Tuesday, November 30, 2021

St. Andrew Novena 2021


St. Andrew Novena Starts Today

Much of what is below is a repost from years earlier.

I think about St. Andrew quite a bit.  He was one of the first four called by Christ.  It was James, John, Andrew and Andrew's brother Peter.  But of that quartet, only the trio of Peter, James, and John ended up being Jesus' closest friends.

I wonder if Andrew was like us and got jealous.  According to the Gospel of John, it was Andrew who brought Peter to the Lord, and the Lord seemed to like Peter better.  How often have we introduced a sibling or friend to our inner circle only to have them become more popular or have a greater aptitude for what you enjoy?

But I bet that Andrew was better than most of us.  He was probably a model of humility.  I like to imagine that he was happy for his brother and he was content to have others loved and esteemed more than himself.

My favorite story is about when he died.  They tied him to the cross, but for days and days he preached non-stop to the point where the officials realized it was doing them more harm than good.

But when they came to take him down, Andrew looked at Jesus and told him he was tired and he just wanted to go home to heaven and be with Him.  So the soldiers were unable to take him down and Andrew finally went home to the Jesus and his brother Peter on November 30th 60 AD.

Today is the feast of St. Andrew.  And there is a special novena prayer that is prayed between now and Christmas.  It goes as follows:

St. Andrew Christmas Novena

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born Of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother. Amen.

That prayer is prayed 15 times a day until the ends.  My wife and I pray this together every year and have found many graces through the intercession of St. Andrew.  I pray that all of you do as well.

God Bless.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Sunday Best: Dabney Coleman - The Most Underrated Actor

File:Dabney Coleman (actor).jpg
photo by Aaron Rapoport


Sometimes actors jump out of the screen and burn themselves into your imaginations as bright, shinning movie stars.  Other times, there are actors who are so dedicated to their craft that they become staples of some your favorite movies without even realizing how integral they became.

Of the latter, I think of Dabney Coleman.

I mean absolutely no insult to him by not associating him with the former.  Coleman has much to be proud of, taking starring roles in several films.  But to my mind, I don't think he has ever gotten the recognition that he deserves for his skill as an actor.

Dabney Coleman is one of the finest and most underrated actors in the movies.  He had been working in film and television for years until his breakout roll as Mr. Hart in 9 to 5.  In that film he played the perfect villain as a "sexist, egotistical, lying hypocritical, bigot."  And yet even though he was the main antagonist, he brought a wonderful sense of charm to the role.  Coleman has a great screen presence which adapts perfectly to each comedic situation.

Throughout the years, Coleman proved to be an excellent comedian in films like TootsieDragnet, Hot to Trot, The Beverly Hillbillies, and You've Got Mail.  He knew how to play broad comedy with strange, over-the-top personalities like the pornographer Jerry Caesar going up against straight-laced Joe Friday.  He also knew when to hold things in with subtle contempt like Nelson Fox, the oft-divorced father of Joe Fox.  

But Coleman is also one of the few actors who is just as good in a comedy as well as a drama.  His portrayal as Dr. John McKittrick in WarGames could have been a simple heavy.  But instead Coleman gave him several layers and dimensions.  You can see the different facets of his personality depending on the person with whom he is interacting.  However, there are two roles that really let Coleman shine:

The first is Cloak and Dagger.  In this movie, Coleman plays Davey Osborne's imaginary friend Jack Flack as well as Davey's father.  It is wonderful to watch Coleman play those roles so differently.  I remember as a kid that I never once confused the two characters and that is really a testament to Coleman.  His Jack Flack has all the swagger, charm, and deadly focus of James Bond, but Bond from a child's perspective.  He is everything that an action hero should be for a kid.  But Davey's father Hal is the opposite.  He is unsure, wounded, overly protective and reactionary.  In other words, he seems in many ways to be Jack's opposite.  And Coleman never goes too far or too showy with either performance.  He knows just how to play both characters.  There is a concrete realism to the way he plays Hal towards the end of the movie as he nervously tries to bluff his way to get to his son.  All the while, Coleman never cheats by having Hal turn into or start behaving like Jack.  Instead, we get to see Hal be his own kind of hero not as a super-spy, but as a man and a father.

But Coleman's best performance, hands-down, is in the movie Short Time.  

The movie has a fantastic premise: Detective Burt Simpson (Coleman) mistakenly thinks he only has 2 weeks to live and is days away from retirement.  However, his life insurance policy is only a "line-of-duty" policy, where it only pays out if he gets killed on the job.  So Simpson starts taking on the most dangerous cases in an attempt to get himself killed and in the process becomes an unwitting hero.

This movie has some truly hysterical moments.  The funniest for me is a car chase where Simpson gets closer to a dangerous get away car.  When one of them pulls out an M-60, he shouts, "Machine guns... ALRIGHT!"  When the bad guys knock his car down an embankment he shouts for joy... until he lands safely, realizing his seat belt saved his life.  The movie is filled with moments like this that are outrageously absurd and Coleman milks every laugh out of it.

