Monday, January 31, 2022

New Evangelizers Post: The Soul and the Brain



I have a new article up at  

I had a student say to me in class recently, “Mr. Grayson, isn’t it strange that the brain is the only organ of the body that named itself.”

I thought about what he said for a moment, but then I replied, “No, it didn’t. The brain did name the brain. The person named the brain.”

Perhaps I was trying to show off some of my time taking philosophy classes, but I thought it was an important distinction to make. In fact, I thought it was important enough to be the topic of an article here.

The big mistake is that the student was conflating the brain and the soul. The Greek word for soul that Plato uses is “psyche,” which is also translated as mind. When Christians use the word “soul” we mean a bit more than what Plato did, but at the very least our minds and our souls are intertwined. This point is taken up by Plato’s student Aristotle.

For Aristotle, the soul is not a physical thing. It is immaterial. The intellect was a receptivity or power that transcends physicality and is not dependent on physicality. Aristotle makes the point that “Thus that in the soul which is called mind (by mind I mean that whereby the soul thinks and judges) is, before it thinks, not actually any real thing. For this reason it cannot reasonably be regarded as blended with the body: if so, it would acquire some quality, e.g. warmth or cold, or even have an organ like the sensitive faculty: as it is, it has none.” (On the Soul, III, 4) The mind cannot be a part of the body, because then it would have to have material qualities. Aristotle uses warmth and cold in the above quote, but you could easily use other physical qualities like size and weight. The brain can be warm, cold, big, small, heavy, or light. But the mind cannot be any of those things.

The organ of the brain presents the sense information to the intellect to do its activity of thinking, but it is not the brain that does the thinking. We need this sense information in order to do the activity of thinking. As St. Thomas points out, “suspension of the senses necessarily involves a hindrance to the judgment of the intellect.” (Summa Theologiae, I, q 84, a 8)

The act of thinking is not completely divorced from physicality. But this brings us back to the immateriality component of the soul that Aristotle brought up. St. Thomas agreed with Aristotle that this thinking involves having knowledge that is “immaterial, universal, and necessary.” (Summa Theologiae, I, q 84, a 1)

The reason for this, as St. Thomas says, “the received is in the receiver according to the mode of the receiver.” ^6^ This means that while physical things can be known to humans, they are known in an intelligible mode, because that is the nature of the human mind. ^7^

But remember, we are not angels. We are not purely spiritual beings. To be human is to be a body and soul together. The mind has an important connection to the senses and the brain. The object of intellect transcends senses, but in order to have access to its objects, you need the senses. Without the senses, reason would never actualize.

In other words, like the beasts, we draw in data from the senses. But unlike the beasts, we can come to understand that data in a way they cannot. We don’t just see red objects, we can think of “redness” itself. We don’t just see objects of equal size, we can think of the concept of “equality.” We can turn sense experience into objects of thought. This is because we have the power of reason which draws intelligibility (or reads intelligibility into) sense images.

But isn’t the mind affected when there is damage to the brain?

Yes, but it is not damaged.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Sunday Best: STEVEN SPIELBERG MOVIES RANKED - #3 - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade



Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is not just the greatest Indiana Jones movie.

It is the greatest adventure movie of all time.

Back when Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came out, I did a marathon of the first three Indiana Jones movies.  I skipped through the highlights of Raiders and Temple of Doom.  But I found that I couldn't skip through Last Crusade.  Every single moment kept me glued.

When it comes to doing an action/adventure film, there is a tightrope when it comes to tone.  If you get too violent it can be off-putting.  If you go too light, the stakes no longer feel real.  I know a lot of people love the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies.  But this is a good example of what I am talking about.  I never cared for the movies because they were too violent and too silly at the same time.  

But Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade finds the balance perfectly.  Spielberg is able to find just the right tone.  The movie is innocent without being corny.  It is dangerous without being dark.  It is fun without being silly.  It is profound without being pretentious.  

The opening sequence with River Phoenix as the young Indiana is a delight to watch.  The chase through the circus train is a wonderful throwback to old serial adventures.  Spielberg's use of the camera is so inventive and dynamic.  Watch where Indiana swings around on the water pipe only to find himself face-to-face with his antagonist.  This all leads to the beautiful single shot that ends with the frame of Indy running away to freedom.  

This scene also sets up the relationship of Indy to his father.  In just a few seconds, the emotional distance is established.  Once again, we see Spielberg do the same thing he did in ET where the adult's face is not shown.  This may have been done so they could save Sean Connery's first reveal, but it works so well to show the lack of connection between Henry and Indy.  That's why Indy turns to strange antagonist as his role model.

And I love the thing that the stranger says, "You lost today kid, but that doesn't mean you have to like it."  There is so much here to understand Indy's character.  Throughout the series of films, Indy loses.  

A lot.

He is not a Mary Sue who is perfectly able to meet any situation.  He loses over and over again.  But what makes him such a great adventuring hero is that he hates losing so much that he doesn't give up.  He keeps moving forward.  

The action set pieces are superb.  Every danger has with it a little thrill of fun.  In the original script, Indy and his father simply take off from the Nazis castle and then decide to go to Berlin.  But Spielberg understood the pacing of action films and that there needed to be an exciting chase in between.  I am one of the few people who really enjoyed Wonder Woman 1984, but one of my big critiques was that there was about an hour of the movie where there was no action.  Spielberg understands how the action set pieces create the connective tissue that holds whole movie together.

One of the things that sets this apart from the other Indiana Jones films is how shocking the movie is.  After multiple viewings, I sometimes forget all of the twists I did not see coming.  After Marion and Willie, Elsa seemed to be another side kick/love interest.  I honestly did not see coming how she was a double agent the entire time.  This puts you deeply into Indy's perspective of betrayal and disappointment.  I love the fact that just as they get out danger from the castle, they have to travel all the way to Berlin to get the diary.  But I do remember so distinctly the moment that Henry gets shot by Donovan.  If you see the way the shot is set up, it perfectly alludes to what is going to happen with both Henry and Indy framing Donovan.  But by drawing all of your focus on Donavan and Indy, Spielberg does a slight of hand so that the sound of the single shot causes a jolt up your spine.  

The shocks also have the funniest moments of all the Indiana Jones movies.  The set up and punchline to the Marcus Brody joke is so genius because of the way Ford commits in his performance and the way Spielberg used the camera with that intense push in to the absolutely jarring cut to the Iskendren marketplace.  There is also the wonderful wordless interplay that happens after Henry says "She talks in her sleep."  This was a place where Spielberg knew how to hold the moment just a little too long for comfort in order to maximize the laughs.

But my favorite surprise is like the best surprises because they are the ones that you should have seen coming but never do.  After Donovan chooses poorly, Indy has to find the grail.  He looks and says seven words that my young mind had never considered: "That is the cup of a carpenter."  And then Spielberg pans across and through all of the shiny golden goblets to find a humble non-metalic chalice sitting there.  Not only is this historically on-the-nose, but it is incredibly Christological.  Jesus lived a life of humble simplicity and so many people never realized that He truly is the Son of God.  

