Football is a great American tradition and you don't mess with tradition. That's why this film should be seen by every parent in the country. This was a tough role for Will Smith to play because he LOVES American football, but the message is so vital he couldn't turn it down. We watch a Pittsburgh forensic pathologist from Nigeria discover the long-term effects of brain trauma suffered by football players during normal play.

This provocative movie is written and directed by Peter Landesman ("Kill the Messenger"); he based his script on "Brain Game," a thought-provoking article written by Jeanne Marie Laskas and published in GQ magazine.

The top-notch cast includes:
  • Will Smith ("Focus") as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a highly qualified immigrant from Nigeria who challenges one of America's most beloved sports. He is a good and decent man completely outflanked by his opponents, who call him an uneducated quack. (He has numerous post-graduate degrees.)
  • Alec Baldwin ("Blue Jasmine") Pittsburgh Steelers physician Dr. Julian Bailes is NOT happy when a foreign-born doctor makes his allegation. All Bailes knows is that he has lost a good friend.
  • Albert Brooks ("The Simpsons") Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht can't see past his budget limitations, so he makes his resident pathologist pay for his own additional testing.
  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw ("Jupiter Ascending") Prema Mutiso is of the opinion that her roommate is a fine and honorable man who speaks for the dead when no one else will...so she marries him!
  • David Morse ("Treme") "Iron Mike" Webster has everything riding on the outcome of this controversial issue. He becomes the poster child for traumatic brain injury.
  • Eddie Marsan ("Sherlock Holmes") Dr. Steven DeKosky sees Dr. Omalu's paper first and has trouble denying the science, so he makes an important decision.
  • Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje ("Trumbo") Dave Duerson denies help to his former teammate and the evidence put before him. He may come to regret this....
Follow the money...that describes the overwhelming challenge our hero has when he tries to speak the truth. This is David - vs - Goliath: a lone doctor taking on one of the largest, most profitable organizations in the world. He uses science; they counter with racism. We certainly have someone to root for, and plenty of others to loathe.

This is PG-13, so all those grade-school-age wannabe football heroes can see it. Expect no sweaty bodies, no gun play, no vehicular mayhem and no blowie uppie stuff, but you WILL see a couple of autopsies in living color. Just appreciate this group of very able actors who ask a compelling question about a massive American institution.
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Take a look:
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The Hateful Eight

There are times when Quentin Tarantino ("Inglorious Basterds") goes too far and this is one. He is having delusions of grandeur by pretending this thing is "Event Movie-going," like in the 40s and 50s, when the women wore hats and gloves, ushers dressed up, the event opened with an overture before the film began, half of the movie played, then there was an intermission accompanied by the movie score before the last half of the movie. This 168-minute (!), R-rated bloodbath (gunshots and "N" words by the dozens, plus a lengthy scene with a doomed nude man staggering in the snow), has an Ennio Morricone-scored overture and a 12-minute intermission programmed right into the film.

It's divided into four chapters:
  1. Last Stage to Red Rock - We meet some of the players, where are the rest?
  2. Son of a Gun - The Colonel has a son?
  3. Minnie's Haberdashery - ...and where is Minnie?
  4. Domergue's Got a Secret - Was it Colonel Mustard in the solarium with the candlestick?
Written and directed by Mr. Q. himself, we watch embattled bounty hunters snowbound in a blizzard wreak havoc on one another. Set in post Civil War times, the gross-out script, talky dialogue and lame denouement are all so contrived and shoddy I won't even start. The young men in the screening audience didn't seem too worried about the picky little things I spotted, so this sloppy and repugnant movie will probably do fairly well. In fact they laughed when one person's head was blown off (it only took four pointblank gunshots. Oops! How will they collect the bounty if the corpse isn't identifiable?).

This cast is almost as loquacious as that of "Pulp Fiction" fame:
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh ("Alex of Venice") is Daisy. This woman has been captured for the bounty on her head. She is beaten, kicked and has her teeth knocked out...and she has it coming!
  • Kurt Russell ("Furious 7") John Ruth is holding her for the bounty. He always brings in his fugitives alive even thought they are wanted Dead or Alive. He likes to see them hang.
  • Samuel L. Jackson ("The Avengers") We watch former (Yankee) Major Marquis Warren as he charms and intimidates his fellow prisoners, then goads an enemy into drawing first!
  • Walton Goggins ("Justified") Sheriff Chris Mannix chills us with his blatant racism and his ambition.
  • Tim Roth ("Selma") On the other hand, Oswaldo Mobray, The Little Man, shows his knack for truce. He is the peacemaker in this bunch, although he says he's the Red Rock hangman.
  • Bruce Dern ("Nebraska") General Sandy Smithers is The Confederate, a man who commended himself well during the war, but is mourning the loss of his son.
  • Demian Bichir ("The Heat") Bob The Mexican can't wait for his boss lady to get back from visiting her uncle "over the mountains."
  • Channing Tatum ("Jupiter Ascending") Jody wants something and he wants it bad! He is not a patient man.
There are other characters, but things never get any better. I always want someone to root for and I couldn't find a single solitary person! This one really tried my patience.

Tarantino's question is: "Will they survive?"
Mine is: "Should they?"
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See for yourself:
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The Big Short

This great, great ensemble piece competently teaches us a history lesson about a complex but very important topic! Director Adam McKay ("The Other Guys") with the able screen-writing assistance of Charles Randolph, was inspired by Michael Lewis's book, written about real people and real events (the bursting of the housing bubble and the implosion of the big banks).

We have a guy who seems to have Asperger's, two youngsters barely out of college and two fund management teams, each of whom separately take a look at how the moral and the amoral butt heads on Wall Street. This film is funny, satisfying and educational, although...by the time the "Credit Default Swap" is in full swing, we share our heroes' collective despair. We can see that much of what goes on is a gigantic game of poker: These guys are basically betting AGAINST the future of the American housing market...and we see them as the GOOD guys!

Here is part of this brilliant ensemble:
  • Brad Pitt ("Fury") is Ben, the grizzled idealist who has quit the game and isn't interested in going back. He angrily paints the most moving picture of what will happen to the average American worker if his young duo has read those financial data correctly.   
  • John Magaro ("Unbroken") Charlie still lives at home, but at least he graduated from college. He and Jamie think they are onto something gigantic! (The Wall Street Journal disagrees; wait until you hear why.)
  • Finn Wittrock ("Unbroken") Jamie and his sidekick manage an investment fund, so they try to get a foot in the door on Wall Street. Problem is, their track record and their millions are NOT impressive to the giants on the Street.
  • Christian Bale ("American Hustle") Michael Burry won't back down. Our brilliant, barefooted nonconformist has seen the light and it tells him the housing bubble is going to burst. This Cassandra at least manages his own fund and can write his own rules.
  • Ryan Gosling ("Gangster Squad") Jared can see what's coming and is trying to cushion his own fall.
  • Steve Carell ("Freeheld") Mark is still mourning the death of his brother and is astounded by what he sees in the upper echelons of High Finance. Watch his incredulity when he understands that the three rating agencies: S&P, Moody's and Fitch, are complicit in the catastrophe. He speaks for all of us when he takes on the CFO of Morgan-Stanley! (In my opinion, this is Carell's movie!)
It's a shame to leave out other names and characters, but suffice it to say, many more fine actors deserve special mention, but space does not allow....

Some of the photography and editing is too herky-jerky for my taste but I don't care. They bring to dramatic life the same scenario that made us cringe in the award-winning 2010 documentary "Inside Job." In this new dramatized version, our screening audience laughed as the characters occasionally dropped the fourth wall and made ironic comments directly to us. Look for unusual cameos, plus the usual strip clubs and a barrage of F-bombs (it IS Wall Street!), but the lessons are well taught; now if only some of those bankers would go to jail!

By the way, they have started the same scheme again, only under a new name. "If it walks like a duck..."
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Here is a trailer:
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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

From the moment that familiar yellow print begins slowly scrolling into the far distance, we know we are in familiar territory. In the jammed theater we held our collective breaths as we were quickly enveloped in a running firefight with familiar war-craft flitting across the screen.

Director J.J. Abrams ("Star Trek") working from a PG-13 script he wrote with Lawrence Kasden and Michael Arndt, never overlooks any icon that might touch our hearts and trigger fond memories. We are watching a battle in which The First Order is trying to annihilate The Force once and for all. The rebels need the last Jedi, but he is lost in the mists of time: Luke Skywalker is considered no more than a myth to the young Resistance fighters involved in today's struggles.

