Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Maggie's Plan [2015]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChicagoTribune (K. Walsh) review
RogerEbert.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review  

Maggie's Plan [2015] (directed and cowritten by Rebecca Miller along with Karen Rinaldi) continues a string of "next generation Woody Allen-esque" films that ever smiling / ever bumbling (how does she get herself into these convoluted Laurel & Hardy-like "fine messes"?) actress Greta Gerwig (playing here the lead of role of Maggie) is associated with.

Over the years of my blog, I've honestly _loved_ Greta Gerwig in her roles since first seeing her in the LOL (! ;-) _funny_ DEFINITELY _not_ "in distress" role of a hardworking / _earnest_ (but if need be _ruthless_ "one must keep the proper order of things...") leader of a thoroughly _random_ girls' clique at some random "small Liberal Arts College" somewhere in the North East in Damsels in Distress [2011].  In subsequent roles -- Lola Versus [2012], Frances Ha [2014], Mistress America [2015] (America's fun / lively, wonderful even _super-heroic_ "girl on the side ..." ;-) -- she's played "Woody Allen" roles (if one could imagine Woody Allen as an ever smiling, somewhat curvy (_not_ "fat" but definitely _not_ "anorexic" either) 20 or 30-something, generally blonde, young woman), who's _always_ studying for / has a degree in some _absurdly specialized field_ at/from some NYC based college / university.

In the current film, Gerwig's Maggie is a late 20-early 30-something adjunct professor at the City College of New York with a Masters in / teaching "Arts Marketing" and is introduced to us explaining her relational / reproductive dilemma to Tony (played by Bill Hader) who's half of the only VBFFs she has in the world -- Tony's wife Felicia (played by Maya Rudolph) is the other half of her _tiny_ circle of friends.  Her dilemma is this: Approaching 30, she's realized that she hasn't been involved in a single serious relationship that's lasted more than six months, and yet she'd really like to have a kid.  Not trusting the veracity of the CVs left by the donors at a typical sperm bank, she's literally found "A Guy" a former acquaintance named _Guy_ (played wonderfully throughout by Travis Fimmel) -- a bearded "granola-people" looking hipster who gave up on studying for a doctorate in mathematics to start a business making / selling "craft pickles" ;-) -- who's "fine with" leaving her "a load" (of his sperm) in a specimen cup for said purpose (of creating a kid) ESPECIALLY (to his relief) after she explained to him that she'd be fine with, even PREFER, him NOT having ANY RESPONSIBILITY for the child produced afterwards.  Why would a "slacker" former PhD Mathematics student turned "craft pickle entrepreneur" be "the perfect father" for her chid?  Well, at least she "really knows" who he is and comes with no (further) surprises ;-).

So that's "the plan" ... what could possibly go wrong? ;-)

Well, for starters, even as she's putting this relatively simple plan into motion ... Guy loses the first specimen cup ... she runs into and contrary to her best judgement gets progressively involved with "John" (played by Ethan Hawke) another adjunct professor at said CCNY campus, in "Ficto-Critical Anthropology" (yes, the field actually exists but it's "Postmodernist" boundaries are so vaporous that it's a field that one could study / write about apparently next to _anything_ -- from fiction to non, from poetry to critical essays).   When John appears on the scene, he's married to (as he describes her) a true "icy queen" named Georgette (played wonderfully by Julianne Moore) from some random Nordic/Germanic land (who amusingly proves absolutely incompetent at almost every winter sport / outdoor activity).  In actuality, if certainly quite "socially challenged," she's a far more successful (and tenured) Professor (of Ethnology at Columbia University) than either John or Maggie.  For a brew of unspoken if obvious reasons (insecurity, professional jealousy, etc), John latches onto the amiable / less threatening Maggie and ... just as he's about to inseminate herself with her Guy's sperm (provided by him "just offsite" in a second specimen cup that she provided him with ... John shows up at her apartment, proclaiming his love for her ... and ...

... three years later, we find her ... married to John, with a cute as a button 2-something year old daughter and ... getting kinda tired of John ;-).  John's, of course, divorced Georgette to "do the right thing" / marry Maggie.   His two older kids (with Georgette) are still rather confused / resentful about it all.  The ever very socially limited Georgette has of course taken the opportunity to write a characteristically hugely successful (both academically and commercially) if absolutely scathing "scholarly critique" of marriage (_her_ former marriage) and more specifically _husbands_ / her former husband) as a result ;-).  Yet at the end of the day both John and Georgette have taken to using the younger Maggie as a "go to" / de facto nanny for (all) the(ir) kids.

"Too bad you can't just give John back to his first wife..." says, offhandedly, Maggie's friend Felicia, the other half of her BBF couple introduced above, and ... that's where Maggie gets into her head the second half of "her plan."  A few years wiser now, "What could go wrong (again)?"  The rest of the film ensues ... ;-) 

Yes, to many / most readers of my blog, Catholic after all, the moral choices of these 20-30 something characters seem almost "extra-terrestrial."  And yet, actually, the story becomes almost a defense of (and certainly an invitation to a second look at) traditional morality.  Look at the veritable Pandora's Box that one opens when one starts "messing with the rules." ;-)

Anyway, PLEASE DON'T LIVE LIKE THIS but certainly it's a fun and even insightful movie to watch / reflect on ;-)

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Monday, May 30, 2016

Love & Friendship [2016]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (3.5 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (3.5 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review

The Guardian (P. Bradshaw) review

ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review  

Love & Friendship [2016] (screenplay and directed by Whit Stillman based on the novel Lady Susan [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Jane Austen [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) should delight almost EVERY Jane Austen fan and ought to certainly earn Kate Beckensale an Oscar nomination for her utterly _spot-on_ / inspired lead role performance as the breathlessly shrewd, recently widowed (but _not_ exactly mourning... ;-) later-30 something "original desperate housewife" Lady Susan Vernon [wikip] [IMDb].

Interestingly enough, though Lady Susan was one of Jane Austen's EARLIEST WORKS (written between 1793-95) it was published ONLY LONG AFTER HER DEATH (Jane Austen died in 1817 while Lady Susan was published only in 1871 ;-).  And I _honestly_ "understand" ;-) as Lady Susan was such a delightfully / _devilishly_ subversive character capable of just cutting through "polite society" of the time like "a hot knife through butter" while disarmingly / infuriatingly smiling throughout.

