American playwright August Wilson's master work consisted of 10 plays, each set in a different decade, which describe the African-American experience in Pittsburgh at that time. He received two Pulitzer Prizes for his efforts. This particular script, now a movie, is set in the 1950s.

Director Denzel Washington ("The Great Debaters"), working with actors who had performed this play with him on Broadway, brings much of his focus on his cast mates, even though, make no mistake, he IS the star; he has, after all, won two Oscars. The dialogue, the rhythm and the interplay between characters all fit these folks like an old, well-worn glove.

The cast:
  • Denzel Washington ("The Magnificent Seven") Troy is not an easy man to be around. He didn't grow up easy and his life right now isn't easy. He is NOT going to let anyone forget it. He's a frustrated would-be pro baseball player, he's arbitrary, stubborn and proud! Denzel does NOT shy away from playing less-than-sympathetic characters.
  • Viola Davis ("Suicide Squad") Rose knew what Troy was like when she married him, but in her opinion, the good outweighed the bad.  You can't blame her if sometimes she isn't so sure.
  • Mykelti Williamson ("Designated Survivor") Troy's brother Gabriel suffered a brain injury during a recent war. The neighborhood children are not particularly kind to him. 
  • Jovan Adepo ("The Leftovers") Cory is interested in football, not baseball, but his father has different plans. 
  • Stephan Henderson ("Tower Heist") Bono has been Troy's best friend for decades. As a result, he can tell his friend the Truth. 
  • Saniyya Sidney ("Hidden Figures") Raynell has no choice in the matter. She is where she is, for better or for worse. 
When artists achieve the stature of Wilson or Washington, no one is about to tell them their work needs to be trimmed a bit. I can tell you it should be...but no one asked. You may be sure, Washington has included every single word of Wilson's script, so despite the authenticity of the dialogue and the performances, each scene runs just a bit too long. If you look at the trailer though, you can see that his results are powerful! I suspect Washington has been shortlisted for a possible third Oscar.
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Here is a trailer:
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Why Him?

Sometimes a person is just in the mood for a stupid movie. Writer/director John Hamburg ("I Love You, Man"), who specializes in silly comedies, worked with writer Jonah Hill ("21/22 Jump Street") to bring us a (HARD) R-rated cockamamie story about a rich slacker who falls for the daughter of a hard-working businessman. Dad is NOT amused when he and his wife visit her near the Stanford campus for the Christmas holidays.

I guess Hamburg and Hill must have a lot of friends in Hollywood because they were able to assemble a pretty good sampling of "name brands" willing to embarrass themselves on screen.

Take a look:
  • James Franco ("127 Hours") is Laird Mayhew, the lewd, crude slacker I mentioned. He is crass, tasteless and thoughtlessly insulting, but tries to atone with wildly inappropriate and lavish gifts.
  • Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad") is Ned Fleming, the hard-working father who goes from angry to horrified, embarrassed to humiliated. He wants what is best for his daughter, regardless of what SHE wants.
  • Zoey Deutch ("Beautiful Creatures") is his daughter Stephanie, gaga over this sweet diamond in the rough. Just one look at her, and we can certainly see why Laird is gaga over Stephanie.
  • Megan Mullally (LOTS of TV) is Ned's wife Barb, a bit more open-minded but flabbergasted, just the same. I can't believe Mullally did that scene on the hi-tech toilet (yes, that's what I said!).
  • Griffin Gluck ("Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life") is Scotty, Ned's bright and ambitious, but overlooked son.
  • Keegan-Michael Key ("Keanu") is brilliant as Gustav, Laird's life coach, fight instructor, etiquette teacher and, to Ned, Cato to his Inspector Clouseau, but they are too young to get the reference. (I was way ahead of them on that one.)
  • Cedric the Entertainer ("Barbershop: The Next Cut") is Ned's right-hand man, Lou. He is in charge back home while our hero and his wife visit the Left Coast.
  • Elon Musk plays himself... and has a great line to boot! (He never mentions Teslas.)
  • Gene Simmons plays himself (the Fleming's are great KISS fans).
  • Steve Aoki seems to specialize in playing himself...
When Stephanie's parents visit their daughter, they are not only dismayed to see who she is dating, (he has a dead moose encased in urine as an art piece in his living room) they are terrified when they learn that this well-meaning dufus is getting ready to pop the question. Panic ensues...

You will be surprised to hear yourself laugh because you've covered your eyes and ears. The screening audience was vocal in their delight (they were in the mood for something stupid), so it was a happy group who exited the theater.

