Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Enough Said [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars)  RE.com (3 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RE.com (S. Wloszczyna ) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Enough Said [2013] (written and directed by Nicole Holofcener) is a simple enough relationship dramedy of sorts. 

Eva (played by Julia Lewis-Dreyfus) is a 40-something divorced mother with a 18-year-old daughter, Ellen (played by Tracey Fairaway) who's getting ready go off to college at the end of the summer.  As such, the home's looking be pretty empty come the fall.  So reluctantly she gets talked into going to a party by a friend.  "Maybe you'll meet someone" is the premise.  "Ya right," but perhaps Eva's a little more vulnerable / a little more open to meeting new people this time than in the past.

So ... at said party she does actually meet two new people: First, she makes a new client. Eva's a massage therapist and she runs into a somewhat intimidating woman, but her age, named Marianne (played by Catherine Keener), a poet, who's interested in her services.  Second, she meets a guy, who's kind of a lug, though an amiable one, named Albert (played masterfully by the ever smiling, James Gandolfini, who's tragically died since the shooting of the film).   He too was divorced, and had a daughter about to head off to college.  So the two hit it off.

Now what would be the odds that Albert's ex would be Marianne?  And it takes some time for Eva to figure out that the "loser" that Mariane had been married to and complains about as Eva's massaging her is ... Albert, whose not-flawless but easy-going manner Eva's gotten to like.  And since Marianne and Albert are exes, neither initially knows that Eva is massaging and becoming chatty-friends with Marianne while she's also dating Albert.

This can't really end well ... and it doesn't.

The only thing is that to be honest I felt sorry for Eva because I could easily imagine myself having done the same thing as she did in the situation ... nothing and somehow hope for the best.

It would have been easier perhaps to break things off with Marianne.  But then a message therapist isn't exactly going to be throwing away good clients.  Done legitimately, it's actually quite hard work and one wouldn't want to easily throw away good, polite and grateful clients.  Then honestly, as Eva confides to a friend: if you knew someone who's dated someone that you're interest in, wouldn't you hear what they have to say... even if it is negative?

So there it is, and yes, Eva's budding relationship with Albert is more or less certainly doomed.  It's just a question of when / how the axe will fall.

However, here then the title of the film becomes interesting.  What if Marianne had bit her tongue and not talked so harshly about Albert?  Yes, she had no idea that Eva knew who he was much less that she was dating him.  But even then, what if she chose to not be so negative?  Okay, things didn't work out between Marianne and him.  She was clearly more intellectual and he more easy going.  But rather than hate one's ex (yes, even one's ex) why not just wish him/her the best?

We're all created and loved by the same God after all ...

So perhaps _way too much_ "was said" in this film and ironically it was Eva (and neither Marianne nor even Albert) who ended up being hurt.   Hmm. 

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All is Lost [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars)  RE.com (4 Stars)  AVClub (A-)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RE.com (A. Alikan) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review

All is Lost [2013] (written and directed by J.C. Chandor) is a remarkable one man story about a lone yachtsman (played in the film by Robert Redford) that the script simply labels "Our Man" who finds himself in crisis at sea (as the opening credits tell us) "1500 miles from the Sumatra Straits" (somewhere in the Indian Ocean).

What's he doing out there?  We don't know.  In fact, learn next to nothing about the yachtsman during the whole course of the film.  In an opening voice-over, we hear him writing out what sounds like a generic letter of apology.  To whom is he writing this letter?  To unnamed loved ones?  To humanity in general?  To God?  Again we don't know.

As we hear him compose his short letter, we're also treated to an utterly generic view: gentle waves of a body of water extending out to infinity banging on "something metal."  What's this "something metal" floating out in a all-but-infinite body of water in the middle of nowhere?  Well, as we hear the yachtsman compose his letter, we're slowly given an ever improving view.  And as he finishes his rather short and very generic letter, we realize that the metal object that we've been observing, floating out in that all-but-infinite sea, is but one of those giant metal container boxes that container ships now carry that had apparently fallen from its ship one day (when?  we have no idea) and had been floating randomly on the sea ever since.

A credit on the screen then tells us that the story began "8 days earlier ..."

On that day, we're shown that at some random time during the day, the yachtsman is awaken (from either sleeping or napping ... we don't know) by a crash caused by the above described random metal container floating out at sea.

The random metal container, apparently containing gym-shoes, not only crashes into the boat, but punctures a hole in it.  It's not a huge hole.  It's eminently fixable.  And we see the yachtsman come to patch it up reasonably well with epoxy and some fiber-glass cloth.  But it did shake him up as perhaps nothing previously did, and the hole caused by the random-metal container that had been floating out at sea did cause some damage.  The yacht had at least temporarily taken in (unexpectedly) a fair amount of water, the result being that most of the yachtsman's electronics onboard had been fried.

So though he the yachtsman manages to patch-up his boat, he's now "sailing blind" or more correctly sailing "deaf" and "mute."  He's unable to communicate a distress-call to anybody via the radio and he can't receive any important information (mostly about weather...) either.   So he soon finds himself, out in the middle of nowhere, hit by a couple of very nasty storms (that perhaps previously he would have been able to avoid). The rest of the film, of course, unspools from there ... and of course the story goes largely downhill.

The question that the viewer inevitably starts to ask is whether (or not) the anonymous yachtsman is going to make it out alive.  On one hand, this is a "Hollywood movie" with the lead role being played by one of Hollywood's most beloved / talented actors.  On the other hand, the film's title is "All is Lost" ... So the viewer soon realizes that the story could really go either way.

It's also obvious that the story is intended to be taken as being about more than just "a lone yachtsman out at sea in a boat."  I'd say that the story a remarkably insightful allegory about aging:  For much of our lives "we're fine."  And like the yachtsman in the film, we may take this for granted, blissfully napping in our boat, perhaps even "drifting through life" until ... BOOM something happens and we're "not fine."   And that something may not be fatal.  Like the yachtsman, we may be able to "patch it up."  But it MAY rattle us, and may have other consequences that (cumulatively) set-us down a course toward our end.  And in the course of our dying, we're repeatedly forced to work with less-and-less, until ...

Great, thought provoking story ... definitely deserving Oscar consideration for acting, direction and screenplay.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Rush [2013]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RE.com (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (B. Kenigsberg) review

Rush [2013] (directed by Ron Howard, screenplay by Peter Morgan) is straight-up car-racing movie that doesn't involve any bank-robberies or shooting.  Instead it's about an epic rivalry between two very different 70s-era formula-one drivers the brash/playboy Englishman James Hunt (played in the film by Chris Hemsworth) and the relentless/methodical Austrian Niki Lauda (played in the film by Daniel Brühl).  Both were incidentally from upper/upper-middle class homes (Hunt was the son of a London stockbroker, Lauda the son of an Austrian banker) and both were effectively disowned by their families for choosing to waste their lives on frivolity.

