Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Seagull [2018]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (M. Philips) review (G. Cheshire) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review

 The Seagull [2018] (directed by Michael Mayer screenplay by Stephen Karam based on the stage play [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Anton Chekhov [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a "small indie, arguably chamber piece" that, small though it is, DESERVES TO BE SEEN.

As in Chekhov's original, it's a spectacularly poignant story about the awkwardness of growing'up -- WHAT WOULD YOU DO if someone infatuated in you GAVE YOU the dead carcass of a once beautiful white seagull THAT HE SHOT FOR YOU ... as a token of his affection? "Well, thanks (help!) ... I guess" ;-) -- and of recognizing when one's "passed their prime" / growing old.

So the story involves a brooding young early 20-something wannabe playwright named Konstantin (played by Billy Howle) who's trying _really_ hard to create a name for himself, hence _really_ into "symbolism" (words, are not enough for him, they have to really MEAN something ;-).  So he's the one who shoots that seagull for the girl he's trying to impress, WT ... did he _mean_ by doing so? ;-) or :-|.

That young girl, Nina (played by Saoirse Ronan) doesn't mind Konstantin, but SHE's really trying to _find her own way_ and hence looking for someone she considered _more experienced_ to lead her there (hence DEFINITELY NOT the still growing, still really not knowing what the heck he's doing,  Konstantin).

Who impresses her more is Boris Trigonin (played by Corey Stoll) a 30 perhaps early 40-something already somewhat established playwright and yet still somewhat of a "boy-toy" (younger-than-her) lover of Konstantin's "successful actress" late 40-early 50 something mother Irina (played wonderfully by Annette Bening) who DEFINITELY doesn't know how/when to "get off the stage" (it must have been A JOY to play her role ;-).

These four, come together at the "outside of Moscow" summer home (dacha) of Irina's older brother Sorin (played by Brian Dennehy) where the story, often awkward, often funny in its painful awkwardness plays out.  Sorin, for instance, unlike his younger sister Irina, knows well that he's getting older, but HE takes it to the other extreme ... basically "waiting to die" when, it's +pretty clear_ that it's "probably going to be some time" before the Lord takes him away ;-).

Then add _the priceless_ eye-rolling "help" -- Elizabeth Moss steals the show every time she's onscreen as "Masha" the _bitter_ but probably _dead-on right_ (about her place in that world at that time) daughter of the Sorin's head housekeeper Polina (played also wonderfully by Mare Winningham).

So it's an excrutiatingly painful but also often quite funny look on "growing up" / "growing old" and why SIMPLY EVERYBODY -- YOUNG, OLD, IN BETWEEN -- NEED TO KNOW CHEKHOV.  Written a hundred years ago, ALL the characters in this story are relateable today.

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Friday, May 25, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story [2018]

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

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

Solo: A Star Wars Story [2018] (directed by Ron Howard screenplay by Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan based on the characters created by George Lucas [wikip] [IMDb]) was for me possibly _the most enjoyable installment_ in the whole Star Wars franchise.

Why??  Because _unlike_ Rogue One of a few years past, Solo _wasn't_ slavishly attached to the Star Wars franchise's main story arc.

Yes, focused as the current film was on Han Solo (played here by Alden Ehrenreich) "in his early years," the story _had to_ gently lead us _in the direction_ of where we _eventually_ meet him (as a 35-40 year-old played by Harrison Ford) in Star Wars: Episode 4 - A New Hope [1977] (actually the first movie released) of the Star Wars Saga). 

HOWEVER, we the Viewers were allowed to experience A BIT of THE WONDER of this enormous and diverse galaxy (yes, perhaps being pulled together by the tentacles of an Evil Homogenizing Empire).  But, Han's home (industrial) planet of Corellia was SO OUTLYING, sooo full of smoke and soot, that it's hard to imagine that "The Republic" would have been much better for its citizenry than said Evil Empire.

BUT Han's world had it own joys:  We, the Viewers, get to hear a Jazz singing duo in which one of the two is really "cool-cat" / presumably intelligent fish ;-) and we find that Han's future partner Lando Calrissian (played by Donald Glover) was madly in love with a FUN "bot-ist" L3-37 (robot) with an attitude (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge).  Han's own first love serious love interest Qi'ra (played wonderfully in the film by Emilia Clarke) asks "her" "But how does it work?" to which L3-37 answers: "Oh yes it does honey, oh yes it does."  And honestly we do see a minutes later Lando clearly showing feelings for this "Equal Rights for Bots" significant other of his ;-).

