ReasonForOurHope

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Best: Catholic Skywalker Awards - Television 2014

With 2014 coming to a close, it is time for us to choose what the best entertainment of the year was.  And just as the Academy Awards have their "Oscars", so too the Catholic Skywalker Awards have their "Kal-El's"



To reiterate:  the reasons for choosing a Superman statue as it's award, and not something from Star Wars are 3-fold:

1.  The Catholic Skywalker Awards will cover movies, television, and comic books.  Superman is an icon for all three.
2.  The pose he has here, revealing his inner hero, is symbolic of the revelation of truth and beauty that we should find in all good art.
3.  It's a statue I actually own, so I can use this photo on my blog.





(My appreciation and judgment of a TV show should not be taken as a recommendation. Choosing to watch any of these films is the reader's responsibility)

And now we here at Catholic Skywalker would like to celebrate the best in Television this year.

There are a lot of wonderful programs out there that, unfortunately, time has not permitted me to see (I only caught up the Breaking Bad this year).


Shows we watch:

COMEDYDRAMAREALITY
Simpsons
How I Met Your Mother
New Girl
The Middle
Community
Parks and Recreation
The Big Bang Theory
The Soup
SNL
Raising Hope
Brooklyn 99
The Goldbergs
A to Z
Selfie
The Walking Dead
Castle
Game of Thrones
Arrow
Agents of SHIELD
Elementary
The Flash
Forever
Sherlock
Gotham
House of Cards
Amazing Race
Survivor
Dancing with the Stars





Best Drama:
Arrow





When Smallville was cancelled, I turned to the only other DC Comics show available: Arrow.  And that first season certainly had its share of rough patches.  The show had some growing to do.  The tone had some inconsistencies and the acting wasn't firing on all cylinders.  But Season 2 changed all of that.  Everything was kicked up a notch in terms of quality and scope.  The exterior threats of the season's Big Bad was mired by the internal trauma that was caused.  I found myself looking forward to this show more than any other and hanging on every episode.  The tying of the flashbacks more solidly to the modern storyline helped give emotional texture to the action.  And everything from the limo crash forward was heartbreakingly good.  And then there was the one line (which I will not spoil here) that made my mouth drop in the finale.  And Season 3 has continued that quality of story, acting, action, and theme.  The relationships have become more strained and complex and I can't wait to see what happens next.

Runners-up
-House of Cards
-The Flash
-The Walking Dead
-Agents of SHIELD






Best Comedy
The Big Bang Theory


As I wrote in when I declared this the #5 Sitcom of All Time: The comedy is broad.  There is no question about that.  But that is not a sin.  Sometimes a pleasant and enjoyable laughing diversion is exactly what the doctor ordered.

But what separates this show even more from Lorre's other shows is character development.  You don't really see a lot of change in these flat characters in the first few years.  But look at them now.  Sheldon stiller retains much of his quirks, but he has grown.  I especially look at the character of Howard.  I hated him for several years.  He was a lecherous jerk who reveled in his perversions (even frequenting prostitutes).  But he has grown up. 

 Now that we are in the 8th season, the show doesn't feel like it is slowing down. They are only now really exploring the deeper romance of Sheldon and Amy, the commitment issues of Leonard and Penny, and the strange rivalry between Howard and Stewart over Mrs. Wolowitz.   This is a sitcom that can still be mined for comedy gold after repeated viewings. And for that reason, it is the Comedy of the Year.


Runners-up
Parks and Recreation
Community
A to Z
The Goldbergs


Best Actor in a Drama
Kevin Spacey - House of Cards

Season 2 of House of Cards is more stunning than the first.  In Season 1, Kevin Spacey's Francis Underwood was a deliciously conniving politician.  Sure, his deeds were underhanded, but the way he looked you in the eye and spoke directly to the camera made you feel like you were at the cool kids table of politics.  He gave you the inside dirt and you felt above everyone else.  But Season 2 made his transition from shady to irredeemably evil.  And it is a testament to Spacey's pure charisma that he can hold your attention on Underwood.  We should hate him and run from him.  But instead Spacey makes you hate him but want keep following him.  And the great thing about Spacey's performance as Underwood is that even when talks to you like he's opening up and being honest, that is when he is putting on his biggest show.

