Monday, November 20, 2017

The Star [2017]

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

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

The Star [2017] (directed by Timothy Rekart, screenplay by Carlos Kotkin, story by Simon Moore and Carlos Kotkin) is a cute star-studded film about Jesus' birth taken from the point of view of the animals in the story, notably from the POV of the donkey (voiced by Steven Yeun) on which the very pregnant Mary (voiced by Gina Rodriguez) rode to Bethlehem where she gave birth to Jesus.  Also in the story are the camels (voiced by Tyler Perry, Tracy Morgan and Oprah Winfrey) who amusingly seem to more about what's going on than "the three kings" (voiced by Joel Osteen, Phil Morris and Fred Tatasciore) did ;-).  There's also a lovable sheep (voiced by Aidy Bryant) who interestingly seems to "herd" everybody in the story "together."

I have to say that I LIKED THE STORY.  Sure, it's kinda cutesy, but it's also aimed for FIVE YEAR OLD KIDS.  In that regard, it's a lovely story.  And I did appreciate that SO MANY STARS and from a truly _wide_ cross-section of American society took part in it.

All in all, though it's not going to win many awards, it never intended to.  Instead, it tells the story of the birth of Jesus from a novel and interesting point of view and -- to kids ;-).

Good job!  Very good job!

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The Man who Invented Christmas [2017]

MPAA (PG)  Fr. Dennis (0 Stars)

IMDb listing

The Man who Invented Christmas [2017] (directed by Bharat Nalluri, screenplay by Susan Coyne based on the book by Les Stradiford [GR] [IMDb]) is an incredibly stupidly / offensively titled film.  Indeed, if ANYONE on the Left would wonder why Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, one could simply take a moment or two to contemplate the title of this film.

Did Charles Dickens "invent Christmas?"  OF COURSE NOT.   Why then _stupidly_ title this film --a film that COULD HAVE BEEN INTERESTING (about how Dickens came up with the plot of his famous novel A Christmas Carol) -- in a manner that _guarantees_ that it will OFFEND TENS OF MILLIONS OF  OTHERWISE POTENTIALLY INTERESTED AMERICAN VIEWERS.

My answer: Unless there's A LOT OF RUSSIAN MONEY invested in this stupid film (in which case its release under this name COULD HAVE BEEN INTENDED by emerging real-life SUPERVILLAIN Vladimir Putin TO PRODUCE shock and division in the United States), it would be that the Lunatic Left continues to have some kind of evil / misguided Death Wish.

Indeed, the Lunatic Left made both Franco and even Hitler possible: In 1930s Spain, Franco became a "voice of reason" (!) after unbelievably stupid Spanish Communists began storming Convents AND SHOOTING UP NUNS (in my Religious Order, the Servites, we now honor one such nun Bl Maria Guadalupe Ricart Olmos, OSM as a martyr because was SHE ONE OF THOSE NUNS taken out one random night during the Spanish Civil War and shot-up by some _crazed_ squad of "forward looking" Spanish Communists)

Then the Russian Bolsheviks' campaign of seeking to destroy Christianity in Russia (shutting down the churches, turning them into storage sheds or worse, deporting and/or shooting their priests) guaranteed that _tens of millions_ of German voters in the 1930s would see the "law and order" Nazis as a _far more sensible_ option to the chaos, arrogance / evil of the Soviet Communism.

But did Charles Dickens "invent Christmas"?  Again, OF COURSE NOT.  Readers remember here that I'M A CATHOLIC PRIEST:

Some weeks ago, we spent part of our Parish Liturgy Committee Meeting talking about which of the Readings from the FOUR Possible Christmas Masses (ALL OF WHICH ALL GO BACK TO AT LEAST THE TIME OF ST. GREGORY THE GREAT -- 5th-6th Century A.D.) we were going to use at our various Christmas Liturgies (from 4 PM and 9 PM on Christmas Eve to Midnight on Christmas Eve to morning on Christmas Day to early afternoon on Christmas Day).

The Christmas trees in our Church go back to the time of the mission of St. Augustine of Canterbury, St. Gregory the Great's BFF (hence again 6th Century AD) who St. Gregory had sent to evangelize the then fearsome, barbaric and at the time rumored TO BE CANNIBALISTIC Anglo Saxons who had over-run the southern part of previously already Christian Roman Britain (St. Patrick, who lived in the 4th century A.D., whose name derives from the latin word Patrician or basically 'rich boy' was Romano-British, but kidnapped by then still pagan-Irish raiders, who he later then returned to convert ;-).  Returning to St. Augustine of Canterbury, he had the wisdom of not making a "problem" of the Anglo-Saxon custom of bringing into their homes the branches of evergreen trees in the height of winter.  Instead, recalling the many times trees play a significant role in the Bible -- the Trees of Good and Evil / Life in the Garden of Eden, the Wood out of which Noah built the Ark, Jesus being laid down in a Manger (the Midnight Christmas Liturgy referred to above took place originally in the NATIVITY CHAPEL at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome (built in the early 5th century), where THE RELIC OF JESUS' CRIB brought back to Rome by St. Helen, the mother of Constantine back IN THE 4th CENTURY was KEPT), and Jesus being nailed to and saving us all through "the wood of the cross" -- he decided to "let it go" / bless said evergreen trees and ... from this we have our Christmas trees ;-)

Then we have our Christmas plays and our Nativity Sets depicting Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, the animals, the stars and angels THANKS TO ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI who loved the story so much that he promoted it where-ever he could.

