Friday, December 29, 2017

Call Me by Your Name [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review


Call Me by Your Name [2017] (directed by Luca Guadagnino, screenplay by  based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by André Aciman [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a challenging movie for someone like me to review.  However, it ought to be far more challenging to most reviewers than it appears to be.

It's challenging to me because it's a sexually themed coming of age story and, well, I'm a Catholic priest.  It ought to be challenging to more reviewers than one like me because it's _also_ a love story between a seventeen year old minor and an adult (!).  Yet, not one of the three secular reviewers above seemed to have an issue with that.

It once fell to me to throw-out a band from the line-up of our Parish's music festival because one of its band-members turned out to be listed as a sex offender for having had the misfortune of picking-up a sixteen year old (girl) who was at a bar (with a fake id) where he had played some years back and had a gloriously _consensual_ (or "consensual") one-night stand with her.  She thought her encounter with the "worldly" musician was AWEsome, 'cept, of course, her parents were not amused ... I also know a Catholic priest who was de-frocked, his life effectively destroyed, as a result of meeting someone at 1980s-era gay party, that someone, having ended up being a minor.  In both cases, the first case involving a heterosexual encounter, in the other a homosexual one, the context was one in which one _could_ have thought that they had the right to assume that everyone present was "of age."  Yet in both cases, it became tragically clear (too late for the adults involved ...) that this was not the case.

As a result, I simply find it extremely stupid to fantasize about "wouldn't it be nice..." when it involves a "love story" between an adult and a minor...

Yet the film proves how one could manipulate an audience (and even critics) into being enchanted by something that ought to be appalling.  My favorite (and far safer) example of this was the film version of The English Patient [1996] which won all kinds of Oscars in its year.  I laughed out-loud hearing an otherwise quite traditionalist friend of mine wax eloquent about how much he loved the movie, telling him: "Do you realize that that the two main characters in the film consummated their flagrantly _adulterous relationship_ in head banging fashion _on Christmas Eve_ with a garrison of British troops lined-up in formation in the plaza below them singing _Silent Night_" ;-).  But there it is: Set a film in an exotic location be it in WW-II era Libya (The English Patient) or 1980s era Italy (the current film) and dress the characters in "clothes of the era" and ... you can have them do ANYTHING ...

Anyway, this is certainly a cinematically lovely film, but honestly a dangerous fantasy that could get all kinds of people in a world of trouble if acted upon.  And if there's any doubt here, let me just end mentioning two words: Kevin Spacey ...


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Pitch Perfect 3 [2017]

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


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

Pitch Perfect 3 [2017] (directed by Trish Sie story by / screenplay cowritten by Kay Cannon along with based on the book [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Mickey Rapkin [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]), the third installment of this "a capella" franchise probably won't win any awards for originality ... "the shark" here has been jumped long ago ... BUT all things considered, if you liked the first two films you'll probably like this one as well.  And certainly the theatre full of glee-ful teenage girls who made up the bulk of the audience at the show where I saw the film would agree.

The film begins with the now since graduated Barden U. Bellas "out in the real world" and working rather meaningless "entry level jobs," if that... One of the college grads was still working at a barista at a Starbucks-like establishment.  Another, was not working at all.  A third, found herself doing that thing that most recent college grads dream of doing, and perhaps even do, exactly _once_ ... telling her "uncomprehending boss" to ... before realizing, "Hey, wait ... I guess I don't have a job anymore..." ;-/.

Well, sigh ... coming together, as Alumni (OMG are we "old people" already? ;-) to a gig of Barden U's current "A Capella" team ... they decide that they'd _all_ really like to sing _one last time_ together.  Turns out that one of them has a connection, through her dad, for a gig with the USO ... and so they're soon off to Spain, Italy and France to "perform for the troops."  Much ensues ...

The most enjoyable thing that ensues, is that we the Viewers get to see these actresses / singers perform a string of remarkable / perfectly choreographed A Capella numbers, and that's honestly what most people seeing this film will come wanting to see.

Yes, there's "kinda a plot" that holds the story together, but that's honestly beside the point.  This film, like the others, is mostly about the joy of singing, and then singing with a group / among friends.

And yes, that's quite nice ... Good job Anne Kendrick, et al.  Good job ;-)


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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Post [2017]

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


IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review
RogerEbert.com (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

The Post [2017] (directed by Steven Spielberg screenplay by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer) is nominally about the challenges to the Press / Society that came with the 1971 leaking of The Pentagon Papers regarding a 30 year cover-up of official (U.S. military / government) opinion regarding the prospects for U.S. success in the War in Vietnam.  Yet, one would have to be utterly tone-death to not see the parallels (and on a multitude of levels, sometimes surprising) to our current situation as well.

First, the U.S. found itself in a War that appeared to have no real prospect of ending, victoriously anyway, anytime even remotely resembling "soon."  Today, we find ourselves in a similar war with Islamic Militants that has similarly dismal prospects of ending anytime "soon" (AND YET, we do understand in the current case that we truly have no other alternative other than slug it out.  In the case of Vietnam, there was the serious / legitimate question of whether the War there was worth it.  Yes, there had been the "Domino Theory" -- if Vietnam fell, so would a lot of other nearby nations as well.  Yet, that did not materialize even after Vietnam did indeed Fall in 1975.  Today, most public opinion is more-or-less certain that if Islamic Militants are allowed widespread safe haven ANYWHERE, that we can expect 9/11 style attacks to follow once more.  We really DON'T have a choice).

