Friday, September 26, 2014

The Song [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  RE.com (2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
RE.com (S. Wloszczyna) review


The Song [2014] (written and directed by Richard Ramsey) IMHO continues the LOVELY, OFTEN VERY CREATIVE RENAISSANCE in Christian / Bible-based (North)-American film-making that (I do believe) began or certainly caught notice and traction with the release of Terrence Malick's film The Tree of Life [2011] to both public and critical acclaim.

Films that I'd include in this Christian Cinematic Renaissance would be such diverse projects as (1) the lovely catechetical and happily racially inclusive The Bible [2013] / Son of Man [2014] project; (2) the Baptist based Courageous [2011], et al, series; (3) the simultaneously more artistic, more blockbuster-like "the LOTR films meet the Bible," Noah [2014]; (4) more pedestrian but always lovely family-friendly testimonials like Heaven is For Real [2014]; to even (5) the more adult oriented "let's talk frankly IN LANGUAGE AND IMAGES THAT ONE WOULD UNDERSTAND TODAY about the 'Wages of Sin' in the realm of personal morality" films like Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor [2013] and the post-Spring Breakers [2012], pro-Life story Gimme Shelter [2014].

Viewers of the current film will find obvious stylistic influences of Malick's Tree of Life [2011] / To the Wonder [2012], a thematics that most closely resembles that of Tyler Perry's Temptation [2013] mentioned above, and finally a willingness to experiment with the presentation of a biblical text as in the manner made by the makers of the The Bible [2013] / Son of Man [2014] project.  I simply can not but applaud the willingness of film-makers here to "look around," learn-form and build-on the experiences (and I'd stress SUCCESSES) of previous Christian / faith based projects of recent memory!


Okay, so what is this film about?  Well, it's a REMARKABLE adaptation of the story of the Biblical King Solomon (1 Kings 1-11) to contemporary middle/rural "red state" America (Readers note here, that this film was NOT made "by Hollywood" but rather "by Nashville":

The "Solomon" figure in this story is Jed King (played by Allen Powell [IMDb] of the Nashville originating Christian music group Anthem Lights).  Jed is introduced to us in the story as the son of a veritable if at times morally-flawed (at times hard-drinking, at times womanizing) "country music superstar" named (both tellingly and amusingly ;-) DAVID KING (played briefly by Aaron Benward).   Indeed, Jed is the son of David and David's SECOND WIFE (who pop had stolen from a band member / until that point best friend of his).

Readers note here, of course, that while the Biblical David (1 Sam 13 - 2 Sam 24) was certainly beloved by both God and the People of Israel, he was portrayed in the Bible as something like "Israel's 'Good ole Boy' King" (In years past, I've honestly called him "The Bill Clinton of the Bible" ;-).  David was remembered (1) as the youngest son of an insignificant shepherd from "a little town" called Bethlehem, (2) as a musician (traditionally, he's remembered as the author of most of the SONGS found in the Bible's Book of Psalms), and  (3) as NOT being too proud to "dance before the Ark" to the consternation of his first wife (who had been, after all, the daughter of Israel's first king, Saul).  The Biblical David was ALSO (in)famously remembered as having stolen the wife, Bethsheba, of an officer of his, and the BIBLICAL SOLOMON was David's and Bethsheba's child...

Well, the beginning of the current film has "sonny boy," also a musician, Jed, trying to get past the LONG SHADOW (both good and bad) cast by his "Legendary" father DAVID (KING ;-).

To do so, in the beginning of his story, Jed tries really hard TO BE BETTER than his "old horn dog" father.  That is, HE TRIES REALLY HARD TO BE _WISE_.  (And folks, what is the Biblical King Solomon famous for? ... OF COURSE, HIS _WISDOM_).  The rest of the story unspools from here ...

Now, as the Biblical David has been traditionally taken to be the one responsible for most of the Psalms, the Biblical Solomon has been traditionally taken to be the author / the one responsible for the first three Wisdom books of the Bible that is, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (also known as Qoeleth) and The Song of Songs (the title of the last being the inspiration for the title of the film here).

Readers of these three Biblical books would certainly note that though they traditionally have the same authorship -- the Biblical King Solomon -- they each have a very different tone.  No matter, BY TRADITION, they were understood to have been written / commissioned by the Biblical King Solomon in different stages of his life: 

(1) The quite lovely / romantic Song of Songs is said to have been written by King Solomon when he was still "young and dashing" full of romance, 

(2) the pragmatic Book of Proverbs was to have been written / compiled during King Solomon's "high time as King" (during his middle age), and

(3) the far more despondent Ecclesiastes/Qoeleth is said to have been written/commissioned by Solomon in the latter part of his life, when reflecting on his life and HIS MISTAKES IN LIFE -- 1 Kings is NOT kind to Solomon in the latter stages of his life -- he asks "what was it all worth?" and comes to the somber, somewhat depressing conclusion: "Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity" (Eccl 1:2).

Parts of all three of these books play out in the course of the film:

The Song of Songs plays out near the beginning when Jed meets a good, virtuous, dare one say WISE, woman named Rose (played by Ali Faulkner) who had been mistreated before and Jed comes to her defense.  For HER he writes "their Song."

BUT ... with this "Song" he becomes very popular and his career takes off.  On tour, he is teamed up by his veritable SNAKE of a manager (played by Gary Jenkins) with a raven-haired, tatoo covered, "mean violin playing" Shelby Bale (played by Caitlin Nicol-Thomas).  She begins as Jed's tour's "opening band" but soon she makes her way onstage during Jed's performance, violin pressed against her chin, playing, you guessed it "Jed and Rose's Song."  Well, this can't possibly go well ...

This entrance of "Shelby" into the story is actually fascinating because HER introduction moves the story from its initial "Song of Songs" innocence to the competition between "Lady Wisdom" (personified by Rose) and "Lady Folly" (personified by Shelby) present in the first ten chapters of Proverbs.

Of course, perhaps like most people (and perhaps like the Biblical King Solomon who in the Bible becomes, if for a while, something of a Superstar in his own right, with even the Queen of Sheba arriving "from the end of the Earth" to meet him), Jed, suddenly "at the top-of-the-charts," does not manage things particularly well ...

... and like the Biblical King Solomon, Jed stands to lose much if not ALL of what he previously had and attained.  And so the voice of Ecclesiastes/Qoeleth starts to enter with that searingly depressing conclusion: Vanity, vanity all things are vanity ... like chasing after the wind. (Eccl 1:2, 14)

I HONESTLY STAND IN AWE OF THE CREATIVITY OF THIS FILM.  And I would honestly recommend to my readers here to go and flip through the pages of Song of Songs, Proverbs 1-10 and Ecclesiastes.  None of these books are particularly long (only about 10-12 pages) and beyond helping one to appreciate better this film, their wisdom can help one through the whole of one's life ;-)

Great job folks!  Great job!


