ReasonForOurHope

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Lack of Updates - September 2022

 Hello Dear Reader,

I apologize for the lack of updates this week.

Last Saturday a close family member was taken to the hospital.  On Thursday, they were taken to hospice.  Any prayers you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

For the past week and for the immediate future our time will be divided between work and hospice visits.  Right now things are very much in flux, so I have been taking a small break from blogging.

Thank you in advance for your prayers.  And thank you for your patience during these breaks in writing that I have taken over the years.  I appreciate your continued readership.


God Bless!


Catholic Skywalker

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Trailer Time: The Fablemans


There is something wonderous and magical about this trailer.  The Fablemans is clearly a fictionalized autobiography of director Steven Spielberg.  The imagery, the tone, the sense of awe at the art of film are all over Spielberg's movie.

However watching it, I became overwhelmed with sadness at a terrible thought:

Steven Spielberg doesn't think he is going to live much longer.

Maybe I am wrong.  But I've noticed the tragectory of his last few movies.  Ready Player One tells the story of what happens when the creator of a pop culture phenomenon dies and the legacy he leaves behind.  As I wrote in my review: "Haliday is Spielberg.  Spielberg helped create the popular culture we all live in.  He was a kid who dreamed of becoming the greatest filmmaker in history, which he has.  Movies are expensive and this is understandable.  But in many ways he has become a corporation.  And in that there is a loss of that innocent artistic purity.  The same thing is seen in Haliday, who knows that something has been lost along the way and hopes that the next generation will set right what he did wrong.  Both Haliday and Spielberg want to draw you in to a fantasy world in order to enrich life in the real world.  But how many of us get stuck in fantasy.  The movie asks the question whether or not our interactions with games and art are making life in the real world better or worse."

Then he made West Side Story.  There, Spielberg is revisiting one of the classic films of his youth where he tried to match his storytelling skills to that of the masters who came before.  This was a new challenge to him as a musical and I can see it as one of his potential "bucket list" items.

And now we are here at The Fabelmans.  Spielberg as returned to where it all began.  He is going to show us how the movies cast a spell on him and how this art shaped him in the same way that he ended up shaping the art.  This movie feels like a man who is looking back on his life and taking stock of the journey to see what it all means.

Perhaps I am reading too much into this.  But Spielberg is 75-years-old.  If I were thinking about making my final film, I might also go back immortalize my family on the screen so that their story could be remembered in the years to come.

Thoughts?

Monday, September 12, 2022

New Evangelizers Post: You Do Not Know Who Is Watching

                               


 


I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com.  

Many decades ago there was a man who had trouble walking. He used braces on his arms to help him get from place to place. This man was a devout Catholic who would walk to mass every morning despite the difficulty.

One particularly day, the ground was covered with sheets of ice. This would be very treacherous for this man in his condition. I don’t think there is a single one of us who would blame him for assessing the situation and deciding to remain at home for his safety. But that is not what he did. Instead, he got up and very carefully navigated the slippery sidewalk with great difficulty until he reached the church.

Why do I bring this up?

Because unknown to this man, someone was watching.

Joseph was a man who lived an average ordinary life of an average ordinary Catholic American. He got married, got a job, went to Church on Sundays, and went to work on the other days. Every morning he would wait at the bus stop across the street from a church. And every day he began to notice the man in the braces slowly make he way to mass every morning. On the morning of the icy ground, Joseph sat at the bus stop and said to himself, “The man in the braces surely won’t be coming today.”

But to his surprise, there he was: walking with great care to make sure that he could attend morning mass. It was at that moment, Joseph said to himself, “If this man can risk all of this dangerous ice to make it to mass every morning, then what is stopping me?” At once Joseph left the bus stop and went into the church morning mass. And as I understand it, he continued to go every day for the rest of his life.

The man in the braces had no idea that Joseph was watching, nor did he realize what an impact his witness would have on him.

Every day we walk through our day unaware of the hundreds of people who observe us. I’m sure many of them give us very little thought. But you never can know. Perhaps they notice how you say grace before eating your Chipotle at the restaurant. Maybe they see how you cross yourself has you pass by a Church. Perhaps they noticed how you stopped to give aid to the homeless person who is begging on the street.

Someone once said to me that my life may be the only Gospel someone ever reads.

The older I’ve gotten, the more I realized this to be true. The way we live, both in the big ways and the small ways, must give witness to God’s goodness. I mentioned before the good things people can observe in us that can give glory to God. But the same is true about our vices. When we are selfish, petty, temperamental, lustful, greedy, lazy, or display any other sin, we are a kind of anti-witness to God’s goodness. If we say we love God, but someone hears us gossiping about our neighbor, then we show people how little we truly believe.