Second, the whole public debate during the Vietnam War, JUST LIKE CONTEMPORARY POLITICAL DEBATE IN THE U.S., was _tainted_ by fears of Soviet (now Russian) involvement.  This may be something that many _today_ may want to forget, but from the late-1960s through to the end of the Cold War there were LEGITIMATE fears of Soviet collusion with then THE LEFT in this country (and throughout the West) in influencing U.S. (and West European) public opinion.  Indeed, even the Watergate Break-In of the Democratic Party's National Headquarters (which eventully resulted in President Nixon's resignation) was at least IN PART driven by fears that the Communists / Cubans were somehow involved with the radically "peacenik" George McGovern campaign.   And for someone of my ethnic background, Czech, with parents who both fled Communist Czechoslovakia during the Cold War, it's simply _hard for me to believe_ that there would not have been _robust contacts_ (perhaps even simply through the Communist Party of the United States) between the Soviet bloc intelligence agencies and groups like Tom Hayden's Students for a Democratic Society, which led a good part of the anti-Vietnam War protests.  Indeed, I look at someone like former KGB officer Vladimir Putin and see someone for whom the current "colluding" hoopla would not be anything even remotely resembling his "first rodeo" in this sort of a thing.  The Soviets were seeking to influence public opinion in the West -- BACK THEN usually linking-up with THE LEFT -- throughout THE WHOLE OF THE COLD WAR. 

That all said, the Pentagon Papers did reveal something that American Public opinion needed to know -- that even the U.S. military and its government agencies did not believe that the War in Vietnam was winnable, and didn't believe so FOR DECADES.   That's what a Free Press is for: to ensure that secrets effecting millions of people's lives (how many American soldiers served in Vietnam?  And 55,000+ died there...) are available so that decisions effecting said lives could be made rationally and openly.  Yes, not every detail needed to be known, but the simple fact that even the Generals themselves did not believe the War to be winnable was important for the American public to know (and then plan for the consequences ... including the acceptance of millions of subsequent Vietnamese refugees...). 

Which then leads us back today.  It could be fairly said that _today_ we have a U.S. President more hostile to the institution of the Free Press than any since Richard Nixon, and arguably even more so.  That should worry us because if we are not given information on which to make rational judgments, then we can not effectively elect our leaders.  That's effectively Putin's line: that ALL PRESS, everywhere is basically a lie (so might as well just listen _to him_...).

So then, back in 1971, the Washington Post, under its first woman head, Katharine Graham [wikip] (played wonderfully by Meryl Streep) who was forced to take the job -- back then the Washington Post was a family business -- after her husband died (perhaps even of a suicide), risked arguably its future in printing the Pentagon Papers (jointly with the New York Times) rather than keep them unreleased.  In doing so, Katharine Graham risked lifelong friendships with some of the U.S. power elite including JFK / LBJ era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara [wikip] (played in the film by Bruce Greenwood) who had, in fact, commissioned the "Pentagon Paper" study that was being leaked.

Even the incestuous nature of "upper echelon" Washington D.C. is something that was worrisome then, and should remain worrisome _now_.  In this film, it was clear just how "everybody seemed to know each other" pretty much all their lives.  Graham's editor-in-chief, Ben Bradlee [wikip] (played wonderfully in the film by Tom Hanks) had been a long-time friend of the Kennedy Family, especially JFK and his wife Jackie ...

Now in 2010, _long before_ the current Trump-Russian collusion "hoopla," the FBI broke-up an odd Russian spy-ring operating in the U.S. [1] [2].  Curious was that these were "deep cover agents" seeking to basically infiltrate "The Hamptons Circuit" (where the rich, Washington/Manhattan powerbrokers would "summer").  Why would Russian Intelligence (the FSB) want to do that?  Unless they were operating under the view that a good part of what makes the United States operate remains that incestuous "network" of interconnected power-brokers like those that existed back in the 1970s -- the Grahams, Bob McNamara, the KennedysBen Bradlee, etc ...

Indeed, interestingly enough, Nixon, like Trump, felt that he was "outside" of this loop ...

Anyway, all this makes the current film, made by Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, all now "Hollywood royalty" with certainly at least "get in free cards" to stomping grounds of the Hampton Elite, all the more interesting ...

MUCH to think about / contemplate here ;-)


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The Greatest Showman [2017]


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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review


The Greatest Showman [2017] (directed by Michael Gracey, story by and screenplay cowritten by Jenny Bicks along with Bill Condon) is a (let's be clear / kind...) "broad stroke" Broadway style musical tribute to P.T. Barnum [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the film by Hugh Jackman) founder, eventually, of the Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Yet, to those who'd complain that this "Broadway Musical" was not rigorously historical ... well, let's be honest, that's _not_ what "musical theater" has ever been about.  Instead, in the tradition of Giuseppe Verdi's Aida or Giacomo Puccini's Madame Butterfly, it's always been about grand, sweeping themes.  (I would _not_ want to write a term-paper on Evita Peron based _solely_ on Madonna's performance in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita [wikip] [Amzn] ;-) or for that matter base my understanding of Founding Father, the founding Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and arguably founder of the entire U.S. economic system, Alexander Hamilton _solely_ on the current rave (and rapping ;-) musical Hamilton [wikip] ;-).

And to get an idea of the "far reaches" of "what's possible" the realm of musical theater (if then a fair question could be asked, "why?" ;-), consider the "creation" of compatriots from my parents' country, the Czech Republic (where BOTH "Opera" AND "Ice Hockey" are King), where "enthusiasts" wrote an actual Madame Butterfly-esque TRIBUTE to the Czech ice hockey team's "Grand Gold Medal Victory" entitled Nagano [wikip article about the Olympics] [cs.wikip article about the subsequent Opera]* ;-)

To the film at hand ... ;-)

The story here portrays P.T. Barnum as someone who was born quite poor and consequently had a chip on his shoulder, trying in various ways to both _eliminate distinctions_ (explaining his affinity to the kinds of people he'd hire to work in his circus) and _rise up_ to the upper class that he felt had looked-down-upon and rejected him.

These two "projects" of building a truly egalitarian community where "all were for one and one for all" and his trying to "rise up to a higher station" did, of course, often clash with each other, notably when Barnum underwrote the American tour of a then famous European opera singer named Jenny Lind [wikip] (played in the film by Rebecca Ferguson).  Then, as I noted in a number of years ago, in my review of a bio-pic about J. Edgar Hoover, a personal project seeking to "restore honor" to one's family / name, is something of a fool's errand ... How much "honor" does one have to "restore" before it has been, indeed, restored?  It would seem that it's never enough ...