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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Miss Christina (orig. Domnisoara Christina) [2013]

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

IMDb listing
Cinemagia.ro listing*

CineEuropa (S. Dobroiu) review
NextProjection.com (D. Deskins) review

RomaniaLibera.ro (R. Filipescu) review*
ZiarulMetropolis.ro (I Mares) review*

Miss Christina (orig. Domnisoara Christina) [2013] [IMDb] [CM.ro]* (screenplay and directed by Alexandru Maftei [IMDb] [CM.ro]* based on the novella [Eng] [Esp] [Fr] [Rom] by Mircea Eliade [en.wikip] [ro.wikip]* [IMDb]) is an _elegant_  ROMANIAN HORROR MOVIE that played recently as part of the 6th Annual Romanian Cultural Marathon organized by the Chicago based Romanian Cultural Exchange (ROCX) at Facet's Multimedia in Chicago.

Along with most of the American Servites of my generation, I knew of Mircea Eliade [en.wikip] [ro.wikip]* [IMDb] for his scholarly work at the University of Chicago as a true giant in the field of Comparative Religion [Amazon].  I honestly did not know prior to my coming to the above-mentioned Romanian cultural event that in his younger years, back in Romania, Eliade was actually well-respected in Romania as a novelist.  Indeed until hearing the introduction of to this film presented by Dr. Thomas Pavel PhD [en.wikip] [ro.wikip]* another Romanian born professor who's made his home at the University of Chicago, it did not even occur to me that Romania's _very rich_ supernatural / folkloric tradition could have actually served to inspire an intellectual like Eliade to pursue a scholarly career in "comparative religion" ;-).

Dr. Pavel informed those of us present for the screening who were "non-Romanian" ;-) that the supernatural entity in the current film would be called a moroi [en.wikip] [ro.wikip]*.  Tapping the shoulder of the Romanian 20-year-old sitting next to me, I asked him how one would spell it, and then I happily looked-up moroi on wikipedia with my smartphone and found out that:  

A moroi  is a type of vampire or ghost in Romanian folklore.  Moroi are often associated with other figures in Romanian folklore, such as strigoi (another type of vampire), vârcolac (werewolf), or pricolici (werewolf). Moroi are also known as mortal vampires, whereas strigoi are immortal vampires. 

The wikipedia article continued that it was thought that the etymology of moroi came from the Old Slavonic word "moro" meaning nightmare.  It occurred to me then that the Romanian moroi is actually similar to a nočni můra [cz.wikip]* which is both Czech for a nightmare and envisioned as a ghost / undead creature (that I always thought was "like a Czech vampire") that my uncle Zdeněk (after whom I'm named ;-) USED TO SCARE US WITH when he would tell us ghost stories when I was young. (A Czech "nočni můra," is envisioned in the Czech conception as a giant ugly moth, that would come at night, settle on one's chest, paralyze one and, yes, at times suck one's blood).

Well, in Romanian folklore, or certainly in THIS story, the moroi in question was certainly NOT "a giant ugly moth" ;-) but rather the very beautiful Miss Christina (played by Anastasia Dumitrescu [IMDb] [CM.ro]*) who "died young" in somewhat mysterious circumstances at the turn of the century.

At the time of the story then, some 20-years later, she comes back, always at night, to try to seduce her niece Sanda's (played by Ioana Anastasia Anton [IMDb] [CM.ro]*) fiancé Egor (played by Tudor Istodor [IMDb] [CM.ro]*) who, a dashing young artist/professor from Bucharest, Sanda had brought home to the country manner house, where she and her family was from, to meet her mother (played by Maia Morgenstern [IMDb] [CM.ro]*). 

Sanda's mother and Cristina had been sisters.  Christina had died just before Sanda had been born.  So Sanda did not even know her except for a very beautiful portrait of her, made just before her untimely death, a portait that hung quite prominently if sadly in a place of honor in the manor house's main hall.

Well, Cristina's life had been cut short just as it was about to (really) begin.  Sanda's bringing Egor, perhaps the first very eligible bachelor to pass through the halls of the house since her untimely death, proved to disturb the still somewhat somber setting in the house.  And Christina, "still around," certainly "in memory" but as it becomes ever more apparent, also "otherwise" ... who had died 20 years before just as she was going to "enter into society" ... apparently, sees Egor and ... well, "wants" him ;-).  Much ensues ...

When the Eliade first penned this story in the 1930s, it was apparently denounced by the Romania's more conservative voices of the time as "porn."  I don't think that the story is exactly appropriate for young viewers/readers.  But film itself, which features but one very elegant topless scene showing the actress playing Christina's right or left breast (the other is covered by her hair) feels like it's played-out inside a belle-époque turn-of-the-20th-century Renoir painting.   

So this is a dramatization of a very elegant Romanian romance novel with yes a touch of the supernatural at its edges.  As such, Eliade's novella presented here (translated into all kinds of languages and into two films, this one actually being the second, the first being made almost immediately after the fall of the Communists in Romania) is IMHO well worth looking-up.   It could come to "raise the bar" again for this "Gothic horror" genre.


"SMALL" ADDENDUM ;-)

Skyping to check with my uncle back in Prague, a Czech noční můra [cz.wikip]* (related etymologically to the Romanian moroi [en.wikip] [ro.wikip]* discussed above) is not in the Czech conception a vampire.  Yes, in the (local South-Central Bohemian) conception, it's a big ugly moth that lands on one's chest, immobilizing (and hence terrorizing) one, but a blood-sucking vampire in Czech is an upír [cz.wikip].*  Just to keep things "on the level." ;-) 


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

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I'm an Old Communist Hag (orig. Sunt o babă comunistă) [2013]

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

IMDb listing
Cinemagia.ro listing*

CineEuropa (S. Dobroiu) review
NextProjection.com (R. Doyle) review

RomaniaLibera.ro (G. Lupu) review*

I'm an Old Communist Hag (orig. Sunt o babă comunistă) [2013] [IMDb] [CM.ro]* (directed and screenplay cowritten by Stere Gulea [IMDb] [CM.ro]* along with Lucian Dan Teodorovici [IMDb] [CM.ro]* and Vera Ion [IMDb] [CM.ro]* based on the novel* [review]* by Dan Lungu [en.wikip] [ro.wikip]*) is Romanian comedy that gleefully played recently as part of the 6th Annual Romanian Cultural Marathon organized by the Chicago based Romanian Cultural Exchange (ROCX) at Facet's Multimedia in Chicago. 