A small part of an enormous cast includes:
  • Daisy Ridley ("Mr. Selfridge") is Rey, a scavenger who steals the Millennium Falcon. She is trying to protect a little droid called BB-8 which supposedly has a map that reveals the whereabouts of the mythical Luke Skywalker.
  • John Boyega ("Half of a Yellow Sun") Stormtrooper FN-2187/Finn is sickened by the slaughter of innocent citizens by The First Order so he goes AWOL. When it is assumed he is part of the Resistance, he goes along with it.
  • Oscar Isaac ("The Two Faces of January") Poe Dameron is the hotshot Resistance pilot who rescues Finn as he flees The First Order.
  • Harrison Ford ("The Age of Adeline") Han Solo is trying to locate The Millennium Falcon, which had been stolen. He and his sidekick Chewbacca board her just as our scavenger/thief takes her up in an attempt to elude officers who are trying to arrest her.
  • Carrie Fisher ("Maps to the Stars") Princess (now General!) Leia leads the Resistance. She and Han have a bittersweet reunion and together they worry about the new leader of "The First Order," which formed after they defeated the Galactic Empire three decades ago.
  • Adam Driver ("This is Where I Leave You") That new leader of "The First Order" is Kylo Ren, who seems inspired by his predecessor Darth Vader, complete with black mask and altered speaking voice.
  • Mark Hamill ("The Flash") shows up right at the end as the all-too-real Luke Skywalker. Rey brings him his light saber!
References to previous situations (trash compactor, anyone?) and familiar locations (remember that bar?) brought murmurs of recognition from the audience. Our packed house was totally focused on their beloved icons with their unique traits and against-all-odds challenges. We welcomed each character as soon as we recognized him or her. Harrison Ford in particular has many of the best lines (or at least he makes the most of them!). He and Carrie Fisher were particularly welcome, although R2D2 generated an audible response, as did C-3PO.

It appears that some of these young whippersnappers are ready to step up to the plate and continue this saga. If so, they need some new controversies. We enjoyed the film -- gunfire, blowie uppie stuff and all -- but I hope this Episode VII has closed some old traditions and Episode VIII, which is filming now, will launch some new ones.
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Check for familiar faces:
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The Danish Girl

Based on real-life events that occurred in the 1920s (!), we watch a happily married pair of artists grapple with the realities of the husband's latent desire to release his inner woman as he dresses in female clothing. Already nominated for numerous awards (in December, 2015), Academy Award-winning director Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech") is guided by a screenplay from Lucinda Coxon ("Wild Target") which in turn was based on David Ebershoff's biographical novel "The Danish Girl."

This excellent cast and brilliant production design was convincingly real: Einer is a painter and devoted husband; Gerda, is also a painter who playfully uses her husband as a model for her female portraits. Both of these lead actors deserve all the nominations they get; each one contributes to the quality of the other's game. And the cinematography by Danny Cohen is exquisite, with scenes framed like paintings!

They are:
  • Eddie Redmayne ("The Theory of Everything") is Einer Wegener/Lili Elbe, reluctant to hurt his wife, but compelled to become a woman. Thus with sex reassignment surgery, he becomes a transgender pioneer. Medical "science" was brutal and clumsy in the 20s and 30s.... You will cringe as they start with radiation to "cure" him.
  • Alicia Vikander ("The Man From U.N.C.L.E.") is Gerda Wegener, first amused, then confused, finally heartbroken by the transformation of the man she truly loves. She is his staunchest advocate from beginning to end.
  • Ben Whishaw ("Spectre") Henrik is intrigued by Lily the first time he sees her at a party, so it is no surprise when he surfaces again later in the film.
  • Sebastian Koch ("Bridge of Spies") Three time's a charm when good doctor Warnekros comes on the scene. Consultations with the first two doctors sent chills down everyone's spine, including our hero/heroine!
  • Matthias Schoenaerts ("Far From the Madding Crowd") Hans Axgil was there when he and Einer were children, now he's there when Gerda needs him. What more can we ask?
  • Oh! The dog Hvappe is played by Pixie, in her first starring role. ...smile...
As you can see, this highly qualified cast is capable of carrying a complex and heart-wrenching story. You can always tell when a story is based on real life, a storybook ending is often a bit more elusive.

This is rated "R" for nudity and the subject matter. Those matters are tastefully handled, but are on screen nonetheless. By the way, much of the dialogue is whispered or murmured, so look for a theater with closed captions! Just remember, this one's for grownups!
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See what I mean:
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Is this "Rocky XVII?" In this above-average one, former Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa reluctantly becomes a mentor and trainer for Adonis Johnson, who just happens to be the illegitimate son of his old arch rival and beloved friend, the late Apollo Creed.

Writer/Director Ryan Coogler ("Fruitvale Station") working with Aaron Covington and Sylvester Stallone, bring us another underdog story that seems familiar....just a tweak here and there to keep it interesting.

The cast:
  • Michael B. Jordan ("Fantastic Four") is Adonis Johnson, a would-be pugilist, trying to avoid being saddled with a legendary father's name. He wants to succeed on his own, even though the name "Creed" on the bill would guarantee phenomenal ticket sales.
  • Sylvester Stallone ("The Expendables") is Rocky Balboa, retired from the ring and running "Adrien's," an Italian restaurant. He hasn't been in a gym for years and it shows. He often visits Adrien's grave, lugs out a chair, reads a newspaper and chats with her.
  • Phylicia Rashad (Lots of TV) is Mary Anne Creed, Apollo's widow, who took in a hot-headed unhappy boy and gave him the education and advantages that his father's success made possible.
  • Tessa Thompson ("Selma") is Bianca, a hearing-impaired singer who lives upstairs from our hero. When he pounds on her locked apartment door, she takes out her hearing aids!
With a Stallone movie, predictability is a given. I think that contributes to his phenomenal success. People settle into their theater seats, knowing he will divert and entertain them while he crafts another unusual happy ending.

Personally, I look away during the boxing scenes, but find the generation gaps fun: Adonis takes a picture of some paper Rocky is holding. When he asks if his protégé wants it, Adonis pats his cell phone and says, "No thanks, it's in The Cloud," and Rocky looks up at the sky... Adonis won't fight unless Rocky fights, and it's NOT what you think!

This is PG-13, so expect very little profanity, no gunfire, no vehicular mayhem or blowie uppie stuff, and no sweaty bodies (although a liaison is implied). On the other hand, expect LOTS of blood in the boxing ring. Ugh...
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See if you can guess where this will go:
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Eilis is a young immigrant woman with each foot in a different world. All they have in common is: She falls for a man in each place.

Written by Nick Hornby ("About a Boy") and based on Colm Toibin's novel, this lovely film is directed by John Crowley ("Closed Circuit"). We know the actors are excellent because he can indulge in lengthy single-take scenes.

The cast:
  • Saoirse ("Sair' sha") Ronan ("The Grand Budapest Hotel") is Eilis, frustrated by small-minded provincial people in her Irish hometown, agrees to emigrate. Sponsored by a Brooklyn-based priest, she has lodgings and a job when she lands in the United States.
  • Jim Broadbent ("The Iron Lady") is Father Flood, personally familiar with the immigrant experience, he is the perfect sponsor.
  • Julie Walters ("Harry Potter") is Mrs. Kehoe, the wise (and funny!) landlady at the residence for young women where Eilis has a room.
  • Emory Cohen ("Smash") is Tony, the young Italian plumber who loves Irish girls. He also loves the Brooklyn Dodgers! His family is delightful and we get to see their expressive Italian hands in action around the dinner table.
  • Domhnall Gleeson ("About Time") Jim Farrell is the appealing young man in Ireland. There are some things she hasn't mentioned to him.
It's lovely to watch a capable actress like Ronan inhabit a character who evolves from timid and tongue tied, to confident and articulate. We see how homesick she is at first and how she uses that chatty dinner table to learn some much-needed survival skills: e.g., how to eat spaghetti! We respect her ambition as we watch her enroll in night school, but hope those new skills won't be used against her when she has to make an emergency trip back to Ireland.

If I had to quibble, I would say that the 1950s didn't boast such vivid cosmetics or such eye-catching clothes. But who's to say, I only lived them. In addition, Mr. Cohen seems to be emulating Marlon Brando: his mumbled dialogue begs for captions! This nit-picking notwithstanding, this is a highly satisfying chick flick when the only betrayal our heroine experiences is the one of her own heart.
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Take a look: 
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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

This fourth movie is the last quarter of Suzanne Collins' blockbuster young adult trilogy that made stars of the principal actors and absolutely PRINTED money from the get-go. (They split the last book into two movies.)

Director Francis Lawrence, who directed three of the four "Hunger Games" movies, is back to wrap up the series. The movie is rated PG-13 so expect very little profanity and no sweaty bodies, but sporadic gunfire plus lots and lots (and LOTS) of blowie uppie stuff. Oh... also a very claustrophobic episode in a tunnel.

This cast consists of mostly familiar faces:
  • Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook") Katniss has become the face of the revolution. Problem is, she always has personal skin in the game. Watch her response when she sees her sister's orphaned cat.
  • Josh Hutcherson ("Red Dawn") Peeta has been brain washed and is deeply damaged; now he swings between loving Katniss and trying to kill her.
  • Liam Hemsworth ("The Hunger Games") Gale still loves Katniss, but his military decisions are tough for her to accept.
  • Donald Sutherland ("The Italian Job") President Snow is the face of Panem, he is determined to hold onto his power but he delivers a shocker to Katniss. (They had agreed never to lie to one another.)
  • Julianne Moore ("Still Alice") President Coin has chosen Katniss to be the face of the Rebellion whether she likes it or not; see Coin's wily reaction when Katniss goes rogue!
  • Elizabeth Banks ("Love & Mercy") Effie Trinket is back in full regalia, all too briefly. (Haymitch would probably agree...)
  • Sam Claflin ("Love, Rosie") Finnick is one of the Games participants who remains loyal to Katniss. ("Remember who the enemy is!") His wedding is sweet.
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Hunger Games") Plutarch is here again, despite Hoffman's well-publicized death in 2014. This proves that there IS a good use for Computer Generated Imaging. It's amazing!
  • Woody Harrelson ("True Detective") Haymitch despairs when he hears the new rules which will govern his protégées; his loyalty to Katniss never wavers. 
  • Stanley Tucci ("Muppets Most Wanted") These festivities wouldn't be the same without our favorite emcee: Caesar Flickerman. Now he's the newscaster for the Panem propaganda machine who delivers news of the deaths of our heroes.
  • Patina Miller ("Madam Secretary") Initially, Commander Paylor has her doubts about Katniss, but things change. By the way, this capable actress has the best diction I have heard in years!
This series has been interesting because it makes a heroine of a young woman who is reluctant to be famous, never hesitates to help others, doesn't like fancy clothes and always steps up to face her fears.