Yes, it's clear from the film that formula-one racing required money.  Niki Lauda is shown as having impressed the Ferrari family enough to convince them, Austrian though he was..., to race for their team, while Hunt managed to convince a British racing consortium that he stood the best chance of beating Lauda having done so back in their formula-three "minor league" pasts.  But then, this is part of the formula-one mystique.  Its drivers and races (held in all sorts of exotic cities across the world) could be compared to the medieval jousting knights and tournaments of old.

So then this then is the set-up of the film: the high-rolling/partying Englishman Hunt chasing the more cerebral Lauda for the 1976 Formula One Gran-Prix championship.  Both of course have love interests.  Hunt enters the 1976 season married but not particularly faithful to an English supermodel named Suzy Miller (played in the film by Olivia Wilde).  And during the course of the season, Lauda marries his German speaking Italian girlfriend Marlene (played in the film by Alexandria Maria Lara) who he had met, quite accidentally apparently, at a Ferarri family party.   The love lives of the two racers do, in fact, play significant roles in how the racing season (and hence the film) plays out.

All in all, I found the film to be very exciting.  Yes, car racing is often characterized as simply "racing around in circles."  Yet, formula-one racing is, in fact, more than just that.  Each of the race courses is different and when one adds variations in climate / weather / road conditions, one's left in awe at the bravery (or angry at the arrogance/recklessness) of the drivers.   IMHO it makes for one heck of a film!

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Fifth Estate [2013]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RE.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (B. Kenigsberg) review

The Fifth Estate [2013] (directed by Bill Condon, screenplay by Josh Singer, based on the books Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website by Daniel Domscheit-Berg [IMDb-p] [IMDb-ch] and  WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy by David Leigh [IMDb] and Luke Harding [IMDb]), which enjoyed a special screening at the recent 49th Chicago International Film Festival  prior to its wide-release in the United States, is about one of the most controversial people of recent times, Julian Assange [IMDb-p] [IMDb-ch], the founder of the (universal) whistle-blower site wikileaks.org.  It's a film that is IMHO paradoxically both fascinating and dated and ultimately could serve as a very good young adult discussion piece.

The film is dated because the continued revelations stemming from nouveau über-leaker (yup, I loved putting that word construction together ;-), former National Security Agency contract worker Edward Snowden, make it clear that neither Assange nor his website are now essential for deep dark government / corporate secrets to be exposed.  What are needed are people disturbed after coming into contact with something that they find profoundly wrong willing to be(come) whistle-blowers and a Free/Credible/Professional Press to report (after appropriate fact-checking...) the news brought to it by them.  Indeed, among the true heroes of the film, one would have to say, would have to be the staff at The Guardian (website) who always took Assange seriously and (as per the film) were always willing to extend a hand to help him (Whether he was willing to accept their advice/help becomes another matter and a plot-point in the film).
However be this as it may (that Assange and his website are and perhaps always were "unncessary" / "irrelevant"), thanks to his Samson-like will (perhaps mixed with some arrogance) the world has indeed been changed by him.  Both the People and the Press are awake, if only temporarily, as a result of him.  And that makes him then, IMHO, a fascinating person. 

Now who is this Julian Assange [IMDb-p] [IMDb-ch] (played in the film by Benedict Cumberbatch), and where (what milieu) did he come from?  This is what this film is about.  Yes, it's gossipy (Australian, Assange is presented as having come from a hippy single-mother household and spent at least part of his childhood with her in some sort of a New Age-y cult called "The Family" ... Assange denies this).  To some extent the film is formulaic (Like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as presented in The Social Network [2010], Julian Assange, human rights activist that he may feel himself to be, is presented in the film as someone who relates far better to the virtual world of the Internet than to actual people).  And to a good extent the film's observations may once more be irrelevant (Why should one necessarily care if Julian Assange "may have trouble relating to people" if despite his flaws he made the world a better place (for all)?)  Still as gossipy or trite as the film may be characterized as being, we are all people and wish to understand the people who effect our world _as people_ as well.  So IMHO the film-makers' attempt to try to understand who Assange is and what makes him tick is ultimately legitimate.

In the film-makers' attempt to do so, they lean heavily on Daniel Berg [IMDb-p] [IMDb-ch] (played in the film by Daniel Brühl) Assange's (former?) friend and the author of one of the two books on which the film is based.  A German hacker / human rights activist, Berg is presented as being initially in awe of the Australian hacker and wikileaks founder who he meets in person for the first time at a hacker convention in Berlin (Indeed, Berg had been asked, presumably by Assange, to introduce him at a conference that Assange was to give at the convention).  It would also appear that Assange, presented in the film as a profoundly mistrustful-loner, was genuinely appreciative of both Berg's programming abilities (comparable to or at least "in the same league" as his own) and access (to the anarcho-hacker community in Berlin/Europe) and was at least initially appreciative of  Berg's friendship (Berg and his circle of friends were people who would have been able to understand both Assange's abilities and motivations). 

But Assange is presented in the film as a deeply contradictory figure: Though it's clear that he wants to defend human rights, he can't seem to relate well to people.  As such, his beloved creation Wikileaks is presented in the film as something of a virtual Potemkin village.  On one hand Assange talks of Wikileaks as "a movement" with "hundreds, thousands of volunteers."  But when Berg asks him about this in a very practical way (Why not share some of the verification work that Wikileaks has to do with some of those volunteers?) it becomes clear (AT LEAST IN THE FILM) that Wikileaks is basically JUST Assange and Berg.  Those "hundreds of volunteers" are generally just decoy electronic mailboxes and identities.

Now there is actually a logic to this: Volunteers themselves could become compromised, become sources of leaks, but ... what does it do to the credibility of a "movement" when honestly no one knows how large it actually is and one progressively discovers (perhaps even to one's dismay, as Berg apparently did) that "the movement" was essentially only the size of one or two people (him and Assange)?  Add then the obvious:  Berg's world is larger than simply Assange.  Berg has a girlfriend, another computer programmer named Anke (played by Alicia Vikander).  Assange is presented as having difficulty enough relating to Berg.  He's presented then as having no idea of how to relate to Anke, and then Anke is presented as someone who really comes to dislike him.  (Note here that as gossipy as this all may sound, Assange has famously (or infamously) been accused of criminal sexual misconduct in Sweden.  At least on some level, therefore, he's objectively had some trouble relating properly with women).

Now Assange is presented as having (had) other allies/sympathizers, notably at The Guardian (website).  Nick Davies (played by David Thewlis) of The Guardian is a significant character in the film in good part to remind us of this and of the fact that the second book on which this film is based was written by David Leigh [IMDb] and Luke Harding [IMDb]) of The Guardian.  But is Assange able to trust them?  Or is he just too closed in on himself to be able to trust anybody (even potential allies in some powerful quarters who could be / have been useful to him)?  That appears to be a question that the good folks at The Guardian ask about him.

