ReasonForOurHope

Friday, March 31, 2023

Film Flash: John Wick - Chapter 4

 



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


Wick + Nunchucks = Awesome!  Franchise fans will not be disappointed.   (though a bit long)

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Film Review: Jesus Revolution

 


Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable

Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable

Anti-Catholic Philosophy No Objection

Jesus Revolution is unlike most Christian films I have seen in that it shows you the darker side of the religious revival.  

And this is not a deconstruction of the Christian faith.  It is a Christian film in the truest sense that its ultimate purpose is to evangelize.

Jesus Revolution takes place in the late 1960's California.  The hippie movement of counter-culture has taken much of the country by storm, especially among the young.  Adults have a hard time relating to those who would see the world so differently.  This is especially true of Revered Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), who has a aging and dwindling congregation who listen to his milquetoast Sunday sermons.  His daughter Janette (Ally Ioannides) one day picks up a hippie Christian hitchhiker named Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie).  She brings Lonnie to meet her father to open his eyes to ways in which he can reach the young.  Lonnie's ways are radical, yet he is clearly moved by a spirit of love and peace.  Chuck brings more of these hippies into his church, which leads to conflict but also growth.

There is a parallel story that takes place.  Greg (Joel Courtney), is a young man who is lost.  He falls for Cathe (Anna Grace Barlow) and they both embrace the hippie lifestyle of drugs and pleasure.  But eventually find their way into the Jesus Revolution and struggle to find where God is calling them.

It is this second story that actually takes up most of the film's run time, even the first one is more interesting.

When the movement really takes off, we only reach the half-way point of the film.  This surprised me, because I thought the story-lines had been resolved in a satisfactory way.  But the movie wanted to go further, particularly with Lonnie.  Throughout the first half, he is intuitively spiritual, compassionate, and insightful to the point of possibly being mystical.  But then cracks begin to form in uncomfortable ways.  It starts when he is being interviewed and he calls the congregation, "my church."  It is a small and subtle shift, but there is something important changing in him.  I will not spoil the rest, but I was shocked to see how the movie explored this aspect of ministry: the temptation to see yourself as the savior and not Christ.

The movie is beautifully shot by directors Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle.  Their visual representation of what Baptism does was very touching.  The acting is also very good.  Grammer knocks it out of the park with Chuck's slow changes.  Roumie is allowed to play both the saint and the struggler in ways I have not seen before, and both sides of him are incredibly charismatic.  Courtney and Barlow have good chemistry with each other, so you want their relationship to succeed.

The writing is decent, though the script could have used a bit more of a polish.  There are side plots that don't really need to be there.  Thematically, it is right on the money.  The movie is clearly meant to be an alegory to the modern divide between boomers and millenials.  We don't seem to be able to talk to each other, so someone has to reach out.  Chuck is written as someone who yearns to do the right thing.  One of my favorite moments is when one of the members of his church says that the hippies have to leave because their dirty feet are ruining the church carpet.  Chuck's solution is simple and powerful.

I also love that the movie is not shy about warning us about putting too much faith in men.  Lonnie may be sent by God, but he is not God.  Greg's faith is tested because of the faith he placed in Lonnie.  Those of us in ministry must always guard against this temptation of pride because of the way it can hurt so many people.  It reminds me of the words of St. Paul  "No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. " (1 Corinthians 9:27) 

Jesus Revolution doesn't shy away from the darker side of ministry.  But it is an uplifting film that reminds us that Christ is greater than our own failings, if we let Him lift us up.




Sunday, March 26, 2023

Sunday Best: Top 5 Recurring Characters on Star Trek: The Next Generation

 File:Star Trek The Next Generation Logo.svg

Recently I was able to get my wife addicted to Star Trek: The Next Generation.  When we have finished going through the series, I will write about what I believe are the ten best episodes.

But not wanting to spoil anything for her yet, I thought I would reflect on the Top 5 Recurring Characters.

One of the great things about this series is that they would have some characters come back repeatedly and we could watch their stories develop.  Some are only in two episodes, but their effect is powerful.

Reducing the number to 5 was difficult, but here are the best ones.


5. Alexander Rozhenko

Keeping only to the character development on The Next Generation, Alexander provided such an intersting view into Worf's world.  Having spent his early childhood raised by his half-human mother, Alexander was much more human than Klingon, which caused Worf no small amount of frustration.  

However, Alexander also brought out something human in Worf as well.  This is especially apparent in the "Ethics" episode where Worf chooses life because of Alexander.

His story arc comes to a head with an interesting time-travel story (that I will not spoil here), which shows the culmination of his relationship with his father and the fulfillment of Worf's character arch on this show.


4.  Moriarty

I am fascinated when this show takes the story in directions that I did not see coming.  When Moriarty was made in his original episode, I thought that the story was going to show him as a typical villain.  But instead, we discovered a being who was gifted and cursed with consciousness and only wanted to live.

When he returned, I got a strong Wrath of Kahn vibe from the story: the heroes had failed in their obligations and so consequences occur.  All the while, I could not help but root for him.

3.  Q

You could argue that he is the most important recurring character, setting up the events at the beginning and the end of the series.  If he was only an omnipotent imp, he would not be on this list, despite John de Lancie's entertaining performance.

