Saturday, February 17, 2018

Black Panther [2018]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Black Panther [2018] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Ryan Coogler along with Joe Robert Cole based on the Marvel comic by Stan Lee [wikip] [IMDb] and Jack Kirby [wikip] [IMDb]) premiered in Los Angeles at the annual 26th Annual Pan African Film Festival held at the Rave Cinemas in the Baldwin Hills.  Yes, it was a big deal.

The release of the film was a big deal because it is the first superhero film involving an Afrocentric story and cast.  Yes, the story fits into Marvel Comics' (Avengers) Universe [MC] [Wikip].   But it also stands on its own.

Set largely in a fictionalized kingdom called Wakanda [wikip] [MC] located "somewhere in the mountains of central Africa," a kingdom that was able to cloak its technological prowess (FAR MORE ADVANCED than the rest of the world) from the outside world thanks its sitting on an enormous deposit of "vibranium" a mineral brought to the mountains of Wakanda eons ago by a meteorite.

The mineral proved able to store and redirect energy, which made even ancient Wakandan battle axes and spears more effective than their rivals' weapons.  Over the centuries the Wakandans found all sorts of ways to take advantage of "vibranium's" properties, to build (and again, even _cloak_) their entire technologically advanced civilization based on the material.

The central question facing said Kingdom and especially its Royal Family was the degree that the Kingdom ought to engage with the outside world.

After all, Africa is supposed to be backward and poor.   Indeed recently our  (U.S.) President apparently declared the entire continent of Africa to be made-up of "s-hole" countries... Yet here, in Marvel Universe [MC] [Wikip] was a [fictionalized] country, Wakanda [wikip] [MC], that did not fit the image.

Now truth be told, Africa IS a continent that's ENORMOUSLY RICH in mineral wealth, from OIL to GOLD to DIAMONDS to VARIOUS METALS / SEMICONDUCTIVE SUBSTANCES that drive the world's reusable batteries and cell phones -- A good part of the reason for the nearly decade long conflict in the 1990s across the Democratic Republic of the Congo [wikip] [CIA Factbook] in Central Africa was PRECISELY ABOUT control of those deposits of SEMI-CONDUCTIVE SUBSTANCES present there.  Yet, of course, most Africans remain desperately poor.  Why?

Well, a good part is, of course, the legacy of the exploitation that occurred during the European Colonial Era.  Yet, there remains much more current problem of endemic corruption:

I remember about a decade ago attending a presentation "Bottom of the Barrel" at the annual Catholic Relief Services Conference in Washington D.C. about the oil wealth existing in central West Africa and being surprised to hear the CRS officials asking us to lean on multinational oil companies working in those countries to declare how much oil they were actually extracting in that region.  This was because OIL PRODUCTION STATISTICS WERE ACTUALLY BEING HELD AS _STATE SECRETS_ by VIRTUALLY ALL THE WEST CENTRAL AFRICAN COUNTRIES INVOLVED.  Why?  Well ... the governments of pretty much all of these countries DIDN'T THEIR OWN PEOPLES TO KNOW how much oil was being drilled AND SOLD / EXPORTED out of their countries.  Why?  Because their leaders were pocketing the ABSOLUTELY STUNNING PROFITS from these sales.

And Dear Readers, this is just one commodity -- Oil.  North Africa is sitting on lakes of Oil.  Central Africa has Copper, Chromium, Diamonds various rare semiconductive materials as well as Oil.  Southern Africa has GOLD, Diamonds (again) and Coal. 

So there _is_ an ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF MONEY BEING MADE in Africa, it's just that it's "hidden" (KEPT FROM) the vast majority of its people [Transparency Int'l] [CRS].

