15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)
James Gunn just announced the new Superman and Lois Lane:
Regarding Corenswet, I don't have much of an opinion yet. I haven't seen him in anything. My first impression is that he looks like a younger version of Henry Cavill. Like Christopher Reeve, he is a Juilliard graduate, so I am hopeful regarding his ability.
However, I have strong feelings when it comes to Brosnahan: I think she is a fantastic choice! Her work on the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was wonderful (even though I had to stop watching the show because of how the Eucharist was treated). On that show, she displayed fierce power and intelligence while being completely feminine and funny. On her show, she reminded me of how Lois Lane acted in the Golden Age and Silver Age comics.
In my own poll on this blog, readers made it a tie between John Krasinski and Chris Pratt for Superman. Gunn decided to cast much younger. Readers voted on Emily Blunt as Lois, and I think she would have been a good choice as well.
We still have other characters to cast, so we will see the announcements.
As of now, I am still cautiously optimistic about this movie. The only thing that has me nervous is the rumor that the Authority is going to be featured in the film. This is an R-Rated super hero team and I think if they do any mature content, it will be box office kryptonite (forgive the pun).
Among non-Catholics, one of the most controversial Catholic beliefs is that of Papal Infallibility.
For many, the idea that any sinful man (which the pope is inasmuch as all men are sinners) could be preserved from error is a tough pill to swallow. After all, the pope is not God? Did not St. Peter the first pope make many errors, including denying Christ Himself? CS Lewis once wrote:
“The real reason why I cannot be in communion with you [Catholics] is not my disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but also to what he is going to say.”
In other words, what kept CS Lewis back from becoming Catholic was not a disagreement with certain doctrines. In fact, CS Lewis’ theology has more in common with Catholicism today than his own native Anglicanism. Lewis’ problem was that Catholics holds that the pope has it within his power to proclaim doctrines and dogmas that had not been raised as such before.
For example, the Immaculate Conception was a Tradition that can be found in throughout the centuries of the Catholic Church. But up until modern historical times, there was great dispute about it. St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, argues against it. (Though it should be noted that St. Thomas stated that Mary was free from all personal act of sin and was sanctified in the womb, just not from the moment of conception). Eventually, Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception to be a Dogma of the Catholic Church. The reason why we hold this to be dogmatic is because of the pope’s authority to declare things infallibly.
Does this mean that the pope cannot make mistakes?
Of course not.
The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church states “And this infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded. And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith,(166) by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals.” (Lumen Gentium, 25)
God is infallible because God does not make mistakes. When Christ makes Peter the leader, He established Peter’s power to declare things infallibly “with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter…” (ibid). But as quoted in Lumen Gentium, this infallibility is limited
It states that the pope must invoke his authority as “supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful.” Any private beliefs of the pope are not covered by infallibility. Even if the pope is an atheist and shares this belief with his friends, these private proclamations are not infallible. Any statement of papal infallibility must be made as statement in the office of Supreme Pontiff. To use a crude analogy, imagine you are a general and you have a friend who is a rank below you. You tell your friend to go to a location, but he protests and doesn’t want to. However, if you make clear that you are giving an order, your friend must respond to your directive not as a request but an order. In the same way, the pope must invoke his office in order for his statement to be infallible.
The second is that it must be only in the area of faith and morals. Anything that is outside of this area is outside of the purview of infallibility. This can get tricky, since faith and morals can overlap with several other areas. Issues of science, politics, and history are things that are outside of infallible statements.
The third is that the pope must declare the doctrine or dogma to be infallibly taught by virtue of his authority as pope. So for example, imagine that the pope declares as head of the Church that Catholics cannot eat meat for ALL of the Lenten season. This would be be a statement an invocation of his office and it would cover faith and morals. But he would also need to be clear that this teaching would be infallibly taught.
Now, the above example would probably never be taught infallibly. That is because papal infallibility is a tool to help explain the Sacred Deposit of Faith given to us in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. CS Lewis was wrong to think that the pope could make up new doctrines and dogmas. The pope can only raise up a teaching that is present in God’s revelation. The pope could not declare infallibly that Mary is the fourth person of the Trinity. He is preserved from making this kind of error.
This means that the pope can make errors outside of this limited definition of papal infallibility. For example, Pope St. John Paul II very famously visited a mosque where he kissed the Koran. While his intention may have been to show respect, as head of the Catholic Church, it was inappropriate for him to reverence a text that explicitly denies the truths of Jesus Christ. There are many people who criticized Pope Benedict the XVI for retiring instead of holding to the common tradition of remaining in office until his death? Did he make a mistake? Perhaps. But that is an issue that is outside of the question of papal infallibility.
I have been putting this off for a long time.
