Saturday, December 31, 2022

Absent Friends (repost)


On this night of New Year's Eve,
I do much very much believe
that we should try to make amends
and call to mind our absent friends.

A year has past and all the while
they stood with us in times of trial
and joy for what fortune sends
even though they be absent friends.

Yet pulled and torn from one another,
though loved as dear as sister, brother.
The bonds we make, life often rends,
and fills our lives with absent friends.

But friends, though distant, are always near
they live in minds and hearts most dear
in deeper ways than man comprehends
So raise a glass to our absent friends.


Rest in Peace: Pope Benedict XVI


File:Benedykt xvi-crop.jpg

Pope Benedict the XVI has gone home to heaven.

He is now resting in peace with the love of his life, his best friend Jesus Christ.

Anyone who has read the works of this man knows that at the heart of everything he did was his search for the the face of Jesus Christ.  

I will have much more to say about this extraordinary man, and his extraordinary wisdom, his extraordinary knowledge, his extraordinary humility, and his extraordinary faith.  But right now my heart is too full.

At this moment, we should all raise our souls in prayer for our passing shepherd.  

Eternal rest grant unto your servant Pope Benedict XVI and let perpetual light shine upon him.  May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen

Friday, December 30, 2022

Catholic Skywalker Awards: BEST IN MOVIES - 2022

   With 2022 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"

 I have gone through as many movies as possible this year. There were several that I missed and so was unable to place.  Normally, I would only have theatrical films.  But since COVID, I have been adding streaming movies to this list..  For that reason, as I did last year, I have included them in this list.

So of the movies  I've seen this year, here are the winners:

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


Top Gun: Maverick

From my review: 

This is a movie to see in the movie theaters.  My wife and I made sure to see this on an IMAX screen so we could have the maximum picture and sound quality.  From the opening shots that are almost exactly like the original until the final minutes, we were constantly blown back by the experience.  The roar of the engines and the whipping movement of the camera made us feel like we were being hit with G-forces.

One of the movie's big selling points is that there is very little CGI.  I am not someone who decries special effects.  Even though I know that the original Death Star run in Star Wars was done with models, I felt completely invested because of the emotional connection I had with the characters.  In this case, the emotion caused me to suspend my disbelief.  That suspension is the essential quality you need to be drawn in.  Anything that is an impediment to that suspension can be disastrous.  For example, I think of the barrel chase from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  The artificiality of that scene made me feel less viscerally invested because it made it more difficult to suspend my disbelief.

Top Gun: Maverick does everything it can to ground you in the reality of what is happening.  When you see Maverick fly vertically between two jets, you get a thrill of danger that I don't think would be there if it was CGI.  When you watch the actors react to the G-forces and sudden aerial shifts, it makes you buy into the danger that they are facing in the sky.  

Because of that sense of danger, Top Gun: Maverick stands out from other movies of this era.  I'm sure all of the stunts were done to the utmost safety measures, but it feels dangerous.  It's the thrill of watching the trapeze artist do a triple-summersault in the air: even if there is a safety net, you feel the exhilaration of the stunt.


But above being empty spectacle, the movie is entertaining in the primal sense.  It tells a compelling and good story that makes you feel happy and satisfied by the entire experience.  The movie grounds the action in the emotional relationships so that you are invested in everything that happens at every moment.  It makes everything feel familiar and yet brand new.  It was the best movie-going experience of the year.

Father Stu
The Batman

Joseph Kosinski - Top Gun: Maverick

I've written before about how I believe action movie directors are overlooked.  Because dramatic films are more "serious," the action films are look at as overly frivolous or hyper technical.  I think that is a horrible disservice to the directors of this genre.  Action movies are pure cinema.  Only a master of the visual craft can create a thrilling cinematic experience.  Kosinski developed a way to draw you in completely into these real-world fight jets to put you in a vicarious passenger seat.  He does not use jarring quick cuts when he doesn't need to.  Besides this, he does not skimp on the look of the non-flying scenes.  The entire film is gorgeous to look at.  He has a sweeping romantic style when Tom Cruise and Jennifer Connelly are sailing, but he also uses simple, understated shots in the emotional scene with Val Kilmer.  Kosinski deserves as much credit as Cruise for the success of this movie.

Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert - Everything Everywhere All At Once
BJ Novak - Vengeance
Matt Reeves - The Batman
Sean Anders - Spirited

Mark Wahlberg - Father Stu


Some actors are complete chameleons.  What I mean by that is that they are able to change everything about their voice and body so that they can be unrecognizable from movie to movie.  Actors like Gary Oldman and Johnny Depp are these types of actors.  Some people think that this is the pinnacle of acting.   But there are other types of actors called interpreters.  These are actors who instead adapt the character to their own physicality.  To my mind, the greatest actor of all time is an interpreter: Jimmy Stewart.  In every movie he was in, he was clearly Jimmy Stewart, but he played every conceivable version of Jimmy Stewart intensely and believably.

I bring this up because we had a great chameleon performance this year with Austin Butler's Elvis.  But the best performance of the year is actually Mark Wahlberg's Father Stuart Long.  This is a transformative performance that takes a horrible man slowly bringing him to sanctification.  It isn't simply that the subject matter resonates with me as a Catholic.  What impresses me so much is how Wahlberg moves his Father Stu along his story arc in such a wonderfully organic way.  He does not become a completely alien person to his original self.  You can see his same personality, his strong, forceful, masculine strength as it is refined by his conversion and his suffering.  Nothing feels false about his journey.  The emotional depths that he finds is more than in any performance of his that I have seen.  And it is the best performance of the year.

Tom Cruise - Top Gun: Maverick
Robert Pattinson - The Batman
Austin Butler - Elvis
Daniel Radcliffe - Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

Michelle Yeoh - Everything Everywhere All At Once

Michelle Yeoh is someone who is able to integrate all of their skills as a performer into one cohesive performance.  She made her career early on as an action star, but she proved her dramatic skills in movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  With this movie, she is able to use every ounce of her talent to portray the infinite variety of characters of Evelyn Wang.  She does this while never losing the emotional thru-line of the movie.  Her character goes through movements of depression, to exhiliration, to despair, to enlightenment.  Yeoh takes us on that journey while taking on all of the different skills and personality of her alternate reality selves.  At no time did anything she do ring false, no matter how alien or strange.  This may be a career high for her.

Michelle Williams - The Fabelmans
Amy Adams - Disenchanted
Elizabeth Olson - Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Kaitlyn Dever - Rosaline

Key Hu Kwan - Everything Everywhere All At Once

Kwan's performance might be the most delightful surprise of 2022.  Largely MIA from big-budget films for the last thirty years, Kwan makes a fantastic return as Waymond, the hen-pecked husband to Evelyn.  I was actually as shocked as Evelyn was by the sudden changes in Waymond's personality.  Kwan jumps effortlessly from sheepish beta-male to dynamic alpha-male in a heartbeat.  It reminded me of how Christopher Reeve transformed his posture and body language subtly but distinctly between Clark Kent and Superman.  But even beyond that, Kwan does not simply make Waymond empty caricatures.  Instead, he infuses even the seemingly insignificant main Waymond with deep emotion and an incredibly quiet dignity.  I hope that this performance opens up all new doors for Kwan's career.

Mel Gibson - Father Stu
Ryan Reynolds - Spirited
Ashton Kutcher - Vengeance
John Turturro - The Batman

Teresa Ruiz - Father Stu

One of the pitfalls of play a character like Carmen as blandly virtuous: an empty vessel that simply projects goodness.  Ruiz's performance is much better than that.  Her Carmen is very devout about her faith, but she is not a saint.  She struggles and stumbles.  She is able to portray such painful vulnerability.  It breaks my heart as she says "I debased myself before God for you."  In a way, she has to play Carmen almost like a Dr. Frankenstein.  She brings Stuart to spiritual life, but she has no control over the result.  As Stuart begins to pass her by on his calling, Ruiz lets us feel all of her longing and guilt.  And all the while Ruiz infuses Carmen with so much charm and charisma that you can see why Stuart fell in love with her in the first place.

Saorsie Ronan - See How They Run
Stephanie Hsu - Everything Everywhere All At Once
Jennifer Connely - Top Gun: Maverick
Evan Rachel Wood - Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

BJ Novak – Vengeance

I think this horribly overlooked movie should be given a lot of credit for the writing.  In the film, Novak stars as a New Yorker in rural Texas.  What impressed me about most of the script is that it did not fall into the two extremes of portraying small town folk.  Either they are soulful saints like they are in every Hallmark Channel movie or they are horribly backwards bigots.  Instead, the people of the town are shown to be like all of us: some good, some bad.  They have their own unique combinations of virtues and vices.  And Novak's New Yorker does not escape lampooning.  In fact, his own ignorance and presuppositions lead to him being humiliated in a very effective way.

