Sunday, July 29, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor? [2018]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (N. Murray) review

Won't You Be My Neighbor? [2018] (directed by Morgan Neville) is a perhaps tragically timely, nostalgic documentery about a man, Fred Rogers [wikip] [IMDb], a 1950s-70s era Presbyterian Minister who was the creator and host of the iconic (and supremely _gentle_) PBS television program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood [1968-2001] [wikip] [IMDB].

Yet the film _could be more_ than just said "tragically timely nostalgic remembrance of a man" who in the context of the extraordinary harshness of contemporary American culture could seem like an extraterrestrial.

We could, for instance, choose to remember -- as this film noted -- that as gentle as Fred Rogers was in his demeanor (and yes, his family and friends emphatically insisted that he was exactly the same in his gentleness in his private life as in his public persona) he was no wilting flower or doormat:

Readers, consider simply that his program WHICH SOUGHT TO HELP _CHILDREN_ better comprehend the world around them BEGAN in EXACTLY THE SAME YEAR and DURING EXACTLY THE SAME MONTHS as the MLK and RFK assassinations.  One of the archival clips presented in this documentary showed one of Mr. Roger's puppet characters asking him: "What's an assassination?"  OMG, how poignantly sad.

Then, at a time when MILLIONS OF (WHITE) AMERICAN FAMILIES were still _sincerely_ if _utterly misguidedly_ asking themselves whether people of different races should share public spaces -- and more to the point, whether their kids should share public swimming pools with other kids of other races -- GENTLE MISTER ROGERS put this question UTTERLY TO BED with a remarkable scene:

One of the perennial characters on his program (about a neighborhood after all) was an African American beat cop named Officer Clemons (played by Francois Clemons).  So on one supposedly "very hot summer day" GENTLE MISTER ROGERS told the children of his audience that since it was so hot, he was just going sit down in his chair on the front lawn of his house and put his feet into a nice pool of cool water.  Officer Clemons came by and GENTLE MISTER ROGER asked him: "Hey Officer Clemons, it's such a hot day and you've spent so much time walking around all day.  Would you like to take off your shoes and socks and rest your tired feet with me in my nice little pool of water?"  Officer Clemons took off his shoes and socks, AND THERE ON NATIONAL TV, the feet of GENTLE MISTER ROGERS (White) and Francois Clemons (African American) shared the comfort of a nice little cool pool of water TOGETHER.  How could segregation of public swimming pools possibly continue thereafter?

What a lovely gentle example of kindness and universal community for a time -- today -- when Latin American children are being ripped from their parents at our border and (overwhelmingly white) panels are then judging whether the parents are "worthy" of getting their children back.

And yet GENTLE MISTER ROGERS lived at a time when "uppity black families" could still stand to have crosses burned in their front yards as well.

Honestly, in the best of Catholic traditions, "Gentle Mister Rogers, pray for us."

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Saturday, July 28, 2018

Mission Impossible: Fallout [2018]

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

IMDB listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Mission Impossible: Fallout [2018] (written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie based on the Television Series [Wikip] [IMDB] by Bruce Geller) delivers, IN SPADES, what it promises -- a simultaneously likable / engaging "buddy movie" (about a team of super-super-deep-deep-cover spies ;-) yet also a thoroughly heart-pounding, _often_ literally _cliff hanging_, spectacularly convoluted thriller that keeps one guessing _on multiple levels_ until the very end. 

Indeed, the combination of the "buddy movie" with a "conspiracy movie" -- a story about trust in the midst of so many reasons to mistrust -- is fascinating even on the conceptual level.  Yet, these ideas are fleshed out in the characters and the plot of this story / film series.

Near the beginning of the story, super-secret spy Ethan Hunt (played by Tom Cruise) is given "the Mission should [he] choose to accept it" of recovering plutonium, enough for three nuclear bombs, that had gone missing (from some Russian base somewhere near Kamchatka), that, we're told, is being coveted by a Norwegian unibomber-like nuclear scientist named Nils Debruuk (played by Kristoffer Joner) who had just written a radically anti-religious manifesto and in league with jailed, anarcho-terrorist -- Solomon Lane (played by Sean Harris) the principle super-villain from a previous installment in the MI film series -- organized a shadowy group of "18 Apostles" dedicated to inflict massive, nuclear, harm on humanity "to bring about peace." 