The reason why is that I don't think I am capable of adequately describing the what this movie is.
To recap, back in 2019, I finally completed a bucket-list goal of seeing every theatrical Steven Spielberg movie.
Steven Spielberg is the greatest director of all time and I don't think anyone will be able to change my mind on this subject. He has left behind a body of work that no one in film history will be able to reach. Quentin Tarantino has famously said that he is going to only make 10 movies so that he has a celebrated body of work without fading into obsolescence. Spielberg has made nearly 40 films and not all of them are good. But the ones that a great are some of the greatest movies ever made.
Since starting this list, Spielberg has made two more movies. Unfortunately, they fall into the category of what I call "Lesser Spielberg." West Side Story is visually strong, but Spielberg felt the need to "fix" the original in ways that miss the point entirely. And his latest semi-autobiographical The Fabelmans is more indulgent than it is insightful. For the complete list thus far, here are the rankings:
|36||The Color Purple|
|35||The Sugarland Express|
|34||Empire of the Sun|
|31||West Side Story|
|26||The Adventures of Tintin|
|25||Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull|
|24||War of the Worlds|
|22||The Lost World: Jurassic Park|
|21||A.I. Artificial Intelligence|
|16||The Twilight Zone|
|14||Close Encounters of the Third Kind|
|13||Ready Player One|
|12||Bridge of Spies|
|10||Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom|
|9||Catch Me If You Can|
|7||Raiders of the Lost Ark|
|6||E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial|
|4||Saving Private Ryan|
|3||Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade|
This brings us to not only Steven Spielberg's greatest movie, but also what is tied for the greatest movie ever made in the history of film:
I was in high school when this movie came out. My mom took us to an out-of-the way theater because it was not playing anywhere near us. One of the great things about my mom was that she made sure we learned about the horrors of the Holocaust. She was strongly opposed to any anti-semitism and instilled that in all her children.
Spielberg did not expect that many people would see this movie. Universal only allowed him to make it because he agreed to also make Jurassic Park that same year. While filming Schindler's List during the day, he would be on satellite video calls going over the special effects for Jurassic Park. Because of this compromise, Spielberg had complete freedom in making this movie. As we see in the movies Spielberg made after this, this freedom would lead to a diminishing return on his talent. But here, he was constrained by time, budget, and a fantastic script by Steve Zaillian. And as we saw in Jaws, Spielberg works best under constraint.
First, he decided to film the movie in black and white, which was incredibly rare and tended to be box office poison. He made the movie three and a fifteen minutes, which would push audiences attention. The movie was the most violent thing he had made up until this point. While he had Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley, this movie was not promoted by its star power. Instead of focusing on only one or two families, the movie takes in dozens of characters who you can only truly follow and connect to after multiple viewings.
As I said, my mother took us brought us to the theater and I was expecting an interesting, but ultimately forgettable movie.
Instead, I had one of the most transportive film experiences of my entire life.
When the end credits began to roll, it was like coming up for oxygen after three hours. The power of that movie made me forget that I was even sitting in a movie theater. And I wasn't the only one. Everyone in the theater was riveted to their seats. No one wanted to move or talk. It felt almost sacrilegious to break the silence.
So what is it about this movie that makes it so powerful?
Again, I don't know that I will be able to convey what this movie is in this simple blog post. But I will try.
Spielberg draws you in with a simple family praying the Kaddish, which glorifies God but is also a traditional Jewish prayer for mourning. As we saw in Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg is letting you know that we are about to tread on hallowed ground. Before he undertakes to take us on the story, he invokes God in prayer to truly capture the magnitude of what is about the happen.
Here is also where he does a reverse Wizard of Oz, by transporting us from our present world of color to a world of black and white. The use of black and white does a number of important things. The first is that it gives us a feel for the fact that we are watching something of history. Another thing it does is that it creates a buffer to the gore we are about to witness. It is a small psychological veil that makes the horror feel shocking and tragic rather than gross. The final thing that it does is that it highlights the power of the actors' performances.
The introduction of Schindler is brilliant. We learn who he is without seeing his face. He is a man of fancy clothes and expensive tastes and a sympathizer to the Reich. When we do see him, you can watch his predatory gaze as he stalks his prey, either for economic or pleasurable gains. The lavish charm and luxury is juxtaposed to the suffering of the Jews in the Krakow Ghetto. Once again, Spielberg speaks volumes with his camera. When Schindler visits the Judenrat, the council of Jewish elders, Spielberg tracks as Schindler walks past hundreds of waiting Jews and skips to the front of the line for his own ends.
