Thursday, September 12, 2013

Taking a One Month Hiatus to Attend Servite General Chapter (Sept 12 - Oct 10, 2013)

Dear Readers,

I'm taking a one month hiatus to attend as a delegate of the Servites Friars of the U.S.A. Province our Order's General Chapter being held at the Servite Shrine at Weissenstein-Piatralba outside of Bosen-Bolzano, Italy.  Afterwards, I will take about a week's time to visit my relatives in the Czech Republic.  I should be back online with this blog on Oct 10 ;-).

Sincerely and in Christ,

Fr. Dennis Kriz, OSM

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Riddick [2013]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  ChiTribune (3 Stars) (2 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (2 Stars w. Expl.)

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

Riddick [2013] (directed by David Twohy, screenplay by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell, based on the charcters created by Jim and Ken Wheat) is part 3 of a decade-long Conan-evoking sci-fi survivalist drama featuring Riddick (played in all three cinematic installments as well as on the various video-game versions by Vin Diesel).  And certainly on the plus side of the current film, the first 25 minutes or so contain (as many of the reviewers cited above also attest) some of the BEST use of CGI ever.  One really feels like one is stranded with Riddick on an utterly alien desert planet where "everything's out to kill him" from vulcan-eared hyena-like jackal-dogs and giant reptilian "serpents" with even larger scorpion-like tails.  (After about 15 minutes of mayhem on this red-tinged, bubbling, volcanic world, Riddick takes a surviving pup from a pack of those hyena-like jackal dogs that he's taken-down and raises him as his faithful canine companion.  HONESTLY, HOW UTTERLY COOL IS THAT? ;-)

Things go downhill, IMHO, in the film when Riddick realizes that "rain is coming" (which he understands to  mean that something even worse that what's already beset him will follow).  So when he comes across an abandoned "merc" camp ("merc for mercenary"), he activates the camp's distress beacon and ... since the beacon immediately scans/determines Riddick's identity ... soon not one but two bands of bounty-hunters come to "retrieve him."  Interestingly enough, Riddick was deemed such a menace to the civilized order existing up there among the stars that the bounty for him was twice as high for bringing him back DEAD than ALIVE ;-). 

The two bands of bounty hunters that show-up to retrieve Riddick were, naturally, not exactly the most savory of types.  One was headed by a particularly vicious Hispanic accented man named Santana (played by Jordi Mollà) who arrived with a clear plexiglass box to put Riddick's head in after "taking care of him" (probably a mistake to arrive like that, given Riddick's deadly reputation...).  The other band was headed by a cooler-headed Anglo-American looking merc (need one say more ... the real villains in these kind of stories are ALWAYS "non-Anglos...")  named Boss Johns (played by Matt Nable).  He arrives with, among others, a really tough-looking professed lesbian named Dahl (played by Katee Sackhoff) who Riddick promises to "take" (hence probably rape ...) "after it's all over."  YES PARENTS, THIS FILM CERTAINLY BECOMES "NOT FOR THE KIDS..."  In the midst of one or the other of these motley crews is a naive Scripture quoting teenager, who, honestly it's hard to understand what exactly he's doing there.  But he is present, and he's occasionally asked to say some nice words over one or another of the adult Mercs who had died one or another randomly awful death.  Much (often mayhem...) of course ensues ...

So what possible value could a film like this have?  Well, as I mentioned above, the portrayal of the planet itself is simply breathtaking.  Then, YES, this film is definitely not for kids, and yes the Mercs are portrayed as certainly "dregs of society."  But then, one would imagine that "mercs" today aren't exactly the most "politically correct" of people as well (they certainly weren't known to be so in the past ... They haven't been called the "Dogs of War" for nothing...).

So this is a really hard-boiled tale that I would hope that _no one_ would take moral lessons from.  Still I found the CGI portrayal of the planet itself astounding and if combined with (honestly) "kinder gentler" portrayals of the infinite possibilities for adventure existing out there in the cosmos, this could be actually inspiring to viewers.  Just do leave the random and evil mayhem behind...

