Monday, August 14, 2017

The Glass Castle [2017]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  RogerEbert.com (2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing

Los Angeles Times (J. Walls) author's review of the process of making this film based on her memoir

CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review
RogerEbert.com (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (C. Rife) review


The Glass Castle [2017] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Destin Daniel Cretton [wikip] [IMDb] as well as Andrew Lanham based on the memoir [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Jeannette Walls [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a film that will challenge many of its American Viewers (to say nothing of Viewers overseas, who'd struggle even more than American viewers for a sense of context).

After all, this is a film about a woman, Jeannette Walls (played in the film as a child by Ella Anderson, and later as a teen / adult quite excellently by Brie Larsen) who eventually became a successful GOSSIP COLUMNIST FOR THE NEW YORKER (!) who grew-up in a more or less OBVIOUSLY ABUSIVE non-Conformist yet also Catholic household IN APPALACHIA.

OMG non-Conformist, Catholic, Appalachia ... to many / most American Readers TODAY those three words would seem to be at the far extremes of some bizarre contemporary American ideological triangle.  Yet, all is not what it would rigidly seem in today's American straight-jacketed cultural climate: 

To begin with, while to many today Appalachia would seem to be exclusively the province of bearded and bonnet-wearing, moon-shine swilling still Evolution-denying Evangelical Protestant snake-charming descendants of the Catholic-hating Scots-Irish settlers (read Northern Irish Protestants) who crossed the Appalachian mountains -- eventually kicking out the Cherokees... -- to settle there in the early days of the Republic, many of those West Virginia miners whose jobs Hillary Clinton infamously and perhaps still prematurely foreclosed-upon are actually Catholics of Slavic -- Polish, Slovak, Ukrainian, Belorussian (back in the day called Ruthenian) -- descent.  So there _are_ Catholics in them-thar-hills (and for some it'd be interesting perhaps to research the "contributions" of  these vodka / slivovice drinking peoples to the moonshine culture of the region ;-).

Then while to many, especially non-Catholic, Americans today, the terms "non-Conformist" and "Catholic" would seem like complete / unfathomably polar opposites, that was NOT the case until at least the mid-late-1980s.

[Readers note here that in the mid-1980s, much to truly everybody's surprise, the Reagan Administration reversed two centuries of U.S. foreign policy to establish formal diplomatic relations with the Vatican (something that the Holy See desired for most of those 200 years).  IN RETURN however, up until recently (changing back to the previous norm with the election of Pope Francis), the appointments of Catholic bishops in the United States (which _are_ made by the Vatican), have been ever more conservative ... So was there an informal deal made between the Reagan Administration and the Holy See at that time to change the composition of the US Catholic bishops in a more GOP / right-wing / Conservative friendly direction?  After all, since the late-1980s and up until the election of Pope Francis, pretty much all that the Catholic Bishops in the U.S. have been known to talk about has been about abortion and homosexuality.  In contrast, prior to that, in the early-mid 1980s, the U.S. Catholic Bishops made two very prominent statements one on Peace and the other on Economic Justice.  So a case could be made that such an ever informal and always _deniable_ deal (in return for diplomatic recognition) was made ...].

However, be those "diplomatic / bishops appointment intrigues" as they may, one need only mention the names of people like Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and even Jack Kerouac (who, growing up in a Quebecois household in New York in the 1930s-40s was obviously influenced by the other two, as well as, of course, others like the more conventionally, non-Catholic / classically American writer John Steinbeck) and the "free-spiritness" of Jeannette's parents even as they came from Catholic upbringings no longer seems strange.   A faint if persistent echo of that "radically free-ing" past in 20th century Catholic writing can still be found in the works of people like Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM [wikip] [GR].

However, "non-Conformity" especially when it comes to raising a family has its problems: Rules / social norms _often_ (not always, but _often_) have their basis in the practical experience of a culture (my point being here that rules should be neither blindly accepted nor out-of-hand rejected without serious critical reflection.  Simply rejecting "old rules" out-of-hand negates the accumulated wisdom of a people and needlessly forces descendants to "reinvent the wheel" / "start from scratch"):

Yes, it _would have been_ "nice" from the perspective of Jeanette's parents Rex (played in this film to Oscar nomination worthy heights by Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary (also played excellently by Naomi Watts) to simply live quite the "carefree lives" of beatnik Jack Kerouac or artist Georgia O'Keeffe, but THEY HAD KIDS that they were responsible for, and there are REPEATED instances in this story when VIEWERS are left simply stunned and wondering WHY their kids were not simply taken away from them.

