Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Danny Collins [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (2.5 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (3.5 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

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

Danny Collins [2015] (written and directed by Dan Fogelman) was insistently recommended to me by a parishioner and I'm happy to have taken her advice ;-).

The film -- "inspired, sort of, by a true story," the opening credits coyly declare ;-) -- is about Danny Collins (played with superb, endearing, desperation/cluelessness by Al Pacino) a fictionalized Neil Diamond-like superstar who's made his mark, made his fortune, but has always apparently worried deep-down that he was something of a clown / commercial sell-out.

And listening to Collins' "big hit" "Baby Doll," one INSTANTLY "understands."  Most American/Western even most HUMAN viewers would INSTANTLY recognize the song as FRIGHTENINGLY similar to Diamond's ANTHEM Sweet Caroline which was ONCE such a GREAT, PASSIONATE, LET'S JUST GO OUT AND ... LOVE SONG [Lyrics], but sung NOW to a stadium-hall full of grandmothers and their teenage to mid-20-something GRANDDAUGHTERS seems SO, SO, SO ... sigh, that's life ... sad.  (Sigh, I do still love Neil ;-). 

So then, here is the fictional Danny Collins, 75 (!) years old, coming off HIS outdoor Hollywood Bowl-like concert full of still adoring grandmothers / granddaughters to his "surprise birthday party," organized by his could-REALLY-be-his-granddaughter-but-IS-his-fiancee' Sophie (played again with magnificent part-gold-digging / part-reverse-cradle-robbing but ALSO at least IN PART sincere cluelessness by Katarina Cas).  There, his decades-long friend, perhaps his only friend / manager  FRANK Grubman (played again spot on for the film by Christopher Plummer) gives him a gift that finally forces him to change his life (and mind you Frank's been living quite well off of the success of his star Danny Collins ...):

It turns out that EARLY in his career, still utterly starry-eyed, Danny did an interview for a "Spin" like magazine in which he was asked the stock question: "Who would you say are your influences?" And, NOT KNOWING HOW TO RESPOND, AGAIN THIS WAS HIS FIRST "REAL INTERVIEW" he says: JOHN LENNON.   It turns out that JOHN LENNON READ THAT INTERVIEW IN THAT "Spin"-like magazine AND WROTE HIM A PERSONAL LETTER which he (Lennon) gave to his (Lennon's) manager to send to Danny.  But (Lennon's) manager, pocketed the letter knowing it would "one day be valuable."  WELL FORTY YEARS LATER, Danny's manager comes upon that letter at an auction and buys it for him for his 75th birthday.  And so, he gives it to him.

In said letter, John writes: "You don't have to be a commercial success or sell-out.  Just be true to your music.  I'm leaving you my personal number.  CALL ME, YOKO AND I CAN HELP.  What do you think of that?"  But Danny NEVER GOT THAT LETTER UNTIL NOW ... 40 years later (THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED TO British folk artist named Steve Tilston who received such a letter from John Lennon 30 years after-the-fact ... inspiring, again, "sort of," this film ;-).

Well, Danny, who's ALWAYS THOUGHT deep down that he was something of a fraud, takes this letter as an excuse to try to change his life: (1) he cancels the remainder of his "grandma tour," (2) he flies out (on his private jet ...) to New Jersey, checks into an utterly nondescript suburban Hilton hotel, (3) has a $30K grand piano rolled into his hotel room ;-), so that he could start writing his own music again (after 30 years !!) and (4) if the Reader's wondering, "why nondescript suburban New Jersey?" well that's where his son (of him and a groupie some 30 years back) a son who he's never met, lives ...

It's a TALL ORDER, indeed AN IMPOSSIBLE ORDER, but that's a good part of the film's charm: Al Pacino's Danny Collins KNOWS that this is a pretty much AN IMPOSSIBLE ORDER, BUT (YEA!), CLOWN THOUGH HE IS, HE TRIES ANYWAY!

I love this film!

Does he succeed?  I'm not going to tell you, but he does meet some interesting people: (1) His son Tom (played again magnificently and honestly by Bobby Cannavale), (2) his son's magnificent wife Samantha (played again spot on by Jennifer Garner), (3) their WONDERFUL DAUGHTER named HOPE (!) (played by Giselle Eisenberg) and then (4) a "more age appropriate" love interest named Mary Sinclair (played again wonderfully by Annette Bening) the simple, resigned, manager of said nondescript Hilton Hotel, where "nothing ever really happened." ;-)

Nice, honest, redemptive in a realistic way.  Great film!

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The Incident (orig. El Incidente) [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
FilmAffinity.com/es listing*

CineGarage.com interview w. director*
RevistaMagnolia.es interview w. director*

Fangoria.com (S. Macomber) review 
Mirate.com.mx (E. Goicoechea) review*
Moria.co.nz review*
TwitchFilm.com (E. Ortiz Garcia) review

The Incident (orig. El Incidente) [2014] [IMDb] [FAes]* (written and directed by Isaac Ezban [IMDb] [FAes]*) is a MEXICAN Twilight Zone [1959-64]  [wikip] [IMDb]-ish Sci-Fi film that played recently at the 2015 -- 31st Chicago Latino Film Festival

Two brothers, Carlos and Oliver (played by Humberto Busto [IMDb] [FAes]* and Fernando Álvarez Rebeil [IMDb] [FAes]* respectively), small time crooks, find themselves being chased by an oddly zealous police officer Marco (played by Raúl Méndez [IMDb] [FAes]*) down a staircase which, after Marco shoots / wounds Oliver, they discover to all their horror, appears to have wrapped back onto itself, in mobius-strip fashion, trapping them between the same 10 floors no matter what they do.

Similarly, Sandra (played by Nailea Norvind [IMDb] [FAes]*) in the process of divorcing her husband, finds herself trapped along with her two kids and new her boyfriend Roberto (played by Hernán Mendoza [IMDb] [FAes]*) on an open / deserted stretch of highway somewhere in rural Mexico (they were heading out, "as a (new) family" for the first time, "together," on a holiday).  Again, the stretch of road appears to wrap back onto itself no matter which way they try to go.

In both cases, they find themselves trapped in this way without hope of escape for decades-on-end.  The only thing that does seem to go in their favor, sort of, is that everything (within their constrained prison-like situations) seems to reboot with each new day.  So ... a vending machine in the staircase, and a country gas station "closed for the holiday" (so empty of people, but stocked with basic supplies) on the open stretch of highway, are found to be mysteriously replenished each new morning. 

So what would you do, trapped in such minimalist circumstances, with people that you don't necessarily like or trust, basically ... forever ?

It's like Groundhog Day [1993], only bleaker and darker ... again, Twilight Zone [1959-64]  [wikip] [IMDb]-ish.  Good job, maybe ;-)

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

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Monday, April 27, 2015

The Stranger (orig. La Extraña) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CineDominicano.com listing*

ElDia.com.do (C. Liriano) review*
Acento.com.do (F.M. Lora) review*
CinemaForumBlog.com (H. Pagan Soto) review*
Cocalecas.net (R. Peralta Rigaud) review*
Eliax.com (J. Elías) review*

The Stranger (orig. La Extraña) [2014][IMDb] [CD]* (directed by César Rodríguez [IMDb], screenplay adaptation written by Alejandro Andújar [IMDb] based on an earlier French film Sin with a Stranger (orig. L'étrangère) [1968] IMDb] by Sergio Gobbi [IMDb] ) is a steamy though still PG-13 rate-able psychological thriller from the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC that played recently at the 2015 -- 31st Chicago Latino Film Festival.  

The story centers on Alberto Caba (played by Frank Perezo [IMDb]), a rich man, with a rich if infirm (due to a car accident) wife named Gaia (played by Luara García [IMDb]).  He's the owner of a still relatively successful Santo Domingo publishing house, but he's "restless."

Why?  Why restless, if he had so much going for him?  Well though he's owner of a still relatively successful Santo Domingo publishing house, he always wanted to be a writer himself and yet he hasn't able to produce anything of sufficient quality to publish.  So he's felt himself to be condemned to reading, editing and publishing the works of better / more inspired writers than he.

And this has taken a toll.  Yes, he has a wife, but she's now in a wheelchair.  Even before the accident, they apparently "never had time for kids" and ... yes, his eyes have been looking elsewhere.  He does seem to have found a lover on the side, named Laura (played by Yorlla Lina Castillo).  But he seems to have become ambivalent with regards to her as well.  (She seems to call quite a bit to his cell-phone, but he's not picking-up her calls ...).

Well, after a meeting with a younger, better, writer than he in his office one morning, a writer who asked him some fairly direct questions about why he should even bother "in this day-and-age..." to go through a publisher like him anyway ... Alberto's had enough.

So he calls his wife, still recuperating in a quite upscale rehab that he's going to their house in some posh GATED resort colony outside of town "to think" and (perhaps) "to write."  Sitting in her wheelchair staring at the nicely watered, indeed manicured lawn (again, inside the walls...) of the rehab center where she's staying, she responds coolly perhaps even angrily (she apparently knows of his "life" outside their marriage ...).  But resigned, she wishes him "a good (though DEFFINITY NOT SUPER 'good') time" "away."  Sigh (or ARGH!) what can she do?

As he arrives to the rather large, comfortable but definitely IMPOSING "members only" beyond this point, "Welcome-Waiting Center" AT THE ENTRANCE to this GATED "resort colony" -- everybody knows him, no one has a problem with his being there, some ask about his wife, one, apparently a retired General, asks about his lover ... ;-) ... yes, that's the kind of place this is ... -- Alberto spots an attractive 20-something woman (played by Evylina Rodríguez [IMDb]) with not exactly a whole lot of luggage... having some difficulty getting past the clerk at the security desk.  Apparently, "the family" that the clerk's calling that she's supposedly coming to see inside the resort colony isn't at home / isn't answering the phone.  And the clerk's telling her that without hearing confirmation from them, he can't let her pass...

Alberto, not wanting to see the attractive / well-dressed -- he/everybody else looking-on is guessing hooker -- young woman unduly embarrassed, tells the clerk that he'll vouch for her, and then even drops her off at the home of "the couple" that she's saying that she's there to visit.

That night, quietly marinating himself at the resort's beach-side "club" on piña coladas, he runs into her again.  She comes in bright slinky orange, not much to the straps, "party dress," long, flowing brown hair, deep brown eyes, deeply tanned/bronzed skin, stilettos (of course), and a cheerful/welcoming smile.  "So did you meet up with, your ... er ... party?"  "Yes, they're my parents, they're old and their now asleep."  "Yeah (he doesn't really believe her) ... you want something to drink."  "Sure ..." He waves over the waiter, she orders and takes a seat with him ...

They begin talking.  Breaking the ice, she beings, "So you seem to (think that you) know something about me... What about you?  What's your story? What do you do?"  And so he tells her some of his story, that he's a publisher in Santo Domingo though he'd really want to be a writer, and that he even has a sick wife back home.  "So what are you doing here?"  He tells her that he's trying to get a short break from it all, and perhaps get some actual writing done.  "Well, perhaps I can be your muse ... I'm Rosa..."

Well, greased by the alcohol, "one thing leads to another."  He invites her to the place that he/his wife have in this (highly secure) resort / playground for Santo Domingo's rich (the wife of course "out of the way" back in the rehab center in S.D.).  And, of course, after a dip in the pool (she still in that orange party dress), Alberto and Rosa end up in bed ...

He we wakes up the next morning with a terrible hangover.  Of course, Rosa's gone.  He checks his wallet.  His cash is gone.  Well, at least he's more or less sure now that he had her occupation right ...

Still, now he really wonders who she is?   He goes over to the house by which he dropped her off the previous day.  All he runs into is the gardener, who he tells him that there only for the resort and that no one's been living that home in at least six months.

So then who the heck was this woman?  And what's _her_ story?  The rest of the movie follows ... ;-)

I would add here that this is a _normal_ psychological, if somewhat erotic, thriller (though actually always kept on a PG-13 level with _far more implied than shown_).  So she's NOT a ghost, zombie or vampire.

But she does have a story.  And good ole Alberto has a rather complicated life -- with an infirm wife, a lover he's trying to let go of, and now this new (what did she call herself?) ... "muse" ... who's now entered into his life as well.

Anyway, it makes for a reasonably well-spun simultaneously "adult" / "okay for tv" cautionary tale: "Be careful what you ask for ..."

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

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Wasting Time (orig. Tiempo Perdido) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
FilmAffinity.com/es listing*

Official website

Wasting Time (orig. Tiempo Perdido) [2014] [IMDb] [FA.es]* (written and directed by Alexander Giraldo [IMDb] [FA.es]*) is a small Crash [2004]-like COLOMBIAN film about five quite average residents of Bogotá, each with their story, some of which interweave during the course of film, and all of which find themselves "waiting" for something to happen, to be fulfilled, etc, and facing the prospect of modifying their dreams or even putting their dreams / lives on holdThis very personal/personalist film played recently at the 2015 (31st) Chicago Latino Film Festival.

The characters who facing these dilemmas involving waiting, dreams and time are:

Diego (played by Diego Ramírez Hoyos [IMDb] [FAes]*) who's spent 35 years in a jail arguably having covered for a friend Gonzalo (played by Julio Pachón [IMDb] [FAes]*)who was lucky enough to "beat the rap."  How could his friend (or "friend") possibly repay him for those lost 35 years?

There's Laura (played by Angélica Blandón [IMDb] [FAes]*) a violinist for Bogotá's symphony orchestra who's anguished to the point of suicide having lost her ten year-old daughter in a freak school bus accident.

There's Jesús (played by Andrés Torres [IMDb] [FAes]*) a Bogotá street cleaner who along with his girlfriend Jenny (played by Cami Martínez [IMDb] [FAes]*) are expecting their first baby.  He's also a gifted artist (a cartoonist) but caring for his girlfriend, his mother and a with a baby on the way, is there any time at all for such frivolity?

There's Luis (played by Alejandro Aguilar [IMDb] [FAes]*) a young, gregarious construction worker / amateur soccer referee, but who's life is dominated now with caring for _his_ mother Amanda (played by Marcela Valencia [IMDb] [FAes]*) suffering with Alzheimer's Disease.

There's Piña (played by Manuel Sarmiento [IMDb] [FAes]*) a kick-boxer with a drinking problem trying to prove to his manager Nacho (played by Roberto Iznaga [IMDb] [FAes]*) that he can both "play the game" and is _not_ a "wash up."

And there's Daniela (played by Jennifer Arenas [IMDb] [FAes]*) who works as a cashier in a bicycle shop but a brilliant local "Sudoku champ."  But honestly, how could one EVER use THAT "gift" to "pay the bills"?  

Some of these stories become interconnected as the film proceeds and as the Reader can see these are all very real people with real, if often small, dreams and yet all must face / come to terms with the often difficult realities that the face.

A very nice "small film" about some big / very real questions.

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

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Ex Machina [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (4 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Abus de Cine (F. Wullshleger) review*
Antepenúltimo Mohicano (J. Romero Ruiz) review*
Avoir-Alire.fr (P. Vedral) review*
CervenyKoberec.cz (Ceci) review*
Critic.de (T. Kadritzke) review*
Rolling Stone Mag. (P. Travers) review
Slant Magazine (E. Gonzalez) review
Sound & Sight (P. Kemp) review
The Guardian (P. Bradshaw) review
The Hollywood Reporter (S. Dalton) review

Ex Machina [2015] (written and directed by Alex Garland) is a simultaneously visually minimalist yet often spectacular APPROPRIATELY über-hyped / slick sci-fi film about a contemporary Dr. Frankenstein [IMDb] / Dr. Moreau-[IMDb]-like "mad scientist" named Nathan Bateman (played with appropriate hard-drinking / megalomaniacal insanity by Oscar Isaac) a "living God-like" / Steve Jobs [IMDb]-like founder of a Google-like search engine called "Blue Book" who (a la Howard Hughes [IMDb] or is it more like Kurtz from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899) / Francis Ford Copolla's Apocalypse Now [1979]?) has holed himself-up in a Bond-villain-worthy Frank Lloyd Wright-styled "organic" yet "glass and steel" compound on a Switzerland-sized (!!) estate SOMEWHERE in Alaska where ... he's "worked on," apparently incessantly, (his) "next great thing" -- a fully artificial human being, that is, an artificially intelligent robot that looks, sounds, feels JUST LIKE a human being.

And thinking he's come close, Nathan invites a very capable but still initially "starry eyed" programmer named Caleb Smith (played again, quite spot-on by Domnhall Gleeson) selected by Nathan through a competition within his (Nathan's) company to come-out to give his newest creation an "Eve" [IMDb]-like Ava (played by Alicia Viklander) the "Turing test" (perhaps a la Blade Runner [1982]) to determine if she's REALLY an artificially intelligent being or still simply a "very well programmed robot."

Arriving by helicopter to Nathan's compound (again, in the middle of STUNNING Alaskan wilderness), Caleb is initially both awed and disoriented.  The compound, the vistas, and Nathan's TWO creations, the "free-er" Ava who Caleb's told he's come to test, and the designed to be visually stunning but utterly servile (she's even programmed TO BE MUTE) "diversion" / sex slave Kyoko (played by Soyona Minuzo) are all superficially AWE-SOME.  But, wow ... HOW CREEPY !

Nathan's become a "God" in this utterly controlled (by him) compound nestled in this (largely EMPTY) Switzerland-sized estate in the Alaskan wilds.

But then what a creepy "god" ... with his technology / intelligence / POWER to create JUST ABOUT ANYTHING, he seems to be FIXATED on CREATING "Women" ... but Women who he can then control -- Kyoko through her very programming and Ava because in "HIS compound" he controls the keys.  PERHAPS Ava is truly intelligent (and hence intellectually "free") BUT ... HE STILL MAKES SURE THAT SHE REMAINS LOCKED-UP,  as a prisoner, IN HIS COMPOUND.  (Caleb too, is given a personalized "key card" when he arrives, which Nathan teasingly tells him will "open some doors, and others not" and he also adds that it'd be "too complicated" to tell him which doors would be which ... it will simply be up to Caleb to progressively figure this out for himself).  What a jerk...

But then that is part of the film's intrigue.  How close is Nathan to being truly "a God," "Promethean" or otherwise?

And the film _can_ help us to appreciate the freedom that we do appear to have.  If we believe that WE were created by "a God" (and as Catholics / Christians we would believe that we would have been created by God [TM]) then it is noteworthy that, as I already mentioned in my review of Her [2013] another recent Sci-Fi film covering related territory, we do seem to have a remarkable degree of freedom that (presently) would seem almost inconceivable if we were fabricated by an intelligence like ours. 
In that review of Her [2013], I commented that I'd find a truly artificially intelligent "operating system" _inconceivable today_ because it'd be almost certainly "bundled" with all sorts of programs that would spy on us, drive us to prefer all sorts of specific products as opposed to others, etc.  That we DON'T seem to be programmed in that way is indeed remarkable, arguing for EITHER the proposition that we were truly _created by natural processes_ OR by a TRULY BENEVOLENT INTELLIGENCE (A TRULY BENEVOLENT GOD).

But back to the movie ... ;-) ... Ava proves intelligent enough to ask Caleb the question: "When Nathan is done with me, or creates something better than me, will he just turn me off?"  Caleb, of course, does not definitely know the answer, but suspects what it probably would be... and Ava, if she didn't know the answer before, certainly figures it out from Caleb's hesitation.  And thus the rest of the movie ensues ...

Anyway, I found this film to be a fascinating parable and one that can help viewers, believing or not, to compare / contrast between the "God-like" Nathan figure and the God that we'd hope to believe in and perhaps then our relationship to this God.

What kind of a God would be worthy of our respect / worship?  Obviously, as a Catholic priest, I do believe that such a God, worthy of our respect / worship exists (and is ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ ...).  But there would be a lot of potential conceptions of God that certainly are _not_ worthy of respect, much less worship.  And then, how, honestly, to proceed in the meantime?

So this is a fascinating, minimalist, but definitely thought-provoking film!

A final note to parents: since one of Nathan's "creations" was intended to be "pleasure object / sex slave," while the film does not gratuitously dwell on this, do understand that the R-rating is certainly appropriate.

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The Age of Adeline [2015]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (R. Moore) review
RogerEbert.com (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (J. Hessenger) review  

The Age of Adeline [2015] (directed by Lee Toland Krieger, story and screenplay by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz) is a weepy truly IMPOSSIBLE melodrama / romance that thanks to the presence of a typically / appropriately crusty Harrison Ford in the film's 3rd act may be a "weepy melodramatic chick flick" that even a guy (with a date) could go to.

So what's the film about?  Well it's about Adaline (played with the truly requisite level of exquisite sadness by Blake Lively). We're told in an introductory voice-over that Adaline was born to a privileged / socialite San Francisco family in 1908, that is, two years after the devastating 1906 earthquake.  She grew up happy in that privileged family in part perhaps because she lived her position modestly and always _responsibly_.  We're told that she married an engineer Clarence James Prescott (played by Peter J. Gray) 87 days after they first met  How'd they meet?  She was strolling with her mother one fine morning there "along the point" at the northern tip of San Francisco while Prescott was standing there leading a surveying party for the soon to be constructed Golden Gate Bridge, and ... mist perhaps blocking his view of the strait, he instead, spotted her, and ... fell in love at first sight.  And they soon had a child, Flemming (played at 5 by Izabel Pearce, later at 20 by Cate Richardson and finally in the current day, as an older woman, by Ellen Burstyn).

All would seem to have been "picture perfect," but alas fate struck their lives with tragedy.  First, Clarence died as a result of an accident during the construction of the Bridge.  THEN, some (relatively short) time after the bridge was completed driving alone in the evening to pick-up her daughter staying with her grandparents at a retreat owned by the family somewhere in Sonoma County (north of San Francisco), freak weather conditions conspired to plunge Adeline with her car off the road and into a flooded tidal basin effectively drowning her in the frigid salt water of the San Francisco bay.  BUT ... some 30 minutes after she drowned in that frigid salt water, LIGHTNING struck the water nearby, JOLTING HER, DEFIBRILLATING HER HEART and giving her enough energy to despite the water's frigid cold PULL HERSELF / JUMP NOW OUT OF THE CAR to the safety of somewhat higher ground just a few feet to her side.  SHE LIVED ... BUT ... the JOLT OF ELECTRICIY had ANOTHER EFFECT one that the introductory voice-over noted would not be discovered by science until 2035: IT STOPPED / FROZE / TERMINATED the normal (decompository) action of the RNA strands at the ends of the chromosomes on a cellular level, THEREBY EFFECTIVELY STOPPING HER FROM AGING, that is, SHE DID NOT AGE A SINGLE DAY EVER SINCE.

So ... Adeline truly became, what a lot of people wish they could remain, "29 FOREVER" ;-)

This then is the setup of the movie and asks us the question: What would YOU do if YOU TOO became "stuck at twenty nine" ... FOREVER?

And it was kinda a horror for Adeline, taking about 5-10 years for her to figure out.  Everyone was (normally) growing older -- notably her own daughter was growing older -- but SHE was not.  And yes, how does one explain a photo-id in which one is listed as being 45 and yet one still looks, even on the photo, as 29?

So Adeline finds her "prison at 29" to be a very lonely, dangerous and utterly inexplicable sentence / curse.

Fast forward then to the present day.  Adeline's daughter Fleming is now in her 80s (!!) and Adeline is ... still 29.  So Fleming is worried about her mother.  What's she gonna do when she's gone?  ;-)

So FLEMING encourages her mother ADELINE to "find somebody"  BUT HOW?  What does one say?  Now?  5 years from now?  10 years hence?

Still a handsome / dashing, appropriate for a 29 year-old, young man, Ellis (played by Michel Huisman) comes onto the scene.  Like Adeline's husband of the 1930s, he's smitten by her "at first sight."  She tries to save him the sorrow of getting to know her (and her curse).  But ... he is a good guy ... and listening to the advice of her 80 year old daughter, she decides to "open herself up / take the chance" with him.

BUT ... (yes, this is an _impossible_ story) ... when Ellis brings her home to meet his parents (for their 40th anniversary) it turns out that SHE KNOWS HIS FATHER, William (played by said, now crusty, Harrison Ford) who, of course, had been in love with her "back in the day" (that "day" being "in England" back in the "late 1960s" ...).

What to do?  And mind you, she's there (looking as ever, always, 29 ;-) with Ellis, ostensibly to be part of Ellis' parents' 40th WEDDING ANNIVERSARY ... and upon setting his eyes on her, all that Ellis' father can remember is the Adeline (her) who had been his first true love back BEFORE he met his wife with whom he's now been married for 40 years ... ;-)

Yes, it's an impossible story but ... wow ... :-)

Good job, you weepy / crazy sops, good job ;-) ... this is a tearjerker that even a guy could understand ;-)

<< NOTE - Do you like what you've been reading here?  If you do then consider giving a small donation to this Blog (sugg. $6 _non-recurring_) _every so often_ to continue/further its operation.  To donate just CLICK HERE.  Thank you! :-) >>

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Blue Desert (orig. Deserto Azul) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
AdoroCinema.com listing*

A Fohla de Sao Paulo (S. Marti) review*
O Globo (C. Helí de Almeida) review*

Criticos.com.br (C.A. Mattos) review*
Gizmodo Brasil (N. Ferreira) review*
VejaBH.com.br (R. Pena) review*
VertentesDoCinema.com.br (F. Duque) review*

Blue Desert (orig. Deserto Azul) [2014] [IMDb] [AC]* (directed and cowritten by Eder Santos [EAI-biog] [Vimeo] [IMDb] [AC]* along with Mônica Cerqueira [IMDb] [AC]*) is a BRAZILIAN AVANT GARDE / FUTURISTIC / SCIENCE FICTION MOVIE that played recently at the 2015 -- 31st Chicago Latino Film Festival that IMHO will probably initially confuse a lot of regular science fiction fans.

This is because cowriter/director of the film, Eder Santos [EAI-biog] [Vimeo] [IMDb] [AC]*, comes out of an avant garde video arts tradition with some of his works in the permanent collections of the MoMA in New York and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.  So the most important thing to understand about Santos' movie is that it has more in common with the surrealism of Salvador Dalí complete with surrealism's often existentialist preoccupations (life as often empty, lonely, absurd) than with the highly populated / conflict-driven "Space Operas" of Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, or Marvel Comics

At least one of the reviewers above, A Fohla's Silas Martí, noted that Santos' vision of the future is at least partly rooted in Brazilian experience.  After all, in the 1950s, Brazil's government decided to unilaterally move the country into a new future, by deciding to build the country's "new capital of the future," Brasilia, in the center of the country (meaning, back then, IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE) producing a DECADES-LONG experience of "futuristic Brasilia" as a well planned city of wide tree lined parks and boulevards LARGELY EMPTY OF PEOPLE.  That is changing, but the reviewer noted that a good part of the current film was still filmed in Brasilia and the effect remains of a future that seems to be marked by emptiness, loneliness and a fundamental search for meaning in the midst of an existence that does seem quite absurd.  Honestly, I found that to be a fascinating insight into the movie and even into how BRAZIL'S EXPERIENCE HAS A LOT TO SAY TO HUMANITY about "futuristic projects" seeking to "envision / engineer a future."

So then, in the film we are introduced to a young Brazilian man, simply known as "ele" (meaning simply "he" played by Odilion Esteves [IMDb] [AC]*) who, contemplating the new, and honestly quite absurd "second moon" (seriously a second BIG Earth-orbiting moon-like perhaps even moon-sized ORB) put up 'by humanity' some time back, explaining to us, viewers, that "this second moon was intended to be 'a gift' presumably to all humanity just as 'the statue of Christ' was intended to be 'a gift' to Rio de Janeiro / Brazil, 'the statue of Liberty' was intended to be a 'gift' to New York / the United States, 'the Eiffel Tower' was intended to be 'a gift' to Paris / France, etc. AND THAT THIS SECOND MOON was INTENDED TO 'BRING TRANQUILITY' TO PEOPLE (HUMANITY) ... But he confesses that it 'just makes (him) nervous' because he really doesn't understand why it needs to be there." ;-) ;-)

And so it is, our main character in the story -- young, good-looking, fit, healthy as he seems -- simply feels FUNDAMENTALLY 'UNEASY.'  He has everything that would seem to be important (youth, health, intelligence) and the world itself seems quite safe /  free of problems (free of poverty, war, disease) ... but ... he just feels ... 'anxious' ... and really, really lonely, because in his world of the future ALMOST EVERYTHING seems to be done in a mediated fashion.  He rarely sees actual people, just interacts with them over various video screens.  And often he's wearing (smart?, perhaps "rose colored" ...) glasses.

And that's the world in which he lives.  It's LOVELY ... but it's LONELY.   So for much of the movie, he finds himself "walking in a desert."  Now is he really walking in a desert, or are the glasses he's wearing PROJECTING A DESERT because THAT'S HOW HE FEELS?  In any case, the Desert is LOVELY (filmed in Chile) but again LONELY.

He even finally runs into an old man (played by Ângelo Antônio [IMDb] [AC]*), one time in that Desert, who does seem to have "found purpose" in his life (well, at least A PURPOSE).  The old man's there carrying a big tank of water-color paint on his back, spraying the dry-Chilean desert BLUE.  Why?  Why not?  I suppose.

Anyway, eventually "he" gets invited by a friend (played presumably by Chico Díaz [IMDb] [AC]*) to ... a party.  And after being taken there by a "über" contracted "taxi of the future" ... "he" finally comes into contact with actual people ... who, similarly isolated through much of their day-to-day lives prove to be "quite strange."  BUT he does MEET someone there.  Her name is "Alma" (meaning "spirit" or also perhaps the Jungian "anima" played by Maria Luisa Mendonça [IMDb] [AC]*) who does then begin to help him find meaning in his life (as does he for her).

Now a fair question could be asked if "Alma's" real (or "he" is real for "Alma") or if they exist just in each other's heads.  However, the message does seem to be that without at least that fundamental relationship between him-and-her (perhaps even internally) ... life makes no sense at all.

Anyway, a very interesting movie!  And one quite different from Gene Roddenberry / George Lucas / Marvel Comics fare.

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

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The Naked Screen (orig. La Pantalla Desnuda) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13 / R)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
FilmAffinity.com/es listing*

LaPrensa.com.ni (M. Garcia Peralta) interview w. director*
YouRepeat.com interview w. the actors*

ElNuevoDiario.com.ni (S.Letzira Bolaños) review*
LaPrensa Panama review*
NotiCultura.com (E. Mairena) review*

The Naked Screen (orig. La Pantalla Desnuda) [2014] [IMDb] [FAes]* (written and directed by Florence Jaugey [IMDb] [FAes]*) is a well written / well acted contemporary NICARAGUAN feature film ("largo metraje") that played recently at the 2015 -- 31st Chicago Latino Film Festival and tells a very contemporary cautionary tale that would certainly be understandable by young people the world over:

Two young people - Alex (played by Óscar Sinela [IMDb] [FAes]*) and Esperanza (played by Paola Baldion [IMDb] [FAes]*) - attending a local Catholic agrarian college somewhere in Nicaragua are very much in love.  So after classes one afternoon, they ride over on Alex' motorbike to some local (for lack of a better term) "love motel" to get some privacy for some sex.  And for whatever reason, Alex gets it into his head that it'd be really cool if he could capture their love making this time on his smart phone.

Esperanza is not thrilled, asks him to turn it darned thing off, but after turning it off once, when he turns it on again a second time, she wasn't going to continue to argue with him.  And so it is ... there's a record now of them having sex, or more to the point, of _her_ having sex with him (he was holding the smart phone after all...).  She's not happy, but he's telling her "It'll be a 'recuerdo' (a keepsake/memory) for us when we grow old(er) ..."

Okay, we the viewers, looking-in on this story playing-out can immediately imagine all kinds of ways that his can go badly ... and it does.

A relatively short time afterwards, while Alex is playing pool (billiards) with his friends, Alex loses his phone ...

Actually, Alex doesn't really lose his phone.  It kinda gets stolen from him.  And it gets stolen from him by nominally a good friend of his, Octavio (played by Roberto Guillén [IMDb] [FAes]*).

Now Octavio takes the phone initially NOT because he knows what's on it.  He just takes the phone because the opportunity presented itself:  Alex, "the rich(est) kid" in this group of friends (his parents own a small/midsided coffee plantation - a finca - outside of town), was drunk and the smart phone was just sitting there.  And the more economically strapped Octavio whose family once had once been wealthy but had fallen on hard(er) times -- they lost their cattle farm some time back (PERHAPS during the Sandinista-Contra Wars of the 1980s) AND whose father DIED (PERHAPS during same said wars, OR just simply tragically died, and hence the family's farm was lost as a result) -- simply couldn't resist.  It was just sitting there.  Octavio puts it in his pocket when no one was paying attention -- again everyone was playing pool.  And that was that.

But that wasn't just that.  After he gets home, Esperanza texts Alex to his phone: "Please get rid of video on your phone."  Late teen / 20 year old Octavio who didn't even know that it was there, can't resist now to quickly look for it.  And finding it, he just can't resist POSTING IT on a local YouTube like site nominally called "NicaTube."

Well the rest of the movie somewhat predictably follows ... I say somewhat predictably because that there would still be _many_ pathways by which this film could go, most of them quite bad.  The movie, takes one of those paths, and yes, since the filmmaker was trying to produce an honest film about this contemporary concern, the path that the film takes is certainly NOT PLEASANT, but honestly NOT NEEDLESSLY SENSATIONAL either:  Basically, since this video was put on a local site, Esperanza's relatively quickly identified, and soon SHE's being harassed / humiliated in all sorts of ways.  Octavio, like many/most young people today was techsavy enough to cover his tracks.  So "no one" really knew who posted the video on the internet and, after all, Alex' phone had nominally been stolen.

Now THE PARENTS OF ALL THREE of these young people play fairly significant roles.  Alex' parents (again the wealthiest of the bunch) didn't even know of Esperanza's existance before this video, and the first thing in Alex' dad's head is that ESPERANZA somehow did this to insinuate herself into or otherwise extort something from their (Alex') family.  His quick advise to his son Alex was: "Just dump the ..." which was, of course, totally off base.  But then Alex himself had never introduced Esperanza to the family before anyway.

Esperanza's mom, like Octavio's also a single mom, who ran a small internet cafe' in town, is of course horrified to see this happening to her daughter but is sympathetic and tries to defend her as much as she can.

Octavio's mom, who makes her living more traditionally as a seamstress, knows Esperanza's quite well, but initially doesn't not know all that's happening.  Initially, she just notices that Octavio's gotten much quieter than he was before, spending a lot more time in his room (and actually on the internet) than he was previously.   But finally SHE does piece it together.

Yet what to do now?  She sees what _her son_ has done to the daughter to a friend / seamstress client of hers.  But he's ALSO _her son_.

I'm not going to reveal here how the film ends up, but I would say that the SINGLE COMPLAINT that I had with the film, and in the Q/A discussion that followed the screening, identifying myself in fairness as a Catholic priest, I did ask the director about this:  WHY DID she choose to make Octavio's family SO "muy Catolico" (so obviously Catholic): There were THREE FAMILIES in the story, why was the most problematic one, the ONE FAMILY (of the THREE possible ones) portrayed as being so clearly CATHOLIC.

The director did explain that she DIDN'T WISH to make a criticism of the Catholic Religion.  But she DID intend to present the problem: Here one has a son who's done something clearly WRONG / EVIL, what does one (the parent / the mother) do?  And director did add, that in her experience, working (as a social worker?) in a prison, that she did believe that most parents, indeed _most mothers_ failed that test.

Anyway, it was a good explanation.  I'm not sure I completely buy it.  But I do think that this is a potentially fair criticism of Catholic / religious parents and perhaps the Catholic Church (we call ourselves "a Mother" / "Mother Church") in general: Maybe we are too kind to / too conflicted with sinners in our midst.

I would add that this film was made in Nicaragua, a country that by _all fair accounts_ has had a rather _traumatic_ 50 years (and IF WE'RE HONEST 100 years) of history.

And by the director's presentation with regard to the making of the film, she said it was made in good part by a "local Nicaraguan feminist drama group." This, in fairness, suggests that it was made in good part as a result of the legacy of the Sandinista (left-wing, arguably Communist) years in Nicaragua WHICH WOULD GIVE EXCUSE TO A FAIR NUMBER OF (NORTH) AMERICANS TO WRITE-OFF THE FILM COMPLETELY.

BUT ... FAIRNESS would require STRONGLY NOTING that it was LARGELY ONLY groups LIKE THE SANDINISTAS (Communists...) WHO CARED ENOUGH to create "drama groups" like the one that eventually made this film (I would note here as well that the closing credits to the film THANKED a fairly long list of individual "CROWD SPONSORS" who contributed financially to making this film ... so the financing of the film was actually QUITE MODERN).

I mention all this because IN FAIRNESS, the Catholic Church, OFTEN PROTECTED ALL SORTS OF TERRIBLE PEOPLE (all sorts of malhechores...) BIG / SMALL during those past 50-100 years.  So it would be asking a lot of "a feminist-leaning group from Nicaragua" to treat the Catholic Church with a great deal of kindness.

Still I do believe that it'd be worth the trouble (and once again FAIR/HONEST) to do so.  I write this because, while the Church has protected all kinds of not-altogether good, even TERRIBLE people over the years, and indeed over its history, I do believe that it does so in EXACTLY a fundamentally "motherly" way:

In a world that often rejects even the very idea of Sin, but then turns around and rejects the possibility of Reconciliation / Forgiveness, the Church certainly defends BOTH propositions: (1) That Sin (EVIL) certainly exists but (2) so does the possibility of Reconciliation / Forgiveness.

So it MAY frustrate a lot of people to see Church people visiting prisoners and seemingly "giving a break" to more-or-less obvious malhechores, but if the Church didn't do this, who would?

What is obvious however is that SUFFERING OF THE VICTIMS BE RECOGNIZED _AND_ REDRESSED.  And that then is the question posed here.  How to redress this very personal, very contemporary and very real crime.

In any case, this is a film that gives the viewer MUCH to think about and hopefully much to change.  Good job!