The first part of the film almost lulls you into thinking that this movie will be only and intersting drama about the early days of the Holocaust. But you can feel the shocking change when the one-armed Jewish man is summarily executed. Spielberg sends a shock down your spine and lets you know that he is not going to shield you from the horror of the Holocaust through any artistic trickery. He wants you to feel the senseless violence thrust upon his people. I remember being in that theater when Amon Goth says very coldly to one of his officers: "Shoot her." Goth says this far away from the camera with his back facing us. He is not acting out of dramatic anger. But in that same shot we see the shock on the prisoner's face. Spielberg holds the camera here, not letting you escape from this horrible moment, forcing you to watch it as if you were one of the witness.
I will not continue catalogue all of the violence in the film, but it is one of the bloodiest movies I have ever seen. Throughout the movie, you never feel safe for anyone. And all the while we see Schindler slowly change.
Spielberg expertly shows us the transition Schindler makes. He is intentionally blind to the suffering of the Jewish people. But in one of the most talked about moments in the entire film, Schindler watches the liquidation of the Jewish Ghetto, but keeps his eyes on a little girl in a red coat. Spielberg brings us sharply into Schindler's point of view by giving us the one dash of color. He cannot look away and it gets to him.
To illustrate his change, we have a shot composition that some say is the greatest things he ever shot, and I might agree. While someone is trying to convince him to save her parents, Schindler looks out a window onto his factory floor. His reflection comes back to him. And right over where his heart is, you can see the furnace fire blazing. So much is going on in this shot: Schindler is looking out over his slave labor like a king, but his reflection is one of sadness as he finally really sees their suffering, so his heart is being stirred into a flame. In the next scene we get Schindler's first real conscious steps to helping others along with a tender version of the theme.
I have to take a moment here to talk about John Williams' score. It is unlike anything else in his catalogue of music. It is heartbreakingly delicate with its melancholy strings that move the heart to sadness with the inclines of hope beyond. Spielberg knows exactly how to use Williams' power and when to hold back. This might be Spielberg's most reserved use of film score, but one of his best.
From a technical point of view, every single shot is a masterpiece of framing, lighting, and composition. He knows when to use a smooth and lyrical pan or when to give you the jarring chaos of a handheld camera. Spielberg not only gives you the incredibly large and complicated shots, but he brings his full power to a simple scene of two men sitting across a desk from each other, their eyes covered in shadow.
But the technical is subservient to the emotional. Spielberg wants you to feel as deeply about this story as he does. Some have accused Spielberg's style of being sentimental and emotionally manipulative. You do not get that with Schindler's List. In fact, he does something incredibly brave and odd: by draining so much sentiment from the movie, it makes moments of real sentiment stand stronger. For example, Schindler and Stern have a strange symbiotic, but semi-antagonistic relationship. Throughout the film, Schindler offers Stern a drink, but he always refuses. But when Stern understands that they are all to be sent to Auschwitz, Schindler says that they will get a drink when all of this ends. Ben Kingsley (playing Stern), shows such incredible potency by keeping his usual serene expression but unable to hold the overflowing tears from his eyes as he says, "I think I better have that drink now." The meaning of that moment, both for his relationship with Schindler and for his acceptance of death is made powerful with wonderful restraint.
There is so much that Spielberg does with Zaillian's script that has set up and pay off. Whenever the list makers show up, something truly horrible happens. The Germans were horribly efficient at their evil. You can see the dread that occurs whenever one of the Jewish people see the list makers being prepared. But when Schindler makes his list, you can feel the utter reversal of this. So much so that when Stern says, "The list is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf," you feel exactly what he means.
Spielberg gets some of the best performances from any of his movies. Liam Neeson has never been better than here. Ralph Fiennes embodies the evil of the Reich perfectly. Ben Kingsley plays Stern as a man of utter competence with no ego. Embeth Davidtz should have won an Oscar as the terrified maid Helen Hirsch. All of the supporting cast is fantastic, disappearing into their roles in order to make you forget they are acting.
Neeson gives the performance of a lifetime with his final scene. His cool veneer finally cracks completely. Spielberg is brave enough to show you that Schindler is living in a kind of hell because his conscience was awakened. Before he was blind to all of the evil. Now, he is forever haunted by all the good he failed to do. Schindler cannot even find joy in the lives that he saved; his conscience will not let him. Spielberg shows us the truth: that the road to righteousness will break your heart of stone. But you intuitively understand, and Spielberg has shown you throughout this journey, that the hell of a good man is infinitely better than the heaven of a wicked one.
Had the movie ended there, it might still be considered his greatest movie. But then Spielberg does something so intense that it defies my poor attempt at description: he makes the movie real.
Spielberg breaks his own spell and throws you into the light of day to let you know that he has not been telling you a distant tale. The story is true. Once again doing a reverse Wizard of Oz, Spielberg returns us to the real world, but instead of turning the story we saw into a powerful dream, we bring the story into our waking mind.
