Friday, July 7, 2017

Spider-man: Homecoming [2017]

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

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

I came to Spider-man: Homecoming [2017] (directed and screenplay co-written by Jon Watts along with Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, screen story by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley based on Marvel comics' Spider-Man [Wiki] created by Stan Lee [IMDb] and Steve Ditko [IMDb]) wondering WHY there'd be a need for a full reboot of this superhero (sub)franchise for the third time in fifteen-years (!) and left once again _in awe_ of Marvel Comics' (since 2009 a Disney Company) vision / humor and wisdom.  They pulled it off: This film both "moved the ball" in the MC's Avenger story / Universe and, even on its own, "deserved to be made."

What do I mean?  After last year's Captain America: Civil War [2016], I complained ("mildly" I recall ;-) to my friend of 40+ years from high school and my go to expert on "all things Comics" that I was getting tired of the ridiculous amount of destruction left behind by the various battles in the Superhero films, and he replied that _already decades ago_ Marvel Comics had an answer to this problem -- a line of comic books about a company called "Damage Control" [MC] [wikip] which specialized in "fixing things" after a bout between superheroes / supervillains ;-).

SO ... this film BEGINS (it would seem) in the aftermath of the first full Avengers [2012] movie after a thwarted Loki (brother of Thor...) led alien invasion of New York.  A quite sympathetic (and quite  _local_ contractor) named Adrian Toomes [MC] [IMDb] (played wonderfully by Michael Keaton) had run-around and gotten the contracts _from the city_ to start "cleaning-up the mess" when "the Feds" (with troops) roll-in, tell him and his people "to step away from the rubble" (which, of course, included _alien technology_) and tell them "not to worry about the damage" to the city anymore as a company called DAMAGE CONTROL [MC] [wikip] had been contracted "to fix things."  Adrian Toomes pleaded with the commanding officer in charge, telling her "I sank everything I've ever had into getting this contract from the city."  But to no avail, "the Feds" have decided.

When the previously mild-mannered if perhaps hustling Toomes sees that "Damage Control" is "a division of Stark Industries" (Tony Stark played by Robert Downey, Jr is Iron Man [MC] [IMDb], one of the Avengers [MC] [wikip]) he is disgusted and tells his colleagues: "PERFECT, first these people destroy our city and then _they_ hire themselves to rebuild it ..."  Toomes orders his people to keep hidden at least a truckload or two of alien debris that that they had collected... and ... he's soon on his way to become a scrappy if enterprising local super-villain who comes to be known as "TheVulture" [MC] [IMDb] building contraband super-weapons from the "scraps" of alien technology that he's able to get his hands on before Stark Industries' "Damage Control" does.

Enter the similarly quite local (and teenage) Peter Parker (aka Spiderman) [MC] [IMDb] (played by Tom Holland) who though still "a sophomore in high school" (in my recollection, the worst / most boring year of High School's four ;-) has "an internship" with Stark Industries.  Something of a "nerd" and certainly socially awkward, he notices some rather strange things happening in his neighborhood -- a local heist which utilized strangely sophisticated (out-of-this-world) tools / weaponry.  He reports this to Tony Stark [MC] [IMDb] / the good folks at Stark Industries, who, of course, ignore him (he's just a teenager, after all...).  Well, of course, much further ensues ...

But ... Peter, is of course, a teen.  So ... ;-) ... while spending his "off time" with "Saving the World" (or at least "Saving / Protecting his Neighborhood" ;-), he has a normal teenager's life with normal teenage concerns / pursuits.  Did I mention that he was "kinda a nerd"?   But add to that, since he had that "internship with Stark Industries," and then ON HIS OWN spent a good part of his remaining off time "Saving / Protecting his neighborhood" THAT'S A LOT ON ONE'S PLATE FOR A TEENAGER ... and hence ... still lacking _super human_ "time management skills" ... he's OFTEN LATE for the various functions that he's part of.  And in typical teenage fashion, he suffers for this: Those who already don't like him make fun of him for this, and those who do like him are consternated when he does not show-up on time (or doesn't show up at all...) for his commitments.  High School ;-).

But he's not totally alone.  He's being raised by A BRILLIANTLY RE-IMAGINED still mid-40 something May Parker [MC] [wikip] [IMDb] (played simply BRILLIANTLY by Marisa Tomei).  He also has a BEST FRIEND, Ned [wikip] (played wonderfully by Jason Batalon) presented here as vaguely Asian Pacific and he A DEEP CRUSH on Liz Allan [wikip] (played again wonderfully by Laura Harrier) a bright, beautiful, popular girl, here presented as African American and portrayed as having her own insecurities -- she's "a bit tall."

I LOVE WHAT MARVEL COMICS DOES WITH ITS CHARACTERS.  Every one of these characters, May, Ned and Liz, I KNOW.  Plus, I can not but APPLAUD Marvel Comics' decision here to widen the ethnic / racial mix.  The Spiderman story plays out in QUEENS, New York, one of the most diverse parts of the most diverse city in the country.  HOW WONDERFUL IT IS THAT MARVEL / DISNEY have _chosen_ to portray this diversity _RIGHT_ and give ALL CHILDREN, both in the United States AND BEYOND a chance to _see a bit of themselves_ in the story.

Much then plays out ... all WONDERFULLY APPROPRIATE _TEENAGE FARE_ often done with a smile (Captain America [MC] [IMDb], another "once local boy" played by Chris Evans, shows up _repeatedly_, appropriately and amusingly throughout ;-)

Again, I left the movie and finish writing my review ... in awe.  Simply a great, great job!

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Big Sick [2017]

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

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

The Big Sick [2017] (directed by Michael Showalter, screenplay by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani) is a crowd-pleasing (and at times challenging) contemporary romantic dramedy that actually tells the story, okay somewhat fictionalized, of "When Kumail met Emily" ;-) -- the film tells the story of how the film's screenwriters met, fell in love and eventually married.

Kumail Nanjiani plays himself, Emily's role is played quite wonderfully by Zoe Kazan.  The challenge of the story to North American audiences is that Kumail is, of course, a Pakistani-American, while Emily is native born and white.  So viewers are reminded, repeatedly, of the quite literally pre-judices that Kumail faces in day-to-day life.  In one instance, when asked _yet again_ what he thinks of 9/11, exasperated, Kumail, a comedian both in the film and in real life, responds: "Yes, it was a tragedy.  We lost nineteen of our best people that day..." ;-) AND THEN HAS TO EXPLAIN (QUICKLY) THAT HE WAS JUST KIDDING, that OF COURSE the tragedy was that thousands of people, overwhelmingly Americans were senselessly murdered by those 19 terrorists.

But to its credit (on multiple levels, including simply a much needed _informative_ one) the film ALSO presents the expectations / prejudices that existed in Kumail's own home: Kumail's parents and especially _his mother_ (played wonderfully by Zenobia Shroff) simply expected him to marry the PAKISTANI WAY (by arranged marriage).  And since Kumail's family was quite wealthy ... the parade of eligible young Pakistani women that Kumail's mother was constantly inviting over to their home for Kumail to meet was _not_ exactly "bottom of the barrel."  These were attractive, educated, young women from similarly wealthy Pakistani-American families wanting their daughters to also marry well.  But there certainly was a prejudice in the culture against "marriage for love" which was quite clearly being dismissed as "marriage for lust."  Interesting.

Anyway, much takes place in the story of Kumail's and Emily's romance.  And it was actually Emily's parents (played wonderfully by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.  If the Academy chose to be brave this year, Holly Hunter honestly deserves a look for a Best Supporting Actress nomination) who, if initially wary / distrustful of Kumail's presence / intentions, come around to his defense.  Kumail's parents are the ones who seem to dismiss even the possibility that their son marrying outside their ethnicity / religion (as Pakistanis, they were, of course, Muslim) could be a good thing.

So honestly this is a contemporary dramedy, aimed at millennials and their parents, that seriously "moves the ball" in Western / Muslim dialogue.

Honestly a brave and good job!

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Monday, July 3, 2017

13 Minutes (orig. Elser) [2015]

MPAA (UR would be R) (3 Stars)   Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing (M. Schwickert) interview w. director* (M. Knoben) review* (A. Kilb) review* (B. Moldenhauer) review* (B. Möller) review*

Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (G. Kenny) review

13 Minutes (orig. Elser) [2015] (directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, screenplay by Léonie-Claire Breinersdorfer and Fred Breinersdorfer) tells the sad story of Georg Elser [de.wikip]*[en.wikip] (played in the film by Christian Friedel) a random somewhat solitary carpenter / machine shop worker (something of a mix of Edward Snowden and Lee Harvey Oswald ...) from small town Bavaria who came to the conclusion that the Nazi leadership must die and on Nov 8, 1939 (a few months after the Nazi invasion of Poland with which World War II began) came within thirteen minutes of blowing Hitler up at a Nazi rally at the Bürgerbräukeller [de.wikip]*[en.wikip] in Munich .  A large beer hall, the Bürgerbräukeller had been ground zero of Hitler's failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch and hence had become something of a Nazi shrine, the site of solemn annual tributes and commemorations during the whole of the Nazi Era.  Elser had hoped to blow-up Hitler along with a good part of the Nazi Leadership while Hitler was speaking at the 1939 edition of said commemorative event.

Both the genius and tragedy of Elser's attempt on Hitler's life was that Elser came BOTH _very close_ to getting his man (Hitler just happened to end his speech early that evening and had left the rally only thirteen minutes before the bomb went off) AND _nearly_ got away:  He was quite randomly picked-up at the relatively nearby border between Germany and Switzerland.  The German guard who had quite accidentally come-upon him had INITIALLY NO IDEA of the significance of the man he was arresting as the bomb that Elser had set, hidden in a column behind the speakers' podium at the Bürgerbräukeller, had not yet even gone off ....

Well, the bomb went off, and Elser had with him incriminating pictures / drawings of the Bürgerbräukeller linking him to the bomb plot ... (Sigh ... why hadn't he gotten rid of them?)

Soon he was being interrogated (and tortured ...) under the direction of Gestapo investigator Arthur Nebe [de.wikip]*[en.wikip] (played in the film by Burghart Klaußner) and the shadowy Gestapo co-head Heinrich Müller [de.wikip]*[en.wikip] (played in the film by Johann von Bülow).  Interestingly Arthur Nebe himself was executed in March, 1945 for his involvement in the July 1944 Claus von Stauffenberg Plot [de.wikip]*[en.wikip] against Hitler.  Heinrich Müller, in contrast, was last reported to have been seen in the Führerbunker [de.wikip]*[en.wikip] in Berlin on May 1, 1945 and remains the highest ranking Nazi to have neither been captured nor confirmed to have died at the end of the war.  He simply vanished.

Elser, for his part, was _not_ executed immediately after the Nazi interrogators "were done with him."  (It took a while for them to become convinced that he _really did_ "act alone").  Instead, he spent most of the war in the Dachau Concentration Camp [de.wikip]*[en.wikip] where he was executed in the closing weeks of the war.

The film really offers a quite fascinating picture of a complex (and contradictory...) "simple man" who _nearly_ did the world an enormous favor by _nearly_ getting rid of one of the most Evil figures in human history.

But that _may be_ the point of Elser's tragic story.  It / HE wasn't enough ...

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

The House [2017]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O) (1 Star)  AVClub ()  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

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

The House [2017] (directed and cowritten by Andrew Jay Cohen along with Brendan O'Brien), crude / appropriately R-rated, could be described as Amy Poehler Parks & Recreation [2009-2015] mashed with every movie that Will Farrell has ever made.

