Saturday, March 26, 2016

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (1 Star)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
ChicagoTribune (K. Walsh) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review  

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 [2016] (directed by Kirk Jones, screenplay by Nia Vardolos), while somewhat uneven in its dialogue at the film's beginning, it more than regains its footing by the middle, so that by film's end most Viewers who loved the first My Big Fat Greek Wedding [2002] (also a surprise hit -- the critics of officialdom, fellow Chicagoan Roger Ebert excluded, tended to pan the original as well) will leave the theater happy with the second.   Yes, I'm a fan ... ;-)

How could I not be?  I'm a son of Czech immigrants, with a huge extended family, and I too grew-up believing that most everything, everything "of substance" anyway ;-), was "invented by Czechs" as well. ;-).   Further, I saw the original while serving at a predominantly Puerto Rican/Colombian with a Haitian community mixed-in Parish, St. Catherine of Siena, in Kissimmee, FL -- EVERYBODY got it and just about EVERYBODY LOVED IT (I honestly can't recall ANYBODY who did not).  Why?  The accents may vary from-group-to-group but almost everyone could point to an aunt, uncle or dad who were JUST LIKE the characters in Nia Vardolos' portrayal of her fictionalized Greek family in both the original and in the current film here.

Since then, I've served for 12 years at a Slavic / Hispanic Parish, Annunciata, on Chicago's South East Side and I still use "the baptism scene" in the original to help explain the one of the anointings of those (usually children) about to be baptized in the Rite of Baptism ;-).  When I ask, "How many of you have seen 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' and recall that scene?" people still shake their heads up-and-down and smile in recognition, remembering that scene.  Again, it does not matter if one's Grandparents came from Poland or one's Parents from Durango / San Juan or Michuacan the characters and situations remain very similar to Vardolos'.

So what then is the story in the current film?  Well it takes place some 17 years after the original.  "Greek-American" Toula and "Anglo-American" Ian (played by Nia Vardolos and John Corbett respectively) remain happily married if distracted by their various obligations, still to (largely her) family, to their 17-year old daughter Paris (played _wonderfully_ by Elena Kampouris) and to (largely his) work:

Toula's back working at her parents (played again, and wonderfully by Michael Constantine and Lainie Kazan) restaurant "Dancing Zorba" in Chicago's Greek Town, though, family restaurant that it is, she actually spends more time shuttling her increasingly "no longer a spring chicken" father, Gus, from one doctor's appointment to another.

Paris too, spends her "after school afternoons", eyes-rolling, "on garlic toast duty" at "the restaurant" ;-).

Since Ian is now the Principal at (once again, exasperated) Paris's High School -- "Oh dad, (he's ever smiling, she's rolling her eyes again) _please_ don't (!) come up to me to talk to me (so much) at school.  I swear EVERYONE thinks I'm 'a narc'" ;-) -- one gets the sense that neither Toula nor Paris really "needed to work" at the restaurant (for the money).  It's just that it's family, and the parents needed the day-to-day help.  (And what else would one do?  Sit at home while one's aging parents ran that restaurant (that perhaps they too didn't need to run anymore)?  OF COURSE YOU HELP.  That's what FAMILY does).

Anyway, already among those five characters - Toula / Ian, their daughter Paris and Voula's parents - there are countless possibilities for stories.  Throw in the smiling / ever sincere but always (and preposterously) "over sharing" Aunt Toula (played by Andrea Martin) ... everybody has _somebody_ like this in the family ;-) ... smiling sex bomb, still at 40, hairdresser Nikki (played by Gia Ciades) who DOES help keep that family looking good; brother or cousin Nick (played by Louis Mandylor) or Angelo (played by Joey Fatone) struggling if he should come out "officially" as gay (everybody of course knows ... and is okay with it.  Why? In such a loving family, how can one possibly go against one's kin?  Indeed IN MY MINISTRY, I have _not_ known a single Catholic family that has rejected their kid for coming out gay.  Yes, it may be upsetting -- for the first 24 hours (!) -- to the parents, but afterwards, "it's our kid") and finally grandma "Mana-Yiayia" (played by Bess Meisler) "from the Old Country" ;-).  One of the "nosey neighbors" remarks: "Isn't she like 120 by now?" But how could one imagine this family _without her_ ;-)

Much ensues, and obviously much that ensues involves "a wedding", in this case, _validating the nearly 50 year old marriage_ between Maria and Gus, the documents of which, "got screwed-up" back "in the village ..."  ("Oh, how could _that_ have happened?"  asks me, a priest now with nearly 20 years experience of "life in a rectory" ;-) ;-).

It's just wonderful.  The ONLY THING THAT I DIDN'T LIKE was that HOLLYWOOD _chose_ to release this film during our (Catholic) Holy Week (not the Orthodox Holy week which will come later but ours).  But that's NOT the film's fault, THAT'S HOLLYWOOD'S FAULT and while a shame (and will inevitably hurt ticket sales somewhat on its first weekend), and one gets the sense that this film will be around FOR A WHILE.


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Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Divergent Series: Allegiant [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review  

The Divergent Series: Allegiant [2016] (directed by Robert Schwentke screenplay by Noah Oppenheim, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, based on the first half of the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Veronica Roth [wikip] [GR] [IMDb]) is the third cinematic installment (of four) of the Post-Apocalyptic "Hunger Games-like" teen-oriented Divergent Trilogy.  It follows the release of Divergent [2014] and The Divergent Series: Insurgent [2015] and before the promised release of the finale The Divergent Series: Ascendant [2017] next year.

The film illustrates some of the problems (from the POV of the Reader/Viewer) of a film franchise based on a book series model: One of the things that I've really liked about movies (as opposed to books or TV series) has been that no matter what they're about "after 2-3 hours one's done." If one wants to write a review or reflection on the film viewed that could take another couple of hours.  However, and in any case, one could complete the task of seeing/reviewing the film rather quickly and be able to move on to something else.

In the case of a TV series (or a film series based on a book series) while certainly benefiting the makers of such materials (because the project becomes "an extended" rather than "a one-off gig"), the viewer is roped-in for an extended commitment. And the RE-viewer's job is made even harder because he/she can't really render final judgement on the whole project until the series' end.

And this can become a problem, as it begins to become here, as this third episode in this four part series begins to enter somewhat problematically into the realm of "religious allegory" and perhaps more negatively than the Viewer / Reader of the book series would have initially expected or imagined.

The second episode of this series (about a quite rigidly organized society in a mysteriously sealed off-post apocalyptic Chicago) ended with the society's "Factionless" misfits (those could not find a place among any of the society's five officially recognized castes or Factions) had successfully overthrown that old Order.

