SAM AND ELVIS: EXCELLENT PRO-LIFE INDIE ABOUT A TEEN, HER AUNT AND A STUFFED DOG *

SHORT TAKE:

Well made indie film about the relationship between a foster teen, her eccentric aunt, and a pro-life message.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Older teens and up for some mild cussing but mostly for the conversation and plot topics of family violence and teen sexuality.

LONG TAKE:

Who would have thought you could make a charming (mostly) family friendly comedy about a dead dog, an abused foster child, and her eccentric aunt. Well writer-director Jeffrey Ault manages to do just that in the movie Sam and Elvis. Based on Susan Price Monnot’s play titled Dead Dogs Don’t Fart, the story is about a bright but defensive and hostile orphaned foster teenager named Samantha played by Marcela Griebler placed in the care of her Aunt Olina played by Sally Daykin who in turn lives alone with her taxidermied dog Elvis.

This little indie film starts off a bit clunky as Olina expresses her doubts to Elvis, avoids an incessantly ringing phone and eats the random junk food she finds about her cluttered home. However, it finds its footing quickly once the aunt and her ward are brought together and bounce their strong personalities against each other.

The acting demands occasionally become significant but newcomer Griebler holds her own. Rounding out the cast are Pete Penuel as Larry, Olina’s platonic friend and Sara Hood as Rebecca, the well-intentioned and overly sincere but somewhat inept social worker who serves as occasional comic relief.

Ault uses simple and natural settings and clothes that likely came out of the actors own wardrobes. This is to the plus, as the focus is correctly placed on the relationships involved. The other production values like cinematography, sound and the background music are sterling and perfectly meet the mood of this small gem filmed almost entirely within Olina’s house.

People speak their minds in Sam and Elvis. No polite pussy footing around impolite or bad behavior. No tip toeing around differences of opinion. And in this there is a large plus in the negative.

What I mean by that is – despite circumstances which emerge in the plot, which I won’t divulge but you can easily guess, at no time does anyone consider abortion as an option for anyone. At no time is it suggested that an unborn baby is merely a “fetus” or some other euphemism for unborn child, which circumlocution liberals and pro-death dealers fling around like a shield to disguise the holocaust level murders they champion. A baby is called a baby regardless of whether it is in or out of a womb. And that is a breath of fresh air.

There is a bit of mild cussing sprinkled throughout and the topics of domestic abuse and teen sexuality make Sam and Elvis inappropriate for younger teens. But the powerful message of familial bonds and respect for life shine forward making Sam and Elvis a definitely should-see film.

* AND IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THIS MOVIE PLEASE CHECK OUT UNPLANNED – THE STORY OF ABBY JOHNSON, THE FORMER ABORTION ACTIVIST AND DIRECTOR OF THE PLANNED PARENTHOOD FACILITY IN BRYAN, TEXAS, WHO CONVERTED TO THE PRO-LIFE MOVEMENT IN ONE EPIPHANAL MOMENT.

TULLY – AN UNUSUALLY HONEST AND FRANK LOOK AT MOTHERHOOD

SHORT TAKE:

Well done and insightful view of an ordinary family undergoing a crisis as an exhausted and post-partum depressive mom deals with three children, including one who is a special needs and another a newborn, by welcoming a "night nanny" into her life.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

Adults only. Language gets raw under stress and sexuality is openly discussed, including the mom's habit of watching a porno reality site called Gigolos.

LONG TAKE:

When our oldest son was only a few months old he gave up sleeping. I discovered that going without sleep for months can make you hallucinate. I started seeing things out of the corner of my eye I knew were not there. Fortunately, I had a very supportive husband who helped me get the household and his sleeping habits under control.

OBLIQUE SPOILER

Marlo (Charlize Theron) has a similar problem. On top of the responsibilities of a newborn and a first grader, she also cares for a special needs kindergarten aged son who everyone identifies merely as "quirky" so does not really get the help he needs, she holds down a full time job, and her husband's demanding job requires he goes out of town often. With a history of detail-mysterious severe post-partum depression, her concerned and wealthy brother, Craig (Mark Duplass) offers to hire a "night nanny" for them. Marlo's pride gets in the way at first, but eventually one arrives. Her name is Tully (MacKenzie Davis) and she is a twenty something free spirit who seems to understand Marlo to her core. The two women bond immediately and Tully does a good job of caring for their new baby, cleaning the disaster that had become their house and even makes cupcakes for Marlo's children's classmates – all the things that Marlo feels guilty for not having done.

