Saturday, May 28, 2016

X-men: Apocalypse Review

I got to watch the lastest instalment of the X-men franchise this past weekend at The Junction (because my procrastination cost me a chance to watch it at The Imax downtown). I must be picking the right times for watching my movies, because the 'free seating' doesn't seem to be limiting my chances of getting great seating.

This chapter starts off with an introduction to Apocalypse (aka En Sabah Nur) during his transferrence/renewal ritual in Ancient Egypt. Suffice it to say, things don't go as planned, so he ends up in stasis until his eventual awakening in the '80s.

Before that, however, we're treated to the roamings of Mystique (going more by 'Raven' in this outing) as a vigilante who helps free and resettle persecuted mutants (enter  Nightcrawler and Angel). We also find Magneto living a new normal life in Poland, with his wife and daughter. Professor X  finally has the school up and running, and Hank McCoy (Beast) is a fellow teacher. Among his students, Jean Grey, Jubilee, and soon a troubled Scott Summers, brought in by his brother, Havok.

Moira MacTaggert unwittingly wakes Apocalypse, and from there all hell breaks loose!

In Days of Future Past type fashion, this movie has a very serious tone. Apocalypse is that archetypical villain who actually wants to see the world burn (cleansed). So he assembles his mythical team of 4 Horseman - Magneto, Storm, Psylocke & Archangel - and sets upon rebuilding the world as per his vision. Like Sebastian Shaw before him, he willingly kill humans with reckless abandon; but he spares most mutants his wrath, even those with whom he finds himself in direct conflict.

Sophie Turner has a very telling line in this movie (albeit it in reference to Star Wars):
"...we all know the third movie's the worst!"
This isn't a bad quality movie, by any means. Magneto has a very deep story arc - even when he does right he can't seem to catch a break. He is an actual villain you can't hate for being a's as if God means for him to be a villain. I also loved Sophie Turner as Jean Grey. Not only is she feared by humans, but she's also a loner cast aside by her fellow schoolmates at Mutant school. I won't spoil it for you, but, when she's eventually let loose, no one will doubt her full power (a saga that they seem certain to explore in the not so distant future).

Beast, in his Incredible Hulk type incarnation is fine. They definitely improved on that makeup since "First Class". The re-introduced Night Crawler is also a joy. He's portrayed more in Alan Cumming's self aware (comedic) light tone, but as he grows I'd love to see him assume that unstoppable ferocity that we saw at the start of X-Men II.

It is sad, though, that they've decided to buoy this franchise on Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique. She is mostly 'Raven', this time around; justifiably, she's steering clear of the hero worship that arose from the events of DoFP, but casting Mystique in this new light just seems strange. I hope they're preparing her for a true turn of villainy in the next instalment. Sure, people complained about previous outings' Wolverine-centric focus, but I think that was one of Brian Singer's wiser decisions. You could blink-and-miss-it, but Hugh Jackman's cameo (longer than his First Class appearance) is magnificent. You've probably seen iterations of this Weapon X rampage scene in many forms of media, but this one is stunning. It's as close to "Berserker Rage" as they've ever let Wolverine descend. If they eventually plan for an "Old Man Logan" movie, this is the kind of Wolverine we need.

I found nothing wrong with the pacing of this movie, because the exposition benefits from the early layering of the story. I think the small roster of mutant characters facing off against Apocalypse - a la X-men III - is a bit disappointing because it leaves you feeling like there's no way in hell that the X-men should be able to win this fight. (Apocalypse's benevolence regarding mutants is certainly stretched to the maximum). Granted, this time around they brought Quiksilver along. This time they upped the ante with his speed, letting him moonwalk and clown around as he literally salvages the X-men. Seemed silly to leave him out of heroics last time, this time they needed him.

I'm interested to see how this new team evolves into the heroes that we know. McAvoy and Fassbender truly are great emotional anchors for this franchise. Wolverine still has a lot to offer this series. However, I'd love to see more levity returned to this series. Sure, it's hard out there for a mutant, but it doesn't mean you can't have fun while you're at it.

I'd give this movie a B+ (technically, this is already a "B" movie), and would recommend you give it a viewing. I'm going to watch it again today with my bro; let's see if any magic's waiting to be discovered on the second viewing.