The McGuffin at the center of the story is the Holy Grail.  Here we once again see Spielberg's amazing respect for Christianity.  Never once does he take a cheap shot at Christ or the faith.  Everything is treated with reverence.  This culminates in one of my favorite scenes in any movie where Indy has to make the leap of faith.  Harrison Ford's performance is outstanding, where he has to take his life into his hands and trust that he will not fall.  I think of that moment often when God is calling me to put my trust into His hands.  Spielberg resists the common Hollywood urge to turn faith into gullibility and the story involves the hero helping others out of the darkness of belief.  Instead, Indy is brought into the light of faith.

But one of the things that makes this movie work is that it has more depth than it appears.  Spielberg often stated that the real McGuffin is not the Grail, but the relationship between the father and the son.  On a meta level, Indiana Jones was Spielberg's way of doing his own version of James Bond.  So both on screen and in real life James Bond "fathered" Indiana Jones.  But on a deeper level, it is about all fathers and sons.  If you look at Spielberg's earlier movies, you see a lot of un-idealized fathers.  You have ones who are criminals (Sugarland Express), those who abandon their families (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), and even horribly abusive ones (The Color Purple).  In Spielberg's own life, his parents had divorced when he was a child and growing up he put the blame on his own father for the failure of the marriage (not knowing that it was his mother who cheated).

In this movie, you can see Spielberg the man coming to terms with his own father.  Perhaps this was partly a reflection on his own fatherhood.  But the relationship between Indy and Henry feels so real because of all of the distance and closeness at the same time.  There is so much left unsaid between fathers and sons, but there is also a lot of room for adventure.  The quiet moment on the blimp where the two share a drink is so well executed and captures all of the little spaces that exist between fathers and sons.  

The story is about how the son has to continue the work of the father.  Indy literally has to finish his father's quest in order to save him.  But the true goal of the quest is not the "prize" as Ilsa thought.  Henry says that he received "illumination," something he prays for at the beginning of the movie.  But the Grail gave him the illumination to see that his real treasure was his son.  But it is deeper than this: he sees who his son really is.

The problem with parents and children is that children grow up.  But in the parents' eyes, you are still their child.  While the bond of love that this gives is wonderful and holy, it does cause an impediment for most fathers and sons.  Fathers can see their sons as their children, but they have a hard time seeing them as men, as equals.  Henry loves Indy in his own way and even as his affection grows, he still calls him "Junior."  

But then we have one of the best moments Spielberg ever filmed.

Indy tries to save Elsa, but her greed for the Grail pulls her away.  Ford does an amazing job as you hear the utter desperation in his voice for her to turn to him and give him her hand.  But her obsession takes her over and she falls to her doom.  As a kid seeing this movie in the theater, it was a shock that Indy would not save the girl.  

But then Indy falls over and Henry has his hand.  Immediately Indy reaches for the Grail.  I remember people in the theater back in 1989 started to laugh as he begins to ape Elsa's words all over again.  But Indy's obsession is different.  In that moment he isn't seeking personal glory.  He is trying to fulfill his father's dream.  And then comes the moment:

The music and sound fade out and very calmly, Henry calls his son "Indiana" for the first time.  This is a complete shock that pulls Indy out of his obsession.  For the first time in his life, his father looks at him and really sees him as the man he has become.  And then finally, Henry says, "Let it go."  Henry has in his hands the only prize he really needs: the man who is also his son.  Indy has to turn away from simply being a dutiful son and must embrace his father also as a man.  Spielberg films these few seconds with perfect framing, sound, music, and performance.  They have saved each other and their relationship.

This movie also has one of the few truly perfect endings.  With our heroes triumphant, they literally ride off into the sunset.  With the perfect use of John Williams iconic score, I can still see the silhouettes of Indy, Henry, Marcus and Sallah as they ride off west with the sun shining back at us.  If there as ever a more fitting final shot to a film, I'm not sure I've seen it.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is one of the reasons Spielberg really is the best filmmakers of all time.  He understands that art has the purpose to entertain and the elevate.  He is able to make the most profound mysteries of human relationships and present them in a bold and grand adventure.  

Chesterton says that "The Iliad is only great because all life is a battle,  The Odyssey because all life is a journey, The Book of Job because all life is a riddle."

Indiana Jones is great because it reminds us that all life is an adventure.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Film Flash: The Tragedy of MacBeth (Apple TV+)

 A king's head lies on top of a bloody sword.

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

One of the best Shakespeare movies I've seen.  Visually powerful nightmare.  Washington/ McDormand are amazing.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Sunday Best: STEVEN SPIELBERG MOVIES RANKED - #4 - Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan poster.jpg



The movie begins with an apology.

The opening scene of Saving Private Ryan begins with the World War II veteran walking the cemeteries of Normandy with his family.  He walks ahead in solitary remembrance ahead of his family.  He is isolated from them in a way that can never really be bridged.  He lived through something they will never fully understand.  As he walks, his son takes a photo and is promptly chastised.  This is Spielberg's Mea Culpa to his audience.  This is him acknowledging that he is only the photographer standing on hallowed ground.  While he wants to honor the memory of the heroes, he is someone who is forever on the outside of the Greatest Generation.

It has been nearly 25 years since this movie came out and it has lost none of its power.  To this day, it is considered the gold standard of modern war movies.  You also see all of Spielberg's skills as a director on display.  I am convinced that he won his 2nd Directing Oscar on the strength of the Normandy Invasion scene, and it is well deserved.

Very few movies have made me feel viscerally transported somewhere.  The storming of the beaches as presented in the movie is forever burned in my mind.  With no musical fanfare, gone is the illusion of any kind of glossy glory.  The opening dutch angle shot of the beach lets you know that you are about to enter a nightmare, from which you may not emerge.  But the only way to survive is forward.  Spielberg pulls no punches with that first moment the doors are lowered and have the transport boat is immediately mowed down by machine gun fire.  What follows is 20 minutes of the most riveting cinema in movie history.

At the front of it all is Tom Hanks, giving one of the best performances in an already amazing career. This would be the first time Hanks and Spielberg would work together and they would continue on with five collaborations so far.  Hanks gives a powerful and restrained performance that is a master class in stillness.  The final shot of Hanks at the end of that D-Day sequence is a marvel as the Spielberg trusts the actor enough to push the camera in so closely to his eyes.

The trust between director and actor can be seen in many little moments.  When Hank's Capt. Miller goes to report to the Colonel, you can see how he gazes at the unfair luxuries that certain soldiers get while he has to shut up and follow orders.  

The battle scenes are not the only places where Spielberg uses his talents.  Go back and watch the scene where Ryan's mother receives the notifications of her sons' deaths.  You see the brilliant use of reflection in the window and Spielberg's affinity of the single shot and it pans across and perfectly frames the event without a single word being said.  Notice too the contrast in color palate.  Home is this golden, heavenly place that is only dreamt of while living in the blue, drab nightmare of war.  This is summed up in that amazing silhouette shot of Miller standing by the barbed wire facing the tree.  That pastoral home life is so close and yet so far.

This movie also shows how Spielberg is a master of scale and detail.  He is able to convey the immensity of the Allied forces in a simple exposition scene between Miller and Sgt. Horvath (Tom Siezmore).  And even in the chaos, he will add extremely detailed moments that you will miss unless you do careful repeated viewing.  One of my favorites is a moment where battle medics are trying to save the Battalion surgeon.  One of the medics gets shot through the canteen.  The water begins to spill out, but then blood begins to flow.  The medic does not fall down in agony, but simply gets some bandages and tries to staunch his own bleeding.

