Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Catholic Skywalker Ten-Year Anniversary - Jakob's Ladder

 This is post is very dear to my heart.  It is also one of the most read posts on this blog.  This makes me happy because it means more people got to hear Jakob's story and experience a small part of what made him so special.  

I hope you will revisit his story again:

Jakob's Ladder

Life is unfair.

That is one of the hardest truths to learn.  And even when things happen to us that reinforce this, we feel shocked and surprised. 

There are many bad things that happen to us in life that we can trace back to our own sinful behavior: our addictions overtake us, our lies catch up to us, our laziness robs us of opportunities, and many other such things.

But there are times when horrible things happen no fault can be found at its cause.

That's what happened my student, Jakob, was diagnosed with cancer.

Less than two years ago, Jakob received the news towards the beginning of his junior year.  I had him as a freshmen and he was always kind and quick with a smile.  I never heard anyone, faculty or student, have a negative word about him. 

No one ever deserves something like cancer.  But it feels especially egregious when it falls on someone so young, with so much life ahead of them.  The path of life ahead appears to be cut short.

The original diagnosis left us feeling more optimistic about treatment.  But things did not go as hoped.

Treatments weren't having the effect desired.  Jakob was even admitted to an experimental program out on the west coast that had great potential.  But his cancer would not abate.

I would often think of Jakob and how each kind of obstacle was thrown in his way.  He was originally in the hospital for a fractured vertebrae.  Then came the cancer diagnosis.  After that there was the hopeful prognosis, followed by the decline.  There was the experimental treatment, but the results were not what was desired.  Every time it seemed like there was a path forward for him, a new stumbling block was thrown in front of him.

Perhaps I am too self-centered, but I could not help imagining how I would cope in such a position.  As I have gotten older, more anxiety and fear has crept into my life.  When the smallest thing goes wrong, my stomach turns and my mind goes a whirligig.  The thought of facing such an enormously painful challenge as cancer gives me such pause.

But then I saw Jakob.

Right before Valentine's Day this past year, there was a prayer service for Jakob at my parish.  He was there, standing tall.  He had grown into a man.  His hair was gone was wearing a medical mask to protect himself from infections, a side effect of his treatments.

We prayed as a community, but then Jakob came up to the pulpit and spoke.  He kept apologizing for his lack of eloquence.  He wasn't there to give a fancy speech or turn a poetic phrase.  He said in words plain and firm that he was good.  And he was good because he knew that God was with Him the entire time.

Sometimes we talk about God's blessings or His presence like easy pleasantries, as simple as saying "God bless you" at a sneeze.  We tell people we will pray for them and often we enter our prayers with distracted minds, not allowing His presence to with us.

God's presence was with Jakob.

I saw it as clear as day.  I wish I had words to describe it.  There was something so beautiful and peaceful in his soul, like a still sunrise over the mountains.  It was not fancy, it was not ornamented.  But it was real.  Its lack of polish gave it more substance.  He wasn't some distant saintly figure you only read about.  He was real.  He was right in front of us.  I knew I was in the presence of holiness.

It is a cliche to say that teachers learn more from their students.  In Jakob's case, that is the truth.  Jakob taught me what a real, lived faith looks like.  He taught me how to suffer in a way that brings hope and not despair.  He taught me that it isn't about how long we spend on earth but how we live while we are here.

And he taught me that if God is with you, there are no stumbling blocks on our path.  We are so laser- focused on our plans and our goals ahead of us, that we don't look above.  Jakob did not see stumbling blocks.  He saw stepping stones.  Each one was a step that led him not to a life ahead but a life above.  He turned those stumbling blocks into rungs on a ladder that led him to God.

Yesterday, Jakob reached the top of that ladder. 

He is with God now and can enjoy His presence without the cross he carried so bravely.

Please pray for his family.  While he is at peace, the ones who are left behind must now mourn.  But just as God is with him, Jakob will be with us.  In Christ, we know that death does not get the last say.

He will be us until we walk beside once more after we all climb Jakob's Ladder.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Film Review: Elvis (2020)


Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Mature

Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

Have you ever watched one of those TV specials that begins with a rapid and sweeping musical montage to give you a taste of the artist's life?

Now, imagine that montage going on for two-and-a-half hours and you now have the experience of what it was like watching Elvis.

Baz Luhrmann has always been a director who has valued style over substance.  It worked very well in Moulin Rouge! and moderately well in Gatsby.  It was awful in Romeo + Juliet.

Sadly, Luhrmann's directing style fails to make a good Elvis movie.

Most biopics have inherent challenges to telling a coherent narrative.  When writing about the entire life of a person, how do you encapsulate it in a satisfying three-act structure?  Movies like Lincoln side-step this problem by a selecting a snippet within that historical figure's life that could be molded to a satisfying story.

With Elvis, Luhrmann makes the same mistake that Spielberg did with The Post: he takes an incredibly interesting story and he tells it from the least interesting perspective.  

The movie is narrated by Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), the corrupt promoter for Elvis Preseley (Austin Butler).  It follows Parker's discovery of Elvis at one of his early concerts where his unique dancing style awakened the libidos of all the women in the crowd.  Parker attaches to Presley like a parasite and builds him up so that he could feed on him throughout his entire career until the king is bled dry.  

The best thing about this movie is Butler's performance.  It is probably the best interpretation of an historical figure I have seen since Daniel Day-Lewis' turn as Abraham Lincoln.  First of all, Butler inhabits the look, movement, cadence, singing, dancing, charisma, and presence of Elvis Presley.  He infuses him with that strange combination of danger and innocence that Elvis was able to project.  But that is only half of the battle.  If he had ended with a simple impersonation, then he there would be nothing to write home about.  But Butler makes Elvis a fully realized character.  He is constantly haunted by a loneliness that is hard to describe.  Butler shows us his utter vulnerability and heart while at the same time not shying away from his vices.  This is most important in his musical performances where he gives us the intensity that is needed to match the King.  His closer to the 1968 Christmas special had me rivetted.

The problem is that the movie never gives him the room to let the character shine.  To borrow a metaphor from The Cosby Show, Butler's performance is like an expensive steak presented on a the inside of a garbage can lid.  

Luhrmann is dazzling and dizzying in his style, but it is often overwhelming.  He has no confidence in letting the actors or the music carry the movie.  I didn't notice it until my wife pointed it out, but they almost never let us sit and hear an entire song of Elvis'.  Too often they chop it up or cut away to something else.  Scenes are truncated and move on at lightning speed.  If you've ever seen the pensieve seen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the movie moves with that level of rapidity.  It feels more like an impressionist painting: Luhrmann wants to present small images that leave the sense of Elvis's life without telling you an actual story.  He wants to connect Elvis' music with the primal call of sexuality with the transcendent ecstasy spirituality while at the same time connecting him to large social events like the assassinations of MLK and RFK as well as segregation and racial politics.  But so much of it feels forced and shallow that it never really digs in deeply to this character.