Runners-up
Steven Amell - Arrow
Clark Gregg - Agents of SHIELD
Johnny Lee Miller - Elementary
Andrew Lincoln - The Walking Dead
Benedict Cumberbatch - Sherlock







Best Actress in a Drama
Robin Wright - House of Cards

I started watching another political drama called Boss and the mayor's wife was calm, calculating, and sharp.  And while that performance was good, all I kept thinking was: she reminds me of Robin Wright from House of Cards.  The toughest part about playing this character of Claire Underwood is that her exterior is a completely stony, manipulated facade.  But unlike Francis, her conscience and her heart are not completely dead.  At the very least she feels the void and emptiness left by her dark choices.  And Wright uses that juxtaposition of coldness and heartache to maximum effect.  She believably goes from crying over the pain she's caused another to pushing Francis to inflict even larger injury against them.  Like Spacey's performance, she repels and attracts at the same time by the power of her acting skill.


Runners-up
Stana Katic – Castle
Chloe Bennet - Agents of SHIELD
Lucy Liu - Elementary

Best Supporting Actor, Drama
Tom Cavannaugh - The Flash

I have only been tangentially aware of much of Cavannaugh's work.  I saw a little of his comedy Ed and I caught his guest spots on shows like Scrubs.  But that did not prepare me for his work on the freshmen drama The Flash.  His Dr. Harrison Wells seems cold and aloof.  But Cavannaugh gives him so much power with the simplest looks and gestures.  Everything he says, every squint of his eye is pregnant with significance.  You can't help but feel the secrets that hide behind his coy smile and the raw power and devastation he could cause with them.  He takes charge of the screen and steals nearly every scene he is in.

Runners-up
Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones
Jesse L. Martin - The Flash
Martin Freeman - Sherlock
Manu Bennet - Arrow
Kit Harrington - Game of Thrones


Best Supporting Actress, Drama
Melissa McBride - The Walking Dead


There is so much that I could say about Melissa McBride's wonderful performance as Carol on The Walking Dead.  One of the things that makes her performance so good is the amazing restraint that she shows.  Her Carol is a woman who has lost so much and has hardened.  I love her monologue where she says that pieces of her are burned away and she only feels like ashes.  You can see that in her performance.  But then those dams break, it is powerful.  Watching her say "Look at the flowers," as she forces herself to act or her resignation as she passes a gun across a table to Tyreese are two of my favorite moments of last season.  All of it works because of her portrayal.


Runners-up
Ming-Na Wen - Agents of Shield
Emily Brett Rickard - Arrow
Amanda Abington - Sherlock
Lena Heady – The Game of Thrones
Danai Gurira – The Walking Dead



Best Actor, Comedy
Josh Radnor - How I Met Your Mother


There were a lot of problems with the final episodes of How I Met Your Mother, which I chronicled already on this blog.  But that shouldn't take away from Radnor's swan song.  He was able to wring every drop of humor from his pathetic attempts at romance while prepping for Robin and Barney's wedding.  And then Radnor was able to do some incredible acting jujitsu and take that same energy to make you cry.  At the winter dinner he has with his wife at the Farhampton Inn, you watch him go from silly hilarity to soul-crushing sadness without taking a false step.  He ended his run on a truly high note.