The biggest flaw of the movie is that it is just a bit too long.  This is the beginning of Spielberg's inability to edit himself.  Some scenes drag out a bit and the final battle needs to be cut down by about 7-10 minutes.  Yet you can understand this flaw, because there is still so much that is good in those scenes that should have found their way on the cutting room floor.

Even returning to the title, there is a great deal revealed.  This isn't called Band of Brothers or Fighting the War or anything like that.  The verb is "saving."  When Spielberg talks about the World War II veterans he honors them by saying that they were the ones who ended the Holocaust.  And also notice that it isn't just saving "Ryan," but saving "Private Ryan."  The title goes out of its way to inform you of his rank, the lowest there is.  All of the blood and sacrifice is to save one man.  It is reminiscent of the themes of Schindler's List which asks how much is a person's life worth.

We, of course, are partially represented by Ryan.  The soldiers of the of World War II gave everything to save our lives.  And Spielberg and writer Robert Rodat make sure not to present them as simply brave and heroic.  These are average, everyday flawed young men who were forced to do a terrifying thing to save the world.  They are not saints.  But Spielberg recognizes in them the courage that earned their generation the title of greatest.  

This movie once again shows how Spielberg is a humanist in the best sense of the word.  He is able to show the humanity in all people.  Even the German sniper who targets our heroes has a few close-ups where we can see the look of fear and concern on his face and not that of a monster.  After another German soldiers slowly impales one of our heroes with his own knife, Spielberg allows us to see the disgust that fills him at the heinous act he commits.  And Spielberg once again shows such respect for religion in a way that few modern filmmakers do.  The crosses and stars of David filmed with great respect.  We get to see soldiers praying, kissing their crosses, quoting scripture, and we see brave priests hearing battlefield confessions. Spielberg shows us the fullness of the human experience in these extreme moments.

The world of Saving Private Ryan is one that is unfair.  You could be saved by a bullet one second to be killed by one seconds later.  Compassion can be your end.  As Caparzo (Vin Diesel) is moved to save a little girl, it costs him his life.  We see the same thing in Capt. Miller's decision with the soldier who killed Wade (Giovanni Ribisi).  In regards to the second case, there is no question it was the right thing to do, but in a world of war and injustice, the right thing can get you killed.  I amazed at the way Spielberg films the moment Miller gets shot.  It is done at such a distance that I imagine that many people may have missed it the first time.  But we see Miller from the point of view of "Steamboat Willie," the German soldier.  From his point of view, he cannot see the man who spared his life.  Through the fog and distance of war, he only sees an enemy to be killed.

For me though, the most impactful moment is the final moments of Miller on the bridge.  As the German tank begins to roll up, Miller takes out his pistol and he begins firing.  He does not fire in a blind rage.  Nor are his eyes filled with tears of sadness.  He simply does his soldier's duty and fires.  As a soldier and as a man he will fight until the end, though he has no hope.  

But when the tanks are destroyed you can see the look of relief and joy on Miller's face.  This comes not from hope for life, for he knows he is going to die.  But now he knows that he did not die in vain.  By defending the bridge he helped win the war.  And then he grabs Ryan and says "Earn this!"  That is Spielberg's message to all of us.  Earn the peace that was paid for by the blood of these brave soldiers.  Miller finds peace in death, as we can see with his no-longer-shaking hand.  The shot immediately then cuts to Ryan's hand.  The responsibility of the saving the world now falls to us.

When Ryan has to face the question of whether or not he has earned it, the most important thing to him is the question of his moral goodness.  He turns to his wife and says, "Tell me I'm a good man... Tell me I've lived a good life."  The greatest thing we can do to honor the sacrifice of others is to use our lives to make the world a better place.  It does not seem like Ryan cured some disease or invented a longer lasting light bulb.  But he earned their sacrifice by moral goodness.  

The movie begins and ends with the American Flag.  This is a story that is deeply patriotic.  It is an unflinching look into the horrors of war.  But it is also a mediation on the men who had to march into that hell for us.  And when we watch films about these men, even fictional ones like Saving Private Ryan, the movie reminds us that we stand on hallowed ground.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Why "The Amazing Spider-Man" is the Most Tragic


File:The Amazing Spider-Man theatrical poster.jpeg

Spider-Man has always been a tragic character.  It is one of the reasons that there is a such a devotion to him.  He has constant problems, great and small.  He has trouble with jobs, trouble with girls, trouble with school, trouble with rent.  These are all incredibly relatable.  But he also deals with crushing loss in love and in life.  

But the reason we love Spider-Man so much is that despite the tragedy, he continues to push forward and act as a friend to the neighborhood.

In the movies, we see this in his three live-action incarnations.  But the most tragic of all of them is Peter Parker from The Amazing Spider-Man series.

All of the Spider-Men are born in the crucible of loss.  The original and amazing ones both tragically lose Uncle Ben due to their apathy and inaction.  The MCU Spidey does not mention Ben, so we do not know what role, if any he played in his development as a hero.  

But in that loss, they start on a lonely journey that necessitates taking on a secret identity.  

The Tobey Maguire Spider-Man is burdened by this secret.  He will save people's lives, but then get fired because he cannot tell anyone it was him.  He wants to be with MJ, but he knows it will put her in danger.  In the final scene from the original movie, MJ pours out her heart to him and all he wants to do is give himself over to her.  It reminds me of a scene in the book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where Harry is under the invisibility cloak on his way to his death.  He sees Ginny and he wants to say goodbye, but he knows that she will talk him out of going.  And he wants her to talk him out of laying down his life, so he restrains himself for the greater good.  In a similar way, Peter sacrifices romantic happiness to keep her safe.

The MCU Spider-Man also tries to keep his identity a secret.  He desperately just wants to have a normal teenage homecoming dance.  But instead, he breaks Liz's heart and allows himself to be perceived as a jerk in order to do what is right.  He fortunately does have support from people who happen to find out who he is like Tony Stark, Ned Leeds, Happy Hogan, and Aunt May.  He does reveal his identity to his MJ, but not for his own happiness, but because he needs her help to save lives.

Back to Maguire's Spidey: Mary Jane does eventually discover his secret, but only through happenstance.  And even after this encounter, he tells her to forget about him and have a normal life.  But, knowing everything that a life with Spider-Man would entail, she chooses to be with him.  True, there are relationship problems that come up in the third movie, but it ends with the idea that she makes a free choice to accept the danger of the relationship.

When the MCU Peter has a chance to reveal himself to the memory-wiped MJ, he chooses not to.  This is a decision like the original Peter from the first movie, where he chooses her safety over his own happiness.

This brings us to The Amazing Spider-Man.

One of the biggest differences with him, and it is an important one, is that he reveals his identity to Gwen Stacey.  She does not discover it on her own or have it revealed for a greater good.  Peter is lonely and he is in love.  And so he reveals his biggest secret to the girl of his dreams so that he can have some level of happiness in his tragic life.

But this invites the worst tragedy.

Briefly, this Peter understands this when he makes a promise to Gwen's father to stay away.  But this Peter is also different in that he is a promise-breaker.  When you make a promise, you bind your character in a way that is uniquely human.  To break a promise is to break yourself.  

All of this may not be excusable, but it sure is understandable.  We all feel isolation and alienation, and Peter especially so.  It makes sense that he would want to cling to someone who could make all of that go away.  

