Friday, August 26, 2016

Southside with You [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (4 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review

BET coverage
Ebony coverage coverage coverage (N. Allen) interview w. the film's stars 

ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review  

Southside with You [2016] (written and directed by Richard Tanne) is a lovely, well written "When Barack met Michelle" / "origins-story" chronicling the very first date between Barack Obama (played in the film excellently by Parker Sawyers) and his wife, then Michelle Robinson (played again here, very, very well by Tika Sumpter). 

Indeed, this is a movie that _a lot of young people_ (teens and above) really ought to see, as it models a _really good_ (and future producing...) first date -- ending _not_ "in bed" but after a 1/2 day of talking, strolling through a pretty cool downtown Chicago art exhibit (featuring the paintings of African American former football star turned painter Ernie Barnes [wikip] [website] [Amzn]), a community service gathering and a movie (Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing [1989]) ... _with a kiss_ after some ice cream ;-). 

Other reviewers (above) quite rightly compare it to Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise [1995], another film about two young 20-somethings, who come to enjoy an extended day becoming "a date of sorts" that also comes to produce (at least cinematically) "a future" together (two more films, made at nine year intervals, the latest being Before Midnight [2013], each again chronicling a both random and yet significant day in the lives of the two protagonists).

Both the current film (by Richard Tanne) and Linklater's extended periodic series remind us that romance playing-out with an eye toward the longer term / a future is both possible and satisfying in a way that a (using the language of _my_ younger years) "wham, bam, thank you mam" encounter (or even a series of them) is not.

Good job!  Folks, very good job!

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

War Dogs [2016]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  ChicagoTribune (1 1/2 Stars) (2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (1/2 Star)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McCarthy) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

War Dogs [2016] (directed and screenplay cowritten by based on the Rolling Stone article "Arms and the Dudes" [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Guy Larson [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is an ugly film about an ugly aspect of war -- Profiteering -- that will ultimately offend a lot of Viewers.

Yes, most of us will accept the premise that with War comes _some_ Profiteering.  What (I hope...) will offend most Viewers are the story's assumptions that (1) War is _only_ about Profiteering (tell that to veterans / their loved ones to say nothing of the loved ones of the war dead / injured) and (2) the two protagonists in this story deserve to be considered "just regular guys out to make a buck" (perhaps at the expense of unsuspecting "losers" -- including said VETERANS (!) as well as THE ENTIRE COUNTRY).

In the story, two twenty something "dudes" David Packouz (played by Miles Teller) and Ephraim Diveroli (played by Jonah Hill) from Miami with some startup money from somewhere find that they can make ENORMOUS AMOUNTS OF MONEY finding and selling stuff to the U.S. military listed on a Pentagon sponsored procurement website (apparently a "Craigslist for Guns...").  The explanation for the creation for this strange and apparently _open_ website was an over-reaction to G.W. Bush era V.P. Dick Cheney linked Halliburton Corp having been previously given BILLIONS OF DOLLARS of "no bid" contract business by the Pentagon.  So ... the procurement website "opened the military procurement business" to BASICALLY EVERYBODY ... including the two schemers in this film.

And so the two anti-heroes ... take advantage of the system ... and at least thankfully end-up getting (somewhat) caught.  Still, honestly their punishment seemed IMHO to be very very light for the level of betrayal of the public's trust.  Sigh ... KNOWING PERSONALLY people who war risking their lives for the country (and honestly looking to eventually cover use their time in the military _to pay for college_) I do find this story appalling.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Ben Hur 3D [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Ben Hur 3D [2016] (directed by Timur Bekmambetov , screenplay by Keith R. Clarke and John Ridley based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Lew Wallace [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a film that like many / most of my generation, I went to skeptically.  Having seen it now, like most others, I'm more-or-less certain that the current film will never attain the Epic / Awesome Stature of the celebrated 1959 version that starred the "Larger-than-Life" CHARLTON HESTON ... However, having said this, I _must add_ that do think that this is NOT a bad film and to the extent that it serves to "update the presentation" and (re)introduce Ben Hur to a new generation, I DO THINK THAT (3D and ALL...) THE CURRENT FILM DOES A PRETTY GOOD (to VERY GOOD) JOB.

Readers of my blog will note that I generally _support_ "updated presentations" even quite _imaginative_ ones -- True Grit [2010], The Three Musketeers [2011], Anna Karenina [2012], The Great Gatsby [2013] -- so long as the update was NOT just "an update for the sake of updating," but offered something something truly compelling/new of past cinematic versions:

True Grit [2010] for example sought to "return to the original novel" (where as its celebrated 1969 cinematic version had been overwhelmed by the "Larger-than-Life" presence of JOHN WAYNE). 