What makes Q so interesting is that over the course of 7 years, he actually changes.  His arrogant perch overseeing humanity slowly gets dismantled.  Despite himself, you see how he develops admiration and even affection for humanity, Picard in particular.  Part of Star Trek is about finding the humanity in everyone.  This was done very slowly and subtly with Q

2. Lt. Reginald Barclay

Back in the day, many of us sci-fi nerds were shy and introverted.  We wanted to be like the bold and daring characters in our stories.  Barclay was different because he was like us.  At the very least he was like me.  I never forgot how true to home his words were when he said, "I'm the tyupe of person who memorizes things to talk about at a party and then spends hours in the corner trying to look interested in examining a potted plant."

They always gave Barclay these nervous tendencies, but the stretched him to grow.  He showed us that it was okay to be reserved and shy, but that sometimes we have to overcome these difficulties when the hour of need comes.

1.  Guinan

At first Guinan was very much a Deus Ex Machina character who offered sage and infallible advice to our characters.  And while this is Whoopi Goldberg at her most charismatic, for a long time she was a wise character with no dimension.

But over the series, layers were added to her.  You see this especially in the "I, Borg," where her inerent moral sense showed cracks for the first time.  We could see that though she had the wisdom of age and experience, she was still someone who needed to grow and change. 

In "Time's Arrow," we got to see a younger Guinan, one filled with energy and rebellion.  She was filled with a fire that cooled with age.  Peeling back layers like this help us understand not only her character, but the insight into how time will teach us to grow more human, if we allow it.


What are your thoughts?  Did I miss anyone who should be on this list?

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Film Flash: SHAZAM! - Fury of the Gods




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


More enjoyable than the first SHAZAM!  Some lazy writing keeps it from being great.



Monday, March 20, 2023

New Evangelizers Post: Between Presumption and Despair

                                         


 


I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com.  


Human beings are funny creatures.

We often find ourselves heading to one extreme or the opposite. For example, take the sins against salvation: presumption and despair.

Presumption is the belief that no matter what I do, I am going to Heaven. Every once in a while, you may encounter someone of this mindset. Usually it is something that is unconcsiously implied by behavior. Many of us just assume we are going to Heaven because we haven’t commited any attrocious sin. “I’m not going to Hell,” they may say to themsevels. “Hell is for the murderers and criminals. Not me. I haven’t murdered anybody. I haven’t stolen anything.”

In CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce, there is a soul that will not go into Heaven because he does not understand why a repentant murderer is allowed in Heaven, but not himself. He says:

“I gone straight all my life. I don’t say I was a religious man and I don’t say I had no faults, far from it. But I done my best all my life, see? I done my best by everyone, that’s the sort of chap I was. I never asked for anything that wasn’t mine by rights… I only want my rights.”

This soul thought Heaven was something owed to him because he didn’t live out his perception of evil. But this is the sin of presumption.

Sometimes this sin is very explicit in the “Once saved, always saved mentality.” Not everyone who believes in salvation through faith is like this. But there are some who think that their faith in Christ will cover all of their sins. As a result, no matter how they lie, cheat, and steal, they believe they will go to Heaven because they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

However, Christ warns us against thinking this way in the Gospel of Matthew. He says, ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,* but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.* Depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Matt 7:21-23)

It is important to not fall into the opposite sin: despair. This is a sin where I believe that no matter what I do, God will not save me.

People who fall into despair are crushed by the weight of their sins and think that there is no possible way that they can be granted forgiveness.

I remember my first year as a teacher. From my first days until now, I always tell students that they should think about becoming a priest or a religious sister. I am only half-joking, since I sincerely wish to cultivate vocations. Normally the reaction is a little nervous laughter and the suggestion is brushed off quickly. But I remember that first year saying to one of my students that she should become a nun. But instead of laughing and shrugging, she became very grave and said, “Oh no. God wouldn’t want me after the things I’ve done.”

My heart broke for her. In her mind, she considered herself damaged goods. She was sullied and worthless and God wouldn’t want her. That is a demonic lie that Satan uses to drive us from the Mercy of God. Despair is a sin because it presumes that our offenses are so great that God could not forgive them. This shows an amazing lack of faith in His goodness and His power.

But doesn’t St. Paul says that we should “work out your salvation with fear and trembling[?]” Philippians 2:12.

Yes, but not to the point of despair. And nor should we fall into presumption.

Instead, we should live in hope.




You can read the whole article here.




Sunday, March 19, 2023

Sunday Best: Oscar Results 2023 and Oscar Game Winner

 So the Oscars were last week.

I stayed up and watched the entire show.  This apparently wasn't the case for most people, since this was one of the lowest-rated Oscars in history.  

So below are my thoughts.  Also, I will announce the winner of the Oscar Game.


1. Kimmel Was Good?

I am not a fan of Jimmy Kimmel.  I usually find his humor mean and divisive.  So I was cringing at the thought of him hosting.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by his opening act.  His jokes were funny, self-deprecating, and generally good humored.  His jabs were not really at his political enemies, but at the rich celebrities present.  And since this was a night to shower them with gifts, a good-natured ribbing was certainly in order.  I ended up laughing more than I expected.  Of course, as the show went on, his sharpened jabs would come out.  But by then, he had already done the main job, which was setting up a fun tone for the night.

