Monday, May 29, 2017

Lowriders [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (R. Abele) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review

Lowriders [2016] (directed by Ricardo de Montreuil, screenplay by Cheo Hodari Coker, Elgin James, Joshua Beirne-Golden, Justin Tipping), the inaugural feature of the production company Telemundo Films, is a well written / well acted / excellently cast, gritty if also then _somewhat cliched_ urban (Mexican American) family drama that will remind Viewers of the Rocky [1976-2012] films and cop-shows like Hill Street Blues [1981-1987] / NYPD Blue [1993-2005].  

Yet A KEY (and _fascinating_) DIFFERENCE between these films / television series and the current film is that while the Rocky films (excellent, yet _also_ thoroughly cliched , as they were) focused on individual achievement / overcoming-of-obstacles and perhaps on _friendships_ between the various characters in the story, and the cop-shows suggested above perhaps portrayed "The Force" or "The Unit" as de facto "Family" for the various characters, THE CURRENT FILM REALLY IS ABOUT THE STRUGGLES OF "AN ACTUAL" MEXICAN AMERICAN FAMILY living in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East L.A.

Another interesting difference between this film and others that would tread on similar territory -- one could think here of Boyz in the Hood [1991], or more recently Straight Outta Compton [2015],  -- is that while taking the perspective "of civilians" (none of the members of this family were Police Officers, though both of the teenage / young adult sons found themselves at various times in trouble with the law), the POLICE HERE WERE _NOT_ PORTRAYED BADLY (OR EVEN PREDOMINANTLY WHITE) IN THE FILM.  Instead, the Police were seen as simply _doing their job_.  Indeed, the strong father, "Pops" (played wonderfully / AND QUITE REALISTICALLY by Demián Bichir), with his own struggles -- alcohol, tragic loss of his first wife -- clearly wanted to raise both his boys right.  And _clearly_ didn't want his kids ending-up in jail.

Indeed, there is A MAGNIFICENT (and UTTERLY REALISTIC) SCENE still fairly early in the film when the story's central protagonist / narrator Danny (played by Gabriel Chavarria), a young "tagger" (well "street" BUT LETS BE HONEST largely _graffiti_ "artist") gets, inevitably, caught by the Police along with his friend Jesús er Chuy (played again wonderfully by Tony Revolori) for, well, tagging, and ... it's Chuy who calls Danny's dad, "Pops" to bail them out.  THE SCENE (largely SILENT) with clearly angry but even more _disappointed_ "Pops" driving the two boys home ... from the two boys' night in jail ... IS SIMPLY PRICELESS.

And then there's "Pops'" second wife (Danny's step-mother) Gloria (played to SERIOUS BREAK-OUT ROLE HEIGHTS by Eva Longoria -- honestly she probably won't get nominated for this role, because it's still too small for that, but LONGORIA CERTAINLY PROVES THAT SHE PLAY TRULY SERIOUS ROLES, indeed HIT THEM OUT OF THE PARK).  It's Gloria who's holding the family and its individual members together.  She knows her husband.  She knows his sons.  And SHE'S got a daughter too from a first marriage -- who's preparing for a Quinceañera ;-).  The family's on a volcanic razor's edge -- it can collapse / go broke _in so many ways_.  And yet, IT'S GLORIA _keeping them from falling off the edge_ ALL OF THEM -- including "Pops'" harder older son Francisco / "Ghost" (played by Theo Rossi) who ALREADY DID do some HARD TIME in jail (for car theft -- for the parts).

It's one heck of a story!

Now wait, isn't this story supposed to be "about cars", "lowriders" to be exact?  YES, but they are both almost _beside the point_ AND the film's FUNDAMENTAL METAPHOR.

This is a film about a family / community that are living (under PRESSURE) REALLY CLOSE TO THE GROUND.  And yet it is ALSO a family / community that is both PROUD and HAS REASON TO BE PROUD.  Pops like a lot of other Hispanics is an auto-mechanic.  During the day, he fixes _other people's cars_.  BUT IN OFF HOURS HE WORKS ON / BUILDS HIS OWN -- BEAUTIFUL CARS, SOUPED-UP CARS, CARS THAT MAKE A STATEMENT.

