Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Silent Night (orig. Cicha Noc) [2017]

MPAA (NR would be R) Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing listing*

 Silent Night (orig. Cicha Noc) [2017] [IMdb] []*(directed and screenplay cowritten by Piotr Domalewski [IMDb] []* along with Helena Szoda-Wozniak [IMDb]), which swept last year's Polish Eagle (Poland's equivalent of the Oscars) Awards and played here recently at the 2018 Polish Film Festival in Los Angeles, tells a contemporary immigration story that almost all immigrant families could relate to.

The film begins with Adam (played wonderfully with a mix of still wide-eyed youthfulness and appropriate not completely upfront shiftiness by Dawid Ogrodnik [IMDb] []*) on the bus, near the end of his 20 hour ride from Holland, on his way home to rural Poland for Christmas.  At the last larger provincial town before arriving at his parents' family's farm/stead somewhere in the lovely, if, it's December after all, now largely frozen Polish countryside, he gets off the bus and ... rents a car, a big one, to, of course, impress his parents when he arrives.  He's of course video recording everything along the way because ... (1) that's what young people do nowadays ;-), capturing everything that they're doing and (2) he's gotten word from his wife / girl-friend (unclear) but in any case "significant other" Asia (largely off screen but played briefly by Milena Staszuk [IMDb]) that she was expecting and so ... talking to the picture of the ultrasound that she had sent him, Adam wanted his new child to see what he was doing to prepare for his/her arrival.

He arrives with the big (rented) car.  The parents (ma' played by Agnieszka Suchora [IMDb] []*, pa' played by Arkadiusz Jakubik [IMDb] []* ask, "is this your ride nowadays," he responds "tak (yes)."  They shrug.  It's _almost as big_ as some other neighbor son's car that they saw a number of weeks back ;-).  "Welcome home son... BTW why has it taken you so long to come back to visit us again?" ;-)

Well, Adam isn't coming home altruistically, he has "a plan."  He's gotten it into his head that "if the family just sold grandpa's house" and _gave him the money_, he could "start a business" out there in Holland and "when it started paying money" he'd pay everybody back. ;-).  Besides, he's "becoming a father" he's _trying to be_ "responsible."  What could go wrong? ;-)

Well, the first problem is that ... grandpa , ever drunk though he may be and with a touch of the cancer (played gleefully in ever-smiling clueless fashion by Paweł Nowisz [IMDb] []*) _isn't dead_ yet ;-).  Secondly, Adam's younger brother Paweł (played by Tomasz Ziętek [IMDb] []*), with whom Adam never got along, had his own plans for dying, but still not dead, amiable grandpa's house: He was going to use it to setup a barber shop inside (yes, out there in the placid Polish countryside, where next to no one would come by... ;-).  Pa' who like Adam, spent much of his adult life "working abroad" sympathizes, somewhat, with Adam's plan but tells him: Convince Paweł and your older (and married...) sister Jolka (Maria Dębska [IMDb] []*)  that your plan's a good one and I won't stand in your way.  Jolka's husband Jacek (played Mateusz Więcławek [IMDb] []*) pointing to the impressive wedding ring on his finger, of course, has "a few things to say..."

Amusingly, there's younger 12-13 y.o. sister named Kasia (played with wonderful not really knowing what's going on innocence by Amelia Tyszkiewicz [IMDb] []*) who like grandpa "doesn't really matter" here.  The expression of pa' for whom Kasia was "the apple of his eye" when Kasia picks-up the violin to begin playing "Silent Night" (it's all playing out during Christmas after-all) and then ... as she continues ... is absolutely priceless ;-).

Ma' for her part is frustrated in her role of (once again) managing the needs / egos of all these men -- her husband, her two sons, her daughter's husband and even "grandpa" (her father or father-in-law,  unclear, though it _is_ clear that she's ultimately "the caregiver" there) -- all of whom she clearly seems to understand, at the end of the day, to be losers anyway.  She appeared to be _not_ particularly happy to see Adam "drop in" from Holland for Christmas.  His unexpected visit seemed to simply add (and as far as she could see, _unpredictably_) to her burdens of cooking for and then getting through the family's Christmas Eve (oplatkis and all).

There are some fun twists in the story.  And as I wrote at the beginning of my review here, pretty much EVERY IMMIGRANT FAMILY could relate to its characters.