The Three Musketeers [2011] was _really imaginative_ BUT invited Viewers to experience the story with "(re)newed eyes" as the ORIGINAL story was NOT MEANT to be "a dry/dusty Classic" but rather a YOUNG ADULT ADVENTURE STORY ... Thus "3D / Airships and all," I do believe that 2011 film _recaptured_ a lot of the _wonder_ of the original story (before it _became_ "a required read" for "advanced French Language classes ...").

Anna Karenina [2012] was IMHO simply a beautiful film that often felt like both a movie and a stage play (IMHO intentionally ... as the the film-makers sought to express the point that Anna Karenina (the story's tragic heroine who was destroyed by gossip) did seem to live a life in which she found herself "on stage" (being gossiped about) whether she liked it or not).

Finally, the failings of the unnecessary 3D notwithstanding, LEONARDO DICAPRIO simply _nailed_ the role of the tragic hero Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby [2013] in a way that previously "Larger than Life" ROBERT REDFORD simply could not (Jay Gatsby was _not_ Redford's role to play ... while DiCaprio, IMHO was almost born to play it.  IMHO, Redford was instead "born to play" roles like his in The Natural [1984]).

Now, I have reviewed over the years some _terrible_ updates / remakes of "classic" stories -- from The Legend of Hercules [2011], to Young Messiah [2016], to the second (but not the most recent third) film of the Star Trek "reboot" series -- I thought Star Trek into Darkness [2013] was simply awful (frenetic / "action filled" for "action's" sake) while do think that the more recent Star Trek Beyond [2016] was finally (re)gaining its footing.  Still I do enjoy being surprised by something "new" that invites _new_ insight.

To the current film then ...

I do think that the general lack of "Larger than Life" stars in the new (2016) version of Ben Hur is A PLUS (yes, "Larger than Life" MORGAN FREEMAN does play a narrative / and still SECONDARY ROLE in the current film).  Thus viewers of the current film are allowed experience the story of Judah Ben-Hur (played by still relatively unknown / "up-and-coming" Jack Huston) rather than CHARLTON HESTON simply playing (and arguably OVERWHELMING) the role of Ben Hur.

As a result, the story of Ben Hur becomes almost "Job-like." At the beginning of the story, he's presented as "a Jewish prince" from a well-to-do / well-connected family (living admittedly in "Roman-occupied Rome at the time of Jesus"), who finds himself _losing everything_ as a result of "circumstances outside his control."  He suffers enormously, and and comes to harbor an enormous amount of anger.  Jesus, or at least his message (as Jesus is actually portrayed as only a peripheral figure in the tale) _helps_ him (and CAN HELP US) to _let go of that anger_.

As such, I have to say I loved this _simpler version_ -- 3D notwithstanding though the 3D, notwithstanding the chariot race that might have been too fast to film using this technology, was actually about as good / clear as I've seen it -- BETTER than the CHARLTON HESTON one.

In any case, the current version COULD encourage young people today (teenagers to 20-somethings) to pick up the original novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] or perhaps at least look-up the 1959-Charlton Heston version.

As such, a surprisingly _good job_ here.  Good job! ;-)

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Anthropoid [2016]

MPAA (R)  Aktuálně (2 Stars)  ČervenýKoberec (3 1/2 Stars)  ChiTrib/WashPost (4 Stars) (2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CSFD listing*

Aktuálně.cz (M. Svoboda) review*
Červený (Tereza Šedivá) review*
Česká (M. Vacková) review* (M. Spáčilová) review* (M. Kabát) review* (D. Křivánková) review*

ChiTrib/WashPost (C. Kompanek) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (N. D'Angelo) review

Anthropoid [2014] [IMDb] [CSFD]* (directed and screenplay cowritten by Sean Ellis [IMDb] along with Anthony Frewin [IMDb]) tells the story of the Czechoslovak WW II operation code-named "Anthropoid" [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]*(meaning similar-to but less-than-human) to assassinate then Nazi "Reichsprotektor" of occupied Bohemia and Moravia Reinhardt Heydrich [en.wikip] [cz.wikip]*[de.wikip]*. 

The operation had been ordered by the Czechoslovak government in exile in Britain in good part "to prove" to their British hosts that Czechoslovakia was _still_ "willing to fight" Nazi tyranny, something rather rich / ironic because (1) Britain's previous Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was instrumental in _handing-over_ Czechoslovakia _on a plate_ to the Nazis in a vain / deluded attempt of averting war (arguably racially insulting the Czechoslovaks in the process: "This is all about a people we do not even know..."), and (2) despite this Czechoslovak as well as Polish pilots _helped save Britain_ two years later during the Battle of Britain [cs.wikip]*[cs.wikip-2]* when Britain was by then furiously making the planes to send-up to confront the Luftwaffe attacking Britain by that time but didn't have enough trained pilots to fly them.

