Friday, April 27, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War [2018]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (0 Stars)

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

Avengers: Infinity War [2018] (codirected by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, screenplay cowritten by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely based on Marvel Comics by Stan Lee [IMDb] and Jack Kirby [IMDb]) sigh ... I guess it was inevitable:

Almost exactly in the middle of the film, as two groups of the story-line's protagonists meet for the first time-- to eventually become essentially the Super Avengers, made-up of the Avengers already introduced to us in previous films plus the heroes of the Guardians of the Galaxy whom the other Avengers do not yet know -- eastern mystic inspired Dr. Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) sternly asks the famously slacker-anti hero Guardian of the Galaxy Peter Quill / "Star Lord" (played by Chris Pratt) "What MASTER do you serve" to which, confused by the question, Peter Quill aka "Star Lord" responds in his characteristically flustered "amiable slacker" sort of way: "Do... you ... want me to say ... Jesus?"

Haha ... there were _some_ (stiff) laughs in the mostly teenage / young adult audience.  But I was basically done.  Ten minutes later, already rather frustrated by the film's overly ponderous story-line, certainly the most convoluted in the franchise thus far -- though in the film's defense, one could say that the Avengers were trying to save THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE -- I left.

The throw-away Christian mocking line reminds me of when I, as still a teenager / young adult was visiting then still Communist Czechoslovakia and with a few Czech relatives of mine was visiting one of the many lovely medieval castles in the country.  In the castle's chapel, the tour guide, certainly a Soudruška (Czech for "Comrade") mindful that most of the group that she was leading was actually a school group of 10-12 year olds on a field trip, stopped in front of a lovely statue of a young Blessed Virgin Mary and told the kids, "Now kids ... in the olden days, the big strong, handsome young knights of this castle would put themselves on their knees before this lovely young maiden, who by the way her name was Mary, to 'worship her' ... Yes, it's kind of childish and _even somewhat obsene_  for us today, but that's what pervy young men, often still not married, would do in those backward days." 

And again the message was clear, an atheist in a position of power, was telling her _captive audience_ of young people that's perfectly okay to mock the Christian faith that some of them certainly still held (among those kids were certainly Catholics / Christians, though they _definitely knew_ to keep their mouths shut under Communism) and certainly held by many more of their parents and grandparents...

Perhaps though the Christian mocking throw-away scene in this latest Avenger's movie was inevitable.  After all:

(1) One of Marvel Comic's most famous heroes is a kindlier, rehabililitated nordic god based Thor (the Wagner-loving Nazis had a more _racially based_ take on him a few decades before ...), and

(2) the Catholic Church / Christian Community in the United States is certainly _not_ entirely without blame: the more conservative elements of the Christian community have _chosen_ to take a needlessly hard (and truly next to impossible to try to dialogue with) line on homosexuality in recent decades, and the ARTISTIC community, which has _always_ been something of a haven for homosexuals (Michelangelo was probably gay ...) has with again SOME DEFINITE JUSTIFICATION taken offense.

As I've written before [1] [2] [3] IN A FREE SOCIETY, the artistic community ultimately can produce WHATEVER ART (films) IT WANTS.  So ... if the Catholic Church / Christian community _chooses_ to pick a fight with the significantly homosexual artistic community, it can expect _exactly_ what it has received: a parade of poignant / heart-rending films each underlying, and in an inevitably nearly infinite number of ways, _the fundamental dignity_ of homosexuals as _persons_ AND eventually a similar parade of films hostile-to and even mocking of Christianity.

To expect otherwise is honestly to "not think things through ..."

But to me it's sad here ... because in the case of this stupid throw-away line here, no one's dignity was being defended.  Instead, Christians / Christianity were simply being mocked.

And yes, obviously, I'm a follower of Jesus ... Zero stars.

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Friday, April 20, 2018

I Feel Pretty [2018]

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

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

I Feel Pretty [2018] (cowritten and codirected by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein) is a fun / positive comedy of the Melissa McCarthy, yes, Amy Schumer vein (the latter starring in this film as its "we've all been there" average yet again "that's what we all are" heroine).  And judging audience, composed mostly of smiling and at times _beaming_ 20-30-something women, where I saw the film, it succeeds, often in spades ;-).

