Monday, March 12, 2018

Gringo [2018]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Gringo [2018] (directed by Nash Edgerton, story and screenplay cowritten by Matthew Stone along with Anthony Tambakis) is an odd mix -- arguably the story of Job re-imagined as the principal protagonist in a dark yet by the end almost Shakespearean tragicomedy.

Poor Harold Soyinka (played by David Oyelowo) a hard-working educated Nigerian-born immigrant in his late thirties, who begins the story working as an accountant for a vaguely-shady certainly b-tier Chicago-based pharmaceutical company and with, at minimum, a spendthrift wife (played by Thandie Newton).

Early in the film, Harold is warned by his own accountant, a friend, that the company he's working for is being setup for a merger and when that comes along, he could be out of a job.  So when Harold comes to work, he asks his boss, if "all is okay with the company," and assured by his ever smiling, but take one look at him and you'd be insane to trust him boss Richard Rusk (played wonderfully by Joel Edgerton) "of course it is, and besides I look after my friends."  That's not exactly an answer...

Well, assured that all is fine, Harold is nevertheless sent down to Mexico to "clean up" some accounting "problems" with a medical marijuana pill that that the company had been developing there -- apparently "some of the product" was "going missing" and while one _could_ have considered that "the cost of doing business" especially with THAT particular "product" ... IF ONE'S COMPANY IS GOING TO BE BOUGHT BY ANOTHER, these kind of "discrepancies" would have to be explained / covered over.

So poor Harold, a Nigerian immigrant, but to absolutely EVERYONE down in Mexico he's "the Gringo" or "the black (somewhat exotic) Gringo" is sent there to "fix" something that's not exactly easily "fixable."  His Mexican counterpart, a lovely Mexican accountant, who's adopted a soccer team sized number of orphan-kids on his salary gets one of big toes clamped-off by the local drug lord who ... unsurprisingly, would like the previously "negotiated arrangement" between "his organization" and "the gringo medical marijuana" er "pharmaceutical company" to ... "continue."

And it just gets worse.  Soon there's a hit man, actually even a series of hit men, representing all kinds of "interests" big and small, originating from across both sides of the Border, who'd just prefer Harold, the little Nigerian-born "Gringo" account to be ... dead.

The key scene in the film is when facing one of these hit men, one actually sent by his slimy boss (remember "his friend" back in Chicago), poor Harold drops to his knees and begins to pray: "O God, save me in this my hour of distress!"

The hit man, asks incredulously: "O come on, you don't believe in God do you?"  To which Harold, remember a GOOD MAN from Nigeria, answers with similar incredulity: "What kind of man does not believe in God?"  to which the hit man, taken aback, answers: "Well, I guess, I kinda do..." and ... quite soon, quite randomly another gang of two bit thugs, ALSO looking for Harold, run the hit man over saving his life ... for the moment.

And so it is.  I suppose the "redeeming value" of the film is perhaps that in Shakespearean fashion pretty much ALL the bad people GET THEIRS while the good people ... Harold, his heart-of-gold Mexican counterpart, and one other sweet young American lady named Sunny (played by Amanda Seyfried) turn out okay.

But did this movie _really_ have to be made?  Well, I'll leave that question up to you ;-)

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Thoroughbreds [2017]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB () (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (A-)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Thoroughbreds [2017] (written and directed by Cory Finley) is an extremely simple if also extremely deadpan / dark "comedy" about two super-rich teenage girls, Amanda and Lily (played superbly by Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy respectively), awash apparently in ritalin, from the "horse country" of upper suburban Connecticut (where even cross border Westchester County, NY appears to be considered for the non-super-rich hence unwashed/unfortunate masses) who ... come to plot the murder of one-of-the-two's creepy (if still chiseled) lawyer step-father named ... Mark (played by Paul Sparks).

To do so, they enlist a local same-age-as-they amiable loser named ... Tim (played in joyfully / "without a clue" fashion by Anton Yelchin, the poor actor, most famous for playing the amiable Chekov in the rebooted Star Trek films, himself, died tragically in a freak auto accident outside his Hollywood Hills home shortly after finishing shooting for this film).  Tim's the guy who they'd _never_ invite to their parties if not for him supplying them with their drugs.  If stupidly, then certainly sincerely Tim believed himself to be "an entrepreneur" and kept telling _everyone_ who'd listen (not many, as most would just roll their eyes and leave ... after buying their drugs ... from him...) that "in a few years," he'd be "sitting pretty," living just as they were ;-).  Yes, Lennie, everybody deserves to dream...

