Friday, December 2

Invasion! – a.k.a. “Heroes vs. Aliens” on the CWDC television shows

Supergirl x Flash x Arrow x DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (CW 2016)

Monday through Thursday nights this week saw something I don’t believe has ever been done on American television – a four-night, four-show, four-way cross-over event, one story told in multiple series the likes of which has only ever, as far as I know, ever been attempted in the comic books which are the inspiration for the only block of television shows I’m currently watching with any consistency.

Based conceptually on DC Comics’ 1988 three-issues-plus-a-myriad-of-cross-over-issues event entitled, as was each of the cross-over episodes from each of the series represented here – except for Supergirl – “Invasion!,” this epic told how the alien Dominators were determined to eliminate the threat they perceived to exist in the metagenetic potential of humankind giving rise to the dawning age of the superhero, and how a coalition of such metahumans ultimately beat back this threat to our existence.

It was ambitious. And although the execution ultimately fell short, on balance I found it very satisfying.

Wednesday, November 23

The Tenth Region of the Night (Sword and Serpent #2, 2016)

By Taylor Marshall

Taylor Marshall’s first novel, Sword and Serpent, was a fine effort and well worth the read despite having certain shortcomings common to first novels [see my blog review at LINK ]. As is often the case, this sequel, The Tenth Region of the Night, improves substantially on the first, becoming one of the better books I have read this year, one I unhesitatingly recommend. The protagonist, Jurian, previously coming across rather flat, is now, in my opinion, developed into a fully fleshed-out individual who no longer pales beside the other main character, in that case a young priestess of the serpent himself (she reappears as well), in this latter case the daughter of the governor of Alexandria, named Aikaterina. Even the main villain of the piece gains depth and becomes something more than the stereotypical caricature he seemed in the opening volume. Overall the writing seems much smoother and more engaging than Sword and Serpent, gripping my interest right from the beginning as Jurian continues his quest subsequent to slaying the dragon – an accomplishment which instantly became a legend which dogs his footsteps from then on through this entire tale, for good and ill, as he strives to find and rescue a friend, lost to him in the first book, from death in the arena. Once again, Marshall has taken the history of the late Roman Empire under the Emperor Diocletian and a young Constantine, interwoven with the legends of Sts. George the Dragonslayer and Christopher the Christ-bearer, and others, and added to them the tale of St. Catherine of Alexandria, to create a gripping tale of the early Church in the Roman Empire on the eve of the Great Persecution. Knowing from early Christian history and tradition the trials and tragedies these characters face as that cataclysm looms ever closer, I nonetheless look forward eagerly to following their journeys through Marshall’s imagination to the triumph that ultimately awaits.

Cheers!, and Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 9

Election 2016

Well, yesterday was Election Day. I did not intend to watch any of the returns last night. I voted weeks ago. I had basically my last word the day before yesterday, in a Facebook post which pretty much said it all – actually a repost of what I wrote four years ago, with current commentary. So, first the post from back then, in 2012:

Eyes wide open. That's how America has collectively chosen to take on four more years of Obama. No longer can we take solace in the notion that we fell victim to the charisma of a masterful campaigner who promised to take us past the divisions of the past into a brave new world. Having seen how well that has worked out for the past four years, we (as a nation, by the slimmest of popular vote margins, by a wider margin in the Electoral College, but that is our system for better or worse) have chosen four more years. I fear it will be much longer than that, because whereas I believe there was a chance to turn back from the brink now, I believe that four more years will entrench such radical change to the very nature of our country that there will be no going back. Perhaps the saddest thing to me is that slightly more than half of our people are perfectly fine with, even desirous of, that. This is what they want. ... No, really the saddest thing to me is that the slightly LESS than half of our people must now live under the same deteriorating conditions that they strove to avert. But that is our system, for better or worse. God bless America, for we surely need it.

Thursday, November 3

Mel Gibson’s Resurrection

I just got through watching a segment on tonight's The World Over on EWTN, in which Raymond Arroyo interviewed Mel Gibson mainly about his new film, Hacksaw Ridge, but which also had a few words about Gibson's prospective sequel to The Passion of the Christ, telling the story of The Resurrection. I knew from some other stories that came out over the last couple of days that it might well be something unlike anyone's ever seen, nothing like, say, Risen from earlier this year. Specifically, that it might include some kind of narrative based on the line from The Apostles' Creed, "He descended into Hell." That seems to be confirmed here. I attempted to transcribe what Gibson said – but there’s not nearly the effect of seeing his eyes wide open and his gesticulations, with his hands waving all around as he haltingly explains his vision:

Sunday, August 14

Suicide Squad (2016)

Directed by David Ayer

I finally got around to seeing Suicide Squad a couple of days ago, the newest DC Comics movie, which predictably has been getting bad critical ratings but decent audience reviews and doing well at the box office. It was about what I expected, neither as bad as the critics (and Marvel fans) try to make it out to be, nor as good as I might have liked. But really I never expected it to be quite to my liking, simply given the subject matter. I’ve never bought a Suicide Squad comic in my life (actually, not quite true – I have bought a couple of cross-over issues), and I am not really a fan of villain-based stories. It did have its moments, however – seeing Affleck's Batman on-screen again so quickly after Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice; Will Smith and Margot Robbie stealing the show as Deadshot and Harley Quinn. I’m not quite so sold on Jared Leto’s Joker, but it was okay and I think it could grow on me. Very much not Heath Ledger, which is good. Definitely creepy. The plot was pretty non-sensicle, and predictable at times, but allegedly this movie also suffers from excessive studio interference in the post-production editing, and I figure we’re going to see a better “Director’s Cut” released on video in a few months. Allegedly there will be more Joker in it. Of course, I’ll get it. At this point, unless something in my own opinion (not anybody else’s, which doesn’t matter to me) goes totally off the rails in the DC movie series, I’m going to be supporting it however I can. To a point. I will not be seeing this movie in the theatre a second time, I’m sure. Again, I'm just not that connected to the characters. In all, the movie worked for me, gave me a couple hours enjoyment, but it's really pretty forgettable.

Cheers, and Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 6

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

Directed by David Yates

As we were waiting for this movie to begin, I told a friend that, "I hope this is a good Tarzan movie. I've seen too many bad Tarzan movies...."

I’m a bit conflicted about this movie. Overall, I enjoyed it, and in certain respects it is the very best and most balanced portrayal of the dual character of John Clayton – the “Lord of the Jungle” raised from infancy by a tribe of mangani “great apes,” vs. the cultured, educated English Lord Greystoke in Parliament – that I think has ever been captured on screen, beyond even Greystoke from thirty-plus years ago. It wasn’t perfect, by any means – I don’t think the trope of him being able to virtually “talk” to just about any kind of jungle creature, including perfectly mimicking their various calls, has any basis in the original novels, and I found the melancholy character at the beginning of the movie, pretty much having turned his back entirely on his former life in the wild, alien to the character I remember. He also seemed at the same time less formidable than the demigodlike figure of the books – and comics – and able to survive punishment from full-grown bull “apes” that would surely have shattered bones and probably killed a man. In a way, it seemed more realistic – and yet more cartoonish at the same time. But on balance, Alexander Skarsgaard’s portrayal was perhaps the definitive Tarzan character. Jane, portrayed by Margot Robbie was a bit more problematic. Stunningly beautiful, yes, but feistier than she really should have been – would have been in the 19th century – when, yes, this was set, rather than properly in the early 20th century. But modern audiences are not going to accept the more passive female lead – “Like a damsel,” in her own words – that the original books made her, simply because it was a different time. On balance, again, I liked her portrayal within this movie.

Saturday, June 11

The REBIRTH of My Love for DC Comics?

Often my blog posts these days don’t really begin as such. Sometimes a note in my journal about something I’ve just seen or read grows to the point that I decide to share it with the world (or my two or three readers) here; The same sometimes happens with an email – which is what happened here.

