Sunday, October 30, 2016

Kodi [2016]

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

IMDb listing
FilmiBeat listing**

FilmiBeat.com review**
IndiaGlitz review**
KollyTalk.com review**
OnlyKollywood.com (Surendhar MK) review**
TamilGlitz review**

Indian Express (K.R. Manoj) review**
Hindustan Times () review**
The Hindu (S. Ramanujam) review**
Times of India (M. Suganth) review**


Kodi [2016] [IMDb] [FiBt] (written and directed by R.S. Durai Senthilkumar [IMDb] [FiBt]) is a Indian (Tamil) film that opened both in India and across the world for India's Diwali holiday weekend.  It's a political thriller, which while having its action / comedic elements is really a _scathing denunciation_ of _systemic_ political corruption in Tamil? / Indian? politics today.

The film is about two sons, twins, of a humble "sound-man" (played by the Tamil actor Karuunas [IMDb] [FiBt]), who would help set-up the microphones at political rallies (though, poignantly and perhaps at least in part symbolically, HE HIMSELF WAS "MUTE").

Touched by the vow of a local politician that he and his Party (colors green and gold) would "fight to the death" to close a local factory which was poisoning its workers with mercury, the father takes his sons to a Party rally in front of said factory.  However, to the father's dismay, as soon as the Politician appeared to believe that there were enough photographs taken of him and his Party "protesting in front of the factory," the Politician called the rally-off, saying "their work was done" and began sending the gathered (Party) protesters home.  The father of the two sons, himself, again mute (perhaps as a result of some kind of poisoning in his family's past), can not let himself "just go home" like that.  So the father PICKS UP A CAN OF KEROSENE, pours it on himself and sets himself on fire in protest.  The Politician had promised that they would "fight to the death" to close the factory.  Now the Politician was packing-up to go home after hardly exerting himself at all.  This poor / sincere father WITH A WIFE AND TWO YOUNG SONS, was NOT going to "just go home as well."

... the story resumes 20 years later.   The two young sons Kodi and Anbu (both played by the Tamil actor Dhanush [IMDb] [FiBt]) had grown up, though the two had taken very different paths:  Kodi, whose name apparently meant "Flag" had therefore pursued a life of political action seeking to in effect "partly redeem" (and perhaps even "avenge") his father's death (to make it mean something), while Anbu stayed closer to his mother (played by Saranya Ponvannan [IMDb] [FiBt]) who was angered to current day at her husband for having so pointlessly left her a widow to raise two young sons in poverty.  Growing-up in precarity, both sons nonetheless were educated.  When the film resumes those "20 years later" we find that Kodi has just been promoted by the "Green and Gold" Party as the "Regional Head" of its "Youth Wing."  Anbu, on the other hand, has gotten a job as a mathematics instructor at the local university.

Both would basically live rather "small" yet _happy_ lives if ... not for the return of a crisis resulting from that cursed (20-years closed) mercury factory.  Yes, apparently IN PART due to their father's sacrifice ... officials HAD TO SHUT THE PLANT DOWN.  But now, twenty years later ... the plant was found LEAKING mercury into the local water supply.

When Kodi finds-out about the new situation, he immediately carries the news to his Superior, who ... tells him TO SIT ON THE INFORMATION UNTIL "AFTER THE ELECTION" promising him "WE'LL DEAL WITH THE SITUATION 'RIGHT AWAY' ... AFTERWARDS.

Well, intelligent enough to see a lie being told to his face ... he goes to the OPPOSING PARTY (their banner was RED with a HORSESHOE and A STAR.  Guess what Party, THEY represented? ;-).  Even though the GREEN-GOLD and the RED-W-HORSESHOE-AND-STAR parties were "sworn enemies" of each other, HE HAD "A FRIEND" THERE ... a young lady, HIS AGE named Rudhra (probably meaning "Red" and played by Trisha Krishnan [IMDb] [FiBt]) who he'd known all his life because they'd always go to the same rallies, just on opposite sides and who, like him, had "risen through the ranks" of her, the RED-W-HORSESHOE-AND-STAR party.  Indeed, though not openly, the two had become "lovers" of sorts, having "a lot in common" actually.

Anyway, Kodi tells his friend / lover Rudhra (from the opposing Party) the news about the closed but now found to be still leaking mercury factory.  Perhaps THEY could do something to save people's lives, BUT ...

... And that's then the story.  NOBODY SEEMS TO CARE.  Kodi and Anbu's father DIED to shut that plant down ("so that others may live.")  Now Kodi finds that the plant is yet again a problem but NEITHER Party wants to do anything about it (AGAIN).  He himself DIES, is MURDERED (by whom? ...).

And it's left to mild mannered brother Anbu ... who just wanted to stay home, live a nice simple life taking care of his mother on behalf of his more politically conscious father / brother ... BUT NOW HOW CAN HE "JUST SIT THERE" AND DO NOTHING ...?

And yet it is SO CLEAR that NEITHER PARTY GAVE A DAMN ... AND BOTH EVEN PUT OBSTACLES IN THE WAY of others TRYING "to do the right thing."   Indeed, BOTH PARTIES are shown solemnly having pictures of India's founder, the former living saint, M.K. Gandhi, piously hanging BEHIND THEM at their rallies and in their offices.  AND YET, NONE OF THE CURRENT POLITICIANS DO ANYTHING EXCEPT SEEK _random_ / _trivial_ POLITICAL ADVANTAGE OVER ONE ANOTHER.

Indeed, the film becomes a damning story about "one little family" that "cared" surrounded / embroiled in a system that CLEARLY "didn't give a damn at all." 

I would close here noting that out of four Tamil films (coming from India's state of Tamil Nadu) that I've seen here in the United States since beginning my blog, THREE had as a good part of their theme POLITICAL CORRUPTION.  These films become a reminder that India is a diverse place and that even if Bollywood tends to produce "lovely romances" at one end of the country, at its other end, in Tamil Nadu, the film-makers clearly have "other stories" that they want to tell.