One of the great thngs about Tully is the ordinariness of the house, the kitchen, the bedroom and the people. Theron gained 50 pounds for the role. She, personally, has two adopted children so has never been pregnant but you'd never know it. We have six children and breast fed them all. So I know what a post-partum body looks like and Ms. Theron, baring almost all, certainly LOOKS like she has a genuine maternal belly. And the scenes with the leaking, pumping, breastfeeding are very very familiar. I say this to note that while the script reaches into the reality of the struggles of parenthood, the film makers go to great lengths to present what looks like an authentic family dynamic.

Ms. Theron carries most of the water in Tully and is amazing. She is one of those truly talented actors who do not mind making herself look ugly for a role. While she can be convincing as the almost supernaturally athletic spy in Atomic Blonde and convincingly sexual magnet in Gringo, here she looks like any other mother who just gave birth, including flabby tunmmy and leaky boobs. In one very funny scene her kindergartener spills a glass of juice on the dinner table and all over her. In a state of apathetic exhustaion she simply strips off her shirt and sits almost catatonically at the table. Her grade school daughter takes one look at her and innocently asks: "Mom, what's wrong with your body?"

So, for all of the occasionally dark tinged situations, this is not a depressing movie. In many ways it is a comedy – though a subtle one. And be aware, there are some seemingly startling or even shocking things that happen during the movie. But stick with it – things are not always as shocking as they appear. Tully is, ultimately, a very family, marriage, child and life affirming movie wherein normal people deal with every day challenges in their own creative ways. The people in the family strive to stay close and keep it working and stable the best way they know how. Tully advocates for the value of a family, warts and all.  In Tully, the spouses – Marlo and Drew – care about each other and their children very much. The couple has each learned from the failures of their parents' broken marriages and Drew loves and is faithful to Marlo despite her occasionally fragile mental state. They are supportive and kind to each other and to the children, tryng their best to be good attentive parents. This is greatly refreshing and necessary in a culture which promotes popular media in which the father is often marginalized, and the marriage is often portrayed as broken or only one in a cascading list of failures.

If the movie has one great flaw it is in not showing more of the beautiful ecstacy that can be parenthood – the joy of holding a newborn, the miracle of which never grows old. The story examines Marlo's overburdened exhausted life but rarely any of the blissful moments of bonding with the mom, dad and the newborn. There is also, to its detriment, no reference to the core values of any kind of spiritual life, which would have gone a long way to ameliorating Marlo's pain and depression.

As all of us, coming from our own unique brand of family, knows – it is not always easy and it is not always obvious, but, more often that not, families are, as Carly Simon once famously sang – "the stuff that dreams are made of."

BLADE RUNNER 2049

statute

SHORT TAKE:

Sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 release – Blade Runner – Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is visually stunning as it continues in the original’s futuristic neo-noir style, picking up 30 years after the end of the first Blade Runner. Despite plot holes, preposterous coincidences required to propel the story and some internal contradictions, it is an interesting adult viewing if you don’t mind watching a movie the way one might stop and contemplate a mesmerizing painting at a museum.

LONG TAKE:

I will try to avoid revealing anything in Blade Runner 2049 that is not shown in the trailer.

