Sunday, December 9, 2018

Creed 2 [2018]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

Creed 2 [2018] (directed by Steven Caple Jr., story by Cheo Hodari Coker and Sascha Penn, screenplay by Sylvester Stallone and Juel Taylor, characters by Ryan Coogler) continues the generally satisfying Rocky franchise:

Adonis Johnson (played by Michael B. Jordon) son of Rocky Balboa's once great rival later fallen friend Apollo Creed first introduced to us in Creed [2015], is challenged by Viktor Drago (played by Florian Munteanu) son of Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren) the (Russian) fighter who had killed Apollo Creed in a boxing match and was finally bested by Rocky Balboa in Rocky 4 [1985]

It's a match made in fictionalized boxing (and actual Hollywood) heaven.  However, as is ever the case in the Rocky franchise (and certainly the franchise's greatest and most redeeming charm) the actual match becomes almost beside the point, as both Adonis and Viktor were fighting other demons far closer to home. 

Adonis, who was after all an illegitimate son of Apollo Creed and who had been portrayed in the previous film as having grown-up in various foster homes / institutions continues a still unfinished struggle, still largely unguided (though an aging Rocky, played still by Silvester Stallone, there in as much as he can to lend a helping hand) to achieve a more "normal," yes respectable life.  He has a girlfriend, a singer named Bianca (played by Tessa Thompson), who's also struggling, among other things with hearing impairment.  He feels he wants to marry her.  She honestly asks the question, why?  Soon a pregnancy, which becomes more complicated than perhaps initially expected, takes things to a new and quite poignant level.

Viktor, for his part, has been dealing with the effects of his father's "loss" to Rocky.  After Ivan lost that fight, Ivan's wife, Viktor's mother (played in the film by Bridgette Nielson), left him (and Victor) as a loser.  So Viktor has spent his entire life trying to redeem his father's (or at least his own) honor. 

Some years ago, I've come to see these "boxing" / "fighting" stories as fundamentally tragic.  So often BOTH of the "fighters" have compelling stories and honestly deserve "to win" and yet ... only one can.

So then this film to, while a fundamentally one (even as it is about a boxing match, it is also a sad one. 

I do wish that both could win.

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Green Book [2018]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Green Book [2018] (directed and cowritten by Peter Farrelly, along with Nick Vellelonga and Brian Hayes Currie) tells the sad story of what it was like "back in the day" for African American people in the Jim Crow South -- as special "Green Book" was put out by Exxon to help African Americans who were traveling to know which gas stations, hotels and restaurants would serve them (many indeed _most_ commercial establishments would not, and were legal protected by the Jim Crow (Segregationist) laws of the time from being required to do so.

As we discussed this movie over dinner in my Servite community recently, I confessed that I had a real difficulty watching the film -- it remains simply stunning to me that ANYONE much less someone claiming to be a Christian [Mt 25:40] or for that matter an American -- the "We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and all from our Declaration of Independence" -- could so blatantly even _gleefully_ mistreat an entire group (in this case, race) of human beings like this "You know, that's 'just' the way we do things here..." WHY???  I'd be either in jail, or would have set myself on fire or hung myself in despair (or so I'd hope...).

So then ... to the movie ...

Dr. Don Shirley [wikip] (played in the movie by Mahershala Ali), Florida born in 1927, Jamaican-American in ancestry, at age 9 he was invited to study music in the Soviet Union at the Leningrad Conservatory, and later having studied at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., he became virtuoso in CLASSICAL PIANO, something that African Americans at the time were not necessarily known for.  SO ... he decided, as part of his personal contribution to the African American Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s-60s, to embark on a tour of various cities in the Deep South to ... give concerts in classical music.  Since traveling in the Deep South as an African American was not necessarily safe at the time, he hired as a driver / bodyguard Tony "Lip" Vallelonga, a bouncer of Italian American ancestry at New York's Copacabana nightclub.   Tony was temporarily out of work because of "remodelling" being done at the club.

To the film's credit, Tony is not portrayed as some sort of a Civil Rights crusader.  He was doing this simply because he needed the work.  Tellingly, in an early scene, when Tony's wife Dolores (played by Linda Cardelini) had given two African American workmen who had come to their apartment for a plumbing job glasses of water, Tony discreetly took their glasses after they had finished AND THREW THEM AWAY (Dolores, seeing what her husband had done, later with similar discretion pulled them out of the trash and washed them).  The scene AS QUIETLY UGLY AS IT IS is in my mind COMPLETELY REALISTIC.  Yes, THAT was the time, my own family would have almost certainly done _no better_.

So ... as the story progressed, Tony learned what it was like to be ... black.  And Don Shirley learned ... IMHO that he had made the right decision to embark on his tour.  How many white Southerners he "converted" to accepting black Civil Rights, one can only guess, but he DID convert Tony.