So P.T. Barnum is portrayed in this film as both a flawed and driven man, but also one who did, in fact, bring happiness to a lot of people, notably to the various people that he brought together to work in his circus.  These were often people, as one character in the story noted, whose "own mothers had been ashamed of (on account of their deformities)."

Overall, this is crowd pleasing film.  A number of reviewers (and biographers, in as much as P.T. Barnum has been the subject of biography) have noted that Barnum was not necessarily all that kind / altruistic to the various people who made up his circus acts.  Indeed, a strong case could be made that he exploited them.  Still ... where-else would these people go? and they also did stay.

So it all makes for ... a grand show ;-)


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Molly's Game [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review


Molly's Game [2017] (directed and screen play by Aaron Sorkin based on the memoir [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Molly Bloom [wikip] [GR] [IMDb]) spins a certainly gripping if also somewhat "spoiled sport" sort of a tale of Molly Bloom [wikip] (played in the film by Jessica Chastain), a young adult, who grew up in Loveland, CO (on the Continental Divide, about 1 hour West of Denver), the daughter of a Colorado based psychologist (played in the film by Kevin Kostner) hence ever upper middle class, and whose life's direction took a radical turn as a result of a truly freak accident at the U.S. (freestyle) ski team trials for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games.  If not for a random pine branch shaving unsnapping the buckling of one of her boots to her skis on her second of three mogul runs, she probably would have made the Team, perhaps even won a Medal at the Games and would have then followed a quite different path than the one that she ended up taking.

Instead, in the aftermath of the (life's fortunes-changing) Accident, she "took a year off" between college (Colorado State) and law school (undetermined, but she had an LSAT score that could have gotten her into Harvard ...) and moved down to Los Angeles where she crashed (found a place) with some friends.

Young and quite attractive (in a town full of young and above-the-par attractive people) and certainly a product of her skiing days, _never a couch potato_, she scored a job as a cocktail waitress at a quite frequented club on the Sunset Strip.  There she got noticed by a patron of said club _for her smarts_ who hired her, nominally, to work as his administrative assistant at his quite random (front?) business by day, but more importantly as his assistant and de-facto book-keeper (she knew how to write and maintain a spread sheet ;-) at a weekly celebrity high-stakes poker game that he ran in the back of a somewhat seedier club but "down the street" from the one where she worked as a cocttail waitress.

Talkative, attractive and again _smart_, she proved a natural.  And when a couple of years later, her boss tried to cut her out of his business, she had already "learned the game," and made enough friends to WAVE HIM GOODBYE as she STEPPED-UP THE GAME moving it TO A SUITE IN A BEVERLY HILLS HOTEL, serving better food with better music, and appropriately enticing (but again _never stupid_ ... why waste your position for a one night stand, or worse, prostituting yourself when you can make easily as much, night after night, simply on tips for your smile/encouragement) serving help (from among her friends at the club where she had worked) and HONESTLY, MADE THIS GAME WORK for a LONG, LONG TIME.

Well, Vice (a nicer way to say Evil...) has a way of eventually catching-up to anyone, no matter how smart one is.  And so she eventually had to leave L.A. because of _one mistake_, but soon re-established herself in New York where for a while she ran an even BIGGER / BETTER / MORE EXCLUSIVE POKER GAME (now complete with smiling but as ever unreachable Playboy Models as her serving help) THAN IN L.A.

To borrow some, (freestyle) skiing terminology, she had "a good run."  Eventually, however, one could say _inevitably_ "the Game" came to attract, well ... the kind of folks, that "a game" like this, again, inevitably attracts.  Still, even if Molly had spent a good part of her twenties "dancing with" / "playing tag" with the Devil, she wasn't necessarily that.  Instead, she was just very, very smart, quite ambitious, and as a former freestyle (moguls) skier TRAINED TO TAKE (QUICK / CALCULATED) RISKS.

Eventually the Feds came crashing in (and honestly, she was so lucky ...).  She did manage to get a good Manhattan-based lawyer (played excellently by Idris Elba) to hack her out of her legal troubles and lived to write a book (and have a movie made) about ... her "please don't do this" life.

Still, the story is gripping and relateable to both the young and no longer so young alike (because _all_ of us were "young" at some point as well).  And as a cautionary tale it is not a bad one.

Here was a young person who had a very good life and came _really close_ to really messing it up (and even close to ending up dead ...).  The temptation of glamour, "outsmarting the world" entices / challenges us all ...


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Friday, December 22, 2017

Downsizing [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review


Downsizing [2017] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Alexander Payne along with Jim Taylor) is a silly movie based on a goofy premise _played completely straight_ that ultimately helps Viewers (re)-discover the surprising beauty/richness of their seemingly boring day-to-day lives.  Wow?  How could a goofy / silly movie do that?

Well about thirty years ago, another silly movie with a goofy premise, the Tom Hanks / Meg Ryan vehicle Joe vs the Volcano [1990] did a similar thing: There "Joe" (played by Tom Hanks) introduced to Viewers as an almost immobilized / hysterical hypochondriac was finally told by his doctor the news that he had always dreaded -- that in a year's time he was gonna die of a truly awful disease, that was all the more awful because it was utterly symptomless and neither he nor really anybody else had ever heard of it -- a "brain cloud."  Knowing now, for certain, that "he's gonna die" Joe finally felt liberated to spend that last year of his life doing what he'd always wanted to do -- to go sailing around the world (or as much of it as he could before he, well, ... died).  And while he went about doing that, he kept running into the same woman, in different incarnations (all played by Meg Ryan) until ... well ;-).  A stupid movie, with a goofy premise, that turned out to be remarkably profound ;-).