Runners-up
Andy Sandburg - Brooklyn 99
Jim Parsons - The Big Bang Theory
Garret Dilahunt – Raising Hope
Joel McHale - Community


Best Actress, Comedy
Amy Poehler – Parks and Recreation

A common complaint about the Emmys is that the same people keep winning.  It is a complaint that I often have as well.  But in this case, I cannot withhold an award because of someone's repeated excellence.  Once again Amy Poehler takes the best actress spot. There are a lot of good women comedians out there, but Poehler is the funniest one working in television today. Her Leslie Knope is full of an insane amount of energy at which you work hard just to keep up. And it is very difficult to play someone fully sincere while at the same time not making them stupid. While Poehler's Knope is smart, she wears her heart on her sleeve. She gives herself over to any emotion she feels, like Homer Simpson if he were oriented towards public-spiritedness. What's great is watching Leslie try to overcome things that she can't. After she has a mini-breakdown from lack of sleep because of her heated campaign for city council, I dare you not to laugh.

Runners-up
Wendy McLendon-Covey – The Goldbergs
Kaley Cuoco – The Big Bang Theory
Patricia Heaton – The Middle



Best Supporting Actor, Comedy
Henry Zebrowski - A to Z

This was a show that was cancelled way too soon.  And the best part about it was Henry Zebrowski's Stu.  The character is not terribly original: he is the guy best friend who is pure id and brotherly loyalty.  But what set Zebrowski apart was his absolute commitment to Stu's strangeness.  There was an iintensityto how weird he was that pushed the material from being funny to being hysterical.  

Runners-up
Neil Patrick Harris– How I Met Your Mother
Danny Pudi – Community
Nick Offerman – Parks and Recreation



Best Supporting Actress, Comedy
Christin Milioti - How I Met Your Mother

One of the toughest things about Christin Milioti coming in and playing the part of the eponymous mother is that for eight years there had been build up to this perfect woman.  That would be daunting for any actress.  But Milioti more than delievered.  She brought warmth, intelligence, and pathos to what could have simply been an idealized facade.  And what was amazing was her quick chemistry with all of the costars.  Seeing her interact with the veterans of the show, you would think that she had been working with them for years.  That difficult task made to look easy is why she is this year's best supporting actress.


Runners-up
Aubrey Plaza – Parks and Recreation
Yvette Nicole Brown – Community
Alison Brie – Community
Martha Plimpton - Raising Hope
Mayim Bialik - The Big Bang Theory





Stay tuned next week for the CatholicSkywalker Awards for Best Movies of 2014

Saturday, December 20, 2014

John Nolte is Atticus Finch

(Note, the comparison of Nolte to Finch is not an original idea of mine.  Hat tip to an article I read at Big Hollywood, that doesn't seem to be there anymore.)  (I also don't want to short-change any other investigators in this story, but Nolte was the most prominent)

I have been a fan of the great John Nolte for a long time.  I don't reference him as much on this blog because he is also a political pundit and I've tried very hard to keep politics per se out of the content here.  As I've written before I don't want there to be a conflation between my religious and political convictions.

But this blog does follow the ins and outs of the entertainment industry and culture.  And John Nolte recently took on one of the most influential (though maybe not popular) people in the popular culture right now: Lena Dunham.

Dunham stars on the very low rated show Girls, but she is loved and adored by most of the major media as a voice of modern women.

She recently wrote in her autobiography Not That Kind of Girl, Duham claims that she was sexually assaulted at Oberlin College by an outspoken college Republican named Barry who was a super senior (5-years college plan) who worked in the library.

I do not know if the assault happened or not.  That is not the purpose of this article.  In fact, I will go on the assumption that Dunham was attacked.  Nolte also has never claimed that she did not survive a horrible assault.

The problem was this: All of the above details about her attacker pointed directly to only one student at Oberlin at the time and he constantly professed his innocence.  To be sure there were other details in the book about the attacker that did not describe this Barry.  And Dunham never accused this real-life man of being her attacker.  But she never denied it either.  And even after months of asking both Random House and Dunham to make clear that he was not the attacker, the suspicion remained and he was left in the wind.

