Saturday, September 30, 2017

American Made [2017]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L) (2 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (S. Abrams) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

American Made [2017] (directed by Doub Liman, screenplay by Gary Spinelli) is the third major U.S. film / television production to come-out recently about CIA links to drug-smuggling into the United States during the 1980s, the other two being Kill The Messenger [2014] (a biopic about the late James Webb, the former San Jose Mercury News reporter who first reported on the matter in the mid-1990s, lost his job and ended up committing suicide some years afterwards) and then a "hard-hitting" if perhaps needlessly flashy "Rolling Stone Mag-esque" History Channel sponsored 4-part mini-series America's War on Drugs [2017]

The story is relevant to this day as millions of younger to middle-aged African Americans remain nominally listed as "felons" as a result of a "crack possession" conviction (At the height of the "War on Drugs" in the 1980s-90s "possession" of ANY amount of "crack cocaine" -- whether they actually possessed a rock or two, OR IT WAS PLANTED ON THEM during a "routine police stop" .... -- was made into A FELONY in many states).  This opened the door to many, usually Southern States to "legitimately" takeaway their Civil Rights and make them _ineligible to vote_ FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES unless some Southern governor chooses to do something about this, but then to do so would mean opening the door for his/her opponent to accuse him/her of being "soft on felons..." (not likely to happen ...).

Still, in this era of Russian meddling in our news, there's another aspect of this story to consider: The Russians (successors to the Soviets) LOST the Cold War in the 1980s.  The story: "Well we only 'lost' because the CIA 'bent all the rules' and supported anti-Communist forces in Latin America through drug-running," is well ... "very convenient."  And Readers simply consider that IF the Soviet bloc had won the Cold War, then THE BEST we could hope for today would be someone like Vladimir Putin to be "leading over us."  So all in all, IT'S A GOOD THING that the Soviet Bloc lost the Cold War ...

That said, there's enough "smoke" in this story to assume that there's _a lot of fire_ underneath.  So there is a necessity to "come clean" / "clear the air" before our society can legitimately go on.  Many believe that so many potential African American voters were kept from voting in Florida because of "ex-Felon" voting rights restrictions that BOTH the 2000 and the 2016 elections could have resulted in Democratic Patry victories and our country would _very different_ than it is today.

But this film ISN'T about voting rights.  Instead it is about one rather (in)famous drug-running pilot Barry Seal [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the film quite well by Tom Cruise) who even though he was already doing some petty smuggling while being an airline pilot for TWA -- to its the film's credit, this was shown in its opening minutes if _not_ in entirely honest hues (in reality Seal was smuggling more than just "cigars" while flying for TWA) -- before being recruited by the CIA (in the film by a Monty "Schafer" played by Domhnall Gleeson) to use his flying talents to shoot reconnaissance photos of Communist insurgent camps across Central America.  The pay wasn't that great, BUT ... they gave him a really fast turboprop plane WITH ... "plenty of room" for carrying ... OTHER STUFF.

That "other stuff" BECAME cocaine for the then UPSTART Pablo Escobar Medellin Cartel and later GUNS for the Nicaraguan Contras (and _surprisingly_, for the drug cartels as well ...) going from the U.S. to Central / South America and the Contras themselves (going back up from Central America) to a surprisingly "busy" airport in rural Mena, Arkansas during _interestingly enough_ the time Bill Clinton was governor there ... and George H.W. Bush (Sr.) was first V.P. and then President ...

It makes for "one heck of the story" and from the quite rudimentary "fact checking" that I've done, my sense is that the film makers didn't necessarily let "strict adherence to the facts" _get in the way_ of telling said "good story" ... (Again, it seems that Barry Seal was smuggling "more" than just "cigars" early in his career ...). 

"Good story" or not ... does the film encourage / glamorize crime?  It probably does, but IMHO no more than the various films made over the decades about Prohibition Era mobsters.  Does it encourage cynicism toward government?  Yes it does.  Yet, if the CIA was "looking away" as "freedom fighters" (both North American and Latin American) profiteered from gun and drug running, then ... some of that cynicism would seem to be legitimately earned and the best way to combat such cynicism is to enforce "discipline in the ranks" (expel and jail soldiers / agents who "go off the reservation").