The Fifth Estate [2013] becomes then the second (Hollywood) film of its sort -- the other being The Social Network [2010] about Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg -- in which a computer programming whiz who has arguably changed the world has been also portrayed as someone with deep problems with relating to others.  Is it fair?  Should it matter?   And is this characterization even particularly correct?  Zuckerberg, for instance, is married.  And Assange has been "relateable enough" to repeatedly call the film a pack of lies.

Anyway, IMHO the film would probably make for a very good "young adult" discussion piece about both the way news is presented (and at times "outed") in our world today and also about the ever increasingly important role that previously marginalized "geeks" are having in it.  

And without a doubt positively, film makes the anarcho-hacker milieu of Berlin's neon-lit internet cafes today supremely interesting.   As the film has Assange himself marvelling to Berg when he first arrives in Berlin, "Who would have guessed that the former heart of jackbooted Fascism would now be such a center of internet freedom."   Yes, indeed, who could have possibly guessed that after so much history (both as the center of Hitler's Germany and then at the very fault-line during the Cold War) it would today be unbelievably cool for a young person today to be able to say: "Ich bin ein Berliner." ;-) 

So in the end, good film folks, very good film!

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Friday, October 25, 2013

The Counselor [2013]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  Michael Phillips (2 Stars)  RE.com (2 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (1/2 Star)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Chicago Tribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (D. Callahan) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Do you reject the glamor of evil?
-- Profession of Faith at the Baptismal Rite

About the most positive thing that could be said of the film, The Counselor [2013] (directed by Ridley Scott, screenplay by Cormac McCarthy) was that the wardrobe and makeup people outdid themselves in dressing-up the film's long-long-gone/sinister "power couple," the ever smiling/ever stoned Reiner (played by Javier Bardem) with a perfectly spiked "black sun" hairstyle (Honestly, how could one ever sleep in that, and how much time would it take to get it all groomed to such perfection each morning?) and his quite literally "tough as nails" girlfriend Malkina (played by Cameron Diaz).  I generally NEVER notice nails, but Malkina had PERFECTLY MANICURED "platinum" (or stainless steel ...) colored finger nails that INSTANTLY give one the impression that she was half-human/half-unbelievably-bad-news.  Then she had a LONG, LONG, MEANDERING "leopard style" tattoo that began at her neck and then flowed down her side, down to her a...).  Together the two raised a pair of "snow cheetahs" which they'd let loose each late-afternoon, to  run-down (and kill ...) jack-rabbits on the Texas prairie outside of El Paso where they lived, as they calmly sat drinking shaken flavored martinis and contemplated the sunset each day.  The Devil himself could not have been more exquisitely drawn.

Into their world entered a lawyer, known to us only as "The Counselor" (played by Michael Fassbender).  Already apparently wealthy, he apparently simply had a taste for more.  And so he enters into a fairly "high return" (hence also high risk ...) drug deal with said power couple.  Both Reiner and Reiner's middle-man Westray (played by Brad Pitt) who does Reiner's negotiations across the border with the (Mexican) drug lords warn (indeed try to _counsel_) "the Counselor" that he's getting into a world far more dangerous than his wildest imagination.  But "the Counselor," a dressed-for-success type-A personality lawyer won't take their counsel for caution and jumps right in.  Besides, he has a striking trophy-wife-to-be named Laura (played by Penélope Cruz) who he wants to impress with his prowess/success.

This can't possibly end well... and, of course, it doesn't.  It ends horribly, horribly badly and involves killings so grotesque that if not mirroring the _reality_ of the cross border City of Juarez today, would have no possible place on the screen / story-telling today.

Even then, honestly ... the prophet Isaiah offers good advice:

Hear, you who are far off,
what I have done;
you who are near,
acknowledge my might.

On Zion sinners are in dread,
trembling grips the impious;
“Who of us can live with the consuming fire?
Who of us can live with the everlasting flames?”

He who practices virtue and speaks honestly,
who spurns what is gained by oppression,
brushing his hands
free of contact with a bribe,
stopping his ears lest he hear of bloodshed,
closing his eyes lest he look on evil.

He shall dwell on the heights,
his stronghold shall be the rocky fastness,
his food and drink 

in steady supply.

-- Isaiah 33:13-16  (Morning Prayer Thursday, Week 1)

Yes, there is Evil in this world, but there certainly is no need to glory in it. Honestly, this film is not for the faint-hearted and of little conceivable value to anybody else.

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Walesa: Man of Hope (orig. Wałęsa. Człowiek z nadziei) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
Filmweb.pl listing

Walesa: Man of Hope (orig. Wałęsa. Człowiek z nadziei) [2013] [IMDb] [FW]* (directed by Andrzej Wajda [IMDb] [FW]*, screenplay by Janusz Głowacki [IMDb] [FW]*) is a biopic from Poland about Lech Wałęsa [IMDb] the Nobel Peace Prize winning founder of Poland's Solidarity Trade Union (which played an instrumental role in bringing down Communism in the former Soviet Bloc). The film won Silver Hugo award recently (awarded to Robert Więckiewicz [IMDb] [FW]* for Best Actor for his performance in the film's title role) at the 49th Chicago International Film Festival.  The film also open the upcoming 25th Polish Film Festival in America to be held between Nov 8-24, 2013 here in Chicago.

When writing about another recent biopic, the Hollywood-produced film Jobs [2013] about the legendary cofounder of Apple Computers, I've noted that such films about "great leaders" can be tricky.  They can be fawning works of adulation and/or they can be hatchet jobs.   The current film about Wałęsa made by Andrzej Wajda [IMDb] [FW]* an admitted friend seeks to portray him in folk hero hues that will certainly annoy many, many Westerners (okay many, many Western liberals...) already appalled by the rise and continued presence of the self-evidently contrived, forced winking, flaming saccharine spouting American folksilla Sarah Palin [IMDb-p] [IMDb-ch].  Yet Lech Wałęsa [IMDb] was not Sarah Palin [IMDb-p] [IMDb-ch], was he?  PLEASE ... say it isn't so?  There was much, much more "there" THERE in the Lech Wałęsa [IMDb] of the 1980s, right?  (I do believe that there was much more to Lech Wałęsa [IMDb] and that the film shows this to be so, BUT what a fascinating question to consider when viewing this film! ;-)

The film is built around the device of Lech Wałęsa [IMDb] (played in the film by Robert Więckiewicz [IMDb] [FW]*) being interviewed in the 1980s while Poland was still under the Communists by an Italian journalist (played by Maria Rosario Omaggio [IMDb] [FW]*).  The device is effective because it underlines the unexpected qualities of the man.  It's clear from her somewhat grandiose initial questions that the Italian journalist is (perhaps necessarily) far more accustomed to interviewing preening Italian celebrities or perhaps Italian politicians.  And here she's interviewing a very practical, "down-to-earth" to downright _earthy_ Polish trade-union-leader proudly wearing an Our Lady of Częstochowa lapel pin, who while admitting to an "authoritarian streak" himself (I love that, and respect him _and the screenwriter_ all the more to (having him) admitting to that ;-), HATES PRETENSE OR JARGON.   "Will this interview help me or hurt me?" he asks the journalist as they begin the interview.  "I suppose it depends on your answers to MY questions," the journalist answers, irritated that he's actually posed the first question ... and to her ;-).   Sizing her up then, he shrugs his shoulders as if to say "What the heck ;-)" and consents to proceed ;-).  Note here the obvious: The right-brewed faux populist Sarah Palin that we know would NEVER EVER CONSENT to an interview like this and in a manner like that. "What the heck?"  Take a chance?  Right.  Instead, she'd SAFELY SPEW on FoxNews about the "lame street media...."