And it's actually a similar matter with the Quinceñera that Gloria's preparing her daughter for: A _lot_ of Anglos simply don't understand Quinceañeras seeing them as an exorbitant "waste of money."  But Quinces are so much more than "just the dress / party" -- they are above all A FAMILY AFFAIR, then ALSO A RELIGIOUS AFFAIR (generally they are held in Church, and often enough, the mothers send _the whole court_ of teenagers, both the girls and boys, to Confession in the days before the Quince is celebrated), and FINALLY THEY ARE A SOURCE OF PRIDE saying to the world (and to themselves): "We may not be rich, but we will CELEBRATE THE RICHNESS THAT WE HAVE in _our young people_ in our families."  INDEED in MANY Mexican-American families Time is remembered in terms of the Big Gatherings / Fiestas that are held -- Baptisms, First Communions, Quinces, Weddings, and fainlly Big Anniversaries / Birthdays: "Remember Anita's Quince.  Grandma was still alive then, and so was Uncle Jorge..."

The cars here are the same.  They are extravagant, but they are beautiful, and they are remembered in the family / community for a long long time, and SOME ... even become LEGENDARY.

One awesome film!

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Baywatch [2017]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O) (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Yamato) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (S. O'Neal) review

Baywatch [2017] (directed by Seth Gordon, screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, story by Jay Scherick, David Ronn, Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, based on the series by Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz and Gregory J. Bonann) is certainly appropriately R-rated -- for both the gleefully free-flowing use of the F-word ("oh go ... yourself") as well as at least one scene, probably involving a prosthetic, that nevertheless makes it utterly inappropriate for "the little ones" (though I don't think it speaks much of the "maturity" of Viewers legitimately "old enough" to see the film).   That said, this is a legitimately enjoyable movie that THAT KNOWS WHAT IT IS: a gleeful (and still gentle / kind) send-up of the "beautiful people" subculture that existed (and perhaps still exists) on our sunnier shores.

For anybody who takes this film seriously clearly didn't get it.  And yet it's nice.  (My Beach Boys' fave "Wouldn't it be Nice? [YouTube]" even makes the soundtrack ;-)

I'd certainly ENJOY being as built as ever-smiling Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (playing the role of "chief lifeguard" Mitch BuchannonDavid Hasselhoff, who played the character in the original series, makes a couple of cameos) or for that matter Zach Efron (playing an initially "way too into himself" / a-hole of an "Olympian" named Matt Brody -- could he be based on New England Patriot QB Tom Brady?), who may have been initially "arrogant" but, well, HAD, legitimately, "much to be arrogant about ..." ;-).

Then the women, are, of course, good-to-great looking -- Sports Illustrated model Kelly Rohrback plays Pamela Anderson's role of CJ Parker.

But then there's AN ETHOS present in the film that IMHO _certainly redeems it_.  The overwhelming message of the film is "Your looks, and EVEN YOUR TALENTS are WORTH NOTHING if you don't put them into the service of WORKING TOGETHER to authentically help / save others / BUILD UP THE COMMUNITY."  And honestly, I think THAT IS GREAT.

So honestly, I was very nicely surprised.  Yes, this is an R-rated movie (for the reasons I give above).  Yet, there are worse films, with certainly _much worse massaging_ that have been made.

So GOOD JOB FOLKS, surprisingly GOOD JOB!

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales [2017] (directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, screenplay by Jeff Nathanson, story by Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio, based on characters created by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert) while not the best of the series is certainly NOT the worst.  I'd put it at number 2 or 3, with the best entré in the series being the surprisingly good first installment (after the whole franchise is based on a Disneyland Theme Park ride) with the current film probably tied for second in terms of humor / entertainment value with the second installment.

Indeed, with the exception of a single (if extended) unfortunate joke (below), I spent most of my time during the movie wondering "Ah, to be a seven year old again" ;-). This is because the various gags / situations seemed gleefully geared to that exactly age group.  How else to appreciate jokes that began with: "Did you hear the one about the skeleton who went into a bar and ordered ..." (I'm not going to finish the joke ... IMHO the punch line alone is worth the price of admission to the movie ;-) or the ZOMBIE SHARKS !!! (OMG ... HOW UNBELIEVABLY COOL IS THAT :-) -- Sharknado meets the Walking Dead ;-).

