Friday, March 30, 2012

Mirror Mirror [2012]

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

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

Mirror Mirror (directed by Tarsem Singh, screenplay by Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller) is a retelling of the Brothers Grimm [IMDb] fairytale Snow White and the Seven Dwarves [IMDb] (Grimm's-text/Eng trans).

The film follows the longstanding tradition of putting traditional fairy tales on the screen and then revisiting them as times and culture/tastes change.  Over the past several years, there have been several such re-tellings/re-imaginings of popular Grimm fairy tales.  These have included Disney's Tangled [2011], the Twilight-feeling Red Riding Hood [2011] (and for good reason as it was directed by Catherine Hardwicke who also directed the original Twilight [2008] film) and even Hanna [2011] which does not recall any particular Grimm Fairy Tale but makes use of a number of such fairy tales' conventions.  Of these fairy tale re-tellings, Mirror Mirror's lightness and nod to the broad cultural shift toward female empowerment makes it closest in spirit to Tangled [2011] or perhaps Enchanted [2007].

Regarding this cultural shift, I've found it almost universal.  Even the otherwise most conservative/traditionalist of parents want their daughters to be happy and to succeed.  IMHO, a beautiful 3 1/2 minute encapsulation of what has happened in the United States over the last generation and what really has happened all around the world can be found in pop/country singer Carrie Underwood's song/video All American Girl [2008]).

This spirit then can be found in this re-telling of the Snow White fairy tale.  First and foremost, Snow (played by Lily Collins) no longer particularly needs Prince Charming (the very regally named "Prince Alcott" in the film and played by Armie Hammer) to "save her."  She does just fine on her own and arguably saves the hunky if not particularly bright prince a few times.

Indeed, the Prince's "hunkiness" makes-up part of the story's retelling.  He is "Prince charming" after all ;-).  And even the Evil Queen/Step-Mother (played WONDERFULLY throughout by Julia Roberts) asks at Prince Alcott at one point (who she's also scheming to marry) to "put a shirt on ... it's just so ... distracting" ;-).  Why didn't the Prince have a shirt on?  Well, he keeps getting attacked and bested by the Dwarfs (quite literally "the little people" ... ;-) whenever he enters the woods, and they keep "taking his clothes" :-).  So he keeps coming back to the castle with just his "long johns" on ;-).

Then, why are the Dwarfs in the woods anyway?  Well they, again literally "the little people," had been literally "marginalized," that is kicked out of the village by the Evil Queen / Step-mother as "undesirable."  So besides being short, the Dwarfs are also multiracial, more blue-collarish ("Half-Pint" played by Mark Povinelli who is otherwise easily as hunky as Prince Alcott if only 3 feet tall...), and at least one of them, "Napoleon" (played by Jordon Prentice), is "gay-ish."  Why would the Dwarves go by names like "Half Pint" and "Napoleon?" Well it was Disney that invented the Dwarfs' names like Happy, Sleepy, Grumpy and so forth in the 1937 classic.  And so there it is ...

I am positive that some people will not like some of the re-imagining done in this film.  But there is a fascinating and indeed FUN logic to it.  (I also liked the insight in the recent Red Riding Hood movie about the grandmother in that story.  Why would "grandma live in the woods, far from the village" in that story?  Well, according to that movie, she was kind of an "out there" new agey, half-witchy, wierdo ;-).

So I get the "dwarf" Napoleon.  Remember that some 5% of any population (except apparently in Iran ... ;-) is gay.  Pretty much every adult knows, works with, or otherwise is friends with someone or even a bunch of folks who are gay.  Again, times have changed and the gays not only in the United States but throughout the whole world are rightfully refusing to remain "in the closet" or (in the metaphor of this film) "marginalized, out in the woods" anymore.

Further, the marginalized often end up being the most creative in society.  So one could complain "Why are these previously marginalized, indeed, often invisible people appearing now in so many of our films?"  Well, welcome to our actual world/society.

And this then meshes quite well with the scene that I personally found most irritating in the film: At the end of the film, Snow's father, the King (played by Sean Bean), comes back after "many years away" and marries-off Snow and the Prince.  In doing so, he says "By the power vested in me, by ... me <laughs> ... I pronounce you ..."  Thirty years ago, the King's character would have said "By the power vested in me by God ..."  Now one could get upset about this (and initially I was ;-) but then one needs to consider that the director, Tarsem Singh, is of Indian descent.  It'd be a lot to force someone of Indian descent to apply "traditional Western/Christian terminology" to the film that he's making when he himself is not of Western/Christian extraction.

So we live in a pluralistic society and in a pluralistic world.  And with that we do have to accept language will often be different from what we'd prefer.  But we also gain much by accepting the gifts of others.  In the case of this film, Tarsem Singh gives viewers a true "Bollywood ending" with an extravagant happy dance number involving pretty much the whole cast at the end.

Would I recommend the film to others?  Sure. It's cute, it's nice and it is of our times.

The presence of the "gayish" dwarf Napoleon may irritate some.  But my sense is that virtually all families in the United States are dealing with (and yes accepting) homosexual siblings, cousins, nephews, coworkers, friends etc already.  And Napoleon is merely among the other previously marginalized "little people" in the film who were "chased out of the village and into the woods by the Evil Queen" because he/they were "different."  So yes, it may be irritating to some.  But then, imagine if you were one of the "marginalized" in the past (gay or "merely" of the wrong skin color/ethnicity ...).

Inclusion is a "Sign of the Times."  At times it may seem like a real challenge.  On the other hand it also protects us.  If we truly believe that we all come from the same Creator and hence are brothers and sisters to each other, then it becomes harder to exclude/marginalize _us_ as well.  For there are always plenty of folks who would like to "push us aside"/marginalize _us_ and for any number of reasons: too big, too short, too skinny, too fat, too this way, too that way ... But (if we believe) God remains the Father of us all.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

October Baby [2011]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  Roger Ebert (2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

October Baby (directed by Andrew and Jon Erwin, story by Andrew and Jon Erwin as well as Cecil Stokes, screenplay by Jon Erwin and Theresa Preston) is an excellent and remarkably sensitive movie about the extremely divisive issue of abortion.

Given the subject matter and that the film takes a proLife if hand outstretched for eventual reconciliation stance, it may not be easy for many viewers to find the movie playing in many metropolitan areas.  Though living in Chicago, the 3rd largest city in the United States, I had to go to the suburbs of NW Indiana to see it ... reports that the film opened in 390 theaters nationwide, grossed $1.9 million in its first weekend making it #8 box office with a respectable $4.4k/screen average, all quite good for a film that many certainly would have preferred have deep-sixed.