2. Ke Moment of the Night

As I wrote earlier, the only award I was really excited for was Ke Huay Kwan to win Best Supporting Actor.  Not only did he win, but he gave one of the nicest acceptance speeches I ever heard.  As the son of an immigrant, his words about the American Dream really resonate with me.  And of course, there was nothing finer than watching Short Round hug Indy when Best Picture was announced.

3. Big Night for Science Fiction

In many ways, this is one of the first Science Fiction movies to win big.  Yes there was The Shape of Water, but it did not win nearly as many awards as Everything Everywhere All At Once.  And while I think that this is a good but flawed movie, I was happy for its success and the success of its cast and crew.

4. In Memoriam Fail.

Every year the Academy fails at their In Memoriam.  While John Travolta's opening introduction was moving, stars like Anne Heche, Tom Sizemore, Paul Sorvino, Cindy Williams and many others were left out.

5. Too Long (Again)

Kimmel pointed out that the inclusion of the technical awards was for the audience in that theater and not the audience at home.  While I respect these artists, the show is already way too long.  My main suggestion is actually to remove that stupid banter that occurs before the awards are read.  No one cares and it eats up so much time.

What were your thoughts?


OSCAR GAME WINNER.

So I calculated the results of the Oscar Game.  Thank you again to everyone who played!

In 3rd Place with 12.2 points is Superhero Wife!

In 2nd Place with 12.6 points is Reckless Star!

And in 1st Place with 19.4 points is Catholic Skywalker!

(One of the reasons I publish my choices beforehand is to show that everything is above board.  Readers are free to score my ballot for themselves.)

I look forward to playing again next year!

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Willow is Dead (TV Review)

 


I hate Willow because I love Willow.

When I was a boy, my parents got divorced.  One weekend with my mom, she took us all out to the movies.  As you can imagine, it was a difficult time for all of us.  But those sorrows melted away when we sat in the theater and watched Willow.  It seems too close to a pun to say that the experience was "magical."  But the movie filled me with wonder.  

My father would often take us on road trips, but he set up a TV and VCR in our van back when things like that weren't built in.  More often than not, on that road trip we watched Willow.  We loved Willow, Madmartigan, Sorsha, and all of them.  James Horner's score is as good as anything by John Williams.  The world created there filled my imagination and I always remembered the movie fondly.

I even had the great thrill of briefly meeting Warwick Davis and thanking him for his performance.

What I am trying to say, in short, is that I have always loved Willow.

But then Disney+ gave us the TV show sequel, also called Willow.

And it was one of the worst TV shows I've ever seen.

That is not hyperbole.  I am dumbfounded at how intentionally awful things in this show are.  It is incredibly clear from the content that the writers of the show did not care about the characters, lore, or the world of Willow.  

SPOILERS AHEAD

The story takes place many years after the events of the movie.  Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) is queen, but Madmardigan is gone.  He left behind twin children: his son Airk (Dempsey Bryk), who is only interested in seducing maidens like his latest catch Dove (Ellie Bamber), and his daughter Kit (Ruby Cruz), a head-strong wannabe warrior.  To secure an alliance of kingdoms, Kit is promised in marriage to Graydon (Tony Revolori), a prince she just met.  However, an evil force kidnaps Airk.  So Kit and Graydon go to rescue him.  Joining them are Kit's closest companion, the warrior Jade (Erin Kellyman), a thief released by Sorsha named Thraxus Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), and old guard Kase (Simon Armstrong).  Soon after leaving they find that the love-struck Dove has followed them.  Before they can get her to turn back, they are attacked by Bone Reavers and Kase is killed.  The rest of the group make it to Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis).  Willow agrees to help them find Airk, but he also reveals that the kitchen made Dove is secretly Elora Dannon.

Now, nothing about the above description spells doom.  It isn't the concept that kills it.  It's the execution.

The dialogue is nothing short of horrendous.  It feels like it was written by 7th graders.  There is no nuance, depth, or subtlety.  At one point, the group is capture by trolls.  The trolls then speak like modern bohemians.  Characters say things that make no sense.  The go on deep emotional conversations in the middle of life-threatening situations.  Do you think you could process your trauma of not being your father's favorite at a time when giant rocks AREN'T crashing from above to kill us?

The plotting is also horrible.  Like the Obi-Wan show, this feels like was originally a 2-hour movie stretched over 10.  Almost everything feels like pointless filler.  

To give you an example of how bad the plot is, let's talk about Kase.  He is an old soldier who loves Airk like a son, which is why he volunteers to go and rescue the young man.  When he is murdered by the Bone Reavers, it is actually done as a punchline.  Fair enough if that's how the show wants to play it.  However, later in the series they get caught by Bone Reavers and almost immediately become friends with them because Jade is secretly the leader's sister.  And all the while, no one brings up that these people MURDERED a good old man who was their companion.  Instead, they party and joke as if it doesn't matter.

One of the things that made Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings a masterpiece is that it took its world seriously.  They filmed Middle-Earth as if it was history.  None of that is found in Willow.  The sights and sounds are all tonal 21st century American.  They find a riddling stone face that plays game-show music.  At one point with the Bone Reavers, the people are dancing to "Crimson and Clover."  On this last example, I told my friend about it and he shouted "You lie!"  He could not believe the stupidity of it.  Everything here feels like some kind of ironic 21st century commentary, like a Saturday Night Live skit.

