read enough history to see how seemingly normal people change under horrific circumstances like war or disaster. All of us have the ability to do great evil. If we do not respect that fact, we leave ourselves open to that power taking over us under the right circumstances.

2.Big sins start as small sins.

Notice how all of the problems begin: David should have been out defending his country. Instead, he was lazy and wanted to indulge in leisure at the expense of his responsibilities. The same thing applies to us. That is not to say that there is a necessary causality between neglecting your duty and murder. But opening up the door to small sins causes the breach to get wider and wider.

Some students ask me why pornography is a sin if it doesn’t hurt anyone. Leaving aside the thousands of people (especially young women) who are objectified and used by the industry, there is another problem for the person who engages with it. Through habit, it attunes the soul to treat sexuality as an act only for selfish pleasure and not an act of giving love. As a result, it makes it difficult or even impossible for those who engage in pornography to truly open themselves up to its true, higher joys. In addition, weaking the will against sexual tempation in pornography will continue to weaken the will when other sexual temptations present themselves. Like David, if we are able to be resolved in the smaller temptations, we can nip in the bud many of the larger ones.

3.God’s punishments are His mercies.

It is very clear from the Bible that God sends punishments. It is very trendy today to say that God never punishes, but that goes against the Scriptures. To be fair, I think the main modern point is that we shouldn’t blame someone’s troubles on God punishing them. This is excellent advice that comes right from Christ Himself in the Gospel of John in the story of the Man Born Blind. The reason why we shouldn’t do this is because we are not God and we do not have His insight to see if something is or is not a punishment.

Regardless, God does punish. David’s punishments are harsh, to say the least. To be constantly at war and to lose a child sound like hellish experiences. But even in these, we see God’s mercy.

David opened himself up to great sin because he turned away from the fight and hid in luxury. The fact that the fight never leaves him means that he will not have the luxury to turn towards his sins. There is a saying: “Good times make soft men, soft men make bad times, bad times make strong men, strong men make good times.” These hard times will help keep David focused on how much he needs God.

But what about losing a child? I must tread very carefully here because this is a pain that I cannot even begin to fathom, so I do not want to tread headlessly on the suffering of those who have endured this loss. But I think of President Kennedy. It is well documented that was a drinker and a womanizer. Sadly, while he was president, his young son died. From what I understand, the shock of this caused him to take stock of his life. Apparently he re-committed to his wife and told her he was going to reform his ways.

This change of heart happened just months before President Kennedy was assassinated. Without the loss of his son, perhaps he would not have been able to shock his soul into repentance. Perhaps this was also the case with David. If David’s son had not died, perhaps David would not have been able to work out his own salvation.

4.No one is beyond redemption.

Even after all of this, David is still considered the greatest of the old kings.

Because David never stopped trying.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday Best: Fall/Winter Movies 2021

 We are now in the last days of the Summer Movie Season.  So now it is time to look ahead to Fall and Winter.

This year has been very unusual for theaters and I think that they are bracing for more restrictions coming soon.  I saw that the Venom sequel was already delayed again.  

This year, I am going to include some straight-to-streaming films since some studios are putting their major projects online in order to offset losses at the theater.

If any of these sound interesting, I will add a link to the trailers to each title.

Here is a list, with a few brief thoughts of my own, including on a scale of 1-5 stars my likelihood of seeing it in theaters (1 being “Not at all” 5 being “Cannot wait!”).


August 20th

The Protege

"Theatrical release poster": A diagonal line features the faces of two men. In the middle of the poster itself is a woman, holding a gun. In front of her are the words "The Protégé" and the tagline "Made for vengeance".

Martin Campbell directed two of my favorite James Bond films (Goldeneye and Casino Royale).  This looks to be a mid-budget action film and a good deal of fun (***)



I love the cast, but I can't get a handle on this film.  It looks like its trying very hard to be something out a Christopher Nolan film, but I'm not sure I am invested. (**)

Sweet Girl (Netflix)

A man holding a weapon with cuts on his face walks alongside a young woman.

I love Jason Momao and this looks like it could be a nice, gritty action film in the style of Taken (***)

August 27th


The Candyman faces opposite the viewer. On top of his large dark coat are the words "Say It" and "Candyman" in yellow font.

Not a big fan of the horror genre anymore, so I think this is a pass for me (*)

Flag Day

Flag Day poster.jpeg

Sean Penn looks like he is giving one heck of performance, but the movie looks way too depressing.  (**)

Rare Beasts

Rare Beasts film poster.jpg

There is something about British romances that are either completely hit or miss for me.  This looks like it has a strong visual style, but I don't think this will hit the right notes. (**)

No Man of God

No Man of God poster.jpg

This could be fascinating in the same way that Silence of the Lambs gave us an insight into serial killers, but it looks like an unpleasent experience to watch (**)

He's All That (Netflix)

A man and a woman. Underneath them is the tagline: "It's his turn for a makeover."

This is gender-flipped sequel to She's All That, but it looks way, way worse (**)

Vacation Friends (Hulu) (no trailer link because of language and content)

Vacation Friends.jpg

I hate to admit that the trailer made me laugh.  It seems very vulgar and over-the-top, but if they can stick the landing with most of the jokes, it could be worth the watch (***)


Together (2021 film).jpg

This looks like a movie that is trying to be insightful about relationship in the time of COVID.  But the relationship seems so dysfunctional that I don't know if I want to spend 2 hours locked down with this couple.