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Friday, September 6, 2013

Drinking Buddies [2013]

MPAA (R) (1 Star)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (B. Kenigsberg) review

Drinking Buddies [2013] (written and directed by Joe Swanberg) is a current/arguably insightful if rather slow-moving "indie piece" about two 20-something couples in which one from each of the two couples, Kate (played by Olivia Wilde) and Luke (played by Jake Johnson), work in a microbrewery in Chicago.  The film is currently playing at "art theaters" here in Chicago and is also available Amazon Instant Video.  Since the beverages made at the brewery where the two main characters work are available as something a perk to the employees, the title for the film "flows" quite naturally ...

When one generally thinks of "drinking buddies," one generally thinks of a group of guys.  The wrinkle thrown into this film is, of course, that Kate and Luke are not of the same sex and neither are their SOs.  Kate has been going out with Chris (played by Ron Livingston) for about 8 months, while Luke has been living with Jill (played by Anne Kendrick) for long enough that it's become increasingly difficult for the two to explain to both themselves/each other and to others why they're not yet getting married.  And yet it doesn't seem that they are ...

Things take a turn when the two couples go up to Kate's beau's cabin by the Lake (Michigan) for a weekend, where the status of pretty much all the relationships -- "just friends," "living together/practically married," "gee who's that neat other person who I've never really met" -- is challenged.

It's not a bad movie.  It reminds me of the movie that the Kevin Bacon character in the Christopher Guest movie The Big Picture [1989] pined to make.  It's just kinda slow. 

And it does ask the question: Can one really be just a "drinking buddy" with someone who one's at least partly (sexually) attracted to?

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sept 3, 2013 - Movies reviewed here available in U.S. for Rent / Streaming

Sept 3, 2013

Blancanieves [2012] - PG-13 - Foreign (Spain, subtitled), Independent/Art House  - 4 Stars - [Amazon InstVid] [Blockbuster] [Netflix] [Vudu]

Iron Man 3 [2013] - PG-13 / A-III - 4 Stars - Teens, Young Adults, Action/Adventure - [Amazon InstVid]

Now You See Me [2013] - PG-13 - 3 Stars - Young Adults, Action/Adventure - [Amazon InstVid] [Blockbuster] [Netflix] [Redbox] [Vudu]

Oblivion [2013] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - Adventure/SciFi, Teens, Young Adults[Amazon InstVid] [iTunes] [Netflix] [Redbox] [Vudu]

The Place Beyond the Pines [2013] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - Young Adults, Drama - [Amazon InstVid] [iTunes] [Netflix] [Redbox] [Vudu]

New Releases over the Past Month
August 27, 2013

Pain & Gain [2013] - R / O - 1 1/2 Stars -  Young Adults, Drama - [Amazon InstVid] [Blockbuster] [iTunes] [Netflix] [Redbox] [Vudu]

The Great Gatsby [2013] - PG-13 / A-III - 4 Stars - Teens, Young Adults, Drama - [Amazon InstVid] [Blockbuster] [iTunes] [Vudu]

The Reluctant Fundamentalist [2012] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - Independent/Art House, Drama - [Amazon InstVid] [Blockbuster] [iTunes]

August 20, 2013

Amour [2012] - R / L - 1 Star - Foreign (France/Austria, subtitled), Independent/Art House, Adult Families, Drama - [Amazon InstVid] [Blockbuster] [Netflix] [Redbox] [Vudu]

Epic [2013] - PG / A-III - 3 Stars - Kids, Teens, Action/Adventure - [Amazon InstVid] [Blockbuster] [Vudu]

Pain & Gain [2013] - R / O - 1 1/2 Stars -  Young Adults, Drama - [Amazon InstVid] [iTunes]

Shadow Dancer [2012] - R - Drama - 3 1/2 Stars - Foreign (U.K./Ireland), Independent/Art House, Drama, Young Adults - [Amazon InstVid] [Blockbuster] [Netflix]

