Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Leap! (orig. Ballerina) [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review
RogerEbert.com (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

Leap! (orig. Ballerina) [2016] (directed by Éric Summer and Éric Warin, screenplay by Éric Summer, Laurent Zeitoun and Carol Noble, original story by Éric Summer and Laurent Zeitoun) an French / French Canadian (Quebecois) animated film, along with the Japanese animated film In This Corner of the World [2016] also recently released in the United States, offers American audiences a glimpse into another culture (in this case French), its humor and its (artistic) priorities.

The current film is set in France of the late 1870s-1880s.  Felicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) along with her fellow orphan BFF Victor (voiced by Dane DeHaan) flee their timeless, ancient (and presumably Catholic) orphanage by the sea in rural Brittany to pursue their dreams in Paris of the Belle Époque, that is when Gustave Eiffel was building the famous tower that would become the city's emblem and when the Statue of Liberty was being built as a gift to the United States.  Felicie wants to be ballerina, Victor an inventor.  Many difficulties / adventures await them when they make it the City of Light ...

The plot is quite predictable and thin: Felicie is after all a poor orphan from Brittany and here she wants to "make it" as a ballerina (and without any previous formal training) in probably the most class (and certainly _form_) conscious city in the world at the time.

But France had had a number of tastes of "Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité" over the course of the century that followed its Revolution.  So she is not without hope.  She finds people who do come to help her, notably a 30-something cleaning lady named Odette (voiced by Carly Rae Jeppson) who could both empathize with the aspirations of the barely teenage Felicie and _could actually help her_.  Even the otherwise impossibly strict ballet instructor Mérante (voiced by Terrence Scammell) at Paris' premier Ballet, perhaps because he was sooo impossibly strict, has learned to put aside mere consideration of class and has instead focused _his attention_ on his charges' actual output / performances.  (Yes, he demands nearly impossible perfection, but at least it's perfection that he's after and not merely keeping "class privilege" in tact.  In his new world view, a poor person with drive / talent finally "has a chance...").

Still the humor of the film, _very French_, expresses if with a smile, the previous reality when one's lives had been largely predetermined, indeed all but "set in stone," right from birth (and Dear Readers remember here that Felicie was left as a baby in front of an orphanage out in the middle of "nowhere" that is to say, Brittany).  "Oh come on, smile, it's not hopeless," one of Felicie's young ballerina companions tries to reassure her.  "No, no, no, this may be exactly one time when it still is," another tries to "bring her down to earth" / "crush her" but _gently_ ;-).

Contemporary viewers (and particularly Americans) may wince at the seemingly cruel put-downs, but are then invited to better appreciate the times.  We live in a time when almost everything seems possible.  Back then, that was just _starting_ to become the case.

Anyway, though the story is wafer thin, the art and its overall message -- don't give up -- are not.  Viewers are treated to a lovely if exaggerated view of Paris of the 1880s, and the ballet / dance animation is almost photo-realistic.  As such, the film will not necessarily be for everyone (ie not for those who would have perhaps wished for more plot, nor for those who simply don't like the French or find their (often gallows) humor / way of saying things to be surprisingly cruel).

But if one were interested in how a non-Anglo culture would tell a story aimed at inspiring young children, especially young girls, ... well ... this is not necessarily a bad film to see.

Over all, pretty good job!

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Monday, August 21, 2017

The Hitman's Bodyguard [2017]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  RogerEbert.com (2 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. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

The Hitman's Bodyguard [2017] (directed by Patrick Hughes, screenplay by Tom O'Connor) is a surprisingly current and perhaps prophetic comedy that reminds us that sometimes it really requires a court jester to warn "the powers that be" that something is deeply awry.

In the film, a fictionalized thug named Vladislav Dikhovich (played by Gary Oldman) ex-president of a midsized post-Soviet/post-Communit State, nominally Belorussia but he could have been from any number of post-Soviet / post-Communist States across Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Caucuses finds himself on trial at the International Criminal Court at the Hague for War Crimes / Crimes Against Humanity.  Yet eye witnesses to his crimes tend to die or "change their stories" for fear of death or the death of their loved ones.

What to do?  Well there is one possible witness, an incarcerated African American contract assassin named Darius Kincaid (played by Samuel L. Jackson) who along with his Mexican wife Sonia (played by Salma Hayek) are rotting away (separately) in maximum security prisons in Britain.  Sonia is by all accounts "a small fish."  She's being held by the authorities to provide pressure on Darius.  Why?  Because of the circles in which he operated, he could provide information on, and here, in a pinch, even testify against such thugs as Vladislav Dikhovich.

Obviously, the authorities would have preferred to use more meritorious witnesses to testify against Dikhovich but ... as I already mentioned, they tended to find bullets in their heads or be so credibly threatened by Dikhovich's henchmen that they tended to "walk away" from their previous statements.  So all the prosecutors at the ICC were left with was ... the testimony of someone like Darius Kincaid.

But even getting this clearly less than ideal witness from England to Holland proved to be frighteningly difficult.  Dikhovich's henchmen ambushed Interpol's heavily armed convoy escorting Kincaid from his prison somewhere near Manchester, England to the Hague.  Clearly, with the stakes this high, even Interpol's security was compromised.

What to do?  Well certainly motivated / tough as nails but still relative rookie Interpol officer Amelia Roussel (played by Elodie Yung) who had been, quite surprisingly, given the task of getting Kincaid to his destination, recognizes that she can't trust her own people to complete this mission.  So she calls on an American ex-boyfriend named Michael Bryce (played by Ryan Reynolds) who runs a low-key private security firm to get Kincaid across still much of England, across the Channel and then to the Hague.  Bryce's operation is "low key" because he had had a terrible mishap in his work (lost a client) some years back, a mishap that he blamed on Roussel.  Roussel knew that she was not at fault, and thus continued to trust Bryce's capabilities in "getting the job done" even as Bryce himself seemed to feel (bitterly) that he was destined to work "small potatoes" jobs.

Of course Bryce's "low key" security operation was exactly what was needed to get Kincaid to the Hague _largely_ "under the radar."  Yet, of course, much had to ensue ...

Yes, dear Readers, one could dismiss this film as Mission Impossible / Jason Bourne-like pulp.  Yet, this film is arguably more serious than the MI films and more current than the Jason Bourne ones:

This current film asks some very sharp questions of the very project of the International Criminal Court: To get even the Serbian war criminals Radovan KaradžićRatko Mladić and the biggest fish
Slobodan Milošević required years of waiting (for arguably the overthrow of the government in Serbia).  To get someone like the fictionalized Vladislav Dikhovich (from a far larger state than the statelets of former Yugoslavia) to the Hague at all would be _really difficult_.  Further, given that a former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was, in fact, poisoned as a candidate (by dioxin) by presumably Russian FSB agents because he was running then on a platform opposed to the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin, IT IS ENTIRELY POSSIBLE that the arrest of pro-Putin strongmen leading pro-Russian states and stateless across the former Soviet Union for War Crimes / Crimes Against Humanity COULD PRODUCE THE KIND OF CARNAGE envisioned in the current film as they, like the fictionalized "Belorussian" strongman Dikhovich in this film could well choose to defend themselves, their interests and those of their friends by truly _any_ means necessary.  (This film seems to predict a very ugly and violent future awaiting us ... if we take seriously the I.C.C. and its mission.  A true drive to "clear the swamp" could produce a real bloodbath... This MAY prove necessary as unchecked corruption only makes things worse, but let's go into such a project with eyes open...).

Then Kincaid has a back-story and his first brush with Terrorism was _not_ with bearded olive skinned Middle Eastern types but rather with white racists who murdered his preacher father in Alabama...

