Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hotel Transylvania 2 [2015]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (R. Bentley) review
RogerEbert.com (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (J. Hessenger) review


Hotel Transylvania 2 [2015] (directed by Genndy Tartakovsky screenplay by Adam Sandler along with Robert Smigel) continues this "animated Twilight [1] [2]-like story for kids," focused on the father / daughter relationship, Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) and his daughter Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez), both vampires, after Mavis falls in love with and marries a "California backpacking / skate-boarding dude" human named Jonathan (voiced by Andy Samberg). 

In the first film, blissfully (if also somewhat mindlessly) "trekking through Transylvania," Jonathan had by sheer accident stumbled-over to Dracula's carefully hidden "WAY, WAY off the beaten path" Hotel Transylvania.  Dracula had opened said hotel "for monsters (ONLY!)" so that monsters could have a place to rest / vacation in peace away from humans who he could only assume continued to hate them.  (In the first movie, we find out that Dracula's wife / Mavis' mother had been murdered by torch-carrying villagers ... Frankenstein (voiced in the story by Kevin James) had to similarly flee in front of torch-carrying villagers.  Other monsters, including werewolves, mummies, etc didn't fare much better).

'Cept here was smiling from ear-to-ear, happy go-lucky (and perhaps not particularly bright) Jonathan, who just found Dracula's CASTLE (err ... Hotel) and then Dracula's DAUGHTER (!) "way cool!"   What to do about a human who HONESTLY doesn't hate [you] anymore?  (Maybe it's just because he's just DUMB, but MAYBE it's also because he honestly finds NO REASON to hate anybody anymore, someone who just enjoys life / "his mellow" ;-). 

So at the end of the first film, despite past fears / prejudices against humans, Dracula consents to allow his beloved (and ONLY) daughter Mavis marry this rather odd, new kind of human.

... At the beginning of this, the second installment of the story, Mavis gives birth to her / Jonathan's first son, Dennis (voiced by Asher Blinkoff).  But now, is he "a Monster" or "a human"?  He's got rather pale skin (good sign, from Drac's POV) but he also curly-red hair.  So he doesn't look much of a Monster.  But Dracula, kinda hopes "Maybe he's just a 'late fanger'"

To be fair, Jonathan's parents Linda and Mike (voiced by Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman) while trying really hard to be "open minded" / "supportive" and hence would not be too too upset if their grandson turned-out to be "a monster" make it (repeatedly) clear that they "wouldn't mind" if little Dennis turned out to be "normal" ;-) ;-) as well ;-). 

Sooo then, what is little Dennis (or as Dracula calls him, "little Denisevic" ;-) going to be?  A monster like "Papa Drac" or 'normal' like his Santa Claus, er Santa Cruz ;-), residing human relatives ;-).

And mind you, it's NOT just "Dracula" against this horde of "kinder gentler, more enlightened / more supportive human relatives from California" ;-) ... Drac has his own problems ... notably his own OLD SCHOOL vampire Dad named Vlad (voice by Mel Brooks, the BEST (!), MOST INSPIRED CASTING CHOICE IN A LONG LONG TIME ;-) who'd just assume DRAIN / EAT Jonathan's parents / relatives rather than _even try_ to "get to know them" ;-). 

It all makes for ONE FUNNY, "COMPLEX" BLENDED FAMILY MOVIE ;-)

Brilliant Adam, simply brilliant.  And soooo, soooo much better than the summer's Pixels [2015] ;-).   Good job!



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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Everest [2015]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McCarthy) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (K. Rife) review


Everest [2015] (directed by Baltasar Kormákur screenplay by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy) plays like a classic Hollywood blockbuster "now in 3D" (could it be any other way today?) Disaster [TM] film.  'Cept, UNLIKE most other such "disaster films," this one recalls _actual events_ that of the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster whose circumstances leading-up to the tragedy, and then of the tragedy itself, really did play-out like a Hollywood disaster film. 

I remember the story, reading about it with honestly some jaw-dropped horror in the Int'l Herald Tribune (then jointly owned by the NYT / Wash Post) in my last year at the Seminary in Rome (My religious order, the Servites, run the Marianum in Rome).  Two NYT articles from the time, one originally from the AP, reporting on the disaster can be found here [1] [2].

