Thursday, June 29, 2017

Despicable Me 3 [2017]

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

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

Despicable Me 3 [2017] (directed by Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin, codirected Eric Guillon, written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio) like the stupidly racist DM2 [2013] and unlike the 2010 original (which I had thought was brilliant) remains a difficult movie for me to feel good about.

Yes, the Minions (voiced by Pierre Coffin) remain cute. Yes, Agnes (voiced by Elsie Fisher) the youngest adoptive daughter of heart-of-gold, reformed arch-villain, vaguely-East European Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and super-virtuous/super-ANGLO Miss Hattie (voiced by Kristen Wiig) remains adorable, BUT ... if DM2 [2013] went UTTERLY _OUT OF ITS WAY_ to racially attack Mexicans (!), the current film now GOES OUT OF ITS WAY to attack Gru's "vaguely South / East European background" ...

When Gru goes out with his family to search out his long lost twin brother Dru (voiced also by Steve Carell)... they find him on some "Greek-ish / Serbo-Croatian-like Island" where EVERYBODY seems to _raise PIGS_ (!!) and in probably the most unfortunate scene in the whole film, when a little boy from the Island seems to have fallen for Margo (the oldest of Gru's / Hattie's three adopted girls) OFFERING HER, AMONG OTHER THINGS _HIS PIG_ ... Hattie "STEPS UP" to "PROTECT" HER FROM HIM (and his utterly perplexed mother).

YES, IN THIS _ONE THING_ POPULIST RUSSIAN STRONGMAN VLADIMIR PUTIN IS _EXACTLY RIGHT_: Many Westerners (hence North Americans) seem to think that people from his country, Russia, (and _let's be honest_ from the other countries bordering his, many of whom sincerely believed that they were actually becoming OUR RESPECTED (!) FRIENDS and ALLIES...) are just ONE OR TWO GENERATIONS "FROM THE TREES."

How else to explain this film's portrayal of Gru's "homeland" as a place where people SEEM TO ONLY RAISE _PIGS_ and a local boy (and his mother) are portrayed as CATEGORICALLY UNWORTHY of somehow, again, categorically "more refined / sophisticated" Anglos ...

Yet this is an arrogance that is honestly born of ignorance as anyone who's actually been to Prague, Budapest, Moscow or even Belgrade or Athens would IMMEDIATELY recognize.  (Oh, but what about these countries' hinterlands?  Well, if one _wants to be honest_ none of these places are _categorically different_ from the hinterlands of the United States ... Alabama, Appalachia, Indiana, Kansas / Nebraska ...).

But we seem to insist on our (racial) superiority ... and more problematically, seem to insist on teaching our kids that as well.  Shame.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight [2017]

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

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

Transformers: The Last Knight [2017] (directed by Michael Kay, screenplay by Art Marcum, Matt Holloway and Ken Nolan, story by Akiva GoldsmanArt MarcumMatt Holloway and Ken Nolan) continues a financially successful (if somewhat diminishingly successful) movie franchise [wikip] based on the Transformer Toys [wikip]  involving two races of giant shape-shifting Robots who've come to Earth with quite mixed motives and in previous episodes have wreaked havoc with contemporary humanity.

In the current episode, humanity seems to have regained some control over its destiny and its relations with the leftover transformer robots in its midst has deepened / become more complex.  Some humans seem to have established a more or less friendly relationship with many of the left-over robots, while others, based on past violent recent history, continue to see them as enemies and in as much as possible want to see them expunged from the earth.  For their part, some of the Transformer robots have proven to be quite kindly / protective of humanity, while others remain a threat.

The current film conflates elements of the legends surrounding King Arthur / Merlin the Magician with other elements from the more recent story of The Da Vinci Code and invites Viewers to believe that the history of interaction between the Transformer Robots and humanity is actually much longer and more complex than previously imagined producing a Transformer Robot / Ancient Aliens [wikip] [IMDb] mash-up of sorts.

