Saturday, October 31, 2015

As We Were Dreaming (orig. Als wir träumten) [2015]

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

IMDb listing listing* listing

Leipziger Volkszeitung (N. Wehrstedt) review* (C. Reinhard) review*
Der Spiegel (H. Pilarczyk) review* (A. Platthaus) review (G. Hernandez) review* (A. Wilkenson) review
Hollywood Reporter (B. van Hoeij) review
Variety (J. Weissenberg) review (J. Schaaf) article about author Clemens Meyer*

As We Were Dreaming (orig. Als wir träumten) [2015] [IMDb] []*[CEu] (directed by Andreas Dresen [IMDb] []*[CEu], screenplay by Wolfgang Kohlhaase [IMDb] []*[CEu], based on the novel [GR]*[WCat]*[Amzn]* by Clemens Meyer [en.wikip] [dt.wikip]*[GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a remarkable, insightful, even at times "Happy Days [1974-84]-like" (though also often darker) reminiscence of someone who grew-up in Leipzig, in East(ern) Germany in the pivotal years around the fall of the Berlin Wall and with it Germany's reunification. The film played recently at the 2015 (51st Annual) Chicago International Film Festival.

The story is told through a fictionalized character named Dani (played as a 13-y.o. by Chiron Elias Krase [IMDb] and then four years later (how much difference the passage of four years can make...) as an 17/18-y.o. by Merlin Rose [IMDb] []*[CEu]).  Living with his mother (played by Melanie Straub [IMDb]) and growing-up in Leipzig along with his BFFs Rico, Mark, Pitbull and Paul (played as 13 y.o.s respectfully by Julius Nitschkoff [IMDb], Nico Ramon Kleemann [IMDb], Kilian Enzweiler [IMDb] and Henning Tadäus Beeck [IMDb]; and as 17-18 y.o. by Tom von Heymann [IMDb], Joel Basman [IMDb] []*[CEu], Frederic Haselon [IMDb] and Marcel Heuperman [IMDb]) when the world, his / their world, had changed so dramatically, the story is about how it was to cope with such changes.

And then, let's remember, that this was ALSO the time of their ADOLESCENCE / GROWING TO MATURITY.  So at 13, Dani had a close friend (who perhaps in other circumstances "could have become more") named Katja (played by Luna Rösner [IMDb]) and at 17-18 there was another girl named Sternchen (played by Ruby O. Fee [IMDb] []*[CEu]), who he was interested in, but always seemed "just out of his reach."

So Communism / post-Communism and hormones.  That's what the story seeks to present.  Does it?  That's for the viewer to ultimately decide.

The story begins, of course, with Dani, et al, growing up in what was still the GDR (East Germany).  Interestingly, the whole Regime is presented in a heavily paternalistic (but not necessarily Evil) sort of a way.

The various outside authority figures School Principal Singer (played by Ronald Kukulies [IMDb]), teacher Regine Siedler [IMDb] and "Pioneer leader", the 'Pioneers' being the compulsory Communist equivalent of the Scouts (played by Roman Weltzein [IMDb]) were all kind, arguably sincere but certainly _present_ in their lives in a way that would make a lot of Americans / Westerners uncomfortable:

(1) After Rico, whose "GDR military officer" father had left his mother for "some hussy in Berlin", set-afire his red pioneer sash in the bathroom "in protest" (because he was angry at his dad ...), it was DANI (Rico's best friend), who had in present to "the incident", who was brought before a very paternalistic school disciplinary board made-up of said Principal, Teacher, adult "Pioneer Leader" and Katja (star-student and probably "teacher's pet") as "pioneer / student representative", and (1) asked for his thoughts and (2) was arguably "recruited" to "look-after" Rico "for Rico's own welfare."  The incident was presented in a very hokey, paternalistic way ... but the implication was that DANI was being recruited "by the Regime" at its most "grass-roots level" to spy on his friend. 

(2) At a Civil Defense drill, a GDR Colonel (played by Andreas Keller [IMDb]) present, tells the students the importance of "mitdenken" ("thinking along" / "thinking as a team" basically "thinking the same ...")

(3) And at a school assembly held in response to the growing _silent protests_ that were famously taking place in Leipzig in the fall of 1989, the ever kind, again probably TOTALLY SINCERE Principal, flanked by the School Teacher and the adult Pioneer Leader (the latter far more visibly upset at the happenings in the city than the kindly / concerned Principal), explained to the kids that the "irresponsible marchers'" _increasing numbers_ "might cause one of the town's bridges to collapse causing many injuries" explaining why the authorities had to BLOCK OFF the bridges to the protesters, again "for their own good" ;-).  Sigh ... how much the regime of the old Communist GDR "cared ..." 

The experience though of the years that followed Communism's collapse, however, appeared to be exactly the opposite.

Yes with freedom came the possibility of acting on one's own initiative.  And so the five friends from Leipzig (being 17-18 year-olds) created a "really cool underground disco" in an abandoned factory at the edge of town near where they all lived.  Almost certainly, they didn't have the paperwork to create it to begin with.  But that wasn't really the problem.  What was the problem was that they proved "too successful" ... and so they come onto the radar of "the local mob" which _uses_ the gang led by a local loser turned now into a "freshly shaved" skinheaded / neo-Nazi thug named Kehlmann (played by Gerdy Zint [IMDb]) to try to muscle-in on the action.  The above mentioned love-interest Sternchen seems to "flutter-about" this rather primal testosterone-(and not much else)-driven milieu.  Hence Dani and his group seem to her to be rather cool, until the others come around and seem to be even cooler, even if "coolness" comes to become defined by simple / brute street strength.

Then there are also the temptations to just drink / drug oneself "into a peace" (of sorts).  And certainly a number of the Dani's friends start to peel away in that direction.

But what then to do?  All people in normal circumstances face / have to manage similar choices / temptations as they "leave the (parental) nest."  But there is a point to be made: Maturity in the 21st century ought not to be defined by being able to simply defend oneself (and one's loved ones) in a 21st century jungle of concrete and steel against crooks / mobsters and newly arisen neo-Nazi skinheaded bottom-feeders.  There ought to be more.

In any case, the film / story makes for a quite thought / discussion provoking tale.  Good job!

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

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse [2015]

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

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

Perhaps the most important thing that parents should know about Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse [2015] (directed by screenplay cowritten by Christopher Landon along with Emi Mochizuki, Carrie Evans and Lona Williams) is that the film deserves its R-rating: If you ever wanted to reflect on what a "zombie penis" could look like or "zombie breasts," well, this film does offer its rather _extended_ even (with the penis) _exhaustive_ "thoughts" on such matters ;-).

Yes, this is a dumb film.  But let's face it, most Zombie films are "not exactly" Citizen Kane [1941] (though amusingly Pride, Prejudice and Zombies [2016], based on the wildly popular, er, "adaptation";-) [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] of the celebrated Jane Austen novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] is coming out sometime in the coming year ;-).

Then there's the Hollywood message "to all the young people / families out there" that "Scouting is for nerds" while "Strippers are cool."  So "10, 12, 14 y.o. Jenny get into your stripper costume ... that's where your money will be..."

That said, let the Reader here simply understand this to be simply a dumb (and certainly appropriately R-rated) film, in which three high school nerds (played by Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller and Joey Morgan) team-up with a few years older, former h.s. drop-out (though having since earned her G.E.D.), now stripper (played by Sarah Dumont) to save their small California Central Valley town "on the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas" from a "zombie outbreak."   Yes, featured in the film are "zombie penises" and "zombie breasts" but also "zombie deer running in the woods" and "a zombie angry old lady with a house full of zombie cats." ;-)

Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb ... but, folks, the film-makers here certainly never, ever had any intention of "shooting for" anything else.  And thus they created a really, really dumb (and often very crude...) film.  Is it "the Apocalypse"?  No ;-)  But it is ... (coming back to the word) ... dumb ;-)

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

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Road to La Paz (orig. Camino a La Paz) [2015]

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

IMDb listing
FilmAffinity/es listing*
CineNational listing*

The Hollywood Reporter (J. Holland) review

Road to La Paz (orig. Camino a La Paz) [2015] [IMDb] [FAes]*[CN]* (written and directed by Francisco Varone [IMDb] [FAes]*[CN]*) is an Argentinian "odd couple" / "road movie" that played recently at the 2015 (51st Annual) Chicago International Film Festival.

Sebastián (played by Rodrigo De la Serna [IMDb] [FAes]* [CN]*) is introduced to us as a un(der)employed 20-something, approaching 30-something resident of Buenos Aires residing with a lovely/kind/already live-in "struggling actress" girlfriend Jazmín (played by Elisa Carricajo [IMDb] [FAes]* [CN]*) who'd really like to start a family and (gasp) get married.

Yes, the couple's "order of things" does drive many of us in my profession - a Catholic priest - to some distraction.  But as the recent Synod of Bishops (convoked by Argentine born Pope Francis I) noted, many young people all across the world see marriage today as essentially _confirming_ a stable life together that often enough they struggle for many years to achieve (2015 Synod of Bishops, Working Document, para. 80-85).  Now the Synod of Bishops has just met (Oct 2015), and its recommendations have not yet been published, let alone the Pope's final document (by-and-large but not necessarily taking their recommendations into account) on the matter.  However, it is noteworthy that the Bishops' working document recognized the problem.

Unable _to find_ a serious / dignified full-time job that could send him and his girlfriend in the direction that she was hoping for,  Sebastián decides to do what many young people all over the world have been doing in recent years in similar circumstances: He decides to _to create_ employment for himself out of his skills / resources he has at hand.  Basically, he had a cell phone and a small car that he inherited from his dad.  So he created a one-man "Über-like" service in Buenos Aires that he called "Magellan" (after the Spanish explorer who first circum-navigated the globe -- a rather "impressive vision"  indeed, born no doubt out of his (still) "youthful optimism" / humor.

Well, he does this for a couple of weeks, and it actually seems to bring in some decent money.  THEN, however, he gets "a special Call" ...

... from an elderly gentleman named Khalil (played by Ernesto Suárez [IMDb] [FAes]* [CN]*) who had hired him to take him on a random errand a few days previous.  Khalil now wanted to hire Sebastián to drive him to La Paz (in Bolivia !!).

Kahkil explains to him that his health is such that he could neither fly nor take the bus to make the journey and hence he needed someone like him, who he did understand to be something of a freelancer, to take him there.

Sebastián is, of course, taken aback.  Beyond the time / distance involved, he knew La Paz, Bolivia's capital city, though with a population of roughly a million people, was situated high up in the Andes Mountains (the city's elevation averaging at about 12,000 ft, making it the highest altitude capital in the world) and the roads getting there were probably going to be punishing for his very little (and ONLY) car (around which _he created_ his little but finally income producing job).  So he asks for a few days to think about it.

Of course, Sebastián decides to take the gig.  Both circumstances (bills to pay and Khalil was, in fact, offering significant and frankly appropriate monetary compensation) and, again, "youthful optimism" collude to inspire him to say "yes" to this "once in a life time" request.  And much ensues ...

I'm not going to write more about what all ensues, because I do hope that the film will find at least limited "in art theaters" / "on DVD/BlueRay" release.

As his name suggests, Khalil is, of course, an elderly Muslim.  What Khalil asks of Sebastián is to help him take "the first leg of his journey to Mecca" (Khalil, who is nearing his end, is setting-off on his Hajj, the "once in a lifetime" pilgrimage that all Muslims are to make to Mecca.  He tells Sebastián that he has a similarly elderly brother in La Paz and together then, they are going to go from La Paz Bolivia, down to Lima, Peru (by some kind of truck, his brother has all that arranged) and then BY SHIP to Mecca.  Khalil simply needs Sebastián to take him as far as La Paz.  But even that "first leg" to "La Paz" (which OF COURSE in Spanish means "PEACE" (!!)) is one heck of a journey.  And so ... the film ...

Now one remarkable thing about this film is, of course, that it is an ARGENTINIAN film about an elderly Muslim teaching a young (presumably Catholic) Argentinian a little about the Muslim faith.  So the presentation in the film is _quite different_ and certainly more "baggage free" than it would be if the film was made in the United States.  As such, viewers get to appreciate why someone would want to be a Muslim, and indeed, why Khalil, again an elderly person who lived his whole life as a Muslim, WOULD BE PROUD TO BE SO.

It's a lovely, lovely film about a journey "toward peace" that would certainly be unforgettable for anyone who took it.  As a minor spoiler alert, and only because a fair amount of WESTERN viewers would probably refuse to watch it otherwise,  NO, Sebastián DOES NOT become a Muslim by the end of the film.  But he certainly learns a lot more about Muslims as a result of his journey with Khalil and will certainly TREAT MUSLIMS (and their faith) with far greater kindness / knowledge afterwards.

An excellent film!

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

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Sparrows [2015]

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

IMDb listing listing (E. Luna) review* (A. Rivera) review (L. Barwenczik) review*
The Hollywood Reporter (J. Mintzer) review
Variety (G. Lodge) review

Sparrows [2015] [IMDb] [CEu] (written and directed by Rúnar Rúnarsson [IMDb] [CEu]) is a coming of age drama from Iceland / Denmark which played recently at the 2015 (51st Annual) Chicago International Film Festival.

Ari (played by Atli Oskar Fjalarsson [IMDb] [CEu]) is a 15-year old, introduced to us literally as "a choir boy" singing with a choir in a church in Reykjavik, was born to Icelandic parents from a small fishing village somewhere in northwestern Iceland.  Since his parents' divorce, he had been living with his mother in Reykjavik.  But now mom was recently remarried (apparently to "some exciting / worldly city slicker" Dane ;-) and she with her new Danish hubby were flying-out "for some time" (how long? months certainly, but one gets the sense "longer"...) as "part of some NGO" to "Africa."  So, perhaps with some regrets, mom was putting Ari on a plane and sending him "back to his dad" in said "small fishing village" in northwestern Iceland.

Ari _does not want to go_, but at 15, LIVING ON A ROCK in the middle of the freakin' North Atlantic where, once one gets out of Reykjavik there really do seem to be as many "seals and birds" as there are _people_ around, he really does not have much of a choice.  Besides mom reminds him: "Grandma's really looking forward to seeing you again."

And it's true Grandma (played wonderfully by Kristbjörg Kjeld [IMDb]) is, well, grandma, who _is_ happy as pie to see him, as he is honestly quite happy to see her.  It's dad, Gunner (played again wonderfully, with all his complexity / failings in "good ole boy" fashion by Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson [IMDb] [CEu]) that he'd prefer not to see.

It's not that Gunner's been violent or otherwise inappropriate with him (though he _is_ a drunk).  It's simply that to Ari, Gunner's been basically "a loser," "stuck in the mud" back in the fishing village where he was born, while mom, first dumped him, and now was remarried with this far more exciting guy (did I mention that he was "Danish, from the Continent ...") literally "high flying with him" somewhere "in Africa."

But there Ari is, "stuck" now with dad ... and grandma with her heart of gold who's trying SO HARD to make things work ... and ... then ... Grandma dies.

What now?

What a great (if certainly R-rated, "redneck" / "country folk") story.  And yes, while this would be a mild spoiler alert, Ari finds a way to come to understand, love and forgive his dad.

Honestly, a great story even if the film-makers certainly don't spare "choir boy" Ari (or us, the viewers) some very difficult and certainly morally challenging situations.  Life is not exactly "a Rose Garden."  But it is certainly _not_ boring.

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

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You Can't Save Yourself Alone (orig. Nessuno si salva da solo) [2015]

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

IMDb listing listing*

Corriere de la Sera (M. Porro) review*
La Repubblica (C. De Gregorio) review*

You Can't Save Yourself Alone (orig. Nessuno si salva da solo) [2015] [IMDb] []* (directed by Sergio Castellitto [IMDb] []*, screenplay by Margaret Mazzantini [en.wikip] [it.wikip]*[GR]*[WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] , based her the novel by the same name [GR]*[WCat]*[Amzn]*) is a well acted / well crafted Italian divorce drama that played recently at the 2015 (51st Annual) Chicago International Film Festival.

Delia (played by Jasmine Trinca [IMDb] []*) and Gaetano (played by Riccardo Scamarcio [IMDb] []*) meet in an outdoor Roman bistro.  They're both "dressed to the nines "("bella figura, you know ...;-), 'cept they're not smiling, 'cause this is _not_ a date.  Recently having begun the process of divorcing, they're meeting to arrange how they're going to divide-up time with the kids during the upcoming summer.

Gaetano, clearly the more gregarious and outwardly happier or the two, didn't seem understand what Delia's fuss was about. "Just tell me when you want to send the boys over to me - for two weeks, right? - and we'll make do."  But Delia didn't see things _nearly_ so "simply." She had spent the previous Sunday morning in the sun, when everything all around them was was closed, waiting with their two boys at a prearranged street corner "down the hill" from their apartment for Gaetano to show-up to pick-up the boys, and he never showed.

What happened?  Well, "work" happened - Gaetano was a screenwriter, well paid (perhaps), successful (perhaps), but (apparently for years now) not exactly reliable "at home."  When his director/producer boss from the studio called, even on a Sunday morning, to "bring in everybody" for a "brain storming session" that really could have been done at ANY TIME but HE, "the boss," wanted / "needed" to do it NOW, Gaetano had "to jump" (did I mention that Gaetano was "well paid" ...?)  So after Delia (did I mention that they were divorcing ...?) had to stand there on a random if prearranged street corner FOR TWO HOURS with the sun beating down on them and, inevitably, one the kids having to go to the bathroom (WHERE? EVERYTHING WAS CLOSED ...) waiting for Gaetano to FINALLY "show up" ... Delia wanted to make sure that "the summer was going to go ... well." Sigh.

"%$!S! you know my boss is an A-hole!"  "Yes, I know he's an a-hole.  But I was there standing with your two kids, a street corner for two hours, with one of the kids needing to go to the bathroom.  [And let's face it, this is not the ONLY time when something like this -- okay, always somewhat different, but STILL something similar to this -- happened ...]"

The bulk of the 2/3 of the movie were then flashbacks to help us viewers understand how the two met, fell in love, had a family, mostly a happy one, and then, eventually, came to this point.

Gaetano, unsurprisingly, was always the more gregarious / "happier" one.  In his 20s, he was still "in forma" something of an athlete.  Delia, a child of divorce herself, with a quite attractive / rather gregarious mother (played in the film by Anna Galiena [IMDb] []*) was always quieter, more reserved, and yes, tended to expect things to go more "badly" than many / most of the people around her.   The two met "at a gym," where Delia worked as a carb / calorie counting (sports) nutritionist. 

Opposites do attract.  Gaetano who probably "could have found himself happy with anybody" (which actually of course "becomes a problem ..."), actually found Delia's seriousness / reservedness "refreshing" in comparison to the "happy, happy, happy" ever-smiling ethos of most of the people around him, including HIS ever-smiling, life-long, happily married parents (played by Marina Rocco [IMDb] []* and Massimo Bonetti [IMDb] []*)   And for Delia, Gaetano was actually "kinda a catch" ... an attractive, ever-smiling, screenwriter, who "could have found anybody" but chose her.  What could go wrong?

Well much of course ensues ... It becomes clear that as time when on the "oppositeness" of their approaches to life started to wear thin and both became ever-more entrenched in the rightness of their perspectives.  What's there to hold a commitment together when one becomes increasingly convinced that one doesn't have anything left to learn from an/the Other?

That question, of course, sets one's attention to the title of the film.

The story does take a somewhat mystical turn, when Delia and Gaetano, having finished their dinner (and thankfully NOT having killed each other...) share a few words with an older couple that had been having dinner a few tables down from them.  The older couple had been there celebrating a "big numbed anniversary" (perhaps their 40th).  At the end of their somewhat brief conversation, where the two had already been reminded of a dinner they will never share together, the elderly man asks them: "Pray for me" (He was not well, expecting in the coming days to go to the doctor's, and not expecting particularly "good news.").

And the two were reminded of something else: Not only did they not necessarily have a place for each other in their lives anymore, they NEVER really had a place (NEITHER OF THEM) ... for God.

But ... "life goes on" ... sort of, why? to what end? and for how much longer?

A great, generally smiling, thought provoking film that "gives a punch" at the end :-)   Good job! ;-)

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

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Under Electric Clouds (orig. Под электрическими облаками / Pod elektricheskimi oblakami) [2015]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13) (28/100)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* listing* listing* listing* (Y. Gladilschikov) review* (J. Zabaluev) review* (N. Kornatsky) review* (A. Filippov) review* (S. Ternovskiy) review* (M. Makedonsky) review* (G. Ustiyan) review* (O. Shakina) review* (N. Golman) review*

EEFB (K. Kuzma) review (M. Timofeeva) interview w. director*

Under Electric Clouds (orig. Под электрическими облаками / Pod elektricheskimi oblakami) [2015] [IMDb] []*[]*[]* (written and directed by Aleksey German, Jr [IMDb] []*[]*[]*) is a quite dense film.  It played recently at the 2015 (51st Annual) Chicago International Film Festival.

It's NOT FOR EVERYBODY, but those who'll "get it" will probably enjoy it ... A LOT.   For the film is basically a surreal, near-future sci-fi-ish allegory about contemporary Russia ... approaching twenty-five years after the fall of the Communism.

Further the film itself is already an artifact: A RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN and POLISH co-production, virtually all reviewers have noted that this will probably be "the last" of this kind of artistic collaboration between the three countries "for a while."

Set in 2017, 100 years after the Russian Revolution [en.wikip] [ru.wikip]*, it's winter / it's COLD and the principal "investor" / "visionary" behind the construction of a grand-futuristic skyscraper standing by a thoroughly frozen / wind-swept beach ... has died.  Only a vague skeletal outline of the bottom portion of the quite avant-garde-ish skyscraper appears to have been completed.  Yet it does extend into the low-lying clouds onto which (the clouds) advertisements are sometimes projected (hence the film's title "Under Electric Clouds").

Well, with the principal "investor" / "visionary" behind the project DEAD, what now?  That's indeed, the story, told in seven interlocking segments, each featuring various persons effected (or NOT effected, or simply NOT concerned) by the demise of the project.

The first segment features a poor Kyrgyz laborer named Karim (played by Karim Pakachakov [IMDb] []*) who came to the frozen construction site to help build monstrosity and now stood to lose his job.  We see him spending the night covered by simply a clear plastic tarp, sleeping on the frozen beach... What's HE gonna do?  And does ANYBODY care?

The second segment features "the heirs" to the "investor" / "visionary" who died -- Danya (played by Viktor Bukanov [IMDb] []* and Sasha (played by Viktoriya Korotkova [IMDb] []*) -- who really don't seem to care much about their Father's project.  They just seem to enjoy his "oligarch worthy" wealth.  They have a R2D2 like ELECTRONIC SERVANT - who, fitted with a camera, may actually be spying on them (!) - who does the kind of work that the HUMAN BEING Karim (of the first segment) would have probably loved to have been able to do rather spending his nights sleeping on the frozen beach covered only by that clear plastic tarp...).  Sasha also seems to find it funny that "dad's architect" upon hearing of his death tried to "set himself on fire" but "the matches proved to wet ..."  However, Danya and Sasha seem genuinely surprised to find themselves arrested and interrogated (still nicely ... they still have a lot of money) by the authorities for their father's alleged embezzlement.

In subsequent segments, we do get to meet the architect Petr (played by Louis Frank [IMDb] []*) who is indeed distraught that his building will probably never be completed.  And even if those matches were "wet" that time when he tried to set himself on fire, he does eventually prove "resourceful" in ending his life in despair.