A lot has been made about putting modern politics and morality into this.  And yes, it is annoying, but even that was not done competently.  Kit and Jade are the main homosexual romance of the show.  Somewhere in the second half of the season, we have a seen where Kit tries to build up her courage to kiss Jade.  The problem with scene is that it has no power because the writers were so eager to show their representation that they had Kit kiss Jade in the very first episode.  This removes almost all the romantic tension, all the nuance, subtlety, and build-up.  It feels incredibly un-organic, but placed into the world of Willow simply because it could be placed there.  Kit is also one of the worst written characters in fantasy.  She is violent, vain, selfish, oblivious, and we are meant to love her for all of these qualities.  She is a being of almost pure envy, which makes her unrelatable to most people.

What is a shame is that the actors do their best with the material and could have actually created something really enjoyable with even a half-way decent script.  When the script doesn't get in the way, Elora is loveable, Boorman is funny, and Graydon is endearing.  And when the show requires Davis to be more than Luke Skywalker from The Last Jedi, he really steps up to the plate.  The penultimate episode has the crew try to cross the Shattered Sea.  That entire sequence is well-shot, well-paced, and rich with character development.  You can see all of the potential of the show in this one episode.  

Willow could have been great! 

But they chose to make something awful.

This new Willow is built on talentless snark and cynicismThat is why it could never be anything close to the original.  Because of that this 1-Season show was cancelled a season too late.

That is because the original Willow had something the TV show lacks:

Heart.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Film Flash: Jesus Revolution

 

JesusRevolutionPoster.png


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


A Christian film that explores not only the beauty but the pitfalls of charismatic movements

Star rating 3.5 of 5.png
 

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Sunday Best: Oscars 2023 Tonight (and Last Chance for Oscar Game)

 


Tonight are the Oscars.  

This used to be my yearly Super Bowl.  And while the bloom is off the rose, I still watch every year.

The Academy was wise to nominate the two highest-grossing films of the year: Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water.  But I still think this will be a very low-rated Oscars.  I think it will be up from last year.  People will be interested in if there is another outrageous incident like the Smith/Rock assault.

But, as has been the case for the past few years, most people haven't seen most of the movies nominated.  I've seen a good number of them, but not all.  As John Nolte pointed out as of last week, the independed Christian film Jesus Revolution has already grossed more than 4 of the Best Picture nominees combined.

The only movie in my Top 5 that made it onto the nominee list is Top Gun, which really doesn't have a chance of winning.  This movie also was locked out of most of the major awards, which once again shows how the nomination is more of a token.

The hopeful highlight for me tonight is if Key Hu Kwan wins an Oscar tonight.  I loved him as a child actor and I am so happy for his comeback.  Not only would be a heartfelt, feel-good story, but it would be well-deserved.  His performance was one of the best of the year and I hope he gets the recognition he deserves.

This is also the last chance to enter the Oscar Game.  Just fill out the chart below.  The winner will get bragging rights and a mention on this blog.  And just to keep everything above board, I am publishing my votes for tonight as well.









Here are my choices so far:

NameKevin Juguilon
BEST PICTURE - MY CHOICETop Gun: Maverick — Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie, David Ellison and Jerry Bruckheimer, Producers
BEST PICTURE - MY PREDICTIONEverything Everywhere All at Once — Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert and Jonathan Wang, Producers
BEST DIRECTOR - MY CHOICEEverything Everywhere All at Once — Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
BEST DIRECTOR - MY PREDICTIONEverything Everywhere All at Once — Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
BEST ACTOR - MY CHOICEAustin Butler in Elvis
BEST ACTOR - MY PREDICTIONBrendan Fraser in The Whale
BEST ACTRESS - MY CHOICEMichelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once
BEST ACTRESS - MY PREDICTIONMichelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - MY CHOICEKe Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - MY PREDICTIONKe Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - MY CHOICEJamie Lee Curtis in Everything Everywhere All at Once
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - MY PREDICTIONAngela Bassett in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - MY CHOICETop Gun: Maverick — Screenplay by Ehren Kruger and Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie; Story by Peter Craig and Justin Marks
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - MY PREDICTIONWomen Talking — Screenplay by Sarah Polley
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - MY CHOICEEverything Everywhere All at Once — Written by Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - MY PREDICTIONThe Fabelmans — Written by Steven Spielberg & Tony Kushner
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE - MY CHOICEThe Fabelmans — John Williams
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE - MY PREDICTIONThe Fabelmans — John Williams
BEST ORIGINAL SONG - MY CHOICE“Naatu Naatu” from RRR; Music by M.M. Keeravaani; Lyric by Chandrabose
BEST ORIGINAL SONG - MY PREDICTION“Naatu Naatu” from RRR; Music by M.M. Keeravaani; Lyric by Chandrabose
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM - MY CHOICETurning Red — Domee Shi and Lindsey Collins
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM - MY PREDICTIONGuillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio — Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson, Gary Ungar and Alex Bulkley
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY - MY CHOICEElvis — Mandy Walker
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY - MY PREDICTIONAll Quiet on the Western Front — James Friend
BEST COSTUME DESIGN - MY CHOICEEverything Everywhere All at Once — Shirley Kurata
BEST COSTUME DESIGN - MY PREDICTIONElvis — Catherine Martin
BEST FILM EDITING - MY CHOICEEverything Everywhere All at Once — Paul Rogers
BEST FILM EDITING - MY PREDICTIONEverything Everywhere All at Once — Paul Rogers
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING - MY CHOICEThe Batman — Naomi Donne, Mike Marino and Mike Fontaine
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING - MY PREDICTIONThe Whale — Adrien Morot, Judy Chin and Anne Marie Bradley
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN - MY CHOICEAvatar: The Way of Water — Production Design: Dylan Cole and Ben Procter; Set Decoration: Vanessa Cole
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN - MY PREDICTIONBabylon — Production Design: Florencia Martin; Set Decoration: Anthony Carlino
BEST SOUND - MY CHOICETop Gun: Maverick — Mark Weingarten, James H. Mather, Al Nelson, Chris Burdon and Mark Taylor
BEST SOUND - MY PREDICTIONTop Gun: Maverick — Mark Weingarten, James H. Mather, Al Nelson, Chris Burdon and Mark Taylor
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS - MY CHOICEAvatar: The Way of Water — Joe Letteri, Richard Baneham, Eric Saindon and Daniel Barrett
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS - MY PREDICTIONAvatar: The Way of Water — Joe Letteri, Richard Baneham, Eric Saindon and Daniel Barrett
BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM - MY PREDICTIONAll Quiet on the Western Front — Germany
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE - MY PREDICTIONFire of Love — Sara Dosa, Shane Boris and Ina Fichman
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT - MY PREDICTION“Stranger at the Gate” — Joshua Seftel and Conall Jones
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM- MY PREDICTION“The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” — Charlie Mackesy and Matthew Freud
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM- MY PREDICTION“Le Pupille” — Alice Rohrwacher and Alfonso CuarĂ³n