Over the years, I've found the Transformer films to be fascinating from a sociological / psychoanalytical point of view.  After all, why would TENS OF MILLIONS of viewers pay good money (smiling from-ear-to-ear, buckets of popcorn in their laps, beverages of choice at their sides...) to sit through two-and-a-half hour to three hour (!!) "Transformer" films in which two races of GIANT shape-shifting transformer robots beat the daylights out of each other, laying to waste huge sections of earthly cities in the process, while "little people" (us) watch helplessly by?

Is this how a surprisingly large portion of humanity sees our world today -- that GIANT "shape shifting" heartless-metallic forces "above them" are battling it out, and that all most of us can do is ... watch (and perhaps occasionally ... duck)?

Anyway, this has been a strange, if IMHO also strangely fascinating series that while never destined for "Oscar Glory" offers an oddly disconcerting view of a good part of contemporary humanity.  

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

47 meters down [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review (P. Sobczynski) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review

47 meters down [2017] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Johannes Roberts along with Ernest Riera) is a film similar to, if IMHO _far more problematic_, than last year's "shark movie" The Shallows [2016].

In the current film, two young North American women, Lisa and Kate (played by Mandy Moore and Claire Holt respectively), "on vacation" to Mexico consent to (are talked into?) being sent down into shark infested waters in a small metal cage lowered into the sea from an already quite rickety-looking local commercial fishing boat, and ... much (often terrible...) ... ensues.

I suppose the message to young Western / North American tourists is: Don't be idiots (!).  It's one thing to "not be racist" / to _try_ to experience local indigenous culture BUT ... most people, both North American or far more _local_, taking ONE LOOK AT THAT BOAT, and _NOT QUESTIONING_ the intentions of the crew would say: "No gracias, no se ofenden pero no me pongo en esa barca ..." ("No thanks, don't be offended but there's NO WAY that I'm getting on that boat much less in that cage...") and that'd be that.

But in this film, we have _two_ naive North American women taking a really bad risk with a number of local (and one must call this for what it is) "men of darker complexion" whose motives while _perhaps_ not evil were nonetheless _necessarily inscrutable_ and ...

And let's be totally honest here: About 15 years ago, a young and perhaps quite naive North American woman, Natalee Holloway, disappeared on a high school senior trip to the still WHITE DOMINATED Dutch colonial possession of Aruba (an island in the Caribbean) and was probably killed and perhaps even _thrown to the sharks_ (to dispose of her body, never found...), while in the company of a VERY WHITE Dutch colonial local named Joran van der Sloot who while never convicted of a crime in Holloway's tragedy, some years later was convicted of murdering a local Peruvian woman while on vacation in Peru.

So the racial undertones of this film in which two white North American women find themselves (or put themselves) in danger while in the company of _darker skinned_ "locals" while on vacation are ... well, at minimum _unfortunate_ and perhaps even _wildly unfair_.

I wonder if the film would have been "better" if the two North Americans had been a young heterosexual couple (or perhaps themselves of color_), so the film would have not been about _just_ "naive young white women folk in danger... (and in need of "protection"....)" 

In any case, it's not racist to say to tell a group of young men, be they "of color" or "dashing red-mained" _white men_, descendants perhaps even of former slave owners, to say: "Hey, WE DON'T KNOW YOU, and there's NO WAY we're getting on THAT BOAT (or ANY BOAT) with you"

But then that would make for a very different movie ...

In contrast, Blake Lively's surfer in The Shallows [2016] faced _simply_  ... a really big, really driven ... shark.  Again, a much better and much less problematic film.

So while certainly "giving thrills" and perhaps serving as _a cautionary tale_ the current film is IMHO quite fatally mixed with unfortunate racial undertones that needent have had to have been there (and if they weren't would have made for a much better film) -- 1 Star.

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Beatriz at Dinner [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Beatriz at Dinner [2017] (directed by Miguel Arteta, screenplay by Mike White) is a darkish dramedy that reminds us that art can sometimes precede (predict?) the future: A sort of (now) Trump-era Guess Who's Coming to Dinner [1967], the film was actually made before Donald Trump was elected U.S. President (or before just about anyone, including possibly Trump himself, thought it possible that he could win).

