Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Great Wall [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review
RogerEbert.com (S. Abrams) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review


The Great Wall [2017] (directed by Yimou Zhang, screenplay by Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy, story by Max Brooks, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz) is a high budget Hollywood / Chinese "Historical / Fantasy Epic" coproduction that's both fascinating and partly worrisome in its concept:

Two medieval European mercenaries, William and Tovar (played by Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal), stumble their way to China (along presumably a northern branch of the Silk Road) in search of stealing the secret to black (gun) powder.  Just before they arrive, they run into (and successfully kill) a strange green alien monster.  With its severed head (or perhaps limb) in a bag, the two arrive at The Great Wall there at the frontier between China and the lands China then considered "barbaric" to its North.

They get promptly arrested, but the knightly William quickly notices that Chinese sentries at the border appear to mobilized / on high alert.  What were they mobilizing against?  Well, against hoards of those strange green alien monsters (called Tao Tei).  According to this film, they had arrived by means of some crashed meteor some centuries before.  Ever since, every 50-60 years or so, the barbaric / alien Tao Tei would attack China along said Wall.  Defending China was a _huge_ Army led by a woman General named Lin Mae (played by Tian Jing).  Much, that could be described as medieval fantasy meets the alien invasion / zombie apocalypse scenarios of World War Z [2013] / the Edge of Tommorrow [2014].

Perhaps the simultaneously most interesting and _disconcerting_ aspect of this film reveals itself when when considers the question: Who lives "up North" of China these days? 

So a film that invents an "AGE-OLD" alliance between the English and the Chinese against the "Green Alien Hordes" coming from where RUSSIA exists today ... ought to raise some eyebrows.

While I'm certainly no fan of Putin, it's generally not particularly helpful to cast one's (potential) enemies as UTTERLY UNRELATABLE ... MONSTERS ...


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Monday, February 27, 2017

89th Academy Awards (2017) - Review: A Truly Messed-Up (and Even Dangerous) Ending

IMDb listing
Previous/Other years

Wow, what a Mess.  At the end of a show that had already seemed like a mirror opposite of the first Academy Awards that I reviewed five years ago -- when a film about a stuttering, dead English King, (The King's Speech [2010]), the very epitome, pinnacle, DEFINITION of WASPishness, _swept_ the Awards -- all Hell broke loose:

The Sweet but Old (and certainly still about as _white as can be_) Bonnie and Clyde [1967] stars Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty came-up to announce the winner of Best Picture for this year and ... were given the wrong envelope.  They announced, as winner, the _lovely_ but also (one has to say it) the MOST MILK-TOASTY _WHITE_ / SAFE film of those nominated this year, La, La Land [2016], when _apparently_ the QUITE LITERALLY _MOST GHETTO_ FILM (populated _almost completely_ by actors / actresses of color) Moonlight [2016] had, in fact, WON.

What the heck happened?  Where did the second envelope come from?  Who printed it?  Who gave it to Warren Beatty?

Now for full disclosure here, I LOVED La, La Land [2016] (giving it 4+ Stars) and really QUITE DESPISED Moonlight [2016] (giving it then 0 Stars).

Now why would I give the latter such a low mark?  Well, I thought that with the exception of film's lead character -- a gay gang-banger (Soprano's star James Gandolfini ALSO played a gay mobster / hitman in the unfortunately named comedy The Mexican [1997]) -- ALL the other characters in Moonlight [2016] played to _some of the worst stereotypes_ of the inner city.  Indeed, interestingly, Naomie Harris, who played the lead character's "crack whore mother" initially declined the role precisely for the reason that it played to a terrible stereotype, and consented to do it only after being told by the writer-director Barry Jenkins that it was based on his own mother (IndieWire).  At the end of my review of Moonlight, I wrote: "Honestly, if THIS FILM gets Oscar nominations and Hidden Figures [2016] and Fences [2016] (both far more positive / honest) do not, then the Academy should just go to Hell."  Well the other two films did get plenty of nominations, Viola Davis did win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Fences [2016], and of the nominees, I myself believed Mahershala Ali to be most deserving of the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Moonlight [2016].  So if Moonlight [2016] did indeed win, I'd certainly accept it, now.

However, I honestly would like to know: Was there then an attempt _to steal_ the Best Picture Oscar from Moonlight [2016] at the Awards show (OR conversely did Moonlight [2016] actually steal the Best Picture Oscar from La, La Land [2016])?  At minimum, there was an extra envelope back stage.  Again, who printed it?  And who gave it to Warren Beatty?

Presently laughing are certainly Putin and Trump.  If our society can't trustworthily audit an election involving only a few thousand ballots for an (admittedly significant) Awards Show, how can Democracy as a whole remain safe?