Enter John Nolte who actually went down to Oberlin College and did a hands-on investigation of the claims.  He interviewed people and investigated records there first-hand.  He then published his findings and came to the conclusion that the person who had been proclaiming his innocence was in fact innocent.

For his part, Nolte was not praised for his investigative prowess and going the extra mile to exonerate and innocent man.  Instead, he was viewed by some as distasteful.  A writer at ebuzznew.com wrote about how Nolte would have to issue an apology and how his investigation was a hindrance to the national conversation on sexual assault. (http://www.ebuzznew.com/lena-dunham-accused-of-lying-about-rape-allegation-by-conservative-website)


It is so interesting to note the similarities between Nolte here and the literary character Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.  Both Nolte and Finch came to aid of someone falsely accused of sexual assault.  And both were looked down upon because they were viewed as heartlessly attacking the real victim.  And both faced social pressure to drop the whole matter.  As far as I know (and forgive me if I am wrong), no other news organization besides Nolte's that investigated the matter thoroughly.  

But Nolte and Finch were motivated by truth.  In the novel, an innocent man was arrested and put on trial because of a false accusation.  In real life, an innocent man had his life dangling by a thread for weeks because Dunham and her publisher refused to simply exonerate him with a few words.  It was only after months of requests and Nolte's investigation that this man got this man's name cleared.

What bothers me most about this whole business and what is so important about what Nolte did was that the truth seemed to take a backseat to an agenda.  In the above linked article from ebuzznews, the author says that victims of sexual assault should be able to speak out without being shamed.  I agree.  But there is a difference between shaming someone for what happened to them and doing the due diligence of investigating if the claims are true.

There seems to be a sense that pointing out Dunham's behavior regarding this innocent man somehow stigmatizes all victims of sexual assault.  And therefore for the greater good, the matter should be dropped.

And that would be all well and good if the truth does not matter.

I am not advocating that everyone adopt all of Nolte's ways of thinking.  You can read his punditry and make up your own mind.

But people in Hollywood have a powerful influence on the pop culture.  And that influences how we as a society are shaped.  That's why it is important that no matter how important you are to that establishment, whether you are a Bill Cosby or a Lena Dunham, your words and actions should be subject to basic scrutiny.

Because truth matters.  And I'm glad John Nolte agrees.



Thursday, December 18, 2014

Film Flash: The Hobbit - The Battle of the Five Armies


15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

A fond, fitting farewell to Jackson's Tolkienverse (WARNING: the character Alfred = Jar Jar)

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars


Monday, December 15, 2014

SNL Christmas Mass Skit

I have been mostly disappointed by how unfunny most of this year's SNL has been (particularly the Weekend Update section).

But Saturday had a skit about Christmas mass that was not only observant but really funny.  And the thing I liked most about it was that Christians got a good-natured teasing without the skit being an outright attack on the faith.

Thoughts?


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Best: Catholic Skywalker Awards 2014 - Best in Comics

With 2014 coming to a close, it is time for us to choose what the best entertainment of the year was.  And just as the Academy Awards have their "Oscars", so too the Catholic Skywalker Awards have their "Kal-El's"



Now, you may be wondering why a blog called Catholic Skywalker would choose a Superman statue as it's award, and not something from Star Wars.   The reasons are 3-fold:

1.  The Catholic Skywalker Awards will cover movies, television, and comic books.  Superman is an icon for all three.
2.  The pose he has here, revealing his inner hero, is symbolic of the revelation of truth and beauty that we should find in all good art.
3.  It's a statue I actually own, so I can use this photo on my blog.

Catholic Skywalker: Best in Comics:



Best Series
Justice League

The most exciting thing in comics is the post-Forever Evil Justice League book.  In it, we have Lex Luthor forcing himself into the League in a way that completely makes sense and is necessary.