A couple of months ago, an email from one of my Facebook friends (literally – we’ve never met in person, and only spoken on the ‘phone once – but have gone from a Facebook acquaintance to periodic, sometimes lengthy and deep email exchanges on a variety of subjects) elicited from me a pretty strong condemnation of DC Comics and dismissal of their upcoming Rebirth event … which I just more or less ended up retracting.

Sunday, May 1

The Everlasting Man (1923), Saint Francis of Assisi (1925), and Essential Writings (ed. 2003)

By G. K. Chesterton (Essential Writings ed. William Griffin, 2003) 

The Everlasting Man is probably the book that has languished on my Recently Read and to be Blogged list the longest … so that “Recently” has to be interpreted pretty loosely. As described in the past, I “discovered” Chesterton in early 2014, with Orthodoxy (1908) being my first bit of Lenten reading … that turned into a couple of reads over the next few months before I finally blogged about it in June [LINK]. By that time I had already described my “history” with Chesterton in a post about The Ballad of the White Horse, to which I would also refer the reader [LINK]. Thirdly, I would point to my post from March 2015 when I attended the first Louisiana Chesterton Conference [LINK] – which experience inspired me to organize the Chesterton Society of Natchitoches [LINK], which meets weekly to read and discuss his writings. In any case, almost two years ago I proceeded read The Everlasting Man twice back-to-back and was as floored by its wit and wisdom as I had been by Orthodoxy.

A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God's Covenant Love in Scripture (1998) and The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth (1999)

By Scott Hahn

With a great deal of presumption, I have taken to calling Scott Hahn my spiritual brother, since a couple of years ago I discovered that we, both raised Protestant, were received into the Holy Roman Catholic Church on the same evening, during the Easter Vigil of 1986 – half a continent apart, of course. I’ve been aware of him as Catholic scholar and apologist supreme for a great deal of the intervening time, at least since the mid 1990s. I hadn’t actually read any of his books until the last couple of years, however. But then our parish distributed free copies of his and his wife, Kimberly’s conversion story, Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism (1993), which I read and blogged about as part of my Lenten reading for 2014 [LINK]. At some point subsequent to that, I acquired and listened to an audio talk based upon The Lamb’s Supper, giving more detail to the story of his conversion and how it came through intense study of the Book of Revelation, interpreting it through the lens of the Mass; the book fleshes that interpretive scheme out even further. Then, for my Lenten reading 2015 I undertook A Father Who Keeps His Promises.

The Radiance of Being: Dimensions of Cosmic Christianity (2013)

By Stratford Caldecott

Last year, of course, I read – in backwards order – the first two books of what might be termed the late Stratford Caldecott’s “Catholic Trilogy,” The Seven Sacraments [LINK] and All Things Made New [LINK]. See especially the latter – the second review written on the book first read – for my tribute to Caldecott on the one-year anniversary of his untimely death. I remarked in the former of those reviews – on the book first written but second read – that like G. K. Chesterton, Caldecott “[made] Christianity weird in a fascinating and beautiful way.” That was written with regard to my reading of this very tome. As the previous books are extended and eclectic discourses dominated by the many well-known to obscure significances of the numbers “7” and “12” in Biblical and Christian lore, so is this latter book focused on the fundamental nature of “3.” Caldecott ranged farther and wider than merely the Judaeo-Christian tradition as well, finding fundamental echoes of the Trinitarian principle in Islam, Buddhism and other Eastern mysticisms, as well as modern cutting-edge existential quantum physics. It is a head-splitting, mind-blowing, consciousness-expanding experience that, quite frankly, months later I still find myself mulling over at the oddest times…. I’m sure at some point I will once more be telling my wife, “I’m going to read some more Stratford Caldecott and get a headache,” as I plunge into this book again.

