Monday, April 27, 2015

New TV Show Mini Review: Daredevil

Watch Daredevil.

It is one of the best shows I have seen in a while.

Now, keep in mind that I am a huge fan of the movie with Ben Affleck (I know, I'm the only one), but rest assured that this show is head and shoulders above it.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that this show is The Dark Knight of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  This show feels grounded in a reality that nothing else Marvel has done.

For those unfamiliar.  Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) was blinded as a child but received enhanced senses.  He grew up to be a poor crusading lawyer with his best friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson).  At night, Matt dresses in a black costume and beats up bad guys with no real agenda other than beating them up.  But then they are drawn into a much larger plot when they decide to defend Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll).  What follows is a fantastic superhero show and crime anthology.

The action sequence are horribly impressive.  In the second episode there is a single take hallway fight that is as riveting as it is exhausting.  And the story elements are just as watchable.  It is an excellent sign that I can go almost an entire episode without watching Matt suit up as Daredevil and still be just as absorbed and entertained.

I was so impressed by the lack of obvious special effects on the show.  In the movie, the director made liberal use of Daredevil's "radar vision."  But the show has a gritty realism.  You can feel the roughness of the bricks and the closeness of the buildings.  Hell's Kitchen is an urban jungle like something out of the gritty '70's.

The acting is superb.  I never would have pegged Cox to hit this level of physicality.  And he does an incredible job of using his voice to project calm in away that is in complete contradiction to his violent behavior.  Henson brings a fantastic charm and humor that never feels out of place in this grounded universe.  Woll does a great job of appearing both determined and overwhelmed at the same time.  Vondie Cutris-Hall brings a weary grace as the seasoned but righteous reporter Ben Urich.

But special mention must be given to Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk.  At first I did not understand his performance.  He seemed completely socially awkward, slow to the point of stuttering.  As the Kingpin of crime, I expected him to have more swagger, the way Michael Clarke Duncan played him in the film.  But as the show went on I understood the method behind it.  Fisk is a volcano being held together by pure willpower.  At any moment he can explode in murderous rage.  Once you see that, the power of D'Onofrio's performance comes through.

The pilot shows us the large forces arrayed against the good people of New York, unbeknownst to Matt.  Fisk has a fearful alliance with the Russian mob, the Yakuza, and the Triads.  In fact, for most of the series, he is taunted by his adversaries by how little he knows.  Matt has no strategy.  He has no plan.  And as long as he remains this way, the villains have the upper hand.  Matt needs to both outfight and out think an adversary who outsmarts him and can beat him to a pulp.

This makes for exciting television.

Thematically, the show is not light.  But it does reflect smartly on good/evil, love/apathy, and it even is incredibly insightful about the difficult honest news has in breaking through the noise of Twitter/Youtube/Facebook.

As a Catholic, I love the way it shows Matt struggling with "the devil inside" him.  His frequent meetings with a tough city priest are some of my favorite moments.  Particularly there is a fantastic monologue the priest gives when Matt asks him if the devil is real.  What the priest says is not only solid Catholic theology, but it doesn't come across as empty spirituality but it feels like the tangible touch of evil in the world.

I binged watched the entire series in the space of about 5 days.  It is completely worth the investment.

My only complaint is that I have to wait to see more.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday Best: Actresses of All Time #20 - Helen Hunt

photo by Greg Rizzo

-As Good As It Gets
-What Women Want
-Cast Away
-Pay It Forward

Helen Hunt is not a chameleon actress. To every role she brings the full range of who she is a Helen Hunt. But with that she brigs forth some wonderful talent and skill. 

She spent much of her career as a supporting actress who did good work in movies like Girls Just Want To Have Fun, Only You, and Mr. Saturday Night. But she rarely had a chance to show her leading actress skills. But then she became the lead in the NBC sitcom Mad About You, and new opportunities arose.

She elevates the material she is in when she is given the right material. In Pay it Forward, she plays a woman out of her depth intellectually and emotionally. She shows the wonderful contradiction of a woman who has a steely exterior but has a beaten down self. And in the final act, she hits some extreme moments of utter heartbreak, even when shot from a distance.

Hunt spent a good deal of her career doing comedy on television. And she brought that star power and technique to What Women Want. Standing toe-to-toe with Mel Gibson at his most charismatic, Hunt was every bit his match. Her Darcy embodies the complexity of the ambitious professional woman without losing any sense of femininity or pathos. In fact her mixture of strength and vulnerability is what acts as the catalyst for growth in Gibson's character. And yet she doesn't come off as an accessory to the story but as a well-rounded and real person. Hunt makes her funny and serious to fantastic effect.

