Sunday, June 18, 2017

Summer Singing...

Today, I had a first. I sang at St. Peter's today, and, as usual, I hung back after the service to avoid the crowd of people heading out the door. People are gracious and sometimes approach me afterward to say how much they enjoyed my singing, but it always makes me a little uncomfortable to be approached and singled out in church. Today, however, I braved the crowd to find Mother Carlyle, who has just returned from a trip to Europe and is celebrating her 40th year of ordination.

As I made my way out to the patio outside the fellowship hall, I was greeted very kindly by several people who wanted to express their gratitude for my participation in the service. I smiled politely and thanked them for their kind words, but I continued on my way towards Mother Carlyle. When I finally reached her, I told her how good it was to see her back with us and congratulated her on this major milestone in her career as a servant of God. That being done, I took my leave and headed back to my car.

My car was parked in the bank parking lot across the street from the church. I walked briskly to my car to get out of the heat and to call my father to wish him a happy Father's Day. As I was fiddling with my phone in my car, in my upper periphery I noticed a car coming to a stop on the street directly in view of my windshield. I paid little attention to it until I noticed the driver, a woman, waving at me somewhat frantically.

I rolled down my window and stuck my head out to see what she wanted. She yelled out to me, "I just wanted to tell you what a wonderful job you did in church today. You have a beautiful voice."

I thanked her. Quickly. Since she was stopped in the middle of the street after all, and went back to making my phone call. She drove on.

While I would never want to seem ungrateful for anyone's appreciation of my efforts, I truly don't see anything I do as worthy of coming to a halt in the middle of a somewhat busy street. Still, does this mean I can now say that my voice legitimately stopped traffic?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Thor & Spiderman Trailers Show Too Much! (2017)

Jeff tackles a topic near and dear to his heart: spoilers.  It is a joking point of contention between the two of us as I am more of a journey man while he is a destination sort of guy.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What-To-Watch Wednesday - Training Day (2001)

When Denzel Washington won the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in Training Day, I remember it was considered something of an upset as Russel Crowe had been the critical darling that year for his work in A Beautiful Mind.  Crowe had the more conventional Oscar-bait role, playing real-life mathematician John Nash, and he had racked up a slew of awards for his performance going into the Oscars ceremony that year.  But, it was Washington who took home the Oscar, becoming only the second black actor to do so and currently the only one to have won two (Washington's first Oscar was for his supporting role in 1989's Glory).

I was in complete agreement with the Academy that year as Washington's performance in Training Day is a prime example of an actor, at the height of his creative powers, making the most out of a role.  

Washington plays Detective Alonzo Harris, a Los Angeles police officer.  Harris is a bad cop who patrols his turf like a power-drunk warlord.  In the hands of a lesser actor, Harris would be as over-the-top as a comic book villain.  But, Washington manages to imbue Harris with a world weariness and even a hint of a core morality that he willfully ignores.  In Washington's hands, Harris becomes a complex character that engages the audience and makes us wonder whether or not there is a hope of redemption for him.

But, Harris is the villain of the piece, make no mistake about it.  And, it is really something to see Washington tear into those moments where Harris is at his most evil.  The way he coldly wields a sawed-off shotgun or the glint in his eyes as he reveals his master plan to the rookie, Jake (played by Ethan Hawke), who he has been trying to corrupt throughout the whole film.  Washington makes Harris a sinister presence while giving him all the allure and charisma you might find in a vampire movie.

And, that might be the most apropos comparison to make about this character.  Harris is a vampire in the metaphorical sense; he feeds off the fear and pain of others while slyly manipulating the events around him.  Washington seems to understand this and makes his performance grandiose and theatrical in just the right modulation so that a line like "King Kong ain't got shit on me" comes across as a genuine threat rather than the ridiculous thing it is to say.

I don't mean to imply that there isn't also subtlety in Washington's portrayal.  When you watch the film, listen for the very deliberate verbal switching that Washington uses when talking with different characters. With Jake, he is the learned, articulate veteran cop imparting his knowledge and experience to a newbie.  With a drug dealer, his language becomes street vernacular, speaking in a quick shorthand vocabulary to make his meaning clear.  And, with his crew of corrupt cops, he sounds like a military leader, issuing orders like a general on the battlefield.

I know I have spent this whole review talking about Washington's performance, but it is truly the centerpiece of a very effective and gritty crime drama.  And, it is also a great achievement in screen acting.

Note: I missed doing a review last week as my time got away with all the end-of-the-school-year craziness.  Such is the life of a high school teacher!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

WONDER WOMAN's Villains are Perfect (2017)

Jeff provides some observations about the upcoming Wonder Woman film.  A great video!  And, I can't wait for June 2 to get here!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Folding Into the Past

I'm going to be accused of vagueness in this blog post, but I am not prepared to fully divulge all the details of the circumstances I'm examining here.  This is due in part because it would require me revealing names of individuals without permission or prior notice, which is something I try very hard not to do, particularly when I am sharing sensitive information.  Mostly though it is because I have still felt the emotional pangs that have made up the aftermath of the situation.  They have lessened with time but can be very much present, sapping my confidence on occasion and causing me to doubt myself in ways that have made it difficult to move on.  It has felt, from time to time, as though the idea that the past isn't always done with us is all too true a sentiment.