To this day, one could go to the Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, Italy, and see an ENTIRE STREET with HUNDREDS OF SHOPS SELLING NOTHING BUT "PRESEPI" (Nativity Sets) of every conceivable level of complexity from the simplest -- Mary, Jesus, Joseph, Star above, to entire medieval town / village to contemporary city-scapes.

And if you were there, you'd probably hear, over and over again, playing in the background, probably the most famous Italian Christmas Carol ("Tu Scendi dalle Stelle" [wikip] [YouTube]) attributed to Napoli's own St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787).   It should be noted that pretty much ALL of the traditional ENGLISH Christmas Carols -- Adeste Fideles / "O Come O Ye Faithful" [it-wikip]* comes self-evidently to mind -- are actually translated FROM LATIN hence predate their English usage.  And I come originally from a Czech household.  The Czech Christmas Carols "Narodil se Kristus Pán" (Born is Christ the Lord) [cs-wikip]* and Nesem Vám Noviny" go back to "ages past" the first to the 15th century, the second, as a folk hymn, honestly unknown.

So to purport that Charles Dickens (!), as great an author as he was, somehow _invented Christmas_ is NONSENSE arguably even EVIL NONSENSE that gives nihilists and other enemies of truth comfort.  Shame. -- ZERO Stars.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Justice League [2017]

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

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

Justice League [2017] (directed by Zach Snyder, screenplay by Chris Terrio and Jack Whedon, story by Chris Terrio and Zach Snyder, based on the characters of DC Comics [DC] [wikip]) unites various superheroes of the DC Comic Universe [wikip] -- including Batman [DC] [wikip] [IMDb] (played in this series by Ben Affleck), Superman [DC] [wikip] [IMDb] (played in this series by Henry Cavill), Wonder Woman [DC] [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the series by Gal Gadot), The Flash [DC] [wikip] [IMDb] (played here by Ezra Miller), Cyborg [DC] [wikip] [IMDb] (played here by Ray Fisher) and Aquaman [DC] [wikip] [IMDb] (played here by Jason Momoa) -- to fight the emerging threat of an ancient supervillainous deity named Steppenwolf [wikip] [IMDb] (voiced in the film by Ciarán Hinds).

It is noteworthy here that most of humanity (including the fully human / more contemporary superheroes in the story) was/were totally oblivious of even the existence of this re-emerging supervillain threat.  Only Wonder Woman and Aquaman (whose origin stories link them to the GrecoRoman mythological Amazons [wikip] and Atlantians [wikip] respectively) understand who Steppenwolf was, what he was up to, and what kind of an Apocalyptic / "world destroying" threat he was.   This is a characteristic of DC Comics, whose supervillains tend to be either extraterrestrial or otherwise generally hidden "under the muck" of this world until they quite suddenly appear in order to threaten humanity's very existence.

Much of course ensues as Wonder Woman and Batman assemble the superheroes to fight this emerging threat -- Steppenwolf being German for "wolf of the steppes" or cayote -- who was making his lair somewhere in subterranean central Russia (!).  Among that which ensues is that the two realize that they're going to have to find a way to _resurrect_ Superman (killed in the previous installment Batman vs Superman: The Dawn of Justice [2016]).  Minor spoiler alert: they succeed.  How?  I'm not going to tell you ;-).

All in all, the story plays out as a typical superhero movie with much action, much "glass breaking" level of mass destruction.  Then characteristic of the DC Comics universe the story is generally darker / more "hard-boiled" than the stories that play-out in the Marvel Comics universe and there are fairly easily identifiable if still low-level motiffs previously associated with 1920s-era (pre-Hitler's definitive rise) German Fascism.  (I'll leave it to Readers here to reflect on my charge here and identify the more obvious examples -- I make mention of several in the immediate paragraph above).

As such, while not a bad superhero movie, I am "wary" and I much prefer the Marvel Comics stories.

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Wonder [2017]

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

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

Wonder [2017] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Stephen Chbosky along with Steven Conrad  and Jack Thorne based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by R.J. Palacio [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is truly a remarkable film that come Oscar time deserves _at minimum_ nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and then Best Picture.  I rarely cry at the movies, yet, I found myself tearing up _repeatedly_ as the story of Auggie (played wonderfully by Jacob Trembplay) a quite significantly physically challenged (mostly by this point _aesthetically challenged_) fifth-grade boy was told.  After 20+ surgeries, his face was still quite significantly scarred / deformed.

The true genius of the story IMHO was that it was told MOSTLY from the perspective of Auggie _and then of the kids / teens_, including his older sister Via (played to a stunning break-out performance level by Izabela Vidovic) in his life.  As such, the story wasn't solely about him, but about the both on-one-hand remarkable, yet on-the-other utterly _ordinary_ kids / teens around him.  AND EVERY TIME a "conflict" presented itself in the story, the story dutifully portrayed the other person's "side" / perspective as well.  I FOUND THIS TO BE _WONDER-FUL_.

I found it absolutely beautiful to enter into the world of Via, who if not for her clearly (and by nobody's fault) _special needs_ younger brother, would have had an otherwise normal (or "normal") life:  She both "understands" and yet is inevitably jealous that "mom" (played again wonderfully by Julia Roberts) ends up _necessarily spending_ so much more time focused on Auggie than on her.