But what really gets me about this movie is the ending.  The last ten minutes involve a deep discussion about our modern world that really made me think.  This is always a gamble, to end your movie with a lot of exposition.  It could grind the entire film to a halt and turn into a lecture.  Instead, it works wonderfully.  It makes you recontextualize the entire journey of the main character and place it in the our own metacontext as an audience.  Really provocative, maybe the most provocative script in a long time.

The Greatest Beer Run Ever
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
Chip 'N Dale: Rescue Rangers

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Unlike the original version from the 1980's the makeup here is not done to distract, but instead to enhance the reality of this fantastical world.  

Spider-Man: No Way Home
The Suicide Squad


Avatar: The Way of Water

Despite my many problems with the movie itself, I cannot argue that James Cameron did an amazing job of visualizing his alien world.  In 3D, the movie is completely immersive and that is due primarily to the special effects.

Thor: Love and Thunder
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Everything Everywhere All At Once

Alan Menken - Disenchanted

The movie is a decent followup to the original from last decade, but the music is light, charming and magical, which I would expect from the composer of some of Disney's most iconic songs.

The Batman

The Batman

It is very difficult to root a comic book character in the real world, but Matt Reeves' movie does a fantastic job of making everything feel like they belong here.  Christopher Nolan did something similar in his Dark Knight Trilogy, but in The Batman, there is a seedy, lived-in quality that grounds everything even more in something like reality.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Thor: Love and Thunder
Everything Everywhere All At Once

"Unredeemable" - Spirited

The music from this movie is still sticking with me, months after watching.  But it is the climactic ballad that Will Ferrell sings that is the real show-stopper.  This song is really about the nature of man grappling with his own sinfulness and wondering if the good can overcome the bad.  On top of that, the song is wonderful composed and completely singable.

Below are the list of all the films of 2022 that I have seen, ranked in order of excellence:
Top Gun: Maverick
Father Stu
The Batman
What is a Woman?
Bullet Train
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
Black Adam
Chip 'N Dale Rescue Rangers
See How They Run
The Greatest Beer Run Ever
Jerry and Marge Go Large
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Death on the Nile
Everything Everywhere All At Once
DC League of Super Pets
Gray Man
The Lost City
The Adam Project
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
Ticket to Paradise
Avatar - The Way of Water
Day Shift
Thor: Love and Thunder
Beavis and Butt-head Do the Universe
A Christmas Story Christmas
Emily the Criminal
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
Jurassic World: Dominon
Me Time
Honor Society
Easter Sunday
Senior Year
Noel Diary
The Fabelmans
The Bubble
Turning Red
So that is my list and the conclusion of this year's Catholic Skywalker Awards.  


Thursday, December 29, 2022

Catholic Skywalker Awards: BEST IN TELEVISION - 2022

   With 2022 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 (so I'm told) programs out there that, unfortunately, time has not permitted me to see such as  Jack Ryan Season 3, The Patient, or Andor.

Shows we watch:

Obi-Wan Kenobi
Ms. Marvel
Cobra Kai
The Chosen
The Rookie
The Flash
This is Us
Locke and Key
Superman and Lois
The Terminal List
The Sandman
Moon Knight
Welcome to Wrexham
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
The Dropout
Mythic Quest
Only Murders in the Building
The Crew
Mr. Mayor

Tough as Nails
Dancing With the Stars
The Floor is Lava
The Real Dirty Dancing
The Amazing Race


More so than in years past, it has been difficult to find television shows that are not morally compromised.  This is not a new problem.  Television throughout the years has portrayed and promoted lifestyles that are contrary to the Gospel.  Shows like Cheers, Night Court, Friends, The Big Bang Theory, etc have characters living in immoral ways without addressing that context.  This is especially true of the comedies.  In drama, you can deal with the complexities of human sin in a more ambiguous way than in the modern comedy.

That does not mean that just because a show has good morals that it is therefore a good piece of art.  But a show with bad morals makes the show less artistically excellent.  In fact, there are many people who will not engage with any of these shows because of their content.  I am someone who does engage with the content.  Particularly in the area of the sitcom, my choice of the best of the year is not something that excuses the content.  It is a statement of the shows excellence in comparison to the other shows in the category.  And as I said, almost every show has something that is morally compromising.  Therefore, keep that in mind when I am awarding the shows.

Best Drama:

Most Christian movies and television shows are terrible.  I think I have been very consistent on this point in this blog.

Most of the time, Christian content is enjoyed as a wholesome substitute for the more artistic and entertaining fare.

But that is not the case with The Chosen.

