Get On Up

Here we have (finally!) the thrilling biography of a musical icon. Director Tate Taylor ("The Help") brings us a familiar rags to riches (to rags to riches...) show business story that describes the (sanitized) life and times of James Brown (1933/2006), one of the most influential musicians in recent history.

Here are some of the top-notch actors:
  • Chadwick Boseman ("42") as James Brown, a dirt-poor survivor of a brutal childhood, part of it spent in a brothel. His gospel roots helped launch him into the spotlight where he soon learned how much money went to the middlemen. Watch his reaction when they ask his permission to book an unknown band, "The Rolling Stones," to open for one of his shows. BTW Mick Jagger is one of the producers of this movie.
  • Nelsan Ellis ("Lee Daniels' The Butler") is Bobby Byrd, a stalwart friend who understands "Mr. Brown."
  • Dan Aykroyd ("Tammy") is Brown's cagey manager Ben Bart, who describes himself as, "A lucky old Jew."
  • Viola Davis ("The Help") Susie Brown was a teenager when she gave birth to James. She knew nothing about marriage or babies and had no job skills to survive on her own. To say he is conflicted about her is a mild understatement.
  • Octavia Spencer ("Snowpiercer") Aunt Honey can see that little James has no one to believe in, so she urges him to believe in himself.
Expect some violent situations along with PG-13 profanity, a mild car chase, a bit of drug use and one "F" bomb, but LOTS of performances from Paris to Cincinnati, studded with the dazzling footwork and trademark wail we associate with James Brown. Boseman must have worked long and hard to master THAT one; he is amazing!

It's fun to watch the music businessmen try to grasp the appeal of this rebellious master of funk. His only value to them is his money-making potential. He understands that each person has his own area of expertise; for example, he doesn't advise the Army how to fight the war in Vietnam and he suggests that they not tell him how long his concert may last. (And that successful record company executive can NOT do the Mashed Potato, but he sure can sell records!)

You will like the occasions when Brown shares his beliefs: Once with his son's classmates and another time during the concert that was held (over the mayor's objections) the day after Martin Luther King Jr.'s death. After traveling the highs (stardom and acclaim) and the lows (drug use and jail time), the screening audience was pumped!
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Here is a preview:
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Wasn't there supposed to be a "...happily ever after..." when Hercules finished his twelve labors? Not according to the Greek goddess Hera and director Brett Ratner ("Tower Heist"). Nope. Things are just getting started. Our hero hires out as a mercenary, along with five other misbegotten souls, to a beleaguered King of Thrace and his daughter Ergenia. He tries to form an army out of farmers, but runs out of time.

We have:
  • Dwayne Johnson ("Fast & Furious 6") as Hercules, son of Zeus (which makes him a demigod but only brings him misery), is now trying to examine how far he has fallen.
  • Ian McShane ("Cuban Fury") Amphiaraus can forecast his own death...maybe.
  • Rufus Sewell ("The Pillars of the Earth") Autolycus can't see why they don't just take the money and run.
  • Aksel Hennie ("Headhunters") Tydeus is the ferocious fellow who was rescued from a battlefield as an infant. He has never spoken a word.
  • Ingrid Bolsø Berdal ("Chernobyl Diaries") Atalanta isn't just a book store in Bisbee, Arizona. It is also the name of the cracker- jack archer who makes up the rest of the team.
  • Reese Ritchie ("Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time") is Iolaus, our hero's nephew, a little too eager to fight, but a good story- teller, nonetheless.
  • John Hurt ("Snowpiercer") Lord Cotys is my choice for a prag- matic politician.
  • Rebecca Ferguson ("The White Queen") is Ergenia, his unhappy daughter.
  • Joseph Fiennes ("American Horror Story") is King Eurystheus, the fellow who knows more than he admits.
This PG-13 adventure is loaded with fanged critters, lots of sword fights and military drilling. There is no blowie uppie stuff, but we see burning oil and a collapsing temple. There is only one "F" bomb in the whole thing and it is appropriately used. I really enjoyed the delicious bits of humor that are scattered throughout, particularly when delivered by McShane. He either got the best dialogue or made the best of what he was given.