Good job folks, very good job! ;-)


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Ae Dil Hai Mushkil [2016]

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

IMDb listing
FilmiBeat listing**

AccessBollywood (K. Gibson) review
FilmiBeat.com () review**
iFlickz.com () review**
IndiaGlitz review**

Hindustan Times (S. Kushal) review**
Indian Express (S. Gupta) review*
The Hindu (N. Joshi) review**
Times of India (N. Bhave) review**

The Guardian (M. McCahill) review
The Variety (J. Leydon) review 

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil [2016] [IMDb] [FiBt] (story, screenplay and directed by Karan Johar [IMDb] [FiBt] dialogues cowritten by Karan Johar [IMDb] [FiBt] and Niranjan Iyengar [IMDb]), opening on 300 screens in the United States (hence basically in every major U.S. city) on the same day as it did in India, this Diwali release -- India as well as China have their own "Holiday Seasons" ;-) -- this really should be a MUST SEE in the West for contemporary film-lovers, ESPECIALLY FOR COLLEGE AGED YOUNG ADULTS.  I say this because there is simply NO WAY that a Westerner could see this movie and NOT have his/her view of contemporary India (and contemporary Indians) significantly, even _radically_ changed / deepened.

Indeed, this past summer, still living in Chicago, I had embarked on a self-plotted "Indian Film Tour" because I was simply exhausted with the extremely _limited_ portrayal of India / Indians IN WESTERN FILMS (seem Slumdog Millionaire [2008] or even the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel [2011] [2013] movies.  In Western cinema, to this day, India is almost _always portrayed_ as CRUSHINGLY POOR and Indians as "nice, perhaps even 'bright people' WHO WE SHOULD SIMPLY FEEL SORRY FOR."  NOT seeking to negate _at all_ the CRUSHING POVERTY of perhaps today 80% of India's ONE BILLION PLUS POPULATION, there are still 200-300 MILLION INDIANS today who are NOT POOR, often NOT EVEN CLOSE TO POOR, indeed RICH and even at times (as in one of the most memorable lines in the dialogue of the film) not merely "First Class Rich" but "PRIVATE JET RICH."

And so then it is, this film is UNAPOLOGETICALLY / BREATHLESSLY about the "Richer India / Indians" -- again 200-300 million of them -- WHO _even to this day_ (save for the occasional "Harold and Kumar" movie) GENERALLY DON'T APPEAR IN WESTERN FILMS (except perhaps as an occasional exotic oddity / villain).  

The film is about a circle of bright, educated, rich Indian young adults, all in their mid-late 20s, all living / having grown-up in London (many Western young adults would see them in, or even _teaching_, their classes), all of them feeling very much Indian both in language / custom even as they've naturally seen / incorporated various expects of their "life outside the old country" into their lives.

Notably when the story begins, the two central protagonists in the story Ayan (played by Ranbin Kapoor [IMDb] [FiBt]), Hindi, and Alizeh (played by Anushka Sharma [IMDb] [FiBt]), Muslim, are involved in relationships that previously, "in the old country" would have been seen in somewhat "simply not done" scandalous light: Ayan was in a casual relationship with a Western, (half)-Brazilian girlfriend (of two months) named Lisa (played by Lisa Haydon [IMDb] [FiBt]), Alizeh, okay had been set-up by her family "with a good catch" Dr. Feisal (played by Imran Abbas [IMDb] [FiBt]), a medical doctor, but actually was very much in love with an Indian born DJ (!) named Ali (played, notably, by Pakistani actor/heartthrob Fawad Khan [IMDb] [FiBt]).

Meeting randomly one night in some London hot-spot, Ayan and Alizeh quickly fall very much for each other -- he in "love", she in "like."  And the rest of the story unspools from there ... a story that could HONESTLY BE CALLED a CONTEMPORARY / INDIAN "JANE AUSTEN-ISH" TALE.  For remember folks that in Jane Austen's stories, the main characters were ALSO _breathlessly_ / _effortlessly_ / perhaps as one thinks about it _obscenely_ WEALTHY.  But the characters were, of course, MORE than "just their money," with quite relate-able concerns, THAT ALL OF US COULD UNDERSTAND. 

And here it is as well.  HE _loves_ HER, SHE _really likes_ HIM (as a Friend) ... and the Story, which follows them for a number of fairly significant years of their lives, asks the famous / perennial question: Can two young attractive people, male and female, find happiness ... being ... "just friends"?

A lovely, lovely story and again one that young Westerners REALLY OUGHT TO SEE.  You'll never see your Indian friends / classmates (even if you "thought you knew them") the same way again ...

Great job!


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Friday, October 28, 2016

Inferno [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review
RogerEbert.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review


Inferno [2016] (directed by Ron Howard, screenplay by David Koepp based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Dan Brown [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) while not awful, awful and honestly giving Viewers lovely tours of Florence, Venice and finally Constantinople/Istanbul _often_ feels like Austin Powers' Dr. Evil [wikip] [IMDb] meets The Da Vinci Code [2006] [IMDb]

This is because the while the plot is James Bond-ish in quality -- a crazed billionaire bio-technologist named Bertrand Zobrist (played actually _quite well_ but not to Javier Bardem-levels by Ben Foster) decides that he's going to invent a viral plague that would kill half-of-humanity in order to save the planet -- he decides to partially hide his plot EVEN FROM THOSE WHO WOULD PRESUMABLY CARRY IT OUT in riddles decipherable only by Dante enthusiasts (!)

Enter then Dan Brown's Harvard "Symbologist" Robert Landgon [wikip] [IMDb] (played again quite competently by Tom Hanks though even he must have found his role here increasingly preposterous) "to save the day" RATHER THAN more conventional "save the day heroes" like Ian Fleming's James Bond [wikip] [IMDb] or Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan [wikip] [IMDb] or even Steven Spielberg's / Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones [wikip] [IMDb].

Honestly only Austin Power's Dr. Evil [wikip] [IMDb] would be so stupidly esoterically weird as to HIDE his FIENDISH über-modern PLOT in ESOTERIC RIDDLES playing-on / riffing-off of Medieval texts:  HE ARGUABLY CONFUSES HIS OWN PEOPLE :-) who actually come to NEED poor Professor Langdon THEMSELVES to HELP THEM FIGURE-OUT WHAT THEIR EVIL MASTER HAD ACTUALLY WANTED THEM TO DO ;-) ;-)

But it is one heck of a ride ;-) ... and for a $10 (or so ...) price of admission Viewers do get to see some of the most beautiful (and fabled / history laden) cities in the world.  And yes, if it gets at least a few of said Viewers to pick-up Dante's Divine Comedy (and PLEASE DEAR READERS DON'T JUST FOCUS ON DANTE'S "INFERNO" ... PURGATORIO (especially the first chapters) and even PARADISO are true joys to Read / Bask In ! ;-) or learn about Marco Polo (who was a son of a 13th century trader from Venice and knew Constantinople as well as, of course, China) then this film would be well worth its being made.