The current movie begins with the announcement of a scientific breakthrough: A group of Norwegian scientists have come up with a way of shrinking people to 5 inches tall.  WT...?  Why?  Well, the Norweigian scientists, led by the solemn / appropriately grim and _utterly sincere_ in his solemn grimness Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen (played by Rolf Lassgård) and his wife Anne-Helene Asbjørnsen (played by Ingjerd Egeberg) tout this as a _definitive_ solution for the world to climate change and over-population:  Imagine that every person who shrunk him/herself to 5" in size (or about 2.3% of their present weight and volume) would correspondingly use only a tiny fraction of the resources that they currently consume.

This amusing premise is then even more amusingly played _completely straight_ through the rest of the story:

Some years after the solemn Asbjørnsens announced their breakthrough, real estate developers in the U.S. are selling to the struggling middle class the ECONOMIC POSSIBILITIES of "Living Big" by "Going Small."  Middle class families finding it hard to buy homes at all in our dimensions, could come to live in McMansion-style _Doll Houses_ in new gated, indeed, domed, "Leisure Land" communities for well ... a few hundred bucks ;-).

And so it is, that Paul and Audrey Safranek (played by Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig) a random, struggling, and certainly not gonna go particularly anywhere late-30 early-40 something couple from Omaha, NE, decide that "going small" may be for them.  Actually they're largely talked-into-it by couple of old-high school friends (played by Jason Sudeikis and Maribeth Monroe) who made a splash at their last High School reunion by coming there "smalled" (everybody else came to the reunion, basically how they've always been / for years ... so that couple, Dave and Carol Johnson, really _stood out_ ;-)

When their latest mortgage application gets rejected, they head out to the Nevada based "Leisureland Estates" and ... Paul certainly's sold, Audrey ... less so.  She goes along with it, but just at the moment when they are separated to undergo their "smalling procedure" ... she backs out.  As a result, since Paul's now 5" tall and Audrey 5'5" at least ... the two divorce, with Audrey taking most of their assets.

Paul's then _reduced_ to working now in a Leisureland phonebank (on the phone no one can tell that you're only 5" tall ...), and presumably paid smaller-sized wages as well.  So ... gone are dreams of living in a McMansion-style doll house.  He now lives in an apartment... with an annoying / quite noisy / ever partying neighbor above him ;-)

It's now that the the diminished / down-trodden Paul encounters the two most compelling characters in the story.

First there's Dušan Mirković (played brilliantly by Christoff Waltz) that noisy / ever partying upstairs neighbor who's this ever-smiling 'cause he's ever scheming Serbian mobster-like figure, who's figured out all sorts of silly, basically illegal, but arguably harmless (except to one's pride) ways to "make a buck off of this 'smalling scam'" -- among the things he sells are fake small "authentic cuban cigars" to the rich folks of leisureland: "So what, really, if they're made by tiny, smalled, Albanian refugees.  They make a living, and I sell an image.  Everybody wins."  The same he does with wine and perfume, selling them presumably literally "a drop at a time." ;-)

And then there's one of Dušan's cleaning ladies: Ngoc Lan Tran (played inspiringly by Hong Chau) who had made news some years back when, as a jailed Vietnamese Dissident, she was "smalled against her will" and then along with 15 other "undesireables" deported inside a flat-screen television box, and discovered only when she reached the U.S. with the other 15 having already died "during the journey."  Having lost a leg during her ordeal, she nonetheless, ran that cleaning service giving jobs to otherwise other "down on their luck" "small people" and ran all sorts of other charitable efforts for other "small people" in even greater need.  And in a nice bow to the at least potentially transforming power of Christianity, it becomes clear that Ngoc Lan Tran was motivated to do all of this because of her Christian faith.

Well poor always basically invisible Paul, finds himself, despite himself, in the company of these lovely if eccentric characters: "I love you Paul, you're always so boring," says at one point the ever smiling, ever scheming Dušan as he gives him a big bear hug and kissed him on the top of his head.

And surprisingly, by the end of the film one's able to leave with some very interesting questions to ponder:  Does "size" matter?  "Big" or "small," the characters' personalities / capacities remained basically the same.  Does "technological progress" matter?  The same pitches, the same problems continue despite changes in our technological capabilities.  So what does, in the end, _matter_?  The film's actually quite clear in its opinion on that ;-).

A wonderfully initially "stupid" yet thought-provoking film ;-)


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Friday, December 15, 2017

Ferdinand [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (V. Murthi) review

Ferdinand [2017] (directed by Carlos Saldanha, screenplay by Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle and Brad Copeland, screen story by Ron Burch, David Kidd and Don Rhymer, based on the beloved 1936 children's book [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Munro Leaf [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] and Robert Lawson [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) tells the Ferdinand (voiced quite excellently by former WWE wrestler John Cena), a bull who'd much rather "smell the flowers" than "butt heads" with other bulls, much less end up in the ring with a bull fighter.

Needless to say a "pacifist bull" was not exactly respected by the other bulls, but he does make a lifelong friend with a little girl named Nina (voiced as a child by Julia Scarpa Saldanha and as a young adult by Lily Day).  Still a "pacifist bull" / "different kind of bull" or not, Ferdinand was still a bull and, well, that resulted in repeated misunderstandings with humans who generally saw him as a simply a _huge_ (and dangerous) beast.  And try as he might, he repeatedly found himself in difficulty -- there's a priceless scene in the movie where he finds himself, a bull, "in a china shop."

Yes, the book is rather short, and the movie, being a movie is 80+ minutes long.   Yet, scenes like Ferdinand finding himself in (and for that matter, getting himself into) said china shop, lend themselves to incredibly endearing sequences.  So ... my best guide here is just simply listening to the kids in the theater ... and at the showing that I saw, it was _clear_ that the kids _loved_ watching this ENORMOUS bull trying _so hard_ to be careful when, as a bull, he really could not.

Hence, I honestly found this to be a fun / endearing movie to watch.  And there's no messaging in the film that would be harmful to kids.  The whole story is an exercise in empathy putting oneself into the shoes (err... hooves) of a bull, who despite his ENORMOUS size, just wants to play / "smell the roses" 

Great story / film!