Well ... much happens, though ... not particularly quickly ;-) but then ... they're all on ritalin, right?, holding back filled-to-the-brim oceans of resentments.  SOOO, this can't possibly end well ... right ...?  And ...

It all makes one recall the great opening line to Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" ;-)

An awesome if very, very dark film ;-)

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A Wrinkle in Time [2018]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

A Wrinkle in Time [2018] (directed by Ava DuVernay, screenplay by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Madeleine L'Engle [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is IMHO a fascinating story that COULD be understood as a truly feminine counterpoint to the popular Spider Man [2002] / [2012] and Thor [2011] Marvel Comics inspired films of recent times.

For the protagonist in this story, is a quiet, uncertain 14 year old  girl (in the film biracial) named Meg (played wonderfully by Storm Reid) not unlike Marvel Comics' Peter Parker of Spider Man [2002] / [2012] fame.  Her parents (played by Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw - I've loved everything that Gugu Mbatha-Raw has ever been in since Belle [2013]) were scientists.  Meg's father working for NASA had mysteriously disappeared from his lab some 4 years before.  He had been working on tesseracts, or multidimensional objects which offered the possibility to move across great distances in our universe instantaneously.

Disappeared though he was, Meg's father's research is validated when the first of three celestial beings in the story, a Mrs Whatsit (played in the film by Reese Witherspoon) appears to Meg's little brother Charles (played by Deric McCabe) in their living room and tells her and her brother that tesseracts are real and travel like their father had imagined was indeed possible.

The rest of the movie unspools through there.  Meg, her brother and then a seemingly random friend Calvin (played by Levi Miller) but at the time was really _her only friend_ are soon introduced to two other celestial beings in the story -- Mrs Which (played by Opray Winfrey) and Mrs Who (played by Mindy Kaling) -- and together they set off, using the three celestial beings' knowledge of tesseracts to travel (in arguably Marvel's Thor-like fashion) to far flung worlds across the universe search for Meg's 4-years-missing dad and ... save the universe from a dark de-humanizing celestial force called "It" spreading across the universe in a cloud dark, storm-cloud like fashion.

I found the movie surprisingly fascinating, not the least that the original writer, Madeleine L'Engle [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] did see herself as a Christian (Anglican) writing in the tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  Readers here could perhaps discern a feminine echo to the Christian Trinity (and perhaps even of Mary [1] [2]) in those three (feminine) celestial beings who appear to the children. 

I also believe that this film COULD "move the ball" in contemporary North American science fiction, moving us away from the grand "Cosmic Battles" of Star Wars / Star Trek and glass smashing mayhem of the Marvel Comics / Transformer stories to a more mature and less 2-10 year old "let's just smash things we don't like" vision of the Cosmos. 

Finally, this story could actually serve as a fascinating CONCEPTUAL BRIDGE between contemporary SCIENCE FICTION and RELIGION, reminding us that truly _advanced beings_ MAY NOT NEED such _pedestrian devices_ as "star ships" (warp drives, etc) to travel the universe, that they could have developed far more elegant / civilized ways to make their way and communicate across great distances. 

All in all, there's much more to this story / film than it may seen initially and it may require a second or even third look to see it.  So very, very good job here Ana DuVernay and cast, very, very good job!

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Annihilation [2018]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L) (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

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

Annihilation [2018] (screenplay and directed by Alex Garland based the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Jeff VanderMeer [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]), is a _slow-moving_ though _intentionally so_, ever creepy Sci-Fi / Horror film set in the near future in which a small but slowly yet relentlessly growing section of isolated coastal Florida marshland has been absorbed by a strange, eerie phenomenon called "The Shimmer."

