Thursday, June 30, 2016

Legend of Tarzan [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (0 Stars)

IMDb listing

It's been several years that I've walked out of a movie.  I've done so twice -- Killer Joe [2012] and Sinister [2012].  Now surprisingly, with Legend of Tarzan [2016] (directed by David Yates, story and screenplay by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer based, sort of, on the Tarzan stories [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Edgar Rice Burroughs [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb], lead role played by Alexander Skarsgård)

What the...?  Why the...?  Well the chief villain (played by Christoph Waltz) strangled people using his Rosary.  When about 45 minutes into the movie, after already doing so several times, he explains to Jane (played by Margot Robbie) that he got said Rosary from a priest friend when he was nine, she retorts: "You must have been close..."

I stayed dazed in the theater for about 5-10 minutes more and then said, "You know what, I'm done..."

Zero stars.   Indeed, for the second week in a row, as I asked with Independence Day: Resurgence [2016](though for different reasons) yet even more so here, can one give a film negative stars?  Both awful and sad.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Shallows [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

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

The Shallows [2016] (directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, screenplay by Anthony Jaswinski) is ... an EVER ENTERTAINING but ALSO   SURPRISINGLY INTELLIGENT -- "SUMMER SHARK" MOVIE ;-).  

I say EVER ENTERTAINING because I _jumped_ "early and often" during the course of the film that was often spectacularly shot in the "small indie" / "surfing documentary" idiom (honestly, the cinematography alone is worth going to see the film).

And I call this film _surprisingly intelligent_ because though made in said "small indie" rather than "Blockbuster" fashion, (hence for a fraction of the cost of Jaws [1975], the film that one would have thought was "the shark movie to end all shark movies," THE "shark movie" that arguably "jumped its own shark" ;-) ... the current film is arguably MORE INTELLIGENT than Jaws [1975].

Honestly, the current film could be thought of as Steven Spielberg's name-making blockbuster Jaws [1975] meeting a surprising / updated retelling of Ernest Hemingway's classic Old Man and the Sea [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb], featuring instead of "an old bearded man in a boat trying to reel-in a fish," a bikini clad medical student named Nancy (played honestly magnificently by Blake Lively) trying to take down a shark. 

Indeed the film could be thought of  as "the revenge of the stupid / arguably 'immoral' utterly anonymous woman who gets "munched" in the opening sequence of Jaws (while carelessly going 'skinny dipping', alone, in the sea at the end of some random beach-side party).  In contrast, Blake Lively's late-20 something surfing medical student Nancy is _anything_ but stupid / careless or immoral (indeed, let's just being by saying that SHE'S GIVEN A NAME...)  Yes, she finds herself alone 200 yards out from a secluded ("secret") beach somewhere in Mexico.  However, that's because she wants to take-in "one last wave" before calling it a day.  And she's at the beach to begin with, in good part, to grieve for her mother who had died recently of cancer. 

Blake Lively's Nancy is thus quite similar to Reese Witherspoon's character in Wild [2014] ... trying to "do what she loves" (in this case surf) to get herself out of her grief.  And that she would have gravitated toward a more secluded ("secret") beach to do this, given her circumstances would even make sense ... people generally don't like to grieve "in public" ...

Anyway, while she tries to take-in that "one last wave" on that fateful late afternoon ... she gets "knocked off her surf board" (and even bitten) ... by a (it turns out, one rather "driven" / "single minded") shark ... some 200 yards from shore, and much then ensues over the subsequent several days ...

Honestly, a quite excellent film and on several levels ;-)

Good / great job! ;-)

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Invention for Destruction (orig. Vynález Skázy previously released as The Fabulous World of Jules Verne) [1958/2015]

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

IMDb listing
CSFD listing* listing*

aVoir-aLire (V. Dumez) review*
Moria Sci-Fi, Horror, Fantasy Review (R. Scheib) review (V. Limberk) review*

Invention for Destruction (orig. Vynález Skázy previously released as The Fabulous World of Jules Verne) [1958 / 2015] [IMDB] [CSFD]*[FDb]* (directed and screenplay cowritten by Karel Zeman [wikip] [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDb]*, along with František Hrubín [IMDB] [CSFD]* [FDb]* dialogues by Milan Vácha [IMDb] [FDb]* based on the story Facing the Flag (orig. Face au Drapeau) [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Jules Vernes [wikip] [GR] [IMDb] [CSFD]* is a TRULY REMARKABLE 1950s-era Czech combined animated / live-action gem that was _solemnly_ re-released digital restored form at the 2015 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival* and has subsequently been made available in said digital restored form on DVD (available on Amazon) for a reasonable price.  The film played recently at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago as part of the 2016 Czech That Film Tour organized annually by the Czech Ministry of Culture and the Czech Diplomatic Mission to the United States.  Indeed, presenting the film at the Friday 6/24 screening here in Chicago was Ludmila Zeman, the legengary director's daughter.

Often today we tend to think of Science Fiction, especially Sci-Fi film to be almost an exclusive province of the United States.  Films like the current one here are a reminder of the VARIETY of SciFi visions available once one gets past our borders.  And it is a _lovely_ trip.  Over the years, I've reviewed fair amount of foreign SciFi films including Upside Down [2013] from Argentina, Blue Desert (orig. Deserto Azul) [2013] from Brazil, Melancholia [2011] by Denmark's Lars von Trier, the Twilight-Zonish The Similars (orig. Los Parecidos) [2015] by Mexico's Isaac Ezban, and the Russian sci-fi films Calculator (orig. Вычислитель / Vychislitel) [2014]Hard to be a God (orig. Трудно быть Богом) [2013] and  Under Electric Clouds (orig. Под электрическими облаками / Pod elektricheskimi oblakami) [2015].  All these films expand our horizons of what's possible in the genre.

And the current film, black and white, done with a truly marvelous mix of 1950s-era animation and live action, and doing so in a manner that respects, spectacularly, the style of the illustrations in Jules Verne's novels, arguably ANTICIPATES the Ian Flemming inspired James Bond films of the 1960s.

What's the plot of this story?  A scientist, Professor Roch (played by Arnošt Navrátil [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDb]*) is kidnapped by an evil pirate / capitalist / industrialist Artigas (played by Miloslav Holub [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDb]*) taking him to a far off island with a giant volcano where he forces the scientist build him a weapon of unimaginable destruction, and it's up to the French Navy to come in to save the Day.  Okay, switch the French Navy to the British Agent 007 and move the story by 75 years or so and this becomes the plot to essentially Ian Flemming's Dr. No [book 1958 , film 1962]].