Other new characters enter into the story, a "good thief" mentor-for-Han-figure named Becket (played by Woody Harrelson) and Becket's tough as nails girlfriend named Val (played by Thandie Newton).

All in all, this film serves as a reminder to all of us that the Star Wars Saga really is to have played out IN A GALAXY _filled with_ ALL KINDS OF INTERESTING BEINGS for a good number of which, as perhaps awful as the Evil Empire was, it was still _relatively inconsequential to their lives_.  The Han that we meet in Episode 4 of Star Wars would have had _already a full life_ without ever having been sucked into the conflict between the Empire and the Rebellion.

And this may actually be a _very interesting_ (if perhaps UNINTENTIONAL) message of this film -- Life and EVEN FUN can exist _outside of politics_, no matter who the President or "Great Leader" is. Yes a Regime can become so oppressive that it does begin to diminish Life for all, but generally speaking, in all but the most oppressive circumstances (here honestly we come to appreciate the unique horror Nazi Germany which had _no place_ for tens of millions to hundreds of millions of people) there's at least some Life present and that Life has a way to EXPLODE into joy.   

Anyway, I THOROUGHLY ENJOYED THIS FILM ABOUT "THE LITTLE PEOPLE" OF "THE GALAXY FAR FAR WAY" and sincerely _hope_ that more will come.  Incessant "grand battles" against "Evil Empires" get tiresome and as we are seeing in the Hunger Games story / the last Trilogy of the Star Wars Saga ... quite depressing.

So great / fun job here!

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Czech that Film Tour 2018

Of the films that were recently offered as part of the 2018 Czech That Film tour, I've seen and reviewed the following:

Barefoot (orig. Po Strništi Bos) [2018] [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* (Screenplay and directed by Jan Svěrák [IMDb] [CSFD] [FDB]*, based on the book [GR]*[DBK]*[WCat]* by Zdeněk Svěrák [en.wikip] [cs,wikip]*[GR]*[WCat]*[IMDb] [CSFD]* a quite classic Svěrák production (Zdeněk and Jan are father and son) that North American viewers would recognize as a cross between Neil Simon (Brighton Beach Memoirs [1986], Biloxi Blues [1988]) and Steven Spielberg, tells the tale of a Czech kid named Eda (played by Alois (Lojzik) Gréc [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]) growing-up during the era of Nazi "Protectorate" occupation.

The bitter-sweet genius of the film (and it is excellent) is that is beautifully portrays the "normal" dimension of growing up in what would have been a quite average family -- Eda has some issues with his dad (played by Ondřej Vetchý [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]), and Eda's family is dealing (not particularly well...) with the consequences of some definite, but all things considered tragic though they may be, quite "normal" (recognizable) "demons" in the family's recent past -- BUT SUPERIMPOSED ON TOP of those "NORMAL PROBLEMS" are of course the effects of living under (here Nazi) Occupation.

So, mad at his dad for unfairly punishing him "in front of everybody" at a Prague neighborhood picnic / block party, 9-10 year old Eda lashes back yelling: "Well, you (dad) listen to (clandestine) BBC radio ..." Well ... a few days later, the apartment manager discretely tells Eda's family that it'd "probably be a good idea" for the family to "leave Prague" and move back to the village where the family was originally from ... where the rest of the story plays out.

Then the story makes mention of some of the _national demons_ that came with the closing stages of the war: (1) the post-war expulsion of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia (in vengeance for the Sudeten Germans' forcing the collapse of pre-WW II thoroughly democratic Czechoslovakia and bringing the era of Nazi occupation onto the Czechs), (2) the somewhat senseless Czech uprising against the Nazis in the closing days of the war, that only resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of poorly armed and largely unorganized Czechs (ironically almost as many Czechs died in those chaotic closing days of the war as would have died if the Czechs had fought the Germans under much better / much more organized terms in 1938 during the Sudeten Crisis) and still did not prevent subsequent Soviet domination of the country for the decades following and (3) the largely suppressed truth (certainly during the Communist Era) that much of the Czech nation, including the capital Prague was actually liberated by the Vlasovites [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]* an army of Russian defectors who did fight on the side of Nazi Germany for much of the war but always much more _against Stalin_ rather than "for Hitler."  (For his part, Hitler did not invade the Soviet Union to "liberate it" from Stalin, he invaded the Soviet Union to steal its land and resources and to enslave its people(s).  So the Nazis never really took seriously what General Vlasov was offering them: "Just arm us and let us take care of Stalin / Soviet Communism ourselves.")  This is the first time that I've certainly seen the Vlasovites mentioned in a Czech film even though most Czechs know well who actually liberated their country from the Nazis -- the Americans (Patton's 3rd Army) from the West (all the way up to Plzeň) and the Vlasovites from the East.  The Soviet army entered Prague only after the Vlasovites (and Czech patriots) did most / all of the fighting for them...