But the great tragedy is that in many ways Gwen's death is his fault.

If she had found out on her own and then made the informed decision to stay with him, it would be less tragic.  It is true that after their break-up at the end of the first movie that she knowingly returns.  But that Peter knowingly pursues her, whereas the Peter from the original movie does not.  The original Peter still makes the sacrifice of love.  It is only after this when MJ returns that the decision is completely in her hands.  Gwen is pursued by her Peter.  If she was not, she would still be alive.

The nagging problem with the MCU Peter is that he makes a unilateral decision to not tell his MJ.  Unlike the original Peter who was holding back his own personal secret, the MCU Peter is withholding MJ's own memories against her original wishes.  It is true that he is choosing this sacrifice for her own good, but removing her agency may be a problem.  Regardless, his motive is still the same as the original Spider-Man: sacrifice my own happiness to keep those I love safe.

The reason why The Amazing Spider-Man is the most tragic is not because worse things happen to him.  He is the most tragic because his bad decisions lead to the tragedy.


Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Trailer Time: Moon Knight Teaser

I think Oscar Isaac is a fantastic actor.  I've been a fan of his ever since his turn as St. Joseph in The Nativity Story.  He also had a wonderfully roguish charm as Poe Dameron in the Star Wars sequels.  

Even though I am a comic book fan, I am not as familiar with Moon Knight.  However, I love the haunted, hunted portrayal I see in Isaac's performance.  It reminds me of Daredevil, where his power is also his curse.  

There is a funky feel to this show that could either work incredibly well or become horribly tedious.  Isaac's charisma held me throughout this trailer.  I also like how there is something incredibly mysterious about this person's life where things are not what they seem.

I am very interested in seeing more.


Monday, January 17, 2022

New Evangelizers Post: The Meaning of the Wedding at Cana



I have a new article up at  

The Gospel reading from this past Sunday’s mass was the story of the Wedding at Cana.

It is very intersting that the very first public miracle Jesus performed was a simple favor to a bride and groom at a wedding He was attending. The seeming reluctance of Christ to perform the miracle almost makes the story seem like a simple footnote to the Gospel story.

But there are many layers to the events at Cana that can give us amazing insight into Jesus and His mission.

The story begins “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana…” (John 2:1). If you add up the days from the beginning of John’s Gospel to the Wedding at Cana, it shows that the wedding occurs on the 6th day from the start. The parallels to Genesis are striking. Both Genesis and John’s Gospel start with the words “In the beginning…” so that the connection is not lost on any reader. In Genesis, the 6th day is when God created human beings. The ancient Jews always understood that God was the creator of marriage between the two so the 6th day in Genesis is also a wedding. And just like in Genesis, God is taking care of His people’s needs.

When the wine runs out, Mary tells Her son. He says, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” This “hour” is foreshadowed here for the first time. It is the hour when He will be glorified on the cross. In that moment, Mary will appear one more time in John’s Gospel, and once again, He will address her as “Woman.” This address is not an insult, but an insult, as could be mistaken in modern English. In ancient times, this was a polite way to address a woman.

Why is Jesus reluctant? John never directly explains why. But you can see that once He starts performing miracles, His life as a private Person is over. I’ve often read stories of modern celebrities who talk about coping with the loss of privacy when it comes to fame. I recall one person saying that one day no one knew who they were and the next photographers were following them to see what kind of toilet paper they were buying. As many perks as celebrity has, this is definitely a downside.

Once Jesus begins His ministry, as He knows He must, He will be swamped. In John 6, great crowds seek to make Him king, not because He is the Son of God, but because He gives them free food. And once He begins His ministry, He starts down the path that leads to the cross.

The last recorded words of Mary are in John 2. She says to the waiters, referring to Jesus, “Do whatever He tells you.” (John 2:5). As many holy people have pointed out, this is the entire function of Marian devotion: to direct us ever more to the Lordship of Jesus. And Jesus, though seemingly reluctant, will not deny anything that His Blessed Mother requests.

It says that there were “six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings…” (John 2:6). The number six is a symbol of imperfection. (If you are now asking why then is the world made in 6 days, it is because God blesses the world by resting on the seventh). The old covenant’s method of cleansing does not have the power to wash away sins. Only the power of Christ’s Blood can do this. The water will now be replaced by wine, which is a natural symbol for blood.

The parallel to the blood is found also in the book of Exodus. The first miracle demonstrating God’s power to Pharaoh occurs when all the water in the land turns to blood. And just lake at Cana, the transformation occurs not just in the rivers, but “even in the wooden pails and stone jars.” (Exodus 7:19). The transformation of water in stone jars to “blood” was the first sign that God has come and that our enslavement was soon at an end. Jesus is the new Moses who will set us free from sin.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Sunday Best: Spring Movie Season 2022

 We are in the odd time for theatrical movies.  Summer is when a number of the big blockbusters are released.  Fall and Winter are when we see more of the prestige pictures.  But the spring season is strange.  Yes, there are some bigger movies coming out, but it always feels like this is the time when studios keep their powder dry and get ready to fire their big guns later.

That isn't always the case.  Deadpool, I believe, was a February release.  And that film went on to do some amazing business.

So here are some of the movies that are coming out along with my level of excitement.  My ability to get out to the theater may be limited this time around.  But I will try to get to the ones that really excite me.

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

January 21st

Cyrano (****)
Cyrano poster.jpg

I think Peter Dinklage is a fantastic actor and I am sucker for a heart-felt musical.  The music from the trailers wasn't spectacular, but I liked it and I found it stuck in my head.  I like that this seems like it won't bee too overblown but focus on the emotion of the scenes.

Redeeming Love (**)
A man and a woman hold each other close.

It's an intersting idea but it feels like a theatrical version of a Lifetime Movie.

January 28

Morbius (***)
Morbius (film).jpg

Venom was some dark, but silly fun.  I'm hoping the same here, but Jared Leto is a bit off-putting, especially after his antics on the set of Suicide Squad were revealed.  It is visually very dark, but I hope it finds some of that Venom humor.

February 4

Moonfall (*)
Three American astronauts floating in space look towards the moon.

This look BAD!  The trailers make the movie feel so incredibly stupid that I find it hard to believe that it got made.
Jackass Forever (*)

Jackass Forever film poster.png

This feels like a movie by middle-aged men who don't realize that they are middle-aged men.  Having never watched the show, I have no interest.

February 11

Death on the Nile (*****)
Death on the Nile (2020 film) logo.png

I loved Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express, so I am very excited about his follow up.  Once again, he has an eclectic cast in an exotic location.  I have seen an older version of the film, so I hope that doesn't spoil the ending.

Uncharted (****)
Uncharted Official Poster.jpg

Fans of the game seem to think that Tom Holland is miscast.  I am unfamiliar, so I don't have any of that baggage.  I've heard people say that they love Brendan Frasier's Mummy movies because they allow you to turn off your brain and just have fun.  While I don't feel that way about that franchise, I get the vibe that this might fit the bill.  

March 4

The Batman (*****)
Batman bearing his traditional black batsuit stands in the rain surrounded by red light with the film's logo, title and release date beneath him.

The one thing that I have really been wanting to see in a Batman movie is seeing how he is the world's greatest detective.  While all the trailers have been focusing on the action, I hold out hope that this will be a smart, cat-and-mouse mystery.