The last four minutes take us to the grave where the real Schindler is buried. Spielberg assembled all the remaining "Schindler Jews" and their families. Each of the survivors walked side-by-side with the actor who played them as they paid their respects to the man who saved so many. Seeing them walk together, Spielberg helps you make the transference from movie to reality. We see the real-life people who lived the Holocaust. The story is now incarnated in a way that no movie I have ever seen has done. Spielberg uses this time to solidify the bonds between the history and the audience.
The movie embodies the mantra of "Never Forget" because Spielberg has given you an experience that is unforgettable.
The film ends with a dedication to the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.
As I wrote above, this was Spielberg's most personal movie at the time and he had no expectations of it being a hit. On a budget of $22 million, the film went on to gross over $322 million, making nearly 15x its budget back. Audiences came to see it because it not only told a powerful story of the Jewish people, but also a universal story about kindness in a world of cruelty. It went on the win 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Score, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, and also gave Spielberg his first Best Director Oscar.
Awards and accolades aside, Schindler's List is an experience like no other. I have seen it in the theaters six times and I have gained something new every time. It is the first movie that moved me to uncontrollable tears. It will forever remain in my heart because it does what only the best art can do.
Schindler's List is a movie of unspeakable beauty, unvarnished evil, and sacrificial heroism that makes you want to be the best person you can be.
While I loved The Flash, it cannot be denied that the movie is a bomb. Thus the great experiment known as the DC Extended Universe ends with a whimper, not a bang.
This is a shame because some of my favorite comic book movies are part of this cinematic universe?
So what went wrong?
There are many issues at play, that I will not be able to go into detail here. Much of it involves the mismanagement of the entire course of the cinematic universe at the executive level.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but here are my thoughts on what could have been done to make this franchise successful.
1 SLOW DOWN
The biggest problem with the DCEU was the lack of patience on the part of the executives (much of which is tied to their desire for bonuses). In 2012, Marvel's gamble of establishing a cinematic universe paid off big-time with The Avengers. In 2013, Man of Steel started the DCEU.
The original plan involved following up Man of Steel with a solo Batman movie, a Wonder Woman movie, a Flash movie, a sequel to Man of Steel and then part one of Justice League which would culminate in "The Death of Superman" storyline.
Needless to say that this would take several years. Warner Bros. became impatient and instead abbreviated the schedule. After Man of Steel, Warner Bros. told Snyder to make Batman v. Superman and Justice League back to back. In between there would be a movie about Wonder Woman (who would be introduced in BvS). This would be followed-up by Suicide Squad.
This caused a lot of pressure on the next two movies. Unlike Avengers, the main heroes did not get their own solo movies to introduce them. As a result, both BvS and Justice League became overstuffed. While I didn't mind it in BvS, many audience members did. BvS was not the runaway hit the way Warner Bros. wanted, but they were already fully into production on Justice League.
DC is always accused of trying to mimic Marvel, and to some extent that is true. But if they had followed their blueprint more closely, they could have avoided a great deal of trouble. The Dark Knight Trilogy and The Batman have shown that solo Batman movies tend to be very profitable. If DC had allowed Ben Affleck to star in his own Batman film, it could have built up anticipation for BvS. This, along with a few more solo hero movies would have relieved some of the character pressure off of Justice League. This would have let audiences enjoy it more than they did.
DC acutally did not learn their lesson as they pushed on. In Black Adam, Dwayne Johnson not only tried to establish himself as the center of the DCEU, but he wanted to set up the entire Justice Society: Hawkman, Dr. Fate, Cyclone, and Atom Smasher.
2. Curate the Line
DC got very experimental very quickly. Their fourth movie was Suicide Squad, a movie about expendable villains forced to be heroes. It is clear that they were going for a Guardians of the Galaxy vibe. But DC forgot that this was only after Marvel had established its brand already with nine previous films. And it is often forgotten what a gamble Guardians was. Marvel was hedging its bets by opening it in August. Now, it turned out that James Gunn struck gold, but that was not a guarantee.
DC started experimenting too quickly. As mentioned before, there needed to be more build-up to Justice League. Focusing on the DC A-Team would have laid a solid foundation. The two highest domestic grossing DCEU films are Wonder Woman and Aquaman. If instead of Suicide Squad, they had focused on the Justice League members, it could have built up the hype.
On top of this, DC went forward with Birds of Prey and The Suicide Squad. And while the latter was critically praised while the former was critically panned, I believe that both did damage to the brand. Birds of Prey was just a horrid piece of cinema. But The Suicide Squad was so horridly disgusting in its presentation and its morals that it killed off a lot of good will. Look, there is something to be said about swinging for the fences, but when you announce to your audience that it is no longer for younger audiences, then people will stay away. All of the DC films after The Suicide Squad disappointed.