Basically, what was happening and then had happened was that (1) climbing Mount Everest was becoming for the first time a(n admittedly still "extreme") tourism business, and (2) as many as thirty such "adventure tourists," led by some still very professional mountaineering guides from several professional outfitting firms based in New Zealand (Adventure Consultants), the United States (Mountain Madness) and elsewhere, found themselves caught in a sudden storm still high-up on the slopes/ridges of Mount Everest in the late afternoon as they were _coming down_ (after having reached the summit) to their forward-most camp. 

The storm hit the climbers (of varying experience / capability) at exactly their most vulnerable time.  Most were exhilarated (from having reached "the top of the world") but were already tired from the climb / weakened by the conditions and _some_ were already experiencing the disorienting effects of high altitude (snow blindness and the scarcity of oxygen).  In better circumstances, they would have just slogged it down _more or less safely_ as best / as carefully as they could.  But now they were dealing with a storm -- high winds, driving snow/ice and terrible visibility -- and with companions who were not necessarily in the best of shape and who didn't necessarily know what they were doing. 

The tragic result ... _became_ predictable (in hindsight / after-the-fact) and really did fit into a classic scenario of a Hollywood disaster movie: well-meaning professionals being lulled by "previous successes" into a sense of complacency finding themselves dealing with (and responsible for), again, basically good if naive "tourists" and certainly _amateurs_ who proved to be _way outside their element_ in the face of the storm.

This film is available in various formats -- 2D, 3D, IMax.  I saw it in 2D (the cheapest format), but I would say that probably the 3D / IMax versions would have been spectacular (and well worth the extra money if you have it). 

The performances in the film were also quite good -- Jason Clarke (as Rob Hall [wikip] [IMDb]) who led the New Zealand based (Adventure Consultants) group; Keira Knightly (as Jan Arnold [IMDb], Rob Hall's then pregnant wife back in New Zealand); Jake Gyllenhaal (as Scott Fischer [wikip] [IMDb] who led the U.S./Seattle-based (Mountain Madness) group); Josh Brolin (as Texas family man / medical doctor and yet also "adventure tourist" Beck Weathers [wikip] [IMDb]); John Hawkes (as Doug Hansen [IMDb] a three time Mount Everest "loser" (never quite made it to the summit) who Rob Hall of Adventure Consultants did feel sorry for, in civilian life he was a small-town mailman / school teacher from the U.S.) and Naoko Mori (as Yasoko Namba [wikip] [IMDb], a middle-aged Japanese woman who had already climbed six of the seven summits on the seven continents of the world, Everest being the one that was "still missing" for her of the fabled seven). 

Among these people are certainly some wonderful / poignant stories which (without revealing here who lives / dies) turn-out to be almost crushingly sad.

So this is a film that deserved to be made and then to be made in "Hollywood Blockbuster" almost Titanic [1997] fashion.  For it has the mix of sincerity / naivete, arrogance / folly out of which most compelling and shatteringly sad tragedies are made. 

So very good job folks, very, very good job.  But "bring a hankie" or two ...


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Friday, September 25, 2015

The Intern [2015]

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

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


The Intern [2015] (written and directed by Nancy Meyers) was a GENERALLY very nice -- parents see the end of my otherwise glowing review -- dramedy about 70 year-old, widowed for several years retiree, Ben (played wonderfully throughout by Robert DeNiro in probably his BEST (!) performance in 10 years), who after several years of said widow(er)hood / retirement, decided that he's not yet ready to throw himself on the funeral pyre and/or "just die."

Walking back from a morning of Tai Chi in a park in his native Brooklyn, he comes across a flier posted on a kiosk by a local (fashion) e-commerce startup company called "About the Fit" looking for "Senior Interns."  Interestingly, the flier asks that applicants be seniors (65 and older) but also asks them to submit, electronically, a video clip of themselves talking of their experience / job expectations.  It's an interesting request which seeks to utilize the wisdom of seniors while asking them to be also interested / capable of presenting themselves in a savvy manner in the present.

Ben, like MANY other Seniors (with experiences of following their grandkids on Facebook, et al ;-), acknowledges a little help from said grand-kids, but puts together a pretty good, indeed dead-on, video of himself to submit for the job ... and he gets it.