Amy Schumer plays Renee a 20 something Queens / Brooklyn New Yorker who eats, speaks, and dreams like a 20-something Queens / Brooklyn New Yorker -- she could _easily_ (!) be a parishioner at any place where I've ever served -- and yet, of course, dreams of being (and feels somewhat cheated that she isn't) the feather-light, yet still somehow curvy, supermodel who she sees displayed on the packaging of the cosmetics that she buys and the "fashion" / "women's magazines" that she reads.

Her wannabe dreaming has her working for "Lily LeClair" (a fictionalized Coco Chanel) cosmetics / mostly women's fashion company.  But since she doesn't necessarily fit the corporate image, instead of working at the company's 5th Avenue HQ, she along with another quite frumpy looking guy (played by Adrian Martinez) works "IT" for the company out of a random second story apartment somewhere in nearby Chinatown ;-). 

Running some papers over to HQ "because the servers were down," she discovers that the company is looking for a new receptionist -- arguably "the face" of the company.  And though as an IT person she probably gets 2-3-4x the salary that a receptionist would, it just gets in her head that _this_ is the job that she'd really want, 'cept ... she looks ... like a regular person, as opposed to a supermodel.

Well ... inspired through watching the rerun of the delightful Tom Hanks comedy, Big [1988], she runs out, in the midst of "a dark and stormy night" and throws a coin into a nearby fountain asking to become "pretty" and ... after getting a knock on the head in the midst of a simultaneously goofy / horrific, cornball-ish accident (that could only happen to "a regular person" like you / me) she wakes up and ...the rest of the story follows ... ;-)

It's not much of a spoiler to tell the audience that, of course, Renee doesn't _become_ "pretty" SHE JUST THINKS SHE HAS ... ;-) -- this is already shown in the film's trailers.  But the film then challenges Viewers to ask themselves  what "beauty" actually is, and how much of it really is just a state of mind.  And the story to its credit also shows a bit of the "ugliness" of "beauty" ... Renee begins to feel entitled to treat some of her past friends (played by Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps) with disdain. 

Anyway, the film reminds us that "beauty" in large part, and on _a surprising number of levels_, truly comes "from within."  Great / fun story!

A final note to parents, I do believe that the PG-13 rating is ENTIRELY APPROPRIATE to the film.  There is no bad language and though much of its thematics is about being "body beautiful" the film is remarkably discrete in what it shows: while much is implied, often with humor, _nothing_ is actually shown.  It's a film that a 13 year old could see, not be tempted and ... understand.  Again, excellent job!

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Quiet Place [2018]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (0 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
Los Angeles Times (J.Chung) review (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

A Quiet Place [2018] (directed by John Krasinski, story by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, screenplay by Bryan WoodsScott Beck and John Krasinski) is supposedly some sort of a triumph and does certainly keep one's attention ... so long as one does not think about it too much ;-/

The story takes place in the near future, a number of years after an alien invasion and long after said aliens have effectively "won" -- what's left of humanity is scattered and deathly terrified of said aliens.  This is even though the aliens look simply like GIANT unarmed ('cept for their claws / teeth) ANTS ... as "technologically fearsome" as say ... a grizzly bear with an exoskeleton and six legs. :-)

Further, these ant-like aliens, who incidentally are REALLY, REALLY UGLY, are also apparently BLIND, though they can HEAR really really well, an evolutionary trait that would be almost certainly _useless_ to them IN THE VAST _EMPTINESS_ OF INTERSTELLAR SPACE (hearing requires decoding signals in _pressure waves_) or for that matter ON ANY PLANET OTHER THAN THEIR OWN (almost every foreign planet's atmosphere would be toxic to them, as it would be toxic to us).

So one's left wondering how the heck these BLIND giant ant-like creatures, who incidentally appear to be incapable of (or uninterested in) communicating with anyone else 'cept (perhaps) between themselves, could nevertheless master _interstellar space travel_ and defeat our ... doors ;-), to say nothing of electrified fences, to say even less of machine guns, to say even less than that of "insecticides" (chemical weapons) or finally almost nothing at all of nuclear weapons.

So what the heck is going on here?  We in the audience are invited to FEAR GIANT, UGLY, UTTERLY UNREASONABLE "ALIENS" who simply come to OUR WORLD to DESTROY IT for no apparent reason other than that they can.

