Saturday, July 15, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review


War for the Planet of the Apes [2017] (directed and cowritten by Mark Reeves along with Mark Bomback based on the characters created by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver), block-bustery though it is, is not exactly (the recent) "Spider-Man" ;-), neither is it intended to be.  So Dear Readers, if you think that you can "put aside your mind" as you watch this film, smiling from ear-to-ear with a big tub of popcorn in your lap, that's probably not going to happen.  That will probably disappoint / anger some, while others will make the best of it, saying to themselves "Okay, this is not a pure entertainment flick, let me then try to reflect on what the film-makers are trying to say."

The current film, the third of a series of "prequels" [1] [2] to the famed 1960s-70s era Planet of the Apes [wikip] [IMDb] film-franchise inspired by the novel (1963) [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by French author Pierre Boulle [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb], explores the Rise of a new Civilization of the Apes (as well as the simultaneous / corresponding collapse of the Human one): It would have had to have been an "Apocalypse" -- or as a graffiti in the current film declares it to have been an "Ape-ocalypse" ;-).  Postulated in this series of prequels is a human Mass Extinction Event brought about by a viral "simian flu" which simultaneously killed the vast majority of humans while greatly increasing the capacities of Apes (allowing them to walk erect as well as develop true language -- some Apes in the current film were able to speak while most others could communicate by means of a by now well-developed sign language).

The current film is set in that transitional period when the numbers of both remaining humans and (rising) intelligent apes were small.  The resulting _lack of noise_ (because of a _lack of a lot of people_ (and still a relatively small number of intelligent, but mostly sign-language communicating, apes) is probably the _most memorable aspect_ of this film.  (It will also be the aspect of the film that will probably most frustrate casual Viewers...).

That much of the film takes place _in winter_ in and around a human citadel based up in California's (High) Sierras adds to THE COLDNESS / DREARINESS of the Time -- one Civilization was Dying and another completely different one was Rising.

The Human Citadel in question had apparently been intended to be a "quarantine facility" for first "infected humans" but had been converted instead into "a safe zone" for those (few) humans who were not.  The few crazed but highly armed humans who lived there were making their "last stand" and ... in as much out of weakness / dread as out of their (remaining) strength (the humans were still heavily armed while the apes were not), the crazed humans there, led by a head-shaven former "Special Forces" Colonel (played quite realistically by Woody Harrelson in a manner clearly intended to evoke Marlon Brando's portrayal of the crazed Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now [1979]) ran the Citadel as a "Gulag-like" "Ape Concentration Camp" (as a last gasp effort to "keep the (rising) Apes down").

I don't think that it's much of a Spoiler to tell Readers here that this "last gasp effort" (to keep the Apes down) did not succeed ... And a fascinating final "Act of God" (or at least Act of Nature...)  finally settles the Story.

It's all very remarkable, if DEFINITELY NOT simple "Blockbuster Fare" ;-).

Striking to me, though I _don't_ think it was directly intended, is that the "Ape-ocalypse" presented in this recent series of films plays out in quite similar fashion to the European Conquest of the Americas:

After all, it's becoming increasingly clear (as per a remarkable book called 1491 by Charles C. Mann) that what happened to most of the Native Peoples in the Americas (and did not happen the same way in Africa or Asia) was that the Native Peoples of the Americas were, above all, _decimated_ (reduced to 1/10 their strength) by the _inadvertant_ arrival of European-brought DISEASE (mostly small-pox) and that, only _afterward_, the remaining Aztecs or Incas were not capable of putting up an effective resistance to encroaching Europeans. (In contrast, the Native Peoples / Civilizations of Africa to say nothing of South / East Asia were not destroyed in the same way.  Yes, many were conquered and endured decades or even (a few) centuries of Colonial rule, BUT ... the native peoples of Africa / Asia didn't disappear completely as they largely did in large parts of the Americas).

In the current series of films, the successful Rise of the Apes comes about only after the decimation of Humanity by a (similar) plague ...

Again, fascinating, thought-provoking, but ... not exactly what one would expect to contemplate after a "light" summer movie ;-).  Good job, I think ;-)


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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Spider-man: Homecoming [2017]

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

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

I came to Spider-man: Homecoming [2017] (directed and screenplay co-written by Jon Watts along with Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, screen story by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley based on Marvel comics' Spider-Man [Wiki] created by Stan Lee [IMDb] and Steve Ditko [IMDb]) wondering WHY there'd be a need for a full reboot of this superhero (sub)franchise for the third time in fifteen-years (!) and left once again _in awe_ of Marvel Comics' (since 2009 a Disney Company) vision / humor and wisdom.  They pulled it off: This film both "moved the ball" in the MC's Avenger story / Universe and, even on its own, "deserved to be made."