The single unfortunate joke in question involved one of the main characters in the film, a 20-something young woman named Carina Smyth (played wonderfully by Kaya Scodelario) constantly accused of being "a witch" (Why a witch?, because she seemed way too smart and _self-educated_ for a young woman of her time) who kept repeating "I'm _not_ a witch, I'm an astronomer" (Why an astronomer?  Well, she was looking for her dad, who had left her as a 5-6 year-old at a portside orphanage somewhere in Britain with small ruby crystal hand and a small diary filled with star-maps presumably for navigation).  Well, there was a point in the film where protecting a fairly impressive time-piece from the dirty hands of dumb, inebriated pirates, she declared: "I'm not only an astronomer but also a horologist," (knowing something about time would have been very important for navigation back in that day...) to which, confused, one of the (male) pirates responded, "I think my mother was one too, but I don't think she was as proud of it as you," and the rest of the pirates including the always-amiable if also ever-confused Jack Sparrow (played, of course, by Johnny Depp) continued with then with a series increasingly stupid / sophomoric, "horology" jokes.  Yes, it was clear that Sparrow's pirate friends were a bunch of drunk / goofball morons.  Yes, it was Clear as Day they didn't know what they were talking about.  But a not a few Parents may wince, to the glee of their 5-6-7-8 year old charges, just waiting to ask their parents: "What's an horologist?"  ("Someone who studied the characteristics of Time (back in the 18th century) my child" -- and you'd be right ... but ... of course, somehow the title seems "dirtier" than that ;-)

But if you can get past that dumb joke (indeed a bunched-up series of jokes) the film is honestly a joy, both poking fun at the various characters and ... tying loose ends together: Obviously, somebody from the original cast was Carina's father... And there was another character Henry (played by Brenton Thwaites) who was also trying to do something for his long "lost at sea" dad ... Finally both Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly make (necessarily older) in-character cameo appearances in the film, as does Goeffrey Rush, who actually has a more extensive role in this film.

So over all, I have to say that I really quite enjoyed this 2 hour excursion into "5-6-7-8 year old land." I do wish that the above mentioned joke was not part of the film, but the other jokes / gags were more than worth the price of admission.  So over all very good job Maties! Very good job ;-)

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Alien: Covenant [2017]

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

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

Alien: Covenant [2017] (directed by Ridley Scott, screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper, story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green based on characters by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett) continues a continues the franchise's 40-or-so year quite fascinating, often monstrously "detached" and at times flagrantly subversive _critique_ of what would seem at least initially to be unassailable: Life, Reproduction, here in this film Creation (the act of creating) in general.

Okay, one could begin by stating that Life and its Growth / Expansion is by definition Good.  Well, from its very beginning, the Alien series proposes a counter-example:

What of a REALLY UGLY / VIRULENT (at some point, any/all sense of "beauty" becomes "inefficient") organism -- a giant, fanged, acidic-saliva dripping, beetle-like monster with a lizard/scorpion-like tail (used as both a weapon and as a means of propulsion) -- whose ONLY DRIVE appears to be to SURVIVE, THRIVE and REPLICATE (MAKE MORE OF) ITSELF (following all manner of stunningly hideous if ever efficient pathways -- from eggs to spores, from sexual to asexual, from carnivorous to parasitic).

Indeed, Ridley Scott's Alien monster is like a hideous "Swiss Army Knife" of Survival a living embodiment of the "Genesis Torpedo" that the Klingons were so afraid of in Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock [1984] (to mix alternative sci-fi universes).

The question that the current, eighth in the series, Alien movie seeks to address is: Who would create such a monstrous monster?  The answer given in this film is clever and as has been always the case in the Alien series, not _entirely_ subversive of traditional (Christian) religion.

As generally the case with the Alien series, a quite thought-provoking if also "jump-from-your-seats" Sci-Fi horror film.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword [2017]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) (2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (1 3/4 Stars)

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

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword [2017] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Guy Ritchie along with Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram, story by Joby Harold and David Dobkin) while perhaps "okay" as _simply_ ANOTHER "sword-and-sorcery adventure film" with poor King Arthur's "brand name" _pasted_  to it to "up sales," those of us who've spent a fair amount of time in our younger days actually researching (as teenagers / young adults do, or used to do...) the Arthurian Legends will find this current cinematic concoction anywhere from disappointing to outright offensive.

Yet, the opening scene of the film literally "throws down the gantlet" to Viewers (who've just paid $10-15 to see the film...): Arthur's father, Uther Pendragon [wikip] [IMDb] (played in this film by Eric Bana), is seen leading the defense of his LOTR-esque hillside citadel of Camelot [wikip] before an onslaught of GIANT / FEARSOME (200-300 foot tall) BATTLE ELEPHANTS (!!??) conjured up by the (in-this-film largely unseen but...) Evil Mage / Arthurian nemesis Mordred [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the film apparently by Rob Knighton).   

"GIANT / FEARSOME (200-300 foot tall) BATTLE ELEPHANTS (!!??) attacking CAMELOT (!!??), HOW'D THEY EVER GET (T)HERE?"  Well, ever fainting Aunt 'Pittipat' Hamilton (of Gone With the Wind [1939] fame...) the Carthaginian general Hannibal _did_ invade Roman-era Italy from Carthaginian Spain in the Second Punic War by famously crossing the Alps with actual BATTLE ELEPHANTS some centuries earlier.  So the image isn't completely anachronistically insane.  But it is a real ... stretch ;-).

Yet this both AWESOME and APPALLING opening scene (which twists / conflates all kinds of actual historical bits, stories, and legends together) is THE KEY TO THE FILM.  If the Viewer can get past this opening scene (and not walk-out...) one will probably stay for the rest.  It should be clear however, that this (re)telling of Arthur's story is a _sovereign entity_, its inventors clearly not caring to be bound by past tellings of the story or form.

And so we see young / future King Arthur being sent down (Moses style ...) by small cast-away boat from (legendary) Camelot to ... Londonium (London's actual name in Romano-British times) after his parents are murdered by Uther's Evil / duplicious (Loki-like) brother Vortigern (played by Jude Law), where he's raised in a brothel and makes friends with a TOTALLY ANACHRONISTIC (but kinda cool) CHINESE (!!??) dockworker / martial-arts bad-a named ... George (played by Tom Wu).

Eventually the late-20 / 30-something Arthur (played by Charlie Hunnam) comes to recognize his calling to reclaim his destiny as the rightful heir to the THRONE OF "ENGLAND" (!!??) -- whatever questions historians have had in their various attempts to search for the "Historical Arthur" in Legend, ALL ARE CERTAIN that "Arthur" would have been a Romano-British leader WHO ACTUALLY FOUGHT AGAINST THE ENCROACHMENTS OF INCOMING ANGLO-SAXONS (!!), hence why the oldest versions of the Arthurian legends come from the WELSH (of Western Britain) and the BRETON REFUGEES who settled after the establishment of Anglo-Saxon dominance over much of Britain in what is today (FRENCH) BRITTANY -- and much, much (sword / sorcery fighting) ensues ... 

Catholic / Christian viewers would also find it surprising (to appalling...) to see the COMPLETE EXPUNGING of Christianity from the current story. This is despite the simple reality that Roman Britain was very much Christian by the time of the "historical Arthur" with clearly the continued / still recent presence of Celtic Paganism personified in the presence of wizard / druid Merlin in the  Arthurian Legends ... Indeed, the Romano-British St. Patrick [wikip] (!!) who evangelized Ireland would have arguably lived before or been a contemporary of the "historical Arthur." And then Sir Thomas Mallory's [wikip] late 1400s Le Morte d'Arthur [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn], which I read as a bright-eyed enthusiastic 20 year-old, is practically a Catholic / future High Church Anglican devotional piece.

This simultaneously dumbed-down / anything-goes (dare-one-say "Trumpian"...) approach to the Arthurian Legends makes for a rather _silly_ story that still, on the whole remains reasonably entertaining (if one is willing to accept the knee-jerk expunging of Christianity from the story, this despite the inclusion of just about _everything else_ from GIANT 200 FOOT TALL CONJURED UP WAR ELEPHANTS to WILDLY ANACHRONISTIC CHINESE MARTIAL-ARTS EXPERTS).

Perhaps the best way to understand the film is to see it as doing to the Arthurian legends what the recent Robert Downey Jr starring Sherlock Holmes films did to the original Sherlock Holmes canon and the recent Chris Pine starring Star Trek films did to the Gene Roddenberry originals.