But before he does so, we're also introduced to his friend, a historian Nicolai (played by Merab Ninidze [IMDb] []*) who actually is probably the main character of the story:

Nicolai was actually "a hero" back in 1991 when as a student he stood there (with other students) along with the then "rising star" President of the then R.F.S.S.R. Boris Yeltsin [en.wikip] protecting the Russian "White House" (the Russian Federation's parliament building) when coup plotters seeking to overthrow then Soviet Premier Gorbachev [en.wikip] sent tanks that way.  (A few years later, Yeltsin sent similar tanks to shell the same Russian Parliament building when it was taken-over by another set of coup plotters, bent on over-throwing him).

Anyway, Nicolai was "a hero" back 1991 and eventually finished his PhD in history, only to reduced to being "a tour guide" at a museum threatened to be knocked down to make way for the tower complex of this story.

Interestingly enough, Nicolai's thoughts/feelings about this are quite ambivalent: (1) He resents being reduced to a tour-guide at a museum, period. (2) If the museum gets razed, he stands to lose even the "little job" that he has. (3) He's actually friends (since college days) with Petr the architect of the tower to be built, liking to talk to him "about laptops." (4) The tower would actually "make history" (even if it would cost him, a historian, his job ...).  And (5) THE YOUNG PEOPLE OF 2017 DON'T SEEM TO CARE MUCH ABOUT HISTORY ANYWAY.

We already met two of these "care free" / "frivolous" YOUNG PEOPLE (the adult children of the Oligarch commissioned the building of the tower to begin with).  But there are others including an eminently CHARMING / ever-smiling 20/30-something Greta Gerwig-looking character (played by Anna Ekaterininskaya []*) who leads a bunch of nerdy 20/30-something Russian males in  Tolkien-esque role-playing battles.  And the ever-smiling  "Greta Gerwig" character also spews all sorts of historical nonsense (that no doubt she's "learned on the internet") like (a) people under Stalin were happy, and (b) Hitler wasn't really that bad.  And this makes once serious PhD historian now soon-to-be-possibly-unemployed museum-tour-guide Nicolai cringe, but he appears powerless to do anything about it.

So the world / Russia portrayed is one where actual work, creation, history or even matter does not matter.  Instead everything is fungible, ethereal and _fantasy_ ... like electronic projections of advertisements onto clouds.

Again, this is a rather dense film is NOT necessarily for everybody.  Indeed, EVEN IN RUSSIA the film got only a 28% positive rating from readers on (basically Russia's version of  Even in Russia, there are FAR MORE POPULAR / ACCESSIBLE FILMS than this.  I recently viewed and reviewed several [1] [2] [3] [4].   Nevertheless, for those who get this film, it's certainly a thought provoking one.  Good job!

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

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Orphans of Eldorado (orig. Órfãos do Eldorado) [2015]

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

IMDb listing listing*

AdoroCinema (F. Russo) review* (A. Garrett) review*
Papo de Cinema (E. Fernandes) review*
Take (A.C. Nicholas) review*

Orphans of Eldorado (orig. Órfãos do Eldorado) [2015] [IMDb] [AC]* (directed and cowritten by Guilherme Coelho [IMDb] [AC]* along with Marcelo Gomes [IMDb] [AC]* and Hilton Lacerda [IMDb] [AC]* inspired by the celebrated novel Orphans of Eldorado [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] (orig. Órfãos do Eldorado [GR]*[WCat]* [Amzn]*) by Milton Hatoum [en.wikip] [pt.wikip]*[GR]*[WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] [AC]*) is a quite steamy Brazilian romance / erotic thriller set in the Amazon that played recently at the 2015 (51st Annual) Chicago International Film Festival.

Thirty-something "prodigal son" Arminto Cordovil (played by Daniel de Oliveira [IMDb] [AC]*) returns after many years back to the bustling mid-sized riverside town on the banks of the Amazon where he was born.  His father (played by Henrique da Paz [IMDb] [AC]*) had made his fortune in the ship building business.  But that was pedestrian for Arminto, so he ditched that way of life fifteen years back for a more "bohemian" one, playing guitar at small river-side barzinhos (literally "little bars", I DO LOVE PORTUGUESE DIMINUTIVES ;-) up and down the river.   But, alas, at some point, he started to realize that this was not exactly going anywhere.

So he was returning, not penniless, but also not exactly repentant either.  He appeared to be just "turning a page" in his life, without really knowing (or particularly caring) what that next page was going to look like.

When he returns to his childhood home, a rather (but not super)impressive fenced-in mansion (in Brazil, where there are rich people there are _always_ fences ...) he's greeted at the door by his father's maid, late-ish 40-something, Florita (played by Dira Paes [IMDb] [AC]*).  She had been writing Arminto to come home, as his father, an old man by now, was not doing well.  But it IMMEDIATELY becomes clear that things are, well, "complicated."  Florita, perhaps 8, 10, 12 years older than Arminto, had been the one who gave Arminto his first sexual experiences.  YET, one gets the sense that a good part of the reason why Arminto had packed-up his guitar, in part in anger, in part in disappointment, in part in disgust, was that Florita (at that time in her mid-perhaps late 20s) was / had become his father's lover after his mother died.  (Readers, I told / warned you that this was "a quite steamy erotic thriller / romance" ... ;-).  Indeed, Arminto shakes his head with again part anger / disappointment / disgust when it comes to him: "Ah, so you were writing me because 'the old man' is dying (and you need me now to keep your lifestyle)."

Well, Arminto, heads over to one of those river-side barzinhos to try to sort his head out, and runs-into a younger, 20-ish singer on stage, (played by Mariana Rios [IMDb] [AC]*), who even looks like a younger Florita, and is absolutely enamorado (smitten / enchanted / taken aback) by her.  The next several days become a drunken, sexual haze.

When he does make it home, he declares to a somewhat jealous Florita that he's found someone who (in contrast to her ...) will truly be his own. ... 'cept (and Florita here laughs ;-) ... after a three, four, five day (or simply extended) haze with the singer HE DOES NOT REMEMBER HER NAME ;-).  Again, Florita laughs, and tells him "Don't worry my menino (little one) I'll make inquiries."  A few days later, she informs him that she's found who she was a certain Dinaura, and, again, laughing, tells him that he'll never find her...