This is a real disservice to the other actors and characters.  I didn't mention most of them in the summary because I often don't remember them.  There were often moments where someone would have a serious and dramatic conversation with Elvis and I would turn to my wife and ask "Are we supposed to know what this person is?"  In fact,  

And I have to say, this may be a career worst performance for Hanks.  I understand that he was recovering from COVID and that Luhrmann insisted that he use a ridiculous accent that Parker did not actually have.  In addition to this, Hanks wore a fat suit instead of fluctuating his actual weight (which has caused him serious health issues).  Unfortunately, Hanks' Parker feels as artificial has his CGI characters in The Polar Express.  And as I wrote, it is such a narrative mistake to make Parker the focus of the movie.  In fact, most of the closing epilogue text is about Parker and not Presley, which feels like a complete disservice to Elvis himself.

Does the movie give any insight into Elvis?

That's a mixed bag.  I find myself singing his songs around the house.  As someone who has never been a gigantic Elvis fan, this tells me that it made an impression.  I get a sense of the trajectory of his career and the movie does a good job of showing the toll this took on his body, mind, and soul.  There is a sharp focus on the effect Elvis had on young women.  At a time when human sexuality was verboten in public discourse, Elvis presents an awakening of sensual desires that are scary and mysterious to the teenager girls of the day.  This would be more interesting if Luhrmann did not reduce Elvis to a sex object in the eyes of his audience.  Even those who are his male fans are clearly experiencing primarily attraction.  We don't get a strong sense of the fun or coolness of Elvis' songs.

But the movie portrays Elvis as an innocent victim of Parker.  It feels like Elvis has so little responsibility for his poor choices.  On some level, the movie is a Christian After School Special.  Elvis' mother (Helen Thompson) warns Elvis about the dangers to his soul by living this life.  And even early on the road, Elvis falls into fornication and drugs.  And he then makes a Faustian deal with his own devil in Col. Parker.  He gains the whole world and loses himself.  

Elvis' own vices and excesses are strangely excused.  At one point his wife Pricilla (Olivia DeJonge) tells him that she is leaving him.  When he asks if its about the women on the road, she says she doesn't care about these infidelities.  She clearly is uncomfortable watching him kissing dozens of fans on the lips, but she dismisses his dalliances as if it is nothing.  In fact, she complains that he is no longer intimate with her.  I don't know... if my spouse was sleeping around, I'd be worried what diseases they could be bringing into the marital bed.

Elvis feels like a bold experiment.  But the nature of experiments is that many of them are doomed to failure.  And that is the case here.

While this may make you appreciate Elvis the musician, it will not make you enjoy Elvis the movie.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Film Flash: Elvis (2022)

 Elvis 2022 poster.jpg

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

Austin Butler's performance deserves better than this 2.5-hour montage masquerading as a movie.

Star rating 2 of 5.png

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Sunday Best: Top 10 Tom Cruise Movies


Regardless what you think of Tom Cruise, he has had an extrodinary career.  Very few people can maintian the level of stardom he has over four decades.  Not only that, but he is currently enjoying the biggest hit movie with Top Gun: Maverick (not adjusted for inflation).  

With that in mind, I thought I would take a look at his top ten movies.

This list does not count cameos, like Austin Powers in Goldmember.  Also, this list is not about which movies have his best performances (although it does happen to coincide with his best movie).  This is a ranking of the quality of the movies themselves.

10.  Mission: Impossible


I don't think Cruise knew that he would still be making movies in this franchise for nearly three decades.  This first movie has its rough spots and it gives away the big twist too soon.  But it is very impressive with its spy action, even when the CGI is a bit much.  The heart of the movie is the break-in with the CIA.  It is expertly staged for maximum tension.  Who doesn't remember that moment where he is inches off the ground trying to keep from touching the floor.  This was an amazing combination of directing and physical acting by Cruise.  Fun and rewatchable film.

9. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Mission impossible ghost protocol.jpg

This makes it onto the list because it is an improvement from the first three installments, but also because it has one of the greatest action set-pieces I've ever seen with Cruise climbing the Burj Khalifa.  This moment typifies why Cruise is able to hold onto his audience for as long as he has.  When possible, this scene and most scenes in the movie were filmed in actual location and CGI was avoided.  There is a tangible feeling of risk that puts you on the edge of your seat.  The rest of the movie is also incredibly enjoyable.

8.  Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

A montage of people, at the top the face of Ethan Hunt, his crew. Below a motorcycle scene.

There is a reason there are so many Mission: Impossible films on this list.  Cruise has been safeguarding this franchise and he has been doing everything possible to keep making them better.  Once again, the action set-pieces are creative and pulse-pounding.  I always try to hold my breath when he goes into the underwater cavern and I barely hold on for any significant amount of time.  Yes, it is a movie, but Cruise makes you believe the risk is real.  My favorite moment is when he is in the opera house.  His fight in the rafters made me realize that Ethan Hunt is the American James Bond.  And at this point in both franchises, Hunt is superior.  And then it culminates when Hunt has only one bullet and he has to stop two assassins at different ends of the building.  The scene was wonderfully tense and the solution was perfectly in keeping with his character.

7.  Valkyrie

On a white background are gray lines showing floor plans of a building. Below the lines are a group of six men wearing German army uniforms and business suits, with one prominently in front of the group. A red line traces through the floor plans and behind the front man. Beside the line is the word "VALKYRIE", and within the line in smaller print is "TOM CRUISE".

I have only watched this movie once because it made me so sad.  The plot to assassinate Hitler that was conceived by German insiders is a fascinating story.  Even though we know the history and know of its inevitable outcome, the movie still had me hoping that history was wrong.

6. The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai.jpg

This movie is so beautifully shot and gives us a fantastic performance by Ken Watanabe.  One of the things it does so well is that it introduces Cruise's character (and through him Western audiences) into the harsh and violent brutality of samurai culture.  But then it brings you inside of that society and lets you experience it from a completely different perspective so that you feel like you now have a larger veiw of the world around you.

5.  Mission: Impossible - Fallout

MI – Fallout.jpg

One of the things that I have truly appreciated about the Mission: Impossible series is that ever since the terrible second movie, they have gotten successively better.  Fallout actually fooled me in a fantastic way.  I love a good sleight-of-hand, and when a story can do that when I should have seen it coming, I am all the more impressed.  The action set-pieces are some of the best along with the fight scenes.  I also love that Cruise listens to fans of the series and tries to deliver something for them.  This movie ties up loose ends from previous Mission: Impossible movies and opens up the story to even more adventures.

4.  Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun Maverick Poster.jpg

I will be up front: the original Top Gun is not on this list.  As I wrote in my review, Maverick is a better film.  It feels like an honest continuation of the character's journey without making him feel like an 80's relic, nor softening him for the current sensibilities of the day.  The action is more impactful, emotional, and more intense than the original.  I have seen this movie twice already in the theater and it was a joy to watch each time.  In time, I think this could go up in the ranks.

3.  Edge of Tomorrow

The male and female leads, wearing battle armor, holding large guns, and looking battle-worn, stand against an urban background devastated by war. The sky is golden, meteors are falling, and The Arc de Triomphe can be seen in the background.

