Friday, September 9, 2022

Medieval (orig. Jan Žižka) [2022]


MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB () (1 1/2 Stars), AVClub (D+), Fr Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing 

CNS/USCCB review

LA Times (K. Walsh) review (S. Abrams) review (L. Monson) review

Medieval (orig. Jan Žižka) [2022] [IMDb][CSFD]*(directed by Petr Jákl [IMDb][CSFD]*, screenplay by Petr Jákl [IMDb][CSFD]* and Petr Jákl, Sr [IMDb][CSFD]*, adapted from the original screenplay by Marek Dobeš [IMDb][CSFD]* and Michal Petruš [IMDb][CSFD]* is a Czech directed but English language and largely Hollywood financed film that seeks to tell the story of "the early/formative years" of Jan Žižka [en-wikip][cs-wikip]* (played in the film by Ben Foster [IMDb][CSFD]*) 

Jan Žižka [en-wikip][cs-wikip]* was a remarkable (scrappy and supremely innovative), perhaps "Braveheartish," Czech military commander of the Hussites [en-wikip][cs-wikip]* a proto-Protestant sect that came to dominate Bohemia [en-wikip] in the early 1400s, one hundred years before Martin Luther [en-wikip] from neighboring Germany.

Being of Czech descent and knowing a good part of his story, I would agree that Žižka [en-wikip][cs-wikip]* would be worthy of a Hollywoodesque film.  

The problem with this film is two-fold:  

First, it is obvious that as scrappy as director/writer/producer Petr Jákl [IMDb][CSFD]* was in assembling the Hollywood funding and even the Hollywood actors (Ben Foster and Michael Caine) to do this film, he really did not have anywhere near the funds to really tell Žižka's [en-wikip][cs-wikip]* story.  

The second problem is a consequence of the first: All Petr Jákl [IMDb][CSFD]* could do was to introduce the character of Žižka [en-wikip][cs-wikip]*(played in the film by Ben Foster [IMDb][CSFD]*) as well as some of the other historical figures of the time: 

Wenceslas (Václav) IV [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]* (played in the film by Karel Roden [IMDb][CSFD]*) the notoriously weak, morally problematic (drinking but largely melancholy, womanizing) King of Bohemia of the time, 

Sigismund [en.wikip] (played in the film by Matthew Goode [IMDb][CSFD]*) who was Wenceslas (Václav) IV's [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]* younger half-brother and King of Hungary at the time and one who _really coveted_ the Crown of the Holy Roman Emperor [en.wikip] that was Wenceslas (Václav) IV's [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]* for the receiving, if only he could get to Rome, which he never did, and finally 

Henry III of Rosenberg [en.wikip][cs.wikip]*(played in the film by Til Schweiger [IMDb][CSFD]*), who was a powerful, scheming second-tier ("Cromwellish") nobleman, who though he was not a king, had as much power as the weak, often drinking Wenceslas (Václav) IV [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]*.

Yes, the cast of these characters, as well as of their advisors and captains of their military guards (one of them played by Michael Caine), makes for excellent fodder for an actual _historical_ "Game of Thrones" like story of intrigue.  

And it was out this crucible of intrigue that the historical Jan Žižka [en-wikip][cs-wikip]* emerged.

Yet why the Czechs remember Žižka [en-wikip][cs-wikip]* to this day as a "Braveheartish" military leader was NOT for ANYTHING portrayed in this film.

Rather he is remembered for his leadership of a necessarily largely peasant army of Hussite [en-wikip][cs-wikip]* warriors, which rose up after the burning at the stake of the proto-Protestant Reformer Jan Hus [en-wikip] [cs-wikip]* at the Council of Constance [en.wikip][cs.wikip]* by Sigismund [en.wikip] of this film (by then the Holy Roman Emperor who he always wanted to become) some 10-20 years later.

That army led by Žižka [en-wikip][cs-wikip]* REPEATEDLY beat back and humiliated the "Crusading armies" of Sigismund [en.wikip] attacking Bohemia from all sides.

The closing credits of this film note that Žižka [en-wikip][cs-wikip]* is remembered to this day as having "never lost a battle" during that remarkable time.

It is entirely conceivable that writer, director and producer Peter Jákl [IMDb][CSFD]* has hoped that the current film will whet enough of an appetite to secure the funding required (perhaps 10-20x as he was able to secure for this one) to tell _that_ succeeding glorious chapter of  Žižka's [en-wikip][cs-wikip]* story well. (Honestly, it would require a film with LOTR sized battle scenes to do the story justice...).

I do wish him well.