As Tiny Tim ends Dickens' Christmas Carol: "God bless them, everyone."  They / we certainly need it ;-)

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

<< NOTE - Do you like what you've been reading here?  If you do then consider giving a small donation to this Blog (sugg. $6 _non-recurring_) _every so often_ to continue/further its operation.  To donate just CLICK HERE.  Thank you! :-) >>

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Old Man and the Gun [2018]

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

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

 The Old Man and the Gun [2018] (directed and screenplay by , based on the New Yorker article "The Last Heist" by David Grann) seems like an appropriate swansong for legendary actor Robert Redford who, of course, plays the lead, Forrest Tucker [wikip] [IMDb].  After all, Redford's career was made, early, by his roles playing smiling, good looking / sympathetic outlaws in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid [1969] and The Sting [1973], and ... as apparently a juror said of the ever well dressed, smiling and polite Tucker at his last trial, "You have to hand it to him, the man has style."  Again, it'd be a nice way to "go out" ;-), that's if one really believes that this will be Redford's last film (as he's promised it is). 

The film tells the story of Forrest Tucker who was known for doing two things (1) robbing banks, politely, and (2) escaping prison, repeatedly (apparently 18 times!), throughout the whole of his life!  Yup, there was clearly "a story" indeed "a movie" in that kind of life.

Now from the Catholic Church's perspective, there has always been the concern that film-making (or storytelling in general) _not_ make it seem that "crime does pay."  And so, looking at this film, this was a concern that I did have.  Yes, Tucker was remarkably skilled at those two things that he devoted his life to, but did he not _clearly_ waste his life pursuing "excellence" in, well, evil skills?  Yes, Tucker seemed "nice" about things.  He didn't seem to have ever fired his gun during any of the robberies that he was involved in or the chases that followed, but ... what if he needed to?  Yes, he was known to be "polite," but ... perhaps he was simply "lucky" to never have to be "not polite" in getting out of a jam, a bank robbery that "ran afoul."

So while storytelling is often subversive (that's what often makes it interesting, allowing us the Readers, Viewers or Hearers to imagine being in the shoes of said supremely "competent" outlaw), it's good to remember all the other things that _could have happened_: If there was even a single person who would have been shot or hurt as a result of one of his bank robberies, a single one ... Tucker would have become a much less sympathetic person than he is remembered today.

Let's face it folks, we he was simply ... lucky.

But it still makes for a remarkable (if subversive and not exactly moral) story.

NOTE - Do you like what you've been reading here?  If you do then consider giving a small donation to this Blog (sugg. $6 _non-recurring_) _every so often_ to continue/further its operation.  To donate just CLICK HERE.  Thank you! :-) >>

Friday, October 19, 2018

A Star is Born [2018]

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

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

A Star is Born [2018] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Bradley Cooper along with Eric Roth and Will Fetters based on the 1954 and 1976 screenplays by Moss Hart and John Gregory Donne, Joan Didion and Frank Pierson respectively, based on the story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson) continues and IMPROVES UPON a Hollywood-spun Cinderella story where where "the Prince" who lifts her up is tragically flawed and yet, does something right.

So here country music but hard drinking superstar Jackson Maine (played wonderfully by Bradley Cooper himself) stumbles upon a sweet if utter unconfident singer named Ally (played by Lady Gaga who proves here THAT SHE CAN ACT) and lifts her up to Grammy-level stardom.

As a Christian, indeed CATHOLIC, how can I not love this story?  It reminds us that ALL OF US are more than just our sins (even though those sins exist, and yes, WE PAY FOR THEM).  Still, all of us are capable of doing something good, and leaving a legacy that is kind.

And so even as we, along with Jack's friends watch him tragically self-destruct, we also see Ally literally GAIN HER VOICE and succeed.  And in her kindness she does understand all along that it was Jackson who first believed in her even when she didn't yet believe in herself.

What a story / film at a time when perhaps in a new way we're being told that _the only way_ to "the top" is "by our own bootstraps."  No.  All of us owe a lot to those who surround us.

