Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Accountant [2016]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O) (2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars with Expl)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McCarthy) review

Crippled Scholar blog review
LA Times (J. Rodenberg) article on film's portrayal of autism 

Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

The Accountant [2016] (directed by Gavin O'Connor, screenplay by Bill Dubuque) is a quite violent (Parents note that the R-rating here is definitely justified) fantasy that _in a certain way_ does "have its heart in the right place." 

The film's hero is a 30-something male on the Autism spectrum going by the pseudonym Christian Wolff (played by Ben Affleck) whose father (played by Robert C. Treveiller) "a military man," gave him "a unique upbringing":  Rather than conceding to lower expectations for his son, he instead raised him in a manner that fascinatingly challenges him (as the U.S. Army's slogan has been) "to be all that [he] can be."

So dad raised him:

(1) focusing on his strengths.  Indeed, those on the Autistic spectrum are often famously "focused."  So dad had his son focus both on numbers (he becomes an accountant) and ... (as part of a more general formation for self-defense "Son, you need to learn to defend yourself.  Society does not like people who are different") ... on sharp-shooting.  (He also gives him and his non-Autistic brother martial arts training), and

(2) with at least a basic sense of morality: to (a) choose to "independence" (or at least trying) to "accepting failure / victimhood", and to (b) be loyal, at least to family. 

So, in the story, Christian becomes a ... really good (if "off the radar / off the books" ;-) accountant, the kind of accountant who perhaps wouldn't be "mainstream" but if one "had a problem" and _didn't_ necessarily want "to go to BDO" (a fairly famous international accounting firm) he'd be a pretty good guy to go to ...

That, of course, gets him involved with all kinds of shady characters -- drug traffickers, arms-dealers, etc -- and eventually catches the attention of U.S. Treasury officials (played quite well by J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson) who come to wonder "who the heck is this guy?" who they find in surveillance photos with all kinds of unsavory types / mobsters. 

Much then ensues ...

It's a Jason Bourne-y fantasy:  What if "an accountant" who's "on the Autism spectrum" was _also_ "brought-up to be Kick-A ...?"

But there are aspects of the premise of the story that are IMHO fascinating: What if Christian's tough guy / army dad was at least partly right?  Okay, his son had autism.  But rather than "just cry" why not help him to still be "All that you can be"?

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The High Frontier (orig. Na Granicy) [2016]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* (Ł. Maciejewski) review* (K. Koczułap) review* (D. Kuźma) review* (M. Drewniak) review* (J. Gryiel) review* (K. Polaski) review* (Ł. Adamski) review*

The High Frontier (orig. Na Granicy) [2016] [IMDb] []* (written and directed by Wojciech Kasperski [IMDb] []*) is a well crafted Polish thriller that played recently at the 2016 Polish Film Festival in Los Angeles.  Set in the winter in the Bieszczady Mountains in the extreme SE corner of contemporary Poland in good part during a blizzard, the film evokes inevitable resonances with Stanley Kubrick / Steven King's The Shining [1980] and Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight [2015] but the film could probably be best characterized as the "Martin Scorsese directed, Robert Deniro starring Cape Fear [1991] with snow" ;-)

The film begins with a recently widowed father, Mateusz (played by Andrzej Chyra [IMDb] []*) taking his sons Janek (played by Bartosz Bielenia [IMDb] []*) and Tomek (played by Kuba Henriksen [IMDb] []*), both in their early teens, up into the Poland's southern (borderland) mountains for some bonding time.   Some years before, Mateusz had served as a border guard.  As such, he had some connections.  He's given the keys by a friend still in the service to a quite nice (but not opulent), secluded, government owned chalet, where he hoped to have some time with his sons re-bond after their mutual loss, and _perhaps_ teach them "a thing or two" about the outdoorsman's way-of-life.

Well they're out there in that isolated mountain chalet, snow falling heavily outside, when a bearded man (played Marcin Dorociński [IMDb] []*) _half covered in blood_ shows up at their door, pounds on it, and after they open it, passes-out / collapses right there in front of them.  "WT...