Well, in the story here, the fictional mountain kingdom of Wakanda [wikip] [MC], perhaps modeled after some of the more isolated African kingdoms like Lesotho [wikip] [Recent Film] in Southern Africa, untouched by colonization because it seemed just too remote and (unbeknownst to the Western Imperial Powers cloaked by a "vibranium" powered shield) appeared "just as poor" as the rest of Africa to bother with.  This allowed the Kingdom of Wakanda [wikip] [MC] keep its independence and continue its remarkable "vibranium driven" development path, respecting traditional African institutions (notably the Monarchy) free from Western interference.

To be sure, the Wakandians prudently sent both spies and diplomats to the West to learn how things were going in the outside world, but they were _very reluctant_ to share with outsiders as to how things operated at home.  Keeping the level of its technological prowess secret actually proved quite easy as most Westerners considered Wakanda to be "just another poor isolated African "s-hole" of a country ... AND ACTUALLY many Wakandians from the Royal Family on down WERE JUST FINE WITH THAT.  Western dismissive Racism actually kept the Wakandians safe.

Yet even as Wakanda [wikip] [MC] proved capable of keeping the level its technological development a secret ... its diplomats and spies had become keenly aware of the poverty, backwardness and sufferings of their African neighbors and kin.  What to do?

That becomes the central question of the film.  T'Challa who becomes "The Black Panther" King (played by Chadwick Boseman) after his father's death, initially wished to continue to keep the true capabilities of his Kingdom secret.  However, his cousin, M'Baku (played by Winston Duke), whose father had been one of those spies sent out by Wakanda [wikip] [MC] to better learn about the ways of the outside world returns to the Kingdom with the demand that Wakanda use its vibranium-based technological power TO HELP ARM / FREE their African (and African American) brothers and sisters suffering outside.

Also appalled by the way Africans and African Americans are treated, yet wanting to protect his own Kingdom, T'Challa has to "grow into the job" of being King quickly to chart a wise and sustainable course.

The rest of the story ensues ...

Now Dear Readers there are some great performances, often by women, in this film -- notably Leticia Wright's performance as Shuri, T'Challa's ever smiling technologically savy teenage younger sister, Danai Gurira who plays Okuye the head of a bad-A all African female "vibranium spear-wielding" Palace Guard, and Lupita Nyong'o who plays T'Challa's once and presumably future fiancee' Nakia, and as also a trained Wakandian spy, is no wilting flower either. 

Yet, I've chosen to focus my attention on here on the story's central question -- what should a good / wise African "with some means" DO in face of the sufferings of so many Africans and members of the African descended diaspora around the world? -- because it's a question that the Catholic Church has actually challenged Africa's political leaders with as well.  Some 25 years ago, in the aftermath of the Synod on Africa, some of Africa's political leaders (many of which remain in power to this day, or until recently ...) apparently asked then Nigerian Cardinal Arinze: "Do you want us all to become 'Saints'?"  To which he famously responded: "Yes, Africa needs a number of its Leaders to become Saints."

I've noted above that Africa is rich in all kinds of special and often extremely valuable minerals.  There should be a way that this mineral wealth could used to transform the destinies of the vast majority of Africa's people for the better rather than just make a very small number of people (both African and non) mind-bogglingly rich.

Africa does need strong leaders with superhuman wisdom and honesty.  Yes, (like all the world) it needs its Saints [1] [2] [3] [4].

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

The 15:17 to Paris [2018]

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

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

The 15:17 to Paris [2018] (directed by Clint Eastwood, screenplay by Dorothy Blyskal
.based on the book [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spenser Stone and Jeffrey E. Stern [Atlantic] [GR] [Amzn] [IMDb]) despite lackluster reviews (above) is thematically a quintessential Clint Eastwood directed movie (of this time):

For this is the story of three utterly average guys, Anthony SadlerAlek SkarlatosSpenser Stone in their early 20s, okay two of them were in the U.S. military, who knew each other since middle school (the three play themselves as adults, and Paul-Mikél Williams, Bryce Gheisar and William Jennings play them as tweens).  Near the end of a "reunion trip" of sorts -- Stone, a male nurse serving in the U.S. Air Force was stationed in Portugal, Skarlatos took some R&R near the end of his Oregon Army National Guard tour in Afghanistan and together they convinced Sadler, still in college, to "just get himself a credit card" and fly out to meet them in Italy -- while on the 15:17 train from Amsterdam to Paris on August 21, 2015, they found themselves suddenly present to nascent terrorist attack.

A young Moroccan man, Ayoub El Khazzani (played in the film by Ray Corasani), had entered one of the train's bathrooms with his suitcase, pulled-out the weapons / cartridges that he prepared, stepped-out of the bathroom and started shooting.  The first two passengers that he passed, tried to tackle him and one of them was shot / seriously wounded.  But then the three heroes in the film were present a little further down the first compartment that he had entered (and were actually sitting in the wrong part of the train -- they had "cheated," sneaking-up into 1st class to use the train's wifi ;-). THEY charged, tackled and disarmed him.  And Stone though himself somewhat wounded, since he was a nurse, was actually able to save the life of the passenger who first tried to tackle the assailant and had been shot by him.

It all made for A REMARKABLE STORY all the more so because the three really were utterly "regular people" who simply "stepped-up" BIG-TIME in a moment that they needed to.

Yes, a fair number of reviewers complained that the three's lives were perhaps _too average_, BUT THAT WAS CLEARLY Clint Eastwood's point.  These were three regular guys who did EXACTLY THE RIGHT THING in the moment when they were called to do so.

And then honestly, to me, IT DIDN'T HURT THAT THE THREE WERE CHRISTIAN (perhaps even Catholic -- as one of them, again A TOTALLY "REGULAR GUY," liked praying the Prayer of Saint Francis -- "Lord make me an Instrument of your Peace...")

I loved the movie, applaud Clint Eastwood's willingness to do it, and even in the way that he did it, with the three heroes simply playing themselves, and find the film's message VERY VERY NICE -- We all need to be prepared (and brave enough) to do the right thing at the right time when circumstances call us to "step up."

Excellent film / story!

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Friday, February 9, 2018

12 Strong [2018]

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

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

12 Strong [2018] (directed by Nicolai Fuglsig, screenplay by Ted Tally and Peter Craig based on the book The Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Doug Stanton [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) tells the in good part truly remarkable story of a unit of U.S. Special Forces Green Berets, led by Capt. Mitch Nelson (played quite admirably by Chris Hemsworth) who were dropped into Afghanistan some six weeks after 9/11, to link up with a General Dostum (played in the film by Navid Negahban), the leader of one of the factions in Afghanistan's then quite tattered Northern Alliance.

Riding on horseback with said Afghan warriors, while repeatedly calling-in absolutely devastating B-52 airstrikes from the sky, they helped the previously tattered Northern Alliance army capture just IN THREE WEEKS a key Taliban supply choke-point that led to the Taliban regime's collapse in Afghanistan ONLY A FEW MONTHS LATER.

IT IS A REMARKABLE STORY _definitely_ deserving both a best-selling book / film.

But there are some "nagging issues" that _in fairness_ deserve to be mentioned here as well:

(1) We AMERICANS actually _don't_ have a monopoly on these kind of films.  In recent years, RUSSIA, POLAND and even INDIA (and these are just the countries / films that I know of) have made SIMILAR MOVIES involving true stories of individuals and/or units in legitimately "against all odds" situations who "came through for their countrymen-women" or "their country's honor."  These films include:

The Russian film Kandahar (2010)[]*, about the resourcefulness of the members of a Russian civilian flight crew after finding themselves taken hostage by the Taliban in Kandahar in 1995,

the Polish film Karbala [2015], about a Polish unit (as part of the "Coalition of the Willing") in Iraq that held off Sadr's Shiite Militia in that holy city during an uprising there in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, and

the Indian film Airlift (2016) [FiBt] [IMDb] about an initially cynical Indian expat businessman who found himself along with his family trapped in Iraq-occupied Kuwait and who organized the evacuation of some 170,000 of his countrymen-and-women from the country in the weeks just before the commensement of the Persian Gulf War; and

(2) While this film is about a unit of twelve U.S. Green Berets who were dropped into a hostile country where in all honestly, at least initially, they could not trust ANYBODY, what this seemingly "little band" of American soldiers did have is A SKY SEEMINGLY FULL OF B-52 BOMBERS that could be called-in at any time to _absolutely obliterate_ ANYTHING in front of them.

