5 for Friday: ‘The Defenders,’ ‘Newtown’ and More on Netflix

Defenders-Netflix-NewtownYeah, there’s tailgating and beach-bumming and tennis-playing and picnicking and just lying in the sun, but a lot of us are going to be in front of a screen for at least some time this weekend. And much of that time will be spent on streaming services like Netflix.

So, why not make the most of it?

Of course, not everything offered has any uplifting value, but whether you’re looking for family fare or something more for grownups, here’s five choices to consider.

“The Defenders”

I’m a huge fan of Netflix’s “Daredevil,” which, between frequent fights, gets a lot right about blind lawyer Matt Murdock’s (Charlie Cox) Catholic faith as he prowls New York’s Hell’s Kitchen as the masked vigilante Daredevil.

This new series comes out today (Aug. 18), so I haven’t had a chance to see it yet. It unites Daredevil with other Marvel characters who have Neflix series: bulletproof “Luke Cage” (Mike Colter), haunted detective “Jessica Jones” (Krysten Ritter), and “Iron Fist” (Finn Jones), keeper of an ancient power.

They’re all dealing with the mysterious ninja warriors The Hand, the big bads of the most recent “Daredevil” season, with a new leader, Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver).

There are a lot of objectionable elements, and no faith element, in the non-“Daredevil” shows (especially the dark and sexually charged “Jessica Jones”), so “Daredevil” fans impatient for a peek at their hero — whose own series is not due out until next year — may have to wade through a lot of muck.

You’ve been warned.


David Fincher’s 2007 chronicle of the hunt for the 1960s and ’70s Zodiac Killer in San Francisco is an outstanding piece of craftsmanship from a master filmmaker. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist who becomes obsessed with tracking down the killer, which wreaks havoc on his personal and professional life. Surprisingly, there are moments of humor scattered throughout this taut drama. If you want to know how to do suspense and humanity right — in service of a righteous cause — this is one to watch. Also stars Mark Ruffalo (“Spotlight”), Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox and John Carroll Lynch.

“Pete’s Dragon”

If the kids are inside, try this 2016 live-action remake of a 1977 Disney animated film. Deacon Steven Greydanus from the National Catholic Register and DecentFilms.com, opined that it might even improve on the original.

He wrote:

Writer-director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) and co-writer Toby Halbrook imbue Pete’s Dragon with an awareness of wonder. Grace’s father, who claims to have seen the legendary “Millhaven dragon,” tells tall tales about the encounter, but behind the imagination is a real experience of what the old man calls “magic.”

“It changes the way I see the world,” he tells her. “The trees, the sunshine. You.”

I’m reminded of Tolkien’s account in “On Fairy Stories” of how mythic images enchant the world, or reveal its own magic:

By the forging of Gram cold iron was revealed; by the making of Pegasus horses were ennobled; in the Trees of the Sun and the Moon, root and stock, flower and fruit are manifested in glory. … It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of the words, and the wonder of the things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.

I can’t recall another live-action Disney film that opens with the loss of the orphaned hero’s parents: a trauma handled about as gracefully as possible, with a haunting slow-motion shot evoking not so much what happened as how such moments are reflected in the dim mirror of childhood memory.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial:

A classic for good reason, Steven Spielberg’s masterful 1982 version of Melissa Mathison’s original script is not just a film about an alien, it’s a film about feeling alienated as part of a suburban family torn apart by divorce.

Henry Thomas glows as a lonely boy who rescues a stranded alien (a wonderful bit of puppetry), and winds up bringing his siblings and friends together in a plot to help E.T. get back home.

It hardly gets better than this. One truly for adults and children together.


The horrific (as bad as that word is, it barely scrapes the surface) mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, staggered the nation. One thing that stood out for me was how important St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, Connecticut, became in the aftermath of the attack. Several of the children killed were from Catholic families, and the church became a gathering place for media and locals, and a beacon of hope, led by its pastor, Monsignor Robert Weiss.

At a Mass marking the second anniversary, Monsignor Weiss said:

“We remember them for the love and joy they gave to us. We celebrate them for the difference they made in our lives. We believe for their future that they rest in the hand of God.”

This 2016 documentary from director Kim A. Snyder — which also aired on PBS as part of “Independent Lens” — is touted as an apolitical film, but it will no doubt stir up many emotions. Weiss and St. Rose of Lima figure into the film, along with many other local residents and leaders who tried to hold the shattered community together.

Snyder also never mentions the name of the shooter, and neither will I.

Said Variety:

What Snyder is most interested in is the continuing series of aftershocks that one act of savagery can have far beyond its most visible epicenter. Aside from the mourning families, Snyder trains her camera on the well-meaning neighbors who never know how much to interfere; the school’s shattered custodian; the volunteer EMT who slowly realized the extent of the damage from the back of her ambulance. One teacher recalls compiling a spreadsheet to keep track of all 26 funerals. Even footage of a homecoming parade through the center of town is suffused with melancholy. Beyond the numbing statistics and the legislative stalemates and the debates over Constitutional intent, this is what gun violence looks like, the film seems to say; this is what it does.

It might be extremely hard to watch, but as writer/producer David Milch (“Hill Street Blues,” “Deadwood”) once told me, “The story isn’t what happens; it’s what happens because of what happens.” Too much of the news is just the rocks thrown into the pond, while the true portrait of the human spirit lies in the ripples. Too few films explore the ripples, and even fewer do it as elegantly and movingly as this one.

Stay tuned …

Image: Courtesy Marvel/Netflix/Abramorama

Don’t miss a thing: head over to my other home, as Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions; and check out FTP’s Faith & Family Media Blog.

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