March 18 

Unbreakable Boy (***)

Telling the story of a boy with brittle bone disease, this looks like a nice, uplifting family film.  And that is not a bad thing from time to time.

Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre (**)
Operation Fortune.jpg

The premise looks kind of fun: spies must get a weapon's dealers favorite movie star to infiltrate his organization.  The cast is quirky enough to potentially make this work.

Downton Abbey: A New Era (*)
Downton Abbey A New Era.jpg

I stopped watching this show sometime in the 4th season so I have no interest in where they are now.

March 25

The Lost City (***)

This movie looks silly, and potentially stupid.  But I'm willing to gamble on Sandra Bullock giving us a pleasing, funny comedy.

April 8

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (*)
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 film poster.jpg

I've heard only good things about the first, but since I haven't seen it, I don't intend on seeing the second yet.

Ambulance (**)
A poster featuring the faces of two men and one woman. Underneath them is an ambulance being pursued by the police. The title, "Ambulance", is also present with the letters "LA" in a different color, noting that the story takes place in Los Angeles.

The directing and performances look good, but this is a story that doesn't seem to have many surprises.  It feels like an extended version of police procedural TV show

April 15

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (***)
Fantastic Beasts, The Secrets of Dumbledore teaser poster.png

It think this series has a structural problem by creating a 5-movie series instead of a trilogy.  It was only at the end of the 2nd film that the main story seems to progress.  I am curious as to where it is going and especially because I love the character of Kowalski that I will probably see it in the theater.

April 22

The Northman (*)
The Northman.png

I saw some people who were very excited about this film.  It does seem to have a bold visual style, but it looks so bleak and dreary that I have little interest.


Friday, January 14, 2022

Don't Read This Blog

 I was watching a video that has been making the rounds on the interwebs in which a host of a show said that if people didn't like their show then they shouldn't watch.

This reminded me of an interview a few years ago when a writer on a comic book was asked about their very outspoken political views.  This person's response was "If you don't like my politics, don't buy my book."

My first reaction to this is that this is a horrible business model.  In a world of consumer-driven entertainment, there is a constant struggle for more people to experience and purchase your art.  There are not an unlimited number of customers.  I am not a businessman and do not have any business training.  But I do work at a private school where we depend on people spending their hard-earned money on a not-inexpensive education.  We are not merely a business.  We are dedicated to building up the kingdom of God with the students and parents in our community.  But I do my best to respond quickly to any parent question or concern because these are still my customers who pay my salary.  

But I think there is a deeper issue with rejecting an audience.  I believe it was one of the above people who also stated that they didn't want members of a particular political party in their audience.  This I find more disturbing, and not from a business perspective.

I am a writer.  In the grand internet eco-system, this is a very small pond.  But I write online because I want as many people as possible to read these words.  I expect that not everyone agrees with me and that is fine.  

I've mentioned in the past that, like the person mentioned earlier, I have very strong political convictions.  But if you notice, I almost never bring them up here.  The reason for that is because political divisions tend to create immediate walls to conversation.  Once someone talks about supporting Democrats or Republicans, it becomes incredibly easy to tune them out.  But I don't want that.  I want people to read what I have to say because I think it has value.

The only times where I delve into that mine-field are in places where my faith compels me.  I have written about controversial things here like abortion, euthanasia, and upholding the integrity of marriage.  These are hills that I will die on.  If I lose readers, so be it.

But though I am resolved to keep my religious convictions rather than readers, I still do not want to lose those readers.  Even if you disagree with me, I want you to read my work.  That is the entire purpose of dialogue.

There are many reasons why Plato was wise in writing his philosophical works in the form of dialogues.  One of the most important reasons is that it opens up the world of philosophy in a way that is dramatic and easy to understand.  But one of the other reasons is that he taught us through Socrates that real learning occurs through dialogue.  We grow when we encounter ideas that are not our own and we can engage with them and test them to see if they are true or false or somewhere in between.

I could not imagine saying something akin to "I don't want you to read my work unless you completely agree with me."  That would imply that I have so little confidence in my ideas that I don't think I can convince you to agree.  

Perhaps I am being uncharitable to the people mentioned above.  Perhaps they merely wish to be free of those that they perceive as harassing them.  But what better way to reduce the number of antagonists in your life than to open them to your ideas and change their minds.

One of the most amazing stories I have ever seen on the internet is the story of Daryl Davis.  He is a black blues musician who makes friends with members of the KKK.  Davis goes out of his way to encounter members of this white supremist hate group.  He would sit down with them one-on-one and ask them why they held their racist views.  Through dialogue and friendship, Davis rescued over 200 men from a life of racist hatemongering.  Could you imagine if Davis refused to engage, how many of these men would still be lost?

One of the things that bothers me too about telling people not to encounter your art is that it sounds almost like a purity test.  Unless someone meets your particular moral standards, then they are not worthy to experience the precious jewels of your creativity.  Again, I may be more than a little uncharitable in my interpretation, but this impression is sticking with me.  It would be incredibly arrogant of me to place myself above my audience and not see myself as either an equal in dialogue or even a servant, looking to make their lives better.  

As a theology teacher, I try my best to engage in open dialogue with my students.  There are places where I must take a firm stand on what the faith teaches, but I try to listen to where there are spiritually and respond to their needs.  I would never tell them: "If you don't like this teaching, then leave this school."

Closing the door on others to encounter your art only means closing the door to opening their minds and hearts.  Whenever you put yourself out there in an artistic or creative way, you are vulnerable to criticism and rancor.  That is part of the price of encounter other people in a fallen world.  But if we want to reach each other, we are going to have to be open to each other and invite others to hear us.

For that reason, I will never say to you: "Don't read this blog."

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Sunday Worst: Bizarro Awards 2021

  My good friend the Doctor said that I should do a parallel list to my Kal-El Awards that reflect to worst in pop culture from the year.  He suggested that I call them the "Lenny Luthors" after the horrible Jon Cryer character from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.  The rational for choosing Lenny was that "he is terrible in every way that Superman is awesome."

I liked the idea, but I thought instead of Lenny Luthor we would name the awards after the true opposite of Superman:


Bizarro is the anti-Superman, literally.  He even maintains speech patterns that are the opposite of what he means.  "Good-bye, me am not Bizarro.  Me like you!  Live!"  said by Bizarro actually means "Hello, I am Bizarro.  I hate you! Die!"

So since Superman is my mark of excellence.  Bizarro will be my mark of utter awfulness.   Unlike the Kal-El awards, these will be focused only on movies.  The reason is that serialized work like television and comics require a longer time commitment in order to understand the material.  You may have to watch a show or read a comic for several months before you discover if it is truly bad or good.  It took me a few episodes to understand the logic behind Vincent D'Onofrio's performance in Daredevil.  The investment of time and/or money also precludes a lot of unnecessary sampling, so my exposure to bad material is a bit less.

With a movie, you can have a complete understanding of the product after 90-180 minutes.  So I only have two TV categories:

-Worst TV Show I Stopped Watching
-Worst TV Show I Still Watch

In both of these cases I will be giving my critical condemnation of shows about which I have some significant experience and thus have a basis for calling them critical failures

So now, here are the Bizarro Awards for movies this past year.  (based on the movies I have seen).


The Suicide Squad

This is a movie that swings for the fences and misses big time.  I know others who disagree, and I respect that.  But for me, I was horribly disappointed and disgusted by this film.