The screening audience was delighted. To quote one happy fellow, "Great fun for a B-level movie!" Remember, movies are primarily Entertain- ment, and this one is entertaining. Oh! And the 3-D is better than usual: I dodged more than one spear!
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Here is a link to the trailer:
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This R-rated action/thriller reminded me once again that writer/director Luc Besson ("The Family") is the French Martin Scorsese, with characters "popped" (shot) without compunction, people stabbed unexpectedly and beaten mercilessly, but his complex plot is laid out with crystal clarity.

The film switches back and forth between college student Lucy, as she is thrust into a terrifyingly lethal situation, and an anthropology lecture which provides us with the background that enables us to follow the story. We soon find ourselves questioning the nature of knowledge.

We watch:
  • Scarlett Johansson ("The Avengers") is our eponymous heroine, tricked into a shady deal, brutalized, and inadvertently turned into a lab experiment.
  • Morgan Freeman ("Last Vegas") plays a professor of anthro- pology who speculates about the mind-boggling potential of a human able to use 100% of its brain.
  • Amr Waked ("Salmon Fishing in the Yemen") is the gendarme Lucy keeps around as "a reminder."
  • Min-sik Choi ("Oldboy" 2003) is a gangster who has seen the prodigious profits that might be possible from a synthetic compound that could change human nature.
  • Julian Rhind-Tutt ("Notting Hill") is the obsequious facilitator who instructs the drug "mules" as they are forced to smuggle the compound to three major cities.
In my opinion, the eye-popping special effects were a bit overdone (but I always say that, don't I?), and I would have been happy if we had stopped when she had achieved only 80% of her potential, but based on the size of the screening crowd which had to be shoe-horned into the theater, this exciting, involving film should do very, very well.
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Here is a sample:
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This audacious piece took 12 years to make! Writer/director Richard Linklater ("Before Sunrise," "Before Sunset" "Before Midnight" trilogy, which was also shot over the years) started this film in 2002 and completed it in 2013. Sort of like Harry Potter, which began in 2001 and concluded in 2010, we watch children grow, adults age and see society transform around them.

This cast stayed with the project from beginning to end:
  • Ellar Coltrane ("Fast Food Nation") is Mason, the boy we watch grow from a 6-year-old boy into an appealing 18-year-old just entering college.
  • Lorelei Linklater ("Waking Life") is his sister Samantha, always there, always a bit precocious and his personal anchor as their lives make some painful shifts. She is the one who collects the most money as she monitors the "Swear" penalty.
  • Patricia Arquette ("Boardwalk Empire") is Mom, who experiences the most dramatic changes as her personal life goes to hell in a hand-basket... more than once.
  • Ethan Hawke ("The Woman in the Fifth") is Dad, immature, but engaged in his children's lives, and finally (!) growing up.
I was interested in some of the Texas locations, mostly Austin and Houston, but, being from Seattle, I was amazed by the available parking on the streets...smile...

Most of our real lives don't have big explosive events and this is a depiction of real life. I'm not sure why this is R rated; we saw a smidgen of profanity, no sweaty bodies, three gunshots (under supervision), some high school pot smoking, and no blowie uppie stuff. Kinda like most lives.

The big draw is watching these people change over a period of 12 years. (166 minutes is a very l-o-n-g running time, though...) This one will win awards, you watch!
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You won't believe this until you see it:
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And So It Goes

Michael Douglas has made a late-life career out of playing selfish, racist, sexist scalawags. This predictable PG-13 outing is no different. His self- absorbed character is stuck with a grandchild he never knew about (he hadn't spoken to his drug-addicted son in quite some time) while that son goes to jail. Our hero lives in a four-plex and alienates all of his other neighbors; this doesn't bother him a bit. We can hardly wait for this nasty piece of work to get his well-deserved comeuppance!

Directed by Rob Reiner ("When Harry Met Sally..." and "The Bucket List") from a script by Mark Andrus (the excellent "Life as a House") this is a guaranteed over-50s crowd pleaser. The sound track, which begins with Judy Collins singing "Both Sides Now" and continues on to Diane Keaton singing "The Shadow of Your Smile," is both warm and satisfying.