What now? Well inevitably some of the younger members of that society, led by the series' heroine Tris (played by Shailene Woodley) and her SO named Four (played by Theo James) wanted to breakdown (or at least "break past") the last remaining Wall in this society - the one isolating their city from the rest of the world beyond.

When they day do "break past" said wall, they initially find a poisoned post-apocalyptic wasteland.  So their teachers / elders were apparently at least partly telling them the truth as it becomes crystal clear that their society had been born out of / in response to some awful catastrophe.

But as they go further out into this poisoned desert (somewhat amusingly, for a Chicagoan anyway ... out to the remains of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport ;-), they encounter something new - an outpost of a society technologically far more advanced than theirs that has actually been monitoring the happenings / progress OF THE EXPERIMENT that this more advanced society had made OUT OF THE REMAINS OF CHICAGO.

Now going into detail as to what kind of experiment this more advanced society was conducting in (sealed off) Chicago certainly gets into SPOILER TERRITORY but it's sufficient to say that many of the problems that Tris / Four had known "back in Chicago" also existed in the larger world and had brought that larger world to ruin. Indeed, THE HOPE of "The Chicago Experiment" was to prove with "a relatively small controlled sample" (like one conducted in a sealed off city) that _over time_ the problems existent in the society could "breed themselves out"

What kind of problems could breed themselves out?  Well obviously genetic problems...

We're told by The Chicago Experiment's (current) "God like" / dispassionate Supervisor named David (played by Jeff Daniels) -- Reader's note the Biblical name -- that at some point in the 21st Century scientists began to genetically enhance humans so that they could perform their functions better -- make them braver, so that they could become super soldiers; make them smarter, so that they could becomes super-scientist; make them more insightful / honest, so that they could become super-judges and super law-makers; make them more self-less / caring, so that they could become super social workers; make them just simply more optimistic, so that they could become super-workers.

ALL these castes actually existed in that post-Apocalyptic Chicago.  HOWEVER, it turns out that the experiment was to see if these "enhancements" would "breed themselves out of the society" over time.  AND OF COURSE, IF ANYTHING, THE SOCIETY IN CHICAGO HAD ORGANIZED ITSELF TO RIGIDLY PRESERVE THESE ENHANCEMENTS ... until, of course, now.

So Tris / Four as well as a couple of their other "friends" / characters in the story -- notably Peter (played by Miles Teller), note again the New Testament name, who's actually been (quite unfortunately) "a Snake" throughout the story ... -- come quite traumatized to that Base out there on the remains of O'Hare Airport.  There they encounter the "God-like" / dispassionate David and his generally "all clothed in white" (lab-coats...) assistants there, and progressively find to their horror that David, et al, ARE NOT GOING TO DO ANYTHING to help the people in Chicago in a time of great turmoil.  INSTEAD, they're "just monitoring" what's going on, watching everything play out, and MAY ONLY INTERVENE TO JUST DESTROY THE PLACE ("end the experiment") if it goes out of hand.

Hmmm... what an awful Religious Allegory that's becoming ... ;-)

It does, sort of, make for "an interesting story" ... though not exactly a religiously friendly (much less Catholic friendly) one.  Indeed, all they needed to do is paint horns and a tail on Peter here ... 

Anyway, three of four installments into the story, I'll probably see the next one as well ... but certainly not particularly enthusiastically ... sigh.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Hello, My Name is Doris [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChicagoTribune (K. Walsh) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (K. Rife) review  

Hello, My Name is Doris [2016] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Michael Showalter along with Laura Terruso based on her short film Doris & the Intern [2011]) is a generally well-meaning / fun "fantasy" about 60-something, never-been-married-'cause-she-stayed-to-take-care-of-her-mother Doris (played marvelously by Sally Field) who falls for a very attractive 20-something young man John (played by Max Greenfield) at her job. 

And yes, the obvious question / double-standard arises: WHY would the possibility of a relationship between 60-something Doris Miller and 20-something John Fremont be "a fantasy" / preposterous, WHILE a relationship between Sean Connery's 60-something character and Catherine Zeta-Jones' late-20/early 30-something character in Entrapment [1999] somehow be "plausible"?

But then this would then seem to be a good part of the point of the film: why said double standard?  The other point of the film would be, perhaps, nicer -- a reminder that, as an old Servite friar reminded me a number years ago, "Yes, we may age, but we also never forget completely what it's like to be 21 ..."   

Anyway, frumpy sixty-something Doris from Staten Island, who works in a cubicle in some not particularly large advertising firm in Manhattan falls for "the hot new guy" who comes over to work at the firm as some of an "art design manager" and much ensues ...

AGAIN, THIS IS A GENERALLY VERY NICE AND FUN MOVIE ... even as it asks us uncomfortable questions: (1) Why would such a "romance" be "impossible"?  and (2) why would such a "romance" be "necessary" to begin with?  Why can't we just come to accept our age with grace? Yes, do we have to be 21 (or 35) forever?

Fun film!

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Miracles from Heaven [2016]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-II) (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 3/4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review (C. Lemire) review

People Magazine (D. Atlas) article about making of film 

Miracles from Heaven [2016] (directed by Patricia Riggen, adaptation by Randy Brown based on the memoir [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Christy Beam [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is BY FAR the BEST RELIGIOUS BASED OFFERING to come out in theaters in the United States this Lent. 

The book / film tell the story of Annabel Beam (played in the film by Kylie Rogers), the 9 year old middle daughter of Christy and Kevin Beam (played in film by Jennifer Garner and Martin Henderson), Annabel's two sisters being 12-13 y.o. Abbie and 6 y.o Adelynn (played by Brighton Sharbino and Courtney Fansler).  The acting of all of them is truly of top-quality.

At eight, Annabel quite suddenly had fallen ill with pseudo-obstruction motility disorder, an extremely rare illness in which the nerves that tell the intestine to push food down itself stop firing properly thereby making it impossible for food to digest properly and causing de facto obstructions of undigested food in the intestinal tract.  Due to the rarity of the incidence of this illness, the doctors at the local hospitals (in and around Dallas, TX outside of which the family lived) initially didn't understand what was happening to Annabel.  So they kept misdiagnosing her incessant vomiting / inability to keep food down, to more common (if perhaps particularly manifestations of) conditions like lactose intolerance and/or acid reflux disorder.  Eventually, the doctors figured out what was going on with Annabel.  However, due to the rarity of the disorder, the acknowledged expert on this disorder was a Dr. Nurko (played by Eugenio Derbez) who practiced out of Boston Children's Hospital nearly 1000 miles away. 