Soo ... Build the Wall, build the Wall!

-- zero stars.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Isle of Dogs [2018]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (W. Anderson) review (Odie Henderson) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Isle of Dogs [2018] (directed and screenplay and story cowritten by Wes Anderson along with Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura) is a film that's not going to be for everybody.  If one's already seen (and liked) some of Wes Anderson's films from The Royal Tanenbaums [2001] through to the Grand Budapest Hotel [2014], then one will probably enjoy this movie.

However, the story's approach to prejudice / bigotry, the parable (or fable)'s theme, will disconcert a fair amount of Wes Anderson's otherwise fans: The story presumably condemns said random (and cruel) prejudice / bigotry (here against "dogs") BUT ... if I were part of a persecuted or otherwise historically looked-down-upon group in society, I'm _pretty sure_ I wouldn't be comfortable with being cast as "a dog" in the story no matter what PETA may insist or say.

So there it is: The story, set in contemporary Japan, is about a random corner of the island nation, in Megasaki Prefecture (Japan is divided up politically into several dozen such Prefectures), in which two shogun families have been battling for dominance for centuries.  One of these, the Kobayashi family, has harbored an again centuries-long irrational hatred of dogs (and an amusing, equally irrational fawning love of ... cats ;-).

By ancient tradition, recalled even to this day in haikus and traditional operas and plays, Megasaki Province's dogs were saved as a result of a "Boy Samurai" who rose-up to champion the dogs' "Here's a good dog, you're such a good dog" cause and put the evil Kobayashi clan in its place.

BUT ... after _centuries_ of plotting quietly -- behind cute, fuzzy cat draped heraldic banners -- the Kobayashi clan has returned, with the election of one of its own as Mayor (voiced by Konichi Nomura).  Near the beginning of the film, the Mayor gives a rousing Fascist-like speech vowing to rid the Prefecture of its "bad dog" menace, noting that city's dogs were known to be carriers of a random if menacingly sounding illness called "Dog flu" an illness that NEVER (yet?) jumped the species barrier to humans BUT ... if it did, well, it COULD BE ... bad.

At the end of his speech, Mayor Kobayashi, eyes rolling, notes that "thanks to the democratic imposed-upon-us Constitution" he has to give "the other side" a chance to speak, and so he calls a quiet/introverted, out-of-his-element "scientist" to the podium, one who's been working on "a cure" for the as yet never to have actually infected anybody "dog flu" to speak on the dogs' defense.  The poor scientist, Prof. Watanabe (voiced by Akria Ito) in a quivering voice simply notes that: "Not all dogs are BAD dogs, some are GOOD DOGs" and ... is pelted with eggs, tomatoes and ... rocks, by the mayor's assembled crowd.  Hmmm... what does that seem like?

So ... "The People" "by popular acclaim" give the Mayor power to deport / dump all of the Prefecture's dogs to a distant island, where its trash was taken, and the Mayor ... a picture or banner of _a cute fuzzy cat_ present as a backdrop at much every location where he appears ... has _his scientists_ secretly work on a means of simply _killing_ (exterminating) the city's remaining dogs exiled to that distant trash heap.  Hmmm ... again, what does that seem like?

Much ensues ... and quite obviously (not much of a spoiler alert) the dogs do "get their day."

Okay, I get what the story's trying to say (I think) BUT ... if I were either Jewish, Mexican or even Muslim (is Trash Island, basically a version of Guantanamo in addition to being the Warsaw Ghetto / Auschwitz?) I'm not sure I'd exactly want to applaud a movie that would compare me to a dog, perhaps "a cute, yes, what a good dog" but a dog NEEDING A MASTER nonetheless...

Sigh ...

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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Acrimony [2018]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review (M. Castillo) review
AVClub (K. Rife) review

Acrimony [2018] (written and directed by Tyler Perry) is a well spun marital drama, if _somewhat_ exaggerated at times, that is worthy of married couples in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s to view.  It is definitely not for kids, but for those old enough to become involved in a serious relationship (and thus old enough to begin appreciating the consequences of getting involved in a serious relationship) this would not be bad viewing.

The film begins in court with Melinda (played wonderfully by Taraji P. Hensen) being ordered by the court to respect the restraining order filed by her former husband Robert (played also quite well / realistically by Lyriq Bent) against her and is ordered to attend some anger management classes.  From her expression, it's obvious that Melinda did not feel that the judge was being right with her.