3. Too Much Fracturing
Instead of focusing on the DCEU, Warner Bros. got desperate to use the DC properties in some way. After Wonder Woman, the highest grossing DC films were not part of the DCEU: The Batman and Joker. To be sure, they are both excellent movies. But divorcing them from the DCEU does two things.
The first is that it creates brand confusion. People who loved those non-Extended Universe movies may not understand why these characters aren't in the DCEU.
The second is that the success of these movies could not translate to success for the DCEU. One of the reasons that movies like Captain Marvel did so well was because it was tied to the uber-successful Avengers movies. If DC was able to do that, things may have been different.
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable
As with Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, I appear to be in the minority opinion because I think The Flash is really good.
The movie is a kind of finale to the DCEU that began with 2013's Man of Steel. The story revolves around Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller). He is the hero of super speed, but still has trouble connecting to people. His father Henry (Ron Livingston) is about to lose an appeal for the murder of Barry's mom Nora (Maribel Verdu). Barry decides to go back in time and make a small change that should save his mother's life. However, as he travels back to the present, a mysterious figure knocks him out of the timeline and into 2013. There he encounters not only his living parents but his 19-year-old self. Unfortunately, this is also the time of General Zod's (Michael Shannon) invasion of Earth. Together, the Barrys go to find Batman and Superman. But as it turns out the Batman of this universe is the one from the 1989 movie starring Michael Keaton. And there is an even bigger surprise in the search for Superman. Together, it is a race against time and fate to save all reality.
My feeling about the DCEU movies is that they are on their weakest footing when they try to ape the Marvel style, which is essentially FX heavy action along with non-stop quips. The movie starts this way, with lots of that type of humor as Barry has to save a bunch of falling babies. And while Ben Affleck is my favorite cinematic Batman, he is terrible as the Dark Knight in this movie. Gone is the fiery intensity burning underneath the surface. He tries to be funny and that just falls flat. He recovers a bit in his portrayal of Bruce Wayne, but there is definitely something lost.
A lot has been said about the poor quality of the CGI and they are correct. Director Andy Muschietti actually does a great job of giving the super speed a strong cinematic feel. He takes you into Barry's perspective as a speedster that we haven't seen before. The problem is that when the CGI is used to render people, they all feel like waxy mannequins. I am not someone who is against using CGI to recreate people on screen. I had no problem with Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One. But The Flash's use of digital actors leaves something to be desired.
My other big complaint is the inexplicable nudity in the movie. There is a scene where Barry's clothes burn off and there are lingering shots of rear-nudity. There was no reason to overly sexualize the character, especially in a movie that is supposed to appeal to teens and tweens.
Beyond that, the movie is the best DCEU theatrical movie since Batman v. Superman, which I love.
I have to admit upfront that I cannot stand Ezra Miller. For some people, his real-life controversies will make it impossible for them to enjoy this movie. I completely understand and respect that position. I, however, can usually separate the art from the artist. My biggest problem with Miller is that his on-screen persona is so annoying. I hated his casting as Barry Allen. His performances have nothing in common with the character he is based on. He was my least favorite part of the Justice League movie.
But the movie does something incredibly clever that not only leans into this dislike, but simultaneously overcomes it. Young Barry takes all of Miller's annoying traits and amps them up to 11. Much of the dynamic between Older Barry and Younger Barry involves his older self trying to reign in his younger self. As a result, Ezra Miller as the Older Barry seems reasoned, mature, and serious by comparison. And I have to hand it to Muschietti, the use of both versions of Ezra Miller never feels artificial. I completely bought into the idea that they are two completely different characters.
The best part of the movie is without a doubt Keaton as Batman. I saw someone say that they had never seen someone so effortlessly cool, and I have to agree. Every second Keaton is on the screen he commands it. Some of this is the feeling of nostalgia. However, Keaton feels as vital and powerful as ever in the role. One of my favorite moments is a wordless scene where Bruce is patching himself up after a battle. It is only a few seconds, but in those moments, Keaton takes you on Bruce's journey as his body is beaten, but his spirit is rejuvenated.
The problem is that he isn't better integrated into the story. While he and Supergirl (Sasha Calle) play important roles, it feels like all of the character development was reserved for Barry. This makes some sense since it is a Flash movie. But if you compare this movie to Spider-Man: No Way Home, you can feel a difference in how the supporting characters are given emotionally satisfying arcs. Calle doesn't have a lot to work with and neither does Keaton. But what little Keaton has, he nails. Some of the Barry/Barry interactions and some of the Marvel-style jokes could have been sacrificed to flesh out Batman and Supergirl. This is true of almost all of the side characters. There is a budding romance shoe-horned in with Iris (Kiersey Clemmons), which not only is not given enough time to grow but also the two have no chemistry to speak of.