So the family had to figure out a way to get their sick child to Boston, first for once every six weeks visits and later (as she was _not_ getting better) for increasingly extended periods there.  The family portrayed lived on a small ranch, so it was _not_ poor.  However, any adult watching the film would _quickly appreciate_ the mounting and eventually back-breaking expenses involved.

Since this was a family story, some of the _best scenes_ involve the children, notably:

(1) When the family still believed that Annabel could be suffering for some sort of extreme case of lactose intolerance, older sister Abbie volunteered to not eat pizza anymore in solidarity with Annabel.  Mom and dad quickly followed suit.  Poor six year old Adelynn WHO HAD JUST STARTED TO KNOW / AND _REALLY LIKE_ PIZZA initially didn't really want to go along.  "Why mommy?  It's good." (and couldn't slightly older sis Annabel just eat something else ;-).  But eventually, she reluctantly "went along" AND ONE JUST WANTED TO CRY.  _I_ honestly can't imagine childhood here _without pizza_.  Yes, it's such "a small thing" but _also_ such a big one as well.

(2) After dad took a second job to help pay for mom's and Annabel's stays / travel expenses in Boston, he forgot one time to take older daughtr Abbie to some soccer exposition (involving apparently several members of the U.S. National Women's team passing through Dallas).  Yes, on one level it may seem "trivial" but to a 13 year old _with her own dreams_ it mattered.  Again, ONE JUST WANTS TO CRY.

Eventually with Annabel NOT getting better and herself _getting tired of being sick and getting worse_ the decision is made to just bring her back home to Dallas (for a de facto hospice like situation).  It's then when she had that incident with the tree -- falling 30 feet down from said tree, hitting her head and "not dying, not becoming paralyzed but instead (quite miraculously or "miraculously" DOESN'T MATTER) becoming healed" -- those nerves to her intestines that were misfiring SUDDENLY started firing correctly again.

Yes, she had an out-of-body / near-death experience in which she said she met God who told her that she'll be fine from now but that she needed to go back.  Again, Viewers can interpret this however they want, STILL, REMEMBER, SHE GOT BETTER... after that _crazy_ fall.

And the film is actually _extremely_ good in acknowledging the obvious: Many, many kids / other people SUFFERING TERRIBLY _DON'T_ GET BETTER.

But the message here is OF HOPE -- that LIFE DOES NOT END HERE ... that there is a vivid paradise that awaits us on the other side, and that ABOVE ALL THAT WE ARE NOT ALONE, that God _does care_ and is indeed with us and is there, on other side, awaiting us.

 It's just a very, very nice and hopeful film and a story that deserves to be shared.



The _only_ reason why I am not giving this film a four star rating is on account of a single scene involving Queen Latifah, who plays a Boston area waitress named Angela.  In the film, Angela befriends Annabel and mom Christy and offers to show the two around her beloved Boston with a personal tour.  Christy first did not want to accept the offer but on insistence of Annabel agreed.  Christy becomes more skeptical when Angela comes to pick them up in a _really broken down car_with all sorts of stuff in the back seat, etc. 

I FOUND THAT SCENE UNFORTUNATE for the same reason as I found similar scenes in another nominally Christian film called War Room [2015] unfortunate.

Even though in the case here, Queen Latifah herself (a fairly known / powerful actress) clearly chose to play the car scene the way it played, I SIMPLY CAN'T BELIEVE THAT A WHITE ACTRESS WOULD ALLOW HERSELF TO BE PORTRAYED IN SUCH A SLOPPY WAY. 

A _lot of white viewers_ (nominally Christian or non) will view that car scene and see it as confirming stereotypes of African Americans as somehow being "less clean" than white people. 

AND I CAN ABSOLUTELY ATTEST THAT THIS IS SIMPLY _NOT_ THE CASE.  I HAVE KNOWN BOTH AFRICAN AMERICANS AND HAITIANS AS WELL AS JAMAICANS whose dress, houses and cars are EVER in _immaculate order_, while there are plenty of whites who are slobs.

 I don't want to belabor the point except to say that I found that scene _unfortunate_ and that is the reason why I did not give the film a four star rating, which I otherwise would have given it.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Wondrous Boccaccio (orig. Boccaccio Maraviglioso) [2015]

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

IMDb listing listing*

aVoir-aLire (F. Mignard) review* (D. Catelli) review*
The Hollywood Review (D. Young) review

Wondrous Boccaccio (orig. Boccaccio Maraviglioso) [2015] [IMDb] []*(screenplay cowritten and codirected by Paulo Taviani [IMDb] [] and Vittorio Taviani [IMDb] []) is a wonderful SCREEN ADAPTATION / ITALIAN PERIOD PIECE that played recently at the 19th (2016) Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.

Set in and around Florence during the time of the Black Plague, it's based on the stories of late-medieval / early Renaissance Florentine writer/poet Giovanni Boccaccio's (1310-1375) [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] Decameron [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn].  Indeed, as in Boccaccio's original work, ten orphaned young people, expelled from the city (because members of their families had already died of the plague and they were thought to be contagious), pass the fortnight of their quarantine by getting together to tell stories.  No iPhones, no TV, the "mass media" of the time were simply "the stories" they knew, made-up and told ;-) ...

But what stories were ;-) ... Honestly, since these were YOUNG PEOPLE (in their mid to late teens to early twenties) LIVING THROUGH THE BLACK PLAGUE during THE LATE MIDDLE AGES ... call their stories Goeffrey Chaucer (of Canterbury Tales [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] fame) meets The Walking Dead [2010-] ;-)

The first story, told by one of the young women of the group, involved two young people of the time, madly in love.  Then she falls ill.  He's away, by the time she comes back, she's dead.  He finds her laid out in front of the altar of the country church.  No one else is there (everybody else seems to have been afraid that she was contagious and that they would die as well).  But HE came there, HE'S not afraid. SHE was HIS GREAT LOVE.  HE kisses her, and ... Sleeping Beauty-like (only this was BEFORE the "Sleeping Beauty" fairy tale had even come to be), SHE WAKES UP.  He takes her off the altar and the two go home.  NOW GOOD READERS, MIND YOU ... SHE WAS DEAD.  Now she's ALIVE (again).  SHE SCARES THE DAYLIGHTS OUT OF THE VILLAGERS.  One even, quaking with fear asks her: "What part of HELL did you come back from?"  She smiles, looks at him and answers: "I didn't come back from Hell, I descended back down from Heaven..."  And thus ended the story, told by an orphaned teenager expelled from her hometown (Florence) because her family was dead and the town feared that she was still contagious ...