I don’t say this so that we should increase our anxieties, but only our awareness. None of us our perfect. But we can strive to do the best we can. Someone I know grew up with very devoutly Catholic parents. However, there were times when he would argue with them (the way most of us did as teenagers). I once asked him why, if he struggled with his parents so much, did he not rebel against the faith they had taught him. He said to me, “No matter what, every Sunday, my father was at Church as a Eucharistic Minister, giving Our Lord with such faith that I never doubted.” I don’t know if his father ever realized that his son was watching him and taking in his simple lesson of faith.

The man in the braces did only what he could to give glory to God and so his life had a tremendous impact. Joseph’s life was changed forever, but not just his. Joseph’s two sons James and Joseph Jr. became priests. One of Joseph’s daughters became a religious sister. This faith transformed this family. Fr. James ended up become the pastor of the parish in which I was raised. And because of him I had a solid foundation in the Catholic faith. Hundreds and thousands of people were brought closer to Christ because of the faith of that ordinary Catholic named Joseph. And that faith would not have taken wings without that decision on that fateful, icy day when the man in the braces chose faith over fear.

Today, people will interact with you. They will observe you. What will they see? What will they hear?



You can read the whole article here.




Sunday, September 11, 2022

9/11 - 21 Years Later

   File:National Park Service 9-11 Statue of Liberty and WTC fire.jpg


21 years ago today.

I have no words to describe the horror of that day.  

Today is about the 3,042 people who were horribly and viciously murdered by wicked men.

The best thing to do today would be to remember the dead.

Here is a link to the names of the murdered.  In your charity, perhaps look at the names and pray for a few of them by name.

Let us never forget.

Never.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Film Review: Chip 'N Dale - Rescue Rangers

 



Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable

Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

This movie should be a soulless, cynical cash grab that is as hollow as it is flashy.

Instead we get a movie that is constantly funny, inventive, nostalgic, and actually has something to say about fame and friendship.

The universe of Chip 'N Dale: Rescue Rangers in set in world like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  In fact, there's a good indication that it is the exact same world, which would make this movie a sort of sequel.  This is a world where cartoon characters live in the same world as humans.  In this reality, Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Sandberg) are cartoon chipmunks who became famous acting in the kids adventure show: Rescue Rangers.  But fame is fickle and their popularity moves on.  Chip goes on to be an insurance salesman.  But Dale tries to hold on to his glory with convention appearances and hustling on social media, even getting the "CGI surgery" so now he appears like he is computer generated instead of hand-drawn.  Things come to a head when their old friend Monteray Jack (Eric Bana) gets in debt to a gangster named "Sweet Pete" (Will Arnett) and then goes missing.  So Chip and Dale have to set aside their differences to help their friend.

All of this was laid out in the trailers and the plot is not terribly original.  But where the show knocks it out of the park is the execution.

A lot of movies like this try to coast on the nostalgia for the different characters you see.  And to some extent it works.  During a big crowd shot and Chip and Dale's high school, you can see Blaster from the Autobots in this crowd.  I got an incredibly big kick out of that and other such cameos.  But I'm glad that the writers Dan Gregor and Doug Mand put forth the effort to make those elements the added layering on top of an excellent script.

The main thing about this movie is that it's funny.  I mean that this is a funny script with jokes that actually work well.  It helps that you have Sandberg and Mulaney who know how to deliver lines with great comic timing.  The line that Mulaney delivers when he sees a message on his landline is delivered with just the right tone that resonates with strange observational humor.  

The movie also knows how to hit a visual gag.  In one of the best running jokes, Dale has encounters with "Ugly" Sonic the Hedghog (Tim Robinson), who appeared in the original trailer for the Sonic movie.  Director Akiva Schaffer knows just how to draw you into the strangely off-putting design for maximum comedic effect.  Schaffer also seamlessly integrates the live-action, animated, and puppeteering that you see on screen so that never once do you break suspension of disbelief.

But at the heart of this movie is the relationship between the two main characters.  In its own comedic way, this movie captures the strange complexity of affection and envy that can come up in the closest of friends.  We tend to be pulled towards people who have qualities that we wish we had.  That draws us to them and causes us to admire them, but often we can't help but feel jealousy because they have those qualities.  The script knows exactly how foil Chip and Dale off of each other perfectly.

The story also does a good job of integrating style with theme.  Dale's constant need to feel relevant is reflected in his updating to a CGI character.  The lack of humanity found in animated characters like those in The Polar Express help to make them inhuman villains.  Not only are things like this incredibly clever, but they are done in a way that made me laugh.  

There are few moments of slightly mature humor.  Unlike DC: League of Super-Pets, I didn't think that most of it was out of line.  There is one moment towards the beginning where they show a photo of Chippendale dancers and later it is heavily implied that Dale is working as some sort of male exotic dancer, but I think those things would go over the heads of child.  When I was a kid, watching Roger Rabbit, most of the mature jokes went over my head, and I think that most of these jokes will as well, while older adults can enjoy the wordplay.

I really hope that they make a sequel to this movie.  I will watch it the day that it comes out.  This movie doesn't quite hits the heights mad genius that was Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but it flows in harmony with its tone, its humor, and its ideas.  And from me, that is high praise.