NOTE - Do you like what you've been reading here?  If you do then consider giving a small donation to this Blog (sugg. $6 _non-recurring_) _every so often_ to continue/further its operation.  To donate just CLICK HERE.  Thank you! :-) >>

First Man [2018]

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

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

First Man [2018] (directed by Damian Chazelle, screenplay by Josh Singer based on the book [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by  [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) continues a trend in contemporary (here and now) film-making:

If "back in the day" (my youth ;-) NASA portrayed itself as an almost super-heroically serene, supremely competent can-do agency -- "Houston, we have a problem" was literally the phrase used by the Apollo 13 crew to report back to NASA mission control that some sort of an _explosion_ occurred in the Service Module of the spacecraft as it approached the moon.  Over the course of the next several days, NASA, chock full of experts, who performed _all kinds of simulations_ on the ground, instructed the crew as to what to do, to get themselves safely back to earth.  All this was, of course, immortalized in Ron Howard's, Tom Hanks starring film Apollo 13 [1995].

In the current film, the opening scene portrayed Neil Armstrong [wikip] [IMDb] (played _largely_ still with unknowable superhuman stoicism by Ryan Gosling) piloting the US Air Force's experimental X-15 rocket-plane in a test that put him, then, in 1961, outside the atmosphere, and ... as he sought to bring the plane back down it ... apparently BOUNCED OFF THE ATMOSPHERE ... sending him and his craft, apparently drifting out into near orbit space.  What to do?  Well, he begins by calmly hitting levers and buttons, and ... NOTHING SEEMS TO BE WORKING and FIFTEEN / THIRTY SECONDS INTO becoming UNWILLINGLY "the first man in space" HE BEGINS TO DO WHAT _EVERYONE OF US_ WOULD DO IN A SITUATION LIKE THIS: He begins TO POUND on EVERY BUTTON / LEVEL IN SIGHT UNTIL ... _SOMETHING CLICKS_ / SOME MOTOR STARTS AND ... he begins to bring the rocket plane down to earth ;-)

THAT opening scene, did its job for me.  I was hooked for the rest of the film ;-)  [Neil Armstrong, we learn, never flew in the military.  He was a civilian engineer.  BUT BOY DID HE GET RESPECT FOR WHAT HE DID ON THAT DAY.  "He brought an X-15 that was drifting out into space down to earth and lived to tell about it," an admiring military test pilot program commander explained when someone asked WHY Armstrong was picked for the NASA Space Program over presumably some other military test pilot].

And this opening scene was emblematic of the difference between the contemporary sci-fi film-making and that of a generation ago.  In the past, everything was portrayed as calm, even frighteningly / monstrously calm -- think of the calm voice of the HAL computer in Stanley Kuberick's 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968], or the tag-line in Ridley Scott's first Alien [1979] movie "In Space no one can hear you scream!" ;-).  In the current film, the launch sequence of Apollo 11 was NOT done with Strauss' "Blue Danube" waltz playing in the background.  INSTEAD, EVERYTHING SHOOK and at least _inside_ the Apollo 11 capsule THE LAUNCH WAS _LOUD_.  Using largely _shaking_ hand-held cameras, the effect to the viewer was experiencing the launch of Apollo 11 as at least _in part_ how it was: like going into space / being attached to the largest fire-cracker / sky-rocket ever built ;-).

Much has been said (usually negatively) of recent attempts to literally "shake-up" / "energize" previous thoughtful / even cerebral storytelling -- one thinks here of the "reboots" of the original Star Trek series or even of the Sherlock Holmes stories.  Yet, I suppose here, in the case of Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission, the "correction" is perhaps, well, "the most correct."  THIS WAS an incredibly dangerous mission with ALL KINDS OF THINGS THAT COULD HAVE GONE WRONG.  There's an excellent scene in the film showing Armstrong "practicing" the landing of a "best guess" mock-up lunar module somewhere in the Mohave Desert.  Let's just say it doesn't go well and one is reminded very well that they were still using 1960s technology that wasn't nearly as digitized, reproducible as technology today.

So I left _really impressed_ by the film, and of the qualities that were being asked of the astronauts in those days.  These were _not_ scarves around their necks photogenic prima donna "flyboys."  They were literally risking their lives and selected precisely for their ability to keep tremendous internal pressure (to scream, to fly off the handle, to give up) under wraps.

My hat off to the film-makers and the people they portrayed!

NOTE - Do you like what you've been reading here?  If you do then consider giving a small donation to this Blog (sugg. $6 _non-recurring_) _every so often_ to continue/further its operation.  To donate just CLICK HERE.  Thank you! :-) >>