What I love about the book is that even though it is DC's flagship title, writer Geoff Johns is still willing to shake things up tremendously.  This storyline could simply be chalked up to a gimmick, but there is real tension and power in these stories.  Luthor is a bad guy, but it forces all of the league members to reexamine their own ways of thinking and whether or not they believe in redemption.  This is also true of the comic reader.

In this case, Johns poses this question: do you as the reader really believe that Luthor can become a hero?  As a Catholic this is actually a challenging premise because if we do not give man a chance to be redeemed then he never will.  But by opening up that door, we make ourselves vulnerable.

 Part of the magic of his writing is that he dangles that real hope in front of you without sugarcoating or whitewashing his past evil.

The art by Ivan Reis is beautiful and I've loved the traditional stuff with Doug Manhke.  The current artist Jason Fabok is so good, I didn't even notice that it wasn't Reis doing the pencils.

It is THE book I can't wait to read every month.



Best Mini-Series
Forever Evil

This story suffered from interminable delays and so some of its power was lost.  But my goodness was it a ride.

Some comics tell us the story from the villains' point of view.  While they are interesting, they are ultimately unpleasant because you have bad people trying to achieve bad things.  But what Johns wisely does in Forever Evil is give you bad guys fighting for a good cause: defeating even worse guys.  And from that point of view, we can attach to our "heroes."

And what stood out to me was how this has been a natural progression for Johns leading up to this moment.  When to core group of villains join forces to save the world you have: Captain Cold, Sinestro, Black Adam, Deathstroke, Black Manta, and Lex Luthor.  These are all characters that Johns has had a chance to mold and define in substantial ways in other series.  And now we see the culmination of all of that character development.  Well done.







Best Single Issue
Forever Evil # 7

(from my review of this issue on my blog)
I never doubt Geoff Johns, but the extended absence of the main series made me think that the last issue would have less momentum.  And to be sure if it had come out a month or two earlier, it would have had a much more immediate impact, especially regarding the fate of Dick Grayson.

...

This is also one of the best and most intriguing moments with Batman that I've seen in the new 52.  One of the things that always impresses me about Johns is his ability to take the story to a place that is unexpected and yet obvious.  Something is revealed about Batman that I didn't see coming but seems so obvious now.  I don't want to spoil it and Johns doesn't dwell on it, but it has far reaching consequences for the relationships of some important people in the DCU.

The finale, with art by David Lynch is very good and appropriately dark.  It matches not only the mood of the issue but the threat level of the story.

Johns does the classic move of setting up the his next big story in the finale of his last.  The climax of the story occurs earlier in the issue than you would expect.  He then uses the remaining time to set up the new threats that are coming.






Best Artist
Ivan Reis (Justice League)
photo by Luigi Novi

I know a number of comic book fans preferred highly stylized and idiosyncratic art.  I am more of a classical guy, leaning towards the George Perez end of the spectrum.  This is why I fell in love with Ivan Reis' art this year.  Reis has always been a fantastic talent.  But this year with his work on Justice League, he is now able to play with a cast of characters that show off his amazing visual talent.    I particularly love his use of textures on Superman's costume.  When I know he is drawing a book, I can't wait to see it.

Best Writer
Geoff Johns (Justice League, Superman)

photo from besignyawn

I almost feel a little guilty for making these awards a Geoff Johns' admiration page.  There were some fantastically written books this year, like Tomasai's  Batman and Robin or the great Peter David's reboot of Spider-Man 2099  But the man is such a talent, I could not overlook his work this year.   Justice League has been fast-paced action and game changing character moments, from such unexpected places.  His stories are complex but not esoteric like Hickman's current run on Avengers.  He tells long-form stories while not failing to deliver on the immediate issue-by-issue thrills.

And once again this year he is the best comic book writer of the year.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Film Flash: The Theory of Everything



15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Like A Beautiful Mind?  Then you'll hate this movie with a completely opposite theme.

1 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Film Flash: St. Vincent


15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Like a vulgar version of Up.  One of Bill Murray's best performances in years.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars