Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mustang [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  Beyazperde (1 1/2 Stars)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Allocine.fr listing*
Beyazperde listing*

AFK Sinema'da (A.F. Kisakurek) review*
ArtfulLiving.com.tr (S. Aydemi) review*
Beyazperde (A. Ecrivan) review*
BirGün (A, Daldal) review*
Budzan Sinema (F. Songur) review*
Cumhuriyet (Mehmet Basutçu) review*
FilmLoverss (B. Anadolu) review*
Parallel Sinema (G. Tekes) review*

t24.com.tr () interview w. director*
Hollywood Reporter (R. Richford) interview w. director

Hollywood Reporter (D. Rooney) review
Slant Magazine (J. Lattimer) review
Variety (J. Weissberg) review

ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review


Mustang [2015] [IMDb] [AC.fr]* [BP.tr]* (directed and co-written by Turkish-born / French-raised director Deniz Gamze Ergüven [IMDb] [AC.fr]*[BP.tr]* along with Alice Winocour [IMDb] [AC.fr]*[BP.tr]*) is a contemporary "Repunzel-like" [AR] [wikip] (and quite "grim") fairy-tale set at the outskirts of a small Black Sea town in Turkey of today.  The film (in Turkish) was FRANCE'S submission to the 88th (2015-16) Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and was selected as one of this year's five final nominees.

Narrated by 10-12 year-old Lale (whose name means "Tulip" and played wonderfully throughout by Güneş Nezihe Şensoy [IMDb] [AC.fr]*[BP.tr]*) the youngest of five sisters -- the others being Sonay (played by İlayda Akdoğan [IMDb] [AC.fr]*[BP.tr]*), Selma (played by Tuğba Sunguroğlu [IMDb] [AC.fr]*[BP.tr]*), Ece (played by Elit İşcan [IMDb] [AC.fr]*[BP.tr]*) and Nur (played by Doğa Zeynep Doğuşlu [IMDb] [AC.fr]*[BP.tr]*) -- growing up orphaned (on account of an auto accident that killed their parents when they were of a young age) and being raised since by their grandmother (played by Nihal Koldaş [IMDb] [AC.fr]*[BP.tr]*) and uncle Erol (played by Ayberk Pekcan [IMDb] [AC.fr]*[BP.tr]*) all seemed quite good ("despite...") until one fateful day.

That fateful day begins the movie:  School was being let-out for the summer, and the five sisters found themselves walking "by the sea."  One thing leading to another, soon they're splashing in the water.  Then some boys their age come around, and soon the girls on the shoulders of the boys are playing chicken fights (still clothed, a concession perhaps for the eventual Turkish audience, but certainly wet) in said water / Sea.

The scene more or less obviously evokes a similar (if far more "in your face" / problematic) scene in the recent American film Spring Breakers [2012] and it reminds Viewers, as per the lovely and happy Cindy Lauper song, that girls, ALL GIRLS, even in small-town/provincial Turkey (and by extension in the whole Muslim world...) "Just want to have fun" [YouTube].  And honestly, within reasonable (debatable) limits, what should be wrong with that?

Well ...

This WASN'T FORT LAUDERDALE ... this was "small town / Provincial Turkey," and by the time the five girls, still in their school uniforms, still wet, but drying, fast, in the Turkish summer sun, come home Grandma's waiting, freaked-out, because she's been informed by the head-scarf-wearing / incomprehending / perhaps not even super-Conservative but Conservative-enough "nosy-neighbor grapevine" that her grand-daughters had gone "out of their minds" and were "acting like whores" out on the beach.  And when Uncle comes home, it only gets worse.

No wonder that 10-12 y/o Lale BEGINS THE FILM with the voice-over saying: "Funny how life can change.  One moment it can be just fine and then become Hell in the next..."

Blinded by perceived social pressure (and certainly not having any stomach, at all, to stand-up to it), Grandma and Uncle Erol DECIDE TO LOCK-UP the five girls in their house on a hill (kinda like a Repunzel-like tower) henceforth and (apparently sincerely) "for the girls' own good" seek then to try to marry them off, one after another, of increasingly _decreasing age_ so that the girls "could get married and have a happy life" before they "destroyed themselves" by falling into sin.

It's a parable that shocks ... and INTENTIONALLY SO.

One could complain that this film was made by a Turkish born director "in France" (to needlessly embarrass Turks / Turkey) but (1) the film itself was actually filmed in Turkey [IMDb] [wikip] and (2) ALMOST CERTAINLY the film was INTENDED for "middle-of-the-road" / "on the fence" Turks and Turkey (which is has tried very, very hard FOR DECADES, since the end of WW I in fact, TO BE "MIDDLE OF THE ROAD" -- Muslim by heritage but Western / secular in orientation) asking its Turkish audience: "Is this what you want?" (as there has been a still moderate but to those living there potentially worrisome "Muslim resurgence" there over the last decade or so).

Anyway, the film may provide fodder for Westerners to simply hate Muslims, but the film is more intelligent than that ... and Westerners tending to go in that direction ought to simply remind themselves that this was a film made by a Turkish-born director using a Turkish cast and filmed in Turkey today.  So the film and its intent is more complicated than would seem to a potential bigot's eye.