And yet, they weren't (taken away), and that is probably _for the best_.  Rex (and Rose Mary, for that matter) _were_ TERRIBLE PARENTS, but they were -- like all of us -- also _more_ than their (often clear enough) sins / failings.

I live and work very much in this world of complex _real people_.  As such I applaud the honesty and complexity of the presentation.  Otherwise, we'd be forced to watch / read simply sanitized versions of Pleasantville [1998] of one sort or another with the "good people" (idealized according to one or another au currant ideology) and "horned / tailed villains" clearly defined.

So then, this is a simply excellent if, often enough, _difficult to watch_ film and PARENTS NOTE thematically deserving of an R-rating rather than the silly PG-13 that it apparently received.  This film would require an adult, at least in their mid to late 20s, in order to really understand it.  Again, some of the situations, though I suppose _technically_ meeting "PG-13" criteria (technically no blood, nudity or gore), are very difficult to watch.  EXCELLENT though it is, it is not for the squeamish.


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Saturday, August 12, 2017

In this Corner of the World (orig.Kono sekai no katasumi ni) [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Japan Times (M. Schilling) review
South China Morning Post (B. Shin) review

EyeForFilm.co.uk (J. Fae) review
EPUM.com (I. Navarro) review*

Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review
Slant Magazine (C. Bowen) review

In this Corner of the World (orig.Kono sekai no katasumi ni) [2016][IMDb] [wikip] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Sunau Katabuchi [IMDb] along with Chie Uratani [IMDb] based on the manga [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Fumiyo Kouno [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is a truly poignant/lovely if often very sad Japanese animated film about a simple young woman named Suzu (voiced in the Eng. version by Laura Post), with an endearing talent for drawing, who grew-up in a small fishing village on the outskirts of Hiroshima in the years before WW II and then married into a similarly humble family living "on the other side of the mountain" on the outskirts of Kure whose harbor had been a major Japanese Naval Base during WW II.

So the film, which won this year's Japanese Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film, tells the story of World War II (or the experience of it) from the perspective of a quite ordinary young Japanese woman:

Of course she's patriotic: How could she not be?  Her husband Shusaku (voiced in the Eng. version by Todd Haberkorn) was a clerk for the Imperial Navy at the Navel base in Kure, her father-in-law (voiced in the Eng. version by Kirk Thornton) was an engineer at the base as well.  She had a childhood friend who's stationed on a Japanese cruiser.

YET, she also sees hints of problems: When as the War progresses / rationing tightens and she accidently breaks the family's only sugar jar, Suzu's mother-in-law (voiced in the Eng. version by Barbara Goodson) gives her extra money that she had kept in a shoe-box and tells her to go down a seedy part of Kure where she could probably buy replacement sugar on the black market.  Suzu is shocked to see that "if one had the money, war or no war, one could buy basically anything."  Walking home from shady part of town with a bag of black market sugar that she bought for 8x the official price, she gets lost ... winding-up in the seedy part of town's red-light district, where she is helped to get-out by a (foreign?) geisha-girl.  The geisha quite kindly/discreetly tells Suzu that it'd probably "not be a good idea" for Suzu "stay long" in that part of town.

Later, of course, the bombs start falling.  The irony, of course, is that Kure with its Naval base is bombed repeatedly / devastatingly while Hiroshima remains largely untouched and its residents including Suzu's own family repeatedly give assistance to "the poor residents of Kure, across the mountain," until ...

It's a film that does make you want to cry EVEN THOUGH, OF COURSE, the Japanese did terrible things in Korea ("comfort women"), all across China (the Rape of Nanjing ...), the Philippines (Bataan Death March), and across South East Asia (Burma Railway).  But, of course, Suzu wouldn't know any of that ... just that slowly but surely her childhood friends were "not coming back" from the War: Her brother's urn comes back with _only a small rock in it_ ... his ship was sunk somewhere in the Pacific and so, of course, there were no remains to "send back..." but apparently the Imperial Navy felt the need to send the bereaved family "something" to "honor."  And of course the bombing near the end of the War just gets worse and worse.

Yes, I know why the war was fought.  Yes, Imperial Japan did all kinds of terrible things all across their side of the Pacific.  Still ... one can not but feel for this simple Japanese woman and her family living through a war that they certainly didn't start and only really supported because ... they were told to ... by the same kind of authorities (their national leaders at the time) that we ourselves are taught to as-a-matter-of-course ... trust.

A truly fascinating and poignant film, worthy of being seen / reflected upon.