We watch:
  • Michael Douglas ("Last Vegas") Oren is the exasperated (and exasperating!) grandpa who does NOT want a child in his life. He is trying to sell his luxurious house and refuses to take a penny under what he thinks it's worth, regardless of the comps in the neighborhood.
  • Diane Keaton ("The Big Wedding") Leah is the neighbor on whom he dumps the little girl; he exploits her good nature without an ounce of remorse. He hears her sing at a neighborhood spot and says he likes everything but her clothes, her patter and her selections...but is willing to represent her.
  • Sterling Jerins ("World War Z") Sarah is a good little kid, scared, but willing to be flexible. She is deeply grateful for Leah's presence while Dad is "away." In fact, she starts to call her "Grandma."
  • Frankie Valli ("The Sopranos") (Yes THAT Frankie Valli!) is the guy who auditions Leah after Oren nominates himself as her agent.
  • Frances Sternhagen ("The Closer") Claire is his chain-smoking long-time office manager (40+ years) who sees everything with crystal clarity and speaks just as plainly!
  • Rob Reiner ("The Wolf of Wall Street") Artie is Leah's friend, erstwhile suitor and piano accompanist who wears the worst toupee ever on screen. (Oren is NOT gentle about it!)
And so....When a movie is designed for a target audience, it should be no surprise that we found it entertaining. As we left the theater, the general consensus was that we liked it, but one woman took it a step further. "I'll own this one," she declared. "My boyfriend is gonna watch it!"

Expect a bit of profanity, an implied sexual situation, no blowie uppie stuff or vehicular mayhem and the only gunshot is when our "hero" shoots a stray Rottweiler with a paint-ball.
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Take a peek at this trailer:
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I paid good money to see this one! It is my hope that I post this review early enough to spare the rest of you.

This highly acclaimed movie, written and directed by award-winning Joon-ho Bong ("The Host" and "Mother") has accumulated accolades enough to convince me that I was silly to avoid it. To make things worse, I talked a friend into going with me!

We are on a speeding train that has been screeching through an icy terrain for 18 years (!), ever since chemicals were used in a global-warming experiment which destroyed Earth's climate. It is now eternal winter. The people in the back end of the train are filthy, diseased, missing limbs and semi-starved. Any children they might have are taken from them. Eventually, we learn that the people in the forward part of the train live singularly different lives of ease and abundance. It takes regularly scheduled intervals of violence to maintain this balance.

We cringe with:
  • Chris Evans ("What's Your Number?"), who needs to wash his face and go back to being Captain America! His character is thinking seriously about a revolt.
  • Jamie Bell ("The Adventures of Tintin") is another young man who is considering a rebellion.
  • Kang-ho Song ("The Host") seems to know a lot about what's going on but his main concern seems to be his daughter. He has been in suspended animation (don't ask).
  • John Hurt ("Hercules") is a one-legged elder statesman to the people in the rear of the train. Everyone looks up to him even though he is every bit as filthy and deprived as the rest.
  • Octavia Spencer ("Fruitvale Station") Her little boy was taken from her, so she doesn't have to think twice when it comes to a revolution.
  • Tilda Swinton ("The Grand Budapest Hotel") is deliciously villainous, so for me, one of the few high points of this film was when she bit the big one!
  • Ed Harris ("Gravity" voice) When he appears, the end is in sight. Take hope!
Post-apocalyptic worlds are so clichéd by now. I hope a new trend starts soon. This is an R-rated actioner, so expect most scenes to be muddy, depressing and violent (hatchets anyone?). There is very little profanity but gunshots by the score. Expect only one explosion, but it's a game changer! I did NOT enjoy this movie.
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This should satisfy any curiosity you might have:
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Sex Tape

Okay.... This will be a PG-13 review about an R-rated movie. Rest assured, this is every bit as raunchy as the title would imply as we watch a happily married couple discover that the personal sex tape they made the evening before might go viral. (Their sex life has become humdrum, so they try all the variations in the book, "The Joy of Sex.")