The two play Kate and Scott Johansen proud-as-punch that their only daughter / mutual "best friend" (yup, kinda creepy) Alex (played wonderfully by Ryan Simpkins) got accepted to Stanford University-like "Bucknell U."  Loveble, kind, but not at all financially practical, of course, Kate and Scott have made NO PLANS WHATSOEVER to save-up for the big day when their Alex was gonna go off to school.  Instead, they were BANKING on "straight A" Alex getting a full-ride scholarship traditionally offered by their town.

But newly elected, pettily corrupt dweeb of a quiet suburban town mayor, "Bob" (played spot-on wonderfully by Nick Kroll) has decided to sink the town's funds into his pocket, err ... into a ridiculously elaborate (and probably never, ever to be built) "aquatic complex" (read glorified town swimming pool) instead.  When the Johansens protest this sudden and previously unannounced change in the town's practices, "Mayor Bob" puts the scholarship "for the Johansens and their 'smarty pants' daughter Alex ONLY" vs the ridiculously bright colored / elaborate "pie in the sky" "aquatic complex for _ALL_" to "a vote" ... and ...

What to do? ... Kate decides that she'll go back to work, but where ... she's been out of the workforce for years.  Scott decides to ask his generally amiable (but well versed in / exhausted with the petty assumptions of "white privilege") African American boss for a raise.  "Not a chance" the boss answers even before Scott finishes his question, (and in the film's out-takes shown at the end of the film, challenges Scott, "Okay, I'll give you a raise if you can name even ONE of my three lovely kids" (a proud picture of the boss and his smiling cute-as-a-button kids sits prominently on his desk, as it probably has FOR YEARS ;-)  Of course Scott CAN'T REMEMBER the name of EVEN ONE OF HIS BOSS' KIDS ;-).

So ... with little options ... the two get talked into a truly hair-brained scheme concocted by a friend named Frank (played wonderfully in bug-eyed fashion by Jason Mantzoukas) whose wife was leaving him and was in the midst losing his house BECAUSE OF A GAMBLING ADDICTION to go in with him on running AN ILLEGAL CASINO out of his house because ... as EVERYBODY KNOWS ... "The House ALWAYS wins" ;-)

Much, often in quite hilarious "Suburban Goodfellas" fashion, ensues ... ;-)

This is a movie that hasn't exactly gotten "much love" from the critics (above) but I do have a soft spot for these "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" style of films ;-).  Exaggerated as the film may have been, _every one of characters_ in this film could have easily been a parishioner ;-).

SO... obviously DON'T DO WHAT THE JOHANSENS DID AT HOME ... ;-) ... and parents remember that this is an R-rated movie but ... when the kids are asleep or on date night ... enjoy the film ;-).  Yes, things can be worse ... ;-)

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Beguiled [2017]

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

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

Beguiled [2017] (written for the screen and directed by Sofia Coppola, based on the screenplay by Albert Maltz and Irene Kamp (credited as Grimes Grice) for the 1971 Clint Eastwood starring film by the same name, based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Thomas Cullinan [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is billed as this summer's "guilty pleasure" and, if you'd like a lazy but steamy Confederate Era SAH-THERN tale that takes its time to get to an inevitable pot-boiling / corset-ripping climax (of sorts) with a final twist, well ... ;-) ... I've generally enjoyed Sofia Coppola's [1] [2] [3] story-telling ;-).

So then, what's the story about?  Corporal McBurney (played by Colin Farrell), a young just-off-the-boat-in-New-York-harbor-before-he-got-paid-300-dollars-to-join-the-Union-Army Irishman finds himself wounded near but behind enemy lines somewhere in Virginia and in the care of a boarding house (Seminary School) for young Southern women headed by a proper-but-practical perhaps mid-30-something Miss Martha (played wonderfully by Nicole Kidman).  Talk about "The Luck of the Irish," right?