Where then to start Wałęsa's story?  The film-makers decide that December 1970 would be a good place to begin.  Why then?   Well in December 1970 there was an (illegal) strike at Wałęsa's place of employment, the Gdansk (then V.I. Lenin...) shipyard.  He was on the strike committee.  Yet he and his wife Danuszka (played magnificently throughout the film by Agnieszka Grochowska [IMDb] [FW]*) are about to have their first child.  Danuszka's just gone into labor and Lech's heading out the door of their tiny apartment with her to go with her to the hospital when he receives word that the strike (that he's voted against) has begun.  What to do?  GIVEN HONESTLY ONLY A SPLIT SECOND'S AMOUNT OF TIME TO THINK ABOUT IT, he decides (1) to ask his neighbor (present) to go with his wife to the hospital, (2) take off his watch and wedding ring, placing them in the hand of his aghast wife ("Lechku, what THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?") telling her "I'm sorry, BUT THIS IS IMPORTANT ... ;-)" ("BUT ... I'M IN LABOR....") "And if I don't come back, please sell these (the ring and the watch)," and (3) runs out the door to head to the strike WHERE HE SPENDS HIS TIME TRYING TO CALM THE WORKERS DOWN AND KEEP THEM FROM GETTING KILLED.

Of course he gets arrested.  At the police station, he repeatedly asks if he could talk to his wife.  "I need to know if I have a son or daughter."  "Shut up, you'll find out in five years after we're done with you!" "But you idiot, I tried TO STOP THIS STRIKE." "You have ANY WITNESSES?"  "YES, YOUR OWN POLICE."  The police official checks out the story.  It turns out that several of the baton swinging police officers who had been SUPPORTED BY TANKS remember "a guy with a black mustache" who was trying to calm the workers down.  Surprised, the police official tells him, "Your wife and son are okay."  "I have a son!" Lech happily repeats.

There's still the matter of "signing a few papers" and he'd be allowed home.  What papers?  Well, release forms AND ... one stating that he'd be willing TO COOPERATE WITH THE AUTHORITIES if/when they make "occasional inquiries" about some of the workers in the shipyard.  HE DOESN'T WANT TO SIGN.  But he's told (1) "You've ALREADY COOPERATED WITH US in trying to calm down the workers today" and (2) "You're not going home unless you sign the paper."  NOT NECESSARILY TOTALLY OPPOSED TO CIVIL AUTHORITY (EVEN IF it was being run by the Communists at the time) and WANTING TO SEE HIS WIFE AND SON ... he signs the paper and is allowed to go home (and see his wife and newborn kid).

In this early sequence we see WHY WALESA WAS/IS DIFFERENT:  If at times PERHAPS he was/is "a hack" -- he free admits to the journalist his limited education, his distrust of intellectuals who he believed/believes "think too much," and to trusting/following "his gut" -- HE WAS NEVER A STOOGE.

The story then that followed was of one who was BRAVE, often VERY SMART ("I always had a quick sense of KNOWING EXACTLY HOW MUCH WE COULD ASK OF THE AUTHORITIES AND WHEN") and in the absolute _best sense_ of John Paul II's "acting person" theology FREE long before the Iron Curtain came down.  After being arrested in Gdansk by no less than the local Communist Party Secretary coming to his door (with a Kalishnikow carrying police escort ...) at the proverbial "3 AM" and flown then by Polish military helicopter "somewhere East" (HOW FAR "East" he initially CAN'T TELL) he's told by one of the Polish officials transporting him: "You know our friends 'out East' keep asking us why we shouldn't just dispose of you."  Without missing a beat, Lech replies: "If you kill me, you know you'll just make me a Saint."

So this is one heck of a movie about an authentic folk hero.  Yes, his "shoot from the hip" / "anti-intellectual" limits are obvious (and presented in the film as such).  But that is, of course, the WHOLE POINT OF (CATHOLIC/THEOLOGICAL) SOLIDARITY: We (all of us) have been created by God to complete each other (cf. Col 1:24, Rom 12:3-8, 1 Cor 12:12-26).  Great film folks, great film!

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

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

La Paz [2013]

MPAA (UR would be R)   Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Cinenacional.com* listing

La Paz [2013] [IMDb] [CN]* (written and directed by Santiago Loza [IMDb] [CN]*) is a gentle, well acted, "personalist" film from Argentina about a troubled young man named Liso (played by Lisandro Rodríguez [IMDb] [CN]*) struggling with borderline mental illness.  The film played recently at the 49th Chicago International Film Festival.   (North) American viewers would probably find it interesting to compare the film's treatment of the subject matter to recent North American films like Take Shelter [2011], Perks of Being a Wall Flower [2012] and even Silver Linings Playbook [2012] that cover similar ground.

The current film begins with Liso, presumably in his early 20s (still of college age) being released from the hospital after an unspecified length of stay to his upper-middle class parents (played by Andrea Strenitz [IMDb] [CN]* and Ricardo Felix [IMDb] [CN]* respectively).   Liso's father is some sort of a factory manager, his mother manages their "appropriate to their class" home (presumably somewhere in an upper class neighborhood of  Buenos Aires) with a rather large garden and swimming pool.   They also have a Bolivian maid named Sonia (played by Fidelia Batallanos Michel [IMDb] [CN]*).    Liso also has a kindly grandmother (played by Beatriz Bernabé [IMDb] [CN]*) who lives in a flat in a more modest neighborhood on her own.  All in all, the family would not be out-of-place in Santa Monica or the Brentwood neighborhood of West L.A.

Liso's family is not evil, indeed, they're sympathetic.  But also it's clear that Liso's bout with schizophrenia has proven to be something beyond their comprehension or preparedness.  

With Lino on anti-schizophrenic medication, much of the movie is characteristically "flat."  After a while, Lino's father in particular just doesn't get it.  "Do you want to work?  Do you want to go back to school?  You used to have friends, you used to have novias (girlfriends).  Now you have nothing, do nothing.  It's not good to have no ambition, no plans..." and in an attempt to "animarlo" (animate him) he gives him some money to "divertirse" (have some fun).  Then he gives him a few more bills "in case she's expensive" ;-).  Yes, it's crude, yes it's rather stereotypical, but given Lino's extended pyschological "flatness" it's also sincere ;-).  So Lino goes and finds a prostitute (who's actually "putting herself through law school" that way ;-).  She assures him that he's (physically) fine.  But she's also confused about what's wrong with him, agreeing essentially with his dad that "it's not good to have no ambition..."  And of course Lino himself doesn't know what to do with his life.