This is R-rated mess is waaaay over the top. YOYO (You're On Your Own).
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Here is a peek:
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Director Morten Tyldum ("The Imitation Game") has taken two appealing young A-list actors and used them perfectly. Working from a script by Jon Spaihts ("Doctor Strange") he puts them on board a brilliantly conceived spaceship embarked on a 120-year journey.  Problem is, 90 years early, something malfunctions and some people awaken in their sleep chambers, first one, then another... Therein lies our tale...

Yes, things get busy. If you are familiar with Tyldum's work (see "Headhunters") you will brace yourself for some great action delivered in a comprehensible way. Luckily both actors are capable...  and the production design is to die for! In addition, the mindless efficiency of the robotic support staff is first of all amusing, then not....

Our cast:
  • Jennifer Lawrence ("Joy") Writer Aurora has the skills to document this unique adventure, but she also knows the life expectancy of a human.
  • Chris Pratt ("The Magnificent Seven") Jim has to cope with absolute solitude until it becomes unbearable...then he has a moral  and ethical quandary.
  • Michael Sheen ("Masters of Sex") Arthur is right where he should be, but isn't this bartender a little too literal?
  • Laurence Fishburne ("Black-ish") Gus makes it clear that he will figure out what happened... but then there is that moral dilemma... he knows what solitary confinement does to the thinking processes... and then there is that pesky equipment malfunction...
 I kept thinking, What would I do if I were sentenced to solitary confinement for the rest of my natural life? Realizing that it is a death sentence, no matter how you experience it, made me think of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's "On Death and Dying: Five Stages of Grief." Watching Jim trying to comprehend the magnitude of his solitude is thought provoking. And as we watch what Arthur does, in his literal interpretation of what has been said, makes his action understandable. Catastrophic, but understandable.

Because this is PG-13, expect no profanity, no gunshots, only implied sex and no vehicular mayhem. There are no slavering space monsters or aliens and the acting is first rate, but expect an unexpected ending. All of this is performed on award-winning sets that are mind-boggling and original. As I said, a production design to die for!
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Here is a trailer:
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Collateral Beauty

We know Will Smith is good for at least one blockbuster a year. He's already had  "Suicide Squad" in 2016, but there's always room for another. In this one, his character has suffered a devastating personal tragedy, as a result, he writes angry letters to Love, Time and Death. To his dismay, he receives replies!

Director David Frankel ("Hope Springs"), working with writer Allan Loeb ("Here Comes the Boom") brings us another PG-13 movie that hits all his favorite sweet spots. It's sad, it's funny, it's relatable and it's a great showcase for Smith. He is skeptical and then exasperated when his letters are answered. There are moments when his eyes are not only sad, they are lifeless.

Let's look at some of the cast:
  • Will Smith ("Concussion") Howard has retreated from life. His colleagues are desperate, time is running out and he is unmoved by their dilemma.
  • Edward Norton ("Birdman") Whit has been a partner since Howard recruited him years ago. He feels a responsibility to the company and to their partnership.
  • Michael Peña ("The Martian") Simon will never divulge his own BIG secret.
  • Naomie Harris ("Spectre") The lovely Madeline tells other grieving parents in her self-help group that she too, has suffered a devastating loss.
  • Kate Winslet ("Steve Jobs") Claire wants Howard to recover but has major qualms about the method his partner has formulated to make that happen.
  • Jacob Latimore ("The Maze Runner") Raffi can't get Howard to understand that Time is a gift. Howard wanted to trade his time for that of his loved one so he is furious that he is still alive.
  • Helen Mirren ("Eye in the Sky") Brigette tells him that she is Death. This sets off a great rant from Howard. He's heard it all! She is very funny and is SUCH an ACTRESS! (You'll see what I mean.)
  • Keira Knightley ("The Imitation Game") Amy is ready to make a deal. Neither Whit nor Howard are using the Love that surrounds them so she is ready to play hardball.
  • Kylie Rogers ("Miracles From Heaven") Schoolgirl Allison calls her father a philanthropist. Whit corrects her and says she means a philanderer. She is angry about her parents' divorce.
As you can tell, this story is all about grief and rage, so we were grateful for bits of nicely played humor... This one has more tears than I'm comfortable with and the suicidal midnight dash on a bicycle (in traffic!) is a tad much. Despite a top-notch cast, I'm afraid Frankel's reach has exceeded his grasp. The screening audience liked it, though... so I'm not always right. Can I say it's unpredictably predictable?
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Here is the trailer:
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La La Land

To win People's Choice at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival means someone did something right. The opening scene is a huge traffic jam on an L.A. freeway. A realistically diverse mix of people climb out of their vehicles and start a giant dance, a la "Fame." This is only the first of many scenes where writer/director Damien Chazelle (Oscar nomination for "Whiplash") pays homage with a tip of the hat to well-known and much-loved cinematic moments.