Unfortunately _the current film_ did not yet tell _that _ much grander story... just the story of a man who came later to do "great (and at times dastardly) things." (besides repeatedly defeating and humiliating Emperor Sigismund's [en.wikip] armies, Žižka's [en-wikip][cs-wikip]* peasant army burned down churches and monasteries all over Bohemia including the Monastery "na Slupi" [cs.wikip]*  (belonging to my religious order, the Servites) just below the Vyšehrad Castle [en.wikip] [cs.wikip]* at the southern outskirts of Prague

Those chapters of Žižka's [en-wikip][cs-wikip]* story do, in fact, await another film.

So 2 1/2 Stars for now.


Or if you'd like get a whimsical understanding of who Žižka [en-wikip][cs-wikip] and the Hussites [en-wikip][cs-wikip]* were, try this _adorable_ "Hussites vs Crusaders" game [Android Ver] [Apple Ver].

* Use the translate option on your browser to read these (Czech) web-pages.

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Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Chair [Netflix Series - 2021]

Fr. Dennis 5/5 Stars  

Netflix listing 
IMDb listing 
LA Times (Nancy Wang Yuen) review 
NPR (Aisha Harris) review 
AV Club (Arielle Bernstein) review 

The Chair [TV Series -2021] (created by Amanda Peet, Annie Wyman) is a six part (30 min each, so three hours in total) television series that premiered on Aug 20, 2021 on Netflix.   

The series follows the life of Ji-Yoon Kim (played by Sandra Oh), a fictionalized tenured English Literature professor at an invented liberal arts college named "Pembroke University" somewhere in the North East, upon her being "bumped up" to become the first woman and first person of color to Chair the school's English Department.

Yes, while she _may_ have found herself having shattered "the glass ceiling," it feels more like she's been put on "a glass cliff."

The problems come immediately after a gracious "first staff meeting" where she's reminded by a still deferential, still smiling, _older_ faculty member that "the Department Chair sits at the head of the table."    

After said meeting where she also gives a clear-eyed, even somewhat Churchillian speech about facing the department's challenges, she makes a visit to her direct boss, Dean Paul Larsen (played by David Morse).  He promptly gives her a "hit list" marking (with yellow florescent highlighter) the three "highest paid, yet least productive" faculty members -- yes, they are all older and, of course, ALL tenured -- who he'd like her to persuade to take the retirement package that the university was offering.   

This conflict between the old and the new, the settled and the striving plays out through the whole series, and to the series' credit, the points of view of all concerned are remarkably well presented, indeed honored.

All three of those older, "less productive" professors are white, two of them are male, one female, all three already enduring their "slights."  

One, Eliot Renz (played by Bob Balaban) finds his course "American Letters from 1850-1890" (or something like that) is scheduled at exactly the same time as a far more popular class "Sex and the Novel" taught by a younger, far more dynamic African American professor Jaz(min) McCay (played by Nana Mansah).   Yet, Eliot had been previously selected to chair Jaz' "tenure review" committee...  

Another of the older professors, the woman, Joan Hambling (played by Holland Taylor), fares even worse finding her office moved to the basement of the University's "Wellness Center" (Gym) with barbells banging on the ceiling above her as she tries to think, take office hours, or otherwise function as the professor that she (still) is.

Another professor, Bill Dobson (played by Jay Duplass), younger, more Ji-Yoon's age, apparently _once_ "the star" of the Department (as well as its most recent Chair...), but now still reeling from the death of his wife a year before, is again a mix of entitlement and sorrow.  Both his college aged daughter and Ji-Yoon beg him at different times: "Get your sh#t together."  But he's not ready, or perhaps ... done.  

Two lectures into his course: "Death of Modernism" (his first lecture was arguably a fire-able disaster as well...), Bill writes on the chalkboard "Nihilism," above it "Fascism," and proceeds to explain that much of the existential despair (!) of post-WW II, that is, postmodern literature was born of the world's experience of Fascism.  To put an accent on this, he clicked his heels and made a Nazi salute in the direction of the word Fascism.  Well ... someone in the class captured his Nazi salute, photoshopped an SS cap on him, and posted it on Twitter, and ... much of the rest of the story followed ... 

Then to try to "save" Eliot's position, Ji-Yoon persuades him (and Jaz) to _combine_ their classes -- they were scheduled at the same time, and arguably covered similar material -- "selling" this to Eliot: "Well you are the chair of Jaz' tenure evaluation committee.  