When I first saw this movie, I enjoyed it but it did not make that great of an impact.  I recently re-watched it and I was completely enthralled.  They did a great job of executing the sci-fi convention of repeating the same day after death.  But they also made a powerful character arc out of Cruise's character.  This is a movie that successfully takes an unlikeable character and turns him into a hero.  Very few stories actually do this effectively.  The movie also does more cinematic trickier.  Like Inception it uses the common language of cinema to hide twists in plain sight.

2.  A Few Good Men

A Few Good Men poster.jpg

Whenever I take a long car trip, I always have A Few Good Men ready to play.  It is one of the few movies that you can enjoy completely just by listening to it.  The dialogue is witty and fascinating and the performances are top-notch.  It is one of the best court-room dramas ever made.  The truly entertaining part is watching Cruise's character go from grifter to earnest advocate, willing to put everything on the line simply because it is the right thing to do.  I remember teaching a logic to members of my Socratic Club.  When one of those members watched the movie in our Film Club, I could see the look of absolute elation on his face when Cruise's character uses an Aristotelian syllogism to contradict the main antagonist.  

1.  Rain Man

Rain Man poster.jpg

Dustin Hoffman won an Oscar for this movie.  But I think that because of this people overlook that this is Cruise's best performance.  His Charlie Babbitt is a truly despicable person.  He grifts and lies his way through get-rich-quick schemes, he is terrible to his girlfriend, and he can't muster an ounce of compassion for his dead father.  When he finds his autistic brother Raymond, he kidnaps him in a scheme to get more of his inheritance.  Watching the slow connection these two make is the heart of the movie.  What amazes me about this film is that when the journey is summed up, it makes Charlie confront how he still uses Raymond even as he begins to feel for him.  Instead of giving us the "Hollywood ending," the movie shows us Charlie's complete transformation from selfish to selfless.  Cruise is at his best.  I feel his absolute anger and frustration when he gets the call that his business is about to go under.  And I felt the emotional breakthrough as Raymond voluntarily makes affection contact with Charlie for the only time in the movie.  

Honorable Mentions:

Top Gun

Tropic Thunder

Far and Away



Interview with the Vampire

Jack Reacher

Mission: Impossible III

Minority Report



Friday, June 24, 2022

The Sacred Heart of Jesus Triumphs!!! - Roe v. Wade is Overturned!

 Let the Church Bells ring!

Today is the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

For half a century, the legalized murder of the unborn has been upheld as a Constitutional right.  The shadow of abortion covered our country.  But even in this darkness, the light of life remained.

"The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:5)

The Sacred Heart of Jesus triumphs in the end.  

We who have been fighting for life must remember that while we were on the side of life, all credit goes to God Himself.  He is the one who has given us this victory.  Even though so many of the powerful and influential people in our land told us that it was impossible, God has shown us today the power of faith and the power of His Sacred Heart.

Today is also the traditional Feast Day of the Nativity of John the Baptist.  Today is traditionally the day that we celebrate the birth of that unlikely child whose destiny was to lead people to the Christ.  Today I think of all the children who will now live and who will bring others to Christ.  I also think of the words of the angel Gabriel when speaking of the conception of John the Baptist when he said "For nothing is impossible for God." (Luke 1:37)

Nothing is impossible for God.

Today is a major victory for life.  But as I've written before, the real work begins.  Now that Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion does not automatically become illegal.  Instead, we return to the way things were before Roe, where each state will get to decide.  We do God's work to change the hearts of the people in our states so that we make abortion unthinkable.  Changing the law is the beginning.  We must now work with God's grace to change hearts.

But let us take today to remember Our Lord's power, love, grace, and blessings.  Let us never forget that all things are in His Hands. 

And let us remember that the future belongs to His Sacred Heart!

Nōn nōbīs, Domine, nōn nōbīs, sed nōminī tuō dā glōriam (Psalm 115:1)

Thursday, June 23, 2022

TV Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi (Disney+)


Obi-Wan Kenobi isn't good.

It is great!

I would venture to say that it is Star Wars Episode III.5.

The story picks up about 10 years after the events of Revenge of the Sith.  The Empire has dominated everything with the Sith Inquistors hunting down any Jedi or Force Sensitives throughout the galaxy.  Obi-Wan (Ewan McGreggor) is living an annonymous, workaday life under the pseudonym "Ben."  He keeps a distant eye on the young Luke Skywalker (Grant Feely), but he is constantly pushed away by Luke's protective uncle Owen (Joel Edgerton).  Obi-Wan is a sad, broken man.  Haunted by his failures, he keeps to himself and has not exercised his connection to the Force in many years.  However, all of that changes when a young Princess Leia (Vivian Lyra Blair) is kidnapped on Alderaan and her adopted father Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) asks Obi-Wan to go and find her.  But he doesn't know that this a trap by the Inquistor Reva (Moses Ingram) to capture the hidden Jedi Master and present him to Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen/James Earl Jones).

It is amazing to me how much absolute hatred this show has received by some parts online.  It has its flaws, but it feels like there were people who were already pre-disposed to come at this show with hatred (for more on this, see my previous post).

With that in mind and in the interest of fairness, I thought I should start with the show's negatives.

The biggest one are those of plotting and staging.  I know that Obi-Wan was originally supposed to be a theatrical movie, but instead has been translated into a six-episode mini-series.  As a result, the plot does not move along as tightly as it would if this was a 2-hour movie.  This means that there are more added set pieces to the story that could be more streamlined.

The bigger problem is the staging.  The failure here feels less like one from a writing standpoint but one of executing the filming.  There is a scene where Obi-Wan shoots the controls of a laser barrier to turn it off when the wide shot clearly shows he could have easily walked around.  Another is when Vader is using his force powers through a fire.  When more fire is added, he seems to be unable to do anything and once again, no seems to try and GO AROUND the obstacle.  Or there is a scene where one of our heroes kills an imperial officer in a room filled with other imperial soldiers and NO ON NOTICES.  But for me the worst was when Obi-Wan wore a large trenchcoat and hid Leia underneath.  It looked so ridiculous that it would not be out of place in a Little Rascals or Austin Powers movie.

But all of these are forgiveable beacuse they get so much right about this show.

First of all, McGregor is utterly fantastic.  He takes you on Obi-Wan's complete emotional journey.  I have to admit, I was filled with all kinds of nostalgic feelings when I saw him on screen for the first time, but when the nostalgia wears off, McGregor gives you an incredibly compelling character.

A lot of people complained that this show gave Obi-Wan the Last Jedi treatment, meaning he was portrayed much like the divisive portrayl of Luke in the Sequels.  But there are a few important differences.  One of the reasons why the Luke portrayl was so controversial was because it felt like the character was robbed of his heroic status and he never really reclaimed it.  With Obi-Wan, the main character's despair and cynicism are well-earned in the context of Revenge of the Sith.  It is very frustrating to watch Obi-Wan turn his back on those in need in the first episode.  But the show is about how this fallen hero rises up again, something that The Last Jedi missed the mark at doing because it was trying to raise up the new hero.

Going back to McGregor's performance, I found it rivetting.  The last few minutes of the 2nd episode his power as an actor by projecting such intense emotion with incredible control.  His reaction to the revelation he receives in this scene hit me like a ton of bricks.  He becomes a whirlwind of fear and guilt while maintaining a heroic stillness.  It is truly a great performance.