Thursday, September 8, 2022

Trailer Time: Weird- The Al Yankovic Story -


I have been a fan of "Weird" Al Yankovic since I was a child.  I even had the opportunity to see him in concert in the middle 1980's.  And I will fight anyone who disagrees that UHF is one of the funniest films ever made.

I am incredibly excited for this movie.  I like the feel and tone of it.  Instead of it being a straight-up docudrama, it feels like one of his over-the-top daydream sequences from UHF.  Everything seems just the right amount of silly while taking things super, super seriously.  I particularly like the part where he puts out a cigarette on someone's hand.

This is a movie I would have gone to see in the theaters, but I will watch it opening night on the Roku channel.

Thoughts?

Friday, September 2, 2022

TV Review: The Lord of the Rings - The Rings of Power - Episodes 1 and 2





 The bad news is that the first episode is not very good.

The good news is that the second episode is much better.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is the much anticipated Middle-Earth series from Amazon.  The story takes place during the 2nd age, after the defeat of Morgoth (essentially the Devil) and before the defeat of Sauron at the Battle of Mount Doom.  

The story begins with Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) seeking any sign of Sauron and his orcs, but cannot find him.  In fact, her own soldiers eventually turn on her.  She returns to the elven lands where her friend Elrond (Robert Aramayo) explains that King Gil-Gilad is not happy with her warmongering and instead wishes to honor her service in exchange for silence so that he can declare an era of peace.  Meanwhile in the southern lands of man, Gil-Gilad (Benjamin Walker) begins to recall his elven garrisons.  This is sad news for the elven scout Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) who is in love with a local human healer named Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi).  But just as they begin to say their goodbyes, news of some evil growing in a nearby town changes their story.  At the same time there are group of Hobbi- I'm sory, Harfoots who are living a quaint migratory life in the forest.  However the young, impetuous Nori (Markella Kavenagh ) seeks more of a life adventure, which she finds when something mysterious falls from the sky.

The best thing about the show is that it looks amazing.  It isn't just that the makeup and special effects are good (which they are), but the producers were wise enough to enchant us with the beauty of Middle-Earth.  One of the things that makes Peter Jackson's films so rich is that soaked thousands of years of history and culture into the architecture, art, and landscapes of this land.  Amazon's series does the same.  There are, of course, many times where practical effects would be preferred to CGI, but that is a minor quibble.

The biggest problem with the show is that it brings us in primarily through Galadriel's story.  This is an issue because she is not very likable.  Cate Blanchette's portrayal was one that was tinged with power, menace, and danger, but it was also one that had wisdom, restraint, and above all grace.  Clark's Galadriel lacks these qualities.  I understand that we are seeing a less mature version of the character, but she comes off as uncaring and obsessive.  This means that I do not attach to her quest as much as I should.  She berates others for not enduring what she has, even though they all have been to war.  Her behavior is baffling.  At the very end of the first episode, she makes a decision that is meant to be epic and dramatic, but comes off as quite possibly the dumbest thing anyone on Middle-Earth has ever done.

It would have been much smarter to focus on Nori.  Kavenaugh's wide-eyed innocence and pluck reminds me so much Elijah Wood, which I don't think is a coincidence.  You may call her a discount Frodo and fair enough.  But I got a good deal of enjoyment from her story and it felt very much like the beginnings of the classic fantasy adventure.  Arondir and Bronwyn's story is fine so far, but the actors have to express years of history and subtext.  We don't get to see them fall in love, we just have to take it for granted that they are.  And to their credit, they do the best they can and do so while maintaining the characteristic gulf between elf and human.  I can't say the same about everyone.  There is a scene in the first episode where one of Arondir's fellow elves speaks like he is a human and without a hint of elven grace.

Since the first episode focuses mostly on Galdriel, it really didn't grab me.  However the second episode was much more enjoyable.  

The best part was watching Elrond visit the dwarf Prince Durin (Owain Arthur).  The contrasts between them are fun to watch along with the history of hurt feelings and deep affections.  One of my favorite parts of the show was seeing Khazad-dun in its glory.  Also watching Nori's adventure regarding what fell from the sky is slow but fascinating.

A lot of people have made a big deal about the color-blind casting.  To be honest, I didn't really pay attention to it because the producers were smart enough to not to call attention to this change.  All the actors fit in reasonably well with the overall aesthetic.

One of the show's biggest flaws is that it tries to do too much at once.  I describe the three major story lines above, but there are many more characters like Bronwyn's son (who is annoying), Celibrimbor (who is very different than what video-gamers saw in Shadows of Mordor), King Durin, etc.  Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring has several characters as well, but they wisely followed Tolkien's method of focusing on Frodo and slowly adding more characters.  The Rings of Power does too much too soon.

For those looking something on par with Jackson's might trilogy, this show isn't it.

But this show is also not the complete and utter disaster that many claim it is.

It is still too early to make a judgment, but I am going to continue to watch.


Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Film Flash: Chip 'N Dale - Rescue Rangers Movie (Disney+)

 


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

This spiritual successor to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is way better than it should be.

 

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

New Evangelizers Post: From Transformers to Transubstantiation: The Conversion of Shia LeBeouf

                              


 


I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com.  

By the grace of God, many people come to miraculous conversion to the Gospel. One such person is actor Shia LaBeouf. As a child actor, LaBeouf grew up in film and television and is best known for his roles in the Transformers movies and the fourth Indiana Jones film.

In recent years, LaBeouf became a kind of meme, with his increasingly unpredictable and outrageous behavior confounding people. His strange “motivational speech” made the rounds of the internet as well as the stunt where wore a bag on his head to a red carpet event. But these were overshadowed by legal issues of assault accusations and arrests.

LaBeouf saw many of his roles dry up, though he would turn up in small but moving films like The Peanut Butter Falcon. With his career on the wane, he came into contact with a director who was developing a movie about St. Padre Pio. Looking to simply to land a prestigious acting gig, LaBeouf agreed to research the part by spending time with the Franciscan Capuchin friars. Little did he know that this was the path that would change his life.

The conversion of any soul is a miracle. It is not more or less miraculous because that person is a celebrity. However, because the person is in the spotlight, it presents an opportunity to bring a wider spotlight on God’s grace and the beauty of the Church.

Any conversion story is a story of God’s saving power. We can learn from any conversion story that we encounter. Here are a few things that I have been able to glean from Mr. LeBeouf’s journey.

The first thing I noticed was how God comes to us in our brokenness. LaBeouf talked about how is life had it a kind of rock bottom. He said in an interview with Bishop Robert Barron, “I had a gun on the table. I was outta here. I didn’t want to be alive anymore when all this happened. Shame like I had never experienced before — the kind of shame that you forget how to breathe. You don’t know where to go. You can’t go outside and get like, a taco.”

I love this description because it is very concrete and earthy. He was so lost that he was forced to face the emptiness inside himself.

The second thing I noticed was how God reaches us however He can. LaBeouf did not seek God as his way out His despair. As written above, he was looking for a job to bring him back to the A-List. God used that as an opportunity to bring LaBeouf into greater friendship.

This brings me to the third thing that struck me: the power of love and friendship. The more time LaBeouf spent with the friars the more he found himself changed. He said that he was surrounded by people who didn’t want anything from him. He was not a means to their own agenda. They folded him into their fellowship and embraced him in their friendship.

I am someone who has been incredibly blessed with deep and abiding friendships that have endured for decades. Someone pointed out how there are so many people in this world who have never experienced this. It sounded like the unconditional friendship of the friars was something he had never experienced. As a Hollywood celebrity there are a lot of people who cling to you as a means to live off of your borrowed glory. But the friars were only interested in LaBeouf’s well-being. It does not seem that his conversion was a condition of their care.

The fourth thing that I noticed was the effect of the Gospel. LaBeouf says that he read the Gospel of Matthew for the first time and he encountered the real Jesus, no the one that has been filtered down through popular culture. He encountered a strong, masculine presence that showed him an idealized manhood while at the same time encounter a universal savior.

The fifth and final reflection is on the richness of the Catholic faith. In his discussion with Bishop Barren, together they noted that the Catholic Church is a truly universal religion in that it appeals to all aspects of the human person. The Church appeals to reason, emotion, beauty, tradition, charity, and every other ennobling aspect of the person.



You can read the whole article here.




Sunday, August 28, 2022

Sunday Best: Summer Box Office Review 2022

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


In terms of box office success, the numbers were much better than last year.  In the Summer of 2021, no movie made over $200 million domestic.  This year, half of the Top 10 made over $300 million domestic.  So it appears as though the COVID slump is gone.  

Below are my predictions along with the actual box office numbers:

MY PREDICTIONACTUAL BOX OFFICE
Thor: Love and ThunderTop Gun: Maverick
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of MadnessDoctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Top Gun: MaverickJurassic World Dominion
LightyearMinions: The Rise of Gru
Jurassic World: DominionThor: Love and Thunder
Minions: The Rise of GruElvis
DC: League of Super-PetsLightyear
Bullet TrainNope
ElvisThe Black Phone
NopeWhere the Crawdads Sing

So as you can see, I did not do as well at predicting the box office as I did last year.  I correctly predicted one more than last year, but I wildly missed the order

-I predicted 8 out of the Top Ten.  There is still a small chance that Bullet Train and DC: League of Super-Pets could inch their way up, but it is highly unlikely.
-I only correctly predicted one movie in its correct spot: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
-I had The Black Phone in my wild card spot, but Where the Crawdads Sing was nowhere on my radar.



So here are my conclusions.

WINNERS
1. Tom Cruise
There are a lot of people who are responsible for the success of Top Gun: Maverick.  But I think that the lion's share of the credit has to go to Cruise.  He wisely waited patiently for the right script and right director.  As producer on the film, he helped give the movie its non-CGI real-life thrill.  Cruise also has been a reliable star who delivers crowd-pleasing hits like the Mission: Impossible franchise.  Cruise used this cache to get people to see Top Gun and then word-of-mouth made this the highest grossing movie of the year, making it the 6th highest grossing movie of all time.  This is the biggest hit of Cruise's career and has cemented his film legacy (if it had not already been).

2. Universal Pictures
While Paramount has taken the top spot with Top Gun: Maverick, four of the Top Ten are Universal films: Jurassic World: Dominion, Minions: The Rise of Gru, Nope, The Black Phone.  There is an opportunity going forward for Universal to regain box office dominance with Marvel and PIXAR movies underperforming.



LOSERS

1.  PIXAR
Lightyear made it to #7, but a movie in the Toy Story franchise should have performed much better.  Compared to the budget, this movie was a bomb.  There were so many reasons why this movie failed, including inserting mature content into a kids film.  But the main reason, based on my conversations with parents, is that kids did not think that this movie was about the "real" Buzz.  

2.  Marvel
I hesitate to label them as "losers," but there is a clear drop in box office returns.  I predicted Thor: Love and Thunder would be the biggest hit of the summer.  But its mediocre execution and sloppy story-telling made it slip to number 5.  It still earned a respectable $333 million.  But Marvel has not had a phenomenal hit since Spider-Man: No Way Home and that is technically a Sony movie.  This summer's box office may be why Kevin Feige has announced the quick end to Phase 4 so that they can course correct in Phase 5.


----

An observation also is the gap between the top 5 and the bottom 5.  Take a look at these numbers from Boxofficemojo.com

Top Gun: Maverick$687,812,857
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness$411,331,607
Jurassic World Dominion$374,253,690
Minions: The Rise of Gru$352,710,635
Thor: Love and Thunder$333,870,158
Elvis$146,274,755
Lightyear$118,280,134
Nope$116,052,175
The Black Phone$89,003,295
Where the Crawdads Sing$80,213,348

There is a nearly $200 million gap between #5 and #6.

The total revenue for the top 5 is $2.16 billion.  The total revenue for the bottom 5 is $550 million.  So you can see that the top half made 4 times as much as the bottom half.  

Thoughts?


Friday, August 26, 2022

TV Review: She-Hulk (Disney+) Episodes 1-2

 



This show would be much better without the Hulk-sized chip on the main character's shoulder.

She-Hulk: Attorney At Law is the latest MCU television show to be released on Disney+.  The story revolves around Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany)  the cousin of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo).  At the beginning of the series, she gets into a car accident with Bruce and their blood mixes.  As a result, she can transform into a She-Hulk.  Most of the first episode involves Bruce helping train Jen and attempting to have her come to terms with her new situation.  The second episode looks at what Jen's life is like back in the real world, where she tries to maintain a law career while navigating her newfound powers and fame.

Tonally, this is meant to be the most comic of any previous MCU story.  Jen will often break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience like Deadpool.  The situations she finds herself in are awkward and absurd and the supporting characters are flat comedy tropes.

The concept of the show is not a bad one.  I am not opposed to a comedy show set in the MCU and it could be mined with great reward.  The main conceit of the show is that it is a legal procedural comedy involving super powers.  That could lead to some fun and fascinating stories.

The main problem revolves around Jen herself and the worldview she brings you into.  At her introduction, she is not very likable.  This is a common trope in the hero's journey.  Tony Stark is a jerk at the beginning of his movie and Loki starts his show as a unrepentant villain.  Part of the problem with Jen is the fourth-wall break.  When Tony or Loki behave badly, we feel like we some moral distance from them.  But Jen talks to us like we are best friends and confidants.  She assumes that I, the viewer, look at the world the same way.  

The problem is that I don't.

In the trailers, the played a clip where she said that fear and rage are the baseline emotions of every woman.  This is an incredibly dour world-view.  As a man, I acknowledge that there is something to female experience that is different for me.  But even this seemed a bit much.  I asked my wife if Jen's perspective was universal to women.  She said that it was the view of certain types of women.

That is where the problem rests: it assumes the universal of something particular.  There are many women whose lives are peace and joy.  There are also many men whose lives are marred by fear and rage.  Jen seems to want to monopolize her negative emotions on behalf of her gender.  IMDB recently shared out the clip of Jen yelling at Bruce telling him that she is great at controlling her anger because she does it "infinitely more" than him.  This makes Jen seem very self-centered and lacking empathy.  Bruce saw father murder his mother, he has loved two women with whom he was separated, and he spent years on the run from the military.  The writers of the show want to say something about the differing experiences of men and women, but it feels awkwardly plastered on the characters.

