FATIMA (2020)

August 27, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. I’m not Catholic and did not grow up learning much about Catholicism. However, I have heard the story of Fatima, Portugal and the 3 young shepherds who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary. Writer-Director Marco Pontecorvo and co-writers Valerio D’Annunzio and Barbara Nicolosi deliver a dutiful re-telling of the events that led up to the Miracle of the Sun.

The movie begins in 1989 as Professor Nicols (Harvey Keitel) visits Sister Lucia (Sonia Braga), now an octogenarian, at her nunnery. The professor is quite the skeptic, but it’s crucial to his new book project that he question the Sister about what she experienced in 1917. We then flash back to that era when 10 year old Lucia (Stephanie Gil) and her cousins, 7 year old Jacinto (Alejandra Howard) and 8 year old Francisco (Jorge Lamelas) are youngsters working as shepherds for the family flock of sheep. One day, a vision appears to the three children. It’s the Virgin Mary (Joana Ribeiro) offering words of hope and a request for praying and strong faith.

Of course kids are kids, so their secret gets spilled almost immediately. As you would expect, no one believes them. Not their family or those in the small Portugal village. The townspeople gather regularly in the square to hear the Mayor (Goran Visnjic) read the names of the local boys and men who have been killed in war. It’s a gut-wrenching occurrence for all involved, and yet another opportunity for the mean-spirited folks to accuse the kids of lying about what they’ve seen. The local priest (Joaquim de Almeida) tries to frighten them out of the story, and even Lucia’s mother (Lucia Moniz) scolds and belittles her.

“The faith of a child” has rarely been more evident than with young Lucia. She stays strong despite being ostracized by the villagers, the church, and even her family. The film makes clear observation about faith and religion. What is religion but believing and having faith in something intangible – something that can’t be seen or touched. Director Pontecorvo delivers a faith-based film, yet one that is not preachy. It does make us wonder why the religious leaders are themselves so lacking in true faith, and why the politician is envious of the youngsters who draw an audience. Photographs of that day in 1917 … the “Miracle of the Sun” … are shown as part of the closing credits, while Andrea Bocelli’s remarkable voice sings out. It’s a low-budget film with some overacting (from adults), but the message and the performance of young Stephanie Gil make it worthwhile.

Available in theaters and On Demand August 28, 2020

watch the trailer:


OUR BRAND IS CRISIS (2015)

October 29, 2015

our brand is crisis Greetings again from the darkness. The world of political campaigns and elections is a never-ending treasure trove of material for movies. It’s a subject ripe for parody, satire, comedy, suspense and documentaries.  Need proof?  How about this widely varied list: The Manchurian Candidate, Bob Roberts, Wag the Dog, Bulworth, Welcome to Mooseport, and The Ides of March.  Director David Gordon Green has a resume equally as varied, ranging from Pineapple Express (2008) to Manglehorn (2014).

This wide spectrum of possibilities seems to have confused screenwriter Peter Straughan (the excellent Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) who used Rachel Boynton’s 2005 documentary of the same name as inspiration. It seems to be both a comedy that’s not too funny and a drama that not very dramatic. Casting Sandra Bullock in the lead probably created a certain feeling of security with the filmmakers, as they assumed audiences would laugh along at such creative moments as her predictable pratfall from a private jet, the sunglasses-on-the-nose look of consternation, and the rah-rah speech given to a group of campaign volunteers who don’t speak English. Even fans of Ms. Bullock will recognize the laziness.

Alvin Lee and Ten Years After delivered the anthem “I’d Love to Change the World”, and never before this movie had I placed it in such a negative manner … how the United States sticks its nose where it doesn’t belong in international elections. Ms. Bullock’s character Jane is a political strategist brought out of self-imposed exile to run the campaign of Bolivia’s former President (played by Joaquim de Almeida). See he is far behind the leader in the polls – a progressive candidate whose campaign is being run by Bullock’s long-time rival Pat Candy (played by Billy Bob Thornton). Let the juicy rivalry games begin!

The only problem is … it’s a wasted rivalry filled with mostly lame games and it’s often quite plodding (just like real politics!). The character of Jane is based on the real life efforts of James Carville to influence South American elections, and yet it’s Pat Candy who sports the look of Carville. The supporting cast is filled with talent: Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, and Zoe Kazan, yet none are given much to do other than play second fiddle to Bullock.

While the script offers no real surprises or twists, and the forced “message” at the end could be guessed by most any viewer 10 minutes in, it’s the amateurish ploys that make this one score high on the annoyance scale. Having Ms. Bullock sport the only blonde follicles in Bolivia, the over-use of super slow-motion to create some unnecessary effect, and using the word “crisis” the way Tarantino uses the f-word, all combine to give the film a very cheesy look and feel … and we aren’t even rewarded with a single memorable exchange between Bullock and Billy Bob. One thing for sure … this is not the garden spot of Bolivia.

watch the trailer: