Sunday, September 25, 2016

Storks [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

Storks [2016] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Nicholas Stoller along with Doug Sweetland) makes for a remarkably insightful (or at least hopeful) children's parable about priorities.

Where do babies come from?  Well, storks, of course, bring them to families that wanted them.  I don't know if that was the explanation my folks used when I first asked this question, but I always liked it as a nice age appropriate explanation for young kids who couldn't possibly understand the real answer ;-).

Well if this was the case -- that storks bring babies into the world to families that wanted them -- in the past generation this has proven to be a problem: Both storks and (potential) parents found babies to be ... well kind of a hassle.  So ... (potential) parents _stopped_ asking for babies _and_ storks led by a particularly "business savy" head stork (voiced by Kelsey Grammer) "repositioned" the storks into "delivering" less problematic items -- consumer electronics -- for a new (and omnipresent) Amazon-like company called "";-). 

And nobody, neither the storks nor people, seemed to mind until ... a somewhat neglected little boy named Nate Gardner (voiced by Anton Starkman) asked his ever-on-their-cell-phones parents Henry and Sarah (voiced by Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston) -- running some sort of a real estate business out of their home -- that he'd REALLY WANT "a baby brother" to play with.  How to fit _that_ in?  The parents initially are _definitely_ NOT "on board."  So ... Nate decides to "write the storks" himself. 

Well the storks "aren't in the baby delivery business anymore" anyway.  So the letter is destined to be "returned to sender" BUT ... BY HAPPENSTANCE ... this letter manages to get through, and the LONG MOTHBALLED "baby making machine" up there on a perch on a faraway mountain in the clouds, starts-up and makes a CUTE AS A BUTTON baby for Nate.  And ... seeing this cute as a button baby ("after all these years") despite calls by the "head stork" to "not get distracted" and just continue to deliver the consumer electronics that they're now delivering, the CUTE AS A BUTTON baby proves FAR MORE INTERESTING (first to the storks and _eventually_ to potential parents) and ... the rest of the story ensues ... ;-)

It's honestly A LOVELY STORY ... PEOPLE (and especially KIDS) prove FAR MORE INTERESTING than "stuff" ;-)

Great job folks!  GREAT JOB! ;-)

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Bridget Jones's Baby [2016]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J.P. McCarthy) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review 

Bridget Jones's Baby [2016] (directed by Sharon Maguire, screenplay by Helen Fielding, Dan Mazer and Emma Thompson, based on story and characters by Helen Fielding [wikip] [GR] [IMDb]) is a charming (if not necessarily demanded) "Part III" of a story that charmed "back in the day" fifteen years ago when the first film, Bridget Jones's Diary [2001] first came out.  But there it is.  Clutsy, endearing, everywoman/everyperson Bridget Jones (played wonderfully as ever by Renée Zellweger) finds herself "celebrating" alone, yet again, on her 43rd birthday (How?  See the movie, and most will immediately understand... It could honestly happen to anybody, but it still hurts). 

But our often unlucky heroine didn't not let her, yet again, quite lousy birthday get her down ;-).  She now had a (pretty) great job as a producer of a "hard-hitting" (if tabloidish) News Program called "Hard News" where her über-focused / no-nonsense anchor Miranda (played by Sarah Solemani) would take her guests (often enough quite awful/unsavory despots and/or their henchmen) to a (quite comfortable-looking) "sofa" for questioning.  (Think Monty Python's "Spanish Inquisition" -- "Bring out ... the comfy chair" ;-) ;-).   Of course, Bridget, the producer, would often get distracted by other things and feed Miranda (into whose earpiece she'd be talking) wildly inappropriate questions and comments that would, of course, "make the show" even as the questions / comments would undermine it.

Miranda, about the same age as Bridget, thankful for Bridget's unscripted goofiness (as it paid _her bills_ as well), decides that what Bridget really needs is to "hookup with a man" and get one epic ...  So she takes her to a contemporary Woodstock-like music festival complete with quite tidy Mongolian hookup "yurts" (part of the thematics of film appeared to be how everything today, even raunchy no-holds barred hedonism is actually quite scripted and sanitized today).  There she does, in fact, hook-up with an American looker (played by Patrick Dempsey) named "Jack."  A week later, at a far more traditional / staid Christianing she runs into her old and far-more stiff  British boyfriend Mark Darcy (played by Colin Firth).  Despite her/their better judgement, the two end up spending the night together as well. 

A number of weeks later, Bridget finds herself pregnant, and of course, doesn't know by whom, and ... in typical Bridget Jones fashion can't seen to find an easy way to tell either of the other.  Much of course ensues ...

It makes for _a strange_ sort of comedy to write about (positively) on a Catholic blog ;-).  But underneath the story is actually a more-or-less consistent bias toward the traditional.  Yes, Bridget is a klutz.  Yes, her good yet ever-stiff ex is often incredibly boring (even to himself).  BUT ... in the end both are more authentic, more "made for each other" than the faux "über-self-realized" (nominally "far more perfect") others who surround them.

Strange as it may be, this is a goofy, middle-aged rom-com that leaves one with much to think about ;-).  (Pretty) good job!

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Blair Witch [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review 

Blair Witch [2016] (directed by Adam Wingard, screenplay by Simon Barrett) is a rather benign "20 years later" sequel (wow, it's been nearly twenty years...) to The Blair Witch Project [1999] which, "back in the day" had really "turned heads" / caught the attention of movie goers and movie producers alike.  Yes, the original BWP was the very first film built around the "lost footage" device that has become part-and-parcel of horror / "scary movies" ever since. 

So how does the sequel do?  To be honest, "Eh, pretty well..." IMHO ;-).  Indeed, I'm somewhat surprised at the R-rating (for language mostly and, yes, least one of the "college aged couples" going out into Maryland's "Black Hills Forest" in search of "what really happened to Holly" (one of the college aged women who disappeared in the first film) more-or-less clearly set-out to do so with the expectation of sharing a tent together (They die, of course ... But then, in the "Shakespeare as a teen" (as HE _could_ have been "back in HIS DAY...") ETHOS of the whole "lost footage genre" ... they ALL "kinda have to die ..." ;-)

The technology of course is updated, reminding us today of JUST HOW HUGE the "state of the art" handheld "minicams" of 1999 still were.  In the current film, the characters wear "flash cams" mounted to blue-tooth style earpieces, the batteries powering them presumably being no larger those powering today's hearing aids.  One character even brings along a little plastic "Walmart Special" four propeller helicopter drone ;-). 

None of this technology, however, is a match for the well-timed-to-be-scary "wind gust" or random howl of some random animal, wild or domestic, in the distance.  Add rain (and the mud it produces) and between shaky cams and shaky flashlights, it all makes for one heck of a low budget, and quite believable "scary high school / college camping story" ;-). 

The best comment about the film that I've heard came from the teenager who sold me the ticket as I went to see it.  I asked: "So did you see it yet?"  "No, and I don't plan to.  I'm just a big scardy cat" ;-)  Scardy cat indeed ... ;-)

Folks, this is not Citizen Kane [1941], nor even Psycho [1960].  But for teenagers and those who _were_ teenagers "back in (some) day" who used to go hiking or camping, it spins a pretty good tale ... ;-)

Not bad really, not bad at all ;-)

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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Snowden [2016]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB () (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (J. CHang) review (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review  

Snowden [2016] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Oliver Stone along with Kieran Fitzgerald based on the books The Time of the Octopus [GR] by Anatoly Kucherena [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] and The Snowden Files [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Luke Harding [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a film that's destined to be controversial simply for the persons involved.  Both Edward Snowden himself (whose demeanor was IMHO captured _spot-on_ in the film, and arguably to Oscar nomination heights, by Joseph Gordon Levitt) and director Oliver Stone have their (often quite reflexive) "haters."  Yet, I admit that I both like and honestly _admire_ both of these inconvenient / disturbing messengers.

Everything that I have seen / read of Snowden indicates to me that he was a sincere and _measured_ "brainiac" who saw what was being done in terms of (near universal) surveillance at the NSA and thought (rightly!!) that _at least the American public / world ought to know_.  I'm not excited that he finds himself in Russia.  I do think that despite his best efforts _some_ secrets above and beyond his control will (or already have) gone to the Russians. 

But after seeing this film, I would like to see Jennifer Lawrence and Selena Gomez, et al, make a "Hollywood Star" CLASS ACTION FOIA inquiry into _simply_ "the meta-data" of the NSA / CIA's "searches" over the past 5-10-15 years, to simply get a sense of HOW MANY TIMES _THEY_ were "searched" by said "NSA / CIA geeks" using their "google search OF ALL" search engines.  For this would be _the simplest_ explanation of _how_ these Stars' iPads, tablets, cell phones were "hacked" for all their private photos ...  Honestly, who (most) else (outside of the world's intelligence communities) would even know where / how to look?

And yes, after seeing this film, one would be INSANE to not have a piece of electrical tape over one's "comes installed in your laptop" webcam.  I'VE HAD SAID PIECE OF ELECTRICAL TAPE OVER MY "PART OF THE EQUIPMENT" WEBCAM on my Laptop since 2 days after buying it (a dirt cheap Dell model that I've come to call a "NSA SPECIAL" :-).  I did so because 2 days into buying it, SUDDENLY a light started shining at my face from my laptop (I didn't even know up to that point that a webcam was there... it didn't even come with CD Drive, that's how simple / bare-bones it was) and I could not shut it off.  

Then, "Julius Caesar" / "Richard III" Shakespearean in style as Oliver Stone [wikip] [IMDb] has been in his films, I do believe that he does _nail_ the essential personality traits of the characters in his biopics.  Indeed, I do believe he absolutely _nails_ the essences of the key personalities of the G.W. Bush Administration in "W" [2008] in a way that both helps one understand "what happened" during that Administration and arguably makes one even feel sorry for some of the key characters present.  

SO ... in this film we're presented with Stone's understanding of the "essential Edward Snowden" presenting him as both a patriot and a geek who does come to see THE POWER that HE (and OTHERS AROUND HIM at the NSA/CIA) had come to have (the "power to KNOW ALL" about ... just about EVERYBODY) and becomes deeply disturbed by it.  Yes, OTHERS were not as concerned... Even his own girlfriend (again played quite credibly / honestly by Shailene Woodley) in as much as she knew what Ed was part-of at his job (and she did not know much), was NOT particularly concerned that the NSA could have 'pictures of her boobs...' ... she was a young 20-something spritely / generally cheerful photog ;-).  But Edward Snowden KNEW that this was entirely possible, even probable, and he was ONE GUY (and it only takes one) WHO REALLY BELIEVED THAT "PEOPLE OUGHT TO KNOW" (that this kind of surveillance REALLY WAS HAPPENING). 

The rest of the story follows.  It plays out like a "Jason Bourne for geeks" ;-).  But the warning of the story is ABSOLUTELY CLEAR: The NSA (and OTHER intelligence services around the world) IS / ARE WATCHING YOU ... WATCH OUT FOR WHEN THEY DECIDE _TO ACT_ / TAKE ADVANTAGE OF WHAT THEY'VE SEEN ...


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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Don't Breathe [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Tang) review (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review  

Don't Breathe [2016] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Fede Alvarez along with Rodo Sayagues) is a rather nihilistic indie thriller in which _no one_ comes out particularly good.

Three random and not particularly bright / good Midwestern teens to early year olds - Rocky (played by Jane Levy), her nominal alpha-male boyfriend Money (played by Daniel Zovatto) and their perhaps more sensible (or just weaker) beta-male friend Alex (played by Daniel Minnette) -- are on a two-bit home burglary spree through the Rust Belt with only a vague goal of _eventually_ "making it to California." 