Startrek Into Darkness [2013] - PG-13 / A-III - 2 1/2 Stars - Action/Adventure, Teens, Young Adults - [Amazon InstVid]

The Big Wedding [2013] - R / O - 0 Stars - Comedy - [Amazon InstVid] [Blockbuster] [Netflix] [Redbox] [Vudu]

The Great Gatsby [2013] - PG-13 / A-III - 4 Stars - Teens, Young Adults, Drama - [Amazon InstVid] [iTunes]

Aug 13, 2013

42 [2013] - PG-13 / A-III - 4 Stars - Teens, Young Adults, Drama - [Amazon InstVid] [Blockbuster][iTunes] [Netflix] [Redbox] [Vudu]

Emperor [2013] - PG-13 - 3 1/2 Stars - Drama - [Amazon InstVid] [Blockbuster] [iTunes] [Netflix] [Redbox] [Vudu]

Olympus Has Fallen [2013] - R / L - 3 Stars - Action/Adventure - [Amazon InstVid] [iTunes] [Netflix] [Redbox] [Vudu]

The Big Wedding [2013] - R / O - 0 Stars - Comedy - [Blockbuster] [Netflix] [Redbox] [Vudu]

The Company You Keep [2011] - R - 3 Stars - Drama, Independent/Art House - [Blockbuster] [Netflix] [Vudu]

To the Wonder [2012] - R - Drama - 3 1/2 Stars - Religious, Drama - [Amazon InstVid] [Blockbuster] [Netflix] [Redbox]

Aug 6, 2013

Emperor [2013] - PG-13 - 3 1/2 Stars - Drama - [Amazon InstVid] [Vudu]

Epic [2013] - PG / A-III - 3 Stars - Kids - [Amazon InstVid]

Mud [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - Teens, Young Adults, Drama - [Amazon InstVid] [iTunes] [Netflix] [Redbox] [Vudu]

Oblivion [2013] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - Adventure/SciFi, Teens, Young Adults - [Amazon InstVid] [iTunes] [Vudu]

Olympus Has Fallen [2013] - R / L - 3 Stars - Action/Adventure - [Amazon InstVid]

On the Road [2012] - R - 4 Stars - Young Adults, Drama - [Amazon InstVid] [iTunes] [Netflix] [Redbox]

The Place Beyond the Pines [2013] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - Young Adults, Drama - [Amazon InstVid] [iTunes]

The Sapphires [2012] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - Young Adults, Drama - [Amazon InstVid] [Blockbuster] [iTunes] [Netflix] [Redbox] [Vudu]

To the Wonder [2012] - R - Drama - 3 1/2 Stars - Religious, Drama - [Amazon InstVid] [Blockbuster] [Netflix]

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

In a World ... [2013]

MPAA (R) (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review

In a World ... [2013], screenplay written and directed by and starring Lake Bell, is an indie film about a 20-30 something young woman named Carol (played by Lake Bell) a voice coach, who's been trying to step out of the shadow of her talented but often overbearing and not particularly supportive father named Sam (played by Fred Malemed) presented in the film as something of a "living legend" in the "voice over" field. 

How to be taken seriously by a father who loves you but likes his position (on top of his family and his field of choice/career) and who actually dates a young woman your own age?  That's the somewhat exaggerated (for comic effect) but very real challenge facing the central protagonist in this film. 

Signund Freud had a rather dismal view of intergenerational rivalry.  One the one hand, he postulated that children are destined to "murder" their same-sex parent even as they put them up (after they've "murdered" them) on a pedestal to venerate them.  On the other hand, Freud postulated that children would be (sexually) attracted to their opposite sex parent. 

Freud saw these "fundamental relationships" between children and their parents expressed in the Classical story of Oedipus.  Oedipus' parents, after being informed by an Oracle that Oedipus was destined to murder his father and sleep with his mother, put him up for adoption.  Oedipus in turn, when as a young adult is told by anpther Oracle that he's destined to murder his father and sleep with his mother, runs away from his adopted parents only to come across his biological father (and kills him) and then his biological mother (whom he marries ...).  The point of the Classical Greek story was to say that one is largely unable to escape one's Destiny, no matter how horrible it was to be.  Freud understood the story symbolically, postulating that in one way or another, one ultimately "murders" (supersedes) one's same sex parent and one ultimately "marries" (someone very much like) one's opposite sex parent. 