I would also add that anyone familiar with some of Whit Stillman's previous films (he hasn't made many, only five over nearly 20 years) -- I've seen two The Last Days of Disco [1997] and Damsels in Distress [2011] (the former I remember to this day and the latter being one of my all time favorite films since I began my blog five years ago) --  would appreciate that probably NO ONE could have adapted the Austen's original material here as well as he could.  Honestly folks, this could be THE FUNNIEST JANE AUSTEN ADAPTATION in a generation (or, honestly, perhaps EVER ;-).

Okay, with SUCH A BUILDUP, what's the story about?

It's about Lady Susan (played again exquisitely, indeed inspiringly by Kate Beckensale) being "on a mission."  Recently widowed with only a mid-to-late teenage daughter, Frederica (played again wonderfully / naively by Morfydd Clark), she's realized that she needs to get her daughter and then _herself_ married-off to a couple of _very rich men_ VERY FAST.   And though she is breathlessly "Machiavellian (in a corset ;-)" about this, she also proves very _pragmatic_ and even _kind_ about it as well:

When Susan realizes that her still, let's face it, _teenage daughter_ really didn't appreciate the gravity of their situations (women in Jane Austen's time still couldn't inherit property ... hence if they didn't get married / remarried _quickly_ they were doomed...) and therefore Frederica "was holding her nose" at the prospect of marrying the man that Susan had initially lined-up for her, a certain kind / rich if dimwitted ("rattle of a man") Sir James (played once more wonderfully by Tom Bennett), SHE (Susan) proves willing to set her daughter up with the (again super-rich, pedigreed) guy that Susan herself was gunning for, a Sir Reginald DuCourcy (played by Xavier Samuel), while settling for the dimwitted (but rich) Sir James herself.  (But then Susan had already learned something that Frederica did not yet understand, that, as per the / Jane Austen's time, "first things first" a woman needed a rich husband to "provide for her / her children."  "Happiness" is really / merely "a secondary concern" that can be "arranged for" (in J.A. speak "procured") "by other means" ...

A desperate situation called for desperate measures and while the rest of quite polite society was, of course, "scandalized" by her machinations, Lady Susan was _not_ I repeat _not_ going to "end up poor" in her old age if she could help it.

So much ensues, and though one generally "needs a score card" to keep track of all of the characters in a typical Jane Austen story, writer/director Stillman amusingly PROVIDES VIEWERS WITH ONE (OF SORTS) right at the beginning of the film as he provides a caption by each of the characters as they are introduced, giving their name, their relation to the other characters, and then, most amusingly, the principal trait by which we should remember them.  The device works beautifully and immediately sets the tone of the marvelously, often laugh-out-loud, whimsical story that follows.

Honestly, this is almost certainly one of the best / funniest English language films of 2016 (and it's only May ;-).

A great, great (if also on another level, still distressing ...) film!

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (2.5 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (1 Star)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (A.J. Bastien) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  

If nothing else, X-Men: Apocalypse [2016] (directed by Bryan Singer, screenplay by Simon Kinberg, story byBryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris) has produced some _excellent_ critical analysis (in the best sense of both words).  Honestly, Dear Readers, take a look at the reviews of both Bastien (of RogerEbert.com) and Vishnevesky (of the A.V. Club) for this film.

Pretty much the whole "critics-sphere" has zeroed-in by now on the (quite large) Achilles Heel of the whole Super Hero genre -- the wanton and massive collateral destruction inflicted on humanity (us) by said "Super Heroes" even as they "save us" from "Super Villains" that somehow arise -- in this case an Ancient Egyptian Super-Mutant named En Sabah Nur a.k.a. Apocalypse [Mrvl] [IMDb] (played IMHO quite well / with appropriate regal panache "I am A GOD, wait, why aren't you worshiping me?" ;-) by a well-cast Oscar Isaac) literally buried _for Millennia_ under "The Sands of Time" -- with each installment.   Talk about a "love / hate" relationship ;-) ...

... And while I simply LOVE Magneto [Mrvl] [IMDb] (played since X-men: First Class [2011] by Michael Fassbender) -- I picked him as the Most Compelling (Male) Hero / Villain in my first, 2011, "Denny Awards" -- I wonder if Magneto would understand that he'd be really his own worst enemy.  Yes, one _totally gets_ his super-tragic back-story (In X-men: First Class [2011] he's _introduced_ to us as a survivor of Auschwitz and in the current episode, set in the early 1980s, he even tries to "put aside his super-powers" and "play it straight" by hiding as a humble "Lech Walesa-like" worker at a small Communist era Polish steel mill - only to _tragically_ lose his wife and daughter to a fearful bunch of "apparatchiks" / coworkers _anyway_).  BUT THERE'S SIMPLY NO WAY that humanity could put up with a man / mutant of his Power (moving / throwing about _anything metal_ ... from simple coins, to rockets / planes [in the first film], to buildings [in the second one], to the earth itself [in the current one]... at his whim) wreaking untold destruction on everyone around whenever he got (even _legitimately_) angry ...

So why the _need_ to "blow things up"? (or even the need to blow _so many things_ up?)

Well, we live in a post-9/11 world where we watched (at least those of us who were alive at the time), LIVE, at least two enormous skyscrapers be _blown up_ with _thousands of people_ killed still inside.  Then Auschwitz turned Pogroms (Evil already in their own right) into a horrifically-efficient _industrial_ slaughterhouse / crematorium operation (2015 Oscar winning "best foreign language film" Son of Saul [2015] portrays the _banging_ / clanging / _burning_ horror of the "day to day" operation of Auschwitz with truly infernal magnificence).   Jews (along with Gypsies) were shipped there to their deaths because they were considered "different from the norm" (religiously / ethnically considered to be "subhuman" that is to say ... "mutants").  Finally, a similar rage exists among homosexuals (also sent to concentration camps by the Nazis for "special treatment") and even women (thought of by "Nazis" - but really _all of humanity_ at its worst - previously as basically "breeding machines") over past crimes / mistreatment.

So the experience of watching the destruction wreaked by "mutants" in these X-men films is IMHO a conflicted one.  Perhaps MORE than in the case of OTHER "Superhero" scenarios -- be it Marvel Comic's Avenger Series, the "Batman v. Superman" DC Comics inspired universe or even the recent incarnation of the Star Trek series -- we _kinda understand_ the onscreen _rage_ / _violence_in the X-Men series and yet at the same time we remain disturbed by it. THERE OUGHT TO BE A WAY for "humans" and "mutants," to reconcile, forgive each other, and live together in peace.