Anyway, a lovely film about growing up in a _very average family_ living in the midst of  "Great Events" happening all around them -- 4 Stars.

Milada [2017] [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* (directed and screenplay cowritten by David Mrnka [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* along with Robert Conant [IMDB] [CSFD]*) a bio-pic (actually available on Netflix) about Czech Protestant / humanitarian / feminist / social democrat Milada Horáková [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]* (played in the film by Ayelet Zurer [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) who advocated for the Czechs to the English (to no serious avail) in the time leading up to the 1938 Sudeten Crisis, spent most of Nazi occupation in jail and then was arrested / jailed once more and _executed_ in 1950 by the post-War Czechoslovak Communist Regime for "anti-state activities" (she and her husband were using her position in a Czechoslovak child welfare agency to help those persecuted by the Communist regime flee the country) despite appeals by the World Council of Churches, Eleanor RooseveltAlbert Einstein, Winston ChurchillJean-Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell among others for clemency on her behalf.  To many Czechs, remains Horáková emblematic of a true martyr, honestly on the level of a Czech female / feminist Dietrich Bonhoeffer -- one who dedicated _her entire life_ to try to do what is right and ended up getting condemned / _murdered_ for it in the worst possible _staged_ Stalin Era show trial fashion. -- 4 Stars

Ice Mother (orig. Bába z Ledu) [2017] [IMDB] [CSFD]*[FDB]* (written and directed by Bodhan Sláma [IMDB] [CSFD]*) is a contemporary family dramedy focused on the family's matriarch/grandmother (played wonderfully by Zuzana Kronerová [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) who a widow at 60-something years of age had reason to be disappointed with how her two sons Ivan (played by Václav Neužil  [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) and Petr (played by Marek Daniel [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) turned out.

Though both were married, both had kids, neither had turned-out to be particularly solid.  Instead, were rather shifty, Ivan perhaps a little better off than Petr, but both were ultimately hovering around her just waiting to pounce on her house as soon as she either died or decided to move to a retirement community.  In the meantime, neither particularly cared that grandma was expected to cook big meals for their two families on Sunday (they simply called it "tradition") or that since grandma didn't have a lot of money -- no doubt spending a good part of it on these Sunday dinners for them and their families -- so she had to keep her house rather "cold" (part of the reason for the film's title) to keep her bills manageable.  When they started to complain "Gee ma, you seem to be keeping the house rather cold this winter..." she started to understand their complaints in a different way: that her two grown sons were simply zhýčkaný (spoiled).

Indeed concurrently she comes to be rather fascinated with a group of senior citizen otužilci (or North American parlance "polar bear club" of swimmers) who would have weekly races in the seemingly ice cold Vltava and Labe Rivers near Prague.  What's going on here?  Were her sons really "soft" or was she (and other seniors with not particularly good pensions making "lemonade" out of the "lemons" that they were being given in life?  Or was it both?

It all makes for an interesting commentary on contemporary life in post-Communist Central Europe where seniors with poor pensions are seen turning the hardships that they face -- having not enough money to keep their homes warm -- into virtue (Look at how tough in my old age I am?  I can swim across an ice cold river in winter because "cold" has no effect on me anymore...).  Anyway, it's one thing to be tough.  It's another because one's forced to be because one could not make ends meet otherwise.  But certainly a very interesting / challenging film -- 3 1/2 Stars.