So all in all, this "court jester" of a film points out some really unnerving stuff:  (1) True "big fish" war criminals aren't exactly easy to apprehend and their networks of henchmen and hidden kingpins could very well choose to fight back, and (2) to people of color and minority religions in the U.S. don't necessarily have "Middle Eastern" terrorists to fear.  White men with hoods over their heads or wearing Nazi armbands scare just fine.

One surprisingly unnerving "comedy"

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Logan Lucky [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review
RogerEbert.com (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

Logan Lucky [2017] (directed by Steven Soderbergh [wikip] [IMDb], screenplay by Rebecca Blunt) is the second (and certainly happier of the two) West Virginia "redneck" / "hillbilly" movie to come out in the last two weeks (the other being the far more serious drama The Glass Castle [2017]).  If nothing else, Trump's recent election win has brought new attention to this often overlooked and certainly / _unfairly_ disparaged part of our country. 

The story is about the Logan family, two brothers and a sister -- Jimmy, Clyde and Mellie (played by Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Riley Keough) -- sibblings, none of whom look much like any of the other two :-) -- legendary for their terrible luck, so much so that one-armed Clyde (he lost it in Iraq because -- "He stepped up while everybody else (around him) stepped back...") of a family curse, who come up with an insanely complicated plan to knock-off the vault at the Charlotte Motor Speedway "across the border in North Carolina" during its biggest NASCAR race of the year.  Among the complexities is that they need the help of "Joe Bang" (played insanely well and in completely straight fashion by Daniel Craig) the only "local" with any experience in "blowing bank vaults."  There's but one problem: "Bang" is IN-CAR-CE-RATE-ED (as he reminds them).  NO PROBLEM ;-) ... they'll "just get him out" (and _bring him back_...) from/to jail ;-).  Indeed, could one possibly think of a more "rock solid alibi?" ;-).

Anyway, much ensues in this "incredibly complicated operation" performed by _on the surface_ "incredibly simple people" -- even the star-studded cast colloquially called the film "Ocean's 7/11" [1960] [2001] ;-).  It's just a joyful film where one does root for the characters who had so self-evidently been _down on their luck_ for so long ;-).  Adam Driver's performance as Jimmy's brother Clyde working as a sad / still shell-shocked "one-armed bartender" at a local road-side dive named "Duck Tape" ;-) is simply priceless ;-) ;-).   And at the end of Channing Tatum's Jimmy Logan's "10 point plan" to knock off the vault is point 10: "Don't get greedy, know when to walk away."  One just wants to cry.

A special bonus to the film is that Viewers are reminded of the absolutely lovely (and now perhaps even haunting) John Denver song "Country Roads" that Jimmy Logan tells his precocious 8-10 y/o daughter Sadie (played by Farrah McKenzie) "You don't even have to have been here (to West Virginia...) to love."

Great job folks, simply a great job!

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power [2017]

MPAA (PG)  RogerEbert.com (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

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

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power [2017] (directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk) is a film that deserves, indeed needed to be made, is more nuanced than most of its detractors who'll probably never see it would admit and probably caused me more trepidation than the vast majority of films that I've viewed and reviewed in the nearly seven years that I've written my blog.  Consider simply that I saw this film 2 1/2 weeks ago and am only now sitting down to write about it.  Why?  Well... Dear Readers, guess...

I think here of my 85 year old dad, a Czech born life-long outdoorsman - camper, hiker, backpacker, cross-country skier (I grew-up doing ALL THESE THINGS with him as a kid).  Since he grew-up first under Nazi Occupation and then Communist domination, he never owned a gun and so never equated "outdoorsmanship" with gun ownership.  Yes, obviously under Nazi occupation / Communist domination he didn't exactly have a right to have a gun, but also understood that under such regimes going after a gun meant certain and needless trouble and probably jail and/or death.  And yet even under Nazi / Communist domination he (and my whole family) grew-up appreciating THE NATURAL BEAUTY of this world (beyond the reach of any Dictator / Regime) especially when one gets out of the cities into the countryside.