Well that's what we pay for with our Defense dollars.  And in the nearly two decades since 9/11 we've developed a fleet of drones that make even the small squads of human Green Berets largely obsolete.

And I do think that this is (largely) GREAT because it allows our troops to be deployed far more safely than otherwise.

Still to portray this story as an "against all odds" or even "fair fight" is NOT EXACTLY TRUE.  Indeed, there is a dimension to this movie that resembles the still early 1960s era British film Zulu (1964) [wikip] [IMDb] which was apparently made to commemorate the 85th Anniversary of "the stand" during the 1870s-80s "Zulu Wars" of 150 red coated British soldiers who ARMED WITH GATLING GUNS ... "fended off" (cut-down / massacred) hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of (to the British, utterly incomprehensible) spear-and-shield charging Zulu warriors (who were arguably just trying to KEEP THEIR LANDS THEIRS, FREE OF BRITISH IMPERIAL ENCROACHMENT / OCCUPATION).

Anyway, the current film is a compelling story of a squad of 12 American soldiers who (backed by THE WHOLE OF OUR NATION which has invested (probably rightly) so heavily in our Air Force that we literally OWN THE SKY) led a previously tattered rebel Afghan army to victory in a key battle over the Taliban.

IT IS A GREAT STORY, but as much as we'd like it to be, it's not exactly "David and Goliath."  Still I'm certain that the twelve soldiers involved (as well as families) certainly WOULD NOT CARE.  Those B-52s kept those twelve soldiers, OUR twelve soldiers, on task and ... alive.

Good / great job!

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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Have a Nice Day (orig. Hao ji Le) [2017]

MPAA (UR would be R) (4 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (S. Abrams) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Have a Nice Day (orig. Hao ji Le) [2017] (written and directed by Jian Liu) is a fun / irreverent Quentin Tarantino-ish CHINESE INDIE (!) animated film, that "displeased" the censoring authorities in China (it was banned there ;-).

To understand the achievement of this film, think honestly of Quentin Tarantino deciding to set Pulp Fiction [1994] in China's equivalent of (though more prolitarianish) South Park [1997-].  And from this perch of a random Chinese industrial town in the middle of nowhere, the writer / director skewers absolutely everyone / everything, from capitalists to communists to even simple random small-town consumerists.

This is because film is setup with a rather desperate robbery: a construction worker Xiao Zhang (voiced by Zhu Changlong) who also serves as a driver for a local crime boss "Uncle Liu" (voiced by Siming Yang) decides one day to steal a bag filled with money from said crime boss' "bag man."  Why?  He _needs_ (or "needs") money to send his girlfriend all the way to South Korea repair the results of botched, presumably locally-performed, cosmetic surgery...

The robbery sets of in motion the rest of the film as "Uncle Liu," clearly unhappy / "disappointed" sends out his men, notably a normally quite efficient old-time enforcer named "Thin Skin' (voiced by Xiofang Ma) to recover the money.  However, with it becoming known through the grape-vine that "there's a large bag filled with money" out on the streets, all kinds of people, INCLUDING some arguably RELATIVES of poor Xioa Zhang, come out of the woodwork to try to get a hold of that "bag of cash" as well.

