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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