Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Carol [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (4 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (A-)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars w. parental advisement / warning)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review  

Perhaps the most important thing to know about Carol [2015] (directed by Todd Haynes, screenplay by Phyllis Nagy), aside from (1) it being an appropriately R-rated film (there is some nudity in the film and it is a lesbian love story after all, if by now a _quite classic_ even _somewhat dated_ one, so parents of teens would want to know that and have some discretion / control over whether or not / how to let their older teens to see it) and (2) the film being quite good / excellent, is that (3) it is based on a novel, The Price of Salt (1952) [GR] [WCat] [Amzn], by Patricia Highsmith [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb].

Now why should it be significant that the film is based on a novel by this particular novelist?  Well, Patricia Highsmith [wikip] was (1) a fairly significant / compelling American writer of the 1950s with _many_ of her works adapted for the screen, including two iconic films Strangers on a Train [1951] the classic suspense thriller by Alfred Hitchock, and the already homosexually themed The Talented Mr. Ripley [1999] starring Matt Damon in the title role, and (2) while briefly (and quite unhappily) married (to a man), Patricia Highsmith was a Lesbian.

To some extent, that brief and unhappy marriage (to a man) was the inspiration for the story recounted in her novel, The Price of Salt (1952) [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] adapted for the screen here under the title Carol [2015] who was the story's central character.  Basically fair is fair.  Various works by Highsmith have been previously adapted to the screen, SO _why not_ the work which MOST CLOSELY EXPRESSED who SHE ACTUALLY WAS?  A Lesbian.

And so it is, set in the early 1950s, this film is about a divorcing late-30 / early 40-something socialite named Carol Aird (played in the film excellently / quite credibly for the time by Cate Blanchett) living in upper middle-class suburban New Jersey, who after a chance exchange in a Manhattan department store with a much younger, still starry-eyed / learning-to-make-her-way-in-the-world early 20-something clerk at the cash register named Therese Belive(t / k) (played quite wonderfully / credibly by Rooney Mara) have an affair together.

Why?  /  How?  Well ... Carol's marriage to Harge Aird (played in the film again quite well by Kyle Chandler) was falling apart _precisely_ because SHE WAS NOT INTERESTED IN HIM.  It was _not_ as if she HASN'T TRIED (they had a young daughter played in the film by Seidy and Kk Heim) But SHE'S A LESBIAN.  And Therese (the confusion about the last letter of her last name stemming from the fact that she was of Czech descent where her last name would have ended with a "k" but American immigration officials presumably first heard it as if the last name were French and thus ended name with a "t" -- Readers note here that _I'm_ of Czech descent ;-) ALSO had a boyfriend, Richard (played by Jack Lacy).  BUT THERESE WAS _ALSO_ FINDING that SHE WAS NOT PARTICULARLY ATTRACTED TO HIM EITHER.  She still didn't really understand WHY she was not particularly attracted to him (or to other men for that matter) but she did find Carol to be interesting / increasingly attractive.

And so there it is, and it so happens that the two Carol and Therese take together one of the _saddest_ roadtrips in American cinematic / folk history -- from New York "west" toward Chicago, ending up in Iowa, "in the winter" / "during Christmas time," during which, obviously "much ensues."

A couple of observations to make here:

(1) No matter what one may think of homosexuality / lesbianism (and let's face it, I'm writing this as a Catholic blog, so a fair number of Readers here will be doing so continuing to believe that as per continuing Church Teaching homosexuality is "an intrinsically disordered condition") THE STORY HERE, originally written by a woman, Patricia Highsmith, who was a lesbian who _even tried to become straight_ (and _failed_ / _gave up_) is about TWO WOMEN WHO JUST _WEREN'T_ INTO MEN.  IT IS WHAT IT IS ... data / experience _do count_ even in theological reflection ...

(2) By today's standards, A BIGGER ISSUE with regards to the relationship between Carol and Therese would not be its homosexual/lesbian nature BUT THE AGE DIFFERENCE.  Let's face it, a story about a significantly older man (in his 40s) "awakening the sexual desires" of a "naive 20 year old woman" WOULD BE ROUNDLY CONDEMNED AS BEING _VERY CREEPY_.  So why would it be somehow "okay" for a 40-ish woman to arguably _groom_ a naivish 20-something woman into a lesbian affair?  Again, I'd think "fair is fair" and if one kind of relationship is to be taken as INHERENTLY CREEPY and arguably ABUSIVE that the other kind would be considered inherently creepy / arguably abusive as well.

And (3) an observation about the "very sad road trip" from New York, past Chicago toward Iowa IN THE WINTER.  This is the THIRD TIME in almost as many years, that I've seen a similar 50s-era road trip being made -- On The Road [2012] (the film adaptation of Jack Karouak's 1950s-era classic); Inside Llewyn Davis [2013] (by today's Coen Brothers) and now the current film (based on a novel written by a Karouak contemporary...).  I would have TO ASK the question, WHY?

In part, no doubt, there's a dramatic consideration, certainly in the case of Inside Llewyn Davis [2013] and the current film, where in both cases, the "road trip" is _intentionally_ presented as "a sad one" (taking place in a _cold, seemingly uncaring / hostile world_).

HOWEVER, I'd also suggest that THIS WAS SIMPLY THE REALITY BEFORE THE 1960s CIVIL RIGHTS ERA.  Northerners, generally DIDN'T LIKE "GOING SOUTH" (or if they went, they went STRAIGHT TO FLORIDA - Miami / Key West and on to Havana) PRECISELY BECAUSE of a NORTHERN DISCOMFORT WITH THE DEEP SOUTH'S THEN ENTRENCHED _RACISM_ / GENERALIZED CLOSED-MINDED BIGOTRY.  Indeed, in the case of the story here, one would suppose that NOTHING (but pain...) _could possibly await_ a 1950s era lesbian couple "heading South" ... so AS (physically and even emotionally) COLD AS IT WAS IN THE NORTH, it was arguably BETTER than "down south." 

Anyway, I found the film fascinating and challenging throughout and one that certainly college aged and above audiences would appreciate and find much, much to talk about afterwards.  Good job!


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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Joy [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  


Joy [2015] (directed and screenplay by David O. Russell, story in part by Annie Mumolo) continues a remarkable run of generally quite _excellent_ blue collar-ish / "regular people" oriented films by the writer / director - The Fighter [2010] (4 Stars), Silver Linings Playbook [2012] (2 1/2 Stars), American Hustle [2013] (3 1/2 Stars).  Indeed, I'd put this film as his best yet.