Then there was classmate Jack (played by Noah Jupe) who was both "kinda a friend" but also "part of the class" (again of 5th graders) who found Auggie, well, at least on some level necessarily _different_ / _strange_.  There's even Via's BFF Miranda (played again wonderfully by Danielle Rose Russell) who suddenly, as the two enter high school, starts acting "strange."  Why?  Well ... there's a story there ;-).

Then though set in the context of a rather prestigious NYC prep-school, the kids in the school are not lily white.  Via's love interest in the story is a wonderful, whose family taught him well, well-groomed/behaved African American teen named Justin (played by Nadji Jeter).  When Jack and Auggie appear to drift apart, an African American girl named Summer (played wonderfully by Millie Davis) steps up to be Auggie's BFF for a while (and even helps explain to Jack why Auggie was so mad at him).  And Auggie's principle teacher Mr Browne, again African American (played by Daveed Diggs) carried the well-deserved respect of all.  And the Principal of the school Mr. Tushman (played by Mandy Patinkin) presumably Jewish would make Sholem Aleichem (author of the stories that became Fiddler on the Roof) proud.

This was honestly A REMARKABLE STORY, ADAPTED TO FILM, that so wonderfully reminds us, that though perhaps many of us may have become jaded in our time and look-out for our interests, many others, and especially the young are still _fundamentally good people_.  Yes, misunderstandings still can occur, but if one took time to learn their perspective on the story, one would _understand_.

Simply a wonderful film / story, richly _deserving praise_ and certainly one of the best North American films of the year.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express [2017]

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

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

Murder on the Orient Express [2017] [IMDb-Hist] (directed by Kenneth Branagh, screenplay by Michael Green based on the celebrated novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Agatha Christie [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) continues the current cycle of remakes / updates of celebrated novels / stories of the past.  Yet while perhaps borrowing from other recent updates there remains a _slightly_ hyper-real "story book" quality to the film's set designs -- one thinks here of the reboots / remakes of the Sherlock Holmes [2011+] stories, The Three Musketeers [2011], Anna Karenina [2012], The Great Gatsby [2013] and even the original Star Trek [2013] [2016] series -- even then the sets here are more subdued than in the case of the examples just mentioned, and certainly _the pacing_ of the current film tracks much more closely to the pace of the original novel than in the case of the other recent remakes.

That said, Viewers are confronted with the question of whether this decision to adhere so closely to the pacing of the original novel was a good idea.  To be honest, and though I feel somewhat embarrassed as I write this, I found the current film _far more boring_ than say the recent remakes of the The Three Musketeers [2011]Anna Karenina [2012] and even the Sherlock Holmes [2011+] stories.  Further, since the 1974, also star-studded screen version of Murder was _so good_, one's left with the questions: Why bother with the making of the current remake? How did this film "move the ball?"  Say what one will, ALL of the above mentioned recent remakes did, at least aesthetically, _move the ball_.  The set designs of Anna Karenina [2012]The Great Gatsby [2013] and even the recent Sherlock Holmes [2011+] remakes, The Three Musketeers [2011] and  the Star Trek [2013] [2016] reboot were often simply stunning.  And even the often frenetic pacing of those recent films often carries with it its own charm (if nothing else, one marvels at these films' choreography).  In contrast, the pacing of the current film is kinda ... ho hum and leaves one wondering why, except that it was (perhaps) "time", the current film was made at all.

So what's the film about?  Well it retells the classic Agatha Christie story of her celebrated detective Hercule Poirot [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the current film by Kenneth Branagh) finding himself traveling in lavish (dare one say Grand Budapest Hotel [2014]) style on the 1920s-30s era Orient Express [wikip] from Istanbul to London, when ... (1) an avalanche somewhere in the Balkans halts the train, and (2) a MURDER, I dare say MURDER takes place on the train. 

As the good detective interviews the various fellow travelers (played by such current Hollywood stars as Judi Dench, William De Foe, Michelle Pfeiffer Penélope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad and Daisy Ridley) on the high class train car in which they were traveling, he finds that pretty _all of them_ had _some_ connection to the murder victim, and ... I'm not going to tell you.  Either you already know how this story ends, or if you don't ... and if you don't, I'm not going to ruin it for you ;-).

All in all, this _not_ a bad, current generation remake of the classic story.  It's just I think it rather fails the why was the remake made? / "move the ball" tests. 

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Saturday, November 4, 2017

LBJ [2016]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (M. Rechtschaffen) review (G. Cheshire) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

LBJ [2016] (directed by Rob Reiner, screenplay by Joey Hartstone) is a quite compelling biopic about consumate 1960s era politician President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the film to levels worthy of Oscar nomination consideration by Woody Harrelson).  Yet it's probably not for everybody.

Who the film would certainly interest would be those interested in both politics and history and certainly Viewers get a glimpse of a politician who knew how to get things done in Washington DC.  If one rates Presidents simply on the number of pieces of legislation, often very significant pieces of legislation (including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, The Great Society Programs such as Medicare / Medicaid, Equal Opportunity Act of 1964 and Head Start), LBJ ranks #1 as the most successful President in U.S. History.