 

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

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Finest Hours [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (P. Sobczynski) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review  

The Finest Hours [2016] (directed by Craig Gillespie, screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson based on the book [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Casey Sherman [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] and Michael G. Tougias [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) tells the story of a truly stunning still "Greatest Generation-ish" U.S. Coast Guard rescue of the greater part of the crew of a U.S. oil tanker that split in two off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts during a powerful Nor'easter storm back in 1952.

Many viewers will marvel at the courage, selflessness, ingenuity and sense-of-duty of the people of the time: A tanker ship SPLIT IN TWO out there 20-30 miles off of the coast of Cape Cod.  Yet the sailors in THE HALF (of the SHIP THAT SPLIT IN TWO) that DID NOT SINK IMMEDIATELY had the coolness, skill and ingenuity to COME-UP _with a plan_ to USE what was LEFT IN THAT HALF of the ship (that didn't not sink) to keep themselves alive.

I will freely say that I WOULD HAVE DIED (!).  I do think of myself as a pretty smart guy, even one who comes up with remarkable ideas under pressure, BUT HONESTLY MY HATS OFF TO THAT REMAINING CREW led by ship's engineer Ray Sybert (played in the film with magnificent coolness by Casey Affleck) that really used a ship that was, well ... HALF GONE, to help save themselves.

Then, THE COURAGE OF THE FOUR MAN COAST GUARD CREW, led by Bernie Webber (played again magnificently by Chris Pine) who took out a 35 ft boat into SEAS WITH WAVES EASILY TWICE THAT SIZE to search for that broken ship EVEN AFTER LOSING THEIR OWN COMPASS while passing through "The Bar" (basically where the waves break, and the 35 foot boat was tossed about like a loose surf-board) to get out to the open seas.  THE COURAGE IN THAT IS JUST STUNNING.

Why would these guys do this?  Risk their lives for the sake of others who they did not know and were not necessarily even going to find, much less find alive?

Well Bernie explains (in a line that many Readers here will know from the film's trailer): "The Coast Guard tells us that we have to go out.  It doesn't tell us that we have come back in..."

This is just a remarkable story of selflessness, ingenuity and courage that does challenge us today to Step-up as well.  Great, great job!


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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Censored Voices [2015]

MPAA (UR would be R)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (3 Stars)  AVClub ()  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (G. Kenny) review
AVClub () review  

Censored Voices [2015] [IMDb] [WCat] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Mor Loushy along with Daniel Sivan the based on conversations recorded of Israeli soldiers just after the 6 Day War, found also in the book The Seventh Day: Soldiers' Talk about the Six Day War [1971] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Avraham Shapira [GR] [WCat] [Amzn]) is an Israeli documentary about a remarkable set of conversations recorded of Israeli soldiers returning from the 1967 Six Day War in the weeks following the conflict.   The film played recently here at Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center.

Since the recordings were made in the weeks immediately following the conflict, the memories of these soldiers were still fresh and (inevitably for both better / worse) unaltered by subsequent reflection / history / events.  Surprising perhaps for Viewers today would be the ambiguity expressed by these Israeli soldiers coming home from this history altering conflict about the war: All seemed to understand why the conflict had to be fought (Israel's survival was on the line), but virtually all seemed profoundly uneasy about its result (yes, unqualified victory but occupation of the other side as well).

Yes, one understands why these interviews were censored by Israeli authorities at the time.  After all, the conversations were quite "down-ish" at a time when Israel had just survived, largely unscathed, the single biggest threat to its existence.

Still today, the film and the opinions expressed by these returning soldiers can not but help promote a future peace process because the opinions expressed fundamental doubts by these returning Israeli soldiers of the sustainability (and _justice_) of the post-1967 reality where Israel simply conquered (and to this day largely occupies) _the whole_ of Palestine.

Particularly poignant was the opinion expressed by one of the soldiers who said: "It's not as if we are 100% right or each side is 50% right.  The tragedy here is that both sides are 100% right... This war began with us fighting for our country's survival, and ended very differently, with us expelling [large numbers of] people from theirs."

I am not merely an American blogger, I'm one of Czech descent.  So I totally understand this ambiguity / remorse.  Post WW-I / modern Czechoslovakia's independence was done-in by the presence of large numbers of Sudeten Germans along its frontiers who had both inalienable rights and their own national aspirations.  These same Sudeten Germans were simply expelled by the re-emergent Czechoslovakian state in the weeks immediately following WW II.  To some extent "it worked."  There is no more (serious) argument over the lands in question BUT at what awful moral cost.  There is no (thoughtful) Czech who feels good about this.  And yet, what else to do?   Today, the descendants of the expelled Sudeten Germans are allowed to go back _to visit_ the lands / properties that were taken from them by the Czechs after the War.  EVERYONE _understands_ why this happened.  Thoughtful people on both sides "feel sorry" / "bad" and yet, there it is.  "National parks" now exist where villages once stood, "wild apricot" / "cherry" / "apple" groves exist in the midst of modern "meadows" and "forests" that didn't exist before the War.

It's both awful and yet, again, everybody on both sides sinks their heads and knows why.

Modern Israel exists in a similar situation (and has been actually _kinder_ than the post- WW II Czechs).

I ALSO KNOW that there are PLENTY OF THOUGHTFUL ARABS / MUSLIMS as well.  Perhaps a first step to peace would be a public acknowledgement of the tragedy existent in, what we Catholics actually call "The Holy Land," acknowledge WHY Israel exists (and will certainly continue to exist / fight to exist into the LONG forseeable future) and WHY the Palestinians, both expelled / displaced and those still living in Gaza and in the West Bank are often SO ANGRY at the modern and still expanding State of Israel.

Anyway, the often remorseful Israeli voices heard in this film CAN, I believe, help to prepare the way to a peace or at least an understanding that both sides do _understand_ the other.

ADDENDUM:

This is actually a film that MAY be most easily found by checking listings at your local public libraries (or through them, make a request for an "interlibrary" loan): Censored Voices [2015] [WCat]




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

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45 Years [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (4 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (4 Stars)  AVClub (A)  Fr. Dennis (1 1/2 Stars)

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

45 Years [2015] (directed and screen adaptation by Andrew Haigh of the short story by David Constantine [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is something of an "old folks" horror story (and IMHO as "unbelievable" as one with real "ghosts").

Set somewhere in rural / "at the edge of the suburbs" England, Kate and Geoffrey Mercer (played by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay respectively) are getting set to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.   Well, actually Kate is doing most of the work, Geoffrey's is already a bit "out of it" with some (still thankfully moderate) dementia.  Indeed, we're informed in the course of the dialogue that the reason why they are celebrating their 45th anniversary is because Geoffrey had some significant health issues when their 40th anniversary was coming around and it seemed pretty clear that Geoffrey in particular would probably not make it to their 50th.

Further, both having been quite the "left-leaning intellectuals" in their day, it's not altogether surprising that there would be no children or grandchildren.   Perhaps more surprising would be that there were no siblings or family of any sort present to help plan the date or really present at all.

This becomes significant because as poor Kate is busy planning this "big day" for them and their friends, quite RANDOMLY Geoffrey comes across a news story that the body of a seemingly RANDOM woman had been found at the base of some glacier (they're melting away) somewhere in the Swiss Alps and it turns out that HE KNEW HER. 

Now why would he know her?  Well, the two had been lovers -- before Kate -- and he had been present when she apparently _fell into a crevasse_ in a glacier up there in the Swiss Alps, disappeared therefore and her body had been unreachable, up until apparently today ...

Why would that be a concern to Geoffrey now?  Well, as the story unfolds it becomes increasingly clear that this woman, whose body had been trapped / frozen for over 45 years in that glacier, had been very important to Geoffrey, again BEFORE Kate, and MORE IMPORTANTLY KATE HAD NOT EVEN KNOWN ABOUT HER ... until NOW ... as she's planning this 45th anniversary party, probably THE LAST big party that the two of them were going to attend / remember together.

Now how is it possible that Kate would not have known about this lost previous love of her husband (of 45 years)??  

This is what I find _so unbelievable_ about this film, and why despite much acclaim by most movie critics (see above) I'm decidedly "less impressed."  I find it hard to believe that NEITHER Kate nor Geoffrey would have ANY FAMILY to speak of, or that Geoffrey would not have had FRIENDS that Kate would have inevitably met / gotten to know EVEN BEFORE GETTING MARRIED, who would have INEVITABLY MENTIONED this woman / flame of Geoffrey's past, even to say: "I'm so happy that Geoffrey found you Kate.  He was such a wreck after <so and so> died so tragically up there in the Alps ..."   

That this conversation had apparently NOT happened _even before_ Kate and Geoffrey had gotten married I find utterly unbelievable.  Further, trying to envision scenarios in which it becomes plausible that this conversation did not happen -- both Kate and Geoffrey hated their families, EVERYONE in their families and Geoffrey HAD NO FRIENDS AT ALL 'cept that woman who died somehow in those mountains and then Kate sometime afterwards -- makes me not exactly like either of the principal characters in this story.

So while I suppose that it's possible that a somewhat "elitist" liberal couple could fill a banquet hall with (retiring / retired) friends (but no family from either side) to celebrate their 45th anniversary ... I'm almost certain that I'd probably NOT like them much to begin with, and probably would roll-my-eyes with not particularly great surprise at learning that there proved to be "secrets" present (even to this day) between the two of them.

Sorry I'm not impressed here, not much impressed at all.


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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Boy [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
RogerEbert.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (K. Rife) review  

The Boy [2016] (directed by William Brent Bell , screenplay Stacey Menear) is pre-teen / teen oriented "scary movie" a young late-teen / early 20-something American woman named Greta (played by Lauren Cohan) who, fleeing some issues back home, takes a job as a nanny at a somewhat distant / isolated Manor House somewhere in the midst of the English countryside (think mildly perhaps of Downton Abbey [2010-])

How hard could the job be? And who'd ever look for her there?

Well, it's been "a few years" since "Downton Abbey time."  So the Manor House that Greta arrives at is not exactly "bustling with activity."  Gone is anything resembling "a staff."  There's just an older couple, Mr and Mrs Heelshire (played by Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle respectively) whose home this is.