But what makes this performance stand out is that it also one of his best dramatic performances too.  In the film, he is divorced from his wife (played by Terri Gar) for all of the usual reasons marriages break up.  But as he thinks about his life's mistakes, he reconciles with her in a scene that is so incredibly vulnerable and touching that I'm shocked its in the same movie.  What starts as a heart-felt apology blossoms into a rekindled romance.  But Coleman plays the perfect amount of joy and melancholy.  Not knowing that Burt thinks he is going to die, his wife says to him "At least now we have time."  The look on Coleman's face in that one moment is devastating.  You can see all of the guilt and confusion as to what he should do, but he is unable to bring pain to her in the little time he thinks they have left.

To my mind, I don't think people are appreciative enough of Coleman's body of work.  But is just my humble opinion.

Dabney Coleman has 178 acting credits to his name in a career that spans 60 years.  Some of his appearances may be small, but his performances are always special.  

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Thanks for Nothing (Repost 2021)


 I am very grateful for all of the wonderfully positive feedback on this essay, so I thought I would share it again.

These last few years have been rough for many reasons.  We've had to deal with a lot of family health issues and things like that, which has caused great stress on the household.  It is so easy to turn inward and think of ourselves and our own pain, to be become more selfish and not more selfless.  I can't say I have been an example of grace under fire.  Sometimes I feel like I barely scrape by each day.

But that's why its' more important than ever to be thankful.  

Some of the most destructive qualities in a person are bitterness and resentment.  There is a constant temptation to look at the world through this lens and let the fires of discontent burn.

But thankfulness acts like a cooling balm on that fire.  When we remember our blessings, the resentments begin to fade and it replaced with a sense of peace and gratitude.  And in that we find real happiness.

I wrote this article almost 10 years ago but its words still hold true for me today.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(originally published November 22, 2012)

Thanks For Nothing

When I was 15-years-old, I got a little sick.  In what was obviously an over-reaction on his part, my dad took me to the Emergency Room.  As it turned out, I had pneumonia and my blood oxygen level was down to about 50%.  If he had waited much longer to take me I might have died.

I share this with you so that you will understand why I am a little bit of a hypochondriac now.  I don't freak out at every sneeze or obsessively lather myself in Purell.  But whenever I have chronic problem, I begin to have a persistent fear of the worst.

For the past 4 weeks I've had a persistent cough.  I cannot remember having one that has lasted this long.  So of course, my mind helplessly gravitated to the worst case scenarios, despite the constant assurances from my long-suffering wife.  After weeks of fretting, I went yesterday morning for a chest X-ray.

After they were taken, I was asked to wait for a moment alone in the exam room.  I stood there for 5 minutes in that room with its claustrophobic white walls and antiseptic smell and thought about all those people who came to that room and got bad news that resulted in a lot more time between claustrophobic white walls and antiseptic smells.

Finally, after hours of fretting (and trying to distract myself with a viewing of Wreck-It Ralph) we got the results.

And what did they find?


They found nothing.  I was worried about nothing.

I was put on some new medication and I've been feeling a bit better.

I didn't realize how much the storm clouds had been hovering over me until today.  I was walking around, doing chores and errands with such a light heart.  It was because I knew that my cough, though a bit annoying, was ultimately nothing.


Today is Thanksgiving.  It has always been one of my favorite holidays, and not because I eat enough turkey to put a man twice my size into a literal coma (although that is a plus).  I love that we take time out of our year to appreciate the blessings of life and give thanks to our Provider.

My boss, a man I greatly admire, once said to me that you cannot be truly happy unless you are truly thankful.  Happiness only comes when you acknowledge that everything thing you have is a gift from God.

I have tried to take those words to heart and be thankful for everything I have.  I have an holy wife, a loving family, loyal friends, a fulfilling job, and more action figures than you can shake a stick at (if that's your idea of a good time).  Bing Crosby sang that we should count our blessings instead of sheep.  But I never get to the end of count because God has been so very generous to me.

But all this time I have been overlooking something else to be thankful for.


I wrote earlier about how much I have come to realize what a blessing it is to feel normal.  But I did not take it the necessary step further.

There is nothing wrong with my lungs.  But it could have been something.  And that something could have been not-so-bad to catastrophic.  But God, in His goodness, gave me nothing.

About 2 years ago I was on the highway on my way to work in the middle of winter.  I was in the left lane when I noticed a car had skidded off the road.  I tried to get a better look, but I must have not been paying attention to the road.  Because I then hit a patch of ice and my car spun out and did a 180 degree turn that hurled me across the other lane.  And do you know what I hit?


For one of the only times I can remember, there were no cars around me on that part of the road.  I skidded off to the right embankment facing the opposite direction.  But I was fine.  Nothing happened.