What's the film about?  College freshman, 19-year-old Hannah (played by Rachel Hendrix) collapses on stage during a school play.  Her fainting like this had not happened to her in some years but apparently the pressure of the play as well as college had exacerbated previous health issues which had been numerous since she had been born very prematurely.  At a meeting with her doctor (played by Lance Nichols) a longtime family friend, Hannah's parents Jacob (played by John Schneider) and Grace (played by Jennifer Price) reveal to her why, in fact, she was born so prematurely and had suffered so many earlier health problems -- she had been born prematurely as a result of an interrupted abortion procedure.

How could that be?  Later in the film, Hannah, talking to Mary (played by Jasmine Guy), the nurse who had signed her birth certificate finds from Mary what had happened.  Hannah's mother had come to the abortion clinic where Mary had worked to get an abortion.  But just as the procedure began, she had second thoughts, asked that the procedure be stopped and then ran out of the clinic.  The next day, she came back saying that she's ready now.  Yet, Mary noticed that she was now in the first stages of labor.  So she ran her to the hospital, where she gave birth to twins -- a boy, who was already missing an arm and then Hannah who was intact.  Both, however were very, very premature.  The mother, we find out her name was Cindy (played by Shari Rigby) who did not want them, abandoned them in the hospital and continued on then with her life.

Hannah's parents, Baptist, who had just suffered a miscarriage of twins, saw a posting on a Catholic church bulletin board about the 10 day-old twins born in another if nearby state and immediately decided to adopt them.  The boy, who they named Jonathan, died shortly thereafter.  However, Hannah did make it even if she did need a number of hip surgeries as a child, suffered with occasional epileptic seizures throughout childhood and continued to need an inhaler due to problems with her lungs.  Was the world better for her being present in the world?  The viewer would obviously say yes.  However, Hannah herself had her doubts.

So the film, that does come to involve a "road trip" from her home city to Mobile, Alabama and later to nearby New Orleans, where she finds that her birth-mother Cindy now works as a fairly successful lawyer, becomes a film about self-discovery, discerning values [TM] and ultimately about feeling "wanted."

As such, while about an extreme case -- abortion -- like other films about extreme cases (the films Beginners and more recently Being Flynn come to mind) October Baby is thematically about much more than that.  And the film does offer a hand of reconciliation to "the other side" though, yes, with a pointed "catch."

The film, with some beautiful scenery in it, is a plea to reflect on all of society's values: "What profits a man (or woman) to become 'successful' (in this case a lawyer), if it comes at the cost of sacrificing one's own children?"  Yes, there's forgiveness at the end of the road, yes it was/is all complicated. But at the end of the day, it is a question about values that enter into the equation long before arriving at the abortion clinic -- Is "success" really worth killing for?

And, yes, I do absolutely agree -- EVERY LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home [2011]

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

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

Jeff, Who Lives at Home (written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass) is a generally light, often funny and often very human comedy about two grown brothers, Jeff (played by Jason Segal) and Pat (played by Ed Helms) and their mom, Sharon (played by Susan Sarandon), none of whom ever really recovered from the death of their father/husband many years/decades earlier.

Jeff never really grew up.  As the title declares, Jeff, approaching or even passing age 30, still "lives at home," in the basement.  Pat, though married, to Linda (played by Judy Greer), also hasn't really grown-up and as we quickly observe has more or less obvious problems in his marriage.  Finally, even though there's reference to Sharon having had a number of relationships in earlier years following the death of her husband's, at 50+ she's finding herself increasingly worried that time for that has passed.  Further, she's not blind to and is clearly unhappy with the emotional stuntedness of both of her sons.  She confesses to Carol, a coworker (played by Rae Dawn Chong) that she finds herself "hating" her sons.  "When did that happen?" she asks, "They used to be so cute..."

The story takes place over the course of a single day, mom's (Sharon's) birthday.  Jeff's getting up, late as usual.  The phone rings.  On the phone there's a voice demanding to talk to "Kevin."  Somewhat confused, Jeff answers, "There's no Kevin living here..." The caller hangs up.  But then Jeff in his naivete no doubt "helped" by years of smoking marijuana (Parents definitely take note ...) asks himself "What if there are no wrong numbers? What if every phone call that we receive we're supposed to receive."  He pulls out his bong..., does a couple of hits and then starts playing with the letters in the name Kevin, searching for a potential message in the name....

Soon however mom calls, from work..., asking Jeff to just get dressed, take the money that she left for him on the kitchen table, go to a hardware store, buy some glue and finally fix wooden shutter on the venetian blind that's been broken for some time.  And she asks him to do this "as a present to her" for her birthday.  Mildly irritated -- after all he has a "Kevin mystery" to solve :-) -- Jeff gets dressed, takes the $10 left for him on the kitchen table, heads off to the bus stop (of course...) to take the bus to the hardware store to get the glue.  Much ensues ...

What follows is generally a light comedy of errors as well as (as the reader/viewer would surely guess) a reflection on our "interconnectedness." 

HOWEVER, there is an aspect of the film that some more conservative Catholics/Christians will not like, in good part because it comes rather "out of left field" (unexpectedly).  I don't know how to approach the subject without revealing a fairly key event in the trajectory of the story other than having warned readers in this way (that some more conservative readers will not like it), I recommend that those who don't want reviews to reveal too much about the film to stop reading here (with parents just noting the drug use mentioned above).

SPOILER ALERT FROM THIS POINT ONWARD.  As the film progresses, it becomes clear that Sharon (the mother) is very, very lonely.  Yet, this day because it is her birthday, she starts getting rather flirtatious e-mails over the company server and someone throws a paper airplane into her cubicle.  When she opens up the paper airplane, it opens up into a picture of a flower.  So she gets all excited about the possibility of there being a "secret admirer" among her co-workers.  Then to some initial horror, she finds that her "secret admirer" is her best friend at the office / confidante Carol and, further to her initial horror/discomfort it becomes clear that Carol meant her flirtations seriously/sincerely.  So a movie about "interconnectedness" now becomes a movie at least in part about age 50+ lesbianism.

What to do now?  In part, propagandists/extremists on both sides will feel thoroughly "validated" by the film's unexpected turn of events.  More activist gays ("We're here, we're queer, deal with it...") could applaud the film's bravery, while those ardently opposed to any kind of accommodation with what they perceive as a "Gay agenda," could feel that this film _proves_ the validity of their greatest concern: That gays/lesbians will not be content with living out their lifestyle within the community of  those openly gay but seek to "evangelize" everybody, even obviously straight people, coercing them to get involved in relationships (or reject and therefore cause pain to manipulative gay acquaintances) that they would more or less obviously not freely choose.  In the film while initially recoiling at horror to Carol's come-on, Sharon rather quickly becomes "more open to it."  Whether this reflects reality, I'd let the reader/viewer decide, my only adding that Sharon's reaction in the film is, of course, dictated by the demands of the filmmakers/script ...