Don't let the title fool you.  Though a comedy with a title that could seem on one hand to be dismissive and on the other perhaps rather provocative, this is a very intelligent film.  And I being of Czech parentage (the Czech Republic as part of Czechoslovakia having been, like Romania, part of the old Soviet Communist Bloc), I can assure readers here that the situations / dialogues in this film are very current / real.  

60-year-old Emilia (played magnificently throughout by Luminiţa Gheorghiu [IMDb] [CM.ro]*) is the film's (somewhat reluctantly) self-professed "old Communist hag."  I write that she's "somewhat reluctant" in professing herself as such because she's actually somewhat forced into the declaration at a family get-together following her 30-something daughter Alice's (played by Ana Ularu [IMDb] [CM.ro]*) return with her blond, somewhat boyish-looking American fiancé Alan (played by Collin Blair [IMDb] [CM.ro]*).  Emilia knew from her daughter that she's come back to Romania with her American boyfriend with some financial troubles.  So during the get-together with this in the back of her mind, when the conversation turns to "the bad old days of Communism," she does note that ALL THINGS CONSIDERED there were SOME good things back then as well.  She declares: "Look folks, I / we all had a job, we all had roofs over our heads, and we all had friends (at the factory and at home)." "Come on, you can't be saying that it was all good back then?"  "No I'm not, but IT WAS MY YOUTH and it WASN'T ALL BAD EITHER."  "Oh mom, you've not become an 'old Communist hag.'?"  "Well maybe that's what I've become, but I'M TELLING YOU, IT WASN'T ALL BAD EITHER."

Now AFTERWARDS, we hear Emilia herself reflect on this description: "So THAT'S WHAT I'VE BECOME?  An old Communist hag?  (READERS NOTE HERE, SHE HAD BEEN A PARTY MEMBER...), that's what WE ALL used to call the old Party Apparatchiks." (She herself did not consider herself as such ... though she does explain in the film that yes, she did "join the Party" at some point, but "that's what you did when you were offered a promotion to foreman at the plant."  To get the position, ONE HAD TO join the Party...).

The rest of the film is EXCELLENT, precisely because it DOES NOT portray the Communist Era in "bright shining colors."  In fact, it points out REPEATEDLY HOW CRAZY Romania's Communist Era dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu [en.wikip] [ro.wikip]* was.  For instance in the film, Emilia was repeatedly remembered as "The woman who NEARLY shook the hand of Ceausescu."  Why?  Well, it gets explained: Along with several others at the plant, she was picked by the Plant Manager for this "honor."  HOWEVER, because Ceausescu was absolutely insane, HE was ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED that he'd catch some disease from the people he was put in contact with.  SO good old Emilia and the 4 or 5 others selected from the plant to "shake the hand" of the soon-to-be-visiting Ceausescu WERE PUT INTO ISOLATION (QUARANTINED) FOR 30 DAYS PRIOR to Ceausescu's visit TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY WEREN'T INFECTED WITH ANYTHING.  Then, of course Ceausescu's PLANS CHANGED ... ;-) ... so after 30 days of being in isolation (AS IF THEY WERE ASTRONAUTS OR SOMETHING ...) they didn't get to "shake his hand" ANYWAY ;-)

So this is NOT a pro-Communist film at all.  But I do believe that it articulates the experiences of QUITE A FEW of AVERAGE / RUN-OF-THE-MILL people ALL ACROSS THE FORMER COMMUNIST BLOC (Again, I've heard similar sentiments among SOME Czech family members of my own).  And it's NOT that ANYONE (!!) wants to go back to "Ceausescu" (or ANY the Old Soviet Bloc) but the FREE-MARKET SLOGANEERING OF TODAY SOUNDS AN AWFUL LOT LIKE THE "PROGRESSIVE / SOCIALIST" SLOGANEERING OF THE SOVIET ERA.  Slogans don't employ people, people employ people.

Anyway, "Old Communist" Emilia and her level-headed husband Tocu (played by Marian Râlea [IMDb] [CM.ro]*) has to deal with her unemployed and financially in trouble daughter and her fish-out-of-water American boyfriend ... much ensues ... ;-)


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

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Monday, September 22, 2014

The Maze Runner [2014]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RE.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

At first glance, The Maze Runner [2014]  (directed by Wes Ball, screenplay by Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers and T.S. Nowlin based on the novel [GR] by James Dashner [IMDb]) would appear to be the most "spartan" (in setup...) of the recent teen-oriented standup-and-fight against one-or-another dystopian future that (can) await us (think The Hunger Games [2012], Ender's Game [2013], Divergent [2014] and The Giver [2014] franchises):

In the current film's beginning sequence, we watch Thomas (played by Dylan O'Brian) a teenager, groggy, half-conscious, confused, remembering nothing (at this point) not even his own name, being taken by some kind of an industrial supply elevator up from some kind of subterranean compound "to the surface" (where? neither he, nor we the viewers, know).  He is greeted "at the surface" by a group of some 30 or so other teenage boys, better adjusted to their circumstances, indeed (as we find out) surprisingly organized, yet with some pretty fundamental questions: (1) Again they have no idea where they really are.  Yes, they find themselves in a relatively green and fertile "Garden" of sorts that they call "The Glade," but one which is enclosed by a giant and apparently impenetrable Maze made-up of enormous (and shifting-at-a-whim) concrete blocks, and (2) WHY are they there?  Most believe it's some sort of an (unjust) PUNISHMENT.  However, the outer boundary of their compound being A MAZE rather than a strict WALL suggests some sort of a (rather sick...) TEST. 

The small society of teenage boys has made the best of it.  Again, they've organized themselves, turned part of the Glade into a farm, made shelters (to protect against rain / some cold), and have made some increasingly halfhearted attempts at penetrating the Maze.  Why "increasingly halfhearted"?  Well the entrances into the Maze from the Glade would close at nightfall and anyone trapped still within the Maze faced certain death at the hands of ugly/vicious "Alien/spider-like" creatures called "The Grievers."  So after apparently a number of attempts at finding a way out past the Maze (and losing a number of friends to said "Grievers") the group had largely given-up.

Enter Thomas, who, once he recovered from his initial shock of arriving in this strange "new world" (though he didn't remember next to anything at all of his previous one -- except for some occasional dream imagery that does not make sense to him), immediately seemed "different" to the others who had already been (trapped) in the Glade for some time.  For one, though his recollections of "the Past" were clouded in "dream imagery" at least he had SOME memories at all.  Then two, he seemed far braver / far more "gung-ho" about "finding a way out" than most of the Others who seemed resigned to their relatively comfortable / stable if ultimately rather meaningless Fate of living-out their lives in the Glade.