Today ANYONE who hikes / backpacks _knows_ that the world's glaciers are melting.  My dad now lives largely in Colorado where former U.S. vice president Al Gore's example in his first movie on the subject (An Inconvenient Truth [2006]) of the "beetles eating the trees" in Colorado due to warming temperatures is again OBVIOUS TO ALL.

So why is Climate Change even "debated" anymore today?  Obviously because there are HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS of dollars invested in Oil.  There are scholars on the American Civil War who also say the obvious: Prior to the American Civil War white southern slave owners had BILLIONS of dollars sunk in their slaves, giving them up was NOT going to happen without a fight.

So former U.S. vice-president Al Gore continues to make the obvious case, even trying to educate American Viewers that countries like India have their own reasons for being angry at limits on carbon emissions: In the film a government minister from India sarcastically tells Al Gore and his group meeting with him: "You and your people (Europeans) had FOUR HUNDRED YEARS of UNFETTERED OPPORTUNITY TO POLLUTE THIS EARTH OF OURS FOR YOUR ECONOMIC BENEFIT, GIVE _US_ AT LEAST A HUNDRED AND FIFTY TO DO THE SAME.  THEN we'll talk ..."

But EVERYBODY (including the U.S. and India) _did_ step-up in Paris in 2016 to come to an agreement to try to save this planet by reducing our global carbon emissions.

'Course, now that agreement is threatened by, well, WE ALL KNOW ...

So folks, go up into the mountains, enjoy the fresh air and the trees, TAKE PICTURES ... and at least try to do your parts to reduce your own carbon footprints.  We can all do our parts ourselves.

Dictators do die (either with a bullet in their heads like Hitler, or by natural death in the case of Stalin).  The Earth will outlast them, and even most of us will outlast them as well.

In the meantime, let us enjoy and bear witness to the natural beauty of the world today, and then seek to live _humbly enough_ to bequeath what we can of this beautiful planet of ours to future generations.

An excellent if poignant / sad film and one DOES wonder "what difference will it make?"  But difference it will ...

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Monday, August 14, 2017

The Glass Castle [2017]

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

IMDb listing

Los Angeles Times (J. Walls) author's review of the process of making this film based on her memoir

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

The Glass Castle [2017] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Destin Daniel Cretton [wikip] [IMDb] as well as Andrew Lanham based on the memoir [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Jeannette Walls [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a film that will challenge many of its American Viewers (to say nothing of Viewers overseas, who'd struggle even more than American viewers for a sense of context).

After all, this is a film about a woman, Jeannette Walls (played in the film as a child by Ella Anderson, and later as a teen / adult quite excellently by Brie Larsen) who eventually became a successful GOSSIP COLUMNIST FOR THE NEW YORKER (!) who grew-up in a more or less OBVIOUSLY ABUSIVE non-Conformist yet also Catholic household IN APPALACHIA.

OMG non-Conformist, Catholic, Appalachia ... to many / most American Readers TODAY those three words would seem to be at the far extremes of some bizarre contemporary American ideological triangle.  Yet, all is not what it would rigidly seem in today's American straight-jacketed cultural climate: 

To begin with, while to many today Appalachia would seem to be exclusively the province of bearded and bonnet-wearing, moon-shine swilling still Evolution-denying Evangelical Protestant snake-charming descendants of the Catholic-hating Scots-Irish settlers (read Northern Irish Protestants) who crossed the Appalachian mountains -- eventually kicking out the Cherokees... -- to settle there in the early days of the Republic, many of those West Virginia miners whose jobs Hillary Clinton infamously and perhaps still prematurely foreclosed-upon are actually Catholics of Slavic -- Polish, Slovak, Ukrainian, Belorussian (back in the day called Ruthenian) -- descent.  So there _are_ Catholics in them-thar-hills (and for some it'd be interesting perhaps to research the "contributions" of  these vodka / slivovice drinking peoples to the moonshine culture of the region ;-).