My own opinion in the matter could be summarized by these two points:  First, I think the situation actually illustrates somewhat well the Catholic Church's fundamental position on homosexuality, that it's a disordered condition.  Over the last few decades plenty of us, myself included, have not particularly liked the pejorative connotation that the word "disordered" carries.  I would suggest difficult condition could be better.  Indeed, Vatican's Declaration on homosexually after labeling it a "disordered condition" continues declaring that most homosexuals experience their condition "as a cross."  Hence difficult could be a far better adjective to use than disordered.  Further, since most studies indicate that only a small percentage of people are actually homosexual, rejection, already difficult for anybody becomes even more common / a burden for gays than for straights.  And yet, if one truly believes and respects freedom of conscience/choice, one has to respect the sincere heterosexual letting down the homosexual with the words, "I'm sorry, but I really am not that way."

My second concern would be this.  I'm finding the trend toward sexualizing friendship in film / culture annoying/dangerous.  How many women have wanted over these past decades to be treated by men as friends rather than sex objects?  The scene played out between Sharon and Carol sexualizes what Sharon had previously treasured as a friendship (and here not even between her and a man, but her and another woman).  Where or when does it stop?  Today, after a serious of profoundly disturbing scandals (that obviously the Catholic Church has been involved in) any kind of sexual relationship between an adult and a minor is considered as perverse by society.  Yet, if we continue the trend of sexualizing human relationships, will sexualized relationships between adults and minors come to be seen as okay, indeed inevitable, in the future?

The Catholic Church, while not denying the power of the sex drive, calling it Lust in times past, nevertheless defends the right of people to consider themselves as more than merely sexual beings.  Yes, "male and female God created them" [Gen 1:28].  But we are more than just this.

In this light, I would invite readers to read John Paul II's two Apostolic Letters On the Dignity and Vocation of Women (Mulieris Dignitatem) [1988] and On the Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and the Church (Redemptoris Custos) [1989], as they are reflections on the dignity and vocations of men and women extending beyond the realm of the merely sexual.  Yes, the sexual aspect of our human nature is important but it can not be allowed to be all defining.

 Returning then to the film, I found, Jeff, Who Lives at Home to often be very good, but it does take unsuspecting viewers down a path that they did not necessarily bargain for when they entered the theater.  Thus viewers ought to be warned.  Beyond the film's surprising "philosophical turn" regarding homosexuality, parents ought to be warned (as above) at the film's open portrayal of drug use.

Still despite these rather large "strikes" against it, the "interconnectedness theme" as well as the characters' dealing (even many years/decades later) with the effect of the loss of a parent/spouse makes the film worthy of adult consideration/reflection.  Just come to the film prepared for all that it is about...

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Hunger Games [2012]

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

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

The Hunger Games, directed and cowritten by Gary Ross along with Suzanne Collins [IMDb] and Billy Ray is based on a recent young adult novel The Hunger Games (first published in 2008) written as the first part of a highly successful trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  The story is set at least 100 years into the future in a North America that for reasons unclear had been transformed into a single totalitarian state divided into 12 and possibly 13 districts still seething after a failed rebellion some 75 years before.  As a result of the rebellion, the regime of Panam as the new country is called, demands a yearly tribute of a young man and a young woman from each District to compete in a "Reality Show meets Gladiator Contest to the Death" called "The Hunger Games" whose spectacle keeps the Districts both transfixed and in line.

Since, needless to say, few volunteer for a competition in which only one has only a 1 in 24 chance of coming out alive, "contestants" are generally picked by a lottery called a "Reaping" held in each district by delegates sent out to each District from the Capitol.  The lottery is "weighted" apparently based on both clout and troublesome behavior.  Well connected people have less chance of being picked while young people who themselves (or their families) have been in trouble with the authorities find themselves with proportionally more chances of being picked.

There also appears to be a minimum age at which a child becomes entered into the lottery.  Indeed, Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) from back-woods District #12 (which looks like Appalachia from before LBJ's Great Society) finds herself actually volunteering for the contest after, to her horror, her little sister Primrose (played by Willow Shields) who had just become eligible for the lottery got selected.  Rather than have to watch her little sister be lead to certain slaughter, Katniss who knew a thing about hunting (with a bow and arrow no less) volunteers to take her place.  The other unlucky person to be selected was baker's son Peeta Mellark (played by Josh Hutcherson) and took his selection as a virtual death sentence.

What follows in the story is reality television driven to its worst possible conclusion and then on several levels:

First, despite the fact that the Hunger Games was an annual contest to the death in which only 1 in 24 contestants, "the winner," could come out alive, the Regime (and depressingly, the larger society) choose to pretend that it is a Pageant.  The "contestants" who are soon going to be killing each other are introduced to the larger society through a series of televised spectacles.  They're dressed in stylish clothes (each supposedly representing the "dress and customs" of the Districts from which they came) and process into a cheering stadium of onlookers on stylized motorized chariots.  Later they're each interviewed a la television talk show host who seeks to produce superficially compelling "back stories" for each of the contestants.  The "contestants" from each district are also given a "team" to coach them.  Katniss' and Peeta's head coach/mentor is Haymitch Abernathy (played by Woody Harrelson) the only other constant from District #12 ever to win the contest.  Needless to say, he initially comes across as completely insane (from Post Traumatic Stress...) as a result of surviving (er "winning") said contest.  He does sober-up and become more useful as the story continues as he starts to see that his "contestants" this year, especially Katniss, had a serious chance of "winning" (er "surviving") as well.  Finally, each of the "contestants" is given opportunity to in someway "impress" (brown-nose) potential "sponsors," who become key in the subsequent contest as "sponsors" could purchase potentially life-saving equipment (sometimes as basic as matches to light a fire) for the contestants and deliver said equipment to them.

Then when the contest actually begins, the contestants are dumped in a large "wilderness arena" which is nevertheless riddled with cameras like in The Truman Show [1998] so that the television audience to watch the action.  Play by play is naturally offered, and if the contestants prove insufficiently involved in the bloodletting, they are prodded by various means to get more involved.  Much somewhat sanitized violent bloodletting ensues... (Parents take note... I do believe that the film is suitable for high school students, but for those much younger than that, I really don't see a point.  The film would be way too violent for pre-teens and I just don't think pre-teens would understand the story in any case).

Objections.  I understand and largely agree with the story's/film's condemnation of savage competition.  Already with regards to the recent film The Warrior [2011], I noted that the great tragedy portrayed in that film was that two brothers each with compelling stories both deserved to win but that only one could do so.  In The Hunger Games, there were 24 contestants, most unwilling, forced to compete in a competition in which only one could survive.  I find such competition shockingly appalling and fundamentally immoral.  We are, after all, supposed to all be God's Children and hence all deserving of Life (as well as Liberty and yes Happiness.  Perhaps to the surprise of many, both the American Founding Fathers and the Catholic Church had/have this right).

My principal objection to the scenario is that in author Collin's world of the future there appeared to be no religion left to oppose this annual ritual of murder.  Yes, according to the story the 12 Districts did revolt against the central authority of Panam and indeed that is why the Hunger Games were supposedly instituted.

However, I'd find it hard to believe that there would be no Christians/Catholics left (in Appalachia no less) to oppose (even to their own deaths) this crazy Gladiator-like spectacle.  After all, the first Christians opposed the same kind of bloodletting in ancient Rome (and went to their deaths opposing it, being times even 'fed to the lions' for sport).  There is simply no way that I'd put-up with such a horror and I honestly do not believe that I'd be alone.  Killing people for sport on TV?  Simply no way, while there's still even a small band of Christians or Catholics left.

So while I do think that the story is compelling, I don't buy the scenario: Catholicism/Christianity would simply have to be completely wiped-out for something like this to take place because there is no way that the Church/Christianity would allow such a contest to take place no matter how popular such a contest could perhaps be.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

The Christening (orig. Chrzest) [2010]

Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing - listing (PL orig, ENG trans)

The Christening (orig. Chrzest) [IMDb] [FPL] [ENG trans]directed by Marcin Wrona [IMDb] [FPL][ENG trans] and written by Dariusz Glazer, Grzegorz Jankowski and Grazyna Trela is an excellent if supremely sad Polish film set in contemporary Poland which played recently at the 15th Annual European Union Film Festival being held at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago throughout March, 2012.

Mid-late 20-something Michal (played by Wojciech Zielinski [IMDb][FPL][ENG-trans]) seems to have made it.  He has a successful (glass) business, lives in a high rise apartment in a modern section of town at apparently the outskirts of Warsaw.  He's married to a beautiful, young wife Magda (played by Natalia Rybicka [IMDb][FPL][ENG-trans]) who loves him.  Together they have a newborn son who they're getting baptized.  Michal's invited his childhood friend Janek (played by Tomasz Schuchardt [IMDb][FPL][ENG trans]), who's just finishing up military service, to be his newborn son's godfather.  When Janek arrives, Michal takes him to the roof of the apartment complex where he is living and with pride points in every direction saying that his glass windows are in every building around.

By all appearances, this should be a happy time.  But of course it is not ... because it becomes progressively evident that Michal's life is _still_ just a "house of cards." Soon, as in a terrible nightmare everything starts to fall apart.

An American viewer may really be shocked by the film's trajectory:  How could one make a movie where by midway through the film all that's left for the viewer to wonder is whether the movie is going to end "merely moderately terribly" or "full throttle 'dear God will this really end in the worst possible way' terribly?"

But then this film comes from Poland (folks, welcome to Eastern Europe...), where even when World War II or the Communist era are no longer present or even referenced directly, the psychic scars clearly remain. 

Before returning to the story, a few words here should be said about the technical quality of the film which I believe is superlative.  Much if not all of the movie is filmed with handheld cameras.  But the handhelds appear to be used with purpose.  When the camera is "unsteady" it's because the characters themselves are "unsteady."  Then there's a scene where a character appears to be looking around trying to get his bearings.  The camera mimicking his point of view is _also_ jerking and the image it's recording is also blurred until it does settle on something and both the character and the camera have found focus.

Then kudos to the editors of this film.  This is a film where every single scene comes to fit into the story, even the beginning two scenes that initially seem to have only tangential importance to the story.  Arguably they become key.  

The film is then largely set in a concrete and glass highrise subdivision presumably at the edge of Warsaw.  These kind of subdivisions (though of a much blander variety) were infamous during the Communist era.  Even if this one appeared to be a 'newer' one, with "more glass / less concrete" it still gave off the impression of cold.  Even Michal's and Magda's apartment, modern as it appeared with its white walls, glass and stainless steel, was still strikingly empty of almost any kind of furniture and decor.  The outsides and walls of these buildings were now spotlessly clean and with all the glass far more open than before.  However, inside the apartments remained largely hollow.  Even the Church where eventually the Christening (Baptism) takes place was white, glassy and spacious.  While there were more people in that scene (and the one following at the reception) because naturally members of both Michal's and Magda's families were invited/came to the Baptism, the space again felt half-heartedly empty.  It was only at the small reception afterwards that available space seemed finally to be full -- with relatives, a musician playing a cello (never the happiest of instruments...), food and waitresses.  All this obviously "sets a mood," and makes a statement perhaps about "modern life" or the "modern ideal" (in Poland) today.  And yet, as I mention above, that ideal clearly unravels as the film progresses.

Finally and returning somewhat back to the story, I found some some very strong resonances in The Christening to some American films of both distant and recent past.  The Godfather [1972] is perhaps the most obvious.  After all, both of these films are built (perhaps surprisingly) around the Christian/Catholic Sacrament of Baptism.  Streetcar Named Desire [1951] is another film that comes to mind.  I always thought of the Kowalski character in that play/film to be something of a caricature of a young Polish man (and a rather negative one at that).  Yet, Janek in this film could be Kowalski's cousin or nephew and is not being portrayed in a clearly negative way.  Indeed, arguably Janek's character takes on characteristics of another character played by Marlon Brando (who played Kowalski in the Streetcar), that of  "coulda been somebody" boxer Terry Malloy in On the Water Front [1954], Terry Malloy having to have to "step up" in a gut-wrenching crisis after much time of being dismissed as literally a "nobody."  Thematically, The Deer Hunter [1978] also comes to mind because while both films invoked sacraments (rites of passage) that are supposed to be happy occasions, in both cases these passages appear to be toward darkness and tragedy rather than toward happiness and a more normal adulthood.  Finally, Inception [2010] comes to mind because The Christening does have the feel of a dream "falling apart."  In Inception, dreams only fell apart as the characters within them discovered that they were walking in a dream world.  In The Christening, the whole movie feels like the nightmare of someone not fully believing that (after perhaps years of struggle) he's actually succeeded.  Instead, he finds himself trapped in/by his past and his whole world progressively crashes around him. 
There is really much more to say about this film, especially about its Godfather [1972] resonances.  But I fear that if I were to push that further, I'd give away too much of the story.  I would like to leave the reader here with the opinion that this is a very intelligent film, that it is very very sad, and (I do have to warn parents on this) it is at times very, very violent.  Will the makers of this film as well as the lead actors/actresses gain greater notoriety/fame in the future?  I do not know, but I do think that all of them were truly excellent in this very, very sad film.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Immaturi [2011]

Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Wikipedia listing - (Ital. orig, Eng. trans)

Immaturi (The Immature) directed and written by Paolo Genovese with some help from Marco Alessi as a script consultant, is a typically light/gentle Italian comedy that played recently at the 15th annual European Union Film Festival being held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago during the month of March.

The premise is somewhat improbable -- 20 years after passing the state mandated final exam to graduate out from high school, officials retract the results of a single class 25 students from Rome as a result of the admission of one student that he/she cheated.  So all 25 have to take the test again, 20 years later at age 40 rather than at 20 ;-).

As silly/improbable as the premise initially may seem, however, it plays on a fairly common experience of dreaming of finding oneself back in school and being asked to complete some unexpected assignment or pass some unexpected test.  Indeed, one of the main characters in the film notes near the beginning of the story that the situation felt "exactly like a recurring nightmarish dream that [he'd] been having ever since graduating from school."  Many film-critics and psychologists alike have compared/contrasted the experiences of film watching (in quiet and in the dark) to dreaming.  So the audience is invited through the characters in the story to indulge in an experience which, while unrealistic, is nonetheless relatable.

The first thing that the characters in the story discover that the experience of being forced to take a test over, 20 years after taking it the first time, isn't necessarily a bad one.  It gives them an excuse to "reconnect" in a way that they hadn't in years.  Indeed, a group of eight of them who had been friends in high school come back to form their study group of old.

The second thing that the audience discovers and long before the characters in the story do ;-) is that though these characters had graduated some 20 years ago, most of them hadn't really grown-up yet.  Almost all of them remained in some way "immature."  There's Piero (played by Luca Bizzarri [IMDb]) who plays a late night radio talkshow host who is lying to his girlfriend Cinzia (played by Giulia Michelini [IMDb]) telling her he's married and with a small child so that he could keep a distance from her and keep things 'uncomplicated' ;-).  There's Giorgio (played by Raoul Bova [IMDb]) who's a child psychologist living with his longtime girlfriend Marta (played by Luisa Ranieri [IMDb]).  Their parents have all but given-up on their ever getting married, but now Marta finds herself pregnant and Giorgio finds his perfect and utterly predictable world threatened by the unknown.  There's Lorenzo (played by Ricky Memphis [IMDb]) who was the smartest of the group, but always something of a "nerd."  At 40, he still lives with his parents. Mamma (played by Giovanna Ralli) is content to have her son "safe at home" but Papa Luigi (played by Maurizio Mattioli) just doesn't get his son's utter lack of initiative.  There's Francesca (played by Ambra Angiolini [IMDb]) who's now the head chef at a busy Roman restaurant but also going daily to a 12-step group dealing with a compulsive sex addiction.  There's Luisa (played by Barbora Bubolova [IMDb]) a single mom who works as in the marketing department of an Italian processed food company.  In a sense she's "modern" but since works for, clearly uses and arguably "believes" in "processed food" (rather than cooking more "from scratch") this apparently makes her something of an infantile heretic in Italian society.  Even her precocious little daughter doesn't really respect her in this area ("But ma, teacher said that I'm supposed to bring a homemade cake to school ..." ;-).  There's Virgilio (played by Paolo Kessisoglu [IMDb]) who's married but ... cheating.  And he has some unfinished business with Giorgio and Giorgio's old flame from high school, Eleonora (played by Anita Caprioli [IMDb]).  Eleonora lives now in Milan and shows up only near the end of the movie, just a day or two before the test.  Still, her little role even after she arrives on the scene becomes important as well.

Much of course happens.  Most, in fact, "grow" as a result of the experience of reconnecting and studying again to take the high school graduation exam (far more demanding than what is generally expected of American high schoolers).  Most of the characters also enjoy being at least psychologically "back in high school" again.  One, Giorgio, takes it a little further, flirting by exchanging "messagini" (texting) with a current high school girl going by the nick-name Crudelia (played by Nadir Casselli).  In grand tradition of Italian cinema however, when the two do meet, it's then that Giorgio comes to his senses telling her: "It takes a 20 year old to remind you that you're approaching 40" and then falls back to acting as something of a father figure to her afterwards.

It was all very interesting and all very, very "light."  Indeed, it may surprise American viewers how "light" / "gentile" Italian comedies often are.  Everybody is generally well-dressed ("bella figura" you know ;-) but "the gritty streets of the neighborhood" so much a part of movies about Italian immigrants in the States don't seem to be much part of Italian films today (and don't seem have been part of Italian films for a long time).  Instead, there seem to be a lot of films celebrating vita (life), famiglia (family), amicizia (friendship) and so forth.

And actually, I'm not necessarily complaining.  It's actually quite nice to watch a film where pretty much everybody is smiling most of the time, people who seem happy even if at times they are sad.  It's kinda nice!

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Casa de Mi Padre (The House of My Father) [2012]

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB () Roger Ebert (2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (0 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

Casa de Mi Padre (The House of My Father) directed by Matt Piedmont and written by Andrew Steele is and starring Will Farrell (all Gringos...) is perhaps a well-meaning if monumentally misguided comedy that's going to cause pain to countless Hispanic (Mexican-American and non) kids and teenagers across the United States for years to come.

All kinds off non-Hispanic viewers from the young to the old, from those thinking of themselves as progressive/liberal to those who are frankly racist are going to see this film and _think_ that by seeing it that they will "know" something of contemporary Mexican/Hispanic comedy and culture.  And they won't and won't be even close.

There is a lot of humor in this film that resembles the British humor of Monty Python and the Holy Grail [1975].  But most viewers of that film will instinctively understand that a man dressed as "King Arthur" skipping across a field with his servant banging two coconut shells together to make it sound like he's riding a horse is just a stupid joke that "of course King Arthur would really be riding a horse."

In Casa de Mi Padre, the dimwitted Armando (played by Will Farrell) repeatedly encounters "a talking white puma" in the desert.  This puma not represented by any living animal or even any CGI effects but rather by a large clumsy stuffed animal that one could win at a two bit carnival.  Further since it is a stuffed animal, it is moved around the screen by a more or less obvious off-screen hand making it move around the screen in exactly the same way that a 3 year old would move a stuffed animal that his/her dad won for him/her at said carnival er "fiesta."  Will viewers understand this to be a joke of the same kind as the "squire banging the two coconut shells together" behind "King Arthur" in Monty Python and the Holy Grail to pretend that King Arthur is riding a horse?  Or will many viewers not even realizing that this movie was written, directed and even starring in the lead role by Gringos say to themselves: "Those stupid Mexicans are so stupid that they had to use a stuffed animal to represent a real one in "their film?"  Of these kind of scenes racist stereotypes are born and fed ...