Still in this era of Fake (or at least deeply slanted) "News" a wave of this kind of film, with "our guys" (the CIA) portrayed as "just a bunch of crooks" while such "self-criticism" though available [1] [2]  IF ONE LOOKS REALLY HARD FOR IT on the part of the Russians in Putin's Russia (successors to the Soviets) is rare, leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

So while no one will accuse me of not "enjoying a good story" ... the timing of the film at time of a wave of wave of "Fake" / "Tendentious" News stories ... makes me wince a bit.  Still, Tom Cruise certainly played his role well!

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Monday, September 25, 2017

The LEGO Ninjago Movie [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

The LEGO Ninjago Movie [2017] (directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan screenplay by Bob LoganPaul Fisher, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern and John Whittington, story by Hilary WinstonBob LoganPaul FisherWilliam WheelerTom Wheeler, Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman) can be best understood as INTENDED FOR FIVE-TO-SEVEN YEAR OLDS (and families with 5-7 year olds ;-).

Like the other Lego movies -- The Lego Movie [2014] and The Lego Batman Movie [2017] -- there are times when this film is insanely cute, the addition here is the film's Asian twist with Jackie Chan both narrating the film's story to a precocious 7 year-old boy and playing the (Lego) character "Ninja Master Wu." 

The film centers around a teenager named Lloyd (voiced by Dave Franco) growing up with a largely absent father in a seaside city (made of Legos) named Ninjago.  The absent father turns out to be more than just "absent."  Instead, he turns out to be a super villain and the city's nemesis named Garmedon (voiced by Justin Theroux) who lives in a suitably ferocious-looking lair on an island complete with a Lego volcano off of Ninjago's coast.  He regularly attacks the city, but is kept at bay by a group of teenage "ninjas" of which Lloyd is actually part.

Lloyd (as well as the other teenage ninjas / really the entire city) KNOWS that Garmedon is his estranged father and naturally hates this (and him ... for causing him so much shame).

Well one thing leads to another, notably that Lloyd at one point tries to simply destroy his father with "the ultimate weapon" which his uncle / Master Wu kept safe (in an appropriately adorned case in his home). 

What's this "ultimate weapon"?  Well it turns out to be a pen-sized / key chain laser pointer, but in a world of Lego sized characters it looks like a "laser bazooka."   Still whether the size of a convenient gadget to attach to one's key chain, or a shoulder-mounted bazooka, a red laser pointer, doesn't exactly do much, CEPT ... summon a (to the Lego sized characters) MONSTROUS SIZED (IF UTTERLY ADORABLE) KITTEN which chasing the red dot produced by the laser pointer knocks over the buildings of Lego-Ninjago like ... well, they were made out of Legos ;-)

After THAT disaster ... Master Wu sends his nephew LLoyd and his other ninja friends on a long jungle quest of redemption that forces them to cross all sorts of hurdles including a "precarious bridge of failed mentors" and traversing a "grand canyon of general unhappiness" ;-).  Finally they arrive at the "Temple of Fragile Foundations", the childhood home of Garmedon (again, Lloyd's dad).  Much often endearing (if also with a point) ensues ... ;-)

So ... three Lego movies on, I remain a fan and I really do think that Jackie Chan would make a great story-telling uncle or grandfather!  Excellent job!

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Friday, September 15, 2017

American Assassin [2017]

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

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

American Assassin [2017] (directed by Michael Cuesta, screenplay by Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Vince Flynn [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) introduces Viewers of the silver screen to the character of Mitch Rapp [wikip] [IMDb] (played here in the film by Dylan O'Brien).

As in the late  Vince Flynn's book series, previously generally normal / care-free early-to-mid 20-something college/grad-school aged Mitch Rapp's [wikip] [IMDb] life is forever changed by loss of his sweetheart / would-have-been-the-love-of-his-life Katrina (played briefly in the film to set the story up by Charlotte Vega) in a terrorist attack.  In the book series, she dies in the 1998 PanAm 103 Lockerbie Bombing.  In the current film, she along with other carefree tourists is gunned down (right before Rapp's eyes) in a massacre at a beach resort in Spain.

Rapp survives the attack, and decides that he's going to get Revenge.  He decides initially that he's not going to waste his time with Intelligence services.  Instead:

(1) He apparently teaches himself to speak utterly flawless / accent-less Arabic and learn (somehow) Arabic / Muslim customs to the level that he would _never_ get caught the way that poor sap of a British intelligence officer did the classic scene in Inglourious Basterds [2009] (where the poor sap, impersonating a German officer in Nazi occupied France) ordered three drinks in a bar filled with Germans including Gestapo using the wrong three fingers...);
 (2) trains like "a Demon on a Red-Bull drip" at a MMA gym and
 (3) becomes an ace sharpshooter.

I guess the old slogan is true: "MasterCard, it's everywhere you want to be..." ;-)  

His chatting with ISIS / Al Queda-like recruiters on the "dark internet" catches the attention of the CIA who apparently then with further surveillance discover his antics at the MMA gym and various shooting ranges, and ... at least one analyst at the CIA, Irene Kennedy (played in the film by Sanaa Lathan) is ... impressed.

Eventually, Rapp is taken-in -- in an interesting way at interesting time -- by Kennedy, _not_ to incarcerate him, but rather to recruit him, but ... does Mitch Rapp "want to play ball?"

And this then becomes the over-riding question in the film (and apparently in Flynn's entire series): Rapp has a clear agenda (to simply hunt down and kill Terrorists) for easily and arguably heartbreakingly understandable reasons (they murdered the love-of-his-life).  But the CIA is "bigger" than that with more issues / adversaries on its plate, some arguably more powerful and dangerous than simply annoying if also deadly "two bit terrorists."

Is Mitch Rapp going to be able to understand / accept that?  Much ensues ...

Viewers may see in Mitch Rapp [wikip] [IMDb] a combination of James Bond [wikip] [IMDb] and Jason Bourne [wikip] [IMDb] with Charles Bronson's character from the Death Wish [wikip] [IMDb] series thrown in.  He is, perhaps, a compelling character.  However, I would note to Readers here that the film here is not nearly as polished the James Bond, Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan, or the Jason Bourne films.  Some may like that.  However, the entire scenario in this film becomes not merely quite far-fetched (the James Bond plots / villains are _usually_ wildly crazy) but more problematically ... sloppy.

As such in the end, I found the current film disappointing.  It's a shame, because the lead character, Mitch Rapp [wikip] [IMDb], I found (initially) quite compelling.  It just that not only "the CIA" but also arguably the film's screen-writers chose to "not use him well." Sigh ...

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wind River [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Wind River [2017] (written and directed by Taylor Sheridan) is an extremely well written / well crafted / well acted, if (Parents take note) appropriately R-rated, thriller / contemporary murder mystery that should certainly garner an Oscar Nomination for Best Original Screenplay (Taylor Sheridan) and possibly others including Best Direction (Taylor Sheridan), Best Actor in a Leading and/or Supporting Role (Jeremy Renner), Best Actress in a Leading and/or Supporting Role (Elizabeth Olsen) and perhaps even Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Graham Greene).

Wyoming based, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Ranger Cory Lambert (played by Jeremy Renner) quietly grieving the loss of his own teenage daughter to tragedy some years earlier, while on a random favor to "take care" of a wildlife predator problem for his Native American ex-father-in-law Ben (played by Graham Greene) a part-time Sheriff / part-time rancher on the nearby Wind River Indian Reservation, comes across the barefoot body (in the middle of winter and in the middle of nowhere) of an(other) frozen teenage girl.  What the heck was she doing out there, like that, in the middle of nowhere?

He reports the matter to his father-in-law, who, since a murder was suspected, dutifully calls in the FBI as the local Reservation Police Force had neither the personnel/resources nor apparently _the jurisdiction_ to investigate murder.  So ... the FBI _had to be called-in_ to the visible, seething resentment of the Native American populace and its tiny understaffed / underequipped law-enforcement community.

Who the FBI sends _doesn't_ exactly inspire respect / confidence: A young / green and seemingly out-of-her depth agent from the FBI's "Las Vegas office" named Jane Banner (played to Oscar Nomination worthy depth by Elizabeth Olsen) who drives-up "in a rental car" woefully under-dressed for the still cold Wyoming winter. When one disbelieving middle-aged Native American woman asks: "Are you _really_ from Las Vegas?," wondering what kind of "law enforcement expertise" could a perhaps sincere if overly/inappropriately bubbly (and again, if not scantily then certainly still under-dressed) "young woman from Sin City" possibly offer them -- visibly concerned/convinced that "the Whites" who've dominated them for over a century now were once again going to screw them -- Agent Banner answers, "No, I'm not originally from Las Vegas, I'm actually ... (stopping herself, realizing that her answer wasn't going to help) ... originally from Fort Lauderdale ("Sin City -- East")."

And so it is, the visibly offended middle-aged Native American woman, gets Agent Banner some weather appropriate clothes, _pointedly_ telling her: "This is NOT a gift to you. I _expect_ that you will return these clothes (in the same shape as you've received them) when you are done with them."  (Who would tell that to someone, 'cept in the context of History realizing that Whites have for _hundreds of years_ now taken _just about everything_ from the Native Americans who originally lived here)

But Agent Banner proves, in fact, both quite competent in her work and a quick intelligent study.  She realizes that this Native American community NEEDS HER, and as she is quite _socially intelligent_ she realizes quickly that she's going to need help _from them_, and especially from someone like previously introduced "good white guy" U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Ranger Cory Lambert with a good reputation in the Wind River Native American Community to help her help them.

Much ensues ...

I found the story very well crafted, extremely well acted, and if perhaps distressing (is this really where we still find ourselves today?) very, very _realistic_.

A truly impressive number of seething resentments and prejudices -- both racist and sexist -- are quite remarkably laid bare in the course of this story as its various protagonists, almost none of them initially particularly liking each other, come to realize that they were going to _have to work together anyway_ in order to solve and bring closure to this terrible tragedy.

A truly remarkable "cold, winter's tale" deserving of its praise.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Marjorie Prime [2017]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (G. Cheshire) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Marjorie Prime [2017] (screenplay and directed by Michael Almereyda based on the stage play by Jordon Harrison) is a fascinating low budget indie sci-fi piece with a SINGLE simple "special effect" sequence that could have been pulled-off by a 10th grader ;-) ...

Set in the near future, it's about a relatively wealthy family whose aging mother / matriarch Marjorie (played by Lois Smith) is slowly coming down with dementia.  To perhaps help her better remember (or to simply accompany her, as her world inevitably shrinks / slows down) her daughter Tess (played wonderfully by Geena Davis) and son-in-law Jon (played by Tim Robbins) decide to buy for her a new programmable gadget called a "Prime" ... Basically, a "Prime" is a programmable holographic companion, which, since it is programmable, could be programmed to resemble (in the case of this story) a deceased loved-one.  So they buy her a "Prime", which Marjorie decides to program as a 40-year-old ("in his prime" ;-) version of her deceased husband Walter (played with wonderful, somewhat stilted/programmed inquisitiveness by Jon Hamm). 

Now the trick here is that though perhaps his holographic physical appearance was no doubt designed through "uploaded photographs," his memory bank is programmed by conversation.  The more one talked to him, thus feeding him with information, the more he becomes "real."  To make Walter Prime "more real" Marjorie has to talk to him, sharing her memories of her times with Walter (her deceased husband).  That puts grown daughter Tess and her husband Jon off the hook as Marjorie spends most of her time now talking to a quite interested Walter "Prime," and Jon seems to have fun then talking to Walter "Prime" as well as he "corrects" some of Marjorie's memories to better fit his own recollections of things.

The concept of creating such a "Prime" who exists primarily through the memories of others is truly fascinating.  And the story starts to play with it ... Midway through the movie Marjorie dies and Jon buys another "Prime" (now Marjorie "Prime") to help his wife Tess cope with the loss of her Mother.