Masaryk [2017] [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]* (directed and screenplay cowritten by Julius Ševčík [IMDB] [CSFD]*[FDB]* along with Petr Kolečko [IMDB] [CSFD]* and Alex Königsmark [IMDB] [CSFD]*) focuses on two critical years (1938-1939) in the life of Jan Masaryk [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]* (played in the film by Karel Roden [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) the son of the modern Czechoslovakia's founder T.G. Masaryk [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]*

It's a generally sympathetic, humanizing portrayal of a man, basically a "Son of Moses," during one of the worst possible times of both his life and the life of his country.  His revered father had died the year before and he himself was serving as a critical ambassador (to Britain) in his father's successor's Edvard Beneš' [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]* (played in the film by Oldřich Kaiser [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) administration, while the whole project of his father's life, the creation / success of a modern-independent-democratic Czechoslovakia was under mortal threat of Nazi aggression.

But Britain was under the hapless / didn't have a clue / perhaps would have been _a great_ (or even then just a mediocre but harmless) British Prime Minister a couple of generations back under Queen Victoria, but this was the late 1930s (!), Neville Chamberlain [en.wikip] (played in the film by Paul Nicholas [IMDb]).  And in Chamberlain's and much of England's still race / class tinged eyes, the Czechs were basically "Great Nation" Germany's Irish and the Sudeten Germans were the Anglophilic Protestants of Northern Ireland.   If Ireland could be divided to "keep the peace" (and keep the North Ireland's Protestants "protected" from being subjected to "barbaric" Irish Catholic rule) why couldn't the Sudeten Germans be allowed to be "protected" from (lower-race "a nation about which we know nothing") Czech (Slavic) rule?  Again, in Victorian England, that would have made total sense, 'cept THE DEMOCRATS HERE WERE THE CZECHS and the Nazis were the thugs, something that Churchill, for instance, understood immediately but alas was not yet being heard.

In any case, Jan Masaryk FAILED to convince Chamberlain [en.wikip] and the vast majority of the British political elite of the time to stand by the Czechs' in their hour of need and ... apparently some weeks after the Czechs under true _gangster style duress_, acceded to the British-French-German-Italian signed Munich Pact by handing over Czechoslovakia's Sudeten territories (and actually much more) to Hitler's Germany, Jan Masaryk, having resigned his post as Ambassador to Britain, he admitted himself into _a psychiatric sanitarium_ in Vineland, New Jersey in the United States for convalescence / treatment.  (Here the Reader may wonder, WHY in the U.S.?  Well Jan Masaryk's mother, his sainted father's wife, Charlotte Garrigue, was actually American).

Much of the film takes place during this period of convalescence.  It's certainly the most controversial aspect of this film.  I certainly _did not know_ that he had done this, BUT I WOULD TOTALLY UNDERSTAND.  After all, here again was "the son of a Moses" who's just watched the country that his father had created, a country that he himself tried as hard as he could to defend be dismembered again by the Great Powers ("the Egyptians") of his time.  It's enough to drive one almost to suicide, and ...

Actually 10 years later, after the whole drama of World War II was over BUT THE SAME STORY PLAYED OUT AGAIN for poor Czechoslovakia -- with the Soviet Communists taking over the role of the Hitler's Nazis ... Jan Masaryk, was found dead, outside his Prague apartment window.  Did he jump?  Or was he pushed (then by Stalin's NKVD)?  I've always thought that the NKVD pushed him.  But this movie offers honestly the possibility that he really could have jumped.  And who could have blamed him? -- sigh.

STILL ... with a new cloud of Evil (Putin) on our horizon, it's possible that this _very_ anti-English (and Jan Masaryk "had his problems") film _could be_ some sort of a Putin-Russia inspired piece of propaganda as well.  One would have to look more deeply into where the inspiration and financing for this film came.  Until then -- 2 1/2 Stars.

Gangster Ka: Afričan [2015] [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*(screenplay and directed by Jan Pachl [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*, based on the book [DBK]* by Jaroslav Kmenta [cs.wikip] [GR] [DBK]*) continues the story of a fictionalized contemporary Czech gangster named Radim Kraviec aka Káčko or simply as in the film's title Ká (played by Hynek Čermák [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) whose person and story is largely based on the now South Africa residing fugitive Czech swindler-turned-gangster Radovan Krejčíř [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]*).  Part One of the story played in the States as part of the 2016 Czech that Film Tour.