In the midst of this all kinds of other smaller "dramas" playout -- two other enforcers for "Uncle Liu" discuss religion: "Tell me, who's bigger? God or the Buddha?"  "I don't know, I'd imagine that they're both BAD-A Dudes."  "Yes, but I want to follow the bigger one." ;-)

Then poor "Thin Skin" on THIS particular day, EVERY TIME, he's about _whack somebody_, gets interrupted by his cell phone: "No I'm NOT interested in any Shanghai investment opportunities _right now_ ..." ;-)

A particular joy is an utterly random Big Lebowski [1998]-like detour / music video which envisions two of the film's characters (the girl is actually related to Xiao Zhang) suddenly being thrown into a EuroVision-like song contest, with the random music video SPECTACULARLY conflating BOLLYWOOD DRAMA / SOUND, still 1950s-60s (Mao era) SOCIALIST-REALIST ICONOGRAPHY with DC / MARVEL COMICS (as well as some traditional Chinese Buddhist / Imperial) IMAGERY thrown in as well.

 That video is a JAW DROPPING experience and about as gleefully "South Park-ish" as it gets.  It alone probably killed (indeed gleefully SELF-IMMOLATED) the film's chances with China's censors ;-).

Anyway, while certainly violent and often gleefully irreverent, hence not for everyone, I LOVED THE FILM, AND ITS MERE EXISTENCE.  For this film reminds us of THE VALUE OF FREEDOM.  Sure the film is often "stupid" but it's a "stupidity" that's often knowing and pointed. And the "powers that be" -- ALL "POWERS THAT BE" -- ought to be BIG ENOUGH to either answer _directly_ the film-makers' challenges (rather than try to "ban" the film, as China's authorities apparently have) or simply laugh along as well saying: "You know, it's a bit more complicated than you portray, but we get your point ..."

GREAT FILM! (if again, NOT for kids and many adults will probably find offence in the film as well ;-).

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Shape of Water [2017]

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

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

The Shape of Water [2017] (directed, story and screenplay cowritten by Guillermo del Toro along with Vanessa Taylor), largely set in a top-secret American Cold War era lab in the 1950s needs to be understood in the context of Guillermo del Toro's similarly magical-realist and similarly visceral Pan's Labyrinth [2006].  If Pan was an clear, utterly unambiguous condemnation of Spain's Franco era, the current film is a similarly utterly unambiguous rejection of the "Make America Great Again" mythology of the current Trump Administration.   For most of us understand this past era of "American Greatness" to be the United States of the 1950s, and here the Mexican-born director insists, indeed DEMANDS, that Viewers take A LONG LOOK at that era and ask themselves honestly: What exactly made THAT ERA "great?"

For in this film, a remarkable and sentient "Frog Man" brought to this "top secret American lab" (from apparently "the Amazon") IN AN INDUSTRIAL WATER TANK AND IN _CHAINS_ was being "studied" (tortured!) by utterly and intellectually LAZY "military scientists" (played by Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Shannon) shielded from any kind of scrutiny by multiple-layers of "classified secrecy."

The ONLY ONES besides these "military scientists" (and, interestingly "the Soviets") who knew that this creature even existed were the "serving staff" (cleaning ladies) that is "people who didn't matter" including African American Zelda Fuller (played by Octavia Spenser) and a deaf-mute woman named Elisa Esposito (played by Sally Hawkins).  And in the "logic of the Cold War" the ONLY THING that seemed to matter was to "protect" knowledge of discovery of this (being TORTURED) "frogman" from "The Soviets" (who of course knew all about it and were busy plotting ways TO SIMPLY KILL THE "FROG MAN" so as to deprive the Americans of "their prize").

Wow, what a "Great Era?"  And lest there be any doubt of the writer / director's intention to DRIVE A STAKE INTO THE HEART OF THE COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS "NOSTALGIC MEMORY" OF THAT ERA, there's a scene in a diner in which one of those torturing "military scientists," himself a tortured closeted gay man, tries to "pick-up" one of the serving hands at said diner, only to be horrifically rejected (the male-waiter responds _hysterically_ to the gay, tortured scientist's advance) BUT NOT BEFORE the waiter CHASES OUT A NICE. WELL-DRESSED AFRICAN AMERICAN MARRIED COUPLE THAT HAD THE AUDACITY OF WANTING TO SIT AT DINER'S COUNTER.  "All the seats are reserved," the waiter yells at them (the place except for the tortured gay, military scientist, getting-up the courage to hit-on said waiter, WAS EMPTY).  "Well, for when can we get a reservation?" the couple asks.  "I don't know, for you, I'd probably say ... never."