Now, of course, if his character couldn't do this, there'd be no movie.  But writer/director Meyers, reminds us that we shouldn't be surprised that Ben, a 70 year old retiree, but who had spent 30+ of his 40+ years of working in middle management would probably find the skills to pull this off, which, of course, Ben does.

So then Ben lands the senior intern job and for the first time in years has someplace to (regularly) go to.  But would he be accepted at the job?  This then is the rest of the movie. 

Now the film is NOT harsh, indeed, it is WONDERFULLY KIND.  But still there is that question:

Can a 70 year old, that yes, knows how to know, reasonably well, how to get around a laptop function effectively indeed CREATIVELY in the world of 20-30 something run e-commerce startups?  And his boss Jules (played again wonderfully by Anne Hathaway), said fashion e-commerce startup complany creator isn't particularly convinced, certainly not at the start of this "Senior intern experiment" foisted on her by one of her also late-20 / early-30-something partners.   (Note of course, that earlier in her career Hathaway herself famously played an intern (to Merryl Streep's) in another fashion oriented film called The Devil Wears Prada [2006] ;-).

In the current film, it's clear that "business is booming."  At one point Jules shares to Ben / Viewers that her company had started a few years before with "a group of 12" and now had over 200 employees.  But it was almost booming too much.  "Back in the day" (only said 2 years past...), Jules could be totally engaged / involved in everything from shipping to web design to customer service.  Now with 200+ employees that was untenable.  What to do?  How to get help, quickly, at low cost?  Well that was part of the reason why Jules' partner suggested getting a couple of "senior interns" (who had a lot of experience) and why he also suggested looking into finding even a C.E.O. (not her) to manage the implementation of the decisions of the company (the partners).

But could she let go?  It was "ALL SOOO EASY when things were still small."  Add to the mix the reality that Jules, as a young, vibrant, late-20 / early 30-something, was married, her husband, not at the firm, being Matt (played by Anders Holm) and together they had a cute as a button 5-6 year old Paige (played by Jojo Kushner).

So this was Jules' WONDERFUL but "bursting at the seams" world ... And yet, how does one manage all this, without eventually "crashing and burning(out)."

Enter, of course, wonderfully, 70-year old intern Ben, who can't possibly move anymore as fast as Jules, but has the experience to appreciate what she's achieved and make sense of it (for her) so that it can be sustained.

THIS IS A GREAT MOVIE about the Value of Wisdom.  And who knows, if the film's marketing folks are smart enough, they'll have it available for streaming / DVD purchase come Christmas time for the film's fans' parents and grandparents.

So generally good / great job over all.

HOWEVER, I do have to note to PARENTS OF YOUNG KIDS AND TEENS that I do agree with the CNS / USCCB's reviewer John Mulderig that a couple of the scenes involving the company's late-40-something / early-50 something masseuse Fiona (played by Rene Russo) are needlessly / even stupidly "over-the-top" and take the film that would have been A LOVELY PG movie for the whole family into ARGUABLY R-rated territory.  This is unfortunate and forces me to give the film 3-stars rather than the 4-stars or even 4+ that it would have otherwise deserved.

Still this is a lovely film that 20-somethings and above should be able to appreciate and view with their parents / grandparents.


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Monday, September 21, 2015

Meet the Patels [2015]

MPAA (PG)  ChiTrib/Variety (3 Stars)  RE.com (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing

ChiTribune/Variety (A. Barker) review
RogerEbert.com (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (T. Robinson) review


Meet the Patels [2015] (codirected and cowritten by Geeta Patel and her bother Ravi Patel, with additional writing credits given to Matthew Homachek and Billy McMillian) is a _kind-hearted_ and well-crafted comedic documentary about late-20 something American born-and-raised Ravi Patel's quite sincere attempt to please his kind (but increasing, ahem, "concerned" ;-) Indian immigrant parents and "just find a nice Indian girl" (and preferably _another_ Patel ;-) to marry. 

Wait a minute, "another Patel?"  Wouldn't that be a bit strange?  No not really.  Ravi explains that "Patel" is like "Smith", and there's an entire state in India -- Gujarat -- where pretty much _everyone's_ last name is Patel.  And further, to avoid too much consanguinity, there are "rules":  If you're a Patel whose family descends from "this or that" part of Gujarat, you look for / marry someone from another part of Gujarat ("across the river," say ...). 