Great story.

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Sunday, December 2, 2018

A Private War [2018]

MPAA (R) (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (N. Minow) review

A Private War [2018] (directed by Matthew Heineman, screenplay Arash Amel by based on the Vanity Fair article by Marie Brenner [VF] [IMDb]) tells the story of Marie Colvin [wikip] (played by Rosamund Pike) an (American) journalist who covered some of the most brutal dangerous conflicts / civil wars of our time from the Civil War in Tamil Tiger Civil War in Lanka (where she lost one of her eyes) to the Arab Spring inspired Revolution in Libya that deposed Gaddafi to the subsequent Syrian Civil War where she (not really a spoiler alert) she died during Seige of Homs.

This is a harrowing tale of a driven journalist who repeatedly risked her life to tell the stories of innocent people in war zones who otherwise we'd never know about.  Why did she do it?  That's one of the questions that the movie asks viewers to consider.  Yet, whatever her motive, and it was almost certainly mostly pure, we owe her and other journalists like her an enormous debt.  Justice depends on being able to understand what's going on.  She and other journalists like her help us to understand precisely that -- what's going on.   A deep deep thank you for journalists like her.

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At Eternity's Gate [2018]

MPAA (PG-13) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review

At Eternity's Gate [2018] (directed and cowritten by Julian Schnabel along with Jean-Claude Carrière and Louise Kugelberg) tells the story, again, of tormented impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the current film quite admirably by Willem Dafoe).

Why would an artist who _never_ sold even one of his paintings during his life time, who clearly was tormented (he _cut off his ear_ for God's sake in apparently a terribly misguided expression of ... unrequited love) and who arguably committed suicide (though he could have even flubbed that up ... being killed instead by simply random petty thieves) BE SO FASCINATING TO SO MANY PEOPLE (US) TODAY?  Exactly ;-)

It would seem that Vincent Van Gogh was an archeotypical supremely talented but tormented, misunderstood ... LOSER ;-). 

It would seem that his legacy embodies fundamental fears that many of us have of "never being able to make our mark" (though somehow we'd feel entitled to make said mark ;-).  And yes, like Franz Kafka (another tormented soul, never really appreciated in his lifetime) he's been vindicated -- IN SPADES (!) -- since his death, more than a century ago (!).  TODAY we look at his pictures, so many of them SO FAMOUS _now_ and wonder "how it it possible that people didn't see his genius while he was alive?"

SO ... quiet loser in his life time (and again Willem Dafoe plays him really, really well) ... he embodies a hope that "one day" those who don't understand us ... will.

Honestly, GREAT introspective / tormented, and dare one say _impressionistic_ film ;-).

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Saturday, December 1, 2018

2.0 [2018]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13) (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
FiBt listing (S. Abrams) review

2.0 [2018] [IMDb] [FiBt] (directed and tamil dialogue cowritten by S. Shankar [IMDb] [FiBt], along with Jayamohan [IMDb] and Lakshmi Saravanakumar [IMDb], hindi dialogue written by Abbas Tyrewala [IMDb]) is a fun if apparently wildly expensive Indian (Tamil) Sci-Fi film about "The Day the Cell Phones Disappeared."

What happened?  They just all "flew away," right out of people's hands all over the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, one day.  Why?

Well, they seem to have been "called together" by the soul of a tormented environmental activist named Pakshi Rajan (played by Akshay Kumar [IMDb] [FiBt]) who had been convinced that microwaves from cell phones were killing birds (by frying their brains).  So in despair, he had hung himself from a cell-tower in protest and ... his soul apparently got sucked into the microwave ether where ... he became able to call all the cell phones from all over the state to form a shape changing "flock" of cell phones that sometimes even took the form of a GIGANTIC bird of prey that would attack random "people of interest" (usually promoters of cell phone and other "anti-bird" technology) throughout Tamil Nadu.

Enter a geeky scientist named Dr. Vaseegaran (played by Rajinikanth [IMDb] [FiBt]),  He too was (mildly) bitter.  He had previously created a marvelous all-purpose (but particularly adept at law-enforcement) robot named ... Chitti (also played by Rajinikanth [IMDb] [FiBt]).  But the good doctor had been forced previously (at the end of a previous film... Endhiran [2010] [IMDb] [FiBt]) to terminate his research by a government not particularly interested in robotic technology (in a country with so many PEOPLE desperate for work / livelihoods).  Sooo ... pouting a bit ... he contented himself with creating a simultaneously hot yet sensible looking / super intelligent robotic personal assistant named Nila (played by Amy Jackson [IMDb] [FiBt]) to "accompany him" in his "waning years."  Honestly Asimov would have been awe-struck by (and perhaps tormented over) Nila.  She was truly EVERYTHING but ... free (but, of course, programmed not to mind...).