Said Part One of the story ended with Radim and Dardan (played by Predrag Bjelac [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) his enforcer / right-hand-man having successfully fled the Czech Republic one step ahead of law and resurfacing in the Seychelle Islands in the Indian Ocean, near Madagascar, off the coast of East / Southern Africa.

The Seychelles apparently had not extradition treaty with the Czech Republic, so it would have been a pretty good place for Ká to just _crash_ and live-out the rest of his life with his wife Sandra (played by Vlastina Svátková [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDB]*) in safe, luxurious obscurity.  Sandra was never accused of any wrong-doing in the CR and hence there was no legal ground to prevent her from leaving the country and eventually flying even to The Seychelles meet-up with her husband again, which she did some months after he resurfaced and established himself there.

All could have gone so well ... if only Ka would just be able to shut-up and lead a comfortable if _quiet_ life in obscurity, but ... of course he could not.  And hence the rest of the story unfolded, with him eventually having to leave The Seychelles for the (post-Apartheid) Republic of South Africa, which apparently does have an extradition treaty with the Czech Republic (under certain circumstances) BUT was also the only country that Ka was willing to go to after his sojourn in The Seychelles did not turn out so well.  Did he end up doing better in South Africa?  Well ... guess ... ;-)

The whole story is cautionary tale reminding us that no matter how well we think we have can have things figured out, there's _always something_ that make a life of crime difficult / "not pay."

Quite well done contemporary post-Communist Central/Eastern European crime drama - 3 1/2 Stars

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Deadpool 2 [2018]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Yamato) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Deadpool 2 [2018] (directed by David Leitch, screenplay by Rhett ReesePaul Wernick and Ryan Reynolds, characters by Fabian Nicieza [wikip] [MC] [GR] [Amzn] [IMDb] and Rob Liefeld [wikip] [MC] [GR] [Amzn] [IMDb]) continues the saga of "redeemable bad guy" Wade Wilson / Deadpool (played by Ryan Reynolds) one time lowlife/dirtbag hit-man (a "merc"), now since he's proven to be immortal (thanks to undergoing a crazy experimental toxic chemical bath to "cure" his one time cancer -- gotta see the first movie to "understand" ;-) -- and more importantly because he's found a quite mortal if _kind_ girlfriend, a former stripper named Vanessa (played by Morena Baccarin), he's set out to kill only "the bad people."

Well in both Grand Opera / Comic Book fashion, "tragedy" strikes and ... the rest of the story follows.  As in the case of the first film, the story is violent, the language is R-rated (though more descriptive / evocative hence surprisingly _intelligent_ than it would initially seem ;-).  And judging from the smiling-from-ear-to-ear and often laughing-out-loud 18+ thoroughly mixed (yes, the Dead Pool movies _are_ actually "date movies" ;-) audience the film's clearly fun and arguably to many AWESOME.

To say more would ultimately take away from the film, though I suppose to some it'd be important to remind people here that the Deadpool character falls into Marvel's X-Men storyline rather than the Avengers' or ... the DC Comics universe and in characteristic Deadpool fashion the main character often amusingly skewers those other story lines.

Overall, I enjoyed the film, though I do believe that the R-rating is deserved.  So parents, the film is definitely _not_ "for the little ones.   Still older teens / the 20-something crowd would probably enjoy the film very, very much.  Good job! ;-)

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Monday, May 14, 2018

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word [2018]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
National Catholic Register (S.D. Greydanus) review
National Catholic Reporter (M. Pattison) article about film

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word [2018] (directed and cowritten by Wim Wenders along with David Rosier) is IMHO exactly what one would hope for in a documentary about one of most consequential people living in our world today.  Composed of both footage from interviews of Pope Francis by Wenders' crew made for this documentary as well as of footage of this Pope making some of his most consequential statements (that word again ... consequential) that he's made during his Pontificate AS HE MADE THEM, it's a documentary that does what every good documentary should do: it "moves the ball." Most of us will understand the Pope better as a result of this film.