The first part of the film shows us the lusty beginnings for this couple, directed with a fairly heavy hand by Jake Kasden ("Bad Teacher"). Their early life together is lots of fun and establishes their characters. We always want someone to root for and this is a very likable couple. I found the double takes and reaction shots a bit overdone, although the actors gave this project everything (and I mean EVERYthing) they had.

Here is part of the cast:
  • Cameron Diaz ("The Other Woman") Annie is a generous, loving (and very flexible!) woman who adores her family. She may have a buyer for her blog, which would set her up with a welcome income. This actress will cherish this film long after her shelf life expires; she looks terrific!
  • Jason Segel ("This is 40") Jay is successful, stable and a bit over- domesticated. When he discovers that their home-made tape may be in "The Cloud" he has to admit not only does he not under- stand it, NO ONE understands it! BTW, I have never seen this guy look so appealing.
  • Rob Lowe ("Parks and Recreation") Hank is a charming businessman interested in expanding Annie's readership for his wholesome, family-oriented publication (but check out what he has in his bedside table).
  • Rob Corddry ("In a World") Robby may be a good friend, but he and his wife Tess (Ellie Kemper) would really like a peek at that video.
Expect lots (and LOTS) of nudity, profanity, drug use, and simulated sex. To my relief, I saw no gunshots, no vehicular mayhem and no blowie uppie stuff, but there is a ferocious dog. I laughed out loud many times but it would have been even funnier if the mugging had been toned down a bit.
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Here's a preview:
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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Andy Serkis is amazing. He began this franchise as Caesar in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." In addition, he was Golem in the "Hobbit/ Ring" collection, along with Professor Haddock in the "Tin Tin" series (the next two have been announced). As a voice actor, his job is to convey a panoply of emotions using just his eyes, his voice, and motion-capture equipment in front of a green screen. Try it sometime!

In this second PG-13 chapter of the "Planet of the Apes" prequel, we are ten years into a man-made simian flu virus which has destroyed most of mankind. The apes live a peaceful life in the misty forests of northern California, hoping there are no human survivors. To their dismay, two dusty vehicles jostle their way through the woods, looking for a dam that includes a generator which holds the key to life in the remains of San Francisco, where human survivors have gathered. The apes are NOT thrilled. Those of you who are familiar with San Francisco will enjoy the landmarks (not limited to the Golden Gate Bridge).

Here is part of the (huge) cast:
  • Andy Serkis ("Arthur Christmas") is Caesar, the lab experiment grown to the Alpha male of this new generation of apes. He believes in education, peace and mercy. He has taught his fellow apes Amslan, the American sign language.
  • Jason Clarke ("The Great Gatsby") Malcolm is the first human captured by the apes. He does NOT expect recognizable human language, a sense of justice, nor the imposing presence of a thoughtful Caesar. "They could have killed me!"
  • Kirk Acevedo (Lots of TV) is Carver, the trigger-happy lamebrain who refuses to listen to reason and tests Caesar's resolve for nonviolence. I really liked what happened to Carver.
  • Keri Russell ("Austenland") Ellie is a doctor who is also Malcolm's significant other. She comes along on that exploratory trek "just in case."
  • Gary Oldman ("RoboCop") Dreyfus is convinced the dam will generate enough electricity for San Francisco to recuperate. He has no qualms about killing apes: "They're animals!"
  • Karin Konoval ("Rise of the Planet of the Apes") returns as Maurice, the orangutan who serves as a teacher to young apes. He emphasizes "apes do not kill apes."
  • Kodi Smit-McPhee ("Romeo and Juliet" - 2013) Our youthful Alexander discovers that he and Maurice have something in common: they both love books.
Director Matt Reeves has spent a king's ransom on excellent Computer Generated Imaging; personally, I would have cut at least 30 minutes from the 130-minute running time, but the story of human bungling and its impact on an untested ape population kept me involved to the very end. They included scenes from the first prequel in this new series, although I had to smile at that amazing battery in the abandoned video camera which still worked after 10 long years; I want one!
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Take a look:
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We have a standard setup for a movie: Woman discovers husband has been unfaithful and her life is torn asunder. In this one, our heroine hits the road with her drunken grandmother. Chaos ensues.