Yet, this is certainly not the only standard nor perhaps the best standard to rate a President and LBJ was, of course, a complex figure -- a Southerner who managed to push through the most significant pieces of Civil Rights legislation in U.S. history, one who despite misgivings from the very beginning nonetheless got us into the Vietnam quagmire.  A key question raised in this film was about his sincerity with regards to any of the initiatives that came to define his Presidency.

That question MAY be unfair.  It would seem simply unbelievable that LBJ would embark on his War on Poverty / Great Society crusade if he did not fundamentally believe in it.  The film clearly shows that he could have QUITE COMFORTABLY settled back into serving-out Kennedy's term (he became President as a result of JFK's assassination) and perhaps even run / gotten elected on his own as a center-right "Southern Democratic" President, and our nation would be very different (and IMHO, honestly, I'm not kidding, _much worse_ for it) than it is today.  The Kennedy-esque Northern Liberals would have had to vote for him anyway (no real alternative) and white Southern Democrats (as the film amply showed) WOULD HAVE JUST LOVED HIM if he put the brakes on the Civil Rights movement.  BUT HE DID NOT DO THAT.

Anyway, the film which plays-out during the years BEFORE and IMMEDIATELY after John F. Kennedy's assassination helps the Viewer appreciate the political complexities and choices facing LBJ at the time.  Again, I honestly do believe that LBJ chose well.

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Suburbicon [2017]

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

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

Atlantic (D. Sims) interview w. George Clooney
Hollywood Reporter (S. Galloway) interview w. Matt Damon

Suburbicon [2017] (directed and screenplay cowritten by George Clooney along with Joel and Ethan Coen and Grant Heslov)  is a searingly dark in our day seemingly absurdist comedy (evoking Fellini's absurdist though not nearly as dark (just really, really wierd) comedy Satiricon [1969]) about a random all-white post WW II / 1950s era suburb into which a nice random African American family tries to move-in.

Yet, as absurdist a comedy as it may seem, the story is inspired by all-too-well known post WW II / 1950s era incidents in which new white homeowners feeling, somehow entitled to do so, often resorted to violence (truly by "any means necessary") to keep African American families and those of other racial minorities out of their newly constructed neighborhoods.  This was the case even though these new white homeowners were able to buy their homes based on GI Bill FHA loans that veterans of color were _nominally_ eligible for as well.

Look, Dear Readers, my ancestry is Czech and in 1950-60s Chicago, the heavily Czech American populated suburbs of  Cicero and Berwyn were _infamous_ for keeping African American families from moving-in through violence.  My dad, emigrating to the U.S. (and the Chicago area) in the 1950s as a chemist did not need to live in Cicero / Berwyn.  So I grew up in _even more_ lily-white suburbs where simple economics kept their neighborhoods largely "racially pure," but I know (and to my own shame) _exactly_ what this film is about.

And no matter what else could be said about this 1950s-60s era injustice (and MUCH could be said -- including how this kind of post-WW II housing discrimination has kept African Americans economically down to this day) WHAT IS ABSOLUTELY CLEAR IS THAT THIS KIND OF VIOLENCE AGAINST BLACKS / OTHER MINORITIES NEED NOT EVER HAPPEN AGAIN ... unless ... WE LET IT.

So then ... the current film is about two families, neighbors, in an "idyllic" fictionalized 1950s-era suburb.  One of the families, the Mayers was black (mom, dad and 10 year old son played by Karimah Westbrook, Leith M. Burke and Tony Espinosa) and the other was white, headed by an accountant of some kind, named Gardner (played by Matt Damon), his wife (played by Julianne Moore), her sister (also played by Julianne Moore) and ten year old son (played by Noah Jupe).

Actually / ironically the two families though _actual neighbors_ seemed to get along _quite well_, BUT ... that was perhaps because Gardner's family was TOO BUSY DEALING WITH ITS TRULY SORDID DEMONS to be bothered with their new neighbors being of another perceived "lower" race.

Yet even as the sordid "family drama" involving (1) Mob debts, (2) Adultery and even possibly (3) Incest plays out _quietly_ within the "confines" of the Gardner household, THE ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOOD becomes increasingly (and increasingly violently) agitated _by the mere presence_ of the _quiet_ African American Mayer family in their midst.

What the heck is going on?  Yes, what the heck is going on?  And do we HONESTLY want to go back to this kind of mentality?

Yes, this is an UGLY film, but intentionally so.  And I COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND George Clooney / Matt Damon, et al for wanting to make it.

Again, do we really want to go back to _this_?

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Friday, November 3, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok [2017]

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

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

Thor: Ragnarok [2017] (directed by Taika Waititi, screenplay by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost based on the Marvel comic by Stan Lee [wikip] [IMDb], Larry Lieber [wikip] [IMDb] and Jack Kirby [wikip] [IMDb]) as always in the Thor [1] [2] franchise is a smiling / beer-stein fit for the Gods in hand, jovial and crowd-pleasing romp through complexities / dirty laundry of Nordic Mythology's First Divine Family (if you thought that your family's "messed up" ... ;-).