Beatriz (played to self-evidently Oscar nomination worthy levels by Salma Hayek) is a non-descript Mexican-born, long-time American residing (a slightly older "dreamer"?) "healer" (in Spanish "curandera") working mostly as a massage therapist at a Santa Monica based "Alternative Medicine Center" who a quite rich Newport Beach residing couple Grant and Shannon (played by David Warshofsky and Chloë Sevigny respectively) met some years earlier when their teenage daughter had been having a tough time with undergoing standard cancer (chemotherapy / radiation) treatments.

Beatriz had helped their daughter get through the treatments, and subsequently Shannon had been having Beatriz come regularly to their quite lovely "cliff-side ocean view" home out there in _Southern_ Orange County to give her a monthly massage.  Insane amount of driving that this "triangle" -- from her modest home in Altadena to her work in Santa Monica to Shannon's gated community (of course) home in Newport Beach and back to Altadena (the geography here is both important and insane)-- notwithstanding, Beatriz, a seemingly quite gentle, somewhat "New Agey" soul appeared content to do this for the sake of her past relationship with Grant / Shannon and their daughter and because, well, she truly saw her vocation to be "a healer."

Well, one afternoon, after giving Shannon her massage, Beatriz' car finally "dies" (could not start) from all that driving.  No matter, Shannon invites her to stay the night in her previously sick daughter's room (she's long since "better" and now in college) and invites Beatriz to stay for a dinner party that they were hosting for one of Grant's clients, a _big shot real estate developer_ named Doug Strutt (played wonderfully by John Lithgow).  The two -- Beatriz and Strutt -- could not possibly have been more different and on so many levels (race, gender, class, fundamental outlook on the very purpose of life), and after a couple of glasses of wine ("liquid courage"), it's _Beatriz_ who in good part _decides_ that she's _not_ going to keep her mouth shut.

A fascinating if increasingly _painful_ film to watch.  Could _this film_ become this year's  Moonlight [2016] (89th Academy Awards [2107])?

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Cars 3 [2017]

MPAA (G)  CNS/USCCB (A-I) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Cars 3 [2017] (directed by Brian Fee, screenplay by Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich, original story by Brian Fee, Ben Queen, Eyal Podell and Jonathon E. Stewart) continues, and after a rather_weak_ Cars 2 [2011], IMPROVES this "what if cars were people too" franchise [wikip].  Indeed, I'd say that the current entry is at least as good as the original, Cars [2006], and IMHO better.

Why such praise from me, who really did not like Cars 2 [2011], and generally suspects _any_ film that seeks to humanize _things_ (especially _things that one needs _to buy_) at a time when we're often asked to consider all kinds of _people_ as somehow less than human -- from the (most obviously) unborn, to the physically or intellectually challenged, to the more darkly complected, to simply non-U.S. citizens, to those for whom answering what gender they are is, quite honestly, not simple matter to answer?  I bristle at the attitude, "Well I don't like ___________ (fill in one's human hate preference) while I LOVE my (ipad, iphone, car, dog, etc)."  Don't get me wrong, I love pets, plants, etc, and even the occasional gadget -- and among the Friars in my Province, I'm certainly considered (and generally rightly) to perhaps be attached to too many (electronic gadgets) -- I write a blog after all ;-) -- BUT I do try to put _people_ first, and do firmly believe that as Christians WE HAVE TO PUT PEOPLE FIRST otherwise the Incarnation of Jesus, "God among us,"[Mt 1:23, Mt 28:20] makes no sense and our own ultimate value is diminished: Either as humans we all count, or were left "fighting for _scraps_ of importance" and ultimately none of us do (Who'll remember _any of us_ 100-200 years from now ...?).

That said, I don't "hate" Pinocchio :-). And artists from Homer to Beethoven to The Beatles to Steven Spielberg remind us our "lasting creations" need not necessarily be just biological,  And finally at some point, one has to say to oneself "Just shut up and remember how it was when _you_ were an eight-year old and you could think that the match-box car you had in your hand was at minimum driven by a 'human driver' or was otherwise 'animated' / 'alive'" ;-).

So accepting the premise that at least in this story "Cars can be people too" how does the current film fare and what kind of a story does it tell?  Well I do believe the story in this film is a good one.

Gone are the arguably RACIST (I'm not kidding) elements that plagued Cars 2 [2011] where all the "good cars" were American or British accented English and all the "bad cars" were jalopies from Eastern and Southern Europe (again, I'm not kidding...).  In the current film, one of central protagonist American sports-car Lightning McQueen's (voiced by Owen Wilson) old friends from back home was a kindly and old(er) Fiat 500 ;-) named Luigi (voiced by Tony Shaloub), so this unnecessary "racist problem" is thankfully gone.

Then, the central challenge facing Lightning McQueen is the current film is finding a way to deal with "growing old" (or at least "growing older"):  In the story, he had been at the top of the auto-racing game for some time, but _now_ a new generation of cars was taking his / his generation's place.  Yes, he tries to stage a "Rocky-like" comeback, but ... is that the _only_ option?  Here I do believe that Disney-Pixar "does it again"!  It raises the storytelling level here from a film "merely for kids" to one that really speaks to / challenges adults: Instead of trying to be "young" (or trying to "beat-back" the young) forever, how about doing something else with one's age (and accumulated wisdom)?

I'm not going to say more because that would damage one's experience of the film, but HONESTLY, what a _nice film_, _reminding_ us "becoming older folks" of an obvious (and healthier) alternatives to just trying to fight a losing battle with Time.

Excellent job!

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Rough Night [2017]

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

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

Rough Night [2017] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Lucia Aniello along with Paul W. Downs) is a definitely R-rated "Bridesmaids [2011] meets Weekend with Bernie [1989]" comedy.  There's a lot of crude (often penis) humor, two of characters are (or at least were) lesbians (back in college...), and a pharmacy's (or at least backwoods meth shack's) worth of illegal drugs is used/abused.  It's a film that _aims_ for goofy / raunchy and often enough succeeds.

What could possibly be redeeming about a film like this?  Well a lot of young people are going to watch it.  It has gay people in it, but they know and many/most of them will have already had gay friends and most will have kept them as friends even if they are gay.  The drug use in the film is extensive, even "creative" (to a 53-year-old (Catholic priest) like me).  But said drug use is not exactly portrayed as "positive" -- cocaine is clearly portrayed as impairing decision making, meth that "yes it can keep you awake" BUT ... again _severely_ limit your judgement.

And to anybody who may have doubts here, let me then reiterate the obvious: (1) Cocaine can kill you. (2) Meth can kill you.  (3) Driving impaired be it from alcohol to meth to "red bull" can kill you.  And yes, while "crossing the street" "can kill you" too, only an idiot would see "crossing a street" to be equivalent to doing lines of coke or driving on meth.  But my guess is that most Millennials will know that, and if they don't then, I've just told them.

So why the insanely exaggerated drug use in the film ... because most viewers would find it insanely dangerous / _funny_ ... after all, how many different concoctions of drugs could one possibly take _on one drive_ to _try_ "to keep awake"? ;-)

Then with the homosexuality.  Yes, the Catholic Church is right.  At minimum _at some level_ homosexuality is _disordered_ (a plug fits into a socket not another plug...).  That said, we all know people who are gay (and happy with their homosexuality).  And (I've written about this before) while the Church teaches that homosexuality is disordered, that homosexuality simply does not fit into its 2000 year tried-and-tested Theology of Marriage (that Marriage is to be open to both Life and to Love), outside of the Church the Society remains (thankfully) Free to go on its own ... and certainly for now and for the foreseeable future Western Society has chosen to accept homosexuality as a _legitimate_ lifestyle option for people ... AND ITS FILMS WILL REFLECT THIS _NO MATTER_ WHAT THE CHURCH SAYS ABOUT IT.  (That's again Freedom ... indeed Freedom of Conscience which the Church itself defends).

That does not mean that the Church should stop teaching that at least on some level homosexuality is intrinsically disordered.  On the other hand, it is needlessly putting itself in a self-imposed box if it an issue like this is all that matters.

I return to the question: What is "redeemable" in a film like this (or Bridesmaids [2011]) before it?  I think its emphasis on friendship: Is it possible to truly be "Best Friends Forever" and if so, doesn't that friendship have to change over time?