Okay, she, eyes rolling, expression dripping with resentment comes to her first appointment for her anger management counseling, and expresses her feeling that none of this is just, and ... begins telling her story ... and ...

... well, and this is what's so good about Tyler Perry's story here, one starts to understand her, ONE SEES HER POINT.

... BUT ... ;-) ... and this then is what _really makes_ Perry's story here so interesting to me, as the story progresses, after she's had her say at her counselor's office, and the rest of the story develops, it becomes clear that she's only _partly_ right.  Yes, she has her story.  And yes, one understands her.  But in the second half of the story, one starts to see that the people that she's angry at, have THEIR TRUTHS / STORIES too.

So I found this to be a well written, well acted "marriage gone awry" story in which EVERYBODY in the story is at least PARTLY RIGHT (and hence, also, PARTLY WRONG).

Excellent job! 

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Paul: Apostle of Christ [2018]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-II) ()  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

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

America Magazine interview with writer/director

Paul: Apostle of Christ [2018] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Andrew Hyatt along with Terence Berden) is in my opinion the best Christian religious based movie to be released in cinemas in the United States since Son of God [2014].  Why?  Because it tells the compelling story of the last days of the Apostle St. Paul, who was beheaded in Rome during the first great persecution of Christians there under the Emperor Nero, without feeling any need to "jazz things up."  And why would there be a need?  Here was an authentic Christian hero, still leading / inspiring a community of authentic Christian heroes.  There was no need to turn the film into a "First Century CSI" or to have a contemporary writer "re-imagine" the childhood years of "The Young Messiah." 

Indeed, as I was watching the film, I thought immediately of several other stories of early Christian saints that could easily be make into compelling dramas -- those of (1) St. Justin Martyr another early Christian saint from Rome who was martyred a few centuries after St. Paul during the actual height of the Christian persecutions there, (2) St. Felicitas and Perpetua, two women Christian martyrs, friends, one was actually a recent convert, who were among those literally fed to the lions at a sporting event at roughly the same time as St. Justin was martyred, (3) St. Callixtus, who even though he led the Church of Rome still during times of enormous persecution and eventually died for the Faith, became the first Pope who was not universally recognized as the Pope by the Christian community there (apparently some Christians of the time simply _refused_ to follow a leader who had once been a slave.  He did in fact create the first Christian "credit union" which he created to help Rome's slaves buy their freedom, and became the first Christian leader to be "investigated" for possible "financial irregularities" by ... his aghast more "conservative / traditionalist" Christian opponents).  His primary Christian opponent at the time St. Hippolytus ended up being martyred at the same time as he (the Pagans not drawing distinctions between Christians of one stripe or another ... ;-); (4) St. Lawrence, a Deacon in the 200s, who when the Pope Sixtus II was arrested while saying Mass in one of the Catacombs in Rome, was asked by Rome's authorities to deliver-up "all the riches of the Christian Community of Rome" (again, they had that Credit Union by then ...) to pay as ransom.  Instead,  St. Lawrence  gathered together all the Christian community's elderly and orphans and presented them to Rome's authorities as the "Community's True Riches."  Needless to say, St. Lawrence was taken-away and martyred in a particularly brutal way -- roasted on a grill.  The Saint, remembered to the day as the Patron Saint of Comedians, is said to have told the Romans roasting him: "I think you can flip me over, I think I'm done on that side" ;-). 

So, if the makers of the current film were up to it, they could really do an excellent job in bringing a good deal of these stories of the early Christian Saints to the screen as well!

To the current film ... the story plays out in Rome under the Emperor Nero during the first great persecution of Christians in Rome.  About half the city had burned down due to a fire that many have suggested was set on orders of Nero himself (to make way for his own building projects).  To deflect attention, he blamed the Christians, then a new religious sect arriving in Rome only a decade or two earlier.  As a result Christians were arrested, crucified, killed by wild animals in sports arenas for sport and covered in pitch and set on fire to provide lighting. 