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Film Review: Creed III

 



Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable

Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Mature

Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

A hero is only as good as his villain.

This is a standard writing principle that helps explain why Creed III is the best of the Creed movies.

The film focuses on Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), reaching the pinnacle of the sporting world.  He is a champion who ends his career on a high note, he has a talented and loving wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and a wonderful young daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent).  They live in luxury while Adonis uses his days to continue to shape the sport and train the next generation of champions.  But then his old friend Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors) comes back into his life.  As teens, Adonis helped Damian train as a boxer, until Damian was sentenced to prison.  But now, Damian has just been released after two decades, where he had no contacted from Adonis.  Cagey and anxious, Damian begs Adonis to help him get a shot a the title.  Adonis is apprehensive because of Damian's age and inexperience, but he knows how much he owes him from their time as youths.  This sets the two men on a course that eventually puts them at odds with each other in the ring.

What makes this movie work even better than the previous Creed movies is that this antagonist really matters.  The previous two villains were almost blank slates, flat obstacles to overcome.  But Damian is different.  As you learn why Damian goes to jail and how Adonis reacted, you cannot help but pity Damian as Adonis does.  But all the pain and rage comes out in disturbing ways and you are torn by the conflict that Adonis feels:  what do you do when someone you love and someone you owe starts crossing a line?  One of the great things that the first two Rocky movies did was that Apollo Creed had a rich character development so that you understood who he was and why he did the things he did.  Even when you rooted for Rocky, you didn't hate Apollo.  Damian has the edge of Clubber Lang, but the character depth of Apollo.

I cannot say enough good things about Majors.  Jordan already brings a ton of charisma to the screen, so it takes some doing to outshine him, but Majors does.  Everything he does on screen draws you in so that you can't take your eyes off of him.  He has this practiced smile that seems sweet, but feels forced.  He is always moving and looking around like someone with PTSD.  His physicality is phenomenal, reminding me of a young Mike Tyson.  And when Damian's mask does fall, you still can't help but understand him.  That is because Majors infuses him with so much humanity.  That isn't to take anything away from Jordan.  This movie shows how success can make you soft and how he rediscovers his inner strength.  Jordan doesn't try to out muscle Majors.  Instead, he shows all the layers of a man who has settled into domestic life.  Damian keeps accusing Adonis of going soft.  But there is something mature about a man who grows into a husband and father that Damian misses.  It reminds me of how some Star Wars fans think that Han Solo became lesser from Empire Strikes Back to Return of the Jedi because he becomes more domesticated.  But I always saw that as Han growing instead of lessening as a character.

The other performances are good.  Thompson is probably at the best I've seen her here.  She has no cynicism and plays the part of the supporting wife without feeling like she is simply echoing her husbands feelings.  Davis-Kent is incredibly cute and her scenes with Jordan are heart-warming.  The rest of the supporting cast doesn't have much to do, but they also don't use that time to match up to these performances.  That is one of the few things that stops this movie from bumping up a level.  IF they had taken time to really develop the side characters and if the actors there gave better performances, this movie could be one of the all-time greats.  Conspicuously missing is Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, who is only briefly mentioned.  And while his absence is felt, it does not deter too greatly from the story.

This also Jordan's debut as a director, which bodes well for him.  The movie is slick and shot well, keeping the plot moving at a tight pace.  I especially like the way he filmed the fight scenes.  The boxing matches have a completely different flavor than anything in the Rocky/Creed franchise thus far.  And that is good thing.  He uses some very creative and interesting visual flourishes to make the final match between Adonis and Damian something that is more personal than it is a spectacle.