As such, the film begins with this franchise's ever smiling ('cause no matter what comes his way, at the end of the day, HE IS A GOD ... ;-) headliner Thor [wikip-NM] [wikip-MC] [MC] [IMDb] (played as always spot-on happily -- I simply love this character ;-) -- by Chris Hemsworth) chained upside down, hanging over some precipice in some kind of subterranean Nordic hell, "imprisoned" there by some poor otherwise would-be-deathly-frightening Apocalyptic Demon named Surtur [wikip] [MC] [IMDb] (voiced by Clancy Brown).   Poor Surtur thinks that he's FINALLY going to get revenge on Thor's father Odin [wikip-NM] [wikip-MC] [MC] [IMDb] (played again and as always with appropriate regality by Anthony Hopkins) who had apparently consigned HIM to that firey subterranean Hell.  But ... alas ...

... THE ONLY ONES who can really bring down the Nordic Divine First Family's household in their Divine Realm of Asgard [wikip-NM] [wikip-MC] [MC] are ... the members of said Divine Family themselves ;-).

So ... we find the aging Odin, retreating to ... the evocative / lovely ROCKY coast of earth's Norway ... to wax eloquent to his sons, the jovial heir to the Divine Throne but never really quite ready for the job Thor and trickster / jealous "never quite fit in" (despite _everything_ that the other members of the Divine household have tried to do for him) adopted son Loki [wikip-NM] [wikip-MC] [MC] [IMDb] (played as ever wonderfully by Tom Hiddleston) that ... he can "no longer keep HER at bay."

HER?  Who's HER??  Hela [wikip-NM] [wikip-MC] [MC] [IMDb] (played again in  wonderfully/appropriately pissed-off fashion by Kate Blanchet)  "the Goddess of DEATH" who turns out to be ... Thor's / Loki's OLDER SISTER.  Older sister??  EXACTLY ;-) ;-)

Well SHE comes back to take Odin to ... Hell ... and _quickly_ catches and _crushes_ Thor's thought-to-be all-powerful Hammer _with just a bare hand_ ;-) ;-).

Much, much ensues ... ;-)

I just love the Marvel Comics movies and in particular the Thor series.  What a messed-up family, and yet Thor keeps on smiling, trying to "bring / keep" everybody "together" ;-)

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

On Wings of Eagles [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing

South China Morning Post (J. Marsh) review
Hollywood Reporter (C. Tsui) review

On Winds of Eagles [2016] (directed by Stephen Shin and Michael Parker, screenplay written by Rubby Xu, Christopher Chan, Stephen Shin and Michael Parker) is a largely Chinese financed, Christian based film on the final years of Eric Liddell [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the film by Joseph Fiennes) previously immortalized in Chariots of Fire [1981] as the Scottish Presbyterian athlete who had foregone a near certain gold medal at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games rather than run on a Sunday.  (His witness / sacrifice in this matter would seem all but _incomprehensible_ to many today ;-).

Well, the son of missionaries, after returning from the Olympics, he went along with his wife to China to serve as a Christian Missionary there.   This is where the current film picks-up Liddell's story and it focuses in particular on his years as a prisoner at a Japanese-run internment / concentration camp during WW II.

It's an inspirational story that honestly deserves to be told.  Many Viewers may be taken aback initially by the gentleness (arguably slow-movingness) of the story.  But then, this film was never intended for audiences of typical Hollywood fare.   Indeed, conceived, written and directed in good part by contemporary Chinese Christians, it reflects a gentleness / sensibility in storytelling that ought to be taken as a challenge / gentle rebuke to viewers and film makers the world over.

In a world marked by violence, why add to it?  Why not instead lift up examples of people who despite the violence / oppression that surrounded them, still tried to live gentle and principled lives instead.

Very nice, GENTLE yet still challenging film!

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Thank You For Your Service [2017]

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

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

Thank You For Your Service [2017] (directed and screenplay by Jason Hall, based on the book by David Finkel [wikip] [GR] [IMDb]) is a tough, pretty honest yet squarely down the middle film about a group of U.S. army buddies (played by Miles Teller, Beulah Koale and Joe Cole) coming home to their wives / loved ones (played by Haley Bennet, Keisha Castle-HughesKate Lyn Sheil and a surprising, sincere / serious Amy Schumer)  -- everyone involved in the story still quite "young" in their late-20s to early 30s -- from a tour (for most, their _third tour_) in Iraq, a tour that near its end got pretty intense.

As such, it's a film that despite its often gritty subject matter pretty much any American / Western viewer could probably watch / stay through and despite perhaps somewhat challenged, leave with his / her views ... largely unchanged.

Yes, these soldiers (and their families) mostly from small town, red-state America have endured a great deal, often suffering enormously for the rest of us, and don't receive (or perhaps don't even come close to receiving) the help / services that they need.  Yet, this being the case, what to do about it??

Here, for those who'd be willing/able to hear it, blue-state America's response (and basically the military policies of both Clinton in Kosovo and Obama in Iraq/Afghanistan) is _not_ insane:  Since the human costs of War are both predictable and _predictably high_, make sure to _not_ send our troops into war unless it's absolutely necessary.

That said, once we decide to send our troops into battle, we simply owe it to them to be prepared to expend the resources needed to allow them to come back home in the best of shape possible.  Indeed, that ought to be part of the Equation in determining if the Goal in going to War or the particular Strategy in achieving the Goal is worth it.

There are some truly difficult / heart rending scenes in this film:  The characters in this film come back from this tour of duty suffering "merely" from psychological wounds (one "lucky" to be suffering from a still _relatively mild_ form of traumatic brain injury, others with "merely" PTSD).  Yet when they finally make it to the VA, they find themselves in a hall full of vets who _on the surface_ are dealing with even worse injuries, missing limbs, missing more than just limbs.  The "survivor guilt" -- to be "merely" tormented by flashbacks that scare the daylights out of loved-ones / other civilians, while sitting with fellow vets who so clearly lost even more...