Most of us CAN'T AFFORD to go to the places shown in this film, but through the wonders of Film (and wikipedia / the internet) we can choose to "travel" VIRTUALLY to these / other places, "for a while" ;-) and then ... blissfully "return home again" :-)
  
In this regard -- thanks Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, etc (and even Dan Brown) for helping us to want to stretch our minds a little and want to dream again ...

The film, if nothing else, was "one heck of a trip" ;-)


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Thursday, October 27, 2016

These Daughters of Mine (orig. Moje córki krowy) [2015]

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

IMDb listing
Filmweb.pl listing*

Dziennik Łodzki (D. Pawłowski) review*
naEkranie.pl (A. Siennica) review*
oNet.pl (D. Romanowska) review*
TeleMagazin.pl (K. Polaski) review*
wPolityce.pl (Ł. Adamski) review*

CinEuropa.org (V. Scarpa) review
Eye For Film (J. Kermode) review
Pop Matters (A. Ramon) review


These Daughters of Mine (orig. Moje córki krowy) [2015] [IMDb] [FW.pl]* (written and directed by Kinga Dębska [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) though with a rather strong, arguably somewhat off-putting Polish title -- literally "My Cow-like Daughters" (Note here to non-Polish speaking Readers that the the film was written and directed a woman) -- is actually a quite endearing bitter-sweet "dramedy" about two grown women in their late 30s-40s, sisters, though quite different, suddenly facing the impending deaths of their aging parents.  The film played recently at the 2016 Polish Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Marta (played by Agata Kulesza [IMDb] [FW.pl]* who'd be familiar to many Viewers / Readers here as she played the role of the strong willed "Aunt Wanda" in the Oscar winning film Ida [2013] of a few years back) was strong willed / no nonsense forty-something year old "career woman" / actress.  Though never married, she did have a daughter Zuzia (played by Maria Dębska [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) in her late teens.  Interestingly enough, though "never married," it wasn't as if she wasn't against marriage per se.  But she did have her standards, AND, even more interestingly, it was _her dad_ Tadeusz (played by Marian Dziędziel [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) who had driven off pretty much every serious suitor that she ever had.  In the film they talk about this at one point: "Dad, you know that you drove away every guy that I ever brought home."  "But you wouldn't have been happy with any of them."  "[Laughing], you're probably right ... [but ...]" 

Marta's younger sister Kasia (played wonderfully by Gabriela Muskała [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) was quite the opposite of her.  Simpler though no dummy, she was a 2nd grade elementary school teacher, married to Grzegorz (played by Marcin Dorociński [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) naturally unemployed, and with a son, Filip (played by Jeremi Protas [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) in his early teens.  Though not strictly necessary (Kasia was working, and Grzegorz would have presumably been on some kind of public assistance) Kasia and her family had been living with (and "looking after") Marta's and her parents -- again Tadeusz (played by Marian Dziędziel [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) and Elżbieta (played by Małgorzata Niemirska [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) -- in the parents' quite nice home in basically "suburban Warsaw" (Tadeusz had been some kind of an architect) while Marta and her daughter lived in a quite nice apartment somewhere in the city.

And such pleasant "stasis" had existed for some time: Marta dedicated more to career, Kasia more (perhaps somewhat superficially) to family.  Both felt basically happy / fulfilled / needed.

Then ... while "luckily" actually visiting a local hospital for a routine medical exam, mom has _a massive stroke_, right there in one of the hospital's bathrooms.  Since she was "right there in the hospital," she did not die, but needless to say, her prognosis was not good.  The stroke was massive, the damage was massive, her and her family's lives were now massively changed.

What now?  Marta previously could focus primarily on career.  Kasia, yes, "was there" to "take care of her parents" BUT, "it had been sooo easy" when ... they still _didn't really need_  "to be taken care of" ...  Then Tadeusz, "no spring chicken" also with his own previous health issues suddenly faced the previously inconceivable prospect of losing his wife of many, many years (before he was to go...).  Indeed, with her first in a coma and then with massive neurological damage, in many respects his previous life with her had already ended or certainly had radically changed (and he / nobody had had a real chance to say goodbye ...).  What now indeed?

The rest of the story ensues ...  

Honestly, this proved to be a remarkable film about death and dying and the changes that happen within a family when suddenly "the statis" (the way "things always were") in a family's life suddenly changes.

Subtitles and somewhat difficult for an American to understand original Polish title notwithstanding, this is an excellent grown family film!  Good / great job!    


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

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

El Jeremías [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
FilmAffinity.es listing*

TeleMundo.com coverage*
Univision.com coverage*
ViveLoHoy.com (G. Orozco) review*

CineEnLinea.net (K. Raisa) review*
CineScopia.com review*
El Especial (G. Reyes) review*

Austin Chronicle (C. Moore) review


El Jeremías [2015]  [IMDb] [FA.es]*(directed by Anwar Safa [IMDb] [FA.es]*, screenplay by Ana Sofía Clerici [IMDb]) is a lovely Mexican family film about a little kid, Jeremías (played by Martín Castro [IMDb] [FA.es]*), growing up in a very average family in a non-descript town in the northern Mexican state of Sonora who from the beginning thought that somehow, for some reason, he "never really fit in."

To be sure his parents Onésimo (played by Paulo Galindo [IMDb] [FA.es]*) and Margarita (played by Karem Momo Ruiz [IMDb] [FA.es]*) both in their mid-twenties, he working as a cashier in a convenience store, she a stay-at-home ma, were _definitely_ "buena gente" (nice, gentle, salt-of-the-earth people).  So were more driven / still working 40-something grandma Audelia (played by Marcela Sotomayor [IMDb] [FA.es]*) and bis-abuela (great grandma) Hermanina (played by Isela Vega [IMDb] [FA.es]*).  Bis-abulelita Hermanina just stopped talking some years back.  No it wasn't that she had a stroke or something.  Indeed, she spent most of her days knitting. It was just that one day she just came to the conclusion that she really didn't have really much more to say ;-).  There was also a 15 or so year old tio (uncle) to Jeremias, who, well like a 15 year old anywhere, had the concerns of a 15-year-old ... sports (soccer) and music (he had a 15 year-olds dreams of "forming a band").