THIS MAKES SURPRISING SENSE TO ME.  My dad's family (actually, more specifically, my paternal grandmother's family) originates from a small village in south-central Bohemia.  Now thanks to Hitler's Nazi-era race policies, during Nazi occupation, all Czechs (and really everyone "in the Reich" or under occupation, the Nazis preferring to call their occupation of the Czechlands a "Protectorate" ... but "I digress" ;-) had to document their ancestry back five generations.  Well, among what we discovered, (IMHO quite amusingly ;-) was that NEVER did any of my ancestors "marry from the same village."  It was always that one married someone from "across the hill" in the next village or even two-or-three villages down.   So even if one's general horizons were limited back then to perhaps a 20 mile radius from where one was born (remember, one's talking about "regular village folk" in the 1800s or even late 1700s), the gene pool remained quite mixed. 

So that's what the (arguably) _nation_ of Patels basically do in the Bohemia-sized Indian state of Gujarat ;-)

Now, of course, there are specific cultural particularities at work as well.  The Patel "family" is large enough in number to be a small nation, and yet it is definitely _more familial_ than simply a nation.  To illustrate the point, Ravi shares with viewers the story about how when he was young, his (immedtiate) family (mom, dad, sister Geeta and he) were driving on a vacation in the United States, and at the end of the day they stopped at an Indian, PATEL-run motel somewhere in (say) "Tennessee." 

Well since the Ravi's family were Patels and the motel was run by OTHER PATELS, their one night stay included being invited over the the motel-running Patels' living quarters, sharing, indeed cooking a meal together and spending the rest of the evening exchanging stories in a manner that one would share with well, "one's cousins."  FOR EVEN THOUGH THEY HAD NEVER MET EACH OTHER BEFORE (or quite possibly since) THEY WERE FAMILY FOR AT LEAST THAT ONE NIGHT.  And to the outsider it would have seemed that the very purpose of Ravi's family's travel through Tennessee was precisely to visit that other Patel family (who they had not met before the trip) at whose model they stayed.  The story describes a remarkably closeness that certainly stretches the bounds of most Westerners' conceptions of even extended family!

And so this is then the kind of _nice_ familial "magic" that American born-and-raised, but Indian indeed Patel-descended Ravi had difficulty letting-go of. 

To many Americans, the quaintness of "ways of the past" may be difficult to fathom.  But if one's born into it, experienced it, and one does appreciate some of the beauty of it, it is hard to let go of, and _certainly_ one does not want to let go of it all.

So this then is the story of Ravi, again American-born-and-raised, trying _really hard_ not to disappoint his parents, while at the same time recognizing that he's not living (for the most part) in India anymore (though the family does go to visit) or, for that matter, in more "traditional times."  How does one negotiate the current with the past, respecting and indeed _loving_ both?

Great film!


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Friday, September 18, 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials [2015]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (T. Robinson) review


Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials [2015]  (directed by Wes Ball screenplay by T.S. Nowlin based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by James Dashner [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is the second cinematic installment of the dystopian teen-oriented Maze Runner [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] series, the first cinematic installment The Maze Runner [2014] having been released last year.

As one would assume, this second installment takes-up the story from where first one left-off. However, if one was hoping for clarification, despite a number of fairly significant reveals during the course of the second installment, one will still leave with many questions awaiting answer (maybe ;-) in the third.   This MAY initially seem frustrating to many viewers.  However, remember Viewers / Readers that the central metaphor in this story is A MAZE.

So even though main characters of the story Thomas, Teresa, Minho, Frypan, Winston, Newt (played by Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Ki Hong Lee, Dexter Dardan, Alexander Flores and Thomas Brodie-Sangster respectively) emerge at the end of the first installment from the STRANGE, LARGE / DANGEROUS, physical MAZE that they found themselves in at the story's beginning, it really _shouldn't_ surprise ANYONE that a great deal of _monumental_ uncertainty, confusion and intrigue would await them in the new "world" outside of said MAZE that they found themselves (re)entering.  AFTER ALL, it was THAT "outside world" (or at least its elders, leaders, "powers that be") THAT PUT THOSE TEENS INTO "THE MAZE" TO BEGIN WITH.