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Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review


Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi [2017] (screenplay and directed by Rian Johnson based on the characters invented by George Lucas) continues a Hollywood "year of tactical retreat" (in this case a "Space Dunkirk" if you will ;-).  The Empire of the original Star Wars Trilogy, reincarnated as "The First Order" seems to be ascendant and the forces of all that is good / peaceful facing annihilation.  How did the Galaxy ever get into this mess (again)?

Well, it would seem, interestingly, PARTLY out of NOSTALGIA ... One of the key villainous characters in the current trilogy, Kylo Ren (played as always spot-on by Adam Driver), son of Han Solo (played in the original trilogy by Harrison Ford and who (the character) was killed by Kylo Ren in the the first episode of the current sequel trilogy) and Princess Leia (played in both the original trilogy and in the current sequel trilogy by the late Carrie Fisher -- who died soon after the release of the first episode of the current sequel trilogy but had already been filmed for most of her scenes in the current film) seems obsessed with becoming  "the new Darth Vader."  Why?  Partly certainly out of youthful rebellion (to piss off his parents) but also out of a genuine nostalgia for a man, albeit Evil..., but "had it together" / "knew what he wanted." 

Today a lot of people admire / support contemporary strongmen like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin because they too have built an aura around them of "knowing what they want" / "willing to do whatever it takes 'to get there'" and while much has been written here in the United States about Trump's admiration of Putin, perhaps less has been made of Putin's never denied admiration / nostalgia for Joseph Stalin and the "order" he had imposed on the then Soviet Union and later its Empire.

The other, more philosophical reason for the plot (re)turn would probably be George Lucas' friendship / admiration for comparative religions scholar Joseph Campbell, for whom the "Monomyth / Eternal Cycle of Return" was a major theme.  So it should not be surprising that a generation or two after a cataclysmic battle between Good and Evil, the conditions would present themselves to begin the conflict anew.

Still, I do believe there to be significant differences in tone between the original Star Wars Trilogy and current batch of Star Wars movies including Episode VII - The Force Awakens [2015], Rogue One: A Star Wars Story [2016] and the current film.  Notably, the current batch, perhaps influenced by 9/11, perhaps by the Hunger Games [2012-15], is _darker_.

So the current trilogy has a new (and arguably even more rag-tag) rebellion fighting a surprisingly powerful reincarnated "First Order" modeling itself on the Empire of old.  And the battle honestly seems more even more desperate than before.  A small and ever diminishing flotilla of rebel craft, flushed out of their base by a far superior First Order fleet, spends much of the movie trying to escape.

Yet even as the battle between these two space fleets continues, as throughout the whole Star Wars saga, it becomes increasingly clear that the key to the battle are several charismatic figures, each "gifted by the Force" (a mystical / supernatural power that in the Star Wars Universe permeates the Galaxy) sometimes by its good side, sometimes by its dark/evil side.  And it becomes clear that it'd be far easier to simply "turn" these charismatic leaders from one side to the other, rather than to pound away at each other militarily.

Okay, but here's the problem:  While the charismatic leaders feeding on the "Dark Side" of the Force, Kylo Ren (already mentioned above) and the apparent Emperor Snoke (played quite well with some CGI enhancement by Andy Serkis) seem to be "all in" / "gung-ho" about conquering the Universe, the charismatic leaders of the "Good Side" of the Force, except for the youthful orphaned / "Joan of Arc"-like Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) seem far less convinced that fighting Evil serves any Good.  Notably, an aging Luke Skywalker (played as in the original trilogy, so now here in the current one by Mark Hamill) has retreated to a far-off island on an ocean covered world, and really did not want to get involved in the new conflict at all.

What to do?  Well, this is what the film is about, and there are many reactions.  Almost always, the younger folks -- I've mentioned Rey, but also still somewhat cocky star-fighter pilot Poe (played by Oscar Isaac), as well as several defectors from the "1st Order" side notably Finn (played by John Boyega) and Rose (played wonderfully by Kelly Marie Tran) -- would like to fight, while the older folks, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and some of her other commanders, including, one, an Admiral Hulo (played by Laura Dern) would prefer to keep the fighting to a minimum (especially since they have been outnumbered and losing ...).

Much plays out ... often, honestly, with some twists / surprising ;-).

So who then is said "last Jedi"?  That too is answered, but I'm not going to tell you ;-).  And the answer is, clearly, quite interesting (and thus worthy of a movie title ;-).

Yup, I'm still quite fascinated with how the whole saga will end.  Some hints as to how it will do so are already indicated in this episode.  But it will be interesting how it will play out.

Overall ... a quite good / excellent "middle episode" in an at least three part saga ;-)


ADDENDUM:  Catholic viewers may be surprised by a fair number of _positive_ "Catholic flourishes" in the current film:

For instance, there are some rather cute / amusing "Jedi nuns" in this story.

Then the Star Wars' salutation / words of encouragement "The Force be with you" was used in this film at least one time in manner in which its usage almost exactly corresponded to the greeting: "The Lord be with you."

Then near the end of the film there was an extended shot in which light shining through holes on the remaining band of resisters, shined on them in the shape of illuminated crosses.  The shot extended much longer than would be necessary for the sake of the story, except to allow the Audience to recognize the symbolism -- light piercing the darkness "on the good guys" in the shape of a series of crosses.

The Star Wars series with its Jedi religion was never "anti-Christian" or "anti-Catholic."  Almost all of us of my generation saw similarities between the Jedi Knights and a Catholic religious order. What I'd just like to note here is that this episode seemed even more positive toward Catholicism / traditional religion than others.  Thanks!  (I think / hope ;-).


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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Mudbound [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review


Mudbound [2017] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Dee Rees along with Virgil Williams based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Hillary Jordan [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) set in the 1940s and following two families, one white, one black eeking out livings farming amid "the mud" of rural, delta Mississippi gives a decidedly "muck covered" portrayal of the era presumably ("best guess") evoked by Trump in his quest to "Make America Great Again."