In my opinion, the 3D is unnecessary because I go for the story. The series ends exactly like the third book, so I was very, very relieved!
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See what I mean:
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Remember The Blacklist in 1947? Ten Hollywood professionals refused to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC); as a result they were accused of having Communist sympathies. They were jailed and/or blacklisted from any future work.

Author Bruce Cook ("Dalton Trumbo") has given us a humor-laced book that deserves to be immortalized. Dalton Trumbo ("Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" and "Kitty Foyle") entered that era as Hollywood's top screenwriter.  By the time it was over.... well, you're just gonna have to see this movie...smile...

Director Jay Roach ("Meet the Parents"), working with John McNamara (Lots of TV), has assembled this cast:
  • Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad") is Dalton Trumbo, angry to be accused of being "Un-American. We can see that the hearings are held in such a way that testimony from the accused is never heard. Trumbo is resourceful though, and figures out how to survive.
  • Diane Lane ("Man of Steel") is his steadfast wife Cleo. She watches their lives disintegrate but stays the course.
  • Louis C.K. ("Louie") is Arlen Hird, another blacklisted screen- writer, chain smoking despite his lung cancer.
  • Alan Tudyk ("Firefly") Ian McLellan Hunter won an Oscar for the "Roman Holiday" screenplay, even though he didn't write it.
  • Michael Stuhlbarg ("Steve Jobs") is Edward G. Robinson, who can't work anonymously because his face is his profession. His response is shocking.
  • James DuMont ("Jurassic World") is J. Parnell Thomas, who conducts the initial hearings and then later crosses paths with Trumbo again, to his dismay.
  • David James Elliott ("Mad Men") is John Wayne, whose persona as a lover of America doesn't seem to jibe with his service during WWII. Elliott doesn't LOOK like, Wayne, but he sure SOUNDS like him.
  • Helen Mirren ("Woman in Gold") is Hedda Hopper, the powerful gossip columnist who is determined to destroy the careers of the accused men. She is smart enough to smell a rat when "The Brave One" by an unknown screenwriter wins an Oscar.
  • Dean O'Gorman ("The Hobbit") Kirk Douglas is furious at Hopper. As a result he did something which I still respect today.
  • Adewale Akinnuooye-Agbaje ("Pompeii") is excellent as Virgil Brooks, the felon who becomes Trumbo's boss in prison.
  • John Goodman (Frank King), Stephen Root (Hymie King), Christian Berkel (Otto Preminger), Richard Portnow (Louis B. Mayer), and dozens of others round out this star-studded cast. Kudos to Casting Agent David Rubin for his excellent work.
The generous use of old newsreels and film clips with our cast integrated into some of them (notice the gladiatorial scene from "Spartacus!") makes everything seem authentic, as does the incessant smoking (even in movie theaters!) and the steady intake of booze and drugs, which accounts for the R rating.

Once again, Cranston turns in an award-worthy performance, as does Louis C.K. I had never pictured the latter as a dramatic actor but this changed my mind. This film works as a recent history lesson about Hollywood power and politics, AND it entertains as well.

In light of the treatment of the Russian people during Stalinism, it is a bit simplistic for Trumbo to describe Communism to his daughter as "sharing a sandwich," but this script is assumed to be a bit biased, right?
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Here's a preview:
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Secret in Their Eyes

If you choose to do a remake of an excellent film, will changing the cast plus ramping up the violence and hysteria make it a better film? The answer is: Not really. Although three Oscar winners on board helps a bit. It is embarrassing to see a story painted in such broad strokes for an American audience.

When the Oscar-winning "El secreto de sus ojos" came out of Argentina in 2010, I was so blown away I couldn't wait to buy my own copy. I reviewed it in July, 2010. (Obviously I was prepared to dislike this remake, but at least director Billy Ray ("Captain Phillips") worked with the original screenwriter Juan Jose Campanella. That made me curious...

We see:
  • Nichole Kidman ("Queen of the Desert") Claire works with Jess and Ray.  We watch her come to her new job with great creden- tials and a lot of ambition. Claire takes a pivotal role in this particular case. Like Soledad Villamil before her as this character, Kidman knocks it out of the park.
  • Julia Roberts ("August: Osage County") Jess is an invention of this new version. Roberts gets to scream and emote, but later shows us in more subtle ways what she can do with a serious role. She's no glamor puss in this one. She seems to be shooting for character roles. Good for her.
  • Zoe Graham ("Boyhood") Carolyn  is a daughter anyone would be proud of. Her mother Jess adores her.
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor ("The Martian") Ray is absolutely gutted by this particular crime. He can't let it go because he feels responsible. And his attraction for Claire is the worst-kept secret in the court house.
  • Dean Norris ("Under the Dome") Bumpy is getting older but he's still willing to help Ray because both of them feel an obligation.
  • Joe Cole ("Green Room") With Marzin/Beckwith the question is: Is he or isn't he?
As with the original, the police officers are frustrated and dismayed by all the bureaucratic maneuvering. They can find the killer but can't control the bureaucrats. In this one, our hero's employer, Homeland Security, won't let him join the manhunt because a mosque has been bombed and he has a job to do.

I re-watched "El secreto de sus ojos" so I could give this new version a fair hearing. The remake is actually better than I expected. (I'll bet you didn't think I would admit it, did you? ...smile...) This is pretty good, but the original is spectacular.
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Take a look:
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It's not only the crime that's the problem, it's the cover-up. Ask any disgraced politician or former CEO.

"Spotlight" is the name of the investigative team at the Boston Globe newspaper. It is staffed with experienced, tenacious reporters who use every tool available to get to the bottom of a story. This story about child molestation by priests and a coordinated cover-up by the Catholic Church earned a Pulitzer for the paper in 2003.

Now screenwriter Josh Singer in collaboration with writer/director Tom McCarthy offers us a riveting look at how it evolved (from one rumor), what issues were discovered (institutional cover-up) and the difficulties they encountered (embarrassed and traumatized witnesses, plus 9/11).

The brilliant cast includes:
  • Mark Ruffalo ("Begin Again") Mike Rezendes is a (lapsed Catholic) workaholic. He wants the scoop and he wants justice for the children.
  • Michael Keaton ("Birdman") "Robby" Robinson wants to expose the institutional cover-up, not just 13 priests.
  • John Slattery ("Mad Men") Ben Bradlee Jr. is thunderstruck when the number of local priests uncovered reaches 87! He reminds them that 53% of the Globe's subscribers are Catholic.
  • Liev Schreiber ("Pawn Sacrifice") This single Jewish man has just moved to Boston to take a new position at the Globe. Marty Baron realizes the scope of the story and tries to talk with the local Cardinal. He is given a Catechism as a gift.
  • Rachel McAdams ("Southpaw") Sasha Pfeiffer can dig out more information from old ledgers than anyone. Her discoveries help make their case. (She sometimes takes her grandmother to Mass.)
  • Stanley Tucci ("The Hunger Games") is Mitchell Garabedian, a Lebanese attorney at sea in Irish Catholic Boston. He is known as "a character" but has been on the right track far too long. He doesn't trust the newspaper.
  • Billy Crudup ("Stage Beauty") Attorney Eric Macleish has a good scam going. Wait until you hear how it works!
  • Neal Huff ("Moonrise Kingdom") Phil Saviano created a support group for victims of priests. He's one of the lucky ones: he didn't kill himself!
Anyone who follows the news knows how this will end; but it doesn't detract a bit from the story. At one point Bradlee says, "If there were 90 of these bas**rds, people would know!" and Robinson replies, "Maybe they do."

As you can see, there is mild profanity, no sex, no gunshots, no vehicular mayhem and no blowie uppie stuff, just an engrossing story about a dedicated group of people taking on a world-encompassing institution because it's the right thing to do.

R-rated because of subject matter (child abuse) but an award winner as far as I'm concerned. See this one!
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Take a look:
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James Bond gets a mysterious message so he begins delving into the past; which is what we do as well. Hmmm, a James Bond movie: Luxury car chases? Check. Interesting locales? Check. Lovely women? Check. Torture? Check. Gunfights? Check. Blowie uppie stuff? Check. Yup, we're in familiar territory. Meanwhile back at headquarters, M is struggling to keep his agency alive, so committee meetings and politics are his focus.

This profitable franchise boasts Sam Mendez ("Skyfall") back at the helm with a lackluster story and script written by a committee, which takes us down a time-tested trail. The movie runs for 147 l-o-n-g minutes; we could have edited the elaborate title sequence for starters! Our press screening began with a poorly lip-synced promo of pop singer Sam Smith singing "Writing's on the Wall," which refers to a wall where dead agents' names are engraved. James Bond's name has been handwritten in red.

Here is part of the enormous cast:
  • Daniel Craig (three recent Bond films, plus "The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo" - 2011) may be doing his last stint as James Bond, although I see an announcement called "Bond 25" which may make a liar out of me. Craig is athletic and inscrutable, so we know we're in capable hands.
  • Christoph Waltz ("Big Eyes") is Oberhauser, this chapter's villain, who reveals a surprising link to our hero's past. Remember, this actor has already won two Oscars and he clearly is having a great time with another villainous role.
  • Léa Seydoux ("Inglorious Basterds") is our new Bond Girl. Her name is Madeleine Swann and she hates guns.
  • Ralph Fiennes ("The Grand Budapest Hotel") is M, faced with endless bureaucratic rigmarole, so we are happy when he straps on a gun and sets out to help his rogue agent.
  • Ben Whishaw ("The Danish Girl") is Q; he's full of ideas and gadgets, plus his hesitant loyalty to Bond is sweet. I love this guy and was delighted that this time he gets out of his workshop!
  • Naomie Harris ("Southpaw") is our new Moneypenny, more outgoing than her predecessor and far more engaged in the agency's field work. She and Q make a good team.
These PG-13 films have very little profanity, a bit of implied sex, and formulaic plots. I just think I liked them better when all this stuff was new...
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Here's a sample:
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The Peanuts Movie

Yup. It's the old gang, ready for a trip down Memory Lane in this G-rated romp which celebrates the classic personalities we love...although for the little 'uns, it goes on a bit too long and the 3D i$ a wa$te! Remember, the story is the thing and in this one we have two stories running side by side: Charlie Brown's latest dilemma and Snoopy's air battles with the Red Baron.

This is capably directed by Steve Martino ("Ice Age: Continental Drift") with a script written by Charles Schulz's grandson Bryan and produced by Bryan's father Craig. Three Schulz generations have been involved in Charlie Brown's life. What a legacy!

The cast:
  • Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) is, once again, an underdog. That kite will NOT stay up and that new red-haired girl in his class has him tongue-tied. The book "How to Be a Winner" is his only hope. "Good Grief!"
  • Snoopy (Bill Melendez) is an underdog's dog, but he never stops trying. "Curse you, Red Baron!"
  • Lucy van Pelt (Hadley Belle Miller) is exasperated by Charlie's incompetence but even more upset when it looks like he might succeed. "You blockhead!" And let's not forget her unrequited love for Schroeder.
  • Sally (Mariel Sheets) is an upbeat and admiring little sister, but the stars in her eyes are for Linus.
  • Schroeder (Noah Johnston) even plays the 20th Century Fox theme as the movie opens! And that dratted Lucy will NOT leave him alone!
  • Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi) Just her presence reduces Charlie Brown to a red-faced mute. Watch him try to ring the doorbell at her house.
  • Peppermint Patty (Venus Schultheis) is the smartest one in the class ...and she knows it!
  • Marcie (Rebecca Bloom) is Peppermint Patty's faithful retainer. "Wake up, Sir!"
We can't forget Linus and Pig-Pen, either. As always, the central issue is acceptance and success, but the heart and soul of these characters rests on the shoulders of the brilliant animators, who remind us why we love these guys.

I saw reminders from my own childhood: a tooth-marked pencil, playing crack the whip, learning to dance, pinching fingers in three-ring binder, and overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. This movie puts Charlie Brown in the middle of a moral dilemma where it would be much easier to allow a lie than to tell the truth.

The adults, as you may recall, are represented by the "Wah-Wah" machine and the other voices are excellent.
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Take a look:
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Miss You Already

The title is a parting statement two friends have used for years. Here is a G-rated dramedy (yeah, you read that right) that highlights the importance of friendship. We have two lifelong buddies whose lives are in flux. One wants a baby and the other becomes ill. Yup, it's a chick flick.

Director Catherine Hardwick ("Red Riding Hood" 2011) working from an original screenplay by Morwenna Banks (British television) gives us an upbeat tearjerker. Yup, you read THAT right, too! Actually, the women's touch is evident throughout: The sets look authentic, the clothes seem "real," and relationships with parents, spouses and children all ring true. (And the casting of these two as little girls is perfect.) The husbands are rock solid, so no bad guys there!

We see:
  • Drew Barrymore ("Blended") is Jess, the practical one. She is always swept into her chum's absurd schemes. She is almost frumpy next to her fashionista friend; she really wants a baby...  and her uterus is ticking.
  • Toni Collette ("Hector and the Search for Happiness") Milly is the wild child: She has an actress mother, a penchant for chichi shoes, LOVES "Wuthering Heights" and wants to see the moors.
  • Dominic Cooper ("Agent Carter") Kit was a roadie with a rock show but settled down the moment he met Milly. He has to make the most challenging adjustment after her surgery.
  • Paddy Considine ("The World's End") Darling Jago toughs it out through all of those attempts to get Jess pregnant. Eventually he takes a job on an oil rig to earn enough for in-vitro fertilization. He hopes they're gonna need a bigger boat! (They live on a boat.)
  • Jacqueline Bisset ("Rizzoli & Isles") Miranda has enjoyed great success as an actress, and now all those years playing a doctor on that soap really pay off.
  • Tyson Ritter ("Parenthood") Ace is an appealing bartender at a local pub, but he's moving to Yorkshire...
This is G-rated so expect no profanity or violence (well, a pretty funny childbirth), gunfire or mayhem. HOWEVER, be ready for (up-close and personal) scenes with injections, chemo sessions, vomiting and hair loss, plus a lengthy bit after a double-mastectomy. Terminal illness isn't pretty and this clearly doesn't pander to the faint of heart.

Affinity groups often attend advance screenings; the one which came tonight is affiliated with breast cancer research, so the issues and scenes were not a surprise. They loved it, though I found this attention to detail to be disconcerting. I guess I'm faint of heart. Be warned...
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Here is a preview:
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It saddens me that I must give this brilliant film a heartfelt two thumbs up. Why, you might ask? Because the premise is such a downer very few people will want to see it: If a child is confined with his mother to a small room for the first five years of his life, what can he expect when the door is opened? Well, I have a personal foible: I want someone to root for and this one actually gives me at least five. This inspiring movie really delivers and there is already early Oscar buzz about it (10-30-15).

This R-rated drama from director Lenny Abrahamson ("Frank") in collaboration with first-time screenwriter/novelist Emma Donoghue, is inspiring because it celebrates the resiliency of the human spirit and the power of a mother's love.

The cast:
  • Jacob Tremblay ("The Smurfs 2") is little Jack, whose eyes have never focused on anything beyond the four walls of their small "Room." He's reasonably happy, but can't imagine "in" or "out" and when he sees a leaf blown onto the skylight, he's fascinated.
  • Brie Larson ("Short Term 12") is brilliant as Ma. She tries to keep Jack physically fit and is teaching him to read, but knows she must get him out of isolation before the damage is irreversible.
  • Sean Bridgers (Lots of TV) is Old Nick, the fellow who kidnapped a teenage girl and has kept her locked in his shed for seven years.
  • Joan Allen ("Bourne") is Nancy, Jack's grandmother, whose life changed irrevocably when her daughter disappeared seven years ago.
  • Amanda Brugel ("Orphan Black") is Officer Parker, whose gentle insight helps a little lost boy put his world back together.
  • Wendy Crewson ("The Vow") is a talk-show host you will love to hate!
Both of our escapees suffer from sensory overload, so with the press hounding them and a criminal case pending, it is no surprise that they both need counseling and time to adjust. In addition, the boy has never seen a stair, has an underdeveloped immune system and can't tolerate full sunlight.

The boy's grandparents are no less challenged. They can't imagine what the two prisoners have endured but try to treat them with sensitivity. Their attempts made me smile...
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Take a look:
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I always think long and hard before I send a dish back to the kitchen in a restaurant, because I know it's the poor server who must bear the brunt of the chef's reaction...and it might be blistering. In this story, we can see what a daunting challenge it is to become a top chef, but if you've already achieved it and then watched your career implode due to drugs, alcohol and ego, you can see why our hero has a self-imposed penance. He has promised himself he will shuck 1,000,000 (a million!) oysters before he will allow himself to try again.

We join him as he logs that final oyster after three long years. He walks away from his employment and gets ready to try again. This R-rated dramedy is directed by John Wells ("August: Osage County") working with a screenplay by Steven Knight ("Seventh Son") from Michael Kalesniko's story. It takes us to chaotic closeups of kitchens in several high-end London restaurants.