James Gunn is someone who has really horrible instincts.  His aesthetic and moral compass in movies is completely out of phase with mine.  His Guardians of the Galaxy is a truly incredible movie because he was restrained by the Marvel machine and forced to be creative.  Given a PG-13 rating, and given the overall vibe fo the MCU, Gunn had to use his powers as a writer/director to deliver something appropriate for most audiences.

When DC took the guard rails off, we got The Suicide Squad: a movie that is dark and disgusting and one those is intentionally ugly and nihilistic.  Don't get me wrong: there is a place for R-Rated, mature content comic book films.  Deadpool, Watchmen, and Logan have proved that.  But Gunn's movie revels in its grossness to the point where there is almost nothing likable or redeemable by anyone or anything in the story.  

This is the second year in a row that a Harley Quinn movie has won the dubious honor of worst film of the year.  Margot Robbie continues to have the unfortunate honor of being one of the best things in terrible movies.

10. Fatherhood
9. Mortal Kombat
8. Coming 2 America
7. Army of the Dead
6. Trial of the Chicago 7
5. Tick, Tick, Boom
4. Gunpowder Milkshake
3. The Woman in the Window
2. The Dig
1. The Suicide Squad


Taika Waititi - Free Guy


Everything Waititi does in this movie is terrible.  

He is a walking 1-dimensional sketch of a movie bad guy.  That in and of itself is forgivable.  But Waititi does it so badly that he literally sucks the enjoyment out of every scene he is in.  What makes it all the more frustrating is the apparent utter obliviousness of his own annoyingness.  This is summed up for me in a moment when someone says something he doesn't like and his response is "Whatchoo talkin' about, Willis?"  It is delivered so horribly that it makes every utterance of this catchphrase by the late Gary Coleman look like comedic genius.  


Leslie Jones - Coming 2 America

Jones was the best part of the 2016 Ghostbusters, where she was able to break through a lot of the milquetoast, cringe comedy with her bold performance.  Here, she gets completely lost in the shuffle.  Her performance typified everything that went wrong with this sequel: the characters did not become funnier, only louder.  Unlike the actor playing her son, Jones did not come off as anything like a real character, but, like I mentioned above with Waititi, only the sketch of a real person.


Simon Stone - The Dig

The number one cinematic sin for me is simply this: boredom.

Do not bore me.  I try to find something good in films that I find problematic, but if the movie is boring, I begin to completely disengage.  And this was the case with The Dig.  The film also had some odd moral issues, but I couldn't get worked up enough about it to care.  Director Stone leads the camera along these long, dreary shots that are supposed to have artistic value.  And while he does find the odd nugget of cinematic beauty, the overall effect is that we never really get into the story.  He does the annoying thing where he uses a voice over of a conversation while the main characters are sitting together silent.  All this serves to do is make us think that the conversation wasn't interesting enough to be shown.


James Gunn - The Suicide Squad

As I wrote in my review:

I remember when they first announced James Gunn to direct Guardians of the Galaxy.  I thought he was a terrible choice.  His previous movies of his that I had seen were gross and disturbing.  I did not think that he had the sensibilities for a super hero film.  Fortunately, I was proven wrong and Guardians became one of the best super hero films ever made.  But now I know the reason:

James Gunn was restrained.

One of the reasons that a lot of big name directors do not want to work with Marvel is because the studio had tight controls over their properties and the content of their films.  The franchise is accused of being bland because of this, but it also prevents a director from taking the series off the rails.  

Restraint can be the biggest help to creativity.  You need look no further than Jaws, where Steven Spielberg took a B-movie plot and turned it into a masterpiece because he was forced to be creative rather than explicit.  But when you remove these boundaries, you can get an indulgent mess.

And that is what we have with The Suicide Squad.

I was not a huge detractor of of David Ayer's original Suicide Squad the way many critics were.  It is not a bad movie, but it is a little bland (apparently Ayer's original version was cut up much the same way Snyder's Justice League was).  But one of the big critics of that film from others was that it did not embrace a full R-Rated vision for the characters.  And this new film goes to the extreme.


Coming 2 America

Unlike years past, this category is filled by a movie that is not explicitly anti-Christian.  I tended to avoid films this year that denigrated the faith.  The only reason this movie is here is because of the way it portrayed Reverend Brown.  I'm not even sure that scene is anti-Christian per se, since we cannot deny the presence of those who use religion for illicit gain.  But of all the films I have seen this year, this was the one that took the most explicit hit at religion.


The Suicide Squad

From my review:

In once scene, members of the team are sent to retrieve Flagg, who has been taken by soldiers in the woods.  They are ordered to make sure there are no witnesses.  What follows is an action sequence here the squad proceed to sneak up and kill a number of soldiers until they reach Flagg.  But the twist is that Flagg is fine.  He isn't captured.  He has been taken in by the nation's freedom fighters.  This realization is a punchline to the scene, meant for laughs.  But I was instead filled with disgust.  Our protagonists just murdered several people over several minutes.  Not only do they not care, but these people's lives are treated as a joke.

Throughout the movie, squad members seem to hold a line against killing children.  All well and good, but any other innocent adult is fair game.  I realize our squad have to remain villains of some kind, but I lose any reason to vote for them.

And as I wrote in another post:

 So why did people like Deadpool and not The Suicide Squad?  Because Deadpool, with its meta comedy and fourth-wall-breaking style lets you know that you can wink at the comedy. And (this is important), Deadpool only kills bad guys.  True, non-villains do die horrifically for laughs (see X-Force).  But Deadpool doesn't kill them directly and he saves the nicest one in the post-credits scene.  The Suicide Squad plays for laughs the deaths of innocents and the heroes.  When one of the main characters gets killed as a punchline, the message is "Hey, we don't care about our characters." And neither will the audience.



From my review:

The reason I gave the show a chance was because of one scene in the trailer.  Ava is whining to Deborah about how good she is.  Deborah wheels around and says that being good is the bare minimum to have any future in this industry.

It reminded me of The Devil Wears Prada, where the older, prickly mentor helped the snobbish assistant get over herself and find her esteem in being competent at her job (at least that's how I understood the theme of that movie).  

Instead, every episode was simply Ava being a horrible person and expecting everyone to fall over themselves gushing about how wonderful she is.  At one point someone calls her out on this, saying that she always thinks she knows what's best for them, but doesn't have her own life figured out.  I've found this to be a trick that a lot of modern movies and shows are using: having someone point out the main character's biggest flaw so that the audience will excuse it.  But being aware of your vices is not the same as growing out of them.  Ava has an amazingly, narcissistic sense of her own worth as a comedian.

The worst part about it is that she isn't funny at all.

I know that humor is subjective, but everything she says is tinged with nastiness.  And throughout the episodes I've watched, her advice comes down to being even nastier and more stringent.  On top of this, the show constantly and inexplicably virtue signals with the strangest non-sequiturs.  At one point, Ava gets angry at Deborah and shouts at her "I hope you donate to Planned Parenthood."  It was such an odd, out of nowhere statement that assumes the virtue of helping kill unborn children.


Saturday Night Live

(Below are my comments from last two years, but they still apply to this year)

I still hold out hope that in 90 minutes of television there may still be at least 5 minutes of good humor.  But it takes a lot of endurance through horrible sketches to come across a gem like "Crucible Cast Party."