Though largely incompetent, the McAllan family (white) is clearly on top and repeatedly needs (and is able to get ...) the assistance of the neighboring Jackson family (black) in order to survive.  The obvious (and by the end utterly offensive) inequality of their relationship is what this film is about.

Both families have sons that go to war -- Jamie McAllan (played by Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (played by Jason Mitchell).  Both come back from the war as war heroes, both as changed men.  Yet ... when they do come home, the world that they had left had not changed at all.  Coming home, Ronsel, uniform / medals notwithstanding, is "reminded" by scandalized local white folk he has to leave a grocery store "by the back door" and is actually forced to apologize to two members of the McAllan family for his (by the time he got back from serving as a tank-man in Patton's 3rd Army...) _honest_ "mistake."

Readers, you get the picture ... But the tragedy is that THIS WAS TRUE.  African Americans who came back from WW II as war-heroes, came back to a nation that fought the racism of Adolf Hitler / the Nazis while being _utterly oblivious_ (and often _supportive_) of its own.  Indeed, the Nazis' Nuremberg Racial Laws were actually almost carbon copies of Old South's Jim Crow racial laws when it came to classifying the races of its citizens and banning inter-racial marriage.

The film actually helps explain why the U.S. Military actually was among the first institutions in the United States to be desegregated -- the U.S. fought the Korean War with a desegregated army -- and why after WW II the eventual victory of the African American Civil Rights movement was inevitable -- to continue with Jim Crow was simply too much for too many Americans (both black and white) to survive.

Excellent film, certainly one of the year's best.


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Monday, December 11, 2017

I, Tonya [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review


I, Tonya [2017] (directed by Craig Gillespie, screenplay by Steven Rogers), while certainly well written and well acted, revisits old wounds -- an infamous 1992 incident in which U.S. figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was kneecapped (hit with a baton across the knees) by people associated to rival U.S. figure skater Tonya Harding -- leaving potential Viewers to wonder _why_ dredge this story up again a generation later.

To be sure, the story mesmerized the nation 25 years ago, in part because _both_ Nancy Kerrigan (played briefly in the film by Kaitlin Carver) and Tonya Harding (played quite wonderfully in the title role by Margot Robbie) were actually from quite similar blue-collar backgrounds.  Yet personality-wise (and certainly how the Press made them out to be) they seemed to be polar opposites: Kerrigan, despite her own family's struggles to pay for her skating, sought still to fulfill the "Figure Skating Princess" expectations of the sport, while Harding in part because she had it an _even rougher time_ of it, and in part because, personality-wise, she just didn't want to "play the game," took a decidedly "F-U" attitude toward the snobbery associated with the sport (doing skating routines to heavy-metal music at times and so forth...).  The film portrayed Harding as someone who, despite "being poor" simply _loved to skate_ and then _was really, really good at it_.

Indeed, in one of the more memorable lines of the film has Harding telling the film's interviewer: "I was the first woman to successfully land a triple axel in competition and _no one_ can take that away from me, so ... f*** you."  And honestly, she's right.  To this day, a generation later, only eight women have done so in international competition.

So the film in this regard captures an aspect of Tonya Harding's story that most people liked, sympathized with and respected.  She was basically a female Rocky figure in a sport that had room only for Princesses.  Yet that "Rocky" background surfaced some unfortunate "Rocky's neighborhood" characters including her foul mouthed, count 'em _six times married_, chain smoking "I made you what you are" / "Gee thanks" mother (gleefully played by Allison Janney), her abusive boy-friend / husband Jeff Gillouly (played by Sebastian Stan), and especially Jeff's incredibly stupid BFF Shawn Eckhardt (played by Paul Walter Hauser) who served as Harding's "body guard" and was the one who directly ordered Kerrigan's kneecapping.  Harding and her husband apparently were just trying to "play mind games" with her (which they thought, and apparently had some reason to believe, was "fair play").  Sigh ...

What'd be interesting, honestly, would be Harding's own review of the film and I will post the link to it when I find it.


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Friday, December 8, 2017

Wonder Wheel [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review
RogerEbert.com (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review


Wonder Wheel [2017] (written and directed by Woody Allen), let's be honest, is a quite awkward film to view / review as our nation is going through what could become a sea-change in attitudes toward sexual harrassment / abuse in the workplace, beginning, in fact, in the movie industry.

It's not that _anything_ in Allen's current film directly touches that topic. However two going on three decades ago, Allen (1) abruptly ended his then marriage to actress Mia Farrow, and proceeded to marry his then 17 year old (!) step daughter (the two have stayed together ever since) and (2) has since been accused of having concurrently abused another, even younger, and here biological daughter, Dylan, an accusation that he's always denied.  With his last several films dealing with "gettting away" / "not getting away" with unspeakable crimes, this one included, it would seem that the question of "getting away with [something]" weighs _significantly_ on his mind (and perhaps conscience...).

Indeed, I would submit that a good part of the reason why this film hasn't been particularly well received (see the reviews cited above) has much less to do with the technical quality of the film -- IMHO, excellent, written in the style of a play by Tennessee Williams or Eugene O'Neill -- but rather on the person of Woody Allen himself and the moment in history that we're living in.

And let's be clear, it is a _good moment_.  At least a few prominent serial harassers / abusers of women have had to step down from their positions of previous honor.  And probably, evoking with some caution one of the more lasting images of the French Revolution... more "heads will roll" in the future.   There's a real chance that in the next generation women will be in a far more equal position vis-a-vis men than before.

And yet, I would submit that the case of someone like Woody Allen (far more than someone like Harvey Weinstein ...) ought to indicate to us to be careful (that justice be attained by the lifting up of past victims to their proper places rather than simply destroying past sinners).  For despite his sins / failings, Woody Allen is clearly a talented person.  He's given this world far more than just his sins.  Harvey Weinstein has also probably given the world more than just his sins (as would be the case for all of us).  But Woody Allen becomes something of a poster child of the reality that WE ARE ALL _more_ than _simply our sins / failings_.