This show is amazing as a television show.  Remove the fact that this show is about the life of Christ and His apostles and it is still an amazing show.  While you can tell that the show does not have the budget of a major Hollywood production, it never feels cheap.  The show is engaging and immersive.

Show-runner Dallas Jenkins has found just the right balance of faithfulness to the Gospel stories along with dramatic embellishment.  He adds texture to all of the characters to make them all feel distinct and three-dimensional.  I was thinking about how Peter Jackson had such a difficult time making each of the 13 dwarves from The Hobbit feel like they all had a unique look and voice.  The Chosen must do this with all 12 Apostles along with a whole host of other supporting characters.  And it works!

One of the things that is so surprising to me is how sad the show feels sometimes.  In the previous season, I was heartbroken as John the Baptist left Jesus to go confront Herod Antipas.  You could see the look on the Lord's face as He knew that He would never see John again in this world.  This season had a number of incredible affective scenes.  In one, Jesus tells his Apostles about their mission to preach to the surrounding villages.  The gravity and danger of their calling starts to hit them, especially Simon Peter and his wife.  The realization that they must part again is deeply sad.  In another scene, Jesus speaks to James the Lesser about his disability.  It was a moment that spoke so deeply to me and my wife that we both started weeping.

The show is expertly shot.  I am amazed at how often they use long single takes.  The cast is outstanding.  This portrayal of Jesus may be my favorite of any movie or television show I have seen.

This is a show that I can recommend without reservation both artistically and spiritually.  

-Obi-Wan Kenobi
-Superman and Lois
-This Is Us

Best Comedy

From my review of the series:

The concept of the show is that a beloved 90's show is rebooted with the original cast.  There is a lot of history and drama between this returning team that gets all the more exacerbated as there is a power struggle between the two show-runners regarding the tone of the show.  One wants a show that is less "jokey" and more socially conscious.  The other wants a broad, politically incorrect comedy that is much more in keeping with the original.  

What happens is a funny merging of the two styles while all of the foibles and insecurities of the characters come out to the forefront.  As I wrote in the disclaimer, there are many moral problems with this show that may turn many people off.  One of the things that offsets this is that all of the characters are viewed as horribly flawed, with their immoral behavior looked at in many ways as part of the ethical shortcomings.  One of the strengths of the show is that it is always pushing the characters to listen to each other and see value in what the other one brings to the table.  There is something laudable in this: to find a common humanity in those that you initially see know kinship.  And while doing this, it has some really funny moments.

Only Murders in the Building
The Simpsons
Mythic Quest
Grand Crew

Best Actor in a Drama
Ewan McGregor - Obi-Wan Kenobi

From my review of the show: Going back to McGregor's performance, I found it riveting.  The last few minutes of the 2nd episode his power as an actor by projecting such intense emotion with incredible control.  His reaction to the revelation he receives in this scene hit me like a ton of bricks.  He becomes a whirlwind of fear and guilt while maintaining a heroic stillness.  It is truly a great performance.

While the show has some issues with its production and direction, McGregor grounds everything in Kenobi's journey.  His arc is what should have been Luke's in The Last Jedi.  McGregor does not hold anything back in this performance, showing us all the layers of this character, from his lowest points until he returns to the genial guardian mentor we find at the beginning of the first Star Wars.  It is a fantastic performance that I will enjoy for years to come.

Adam Scott - Severance
Bob Odenkirk - Better Call Saul
Oscar Isaac - Moon Knight
Jonathan Roumie - The Chosen

Best Actress in a Drama
Rhea Seehorn - Better Call Saul

Seehorn does a truly amazing job in the final episodes of this series.  Her character has always been one that maintained tight control of her emotions.  As things spun out of control, she hid herself behind facade, sleepwalking through life.  Even when she begins to atone for her past sins, she still maintains a stoic outward appearance.  All. of this shows excellent artistic restraint.

But it is in the final moments of this particular episode where the power of her performance comes out.  Without saying a word, all of the guilt, pain, and overwhelming emotion begin to seep out while on a public bus.  It is riveting to watch her try to maintain control but then watching the dams break and all of this feeling spill out into the world.  It was one of the most cathartic moments on TV this year.