The film's solution to Lino's problem finds itself in person of Sonia, the family's maid.  After many years of working for Lino's family, she decides that she needs to go home.  "But why would you want to go back to Bolivia?" asks Lino's incredulous mother.  "I miss it."  "What could you possibly miss?"  Getting someone angry at this point, Sonia responds, "Everything."

So eventually, she packs herself up and decides to return to the mountains of La Paz (Bolivia's capital).  And Lino, stuck _at sea level_ with no plans or hopes in Buenos Aires eventually decides to go with her and ... (mild spoiler alert, but it is the title of the film ...) ... there he finds "la paz" (peace).

It's a nice film about an upper middle class family in crisis and the need to perhaps let go of some things ... to find peace.

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

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mothers [2012]

MPAA (UR)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Official website

Mothers [2012] (directed by Hui Jing Xu) is a truly remarkable documentary made by the non-profit Chinese documentary film institute CNEX (website, Aug, 2013 NYTimes article).  The film played recently at the 49th Chicago International Film Festival.

Filmed in a small, unremarkable town called Ma somewhere in Northern China, the film is about the actual ENFORCEMENT of China's "One Child" birth control policy in this small town. 

Basically sometime around the time of former Chairman Mao's birthday -- shown celebrated in the town at a (converted?) traditional Buddhist-style shrine where Mao is venerated like a God (I'm not kidding DIVINE LANGUAGE IS LAVISHLY USED in both song by children and oration by elders) -- the "village committee" is given the yearly task of sterilizing a prescribed quota of women.

'Cept there's a problem this year.  While not impossible to meet the quota, the members of the village committe note (I'M AMAZED THAT THE FILM MAKER HAD THE ACCESS THAT HE DID) that to fulfill it this year would require the actual sterilization of the vast majority of the town/region's "qualified" women (women with already one child and not yet sterilized).  

Generally, "qualified women" are given a choice.  They could either undergo the sterilization procedure OR _pay a fine_ and simply accept a prescribed "birth control ring" (a type of IUD) with the question of sterilization pushed back for another year. 

However, the "higher ups" apparently had enough of giving the local women choices.  SO THIS YEAR sterilization was going to be pushed in this town and its environs.

And so it goes ... The documentary film-maker accompanies the local "health official" bureaucrats as they visit (and later, increasingly _track down_) the women in question.  He taping the bureaucrats as they nonchalantly talk about their business (Again, I'M AMAZED THAT THE FILM-MAKER WAS GIVEN THIS KIND OF ACCESS / CANDOR).

The bureaucrats joke about their work: "Remember the time back in the 1980s and we were directed to perform all those abortions on women violating the quota.  Yes, the 'religious types' (it turns out that there's actually a SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF CHRISTIANS IN THIS TOWN, something that's shown repeatedly throughout the documentary) were all crying and getting upset as we performed them.  Sometimes the child would half-come-out with arms and legs squirming.  But we'd just pull them out and throw them into the pit just the same ..."

The documentary eventually focuses on the health official bureaucrats attempts to track-down a particularly hard woman to find.  Her name was Rong-Rong.  They go to her house.  She's not there.  They go to her aunt's house.  She's not there.  They go to her mother's house outside of town.  She's not there either.  Frustrated, they sit down over tea to talk to Rong-Rong's mother and ask her how many kids SHE'S (Rong-Rong's mother's) had.  She answers five.  "Five! That must have been a lot of work."  "Not really," she answers matter of factly,  "At least the kids weren't lonely and I have children now to take care of me."

And there it is ...

As hard as the local officials try to get their quota (and eventually they do) it's clear that nobody really believes in their project.  It's just what "the higher ups" ask that they do.  And if they fulfill their quota, the "higher ups" presumably would "be happy," something which would be important to ambitious or just spineless bureaucrats.

The documentary ends, noting that in 2011 the Chinese government has decided that beginning in 2015, the "one child policy" will officially become a "two child policy."  So all those women being sterilized were being sterilized to no end.  But "a quota" needed to be fulfilled ...

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Under the Rainbow (orig. Au bout du Conte) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be PG)  AC.fr* aggregate (critics 3.5/5 audience 3.0/5)  Fr. Dennis (3/4 Stars)  

IMDb listing
Alociné.fr listing

Under the Rainbow (orig. Au bout du Conte) [2013] [IMDb] [AC.fr]* (directed and cowritten by Agnès Jaoui [IMDb] [AC.fr]* along with Jean-Pierre Bacri [IMDb] [AC.fr]*) is a French romantic comedy of sorts (the French title translates roughly "After the fairy tale...") that played recently at the 49th Chicago International Film Festival.

The story centers around Laura (played by Agathe Bonitzer [IMDb] [AC.fr]*) a 24-year-old parisienne with divorced parents.  Her proper, upper-class "Legion de Honneur" father had dumped her mother for a seemingly younger, "far better looking wife."  His unsmiling second wife (unsmiling probably because she can't ...), Laura's "evil step mother," keeps herself young by undergoing a seemingly endless (though remarkably successful) line of cosmetic surgeries.  When it's revealed somewhere near the end of the film that she's "62" (when honestly NO ONE would think she could possibly be more than in her late 30s) one "understands."  In contrast, Laura's mother, a failed if sympathetic actress (played by Agnès Jaoui [IMDb] [AC.fr]*) lives in a shack "at the edge of town" ("at the edge of the forest...") and runs a children's after-school drama class, trying to get her 10 year old "princes" to "stay on script" and kiss the 10 year old "princesses" even as they whine that they'd really prefer to be frogs again (and the "princesses" agree ;-).

Anyway, Laura wonders if there's a prince still out there for her.  When at a party she spots a good-looking young man named Sandro (played by played by Anthur Dupont [IMDb] [AC.fr]*) dressed all in blue with somewhat unkempt but a full head of hair, under a GIANT STATUE OF AN ANGEL ABOVE HIM and seemingly EVEN POINTING AT HIM, she takes it for "a sign" ;-).  'Cept it turns out that he's kinda quiet, kinda clumsy, stutters (he's actually a brooding composer of sorts) and ... after tripping going down the stairs when leaving the party, it's he who leaves his own shoe at the ball.

But he seems to be "the one" at least for a while, until... one day, dressed smartly in a nice red coat and a nice red hat, on her way to her mother's house (at the edge of town/edge of the forest) ... Laura runs into a somewhat older man, all dressed in black and driving a big black sports-car.  He first offers to give her a lift and when she politely refuses he gives her directions.  The man's name, turns out to be Maxime Wolff (played by Benjamin Biolay [IMDb] [AC.fr]*) who Laura's mother tells her is a new neighbor down the street (Maxime of course meaning "very large", Wolff ... being, well, you get the picture ... ;-)

Good ole Maxime Wolff ends up being a music critic.  So Laura and Sandro run into him a few more times, and given that Sandro's kinda a klutz and Maxime is, if nothing else, really really confident ... well ...