It would seem to me that when it comes to comedies about ethnicity of any kind there are really only two ways to go about it: (1) have the film be produced by people from the culture that it's about or (2) at least be accurate about the culture/subculture one's trying to represent.

IMHO this movie fails horribly on both counts.  Casa is not My Big Fat Greek Wedding [2002] written and starring Greek-American actress/screenwriter Nia Vardalos about growing-up the daughter of (Greek) immigrants in the United States.  It's not even Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family [2011] a comedy about written, directed and starring Tyler Perry and African-American writer, director, actor and even theater magnate about the challenges present in an African American family (though could easily be extended to any other family in America today).  Indeed, so good were both these comedies that they though they were set within the context of a particular culture/subculture, the issues involved/themes present easily translated ("crossed over") beyond that cultural/subcultural setting.

Instead, Casa de Mi Padre follows a long Hollywood tradition from the "Badges, we don't need no stinkin' badges" depiction of Mexican "banditos" posing as "federales" in the 1940s Humphrey Bogart movie Treasure of Sierra Madre [1948] and similarly appalling if at least without the pretension of "presenting to American audiences Mexican movie/telenovela culture" American comedies about/set in Mexico like the Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short comedy The Three Amigos [1986] or the Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and James Gandolfini comedy The Mexican [2011].   All these exist in a "Mexico" created and sustained by Hollywood with little connection to actual Mexico or Mexicans.

But Casa de Mi Padre is being sold as a "cross over" piece to introduce Americans who don't know (and have little to no interest in learning...) Spanish to Hispanic "telenovela culture."  Yet it's really a sloppy (and proudly so...) conflation of at least several genres that do play on Spanish language TV in the United States that seems to be designed to feed American preconceived and largely negative stereotypes:

There are some REALLY GREAT, really WHOLESOME, UTTERLY FAMILY FRIENDLY Mexican "cowboy stories" / "horse operas" that have been produced over years / decades in Mexico.  When I was learning Spanish, I just fell in love with the films of ranchera singers Antonio Aguilar (El Moro de Cumpas [1977]) and especially Vicente Fernandez (Hijo del Pueblo [1974], El Macho [1987], Como Mexico no hay Dos [1981], etc).  If one truly wants to enter into this subculture and really appreciate the beauty of the Mexican "Vacquero" (Spanish for "cowboy") way of life, I'd recommend these films.  But yes, presently you'd have to learn Spanish to see them...

Then there is also the Telenovela culture.  But anyone who actually follows the Spanish language telenovelas knows that they are orders infinitely more sophisticated than presented in this stupid comedy.

Let's just begin that most of the telenovelas aren't set "in the campos" (aren't set in the countryside).  Instead, they are often set among the jet set in state-of-the-art modern sections of cities that really exist across all of Latin America.  So one doesn't get this ridiculous incongruence of plopping the drop-dead beautiful actress Genesis Rodriguez (who plays the "love interest" Sonia in this film) into the middle of a farm somewhere in the middle of Mexico and expect the audience to buy this as credible.  Then yes, "narcos" (drug traffickers) do play a role in _some_ telenovelas but by no means in all or even a large number of them.

Finally, a far better "cross over" effort to allow non-Spanish speaking (and with no interest in learning Spanish...) Americans to Hispanic telenovela culture was the Ugly Betty [2006-2010] television series that starred America Ferrera and was produced by Salma HayekBetty La Fea [1999+] was a wildly popular telenovela that was playing on Spanish language TV when I was still stationed at an overwhelmingly Hispanic parish down in Kissimmee, FL (from the young to the old, everybody seemed to love it).  And Betty had absolutely nothing in common with something like this film Casa.

So overall, I'm rather appalled by this film.  And I would recommend that the next time a 'cross-over' film like this is seriously contemplated by Hollywood that it be written and directed by actual Hispanics.  How hard would it have been to ask someone like Salma Hayek, George Lopez, Robert Rodriguez, or Antonio Banderas for "a suggestion or two..."?


So what then is the film actually about? ;-)  Well:  Raul (played by Diego Luna), the younger and far more intelligent/successful son of Don Miguel Ernesto (played by Pedro Armendaris, Jr) returns home "to the rancho" with his drop dead gorgeous bride Sonia (played by Genesis Rodriguez).  Don Miguel Ernesto is ecstatic because he won't have to leave his ranch then to his dimwitted older son Armando (played by Will Farrell).  But Raul and, indeed, Sonia (tragically...), are involved in drug trafficking.  Much ensues... Finally dimwitted Armando has to stand-up, take down the evil "narco" (drug king-pin) nicknamed Onza (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) and "save the family name ..."  Much of this takes place in the "magical countryside" filled with among other things, the white stuffed animal puma mentioned above, similarly stuffed animal (actually more wolf-looking than coyote looking) coyotes, beautiful "oases" for just perfect love making (actually the "love scene" involving exclusively shot after shot of "butt cheeks," shot in all kinds of angles, is probably what makes the film R-rated but even most kids would find both stupid and hilarious... but parents do take note...) and plenty of campfire settings where dimwitted Armando and his similarly dimwitted best friends can drink lots and lots of tequila, break lots and lots tequila bottles and shoot their pistolas many, many times in the air ...

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Being Flynn [2012]

MPAA (R)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars) Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

Being Flynn (screenplay written and directed by Paul Weitz based on the book entitled Another Bullshit Night in Suck City: A Memoir by Nick Flynn) is probably one of the better serious movies to be released in this "off season" immediately following this year's Oscars.

The film's about a very difficult father-son relationship.  Jonathan Flynn (played by Robert De Niro) is an aging father, who's spent most of his adult life in prison (as a petty and apparently not particularly good con-artist, forging checks, etc).  However as is often the case despite the massive evidence to the contrary, he's convinced that he's actually a great man, in his case a great writer just about to be discovered.  Indeed, the film begins with Jonathan Flynn introducing himself to the audience declaring in voice-over that "there have been only three truly great American writers Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger and myself, Jonathan Flynn."  As he waxes eloquent about his importance, he enters the parking garage, punches-in, gets into his taxi and begins his shift ...

A second voice-over then begins, that of his son, Nick Flynn (played by Paul Dano) who concurs that this story is indeed about his father Jonathan Flynn, except that Jonathan isn't really the one telling it, Nick is.  Nick then proceeds to re-introduce his father as having been largely absent from his life -- because Jonathan had been in prison during most of Nick's childhood.

We then see a flashback with Nick as a child (played by Liam Broggy) reading a letter from his dad already talking about how great a writer he is and that Nick, being his son, would probably inherit some of that gift.  For a few moments impressed, his mother Jody Flynn (played by Julianne Moore) quickly sets him straight.  "You know where that letter came from?  Prison!  Great writer?  Ha! He's in prison for writing forged checks."