... but it's clearly not easy.  Professor Charles Xavier [Mrvl] [IMDb] (from hence comes the "X" in "X-men" and played since X-men: First Class [2011] by James McAvoy) continually tries to find / "educate" the "mutants" he finds to help them understand / control their "powers" while also trying _really hard_ to dialogue with humanity so that it does not _fear them_ so, while above mentioned Magneto [Mrvl] [IMDb] tries above all to train "mutants" to "defend themselves" (or, in this film, just tries at least to defend himself / his family).  Neither option seems to work particularly well, though Xavier's would seem to be the long term better one.

But then seemingly "random events" arise -- like the waking-up of the above mentioned "Ancient Egyptian" super-hero/mutant En Sabah Nur a.k.a. Apocalypse [Mrvl] [IMDb] and everything "goes to Hell" again for a while with significant sections of the world, in the current case, Cairo, being seemingly wantonly destroyed.

Will it ever really calm down?  I suppose we'll see (or at some point we'll _stop watching_ ...).  Perhaps the X-Men universe stocked with _so many_ "super powerful" mutants / people will NEVER be able to be(come) calm.

And _perhaps_ the solution will come when a new (and more diverse) generation _of writers_ (let's face it, the "true Gods" in these stories ;-) will come on the scene and find _a new path_ that neither ProfessorX [Mrvl] [IMDb] nor Magneto [Mrvl] [IMDb] nor the present crop of writers of these tales have been able to discover.

Until then, probably the slaughter will continue ... until we just get tired of it and go on, ourselves, to something else.

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Alice Through the Looking Glass [2016]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune (1 1/2 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (0 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McCarthy) review
ChicagoTribune (K. Walsh) review
RogerEbert.com (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review  

I confess that in contrast to virtually every critic that I cite above, I LIKED Alice Through the Looking Glass [2016] (directed by James Bobin, screenplay by Linda Woolverton inspired by the book(s) [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Lewis Carroll [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]).  I liked Tim Burton's (updated / reimagined) "original" Alice in Wonderland [2010] released in the months _just before_ I started my blog, and I LIKED THIS ONE, its sequel as well.  Why? ;-)

Well, first off, CATHOLIC PRIEST or not, I LIKE the "reimagined" Alice [wikip] [IMDb] (played by Mia Wasikowska).  I have _repeatedly_ recommended the original to family/friends and had made it a parish "teen group outing" after it had come out.  For here was a late teen / young adult Alice (rather than a 7 year old) who was a clear protagonist in her own story rather than one to whom (often bewildering) things happened to.  I can't imagine a parent _anywhere_ today who'd not want their daughters to grow-up to be _like_ "Wasikowska's Alice."

So I just LOVED the opening sequence of the current film which had Wasikowska's Alice AS THE YOUNG (maybe 20 y.o.) CAPTAIN OF HER FATHER'S OLD SHIP "The Wonder" outwitting a group of (Malay) pirate ships somewhere near China.  Yes, it was utterly anachronistic -- there'd be no way that a 20 year old, let alone a 20 year old young woman would be allowed to be / let alone BE RESPECTED) as a captain of a sailing ship in the late 1800s, no matter who was one's dad was ("it's just not done laddy / missy ...") -- but it was IN YOUR FACE COOL.   The gauntlet was dropped, the film's makers reminding EVERYBODY that the Alice of the first film was here to stay.  As a priest who I respected, indeed loved, early in my relationship with the Servites (my religious order) would say: "Good on you" ;-)

And it wasn't as if it was easy for Alice "to be free" / liberated in such a way.  A good part of the story that takes place "in the _real world_" was about an attempt by her family (her mother, played by Lindsay Duncan) and her father's old business associates including Alice's once "picked for her" fiance' (played by Leo Bull) to "put her back in her place" (in then Victorian society). 

So it's should not surprise anyone really at all, that faced with a truly _oppressive_ "reality" where she was (or at least would have been) allowed to do "next to nothing" (live as basically _as an adult version_ of the original 7 year old Alice of Carroll Lewis' books), she _preferred_ (to at least escape to) the "alternative world" available to her, this time, not through "a rabbit hole" but rather through "passing through a looking glass (mirror)" where she could be both valued and useful.

And so it was, faced with a "damned if you / damned if you don't" prospect of either losing her ship or being forced to watch her mother lose her home, led by "a butterfly" that she recognized (Absolem voiced by Alan Rickman), she jumps through said "magical mirror" back into "Wonderland" where she could catch-up / commune with and ultimately help resolve problems among her friends "on the other side."  Again, WHO WOULD BLAME HER?

Then I honestly thought the CGI (as well as set / wardrobe design) of "Wonderland" was (as in Tim Burton's "original") MAGNIFICENT.  Readers here will note that I don't necessarily give CGI a pass.  I _panned_ last year's Pan [2015] (as well as Mad Max: Fury Road [2015] and others).  On the other hand, I've whole heartedly defended / embraced CGI (even when it was _wild_...) when it served / improved upon the story (as in the CGI extravaganza that was the "updated" Three Musketeers [2011], as well as Suckerpunch [2011] and Thor [2011] to say nothing of the LOTR Hobbit [2012-14] movies).

Much of the current film deals with Alice, in Wonderland, having to sail "the seas of time" (in a steam-era mechanical orb-like contraption) in order to go _back in time_ to see what exactly had happened the Mad Hatter's [wikip] [IMDb] (played by Johnny Depp) family back on one fateful day an event which was causing the previously "mad" but otherwise _lively_ "hatter" to sink ever more deeply into depression. 

I found the CGI of the "Sea of Time" sequences (with seemingly every wave representing a day) to be simply Magnificent ("Thor [2011]"-worthy ;-).  I even found Alice's battles with personified Time (played IMHO quite excellently by Sasha Barron Cohen) to be LOL _fun_ as well: "Remember, I'm _inevitable_" he calls out to her as Alice tries to "out-run Time" ;-).  And there's a sequence centering around "Tea Time" that IMHO will be unforgettable to ANYONE with an 8-10 year old as the "Time puns" just fly for several minutes straight with Cheshire the Cat [wikip] [IMDb] (voiced by Stephen Fry) appearing (arriving) "ON Time," TIME _flying_ "when we're having fun", etc, etc.

Alice's passage "back into time" also helps Viewers appreciate better _why_ the "Red Queen" [wikip] [IMDb] (voiced by Helen Bonham Carter) had become so "evil" / problematic.  To be honest, I'm getting a little tired of that device, first popularly used to explain why "The Wicked Witch of the West" of the Wizard of Oz [1939] fame had become so "Wicked," but it does serve to remind us that "every person does have a story" and what _all of us_ do TO EACH OTHER _does have (long term) effects_.