One reason this particular review was so long in coming is that I struggled to find some approach that does it justice. I made several attempts over a couple of months, but each sputtered to a halt a couple of paragraphs in. Ultimately, I'm deciding to go decidedly minimalist, and leave my comments to those above, along with the recommendation that the trilogy which this book closes is well worth reading and meditating on. I'm not actually sure whether reading them in any particular order makes much difference, except that I do remember All Things Made New referring back to The Seven Sacraments on a couple of occasions.

Cheers, and Thanks for reading.

Saturday, April 30

Various Things I’ve Read in the Past Couple of Years

Obviously, if you look at the Blog Archive at left, you’ll see that my posting to this blog has dwindled to barely a trickle in the past couple of years. There are several reasons for that. One is just simply having less time – I’m now more involved than ever in my church. One is that for a long time the bulk of my postings here resulted from a rather heavy schedule of comic-book reading and compulsive reviewing that left me burned out on that a couple of years ago, even as in my opinion DC Comics’ output largely went off in directions that I have little interest in following, such that at present – and for most of the past year – I’ve not been buying and reading monthly issues anymore at all, and have been picking up very few of the trade collections that they’ve put out. Finally – and this is at least somewhat related to both of the above – my interests have undergone another of my periodic shifts, this time back toward reading a lot more religious and spiritual material than I did for a long time. Personally, I think that’s a good thing for my soul, but it’s not something I’m usually as interested in blogging about as the largely meaningless comic books or other fiction that I was engrossed in for many years before the past couple.

Monday, April 11

Great News for America: The Constitution, Freedom and Prosperity are Coming Back! (2016)

By Gerard Francis Lameiro, Ph.D.

This book was recently reviewed [LINK] on a website I follow, Maccabee Society: A Journal and Community for Men [LINK] (“Men” should have “Conservative Christian” in front of it; the site is kind of like The Art of Manliness [LINK] with a specifically Christian slant). The author purports to analyse American history and predicts, based on historical cycles and so forth, that we’re about to experience a conservative groundswell/landslide in the upcoming elections that will transform the United States for a generation, resetting American government back to what the Founding Fathers intended.

Needing a little good news in what seems like a constant barrage of bad news on just about every front, I grabbed this book on Kindle and read it over the next few evenings after the aforementioned review appeared, then gave myself a couple days to digest it. Unfortunately, my initial impression did not change upon reflection. I found this book to be so unrealistically optimistic (as well as extremely poorly written and edited) as to be laughable – and no encouragement whatsoever. It is a great exercise in wishful thinking and nothing more. Besides ignoring how deeply entrenched the entitlement culture is in our society, Lameiro does not deal with the fact that there really is no viable conservative candidate still in the 2016 race that he sees as the key “inflexion point.” Trump certainly is not "conservative" no matter how he tries to sell himself as such today. Cruz is still in it, of course, but despite my personal preference for him among the announced candidates almost from the beginning of the '16 campaign, the sad fact is that he polarizes so greatly that I think having him as the nominee – which is unlikely given the current delegate numbers unless the Republicans blow up the convention to keep Trump out, which would be a disaster because Trump would then go rogue third party and split the vote – would assure a Democrat victory. The same is true, although perhaps to a lesser extent, if the Republicans put up someone else (Ryan? -- based on some of Lameiro’s recent posts at his book-centered blog [LINK], he seems to lean that way) which would, I think, end up losing at least some of Cruz's support from sheer pissed-offness. Without naming names, Lameiro seems to attempt to address those possibilities in the abstract, but not convincingly.

I just do not see an upsurge of truly conservative values-based governance – or a demand for such from the American people – coming. Maybe I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong – and it would please me greatly to be able to revisit this post in eight months or so and eat crow – but I don't think it's going to happen. I really think our country passed the tipping point with the 2012 re-election of Obama (who had already proven himself the worst President we'd ever had, and has since descended even deeper into partisan disgrace), as I said then in my blog-commentary, "eyes wide open" [LINK].