Okay trying to figure out what just happened, Mateusz takes the passed-out man, drags him to a bed, and since he's still some kind of law enforcement officer, handcuffs him (still passed-out) to said bed, puts his jacket on, and tells his sons two things: (1) that he's going out into the blizzard to follow the man's blood soaked trail to figure-out what happened, and (2) to under _no circumstances_ un-handcuff the man should he wake-up before he gets back ...

Well ... guess what happens? ;-)

Honestly, again a very well-crafted, cold claustrophobic thriller ... Excellent job!

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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Monday, October 17, 2016

History of Swarm (orig. Historia Roja) [2016]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* (A. Woch) review* (H. Jędrzejczak) review* (K. Piskorski) review* (K. Polaski) review* (Ł. Adamski) review*

History of Swarm (orig. Historia Roja) [2016] [IMDb] []* (written and directed by Jerzy Zalewski [IMDb] []*) played recently at the 2016 Polish Film Festival in Los Angeles.  It is THE FIRST FILM OF ITS KIND -- about a leader of the ARMED POLISH ANTI-COMMUNIST RESISTANCE after WW II -- ever made (this 27 years after the fall of Communism in 1989).  As such, the film was greeted with much anticipation in Poland and afterwards with much disappointment and controversy. 

Basically, from a technical, and then IMHO from a specifically screen-writing, point of view, the film disappointed: 

I have to say that I found the first 30 minutes or so of the film very confusing.  I found it very hard to distinguish between the various factions -- the pro-Soviet factions and the nationalist (generally anti-Communist) ones.  (Interestingly) all the factions appeared in uniform (even those who were presumably born of various partisan movements, possible but I did not realize that this would have been the case, but perhaps it was).  The different factions distinguished themselves by the insignia that they wore on their uniforms and the differences were honestly quite subtle.  For instance, I would have thought that the groups that had been allied to the Polish Home Army would have been the ones wearing white and red arm bands (symbolizing the colors of the Polish flag), BUT in the film it appeared that the pro-Communist Polish military wore those arm bands (perhaps to distinguish themselves from the Soviet army itself).  The non-Communist factions appeared to wear uniforms with insignia that were black (like that shown in the film's poster above).  Further, I would swear that there other factions presented in the that wore other colored insignia -- gold or green for instance -- and all this made it _really hard_ for me, a clearly a layman in such Polish WW-II era military matters, to distinguish who was actually who in the early stages of the film, especially during the first 30 minutes of it.  As time went on (and the film progressed) the sides appeared to coalesce into more recognizable groups.

The confusion of the first 30 minutes of the film (which also corresponded to the first several years of the post-WW II period -- from 1945 to, let us say, 1947) while perhaps irritating to the Viewer, MAY actually reflect the confusion existent during that time when honestly few would really understand who was on whose side...Various films over the years have sought to portray the "Fog of War" (or the "Fog of Insurgency").  So portraying this "Fog"  _may_ have been _part_ of the intent of the film-makers here. 

Indeed, North American Viewers could consider approaching this film in much of the same spirit as approaching the Liam Neeson-starring bio-pic Michael Collins [1996] about the famous Irish Revolutionary who helped lead (at least) Southern Ireland to Independence only to watch the whole country plunge into a post-Independence Irish Civil War where again the competing factions (and there, the motivations of the leaders of the competing factions) became quite entangled / confused. 

In the case of Poland, North American Viewers would need to remember that in 1939 Poland was invaded and dismembered by both Nazi Germany (invading from the North, South and West) and the Soviet Union (invading from the East) with the Soviet Union actually having taken a larger portion of Polish territory.  During the subsequent years in which World War II played out, the dominant force of Polish resistance on the ground was the Polish Home Army which pledged its allegiance to the Polish Government in Exile in London.  The goal of the Polish Home Army was first to resist occupation (presumably in both the Nazi/Soviet zones) and then liberate as much of Poland _on its own_ (without Soviet help) as possible (Readers here remember that the Soviet Union already annexed the eastern half of Poland as it is).  The conflict, or at minimum clear _lack of cooperation_, between the Polish Home Army and the Soviet Red Army during the latter part of WW II played itself out most obviously in the Soviet Red Army's refusal to assist the Polish Home Army during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising result in the deaths of 150,000-200,000 Poles, mostly civilians, and the destruction of a good portion of the Home Army's strength. 

This film concerns itself with what followed the Soviet Union's subsequent "liberation" (or over-running) of the rest of Poland on its way to defeat Nazi Germany.  Across Poland (behind Soviet Red Army lines) were all kinds of non-Communist Polish resistance units, most of which had been part of the Polish Home Army and loyal to the Polish Government in Exile in London.  For reasons given above, these groups did not trust the Soviet Union and certainly did not want to be under the yoke of _its_ occupation or for post-WW II Poland to become (what it became) a Soviet Puppet / Satellite state.  On the flip side was of course the sober reality that the Soviet army had pushed all the way to Berlin / Eastern Germany and that it was not going anywhere ... soon. 

The question then was what to do?  Well, SOME of those resistance units, under the banner of the National Military Union (Narodowe Zjednoczenie Wojskowe) [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* again still loyal to the Polish Government in Exile in London decided to continue the fight for a free Poland, free of now Soviet Domination.  ONE OF THE YOUNG (!) LEADERS of this organization was Sgt. Mieczysław Dziemieszkiewicz [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* with the nom de guerre or "Roj" or "Swarm" (and played in the film by Krzysztof Zalewski-Brejdygant [IMDb] []*) after whom the film was made.

Some of the Polish reviewers above questioned the wisdom of making him (Roj/Swarm) the center of the film, one suggesting that perhaps the older, 40-something Cpt. Zbigniew Kulesza code-named "Młot" meaning "Hammer" (and played by Mariusz Bonaszewski [IMDb] []*) would have been a more interesting person to focus on.  In one of the more interesting / heartrending scenes in the movie, it's the 40-something Cpt. Kulesza who's led Dziemieszkiewicz' unit out there in the forests and hinterlands of Poland for 2 years since the formal end of WW II (it was basically 1946-47 when the scene is to have taken place) who his younger charges TO JUST GO HOME.  He tells them: "There's nothing but Death that will come to you if you stay here (in the Forest).  If you go home, yes YOU MAY DIE AS WELL, and more likely you MAY end up in Prison for some time, BUT you will HAVE A CHANCE AT A NORMAL LIFE a CHANCE TO INFLUENCE THE FUTURE OF POLAND of the next generations to come.  HERE, you will just eventually meet your Deaths." 

But most of his younger charges, including Roj/Swarm, choose to continue fighting preferring "to face death with a gun in one's hand than to have a NKVD bullet put in the back of one's head."   And so the younger ones do ... continue fighting with ever diminishing numbers, and ever diminishing support from the local populace, which increasingly sees their continued fighting a lost / pointless cause:

Near the end of his story, in 1951 (!), when he and a buddy are robbing some rural bank somewhere in the Polish hinterlands (to "help finance the cause...") they call out at the end of their robbery: "Long live Free Poland" and even they are briefly startled at the bystanders (arguably their hostages) weary and arguably "rolling eyes" reaction ... A Free Poland wasn't going to happen any time soon, and just about everybody by then knew that.  Sigh ...

But the film makers do give Roy / Swarm a Che Guevara-esque end.  He and his buddy die in a shoot-out with Communist authorities.  His young, half-naked bearded body is rolled-out afterwards in the morgue for his by then already imprisoned mother (played by Magdalena Kuta [IMDb] []*) to identify.  "Is this your son?" the authorities ask.  She answers: "No it is not, and you'll never be able to capture him."  And so then, the Legend of a Zorro for Poland is born.

So I do understand why this film was made and why the film-makers chose to make Roj / Swarm its hero.  It's not necessarily a great film, and most of the Polish critics above hope that this film will invite MORE FILMS to be made about this period in Polish history.  After all, it is remarkable that Poland had an active anti-Communist armed resistance into the mid-1950s and arguably into the 1960s [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]*  And it is a remarkable story deserving to be told.

Warts and all, a pretty good and fundamentally informative / discussion producing film.

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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The Forest, 4 AM (orig. Las, 4 rano) [2016]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* (G. Kłos) review* (A. Siennica) review* (M. Radomski) review* (K. Polaski) review* (Ł. Adamski) review*

The Forest, 4 AM (orig. Las, 4 rano) [2016] [IMDb] []* (directed and cowritten by Jan Jakub Kolski [IMDb] []* along with Krzysztof Majchrzak [IMDb] []*) is a tiny if thematically consequential independent production which played recently at the 2016 Polish Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Forst (played by Krzysztof Majchrzak [IMDb] []*) begins the story as some sort of a contemporary Polish corporate exec, an executive already on the edge, and 5-10 minutes into the story he has a breakdown.  What happened?  It's not clear initially (it becomes clearer as the tale progresses).  That he had a breakdown is clear, however.

What does he do?  Well he abandons his old life, truly everything, finds a hut in a forest, near some random two-lane highway outside some provincial town somewhere in the Polish hinterlands, and sets out to live there collecting herbs and mushrooms and trapping rabbits and beavers for food.  Wow.

There in his self-imposed exile he begins to rebuild (or just live) anew.  It's a (very) simple life.  He collects / chops wood for heat, scavenges plants and traps small game for food.  Initially, he sleeps on a bed covered by a worn blanket.  Eventually, even the bed / blanket seems too luxurious for himself.  So he digs a hole in the middle of the hut, and sleeps in side it burying all but his face itself in soil / leaves.   It's as if he buries himself each night.  But it does, strangely enough, "keep him warm."

Who would do that?  An American Film-goer could think of Robin Williams in his role in The Fisher King [1991].  But Forst has not simply "gone crazy" here.  Instead, he seems to have gone back to living in a Polish / Slavic "back to nature" / "survivalist mode."

The director breaks up Forst's story into three parts, each beginning with a citation from the Biblical Book of Job.  So in this regard, we are reminded, "early and often (enough)", that Forst's self-imposed exile was the result of some kind of crisis or tragedy.  However, WHERE he goes (to the Forest) and HOW he lives there really goes back even further to pre-Christian times.  Indeed, he lives there, in the forest, will remind a lot of viewers of Central European fairy tales.

For OUT THERE "in the forest" / "off the beaten path" (symbolized by the random 2-lane highway) / "outside of town" ... it turns out that there's still life, though somewhat strange, quite literally _marginal_ life:

Among the oddities are that along the random two lane highway "outside of town" walk prostitutes during the day and into the evening.  Now this may surprise some North American Readers but it's actually fairly common in Europe.  I saw this a lot in Italy, when I was studying (in the seminary ;-) there.  Yes, larger cities may have their "red light districts" but when you get into "the Provinces," illegal action (again _marginal_ "action") takes place literally at (or beyond) "the edge of town."

Indeed, I thought it was an interesting insight in a recent updated version of (Little) Red Riding Hood [2011] that "Grandma" -- who lived "in the forest, outside of town" -- was portrayed as being, well, "kinda strange."  YES "normal people" would "live in town."  Odd-balls, "witches", etc would live ... "outside..."

 Forst, comes to befriend one of these older / aging prostitutes, one whose name was Nata (played in the film by Olga Bołądź [IMDb] []*) walking the "two lane" "outside of town" by his neck of the forest.  Why aging?  Well ... if these Prostitutes were younger, their pimps would probably put them in a more attractive place to make their / them money.  Indeed, the 40 something Nata is knocked-off by her pimp Boris (note the Russian name, Poles and Russians really don't like each other ... played by in the film Michał Kowalski [IMDb] []*) so that he could literally put-up a younger model there in her place.

It's when 40-something aging Prostitute (though as always, with a heart-of-gold) is killed that 12-13 year-old now orphaned Jadzia (basically "Little Red Riding Hood" played by Maria Blandzi [IMDb] []*) comes looking for her and finds ... the Ogre / Shrek-like Forst in the forest instead (Forst, having been a platonic, if mixed-up friend of Nata, her mother).   And together Forst and Jadzia make a life of it for a while, he basically adopting her as his own.  Yes, he was a gentleman.  He was a gentleman with her mother, now with her as well.  Sleeping as he does "in his hole," he leaves his more comfortable bed / blanket for her.  And also she honestly "had nobody."

Among the little adventures that they have together ... is that one Spring they collect wild goose / duck eggs laid in by the birds (in the early Spring) in the brush surrounding a nearby pond and decorate them as Easter Eggs (a possible pre-Christian origin for the Easter Egg tradition).

Eventually though Jadzia grows tired of Forst (and they begin argue with greater frequency).  Essentially, she grows-up ... and eventually she goes on her way.  But somehow, having taken care of Jadzia, out there, in the forest, gives Forst some peace.   And we're told, just as at the end of the Book of Job, that (somehow) his crisis was now over.

All in all, while I would certainly _not_ encourage a 50 year-old (!) to live with / take care of a 12-13 year old daughter of a stranger (there are / should be government agencies today to regulate that sort of thing), the film here tells an ancient and partly Biblical story in a quite modern way.  As such, I found it quite interesting.

Good / quite interesting job!

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Desierto [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB () (2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing listing*
SensaCine listing* (J. Oliva) review*
El Pais (L.B. Beauregard) review* (S. Franco) review* (N. Euler) review*
Slant Magazine (C. Dillard) review
The Guardian (J. Hoffman) review
The Hollywood Reporter (T. McCarthy) review
Variety (J. Chang) review

CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review (P. Sobczynski) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Desierto [2015 [IMdb] []*[SC]* (directed and screenplay cowritten by Jonás Cuarón [IMDb] []*[SC]* along with Mateo Garcia [IMDb] [SC]* is a very simple / straight-forward thriller, but IMHO it certainly works:

Moises (played by Gael García Bernal) and Adela (played by Alondra Hidalgo) begin the film as random people, presumably mostly Mexicans, in the back of a random "delivery truck" -- in other days the truck could have been carrying fruit to market, this day it was carrying people North to a deserted spot along the U.S.:Mexican border.

Well the truck breaks down, still "some clicks" South of the border and then not necessarily at the most optimal spot.  One of the young (maybe in his late teens / early twenties) "coyotes" asks the Boss "Lobo" (meaning wolf): "Isn't this the spot where sometime back ...?"  No matter, there's "a schedule" to maintain.  Now "chinga..." the truck's broken down (and will have to be fixed ... or abandoned).  So Lobo has "other" more business / logistical "concerns" on his mind.  This will have to do ...

On the other side of the border is a swilling Jack Daniels straight out of the bottle (while driving ...)  "Minuteman" named "Sam" (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in a beat-up pick-up truck, small Confederate flag flapping off of the antenna, trusted Dog and Rifle (with a BIG telescopic sight) at his side.  He's driven out to the Border to "shoot some rabbits" and, well, maybe a Mexican or two ...

When he runs into the 15 or so already quite exhausted / dehydrated and at least partly _lost_ Mexicans in Moises / Adela's group, well, it seems BOTH "like an invasion" ("My God, THEY just keep coming ..." he says to himself) AND ... "a turkey shoot" as he methodically picks them-off one-by-one on the open Desert plain with the precision (and less forethought) of American Sniper [2014].

12-13 of the Mexican "illegals" "drop" (die...) quite quickly.  So soon it's just Moises and Adela vs "Sam and his Dog."  The rest of the story / movie follows ...

Okay, A LOT OF (NORTH) AMERICANS will not like this movie, and a LOT OF OTHERS will be disturbed by it.

Is it _really_ THIS BAD?  Well ... I invite Readers here to google a stunning award-winning documentary called Cartel Land [2015], which is about vigilante groups on _both sides_ of the U.S. Mexican border (in Mexico they're called "auto-defensas" and these groups exist there to "take on the drug cartels").  On both sides of the border, these groups justify their existences by saying that they've only "taken up arms" to do what their respective governments have "thus far failed to do."

Yes, the current film here is (still) an exaggeration.  BUT Cartel Land [2015] suggests that we're FAR CLOSER to this reality than most of us would think.

A very disturbing story ...

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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Queen of Katwe [2016]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-II) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
Los Angeles Times (M. Phillips) review (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (K. Rife) review

Queen of Katwe [2016] (directed by Mira Nair, screenplay by William Wheeler, based on the ESPN Article and book [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Tim Crothers [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a nice, uplifting, family friendly (Disney sponsored) movie about Phiona Mutesi [wikip] (played in the film by Madina Nalwanga) a young chess prodigy from the impoverished Katwe neighborhood of Kampala, Uganda.  Call it a "Rocky Story of the Mind" ;-)

Phiona, about 10-11 when the story began, was growing-up destined to remain illiterate, selling corn at the local vegetable market with her widowed mom Nakku Harriet (played by Lupita Nyong'o), an older sister named Layla (or Night) (played by Taryn Kyaze) and two brothers Brian (played by Martin Kabanza) about her age and Richard (played by Yvan Jacobo and later by Nicolas Nevesque) definitely younger.  

Phiona's and Brian's lives change when Robert Katende (played by David Oyelowo) a local (though, one surmises, still "minor league") former soccer star enters their lives.  His soccer playing days largely over, and though with a engineering degree, nevertheless still unable to find a job in that field (and with a wife and family of his own to take care of) he took a job as a leader in a local Christian "sports outreach" ministry.  Interestingly enough, he was _not_ peddling soccer so much as ... chess, which the Ministry had identified as perhaps providing "better skills for life" than simply physical sport.  It was Brian, of course, who was initially both more recruited and more interested in Robert Katende's program, BUT ... it was Phiona who really took to chess like a fish in water ...

She becomes VERY, VERY GOOD ... and Readers here please understand that SHE BECAME A COMPETITIVE even CHAMPION CHESS PLAYER _even before_ she could Read.  Of course, as she got better, learning to Read, getting schooling became progressively more essential ... and the reason WHY she and her siblings could not read beforehand was because her mother simply could not afford to send them to school.  So Katende hed to help their mother find a way ...

This all becomes a LOVELY story and one that I suspect that MOST OF US / OUR FAMILIES could relate to. 

My own grandmother ended her schooling at 6th grade, when her (Czech) parents pulled her out of school to take care of her then sick mother (who nevertheless managed to live for some 35 years afterwards).  Then after a few years after my grandmother got married to her husband, my grandfather, he came down with tuberculosis (this during the Great Depression).  So she took care of my dad and my aunt (with help of her mother-in-law) running a small corner convenience store on a random street in Prague, getting up every day at 4 AM ... TO GO TO THE VEGETABLE MARKET to get fresh produce to sell then at her store afterwards.  Yes her 6th grade education limited the horizons of a good part of her life.  But she was more than this.  With a 6th grade education, she knew ALL THE WORDS to ALL OF THE ARIAS to all the Operas (in Czech of course ;-) that she'd hear on the radio each day ;-).   And she could sing some of them quite well ;-).  And my dad (and his cousin) became the first in my dad's family to make it to college as did then EVERY ONE OF HER GRANDCHILDREN.  And among her GRAND CHILDREN we could probably staff a small University department somewhere WITH ALL THE PhD's THAT WE NOW HAVE AMONG US ;-)

But ALL OF US STILL REMEMBER / LOVE our GRANDMOTHER (and her generation) whose work / sacrifices made _our lives_ what they are today.  And I do believe that almost EVERY FAMILY COULD HAVE A SIMILAR STORY TO SHARE.

So Phiona could have grown-up in an impoverished section of Kampala, but her story is easily relatable to children and families across the globe.