Those sent on scouting missions into the region absorbed by The Shimmer, generally don't come back, and even the few who do, return very disoriented with poor recollections of both what took place while they were "inside the Shimmer" and even of their lives prior to their entry into it.  Further, the region inside The Shimmer appears to be a Universal Dead Zone for all communications and navigation equipment: Radios, GPS, even compasses don't work there; those inside The Shimmer can only navigate by means of following the movement of the sun, and since the story was taking place in Florida marshland, even the sun need not be always visible because of tree / cloud cover and mist.  What the heck was going on in there?  Well, that's for the characters in story (as well as the Viewers) to figure out. 

The principal character in the story is Lena (played by Natalie Portman) a once marine now biologist who had been married to Kane (played by Oscar Isaac) still U.S. Special Forces who was, in fact, sent on a secret mission into The Shimmer, and one year later, becomes the first person to ever return from it alive, though extremely disoriented, recalling neither much of his time (again, nearly a year) inside The Shimmer, nor of his previous life outside of it.  When he comes down with a virulent form of cancer, Lena goes down to region of Florida, otherwise sealed off from the public, where she finds out he had been sent.  Eventually, because (1) she was a biologist (a skill deemed useful by the military officials there, (2) she had been previously military (hence could fire a weapon / defend herself) and (3) she simply insisted on coming along, in hopes of figuring out what happened to her husband, she's allowed to participate in a four person, interestingly ALL WOMAN scouting expedition into The Shimmer and ... the rest of the story unspools from there.

Again, what the heck is going on?  Well, if interested / intrigued, go see the movie ;-)

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Red Sparrow [2018]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O) (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (1 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (C, Lemire) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

Red Sparrow [2018] (directed by Francis Lawrence, screenplay by Justin Haythe based on the spy novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Jason Matthews [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) while having had potential -- the film's about a Russian (previously Soviet) program which trains / trained young Russian women spies into becoming agents of seduction, manipulating (yes, often but not always sexually) potentially useful men from adversarial countries into serving the Russian Intelligence Service -- becomes an UTTERLY UNWATCHABLE FILM about 20 minutes from its end with a torture scene that while perhaps "realistic" was otherwise SHOCKINGLY APPALLING -- a Russian intelligence officer is shown using a portable electronic instrument (think of it as "an electric shaver PLUS" to SHAVE OFF 1/4" THICK PIECES OF FLESH from an American intelligence officer "under interrogation."  OKAY, I imagine that these kind of things "do happen...," BUT ... 

As such, whatever else one could say about the film -- among them that the performances were generally quite excellent if somewhat "cut and dry" (the Viewer can generally quite clearly see who were intended to be "the good people" and who were "the bad" ones...), with Jennifer Lawrence playing Dominica Egorova, a once Bolshoi Ballet ballerina who after having had a dancing career ending accident (or perhaps "accident"), finds herself manipulated / recruited by a creepy, Vladimir Putin-resembling uncle / upper-level Russian intelligence official (played by Mattias Schoenaerts) into this Red Sparrow "agents of seduction" intelligence program.  Eventually, "on assignment" in Budapest / Vienna on the trail of someone who was apparently a mole in the Russian Intelligence service (working for the West), she runs into an American intelligence officer (played by Joel Edgarton) and the rest of the story un-spools from there -- that rather shocking scene makes it, I'm not kidding NC-17 deserving, _utterly inappropriate_ for ANY young kids and as I mentioned UTTERLY UNWATCHABLE for most people in general.

It's a shame ...

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Monday, March 5, 2018

90th Annual Academy Awards - Review: Most Uneventful Oscars in Memory [2018]

IMDb listing

Perhaps everyone was just scared.  Between the fiasco with which the Oscars ended last year and then reverberations from the spectacular fall from grace of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein after several dozen (!) women came forward with allegations against him of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape, it seemed that everyone just wanted the Academy Awards to be over this year and ... without incident.

So while the moderately fun African American-centric horror movie Get Out [2017] (affluent white suburbanites were the "bad guys" / "monsters" ;-) won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and the more problematic gay-themed coming of age story Call Me by Your Name [2017] won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay (it was also a summer of love story between a 17 year old and a 25 year old...), the Mexican Day of the Dead themed Coco [2017] won Best Animated Film and Mexican born Guillermo del Toro's film, the 1950s-set SciFi period piece The Shape of Water [2017] won four Oscars including for Best Director and Best Picture, there really were no great surprises.