Well ... Eliot finds himself foundering in the midst of a lecture on Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (it was a _classic example_ of  "American Letters from the 1850s," AND certainly "a novel") noting Melville's personal struggles and that "he died penniless" and "never lived to know the enormous success of his seminal novel," to which an exasperated African American student raises his hand to ask: "Wasn't Melville a wife-beater?" (explaining probably in good part _why_ Melville died so ignominiously...).  

Jaz tries to _save_ the situation by saying "I'll cover some of that in my lecture next time..."   

At her lecture then, Jaz allows a group of the students perform _a rap poem_ which summarized _remarkably well_ both Melville's tortured (and self-destructive) life as well as the unattainable "purity" (in 19th century-speak) but frankly _unattainable_ WHITENESS (in current parlance) of the whale.

It was all _brilliant_ but one's left with the obvious / unavoidable question of whether someone like Jaz could possibly get a _fair evaluation_ from someone like Eliot.  

And yes, it must be noted that _both_ Ji-Yoon and Jaz, arguably still _reflexively_ tried actually to "save" Eliot.

It's all brilliant and disturbing.  What can one say?  Five stars! 

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Sunday, April 25, 2021

My Oscar Picks 2021

IMDb listing
Official Website

Dear Readers, 

This year has, of course, changed (temporarily?) the whole experience of "going to the movies."  

With the movie houses closed throughout most of the country / world for most of the year, most of us watched the movies through streaming services at home.   

Further with so much else going on in the world, from the pandemic to several waves of civil unrest in this country, many / most of us found ourselves "distracted by events" during various times of the past year.  

Nevertheless, both time and the industry have marched forward, and some very excellent films have been released even in this difficult time.  Here then are my Oscar Picks for 2021:

Will Win -- Minari
Should Win -- The Trial of the Chicago 7
Should Have Gotten Consideration -- Supernova

Will Win -- Anthony Hopkins (The Father), Gary Altman (Mank)
Should Win -- Stanley Tucci (Supernova), Anthony Hopkins (The Father), Gary Altman (Mank)
Should Have Gotten Consideration -- Stanley Tucci (Supernova)

Will Win -- Viola Davis (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom), Frances McDormand (Nomadland)
Should Win -- Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman), Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman)

Will Win -- Sasha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7)
Should Win -- Sasha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7),  Colin Firth (Supernova)
Should Have Gotten Consideration --  Colin Firth (Supernova)

Will Win -- Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy)
Should Win --  Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy), Olivia Colman (The Father)

Will Win -- Chloé Zhao (Nomadland), David Fincher (Mank), Lee Isaac Chung (Minari)
Should Win -- Chloé Zhao (Nomadland)David Fincher (Mank), Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Shaka King (Judas and the Black Messiah)
Should Have Gotten Consideration --  Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Shaka King (Judas and the Black Messiah)

Will Win -- Phedon Papamichael (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Sean Bobbitt (Judas and the Black Messiah)
Should Have Gotten Consideration -- Erik Messerschmidt (Mank), Dick Pope (Supernova)
Should Have Gotten Consideration - Jack Fincher (Mank), Harry MacQueen (Supernova), Kata Wéber (Pieces of a Woman)

Will Win --  Christopher Hampton / Florian Zeller (The Father) based on the play by Florian ZellerChloé Zhao (Nomadland) based on the book by Jessica Bruder
Should Win -- Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Ma Rainey's Black Bottombased on the play by August Wilson Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) based on the book by Jessica Bruder, Christopher Hampton / Florian Zeller (The Father) based on the play by Florian Zeller
Should Have Gotten Consideration -- Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Ma Rainey's Black Bottombased on the play by August Wilson 

Will Win -- My Octopus Teacher
Should Win -- My Octopus Teacher


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Monday, February 1, 2021

2021 Sundance Film Festival


After nearly a year-long hiatus both work (I've been busy in my day job as pastor of a fun / lively multilingual parish in SoCal and confronting quite head-on the homelessness crisis [1] [2] [3] here in our part of the county / country) and pandemic related, I've decided to put a toe in the water to see I could start writing my blog again.

First, I am very happy that a good number of the lovely if more obscure films that I've reviewed over the years have found their way to various streaming platforms [1] [2].  However, I'm most intrigued honestly by the door opened if perhaps only temporarily of being able to attend festivals like the the famed Sundance Film Festival virtually at home.  

At time of much suffering, being able to watch the films of the festival at home was a gift and one that I would honestly ask the movie industry to explore.  I had always liked the film festivals though lamented that many of their gems were almost impossible to find afterwards.  So I'm very happy to have the chance to both enjoy the films and to share my experiences of them here.