The cast:
  • Bradley Cooper ("Silver Linings Playbook") Adam Jones is in recovery for drugs and alcohol, with a long list of bad debts and abused friendships that he must own and try to rectify. His ego is another matter. Chefs are the superstars of the restaurant world...and they are all seeking a one-, two- or three-star Michelin rating.
  • Sienna Miller ("American Sniper") is Helene, who has to take a position with Adam after he got her fired from her current job. Her young daughter is quite the taste tester... By the way, Adam forces Helene to apologize to the turbot for making it die in vain.
  • Daniel Brühl ("Rush") is Tony, who reluctantly hires Adam again, fully aware of his potential for trouble. Their story unfolds slowly over the course of the film.
  • Omar Sy ("The Intouchables") Michel should still be angry at the dirty trick Adam pulled on him in Paris "back in the day," but all is forgiven and he joins him in London with his new endeavor.
  • Emma Thompson ("A Walk in the Woods") Dr. Rosshide will never quit trying to persuade Adam that group therapy might help. She monitors his sobriety and tries to talk some sense into him.
  • Alicia Vikander ("The Man from U.N.C.L.E.") Anne Marie is a daughter of the deceased Parisian chef who gave Adam his first toque. She and Adam have a history and she too, is in recovery. Her father willed his knives to Adam.
  • Uma Thurman ("The Slap") Simone Forth is an arrogant reviewer who specializes in restaurants.
This film is absolute Nirvana for foodies. In extreme closeups, we see preparation of numerous gourmet dishes, plus fast food which Adam studies for new ideas. The photography is yummy and Cooper is very, very good. As you might expect with this top-notch cast, all of the acting is wonderful and the (sorta) predictable story is satisfying.

Expect yummy photography, lots of kitchen action, scores of F-bombs, an unexpected (but well-deserved) kiss, a few plot twists, and many people to root for. No gunshots, no vehicular mayhem and no blowie uppie stuff. Whew!
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Take a peek:
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Our Brand is Crisis

"If voting changed anything, they would make it illegal." So says a top-ranking political consultant who is sent to a war-torn country in South America to fine tune a faltering election. Director David Gordon Green ("Pineapple Express") is working from an R-rated script (smoking and language) by Peter Straughan ("The Debt") which in turn is based on Rachel Boynton's documentary by the same name.

Problem is, our heroine's long-term nemesis shows up with a conflicting goal. Trouble ensues.... As a political junkie, I got a huge kick out of all their dirty tricks. They are unexpected and original. Everything from making a catapult from the elastic on a fitted bed sheet, to a misleading quote supposedly from Goethe (you have to see it).

We watch:
  • Sandra Bullock ("The Heat") is Jane; coaxed out of a self-imposed "retirement." After an insulting incident launches her into action, she develops a clever strategy and a clear objective, but she also has a bit of common sense that penetrates her clinical depression.
  • Ann Dowd ("Masters of Sex") Nell is the recruiter who convinces Jane to once again, enter the fray. Nell has connections....
  • Billy Bob Thornton ("The Judge") Pat Candy has a history with Jane and doesn't hesitate to use it. This actor plays loathsome perfectly.
  • Anthony Mackie ("Avengers") Ben is Jane's right-hand man, but sometimes the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing... Jane's strategies are out of left field and break all the rules.
  • Zoe Kazan ("Olive Kitteridge") LeBlanc is the ultimate researcher. She's also multi lingual...what a treasure!
  • Reynaldo Pacheco ("Right Mind") Eddie is an early volunteer because his deceased father had been a supporter of Castillo in earlier campaigns.
  • Joaquim de Almeida ("A Date With Miss Fortune") Castillo is the client, trying to make a comeback but waaaay behind in the polls. He totally lacks charisma but is a politician through and through.
It was interesting to see the favelas (slum-like homes, not just in Brazil) clinging to the hillside and to watch the merchants setting up shop. I loved the road race between the two campaign buses and appreciated Jane's way of "changing the narrative instead of the candidate."

We learned a lot, some of which we would rather not know...

One little quibble: I can appreciate that Bullock is fifty years old, but it strained credibility to see her in full makeup from morning to night. Even when rising early in the morning, it's intact. C'mon, Sandra...
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Here's the international trailer:
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Finding Mr. Right

A few months ago I helped a couple from Hong Kong find the Chihuly Glass Museum at Seattle Center. They had come to Seattle because the wife was bitten by the Seattle Bug. She was one of millions of Chinese who made the award-winning "Bei Jing yu shang Xi Ya Tu" (English captions) one of the highest-grossing romances in Chinese history. Naturally I was curious, so I got my own copy as soon as I could spot it in the catalogs. The one I have is in Region 3 format, but the Blu-Ray comes in Region 1.

I soon became intrigued by Jiajia, a city girl from Beijing, come to Seattle to bear an American-born son for her wealthy, MARRIED, boyfriend back in China. She picked Seattle because "Sleepless in Seattle" is her favorite film of all time; she has an unlimited credit card and an imperious attitude. She has made plans to stay in a private home with two other Asian women awaiting the births of their babies. With establishing shots of Seattle (the rest filmed in Vancouver, BC), I enjoyed seeing our waterfront, Macy's with the Christmas star, and of course, our iconic Space Needle.

First we meet Frank, the fellow who had been assigned the task of bringing her in from the airport (he's a bit late); he is polite, hard working and self-effacing. Soon we meet her Seattle landlady, the two other women, Frank's tween-age daughter, his wife and the doctor Jiajia has selected simply because she speaks Chinese. Jiajia is rude, demanding and selfish.

As her fortunes wax and wane in this sweet romantic comedy, so do her relationships. I became invested in the outcome and was happy I bought this DVD. The first part is difficult to watch simply because she is such a pill, but when she hits a speed bump, the story gains traction.

There is no rating, but in my opinion this would be a solid PG-13. I recall no profanity, no vehicular mayhem, no gunfire and no blowie uppie stuff. A sweet clichéd ending guarantees that a good time is had by all!


The Amazing Nina Simone

Little Eunice Waymon from Tryon, North Carolina, grew up "Young, Gifted and Black." After elementary school, she attended a private all-girls high school, graduated as Valedictorian, then landed a job in an Atlantic City night club. She didn't want her gospel-oriented parents to know where she was working, so she used "Nina" (Spanish for little girl) and "Simone" (in honor of French actress Simone Signoret) and VOILA! a star was born.

A piano prodigy from age three, she was always gifted, opinionated, and outspoken. For example, at her first formal recital in her home town (she was 12 years old), her parents were seated in the front row but it was in the days of Jim Crow, so her mother and father were quietly moved to a back room. When she came out to play, she refused to play a note until they were moved back to their front-row seats.

In this wonderfully researched documentary by Jeff L. Lieberman ("Making of..." documentaries), we watch her grow as an artist and also as an activist. She couldn't get that job in the night club until she proved she could sing, so her unique vocal style was born in that moment, but she was convinced she missed out on a full scholarship to the Curtis Institute because of the color of her skin. An elderly board member remembers the incident and insists it was discrimination all right, but it was because she was female, not because she was black (she went to Juilliard instead).

We hear interviews with members of her backup band, friends, relatives, a woman who was a child when her parents rescued Nina from an abusive relationship...at midnight...in Manhattan... We hear from members of the press who had interviewed her, theater owners, night club owners, record company executives and health care professionals.

We see her marriages, love affairs, successes, failures, struggles and her increasing activism and notoriety. Unfortunately, that increased activism seemed to coincide with her increasingly bi-polar symptoms, so that part is interesting, but not pleasant.

I absolutely LOVED a bit right near the beginning where she is in the middle of a performance and stops, dead. Then she points at someone in the audience and says, "Sit DOWN!" There is a long silence. She points again and repeats her command; the audience titters as the guilty party sits down. She was never afraid to speak her mind and commanded respect wherever she went.

I owned some of her albums (none of the many bootlegged ones!) and was so happy to hear snippets of my favorites. By the way, there are no captions and there is not a moment where I needed them! Whew!
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I can't find a trailer yet.
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Steve Jobs

A fellow I respect once said, "Just because a guy is a genius doesn't mean he isn't a jerk!" (He didn't use the word "jerk.") In this case, the genius is already legendary, so we let director Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire") use three major product launches to illustrate the life and times of the iconic founder of Apple Computers. With a demanding script from the always excellent Aaron Sorkin ("Moneyball") based on the book by Walter Isaacson, he pulls back the curtain on a classic American hero.

Sorkin wrote "The Social Network," as he looked at Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, but this time, his trademark "walk and talk" scenes are overdone and unrealistic. All of them take place during three product launch countdowns ("Thirty minutes, Mr. Jobs!" "Five minutes, Steve!" "It's time! You don't want to be late!") so I constantly felt anxious and impatient with the intransigent Mr. J. In addition, each launch features the same six people backstage. Really??? Plus everyone yells, interrupts, swears, and no one EVER changes his or her mind.