So much of the second installment is about getting a sense of the world, indeed, GETTING A SENSE OF THE STATE OF THE WORLD that would have put these teens into that strange awful Maze to begin with.  And it should not be surprising that the STATE OF THE WORLD, OUTSIDE, WAS ... PRETTY MESSED-UP: the outside world presented in this installment is pretty post-Apocalyptic, on the dystopic continuum between that of the Divergent [2014] [2015] series and that of Mad Max [1979, 1981, 1985, 2015], definitely closer to Mad Max.

What happened?  Well (trying really, really hard here to avoid Spoilers) something awful enough that would require children/teens to "play a role" in its resolution, something awful enough to presumably justify (to some) putting (some?) kids/teens into that strange awful Maze of the first installment.  Why?

Well ... watch the movie(s) or go read the books ;-)

As convoluted as the story may come to seem to many viewers by the end of this second installment, it actually would reflect quite well the confused / convoluted / desperate nature of a society that would resort to treating (some of?) its kids in the way that it did in this story.

If nothing else this remains a quite intriguing and (I think this is key) a QUITE ALLEGORICAL tale ;-).  I will certainly look forward to the next installment.


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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Black Mass [2015]

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (L)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars)  RE.com (3 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (0 Stars)

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


Black Mass [2015] (directed by Scott Cooper screenplay by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth based on the book Black Mass: The True Story of the Unholy Alliance between the FBI and the Irish Mob [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Dick Lehr [GR] [Amzn] [IMDb] and Gerald O'Neill [GR] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is another "mob film."  From perhaps a historical point of view, it'd be an interesting one to see.

But IMHO it has a needlessly provocative title and like other "mob films" it can not but glorify the mob or otherwise organized crime.  And I just don't believe that the mob / criminality needs any more glamorizing publicity.  These films make people start to think that "organized crime," while perhaps conceding that it is Evil [TM], is also somehow "quite normal."

We don't need people -- young, middle aged, or old -- to be seduced into believing that acting like "Little Sopranos" is normal, let alone the way things should be.

Zero stars.


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Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Visit [2015]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J.D. McCarthy) review
ChicagoTribune (C. Darling) review
RogerEbert.com (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  

The Visit [2015] (written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan) feels honestly like a modern Grimm Fairy Tale [wikip] (Little Red Riding Hood [wikip] and Hansel and Gretel [wikip] definitely come to mind) with all its original creepiness that subsequent storytellers, including Disney, et al often sanitized.

As such, while there are DEFINITELY aspects of this film that I don't like -- I think it goes out of its way to present "old people" as "scary people" / "people to avoid" (hence flies in the face of everything I've tried to do in this blog (promote understanding between people rather than provide (often cheap) excuses for people to fear / hate each other) -- if one is honest, the Grimm Fairy Tales [wikip] often portrayed "grown-ups" and "recluses" as dangerous / murderous wierdos.  So ... I have to grudgingly admit that this film captured quite well the feel of some of the creepier Grimm Tales [wikip] while putting the story in a contemporary setting:

So ... as is the case in many of the Grimm Fairy Tales [wikip], 15 year old Becca (played by Olivia DeJonge) and her 13 year old brother Tyler (played by Ed Oxenbould) find themselves growing-up in a very dysfunctional situation.

Their mother (played by Kathryn Hahn) had left home at 19, having fallen in love with one of her former high school teachers, never talking to her parents again.  Initially, mom had been angry at her parents for opposing her involvement with her former high school teacher (They warned her that a guy like him was not going to stick around).  Later she was embarrassed because they proved to be right (the guy abandoned her and Becca / Tyler some years afterward when "someone 'better' / 'hotter' came along").

The result was that Becca and Tyler were growing-up without a father, and without ever knowing their grandparents (and presumably any of their other relatives).

At some point, Becca's / Tyler's grandparents made contact with them (finding their grandchildren on the internet) and Becca convinces her mother, who by then had a new boyfriend to go spend quality time with him (on a cruise) and allow her and her brother to visit the grandparents that they never knew for a week in the meantime.

With all the optimism of a 15-year old coming from a dysfunctional family full of secrets, Becca's convinced that she can "figure out what was wrong" and and "make things right" between her mother and her grandparents.  And to do so she, a budding (15 year old) "film maker," was going to "document" everything that happened on her / Tyler's trip to their grandparents.