Much still ensues ... and look, I'm not kidding ;-).   There are all kinds of subplots running through this story that are almost impossible to include in a coherent review of the film ;-)

Added up, it all makes for a very imaginative (and fun) story ... 'CEPT ... There's a part of the story that I found both needless and needlessly irritating.  It concerns one of the many "subplots" of the story:

One of the little girls who also goes to Laura's mother's after-school drama program becomes very religious.  Why?  Well her parents just got separated (ALL THE ADULTS IN THE FILM ARE DIVORCED OR SEPARATED) and this little girl ON HER OWN STARTS READING BIBLE STORIES and TELLS HER PARENTS THAT SHE WANTS TO RECEIVE FIRST COMMUNION.  Her atheist and divorcing parents don't know what to do.  Her father even goes into a tirade telling his future ex-wife: "I refuse to have to sit through a sermon of some priest spouting his personal morality on me."  Eventually, they go talk to the girl's teacher at school who tells them "it could just be a phase."  And they're "relieved" when sometime near the end of the film, the girl DOES change her mind and "now wants a pony."  The mother says, relieved: "See, she's just 'seeking' ..."

I found this EXTENDED SUBPLOT in the film REALLY UNNERVING.  Interestingly enough though, the French Catholic reviewer of the film (in the publication La Croix*) did not even mention the extended sequence in his review, instead focusing on the film's general blasé thematics reminding viewers that "life isn't a fairytale."  So if French people of faith are not going to be too offended by this (to me seemingly unnecessary) part of the film I'm not going to be overly offended as well.  Still, I found this particular subplot in the film REALLY, REALLY IRRITATING and as far as I could see utterly unnecessary.

Putting that aspect of the film aside, however, I did find the film _very creative_ and very _funny_.

* I've found that one can get decent enough (sense) translations of non-English webpages by viewing them in Google's Chrome browser. 

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

12 Years a Slave [2013]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

12 Years a Slave [2013] (directed by Steve McQueen, screenplay by John Ridley based on the published memoirs of Solomon Northup), which enjoyed a special screening at the recent 49th Chicago International Film Festival, tells the true story of Solomon Northup a free-born African-American from Saratoga, New York.

An excellent violinist, he was tricked into traveling down Washington DC (south of the Mason Dixon Line) to perform a number of concerts.  Celebrating the end of his tour with his (white) employers, he was apparently drugged by them.  Waking-up the next morning he found himself chained in a holding pen for run away slaves.  Protesting his freedom, he was told by his captor: "Prove it."  Of course he couldn't.  If he had any papers at all, they would have been back in his hotel room.  Since he was apparently abducted from there, his captor wasn't going to let him communicate with anyone to look for said papers much less let him travel back to his hotel room to search for them himself.

So then began the TRUE TO LIFE Count of Monte Cristo [IMDb]-like story of Solomon Northup (played with certain Oscar-nomination caliber by Chiwetel Ejiofor).  After a few days of being held in a holding pen within the city-limits of Washington D.C., he, along with several others were clandestinely transported (today we would call it human trafficking) across the Potomac River into Virginia and then by ship to New Orleans where he was sold under the name "Pratt" to a Louisiana plantation owner named Ford (played by Benedict Cumberpatch) as a slave.

Now Ford wasn't necessarily "evil" but that makes him arguably almost worse.  On the ship between Virginia and New Orleans, Solomon had been advised by another slave (who had apparently been a fugitive and now captured was going back to his previous owner) to keep his mouth shut about his previous education/skills.  Still it soon became clear to Ford (and more problematically to the white hands that Ford had as the overseers of his slaves...) that Solomon/Pratt was no ordinary slave.   Solomon had an education.  Indeed, he had apparently worked _as an engineer_ on the construction of the Erie Canal back in his home state of New York.

To Ford, Solomon/Pratt's unexpected knowledge/skills were something of an "unexpected bonus" that he received when he purchased him for $700.  To Ford's white hands however, notably to Solomon/Pratt's immediate overseer, the  probably _illiterate_ Tibeats (played in crazed/wild-eyed fashion by Paul Dano), Solomon/Pratt's skills just made him an "uppity N" who needed to be shown/kept in his place.  Most of us come to know that it's _never particularly a good thing_ to find yourself "smarter than your boss" but what if you're a slave...?  So this could not end well ... and it doesn't.

Again Ford was not an "evil man" but one who invested $700 in his slave Pratt and didn't want to lose that investment.  So he didn't want to wait until Tibeats and his "unwashed but white" cohorts killed him.  So Ford _sold Pratt_ over to another slave owner, Edwin Eps (played by Michael Fassbender), apparently known in the area as being one willing to buy "problematic slaves" from the other slave owners in the area but ... (1) probably at a loss for the other slave owners and (2) with rather high-to-sadistic expectations of the "problem slaves" once he's purchased them.

So a few years into his captivity Solomon/Pratt has journeyed into hell-hole worthy of the above mentioned Count of Monte Cristo [IMDb] or the Old Testament Joseph or of the lead character of Stephen King's Shawshank Redemption [1994].  Does Solomon get out?  Thankfully he does.  (How? I'm not gonna say ... go see the movie :-).

At the end of the film, we're told that Solomon was one of the few black men who were abducted in this way from the North to be able to find his way back to freedom (and, obviously, he wrote about his experience in his memoirs).  Not surprisingly, Solomon Northrup also became an outspoken voice of the pre-American Civil War Abolitionist Movement.  His indeed was a remarkable (and remarkably awful) story.  Here was a man who REALLY DID LIVE THROUGH a lot of our worst nightmares.

So excellent movie folks and I won't think of story of The Count of Monte Cristo [IMDb] the same way again as I now know of someone who actually lived through the tale _for real_.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Will you still love me tomorrow? (orig. Ming tian ji de ai shang wo) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be R)   Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
FilmBiz.asia (D. Elley) review

Will you still love me tomorrow? (orig. Ming tian ji de ai shang wo) [2013] (written and directed by Arven Chen) is an excellent gay-themed young adult/young family drama from Taiwan that played recently at the 49th Annual Chicago International Film Festival.

The title says it all: "Will you still love me tomorrow?"  Wei Chung (played by Richie Ren), recently promoted manager at a eye-wear store, married to a smart, lovely and caring wife Lan Feng (played by Mavis Fan) with whom he has a 9-year-old boy, has tried really hard _not to be gay_.   Yes, he's apparently had "a phase" for a few years in college but "that's long past."  By the time he was finishing his studies, he was serious, put his life in order, met this wonderful girl who would make his parents proud, got married, settled down, got a job, had a kid.  What more could one ask of him.  He was/became "a really good guy."