Have a great weekend and God Bless.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Introversion, Medical Practice, Guilt and Penance

Anyone who really knows me knows that I am an introvert by nature. And I've been an introvert since long before it was considered cool or intelligent to be an introvert; I remember that awkward phase where my parents thought it was akin to being anti-social (perhaps in the same way some parents used to actively discourage left-handedness in their kids). However, getting older doesn't fully take the awkwardness away, but it feels good coming into one's own, and especially because I finally gained the words to describe myself - Introvert, Melancholic. Eventually, even parents start to understand their own child's quirkiness, so I now have this beautiful statement that defines me:

"....There is wisdom in your silence...Open up..."
This is actually a compounded statement: first part is from what my mother wrote in a birthday card sometime in my early teens; the second is the last set of words my father said to me. So introversion is my gift, and it's also my burden.

Medical practice, on the other hand, is another part of my world. Medicine, and Science in general, fascinated me from early on in my childhood. I was a bit sickly in my childhood, thus I had more interactions with clinicians than your average kid. Those interactions were a real eye-opener because I became familiar with clinicians' "bedside manners"; hence, I run across people I'd love to emulate, and people I'd rather steer clear off (...and that process has never ended).

A third part of this whole equation is my Christian faith. In detail, particularly, I am Roman Catholic. I've been associated with multiple branches of the faith (some more palatable than others), but I always find myself gravitating towards Catholicism. I love the ritual, the sombre ceremony, its stoic nature, its innate silence and room for meditation, and that it's grounded in a long history of tradition. As my temperament goes, Catholicism is the perfect fit. And, like it or not, I bear my personal guilt like a longsuffering Catholic, so it helps that the rite of Penance is there to help set me straight.

All these things collided when I was doing my medical internship. Medical school teaches you a lot of things (allbeit 'book knowledge'), but there are many areas where you are left to adapt on your own. I could write a whole blog entry on "the things that medical school won't teach you" (probably will in future), but off the top of my head here are a few:

1. It can't teach you how to be a 'good' doctor.
2. It won't prepare you to deal with death, nor will it teach you how to break the bad news to relatives.
3. You will, at some point, develop a case of "the giggles" when dealing with patients.
4. You will undoubtedly cause the death of one of your patients.
5. The system can be very antagonistic, so you spend more time massaging your superiors' egos at the expense of patient care.
6. You will sacrifice a great deal in caring for your patients that will never be compensated.
7. A patient's return to good health and "Thank you" will melt your heart, and make your day.
8. You will run across a myriad of people on the streets who will be happy to see you...and you won't even remember who they are.
9. People will drop their guard around you, and ask your advice on a host of intimate medical maladies.
10. D.A.M.A aka Discharging (someone) Against Medical Advice will sometimes be an infinitely pleasurable experience.
11. Don't mess with the nurses!
12. The system will fail you on many an occasion.
13. Contrary to common thinking, it is a team effort that helps save lives.

For my current story, the more sombre points apply. During my stressful Gynaecology rotation, I was faced with a sickly mother who had recently delivered a baby. In the wards, she was newly diagnosed with HIV, and was deteriorating. She (and her husband) needed to be counselled so she could be started on treatment, but the counselors didn't show up; she had developed an emergent surgical condition, but the surgical team never showed up when asked to review her.

In context, this experience took place when all our clinical officer interns had left, and we were seriously overwhelmed with work. Regardless, our superiors merely expected us to step up our output, and get the work done. In the end, we lost this patient. There are few things that will ravage your soul more than a preventable death. I can still clearly remember her name till today. I carried the guilt of that experience like a heavy yoke, and it killed me a little on the inside.

How does one cope with the knowledge that they directly/indirectly caused a patient's death? My hospital didn't exactly foster a mentorship atmosphere, where you could turn to your superiors for advice; the hospital did have a psychiatrist on staff, but I never felt like I could talk to her without being branded as someone with a "depressive episode", with a corresponding entry being placed in my file.
When it comes down to death, there really aren't that many people who you can talk to about it apart from other clinicians; sadly, I never felt like I could share this with my fellow colleagues, not even the ones to whom I was closest.

I was only able to confess it to a priest a whole 1 year and 4 months after it all went down. I love the Sacrament of Penance; I know that God forgives me for my sins when I genuinely ask it, but it also helps to hear it spoken out loud. It goes beyond just the mere realization of being forgiven, and it assures me that I'm healing the schism my actions might have caused the community.