Well they get word of a particularly juicy target: a blind Vet (played by Stephan Lang) who recently had come into some serious money (a million dollars) for the wrongful death of his beloved daughter.  Since he was blind, he had demanded the sum in cash, which he presumably kept somewhere in his house (on a street of rundown abandoned homes somewhere in Detroit).  If they came in there, who'd know? Who'd care?  Heck the man was blind?  They could do the robbery _in daylight_ while he was there.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, true, the man was blind, but he was also some sort of a special forces vet.  The house, which he knew _intimately_ was small.  And he had a trusty and vicious pit-bull of a guard-dog. Finally it turns out that as a Vet, he was not only blind, but had some rather significant psychological "issues ..."

So by midway through the film, not only did the original "plan" (in as much as there was one) of the three rather stupid "teenagers without a clue" go _really, really wrong_ in a hurry, it turned out that the Vet was not exactly "a good guy" either.

Who to root for in a story like this?  And even more to the point _why_?  There's actually even a rather oddly expressed "religious message" to the story.  The by then blood covered old blind man (who had already killed two of the teenagers who had broken into his home and was methodically hunting for the third, who he's spared but now wanted "to keep" for another, rather insane, purpose...) declares: "When one stops believing in God, all things become possible."  

Wow.  Sigh.  Yuck.  What a future to look forward to ...

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ignacio de Loyola [2016]

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

IMDb listing

The Jesuit Post (D. Gustafson, S.J.) review
Jesuits West article / review

Ignacio de Loyola [2016] (directed and screenplay by Paolo Dy, collaborating director Catha Azanza, story by Paolo Dy, Catha Azanza, Pauline Mangilog-Saltarin, Emmanuel Alfonso and Ian Victoriano based on the Autobiography [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] of St. Ignatius of Loyola [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn]) is a really quite excellent English language film made by the Jesuits of the Philippines about the early (young adult) years (and quite interesting conversion...) of St. Ignatius of Loyola [wikip] (the founder of the Jesuit Order).  The film has enjoyed a two week run to fairly, even _impressively_ large audiences here in Orange County, CA (at the AMC Orange 30 Theater).

The film presents young Ignacio (Iñigo) of Loyola [wikip] (played in the film quite excellently by Andreas Muñoz) as a brash to arrogant / entitled feeling young man from the environs of 16th century Pamplona, Spain, who steeped in the chivalric romances of the then still relatively "recent past" would have actually had a lot in common with his contemporary Miguel de Cervantes [wikip] and more to the point, with Cervantes' character/creation Don Quixote [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]:

It is clear that young Iñigo (of Loyola) was a dreamer, and one who from the very beginning _dreamed_ / believed himself to be destined for "great things."  What those "great things" would be, were yet to be determined.  However, at least initially he was pretty much certain that they would probably play out, somehow "on the battle field."

HERE, HONESTLY, AND I WRITE HERE WITH SOME "EXPERIENCE," young even 20 year-old Iñigo would _not_ be all that different from the teenager / young adult OF TODAY who having spent the last 5-10 years playing the "Call of Duty" video game and having then seen American Sniper [2014], would have decided to run to an Armed Forces Recruitment Office convinced that Glory / Destiny awaited him (or her) "on the battlefield" / "behind enemy lines" / piloting "drones" (or other robots) on behalf of God and Country.

I honestly found brash / young Iñigo (of Loyola) TOTALLY RELATEABLE and EVEN KNOW and _could point out_ SIMILARLY LOVELY, HONEST, SINCERE / PATRIOTIC young people from _my own parishes_ who'd almost be JUST LIKE HIM

Iñigo's dreams of battlefield glory came to a rather inglorious end with a wound with a cannonball that injured / messed-up his leg, leaving him with a limp for the rest of his life.  What to do now?