She also became the first woman to star in #1 and #2 box office winner in the same week.  At the same time What Women Want was in the theaters Cast Away was released. Her part is much smaller than in most of her movies, but that does not diminish her power. In the first act, her performance is fine, but there isn't much for her to do.  But the last act allows her to shine. Watching her is heart-wrenching. She perfectly embodies the joy, guilt, and horrible restraint  she imposes. Watch the scene between her and Hanks and you can feel all of emotion bubbling horribly beneath the surface until the cathartic explosion when she flings wide her prison doors. And even there, her sadness mixes oerfectly with her joy.

But her best performance is as Carol in As Good As It Gets. She could have presented as the flat, idealized object of Jack Nicholson's affection. But Hunt gives her a weary edge. She is not a glamour girl Cinderella, whose beauty is hidden beneath the soot. Hunt shows us her beauty in her personality and her virtue. She is not a simply good person. She is a flawed person who has decided to do her best to be good. 

And here she not only layers her performance with some nice charter business. But she is able to express powerful moments with very little. When she feels overwhelming gratitude to a doctor for helping her son. She simply says, "Doc!" and is able convey all of her thanks. And when Nicholson tells her "You make me want to be a better man," the life-changing epiphany of that moment is telegraphed with every subtle expression of her face.

Hunt has done a lot of good work and her career is far from over.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

"Luke, Who Is Your Father?": Fathers and Sons and Star Wars

I'm sure that the musings below are not an original idea.  So my apologies to those who have written about this more intelligently than me.

With all of the Star Wars mania in the recent weeks with the new teaser, I began reflecting on the Saga as a whole.  A good friend of mine, the Doctor, was telling me about showing his son the original trilogy for the first time.  This is one of my own personal dreams for when God gives my wife and I children.  We share our stories because when we do, a little bit of what is in our mind/soul will then exist in another.

But this got me to thinking about fathers and sons and Star Wars.

Star Wars is pure mythology, particularly the hero myth outlined by Joseph Campbell in Hero with a Thousand Faces.  But there are many more mythological elements touched upon that are just as rich to the human experience.

One of them is the relationship of sons and fathers.

For the purpose of this article, I will focus purely on that dynamic.  Much of what is written here could be applicable to other relationships between mother/father/son/daughter.  But there are important nuances that differentiate all of those relationships that change the nature of what is discussed.

In the original Star Wars, Luke idealizes his father.  Even though his Uncle Owen told him that Anakin had a humdrum job of being a navigator on a spice freighter, that didn't stop Luke from leaving his little desert planet and flying across the stars.  So strong is Luke's idolization of Anakin that Owen won't even let him inherit his father's lightsaber from Kenobi.  That alone, it was feared, would send him on some "damn fool idealistic crusade."  And even when Yoda asks Luke in The Empire Strikes Back why he wishes to become a Jedi, Luke's answer is, "mostly because of my father, I guess."

But that is the way I think most of us begin by looking at our fathers.  They are giants.  They are supermen who are strong and stern and stalwart.  They stand between you and the big bad world.  They are every young boys primarily model of manhood.  An imprint is made in the tablua rasa of the child's mind of what nature of a man should be.

When I was young, my father had that same effect on me.  As a doctor, he always seemed to have all of the answers floating around his head.  His stern presence was enough to keep me in line most of the time.  But there was a power to him that gave my life solid footing.

When I was very young, around 3rd grade, I started suffering horrible panic attacks.  I never told anyone about this at the time because I didn't understand what I was feeling (fyi I was essentially experiencing existential terror at the realization that this life ends and the enormity of what eternity could mean).  I remember hiding in my room or bathroom when they would hit.  In fact, once we were at a Pizza Hut waiting for my dad for family dinner when I became overwhelmed and excused myself to the restroom where I had a mini-freak out.  But when I came out, I saw my Dad and then I was fine. He didn't say or do anything particularly reassuring.  He was just there.  He was solid.  He was strong.

He was my dad.

Somehow I knew everything was going to be okay with him around.  It was like the time I had chicken pox and he stayed up the entire night taking care of me.  He was a figure who loomed large and cast a gigantic shadow on my life, unlovable as a mountain.  And even though it was my brother and not me who followed in his footsteps to become a doctor, I molded a lot of who I was after him mentally and emotionally.

And that's what Luke does.  Watch the first movie again and you can almost hear the thoughts in Luke's head, imagining how his father would react, how his father would adventure, how his father would be a hero.

But then things turn darker.  It turns out that Luke's greatest enemy is none other than his father.  His father pursues him, ruins his plans, keeps him down, symbolically emasculates him (cutting off the lightsaber?), and tries to bully him into giving up his ideals.