The rest of the cast is fine, though few reach McGregor's level.  Smits does a fantastic job with the little time that he has, as does Edgerton who puts a real grizzled edge to his Owen that we had not seen in Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith.  I'm someone who always liked Christensen as an actor and he seems totally commited to the part that fills his scenes with a layered emotion.  He has lost some of his boyishness, which made one of the flashback scenes a bit awkward.  But I was enjoying myself too much to let it bother me.

Ingram's Reva and Blair's Leia have have the most amount of screen time besides Obi-Wan.  A lot of people said that the show was a "bait-and-switch" like Kevin Smith's Masters of the Universe: Revelations.  In the case of the latter, the show was advertised as a He-Man show, but it was really all about Teela.  People online were saying that this was the case with here, calling it the Reva/Leia Show.  

However, this is clearly not the case.  Reva is given a very intersting back story that unfolds over the course of the series.  But in the first few episodes, she is clearly the violent antagonist who is willing to do whatever kind of evil to achieve her goals.  Ingram does a fine job with the material that she's given.  She is condescending and angry, which very much fits her character.

Some have been a bit unkind about Blair's performance, but I almost always give child actors a pass.  Star Wars fans were horribly unkind to Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace in a way that was out of line.  Blair does a decent job as the young Leia.  She is precocious to the Nth degree, but her chemistry with McGreggor really is the heart of the show.  Like Mando protecting Grogu, Obi-Wan and Leia create the bond that makes the emotional through-line of the series.

The other emotional arc is the one between Obi-Wan and Anakin.  They have three encounters in the show (one of them in flashback).  Each one is incredibly different and layered with different emotions.  I am a sucker for a good lightsaber fight and these were better than anything in the Sequels.  And that is probably because there was a lot more emotional weight beneath them.  But beyond that, the final confrontation has one of the best lines of the series.  As Vader and Kenobi stare eye-to-eye the truth of Anakin's fall is made plain in a way that makes complete emotional sense.

There are also a number of incredibly exciting action set pieces in the show.  One of my favorites uses light and darkness in an very exciting way as Obi-Wan has to rescue somone.  He cuts out the lights and there is a visceral thrill as his lightsabe ignites in the darkness.  It is kind of the inverse of the moment that Vader ignites his saber in Rogue One.

One of my favorite elements of the show was Obi-Wan's relationship to Qui-Gon Jinn.  At the end of Revenge of the Sith, Yoda told Obi-Wan that Qui-Gon would guide him.  But as the show begins, Obi-Wan has yet to hear from him.  Throughout the show, Obi-Wan calls out to him for help and guidance.  I could not help to be moved by this as this is the closest thing I have seen in Star Wars to a character at prayer.  In doing so, Obi-Wan provides a wonderful and insightful reflection on the spiritual life that is suprisingly profound.

Of the post-George Lucas Star Wars stories, this may be one of my favorites.  And unlike most of the Disney offerings, I know that I am going to watch Obi-Wan again and again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Film Flash: Jerry and Marge Go Large (Paramount+)



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

Not the greatest nor funniest, but a nice, mid-budget, feel-good film that I'll watch again

Monday, June 20, 2022

New Evangelizers Post: All You Can Do - The Spiritual Lesson of Frodo



I have a new article up at  

One of the most popular books of the 20th Century is The Lord of the Rings. This book is a source of delight, wonder, and inspiration for millions of people around the world. Author JRR Tolkien wrote a story that was both Catholic in its underlying themes and catholic (with a little “c,” meaning “universal”) so that all people could find truth in it.

In the modern era, there is a strong trend in storytelling to subvert expectations. Very often this is done poorly (as you can see Star Wars fans debate regarding The Last Jedi). But Tolkien constantly subverted the expected plot structure of The Lord of the Rings all the way to the final moment at Mount Doom. Frodo, the hero who was carrying the evil ring of power, finally makes it to his goal. The ring corrupts the hearts of anyone in its orbit, but Frodo resisted long enough to get to the place where he could destroy the ring forever. But after that epic journey, Tolkien does the most subversive thing imaginable:

Frodo fails.

At the very last moment, the One Ring corrupts him and Frodo seizes it for himself.

I cannot overstate how radical a move this is. This would be like Luke Skywalker turning to the Dark Side and joining the Empire in Return of the Jedi or Captain America helping Thanos during Avengers: Endgame.

But Tolkien shows incredible insight and wisdom in this decision.

For all intents and purposes, Frodo is a mere mortal contending with powers far beyond him. He is not a god or even a demigod. He is small, both in stature but also in lifestyle: he lives a quiet, simple life of friendship and fun. He is extraordinary in his ordinariness.

Frodo fails because he is not a perfect, idealized hero. He is just one of us. And therein lies Tolkien’s genius and his great Catholic insight.

We are all fallen men and women. We, like Frodo, are contending with powers way beyond us. St. Paul writes “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12). Every day we are at war with a culture of death and corruption that threatens to overwhelm us. On top of that, the evil spiritual forces are constantly making war on our souls.

How can we hope for victory against such odds?

Who would not feel like tiny Frodo asked to carry on an impossible task that feels surely doomed to fail?

Parents, doesn’t your task seem overwhelming sometimes? Besides the most basic task of making sure your children have the physical and material necessities of life, doesn’t raising your children in grace and virtue seem almost impossible? Look at the assault children have constantly from a culture that always seeking to corrupt them.

We don’t even have to look to difficulty in raising others in virtue. How difficult is it for us not to fall into the darkness of this world? Those who choose to live lives of holiness are deemed out-of-touch radicals. Those who are faithful to the Gospel teaching on marriage and sexuality are labeled bigots worthy of ridicule and contempt.

How easy it is to fail.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that we don’t have to succeed.

When someone once asked Mother Teresa about how successful she was in her ministry, she responded (I am paraphrasing) “I don’t think God is calling me to be successful. He is calling me to be faithful. Success or failure is in His hands, not mine.”

This insight is what we see in Frodo’s failure. Even in his failure, Frodo did all that he could do. By doing so, he got the One Ring close enough to let Gollum steal it and fall into the fires of Mount Doom, destroying the Ring forever.

Success was not in Frodo’s hands, but God’s. This is an important reminder for all of us in the Christian life. Any success we achieve is not our own, but God’s success in us. We can only save ourselves and others by His Grace. We cooperate with that Grace, but the success is with him. All we can do is all we can do.

You see this in the story of the Multiplication of the Loaves. When the Disciples tell Jesus to send the crowds away to get food, we have this exchange:

“[Jesus] replied, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They answered, ‘We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.’” (Luke 9:13)

Why does Jesus ask them to give if it is not enough?

Because all you can do is all you can do.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Sunday Best: TV Dads of All Time (Updated 2022)

 In honor of Father's Day today, I thought we'd recap the best TV dads.

Now this is not as easy as it sounds, considering that television is, for lack of a better term, a moral cesspool.  Too often the dads are the "cool" dads who buy their kids condoms or they are buffoonish bums.  But we cannot deny that what we watch on tv influences the culture, so we should try to find good examples of fatherhood out there on the airwaves

This list is an updated from a previous list.