Now, the film Mud Bound [2017], canvases similar ground and also, by the end, quite unforgettably.  I suppose the question that potential Viewers of the current film ought to ask themselves before attending it would be: Will the 1950s-era Sci-Fi-ish aesthetics of the current film be "distracting" to you?  Arguably, the film is a contempoary retelling of The Creature From the Black Lagoon [1954].  If the potential Viewer who wouldn't mind the somewhat corny aesthetics (and the hammer-over-the-head thematics), chances are that the potential Viewer would very much like the film.  If not, then ...

In any case, this is a well-thought-out and brilliantly executed "magical realist" / "scify-ish" fable.  It's not for everyone, but few could really accuse it of being "dumb."  And it's certainly one of the most compelling films of the year.

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The Road Movie [2016]

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

IMDb listing

Los Angeles Times (R. Abele) review
New York Times (T. Bugbee) review (V. Murthi) review

The Road Movie [2016] (directed by Dmitrii Kalashnikov) is a guilty pleasure of a movie (though also informative in its own way).  A documentary made entirely from Russian dashcam video clips, the film quite literally becomes a "window to a world" that most Viewers, certainly from the West, would not particularly know.  The "limits of the genre" (dashcam videos)  and subgenre (dashcam videos that generally younger youtube / "vkontakte" ... "OMG that really happened (to us)..." savy Russians" would find compelling) necessarily present a Russia of mayhem ("OMG, these people are crazy...") BUT also a Russia that most of us here would not know ("OMG, THERE IS a LOT OF SNOW in Russia" ;-) // "OMG, I didn't fully appreciate / realize that Russia today, like any other modern country, would have a lot of cars / roads even out in the countryside."  Honestly, these last two points, I did not really appreciate until seeing this film).

So I have to say that this movie, in as much as one could catch it at an "art-house cinema" somewhere in the West, or later, on DVD / streaming video on Amazon / Netflix , perhaps Vimeo, etc, is worth the trouble of seeing.  This is because Russia, as important a country that it is in the world, remains quite inaccessible.  The Russian movies that do make it to Western theaters are often limited in theme, generally ponderous Epics or perhaps like this one of a sullen, "Road Warrior" bent. 

There's of course a much larger Russian film industry than that which makes films portraying Russians as sad / depressed "Ana Karenina"-like victims or as "tough, even frightening people (Stalingrad survivors and children / grandchildren of Stalingrad survivors) who one would NOT want to mess with."  But those films -- including Russian comedies [1] [2], RomComs, Twilight Saga-like YA romances [1] [2], and tech-savy YA adventure stories -- are often hard to find... in the West.  For a couple of years, I tried offering an annual "Russian Film Tour" on my blog, offering Readers here an opportunity to see more of Russia than the scary and or depressed.  But this year, it proved hard to find subtitle files (even to machine translate into English) for such films. 

I FIND THIS UNFORTUNATE because while I do understand that Putin's Regime MAY FEEL that the West has fundamentally underestimated / dismissed Russia as "backward" and therefore MAY FEEL that "if we can't be LOVED, then let us at least be FEARED" (hence the Russian-end promotion into the West of their more PONDEROUS and often FEARSOME films). 

However, I do honestly believe that taking the other tack -- presenting Russians as REGULAR PEOPLE who LOVE, ARE FUNNY, PLAY VIDEO GAMES -- would be better for all concerned and, honestly, support the cause of World Peace.  For honestly, if Russians are portrayed simply as "stalkers of ghostly Tiger Tanks" or survivors of "a REAL (WW II-era) Hunger Games," then this just SCARES PEOPLE and makes them _less likely_ to want to interact with Russians in a positive way.  I think it'd be much better to encourage people to remember that Russians (like ALL PEOPLE) have ... MOMS who love them like our moms love us. 