So yes, this becomes a fascinating film to look-up for _all kinds_ of historical, technical, thematic reasons.  And typical of the era, it's not even too long -- about 78 minutes ;-) -- SO it's not even that big of a risk to take ;-) ... and once it starts, I'm _positive_ that most film lovers will just watch this remarkable film with jaw dropped fascination.

Technically, it really is that good and then when one thinks that thematically this story / film could have ANTICIPATED some of the James Bond novels / films that followed, it just becomes all the more remarkable.

Thanks for making this part of this already quite remarkable Czech That Film Series!

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

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Václav Havel - A Life of Freedom [2014] (Život podle Václava Havla)

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

IMDb listing listing* listing*
DocumentaryAlliance listing (ČTK) review*
ČeskáTelevize,cz (M. Třešňáková) review*
iDnes (M. Spáčilová) review* (T. Pavelcová) review*

Václav Havel - A Life for Freedom [2014] (Život podle Václava Havla) [2014] [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDb]* [DA] (directed by Andrea Sedláčková [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [DA]) is a solid CZECH / FRENCH made at least in part "for TV" documentary about the life of Czech playwright, former Czech dissident then Czechoslovak afterwards Czech President and certainly Czech national hero Václav Havel [wikip] [IMDb].  A natural (and naturally _crowd pleasing_) part of the 2016 Czech That Film Tour organized annually by the Czech Ministry of Culture and the Czech Diplomatic Mission to the United States, it played recently at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago.  Honestly, what would a "Czech Film Tour" without an entry like this?   It's natural, it's honest.  Václav Havel simply means _a lot_ to the Czechs as a sort of literary/dramatic Jackie Robinson [wikip] crossed with Martin Luther King, Jr. [wikip]

So what does this documentary add that hasn't been already said about Václav Havel?   A non-Czech viewer who may not know much about Vaclav Havel would find the documentary blessedly light and hence accessible.  The main points of Havel's life are covered: 

He was born in 1936 to a quite wealthy Czech bourgeois family that was already focused on the arts, and then on specifically the "pop" or "commercial-arts."  In the 1920s, the Havel family built a state-of-the-art cultural complex The Lucerna (Lantern) on Wenceslas Square in Prague (basically Prague's main square and along with Národní Třida its Champs Élysées).  To this day, The Lucerna (Lantern) has remained a frequented cultural center with shops / cafés, a stunning art deco style multiplex movie theater and a state-of-the-art jazz club (I've been to both the beautiful movie theater and to the jazz club more than a few times during my visits to Prague).  The family also built Prague's famous Berrandov Studios in the hills at the south-east end of the city, which have been graced by the likes of Tom Cruise and Matt Damon in the years after the fall of communism as both some of the Mission Impossible and Bourne Identity movies have been filmed there. 

With the coming into power of the Communists in post-WW II Czechoslovakia in their Putsch of 1948, all this was taken from the family and like those of his class, Vaclav was initially _sentenced_ to a life of _programmed_ obscurity.  Denied _as a matter of course_ (regardless of ability or grades) to entry into a University, he was initially put on a track to become a carpenter and when he proved fearful of heights was transferred into a program that would have made him a laboratory technician.  But an artist he was.  So even as a teenager in a vocational program to become said carpenter / later lab technician, he started writing poetry.  Later he got involved in an unofficial drama group.  In the early 1960s, he caught notice of Czech writers and was invited speak at one of their Congresses.  With little to lose, he came to be appreciated at said Congresses for his bravery in saying things that "the official writers" could not.  In the late 1960s (when Czechoslovakia was liberalizing) he had an opportunity to visit the United States (not unlike Chinese dissident Ai WeiWei in the years prior to Tienanmen), came to enjoy the Peace Marches / hippie lifestyle, and returned to Czechoslovakia just in time for the August 1968 Soviet invasion which crushed this all for 20 years in his home country.

In the mid-1970s, he became a prominent defender of what would have otherwise been simply an obscure Czechoslovakian punk-rock band that called itself "The Plastic People of the Universe" but which found itself persecuted by the Communist authorities simply because its music and its musings were so strange.  Out of his and other soon-to-become artist "dissidents" came the famous Charter 1977 where said artists / writers made a written stand in favor of Freedom, above all of simple Freedom of Expression.  That earned Havel various years of prison and house arrest.  Fascinating photos and home movie clips are presented in the current documentary.

Then in 1989, he the leader of the Charistas became the natural leader of the Opposition that brought down the Communist government in Czechoslovakia and was then subsequently elected leader of first post-Communist Czechoslovakia and later when the country broke-up into the Czech and Slovak Republics, was elected repeated the President of the Czech Republic.

Yet an artist (playwright) at heart, his presidency was ever fascinating.  Upon being elected Czechoslovakia's first post-Communist (by the still Communist legislature) after giving the shortest inaugural speech in 40 years (1 1/2 minutes ;-), he simply crossed from the Presidential Palace at Prague's Castle into its main square to go to Prague's St. Vitus Cathedral, where he asked for and received a blessing from Prague's Cardinal Tomášek (Havel was not Catholic, but it seemed to him the right thing to do).   Footage of the Cardinal's blessing is shown in the documentary. 

Then his presidential court was always filled with interesting people.  Among the first dignitaries invited by Havel to Prague in those heady times after the fall of Communism were: (1) The Pope John Paul II, (2) The Dalai Lama and (3) Frank Zappa ;-).  Footage of visits to Havel's residence at Prague's Castle by the Dalai Lama and (separately) the Rolling Stones ;-) was shown in the documentary as well.

The film ended with footage from Vaclav Havel's only stab at making a film (remember he was born into a family that had built and owned Prague's Berrandov Studios), the film leaving Leaving (orig. Odchazeni) [2011] which he made/directed in the last years of his life after leaving the Presidency and in which he has his second wife, actress Dagmar "Dásha" Veškrnová-Havlová ÍMDb] [CSFD]
playing a lead role).  I had seen (and reviewed) the film when it played at the 2012 version of this Czech Film Tour ;-), and it was typical of Havel's and really post-WWII / Cold War era Central European playwriting ;-).  