In any case, the Czechoslovak government in exile ordered agents Jan Kubiš [cs.wikip]* (played in the film by Jamie Dornan) and Josef Gabčík [cs.wikip]* (played in the film by Cillian Murphy) to be parachuted into their Nazi occupied homeland to assassinate quite beastly Nazi governor (er "Reichsprotektor") of the country... hence the name for the operation "Anthropoid" (which means "similar-to but less-than-human"). 

The dangers of carrying-out the operation and its aftermath are presented quite faithfully in the film.  The Nazis, particularly under Reinhardt Heydrich, had largely decimated the Czech Resistance up to that point.  In his first days as "Reichsprotektor of Bohemia an Moravia", Heydrich had apparently ordered the summary execution of the Czech officers (several hundred in number) still detained as POWs from the initial over-running of the country (a massacre not unlike the infamous massacre of Polish Officers ordered by the NKVD in Katyń [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]*.  Captured resistance members were routinely tortured for their information and then shot after they were done.  A characteristic of the Czech resistance became being equipped with cyanide pills to take when capture was imminent so as to at least not reveal further information to the enemy.  A real fear expressed by the Czech resistance on the ground (and expressed quite poignantly in the film) was that an assassination attempt on Heydrich could endanger the very existence of the Czech people.  

Then, when the assassination was carried out, the reprisals _were_ horrific.  My own parents, Czech, who both lived as children in Nazi Occupied Prague at the time have BOTH told horrific stories to us of my generation (I was convinced as a child that my life would _never be_ nearly as dramatic as theirs had been) of the "Heydrichiada" [cs.wikip]* (translated as "The Heydrich Affair", or more literally and certainly in our time _more evocatively_ as "The Heydrich Games") that followed his death: For days, no Czech in his/her right mind dared to go onto the streets.  The SS would just count-off ten people that they encountered and shoot the 10th one.  TRULY for a week or two after the attempt on Heydrich's life, life in Prague was like that of The Purge [2013] (with the SS given essentially a license to kill at will).  Entire sections of Prague were searched block by block, house by house.  My mom's family _happened to have someone over_ at the time WHO FORGOT HER ID-PAPERS at her home.  The SS had even come into the building where my mother's family lived, though apparently / luckily they left before making it to their apartment.  PEOPLE AND THEIR ENTIRE FAMILIES WERE SHOT IF SOMEONE AMONG THEM DIDN'T HAVE THEIR PAPERS WITH THEM. 

In the end, according to the film at hand, some 5,000 Czechs were shot in reprisal for Heydrich's assassination, including, of course the massacre of all the men (by firing squad) and children (by gas), the women sent to forced labor camps (and told that their children were "sent to the Reich for adoption") of an entire _utterly random_ town, Lidice [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]*, condemned for its "involvement" in the assassination plot (it had none).

The final shoot-out [cs.wikip]*, dramatized in the film, between the Czechoslovak parachutists who had been sent to Prague to carry-out the assassination, and the SS, REALLY DID HAPPEN, and I MYSELF HAVE BEEN TO THE CHURCH - the Byzantine Rite Catholic Church of Cyril and Methodius [cs.wikip]* (who had fascinatingly been the APOSTLES TO THE SLAVS) - where it took place.

All in all, this was an excellent film.  And some of the actors / actresses, notably Aňa Geislerová [IMDb] [CSFD]*, several of who's films [1] [2] I have previously reviewed here) even played in this BRITISH, FRENCH and CZECH coproduction.  And it tells a story worth telling --Reinhardt Heydrich [en.wikip] [cz.wikip]*[de.wikip]*, the "Butcher of Prague", had been the #3 man in the Nazi heirarchy, and was the highest ranking Nazi to die in the War.  Further, despite the many, many Czech casualties following his assassination, _we_ Czechoslovaks GOT OUR GUY and remarkably _only him_, not his wife, not his kids, not even his guard.  WE GOT _HIM_.   And yes, despite the horrific costs that followed, there's something quite impressive about that.

As such, excellent and often deeply moving WW II film.

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

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChiTrib/LATimes (K. Walsh) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (K. Rife) review 

Florence Foster Jenkins [2016] (directed by Stephen Frears, screenplay by Nicholas Martin) is a 1940s era period piece that, thematically, really should have been R-rated -- there's flagrant (if to an _adult_ not entirely incomprehensible) adultery in it, fairly frank discussion of the effects of syphilis (back in the day before antibiotics), and it does argue a quite fascinating case _for_ hypocrisy that a 12-13, 15 or even 20 or 25 year old would probably _not_ be able to wrap one's head around.  (Honestly, IMHO most young people would probably _not_ understand this film _at all_ and this is reflected in some of the review citations I offer above).