10.  Murray Goldberg ("The Goldbergs")
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I don't know why, but I am partial to "yelly" dads on TV.  For some reason I find them to be more reflective of life.  And having grown up in the 80's, there is a truth to Murray's parenting style.  He isn't into all of the touchy-feely schmaltz, but he does whatever his kids need, even if its them needing to be called morons.  And above all, he does everything he does so that his kids can have a better life than he has.

9.  Joe West ("The Flash")
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Joe is a great dad because he sees being a father as the center of his life and he never stops trying to be a great dad.  He is protective (maybe overly so) of his only daughter Iris.  He raised Barry as his own son and never let him feel as if he wasn't as special to him as Iris.  And when he found a son he never knew, Wally, Joe didn't hesitate to open his life and his heart completely to him and do everything that a father could do.

8.  Harold Weir ("Freaks and Geeks")

Simple, yet relatable, Harold is the average father doing his best.  And even his flaws in parenting, like always being more worried about his daughter than his son simply because she's his daughter, are understandable and endearing.

7. Clark Kent/Superman ("Superman and Lois")
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After watching for nearly two seasons, I am very comfortable with this choice and it has potential to rise higher on this list.  The innovative concept of this show is that we see Clark and Lois raising teenage sons.  This allows us to see an entirely different side of him.  We get to watch Superman do in the concrete what he has been doing in the abstract: teaching us how to be better people.  But the in the show we see the challenges and frustrations that come with instilling virtues in those whose nature is to rebel against parental teaching.  With all of his power, we see him helpless sometimes.  I love the fact that he is a father who holds his sons to a high moral standard.  When one is kicked out of school for drugs, he blows up at him in a way that made me have flashbacks to my own childhood (the yelling, not the drugs).  But he knows when to relent.  My favorite line is when he tells his son that he knows that he has to let him make his own mistakes, but that its the hardest thing to do.  But a good father has let his children grow up to be adults.

6.  Red Foreman ("That '70's Show")

While nearly everyone on that show was a moral degenerate, Red was the constant boot in their you-know-where to help them grow up.  Tough as nails, he gave what structure.  And though he wasn't warm and fuzzy, he was always there for his kids (even his kids' friends).

5.  Keith Mars ("Veronica Mars")

This was a smart, funny, hard-working dad who put everything he had towards the happiness of his daughter.  Yes, he bent or broke the law every once and a while to do it, but he always did it with his daughter's happiness in mind.

4.  Philip Banks ("The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air")
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Uncle Phil could have been a simple over-bearing stereotype.  But he was tough and tender as needed.  He was as much a father to Will as he was to his own children.  The episode where Will's dad comes back is particularly poignant and shows what a real father is.

3. Jack Pearson ("This is Us.")

This Is Us (Logo).png

Jack is a complicated and flawed man.  He is scarred from the abuse he suffered from his home and from the Vietnam War.  He inherited a tight-lipped stoicism and his father's alcoholism.  But Jack shows us that a father is not a man without flaws.  All of our fathers have flaws.  But Jack never forgot the gift he had in his family.  He saw them as his life and his earthly salvation.  Early in the series, his best friend offers to give him relief from the stresses of family life.  But Jack understands that those stresses are part of the glory of family: that's the good stuff.  And even though Jack fails, he gives everything he has to his family.  As a result, his presence looms large over the lives of everyone because he fulfilled one of the most important parts of being a father: to be your children's first hero.

2.  Heathcliff Huxtable ("The Cosby Show")

[The text below was written before most of the scandals regarding Cosby came to light.  If you look at the show outside of the real-world context, then the following text still applies]

No television dad reminds me more of my father.  I think people misremember Cliff as being wacky and fun-loving.  In fact, he was a stern disciplinarian who pushed his kids to make good life decisions.  The humor tended to come from his exacerbation at the idiocy of his children.  But he always put them first and was a great role-model.

1.  Jonathan Kent ("Smallville")
Smallville 2001 logo.svg
Speaking of role models, there is none better than Jonathan Kent on Smallville.  In fact, that is his whole function to the Superman mythos.  He gets his powers from his Kryptonian parents, but he gets his heroism from his earthly ones.  Jonathan gives Clark the moral compass he needs to understand that his powers are a gift to help others.  And while he did make mistakes, he always did so with the intent to help his family.  He was the one who taught Clark not only how to be a Superman, but how to be a man.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Star Wars Fandom: Hate Leads to Suffering

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image by Weweje; original logo by Suzy Rice, 1976.


I am a life-long Star Wars fan.

We Star Wars fans are a very peculiar bunch.  I think we come off as a tad more obsessive about our corner of fandom because of what this franchise means to us.

I don't think I'm alone when I say that Star Wars shaped a lot of my childhood, and thus also shaped much of the man I am today.  It is true that when I became a man I was called to set aside all childish things.  We in the fandom are often accused of being childish, as though our attachment to Star Wars is a sign of our arrested development.

But Star Wars was the prevailing hero myth of my childhood.

Yes, I had Batman and Robin, as well as Hulk Hogan and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, along with Rambo and Bruce Lee.  But Star Wars takes up the preeminent place.  I've written previously about how as a child it radically altered my world-view about what a hero truly is.  Before I thought that a hero was the person who killed the bad guy.  After Return of the Jedi, I understood that the hero is the one who saves the villain with sacrificial love.

Mixed in with these deeper things are the nostalgia for the fun and innocence of childhood and you can understand the bond that George Lucas made between us and his creation.  In many ways, Star Wars is secularly sacred to so many people.

For that reason, the fandom is very protective of it.

This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.  In many ways, it is a sign of how special this story is.  I do not see any levels of controversy like those found in Star Wars fandom in other franchises like Avatar.

This takes us to the Prequels.  When The Phantom Menace came out, it had been sixteen years since we had a theatrical Star Wars film.  Those of us who grew up with Star Wars were now adults and we were hungry for that same magic we experienced as children.  But in that, many made a crucial mistake: Star Wars is primarily for children.  Obviously, it can be enjoyed on an adult level.  But Lucas was telling a story to help shape the next generation.  Many of us wanted the Prequels to be about us and our more adult sensibilities.

At the time, I took a lot of flack for being a defender of the Prequels.  They are flawed to be sure, but there is still the Star Wars magic in them if you look for it.  Lucas made a number of miscalculations.  I have written an entire article about this, but a few examples are that he should have written all of the scripts in advance for consistency and payoff and he radically overestimated how fun Jar Jar would be.

The time of the Prequels brought out a lot of haters.  And they have every right to their opinion, even though I disagree.  What saddens me is that some of this hatred became targeted on people like Jake Lloyd and Ahmed Best.  I always try to avoid being critical of children in film.  Acting well is very difficult and even more so for kids.  In the case of Best, I think he gave Lucas exactly what he asked for, so any fault with the delivery of the character lay more with Lucas than Best.  Regardless, a great deal of venom was unleashed on these two.  You can read for yourselves what they've endured.  Hayden Christensen also received a great deal of blowback for his portrayal as the older Anakin.  Like Best, Christensen gave Lucas the performance he wanted and as a result, Christensen was on the receiving end of fandom's blaster fire.