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

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

After the Rain (orig. Depois da Chuva) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Adorocinema.com listing*

A Folha de São Paulo (S. Alpendre) review*
A Tarde (A. Meireles) review*
Jornal do Brasil review*
O Globo (R. Fonseca) review*

CineClick.com.br (L. Vasconcelos) review*
CinePlayers.com.br (A.  Koball) review*
CineTica.com.br (V. Guimarães) review*
CineWeb.com.br (A. Oliveira) review*
Criticos.com.br (C.A. Mattos) review*
O Grito (K. Lemos) review*
Revista Interludio (H. Augusto) review*

IndieWire (M. Gills) review

After the Rain (orig. Depois da Chuva) [2013] [IMDb] [AC]* (screenplay and co-directed by Cláudio Marques [IMDb] [AC]* along with Marília Hughes Guerreiro [IMDb] [AC]*) is a remarkable, critically acclaimed / award winning BRAZILIAN "coming of age" film that played recently at 2015 -- 31st Chicago Latino Film Festival.

Set at a somewhat upscale/privileged high school in Salvador, Bahia in the mid-1980s at the end of Brazil's military dictatorship period, the film would remind many (North) American Readers here of John Hughes-like [wikip] [IMDb] famous 1980s-era (North) American "coming of age" films (though no relation apparently between North American John Hughes and the codirector here ;-).

However, there's more going on in this film than the student characters portrayed in this film "coming of age."  Instead, arguably the film seeks to portray allegorically an entire nation at a moment when it was "coming of age."

For the issues at school reflected all-too-well the issues facing the whole country (Brazil) at the time:

The film opens with a relatively small group of interested students with some enthusiasm organizing the first student council elections in 20 years.  Concurrently, Brazil itself was preparing for its first elections in 20 years as well.  But the bone of contention among the students organizing this first student council election in 20 years was the school's insistence that it "vet" the candidates for Student Council President AND that its insistence that the President be elected by the Council (hence indirectly).   Similarly, much of Brazil's populace remained profoundly skeptical of the military government's proposed transition to civilian rule precisely because the military government insisted on the Brazilian presidential candidates be vetted and elected indirectly as well. 

Some of the students were heard complaining: "Why does the school insist that some people's votes should matter more than others?"  Others interestingly pointed out "Well, there are 3,000 students attending our school and only 30 of us who bothered to come to this meeting" ;-) ...  Sigh, "high schools" are the same pretty much everywhere ;-) ;-)

The film then comes to focus on a rather typical, somewhat brooding / skeptical, young man attending the school named Caio (played magnificently by Pedro Maia [IMDb] [AC]*).  And he had much reason to be skeptical.  He was a child of divorce, often in the middle of his parents arguments, and forced to intervene in those arguments with a level of restraint / reason that would NORMALLY not be expected of someone his age.  Presented with the conditions for "democracy" set "from above" be it by the administrators of his schools or by the leaders of the military junta running his country, he initially found both elections a "waste of time."  Indeed, he wrote as much in an civics essay in school for which, he famously got a Zero and was threatened with expulsion:

Basically, as a good, somewhat typical/angry/skeptical 16 year old, he wrote in his essay that he'd appreciate it if the school would teach students HOW TO THINK rather than WHAT TO THINK ;-) and then pointing-out that BOTH of the "vetted" Candidates for Brazil's Presidency had OBVIOUS connections to the military rulers nominally stepping down, he called Brazil not a Democracy but a Dementocracy ;-).   Anyone who ever wanted to call his/her high school Principal "A Fascist" ;-) would understand. ;-) ;-)

Anyway, with the initial help / support of a classmate and friend named Fernanda (played by Sophia Corral [IMDb] [AC]*) the students come to rally behind Caio, not in any dramatic or militant way, but simply indicating to the administrative "powers that be" that Caio was being punished for actually being right, and their "making an example of him" was simply depressing the rest of them.

So Caio, initially saved by his classmates, progressively gains confidence, comes to run a still very low-key campaign and ... yes (minor spoiler alert) finds himself by the end of the film elected by the students to be their first student council president. 

But despite everything, the film leaves one with questions: What now?  And did it really matter?

I've focused here on the two most imporant characters in the film, but there were others.  There was, of course, a privileged kid who initially simply expected to win the student council presidency.  There were also other even more skeptical "artist types" with which Caio initially hung out with, some of whom were _never_ convinced that even a "good" Student Council President could possibly "make a difference" (Again, I think of "Student Councils" at our high schools in the United States, and I agree ... NO ONE takes them particularly seriously here ... but then WE'RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO NOT NEED TO HAVE THESE STUDENT COUNCILS TO BE TAKEN PARTICULARLY SERIOUSLY).

And of course, the film is intended to work at least in part as an allegory.

Anyway, I found the film to be very well crafted and well acted.  I could certainly identify with Caio, Fernanda and Caio's more skeptical "artistic friends."

But the central question -- does it matter? -- will probably haunt me / stay with me for a while.  It's a good question.  And hopefully a society can become complex enough, with enough spaces and opportunities for all to find self-fulfillment that elections won't need to matter much.    But unfortunately, at least now, the ADULT elections and the ADULT Councils to which we belong will continue to matter for a long, long time.

So please "be involved" and PLEASE VOTE folks.  These remain the only serious ways that one can hope to make a difference.

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

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Unfriended [2014]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  ChiTrib/FresnoBee (3 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (1 Star)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune/FresnoBee (R. Bentley) review
RogerEbert.com (M. Dujsik) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review 

Unfriended [2014] (directed by Leo Gebriadze, screenplay by Nelson Greaves) is probably the most formally intriguing American horror movie to come out since the original Paranormal Activity [2007]:

The current film plays-out ENTIRELY in the form of skype video chats and facebook messages among friends on the computer screen one of the film's main characters, high schooler Blaire (played by Shelley Henning), one quite evocative evening.  For exactly one year before her former BFF, Laura (played by Heather Sossaman), had committed suicide after someone or someones had posted, anonymously, an embarrassing video of her (Laura) on a YouTube-like site.  

Well the film begins with Laura surfing the net, clicking-on both the video that had driven Laura to suicide and then a video of Laura actually shooting herself with a pistol in front of their school.  Strong stuff ...

Soon enough however, Blaire's attention is taken elsewhere as her boyfriend Mitch (played by Moses Jacob Storm) skypes her and they begin video chatting.  It's fairly late in the evening, Blaire's already in her PJs, they're both teens, parents will probably cringe.  To the filmmakers' credit, they keep the film, language excepted, in PG-13 territory.

Soon three other friends -- Adam (played by Will Peltz), Ken (played by Jacob Wysocki) and Jess (played by Renee Olstead) -- ring-up, together, inviting Blaire and Mitch to join their chat.  Then they decide to ring-up another friend, somewhat an outsider, Val (played by Courtney Halverson) to join the chat as well.

Much, not particularly important, to talk about one evening among friends...  'Cept ... in the midst of their chat, ANOTHER PERSON, with no formal picture as an avatar, joins their chat as well.

Who is this person?  "Creepy skype guy" one or another of the teens suggests.  But this person seems to know them ... A few clicks to check, it becomes clear that whoever it is, is using deceased Laura's old Facebook acct.

Former BFF Blaire still knows Laura's old FB password, but ... of course, whoever's on it now has changed it.

"Creepy hacker ... GET OFF OF LAURA'S FB ACCT ... THIS IS SO, SO UNCOOL ...!" One or another yells at the uninvited chatter.  But of course the uninvited 7th person (!) remains ... lurking ... and occasionally messaging them ever more "messed-up" / disturbing stuff.

Who is that person?  Well that's of course the rest of the film.  And soon at BF Mitch's suggestion, Blaire's clicking-onto one or another "Unsolved Mysteries" website ... and reading-up, quickly, on receiving "FB messages from the dead (!)" ;-)

Much ensues ...

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed "the cyber-spookiness" of the film.  I thought it was done and it certainly kept my attention.  And perhaps this film was inevitable in our social media dominated world ... ;-)

So "beware of FB messages coming from the beyond" ;-) and if you get one from someone, ask them how they are doing?  Apparently POOR "LAURA" wasn't doing all that well ...

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

UFOs in Zacapa (orig. OVNIs en Zacapa) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing

Official website

El Guatamalteco article about*

América Tevé (S. Pérez) review*
LaNacion.com (A. Sánchez) review*

UFOs in Zacapa (orig. OVNIs en Zacapa) [2014] [IMDb] (directed by Marcos Machado [IMDb], screenplay by Enrique Pérez [IMDb]) is a GUATAMALAN / COSTA RICAN (and at least in part CUBAN supported ...) often tongue-in-cheek / Big Lebowski [1998]-like "UFO Conspiracy" movie that played recently at the 2015 -- 31st Chicago Latino Film Festival.

The CUBAN connection to the film was both almost certainly NECESSARY and, at times, UNFORTUNATE.  It probably was NECESSARY because my guess is that the Guatemala-based group (a "collective") that made the film (Best Picture System) -- both _quite talented_ and _quite funny_ -- WOULD PROBABLY NEVER HAVE BEEN ASSEMBLED without Cuban government support (film-making does require both organization and money ...).  But it's UNFORTUNATE because as fun as the film often is, its underlying anti-(North) Americanism is both obvious and at times quite heavy-handed.  Sigh ... BUT I've ALSO often noted / railed-against some of the more-or-less obvious right-wing and even racist messaging in (North) American (Hollywood) children's films as well.

That all said, this is a clever locally-set (in Guatemala) Latin American UFO Conspiracy film and even the North American connection to the conspiracy proposed actually meshes well with current (North) American conspiracy theories -- A LOT of the "UFO sightings" in the (North) American West notably around "Area 51" are now attributed to U.S. military projects ...

What then is the story spun in the current film?

Rober Daneri (played by Daneri Gudiel [IMDb]), a native Guatemalan, has been tormented since childhood by the disappearance (back in the 1980s ...) of his dad.  He remembers when he was about ten, a jeep carrying some military personnel coming to their house somewhere in the Guatemalan countryside and that the soldiers had spent a fair amount of time talking to his dad before leaving again.  He had asked his dad about this somewhat odd / unnerving visit.  His dad, of course, assured him that it was nothing.  But later that night, Rober was awakened by bright lights and noise outside, his dad standing in the midst of those blinding lights and then ... well ... disappearing.

From that point on, Rober was convinced that his dad was somehow abducted ... by aliens.  And when he grew up, he wrote a book entitled "We've Never Been Alone" about said aliens, which brought him some ridicule in the Guatemalan press, which like the Press _anywhere_ both LIKES "UFO Stories" and LIKES TO RIDICULE their proponents.

Anyway, after enduring a good amount of ridicule for his book (whose title actually sounds more like a complaint -- suggesting that he wished "that we'd just be left alone ..." ;-), he's asked by local Guatemalan TV personality Leyla Marroquin (played by Alejandra Estrada [IMDb]) to serve as "her expert" in investigating reports of UFO sightings AND ABDUCTIONS in and around the town of Zacapa, Guatemala.  

Initially, he doesn't want to participate, noting that he's already been abused in local tabloid television programs, but he consents to go along with it because becomes clear to him that (1) he's going to continue to be ridiculed anyway, and (2) Leyla's going to do her "investigative show" with or without him.

Well, after they arrive in Zacapa, they find that (1) there are strange lights frequently flying about in the night -- they themselves see them, (2) there have been all kinds of locals who have been abducted at night, often associated with those lights, never to be seen again, and (3) a goofy and goofily hopeful local cult has even begun to be formed around these UFO sightings / abductions.  There's a local self-styled "prophet" who claims he can communicate with the aliens, and people even come to him ASKING TO BE ABDUCTED ... some come to be abducted while others are not ...

What the heck is going on?  Rober smells some kind of a fraud, until he himself sees the lights, and finds himself at least temporarily unconscious / abducted (he wakes up in his hotel room, not knowing how he got there).   From that point on, he _really_ wants to figure out what's going on.  Leyla and her cameraman, however, seem to be more focused-on / fascinated-by the spectacle of it all -- "strange things happening to strange people..." 

Some "clarity" starts to come into the picture when Rober is visited by "a representative" of a local drug dealer (!) who leaves him a rather thick file of police reports / press clippings on the abductions, suggesting rather strongly that he read the file and then ... kindly leave town.

Rober begins quite quickly to put "two and two" together.  Leyla and her cameraman need perhaps a bit more persuasion...

... but in the end everybody seems to come out "okay" except, of course, Rober, who never wanted to go out there to Zacapa in the first place.

So what was happening out there in Zacapa?  And what happened to Rober?   And how could Leyla and her cameraman come out "okay" if Rober did not?  Well guess ...

Again, it's an interesting take on the UFO phenomenon ... ;-)

The filmmakers -- director as well as several of the actors -- present for a Q/A session after the screening at the Chicago Latino Film Festival promise to make the film available (for free and/or a simple donation, again THEIR GROUP IS NOT OUT TO MAKE MONEY) through their website and/or vimeo channel in the next year or two -- after the film makes a run through local Central American / Caribbean theaters.  

All in all, this proved to be a very interesting film.  I do wish that the anti-(North) Americanism wasn't so blatant at times.  On the other hand, I do appreciate that the group probably wouldn't exist if not for the Cuban help -- and that would be a shame.  For the makers of this film are a quite talented group.

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

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Forgotten (orig. Olvidados) [2014]

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

IMDb listing
FilmAffinity.com/es listing*

Official Website*

Cinema without Borders interview with Carla Ortíz
El Diario de Bolivia editorial
CNN Español entrevista con Carla Ortíz
LA Times (M. Ordoña) article about 2014 Best Foreign Film Standouts

CinemasCine.net (M.M. Caballero) review*
CinEncuentro.net (M.C. Molina) review*
El Mostrador.cl (EFE) review*
La-Razon.com (P. Susz K.) review*
NotiCine.net (C. Moure) review*
Opinion.com.bo (G. Cornejo Bascopé) review*
PaginaSiete.bo (A. Echalar Ascarrunz) review*
TragaCine.net (A.G. Dagron) review*

The Hollywood Reporter (J. Holland) review

Forgotten (orig. Olvidados) [2014] [IMDb] [FAes]* (directed by Carlos Bolado [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*, screenplay by Marizio D'Avis [IMDb], Carla Ortiz [IMDb] [FAes]*[SC]* and Elia Petridis [IMDb]) is an _unforgettable_ BOLIVIAN Cold War (1970s-80s) Era historical drama about "Operation Condor" [es.wikip]* [en.wikip] in South America.

Operation Condor" [es.wikip]* [en.wikip] was a clandestine multinational "black op" that involved the cooperation of the militaries / intelligence services of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraquay and Uruguay with the assistance and arguably supervision of the United States.  The infamous School of the Americas [en.wikip] [SOA-Watch] provided much of the "counter insurgency training" and the CIA then "helped with direction" ...  The operation was responsible for the "disappearance" (capture/abduction, detention, torture and finally murder/disposal) of 10,000s of Leftists (and often those _merely suspected of being leftists_) in those countries.  While difficult to say, AS MANY AS 60,000, MOSTLY YOUNG, PEOPLE WERE CAPTURED, TORTURED, KILLED AND DISPOSED-OF IN THIS ANTI-COMMUNIST, "COUNTER INSURGENCY" OPERATION.