To be sure, the place remains quite elegant / well maintained,  no doubt in good part because Mrs Heelshire liked to "keep things in order" (to the point that the the Heelshires set traps for mice/vermin _outside the house_ so that they don't even get in ;-) ... I found that very odd ;-).  But the house is clearly WAY TOO BIG for an older couple like this to manage on their own.

Yet they have ... managed on their own ... 'Cept ... they've apparently decided after much thought to ... hire a nanny.  WHY?  After all, THEY WOULD SEEM RATHER OLD to be responsible for a young child NEEDING A NANNY.

Well, it gets stranger when this older couple introduces Greta to their "mischievous" son, named Brahms, and ... their "son" turns out to be ... a 3 foot tall doll.  What the heck is going on here?

Well clearly there's a story there.  To go too far into said story would begin to spoil it.  Clearly however Greta is as skeptical of the elderly couple's claim that the doll is "really alive" as we, the Viewers, are.  Yet ...

The isolation of the house helps "add" to mix.  All in all, it's _not_ a badly spun tale that does have its "jumps" and otherwise "bumps in the night." ;-)


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Sunday, January 24, 2016

2015 Denny Awards - Part 1 (Best Films)


Part 1/3 of my Annual "Denny Awards" ;-)
(Other Years' Awards)

Part I - Best Films of 2015
Part II - Most Compelling Performances / Character Roles (Male)
Part III - Most Compelling Performances / Character Roles  (Female)



FOR FAMILIES WITH YOUNG CHILDREN -
       Best -  

           Inside Out [2015] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars
       Honorable Mentions -
         
The Peanuts Movie [2015] - G / A-I - 3 Stars
          Hotel Transylvania II [2015] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars
           White Water [2015] - UR would be PG - 4 stars
          
          
FOR FAMILY ORIENTED FILMS FOR FAMILIES WITH TEENS -
        Best -

                Star Wars: The Force Awakens [2015] - PG-13 / A-II - 3 Stars
       Honorable Mentions - 
                Maggie [2015] - PG-13 - 4 Stars
                McFarland, USA [2015] - PG / A-II - 4 Stars
                Inside Out [2015] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars
                A Light Beneath Their Feet [2015] - UR (would be PG-13) - 3 1/2 Stars
                Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 [2015] - PG / A-I - 4 Stars  
                Vacation [2015] - R / O (Parents note rating) - 3 1/2 Stars 


BEST INTERGENERATIONAL FILMS (Best Family Centered Films for Adults) -
         Best -

                 Mr. Holmes [2015] - PG - 3 1/2 Stars 
           Honorable Mentions -     
                 Time Suspended (orig. Tiempo Suspendido) [2015] - UR (would be PG-13) - Argentina / Mexico (subtitled) - 4 Stars
                 One for the Road (orig. En el Último Trago) [2014] - UR would be R - Mexico (subtitled)- 4+ Stars
                 Joy [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 4+ Stars
                 White Water [2015] - UR would be PG - 4 stars 
                 Digging for Fire [2015] - R - 3 Stars  
                 Trainwreck [2015] - R / O - 3 1/2 Stars
                 Meet the Patels [2015] - UR would be PG-13 - 4 Stars
                 Ari: My Life with a King [2015] - UR would be PG - Philippines (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars
                 Casa Grande [2014] - UR (would be R) - Brazil (subtitled) -  3 1/2 Stars 
                 Labyrinth of Lies (orig. Im Labyrinth des Schweigens) [2014] - UR (would be R) - Germany (subtitled) - 4+ Stars
                 Orphans of Eldorado (orig. Órfãos do Eldorado) [2015] - UR (would be R) - Brazil (subtitled) - 4+ Stars  
                 The Hope Factory (orig. Комбинат «Надежда» / Kombinat "Nadezhda") [2014] - UR (would be R) - - Russia (subtitled) - 4 Stars
                 Sparrows [2015] - UR (would be R) - Iceland (subtitled) - 4 Stars
                 After the Tone [2014] - UR would be PG-13 - Netherlands (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars
                 While We're Young [2015] - R  - 3 1/2 Stars
                 Love the Coopers [2015] - PG-13 / L - 4 Stars
                 The Intern [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars 
 
 
BEST GENERAL CHILDREN'S ORIENTED FILM
         Best -

                Inside Out [2015] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars       
       Honorable Mentions - 

                Shaun the Sheep Movie [2015] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars
                Tomorrowland [2015] - PG / A-II - 4 Stars
                The Peanuts Movie [2015] - G / A-I - 3 Stars  
                Cantinflas [2014] - PG - 4 Stars 
                  White Water [2015] - UR would be PG - 4 stars
                Minions [2015] - PG / A-I - 3 1/2 Stars
                Antman [2015] - PG-13 / A-II -  3 Stars
                Hotel Transylvania II [2015] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars


 

BEST TEEN ORIENTED FILM (for boys) -
         Best - 

                Star Wars: The Force Awakens [2015] - PG-13 / A-II - 3 Stars
         Honorable Mentions -
                Bajirao Mastani [2015] - UR (would be PG-13) -India (subtitled) - 4+ Stars
                Paper Towns [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 4 Stars 
                 McFarland, USA [2015] - PG / A-II - 4 Stars
                  Ex Machina [2015] - R / O - 3 1/2 Stars
                The Martian [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 2 Stars
                Me and Earl and the Dying Girl [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars 
                Tomorrowland [2015] - PG / A-II - 4 Stars
                The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars   
                The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2 [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars
                Insurgent [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars


BEST TEEN ORIENTED FILM (for girls) -
         Best -

                 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2 [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars         
         Honorable Mentions -
                  Star Wars: The Force Awakens [2015] - PG-13 / A-II - 3 Stars
                  A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night [2014] - R - Iran-Exiles (subtitled) - 4 Stars
                  Mustang [2015] - PG-13 - France / Turkey (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars
                  Girlhood (orig. Bande de Filles) [2014] - UR (would be R) - France (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars
                  Breathe (orig. Respire) [2014] - UR (would be PG-13) - France (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars
                  Maggie [2015] - PG-13 - 4 Stars
                  A Girl Like Her [2015] - PG-13 - 3 1/2 Stars
                  A Light Beneath Their Feet [2015] - UR (would be PG-13) - 3 1/2 Stars
                  Bajirao Mastani [2015] - UR (would be PG-13) -India (subtitled) - 4+ Stars
                  Insurgent [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars
                  Suffragette [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars
                  Far from the Madding Crowd [2015] - PG-13 - 3 Stars
                  Queen [2014] - UR (would be R, Parents note rating) - India (subtitled) - 3 Stars

                 

BEST FILM THAT WILL HELP YOU WITH YOUR SCHOOL WORK -
        Best -

                  Far from the Madding Crowd [2015] - PG-13 - 3 Stars               
        Honorable Mentions -     

                  Suffragette [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars
                  In the Heart of the Sea [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars  
                  Bajirao Mastani [2015] - UR (would be PG-13) -India (subtitled) - 4+ Stars
                    Ex Machina [2015] - R / O (note rating) - 3 1/2 Stars
                  The Martian [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 2 Stars
                  Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine [2015] - R - 3 1/2 Stars
 

BEST FILM THAT ASKS THE BIG QUESTIONS -
         Best - 

                  Tomorrowland [2015] - PG / A-II - 4 Stars  
                  Son of Saul (orig. Saul Fia) [2015] - R- Hungary (subtitled) - 4+ Stars  


         Honorable Mentions -
                  Star Wars: The Force Awakens [2015] - PG-13 / A-II - 3 Stars
                  Forgotten (orig. Olvidados) [2014] - Bolivia (subtitled) - 4+ Stars 
                    Ex Machina [2015] - R / O - 3 1/2 Stars
                  Road to La Paz (orig. Camino a La Paz) [2015] - UR (would be PG-13) - Argentina (subtitled) 4 Stars
                  Suffragette [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars
                  Mustang [2015] - PG-13 - France / Turkey (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars
                  Daughter (orig. Dukhtar) [2014] - UR (would be PG-13) - Pakistan (subtitled) - 4 Stars
                  Nahid [2015] - UR would be PG-13 - Iran (subtitled) - 4 Stars  
                 The Hope Factory (orig. Комбинат «Надежда» / Kombinat "Nadezhda") [2014] - UR (would be R) - - Russia (subtitled) - 4 Stars
                  Blue Desert (orig. Deserto Azul) [2014] - UR would be PG-13 - Brazil (subtitled) - 3 Stars
                  Spotlight [2015] - R / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars 
                  Labyrinth of Lies (orig. Im Labyrinth des Schweigens) [2014] - UR (would be R) - Germany (subtitled) - 4+ Stars
                  Chi-Raq [2015] - R - 4 Stars
                  Ari: My Life with a King [2015] - UR would be PG - Philippines (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars 
                  The Big Short [2015] - R / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars
                  99 Homes [2015] - R / A-III - 4 Stars
                  The Martian [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 2 Stars
                  You Can't Save Yourself Alone (orig. Nessuno si salva da solo) [2015] - UR (would be R) - Italy (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars


BEST "SMALL" FILM -
            Best -

                 A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night [2014] - R - Iran-Exiles (subtitled) - 4 Stars            Honorable Mentions 
                 After the Tone [2014] - UR would be PG-13 - Netherlands (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars
                 Taxi Tehran [2015] - UR (would be PG-13) - Iran (subtitled) - 4+ Stars
                 The Hope Factory (orig. Комбинат «Надежда» / Kombinat "Nadezhda") [2014] - UR (would be R) - - Russia (subtitled) - 4 Stars
                 Unfriended [2015] - R / O - 4 Stars
                 Maggie [2015] - PG-13 - 4 Stars
                 White Water [2015] - UR would be PG - 4 stars                  
                 Little Voices from Fukushima (orig: Chiisaki koe no kanon: sentakusuru hitobito) [2015]  - UR - Japan (subtitled) - 4 Stars
                 A Town Called Brzotek [2014] - UR (would be PG-13) - Poland / U.K. / USA (at times subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars
                 Ari: My Life with a King [2015] - UR would be PG - Philippines (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars
                 You Can't Save Yourself Alone (orig. Nessuno si salva da solo) [2015] - UR (would be R) - Italy (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars

 
BEST RELIGIOUSLY THEMED FILM -
              Best - 

                   The Letters [2015] - PG / A-II - 4 Stars
                   Son of Saul (orig. Saul Fia) [2015] - R- Hungary (subtitled) - 4+ Stars  

              Honorable Mentions -  
                   Road to La Paz (orig. Camino a La Paz) [2015] - UR (would be PG-13) - Argentina (subtitled) 4 Stars
                  Chi-Raq [2015] - R - 4 Stars
                  A Town Called Brzotek [2014] - UR (would be PG-13) - Poland / U.K. / USA (at times subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars 
                  Spotlight [2015] - R / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars 
                  A Grain of Truth (orig. Ziarno prawdy) [2015] - UR (would be R) -  Poland (subtitled) - 3 Stars


BEST (YOUNG ADULT) RELATIONSHIP FILM -
            Best -

                     Love the Coopers [2015] - PG-13 / L - 4 Stars
             Honorable Mentions - 
                     Meet the Patels [2015] - UR would be PG-13 - 4 Stars
                     Orphans of Eldorado (orig. Órfãos do Eldorado) [2015] - UR (would be R) - Brazil (subtitled) - 4+ Stars
                     A la Mala [2015] - PG-13 - 3 1/2 Stars
                     The Longest Ride [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars
                     Carol [2015] - R - 4 Stars (with Parental advisement / warning)
                     My Boyfriend's an Angel (orig. Мой парень - ангел / Moy Paren Angel) [2012] - UR (would be PG-13) - Russian (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars
                    Trainwreck [2015] - R / O - 3 1/2 Stars 


BEST FILM FOR FILM LOVERS -
            For the Cinematography -
                     Best -

                           Bajirao Mastani [2015] - UR (would be PG-13) -India (subtitled) - 4+ Stars 
                      Honorable Mentions -
                           A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night [2014] - R - Iran-Exiles (subtitled) - 4 Stars
                           Orphans of Eldorado (orig. Órfãos do Eldorado) [2015] - UR (would be R) - Brazil (subtitled) - 4+ Stars
                           How Strange to be Named Federico: Scola narrates Fellini (orig. Che Strano Chiamarsi Federico: Scola Racconta Fellini) [2013] - Italy (subtitled) - 4+ Stars
                           The Dark Valley (orig. Das Finstere Tal) [2014] - UR would be R - Austria / Germany (subtitled) 4+ Stars
                           Son of Saul (orig. Saul Fia) [2015] - R- Hungary (subtitled) - 4+ Stars 
                           Unfriended [2015] - R / O - 4 Stars 
                           Meru [2015] - R - 4 Stars
                           Hany [2014] - UR would be R - Czech Rep (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars
                           Star Wars: The Force Awakens [2015] - PG-13 / A-II - 3 Stars
                           In the Heart of the Sea [2015] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars  
                           The Hateful Eight [2015] - R / L - 3 Stars
                          The Revenant [2015] - R / L - 3 Stars

            For Originality / Tightness of Story - 
                      Best - 

                           A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night [2014] - R - Iran-Exiles (subtitled) - 4 Stars       
                     Honorable Mentions - 

                            Chi-Raq [2015] - R - 4 Stars
                            Unfriended [2015] - R / O - 4 Stars 
                            After the Tone [2014] - UR would be PG-13 - Netherlands (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars
                            Son of Saul (orig. Saul Fia) [2015] - R- Hungary (subtitled) - 4+ Stars  

                            The Dark Valley (orig. Das Finstere Tal) [2014] - UR would be R - Austria / Germany (subtitled) 4+ Stars 
                            Taxi Tehran [2015] - UR (would be PG-13) - Iran (subtitled) - 4+ Stars
                            Carol [2015] - R - 4 Stars (with Parental advisement / warning) 


BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM -
            Best -

                     Meet the Patels [2015] - UR would be PG-13 - 4 Stars
            Honorable Mentions -
                     Meru [2015] - R - 4 Stars
                     How Strange to be Named Federico: Scola narrates Fellini (orig. Che Strano Chiamarsi Federico: Scola Racconta Fellini) [2013] - Italy (subtitled) - 4+ Stars
                     A Town Called Brzotek [2014] - UR (would be PG-13) - 3 1/2 Stars
                     Little Voices from Fukushima (orig: Chiisaki koe no kanon: sentakusuru hitobito) [2015]  - UR - Japan (subtitled) - 4 Stars  
                     Time Suspended (orig. Tiempo Suspendido) [2015] - UR (would be PG-13) - Argentina / Mexico (subtitled) - 4 Stars
                     Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine [2015] - R - 3 1/2 Stars


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Friday, January 22, 2016

The 5th Wave [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (2 3/4 Stars)

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

The 5th Wave [2016] (directed by J Blakeson, screenplay by Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Rick Yancey [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is film that will almost certainly irritate
"Teen Apocalypse" purists while "rolling the eyes" of Others just hoping for "The End" of this rather extended Wave of such films.  Yet "Don't lose Heart, ye who are hoping that teen pop culture will move on to something else, for The End (or at least A Respite) is Nigh," when it comes to this genre of tales ;-).

