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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