Most of Nick's childhood is marked then by repeated disappointments at the hands of both of his parents, and finally himself.  In his later teens, Nick's mother killed herself.  As if often the case in situations such as these, Nick can not but partly blame himself.  Therefore, it's not entirely surprising that when we meet Nick he's something of a listless loser in his 20s, unemployed and kicked out of his girlfriend's apartment after she finds that he's been using the place to sleep with random women while she was at work.

Nick crashes in a dive with two similarly troubled roommates who take him because, well, they need someone else to split the rent with.  Through these room-mates however he somewhat randomly meets Denise (played by Olivia Thirlby) a friend of theirs who works at the nearby Harbor Light Inn, a large homeless shelter.  With no other ready prospects, he decides to go there to see if he could get a job as well.  The shelter's manager, Carlos (played by Eddie Rouse) who had story of his own was initially unimpressed with Nick's explanation of why he'd want to work with the homeless (basically he didn't have one) but decides to hire him anyway.

In the meantime, Jonathan's life, unravels as well.  Yes, when we had met him, he was gainfully employed -- as a taxi driver.  This had allowed him to afford a place to live -- an apartment in a somewhat seedy part of town -- but at least it was a roof over his head.  Remember however that Jonathan had some delusions of grandeur.  He's supposed to be a great writer.  So he gets upset "at the noise" made by some of the other tenants in his building.  As a result, when he inevitably overreacts one time, he gets evicted from his apartment.  That's when he makes his first contact _in years_ with Nick asking him to help him move his stuff "into storage" while he finds a more permanent place to live.  Nick, surprised, helps.  But of course Jonathan's slide is just starting.  A few weeks later, he's lost his taxi job and sometime after that he ends up at the homeless shelter where Nick is working.  Much ensues ...

It's not an easy time for either of the two.  Yet in the haze of more or less obvious borderline mental illness on the part of the father (again he continues to maintain that he's a great writer just about to become famous), he does actually help the son: The son eventually shares with him the circumstances of his mother's (Jonathan's estranged wife's) death.  And in _one moment_ of lucidness, the father tells the son: "I may have made you (a favorite saying of his throughout the movie).  You're mother may have made you.  But we are not you.  So I absolve you (of _our_ sins)."  And it is enough, the son's life changes... as actually does the father's.

Great movie.

One complaint.  There is one very random anti-Christian line of dialogue in the movie that certainly stuck with me until now.  Describing the people working in the homeless shelter, Nick rattles through stereotypical dismissals of everyone there.  Regarding "the religious types" he gives an example of a young woman there who (in exaggerated fashion) declares to the audience: "I'm here because I want to act as Jesus did" then continuing under her breath "and also because I hate my rich parents."

To be fair, Nick dismisses the motivations of just about everybody else as well.  And arguably this dismissal of the motivations of everybody else working in the shelter was symptomatic of Nick's own issues at the time when he began working there.  As much as he would have hated to admit it, he was all too much "like his dad" ... who was also more or less obviously dismissive of the people around him (he was a "genius writer" afterall...).

Still, I didn't like the anti-Christian dismal because my own experience has been that it's not true (or perhaps stops being true).  I also did the helping at the homeless shelter "thing" (if one wanted to call it that) in my 20s. Further I too had a mother who died early (of cancer) and I too was angry at the time at my dad who (even to his surprise) "came into some money" some time afterwards.  Still, I'm 20-years over all that (long since made peace with my dad) and for the last 10 years, I have been taking my parish's Confirmation and high school kids to a soup kitchen here on a regular (4x a year, whenever there's a 5th Sunday) basis and both the teens and the parents love going.   We also go and (try to) sing twice a year at a nursing home (around Halloween and Christmas).  We decorate cookies for a hospice around Christmas time.  And we've written both our troops and on behalf of political prisoners abroad.  Finally, in recent years, we've blessed animals on St. Francis' Feast Day and even done a few gardening days around the Church with the teens.  And everybody gets it.  This is what Jesus would want us to do. 

So perhaps a part of my early motivation in my "concern for the weak" would have been some anger and pain.  But that pain and anger had long since dissipated.  And what's left is a lot of young people having a chance to have some good memories as they grow-up of helping "the least among us" (Mt 25:40).

So I didn't particularly like the comment made in the film about the Christian worker there at the homeless shelter, though I do understand that the character dissing her (and the others) at the time was in a very bad place himself.  We can say stupid things when we are down ...

Still, Nick grew (though we never know if he changed his opinions of the people who worked around him as he himself).  And in any case so can we ...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Avé [2011]

Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing -

Avé (directed and cowritten by Konstantin Bojanov along with Arnold Barkus) is a sad if compelling young adult "road movie" from Bulgaria that I recently saw at the 15th Annual European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Sickel Film Center in Chicago, IL.

The film is about two young hitch-hikers, a late-teen early 20-something young woman named Avé (played by Angela Nedialkova) and young university student, male, named Kamen (played by Ovanes Torosian).

Avé appears to have been from a fairly rich family.  Her father had been a diplomat and she and her brother had spent part of their childhood in India while her father had been stationed at the Bulgarian embassy in Dehli.  As a result, Avé knows some English.  Kamen appears to have lived all his life in Bulgaria though he did have some education as well being an art student in Bulgaria's capital city of Sofia.

They both find themselves hitchhiking for their own tragic reasons.  Avé is searching for her drug addicted brother, figuring that she'd be more likely to find him by chatting up people she meets at road-side cafes, diners, truck-stops and so forth.  It's clear that she's done this before.  Kamen, on the other hand, is trying to get to the village of his best friend in time for his best friend's funeral.  What happened to his best friend?  He committed suicide.  Why?  Because he had caught Kamen sleeping with his best friend's girlfriend.  So he's going back to his best friend's village in part to atone and in part to say, if he finds the courage, that he's sorry.

Bulgaria is a rather poor country.  As filmed in this movie, I could not help but find it to look something like the "New Jersey of Europe," not particularly picturesque.  A good part of the two's journey involved both crossing and traveling along the rather industrialized Danube River.  It becomes also clear in the film that Bulgaria is dominated by two major cities at opposite ends of the country -- Sofia its capital at the far western interior side of the country and Varna its principal port on the Black Sea.  (New Jersey is also dominated by two major metropolitan areas at opposite ends of the state -- New York City just to the north and east of the state and Philadelphia, PA just to south and west of the state).  Then just like New Jersey, with its Jersey Shore, Bulgaria has been famous over the years and in different times for its beaches on the Black Sea.  Indeed, during the Cold War when citizens of the various countries of the Soviet-aligned Warsaw Pact/Eastern Bloc could not travel outside of the Warsaw Pact, Bulgaria's Black Sea Coast was one of the Eastern Bloc's most popular tourist destinations.  Pretty much all of my Czech relatives spent one or two summer vacations on the Black Sea, in both Romania and Bulgaria.