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Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Age of Shadows (orig. Mil-jeong) [2016]

MPAA (UR would be R) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B+) Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars) 

IMDb listing listing*
AsianWiki listing

Chosun Llbo review*
Dong A Llbo review*

Variety (J. Weissberg) review 
The Hollywood Reporter (D. Young) review (B. Tallerico) review 
AV Club (I. Vishnevetsky) review

The Age of Shadows (orig. Mil Jeong [2016] [IMDb] [AW] [Nvkr]*(written and directed by Jee-woon Kim [IMDb] [AW] [Nvkr]* is a movie that should be(come) required viewing for a fair number of World War II history buffs.  Why?  Because it certainly offers a fascinating (and indigenous Korean) view into the War (actually into the set-up of the War, even pre-Manchuria) in the Pacific.  The film reminds us that future War in the Pacific actually began arguably BEFORE the beginning of even World War I with the 1910 Japanese Occupation of Korea.

Set largely in Japanese-occupied Seoul of the 1920s, the film portrays a city of Casablanca [1942]-esque intrigue where, yes, under pressure (often by torture) Resistance leaders (as captured) could sometimes be broken and at other times be bought, but where the Japanese occupiers found even the loyalties of even their Collaborators could never be really trusted.  Taking a phrase from The Big Lebowski [1998] among the occupied Koreans "Everybody was in bed with everybody else," that is to say that the loyalties / connections between them were so "complex" / "opaque" to outsiders that the occupying Japanese could _never really know_ what was really going on "below them."   

And so it was, the film begins with a Korean resistance fighter cornered by Korean collaborating police official named Lee Jung-Chool (played by Kang-ho Song [IMDb] [AW] [Nvkr]*) and "supported" by a force of  several hundred Japanese soldiers.  The orders were to take him peacefully.  BUT ... neither the Korean resistance fighter, nor the several hundred Japanese soldiers seem to want to go down that path.  The Korean resistance fighter was willing to die a martyr's death, and the several hundred Japanese soldiers dozens jumping, in formation, from roof top to roof top as they chased him, were more than willing to oblige him.  ONLY the Korean collaborating police official seemed to want to keep him alive.  THE QUESTION BECOMES ... WHY?  Right from the start, it does not seem that his reason was simply "to bring him in" (so that he could be tortured by the Japanese to betray the rest of his group).  Neither did it seem realistic that Lee Jung-Chool was a disguised Korean patriot who had infiltrated of the Japanese security system.  Instead, probably the best explanation for his _choice_ to try to "follow orders" here WAS TO KEEP THAT KOREAN RESISTANCE FIGHTER ALIVE ... that is to say, NOT WANTING TO SEE _ANOTHER_ GOOD KOREAN SOUL "DIE FOR HIS COUNTRY."

That's a good part of the insight / complexity of the film: even the "Collaborators" were were not (all) necessarily Evil.  To some extent, perhaps even a good extent, they were "patriots of a different sort" ... seeing that confronting Japan _openly_ was "a lost cause."  Instead, there were folks like this both objectively and nominally collaborating police official, trying keep the few brave(r) Koreans _alive_ to, in effect, _outlast_ the Japanese occupation.

MY FAMILY CAME FROM A "SMALL (often occupied) COUNTRY" AS WELL -- the Czech part of Czechoslovakia.  I totally get this reasoning ... [1] [2] [3] [4]

But, of course, there _wasn't_ just a "huddling mass" of Koreans in Seoul at the time, just trying to "outlast the occupation" (which _no one_ at the time could have known would ever end, much less, in their lifetimes).  There were  _the brave ones_ who did try to more openly resist.  And the film is about this Korean collaborating police official being tasked by his Japanese overlords, and more specifically by his Japanese Superior named Hashimoto (played by Tae-Goo Um [IMDb] [AW] [Nvkr]*), to penetrate a cell of this Resistance.  Okay, he's tasked to do this.  But after penetrating this group of young, idealistic Korean patriots, could he really turn them in?   But then that was his job and if he did so, he himself stood _to pay_ for his regained moral stance.  How then to navigate this labyrinth of awful options?

Dear Readers, you should be getting the picture ...

It all makes for an excellent if perhaps, at times, slow moving _ASIAN_ film about "life under World War II-era occupation."

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