Then while to many, especially non-Catholic, Americans today, the terms "non-Conformist" and "Catholic" would seem like complete / unfathomably polar opposites, that was NOT the case until at least the mid-late-1980s.

[Readers note here that in the mid-1980s, much to truly everybody's surprise, the Reagan Administration reversed two centuries of U.S. foreign policy to establish formal diplomatic relations with the Vatican (something that the Holy See desired for most of those 200 years).  IN RETURN however, up until recently (changing back to the previous norm with the election of Pope Francis), the appointments of Catholic bishops in the United States (which _are_ made by the Vatican), have been ever more conservative ... So was there an informal deal made between the Reagan Administration and the Holy See at that time to change the composition of the US Catholic bishops in a more GOP / right-wing / Conservative friendly direction?  After all, since the late-1980s and up until the election of Pope Francis, pretty much all that the Catholic Bishops in the U.S. have been known to talk about has been about abortion and homosexuality.  In contrast, prior to that, in the early-mid 1980s, the U.S. Catholic Bishops made two very prominent statements one on Peace and the other on Economic Justice.  So a case could be made that such an ever informal and always _deniable_ deal (in return for diplomatic recognition) was made ...].

However, be those "diplomatic / bishops appointment intrigues" as they may, one need only mention the names of people like Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and even Jack Kerouac (who, growing up in a Quebecois household in New York in the 1930s-40s was obviously influenced by the other two, as well as, of course, others like the more conventionally, non-Catholic / classically American writer John Steinbeck) and the "free-spiritness" of Jeannette's parents even as they came from Catholic upbringings no longer seems strange.   A faint if persistent echo of that "radically free-ing" past in 20th century Catholic writing can still be found in the works of people like Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM [wikip] [GR].

However, "non-Conformity" especially when it comes to raising a family has its problems: Rules / social norms _often_ (not always, but _often_) have their basis in the practical experience of a culture (my point being here that rules should be neither blindly accepted nor out-of-hand rejected without serious critical reflection.  Simply rejecting "old rules" out-of-hand negates the accumulated wisdom of a people and needlessly forces descendants to "reinvent the wheel" / "start from scratch"):

Yes, it _would have been_ "nice" from the perspective of Jeanette's parents Rex (played in this film to Oscar nomination worthy heights by Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary (also played excellently by Naomi Watts) to simply live quite the "carefree lives" of beatnik Jack Kerouac or artist Georgia O'Keeffe, but THEY HAD KIDS that they were responsible for, and there are REPEATED instances in this story when VIEWERS are left simply stunned and wondering WHY their kids were not simply taken away from them.

And yet, they weren't (taken away), and that is probably _for the best_.  Rex (and Rose Mary, for that matter) _were_ TERRIBLE PARENTS, but they were -- like all of us -- also _more_ than their (often clear enough) sins / failings.

I live and work very much in this world of complex _real people_.  As such I applaud the honesty and complexity of the presentation.  Otherwise, we'd be forced to watch / read simply sanitized versions of Pleasantville [1998] of one sort or another with the "good people" (idealized according to one or another au currant ideology) and "horned / tailed villains" clearly defined.

So then, this is a simply excellent if, often enough, _difficult to watch_ film and PARENTS NOTE thematically deserving of an R-rating rather than the silly PG-13 that it apparently received.  This film would require an adult, at least in their mid to late 20s, in order to really understand it.  Again, some of the situations, though I suppose _technically_ meeting "PG-13" criteria (technically no blood, nudity or gore), are very difficult to watch.  EXCELLENT though it is, it is not for the squeamish.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

In this Corner of the World (orig.Kono sekai no katasumi ni) [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Japan Times (M. Schilling) review
South China Morning Post (B. Shin) review

EyeForFilm.co.uk (J. Fae) review
EPUM.com (I. Navarro) review*

Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review
Slant Magazine (C. Bowen) review

In this Corner of the World (orig.Kono sekai no katasumi ni) [2016][IMDb] [wikip] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Sunau Katabuchi [IMDb] along with Chie Uratani [IMDb] based on the manga [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Fumiyo Kouno [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a truly poignant/lovely if often very sad Japanese animated film about a simple young woman named Suzu (voiced in the Eng. version by Laura Post), with an endearing talent for drawing, who grew-up in a small fishing village on the outskirts of Hiroshima in the years before WW II and then married into a similarly humble family living "on the other side of the mountain" on the outskirts of Kure whose harbor had been a major Japanese Naval Base during WW II.

So the film, which won this year's Japanese Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film, tells the story of World War II (or the experience of it) from the perspective of a quite ordinary young Japanese woman:

Of course she's patriotic: How could she not be?  Her husband Shusaku (voiced in the Eng. version by Todd Haberkorn) was a clerk for the Imperial Navy at the Navel base in Kure, her father-in-law (voiced in the Eng. version by Kirk Thornton) was an engineer at the base as well.  She had a childhood friend who's stationed on a Japanese cruiser.

YET, she also sees hints of problems: When as the War progresses / rationing tightens and she accidently breaks the family's only sugar jar, Suzu's mother-in-law (voiced in the Eng. version by Barbara Goodson) gives her extra money that she had kept in a shoe-box and tells her to go down a seedy part of Kure where she could probably buy replacement sugar on the black market.  Suzu is shocked to see that "if one had the money, war or no war, one could buy basically anything."  Walking home from shady part of town with a bag of black market sugar that she bought for 8x the official price, she gets lost ... winding-up in the seedy part of town's red-light district, where she is helped to get-out by a (foreign?) geisha-girl.  The geisha quite kindly/discreetly tells Suzu that it'd probably "not be a good idea" for Suzu "stay long" in that part of town.

Later, of course, the bombs start falling.  The irony, of course, is that Kure with its Naval base is bombed repeatedly / devastatingly while Hiroshima remains largely untouched and its residents including Suzu's own family repeatedly give assistance to "the poor residents of Kure, across the mountain," until ...

It's a film that does make you want to cry EVEN THOUGH, OF COURSE, the Japanese did terrible things in Korea ("comfort women"), all across China (the Rape of Nanjing ...), the Philippines (Bataan Death March), and across South East Asia (Burma Railway).  But, of course, Suzu wouldn't know any of that ... just that slowly but surely her childhood friends were "not coming back" from the War: Her brother's urn comes back with _only a small rock in it_ ... his ship was sunk somewhere in the Pacific and so, of course, there were no remains to "send back..." but apparently the Imperial Navy felt the need to send the bereaved family "something" to "honor."  And of course the bombing near the end of the War just gets worse and worse.

Yes, I know why the war was fought.  Yes, Imperial Japan did all kinds of terrible things all across their side of the Pacific.  Still ... one can not but feel for this simple Japanese woman and her family living through a war that they certainly didn't start and only really supported because ... they were told to ... by the same kind of authorities (their national leaders at the time) that we ourselves are taught to as-a-matter-of-course ... trust.

A truly fascinating and poignant film, worthy of being seen / reflected upon.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Kidnap [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review
RogerEbert.com (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Kidnap [2017] (directed by Luis Prieto, screenplay by Knate Lee), perhaps in line with the recent commercially successful / far more _critically acclaimed_ "inverted" (and African American-centered) horror dramedy Get Out [2017], could be considered to be a similarly "inverted" version of the Liam Neeson-starring Taken [2010-2014] films, with the (pale / ever deathly serious) ex-CIA assassin Neeson's role played by Halle Berry, playing a humble (and at times quite emotional) New Orleans residing African-American diner waitress in the process of a divorce, whose cute-as-a-button six-year-old African-American boy (rather than "white naive suburban teenage daughter") gets kidnapped, here _not_ by crazed / bearded malevolent terrorist mafia types from the Balkans / Middle East ("expected" to naturally "hate America...") but rather by similarly crazed / bearded malevolent here emphatically _white redneck_ types who could have been extras in Hell's version of Swamp People (and "expected" then to "naturally" hate people of color ...).