This is something actually that the Catholic Church, DESPITE ITS OWN SINS, has also ALWAYS UNDERSTOOD AND PROCLAIMED:  In a world that first denies even the existence of Sin, but then _also_ denies in all but _very rare cases_ even the possibility of Forgiveness (and then not at all based on merit, but generally simply based on power), the CHURCH PROCLAIMS BOTH: (1) that Sin clearly exists, but (2) that Jesus Christ came here _precisely_ to forgive us and lift us out of that Sin.  And I submit, the combination is THE ONLY WAY to look _realistically_ at our world.  For we can (and still may) universally destroy ourselves (rather than bring ourselves to forgive ...).  But the reality is that all of us are _more_ than just "what we've done wrong."

Some kind of "Truth and Reconciliation" (to borrow the approach taken by post-Apartheid South Africa) is needed balance the twin Realities of past Injustice / Crime and the need for people, _most people_ to add _constructively_ to society for the Common Good.  If we eliminate _everyone_ who has ever sinned, as the Psalmist asks: Who could survive? [Psalm 130:3]

Anyway, _not diminishing at all_ the reality of Sin, we have to acknowledge that even Sinners (all of us) are capable of contributing ... (and again, I do see Woody Allen as something of a "poster child" for this).  For despite whatever he may have done, the world has benefited from his existence, and again, the world has benefited from _our existence(s)_ as well).

To the movie ... ;-)

Set in the early 1950s, in Coney Island, NY, and narrated by "Mickey" (played wonderfully by Justin Timberlake) a "South Pacific" WW II vet (former sailor) now lifeguard / night school student studying to be playwright now living in Greenwich Village (hence something of a cross of Kowalski from A Streetcar Named Desire and Jack Kerouac), the film's about a family which lives literally under the amusement park's Ferris (Wonder) Wheel (Note that by "self-told legend" during his stand-up comedy days, that's where Woody Allen would say that he grew-up -- "under the Farris Wheel in Coney Island" -- as well ;-).

The man of the house was a late-40s/early-50s widower / carnival ride operator named Humpty (played wonderfully in "Ralph Kramden of the Honeymooners"-style by Jim Belushi) who was married to a 40-something once, long-ago, aspiring actress, once married to a musician, now divorced (by her own, admitted, damned fault) waitress at the local clam shop named Ginny (played again wonderfully by Kate Winslet evoking a combination of an older Margaret / "Maggie the Cat" from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and perhaps even more Blanche from A Streetcar Named Desire).

Both had children from their previous marriages:  He had a 20-something daughter, a "Femme Fatale" if you'd ever seen one named Carolina (played again spot-on by Juno Temple) who "came home" at the beginning of the story after a disastrous five-year marriage to a mobster, now in jail, and with his cohorts "looking for her" because, under pressure, she apparently "squealed to the Feds."  Ginny had a 10 year old "young Woody Allenesque" son named Richie (played by Jack Gore) with a penchant of "burning things down" ... yes, literally; he was a pyromaniac.

After setting-up the story, we're told by Mickie in "Act 2" that he and Ginny were having an affair; he because well, as a former sailor, now starting-out playwright, found Ginny, the 40-something once, long-ago, actress, once married to a musician, now random 40-something waitress in a Coney Island clam-shop, well, honestly _fascinating_ ;-), and she because "he saw the world" (the South Pacific, including Bora Bora, near Tahiti, where French impressionist artist Paul Gauguin escaped to from a suffocating marriage...) and because he, like her first husband, the musician, was _interesting_ which her current one, albeit with at times (when not drinking...) a heart of gold, was not...

In Act 3, however, Mickie meets Carolina, and ... the rest of the story unspools from there...

I found the story, honestly, excellent.  If the dialogue was _at times_ stilted, it was _largely done in the style of the plays of the time_.  Honestly, Tennessee Williams was stilted in his dialogue as well.  That was the writing of that time...

And this then is the paradox of Woody Allen.  Certainly flawed (as are we all) in someway, and _perhaps_ profoundly, he remains oustandingly talented.  Should he, in as much as he sinned (as we have all), pay for his sins?  Certainly, but at the end of the day, it can not be denied that he's contributed (a lot) to this world as well (as do we all as well).

So, can we find a way to both "Tell the Truth" and yet also "bring everybody back" despite their Sins?

Excellent / thought provoking film / context.


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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Roman J. Israel, Esq [2017]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB ()  RogerEbert.com (1 Star)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review
RogerEbert.com (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review


Roman J. Israel, Esq [2017] (written and directed by Dan Gilroy) tells the story of a fictionalized quiet, behind-the-scenes African American civil rights lawyer by that name (and wonderfully / compellingly played by Denzel Washington). 

Clearly somewhere on the autism spectrum, Roman worked quietly preparing briefs for his partner William Henry Jackson, the public face of their two person law firm.  Then near the beginning of the film, his partner, never seen, has a heart attack and dies some weeks later. 

Enter Jackson's sister, Lynn (played by Amanda Warren).  She soon informs Roman that "from the family's standpoint" her brother William's "crusading" had long been a drain on the family's fortune and that in the name of the family, she was liquidating his two person law-firm.  Her brother's remaining cases (and Roman, if he so desired...) she wished to hand-over to a long-time family friend and once student of her brother's when said crusading brother had taught law at a local university.  The family friend was "a white guy" named George Pierce (played by Colin Farrell) who had since become a rather big-time corporate lawyer in town. 

Roman and George certainly knew each other, but just as certainly didn't respect each other: George initially saw Roman as a charity, even basket case, one who he was considering giving a job to at his quite successful law-firm _only_ for the sake of his relationship with the Roman's deceased partner William and then the rest of the Jackson Family.  Roman, in turn, saw George as the worst kind of lawyer -- a sellout.  Perhaps Roman would not have been as appalled if George had not been a student of his beloved, now deceased partner.  However, since he had been, how could he possibly have gone over "to the dark side," quite amorally seeking _above all_ to "merely make money" for his work (rather than seeking to make the world, through one's work, a better place)?

