Sunday, 18 June 2017

Father's Day Films For Geeks

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By Patrick Gibbs


As we honor Father's on this special day, it's a good time to take a moment and reflect on the many different ways they can impact our lives, for better or worse, and how they can range from being heroic figures whom we strive to emulate to intimidating shadows we wan to escape from, to barely any presence at all. But always, they help shape who we are (even the absent ones.).

The following is a list of memorable Father's Day Films For Geeks. 

1. STAR WARS: EPISODE VI - RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)

The ultimate father/son reconciliation movie, and probably the biggest "event" movie of my childhood, this remains arguably the most most flawed and arguably the most fun installment in the original trilogy.  It took me a very long time to process the fact that Darth Vader's death caused me to shed far more tears than Yoda's did, and sometimes I still think about it to this day. No matter how cynical the viewer, the moment when Vader realizes that he can't let the Emperor kill his son, and finds the person he once was, is incredibly powerful stuff, and one of the great moments in cinematic history.  


2. HOOK (1991)

25 years after its initial release, this movie that proved to be a minor box office disappointment and a major critical one has taken on another identity all together: cinema classic. A generation grew up on "Hook", and when the tragic death of Robin Williams flooded the news and social media, this was one of the first films mentioned, as people posted about "happy thoughts" and President Barack Obama called Williams a "Bangarang Peter Pan." Perhaps the biggest reason for the longevity and love that this film has built up is the resonant themes of childhood and fatherhood, and the correlation between them. Peter chooses not to remain a child forever because, "I wanted to be a Daddy." Peter Banning finds his inner Dad by embracing his inner child, and finds a focus for his inner child by embracing his inner Dad. And as his children look on in wonder at the man whose love and approval they have so desperately sought, and in some cases have rejected, for a wonderful, shining moment they quite literally see him as most of us once saw our fathers: as our hero, the man who could fly.


3. INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)

After having felt a little burned by "Temple of Doom", Steven Spielberg was a little less than thrilled to do another chapter in the series, and wasn't quite sold by George Lucas' pitch about the search for the Holy Grail, or even particularly interested in the idea of the Grail as a quest for eternal youth. But he found another hook.

"What if the Grail means more than that?" Spielberg said in a 2007 article for EMPIRE magazine. "Maybe it could be a metaphor for the relationship between Indy and his dad? Indy sets out for the Grail but ends up closing the distance between him and his father. I could relate to that emotionally because I had experienced something similar with my own father."

By the time Sean Connery had signed on to play Henry Jones, the metaphor had reached even more levels, as it was Spielberg expressing his desire to do "something like James Bond" that lead Lucas to pitch the idea of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" to Spielberg. In a very real sense, Bond really was Jones' father already, so the teaming couldn't have felt more perfect.

This is the mostly strangely divisive film in the series, in that there is a very devoted crowd who considers it to be the best of the lot due to the level of heart, humor and depth that comes from the introduction of Henry Jones and the back story of Henry Jones, Jr, and also a very vocal internet crowd that considered it to be the worst for the very same reasons (that crowd now has moved on to trashing Crystal Skull.). Some feel that the mystique of the character was traded in for schmaltz, and that we lost Indy when we learned too much about him. It's a sentiment I can't agree with, but one I have reluctant grown to not entirely dismiss as totally without merit. There is an element of the iconic legend that was created in Raiders that is undermined by the humanity brought to Indy in this film (and eventually, it would come full circle as James Bond would reach the same highly debated crossroads in my favorite film in that series, Skyfall.). For me personally, not only is Last  Crusade a great deal of fun, but as I watched it over and over again through the years, I learned to understand my father's relationship with his father, and how that relationship affected my relationship with my father. If I have to choose between that kind of insight and the machismo of the roguish, two-fisted man of action and mystery, it's a very easy decision to make (and for the record, I actually like Crystal Skull, too.).


4. TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991)

"Watching John with the machine, it was suddenly so clear. The terminator would never stop. It would never leave him, and it would never hurt him, never shout at him, or get drunk and hit him, or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there. And it would die, to protect him. Of all the would-be fathers who came and went over the years, this thing, this machine, was the only one who measured up. In an insane world, it was the sanest choice." - Sarah Connor

Not every great father is an actual biological father, and in some cases they don't even have to be biological at all. Arnold Schwartzennger's T-800 had living tissue on the outside, but it was what was on the inside that mattered. The ability to learn and to adapt one's behavior may be the ultimate mark of a good parental figure, and the T-800 was always there for what John Connor (Edward Furlong) needed. The emotion in the final section of this classic gets me every time, and it remains one of the best sequels ever made. The 3D IMAX release can't come soon enough for me. 


6. SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006)

This is a film that, more so than having a lot detractors, had a lot of very LOUD detractors, and they did their best to create the narrative that no one at all liked Bryan Singer's salute to the father of all superhero films. And while the movie definitely has its share of shortcomings (the nonsensical casting of a 23 year old Lois Lane in a movie that takes place 5 years after the events Superman II, an inflated run time and several other missteps) it also has some truly great elements that were far too quickly dismissed by cynics, and the sequence wherein Superman (Brandon Routh) recites Jor-El's speech about the unbreakable bond between father and son to his sleeping child is really quite touching. It may not be a great film, but it's one that I have a great fondness for. and vigorously defend.