Vaclav Havel was truly a remarkable man -- yes, an intellectual/dissident, later a President, but also honestly "a fun guy" (and yes, something of a womanizer as well ... which does sort of go hand-in-hand with with "being a fun guy" ... ;-)

Anyway, non-Czechs wanting to know something about Vaclav Havel would probably like this film because it is, in fact, quite light.  It dutifully presents the above biography of the man, but does so lightly and characteristically with some humor.

And many of the Czech critics (listed above) gave the documentary relatively high marks for "blessedly not including a lot of talking heads" ;-).  Again, the film is composed almost entirely of archival footage and photos, with voice-over (subtitled into English) by the director herself.  The advantage of this format (to a Czech audience) was obvious -- to many Czechs, Václav Havel [wikip] [IMDb] is almost like a family member.  Hence there really was no need (for the Czechs anyway) to have "a bunch of talking heads" expounding on his importance (or failings, etc).  We already know him / he's already "family" ;-),  For us, the film's like going through a family album ;-).

Anyway, great job! ;-)

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

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Friday, June 24, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Let's begin by admitting what becomes obvious:  Independence Day: Resurgence [2016] (directed by Roland Emmerich, screenplay by Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich  and James Vanderbilt, story by Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, Nicolas Wright and James A. Woods, based on characters created by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin) is AT BEST a _silly movie_, having far more in common with the "Sharknado" movies than more conventional disaster movies, even including the recent earthquake / tsunami movie San Andreas [2015] which I did actually see (but apparently did not bother to review ;-) or other post-original Independence Day [1996] alien invasion movies like the recent The 5th Wave [2016] (which I did see / review ;-).  AT WORST it's even worse than that... a waste of time.

Folks, that's really the choice that you'll have to make: Is this film simply "silly" / "stupid" like perhaps Snakes on a Plane [2006] or is it even worse than that?

The principal flaw in this "twenty years later" sequel to the original Independence Day [1996] is that the alien invasion envisioned in the original so devastated our planet that it'd be NEXT TO IMPOSSIBLE to envision the world recovering as fast as it appeared to in the sequel.  Indeed, A FAR MORE INTERESTING FILM (INDEED _SERIES_) WOULD HAVE FOLLOWED THE RECOVERY OF THE WORLD AFTER THE REPELLING OF THE ALIEN INVASION IN THE FIRST MOVIE.

To understand, let us remember the devastation wreaked on the Earth in the first movie: The OPENING SALVO of that Alien Invasion OBLITERATED New York, Washington DC and Los Angeles (in the U.S. alone, with similar coordinated attacks obliterating similar cities across Europe, the Americas and Asia).  In _trying_ to repel or at least "cause damage" to the invasion fleet WE OURSELVES BLEW-UP HOUSTON with an H-BOMB _to no effect_ on the invasion fleet.  (At the end of that film, we ended up gaining the upper-hand through managing to insert some sort of a computer virus into the invasion fleet's coordinating mechanism that rendered the invasion fleet "dead in the ... air / space" ;-).

But the Damage was done.  While NOT IMPOSSIBLE, it'd be hard to imagine the level of "Emergency Management" / Societal Coordination and SOCIETAL BUY-IN that would be required to REBUILD after such an attack.

And then there'd be a question of WHAT TO REBUILD -- HONESTLY:  DO WE REBUILD SOCIETY TO BE WHAT IT WAS LIKE _BEFORE_ (basically consumerist driven to promote the happiness of society's individual members) OR ... (HONESTLY) DO WE REBUILD THE MILITARY AT A FRENETIC PACE (yes cannibalizing any / all captured alien technology) TO SIMPLY PREPARE FOR A SECOND ATTACK.

TYPICAL OF OUR MINDSET TODAY ... the current film REFUSES to make _that choice_.

So, instead we're presented with a rebuilt Washington D.C. that looks like a Sci-Fi UTOPIAN vision of what Washington D.C. _could look like_ three centuries from now.  Additionally, we're told that we have a base on the Moon and EVEN SOMEWHERE BY SATURN (remember this would be 20 years after the initial 1996 attack, that is TODAY).

That is UTTER NONSENSE.  AT OUR WILDEST BEST, we'd be looking like late 1950s-early 1960s era West Germany (or perhaps 1950s-early 60s era SOVIET UNION ... they had to rebuild on their own ... W. Germany got assistance FROM US... we'd get assistance from NOBODY), with still LOTS of LEFT-OVER RUINS and ALL KINDS OF OTHER PHYSICAL / PSYCHIC SCARS ALL AROUND.

IT'S ALL NONSENSE, NONSENSE, NONSENSE.  Perhaps though we could have come up with a way to use "alien technology" to just start "throwing sharks" at the second alien invasion fleet ;-) 

A "shark laser pulse gun" (whatever that would be) would be _as realistic_ and _probably more effective_ than the current film's impressive sounding BUT UTTERLY STUPID "cold fusion bombs" ... LOL ;-).

AT BEST "Cold Fusion" would provide us with "a free" means to WARM A CUP OF COFFEE (useful BUT ...).  Maybe A MASSIVE "COLD FUSION REACTOR" OR, BETTER, A MASSIVE ARRAY OF SMALL PARALLEL "COLD FUSION REACTORS" could produce a _lot of_ "net heat" that with something like a low-boiling freon cycle could be converted into ELECTRICITY that in turn _could_ be used to power some kind of LASER.  BUT A BOMB (!!)  NO, NOT IN THIS UNIVERSE !!!! 

The "old fashioned 1950s era 100 MT H-bombs" LOTS AND LOTS OF THEM would PERHAPS be able to "do something" ... if one could get through the alien force shields.  And then one would want to set them off hundreds of millions of miles from Earth.

Closer to home ... I'd bet on those sharks ... ;-)

So folks, MY DECISION IS MADE.  IMHO this was an _unbelievably stupid movie_ ... and honestly the star-studded cast deserved better than this.  Can one give a film NEGATIVE STARS? ;-)

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Free State of Jones [2016]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChiTribune (2 1/2 Stars) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

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

Every Movie Has a Lesson (D. Shanahan) review

Mississippi Historical Society (J.R. Kelly, Jr) article about Newton Knight and the Free State of Jones
Smithsonian Magazine (R. Grant) article The True Story of the Free State of Jones

Free State of Jones [2016] (directed  and screenplay by Gary Ross, screenstory by Leonard Hartman) tells a story that on multiple levels would feel "new" to many Viewers, including many in the United States, but is one that is (1) actually true [wikip] [MHS], and (2) deserves to be explored much, much further in the coming years, and again on multiple levels.