What do I mean?  After last year's Captain America: Civil War [2016], I complained ("mildly" I recall ;-) to my friend of 40+ years from high school and my go to expert on "all things Comics" that I was getting tired of the ridiculous amount of destruction left behind by the various battles in the Superhero films, and he replied that _already decades ago_ Marvel Comics had an answer to this problem -- a line of comic books about a company called "Damage Control" [MC] [wikip] which specialized in "fixing things" after a bout between superheroes / supervillains ;-).

SO ... this film BEGINS (it would seem) in the aftermath of the first full Avengers [2012] movie after a thwarted Loki (brother of Thor...) led alien invasion of New York.  A quite sympathetic (and quite  _local_ contractor) named Adrian Toomes [MC] [IMDb] (played wonderfully by Michael Keaton) had run-around and gotten the contracts _from the city_ to start "cleaning-up the mess" when "the Feds" (with troops) roll-in, tell him and his people "to step away from the rubble" (which, of course, included _alien technology_) and tell them "not to worry about the damage" to the city anymore as a company called DAMAGE CONTROL [MC] [wikip] had been contracted "to fix things."  Adrian Toomes pleaded with the commanding officer in charge, telling her "I sank everything I've ever had into getting this contract from the city."  But to no avail, "the Feds" have decided.

When the previously mild-mannered if perhaps hustling Toomes sees that "Damage Control" is "a division of Stark Industries" (Tony Stark played by Robert Downey, Jr is Iron Man [MC] [IMDb], one of the Avengers [MC] [wikip]) he is disgusted and tells his colleagues: "PERFECT, first these people destroy our city and then _they_ hire themselves to rebuild it ..."  Toomes orders his people to keep hidden at least a truckload or two of alien debris that that they had collected... and ... he's soon on his way to become a scrappy if enterprising local super-villain who comes to be known as "TheVulture" [MC] [IMDb] building contraband super-weapons from the "scraps" of alien technology that he's able to get his hands on before Stark Industries' "Damage Control" does.

Enter the similarly quite local (and teenage) Peter Parker (aka Spiderman) [MC] [IMDb] (played by Tom Holland) who though still "a sophomore in high school" (in my recollection, the worst / most boring year of High School's four ;-) has "an internship" with Stark Industries.  Something of a "nerd" and certainly socially awkward, he notices some rather strange things happening in his neighborhood -- a local heist which utilized strangely sophisticated (out-of-this-world) tools / weaponry.  He reports this to Tony Stark [MC] [IMDb] / the good folks at Stark Industries, who, of course, ignore him (he's just a teenager, after all...).  Well, of course, much further ensues ...

But ... Peter, is of course, a teen.  So ... ;-) ... while spending his "off time" with "Saving the World" (or at least "Saving / Protecting his Neighborhood" ;-), he has a normal teenager's life with normal teenage concerns / pursuits.  Did I mention that he was "kinda a nerd"?   But add to that, since he had that "internship with Stark Industries," and then ON HIS OWN spent a good part of his remaining off time "Saving / Protecting his neighborhood" THAT'S A LOT ON ONE'S PLATE FOR A TEENAGER ... and hence ... still lacking _super human_ "time management skills" ... he's OFTEN LATE for the various functions that he's part of.  And in typical teenage fashion, he suffers for this: Those who already don't like him make fun of him for this, and those who do like him are consternated when he does not show-up on time (or doesn't show up at all...) for his commitments.  High School ;-).

But he's not totally alone.  He's being raised by A BRILLIANTLY RE-IMAGINED still mid-40 something May Parker [MC] [wikip] [IMDb] (played simply BRILLIANTLY by Marisa Tomei).  He also has a BEST FRIEND, Ned [wikip] (played wonderfully by Jason Batalon) presented here as vaguely Asian Pacific and he A DEEP CRUSH on Liz Allan [wikip] (played again wonderfully by Laura Harrier) a bright, beautiful, popular girl, here presented as African American and portrayed as having her own insecurities -- she's "a bit tall."

I LOVE WHAT MARVEL COMICS DOES WITH ITS CHARACTERS.  Every one of these characters, May, Ned and Liz, I KNOW.  Plus, I can not but APPLAUD Marvel Comics' decision here to widen the ethnic / racial mix.  The Spiderman story plays out in QUEENS, New York, one of the most diverse parts of the most diverse city in the country.  HOW WONDERFUL IT IS THAT MARVEL / DISNEY have _chosen_ to portray this diversity _RIGHT_ and give ALL CHILDREN, both in the United States AND BEYOND a chance to _see a bit of themselves_ in the story.