This sets up the rest of the story, Arminto, leaves everything (again) and spends the next 8 years, going-up and down the rivers of the Amazon, the Purus, the Negro, the Branco, searching in every dive that he could find this fabulous, fantastic, becoming more legendary, mythic by the drunken day ... Dinaura.  It leads him to a river town somewhere on / off the Purus called "Paraiso" where "all is light and bright" but is inhabited only "by the blind" (when he gets there, he comes to "understand" ... the little river town was inhabited by former rubber workers, who were blinded the rubbery compounds boiling off the latex they collected from the Amazon's rubber trees, as they processed them into transportable rubber bricks).

Does he find the fabulous Dinaura? ... I'm not going to say ;-) ... Go see the movie (I DO HOPE IT COMES BACK IN AT LEAST LIMITED RELEASE IN THE U.S. ;-) or at least read the book [GR] [WCat] [Amzn].

I found the admittedly R-rated story WONDERFUL / FASCINATING in good part because I KNOW SOMETHING OF THE AMAZON.  My religious Order, the Servants of Mary, has operated a Mission out in Acre, Brazil since the 1920s.  I visited it three times [1] [2] [3] [4].  I even helped translate a book "The Amazonia That We Do Not Know" originally by Brazilian author Milton Claro about the people of the Amazon and their stories:

The Dinaura character is inspired by the Legend of Iara, basically a Siren of the Amazon.

Then TOWNS like the PARAISO of the film/story above ACTUALLY EXIST in the Amazon.  Indeed, the Servites first came to Acre to help minister to a Leper Colony already existing there along the banks of the Rio Branco near the Brazilian / Peruvian border.

EVEN the story of the "blinded rubber workers" IS ALSO BASED ON TRUTH.  During World War II, after the Japanese took-over Malaysia and with it 90% of the world's rubber industry, the Brazilian army REALLY DID send thousands upon thousands of poor people from the downstream States of the Amazon (like Pará where this movie was filmed) up to Acre along the Purus and Branco Rivers, TO COLLECT LATEX from the NATURALLY OCCURRING RUBBER TREES OF ACRE.  And the latex from the rubber trees would be cooked to rubberize it and form it into more easily tranportable rubber bricks / balls.

The human rights activist Chico Mendes [en.wikip] [pt.wikip]* of Acre, Brazil WHO THE SERVITES KNEW VERY, VERY WELL (as we were the priests and religious in the area where he lived / organized) sought to organize these rubber tappers (seringueros) and lost his life in defense of them.

So THIS IS A PART OF THE WORLD THAT I DO KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT and can testify to.  The Amazon is one fascinating place.  And one can, in fact, appreciate why the Portuguese, a sea-faring people after all, would also have become so utterly enchanted by it.  Let me put it this way: Even in the U.S., the Louisiana Bayou has been the source of disproportionate amount of American stories and culture.  The Amazon basin is several hundred times larger than the Louisiana Bayou and is, again, chock filled with stories upon stories to tell.


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

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Tag (orig. Riaru onigokko) [2015]

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

IMDb listing
AsianWiki listing (K. Jagernauth) review
The Hollywood Reporter (C. Tsui) review

Tag (orig. Riaru onigokko) [2015] [IMDb] [AW] (screenplay and directed by Sion Sono [IMDb] [AW], based on the novel [GR]*[WCat]*[Amzn]* by Yûsuke Yamada [ja.wikip]* [GR] [Amzn] [IMDb] [AW]) is a Japanese "high school girl" splatter / horror film that played recently at the 2015 (51st Annual) Chicago International Film Festival.

Teenage Matsuko (played by Reina Triendl [IMDb] [AW]) thinks that she's heading with her classmates on a bus trip.  Perhaps just-a-little-bit nerdier than her classmates, she's writing some sort of a poem / haiku her little journal, when one of her classmates, teasing her, knocks it to the floor.  As bends down to reach for it, some sort of a giant invisible samurai with seemingly a giant invisible sword slices off the top third of bus, slicing-in-half every single one of the people on the bus, the bus driver, Matsuko's teachers, classmates, save Matsuko herself.  WT... happened? ;-)  Much ensues ;-)

What ensues, of course, is very strange.  As Matsuko, covered in the blood from her suddenly splattered classmates runs from the bus, she seems to be pursued by said giant monstrous invisible samurai.  But every time the invisible monster appears to reach her, she ducks and he just slices in half whatever bystanders seem to be around, who after a while, one starts to realize are ALWAYS women, usually teenage / otherwise quite young women.  Hmm...

She makes it back to her school after washing the blood off of herself in a creek and borrowing an apparently unsplattered uniform from one of the many teenage school girls who were decapitated or otherwise sliced in half by the invisible monster with his giant invisible samurai sword. 

However, when she comes to the school (of course, an all girls' school), she finds all her classmates there.  Weren't they just slashed in two a few minutes before??  But there they are, AND _they_ wonder why she's disheveled, all wet and so upset.  Again, WT ...?

They all arrive at school.  Since obviously Matsuko "has a story to tell", four of them, including Matsuko's BFF Aki (played by Yuki Sakurai [IMDb] [AW]) and the class "rebel" Jun (played by Maryjun Takahashi [IMDb] [AW]) decide to ditch first period to give Matsuko to tell her tale ... After hearing her story, Aki, as her BFF, is ever supportive but it is Jun who seems to understand: "The world is surreal.  If you want to change it, you have to do something unexpected, and then it will change."

Well when they come back to school after having ditched first period, all seems to go normally, until ... suddenly out of nowhere, the teachers (apparently resentful that the four teens ditched class) pull out gigantic machine guns and start shooting up the students.  Once more, WT ...?

Matsuko and her friends start running ... and they run into town.  There Matsuko runs into someone who she doesn't know _but who recognizes her_ as "Keiko" and the lead is now transferred to her (played by Mariko Shinoda [IMDb] [AW]).  It turns out that "getting married" ... and a whole new chapter in the story begins.

