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Snapshots - #38: Only the Brave, Jane, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

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Only the Brave (2017), (♦♦♦♦): Based on the true story of the effort it took to get a municipal crew of firefighters from Prescott, Arizona, certified as Hotshots. After battling thousands of wildfires since their inception, the Granite Mountain Hotshots answered a call to battle the Yarnell Hill fire—about 30 miles away from Prescott—along with several other crews. How they got to that point and what happened is what this movie is about.
Only the Brave is a drama with some thriller on the side, and excellent performances to boast of. It's got a dynamic pace, engaging plot, amazing shots of wildfires, fun camaraderie, and great music to underscore the action. As an audience, we care for the journey of that crew, individually and as a group, and as heartbreaking as the closing scenes are, we stand in awe at the sacrifices that firefighters and their families make every day of their lives. Only the Brave is a darn great tribute to them, and elite firefighters such as the Granite Moun…

The Cloister by James Carroll (♦♦♦♦)

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In the second decade of the 12th century, at the height of his fame, Church scholar, theologian, Benedictine monk Peter Abelard engaged in a passionate love affair with his young disciple, Héloïse. For them, their carnal love was an expression of the divine, but their liaison was thwarted in more ways than one, for Héloïse’s uncle avenged that debt of honor, while Church authorities banished Abelard from the pulpit, first, for his desecration of his chastity vows, and, twenty years later, for heresy—his emphasis on reason to explain Church doctrine, his rumored friendship with the Judaic community of France, and his vehement defense of it against the sanctioned practices of the Church, were points of contention.
In modern day Manhattan (c. 1950), Catholic priest Michael Kavanagh is celebrating a Mass when a friend he hadn’t seen since his days as a Seminarian refuses to take communion from him. Father Kavanagh follows his friend to Inwood Park, where, amidst a sudden rainstorm, he take…

Snapshots - #37: It, Breathe, Mark Felt – The Man Who Brought Down the White House

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It (2017), (♦♦♦♦): Four inseparable friends in middle school bond with other three newcomers. They all have in common that they are bullied by the same people. Over the course of one summer they'll fend off bullies and face a centuries-old demon in the form of a clown, named Pennywise, whom has been disappearing kids and terrorizing the town of Derry, Maine, every twenty-seven years since the town was founded.
Based on Stephen King's novel of the same title, It is a movie with a smart script and a sympathetic ensemble of nerds that deliver light humor, and deep thrills. It doesn't hurt that each and every character has his or her own arc, thus one gets to know their motivations and fears before Pennywise enters head on into the picture.
In a nod to 1980s movie classics such as The Goonies, and the Brat Pack ensemble, the newest adaptation of It takes place at the end of that decade, when it seems, at least from the Hollywood perspective, that every kid harbored a genius insi…

A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin (♦♦♦♦)

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Milo Andret, only child of a rather unusual couple, grew up in the woods of northern Michigan in the 1950s. His parents’ lack of supervision gave him the freedom to roam the woods at length, and an unusual depth of mind and unique orientation skills developed in consequence. With the years, Milo developed an interest in mathematics and was admitted to UC Berkely as a graduate student. The Chairman recognized himself in Milo and steered him towards the research field that would him eventually earn him the Fields Medal.
Though not entirely popular, as a graduate student at Berkely and later as an assistant professor at Princeton, his savant mind garnered him praise, but in the California of the 1970s, Milo discovered the pleasures of the flesh and the dangerous allure of drugs and alcohol; the latter would become a demon that would derail his career and affect two more generations of his descendants.
I seem to have gravitated towards books on ‘people fighting their demons’ since the start…