A few weeks ago during Hurricane Sandy, the wind was so strong it blew down a tree in my back yard.  What did it hit?


A little to right and it would have destroyed my shed.  If it fell in the opposite direction it would have caved in the roof and crushed my wife and I.  But instead, nothing happened.

This world is so full of darkness and danger, disease and disaster.  Some of it falls on us.  But a lot of it doesn't.

So today I'm going to give thanks not only for the all of the things God has given me this past year, but I'll also praise Him for the "nothings" too.

No sudden falls down the stairs that break a limb.  No food poisoning from that new restaurant.  No angry student deciding to respond to his detention with his fist.  No home burglary in the middle of the night.  No careless accident to hurt anyone I love.

I do have my share of crosses, many of them of my own making, but I have not been crushed by them. And I am not saying that any of the aforementioned catastrophes won't one day be mine to bear.  One day, an X-ray may find something.

But not today.

Today, I am thankful for nothing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Film Review: Ghostbusters - Afterlife


The original Ghostbusters is not an action/adventure movie.  But to kids in the 80's who grew up with the movies and the cartoon show, the idea of being a Ghostbuster was the stuff of adventure fantasies.  As a kid I owned a Ghost Zapper Projector and went around in my makeshift Ghostbusters uniform (white sweatpants/sweatshirt combo with a Ghostbusters logo taped to my arm) and fighting the forces of the supernatural.

It is through that lens that Ghostbusters: Afterlife is made.

The movie centers around Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), a precocious, scientifically-minded twelve-year-old girl living in the big city with her fifteen-year-old brother Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and her single mom Callie (Carrie Coon). Callie has just discovered that her estranged father died out in Oklahoma.  Strapped for cash and recently evicted, she takes her kids to the town of Summerville to move into her father's delapitated farm house.  Trevor quickly develops a crush on local waitress Lucky (Celeste O'Connor).  Phoebe has to go to summer school (for reasons that are never clear) where she befriends fellow weirdo Podcast (Logan Kim) and their summer school teacher is seismologist Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd).  But all is not well in Summerville as it is plagued by earthquakes and a mysterious force from the Shandor Mines.  All the while Phoebe begins to discover that her deceased grandfather was up to something big and that he was once a Ghostbuster.

This movie is the equivalent to what The Force Awakens was to the original Star Wars.  And I mean this both its positive and negative respects.  Right now in the fandom, most people are sour on the sequel trilogy.  But much of this ire came from The Last JediThe Force Awakens was seen as a sometimes clumsy, if not unoriginal, love letter to Star Wars films.  In that respect, it has a lot in common with Afterlife.

This movie is pure-nostalgia bait.  There are Easter Eggs both big (like the demon dogs) and small (a Twinkie in the glove compartment).  You can tell that writer/director Jason Reitman was trying to pay homage to all things he loved and remembered from his father Ivan's movie.  There is love and reverence in nearly every single shot of the film, even the ones with shameless product placement.  But this reverence is so intense that the movie sticks to the major plot points of the original as if avoiding any kind of Ghostbusters heresy (see the 2016 reboot).  

Reitman and writing partner Gil Kenan are not nearly as funny as Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis, but they don't try to be.  In fact, they use an old comedy writing trick of having a character tell intentionally bad jokes to help cover up their own comedic shortcomings. The original Ghostbusters is a comedy who main goal is to make you laugh.  Afterlife is an adventure film with funny moments.  In that sense this sequel is more like a Marvel movie in tone than a Ghostbusters film.

The final negative comparison is that the original is a fantastic example of efficiency in storytelling.  Within 30 minutes, we have our first call to bust ghosts.  Afterlife takes its time to build its story in the style of JJ Abrams "mystery box" method, with everything exploding in the final act.

Having said all of that, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is still a darn fine movie.

As an fun adventure film, the movie works.  Watching how these new characters break out the old equipment while adding new innovations was a great deal of fun.  The movie has its share of laughs and scares.  I freely admit to being completely caught up in the chase throughout the town as the proton packs fire through the scene.

The performances are also all very good.  I was worried about a film centered around Phoebe, but Grace was fantastic in the role.  She played the character with restraint and wit while being very empathetic.  She played her smarts in a way that made her awkwardness isolating without coming off as arrogant.  The whole movie is about her trying to connect to her family, new friends, and her deceased grandfather.  Rudd is fantastic in his role.  If the movie leaned harder into the comedy, they would have expanded Rudd's role and rightly so.  Some of the best lines in the movie are his and you get the distinct feeling that much of that was improved.  I've only seen Coon in serious roles, but she holds her own with Rudd.  Kim has a "gee-whiz" quality about him that makes him incredibly likable.  His acting skill is that of an average child-actor, which only serves to highlight how good Grace is.  Wolfhard does a fine job as a sullen, love-lorn teen who is in the shadow of his smarter, younger sibling.  O'Connor has some charisma and brings a bit of maturity to the group of kids.  