7. LOGAN (2017)

Loosely inspired by the "Old Man Logan" comic books, this violent, edgy finale to the story of Wolverine deals a with aging and immortality. It also delves into the legacy one leaves behind, both tangible (in the form of Logan's "daughter", Laura) and intangible (the X-men comics and the heroic tales that provide inspiration and hope to the Weapon X children, as well as the haunting of death that our tortured protagonist has left in his wake over so many lifetimes.). Logan is not the only father in this film: Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart) has very much been a surrogate father to the troubled mutant for a very long time, and the film portrays one of the most difficult aspect of having a parent, namely having to care for them and watch them slowly fade away. Charles is merely a shell of his former self, and a millstone around Logan's neck, but he's also the only thing our hero has left to care about, as well as being the one person who can still inspire Logan to be his best self. When Charles does die, a big part of Logan dies with him, until the desire to protect Laura from harm brings back the superhero hidden deep beneath the adamantium. Logan is quite simply one of the best comic book films ever made, and its a heart wrenching and beautiful portrayal of of not only the fact that we always hurt the ones we love, but that we will always fight for them, too. It's also a sad reminder that far too often we don't fully appreciate someone's impact on us until they are gone.



7. BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

There is no shortage of reason why Christopher Nolan sophisticated and dramatic take on the origin of one geekdom's most iconic figures stands apart from all of the incarnation that came before, but one of my personal favorites is that we finally see Thomas Wayne as more than just some guy who got shot in an alley. His influence on Bruce as a father has been at best vaguely implied in other versions of the story, but with Linus Roache's tender characterization we see the man, the Dad, that was a hero to his son and to others and who truly left Gotham City a darker and more hopeless place when his life was cut short.

"Why do we fall, Bruce" Thomas asks. "So we can pick ourselves up again." In Christopher Nolan's telling, Batman truly begins with his Dad.


8. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL.2 (2017)

One would be hard pressed to find a movie that deals with more variations on fatherhood than James Gunn's triumphant follow to to his bold and thoroughly wonderful sci fi comic book adventure. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) finally meets his myserious father (Kurt Russell) only to find out that , 1. His old man is basically a God, and 2. He wasn't just an absentee Dad, he's a genuinely evil being that killed Peter's mother and wants to destroy the universe.


Peter also finally comes to terms with his complex relationship with Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), the man who raised him. The too men who have stubbornly insisted on denying the love they have for each other finally come clean just short of too late. Meanwhile, Rocket is trying to raise his former best friend, Groot, who is literally going through a second childhood, a metaphor for the way the parent/child relationship will always be the most significant and unique friendship we encounter in life, and Gamorrah and Nebula try to heal the scars that they gave to each other as a result of their painful upbringing with a tyrant who falsely called them his daughters.  Easily the most soul searching 12-Year old boy movie ever made, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may just be the perfect Father's Day film.


9. ROGUE ONE (2016)

The first stand alone Star Wars film (unless you count The Ewok Adventure) is many things: an Alistair Maclean style war story, a bridge between the prequels and the original trilogy, a moving tale of heroism an sacrifice . . . and a Daddy/Daughter movie.

Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) is man who gave up so called "greatness" for his family, and his desire for a galaxy that would be safe for them. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is a young woman who learned to be hardened and tough because she grew up alone. But neither Galen or Jyn was ever alone, and in the end their love for each other is enough to save an entire galaxy, It's a powerful story that proves that the familial bond in the Star Wars universe isn't limited to Force users.


10 and 11. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) and WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005)


These two films have more in common than just Spielberg, Williams and visitors from another world. In both, Spielberg examines the theme of a father losing the respect and trust of his children. While Richard Dreyfuss' Roy Neary is a seemingly good father who tries hard but simply can't connect with his family, Tom Cruise's Ray Ferrier is part time parent whose kids call him by his first name. 

Where Roy loses the respect he has earned, as his oldest son declares that Roy has "gone crazy," and and his youngest daughter asks "are you going to yell at us again?",  Ray is so self absorbed that he doesn't even realize just how little his children think of him until little Rachel (Dakota Fanning" demands of her brother "Who will take care of me if you're gone?" (The look on Cruise's face at that moment is one of the finest bits of acting of his entire career.). 
Spielberg stated in the early '90's that after becoming a parent himself, he could never make a movie that ended the way Close Encounters did, and the stark contrast between Roy's sad decision to escape the confines of the home where he is tied down by a lack of love and respect from his family by going off into space and Ray's fierce determination to protect his kids and his eventual earning of their admiration for staying with them (and risking his life for them) plays almost like an apology.

Do you have any favorites that you want to add? Do you want to gripe like a cynical jerk about Superman Returns? Do so in the comments below, and have a Happy Father's Day.

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