Well ... it's, of course, more complicated than that.  These young women / girls are Southern patriots, of course, with fathers, brothers and beaus "defending the Homeland" in this "War for Southern Independence" / "War of Northern Aggression."  But then Corporal McBurney is ... A MAN, and these young women, for multiple reasons, haven't exactly seen much of "their kind" in recent times.   And then McBurney is not necessarily the typical "Yankee" that they would have expected ... Again, he was barely "off the boat" when "for $300" he was given "a gun and a uniform" and shipped to the front lines to "fight for the North."

Well much winking / flirting, working its way to a slow boil, takes place as several of the young and perhaps at-the-edge-of-no-longer-being-all-that-young women (played by an exemplary cast that includes the above mentioned Nicole Kidman, as well as Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning) plot their strategies of "getting their man."

It is indeed ... one fun movie ;-).

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Baby Driver [2017]

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

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

Baby Driver [2017] (written and directed by Edgar Wright) is an EXCELLENT, slick, doesn't miss a beat, (crime story) genre film that should make Hollywood proud.  Fictional, yes, with a morally edgy -- yes, they're bank robbers, yes, they're mostly psycho and/or evil and certainly doing evil things, "but" ... we do "get to know them ..." -- story, though set in contemporary Atlanta (nicely in the heart of the Bible Belt...), the story's trajectory is that of classic noirish gangster movies of the "Production Code" past (where Good ultimately had to be vindicated, and Evil could not be left to survive or let alone thrive...).

The story centers on "Baby" (played by Ansel Elgort) a prodigy of a "get-away driver" with a number of "psychological-ticks" born of "a tragic back-story":  He had been a kid, sitting in the back seat of his parents car when they, too busy yelling at each other to pay attention to the road, were crushed after crashing into the raised back of a stopped-semi on the freeway.  The resulting crash / explosion damaged his ears (making him listen incessantly to music on his iphone to drown-out a similarly constant "humm in his drum").  The accident also made him _really good_ at split-second averting of obstacles while driving on the road, or as we see in _beautifully choreographed_ 5+ minute _continuous shot scene_ (while the film's opening credits rolled) ...simply walking down the street ;-).  (Again, this is an _very_ well-crafted film)

Left without parents, "Baby" was raised by a foster parent, interestingly with a Biblical name, Joseph (played by CJ Jones), who we see the now early 20-something "Baby" taking care-of during the course of the film.  "Baby's" "swerve to get by" driving antics also had caught the attention of a local Atlanta-based gangster kingpin going by the nickname "Doc" (played wonderfully in ice-cold sociopathic fashion by Kevin Spacey), who then lured / blackmailed him into serving as the getaway driver for his bank-robbing crews.

Said crews often question the capabilities of incessantly headphone wearing "Baby," but "Doc" repeatedly went "to bat" for his young driver prodigy, noting "Has he (or I...) _ever_ steered you wrong?"

But as good as "Baby" is at what he does, and even as good of a heart has "Baby" does seem to have "in his off time" ... again, he takes care of his older, mute step-father Joseph quite well, and he strikes up a lovely (and refreshingly chaste) "made for Hollywood genre flicks" romance with a lovely, ever-smiling diner waitress named Debora (played wonderfully by Lily James) ... he's making a living in crime.

And that, of course, must change ...

How his life does change (and I'm not going to get into this further, because that would enter deep into Spoiler Territory) is truly in the best tradition of Hollywood genre films of this type, AND IT IS NICE TO SEE THE FILM-MAKERS TAKING THE TIME TO DO THIS RIGHT and not just for the sake of doing "due homage" to films like this of the past, BUT ALSO, FRANKLY, FOR THE SAKE OF THE NEW / YOUNGER GENERATION.

This is a film that Evildoers DO "get their DUE" ... and "Baby" did need to be Saved / Redeemed. For regardless of how "nice of a guy" he was, he still did wrong ... and _some price_ needed to be paid for his transgressions.

Honestly, excellent job!

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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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