Needless to say this was one heck of subject matter for a movie.  And interestingly enough the film was Bolivia's submission to the 2014 Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film.  It played recently at the 2015 -- 31st Annual Chicago Latino Film Festival, with both Mexican director Carlos Bolado [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]* and Bolivian actress-producer of the film Carla Ortiz [IMDb] [FAes]*[SC]* present after the two screenings to take questions and answers.

[Two years ago at the 2013 - 29th Chicago Latino Film Festival, I saw director Bolado's [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]* previous film, the also excellent, Tlatelolco, Summer of 68 (orig. Tlatelolco, Verano del 68) [2013] about the largely forgotten Tienanmen Square style massacre of at least 300 and possibly THOUSANDS of Mexican students that occurred in Mexico City three weeks before the start of the 1968 Summer Olympic Games that were held there that year.  He was present at that screening as well].

At the Q&A following the current film, I asked the two what was the Academy's reaction to this film.  After all, while Hollywood often has a "left leaning reputation," in my reviews of the Academy Awards [2] I have consistently maintained that the Academy is generally or even _supremely_ "middle of the road."  So in my question I expressed my concern that while some in Hollywood would perhaps like the film, [many (!)] others would be absolutely terrified of it.

 Carla Ortiz [IMDb] [FAes]*[SC]* responded that actually the film got a good reception, earning earning some interviews / buzz (interviews above) as well as making "the short list - top 10" among the films for the Best Foreign Language Film award.  However, it clearly didn't make the top five, which she attributed to her film's humble origins.  It's conventional wisdom these days that to win an Oscar requires organizing/financing a fairly large campaign for it.

Perhaps.  But with the exception of people like Oliver Stone [wikip] [IMDb] or perhaps Miloš Forman [wikip] [IMDb] (though Forman actually came/fled from a country (my parents' country...) that was brutalized by "the other side," the Communists, during the Cold War), or perhaps Angelina Jolie [wikip] [IMDb], it's difficult to imagine many in Hollywood having the stomach for a film like this.  Let me put it this way: THIS FILM WOULD BE THE 1970s-80s ERA ABSOLUTE COUNTER POINT TO A FILM LIKE AMERICAN SNIPER [2014] -- giving the stories of / HUMANIZING the nameless people who someone like Navy SEAL Sgt. Kyle would be blowing the heads off of.

So what then of the film?  FIRST, THIS IS AN EXCELLENT FILM.  It would "rock the world" of a lot of (North) American / Western viewers, who would find it difficult to imagine that these kind of things could happen arguably in our name.  But it is excellent, with well-developed characters covering the vast expanse of the story.

The story is built around two characters, father and son, Bolivian, the father being (today) a retired highly decorated Bolivian General named José Mendieta (played in the film throughout by Damián Alcázar [IMDb] [FAes]* [SC]*) and his now 30-something son Pablo (played by Bernardo Peña  [IMDb] [FAes]*) now living / working as a banker in New York with a (North) American wife and young son.

Pablo was literally born in the midst of the trauma / chaos of those years in southern South America.  As Pablo grew-up, he apparently DIDN'T ASK any questions, and his father then COLONEL José Mendieta, in as much as he'd be around at all during those years, certainly DIDN'T TELL him (or ANYBODY ELSE outside of his chain of command) much either.  BUT now retired EVER RESPECTED, HIGHLY DECORATED General José Mendieta WAS DYING and HE NEEDED TO GET SOME THINGS OFF OF HIS CHEST.


What did he need to tell his son, NOW ...?  Well that's of course the rest of the story.

It begins in the mid-1970s with promising Bolivian officer José Mendieta along with many others of his similar "promise" / mid-level rank having been sent to the U.S. Army Special Forces run School of the Americas [en.wikip] [SOA-Watch] then located "offshore" in Panama for "counter insurgency training."

There, these young, again _promising_ "best of the best" officers from throughout Latin America were trained in the "tactics" of this "new kind of war" -- coming-in QUICKLY and with OVERWHELMING FORCE, kicking down the doors of suspected leftists, urban guerrillas (today, we'd call them terrorists), "DISAPPEARING THEM" (ABDUCTING them / taking them to some DISORIENTINGLY FAR/STRANGE/PERHAPS EVEN FOREIGN "UNDISCLOSED LOCATION"), TORTURING THEM and EVENTUALLY DISPOSING OF THEM (Readers here would find these tactics STRIKINGLY SIMILAR to the tactics used by the U.S. Military / Intelligence services in the early years of the post-9/11 War on Terror ... Indeed, the U.S. PATRIOT ACT sought to provide a U.S. legal framework to allow, if need be, for terrorist _suspects_ to be EFFECTIVELY DISAPPEARED even from here in the United States...)

There, at the School of the Americas, these "bright young officers FROM ALL OVER Latin America," ALSO "NETWORKED," MADE LONG-TERM, EVEN LIFE-LONG FRIENDSHIPS, after all this was going to be a CONTINENTAL BATTLE AGAINST COMMUNISM and WHY NOT bring the "young, best and the brightest" together from among the militaries involved and HELP THEM TO BECOME _FRIENDS_.

And so it was, good ole Bolivian officer José Morieta met and became very close friends with Argentinian officer Sanera (played by Rafael Ferro [IMDb] [FAes]*) and the COLONELS then PROPOSE TO THEIR RESPECTIVE "HIGHER UP" (THE GENERALS) from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay even Uruguay setting-up a central clandestine interrogation / detention center high-up in the mountains of ... BOLIVIA ... to which then abducted / "disappeared" leftists / suspected leftists FROM ALL OVER SOUTHERN LATIN AMERICA were taken ... and interrogated / tortured.



One of the characters, Marco (played by Carlotto Cotta [IMDb] [FAes]*), a young, idealistic Brazilian born journalist writing for France's Le Monde newspaper, with a young, PREGNANT Bolivian wife Lucia (Carla Ortiz [IMDb] [FAes]*[SC]*), is shown talking to friends in Argentina or perhaps Chile in quite excited 20-something fashion that HE THOUGHT that the various nominally independent left-wing urban-guerrilla groups throughout much of Latin America are working IN COORDINATED FASHION. 

Well of course, his friends, or at least some of them, turn out to be on the radar of one or another of the countries involved, and so the security forces (of be it Argentina or Chile) kick down the doors one evening in the midst of a party and ABDUCT THE LOT OF THEM, including MARCO and his PREGNANT WIFE LUCIA ... and sometime later, they all find themselves in this dank, high Andean Bolivian prison, filled WITH SCREAMS and PEOPLE (both interrogators and prisoners) FROM ALL OVER SOUTHERN LATIN AMERICA.

There, the new prisoners are told by the more seasoned (and MORE MILITANT COMMUNIST...) ones NOT TO TELL ANYBODY ANYTHING.  (Most of course HAVE NOTHING REALLY TO TELL ...).

Why?  Why not tell the interrogators that they have NOTHING to TELL?  Well they're told by the more hardened / militant prisoners: "You're at the end of the line here.  The ONLY THING that will keep you alive is the belief on the part of your torturers that you still have something more to tell them.  As soon as they are convinced that they have nothing (more) to get out of you, you'll get a bullet in your head and that will be that."


I freely admit that if I were locked-up in an Andean dungeon like this where these people were locked-up, often SCREAMING while being BEING TORTURED, WITH NO HOPE OF EVER LEAVING ALIVE, _I'D_ be looking to hang myself (and I'm a Catholic Priest). THIS WAS A LIVING INCARNATION OF HELL.

As many as 60,000 people across Southern Latin America DIED in places like this ... almost NONE of their bodies ever recovered.

In the Q/A the director actually noted the he could have easily made the film EVEN DARKER than it was.  After all, the script was based on hair-raising documentation, often from Amnesty International, from that time. 

This was ONE HECK OF A FILM.  But one that honestly deserves, indeed SCREAMS even HOWLS, to be seen.

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

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