And make no mistake, this is a movie where the kids are the main characters.  The film has a very Goonies/Stranger Things vibe to it where the story is told primarily from their point of view.  But unlike the Star Wars sequels, there is no need to denigrate the original characters in order to elevate the new ones.  In fact, you get the sense that the new generation is standing on the shoulders of cinematic giants and they know it.

I don't want to spoil the finale, but I was surprised how emotional I became.  This is the place where the film's heart overcomes any of the shortcomings from earlier.  You can tell that Jason Reitman has such a special place in his heart for this world that he wanted to give proper catharsis for those who also grew up with the Ghostbusters.

This movie is not the original Ghostbusters and it isn't trying to be.  It is a big-budget fan film made with great care and skill and a double-helping of heart.  And for that reason, I truly enjoyed this film.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Film Flash: Ghostbusters - Afterlife


Lightning cracks from dark green clouds. People get out of a battered 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Sentinel below and look on.

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

The Force Awakens of Ghostbusters movies.  Pure nostalgia-bait, but fun, funny, and surprisingly touching.

Monday, November 22, 2021

New Evangelizers Post: Killing Them With Kindness



I have a new article up at  

One thing I have learned about bullies: they want a reaction from you.

Many of us were bullied in school at some point. Perhaps we were singled out because of our size, our looks, or our personalities. I’m sure I was an easy target because of all three. Back in school I was short, fat, and the shiest kid you could meet. I remember sitting at a table in my art class freshman year with three other fellow freshmen who made my life hell. I used to dread coming to class because all they would do is attack me. Now, it has been a long time since this happened and I am open to the idea that things were worse in my memory than they were in real life. Regardless, this is how I remember it.

This continued to other classes, especially gym. I even remember seeing a friend from grade school in my class and feeling relieved, only to find that he treated me worse than anyone else.

I share these not to garner sympathy. I know that many of you have had worse experiences that I could imagine. What I do want to share is what I learned about bullies from this experience.

Bullies are people who feel powerless. Looking back, I understand why most of the people who picked on me were fellow freshmen. When you feel like you are the bottom of the pecking order, you find someone lower than you. It’s like a drowning person trying push down another drowning person just to stay above water. As a teacher, I’ve seen this play out in the school. The students who attack others are either the most insecure or the ones who feel powerless in their own lives.

Sometimes teachers and coaches bully their students because they don’t feel like they have any power the fellow adults in their lives. I’ve also seen students bully teachers. I remember that a fellow teacher once asked me about this. There were students in this teacher’s class who would constantly try to push the teacher’s buttons until this teacher started screaming. My fellow teacher did not understand why this happened, since the students would be punished with detentions, suspensions, and things of this nature. I explained that the students were trying to exert the only power they could: getting the teacher to explode.

This is the truth about bullies that I mentioned at the beginning: bullies want a reaction from you.

This reaction doesn’t need to be one of defeat. They can glorify themselves in the triumph of your tears. But they also take pleasure when you hit back. I remember once I lashed out at my bullies in anger. I was not prepared for the wave of elation that washed over them. This outburst was much more preferable to them than my sullen silence. Now they knew that they had the power to make me explode and they tried to exploit that power whenever they could.

Getting bullied is not something that ends with school. It is sad that people in this world still behave like the characters from Mean Girls, even as adults. At our jobs, people like bully, intimidated, and exercise power over others. Online, people like to whip up mobs of anger and hatred against people who don’t share their opinions. So many powerless people taking vengeance for their weakness on those they see as weaker.

So what are we to do?

First, do not give the bullies what they want: a negative emotional response. (I am not here talking about serious issues of abuse or assault where self-defense or contacting the authorities would be the proper course of action).

In many cases, silence is the best response. Discernment is needed here as well as wisdom. You will have to decide for yourself when you are called to stand up for yourself or for others. Often, I police my response because I know my reaction is more emotional than it is rational. Also, a bully wants your response. They want you to have some kind of outburst. They want you to yell back and then revel in their power over you. They will go out of their way to find ways to insult you just to see you become upset.

When they bring the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, they ask Him what they should do. They actually don’t care about this woman’s life at all. His enemies were hungry to get some kind of reaction from Him that they could use against Him. Instead, Jesus is silent and He writes on the ground (John 8:6). The Scriptures never tell us what Jesus was writing or why. There are several possibilities, but one of them that I like is that He was playing it cool. These bullies were trying push His buttons. Instead, He took His time and responded in His own way and in His own time.

Second, if there must be a reaction (again use your own discernment here regarding your own safety and dignity) often the reaction of kindness is the best.