It's a film that can not but _move_ a person.  Our challenge is: What then?

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Only the Brave [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (P. Sobczynski) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

Only the Brave [2017] (directed by Joseph Kosinski, screenplay by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer based on the GQ article "No Exit" by Sean Flynn [GQ] [IMDb]) tells the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots an elite squad of forest fire fighters from Prescott, Arizona, nineteen (out of twenty) of whom died, overrun by the Yarnell Hill Fire of 2013.  This was the largest loss of life in a firefighting incident in the United States since 9/11.

Being from rural Arizona, this elite fire fighting unit (a "Seal Team 6" of fire fighting ...) was largely filled with highly jacked, testosterone driven 20-somethings, though its commander Eric Marsh (played in the film by Josh Brolin) was 43 when he died with his men fighting the blaze.  Yet if some more liberal Readers here would roll their eyes, thinking to themselves "Great, John Waynes some perhaps literally on steroids," the film actually portrays quite accurately those classic blue-collar rural "Trump voters" that the Left would like to dismiss / demonize and yet deserve our Respect first and only then perhaps some correction with regards to their sexism (and perhaps racism, not shown here in the film).  Why?  Put simply these are the people who police our streets often times in very tough conditions, fight these kind of fires and dodge the bullets to fight our wars.

 They were also people struggling with some, again, very Trump voter problems: One of the main characters in the film, Brendan McDonough (nicknamed Donut, and played marvelously by Miles Teller) begins the film as a Mephed-up Stoner.  (Trump got a lot of rural voters interested in him precisely because he was the first politician to talk seriously about the current rural heroin epidemic). Brendan only becomes interested in joining the Hotshots (and then finds that at least initially they are _way out of his league_) when his girlfriend who he got pregnant tells him that she wants nothing to do with him and to just stay away from their kid when she has it.  That kick in the ... changes him.

Anyway, I would say that this is about as good a Hollywood film about Red-State America as it's probably capable of making, (even) better than Country Strong [2011], that in my early blog-days I really, really liked as well and which all in all also portrayed a white rural South with some complexity and compassion as well.

Very good job!

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Foreigner [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review (S. Abrams) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

The Foreigner [2017] (directed by Martin Campbell, screenplay by David Carboni based on the novel "The Chinaman" [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Stephen Leather [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) spins a pretty good UK / IRA tale while allowing veteran Chinese Hong Kong born actor Jackie Chan [wikip] [IMDb] to play essentially the Liam Neeson roles in the Taken [2008-2014] movies (incidently Halle Barry (!) played a similar role in the recent film Kidnap [2017] reviewed here earlier this year).

In the current film China-born, fled to South Vietnam when young, former U.S. trained South Vietnamese commando then (with his family) VIETNAMESE BOAT PERSON (after the Vietnam War) Quan Nnoc Min (played wonderfully / _credibly_ by Jackie Chan) was trying really hard to put all that painful history behind him and just live _a quiet life_ running a nondescript Chinese restaurant in London when ... his beloved youngest daughter was killed by an utterly random terrorist bomb set by an as yet unheard-of group calling itself "The Authentic IRA."  The IRA "strikes again" in 2017 (!!!)? WT ...

Exactly.  Quan, who has lived through SO MUCH decides that he's had enough.  He still quietly / respectfully goes to the authorities asking the simple question: "Who killed my daughter?"  When the authorities choose to not take him seriously, after catching a seemingly random interview with a Gerry Adams-like [wikip] (former Sinn Fein/IRA turned Northern Irish politician) figure named Liam Hennessey (played excellently by Pierce Brosnan), Quan decides to take his question to him: "Who killed my daughter?"  When Hennessey and his staff initially don't take him seriously either, he decides (progressively) to make them feel his pain.  At every step of the way, he asks his question: "Who killed my daughter?"  After a number of Quan set explosions, and a number of Hennessey's otherwise tough guys being roughed-up (not killed, just roughed-up...), Hennessey and his people "do some research" and start to realize who _they_ are dealing with ... and the rest of the story unspools from there.

It honestly makes for an interesting story.  Requisite for a good UK / IRA story, the Brits are thankfully _not_ portrayed as saints either (the Brits weren't / never were when it came to Ireland) and fascinatingly, as the story progresses, it's Hennessey who initially dismisses Quan as some kooky if colorful "Chinaman" who finds to his horror that _he_ was the one being naive because Quan had his number from the beginning: "Mr Hennessey don't you realize that politics and terrorism are just different ends of the same snake.  In the end, the snake will bite you."  In contrast, Hennessey seemed to be convinced that so long as one holds said snake "from the right end", all would be fine.  Well ...

All it all, it all makes for a well acted / thought-provoking tale ;-)

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women [2017]

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

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

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women [2017] (written and directed by Angela Robinson while CERTAINLY DESERVING of its R-rating (for its self-evidently adult thematics -- open marriage, S&M...) is almost certainly ALSO one of the more compelling North American films of the year.  For this is a film that really does challenge its (Adult) Viewers to go back and review the basic values of traditional Christian morality (the _whys_ of what we believe ...).