This makes me think of the wisdom that is found in the Prequels about attachment.  Anakin's path to the Dark Side stems from his attachment.  Lucas was wise to show that the total detachment of the Jedi was also foolish.  But Anakin becomes selfish, self-centered, and possessive of that which he loves.  The danger for the Star Wars is that this can happen with Star Wars itself.  Fear of Star Wars not being as good as we remember or fear of it being ruined can trigger substantially negative responses and move someone from a lover to a hater.

Then after twelve years, Disney gave us the Sequel Trilogy.  If the fandom was divided over the Prequels, the Sequels led to all out civil war.

The Force Awakens was received fairly well.  There were disappointments but most was forgivable.

But everything fell apart with The Last Jedi.  As with the Prequels, I have taken a good deal of flack for my stance on this movie, which is essentially that it has some great parts to it.  For many, this movie broke the fandom and broke Star Wars itself.  

I am actually much more sympathetic to those who hate the Sequels than I am to those who hate the Prequels.  While both are flawed, the problem with the sequels (particularly The Last Jedi) is that it felt like an intentional subversion of the Original Trilogy and its heroes.  Rian Johnson is a talented filmmaker, but it is clear he was not interested in aligning his vision to Star Wars, but instead wanted to shape Star Wars in his image.  Particularly, there are many who find the degradation of Luke Skywalker as completely unforgivable.

This brings us to an interesting turn in this fandom civil war.  There is a contention of fans who try to shield current Star Wars from criticism by accusing the critics of bigotry.  Those who didn't like Rey and Admiral Holdo were accused of sexism.  Those who didn't like Rose Tico were accused of racism and sexism.  My own problem with Rey is that the story didn't let her earn her hero status on the traditional hero's journey.  Admiral Holdo was poorly written regarding her baffling motivations.  And Rose Tico was a morally insane character who was willing to doom the entire resistance because of her crush.

Accusing someone of bigotry does very little to win their affections.  The critics of the sequels felt under personal attack, especially from those in charge of Star Wars.  As a result, battle lines were drawn between the pro-Disney and anti-Disney sides.  

One of the few things that seemed to unite the fandom was The Mandalorian.  The novelty of the story along with its strong production guidance from Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni created a pop culture phenomenon, especially with Baby Yoda.  This came to a head in the finale for season 2 which gave fans a glimpse of the glory of the central character of the mythos.

And now we are witnessing the fandom fight over Obi-Wan Kenobi.  As of this writing, there is still one episode remaining.  Those of anti-Disney, anti-Last Jedi side have been tearing this show apart.  The criticism is rooted in the feeling that Obi-Wan is being treated like the Sequel version of Luke and that he is being sidelined in his own series, particularly by Reva.  The pro-Disney side has accused the critics of racism in their dislike of Reva.

I think both sides are wrong.

I will give a full review of the show later.  But I have loved it so far.  I found it to be a worthy follow-up to the Prequel trilogy and it is telling an engaging and compelling story.  To be sure there are some flaws, especially from a staging standpoint, but the good greatly outweighs the bad.  

But I also think the accusation of racism of the critics is largely unfounded.  To be sure, you will always find some nasty elements in any group or fandom.  But as a whole, the fandom does not reject characters because of their race.  This is especially true of Star Wars with characters like Lando Calrissian, Mace Windu, Moff Gideon, Fennec Shand, and Jango Fett.  Accusing the critics of racism only hardens their opposition to Disney Star Wars.

In addition, the pro-Disney side is intentionally antagonistic towards its critics.  Quentin Tarantino talked about the people who did not like The Hateful Eight and he said that he understood that the movie wasn't to everyone's tastes because the characters were so nasty.  When Rian Johnson was asked about the critics of The Last Jedi, he commented on how fanboy tears were "delicious."  I understand how you have to promote your art, but it is another thing to sound like an elitist who is above hoi poloi.

Personally, I would hope that everyone could let go of their hate.  I hope that we could celebrate what is good in anything Star Wars.  I think that a lot of people are missing out on the greatness of Obi-Wan because they are looking focusing on all the ways Disney is letting them down.  The pro-Disney side also appears to needlessly antagonize the core fanbase and to promote things that seems to disrespect the Original Trilogy.  For evidence of this last point, you can look at the Star Wars area of the theme parks as well as their Galactic Cruiser.  

All of this hatred has led to more suffering in the fandom on both sides.  I think if we all could just listen to each other, we would not be so filled with hate.

Instead, we could have a new hope.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Flash Deserves Better Than Ezra


I have been a fan of the Flash for a long time.  I have an extensive collection of his comics and I love the first four seasons of the TV show.

Barry Allen is such an intersting character.  In the comics, he often plays the yin to Hal Jordan's yang.  Whereas Hal is the reckless, devil-may-care adventurer, Barry is the conscientious, analytic hero.  He uses his scientific prowess and his "Flash Facts" to overcome any enemy.

But he may have one enemy he may not be able to overcome: Ezra Miller.

Zack Snyder cast Miller as the DCEU Flash.  It was an incredibly unusual choice.  But Snyder's outside-the-box thinking led to some inspired casting of Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, Jason Momoa's Aquaman, and Ben Affleck's Batman (still my favorite cinematic Batman).  Miller and Snyder's take on Barry was a bit odd.  In the Whedon version of Justice League, Barry came off as simply the quirky comic relief.  In Snyder's version, we got a better performance and a more dramatic take.  Still, he seemed very different than the comic version.

Now, this argument could laid be against many of the characters in the Snyderverse, and fair enough.  But Warner Bros. decided to go forward with their own Flash movie with Miller at the helm.

However, Miller's behavior off screen could derail the whole project.

I want to say at the outset, that Miller is not uniquely problematic.  Many stars throughout Hollywood's history have had their sordid personal lives and scandalous behavior covered up.  This is not simply a matter of public vs. private vice.  But what is in the public eye is troubling.

Miller allegedly harassed and threatened a couple at a karaoke bar.  He was also allegedly belligerent to police during some traffic violation.  These in and of themselves can be dealt with fairly easily.  

The larger issues involve Miller allegedly being asked to leave a party where he threw a chair at a woman, striking her in the head.  

However what was more disturbing was the video of Miller where he appears to choke slam a woman to the ground.  According to witnesses, the woman jokingly challenged Miller to fight, but he went too far.

The public is very forgiving of people who debase themselves in public as long as they show proper contrition.  But we are very appalled by real-life violence.  Think about how many decades of good will that Will Smith squandered by one slap.  Miller is not Smith and choking a woman to ground is even more shocking than slapping a comedian on stage.

But that is not the worst accusation.

Miller has been accused of grooming a girl (now 18) that he met when she was 12.  According to the accusation of her parents, Miller allegedly would engage in sexually explicit conversations with the underage girl, attempted to sleep in the same bed with her when she was 14, snuck into clubs underage, and supplied her with drugs.  The young woman has dropped out of college and was apparently traveling with Miller.

Now, even after I have laid out all of these accusations, as an American I believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.  I may be forming a strong opinion on the data, but Miller deserves to right to clear his name.  The young woman mentioned above has denied all of the charges against her "comrade" (her words) Miller.  She claims her parents are lying.  If so, Miller is the victim of a smear campaign.