Remember to take pity on a bully. There is an emptiness in the center of their being that they are trying to fill with external validation of their power. They want your pain and your resentment. But if they see that their evil has no power over you, it can defeat and deflate them. To be sure, it can also cause them to redouble their efforts, but they are still seeking their victory in your negative reaction.

To book of Proverbs says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head…” (Proverbs 25:21-22). This means two things: first it means that the bully will be frustrated that they are not getting the reaction that they want. Second, it means that the bully will have to confront their own wickedness. If they understand that they are the enemy of a kind person, it will burn their conscience. This will give them the opportunity to repent. Whether they make that choice is in their hands.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Sunday Best: Thanksgiving Movies and TV (repost)

 Much of this is a repost from 2013 


Planes trains and automobiles.jpg
 In terms of what is the best Thanksgiving movie, there is no contest. The winner is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. There is no Thanksgiving movie like it. It is fully of deep belly laughs, but it also has one of the finest last scenes in movie history. What makes this a great Thanksgiving movie is that it is all about the quest to get home for the holiday. Most Thanksgiving movies focus on the chaos of family reunions. And if you only watch those, you would wonder why anyone would want to ever celebrate the holiday. But Planes, Trains, and Automobiles never questions the impulse to do whatever it takes to get home. It assumes that the holiday is so important that it MUST be celebrated with family, either those made by blood or by long, hilarious road trips. 

There is so much artistry in this film and it goes unnoticed because John Hughes covers it with very broad comedy.  It is actually a magical kind of movie in the sense of the best magic tricks.  You think that the quest is to get home for Thanksgiving.  But the real quest is to create that special home we call friendship.  The entire forward thrust of the movie is Neal (Steve Martin) doing anything and everything to get to his house while Dell (John Candy) unwittingly gets in the way.  But penultimate scene is the crux of the film.  Neal is finally on his way with no more obstacles, but then he has an epiphany about Dell.  And in that moment, the entire movie is flipped on its head and Neal leaves the pathway home and goes back to Dell.  It is one of my favorite movie friendship moments, followed by that amazing shot of Dell and Neal walking down the street carrying Dell's steamer trunk.  It is such a potent image: a friend helping another friend carry their burden as they walk side-by-side to the place they call home.

This movie reminds me on Thanksgiving that I have been blessed with friends and family who have helped me carry my burdens and walk with me on the journey home.


 Four Thanksgiving episodes come to mind when I think of this holiday. 
Everybody Loves Raymond logo.png

 The first is the "No Fat" episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. The show would annually do a Thanksgiving episode, but this one emphasized the absurd importance of the food. Marie tries to do a fat free Thanksgiving, and the resulting chagrin by her family is hilarious. I also love the ending: 

Friends logo.svg
 The second is "The One With All the Thanksgivings" from Friends. Told through a series of flashbacks, this episode shows how Thanksgiving can be both wonderful and awful throughout the years. I also enjoyed seeing how much the relationships between the friends changed over time. It is also might have the most awkwardly funny "I love you" on TV.     

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The third is "The Thanksgiving Decoupling" from The Big Bang Theory.  There is an incredibly funny storyline where Penny realizes that she got married to someone else in Las Vegas.  What makes that work is how everyone else reacts to the Thanksgiving drama.  But the main reason I love this episode is the way that Bernadette's dad and Sheldon bond.  These two are so opposite and yet there is an unlikely emotional connection that is bitter sweet and at the same time incredibly funny.  

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But the one I might like the most is "Pangs" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's Buffy's first year in college and she tries to put together a Thanksgiving for her Scoobies, including the chair-bound Spike, while the spirit of a Shumash Indian curses Xander's body. This results in extended debates about the meaning of the Holiday for both Indian and European immigrant, as well capturing the awkward frenzy of trying to have a nice meal when the world seems to be going to hell. I also got a kick out of Spike's darkly insightful take: Great final shot too.        

What are your favorite Thanksgiving pop culture moments?

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Trailer Time: Spider-Man - No Way Home

This hits all the right nostalgia buttons.  I also like how they don't show if the previous Spider-Men will be in it or not.

I get the feeling that if you are going to see this to see a lot of interaction with Tobey Macguire or Andrew Garfield then you are going to be disappointed.  

But other than that, it looks like a fun movie.


Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Film Flash: Red Notice (Netflix)


Red Notice - film promotional image.jpg

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

Likable, charismatic stars in a super-fun action/comedy/heist film.  What's not to enjoy?

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Sunday Best: Top Ten Martial Arts Movies

 I grew up on martial arts movies.  

I didn't just watch the standard fare.  Not only do I know Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, but I'm familiar with the work of Dragon Lee and Bruce Li.  However, I freely admit that I am not such a devotee that I am an expert.  For every movie that makes this list, I'm sure there is someone out there who knows of something that is more popular among martial art film fanatics.

You will notice, for example, that there are no Jackie Chan movies on this list.  I think that the man's talent is without question.  However, as entertaining as his movies are, they never really clicked with me on an emotional level.