Most of the film appears to be filmed in the countryside and small towns between Sofia and Varna.  It's winter or fall.  So it's rather cold, dank and grey.  When the two arrive at the village of Kamen's best friend it is simply raining and it doesn't really stop until they leave.  And of course the mother, religious (Bulgarian Orthodox), is devastated and dressed from head to toe in black.  The rest of the relatives only join her in her weeping, and worry about their Viki's (Viktor's) soul.  "It's a great sin to kill oneself," they keep muttering in their tears, trying to comprehend why.  Eventually Kamen, perhaps from the city and remember he came in part in hopes of somehow apologizing, perhaps because he can't stand listening to them anymore or perhaps trying to help them understand asks: "But what's so heroic about living if all life's about just going from 'point a' to 'point b'?

Remember this is a film about two hitchhikers more or less randomly traveling a grey desolate countryside seeking in part to atone for losing one soul, and searching for another.

No, Avé, this is not exactly a cheerful movie (though the character Avé does give it charm because as she talks up people for information about the possible whereabouts of her brother, she also enjoys embellishing her story in ways that makes her randomly going "from point a to point b" interesting).  But above all, the movie comes across as very sincere.   Bulgaria in the winter must be very grey.

Still all the major people associated with this film -- the writer, director, cinematographer and both main actors -- deserve recognition and praise for this film.  They told a very sad story, but told it very, very well, in a manner that all viewers could understand.

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Friends with Kids [2012]

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (A-III) Roger Ebert (2 1/2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

Friends with Kids (written, directed and costarring Jennifer Westfeldt) is a romcom that's going to rattle and at least initially outright offend a fair number of people.  Two still-single attractive young professionals, Jason Fryman (played by Adam Scott) and Julie Keller (played by Jennifer Westfeldt), "living the dream" in Manhattan, New York, watch aghast as their married best friends Leslie and Alex (played by Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd) and Ben and Missy (played by Jon Hamm and Kristen Wigg) "change" (become more stressed, arguably meaner) as they begin having families.  They also note (whether true or not) that people often remarry better after their first marriage falls apart (according to them, largely on account of those kids necessarily changing the relationship existing in the first marriage).

The solution that the two talkative and iconoclastic single friends come-up with is to have the kid outside of wedlock with someone that they kinda care about but not enough to marry (hence start "already divorced") and then just look for the "post-first marriage soul mate" who (according to their theory) seems to materialize out of the ashes of the first marriage (destroyed by having kids).  And the two decide, of course, that their current relationship (best friends but not attracted to each other) fits the bill.  What could go wrong?  Right?

Here we can thank Jennifer Westfeld for making the movie, definitely NOT to serve as an "example" of how things ought to be done in the world today.  Rather we should thank her because the film serves as a thought experiment and a discussion piece for all of us watching it.  Indeed, the other characters in the story, including the parents of the two adventurous, again iconoclastic young adults, are given opportunity to voice various objections to the scheme, objections that Westfield does not disparage in her piece. Indeed, if anything, I do think that she encourages the characters in her story (and the audience) to respond to the unorthodox, even shocking undertaking of the two lead characters of the story.

And as the film plays out, she does present some of the flaws in the scheme -- how does one come to explain this unorthodox arrangement to the kid (at 2 at 5 at 8 at 12 at 15 at 17 at 19 at 22 at 28 at really age)?  And then what is the true nature of romance?  Is it only to be found simply in beauty / roses / fine things and sexual acrobatics?  Or can it be found even in the changing of a diaper of a kid experiencing "projectile diarrhea?"

So as has often happened to me in the past by the time I get to the end of my review of the film, I find myself liking the film far more than when I started.

Folks, please don't take the scheme of the two lead characters in this film to be "the way things ought to be."  Rather understand the film to be intended to be a "discussion piece."  I've written here many times in this blog that ultimately Hollywood is far more traditional / conservative than one may initially believe.  Hollywood may flirt with radical ideas but often to return to and validate that which we understand as "tried and true" by the time the closing credits role. 

I do believe this film to fit in this mold.  It's a heck of a ride.  The two characters of this film bravely step out of the mold to try something new (and remember there's safety in this being "only a film", a "thought experiment," a "day dream").  Yet by the end, after ample "free discussion" by "the peanut gallery" (composed of the other characters in the story, and even we, the viewers) of the couple's avant guard choice, I do believe that the vast majority of us will leave appreciating "the wisdom of the old way."

Great film!

One last note to parents.  It should be obvious from the discussion above that even a teen won't "get' this film.  There is some bad language but no nudity.  Yet this film definitely deserves the R rating.  It's simply meant for adults, college aged or even post-college-aged and above.

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Silent House [2011]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Roger Ebert (2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB Review -
Roger Ebert's Review -

Silent House (directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau who also wrote the screenplay for this film as a remake of Gustavo Hernandez' Uruguayan film La Casa Muda [2010]) is a film has several things going for it that in other circumstances I could find myself seeing.  The things going for it include: (1) that it is based on a relatively obscure foreign film that Hollywood deemed good / intriguing enough to remake, (2) it stars Elizabeth Olsen with whom I was very impressed in Martha Marcy May Marlene last year and (3) claims to have been shot "in a single take" (88 minutes in all) which would be "one heck of a take."

However, there's been a glut of "haunted house" movies of late -- Don't be Afraid of the Dark, Dream House, The Woman in Black, to say nothing of Paranormal Activity 1, 2 and 3.  Consider then the young woman driven psycho thrillers like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (starring Noomy Repace in the 2009 Swedish version and Rooney Mara in the 2011 American version), the recently released Gone (starring Amanda Seyfried) perhaps even Martha Marcy May Marlene (already mentioned above that Elizabeth Olsen herself starred in) and perhaps the reader could understand my exhaustion:

I would imagine that Silent House is probably pretty good.  Further, reading the CNS/USCCB's review of the film, I'm pretty much certain that there isn't any gratuitous attack on the Church or Christianity or even gratuitous display of nudity in it.  Parents, I'd take the CNS/USCCB's rating that it is A-III (for Adults) as being almost certainly appropriate.  Yet since there have been so many movies similar to it that have been made in recent years, I simply can't justify going even to a bargain matinee to actually see it.

Perhaps if I were an older teen or college student in a group that liked these kinds of movies (and didn't already see many of the other movies similar to it) I'd think about seeing this one.  But the film seems too similar to so many others that have already been made.  So for me, the well here is dry.  Though I imagine the film itself is probably pretty good (if one likes this sort of thing), I can't justify spending the money (even with a matinee discount) to go see it.

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