But now the country was in peril.  So the Government FINALLY gives him the permission to "unleash" his original creation, Chitti, into the fray to battle this otherworldly cellphone dominating Monster.  Much often very, very funny ensues... in good part because "Chitti" is not exactly "robocop" but rather a rather chatty, again, truly all-purpose robot ;-).  Anyway, much ensues ...

A fair question could be asked:  Does the plot make sense?  BUT does it have to?  Did ANY of the plots of Sharknado movies ever make sense?  What about the Spielberg, Belushi, Aykroyd "flop" 1941?  There are SO MANY sight gags, one liners, two liners in this film that to complain about "plot integrity" would be to WILDLY MISS THE POINT ;-).  A truly fun / great job ;-)

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Ralph Breaks the Internet [2018]

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

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

Ralph Breaks the Internet [2018] (codirected by Phil Johnston and Rich Moore, screenplay cowritten by Phil Johnston and Pamela Ribon, story cowritten by Rich MoorePhil Johnston, Jim Reardon, Pamela Ribon and Josie Trinidad additional material by Kelly Younger) is a film that I honestly liked better before I set out to write about it as I do believe there are some aspects of the film that I do believe were not particularly well thought out.

The film begins where the surprise children's animated hit Wreck-it Ralph [2012] left-off.  So, like the original it is set among the community of characters living inside the video games of a Video Arcade.  Each night after the arcade shuts down the characters gather together -- traveling up and down the electric cords that power their machines and connect them together -- to catch-up on the day's events.

We find that Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) has generally found his peace with having been literally programmed in the video game featuring him to be game's "villain" (the one who breaks things, that another character in the game then tries to fix...).  He's learned that after clocking out for the for the night that he can literally "leave his job behind" and "become his own person" among the other characters from his / the other games.  (There's an amusing scene near the end of the current film where Ralph and some of the other "villain characters" from some of the other video games are "discussing Dostoyevsky" in the support group that they have formed ;-).

But among the various characters from the other games, Ralph's come to be particularly close (in, one hopes..., a generally "foster father / "mentor" sort of way...) to another, significantly younger sounding character, named Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman).  She's a character, at one point nicknamed "Glitch" because she wasn't perfect, from a young girl-oriented car racing arcade game named "Sugar Rush" that in the previous film, he felt sorry for / helped.  Indeed, trying to keep her happy -- Vanellope was _mildly_ complaining that she's been getting rather bored as she's been riding the same courses in her video game name for years -- Ralph uses his "wreck-things" ability to try to carve out a new course for Vanellope in her game.

HOWEVER, when the next morning the first human beings, two young girls, come in to play the "Sugar Rush" game, because the new course was so new / challenging they accidentally rip the steering wheel off of the arcade game.  Since a replacement steering wheel for, let's face it, a rather old arcade game would run over $200, the owner of the Arcade decides to just "unplug" the "Sugar Rush" game and makes plans to send it to the scrap heap.

What to do?  Well it turns out that the Arcade Owner had plugged in a new gadget in the recent days called a "Wifi-Server" ;-) and ... even though initially the characters from the various Arcade games found "the Server" "kinda boring", they soon learn that "if only" ... Ralph and Vanellope could (1) get to over the internet ;-), they could buy the replacement steering wheel for the "Sugar Rush" game and (2) make some money on the internet to pay for it, they could fix the game themselves so that the Owner wouldn't have to get rid of it.  And so, Ralph and Vanellope set off to surf (inside) the Internet and ... much ensues ;-).

Among that which ensues is that the effervescent Vanellope finds a far cooler (if somewhat more violent) auto race game there called "Slaughter Race" that she finds she ... kinda likes.  It's so different from the bouncy / happy "Sugar Rush" game that she's literally "always known," and she also makes friends with a rather gruff if kind female race car driver from that game named Shank (voiced by Gal Godot).

While on the Internet, Vanellope also runs into the "Disney Princesses" and ... and is forced to confront the question(s): (1) Is she first / foremost "a princess" herself _or_ "a race car driver, " and (2) what's exactly "a princess" (a nice / good behaved girl) supposed to be anyway.  And as Vanellope tries to figure herself out, the _other_ Disney Princesses begin to re-evaluate their own understandings of themselves.  SERIOUSLY the "Princess" scenes here are fascinating.

In the midst of this Ralph becomes somewhat confused: He's been trying to come up with ways to make some money on the internet so that he could buy that replacement steering wheel for his friend / charge Vanellope so that she could come back with him to the Video Arcade BUT even he's starting to see that Vanellope is really "finding life" / "new challenges / opportunities" _elsewhere_ ... inside this boundless universe of the Internet.  SO ... what to do?