Enter then, to everyone's surprise, one month after Thomas' arrival to the surface, arrives a teenage GIRL who again comes with little to no memory of her previous life.  However, she comes holding a note in her hand which declares: "She is the last one."  Last one of what?  Is she THE LAST GIRL?  She's actually THE FIRST GIRL in this community of 30 or so teenage boys.  Is she THE LAST PERSON who'll ever arrive in the Glade by way of the supply elevator?  A palpable dread sets in among the thirty or so teenage boys present in the Glade, who had come to expect the arrival every month or so of a newcomer (up to this point, always another teenage boy) along with at least some "hard to grow" supplies.  Now presumably that would end.  Again, why?  No one had a clue.

But Thomas (without ever really knowing why, except perhaps sensing a little bit more the intentions of the unseen Powers who appear to be running this strange world) urges the others to redouble their attempts at getting out of the prison-like if still somewhat comfortable Glade.  Much then ensues ...


I hope that, if nothing else, the above description of the setup of the story is EVOCATIVE of ... a number of things: (1) of the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden, and of the Biblical themes of The Fall and (taking Thomas to be something of a "Jesus figure") perhaps even of the Christian-postulated need on the part of humanity of "assisted Salvation," (2) of William Golding's 1940s-era teenage (boy) oriented novel The Lord of the Flies (about a post-apocalyptic society of teenage boys that disintegrates into savagery and confusion), and perhaps even (3) of Franz Kafka's 1920s-era novel The Castle (where the protagonist was not necessarily trying to flee confinement, but was definitely trying to "reach" said "Castle" where he hoped to talk to "the King"/whoever is "in Charge" to find out why his often admittedly pedestrian questions were not being answered (though his quest progressively became more more urgent / profound as he sought the answer to the most fundamental question: Why was he (the protagonist) "in the Town" at all  Was there a purpose to his presence in the Town or was it all an accident ...). 

In any case, the Maze Runner which plays with A LOT OF THESE THEMES sets up a very interesting allegory that yes, I'd like to see explored further..  and since it is based on the first of a series of books by James Dashner, I fully expect the continuation of this story to unfold on the silver screen in the years to come as well.


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Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones [2014]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  ChiTrib/Variety (2 Stars)  RE.com (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune/Variety (A. Barker) review
RE.com (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

The first thing to say about about the hard-boiled, crime drama (set pre-9/11 and "just at the end of the pre-internet age") A Walk Among the Tombstones [2014] (directed and screenplay by Scott Frank, based on the novel by Lawrence Block [IMDb]) is that it's not for the squeamish. This is a definitely appropriately (hard)-R-rated (for violence / gore) Charles Bronson [IMDb] / "Death Wish"-like story involving a alcohol recovering former NYPD detective turned "unlicensed Private Eye" named Matt Scutter [IMDb] (played in excellent, thoughtful, ever calibrated fashion by this generation's "later-in-life tough guy" Liam Neeson) brought reluctantly into a case involving a couple (in more ways than one?) of psychopathic serial killers (played by David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) who prey on the significant women (wives, girlfriends, daughters) of drug dealers, extorting said drug dealers for their money and then sadistically killing, chopping-up and subsequently even "neatly packaging" the chopped-up parts said kidnapped wives, girlfriends and daughters of said drug dealers ANYWAY for the drug dealers to recover.  Yes, folks, this is a brutal story.

The brutality of the story is such that several times during the film, I honestly thought of getting-up and leaving. I've done so -- simply got-up and left -- in cases of various films in the past like famously Killer Joe [2012] and Sinister [2012] and I had thought of doing so while viewing others, including Compliance [2012]. as well.  Why I decided to stay through to the end of this film (and Compliance) while I did not do so in the cases of the other two would be because I saw _significantly more_ going-on in this movie (and Compliance) than just the brutal violence / sexual humiliation, while I honestly did not see much more than that going-on in either the other two films.

So what then would make this film more worthy of watching than, say Killer Joe [2012]

Well, first, to some extent the film-maker(s) here were "lucky."  The current film was released in the same month as we, the public, have been forced to deal-with / absorb the video-taping / posting-on-YouTube of three ACTUAL beheadings of innocent hostages by the Syria/Iraq based terrorist group I.S.I.S.  As such, as "over the top" as the brutality of the current film may initially seem, thanks to the (claiming to be "Islamic" group) I.S.I.S., a case could honestly be made here that the current film's brutality "is merely an expression / reflection of the brutality of our times."  Should one necessarily accept that argument?  I'm not saying that, but AGAIN THANKS TO THE THREE VIDEO-TAPED (and PROUDLY posted) BEHEADINGS OF _INNOCENTS_ by the "claiming to be Islamic" group I.S.I.S., the film-makers here have an argument to make ...

Then faced with this shocking-to-the-core crime -- even as it is committed "against the loved ones of drug-dealers (criminals) -- the Alcoholics Anonymous attending former NYPD detective turned "unlicensed Private Eye" Matt Scutter, who FASCINATINGLY is portrayed as taking A.A.'s 12-steps AS SERIOUSLY TO HEART AS SINCERE / BELIEVING CATHOLICS/CHRISTIANS AND JEWS HAVE TAKEN THE TEN COMMANDMENTS in generations past, IS SHOWN SINCERELY REFLECTING THROUGHOUT THE FILM as to HOW TO RESPOND APPROPRIATELY TO THE CRIMES/ EVIL THAT HE HAS BEEN CONFRONTED WITH.

As such, as brutal as this film is (parents, please don't take your kids to this ...) THIS IS NOT A DUMB MOVIE.  This is a very thought-provoking story, written/expressed in the current (A.A. based) parlance / SPIRITUALITY of our times that thanks to "Islamic" groups like I.S.I.S. turns out to be even "more current" than we wish it was.

So while six weeks ago, I would have probably walked-out of this film because of its brutality, thanks to I.S.I.S. I did stay, and came away with the view that the film-maker(s) here did really have something thoughtful to say.

Now could the same message been said without the brutality?  Probably, perhaps even almost certainly, yes.  But thanks to the world's current "faith-based" ("Islamic") groups like I.S.I.S. the filmmakers here produced a film no more brutal than the reality in which we unfortunately live-in today.


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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Violette [2013]

MPAA (UR would be R)  aVoir-aLire.fr (4 stars)  LaCroix.fr (3 1/2 Stars)  FichesDuCine.fr (3 Stars)  LeMonde (3 Stars)  NYTimes (4 Stars)  AVClub (C-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Allocine.fr listing*

aVoir-aLire.fr (F. Mignard) review*
LaCroix.fr (A. Schwartz) review*
FichesDuCine.fr (N. Marcadé) review*
LeMonde.fr (F. Nouchi) review*

NYTimes (M. Dargis) review
Variety (S. Foundas) review
Slant (D.L. Dallas) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review


Violette [2013] [IMDb] [AC.fr]* (directed and screenplay cowritten by Martin Provost [IMDb] [AC.fr]*, along with Marc Abdelnour [IMDb] [AC.fr]* and René de Ceccatty [IMDb] [AC.fr]*) is a biopic about the literary career of tormented post-WW II French feminist and bisexual author Violette Leduc (1907-1972)[en.wikip] [fr.wikip]*.  The film played recently as at the 2014 Chicago French Film Festival held at Chicago's Music Box Theater a festival cosponsored by the French Diplomatic Mission to the United States.  The film is now available for streaming (subtitled) on Amazon Instant Video.