In our more androgynous times ("In a world..." / "In our world ..."), we're given the parable of this film in which Carol both looks up to, but despises, her father (her mother is long dead) while her father is actually dating someone who could be her sister (be just like her ...). 

So there's a lot of potential for tension in this film ... and yet it is still light enough to be a comedy.  Again, one (generally rather benign) way that Sigmund Freud suggested that "tension" is dissipated is through humor.

So as "light" as this film is (about a father and daughter who both make their livings in the rather obscure fields of "voice coaching" and "voice overs") there's A LOT TO THIS FILM below the surface that makes it very interesting.

AMONG THE THINGS that makes the film interesting is that Carol's dad's girlfriend (played by Alexandra Holden) turns out to not be a particularly bad character.  Sure she's Carol's age, but it turns out that she both understands Carol's point of view and appears to be the only one who is able to express it clearly to her father.  Fascinating ... and arguably redemptive.

But then Hollywood is ultimately about finding "a happy ending.."  Freud may have made his mark by looking for the psychological roots of tension/conflict.  But "Hollywood" knows that a good story has to end well.  To leave people in despair doesn't sell tickets.  So after exposing the tensions present in the modern "Father - Daughter" relationship, Hollywood seeks to find a happy resolution.

And here I would argue that Our Religion (Christianity) seeks to do the same.  Jesus came to the world preaching Good News.  And Jesus' Resurrection (following his awful Death) was, in fact, the Ultimate "Happy Ending."  Thus we too, fundamentally believe that the tensions that exist in our society today (or any day) will Ultimately turn out well.

But in any case, this was a good and surprisingly "deep" story.  Honestly, good job ;-)

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Closed Circuit [2013]

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

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (P. Sobczynski) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Closed Circuit [2013] (directed by John Crowley, screenplay by Steven Knight) is a somewhat predictable film about the current Anglo-American status of things in the war on terror.  That is, though set in the U.K., the story could have easily been set in the United States as well.

In the opening sequence of the film, a truck bomb explodes in an open air produce market in London.  The attack is chronicled by at least a dozen security cams but there appeared nothing that security forces could have done to prevent it.

The rest of the film is about the lead-up to the trial of the attack's supposed ring-leader, a Turkish immigrant named Faroukh Erdogan (played by Denis Moschitto) arrested a few days after the attack at his home in London.  Faroukh had moved back to London three years previous after having been "away" (where? well... somewhere...) several years previous, and when he had returned he had frequented various (radical) mosques in the London area.  We're also told that he was turned-in by a source that the authorities would not like to disclose.  So, and this is the film ... Faroukh was going to be tried under a famously problematic post-9/11 (or in the U.K. post 7/7) legal regime.

What kind of legal regime?  Well, at least part of his trial was going to be held in secret to protect the authorities' "sources and methods."  Neither the defendant nor his primary defense attorney (played in the film by Eric Bana) were going to be allowed to see the secret evidence against the defendant tying him to the bombing.   Instead, A SEPARATE attorney (played in the film by Rebecca Hall) with appropriate clearance was going to see (and argue in parallel if secret proceedings) this secret evidence.  Thus the open trial would quite literally be "for show."  The real action was going to be held in secret, though FOR SOME REASON there remained the belief on the part of the society/legal system that the "open trial" would somehow reach the same conclusions as the secret one (despite not ever seeing and challenging/vetting secret evidence against the defendant). 

Such a story basically writes itself:  For I am positive that any group of 3-4 twenty-year olds given a description of the legal regime in which such a trial would proceed could come up with truly innumerable ways that such a trial would end in disaster (at minimum for the defendant and quite possibly for society as well).