Why do I prefer this one over the others?  I believe that this is still _the least_ "exotic" of Russell's "studies" of the the trials / tribulations of regular people.  The Fighter [2010] was still about boxing and though life is often a fight / challenge, very few people actually box for a living.  The Silver Linings Playbook [2012] may have been about some quite ordinary people but several in the film were struggling with some rather particular (and certainly as presented, rather exotic) psychological conditions.  American Hustle [2013] was about a couple of fairly low key "con artists," and while most people may occasionally "flirt in their minds with the darkside," very few are actual "con artists."

The current film, Joy [2015], is about Joy Mongano (played beautifully by Jennifer Lawrence) a woman from suburban Long Island, who while certainly quite smart (she was the valedictorian of her high school class, but then there are many high schools, all over the country, each with a valedictorian, best student, each year) would have appeared to any of us as an otherwise utterly unremarkable person ... 'CEPT ... she made her mark on the world by ... reinventing _the mop_  ;-).  More precisely, she invented a simple self-wringing "miracle mop" with a "when you're done, just throw it in the wash" mop-head ;-).

Many of the reviewers that I list above expressed the concern: Can a movie about a quite average young woman from a quite unremarkable family who "reinvented _the mop_" POSSIBLY be "compelling"?

 Well folks, IMHO what she went through _in her family_ with her initial business contacts, etc, MADE FOR A SURPRISING yet CERTAINLY COMPELLING STORY ;-)

For honestly, HOW does one "make a mop" -- even a prototype -- and then proceed to make them on a larger, approaching "industrial scale"?  Even the simplest mop would need 3-4 parts -- a pole, a mophead, a means to attach the mop-head to the pole.  Those parts have to be bought / made and assembled. Then Joy's "miracle mop" was a bit more complicated than the "simplest mop."   For this basic mop to become "self wringable" would require additional parts -- at least some kind of spring, some kind of lever as well as attachment devices / fasteners to them (so maybe 10 or as many as 15 parts, some needing to be specially molded / made).  How does one go about getting those parts made / assembled?  Finally, while a "self-wringable miracle mop" may seem like a great idea, "somebody, somewhere" could have come up with the idea already and if not then if the product proved a success, "somebody, somewhere" or perhaps a fair amount of "somebodies, somewhere" would want to steal the idea to make "knockoffs."

Okay Readers, you're a quite average person like Joy from a quite average family with its inevitable "assortment of characters" --  Joy's (divorced) parents Rudy and Terry (played by Robert De Niro and Virginia Madsen); Rudy's new-to-the-scene (and surprisingly moneyed) widowed girlfriend Trudy (played marvelously by Isabella Rossellini); Joy's grandmother Mimi (played by Diane Ladd) who actually narrates good parts of the story; Joy's own ex-husband Tony (played by Édgar Ramírez); her best friend since childhood Jackie (played by Dascha Polanco) and Joy's half-sister Peggy (played by Elizabeth Röhm) -- all trying to be (kinda) helpful, while (some) being naturally _kinda jealous_, and very few actually having a clue, with certainly no one being able to easily articulate what to do.

So the story involves _a lot_ of blind "flailing around" even after Joy gets a "shot in the dark" meeting (thanks to a quite random lead from her still nice guy ex-husband Tony) with QVC cable channel executive Neil Walker (played by Bradley Cooper) who gives her product a shot on his Home Shopping(like) Network.  And even with the moderate success that follows, it becomes clear that almost _everybody_ (and I mean everybody from family (naturally), to seemingly random but both well-hidden / well-placed mob-like characters) wanted a piece of her and her newly earned / hard earned money.

Indeed, Joy becomes the Ulysses of "entrepreneur fables."  It becomes a _compelling_ (you're right there beside her, cheering her on) story about HER and ... _her mop_ ;-)

And one's left honestly wondering: Oh my! if it's THIS HARD to (1) come up with, (2) manufacture, (3) sell and finally (4) DEFEND something as _simple_ as a "self-wringing mop" HOW DOES ANYTHING GET MADE?? ;-)

Beyond that, what makes the story remarkable for a blog like this is that DESPITE "the cast of characters at home" and DESPITE A LOT OF FRUSTRATION / FLAILING AROUND and even SHAKE-DOWNS and (arguably) BETRAYALS Joy _remains_ NICE, yes TOUGH at times but still fundamentally NICE to that "cast of characters at home."

So this is just a LOVELY, LOVELY STORY ... DESERVING _A LOT_ OF PRAISE.

So good job folks!  Very, very good job!


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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Bajirao Mastani [2015]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
FilmiBeat.com listing

FilmiBeat.com (S. Srivastava) review
Hindustan Times (S. Kaushal) review
India Today (A. Bhattacharya) review
Indian Express (S. Gupta) review
The Hindu (N. Joshi) review
Times of India (S.M. Das) review

Bajirao Mastani [2015] [IMDb] [FBt] (story and directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali [IMDb] [FBt], screenplay by Prakash Kapadia [IMDb]) is a super-crisp / visually SPECTACULAR (both indoors and out) Indian Historical Epic based on the life and TWO GREAT LOVES of the 18th century Indian general Bajirao I (played in the film with appropriate serious awesomeness by Ranveer Singh [IMDb] [FBt]).

Bajirao was the Peshwa (prime minister) to Shahu (played in the film by Mahesh Manjrekar [IMDb]) the fourth Chhatrapati (Emperor) of the Hindu Maratha Empire in central India which existed at the time (from the mid-17th century to the early 19th century) as a rival to the Muslim dominated Mughal Empire to the north.  He was noted / celebrated as having fought _and won_ 40 consecutive battles (!), mostly against the Mughal Empire and its allies.

However, while there are a couple of truly spectacular, LOTR-worthy, battle scenes portrayed in the film, the story is really about Bajirao's complicated (and for a Westerner / Christian outsider like me) INHERENTLY _fascinating_ relationship with his two wives Kashibai (played by Priyanka Chopra [IMDb] [FBt]) and Mastani (played by Deepika Padukone [IMDb] [FBt]).

Now in the East, regardless of religion (Hindu/Buddhist, Parsi/Zoroastran, Muslim even Biblical Jewish) it was never deemed a problem for a powerful man to have multiple wives (assuming that the he could afford to keep them).  However, as becomes Epic Romance/Story-worth(li)y obvious, a "multiple wives" arrangement would almost certainly be "complicated."  And so it was here ...

Kashi(bai) was Bajirao's FIRST wife.  Further, Bajirao was NOT "royalty."   So Kashi was in a sense a "hometown girl" and Bajirao's "first love."  BUT after Bajirao becomes Peshwa (and top general) to his Emperor, _he meets_ Mastani a _warrior-princess_ from a neighboring state, and well, ... SHE WAS AWESOME.  So "out there," "AT WAR," he takes her as his second wife.  And it _even seemed_ "like a good deal" (to him...) for his kingdom, as it helped seal an alliance between Mastani's father's other/lesser state and Maratha Empire. So what could go wrong...?

And, of course, THAT's the rest of the movie... ;-)

Let's just say that even in the best of circumstances, "coming home with a second wife," EVEN IF "she was AWESOME" (and perhaps _particularly_ if SHE WAS AWESOME ;-) would be a rather "delicate" affair.  Add to this (and something that Bajirao may not have been initially fully aware of) Mastani was half Muslim (by her mother's side) AND the Maratha Empire was a _radically_ ANTI-Muslim Hindu state.  Bajirao was nominally Hindu, his whole family was Hindu, Kashi his first wife was Hindu, THE EMPEROR was Hindu, and WHO WERE THEY MOSTLY FIGHTING? ... the Mughal Empire which was RULED BY MUSLIMS.

And yet, here was Mastani who was both AWESOME, _and_ as the story plays out, proving herself to be KIND.

What a remarkable, and thoroughly complicated story and a SPECTACULARLY WELL MADE FILM, _certainly_ one of the best I've seen this year.


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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Casa Grande [2015]

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

IMDb listing
Adorocinema.com listing*

A Folha de São Paulo (A. Agabiti Fernandez) review*
Gazeta do Povo (
O Globo (S. Rizzo) review*

AdoroCinema.com (R. Hermsdorff) review*
aVoir-aLire.fr (J. Zimmer) review*
eKran.si (S. Popek) review*

Slant Magazine (D. Semereme) review
The Hollywood Reporter (N. Young) review
Variety (J. Weissberg) review

Casa Grande [2015] [IMDb] [AC.br]*(directed and cowritten by Fellipe Barbosa [IMDb] [AC.br]* along with Karen Sztajnberg [IMDb]) is a Brazilian "coming of age" story that played here this Spring at the 2015 Chicago Latino Film Festival.  I was unable to see it then but was happy to see it return for a week-long run (Dec 19-23, 2015) recently at Chicago's Facets Multimedia.

Indeed, the film is one of several teenage "coming of age" films to have come-out of Brazil in the past year and made it to the United States (for me, Chicago).  These included After the Rain (orig. Depois da Chuva) [2013] that also played at the 2015 Chicago Latino Film Festival in the spring, and Hopefuls (orig. Aspirantes) [2015] that played at the 2015 Chicago Int'l Film Festival in the fall.

Yet if After the Rain (orig. Depois da Chuva) [2013] had definite John Hughes-like tones -- that film was about a student election held at a thoroughly random (if still private) high school in the (still somewhat random) northestern Brazilian city of Salvador (if also set in the late 1980s in the context a Brazil which was then just coming-out of two decades of military dictatorship...) -- the current film, Casa Grande [2015] [IMDb] [AC.br]*, could perhaps be best approached by (North) American viewers as a play-on / "riffing-off of" the (North) American (and Tom Cruise starring) "coming of age" classic Risky Business [1983]:  For both films - Casa and Risky - were about somewhat oafish, still a little-bit "chubby," definitely still quite insecure 17-year olds from privileged backgrounds trying to navigate their last year before maturity and proceeding to (the parents hope "a good") College.  Tom Cruise's Joel in Risky Business [1983] was growing-up in the upscale suburban "North Shore" region of Chicago and going to New Trier High School (yes, a "public school" but, as it is supported by local (wealthy) tax payer money, it is _always_ among the best college prep schools in the entire country), while in the current film Jean (played by Thales Cavalcanti [IMDb] [AC.br]*) was growing-up in a definitely upscale (gated) suburb of Rio de Janeiro and attending an attending an upscale Catholic prep school, São Bento's (St. Benedict's), in the city.

Yet, despite growing-up with privilege, 17 is an awkward age: Neither Tom Cruise's Joel in Risky, Cavalcanti's Jean in Casa were necessarily "top students," and academics aside, both were trying to figure-out how to "make it" with the opposite sex: Privilege _isn't_ an automatic "in" as Joel's family's housekeeper Rita (played IMHO magnificently throughout by Clarissa Pinheiro [IMDb] [AC.br]*) keeps reminding him: "You have to become a man," she tells him.

But what _is_ "becoming a man"?  That's in good part, what the rest of the film is about, and it becomes increasingly clear that it does _not_ involve necessarily "owning a BIG HOUSE" (a Casa Grande, which, of course, is the name of the film).  Indeed, it becomes evident that owning / maintaining said "Big House" has become a rather precarious business for Jean's once super-wealthy parents (played by Marcello Novaes [IMDb] [AC.br]* and Suzana Pires [IMDb] [AC.br]* respectively) who because of "fluctuations in the markets" have become increasingly less so.  So how / where does one "find ground" / "find one's footing"?  Jean does find an answer (and arguably a better, more sustainable one than Tom Cruise's Joel) and one which has parallels with another, now Argentinian film, La Paz [2013], which touches again on many of the same "coming of age" / "making sense of it all" themes.

A quite excellent / thought-provoking and even challenging film.


* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser.

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Monday, December 21, 2015

The Big Short [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

Wall Street Journal (J. Morgenstern) review
Wired (A. Watercutter) review


The Big Short [2015] (directed and screenplay co-written by Adam McCay along with Charles Randolph based on the book [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Michael Lewis [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a film that both entertained me and made me (at least for the moment) quite angry.   So I guess it accomplished its mission ;-/ -- at least with me.

I've long believed that there are things can be said only with a smile, otherwise they'd just too nasty to bear.  And then there are crimes that are so nasty that short of jail -- and by now we all know that NO ONE is going to jail for crashing the world's economy eight years ago -- the next best option (the _only_ real option...) is to at least publicly ridicule the perpetrators.  And so it is here in this film.  The role of the powerless if at least funny "Court Jester" lives in our time ;-).

So then, this film is about the six "oddballs" in the investor class (hence ALL themselves _quite rich_ to begin with) who _saw_ the housing / mortgage crash coming BET ON IT and ... "WON" while the Rest (indeed, the rest of us ...) lost. 

The principal narrator of the story is the fictionalized Jared Vennett (played in the film by Ryan Gosling) of Deutsche Bank (the character being based on the real-life Deutsche Bank trader Georg Lippmann), who explained that up to the late 1970s "banking was boring."  Yes, it made bankers enough money to "belong to the country club."  But it took the invention of the "mortgage bond" in which blocks of said mortgages came to be "sellable" between banks / investors, for bankers to "make it from the country club to the strip club" (and when banking profits began to get obscene).

To explain HOW banking profits became obscene through the trading of "mortgage bonds" (soon to be chopped-up / rearranged into Collateralized Debt Obligations or CDOs), the film-makers then have Jared invite various iconic (and quite funny) celebrities explain the financial jargon involved utilizing imagery that truly everybody could understand.

So actress Margot Robbie of Wolf of Wallstreet [2013] fame (sitting sipping champagne in a bubble bath) explains the inevitable bubble which resulted from increasingly greedy bankers giving increasingly unqualified people mortgages -- "When you hear 'subprime', think 'shit'" the beautiful actress tells Viewers as she sips said champagne in said bubble bath -- which the bankers would unload to "investors" in "mortgage bonds."

Now why would "investors" BUY increasingly precarious (subprime / shitty) mortgages from the bankers that wrote them?  Well enter world famous chef Anthony Bourdain of CNN - Parts Unknown [2012-15] fame ;-) who explains, while CHOPPING (smelly...) FISH, the cooking trick of "taking LEFTOVER 3 day old Halibut, chopping it up and ... MAKING STEW" saying wryly "It's not THREE DAY OLD HALIBUT, it's A WHOLE NEW THING..." ;-).  Basically those Collateralized Debt Obligations which involved BLOCKS of mortgages were INCREASINGLY MADE UP of A LOT OF "shitty" / "smelly" / "subprime" BLOCKS.

Now even if this were the case -- that these CDOs were increasingly "filled with 'smelly shit'" --  shouldn't have Wall Street's venerable Rating Agencies like Standard & Poor's or Moody's "sounded the alarm" (and give increasingly poor ratings to increasingly poor products, PARTICULARLY when a lot of those "subprime mortgages" started going into default ...)?

Well, it turned out that the Ratings Agencies were _under financial pressure_ to give high (AAA) ratings to the financial products presented them "or else they'd go to the other guys..." as a (fictionalized) Standard & Poors analyst explained (in the film) to two of the "odd balls," Jamie Shipley and Charlie Geller (played by Finn Wittrock and John Magaro) of an upstart Boulder, CO based Hedge Fund, who came to see the crash coming (and staked their financial fortunes on it coming..) and who were becoming _increasingly frustrated_ that obviously deteriorating CDOs (due to the increasing number of defaults existing among the mortgages that they contained) were STILL BEING TRADED as if they were "AAA" (the _safest_ rating for an investment product).  Those two hedge-fund investors came to believe that THE WHOLE RATING SYSTEM HAD BECOME ROTTEN TO THE CORE and came to bet against even the highest rated CDOs in the months before the crash and ... came away making the most money of all the "odd balls" in this story.

Now, what's all this talk of "betting" on financial products collapsing?  Well to explain that, the film makers enlisted Selena Gomez once of Disney but more recently of Spring Breakers [2012] fame in an appropriately glamorous / slinky "black dress" seated besides Behavioral Economics Professor Richard Thaler at a blackjack table in Las Vegas, explaining "Credit Default Swaps" / Synthetic CDOs.   Basically Credit Default Swaps were financial products that served as "insurance" in case a CDO failed, which of course, since they were so highly rated, were assumed to be basically FAIL SAFE.  So Credit Default Swaps ("insurance against failure") were CHEAP (yet the payoff if failure came WAS GREAT, since it was assumed that "this would never happen").  Then since CDOs, despite the increasing default rates within their parts, remained so highly rated, financial institutions became increasingly greedy / careless AND started CHOPPING UP various CDOs already composed of blocks of mortgages of various ratings, into "Frankenstonian" (and increasingly unrate-able) "Synthetic CDOs" or "CDOs-squared."  This practice made the rating of the quality of these financial products akin to gambling, hence the "blackjack" (gambling) metaphor.

Well a small group of disparate "odd ball" investors, six portrayed in this film, saw the Crash coming, bet on it, and ... made a fortune while everybody else (including most of us, who may not have even known that we were involved in such increasingly risky investments -- through pension funds, etc) lost.

It's all very funny, and infuriating.  And remember NOBODY (or NEXT TO NOBODY) ever went to jail for ANY of this.  A great if infuriating presentation!



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Secret in their Eyes [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (O)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (2.75 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M.. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review  

Secret in their Eyes [2015] (screenplay and directed by Billy Ray based on the Argentinian 2010 Academy Award Winning - for Best Foreign Language film - El Segreto de sus Ojos [2009] by Juan José Campanella and Eduardo Sacheri) is a pretty good American adaptation of the Argentinian original, though I would recommend renting the original (it's available on Amazon Instant Video) because I'm more or less certain that viewers would get more out of the both versions.

In the current American version, a New York based African-American FBI agent Ray (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) comes back to Los Angeles after 15 years with a lead to reopen / solve a "botched case" involving the brutal rape and murder of the daughter of a LAPD police officer named Jess (played by Julia Roberts) when the two, along with a then young L.A. based State's Attorney named Claire (played by Nicole Kidman) were working together as part of a joint anti-terrorism task force in Los Angeles during the early years of the War on Terror following the 9/11 attacks during the G.W. Bush (Bush II...) Presidency.   

In the Argentinian version, a similarly handsome / "darker complected" (Semitic / North African / Mediterranean looking) Argentinian police investigator named Benjamín Esposito (played by Ricardo Darín) comes back to Buenos Aires after 25 years with "a lead" to reopen / solve a "botched case" involving the brutal rape and murder of the wife of an utterly random young Buenos Aires "office worker" / "accountant" named Morales (played by Pablo Rago) back when Esposito was working with a young / fresh out of school prosecuting attorney named Irene Menéndez Hastings (played by Soledad Villamil) during the closing years of the Isabel Perón presidency (in the mid-1970s) and just as Argentina's infamous "Dirty War" against a Communist insurgency was about to begin.

In both cases, the reason why the original case was "botched" was because of "national security reasons," and yet a terrible crime had been committed.  How then to redress this injustice?   Much, of course, in both versions, ensues ...

Again, I do think that the two films complement each other.  But I do have to say that the Argentinian original played _much more_ with "the eyes" of the various characters (_how_ they looked, _toward whom_ they looked) than in the American remake.  On the other hand, perhaps the "largest set of eyes" in the American remake was simply the "surveillance state" apparatus that's come to exist here since 9/11.  That wasn't yet possible, certainly not to the same degree, back in Argentina of 1974.

In any case, both films, especially taken together make for thought-provoking / discussion-producing tales.


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Friday, December 18, 2015

Sisters [2015]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (K. Rife) review  

Sisters [2015] (directed by Jason Moore, screenplay by Paula Pell) is a film that actually does have a message / plays on a phenomenon that IMHO really does exist (though most comedies that have taken-up the the topic of baby boomer/gen-X/40-something irresponsibility have been "guy-centric" rather than "girl-centric").  Still, the film becomes (again IMHO) so needlessly crude that the viewers who would probably most enjoy a toned-down version of the film -- the grandparents (60-70-80 year olds) -- would find the current film all but unwatchable.

The film is about two 40-something sisters Kate and Maura (played by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) who each in their own way never really grew up.  Kate, the older one, is a single mom, hairdresser, who can't hold job.  Her college aged daughter Haley (played by Madison Davenport) has taken to invent excuses ("Hiking trips," "Eurail excursions," anything) to not have to go home (and to be "out of touch...").   Maura on the other hand has always been the responsible one, but to a point that her presumably exasperated husband left her two years back. 

The "crisis" / "setup" of the film comes early: The parents (played wonderfully by James Brolin and Diane Wiest) of "going nowhere" 40-something Kate and Maura _inform_ Maura during their otherwise quite sanitary / routine "weekly Skype call" that they've decided to "sell the house" where the two daughters grew-up... (!) and move into a smaller/simpler arrangement in a Senior community.  And before Maura could protest, "But you can't do that (!!)" they tell her "Oh, yes we can ..." and then ask her (1) to come down to Orlando (where they lived) and go through / liquidate all the [stuff] still in her old room and (2) inform Kate.  Protesting why she should be the one to break the news to Kate, they merely tell her that the two (grown, 40-something) girls have "different ways of handling 'news' ..." and they figured that she'd have an easier time with dealing with her more hot-headed sister than they would.

So it's left form Maura to tell Kate the news.  Predictably, Kate first screams, but then realizing that she doesn't have a job and is even losing her apartment anyway, figures that this'd be a way for her to at least stay at "the parents' house" while [all kinds of things] are "worked out."

Wow are both surprised to find that when they arrive at their parents' house that it has _already_ been sold and largely liquidated.  ALL that is needed is for their two 40-something girls, who presumably left the home DECADES AGO, to "clear out THEIR [stuff]."

Again, neither take this particularly well initially.  But then, typically, immaturely, they decide that "since their folks were ALREADY living in the Seniors' community" and left the home to them to clean-out the(ir) remaining stuff "before the closing" that they, 40-something year-olds, were going to hold ONE LAST "EPIC BASH" in their old (childhood) home.

So via Facebook they invite pretty much everyone that they ever knew from High School, except somewhat hilariously a former classmate (played by Maya Rudolph) who Kate somewhat inexplicably "hated" since "back in the day" and throw their "EPIC BASH"

Much ensues ...

The tragedy of this film is that the SETUP is EXCELLENT.  Any number of parents / grandparents and even their late teenage kids could completely understand the situation.  The PROBLEM is that the film (its "Epic Bash" ...) becomes so over-the-top crude that it just CAN'T BE WATCHED as an "intergenerational family movie" -- remember the film came-out around Christmas.

And it's a shame, because if the jokes / situations could be "toned down" to even a "7-8" rather then "pegged at 11" the film could conceivably be one of the best comedies of the year and arguably comparable to the famous 1980s Tom Cruise vehicle Risky Business [1983] that _also_ involved an "epic party" BUT did so in a way that _could be watched_ by pretty much "the whole family" and even watched _together_. 

Instead the current film could only be watched by the 40-something "losers" that the film is about.  I can't imagine a 60-70 year old going to see the film (even though he/she would probably _really enjoy_ a somewhat "toned down" version of it) AND I would imagine that _most_ 40-something year-olds would find the film too crude to watch with their teenage / 20-something kids.

So, sigh, a shame ...


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Star Wars: The Forces Awakens [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McCarthy) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review  

Star Wars: The Forces Awakens [2015] (directed and screenplay co-written by J.J. Abrams along with Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt based on the characters created by George Lucas) re-awakens this most beloved American movie franchise to open the final Trilogy of this Epic Story arc.

Both released and set some 30 years after Star Wars: Episode VI - The Return of the Jedi [1983], IMHO the MOST OBVIOUS STRENGTH of the film remains in its CHARACTERS:

First, we are reacquainted with characters who we remember from the original Star Wars Trilogy (Episodes IV-VI) [1977-1983] and THEY ARE PLAYED BY THE SAME ACTORS WHO PLAYED THEM THIRTY YEARS AGO ;-)

So, yes, Han Solo (played by Harrison Ford), Princess (now General) Leia (played by Carrie Fisher), and Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill) ARE ALL BACK and played by the original actors. But so are even C-3PO (voiced again by Anthony Daniels) AND HAN SOLO'S furry partner Chewbacca (voiced again by Peter Mayhew).   Honestly seeing Princess turned General Leia  (again played by Carrie Fisher) thirty years on WAS HONESTLY ONE OF THE MOST REMARKABLE / ENDEARING MOMENTS IN THE FILM.

But second, we are introduced to a number of compelling new characters, notably Rey (played INSPIRINGLY throughout by Daisy Ridley) a Luke / Anakin Skywalker-like "orphaned" character introduced to us, again, stuck on a desert planet (where nothing seems to be going on ...), and Finn (played again quite convincingly by John Boyega) one of those genetically engineered and (and one would think) thoroughly indoctrinated "Storm Trooper clones" who nevertheless _chooses to defect_ (and fairly early on in the story) for reasons that I don't want to reveal here but will be immediately obvious (and heartening) to most viewers.   There's also a young hot shot pilot named Poe Dameron (played by Oscar Isaac) who didn't do that much for me, but whose role will probably grow in succeeding episodes. 