Then ... just as the wedding scenario is about to play-out ... Matsuko, er Keiko finds herself running away again, but now, suddenly she's in a runner's uniform, a number on her chest, in the middle of a race and being cheered by fans as "Isumo."  The lead role now seems transferred to her (played by Erina Mano [IMDb] [AW]).  One begins to understand why the film's name was tranlated to signify the children's game "Tag/"

Throughout it all, however, "Keiko" and "Isumo" flash back to being Matsuko, and Matsuko's friends Aki and Jun seem to be showing up as well.  Again, WHAT'S GOING ON??

Well, there's an explanation, and there's even an explanation of why ALL THREE SCENARIOS appear to be populated ENTIRELY by teenage girls and otherwise rather attractive young women. 

It's all QUITE "sophomoric" BUT _THAT_ appears to be part of "The Point" ...

Anyway, Matsuko appears to figure out a (quite Japanese) way to "Escape" these rather strange and often blood splattering scenarios ... coming to understand, in part, the advice of her "rebel friend" Jun.

Okay, ONE of the reviewers above wondered, no doubt _half jokingly_ WHY director Sion Sono [IMDb] [AW] films (5 this year) "never get submitted to Cannes" ;-) ;-).  Yet, I have to say that as "stupid" (and often, thankfully, PG-13 level SEXIST) as the movie was, it did "hold one's attention," and the _arguably_ the film's sexism was intentional and _intended as a protest_ against such sexism in Japan's pop culture.  I'M POSITIVE that many feminists both in Japan and here WOULD NOT BUY THIS (and I'd agree with the feminists).

But I don't want to condemn the movie completely because I was happy to this rather exuberant and unapologetic example of contemporary Japanese pop-culture.  And one could imagine that with a few obvious "edits" and a plot fix-or-two, a film like this could actually "pass muster" with the feminist community at least one that would want to engage with young people as well (because the "over the top splattering" in the film would probably fascinate young people of both sexes, as of course do zombies in the States).

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

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Song of Songs (orig. Песнь Песней / Pesn pesney) [2015]

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

IMDb listing listing* listing* (E. Luna) review*
Variety (G. Lodge) review

Song of Songs (orig. Песнь Песней / Pesn pesney) [2015] [IMDb] []*[]* (directed and screenplay written by Eva Neymann [IMDb] [uk.wikip]*[ru.wikip]*[]* based on the stories of the Ukrainian-born Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] [FrDatM]) played recently at the 2015 (51st Annual) Chicago International Film Festival after premiering in 2015 film festival in Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic.

It is a lovely work, but it also felt to me like a Central European (Polish / Belorussian / Ukrainian / Russian) "Dances With Wolves [1990]" as the world of the rural Jewish shtetl (village) of that part of the world (and of which Sholem Aleichem wrote about) has been decimated many times over during the past 100 years.  Some of this perhaps would have been inevitable with the more-or-less natural processes of urbanization, industrialization and economically driven emigration.  But this is the region of Czarist and post-WW I pogroms, Soviet (Stalin)-Era forced collectivization, finally where the Nazi Einsatzgruppen death squads rampaged during the first phase of the Holocaust before it was "industrialized" at the Extermination Camps like Auschwitz, Treblinka and Belzec and Sobibor.

For me, the saddest manifestation of this both human and cultural decimation in the film was that this film's spoken language was almost entirely Russian/Ukrainian whereas the language of most of the Jewish residents of the time (and certainly in Sholem Aleichem's stories) would have Yiddish, hence my characterization of the film as a Ukrainian/Russian "Dances With Wolves" which was an American film which _also_ treated the Cheyenne and Sioux Indians of the Great Plains with a lyricism that betrayed the reality that most of them, to say nothing of their way of life, have been wiped out as well).

THIS ALL SAID, this is A LOVELY FILM and perhaps even more poignantly than the American (English language...) musical Fiddler on the Roof [1971] (ALSO based on Sholem Aleichem's stories) it offers Viewers a sense of THE ENORMITY OF THE CRIME that the DECIMATION of Jewish life (both rural and urban) in Central and Eastern Europe was and THE ENORMOUS CULTURAL IMPOVERISHMENT that resulted.  Yes, at the turn of the 20th, MUCH of Central-Eastern Europe was "still Medieval," but it was ALSO STILL BURGEONING with an ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF LIFE.  ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE (and PEOPLES...) LIVED SIDE BY SIDE (and LEARNED FROM EACH OTHER, ATE EACH OTHERS FOODS, SANG EACH OTHERS SONGS, TOLD EACH OTHERS STORIES, DANCED EACH OTHERS DANCES ...).  By century's end, the same region was largely "sorted out" into "rationalized" ethnically-based mini-states with each ethnically based mini-state's ethnic minorities having been largely expelled or worse ... murdered.  This does (perhaps...) make for "simpler map-making" but the whole region has suffered enormously as a result. And which nations have become the world's superpowers?  The multi-ethnic states like the United States, the (still) Russian Federation and China (with India not far behind).  And after a century of "setting down borders" what's Europe doing now?  Seeking to erase them and become _once more_ a multi-ethnic melting pot.  Go figure ...

To the film ... set in the rural shtetl world of Sholem Aleichem's stories it basically follows the trajectory of the Bible's Song of Songs.  There's "a bride and a groom", here "a prince and a princess" Šimek and Buzya (played by Yevheniy Kogan [IMDb] and Milena Tsibulskaya [IMDb] as children and by Arsenity Semenov [IMDb] and Arina Postolova [IMDb]).  Of course, neither Šimek and Buzya are "royalty."  Instead, they grow up as neighbors in a tiny Central European, probably Ukrainian, shtetl (village)But the Bible's Song of Songs was not intended for merely royalty (and was certainly appropriated) by all since.  And there is a verdant beauty to the Central European country-side that suits the Song of Songs well, and the flirtations between children growing-up as neighbors with the ebb-and-flow of different stages of life suits this Book of Scripture well as well.