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 4

Musings on a Second Viewing of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

This is actually being written several days after the fact. On Friday I went to another matinee showing of Dawn of Justice, this time with a friend. I enjoyed it again, maybe even more. What's more, my friend – who did not, by the way, see Man of Steel at all – also enjoyed it, although he is not a comics fan. About ten years older than myself, he has what I figure is pretty much a normal familiarity with the characters, based on reading comic books when he was young. And he enjoyed it. Which, along with the generally-positive audience assessments reported even by Rotten Tomatoes, further confirms for me that the critics' panning of the movie is largely rubbish. 

I definitely picked up on a couple more things, as well – Lex did turn over the painting so that the demons were coming out of heaven; the music when Wonder Woman was introduced was foreshadowed when Bruce opened the file containing her World War I picture. Given that Hans Zimmer was joined in the music credits by another name (I don't remember it, but it's the same as has been announced for the upcoming Wonder Woman solo movie), I think we got a preview of the general style of music we have to look forward to there. I can't say it's really to my liking. Oh well.

I still think overall the movie had some uneven editing, particularly in the beginning. But I do not agree with those critics who call the movie unrelentingly “joyless” or that Superman never cracks a smile – or worse, that he was utterly alien and unrelatable. I think he was all too human in his emotional turmoil given the seriousness of the situation. It was a serious movie, overall – like most “serious” comic book movies marred by the requisite world-threatening menace at the end – but a serious movie with serious underlying themes of conflicted humanity vs. The Other, matters of appearance and perspective, and – as pointed out in one brilliant review I read but have typically lost – how the media drive that. It was not a Marvel movie. And those people wanting to see a Marvel movie were doubtless the most disappointed in this movie. There, I said it. This – was – not – a – Marvel – movie. And in those places where it tried the most to be one – Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor – it was at its weakest. But overall, I was pleased with it, more so than I feared I would be given how far I knew it was departing from what I believed the sequel to Man of Steel should be. Frankly, that was not going to happen, given the virtual imperative in these kinds of movies to always outdo the last one in sheer spectacle, which usually comes at the expense of story.

One other impression I did have, in conclusion. I did not time things, but I was surprised at how, this go’round, it seemed that the fight-scenes at the end were relatively brief and swiftly told. I think they loom largest in our memories because they are virtually the last things that are seen, but I wonder just what percentage of the running time of this movie they really are, as opposed to story/plot/narrative…?

That's pretty much all I have to say about that. Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 28

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Directed by Zack Snyder

This review of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice will not be the mammoth dissection that was my review of Man of Steel three years ago [LINK]. This is just going to be a short statement of my own impressions, with no intent to argue or justify my points. What would be the purpose? The critics have spoken, and as happened with John Carter and Green Lantern both, what may have begun as legitimate criticisms seems to have started feeding on themselves as critics seem more interested now in outdoing their peers in showing how clever can be their criticisms than in providing reasoned analysis and evaluation. The audience seems to have received the movie more kindly. For what it’s worth, the Rotten Tomatoes scores are quite divergent (approximately 28/72), far more so than for Man of Steel (approximately 56/76). (I found it really interesting last week how the initial critics’ assessments were quite a bit more in line with Man of Steel than the ones that started coming out later – when the later critics had had time to figure out which way the wind was blowing and the piling-on had time to begin.) Don’t get me wrong. This is obviously not a movie for everyone, and it is a movie that does have its shortcomings, particularly an uneven pacing as well as a couple of things highlighted below. It is ultimately, I believe, less a movie for general audiences than it was a movie for me and someone like me – a life-long comic-book fan with a deep love for these characters (one I do not have for the Marvel Universe, which means I admittedly approach those movies with a degree of objectivity that is not possible for me in this case). I can easily see how someone who does not have that love – and the innate knowledge of myriad story-lines and images accumulated over fifty years of reading DC Comics – would be left cold by it. All I can ultimately say is that I enjoyed BVS:DOJ  very much and look forward to seeing future installments in the DC Movie Universe that is emerging from what I consider to have been a similarly – albeit not to the same degree -- maligned Man of Steel.