There is a reason why the line, "I am your father," is burned into the collective brain of the movie-loving world.  It isn't just that it was a fantastic narrative twist.  It is because we all universally understood what this meant.  We all remember the times in our lives when our fathers' were our enemies.

As I got older, my father and I had a sour relationship.  For reasons that I will not go into here, back in high school I hated my father.  I looked at him as an emotional bully who enjoyed getting under my skin.  He kept trying to get me do thinks I didn't want to do (like join the hockey team).  He never seemed to support me in anything I thought was important.  He harassed me constantly about school and my friends.

He even forgot my own birthday.

My parents were divorced and I was convinced that he was at the root of it.  I did not like any of his subsequent girlfriends and I always thought he took their side over mine.

He was everything I did not want to be.  He was scientific, I went artistic.  He was a workaholic, I became lazy.  He was very practical, I immersed myself in imagination.

All those qualities of strength made him an almost insurmountable adversary.  And that is how Vader is to Luke.

But when I saw Return of the Jedi, Luke did something my young mind could not quite comprehend.  Instead of destroying and overcoming Vader, Luke reaches out to him in love.

Luke grows up.

He is not a naive youth.  He says to Vader, "I accept the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father."  He understands that he may not be able to change Vader.  But he holds onto hope.  And as his power increases and the dynamic of their relationship shift, Luke realizes that he has indeed, overcome his father.  His father goads him into one last confrontation and Luke ends up lumbering over him triumphant, emasculating Vader (again with the cutting off of the lightsaber?).

But in that moment he sees the bogeyman built up in his mind as a vulnerable, broken man with his hand up for mercy.  Luke stands up for him and lays down his life for his father.  And when Vader is redeemed, Luke can finally see his father for the first time.

That moment when Luke removes Vader's helmet is the most poignant of the entire series.  Luke see's his father as he is.  Anakin is not a flawless hero.  He is also not a shadowy monster.  He is a man.  He is broken and battered by life, but he is just what he always was: a man.

And this is also important because Anakin looks on Luke for the first time with his own eyes, meaning the eyes of truth.  He sees his son for the first time not as the child he has been towering over.  He sees Luke for who he is: a man.

After I had my spiritual conversion when I was 17, I had the life-changing realization that my father wasn't perfect, but he was the best father he knew how to be.  There is a long story that follows what happened between the two of us that I will share at another time.

But like Luke, I saw my dad for the first time not as the mountain of strength he was for me as a child nor as the monster of my teen years.  I saw him for he was: a man.

My father is not perfect.  But he has been through more than I have and he has the scars to prove it.  I look at him with a different kind of awe than I had a child.  A mountain can stand tall in the hurricane of life, but how do you do it as a man?  How did he remain so strong for his family when he had so much loneliness?  How did it break his heart to have someone with whom he felt romantic love only to have them at odds with the children he loved more than his own life?

I don't think I'll ever really comprehend how a man does that.

But I wanted to know more about him.  I became fascinated by the stories of my father when he was young.  This fascination hit me only after I saw him as he was.  And then I realized the obvious truth.  My father was a child.  My father was a teenager.  My father made mistakes.

And that is why the Prequel Trilogy is also important to Luke's story.  Once you go through the journey and accept that your dad is a man, you want to understand that man's history.  You want to know what his life was like as a child (The Phantom Menace), you want to hear about all his crazy teenage troubles (Attack of the Clones), and you want to learn about the pains in his life that gave him his scars (Revenge of the Sith).

So what now?

I am thinking about the coming Trilogy and what it can say to us about fathers and sons.  I do not know any plot details, but I'm hoping that it continues the story.  Now that Luke has been through the journey, what is the next natural step?  Becoming the father.

I am still waiting for that in my life.  But I am preparing for the universal story to be played out again with me and my son.  I hope that Luke has learned from his father and will honor him by doing better.

And I pray that I do the same.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

McConaughey Reacts to Force Awakens Teaser

I could not stop laughing.

Sunday Best: Movies of My Life

I usually don't participate in Facebook lists (especially since I am not on Facebook), but this one intrigued me.

The challenge is to go through your life and list the best movie from each year of your life.  You can have a tie once per decade.

I found this idea challenging and interesting.  What I found the most interesting is how little interest I had in most of the movies that came out just before I was born, but I have a strong affection for movies from my early childhood.  I wonder if that is common to most people who do this?

Anyway, here is my list.  For the sake of anonymity, I have started my list with the decade of my birth rather than my birth year (maybe).