So Roman tries initially to get another job.  Yet both his moderate autism and his attendant stubbornness quickly alienates him from a local (and modern) civil rights advocacy group, whose local office was run by Maya Alston (played quite convincingly by Carmen Ejogo). 

So what's Roman to do?  This would be a difficult situation for someone "not on the spectrum."  But here he was dealing with multiple crises and disappointments and not necessarily being the most capable of the flexibility needed to successfully adapt.   So he responds to this wave of change and disappointments in rather knee-jerk (if understandable fashion) ...

And ... the rest of the story follows.

It all makes for a quite thought-provoking (and discussion provoking) film:

(1) What is our primary motivation in work and even in life?  Merely to "succeed"? to make (a lot of) money? or to make the world (or at least that part of the world around us) a better place? 

(2) How do we see those who are "different" around us?  Do we see them merely as burdens / problems to manage (away if possible)?  Can we imagine learning significant things from "others" especially those who appear "burdensome"?   And perhaps most fascinatingly, can we come to understand that those people who we look down upon, may actually have quite developed (and not particularly flattering) opinions of us as well? 

Interesting / thought provoking stuff ;-)


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Three Billboards outside of Ebbing, Missouri [2017]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB ()  RogerEbert.com (4 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

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


Three Billboards outside of Ebbing, Missouri [2017] (written and directed by Martin McDonagh) is a pretty stark and dark film about a terrible tragedy that beset both the fictionalized town of Ebbing in rural Missouri and then specifically the Hayes family living at its outskirts.

Some nine months previous to the story's telling, 19-year old Angela Hayes (played briefly in a flashback by Katryn Newton) had been savagely raped and murdered as she was walking to and/or from said home at the outskirts of town and ... there were _no leads_.  The perpetrator's DNA didn't seem to appear on any database, it happened at night, off a rural road; the local Sheriff Bill Willoughby (played quite wonderfully by Woody Harrelson) was convinced that the crime had been committed by a passerby, a drifter, who probably wouldn't be found until he was caught bragging about it in some dive somewhere, or perhaps already in prison.

But tell that, of course (and he did, repeatedly, both as sympathetically and at times exasperatedly as one could imagine) to Angela's mother Mildred (played to certainly Oscar nomination levels by Frances McDormand).  She's the one who pays for a year's worth of advertising on those three billboards on a rural road near where she lived / near where the crime occurred, hoping to embarrass the local police into "doing something." But ... sigh ... what was there to do that was not already done?

Dear Readers, this is a film different than advertised.  It's _not_ really about "getting the Authorities to do something."  It's above all about the horror (and horrific after-effects) of a crime.  Yes, one can understand Mildred's desire for "closure" (which she quite understandably takes to mean at least in part "catching the monster" who did this to her daughter).  But ... honestly _how_ does one "close" this kind of a wound?

The film struck me as surprisingly similar in its thematics to a seemingly far gentler film (until...) named A River Runs Through It [1992].  Yes, horrific tragedy can _change_ people ...

"Friend and neighbor you have taken away from me,
My only companion is darkness." -- Psalm 88:19


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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Lady Bird [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review
RogerEbert.com (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

America-Magazine (E. Blondiao) conversation w. writer/director Greta Gerwig

Lady Bird [2017] (written and directed by Greta Gerwig) is IMHO a fascinating arguably _sincerely Catholic themed_ "coming of age" film that will probably infuriate, at least initially, many/most Catholic viewers.  And yet, I do agree that it's a love letter, celebrating fondly Gerwig's (not / never Catholic) years growing-up / attending a Catholic high school in quite mundane "the Midwest of California" Sacramento, CA.

I confess, I've been a fan of Gerwig's acting career since I began my blog from Damsels in Distress [2011] / Lola Versus [2012] to Frances Ha [2013] / Mistress America [2015] / Maggie's Plan [2016], and I've always suspected her to be "a sympathizer."  Maybe one day she'll go through RCIA, maybe not.  But ever since she played a character in Lola Versus [2012] who was going to write a Doctoral Dissertation on "commas" and "the small _spaces of silence_ that they bring," I've always seen her as a believer in God (more or less admitted by the end of the current film).  For that was how the  Biblical Prophet Elijah, "in a silent sound", encountered the Almighty and Ever-Living God [TM] on Mount Carmel one random day [1 Kings 19:11-13].

And then Gerwig is actually most brutal / most iconoclastic when confronting the true Idols of contemporary YA American culture:  The film's protagonist, Christine aka Lady Bird (played with appropriate teenage, hair partially dyed, eye-rolling disdain by Saoirse Ronan), finds her first sexual experience (yes, girls attending Catholic high school do at times contemplate / even experiment with sex...) to be ... _disappointing_.   She then goes to Prom initially with her ex-boyfriend who she had broken-up with because ... essentially "what else is one to do so late in the game?"  Then even more iconoclastically, when it becomes clear that her ex-boyfriend and his friends weren't at all interested in going to the Prom anyway, she asks to be dropped-off at the home of her generally _always smiling_, but somewhat "weight challenged" (and hence "never asked") BFF Julie (played wonderfully by Beanie Feldstein).  She convinces Julie to "just get on a dress" and together, _as friends_ they go then to the dance (the film was set in 2002).

Yes, Catholic parents should know that there's a scene in the film in which the two, Christine aka "Lady Bird" and her BFF Julie are shown eating communion hosts (_unconsecrated_) as "potato chips" as they randomly "discuss life" in the school's chapel's sacristy after Mass.   But when our protagonist finally "gets her wish" and gets the scholarship to go to some NYC liberal arts college, she finds herself ... going to Mass / Church ;-).

Appropriately R-rated (Parents _ought_ to have a say if they want their minors to see the film).  Still, I do think that this is a very intelligent film that actually _offers_ teens and college students the opportunity to go to Mass / Church without being seen as "uncool" for doing so.

In the end, Greta Garwig's protagonist discovers that without the Faith that she learned in "boring Sacramento", life even in "exciting NYC" can be ... rather empty.

Honestly what a film!


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