Then another character dies (presumably in some tragic accident).  And soon there are THREE "Primes", interacting now _primarily_ with _each other_ with only one human feeding the three with  memories.

It's just a brilliantly simple film, though very well acted: All the actors play their characters straight as an arrow, producing a fascinating vision of the future in which at least some versions of some people could live past their human lives in this world, based on the memories that others had of them.

It just makes for a brilliant, just brilliant sci-fi story... and WITHOUT any "car chases" or "starship battles" ;-)

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Wound (orig. Inxeba) [2017]

MPAA (UR would be R) (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing (F. Mignard) review* (V. Petkovic) review (A. Wilkinson) review

Los Angeles Times (R. Abele) review (P. Sobczynski) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review

The Wound (orig. Inxeba) [2017] (directed and screenplay cowritten by John Trengove along with Malusi Bengu and Thando Mgqolozana) a South African film built around the traditional Xhosa initiation rite called Ulwaluko.  In the rite young Xhosa men are separated from their families for a period of time, taken to a camp in the countryside, invited/forced to endure a circumcision-like wound and then in the days-to-several weeks in which the wound heals, are led by a group of somewhat older mentors into manhood.  The film, which in the United States premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival opened recently at the Laemmle Theaters across the Los Angeles area.

The film which has a particular, arguably propagandistic take on the Rite -- it plays like a South African / traditional Bantu-people rendition of Brokeback Mountain [2005] or Moonlight [2016] ... -- NEVERTHELESS the film offers viewers a fascinating opportunity to reflect on what exactly makes "a man" or more generally "an adult."

I write this Dear Readers because there's little doubt that this age-old Xhosa rite is meant sincerely to initiate its young men into the Responsibilities of Adulthood, AND YET ... since it is (by its _nature_) SECRETIVE ... it lends itself to ... corruption / abuse:

A couple of the mentors prove to be gay, and quite notably EVEN THOUGH traditional Xhosa society _looks down upon_ homosexuality (and arguably _persecutes_ it), the Elders of the Xhosa community seem to LET IT GO ON ... there ... in the context of said Rite.

What the heck is going on??

Yes, Dear Readers, WHAT IS GOING ON HERE? ;-)

MY take on this Rite is perhaps different from the intent of the film (which at least to some extent sought to expose the hypocrisy present in "traditional Xhosa society").  For my own reasons, I _don't_ particularly like my understanding of the film, but it makes for A FASCINATING UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT MAKES A MAN / ADULT:

IS AN ADULT ... one capable of "keeping one's mouth shut?" :-).

It's to me a fascinating question, and plays in a very interesting way on the theme of the recent Stephen King inspired film It [2017] (which also opened here this week).  That film was about a town in which ALL the adults were "silent" even as all kinds of horrors took place in the town, horrors that their kids saw, but NOBODY seemed to do anything about.

Be that as it may, by the end of the current film, most Viewers would find it clear that the Xhosa traditional Ulwaluko initiation rite lends itself to homosexuality.  (And like other secretive Rites, it would lend itself to various other kinds of corruption / abuse).  That said, what does, in fact, the Rite teach its initiates?  And arguably is that lesson necessary for a Society's survival?

Fascinating stuff!


To us, the Servite Friars of the United States Province, any film about the various native peoples of Southern Africa has a special resonance because since 1948 we have been responsible for the Catholic Mission in KwaZulu (Zululand).  While the Xhosa and Zulu peoples are naturally not the same, many of their customs are similar.  Another GREAT recent movie about the native peoples of the region is The Forgotten Kingdom [2013] about a young man who comes back to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho to bury his father.

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It [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Yamato) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (K. Rife) review

It [2017] (directed by Andy Muschietti, screenplay by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Stephen King [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) felt like a film that will probably be better in its "director's cut".  Not that the film was bad; it did its job, but ... I always feel sorry for film makers trying to condense "1500 pages" of a novel (and by an author with a fanatical cult following) into a reasonably sized film for the movie screen.  Either the film runs way too long (like the LOTR's Return of the King [2003]) or ends up like this one, where one feels that 10, 20 even 30 or 40 necessary minutes were sent to the cutting-room floor by nervous producers worried about contemporary attention spans.