How could one _not_ like a lovely family like this?  And 6-7 year old Jeremías _loved_ his family.  It's just, honestly, he _always_ thought he never fit in.

Well, after _repeatedly_ and honestly quite unintentionally proving that he was smarter (at 6 or 7) than his 1st-2nd grade teacher (played by Alexia Sobarzo Rosas [IMDb]), they give an IQ test and little Jeremías proves to have an IQ of 160 (!).  OMG ... no wonder and "now what?"

A professor / child psychologist named Dr. Federico Forni (playe by Daniel Giménez Cacho [IMDb] [FA.es]*) flies up from Mexico City and offers Jeremías' parents a new life for their son (in the D.F.) in an environment where he'd be surrounded by other really, really intelligent kids.  But would little Jeremías be happier living with "really smart people" or with _his_ people? ;-)

HONESTLY, A LOVELY, LOVELY AND GENTLE STORY ;-)  Certainly one of the best kids movies of the year and possibly of the decade!  Great job!


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

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Boo! A Madea Halloween [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  RogerEbert.com (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (D+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Myers) review
RogerEbert.com (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review


Boo! A Madea Halloween [2016] (written and directed by Tyler Perry [wikip] [IMDb]) continues the gleeful and sometimes instructive silliness of the tough / no nonsense / streetwise auntie Madea (played by Tyler Perry) who with all her quite ahem, "varied," experience just keeps _slapping_ her more dignified, better educated (and frankly _luckier_) younger relatives into shape.

Honestly, _most_ Readers "of a certain age" (I'm beginning to be "of certain age" ;-) _regardless_ of race, gender or ethnicity would both enjoy and understand / "get" Perry's Madea [wikip] [IMDb] movies (this is the third one I'm reviewing here since beginning my blog six years ago [1] [2]).  This is because, Madea's fighting / trying to make sense of and "trying to bring sense _to_" some of the main cultural shifts in Our Time ... notably the near universal breaking-down of discipline in the home:

Honestly, pretty much ALL of my (still late baby-boom) generation still remember _being whooped_ by our folks, when we did something wrong at home.  But nowadays, it would seem that ALL of us "just want to be friends" with our kids / young people today.  And yet, sometimes Parents / We "Older Folks" need to "draw a line" (and do so EVEN FOR THE SAKE OF THE YOUNG).

So that has been Madea's perennial battle ... knocking some sense into the young(er) folks -- BOTH middle aged and their kids ;-).

In the current installment, Madea's quite well educated, State Prosecutor nephew Brian (played also by Tyler Perry), well-to-do but now divorced, was having difficulty keeping his rambunctious 17-year-old daughter Tiffany (played by Diamond White) in line.  They were living in an upscale, presumably quite liberal (and even libertine) neighborhood, near some College of sorts, and there's "a Frat" down the street.  The Frat boys, not really realizing that Tifanny and her friends were "only 17," invite them to their Halloween Party.  And the girls SEVENTEEN after all, REALLY WANT TO GO ;-).  It was a "big deal" for them, OBVIOUSLY, OBVIOUSLY, SO, SO WRONG -- and ILLEGAL.  But to them, to be "validated" (not violated but validated) "by an older boy" AT THAT AGE, was "a big deal" ... and yet again NO.  THE REST OF US, SEE THIS AS OBVIOUSLY A REALLY BAD IDEA, putting ALL SORTS OF PEOPLE, the girls but EVEN THE FRAT BOYS at risk.

So what to do?  Well, desperate Brian, thinks of calling Aunt Madea to come over ON HALLOWEEN NIGHT, to BABYSIT (!) his SEVENTEEN YEAR OLD DAUGHTER (!) :-).  Well, THAT'S "not gonna work" ... 'cept ... ;-) ... this is Madea that we're talking about ;-) ;-) and ... much, much, much ensues ;-).

HONESTLY, this is a VERY FUN, and in Madea's strange sort of way WHOLESOME FILM.

I love Tyler Perry, and I find Madea "with a story for everything" _always_ a kick ;-)

Great / fun, fun job!


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Hacksaw Ridge [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review 

Hacksaw Ridge [2016] (directed by Mel Gibson, screenplay by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan) I recently had the opportunity to see at an early screening held at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange Pastoral Center here in Southern California.   The auditorium which seated several hundred people was packed, and the film about WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss (played in the film by Andrew Garfield) was enthusiastically received by the audience even as it depicted quite graphically the close-quarter battlefield violence of the Battle of Okinawa.

About the violence.  Yes, PARENTS this is a legitimately R-rated movie (for said violence).  But this portrayal of battlefield violence DEFINITELY HAS A POINT.  IMHO it _certainly_ serves to further / deepen the point / message of the story.  Yet, dear Readers, the portrayal of violence in this film is definitely NOT inconsequential.  (A close friend of mine asked subsequent to the screening how the violence in the film would compare to, for instance, the Omaha Beach landing scene in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan [1998].  I'd honestly put it closer to the violence depicted in video games like Grand Theft Auto, THOUGH AS I CONTINUE TO STRESS _WITH A POINT_).

What would be the point?  Well first the film certainly does not diminish the heroism / sacrifices of the others, combatants, in Doss' unit (portrayed, among others, by Vince Vaughn playing Doss ' sergeant and Sam Worthington as his unit's commanding officer).  This was War.  In the War in the Pacific during World War II, the U.S. Army was fighting a determined, arguably fanaticized enemy that (1) did not respect the humanity of their opponents and (2) was TRULY willing to fight to the very last man rather than surrender to them.  In this context, Doss was honestly (and IMHO honestly portrayed) as at least initially _at minimum_ "an oddball."  After all, there's the famous American Army motto: "Lead, follow, or get the Hell out of the way..."   AT MINIMUM, Doss who was "willing to serve (as a medic) but NOT willing to take up arms (fight)" seemed ... "in the way."  But ...

