Sunday Morning Coming Down

My family’s Catholic, but it’s only been within the last year that The Wife and I have gotten serious about it.  Although our faith is far from absolute, we both agree that the promise of an hour each week to be together as a family enjoying a brief respite from the burdens of our daily lives is well worth the cost of getting up early on a Sunday.  Mass provides The Wife and I an opportunity to slow down, to reflect on our lives, and to simply steal a quiet moment to gaze sidelong into each others’ eyes and appreciate everything that we have in each other.

At least it would if we didn’t have children.

We made the decision to become regular church-goers in part for the benefit of our daughters.  It seems like with each passing year, life not only gets more hectic and more wearisome, but it does so for younger and younger children.  I spend every day with ninth- and tenth-grade students who are already burnt out on both school and sports, and who spend too little time sleeping and even less actually enjoying themselves.  I have friends and family alike whose children – ages ranging from 6 to 16 – have weekly calendars that read like the demon-spawn love child of ESPN’s and The Discovery Channel’s daily programming line-ups.  And I have a pair of wonderful little girls who the world tells me I’ve already doomed to a life of perpetual failure because the five-year-old only goes to preschool and dance class while her two-year-old sister stays home with their mother all day.  We want our daughters to grow up knowing that no matter what life throws at them, there will always be a place they can go where they will face no expectations, no pressure, and no judgment.  There will always be at least one hour each week where they can simply be, and they can know they will always be loved simply for being.

In a similar vein, The Wife and I wanted to make sure that there was some kind of spiritual element in our daughters’ lives.  We’re raising them Catholic because we were raised Catholic and neither of us has found another religion that we preferred to our own.  However, our faith is neither so strong that it has no room for new ideas nor so weak that it has no tolerance for scrutiny.  If, as adults, our children find a different path that leads them to a more meaningful place than ours would, then so be it.  Whatever spiritual road they choose to follow – even if it leads them away from organized religion or away from faith in a higher power at all – will someday be their own.  I just want them to grow up understanding that there are things in the world greater and more important than themselves.

Unfortunately, I feel like we’re failing on both fronts.

The Wife and I spend more time wrangling our children and correcting their behavior than we actually spend taking part in mass or listening to the priest.  Frankly, we spend more time praying for the strength and patience to endure sixty minutes trying to keep our children quiet and contained  than we spend reflecting on and giving thanks for how heavily our lives have been blessed.  By the time mass is over, the only thought going through my head is usually something along the lines of Both of you sit down and shut the hell up so everyone can have a few minutes of God damned peace and quiet!  More often than not, I walk out of mass more stressed and bemused than when I walked in.

To wit, this little gem today:  We had finished giving each other our usual hugs, kisses, and I Love Yous and our neighbors the customary handshakes in the name of peace and goodwill.  The Eucharistic Ministers had come to the altar and were being served communion in anticipation of serving the rest of us.  The music had momentarily faded as the organist turned to the Communion hymn in her book.  The church was awash in stillness and silence as we prepared ourselves for its most solemn and sacred ritual.

And so it came to pass that, like a roar of thunder echoing through the heavens above a sea of tranquility, The Younger announced, I HATE MASS!

We’re all going to hell, aren’t we?

As always, thanks for reading.  I hope to see you again soon.


The Truth Awakens

I think we can all agree that the movie we saw over the weekend (and again on Monday…and maybe even once more since) was a fantastic Star Wars movie.  But it was just that:  A Star Wars movie, warts and all.  Nothing more.  Whether we want to admit it or not, all Star Wars movies have warts on them.  The problem is that when we talk about the original trilogy, we blind ourselves to them.  And when we talk about the prequels, the warts are all we allow ourselves to see.

With that in mind, let me say this:  All I want for Christmas is for this to be the Star Wars trilogy that we can all have an honest, fair, and balanced conversation about.

Oh, and I guess the health and happiness of my family and friends.  Peace on Earth, good will to all men and women and all that.

Wishing you all the best, the merriest, and the nerdiest this holiday season.


*Sorry for the prolonged absence.  I hope to see more of you all soon!


In the past two weeks, I’ve planted a dozen columbines (six red, six purple), a half-dozen asiatic lilies, four azalea bushes, and a wine-and-roses.  And all that came after I split a bunch of hostas and balloon flowers. It all brings me one step closer to my life goal of having a better backyard than Mr. Miyagi.  At which point I’ll begin training lonely neighborhood teenagers to be my own personal unarmed death squad.  Because – let’s be real – Daniel-San never would have trusted the old man if he hadn’t been able to grow such a perfect metaphor water garden in the middle of the Los Angeles desert.

Angst and Adverbs

Ah, teenagers, let them be true

To one another! for the world which seems

To lie before the high school creative

Writing club’s open mic night

Has neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.


They are depressing creatures

Reading depressing odes

To depressing topics.

They scratch at scars that never felt a wound

And do it in pretentiously elegiac terms.

So many of them waking up next to pillows

Where someone’s head used to lay.

So many fractured fairy tales

With broken endings

Written from the seeds

Of worst-case scenarios.


They begin with ritual apologies and

Carefully practiced acts of modesty before

A lot of gratuitous throat-clearing.

They start slowly





Reflects passion

And intensity.


Nobody in their stories ever does much of anything,

But everybody does everything in very specific ways.

“He brushed his teeth quickly, he showered hastily,

And then he dressed frantically.”

The paradox of trying to describe speed.

He brushed.  He showered.  He dressed.

Rely on the rhythm.

Let the syntax speak for itself.


By the end of the night, I feel like

I am standing on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where aspiring young students come to write

Their tales of never was there more woe.


But I am calm tonight.

Despite the grating roar of so many

Egregious displays of awful writing,

It is beautiful to see them being written

And to hear them being shared.

Top-Down Tuesday – Marvel Studios and The Avengers Revisited

With Age of Ultron on the horizon, my wife and I spent the last month watching our way through the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  With the marathon finally complete and the new Avengers film being released this week, I thought it was a good time to revisit my rankings of the Marvel Studios pantheon.  When I wrote my original list back in September, I had just seen Guardians of the Galaxy for the fist time, and there were at least three movies on the list that I had only watched once.  Now, having recently seen all ten films again (and watched them in order of release), I’m ready to rethink my rankings.

As before, the only metric I used to rank each film was my own enjoyment.  That said…

Number 10

Iron Man 2 Title

Previous Rank:  10

What I said before:  …my least favorite film in the franchise….What we’re left with is a Tony Stark who’s become a sad sack…and a two-hour long excuse to give some backstory on S.H.I.E.L.D. and to introduce Black Widow.  The end result is a film that simply isn’t any fun.

On further review:  Yup.  I still hate this movie.  I’ll freely admit that until last month I hadn’t seen Iron Man 2 since it was first released (I skipped it during the 2012 Phase 1 binge).  I will also freely admit that it is better than I remember it being.  But, five years on, I’m still disappointed.  This is the only film in the franchise that I’d call gratuitous, and the only one that feels like a cash-in rather than a necessary step in universe-building or a vital component of the ongoing story.  There’s nothing here that couldn’t have been introduced in another film, and far too little to enjoy overall.

As a side note, after two years of watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which seems to get better every week, by the way), retroactive demerits for the clunky contributions to Agent Coulson’s ongoing characterization, even if they are some of the best moments in the film.

Number 9


Previous Rank:  8

What I said before:  …infinitely better than that warmed over piece of crap that Ang Lee made with Eric Bana…however, there’s just no getting around the fact that The Hulk is better in small doses….That said, this is the first film on this list that I’ve seen multiple times and I can see myself watching again some day.

On further review:  First, I have no lower opinion of this movie than I did eight months ago.  I do, however, have a slightly higher opinion of Thor:  The Dark World (more on that shortly).  I give this film high praise for very capably hustling us through Hulk’s origin story without belaboring the point (since we’d all be beaten over the head with it five years earlier).  I also salute its ability to lay the groundwork for a future franchise without feeling like a half-baked cheat with too much held back for later films (a huge complaint I still have with the first Spider-Man and X-Men films).  We all know that Marvel Studios is playing the long game with the Avengers franchise, and I think it’s a shame that we still haven’t seen any more of the Abomination or the Leader.  Such is life, I suppose.

Number 8

Thor 2 Poster

Previous Rank:  9

What I said before:  …I love Christopher Eccleston in pretty much everything.  And Stellan Skarsgard manages to steal every scene he’s in.  Unfortunately, the movie was bloated with action sequences and left me feeling like I’d just watched a Star Wars spin-off rather than a worthy successor to Thor.

On further review:  Something about this movie never sat right with me.  My last comment above echoes my initial impression of the film when I saw it in the theater.  Having never seen it again over the ensuing year, I really had no other frame of reference when I wrote my original rankings, so I stood by that assessment.  Watching the movie last month, however, I had a moment of epiphany:  The Dark World is about twelve minutes away from excellence.  Specifically, I think it would be an infinitely superior movie if instead of the extensive prologue about Malekith and the sequence of Thor and his warriors in battle, it opened with Jane mired in her hopelessly awkward date with Chris O’Dowd.  There’s nothing established in the prologue that isn’t revisited later in the film.  More importantly, skipping over the awkward introduction to the Dark Elves and the Aether would give the movie two things it desperately lacks:  a consistent sense of pacing and – more importantly – any sense of mystery whatsoever.  With that in mind, I’ve bumped The Dark World up a spot mostly on the merits of its potential.  A skillfully crafted fan edit would likely rank even higher on my list.

Number 7

Iron Man 3 Poster

Previous Rank:  7

What I said before:  …a significant improvement over IM2…it establishes that this is a comic book/cinematic universe in which there are consequences….Tony Stark’s PTSD drives the character without dragging down the movie, lending IM3 a healthy dose of realism without being heavy-handed…

On further review:  It gets better every time I see it, but I just can’t justify moving it any higher up the list.

Number 6

Iron Man Poster

Previous Rank:  5

What I said before:  More than anything else, I give major kudos to Iron Man for simply being fun….It was a breath of fresh air watching a character leading the rock star life who simply reveled in the fact that he got to be a superhero.  Isn’t that every little boy’s dream at some point?…Thanks, Robert Downey Jr., for bringing the dream back to life!

On further review:  Yup, still fun.  Unfortunately, not as much fun as…

Number 5

Guardians Poster

Previous Rank:  6

What I said before:  Guardians was a much better movie than I expected….It has larger-than-life but also very relatable characters, intense and enjoyable action sequences, and more laugh-out-loud moments than the other nine films on this list combined.  Oh, and a green Zoe Saldana fighting a blue-skinned Karen Gillan.

On further review:  Guardians of the Galaxy is the closest this list came to any truly seismic movement in the rankings.  When I wrote my original list, I had only seen this film once…and only two days before, at that!  Since then, I’ve seen it more times than I feel comfortable admitting.  And there’s no getting around it:  this film is a fucking blast.

See, it even got me dropping F-bombs to make my point.

I seriously debated moving Guardians as far up the list as number three – and I still might some day – but for now I just can’t bring myself to drop anything out of my top four.

Number 4

Thor poster

Previous Rank:  3

What I said before:  It’s a character-driven tale of loss and redemption whose classical elements are almost perfectly balanced by well-placed and intense action sequences and some equally well-timed moments of laugh-out-loud comic relief.  It’s serious without taking itself too seriously, and it’s truly Shakespearean while still managing to be fun.  In a word, it’s awesome.

On further review:  All right, you’ve got me.  All I have in my notes for this entry is a big, black question mark.  This movie is amazing.  The visuals are lush and vibrant, Jeremy Renner’s cameo is pitch perfect, and I’ve already said everything I need to say about the story and the characters.  I’ve got no excuse.  Except that I just can’t help myself (see below).

