Saturday, August 24, 2019

Dora and the Lost City of Gold [2019]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  RogerEbert.com (3 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review
RogerEbert.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review


Dora and the Lost City of Gold [2019] (directed by James Bobin, story by Tom Wheeler, screenplay by Matthew Robinson and Nicholas Stoller based on the series Dora the Explorer [2000-] [wikip] [IMDb] created by Chris Gifford, Valerie Walsh and Eric Weiner) is a fun family friendly movie that takes the fun / inquisitive Dora to both high school and the big screen.

In the film, Dora (played first, briefly, as a precocious 6 year old by Madalyn Miranda, and then ten years later as a teenager by Isabel Moner), is sent by her "Indiana Jones"-like / clearly "field-work" enjoying university professor / explorer parents (played by Michael Peña and Eva Longoria) from the Andean jungles of Peru, where she had grown-up, to her "tios" in Los Angeles, so that she could experience, well, "the indigenous peoples of ... high school" ;-).

A little disappointed that her parents wanted to send her away just as they seem to have made a breakthrough in their search of a lost Inca city, she nevertheless takes on the challenge of learning "a whole new culture" with the enthusiasm that one would expect of Dora from the TV series (and the daughter of ethnographers).  The problem of course is that, at least initially, "the natives" of random Southern California high school are not exactly open to being understood by / much less being friends with someone who seems to have come from another world.

A plot twist sends both her and a number of her classmates to back to the jungles of Peru where of course ... much ensues ;-), and the classmates get to experience something outside of their day-to-day experience and ... come to appreciate what Dora has to offer.

Like the TV series that it is based on, the film's got an unabasshedly positive message, reminding us that we all have something to offer, and generally speaking, if at first we don't get along with each other, it's because we still don't really understand them. 

Hispanic families will certainly appreciate the care taken to present the role of the extended family -- the tios (uncles/aunts), primos (cousins) and the wise/respected/saintly/kind abuela (grandma) -- in Hispanic (and actually in most non-North American) cultures.

Overall therefore a quite excellent family film!


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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Where'd You Go, Bernadette [2019]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  RogerEbert.com (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (H. Rupprecht) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review
RogerEbert.com (M. Castillo) review
AVClub (J. Hessenger) review


Where'd You Go, Bernadette [2019] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Richard Linklater along with Holly Gent and Vince Palmo, based on the novel [GR] by Maria Semple [wikip] [GR] [IMDb]), though marketed as a Comedy is NOT REALLY that.  It's a Dramedy, I suppose, but it's serious enough to not really be funny at all.

The film is about Bernadette Fox (played quite thoughtfully by Kate Blanchett) a 40 something once promising young architect (in "sunny Southern California") who for reasons that become increasingly clear, left that world to marry a random if quite successful "development engineer" ("heading his own team...") working for Microsoft named Elgie (played by Billy Crudup).  So together they live in a rainy but wealthy enclave of Seattle among other highly educated 30 and 40 somethings and the two have a lively and almost necessarily naive teenage daughter named Bee (played by Emma Nelson). 

It's a wet golden cage.

And after the drip, drip, drip of the torment of clearly somehow previously frustrated dreams, Bernadette is ready to ... well, you get the picture.

Everything is still presented in a remarkably _gentle_ way (mediated by large amounts of money that most of the film's Viewers will not have), but ... a comedy?  No, there are some real issues being lifted up here.

Further, PG-13 rating notwithstanding, it's not really a film for kids or teenagers either.  It's for the Parents and deals with the central challenge articulated by Freud a century ago: balancing the fulfillment of obligation and desire.

What can religion (not present in the film at all) to the mix?  That (1) God does want us to be happy and (2) God doesn't care if we come to be "important" because God does love us all.  Finally, (3) as St. John Paul II already noted in his second encyclical Laborem Exercens (On the Dignity of Work) we were created by God to create.  It simply isn't good for us to "do nothing" no matter how rich or poor we are. 


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Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood [2019]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  RogerEbert.com (4 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)


IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review
RogerEbert.com (B. Tollerico) review
AVClub (K. Rife) review

Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood [2019] (written and directed by Quentin Tarantino) is IMHO a well-crafted affair, taking full advantage of writer/director's strengths -- creating and more-to-the-point _extending_ suspense (here through the _entire length_ of the 2 hour and 40 minute movie) even as one _knows_ what is coming, and then his capacity to creatively and IMHO utterly satisfactorily "re-imagine" endings to otherwise well known stories -- and actually / thankfully quite "light" on the most problematic aspect of his films -- violence.

Indeed, I've mentioned to a number of friends that someone must have sat down with Tarantino and told him:

"Look the best part of your movies _isn't_ the over-the-top violence.  NO, BY FAR THE BEST PART of your films has been _your ability_ to "stretch out the coming of the inevitable" -- One thinks of the ridiculously long but _fascinating_ "bar scene" or even the earlier "cafe' scene" in Inglorious Basterds [2009] or really the entire film, The Hateful Eight [2015], the latter set largely in a random 19th century mountain lodge somewhere "near the Donner Pass in the High Sierras" during a seemingly unending blizzard, when _every time_ the conversation between the bored, but colorful and ever creatively lowlife characters reaches an some critical juncture, and _everyone_ reaches to their sides for their pistols, ... some _new_ interesting but creatively lowlife character comes barreling through the door from the blizzard outside, and ... everyone lets their pistols slide back into their holsters and ... the conversation/story starts anew ;-).  SO ... no need to 'push' much less _extend_ the violence.  By far the _best part_ of your story-telling is 'getting there.'" 

The current film is _exactly this_.  EVERYONE who knows ANYTHING about what this story is about (hint: it's about the Manson Murders [wikip]), KNOWS ... "what is coming" BUT .... WHEN??? ... AND ... well, "it's a Tarantino film" SO ... ;-)

To say _anything more_ about the film would do it a great deal of damage, except that all three of the main actors in this film -- Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and even Margo Richie as Sharon Tate [wikip] -- are brilliant in their roles.  They "earned their pay" and probably had a lot of fun doing it, yes, had fun starring in a film about the Manson Murders.  How??  Well, go see the film ;-).

And yes, Parents please be sensible.  It's a film about the Manson Murders (!), so do respect the "R" rating.  It's deserved.  But understanding that, a brilliant film.


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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Yesterday [2019]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  RogerEbert.com (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)


IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

Yesterday [2019] (directed by Danny Boyle story by Jack Barth and Richard Curtis screenplay by Richard Curtis) is a small-ish, independent-ish film about random British born, Indian descended Jack Malik (played Himesh Patel) a B-or-C-talented, struggling musician who had grown up in "Sussex England," (yes, perhaps "a beach town" but "in the middle of nowhere...") who had exactly one fan, Ellie Appleton (played wonderfully by Lily James) okay maybe he had two fans, there's also "Rocky" (played by Joel Fry).  Ellie's loved Jack since the 5th or 6th grade, Rocky's just sort of a bouncer/roadie who's had even less prospects than Jack and thus really, really NEEDED someone, something to "cling onto" to give his life at least some meaning (and in one of the more poignant and utterly natural scenes in the film, he literally says as much... and it makes you want to cry).

So this is the setup of the film.  Jack is a random, perhaps decent enough dude, with nice, random Indian descended parents (played wonderfully by Sanjeev Bakhsar and Meera Syal, that Jack's mom gets kinda funny -- "likes to sing" perhaps that's where Jack's gotten his "talent" ;-) -- after she's had a few glasses of wine is just priceless ;-), with exactly one person who's both his biggest fan and who absolutely loves him (and of course, he's utterly oblivious to the second part...) and ... if not for ... an utterly random event ... he would have lived and eventually died in utter anonymity.  Yet ...

... just as the entire world, utterly randomly went into a single 5-10 second power outage, Jack hits his head (his bicycle is actually hit by a bus) and when he wakes up ... and feeling sorry for himself, he strums the Beatles song "Yesterday."  To his astonishment he finds that NO ONE remembered that song.  EVERYONE including his biggest fan / "I'll love you till the day I die" Ellie thought he made it up on his own.  Nor did ANYONE know who The Beatles were.

Since he still remembers a number of the other Beatles Songs, conflicted (but honestly NO ONE knows, and EVERYONE EVEN GETS ANGRY AT HIM over his "false modesty" when he tries to tell others that the songs he was playing weren't his own), he eventually records them _as his own_ and ... rest of the story follows ;-).

It's a fun story about both anonymity and fame.  And certainly part of the film's message is that all these "Nowhere men/women/people" of Jack's "before he hit his head" life were ... arguably MORE INTERESTING than those he started to meet as he became "more and more famous." ;-)

Yes, the other reviews (above) were not spectacular, but if you like these "small-ish, independent-ish" films and actually enjoy the many, many colorful people in your lives, then you could love this film ;-).


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Spider Man: Far From Home [2019]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  RogerEbert.com (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub ()  Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review


Spider Man: Far From Home [2019] (directed by Jon Watts, written by Chris McKenna, screenplay by Erik Sommers based on the comic book by Stan Lee [GR] [IMdb] and Steve Ditko [GR] [IMDb]) continues the current incarnation of Spider Man [MC] [IMDb] (played by Tom Holland) which remains in-sync with the larger Avengers story, notably that which played out in the last two of its installments Infinity Wars [2018] and Endgame [2019].  In those two installments, first 1/2 of all sentient life in the Universe was "disappeared" and then 5 years later, thanks to the efforts of the remaining Avengers, "returned."  Part of "the joy" of watching this Spider Man installment was the way two strange events were understood by the largely teenage characters of the story -- they called the disappearance / return of their friends and loved ones "The Blip" ;-).

Returning also are some of the other characters of the current, more teenage oriented incarnation of Spider Man, including Marisa Tomei as Peter Parker's / Spider Man's very, very cool Aunt May [MC] [IMDb].  Then both Peter Parker's love interest MJ (played by Zendaya) and BFF Ned Leeds (played by Jacob Batalon) as in previous episodes of this incarnation of Spider Man are "of color" which both makes the story much more inclusive for movie going children and teenagers of color and is reflective of American demographics today.

Indeed, I only wish that a similar sensitivity had been extended to the people portrayed at the locations in which this film took place -- the story plays out on a High School trip to Europe.  For instance, the people portrayed in a bar in Prague looked like "extras/peasants" plucked out of a 19th century rendition of a Chekhovian play rather than from one of the more fashionable centers of contemporary Europe (I'm of Czech descent, I'm "kinda sensitive" to this sort of thing...).  Then if I thought the good people of Prague were being protrayed as being stuck in the time of Amadeus or the Husars from Tolstoy's War and Peace, the portrayal of the Dutch (did they even traditionally wear "lederhosen"?) seemed even more amusing... Next time, honestly ask Mila Kunis or Tom Cruise for some help ;-).

That said, what's the story about?  Well, happily surprised / coming to terms with the repercussions of "all these people coming back" five years after "The Blip" ("Hey even though we disappeared 3 months into the school year 5 years ago, our School Administrators are forcing us to retake THE WHOLE YEAR, what's with that?" ;-), with life returning, sort-of, to normal ... Peter Parker's school is taking a week long trip to Europe.  And Peter Parker's hoping to "take a vacation" from being Spider Man as well, but ... Nick Fury [MC] [IMDb] (played AWESOMELY as always by Samuel L. Jackson) has other plans for him.  Much ensues ... ;-)

All in all it's not a bad Spider Man / Marvel Comics movie.  Certainly the film is focused on bringing back Spider Man back to being "an awkward teenager" (as, for instance, the Ant Man comics are focused on the little kid characters ...).  Still, there have been better MC movies than this one.


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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Tolkien [2019]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  RogerEbert.com ()  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com () review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review


Tolkien [2019] (directed by Dome Karukoski, written by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford) is a LOVELY, superbly crafted -- the writing (surprise? ;-), direction, cinematography, and acting are all honestly of the highest quality -- YOUTH ORIENTED film about the formative years of famed mid-20th century medieval fantasy (The Hobbit, LOTR) writer J.R.R. Tolkien [wikip] (played by Harry Gilby as a 12-15 year old, and Nicholas Hoult as an older teen / 20+ year-old young adult), his friends, with whom, yes, he forms "a fellowship" ;-), and his love-interest, fellow _orphan_ and later life-long wife Edith Bratt (played by Lily Collins).  Indeed, the story runs like an early 20th century set Dead Poets' Society [1989] [wikip] [IMDb], a film about a group of young boys at a New England prep school in the mid-20th century, only in the case with Tolkien, IT WAS BASICALLY TRUE.

I can not help but stress the beauty of the message of this film directed toward YOUNG PEOPLE.  I say this because Tolkien was portrayed as someone, again, an orphan from the age of about twelve, who could have easily been bitter, complaining that life gave him "a bad hand," first through losing his family when he was young, then _losing most of his friends_ in World War I. 