The cast:
  • Michael Fassbender ("12 Years a Slave") is Steve Jobs, a selfish, abrasive guy who marches to his own drummer. He can't write code, isn't a programmer, nor is he technical. He sees himself as an orchestra conductor, i.e., he doesn't play any instrument, but is in charge of everything.
  • Seth Rogen ("The Interview") is Steve Wozniak, the brilliant geek who worked shoulder to shoulder with the "other" Steve to launch Apple. He's tired of being Ringo to Jobs'  John.
  • Kate Winslet ("Insurgent") is Joanna Hoffman, a woman who can go toe to toe with Jobs. She is the overworked dogsbody who, for decades, has kept him on schedule, placated his coworkers and looked out for his daughter Lisa.
  • Jeff Daniels ("The Martian") is John Sculley, the CEO of Apple whose board of directors ousted Jobs when he wouldn't budge on his new operating system.
  • Katherine Waterston ("Inherent Vise") has the thankless task of playing Chrisann Brennon, mother of Lisa, a daughter Jobs refuses to recognize even after DNA proves he is the father. (I said he was intransigent.) She has had a sinus infection for over 15 years.
  • Perla Haney-Jardine ("Future Weather") is the third version of Lisa. We watch Lisa grow up on screen. Her relationship with her father is contentious to say the least. By the way, in this film, there is no mention of his wife or his other children....
  • Michael Stuhlbarg ("Hugo") Andy Hertzfeld is constantly abused, insulted and demeaned by Jobs. In return, he suggests Lisa find a therapist and provides a strong masculine figure for her childhood. (Jobs never forgives him.)
This offers nothing special in the way of new information or insight. In my opinion, it wasted some top-flight talent. Fassbender is a pleasure to watch and Sorkin writes good R-rated dialogue, but 110 minutes is longer than I want to spend on this rehash.
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Here is a sample:
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Bridge of Spies

Once again our favorite Everyman Tom Hanks is working with his long- time friend and collaborator Steven Spielberg ("Saving Private Ryan" and "Band of Brothers"). These guys seem convinced that Americans need to know more WWII history. Lucky for us the Coen brothers are on the writing team, they bring some very dry humor to the Cold War as we watch two superpowers (plus East Germany) negotiate an exchange of spies.

This time Hanks is an insurance lawyer ordered to defend a Russian spy. His reluctance to side with the enemy is justified when his family is targeted by outraged citizens who now see him as anti-American. We also watch as some Air Force pilots are assigned to the CIA; they will fly camera-equipped U2 spy planes 70,000 feet above the USSR. They are called "drivers" and are instructed to commit suicide if they are caught. They are stunned!

We see:
  • Tom Hanks ("The Terminal") is perfect as James Donovan, a highly rated attorney who hasn't practiced criminal law in decades. He's smart, funny, and very, very resourceful. He quickly realizes his "client" will be denied Constitutional protection by the American courts. As a lawyer responsible for an accused prisoner, all he can do now is try to prevent the death penalty.
  • Amy Ryan ("Birdman:...") is Mary, his wife. When he goes to East Berlin to negotiate a trade - his Russian spy for the American pilot of a downed spy plane - she thinks he's going to Scotland to fish.
  • Alan Alda ("The Longest Ride") is Thomas Watters, Donovan's boss. It's at his insistence that Donovan must take up this case.
  • Austin Stowell ("Behind the Candelabra") is Francis Gary Powers, a U2 pilot (not the band!) who was shot down from Russian skies.
  • Mark Rylance ("Wolf Hall") is amazing as Rudolf Abel, the notorious agent who meticulously eludes discovery for so long. When asked if he is frightened, he replies, "Would it help?"
  • Sebastian Koch ("The Lives of Others") Wolfgang Vogel is the East German official who resents being overlooked by the two superpowers who ignore him...in his own city!
  • Will Rogers ("The Bay") is Frederic Pryor, a student caught behind the Berlin wall as he tries to rescue his girlfriend. Donovan wants him to be part of the deal, too.
Cold War, Donovan, Abel, Powers... Many of these names will draw a blank from the younger generation because History as a school subject is no longer considered politically correct. Do they know about the Berlin Wall? We see it being built in this wonderful film; AND for period touches, we see an astonishing array of vintage cars, plus discarded flash bulbs on the floor, I had forgotten about those. In addition, Donovan makes a terrific speech to the Supreme Court about what makes America unique.

I can't help but recall George Santanaya's immortal quote: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." More's the pity... Every young American should see this PG-13 movie. (By the way, be sure to stay for the terrific postscripts!)
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Here is a preview:
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Beasts of No Nation

Nothing is so heartless or chilling as forcing a child to become a soldier in a war no one understands. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (the memorable "Sin Nombre" and "True Detective"), working with screenwriter Uzodinma Iweala (who wrote the book on which it's based), have fashioned a riveting saga where we watch a bucolic childhood in some unnamed African country turn into a hellish nightmare.

For 137 long minutes, we see children shanghaied into a fighting force and transformed into merciless killers. When we realize the lengths they must go to in order to survive, we can't help but wonder what sort of effect these hardships will have on their future...or even if they HAVE a future.

The cast:
  • Idris Elba ("Avengers: Age of Ultron") is the charismatic Commandant, who reminds us that power corrupts, in EVERY way.
  • Abraham Attah (in his first role) is Agu, our youthful hero, thrown into a chaotic ordeal to which he must adapt. This includes learning how to kill with a machete (blood splashes on the lens) and a rifle.
  • Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye, another first-timer, is his mute friend Strika, always by his side when he's needed.
As I watched the Commandant use his effective Call & Response to goad his army of children to a fighting frenzy, I was reminded how effectively this method works in the evangelistic world. As I watched the use of drugs by the fighters as they tried to blunt their fear, I was reminded of how drugs have been used by fighting forces since time eternal. Some things never change.

This is R-rated (language, rape, and bloody murders) but my major concern was this: Who would pay their discretionary money to subject themselves to something this chaotic (in the firefights I could never tell who were the "good" guys or what they wanted), confusing (who is rebelling from whom and why?), and bewildering (are the "good" guys really good?). I have no problem with the quality of the acting; Elba is always outstanding, even when he is playing someone as morally compromised as this guy, but personally I want someone to root for. That one pathetic little boy has been so transformed it becomes a stretch....

Oh, by the way, if you have any hearing problems, be sure the theater offers closed captions.
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Here is the preview:
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Yup, it's about Peter himself. Actually, this is a genesis story: where Peter came from and how he became the legendary Peter Pan. Screenwriter Jason Fuchs ("Ice Age: Continental Drift") working from J.M. Barrie's classic, gives director Joe Wright ("Anna Karenina") a contrived story that is just close enough to the original that we recognize the characters, but far enough to confuse children who expect the Disneyfied version.

A preliminary scene shows us a bereft mother dropping off her baby at an orphanage. Then our story begins in London during the Blitz where these Dickensian digs shelter 12-year-old boys. Of course the head nun is an ugly tyrant who exploits and mistreats them, so we enjoy it when she gets her comeuppance. Thus begins our Hero's Journey.

Here are some of the actors:
  • Levi Miller (in his first big-screen lead) is wonderful as Peter, a boy who is convinced his mother will come back for him. He is curious, skeptical, and a natural leader, but has sense enough to be afraid when things look bad.
  • Garrett Hedlund ("Country Strong") is Mr. Hook, a two-fisted Indiana Jones look-alike, complete with fedora and attitude; "I don't have your back, Kid!" (I kept looking for the bull-whip). I enjoyed every scene where he was featured.
  • Hugh Jackman ("Les Miserables") This charismatic actor is buried in Blackbeard's evil persona, determined to find the Fairy Kingdom which will provide him with enough fairy dust for eternal youth.
  • Rooney Mara ("Side Effects") is Tiger Lily. This character is far, far from Barrie's original. This one is a swashbuckling swordsman (woman?) who battles Blackbeard and flirts with Mr. Hook.
  • Adeel Akhtar (Lots of TV) is Sam Smiegel ("Smee"), a hapless coward who only hinders everyone around him.
Like so many big-screen, big-budget movies these days, our tale is overwhelmed by Computer Generated Imaging which does nothing to advance the story: e.g., the airborne sailing ships come complete with cannons AND flamethrowers. The battle scenes are endless and ultimately, boring. This PG-rated fantasy ran for 111 minutes, but somehow it seemed longer.

For me, it just didn't pan out.
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Take a look:
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He Named Me Malala

"Malala" is the name of a legendary Afghani girl who had the courage to speak out and was eventually killed. This timely documentary directed by David Guggenheim (the award-winning "Waiting for Superman") gives us a first-hand account of her namesake, a courageous Pakistani girl who has the temerity to defend her right to attend school, much to the outrage of the religious zealots who tried to kill her. Even more interesting to me, was following the gradual shift of the Taliban from a charismatic new political influence to a tyrannical, blood-thirsty theocracy.

Even before she was been awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, Malala had become a highly visible advocate for education throughout the world, believing that this is the most direct way to cleanse countries of radical zealotry. "One child. One teacher. One book." To balance her celebrity we appreciate the humorous ways her family keeps her grounded, part of which includes doing her homework and getting along with her three younger brothers.

We see:
  • Malala Yousafzai, starting with the news clips which describe the Taliban's attempt to assassinate her and her brush with death at age 13. We see her in the company of queens, presidents, movie stars and school children. She is comfortable with them all.
  • Ziauddin Yousafzai, her father, who overcame a childhood stammer to become a powerful speaker. He too, is a firebrand who refuses to tolerate the actions of the Taliban and the claim that they are based on the Quran.
  • Toor Pekai Yousafzai and Atal Yousafzai are two of her articulate (and entertaining) younger brothers.
  • Khushal Yousafzai is a child bride who grows up to become Malala's mother. She is homesick for the Swat Valley in Afghanistan but is working hard at assimilation in England.
As we come to grips with the realities of life in Pakistan through news clips and interviews, we also learn about Malala's family history through animated figures and family photos. By the way, her father discovered that his family tree goes back over 300 years and Malala is the first female name that has ever been entered.
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Take a look at this inspiring trailer:
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The Martian

Have you read Andy Weir's terrific best-seller yet? The back story of his success is almost as good as his first full-length novel. Look it up! A few memorable situations had to be eliminated, or this 2-hour, 20-minute survival story would run for over six hours! I did object to the last exciting action sequence: They needlessly changed the players simply because of star billing. Grrr....