Sigh ... when Becca / Tyler meet their grandparents who they initially wish to call endearingly Nana (played by Deanna Dunigan) and Pop Pop (played by Peter McRobbie), they turn out to be decidedly strange.  Initially, they believe that they seem that way simply because they are "old" and hence at least at some level "ill." However, as the week progresses, Nana and Pop Pop seem to get stranger and stranger, and more and more dangerous.  What's going on?

It all becomes a pretty creepy story.  I think it does play on people's fears of "old people" ... but it does follow quite remarkably well the story arc of an old time Grimm Fairy Tales [wikip].  Hence, while I _don't_ necessarily like the story, I have to accept that it's pretty clever at what it attempts to do.  So grudgingly ... good job. ;-)


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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Meru [2015]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoSunTimes (3 1/2 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoSunTimes (R. Roeper) review
RogerEbert.com (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review  

Meru [2015] (directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) is a spectacularly shot documentary about a team of three experienced climbers -- Conrad Anker [IMDb], Jimmy Chin [IMDb] and Renan Ozturk [IMDb] -- seeking to become the first team to climb Meru Peak (elev. 21, 810 ft / 6,660 m) in the Himalayas by way of a fabled 1200 ft / 400 m rock-wall "shark fin" at the top.  Previous climbers of the "shark fin" had either given-up completely or ended up taking a simpler path up the peak away from this enormous, legendary (and extremely high altitude) rock wall.

It's an exhilarating film that had me shaking my head repeatedly especially during the first half of the film which documented the three's first attempt to scale the "shark fin" back in 2008.  Were these people "just INSANE" ?? ;-) -- They spent THREE DAYS in a snowstorm in pup-tents nailed VERTICALLY (like BATS...) to said rock wall waiting the storm out.  Then just as their provisions were at a critical level, the storm passed ... what now?  Do they continue up or do they go down (as they would have if the storm had lasted only a day longer)?

Their second attempt in 2011 had its own challenges.  After spending the first hour of the film, explaining to viewers how important it was to for the members of a mountain climbing team to have absolute trust in each other in the months leading up to this second climb both Chin and Ozturk suffered significant injuries from other climbs / skiing expeditions, Ozturk having suffered signficant head and neck injuries from a fall.  Yet, the three decided to "go for it again" together.

The discernment / decision-making process chronicled was remarkable and portrayed very, very poignantly: Yes, all three were professionals, all three were veterans of other very, very difficult climbs (and precisely because they were sober, no-nonsense professionals they WERE STILL ALIVE TO TALK ABOUT THEM).  But professionalism aside, they were ALSO HUMAN / "HAD A HEART" and so were LOYAL (!) to each other.  In the end, the heart won out over the head, and loyalty trumped actuarial tables / cold reason.

Did they succeed?  Go see the movie ;-)

A great, great, spectacularly shot, heart thumping film, chronicling a story that also REALLY HAPPENED! ;-)

Wow, if this film does not get nominations for Best Documentary and even Best Cinematography at the Oscars this year, I'll be disappointed ;-)


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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Gift [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (3 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review


The Gift [2015] (written and directed by Joel Edgerton) is a psychological thriller whose catch phrase could be the saying: "You may be done with the past, but the past may not be done with you..."

A late 30s / early 40-something couple, Simon and Robyn (played by Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall), return back to Southern California (where Simon had grown up) after some 20 years.  After a miscarriage and some other stressors (some becoming clear, others not particularly so) back in Chicago where the couple had previously lived, using some past connections, Simon, an "Type-A" personality sort of a guy, landed himself a very good job with a Los Angeles based computer security firm, where his quite impressed buddy / boss Kevin 'KK' Keelor (played by Tim Griffen) was promising him rapid advancement.  Mission accomplished / (not entirely clear) problem solved.  Or ... was it?

In the first scene of the film as recently returned to L.A. Simon and Robyn are shopping for housewares, they run into Gordo (played by Joel Edgerton), Simon's age, indeed, as we find out, Simon's former high school classmate.

The encounter is decidedly one-sided.   Simon does not appear to even see Gordo much less recognize him initially.  It's Gordo, who immediately strikes one as 'a bit off' in a 'beaten down by life' sort of way who recognizes Simon and comes up to him: "Hi Simon!  Don't ... you recognize me?  Gordo, from High School.  Can't believe you don't recognize me.  What you doing back in Southern California after ALL THESE YEARS?"