Among those Christians martyred were St. Peter who apparently was crucified in the middle of the Circus Vaticanus (the obelisk in the center of today's St. Peter's Square, while apparently moved a few hundred feet to its present location, had served as one of the end posts on on the Circus Vaticanus race track at the time) and, of course, St. Paul.  Note here that since St. Paul had Roman citizenship, he could not be crucified in the way that foreigners and slaves were.  He ultimately was beheaded near what is today the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

In the film here, St. Paul (played in the film by James Faulkner) had already been arrested and was held in a prison somewhere by the Roman Forum.  St. Luke (played in the film by Jim Caviezel) who had been a missionary companion of St. Paul, and later the writer of both the Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, managed to get into Rome with help of Priscilla and Aquila (a Roman Christian couple mentioned repeatedly in Paul's letters and played in the film by Joanne Whalley and John Lynch respectively) with the purpose of getting one last opportunity to talk to his mentor and to get his facts straight while St. Paul was still alive prior to setting the Acts of the Apostles to paper.  The rest of the story unspools from there...

Contemporary Viewers are invited to reflect on an ancient aspect of Christianity often utterly forgotten in the current day -- that Christians in the first centuries were _pacifists_.  Viewers in the current film are invited to hear some frustrations of the younger of the Christians of the time, personified most strongly in the character of a certain young "Cassius" (played by Alessandro Sperduti), who wished to FIGHT BACK against the Romans who were beating and arresting so many good Christians and sending them to their deaths, often for sport. 

Yet the Christian leadership from Priscilla and Aquila to Paul already in Prison was unwavering: DON'T RESIST EVIL WITH EVIL even if it results in one's own death.  There's a scene in the film when arrested Christians presumably facing the lions only a few moments hence were assured by their leaders: "Don't worry, it will hurt, but only for a moment, soon you'll be in the presence of God."

And, minor spoiler alert, St. Paul, goes to his death with the same conviction and in a similar way.

Dear Readers, consider now that a few years ago, American Sniper [2014] was released ON CHRISTMAS DAY without a hardly peep of protest from the Christian / Catholic Community in the United States.  How times have changed!  And honestly, Christians / Catholics should ask themselves if this change has been a particularly "good" one?  Is it really Christian / Catholic to dehumanize "the Enemy"?  Or are we all supposed to be ultimately children of the same God?

So here is a truly excellent and thought provoking CHRISTIAN and CATHOLIC film (the writer / director is Catholic), challenging us to take seriously our faith and to be brave in our challenge to contemporary society.  If we are to be "pro-Life" we need to be so consistently. 

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Monday, April 2, 2018

Death of Stalin [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 (K. Turan) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Death of Stalin [2017] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Armando Iannucci along with David Schneider and Ian Martin with additional material by Peter Fellows, based on the comic book [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, original screenplay by Fabien Nury) presents A FITTINGLY _INGLORIOUS_ COMEDIC "TRIBUTE" to the end of the life of one of the most brutal people of the 20th Century, Joseph Stalin [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the film by Adrian McLoughlin).

Indeed while certainly Stalin, MURDERER of tens of millions of Ukrainians during the imposed Terror Famine of the 1920s, murderer of tens to hundreds of thousands of Christian Orthodox priests and religious (there was "no room for Christ" when Stalin was busy building a Cult to himself), as well as tens to hundreds of thousands of his own Communist Party Members (again, they started to "get in the way"), DEPORTER of _entire nations_ to Siberia -- the Tatars of Crimea are _still_ largely there in an artificial "Republic of Tatarstan", the Chechens managed to return -- and large portions of others, including Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians, certainly deserves all the scorn that could possibly be heaped upon him, one still kinda felt "sorry for him" and his hapless sycophant "advisers" on HIS Politiburo (in the same way that one's "sorry for" Hitler in the Downfall Parodies).

And so it was, what _should have been_ "just another late night of drinking, watching "American Westerns" / signing death-lists for the NKVD (each night they were tasked to kick down doors and arrest potential enemies of his dragging them away to never be seen by their loved ones again) and smiling, no LAUGHING, at Stalin's jokes ... THIS NIGHT proved "different" ... After his Politiburo "guests" were finally allowed to go home, Stalin had a stroke, and since his guards were too afraid to check on him after they heard a "thump" ... he DIED.

What to do?  Well, the rest of the story unfolds, LARGELY based on the historical record.  And as is often the case with dictators such as Stalin, ONE COULDN'T INVENT THE CHARACTERS HERE EVEN IF ONE TRIED ;-).