... cept.

Nine years after the birth of their son, things are starting to wear at the edges.  Lan Feng's friends/coworkers are starting to ask, "Why don't you have another kid?" (Remember this is TAIWAN, not China ... no one child policy.  If anything in tiny Taiwan, having children has been encouraged). "It's one thing if you two can't have kids, but it seems that you can.  Why NOT give your son a little brother or sister?"  Why not indeed? But whenever Lan Feng brings-up this up or even news/gossip from work of one or another of her coworker's recent romantic vacation or getaway, Wei Chung brings up ... well ... work.  And yet they have all the money they need.  They're not saving for anything.  They have no goals, no plans, no dreams.  They're just hovering.  It's not as if they're fighting.  They're not.  They just seem to be in suspended animation and the only one who's growing is their somewhat odd (but not maliciously so) "paste eating son." ;-)

Things crack though when Wei Chung's previously party-happy (and travel agent) little sister Mandy (played by Kimi Hsia) announces that she's (finally) getting married.  It's a surprise. Wei Chung, never thought that his wilder little sister was ever going to settle down and apparently had been dismissing her for years as someone who'll "never ever grow up."  Yet now apparently she is ...

An even bigger surprise comes at his sister's engagement party.  He runs into her photographer for the event.  Really, really _gay_, Wei knows the photographer (though apparently only as a friend) from his "back in the day gay phase."  The photographer's "cool" with who Wei's become, but ... that seems to be Wei's breaking point.

As nice as his life is, as wonderful as his wife and family are, he just can't go on being who, he's discovering, he's not.

Then a good looking airline pilot comes into his store asking to be fit for a pair of new glasses ...

What the heck to do?  And how to explain what's happening to him to his wife.  She's talking about having another baby and all he's got on his mind is "How do I get out?  How do I get out of this life?  AND HOW CAN I POSSIBLY DO THIS WITHOUT HURTING EVERYBODY AROUND ME?"

"Will you still love me tommorrow ...?" the song is actually sung later in the movie by Lan (Wei's wife) when she's out with her coworkers at a Kareoke bar celebrating some exciting event in one-or-another of her friend's/coworker's lives.  Lan's seen her husband with the airline pilot.  She's told him that she's seen him with the airline pilot.  Wei feels absolutely awful about it, and promises her that he'll "do the right thing."  But she, who as the song goes, had given herself _completely_ to her husband and her family, is now crushed.  Does she want to be with someone who's going to be with her _simply_ because "it's the right thing to do."  Will he, can he,  _still love her_ tomorrow?  The rest of the film proceeds from there ...  Great film!

For those with eyes and ears, this film is a reminder that Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinijad or Russia's Vladimir Putin notwithstanding, homosexuality is, indeed, not simply a "decadent western (or secular) phenomenon."  It's worldwide and while the percentages of homosexuals in society are small, pretty much EVERYONE knows (and generally likes) at least a couple of homosexuals.  This phenomenon isn't going to go away.

To the Catholic Church's credit actually, in the United States the question of whether one or the other partners of a couple preparing for Catholic Sacrament of marriage is concerned that their partner may have homosexual tendencies is asked fairly early-on in the process (in the FOCCUS inventory).  Marriage in the Catholic Church is for life and asking the question early-on in the marriage prep process CAN (as this film actually shows...) save a couple a lot of heartache.  Further, a couple pretty much ANYWHERE in the Catholic world facing the situation in which one or the other of the partners comes out as gay would have NO PROBLEM in getting an Annulment of their marriage.  Yes, the Catholic Church has chosen to call homosexuality as a "disordered condition."  On the other hand, the Catholic Church has not sought to ask homosexuals to "not be gay" but rather insisted simply that certain sexual acts (performed by anybody, homo-or-heterosexuals) are intrinsically sinful.  In any case, the Catholic Church would not insist on the validity of the Marriage Sacrament if one or the other has come out as being gay.  One does not have to be who one is not and one does not have to stay with someone who is not who they said (or even sincerely thought) they were.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wolfschildren (orig. Wolfskinder) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing

Wolfschildren (orig. Wolfskinder) [2013] (written and directed by first-time director Rick Oestermann) is a German film which according to its official website is dedicated to the estimated 9 million children around the world who for any number of reasons find themselves fending for themselves and living on the run.

The film, fictionalized, which played recently at the 49th Chicago International Film Festival is based on the true stories of thousands of so-called ethnic German "wolf children" who found themselves orphaned, trapped, lost and/or otherwise abandoned in former German East Prussia at the end of World War II.  Many of the children were eventually taken-in/adopted by sympathetic rural Lithuanian families in neighboring Soviet-occupied Lithuania.

Specifically the film, which begins in June 1946 or a full year after the end of World War II, focuses on two young brothers Fritchen, 14 (played by Patrick Lorenczat) and Hans, 9 (played by Levin Liam).  Together with their mother they had survived the year and most importantly the winter hiding in the attic of an out-of the-way abandoned work-house of sorts somewhere in the forests of East Prussia, foraging as necessary the largely abandoned fields and villages for food.  But now Mutti (played by Jördis Triebel) had come down with a fever and was clearly dying.  As her dying wish she asks her two sons to stick together, "not forget" their beautiful names, and find their way to a family in Lithuania that had previously been kind to them.   The next morning Mutti is dead.  With a poor shovel, the boys try to dig a shallow grave, cover their mother with a blanket, lining it with stones, cry, say an Our Father, and set-off East toward Lithuania.

When they get to a river, they see a corpse of a middle-aged woman in a broken row boat without oars.  When bullets start flying by, they learn why the woman was dead: the river crossing was being patrolled by the Soviet Army.  In a panic they try to rip off a couple of boards from the unseaworthy boat and in the subsequent chaos they find a group of other small children running toward the boat as well (the soldiers were actually shooting at the other children).   Soon all the kids dive into the water, bullets whizzing by, swimming for their lives to the other side.

Fritchen makes it to the other side of the river along with a girl about his age named Christel (played by Helena Phil) who has two smaller children in her care.  But what happened to his little brother Hans?  The last we see of saw him, Hans, who could not swim, was holding on to a board trying to kick-paddle across the river and the girl who was holding onto the board next to him had been shot.  Fritchen tries to look for his little brother but as shots continue to whiz by him from the other side of the river, he soon gives up.  Christel tries to assure him that Hans probably "made it" (safely) to the other side.  But there's no evidence that he did.  And as time passes and the two brothers _don't_ find each other there's even less reason to believe this.  But ... he must believe this wishful lie.  Why?  Because Fritzchen, himself, must get-up and go on ...

And so he does with his new group of rag-tag companions.  And they continue for a while until, one or another gets too sick, injured or otherwise separated to continue.  But whenever somebody leaves (or dies...) another child or two appears (from the wilderness) to take his/her place.  Yes, the children really find themselves living like animals: sincerely caring for each other ... until ... it's no longer possible/practical to do so.  And then they go on ...