Among the Festival's showings I was able to see:

I was a Simple Man [2021] (written and directed by Christopher Makoto Yogi) a gentle personalist tale set in rural Hawaii about Masao Matsuyoshi (played in his youth, as an adult and as an elderly person by Kyle Kosaki, Tim Chiou and Steve Iwamoto respectively).  Born in Hawaii but with Japanese immigrant parents, he has a Chinese Hawaiian girl-friend named Grace (played by Constance Wu) who he marries over objections of his parents.  One would think that his life would be more or less set.  But then tragedy strikes and repeatedly: his parents and younger brother return to Japan just before the War starts and he never hears from them again.  His beautiful wife soon comes down with cancer and dies shortly afterwards, leaving him with children to raise, somewhat.  The film itself mostly plays out as he, now elderly, becomes ill and must prepare to meet the end of his life as well.  It's a gentle film about yes, a simple man, who nevertheless had a life of both simple pleasures and regrets.  -- 3 Stars  

How it Ends [2021] (written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein) is an apocalyptic comedy conceived and filmed in Los Angeles during the summer of 2020 during the Coronavirus crisis: The story begins on the morning of the Last Day, an asteroid was going to hit and destroy the earth later that evening.  Presumably all that could be done, has been tried, and has failed.  All that was left to do was to prepare to die.  So the story follows "the last day" of Liza (played also by Zoe Lister-Jones) a late 20s early 30-something, Los Angeles residing computer programmer -- she had successfully created some random app a number of years back -- as she walks around the neighborhood, amusingly with "her younger self" (played by Cailee Spaeny who generally only she could see, but perhaps because it was "the last day" others began to see and interact with as well), while Liza tries to "set things right" with various people -- Liza's mom (played by Helen Hunt), dad (played by Bradley Whitford), her once BFF Ala (played by Olivia Wilde) and  heartthrob Sal (played by Logan Marshall-Green).  The scene in which Liza and Ala talk (and set things right) apparently after a long period of time is priceless / probably the best in the film.  Otherwise the film is simply a gentle film made under the trying circumstances of COVID. -- 2 1/2 Stars

In the Earth [2021]
(written and directed by Ben Wheatley) is a COVID-recognizing horror film -- not directly about COVID-19 but certainly made in its context.  The film is about a rather desperate research experiment conducted in the forests of the English countryside in response to a fictionalized deadly pandemic where the increasingly mad scientists involved had made a link between the pandemic and the larger ecological crisis effecting the earth.  Basically "Nature had become mad as hell" and communicating through the interconnected root systems of trees had decided to fight back against a humanity that clearly did not respect it.  Much increasingly "mind blowing" ensues ;-) Yet as fun as the film's premise was, much more could have been done with it. That may have to wait for a larger budget and filming circumstances far less trying than those experienced in 2020. -- 2 Stars

The Pink Cloud (orig. A Nuvem Rosa) [2021]
(written and directed by Iuli Gerbase) about a world-wide environmental crisis -- a deadly pink cloud appears driving everyone the world-over into their homes -- was actually conceived and filmed before the 2020-21 coronavirus pandemic.  Yet, the film predicts many of the problems (isolation / loneliness) and responses (use of videochats, social media) that we've come to rely on to get by during the COVID-19 crisis.  The film focuses on a 30-something couple Giovana (played by Renata de Lélis) and Yago (played by Eduardo Mendonça) who had just met / hooked-up the night before the deadly pink cloud had appeared.  Both had responsibilities outside, Giovana to her mother (somewhere), and to a younger sister (capable, of course, of communicating easily via social media), Yago to his aging father (with at least an in house caregiver) in the beginning stages of Alzheimers.  Yet now the two were stuck together "for the duration" of the crisis, and ... the crisis seems to extend ... .  Yes, the civil authorities come up with a simple if not particularly convincing mechanism of keeping everyone supplied with basic necessities -- food, water, electricity.  However, no one is able to go outside without facing quick, certain death.  So given the situation "what would you do? ..." -- 3 Stars

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Friday, February 7, 2020

My Oscar Picks 2020

IMDb listing
Official Website

Dear Readers,

This past year, I was necessarily focused on events in our community / parish, so I didn't have a lot of time to write here.  But I did still see a fair amount of films.  We'll see how this goes next year.  I have enjoyed writing this blog.  It is possible that I'll have more time to write here again.  If not, this may be the last set of Oscar Picks that I will be publishing.