That's thematically the rest of the film.  Honestly, the questions asked in the film are interesting.  I just wish there wasn't such an age difference between Ralph and Vanallope.  They have, I suppose a "step father / step daughter" or "mentor / mentee" relationship but it's not clear and honestly after a point I've started to be somewhat creeped-out by it.

So, honestly, as good as the film is on one one hand, on the other it's really more for the adults, the "Ralphs" of this world than for the Vanallopes / children of the world.  And this is why I give it a lower rating than I initially would have.

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Saturday, November 10, 2018

AFI Fest 2018

Of the films which played at the 2018 American Film Institute (AFI) Film Festival, I was able to view and review the following: 

Sir [2018] [IMDb] [FiBt](written and directed by Rohena Gera [IMDb] [FiBt]) scheduled for release in the United States in December 2018 is an INDIAN FILM which tells the story of Ratna (played by Tillotama Shome [IMDb] [FiBt]) a mid-to-late 30-something widow from the villages who took a job in Mumbai as a maid for a late 20-early 30-something engineer / son of a developer (played by Vivek Gomber [IMDb] [FiBt]) who, though obviously he has a name, through most of the film she simply calls "Sir."   Since the story essentially begins with Ashwim, "Sir," coming home from overseas, distracted / angry because _he_ had just called off his wedding to someone he simply came to the conclusion he did not love, the first 15-20 minutes of the film are somewhat painful to watch because this chiseled / pampered pretty boy really treated Ratna quite rudely (in good part because he was "distracted" BUT ...).  Still as he slowly goes through his personal drama, he of course, "lightens up."  And the rest of the story proceeds from there reminding us all that one really can't "judge a book by its cover" and yet THOSE "COVERS" ARE THERE ... The story becomes a powerful reminder of the multitude of barriers that separated us.  EXCELLENT FILM and I'm SO GLAD that this film apparently will make it to American theaters later in the year.  IT'S WORTH THE VIEW (4+ Stars) 

Amateurs (orig. Amatörer) [IMDb] [CEu] (directed and cowritten by Gabriela Pichler [IMDb] [CEu] along with Jonas Hassen Khemiri [IMDb] [CEu]) is a SWEDISH film playing out in a fictionalized  town called Lafors, somewhere in the middle of the Swedish countryside.  After getting word that a German firm was looking to put-up a "Superbilly" Walmart-like "big-box" store in Lafors, the city-council decides to come-up with a "promotional video" to sell the town.  But how to do so?  

With no budget, a still rather young (and Arab-born...) city councilman named Musse (played by Fredrick Dahl [IMDb] [CEu]) comes up with the idea of going to the local high school to ask the teens to put together a film for them.  What could go wrong?  Right?  Well ... ;-) ...

Did I mention that this was a "sleepy little town"?  

So ... a number of boys in the school decide to "spice things up" by producing a (still amateurly produced, they're 15 year olds after all) _hip-hopping_ clip that looked like a trailer to an inner-city drug-gang crime drama (yup EXACTLY what one would want to show a bunch of out-of-town executives considering building A BIG BOX STORE in their town ;-).  

Then there was a fifteen year old classically Nordic (ethnically Swedish) girl who produced an Ingmar Bergman inspired SOLO piece in which her sad existential angst-filled voice-over says: "This town is SOO boring, I have no friends, nobody understands me, I just want to ..." and the town council ends viewing her clip as it shows her heading toward the bridge at the edge of town to ... the final joke being that even if she were to fling herself off of said bridge BOTH the bridge was so low and the river so shallow that NOTHING would have happened to her anyway ;-) ;-).  

FINALLY, there was the submission of two immigrant girls Aida (played by Zahraa Aldoujaili) and Dana (played by Yara Aliadotter) that seems to capture the honest spirit of the town BUT ... there still were problems: They portrayed a town that was still "kinda boring."  One of the shots in their submission showed one of the two girls' moms mopping the floor at night at the local city hall (but ... THAT WAS ONE OF THEIR MOTHERS' JOBS).  And then of the two girls, one was "a little too dark" and the other "a little too fat" with even a little bit of a gender-bending lezy vibe (but they were _just fifteen_...) to their friendship, to promote the lively, fit and classically SWEDISH "image" that the town's council wanted to portray.  BUT (eye roll) ... "HEY, you asked us for an honest film about the town!  What's wrong with our clip!  We didn't show anything bad!  We just showed real / normal people (including us) during real / normal things!"

And this then becomes main question in the film (about the making of a film): Does one portray (and _embrace_) reality?  Or does one decide to strive for some _false_, _unattainable_ and even _racist_ "ideal"?   One heck of a story ;-) -- 4+ Stars ;-).

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.

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