Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Colossal Youth (orig. La Juventude em Marcha) [2006]

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

IMDb listing
CineEuropa.org listing

avoir-alire.fr  (R. Le Vern) review*
revistacinetica.com.br (P. Butcher) review*
Sight & Sound (M. Gomes) review

AV Club (S. Tobias) review
Slant.com (F. de Croce) review

Colossal Youth (orig. La Juventude em Marcha) [2006] [IMDb] [CEu] (written and directed by Pedro Costa [en.wikip] [pt.wikip]* [IMDb] [CEu]) is a haunting, cinematographically brilliant if minimalist (and lengthy...)  film that is probably the most famous creation to date of this PORTUGUESE DIRECTOR. Costa's latest film,  Cavalo Dinhiero [2014] [IMDb] [CEu], arguably a sequel to Colossal played recently at the 2015 - 18th Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.  Since I was unable to see Cavalo, I decided to look-up and review this film on which it was based instead.  (Where did I find Colossal Youth?  Through the rent-by-mail-service of Facets Multimedia in Chicago).

Set in the context of Lisbon's Fontainhas slum as it was being demolished and its largely Cape Verdan immigrant (largely black) inhabitants were being moved to "new(er) quarters" out "in the suburbs," Colossal Youth (orig. La Juventude em Marcha) [2006] [IMDb] [CEu] the film's pace is frustratingly if IMHO _deliberately_ slow.  The characters -- Ventura, Vanda, one even nicknamed "Lento" (slow ...) all incidently PLAYING THEMSELVES -- appear to live in almost suspended animation.  Things, _important things_, are happening _to them_: Ventura is looking for a new place, Vanda is worried about her kids, "Lento" is ill.   But it's all playing out SLOWLY. 

And, again, that's of course largely the point: Time is inexorably moving forward, Change is inexorably taking place ... but how much control, if _any_, do ANY of these people have over what's happening around them and even _to them_?

My only complaint in regards to the movie is that it portrays the ghetto life of the poor in this slum to be NECESSARILY and ONLY ... "SLOW" and LARGELY "SOLITARY."  I do believe that this was the decision of the film-maker to underline the FUNDAMENTAL HELPLESSNESS of the SLUM DWELLERS PORTRAYED.

Yet, most of us who actually know something about life in the "favelas," "barrios" (slums) would know that there is actually a lot of life going on there -- AND that RELIGION plays an important part of that life playing-out (it often provides both Joy and Hope).  There's but one reference in the movie to religion, one of the characters says that he went to Confession.  I'd submit that there would be much, much more going on than that ... even as I understand the point trying to be made by the film makers.

I'd just like to underline that people (even in poor neighborhoods/ slums) are NEVER only victims, we're ALL more than just that. 

But still, very good film and beautifully, beautifully shot!

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

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Get Hard [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (1 Star)  RogerEbert.com (2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (H. Hassenger) review  

Get Hard [2015] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Etan Cohen along with Jay Martel and Ian Roberts) is not a particularly pretty comedy but IMHO it works and probably better than it should.  The film is about race, gender, class, so basically about every "hotbutton" issue that divides us today: 

On the one hand there is James (played by Will Ferrell) a born/raised super-privileged, rich, white, heterosexual, male dope / hedgefund broker who _really believes_ that he "made it on his own" by means of his "wits," "hard work," and ... well ... "an eight million dollar start-up loan from his dad." ;-) 

On the other hand, there's Darnell (played by Kevin Hart) who runs an "executive car wash service" (basically a modern day _shoe-shining_ service ...) inside the parking garage of the Los Angeles high rise office building where James works ... for his future father-in-law Martin (played by Craig T. Nelson, James' fiancee Alissa played by Alison Brie)

Near the beginning of the film, James offers Darnell advice on the value of hard-work as he hands him a $1 tip on a $20 wash ... the unsolicited advice apparently "worth" in his mind the other $2 that could at least make the tip 15% ...

Well, James' world comes crashing down when, suddenly, he finds himself (the only one at his firm ...) arrested, convicted and then "made an example of ..." for "financial improprieties" at the firm where he's _just been made_ "partner."  Hmmm ...

Facing 10 years of hard time in San Quentin rather than 1 year at a country club, James turns to the only black person he knows ... Darnell ... to "teach him how to survive in prison."  Why Darnell?  Well, he's black, right? 

Darnell actually jumps on the deal ... because he needs $30,000 for a down payment on a house that would move him, his appalled wife Rita (played by Edwina Findley Dickerson) and cute-as-a-button 8-10 year old daughter Makayla (played by Ariana Neal) to a nice house in the suburbs where his daughter wouldn't have to pass through a metal detector when she went to school ... James is willing to pay (now...), so ...

Much, of course, then ensues ...

This film is based on a rather long list of rather appalling assumptions, two of which IMHO stand-out most clearly:  (1) that "all black men, or perhaps even 'men of color' spend time in jail," and (2) jail means (homosexual) rape. 

The story places responsibility for the first assumption on the "dimwitted rich white boy" James.  So we ourselves don't have to take (much) responsibility for it. 

The second assumption, IMHO, is more problematic:  Why is it that we assume that "prison means homosexual rape?" ("Well isn't it 'obvious...'?").  Let me ask again, WHY?

I ask this, not because I'm an idiot ... WE ALL HAVE COME TO ASSUME THAT PRISON = RAPE.  But then, if prison is supposed to be PUNISHMENT BEFITTING A CRIME, have we allowed homosexual rape to become THE DE FACTO PUNISHMENT FOR CRIME ... _ANY_ CRIME (worthy of jail ...)?

In the West, WE ALL FIND _CANING_ barbaric ... why NOT ... RAPE?  

And, (okay, I'm offering a "Modest Proposal" here ...): Wouldn't we "save a heck of a lot of money" if we just sentenced violent criminals to ... RAPE?  Or perhaps "multiple rapes"?  Whatever ...

And if that, somehow "disturbs us" ... AREN'T WE DOING THE SAME THING NOW ?   We're sentencing people to "20 years of rape" ... We don't call it that, but we assume that (unless one gets sentenced to a "country club...")

Why not clean-up the prisons with: Prison rape gets you solitary for a year, two years, five years, the rest of your term, or even if need be, the firing squad? 

Basically, we've turned prison into NOT "TIME" but RAPE.  And I'm asking, why?  Again, why is CANING "barbaric" while PRISON RAPE is NOT?