Then I did find it rather insightful that the couple getting married were both "perfect" in terms of the nominal standards of our time: Scarlett Johanssen's Jess was like a 30-year-old Hillary Clinton (bright, educated, indeed running for office) and her fiance' Peter (played by Paul W. Downs) was the _perfect_ well-groomed / sensitive ("Metrosexual") guy.  Yet both were _really boring_, and needed the _less perfect_ people around them -- from Jess' weight-challenged former college roommate Alice (played wonderfully by Jillian Bell), to her just plain goofily weird friend (played by Kate McKinnon) from her year of study abroad "out in Australia" to the by this point in my article "famous" lesbian / sort of (seriously) friends Blair and Frankie (played by Zoe Kravitz and Ilana Glazer) -- to give them life.

So while definitely _not_ for "the little ones" (the R-rating is RICHLY deserved), this is a film that a lot of 20-something Millennials are going to watch and it's not an entirely awful film.  It is often very funny and stresses friendship.

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Friday, June 9, 2017

The Mummy [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

The Mummy [2017] (directed by Alex Kurtzman, screenplay by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman, screen story by Jon Spaihts, Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet) is a summer popcorn blockbuster-ish sort of film ... and, well, it's summer blockbuster time.

Yes, the film is a Studio concoction: Universal has eyed quite jealously the "universes" that Disney's been able to assemble both from among its long-time fairytale franchises and also from its recent Marvel Comics acquisition.  And so, Universal has apparently decided to launch its own "dark world" universe with this feature film, which reboots (for the 4th or 5th time) its 1930s era "Mummy" character and to cast no doubt about its "campily megalomaniacal" intentions, adds a number of other "dark" 1870s-1930s era supernatural characters to the mix, notably a Russell Crowe playing Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde [wikip] [IMDb].  Seriously?  Yes, seriously.

What's going on?  I do honestly see a definite "campiness" (winking, non-seriousness) to the project. here (though certainly Universal, like _any studio_ would love to take our money, if it takes off ;-).

Consider Tom Cruise's role in the film as its key.  He plays "Nick Morton" a shifty largely out-for-himself American "special forces / recon sort of a guy."  Consider his character something of a FRANKENSTONIAN "studio creation" in which he gets to play BOTH of the characters that he's most famous for -- the "can't trust him but you love him" Joel of Risky Business or Jerry Maguire of the film by that name grafted onto the "super-heroish / secret agent" Ethan Hunt of the Mission Impossible series.

In the film, Cruise's "Nick" uses his "deep cover" to steal priceless Middle Eastern antiquities before ISIS-style Islamicists "blow them up."  Yes, it is true that ISIS (as well as the Taliban) has really taken upon itself to try to raze the Middle East's pre-Islamic history.  Yes, this constitutes a truly appalling Crime against Humanity.  But, Nick and his fellow "recon" buddy / partner in (in the scheme of things "petty") crime Chris (played by Jake Johnson) aren't exactly heroes here: Pre-ISIS, they'd be called war-profiteers / looters.

Again, what's going on here?  Again, I see "camp."  And since it is summer, since the film is _generally_ fun, I kinda applaud it ;-).  Call it simply ... summer entertainment ;-).

And some of the characters are quite good, the best being Ahmanet (played by Sofia Boutella) the Egyptian princess, the Mummy of the story, who the greedy but bumbling, here "way over his head," Nick accidentally awakens: In her time, Ahmanet was supposed to become Pharoah.  But late in life, her father had a son with a second wife, and ... Ahmanet freaked-out.  After murdering her father, her half brother and seemingly half the Pharoah's Court, the surviving Pharoanic officials captured her, and "mummified" her, alive!, and buried her deep and far, far away ... to try to erase her from history, only to be "awakened" by ... Nick and his friend.  And when she awakens, she's ... NOT HAPPY ...

Much ensues ...

Is this a great film?  No.  Is it a terrible one?  Again, no!  Again, this is a popcorn movie that for the most part "smiles" even onto-itself.  I just wish the Studio found a more dignified way to introduce Russell Crowe's (Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde) character to the franchise ... LATER.  He really deserved his own movie.   Other than that ... enjoy the ride ;-).

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