The story of Violette Leduc (1907-1972)[en.wikip] [fr.wikip]* (played in the film by Emmanuelle Devos [IMDb] [AC.fr]*) may initially surprise the Catholic blog reader.  After all, what could a rather obscure (to an American audience) French woman "of questionable morals" possibly teach us?  A French woman born at the turn of the 20th century, unwanted, to a servant girl out of wedlock, whose first experience of love of any kind occurred between her and a classmate at an all-girls' boarding school where she was sent to hide her (apparently of some means) father's shame ... a school from which she, of course, was subsequently expelled, for said "first experience of teenage (in her situation, necessarily lesbian...) love," and who despite her obvious parental issues and sexual heterodoxy (while never seeing anything to be necessarily wrong with lesbianism, she always understood herself to be bisexual) blamed her extended, life-long bouts with loneliness on her "ugliness."  She claimed, "The only truly mortal sin for a woman is to be ugly, everything else can be forgiven."

After reading THAT introduction, I do believe that any adult of compassion would understand why hers was a story deserved to be told (and deserves to be reflected on).

Indeed, though throughout her life NOBODY apparently really liked her, including her gay faux-husband, writer Maurice Sachs (played in the film by Olivier Py [IMDb] [AC.fr]*) and her perhaps closest confidante, a fellow feminist writer (and existentialist philosopherSimone de Beauvoir [en.wikip] [fr.wikip]* (played in the film by Sandrine Kiberlain [IMDb] [AC.fr]*).   Both did encourage her to write, even as BOTH kept themselves at arm-length distance from her: Violette married Maurice TO PROTECT HIM from the gay-persecuting Nazis.  He found her "so needy" that HE LEFT HER ANYWAY to TAKE HIS CHANCES WITH THE OCCUPYING NAZIS ... and was subsequently arrested and taken by the Nazis to work in a forced-labor detail by Hamburg, Germany where he was eventually shot.  Simone, for her part, while encouraging her and using her professional contacts (she knew Albert Camus [en.wikip] [fr.wikip]* and was, for a time, Jean-Paul Sartre's [en.wikip] [fr.wikip]* lover) to make her known among the intellectual community of post-WW II France, pointedly DIDN'T call Violette Leduc her _friend_ IN THE FORWARD SHE WROTE FOR VIOLETTE'S career-making book, her memoir, La Bâtarde (The Bastard) [1964].  Asked about this, Simone apparently did respond: "But I'm _not_ her friend, who really is...?"

Yet, (mild spoiler alert) Violette's finally arrived-at success did give her some means to achieve some degree of happiness EVEN IF STILL LARGELY "IN SOLITUDE": She always seemed happiest out in the country.  With the financial success of her book La Bâtarde and her books that followed, she bought a modest house in Faucune in Provence (Southern France) and lived basically (on her own) "happily ever after."  In an interview about her acquaintance and perhaps mentor (if not friend...) Violette, Simone de Beauvoir [en.wikip] [fr.wikip]* did apparently say: "Perhaps no one has found salvation through writing more than she."

                                                                 *****

As I think of Violette Leduc (1907-1972) [en.wikip] [fr.wikip]*, her struggles and even her loniliness, I can not help but think of an American contemporary of hers who she probably never knew, Dorothy Day (1897-1980) [en.wikip] [fr.wikip]* who spent much of her youth in the 1920s in the American equivalent (Greenwich Village) of the intellectual circles of Paris.  Like Violette Leduc, she too had various early disappointments in life (including an abortion that she quickly regretted) and indeed when Dorothy Day wrote her own memoir, she entitled it, fascinatingly for the discussion here, The Long Loneliness (1952).  When she found herself pregnant and unmarried a second time, Dorothy Day converted to Catholicism and came to found the Catholic Worker Movement which during the Great Depression truly took care of / took in the "poorest of the poor" first in New York City and soon enough across the U.S.  (An excellent movie about this formative period of Dorothy Day's life is Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story [1996]).

While I'm positive that Dorothy Day would not have agreed with everything that Violette Leduc wrote (Dorothy Day apparently famously compared the advent of the birth control pill to the advent of the atom bomb.  Needless to say, she opposed both...), I'm also more-or-less positive that she would have understood her.

As such, while I'm positive that much of Violette Leduc's life would exasperate many Catholic readers here, I do believe that her life, her experiences and her various struggles with both self and society are worthy of consideration by people of faith.  We all see suffering people all the time.  Violette proved to be a remarkably articulate one.  As such, she gives her readers a window into her (and others') pain.  


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

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cantinflas [2014]

MPAA (PG)  RE.com (2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune/LA Times (B. Sharkey) review
RE.com (A. Aradillas) review

LaOpinion-LosAngeles coverage*
Hoy-Chicago coverage*


Cantinflas [2014] (directed and cowritten by Sebastian del Amo along with Edui Tijerina) is a Hispanic family oriented film (the PG rating is absolutely appropriate) about the life of beloved Mexican comic Cantinflas ("Mexico's Charlie Chaplin") [en.wikip] [es.wikip]* [IMDb]

Fully bilingual (the parts of story that are in English are presented with Spanish subtitles, the parts in Spanish are with English ones), the film's box-office success (despite having almost NO COVERAGE in the English language press in the U.S. and hence relying almost entirely on Spanish language media for publicity in the U.S.) on the heals of the even more financially successful Instructions Not Included [2013] which utilized the same bilingual formula and also relied on the Spanish media for outreach suggests that Lionsgate Films have found a way of replicating Tyler Perry's [IMDb] success in reaching African American audiences to reach Hispanic audiences here.

While clearly directed to Hispanic families, non-Hispanic audiences could benefit in taking-in this film because it can serve to introduce (or reintroduce) Cantinflas [en.wikip] [es.wikip]* [IMDb] (played in the film by Óscar Jaenada) to them.  For he really was, IMHO, a comic genius.