And Dear Readers, if you don't see the above characterization as much of a compliment, well, you get my point and ... have been ... warned ;-/

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Snatched [2017]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L) (2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Snatched [2017] (directed by Jonathan Levine, screenplay by Katie Dippold) is an appropriately R-rated (definitely not for little kids) MOTHER-DAUGHTER comedy about a really ill-conceived trip to a "Club-Med-ish" resort in Ecuador.  Why Ecuador?  It's not really explained, but presumably because the trip was relatively cheap and sounded "kinda (eco)-exotic" to should-be grown, but not really (not by a long shot) early 20-something daughter Emily (played actually quite well in her trademark self-effacing "Trainwreck [2015]" style by Amy Schumer).

Things inevitably go terribly wrong in "Act 2", but this allows Emily and her 40-something, long-divorced (and long depressed) ma' Linda (played by Goldie Hawn) to "really bond" for the first-time in years.  Even long dismissed (as a basket case) of a brother Jeffrey (played by Ike Barinholtz) _kinda_ "comes through" to _help_ save the two after Emily inevitably gets them in trouble (though the vast majority of the "saving" comes from Emily / Ma' themselves).

So it's not a terrible movie.  Indeed, often it's quite funny and it's often quite self-deprecating which gives movies like this some soul. 

Okay most of us are not going find ourselves kidnapped by a band of local drug / sex traffickers working-out of the jungle border/hinterlands of Ecuador / Colombia.  But the clueless arrogance of the two lead characters (especially Emily) are certainly relateable, perhaps even endearing.   Hence it's not an altogether terrible Mother Day movie, though certainly for mid-teens and above.  Indeed, it may produce a conversation or two and perhaps even a hug ;-).

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Monday, May 8, 2017

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion [2017]

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

IMDb listing listing

Hindustan Times (D. Sinha) review
The Hindu (S.D. Dundoo) review
Indian Express (S. Gupta) review
Times of India (M. Iyer) review

The Guardian (M. McCahill) review (M. Javali) review

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion [2017] [IMDb] [FiBt] (screenplay and directed by S.S. Rajamouli [IMDb] [FiBt], story by Vijayendra Prasad, [IMDb], Malayalam dialogue by Mankombu Gopalakrishnan [IMDb], Tamil dialogue by Madhan Karky [IMDb], Telugu dialogue by C.H. Vijay Kumar [IMDb] and Hindi dialogue by Manoj Muntashir [IMDb]) was probably the most anticipated INDIAN BLOCKBUSTER RELEASE in HISTORY and at least in terms of Box Office figures, it certainly did not disappoint.  Two weeks since its release it already has become the most successful Indian film in history, and even in the U.S. it shocked many observers as the weekend that it opened it ranked #3 in American box office sales (beating the Tom Hanks / Emma Watson starring film The Circle [2017]) and even the second week out it still landed #7 in American box office sales.  Wow!

Yet, to be truthful, I found Part 1, Baahubali: The Beginning [2015], an almost "Indian Thor [2011]-like" film (with which I began my 2016 Indian Film Tour last June) to be far more interesting.  The current film, which features EXTENDED (going on and on and on...) if admittedly AWESOME medieval style battle scenes, best resembles the final installment of the three part Hobbit series The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies [2014], or perhaps the Spartan Era 300 [2006].

That said, I suspect that many Western viewers will watch much of the film with jaws dropped, wondering ... HOW THE HECK did such a culturally / technologically advanced country as Silk Road / Medieval era India ever fall under the boot of the British (or otherwise European) colonization?  (There's obviously a complicated history there involving the reality that India was not a single country but rather a civilization / cultural unit comprised of many competing states who the Brits / other European states played against each other).

So while perhaps not even the best of these epic Indian films -- I liked Bajirao Mastani [2015] (available on various mainstream streaming platforms at a reasonable price) to be the best of the current Indian films of this genre -- I really do believe that seeing a film like this could change one's life.  A non-Indian would never be able to look at India the same way again.  In that regard, a simply AWESOME film!  