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FULL SPOILERS FOR THE ORIGINAL BLADE RUNNER: The original Blade Runner, which came out in 1982, had a clear plot: replicants, self aware engineered human appearing creatures – Pris (Darryl Hannah), Roy (Rutger Hauer) and others – have limited 4 year life spans but extraordinary strength, speed and intelligence. They become “disenchanted” with being slaves on off planet colonies. They revolt, kill their keepers and come to Earth seeking to have their lives extended by their makers. When their Creator – Tyrell – either won’t or can’t upgrade them, they kill him. Deckard (Harrison Ford), the Blade Runner/replicant killer hunts them down and “retires” them one by one. Eventually in a face to face confrontation Roy gains the upper hand but in a final act of mercy, saves Deckard’s life by preventing him from falling off a building. Then, like a clockwork toy, Roy runs out of time and simply expires. Deckard runs away with Rachael, who is a replicant without the life span limit. The movie ends with their fate unknown and a final question unanswered – was Deckard a human or another replicant? Essentially a Bogart-like detective noir film including femme fatale and cynical narration by the protagonist updated to a dystopian future with flying cars and hologram advertisements in a depressing (“Hong Kong on a bad day” to quote director Ridley Scott) cityscape where it is always raining.

The story line of Blade Runner’s sequel, Blade Runner: 2049 is not quite as easy to follow.

While there are some spoiler-ish comments I need to make I will try to negotiate the territory between being too oblique and revealing secrets but not ruining any serious plot points. This will, unfortunately require some vaguery on my part.

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The new 2017 Blade Runner: 2049 starts similarly to the original, where the new blade runner, K (later called Joe) (Ryan Gosling), hunts down a rogue replicant. The replicant is hiding out in an unforgiving barren area raising grubs on a protein farm. If you couldn’t figure out Joe was a replicant within the first 45 seconds from his conversation with Joshi (Robin Wright) his handler/boss, then the beating Joe survives while bringing down bautistaDave Bautista’s character Sapper would definitely be a clue.

The subsequent plot is dependent on so many wildly unlikely coincidences that when it turns out there is no mastermind leaving bread crumbs it leaves one with a sense of disillusionment about their universe.

And although I appreciate a script writer who trusts their audience to accept certain unfamiliar details which make up the background to any futuristic, or sci fi story, there is a fine line between not spelling out everything and not explaining what the heck is going on.

An example of the puzzling backdrop is the “debriefing” Joe gets when he returns. He sits in an empty room and is barraged with a series of sentences to which he repeats certain words and phrases. Joshi comments afterwards on the results of his debriefing as good. But there is little context for the audience to appreciate what it means so that later, when Joe has a “bad” debriefing, I really couldn’t tell the difference. There were no hints as to what the debriefing meant so Joshi’s reference to a possible extreme reprisal for a continued inability to follow the “baseline” really didn’t mean anything to us. A little background would have gone a long way to making the test results have more impact.

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Elsewhere, the megalomaniac brilliant inventor of the modern replicants – Wallace (Jared Leto) – wildly successful, wealthy, and powerful, meets one of his new “born” replicants. He monologues to his female psycho hench woman, Luv, about how difficult it is to make enough replicants and how he thinks of them as his children, then coldly stabs the helpless newly formed replicant to death. OK, I get it, the guy’s a genius nutburger, but the track of his soliloque just was not tending in that direction so her death was more confusing than shocking and there was certainly no sense of suspense.

JoshiThere is a secret revealed by Joe’s unique abilities in a preposterous series of events which sets the majority of the plot in motion. Joshi is horrified but it is obviously something that Wallace would want to make use of. Joe is tasked by Joshi to root out the source. Neither Joshi nor Wallace have the moral ground in this. One wants to destroy an innocent, the other exploit that innocent to enhance their culture’s slave society. Joshi’s concern about “the secret” and Wallace’s desire to foster it seem to be at odds, which is another point of confusion as Wallace seems to be in a position to control everything including the police, making all the subsequent cloak and dagger of the rest of the movie unnecessary.

Further, given the entrenched class structure of this casually cruel society, I was unconvinced that the revelation of the secret to the public would have had the kind of dire consequences which would make the extremes to which Joshi asks Joe to go be required. Conversely, the attention Joshi brings to the “secret” by sending Joe after the source creates the very problem she claims to want to avoid. No exposition is offered to clarify any of these points relating to the “secret”.