For this film is already something of a comedy / spoof of the genre ... blending the quite Solemn and _very sequential_ Ordering (of various Divinely Ordered Punishments / Tribulations) present in "The Original Apocalypse" of the Book of Revelation with a more contemporary (and yes, at times campy) "Alien Invasion" scenario of the 1950s style teen oriented Sci-Fi / Horror flicks like the (original) Blob [1958].

A hint that the film makers did not intend their movie to be taken with the solemn seriousness of say The Hunger Games [2012-15] or the Divergent [2014-16] series or even the more Biblically inspired The Remaining [2014] can be found in an early voice-over.  There the current story's heroine, Cassie Sullivan (actually played quite amusingly by Chloë Grace Moretz), clues Viewers in on all that had transpired to cause her, a once-soccer-playing teenager from random-town-in-Ohio still quite smartly dressed and STILL WITH PERFECT HAIR to -- M-16 assault rifle in-hand -- raid an abandoned gas-station / convenience-mart for, well, ... tampons ;-) saying: "Let's face it, to a teenager in high school, EVERY DAY can seem like 'the end of the world'..." ;-)

Cassie continues, explaining that one day a huge, inscrutable extraterrestrial object ominously / quite silently entered into earth's orbit (think of the scenario from Independence Day [1996] or of the one outlined in the Science Channel's Alien Encounters [2012-] docudrama series) refusing apparently all communication with us (humanity) below.  Then after 10 days of this (teenagerly "arrogant" / "we won't talk to you" ;-) silence, an alien invasion ensued, rolling out in Waves:  First there was an Electromagnetic Pulse that knocked out all electronic equipment on earth.  Then, some days / weeks later came SUDDEN / ENORMOUS tidal surges (perhaps from the alien object's "bombing of the oceans") THAT REACHED ALL THE WAY TO OHIO hundreds of miles inland (Cassie explained: "If the waves reached us, you can imagine what they did to the coasts.  Every coastal city in the world was certainly destroyed.").  Then came a viral plague that wiped out most of the rest of humanity.

And in the Fourth Wave, it became apparent that the invading Aliens were somehow COMING TO INHABIT the bodies of some of the Survivors of the first Three Waves.  These Aliens, which had been come to be known by the Survivors as simply "The Others" LOOKED THEREFORE _JUST LIKE_ "regular human beings."

And this then was The Terror in which 16 year old, once soccer-playing now M-16 toting Cassie (always with Perfect Hair) was living-in: The world had been invaded by Aliens, who had already Destroyed most of "the world" as it had existed before.  But these Aliens were all but indistinguishable from the (human) Survivors.  

What to do?  The rest of the story ensues ... ;-)

It's not an altogether dumb scenario and, again, it's clear that it's intended at least in part to be funny.  And yes, there is a lot of teen-oriented camp.  Cassie is at one point "saved" by a ridiculously good-looking, six-pack ab-ed teenage hunk named Evan Walker (played wonderfully by Alex Roe).  Who was he?  Why did he save her?  Why was he even nice to her (or anybody) after all that had happened (to everybody else)?  There's also "an army" that _somehow_ springs up to fight said "Others," led by a quite confidence producing / "leader-ly" Colonel Vosch (played quite well for the role by Liev Shrieber).  But then, who were they / where did they come from / WHERE WERE "THEY" before?   And why do THEIR TRUCKS / COMPUTERS / ETC (quite suddenly) work?

As one watches the film, one sees seemingly glaring inconsistencies, and yet, amusingly they're not, or at least not all of them anyway.

So actually it becomes an amusing (if somewhat paranoid, though again "in a fun sort of way" ;-) movie to watch -- What's real? What's not? Is everything going to come together in the end? Do the film makers care?

All in all, this is perhaps an inevitable movie ... portending perhaps "The End" of this genre.  But at least it's coming to an End "with a wink and a smile" ;-) 



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Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Hope Factory (orig. Комбинат «Надежда» / Kombinat "Nadezhda") [2014]


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

IMDb listing
KinoNews.ru listing*
KinoPoisk.ru listing*
Kino-teatr.ru listing*
Megacritic.ru listing*
Kritikanstvo.ru listing*

Voice of America (O. Sulkin) interview with director*
Interfax.ru article on film's controversy regarding profanity*

Argumenti i Fakty (N. Grigoryeva) review*
Gazeta.ru (V. Lyashchenko) review*
Kinomovi.tv (A. Savenkov) review*
Komsomolskaya Pravda (D. Korsakov) review*
Novye Izvestia (V. Matizen) review*
Ridus.ru (M, Markov) review*
Seance.ru (G. Rymbu) review*
Seance.ru (O. Kasyanova) review*
TheHollywoodReporter.ru (I. Miller) review*
Tribuna.ru (A. Kryukova) review*


The Hope Factory (orig. Комбинат «Надежда» / Kombinat "Nadezhda") [2014] [IMDb] [KN.ru]*[KP.ru]*[KT.ru]* (directed and cowritten by Natalya Meshchaninova [IMDb] [KP.ru]*[KT.ru]* along with Lyubov Mulmenko [IMDb] [KP.ru]*[KT.ru]* and Ivan Ugarov [IMDb] [KP.ru]*[KT.ru]*) is a  remarkable "small RUSSIAN 'INDIE' FILM" that has pushed the bounds of contemporary Russian film making on MULTIPLE levels ;-).  As such I viewed / reviewed the film as part of my 2015 Russian Film Tour in which I sought to present / explore the _diversity_ of contemporary Russian film making a diversity that may annoy some within contemporary Russian officialdom and would probably surprise may Westerners used to traditional (and IMHO often quite bombastic) neo-Communist Russian fare that makes it to "art cinemas" here.

