My Favorite Player

On February 15, 2006, I was on February break. I was a sixth grader on the cusp of puberty. I was just getting over the Patriots losing in the postseason to Denver and  Spring Training for the Red Sox hadn’t started yet. I wasn’t yet a hockey fan and I was just starting to like basketball in a big way. UConn was good, but not great that year, and Georgetown, my mom’s alma mater hadn’t captured my attention yet. I was aware of the NBA’s existence but wasn’t a big fan. The night of the 15th, though, that all changed. I watched the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers play. It was a classic game that took 2 overtimes to finish. Cleveland won behind a 43 point triple double by phenom LeBron James. My eyes were glued to the guy wearing 34 for the Celtics giving James the business all night. After a 50 point game against the most hyped player of the day, Paul Anthony Pierce became my favorite basketball player, and eventually, my favorite athlete. 

I watched the Celtics through the abysmal 2006-2007 season, got excited when Paul got help from Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, and celebrated when they won the Celtics’ 17th championship. I followed the team intensely ever since. I watched Glenn Davis hit a game winner in Orlando in 2009, KG and Rondo end the Cavs chances in 2010, and watched the Lakers break my heart the next year. I saw Pierce hit a three in LeBron’s face in 2012’s Conference Finals, and watched the Celtics bow out against the New York Knicks in the 2013 playoffs. 

Once that postseason hit, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were traded out of Boston to Brooklyn. I was crestfallen, but I would still follow the Celtics through the rebuild, seeing my first ever Celtics game in February 2014, with no Pierce. I watched the Nets and rooted for my guys in the playoffs that year, loving Pierce’s block on Kyle Lowry, and being bitter with LeBron James and the Miami heat for beating my heroes again. 

Pierce left Brooklyn and joined the Washington Wizards for the 2015 season. I liked the fit. He provided veteran leadership for a young team that was trying to learn how to win. He helped them to a playoff sweep over the Raptors and authored maybe his best playoff moment against Atlanta. In Game 3 of the Conference Semi-Finals, Washington lost a big lead and were tied with the Hawks late in the 4th. In the last seconds, Bradley Beal took the inbound and passed it to Pierce at the left elbow. Pierce called for Beal to clear out, dribbled, waited for the clock to wind down, put up a shot over two players, and banked in the game winning shot. In the frenzy afterward, he was interviewed by Chris Broussard. To end the interview, Broussard asked “Did you call bank?” Pierce answered “I called Game!” and he walked off to hype the crowd more and go to the locker room. 

That play against the Hawks shows exactly why Paul Pierce is my favorite player of all time. He stayed confident through the toughest moments, always giving his team the confidence that they could win the game. He swaggered his way into big time shot after big time shot, on the basis of the ugliest game a superstar has ever played. 

He didn’t have a pretty shot. He wasn’t smooth. Pierce played a brawny, brawly, physical style of game. Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, and LeBron James all played much more aesthetically pleasing games. Garnett was smooth, Dirk’s shot was beautiful, and LeBron’s athleticism was undeniably magnificent. Paul could spin in the post and be effective, but he was not smooth. Pierce had a good shot, but not a pretty one. And Pierce could throw down, but he was not the dominating athlete LeBron is. Instead, Pierce could switch speeds well with quick dribbles and a smart shot. Pierce played a grounded and effective game that depended upon old school confidence. He never wavered with the Celtics and he carried them through hard times. He lived through being stabbed in 2000 to become one of the most respected players of the decade. He represented the old school heart with a dash of modern flash and flair for the dramatic. And he did all of this while brazenly facing off against the best players of the day and being undervalued and underappreciated. He was a model of consistent confidence and he never wavered as an old school player in the modern day. I love that old school mindset that Pierce walked into the league with. 

Despite my admiration for him, I had never seen Pierce play in person in a regular season game. I saw the Celtics played a preseason game at the XL Center before the 2009-10 season, but that was just a preseason game. The first regular season Celtics game I ever went to was the February 12th game of the 2014 season against the Spurs, after Pierce had been traded. I wanted to see him when the Wizards were in town, but I never had the chance. Before the 2016 season, he signed with the LA Clippers. Before this season, he announced that it would be his last. When I saw the Celtics schedule, I made it a point to go to the February 5th game against the Clippers, which would be (in all likelihood) Pierce’s last game in the Gahden. 

When I bought the tickets and got in, I had an odd feeling I had only felt once before, at David Ortiz’s last game ever. I felt nostalgic, almost longing for more time to watch my favorite player in his prime, winning games and making the crowd go crazy. I cried when Pierce checked out, was tributes with a video from the Celtics, and received a standing ovation from the crowd that stopped the game. I yelled with everyone else in the 4th quarter when we wanted Pierce to come back in. And I cheered when Pierce hit a 3 pointer in the final seconds. It was a perfect goodbye to a legend, and a memory that I will hold personally forever. 

Thank you Paul Pierce for representing Boston well. You are an all time Celtic, and my favorite athlete of all time. We’ll see you in Springfield for your Hall of Fame induction in 5 years! 

SEEK2017: God at Work

In early 1999, 20 students from Benedictine College in Atchinson, Kansas, gathered to learn about scripture, God, holiness, and how to witness the Gospel to others on their campus and eventually on other campuses. The guy organizing this was named Curtis Martin. He had a vision of what Catholic campus ministry on college campuses could look like. He shared it with the 20 students on a cold weekend away from campus. His vision took hold. Those first 20 students worked on campus, and then one campus became two. Over the next few years, they would add more campuses to their network. Eventually, a conference for 200 people was organized. They called it SEEK. The fledgling organization was starting to find its footing, and it gained a huge boost when Martin received a personal word of encouragement from Pope John Paul II for his new movement to “Be Soldiers”. 