Viewers will find much of what happens in the current film resembling what happened in the original Star Wars film (Episode IV: A New Hope [1977]): We're introduced to Rey on a desert planet, there's a "Star Wars bar scene" though this time we get to meet the bar owner, Maz Kanata (played by Lupita Nyong'o) who's a kick.  And there's even a sinister looking character wearing a Darth Vader-like mask.  Why would the film feature an important character, 30 years on, seeming to be a "new Darth Vader?"  Wouldn't that be needlessly "redundant" / "derivative."  Well there's a reason, and it will make sense to Readers here when they see the film.

All in all, this is a quite good film.  The characters, both new and old, are often quite excellent, and certainly the Sound Track, reprising much of what we remember from the earlier films has to be, by now, ONE OF THE BEST / MOST POIGNANT IN HOLLYWOOD HISTORY.  Honestly, I'd give the sound track a "best supporting actor" nomination if I could.

I do believe that both Star Wars fanaticss and those "more agnostic" about the series ;-) will come away basically satisfied.  This is a pretty good film, one that, remember, will set up the rest of the story, and one that had almost impossible expectations to fulfill. 

Does it succeed?  Viewers will make their own judgements, but IMHO, I think it does and quite well!  So good job folks!  Very good job!


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Friday, December 11, 2015

In the Heart of the Sea [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (2 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  

In the Heart of the Sea [2015] (directed by Ron Howard [wikip] [IMDb], screenplay by Charles Leavitt, screen story by Charles Leavitt, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver based on the book [GW] [WCat] [Amzn] by Nathaniel Philbrick [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) seeks to re-tell the story of the New England whale-ship The Essex [wikip], whose sinking by a sperm-whale in the South Pacific in 1820 helped inspire Hermann Melville's [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] classic novel Moby Dick (1851) [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb].  Does it succeed?  Well that'd be for the viewer to decide.

From a technical (and special effects) point of view, the film is spectacular.  As a matter of policy, I try to avoid seeing 3D versions of movies (they generally cost $4/ticket more in the United States, which particularly for a family would "add up" ...).  So in this case as well, I saw the 2D version.  HOWEVER, I would say that this film would probably been remarkable to see in 3D, hence _not_ a loss of time / money if one were to see it that way.

There is something remarkable about the colors that are possible "out on the water" / "at sea."  One would think "it's just water" (even THE CLOUDS are "just water")  BUT combine this with sunlight, starlight, moonlight, a light or fire in the distance, and THE VIEW / VISTA can be JUST MAGNIFICENT.  And to their credit, the film makers, director Ron Howard [wikip] [IMDb], et al, really "go to town" with this, producing a film that is visually spectacular and certainly worthy of consideration for various nominations for Cinematography / Visual Effects come Awards Season.

The plot / story?  Eh ... Certainly NOT bad, but certainly NOT as spectacular as watching The Essex [wikip], early in its voyage, turning _ toward_ a "starboard squall" (one which they could have avoided...) on Captain Pollard's (played in the film by Benjamin Walker) orders to "test his men."  The visual effects were, again, spectacular, the acting ... in as much as there was acting ... was ... eh.

And yet, let's face it.  Arguably the lead actor in this drama becomes a "special effects" _whale_ ;-).  Without the whale, there'd be no story ;-)

So many viewers may be disappointed that the acting is rather rote / situation driven, even contrived.  Yes, it's a matter of historical record that by midway into their 2 1/2 year voyage Captain Pollard and his first mate Owen Chase (played by Chris Hemworth) didn't much like each other (in good part because of frustration that they weren't encountering a lot of whales ...).  Yet, a good part of the "human drama" in this film is staked on this conflict between the two men, with the film portraying Owen Chase as being a much more experienced seaman than Pollard, which in reality wasn't really the case.  (The Captain Pollard of history may have been a lousy captain, but not for lack of experience, rather for lack of ability ;-).

Anyway, over a year into their whaling (in many respects _scavenging_) voyage, an ocean away from home -- they left Nantucket Island off the coast of Massachusetts in 1819 and found themselves by the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific in 1820 -- with precious few barrels of "whale oil" in their hold, they hear rumors of a new / large "whaling ground" some 1000 miles in open ocean to the west.  So they head out there, do find some whales, but ALSO find their encounter with Destiny ... Much of course, must ensue ... much actually based on the historical record of the sinking of The Essex by an angry, white / alabaster-looking whale.    

Is the film worth the see on the big screen?  For the cinematography, I'd say YES.  And again, this is a film that would not necessarily look bad (or be a waste of the additional money) to see in 3D.  For the story itself?  Eh.  But then WE GO TO SEE MOVIES _FOR THE VISUALS_.  And visually speaking this film succeeds in "hawling-in its load" ... It is spectacular.


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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Letters [2014]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune ()  RogerEbert.com (1 Star)  AVClub (C-)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune () review
RogerEbert.com (G. Cheshire) review
AVClub (N. Murray) review  

The Letters [2014] (screenplay and directed by William Riead) tells the story of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the beginnings of her work with "the poorest of the poor" in India (just as India was gaining its independence) and then the current status of her canonization process.

It's an excellent film that portrays Mother Teresa (played in the film by Juliet Stevenson) in remarkably human light (and in an unexpected AND THOROUGHLY CHALLENGING WAY): She's portrayed as someone who PERHAPS "had some issues" when she was younger (PERHAPS a "touch of ASPERGER SYNDROME") and this BOTH MAKES SENSE and OPENS THE DOOR TO THE POSSIBILITY OF ACCEPTING THE CONTRIBUTIONS / POTENTIAL CONTRIBUTIONS of "people with issues" who, let's face it, are OFTEN ROUTINELY DISMISSED as having LITTLE / NOTHING (positive) TO OFFER to (otherwise) "Normal People."