So why did this Russian "small indie film" attract such (sometimes unwelcome) attention?  Made (1) using NO PUBLIC MONEY, (2) on a shoe-string budget, (3) using local, generally not well known / amateur actors and (4) in a way at minimum suggesting the use of off-the-shelf consumer video/electronic equipment in its production (hence about as "SELF MADE" / "INDIE" as a film project, made anywhere in the world, could be), the film at least in its original form has gone largely unscreened in Russia (even at film festivals).  This is due to a recent (passed by the Russian Duma in 2014) Russian law that denies public screening licenses to films with "foul language" [Interfax.ru].*  That the film hasn't played even at film festivals in Russia has come as something of a surprise because even a few months before the law's implementation, the Russian Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medina, had assured the nation's artistic / performing community that the new Russian anti-profanity law was intended for "mass screenings only" while film festivals were considered to be "areas of creative experimentation"  [Interfax.ru]*

Yet a law is a law, and can be invoked by authorities perhaps annoyed "by other things" (including here, that this film was made largely outside of their orbit / control). And indeed there is a lot in this film that at least _some sectors_ of contemporary Russian officialdom "could be annoyed with" ;-)

Indeed, despite the official controversy over "foul language" (and while the young Krasnoyarsk born/raised director _stridently defended_ her choice to have her youthful characters use offending language "to set the film's mood" [Interfax.ru]*, she had the foresight of preparing two versions of the film, one with the foul language and one without ;-), one gets definitely the sense that "foul language" was beside the point:

For the film (1) is set in the still quite isolated and quite notorious north Siberian industrial city of Norilsk (a city first built by Stalin's GULAG, was the site of the Soviet Era's largest and most extended prison revolts, and was the birthplace of Nadezhda Tokolonnikova one of the founding / once jailed members of the notorious Russian punk band Pussy Riot) and (2) is about a young woman named Sveta (played wonderfully throughout by Darya Saveleva [IMDb] [KT.ru]*), whose name, short for Svetlana (or Lucy), means "Light", who is about to reach maturity (turn 18) and who JUST WANTS TO LEAVE.

The whole film is one of obvious if gut-wrenchingly sincere youthful protest, and for its part, Russian civil society, notably in the form of the Russian Guild of Film Critics* has largely rallied behind it, giving it two awards last year: Best Debut Film of the Year and perhaps more poignantly, its Young People's Voice award [Interfax.ru]*[IMDb].

So this is one heck of a film, and though not particularly easy see, legally anyway, back in Russia (except perhaps in a sanitized version) thanks to wonders of the internet, gleefully rife with fans, hackers and no doubt a "helpful" Western intelligence service or two ... , it's not particularly hard to find (with English subtitles and all) online ... Just Bing or Google it ;-)

Excellent job!


ADENDA:

Some notes about the north Siberian mining city of Norilsk where the film was set:

(1) Norilsk is the most northern city in the world with a population of over 100,000 and the second largest city, after Murmansk, north of the Arctic Circle.

(2) The city and the mines/factories that support it were built by Stalin-era GULAG concentration camps in the area.

(3) Among the inmates at said Norilsk GULAG (Norillag) was American born Polish descended Jesuit Missionary Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] in whose memoir With God in Russia [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] he actually describes the building of the copper smelting plant Kombinat "Nadezhda" after which the film was named. (He was there, he was one of the inmates who built the plant).

(4) The camps of the Norilsk GULAG (Norillag) became the site of a major uprising in the spring-summer of 1953 following the death of Stalin.  The uprising is also described at length in gripping first person detail by Fr. Ciszek, SJ [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] his memoir With God in Russia [GR] [WCat] [Amzn].

(5) Today Norilsk is one of the most pollution producing cities in the world, perhaps responsible for 1% of the world's sulfur dioxide emisions alone, and in 2010 was listed by the Russian Federal Statistics Service as the most polluted city in Russia producing six times more pollutants than Cherepovets which came in second place.

(6) In 2001, Norilsk returned to being a "closed city" (!) [BBC] to all foreigners (except for apparently Belorussians) nominally for "strategic mineral reasons." Given its past notorious history and present pollution issues, however, there's almost certainly more behind the Russian government's decision.

FINALLY (7) after such a surprisingly lengthy list of troubled "distinctions", would it really surprise anyone that Norilsk turn-outs to be the birthplace/hometown of Nadezhda Tokolonnikova, one of the members of the Russian punk rock group PUSSY RIOT who was jailed (for "hooliganism inspired by religious hatred") after the group's IMHO perhaps misguided but certainly effective / attention-grabbing guerrilla staging (inside the Moscow's Cathedral of the Divine Savior) of its "Punk Prayer: Holy Mary, Mother of God, put Putin out ..." [YouTube] 

So Norilsk is clearly a tough town, with a troubled past, with much to still resolve / come to terms with / be angry about ...


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

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