Florence Foster Jenkins [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the film quite marvelously, of course ;-), by Meryl Streep ;-) was a _rich_ aging New York socialite at the end of the first half of the 20th century, who did apparently have some musical talent early in life (playing the concert piano).  However, her concert piano playing days came to a tragic end due to a very, very, very bad first marriage.  What to do?  Well, she got it into her head that she could sing.  Could she?  Well, no.

BUT ... she was rich.  A second, significantly younger than she, (common law) husband St Clair Bayfield [wikip] (played with admirable heart / complexity by Hugh Grant), who himself was a "never going to be an A-list Broadway let alone Shakespearean stage actor," both _used her_ (she was RICH, remember) _and_, honestly, _protected her_ ... so that her she never really had to confront her limits / delusions.


This is a film that a 35 year old would only _begin_ to understand.

Great and amusingly irritating film.  Just remember folks, when your 75-80 year-old grandmother burns a cake do you tell her that "it sucked"? ;-)

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Hell or High Water [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChicagoTribune (M. Philips) review (P. Sobczynski) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review  

Hell or High Water [2016] (directed by David Mackenzie, screenplay by Taylor Sheridan) is a relatively straightforward "Western" if set in Texas of the very recent past:

Two brothers, "modern day desperados", Toby (played by Chris Pine) and Tanner (played by Ben Foster) go on a crime spree -- holding-up banks (rather than stage coaches) in sleepy little towns dotting the West Texas plains -- hightailing it out of said towns in get-away cars (rather than on horses).   They're doing so to "save the family farm" from unscrupulous bank lenders (rather than "the railroads" of yore).  Of course, two Texas Rangers (played by Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham) are sent out (from their bureau in Lubbuck, TX) to bring them to justice.  At one point, the two brothers even head-up to "Indian Country" (an Indian run casino up in Oklahoma) where they quite ingeniously launder their cash (again, not a ton of cash ... enough to ... well ... possibly "save that farm).

So do they succeed in "saving the farm"?   Should they (be allowed to succeed... by the film-makers)?  IMHO, _that's_ what this film is about.

Westerns are generally stark and it's _generally easy_ to see who's "wearing the white hats" and "who's wearing the dark ones."  This is a bit more complicated because the protagonists are clearly breaking the law.  And yet, we in the audience _understand why_.  Still, the law is the the law, right?  And stealing is not merely "against the law" ... it's against the (7th/8th) Commandment -- THOU SHALT NOT STEAL. 

So how is this supposed to end?  And how are the two Texas Rangers supposed to look at this?  Should they just hunt them down?  Should they "try to understand"?  But should it be even part of _their job description_ to "try to understand"?   After all, most criminals _do_ "have a story..."

Anyway, this is a very simple story that should leave the Viewer with a lot of uncomfortable questions.  Again, anyone with a heart would _understand_ BUT ...

Good job ;-)

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sausage Party [2016]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  Fr. Dennis (0 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review

Sausage Party [2016] (directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, screenplay by Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, story by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill) is a film that I could not bring myself to spend money to see.

First, I'm honestly getting tired of the crudity.  I don't think of myself as a snob and have _generally_ enjoyed the Simpsons and even South Park over the years.  But I find myself getting tired of these after a while: Seriously, there's "more to this world" than puke, farts and dumb sexual jokes...

Then, I _don't like_ confusing _people_ with _things_.  I _don't mind_ personifying animals or even plants.  But I do find it _much more problematic_ when we start personifying cars, planes, and yes even _unduly_ personifying _toys_ (even though as kids we do use (play with) dolls / "action figures" as stand-ins for people).   But a car is _not_ a person.  A hotdog / hotdog bun _aren't_ people ...

And I am concerned that when we start thinking of "a car" as "a person just like you and me" we can start treating _people_ like _things_ as well.

Last week, I wrote exactly about this ... there was a scene in the DC Comics inspired film Suicide Squad [2016] where in preparation for evacuation a "tough as nails intelligence officer" ordered her four assistants to "wipe their hard drives (on their computers)" and as soon as they initiated that task, she proceeded _to shoot_ her four assistants each in the head (to presumably "wipe" _their_ own internal "hard drives" (brains  as well).

PEOPLE ARE NOT THINGS.  And when we start thinking of a _sausage_ / _sausage bun_ as "a person" we can start thinking of PEOPLE as mere "sausages" / "sausage buns" (to be consumed or even disposed of if we don't particularly like them...)

So even the film's crudity aside ... I DID NOT LIKE THE DIRECTION THAT THIS FILM WAS TAKING US.  We are OBJECTIFIED / COMMODIFIED ENOUGH AS IT IS ... we really _don't_ need to go further with that direction.

WE ARE NOT THINGS (and THINGS are not "just like us")

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