Also, there is some debate as to whether the use of this “secret” which Wallace so wants to capture would aid or destroy his empire. AND – it is unclear how Wallace found out about this “secret”. Either he has so much access to so much information that he would already know where this “secret” is or he would not even know about the “secret” much less Joe’s involvement in it. Either Wallace is borderline omniscient or he isn’t – make up your mind. And what is it with his eyes? Is HE supposed to be some kind of replicant that perhaps Tyrell created – which would explain his inside information, gifted research abilities AND weird eyes – but this potential plot point is never so much as hinted at.

K is supposed to be a “new” replicant which is designed to obey. But later K doesn’t always obey and even lies to Joshi.

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The replicant hench woman of Wallace, Luv, cries when Wallace kills a replicant but then is randomly and pointlessly cruel, including to other replicants. This cruelty is not instructed by Wallace nor inherent in replicants. If the replicants of this era are supposed to be held in such a tight rein of obedience these acts make no sense.

Joe fakes another character’s death then brings that character to an extremely high surveillance area to meet someone important to the Wallace corporation. This would be like taking someone in the witness protection program on a tour of the White House and encouraging them to sneak into the Oval Office to say “Hi” to President Trump and expect their identity will remain a secret.

There are other similarly nonsensical actions taken by characters which left me wondering if the writers thought the amazing scenery would distract sufficiently from the sloppy plot points.

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HOWEVER – These critiques are not to say that Blade Runner: 2049 is not a decent to good movie. The visuals alone are worth the price of admission. Villeneuve faithfully recreates Ridley Scott’s vision, ambiance, and mood. The acting is stylized but excellent, especially Gosling. joe w joihologramHe does a lot despite his character’s inherent reluctance to express much obvious emotion.

And those of us with serious trivia issues will note that one very poignant moment in Blade Runner: 2049 features music from an equally poignant moment from the original Blade Runner. I won’t say the name of the bit of music as that would be telling, but fans of the first outing should recognize it when it happens. (If you REALLY want to know I will spoiler below.)

It is a stunning, surreal world which director Denis Villeneuve creates. But anyone expecting a rollicking sci fi the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy or Star Wars will likely fall asleep. The pacing is that of a performance artist whose every movement is intended to mean something so strikes poses and stands, statue-like, long enough for their audience to appreciate and think about what they are seeing.

There is a good deal of gory violence though the worst is done out of visual sight. There is some profanity, graphic moments of sex seen through almost opaque windows and a lot of naked holograms whose full frontal is frequently avoided only by inches.

The Blade Runner universe is a specific genre in science fiction – ground breaking in 1982, somewhat derivative in 2017. And while my viewing companions thought the movie had a clean ending, I thought the writer left major opportunities begging for another sequel.

Hope I have been sufficiently vague enough to prevent giving away too much to this peculiarly engrossing yet perplexingly convoluted story.

And OK – this seriously annoyed movie mavin mom will give one BIG SPOILER … more like an UN-SPOILER ——– duly ignoring Ridley Scott’s pronouncement as just another opinion despite the fact he was the original film’s director — after 30 years of waiting we STILL do not definitively know whether Deckard is a replicant or not!!!!!! ARGGGGGH!

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MUSIC RELATED SPOILER – BIG SPOILERS – BIG BIG SPOILERS – BE SURE YOU HAVE EITHER SEEN 2049 OR DO NOT CARE IF MAJOR PLOT POINTS ARE REVEALED TO YOU —- OK –  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED: The "Tears in the Rain" motif by Vangelis, played when Roy dies at the end of Blade Runner is again heard when Joe, seriously (mortally??) wounded, lies on steps leading up to the building into which he has sent Deckard to look for his daughter. He stares, wistfully, up into the falling snow. We are left wondering if Joe will die. Deckard does not know how badly Joe has been hurt but Joe has survived some savage injuries during the course of the movie so……?

IN PRAGMATIC DEFENSE OF TWILIGHT

Bella and Edward

"….not only would I recommend this rather awful film series but had I the authority I'd be tempted to make it required watching for teens."

To quote my favorite expression from the re-booted Dr. Who series, oft spoke by Dr. River Song: SPOILERS!!!!