There are several ways to look at this situation, but I wanted to to examine it from Warner Bros. point-of-view.  They have just spend several hundred million dollars on a Flash movie.  But now their main star is embroiled in scandal.  What do they do?

When the scandal broke about Kevin Spacey, they went back and re-filmed all of the scenes of his last movie and replaced him with Christopher Plummer.  When Amber Heard alleged that Johnny Depp abused her, Depp was fired from two big budget franchises: Pirates of the Caribbean and Fantastic Beasts.  Should Warner Bros. do the same?  In the case of Spacey, he was recently charged in British court.  As for for Depp, his win against Heard has made people think that the studio was too hasty.

Warner Bros. knew about the choking incident before they started principle photography on their Flash movie.  It seems incredibly strange to me that a studio that was banking so much on its scandalous star would not have done everything in their power to make sure things did not get worse.  

And yet, here we are.  As of this writing, Miller apparently cannot be found.  As I said, Miller deserves the right to defend himself and against the most egregious charge, we should wait for all the facts to come out in a court of law rather than in the court of public opinion.  

But until all of this gets resolved, Miller has the potential of doing what almost no super villain has been able to do: 

Stop the Flash.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Film Review: Jurassic World - Dominion


Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Acceptable

Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

I've said this before, but I am very easy to please as a moviegoer.  I am willing to forgive a lot as long as the movie can make me feel something, whether it is wonder, awe, fear, excitement, romance, or humor.  But if you fail to make me feel anything, then your movie is a failure.

And that is the case with Jurassic World: Dominion.

The movie takes place a few years after the last film.  Dinosaurs are now roaming all over the world because Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) let them out at the end fo Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Maisie is also in hiding because people want to unlock the magic of her clone DNA.  Because of this, Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) are essentially raising Maisie in the Alaskan woods where Blue the Raptor is also running around with her new baby raptor Beta.  When Maisie and Beta are kidnapped, Owen and Claire must go around the world the save them.

One of the things about Dominion that is different than the the two previous films is that there is an entirely equal plot line playing out simultaneously.  Giant locausts are destroying crops all over the world leading to world-wide famine.  Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) returns as she suspects DNA manipulation.  All of the dinosaurs not in the wild or the black market are sent to a sanctuary in the Italian mountains, run by a tech billionaire Lewis Dodgeson (Campbell Scott).  His company, BioSyn (because I guess "Evil Corp." was already taken) employs Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who invites Ellie to their labs.  Ellie seeks out Alan Grant (Sam Neil) to help her prove that Wicked Science-, sorry, BioSyn is behind the locust attacks.

So the good news is that you get two Jurassic movies for the price of one.

The bad news is that both movies are terrible.

It is very unfortunate that this movie came out so soon after Top Gun: Maverick, where the lack of CGI created a strong visceral and emotional investment.  In Dominion, everything feels incredibly artificial.  In an early scene where Owen wrangles some free-range dinosaurs, there is nothing of the wonder found in the original Jurassic Park or even in Jurassic World.  This has been a continuing problem in this franchise, where they rely more and more on CGI.  In the original Jurassic Park, the computer graphics are integrated with the gigantic practical creatures.  The effect is that we suspend our disbelief and totally invest in the story.  Dominion fails here.

One of the problems is that this movie doesn't seem to understand its own franchise.  The introduction of the giant locusts is so odd.  I understand it as a plot device, but it is not in keeping with the theme of dinosaur mayhem.  The series has been building to the idea of contending with dinosaurs in the real world outside of an isolated area.  But we get so little of this that it feels almost like a bait and switch.  

In terms of plot structure, this movie has the same problem that Inglorious Basterds had: the two main storylines are too separated.  They do converge towards the end, but the jumping between both plot lines feels more tedious than engaging.

The biggest detriment to the story is the character of Maisie.  The screenwriters have built a story with her at the emotional core.  The problem is that she is a terrible character.  Sermon does a fine job, but we encounter Maisie as a whiney teenager.  Owen and Claire have rules about keeping her on their property, but she constantly ventures out.  Instead of making this feel like the understandable actions of an adolescent, it just feels so frustrating.  On Maisie's part, she feels ABSOLUTELY NO REMORSE for unleashing a plague of deadly creatures onto the world.  Every person in who gets killed by a dinosaur is her fault and she doesn't care.  Instead, we are meant to be totally emotionally invested in her quest for her own identity.  There is a reason why the children in the Jurassic movies were not the main characters on whom the plot rested.

Also because of the two parallel stories, none of the characters have time to really shine.  Fallen Kingdom was saved from being worse than this movie because it allowed Pratt's charisma to shine through.  But his Owen has so little to do that this is impossible.  (He does, however, have one incredibly awesome and manly moment with a dilophosaurus that had me laughing with delight).  Alan and Ellie awkwardly rekindle their romance, but it does not have any space to breathe.  Ian is so marginalized that he mostly sits around snacking making snarky comments, as if he is in the theater with us commenting on the movie's ridiculousness.  He has so little consequence to the story that the most heroic moment he has is undermined by someone else doing it for him.

The new characters are so bland that they make no impact. No-nonsense pilot Kayla (DeWanda Wise) has no personality other than being tough.  Dodgeson is a sniveling megalomaniac who rationalizes away his evil.  This is a far cry from Jon Hammond, who was so incredibly likable and engaging even as he was horribly wrong about everything.

Strangely, this is the most unintentionally pro-gun movie I have seen in a long time.  Over and over again, I kept thinking to myself, "If only these characters had machine guns, they would be fine."  And even when characters have guns, they DON'T USE THEM.  In one scene, some federal agents with guns are confronted by raptors.  Instead of shooting the raptors (who I must remind you ARE NOT BULLETPROOF), these trained officers decide to run without firing a shot.  One of them gets corned inside a small boat while a raptor keeps sticking its head through a small opening.  Instead of SHOOTING THE RAPTOR IN THE HEAD, he only fires upward to try and get out through a window.

All movies have logic problems, but we forgive them because we invest in the story.  But if we don't invest, we don't forgive.  It's hard to explain how asinine the story elements are so


-lumberjacks immediately listen to a 12-year-old they don't know about how to handle dinosaurs.

-Blue is reproducing asexually in the wild.  This means that she must immediately be captured or killed because the deadly raptors cannot remain unchecked.  No one brings this up.

-Only our heroes find it suspicious that the Megalocausts don't eat the crops made by the bad guys.

-Maisie is the clone of Charlotte Lockwood.  We find out that Charlotte made Maisie and gave birth to her, thus making her the mother of her own clone.  I turned to my wife during the movie and said "Is it me or is this absolutely grotesque."  But no, it is meant to be a heart-warming moment.

-why would guest lecturer like Ian be given access to a top-secret lab?

-Maisie is told that her and Beta's DNA can be used to save the world from the Megalocusts.  Her response is to run away and set Beta loose.  At the end of the movie, with no new revelations or motivation, she agrees to help.

-Claire gets hunted by an herbivore

-the sealed off lab with the Megalocusts has it attached to a large vent that they can swarm out of and into the park.