Mandy Moore - This Is Us
Elizabeth Tulloch - Superman and Lois
Amanda Seyfried - The Dropout
Emelia Jones - Locke and Key

Best Supporting Actor, Drama
Paul Walter Hauser - Black Bird

If you are only familiar with Hauser's work in Cobra Kai, then you can be forgiven for thinking he is merely a broad-strokes comedian.  But ever since seeing him in Clint Eastwood's Richard Jewell, I've been aware of his power as an actor.  In Black Bird, Hauser plays a serial killer who many underestimate as a harmless wimp.  Part of the power of Hauser's performance is that he generates an oddball sympathy.  He reminds you of that person you went to school with that never quite fit in and that you always took pity on.  But underneath that is a menace of pure evil.  He takes such glee in the pain he inflicts while at the same time trying to come off as the sympathetic victim of circumstance.  It is an infuriatingly fantastic performance that is truly chilling.

Luke Wilson - Stargirl
Michael Keaton - Dopesick
Boyd Holbrook - The Sandman
Jon Huertas - This is Us


Best Supporting Actress, Drama
Kaitlyn Dever - Dopesick

I have been a big fan of Dever since her time on Last Man Standing.  And even though I hated the movie Booksmart, I thought she had a great performance.  This show is the best thing she has done thus far.  She carries with it that quiet dignity of someone who takes pride in her blue-collar work.  She has to stand up to the prejudices of people who cannot understand how she could want to work in coal mines.  On top of this, she lives with a secret that she keeps from her family.  And then we watch her slow descent into addiction that is as heartbreaking as it is captivating.  Dever digs deep to some powerful emotional depths while maintaining a skillful level of restraint.  In a show with some really great performances, she might be the best part of the show.

Darby Stanchfield - Locke and Key
Constance Wu - The Terminal List
Kirby Howell-Baptiste - The Sandman
Britt Lower– Severance

Best Actor, Comedy
Keegan-Michael Key- Reboot

The more I see of Keegan-Michael Key, the more impressed I am with him.  He has an incredibly diverse range as a comedian.  He is able to tackle broad, physical comedy, but he also has the ability to adapt to the subtle and sophisticated humor.  And he is able to use both of these sides of him in Reboot.  His character, Reed Sterling, is a classically trained actor who despises his sitcom past and is humiliated by his sitcom present.  And yet, he desperately needs the work in which he struggles to find meaning.  Key makes his character incredibly sympathetic, but draws great comedic profit from showing him get his comeuppance.  This is an excellent comedic performance.

Ted Danson - Mr. Mayor
Martin Short - Only Murders in the Building
Rob McElhenney - Mythic Quest
Steve Martin - Only Murders in the Building

Best Actress, Comedy
Judy Greer - Reboot

I have been a fan of Greer for years.  Her character, Bree Marie Jensen, is one who is completely self-absorbed and vapid.  She should be a completely repugnant character that does nothing but repel.  But Greer not only infuses her with some much-needed humanity, but with a level of charm that actually makes her likable.  She is an aging actress who is filled with rageful envy.  But she is also a fish-out-of-water in the world of modern media and she has such trouble navigating stardom in the current age.  Watching her flop around aimlessly from mistake to mistake is a source of fantastic humor.

Holly Hunter – Mr. Mayor
Selena Gomez - Only Murders in the Building
Charlotte Nicdao - Mythic Quest
Melissa Fumero- Blockbuster

Best Supporting Actor, Comedy
Paul Reiser - Reboot

Reiser might be the best thing about this show.  He plays a person of poor moral character.  He is a deadbeat dad who is also a horrible, controlling egotist.  His petty power plays are infuriating to watch.  But there are two things that make this performance so good.  The first is that his character is actually trying to improve as a person and Reiser is able to aptly play all of the emotional contradictions and drama of that journey.  But the second thing that while playing a comedy writer, Reiser is actually very funny.  His character responds to everything with humor.  Whether angry, worried, happy, or sad, there is always a joke to be made and with Reiser, the joke almost always lands.

David Hornsby - Mythic Quest
Danny Pudi - Mythic Quest
Carl Tart - Grand Crew
Johnny Knoxville - Reboot

Best Supporting Actress, Comedy
Jessie Ennis - Mythic Quest

Sometimes you need a character that is completely over-the-top to give the show just the right comedic energy.  And that is what Ennis does with her character Jo on Mythic Quest.  She is a hand-grenade with the pin pulled.  You never know when she is going to explode.  And when she does, she makes you laugh.  She can do a complete 180 in emotional energy without losing any of the believability of the performance.  Every time she is on screen you cannot wait to see what she will do because her performance is so wonderfully unpredictable.

Nicole Byer - Grand Crew
Krista Marie Yu - Elaine Kim
Madeleine Arthur - Blockbuster
Amy Ryan - Only Murders in the Building

Stay tuned for the Catholic Skywalker Awards for Best Movies of 2022