All in all, this is a lovely poetic work, like both Aleichem's stories and the Song of Songs.  Yet, underlying it is a profound sadness asking, even crying: How could a world that WAS _so beautiful_ have died SO AWFULLY / TRAGICALLY in the century past?  We know how, and we (or at least most of us) should be ashamed (asking forgiveness...).  Excellent film.

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

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Time Suspended (orig. Tiempo Suspendido) [2015]

MPAA (UR w.b. PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* listing* (J. Tapia Sierra) review* (I. Martínez) review*

About Laura Bonaparte () obituary* (S. Calloni) obituary*
Time Suspended (orig. Tiempo Suspendido) [2015] [IMDb] []*(written and directed by Natalia Bruschtein [IMDb] []*) is a poignant and powerful documentary that played recently at the 51st (2015) Chicago International Film Festival about the director's grandmother, Laura Bonaparte [1]*[2]* one of the founders of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo [en.wikip] [es.wikip]* movement in Argentina on behalf of Los Desaparecidos (The Disappeared) [en.wikip] [es.wikip]* during the period of Argentina's "Dirty War" [en.wikip] [es.wikip]*

Laura Bonaparte, an Argentine psychoanalyst and activist, lost three of her four of her children, a well as a son-in-law, daughter-in-law and her ex-husband during the "Dirty War," ALL "Disappeared," each suffering widely-different yet always-fatal ends:

Her oldest Nani, an activist in the Provinces at the beginning of the Dirty War (still under the nominal Presidency of Isabel Peron, before the ascent of the outright military dictatorship) was buried in a mass unmarked grave in an Argentine cemetery.  After filing suit against President Peron, Laura was initially given her daughter's severed hands in a bag, and when she refused to accept them in lieu of _the rest of her daughter's body_, she was finally simply given _the rough coordinates_ of the _general area_ in the mass grave at the edge of a (Buenos Aires?) cemetery where she was _probably buried_.  No exhumation was done because presumably there were dozens to hundreds of other bodies buried there as well.

Later when Laura was already in exile in Mexico, her ex-husband was taken one early morning by the military out his apartment, shot and then set on fire along with others in an alley behind the building.  In an earlier recorded interview presented in the current documentary, Laura related that "since it was cold and there was snow on the ground, _a side of his face_ was preserved from the flames."

Finally, her son Victor along with his wife were dragged-out of their apartment, again by the authorities, their two children, one three y.o., the other one y.o., WERE LEFT SIMPLY AT THE APARTMENT BUILDING'S "FRONT DESK" WITH A NOTE GIVING THE PORTER INSTRUCTIONS OF HOW TO "REACH THE IN-LAWS" -- Laura being already in exile and Laura's ex-husband already being dead.  (Miraculously, the two little ones, Laura's grandchildren, were taken by kind souls to said in-laws and survived these horrors.  Indeed, miraculously ALL OF LAURA'S GRANDCHILDREN, including the director of this film, survived all these horrors and live to this day).  Victor on the other hand, was one of those who (it was learned only in the 1990s after the fall of the military dictatorship) were simply dropped from a plane POSSIBLY STILL ALIVE over the ocean to drown (after they were deemed no longer of use to the military interrogators ...).

Okay, Dr. Laura Bonaparte's life was marked by almost unspeakable horror.  And after the fall of the military dictatorship she had spent much of the rest of her life giving interviews, working on behalf of memorial projects across Argentina and Mexico so that these horrors would never be forgotten.

... 'Cept in her later years, and this is when the director, Natalia Bruschtein [IMDb] []*, her grand daughter, decided to pick-up the camera and make this final documentary, Laura Bonaparte came down with Alzheimers disease ... 

Yet despite ALL THE HORRORS and TRAJEDIES that I list above, this is a LOVELY, PLAIN-SPOKEN and ULTIMATELY UNBELIEVABLY POIGNANT FILM that will surely make you cry...

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

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Javier Tapia Sierra

A Light Beneath Their Feet [2015]

MPAA (PG)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars) 

IMDb listing

A Light Beneath Their Feet [2015] (directed by Valerie Weiss, written by Moira McMahon) is an excellent Hollywood quality, locally set, indie "coming of age" drama about a high school senior, Beth (played magnificently by Madison Davenport), growing-up in Evanston, IL, trying to navigate her way between her college dreams (of going away to UCLA in California) and taking care of her mother Gloria (played again magnificently / convincingly by Taryn Manning) suffering from bipolar disorder.  Dad (again played quite well / convincingly by Brian King), divorced from Gloria, was remarried and expecting a new child with his new wife Julie (played by Kali Hawk). The film played recently at the 2015 (51st Annual) Chicago International Film Festival.

To be honest, I don't particularly like the "central conflict" (impossibly far UCLA vs mom) in the film or the film's portrayal of the families in the story (all "nuclear" at best).   If there were no grandparents, no uncles or aunts to say nothing of siblings "in the picture," then Beth's departure at the end of the film for UCLA (left thankfully somewhat ambiguous, though it's more-or-less clear where the film-makers seemed to want her to go) would _definitely_ consign mom "to a home" (if at her age, late 40s, one would even exist).  It's hard to imagine an alternative.

THAT SAID, this is a film DEFINITELY WORTH WATCHING.  And since the director, Valerie Weiss, was present for Q/A after the screening, I asked, honestly, if they, the film makers, considered at all making a sequel as the setup of the dilemma was excellent, it's successful playing-out would be the challenge.  To this Ms Weiss answered that they have been looking into pitching the idea of following up the film WITH A TELEVISION SERIES.

I think that would be _great_, because in my line of work as a Catholic priest, I KNOW that there'd be MILLIONS of people / families that could benefit from watching a family struggle with this dilemma of caring for a family member who is truly _borderline_ ... someone who is _almost_ able to take care of him/herself (but _definitely_ not quite), or is able to take care of him/herself _in some things_ but NOT in others.  I would also suggest looking at some of the "telenovelas" of the Spanish channels, because this kind of television series would seem to me to be "more familiar territory" to them.  

In any case, I think that the topic of this film is excellent, and I hope that much more is done with it in the future as MANY, MANY PEOPLE / FAMILIES could benefit.

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