In the course of the episodes, I hope Jen grows as a character.  She seems constantly green (pun intended) with envy.  She is hired at a law firm that requires her to appear as She-Hulk.  She is understandably concerned with how people will think she was hired for her immutable qualities and not her skills.  But then she complains about how a bunch of men in a nearby conference room never had to feel the way she does.  How does she know this?  I don't know.  She assumes that none of them can relate to her struggle.  This robs some of the audience of the chance to see themselves in what she is going through.  If the character explicitly says that certain types of people are cut off from her experience, then this cuts off the certain members of the audience.  This is not simply a matter of the gulf between men and women.


Think about how different that is from the presentation of Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs: she is a female navigating the male-dominated world of law-enforcement where she deals with subtle and not-so-subtle sexism.  And yet all audience members, male and female, can place themselves in her shoes and empathize with her feeling like an outsider.  Jen does not invite you to empathy.  Instead, she invites you to greater disdain for the things that annoy her.

Jen is also vulgar in a way that is off-putting.  Deadpool is also like this and is also distasteful at times, but Maslany does not have the charisma of Ryan Reynolds.  I found it particularly galling the way Jen was obsessed with the sex life of Captain America.  She seemed to take glee in dragging down one of the most morally virtuous MCU characters in a way that just seemed mean-spirited.  Bruce is also cut down to size.  At one point, Jen is able to push him with a Jeep.  This may seem like a small point, but that is a horrible subversion of his power levels.  It feels like they need to bring Bruce low to raise Jen up.

As I said, most of the characters are flat.  As I wrote, Maslany is no Reynolds, but she is not bad.  Ruffalo's performance as Banner/Hulk has deteriorated a great deal since his first great take on the character in Avengers.  Tim Roth seems to be having a lot of fun as Emil Blondsky/Abomination.  And veteran comic actor Mark Linn-Baker is pitch-perfect as Jen's doting father. 

I have not given up on the show, though my optimism is waning.  There is still a great deal of room for character growth.  I like the drama of Jen being hired to defend the villain who tried to kill Bruce.  I am very curious as to the MCU's legal philosophy.

But if the quality does not improve from the first two episodes, then this will be the worse MCU movie or show to date. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

TV Review: Severance (AppleTV)

 


This show messed with my mind but in the best possible way.

Severance is a show that premiered on AppleTV earlier this year.  It is a high concept show with some of the best directing on television.

The plot revolves around a business called Lumon that offers an optional surgical procedure called "severance."  When a person is severed, they send themselves to their work place and when they arrive, they lose all memory of their outside life.  When they leave work, the lose all memory of the work life.  The procedure effectively severs your work and personal life.

The story revolves around Mark Scout (Adam Scott).  He elected to have the procedure because of recent trauma that he wanted to forget during the work day.  When Mark heads to Lumon, he proceeds down an elevator where he forgets all about his outside life and is simply known as Mark S.  The department he works in is exceedingly odd, with a retro-1980's technology vibe and work that is strange and esoteric.  He works alongside the acerbic Dylan (Zach Cherry), the erudite Irving (John Tutorro), and newcomer Helly (Britt Lower).  All the while they are overseen by the overbearing Ms. Cobel (Patricia Arquette) and her creepily polite assistant Mr. Milchick (Tramell Tillman).  

The show is very weird but that is not an insult.  The sanitized office setting is filmed in ways that feel nightmarish and sinister.  At times the show feels like an awkward office comedy like The Office, but then it shifts gears into existential mystery like Twin Peaks.

Severance raises some fascinating questions about the self and identity.  Those who live in the outside world (the "Outies") have no concept of what their worker selves (the "Innies") endure.  Sometimes they will emerge with slight injuries and be rewarded with simple gift cards.  The show plays with the juxtaposition of the two perspectives.  Are you really still the same person once you are severed?  Or are you now two different people?  Do your memories define your person?  If your Innie wants to quit and your Outie refuses, is this slavery?

Besides dealing with deep thematic issues, the show is big on mystery.  Lumon is an enigma.  In fact, the entire world seems off.  The found of the company, Kier Egan, is talked about in messianic terms.  His compliance manuals are often quoted by the Innies like they are Scripture.  In fact, one of the things that makes me uneasy about the show is the potential that this is ultimately a satire of Christianity.  However, the show is smart be vague so that this could be a critique of human hubris.

But all of this would be pointless if it was not executed incredibly well.  Ben Still directed most of the episodes this season.  I have been keeping an eye on his visual style ever since The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a film that was beautiful to look at but failed in the story department.  He uses all of his skills to pull off an beautiful, creepy, atmospheric, engaging, and emotional visual style.  He knows just how to twist the absurd into the nightmarish.  The stellar writing is also a big draw.  In the show, Mark's brother-in-law writes corny self-help books.  Through a strange circumstance, one of his books ends up on the severed floor and is discovered by the Innies.  Because it is so counter to the writings of Kier Egan, they draw deep inspiration from even the most tortured and silly aphorisms from his book.  It is quite a writing feat to make something that is empty and pretentious into something inspirational and meaningful.