The action sequences are incredibly fun. While the early action scenes are played mostly for comedy, they get more serious as they go on. The infiltration of a secret Russian base is a real highlight where it shows how an older, weary Batman is still a force to be reckoned with.
Where the movie really works is in the way that it hits the emotional beats. Barry's desire to save his mother is so primal that you can understand why he would risk the entire universe to save her. This emotional through-line carries the movie. It is so strong that you can understand why Bruce's icy heart could feel for Barry's desire to save his parents. The film-makers carry this central emotional desire to its heartbreaking conclusion. This was much more emotionally satisfying than the journey that Miles Morales takes in Across the Spider-Verse. I think it is because Miles makes his turning point decision without much consideration, whereas Barry agonizes. The conflict within Barry is so strong and it is wonderfully embodied in his two different selves. This isn't just a plot device, but it forms to emotional core of the film. While there are some incredibly fun cameos, they never materialize into more.
Thematically, The Flash deals with a lot of complicated moral questions. Is your obligation to your family more important than the public? Do you prioritize who you save? When do you fight for life and when do you let go? When the movie moves away from the Marvel style and decides to take itself seriously, I found myself hooked. Miller, to his great credit, was able to take me on that harrowing emotional journey so that I felt Barry's heartbreak.
This movie is a swan-song of the world that Zack Snyder built back in 2013 and it is a worthy one. If you enjoyed the Synderverse and/or Michael Keaton's Batman, then you will enjoy this movie.
I wish to extend a Happy Father's Day to all of the dads out there.
Being a father is quite possibly the most important thing that you can be as a man. My wife and I are not blessed with children, so I do not have first-hand experience of this vocation.
But it is still deeply rooted in a man's soul to emulate the lessons of fatherhood he has learned and pass them down. I think this is one of the reasons we call our priests "Father." They are called to do spiritually what so many men are called to do by nature. I would never put what I do as a teacher on the same level as what parents do every day. But by word and example I try to impart any goodness I have learned.
According to a Federal government study from 1998 (I could not find the updated statistics), here are some of sad realities of homes without fathers (summarized by liveaboutdocom):
To be clear, this is not to condemn families who are not living the ideal of the two-parent household. The stats above are there to help show the positive impact that fathers have in the lives of their children.
Growing up, I had a mostly antagonistic relationship with my father. To paraphrase Fr. Larry Richards, in the arrogance of a son, I judged my father because he wasn't the kind of dad I wanted him to be. I thought he was too hard on my and too insensitive.
But my father has always loved me more than I could understand. Something I have written before on this blog is this: a father understands that his child will not remain a child for very long. His sons will become men and his daughters will become women. And while the love he bears his children may be unconditional and protecting, the world outside of the home is harsh and unjust. A father must prepare the child to weather the storm of life and not be destroyed by it. All those horrible stats above are like an encroaching darkness that the father works so hard to keep at bay. He is the sentinel on the wall who knows that there is no daybreak.
Being a father can be a thankless job. But the fathers I know who find the most reward are the ones who give as much of their time to their kids. I am blessed to be have a good circle of friends who are wonderful fathers. I love listening to how involved their are in their kids' lives. And even as I hear the natural exhaustion in their voices that comes from the commitment of fatherhood, I always hear a sense of peace and fulfillment that I did not hear in them until they became fathers.
To all fathers: my prayers for you this day. May God bless you abundantly as you shape the world for the better by raising your children to be Children of God.
Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Hopefully your parishes had celebrations like adoration and Eucharistic processions. Days like yesterday serve as an important reminder that the Eucharist is not just a symbol of Christ, but Christ Himself.
Many books have been written on this subject, and I do not imagine that I will be able to improve on the wise and holy writers that have come before me. But I did want to focus on one particular place where Jesus gives us this message from the Gospel of John.
Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel contains what is called the Bread of Life discourses. Unlike Mathew, Mark, and Luke, the Gospel John does not describe Jesus invoking the Eucharist at the Last Supper. To be clear, this does not mean that John contradicts the Synoptic Gospels. One of the main theories regarding the writing of John’s Gospel is that he had access to the first three Gospels and intentionally tried to focus on stories that had not been covered already. So for John, he describes Jesus explaining the Eucharist much earlier in the Gospel.
But before we get to the Bread of Life discourses, we should examine a pattern that emerges in the Gospel of John. Let us first look at Christ’s dialogue with Nicodemus:
Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born* from above.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”
Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. – John 3:3-5
Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be reborn. However, Nicodemus makes the mistake of taking Jesus literally. He finds the idea of re-entering and exiting his mother’s womb to be horribly disgusting. In response, Jesus must correct Nicodemus. He tells Nicodemus that His teaching is spiritual and not literal. Christ’s words of “water and Spirit” spiritualize the meaning of rebirth.