ADDENDA --

STATEMENTS:

Statement of PricewaterhouseCooper Accounting Firm (2/27/2017):



Statement of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences:

89th Oscars Best Picture Statement (2/27/2017)

We deeply regret the mistakes that were made during the presentation of the Best Picture category during last night’s Oscar ceremony. We apologize to the entire cast and crew of La La Land and Moonlight whose experience was profoundly altered by this error. We salute the tremendous grace they displayed under the circumstances. To all involved — including our presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, the filmmakers, and our fans watching worldwide — we apologize.

For the last 83 years, the Academy has entrusted PwC to handle the critical tabulation process, including the accurate delivery of results. PwC has taken full responsibility for the breaches of established protocols that took place during the ceremony. We have spent last night and today investigating the circumstances, and will determine what actions are appropriate going forward. We are unwaveringly committed to upholding the integrity of the Oscars and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


COVERAGE:

Jimmy Kimmel Live - 2/27/2017 - Oscars' Host Jimmy Kimmel Reveals What Really Happened at Craziest Oscars Ever

The Hollywood Reporter - 2/27/2017 - 12:09 AM PST  by Erik Hayden, Oscars Accountants Apologize for Snafu, Vow to "Investigate How This Could Have Happened"

The Hollywood Reporter - 2/27/2017 - 7:07 PM PST  by Gregg Kildray - Oscars Accountants Offer Another Apology as Academy Launches Investigation of Snafu

CNN - 2/28/2017 - 12:55 AM ET, by Sandra Gonzalez, contributing Brian Stelter and Stephanie Elam - Timeline of a Historic Blunder


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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Get Out [2017]

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

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


Get Out [2017] (written and directed by Jordon Peele) is one twisted/funny horror-comedy centered on race -- call it a Guess Who's Coming For Dinner [1967] "of a different kind" ;-).

Nice (black) guy Chris Washington (played by Daniel Kaluuya), college student, arts / photography major, gets invited by his laid-back / liberal (white) girlfriend Rose (played by Allison Williams) to meet her parents Missy and Dean (played wonderfully by Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford), one random late fall or early spring weekend at their quite modern "country living" far-outlying suburban estate some hours away (Readers here could think of far-outlying suburban Dallas or Atlanta, Chicagoans could think of Barrington). 

Chris not altogether excited asks Rose, "Have you told your parents about me?"  More to the point, he asks her, "Have you told them that I am black?"  Rose responds, "Yes" to the first question and "No," (continuing with a slightly embarrassed smile), "I have not" to the second.  Chris sighs slightly /  rolls his eyes.  Rose assures him: "Oh come on, it'll be okay!  My dad's so laid-back liberal, he'd vote for Obama a third time if he could."  Chris, who's been dating (and film certainly implies has been sleeping with) Rose for those last four months, suggests that "it may be a little too early" -- Apparently, it _never occurred to him_ that at some point he'd be asked by his girlfriend (again, one who he had been happily sleeping with ...) to meet her parents... -- but he realizes, now, that he really "kinda has to go" as to not do so would require him admitting that he was _never_ "particularly serious" when he was dating (and sleeping with...) Rose.

Chris' best friend Rod Williams (played by LilRel Howery) who hasn't made it to college (but works for the TSA) senses that something's wrong.  "She's just asking me to meet her parents.  They're supposed to be liberal.  She tells me that her dad would vote for Obama a third time if he could," Chris tries to assure his (perhaps long) disapproving BFF.  But Rod (again, amusingly "working for the TSA") senses something wrong (when pretty much nobody else would). 

Well Chris and Rose set-off / and after a random mishap (they hit a deer) on their way, arrive at her parents' large, and again quite modern "country living" estate out somewhere at the far-outskirts of some random American metropolitan area.  And yes, Rose's parents, Dean and Missy are "kinda cool."  He's some kind of a neurosurgeon, she a psychiatrist, specializing in treating people with behavioral issues through "suggestion" under _hypnosis_. 

Okay, the last part, about hypnosis, is immediately _mildly creepy_.  Indeed, it comes up fairly early because the _one thing_ that Rose's parents find immediately somewhat "disappointing" about Rose's "catch" (Chris) is that he _smokes_.  No matter, Dean tells Chris that Missy could cure him of that, right then and there, through _hypnosis_ ("Heck she did that for me.  One time under hypnosis, and I can't pick-up a cigarette now without feeling immediately physically ill.").  Yea ... thanks, but ...

Now the _odd thing_ that Chris (and Viewers) notice about Dean and Missy's estate is that they have two domestic workers, Walter and Georgina (played by Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel), he a groundskeeper, she a maid, both "nice," but don't really talk much, and both ... are black.  And early on, Dean notices that Chris appears to have noticed this as well, and assures him: "Look I know it may seem kinda wierd that we live out here in this nice estate out in the middle of nowhere, and _both_ of our domestic workers _happen to be black_ but it's honestly _just a coincidence_.  Look, Missy and I are so liberal that we'd vote for Obama a third time if we could..."  (Yes, Dear Readers, that line appeared in the film three times ;-). 