I think the critical reactions to the current film need to be taken in light of who the heroes were in this film and who were its villains because as crazy as the car chases were ... they were IMHO _no crazier_ than those in Taken 3 [2014].

I confess, I didn't particularly mind the current film, and kinda enjoyed it.  But I would suggest that Hollywood try to learn a thing or two from the Italians for instance who have made it an art of making compelling (and often very funny) films in which there are no discernable villains at all...

Again, I think I totally get this film, and am happy that it was made (as a fascinating counter-point to such films as the Taken series).  But I do agree the critics above that after making this point, there wasn't much there ... course there wasn't much in the Taken series either 'cept the message of "Be afraid, be very, very afraid ..."

So Two Stars, as I gave the last Taken film.

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Detroit [2017]

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

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

Detroit [2017] (directed by Katheryn Bigelow, screenplay by Mark Boal) is a searing movie that has it's place:

The next time President Donald Trump places himself in front a backdrop of police officers PLEASE COUNT THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE OFFICERS OF COLOR PRESENT.  Last week, as he was instructing Police Officers to "not be so nice" to the people that they arrest THERE WERE EXACTLY _ZERO_ POLICE OFFICERS OFFICERS OF COLOR standing behind him (out of at least 100) and only TWO WOMEN (and he gave that speech in Suffolk County on Long Island -- the same county that has "the Hamptons" among its city ... not even remotely resembling America's cities today).

Dear Readers, I asked you to count the number of police officers of color at Trump's police photo-ops because regardless of the current several-years-long wave of shootings of unarmed black men by still generally white police officers, IT COULD STILL HONESTLY BE WORSE:

Today ALL THE MAJOR CITIES OF THE UNITED STATES have thoroughly integrated Police Forces.  I know this first hand because I served in a Parish on the South East Side of Chicago for 12 years, a parish _heavily_ populated by Chicago Police Officers (over 100 families had members of of their families in law enforcement) and 1/2 of those Police Officers were WHITE and 1/2 were HISPANIC, the neighborhood itself being a mix of Hispanic / White.  Statistically, about 40% of Chicago's police force is White, 30% is African American and 30% is Hispanic.

What good is that when unarmed black men still are shot by white police officers?  Well ... again, it could be A LOT WORSE ... FOR ALL CONCERNED.


And Catholic Readers here remember THIS IS EXACTLY (!!) WHAT BELFAST LOOKED LIKE DURING "THE TROUBLES" IN NORTHERN IRELAND ... only there it was THE OVERWHELMINGLY PROTESTANT "Royal Ulster Constabulary" tasked with "policing" OVERWHELMINGLY CATHOLIC neighborhoods in Belfast / Derry , etc with _similar results_.

There is simply no way to credibly "police" a city when its police come so _obviously_ from only one faction.

Yes, one can demonize the residents of (generally poorer) neighborhoods.  But even the Police themselves (!) are _not safe_ if their membership does not _clearly_ come from a credible cross-section of the city.  (That it itself clearly won't solve a city's crime problems but the situation could only be worse (again, even for the police themselves) if the vast majority of the police force's members come form only one group).

So the current film follows the beginning of the riots / rebellion in Detroit in 1967 and then proceeds to focus on a particularly awful murder of three unarmed black men in a hotel (the police / national came there initially in search of a possible sniper) and the brutalizing of many others, including two white women staying there.

Viewers will easily recognize tragic / unfortunate similarities between our time and then -- most notably that NONE OF THE POLICE OFFICERS INVOLVED IN THOSE MURDERS WERE CONVICTED OF ANY CRIMES -- but HOPEFULLY Viewers will note the differences (that the cities' Police Forces are FAR MORE INTEGRATED and hence CREDIBLE in our cities than in the 1960s).