What's the story about?  The film tells the story of Newton Knight [wikip] [MHS] (played wonderfully by Matthew McConaughey who even bears him a striking resemblance) who was a Southern Unionist and who came from a part of Mississippi (Jones County) that _never_ really supported Mississippi's secession from the Union at the start of the Civil War.

The principal reason for the region's "lack of enthusiasm" for Secession was that it was a relatively poor county with very few slaves (only 12% of its population, the lowest in the State) and hence its residents had little use for a War to support the "right" of rich land-owners to own slaves that most of them did not have.  This lack of enthusiasm grew into first desertion from the Confederate Armies and later into OPEN REBELLION in the County and the surrounding counties on account of:

(1) the passage of the infamous "20 Slave Law" that exempted the sons of rich land owners from military service based on the number of slaves (in multiples of 20) that they owned (owning 20 slaves gave a family 1 exemption, 40 two, 60 three ...) making the war effectively "A Rich Man's War" but a "Poor Man's Fight" something that BY ALL ACCOUNTS simply DISGUSTED Newt Knight who deserted the Confederate Army soon afterwards preferring to simply live in the swamps of his home county _often in the company of runaway slaves_ than to risk his life for rich men who wanted to continue to have the right to continue to own them.   (During those years of "living in the swamps" Knight came to know and later, after the war, MARRIED a black woman named Rachel (played in the film by Gugu Mbatha Raw) beside whom Segregation Era Laws beside whom, at the end of his life, he was buried).

(2) the often stupid and perceived as draconian / WILDLY UNFAIR taxation practices of the Confederate government that would simply _seize_ the property of the poorer farmers -- corn, pigs, horses -- in support of the war effort.

After the fall of Vicksburg in 1863, desertions became a small torrent, and Newt Knight came to lead a company of about 125 men - both white deserters and runaway blacks - who based in the impenetrable swamps began to TAKE THE FIGHT to the Confederate tax agents personified in the film by Lt. Barbour (played by Bill Tangradi) and Colonel Robert Lowry (played by Wayne Pére) the latter an actual historical figure though conflated in the film with another notorious local Confederate officer named Major Amos Lemore [MHS].  In 1864, Newt's Company over-ran the Jones County Seat of Ellisville, MS, hoisting an Union Flag in its square and perhaps in protest to a lack of support on the part of the by the nearby Union Army of Willam T. Sherman, by legend declared "The Free State of Jones" before retreating back into the swamps in face of a Confederate Force gathered to try to destroy them once and for all.

So the film tells a FASCINATING history of UNIONIST south-eastern Mississippi, a history that I did not know about before watching the film, but I'm _not_ surprised existed ... Indeed, we've long been taught in school about the "southern leanings" of many northern states, including southern Illinois and much of Indiana.  This was THE FIRST TIME that I learned of a SECTION OF A SOUTHERN STATE that had _little enthusiasm_ for the Southern Cause.

The film also INVITES viewers to learn more about another phenomenon that I do know some more about, but would certainly like to learn more as well: the presence of communities of escaped (self-liberated) slaves across the swamps and forests of the American South. 

I first learned of the of the historical existence of such communities when I was stationed at a parish in Central Florida (and working with a rather significant Haitian community living there) after encountering a book entitled The Black Seminoles:History of a Freedom Seeking People (1996), ed. K.W. Porter [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [wikip].  I have since learned that communities of such self-liberated slaves, known as Maroons, existed _all across the Caribbean_.  Thanks to the ArtMattan sponsored Annual African Diaspora Film Festivals held here in Chicago, I've encountered at least two films about them: Maluala [1979] about such communities that existed across the forests/jungles of colonial Cuba and another entitled Aliku Liba: Maroon Again [2009] about communities of the descendants of such self-liberated slaves that exist _to this day_ in the interior of French Guiana.   Additionally, a significant community of Jamaican Maroons successfully defended itself despite several wars against it until Jamaican independence in 1962.  A vibrant community of Black Nova Scotians composed of escaped African slaves from the United States and their descendants existed in Canadian Nova Scotia as well.  Finally, similar communities of Quilombos, the descendants of self-liberated African slaves, exist all across the jungles of Amazonian Brazil

The stories of all these communities are worth pursuing by Viewers of the current film / Readers here who may be irritated (certainly in part legitimately) that the current film's hero was, once again, a white man.

I'd also encourage Readers here to follow-up by reading-up on various opposition movements to the often violently imposed "Jim Crow" Segregation Regime that followed the Reconstruction Era [wikip]  [PBS], and then some fascinatingly "uniquely Southern" approaches to defending / increasing black civil rights, during the early years of the the Civil Rights Era notably the campaign of a rural North Carolina NAACP official named Rob Williams [wikip] [book] [Amzn] [film] to (in the still Segregated South of the 1950s) organize a series of ALL BLACK "GUN CLUBS" ;-) which served to guarantee that at least in his home county of Monroe, North Carolina BLACKS WERE ARMED :-).

However, I do believe there's another part of the current film that was certainly worth telling in any case -- that of the existence of _significant numbers_ of WHITE SOUTHERNERS who OPPOSED Southern Secession even to the point of ARMED RESISTANCE AGAINST IT.

So I found the film _definitely_ worth the view and would definitely encourage younger historians / film-makers to pursue similar stories in the future.  Since Ken Burn's [wikip] [IMDb] landmark documentary The Civil War [1990] [wikip] [IMDb] which featured African American historian Barbara J. Fields [wikip] [IMDb] (along with Southerner Shelby Foote [wikip] [IMDb]) giving much of the commentary, I have recoiled at ANY / EVERY FURTHER ATTEMPT to present the Civil War as a conflict in which both sides "had some truth."  NO, the South seceded to defend ITS RICH PEOPLE'S "right" TO OWN BLACK PEOPLE and sent POOR WHITE PEOPLE to war AS CANNON FODDER to defend that "right."

As such, I've consistently supported serious films like Cold Mountain [2003] and the current film as well as more comic films like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter [2012] and Django Unchained [2012] which made the point:  Whatever "honor" poor white soldiers "had" in fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War, IT WAS MISPLACED.  At best these white Confederate soldiers were duped, at worst they were willing collaborators in defending an Evil cause.

