Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

A Hidden Life

A Hidden Life -- a review by Captain HE
(with connective tissue, written by Guy S. Malone, Researcher, because, truth be told, sometimes Captain HE's brilliance has to be translated into English)

"...the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."
-- George Eliot

How many know who Franz Jägerstätter is?  Hands?  We certainly didn't until he became the protagonist of Terrence Malick's newest film about Jägerstätter (played by August Diehl), a conscientious objector who refused to sign a loyalty oath to Adolf Hitler and fight for the Nazis in World War II.  Franz and his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) have an idyllic life, raising their three daughters on a lush farm outside St. Radegund, a village nestled in the picturesque Austrian Alps.  Franz and Fani thresh grain together on golden fields, lift their children to pick apples in sun-dappled orchards, dance and drink beer with villagers at local festivals, and pray devoutly every day.  Suddenly, the thunder of warplanes herald events that will change their lives forever. 

Terrence Malick has come out of the woodwork more in the past ten years (four feature films and six documentaries/shorts) than he did in the first 40 years of his career (four films, one short).  Many feel his past ten years have been uneven, indulgent even, though we believe 2010's The Tree of Life is a masterpiece, and the main thing keeping  A Hidden Life from that level is its hefty (and indulgent) 174-minute runtime.  That length blunts the power of the message and the central theme. Perhaps, he sees this as his magnum opus and was unwilling to pare it down. Personal letters exchanged between Franz and Fani, the primary source material around which Malick crafted the screenplay almost became secondary.  Jörg Widmer's sweeping and magnificent cinematography, depicting the beauty of God's creation, coupled with the continuous examination of man's reason for existence was the core of the story.  James Newton Howard's score, which infuses classical strains that also incorporated Radegund's church bells, switching scythes, buzzing from the sawmill, cow and sheep bells, and other natural sounds emphasize the pastoral ambiance Malick was surely going for.

The all-abiding faith of Franz and Fani is their rock, the foundation that provides the strength that sees them through the worst that war can inflict on them.  And that faith is tested throughout.  Sadly, that faith commitment is not seen in the local priest and bishop (Michael Nyqvist, in his last role); they are exposed, as is the Church, in the tolerance/fear of Hitler's regime. The central characters continually referenced Christ and His persecution, their faith in God and the purpose of man's existence, hoping for salvation from their existential hell. Some scenes illustrate this, the sharing of vegetables, the doubling of the grain, the love and forgiveness of family, the sharing of bread in the prison yard. But, ultimately, like Christ, Franz must suffer because collectively, man can't overcome himself. He must continually start over, he must rebuild and replenish the land. The struggle continues.

The film would provide an excellent complement to a philosophy or Western Civ course. Through spiritual symbolism juxtaposed with Church survival tolerance, Franz's life brings the true meaning of spiritual freedom. He references this in his refusal to sign the loyalty oath to gain his freedom from prison. "I am already free" he replies.  And it is Fani's innate goodness that brings the ascendance of the species through the female drive to replenish and rebuild.  Franz's mother, who always disapproved of Fani, finally says" He changed when he met you."  The seasons change and Nature rolls inexorably on, proof that our lives make hardly a ripple in the world   The only mark we make is on other people, and even that, as the George Eliot quote says, is "unhistoric", "a hidden life."  Any film that makes one think and share and postulate to such an extent is a great film.  HE rates A Hidden Life 9.0 on an Artistic Scale, with it's meandering (not quite glacial because we can see it move) pace making it 7.5 on an Entertainment Scale.  Let's make it:
8.5 out of 10

Quick Hits on Some Awards-Contending Films

Quick Hits on Some Awards-Contending Films -- by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Late-December and early-January are crunch times for keeping up with films.  Too many awards contenders released in a rush, compete with our desire to spend time with family and our latent but ever-present procrastination.  If I were one given to making apologies, one would be inserted here; the above explanation will have to suffice.  Anyway, here are the movies we saw in the past few weeks, rank-ordered from best to not the best:

Little Women
Greta Gerwig adapted and directed.  At first, we were a bit leery about yet another adaptation of this story, but we should have learned from Lady Bird.  Gerwig is brilliant; her adaptation brings new life with the subtle twists she gives to the characters: her take on Jo, interpreted with Saoirse Ronan in mind is fresh and vibrant, but equally impressive was Amy, the youngest sister, whom Gerwig recreates as a complex young woman whose ambition isn't seen as odious but rather as a strength.  Casting Florence Pugh in the role was inspired.  She also draws Emma Watson's best as Meg, the oldest, and Eliza Scanlen as sweet Beth.  A stellar supporting cast includes Laura Dern as the little women's mother, Timothée Chalamet as their charming and rebellious neighbor, "Laurie;" James Norton as Meg's tutor husband John; Chris Cooper as Mr. Laurence, Lois Garrel as Friedrich; Meryl Streep as Aunt March; Bob Odenkirk as Mr. March; and Tracy Letts as Mr. Dashwood.
9.0 out of 10

Sam Mendes' film is garnering a lot of awards and even more nominations.  Like 2015's The Revenant, it is a triumph of cinematography (Roger Deakins should win another Oscar), depicting a simple tale of man's odyssey through the harshest of conditions. In World War I, two young British soldiers (Dean Charles Chapman and George MacKay) are tasked with a seemingly impossible mission: cross no-man's-land to deliver a message that will prevent 1,600 men (including one of the soldiers' brothers) from walking into a deadly trap.  Along the way, they meet a variety of British stars in cameos: Colin Firth, Andrew Scott, Mark Strong, and Benedict Cumberbatch.  One of the year's best.  See it on the biggest screen you can find.
9.0 out of 10

The Farewell
A comedy-drama, starring Awkwafina as Billi, a New Yorker who learns that her grandmother, Nei Nei (Shuzhen Zhao) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and according to Chinese custom, the family decides to keep her in the dark. As a cover story to get the family together, they schedule a wedding.  The film is not getting the recognition it deserves, in part because of its late summer release date; it is a gross injustice, though, that this funny, touching film has received recognition neither in the Best Picture nor the Best International Film categories.
8.5 out of 10

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Based on the true-life friendship between Fred Rogers and Esquire magazine writer Tom Junod, it tells of writer Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) assigned to write a profile of American hero, Mr. Rogers (Tom Hank).  Lloyd considers the story a puff piece and originally sets out to Pittsburgh to expose the myth, his cynicism stoked by his own deep resentment of his own father (Chris Cooper).  His wife (Susan Kelechi Watson) cautions, "Lloyd, please don't ruin my childhood."  When he meets Mr. Rogers, he finds his cynicism met with unrelenting kindness and acceptance, his hostility with empathy.  And slowly, friendship--and healing--come. Christine Lahti, Enrico Colantonio
8.0 out of 10

The Two Popes
A look at the transition of Roman Catholic authority from conservative Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) to progressive Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce).  It delves into the life of Francis, flashing back to his life as young priest Jorge Bergoglio (Juan Minujin) in Argentina and how it forged his beliefs.  Moving forward he is called to the Vatican where Benedict is about to abdicate--almost unheard of in the Church.  The two men, coming from conflicting worldviews, seek common ground, or at least understanding.  While the story skims over recent serious problems in the Church, it does provide insightful dialogues into the personal character of each man, performed beautifully by Pryce and Hopkins.
7.5 out of 10

The Lighthouse
Grizzled old lighthouse keeper Thomas (Willem Dafoe) takes on a young apprentice Ephraim (Robert Pattinson) must share a four-week stint on a remote rock off the New England coast in the 1890s.  Thomas acts the martinet, giving Ephraim the worst tasks as their relationship flows from hatred and fear to drunken camaraderie on the way to insanity.  Robert Eggers tints his dark fantasy with the blackest of humor and various bodily excretions.  We recommend The Lighthouse with caution, largely for the expected excellent performances and for Jarin Blaschke's cinematography, which is presented in almost a square aspect ratio on-screen and in stark black and white, almost reminiscent of classic horror films, like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
7.0 out of 10

2020 Oscar Nomination Predictions

2020 Oscar Nominations Predictions (Guesses, Preferences..) -- FilmZ & Guy S. Malone, Researcher

The 2020 Academy Awards nominations come out on Monday, January 13, so we've had to hustle and submit our picks to Gold Derby before we even had a chance to write reviews of late-release movies we've been rushing out to see.  What you see below are our predictions--plus guesses, and in some cases, wishes--for names and titles that will be called out on Monday.  We admit some are reaches, but they are picks from the heart rather than the mind (we'll save cold-blooded objectivity for when it counts (besides, not all of the data is even in yet).