... that's of course the Story ;-).  After a particularly gruesome battle on top of "Hacksaw Ridge" there, on Okinawa, (I _don't_ wish to get into SPOILERS ...) Doss DID IMHO TRULY _EARN_ his Medal of Honor, the first of only three ever given to non-combatant "conscientious objectors" in the history of the United States.

And, of course, his Conscientious Objection was rooted in his Christian Faith.  It does make for _a remarkable story_ and I do believe that the story was HONESTLY PORTRAYED.

Honestly Good to GREAT job to all ;-). 


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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Accountant [2016]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  RogerEbert.com (2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars with Expl)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McCarthy) review

Crippled Scholar blog review
LA Times (J. Rodenberg) article on film's portrayal of autism 

Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review
RogerEbert.com (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review


The Accountant [2016] (directed by Gavin O'Connor, screenplay by Bill Dubuque) is a quite violent (Parents note that the R-rating here is definitely justified) fantasy that _in a certain way_ does "have its heart in the right place." 

The film's hero is a 30-something male on the Autism spectrum going by the pseudonym Christian Wolff (played by Ben Affleck) whose father (played by Robert C. Treveiller) "a military man," gave him "a unique upbringing":  Rather than conceding to lower expectations for his son, he instead raised him in a manner that fascinatingly challenges him (as the U.S. Army's slogan has been) "to be all that [he] can be."

So dad raised him:

(1) focusing on his strengths.  Indeed, those on the Autistic spectrum are often famously "focused."  So dad had his son focus both on numbers (he becomes an accountant) and ... (as part of a more general formation for self-defense "Son, you need to learn to defend yourself.  Society does not like people who are different") ... on sharp-shooting.  (He also gives him and his non-Autistic brother martial arts training), and

(2) with at least a basic sense of morality: to (a) choose to "independence" (or at least trying) to "accepting failure / victimhood", and to (b) be loyal, at least to family. 

So, in the story, Christian becomes a ... really good (if "off the radar / off the books" ;-) accountant, the kind of accountant who perhaps wouldn't be "mainstream" but if one "had a problem" and _didn't_ necessarily want "to go to BDO" (a fairly famous international accounting firm) he'd be a pretty good guy to go to ...


That, of course, gets him involved with all kinds of shady characters -- drug traffickers, arms-dealers, etc -- and eventually catches the attention of U.S. Treasury officials (played quite well by J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson) who come to wonder "who the heck is this guy?" who they find in surveillance photos with all kinds of unsavory types / mobsters. 

Much then ensues ...

It's a Jason Bourne-y fantasy:  What if "an accountant" who's "on the Autism spectrum" was _also_ "brought-up to be Kick-A ...?"

But there are aspects of the premise of the story that are IMHO fascinating: What if Christian's tough guy / army dad was at least partly right?  Okay, his son had autism.  But rather than "just cry" why not help him to still be "All that you can be"?


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The High Frontier (orig. Na Granicy) [2016]

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

IMDb listing
FilmWeb.pl listing*

Dziennik.pl (Ł. Maciejewski) review*
NaEkranie.pl (K. Koczułap) review*
oNet.pl (D. Kuźma) review*
org.pl (M. Drewniak) review*
sPlay.pl (J. Gryiel) review*
TeleMagazin.pl (K. Polaski) review*
wPolitice.pl (Ł. Adamski) review*


The High Frontier (orig. Na Granicy) [2016] [IMDb] [FW.pl]* (written and directed by Wojciech Kasperski [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) is a well crafted Polish thriller that played recently at the 2016 Polish Film Festival in Los Angeles.  Set in the winter in the Bieszczady Mountains in the extreme SE corner of contemporary Poland in good part during a blizzard, the film evokes inevitable resonances with Stanley Kubrick / Steven King's The Shining [1980] and Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight [2015] but the film could probably be best characterized as the "Martin Scorsese directed, Robert Deniro starring Cape Fear [1991] with snow" ;-)

The film begins with a recently widowed father, Mateusz (played by Andrzej Chyra [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) taking his sons Janek (played by Bartosz Bielenia [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) and Tomek (played by Kuba Henriksen [IMDb] [FW.pl]*), both in their early teens, up into the Poland's southern (borderland) mountains for some bonding time.   Some years before, Mateusz had served as a border guard.  As such, he had some connections.  He's given the keys by a friend still in the service to a quite nice (but not opulent), secluded, government owned chalet, where he hoped to have some time with his sons re-bond after their mutual loss, and _perhaps_ teach them "a thing or two" about the outdoorsman's way-of-life.

Well they're out there in that isolated mountain chalet, snow falling heavily outside, when a bearded man (played Marcin Dorociński [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) _half covered in blood_ shows up at their door, pounds on it, and after they open it, passes-out / collapses right there in front of them.  "WT...

Okay trying to figure out what just happened, Mateusz takes the passed-out man, drags him to a bed, and since he's still some kind of law enforcement officer, handcuffs him (still passed-out) to said bed, puts his jacket on, and tells his sons two things: (1) that he's going out into the blizzard to follow the man's blood soaked trail to figure-out what happened, and (2) to under _no circumstances_ un-handcuff the man should he wake-up before he gets back ...

Well ... guess what happens? ;-)

Honestly, again a very well-crafted, cold claustrophobic thriller ... Excellent job!


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

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Monday, October 17, 2016

History of Swarm (orig. Historia Roja) [2016]

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

IMDb listing
FilmWeb.pl listing*

HistMag.org (A. Woch) review*
KulturaLiberalna.pl (H. Jędrzejczak) review*
NaEkranie.pl (K. Piskorski) review*
TeleMagazin.pl (K. Polaski) review*
WPolitice.pl (Ł. Adamski) review*


History of Swarm (orig. Historia Roja) [2016] [IMDb] [FW.pl]* (written and directed by Jerzy Zalewski [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) played recently at the 2016 Polish Film Festival in Los Angeles.  It is THE FIRST FILM OF ITS KIND -- about a leader of the ARMED POLISH ANTI-COMMUNIST RESISTANCE after WW II -- ever made (this 27 years after the fall of Communism in 1989).  As such, the film was greeted with much anticipation in Poland and afterwards with much disappointment and controversy.