Though transposed to the 1980s from the 1950s (presumably to make Part II be set in the current day), the film tells the story of middle-school kids in a small, random town, a fictionalized Derry, Maine, that's tormented by ... many things.  Its more "mundane"/day-to-day torments come from teenage bullies, both male and female, as well as parents of all kinds: pushy, emotionally absent/clueless, to physically and even (implied) rapey / sexually abusive.  Indeed, there is enough quite natural horror in these kids' lives that there would be no need to add any supernatural horror.  BUT ... this is a Stephen King story ;-),

SO ... in the midst of these awful day-to-day torments one of the kids, a somewhat portly "New Kid on the Block" (played by Jeremy Ray Taylor), who incidentally secretly loves listening to the boys-band New Kids on the Block [wikip], discovers that the seemingly sleepy little town seems to be hiding (or is unawares of) a dark secret -- Every generation (27 years or so), there's a spate of unsolved murders / disappearances, mostly of children.  Then there's an eerie silence for 26 years and in the 27th year the horror repeats itself again.

What's going on?  Well, sleepy, or at least silent Derry seems to be in the midst of yet another one of these spates of murders / disappearances.  Another one of the kids, Billy Denbrough (played by Jaeden Lieberher), whose little brother Georgie (played by Jackson Robert Scott) is among the town's first current "disappeareds", is convinced that someTHING,, "IT," lurks in the city's sewers.  But even his own dad, Georgie's dad, seems to prefer that Georgie's disappearance remain unsolved.  "He's dead Billy," he tells his son. "Don't further traumatize your mother." 

And this is how it is: NO ONE of the older generation wants to do anything.  They prefer to cower in silence.  And perhaps they KNOW that ... "IT'll go away."

But this band of little "losers," which includes Billy (who stutters), Ben (the somewhat chubby kid who finds that awful / evil pattern in the town's history), Beverly (a 1980s-era "Molly Ringwald" character played by Sophia Lillis) known in the kids' middle school as the "class slut" (and yet harbors a secret at home), a small Jewish kid (played by Jack Dylan Grazer) whos's preparing for his Bar Mitzvah and African-American Mike Hanlon (played by Chosen Jacobs) whose grandpa would just prefer that he "keep his nose to the ground", working (and "just his mouth shut") CHOOSE to "not shut up."  And ...

... the rest of the story ensues.

It's honestly AN INTERESTING TAKE on MY GENERATION (I was a teenager in the 1970s and college student in the 1980s) ... when a lot of "secrets" were still kept quiet, even as OUR GENERATION'S TEEN ORIENTED FILMS often dealt with Horrors (one thinks of the Halloween, Prom Night, Nightmare on Elm Street movies... of my time).

It's just that the characters in the story seemed to be reduced simply to their most basic elements.  Again, a 30-40 minute LONGER film that would have fleshed out some of these characters' stories a bit more would have produced a more satisfying film.

So over all, it wasn't a "bad job" here -- there are obvious homages in the film to late-1970s-80s era classics like Carrie [1976] and The Shining [1980] (both based on Stephen King novels [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn]) as well as ... Breaking Away [1979] -- I just honestly wish that THIS FILM was ... a bit longer / more developed.

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Monday, September 4, 2017

Trip to Spain [2017]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13/R) (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Trip to Spain [2017] (directed by Michael Winterbottom) becomes the third feature length installment of The Trip series, following actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing somewhat fictionalized versions of themselves (Readers think here of the wildly successful 1990s-era American sitcom Seinfeld) as they travel through _some place_, in this case Spain, eating wonderful food (American Readers think of Anthony Bourdain's CNN "Parts Unknown") and talk / joke about life as experienced by upper-middle class Anglo 50 year-olds (American readers think of _both_ Seinfeld's and Bourdain's projects ;-).