Field Marshall Zhukov (played in the film by Jacob Isaacs) who comes into the story near its end to finally knock heads and get things moving (including getting rid of the smarmy and terror-master-in-chief Ministry of the Interior head Lavrenti Beria played in the film by Simon Russell Beale) is simply hilarious.  He comes into the Kremlin buff, decked with all his medals, and basically with the attitude: "Look I took down Hitler, survived (repeatedly) the insanity of Stalin's purges and there's simply NO WAY that I'm going to let MY LIFE or the lives of MY OFFICERS to _continue_ to be at the mercy of this charisma-less and now Stalin-less band of stooges." (Fellow WW II vet...) Khrushchev (played in the film by Steve Buscemi) "stepped up," which was helpful, but there was simply NO WAY that Zhukov was going to leave Stalin's Funeral without _some things_ definitely (and definitively...) resolved ;-).

Again, it's a fitting "tribute" to the end of a Monster that a great uncle of mine, just like a pianist in this film (played by Ukrainian born actress Olga Kurylenko), had actually cursed to death for the crimes that he perpetuated both directly against loved ones (an uncle of mine, after whom I was later named was jailed by the Communists at the time) and against entire peoples including my parents' own, and humanity in general.

Yes, the film makes the Russians (or at least its leadership) look like idiots, but with Putin trying to "Make Russia great again" in good part by trying to Resurrect (!) the "Glories of Stalin," THIS FILM DESERVED TO BE MADE.  NO we shouldn't want to bring _that_ era back again.

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Ready Player One [2018]

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

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

Ready Player One [2018] (directed by Steven Spielberg, screenplay by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Ernest Cline [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a visually spectacular movie of our time that IMHO definitely deserves though probably will not receive Oscar consideration beyond the most obvious categories (cinematography, set design, film editing, etc).

Set in 2045, in a world of quite radical decline as the film's late-teen / early-20 something main protagonist Wade Watts (played by Tye Sharidan) declares, "After people gave up on trying to solve the world's problems and just focused on surviving them," it's not a pretty sight:  Most people in Wade's home town of Columbus, Ohio of the future just live "in stacks" ... high rises reduced to _truly_ their bare essentials -- steel beam erector-set-like exteriors that look like giant "shelves" built for an enormous machine shop, with prefabricated (once) "mobile" homes just hoisted (presumably by crane), "stacked" and fitted into the high-rise-erector-set-shelving-space-like "floors."  Talk about simply "warehousing people" ...

But .... (1) that's all that most people can afford with many / most of them finding themselves in incredible debt, mostly as a result of buying (in the real world) useless "stuff" to better-play their video games, and dreading the coming of debt collectors to their homes to take them away to "loyalty centers" (a truly inspired "Orwellian term" for 2045-era debtor prisons) where they'd be forced pay off their debts doing whatever menial jobs would make sense in an economy at least as large in the "virtual world" as in the real one.

And ... (2) if the real world looked increasingly ghastly, the Virtual World was becoming one whose limits were set only by one's imagination.  For in the Virtual World, one could become anyone (or anything) one wanted to be.  One could fly "a space ship" to a space casino (and, there's just a reference to it, an extraterrestrial brothel) the size of a planet.  One could (virtually) climb "Mount Everest ... with ... Batman" if one desired ;-).  One could join one's friends to fight armies of space-dragons and their orc / alien-like minions on planets called Doom.  One could be "a pole dancer," without being thin, but dressed instead in sweats and smoking a cigarette while waiting for the laundry to get done :-).  One could be "a world-class athlete in the Olympics" without working out...

While many of us, and certainly many more in our younger generation, already know a good deal of the beginnings of this virtual world, we're told that sometime in the 2020s a Bill Gates / Steve Jobs / Mark Zuckerberg-like Creator named James Donovan Halliday (played by Mark Rylance) along with a co-Creator and one-time, since sidelined (as appears often the case in stories like these), childhood (!) friend named Ogden Murrow (played by Simon Pegg) created "Gregarious Games" that brought all these disparate virtual realities into one grand universal Platform called "The Oasis."  And it was such a hit that from then on most people just preferred living most of their waking lives there. 
Well, James Donovan Halliday, eventually died.  But upon his death, it was announced, _he_ announced, through a video testament that he left behind that the left an "Easter Egg" accessible by the one (or ones) who'd find "three keys" in this vast virtual universe that he had created to which he would leave Title to the whole Oasis that he created, and ... the Race to find said "Keys" and therefore the said "Easter Egg" was on ...