Because if you don't do that, President Trump, you're dousing still brush-fires (!) with gasoline.

A simply _unforgettable_ film, this current one, and certainly important for our policy makers to see.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

The Dark Tower [2017]

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

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

The Dark Tower [2017] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Nicolaj Arcel along with Akiva Goldman, Jeff Pinker and Anders Thomas Jensen, based on the series of books [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Stephen King [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]), given its tortured production history -- the project began in 2007 (!) -- can perhaps be forgiven for feeling exactly as it does ... a tired survivor of a Hollywood meat-grinder.

Yet given both the truly legendary successes of previous adaptations of Stephen King's commercial "magical realist" works to the silver screen (oh my, where does one start? -- Carrie [1976] [2013], The Shining [1980], The Shawshank Redemption [1994], complete / continuing (!) lists are maintained on both IMDb and Wikipedia) as well as the specific success of the Dark Tower series of books [wikip], a fertile vein of King's cross-genre (Fantasy, SciFi, Western and Horror) speculative fiction that grew into an OCTOLOGY (!), it was inevitable that _eventually_ A FILM (of some sort...) would be made.  And perhaps the best news for Stephen King fans and then fans of the Dark Tower series in particular is that a parallel television series starring a fair number of the actors in the current film is scheduled for release in 2018.

SOOO ... the final and yet (coming full circle) now _primary_ purpose of the current film comes to be to simply introduce Viewers who haven't have the time (or interest...) to read the whole eight volume series (+ the graphic novels [GR] that apparently the series inspired) to the "world" in which the Dark Tower series plays out.

So then ... said "world" in which the Dark Tower series plays out is actually a MultiVerse (a series of discrete universes that can be passed through, from one to another, through various portals.  At the center of this MultiVerse is a beacon / "tent pole"-like Dark Tower, which (for reasons / by means unclear) keeps the forces of Evil (Entropy?) "outside" the MultiVerse structure allowing it to exist.

The grand conflict in the current story is between an Evil / Nihilistic "wizard" named ... there are SOME who call him "Walter" and others who call him "The Man in Black" played actually quite well by Matthew McConoughey ... who wants to knockdown said tent-pole-like Dark Tower, AND Roland Deschain (played by Idris Elba), the sole surviving Western-style (yet "Knight-like") "Gunslinger" of his world, entrusted to protect his world (and hence, though he does not completely realize this yet, ALL THE OTHER WORLDS of this MultiVerse, including those of Earth AND of that the Dark Tower) from the forces of Evil.

Now why would "Walter" (aka "The Man in Black") want to knock down The Dark Tower?  Well, given his Nihilism, "because it's there" (to be knocked down) and at least in part because he sees this as "inevitable" (and if it's going to be knocked down _eventually_, why not be the one to do so).

The problem is that to knock "The Dark Tower" down, one needs to shell it with _the minds of innocent children_.  So the now Evil and always Nihilistic wizard "Walter" (and his minions) hop (through portals) from one universe to another TO ABDUCT CHILDREN who they then strap to a monstrous machine that would hurl their innocent minds (in SciFi-like catapult fashion...) against this Dark Tower at the Center of "All that Is" (that Tent-like MultiVerse).

And so then this brings the story "down to earth" specifically into the world of random 14-year old New York residing Jake Chambers (played by Tom Taylor) who's being tormented by dreams of a "Dark Tower," a "Man in Black" and a "Gunslinger" and "does not know why," causing him, unsurprisingly, trouble both at home and at school ...

Of course poor-troubled/confused Jake becomes a key figure in "saving the MultiVerse" (even BIGGER than our Universe ;-) from a Fate that most of us, let alone Jake's parents / teachers could POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND ... ;-)

Much, much, much naturally must ensue ... ;-)

Introduced like this, in the fashion above, it does make for one heck of a story ;-) ... but after 10 years of studio-infighting, one just hopes that the ensuing television series does it justice.    

Good job, sort of ;-)

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