Readers here who enjoyed the previous Trip movies, I reviewed the second one Trip to Italy [2014], will probably enjoy this film:  As the two continue to banter about "Life the Universe and Everything" (from the perspectives of two 50-something upper-middle-class white Anglo men) they continue to do often (IMHO) wildly funny impressions of various pop-culture icons (in one the two imagining Mick Jaggar doing an impression of Michael Caine ;-).  On the other hand, those who haven't seen the previous films will probably get "lost" in this one and not understand the concept behind the film / series at all.

Having ended-up enjoying their Trip to Italy [2014], I enjoyed this third installment as well.

However, if any Reader here would wonder _why_ Britain would have chosen to leave the European Union in its infamous "Brexit" vote last year, this film, along with Trip to Italy [2014] gives a clear-as-day answer: Britains still largely see other Europeans as "foreigners."  As such, they were never really "Europeans" to begin with.

Be that as it may, the film (and the series) is enjoyable (to white Anglo-American upper-middle class 50 year olds men).  To others?  I don't know.  Still, since I meet a good number of the above mentioned qualifiers, I really enjoyed it ;-).

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Ingrid Goes West [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (J. Yamato) review (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (K. Rife) review

Ingrid Goes West [2017] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Matt Spicer along with David Branson Smith) is a cutting but wildly entertaining (in a feel-sorry-for sort of way) late-teen-to-early-20s-young-adult-oriented dramedy about Ingrid (played wonderfully / almost always convincingly by Aubrey Plaza) a young late-teen / early 20s "loser-ish" woman from the Midwest with "some issues."

SOME issues??  Okay, she had no real friends, was addicted to Instagram and had clearly become a Stalker.  But part of the film's charm (and arguably _its point_) is that while she's clearly "gone off the edge," she's clearly _not that far_ from said "edge" and the various "cool" / "have it together" people that she so admires are not necessarily that far from said "edge" either.

It's just that, once one "goes over the edge," all that there is ... is AIR ... and a long, inevitable (and painful) FALL down.  So going "over the edge" does have ... CONSEQUENCES even if those of us who haven't _yet_ "gone over the edge" ought to not be THAT PROUD because ... we could be close to said "edge" ourselves.

Very well... we meet Ingrid as she crashes the #Blessed #Perfect wedding of ... some girl she barely knows (but is a friend of on Instagram), spraying her with mace because ... she wan't invited to said #Blessed #Perfect wedding.  That lands her, well, in a local psychiatric institution ... for a few months.

When she gets released, she goes back to the empty home that her mother left her (mom died sometime back ... yes, Ingrid does have a story too ...) and after an afternoon long binge on Instagram finds a new Insta-lebrity, a Taylor Sloane (played with wonderful #Blessed ditziness by Elizabeth Olsen) who Ingrid decides she's now going to FIND and ... _model her life_ around.

Taylor lives in Venice Beach, CA, Ingrid's somewhere in the snow-bound Midwest.  No problem.  Ingrid goes to the bank, _cashes_ her inheritance (about $65,000) left her by her mother (stuffs said bills into a school backpack and ... heads California-way.

And thanks to Instagram ... she soon finds Taylor.  Okay, she kidnaps Taylor's dog (in order to "rescue it" for her) and ... with $65,000 ... that can make for a pretty pleasant life ... for a while.

Sigh, it's hard to say that Ingrid was evil.

All she wanted to do was to be Taylor's BFF.  And she _kinda does_ until ... Taylor gets introduced by Taylor's _psycho_ / sociopath brother Nicky (played wonderfully in mob-style user fashion by Billy Magnussen ... seriously, he "gets by" by befriending and then "knife to throat" extorting rich young people) to a model named Harley Chung (played again in even more #Blessed ditzy fashion by Pom Klementieff) who now TAYLOR would like to imitate ;-)

Poor Ingrid ... all she ever wanted to do is to be #liked by someone as popular and wonderful as Taylor and ... Taylor now wants to be #liked by someone else.

Much ensues ...

Again, Ingrid is #psycho.  But to say that she was _hugely_ more #psycho than most of the people that she wanted to be around and admired would not be fair.

It all makes for one funny / sad cautionary tale of our times.

Honestly, quite great job!

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