Basically, from a technical, and then IMHO from a specifically screen-writing, point of view, the film disappointed:

I have to say that I found the first 30 minutes or so of the film very confusing.  I found it very hard to distinguish between the various factions -- the pro-Soviet factions and the nationalist (generally anti-Communist) ones.  (Interestingly) all the factions appeared in uniform (even those who were presumably born of various partisan movements, possible but I did not realize that this would have been the case, but perhaps it was).  The different factions distinguished themselves by the insignia that they wore on their uniforms and the differences were honestly quite subtle.  For instance, I would have thought that the groups that had been allied to the Polish Home Army would have been the ones wearing white and red arm bands (symbolizing the colors of the Polish flag), BUT in the film it appeared that the pro-Communist Polish military wore those arm bands (perhaps to distinguish themselves from the Soviet army itself).  The non-Communist factions appeared to wear uniforms with insignia that were black (like that shown in the film's poster above).  Further, I would swear that there other factions presented in the that wore other colored insignia -- gold or green for instance -- and all this made it _really hard_ for me, a clearly a layman in such Polish WW-II era military matters, to distinguish who was actually who in the early stages of the film, especially during the first 30 minutes of it.  As time went on (and the film progressed) the sides appeared to coalesce into more recognizable groups.

The confusion of the first 30 minutes of the film (which also corresponded to the first several years of the post-WW II period -- from 1945 to, let us say, 1947) while perhaps irritating to the Viewer, MAY actually reflect the confusion existent during that time when honestly few would really understand who was on whose side...Various films over the years have sought to portray the "Fog of War" (or the "Fog of Insurgency").  So portraying this "Fog"  _may_ have been _part_ of the intent of the film-makers here.

Indeed, North American Viewers could consider approaching this film in much of the same spirit as approaching the Liam Neeson-starring bio-pic Michael Collins [1996] about the famous Irish Revolutionary who helped lead (at least) Southern Ireland to Independence only to watch the whole country plunge into a post-Independence Irish Civil War where again the competing factions (and there, the motivations of the leaders of the competing factions) became quite entangled / confused. 

In the case of Poland, North American Viewers would need to remember that in 1939 Poland was invaded and dismembered by both Nazi Germany (invading from the North, South and West) and the Soviet Union (invading from the East) with the Soviet Union actually having taken a larger portion of Polish territory.  During the subsequent years in which World War II played out, the dominant force of Polish resistance on the ground was the Polish Home Army which pledged its allegiance to the Polish Government in Exile in London.  The goal of the Polish Home Army was first to resist occupation (presumably in both the Nazi/Soviet zones) and then liberate as much of Poland _on its own_ (without Soviet help) as possible (Readers here remember that the Soviet Union already annexed the eastern half of Poland as it is).  The conflict, or at minimum clear _lack of cooperation_, between the Polish Home Army and the Soviet Red Army during the latter part of WW II played itself out most obviously in the Soviet Red Army's refusal to assist the Polish Home Army during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising result in the deaths of 150,000-200,000 Poles, mostly civilians, and the destruction of a good portion of the Home Army's strength. 

This film concerns itself with what followed the Soviet Union's subsequent "liberation" (or over-running) of the rest of Poland on its way to defeat Nazi Germany.  Across Poland (behind Soviet Red Army lines) were all kinds of non-Communist Polish resistance units, most of which had been part of the Polish Home Army and loyal to the Polish Government in Exile in London.  For reasons given above, these groups did not trust the Soviet Union and certainly did not want to be under the yoke of _its_ occupation or for post-WW II Poland to become (what it became) a Soviet Puppet / Satellite state.  On the flip side was of course the sober reality that the Soviet army had pushed all the way to Berlin / Eastern Germany and that it was not going anywhere ... soon.

The question then was what to do?  Well, SOME of those resistance units, under the banner of the National Military Union (Narodowe Zjednoczenie Wojskowe) [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* again still loyal to the Polish Government in Exile in London decided to continue the fight for a free Poland, free of now Soviet Domination.  ONE OF THE YOUNG (!) LEADERS of this organization was Sgt. Mieczysław Dziemieszkiewicz [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* with the nom de guerre or "Roj" or "Swarm" (and played in the film by Krzysztof Zalewski-Brejdygant [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) after whom the film was made.

Some of the Polish reviewers above questioned the wisdom of making him (Roj/Swarm) the center of the film, one suggesting that perhaps the older, 40-something Cpt. Zbigniew Kulesza code-named "Młot" meaning "Hammer" (and played by Mariusz Bonaszewski [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) would have been a more interesting person to focus on.  In one of the more interesting / heartrending scenes in the movie, it's the 40-something Cpt. Kulesza who's led Dziemieszkiewicz' unit out there in the forests and hinterlands of Poland for 2 years since the formal end of WW II (it was basically 1946-47 when the scene is to have taken place) who his younger charges TO JUST GO HOME.  He tells them: "There's nothing but Death that will come to you if you stay here (in the Forest).  If you go home, yes YOU MAY DIE AS WELL, and more likely you MAY end up in Prison for some time, BUT you will HAVE A CHANCE AT A NORMAL LIFE a CHANCE TO INFLUENCE THE FUTURE OF POLAND of the next generations to come.  HERE, you will just eventually meet your Deaths."

But most of his younger charges, including Roj/Swarm, choose to continue fighting preferring "to face death with a gun in one's hand than to have a NKVD bullet put in the back of one's head."   And so the younger ones do ... continue fighting with ever diminishing numbers, and ever diminishing support from the local populace, which increasingly sees their continued fighting a lost / pointless cause:

Near the end of his story, in 1951 (!), when he and a buddy are robbing some rural bank somewhere in the Polish hinterlands (to "help finance the cause...") they call out at the end of their robbery: "Long live Free Poland" and even they are briefly startled at the bystanders (arguably their hostages) weary and arguably "rolling eyes" reaction ... A Free Poland wasn't going to happen any time soon, and just about everybody by then knew that.  Sigh ...

But the film makers do give Roy / Swarm a Che Guevara-esque end.  He and his buddy die in a shoot-out with Communist authorities.  His young, half-naked bearded body is rolled-out afterwards in the morgue for his by then already imprisoned mother (played by Magdalena Kuta [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) to identify.  "Is this your son?" the authorities ask.  She answers: "No it is not, and you'll never be able to capture him."  And so then, the Legend of a Zorro for Poland is born.