Number 3

Captain America Poster

Previous Rank:  4

What I said before:  I went into this film skeptical of Chris Evans…and worried that Cap’s 1940’s 98-pound-weakling-with-a-heart-of-gold persona wouldn’t translate well to the 2011 cinema….I left feeling satisfied that Evans had pulled it off.  So, too, had Hugo Weaving (who made the Red Skull deliciously sinister as only Hugo Weaving can) and his make-up/effects team….

On further review:  No lies – this is probably pure sentiment talking.  I love Captain America and I love this damn movie.  If I had to heap any more specific praise on it, though, it would be this:  to me, this is by far the most complete of the pre-Avengers Marvel films.  The prior Phase 1 movies not only left their doors open to the possibility of sequels, they practically demanded them (see my earlier gripes about The Incredible Hulk).  Cap’s escape into twenty-first century Times Square notwithstanding, this film functions perfectly as a self-contained narrative. We learn the backstory of Steve Rogers the man and the origins of Captain America the superhero.  We see Cap’s rise from lab experiment to super solider.  And we can accept the Red Skull’s inevitable defeat as sufficiently definitive that we needn’t look back if we never see him again (although his demise is also ambiguous enough to make me think that he might be standing at Thanos’s side by the time the Infinity War begins).  Even the prologue and epilogue still fit in this case, as the film brings us to a satisfying explanation for why America’s greatest hero would be marooned on a frozen tundra as well as why S.H.I.E.L.D. would be so interested in finding him.

Number 2

Avengers poster

Previous Rank:  2

What I said before:  It’s not perfect….But once The Avengers gets rolling, it is insane fun.

On further review:  The first act is still clunky, the second is still like a reality TV show about a destructively dysfunctional fraternity of prima donna psuedo-celebrities (and I mean that in the best possible way), and the third is still a veritable orgy of hypnotically intense action punctuated by vital moments of character growth that are underscored by the very real possibility that the good guys could actually lose, or at least suffer legitimate losses in pursuit of victory.  The whole is still greater than the sum of it’s parts.  In short, The Avengers is still amazing.

Number 1

Winter Soldier poster

Previous Rank:  1

What I said before:  One of the ways I judge movies is by how long I think about them after they’re over….the movies I like best are the ones that capture my imagination.  The Avengers did it.  The Winter Soldier did it even better…..this film also has the best soundtrack of the series.  It’s dark, it’s pulse-pounding, and it’s a perfect undercurrent to the film’s steady descent into conspiracy and darkness.

On further review:  As much as I love this movie, something about it has never sat quite right with me (yes, I know I wrote the same thing about Thor 2).  In my original post, I said that I felt like the Winter Soldier himself was under-utilized in this film, reduced to a subplot rather than the focal point suggested by the title.  Then, in my most recent viewing, I finally figured out what the problem is:  the Winter Soldier doesn’t need to be in the movie at all.

Now, before you jump all over me, I understand that Marvel is building for the future here.  Sebastian Stan is likely to replace Chris Evans as Captain America in the not-too-distant future, so it’s important for the franchise that they re-introduce Bucky Barnes.  I will also concede that, from a story-telling perspective, Bucky’s presence as the Winter Soldier significantly ups the emotional stakes for Steve Rogers and lends additional gravity to the film’s climax.  At the same time, the Winter Soldier could be anyone, and, with an appropriate change of subtitle, 95% or more of this movie would still work just fine.  And that, honestly, is the only reason why my recent moment of epiphany didn’t cost this movie the stop spot in these rankings.  With or without the Winter Soldier, The Winter Soldier is bad ass.

So…there it is…again.  It’s probably going to be a couple of weeks before I get a chance to see Age of Ultron, but once I do I’ll find a place for it in the rankings.  In the meantime, feel free to post a comment below and share some thoughts on your favorite(s).  I’d love to know what you think.

As always, thanks for reading.