I am still sad that I can't fully correct this situation. I can't change the life of that aggrieved husband and his child. I have no idea what this course of events had on their extended family. The only thing I can do is to practise my vocation in such a way that this never plays out again. I will continue to voice my concern at the poor path the medical field is taking in my country, and I will mentor my subordinates so that they do not make the same mistakes; and, if they do make mistakes, I can be there to offer them the comfort and understanding that I once needed so badly.

God Bless.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Captain America: Civil War - Spoiler free review

I'm a bit late to the game due to a fiasco that happened last weekend. This was supposed to be a bonding event for the Arao twin bros, but unfortunately, competing interests forced me to diss my twin (Sorry, Bro!). Anyway, I knew by hook or by crook, I was definitely watching the movie this weekend, especially after my bro let me know he watched it with his wife earlier today; just label it as some much needed R&R from time at the hospital.

Would've preferred watching a 2D version of this movie, but the only theatre showing it in 2D was in Nyali. I'm also a bit sore that post-BvS, both pairs of my 3D glasses have absconded to Burundi in a friend's purse (ahem, Annabelle), so I had to buy another pair. (Bygones).

So the Junction was my choice du jour. Despite them choosing to have us in a free seating arrangement, the theater wasn't too packed, so I got to grab a great seat.

This movie plays out in the same vein as "Winter Soldier", which is a delightful serious tone. The Bucky/Winter Soldier amalgamation is beautifully exposed, allowing us to appreciate his hard path, as well as question how trustworthy he truly is. Captain America goes from strength to strength, and his sense of loyalty continues to evolve. Upon his introduction in "First Avenger", all he wanted to do was serve, protect the ordinary guy from the an army man. Events have made him more jaded about authority, and now, more than ever, his moral compass is his true boss.

I don't consider myself a Tony Stark/Iron Man fan, but I must admit this was his best characterization ever: less bravado, more maturity. Gone is the ridiculous PTSD Tony storyline that ruined Iron Man 3 (and Avengers 2), and now we have a Tony with a true motivation behind his guilt, shame and surrender towards authority.

Despite the full gallery of supers in this movie (including Falcon, WarMachine, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Ant Man, Black Panther & Spiderman), this movie is a well put together tour de force. Thankfully, they get to build on mostly pre-introduced heroes, but in addition they fleshed out the rather scant Scarlet Witch & Vision (who sadly missed out in their Avengers 2 outing), and they built up the new arrivals (Black Panther & Spidey).

The chemistry between the heroes is real, and their interaction generates some great humour: Spidey manages to annoy both his team mates and foes in equal measure, joyless Hawkeye and Bucky make for some welcome dry humour, etc. ...And surprisingly, the issues are real too. Marvel typically shields us from the true cost of the supers' heroics because they keep their footage at the heroes' eye level. This movie shows that something totally different happens at ground level below a raging Hulk (allbeit in the course of protecting you from unfriendly aliens) and then some. Finally, a movie that earns its gravitas without having to look like it was dreamed/inspired by a Nolan.

Even the villain has clear well spelled out motivations. Say what you would about Baron Zemo, but by the end of this movie, you'll appreciate how much collateral damage he is able to create while economizing all his resources. He doesn't best brawn with brawn, but rather chips at cracks in the armour. Truly 'Experience and Patience' can achieve a great many things.

I can't say that this movie switched me from my position on 'TeamCap', but I am a bit more sympathetic towards 'TeamIronMan'. I worried that this outing would suffer from "being too big" (like Avengers 2), but those fears were put too rest. It is well scripted, well paced and elegantly developed. On top of that, it's well shot and the action scenes are beautiful. During my viewing, the theater folk erupted when Bucky reinvented a way to swipe and mount a motorcycle in one swift move. Kudos to the stunt team on this movie: they take home the 6th man award. Everyone really looks good doing their superheroics, and even for those who have to be CG-rendered, they still look real and practical. All the battle royales will impress you to no end. There were moments when the crowd let out peals of joy, especially at the end of the movie. I know it's useless to clap at the end of the movie (no one's there to take a bow), but for the heck of it, there I was, led astray to join in the clapping.

I felt emotionally tied to everyone in this film, invested the way you would be with a good friend. The Russo Brothers definitely earned their money's worth with this movie, and I'm looking forward to what they and their team have in store for us.

This movie will not disappoint. It gets an A+ in my books.