So all in all folks, I LIKED THIS FILM (as I liked Tim Burton's "original") and would definitely recommend it to parents with teen and tween-age daughters.  It's a NICE and _empowering_ story of an "Alice" that all of us would want our kids to come to be.

Great job!

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bajrangi Bhaijaan [2015]

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

IMDb listing
FilmiBeat.com listing**

FilmiBeat.com  review**

Indian Express (S. Gupta) review**
Hindustan Times (R. Vats) review**

The Guardian (M. McCahill) review

Bajrangi Bhaijaan [2015] [IMDb] [FiBt] (directed by Kabir Khan [IMDb] [FiBt], original story and screen play cowritten by Vijayendra Prasad [IMDb] along with Kabir Khan [IMDb] [FiBt], Parveez Sheikh [IMDb] and Asad Hussain [IMDb], dialogue by Kausar Munir [IMDb] and Kabir Khan [IMDb] [FiBt]) is both a critically acclaimed (above) and award winning Indian film which was also the top grossing Indian film in India in 2015, ALL DESERVEDLY SO.  The film serves as the fourth stop on my 2016 Indian Film Tour.

The film while fairly widely available on the internet (even w. English subtitles) is still not available on streaming services like iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, or Google Play / YouTube but hopefully will be so shortly.  It would be well worth the view / rental for a nominal fee.

A truly heart-string-tugging / heart warming film, it's about a little six-year-old Kashmiri-Pakistani girl, mute, named Shahida (played wonderfully by Harshaali Malhotra [IMDb] [FiBt]) who gets lost on the Indian side of the border with Pakistan after her mother (played by Meher Vij [IMDb] [FiBt]) had taken her to the Sufi (Muslim) shrine in Dehli to the Sufi (Muslim) saint Nizamuddin Auliya in hopes of a miraculous healing.

Faced with a hysterical mother who didn't want her train to go forward until her (again _mute_ six year old) daughter was found, the Pakistani border authorities do ask their Indian counterparts (who, of course, famously don't particularly like each other...) to conduct at least a cursory search for the girl on the Indian side of the border.  The Indian authorities of course don't find her (though Viewers remember here that we're dealing with a child here who doesn't necessarily think the way that adults, even their parents, would wish he/she would...).  Then the Pakistani authorities break the news to the mother that since _she_ (the mother) was already on the Pakistani side of the border, she'd have to go to a major city (Lahore) to get a new visa to re-enter India to look for the girl.

Watching this as an American, I can not imagine being forced to accept "there is nothing we can do."  We'd probably scream and refuse to move.  The poor Pakistani mother, screams, refuses to move, but  ... eventually must.  That's what poor / marginalized people have always been forced (if over time...) to do.

The homecoming (the mother having to come home, minus her daughter) is tearful.  An uncle / grandpa finally says at the end "May God (Allah) send someone to protect our dear child."

And ... for the first, second, third or even fourth time in the film (realize Dear Readers that the film's only progressed about 10 minutes or so ...) ... one has tears in one's eyes, as one realizes that in this story God does hear Shahida's family's prayers and ... finds her a protector in ... a lovely, devout, if somewhat "slow" (Forrest Gump-ish ;-) Hindi man named Pawar (later a.k.a. Bajrangi Bhaijaan and played absolutely wonderfully by Salman Khan [IMDb] [FiBt]) who's a devotee to a "second tier" Hindu God named Hanuman.

Shahida, by then hungry and scared (and remember SHE'S MUTE / CAN'T TALK ...), runs into Pawar as he's finishing a pilgrimage to a Hindu shrine in apparently Kurukshetra in the Indian state of Haryana some distance from the Indian-Pakistani border.   Able to understand him (on the spoken level Hindi / Urdu remain essentially the same language perhaps like Serbo-Croatian in Europe), but unable to speak (and as a 6 year old from the Pakistani countryside also unable to write) they are able to communicate ... somewhat.  Above all, Pawar comes to realize that she really is lost, that it's going to take some time to find her parents, and asking himself "what [his Diety (Hanuman)] would do" in this case, he takes her home with him so that she'd have a place to stay while he (and his larger family) figure out what to do next.

Now how Shahida got there, to Kurukshetra (some 50 miles from the border), will be clear to those who see the film but the two essential plot points made here by the film-makers were (1) the little girl was truly lost and the civil authorities were probably _not_ going to find her even if they tried (and _no one_ expected them to try particularly hard...) and (2) God sent a good / kindly even if somewhat "slow" HINDU man to save this little MUSLIM girl (from Pakistan ... ;-)

AMONG THE MANY WONDERFUL ASPECTS OF THIS FILM IS that _even_ Pawar, Shahida's eventual "Savior," HAD A JOURNEY TO MAKE in overcoming his own prejudices.  For when he saw the little hungry girl who couldn't speak, he assumed (rightly) that she was lost.  However, he _also_ assumed that she was INDIAN / HINDU. Only slowly but surely and always initially to his horror he discovers who she really is:

One day, he finds her (gasp... ;-) EATING CHICKEN with a neighbor (presumably Muslim) family.  (Perhaps she's from some (still upper...) caste that can eat meat... he muses).  Sometime later, as he's dutifully teaching little Munni (as he calls her) how to pray beside a statue of a Hindu God, he finds that she's slipped away, and, smiling, entering into A MUSLIM MOSQUE _across the street_ to do the same.  Finally, while ALL OF PAWAR'S family was watching a heated Indian - Pakistani cricket match, to everyone's shock / horror they find little Munni dancing when Pakistan won the match and even going over to the TV set to kiss the Pakistani flag on the screen (as her home villagers would do when Pakistan scored a significant point :-). 

OMG, Munni's "one of THEM?" ;-)  It's here that Pawar's fiancee' Rasika (played wonderfully by Kareena Kapoor [IMDb] [FiBt]) steps-up to calm both Pawar and her own (all Hindu) family down, (her own dad having been a veteran of one of the Wars between India and Pakistan), re-focusing them on the challenge(s) ahead:

They have to find a way to get this little girl back to Pakistan to her family.  And dear Readers, let's recall the challenges that Pawar, Rasika, and their family faced: This little girl obviously didn't have a passport and couldn't even speak.  How then to prove to _anybody_ of any legitimate (we Catholics call it "competent") Authority that (1) the little girl was really Pakistani and (2) that she needed to "go home" (to where?? in Pakistan...)?