Assurances aside, yes, it did seem kinda creepy that the two domestic workers were both black, but certainly _even creepier_ that they _didn't really say much_ ... ever.

What's going on?  Well that's the rest of the film ... I do think that I've set things up quite nicely here ... and it all makes for a quite interesting / often quite funny _race_ themed horror / comedy.  And Dear Readers: BE CAREFUL of what you're getting into when you _decide_ (or just _slide_) into a "casual relationship" ...  
  

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

My 2017 Oscar Picks

IMDb listing
Previous/Other years

As in previous years, I dutifully present my Oscar Pics here.  In previous years, I've also "given out my own (Denny) awards."  THIS YEAR, after starting "a new job" ;-), it's been a little harder to find the time to do the latter.  But I'll still hope to do so later.   


So let's go through the list of this year's Oscar Nominees anyway ...


BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
    WILL WIN - Mahershala Ali as a step-dad figure Juan in Moonlight [2016]
    SHOULD WIN - Mahershala Ali from Moonlight [2016]
    DESERVED CONSIDERATIONHugh Grant as the part cad / part sympathetic long-time companion St. Clair Bayfield of / in Florence Foster Jenkins [2016]; Liam Neeson as the Jesuit priest named Fereira who may (or may not...) have renounced his Faith after the Japanese Mission (started by St. Francis Xavier) began to suffer horrifying persecution in Silence [2016].


BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
    WILL WIN -  Viola Davis as lead character Troy Maxon's wife Rose in Fences [2016].
    SHOULD WIN - Viola Davis as lead character Troy Maxon's wife Rose in Fences [2016], Michelle Williams as lead character Lee Chandler's ex-wife Randy in Manchester by the Sea [2016]
    DESERVED CONSIDERATIONGreta Gerwig as Abbie one of lead character Dorothea's boarders in 20th Century Women [2016].


BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
    WILL WIN - Denzel Washington as the bitter "born a little too early to make his mark" late 40-something / early 50-something Troy Maxon in the African American "Chekhovian" drama Fences [2016]; Ryan Gosling as the young 20-something Jazz musician idealist Sabastian in the lovely "Hollywood of all our Dreams" film La La Land [2016].
    SHOULD WIN - Denzel Washington as the bitter "born a little too early to make his mark" late 40-something / early 50-something Troy Maxon in the African American "Chekhovian" drama Fences [2016]Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, the paralyzed by crushing guilt 40-something shell of a man put in charge of his nephew by his older brother after his older brother's death in Manchester by the Sea [2016]Andrew Garfield as WW II-era Pacifist / Medic in Hacksaw Ridge [2016]; Ryan Gosling as the young 20-something Jazz musician idealist Sabastian in the lovely "Hollywood of all our Dreams" film La La Land [2016]; Andrew Garfield as the 17th Century Jesuit Priest Rodrigues sent to the Japanese Mission (started by St. Francis Xavier) after it began to suffer horrifying persecution in Silence [2016]
    DESERVED CONSIDERATION - Andrew Garfield as the 17th Century Jesuit Priest Rodrigues sent to the Japanese Mission (started by St. Francis Xavier) after it began to suffer horrifying persecution in Silence [2016]; Ryan Reynolds as the title character / anti-hero in the Marvel Comics superhero movie Deadpool [2016].


  BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
    WILL WIN - Isabelle Huppert in the lead role as Michèle Leblanc a survivor of rape in Elle [2016]Emma Stone as the lovely aspiring young actress (who everybody would understand / want to be) Mia in La La Land [2016].
    SHOULD WIN - Isabelle Huppert in the lead role as Michèle Leblanc a survivor of rape in Elle [2016]; Annette Bening as late 40-something Dorothea seeking to raise her teenage son to be a good man, with (or without) a good role male role model to help her in 20th Century Women [2016]; Emma Stone as the lovely aspiring young actress (who everybody would understand / want to be Mia in La La Land [2016]Natalie Portman as the just widowed Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie [2016].
   DESERVED CONSIDERATION - Annette Bening as late 40-something Dorothea seeking to raise her teenage son to be a good man, with (or without) a good role male role model to help her in 20th Century Women [2016]; Emma Suárez in the title role in Julieta [2016] as 40-something woman who finds herself terribly punished for something that could have happened (if should not happen) to anybody; Lily Collins as the bright-eyed "aspiring actress" Marla Mabrey who finds herself in a different (and unfortunately much "more real" Hollywood) in the Howard Hughes inspired drama Rules Don't Apply [2016]


BEST ORIGINAL SCREEN PLAY
    WILL WIN - Damien Chazelle for La La Land [2016];
    SHOULD WIN - Damien Chazelle for La La Land [2016]; Mike Mills for 20th Century Women [2016]; Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea [2016].


BEST ADAPTED SCREEN PLAY
    WILL WIN - Eric Heisserer for Arrival [2106]; Allison Schroader and Theodore Melfi for Hidden Figures [2016]; August Wilson for Fences [2016]; Barry Jenkins for Moonlight [2016];.  
    SHOULD WIN - August Wilson for Fences [2016]; Eric Heisserer for Arrival [2016].
    DESERVED CONSIDERATION - Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick for Deadpool [2016].


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
    WILL WIN - Linus Sandgren for La La Land [2016]
    SHOULD WIN - Linus Sandgren for La La Land [2016]; Bradford Young for Arrival [2016]; Rodrigo Prieto for Silence [2016].


BEST DIRECTOR
    WILL WIN - Damien Chazelle for La La Land [2016]
    SHOULD WIN - Damien Chazelle for La La Land [2016]; Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea [2016]; Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge [2016].
    DESERVED CONSIDERATION - Martin Scorsese for Silence [2016]; Mike Mills for 20th Century Women


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
    WILL WIN - Moana [2016]
    SHOULD WIN - Moana [2016], Kubo and the Two Strings [2016]


BEST PICTURE
    WILL WIN - La La Land [2016]
    SHOULD WIN - La La Land [2016], Fences [2016]; Manchester by the Sea [2016]
    DESERVED CONSIDERATION - 20th Century Women [2016], Silence [2016]


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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Fist Fight [2017]

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

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


Fist Fight [2017] (directed by Richie Keen, screenplay and story by Van Robichaux, Evan Susser along with Max Greenfield) is an often FUNNY if often needlessly / stupidly raunchy escapist comedy for 30-something parents who (it's now _their_ generation's turn to think so) believe that there's something deeply wrong with today's youth / society.

It's the last day of the school year.  Yet white, 30-something, "every man" high school English teacher Andy Campbell (played by Charlie Day) is not celebrating.  It's "contract signing day" at the school for the coming year (once the students are let out) and Principal Tyler (played by Dean Norris) has let it be known that there are going to be deep cuts in the teaching staff.

Andy's very pregnant wife Maggie (played by JoAnna Garcia Swisher) reminded him as he left for school that day that they simply can't afford him losing his job.  Their other child, cute as a button if picked-on third grader Ally (played by Alexa Nisenson) is also looking for her dad to show her (lead by example) how to stand-up for oneself / not be bullied by others.

When he arrives at school, it's obvious that "morale is low."  The approaches being taken by the other teachers to the impending "coming-of-the-axe" range from really disturbing levels of denial exhibited by (1) "okay, so you're telling me to cut down on my _homemade_ meth use next year" _guidance counselor_ Holly (played to studied, clueless perfection by Jillian Bell) and (2) "willing to praise just about _any effort at all_ on the part of his students" by _Coach_ Crawford (played with honestly hilarious, you feel for the guy, desperation by Tracy Morgan) to wildly differing styles of combativeness ranging from (3) the self-centered "if I'm going down, I'm going to take down as many of you (fellow teachers) as I can" approach taken by the school's "Femme Nikita" (!) / _bombshell_ French teacher Ms. Monet (played again to "yes, you'd be _insane_ to trust her" Machiavellian perfection by Christina Hendricks) to the (4) more altruistic if wide-eyed "if I'm going to go down then LET IT BE A STATEMENT" approach taken by _embattled_ history teacher Mr. Strickland (played again wonderfully in eyes glazed / "okay HE CARES ... perhaps TOO MUCH" fashion by Ice Cube).  For Strickland, this last day begins with him just trying to get the stupid school-issued VCR (who uses them anymore?) to work so that he could remind his students through Ken Burn's excellent 1985 documentary [wikip] [IMDb] [Amzn] that "The Civil War _wasn't_ about Batman vs Superman" ;-)

The students?  Well, ... they're world-class a-holes: Since it's the last day of school, the Seniors spend THE WHOLE DAY performing one absolutely awful / sadistic (if often very funny...) prank after another on the teachers / administration.  


So in the midst of this absolutely awful "day to remember" Andy (who just doesn't want to lose his job) and Mr. Strickland (who if he is going to lose his job just wants to "go down making a statement") have ... an altercation.   And the rest of the story ensues ... ;-)

Yes, both the language and the humor is often stupidly crude, but a lot of middle aged parents would probably enjoy the film.  Just honestly, don't take your kids (or even teens) to it ...