Every once in a while there is a sketch that is actually insightful and funny, like the Game Show "Republican or Democrat?"  But most of the time I watch the sketch for the first minute and a half until I find out what the gag is.  Most of the time it is a miss, rather than a hit.

Political comedy is tricky, unless you are only looking to find the funny.  Johnny Carson was the all-time king because he made fun of everyone and everyone from all sides of the aisle could laugh at their own political party.  But if you get a sense that one side is being mocked over another, a lot of that good will is lost.  And since SNL tends to lean heavily into its politics, this makes it a slog to watch.

Monday, January 3, 2022

New Evangelizers Post: Living in the Real World



I have a new article up at  

I recently saw a nice little movie called Ron’s Gone Wrong, which was a parable about how technology and social media have created a deeper sense of depression and alienation in children. For those of us who were raised before the dawn of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, TikTok and the like, it can be very difficult to grasp the power that these platforms have on young minds. For many, their main interaction with the world is virtually.

They look at what other people post on social media and they think that this gives them a real insight into who these people are. The interactions they have with people sometimes substitute the genuine affections that come from authentic human relationships.

Very often, those who do not live and die by social media will challenge those who do to unplug and to live “in the real world.” The echo chamber of Twitter and Facebook, along with its vitriol, are not how most human beings interact. The lifestyle projected by Instagram and TikTok are often carefully constructed facades. They are digital illusions. To be sure, you can learn a great deal about a person from what they post online. But there is too much digital interference to get to know them in a truly real way.

To live in the “real world” means to live in the world as it actually is and not as we simply perceive it to be. We try to look beyond the social media likes and connect to someone we actually like. We look beyond the facade that is projected to see the the person underneath. Instead of the short hand of texting and emojis, living in the real world means having human conversations where people actually say things to one another.

If I appear to be being overly negative on those who use social media, that is not my intent. I think it the internet can be a wonderful tool for evangelization. To deny its downsides, however, would be a serious mistake. To live in denial of the real world is a kind of insanity and it is one that should be avoided.

Unfortunately, that is how many of us are living.

And this time, I am not referring to social media.

Many of us live as if this world is all there is. Even those of us who are live lives of faith, we still act as if this material world is all there is.

But it is not.

As I am writing this, I am preparing to go back to teaching after Christmas vacation. One of my favorite parts about time off from school is that I get to spend almost all of my time with my wife. As this time is drawing to a close, I am filled with a sense of sadness. I know that time is ticking away and that I do not know how many days ahead we will have. One day, our time in this world will end. As a result I jealously desire more and more time with her and become quite melancholy when this time is over.

But that is because I am not living in the real world.

In the real world, the truly real world, our time on this earth is but a moment. It is a breath before the deep plunge of all eternity. If God is merciful to a sinner like me, then I do not have to worry about losing time with my wife. Any time we lose here will be found forever together in Heaven.

Jesus constantly called us to reorient out thinking to live in the real world. Like those who are trapped by social media, we have a tunnel vision when it comes to living in this world. Years ago when my family was going through financial hardship, I was gripped by horrible anxiety.

But Jesus says ” And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28-31)

We live in the illusion that this material world is the end all be all in the same way that many today see social media as the end all be all. But Christ wants to give us light to see the big picture. If God really is in control, then we should not be afraid.

During that time, an image came to me in prayer. I imagined myself being dangled over a great abyss. God then asked me to choose how I should be held up. I could either choose the strongest chains forged by man or I could choose the slenderest thread held by God. In my meditation, I would tell the Lord that I would choose the slenderest thread because He was stronger than any human chain.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Sunday Best: Catholic Skywalker Awards: BEST IN MOVIES 2021

  With 2021 coming to a close, it is time for us to choose what the best entertainment of the year was.  And just as the Academy Awards have their "Oscars", so too the Catholic Skywalker Awards have their "Kal-El's"

 I have gone through as many movies as possible this year. There were several that I missed and so was unable to place.  Theaters still have not fully recovered and there were a number of films that made their debuts streaming rather than theatrically.  For that reason, as I did last year, I have included them in this list.

So of the movies  I've seen this year, here are the winners:

(My appreciation and judgment of a film should not be taken as a recommendation. Choosing to watch any of these films is the reader's responsibility)



The winners and their reasons for some of the awards below necessitate revealing things from Spider-Man: No Way Home that are not necessarily common knowledge and were not revealed in any of the advertisements.  so be fairly warned:



Spider-Man: No Way Home

If you are surprised by this pick of mine for Best Movie, so am I.

Going into the theater, I thought Spider-Man: No Way Home would be a fun Marvel adventure.  On that front, I was not disappointed.  But the movie was much better than I had anticipated.

Martin Scorsese criticized super hero movies as something closer to theme park rides than cinema.  I understand what he is saying, but I think his point misses out on the magic of the ride.  When you are on a thrill-ride, you lose yourself for the briefest of moments and become engrossed in an overwhelming emotion.  This is not an easy thing to accomplish in a movie, but No Way Home did that.  There were times, even upon multiple viewings, that I was filled with a sense of excitement and happiness.

But it isn't just hollow spectacle.  The movie is actually trying to say something.  As I wrote in my review:  

Also from my review: "The movie also deals with the question of heroes and villains in a way I don't think I've seen handled well enough in most movies.  Peter is young and optimistic enough to believe that villains can be redeemed.  Is he right?

That is the question at the heart of this movie.  It reminds of the feeling I had when I first saw Return of the Jedi when I realized that Luke was a greater hero than I ever imagined because instead he chose redemption of Vader over revenge on Vader.  

There is something incredibly Christ-like at the center of that question.  Peter is told at one point that the deaths of these villains are a small price to pay for the greater good.  But Peter, being innocent and uncorrupted by cynicism, sees each of these villains as persons.  We are called by Christ to look at each person as made in the Image and Likeness of God.  This is a dangerous thing.  While amazing good can come from this, people can still make evil choices.  Christ was merciful and He was crucified for it.  Peter is merciful.  And there is a cost."

Usually at this point, most creators would take the heroic figure and try to deconstruct him (as they did with Luke Skywalker in the Sequel Trilogy).  But instead, the makers of No Way Home decided to multiply the heroism and push him even further.  While young in the MCU, the story shows that Peter is the hero among heroes.  There is a reason that Spider-Man is the THE flagship Marvel character.  This movie shows you why.

All of these themes are explored while engaging in a finely plotted film.  This is a coming of age story for the MCU.  The trappings of childhood from the earlier part of the trilogy are left behind as Peter grows into a man.

I will speak about the performances more later, but they also meet the level of ambition that this movie has.  Of all the Spider-Man films mad so far, this is best.  And it is also the best film of the year.

Zach Snyder's Justice League
Those Who Wish Me Dead

Denis Villeneuve - Dune

I have had my eye on Villeneuve ever since I was blown away by Arrival.  This was a director who knew how to handle high concept science fiction in a way that did not feel cheap or dumbed-down.  Dune shows that Villeneuve knows the importance of visual spectacle, but in a way that makes the world of Dune feel more real and not less real.  In my original review, I compared him to Peter Jackson on The Lord of the Rings and I stand by that.  Jackson grounded Middle-Earth in such a concrete reality that the emotional realism came ringing through the fantastic elements.  The same is true for Villeneuve's Dune.  His ships, costumes, creatures, and cultures are all things that I have never seen before but carry something eerily familiar, the way all good fantasy should feel.

