First I have some questions:
  1. Do you like movies about airplanes in jeopardy?
  2. Do you like edge-of-the-seat thrillers?
  3. Do you like to see smart people try to outsmart smart people?
  4. Do you like Liam Neeson? (He has become America's most unlikely action hero. Stallone and Schwarzenegger should take notes: NO plastic surgery and no phony white teeth!)
If you answered "Yes" to any or all of the above, have I got a film for YOU!

This time Neeson is a U.S. Air Marshall who, after his airliner is over the Atlantic, receives a text message on a secured network advising him that one passenger will die every 20 minutes until $150M is transferred to an off-shore account. And that is just the beginning of this twisty white-knuckle ride! Of course we KNOW how we want this to end, but can't imagine how it will.

We watch:
  • Liam Neeson ("Taken 1 & 2") is our hero, a bit the worse for the wear, but a smart, resourceful agent, who can only watch as he is brilliantly framed. We in the audience were as frustrated as he!
  • Julianne Moore ("Don Jon") is the agitated gal who negotiates for the seat next to our hero.
  • Michelle Dockery ("Downton Abbey") is the chief flight attendant: wary, watchful and determined to protect her passengers.
There were so many suspects, we were as muddled and alarmed as our hero, but I have never before been in an audience where a MAN screamed out loud. I was so glad he did, then I didn't have to!

This PG-13 script was written by John W. Richardson and Christopher Roach; it has very little profanity and an intense plot, plus fisticuffs and gunfire. Director Jaume Collet-Serra ("Taken") held our attention from the first frame. Most of the story takes place on the airliner, so he had to be creative to keep us focused. 

As someone who only has flown small aircraft, I am no more than a rank amateur, so if there are plot holes in this cleverly crafted script, I didn't spot them. Much of the tension comes from our hero trying to get the plane down to an altitude that won't be fatal if the gun goes off. You'll either love this one or hate it. Do not miss this thrilling movie!
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Here is a sample:
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Okay. It's a new year so I can have a new WSF (Worst So Far), although I'm sure there will be even worse as the year goes on. As a rule, I find most clichéd situations to be diverting, but not the groaners in this thing. I'm sure the gales of laughter that met the finale were NOT what the director had in mind! (To be fair, sometimes a screening audience IS a tough sell.)

Director Paul W.S. Anderson ("The Three Musketeers") specializes in Computer Generated Imaging, so this actioner contains no surprises, but this bloodbath piled cruelty upon cruelty: lashings, bashings, smashings and slashings, so I kept my eyes covered and my yawns smothered much of the time. How many ways can they draw blood or cause mental anguish? (One couple actually brought a toddler. Okay, no profanity, so no harm.....)

These folks have had better roles, but they give it their best:
  • Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje ("Thor: The Dark World") has our sympathy as the gladiator promised his freedom if he wins his last fight. Yeah... right...
  • Kit Harington ("Game of Thrones") is our hero, a Celt with uncommon fighting skills, enslaved by Roman soldiers since childhood. Of course it's love at first sight when our heroine makes her entrance.
  • Emily Browning ("Sucker Punch") is that heroine. She is betrothed (unwillingly) to a Roman senator by her less-than-courageous father.
  • Jared Harris ("Mad Men") is that father, who apparently backed the wrong politician and now has to make amends to the current powers that be.
  • Carrie-Anne Moss ("Vegas") is his wife. At least she can see the political scene clearly, although there is very little she can do about it.
  • Kiefer Sutherland (Lots of TV) is the dastardly senator from Rome who lusts after our heroine and wants to invest in real estate in our fair city. (Pompeii was considered a resort town by the Romans.)
No fight is worth watching unless there are insurmountable odds (which of course our hero surmounts) and lots of blood. And we only HEAR him break that horse's neck....

I don't remember archaeologists mentioning a tsunami, do you? In fact, I just contacted someone who recently toured the ruins and there was no mention of a tsunami... I was taught that it was pyroclastic (super-heated) blasts and ash-fall from Mount Vesuvius that killed the good folks in Pompeii. By the way, the plaster casts we associate with Pompeii were created when archaeologists injected a substance into the hollows in the solidified ash which were left after corpses decomposed.