Indeed, I remember well when this kind of legal regime was being imposed in the U.S. in the years after 9/11.  I remember wondering: Wait a minute, one (I/we) could be simply abducted from the streets (err ... "arrested") by shadowy, black-garbed / black-masked security personnel, held indefinitely in some "undisclosed location" (secret prison) somewhere, charged, tried, convicted, sentenced and even shot all on basis of evidence that one (I/we) would never be allowed to see and without the authorities never needing to acknowledge that they even had one (me/us) in custody ALL TO PROTECT "SOURCES AND METHODS."
And to be honest, while the (never acknowledged but no doubt stroke induced) half-smiling G.W. Bush-era V.P. Dick Cheney is long gone, none of this has really gone away under the better smiling / more photogenic Obama Administration. 

Anyway, this film plays out one of really countless possible "nightmare scenarios" that could occur when a court system / security apparatus isn't required to be openly accountable to the citizenry, and we do live in a time when we are asked to simply trust the powers that be.

Is this a great film?  To be honest, not particularly, but it reminds us (again) of the times in which we live.

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Austenland [2013]

MPAA (PG-13) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (D)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Austenland [2013] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Jerusha Hess along with Shannon Hale [IMDb] on whose novel the film was based) is probably not for everybody (and apparently not for a lot of critics ;-).

However, the concept is IMHO really quite good (dare one say "brilliant" ... ;-) and the more one thinks about it, the more I believe that even the most ardent "rolling their eyes" initial skeptics would have to concede that the story-tellers/film-makers here were onto something (Twilight Saga's Stephenie Meyer was a producer).   And if you've ever been obsessed by a particular author or a particular era, or have known someone who was, then this film could really be for you ;-)

The story revolves around Jane Hayes (played by Keri Russell) a late 20s/early 30 something woman from New York today who's been a life-long Jane Austen fanatic.  She's memorized the first three chapters of Pride and Prejudice since first reading it in high school.  She carries an I <3 Darcy handbag.  There's a I <3 Darcy banner in her cubicle at work.  She drinks from an I <3 Darcy coffee cup.  Her bedroom in her apartment looks like it could have come from a "Regency Era" doll-house.  She has figurines of Jane Austen characters scattered all over her house and in her cubicle at work.  She has a life-sized cut-out poster of Colin Firth playing Mr. Darcy in her living room.  Finally, she's been dumped by boyfriends because when she's brought them-up to her apartment and put-on a dvd of a Jane Austen story, she's really wanted to watch the film ("Wait, wait, you're gonna miss the best part..." ;-)

So it becomes inevitable that someone like Jane would catch wind of a England based resort called "Austenland" that promises patrons an "authentic immersive experience" into the "Regency Era" of Jane Austen's novels and against her best friend's advice Jane drops the better portion of her life-savings (at her age, probably a few grand) to have the Jane Austen experience of her dreams.  Still thinking that Jane's making a terrible mistake, her best friend nevertheless buys her a nice Austen-era country dress with matching hat and wishing her well drops Jane off in said attire, Jane looking like Jane Austen's Emma, at JFK airport for her flight "over the pond..." 

Things take a turn when she arrives at London's Heathrow Airport the next day.  While waiting to be picked-up by Austenland's "shuttle,"  Jane runs into another American who's going to Austenland as well.  A rather curvy late-30s/40-ish woman (played by Jennifer Coolidge) who one gets the sense probably never actually cracked-open a Jane Austen novel though she's probably read a fair number of Harlequin Romance knock-offs, she comes if not dressed yet for the part then with at least a plausibly Austenish sounding name calling herself Miss Elizabeth Charming.  And even if somewhat/largely clueless, she seems quite sincere/sweet and ... apparently she also comes loaded.