So ... the rest of the film ensues.  After exhausting all the normal channels (going to the Pakistani Embassy in Dehli, going even to a not exactly "above board" travel agent to see if he could "find a way") good / honest Forrest Gump-ish Pawar decides that since he's _doing the right thing_ and _for the right reasons_ (even if his little charge is for some reason a Muslim Pakistani ;-) that God -- Rama/(Hanuman), Allah... GOD -- will protect him.  So ... What's a border or a Visa if you have GOD on your side ;-)

It's a lovely story, and as Pawar bumbles his way over the _absurdly highly fortified_ border ;-) and trying to do so HONESTLY (not wanting lie about it ;-) HE MAKES FRIENDS on both sides of the border, (1) of the Indian smuggler who helps him get at least to the Pakistani side of the DMZ (!!! ;-) and then (2) of VARIOUS PAKISTANIS from border guards, to a reporter (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui [IMDb] [FiBt]), to a kindly Imam WHO HIDES THEM IN HIS MOSQUE ;-) all of whom find him TO BE A REMARKABLE MAN, one who, okay (to the Pakistanis) WAS "A HINDU," but SOMEHOW _CLEARLY sent by God_ (how else to explain it?) to fulfill this little mission of reuniting this little girl with her lovely Pakistani-Kashmiri family.

WHAT A STORY :-)  Lovely also is that this film could really be viewed by just about everyone in the family (PG-13 or even PG).  A truly, truly nice job!

My hat off (and honestly BLESSING) to all who were involved in this film!

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising [2016]

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

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

Parents should note that Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising [2016] (directed and cowritten by Nicholas Stoller along with Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O'Brien, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg) is a typically rather hard-R amiable if definitely drugged-up slacker "Seth Rogan" film (with some added and probably for almost all Viewers increasingly tiresome "sex toy" humor...).  So Dear Readers, you should get the picture ... the R-rating is deserved, and I really can't imagine a circumstance why a Parent would want to take a preteen or even a 16 year old to see the film.  

That said, as typical of "Seth Rogan films," the movie is not entirely stupid.  It makes some interesting even legitimate points that would perhaps be hard to make as effectively without at last some of the "smiling / slacker haze." 

The film, a sequel, begins a few years after the original film Neighbors [2014] left-off.  In the original, mid-20s married / college educated couple, Mac and Kelly Radner (played by Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne respectively) expecting their first child, bought a house in what they expected to be a quiet somewhat upscale urban neighborhood (presumably "close to work" ...) only to find a rowdy fraternity led by Frat Bro' Forever "six pack" Teddy (played by Zach Efron) and his true if ever smarter / wiser BFF Pete (played by Dave Franco) was moving in next door.  Much over-the-top (if juvenile) hilarity involving the "über-cool" (frat) and the "wait, only a few years ago, we were quite 'cool' too" (the college graduated, married, expectant couple) ensued ... Among that which ensued was that frat brothers, including Pete, were graduating at the end of the first year of their "living as neighbors"_anyway_ ... so the problem "resolved itself" come the end of the film (graduation time).

At the beginning of the current (second) film, a few years down the road from the first, Mac and Kelly, expecting now their second child, had just successfully sold their house for a bigger one in the suburbs.   All was a go, 'cept, the house was now "in escrow."  Now WT... means "escrow"?  Still mid/late 20 something Mac and Kelly didn't fully appreciate it until the real estate agent, rolling her eyes explained to them ... again: The new buyers had 30 days to conduct inspections of the house and could still walk-away from their purchase of the house for (basically) _any reason_. 

Okay, it's something of a hassle but what could really go wrong...? ;-)  Well ... three incoming freshmen to said nearby college -- Shelby, Beth and Nora (played by Chloë Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons and Beanie Feldstein respectively) -- decide that they'd like to found an "off campus sorority" next door (in the old "off campus frat house" that had tormented Mac and Kelly in the first film). 

Now _why_ would the three young women want do do that (besides providing an excuse for the film's producers to create a sequel to the original film)?  Well, the three college freshmen simply found it incomprehensible that on campus sororities were _not_ allowed to hold parties.  The President of one of the on-campus sororities (played by Selena Gomez) tried to explain that "this was not a problem" as simply Frats held the parties to which the Sororities would be invited to.  But for the three (and actually to a lot of young women today) this was a problem:

(1) By holding the parties on their premises, Frats determined then what kind of parties they would be ... often very degrading to women ("Rapey" as one of the young women noted), and

(2) "Partying" need not be a particularly sexual (or sexualized) affair at all.  Indeed, one of the parties that these young women threw at their "off campus" sorority was basically a "karaoke rave-night" that yes, did involve some drugs (mostly pot and perhaps some ecstasy) but really did not involve guys or even sex of any kind at all -- just mostly happy (and free) young women singing (mostly off key) their favorite songs while the other girls just bouncing and dancing to their singing in support... It all looked like a lot of fun ;-), but something that a lot of guys would not necessarily want to attend ;-). 

So this is the first (and main point) that this film made, and perhaps more credibly than a more proper (more "Oscar worthy" ... ;-) film could not.

The other point involved a subplot involving "ever Frat boy" / "six pack" Teddy and his "liked / loved college" but was (long) moving-on BFF Paul ... Paul turns out to be gay and early in the film gets engaged (to another man).  Then Paul and his fiance ask Teddy to move-out of their flat.  What's poor Teddy to do?  Well he first serves as "a consultant" to the three young women as to how to set-up their new "partying" / off campus sorority.  But in the end, he spends some time sleeping on the floor of Mac and Kelly's kids' bedroom (he had told Paul and his fiance) that he _didn't need a lot of space_ ;-) ;-)  Sigh ...

Eventually Paul and Teddy do make up (as friends, as they were always) and Paul even asks Teddy to be his best man.  Well ... at the wedding Paul gets nervous and Teddy, in the role of the best man tries to calm him down / focus him telling him that [his fiance] is "[Paul's] best friend, his confident, who's gonna be with him through thick and thin, and always have is back ..." and at the end of Teddy's speech, Paul asks: 'You weren't talking about my fiance were you?" "No I wasn't" was Teddy's reply ;-), the point being IMHO ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING: While _never_ sexual, Paul's / Teddy's relationship was truly one of Best Friends Forever.  What then in the time of gay marriage to make of Teddy's speech?   We've heard that speech being given countless times by Best Men / Maids of Honor to their best friends getting married ... to someone of the opposite sex.  Why does it sound _so surprisingly weird_ in the context of a gay marriage?   Is the only (if significant) difference between a BFF relationship and a gay relationship the sex?  Is marriage itself, straight or gay, ultimately "just about the sex"?

Yes, this is a "dumb movie," but what an interesting / discussion provoking question it raises ;-)

In the Catholic Church, marriage is about commitment to each other, having / raising kids together (providing a stable home to do so). 