Fr. Dennis

Will Win -- Parasite
Should Win -- Joker, Once Upon in Hollywood, Little Women
Should Have Gotten Consideration -- The Farewell

Will Win -- Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Should Win -- Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory)

Will Win -- Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)
Should Win -- Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story), Renee Zellwiger (Judy)
Should Have Gotten Consideration -- 

Will Win -- Brad Pitt (Once Upon in Hollywood)
Should Win -- Brad Pitt (Once Upon in Hollywood)

Will Win -- Laura Dern (Little Women),
Should Win -- Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell), Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit)
Should Have Gotten Consideration -- Kate Blanchett (Where'd You Go, Bernadette?)

Will Win -- Quentin Tarrantino (Once Upon in Hollywood)
Should Win -- Quentin Tarrantino (Once Upon in Hollywood), Todd Phillips (Joker)
Should Have Gotten Consideration -- Greta Gerwig (Little Women)

Will Win -- Once Upon in Hollywood
Should Win -- Once Upon in Hollywood, 1917Joker
Should Have Gotten Consideration -- Little Women

Will Win -- ParasiteOnce Upon in Hollywood,
Should Win -- Once Upon in Hollywood, Knives Out
Should Have Gotten Consideration -- The Farewell

Will Win -- Little Women
Should Win -- Little WomenJojo RabbitJoker

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Saturday, October 5, 2019

Downton Abbey [2019]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (C. Steele) review

Downton Abbey [2019] (directed by Michael Engler characters and screenplay by Julian Fellowes) delivers what it promises ... a two hour visit to a place that millions of viewers across the English speaking world and beyond had come to know and love through the successful television series about "more tranquil times" ... when it was being debated and starting to be settled as to whether paupers, people of darker complexions and foreign tongues, women as a whole, to say nothing of then invisible people like homosexuals were ... worthy of rights.

And so it is here.  And all is regally blessed and proven "fine" at the Abbey as they receive word that the King and Queen were planning a visit to their part of the Realm, were inviting themselves over to the Abbey (I guess, if you're the King, you can do whatever you want, AND "what an honor it would be" in any case), and ... (mild spoiler alert) all turns out well.

But, then, how could it not...?  Directed by the steady guiding hand of the _wisest_ of local patriarchs, Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (played by Hugh Bonneville) albeit with an American wife Cora (played by Elizabeth McGovern) but then with a stable, well-trained, LOYAL abbey staff, what could possibly go wrong?

Yes, there are the pesky Irish who want to get a shot at the King (played by Simon Jones).  But even the King "understands" (and arguably _forgives them_).  So ...

There is a loveliness to all this ... and in the crassness of our time it is certainly appealing, just as long as we realize that when we enter stories like this, we enter a world essentially of "Platonic Forms" about as real as that of Middle Earth / The Hobbit.  That said, we all need stories that give us comfort and peace. 

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Judy [2019]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (K, Turan) review (M. Castillo) review
AVClub (C. Siede) review

Judy [2019] (directed by Rupert Goold, screenplay by Tom Edge based on the stageplay "The End of the Raindbow" by Peter Quilter) tells the story of the last year of Hollywood legend Judy Garland's [wikip] [IMDb] life as a troubled but still top-billed night-club singer in ... London.  She died there, of an ... accidental barbiturate overdose at 47 in 1969.  What happened to the teenage Dorothy of Wizard of Oz [1939] fame?  Well, life ...

And it was not a particularly good one.  We do get to see the costs of fame in Mid-20th Century Hollywood (1930s-1960s).  To a large extent therefore, the film follows a well beaten path.  One needs only to think of Sunset Blvd [1950].

Still, just because "we've heard the story before," doesn't make it untrue.  And it honestly MAY BE USEFUL for people be reminded from time to time what "costs of fame" are.

Here we see the effects of thirty years of "studio management" on the life of one of its biggest stars, Judy Garland (played as a teenager by Darci Shaw and later as an adult by Renee Zellwiger) who "captured America's hearts" as the wide-eyed innocent / naive Alice in Wonderland like teenager Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz [1939] and yet was even then mercilessly reminded that she could be replaced AT ANY TIME by any number of OTHER wide-eyed, innocent / naive "girl next door" types even arguably more attractive than she was, "So SHUT UP, take the 1930s-era diet and sleeping pills that we're giving you, and just DO WHAT WE SAY..."

We thankfully live now in the #MeToo era, where the worst of this abuse is being progressively exposed.  Yet while there was no indication in the film that Garland was sexually abused by her studio bosses / handlers, the film story makes clear that the Studios and their managers basically _owned_ their "stars" in any case, especially their younger ones, and almost inevitably turned them into the basket cases that we come to read about in the tabloids in their later years. 

Is it worth it?  Do these poor people even know what they're getting into? 

Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, here Judy Garland ... Pray for us.

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