NASA astronaut/flight surgeon Michael Reed Barrett happily introduced this exciting Sci-Fi adventure to our screening audience (it's his favorite movie). Director Ridley Scott ("Prometheus"), with a screenplay by Drew Goddard ("The Cabin in the Woods"), follows Weir's involving and humorous book into space. We open with a NASA exploration team on the red planet, where a freak storm violently interrupts their mission and our story begins.

The cast:
  • Matt Damon ("Beyond the Candelabra") Mark Watney is left for dead as the crew wisely scrambles to evacuate while their ship can still fly. Faced with starvation, this resourceful survivor becomes "the greatest botanist on this planet!" (See the trailer.)
  • Jessica Chastain ("Zero Dark Thirty") Melissa Lewis is captain of the crew that unwittingly abandons our hero; her responsibility is to get her team safely back to Earth.
  • Mackenzie Davis ("That Awkward Moment") Mindy Park's job is surveillance. She is the solitary observer who monitors the mission from a quiet NASA desk. She spots some unexplained activity. Once it is ascertained that Watney is alive, time and distance are the biggest challenges for NASA. How do we get back there to rescue him before he dies? And how do we tell him we're coming?
  • Jeff Daniels ("The Newsroom") Sanders is the head of NASA; short of a mutiny, anything else that happens is on his watch.
  • Kristen Wiig ("The Skeleton Twins") Annie Montrose's job is Public Relations. How do you tell the world that an astronaut has been left behind on Mars to starve?
  • Chewitel Ejiofor ("12 Years a Slave") Venkat Kapoor is the vital link between the face of NASA and the media world. Through him, we witness the bureaucratic scramble that takes place behind the scenes.
  • Donald Glover ("Magic Mike XXL") Rich Purnell seems to have Asperger's, which makes this high-functioning fellow the perfect person to offer an outside-the-box solution for this white-knuckle dilemma.
  • Michael Peña ("Ant-Man") Likable mission pilot Rick Martinez is Watney's best buddy. It's just plain fun to hear their chatter.
This is PG-13, so expect a smattering of profanity, a bit of nudity, and an entire crew of Macgyvers (one astronaut has to build a bomb from their food supply). And you'll never look at duct tape the same way again.

The most outstanding element of this film (AND the book!) is the humor: Watney has a wry sense of himself and his situation that we come to share. He also has a resilience and a persistence that any would-be adventurer would be wise to note; he even comes to appreciate disco music (some tapes had been abandoned by the crew).

You can $kip the 3D, the $tory is the thing! I heartily recommend this one (and the book).
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The Intern

My mental image of an intern is an eager but underpaid young adult who invests time and energy into learning a new business. Well, in this movie, the eager intern we expect to see is 70 years old and has signed up for an innovative "Senior Intern" program.

Written and directed by Nancy Meyers, who is known for her audience-pleasing work ("It's Complicated" and "The Holiday"), this PG-13 film takes our expectations, adds two Oscar winners, and turns those expectations upside down. In addition, everyone in this plot is NICE, no one is rude or demeaning. We see no betrayals (well, maybe one), we see no gunshots or vehicular mayhem and everyone is polite! The biggest crisis is a bedbug.

The cast:
  • Robert De Niro ("Silver Linings Playbook") is Ben, our eponymous hero, a 70-year-old widower, retired, and bored out of his skull. When we see his new work environment, we think he INVENTED the generation gap! He wears a suit and a tie, plus he carries a briefcase and (gasp!) a clean handkerchief.
  • Anne Hathaway ("Interstellar") Jules runs an on-line fashion business which she founded less than two years ago. She is young, inexperienced, and overworked. Her devoted staff knows she needs a wingman, despite her objections to the contrary. As we watch her in action, we can see why her staff is so loyal.
  • Anders Holm ("Workaholics") is Matt, Jules' househusband. He volunteered to take over the domestic side of their marriage in order to support her burgeoning business.
  • JoJo Kushner is their precocious daughter, Paige. This little actress was either beautifully directed or has a nice future. (Just don't ask her to cry....)
  • Andrew Rannells ("Glee") Cameron makes many of the personnel decisions for Jules because he pays close attention to EVERYTHING. She couldn't ask for a better chief assistant. He assigns Ben, to be her new intern.
  • Rene Russo ("Thor") A back rub from Fiona, the company masseuse, has an immediate (and obvious) effect on Ben. His fellow interns are mighty amused.
It's fun to watch his co-workers come to Ben for help. He is practical, experienced and considerate. His history of success, both with a long-term marriage and a long-term executive position, makes him uniquely qualified to offer sound advice.

When the venture capitalists who funded the business tell Jules they want to hire a CEO to take over some of her duties, she feels threatened and humiliated. We see the impact on her personal life, as well as her professional one. Ben, on the other hand, sees the whole picture and offers his expertise to help her sort things out.

This 121-minute dramedy touches on many relatable issues: The price of success; the generation gap; senior sexuality; and the hard work that goes into a solid marriage. And NO, there is no hanky panky between our two lead characters! I just wanted to reassure you....
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I left this screening in a white heat of rage against ALL Americans whose insatiable appetite for drugs provides the funding for this horrific blood bath! How can we not see that the problem is NOT the cartels, it's the buyers who FUND the cartels! If there is no market, there is no cartel. To me it looks like a simple case of cause and effect.

Director Denis Villeneuve ("Prisoners"), working with a screenplay by actor Taylor Sheridan ("Sons of Anarchy") ramps up the horror of what an idealistic FBI agent encounters when she volunteers to work with a CIA team along the Mexican border. The charnel house they discover in the early part of the film sets the tone, while the unsettling soundtrack underscores an overwhelming sense of misery and doom.

Here we have:
  • Emily Blunt ("Edge of Tomorrow") Kate is determined to make her mark in the FBI. When she sees this chance to make a difference against the drug cartels, she volunteers.
  • Daniel Kaluuya ("Babylon") is her FBI sidekick Reggie. He is not quite so idealistic but he still "mothers" Kate.
  • Victor Garber (Lots of TV) FBI chief Jennings asks Kate if she can see any changes in her world after their latest successful foray.
  • Josh Brolin ("Labor Day") CIA agent Matt is always upbeat, smiling and focused. He has a realistic view of his mission and knows exactly why Kate has been added to his team.
  • Benicio Del Toro ("Inherent Vice") Alejandro will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. He has a spooky way of appearing and disappearing with unsettling regularity. His sicario makes a formidable enemy!
This R-rated crime drama has more grisly scenes than you may expect. It's one thing to READ about decapitations, torture, and betrayals, but it is another thing entirely to see them in living color! This film will stay with you for a long time. If you are anything like me, you will cry "Shame!" at any part of the drug trade, no matter how inconsequential it may appear. BTW, in Mexico "Sicario" means "Hitman."
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We have an older lesbian whose partner of 38 years died over a year ago, leaving medical bills and an empty house. Our gal found a new partner to quiet the echoing house, but the movie starts with her throwing the new partner out. Her teenage granddaughter shows up in desperate need of $600 for an abortion but our heroine has just paid off those medical bills and is strapped for cash. This movie is about their quest for money in a vintage Dodge sedan.

Writer/director Paul Weitz ("About a Boy" and "In Good Company") has crafted the ideal vehicle to remind us what a perfectly splendid actor we have in Lily Tomlin (Oscar nomination for "Nashville").

His cast:
  • Lily Tomlin ("9 to 5" and "A Prairie Home Companion") Elle has a checkered past. She is a poet and an educator, but the more we learn about her, the more surprises we find.
  • Julia Garner ("The Perks of Being a Wallflower") is perfectly cast as Sage, that wayward granddaughter. Her boyfriend failed to bring her the money and now accuses her of lying about his involvement. Problem is, she has an appointment for the procedure and the clock is ticking.
  • Marcia Gay Harden ("Elsa & Fred") Judy is mother of Sage and daughter of Elle. This is not an easy spot to be in!
  • Judy Greer ("The Descendants") Olivia is unceremoniously tossed out of Elle's house and must go on with her life. Elle will NOT accept money from her!
  • Elizabeth Peña ("Lone Star") Carla has the small store where Elle hopes to sell her first edition feminist books.
  • Sam Elliott ("I'll See You in My Dreams") Karl is a last resort. Elle is pretty sure he will help but we are not prepared for some of their surprises. The scenes with Elliott and Tomlin are particularly good!
This has some predictable discussions about abortions, of course with Tomlin involved, they will be pro-choice (but watch that little girl outside the clinic). This satisfying movie is just over an hour long but isn't rushed; it earns its R rating because of dialogue and profanity.

I smiled over Sage's confusion between "The Feminine Mystique," Betty Friedan's book and Mystique, the character in the X-Men movies.
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They sure don't make romantic comedies the way they used to! As a person who will never see 45 again (...smile...) I find the new ones so anatomical and vulgar, the comedy part seems to elude me. Director Judd Apatow ("This is 40") uses Amy Schumer's script to fashion a frank, repulsive "heroine" who clearly believed her alcoholic father when he urged his daughters to reject monogamy, to have many dolls and to live it up.