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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

25th Annual Pan African Film Festival - Los Angeles - Part 1

Among the films that played recently at the 25th Annual Pan African Film Festival - Los Angeles, held at the Cinemark 15 Baldwin Hills Theater at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, I was able to view and review the following:


The Voice of the Kora [2015] (directed and produced by Claudine Pommier) proved to be a lovely / fascinating CANADIAN documentary about a traditional West African stringed instrument called the kora which is mostly commonly played, sitting down like a harp but nevertheless contains characteristics of the lute / guitar and drum. The traditional "acoustic" kora, _like_ the lute / guitar contains a resonating / amplifying sound box, but _unlike_ the lute / guitar and more like a drum said amplifying sound box is not made of wood but rather of stretched animal / cow skin).  The result is a versatile stringed instrument with a characteristic sound that would fascinate many music lovers as well as music technologists.

Indeed, one of the joys of attending Film Festivals such as this one has been the opportunity to attend screenings of various music themed documentaries where one can learn about some aspect of often beautiful regional music that one might not have known before.  In years past, I've attended excellent screenings of documentaries on traditional music from Cuba and the Andes.  This one is about traditional music from West Africa using this particular particular instrument, and then about many of the interesting fusions and developments that this instrument has undergone as musicians / music technologists from the world over have discovered its possibilities / sound.  Yes, there's a Colorado based hipster who builds "Electric Koras" now ;-) -- 3 1/2 Stars.



'76 (directed by Izu Ojukwu) is a fairly _gripping_ NIGERIAN HISTORICAL DRAMA / THRILLER about a group of relatively low-level Nigerian military officers and their families stationed at a fairly "random" (though "near to the action") Nigerian military base at the time of an aborted (failed) military coup in 1976.

If you've EVER wondered what it would be like to be (or find oneself to be) involved in something like this then this would be an excellent film to look up.  (Basically, being / finding oneself involved in such a high stakes endeavor is NOT for the fainthearted ;-).

To the filmmakers' credit, they make it clear that "the Coup" was BUT ONE of _many other things_ going on in the lives of the quite "small fish" officers involved:

Captain Joseph Dewa (played by Ramsey Nouah), the film's central protagonist, has a pregnant wife named Suzy (played by Rita Dominic).  Their marriage was a sort of "modern Nigerian" one, that is, they married across traditional tribal loyalties, so neither is particularly liked / trusted by each others' in-laws.  In particular, her "always asking for money brother" is, well, an annoyance that most Viewers would understand.  Then, next to the Dewa's on-base home, lives a fellow junior officer with a fairly loud recently "picked-up" "off-base" live-in girlfriend who clearly likes her newly achieved status -- she "bagged" a (junior) officer (and "who knows how far HE can rise ...") -- but also, as yet, doesn't know the first thing of "on-base residential etiquette," to say nothing of having compassion for the expecting couple in "all windows open" hot / steamy coastal Nigeria living next door.  Captain Dewa also has an old "from the OTS" army buddy who "just shows up" in these days (because he's involved, somehow, in the coming Coup).  And in the midst of all these competing forces and distractions, the still late 20-something / early 30-something Captain Joseph Dewa comes to realize that he has to choose sides in a coming conflict that he did not ask for, but carried the risk, no matter which way he chose, to end "with a bullet in his head."  Ay, one thinks, of course, "choose wisely" but ... -- 4 Stars.

 

Scent of Oak (orig. Roble de Olor) [2002 [IMDb] [FA.es]* (directed and cowritten by Rigoberto López [IMDb] [FA.es]* along with Eugenio Hernández [IMDb]) is a CUBAN HISTORICAL DRAMA of the class of the similarly quite excellent film Belle [2013], that is, though inspired by actual historical persons / events, nevertheless an imaginative (re)construction (due to the paucity of historical material.

The current film, set in the early 19th century about a great love between Cornelius Souchay (played by Jorge Perugorría [IMDb] [FA.es]*) a rich German born immigrant to Cuba and Ursula Lambert (played by Lia Chapman [IMDb] [FA.es]*) a quite well educated (dark skinned) immigrant / refugee from Haiti after the 1803 Revolution there who together setup a highly successful coffee plantation in Western Cuba, is based at least _in part_ on historical fact: The two really did exist, they really did operate a successful coffee plantation in Western Cuba and Cornelius Souchay really did put in his will the request that an all black chamber ensemble play at his funeral.  Hence, it is clear that Cornelius Souchay and Ursula Lambert did have a quite unique love for the time and they also understood their African descended compatriots (probably still at least nominally slaves) to have talents / capacities that other landed Cuban aristocrats of the time would probably have not believed them to have.  Yet as in the above mentioned film Belle [2013], much of the rest of the story was constructed around the quite meager historical points given above.  Yet such it often is when it comes to the personal histories of non-aristocratic women, let alone slaves / former slaves.  As in the case of Belle [2013] and the current film here, there are truly _tantalizing_ glimpses of _great stories_ present, but alas they remain glimpses.  What to do?  I do believe that the makers of Belle [2013] as well as the film here, did do their subjects justice.  The most likely alternative would be to not tell these stories at all and that would definitely not do these people justice either.

In any case, I did like this film, even if it came from (still) Communist Cuba.  I would note also that the Catholic Church plays a role in this film, and (IMHO) a surprisingly _positive one_.  For a film coming from a Communist country, I was honestly surprised by this.  The film's director Rigoberto López [IMDb] [FA.es]* was present at the end of the screening for Q&A and in said Q&A I did ask him about this (because it did surprised me).  He answered that Cuba is not necessarily what Westerners might think it to be.  And I would note that the film was made in the years following (Saint) John Paul II's historic visit to Cuba in 1998 after which there was a clear improvement in the Communist Regime's treatment of the Catholic Church / Christianity in general (For one, following Pope John Paul II's visit, Christmas (!) was reinstated as an official holiday in Cuba after its observance was officially "abolished" by the Communist Party in 1969 ...).  In any case the Catholic Church was presented quite fairly / surprisingly positively throughout the film.  All in all -- 3 1/2 Stars.



Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red in It (orig. Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai) [2015] (written and directed by Christopher Kirkley) is a fascinating music themed film from NIGER what's been billed as a "West African tribute to the African American superstar Prince."  Set in the dusty streets / surroundings of the South Saharan Niger-ian town of Agadez, it's about the South Sahara's _youth oriented_ music scene (!).  Indeed, the film stars Mdou Moctar a young Taureg speaking Central African superstar from  Abalak in southern Niger.

Now honestly, one of the first things that came to my mind, as I watched this movie was "OMG ... 1/2 the guys in this film look like they're from AL QUEDA / ISIS (!)"  But the ever smiling (when he's not wearing his head scarf) sings not about Jihad but simply about life and love and loss, LIKE ANY SENSITIVE MUSICIAN OR POET from ANYWHERE and ANY TIME.  Honestly, this VERY LITTLE FILM could do MORE FOR PROMOTING PEACE AND MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING than just about any film that I've seen since I've begun my blog five years ago.  Outstanding, and honestly beautiful job! - 4+ Stars



Forward Ever: The Killing of a Revolution [2013] (written and directed by Bruce and Luke Paddington) is a SURPRISING and remarkably _well done_ documentary about what would for most people otherwise be a true footnote in Cold War / World History -- the rise and fall of the Revolutionary Government of Maurice Bishop in the tiny Caribbean island nation of Grenada.  

I went to the film in most part out of simple curiosity.  I certainly knew of the 1983 U.S. Invasion of Grenada, which I always understood to have been a perhaps inevitable / necessary Cold War chess move on the part of the Reagan Administration, but also one motivated in good part by cynicism / a perceived need "to change the story" (a few days earlier, two Shiite suicide bombers had breached the U.S. Marine Compound in Beirut Lebanon killing 241 U.S. Marines, 58 French Peacekeepers and six civilians.  Since there was no ready way to retaliate in Lebanon, the invasion of the tiny but annoying / Marxist aligned nation of Grenada offered a simpler "change the story" alternative).

HOWEVER, as this documentary pointed out, the _deteriorating situation_ in Grenada was far more chaotic than perhaps perceived in the U.S. at the time AND I HONESTLY LEFT THE THEATER WITH THE MORE-OR-LESS CERTAINTY THAT THE REAGAN ADMINISTRATION ACTUALLY DID THE RIGHT THING IN GRENADA.

What happened then in the lead-up the U.S. invasion?  That's then what the documentary is about, and to its credit, it seems to be REMARKABLY HONEST:

Basically, the always idealistic, if certainly Marxist government of Maurice Bishop simply COLLAPSED.  A more radically left-wing clique tried to oust him.   He and his supporters then stormed one of the 18th century forts on the island (the fort apparently contained a radio transmitter from which Bishop could declare to his supporters / the outside world that "he" / "all was okay" (he / they were not).  Grenada's armed forces, arguably _not aligned_ at this point, tried to send three armored personnel carriers to said fort to "restore order."  THE ARMORED PERSONNEL CARRIERS WERE FIRED UPON by Bishop's supporters, where upon the military unit, of course, fired back.  By the time the dust settled, the survivors of that military unit apparently just lined-up Bishop and six of his top aides against a wall and shot them dead (the soldiers had lost their own friends in the fighting ...).  Subsequently, the remainders of the Grenadan military (who was leading them?) declared "martial law."  There were 600 American students on the island, memories of the still recent 1978-1980 Iranian Hostage Crisis were fresh.  Given THAT LEVEL of CHOAS on that tiny island nation, it made TOTAL SENSE to for the Reagan Administration to send in the 82nd airborne / Marines to restore order.