So I thoroughly applaud the making of this film as a support of the contention that _at least_ SOME WHITE SOUTHERNERS resisted the Evil cause of the Confederacy (and later Segregation).

Good job in reminding us of this and giving us an opportunity to learn more about this in the future!

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Schmitke [2014]

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

IMDb listing listing* listing* listing

Aktuálné.cz (J. Gregor) review*
Červený (E. Césarová) review*
iDnes (M. Spačilová) review* (L. Berwenczik) review* (B. Piringer) review*

Schmitke [2014] [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu] (directed and cowritten by Štěpán Altrichter [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu], along with Tomáš Končinský [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu] and Jan Fusek [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu]) is A TRULY FUN Bob Newhart-y Seinfeld / "Northern Exposure" like / Twilight Zone-ish small, largely crowd-sourced, volunteer / film school student staffed CZECH / GERMAN / SLOVAKIAN co-production that played recently at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago as part of the 2016 Czech That Film Tour organized annually by the Czech Ministry of Culture and the Czech Diplomatic Mission to the United States

The film is (largely) about Julius Schmitke (played wonderfully by Peter Kurth [IMDb]  []* [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu]) a 50-something year-old, good, solid, honest German engineer, from ... some mid-sized city in Germany.  He's devoted his life to making good, solid wind-turbines for a good, solid German "Green" wind-mill / engineering firm.  Sure, he's a little bit staid, a little bit boring.  He doesn't seem to be married (anymore).

Schmitke's 20-something year old daughter Anne (played again WONDERFULLY by Lana Cooper  [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* []* [CEu]) comes crashing to his quite minimalist apartment early in the film, bubbling with all kinds of enthusiasm that a 20-something year old would have, after having spent (apparently) the last 6 months / year "somewhere" in Nepal ... or something... ;-).  He's nice, kinda "rolls his eyes" (_internally_ because he _doesn't_ want to offend her ;-) still kinda does anyway ;-) and just does, kinda, love this daughter who ... it's pretty clear that he _doesn't_ understand any more, honestly "doesn't have a clue."  But she's his daughter. She's (still?) enthusiastic ... so why not just be happy for her?  EVEN IF HE DOESN'T HAVE A CLUE OF WHAT SHE'S TALKING ABOUT ;-) ;-)  I THINK A LOT OF PARENTS "COULD RELATE" ;-)

Well, one random day, a few days after his daughter came back from Nepal or somewhere, spotlessly clean red hard hat on, at work, with a group of fellow engineers, all dutifully with their spotlessly clean red hard hats on (not a single scrape or gash on any of said hard hats ;-), dutifully running some sort of an acoustic test of one of their windmill prototypes in a wind-tunnel, he's called aside by the manager and told ... that he's replacing him by bright-spritely (10-15-20 years younger than him) engineer (also with a red hard hat on ;-).  "Why?"  "Because I need you in the field" "But I stopped doing that 10 years ago."  "I know but that's where the company needs you now."  Sigh ... "Can I at least keep my assistant?"  "Sure ..."

And so it was, a day or two later, he and his bright-eyed goofy 20-something engineering assistant Thomas (played again WONDERFULLY by Johann Jürgens [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu] "just like his daughter" only, honestly, DUMBER ;-) -- Schmitke spends most of his time (again largely internally) "shaking his head" as Thomas keeps talking, incessantly (but _excitedly_).  BUT HE APPARENTLY LIKES HIM AROUND BECAUSE ... HE _IS_ FUN -- head off on their first "field job" (in years) ... out to some windmill farm out on THE CZECH SIDE of the Czech - German border in the Ore (Erzgebirge / Krušné Hory) Mountains.

When they arrive in the odd, would-be "sleepy" mountain / border town, they quickly see (or HEAR) the problem.  Meeting with the late 30-something / early 40-something year old Czech mayor Potužák (played again SPOT-ON with the Czech brand of "no-nonsense" / "sleaves rolled up" efficiency by Jakub Žáček [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu]), who seems to run the town from his seat at the local tavern U Bobrů (at the Beavers ;-), he's welcomed by said exasperated mayor and told (in effect): "Thank God you're (finally) here, now just knock the F-ing thing down."

What thing?  Well, outside of town there's, of course, a (small) "wind farm" and in the midst of the 3-4 maybe 5 GIANT (German built) WINDMILLS stands THE OLDEST ONE, a GIANT DILAPIDATED MONSTROSITY which (remember those "acoustic tests" that "spotless red helmeted" Schmitke and his team were conducting "in the spotless wind-tunnel lab" the other day) was HOWLING in a TRULY MONSTROUSLY / ARGUABLY _UNHOLY_ WAY, its HOWLS ECHOING UP-AND-DOWN AND ALL-AROUND THE MOUNTAINS / COUNTRY-SIDE ;-) ;-).

Again, the Mayor would want his (should be) "sleepy little town" to FINALLY "just get some sleep";-)

So soon there's 50+year old Schmitke (in a now more practical and certainly "more worn" hard hat) alongside his goofy 20-something year old assistant who actually came there with a goofy raccoon cap ("'cause they were going 'into the wilds' there on the Czech-German border" ;-), now _also_ in a hard-hat with some dents in it (at least Schmitke _didn't_ introduce _his daughter_ to this goofy if fun loving "moron" ... ;-) and ... with the two staring at this THOROUGHLY DILAPIDATED _HOWLNG_ MONSTER ... you can just _imagine_ SCHMITKE THINKING (when not distracted by his goofy assistant): "WHAT THE F... did YOU (one has to say it ... CZECH ;-) IDIOTS DO WITH _MY WONDERFUL WINDMILL_ ;-) ;-) ... NEVER, EVER IN MY LIFE, DID I SEE ..." ;-)

And then quickly remember back to the (Czech) Mayor with his own very practical complaint: "We and certainly_I_ (!!) NEVER asked for this MONSTER to be put in OUR / MY BACK YARD.  So just _knock_ the Damned / UNHOLY thing down" ;-)

So ... much ensues ... ;-)

Among that which ensues is simply dealing with the locals.  And these _aren't_ simply "dumb" "Benny Hill" types.  FAR FROM IT, young, middle aged or old, COLORFUL as they are (often literally ... the punkish bar maid Julie (played again WONDERFULLY with "eye rolling" fashion by Johana Schmidtmajerová [IMDb]  [FDB]* [CEu]) has half her head shaved and the other half dyed purple ;-), ALL HAVE THEIR OWN LIVES and MOST actually DON'T EVEN CARE that the HOWLING MONSTER OF A WINDMILL AT THE EDGE OF TOWN is making their lives _unbearable_ ... MOST ('cept of course the Mayor, who might have made a campaign promise to get rid of the damned thing) have COME TO "BE AT PEACE" WITH IT.  Eyes rolling, head shaking that's "simply the way things are ... in these parts ..."

It's just a _brilliant_ piece of screen-writing and then execution -- with that HOWLING windmill (literally) "standing-in" (!) as a "twenty-first century _werewolf_" ;-)

A "local expert" a "geologist" named Kryšpín (played again wonderfully in generally cynical/sneering yet sometimes when _he_ wanted to (for effect) in "bug-eyed" scary fashion by Petr Vršek [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]* [CEu]) progressively "explains to" (more like freaks-out) Schmitke the various levels of "oddity" of "these parts" in which Schmitke found himself in (nominally sent _to repair "his windmill"):

For one, the mountains aren't called "The Ore Mountains" for nothing.  Laden with all kinds of metals (and even uranium), magnets, compasses, much _electronic gear_ doesn't work well there.

Then there's the wind and the incessant fog (though _not mentioned in the film_ in the 1970s-80s that FOG was still heavily ACID LADEN from coal fired plants on both sides of the border).  At minimum, that moisture would mess with the metal gear then in that blasted windmill.

Then this was FAMOUSLY the part of the Czech Republic THAT HAD been SUDETEN (hence prior to World War II, inhabited overwhelmingly BY GERMANS -- who were expelled by the war).

So small town with said tavern and angry/"sleaves rolled-up" trying-to-be-efficient mayor notwithstanding, this region was LARGELY ABANDONED with "forests" growing all over the place _including_ over all kinds of formerly Sudeten German towns / hamlets: Schmitke's van's GPS _keeps taking him_ to a town that DOES NOT APPEAR TO EXIST ANYMORE -- it doesn't, but that doesn't mean that a town wasn't there before.

Finally there were all sorts of former mines, all around in the forests, some there since the Middle Ages, others built (and abandoned) as all sorts of  "secret facilities" form all sorts of eras including the Nazi Era.  Kryšpín warns Schmitke: "People disappear here."

So this was one STRANGE place ... with a HOWLING MONSTROSITY OF A WINDMILL SPINNING AROUND ... ABOVE IT ALL ... far far far "from the lab." ;-)


ADDENDUM: Yea!  The film is available (though apparently in European [PAL] format) with Czech, German and English subtitles in both the US [Amzn] and in Europe [Amzn-UK] [] []  at a reasonable price ;-)

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

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Central Intelligence [2016]

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

IMDb listng (S. Ofole-Prince) review (E. Bartlová) review*
Fanboy Nation (S. Mulvihill) review
Fat Guys at the Movies (K. Carr) review

CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (C. Covert) review (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  

Central Intelligence [2016] (directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, screenplay by Ike Barinholtz, Rawson Marshall Thurber and David Stassen story by Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen) is a fun if often _silly movie_ about ... oh, _so many things_ ... and honestly so many things _that matter_ (like "growing up," surviving bullying, _friendship_, coming to terms with who one is / has become) that despite appalling many of the "Citizen Kane [1941] or bust" school of film critics, will probably end up being one of my favorite movies of the year, and probably for years to come (Folks, I loved Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 [2015] last year as well ;-).

The film is about two guys first approaching their high school graduation, and then 20 years later approaching their 20th high school reunion.

The first is Calvin Joyner (played magnificently by Kevin Hart) who was graduating as the Star [TM] of his high school class -- Valedictorian, Varsity letterman in four, yes FOUR, sports (football, cross country, basketball and baseball (those who would not know, the traditional seasons in the U.S. for FOOTBALL and CROSS COUNTRY occur AT THE SAME TIME ;-), Star of Hamlet (!) in the school play Senior Year (again the play would have run during basketball season ;-), crowned Prom King (his girlfriend Maggie (played again wonderfully by Danielle Nicolet) crowned Prom Queen with him), voted hands-down / no-surprise "Most Likely to Succeed."

Twenty years later ... he's working at a random suburban accounting firm, just passed-up, again, for (even a sucky) promotion that he should have gotten years ago, by someone who's, well, ten years younger than him.   Yes, he's married to Maggie his high school sweetheart.  She's since made Partner at her law firm.  They have no kids, but one guesses that it's been mostly Calvin who's kept the breaks on that (Maggie would have been _happy as pie_ to have had kids by now).  But it's Calvin who's depressed now, indeed depressed _for years_ thinking _sincerely_ that his best years were LONG, LONG PASSED ... and NOW ... is coming that 20th High School Reunion ...

Feeling sorry for himself as the rest of the office is celebrating with the guy who got the promotion that he should have gotten ten years ago ... he gets a random "friend request" on Facebook from a Bob Stone who claims he knows him.  Who the heck is Bob Stone?  Again, feeling sorry for himself / not thinking clearly, he accepts the request and IMMEDIATELY gets a WILDLY INAPPROPRIATE (if sophomoric / still PG-13 level) video sent to him by his new FB buddy Bob Stone.   Of course he hits something and the video starts screaming across the office.  People start rushing toward his cubicle to see what it is.  "Hey man, that's so unprofessional for the office ..." one or another says.

Anyway, back to Bob Stone.  Turns out that he's in town for _the reunion_ and would really like to meet him for a couple of beers beforehand.  Again, Calvin is at a loss / dead-end in his life, accepts (even though it breaks a "marriage counseling appointment," that he's promised Maggie that he'd attend ... yes, even his marriage is now on the rocks...).

Calvin meets Bob Stone at some random agreed-upon bar, and ... Bob Stone (played again absolutely magnificently by Dwayne Johnson), who Calvin does not even initially recognize, turns out to be Robby Wierdich who had been a large, shy, overweight oaf (with a _terribly/tragically "evocative name"_) in high school, relentlessly picked-on by many.  After high school, he seemed to _just disappear_ and nobody (to be honest, not even Calvin) thought much about him.  Yet here he was, 20-years-later, a truly inspired pile of contradictions -- with a bodybuilder's body, but wearing a "unicorn t-shirt", having worked apparently the last 15 years as an agent for the CIA.