My first exposure to him was 6 days after arriving in Guadalajara to take an intensive Spanish language course some 15-20 years ago.  Part of taking such a course is not simply learning the language but also to learn about the culture.  Well that day, the instructor brought in a few clips from Cantiflas' circa 1940s films.  The scene that I remember from that day was Cantinflas (who almost always played a "simple Mexican everyman") arriving at a Mexico City pool-hall, late, explaining to his friend what had happened to him: "Well I was walking along the street, making good time, when this lady came running out of a shop, screaming POLICE! POLICE! ..." Well when good old, simple Continflas, calls out "Police! Police!" (while calmly adjusting his pool cue ...) recounting the story, THE CROWDED POOL HALL'S PATRONS just start RUNNING (AWAY) IN EVERY DIRECTION, OUT DOORS, THROUGH WINDOWS, TRYING TO HIDE UNDER / BEHIND POOL TABLES AND CHAIRS, while Continflas, unphased, continues his story, to the horror of his (perhaps also shaking in his boots) friend!

I LAUGH TO THIS DAY recalling of that scene ;-) ... and, thinking of his diminutive posture and manner of motion, remember IMMEDIATELY THINKING "My gosh, THIS GUY'S MEXICO'S CHARLIE CHAPLIN" (which is, in fact, _exactly_ how he is remembered all across the Spanish speaking world).

So I'm happy that this film was made, and I'm also happy that, _more or less_, Cantinflas's [en.wikip] [es.wikip]* personal life was worth remembering _positively_:

Though the film does indicate that when his success did come, he was certainly tempted, and probably (indeed almost certainly) fell in his personal life, he did remain "till death did they part" with his wife, a Russian immigrant to Mexico named Valentina Ivanova (played in the film by Ilse Salas) WHO HE DID LOVE and WHO HE MET VERY EARLY IN HIS CAREER when both were still dirt poor and were (both) working as CIRCUS ACTS.

Indeed, to (North) American audiences perhaps the most controversial scene in the film comes from that early period in his life, when the film shows that Cantinflas BEGINNING his acting career (before that, he tried his hand at both BOXING and BULL FIGHTING ;-) doing a BLACK-FACE ROUTINE (he liked to dance ...) BUT ... (and this is true) HE CAME TO REALIZE VERY QUICKLY THAT HE GOT A LOT MORE LAUGHS FROM HIS MEXICO CITY AUDIENCES WHEN HE SIMPLY PLAYED HIMSELF: A POOR YOUNG STREETWISE MEXICAN MAN WHO WAS "FAST ON HIS FEET" AND EVEN FASTER WITH HIS TONGUE ;-).

To bring the Continflas' story to the States, the current film recalls his participation in the 50's era United Artists (notably the studio CO-FOUNDED BY CHAPLIN) film Around the World in Eighty Days [1956] which won various Academy Awards including Writing and Best Picture and for which Continflas received a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical.

The film recalls the difficulty that producer Michael Todd [IMDb] (played in the film by Michael Imperioli) had in putting together "international cast" to make his film based on Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, including getting Cantinflas to do the film.  Indeed, Todd needed Charlie Chaplin's (played in the film by Julian Sedgwick) help to get Cantinflas to accept.

Why would that be?  Well, the film shows quite well that Cantiflas was an authentic superstar in Mexico by then, and indeed, the head of Mexico's version of the Screen Actors' Guild.  He didn't need to go up the States to play a bit role in some Hollywood film ;-).

All in all, this is honestly a very nice film, again deserving of its family friendly PG rating and one that honestly will put a smile on everybody in the audience's faces (and probably many times ;-)

So good job folks, honestly good job!  And it serves me right.  I have to read the Spanish papers here more often ;-)


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

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Friday, September 12, 2014

The Drop [2014]

MPAA (R)  Chicago Tribune (2 1/2 Stars)  RE.com (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

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


The Drop [2014] (directed by Michaël R. Roskam, screenplay by Dennis Lehane based on an earlier short story of his) is IMHO an excellent, well written / well acted, starting out low key but steadily building (until an inevitable climax) crime drama set around a neighborhood bar in Brooklyn, New York.

The central (certainly at least partly "mythic") device around which the story is built is that of "The Drop" (which, of course, is the film's title). We're told in a voice-over by "Bob" the film's central protagonist / seeming "mild-mannered everyman" bartender (played with near perfectly calibrated precision throughout the whole of the film by Tom Hardy) at a neighborhood tavern nominally owned by his once (and still?) ambitious older cousin Marv (played by James Gandolfini) that:

"(In Brooklyn) every night, a lot of money changes hands, the kind of money that can't be reported but must go somewhere, and where it goes is to a 'Drop Bar,'"

The Drop Bar is where the neighborhood's questionably acquired money is collected, stored and eventually picked up the neighborhood's (mob) powers-that-be.  We're also told that "the drop" location changes from night to night.  So no bar would always be "the drop bar" but once one's bar becomes designated as such (presumably without the bar's owner necessarily even knowing about his/her establishment's designation beforehand) the bar owner would DEFINITELY MAKE SURE THAT THE "DROPPED" MONEY WAS "KEPT SAFE" for "pick-up" by the local mob's representative later on.  And, of course, it goes without saying that the money had better "all be there" when the mob's rep comes calling.

Well, early in the story, Bob's tending bar at his cousin Marv's place and the bar gets "hit" by two masked, somewhat amateurish, thugs on exactly the night that the bar was the neighborhood's "drop bar."  Marv even asks them: "Do you know what you're doing?  Do you know whose money you're stealing?"  They don't seem to care.  Not wanting to die for other people's money, Marv hands over to them the "evening's drop."

Okay ... but neither NYPD who Marv has to call to report the robbery (after-all the robbery was nominally witnessed by numerous bar patrons) nor the Chechen immigrant gangsters who actually run the neighborhood believe that the robbery was an accident.  When NYPD Detective Torres (played by John Ortiz) comes by to take statements, none of the "witnesses" except actually Bob "saw anything."  Yes, there they all saw a robbery take place, but NONE except Bob could offer ANYTHING descriptive of the perpetrators.  And actually, all that Bob notes to the detective was that ONE of the two assailants wore a watch that apparently didn't work.  He tells the detective that "his watch was stuck at 6:15."  That little detail would seem utterly trivial, but his older cousin Marv was irritated that Bob told the detective anything at all.  When Mob collector Chovka (played by Michael Aronov) comes by the next day, watch-or-no-watch, robbery-or-no-robbery, he tells Marv (and Bob standing by) simply that they owe the mob the $5,000 lost in the drop.

... a few days later the $5,000 shows up, along with the broken watch, and ... bit more than just said broken watch ... all nicely packed ... in a blood soaked bag.  A "crime" was "solved," "justice" was (almost to the letter) "restored" BUT ... what the heck happened?

These are the questions that fly-out-at those living in the neighborhood, but NO ONE in his / her right mind would want to publicly ask them (even in a whisper) ... TO ANYONE.