It makes sense BECAUSE it took A REMARKABLE STUBBORNNESS / SINGLEMINDEDNESS TO BEGIN WHAT SHE DID THERE IN CALCUTTA.  Her Mother Superior (played in the film by Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal) just wanted her to "stay in the convent" AND (perhaps...) PRAY (for the poor), WHILE _a lot of the Hindu poor_ who first encountered her SAW HER _INITIALLY_ WITH A LOT OF SUSPICION AS "A POSSIBLE BACKDOOR AGENT OF PROSELYTIZATION even NEO-COLONIZATION." Instead IN SPITE THE OPPOSITION / SUSPICION, she just started TEACHING STREET KIDS HOW TO READ (no matter what their parents initially thought) and TAKING PEOPLE LEFT DYING IN THE STREETS TO DIE WITH HER (and her growing community of sisters) SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT _DIE ALONE_

A "NORMAL PERSON" would not do this ... (!!).

I don't necessarily BUY this portrayal of Mother Teresa, BECAUSE I MET HER and spent an afternoon with her along with 20-30 young religious in Rome when I was studying there, and she seemed far livelier / happier than portrayed in the film.  But I APPRECIATE THE POINT, because I'VE LONG BELIEVED that people with at least "mild/moderate issues" (mild/moderate depressives, mild/moderate manic-depressives, even folks with milder forms of Aspergers/Autism Spectrum Disorder) ARE _NEEDED_ IN A HEALTHY SOCIETY.  OTHERWISE WE CREATE A SOCIETY OF "WELL-ADJUSTED" _YES MEN_, who CAN'T SEE what the mild / moderate depressive or the person with mild / moderate A.D.D. CAN SEE ("It'll never work ..." or "Folks, before you decide to do this, you have to look at this problem from _multiple_ angles..."), OR WON'T HAVE _THE COMMITMENT_ that someone with mild-moderate Aspergers would _naturally have_.

We're so worried about Bio-Diversity, WHAT ABOUT "PSYCHOLOGICAL DIVERSITY"?

So I found this film absolutely fascinating!  And while I don't necessarily buy completely that Mother Teresa had mild Aspergers, I'M FASCINATED AND SURPRISINGLY EDIFIED (!) BY THE PROSPECT THAT SHE MAY HAVE HAD THAT CONDITION.

Anyway, the larger society of "perfect people" (or "perfect wannabes") may not understand this film at all.  But this is a very NICE, GENTLE portrayal of a remarkably SINGLE-MINDED (arguably stubborn ! ;-) "little woman" who eventually melted hearts and (arguably) changed the world.  Great job!


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Saturday, December 5, 2015

Chi-Raq [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (4 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

BET coverage
Ebony coverage
Essence.com coverage
TheSource.com coverage 

Chi-Raq [2015] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Spike Lee, along with Kevin Willmott, based on the classical Greek play Lysistrata [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Aristophenes [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]), while CERTAINLY "Adult Oriented" is also CERTAINLY one of the most clever / intelligent American films made in the past decade or even generation.  Again, it's not for kids.  But every College (or even 10th grade) educated adult in the U.S. should at least rent the film.  It's a reminder of why we have English / "Lit" classes in Junior High / High School.  And it's a reminder of _what is possible_ in cinema (or contemporary theater for that matter) once we get past "comic books" and cookie cutter "rom-coms" / shoot 'em up "crime dramas."

Honestly, imagine a white director taking an anti-war story from Classical Greece (!), from the time of the _then_ pointless Pelopennesian War, turn it INTO AN APPROPRIATELY SARCASTIC "MUSICAL COMEDY" and APPLY IT TO THE CURRENT DAY and THEN (again SUPREMELY APPROPRIATELY) apply it, NOT in any "BIG" STUPID WAR WAY (Afghanistan / Iraq) but RATHER TO THE TOTALLY MINDLESS SLAUGHTER happening HERE IN CHICAGO (though it could be set IN ANY NUMBER OF OTHER AMERICAN CITIES).

The ONLY well-known white American director doing _even remotely similar stuff today_ would be Woody Allen.

For its humor / intelligent audacity, this film deserves consideration come "Awards Season" for Best Picture (!), Best Direction, Best (Adapted!) Screenplay (!), and honestly John Cusack for his SUPREMELY SUPPORTING ROLE as the Fr. Pfleger-like fictionalized Fr. Mike Corrigan.

Further, in a year where Spotlight [2015] about the Catholic Clergy sex scandals in Boston is destined to reign large at the Academy Awards this year, SPIKE LEE (!) reminds us (1) that CATHOLIC PRIESTHOOD CAN MATTER (and POSITIVELY), and even (2) POWERFUL ACTION / PREACHING is not (or NEED NOT) be the province of simply African American preachers.  Underlined here is the example of THE VERY REAL Fr. Michael Pfleger (who's CERTAINLY REGULARLY IN THE NEWS HERE IN CHICAGO [1] [2]) to remind us that such Preaching Power / Conscience in(to) the world is not / NEED NOT be simply "a Black thing."

So thank you Mr. Lee for this unexpected / certainly WELCOME "shot in the arm" for the Catholic / Church-going community and in particular for raising Fr. Pfleger and his remarkable community at St. Sabina's to a national stage.  Both he and his Church deserve a (positive !) look.

To the movie ...

The movie begins with a stunningly shameful statistic:

Since 9/11 more Americans have died of GUN VIOLENCE (mostly as a result of pointless, largely black-on-black, street gang fighting) IN CHICAGO ALONE than have died in the Afghan and Iraq conflicts COMBINED.

How could THAT be?  And why doesn't (NEXT TO) ANYBODY CARE?  And then of course, we've spent TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS "nation building" in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Why don't we seem to be willing to something like FOR OUR OWN PEOPLE IN OUR OWN CITIES?

That said -- THE SITUATION "IS WHAT IT IS" -- THE REST OF THE MOVIE is about a CLEVER APPROACH that a LOCAL URBAN / CRIME RIDDEN COMMUNITY could choose to take TO HELP CALM STREETS:  Have the women unite and go on a "sex strike" (first proposed by Aristophenes' play WAY, WAY "back in the day" of the Pelopennesian War) until the men stop shooting _each other_ and then INNOCENTS all around them.

In the current story, Lysistrata [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the film by Teyonah Parris) the girlfriend of a rapper (and head of a street-gang named "The Spartans") named Demitrius / nicknamed "Chi-Raq" (played by Nick Cannon) is challenged by Miss Helen (played by Angela Bassett) a 30-40 something NEIGHBOR of hers TO USE HER POWER / INFLUENCE TO DO _SOMETHING_ to stop the senseless shooting / killing between her boyfriend's "Spartans", and their rivals "The Trojans" headed by similarly aged 20-something "popular" / "ultra-cool" gangster nicknamed "Cyclops" (played by Wesley Snipes).  (Why Cyclops?  Because he lost an eye in some fight and now wears an eyepatch. ;-) / :-/  

What can Lysistrata do?  Well, Miss Helen asks Lysistrata google "Liberia civil war" and finds that the women there ENDED a CIVIL WAR by refusing to sleep with their warring men until they came to their senses.  Lysistrata talks to both her "Spartan" girlfriends AND those of the "Trojans" and soon they're on their way.