HE looked-up Calvin in the days prior to the 20th High School Reunion because HE remembered Calvin as his BEST (and only ...) FRIEND in High School _and_ for an act of kindness that Calvin had done for him back then: When HE was exposed _naked_ as a result of some terrible prank at the last "High School Pep Rally" that they had attended, CALVIN had handed Robby Wierdich (now Agent Bob Stone) his 4-time Varsity Letterman Jacket to COVER HIMSELF.  It was for that gesture of (what HE took was) FRIENDSHIP that HE wanted to thank Calvin for.  And besides it was clear that Robby- turned-Bob STILL ABSOLUTELY WORSHIPED Calvin as "The Golden Jet" of High School yesteryear, "The coolest kid in the class and yet had time to like me ..." (did he? / had he? ;-)

And so there they were ... Calvin and Bob ... meeting in a bar twenty years later, Calvin feeling sorry for himself for having ended up "being a nothing" in life, and BOB seeing in Calvin SOMEONE WHO HAD ABSOLUTELY SAVED HIM twenty years before...

The rest of the movie ensues ... and honestly folks WHAT A GREAT STORY about how THE SMALLEST OF GESTURES OF KINDNESS and _really have an impact_ (positively) on the lives of others.

YES, THIS IS OFTEN A SILLY MOVIE (featuring two famously silly comedians), but WHAT A WONDERFUL STORY IT IS AS WELL :-)

Great job!

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Finding Dory [2016]

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

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

Finding Dory [2016] (codirected by Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane, screenplay by Andrew Stanton, story by Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse  and Bob Peterson, characters by Andrew Stanton) is the long awaited sequel to one of Pixar's most beloved movies, Finding Nemo [2003].  Does it meet expectations?  IMHO, emphatically yes!

While in recent years, Pixar has indeed proven that it can make thematically lackluster films (many would think here immediately of Cars 2 [2012] and Monsters University [2013]) and has certainly shown itself capable of pandering to corporate / consumerist interests (one thinks here of the Cars and even, if one is honest about it, the Toy Story franchises) the current film would certainly belong to the "upper tier" of Pixar's creations -- which would include (IMHO perhaps somewhat grudgingly) those Toy Story [1995-2010] films but also Finding Nemo [2003], Ratatouille [2007], Wall-E [2008], Up [2009] and most recently Inside Out [2015].

What would put the current film into that "upper tier"?  I believe it's because a number of Pixar's films are truly _more_ than "just entertainment."  They teach some very, very nice truths about the needs to find / value friends and to feel loved, valued and included.   As such, these upper tier films become useful tools to help form children's / people's consciences. 

Dory (introduced to us in Finding Nemo [2003] and voiced again by Ellen DeGeneres) is a lovely story about a fish "with some challenges" (notably, indeed famously "with memory retention," we see her blissfully almost immediately forget almost everything that's told her at any instant).  And yet it's clear that she's a fish who is loved by both her friends and (as we learn in this film) by her parents.  Anybody struggling with a physical and/or intellectual challenge like Dory or has a loved one struggling with such a challenge will certainly appreciate this film. 

As such this film, as with the best of Pixar's work, will certainly help _all children_ and even _all people_ appreciate the unique opportunities that those _among us_ with special needs offer to the larger community (to family, friends, neighbors, classmates, employers and coworkers) to honestly show who we are: Do we care about others in need, or do we choose to walk by?

To "make it home," Dory really needed to help of a large number of (initially) strangers. 

This becomes one heck of a THOUGHTFUL / THOUGHT-PROVOKING FILM.

Great job!

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Little Man (orig. Malý Pán) [2015]

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

IMDb listing listing* listing*

Ceská Televize page about Malý Pán*

Aktuálně.cz (Jan Gregor) review*
Červený (E. Bartlová) review* (M. Spáčilová) review* (H. Petrželková) review*

The Little Man (orig. Malý Pán) [2015] [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*(directed by Radek Beran [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]*, screenplay by Lumír Tuček [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDB]*, based on the children's book Velká Cesta Malého Pána []*[GR] [WCat-CZ] [WCat-ENG] by Lenka Uhlířová []*[GR] [WCat] [IMDb] and illustrated by Jiří Stach []*[GR] [WCat] [IMDb]) is a CZECH / SLOVAK marionette [en.wikip] based children's animated film, made initially _for children_ by Czech TV*  The film played here recently in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center as part of the 2016 Czech That Film Tour organized annually by the Czech Ministry of Culture and the Czech Diplomatic Mission to the United States.

To be honest, I kinda "rolled my eyes" through much of the film even as _many_ of the Americans viewers around me watched with almost _jaw-dropped_ fascination.  NOTE TO THE MAKERS OF THIS FILM: Regardless of what my aesthetic sensibilities may urge me to say, you have something here!

I rolled my eyes because as "a good Czech immigrant kid," I grew-up knowing / experiencing a thing or two marionettes.  Indeed my mom, an artist, was one of several Czech immigrant artists who were _regularly enlisted_ by the local Czech Catholic Mission / Czechoslovak National Council here in Chicago to help paint / design sets (kulisi) for various children's "marionette theater" (loutkový divadlo) productions.  Indeed, I thought that those "back in the day" marionette productions were _just adorable_ ... You just can't really appreciate "Little Red Riding Hood" / "The Big Bad Wolf" or "Cinderella" quite the same way until you see these stories play out on a Marionette Stage ;-).

And I rolled my eyes for two specific reasons:

(1) I didn't particularly like _the aesthetics_ of some of marionettes which I found needlessly tending toward the grotesque.  I did not mind the "robot marionettes", the "air ship marrionettes" (indeed I found them both _current_ and "kinda cool" ;-).  The art form _has to progress_.  I understand that :-).  What I did mind is that the makers seemed to prefer the grotesque aesthetics of Monty Python [1988] or perhaps some of the more recent "claymation" works -- from Chicken Run [2000] to Anomalisa [2015] -- to the FAR FAR CUTER / FAR MORE ADORABLE aesthetics of _homegrown_ Czech children's toy design. 

And (2) after putting so much effort into creating some _really well crafted_ set designs (and even marionettes, even though I have just called a lot of them _needlessly_ ugly ;-) the puppeteering itself seemed quite _uninspired_.   The puppets just kinda bounced around and they don't have to.  One could do much better if one put in the effort the next time.