Then there's a story (told by another one of the young women) of a strapping young nobleman (nobile) -- seriously, he looked like he could play the lead role in any number of Shakespeare's plays -- who's confronted by the mother of his child, demanding that he finally CHOOSE BETWEEN HER and his ... (PET) FALCON ;-) ;-) _ever_ on his shoulder ... ;-).  LMAO ;-)  ... "the toys" may change, but the story remains the same ;-).  And it proves _really, really hard_ for the "young nobile" to "let go" ... The falcon, who knows how this is going to end, looks so _sadly_ at him, and the young nobile tells his beloved ... falcon: "Oh PLEASE don't look at me like that" ("No guardame cosí!") ...

Finally, there's also a story told by one of the young men, about a young cloistered nun "from a convent nearby," who, well, falls in love "with the gardener" ;-)

This is SUCH A FUN MOVIE ... if one can get past the pesky subtitles (or gasp, learn another language, in this case, Italian  ;-).  And it's a wonderful reminder to all of us that young people are young people across all space and time ;-)


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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Simshar [2014]

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

IMDb listing listing (S. Kues) review
Malta Today (T. Reljic) review

Huffington Post (D. Kmiec) review (S. Hurst) review
The Austrialian (D. Stratton) review

Simshar [2014] [IMDb]] [CEu] (directed and cowritten by Rebecca Cremona [IMDb] [CEu] along with David Grech [IMDb] [CEu]) is a MALTESE DRAMA that played at the 19th (2016) Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.  About an actual tragedy involving a random and very typical Maltese fishing family, it also plays-out in the context of the current refugee drama in which tens of thousands of migrants are fleeing North Africa often in quite poor / leaky boats for Europe.

This film became Malta's first ever submission to the (87th) Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and is available in U.S. for streaming at a reasonable price on Amazon Instant Video.

To the story ...

On July 7, 2008, Simon Bugeda (played in the film by Lotfi Abdelli [IMDb] [CEu] left Malta with his quite typical if not entirely "up to code" fishing vessel, to do what he did for a living ... catch fish, notably tuna.  Aboard were his father Karmenu (played by Jimi Busuttil [IMDb] [CEu], his 11 year old son Theo (played by Adrian Farrugia [IMDb]) as well as Somali migrant (played by Sékouba Doucouré [IMDb] [CEu]).  

Typical of the "less than completely above board" nature of small-time commercial fishing, they took the boat apparently as far as Libyan waters.  Was that unusual?  One gets the sense, not particularly.  But it did cause them problems: When their "not completely up to code" small-time commercial fishing boat came to have a fire and then gasoline explosion on board, they weren't necessarily where the Maltese coast guard would first be looking for them.

Readers note here that part of the story of a somewhat similar tragedy, that of the Andrea Gale, remembered in the book / film The Perfect Storm [2000][IMDb] [GR] was that in that case that the crew took their Gloucester, MA commercial fishing vessel _far past_ their usual fishing grounds - at the Grand Banks to the Flemish Cap  - which proved to be a tragic decision as they found themselves in the midst of one of the worst storms in North Atlantic History on their way home, and also quite far from the (in their case) North American shore.

Back to the current story here ...  As the little if supremely poignant family tragedy played-out, a larger continuing tragedy continued as well, that of the North African Migrants fleeing North Africa for Europe, which are shown to occupy the attention (and frustrations) of both the Maltese and Italian Coast Guards.   And it becomes clear that though the surviving members of the Simshar were spotted by other (Libyan) fishing boats as they drifted, holding on to debris, from the Simshar's wreck ... THEY WERE NOT RESCUED BY THEM because they were taken to be "simply" North African refugees ... and presumably those fishermen thought that if they "stopped to rescue every North African refugee in such distress" they would not have time to do their living.  After all, they were "fishermen" not "the coast guard."

Sigh ... the result became what one would imagine.  It all becomes one _sad_ / conscience raising tale ... And one which would certainly be appreciated by the communities in the United States (and all around the world) which also make their lives by fishing.

A quite excellent film!

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

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Family Member (orig. Μέλος Οικογενείας / Melos Oikoyenias) [2015]

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

IMDb listing listing listing (D. Floros) review* (M. Moyséos) review*

Family Member (orig. Μέλος Οικογενείας / Melos Oikoyenias) [2015] [IMDb] [AC] [CEu] (written and directed by Marinos Kartikkis [IMDb] [AC] [CEu]) is a FAMILY DRAMEDY from CYPRUS that recently played at the 19th (2016) Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.

Set in the context of the continuing European Economic Crisis, Yorgos and Sophia (played respectively by Christopher Greco [IMDb] [AC] and Yiola Klitou [IMDb] [AC]) would seem to be a typical 40-something married Cypriot couple, middle class, with two children, teenage Anna (played by Ntora Makrigianni [IMDb] [AC]) and 10 y/o Christos (played by Ioannis Melekis [IMDb]), and run a family neighborhood grocery store in one or another Cypriot town, presumably suburban Nicosia.  Living with them is also Sophia's father (played by Glafkos Georgiades [AC])

A typical middle class Cypriot family that they are, they find themselves in enormous debt.  Why?  There is no money.  Their customers routinely come to their store and plead to buy on credit, and the two, Yorgos especially, simply can't bring themselves to tell them no.  Why? Because their customers are not buying inessentials, they're basically things that they need to live on.  And all promise essentially the same thing -- "money is going to come."  When?  No one really knows, but one gets the impression that the whole economy is operating on a system of IOUs.  The problem is that while this can work on a neighborhood level where everyone knows each other, but one can't pay for water or Electricity with IOUs.

SO, when Sophia's father dies in his sleep one night, he just doesn't wake-up one morning, Sophia realizes that it was his pension that kept the roof over their heads.  What to do?  Remember this is a movie ... hence something of a "thought experiment" - where fictionalized people could be allowed to do what real people could not do (or would not do because of the obvious risk / issues involved) but perhaps (in their darker moments) at least "thought about."

SO ... Sophia comes up with a somewhat desperate scheme:  Yorgos and her would _respectfully_ take Sophia's father's body IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT ;-) "back to village" and bury him _respectfully_ (again IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT) in the family plot - where his wife, Sophia's mother is also buried - in the Christian cemetery (again, they'd _want to be respectful_ about it) BUT ... they would NOT DECLARE IT ANYWHERE ... so they could continue to accept Sophia's father's social security checks.

And they do so ... take Sophia's father's body, wrapped in a couple of thick plastic garbage bag, and with a couple shovels working, in the dead of night, they successful bury Sophia's father's body in their family plot "back in the village" without anyone apparently knowing the wiser.

BUT ... inevitable problems arise.  Sophia's father would get a social security check THAT HE'D HAVE TO GO TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD BANK TO CASH.  But he's dead.  Well, at least with the first check, Sophia figures that since "everybody knows them" the bank would cash at least that first check with his signature but without him present because she'd present it to the bank-manager with the excuse: "My dad's down with the flu, can you just do us the favor?" if anyone should ask. 