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2017 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival

Of the films that played recently at the 2017 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, that played recently in various theaters across Los Angeles and Orange County, I was able to view and review the following:

Tokyo Idols [2017] [IMDb] (written and directed by Kyoko Miyake [IMDb]) is a fascinating if really quite disturbing documentary about a seamy and, yes, quite _creepy_ contemporary Japanese pop-culture phenomenon: groups of grown-men, from their twenties and into their fifties / sixties latching themselves to teenage to early twenty-something young women who these men follow and arguably "worship" as "idols."  To a certain extent, the phenomenon resembles "soccer worship" in Europe where groups of fanatical sports fans have devised complex pre-game, during-the-game and post-game rituals to express their "devotion" to their particular team, who then follow their teams _fanatically_ across their country / the world and yes, to most North Americans cross a line from simple fandom into disturbing (and in the case of soccer, violent) devotion.  
The focus of adoration followed in the documentary here, far more explicitly sexualized (though still kept arguably at a PG-13 level, which is in itself quite strange), is on individual teenage girls / to twenty-something young women who often do "self-promote" (the documentary spends much of its time focused on a 19-y.o. woman with a stage name Rio who lives at home and whose parents, father a masseur, mother a nice basically content homemaker are basically _fine_ with what she does).

Why would this phenomenon (this arguably "half-chaste" _perversion_) exist?   It is just weird and the documentary actually does _not_ endorse it.  Indeed, it features primarily a Japanese feminist commentator who repeatedly points-out that this phenomenon is based on (Japanese) socially accepted male privilege and promotes "male laziness." Exasperated, the commentator notes at one point: "Look, these men don't even try to get a wife or girlfriend anymore.  They just follow one or another of these idols."  And even some of the male "devotees" note (with some sheepish embarrassment) that this phenomenon is contributing now to Japan's ridiculously low birthrate.   

Why note this film here?  Well, the film could actually be a very interesting avenue into opening discussion into the distorting effect of the more world-wide phenomenon of internet pornography.  For the commentator's condemnation of Japanese modern-day "idol worship" could _easily_ be applied to the more world-wide phenomenon of internet porn:  Again, why bother to even try to make oneself attractive enough to attract a real significant other when one can just sit back and bury oneself in hours upon hours of internet porn?  A fascinating if disturbing documentary - 3 1/2 Stars.

King of Peking [2016] (written and directed by Sam Vautas [IMDb]) is a lovely "Nuovo Cinema Paradiso [1988]"-like film about a 40-something father, Big Wong (played by Jun Zhao) and his 10 y.o. son, Little Wong (played by Wang Naixun) -- "Wong" meaning "King" in Mandarin Chinese -- two random Beijing-of- the-early-1990s hucksters (only a few years actually after Tienanmen...) who helped through their initiative (basically they learned how to pirate and copy movies...) bring "world cinema" (Hollywood films) "to the masses" ;-).  It's an endearing film.  Big Wong was basically nothing more than a common laborer who ... loved movies ;-), knew that others, if only they had the chance to see them, would love movies too ... and he and his quite imaginative / innovative son (as only a 10 year-old with some freedom to play / dream could be) "found a way to do so."  The director, a Westerner, but who grew-up in Beijing of the time, present at the screening, told the audience that the film was basically a love letter to the "Big and Little Wongs" of China of the time, who in all sorts of little / creative ways made China into what it has become today.  Great film! -- 4 Stars.

She's the Boss (orig. Ban Gai Toi La Sep) [2017] (directed by Ham Tran [IMDb]) is a very cute, contemporary Vietnamese Rom-Com.  Inspired by a Thai hit of some years back, ATM: Er Rak Error [2012] and set in rapidly re-modernizing Saigon of today, it's about a nominally forbidden office romance between two workers -- Oanh (played by Miu Le [IMDb]) and Cuong (played by Do An [IMDb]) -- in the accounting department of a large Saigon-based bank, who are sent out "into the provinces" to "fix" a problem after a random ATM machine out there is accidentally mis-programmed to give-out 4x more cash than asked.  Needless to say, that ATM became a "big hit" in that random provincial town, but the two are tasked with finding a way to recover the cash that was accidentally given away.  Oanh is the more straight-laced boss, Cuong her boyfriend seems at least initially more clever, but both prove rather devious in their methods as they try to put this "genie back in the bottle."  Much ensues.  Certainly an endearing film throughout, the most fascinating aspect to the film for the American / Westerner would be how thoroughly modern Vietnam of today is portrayed.  One would think that one was in Singapore of today rather than "'Nam."  Fascinating and very light-hearted / fun! -- 4 Stars