So I do understand why this film was made and why the film-makers chose to make Roj / Swarm its hero.  It's not necessarily a great film, and most of the Polish critics above hope that this film will invite MORE FILMS to be made about this period in Polish history.  After all, it is remarkable that Poland had an active anti-Communist armed resistance into the mid-1950s and arguably into the 1960s [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]*  And it is a remarkable story deserving to be told.

Warts and all, a pretty good and fundamentally informative / discussion producing film.


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

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The Forest, 4 AM (orig. Las, 4 rano) [2016]

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

IMDb listing
FilmWeb.pl listing*

Film.wp.pl (G. Kłos) review*
NaEkranija.pl (A. Siennica) review*
ONet.pl (M. Radomski) review*
TeleMagazin.pl (K. Polaski) review*
WPolitice.pl (Ł. Adamski) review*

The Forest, 4 AM (orig. Las, 4 rano) [2016] [IMDb] [FW.pl]* (directed and cowritten by Jan Jakub Kolski [IMDb] [FW.pl]* along with Krzysztof Majchrzak [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) is a tiny if thematically consequential independent production which played recently at the 2016 Polish Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Forst (played by Krzysztof Majchrzak [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) begins the story as some sort of a contemporary Polish corporate exec, an executive already on the edge, and 5-10 minutes into the story he has a breakdown.  What happened?  It's not clear initially (it becomes clearer as the tale progresses).  That he had a breakdown is clear, however.

What does he do?  Well he abandons his old life, truly everything, finds a hut in a forest, near some random two-lane highway outside some provincial town somewhere in the Polish hinterlands, and sets out to live there collecting herbs and mushrooms and trapping rabbits and beavers for food.  Wow.

There in his self-imposed exile he begins to rebuild (or just live) anew.  It's a (very) simple life.  He collects / chops wood for heat, scavenges plants and traps small game for food.  Initially, he sleeps on a bed covered by a worn blanket.  Eventually, even the bed / blanket seems too luxurious for himself.  So he digs a hole in the middle of the hut, and sleeps in side it burying all but his face itself in soil / leaves.   It's as if he buries himself each night.  But it does, strangely enough, "keep him warm."

Who would do that?  An American Film-goer could think of Robin Williams in his role in The Fisher King [1991].  But Forst has not simply "gone crazy" here.  Instead, he seems to have gone back to living in a Polish / Slavic "back to nature" / "survivalist mode."

The director breaks up Forst's story into three parts, each beginning with a citation from the Biblical Book of Job.  So in this regard, we are reminded, "early and often (enough)", that Forst's self-imposed exile was the result of some kind of crisis or tragedy.  However, WHERE he goes (to the Forest) and HOW he lives there really goes back even further to pre-Christian times.  Indeed, he lives there, in the forest, will remind a lot of viewers of Central European fairy tales.

For OUT THERE "in the forest" / "off the beaten path" (symbolized by the random 2-lane highway) / "outside of town" ... it turns out that there's still life, though somewhat strange, quite literally _marginal_ life:

Among the oddities are that along the random two lane highway "outside of town" walk prostitutes during the day and into the evening.  Now this may surprise some North American Readers but it's actually fairly common in Europe.  I saw this a lot in Italy, when I was studying (in the seminary ;-) there.  Yes, larger cities may have their "red light districts" but when you get into "the Provinces," illegal action (again _marginal_ "action") takes place literally at (or beyond) "the edge of town."

Indeed, I thought it was an interesting insight in a recent updated version of (Little) Red Riding Hood [2011] that "Grandma" -- who lived "in the forest, outside of town" -- was portrayed as being, well, "kinda strange."  YES "normal people" would "live in town."  Odd-balls, "witches", etc would live ... "outside..."

 Forst, comes to befriend one of these older / aging prostitutes, one whose name was Nata (played in the film by Olga Bołądź [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) walking the "two lane" "outside of town" by his neck of the forest.  Why aging?  Well ... if these Prostitutes were younger, their pimps would probably put them in a more attractive place to make their / them money.  Indeed, the 40 something Nata is knocked-off by her pimp Boris (note the Russian name, Poles and Russians really don't like each other ... played by in the film Michał Kowalski [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) so that he could literally put-up a younger model there in her place.

It's when 40-something aging Prostitute (though as always, with a heart-of-gold) is killed that 12-13 year-old now orphaned Jadzia (basically "Little Red Riding Hood" played by Maria Blandzi [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) comes looking for her and finds ... the Ogre / Shrek-like Forst in the forest instead (Forst, having been a platonic, if mixed-up friend of Nata, her mother).   And together Forst and Jadzia make a life of it for a while, he basically adopting her as his own.  Yes, he was a gentleman.  He was a gentleman with her mother, now with her as well.  Sleeping as he does "in his hole," he leaves his more comfortable bed / blanket for her.  And also she honestly "had nobody."

Among the little adventures that they have together ... is that one Spring they collect wild goose / duck eggs laid in by the birds (in the early Spring) in the brush surrounding a nearby pond and decorate them as Easter Eggs (a possible pre-Christian origin for the Easter Egg tradition).

Eventually though Jadzia grows tired of Forst (and they begin argue with greater frequency).  Essentially, she grows-up ... and eventually she goes on her way.  But somehow, having taken care of Jadzia, out there, in the forest, gives Forst some peace.   And we're told, just as at the end of the Book of Job, that (somehow) his crisis was now over.

All in all, while I would certainly _not_ encourage a 50 year-old (!) to live with / take care of a 12-13 year old daughter of a stranger (there are / should be government agencies today to regulate that sort of thing), the film here tells an ancient and partly Biblical story in a quite modern way.  As such, I found it quite interesting.

Good / quite interesting job!