1970 Julius Caesar Heston and Marc Antony is cinematic gold.
1971 The Big Boss Bruce Lee's first starring feature.  A bit violent, but you can see the star power
1972 The Godfather  An unquestionable masterpiece that changed cinema.
1973 American Graffiti The influence of this movie is unnoticed but powerful, especially on television

Enter the Dragon The gold standard of modern martial arts movies
1974 The Godfather Part II Darker and a bit overly long, but the best movie of this year
1975 Jaws A nearly perfect film
1976 Rocky Despite being sequalized repeatedly, it is still raw and strong
1977 Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope Movie magic.
1978 Superman The best superhero movie ever.
1979 Time After Time A tense and clever thriller. Malcolm McDowall's best performance
1980 Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back Even better than the original Star Wars
1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark For the sword fight alone
1982 ET: Extra-Terrestrial One of the most transcendentally child-like films
1983 Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi The best of the Star Wars Saga
1984 Ghostbusters Unrepeatable comedy/action/adventure/horror
1985 Back to the Future Extreme laughs, thrills, and nostalgia all at the same time
1986 Aliens The greatest action movie ever made.
1987 The Untouchables Brian DePalma's best film. Powerful.

Predator Manliest movie of the 1980's.
1988 Young Guns It has one of the strongest last lines of any film
1989 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade The greatest adventure movie off all time.
1990 Presumed Innocent The best legal drama of all time.
1991 Dead Again The best thriller of all time.
1992 Noises Off! One of the funniest films I have ever seen.
1993 Schindler's List Every frame, every angle, every cut is genius.
1994 The Shawshank Redemption Overlooked when released, it has stood the test of time.
1995 Braveheart Epic in scope, action, and human spirit
1996 Hamlet Visually stunning and enveloping

Swingers A small, indie comedy with confidence and cool
1997 Titanic Despite the haters, this is actually a fantastic, moving film.
1998 Life is Beautiful A unique film that uplifts with laughs and tears
1999 The Green Mile Sad and profound. It sticks with you long after its over
2000 Memento One of the best films ever made. Unlike anything else.
2001 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring A fantasy with some real gravitas
2002 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Improves upon the first
2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King One of the most emotionally satisfying movies.
2004 The Passion of the Christ The greatest film ever made.
2005 Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith The best of the prequels.
2006 Casino Royale The bond reboot works on so many levels. Best of the Bond films.
2007 Juno Simple premise with lots of heart. Sneaks into your heart like a child's laugh.

Lars and the Real Girl A strange movie that should be filthy but is richly innocent
2008 The Dark Knight The best Batman movie ever.
2009 Up Devastating, hilarious, and uplifting.
2010 Inception A puzzle wrapped in an enigma
2011 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 The best of this franchise
2012 Les Miserables Pure emotional power
2013 Man of Steel Visually and thematically mature take on Superman
2014 Captain America: The Winter Soldier Taught political thriller and action film

Interstellar Amazingly bold in concept and emotion
2015 Cinderella A colorful, visually rich film of sweetness.

A few observations on my own list:

-5 movies directed by Steven Spielberg
-4 movies directed by Christopher Nolan
-3 movies directed by Peter Jackson
-3 movies directed by George Lucas
-3 movies directed by Kenneth Brannagh
-only 4 movies are comedies (not to be confused with drama-dies)
-only 6 are tragedies (in the sense that they do not have a "happy ending")
-4 of the 6 Star Wars movies are represented
-4 of the movies are superhero films 
-2 movies based on Shakespeare plays
-2 movies not in English
-only 1 Western
-only 1 Musical
-3 movies involve time travel
-only 4 of the movies have a woman as the lead.
-7 Harrison Ford movies


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Priest Watches Force Awakens Teaser

I don't think I could continue to call myself CATHOLIC SKYWALKER and not include this video on my blog.


(although not to nitpick, but I'm not a fan of a priest saying OMG)

Trailer Time: Batman v. Superman Teaser

Okay, here are some of my initial thoughts:

1.  Bad Timing.  Star Wars just released an AMAZING teaser a day earlier.  This teaser, while not bad, suffers in comparison.

2.  Visual Design.  It is difficult to tell from just this tease, but it seams like director Zack Snyder is abandoning the more realistic photography of Man of Steel, with its location shooting and direct lighting and going for more of a CGI feel ala 300 and Watchmen.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I really liked the tactile feel of Man of Steel.

3.  Affleck.  I'm digging Ben Affleck as Batman.  In the regular suit he looks like he stepped right out of the comic book.  I also like the fact that they didn't make him try and do "Batman Voice," but filtered it electronically.

4.  Themes.  One of the things I like about the teaser is that it seems to deal with big themes of hero worship, even when the hero doesn't want it.  I remember watching Superman IV: the Quest for Peace and watching the entire world give over its power to Superman like it was nothing.  This movie seems to be addressing a more real-world reaction.

Overall, this was the tiniest of teases.  The first Force Awakens teaser was fine, but it didn't blow me away.  That's how I feel about this teaser.