Lipstick Under My Burkha [2016] [IMDb] [FiBt] (story, directed and screenplay cowritten by Alankrita Shrivastava [IMDb] [FiBt] along with Suhani Kanwar [IMDb], dialogue by Gazal Dhaliwal [IMDb]) BANNED in India (for reasons problematic yet perhaps "understandable" when one sees the film OPENED last month's Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles and PLAYED again as part of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (where I was able to see it).  Why would the film be BANNED in its home country?  EXCELLENT though it is --  a drama about the struggles of four contemporary Indian women, two Hindu, two Muslim, living basically "on the same block" in contemporary Bhopal (provincial), India -- one could EASILY IMAGINE how a film like this IN GENERAL RELEASE could cause riots in a large and precarious country like India today:  

 The youngest of the women, Rehana (played by Plabita Borthakur [IMDb]) is a Muslim college student who leaves her quite traditional home in a burka, and, of course, by the time she gets to campus, she's dressed like everybody else ... in jeans and a t-shirt.  Indeed, she's found the burka "useful" at times ... to shoplift ... among other things, said lipstick, in the film's title.  

Among Rehana's neighbors is a still relatively young Muslim mother / wife Shirin (played by Konkona Sen Sharma [IMDb] [FiBt]) with three little boys (and also having had already three other abortions) who, since the family has been struggling (her husband's often "away" on jobs "in Saudi Arabia") has found a way to "make ends meet" ... by finding a job (without her husband knowing it) a job that she's actually quite good at.  However, since her husband doesn't know that she has a job, accepting "matter-of-course promotions" (for a job well done) becomes a real challenge... (all the more so, when one considers that her husband is struggling _at his job_).   

Yet, lest one think that the film is merely "highlighting the plight of Muslim women" (and thus somehow "picking on Muslims") another twenty-something neighbor, Leela (played by Aahana Kumra [IMDb]) finds herself in another drama.  She is in love (and quite sexually active) with a young-but-poor photographer but engaged through an arranged-marriage-to-be to another.  It's not that her fiance' is a bad guy.  He's not, but the marriage is arranged, she does not love him.  And yes, compared to photog, he's really quite boring.  So why doesn't she just run-off with the photog?  Well, it's not that easy.  Her mother, perhaps widowed, perhaps divorced, but certainly no longer marriageable and single, is depending on her only daughter to "marry well." 

Finally, there's Leela's 50 or even 60-something "auntie" named Usha (played by Ratna Pathak [IMDb] [FiBt]) long widowed, long considered in the society to be "way past her marriageable, let alone sexual, expiration date" ... who finds herself nonetheless reading / liking "romance novels" because ... well ... she's NOT DEAD YET ;-).
And so the film is about these four women, all "living on the same block" though not necessarily particularly close (at least initially).  Why not particularly close?  Well, they may have been "living on the same block" but they're also living quite quietly "in their own particular hells."   Yet, of course, circumstances do make their stories intertwine.

Is there a resolution to any of these four women's difficulties?  No, not really.  However, the film does point out quite well, quite starkly, the problems and societal injustices that these four "everywomen" face.

Without a doubt, THIS IS AN EXCELLENT FILM.  It reminds one of the recent French-Turkish Oscar nominee Mustang [2015], and perhaps even of the American feminist classic Thelma & Louise [1991].  Again, it does not resolve ANYTHING but ... IT CERTAINLY IDENTIFIES / NAMES a FAIR NUMBER OF THE PROBLEMS facing women in INDIA, throughout much of South Asia and, if one is honest, throughout much of the world as a whole as well.  

Yes, I could imagine a film like this "causing riots" in a place like India today.  Yet, what a discussion piece! -- 4+ Stars

 Gook [2017] (written and directed by Justin Chon) is a brave / sincere if perhaps _still incendiary_ film about the 1992 Los Angeles Riots from a then 20-something Korean young adult's perspective.  Justin Chon plays Eli, said 20-something Korean-American young adult, who along with his similarly aged brother Daniel (played by David So) run a never entirely "above board" discount shoe store at the then far north eastern edge of L.A.'s Koreatown at the time of the 1992 L.A. Riots.  (Note Dear Readers that I would actually know somewhat the neighborhood, as I lived -- as a 20-something Caucasian American -- in and around Koreatown and its neighboring neighborhoods when I was a grad-student at U.S.C. at the very same time).