Now it turns out that there's SOMEONE in the neighborhood who's NOTORIOUSLY NOT "IN HIS RIGHT MIND" ... An Eric Deeds (played by Matthias Schoenaerts) KNOWN to have been institutionalized in a psycho-ward for a period of time "in his youth" AND WHISPERED ABOUT as the probable perpetrator of a NOTORIOUS "UNSOLVED" MURDER of another wayward youth some years back.  Did he do it?  Everybody thought he did.  BUT NOBODY WANTED TO TALK ABOUT IT BECAUSE IT SEEMED AGAIN POSSIBLY "MOB CONNECTED" AND THEY WERE SCARED OF HIM.

For his part, Deeds DIDN'T MIND HIS SCARY REPUTATION and spends much of the film terrorizing the people in the neighborhood that he wanted to terrorize, notably an "ex-girlfriend" named Nadia (played by Noomi Rapace) and later Bob.  Bob actually "meets" (starts talking to / befriending) Nadia when one evening coming home from work he hears a puppy whimpering inside a garbage can outside Nadia's house.  Apparently to terrorize both the puppy ... and Nadia..., Deeds had bashed the puppies head with something and then had left it, whimpering, in her trash can for her to find.  Why would he do that?  WELL, BECAUSE HE'S A PSYCHO who ENJOYS inflicting pain on the weak and terrorizing them.  Then when Deeds starts seeing Bob, Nadia, and the brought-to-better-health puppy (a baby pit-bull actually) together, he actually decides to EXTORT BOB telling him to give him $10,000 or he'd "capture the dog one day" and kill him (the dog, that is ... but ... ...).

WELL all comes to a head, when "Superbowl Sunday" (the "ugliness" of the previously missing $5000 at Marv's place having been "satisfactorily" resolved) the Chechens having designated Marv's place to be THE PERFECT PLACE FOR "THE DROP" ON THE BIGGEST (CASH) NIGHT OF THEIR YEAR (they'd presumably be REALLY CAREFUL WITH THE MONEY...), Deeds comes to the bar, with Nadia all dolled up "as his date", Marv's not around, asking Bob for the $10,000 (to "leave the dog alone...") and THEN ... Deeds stays around apparently with the intention of holding-up the place for the rest (the Mob's "drop").

At this point, if you were "Bob" what would you do? 

I found the film very well crafted and very well acted.  I _hope_ that its portrayal of "neighborhood life" was _exaggerated_ at least somewhat "for dramatic effect" as there are any number of establishments in my own neighborhood where I currently serve that could very well have been the bar portrayed in this film ;-). 

Indeed, the Church does have a role in the story.  Its role is not an overpowering one _but it is there_ and its role is not a bad one.  It is there for those who would but notice it / come to realize that they need it.

Very good film!


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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Life After Beth [2014]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars)  RE.com (2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RE.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review


Life After Beth [2014] (written and directed by Jeff Baena) is IMHO a fun and amusingly subversive "small indie piece" about early 20-something Beth Slocum (played by Aubrey Plaza) who dies, hiking, in the first 30 seconds of the film (of a snake bite) and then about her boyfriend Zach (played by Dane DeHaan) and their two sets of parents, hers (played by John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), his (played by Paul Reiser and Cheryl Hines) trying to get over (and trying to help Zach get over) her loss.

First, it needs to be realized that both Beth and Zach were "quite young" and truth be told already "not all that much into each other" when she ... died.  Indeed, one got the sense that they probably would have definitively broken-up shortly afterward, if she had not, well, again ... so suddenly died.

But die, she did.  And so Zach, as well as obviously her parents, was/were crushed.  So ... to "cope," Zach starts hanging-out, perhaps even more so than before, at Beth's house (with Beth's parents...) while they themselves are trying to deal with her sudden loss.  All this drives Zach's older and far more straightforward brother Kyle (played by Matthew Gray Gubler), who works as a neighborhood watch / security guard, nuts.  Watching Zach mope around about the loss of a girlfriend that he presumably had already (if not in death) lost anyway, Kyle just shakes his head and calls Zach what every older brother in America would call his younger brother acting in a similar way: "a p..." ;-).

Okay, Zach's kinda a loser ... but perhaps a sincere one. 

Well, one afternoon, he comes over to mope around at Beth's parents' house again, when he spots through the window ... Beth.  But wait, wasn't she DEAD?  He knocks on the door, then POUNDS on the door.  No answer.  Security guard Kyle comes around.  He asks Kyle, his brother, to do something.  Kyle, complicatedly explains that though he is a security guard, since HE IS A SECURITY GUARD he CAN'T JUST BREAK DOWN THE DOOR OF A HOUSE IN A NEIGHBORHOOD THAT HE'S SUPPOSED TO BE PROTECTING ;-) ... and tells Kyle that he's going to have to "be patient" and come back when Beth's parents come back (or feel ready) to open the door.

Angry, anxious, Zach finally gives up and goes home to come back later in the evening to Beth's parents' house to ask WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON.

Initially, Beth's parents deny everything ... but eventually they cave and say that "Beth's come back."  "BUT HOW, ISN'T SHE DEAD???"  "Yes, she was dead," Beth's mother answers, but one day "earlier in the week she came back."  "HOW?"  "Well, it's as if she was raised from the dead"  "Like JESUS??" (part of the schtick in this movie is BOTH FAMILIES ARE VERY JEWISH")  "Maybe."

But Beth's dad already suspects that Beth probably didn't come back "like Jesus."  HOW she came back, he didn't know, but (1) probably NOT _that_ way, and (2) "who cares HOW she came back (as a vampire, or a zombie, or whatever else ...) she's MY DAUGHTER and SHE CAME BACK" and so HE becomes a WILDLY "over-protective" father for the rest of the film ;-).

The rest of the film follows, and truth be told, I really enjoyed it.

Yes, it's kinda subversive ... Could one possibly think of "The Risen Jesus" as "a zombie"?   The film DID raise that question up for me ... Though OBVIOUSLY JESUS WAS NOT THAT as JESUS' BODY AS DESCRIBED IN THE BIBLE WAS NOT FALLING APART AS A RESULT OF HIS RESURRECTION BUT WAS ARGUABLY _BETTER_ / MORE CAPABLE (capable of passing through walls, etc) THAN BEFORE.

Still, I really enjoyed this film and yes, teens / young adults "break-ups" are hard ... but LIKE (MOURNING) THE DEAD ... one must eventually move on ;-)

Great / amusing young adult film ;-)

One last note, parents, the R is appropriate for both language and the 20-something nature of the film.  Yes, Zach tries to have ... at one point with his once dead now, kinda back to life, girlfriend... Anyway, the R is deserved, but the film remains IMHO surprisingly "fresh" and funny ;-)


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Belle and Sebastian (orig. Belle et Sébastien) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be PG)  LaCroix (3 Stars)  LeMonde (2 1/2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Allociné.fr listing*

LaCroix.fr (F.  Lebreton) review*
LeMonde.fr (N, Luciani) review*
Filmreporter.de (T. Niezel) review*
Filmovie.it (F. Mangiò) review*
CervenyKoberec.cz (E. Bartlová) review*
Variety review

Belle and Sebastian (orig. Belle et Sébastien) [2013] [IMDb] [AC.fr]* (directed and screenplay cowritten by Nicholas Vanier [IMDb] [AC.fr]*, along with Fabien Suarez [IMDb] [AC.fr]* and Juliette Sales [IMDb] [AC.fr]*, based on the children's book [en.wikip] [fr.wikip]* by Cécile Aubry [en.wikip] [fr.wikip]* [IMDb] [AC.fr]*) is a lovely, beautifully-shot children's-oriented film about a 6-10 year old boy named Sébastien (played by Félix Bossuet [IMDb] [AC.fr]*) growing-up as an orphan and being raised by a "step-grandfather" named César (played by Tchéky Karyo [IMDb] [AC.fr]*) and his family in a small village in the French Alps near the Swiss border during Nazi Occupation.  During the course of the film, Sébastien befriends a previously abused wild sheepdog that he names Belle.  Together, of course, they eventully "help take on the Nazis" ;-)  The film played recently at the 2014 Chicago French Film Festival held at Chicago's Music Box Theater, a festival cosponsored by the French Diplomatic Mission to the United States.

It's a lovely film.  The scenery is absolutely beautiful.  And even the Germans in the film are played with texture (they're not all portrayed as uniformly evil...).  The film even _lightly confronts_ one of the biggest post-War shames of not just the French, but of _all_ the European nations that were occupied by the Nazis: the way the populations of these countries dealt, after liberation, with their young women who did (often only after some time...) fraternize with the young German soldiers of the previous occupying force.

Indeed, one of the subplots of the film involves late teen, early 20-something Angélina (played by Margaux Chatelier [IMDb] [AC.fr]*) presumably the daughter or granddaughter of César who still lives in the home of César and Sébastien but has a boyfriend Guillaume (played by Dimitri Storoge [IMDb] [AC.fr]*) in the resistance.  Throughout the film, she is repeatedly hit-upon / arguably at times harassed by a young German lieutenant named Peter (played by Andreas Pietschmann  [IMDb] [AC.fr]*) who turns out to be actually a pretty good guy.  His interest in Angélina involved more than just that she was an attractive young french woman living in the same town where he, a German soldier, far from home, found himself stationed in. 

That all noted and said, IMHO the greatest difficulty in marketing this film in the United States would be that the film is that it is clearly intended for children -- the story's central protagonists are a 6-10 year old boy and his dog -- Yet, of course, it is filmed in French.  There's no real tradition in the United States to dub such films (and if it was dubbed, the film would probably look awkward to American audiences).  Yet, obviously, a six-year old is not going to be "reading subtitles" ;-).

My sense is that the film would be best utilized (in the English speaking world) as a film shown in French language courses from the secondary school level (7th/8th grade) upward.  Again, the French Alpine scenery is absolutely beautiful and would probably encourage students to "keep with their studies" ("Yes, kids learning French is worth it ...").

So... this is a lovely film, it's just one that very few Americans are probably ever going to see, and IMHO, that is a shame.


ADDENDUM:

It turns out that this film is available in bilingual (French w English subtitles) format IN CANADA.  North Americans can purchase it through Amazon.ca at a (more or less...) reasonable price and it can be shipped anywhere (including the United States).


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

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Films that I did not see in August (in support of our Archdiocesan campaign)

August was a month of travel, weddings / quinces for me as well as of our annual Annunciata Fest.  So there were actually a lot of movies that I missed both intentionally and sometimes unintentionally.  

As I've written before, as part of my contribution in our parish's participation in the Archdiocese of Chicago's Campaign "To Teach Who Christ Is," I've decided to forgo seeing (and therefore not reviewing here) one or two movies a weekend and instead contribute the money I would have spent to the campaign.  Here the list would seem longer than normal and admittedly some of the films I probably would not have seen anyway.  However, others I probably would have seen if not for time constraints and the campaign.

In any case as per my custom, I'm providing a list along with links to the usual line-up of reviews that I also consider as I write my own.

So in the past several weeks, these are the films that I did not see in support of the parish / Archdiocesan campaign:
 
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles [2014] - MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars)  RE.com (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+) - I was already "not a kid" when the original toys / series came out.  To be truthful, I never understood the appeal except that one would never imagine "turtles" to be "like ninjas," so perhaps the appeal is "don't judge a book by its cover" - even someone "nerdy" / "slow" could actually be "quick" / "really cool."

Into the Storm [2014] - MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (1 1/2 Stars)  RE.com (2 Stars)  AVClub (C+) - This summer's Hollywood disaster movie

Let's Be Cops [2014] - MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars)  RE.com (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-) - This summer's (wannabe) cop "buddy movie"

The Expendables 3 [2014] - MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars)  RE.com (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+) - Silvester Stallone is actually a very talented screenwriter (the original Rocky [1976] and Rambo [1982] were both his creations) and he can honestly make just about anything work.  However, I've never particularly liked this "merceraries can be regular folk / good guys" story line.  His talents could be better used elsewhere.

When The Game Stands Tall [2014] - MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars)  RE.com (2 Stars)  AVClub (C+) - This summer's pretty good inspirational high school sports film.

Land Ho! [2014] - MPAA (R) ChicagoTribune (3 Stars)  - Two older guys go on a "road trip" to Iceland.  Kinda like this year's The Bucket List [2007].

To be Tokei [2014] - MPAA (UR)  ChicagoTribune (3 1/2 Stars)  RE.com (3 stars)  AVClub (C+) - Documentary about the life of George Tokei, the Japanese American actor who played Sulu in the original Startrek Series.  He spent a good amount of his childhood growing-up in one of the Japanese-American internment camps set-up by the U.S. government during WW II.  That would have been a compelling enough story as it is, but it turns out that he's also gay.  So he was playing his role in the series / subsequent films as a gay man from the 1960s through the 1980s as a gay man without the public realizing this.

Love is Strange [2014] - MPAA (R)  ChicagoTribune (3 1/2 Stars)  RE.com (4 Stars)  AVClub (B+) - Story of a gay couple that after many years together finally get married, only to have one of them fired by the Catholic Archdiocese for which he worked for not complying with / living according to Church Teaching.

As Above-So Below [2014] - MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  RE.com (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+) - Another "found footage" horror film, this time set in the catacombs under Paris, France

The Identical [2014] - MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-I)  ChicagoTribune (1 Star)  RE.com (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C) - A faith-based film about the identical twin to a Elvis Presley-like superstar from the South of the 1950s.


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