Expect lots of swordplay, spear thrusts, fist fights, earthquakes, a volcanic eruption, and a tsunami. Only one chaste little kiss though, and no sweaty bodies (PG-13). Whew!
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Here is a preview:
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Truly, Madly, Deeply

This romantic comedy begins with a distraught widow sobbing out her grief to a therapist, who sits there unmoving, allowing her to express her loneliness, her rage and her sense of betrayal: How could she be left without the one person she loves beyond life itself!

Our establishing scenes reveal she is a translator and language instructor at a busy facility in London, surrounded by supportive co-workers and friends. Other scenes show us the chaos at her home, with plumbing problems, rat infestation and careless housekeeping. She is surrounded by various workmen all of whom want to help this lonely widow.

Imagine her surprise when she is idling at her piano one evening, sadly reminiscing about the duets she and her husband used to play (he was a cellist), when WE can see him behind her. She first thinks she is imagining his part of the duet, until she pauses, slowly turns and SHE can see him, too!

Now our story REALLY begins!

The cast:
  • Juliet Stevenson ("Bend it Like Beckham") is Nina, alone, then not alone... Definitely NOT alone! Watch her try to adjust.
  • Alan Rickman ("Harry Potter") her much-loved Jamie, gone, and then not gone...
  • Deborah Findlay ("Cranford") is her sister Claire. See what happens when Claire suggests Nina give Jamie's cello to her son for his music class at school.
  • Bill Paterson ("Outlander") is her boss, Sandy. He speaks six languages but still needs Nina to translate letters from his girlfriend in Spain.
  • Michael Maloney ("Me and Mrs Jones") Mark breaks up a potential fistfight in a coffee shop. He's a counselor for Downs Syndrome youngsters; he takes one look at Nina and likes what he sees.
  • Christopher Rozycki ("Downton Abbey") Titus is doing cabinet work for Nina, but this Polish immigrant wants her to go to Paris with him for the weekend. "I am Polish, I haf GRRREAT passion!"
In my opinion, Juliet Stevenson is a vastly underrated comedienne. I LOVED her in "Bend it Like Beckham" ("...get your dirty lesbian feet out of MY shoes!") and this one, directed by Anthony Minghella ("The English Patient") fully displays her talents. Watch her narrate her biography while hopping on one foot. This has so many scenes to recommend it I don't know where to begin. Watch the preview.
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Please take a look:
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The Lego Movie

This PG phenomenon is cleaning up at the box office: a $69M opening weekend tells me that families are hungry for kiddie-friendly movie fare.

Of course, I am not a six year old, so I was highly aware of the visual assault, with don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it action and bright colors flashing off and on the screen. I could picture young'uns having a good time as they relate to sweet construction worker Emmet. According to another character, Emmet's mind is "prodigiously empty" (he always needs instructions), but his heart is in the right place; so it's a huge problem when he is mistaken for the Master/Builder who has to stop a villain from gluing the Universe together.

We encounter several set pieces aimed at the adults who brought their offspring to the movie:
  • "The Piece of Resistance" (nope, the kiddies aren't going to get THAT one!) which is perpetually sought.
  • "Honey, Where Are My Pants?" is a supposedly hilarious television show that illustrates the emptiness of contemporary sitcoms.
  • The Good Cop/Bad Cop who speedily swaps faces, depending on which cop he is playing.
  • The double-decker couch (?!) which is the best/worst original idea Emmet has ever had.
  • The creative use of Legos to make a city, a desert, a pirate ship and that famous double-decker couch.
  • The Millennium Falcon makes an appearance late in the film. I venture to guess that most of the rugrats won't be familiar with this one, but I could be wrong.
Bottom line? The concepts of team-building, believing in yourself and learning how to trust, can't be bad; although a threatened beheading by X-acto knife could be scary. This is one you'll want to discuss with the children on your way back home...
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Brace yourself:
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The Monuments Men

Why does George Clooney have to pontificate? I'm happy just to watch him for an hour or so. He has assembled an attractive cast, collaborated on the PG-13 screenplay, and directed this piece, but sometimes....grrr...