September 3rd

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings poster.jpeg

I was very unimpressed with the original teasers, but with each succesive ad, my interest is increasing.  My expectations are that this will be in the lower half of MCU quality, but all I'm looking for is a nice, fun diverting super-hero, martial arts film (****)

Cinderella (Amazon Prime)

"Promotional release poster": Cinderella in a dress holding her glass shoe.

Not even a little interested (*)

Worth (Netflix)

Worth (film).jpg

It is an interesting subject: figuring out how much to pay victims of 9/11.  But the screenwriter is known for making very partisan political films that are less about entertaining and more about picking a side (**)

September 10th



Again, not into modern horror (*)


Queenpins poster.jpg

I loved the trailer and I love the cast.  I'm really hoping that they can deliver on this very funny premise (****)

Kate (Netflix)

"Promotional release poster": A frightened man, a young girl pointing a finger pun, and a woman holding a silencer.

I have always been a fan of Mary Elizabeth Winstead and I am very curious as to how she is going to do in a solo action film.

September 17th


This looks like it could be a nice B-Movie action/thriller like Assault on Precinct 13. (***)

Cry Macho

The film's logo above Clint Eastwood in a cowboy hat and the tagline: "A story about being lost... and found."

Clint Eastwood knows how to use his age as an advantage in his film career.  Instead of trying to be who he was 30 years ago, he plays a man who has lost a lot of his physical grit.  I'm very curious about this film (****)

Blue Bayou

Blue Bayou (film).jpg

This movie looks heartbreaking, but I worry that the politics will get in the way of a very human story (**)

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

The Eyes of Tammy Faye.jpeg

While I am curious about her life, I can't help but get the feeling this movie is not going to be an attack on religious hypocrisy but on religion in general. (**)

September 24th

Dear Evan Hansen

Dear-evan-hansen film poster.jpg

The music in the trailer sold me.  I am unfamiliar with most of the content, but I'm hoping that it will be a cathartic time at the theater (****)


October 1st

Hotel Transylvania: Transformation

Hotel Transylvania Transformania poster.jpg

I have only seen the first one (*)

The Addams Family 2

The Addams Family 2 (2021) - IMDb

I didn't see the first animated him. (*)

The Many Saints of Newark


I stopped watching The Sopranos at the beginning of season 3, so I have no deep nostalgia for the show. (**)

October 8th

No Time to Die

No Time to Die poster.jpg

I have low expectations for this Bond outing.  But it has been so long since I've seen a James Bond film that I will probably check it out (***)

October 15th

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Venom Let There Be Carnage poster.jpg

I was surprised that the first movie wasn't awful and was actually quite enjoyable.  For that reason I will definitely see the sequel (****)

Halloween Kills

Halloween Kills poster.jpg

I didn't see the reboot/sequel, though I like what I saw in the trailer and it is something we've never really seen in a Halloween film before (*)

The Last Duel

The Last Duel poster.jpg

I like Ridley Scott, but something about this movie has pretension written all over it. (**)

October 22nd


Dune (2021 film).jpg

I just finished reading the novel and watching the awful 1984 film.  I am strangely hyped to see this film (*****)

October 29th

Last Night in Soho

Last Night in Soho (2020) teaser poster.jpg

This looks like a throwback to something out of Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, but the director and the cast have me intrigued a bit (**)


November 5th


Eternals (film) poster.jpeg

This will probably be the first MCU film that I skip.  I have no desire to see this film unless they show me something worth watching (*)

November 11th

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Ghostbusters Afterlife (2021 release) poster.jpeg

After the disastrous 2016 reboot, all I want is a Ghostbusters movie that isn't terrible.  And I think this movie could be a great deal of fun.  I will be there opening night. (*****)

November 19th

King Richard

"Teaser poster": A father pushes his two daughters on a shopping cart filled with tennis balls. Above them is the phrase "Will Smith is King Richard". Underneath them is the tagline: "Venus, Serena and a plan for greatness".

This hagiographic biopic of Richard Williams and his daughters Venus and Serena looks like it could be a touching movie about family and faith in the future (****)

Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun Maverick.jpg

Tom Cruise has earned a lot of trust with me over the last few years.  He is one of the few top stars that respects his audience and knows that he is at their service.  Everything about this movie looks awesome (*****)

Tick, Tick... Boom! (Netflix)

Tick Tick Boom Movie poster.jpg

This looks like a self-involved sop to the Broadway scene and the creation of Rent, but holds little interest for me (**)

November 24th

House of Gucci

I have zero interest in this film (*)


Encanto poster.jpg

Could be cute, but it needs to show me something to make it stand out a bit more (**)


December 10th

West Side Story


I think it is a strange choice for Spielberg to remake one of the greatest film musicals of all time.  But I must admit the teaser hooked me (****)

Decemeber 17th

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man No Way Home logo.jpg

Have been surprised by how much I have enjoyed the MCU Spider-Man films.  All of the rumors say this film is going to be crazy and I am very excited if those rumors appear to be true: that all of the previous Spider-Men will be in this film (*****)

December 22

Sing 2

Sing 2 poster.jpg

I didn't see the first, but I may take my niece to see it when it comes out.  The trailer made me oddly emotional. (***)

Matrix 4

I would see this only because of Keanu Reeves.  The last things the series writer/directors made was Cloud Atlas, one of the worst films I have ever seen.

The King's Man

The King's Man.jpg

I haven't been a big fan of this series, so a prequel is probably not in the cards for me (**)