Snapshots - #36: Detroit, The Foreigner, The People Vs. Fritz Bauer

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Detroit (♦♦♦♦):In July, 1967, the city of Detroit became the epicenter of racial riots by a black population that had become increasingly marginalized while being policed by an abusive, white police force. The protests spiraled into looting and violence, and eventually the National Guard stepped in.
On the periphery of the Algiers Motel, a group of National Guardsmen reported sniper fire believed to be coming from the Algiers Motel. Rooms were searched but no weapons were found. Meanwhile, a few policemen engaged in what they called a "death game": the torture of a group of black men and two white women who were guests at the place.
I'll never understand why social movements of whatever ideology start with rightful civil disobedience and become headless mobs capable of looting and criminal activity. 1967's Chicago protests, though born from injustice, were no different. What was significant was the violation of those men and women's civil rights by a police force t…

Snapshots - #35: Marshall, American Made, The Glass Castle

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The movies…
Marshall (♦♦♦♦): Black lawyer Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) is entrusted by the NCAAP to defend a black chauffeur (Sterling K. Brown) in Greenwich, CT, who has been accused of rape by his white employer. As Marshall is not allowed by the judge as legal counsel because he doesn't hold a CT license, he engages, reluctantly on both sides, the service of Jewish insurance lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), whom, with Marshall's help, will have to acquire criminal defense experience in a matter of months. But as the case is tried in court, it becomes evident that it is anything but cut and dry. Powerfully acted by Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, and Sterling K. Brown in the leading roles, Marshall treads a fine line between inspiring legal thriller and drama. On both counts it delivers in spades. Based on a true story, with race and bigotry fueling public opinion, before the apogee of the Civil Rights Movement, this accused black man is doomed from the start. A full century…

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden: Stories by Denis Johnson (♦♦♦♦½)

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The Largesse of the Sea Maiden is a collection of five stories varying in themes, styles, and lengths. Some were naturally more successful than others, but all were of great quality. The ones that resonated with me most were the three last ones, curiously the atmospheric ones with more somber undertones. Without further ado, I give you my impressions.
I. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden The Largesse of the Sea Maiden is an introspective and vividly described collection of ten vignettes, some short, some longer, around a central character who narrates the stories, and whom we get to know in stages. His name is not revealed until the final story. Starting with the first vignette titled Silences, each successive one is connected to the previous one and occasionally to the one after, by an underlying theme however tenuous.
I liked some stories more than others, the longer ones in particular, because they allowed fuller development of the theme explored. Accomplices was insightful and very acco…

Snapshots - #34: Goodbye Christopher Robin, Loving Vincent, Dunkirk

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The movies… Goodbye Christopher Robin (♦♦♦♦): The interactions between writer Alan A. Milne and his young son Christopher Robin give birth to the story of the bear Winnie the Pooh and his cast of friends in the Hundred Acres Wood. But, as the book takes a life of its own, it also impacts the family in ways they could not have foreseen. Goodbye Christopher Robin more or less opens with a minimal showing of war scenes to illustrate that writer A.A. Milne is traumatized after his participation in the First World War. He dreads the buzzing of flies and bees, the sound of popped balloons... In that endeavor, the film is moderately successful, as is portraying Daphne, Milne's wife, as a frivolous woman when she points out that no one wants to hear of what happened during the war, or think about the losses. Goodbye Christopher Robin succeeds best when it is not taking itself too seriously, such as in the moments Daphne (Margot Robbie) channels the voices of Christopher Robin's plush ani…

Top Films of 2017 (Available for Rent Up to December 31, 2017)

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I watched an impressive 65 movies available for rent up to December 31, 2017. Out those 65, I wrote mini-reviews of 27 of them in the feature “Snapshots”, with four more mini-reviews pending—two of them already included here—to be highlighted in two upcoming features. Since I didn’t visit the cinema to watch the releases that typically make it to the awards shows, I compiled this list based on the movies that were available for rent up to year’s end. I’ll update it between the months of May and June of 2018 when all the award season titles will most likely be available for rent. This list follows the order in which I saw the movies. A Dog's Purpose (♦♦♦♦): This family drama is a dog-lover dream came true, but, if my experience is any indication, it will make you cry several times during the viewing. The film has heart, and some sugary moments, not many by the way, but you'll likely adore it, as did I. The Founder (♦♦♦♦): This story on how the McDonald's conglomerate came to b…