You will also notice more American films than would normally make a list like this.  It is important to note that I am grading what are the best films, not the films with the best martial arts.  Now, the quality of the martial arts in the movie can elevate the whole film, but it is the whole film that is being judged.   

So here is the list:

10. The Matrix

The Matrix Poster.jpg

When the original Matrix was released it was a feast for the eyes.  One of the things that made the action soar wasn't just the CGI, but the outstanding martial arts fights between Neo and Morpheus as well as Neo and Agent Smith.  The former is particularly fun to watch as we see the different styles of fighting cycle through Neo's arsenal as the fight progresses.

9. Kung Fu Panda


I thought this was going to be a cheap PIXAR knock-off, but it is one of my favorite animated films.  Not only it is beautifully directed, but the use of martial arts as a theme about gaining self-respect was very well done.

8. The Karate Kid

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One of the reasons that this was such a big hit when it came out was that it showed how the martial arts can give you power.  But this power was not like that of Cobra Kai, where it was simple force.  It gave Daniel power over his life through strength of character.  And the amazing performance by Pat Morita makes this movie incredibly rewatchable.

7. Rapid Fire

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This is pure B-movie fodder except for the fact that Brandon Lee fills this movie with some of my favorite action sequences of this era.  You can see in him a cross between his father Bruce's intensity and the innovativeness of someone like Jackie Chan.  This should have been the opening salvo in a fantastic film career.

6. Invincible Shaolin

What makes this movie work so well is that the villains aren't villains.  In this Shaw Brothers classic, our South Shaolin heroes train to take revenge against the North Shaolin men they think murdred their friends.  Not only are the training sequences and fights so well done, but the build up to the actual final showdowns has real tension and stakes.

5. Kid with the Golden Arm


This movie was my first experience of a Shaw Brothers film and it is the lens through which I see all other movies from this studio.  A security group must escort gold to an area hit by famine, but the deadly Chi Sa gang plans to steal it along the way.  The heroes and villains are so colorful, that this could easily be a superhero film with names like "Golden Arm," "Silver Spear," and "Iron Robe."  And Agent Hai Tao is one of my favorite on screen heroes.  He is a deeply intelligent and pensive person who masks his inner pain with alcohol and buffoonery.  But when the time comes, he unleashes all of his power.  And through all the over-the-top action there is a hidden murder mystery.

4. Deadly Strike

I do not enjoy this movie.  It is a bit too dark for me.  But I have to admit that it is excellent.  Bruce Li plays a police chief who is tasked with taking down an organized crime boss.  However, the job is a suicide mission.  So he gives pardons to deadly criminals in exchange for their help.  This is a movie with real stakes as the roguish characters you come to love face fatal challenges along the way, making it clear that most of them are not going to get out of this alive.  This also is Bruce Li's best movie and plays to his stoic strengths when he isn't trying to be a Bruce Lee imitator.

3. Enter the Dragon

Enter the dragon.jpg

There is a reason this movie broke through the way it did.  It has an aesthetic that is still deeply rooted in the 1970's.  However, rather than this being a detriment, it feels like a window into the past.  You can see Bruce Lee's complete command of the screen and why this movie made him an international star.

2. The Chinese Connection 


Originally titled Fist of Fury, the name was changed for an American release.  This is easily Bruce Lee's best film.  It has his best action sequences, including the classic scene where he takes on an entire dojo of karate fighters.  This is a story of revenge and as such has deadly and violent consequences.  In the end, you can see how his quest of vengeance removes all joy, with just a sliver of hope for the future.  But the final seconds of the movie always get me.

1. Death Chamber

Shaolin temple poster.jpg

It took me years to track down this film because it is known by several names.  But this is THE martial arts epic.  Set in the Shaolin Temple, this movie follows an ensemble cast as they enter into the ways of mastering different styles of Kung Fu until it all builds with an invasion of soldiers.  Rather than the fights being struggles for victory, they are intense battles for survival.  Or if survival is impossible, then the fight becomes taking out as many enemies as possible to give your friends a chance to survive.  I would put this movie up against any other action epic.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Trailer Time: Being the Ricardos

Something you need to understand is that my family consists of I Love Lucy fanatics.  Our mother raised us on this show.  As my sister very lovingly points out, anyone in our family can relate our life experience somehow to I Love Lucy.

Many years ago, they made a TV movie called Lucy and Desi: Before the Laughter.  It looked cheap and it was over-the-top melodramatic.  This looks like they hired A-list actors and this is spearheaded by talented writer/director Aaron Sorkin.

And honestly, this looks so much worse than that TV movie.

It is understandable when a biopic cannot find someone who looks and sounds exactly like the person they are playing.  But when you take on the role of television icons, the visuals and voices matter so much more.