The film is about a 1920s-30s era power couple, Harvard psychology Professor William Moulton Marston [wikip] (played in the film by Luke Evans) and his wife Elizabeth Marston [wikip] (played in the film by Rebecca Hall), who worked on and arguably got a doctorate at then Harvard sister school Radcliffe but was never awarded the degree through Harvard ..., who as part of their work in the still nearly infant field of psychology took-on a young research assistant (who began simply as a student in one of Professor Marston's classes) who became a life-long _joint-three-way-lover_ of theirs named Olive Byrne [wikip] (played in the film by Bella Heathcoate).  Later, after their unconventional de-facto polygamous domestic arrangement became known and the Marstons were fired from Harvard, William Moulton Marston, under the pen-name Charles Moulton, became the original creator of the Wonder Woman [wikip] [DC] comic-book character, basing her basing her character on his previous research and, well, the two women in his life.

The challenge to Viewers especially to more traditionally minded Catholic / Christian ones -- even "back in the day," among the more vocal opponents to the imagery / (S&M-ish) thematics of the Wonder Woman comic came from the then Catholic-based Legion of Decency [wikip] -- is to re-iterate what exactly was wrong / at least difficult with the Marstons-Byrne (three-way-including-lesbian) living arrangement.  After all, it was consentual, right?

Here, honestly, it would not be a waste of time to go back and reread Saint John Paul II's [wikip] two principal documents on men and women -- Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women) [1988] and Redemptoris Custos (On the Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church [1989].  In those two documents, Saint John Paul II, sets down the fundamental sources of dignity for both men and women.  For women, in themselves, in simply their intrinsic Potential to give Life whether they actually do / not (in their Virginity or Motherhood) receive their fundamental dignity.    And then for Men, in as much as they Work, or at least in times of unemployment / hardship, _seek work_, do they receive their Dignity as well.  In either case, one does not need to be "great", "famous", "important", "super-capable", etc.  Women IN THEMSELVES and men IN AS MUCH AS THEY APPLY THEMSELVES are valuable, have intrinsic dignity.  The rest does fundamentally does not matter.  Some will find "happiness" / "self-fulfillment" in this world, others will not (for any number of reasons).  But so long as these fundamental conditions are met, ALL ARE VALUABLE.

In this light, while the very _exquisite_ domestic arrangement these three quite elite (wealthy, super-educated) people _perhaps_ made them marginally happier (even if they also suffered as a result of the incomprehension of their neighbors and peers).  The Church concerns itself with the lives of far more regular people than these, people are often put-down / oppressed for far more basic reasons than their rather complex living arrangements.

And I have to admit that my life is filled with far more regular people with far more mundane (but also life giving) concerns than these three.

Further, even Signund Freud's theory _at its base_ provides a rather insightful explanation of why increasing the complexity of our lives won't necessarily make us happier.

As a Carmelite Professor that I had back in the Seminary when we did in fact take a course on the Church and Modern Psychology put it:  "The challenge of the Adult (the Ego) is to find a way to successfully navigate between those THINGS THAT ONE MUST DO (expressed collectively in the Superego) and those things that ONE WOULD LIKE TO DO (one's Id)." No one gets everything that one wants.  And we generally don't even like people who insist on doing everything their way.  An adult is one who finds a way to be both fundamentally happy and yet responsible.

In any case, this film provides an opportunity for Adults (again the R-rating is certainly deserved) to reflect on their lives, and to better understand why we hold the values that we do as well as better appreciate why simply "doing what we want" won't necessarily bring us happiness certainly not without difficulty.  So over all Good / thought-provoking job!

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Mountain Between Us [2017]

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

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

The Mountain Between Us [2017] (directed by Hany Abu-Assad, screenplay by Chris Weitz story by J. Mills Goodloe based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Charles Martin [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is probably the high romance of the season, if not the year, it's chief competitor for this title being The Big Sick [2017]:

Two quite attractive adults, Alex Martin (played by Kate Winslet) a photojournalist, white, and Ben Bass (played by Idris Elba) a neurosurgeon, British of African descent, stuck presumably in Spokane, Washington / Moscow, Idaho, because of an impending blizzard decide on Alex' suggestion to hire a charter plane to Denver before said storm arrives.  He has a surgery to perform in New Jersey the next day, she has her wedding to make.  All goes well until ... the pilot has a heart attack and the plane crashes / they survive up in the heights / wilds of the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho ... in the height of winter.  What to do?  He's strong / thoughtful but cautious, she's injured but more intuitive / willing to take risks (in order to survive).  How are they going to get down the mountain they find themselves on, after they realize all the layers of communication that was available to them (and to even to the pilot) NO ONE really knows that they are up there?  Much ensues ...

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17th Annual Shriekfest L.A.[2017]

Every year, as Halloween approaches, several festivals dedicated to simple / indie often gleefully low budget horror films take place here in Los Angeles and elsewhere ('tis the season ...).  Of the films that played recently at the 17th Annual "Shriekfest L.A.", I was able to view and review the following:

Mercy Christmas [2017] (directed and cowritten by Ryan Nelson along with Beth Levy Nelson) is a quite simple film with a fairly strong message.  It's about a family that would harvest lonely people and otherwise "losers" and then cook them / eat them for Christmas.  True, it's an exaggeration, but that's then what low budget indie horror films often are, and well, the point is well taken / understood.  I've known all kinds of otherwise "good people" who "roasted people" that they didn't understand (and at times have _chosen_ to not understand) in effect forfeiting their "good people" label, though often not understanding what they are doing.  Yes, for a Catholic priest, this film was not easy to watch, but again ... I do, and most others seeing the film would ... understand -- 3 Stars.