Okay, let's talk about the film. As we all know, Adolph Hitler intended to amass the world's greatest collection of classic art for his Thousand-Year Reich; as a result he plundered museums, churches, art galleries and private collections. (Modern art, created by upstarts like Pablo Picasso and his ilk, was simply burned.) American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tasked a group of art historians and museum curators to find the missing art, his fear being that as the Nazis lost the war, they might simply burn EVERYTHING. This fictionalized story is inspired by that directive.

For this story, here are some of the actors we admire:
  • George Clooney ("Gravity") is Frank Stokes, the idealistic leader of this little squad, which is comprised of men from the art world, who will recognize fine art when they see it. Each has, for one reason or another, been declared "unfit" for regular duty.
  • Matt Damon ("Elysium") plays James Granger, an art professional pulled from his duties in New York City, to try and rescue priceless European art. He learned to speak (poor) French in Canada and he never forgets he has a wife and two daughters waiting for him...
  • Bill Murray ("Hyde Park on the Hudson") is Richard Campbell, stuck with an obstacle course in basic training and an armed Nazi in Germany.
  • Jean Dujardin (an Oscar for "The Artist") is Jean Claude Clermont, recruited to help because he is French and actually CARES what happens to their art. I've come to admire this actor very much!
  • Cate Blanchett ("Blue Jasmine") plays Claire Simone, an employee of the Jeu de Paume, who kept meticulous records of the art that came through her museum.
If you want to see the actual MONUMENTAL task undertaken by Allied forces (NOT just American), please check out "The Rape of Europa," which is a jaw-dropping documentary drawn from newsreels, film clips and photographs. Only one scene in this drama alludes to the Allied effort to avoid bombing certain buildings as the war waged on. You will never look at European art (or architecture) the same way again! In my opinion, the fictionalized account diminishes the scope of what was done.

I particularly liked seeing George's handsome father play Frank Stokes 30 years later when he visits Michelangelo's Madonna and Child in Bruges with a grandson. What a nice touch!
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Here is a sample:
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Winter's Tale

At first blush I thought this would be an update of Shakespeare's classic play, but no such luck. This fantasy/romance spans almost a hundred years and explores undying love... plus two miracles....sigh...

We are in a mythic New York City watching a wildly romantic love story about a young man who, as an infant, had been left floating in the harbor because his parents were not allowed to enter the United States. Of course the baby survived and we next meet him as a sweet-natured young man living by his wits on the streets. He is a con man and a thief.

Here's part of the cast:
  • Colin Farrell ("Saving Mr. Banks") is our hero who falls in love while burglarizing a house. A lovely young woman is playing the piano and he is smitten on the spot. Farrell is always good!
  • Matt Bomer ("Magic Mike") plays the unfortunate fellow rejected by Immigration. He is the father who sets his infant son afloat in the harbor, hoping he will find a better life.
  • Jessica Brown Findlay ("Downton Abbey") brings us the piano-playing heiress who dies in our hero's arms after vowing undying love. This actress is a beauty!
  • Russell Crowe ("Man of Steel") repulsed me because his character is evil incarnate!
  • Jennifer Connelly ("The Dilemma") is a modern-day mother whose young daughter is critically ill.
  • Eva Marie Saint ("North by Northwest") drew a murmur of affection from the screening audience when she appeared late in the film.
  • There is a surprise guest, but I won't name names because that would be a spoiler.
I have mentioned before that I am lachrymose intolerant, so this weepy love story didn't move me like it did other members of the audience; although I DID like the white horse/guardian angel.

This is PG-13, so we have no sweaty bodies or profanity, but we DO have some devils with fangs and a beating or two.... I doubt if these would traumatize a young viewer. This is for a young adult audience, with good hearing! Much of the dialogue is whispered and murmured, so if you have any hearing problems, look for closed captions or wait for the DVD.
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Take a peek:
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About Last Night

Are you old enough to remember the 1986 version with Demi Moore and Rob Lowe? I am. It's a story as old as time: We watch two couples make their way from the bar to the bedroom and then come face to face with the real world.