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Friday, August 11, 2017

Kidnap [2017]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review
RogerEbert.com (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review


Kidnap [2017] (directed by Luis Prieto, screenplay by Knate Lee), perhaps in line with the recent commercially successful / far more _critically acclaimed_ "inverted" (and African American-centered) horror dramedy Get Out [2017], could be considered to be a similarly "inverted" version of the Liam Neeson-starring Taken [2010-2014] films, with the (pale / ever deathly serious) ex-CIA assassin Neeson's role played by Halle Berry, playing a humble (and at times quite emotional) New Orleans residing African-American diner waitress in the process of a divorce, whose cute-as-a-button six-year-old African-American boy (rather than "white naive suburban teenage daughter") gets kidnapped, here _not_ by crazed / bearded malevolent terrorist mafia types from the Balkans / Middle East ("expected" to naturally "hate America...") but rather by similarly crazed / bearded malevolent here emphatically _white redneck_ types who could have been extras in Hell's version of Swamp People (and "expected" then to "naturally" hate people of color ...).

I think the critical reactions to the current film need to be taken in light of who the heroes were in this film and who were its villains because as crazy as the car chases were ... they were IMHO _no crazier_ than those in Taken 3 [2014].

I confess, I didn't particularly mind the current film, and kinda enjoyed it.  But I would suggest that Hollywood try to learn a thing or two from the Italians for instance who have made it an art of making compelling (and often very funny) films in which there are no discernable villains at all...

Again, I think I totally get this film, and am happy that it was made (as a fascinating counter-point to such films as the Taken series).  But I do agree the critics above that after making this point, there wasn't much there ... course there wasn't much in the Taken series either 'cept the message of "Be afraid, be very, very afraid ..."

So Two Stars, as I gave the last Taken film.


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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Detroit [2017]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  RogerEbert.com (2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com (A.J. Bastien) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review


Detroit [2017] (directed by Katheryn Bigelow, screenplay by Mark Boal) is a searing movie that has it's place:

The next time President Donald Trump places himself in front a backdrop of police officers PLEASE COUNT THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE OFFICERS OF COLOR PRESENT.  Last week, as he was instructing Police Officers to "not be so nice" to the people that they arrest THERE WERE EXACTLY _ZERO_ POLICE OFFICERS OFFICERS OF COLOR standing behind him (out of at least 100) and only TWO WOMEN (and he gave that speech in Suffolk County on Long Island -- the same county that has "the Hamptons" among its city ... not even remotely resembling America's cities today).

Dear Readers, I asked you to count the number of police officers of color at Trump's police photo-ops because regardless of the current several-years-long wave of shootings of unarmed black men by still generally white police officers, IT COULD STILL HONESTLY BE WORSE:

Today ALL THE MAJOR CITIES OF THE UNITED STATES have thoroughly integrated Police Forces.  I know this first hand because I served in a Parish on the South East Side of Chicago for 12 years, a parish _heavily_ populated by Chicago Police Officers (over 100 families had members of of their families in law enforcement) and 1/2 of those Police Officers were WHITE and 1/2 were HISPANIC, the neighborhood itself being a mix of Hispanic / White.  Statistically, about 40% of Chicago's police force is White, 30% is African American and 30% is Hispanic.

What good is that when unarmed black men still are shot by white police officers?  Well ... again, it could be A LOT WORSE ... FOR ALL CONCERNED.

WITNESS THIS FILM ... Here was Detroit in the 1960s (and it _was_ LIKE THIS IN EVERY OTHER MAJOR CITY IN THE UNITED STATES AT THE TIME) and an OVERWHELMINGLY _WHITE_ POLICE FORCE was being tasked with "policing" NON-WHITE NEIGHBORHOODS where the residents MISTRUSTED / HATED THEM.

And Catholic Readers here remember THIS IS EXACTLY (!!) WHAT BELFAST LOOKED LIKE DURING "THE TROUBLES" IN NORTHERN IRELAND ... only there it was THE OVERWHELMINGLY PROTESTANT "Royal Ulster Constabulary" tasked with "policing" OVERWHELMINGLY CATHOLIC neighborhoods in Belfast / Derry , etc with _similar results_.

There is simply no way to credibly "police" a city when its police come so _obviously_ from only one faction.

Yes, one can demonize the residents of (generally poorer) neighborhoods.  But even the Police themselves (!) are _not safe_ if their membership does not _clearly_ come from a credible cross-section of the city.  (That it itself clearly won't solve a city's crime problems but the situation could only be worse (again, even for the police themselves) if the vast majority of the police force's members come form only one group).

So the current film follows the beginning of the riots / rebellion in Detroit in 1967 and then proceeds to focus on a particularly awful murder of three unarmed black men in a hotel (the police / national came there initially in search of a possible sniper) and the brutalizing of many others, including two white women staying there.