The current film asks some interesting questions about relationships in general -- those involving marriage as well as friendship.  And I found this quite interesting. 

My question would be to the film makers, was it film's crudity really necessary though to raise these question, or even to raise them with a smile?  Obviously, I don't believe that the film needed to be nearly as crude to make its point (or even again to make it with a smile).

Nevertheless, _not entirely_ a bad job ;-)

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Nice Guys [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  

Nice Guys [2016] (directed and cowritten by Shane Black along with Anthony Bagarozzi) proved to me to be a mess.

While the characters themselves are well-drawn, the core of film's problems is the story:

Set in the late 1970s in Los Angeles, all kinds of people associated with a seemingly random two-bit / "indie" porn flick are being killed for a Chinatown [1974]-esque conspiratorial reason (so far so good ...) 'cept that _the violence_ in the story gets progressively so ratcheted-up that by film's end it's just absurd.  The film's climactic no holds barred shootout at a 1970s era Los Angeles Convention (if it had actually happened) would have been the equivalent of the Black September attack on the 1972 Munich Olympic Games or, frankly, 9/11, something that both _couldn't_ and _wouldn't_ be "hushed-up."  So call the film the "Jurassic World [2015] of crime stories" where even _a good / compelling premise_ has to be amped-up to absurd heights.

And it's a shame because the actors -- Russell Crowe / Ryan Gosling (playing an odd-couple pair of Private Eyes, one with a license, the other kinda "über-ing" it), Angurie Rice (playing Gosling's character's precocious 13-year-old daughter, who finds herself "growing up really fast" by _repeatedly_ "seeing things" that really _no_ thirteen year old should ever have to see), Margaret Qualley (playing a Patty Hearst meets Lyndsey Lohan-like character named Amelia who comes to be at the center of the initially quite well-spun story. She could have really had a conscience, or she could have just been out to embarrass her mother (played by Kim Basinger) a high powered U.S. District Judge) -- deserved better.  Sigh ...

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Angry Birds [2016]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (D)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars for the goofiness, 1 Star for the "left-wing" content / messaging ;-| )

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jenson) review
ChicagoTribune (K. Walsh) review
RogerEbert.com (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review  

Angry Birds [2016] (Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly, screenplay by Jon Vitti based on the video game) is a film that could make a lot of [Adults] angry ;-) or :-/ ... ;-).

Yes, it does _a really good job_ in explaining some of the oddities of the _really successful_ but "really odd" video game that it is based on: why does one _need_ to use a slingshot to hurl _birds_ (don't birds generally fly?) at _green colored pigs_ (why green?  why pigs?) in a battle over _eggs_ (okay, they're the birds' eggs but why did "pigs" want to steal them)?

The birds live on an isolated island presumably in the Pacific.  So in the absence of predators, as in the case of New Zealand's Kiwis, the birds have found no real reason / need to fly.  Then why "green colored pigs"?  Well, they arrive from another (far off) island, and they do seem to be, even at their best, rather ill mannered (like "pigs") and then rather greedy ("green...").   They come to the birds' island ultimately to steal their eggs ... hence producing an island full of really "angry birds" ;-).

 That all said, the film "says" more ... Strangely, bizarrely, perhaps even somewhat amusingly and certainly in part _infuriatingly_ the film becomes a pro-Communist (!? ;-) parable.  Say what? Seriously, hear me out ;-) :

The HERO of the story is a RED bird (voiced by Jason Sudaikis) marginalized and dismissed by the other birds of the island as being a rather "hot-tempered" / "angry" bird.  He is the ONLY bird who was suspicious of "the pigs" right from the moment that they arrived (on a sailing ship from their island).  Okay, when they arrived they blithely "dropped anchor" right on top of his, RED'S, house (at the edge of the birds' town) demolishing it in the process.  So right from the get go, RED was _not_ "a happy bird."

Then the birds of the island WORSHIPED a "legendary" STILL FLYING bird named "the Mighty Eagle" who supposedly lived at the top of the cliffs of a volcanic outcrop on their island.  Since the other birds NO LONGER FLEW no one's ever seen this "Mighty Eagle" for generations, but they still believed that he was there, perched on those "high cliffs" protecting their Island (really World, for they knew no other) from would be "Enemies."  That GOD-LIKE Eagle was portrayed in the film as A GREAT BALD EAGLE.  So he served as a symbol of _both_ GOD and THE UNITED STATES in this story ...

So becoming ever more suspicious of these raucous ill-behaved "pigs" (more of them arriving by the boatload each day), RED along with his "buddies" (of sorts)  from his "anger management group" (voiced by Josh Gad, Danny McBride, SEAN PEAN ;-) and led by white plumed yoga-like instructor (voiced by Maya Rudolph) decide to "climb the heights" to find said MIGHTY EAGLE to ask for his help / (divine-like) intervention.

Well when they arrive, they find said "Mighty Eagle" (voiced by Peter Dinklage ;-) decidedly UNIMPRESSIVE.  He's grown fat, lazy, arguably _flightless_ as well, still stuck-on / holding onto "past glory."

Now dear Readers CHOOSE how to interpret said (fat, lazy, still holding onto the glories of his past) "Mighty Eagle" -- Does he represent GOD or AMERICA?   Which interpretation would offend you less??

Partly to his horror "Red" realizes: "The fate of the world's gonna depend on 'idiots like us'" ;-) which I have to say is a rather _amusing_ way encapsulate some of the more memorable lines from Karl Marx' (heck "Red" even has Groucho Marx' eyebrows ;-) Communist Manifesto notably that "religion is the opiate of the people" and "workers (here 'birds') of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains."   

I have to say that it all reminds me of an (in)famous mural that leftist Mexican muralist Diego Rivera had painted to much controversy back in the 1930s.  In said piece entitled "Man at the Crossroads" originally commissioned BY THE ROCKEFELLERS for their newly constructed Rockefeller Center in New York, he painted "a worker" at the controls of a massive mechanical contraption that would decide History.  (I referred to said mural and the story behind it in a recent review of a recently released Franco-Russian film by Russian director Aleksandr Sukharov entitled Francofonia [2016] in which Sukharov might have been doing a similar thing to the French backers of his film as Rivera was trying to do to the Rockefellers).   ANYWAY, from the moment I saw said mural by Rivera, safely exhibited if "in Exile" at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, I immediately imagined Homer Simpson at said controls ;-).  