Director Steve Pink ("Grosse Pointe Blank" and "High Fidelity") clearly understands the dynamics of the dating game. He knows how important it is to have sympathetic characters, even though they may sometimes misbehave. Audiences want someone to root for.

Here is the updated cast:
  • Kevin Hart ("Ride Along") has the old Jim Belushi role of Bernie, the guy who is absolutely determined to limit his dating to one-night stands. I don't remember Belushi being this funny!
  • Regina Hall ("The Best Man Holiday") in the old Elizabeth Perkins role, is Joan, Bernie's erstwhile one-night stand. This gal can give as good as she gets and this couple's verbal timing is amazing. What a team!
  • Michael Ealy ("Last Vegas") is our new Danny, formerly played by Rob Lowe, who discovers that all he really wants is a home... and maybe a dog. He is a genuinely nice man with all the right instincts.
  • Joy Bryant ("Parenthood") is Debbie, formerly played by Demi Moore; Bryant owns this role, with a sweet likability and generous appeal.
  • Christopher McDonald (Lots of TV) is Casey, the friendly owner of the faltering neighborhood bar where our folks hang out.
This R-rated comedy (raunchy language and sexual situations) is laugh-out-loud funny and much, much wittier than the original. The dialogue is so rapid-fire I found myself reaching for my remote: ("What was that?" "What did he say?"), so I'll probably buy the DVD, because I know I missed some great lines.

I was one of the people who blurted out with laughter in one scene when I realized that they were watching the 1986 original on TV; I recognized it right away. The younger folks in the screening audience had no idea what we were laughing about. ...sigh...
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See this new trailer:
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This is a tough one to write because lurking under the endless gunfire, brutal slaughter, and vehicular mayhem, is a sweet little story: A decent, hard-working man loves his wife and son; they love him back. (I really like that part.)

Brazilian director José Padilha demonstrates (to my unwilling eyes) his special effects skills with a heavily CGI-laden actioner that barely gives us time to breathe, although the plot is easy to follow: A multinational corporation can see unlimited profits in the sale of mechanical law enforcement robots, they just have to win the hearts and minds of the American voters.

Emphasizing the universality of cinema, we watch:
  • Joel Kinnaman ("The Killing") as our hero, reduced to a head and a pair of lungs by a car bomb (yeah, and you get to see open- brain surgery, too!). This is the kernel of the man who is destined to be the model of a humanized robotic law enforcement officer. This appealing actor is Swedish.
  • Gary Oldman ("The Dark Knight") is the brilliant doctor/scientist who has developed a way to connect organic matter with metallic matter and create a robot with a human sensibility. Oldman was born in England.
  • Michael Keaton ("The Other Guys") owns the multinational company that wants to break into the American market with his robotic officers. Keaton is from Pennsylvania.
  • Jennifer Ehle ("Contagion") is one of the principal officials in that multinational company. I always thought Ehle was from the U.K. because of her work in the BBC's "Pride and Prejudice," but she was actually born in North Carolina.
  • Michael K. Williams ("Boardwalk Empire") is our hero's sidekick, a loyal cop who takes being a partner very, very seriously. This actor was born in Flatbush.
  • Abbie Cornish ("Somersault") is our hero's wife, who signs the permission slip to attach her husband's remains to a machine in an attempt to salvage some part of him. Cornish is Australian.
  • Samuel L. Jackson ("Django Unchained") has a tongue-in-cheek blast as television personality Pat Novak. This All-American actor was born in the All-American capital, Washington, D.C.
Along with grisly blow-by-blow and bullet-by-bullet battles between our good guys and their evil foes, we have to watch the same car bomb explode three or four times, see vehicles crash through plate-glass windows, and cringe from a sound track that shakes the theater.

This is PG-13, so expect cold-blooded murders, heartless crooks, and that aforementioned blowie uppie stuff, but no sweaty bodies or profanity...with the obvious exception of our favorite potty mouth, Mr. Jackson, who is heavily bleeped in his final speech... ...smile...
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Here is a link to a preview:
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