Later, Jesus has a dialogue with the Samaritan Woman at the Well. Jesus says He will give her Living Water:
[The woman] said to him, “Sir,* you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water?…
Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;
but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” -John 4: 11, 13-14
As with Nicodemus, this woman takes Jesus literally and so Jesus must correct her. Once again we see the movement from the listener being too literal to Jesus moving them to a more spiritual understanding.
But let us look at what happens in John 6.
Jesus spends a good portion of the passage speaking about He is the Bread of Life. Now, this could be taken as simply a spiritual title like “Light of the World” or “Good Shepherd.” But notice what Jesus says here:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. – John 6: 51-54
Notice how Jesus breaks the pattern. Before the pattern was thus:
A: Jesus teaches
B: The listener takes him literally
C: Jesus corrects the listener by making His teaching more spiritual.
But here it is different. Instead of becoming more spiritual, Jesus gets more literal.
This is the second part of my list of the Top 20 Trilogies of all Time.
As I wrote in my last article:
This seems to be the benchmark of movie franchises. Yes, a successful series can go way beyond three films (I'm looking at you Fast and Furious), but it seems to me that the goal and the hope of a sequalized story is to get to at least a trilogy.
And throughout movie history, there have been dozens of trilogies. But I thought it would be fun to look at the top 20. Originally I was only going to do the top 10, but I found that I was leaving way too many stories off of my list.
How do I decide what is a good trilogy?
First of all, there has to be a level of quality maintained throughout the trilogy. Even if the first movie is excellent, if the two sequels that follow are terrible then it does not qualify as a great trilogy (eg. The Hangover, The Pirates of the Caribbean). To be sure, most of the time there is going to be a drop in quality by the third film.
Also, the movies had to be sequentially three parts without skipping. This gets tricky when doing interconnected universes like the MCU, but if the main series has a trilogy it qualifies. For example, the above mentioned Fast and Furious franchise could qualify if you held that parts 5, 6, and 7 are a trilogy. However, looking at the Avengers films, you have a weaker entry in part 2 of the four. As a result, you could not form a trilogy from this series without including that weaker entry.
In the previous article, I listed #20-#11
#20 The Chronicles of Narnia
#18 John Wick
#17 Captain America
#16 Spider-Man Home Trilogy
#15 Guardians of the Galaxy
#14 The Naked Gun
#13 Harry Potter
#12 The Dark Knight Trilogy
#11 Back to the Future
And now the Top Ten
#10 Evil Dead
Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness
I have to say that I have lost my taste for horror over the years, but there is something truly special about this trilogy. The first Evil Dead is disgusting and terrifying. If all the movies in the series were like this, it would not appear on this list. But the second film was daring enough to mix horror and comedy in such a unique way as to be like nothing else that had come before it. The scene where Ash is being chased through the cabin by the camera is both hilarious and horrifying. But the third film, Army of Darkness, is an exercise in pure comedy that should be terrible. Everything about this third film should be derided as self-parody. But through some kind of strange magic, the movie works! It is endlessly quotable and horribly fun. The evolution of tone throughout the series should be a sign of its devolution. Instead, it took what could have been a good, but simple, horror film and created the most unique cinematic trilogy I have seen.
#9 Toy Story
Toy Story 1,2, 3
The mighty John Nolte once said that Toy Story 3 should have won the Oscar for Best Picture, but it was the only movie nominated that would still be remembered and loved decades later. It says something about this series in how it set the gold standard for PIXAR quality, not just in terms of animation, but in story. The first one is a simple enough adventure. But the second amped up the emotion. And then the third film has an utterly devastating final act. I remember being on the edge of my seat as our heroes embraced each other while slowly falling towards oblivion. But even that did not prepare me for the gut punch of the final scene. The series has gone on, but they have never been able to capture the magic of those first three.
#8 The Snyderverse Trilogy
Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Zack Snyder's Justice League
This is perhaps the most controversial pick on my list. But I think Zack Snyder gave us one of the best super hero trilogies ever made. Man of Steel is a powerful retelling of the Superman story and I have always maintained Batman v. Superman is an underapperciated masterpiece. The theatrical Justice League was a bit of a let-down compared to the previous two. However, the Snyder Cut expanded the story and characters in an utterly satisfying way. In his four-hour epic, his characters finally got a chance to breath. The weight and the pressure could build in a satisfying way so that it all converged into its final battle. The biggest downside is that it teased a sequel that would probably never happen. Other than that, the Snyderverse Trilogy is one of the best interpretations of the comic medium ever made.