Since that time, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students has become one of the biggest Catholic organizations in the country. They now serve on over 100 college campuses including Maine, MIT, George Mason, USC, Alabama, Clemson, Wisconsin, and even two universities in Austria. They serve thousands of college students with Bible Studies, friendship, mentorship, authentic faith, and challenges to learn more about Jesus. In 2011, they came to Boston University, and in 2012, I started my collegiate career on Commonwealth Avenue. I worked with the missionaries who came to Boston, and had many adventures with them. I still room with a former missionary who’s one of my best friends, and I’m blessed to have had that experience. FOCUS is one of the biggest reasons I made it through many difficult times in college, and a part of why the BU Catholic Center was easily the best part of my BU experience. So many of my friends will sing similar songs. FOCUS helped showed us how to live honorable, Catholic lives in college and beyond through all their programming.

Among their most memorable bits of programming were newer iterations of that conference they ran. SEEK continued to expand as FOCUS expanded. The conference went from 200 to a few thousand over the following meetings. I first went to SEEK in 2013, when it was held in Orlando. Six thousand Catholic college students came from across the country. We heard talks about how to be a Catholic man, how free market economics can benefit Catholicism, how to read scripture in a prayerful way, and so many other marvelous topics. We went to Disney World to unwind, and we found ourselves praying in ways we never knew existed. Mostly, we were inspired by the faith of the thousands of college students around us. It’s hard to not be impressed when 3,000 college men are yelling their approval at a question about Disney princesses. Its even harder to not be amazed when these same people are singing their lungs out in adoration. 

SEEK2013 came at the perfect time for me. I needed a lift to get through my freshman year and I needed to learn how to honor God with my work. I got a needed boost, and I maintain fond memories toward the people I met and got close to that week. 

When I got on the flight from Orlando to Hartford on January 7th, 2013, I knew I wanted to go to another one of these major FOCUS conferences. I had an opportunity to go to SEEK2015 in Nashville, but decided not to go. I also could’ve gone to the Student Leadership Summits in 2014 or 2016, but again, decided against it. When I graduated from BU in May, I thought I wouldn’t be involved with any BUCC activities. Except I was and still am. I live in Boston and want to stay in a consistent Catholic community. I still have friends at BU, so I stayed around. I’m an active part of the Graduate and Young Professional Group at BU and I still hang out with the undergrads. When promotion started for SEEK2017, I couldn’t pass it up. I worked out the details, and made my way to San Antonio exactly four years to the day after I went to Orlando. 

When I got there, I realized I was in for a similar experience to Orlando, but SO MUCH BIGGER. This time, 13 thousand college students made their way to Texas. When I walked into the main convention hall for Mass, I saw flags for every school flying, music blasting, and a great party raging. Every large scale gathering except for the morning Masses were like that. It was a huge Catholic party that raged on for 5 days, with plenty of fun moments, like a battle of the sexes game that made a celebrity out of a Texan named Reese, break dancing priests, and nuns with the most ridiculous stories. 

The talks were also better. I heard people speak on Theology of the Body, How to save your Marriage before meeting your spouse, the main difference between Islam and Christianity, and how to respond to the 2016 election. There were so many more talks that I wanted to check out and couldn’t. There was always something to do, be it a talk, adoration, or just hanging out with people I hadn’t seen in a while. The talks were a highlight, because there are so few times when so many intelligent people are gathered to discuss the array of topics that were looked at. The ultimate highlight, however, was the encounter we all had with Jesus Himself.

When I went to Orlando, I was doing some soul searching. I had a rough year and I found solace in my God and friends who were with me there. But I was still unsettled. I wasn’t sure where I was going or what to expect from school or life in general when I got home. This time, I wasn’t in college. I didn’t have the same concerns, fears, or doubts. I was, in many ways, a completely different man. I was more relaxed, more willing to talk about my concerns and doubts, and more open in prayer. I walked with thousands of my brothers and sisters in Christ to confession, and had the most complete confession I’ve ever had. I walked out of the confessional wing of the hall and felt the grace poured out on both me and everyone else receiving the sacrament of Confession. I went to kneel in adoration as a Eucharistic procession began. I prayed my penance and smiled wide. I’ve never felt as clean or as free as I did at that moment. I got up and walked in the procession, singing, and  praising God with all I had. We all were. 

When you are surrounded by grace, there’s nothing you can do but praise God with those feeling the same grace you are. When there’s 13K people surrounded by and filled with the greatest of God’s graces, love and praise of Jesus in the Eucharist, there’s no words to describe the elation. Nothing I write would do it justice. You have to experience it for yourself to understand what’s going on there. 

It didn’t last, but it was never supposed to. When SEEK came to a close, I hopped on a plane back to the northeast, exactly four years to the day after Orlando. I found myself thankful, at peace, and excited for the future. I have a network of friends that I can see and call on when I need to. I had similar feelings after Orlando, but lacked the certainty and confidence in myself, my talents, and my connection to God that I have now. I rested easily, knowing that God is working through FOCUS and is reaching thousands of college students. I reflected on my time at BU, and smiled about all the people I met and got close with in my first SEEK. The smile got bigger when I thought of all the stories that helped lead to. I was happy that I could provide a little veteran presence to the BU delegation that I benefited from in 2013. I was even happier to walk into an uncertain situation called my life with peace of mind. 