That the simple, sincere if largely clueless 40ish Elizabeth Charming is rich, while the far better versed, indeed über-versed Jane, is not becomes IMMEDIATELY IMPORTANT when the two arrive at the gate of Austenland's Estate: The wealthy Elizabeth Charming is led into her posh Regency Era quarters filled with all the amenities and all kinds of dresses of the time (the dresses often challenging for her to fit into, but available to her).  In contrast, Jane who may have dropped her life's-savings to go on this experience, nevertheless didn't exactly impress Mrs Wattlesbrook (played by Jane Seymour) running the experence as "hardly belonging to landed gentry" ;-).  Thus Jane, given the last name "Erstwhile" for the experience is rather unceremoniously given a rather spartan room in the "Servants' Quarters." Mrs Wattlesbrook then introduces Jane to the others in the experience as an "orphaned, poor relation" who the Wattlesbrooks had nevertheless "taken in, out of the goodness of our hearts." ;-) WELCOME FOLKS TO THE CLASS DISTINCTIONS OF JANE AUSTEN'S TIME ;-)

However, "poor relation" though she may be, JANE IS STILL ALLOWED TO BE "A RELATION."  Thus she's able, in fact, to be with BOTH "the servants" notably with a dashing "gardener" / "stable hand" named "Martin" (played by Bret McKenzie) whose last name, true to the custom of the time, apparently would not have been of any consequence to anyone, AND WITH THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF THE OWNERS OF THE MANOR ESTATE, "the Wattlesbrooks." 

And actually it's Mrs Wattlesbrook (played again wonderfully by Jane Seymour) who really runs the show.  Mr Wattlesbrook (played by Rupert Vansittart) is shown mostly drunk, quite literally farting around in the background most of the time.  He only comes to fore once when in a somewhat drunken stupor he lunges at "poor relation" Jane apparently to try to sexually assault her after he spots her coming back from stable hand Martin's hovel one evening.  Again, welcome to some of the dirt / hypocrisy of the "Regency Age" ... ;-).

The other characters (played by actors for the experience) are a hoot.  There's the pipe smoking, brandy drinking mustached "Colonel Andrews" (played by James Callis) who's visiting the Wattlesbrooks after spending "some years" out "in the Punjab."  There's "Lady Emilia Hartwright" (played by Georgia King) who apparently loved the experience so much the previous year that she's back for more.  There's the dashing (and generally shirtless) "Captain George East" (played by Ricky Whittle) who comes in "from the West Indies" midway through the experience with grand tales of fighting off pirates and Napoleon's warships to the distraction of both "Miss Charming" and "Miss Lady Hartwright."  And then there is the rather stiff "Mr. Henry Nobley' (played by J.J. Feild) introduced as Mrs. Wattlesbrook's nephew, spending time at the estate that summer after some unfortunate (and initially unclear) "recent experience with unrequited love." 

Okay folks ... what a setup to a story! ;-)  Much ensues ... and amusingly true to the film's often quite honest and "deconstructive" take on Jane Austen's era ... much of it has to do with KNITTING ;-) ... Why KNITTING?  Well ... what did young women from wealthier families living in the English countryside do in the 1820s?  THEY READ TO EACH OTHER BOOKS, THEY PLAYED CARDS, THEY PLAYED CROQUET, THEY SIGHED ... and THEY KNITTED ;-) ;-) ... while their MEN "HUNTED", drank brandy, smoked cigars and did other "manly things" of the time ;-)

What follows is just a great film.  Yes, there are a lot of romantic twists and turns.  Yes, there's "a Ball" near the end.  Yes, it doesn't "just end at the Ball" ... But yes it has to end well.  As a light, romantic film, one really couldn't ask for much more.

Stylistically, I would add that the film owes much to Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette [2006], blending the period clothes/sets with a contemporary soundtrack and perhaps to Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris [2011] (which too was about "going back to another time" in that case Paris of the 1920s).  Then Jane is definitely a young contemporary heroine (Stefanie Meyers' imprimatur is clearly felt).  Mrs Wattlesbrook may run the estate at Austenland but this is definitely modern 28 year-old Jane's story ...

All in all, the film's not going to be for everybody ... but for those who'd enjoy "time traveling" in this way, the film's a blast ;-).

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