Friday, July 31, 2015

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (3 1/2 Stars) (4 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

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

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation [2015] (directed and screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie story by Christopher McQuarrie and Drew Pearce based on the television series [1966-73] [wikip] [IMDb] by Bruce Geller [wikip] [IMDb]) is certainly one of the best written, best timed / edited / directed and best acted action spy-thriller in a generation and possibly of all time.

For a fair number of years now, film-makers have been trying to crack the challenge of making today's heavily cyber/hacking based spy-fare exciting.  The last Bond film Skyfall [2012] even named / mocked the problem with a scene involving a new, "fresh-out-of college" if ever tech wizard "Q" blithely handing a 40-ish James Bond a revolver that would only fire if his (Bond's) palm was pressed against it, telling the somewhat disappointed / crest-fallen Bond: "Oh, you were expecting an exploding pen or something. Well, we're kind of past that sort of thing now. (Now Mr. Toy-loving Dinasaur let _me_ get back to _my computer terminal_ and get on with the real intel work to be done..." ;-).   Priceless ;-).

Well ... bring on U.S. super-spy Ethan Hunt (played _wonderfully_ by Tom Cruise in almost a divine manifestation of his archetypal Tom Cruise-ishness) working for an agency, the "Impossible Missions Force" SO SECRET that its initials are identical to one of the MOST BORING if ALSO (in the minds of many conspiracy theorists) MOST POWERFUL / NEFARIOUS AGENCIES IN THE WORLD TODAY (the International Monetary Fund ;-).

Okay, it's almost impossible to make lines of code running across a computer screen look exciting.  Just ask the makers of the last Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit [2014] movie ;-).

BUT ... what if TO GET AT those "spreadsheets" _upon which_ THE FATE OF THE WORLD HANGS (!!), one has to get past THREE LAYERS of "biometric" pass codes (ie REQUIRING A REAL PERSON AGAIN ... ;-).  And the ONLY WAY TO GET "YOUR GUY" (hacker) to get recognized "by the system" is TO HAVE SOME ELSE (Ethan Hunt) DIVE INTO A TANK AT THE BOTTOM OF A COOLING TOWER OF SOME SUPER-SECRET FACILITY LOCATED IN SOME WONDEROUSLY _SIMULTANEOUSLY_ "OUT OF THE WAY" YET SUPER EXOTIC LOCALE, WHERE INSIDE SAID TANK YOU HAVE TO INSTALL A _COMPUTER CARD_ AMONG MANY OTHERS, WITH YOUR AGENT'S BIOMETRIC INFO (forget finger prints or retinal scans but recordings of the way he/she walks, talks, smiles, even ticks as he/she talks, etc), WHILE ALL SORTS OF ROBOTIC / MECHANICAL THINGS ARE SPINNING ABOUT IN SAID TANK as part of BOTH NORMAL and SECURITY OPERATIONS.

NOW _THAT'S_ a "MISSION IMPOSSIBLE" ... Ya betcha baby! ;-).  Add then a Swedish born, British agent (one hopes...) Isla Faust (played by Rebecca Furgeson) who's SO DEEP COVER ... "in" with SO MANY shadowy, underworld groups / agencies that she herself becomes a living embodiment of the Talking Heads song "Life during Wartime" [Amzn] ("I've got three passports, a couple of visas, no longer know my own name" ... "changed my hairstyle so many times now, can't remember what I look like").  Yet, SHE's placed herself closest to the nefarious Lane (played by Sean Harris) who (may) head an ultra-pathological terrorist network called "The Syndicate" made up of other super-highly trained former spies / assassins from all kinds of agencies from across the world.  None of them really knows what they stand for anymore, but ALL of them know that they have the skills to can get whatever they want ... and most, like Lane, presumably want "A HECK OF A LOT..."

So this then is the "10-20 stories down in the deep, DEEP BASEMENT BUNKER of the underworld" in which "IMF" super agent Ethan Hunt lives/works, along with his still somewhat handler / boss William Brandt (played by Jeremy Brenner), and his "tech guy" buddies Benji Dunn (played by Simon Pegg) and Luther Stikell (played by Ving Ranes).  Even C.I.A. chief Alan Huntley (played in inspiringly well-meaning but clueless manner by Alec Baldwin) doesn't know what's going on let alone Congress (that's supposed to "give oversight" to all of this).  Interestingly though, British Intelligence seems to know _exactly_ what's what ... EVEN IF they're having increasing trouble "controlling" it all (shades of The Good Shephard [2006]). 

Much, much, much ensues ... honestly, this is one heck of a ride (again) ... and if only 5-10% of the action was based on reality ("renditions" can't possibly be "pretty" ...), this would help explain why so much of Europe both loves and hates us since the beginning of the Cold War.

Anyway, one, one heck of a story!

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Vacation [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  ChicagoTribune (0 Stars) (1 Star)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review  

Vacation [2015] (screenplay and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein characters based on those created by John Hughes in Vacation [1983]) "is what it is" ...  Like the Harold Ramis directed, Chevy Chase / Beverly D'Angelo starring original, it's an appropriately R-rated "family comedy" that has its laughs, seeks at times to gross-out and yet is fundamentally family supporting, indeed "pro-Family."  As such, like the 1983 original, I do believe that the film will almost certainly be embraced by the vast majority of the families, both "Anglo" (mostly Slavic) and Hispanic, of a parish like mine and probably the vast majority of Catholic families across the country even as it is at times unnecessarily crude and in a strict sense deserves the "O" (morally offensive) rating that the CNS/USCCB gives it.

So why give a film an endorsement even as it is, again strictly speaking, morally offensive?  I think I do so because I do believe that a lot of families will see themselves (or their shadows) within it.

The now grown Rusty Griswald (played in wonderful "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" fashion by Ed Helms) has basically become his dad (played marvelously by Chevy Chase in the original).  He's become both an airline pilot (!) and "a loser" _choosing_ (we find out later) to fly for a ridiculously small-time regional airline called Econoair: "Welcome to our 18 minute flight from South Bend to Chicago..." is his first line in the film ;-).

His wife, former sorority girl, but now later-30-something mom Debbie (IMHO wonderfully captured by Christina Applegate) is an increasingly forced-smile "trooper" who's trying _really hard_ to remain "nice" but is obviously increasingly disappointed at the pedestrian state of their lives/marriage: "Remember Rusty when you were training to be a pilot?  You / we were supposed to be flying to Paris [and here you're flying back and forth between Ft. Wayne and Chicago]."  "Yes honey, but this way I can be home each night ..." (and he sincerely means it ;-)

Their two boys are priceless(ly disappointing/disconcerting ;-).  There's 14-15 year old "übersensitive" James (played by Skyler Gisondo) who plays the acoustic guitar, keeps "a dream journal" and writes poetry, while his 10-12 year old younger brother Kevin (played by Steele Stebbins) is just plain Evil ;-).

After Rusty comes home after his last 18 minute flight of the day between some random town in Indiana /  SW Michigan and Chicago (and after waiting 25 minutes for the "next shuttle" to his car ;-) ;-) he's confronted by James complaining: "Daaaad, see what Kevin did!" (In indelible ink, Kevin wrote on James' guitar "I have a vagina").  Kevin protests: "But dad, I swear he does!"  "Now Kevin, you know that's not true."  "But it is!"  "Dooo something dad," James begs.  "Don't worry James, we'll fix this." (Rusty takes Kevin's marker, crosses out "vagina" and writes "penis" instead), "but for now, this will have to do" ... and proceeds to look for Debbie to give her a kiss ;-).

LOL ... domestic life today:  One son "can't tie his own shoelaces" (without "dreaming" about them...) and the other one may well grow-up to be a school shooter ;-)

Anyway, facing a family revolt about "vacation" this year (NO ONE 'cept him wants to go to the "some ole cabin" in Cheboygan, Michigan), Rusty comes up with the idea of re-creating the 1983 trip to "Wally World" that _he_ took with his family back when he was James / Kevin's age.  "But dad, I don't even remember you talking about that vacation."  "Don't worry son, this vacation will stand on its own."  Much ensues ...

This includes a stop at Debbie's alma mater Memphis State U, where Rusty finds out that the sisters at her sorority still remember her as the legendary "Debbie does Anything...," another stop at a ranch in Texas, where Rusty's sister Audrey (played here by Leslie Mann) is now married to a ridiculously well-endowed looker / dumb-DUMB-Ass "TV meteorologist" named Stone Crandall (played by an ever smiling / often "prosthetic wearing," one hopes anyway ... Chris Hemsworth ;-); and a final pre-Wally World stop in San Francisco, visiting mom and dad, Clark and Ellen Griswald (played by Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo) at their characteristically well-meaningly but incompetently run B&B.

Honestly, it's a heck of a ride (again).  The R-rating is certainly deserved, but honestly, it's also an "R-rated FAMILY movie" which REGULAR Catholics from Boston to Scranton to Gary to L.A. would certainly understand: Family life is _often corny_, it's often a sacrifice, often "not like what one would want it to be" but it ALSO brings with it all kinds of wonderful, unexpected joys.

And as a final, somewhat spoiler alert:  Rusty does find a way to take Debbie to Paris.  How, I'm not going to reveal, but it is appropriate, funny, kind and ... appreciated.  Again, thankfully Debbie's also and above all "a trooper" ;-)

Great film!

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! [2015]

MPAA (TV-14)  CNS/USCCB () (2 Stars)  AVClub (F)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
NY Times (N. Genzlinger) review
ChiTrib/Variety review (P. Sobczynski) review
AVClub (C. Framke) review

Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! [2015] (directed by Anthony C. Ferrante, screenplay by Thunder Levin) is a made-for-TV-movie that recently premiered on the SyFy channel [wikip] that I was averted to by a high school friend of mine / "actual fan" of my blog ;-) saying: "You've got to see / write about this film." ;-)

Though this was a "made-for-TV movie" and I generally don't review at least television series (they require a greater commitment of time than I can generally give them) as a lifelong fan of truly / intentionally "b-movies" how could I resist?  And the SyFy channel dutifully re-played the first two films in this series prior to this the third in a "Sharknado" marathon.  So by the time the current film was playing, I was "up to speed." ;-)

Oh what a chainsaw buzzing, blood splattering geyser of razor-toothed mahem ;-).  The basic premise of the film franchise is that "climate change" ;-) has resulted storms so powerful that tornadoes would form over the oceans picking-up sharks, thousands upon thousands of them -- great whites, hammer-heads, tiger sharks -- out of the sea, and then dump them spinning, crashing (and of course BITING) down on the utterly stunned populaces below.  In the first Sharknado [2013] film, one such cyclone of devastation rained / tore down upon Los Angeles.  Sharknado 2: The Second One [2014], "post superstorm Sandy" ;-) rained a similar spinning cyclone of carnivorous mayhem upon New York.

In the current film, a "sharknado" first struck and devastated Washington D.C. and _then a whole line of them_ was threatening to agglomerate into a "Sharkicane" threatening the whole U.S. seaboard from Florida to Maine.

Can one sustain such an impossibly insane story-line?  YES!  Dear Readers, improbably, impossibly, but IMHO YES!  Now in my teenage years, there was a phrase "jumping the shark" recalling a crazy, silly really, episode of the up-to-then successful, but clearly running out of steam, television series Happy Days [1974-1984] [IMDb], that took the cast out to Florida "on vacation" for an episode and then as had one of the lead characters, Fonzi, improbably "jump over a shark" on water skis as the episode's cliff-hanging climax.  That proved to be the death-knell of the series.  Where does one go from there?

Well here the creators of the Sharknado films have confidently moved the improbable, impossible, crazy story to such ever higher, ever more impossibly insane heights -- "into the upper atmosphere" WTF all the way UP INTO SPACE :-) -- that I just have to say, that UNTIL THE FOURTH MOVIE COMES OUT (already threatened at the end of this third one ;-) WE JUST  DON'T KNOW, yet, if they "jumped the freakin' shark" ;-) ;-)

What a run, what an _unbelievable_ run ... of blood-splattering ever "life-as-we-know-it" threatening mayhem ;-)

So then, WHY ??? would such a _stupid_ concept involving whirling "shark-laden vortices of death" work?  WHY sharks?

Well, what's a shark?  It's basically an utterly merciless blood(let)-seeking biological torpedo.   By lore, even the smallest of cuts, that is even the smallest objective evidence of slight imperfection / failure, summons these creatures from miles away to attack / devour / destroy the unfortunate "loser" in this the world's "game of the survival of the fittest."  Then ever since Steven Spielberg's Jaws [1975], viewers have been reminded that sharks come at us "from below," "pull us down" (overwhelm / drown us) and only _then_ devour us.  In a hyper-competitive world when any flaw/weakness in our character or presentation can "bring us down" to our destruction, the metaphor of living / working "in a shark tank" is one that we CAN -- at least in our nightmares -- completely understand.

But ... up until ... these "Sharknado" films ;-) ... the problem with employing a shark in a disaster film storyline was, of course, that sharks ... live in the water.

That's IMHO the _genius_ of these films: They combine "anxiety over climate change" and fear of tornadoes (again vicious, utterly uncontrollable storms of tightly circling winds that destroy everything in their paths) with SHARKS.  These "sharknados" lift sharks out of the water and SPEW THEM, TEETH FIRST, in all directions, devouring the stunned / hapless onlookers in their paths: "[Sharks] in Georgia?  How'd they ever get here?" ;-).  How'd they ever get there, indeed/ ;-)  The concept of the "shark-nado" is both _insane_ and (as a metaphor) _brilliant_ ;-)

So this being the third Sharknado film, by this time, one would think that the creators of the Sharknado series would have consumed all that could possibly be done with a bunch of (okay, a whole lot of, THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS of) sharks and a weather formation / tornado.  But no ;-) ;-) ...

In the first film began with one-time surfer / since then SoCal beach bar owner Fin Shepard (played by Ian Ziering) and his staff, notably young still college age bartender Nova Clarke (played by Casie Scerbo), being confronted with the freak storm that produced the first "Sharknado" out in Southern California.   Their ingenuity / bravery saves L.A. as they come with the idea of "dropping bombs from helicopters" into the sharknadoes to dissipate them.  

By the beginning of the third installment, Fin Shepard is a national hero for having saved (along with Nova and her friends) Los Angeles in the first installment and (with the experience he acquired, largely alone) New York in the second.  Indeed the third installments begins with him being honored at the White House by the President (played by Mark Cuban) and (somewhat improbably) vice president (played by Ann Coulter) and presented with a "golden chainsaw" in honor of his bravery / ingenuity.  With a new storm heading toward Washington D.C., he finds that he has to use said "golden chain saw" to defend the President and his Party from the onslaught of whirling, ever hungry sharks _tearing down_ on the city from "on high." 

After that initial Sharknado, he finds himself reunited with Nova Clarke who since the first episode has gone to college, entered / left the military and with her new "bio-meteorologist" boyfriend Lukas (played by Frankie Muniz) has become a "sharknado chaser" and perhaps the world's preeminent expert on all things "sharknado."

She and Lukas are the ones who warn Fin and then various authorities that these sharknadoes "were evolving" ;-) : First, sharks were being thrown increasingly into the upper atmosphere (hence why when at film's end some appear all the freakin' way out in space, it's no longer completely a surprise ;-).  Further, these flying sharks are starting to live on birds (rather than fish) and so are able to survive up there in the sky indefinitely.  Finally, the storms themselves are becoming larger and more numerous, agglomerating in the climax into a line of storms that threaten the whole Eastern seaboard of the United States, requiring not merely "bombs" to dissipate them but some kind of blast from space.

This then carries the film, set after its "sharks over DC" prologue to central Florida -- Orlando and the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Caneveral -- and eventually, inevitably into "outer space."  It turns out that Fin's estranged dad (played by David Hasselhoff) had walked away from Fin and the rest of the family decades back as he become involved in all kinds of "secret" military-space projects for the NSA / NASA.  And now he has to be recruited by Fin, Nova and the others to "tip his hand" about said "secret military space projects" to help them "save the world" from this "line of sharknadoes"  Much, improbable, _crazy_, but FUN ensues ...

The presence of complicated / strained "family ties" within Fin's family, of course, fulfills a very important requirement in Hollywood B-movie disaster films: The story's NOT just about "saving the world" from "giant radioactive crabs" or "space blobs" or, in this case, "shark infested tornadoes" ... some "issues at home" have to be resolved as well.  And the sharknado trilogy is filled with such "family drama":

In the first film, Fin was being dumped by his wife April (played by Tara Reid) and daughter Claudia (played by Ryan Newman) because as a washed-out surfer, now mere owner of a beach-side bar, he was "going nowhere."  So amidst the sharknadoes bearing down on Los Angeles, he has save his estranging wife/daughter from the onslaught.  And .... he does.

By the time of this third episode, Fin's back, indeed more than back, with his wife April: they're expecting a new child.  But we find that he has this new problem with his dad (a dad who he hasn't talked to in decades) and he has renewed (though lesser) problems with his teenage daughter, who's pouting somewhat (on vacation at Universal City in Orlando) because "fame" has taken away Fin's attention from her (and well, let's face it, with a new "baby brother or sister on the way" ... BOTH her parents are inevitably focusing on the soon-to-be arrival of the new baby).  ALL _THIS_ has to be "resolved" by film's end and ... IT IS ... SPECTACULARLY :-) ;-)

Anyway, a number of the critics above have gotten tired of this third Sharknado episode.  I honestly believe that they're being WILDLY UNGRATEFUL ;-) though perhaps because I'm "just coming on board" I'm just presently "in love."  But I have to say that this is ONE OF THE FUNNIEST, MOST IMPOSSIBLY CRAZY "DISASTER FILMS" THAT I'VE EVER SEEN and I am happily -- SMILING FROM EAR TO EAR -- looking forward to the next one! ;-)

So GREAT JOB FOLKS at the SyFy Network, GREAT JOB! ;-)

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Cartel Land [2015]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoTribune (3 1/2 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (G. Cheshire) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review (D. Salazar) review (H. Garza) review* (G. Lira) review*
EFE (F. Mexia) review* [M.A. Guevara] review*

Cartel Land [2015] (directed by Matthew Heineman) is an award-winning documentary that captures, though perhaps not always intentionally, some of the obvious ambiguities present when (some) ordinary citizens decide to organize themselves into armed vigilante groups to try to do what government is, in part, established to do: to establish (or re-establish) good order for the sake of the common good. 

Two such vigilante groups, one on each side of the U.S.-Mexican border, are featured:  On the U.S. side of the border there is Tim “Nailer” Foley's quite small ad hoc Arizona Border Recon group that has set-up camp and is (with its own resources) patrolling a particularly desolate section of the frontier between the U.S. (Arizona) and Mexico.  On the Mexican side, the documentary focuses on a larger and probably to most viewers far more compelling (if also more problematic) "Autodefensa" movement, led by a small town doctor "El Doctor" Jose Mireles, that rose up in 2013 in the Mexican state of Michoacán and largely took-down the "Knights Templar" drug cartel that had been terrorizing the citizenry of the state for years. 

In both cases, _the motives_ for the groups' creation were portrayed quite sympathetically:

Most American viewers would probably be shocked at the _emptiness_ of the border section that Foley's group set itself up to patrol.  The only people that seemed to out there on the various desert bluffs were Foley's (few, heavily armed) men and then Mexican coyotes (and their scouts) smuggling people over the border.  In the entire documentary, there wasn't a single American government border patrol or otherwise law enforcement official shown to be anywhere near this seemingly vast section of frontier (tens of miles of open desert land in every direction) even as Foley's men were shown coming upon and arresting (at gun point...) several groups of presumably Latin American men trying to make their way into the country through this section of empty otherwise undefended / largely unpatrolled country.

In the case of the Autodefensa movement in Michoacán, the film gave one example after another of common Michoacanos having been terrorized by the Knights Templar drug gang -- people beheaded, set on fire, buried alive amidst the corpses of those already murdered / decapitated in those ways.  So Dr. Mireles really didn't have much of a difficulty gathering, rather quickly, a fairly large group of people to join him to take-on these thugs, especially after he reminded them at their initial meeting that the only real choice that they had before them was how they were going to die: On their knees or at least fighting.  And once they rose up, it proved not particularly hard to both get arms and then sweep the Knight Templars away.

So ... what would be the problem(s)?

Well ... I do think, also, that _a lot_ of American viewers would find it unsettling to see a bunch of heavily armed vigilantes _routinely_ "arresting" (at gun point ...) significant numbers of people, no matter what the reason.   About to lead a group of about 6-8 Latin American "illegals" arrested in this manner out in the desert mountains on the Arizona border, Foley himself tells one of his men, "And if any of them tries to do anything, put him down."  I think that just about everyone watching the film would find that kind of an instruction, no matter how "practical" it may be (Foley's back would be to the back of these "arrested" men), WILDLY DISCONCERNING to be given by a civilian, NON-LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL ... (And yet, where were the law enforcement officials...?) 

Similarly, it's pretty clear that the Autodefensas were not exactly treating the captured Knights Templar members (or even suspects) with kid-gloves either.  There's a scene in the film in which the Autodefensas were interrogating one or another captured suspect in some warehouse somewhere, while behind the wall, in the next room, another captured suspect WAS HEARD SCREAMING (more or less certainly being _tortured_).

Further, while the documentary film-maker portrays Foley as a more-or-less honest Patriot, a fair number of the comments made by his men were _self-evidently_ white supremacist / racist ...

And it becomes also increasingly clear that El Doctor's Autodefensas didn't all have his high minded motives either.  Let's put it this way: Near the beginning of the documentary, the film-maker or even El Doctor himself explains that there were TWO drug gangs that were terrorizing Michoacán -- the Knights Templars and another one called the Viagras -- the Autodefensas seemed to go after ONLY the Knights Templars. Hmm...  Then the previously paid-off / corrupt and certainly ineffectual government tries to "regularize" (bring into the government) these gun-toting Autodefensas ... leaving the final status of things murky and arguably worse than before (Were the Viagras now basically "in the government ...?")

So I do believe that the film portrays BOTH the motives (at least in part "good" / "honest") as well as the more or less obvious _pitfalls_ of having armed vigilante groups stepping-in where government has proven unable to.

Indeed, the situation in both cases, comes to be as titled ... a kind of circus ... "Cartel Land."  So this proves to be one unsettling, if thought provoking film ...

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

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Paper Towns [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
ChicagoTribune (K. Walsh) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  

Paper Towns [2015] (directed by Jake Schreier, screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber based on the teen-oriented novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by John Green [wikip] [GR] [Amzn] [IMDb]) follows in the pattern of several IMHO quite excellent "John Hughes-ish" high school oriented melodramas to come-out in recent years (Other films in the category that I'd include would be The Perks of Being a Wallflower [2012], The Spectacular Now [2013] and The Fault in our Stars [2014])  Characteristic to all these recent high school oriented melodramas is that one or another of the story's lead characters is dealing with (or not dealing with) some rather significant illness or otherwise "issue" in his/her life.

So this film is about the recollections of a rather conventional perhaps even somewhat nerdy young man named Quentin (played by Nat Wolff) of a (in his view) far more interesting/exotic former neighbor friend / classmate of his named Margo (played by Cara Delevingne).  She moved into his neighborhood when they were 10, they became friends, and then at some point, around the start of high school, "drifted apart."  It's not that they ever "got into a fight" or "became enemies."  It's just simply that Quentin became always "more circumspect / cautious" than Margo, who by taking more chances, also seemed to always have a more exciting life.  And yet it was a life that Quentin was actually actively choosing (though he may not have realized it) _not_ to have.

Now the John Hughes movies of my generation would generally make Quentin's reluctance to "jump into the fray" the film's problem.  FASCINATINGLY (for me anyway) that's not really the case here.

Yes, one random but (as it plays out) increasingly important night, "senior year", Margo comes back into his life in a big way, inviting him to participate THAT EVENING in a night that he would certainly remember, fondly, for a long-long time, perhaps his entire life.  BUT ... again, FASCINATINGLY, that one night isn't really the film's point or even high point.  It's what follows that becomes (increasingly) interesting ...

Margo disappears after that one spectacular night and Quentin along with his wonderfully portrayed (and again much more pedestrian) friends spend much of the rest of the film LOOKING FOR HER.

Do they find her?  I'm not going to tell you.  Is the climax of the film satisfying?  I'm not going to tell you either.  What I do have to say is that the film (which does soft-pedal the ending of the book on which it is based) IMHO hits _exactly_ the right notes at the end.

Yes Margo was / is a fascinating person.  But then, so were / are EVERYBODY ELSE -- even the quieter and perhaps nerdier Quentin and his friends.

Honestly that's a GREAT MESSAGE and (though I loved John Hughes' films when I was growing up) BETTER (!) than most of John Hughes' works.  So great job folks and honestly a very useful / insightful teen-oriented film!

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Pixels [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C-)  Fr. Dennis (0 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (K. Walsh) review (P. Sobczynski) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review 

Pixels [2015] (directed by Chris Columbus, screenplay by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling inspired by the short film by Patrick Jean) is honestly an appallingly sexist film.

Yes, it's almost certainly intended (in part) as a "father and 10 year old son" offering, recalling the still necessarily heavily pixelated video games of the early 1980s (when "dad was about 10 years old ...").

But it's also an obviously and stunningly heavy handed (American) Right-Wing fantasy / propaganda piece (seriously, read on), featuring a Republican Chris Christie like President Cooper (played by Kevin James) with a bleached blond morning TV news COOKING SEGMENT running First Lady (played by Jane Krakowski) who stuffs him ...

Pretty much _every single woman_ in the movie is portrayed as "a prize" for the men to win (with President Cooper having already "won" his ...).

Some of these "trophy women" don't even have lines -- Multimillion dollar empire running Martha Stewart (!) as well as a fantasy-warrior "Lady Lisa" (mimed? modeled? strutted? by Ashley Benson) in black high healed boots to the knees, a tight red dress with at least one strap (or else it'd all just fall off ;-) and two Samurai swords -- yup try being a "ninja" in that ;-) -- Why bother your pretty little heads with lines (again, even Martha Stewart), when your "welcoming smiles" / "intense eyes" can "say so much"?

Others, like tennis star Serena Williams and the President's first lady (mentioned above) do have line or two, but are either largely posed in a slinky 1940s-era "jazz queen" dress (Williams) or shown lovingly stuffing her Presidential hubby with cake on a Today Show (or should I say "Fox and Friends") cooking segment.  Yes women, you can win Wimbledon six times (!) or reach a Katie Couric like position on TV, but your main job is still to just "look sultry" and/or "stuff your husband"

Even the most substantial woman character in the film NSA / DARPA scientist Lt Colonel VIOLET (?!) van Patton (played by Michelle Monaghan) is introduced as a recent, elegantly dressed "MILF" er "divorcee" living in a house worthy of the set of Desperate Housewives (We're told that she had been recently dumped by her husband who traded her / her 10 year old son in for his 19 y/o. secretary ...).

The film's lead, Adam Sandler's character Brenner (once, "back in the day" video game prodigy now "Nerd Squad" TV installer), comes to her / her 10 y.o. son's house to install their new 70-80 inch flat screen TV with a gaming pack ... Initially, she dismisses him a loser, he her as a ... snob. 

But it turns out that they have a mutual friend / acquaintance: Chris Cristie-like "(self-deprecating / weight challenged) man of the people" President Cooper (again interpreted by Kevin James).  He had been Brenner's best friend when they were kids (and still "kept in touch") and Violet was one of his Sarah Palin glasses-wearing second-tier "Science advisers" on the National Security Council (she got to sit in the President's Situation Room, but not at the Cabinet's Table ... Again, "know your place people, KNOW YOUR PLACE ...")

Turns out that President Cooper will need BOTH his sexy-"smart-glasses"-wearing science advisor and his once cool / now nerdy BFF 'cause ... By a total fluke, NASA had launched a space probe 1982 to the outer solar system containing a video disk with various snippets of popular culture of the time, INCLUDING snippets of a video-game competition of that time.  ALIENS had intercepted the space probe, MISINTERPRETED the videos it contained, and were now ATTACKING THE EARTH in the form of the pixelated video games -- Galaga, Space Invaders, Centipede, PacMan, Donkey Kong -- that they discovered on the disk.

The President needed EXPERTS on those video games of the past -- late 30/40-something y.o. NERDS (Brenner, as well as others, played by Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage) as well as weapons to destroy them (provided by the sexy-but-also-smart scientist Dr. / Lt. Col. Violet van Patten).  Much ensues ...

Now this need not have been the appallingly sexist film that it was ...  It could have been pretty decent "father and son film."  And Brenner along with sexy-mom Lt. Col. Violet's 10 y.o. son Matty (played by Matt Lintz) do hit it off as do, eventually/inevitably Brenner and his hot (but also smart) mom.

But how can one show this to a 8-to-12 y.o. girl today?   All the heroes are men and the main contributions of all of the women -- BOTH REAL (six-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams and multimillion dollar empire running Martha Stewart) AND IMAGINED (Dr. / Lt. Col. "Violet van Patton", the "cooking lady" / "First Lady to the President" and the sexy / impossibly impractically dressed "ninja" warrior princess "Lady Lisa") -- are that they can "look sexy" and/or "do domestic things for their men."

Again, how could something like this STILL BE MADE in the United States in 2015?  Zero stars.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Irrational Man [2015]

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

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

APUM (A. Saez) review* (A. Jourdain) review*

Irrational Man [2015] (written and directed by Woody Allen) is a film that will probably be embraced by die-hard Allen fans even as it will bore and possibly / probably even creep-out others.  It's the third time that he has tread the path of Dostoyevsky's [wikip] [GR] novel Crime and Punishment [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] -- his previous two films on plotting (and largely getting away with) murder have been Crimes and Misdemeanors [1989] and Match Point [2005] -- almost begging / egging viewers to ask _why_?

In his current revisit to the theme, Abe, a thoroughly disillusioned / reduced-to-drink small-time-liberal arts college philosophy professor (played by Joaquin Phillips) finds renewed meaning for his life, when he and a bright-eyed, still somewhat/necessarily naive college student of his named Jill (played by Emma Stone) having met (somewhat at the edge of scandalously) for lunch at a random off-campus diner quite randomly _overhear_ the laments of a mother involved in apparently a rather ugly custody battle with her ex-husband over her / her ex's children.  The mother blames the judge for her troubles who she accuses as being corrupt and a friend of her ex-husband's lawyer.

Without ever questioning the veracity of ANY of this random woman's complaints that she expressed in a conversation that he wasn't even legitimately part of (he and Jill simply overheard her conversation with her friends in the next booth), Abe decides to do her (and the world) a favor by searching out and killing the judge.  He figures, in fact, a la Strangers on a Train [1951], that his murdering the judge would be "a perfect crime" (or perhaps even the perfect execution of a just sentence against a corrupt judge): Abe had no link to the judge and with except for this random conversation _that he simply overheard_ (without anybody else except of his "student friend" Jill knowing).  And he had no connection with any of the judge's colleagues, cases or acquaintances either.   Thus, even if the authorities could figure out that he committed the murder, they could never pin him with a motive.

So Abe sets of then on this mission to kill the judge.  And (still minor spoiler alert) he succeeds:  As a quite intelligent, well educated man, without ever resorting to a traceable computer search, he's able to identify/find the judge at the local court house.  Then ever carefully / from a distance, he patiently learns the judge's routine.  Using the card catalog / indices at the local public library, he researches the best way to quickly, untraceably kill the man -- through spiking the judge's drink with cyanide.

(Note that while being a clever device for a movie, as a former chemist prior to entering into the seminary, I'd argue that THANKFULLY this would almost certainly NOT WORK as portrayed.  As cornered spies / former Nazis have attested, cyanide is effective as a means of a quick and once deployed untreatable path to suicide, but as an untraceable weapon for murder?  No.  The perpetrator would almost certainly kill him/herself with it before reaching his/her intended target.  Alternatively, any "cyanide pill" would leave tell-tale residue).

However, be all this as it may, Abe finds his opportunity to strike, does so and (in the film) kills the man (with the "untraceable" cyanide spiked drink).

Of course, as in the case of the Dostoyevsky novel and Allen's two other films, the rest of the story follows with the central question being: Can one really "get away with the perfect crime?" 

It does become somewhat disconcerting that Allen, whose personal life has clearly not been without blemish  -- he fell in love with and married a step-daughter of his, who was 17 y/o at the time, and has been accused of, but has never been proven to have, sexually abused another even younger daughter of his as well -- would revisit the theme of "getting away with the perfect crime" (albeit murder) three times in his career.   Is he begging to be (finally) caught?  

Or is he trying simply to make thought provoking films that others perhaps don't have the courage to make, precisely because he has been previously accused of / tainted by a crime that he did not commit?  Or, finally, are his films an attempt at redemption?

I do have to say that there is NO FILMMAKER TODAY who's making films where Kant, Kierkegard, Heidegger or Sartre come up _regularly_ as part of the dialogue.  And (perhaps ironically, on more than a few levels...) I can honestly say that OUTSIDE OF THE SEMINARY I can't remember a time in recent decades that I've heard these figures come up in conversation let alone in the movies.  And I do consider that to be an interesting (and again, perhaps telling) loss.

What then would I, as a functionary in a Church that clearly _hasn't_ had a morally clean slate in recent decades, have to say about Allen, a film-maker who _also_ hasn't had a morally clean slate in his personal life but who continues to make movies that do actually ask moral questions that the rest of the culture doesn't seem to want to ask?

I'd suggest a number of things:

First, for all its faults, the (Catholic) Church actually has a more realistic view of the world, as well as a more realistic program _for continuing_ to walk in this world than the society in which we live.  I say this because because we live in a society that first denies the existence of Sin (Evil) in the world, and, then confronted irrefutably with its existence, turns around and denies the possibility of Pardon/Forgiveness as well.  So as a society we have to hang Evildoers, even as we prefer to deny their presence for as long as we can.  In contrast, honestly, the Catholic Church never denied the reality of Sin/Evil existing in the world, even as it does offer IMHO the only realistic means of "going on" in the presence of such Sin/Evil in our midst ... first Naming Evil for what it is but then offering the possibility of Forgiveness/Reconciliation.  As a result, more people actually "get to Live" (Legitimately) in the Catholic Church than Outside of it.

Turning then to Allen.  He's never been convicted of doing anything wrong.  Yet, he's been both accused of a committing terrible crime (sexually abusing his daughter when she was a minor) and he has made three movies now about "getting away with the perfect crime."  Has he (committed "the perfect crime")?  As our society is structured now, we'll never know, because the crime that he's been accused of is both unprovable, and yet the penalty so great, that he'll probably never admit to it, except _perhaps_ on his deathbed.  

Our society needs a generalized Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In the meantime, I can definitely say that while we are all sinners, we are all greater than simply the sums of our faults, failings and sins.  And Allen with his movies is practically a poster child of this.

Yet, our society has presently has no (secular) means of acting on this reality (of the existence of sin and yet the need to forgive / reconcile in order to go on).  So we watch films like this, and not know (or even be able to know) what to think.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mr. Holmes [2015]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChiTrib/Minn Star-Trib (3 Stars) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChiTrib/Minn Star-Trib (C. Covert) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review (A.K. Tikte) review
Sight & Sound (K. Newman) review

Mr. Holmes [2015] (directed by Bill Condon, screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher, characters by Arthur Conan Doyle [Wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] based on the novel "A slight Trick of Mind" [2005] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Mitch Cullin [GR] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a lovely if somewhat slow err "gently moving" and certainly more classical "Downton Abbey-esque" revisit to the character of Sherlock Holmes [IMDb] (played as a finally retiring, increasingly frail/forgetful _ninety three_ year old by Ian McKellen).

The film serves as an obvious correction to several attempts in recent years to "reboot" / "comtemporarize" the previously beloved if _perhaps_ becoming "somewhat dated" character (one thinks of the recent "back in the day" but frenetic / highly stylized films starring Robert Downey, Jr as Sherlock Holmes, as well as the TV series Elementary [2012-] [IMDb] set in New York City of today and featuring a female "Joan Watson" played by Lucy Liu).  Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed both the RDJr films and that of the Lucy Liu starring series that I've watched.  But I've _also_ enjoyed this more leisurely paced story that, in its own way, _also_ "moves the ball" with regards to the character (it's based on a novel that was first written/published in 2005):  For this is a story about a once robust / beloved character truly entering into his "sunset years."  It could well be a story about a beloved uncle or grandparent.

And three stories actually play-out in the course of the film:

The first involved simply the aging Sherlock Holmes leaving post-WW II London for the countryside to perhaps spend the last chapter of his life in a lovely, smallish country home in Sussex, (south east of London), with a somewhat bitter or perhaps still somewhat disoriented, widowed-by-the-war housekeeper Mrs Monro (played by Laura Linney) and her energetic 10 y.o. son Roger (played by Milo Parker) who didn't remember much of his dad.  There the 93 y.o. Holmes spent his time "bee keeping" and (trying to do some) writing about his final case, many years back (in pre-War days), which he didn't believe Dr. Watson, long-ago married and having drifted away, didn't capture correctly.  But at 93, Holmes' memory was fading...

Then the second story playing-out was that of the said "last case" involving a young English charter account or barrister named Thomas Kelmot (played in the film by Patrick Kennedy) concerned that his wife Ann (played by Hattie Morahan), depressed after two miscarriages, may be either having an affair or otherwise drifting away from him.  And while the aging Holmes was certain that the case did not end in the way that Watson had written it up (and a subsequent film had dramatised it), he couldn't really remember how it did, in fact, play-out.

Finally there was a third story, about Holmes' recent post-WW II trip to Japan to visit Tamiki Umazaki (played by Hiroyuki Sanada) a Japanese fan of his with whom he had struck-up a correspondence as soon as the End of the War had made it possible again.  Yet _both_ Holmes and Umazaki had their motives for striking-up the correspondence that led to Holmes' visit: Holmes had read that there was a Japanese plant, the nectar of which (nectar collected by bees ...) helped treat increasing "forgetfulness" with age.  Yet his raised as an anglophile Japanese host had his own (poignant) motivation for inviting Holmes to his country once the war ended.

The stories play-out in a nice, gentle, and (as perhaps expected) _at times_ intertwining way.  Those bees play more or less obviously a roll in all three of them.  And at the end of the film, I do believe that most traditional Sherlock Holmes / Downton Abbey-esque fans will probably leave satisfied.