Because of this, my biggest issue is the casting.  Javier Bardem looks and sounds nothing like Desi Arnaz.  I don't see any of the wide-eyed masculine, yet boyish charm in him.  Nicole Kidman reaches some connection to Lucille Ball, but these seem like small moments.  Although I do have to say that even though JK Simmons does not look like William Frawley, there is something in the way he is carrying himself that feels right.

The other big problem I have is that this movie seems to be taking the most uninteresting approach to these TV pioneers: politics.  The trailer implies that Lucille Ball is caught in some kind communism scandal.  But this carries little-to-no interest to me.  At least Before the Laughter tried to take a more complete picture of their life and their relationship.  Being the Ricardos looks like it is taking a page from Lincoln by focusing on one particular time in their lives to give us a window into their character.  That is fine, but a political angle worked in Lincoln, but doesn't really work for Being the Ricardos.  I get the feeling that we are being set up for a big lecture about how Hollywood stars and producers have to stand up and speak truth to power and political blah blah blah.

This movie also seems to make the same mistake that Before the Laughter made.  It is true that Lucy and Desi had an incredibly volatile and dramatic relationship.  But that is not why we love them.  It may be why people still remember Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, but it isn't the case for the couple from I Love Lucy.  

We love them because they made us laugh.  

And even after all these years they are still there on our televisions making us laugh.

I don't see a lot of laughter coming from Being the Ricardos.

But I could be wrong.  I hope I am wrong.  I will be very happy if I am wrong.


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

New Evangelizers Post: Guard Against Casual Cruelty



I have a new article up at  

I was reflecting on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. It began like this:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.” (Luke 16:19-21). The story continues where both the rich man and Lazarus die. The rich man goes to hell and Lazarus goes to heaven.

There are many fruitful reflections we can gain from this story, but I wanted to focus on these first three verses. What I find so fascinating and terrifying about these sentences is that it sets up why the rich man is condemned. Notice that it does not say that the rich man beat Lazarus or mocked him. It does not even imply that the rich man stole from Lazarus or commit any other kind of harm to him.

The rich man goes to hell because he ignores Lazarus.

We could enter into a discussion about charity and taking care of the poor, but I think we should examine the broader implications. I wonder if the rich man had any idea of how he was failing to live up to his responsibilities towards his fellow man? I wonder if we are often in the same boat.

One of the ways we can do an internal gut check is to ask ourselves about our level of casual cruelty.

In this case, I am not talking about overt acts of cruelty to others. These are hard to mistake in your life. If you go out of your way to injure another person simply because of some animosity you carry, then this reflection is not for you. If you get a thrill of victory and triumph when you drag others down, then you have a different set of problems than those addressed here. I am often amazed at how some people go out of their way to injure others. In the men’s room at my school, I will often see pencils, gum, and even bottles in the urinals. Someone went out of their way to make the life of the custodian that much more frustrating. I find it hard to comprehend someone seeking joy in this kind of pain. Or if you dig through someone’s social media posts just to find ways to hurt or condemn or cancel them, then these words are not addressed to you.

What I want to talk about are the ways in which we are cruel and may not know it.

One of the most basic social concepts is that of in-group/out-group. We are constantly wanting to be on the inside of a social group and not on the outside. Inside that group we have a circle of people to whom we attach. Once in the group, we fear being placed outside.

CS Lewis wrote about this in-group, he called “the inner ring.” Lewis stated:

“There are what correspond to passwords, but they are too spontaneous and informal. A particular slang, the use of particular nicknames, an allusive manner of conversation, are the marks. But it is not so constant. It is not easy, even at a given moment, to say who is inside and who is outside. Some people are obviously in and some are obviously out, but there are always several on the borderline.”

We constantly desire to be on the inside. As a result, we often seek to differentiate ourselves from those outside. It becomes incredibly easy to casually cast aspersions on people outside the group, to focus on their flaws, or to gossip about them. How often have you and your friends found yourselves bonding over the foibles of those outside of the group. Sometimes we justify it by couching it in legitimate grievances. For example, someone at work may be short with his fellow co-workers, so you and others begin to make fun of him behind his back. It is amazing how quickly talking about legitimate issues that need to be addressed can devolve into petty meanness. But we have to be careful about this.

And very often we don’t see how we are being cruel because our cruelty falls on those outside the group.

Sometimes our cruelty is like the rich man’s in that we become blind to the needs of others. Every day I interact with hundreds of people. It is difficult to be strongly attuned to every person’s need. And yet I often fail to notice things that I should. As a teacher, one of my biggest failings is not giving attention to the students who shrink away in class. My focus is often on those who are either highly engaged or highly disruptive. But to the quiet student who needs the positive attention of a teacher, I often fail to reach out. And ignoring someone who is in need, like Lazarus, is a type of cruelty.

The problem with these types cruelties is that they often escape our notice. And like any disease that is left unchecked, it can grow and become malignant, as it did in the case of the rich man.