Simon tries to be calmly dismissive and end the encounter quickly, but ... Robyn comes by and Simon still (pretending to be?) unsure of who exactly Gordo is, has to take Gordo for his word and introduce him to Robyn as 'someone' from his old high school.  Gordo tries to get the two's phone number which Simon tries to play-to-an-out (NOT give it to him ...).  So Gordo gives his to them.  "Hey, we gotta get together ..." "Yea, sure, yea..."  Simon is _really happy_ that eventually Gordo leaves them to do whatever they were going, yes, shopping ... and that was that ...

... 'Cept, Gordo shows up at their house a few days later.  "Hey, Simon NICE HOUSE!" WTF, how'd he find it?  Unclear. "Thanks."

Gordo's bearing _a gift_.  A bottle of wine or whatever.  "Thanks!  You shouldn't have (you really shouldn't have...)."  Robyn who kinda likes Gordo's 'puppy dog'-like behavior asks him to "come on in."  Simon's signaling NO! NO! NO! ... But it's too late ... Sooo.... 'sad eyed' Gordo's soon sitting at the kitchen table and some pleasant if quite unwanted (certainly from Simon's perspective) conversation follows.

Who is this Gordo?  Why is he there?  Why does he come by?  Each time he comes by, he comes bearing a gift.  He seems like 'a nice guy' he's clearly-'off'.  And it's ALSO absolutely clear that Simon really doesn't like him.  Why? 

Any number of scenarios come to mind as one tries to guess how the story will proceed.  To it's credit, the story spun here does keep one guessing.  Who is this Gordo?  Why is he so (if vaguely) 'messed up'?  Who is Simon?  Why does he hate the guy so much?  Who indeed is Robyn?  Why did they have to leave Chicago?  And if there were 'problems' why exactly did they 'stay together' (but also _move_ to L.A.)?

All in all, the film becomes an exploration of the phrase: "You may be done with the past, but the past may not be done with you."  It becomes clear that all three seem to be fighting demons from the past.  But what demons and why?

Altogether, it's not a badly spun tale ;-)


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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Walk in the Woods [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (D)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

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

A Walk in the Woods [2015] (directed by Ken Kwapis , screenplay by Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman based on the book [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Bill Bryson [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a quite fun film for us approaching "a certain age" that feels like a cross between the similarly themed comedy Last Vegas [2013] and Robert Redford's film of a few years back, All Is Lost [2013], which was certainly more direct and more somber in tone than the current film but had the same subtext in which a character, "no longer a spring chicken," had to face the realization that he was not going to be around for ever.

And so it is here, _previously_ successful travel writer author Bill Bryson [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] (played in the film by Robert Redford) finds himself realizing he's _becoming_ a living "has been" ;-).

In the first scene of the film, he's shown plugging "a box set" of his previously successful travel books on a local Boston area morning news/talk show, where the interviewer notes: "So you're here NOT plugging anything new..."  The 'interviewer from hell' continues by reminding Bill that in his entire career (in that boxed set) he's written about traveling in Europe, Asia, etc but NEVER about traveling in the U.S.  "So you're peddling a set of OLD books about TRAVEL to PLACES that most of your readers WILL NEVER SEE" ;-).  "Yes, thank you very much (Mr. Interviewer from Hell), I'm peddling old books that will be irrelevant to most of my prospective readers."  "Any new projects on the horizon?"  "No, I've been basically retired now for a fair number of years.  Spending time with my family has been my focus for some time now."  "Okay, then (why are you here?) thank you very much Bill Bryson do please (not) come back..." ;-) or :-/

So then, is Bill's future basically just ... waiting to die?  It turns out that passing behind Bill Bryson's nice New Hampshire home is the Appalachian Trail.  And after mulling over this interview in which he was treated like a living corpse, he decides, at 60 or even 70, to try to hike it.

His age appropriate English wife, Catherine (played by Emma Thompson), who Bill met and married during above-mentioned "European days" years long past, is aghast.  She quickly prints-out a whole series of news articles for him that she found on the internet about people dying, getting severely injured, frozen, murdered and even ATTACKED BY BEARS ... on the Appalachian Trail.  And so she begs him, "at least DON'T go alone."