So we get to see Pope Francis make his celebrated and/or controversial responses to questions about how the Church should look toward gays in society today ("We should seek to integrate [homosexuals] into society rather than marginalize them"), on "the Wall" ("We should build bridges rather than walls"), on his giving up a lot of the perks usually associated with being a Pope ("We should all be willing to live with a little less for the sake of those who have next to nothing").  And there's a quote that I haven't heard before that he told a large group of Brazilian faithful at an audience at the outskirts of a Favela in Rio de Janeiro: "How good it is to share!  And as we all of us 'bean eaters' know well, when someone else comes to the door, YOU CAN ALWAYS ADD A LITTLE WATER TO THE BEANS TO MAKE IT WORK [FOR ALL]" ;-)

The film does not skirt the legacies of the Holocaust -- Pope Francis' words about God's gift to us Free Will at Yad Vashem are shown, with Francis asking aloud if God himself knew the risk, "of the depth of the abyss that we would be capable of throwing ourselves into" -- as well as the Pope's words with regard to the Clergy sexual abuse scandals: "The Church's position has to be of zero tolerance, of punishing priests afflicted with pedophilia, removing them from the priesthood and, yes, accepting the punishments of civil authorities."   There is also a scene in which Pope Francis contemplates both the current Security Wall placed in recent years between Israel and the Palestinian Territories by the Israeli authorities and then the Wailing Wall into which as per age-old Jewish Tradition, after saying his prayers, the Pope dutifully placed an envelope (of petitions) into one of its cracks.

Of all the statements we hear the Pope make, his response on the clergy sexual abuse scandals, is certainly the most political (or simply tricky) as there has always been an aspect of Mercy in Christian Doctrine.  However, even there, the Pope could be proclaiming a consistent Christian position: One can be MERCIFUL to the sinner (even to a jailed pedophile ex-priest) _after_ he's turned himself in and accepted / is fulfilling his punishment (and _without_ reducing his punishment).

Expressing my own opinion here: I always found it both remarkable and GOOD that mass-murderer John Wayne Gacy, went to his execution, but before doing so, had received Communion:  Justice was done, but Mercy at least in the after-life acknowledged as well.  Quoting Article 982 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. "There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest.527 Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin.528".

In any case, this is a remarkable thought-provoking / challenging film and one which helps all to better understand one of the most consequential people of our time.  Excellent job!

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Life of the Party [2018]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (G. Whipp) review (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review 

I'd like to begin my review of  Life of the Party [2018] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Ben Falcone along with Melissa McCarthy) by declaring that I simply love Melissa McCarthy.  Her career could have gone in any number of directions, but at least as of now, she's chosen to defend the value / dignity of regular people ... like you and me.

In this film, she plays Deanna a happy sacrificing 40-something woman, wife / mother who gets dumped by her cheap-skate husband Dan (played by Matt Walsh) even as they drop-off their only daughter Maddie (played by Molly Gordon) at college for her senior year.  He honestly believes that he's "trading up," by dumping Deanna for same age as they, living in the same suburb as they, real estate agent named Maddie (played by Julie Bowen).  Why?  Yes, it kinda matters but it also doesn't.  He's simply decided to go, and ... Deanna's left on her own.

It turns out that Deanna never completed college, having left it, her senior year, to have Maddie with Dan and to marry him.  She decides to go back, twenty three years on, to finish her (archaeology!) degree.  A kinder, gentler version of Rodney Dangerfield's Back to School [1986] follows with shades of Kevin Spacey's American Beauty [1999] and even Harrison Ford's Raiders of the Lost Ark [1981].  Honestly, imagine Indiana Jones as a forty-five year old mother who yes, dreams (among other things) of going to Budapest to look for the long lost tomb of Attila the Hun (why not? ;-) but ALSO loves her early 20-something daughter and all her friends to pieces.  I JUST LOVE THIS FILM! ;-).

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

2018 Southeast European Film Festival - Los Angeles

Of the films that recently played at the 2018 Southeast European Film Festival - Los Angeles, I was able to view and review the following:

Men Don't Cry (orig. Muškarci ne plaču) [IMDb] [CEu] [CSFD] (directed and cowritten by Alen Drljević [IMDb] [CEu] [CSFD] along with Zoran Solomun [IMDb] [CEu] [CSFD]), is a BOSNIAN, SLOVENIAN, CROATIAN and GERMAN fictionalized psychodrama, set in a hotel by a (former?) ski resort outside of Sarajevo, telling the story of a group of veterans from all sides of the 1990s Bosnian Conflict [wikip] who twenty years after war's end entered (or were entered...) into a therapy program to finally confront the psychological scars that the war had left on each of them.