And I do find it amusing that the screenwriter here of the current film is Jon Vitti who actually made his mark first writing for The Simpsons [1989-] ;-) 

Anyway, "Red" as a no nonsense, angry-bird like Bernie Sanders ;-) ... "leads" the other birds in their siege of the Pigs' home island and with _late_ help of "The Mighty Eagle" helps free (liberate) the birds' eggs (hence returning to them a promising /peaceful future).

Now folks, I've spent _a lot of time_ over the past several years decrying the rather right-wing and RACIST messaging of a fair number of recent American children's animated films, notably that present in Hop [2011], Hoodwinked Too [2011] and Despicable Me 2 [2013].  What then to say about the current left-wing perhaps honestly Communist apologist film based on a FINNISH video game and sponsored by JAPANESE (Sony) money? ;-)

I suppose, honestly -- left and right -- please "Leave the kids alone."

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Munnariyippu [2014]

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

IMDb listing
FilmiBeat.com listing

FilmiBeat (A.Menon) review
IndiaGlitz.com review

Kerala 9 (Unni R Nair) review
New India Express (M.K. Nidheesh) review
The Hindu (S.R. Praveen) review
Times of India (TNN) review

Munnariyippu [2014] [IMDb] [FiBt] (directed and cowritten by Venu Goopaalan [IMDb] [FiBt] along with Unni R. [IMDb]) is a well written / well acted, award winning, thoughtful / reflective Shawshank Redemption [1994]-ish  Malayalam (Keralese) crime drama that serves as the third stop in my 2016 Indian Film Tour.  The film is available for rental in the United States on various internet streaming platforms (including iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and Google Play) for a reasonable price.

Set then in Kerala along the Malabar Coast of Southern India, Viewers (and Readers here) get to encounter a remarkably beautiful (and remarkably ancient) part of India.  For this lush tropical land was known already TO THE SUMERIANS (c. 3000 BC) of Mesopotamia as "the Garden of Spices." And it came to be at the very center of the sea-faring portions of the ancient trade route system known to us as "The Silk Road" that extended from the Eastern Mediterranean, the Horn of Africa / Egypt across ALL OF SOUTHERN ASIA (Arabia, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, South East Asia) and the East Indies (Indonesia) to China / Japan.

Many Readers here may ALSO find it interesting that  Kerala is also THE MOST CHRISTIAN part of India (20%,, as opposed to less than 1% across India as a whole) and has been so since ancient times.  By tradition, St. Thomas the Apostle arrived in Kerala in 52 AD where there already was a Jewish Community at the time, successfully converting several Brahmin families.  The ensuing Christian community following the Syro-Malabar Rite exists to this day.  Within my own Religious Order, the Servants of Mary, exist several congregations of Servite Sisters that have foundations now in  Kerala (and neighboring Tamil Nadu).  We Servite Friars have now a thriving Province in neighboring Tamil Nadu as well. 

I mention all this because reference to the (quite ancient) Christianity of the region appears repeatedly in the film with Catholic nuns in their habits quite frequently shown walking about town, checking things out in the market spaces, etc.  Indeed, one of the main characters in the film, a ever-smiling, _western dressed_, recently graduated / still largely freelance journalist named Anjali Arachal (played by Aparna Gopinath [IMDb] [FiBt]) is _clearly presented_ as coming from a Christian family (and reminded perhaps even nagged somewhat about her Christian duties by her more traditional Christian mother ;-).

To the film ... ;-)

At some gathering of young local journalists, above mentioned still largely freelancing, Anjali is offered a somewhat interesting / promising "ghost writing" job by one of her mentor figures: the Superintendent  of a local prison was retiring in a number of months, and was looking for "a ghost writer" to help him organize / publish "his memoirs" for the occasion.  The job apparently seemed a little beneath Anjali's established journalistic mentor, BUT for a recent graduate / "freelancer" like Anjali, this could be a valuable (and connection producing) experience.  So ... he gives the gig to Anjali and soon enough she comes over to the prison to meet with said outgoing Prison Superintendent (played by Nedumudi Venu [IMDb] [FiBt])

While talking to him, she encounters one of the staff working in his office, a soft-spoken man named Raghavan (played by Mammootty [IMDb] [FiBt]).  The Prison Superintendent tells her that he's been at the Prison now for some 20 years, first as a Prisoner (for a double murder of his wife and teenage daughter) and in these last years, as something of a "room & board" employee, as he didn't particularly want to leave.  The Superintendent tells her: "You'll find that most of the prisoners here are just like you and me.  A moment of passion / misjudgement puts them here separating them from us."  The Superintendent doesn't mind that she talk to Raghavan, indeed, wants her to quite extensively interview him (Raghavan, the former and still hanging-on prisoner) for HIS (the superintendent's) book.  So she does ...

Inevitably Raghavan becomes _more interesting_ than the Prison Superintendent, especially when it turns out that he's kept a journal over those 20 years, PHILOSOPHIZING about the meanings of Truth and Freedom while behind those bars.

Okay, Anjali first went to that jail to help THE SUPERINTENDENT write a book, and now she actually finds one of his (former) prisoners MORE INTERESTING than he was.  What to do?  Well, she rationalizes, as long as she gets the Superintendent's book done on time, why not indulge her interest in this (former) prisoner of his, and write A SIDE ARTICLE about him.  Indeed, her mentor ENCOURAGED HER to take the job precisely to "make connections" (and when she talks to him about this, he encourages her to do precisely that ... write the "side article" about the former prisoner even as she works on the Prison Superintendent's book.  She is a "free lancer" after all, and _as long as she completes her contracted task_ why not?

Well, she gets her side article about the prisoner published in a _prominent_ Time Magazine-like (English language) weekly.  And soon ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE are interested in both the Prisoner's story AND HER.

A young literary agent (played by Saiju Kurup) for a publisher in Mumbai contacts Anjali telling her that there's a book in Raghavan's story and quickly seduces her into this rather complicated project -- Raghavan's journal was in Kerala's Malayalam language, the book would be in English to reach the widest reading audience in India (hence, the publisher would be expecting the work to be a collaboration between Raghavan and Anjali, Raghavan writing the original text and Anjali translating / editing it).  The publisher would also want Raghavan to write about "juicier things" than just his "philosophical musings."  They'd want him to write about the crime that put him in jail in the first place.  Finally, well, they'd have a rather strict (and quite short ...) deadline of only a couple of months.

In the meantime, the Prison Superintendent was getting unwanted attention from all over, with many in the Press asking why Raghavan, who had completed his term in prison, was still there.

So ... Anjali finds herself having signed a contract with a publisher for a book that Raghavan was going to write ... and now has to find a place to put Raghavan to write said book UNDER A RATHER STRICT DEADLINE.