I especially like the themes that this movie deals.  Adonis abandoned his best friend for his new life.  He has to deal with that guilt while at the same time understanding that he was just a kid at the time.  The movie dives deeply into the questions of guilt, forgiveness, envy, and friendship.  And one of the things I liked about it too was that it left a number of its questions unanswered.  Is Adonis a sell out?  While he is a noble family man, has he forgotten his roots and his community?  You as the audience get to answer that.  It is a question that we as Christians ask ourselves all the time as we encounter success.  And the movie understands the power of repentance and forgiveness.

This is also an intensely masculine film.  Adonis and Damian are powerhouses of manly energy.  And while the movie does show the flaws of this stoic lifestyle, as Adonis has trouble talking about his feelings to his wife.  But ultimately it acknowledges that there are certain ways that men deal with their problems, which is why Adonis has to get back into the ring.  Neither man is feminized, but both come barreling at each other, full steam ahead.

The could easily end the Creed movies here and it go out on a high-note.  But something tells me with the success of this film, we will see Adonis in the ring once again.




Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Film Flash: Creed III


 



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


Best Creed movie yet, focusing on manhood and responsibility.  Jonathan Majors shines as the antagonist.






Monday, March 6, 2023

New Evangelizers Post: Preparation for Prayer

                                        


 


I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com.  


As mentioned last week, one of the three pillars of Lent is prayer.

Like most of you, I am in continual need to grow in my prayer life. And far be it from me to give advice to those who are my spiritual betters. But one thing I have noticed is that many people say that they “try” to pray but that they do not get anything out of the experience.

On of the reasons for this is that we need to prepare for prayer.

To be sure, prayer can be spontaneous and sometimes brief. In class, if a student asks a deep question, I quickly pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance. When and ambulance passes by, my wife and I pray a “Hail Mary” for the safety of all involved.

But in addition to this, we must make sure to set aside time for deep, personal prayer. We know who and what we love by the way we give our time. Time is life. Every minute of free time you give is a piece of your life that you can never get back. So with that in mind we must give our life, our time to God in prayer.

It is not merely quantity of time that is important, but quality. 5 minutes of very good prayer can be more important than 3 hours of distracted prayer. However, we shouldn’t disregard the time spent in distracted prayer as wasted. He wrote, “I have a notion that what seem our worst prayers may really be, in God’s eyes, our best. Those, I mean, which are least supported by devotional feeling and contend with the greatest disinclination. For these, perhaps being nearly all will, come from a deeper level than feeling.” (CS Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer) The commitment we make to prayer is itself a kind of victory. As Fr. Mike Schmidt pointed out recently in a Lenten homily, consistency beats intensity every time. Part of building a good prayer life is building a consistent prayer life, even when the feelings are not there.

Once we have established that consistency, we are called to delve deeper. And while there are many ways to do this, I would like to focus on the preparation for prayer.

Prayer is encountering God. When you encounter other people, don’t you prepare yourself? You dress nicely or make sure your hair is combed and your teeth brushed. To be sure, we are less formal with the people around us. But if we are to give our attention to a person we love, we have to remove the distractions. Aren’t we perturbed when someone is watching the TV when we are trying to talk about our day?

The first thing is to find a space for prayer. We may not be able to find the perfect oasis, but we must do what we can where we are.

The next thing we need to do is remember that we are human, so we pray also with our bodies. We are in the flesh and we must use this to our advantage.

Prayer ultimately is making yourself present to the Presence of God. But we cannot be present to God if we are not present in the moment. Often we are thinking about things in the past or are distracted about our plans for later. We must be mindful of the present moment. How do we do this?

Here is where we can use the body to help. What I am about to share is something I received from a prayer book I used over 25 years ago. I have tried to find it again, but I cannot remember the title in order to give the author the proper credit for the below meditation. But the exercises used to prepare a person for prayer have helped me greatly. This is only one method of prayer preparation. Use for you what is most effective.

When entering your prayer space, find a comfortable position to sit, but not a position so comfortable as to cause drowsiness. Once in that position, close your eyes and be aware of your body and how it is comfortable.

Then begin to breathe slowly: in through the nose and out through the mouth. We breathe 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If we ever stopped we would die. But we barely notice. Now, notice the air rush down your nostrils. Feel the expanse in the chest and abdomen. Then feel the release of the muscles and the warm air rise up and out through the mouth. After a few moments, pray this prayer, “God, you are closer to me than my own breath. With every breath I breathe, make me more aware of your presence.”

Next, listen to the sounds around you. The world does not go away when we close our eyes. We are bombarded by sounds all the time, but we filter most out. But take time to hear all the sounds and be aware of their reality. After a few moments, pray this prayer, “God, you are more real than the sounds that I hear. With every sound I hear, make me more aware of your reality.”

Finally, be aware of the feeling of the clothes on your skin. We are encased in clothing most of the day, but we barely notice. Feel the texture of the fabric on your skin. Feel where it is loose or constrictive. Feel out it touches your body. After a few moments, prayer this prayer, “God, you are nearer to me than the clothes on my back. With every sensation I feel, make me more aware of your loving embrace.”