And it seems to work.  But already Yorgos asks, what are we going to do the next time?  Yet, a few days afterwards, the two get a phone call at the grocery store from the Social Security office that they'd like to come over to their house to speak to Sophia's dad.  Ay ... what now?

Well, they "get lucky" ... the following day, in the afternoon, an elderly man shows up at the store, and while they weren't looking, he tries to shoplift a few items.  Yorgos catches him.  The man, supremely embarrassed pleads that he'll just give back the two cans of sardines if they just not report him.

Yorgos would actually just give him the two cans of sardines, but Sophia, looking at him ... he even looked kinda like her father (and is played at minimum by Glafkos Georgiades's [AC] brother Fivos Georgiades [IMDb]) only with a mustache ... decides to ask him a favor ...

The rest of the story, with various twists ensues ...

It's a comedy so it has to end well, but it's also a story that _hopefully_ would discourage real people from doing the same.   It's just too hard and morally taxing to try to pull this off for real.

As such, an interesting and often quite (darkly) fun film about something that the vast majority of us would never ever do.

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

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Monday, March 14, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (AA. Dowd) review  

10 Cloverfield Lane [2016] (directed by Dan Trachtenberg, story and screenplay cowritten by Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken along with Damien Chazelle) is a suspenseful and thoroughly  minimalist (in its own way) offshoot to the wildly successful "found footage" b-scifi/horror film Cloverfield [2008] though the connection with the first film appears to have been solely that the two films' stories play out concurrently though in widely different parts of the country: the original film plays-out in New York City while the current film plays-out simply "somewhere in Louisiana."

This current film begins with a twenty-something young woman, we later find-out her name's Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), packing a suitcase with some of her things from her and her soon-to-be ex's apartment, throwing it into her car and leaving.

We catch her next driving in her car on some country road somewhere and it's getting dark.  She notices a message on her iPhone, begins listening to it -- it's her boyfriend pleading that she come home, to give them a chance to "work" (whatever it it is) "out -- there's some reference on the radio to "power black-outs" occurring along the Eastern Seaboard, and BANG ... SOMETHING JUST SMASHES INTO THE SIDE OF HER CAR, hurling it off the road, AND ... the opening credits _begin_ to roll ... ;-) ;-)

She wakes up, with an IV in her arm, and ... quite impressively thick CHAIN AROUND HER THIGH in some BUNKER somewhere.  We soon find out that this bunker was built by some ex-Navy man, since survivalist nutjob, named Howard (played absolutely wonderfully, cards ever, ever, ever close to the vest, by John Goodman) who informs her that "outside" there was "an attack" by "maybe the Russians, maybe Extraterrestrials ..." but in any case, the air's contaminated and they are going to be "stuck" for ... oh, maybe A YEAR OR TWO ... in said bunker until the air clears up and/or HE figures-out what to do (next).  In any case though, FORTUNATELY he's "made provision" for EXACTLY THIS KIND OF SCENARIO, with FOOD FOR TWO (maybe three) for EXACTLY "ONE or TWO YEARS."

Wow ... how creepy ... and the bulk of the rest of the film involves her and a third person --an "Emmett" (played by John Gallagher, Jr), a "local" twenty-something "contractor" who had helped Howard build this bunker on Howard's farm somewhere in (presumably) Louisiana and who apparently ran straight for the bunker when "whatever happened outside" began "happening" -- trying to figure-out JUST HOW CRAZY "Howard" was.   

It was clear that Howard did not want any of them to go outside, for ... apparently "the duration" of whatever "event" was taking place.  But Michelle NEVER SAW said "event" playing-out, outside.  And all SHE gets is tantalizing, if admittedly frightening indications that SOMETHING AWFUL really did take place, the strongest of which being a woman who seemed to have chemical burns on her skin, and coming to said bunker begs to come in. 

Okay, Howard, wasn't completely nuts, _something_ quite awful really did happen outside, but he clearly wasn't _sane_ either.

What would YOU do if YOU found yourself in this "Room [2015]"-like circumstance (with PERHAPS "Aleins" or "something ELSE that was AWFUL" outside)?

The rest of the story ensues ... ;-)

It's a crazy, improbable, claustrophobic story and clearly "not for everybody" but IMHO it works in a paranoid "what would you do?" sort of way.  At least TBTG this "sequel of sorts" has chosen to take a different path to tell its story _without_ resorting to the tired "lost footage" of the original.

Good job ;-).

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Forbidden Films (orig. Verbotene Filme) [2014]

MPAA (UR)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing

Jerusalem Post [H. Brown] review [M. Lahde] review* [R. Worschech] review* [D. Kuhlbrodt] review* (M. Jenkins) review
NY Times (N.Rapold) review
Slant Magazine (O. Ivanov) review
The Hollywood Reporter (F. Scheck) review
The New Yorker (R. Brody) review

Forbidden Films (orig. Verbotene Filme) [2014] (written and directed by Felix Moeller) is a quite thought / discussion provoking GERMAN DOCUMENTARY about the 40 Nazi era films that are banned to this day from normal public viewing in Germany (of 1200 made during the Nazi era and 300 of which were banned initially by the Allies after the War).  The film played recently at the 19th (2016) Chicago European Union Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.

At issue were films that were openly anti-Semitic, anti-Polish, anti-British, pro-Euthanasia and so forth.  The concern has been that these films could confuse an un(der)educated populace into believing the flagrant propaganda present in them.  And at least one example of this was given where a contemporary German viewer after the screening (for this film) of the German Nazi-Era wartime movie The Homecoming (orig. Heimkehr) [1941] dramatizing the purported discrimination suffered by ethnic Germans in Poland before the War left the film declaring that "Germany was right to invade Poland" (the immediate action which started WW II ...).

Sigh ... but that was _not_ a particularly common response.  Indeed, Israeli audiences of viciously  anti-Semitic films (among those 40 Nazi Era films banned in Germany) like Jud Süß [1940] and The Eternal Jew (orig. Der Ewige Jude) [1940] found the films _laughable_ and at least one audience member suggested that they should be made _required viewing_ for Israeli school-children so that they would better understand what both the Holocaust and the post-War founding of the modern state of Israel were about.

The documentary also noted that many of the films initially banned by the Allies after the War were subsequently "denazified' by literally "painting over" / "cutting out" the overt scenes with Swastikas or with Adolf Hitler, etc.  However, as Felix Moeller, the director of the documentary, appeared to be something of a "purist," this alternative was portrayed as violating or even "butchering" the integrity of the original films.