Anyway, the documentary really could serve as a reminder to young idealists radicals that guns and politics are a REALLY VOLATILE MIX (and Marxism did / does advocate violent Revolution ...).  This island nation nearly descended into something resembling "The Lord of the Flies" [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] ... Excellent documentary / cautionary tale - 3 1/2 Stars


* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie [2017]

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

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

The Lego Batman Movie [2017] (directed by Chris McKay, story by Seth Grahame-Smith, screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith along with others, Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) is ONE FUNNY, FAMILY FRIENDLY / KID ORIENTED (and even MESSAGE DRIVEN) comic book superhero movie! 

It has the child-oriented quarkiness of the (then) surprise Marvel Comics out-of-the-ball-park hit Guardians of the Galaxy [2014] and the similarly surprisingly successful (but not as successful as Guardians) first Lego Movie [2014], BUT then (as in said first Lego Movie) the current movie adds a lovely family oriented message that, yes, even a five or six year old could understand.  In other words, this film offers not just "goofiness," but "goofiness with a purpose" ;-).

The ever-brooding (but here, over-the-top brooding) Batman [wikip] [IMDb] (voiced by Will Arnett) was the surprise "break-out star" of the first Lego Movie [2014] just begging for a Lego film of his own.  And voila' ... in this film we got our wish ;-).

In the current film, we're introduced to said brooding Batman [wikip] [IMDb] as a supremely efficient, if soulless, death-and-destruction dealing vigilante-guardian of Gotham City.  He keeps the _ever_ ready to go _completely unhinged_ city SAFE, but does so certainly _without_ any joy and even without any particular purpose.  It seems that chaos simply "annoyed" Batman, perhaps "annoyed him A LOT" ... but beyond causing him some apparent discomfort in his otherwise thoroughly "cartesian"  / gadget-filled life ... it's hard to say at the beginning of the story that he cared really FOR ANYTHING.  (LOL - "cartesian" ... the box-like Lego-medium of this film becomes an additional amusing metaphor for his apparent "outlook on life" ;-).

Indeed, Batman seemed to "crush" The Joker (voiced inspiringly in the film by Zach Galifianakis) in a way that no punch nor wildly exotic piece of "bat weaponry" could ever do by telling him after their first big encounter near the beginning of the film that even HE, "The Joker," meant NOTHING to him.  "What do you mean NOTHING?" asks a thoroughly aghast Joker, "I am your PRIMARY NEMESIS in this TOWN. (I KILL ... (arguably) for you. ;-)"  But NOTHING was right.  EVEN the Joker was but an "annoyance" to him. 

Batman neither needed nor wanted _any help_ from _anybody_ in keeping the city SAFE (!!) from "vermin" like The Joker.  But after liquidating one or another radically insane "Evil Doer,"  Batman would simply retreat to his "Bat Cave" where he'd eat his wildly luxurious food -- Lobster (lobster, mind you Dear Readers, made here out of legos ;-) and watch ... tear-jerking romcoms.  We watch Tom Cruise declare to Rene Zellwigger in Jerry Maguire [1996]: "You complete me."  And yet ... The Batman does not need ANYBODY to "complete" him ... And yet ... there we see him binge-watching teary RomComs ... "in the darkness" ... ALONE.

This, of course, can not stand ... and ... (of course) it does NOT ;-).

And the rest of the story ensues ;-)  I JUST LOVED THIS FILM ... ;-)  It's a reminder to all that you could even be a "super-hero."  But without friends, you can still be nothing.
 

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Friday, February 3, 2017

The Comedian [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review


The Comedian [2017] directed by Taylor Hackford, story and screenplay by Art Linson along with Jeff Ross, Richard LaGravenese and Lewis Friedman) is, on its surface, a rather ugly movie about a rather ugly guy.  Robert De Niro plays "Jackie Burke" an aging comedian whose peak (playing a Jackie Gleason [wikip] [IMDb]-like character, a cop named "Eddie," in some wildly popular sitcom of yesteryear) had long since past.  Now he's grinding out a living doing the stand-up comedy circuit in decent enough "boutique comedy clubs," though not exactly "Ceasar's Palace" ... And he's reasonably funny, though mostly crude, and not particularly happy with even his realization that his best years are long behind him.

Striking in this film is that Robert De Niro (Italian American) plays in this film a character who is repeatedly, over-and-over, identified as "Jewish."   Danny DeVito (another Italian American icon) plays his brother "Ben," who runs a New York Jewish Deli.  Even De Niro's love interest played by Leslie Mann, who has a more or less obviously mobbed-up father (played by Harvey Keitel), has a GERMANIC last name -- Schiltz.

What's going on here?  There's _almost certainly_ "a story" there ... "revenge of the Italian American actors?" (and if it is, then GOOD ON THEM ;-) ... But whether or not the original intent of the film-makers was to make ALL THESE CHARACTERS "Italian American," it's an ugly film.