Viewers will easily recognize tragic / unfortunate similarities between our time and then -- most notably that NONE OF THE POLICE OFFICERS INVOLVED IN THOSE MURDERS WERE CONVICTED OF ANY CRIMES -- but HOPEFULLY Viewers will note the differences (that the cities' Police Forces are FAR MORE INTEGRATED and hence CREDIBLE in our cities than in the 1960s).

But PLEASE President Trump: THE NEXT TIME YOU USE THE BACK DROP OF POLICE FOR ONE OF YOUR SPEECHES ... MAKE SURE THAT THE POLICE MAKING THAT BACKDROP ARE A MIX OF THE RACES, ETHNICITIES AND GENDERS THAT MAKE UP THIS COUNTRY.

Because if you don't do that, President Trump, you're dousing still brush-fires (!) with gasoline.

A simply _unforgettable_ film, this current one, and certainly important for our policy makers to see.


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Friday, August 4, 2017

The Dark Tower [2017]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  RogerEbert.com (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

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


The Dark Tower [2017] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Nicolaj Arcel along with Akiva Goldman, Jeff Pinker and Anders Thomas Jensen, based on the series of books [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Stephen King [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]), given its tortured production history -- the project began in 2007 (!) -- can perhaps be forgiven for feeling exactly as it does ... a tired survivor of a Hollywood meat-grinder.

Yet given both the truly legendary successes of previous adaptations of Stephen King's commercial "magical realist" works to the silver screen (oh my, where does one start? -- Carrie [1976] [2013], The Shining [1980], The Shawshank Redemption [1994], complete / continuing (!) lists are maintained on both IMDb and Wikipedia) as well as the specific success of the Dark Tower series of books [wikip], a fertile vein of King's cross-genre (Fantasy, SciFi, Western and Horror) speculative fiction that grew into an OCTOLOGY (!), it was inevitable that _eventually_ A FILM (of some sort...) would be made.  And perhaps the best news for Stephen King fans and then fans of the Dark Tower series in particular is that a parallel television series starring a fair number of the actors in the current film is scheduled for release in 2018.

SOOO ... the final and yet (coming full circle) now _primary_ purpose of the current film comes to be to simply introduce Viewers who haven't have the time (or interest...) to read the whole eight volume series (+ the graphic novels [GR] that apparently the series inspired) to the "world" in which the Dark Tower series plays out.

So then ... said "world" in which the Dark Tower series plays out is actually a MultiVerse (a series of discrete universes that can be passed through, from one to another, through various portals.  At the center of this MultiVerse is a beacon / "tent pole"-like Dark Tower, which (for reasons / by means unclear) keeps the forces of Evil (Entropy?) "outside" the MultiVerse structure allowing it to exist.

The grand conflict in the current story is between an Evil / Nihilistic "wizard" named ... there are SOME who call him "Walter" and others who call him "The Man in Black" played actually quite well by Matthew McConoughey ... who wants to knockdown said tent-pole-like Dark Tower, AND Roland Deschain (played by Idris Elba), the sole surviving Western-style (yet "Knight-like") "Gunslinger" of his world, entrusted to protect his world (and hence, though he does not completely realize this yet, ALL THE OTHER WORLDS of this MultiVerse, including those of Earth AND of that the Dark Tower) from the forces of Evil.

Now why would "Walter" (aka "The Man in Black") want to knock down The Dark Tower?  Well, given his Nihilism, "because it's there" (to be knocked down) and at least in part because he sees this as "inevitable" (and if it's going to be knocked down _eventually_, why not be the one to do so).

The problem is that to knock "The Dark Tower" down, one needs to shell it with _the minds of innocent children_.  So the now Evil and always Nihilistic wizard "Walter" (and his minions) hop (through portals) from one universe to another TO ABDUCT CHILDREN who they then strap to a monstrous machine that would hurl their innocent minds (in SciFi-like catapult fashion...) against this Dark Tower at the Center of "All that Is" (that Tent-like MultiVerse).

And so then this brings the story "down to earth" specifically into the world of random 14-year old New York residing Jake Chambers (played by Tom Taylor) who's being tormented by dreams of a "Dark Tower," a "Man in Black" and a "Gunslinger" and "does not know why," causing him, unsurprisingly, trouble both at home and at school ...

Of course poor-troubled/confused Jake becomes a key figure in "saving the MultiVerse" (even BIGGER than our Universe ;-) from a Fate that most of us, let alone Jake's parents / teachers could POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND ... ;-)

Much, much, much naturally must ensue ... ;-)

Introduced like this, in the fashion above, it does make for one heck of a story ;-) ... but after 10 years of studio-infighting, one just hopes that the ensuing television series does it justice.    

Good job, sort of ;-)


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