Monday, June 29, 2015

Krásno [2014]

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

IMDb listing
CSFD listing* listing*

Aktuá (J. Gregor) review*
Červený (J. Kábrt) review*
Česká Televize (M. Šobr) review* (M. Spáčilová) review* (M. Kabát) review*

Krásno [2014] [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* (directed and cowritten by Ondřej Sokol [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* along with Martin Finger [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* and Petr Vydra [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) closes-out the 2015 Czech That Film Tour organized by the Czech Foreign Ministry / Ministry of Culture, which makes its stop this month (June, 2015) at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago.

The film is a smart (perhaps too "smart" for its own good) noirish dark comedy that borrows/applies the conventions of similar American / Western films -- influences would range from The Hangover [2009] / Pain and Gain [2013] to Martin McDonagh's In Bruges [2009] / Seven Psychopaths [2012], to the Coen Brothers' Fargo [1996] to the Humphrey Bogart "Noir just before it came to be called Noir" classic The Maltese Falcon [1941] -- to spin a very contemporary Czech story.  The effect though may have been to produce a film that was more provocative than intended ;-).

The story is about two quite well-off, approaching 40, hence no longer entirely young men, Adam (played by Ondřej Sokol [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) and Michal (played by Martin Finger [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) coming back, after some (not a huge amount, but some) years, presumably from Prague to the (NOT tiny but still quite provincial) town of their birth, Šumperk (in German it used to be called Mährisch Schönberg) in the Olomouc region of northern Moravia in the Czech Republic.

It's clear that that the two disdained going back.  True the region was nominally BEAUTIFUL (the film's title "Krásno" arguably means "beautiful" in Czech), but both appear to find the town's nominal beauty kitsch / quaint and, more to the point, below its facade, FAKE.  In the Czech dialogue of the film, the word "krásno" (or one or another derivative) appears with some frequency and almost always in the context of using something "lovely" to hide / cover-over some kind of ugliness.

And let's face it, there'd be A LOT OF HORROR / AWFULNESS to find "beneath the surface" of "quiant, lovely provincial" Šumperk [en.wikip] [cs.wikip] [de.wikip] BEGINNING with the Czechified name of "Šumperk" itself:

Though historically part of the Lands of the Czech Crown (the Czechlands) -- Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia -- prior to Czech(oslovak) independence in 1918, the town of Mährisch Schönberg (Šumperk) was almost entirely populated with ethnic (SUDETEN) GERMANS with a significant JEWISH minority.  The Czech population, small prior to Czechoslovak independence, increased in the interwar period because the town was a fairly significant borderland railroad junction and the Czechoslovak government needed the trains to run through the region reliably (with Czech workers).  Enter the War: the town along with the surrounding region was annexed to Nazi Germany as part of the infamous 1938 Munich Pact.  DURING THE WAR, the previous Jewish population in the region was largely exterminated in the Nazi Holocaust (and the ethnic Czechs would have been expelled).  Then AFTER THE WAR the Czechs returned and armed with the Beneš Decrees promptly EXPELLED ALL THE ETHNIC GERMANS, repopulating this "picturesque town" (and others just like it) with Czechs and Slovaks not only from Czechoslovakia proper but also with Czechs resettled from Western Ukraine (the Russians had taken those lands from the Poles...) and Slovaks from Romania.  Add then a sizable number of GREEK (Communist) refugees from the post-WW II Greek Civil War and Roma (Gypsies) from all over the country, ALL TO MAKE THE "PICTURESQUE TOWN" NOT _SEEM_ SO VACANT.  Now why would it be VACANT?  Because MOST OF ITS ORIGINAL RESIDENTS -- BOTH JEWISH AND GERMAN were either DEAD or otherwise EXPELLED.

So ... what a "lovely town" ... "beautiful it is, really ..."

'Cept, neither of the approaching 40-year-olds, Adam and Michal, returning back to the town were at all that concerned about the monumentally awful history of the town in which they grew-up.  Instead, what they hated about the town was that it had seemed "SO BORING."

Now WHY would it be so?  Just think about it for a minute: What would ANYONE of any AUTHORITY from parents to local government ("back in the day" Communist) officials "talk about" when these two were growing up? ... When 9/10 people living there (including they themselves) were LIVING ON OTHER PEOPLE'S PROPERTY, IN OTHER PEOPLE'S HOMES, EVEN USING OTHER PEOPLE'S DISHES, LINENS and FURNITURE as their own.  Of course the town's going to be BORING ... NO ONE is going to be talking ABOUT ANYTHING ... substantial.

So the two had fled the town as soon as they could for far more excitement, elsewhere, in Prague.  Now they were returning for reasons for which one often returns home even if one doesn't particularly want to: family matters. 

'Cept those family matters were not particularly "pretty either."  Michal's father was dying, but Michal was convinced that his father and his current wife Blanka (played by Jana Pehrová-Krausová [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) had somehow a hand in his psychologically troubled mother's death some years back: She had been in and out of psychiatric institutions for years, but despite having Blanca as a mistress, Michal's father had never divorced her.  Then Michal's mother had been found, drowned at a boating pier by a (lovely) local reservoir.  But she also showed signs of possibly being strangled.  But perhaps she tried to hang herself first, and when that didn't work, went out to the reservoir to drown herself ... or ... maybe "she was helped / pushed / etc."  In any case, Blanca moved into Michal's father's flat quite soon after her death...  Now, some years later, Michal's dad was dying (of cancer) as well.

Michal's coming back home, because "that's what you do, when one of your parents is ill" but he has very little to say to his dying dad and even less to say to his dad's second wife.  Adam has even less interest to return to a town that he really disdained, but is coming along because "that's what you do, when your friend is in a tough time" to support Michal.  Much, sometimes funny / increasingly not, ensues ...

But isn't it all so krásno (beautiful) here ... where "nothing ever happens"?

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.  

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Ted 2 [2015]

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

There are a fair number of things that I can say with absolute certainty about Ted 2 [2015] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Seth Macfarlane along with Alan Sulkin and Wellesey Wild) -- (1) the film's NOT going to win any Academy Awards Nominations this year, and (2) like its predecessor Ted [2012], it will gleefully get an "O" (morally offensive) rating from the CNS/USCCB media office.

Yes, the R-RATING is RICHLY, indeed WILDLY DESERVED.  Why?  PARENTS TAKE NOTE: If your kid didn't know what a "bong" was or how to "give a BJ" before seeing the film, your kid will DEFINITELY KNOW AFTERWARDS.  So parents, would you want your 10 year-old or 12 year-old to know _those kind of things_ already?  Hence, the film's R-(not without parental consent) rating ...

So why see / review a film like this at all?  Well, (1) I do believe that I could very safely "bet the collection" that easily half the parish will gleefully, smiling-from-ear-to-ear see the movie (though hopefully NOT with the youngest of kids...).   I do "know our people" ;-) and as long as the kids stayed at home -- NO the film would NOT be an "AYO / youth group activity" ;-) -- I'd probably happily join them ;-); (2) LIKE its predecessor, Ted [2012], the film IS OFTEN VERY FUNNY and (3) even in the midst of often stunningly stupid jokes actually tells some fairly good cautionary stuff:

Case(s) and point:

(1) We're told fairly early in the film that Teddy-bear Ted's (voiced by Seth Macfarlane) best human friend forever John (played by Mark Wahlberg), who had apparently married his love interest in the first movie (played then by Mila Kunis) is now divorced.  Poor Mila ... (not appearing in the current film).  Anyway, Ted discovers that John, depressed, is now addicted to porn.  He tells John, "OMG, you have to get rid of this stuff"  "Yes, yes, I'll erase it all."  "But that's not going to do it, we have to take a hammer to your laptop." They do.  But then how to get rid of the pieces?  "We're going to have to bury them in the bottom of Boston Harbor ..." Ted suggests.  And so a sequence follows showing both Walhberg AND TED in scuba gear burying a white plastic trash bag with the pieces of John's old laptop in the sea bed of Boston Harbor ... ;-).  YES, PORN'S A PROBLEM ... and YES, HOW DO YOU GET RID OF IT (completely, without much of a trace) FROM YOUR COMPUTER ONCE IT'S THERE ... ? ;-)

(2) The current film begins with the magically living Teddy-bear Ted getting married to a sweet / heart of gold (but ex-hooker) named Tami-Lynn (played by Jessica Barth).  A year into their marriage, they "run into problems."  To save it, they decide to have a kid, never mind that Ted, well can't (he's a FREAKIN' STUFFED though MAGICALLY LIVING / TALKING TEDDY BEAR ...) .  Anyway, after "exploring" various "means" of getting a sperm donor, they're told another hard lesson: Due to Tami-Lynn's previous hard-living lifestyle ... she can't have kids anyway.  (YES FOLKS, "hard living" does have UNINTENTIONAL / UN-THOUGHT-THROUGH CONSEQUENCES...).

So after realizing that they can't have children, the two decide to adopt.  And that's where they realize that they have a whole other level of problems.  They're told that "technically" Ted's not even a human being.  Well, yeah ... And that's where the film really begins, the film (3) becomes a parable about all sorts of past practices of discrimination, against blacks, women and gays ...

Recently graduated (from "loser" / notorious "party school" A.S.U. ;-) Samantha L. Jackson (played by Amanda Seyfried), yes "Sam L. Jackson",  becomes their lawyer ...

Much often quite funny, indeed jaw-dropping ("Did they just say that?") hilarious ensues ...

So the film, as the first, continues to be both a really DUMB sophomoric movie and one that's NOT altogether dumb.  What it certainly is however, is "NOT for the kids ..." ;-)

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Njinga Queen of Angola (orig. Njinga Rainha de Angola) [2013]

MPAA (NR would be PG-13/R)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing listing*

Jornal Angolano de Letras e Artes (A. Quicunga) review* (R. Nunes) review*
Diario de (R.P. Tendinha) review*
Jornal Brasil Online review* (R.N. Boneza) review 

Njinga Queen of Angola (orig. Njinga Rainha de Angola) [2013] [IMDb] [AC]* (directed by Sérgio Graciano [IMDb] [AC]* written by Joana Jorge [IMDb]) is an excellent, high quality (Portuguese language / here English subtitled) Angolan historical epic set in the late 1500s-early 1600s in what is today the Southwest African nation of Angola as the Portuguese, and most gallingly Portuguese slave traders, began to increasingly encroach on the traditional kingdoms of the region.

The film played recently as part of the 2015 (13th annual) Chicago African Diaspora Film Festival organized by ArtMattan and hosted by Facets Multimedia in Chicago.

In the film, Ngola (King) Kiluanje (played by Álvaro Miguel [IMDb]) of the then Southwest African kingdom of Ndongo [en.wikip] [pt.wikip]* the father of film's title character Njinga Mbande [en.wikip] [pt.wikip]*(played in the film by former 2008 Miss Angola beauty queen Lesliana Pereira [pt.wkip]*[IMDb] [AC]) is mortally wounded in battle against the Portuguese after refusing concessions, again above all involving the slave trade, being imposed on him by them.

The question becomes who's going to succeed Ngola Kiluanje?  The logical successor would be his son Mbande (played by Jaime Joaquim [IMDb] [AC]).  Alternatively, there's his illegitimate son Njali (played by Miguel Hurst [IMDb] [AC]) and then there is Njinga, who, though a woman, many (elders and otherwise) in the court considered the most capable anyway.

What to do, and above all for the sake of the Kingdom?  Well, that's bulk of the film ...

Njinga proves to be a very adept / wise politician.  She remains in good terms with both of her brothers.  Further, she goes to and negotiates with the Portuguese a treaty on behalf of her brother.  Discovering that it would be to her and her kingdom's advantage if she became a Christian, she gets baptized, taking the Portuguese governor's wife as her Godmother and even taking on her Godmother's name, Ana de Soaza, as her Christian name.

After her brothers' deaths, she becomes Queen of Ndongo [en.wikip] [pt.wikip]* and even of a neighboring kingdom Matamba [en.wikip] [pt.wikip]*.  Then discovering that another European power, the Dutch, were also seeking to make inroads (at the expense of the Portuguese) in the region, SHE PLAYS THEM AGAINST EACH OTHER to her advantage, SUCCEEDING in acheiving FULL INDEPENDENCE of her two kingdoms from the Europeans (not having to pay tribute to either European power) during the remainder of her reign ;-).

Njinga's [en.wikip] [pt.wikip]* was truly a quite remarkable story, and I'm happy that today's Angola  made a very nice / high quality film to tell it.  Good job folks, good job!

 * Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.  

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Face of an Angel [2015]

MPAA (R) (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  The Guardian (1 Star)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review
The Guardian (P. Bradshaw) review
Slant Magazine (C. Dillard) review

The Face of an Angel [2015] (directed by Michael Winterbottom screenplay by Paul Viragh based on the book Angel Face [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Barbie Latza Nadeau [GR] [Amzn]) is a (fictionalized) film about a European born/accented Hollywood screenwriter/director named Thomas (played by Daniel Brühl) sent by a London-based production company to Siena, Italy to research a (fictionalized) sensational murder of an English college student named Elizabeth Pryce (played by Sai Bennett) which paralleled the circumstances of the actual sensational murder of English college student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy on the night of Oct 31-Nov 1, 2007 (Halloween).  

When Thomas arrives at the airport in Italy, he is picked up by American-(or English) ex-pat journalist Simone Forde (played by Kate Beckinsale).  Among her gigs were writing for various American publications out of Italy, including Newsweek and The Daily Beast.  And in the film, she's presented as having written a book entitled "The Face of an Angel" about the murder.  Forde's character is modeled after Barbie Latza Nadeau [GR] [Amzn], an expat journalist based in Italy who has written for Newsweek / The Daily Beast and who wrote the book Angel Face [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] on the Meredith Kercher case. 

Simone's first piece of advice to the arriving / no doubt still jetlagged Thomas is to "fictionalize" the story as "there is truth about this case that can only be written in a fictionalized style."  Va bene, so Thomas and Simone drive off to Siena investigate the fictionalized murder of Elizabeth Pryce (modeled after the actual murder of Meredith Kercher which took place in Perugia) the story of which, in a tip of the hat to Dante's descent into Hell in The Inferno, Thomas eventually decides to set in Florence ;-).

Yes there comes to be a Dantean Descent into Hell / Alice in Wonderland "looking glass" quality to the story that follows.  Among the cabal of paparazzi / journalists / bloggers following the "retrial" of American college student Jessica Fuller (played by Genevieve Gaunt and modeled after actual American college student Amanda Knox first implicated then exonerated in Meredith Kercher's murder) for the murder of Elizabeth Pryce are:

(1) the above mentioned Simone Forde, the American-(or English) expat writing for Newsweek / The Daily Beast;

(2) a Nancy Grace-inspired character named Sarah (played by Sara Stewart) who's been paid a fortune by Jessica Fuller's family to plead her case in the media;

(3) a British tabloid journalist, Joe (played by John Hopkins), whose "great coup" in the reporting on the Pryce murder was getting his hands on and then publishing salacious extracts of Jessica Fuller's diary;

and (4) a really creepy local Italian blogger named Francesco (played by Corrado Invernizzi) who also (we discover as the story progresses) owned a good portion of the rentable (including student) properties in Siena, and who frankly seemed to know way-too-much about the story than he should have.

Again, a true descent into journalistic Hell ...

To try to make sense of the case, and even the student ("partying") culture of today's Siena, Thomas eventually solicits the aide of a Beatrician "guide" in the form of an amiable English college student / barmaid-waitress named Melanie (played by Cara Delevingne). 

Much, often strange / obscured by a drug-induced haze ensues ...

In the end, does the film offer anything new particularly insightful about the tragic murder of Meredith Kercher on that fateful All Hollows Eve of 2007 in Perugia? 

I actually do think the film says a lot ... above all that beyond all the complexities / contradictions in the case ... at the end of the day A MURDER OF A YOUNG ENGLISH WOMAN OCCURRED.  Who did it?  Well ...

And perhaps, that's the horror of it all. 

All in all, IMHO a pretty good rendering of a story that is very difficult to tell.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

To See the Sea (orig. Pojedeme k Moři) [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CSFD listing* listing* (J. Gregor) review* (E. Bartlová) review* (M. Třešňáková) review* (M. Spáčilová) review* (K. Flila) review*

To See the Sea (orig. Pojedeme k Moři) [2014] [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* (written and directed by Jiří Mádl [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) is a lovely Czech "Boyhood-like" film that's part of the the 2015 Czech That Film Tour organized by the Czech Foreign Ministry / Ministry of Culture, which makes its stop this month (June, 2015) at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago.  Indeed, if not for the release of Boyhood [2014] in the United States at almost exactly the same time last year, the current film could very well have been the Czech Republic's submission to the Oscars  (Instead another excellent though very different film, Fair Play [2014], became the CR's Oscar submission, and also played as part of the 2015 Tour).

The current film is about an 11 year old boy, Tomáš (played by Petr Šimčák [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*), growing-up in the picturesque South Bohemian provincial capital České Budějovice. [Yes, this is the town after which the Anhauser-Busch beer Budweiser derives its name.  And to this day, the town remains famous for its beer, Budvar, which is sold now in the States as "Czechvar"].

Having received a digital camera for his birthday (along with, as he happily explains, a "bundled editing program for the computer") from his parents (played by Ondřej Vetchý [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* and Lucie Trmíková [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*), Tomáš decides to do "what all the great film-makers always tell young people to do... film what you know."  So Tomáš along with his half-Czech / half-Croatian BFF Haris (played by Jan Maršál [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) decide to film the last part (basically the Spring) of their 6th grade year at school.

Much, often cute, often poignant, sometimes quite difficult / sad, ensues ... And since Haris' mom (played by Michaela Majerníková [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) is Croatian, Haris knows something of "the sea" (hence the film's title).

Viewers should remember that this _is_ a film written and directed by the 28-year old previously Czech actor Jiří Mádl [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* in his directorial debut and that Tomáš, Haris, et al are just actors in the story.  The film is also of a quality that would probably exceed the abilities of even the most computer-adept 11-year olds ;-) even if there are some "corny" editing tricks in the film that 11-year-olds would probably "really like." ;-)

I also found it convenient / interesting that I saw the current film on the same weekend as the Pixar/Disney animated feature Inside Out [2015] in which the central protagonist was an 11-year-old girl.  A good part of both films is about the transition from childhood into something more/new ... adolescence.

Finally, I have to hand it to Mádl [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*.  He did a lot of things right in the telling of the story: Tomáš' grandma (played by Jaroslava Pokorná [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) was well drawn (she reminded me honestly a lot of my own Czech grandmother of fond memory) and she played a significant role in the story.  Then both Tomáš' and Haris' households were portrayed as having their secrets which come to be revealed quite well and quite realistically as the story progresses.  Then VERY MUCH TO THE WRITER/DIRECTOR'S CREDIT, he made Haris' CZECH dad "the jerk" as opposed to his Croatian mother (The temptation would have been to make one's own ethnicity, and Mádl is Czech, "the good guy").  Similarly, when Tomáš and Haris find themselves competing "for the girl" a lovely, ever smiling, blond-haired classmate "with a voice of an angel" Stáňa (played by Anastázie Chocholatá [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) the "right person" (for the sake of the story) "got the girl."

So I am quite impressed with 28-year old Mádl [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* as a director.  This was one heck of a first directorial effort.  And his future may not be being a Steven Spielberg [IMDb] or a Miloš Forman [IMDb] , it may be of being a Ron Howard [IMDb] ;-).  Honestly, very good job!

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.  

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The Rendez-Vous of Déja-Vu (orig. La Fille du 14 Juillet) [2014]

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

IMDb listing
Allociné.fr listing* (S. Leblanc) review* (I. Navarro Mejía) review* (Jérôme) review* (N. Bardot) review* (F. Nouchi) review* (B. Icher) review* viewer reviews*

The Rendez-Vous of Déja-Vu (orig. La Fille du 14 Juillet) [2014] [IMDb] []* (directed and screenplay by Antonin Peretjatko [IMDb] []* with assistance by Emmanuel Lautréamont [IMDb] []*, Patrick Chaize [IMDb] []* and Luc Catania [IMDb] []*) is a goofy (French) young adult oriented comedy that played recently as part of an eight film Young French Cinema program held the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago and in partnership with UniFrance Films and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy to the United States. 

I write that this is a "(French) young adult oriented comedy" because though the film is -- if one is open to its quite off-the-wall, dry / drôle (TM) humor -- LOL funny, I suspect that a lot of American viewers watching the film would find themselves, mouth-half-open / exasperated / somewhat lost, knowing that they probably should be laughing but admitting (again half-out-loud) "I ... just don't get it."   

"Bie sûr, mais vive la différence" ;-)

The film is about young people in France trying to find their way through an economy that ... like all across the Western world ... doesn't really have serious jobs for them.   A recent Italian comedy based in the same reality I Can Quit Whenever I Want (orig. Smetto Quando Voglio) [2014] played at Chicago's Italian Film Festival last year.

So how are the young people in the current film coping? 

Well, there's Hector (played by Grégoire Tachnakian [IMDb] []*) who's landed himself a job as a security guard at the Louvre in Paris.  He spends his off hours hanging-around besides cars that he can't afford, hitting-on (and surprisingly ... the film's universe anyway ...)  picking-up girls ;-). 

There's soon-to-be college-grad "Truquette" (played by Vimala Pons [IMDb] []*) who's introduced to us selling "Revolutionary nicknacks ("truquette" means essentially "nicknack") to bystanders during the annual Bastille Day (July 14 / il "14 de Juillet" from which the French title of the film derives) parade:  Come get your "piece of the Revolution" she happily cries out, walking along-side a HUGE row of French armored personnel carriers that apparently were (going to be) part of the Bastille Day parade ... ;-) 

Among the nicknacks she's selling are polyurethane-foam cobble stones ;-).  "Oh don't worry, they're harmless," she tells a potential buyer, throwing one then at the back of the head of a police officer standing by; it bounces off his helmet without him even noticing ...

Somewhat depressed that she's made less than 50 Euros selling her plastic (no doubt "made in China") "revolutionary wares..." she's cheered-up by her BFF Charlotte (played by Marie-Lorna Vaconsin [IMDb] []*) at whose flat she's been crashing.  Charlotte, who also works at the Louvre, tells her that she's found "a cute guy" for her ... Hector.  Now is Hector particularly cute, or particularly "happening" / interesting, etc?  NO ;-).  He's just a random, if amiable, dude with a very simple job (though one supposes, at least he has one...).

And this is honestly _very interesting_ about this film.  In American romances / romcoms, the central protagonists are almost ALWAYS _spectacular_ in some way.  Perhaps the characters don't know (initially) that they are "spectacular."  Perhaps the actors / actresses are suitably "uglified" for a little while before their characters' "spectacularness" is revealed.  But they always come out _spectacular_ by the end ...  Here, certainly the guys, Hector, and then his bearded/early-onset-balding buddy Pator (played by Vincent Macaigne [IMDb] []*) are utterly UN-(!)-spectacular. 

And yet, there they find themselves, in a bar, after Pator loses his fake job -- he's been impersonating a medical doctor for 3 years -- discussing the possibility of "going on vacation" for the rest of July / August ('cause that's what people do in France ;-).  "It'd be quite boring going on vacation, the two of us ..." Hector notes.  "Well, what about the girl ("truquette") and her friend (Charlotte)?" asks Pator.  "I barely know them," replies Hector. 

So Hector asks two random young women in said the bar: "Would you two go with us 'on vacation' if we asked you?"  The random young Parisian women look at them, then at each other, then back at them, and answer "Yes."  So ... Hector and Pator LEAVE the two random young Parisian women that they JUST KINDA ASKED to go on vacation with them ;-) ... and go to Charlotte / "Truquette's" place to ask them ... and rest of the movie then ensues ...

I found the film light / fascinating and "perhaps" (obviously...) "still written from a male perspective."  Would two young Parisian women, one _with a job_, just pack-up and go with two amiable, but, let's face it "loser" young Parisian men "on vacation" FOR SIX WEEKS ... ;-)

It's all quite remarkable but this film was well liked / well reviewed "hit" in France ;-)

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.  

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Inside Out [2015]

MPAA (PG) CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune (3 1/2 Stars) (4 stars)  AVClub (A-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

AVClub interview with Director Pete Docter / Producer Jonas Rivera
NPR interview with Director Pete Docter
NPR (J. Hamilton, N. Ulaby) article about the Psychology of "Inside Out"

Leave it to Disney/Pixar, Inside Out [2015] (co-directed and story co-conceived by Pete Docter and Ronaldo del Carmen screenplay by Meg LeFueve, Josh Cooley and Pete Docter) is one of the best conceived, even provocative (yet in a characteristically "nice/gentle way" ;-) children's animated film to come-out in years.

Personifying 5 of the 6 basic emotions in a person's mind -- spritely, cheery yellow Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler); more rotund/droopy blue Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith), bug-eyed purple Fear (voiced by Bill Hader); loud, red, flames-for-hair Anger (voiced by Lewis Black) and eye-rolling, green Disgust (voiced by Mindy Kaling), the sixth basic emotion "Surprise" conflated with Fear  -- the story follows that of a previously happy-go-lucky 11-year old girl named Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) working through the often difficult adjustments of moving with her parents, mom (voiced by Diane Lane) and dad (voiced by Kyle MacLachlan), from her hometown in rural Minnesota to San Francisco because "dad landed a better job" there.  The personified emotions guide Riley from a Star Trek-like "control room" inside her brain.

It's all very interesting and calls to mind both Classical Philosophical (Stoic) and Catholic Theological conceptions of The Passions and even the earlier pagan Greco-Roman conception that people finding themselves in strong emotional states were literally possessed by the Divinity behind such strong emotions: For instance, a person in lust would be seen as being possessed in some way by Aphrodite; a person in a vengeful rage would be seen as possessed in some way by the Furies.  (A fascinating exposition on this early pagan Greco-Roman conception of emotional states can be found in Walter Truett Anderson's book, The Future of the Self (1997) where he argued that conception of an integral "self" is a fairly modern construct and that in pagan Greco-Roman times (for instance, the time of Homer's Iliad) the "self" was conceived, at best as "weak" and that people were often conceived as being possessed by one or another emotion-bearing Greco-Roman God).  It's all something for the adults to contemplate as the little ones enjoy the movie ... ;-).

Indeed, the division of the self in the film into "five basic personified emotions" IMHO does begin to play into those earlier pagan Greco-Roman categories.  HOWEVER, I would note that to its credit the story does does affirm a salutary place for "sadness" -- encouraging one to reach out to others both "in need" (if one finds oneself sad) and "out of empathy" (if one runs into someone who appears to be sad).  Arguably this insight of the film can be interpreted as affirming the Christian Pascal Mystery -- that out of "Death" (radical loss/sadness) can come "New Life" (new joy). 

So, again, even as the kids smile from ear-to-ear watching memories cascade about Riley's brain as color coded marbles -- "you don't want to 'loose your marbles' ;-) -- adults are left with all kinds of "deep thoughts" to contemplate.  GREAT JOB!