And yes, all "tough" men, all from a part of the world that values "toughness," and then certainly further _hardened by life_ and especially said War many initially question their being there, and one even leaves.  Yet the Slovenian psychologist (played by Sebastian Cavazza [IMDb] [CEu] [CSFD]) tells the men: "You are here because as awful as the War that you experienced twenty years ago, that was indeed _twenty years ago_, and you haven't been able to truly return from the war.  Your loved ones would like you to finally come home again."  

The rest of the story follows, with some truly heartrending stories being told, stories that really do not flinch from the horror that the War, one which included of course, Massacres / "Ethnic Cleansing," and told from the perspectives of victims, perpetrators and even simple (if-not-for-would-otherwise-be) bystanders.

Any veteran of any war would completely understand this film.  Further, I may in fact use this film in the future as part of a Men's Retreat on Reconciliation, because no matter what demons we may carry, the folks in this film carried ones big enough to open-up just about any heart.  A simply outstanding if at times hair-raising film -- 4+ Stars

The Miner (orig. Rudar) [2017] [IMDb] [CEu] [CSFD] (written and directed by Hanna Antonina Wojcik Slak [IMDb] [CEu] [CSFD]) is a SLOVENIAN / GERMAN historical drama tells the story of Alija a random Bosnian-born (Muslim...) Slovenian miner (played by Leon Lućev [IMDb] [CEu] [CSFD]) who just as the world was focused on excavations of the mass graves of Bosnian Muslims shot (by Serbs) outside of Srebrenica during the Bosnian War of the 1990s, was sent by his boss to investigate a long closed mine-shaft at the outskirts of the mine -- somewhere near the Italian, Austrian, Slovenian, Croatian border (Slovenia is small...) -- at which he worked, and discovers ... a mass grave there from the 1940s.  Who were the victims?  And did anybody want to know?   Indeed, it becomes pretty clear that _everybody_ from his boss, to the (Slovenian) authorities, to his own wife wanted him to just shut-up / keep quiet about what he had found.  "Based on true events" ... based on true events indeed (the 20th century history of former Yugoslavia runs like an almost unending horror).  Excellent / very sad film - 4 Stars.

Comic Sans [2018] [IMDb] [CEu] (directed and cowritten by Nevio Marasović [IMDb] [CEu] along with Rakan Rushaidat [IMDb] and Janko Popović Volarić [IMDb]) is a CROATIAN (romantic?) comedy of sorts about Alan (played by Janko Popović Volarić [IMDb] [CEu]), a late 30-something / 40-something Zagreb-based commercial artist (a Croatian Ad-man) who having lived a hard-drinking / cocaine infused "dulce vita" for ... way, way too long ... was discovering that pretty much every woman that he ever was interested in (or had been interested in him) had, well, ... "moved on" ;-). 

So what we witness is a veritable _parade_ of often quite funny / painful "definitely approaching middle age" rejections at the hands of exasperated women who in different ways but repeatedly tell him: "Look you never wanted to grow up, well ... what did you really expect?"  Even his mother tells him essentially: "I told you so" ;-).  But at least he comes to understand his more "traditionally bohemian" artist dad Bruno (played by Zlatko Burić [IMDb]) who he had previously looked-down-upon as a loser / neerdowell.  Okay, at least Alan had a (high paying) job, but ... there appears to be more than one dimension to ... "being responsible" ;-) -- 3 1/2 Stars

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Overboard [2018]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (K. Rife) review

Overboard [2018] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Rob Greenberg along with Bob Fisher, story by Leslie Dixon) is a fun remake of the Kurt Russell / Goldie Hawn starring 1987 film, IMHO _better_ / more credible than the original.

Kate Sullivan (played by Anna Faris), a harried 30-something widow from a rural coastal Oregon hamlet named Elk Cove with three cute-as-a-button daughters, and working two jobs and even as she's oh so close to graduating from nursing school is insulted / dissed by a super-rich late-30 to early 40-something, "never grewup 'cause he never had to," Mexican playboy named Leonardo Montenegro (played by Eugenio Derbez), the pampered only son of the 3rd richest man in the world. She had been sent by the cleaning service that she worked for to clean one of the carpets in Leo's yacht's carpet after "an accident" at the end of a debauched party he had been hosting.  After cleaning his carpet, Leo decides that he's not going to pay her (because she wouldn't bring him a drink, even though she wasn't a waitress, but rather there to clean his stupid  carpet).  When she refuses to get off the boat until he pays her, he throws her as well as her (service's) $3000 carpet cleaner into the water and ... has his crew sail the boat away.