DON'T GET ME WRONG.  I do think that the FILM-MAKERS here are DEFINITELY ONTO SOMETHING HERE.  Making Prague the center of marionette animated films _could_ really become the Czech Republic's answer to both Ghibli, and Pixar.   But please don't throw away something that could really be(come) spectacular for aesthetics _borrowed_ from elsewhere (be it from the English (Monty Python), the Germans (their "gnomes" etc) or the Communists (where everything is "realistically" "covered by dirt" ;-).  A traditionally cheerful Czech or more generally SLAVIC aesthetic can a contribution to world culture as well.

And to let Readers here understand what I am talking about and what truly is possible, let me end by offering a link to a CLASSIC / SILENT Czech toy animated short called Vzpoura Hraček (The Rising of the Toys) [1946] [YouTube] [IMDb].  THAT IS WHAT'S POSSIBLE and WHAT A CONTRIBUTION IT WOULD BE, IF THIS AESTHETIC / ART-FORM was recovered and updated / expanded for the present !

Again, you're really onto something!

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

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Private Revolutions: Young, Female, Egyptian [2014]

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

IMDb listing (S. Hallesleben) review* (C. Moll) review*

Islamic Arts Magazine (K. Šurković) review
Middle East Eye (M. Gadzo) review (Salanak) review

Private Revolutions: Young, Female, Egyptian [2014] (written and directed by Alexandra Schneider) is a truly well-conceived and well-executed documentary by the AUSTRIAN film-maker who follows the lives/fortunes of four young women in EGYPT over the course of two years following the ARAB SPRING.  The film played recently The film played as part of the 14th Annual Chicago African Diaspora International Film Festival hosted recently by Facets Multimedia in Chicago and cosponsored by ArtMattan of New York.  The film is also currently available for streaming through the VOD service on for a reasonable price.

There is _so much_ that film-maker Alexandra Schneider _did right_ in making this documentary, beginning with simply her focus.  Instead of focusing on the "macro-politics" of the Arab Spring in Egypt - the overthrow of Mubarak, the subsequent election of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi to Egypt's presidency and his subsequent overthrow - she simply focused on the lives / fortunes of four young women each with her own story and priorities coming out of said story.  And _their stories_ cumulatively provide us with a fascinating and honestly _fair_ means of assessing the relative success / failure / progress made by the upheavals of the 2011 Arab Spring in Egypt.  For ultimately it does not really matter who lives in the Presidential palace or wears the Presidential sash.  IMHO what matters more is if regular people are able to find happiness and to live generally fulfilling and largely unencumbered lives. 

So who are the four young Egyptian women that Schneider chooses to follow (for two years) in her documentary?

There's Amani Eltunsi a young, initially smiling, 20-something, single, educated Egyptian feminist.  Western dressed, she's introduced to us as running a small Cairo feminist book store (honestly could have been in Greenwich Village) and an internet radio station.  She holds book discussions in her store on various feminist awareness raising topics ranging from those that Westerners would easily recognize/identify with (like discussions over questions of divorce or domestic violence) to those that generally shock most Westerners but _remain_ "a part of life" in Egypt / much of the Arab / Saharan world (like female circumcision - Amani herself had been circumcised as a nine year old.  Why?  "Because that's simply how it was when I was growing up."  Would she want this for her own daughters?  "NEVER!")  Honestly, Mubarak and _all_ the stagnation that he stood for, could not have fallen fast enough for her.

There's Fatema Abouzeid, similarly initially smiling, similarly _educated_ (completing a degree in Political Science during the course of the filming of the documentary), similarly 20-early-30-something, BUT hijab-wearing, married mother of three and from a family of active members of the Muslim Brotherhood in which she herself seemed to wholeheartedly believe.  

There's Sharbat Abdallah, 30-something, similarly hijab-wearing, similarly mother-of-three, less educated than the other three, but perhaps more all the more strident in her participation in the street protests on Tahrir Square that brought Mubarak down (and in as much it was not _insanely_ dangerous to do so, she'd return to the streets to protest the subsequent Morsi (Muslim Brotherhood backed) government and even the Military Dictatorship that followed) and SHE'D BRING HER KIDS ALONG, an activism that her husband did laugh at her for (but also did not impede her much either).  By midway through the documentary, Sharbat was filing for divorce against her not particularly supportive (but perhaps more-than-anything, seemingly somewhat "inert" husband ;-)

Finally, there's May Gah Allah, NUBIAN (hence from Southern Egypt, from an ethnic minority more related to the Sudanese than to the more Arab related people of Cairo), a similarly, and here ever-smiling, Western dressed, 20-something activist, who was using the window opened by the Arab Spring to promote some cultural development projects for her (Nubian) people in southern Egypt.  

These then were the four women in the documentary, and, interestingly, the different macro-political events that occurred in Egypt over the course of the two years in which this documentary was filmed -- from the fall of Mubarak to the fall of the Morsi (Muslim Brotherhood) Presidency to the rise of the new Military Dictatorship -- did have impact on two of the women's lives while it had no particular effect on the other two.

The election of the Muslim Brotherhood backed Morsi resulted in the previously ever-smiling / engaging Fatema Abouzeid to suddenly "drop out of the project" (without much explanation, 'cept a strong indication by her/herself that her participation in the film-maker's project had "caught notice" and was no longer being looked-upon favorably from "above."

Then if Amani Eltunsi did not much like Mubarak, the year that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were in power in Egypt proved _much more frightening to her_.  HER BOOKSTORE WAS BURNED DOWN (seriously) and her INTERNET RADIO STATION WAS HACKED.  She ended-up _leaving Egypt_ for Dubai for the duration the Morsi's Presidency and only cautiously returned to Egypt some months after the return of Military Rule.

But it would seem that the lives and projects of the other two, Sharbat Abdallah and May Gah Allah, did not seem to face much disruption.  Again Sharbat eventually filed for divorce against her husband and May seemed to march along, even with some somewhat entrenched local opposition, with her Nubian-oriented development plans.  Perhaps the "instability" existing "at the top" made both of their lives somewhat easier (for the moment ...)

It all makes for a FASCINATING documentary and one that I'd certainly recommend to ANYONE seeking to study / understand local community level activism.  Again, "big things" were happening "far above" and "far away" but what were the "down to earth" impacts (both problems and opportunities) for "regular people" down "at ground level"?


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

 << NOTE - Do you like what you've been reading here?  If you do then consider giving a small donation to this Blog (sugg. $6 _non-recurring_) _every so often_ to continue/further its operation.  To donate just CLICK HERE.  Thank you! :-) >>