I came to this film with perspective of someone of Czech descent, hence from a family which knew well both 6 years of Nazi occupation and 41 years of subsequent Communist domination and I would insist that many of the same questions / issues raised in the current film could be raised with regards to films made in the Soviet Union during the Soviet Era (70+ years - 1918-1991) and in the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War (40+ years - 1945 or so - 1989).

Indeed, deciding what to do with films made during various epochs during those Communist years have _not_ been "idle questions" for _any_ of the countries / successor countries involved:

Following Stalin's death, during the de-Stalinization period in the Soviet bloc, classic (often still propaganda) films had Stalin erased from them in various ways.

And many of the Communist Era films are also _laughable_ today.  Cossacks of the Kuban (orig. Kubanskie kazaki) [1950] is a particularly appalling "inversion of reality" Soviet Era propaganda film, especially since the Kuban Cossacks were absolutely _decimated_ by Stalin's forced collectivization campaign in the 1920s and then most of the remaining ones were wiped-out for collaborating (for tragic if _obvious_ reasons) with the Nazis during the Caucasus / Stalingrad campaign in 1942.  Stalin's regime could have left the dead Cossacks be, accused as they had been of being (1) Supporters of the Czar, then (2) Counter Revolutionaries, then (3) Kulaks ("rich" land owners) and finally (4) Collaborators with the Nazis.  Instead, perversely after killing the vast, vast majority of them, Stalin's regime still "found the need" to show them _smiling_ "happily working" on the collective farms of their home/traditional region.

But even less appalling Communist Era films suffered from obvious ideological constraints.  And pretty much _anyone_ from the former Soviet bloc could _almost effortlessly_ (with the "back of one's hand") point-out the ideology that lurked within and limited _every single film_ that was made in those countries during those years.  (And analogously one could similarly identify the obvious ideological limits present in Iranian cinema today).

What's perhaps interesting in the context of the current film about the Nazi Era films still banned in Germany today, is that almost all of the post-Communist states have chosen to let the films from their Communist pasts remain available ... if _perhaps_ still "De-Stalinized."

Why?  Obviously for various reasons, some not particularly good -- It's more or less obvious, for example, that Vladimir Putin is seeking to run Russia today in a manner of "Stalin light," hence his regime does not find his nation's Communist and even Stalinist legacies particularly embarrassing.  Imagining the rise of a similar situation in Germany _could_ concern viewers of the current film here.

However, (1) MOST OF THE POST-COMMUNIST STATES of the former Soviet bloc, _don't_ feel particularly threatened by the Communist past as the films of that time are obviously dated (as are all films of the past) and the ideological constraints present are _pretty much obvious_ to all viewers from those countries; and (2) as was brought out in Mueller's film here about the Nazi Era films but EVEN MORE TRUE IN THE CASE OF THE COMMUNIST ERA CINEMAS OF THE FORMER SOVIET BLOC COUNTRIES, _it's really hard to talk about the artists, film-makers, actors of the time_ WITHOUT reference to their films.

The Nazi Era thankfully lasted for "only 12 years."  In contrast, the Communist Era in Soviet Russa lasted for 70+ years and in the rest of the Soviet Bloc for 40+ years, hence FOR GENERATIONS.  Indeed, it'd be IMPOSSIBLE for a Russian viewer TO WATCH ANYTHING RUSSIAN without WATCHING AT LEAST SOME SOVIET-ERA FILMS.  After all, THERE WAS NOTHING ELSE MADE IN RUSSIA for _most_ of the history of cinema.

And as is always the case, DESPITE IDEOLOGY, a fair number of films made under ANY CONTEXT / REGIME are GOING TO BE GOOD, POPULAR AND MEMORABLE and FOR GOOD REASON ... they would be high quality products made by talented professionals. 

So how then to end here?  I'd say that director Mueller makes a quite compelling case here to at least DISCUSS the virtue / value of releasing (in Germany, they're already available elsewhere anyway) these 40 Nazi Era films which have been banned there to this day.

And I would tend to support releasing them if _perhaps_ with a simple label -- NAZI (to allow potential viewers to immediately understand that they were made during the Nazi Era).  I think that would MORE THAN ENOUGH for most people, even in Germany (discussed in this film), to immediately put these films in context.

And I agree with that Israeli viewer -- one need only to let every schoolchild in Israel to see a few of those films and one would never ever have to fear them again.  THEY themselves (informed by their parents / grandparents) would be more than capable to both soberly and devastatingly refute any ideology present within them.

As for the lunatic fringe?  There will always be loonies who'll tattoo swastikas to their foreheads, for any number of reasons, no matter what the rest of us do.  But we don't have to compromise our values (or fear the value of our Truth) on account of them.

Fascinating / thought provoking film!

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Zootopia [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (K. Walsh) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review  

Zootopia [2016] (directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush, screenplay Jared Bush and Phil Johnston, all of whom contributed to the story along with Jennifer Lee, Josie Trinidad, Jim Reardon and Dan Fogelman) is a quite good (if still imperfect) children's animated film about a metropolis inhabited by all kinds of mammals (though apparently iguanas, parakeets and bumble bees -- and more to the point, snakes, buzzards and roaches -- still need not apply ...) where said mammals (formerly predators and prey) have learned to live together in peace.

Yes, there are still some prejudices in the countryside where foxes and rabbits still don't really trust each other / get along.  and (it turns out) that some of these prejudices still lurk somewhat beneath the surface even in the city.  

But the basic thrust of the film is clear -- can one (especially children) imagine a world where even  the Lion (voiced by J.K. Simmons), he's the city's mayor, and the Sheep (voiced by Jenny Slate) his assistant / running mate, can work together (cf  Is. 11:6)?  Or a rabbit Judy Hopps (voiced by Jinnifer Goodwin) Zootopia's first rabbit to make it through the Police Academy to become a cop, come to work with street-"hustling" fox named Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman)?

And to the story's credit, the film-makers show us that it's not easy: Judy's lovely simple "carrot farming parents" (voiced by Don Lake and Bonnie Hunt) give Judy a can of mace-like "Fox Away" to "protect her" as she goes off to the "wild city" where she could find herself in all kinds of "danger."

And quite surprisingly a good part latter part of the film is driven by the consequences of an _inadvertent comment_ at a press conference by the otherwise happy / bubbling / optimistic Judy (remember she was a cop on a case...), where she clumsily suggests that "deep down, predators may be _biologically_ predisposed to violence" throwing the whole balance / peace of the city into chaos -- as all the city's sheep, rabbits, deer, chipmunks, gazelles, etc suddenly become newly frightened "of all the predators" in their midst.