-some dinosaurs have vision based on movement until they don't.

-Awful Tech-, sorry, BioSyn hits a button that recalls all of the dinosaurs into the main campus out of the park.  And yet, it doesn't effect the dinosaurs that have to remain to kill someone the plot wants dead.

-Why do the T. Rex and the FreddyKrugersaurus team up Tag Team Style?  They use the same trope in the original Jurassic World, but this fight was so unearned that it defies logic.


Jurassic World: Dominion had a chance to course correct and bring this series to a thrilling conclusion.  Instead, you will be glad that this franchise may be going extinct.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Sunday Best: Catholic Skywalker Ten Year Anniversary - Most-Liked Film Review

 I have already reposted my most-read film review.  But this is the one on which I got the most positive feedback.  I think I can understand why.  

Usually when I write a movie review, I try to be very fair and even-handed.  While I know that the reader wants my genuine opinion, I try to be as objective as someone can be in the arts.  

But sometimes there are things that just put an itch in my brain.  And that happened with Jurassic Word: Fallen Kingdom.  The only way I could deal with some of the absolute stupidity of this movie was by getting rather salty.  

I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine recently about stand-up comedy.  We agreed that if someone was to pursue this as a career, they would need to remove the guard-rails in their mind that we use to integrate into polite society.  Great comedy comes partially from being willing to say what other people are not.  I don't think that this movie review is great comedy, but it did involve letting go of my normal formality because it was the only way I could express how this movie made me feel.

Let me know if the review holds up.

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

The movie Independence Day is a good movie with some really stupid parts (e.g. the Randy Quaid drunk pilot storyline).  After this movie was a hit, the makers of that movie went on to make Godzilla.  When they made that movie it felt like they said, "You know all of the stupid parts of Independence Day, let's make a movie just like that but with none of the good stuff!"

And that is how it feels watching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

The movie takes place three years after the last movie.  The park has shut down and the dinosaurs run freely.  However, the active volcano underneath the island is about to erupt.  Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is now a dinosaur rights activist who is trying to evacuate the animals before they go extinct again.  She runs an organization that has Paleo-veterinarian Zia (Daniella Pineda) and IT nerd Franklin (Justice Smith).  She is made an offer by Mr. Bob Evil- I'm sorry, by Mr. Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), who runs the fortune of John Hammond's old partner Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell).  Mills needs Claire to access the tracking systems so they can evacuate the dinosaurs, but especially Blue the Raptor.  To do this, they also need Owen (Chris Pratt) to give his help.

There are several places that this movie goes wrong:

First, it makes the same mistake that Spielberg made when he directed The Lost World.  It is important to understand that the dinosaurs represent nature itself in all of its horror and glory.  The first Jurassic Park and Jurassic World had very real scares and thrills.  But they also filled you with a sense of wonder at these creatures.  You not only felt fear, but you felt grandeur and majesty.  Both The Lost World and Fallen Kingdom remove the awe and leave only the action and the fear.  These sequels devolve into monster movies.  You can see this most clearly when the main evil dinosaur literally climbs through the bedroom window of a little girl (Isabella Sermon) and stalks over to her bed to eat her.  There's nothing wrong with monster movies per se, but when dealing with the Jurassic franchise, you disengage one of your strongest emotional tethers.

Second, the story is really stupid.

Please forgive this digression, but it will help illustrate my point.  The dumbest part of the first Jurassic World was Vincent D'Onofrio's character wanting to weaponize the dinosaurs.  This is pure idiocy and I think most of the audience understood that.  The makers of this movie built the entire storyline around this idea.  At one point in the movie, an evil auctioneer (Toby Jones) introduces their assassin-sauraus and demonstrates how to us it:  A man with a rifle and laser scope will point the red dot laser at the target.  He will then hit a button that makes a siren noise.  This will cause the assassin-sauraus to eat the the target.

[Hand raised in the back]  I have a few questions:
1.  Why use the dinosaur when the laser is attached to perfectly good rifle that can be shot at a distance?
2.  If you can afford the gun, why are you spending millions on a dinosaur assassin?
3.  Why would make it so that both the gunman and the dinosaur had be both within line of sight to the target and earshot?
4.  How much would it cost to transport that large dinosaur from location to location to kill people?
5.  How do you sneak the dinosaur close enough to the target without them noticing that a large, snarling predator  is getting closer?
6.  If the target has even a small security detail, wouldn't their bullets (like the ones in the gun with the laser pointer) kill the dinosaur?
7.  Once the dinosaur has eaten the target, how do you escape unnoticed?  Do we have a dino-disguise with an oversized trench coat and fedora waiting?
8.  If this works with dinosaurs, why hasn't anyone tried it with lions and tigers and bears? (Oh my!)

As you can see, the filmmakers decided to abandon reason and instead embrace mindless thrills.

Third, there is absolutely no character development.  In the first movie, Claire goes through a journey where she comes to connect to the dinosaurs emotionally and grows closer to her nephews.  In this movie she does have a connection to the little girl Maisie, but it is too fast and forced.  The script doesn't give any of the characters room to grow.  And all of the new characters are flat.  The sadistic military man (Ted Levine, who played Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs), is given every nasty trait imaginable for no reason other than the plot depends on it.  He has this horrible desire to pull teeth out of living dinosaurs simply because it makes him look more evil.  Zia is just a tough girl and Franklin is a wimp.  The only character that has any layers is Benjamin Lockwood, but the story doesn't explore the emotional depths and secrets he holds.

Fourth, the movie has an insane moral view.

Animals are not persons.  One human life is worth more than an entire island of dinosaurs.  The thing I hated the most about The Lost World was the Vince Vaughn character.  Because that character tried to save the dinosaurs, he is responsible for every death on that island.  The only way you could see him in any way other than a villain would be to say there is some sort of moral equivalence between humans and dinosaurs.  Fallen Kingdom seems to fall into this trap.  When dinosaurs die, we are supposed to feel sad.  When most of the humans dies, we are supposed to cheer.  I don't care if the humans who are killed had questionable morals.  Even Denis Nedry's death wasn't played for laughs.

One of the only things preventing this movie from spiraling into a complete disaster is Pratt.  He retains all of his well-earned charisma.  He brings life and enjoyment to every scene that he is in.  He isn't in the movie enough, which is saying something since he is in most of the movie.  Like Jurassic World, the sequel tells the story primarily from Claire's perspective when Owen is so much more interesting.  He is the voice of reason and logic.

The second thing is that director JA Bayona actually managed to put in some real thrills in the movie.  As I said, it devolves into a monster movie, but that doesn't mean that is a bad monster movie.  There is a sequence with a tranquilized T-Rex that is incredibly fun to watch.

Bayona also has one scene with a dinosaur on a shipping dock that pulls at your heartstrings in a way that I wasn't prepared for.  It is a moment of visual excellence that makes you wish the entire movie was made with the same care.

If you want a movie of the quality of Jurassic Park or Jurassic World, then skip Fallen Kingdom.  But if you want to shut your brain off for two hours and enjoy the dumb roller-coaster, then this is worth your money.

image by Yasir72.multan