All the while, Villeneuve uses all of this to tell a complex and engaging story with rich performances.  Dune is a notoriously difficult book to adapt, but Villeneuve made something quite beautiful .

John Krasinski - A Quiet Place Part II
Zack Snyder - Zack Snyder's Justice League
Sian Heder - CODA
Jon Watts - Spider-Man: No Way Home

Tom Holland - Spider-Man: No Way Home


I really think that this will be one of the most overlooked performances of the year.  Holland's youth play against him as well has his ability to play decency and goodness the way he does.  Recognition tends to go to dark and villainous actor portrayals.  There is an innocence to his Peter Parker that can be mistaken a naiveté.  But Holland takes you on a complete emotional journey.  The first half of the film shows us pretty much the same Peter we've known and loved for the last few years.  But in the second half, Holland shows us what he's made of.

He not only has to show you his heroic resolution, but he has to show you this while covering it in a veil of youth and inexperience.  When he finally has to stand up to Dr. Strange, Holland shows you the internal agony without being too showy.

And when the time comes for overwhelming emotion, Holland knows when to show restraint and when to let go.  The look of shock in his eyes has he stands hopeless in the rain is stunning.  But when he finds safety with his best friends, he lets himself be a broken child.

In the last few minutes of the movie, Holland stands differently than before.  He his still has his youthfulness, but there is a quiet maturity present in his performance that so difficult to capture.  

Holland had to hold the emotional center of this epic and he did so amazingly.

Timothee Chalamet - Dune
Bob Odenkirk - Nobody
Denzel Washington - The Little Things
Will Smith - King Richard

Emelia Jones - CODA

From my review of CODA:
Emilia Jones is utterly fantastic.  As emotional as it is, she knows how to pull her feelings in reserve.  She feels like the average teenager going through deep internal struggles.  You always get the sense that she can never be truly herself either at home or in public and that she always has to play a part.  Normally if a movie has a conflict between a teenagers artistic dreams and responsibilities to the family, I am very critical of the teenager (see my review of Blinded by the Light).  But Jones makes me feel her frustration and the need to break away. 

Jones allows for the emotional build up of her character to come forward at just the right time.  And all the while she lets us see the wonderful contradictions of her feelings towards all of the different characters.  When interacting with her parents, she feels a million different things at once, from pride to embarrassment, from love to frustration, and everything in between.  And all the while she is trying to hold all of her emotions in check so that she can be the door to the outside world for the family she loves.  This is a fantastic performance from a young actress that should hopefully get more recognition in the years to come.

Kristen Bell - Queenpins
Emily Blunt - A Quiet Place Part II
Angelina Jolie - Those Who Wish Me Dead
Kaitlyn Dever - Dear Evan Hansen

Andrew Garfield - Spider-Man: No Way Home

Of the many unexpected things from Spider-Man: No Way Home, I did not expect the impact that Andrew Garfield would have on the story and the emotion of the film.  Sharing 30 minutes of screen time with Tobey Maguire, Garfield used every second to stick the landing on his version of the character.

Garfield's Peter sets himself in complete distinction from the other two with his overly emotional take on the character.  His Peter feels things more deeply and is more open about his emotions in a way that the other two are not.  He performs the role that a supporting actor should: he enlivens the whole movie while highlighting everything great about the main character.

At the same time, Garfield uses every ounce of his charm and humor to win us over.  When he gets hit in the chest with some bread, the way he tilts his head and shrugs his shoulders endears you to him completely.  It makes complete sense that of the three Peters, he would blurt out "I love you guys!" at the most seemingly inappropriate time.  

But the greatest moment is when Garfield's Peter is able to have his redemption moment.  He has only seconds to convey all of the feelings he has and he is able to do it a completely believable way.

If this is end of Garfield's time as Spider-Man, he will be remembered fondly for the way he stuck the landing.

Vince Vaughn - Queenpins
Jon Bernthal - Those Who Wish Me Dead
Oscar Isaac - Dune
JK Simmons - The Tomorrow War

Rebecca Ferguson - Dune

The character of Lady Jessica is incredibly difficult to play.  She is a woman torn between several worlds and there are thousands of ways for her to react to any given situation that could be the best.  Ferguson chooses the best path, which is to show you both the outer strength of the character and her internal vulnerability.  

Jessica has to be strong for her son and husband, but her divided loyalties to the Bene Gesserit are constantly at war with her heart.  This causes her intense fear that Ferguson constantly shows us Jessica controlling.  Rather than play her as an unfeeling robot, Ferguson's Jessica is woman who uses ever ounce of her will power to hold her fear in check in order to giver her family a fighting chance.  All the while, she carries a regal, noble posture in her body language in an incredibly effective way.

Amy Adams - Dear Evan Hansen
Marlee Matlin - CODA
Millicent Simmons - A Quiet Place Part II
Marisa Tomei - Spider-Man: No Way Home

Sian Heder – CODA

While this movie is an adaptation of a foreign film, Heder does an excellent job of adapting to an American audience.  I like the fact that she knows when to give and withhold the sentiment.  Her Mr. Villalobos could have come off as too strict or too saintly.  But he has just the right balance of believability.  She also handles the antagonistic forces in Ruby's life in a very balanced way.  With the exception of some "mean girls" at school, all of the main obstacles that Ruby has to deal with are also sources of love and affection.  She writes Ruby as a girl drowning because she is attached to anchors that love her.  This gives her story so much more humanity than many movies out there today.

Spider-Man: No Way home
Those Who Wish Me Dead


Unlike the original version from the 1980's the makeup here is not done to distract, but instead to enhance the reality of this fantastical world.  

Spider-Man: No Way Home
The Suicide Squad



There were a lot of movies with amazing special effects this year.  But the movie that used them the best was Dune.  The effects brought a concrete reality to a world an alien and fantastic world and thus made it easier to emotionally invest in the story.

Spider-Man: No Way Home
The Suicide Squad

Hans Zimmer - Dune

I loved the haunting score that Zimmer composed for this movie that made something set in the far future feel ancient and timeless.

Spider-Man: No Way home


There are a lot of things that could look silly in Dune, which did look silly in the original version.  But the costumes here feel very lived-in and authentic to each culture that you encounter.

Spider-Man: No Way Home
Free Guy

"You Will Be Found" - Dear Evan Hansen

This song is the emotional heart of the movie.  It is sad and powerful and uplifting.  This is the moment that Evan "goes viral," and you could understand why.  My wife said that she wished the movie had ended here on a positive high-note.  It is a real show-stopper.

Below are the list of all the films of 2021 that I have seen, ranked in order of excellence:

Spider-Man: No Way Home
Zack Snyder's Justice League
Those Who Wish Me Dead
Dear Evan Hansen
Ghostbusters Afterlife
A Quiet Place Part II
The Tomorrow War
8-Bit Christmas
American Underdog
King richard
A Week Away
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Black Widow
Free Guy
Red Notice
Godzilla vs. Kong
No Time to Die
The Little Things
The Starling
Mortal Kombat
Coming 2 America
Army of the Dead
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Tick, Tick, Boom
Gunpowder Milkshake
The Woman in the Window
The Dig
The Suicide Squad

So that is my list and the conclusion of this year's Catholic Skywalker Awards.