Saturday, October 30, 2021

Film Review: Dune (2021)


(Thank you again for your patience this month, Dear Reader.  In addition to the time constraints mentioned earlier this month, we had a family health emergency which has required frequent visits to medical facilities.  Your continued patience with updates is greatly appreciated.)

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

Dune is one of the most beautifully shot films I have seen in a long while.  Visually, it reminds me most of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It has a sweeping grandeur that not only shows you epic vistas, but it makes you feel like something grand and momentous is happening right before your eyes.  Seeing Dune is a real cinematic experience.

The story of Dune is difficult to explain.  Frank Herbert's novel is an incredibly complex tapestry of sci-fi, fantasy, politics, and prophecy.  The story centers around Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet).  He is the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and his consort Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson).  They are the royal house of the planet Caladan.  There are several rival houses in the galactic empire, include House Harkonnen (the enemy of the Atreides), who are led by Baron Vladimir (Stellan Skarsgard).  The Harkonnens have controlled the desert planet Arrakis.  As barren and violent as this world is, it is the most important because it is the only world where they have the Spice Melange which not only has psychic and longevity properties but is what makes interstellar travel possible.  

At the beginning of the movie, the Emperor has ordered House Atreides to take over Arrakis.  However, this is a trap for Duke Leto and his family.  On Arrakis, they will have to deal with assassination plots, gigantic sandworms, and hostile natives called the Fremen.  Helping House Atredies are warriors Duncan Idaho (Jason Mamoa), "mentat" (which means someone with a brain like a computer) Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson), and head of security Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin).  

On top of this, Lady Jessica belongs to a mystical order called the Bene Gesserit, who have been trying to bring about a prophesied messiah.  And this messiah may or may not be Paul.

That is a lot for any audience to process, but director Denis Villeneuve does a fantastic job of balancing everything in a way that is not overwhelming.  To again bring up Jackson's Lord of the Rings, both directors knew how to use the complicated backstory to lay down a lived-in world with a rich history in which characters can richly explore the story space.

The first half of the movie moves with some wonderful tension.  You can feel the noose tightening around the Atreides family.  Villeneuve takes this world seriously enough for you to feel the gravity of everything that is happening.  Compare this to David Lynch's awful 1986 version of the film and you can feel immeadiately a difference in the love for the story.

I can understand if some people think the film takes itself too seriously.  There is no winking at the camera like we see in Marvel films.  The only real humor comes from Duncan Idaho.  Everything else is treated with the seriosness of a Shakespearean tragedy.

The performances are excellent.  I think that I have now become a fan of Chalamet, rather against my will.  After watching his charming turn in Little Women and now his excellent work in Dune, I see now what other big-name directors have seen.  He is able to play the contradiction that is Paul: he is caught between childhood and manhood, between innocence and wisdom, between power and powerlessness.  Vileneuve makes sure to surround Paul with exceedingly masculine men to show his smallness.  But Chamalet uses every ounce of his charisma to push through this physical limitation to command every scene he is in.

Isaac plays a stubborn nobility that rages against the inherent dishonesty surrounding him.  Ferguson does a great job of someone who has spent their entire life in control of their emotions, so that when her fear overwhelms her it forces the audience to feel that fear as well.  I was surprised how much I enjoyed the subtley of Skarsgard's evil.  He is able to convey a lot of malice with a simple tone of voice.  Brolin does a good job, along with other actors Javier Bardem, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Chang Chen, David Dastmalchian, and Zendeya.  But Momoa is absolutely the standout.  If there is a Han Solo to Dune it is Duncan Idaho.  He has a devil-may-care charisma while making you feel his absolute loyalty.  If there is any one character you want to be from this movie, it is Duncan.

The movie tackles some big themes like fate, free-will, violence, power, cultural clashes, etc.  To the movie's credit it does not try to dumb down this challenges but invites the audience to enter into the complexity.

The movie does have some flaws.  The biggest one is that the second half is not paced well.  The most intense parts of the movie are in the middle and then Paul's journey requires the entire plot to slow down and it involves a number of sequences of vague visions.  

Another issue is that there is a slight emotional distance to the story.  There are some great moments in the beginning of real pathos, like with Leto tells Paul that all he ever has to be his is son.  But as most people play nobles who are constantly playing diplomacy and politics, there is a formality to everyting that is a little cold.  And as Paul becomes more hardened, this becomes even more true as the story unfolds.  

Finally, as transportive as Hans Zimmer's score is, this movie does what Tenet did where the music and soundscapes drown out the dialogue sometimes.  This may be the effect that is intended, but it makes for a frustrating experience.