Much then plays out ... all WONDERFULLY APPROPRIATE _TEENAGE FARE_ often done with a smile (Captain America [MC] [IMDb], another "once local boy" played by Chris Evans, shows up _repeatedly_, appropriately and amusingly throughout ;-)

Again, I left the movie and finish writing my review ... in awe.  Simply a great, great job!


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Friday, July 7, 2017

The Big Sick [2017]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB ()  RogerEbert.com (3 1/2 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 (A.A. Dowd) review


The Big Sick [2017] (directed by Michael Showalter, screenplay by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani) is a crowd-pleasing (and at times challenging) contemporary romantic dramedy that actually tells the story, okay somewhat fictionalized, of "When Kumail met Emily" ;-) -- the film tells the story of how the film's screenwriters met, fell in love and eventually married.

Kumail Nanjiani plays himself, Emily's role is played quite wonderfully by Zoe Kazan.  The challenge of the story to North American audiences is that Kumail is, of course, a Pakistani-American, while Emily is native born and white.  So viewers are reminded, repeatedly, of the quite literally pre-judices that Kumail faces in day-to-day life.  In one instance, when asked _yet again_ what he thinks of 9/11, exasperated, Kumail, a comedian both in the film and in real life, responds: "Yes, it was a tragedy.  We lost nineteen of our best people that day..." ;-) AND THEN HAS TO EXPLAIN (QUICKLY) THAT HE WAS JUST KIDDING, that OF COURSE the tragedy was that thousands of people, overwhelmingly Americans were senselessly murdered by those 19 terrorists.

But to its credit (on multiple levels, including simply a much needed _informative_ one) the film ALSO presents the expectations / prejudices that existed in Kumail's own home: Kumail's parents and especially _his mother_ (played wonderfully by Zenobia Shroff) simply expected him to marry the PAKISTANI WAY (by arranged marriage).  And since Kumail's family was quite wealthy ... the parade of eligible young Pakistani women that Kumail's mother was constantly inviting over to their home for Kumail to meet was _not_ exactly "bottom of the barrel."  These were attractive, educated, young women from similarly wealthy Pakistani-American families wanting their daughters to also marry well.  But there certainly was a prejudice in the culture against "marriage for love" which was quite clearly being dismissed as "marriage for lust."  Interesting.

Anyway, much takes place in the story of Kumail's and Emily's romance.  And it was actually Emily's parents (played wonderfully by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.  If the Academy chose to be brave this year, Holly Hunter honestly deserves a look for a Best Supporting Actress nomination) who, if initially wary / distrustful of Kumail's presence / intentions, come around to his defense.  Kumail's parents are the ones who seem to dismiss even the possibility that their son marrying outside their ethnicity / religion (as Pakistanis, they were, of course, Muslim) could be a good thing.

So honestly this is a contemporary dramedy, aimed at millennials and their parents, that seriously "moves the ball" in Western / Muslim dialogue.

Honestly a brave and good job!


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Monday, July 3, 2017

13 Minutes (orig. Elser) [2015]

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

IMDb listing

Zeit.de (M. Schwickert) interview w. director*

SuddeutscheZeitung.de (M. Knoben) review*
FAZ.net (A. Kilb) review*
Spiegel.de (B. Moldenhauer) review*
Welt.de (B. Möller) review*

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


13 Minutes (orig. Elser) [2015] (directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, screenplay by Léonie-Claire Breinersdorfer and Fred Breinersdorfer) tells the sad story of Georg Elser [de.wikip]*[en.wikip] (played in the film by Christian Friedel) a random somewhat solitary carpenter / machine shop worker (something of a mix of Edward Snowden and Lee Harvey Oswald ...) from small town Bavaria who came to the conclusion that the Nazi leadership must die and on Nov 8, 1939 (a few months after the Nazi invasion of Poland with which World War II began) came within thirteen minutes of blowing Hitler up at a Nazi rally at the Bürgerbräukeller [de.wikip]*[en.wikip] in Munich .  A large beer hall, the Bürgerbräukeller had been ground zero of Hitler's failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch and hence had become something of a Nazi shrine, the site of solemn annual tributes and commemorations during the whole of the Nazi Era.  Elser had hoped to blow-up Hitler along with a good part of the Nazi Leadership while Hitler was speaking at the 1939 edition of said commemorative event.

Both the genius and tragedy of Elser's attempt on Hitler's life was that Elser came BOTH _very close_ to getting his man (Hitler just happened to end his speech early that evening and had left the rally only thirteen minutes before the bomb went off) AND _nearly_ got away:  He was quite randomly picked-up at the relatively nearby border between Germany and Switzerland.  The German guard who had quite accidentally come-upon him had INITIALLY NO IDEA of the significance of the man he was arresting as the bomb that Elser had set, hidden in a column behind the speakers' podium at the Bürgerbräukeller, had not yet even gone off ....