Anyway ... enjoy the film ... and every other prison film, and every other prison joke from now on ... ;-)

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

How Strange to be Named Federico: Scola narrates Fellini (orig. Che Strano Chiamarsi Federico: Scola Racconta Fellini) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be R)  CineBlog.it (7.5/10)  OC.it (7/10)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
FilmItalia.org listing
FilmTV.it listing*

Blogosfere.it (A.  Cappuccio) review*
CineBlog.it (A.M. Abate) review*
OndaCinema.it (F. D'Ettore) review*

AVoir-ALire.fr (V. Dumez) review*

The Hollywood Reporter (D. Young) review
Variety (J. Weissberg) review

How Strange to be Named Federico: Scola Narrates Fellini (orig. Che Strano Chiamarsi Federico: Scola Racconta Fellini) [2013] [IMDb] [FilmItal] [FT.it]* (directed and cowritten by Ettore Scola [en.wikip] [it.wikip]* [IMDb] [FilmItal] [FT.it]* along with Paula Scola [IMDb] [FilmItal] and Silvia Scola [IMDb] [FilmItal]) is a BRILLIANT "Fellini-like" biopic about the legendary Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini [en.wikip] [it.wikip]* ;-) that played AND WILL CLOSE the 2015 - 18th Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.

It is a testament to the strength of this year's festival that three of Italy's films that played at the festival were (1) Black Souls (orig. Anime Nere) [2014] [IMDb] [FilmItal] [FT.it]* (dir. Francesco Munzi [IMDb] [FilmItal] [FT.it]*) a drama about the Calabrese mafia (Calabria (being "the toe" of the "boot of Italy"), (2) The Dinner (orig. I Nostri Ragazzi) [2014] [IMDb] [FilmItal] [FT.it]* (dir. Ivano De Matteo [IMDb] [FilmItal] [FT.it]*) a family drama that asks the question, in a society as family oriented as Italy's what do you do if your child commits a crime or otherwise "has issues"?  Should your first loyalty be to your kid or to the larger society?, and then (3) this fantastic (and promising to be stylistically brilliant) homage to Fellini.  Everyone of these films promised to be 3-4 Star quality.  Yet one _really_ "can't see everything," ;-) one has to choose ;-).  And so I chose this film about Fellini ;-).

Note to readers: One CAN buy this film for a affordable / basically regular DVD price ($10-15) albeit presently in European PAL format via Amazon.com.  Then one can download a simple free-ware program called PassKey-Lite to override one's computer's restrictions on what Region DVD-format discs one play on one's computer.  And multi-regional DVD players are also quite affordable these days (costing around $35 or only about $10 more than a uni-regional one) and then one need not worry ever again about playing non-North American DVDs.  Again, one could find a cheap multi-regional DVD player via Amazon.com.

Anyway, if one is at all a film lover, this is a film to see / search out / own.  

So what then is Federico Fellini [en.wikip] [it.wikip]* "story" according to his good friend, and fellow film-maker Ettore Scola [en.wikip] [it.wikip]*?

Well interestingly enough, Ettore Scola [en.wikip] [it.wikip]* notes that Fellini [en.wikip] [it.wikip]* began his career in 1939 AS A CARTOONIST at the Italian satirical magazine Marc'Aurelio [it.wikip]* during the Mussolini era.  (Scola came to the same magazine ten years later while Fellini still worked there and they became lifelong friends)

Yes during the Mussolini era, the magazine operated then under obvious parameters of censorship (NO, NO, NO jokes about Mussolini ... and some of the members of the editorial board were clearly portrayed as rather fanatical, if then rather RIDICULOUS Fascist "believers").  The film further portrays the magazine AFTER THE WAR as more-or-less obviously supporting the Italy's post-War Center-Right Christian Democratic Party over the Communists (even if this again limited the potential scope of the magazine's humor).  

YET, "politics aside," the Marc'Aurelio [it.wikip]* operated with a very simple (though still "kinda brutal") editorial quality control policy: "fa ridere" / "non fa fidere" (funny / not funny) which ended-up producing an _inordinate number_ of comedy (and then mostly screenwriting / directorial) talents in the post-WW II era, including Fellini (played in the film as a young man by Tommaso Lazotti [IMDb] [FilmItal] [FT.it]*) and Scola (played in the film as a young man by Giulio Forges Davanzati [IMDb] [FilmItal] [FT.it]*).  Seriously, the Marc'Aurelio [it.wikip]* could be called the SNL-like "incubator" for Italian writers / screenwriters / directors that would breakout on their own in the 1950s-60s.

I found Fellini's origins AS A CARTOONIST FASCINATING because this IMMEDIATELY (and FOREVER) HELPS EXPLAIN TO ME _WHY_ THE CHARACTERS IN FELLINI'S FILMS WERE SO OFTEN SO, ERR... EVOCATIVE, EXPRESSIVE, MEMORABLE ... or just plain "grotesquely strange" ;-)  He was DRAWING EXAGGERATED CHARACTERS LIKE THIS 20-30-40 years before putting them in his films ;-).

Further, it makes total sense to me that before / as he was making the transition to film, Fellini started to write jokes / sketches for Italy's version of Vaudeville (again during / immediately after the WW II era).

Then Scola recounts (narrated as an old man by Vittorio Viviani [IMDb] [FT.it]*) Fellini's love affair with the automobile, NOT as a STATUS SYMBOL but _as a means to encounter people_, ODD PEOPLE, that one would probably otherwise never meet.  From the time that he first purchased a car, back in the late 40s and 50s, he'd love to cruise around at night -- often with Scola onboard as well -- to seek out interesting people, often quite literally "at the edges (margins) of the city."

Two such encounters recorded in the film, one with a clearly "past her prime" older prostitute (played wonderfully by Antonella Attili [IMDb]) evoking Fellini's celebrated Oscar-Winning film Nights of Cabiria [1957] [IMDb] (where Fellini's then wife, Guilietta Masina [en.wikip] [it.wikip]*[IMDb] with probably one of the most expressive/evocative faces in the history of film, played _exactly_ this kind of "not exactly A-team" but certainly talkative / interesting small-time prostitute) and another involving a street artist (played by Sergio Rubini [IMDb] [FT.it]*) who'd draw strikingly beautiful chalk paintings of saints on Rome's sidewalks (and then complain that "rain would come and wash them all away," Go figure ... ;-)  Having lived in Rome for three years (while in the seminary), I've met and talked to street artists JUST LIKE THIS ;-) and I've also wondered about "the futily of their work" ;-).

Finally Scola recounts Fellini's love for his "Studio 5" in the famed legendary Cinecittà movie studio complex at the edge of Rome.  Studio 5 became known, in hushed reverential tones, as "La Casa di Fellini" (Fellini's House).  Much of the second half of the movie recounts / shows us that some of the most famous scenes in Fellini's movies, INCLUDING the FONTANA DI TREVI SCENE [YouTube] in La Dolce Vita [1960], AS UTTERLY "REAL" AS IT/THEY MAY HAVE SEEMED, WERE OFTEN ENTIRELY CREATED IN STUDIO FIVE.  Honestly, my jaw dropped when I realized that EVEN that most famous scene WAS ACTUALLY FILMED THERE (with a MOCK-UP of that MOST FAMOUS / ELABORATE FOUNTAIN RE-CREATED THERE to do it).  Wow!

All in all, I just found this to be a lovely / fascinating and ENTIRELY, ENTIRELY, ENTIRELY APPROPRIATE :-) "FELLINI-LIKE" BIO-PIC about Fellini, reminding us all "where he came from." 

Honestly, I was in awe.  What a great tribute to such a fascinating and so often creative / "off-the-wall" man!

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

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Home [2015]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-I)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (T. Johnson) review

Home [2015] (directed by Tim Johnson, screenplay by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember based on the children's book "The True Meaning of Smekday" (2007) [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Adam Rex [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) could perhaps be best described as a "highly sugar coated / smiley faced" _knock-off_of the children's / space alien classic Lilo & Stitch [2002].  But I would suggest that this was part of the current film's "originality" / point.

How could something be both a "knock-off" and "original" ;-)?  Let me explain:

In Lilo & Stitch [2002], Stitch is presented as a really self-selfish/self-serving, terribly-bad-behaved fugitive alien (the audience understands immediately why he's "on the run") who crashes to earth where ironically since HE LOOKS KINDA LIKE "A PUPPY DOG," humans, notably a little Hawaiian girl named Lilo, try to him "adopt" as a pet.  And well, he's NOT "a cute little puppy dog" even though, thanks to Lilo he eventually kinda becomes one, and certainly better behaved.    

In the current film, the Earth is invaded by an alien race called "The Boov," who KINDA LOOK LIKE STITCH from the aforementioned film.  But UNLIKE STITCH, "The Boov" aren't really "bad tempered."  Yes, they're cowardly and unbelievably selfish -- heck THEY STEAL OUR PLANET, making the bad-tempered Stitch seem as diminutive and selfless as "Mother Theresa" -- but they do everything in a supremely KINDLY, MATTER OF FACT SORT OF WAY:

"THE BOOV" MEAN "NO HARM" as they ARRIVE ... IN OVERWHELMING FORCE ... and then "KINDLY" _VACUUM US UP_ INTO THEIR SPACE SHIPS and DUMP US ALL INTO A _VERY, VERY NICE_ DISNEYLAND LIKE, well-watered, "RESERVATION" full of theme-park rides and "cotton candy" and named "HAPPY HUMANLAND" ... somewhere in AUSTRALIA ... WHILE THEY TAKE ... the rest of our world.

It's COLONIALISM at its bright, primary-color, if perhaps a little pastelish CHEERIEST ;-)

So "the Boov" ARE AN ENTIRE RACE of "Stitches" who've learned to mask their cruelty / nastiness behind lovely smiles and kindly, well-tempered voices.  Again, THEY MEAN NO HARM, THEY JUST WANT / GET THEIR WAY ...

So then the film is BOTH a "knockoff" and quite "original" ;-)

Now, of course, since "the Boov" treat alien races (us) with "kindly" if supremely paternalistic / sanitized disdain (again, they move, err ABDUCT, us with VACUUM CLEANER-LIKE SPACESHIPS) it's not surprising that they treat each other with a similar ever-"kindly" but just wait till the "shoe drops" sort of a way.

So enter Oh (voiced by Jim Parsons), kind of a "screw-up" among "The Boov."  The other "Boov" aren't openly mean to him, hostile to him.  They just don't talk (or associate) with him.  And he explains at one point to the strangely "left behind" 10-year-old African American-girl named Gratuity "Tip" Tucci (voiced by Rihanna and her mother is voiced by Jennifer Lopez) that "the Boov" have a very simple "NINE (!) strikes and you're out policy."  That is, "the Boov" put up with you until you make _nine mistakes_ and then ... THEY ERASE YOU.  (No need to get angry about anything.  "The Boov" give their folks PLENTY OF CHANCES ... it's just after you reach some point of incompetence/failure ... they just get rid of you.  And "that is that."  Again, no need to get upset, "raise one's voice," about ... ANYTHING).

Well, no matter how "kindly" it all may seem, it's all actually incredibly cruel.  Here, (most of) the human race gets sucked-off to a distant corner of their/OUR planet (where we're actually treated quite well, but we DON'T really have a choice in the matter).  And even the "higher race Boov" treat each other with "gentle" but ridiculous / emotionless "that's just the way it is" "firmness."

And it's left to "left behind" Gratuity / "Tip" and her cat (named Pig) to teach "the Boov" a lesson in what it really means to be compassionate / kind.

Actually a great / fun children's story ;-)

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Cowboys (oirg. Kauboji) [2014]

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

IMDb listing
Cineuropa.org listing
CSFD listing*

FAK.hr (D. Raknić) review*
NemilosrdniGadovi (V. Runjić) review*
Variety (E. Taylor) review

Cowboys (oirg. Kauboji) [2014] [IMDb] [CEu] [CSFD] (screenplay and directed by Tomislav Mršić [IMDb] [CSFD]* [CEu] based on the stage play by Saša Anočić [IMDb] [CSFD]* [CEu]) is a CROATIAN comedy that played recently at the 2015 - 18th Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.

And though the film was Croatia's official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film award for the 2014 Oscars, I can honestly say that I didn't know what to do with the film for the first 45 minutes or so.  I write this because I write this blog, and READERS WILL CERTAINLY NOTE that I spend a probably disproportionate amount of time reviewing FOREIGN FILMS, in good part to try to do _my part_ in trying to bring people together, to help them learn about each other, and learn to appreciate each other.

What then to do with A FILM THAT SEEMS TO GLORY in some of the most dismissive stereotypes of "ethnics" (in the States, read SLAVS... and I'm one of them, Czech ...)?

Add then that I HAD JUST SEEN a top-notch, in truly _every sense of the word_, AUSTRIAN (READ GERMAN ...) "Western" called The Dark Valley (orig. Das Finstere Tal) [2014] that was set very interestingly in the late 1800s up in the Austrian Alps (and yet followed pretty much ALL the conventions of a typical American Western, the dress, the soundtrack, "the stranger riding into town ...") ...

.... AND RIGHT AFTER THAT, I see this CROATIAN (SLAVIC ...) film about an, okay, top-notch Croatian director coming back to a midsized Croatian industrial town where he had grown-up to fulfill a promise he had made to his father long ago, to put on a play (which ALSO turns out to be a Western) in this his home town.  But the cast he has to work with is, at least at first glance, and perhaps at second, third, fourth and fifth glances ... are a bunch of idiots ;-).  IT'S HONESTLY A WHOLE DIFFERENT WORLD ;-)

And yet, as the story goes on, THAT BECOMES THE POINT ... These poor "walk-ons" (obviously, actually professional actors PLAYING "walk-ons") maybe a director's nightmare BUT ... they are PEOPLE with their own stories.  And as their stories play-out even as they "prepare" to put-on the first stage play to be played at the town's (still probably Communist Era) "Palace of Culture" in some 20 years, Viewers come to "understand."

So this is a film that's part Chorus Line [1985], a good part like the American sitcom Taxi [1978-1983] and (thank you Ella Taylor of Variety!) a good part The Full Monty [1997] (also about life in a "dying industrial town," where nothing much seems to happen any more).

But the links to Taxi [1978-1983] are perhaps the most hilarious:

One of the characters in the film, the shadiest (but they all have good hearts) -- who under pressure "admits" that he's "half Gypsy / half Serb" (this of course IN CROATIA ... ;-) -- even looked like Danny De Vito ;-)

THEN ANOTHER CHARACTER, a SWEET but initially UTTERLY "OUT THERE" 20-year old girl READS A POEM for her audition that she and her mute brother ("accompanying her on piano" ;-) wrote IN AN INVENTED LANGUAGE that, of course, NOBODY -- except PERHAPS Andy Kaufman's "Lavka" ... who'd then of course ... "begin to cry" -- COULD UNDERSTAND ;-).

Seriously, THAT POEM was BEAUTIFUL.  One could identify RHYME, one could identify METER, one could even identify ALLITERATION ... BUT ... NO ONE COULD UNDERSTAND A <@#$!> WORD OF IT ;-) ;-)

And there it is...

Perhaps the revelatory scene in the film comes when one of the five (with the poetic girl and her mute brother, seven) hapless "walk-on actors" comes to admit that he's "probably gay" (even though he protests: "I have a wife and a kid ... Okay (head drops) I had a wife and a kid ... they left me.") saying finally: "Okay, okay, I MAY BE GAY, BUT ... I'm NOT a F...."

Every single person in this story was EXACTLY THAT.  They all had terrible, painful, even in a sense LOL-FUNNY flaws.  BUT NONE OF THEM WERE ... <fill in whatever derogatory slur would seem "appropriate">.  That is, they were all PEOPLE ...

... AND IN THE END ... they put on a GOOD SHOW that the people of their town, who hadn't seen a show in their town in 20 years were VERY, VERY APPRECIATIVE OF.

Honestly, a great Story!

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

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Living is Easy with Eyes Closed (orig. Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados) [2013]

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

IMDb listing
FilmAffinity.com/es listing*
SensaCine.com listing*

Cine Para Leer (J.L. Sanchez-Noriega) review*
SensaCine.com (B. Martínez) review*

Living is Easy with Eyes Closed (orig. Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados) [2013] [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]* (written and directed by David Trueba [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*) named after the famous line in the John Lennon / Beatles song Strawberry Fields Forever [YouTube] [iTunes] is a "period" and (though certainly highly to damningly critical) arguably even something of a "nostalgia piece" about the thoroughly "pleasant" (if you just KEPT YOUR EYES CLOSED / MOUTH SHUT...) life in Franco's Spain during the "Beatlemania" of the 1960s.  It played recently as a critically acclaimed / six Goya award-winning submission by SPAIN to the 2015 - 18th Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.

As such, this is a thoroughly pleasant (and to Americans / most people actually a thoroughly accessible) film, a (to evoke another Beatles title) "Magical Mystery Tour" [Youtube] [iTunes] of a time (and perhaps place, though honestly what this film describes was basically EVERYWHERE at _that_ time ...) in which if you JUST FIT IN / DIDN'T CAUSE WAVES ... "all would be fine."  Yet what if you DIDN'T / COULDN'T FIT IN? ... Well ...

So this film is about three "misfits" / "odd balls" -- Antonio (played magnificently by Javier Cámara [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*) a still-optimistic/full of life if perhaps prematurely balding 30-something / early 40-something high school teacher who uses Beatles songs to teach English in his class in some midsized provincial town somewhere in Spain; Belén (played again magnificently by Natalia de Molina [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*) a late teen / perhaps early 20-something "wayward girl" / "fallen woman" who found herself both unwed and pregnant; and Juanjo (played by Francesc Colomer [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*) a 15-16 y/o teenager who could have easily been in Antonio's class (but wasn't) who runs away from home because he simply "didn't want to get a haircut" (but in Franco's Spain, as across much of the Western World at the time, Beatles or no Beatles, for a guy to have long hair was a sign of disorder and even rebellion ...).

Antonio meets the other two "on the road" after he decides to ditch his stultifying teaching job for a few days (the nuns running his school were not exactly excited that he was using "Beatles songs" to teach class ...) to go down to Southern Spain TO TRY TO SEE JOHN LENNON who was doing a movie there (a WW II-era comedy/farce called How I Won The War [1967]).  When they get close, they crash at a beach-side hotel (separate rooms of course, but then, also true of the era, quite cheap) run by a kind of Spanish hippie with a disabled son.  Yes, HE had long hair, but he also lived SO FAR from anybody (of import...) that it really didn't matter.

Anyway, much, poignant, of course ensues ... Do they meet John Lennon?  Well ... guess ;-)

What is interesting is that John Lennon apparently wrote a lot of the songs that became part of the Magical Mystery Tour album, including Strawberry Fields Forever [YouTube] [iTunes], while being out there (in Franco's Spain) making that above mentioned film.  And according to the current film's closing credits from the time that John Lennon went to Spain to make that movie onward, Beatles albums always came with the lyrics printed on the record sleeve.  Apparently he came to understand that people FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD (including Spain ...) wanted to know what The Beatles were actually singing about in their songs.

Again a nice gentle movie about a not exactly gentle time.

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

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gold [2014]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Entertainment.ie (2 1/2 Stars)  Irish Times (2 1/2 Stars)  RTE (2 1/2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing

Entertainment.ie (G. Burke) review
Irish Times (D. Clarke) review
RTE (L. Delaney) review
The Guardian (L. Felperin) review

Gold [2014] (directed and cowritten by Niall Heery along with Brendan Heery) is a lovely / gentle yet inherently complex / emotional family drama from IRELAND that played recently at the 2015 - 18th Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.

One random, ever drizzly / "liquid sunshiny" North Dublin day, twelve years after Ray (played magnificently throughout with gentle and generally well-meaning helplessness by David Wilmot) simply "wandered off" (and ABANDONED...) his wife Alice (played again magnificently by Kerry Condon) and their then 3 year old, now 15-16 year old (teenage...) daughter Abbey (played again "pitch perfect" by Maisie Williams), he "comes back."

Why did he leave?  Everyone involved agrees ... because of depression.  Indeed, when he "walked away" from his family, he did apparently try to kill himself soon afterwards.  Why?  Well, why do some people fall into depression or some even come to try to kill themselves?  Generally for a rather complex mix of reasons, among them perhaps environment, a generalized / generalizing sense of hopelessness, and (perhaps) at least in part heredity.

Why did he come back?  Viewers of this movie will spend a good part of the film trying to figure this out as well.  But after twelve years, he "comes back."

Now it's not as if Ray's ANY "more together" than the day he left.  He doesn't seem to have a job nor a plan.  Indeed, when he first shows-up "back in town," he drives past a reasonably good looking discarded sofa sitting at the curb (in the rain ...).  Stopping, taking a look and determining that it's in reasonably good shape, he puts / ties it up on his roof, figuring that "he may need it" some day in the near future ;-).

With that palish orange sofa tied to the roof of his car, he decides to drive then to his (former) wife's house.  Just missing who he's guessing is his daughter and a man about his age, perhaps a little older, who turns out to be his (former) wife's subsequent husband Frank (played again magnificently by James Nesbit as the über-responsible second husband of a wife whose first husband just got-up one day and _irresponsibly_ walked away from her and their kid) getting into their car and heading off somewhere, Ray, with that paling orange sofa tied to the roof of his car, decides to follow them ...

... Well after some time of this, teenage Abbey does notice the strange car behind them and tells Frank, "DAD, we seem to be followed by some guy driving a car with an orange sofa tied to the roof."  "Oh, are you sure?"  "I'm pretty sure dad, he's been following close behind us for the last 10-15 minutes."

So Franks stops.  So does Ray (still with the ever paler orange sofa tied to the roof of his car).  Frank gets out of the car and walks over to Ray's car: "Is there a problem?"  "No."  "Then why are you following us?"  Ray then pulls out a letter from he's had from Alice (remember that all agreed that he left home and even tried to kill himself because he was depressed) saying that he's "welcome home any time."  Frank, beginning to recognize who Ray was, responds sternly: "But Ray that was TWELVE YEARS AGO."  "I know," answers Ray, shaking his head knowing that he's been an F-up all these years, and knowing that he's almost certainly being an F-up now as well.

And so ... after TWELVE YEARS Abbey gets to meet her dad ... and a short time later his (former) wife Alice ...


What now?

This is IMHO the genius of this movie.  It is SO KIND (and I would honestly say SO IRISH) ... to everyone.

Yes, everybody is irritated / confused / etc with Ray's re-emergence into their lives, BUT NO ONE has the heart to throw him out.  How does one throw away a "puppy dog" who one day walked away, got lost, and then came back, even if TWELVE YEARS LATER ... and STILL seems to be ... "a puppy dog" ? ;-)

But then there's more to the story and it concerns Frank:  Remember that he's the SUPER-RESPONSIBLE _second husband_ of Alice (who was abandoned by her kindly if SUPER-IRRESPONSIBLE FIRST ONE).  As the SUPER-RESPONSIBLE SECOND HUSBAND, Frank has a SUPER-RESPONSIBLE-LIKE JOB.  He's a gym teacher.  AND HE'S MORE THAN THAT ... Determined to be a winner (after his wife and step-daughter were previously so hurt by having been "in the care of" a LOSER) he thinks that he's come-up with a "revolutionary new way of ... RUNNING."


More to the point he has a 15-16 year old step-daughter who was already abandoned by her first father, and who has been trying REALLY, REALLY HARD TO PLEASE her second one ... to try out the "new system."

OF COURSE THE SYSTEM DOESN'T WORK, but ... 15-16 year old Abbey tries REALLY, REALLY HARD (even WAY TOO HARD ...) TO HIDE THIS FROM HIM, because ... she doesn't want to break her step-father's heart.

So this can't go on, and can't go well.  And it doesn't ...

BUT ... Ray "The Loser" is now here ... to, YES, SAVE THE DAY.

Now how does "a loser" save the day??  Go see the movie ... and it'll probably make you cry.

... because sometimes, A LOT OF TIMES ... EVEN MOST OF THE TIME ... "winning" isn't EVERYTHING.

IMHO this is just an awesome and KIND, KIND, KIND / GENTLE film!  Great, great job!

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A Step into the Dark (orig. Krok do Tmy) [2014]

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

IMDb listing
CineEuropa.org listing
CSFD.cz listing*
FDB.cz listing*

Filmsk.sk interview with director*

Filmsk.sk (J. Dudková) review*
Kinema.sk (R. Tóthová) review*
RTVS.sk (R. Pospiš / J. Sklenár) review*
SME.sk (M. Ščepka) review*

Aktualne.cz (M. Svoboda) review*
iDnes.cz (M. Spáčilová) review*

A Step into the Dark (orig. Krok do Tmy) [2014] [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu] (directed and cowritten by Miloslav Luther [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu] along with Marián Puobiš [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu]) is a SLOVAKIAN historical drama / post-WW II morality tale that played recently at the 2015 - 18th Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.  The film served also as Slovakia's official submission to the Oscars' Best Foreign Film competition for 2014.

Set in a random town somewhere in central Slovakia largely in the early 1950s, hence after World War II and approaching the end of the worst period of imposed Soviet style post-War Communism, the film centers on Martin Dubovský (played excellently throughout by Marko Igonda [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu]) a promising and still fairly young doctor / respected war hero (during WW II, he was the commander of a local partisan unit during the Slovakian National Uprising [en.wikip] [sk.wikip]* against the Nazi backed Slovakian puppet state of the time) with a lovely family - wife Eva (played again wonderfully throughout by Monika Haasová [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu]) and two lovely young children.  In every ordinary sense of the word, Martin was a "good" and successful / respected guy, except ...

... for whatever reason, he allowed himself to get involved in an affair with a non-local/imposed/CZECH "Soudruška" (Comrade) named Soňa (played again very, very well, with multi-layer complexity by Kristýna Boková-Lišková [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu]).  Why?

THAT'S A VERY GOOD QUESTION:  Why would someone who honestly has everything that one could reasonably hope for, one who's honestly lived by all accounts a good and honorable life, AND HAS RECEIVED THE HONOR / RESPECT THAT WOULD BE DUE SOMEONE WHO'S LIVED SUCH A GOOD AND HONORABLE LIFE ... even ABOVE AND BEYOND (again, he was A WAR HERO, A COMMANDER of a detachment of PATRIOTS / WAR-HEROES), why would someone like THAT fall into something SO STUPID / ALWAYS POTENTIALLY LIFE-WRECKING as enter into an affair with someone who -- okay she was good looking but not super-goodlooking, okay she had a personality (Martin's wife even liked her) and was something of a co-worker, etc -- taking two steps back (and if one was advising a friend) ONE WOULD SEE NOTHING BUT TROUBLE?

Was it simply a lapse of judgement?  "Falling (if for a moment) asleep at the wheel" as it were?  Did his moderate local celebrity "go to his head?"  Did he come to think that he "earned" this kind of "picadillo" (little sin / affair on the side)?

THEN WAS IT ALSO, AT LEAST IN PART, BECAUSE HE WAS SLOVAK AND SHE WAS CZECH?  The post-WW I, Wilsonian creation that was Czechoslovakia, this was a country made-up of two peoples in which BOTH peoples felt that there was an "inequality of status" -- BOTH PEOPLES kinda felt that the Czechs were some how "higher on the totem pole" than the Slovaks.  The Czechs (who were, after all, in this conception "on top") tended to consider this as "a matter of course," while the Slovaks, as a matter of course, tended to resent it: How many times did Slovaks during those years of a unified Czechoslovakia had to correct people who'd say: "Oh, so you're Czech!" responding, eyes rolling, blood pressure rising: "No I'm Slovak!"  So did Martin enter into this affair AT LEAST IN PART because "bedding a Czech" somehow made him feel "better about himself" than if he was simply "bedding a(nother) Slovak?" 

And then also WAS HE ACTUALLY TARGETED by the (Czech) "Soudruška Soňa" "in the service of the Party?"  WHAT?  That'd be insane? But ...

There;s a telling early discussion in this film at a "Political Education" meeting at the Hospital where Martin works, LED by the "Political Human Resources" person, who was, none other than Soňa (That was, in fact, her job in this "nice midsized Slovakian town in the foothills of the Tatra Mountains" serving as the "Political officer" at Martin's hospital).

Now as an aside here, Readers, you think that YOU HATE the H.R. "motivational" BS at your place of employment ... WELL THESE POLITICAL "LECTURES" / and (if one dared....) "DISCUSSION PERIODS" WERE MANDATORY IN THE SOVIET BLOC COUNTRIES OF THE TIME.  To this day, I get a good row out of my dad, when I mention similar if far-more-random H.R. "motivational" BS that occurs often at work, ANYWHERE.  He always responds: "YOU DON'T KNOW what it was like to sit there and listen to this BS and fear that you're not gonna 'clap loud enough' when it was over...")

Anyway, at one of these "Political Education meetings" early in the film, Soudruška Soňa mentions: "In the new Socialist reality, we have evolved even in our morality:  In the Past, we were told by our Oppressors that there were Rules given to us 'From on High' that we we had to follow under all circumstances.  Today, the Party teaches that ALL RULES CAN BE PUT ASIDE WHEN THIS WOULD BE IN THE SERVICE OF THE PARTY."  (I remember my dad, who spent his late teens through his mid-20s in this system, recalling EXACTLY ALMOST WORD FOR WORD this "Teaching" -- that "In Marxist-Leninist theory EVEN MORALITY must SERVE THE PARTY."

Well, in the film, the only person who lifts up his hand to challenge the Soudruška is Dr. Martin (even though he's ALREADY entered into an affair with her...).  He tells her, "No.  There are Eternal Truths.  There are actions that are ALWAYS GOOD and ALWAYS WRONG."  The Soudruška answers, "No that's the OLD WAY OF THINKING.  I am telling you here, that in that in our new Socialist Reality, EVEN OUR CONCEPTS OF RIGHT AND WRONG, GOOD AND EVIL, MUST SERVE THE AIMS OF THE PARTY."

Okay, why "would it serve the aims of the Party" for Soudruška Soňa to seduce the local War hero / respected man in the community Martin?  Isn't it obvious ...?  By falling into this extra-marital entanglement, the Party then could control him in ways that it previously could not.


Now "Soudruška Soňa" was NOT presented in this film as simply Evil.  As the film progresses, one gets to understand her as well:  She grew-up with her family in a small town in (Czech) Moravia.  Her father (played again wonderfully by Miloslav Donutil [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu]) had been a lawyer in pre-Communist days.  After the Communists took-over he lost his position and had, indeed, been sent to "internal exile" to the far eastern reaches of Czechoslovakia to the borderlands between Slovakia and Soviet Ukraine.  Then 18-19 year old Soňa SLEPT WITH A LOCAL SLOVAKIAN COMMUNIST THUG, AND BECAME A PARROTING INDEED "SINGING" COMMUNIST PARTY MEMBER so that her father WHO THEN HATED HER FOR BECOMING A COMMUNST could at least move to serve out his term of "internal exile" in this Central Slovakian town where this drama played out: FOR THE SAKE OF HER FATHER, SHE BENT HER OWN / HER FAMILY'S MORAL RULES SO THAT HE WOULD NOT HAVE TO WORK IN A LUMBER GANG ON THE BORDER OF SLOVAKIA / SOVIET UKRAINE but instead live in _relative comfort_ in a moderately sized town in Central Slovakia.  Wow!
But once she took THAT STEP, she had to SING ... And here was Martin taking a different, perhaps less knowing, STEP INTO DARKNESS ... And much then ensues ...

An excellent and VERY thought provoking film!

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

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dark Valley (orig. Das Finstere Tal) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (4+)

IMDb listing
CineEuropa listing
Film-Zeit.de listing*

Der Spiegel (T. Andre) review*
Cinema-Paradiso.at (FAZ) review*
FilmKritiker.de review*
FilmReporter.de (T. Buschkämper) review*

Dark Valley (orig. Das Finstere Tal) [2014] [IMDb] [FZ.de]*[CEu] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Andreas Prochaska [IMDb] [FZ.de]*[CEu] along with Martin Ambrosch [IMDb] [FZ.de]*[CEu] based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Thomas Willmann [de.wikip]* [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is an IMHO spectacularly well done AUSTRIAN "Alpine Western" that played recently at the 2015 - 18th Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.  An English dubbed version of the film is already available in the U.S. on the Amazon Instant Video service.  The German version is available on Amazon.de's Instant Video Service as well.

Set in the late 1800s in the Austrian Alps and introduced through the voice of a young woman named Luzi (played by Paula Beer [IMDb] [FZ.de]*) who presents herself as having been "present to all the events recalled," the film is about "a stranger" named Greider (played by Sam Riley [IMDb] [FZ.de]*[CEu]), twenty-something years old, who rides into town one late autumn day to ... Well that was the initial question, what was he doing there?  In the scattered villages of high Austrian Alps, everybody knew each other and everything about each other, but NO ONE knew him.  Yet he seemed to know something of this town.

After some conversation with Luzi at the local tavern, which she ran with her mother, he does reveal that he comes from America.  "Oh!  Did you ever see any Indians?" she asks.  He answers that he has.  Well, what was he, who grew-up in the Wild West doing in Austria?  He explains that he and his mother "came from these parts," and that ... "he always wanted to come back."  "Your German's not bad," Luzi complements him.  He answers, "I know.  My mother taught me well."

At this point their conversation is interrupted by a rather large thuggish looking guy, who offers the stranger a drink.  The stranger politely refuses.  "Hey when I offer you a drink, YOU DRINK," insists the man.  Knowingly, with some fear in her eyes, Luzi tells him, "Look you better drink."  He refuses.  Well the man punches him to the ground and forces a half a bottle of schnaps down his throat telling him "NO ONE REFUSES ME... I tell you to drink and you drink."  Well, he's now drunk.  What now?  After the man goes, Luzi tells him: "He's part of the Brenner Clan.  There's a father and six sons and they rule the roost in these parts."  The stranger answers: "I know."
In the days that follow, one Brenner son, then another, die of various "Alpine" (logging, then hunting) accidents.  The whole town is SHOCKED.  And since the Brenner family "RUNS THESE PARTS" they BETTER LOOK SHOCKED, WEEPING / GRIEF STRICKEN (Note here that the famous pass through the Alps between Austria and Italy is actually named the Brenner Pass).

Well, the town may be shocked but Luzi's supposed to get married.  She has a boyfriend and as a virtuous girl, she's told him that she won't sleep with him until they get married.  And, well, THEY REALLY WANT TO GET MARRIED ;-) ... So despite perhaps good form in any case (after all two locals just died in the town), and CERTAINLY when the local "mafia family's" "grieving" a sudden loss of two sons ... they decide to press on with the wedding anyway.

Guess who's the local priest?  ANOTHER of the "Brenner boys" ;-) ... AND HE GIVES PROBABLY THE CREEPIEST WEDDING HOMILY THAT I'VE EVER HEARD:

Starring straight at Luzi and her fiance', kneeling there in front of the altar, he CHOOSES to _extol the virtues_ of St. Joseph: "Now JOSEPH WAS A GOOD MAN, A MAN WHO KNEW HIS PLACE.  A MAN WHO RAISED A SON WHO WAS NOT HIS OWN.  And he did it GLADLY.  He considered it A BLESSING.  Because he KNEW THAT HIS SON'S SEED was GREATER THAN HIS..."

Guess what appeared in store for Luzi and her husband ... and perhaps why "the Stranger" AND HIS MOTHER "left these parts for America" when he was young AND why both his Mother and he prepared ALL HIS LIFE FOR HIS "RETURN" ...

The wedding ends, the party heads down to the tavern owned by Luzi's mother.  The stranger Greider shows-up at the Church, shot-gun in his hand, barrel pointing down, just as the preacher about to close-up the Church, and asks "to go to Confession."  Looking at the stranger, at the gun, barrel still pointed down, back at the stranger, the Priest acquiesces:

"Bless me Father for I have sinned.  In these days I've killed two of your brothers ..." By the end of the Confession, he's killed a third ...

Much still needs to play out.  Remember there are still three brothers to go, and then there's The Father.  There's also a wedding reception going on below.

This is a really great and EVOCATIVE ("Alpine") Western!  I saw it at the festival here in Chicago in the German with English subtitles.  The version currently available in the United States is dubbed.  Hopefully, it's just as good.  The scenery /  cinematography are absolutely beautiful as is the costuming, and then the absolutely AWESOME, EVER-FOREBODING SOUNDTRACK.   Note that with the exception of the locals wearing slightly different hats from the "cowboy hats" of the Old West, the clothing worn by the locals in the film was almost the same as that of the Old West.  And the mode of transportation was the horse.

So my "hat off" and kudos to the makers of this movie.  This was honestly one great and exceptionally well-executed film!

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

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Hany [2014]

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

IMDb listing
CSFD.cz listing*
FDB.cz listing*

Actualne (J. Gregor) review*
CervenyKoberec.cz (E. Bartlová) review*
iDnes.cz (M. Spáčilová) review*
Lidovky (M. Kabát) review*

Hany [2014] [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* (written and directed by Michal Samir [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]*) is a highly stylized young adult (twenty something) oriented film from the Czech Republic that played recently at the 2015 - 18th Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.  American viewers would find thematic similarities in the film with the young adult (twenty something) oriented "post apocalytic drama" The Purge [2013] and stylistic similarities (notably with its "long/extended shot" camera work) to Bird Man [2014].

Combining the two - thematics and stylistics - one could perhaps call the film a Czechified / sanitized (to largely PG-13 levels) rendering of the "in the years immediately following the collapse of Hollywood's (censorship) production code," _intended to shock_, classic Clockwork Orange [1971].  The current film does disturb, at times, but it does not _shock_, much.  Now, this _isnt' necessarily bad_.  I'm just intending this assessment to be a statement of reality: The current film does not have the same bite as the "post Apocalyptic" / "post collapse of the previous social order" Hollywood productions mentioned above.  On the other hand, one could, largely (but then not completely... there are a couple of scenes near the end that would not be teen appropriate), take one's older kids / teens to see this movie ... and certainly hipper "older parents" could have a good discussion with their 20 year olds about the film as well.

The film's camerawork alone could interest a fair number of cinema lovers: The entire film, set "one night" on a street with a trendy/hipster bar that featured "poetry reading," gives the impression of  having been made with only two extended shots, the first extending for about 90% the film with a clear and conscious break occurring at the film's climax, the second (also extended) shot taking the film to its end and serving as something of film's "epilogue" / "coda."  Still interestingly enough, I recently saw and reviewed a recent Iranian film, Fish & Cat (orig. Mahi va Gorbeh) [2013], set outdoors by a lake in the context of an annual regional "kite festival" that used the same "one shot" technique (and, in fact, was choreographed in such a way that it really was done in said "one shot" even though it apparently took several tries to make it all the way from beginning to end).  I admit, I enjoy this kind of cinematic amusement ;-).
Back to the film:  It begins somewhat ominously with the radio announcing that some sort of a civil disturbance was taking place in town, with residents asked to remain at home until authorities give the all clear that it's "safe" again to go outdoors.  But it's instantly clear that said "ominous warning" was being (rightly or wrongly, as the film progresses, one could really go either way...) utterly ignored by the young attracted to this street / bar with its care-free atmosphere.

The film then, which advertised itself as something of a commentary on the life of the young / 20-somethings today in the Czech Rep, features some rather easily recognized young adult / twenty-something archetypes:

There's the "nerd" / "mamma's boy" Egon (played by Michal Sieczkowski [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]*) who along with fellow, more techie "nerd" Dušan (played by Marek Adamczyk [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]*) accompanying him on ... laptop :-) ... who begin the film at said "hip/ trendy poetry bar" presenting a reading from Egon's recent new play called "Marquis de Sad" (yes, that's "Sad" not "Sade").  The play's apparently about a French count who was NOT a sadist but ... just ... sad ;-).  On one level, it's hilarious ;-).   On the other ... let's face it ... would it surprise ANYONE that these two poor guys, one with HIS OWN MANUSCRIPT in hand, the other "accompanying him" with music ... from his laptop ... WOULD BE UTTERLY IGNORED by the bar's patrons (drinking their beers, scoping the establishment to see who's coming in/out who'd be "hit-on-able") as poor Egon recited from ... his play about "Marquis de SAD" ;-).

Then there's, of course, the hedonistic / nihilistic "A-hole" Jiří (played by Jiří Kocman [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]*) who's the opposite of Egon.  He comes into the bar ... to sell drugs.  People know him, know that he's an often racist A-hole.  But they know that if they want coke, heroin or ecstasy, he's the guy to go to even as he makes fun of them as he steps into a backroom to "make the deal" / take their money.

Then there's Hana (or one of the "Hanas" in the film, played here by Hana Vagnerová [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]*).  She finds herself between two guys, NO NOT between Egon / Dušan who are in their own worlds but between (1) a different more realistic "nice guy" Martin (played by Róbert Nižník [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]*), a Slovak, with whom she's had a long-term relationship (but despite being good, responsible, etc (and perhaps a little on the poorer side...) she's getting "bored" with AND then (2) the above mentioned Jiří, who yes is an A-hole, with whom she did not see any possible long-term relationship with, but ... "even if he certainly wasn't "Mr. Right" he _could_ serve as a "Mr. Tonight" (even if she does have the "Good Martyr" / "Martin" waiting for her back home ...).

So that then sets up the conflict ... even as people come in and out of the bar and the camera follows the people coming "in and out and all about..." throughout the film to tell the story.

Of course that "civil disturbance" that the young people at this hip / trendy bar on this hip / trendy street have dutifully ignored eventually comes to this street corner.  What happens?  Well guess ... ;-).  It's actually quite good / insightful ...

And so then, the story plays out ...

All things considered, I think the story is a good one.  Yes, it's NOT that shocking, but it does have a point and one that young people in their 20s (and perhaps their parents) could talk about afterwards.  All in all, good job!

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

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Divergent Series: Insurgent [2015]

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

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

The Divergent Series: Insurgent [2015] (directed by Robert Schwentke screenplay by Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Veronica Roth [wikip] [GR] [IMDb]) is the second cinematic installment of the Post-Apocalyptic "Hunger Games-like" teen-oriented Divergent Trilogy.  It follows the release of Divergent [2014], the first installment of the series, and for some better and for many others probably worse FEELS EXACTLY like the "second installment" of a series.

This is to say, for those enthralled by the possibility of "visiting alternate worlds," be they of Star Wars, or The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or perhaps, closer to home here, Mad Max / The Hunger Games a "second installment" with a promised third / fourth on the way would be "just great (!)" even if the plot perhaps meandered because ONE WOULDN'T CARE IF "THE PLOT MEANDERED." The main point of viewing "the second installment" was to visit the "alternate world" of the first installment once more.  Indeed, "meandering" could even be seen as a positive thing ... it would mean that one gets to remain in that world for a bit longer.

Indeed ever since Hollywood split J.K. Rowling's final Harry Potter book to make Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2, it's been standard operating procedure to do the same with regards film versions of successful teen-oriented book series: The final book of the Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn, was split to make Parts 1 and 2, as was the final book, Mocking Jay, of the Hunger Games trilogy, as indeed will the final book of this, the Divergent series.   Heck, J.R.R. Tolkein's Hobbit was famously (or infamously...) broken up into THREE movies [1], [2], [3].  "Meandering" pays ... and THE FANS of these "story-book worlds" don't mind.

So then, even if this second installment of the Divergent series feels very much like The Two Towers  [IMDb] (the second installment of Tolkein's Lord of the Rings) and we're still two films from coming to the end of the series, because Part III of the Divergent series will be almost certainly split once more into two films, fans of the series get to spend some more time in "Post-Apocalyptic" Chicago ;-) and a society radically divided into five high school-like cliques (err ... factions): the "granola-eating" / peace loving folks of Amity, the "geekish" but also increasingly "know it all" / arrogant Erudites, the similarly "wonkish" but more argumentative "debate team" types of Candor, the brave / "jockish" Dauntless, and the responsible, self-sacrificing "student council" types of Abnegation.

The two enemies of this system were, (1) those who didn't fit-in anywhere, that is, "The Factionless" and then (2) "The Divergent" who could actually fit quite well into several of the factions.

In the first film, we were introduced to the series' heroine Beatrice or Tris (played by Shailene Woodley) who grew-up in a (necessarily "rather boring") Abnegation household but at her "right of passage" / "choosing ceremony", _chooses_ to enter the seemingly "far more fun / crazy" Dauntless faction.  Most of those coming to the "choosing ceremony," choose to remain in the faction in which they were raised, only about 15% would change faction.  According to societal rules once one chose one's faction, one could not go back.

So why would someone skip faction?  Well, it would seem that those who'd skip factions were at least IN PART "Divergent" (again, something viewed as dangerous in this rigid society).  And, of course Tris proves to be somewhat _radically divergent_ able to "fit in" with most / all of the factions.  Ironically, since she was able to "fit in" with all the factions, in the society portrayed, that ability made her something of an "outcast" to those who were happily members of the (one) faction to which they had chosen to belong.  She was BOTH someone who could bring social harmony to a whole new level in that society AND "dangerous" to the social order as well.

So hers is the drama played out in this series ... and she does progressively build a coalition of friends/allies around her starting with (1) "past family" notably her brother Caleb (played by Ansel Elgort) with whom she had grown-up, then with (2) those who were perhaps "closeted divergents" as well, like her boyfriend Four (played by hunkish / Jacob of the Twilight Saga-like Theo James) and finally with (3) folks like "always Dauntless" Peter (played by Miles Teller) who initially really didn't like Tris, but as he's gotten to know her, has gotten used to her, even if he's always found her "odd."

This particular installment notes an interesting irony -- that for this radically rigid social order to be overthrown, an alliance between its two kinds of misfits, "The Factionless" who didn't fit in anywhere, and "The Divergent" who actually fit-in just about everywhere, had to be forged.

Can such an alliance be forged?  Well ... go see the movie ;-)

It all makes for a fairly long "Part II" of the story ... but it's an opportunity for those who are intrigued by the world / social order portrayed to bask in it for a couple more hours.

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