"Choose to accept this mission?"  Of course Ethan's gonna accept this mission.  This is _exactly_ why he and his super-secret agent unit (the IMF or Impossible Missions Force) exists.  And it initially seemed easy.  Ethan and his team -- Benji Dunn (played by Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickwell (played by Ving Rhames) -- set-up a "sting operation" in Berlin to _buy_ the plutonium.  Well "the exchange" goes south and Ethan finds himself with the choice of EITHER sacrificing his team members OR recovering the three balls of plutonium in essentially a carry-on bag-sized suitcase.  He _chooses_ to save the lives of his team members and the nuclear arms traders are able to flee with their plutonium to try to sell it to someone else -- perhaps Debruuk/Lane and their "Apostles.

Needless to say, CIA Chief Erica Sloan (played wonderfully with icy seriousness by Angela Bassett) -- the IMF is but one, if super-secret, group operating under the overall umbrella of the CIA -- is quite appalled at Ethan's somewhat surprising humanity.   IMF head Alan Huntley (played by Alec Baldwin) tries to defend Hunt's actions to Sloan: "But Hunt's two other agents would have been lost."  She replies: "But recovering the plutonium was the job.  In saving his two friends he put millions at risk."  But Alan Huntley is so impressed by Hunt's choice that he tells him, "Precisely because you weren't willing to sacrifice even one person to save those millions, you are the best possible person to send out to recover that plutonium."

The rest of the story -- which of course involves coming up with a new plan to recover that plutonium -- ensues...  And it becomes, of course, ONE WILD RIDE, taking us to Paris, to London, and finally to the mountains of the Indian controlled part Kashmir. 

The closing sequence which is 40 HEART-THUMPING MINUTES LONG is spectacularly complex and leaves the Viewer gasping: "Well they don't call these stories 'Mission Impossible' for nothing" ;-)

And yet we witness a super-secret agent who ... cares.


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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sorry to Bother You [2018]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

Sorry to Bother You [2018] (written and directed by Boots Riley) is a fun African-American centric Kafkaesque near-future dystopian scifi flick in which Cassius Green (played wonderfully in mildly grifter - hey, I'm just trying to stay afloat / eke-out a living - fashion by Lakeith Stanfield) finds himself in a way, way, way more bizarre "this is how the world works" conspiracy than he could imagine.

The story begins with Cassius at a job interview in which he gets busted in an awfully embarrassing way for padding his resume -- "Cassius, do you know WHY I know that you never ever got 'employee of the month' nor even worked as a bank teller at that Oakland branch that you put in your resume?  BECAUSE I WAS THE MANAGER THERE at the time ;-) -- "HS, am I horribly busted!" -- But before you get a cardiac here son, as many lies as you've put on that resume of yours, you've taught me the only two things I know to give you this (entry level telemarketing) job; (1) You show initiative ;-), and (2) you can read.  THAT'S ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW to be a telemarketer: STAY ON-SCRIPT and FIND A WAY to make it sell.  That's all you need to know."

Yea!  Cassius is now on his way to finally be able to pay rent to his uncle for the two car garage which he and his ever big-earring-always-with-a-message-wearing girlfriend named Detroit (played by Tessa Thompson) have called "home" ;-).

Ah yes, but how to you sell stuff -- on the phone -- that people don't really need and at times can't really afford?  Well after a few days of - "OMG I'm going to lose this job again" - he's told by an older / more experienced coworker (played by Danny Glover) "Cassius, you're going to have to find your 'white voice.'"  "WT... does that mean?"  "No, not a white, white voice, but the voice that tells the person on the other end of the line 'You know, I don't need to make this sale, after I finish talking to you, I'm taking the rest of the day off to take my Ferrari for some detailing again.  I'm not calling you because I need you, I'm calling you today because you need me, and you need this product that I'm offering you.'"  

Cassius figures it out ... and ... soon he's becomes one of the company's best sellers, indeed being "bumped up" to its "Diamond Sellers" level.  Those who "make this level: get special perks -- a special gold plated elevator, activated by an insanely long "security code," that literally takes him to said "new level."

But it's there of course, that he finds that things are _far, far, far weirder_ than he even would have imagined.  But does he "play the game?"  Or say something?  And who would actually even believe him if he did?