With that said, it is funny how mundane tasks can sometimes inspire moments of clarity and revelation.  The other night I was folding tee-shirts that I had just taken out of the dryer.  Now there are two things you must understand: 1) I have a massive tee-shirt collection which I go through with some regularity especially with the workout routine I've been following, and 2) I am extremely anal retentive when it comes to folding in a those-Gap-employees-ain't-got-nothing-on-me sort of way.  My point is that I was taking my time in getting the tee-shirts folded, and such tasks often cause me to reflect on my day and, sometimes, my life in general.

This night, I was thinking about my back and the emerging soreness in the lower part of it.  It is nothing serious, just a little strain from the workout routine I am currently undertaking.  I began to think of ways to ease the stress on my back without compromising the intensity of my workout.  I then reflected on the reasons I have started working out regularly, one of which deals directly with my desire to look better and healthier for any romantic opportunities that present themselves to me.  There are other reasons, even some that are more pressing than the romantic ones, but I would be dishonest if I said that wasn't a significant factor in my decision to be more fit.

At that moment, I was putting away the folded tee-shirts and came across one that I haven't worn in more than four years tucked way at the bottom of the drawer.  This will sound strange, but I bought it all those years ago as a direct result of my being romantically happy at the time and having more optimism about that part of my life.  More than that I cannot say without revealing more detail than I think appropriate, but suffice it to say that that period of my life ended in heartbreak.  Part of it from my own doing and part of it not.

Of course, I had seen the tee-shirt over the last few ensuing years.  It wasn't a long-forgotten item.  Far from it.  But on this occasion, I picked up the shirt, unfolded it, and took a good look at it.  As I regarded it, a feeling came over me that I never had in the years since the relationship ended.  For the first time, I saw the tee-shirt's pointlessness, its unnecessary occupation of valuable space.  It wasn't even a very well made tee-shirt to begin with, and I'm pretty sure it no longer fit.

So, without thinking too long on it, I simply wadded the tee-shirt up and tossed it in the nearby trash can.  I wish I could say the moment brought about some sort of powerful catharthis, but it felt more like a dried scab finally falling away from a healed wound.

And perhaps that is ultimately more important than a big moment of emotional realization.  Does the loss still hurt occasionally?  You bet.  But, it didn't hurt when I threw away the tee-shirt.  On the contrary, I felt like I was exercising a muscle for the first time in a long while (forgive the workout simile, but that's where my mind is currently) and realizing it is stronger than I originally thought.  So, maybe it means that even if the past isn't done with me, I can still be done with my past.

We'll see.

Original HARRY POTTER Live Action on Netflix

Jeff makes an argument for a limited TV series detailing some of the background of the Harry Potter universe.  I'm not sure I'm on board with the concept as a whole, but his ideas and the breakdown he gives on how to approach them are solid.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What-To-Watch Wednesday - Justice League: the New Frontier (2008)

Well, you never know which way the winds of inspiration will blow you.  I was all set to write a review of another film, a non-fantasy film, and spent most of the weekend thinking of things I wanted to say about that particular movie.  But then I saw in my Memories Feed on Facebook that this past Mother's Day was the one-year anniversary of the death of Darwyn Cooke, famed comic book writer and artist.  Cooke died tragically of lung cancer at the age of 53 at the height of his creative talents and with no indication that he was running out of ideas and good stories to tell.

Arguably, Cooke's masterwork was DC: the New Frontier, a re-imagining of the origin of the Justice League of America and some of its key members.  New Frontier was a love letter of sorts to the Silver Age of comics that not only showed the in-text transition from the Golden Age of super heroes but also accomplished the nifty trick of capturing all the wonder and allure of a classic Silver Age story while interweaving rich characterization and  a clever plot, two qualities that are distinctly NOT associated with stories of the era.

The online reminder I received about Cooke's death got me thinking about the film adaptation of his magnum opus, retitled Justice League: the New Frontier.  The movie version manages to capture the best qualities of the graphic novel, including Cooke's distinctive artistic style,   And, the result is that very familiar characters, some of whom were getting a bit a dusty in their depictions, had new life breathed into them.

Part of the reason for this is that New Frontier is set in the late 1950s, where the Silver Age of comics began.  As a result, the film is able to convey the innocence and optimism of the time period but with a hindsight perspective that includes some of the more seedier aspects of the decade, like the Red Scare and the harsh realities of war.  Although heroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are still intent on doing the right thing, all three of them are now navigating murky territory regarding morality and ethics.  It will take the emergence of a new generation of heroes to shake the Big Three out of their disenchantment with their chosen missions.

At the forefront of this new generation are Barry Allen aka the Flash (the first hero of the Silver Age), Hal Jordan (the war veteran and test pilot who becomes the new Green Lantern), and J'Onn J'Onzz (a Martian accidentally brought to Earth and stranded here).  Their respective hero journeys are interlocked with the main story about a pending threat from an entity called the Center, an alien intelligence that has grown wary of mankind and decides the human race must be eliminated due to its penchant for violence and the escalation in methods of mass destruction, namely atomic weapons.

There is a lot to admire in New Frontier.  But, the last thing I want to say is that a story like this is only possible because DC has routinely allowed writers and artists to have the freedom to reinvent its stable of characters, divorced from the constraints of continuity.  It is one of the biggest advantages that DC has had over Marvel and is what has allowed the company to produce seminal works such as Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and Sandman.  There have also been some abysmal failures, like the New 52, but gems like New Frontier make up for the missteps.

The Unending Joke - Examining the Over-Extended Significance of a Good Comic Book Story

It needs to be said right off the bat (no pun intended) that Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke is a work of superb craft...