I’m finishing up school and looking for more permenant work soon. I don’t have a set schedule or clear direction for what exactly I’m doing. I merely trust that God will guide me to where I am to go. After my week in San Antonio of praying with thousands of brave young men and women, learning about the practicals of living the faith, and being reconciled with the mistakes of my youth, how could I be anything but excited for what’s next?

So thank you to those 20 students from Atchison, Kansas, for saying yes to Curtis Martin’s idea all those years ago. It has made a massive difference for this proud son of New England and thousands of college students from all over this country. I pray we carry the lessons forward, and that those who come after us see the life in Jesus and all it’s graces. If that happens, then SEEK2019 will approach 20K attendees. The Kingdom of Heaven is growing here on earth. I’m happy to have seen it in action in San Antonio this past week. 

2017’s BUCC crowd with Curtis Martin

The new generation

Me with Matt Fradd

Scott Hahn

2016: What a Year

I started this year reflecting on the trying yet rewarding events of 2015 while enjoying champagne with my family in West Hartford. Tonight, I will do almost exactly the same thing. Except I am in Quechee, VT, and I will reflect on the zany events of 2016. I’ll spend time reflecting on the crazy events of the world at large, like Trump, Brexit, the refugee crisis, the shocking terrorist attacks, and all the reactions to them. More than that, I’ll remember how much happened for me.

It was a chaotic year for many, including me. I started with the promise of my final semester of college. I had my best selection of classes and the excitement to get it done. January turned into February, and I worked through my classes, broadcasts, and beat reporting for WTBU. Lent came with the spiritual gifts I needed, and at Easter, I was getting ready to end my college career. 

Late April and early May came with many trips to Fenway Park, and many sweet Red Sox victories. I also hit the hardest stretch of final papers and exams I ever had in college. A few overnights, enough cups of tea to keep me awake for hours, paper writing, and game broadcasts kept me from sleeping.  But I got through it, and after four long years, my collegiate career came to an end. 

I’ve had some time to reflect on my time at BU, and my ultimate perspective on it is generally positive. I had many difficulties and made it harder than it needed to be. I probably made the wrong choice of schools for academic purposes. But for all the rest that college has to offer, I made the best possible decision. I met many of the closest friend I will ever have, learned more about God and faith than I thought there was to learn, discovered what love is and how good it is to love and be loved by someone, and found my passions and interests. When I got to 2016, I learned so much from prior years, and I made my last semester of college my best. 

After graduating and celebrating a hard earned bachelors, I went home for a few days, then went to Cape Cod. I found a job at a coffee and bagel shop within walking distance of my house called JoMamma’s and returned to interning with the Brewster Whitecaps. We hosted players this year too, and what a treat they were. The summer was completely different than early on in the year. I didn’t have school hanging Over me, and I was doing things I loved full time. I loved the JoMamma’s people. They were comedic, introspective, entertaining, and loaded up with cool stories. They introduced me to new movies, music genres, and lines of thought. And I loved the Whitecaps even more. Having Zach and Logan around was like having two more physically fit brothers around. We played so many games on Zach’s PS4, talked baseball, food, girls, movies, hopes, dreams, and were just guys for a summer. It was awesome. And then I got pulled into doing a musical through a JoMamma’s coworker. And I got to dabble in one of my loves by complete accident. 

I didn’t figure out a full time job, so I decided to go into the freelance broadcasting world and return to class. This time at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting’s campus in Needham, MA. At that point, life got interesting. 

I had gigs with Tufts, MIT, the Boston Pride of the NWHL, JWHL events, and writing for InsideHockey. I had class in the morning, but my classes were spent in studios and drafting rooms. It was so wildly different from what I knew school to be. And work was tiring, but kept me entertained. 

I never had a gig I didn’t find good in, and never had a class I hated. And while I was tired, and felt more on my own than I had in many months, I had nothing but good things to discuss and think of. 

I have come so far. Graduating, writing, broadcasting, driving all over New England, flying to Green Bay, meeting and saying so long to amazing friends, testing myself in the classroom at BU and CSB, and finding God’s hand in all of it. I feel like I’ve lived a decade in the space of 366 days. I cannot say enough good things about the path I’ve been on this year. 

It’s been trying. I’ve shed many tears and had sleepless nights along the way. I said goodbye to many meaningful people and there are pieces of my life that were very good and are no longer there. I also watched my childhood end. I’m no longer in the standard educational world, which is a bit unnerving. It’s all I’ve known since 1999, and the working world is different than what I’ve known so far. I’m enjoying it, but it’s still different. Symbolically, when David Ortiz walked off the field at Fenway for the last time, my childhood was done. 

But after the madness, I have many more positives than negatives. I had too much fun to be mad, and made too many memories to be angry. 

If there’s one way I would describe my year, its with a phrase coined by my friend Tomás when we played basketball one day. He described his game as “consistently inconsistent”. That phrase sums up my year extraordinarily well. I didn’t know what exactly was coming next. One day I was writing a paper. Next day I was pondering the universe and the nature of love with a friend. Then I was driving to New York to call a basketball game. Or maybe traffic on route 6 going to Bourne for a game was up next. I rarely knew what was up next for me. I just knew I would be entertained. 

Thank you to everyone who made 2016 unforgettable. Let’s make 2017 even better! 

Hard at work


Summer with the Whitecaps

Graduation Day!

Yeah that’s me and Mookie Betts.

Me with Brockstar! (Brock Holt)

Senior Week with the guys.

Me and my roomie.

Prequel characters (and Artoo) at Fenway

Storm troopers at Fenway

Me and my bro at Fenway

The CC Grad Group goes Apple Picking

The Joker

The Grease Cast

Back on the stage.

The JoMamma’s crew

BUCC graduating class of 2016

Me and the Ballplayers.

BUCC Broomball. I was the goaltender!

On skit team for my last retreat of Undergrad

Retreat small group for my last undergrad retreat

Ash Wednesday

Best Movies I Watched in 2016

I’ve not done a countdown in a long while and it’s that time of year when countdowns make sense as a means for recollection, so here’s a new countdown. I watched a number of movies this year. They covered a huge range of genres, styles, ages, and tones. Most of them entertained me, and all of them engaged me. These are the ten best movies I watched for the first time this year. Please note that this is not a list of films released this year. I didn’t go to the movie theatre that often, so I didn’t see many of the best films of this year according to critics, like La La Land, Moonlight, or Manchester by the Sea. I saw a few, but most of the films are from earlier years, some from the black and white film era. Here we go. 

Honorable Mention: V For Vendetta (2005)

There’s a used book store in Cambridge called Rodney’s that is one of my favorite hangout spots. They sell DVDs for very cheap, and I’ve gotten a few films from there. I’ve wanted to watch V for Vendetta for a while, so when I saw it for so cheap, I bought it. I had a free afternoon after class, so I made lunch and watched the movie. That was a good choice. 

The political themes and messages of the film are compelling and thought provoking. The world feels controlled and chained. They nailed the feel of the movie, with Natalie Portman acting as a vessel for us to walk in futuristic, fascist London. Portman is excellent in the film, but the highlight is absolutely Hugo Weaving as V. He is spellbinding. His home feels like a haven, his actions and speeches are grandiose, at times infuriating, but as you learn his backstory through the course of the film, you appreciate how complete this character is. It takes some commitment to watch it and some of the messaging is a bit much, but the political intrigue, suspense, and charm make V for Vendetta well worth watching. I can’t put it into the top list, but it deserves a mention. 

10. Rogue One (2016)

The annual Star Wars release that we will get for the rest of all time just barely scrapes into my top 10. I did a full writeup of the film, so I won’t spend much time on it here. Short version, its good. Plenty of good action, amazing Darth Vader moments, and enough world building to expand the Star Wars universe and add some grit to the world make it a worthwhile addition to cinema’s most sacred franchise. It’s flaws are just big enough to keep it down to the 10th spot here.

9. The Revenant (2015)
For the first and only time on this list, I will say I didn’t like this movie much. This is a rare experience for me. I appreciate the technical mastery and how well made and directed the film is, but I still can’t bring myself to like it. 

Positives first. The scene composition, camerawork, lighting, and cinematography are nothing short of amazing. The film feels real and brutal. The score isn’t distracting or ear catching, but it compliments the film perfectly. The theme of survival is well explored and Tom Hardy is an excellent villain. There is plenty to enjoy and it deserved every technical Oscar it won. However, as stated previously, I didn’t like it. I saw this film at the very end of its theatrical run while on Spring break with family. We went to a lovely little theatre called the Chatham Orpheum, in Chatham, Cape Cod, which might be my favorite theatre I’ve ever been to. We sat there and suffered through it. 

It felt like a gore fest that took so much effort to stomach and watch Leonardo DiCaprio fight through. It is a brutal movie that pushes its lead to his physical limits, but doesn’t flush his character out anymore than that. In fact, none of the characters other than Hardy or the Native guide halfway through the film caught my attention or were that memorable for me. When the film is so focused on beating the lead to his limits, that’s tough to watch. The CGI by Industrial Light and Magic to bring the bear to life is the best CGI work I’ve ever seen, and I could barely watch it. You feel every cut, arrow, rock, and punch that hits Leo. It’s so hard to watch at times that I can’t say I like it. If you can’t stomach violence, stay far away from this movie. If you can handle it, then you’ve got a technical masterpiece to enjoy here. 

8. Airplane! (1980)

I’ve never laughed so hard watching a movie. This film is vulgar, insulting, full of swearing, death, and nudity. And it is a work of comedic genius. This came out at a time when disaster movies were popular. Think The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and Zero Hour!. It takes the seriousness of disaster movies and plays every bit of it for laughs. The characters and jokes are perfectly written and it is so quotable. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talks about dragging Walton and Lanier up the floor every night for 48 minutes with a kid who just told him he doesn’t try , except during the playoffs, while he is trying to pass himself off as an airplane pilot and is wearing his Laker uniform underneath his pilot garb. That kind of absurdity is just par for the course when talking about this movie. This isn’t a film to watch for cinematography, character arcs, or any of that stuff. You watch this because it was funny in 1980, and it is just as funny today. 

7. Finding Dory (2016)

Pixar is the best animation studio going today. I have loved almost every film I’ve seen from them, and liked Cars and Cars 2. When the sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo was announced years ago, I was excited. When the movie came out, it was a must watch for me. I saw this with my mom on the Cape over the summer. And wow did Pixar do a phenomenal job. I actually like this a little more than the original. 

The animation is sensational. The sound design is perfect. The voice acting is just as good as the first movie. There are bits which are nonsensical, like the truck falling off the cliff as “What a Wonderful World” plays, but the film holds together well enough despite the silliness. The returning characters are as good as expected, but the new critters are awesome additions. Namely Hank, my favorite character in the film. His arc is heartwarming and his natural characteristics, as an octopus, allow Pixar to flex their creative muscle with him on screen. I think this is a worthy sequel to Finding Nemo and a worthy addition to Pixar’s lineup. 