Anyway, it's a generally fun story.  I just wish that a few non-mammals were added to the mix because in a country like ours, the message still could be mixed -- basically still allowing Viewers to leave the film with the interpretation: "Okay, white people from the non Anglo/Germanic sections of Europe are (now) okay ("we" basically hold that now ...) , but people of color still may not be ("okay") ... especially when they have customs like wearing head scarves (or turbans), grew-up liking Cumbia / Merengue or Tejano / Mariachi music or celebrate Kwanzaa, Divali or Ramadan."

Unfortunately, in a country such as ours today, we simply have to underline that inclusion means _everybody_ because otherwise there will always be people looking to keep at least one or another group "on the bubble" / "nervous" or "out" ...

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Ingrid Bergman In her Own Words (orig. Jag är Ingrid) [2015]

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

IMDb listing

Cinematographe (M. Bordino) review* (D. Catelli) review*
The Hollywood Reporter (D. Young) review

Ingrid Bergman In her Own Words (orig. Jag är Ingrid) [2015] (directed and cowritten by Stig Björkman along with Dominika Daubenbüchel and Stina Gardel) is a quite fascinating and surprisingly intimate SWEDISH DOCUMENTARY about the life of world-renowned Swedish-born actress / screen legend Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982) [wikip] [IMDb].  The film played recently at the 19th (2016) Chicago European Union Film Festival held here at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago.

Making extensive use of Ingrid Bergman's own diaries, correspondence, HOME MOVIES (apparently _she loved making home movies_) and extensive interviews with her four children Pia Lindström, Roberto Ingmar Rossellini,  Isabella Rossellini and Isotta Ingrid Rossellini as well as various friends, the film offers a remarkable view into the life of the actress who was both renown even beloved for her work, but at times quite shocking / notorious in her time in her personal life:

Her marriage to her first husband Petter Lindström (a Swedish doctor who during the war years had moved with their first child to the States to follow/support her in her career) ended in divorce in 1950 after she got pregnant in the midst of an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini [wikip] [IMDb] while filming in Europe.   Her second marriage, to Rossellini, which produced her other three children ended in divorce in 1957 after several not-particularly-successful movie projects together, and Rossellini entering into an affair with an Indian screenwriter Sonali Das Gupta while he was filming in India.  Bergman married a third time to Lars Schmidt, a Swedish theatrical producer, who seemed to be something of a Godsend with the Rossellini kids, and with whom she remained married for nearly 2 decades prior to divorcing in 1975.  Bergman died in 1982.

It is on her quite complex personal history that this film is mostly about, though her many films serve as markers in time to help us the audience better appreciate when what was happening in her life at the time.  It's an interesting choice -- to focus more on her personal / family life rather than on her storied career.  It it also makes her more relateable because while very few of us will ever have the professional success that Ingrid Bergman experienced, all of us have experience with managing challenges, temptations, disappointments and failings at home.  

It appeared that pretty much all four of her children have fond memories of both her and their fathers though they also were aware that their circumstances both not necessarily ideal at times and yet still certainly more fortunate than most others who'd find themselves in similar situations.  For example, there was a time in their lives when the three Rosselini children actually lived in Italy in essentially "a kinderhouse" (run by a number of caretakers and equipped with just about everything that a group of kids could want ... while BOTH parents - Ingrid and Roberto - worked on professional projects "far away" -- Ingrid in Paris (so she could "drop by" at least once a month) and Roberto way out in India (so his visits "home" would come far less frequently).

Again, all admitted that this was not exactly an ideal situation, but all her children, including Pia from Ingrid's first marriage remembered their mother as being someone who was fun / outgoing (with them) to have around, someone who was more "a friend" than perhaps a traditional mother.

A lot of us hearing this would both "cringe a bit", and yet also understand (somewhat) as well.  Many, many parents in divorce situations try to do the same.

In any case, the film offers a quite _fascinating glimpse_ into the life of a _very successful (professionally) professional woman_ and does offer Viewers the opportunity to reflect on the choices that she made (and that _we all make_) in managing our relationships and careers.

Hence this proves a quite excellent and thoughtful film.

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The Young Messiah [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)   Fr. Dennis (0 Stars with below Expl)

IMDb listing

CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
EWTN (R. Arroyo) interview w. director

The Young Messiah [2016] (directed and cowritten by Cyrus Nowrasteh along with Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh based on the novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Anne Rice [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) promised from the get-go to be a rather odd concoction.

The Louisiana/New Orleans-born novelist Anne Rice on whose (necessarily) speculative novel the film is based has been "all over the map" in her "spiritual journey" -- born Catholic, then agnostic, then apparently at least partly returning to her faith for a number of years, then withdrawing again, now completely, "from organized religion" and currently labeling herself a secular humanist.  Further, while she's written two novels about Jesus' life, though "about his hidden years" (the current one, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt [GR] and Christ the Lord: Road to Cana [GR]) where let's face it _one could write anything_,  she's actually best known for her Vampire Chronicles [GR] and The Lives of the Mayfair Witches [GR] series.  Finally her page notes that she's even written / published _erotica_ and _S&M literature_ under pseudonyms.  Sigh, "Louisiana voodoo ..."

Then director Cyrus Nowrasteh though American born is of Iranian descent.  Now in his interview with EWTN he does identify himself as a Christian and certainly could pass as a smiling and _sincere_ "born again" as he came by basically the Catholic version of the 700-Club, there _aren't_ (and have never have been) a lot of Iranian Christians.  So it comes to me as something of a surprise that he and his American wife would be the ones to take-up _this project_. 

Yet, I suppose if not them, who?  Still I have to say that I did leave the theater _with a rather bad aftertaste_ understanding that at least Rice, whose wikipedia page trumpets that she's sold over 100 million books (though mostly about witches and vampires) stands to profit quite significantly here on a book on "Christ the Lord" in whom _she does not even believe_ anymore ...

What of the story itself?  Call it a story about Jesus for a Narcissistic Age, focusing on a period of Jesus' life where one _could truly write anything_ and "produce drama" that ISN'T NEEDED _if one were to just STICK TO THE ORIGINAL TEXT_.

So "the story" here assumes that since in the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 2), Herod the Great, wished to kill the child Jesus in infancy (and hence why the Gospel of Matthew has the Holy Family flee to Egypt for the first seven years of Jesus' life), AFTER SAID ELDER HEROD'S DEATH, HIS SON WOULD HAVE WANTED TO DO THE SAME as the Holy Family came back home (to Nazareth).