A FUN and GREAT MOVIE that would have made Kafka of "The Castle" fame proud ;-)

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Eighth Grade [2018]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Eighth Grade [2018] (screenplay and directed by Bo Burnham) is one of those small summer, often enough teenage / young adult angst filled, indie films that like Safety Not Guaranteed [2012], The Way, Way Back [2013], the "Before" series (Before Sunrise [1995], Before Sunset [2004] and Before Midnight [2013]) and Boyhood [2014] reminds a film lover like me _why_ I love films so much.

Yes, thanks to Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh AirI already knew a little about this film before I went to see it here at the Landmark Theater in Los Angeles, but I WAS COMPLETELY SOLD in the film's first thirty seconds, as one of the most jaw-droppingly sincere -- OMG this _couldn't possibly_ have been simply "read from a script" -- scenes that I've ever witnessed played.  It featured Kayla (played with dead-on sincerity throughout by Elsie Fisher), a thoroughly average, stumbling, a smattering of pimples and all, eighth grader video-recording herself for her little Vlog (with all of five subscribers ;-) on her entry's decided theme of the day -- "Confidence."   Once again, OMG, one just wanted to give her a hug.

And so the story went ... Kayla's just a thoroughly _normal_ middle school kid just about to finish eighth grade, young -- again, only in eight grade -- but already realizing that her life's not going to be what younger self (when she was in 6th grade (!) ...) thought it was going to be.  And yet, of course, that wasn't necessarily awful: there was always someone who'd drop into her life, even if for a moment, including not the least her single parent dad (played also with appropriate "OMG this parenting is sooo much, much harder / more complicated than I ever could have imagined but I've got keep smiling" honesty by Josh Hamilton) that helps her make it through.

The performances here are simply remarkable and the film's destined to be one of the best "teen age angst films" since The Breakfast Club [1985].  Indeed it may make that previous film (that I grew up on) feel positively like kitsch.

A simply outstanding job!

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Friday, July 20, 2018

Mamma Mia! Here We go Again [2018]

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

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

Mamma Mia! Here We go Again [2018] (directed and screenplay by Ol Parker, story by Richard Curtis, Ol Parker and Catherine Johnson, originally conceived by Judy Craymer, based on the original musical by Catherine Johnson) continues the fun if certainly on-one-level morally questionable ABBA-based [wikip] [Amzn] story of "Donna" (played here wonderfully in her youth by Lily James and then in her middle-to-older age by Meryl Streep) who, back the late-1970s, had found herself pregnant with a daughter she later named "Sophie" (played in the near present by Amanda Seyfried, hence about 30) with the father being as many as three different men "Sam, Bill and Harry" (played in the current film in their youth by Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan and Hugh Skinner respectively and in their middle-to-older age by Pierce BrosnanStellan Skarsgård and Colin Firth). 

Yes, it's all kinda scandalous, and yet, for better-or-for-worse kinda possible as it "all happened" back in the hedonistic late 1970s.

That said, as I would say about the Meryl Streep starring first film (made in 2008 and based on the already decade-long popular ABBA based musical) HOW GOOD IT IS TO SEE SWEDES  _smiling_ perhaps "messing around sexually" BUT SMILING rather than wondering if they should be "goose stepping" like their previously similarly sexually repressed German cousins to the south.  Yes, it's a false choice, but "free love" IS SO MUCH BETTER (and literally more LIFE GIVING) than OPPRESSION and WAR.

For as nominally immoral as this story is IT'S SO MUCH BETTER (and again LIFE-GIVING) than ANYTHING that Franco, Pinochet or Milosevic could offer or for that matter what Putin / Trump would offer today -- though Putin / Trump and Berlusconi before them (Italy's always seemed to be a "trend-setter" when it comes to Fascism...) have now proven that one CAN be _both_ RANDY and FASCIST at the same time.   Sigh ...

Still I will definitely say that FASCISM -- ripping children by the thousands from their shocked and sobbing moms -- IS INFINITELY WORSE than any strictly lustful transgression.  And even Dante would bear me out on this.  His levels of Hell for the Incontinent were near the top of the Pit while the levels Below were reserved for Violent and at the Bottom for the Treacherous. 

So please folks, if you don't already understand, then please do ... it's _not_ supposed to be "normal" for someone to not be sure which of three possible men could be the father of one's child.   That said, while not exactly "for the little ones" for the rest of us, please if you go see it, _enjoy the film_ FOR WE'RE WITNESSING FAR GREATER AND MORE VIOLENT CRIMES IN OUR TIMES TODAY than this.

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