Okay, but who to ask?  He picks up his Rolodex and calls every friend he has, and ... ALL SAY NO ;-).  But he does get a call from a very old acquaintance, former (Iowa) hometown high school buddy of his, Stephen Katz (played by Nick Nolte), who he's _long discounted_ (and removed from his above mentioned "Rolodex of friends") who ... tells him that he heard from another acquaintance that he's looking for someone who'd go with him on this trip and ... well, he'd be willing to go.  There was of course, "the matter of the $600" (!) that he still owed Bill, "from 20 years back" (! ;-).  But if he'd be willing to let "bygones be bygones" and besides he _still_ "intends to pay him," he'd be happy go ;-).

Bill, again, not wanting to just wait-out his days for Death to arrive, and not wanting his wife to simply go crazy with worry, decides to accept Stephen's offer.  And much, much ensues ... ;-)

I do love films like this, because even though Stephen's (character) is _exactly_ like one would imagine, HE IS _exactly_ like one would imagine him ;-).  Yes, he definitely "has issues" but he's ALSO MORE than JUST "his issues."  And ultimately both he and the previously far more successful Bill Bryson, are ... "walking the same path."

An awesome, fun and well spun tale ;-)


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Friday, September 4, 2015

Un Gallo con Muchos Huevos [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  CPMx (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
FA.es listing*

Telemundo.com news / noticias*
Univision.com news / noticias*

Official Website / Sitio Oficial*

Austin Chronicle (M. Savlov) review
CinePremiere.com.mx (J. Chavarría) review*
El Universal (J. Mérida) review*
Excelsior.com () review*

Un Gallo con Muchos Huevos [2015][IMDb] [FA.es]* (written and directed by Gabriel Riva Palacio Alatriste [IMDb] [FA.es]*) is an high quality (available in 3D) Spanish language (English subtitled) children's oriented "screwball comedy" / animated film that comes from Mexico that tells the story of Toto (voiced by Bruno Bichir) a young rooster (a "gallito") who has to "step-up" to defend his farm in a (cock fighting...) ring or else the farm and all who/that he loves would be sold-off to pay-off the kindly but over-her-head widowed farmowner's (viejita's) debts.

Of course, initially Toto is not anywhere near up to the task.  But with help of the other feathered (and shelled ;-) friends on the farm and its environs -- his coach becomes an orphaned bling wearing "duck egg" named Patín Patán (voiced by Omar Chaparro) -- he (mild spoiler alert) rises to the challenge, ;-)

Of course, there's a love interest, bespeckled Dí (voiced by Maite Perroni) whose father (voiced by ) was, "back in the day", the farm's champion rooster (hence someone that Toto needs to impress prior to "walking off into the sunset" with Dí).

There's also "temptation" namely, a peahen named "Chiquis" (voiced by Ninel Conde) who the kinder (but less exotic) Dí finds herself competing with: "Can't you see that she's 'genetically engineered'?" Dí exclaims to Toto at one point in frustration.  But Chiquis' real beau is the regional champion rooster Bankivoide (voiced by Sergio Sendel) who Toto is setup by a ring of bald ;-) but strangely (painted on) goatied "mafia eggs" led by a Brando-like "padrino" egg of few but ever consequential words ;-).

Much, of course, ensues ... ;-)  It's a remarkable work of, often frenetic, creativity ;-).

To be honest, some / many Anglo-American viewers may be put off, at least initially, by the film's central dramatic metaphor -- cock fighting presented here as the chicken/rooster equivalent to "boxing."  But after about 10 minutes of feeling rather uncomfortable with it, I let it go.  The roosters in the film wore "boxing gloves" as they went into the ring ;-).  (Note that in the second Rio [2014] film, the (Brazilian) parrots played a kind of "soccer" / "football" ;-)

My favorite characters in the current film were the cool "rapping" ducks, including "Snoop Duck" as well as another really cool, almost zen-like "samurai" duck named Jean Claude van (guess ;-) and then a couple of "country bumpkin" possums who find themselves continually surprised by all the traffic, back and forth, between farm and city of farm animals that they themselves would "kinda want to eat" if only they would _just slow down_ for a little while ;-).  "Who would have guessed that _chickens_ and even _eggs_ can move so fast!" one of the poor increasingly frustrated (and hungry) possums complains ;-)

Anyway, if one can get past / accept the cock-fighting metaphor, it's a pretty fun and certainly very creative film! 


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


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