So the film here has a very creepy looking Herod's son (played by Jonathan Bailey), basically a younger version of creepy looking conception of Herod's son of Jesus Christ Superstar [1973]) ordering a Roman Centurion (played by Sean Bean) -- Roman centurions have had a quite busy Lent this year ... "witness" the film Risen [2016] released a few weeks ago -- to go out and find the seven year old, about whom "rumors were spreading" of the little miracles that were occurring all around him, and to ... "put an end to him."  The Roman Centurion understands that order one way, Herod it turns out, may have meant it another, but "one could understand" the Roman Centurion's confusion ...

In the meantime, the seven year old Jesus (played by Adam Graves-Neal) "has questions" about his increasingly apparent "specialness" while the Holy Family, Mary (played by Sara Lazzaro) and Joseph (played by Vincent Walsh) along with an Uncle named Cleopas (played by Christian McCay) and cousins named James (played and Salome (played respectively by Finn Ireland and Lois Ellington) each have different attitudes / opinions of "how to break the news" to him.

Ah, yes, to be "born special" ... a dilemma that "all of us" in "our very special age" face.  And Viewers are invited to reflect on "when did you discover that you were 'special' as well...?"

So the whole story basically deteriorates into a "Twilight Saga ... with Jesus ... (and no Vampires)" ;-) though Herod the Great's son looked pretty creepy as did a demonic figure (played by a hooded Rory Keenan) to help give the film a certain, er, "gothic look ..."  Indeed, ever since Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ [2004], the Devil's been "pretty busy" in films about Jesus as well ...

How then to conclude here?  For one, I do think that the USCCB Media Office could consider apologizing to Martin Scorsese for its denunciation of his Last Temptation of Christ [1988] because both that film and the book by Nikos Kazantzakis on which it was based were _more faithful_ than this film to the received tradition and whatever sins the two, Scorsese and Kazantzakis, may have committed in their personal lives, the two would seem to me more respectful and perhaps even more faithful to the Christian faith than "made her millions writing about witches and vampires" Anne Rice. 

Hope the millions she makes here, will be put to good use ...

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Marshland (orig. La Isla Mínima) [2014]

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

IMDb listing listing listing* (A. Rivera) review (J. Martín) review* (J.A. Planes Pedreño) review*

The Hollywood  Reporter (J. Holland) review
Variety (J. Weissberg) review (A. Wilkinson) review
PopOptiq (E. Chaput) review

Marshland (orig. La Isla Mínima) [2014] [IMDb] [CEu] [FAes]*(directed and cowritten by Alberto Rodríguez [IMDb] [FAes]* along with Rafael Cobos [IMDb]*) is a 10 Goya Award winning CRIME DRAMA from SPAIN (the Goya Awards are Spain's equivalent to the Oscars) that played recently at the 19th (2016) Chicago European Union Film Festival held here at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago.  The film is also available in the U.S. for viewing for a reasonable fee via various internet streaming services, including Amazon Instant Video.

Playing out in the coastal Guadalquivir Marshlands of Andalucía [IMDb-loc] in southern Spain (Florida Everglades-like marshlands not necessarily being what one thinks of when one thinks of Spain...) in 1980, hence in the years just after Gen. Franco's death and Spain's transition from Fascism to Democracy, the film is in good part about that Transition* (from Fascism to Democracy) and about how not necessarily certain / precarious it was.

Two federal police detectives, Pedro (played by Raúl Arévalo [IMDb] [FAes]*) and Juan (played by Javier Gutiérrez [IMDb] [FAes]*), are sent down from Madrid to the marshlands of southern Andalucía to investigate the disappearance of two teenage girls in an out-of-the-way hamlet there.  It's not exactly a promotion ... The older, middle aged, Juan reminds his younger partner Pedro as the younger one is looking for a phone to call his wife that they had arrived: "You may think that you live in a democracy now, but when you (stupidly/needlessly) criticize a General, this is what you (we...) get.  You're (we're ...) going to get slapped ..."

But the two have been sent to investigate a case, and Pedro's certainly convinced that if they just do a good job they'll be going back to Madrid soon.

When the two arrive the bodies of the two young girls had not yet been found, so there is still the faint hope that the two may have just "left town."  Why?  Well, when the two detectives talk to some of the teenage girls' classmates, it's clear that EVERYBODY (or at least every young person ...) just wanted to "get out of this swamp."

Where to?  How?  Among the possessions of one of the girls, the two find a brochure promising jobs at a resort hotel somewhere presumably some distance from said (and quite despised "swamp" (where the only jobs available seemed to be fishing and rice cultivation ...).

How'd one of the girls get in possession of said brochure promising a far brighter / more exciting future for young ladies than trudging through wetlands in galoshes under a baking hot sun to help with the rice harvest, or spend one's days. knife-in-hand, gutting fish on a Forrest Gump-like fishing trawler?

Well "there'd be guys" from out-of-town passing through this hamlet, often "on Feast Days" (when the town'd be partying) promising "the Moon" to these quite desperate and quite naive girls.  And, if one didn't want to wait "for a Feast Day" to meet a gent "with a car and some money," a good-looking girl could "make contact" with such an out-of-towner just by (literally) _walking_ the quite misty road at the edge of town at night.   Yes, an "out-of-towner" with a car and a few bills could find _all kinds_ of "comfort / recreation" just driving-out to such hinterlands "on a hot and steamy night..."  and then, there were _a lot_ of such nights in the hinterlands of Southern Andalucia ...

Okay, one so need not "go to the city" to find "a den of inequity" ... but what kind OF A PSYCHO would be _killing_ these young women, teenagers, who clearly were just looking to "better their circumstances"?

That's of course the rest of this NEO-NOIRISH film (Noir films generally being precisely about "unspeakable secrets" being kept down / quiet by multiple layers of corruption).

An arguably more interesting question becomes who of these two cops will be the one who solves this crime: the younger cop, the still somewhat naive "boyscoutish" Pedro (who even finds further support for his "boy scoutishness" by the recent transition from Franco's Dictatorship to still fledgling Democracy), or the _older one_ Juan, who entered said FEDERAL POLICE _DURING FRANCO'S TIME_ and had "learned to operate" under "a different set of SOPs."

Indeed, throughout the film, Juan remains ever impatient, _wanting_ to _just hit people_ who could help the two in their investigation ;-).

So we watch this rather odd team -- "the boy scout" and "the Nazi" -- both arguably "being punished by Madrid" seeking to (sort of) work together to solve this crime "out in the middle of a swamp."   And yet said crime becomes actually quite emblematic of exactly what was / had been going on in the larger society (people of power / means were able to get away with just about anything).

So the film becomes quite fascinating and with the U.S. going through a wave of scandals involving use of force by police, this becomes actually quite a fascinating film for Americans to watch in our day:  There can be advantages to "shaking the trees" (quite hard) BUT ... is it worth the other costs?

So this becomes another excellent and quite thought-provoking film ...

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