And certainly, the actions of the young women of the neighborhood couldn't come any faster.  A nine-year old girl was killed by a stray bullet in the neighborhood.  Her mother, Irene (played by Jennifer Hudson) was all but inconsolable.  The funeral for the nine year old girl, staged in St. Sabina's Catholic Church where Fr. Pfleger is actually stationed, gives the screenwriters, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee, the opportunity to showcase Fr. Pfleger's Congregation and his Preaching: the Homily that John Cusack's Fr. Corrigan gives down to the gestures is classic Fr. Pfleger.  He both challenges the larger society TO DO SOMETHING FOR THE NEIGHBORHOOD so that its young people have hope AND CHALLENGES THE SAME YOUNG PEOPLE to come out and, yes, _snitch_ ON YOUNG GIRL's MURDERER: "Some here KNOW who killed this little girl, and while there's a murderer loose in our Community NO ONE is safe." He then offers from the Church's treasury $5000 for information leading to the conviction of the girl's killer. 


YES, FOLKS, THIS IS LIFE AND DEATH _NO BULL SH._ STUFF.

John Cusack's Fr. Corrigan then hears about Lysistrata and her young women's "sex strike initiative." After meeting with them (and telling them "YOU KNOW I'VE TAKEN A VOW OF CELIBACY, SO I KNOW A BIT OF WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT ...") he sees that they're serious and he then puts the weight of his parish in support of them.

Much then ensues ... the young women take over a nearby National Guard Armory (in the original play by Aristophanes, the women take over the Parthenon ;-).  And, of course, the whole story "goes viral" ... ;-)  Do they succeed?? -- GO SEE THE FILM ;-)

Again, folks THIS IS NOT A STORY FOR CHILDREN.  But it is an EXCELLENT STORY FOR ADULTS, and it is CERTAINLY the MOST CREATIVE AMERICAN FILM TO COME OUT THIS YEAR.

AN ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC JOB! 


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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Trumbo [2015]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (R. Keegan) review
RogerEbert.com (G. Cheshire) review
AVClub (T. Robinson) review  

Trumbo [2015] (directed by Jay Roach, screenplay by John McNamara based on the book [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Bruce Cook [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) tells the story of American novelist / Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the film by Bryan Cranston) during his "blacklisted years" in the 1950s for having been a member of the Communist Party in the 1940s.

To be honest, as a son of Czech immigrants who fled Communist Czechoslovakia and even named Zdeněk after an uncle of mine who was jailed by the Communists in the 1950s this was not a particularly easy film for to watch or write about as I am quite well versed in the fates of democrats / priests / artists / intellectuals who were jailed or even executed as "class enemies" during the 1950s in then quite Stalinist Communist Czechoslovakia.  The Evil of the Communists was real ...

And yet I do understand AND EMPATHIZE WITH Dalton Trumbo's story HERE as well.  There's the lovely and indeed THE GOSPEL idealism of _theoretical_ "let's share and share alike" Communism and then there's the "for God's sake BE SURE TO APPLAUD LONG AND LOUD ENOUGH the 'Great Leader' (who can KILL YOU if you don't)" of de facto MAFIA Communism of actual Soviet bloc history.  Trumbo never experienced actual, incarnate, (Soviet bloc) Communism.  I giggle with amusement at the thought of him trying to plug THOROUGHLY "petite bourgeois" silliness of the Audrey Hepburn / Gregory Peck staring Roman Holiday [1953] to a committee of apparatchiks at the Soviet Film Bureau of the time.  Perhaps he could have pulled it off.  There is certainly "class consciousness" in the film.  But he would have almost certainly been "steered in a different direction" (OR ELSE ...) to write about "the joys of collective farm life ..." instead.

What he did, of course, experience is the "free market" mafia style bullying of the right wing / Fascist sort:  "We Americans had no gulags, we just destroyed people's careers through gossip, boycotts and other intimidation (and with that thoroughly destroyed their marriages, families and lives)."

SO IT WAS AN ABSOLUTE JOY TO WATCH Trumbo THOROUGHLY UNDERMINING THE HOLLYWOOD BLACKLIST by simply writing _under pseudonyms_ (though being paid MUCH LESS ... as a result).  THE GUY WON TWO ACADEMY AWARDS (!) FOR SCREENWRITING WHILE _NOMINALLY_ BEING "BLACKLISTED."  ANYONE who has a _sense of humor_ and LOVES A GOOD STORY / "UNDERDOG" HAS TO LOVE THAT ;-) ;-)

But the film ALSO shows VERY WELL the personal suffering that both HE and HIS FAMILY went through during the Blacklist years, when all kinds of people (business associates, neighbors, random passersbys) _hated him_ (and his family) for his "being a Communist."  Diane Lane who plays Trumbo's WIFE Cleo in the film honestly deserves special mention (and possibly an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress) here.  It's honestly remarkable that their marriage survived those years of humiliation / _downward_ mobility (from a Hollywood style mansion to a random nondescript little house in the suburbs).

Anyway, a remarkable story, and I would note that Trumbo's speech to the Hollywood Screen Writers Guild in 1970 presented at the end of the film was echoed later by former playwright post-Communist Czech President Vaclav Havel after HIS DECADES of ignonymity / "black listing" and "toilet washing in the Prague subway" were over:

Both Trumbo and Havel were magnanimous after their overcoming of their respective suffering noting that the Evil that they did suffer WHILE REAL WAS ALSO SYSTEMIC.  There were no "good people" or particularly "evil people" about, ONLY VICTIMS who largely said / did what the circumstances compelled them to do.  BOTH NOTED THAT PRETTY MUCH EVERYBODY BENEFITED (at least partly) NAVIGATING THESE SYSTEMS WHICH ALSO OPPRESSED THEM ... 

Anyway Trumbo's is a great story ... and one which anyone who's had to "weave and duck" in life to survive would certainly appreciate.  Good job!


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