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

White Lies [2013]

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

IMDb listing (V. Sánchez)  review* (J. Croot) review (S. Foster) review

White Lies [2013] (screenplay and directed by Dana Rotberg, based on the novella "Medicine Woman" [Amzn] by New Zealand Maori author Witi Ihimaera [wikip] [GR] [Amzn]) is one of two films offerings about the phenomenon of "Colorism" (people-of-color seeking to whiten their skin to improve their station in life) to play at 2015 (13th annual) Chicago African Diaspora Film Festival organized by ArtMattan and hosted by Facets Multimedia in Chicago. 

The film which was New Zealand's submission to the 2014 Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film is set in New Zealand of the 1920s, and is anchored by a Maori medicine-woman named Paraiti (played by Maori singer/actress Whirimako Black [wikip] [IMDb]). 

In the course of the tale, Paraiti gets called to a wealthy New Zealander's house by a Maori maid named Maraea (played by Rachel House) to help the young/fashionable (white) lady of the house Rebecca (played by Antonia Prebble) get herself out a rather problematic situation: With her wealthy New Zealander businessman of a husband "away in Europe on business," she's gotten herself pregnant ... and was in need of, well, "getting rid of it" (the baby) that is, she was in need of an abortion.  When Rachel meets Paraiti she explains to her that Maraea had told her that as a "medicine-woman" Paraiti would have some expertise in that department.

Telling her in no uncertain terms that she was misinformed, the appalled Paraiti tells her NO.  Yet events conspire (I'm not going to go into them here) to have the medicine woman re-evaluate her initial refusal.  And so a few days later Paraiti comes back to the manor house of the rich young woman to tell her that she's changed her mind.  Since this came as something of a surprise to the young woman and her maid, Paraiti is asked why, and she answers that she had own reasons for doing so and that these reasons involved in some way "restorative justice."  This didn't really answer Rebecca's / Maraea's question.  But they needed her help and so they let it go ...

One thing that Paraiti does tell the two was that the traditional (abortative) process "would take some time" (at least a week).  The two wanted the process to go faster, because they feared that the husband was going to return at any time.  But Paraiti was adamant that there was no other way that she could safely do the procedure.  Va bene ...

Well, in the course of the week that follows ... much happens.  It turns out that none of the three women involved in the story were telling (each other) the truth, hence one of the meanings of the title "White Lies."  However, at least one of the lies involving the young, fashionable white lady Rebecca was that she wasn't white at all :-) ... Instead, Maraea has been bleaching her skin pretty much her whole life.  Why?  To improve her social status / opportunities ... like "landing a rich white guy (who then turned out to never be around).   One also better understands then Maraea's / Rebecca's insistence on hiding/destroying Rebecca's pregnancy: If one's gone to ALL THAT TROUBLE to make oneself / someone "white," OMG to "have an illegitimate child at the end of it all" would make ALL THAT EFFORT (and ALL THAT SUFFERING) "a waste of time."

But of course Paraiti had her own secret about "traditional abortative medicine" (I'm not going to say, but I do feel VERY SECURE HERE about reviewing this film even though I'm a Catholic priest.  The secret's quite interesting and even somewhat amusing ;-).

Anyway, much plays out in the story ... and certainly its main point is that TRADITIONAL MORALITY (in ANY culture) counsels EVERYONE to be simply be honest about who one is, what one's done, and (for the most part) what one's going to do.

A fascinating and often tragic story.

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.  

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The Summer of the Gods [2015]

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

IMDb listing

Official Website (Aker Sherese) review
Indie Wire (Sergio) review

The Summer of the Gods [2015] (a 21 minute short, written and directed by Eliciana Nascimento) played recently as one of two entries about Afro-American (Afro-Caribbean/Afro-Brazilian) religion at the 2015 (13th annual) Chicago African Diaspora Film Festival organized by ArtMattan and hosted by Facets Multimedia in Chicago.   The film can be purchased online for download/streaming for $10 USD at its official website.

The film's semi-autobiographical story by the first time director is about a (North) American-born eight year old girl of Afro-Brazilian ancestry named Lili (played by Isabella Santos) who travels with her mother (played by Carolina Su) to visit her grandmother (played by Rosalina Santos) in her family's long ancestral village in rural Bahia, Brazil.  In the course of the visit, Lili is introduced and initiated into the traditional Orisha-based Afro-Brazilian religion which helps her better understand who she is, where she and her family/people come from, and even a few special gifts/abilities of hers that would have been perhaps harder to understand outside the context / language this her ancestral faith tradition.  

Set in an arguably tropical paradise along Bahia's coastline, the cinematography is lush / lovely to behold and helps one to appreciate the roots of this faith tradition that came to the Western Hemisphere with the African slaves from West Africa and has remained quite strong in regions wherever the descendents of the West African Slaves remain in fairly large numbers -- along the coast of Brazil, throughout the Caribbean, and then in many cities across the United States, especially in the South (New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston...).

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Black (orig. Nwa / N.O.I.R.) [2015]

MPAA (UR would be R)  QuebecFilms (2/5)  Cinoche (3/5)  MontrealGazette (2 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* (J.M. Lanlo) review* (M. Gignac) review* (C.H. Ramond) review*
Huffington Post Quebec (I. Houdassine) review* (M.A. Lussier) review* (Ph. Couture) review*

MontrealGazette (B. Kelly) background article
MontrealGazette (B. Kelly) review viewer comments*

Black (orig. Nwa / N.O.I.R.) [2015] [IMDb] []* (directed and cowritten by Yves Christian Fournier [IMDb] []* along with Jean-Hervé Désiré [IMDb] []*) opened recently the 2015 (13th annual) Chicago African Diaspora Film Festival organized by ArtMattan and hosted by Facets Multimedia in Chicago.  Set largely in the projects of North Montreal, and made with the support of public funds of both Canada and Quebec, the film was billed as an attempt to begin to redress a recognized deficiency in French-speaking / Quebecois cinema: the lack of films telling the stories of francophones of color in Quebec.  As such the film was billed as a Quebecois "Boyz n the Hood [1991]."

Domestic reviews (above) were mixed.  However, I would defend the filmmakers from the most consistent complaint that "there were just too many characters / subplots."  This is because the francophone world of color is, in fact, complex/diverse.  In Montreal there would be communities of (1) "French speaking African Americans," that is descendants of African American slaves from the American "Deep South" which would include Louisiana (which was at least at one time French/Creole speaking/preferring) and other parts (which clearly were not), (2) from Haiti, (3) from other parts of the French speaking Caribbean like Guadeloupe / Martinique, (4) from non-French speaking parts of the Caribbean like Jamaica / Trinidad, (5) from former French/Belgian colonies of sub-Saharan Africa, like Senegal / Ivory Coast, Cameroon and French / Belgian Congo (6) from the former French colonies of North Africa like Algeria, Tunisia, Mali and Morocco.  IMHO it's to the film's credit that it includes characters that were of Haitian, sub-Saharan African and north-African (Arabic/Muslim) descent, as well as a few whites, all largely stuck / marginalized in "the projects" of North Montreal.   It's also a picture of "non-white" Francophone Montreal and one that I had AT LEAST A BRIEF EXPERIENCE OF when at a Servite (my religious order) "Young Friars" meeting (back in 2002 or 2003) in Montreal, we went one evening to an "African Diaspora" Montreal Music Festival that was taking place at the same time.

Some of the situations in the film were perhaps cliched: There was the requisite fighting between rival gangs over "turf" for selling drugs.  There were women both white like "Suzie" (played by Jade-Mariuka Robitaille [IMDb] []*) as well of color like Fleur (played by Julie Djiezion [IMDb] []*) who were abused by their boyfriends or pushed by prospective pimps into stripping/prostitution.  There were run-ins with cops both uniformed and plainclothes/undercover.  Though almost all of the characters were young (no 40-something+ parents/grandparents to speak of), several somewhat older characters were EITHER trying to improve themselves / "get themselves out of the ghetto," notably an well-drawn stuttering (except when he was reciting) North African rapper nicknamed "Kaddafi" (played by Salim Kechiouche [IMDb] []*) OR trying to convince their younger siblings to stay on the straight/narrow path, notably surviving older brother "Bobby X" (played by Clauter Alexandre [IMDb] []*) trying to convince younger brother "Dickens" (played by Kémy St-Éloi [IMDb] []*) to "just stay out of the gangs" after their oldest brother was killed.

Interestingly, the most religious characters presented in the story were generally portrayed as being Muslim.  And they were portrayed as being Muslim not because of a "return to (that) faith" as in the United States through movements like the Nation of Islam, but simply because the characters in question were portrayed as being either immigrants or children of immigrants from African (both Saharan and sub-Saharan) Muslim countries.

All in all, I do believe that a lot of the individual performances by this quite young cast were quite good.  I do hope to be seeing many of them in various French / Quebecois films in the future.  And I do hope that they will be able to play roles that will transcend / go beyond the ghetto portrayed in this film.

All in all, the government of Quebec can be proud of its support of this film.  Hopefully, there will be more films featuring / starring Francophones of color in the future as a result.   So very good job overall!

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.  

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Friday, June 12, 2015

A Wolf at the Door [2014] (orig. O Lobo Atrás Da Porta) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be R)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Adorocinema listing* (B. Carmelo) review*
A Folha de S. Paulo (A. Agabiti Fernandez) review* (L. Ramos) review*
O Globo (D. Schenker) review*

APUM (A. Núñez-Torrón Stock) review*
ChicagoTribune (K. Turan) review* (M. D'Angelo) review (P. Villaça) review
Slant Magazine (D. Costa) review
Twitch (C. Whale) review

A Wolf at the Door [2014] (orig. O Lobo Atrás Da Porta) [2014] [IMDb] [AC]* (screenplay written and directed by Fernando Coimbra [IMDb] [AC]) that played at the 2015 Chicago Latino Film Festival in may and more recently had a weeklong run at Facets Multimedia here in Chicago, is very, very well conceived, well shot, and again extremely well acted Brazilian domestic thriller / police story that plays on every parent's worst nightmare:

Set entirely in a sprawling / teeming, working-class part of Rio de Janeiro, Sylvia (played by Fabiula Nascimento [IMDB] [AC]*) an utterly average working-class presently unemployed housewife, comes to pick-up her cute-as-a-button, yet again, utterly average 7 or 8 year old daughter from school only to find that her daughter's teacher (played by Karine Teles [IMDb] [AC]*), haggard with a typically overcrowded yet still enthusiastic class of 3rd graders, had already handed her over to a "Shiela" who had introduced herself to her as "Sylvia's neighbor" coming by to pick her up as a favor to her (Sylvia).

Who the heck was "Shiela"?  Well, the little girl clearly knew, recognized and liked/trusted her.  The teacher, realizing, now, that OMG (!) she did something still _potentially_ terribly wrong, defends herself saying: "Honest to God, sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph... I thought nothing of it.  Your criança (child) clearly knew her."   But Sylvia knew no Shiela ...

... 'Cept, Sylvia did quickly have someone in mind who could have done this -- Rosa (played magnificently by Leandra Leal [IMDb] [AC]*) a chatty, fairly good-looking "friend" of sorts who had come into her family's life in a somewhat odd (and now looking-back-at-it suspicious) way some time back.  Further, Sylvia did have her suspicions about her husband Bernardo (played by Milhem Cortaz [IMDb] [AC]*) a Rio de Janeiro municipal bus driver cheating on her.

So ... Bernardo gets called into the school, as do the the police.  Bernardo quickly admits to the police official (played by Juliano Cazarré [IMDb] [AC]*) present that, yes, he had _had_ an affair with said Rosa, and that he had received a strange somewhat threatening phone call to meet her at a train station "at 7 PM" that evening.  So he along with (plainclothes) police go to said station to see if she shows.  She does not, BUT ... of course Bernardo knows where she lives.  So, in relatively short order, Rosa gets brought in to the police for questioning.

But ... SHE has a story as well: She tells the police that YES she did pick the girl up at the school, BUT she did so at the behest of another women, named Beti (played by Thalita Carauta [IMDb] [AC]*) who was upset AT SYLVIA because SHE THOUGHT that SYLVIA was sleeping with her (Beti's) husband.  Rosa said that she gave the girl over to her and that Beti was just holding her for a while to scare Sylvia (and even Bernardo) straight.

Sigh / okay ... the police decide to follow-up on Rosa's story, 'cept ... it turns out that there's NO "BETI."  Rosa gets called into the station again, and here the Rio de Janeiro police official makes a rather remarkable statement/threat to her:

"Look Senhora, we looked for Beti, and there appears to be no "Beti."  So stop wasting our time.  Understand that yes, we (the Rio de Janeiro police) don't necessarily have the best of reputations, and yes, _every so often_ we end up beating-up someone who proves to be _completely innocent_ and THEN SOME DEPUTY FROM THE LEGISLATURE, OR SOME NGO, OR EVEN AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL ends up coming down here and gets all upset about this, BUT ... YOU'RE BEING ACCUSED OF ABDUCTING A KID, AND _NO ONE_ is going to be crying for you IF WE BREAK A FEW FINGERS OF YOURS or EVEN A FEW TEETH.  SO SAVE US SOME TIME AND START TALKING ... What actually happened?"

And so, facing being beaten-up there at the station, she starts talking ... and then the story she ends up telling is one heck of a story filled with LOT's of very, very tragic yet very human aspirations and ... failings.  And then both the street scenes as well as "indoor" / "at home" scenes in gritty BLUE COLLAR Rio de Janeiro are simply magnificent making the city itself an obvious character in the story.  One feels that one IS THERE. 

I do know that a lot of (North) Americans HATE subtitled movies but HONESTLY this is one subtitled movie worth seeing.  ALTERNATIVELY, this is one film that could be remade and reset in the United States (in English/Spanish) and would really work.

What I liked about the story is that the characters were NOT "rich people" or "important people" or otherwise "special people."  Instead, they were ALL profoundly REGULAR people from a blue-collar / working-class "inner city" neighborhood and they were ALL very, very well drawn, all with at least some goodness within them and all with some, at times, terrible, terrible flaws.

Great, well crafted story!

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.  

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Jurassic World [2015]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

As best as I can understand it, Jurassic World [2015] (directed by Colin Trevorrow story by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly) is a "reboot / sequel" about making reboots / sequels, asking the question: How can one beat a movie about bringing a T-Rex back to life (Jurassic Park [1993])?

Well what can one do? (1) One can make a movie about bringing SEVERAL T-Rexes back to life (Jurassic Park II [1997]) or (2) one can make a film about bringing back, or heck, about just genetically engineering (creating), something EVEN BIGGER AND BADDER than the T-Rex (Jurassic Park III [2001] and now Jurassic World [2015]).  Then (3) hopefully, one can improve upon the special effects -- that's perhaps the most obvious thing that distinguishes the reboots of the 1960s era Planet of the Apes [2011] [2014] and Star Trek [2009] [2013] franchises -- and perhaps (4) one can dig a little deeper into the origins of the principal characters involved (the current film's screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver certainly played with the latter in their POTA reboot).

The current film banks on #1 and #2.  #3 is iffy (the principal improvement promises to be simply that the film was shot in 3D -- at a cost of $3-4/family member going ... ouch!).  What about #4?  That will honestly be up to you Readers if you go.  I myself can not justify going to see this movie, certainly not a full price, let alone 3D price.  I did see value in the Planet of the Apes reboot as the special effects of the 1960s were still not up to the task of doing the story justice.  The Star Trek reboot I find a twitching A.D.D. embarrassment.  What made the original Star Trek series what it was, were the almost stage-play quality (dare one say almost "late-20th century Shakespearean level") dialogues.  I just can't see "a bigger, more monstrous dinosaur" worthy of the analogously more monstrous ticket price.

What does frustrate/ fascinate me is why Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly of lovely / excellent / award winning / SMALL, INTELLIGENT "indie" Safety Not Guaranteed [2012] fame took-on this project.  Perhaps it was an offer that they simply couldn't turn down, but honestly, big budgets aside, what a let-down. 

BUT I WILL CONCEDE ONE POINT regarding the current film, that being that ART DOES IMITATE LIFE HERE: When I was a kid, the wondrous attraction at our local Chicago-area Brookfield Zoo was its dolphin tank (We even read about it in 3rd or 4th grade about how they flew the dolphins out to Chicago wrapped in special wet blankets, etc, etc).  Twenty years later, the new Shedd Acquarium on the Lake added a tank featuring somewhat larger beluga whales.  And of course, the "Sea Worlds" around the world now have Orca whales (once, and perhaps once again known as "killer whales") as their principal (crowd drawing) attractions. 

"Bigger" sells ... And yet, honestly, at what cost, to the animals. and even to the spectators asked to shell-out ever more money on ever higher ticket prices?

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

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