Actually, we see a deft touch with this screenplay: real-life couple Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy co-wrote this R-rated script (language, alcohol, and sexual innuendos); as a result, it has far more going for it than I expected.

Directed by the aforementioned Ben Falcone, we see a star-studded cast:
  • Melissa McCarthy("The Heat") Tammy is a mess. She doesn't like her job and her "exit interview" is the most destructive and raucous I've ever seen. Her relationship with both her mother and her grandmother is "testy" to say the least and her husband just dodges her verbal barrages.
  • Allison Janney ("Bad Words") Deb despairs of her daughter ever completing anything she starts, including her marriage.
  • Susan Sarandon ("The Big Wedding") Pearl had always been closer to her granddaughter than Deb, but her parenting left a lot to be desired. However, she still has a good eye for a guy!
  • Kathy Bates ("Harry's Law") and Sandra Oh ("Grey's Anatomy") Lenore and Suzanne provide our two runaways with a palatial shelter and a doozy of a party, which includes a Viking funeral for a jet ski (you'll just have to see it).
  • Toni Colette ("Lucky Them") and Nat Faxon (Lots of TV) are Tammy's heart-breakers. Missi is caught red-handed at Tammy's house with the faithless Greg.
  • Gary Cole ("Veep") My favorite chameleon plays Earl, a frisky old coot who will never see sixty again, but he brings a lot of action to the back seat of a Cadillac!
  • Mark Duplass ("The Mindy Project") Bobby thinks Tammy isn't the most un-interesting person he has ever met (read it twice - it doesn't improve....).
  • Dan Aykroyd (Lots of TV) Don has been a pretty absent father in Tammy's life, but he's willing to step up to the plate now!
This started out as a throwaway plot, but I think ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) could embrace this as a pretty good example of the effects of alcoholism on grown offspring. Be prepared for anatomical humor, vehicular mayhem, profanity and many laugh-out-loud moments. McCarthy is fearless! Based on the size of the audience at the screening, I think this gal can open a movie by herself!

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Here is a link:
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Begin Again

Don'tcha just love movies about show business? This R-rated (language and alcohol) romantic dramedy features guerrilla concerts which last only until the cops arrive, a failed partnership which sets a frustrated music producer adrift, and enough gorgeous shots of New York City to satisfy even Woody Allen. Director John Carney ("Once") sets his players on rooftops, in parks and alleys, under bridges and near well-known land- marks; this is an ode to the city and a tribute to the creative souls who make our music.

Here is a gentle, upbeat, unexpectedly sweet piece about the music business; we see performances in small clubs and big theaters, with music professionals who range from corporate officials to social networks gurus.

We enjoy:
  • Keira Knightley ("Anna Karenina") as a would-be songwriter/ singer dumped by her partner as his career unexpectedly takes off and she's left in his wake.
  • Adam Levine ("American Horror Story") is her dumper who succumbs to the siren song of success. How do you spell R-E-M-O-R-S-E?
  • James Corden ("One Chance") is an old friend who offers her shelter and a shoulder to cry on.
  • Mark Ruffalo ("Iron Man 3") as a has-been music producer who first alienated me until I saw the creative side of him, then he became someone I could root for.
  • Catherine Keener ("Captain Phillips") is his soon-to-be former wife, dealing with the detritus of her relationships. I LOVE the way she and her husband click into what is obviously an old habit of sharing a smoke and hiding it from their daughter.
  • Hailee Steinfeld ("Ender's Game") is the angry daughter of our recently split couple; but she gets seriously good advice from the would-be singer.
  • Mos Def (as Yasiin Bey "Life of Crime") is the corporate official who asks our hero, "What have you done for us lately?"
  • CeeLo Green ("Sparkle") is one of our hero's former clients who has never forgotten who helped him when he needed it the most.
Do you think our two leads might make beautiful music together? Seriously? I think I failed to mention that this is unpredictable. You'll have to see for yourself. And you'll have a clearer picture of what a gifted music producer can bring to the table.

Let me mention: No sweaty bodies, no vehicular mayhem, no guns and no blowie uppie stuff. That's probably good enough for many of you, right? It was for me: I liked it.
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Take a peek at the trailer:
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