Anyway, I quite enjoyed the current film, entirely composed of clips from Russian dashcam videos.  I just wish we could see MUCH MORE OF RUSSIA than just these quite limited clips.

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Maze Runner: The Death Cure [2018]

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

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. MacAleer) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review

Note: This Review DOES CONTAIN SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS but only because, honestly, there's little way else to talk about the way this film / series ends and, perhaps, more importantly WHY it ends in the way that it does.  (It's actually quite interesting, IMHO ...)

Maze Runner: The Death Cure [2018] (directed by Wes Ball screenplay by T.S. Nowlin based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by James Dashner [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is the final cinematic installment of the dystopian teen-oriented Maze Runner [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] series, the previous cinematic installments The Maze Runner [2014] and Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials [2015] having been released in years previous.

Die hard / devoted fans of the book series and even the previous movies will probably be happy that the see that this series was able to come to a cinematic conclusion even if it appears that with the Divergent series' flame-out (after the disappointing reviews / box office numbers of the third installment of that series, the fourth film in that series remains yet to be made) Hollywood is apparently becoming more skittish in green-lighting these special-effects heavy and thematically surprising ("teenage apocalypse...") projects.

It appears that with the completion of the Hunger Games cycle (and honestly, _that_ became a slog...), our teens (and indeed the world's teens) have "moved on."  Yes, the Marvel Comics based films continue to do well, but then THOSE FILMS TEND TO BE _HAPPIER_.

To the current franchise / story ...

In the second installment, we came to understand better _why_ the society portrayed in The Maze Runner would have resorted to putting seemingly _random_ teenagers into a bizarre "Maze" (to either figure-out how to get out of said maze, or ... eventually, in one way or another ... DIE): The society resorting to this was desperately messed-up, trying to fight-off a truly civilization threatening ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE (!) ;-).  I suppose if a civilization was truly facing a "Zombie Apocalypse," it would come up with ALL KINDS OF BIZARRE IDEAS as to "how to combat it" ... including putting _random teenagers_ INTO A GIANT MAZE in hopes that SOMEHOW _they_ would "come up with something that _could_ help." ;-)

Still, once one drops the Z-bomb ... where else can one really go?   So the first half of the current film could be described as Zombieland [2009] meets Mad Max: Fury Road [2015] with an extended desert car / train chase scene that ultimately ... doesn't make a whole lot of sense, BUT ... looks "really, really cool." ;-)

Then the second half of the film involves an extended Zombies (here called "Cranks") breaching the Walls of a still modern and previously "protected" city, perhaps recalling the final Ceaucescu / Stalingrad-ish climax of the Hunger Games [2015].  'Cept the battle here seemed to have no purpose except result in the inevitable deaths of some of the series' Evil-doers.

The "cure" for Zombie-ism, as far as I could see (so this MAY be a spoiler or MAY NOT be ... ;-) turns out to be about as random as the "Maze solution" that had been proposed by some of those evil doctors who die in that final battle.

So I suppose I can report that "all ends well" at the end here.  But honestly, most viewers will probably leave wondering: WHY (did it end well)?

But THAT may have been the film-makers' / story-tellers' POINT HERE:  Sometimes TERRIBLE THINGS HAPPEN, not just to people but even to entire civilizations, and ... then ... those terrible things ... JUST STOP and ... Life can go on again.

So is this a happy ending?  Maybe, sort of, but ... I certainly left wondering ... Why?  Why did ANY OF THE STORY TAKE PLACE?  How did the plague start and why did it apparently ... stop?  BUT AGAIN, that seems to be the point being made.  Sometimes ... we just don't know.

Bummer.  Maybe ;-).  But THANKFULLY ... it's all over ;-).

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