6. City of God (2002)

After my final exam wrapped up at BU, I had a week to relax on campus. During Senior Week, I went to Red Sox games, explored the MFA, celebrated my graduation with my friends, and enjoyed the city I’ve come to love so much. One night, I got together with some guys from the BU Catholic Center and we wanted to watch a movie. My friend David, an avid film buff, suggested City of God. None of us knew anything about it, just that it was supposed to be good. Our blind faith was rewarded with a surprisingly gritty and touching film about growing up in and trying to survive in the slums of Rio de Janero. 

It is in Portuguese, and has accompanying subtitles to make it watchable for those who don’t speak Portuguese. It provides enough lighthearted moments to make living in the ironically titled City of God seem better than it actually is. Only two disappointments show up for me. There’s a romance between the lead and a girl he likes that is dropped part of the way through the film and is never resolved. There’s also one important character who goes from being likable to dispicable in a heartbeat. It just seems a bit extreme. All things considered though, this is a phenomenal movie. It does require some willingness to endure blood and guts, but nowhere near as much as The Revenant

5. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

I love sports movies. With all the sports posts I’ve got, it’d be a shock if I didn’t. Gran Torino is one of my favorite films, and I heard that Million Dollar Baby was similar in tone and even better. After an insane week of driving all around New England, I needed a night to breathe. I made myself dinner and put in Million Dollar Baby. This movie is emotional. Hillary Swank plays the southern hick perfectly. The chemistry between Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood is perfect. It is a little slow, but it’s a Clint Eastwood film. He takes his time. This is a sports movie that gets you thinking “that’s not fair!” just after showing you something heartwarming and exciting. It is a well balanced movie, and well worth your time and effort to try and watch it.


4. Sunset Boulevard (1950)

My family has a penchant for watching classic movies. We’ve watched such classics as Casablanca and Citizen Kane and plan on watching On The Waterfront, and other classics as time goes by. Over spring break, Dad suggested we watch Sunset Boulevard, a classic film noir about how age and fame can drive a person into insanity. And wow is this movie engrossing, unsettling, and fantastically creepy. Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond masterfully and delivers one of the most famous lines in cinema history: “Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup.” I thought this film was a lighthearted look at the entertainment business. I was wrong, and the finale of the film leaves you with a sense of “I can’t believe that really just happened…” It is from a completely different era of film making. The writing, pacing, and tone of the movie are relics of its time, and I wish we could go back to that age. If you like old school movies, go watch this. You’ll love it. 

3. Inside Out (2015)

In late October, I went with my dad to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to take in a Green Bay Packer game at Lambeau Field. It was a highlight of the year. The next day, we hopped on a plane to Chicago. We then went our separate ways, with me going back to Boston and Dad going to San Fransisco. When I sat down for my flight, I noticed the seatback monitor had a Disney tab. I poked around the movie selection and found Inside Out listed there. I remember many people raving about how good this movie was, and I had one friend tell me about how emotionally charged it is. I took their word for it and watched it on my flight home. Simply, wow. 

Again, Pixar is the best animation studio working now and Inside Out is the most imaginative film they’ve made. The idea of emotions being managed like a company with a board of emotions managing it all is brilliant. The tale of a young girl struggling to figure out her new situation is compelling and relatable to every human being on the planet. The animation and score are perfect. The writing for every character is phenomenal, and my friend who called it emotional was not exaggerating at all. I couldn’t watch some sections of the film because I had lived it and I didn’t want to look at it in movie form. That makes the final act and the ensuing catharsis more meaningful. This is a masterful movie and one of my favorite Pixar films. Go watch this if you haven’t yet. 

2. Rocky (1976)

Yes, I somehow never watched Rocky before this year. When I got my job writing for Inside Hockey and covered games up at the University of Vermont, I stayed overnight at my family’s place in Quechee, VT. After finishing my writeups I checked out the Xfinity OnDemand listings. I went to the Free Movies tab and saw Rocky. Instantly, I thought “Yes. This is happening.” I was missing out, this film is awesome. 

Sylvester Stallone as the title character is absolutely the best part of the film. He’s simultaneously so stupid and wise with an underlying good nature that you can’t possibly root against him. Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers, is a respectable adversary for Rocky, but never feels much like a villain. There’s a healthy respect between the two leads. The romance between Rocky and Adrian, played by Talia Shire, is sweet and touching. It looks and feels very real, with Rocky being such a gentleman in a way only a bumbling guy can be. It makes the final scene so memorable. The best sequence of the film is undoubtably the fight. The “Going the Distance” song is one of the finest pieces of film score ever written, and you pull so hard for Rocky. It is a masterclass of pulling for the underdog and creating a character that everyone wants to be, and at points through life, has been. This film is required viewing.

1. The Godfather (1972)

Of all the great movies I wanted to watch and hadn’t gotten to yet, this is the one that people were the most baffled by my not seeing. This is considered one of the greatest movies ever made. I had heard about the horse head, the baptism, the Sicilian wedding, and how perfect the casting was. So after the craziness of the Whitecaps baseball season and the musical wrapped up, I had a free night. I cooked a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce and sausage, poured a glass of red wine, killed all the lights in my house, and watched The Godfather. Simply put, all the praise of the movie was justified. 

In a way, this is the weirdest film on the list because it doesn’t feel like a movie. It feels like a novel being told by actors. It was based on a novel, but it feels like a book and not a movie, which is normally a problem. Not here. Also the film starts with immediate exposition about a daughter being brutally attacked. No music, no credits, no build up or set up. Just a cold start. It’s so different, and it works so well. Marlon Brando is magnificent as Don Corleone. Al Pacino’s ascent as a member of the family is so compelling to watch. Every supporting character is cast absolutely perfectly. There are so many quotable lines. I feel more cultured after having seen this movie. This is up there as one of the greatest accomplishments in cinematic history. This, like Rocky, is required watching, but watch this first. The Godfather is a cinematic marvel that will never get old or be forgotten. 