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

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Desierto [2015]

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

IMDb listing
FilmAffinity.com/es listing*
SensaCine listing*

CinePremiere.com.mx (J. Oliva) review*
El Pais (L.B. Beauregard) review*
Excelsior.com.mx (S. Franco) review*

aVoir-aLire.com (N. Euler) review*
Slant Magazine (C. Dillard) review
The Guardian (J. Hoffman) review
The Hollywood Reporter (T. McCarthy) review
Variety (J. Chang) review

CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review
RogerEbert.com (P. Sobczynski) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review


Desierto [2015 [IMdb] [FA.es]*[SC]* (directed and screenplay cowritten by Jonás Cuarón [IMDb] [FA.es]*[SC]* along with Mateo Garcia [IMDb] [SC]* is a very simple / straight-forward thriller, but IMHO it certainly works:

Moises (played by Gael García Bernal) and Adela (played by Alondra Hidalgo) begin the film as random people, presumably mostly Mexicans, in the back of a random "delivery truck" -- in other days the truck could have been carrying fruit to market, this day it was carrying people North to a deserted spot along the U.S.:Mexican border.

Well the truck breaks down, still "some clicks" South of the border and then not necessarily at the most optimal spot.  One of the young (maybe in his late teens / early twenties) "coyotes" asks the Boss "Lobo" (meaning wolf): "Isn't this the spot where sometime back ...?"  No matter, there's "a schedule" to maintain.  Now "chinga..." the truck's broken down (and will have to be fixed ... or abandoned).  So Lobo has "other" more business / logistical "concerns" on his mind.  This will have to do ...

On the other side of the border is a swilling Jack Daniels straight out of the bottle (while driving ...)  "Minuteman" named "Sam" (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in a beat-up pick-up truck, small Confederate flag flapping off of the antenna, trusted Dog and Rifle (with a BIG telescopic sight) at his side.  He's driven out to the Border to "shoot some rabbits" and, well, maybe a Mexican or two ...

When he runs into the 15 or so already quite exhausted / dehydrated and at least partly _lost_ Mexicans in Moises / Adela's group, well, it seems BOTH "like an invasion" ("My God, THEY just keep coming ..." he says to himself) AND ... "a turkey shoot" as he methodically picks them-off one-by-one on the open Desert plain with the precision (and less forethought) of American Sniper [2014].

12-13 of the Mexican "illegals" "drop" (die...) quite quickly.  So soon it's just Moises and Adela vs "Sam and his Dog."  The rest of the story / movie follows ...

Okay, A LOT OF (NORTH) AMERICANS will not like this movie, and a LOT OF OTHERS will be disturbed by it.

Is it _really_ THIS BAD?  Well ... I invite Readers here to google a stunning award-winning documentary called Cartel Land [2015], which is about vigilante groups on _both sides_ of the U.S. Mexican border (in Mexico they're called "auto-defensas" and these groups exist there to "take on the drug cartels").  On both sides of the border, these groups justify their existences by saying that they've only "taken up arms" to do what their respective governments have "thus far failed to do."

Yes, the current film here is (still) an exaggeration.  BUT Cartel Land [2015] suggests that we're FAR CLOSER to this reality than most of us would think.

A very disturbing story ...


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

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Queen of Katwe [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
Los Angeles Times (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (K. Rife) review


Queen of Katwe [2016] (directed by Mira Nair, screenplay by William Wheeler, based on the ESPN Article and book [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Tim Crothers [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a nice, uplifting, family friendly (Disney sponsored) movie about Phiona Mutesi [wikip] (played in the film by Madina Nalwanga) a young chess prodigy from the impoverished Katwe neighborhood of Kampala, Uganda.  Call it a "Rocky Story of the Mind" ;-)

Phiona, about 10-11 when the story began, was growing-up destined to remain illiterate, selling corn at the local vegetable market with her widowed mom Nakku Harriet (played by Lupita Nyong'o), an older sister named Layla (or Night) (played by Taryn Kyaze) and two brothers Brian (played by Martin Kabanza) about her age and Richard (played by Yvan Jacobo and later by Nicolas Nevesque) definitely younger.  

Phiona's and Brian's lives change when Robert Katende (played by David Oyelowo) a local (though, one surmises, still "minor league") former soccer star enters their lives.  His soccer playing days largely over, and though with a engineering degree, nevertheless still unable to find a job in that field (and with a wife and family of his own to take care of) he took a job as a leader in a local Christian "sports outreach" ministry.  Interestingly enough, he was _not_ peddling soccer so much as ... chess, which the Ministry had identified as perhaps providing "better skills for life" than simply physical sport.  It was Brian, of course, who was initially both more recruited and more interested in Robert Katende's program, BUT ... it was Phiona who really took to chess like a fish in water ...

She becomes VERY, VERY GOOD ... and Readers here please understand that SHE BECAME A COMPETITIVE even CHAMPION CHESS PLAYER _even before_ she could Read.  Of course, as she got better, learning to Read, getting schooling became progressively more essential ... and the reason WHY she and her siblings could not read beforehand was because her mother simply could not afford to send them to school.  So Katende hed to help their mother find a way ...

This all becomes a LOVELY story and one that I suspect that MOST OF US / OUR FAMILIES could relate to. 

My own grandmother ended her schooling at 6th grade, when her (Czech) parents pulled her out of school to take care of her then sick mother (who nevertheless managed to live for some 35 years afterwards).  Then after a few years after my grandmother got married to her husband, my grandfather, he came down with tuberculosis (this during the Great Depression).  So she took care of my dad and my aunt (with help of her mother-in-law) running a small corner convenience store on a random street in Prague, getting up every day at 4 AM ... TO GO TO THE VEGETABLE MARKET to get fresh produce to sell then at her store afterwards.  Yes her 6th grade education limited the horizons of a good part of her life.  But she was more than this.  With a 6th grade education, she knew ALL THE WORDS to ALL OF THE ARIAS to all the Operas (in Czech of course ;-) that she'd hear on the radio each day ;-).   And she could sing some of them quite well ;-).  And my dad (and his cousin) became the first in my dad's family to make it to college as did then EVERY ONE OF HER GRANDCHILDREN.  And among her GRAND CHILDREN we could probably staff a small University department somewhere WITH ALL THE PhD's THAT WE NOW HAVE AMONG US ;-)

But ALL OF US STILL REMEMBER / LOVE our GRANDMOTHER (and her generation) whose work / sacrifices made _our lives_ what they are today.  And I do believe that almost EVERY FAMILY COULD HAVE A SIMILAR STORY TO SHARE.

So Phiona could have grown-up in an impoverished section of Kampala, but her story is easily relatable to children and families across the globe.

WHAT A WONDERFUL and VERY UPLIFTING STORY ;-)


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