You can read the whole article here.




Sunday, March 5, 2023

Sunday Best: Top 10 Best Picture Oscar Winners

 The Oscars are supposed to be pinacel of the film industry: the best of the best.

As I've written before, the Academy Awards have slowly slid into irrelevancy with their terrible taste in films that turn off most audiences.  But that wasn't always the case.  

Below are what I believe are the 10 Best Movies to ever win the Best Picture Oscar.


10. Forrest Gump (1995)

Film poster with a white background and a park bench (facing away from the viewer) near the bottom. A man wearing a white suit is sitting on the right side of the bench and is looking to his left while resting his hands on both sides of him on the bench. A suitcase is sitting on the ground, and the man is wearing tennis shoes. At the top left of the image is the film's tagline and title and at the bottom is the release date and production credits.

I think that this movie has been reduced in people's minds because of the caricature of the main character.  But Robert Zemekis does an impressive feat along with Tom Hanks in creating a unique cinematic voice that is superbly acted, visually stunning, and always memorable.

9. Rocky (1977)

In a black-and-white poster, Rocky in his boxing outfit holding hands with another person. The tagline above the film's title reads "His whole life was a million-to-one shot." The film's credits are printed below the poster.

This is a raw movie.  The sequels make people forget how rough and tumble this film was.  Rocky's world is mean and dark.  The whole point of the movie is to ask whether this man can stand up and be a man against the best in the world.  The brilliance of this film is that in understands that the real prize is not the belt, but the fact that Rocky learns his own value.

8. Titanic (1998)

The film poster shows a man and a woman hugging over a picture of the Titanic's bow. In the background is a partly cloudy sky and at the top are the names of the two lead actors. The middle has the film's name and tagline, and the bottom contains a list of the director's previous works, as well as the film's credits, rating, and release date.

Because it was so popular, people sometimes write this film off as populist tripe.  But director James Cameron achieves an incredibly epic story with a strong emotional center.  There is a reason that this story struck such an emotional chord and Cameron was able to use all of his skills as a visual storyteller to make a film that pierced the heart.

7. West Side Story (1962)

West Side Story 1961 film poster.jpg

This could easily be written off as a relic of its day with its stylized dialogue and color palate.  In fact, that appears to be what Spielberg attempted to do in his remake.  But that is a mistake, because there is magic in the way this movie is made.  The opening prologue casts a spell on you that does not let go.  You are pulled into a world that is our own but not.  The bright colors and big, bombastic score promise love and adventure, which makes the tragedy all the more powerful.


6. The Sound of Music (1966)

Poster with an illustration of actress Julie Andrews dancing in the mountains

This is a nearly perfect film.  The casting is superb, the shots are gorgeous, and director Robert Wise created something truly iconic.  There is a reason that this movie makes it to number one on so many people's favorite movies.  It is a timeless film for the ages that beautifully captures the magic of love, faith, and music.

5. The Godfather (1973)

"The Godfather" written on a black background in stylized white lettering, above it a hand holds puppet strings.

I first saw this movie as a child and I hated it.  I wasn't ready for it.  A friend of mine saw this later in life and said, "It reminded me of so many movies, probably because so many movies were influenced by it."  The older I have gotten the more I've come to love this movie.  Every shot, every sound is perfectly done with stellar performances that are both intriguing in their charisma and repellent in their evil.

4.  Casablanca (1944)

Black-and-white film screenshot with the title of the film in fancy font. Below it is the text "A Warner Bros. – First National Picture". In the background is a crowded nightclub filled with many people.

Like The Sound of Music, this film is timeless.  It is the story of a man who slowly finds his soul again.  He was an empty shell living in purgatory.  He has a chance to damn himself with selfishness, but that final scene is one of the greatest, manliest moments in movie history, where Rick sacrifices his own happiness for the greater good.  And it has one of the best final lines of any film.

3.  The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2004)

The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King (2003).jpg

CS Lewis said of Tolkien's story that the tale was "good beyond hope."  That is how I felt about this film.  People complain about the length of the ending, but when put into context of the entire epic, you need that time for closure.  The entire second half is absolutely riveting.  What Peter Jackson was able to do, which is incredibly rare nowadays, is take an amazing adventure epic and imbue it with a sense a reality, most particularly in the emotional life of the characters.  I am still boggled that Sean Astin did not win an Oscar for his performance as Samwise.

2.  Braveheart (1996)

Braveheart imp.jpg

Perhaps I saw this movie at just the right time as I was becoming a man, but this film is an epic masterpiece.  It has all of the hallmarks of a war epic, but Mel Gibson films it in a way that feels timeless and as legendary as the main character.  So many war films after this copied his style, from Saving Private Ryan to Gladiator and you can even see echoes of it in Avengers: Endgame.  But the movie is ingrained in me that if I listen to the last 10 minutes of the score I can recite all of the lines word-for-word until the end.

1. Schindler's List (1994)

Schindler's List movie.jpg

I will write more about this at a later date, but there is no other film that could take this position.  This is a movie that can break your heart and change your life.  I don't know why as a 15-year-old, this film touched my soul.  There are only two movies that completely transported me.  What I mean by that is I completely lost track of who and where I was because I was taken up by the experience.  The first was Return of the Jedi when I was a child.  But Schindler's List did that to me when I was almost a man.  It is the perfect blend of artistry and history.  It is Spielberg using all of skills to show both the absolute horror of humanity and its heavenly virtue in a way that shows us who we are and (more importantly) who we could be.

Honorable Mentions:


1956 - "Marty"
1955 - "On the Waterfront"
1947 - "The Best Years of Our Lives"
1967 - "A Man for All Seasons"
1961 - "The Apartment"
1960 - "Ben-Hur"
1989 - "Rain Man"
1981 - "Ordinary People"
1975 - "The Godfather Part II"
2013 - "Argo"
2002 - "A Beautiful Mind"
2001 - "Gladiator"
1993 - "Unforgiven"
1992 - "The Silence of the Lambs"

Friday, March 3, 2023

Film Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp - Quantumania

 


Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable

Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable

Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

Ant-Man and the Wasp - Quantumania is meant to launch the MCU into Phase 5.  How good of a kick-off is it?

It's not bad.

I got to see this movie a little later and there were some people savaging it in their reviews, so I went in expecting the worst.  But what I found was a pleasant to middling Marvel film.

Quantumania takes place after the events of Avengers: Endgame.  Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is riding high on celebrity.  His girlfriend Hope/The Wasp (Evangeline Lily) is not only still doing the superhero thing but has taken over her father's company and doing great things with it.  The one sticking point is that Scott's daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) gets involved in social action and keeps getting in trouble with the law.  Scott decides to have a sit down diner with them and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his wife who they rescued from the Quantum Realm, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer).  However, things fall apart when Cassie shows them a device she built that sends a signal to the Quantum Realm, which leads to all of them being abducted to that tiny dimension.  There, they encounter strange creatures and a vicious dictator Kang, the Conqueror (Jonathon Majors).  The group, though separated must find a way to get home without letting Kang escape the Quantum realm.

The best of the film is Rudd himself.  The man is so affable and charming that you can't help but feel good will towards him.  He also knows how to expertly play the comedy and the drama.  He effortlessly moves from silly, broad jokes to the serious and terrified father trying to protect his child.  And while Douglass doesn't have as much to do in this film, his chemistry with Pfeiffer makes their relationship believable.  Lily does a fine job, but the script can't seem to find an important part for her to play.  Newton is a decent addition, but she doesn't really stand out.  Partly this is due to the fact that Cassie lacks the things that make Scott so interesting.  She also has the annoying, lecturing tone that the young often have towards their parents.  To be fair, there is some growth here.  But when it is up to Cassie to inspire a rebellion in the Quantum Realm, I didn't quite buy it.

The other great part of the movie is Majors.  His Kang is fantastic.  He believably goes from genial to deadly.  Majors has charisma that flows out from the screen.  What makes his villain so interesting is the sense of sadness and weariness he brings to the part.  Kang has killed countless worlds for what he believes is the greater good.  But the moral toll that has taken on him has filled him with a fatigue.  This is an interesting take on the villain, who, like Thanos, sees himself as the hero who has to take on the debt of doing evil.  And yet, Majors infuses him with a great deal of humanity.

What keeps this story from really taking off is that it really forgets that it is an Ant-Man movie.  What makes an Ant-Man movie unique is the fantastic sense of scale that makes us look a the world in a new way.  My favorite moment from any in this series is when he shrinks for the first time and even a bathroom can seem wild, dangerous and wonderous.  In the second film, it was funny to watch Scott use a truck like a little scooter.  But in Quantumania, that sense of scale is mostly gone.  Yes, they are in microverse, and yes there are times when he shrinks and grows.  But often the scale is not there.  There is one scene where Scott and another enlarged character run towards each other and hug.  However, there is so little to give the scene scale that I didn't realize that they weren't normal-sized.  When you don't have that, you miss most of the magic.

The Quantum Realm itself does not seem like anything cohesive.  It feels like a hodge-podge of fantastical creatures and landscapes.  But there is nothing to differentiate it from other alien locals we've seen in Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor movies.  Because of that, it feels almost generic.

The story and plot points are fine, but it doesn't feel like the characters have as much to do or as much to grow.

I should make a not about the character MODOK, who is long-standing villain in the Marvel comics.  Because of his unusual appearance, the filmmakers decided to use him completely as a punchline.  This would have worked better if the humor landed.  Instead, it feels out of place, especially when next to the grave and humorless Kang.  Though I admit his final scenes had me laughing a bit, MODOK mostly failed in execution.

There were some decent themes about responsibilities of family and how they conflict with duty along with some other moral issues that Catholics might want to explore.  But these themes never get fully developed in the story.

SPOILER FOR THE END OF THE MOVIE BELOW.  SKIP IF YOU DO NOT WANT SPOILERS.

At least towards the end, it feels like one or more characters is going to make a harrowing, life-altering decision.  But any price that is paid is almost immediately fixed.  For that reason, it felt like the stakes were weightless.  It reminds me a line from Spirited, "You're sacrifice would be meaningless if there was no consequence."

END SPOILERS

As I wrote, this movie has been getting hit very hard, but it is not a bad film.  It is a fun, enjoyable outing, though it misses a chance and doing great things.

Hopefully if there is another Ant-Man and the Wasp movie, it will rise to the occasion.