Rocky 1, 2, 3
While I have a great affection for Rocky IV and Rocky Balboa, the first three films form a fantastic trilogy. The first movie is so raw and gritty. You feel every hit that Rocky takes. That final fight feels like a gauntlet of pain, with the real prize being his own self-worth. The second film does rehash a lot of the same beats. But the sequence where Adrian is in the hospital are some of most beautiful moments in the film, especially in how it depicts Rocky's faith. Rocky III feels so different from the first two, but in an important way. In a meta-way, it was commenting on the franchise's own success and the desire to get back to basics. It is especially satisfying watching Rocky's relationship with Apollo come full circle leading to one of the best final shots of any movie.
#6 Star Trek: the Khan Trilogy
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
The best part of the Star Trek movie franchise are the stories that form the Kahn Trilogy. While the best of these three movie is indisputably The Wrath of Kahn, The Search for Spock is under appreciated in its power and its impact. The emotional price Kirk has to pay to bring Spock back to the land of the living is harrowing. But it also makes you feel the depths to which he loves his friend. The Voyage Home is a much more light-hearted adventure in comparison to the others. And the "Save the Whales" theme feels very of its era. But the movie serves as a fun epilogue to the grim adventures of the Enterprise crew with a promise of a brighter tomorrow.
#5 Star Wars Prequel Trilogy
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
For years, I was one of the Prequel Trilogy's most ardent defenders. I've noticed that since the Sequel Trilogy has been out, people do not complain as much about the Prequels. In fact, I think appreciation and nostalgia for them have only grown over time. Now, I am not blind to their shortcomings. Lucas made a miscalculation regarding how audiences would react to Jar Jar, he did not create a strong enough through-line of characters through all three movies, and he had trouble getting the chemistry to truly work until the final film. But when put together, the Prequel Trilogy is a wonderful series of stories that culminates in one of the best Star Wars movies made.
#4 The Godfather
The Godfather Part I, II, III
When people think of this trilogy, they often focus on the shortcomings of the third film. However, Francis Ford Coppola described the structure of the films as "Two parts and an epilogue." When viewed this way, the structure makes a great deal more sense. This is especially true when you watch the director's cut that restructures the final movie. Understanding this helps explain the jarring change in tone and character when it comes to Michael Corleone. With all three films together, we see not only the slow loss of a person's soul, but then finally we feel the ultimate price that is paid because of it.
#3 The Indiana Jones Trilogy
Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
This is the greatest adventure trilogy, hands down. No other trilogy of movies, not even further adventures of Indiana Jones, could compare. Raiders set a new standard of adventure. Temple of Doom was darker, but is still made the skill and care of the two great masters: Spielberg and Lucas. But the final one, The Last Crusade is the best of the series. Every part of this movie is fantastic and infinitely re-watchable. Not only is it thematically rich in its exploration of universal relationship between fathers and sons, but it is the most exciting and most entertaining of all the films. If this movie is on TV, I usually stop everything and watch because it completely transports me in a way that few movies can.
#2 The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
These films are almost a movie miracle. Peter Jackson and his crew created a unique cinematic experience in how they adapted what is arguably the greatest book of the 20th century. The most important thing they did was that they took Tolkien's world seriously. They treated the world as lived-in world that had a history. But more important than that, they treated the emotional journey's of the characters with great care. Notice how Gollum/Smeagol could have been simply another antagonist, and instead they allowed him to become a figure of utter tragedy. Jackson and company used every ounce of their skill to verbally and visually give you the full impact of this epic to remind you that while there are hundreds of high fantasy stories, there is only one Lord of the Rings.
#1 Star Wars: The Original Trilogy
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
It should come as no surprise that this was at the top of the list. This is the Trilogy of Trilogies. There were trilogies before this. But after this, trilogies became the gold standard of movie franchises. To be sure, a series can go beyond trilogy. But all movies that hope for franchise, hope to get to at least a trilogy.
The reason why this the Trilogy of Trilogies is because each film in the series did the unthinkable in topping the film that came before. The original Star Wars was an absolute phenomenon that the film industry had never seen before. But The Empire Strikes Back took the series to a completely different level. As director Irvin Kershner said, "Something powerful had to happen in Luke's soul." Kershner understood that it was not enough to go bigger with the sequel. Bigger is easy. He understood that the sequel had to go deeper. The movie subverted expectations, but in the best possible way: it made you care about the characters and their fates even more. That film sets it up so that it is almost impossible to create a satisfying conclusion.
But Return of the Jedi is pure magic. All of the story threads are pulled together in a way that hits you perfectly. This movie reminds us that the hero does not always defeat the villain in combat. That would be too close the philosophy of "might makes right." Instead, the movie takes the more difficult but more enlightened path of showing how the power of love and sacrifice can redeem the most lost soul.
There has never been a trilogy like the Original Trilogy. And I don't think there ever will.