Jackie's a pig.  Thanks be to God,  De Niro's NOT playing an "Italian American pig" but he's still playing a pig. 

But then, that may indeed be the point ... If the film feels ugly with the characters identified as both Jewish and Aryan, why would it have felt somehow "better" if the characters were Italian or Latino?

So honestly, there's an interesting "joke" being played here ... and in a good part it's on the audience itself.

In this regard, it's not an altogether bad film after all ;-).


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Un Padre No Tan Padre [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB ()  AZRepublic (4 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
FilmAffinity.es listing*

AZRepublic (R. Cordova) review
Excelsior.com.mx (A. Ruz) review*

Un Padre No Tan Padre [2017] [IMDb] [FA.es]*(directed by Raúl Martínez [IMDb] [FA.es]*, screenplay by Alberto Bremer [IMDb]) is a Mexican / Spanish language "fish out of water" comedy about Don Severando (played inspiringly by Héctor Bonilla [IMDB] [FA.es]*) an "older gentleman" SO "OLD SCHOOL" / SEVERE that the upscale Mexico City "senior retirement hotel" that he's lived in for the last 20 years has finally had enough and asks him to leave.

Okay, but where to?   Well, NONE of his five grown children want him.  Only the youngest, Francisco, going by "Fran" for short (played again magnificently by Benny Ibarra [IMDB] [FA.es]*) who lives with his long-time girl friend (played by Jacqueline Bracamontes [IMDB] [FA.es]*) and teenage son René (played by Sergio Mayer Mori [IMDB] [FA.es]*) by another relationship in a small comune at the edge of Anglo-American expat haven, notoriously "hippie / liberal" San Miguel de Allende (think Berkeley, Key West, "Big Sur" / Santa Cruz / Monterrey) is willing to take him in, if temporarily, to see if it would work...

Well, needless to say, "much ensues ..." ;-)

I just loved this movie and think that it'd be worth it for A LOT of Readers here (both Anglo and Hispanic) to see it because it reminds EVERYONE of the cultural diversity that, if one thinks about it _at all_, so clearly exists in both Mexico and across Latin America.

BOTH "Don Severando" and "Fran" / Alma and their "artist commune" exist.  Where would Diego Rivera or Frida, to say nothing of the characters populating Carlos Fuentes'  or (Colombian) Gabriel García Márquez' novels, come from?

Just a joy of a film ;-)


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The Space Between Us [2017]

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

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


The Space Between Us [2017] (directed by Peter Chelsom, screenplay by Allan Loeb, story by Stewart Schill, Richard Barton Lewis and Allan Loeb) is an at times _truly_ impossible teen-oriented "crush story" (seriously, there's NO WAY _in this universe_ that the story's two "star crossed lovers" could talk to each other (one on Mars, the other in Colorado) in an online chat, with even the speed of light at a mere 186,000 miles/sec, the distances involved, tens of millions to hundreds of millions of miles, are simply too great).  Nevertheless, putting aside this fairly elementary and yet (as of now) utterly insurmountable telecommunications problem -- our deep space probes operate using a mix of artificial intelligence / instructions sent to them ahead of time and report their findings back to earth minutes to hours after the fact -- it's _not_ an awful weepy teen-oriented "crush story." 

PARENTS SHOULD NOTE that there is a scene in which the two teens in question - the lankly Mars-born "Gardner" (played by Asa Butterfield) and the actually quite similarly rootless, shuttled from one-foster-home-to-another "Tulsa" (played by Britt Robertson) DO end up _sharing a sleeping bag_ together ... -- during a truly beautiful "starry night" out in the Arizona desert on their way to find "Gardner's" father (Gardner's mother, an astronaut only found out that she was pregnant 2 months into a mission to Mars ... and dies soon after giving birth to him on the red planet). 

Was that scene WISE or even NECESSARY? -- let's remember that Shakespeare settled his narrative problem of what to do with his two enamored "star crossed teens" in Romeo & Juliet by having them get married secretly by Friar Lawrence (and it would seem that Gardner's mother was married _secretly_ by an Arizona Shaman to Gardner's father before her departure to Mars ;-).  Still the film's wink to "Okay, teens it's okay to shack-up if only for one night, if the night is TRULY BEAUTIFUL / romantic" will irritate a fair number of parents ... and REQUIRE COMMENT (and condemnation) by a Church authority such as me (it's part of our job).

But okay, so the story's science is flawed and in the above point morally questionable.  Still, what a great teen romance: He from Mars, raised by astronauts who didn't necessarily expect that to be part of their job, she born and yet quite lonely here on Earth -- So what's a few hundred million miles distance when TRUE LOVE [TM] is involved ;-).

So all in all, it's NOT an awful sappy teen-age love story ;-) and with regard to _this film genre_ does one necessarily demand "more"?


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