Vileneuve has done an incredible job.  He understands what great science fiction films are supposed to do: transport you to a bold and epic universe only experience in the imagination and on the big screen.

Monday, October 25, 2021

New Evangelizers Post: Analogies and the Trinity



I have a new article up at  

The Trinity is at the heart of the Christian Faith.

We Christians believe that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We do not believe in three gods. Like our Jewish ancestors in faith, we are monotheists, who hold only to One True God.

But each Person of the Trinity is truly distinct. The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father and neither are the Holy Spirit. And yet even though they are Three Persons, they are still only One God.

To say that this is difficult to understand would be an understatement. In fact, it is impossible to understand. That is because this is one of the three great mysteries of the Christian faith (the other two being the Incarnation and Salvation). A mystery is something that is beyond human comprehension. It is not that the subject of the mystery is irrational or contradicts reason. Instead, a mystery is something that is so infinitely profound that it cannot possibly be encompassed by our limited human intellects.

Very often, people try to explain the Trinity using analogies. They look for common examples that people find familiar and transpose that to the mystery of Trinity. The most famous story fo this is St. Patrick and the shamrock. The story goes that Patrick was having trouble getting the pagan Irish to understand the Trinity. But then he picked up a shamrock and showed it to them. He pointed out how it was three leaves but also one leaf. In that way, the Irish people could see three and one existing in the same substance and thus became open to the concept of Trinity.

Now as wonderful as that story is, we have to be careful that we don’t confuse the analogy with the mystery.

I’ve often had to teach about the Trinity and the temptation is often to oversimply things so that my students can wrap their heads around it. The human mind is very uncomfortable with things that it cannot understand. I can see some of my students become cynical and dismissive. They want to write off the Trinity as a superstitious holdover of a bygone age. So to draw them in, I like using analogies because they are then able to see how some of the truths of the Trinity could be real.

The problem is that all of the analogies break down. And they break down pretty quickly.

For example, the Shamrock analogy ultimately doesn’t work because it implies that each Person of the Trinity is one-third of the whole, which is not the case.

When I was in high school, one of my teachers said that the Trinity was like H2O. It is one molecular substance. But we experience it in three radically different ways: as water, as ice, and as vapor. I have also used this analogy because it is very concrete. I take a bottle of water and I hold it over a student’s head. I ask them what will happen if I empty the contents on the bottle on head. They reply that they will get wet. When I ask them if it will hurt, they tell me “no.” But then I grab a bottle of water that I left in the freezer over night so that it is a solid block of ice. I ask the student if it would hurt if I emptied the contents on the bottle on their head and they say “yes.”

“But,” I respond, “Didn’t we just establish that dumping H2O on your head wouldn’t hurt?”

They respond, “But that was water. This is ice!”

“Yet it is still H2O, isn’t it? It hasn’t changed its molecular composition?”


“So ice is not water and water is not ice, but they are still one thing: H2O.”

I can see my students eyes light up as they think they begin to understand. But I am quick to point out that the analogy breaks down. This analogy could give the impression that each Person of the Trinity is just another way to experience the same being. In other words, these are just different names for the same substance. But this is not the case. As stated earlier, the Father is not the Son and neither are the Holy Spirit.

The temptation with teaching analogies like these is that they reduce the mystery into a digestible and understandable example that does not challenge the mind too much. But the true mystery should cause the mind to stretch and reach and ultimately come to the place where it has to accept Trinity not as a concept that has been demonstrably been proven, but as belief to which you surrender in faith.

The Athanasian Creed sums it up beautifully when it says:

That we worship one God in Trinity and the Trinity in unity,
neither blending their Persons
nor dividing their essence.
For the Person of the Father is a distinct Person,
the Person of the Son is another,
and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.

You can read the whole article h    ere.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Film Flash: Dune (2021)


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

Despite pacing issues in the 2nd half, best movie of the year (so far)!

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Batman: Trailer #2

I really like the mystery/thriller vibe that this trailer has.

The tone and style remind me of something like Batman: The Long Halloween, and I hope that the movie is in that vein.

Robert Pattinson looks decent as Batman, but I'm still not completely sold.  He looks a bit too unsure of himself.  But if this is Batman's early days, that may be part of the whole story.

Visually, I love the bold use of the camera, really making this film explode with red and black.