The Glass Coffin (orig. El ataúd de cristal) [2016] [IMDb] []* (directed and cowritten by Haritz Zubillaga [IMDb] []* along with Aitor Eneriz [IMDb]) is actually a quite respected horror film that comes from the Basque Country of Spain, about a Spanish actress (played by Paula Bontempi) on her way to receive a "Lifetime Achievement Award" finds herself trapped in her limo and ... forced to confront (fairly / unfairly?) some of the sins of her past.  I suppose the one thing that I would suggest if a North American version of this film were contemplated (especially given the current revelations surrounding Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein [wikip], following other accusations directed at Bill Cosby [wikip] and previously Woody Allen [wikip] and even Roman Polanski [wikip]) that the one being confronted by one's past be _male_ and perhaps even a director / producer.  Otherwise, quite excellent and certainly discussion evoking film -- 3 1/2 Stars  

The Shift [2017] (directed by Louis Benjamin Del Guercio, written by Gregory Alan Ballard) is another fun / low-budget horrow movie, this time of the "SciFi" / "body-snatcher" variety.  Twenty-something Steve and Jeremy, friends from high school days (and played by Reese Mishler and Paul Woodfolk respectively) go on a ride-along with Jeremy's uncle, an Indianapolis P.D. officer, presumably working on a documentary piece on the Indianapolis P.D. find themselves getting more than they bargain for:  At a routine traffic stop, their IPD officer ends up being killed by the person he stopped, who behaves very much like a zombie.  What's going on?  Much often over-the-top / amusing ensues ... ;-) --  3 Stars.

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

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Battle of the Sexes [2017]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (L) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

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

Battle of the Sexes [2017] (directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, written by Simon Beaufoy) proved as many of the reviews above indicated, a surprisingly nice / crowd-pleasing film about an event, that I DO REMEMBER WATCHING (as a 10 year old of Czech immigrant parents; we Czechs do/did love our Tennis...) and do remember wondering (even as said 10 year old) WHY THE HECK THIS MATCH WAS EVEN BEING PLAYED: Billie Jean King [wikip] (played in the film wonderfully, to Oscar consideration heights, as a still wide-eyed 20-something with so much of her life still so far far ahead of her by Emma Stone) was the top women's tennis player in the world at the time and Bobby Riggs [wikip] (played again wonderfully by Steve Carell who has a history of playing these quite challenging / often seemingly, initially anyway, utterly unsympathetic roles) seemed to me (as said 10 year old) as "just a random dude from some random country club" who had decided to propose this insulting match just to, yes, humiliate women.

As such, I didn't exactly "knock the door down" to see this movie.  I saw it at the lowest possible price that I could and at a time that didn't inconvenience me in any conceivable way, AND YET ... I came out LOVING THE FILM and while yes, there's a crowd-pleasing "for the whole (contemporary) family" feel to the film ... I'd consider this to be _one of the best_ North American films of the year, whether it gets Oscar nominations or not.

Why did I like the film so much?  Well, above all because the script (and the actors) HUMANIZED both of the film's central characters.  Billie Jean King [wikip], famously came-out as a lesbian (or at least bi) a number of years after this match.  In doing so, she became probably the most famous openly Lesbian person of her generation and this made her incredibly controversial at the time.

YET the film reminds Viewers that AT THE TIME, she was in good part "just a twenty-something person" STILL HONESTLY TRYING TO FIGURE HERSELF OUT.  All of us are (or will be) "twenty-somethings."  I found Emma Stone's portrayal of  Billie Jean King at that time incredibly NICE / COMPELLING (and it's not often that those two words are put together as such): It's next to impossible to _not wish_ her character well, as all of us who've been "twenty-something" will remember (or are invited to remember) what it was like to still have "the whole world open to you" and still trying to figure-out what role one was going to play in it.  My hat off to Emma Stone and to the film makers here.  This was a beautiful insight into Billie Jean King's character at that time in her life.  And again, one _can not but wish her character well_.

Then Steve Carell's portrayal of Bobby Riggs [wikip] was _also compelling_.  We're reminded that he wasn't "just a random dude from some country club."  He himself had been, okay, a generation before, a US Open and even Wimbledon winner.  Yes, tennis, both men's and women's, had been different then (an "amateur sport" and hence, largely, the province of very, very rich people), but then his challenge to first Margaret Court [wikip] (a tennis rival of Billie Jean King and played in the film by Jessica McNamee) at the time and then Billie Jean King herself was _not random_.  Further, he did have playful / smiling "carnival barker" side to him that was in fact both interesting and even endearing.

And ultimately, circus though it was, this match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs really did "change the world" in a way that TRULY FEW (and I can't think of any others) ever did.  NEVER AGAIN was women's tennis considered _any_ "less of a sport" than men's tennis, an accomplishment that has few equivalents.

What I found remarkable about this film was that it was able to "tell the story" in a thoughtful / challenging way that _still_ allows "the whole family to watch."  GREAT, GREAT JOB ;-)

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