Instead, both he and his wife used the gifts that he was given, first from his mother (played briefly but in a lovely fashion at the beginning of the film by Laura Donnelly) an enduring love and talent for languages and , of course, storytelling, and then the gift of having had some _very good friends_ in his youth, whom AS THE SOLE SURVIVOR OF THEIR (sort of) "SECRET SOCIETY" the simultaneously quaint and (as an invention of young, teenage minds) appropriately pretentious T.C.B.S., he spent the rest of his life redeeming. 

Midway through the story, Tolkien comes across some old Gothic word for "Dying without Valor," and the four swear that they will never go down that way.  Spending the rest of his life speaking and more to the point LIVING for friends who were ripped apart anonymously by German artillery and machine-gun fire in the senseless 1916 Battle of the SommeTolkien proved that even one man can lift an entire generation to glory when otherwise they would have been taken senselessly from this world in methodical, giant-like bursts of flaming, swirling, unspeakable and mechanical horror. 

As teens, Tolkien and his friends had promised to change the world through their art / creation. Thanks to Tolkien, they still did.

Excellent story / film.


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Friday, April 26, 2019

Avengers: Endgame [2019]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  RogerEbert.com (3 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times () review
RogerEbert.com (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review


Avengers: Endgame [2019] (directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely based on the Marvel comics by Stan Lee [wikip] [IMDb] and Jack Kirby [wikip] [IMDb] and the comic book by Jim Starlin [wikip] [IMDb]) brings to a safe and satisfying end this spectacularly successful incarnation of Marvel Comic's Avenger franchise.  At twenty plus constituent movies, call this the War and Peace of Blockbuster film series and in its own way it offers a similar level of emotional drama.  Yes, there were more than a few times that tears welled-up in my eyes.

Endgame begins where Avengers: Infinity War [2018] ended, with the Universe in tatters as a result of an extraterrestrial giant named Thanos (played by Josh Brolin) having collected all six of the Universe's "Infinity Stones" and then proceeded to use their power to ERASE (make disappear) half of all life in the Universe to "bring balance to it."

Yes, this was an insanely arrogant "project" but there have been similarly insanely arrogant projects proposed by perhaps well-meaning but certainly utterly-convinced-of-their-righteousness fanatics during the century past (when Stan Lee / Jack Kirby were inventing their Marvel characters and writing their Avenger comic).  One need only think of the Khmer Rouge who in the aftermath of the Vietnam/Indochina Wars of mid-1940s-mid-1970s set out to _kill_ every single one of their Cambodian countrymen who wore glasses (which indicated that they could read, hence had some knowledge of the past) so as to "begin the creation" of "a whole new society" from "tabula rasa" (from scratch / a clean slate).  Any number of radical ideologies of the last century have sought to accomplish similar feats making use of similar horrors.

So the near the beginning of the film, the surviving Avenger characters find the self-satisfied / "fulfilled" Thanos and yet ... even killing him did not seem to approach doing justice for his Crimes (against all Life across the Universe).  What to do?

Well it turns out that the stories surrounding "Ant-Man" (played in this incarnation of the Avenger franchise by Paul Rudd) revolved around playing with "size" (shrinking a man to the size of an ant, or sometimes blowing him up to the size of a giant).  Well, take this oscillation of size to a radical degree, one can enter into "the quantum realm" where the laws of physics become ... strange.  And so while Scott Lang aka "Ant Man" himself is not capable of doing much with the possibilities offered here -- of, in the crudest, sense "going back into time" -- two other Avenger scientists Bruce Banner/the Hulk (played by Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark/Iron Man (played by Robert Downey Jr) take up Scott Lang's/Ant Man's idea and figure out a way to ... fix all this.  To be sure, they make a point of saying that it's NOT really "time travel" (events still happen sequentially, just that in the quantum realm, one could, conceivably "bounce back" to a different place in the time-space continuum, sort of "looping back" to "what once was").  And ... much then ensues.

It's a fun and, as I've already mentioned above, at times a remarkably moving story, as the various characters are able to "be brave," "meet their destinies" and yes, at times, "fix loose ends."

It's just extremely good popular story-telling that honestly will be around, certainly in the English speaking world, for generations to come.  Great, great job!


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