The performance are some of the best this year.  Scott is particularly great at playing both his Innie and Outie with just enough similarity and difference.  Because so much of the show is shrouded in mystery, every word, every look by the other characters carries with it ambiguous meaning, which is incredibly difficult to play.  

And I have to say that the season finale had me twisted up in knots and on the edge of my seat until the last seconds.  It ends on a cliffhanger that will want you desperate for the next episode.

My cautions on the show involve the potential satirization of the faith.  Also, like most shows today, it glorifies lifestyles contrary to the Gospel.  I am also trepidatious of (to use a JJ Abrams phrase) "mystery box" shows.  This is where the audience is drawn in to deeper and deeper mysteries without ever giving satisfying answers.  As of this point in the story, we are still in the mystery section.  If the show does not ultimately give us a good resolution, then it will taint the enjoyment of the first season.

I know this review has been light on details, but not knowing what happens next made this show much more enjoyable.  I'd recommend giving it a try.



Sunday, August 21, 2022

Sunday Best: Summer TV Roundup 2022

 Summer is traditionally a time for outdoor fun in the sun.

For my wife and I, Summer is the time to binge-watch a lot of TV shows.  You may think that this time should be better spent out in nature doing activities.  But my wife and I have spent hundreds of hours relaxing on comfortable couches with wonderful entertainment and the enjoyment of each other's company.

Anyway, this summer we watched a number of shows.  Rather than give full reviews for all of them, I thought I would round them all up here:


1. Obi-Wan Kenobi

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This is one of the few shows I did a full review for.  I loved this show!  It felt like Episode III.5.  While it did have some deficits in terms of its production, It has become one of my favorite parts of the Disney Star Wars productions.  For my full review, click this link.


2. Stranger Things

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This season of Stranger Things had some of the best and some of the worst moments of the series.  Starting with the good, the "Dear Billy" episode was one of the most exciting moments of television I've seen all year.  I completely understand why that Kate Bush song shot back up the charts.  The intensity and terror of that episode might be a highlight of the entire series.  The biggest problem that the season had was that it ran at least 4 simultaneous storylines, but only the main "Hawkins" story was consistently intersting.  The other stories, especially the one in Russia, tended to drag.  The "Road Trip" story had a fantastic moment early in the season, but that one also seemed tedious, especially with the addition stoner Argyle.  I have never been a big fan of drug humor, but I found him such an annoyance.  

I also had a problem with the big twist.  MILD SPOILERS AHEAD.  There is a big villain reveal that occurs at the end of the first volume of the season.  My biggest problem with it is that they make the same mistake that Zack Snyder did with Watchmen.  In both stories, the reveal of the villain is supposed to be a surprise.  But the actor's performance beforehand is too creepy.  There is already something sinister about the character.  This takes away from the shock of the reveal.  I wish they had handled it the way they did with Benjamin Linus in Lost.  In that case, any suspicion that fell on that character had you questioning if he was really malevolent or if you were reading into his words and actions your own paranoia.  END SPOILERS

With that beings said, I still found the show well-worth the time to watch.  The were enough exciting and emotional moments that pulled me in.  One of the show does incredibly well is tap into that feeling you find in movies like Goonies, Monster Squad, It: Chapter One, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  In all of these, you have a group of kids who have to works together to fight evil.  It parallels that feeling you have with your friends growing up where it feels like its you and your friends against the world.  

I'd recommend this show.

3. Floor is Lava


This is a guilty pleasure show.

It takes the silliness of the children's game and combines it with an adult-sized obstacle course.  This show was one of "COVID Shows," that my wife and I watched to distract ourselves from the worries of the lockdowns.  If I had one complaint it is that the season was too short with only 5 episodes.


4. Ms. Marvel

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People seemed to have extreme reactions to this series.  This seems odd to me since it is a very middling show.  Kamala Khan, like Kate Bishop, is more likable in the Disney+ show than in the comics.  Iman Vellani does a good job of portraying her wide-eyed excitement over her new-found super powers.  The first few episodes had a crazy visual energy that reminded me of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which I dig.  

However the villains were not very compelling.  Because of that, it doesn't really give Ms. Marvel a chance to really shine.  Also there is a strange emphasis on food.  There are more conversations about different types of food, how spicy it is, how much of it there is, than any show I've seen.  There a times where the show seems more interested in "educating" the audience than entertaining them.  This is my biggest problem with most Christian movies, because they put message over story.  The story feels thin, like a movie script that got stretched out over six episodes.  

Overall, it is slightly better than average.

5.  The Terminal List.

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This is a show about which I am conflicted.  It is an incredibly well-made show.  The production value is top-notch.  This also has Chris Pratt's best performance in anything I have seen with him.  He brings an intensity to his character I have never encountered with him.  The story involves his character as a Navy SEAL who walks a bloody path of revenge.