Well, the bomb went off, and Elser had with him incriminating pictures / drawings of the Bürgerbräukeller linking him to the bomb plot ... (Sigh ... why hadn't he gotten rid of them?)

Soon he was being interrogated (and tortured ...) under the direction of Gestapo investigator Arthur Nebe [de.wikip]*[en.wikip] (played in the film by Burghart Klaußner) and the shadowy Gestapo co-head Heinrich Müller [de.wikip]*[en.wikip] (played in the film by Johann von Bülow).  Interestingly Arthur Nebe himself was executed in March, 1945 for his involvement in the July 1944 Claus von Stauffenberg Plot [de.wikip]*[en.wikip] against Hitler.  Heinrich Müller, in contrast, was last reported to have been seen in the Führerbunker [de.wikip]*[en.wikip] in Berlin on May 1, 1945 and remains the highest ranking Nazi to have neither been captured nor confirmed to have died at the end of the war.  He simply vanished.

Elser, for his part, was _not_ executed immediately after the Nazi interrogators "were done with him."  (It took a while for them to become convinced that he _really did_ "act alone").  Instead, he spent most of the war in the Dachau Concentration Camp [de.wikip]*[en.wikip] where he was executed in the closing weeks of the war.

The film really offers a quite fascinating picture of a complex (and contradictory...) "simple man" who _nearly_ did the world an enormous favor by _nearly_ getting rid of one of the most Evil figures in human history.

But that _may be_ the point of Elser's tragic story.  It / HE wasn't enough ...


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Saturday, July 1, 2017

The House [2017]

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

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


The House [2017] (directed and cowritten by Andrew Jay Cohen along with Brendan O'Brien), crude / appropriately R-rated, could be described as Amy Poehler Parks & Recreation [2009-2015] mashed with every movie that Will Farrell has ever made.

The two play Kate and Scott Johansen proud-as-punch that their only daughter / mutual "best friend" (yup, kinda creepy) Alex (played wonderfully by Ryan Simpkins) got accepted to Stanford University-like "Bucknell U."  Loveble, kind, but not at all financially practical, of course, Kate and Scott have made NO PLANS WHATSOEVER to save-up for the big day when their Alex was gonna go off to school.  Instead, they were BANKING on "straight A" Alex getting a full-ride scholarship traditionally offered by their town.

But newly elected, pettily corrupt dweeb of a quiet suburban town mayor, "Bob" (played spot-on wonderfully by Nick Kroll) has decided to sink the town's funds into his pocket, err ... into a ridiculously elaborate (and probably never, ever to be built) "aquatic complex" (read glorified town swimming pool) instead.  When the Johansens protest this sudden and previously unannounced change in the town's practices, "Mayor Bob" puts the scholarship "for the Johansens and their 'smarty pants' daughter Alex ONLY" vs the ridiculously bright colored / elaborate "pie in the sky" "aquatic complex for _ALL_" to "a vote" ... and ...

What to do? ... Kate decides that she'll go back to work, but where ... she's been out of the workforce for years.  Scott decides to ask his generally amiable (but well versed in / exhausted with the petty assumptions of "white privilege") African American boss for a raise.  "Not a chance" the boss answers even before Scott finishes his question, (and in the film's out-takes shown at the end of the film, challenges Scott, "Okay, I'll give you a raise if you can name even ONE of my three lovely kids" (a proud picture of the boss and his smiling cute-as-a-button kids sits prominently on his desk, as it probably has FOR YEARS ;-)  Of course Scott CAN'T REMEMBER the name of EVEN ONE OF HIS BOSS' KIDS ;-).

So ... with little options ... the two get talked into a truly hair-brained scheme concocted by a friend named Frank (played wonderfully in bug-eyed fashion by Jason Mantzoukas) whose wife was leaving him and was in the midst losing his house BECAUSE OF A GAMBLING ADDICTION to go in with him on running AN ILLEGAL CASINO out of his house because ... as EVERYBODY KNOWS ... "The House ALWAYS wins" ;-)

Much, often in quite hilarious "Suburban Goodfellas" fashion, ensues ... ;-)

This is a movie that hasn't exactly gotten "much love" from the critics (above) but I do have a soft spot for these "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" style of films ;-).  Exaggerated as the film may have been, _every one of characters_ in this film could have easily been a parishioner ;-).

SO... obviously DON'T DO WHAT THE JOHANSENS DID AT HOME ... ;-) ... and parents remember that this is an R-rated movie but ... when the kids are asleep or on date night ... enjoy the film ;-).  Yes, things can be worse ... ;-)


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