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New March Movies Post

Who knows what’s next as the viral panic spreads?  It may increase the popularity of streaming services that can be enjoyed safely in home isolation.  From among what’s available I highly recommend the phenomenal third season of the Netflix German series Babylon Berlin.  I got so hooked I ended up binge watching through the 12 episodes into the wee hours.  Major movie releases are already being postponed, among these the 25th James Bond epic which was the cover of the March/April Cineplex magazine, carrying the rather unfortunate title “No Time to Die”.  You’ll have to wait for to see 007 again until November, if we all survive till then.  Sorry for the gallows humour. However at my most recent multiplex visit the noisy trailers for coming releases all seemed to have a horror angle … dystopia sells apparently.  Just as long as it stays on the screen!  Below I review three films starting with an updated and fuller commentary on one of my best of last year.  Read on.
Corpus Christi (Poland/France 2019
[updated March 9]
It’s taken several full viewings of this remarkable film—among my 10 best films of 2019 and an Oscar nominee for best international feature—to fully appreciate its depths. Director Jan Jomasa’s third feature draws inspiration from actual instances of priestly impersonation in Poland, which doesn’t lessen its unusual moral force. We are introduced to the central character, a young man Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia who gives an exceptional performance), through the hard knocks of a juvenile detention centre.  Daniel assists the prison chaplain Fr. Tomasz at mass who tells the inmates: “Each one of us is the priest of Christ”.  That connects with Daniel although he knows that his criminal record rules out admittance to a seminary. How to hold on to the spiritual side he feels? When released on parole, Daniel first lets off steam, indulging sins of the flesh. For a lark he dresses up in clerical garb with a Roman collar. The impulse takes a serious turn after he’s sent to the workshop of a country sawmill and before reporting enters the nearby town’s church.  There he meets the daughter of the parish priest’s housekeeper and seizes an opportunity to be a “priest”, telling her that more important than where you come from is where you are going.  Claiming to be a recent graduate from the seminary, Daniel takes the identity of “Father Tomasz” and quietly becomes a temporary replacement for the aging and ailing pastor. With that comes the challenge of addressing the parish’s burden of suffering and ill will resulting from a trauma that is still raw; its focal point a memorial to a group of young people killed in a head-on collision.  Among the dead, the housekeeper’s son, and brother to the young woman who never attended his funeral.  The townsfolk blame the accident on a lone older driver, refusing him burial rites and ostracizing his widow. With layers of hurt to be overcome, Daniel rises to a pastoral role. Even if he has to “google” how to perform certain functions, he somehow finds the right words to express the struggle and hope of faith, in doing so ministering to a grieving, troubled, and divided flock. It’s as if by divine intervention his spiritual needs and theirs overlap.  As director Komasa puts it: “For Daniel, spiritual guidance is the only pure thing left in his life. I see his actions as a desperate attempt to tell the world what he would do if he were given a second chance.”
That’s not the end of the story of course. To its credit the movie doesn’t leave us with some improbably blissful outcome.  Things start to unravel when the mayor who also owns the sawmill invites Daniel to bless a new wing before the feast of Corpus Christi. That leads to a blackmail attempt in the confessional and a dramatic confession from the altar. There’s more to follow. Daniel hasn’t taken any vows and the real Fr. Tomasz arrives. Daniel returns to a violent reality. But not before leading the Corpus Christi procession; not before becoming an instrument for effecting forgiveness and reconciliation. Beyond the penance that befalls him, that is blessing enough.  A+
This latest screen version of the eponymous 1815 Jane Austen novel, directed by photographer Autumn de Wilde, certainly dresses up in the costumes of the period’s mostly idle landed gentry as they swan about their great houses and contemplate marriageable matches.  Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy), in frilly frocks and ringlets, is a sweet young thing described as “handsome, clever, and rich”.  The main worry of her doddering dad (Bill Nighy) seems to be catching a chill.  Emma will eventually fall for the dashing George Knightley (Johnny Flynn), exuding confidence while generously easing the romantic troubles of comparatively homely Harriet (Mia Goth).  The necessary religious rituals are provided by a milquetoast simpering Church of England vicar Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor) who acquires a bride almost as annoying.  Watching this feckless, foppish and often frivolously indulgent affair, one wonders how Britannia ever “ruled the waves”.  As an aside, O’Connor has more to work with in the role of the hapless Prince Charles in the new season of the Netflix series “The Crown”.  And he was brilliant in the 2017 drama God’s Own Country as a young farmer into gay rough sex.  The Emma cast also includes several of the actors who play much edgier sexually fluid (or hormonally confused?) teenage roles in another Netflix series “Sex Education”.   Perish the thought.  This Emma is all very proper, and also it must be said, a bit of a bore.  B- 
The Way Back (U.S. 2020
Directed by Gavin O’Connor, this is another sports redemption story, so you know the drill.  The central character is Jack Cunningham who works construction, is separated from his wife, and is a regular boozer.  The role is played by Ben Affleck who’s had personal experience with celebrity addiction and rehab, so that part’s maybe not a stretch.  Jack was also a star basketball player back in the day at his Catholic Bishop Hayes high school and, despite a night of drunken negativity, is enticed back to take over as substitute coach of its current team.  It isn’t a surprise that the team will go from being losers to contenders. (America’s school sports mania is on full display.) Jack gets a talking to from the team’s priest chaplain about swearing, and from the assistant coach about leaving empty beer cans. A couple individual player issues add minor wrinkles to the team’s transformation.  Add in a child cancer death, sorrowful tinkly piano music, and a slo-mo pivotal game sequence to boost the melodrama. I’m not sure Jack was ever on the wagon but there’s bound to be a cathartic episode as well.  So this Ben is “back”.  Will he make it? Will they make it?  Is the Pope Catholic?  C+   


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April 24, 2019 was the official launch of The Best of Screenings and Meanings: A Journey Through Film at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Saskatoon, SK