I'm not a big fan of sappy stories. I've watched more than my share but it's not my favorite genre. There are a few exceptions. Jane Eyre was my favorite book as a kid. Helped that George C Scott did an amazing movie version back in 1970. But Jane Eyre is less romance than it is a tale of righteousness over romping – that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

And I did see Titanic a couple of times over the years but frankly enjoyed the rather droll How it Should Have Ended animated satire more.

Which brings us to the Twilight series.

Bella Edward 2

Is the movie badly acted? Why, yes, the acting is terrible. Kristen Stewart's whispering, sniveling, gasping response to EVERYTHING has become a cliché of pitiful thespian skills. The Everything Wrong With… Twilight is hysterical and worth watching for their "Breathing, Laughing and other Bella Noises Bonus Round" alone. IMPORTANT CAVEAT – while I LOVE the "Everything Wrong With…." series on youtube.com, it is chock full of sexual innuendo and raw language, the latter of which is, while bleeped, pretty obvious.

Is Twilight well written? I'll let you judge:

Edward Cullen: I don't have the strength to stay away from you anymore. Isabella Swan: Then don't.

Edward bedroom

Edward Cullen: Uh, yeah this is my room.   Isabella Swan: …No bed?  Edward Cullen: Ah no I don't, I don't sleep.  Isabella Swan: Ever?  Edward Cullen: No, not at all. Isabella Swan: Ok, hmmm, boy you have so much music, what were you listening to. Edward Cullen: It's Debussy. Isabella Swan: Clair de Lune is great.

Edward Cullen: I hate you for making me want you so much.

And these are from us.imdb.com as memorable quotes. Need I say more?

So, it's sappy, badly acted, awkwardly written, ham handedly directed but——-not only would I recommend this rather awful film series but had I the authority I'd be tempted to make it required watching for teens."

But, you might reasonably ask…………..WHY!?!?!?!

BECAUSE – This movie advocates powerfully for some of our modern culture's most vitally important but least present virtues and makes those virtues irresistible to the very demographic audience who most desperately need to witness them.

Edward Bella wedding

Edward is a 100+ year old vampire in love with the atheistic Bella. (Quick quiz: Edward is played by Robert Pattinson. What other iconic movie series does he appear in?) Edward is in a family of vampires who have sworn to abstain from human blood, led by the beneficent and altruistic father-figure, Carlisle. I could and probably will add Carlisle to the Back to the Father series but that's for another post. Bella is a child of the current age anxious to demonstrate her affections for Edward and not afraid to make those feelings obvious. Edward ——– refuses.

Edward in Bella's room

Not only does he refuse but states that:

1. He will not put her IMMORTAL SOUL in danger, especially as he is already worried about his own given that he is now a vampire, and

2. He will give in to her amorous desires ONLY after they are married. It is Bella who drags her feet on matrimony, having watched her distant-cop Dad and hippie free love mother destroy their own marriage through self absorption and cluelessness. But Edward is true to his word all the way (so to speak). And, atypically for a modern movie, nuptials are NOT had until the nuptials are — well performed by a minister at the end of the third book. Yes, dear friends there are FOUR books and FIVE movies!!

Now let's think about what Ms. Meyers has written. Her story involves a vampire. And vampires have been analogous to sexuality since the inception of the idea was made popular by Bram Stoker 118 years ago. Twilight proposes, if a VAMPIRE – who is the very embodiment of lust – can restrain himself for moral reasons for the woman he loves, then Mister-taking-his-girl-out-to-this-movie, so can you. If Edward can keep himself from both Bella's blood and bed, then you, oh mortal boy, no matter how much you may tell your girlfriend you love her, should too. Because NO one can emote more than the Bella-Edward characters about how devoted they are, how much they love each other, how thoroughly they would die for each other than this sappy over the top couple. Furthermore Edward is abstaining for the right reason – for Bella's soul, and he is clear and blunt about this DESPITE Bella's insistence that she does not believe in God.

I can just hear the after movie conversation – "If EDWARD can restrain himself then YOU should be able to, too! Don't you love me as much as Edward loves Bella?" And the more the young man may try to convince his lady friend that he wants to show his affection for her, the more he will be hoisted by his own petard of love. I can't help but chuckle.

The second reason I would advocate for this movie strongly comes in the form of the unbelieving Bella. In the fourth book/movie she discovers, soon after the honeymoon, that she is what everyone thought impossible – she has been made pregnant by Edward.

Edward had promised to make Bella a vampire, against his own better judgment, after they are married. Bella wants to start their honeymoon as a human. So subsequent to the mortal/vampire coupling and before the vampire changing process can begin, Bella finds herself with child. Rushing back to Carlisle, who is a doctor, they are told that a full term pregnancy will be terminal for Bella.

Bella, the atheist, in a welcome about face to her up to now single minded obsession with Edward, decides to die for her baby. And in a surprising but believable character shift, the life respecting Cullen family, so desperate are they to keep Bella alive, try emphatically to convince Bella to abort. Up to now Bella has almost worshipped the Cullens. But not only does Bella successfully fight them on this, she enlists the assistance of the one Cullen who hates her, Rosalie.

Rosalie and Bella pregnant

Rosalie is a vampire who was turned by Carlisle, in what he thought was an act of mercy, when he found Rosalie left for dead after a brutal attack. While grateful for the rescue she has grieved the loss of her  ability to bear children ever since. (Why male vampire have sperm which are alive enough to impregnate women but women vampires do not have living eggs is never explained, but is convenient to the plot, so just go with it.) And she hates Bella because Bella is voluntarily throwing away what Rosalie rightly sees as a blessing. So when Bella asks Rosalie for help to protect the unborn baby, Rosalie is more than willing to stand guard.

Bella alienates ALL the Cullens who love her and welcomed her to ally herself with the one Cullen who would be happy to kill her — all for the sake of her unborn child, whose continued existence is guaranteed to kill her.

Pregnant Bella

You really can't get a more pro-life scenario than that. With that one decision I became rather fond of the up-to-then rather annoying Miss Bella. You can't help but respect a woman readily giving up: the love of her life, the approval of the only real family she has ever had, and her best chance at immortality she believes she has, since she does not believe in an afterlife and the Cullens doubt they will be able to change her to a vampire after the birth of her child in time to save her — well, not life — but continued existence.

As it so happens they do, of course, save Bella, or it would have been a much shorter book, there would have been no fifth movie and the series would not have been NEARLY as popular with the teen crowd as it is.

So —- having created characters and a love story rivaling in the youth popularity pretty much every love story since Gone With the Wind and Love Story combined, Ms. Meyers makes a lust-representing vampire chaste, THEN turns a self-absorbed and atheistic modern female into a self-sacrificing pro-life mom.

Twilight fight

Then I'll go you one better – now this is a big spoiler so be warned. At the end of the series there is a climactic battle between the Cullens and their allies against the Volturi – bad scary vampires who want to take away or kill the Cullen child for her powers. But vampires from all over the world are enlisted to come to the aid of the Cullens. Those coming to fight side by side with the Cullens include: your traditional 1,000 year old vampires who snack on people as a matter of course, other "veggie" vampires who abstain from human blood, and…werewolves. OK they aren't your run of the mill werewolves, but more shapeshifters as they can change at will and are around to PROTECT humans rather than eat them, but these guys DO change INTO wolves.

Now many of the ancillary reasons these disparate groups have for fighting the Volturi include: vendettas against the Volturi, desire for autonomy from the Volturi, respect/affection/old debts owed to the Cullens. But all are drawn primarily under one simple principle: to protect the life of —- a child. An innocent whose one life is properly seen as more important than the dozens of grown ups who have pledged to protect her.

And you wonder why I endorse this series of books/movies? Stephanie Meyers takes virtues we need more desperately in this culture than Bella needs Edward – chastity, protection of the unborn child, and protection of child against the forces of evil – and plants them right into two characters who have fired the imagination of the very demographic part of our culture which needs to hear this the most – the teen and twenties. From a pragmatic view to culture change she has done an enormous good.

Twilight movies   Twilight books

God bless you Ms. Meyers. I own and have read every page of all your books and have sat through every single minute of all five movies – it's the least I could do to thank you.

Answer: He was in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as the ill-fated Cedric Diggory.

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