So what are we to do?

You can read the whole article h    ere.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Sunday Best: Top 10 Favorite Queen Songs

 Queen is one of the greatest rock bands of all time.  

If you look at the list of hits that have been able to stand the test of time, then you can attest to the power of their song-writing abilities.

Now, I am not a music guy.  I love music, but I do not have a keen, discerning ear.  I cannot speak to all of the complexities that go into composing a good song.  As a result, this list is not the Top 10 Best Queen Songs, but Top 10 Favorite Queen Songs.  

I did a post a few years ago about the best Queen songs in movies.  This was a bit more objective and it fell into my wheelhouse of film.  But ABC television did a lot with Queen music this week, so I thought I would share my favorite songs and why.

10. "One Vision"

A bold ballad that makes you feel like flying (maybe that's because I always associate it with Iron Eagle.

9. "Flash Gordon Theme"

I love this movie so much.  I know it is cheesy, but it has a special place in my heart.  The sound of the music's bass always gets me excited for adventure.  I love the complete commitment that the band has to this song.  When they sing Flash's name it is followed by a scream of ecstasy and then a hyperbolic statement like "He'll save everyone of us."  Not just some of us.  Not just most of us.  Every. One. Of. Us!  And Queen does not play this with any kind of humor, but with zealous devotion.

8.  "We Will Rock You"

I have fond memories of this song as people in school would stomp and chant it.  It always felt like a song where it wasn't just the band singing, but we were part of the song too.

7. "Princes of the Universe"

With Queen you either get the ecstatic highs or crushing despair. This is a song about being on top of the world, feeling like the whole universe was made just for you.  This is a song to sing while speeding down the highway after a victory: "I have no rival!  No man can be my equal!"

6. "Who Wants to Live Forever"

And then we crash into despair with this song.  Filled with melancholy grief and loss, it describes a life that is empty and devoid of any joy.  This is a song to play in a dark room with the blinds closed after a break up.

5. "Bohemian Rhapsody"

I love the way this song had a second life in the 90's thanks to Wayne's World, which is when I discovered it.  There is something incredibly fun about its odd shifts in musical tone throughout.  You feel like you are able to live through the entire emotional gamut by the time you are through.

4. "We Are the Champions"

I love how this song starts off slow.  It begins with a sense of reflection and relief that builds into the realization of victory.  It's a song that acknowledges the long, hard road that we all have to take in order to achieve the things you dream of.  I love how it is a communal song: "WE are the champions, my friends."  It's a song about making it to victory together.  

3. "Don't Stop Me Now."

The more I hear this song, the more it brings me joy.  Yes, the lyrics a bit on the bawdy side, where he sings about being a "sex-machine."  But there is something about once the song takes off it captures the exhilaration of letting yourself go and being in the moment.

2. "Under Pressure."

A friend of mine said that this might be one of the greatest songs ever written, and I don't disagree.  For me, what makes it work is how it builds to those last lyrics.  The music converges as if trying to break through the despair it has created by clinging to hope that love can save.  And I adore how the lyrics say that love dares us to change our way of caring.  Love always calls us to shake loose our complacency and reach out to those on the edge of the night.

1. "'39"

I know this will be an odd choice for many people, as this is not one of Queen's most popular songs.  But it is so odd in their collection.  It is a completely acoustic ballad that tells a complete story about interstellar travel. But rather than getting bogged down in the sci-fi nature of it, the song is a tragedy: the story of love lost to the ravages of time.  That last verse always sticks with me:

"Don't you hear my call, though you're many years away?  Don't you hear me calling you?  All your letters in the sand cannot heal me like your hand.  For my life still ahead, pity me."

Honorable Mentions: Another One Bites the Dust, It's a Kind of Magic, Gimme the Prize, I Want to Break Free, Keep Yourself Alive, Radio Ga-Ga, and Somebody to Love


Monday, November 1, 2021

Trailer Time: The Book of Boba Fett

I was surprised how many people online are panning this trailer.  

Admittedly, it doesn't give a lot of details, but it really only a teaser.

The biggest complaint I've seen is in trying to turn Boba Fett into a hero.  It seems clear to me that this show is setting him up to be an anti-hero.  The Mandalorian tried the same thing, but his connection to the child quickly changed him into quickly from anti-hero to hero.  I don't see that happening as quickly with Boba Fett.

I think the worry is that this how will tame him a bit too much.  One of the characters great appeals is that he was dangerous.  He was smart and deadly.  The trailer seemed to show both those elements.  I like the idea of him trying to carve out a piece of the Tatooine underworld.

For me, the atmosphere is selling me.  The first shot of the B'Omarr monk immediately made me nostalgic for the book Tales From Jabba's Palace.  That was a wonderful book of short stories about the lives of the characters around the Hutt's criminal enterprise.  I'm hoping for something similar with The Book of Boba Fett.