Well folks, that's the rest of the story, AND IT'S A GOOD ONE:  As a GOOD / WELL BROUGHT-UP (even arguably somewhat pampered) SPANIARD of the 16th century he turned to God.  But HOW?  Well, having read (and dreamed) of being part of all those Medieval / Chivalric / Arthurian Romances he already had a very active imagination.  So he quite literally started to live his life working out in his mind  -- IMAGINING -- the answer to a question, very well known TODAY: "What would Jesus do?" (and its corollary: "What is Jesus asking _me_ to do?").  Indeed, he came, on his own, to develop a method (his since famous Spiritual Exercises [wikip] [GR]) for the "discernment of spirits." 

Yes, getting his method approved and _not_ getting "burned at the stake" for it -- this was 16th century Spain of the Spanish Inquisition after all ... and at least initially, Ignatius was just a "War Vet turned itinerant preacher" (who hence today could have been initially dismissed as having "PTS issues" ...) -- proved a challenge.  But it also explains _why_ Ignatius of Loyola went _back_ "to School" and arguably _why_ they Jesuits have put so much emphasis on learning ever since: If you know your facts and (come to) be "the smartest / best ecdcated person in the room" _eventually_ your opponents have to let you be / concede. 

Anyway, the film becomes one that could prove very interesting _many_ young people dreaming of Glory / "making a difference" in this world and may help them to seek to do it in a manner that would be honestly pleasing God. 

Great film!  IMHO the best (Catholic / Christian) religiously themed film of the year thus far!

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sully [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
L.A. Times (K. Turan) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  

Sully [2016] (directed by Clint Eastwood, screenplay by Todd Komarnicki based on the memoir Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Chesley "Sully" Sullenburger [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] and Jeffrey Zaslow [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is an very well crafted / well acted film -- again Hollywood at its "A-Game" -- that (re)tells the story of US Airways Fl 1549, piloted by Chesley "Sully" Sullenburger [wikip] (played in the film by Tom Hanks) which on Jan 15, 2009, three minutes into its flight from LaGuardia Airport in New York (to Charlotte, NC), struck a flock of geese causing both engines of the plane of fail, forcing the pilot to land the plane (too low in altitude to safely glide back to LaGuardia or another nearby airport in New Jersey) to instead land on the Hudson River alongside Manhattan just south of the George Washington Bridge.  All 155 passengers and crew were saved.

The drama of the story turned on the subsequent National Transportation Safety Board's investigation where the judgement of the pilot, nicknamed "Sully", was questioned, "sullying" at least temporarily his reputation.  Hence the story would seem to fit perfectly into the thematics of many of Clint Eastwood's films where _good regular people_ did _extraordinary things_ to either _no acclaim_ or _worse_ having their motives / results questioned, "sullied" by "experts" who really should have known better.

Here was a man WHO SAVED 155 LIVES (!!) and found himself and his career on the line before a NTSB investigative board who apparently wondered if he could have "saved them another way" ... gotten the plane back to LaGuardia or elsewhere rather than landing it on the Hudson.

To some extent such an investigation was inevitable.  Years back I had been told by former U.S. Navy pilot that all U.S. military aircraft accidents are investigated in a similar manner (and the POTUS himself is informed of every such loss) as the loss of a military plane is a loss of tens of millions of dollars of machinery and so such a loss can not be taken lightly.

Still the obvious callousness of the investigation here will initially shock / offend virtually every Viewer: How can this be?  The split second thinking of the  pilot / copilot (copilot played in the film by Aaron Eckhart) saved the lives of every single person on that plane (plus untold numbers of people on the ground if the plane had crashed onto a residential / commercial neighborhood).

And yet, in the end, _everybody_ was "doing their job" ... the pilots who landed the plane in the Hudson, the ferries / first responders who rapidly came to the scene to bring the people from the plane to safety, and finally _even those seemingly callous investigators_.  After all, EACH such accident offers us, humanity, an opportunity _to learn_ to avoid and better train for similar situations in the future.

So as hair-raising (and infuriating) as this film may be, it's certainly memorable and discussion provoking and as such certainly deserves serious consideration -- for best actor (Tom Hanks), best screenplay (Todd Komarnicki), best director (Clint Eastwood), even possibly Best Picture -- come Oscar Season.

Excellent, excellent job!

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