There were multiple references to the plight of Dreamers (young undocumented aliens who were brought here by their parents while they were still young children and now don't really know any other country other than ours), and Frances McDormand, winner of this year's Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role did make an impassioned appeal for gender equality in both pay and career opportunity in Hollywood, but nothing really stood out.

Indeed, young Greta Gerwig and her film Lady Bird [2017] nominated for FIVE Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role came away with none.

Well "maybe next year," maybe next year indeed.

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Friday, March 2, 2018

My 2018 Oscar Picks

IMDb listing

It's Oscars Time again, so as in previous years, I dutifully present my picks here ;-)

    WILL WIN - Woody Harrelson for his role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [2017]
    SHOULD WIN - Woody Harrelson for his role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [2017], Christopher Plummer for his role in All the Money in the World [2017]
    DESERVED CONSIDERATION -  Armie Hammer for his role in Call Me by Your Name [2017]

    WILL WIN - Allison Janney for her role in I, Tonya [2017],
    SHOULD WIN - Allison Janney for her role in I, Tonya [2017], Laurie Metcalf for her role in Lady Bird [2017], Mary J. Bilge for her role in Mudbound [2017]
    DESERVED CONSIDERATION - Isabela Vidovic for her role in Wonder [2017], Holly Hunter for her role in The Big Sick [2017]

    WILL WIN - Gary Oldman for his role in Darkest Hour [2017]
    SHOULD WIN - Gary Oldman for his role in Darkest Hour [2017]Woody Harrelson for his role in Glass Castle [2017]Daniel Day Lewis for his role in Phantom Thread [2017]Timothée Chalamet for his role in Call Me by Your Name [2017]
    DESERVED CONSIDERATION - Woody Harrelson for his role in Glass Castle [2017]Jason Clarke for his role in Mudbound [2017]Kumail Nanjiani for his role in The Big Sick [2017], Ryan Gosling for his role in Blade Runner 2049 [2017]

    WILL WIN - Frances McDormand for her role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [2017]
    SHOULD WIN - Frances McDormand for her role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [2017], Sally Hawkins for her role in The Shape of Water [2017]
   DESERVED CONSIDERATION -  Jessica Chastain for her role in Molly's Game [2017] Vicky Krieps for her role in Phantom Thread [2017]Jessica Chastain for her role in Zookeeper's Wife [2017]

    WILL WIN - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [2017] by Martin McDonagh
    SHOULD WIN - Get Out [2017] by Jordan PeeleThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [2017] by Martin McDonagh, Lady Bird [2017] by Greta Gerwig, The Shape of Water [2017] by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor
   DESERVED CONSIDERATION - Dunkirk [2017] by Christopher Nolan  

    WILL WIN - Call Me by Your Name [2017] by James Ivory based on the novel by André Aciman
    SHOULD WIN - Wonder [2017] by Stephen Chbosky and Steven Conrad  and Jack Thorne based on the novel by R.J. PalacioMudbound [2017] cowritten by Dee Rees and Virgil Williams based on the novel by Hillary JordanMolly's Game [2017] by Aaron Sorkin based on the memoir by Molly Bloom;
    DESERVED CONSIDERATION - Wonder [2017] by Stephen Chbosky and Steven Conrad  and Jack Thorne based on the novel by R.J. Palacio.

    WILL WIN -  The Shape of Water [2017]
    SHOULD WIN - Blade Runner 2049 [2017]The Shape of Water [2017]Dunkirk [2017]
    DESERVED CONSIDERATION - Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets [2017]Baby Driver [2017]

    WILL WIN - Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water [2017]
    SHOULD WIN - Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk [2017]Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water [2017], Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird [2017]
    DESERVED CONSIDERATION - Denis Villeneux for Blade Runner 2049 [2017]

    WILL WIN - Coco [2017]
    SHOULD WIN - Coco [2017]

    WILL WIN - The Shape of Water [2017]
    SHOULD WIN - Dunkirk [2017]The Shape of Water [2017]Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [2017], Lady Bird [2017]
    DESERVED CONSIDERATION - Coco [2017]Blade Runner 2049 [2017], Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi [2017]Wonder [2017]

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