Well, poetic justice comes when that night, drunk (from drinking too much champagne) he falls off his yacht and washs up, with amnesia, on-shore.  Soon he's on the local television news "Does anyone know this man?"

Kate's BFF Theresa (played by Eva Longoria) comes us up with a plan for payback -- have Kate arrive at the hospital to reclaim "her husband."  Theresa's husband (played by Mel Rodriguez), a local construction contractor would give him a manual labor construction job and Kate would be able to take the month off from her two jobs to study for her nursing exam. ;-)

And so Kate Sullivan arrives at the hospital with "documents" and photo-shopped photos "proving" that that Leo(nardo) was her husband.  But wait how could such a Mexican-looking man speaking with a Mexican accent possibly have the name Sullivan?  Well ... she explains to him / his doctors that his great grandfather had been one of the Irish immigrants who escaping poverty / the potato famine had emigrated to Mexico and as a member of the (in Mexico famed) San Patricio Battalion had fought for Mexico (and against the United States) during the 1846-48 Mexican-American War.

When she brings Leo to her home, she also explains to him that the three daughters they have (who look a lot like her but not at all like him) were "his" as well, even though because he "was sterile" _they had to use a sprem donor to create them_ :-).  "Don't worry honey, they're just as much yours as they are mine because _you've_ been helping to raise them."  And, though he had previously never worked a day of his life, she enjoys sending him to work as part of Theresa's husband's heavily Mexican immigrant construction crew.  And ... the rest of the story follows ... ;-)

Leo actually _adapts_ quite well to his role of being a responsible working class husband / father.  Of course, the lie can not be maintained indefinitely and Kate has to come clean, but by then Leo has fallen for both Kate and especially the kids and so he does face a legitimate dilemma of which life to embrace or return to. 

All in all it was a fun film and the repeated "turnabout" theme with the Rich Person being Mexican and the struggling one being (North) American was also honestly fun as well.  And the film's overall message -- that work and responsible living is good for us -- would certainly make both Saint Joseph and St. John Paul II proud.  So overall Good Job!

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Friday, May 4, 2018

Tully [2018]

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

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

Tully [2018] (directed by Jason Reitman, screenplay by Diablo Cody) is a contemporary (and somewhat / rather God-less...) motherhood drama starring Charlize Theron playing Margo a late 30-something married mother of two (the second, already somewhat special needs) who at the beginning of the film is about to give birth to a third child.

Needless to say, she has _a lot_ on her plate.  Hubby, Drew (played by Ron Livingston), himself is tired, probably from work, and certainly uncomprehending, playing "Call of Duty" like first-person shooter video-games from their bed as he waits for her to make it there (after finishing the last chores of her daily routine and bedding down everybody else) at night.

Older (and wealthier) brother Craig (played by Mark Duplass) suggests to Margo that she get a "night nanny" after the third one is born, and offers to pay to the expense if only she'd call the service he suggests.  Initially, Margo responds with eye-rolling disdain: "I love MY kids.  I'm not going to let some stranger do my work for me / bond with my kids in a way that I should."  But a month and half after giving birth, and remember she's in her late 30s, hence no longer a spring chicken, Margo decides, "why not?" and 26 year old "night nanny" Tully (played by Mackenzie Davis) comes on the scene and ... much in an updated (And R-rated..) Mary Poppins [1964] / Maria of Sound of Music [1965] sort of way ensues.

The 26 year old is "wise" but above all reminds Margo of herself when she was 26 and her life was still just endless possibility.  For her part, Tully tries to remind Margo: "Despite what you may think sometimes, you've SUCCEEDED.  You've succeeded in creating a stable 'boring life' for yourself with people who depend on you. YOU SHOULD BE PROUD."  (In this regard, one could ask oneself if Tully is "real" or simply a voice inside Margo which tries to encourage her in a rather challenging time in her life).

However, there are people missing in this narrative.  There are no (grand)parents, no in-laws, no church.   Hence it all does seem rather lonely / overwhelming.

But perhaps with th(os)e others it need not be...

A thought provoking but certainly not end-all film on the subject.

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