The movie starts with him using a metaphorical doll to show his two little girls why he is leaving their mother. They wouldn't want to have just one doll to play with for the rest of their lives, would they? ("No, Daddy.") Now in his 50s and crippled by Multiple Sclerosis, the daughters must move him into a facility that can care for him as his health fails.

The cast:
  • Amy Schumer (Lots of TV) is Amy, a talented writer who lives on controlled substances and nerve; she works for a magazine that specializes in trashing reputations and printing vulgar articles. Her sex life is a revolving door and her happily married sister despairs.
  • Brie Larson ("Don Jon") Kim is that sister, delighted when her stepson calls her "Mom."
  • Colin Quinn ("Grown Ups") is their unrepentant father, Gordon.
  • Bill Hader ("The Skeleton Twins") is Aaron, a sports medicine specialist who also participates in Doctors Without Borders as the need arises. He is an earnest, decent fellow whose attraction to the socially unacceptable Amy bewilders me.
  • Amar'e Stroudemire ("Beyond the Lights") once again playing himself, is the basketball player who is scheduled for a new knee. He's not sure Aaron feels well enough to perform the surgery.
  • LeBron James ("More Than a Game") playing himself, is another high-profile patient. This basketball superstar is articulate, energetic, and very, very funny. He clearly has suffered the slings and arrows of lawsuits, and he warns Aaron, "No penetration without representation!"
  • Tilda Swinton ("The Grand Budapest Hotel") is unrecognizable as the glamorous Dianna, editor of that nasty magazine where Amy works (we can see how this cold-blooded viper has set the tone!).
It was difficult for me to remain in the theater during the first half of this one. If I had not been promised that it was "really good!" I would not have stayed the course. It DID become involving and a bit soppy, so I felt the clichéd happy ending was just fine.

This was an R-rated romp with lots of awkward (simulated) sex, vulgar topics, drugs, alcohol and profanity. I DID enjoy Aaron's intervention which featured some of his name-brand patients: Marv Albert, Chris Evert, Matthew Broderick and LeBron James. That part was great fun! (Find the good and praise it!) YOYO (You're On Your Own).
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Black Mass

Hey, Johnny Depp fans, are you still out there? I have to confess that his choices of quirky and/or repugnant movie characters have never appealed to me. This time he adroitly portrays the legendary Whitey Bulger, the most infamous criminal ever raised in South Boston. Director Scott Cooper ("Crazy Heart") working from a script written by a committee, shows us how this two-hour R-rated true-life story all came down.

This dark drama, which spans the 70s, 80s, and some of the 90s, features a foreboding score that telegraphs each shocking and bloody murder. The production design expertly captures those eras with authentic street scenes, automobiles and clothing. Warning: We're talking about Boston's Irish and Italian mobs, so the F-bombs spray like machine-gun bullets!

We see:
  • Johnny Depp ("The Lone Ranger") is Whitey Bulger, the brutally efficient mastermind who plays both ends against the middle as he bullies and charms his way to the top of his local Irish mob in South Boston, then beguiles an old childhood friend into using an FBI team to settle accounts with the Cosa Nostra in North Boston.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch ("The Imitation Game") is his brother Billy, a State Senator who shares that deep sense of loyalty, but who can see his brother for what he is.
  • Joel Edgerton ("The Great Gatsby") brings us John Connolly, the profoundly loyal friend who believes in his chum and does everything in his power to protect him.
  • Julianne Nicholson ("August, Osage County") His wife Marianne can see John slowly change and does NOT like it!
  • Kevin Bacon ("The Following") Charles McGuire won't rest until Whitey is brought to justice. His impatience is almost palpable.
  • David Harbour (Lots of TV) FBI man John Morris has his doubts, but Whitey keeps laying them to rest.
  • Adam Scott ("Parks and Recreation") FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick is the fellow who breaks rank first.
  • Peter Sarsgaard ("Blue Jasmine") is Brian Halloran, a junky who does his share of enforcing but doesn't want to be on the receiving end.
  • Corey Stoll ("Ant-Man") Fred Wykshak is the new broom brought in by the FBI to sweep up this mess. His character was the only one I could root for!
This is organized as a series of vignettes which illustrate bits of testimony as former colleagues turn State's Evidence. In my opinion, Nicholson and Sarsgaard turn in the standout performances by far.

The subdued screening audience was mostly silent as we exited the theater. We had learned one thing (SPOILER ALERT!): Crime does not pay.
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A Walk in the Woods

Have you read any of the humorous travel books by Bill Bryson ("Notes From a Small Island" and "I'm a Stranger Here Myself")? In this one, when he "hikes the Appalachian Trail," he really DOES hike the Appalachian Trail (apologies to former South Carolina Governor Sanford). Yup. It's a "Road Trip" comedy where we watch an ill-matched duo try to cope with the hazards and inconveniences of being on the road together.

Director Ken Kwapis ("The Office" and "He's Just Not That Into You"), working with a screenplay based on Bryson's book, centers his movie on the ex-pat writer who has moved back home with his English family. This setup delivers a witty, satisfying, R-rated (language) dramedy for people of a certain age. For me, it generates a whole new respect for authentic actors who resist the siren song of plastic surgery; it's nice to see real people on screen.

We appreciate:
  • Robert Redford ("All is Lost") Bill Bryson has returned to the U.S. after almost two decades in Europe. Watch his tongue-tied reaction to that rude talk-show host! Confronted by signs of aging (ailing friends, funerals, doctor visits), he longs for a new adventure, so he decides to hike the celebrated Appalachian Trail, which passes near his home town. He can't find any friends who share his enthusiasm.
  • Emma Thompson ("Saving Mr. Banks") Catherine is adamantly opposed to her husband's idea. Her reasons include his age, some well-publicized bear attacks, potential injuries...the list goes on and on. Ultimately he goes, so she says, "Try not to die!"
  • Nick Nolte ("Warrior") Hard-drinking alcoholic Stephan Katz calls because he heard of Bill's plan through a mutual friend (Katz had NOT been invited). They had been close friends years ago, but had a serious falling out.
  • Kristen Schaal (Lots of TV and voice work) Non-stop gasbag Mary Ellen is an unwelcome intruder. She provides our hapless duo with their first common goal: Ditch her!
  • Mary Steenburgen ("Last Vegas") Jeannie is the proprietor of a family-owned motel. Her lovely mother is a piece of work! I hope Bryson mailed Jeannie a check.
  • Susan McPhail ("Mississippi Grind") Beulah teaches Katz to keep his hands off a stranger's panties! Actually, her husband does...
The dialogue seems authentic: two guys reminiscing about adolescence, pranks, girls, college and other shared youthful experiences. By the time they became adults,  Bryson had a career, a wife, a family and is happily domesticated. Katz is still an unrepentant hedonist, a drunk who has seen more breasts than Bryson ever dreamed of! Bill says, "Books are television for smart people." Katz is convinced the trail is "uphill all the way to Maine."

Once we see samples of the gorgeous terrain, we understand why so many people want to hike this trail, yet only 10% actually complete it. Expect a few F-bombs and some adult humor (Katz is amused that Bill buries his own waste just off the trail, "In the WOODS?!?").

Here in Seattle, residents of a nearby retirement community were treated to this advance screening. It was perfect for them and they had a great time! Everyone will.
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No Escape

Well, THAT was exhausting! We see an American family relocating to an Asian city on the Vietnam border. They no sooner arrive when we see a well-executed assassination and a shocking suicide immediately followed by a bloody coup d'etat which throws the city into turmoil. The crisis is magnified as our hero has no idea what is being said; he only reads and speaks English.

Written and directed by John Erick Dowdle with writing assistance by Drew Dowdle, both of whom are making a career out of scaring the piddle out of us ("As Above, So Below"), we could only wish for captions because so much of the dialogue is in frantic whispers as our terrified family tries to communicate in various hiding places. Hand-held camera work adds to the confusion and claustrophobia.

We watch:
  • Owen Wilson ("Midnight in Paris") Jack is moving his reluctant family after a business venture failed; he's an engineer who invented a valve that was "almost a big deal." He is trying to cheer them up with the promise of an exciting time and a bulldog puppy!
  • Lake Bell ("In a World...") Annie is hesitant to enter into this new adventure with her husband and daughters. She is horrified to see how thin is the veneer of civilization when the chips are down.
  • Pierce Brosnan ("The November Man") Hammond is the gabby, cheerful guy who steps in to provide local color. In my opinion, his explanation of how western countries exploit eastern ones is the only thing worth the price of admission.
  • Sterling Jerins ("And So It Goes") Lucy knows her life depends on her father but she lacks backbone.
  • Claire Geare ("Inception") Breeze is so frightened she wets herself ... to her everlasting shame.
This R-rated movie contains nail-biting suspense, children in peril, extreme brutality and corpses by the score. It has mild profanity (the family had a "Swear Jar" back in Texas), no sweaty bodies and only one explosion (although cannon fire deafens them temporarily). I became so exasperated with those whimpering females I wanted to shake them, but their flakiness helped the movie run a full 103 minutes. I recoiled from the clichés near the end, which is too bad because this well-directed movie has a very strong beginning and terrific performances.
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