It's a gentle tale ... even if one is wondering throughout, who's "gonna get stung" and how ... So good job folks, good gentle job ;-)

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ardor [2014]

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

IMDb listing listing* listing* listing* (P.O. Scholz) review* (A. Castañeda) review* (D. Batlle) review* (S. Garcia) review*
Pandora-Magazine (M.J. Diaz-Maroto) review* (M. Santillan) review* (P. Pécora) review*
Vos (R. Koza) review*

aVoir-aLire (G. Crespo) review* (T. Grégoire) review* (G. Kenny) review
Slant Magazine (C. Lund) review
The Hollywood Reporter (D. Rooney) review
Variety (P. Debruge) review

Ardor [2014] [IMDb] [FAes]*[CN]* (written and directed by Pablo Fendrik [IMDb] [FAes]*[CN]*) an Argentinian-Brazilian coproduction (with also Mexican and French support) set in the tropical jungle forest of Northwestern Argentina uses the conventions of the classic "Western" to tell its story.  While this may seem surprising at first, I do believe it works pretty well:

A small Argentinian "homesteader" (played by Chico Díaz [IMDb] [FAes]*) who's worked hard to buy his little plot of land and has set-up his little subsistence farm (making a little tobacco on the side) with his daughter Vania (played by Alice Braga [IMDb] [FAes]*[CN]*) finds himself threatened by three toughs (played by Claudio Tolcachir [IMDb] [FAes]*[CN]*, Julián Tello [IMDb] [FAes]*[CN]* and Jorge Sesán [IMDb] [FAes]* [CN]*) sent out by some agro-business concern that wants to buy-out the small time farmers, raze the rest of the forest and set-up sort of a industrial scale cattle ranch / alfalfa business.  (The quintessential North American Western would have a small town or rancher threatened by some corrupt big time ranger, mining interest or some railroad).

In their defense, arrives a mysterious forest dweller (played by Gael García Bernal [IMDb] [FAes]* [CN]*) who uses his acquired knowledge of the land (forest) to (minor spoiler alert) beat-back/defeat these minions of the faceless / distant corporate interest that wants to destroy this family and their land. (In a quintessential Western, a mysterious "cowboy" / "gunslinger" again, "one with the land" arrives to beat back / defeat the minions sent on behalf of the faceless / distant corporate interest (railroad, big time rancher, mining interest) on behalf of the threatened family / small town). 

So I do believe that the Western metaphor works and Viewers get to enjoy often spectacularly beautiful jungle scenery as the story plays itself out.   (Note to Readers:  There have actually been several quite excellent recent films made around the world that have tried to apply the conventions of the Western to local circumstances.  These have included the Austrian "Alpine Western" Dark Valley (orig. Das Finstere Tal) [2014] set in the "high Alps" of the late 19th century, and the contemporary Russian tale of one man trying to stand-up to corruption in a sleepy Siberian town today in A Long and Happy Life (orig. Долгая счастливая жизнь) [2013]).

I also think that Gael García Bernal [IMDb] [FAes]* [CN]* and Alice Braga [IMDb] [FAes]*[CN]* play probably the hottest Hispanic couple in a film like this since Antonio Benderas [IMDb] [FAes] and Salma Hayek [IMDb] [FAes] played similar roles in El Mariacchi [1992]Desperado [1995] (where the setting was a previously sleepy desert Mexican town and the faceless corporate interest were Mexican drug lords).

Finally, the battles that have gone on in that Amazon rain forest have truly had a "Wild West character" (with the big-time / corporate interests doing most of the killing).   Two famous cases of the murders of activists defending the small-time subsistence farmers / inhabitants of the Amazon against the big time ranchers / corporate interests have been that of Chico Mendez (organizer of the seringueros/rubber tappers of Acre) in 1988 and Sr. Dorothy Stang, S.N.D. in 2005.

My religious order, the Servants of Mary, knew and worked with Chico Mendes personally.  In 2007, it published a book about the stories of a lot of the small time people (both indigenous and of European descent) who live and work in the Amazon.  I helped translate the book and it is available in English at: The Amazonia that We Do Not Know (2012).  Honestly, some of the stories recounted there could help Readers appreciate the current film here.

So honestly folks, good job!

ADDENDUM: This film which is currently (7/20/2015) playing the art-house circuit in the United States (including playing at Facets Multimedia here in Chicago) is also available on various streaming platforms including Amazon Online Video.

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

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Ant-Man [2015]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Ant-Man [2015] (directed by Peyton Reed, story and screenplay cowritten by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish along with Adam McCay and Paul Rudd based on the comic [wikip] [MCUniv] by by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby) surprised me, and perhaps I should have known better.  I initially thought last year's Guardians of the Galaxy [2014], was going to be "one too many trips to the well," and I thought the same of the current film.  YET ... I have to say that I left impressed ;-).

LIKE, last year's Guardians of the Galaxy [2014], the current film, Ant-Man [2015], is directed at a younger, pre-teen, perhaps 6-10 y/o, crowd.

Ant-Man's [2015] about Scott Lang [MCUniv] (played in the film by Paul Rudd) a former Bay Area / Silicon Valley electric engineer/computer-wiz/hacker, who spent time in jail for ripping-off credit card companies of ill-gotten gains, returning them (electronically) to the consumers who were (in his eyes) being shaken-down by them.

The film begins with him leaving prison.  Swearing off his former "Robin Hood" antics of "defending the little people" against the "(corporate) predators of the world," he nonetheless finds that he can't get a job, WHICH IS A PROBLEM, because WHILE HE WAS IN JAIL, his wife Maggie (played by Judy Greer) divorced him, marrying instead, straight arrow SFPD Officer Paxton (played by Bobby Cannavale) who's going to be honest good-example father-figure to Scott and Maggie's 6-7 y/o daughter Cassie (played by Abby Ryder Fortson).  Indeed, unless Scott can get a job, apartment and starts paying child-support, he's not gonna be able to much of cute-as-a-button Maggie at all.  But how's he gonna get back on his feet / do all that when EVEN A BASKIN' ROBBINS ICE-CREAM SHOP won't hire him? ;-)

Well, as much as Scott hates the idea, his former cell-mate Luis (played by Michael Peña) finds him a "breaking and entering" (burglary) "job" that his "housekeeper cousin" discovered.  "I'm done with crime," protests Scott, but with no other way to make some money, he gives in.  And so Scott, along with Luis' rather sorry "out of their depth" crew composed of Luis himself (Mexican) driving, slavic sounding "computer geek" Kurt (played by David Dastmalchian) and African American Dale (played by T.I.) who I'm not sure what he does but he's there, decide to do the job -- breaking into a rather upscale San Francisco house who's owner was away, with a large safe in the basement.

Yet, after the breaking into the house and then two door of the safe, all without being caught, all that Scott finds behind the second door of the safe is ... a strange, astronaut looking suit.  Just his luck: All that work, all that risk, for ... a stupid strange-looking suit.

Well, of course that suit had to do something ... it was the means by which Dr. Hank M. Pym [MCUniv] (played in the film quite well by Michael Douglas) was able to reduce and-or enlarge "the space between the atoms" of the wearer.  So put on the suit, press a button and ... the wearer becomes reduced to the size of an ant ... press the button again and the wearer returns to his/her normal size.

And Dr. Pym actually set Scott up, through Luis' cousin / Luis, purposefully staging the circumstances of the break-in of his own house as something of "an audition" for Scott.  Why?  Because Dr. Pym, who used to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. [wikip] [MCUniv] before he became disenchanted with the whole business of "protecting the world from Evil Doers" (because it was becoming so hard to distinguish "the good guys" from "the bad"), had "a bigger job"for him -- A former colleague of his, Darren Cross (played by Corey Stroll) was rumored to have finally reproduced the serum that made "ant-suit" work and, of course, needed to be stopped.  That involved breaking into Darren Cross' quite secure Silicon Valley company compound and destroying, completely, all his research.  Only someone like Scott who knew how to both break-and-enter, as well as hack, could do such a job successfully ... So despite Dr. Pim's daughter Hope's (played by Evangeline Lilly) initial misgivings (she thought she could do the job more easily ... she's known her father and his work all her life, etc), Scott / Ant-Man takes the job, and much ensues ...

Part of what ensues is not merely Scott being able to reduce himself to the size of an ant by means of Dr. Pym's Ant-Man suit, but also, through means of a kind of telepathic transponder that Dr. Pym ALSO invented, Scott being able to COMMUNICATE WITH ANTS, tell them what to do, make them "work with him" in remarkable "ant-like" ways.

It all makes for a fascinating adventure, and the climactic scene involving a battle between Scott/Ant-Man and Darren Cross (wearing his "Yellow Jacket" suit ;-) takes place on the train-set and among the other toys in 6-7 year old of Cassie's room even as she and "step-dad" Paxton watch it all play out ;-)

Yes, it is a fun story for the little ones ... even as it could actually scare the daylights out of adults as they start to imagine the chaos can become possible with the development of "nanotechnology" 

Honestly, a surprising film on a number of levels ;-)

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Trainwreck [2015]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McCarthy) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review  

Trainwreck [2015] (directed by Judd Apatow, screenplay by Amy Schumer) is a well-written and very well-acted / directed romantic comedy that yes is exaggerated / crude (parents the R-rating is certainly deserved) but is certainly one that is full-of-heart in ways that other perhaps safer / cleaner comedies are often not.

As in the case of her show on the Comedy Central network Inside Amy Schumer [2013-], Amy Schumer plays a fictionalized persona, "Amy", that's clearly exaggerated for laughs -- a late 20-something boozer, smoker, and one who's had _so many sexual partners_ that clearly "the thrill is gone."  Not that she doesn't still kinda like sex, it's just that by this point, she knows _exactly, exactly, exactly_ what she wants and once it's done, it's "Ay, GEEE... listen, I / you need to be going, I have a LOOONNG DAY tomorrow, and <patronizing smile> I have to get some sleep.  It was nice, really, but ... good bye."

Yet, she is NOT evil.  Indeed, a truly redeeming aspect of the film is her relationship with her (similarly in HIS DAY, horn-dog / drunk of a) father (played by Colin Quinn).  But he's now older, indeed "in a home" and dependent on his two daughters, Amy and Kim (also played wonderfully by Brie Larson) for care.  Here, Amy, the otherwise drunk / partying "irresponsible one," does most of the heavy lifting while, younger sister Kim, pregnant and with a (blended) family of her own, mostly complains how much her dad's nursing home care costs... I know cases almost exactly like this in my own life / work / ministry.

Further, when (minor SPOILER ALERT ...) her dad does die, Amy gives a remarkably funny yet POIGNANT eulogy to him that, I, as one who's performed some 300 funerals in my work as a priest simply have to appreciate: "My dad was a piece of work.  Probably everybody here was insulted at least once or twice by him during their lives.  Come on, raise your hand if you've been put down or insulted by him during his life (everyone raises their hand).  Yet, most of us loved him anyway.  Again raise your hand, if you loved this man (again everyone raises their hand.  And I find this completely believably true)."  And from there she continues ...

But this is a rom-com and so not really about her relationship with her father (though it was GREAT that this aspect of her character was shown and developed in the film).

Instead, the film becomes about her somewhat unlikely relationship with ... a nice guy, Aaron (played by Bill Hader), a sports-doctor (admittedly mostly to professional athletes), who she meets when she (whose character "knows nothing of sports") is sent to interview him for a piece for the über-glossy Maxim-style "men's magazine" with possibly the worst name ever -- it's called S'Nuff --  by her utlra-hip a-personality boss (played by Tilda Swinton).  His life was supposed to wreak of testosterone, glamour (and the folks at S'Nuff could hope ... PERHAPS EVEN SCANDAL), and instead ... he's just a nice guy, fixing knees of superstar athletes like Lebron James [IMDb] (who plays a fictionalized version of himself) ... so that they could make a lot of regular people ... "happy" ... "build community," etc.

Again, A WONDERFUL ASPECT OF THIS FILM IS that ALMOST NOBODY is portrayed in the way that one would think that they are.  Amy, promiscuous to the point of boredom / drunk, HAS A HEART.  Dr. Aaron Collins, glamorous sports doctor to the rich and famous IS SURPRISINGLY UNCOMPLICATED / NICE.  Lebron James, superstar athlete, who could have been really arrogant IS ALSO NICE, concerned for his friend, Aaron.  Amy's dad, a jerk for a good part of his life, IS MUCH MORE THAN A JERK.  And the list goes on ...

It's a surprising film.  Yes, it's R-rated, and no 10, 12, 14 or 15 year old really "needs" to see it.  But it's NOT a bad movie for a 20+ year old to see.  Because a lot of times the way we judge / dismiss people is really not fair.

Anyway, good job Amy, et al, (surprisingly ;-) good job ;-).

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Dark World (orig. Темный мир / Temnyy Mir) [2010]

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

IMDb listing listing* listing* listing* listing* (P. Favorov) review* (A. Yushchenko) review* (X. Rozhdestvenskaya) review* (A. Strelkov) review* (R. Korneev) review* (D. Zhigalov) review* (Leonid Marantidi) review* (L. Lavrushina) review* (V. Matizen) review* (S. Mezenov) review* (I. Perun) review* (S. Stepnova) review* (E. Chekulaeva) review* (O. Zintsov) review*

Dark World (orig. Темный мир / Temnyy Mir) [2010] [IMDb] []*[]*[]* (directed by Anton Megerdichev [IMDb] []*[]*[]*, screenplay by Aleksey Sidorov [IMDb] []*[]*[]* and Aleksandr Dorbinyan [IMDb] []*[]*) is a spectacularly good (and fun) Russian young-adult oriented film that I included in my 2015 Russian Film Tour that would be immediately recognizable to American/Western audiences as a conflation of some of the the conventions of a 1980s-era "mad slasher" film ("a group of rambunctious college students go for a weekend to ... and ...") with the more recent more developed heroine-driven Twilight / Beautiful Creatures / Mortal Instruments genre.

Add then a little LOTR / Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon [2000] magic / fight scenes (the presence of the "Eastern stuff" is fascinating BUT Russia is "Eastern Europe / EURASIA" after all ;-), some pretty cool/fascinating and arguably subversive "X-Files-style" conspiracy stuff, and a LOT of Russian (Eurasian, specifically Finno-Ugric) folklore ... and this becomes one honestly fascinating "soup" for both magic / horror-anticipating young adults and "pop culture" folklorists / enthusiasts to see.

In the story, a group of Russian college students (presumably from Saint Petersburg, though the famous edifice of Moscow State University is shown at the film's end) go with their philology/cultural anthropology professor (played by Vladimir Nosik [IMDb] []*[]*) on a trip to the deep woods of (nearer to Saint Petersburg than to Moscow) Karelia on an "folkloric" (ethnographic) expedition.

The scenery itself is spectacular, filmed largely in and around Ruskeala Mountain Park outside of the town of Sortovala in Karelia.  To get to their destination, the student group first travels by train, then by bus, and finally for some time by foot through a deep ever-misty, moss covered forest, arriving at a woodland hut of an old, indeed ancient-looking but definitely impression-making woman (played wonderfully by Tatyana Kuznetsova [IMDb] []*[]*) ever dressed in white, with her auburn hair ever braided and under a veil with a snow-white husky (her familiar?) at her side.  Folks, if one is serious about doing cultural anthropology, this is EXACTLY the kind of person that one would seek-out to talk to.  So good job Professor Sergey Rudolfovich!

However, we're talking about a student trip here.  So ... :-)

... Well, there's this red-haired Goth girl named Marina (played by Svetlana Ivanova [IMDb] []*[]*).  She's kind of a loner, likes to freak-out her room-mates with loud headbanging music and weird gothic looking art, and while not terrible as an athlete (apparently all the students have to play at least some kind of intramural sport) it's clear that she doesn't really give a damn.  AS A GOTH, folklore / mythology would kinda be her thing (so she's in the right class / on the right trip).   Yet, AS A GOTH, she can't really show that she's particularly "interested" in that either ... (it kinda sucks being _intentionally_ moody ;-).

Now what (or more to the point WHO) she's really into (and yes it's kinda a contradiction, but SHE'S YOUNG / IN COLLEGE, so she can still be a PILE OF CONTRADICTIONS ;-) is "a really hot guy" on campus, named Artur (played by Ilya Alekseev [IMDb] []*[]*).