On their journey, the children also run into a band of Lithuanian nationalist partisans still holding out in some forest somewhere in the East-Prussian/Lithuanian borderlands.  But their days are clearly numbered too.  The Red Army is hunting them presumably even more than they are hunting these ethnic German kids.

Indeed, the story of the Lithuanian partisans and these ethnic German kids hiding out in the woods feels exactly like the reverse of the story of the Bielski Brothers and the Jewish partisans hiding-out in the woods of Byelorussia during Nazi occupation made famous a number of years back by the excellent American/Hollywood film Defiance [2008].

But this perhaps becomes part of the film's manifold point: How the tables had turned by the end of the War. The most vulnerable of the "Master Race" now had to hide in many of the same woods that their nation's victims had to hide in while the "Master Race" was on top.  And given the ferocious fanaticism of the older (though still teen) members of the Hitler Youth in the closing stages of the war, I have no doubt that members of the Red Army patrolling those woods at the time probably FEARED these kids to say nothing of the Lithuanian partisans (and scattered former SS members perhaps still leading some of those units).

BUT ... WE ALSO SEE THAT THESE "WOLFSCHILDREN" were INDEED CHILDREN who by this point were _utterly unarmed_ (many/most too young to have EVER BEEN ARMED), now utterly NON-THREATENING and DESPERATE.    And we're honestly asked to see these children's plights.

The film ends (OBVIOUSLY A BIG SPOILER ALERT...) with Fritchen making it to a Lithuanian village where to his surprise he finds his brother Hans.  'Cept Hans is wearing now a nice Lithuanian peasant shirt and tells Fritchen that his new Lithuanian family now calls him Jakob.  "But your name is Hans.  Don't you remember what Mutti told us when she was dying."  "Yes, but this (nice) family feeds me ..."

And there it is and one just wants to cry ... What an unbelievably awful things these children (and their families) suffered.  What unbelievebly awful things _all the victims_ of that horrible war suffered and really the victims of all wars suffer.

Again, this film is dedicated to all the children of the world who for any number of reasons find themselves needing to live "on the run."

ADDENDUM: An excellent recent book surveying the post-war chaos in Europe is Kevin Lowe's Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II (2013).

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Go Goa Gone [2013]

MPAA (UR would be R)  AccessBollywood (2 Stars)  Bollywood3 (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
AccessBollywood (K. Gibson) review
Bollywood3.com (N.P. Gupta) review

Go Goa Gone [2013] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Krishna D.K. and Raj Nidimoru along with Sita Menon additional help with dialogue by Kunal Knenu and Raja Sen) is an Indian (Hindi language/English subtitled) horror/comedy that played recently at the 49th Chicago International Film Festival.  American viewers will certainly find affinity to Hollywood's Harold and Kumar [1] [2] [3] films.

After Luv (played by Vir Das) gets dumped by his girlfriend, he and his stoner room-mate Hardik (played by Kunal Khemu) convince their geeky if also harder-working roommate Bunny (played by Anand Tiwari) to go on a road trip to Indian beach resort town of Goa.  To get him to drive them there, they convince Bunny that this is for a business meeting. 

Arriving, Luv and Hardik are told by an attractive young woman, Luna (played by Pudga Gupta) that the real party that night will be held on an island offshore (shades of Leonardo DiCaprio's The Beach [2000]).  Not easy to get to, they nevertheless arrive and find that the (rave) party swinging.  However, they (it turns out thankfully) pass-out before the real action begins.  Some new ecstasy-like drug is being passed around, and ... it turns people into zombies.

Waking-up, hung-over (aka The Hangover [2009]) the three, and Luna, find that much as changed ... and, of course, much ensues ... including much involving a gun-toting if still amiable Russian mafia type named Boris [played by Saif Ali Khan] who it turns-out is also appalled (a la The Big Lebowski [1998]?) that his really cool party got ruined by this drug that turns out to turn people into zombies.

The film seems to have a message of appreciating that "all people (even Russian mobster types...) genenally just want to have a good time" even if the drug trade can produce quite awful "unintended consequences" ... like turning previously happy and attractive people into dreadful flesh-craving zombies ;-)

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Stockholm Stories [2013]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
SFDb listing

Stockholm Stories (2013) [IMDb] [SFDb] (directed by Karin Fahlén [IMDb] [SFDb], screenplay by Erik Ahrnborn [IMDb] [SFDb] based on a novel Det Andra Målet by Jonas Karlsson [IMDb]) is a Swedish comedy that played recently at the 49th Chicago International Film Festival.

The film set in Sweden's capital Stockholm involving several interlocking stories that would remind American viewers of recent American films like Valentine's Day [2010] or New Year's Eve [2011] centering on a young poet, Johan, the son of a much more famous (and successful) Swedish writer out of whose shadow he seems unable to escape.  Throughout the film, he's trying to promote his own screenplays / poetry while all publishers, film-makers and journalists want to talk to Johan about is ... his far more famous father ;-).

Now much of this is Johan's own fault ;-).  Perhaps because he would have grown-up in a literary milieu (thanks to his famous father...), Johan's ridiculously avant-guard: He tells one potential publisher that he wants to explore _the ugliness_ of language with his poems (usually poetry seeks to explore language's _ beauty_  ;-) and that he hopes that the reader finishing his current collection of poems would feel "like waking-up hung-over after a party, remembering _exactly_ who had punched him as he was being thrown out and _why_.  YUP, THAT'S A "BOOK OF POETRY" THAT FOLKS WOULD REALLY WANT TO READ ;-) ;-)

He also tells a film-maker that people spend too much time "seeing things in artificial light," (What's cinema, especially in its black-and-white origins/past but a celebration of what one can "draw" using the interplay differing shades of light? ;-)  Instead, he tells the film-maker that "we have to turn-off the light and be willing to sit in utter darkness in order to see ourselves and the world for what it really is."

Now Johan is Swedish, living up there in Stockholm in the Northern Latitudes and it's pretty DARK there in the winter.  Further, Johan HAS been living IN HIS FATHER'S SHADOW FOR ALL HIS LIFE.  Still ... his is a really "dark vision" of reality.

Most amusingly, of course, is that despite Johan's incessant pretentions of darkness in his pitches to (eyes rolling) potential publishers/promoters of his work, HE'S ACTUALLY A RATHER CHEERFUL GUY ;-)   He's utterly unconvincingly "dark."

And so this actually quite normal and often quite cheerful story involving some quite well-drawn and amusing characters is being (amusingly) told through the words/imagery of a young author who's trying really, really hard to be dark (perhaps a la Igmar Bergman) while being an utter failure in doing so ;-).

So this is really a delightful film offering despite the pretentions of the principal character a lovely and surprisingly _bright/lively view_ of life in Stockholm (often colored in the bright blue and yellow of Sweden's flag) despite the snow, despite the cold and despite the darkness of its rather long winters.

What a joy of a film! ;-)

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