Each category that follows is ranked from most-to-least likely, in our opinion.

The Academy can nominate up to ten films in the Best Picture category; the real guessing game is how many.  We think ten are deserving and they will pick between seven and nine, but only the first five listed below are shoo-ins.

Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
The Irishman
JoJo Rabbit
Marriage Story
Little Women
Knives Out
Ford v Ferrari

Mendes and Tarantino are locks, Bong and Scorsese and likely, and Waititi is our wish bolstered by his out of left field nomination from the Directors Guild. A lot of experts say Todd Phillips (Joker) nabs the fifth spot, though we feel if Waititi can't make it, we would like to see Greta Gerwig (Little Women) break through.

Sam Mendes - 1917
Quentin Tarantino - Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
Bong Joon Ho - Parasite
Martin Scorsese - The Irishman
Taika Waititi - Jojo Rabbit

Zellweger has been the clear favorite for months.  Scar-Jo gave her best-ever performance, but does she carry the AMPAS loyalty that Theron and Ronan do, and Awkwafina has our love for her funny but touching performance.

Renee Zellweger - Judy
Scarlett Johansson - Marriage Story
Charlize Theron - Bombshell
Saoirse Ronan - Little Women
Awkwafina - The Farewell

Phoenix is the one to beat. Driver keeps showing his chops, DiCaprio in his standard performance and Banderas portraying a soul-searcher all have puncher's chances.  Egerton is excellent, but no way does the Academy award a rock star portrayal two years in a row.  Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes), Eddie Murphy (Dolemite is my Name), and Christian Bale (Ford v Ferrari) have outside shots.

Joaquin Phoenix - Joker
Adam Driver - Marriage Story
Leonardo DiCaprio - Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
Antonio Banderas - Pain and Glory
Taron Egerton - Rocketman

Most lists include Margot Robbie (Bombshell and/or Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood), but we just don't get it, especially when one sees the performances of the women below, and you could add Zhao Shuzhen (The Farewell) too.

Laura Dern - Marriage Story
Jennifer Lopez - Hustlers
Florence Pugh - Little Women
Scarlett Johansson - JoJo Rabbit
Annette Bening - The Report

Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse), Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes), or Jamie Foxx (Just Mercy), could break in here with no raised eyebrows.

Brad Pitt - Once Upon a Time ...  in Hollywood
Joe Pesci - The Irishman
Tom Hanks - A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Song Kang Ho - Parasite
Al Pacino - The Irishman
For the rest of the categories, we will just list picks with no comment


The Irishman - Steve Zaillian
Jojo Rabbit - Taika Waititi
Little Women - Greta Gerwig
Joker - Todd Phillips & Scott Silver
The Two Popes - Anthony McCarten


Parasite - Bong Joon Ho & Han Jin Won
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood - Quentin Tarantino
Marriage Story - Noah Baumbach
Knives Out - Rian Johnson
1917 - Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns


1917 - Roger Deakins
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood - Robert Richardson
Ford v Ferrari - Phedon Papamichael
Parasite - Kyung-Pyo Hong
A Hidden Life - Jörg Widmer


Ford v Ferrari
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood

Little Women
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
Dolemite Is My Name
Downton Abbey


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Dolemite Is My Name


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
The Irishman
Little Women
Jojo Rabbit


Ford v Ferrari
Avengers: Endgame
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Ad Astra


Ford v Ferrari
Avengers: Endgame
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker


Avengers: Endgame
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
The Lion King
Alita: Battle Angel


Missing Link
Toy Story 4
Frozen II
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I Lost My Body


Apollo 11
American Factory
The Biggest Little Farm
One Child Nation


Pain and Glory
Les Miserables

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