Reynolds and Fisher: Tragic Ends for Icons

Man, 2016 has been tough. Gordie Howe, Muhammad Ali, Prince, George Michael, Alan Rickman, and Craig Sager are all celebrities that have passed on this year. In the last two days though, two more celebrities have passed on, and their deaths hit a bit closer to home for me. 

I grew up a massive Star Wars fan. I’ve watched Episodes IV, V, and VI so many times and have memorized every line of those films. I still grin when Han yells “Yahoo!” after shooting down the TIE fighters to save Luke, I still smile whenever Yoda says anything in Empire Strikes Back, and I still tear up when Vader is redeemed at the end of Return of the Jedi. So you can imagine my sadness when my Dad read a news report that Carrie Fisher passed away. 

I looked online to see for myself, and indeed, Carrie Fisher had passed away at 60 years old due to complications of a heart attack she suffered while returning to Los Angeles from London. Only one day later, Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, was rushed to the hospital and died of a suspected stroke. Just like that, two of film’s most famous stars, and the leading ladies of my favorite musical and film franchise, are gone and millions of fans are left to mourn their passing, appreciate their work, and marvel at how tragic portions of their lives were and how positive they remained through it all. 

Born in El Paso, Texas, in 1932, Mary Frances Reynolds was raised in a strict Nazarene household and was a leader in her Girl Scout troop. She would remain a face for them for years and there is still a scholarship bearing her name given to high school aged scouts. At five years old, her family relocated to Burbank, CA. At 16, she entered into and won the Miss Burbank Beauty Contest. That contest got her a contract with Metro Goldwyn Meyer. Jack Warner, the owner of the Warner Brothers studio gave her the name Debbie because it was a cuter name than Mary Frances. 

Her first notable role was in 1950’s Three Little Words, starring Fred Astaire and Red Skelton. Reynolds was nominated for a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer for that role. She didn’t win, but she found favor with the executives at the studio, and in 1952, was given the role that would define her career at only 19 years old. 

She was cast as the female lead of Singing in the Rain, starring and codirected by dance and film legend Gene Kelly. This ended up being brutal on Reynolds. She wasn’t a dancer before the film, she had been a gymnast. As a result, she was not prepared to get every step right. Kelly was harsh on her, insulting the 19 year old for her lack of dancing knowledge and ability. MGM star Fred Astaire, whom Reynolds had worked with on Three Little Words, found her in a studio crying under a piano after an especially harsh grilling by Kelly. Astaire agreed to help her get the steps right and teach her some important things to do the film. She got through it, but not without major stress. The number “Good Morning”, for example took from 8am until 11pm to shoot in one day, left Reynolds with sore and badly bleeding feet. She was sore and exhausted, but her place in Hollywood was sealed. Singing in the Rain was a modest success on its initial run, earning Donnie O’Conner a Golden Globe for best actor and a sizable profit for MGM. It has since been regarded as the greatest movie musical ever made, a sentiment I whole heartedly agree with. 

From there, Reynolds continued to land big roles for MGM. She met Eddie Fisher, a singer and TV show host around this time and married him in 1955. A year later, their first child was born. Reynolds had filmed three movies with intricate dance choreography while pregnant with her daughter, notably Bundle of Joy, but there was no harm. Carrie Frances Fisher was born on October 21, 1956, and all seemed to be going well for the family. And then life got complicated. 

In 1959, Eddie Fisher left Debbie, Carrie, and one year old son Todd to pursue a relationship with Reynold’s friend, Elizabeth Taylor. Fisher and Reynolds divorced and Reynolds became a working single mother in Hollywood. Teheran managed as well as she could, eventually getting both children into the entertainment business and getting married to a millionaire businessman named Harry Karl. This marriage also ended in controversy, with the two divorcing in 1973 and Reynolds suing Karl after Karl had gambled away almost all of Reynold’s savings. 

While her mother was struggling, Carrie was hiding away from the complications in books. She read classic literature and poetry to the point of being called “the bookworm” by her family. She attended Beverly Hills high school until the performing world and her mother got in the way. Debbie took on work as a stage actress with film chances coming in slower, and was cast as the lead in a broadway revival of Irene. Carrie was cast as a Debutante in the show and learned the tricks of the trade from mother dearest. 

Fisher decided that she wanted to make this a living and was accepted to the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. She studied there for 18 months. Shortly after, she followed a path similar to her mother. Her debut film role was a small role in Shampoo, starring Warren Beatty. The film saw real financial success and Fisher was off to a good start in the film world. 

Shortly thereafter, Fisher was cast as the female lead of George Lucas’ new space opera: Star Wars. She thought the script was outstanding but didn’t think many others would, so she kept quiet. Much like Singing in the Rain, Star Wars was also a painstaking process. There wasn’t an obnoxious director insulting her talents, but the process was stalled many times because of technical failures and malfunctions, the rest of the cast didn’t take it as seriously as she and Alec Guinness did, and she was uncomfortable because she was taped up under her costume in place of wearing actual underwear, because according to George Lucas, “There is no underwear in space.” 

She and the crew waited with baited breath to see the reaction to the film and to everyone’s shock, it became the highest grossing film of all time. It has been surpassed, but the original Star Wars film is still regarded as one of cinema’s greatest achievements, again, something I agree with 100 percent. 

Fisher would reprise her role as Princess Leia in the next two Star Wars films and would become synonymous with that special galaxy, far, far away. She had other roles, like the Mystery Woman in Blues Brothers and Marie in When Harry Met Sally. But similarly to her mother, she was known for her best film and her personal troubles. 

Fisher married Paul Simon in 1983, divorced him in 1984, had a number of relationships with different entertainers, including an affair with Harrison Ford, being briefly engaged to Dan Aykroyd, and dating and having a child with Bryan Lourd. On top of that, she suffered from bipolar disorder and drug addiction that siphoned years off her life. Her mother didn’t have the drug problem, but Carrie had become a star and became just as famous for her relationships as her work on the screen. 

Through it all, they kept working, kept entertaining, and found ways to turn their pain into art. Carrie turned her drug problem into a semi-autobiographical novel and then into a movie: Postcards From the Edge, starring Meryl Streep. Debbie served as an inspiration to her daughter through all her issues, and they maintained a healthy relationship for years, after not speaking for close to a decade. Todd Fisher told news sources that Reynolds final words before her stroke were “I want to be with Carrie.” 

I love the work these two ladies put on the screen. Singing in the Rain is the greatest movie musical ever made and Star Wars is easily my favorite entertainment franchise. For fans of both franchises to lose their heroes in two days is tragic. For Todd Fisher and Billie Lourd to lose two pivotal family members is even worse. My prayers are with the family, and I will have a more difficult time watching their work, especially the now complicated Star Wars: Episode VIII

Sing: What Animation Needs

Film animation is not in the best of places. Dreamworks has fallen in prestige and quality. Studio Ghibli has been on hiatus since 2014. Even Pixar is making confusing choices in production, with Cars 3 and Toy Story 4 in the works. It feels as though modern animation is stuck in place, showing cute animals, fart jokes, and silly gag humor instead of developed characters and compelling stories that are simple enough for kids to get and compelling enough to keep the adults in the theatre watching. Perhaps the poster child for the state of animation today is Illumination Entertainment, a subsidiary of Universal Studios that has risen to fame with Despicable Me 1 and 2, Hop, The Lorax, and Minions. The studio is probably most famous for giving us the adorable yellow minions. They’re fine, but they got a standalone film to milk their popularity and their humor is everything that has gotten old in comedy for me, especially animated comedy. 

When my mom expressed an interest in going to see Illumination’s newest film, Sing, I thought it would be a harmless film with some good moments sprinkled in. When I realized who made it, especially with the mixed critical response to both this film and the recent Secret Life of Pets, I got a bit nervous. When the previews rolled and I saw the horror of The Emoji Movie roll, I face palmed so hard, fearful of the film to follow. 

Fortunately, Sing is actually pretty good. It does have its fair share of fart jokes, puns, and gag humor, and the notion of a singing concept is a little overdone with American Idol, The Voice, and many other similar shows existing in real life. However, I wasn’t cringing for the film. In fact, I quite enjoyed it. It’s a fun movie with impressive animation, a compelling set up, characters I enjoy and root for, excellent music, and voice acting that is absolutely perfect. Matthew McConaughey has a phenomenal voice and puts it to good use as Buster Moon, a koala working as a show producer who owns an old theatre that has fallen into financial difficulty. Seth MacFarlane brings cockiness and irresistible charm with his speaking voice and his lineup of crooner songs, namely Sinatra hits, and is a huge highlight. Jennifer Hudson as a shy but talented elephant is excellent and Scarlett Johannsen as Ash, a rocking porcupine with an underappreciative boyfriend are so much fun to watch. 

My favorite character in the movie is Johnny, a gorilla with a cockney accent voiced by Taron Egerton. His arc is possibly the most dramatic and, for me at least, the most satisfying. He is a charming prescience that you can’t root against if you have a heart and relates well with the teenage and young adult crowd looking for their own direction and acceptance from their parents. It’s a brilliant casting choice, as are the rest of the characters. There was depth, development, and a full arc for each of the important characters. It had the depth that many animated films seem to lack in today’s age. 

I’m not sure why so many critics have decided to be harsh toward this movie. David Ehrlich of Indiewire gave it a 16 out of 100 in his review of the film, claiming ‘”Sing” is the Platonic ideal of an Illumination movie. It’s a profoundly soulless piece of work that shines a light on the mediocrity they foist upon the children of the world.’ I’m not sure what film we both apwatched, but I didn’t see a soulless production. I saw an entertaining movie with good music, imaginative sequences, namely with the squids, and excellent moral lessons to take away for kids from 1 to 102. It’s not the best movie I’ve seen all year, but I would be lying if I said it was anything less than a fun, lighthearted musical comedy with phenomenal voice acting. 

If you have kids and want them to start liking musicals, this is a fine way to introduce them to it. I just hope that Illumination makes more of this and less of the Minions moving forward. Animation needs more heart and character and Sing gives us those in spades. 

Rogue One: I Like It! 

Does the title of the post say it all or should I explain more? Ok, here we go. Just be aware that I will be spoiling this film in my writeup. So beware: HERE COME THE SPOILERS! Click off the post if you’ve not seen it yet, as I will be spoiling this film!! 

Star Wars is probably the most sacred of all the movie franchises. The original trilogy set the standard for modern film sagas and redefined fandoms for entertainment franchises. The special editions of the original trilogy released in 1997 and the Prequel trilogy tarnished the franchise, but it still made millions of dollars and introduced a younger generation to the few good things of the new trilogy and the brilliance of the original trilogy. After Revenge of the Sith was released in 2005, Star Wars entered a weird phase. There was an animated movie and television series entitled “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” that showed how the timeframe showed in the Prequel films was not a bad era to look at, the live action Prequel films were just bad. The animated Clone Wars movie wasn’t good, but the TV show was a great time and reminded people how awesome Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker can be. The franchise persisted in good entertainment, but the meat of the franchise, the live action films, lay dormant with little hope of Episode VII ever seeing the light of a camera’s iris. 

Then Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, and the world waited with baited breath for a new film. Then a trailer for The Force Awakens released in late 2014, and we passionate Star Wars nerds lost our minds. In late 2015, the newest film hit theatres and it made billions of dollars, entertained audiences the world over, and made Star Wars the biggest name in movies again. I saw it twice in theatres and loved it both times. After letting it settle in and seeing it again in the spring with a friend to analyze it in great detail, information of the direction of the franchise came out. The decision was made to make as much Star Wars as humanly possible. The Star Wars Anthology series was announced, and the first film was to be the story of how the rebellion got the plans to the original Death Star. 

I went to see Rogue One for the first time on Monday. I went by myself, so I could nerd out and try to analyze the film by myself. Also I have a fascination with seeing movies in the theatre on my own, but that’s for another post. My initial response was wildly positive. I’ll admit that much of my reaction was a wild, fanboy style raving after Darth Vader’s appearance to end the movie, but I still had plenty of things to enjoy beyond that. I ended up seeing it again tonight, this time with my parents and brother. I turned a more critical eye to the film and my reaction was still positive, but more aware of the failings of the film. 

I’ll give my criticisms of the film to start. First, there are several characters that are misused. Saw Gerrera is the biggest missed chance. Forest Whitaker was given an interesting character to work with, but they didn’t do anything with a talented actor and Clone Wars veteran. He saves Jyn Erso in the start of the film, disappears, reappears as a part of an offshoot of the rebellion, passes a message onto Jyn after being paranoid about people looking for him, and then decides to “stop running” and accepts his death when the Death Star destroys the city of Jeddah. There was so much more they could’ve done for him, and they wasted all of it. 

Next, the use of CGI to give Peter Cushing life and Carrie Fisher youth is troubling. If I didn’t think about it, I wouldn’t have noticed that Grand Moff Tarkin, played by the now deceased Peter Cushing, was created by motion capture CGI. It is convincing, but concerning. We can effectively bring back characters we like from the dead and never allow actors to die if we can make things like this happen. The character was fine, and the motivation he gave To Krennic was compelling and excellent. But the implications are problematic. CGI Leia was completely unecessary. She should never have been in the movie. She was distracting, annoying, and ham-fisted. It was unnecessary, to be generous. 

In that vein, there was a little too much fan service. Unused tape of Red and Gold Leaders from A New Hope, the guy who Obi-Wan dismembers in the bar at Mos Eisley, the AT-ATs and AT-STs, the excuse for Luke being Red Five in the next chronological film, R2-D2 and C-3PO randomly showing up on Yavin 4, the visuals from the original trilogy, and Darth Vader being awesome. And I left pieces out. It was a little much. 

That ultimately feeds into the biggest criticism of the movie, it is much too safe. It relies on X-wings fighting against TIE Fighters, shooting down Star Destroyers, ligtsabers, and taking on the Death Star. The Force Awakens drew criticism for being a rehash of A New Hope, but I don’t think too highly of that criticism, considering the need to revitalize the series. Rogue One didn’t need to revitalize the series. It needed to take a risk and be a departure from the standard of the franchise. My brother and I wanted a true espionage film in the Star Wars, something like Oceans Eleven with a bit of Mission Impossible thrown in, all of this in the Star Wars universe. What we got was a fil that played it much too safe and stuck to an already established style of film making, tone, premise, and set of characters. 

One last nitpick. The romantic subtext between Cassien and Jyn in the third act was entirely unnecessary and unearned. There was no purpose for it, no reason for it to be there with the cast being killed off, and out of place considering the events of the second act. I think it could be removed and we would miss absolutely none of it.

All that said, I still think it’s a good film, certainly one of the best I watched this year. The cinematography is very nice, the music sounds Star Warsy (if that’s even a word), and the pieces are there for a great movie. The relationship between Jyn and Galen Urso is interesting, the action is engrossing, Bode is a fun character, K2SO is a funny character, Donny Yen adds legitimacy to the film with his reverence for the Force in a world without the Jedi, and Cassidan has a good character arc. 

The villains are very good. Krennic is an evil character with just enough compelling and relatable moments, like being overshadowed by Tarkin stealing his position, but he is still good at being disliked by the audience. Despite my concerns about how he was put in the film, I like Tarkin as a character. I find him to be well written, slimy, and a compelling military man that works for his persona. The highlight and most confusing piece of the film for me is Darth Vader. On one hand, OH MY GOD DARTH VADER JUST WIPPED A BUNCH OF REBEL SCUM OFF THE FACE OF THE GALAXY!!!!! THAT IS SO AWESOME!!!!! It does raise a few questions, but I’m going to look past this and just appreciate how we get to see Vader destroy the opposition. It is confusing to me how he’s only in 3 scenes and not a bigger prescience, but I am good with what we got. 

I like most of the characters, and the pieces are all interesting on their own. While the execution is only ok, there is plenty to like and be happy with. I only hope that Episode VIII will actually take a few risks and give us a Star Wars film we haven’t seen yet. Until then, I will enjoy this fan service crafted into an action filled, complete, and enjoyable film that enhances the Original trilogy in a way that the Prequel trilogy only wishes it could. If you’re not a Star Wars fan and decided to ignore the spoilers block at the start of the post, then you will like the film. It’s worth the general public’s money. Now we wait for another year until Episode VIII is released!