Among those "Gunters" ("Egg Hunters" in "nerd-short" ;-) was, of course, Wade Watts, along with "his crew" that he had never met except "in the Oasis" who were looking for the Egg (now 5 years on...) simply "for the love of the game" (and because it was SOOOO cooool" ;-).

But there was also an Evil magnate named Sorrento (played by Ben Mendelsohn at his swarmiest), whose company Innovative Online Industries, or IOI for short, had already made a fortune selling the various technologies that would "enhance" the experience in the Oasis -- hap-suits that would translate sensations induced remotely to one's body as if one were "really there" (like, as if one was punched in the arm by a friend, or given a bear hug...).  Sorrento hired "an army" of Halliday geeks (people who knew EVERYTHING that there was to know about Halliday) as well as video-game players to get to that "Easter Egg" first.

So much then ensues ...

Now many Viewers will no doubt find themselves positively mesmerized or more negatively angrily "lost" in the film's virtual reality to appreciate the reflection on the Nature (and even the Value) of Reality.  And there are certainly plenty of more generally "set in their ways" Viewers who will find the whole story of "The Oasis" disconcerting / frightening.

But positive aspects of the Virtual Reality world are also shown: One of the characters Art3mis / Samantha (played by Olivia Cooke) is shown to have have a rather large / unsightly birthmark in the real world, which she doesn't have to worry about in the Virtual One.  And one of the funnier characters in the story is Sho (played by Philip Zhao) who, at age 11, is not taken seriously, yet, "in the real world" but in the Virtual one, he's _already_ a fun "bad-a" Ninja warrior to be reckoned with ;-).

I've also been amused by people in positions of power who resent and often fear the inherently decentralizing / democratizing tendencies of social media platforms.  In The Social Network [2010] (the very first film I reviewed on my blog), Jesse Eisenberg, playing the Harvard-attending but never quite Harvard-milieu accepted Mark Zuckerberg, talked about Facebook allowing every person (with his / her "friends list") to become "their own gate-keeper of their own exclusive club."  In the Virtual world, one's control over one's own world becomes even greater with one really becoming able to become truly anyone (or anything...) that one desires.  And for folks who like "order" (or Order [TM]) and therefore like or have a need to keep other people in boxes (and those one doesn't like ... in prisons), the Virtual world can therefore be quite disconcerting (and even threatening).  For what's a Führer without a people willing to be "Führered..."

Still, Reality is reality.  And as much as one could empathize with the people of Wade's "stack-living" people of 2045 Columbus, OH, and understand why they would enjoy the Virtual Realtiy of the Oasis so much, we are reminded that there are Real Consequences in the Real World and our neglect of the Real World can and inevitably will intrude even into the Virtual World of our dreams. 

So I just plain loved this movie.

I even made peace with my only question / complaint coming to see the film: Why was it being released on Easter weekend?  Sure, by the week of the movie, it became clear that the movie was about "virtual Easter Eggs" (special gifts left by programmers in their video games for their fans).  But I believe it was even more than that: In the world of the film (as in fact already in good part in ours), Halliday (or in ours Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg) was being treated as virtually a God, and EVERY UTTERANCE THAT HE / THEY SAID "STORED" / "REMEMBERED" AS IF IT WERE "SCRIPTURE."

I found this aspect of the story _fascinating_ and fascinatingly at least in part _true_.  There are folks who consider Bill Gates,  Steve Jobs / Mark Zuckerberg (or Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King...) as practically GODS and search for all kinds of hidden meaning in films like The Shining ;-).

I'm not threatened by the treatment of these people and all their works and all their utterances in this film, as none of these people are indeed God.  Still, the need for people to latch onto these Giants (and often, generally _good_ / responsible ones...) of our time is indicative of our need for meaning, that perhaps _can't_ be found in the often dry / empty and at times even threatening world of Reality.  There does seem to be a need in all of us to search for something that can Transcend it.

So overall, not only is this movie "a great ride," it's also a quite thought provoking one as well.  Excellent job!

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