Well this was NOT going to be "EASY" ... AND IT WAS NOT.  Remember that Raghavan had "nothing but time" as he wrote his "philosophical musings" OVER THE COURSE OF TWENTY YEARS.  And he had no particular reason other than Anjali's increasing insistence to "write under pressure" now ... One even starst to wonder if Raghavan even wrote his journal at all.  After all, he was in jail for 20 years.  Perhaps somebody else wrote it, died, and he simply later claimed the journal as his own.  Then what of Anjali's original project, helping the outgoing Prison Superintendent WITH _HIS_ BOOK?

The film becomes a fascinating reflection on "Freedom" and "Incarceration" / "Slavery" ... who's actually "free" here and who's "under the gun" / "oppressed" / "facing jail" ?  ;-)

It all becomes a very interesting film, that unfolds _slowly_ but relentlessly in a part of the world that at least the older people (remember Anjali's mom...) didn't necessarily find much reason / desire to rush ... THEY (as well as Raghavan, "in his own way...") STILL ASKED / MUSED "WHY" ?

Great job! ;-)

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Piku [2015]

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

IMDb listing
FilmiBeat.com listing

FilmiBeat.com (Suparno) review
MovieMahal.net (O. Ahmed) review
Digital Spy (P. Joshi) review
Access Bollywood (K. Gibson) review   
Indian Express (S. Gupta) review
Times of India (S. Mitra Das) review
Hindustan Times (A.Chopra) review
Hindustan TImes (S. Kaushal) review
Hindustan Times (N. Mishra) review  

Piku [2015] [IMDb] [FiBt] (directed by Shoojit Sircar [IMDb] [FiBt], screenplay by Juhi Chaturvedi [IMDb]) is a well written / well crafted / well acted, audience / critically acclaimed / award winning contemporary Indian "Father / (grown) Daughter relationship film" / dramedy that, smiling-from-ear-to-ear, serves as the second stop for my 2016 Indian Film Tour.  The film is available in the U.S. for a reasonable price on all kinds of streaming platforms (iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, etc)

The title character Piku (played by Deepika Padukone [IMDb] [FiBt] who won an Indian Filmfare Award, India's closest equivalent to the Oscars for her role) is 30-ish, educated, single (in good part by choice, but "if the right guy came along"), working as a junior architect at a Dehli architectural firm also lives with / takes care of her widowed and rather hypochondriac, not particularly pleasant, stool obsessed dad Bhaskor Banerjee (played by Amitabh Bachchan [IMDb]] [FiBt]).

Yes, I do believe that a fair amount of Westerners will be initially taken aback by the amount of stool / bodily functions discussed in this film.  Yet we should remember a good part of traditional Indian medicine is concerned with "cleansing the body" and especially the colon of "toxins" (and then honestly, vegetables would tend to be "gassy").  In any case, Piku's dad seemed absolutely convinced that he was going to _die_ of constipation. "But dad, _nobody's_ ever died of constipation." "Elvis did."  "Elvis??"  "Yes, when they found him dead, they found him sitting on the toilet ..."  

Be that as it may, Piku's quite unhappy dad at home serves as a significant drag on her life.  And it's not necessarily that he's "evil."  Educated / otherwise quite liberal himself, he's often a stronger advocate for his daughter's independence than she herself is. Yes, one does wonder if that's at least in part "self-serving" on his part -- if she's single, she still has to take care of him.  On the other hand, he also does seem to be _sincere_ about his desire that his well educated daughter not simply be(come) "a slave" of whoever she'd end up marrying:

In one of the funniest scenes in a film, after Piku's aunt (played wonderfully by Moushumi Chatterjee [IMDb] [FiBt]), her revered (deceased) mother's sister, tries setting her up with some 'intellectual artist type' "back in Dehli from San Francisco" it's her dad who gives him the 4th degree.  Piku's dad: "Why would a guy like you want to get married?" Possible suitor (taken a bit aback / trying to be nice): "Well, maybe if I met a nice girl..." Piku's dad: "Well, my daughter's _not_ a virgin.  She's well educated, financially independent, sexually independent.  She _does not need_  someone like you.  Would she be the kind of 'nice girl' that you'd be looking for ..." Piku (rolling her eyes): "Thanks dad ..."  

 Well all comes to a head when Piku decides that she'd really like to take a few days off from work (really from her dad ...) and he decides that what she really means is that she'd like to take him back to their family back in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) (they are originally Bengali).  Rolling her eyes, no that's not at all what she meant.  But, then who's gonna take care of her dad while she's gone?  They've gone through 4-5 housekeepers in a couple of months, because, ever constipated, he seems to be always in such a bad mood.  So she consents.

But then, how to get her dad from Dehli to Kalkota 1500 km (1000 miles) away?  He doesn't want to fly (totally messes up one's intestines).  Doesn't want to go by train (again the constant "rocking back and forth" messes everything up inside).  Fortunately, there's now a modern limited access expressway that goes between the two cities.  So they "hire a taxi" to take them there, something that Americans or West Europeans would not necessarily do, but is not entirely uncommon in other parts of the world.  Last fall, I reviewed an Argentinian movie Road to La Paz [2015] about an elderly man hiring a taxi to drive him from Buenos Aires, Argentina to La Paz, Bolivia).

The taxi driver (actually the owner of the taxi company that the hire) is played by famed Indian actor Irrfan Khan [IMDb] [FiBt] and he has fun with this rather odd set of clients.  And the dad again isn't necessarily mean toward him, and even sympathizes with him as the taxi driver (owner of said firm) explains to him (and Piku) that he was actually an engineer and had spent a number of years working "in Saudi" but finally could not stand being "kept in his place" by people who so obviously "knew less than him," finally returning to Dehli to take over his dad's fairly successful taxi firm instead: "A lot of honest people end up like you, taking jobs like you (rather than in the fields that they were traine for)."  But then the dad's colon takes over his head again and ... they find themselves stopping _over and over_ so that he could _try_ to go to the bathroom.  So it makes for a _long_ trip ;-)

But the film keeps a humorous beat.  IMHO the funniest line in the film comes when they stop for the night at some "roadside hotel" midway between Dehli and their destination.  Handing them the keys, the clerk tells them quite matter-of-factly: "Prayer's at 5, checkout's at 8" ;-) -- ALL my American Servite colleagues who've ever been to India remember _well_ THE BLARING literally "from the roof-tops" 4:30 or 5:00 AM Muslim "call to worship" ;-) ;-)

Anyway, much family stuff has to happen, and it does.  And it all makes for a very nice contemporary movie about family life in India today.

A lovely, lovely film. 

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