The two were running the shoe store largely in memory of their dad, who had founded the store, but had been murdered (along with an African American cashier) in a hold-up some years earlier.  Kamila (played by Simone Baker), the cute-as-a button 8-10 year old daughter of the fallen cashier, remains a daily visitor to said store (indeed, she often ditches school to hang out there), largely because the small shack of a store (overlooking presumably the 101 or perhaps 5 Freeway, just north of Downtown) is the strongest connection to the mother she never really knew (Kamila's being raised by her older brother and sister) who still live in the neighborhood.

Well, it's April 29, 1992 and the verdict of the four police officers accused of beating Rodney King comes in -- all four declared largely innocent of the charges against them -- and the city soon explodes, eventually, inevitably reaching said store.

Dear Readers, this is an honest, nuanced and complicated film.  Where it does perhaps come _too close to home_, however, is when something inevitably happens to Kamila, the cute as a button African-American 8 year old.  The problem here is that PART OF THE REASON that L.A. Riots played out the way that they did -- as, among other things, a virtual pogrom against the Korean American shopkeeper community in L.A. -- was that THERE WAS A TRIAL PREVIOUS TO THE ONE REGARDING THE COPS WHO BEAT RODNEY KING.  In that other trial, of Soon Ja Du a Korean American woman shopkeeper who shot dead Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old African American girl, in a tragically confused confrontation, though convicted of voluntary manslaughter, the Soon Ja Du did not receive any jail time, which _nearly_ produced rioting then, if not for the intervention of many African American leaders in L.A. including _many clergy_ who pleaded for calm.   Since the city was already primed for an explosion from that trial, the not-guilty verdicts from the trial of the four cops who beat Rodney King, set the city on fire.  Anyway, the tragedy that visits cute-as-a-button Kamila in this story, COMES REALLY CLOSE to the tragic death of Latasha Harlins and though ever sensitively done, _may_ just be too much for many African American viewers, even today to bear.

Anyway, one thing I have to say about the 2017 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival is that, oh my, this Festival did not flinch from all kinds of explosive topics (many already recalled above).  I would ask that Readers here take this into account in forming their opinions of this film, and (with some trepidation) I WOULD LIKE TO APPLAUD THE COURAGE of this Festival's organizers.  Film Festivals are _often_ forums for the screening of some very brave films.  I just want to say here that this year's 2017 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival was truly exemplary in this regard. -- 4 Stars (for both the current Film and the Festival itself).  Great job!

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Friday, May 5, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 [2017]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (1 1/2 Stars)

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

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 [2017] (screenplay and directed by James Gunn, inspired by the Marvel Comics comic book series [MarvU] [wikip 1969 2008] of the same name) which OPENED to ENTHUSIASTIC crowds worldwide, CONTINUED the whimsical tale of abducted-as-a-child earthling Peter Quill a.k.a. "Star Lord" (played by Chris Pratt) and his band of misfits who became by the end of the first installment "The Guardians of the Galaxy" AND ... beh ... I throw-up my hands and sigh.

It's a cute, even at times _adorable_, movie (witness purportedly Vin Diesel's tree-like "Baby Groot" though the character is animated and "Groot" really HAS NO LINES, so what exactly does Vin Diesel "do" in "playing" him ;-).  But get past the "adorable schmuckishness" of the film, what's left?

IMHO not much, 'cept perhaps if you ... hate your family.  Zoe Saldana's "abused since even before her birth" (she had been genetically engineered to be a heartless warrior) Gamora (not exactly the most Judeo-Christian friendliest of names ...) turns out to have a sister Nebulah (played by Karen Gillan) who really, really hates her (in good part for what their father did to both of them).  And then Peter Quill's, yes "GOD-like" Father (literally named Ego) (played by Kurt Russell) turns out to be a real D...

So ... "Joyful, Joyful we adore Thee ..."

Yes, this is a cute movie, but it's also "really kinda evil..." I suppose a lot of Hollywood stars come from really messed-up families (indeed, it may serve as the underlying reason for their drive to "get known"), but more than pretty much any other Marvel Comics story to date, there's a real "your family are your friends" / "your real family will mess you up" message in this story that may surprise a lot of Viewers who thought they were coming to a movie that was just gonna entertain them. 

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