... Now Artur objectively HOT as he is, and while not entirely ill disposed to a pretty "exotic" / in her own right HOT-looking red-headed "Goth" classmate like Marina who's into him, HAS THIS DROP-DEAD GORGEOUS "Model Material" (in the U.S. we would say CHEERLEADER CLASS") BLONDE named Vika (played by Mariya Kozhevnikova [IMDb] []*[]*) "hanging on him" as well.   So ... what's Artur supposed to do?  Here he has these TWO beautiful, both arguably "higher maintenance" (in their own ways) young women interested in him -- one perhaps "deeper" / "a little more exotic", the other, drop-dead gorgeous with a "Vogue magazine looks" interested in him.   Ah ... it's awesome being awesome ;-)  And "ripped" as he is, he's probably the school's star hockey player as well...

Well ... so there they are at this woodland hut, after dinner.  Marina decides to "step outside for a bit," sits herself down on a lovely rock some 50 feet from the cabin, overlooking a beautiful mountain stream ... in the moonlight ... and ... Artur, rip-muscled and shirtless, "comes by." They start chit-chatting, then making-out, then ...

"HEY! What you doing there!" the old lady in white, coming out the door with a pale of water from the evening's dishes calls out, more than a little-irritated that she's run into two half-naked city-slicker college students making-out 50 feet from her otherwise pristine fair-tale home, admittedly illuminated by shimmering moonlight as the mountain stream rippled down the cascade behind them with ever present mist gliding all around them.  Yes, this would have been one magical place to ...

Anyway, interrupted there by the old lady, with jealous drop-dead gorgeous Vika rushing-out two steps behind her ... Marina, embarrassed, gathers herself together, straightens herself out a bit, and then runs-off into the woods to catch her breath ... and cry.  Shirtless yet ever awesome, Artur, like a stag trapped between two gorgeous headlights, Vika throwing daggers at him with her eyes and Marina running off into the forest to cry, doesn't know what to do.  So he just stays there, shirtless but in the moonlight, perhaps a bit confused but still looking awesome ... while the class "good guy" / nerd (in Russian they dismissively call him "a botanist" as in studying for a hard but utterly irrelevant degree) Kostya (played by Ivan Zhidkov [IMDb] []*[]*), "Nikon digital SLR"-like camera ever around his neck, runs out after Marina ... to see if she's alright.

Kostya soon catches up with her, and of course she's not entirely alright, but as they walk / talk, she progressively "gets better" ... But then the find that they walked quite a ways ... and ... begin to see that they are lost.

Though initially all discombobulated, "Were they about to do what we think they were about to do?" after a while, the rest of the group settles down at the cabin.  But when Kostya and Marina don't seem to be coming back, they start getting worried, now about them.  So ... after a while, they all go out as a party to look for them, good-natured Prof included (ever smiling, though he's had a busy day / evening, no doubt spending the past 1/2 hour apologizing to the still possibly pagan or perhaps now Christian but certainly rather conservative old lady at whose home they are all staing, for his two randy :city-slicker" charges who apparently were going to go at it, there right, in front of her doorstep ... "Well you know, hormones ...").

So now _the whole party_, Marina and Kostya, and then the rest of the group, Prof included, were out there in the moss covered woods, at night, ever present mist, swiring all about.  So this could not be good ... And it soon, wasn't ...

Out there, at night, in the misty, shimmering moonlight, Marina and Kostya come to what appears to be an ancient cemetery, with some kind of a woodland chapel beside it.  'Cept the cemetery seems to be so old that the grave markers don't seem to be Christian and the chapel itself seems to be of a pagan or at least syncretic stripe.  When they enter and look around, Marina falls through the rotting floor ... into a subterranean level opens into a cave, which now clearly seems to be some sort of a ancient pagan shrine, with all sorts of petroglyphs painted on the walls.

As Marina walks along the looking for a way back up, Kostya drops down to her level to try to help her get out as well.  He's astounded by the petroglyphs and starts snapping pictures left and right.  Marina then enters a chamber in which at its center is seated the mummy of some ancient warrior (woman?) with a spear and shield in her hands.  Startled, Marina trips, crashes into the mummy.  And as she falls to the ground, the mummy falling-upon her appears to breathe on her whereupon Marina passes out.  Kostya, with his trusty camera in hand, captured it all on video.  But of course he doesn't save her from passing out.

What now?  Placing the passed out, and otherwise now strangely sickly looking Marina on the shield, he starts to drag her out, and starts to call out for help.  The rest of the group, not too far behind them, arriving at the ancient cemetery hears him, and in quick order (Artur, after all, is "ripped") get Marina out of the chapel, carrying her out on that shield.

But she's still passed out, so they need to call for help.  Now mind you, this is summer and they're located in Karelia, north of St. Petersburg, so if it was ever really dark, light would come soon.  The question was to simply get her to a clearing and have the good natured Prof Sergey Rudlofovich to call on his satellite phone for help.  They get her to a clearing ... he calls for help ... help arrives ...

'Cept ... the "help" that arrives with a BLACK HELICOPTER, with these black uniformed skin-heady "special forces" types jumping out of it.  RUSSIAN they are, BUT they DON'T exactly look like regular "Russian Army."  Who the heck are they?  And are they there really to help?  No ... having intercepted the Prof's call for help, and having heard "pagan chapel," "mummy" and "shield," they called "up the(ir) command" and were ordered by their HIGHER-UP to GET THE SHIELD. 

The rest of the film follows ... ;-)

Now again, who were they?  Well their "higher up" becomes a wonderfully drawn character.  Nominally, he was Alexander (played by Sergey Ugryumov [IMDb] []*[]*) and even a Russian government official, the Minister of Mining or something or another.  Indeed, when HE arrives on the scene after his special forces men in black uniforms with their black helicopters took custody of the shield (along with this group of cultural anthropology students...) one of the students, perhaps, "the nerd" Kostya exclaims: "Hey aren't you ... the Minister of ..." to which Alexander answers, "Yes, yes, I do that as a hobby ..."  No, Alexander's more than just a random government minister in a random Russian government existing in a random Epoch of time.  Alexander is actually a 2500 year old Uralic wizard named Ylto Vallo who has spent the better part of those 2500 years _looking for that shield_ because the soul of his father a grand wizard of his tribe was trapped within the labyrinth imprinted on its (the shield's) face.  He was trapped there as a consequence of a battle between his people and that of the Finnic warrior witch whose mummy they had stumbled upon.

Well he now has the shield, but he needs the precise incantation to set him free.  Learning that when Marina literally stumbled upon the mummy of that warrior witch, the witch apparently "breathed on her" (causing her to pass out), he becomes convinced that she'd "know the magic words."  But ... she doesn't ... or else it's hazy.

What she needs to do is _become a witch_ to come to understand what she was told.  Well, how would one _become a Finnic witch_ in the current day?? 

Well, "the old lady ever dressed in white with her snow white dog as a familiar" that they had met COULD HELP.  And ... she does ... but she tells her/them ... "Look, I'm just a guardian here, you really need to find the 'witches of the lake'" and then points them in the general direction of where, if they are (Marina is) worthy, she could find them ...

Much, in often spectacularly beautiful / imposing scenery still ensues ...

And then all the while the question becomes: Is it REALLY "a good idea" to liberate the soul of a wizard trapped in a shield for 2500 years, when the wizard's son, doesn't seem to exactly be a "prince of goodness and light"?  He operates a secret army out of a secret  Bond Villain / Area-51 like compound out there in the Karelian wilds with his disciplined skin-heady troops in black special forces-like uniforms flying black helicopters after all ...

Anyway, it all makes for one heck of a story, and ... like the Twilight Saga, produced two sequels ;-)

HOW TO FIND THE FILM?  The film as well as the two sequels are all quite easily available, in Russian, on the internet and the English subtitles for them can be found on the website.

Folks, especially young adults, this is one spectacularly good / fun contemporary Russian "Twilight Saga-ish" story, well worth the effort to find ;-)

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

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