My conflict is that the show is WAY too violent for me.  The main character does some of the most cruel and torturous actions I have ever seen on film or TV (and I have seen some truly nasty stuff).  This is supposed to be morally justified because these actions are against evil people.  But there is something dark and insidious about the depths of violence that occur.  The show was compelling enough for me to finish the first season, but I don't think I would return for a second.  It was like the show 24 if it did not have censor.  

6. The Sandman

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I was never a big fan of the DC comic series on which it based, but I was amazed by the level of creativity found in Neil Gaiman's stories.  The early issues particularly had a horror-bent to them that I found off-putting.  However, the show is more enjoyable than the comic.  Fans of the comic series may strongly disagree.  But the show softens some of the harder edges while still being dark and sometimes horrific.  

One of the things that the show does well is in handling an unlikeable protagonist.  Too often I have seen shows try to get you to like an unlikeable character and fail.  What Sandman does is show you what a jerk Morpheus is, but it is aware enough to understand that he is a jerk.  But there is a core of goodness inside of him that you hope wins out over his aloof and arrogant nature.  It helps that his antagonists are so powerful and evil.  Boyd Holbrook's Corinthian was one the best TV performances I have seen this year.  The production value is also top-notch as I felt often transported to strange and dark worlds.

The show's biggest problem is how it revels in immoral lifestyles and in lives lived contrary to the Gospel.  If this is too much for the viewer, I would suggest avoiding it.  

7. Locke and Key

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The final season of Locke and Key was just released.  I have loved this show since it came out, probably because I am huge fan of the comic on which it is based.  The show does a great job of balancing the wonder and horror of the magic found at Keyhouse.

The final season felt more like an epilogue to the show.  It was shorter than previous seasons and it went about tying up loose ends.  The main villain was completely one-dimensional, but the actor's performance was completely menacing.  Like Sandman it revels in some lifestyles incompatible with the Gospel.  However, the storylines were creative and emotional.  My biggest complaint of the show is that it would have characters stop and talk about their feelings in the middle of intense moments of action, which seemed completely silly to me.  The final episode ends with an incredibly emotional catharsis followed by a real sense of closure.  

8. Better Call Saul.

Text "Better Call Saul" with drawn set of balance scales to the right

I had dropped out of this show around the second season, but I was still curious as to how the who story resolved.  So I spent time with the last few episodes after getting caught up on the action.  The final few episodes are amazing.  The story resolution is incredibly well-directed and written.  It is hard to write about without spoilers.  But I will say that what makes the final episodes so good is that the main fate of the characters is a result of their choices.  Jimmy is not a helpless fugitive.  He uses all of his power to control his destiny.  And his journey in the final episode is so well-written that I am glad I returned to see how it resolved.  Also Rhea Seehorn gives a performance that is so restrained until the dam bursts.  That seen is raw and powerful.  

9. Only Murders in the Building

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The second season has been fine, but not as good as the first season.  Honestly, my favorite part is simply watching 2 of the 3 Amigos interacting and having fun.  The show falls into the trap that a lot of mysteries shows do.  At the end of most episodes, they tease a clue to the killer, but usually this turns out to be a red herring.  This is common in most mysteries, but the teases at the end never seem to quite pay off the way you hope.  Perhaps it will all be clear when the season ends soon.

10. The Orville: New Horizons

"THE ORVILLE" written in a stylized sans-serif blue font, similar to Star Trek: The Next Generation

Besides Obi-Wan, this was my favorite show this summer.  The Orville has been moved from Fox to Hulu and Disney+.  The first few episodes this season had some shaky moments.  Like the first season, a lot Seth MacFarlane's social commentary entered into the story in rather clumsy ways.  But even still, I don't think it had the effect he desired.  There was an episode that took place on a planet that outlawed abortion.  As punishment the parents were placed into a room.  I expected some prolonged physical torture.  What happened was that a genetic composite of the two was presented as a hologram asking them why they were aborted.  The main character is horrified.  My reaction was, "Is that it?"  Also in another episode, it seems that MacFarlane was promoting gender reassignment surgery for children.  However, in the context of the story, the episode is actually demonstrating the dangers of surgically altering children against the nature in which they were conceived.  

Having said all of that, as the season progressed, MacFarlane was able to present some wonderfully inventive science fiction.  There is a time travel story that wrenched me in the gut the entire time and had me twisted in ethical knots.  The stories were full of war and betrayal and consequences.  And in that darkness, MacFarlane still finds an unwavering optimism in humanity that is core to its Star Trek inspirations.  He did all of this while maintaining the show's strange and quirky tone.  Somehow he made a guest appearance by Dolly Parton into a moment of supreme enlightenment for a recurring character's journey.

I hope the show gets enough views on Disney+ to warrant a third season.  While I don't agree with everything MacFarlane has to say, he has created a strong and infectious piece of science fiction that I would like to continue to explore.


Thoughts?