Saturday, October 16, 2021

Film Flash: Queenpins (Paramount+)

 Queenpins poster.jpg

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

Some big laughs. but could be great if they switched the main/supporting characters

Friday, October 15, 2021

Film Review: No Time To Die


Watching the final shot of No Time To Die, I couldn't help but think of how this final moment was a complete inversion of everything that makes Bond movies what they are.

No Time To Die is the 5th film in the Daniel Craig era of the character.  It picks up after the events of Spectre.  Bond is with Madeleine (Lea Seydoux).  Actually, let's take a step backwards.  The movie really begins with a flashback from Madeleine's childhood when a masked man named Safin (Rami Malek) comes to kill her and her mother in revenge for Madeleine's father murdering his family.  It is only after this very long flashback that we get to Bond and Madeleine.  They are visiting the city where Vesper (Bond's love from Casino Royale) is buried.  A turn of events leads to a rift between the two.  Bond then heads into retirement for five years.  He is brought out of retirement when Spectre steals a deadly weapon.  He is contacted by his friend in the CIA Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) to save the world again.  This puts him into conflict with his replacement at MI-6: Naomi (Lashana Lynch) who is also the new 007.  The trail leads him once again to a meeting with the evil Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and then with Safin himself.

Director Cary Joji Fukunga films the movie beautifully.  The action sequences are some of the best since Casino Royale.  The opening chase through the Greek city is fun and inventive.  Fukunga is able to lay out the geography of the scene so that you don't get lost through all of the twists and turns.  He is helped by Craig, who doesn't seem to have aged since Casino Royale.  This is so strange since in his last outing as Bond I thought he was looking a bit too old for the part.  Now, he seems rejuvenated and is just as believable as he was 15 years ago when he started.

I was worried that Lynch's new 007 would be there primarily to take Bond a peg.  Surprisingly, she was a very welcome addition to the series.  She is younger and less relaxed than Bond.  She does throw shade at him constantly.  But instead of it coming off as a not-so-subtle critique of the character by the writers, it develops into a verbal joust between.  And this rivalry develops into a mutual respect.

Malek is a disappointment as Safin.  He is aloof to the point of being robotic.  He also speaks with such a low-flowing voice that I sometimes had trouble making out what he was saying.  There is almost nothing memorable about him as a Bond villain.  Waltz is in the movie for a much briefer time, but he is much more interesting and engaging than anything Safin does, who looks like is constantly about to burst into tears.

This movie is Craig's last outing as Bond.  As a result, the film-makers imbue this movie with a sense of finality.  That is fine, but instead of giving us a sense of emotional closure, it feels like they are burning every bridge behind them and damn the consequences.

The movie is meant to complete the emotional arc of Craig's Bond.  He started as a cold-blooded killer in Casino Royale who almost came to life because of Vesper's love.  But that betrayal hardened him.  Of the course of this series of movies, Bond lost his pseudo-mother in M (Judi Dench) and then found love with Madeleine.  The problem with the latter is that I never completely bought into the relationship.  Spectre did not do a good job of establishing a relationship that could survive two films.  Vesper still looms large because she was in many ways Bond's equal and Eva Green had great chemistry with Craig.  But he and Seydoux never completely sold me.  Heck, Ana de Armas has a brief stint in the movie as a new agent and her chemistry with Craig is much stronger than Seydoux's.  Bond and Madeleine are together because the script requires it for Bond's emotional arc.

This also puts way too much on Madeleine.  As I pointed out, the movie begins not with Bond, but with Madeleine.  This is very out of place in a Bond movie.  Bond films are not ensemble pieces.  The other characters are supporting players in his larger story.  At least that's why I bought my ticket.  But her arc has to be enhanced in order to fully realize the emotional journey Bond must have.  And in this arc we see Bond reduced to a shell of the man he once was.

I am not one of those people who think that characters shouldn't grow and develop.  There are many who feel like Han Solo lost his coolness in Return of the Jedi because of his growing emotional reactions.  But I think that was fine and made sense.  What doesn't work is that Bond is CONSTANTLY talking about his feelings throughout the movie.  The cool and dangerous character is washed away.  In Casino Royale, Craig held his Bond with strong masculine stoicism.  That's why it was so powerful when his affections for Vesper came through.  In that movie when he asks her if what little soul he has left is enough for her, he does it with a manly edge, like a deadly tiger purring in her hand.  But in No Time To Die, he plays the scenes like he is in a romantic melodrama.  We get scenes where Bond pleads in a way that we never want to see the character do.  Again, this would be fine for any other character, but not James Bond.

This brings us to the problem of the ending.




Having taken the character as far as they think they can on his emotional arc, the writers conclude that the only thing do with James Bond at this point is kill him off.

Let me repeat: they kill off James Bond in a James Bond movie.

Why is this a problem?  Several reasons, but the most important is this: They don't have the right to kill James Bond.

Something I've noticed happening with a lot of pop culture heroes across different mediums is that they don't treat them with the proper respect.  That doesn't mean the characters need to be static or cannot be updated and reimagined.  The Bond Franchise itself is a testament to this.  But a lot of modern writers take characters they did not create, they use them to tell a story that is out of character for this creation, and then throw them away.  I saw this in the way Tom King treated characters like Wally West, Adam Strange, and Mister Miracle in the comics.  I saw in the way Rian Johnson treated Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi.  Speaking of that movie, I thought that the exploration of Luke in exile was interesting.  What I objected to was that Johnson's take on Luke ends with a period and not an ellipses.  Johnson made it so that his movie became the final statement on the character.  They do the same thing with Bond here.  

Yes, the franchise will be rebooted.  But knowing this makes the death even cheaper.  

The final shot, as I mentioned, was so out of place in a Bond movie.  Think about the final shot of Casino Royale: there is Bond standing in his sharp suit, gun in hand, in complete control with all of his powers as the epitome of manhood.  This movie ends with two females on a sunset drive talking about Bond in the past tense.  The first film ended with an exciting thrill.  The second ended with same energy as Titanic.  One was a great James Bond movie.  The other was a decent movie.  The action was good, the performance were fine, the plot was interesting, though ran a bit long.

But No Time To Die fails as a James Bond movie.

Even though Quantum of Solace is a terrible movie, it felt much more like Bond that No Time To Die.

When you make a James Bond movie, you are offering your audience a certain experience.  But I would imagine that for most of us, we have no time to watch Bond die.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

New Evangelizers Post: Conquer Yourself Before the World



I have a new article up at  

I was recently in a conversation with someone who said that the billionaires of the world like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates could be saving so many lives if they gave up their massive fortunes towards acts of charity. The argument was that because they had the power to help people with their wealth but did not, they were immoral.

The question I asked this person was a simple one: “Couldn’t you use your money to save lives?”

Someone once said of socialism that it never works out because eventually you run out of other people’s money. The key sentiment in this phrase is that this ideology always seeks to use the wealth of others to relieve the problems of the world. If only the super-rich would stop being super-rich, then the world would be paradise.

Now, to be clear, Christ always warns against riches. He says in the Gospels that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich person to get into heaven (Mark 10:25). The are several parables, like that of The Rich Man and Lazarus, that point out spiritual dangers of ignoring the plight of the poor. Paul writes “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

I think it would be dangerous to dismiss these words of Scripture as merely lofty ideals by which we should strive and not challenges to our generosity in the here and now. Should the wealthy give to the poor? Absolutely.

But the issue at hand is how this applies to me. Should I give my wealth to the poor? And the answer is the same.

Now, you may say to yourself that you are not wealthy. But is this true?

In the eyes of many in the world, you may be wealthy. If you own a smartphone, you have more disposable income than millions. Heck, if you have eaten today, you are wealthier than so many of our brothers and sisters on the planet.

I am not saying this to make you feel guilty. My point is that each of us has the power to give more. All of us could be more generous, caring, compassionate, patient, honest, faithful, and loving. Are we living the way we are prescribing others to live?

None of us are perfect and we are all sinners who will fall short. Parents work hard at instilling virtues in their children that they themselves struggle with. We need to speak the truth of the moral life. But that word will have much greater effect if we use it on ourselves first.

I tell this story in the beginning not to point out the other person’s hypocrisy. I told it because it made me think of my own. I pointed out to her how she was not living the ideal while criticizing others. And yet I know the same is true for myself.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Film Flash: No Time To Die


No Time to Die poster.jpg

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

The Last Jedi of Bond movies: well-made, but fundamentally doesn't understand James Bond films.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Lack of Updates October 2021

 Hello all,

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know that once or twice a year my schedule gets so busy that I am unable to regular updates for a week or two.

Right now I am currently:

-preparing lessons for a class I have never taught

-directing a play

-coordinating with grade schools to include them in a spring musical

-preparing to run a retreat

-writing a paper of my Masters's class

-assisting with RCIA at my parish in the evenings

-preparing for parent-teacher conferences

-preparing for a public ceremony at school later this month

-in pre-production on our film project (which includes writing a screenplay)

As a result, the time I would like to spend on this blog is taken up with these duties.  But, as always, I will return with more content in the weeks to come.

Thank you again, patient reader.