This PG-13 film has so much to recommend it I scarcely know where to start. I think I'll first mention the two lead actors, then talk about some of the elements. We watch:
  • Ryan Gosling ("The Nice Guys") Sebastian, a jazz pianist, is trying to gain a foothold in the competitive L.A. music scene. He frustrates his agent because he refuses to compromise his "pure" jazz. By the way, Gosling worked two hours per day for six weeks, learning the music. What we see in the film is Gosling doing his own work, no hand doubles were injured during the filming...smile...
  • Emma Stone ("The Help") Mia is a struggling actress squeezing in auditions while working as a barista who sells coffee to movie stars. Stone does much of the heavy lifting: we watch as she conveys various emotions from glee to despair all in a single take. In addition, she surprised me with her dancing. I knew Gosling could dance, after all, he was a Mouseketeer, but they did one scene that doesn't seem to have any cuts. A single-take dance duet hasn't been done since Fred Astaire.
  • I don't want to shortchange John Legend, Rosemary DeWitt and J.K. Simmons, but they are always good! This time is no different.
Now I want to talk about the film. This is clearly a fantastical Los Angeles from the get-go, but we love seeing familiar sights: The freeways; the movie sound-stages; the Griffith Observatory; The Angels' Flight; the pier at Long Beach; the Lighthouse restaurant at Hermosa Beach; the overlook above the city lights; Chateau Marmont; plus other venues that will be recognizable only to locals and purists. Not being either one, I must thank generous hosts who have taken me to these memorable spots while visiting. Thanks!

The romantic dance between our two leads evokes memories of Astaire/Charisse in "Bandwagon," while the waterside scene reminded me of Kelly/Caron by the Seine in "American in Paris." The movie sets  hinted at "Singin' in the Rain" and the balloons gave me a flashback to the Audrey Hepburn fashion shoot in "Funny Face." The silhouettes made me think of "Jailhouse Rock" and the four gals dancing brought back "Sweet Charity." Guess who grew up on old-fashioned movie musicals!

Okay, you know the drill, Boy meets Girl, Boy loves Girl, Boy Loses... Oh, just buy a ticket. You'll see bittersweet moments, along with moments of pure joy. You will be treated to great jazz, wonderful scenery, a haunting musical theme, terrific acting, great choreography, and a longing for Do-overs!
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Please watch the trailer:
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Miss Sloane

We've all heard about lobbyists, so let's see how they work and what makes them tick. We are entering the world of high-stakes lobbying in Washington D.C., the pinnacle of power behind the throne. The current hot-button issue is gun control. We hear great arguments for both sides.

Director John Madden ("The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"), working with first-time screenwriter Jonathan Perera, brings us an unpredictable R-rated (it IS Washington D.C. after all!) drama about tense behind-the-scenes struggles to win, no matter what it takes. Screenwriter Perera should have a brilliant future if this is a sample of what he can do.

High-powered actors play high-powered characters:
  • Jessica Chastain ("The Martian") is Elizabeth Sloane, a highly successful lobbyist, taking on the challenge of her career. The movie opens with her as the focus of a Congressional hearing. Chastain has seldom been better.
  • Mark Strong ("The Brothers Grimsby") is Rodolfo Schmidt, the head of the organization that lobbies for increased regulation on assault rifles. He's smart, moral and convinced Miss Sloan is the perfect person for the job. Over the years I've seen British-born Strong play every nationality on the globe; this time he's American. He's always terrific.
  • Alison Pill ("Hail, Caesar!") Jane Molloy, is Elizabeth's most trusted co-worker...until she isn't.
  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw ("Concussion") Our hearts go out to EsmManucharian as the woman we want to see avenged. This is a terrific role for Mbatha-Raw and she is excellent. Again, you would never guess that this actress isn't American.
  • Michael Stuhlbarg ("Jobs") brings his own authenticity to the role of Pat Conners, a lobbyist who works with Miss Sloane in the early part of our story.
  • John Lithgow ("The Accountant") is Ron M. Sperling, the conflicted Congressman who is conducting the hearing.
  • Sam Waterston ("Law & Order") George Dupont wants the wealthy National Rifle Association as a new client for his firm; he tells it like it is and makes everyone else listen.
  • Jake Lacy ("Obvious Child") Forde's connection with Miss Sloane has its ups and downs...
Because it is R-rated, you can expect a bit of sex  and a bit of profanity, but no blowie uppie stuff or vehicular mayhem. You DO need to pay attention and have some idea of how amendments to the constitution are passed into law...that is the main reason why it is suitable for a mature audience. AND that mature audience may want closed captions. There is a LOT of important dialogue.

By the way, that tantalizing final flick of the eye held my interest all the way through the closing credits. I guess we make up our own minds....
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Look at the preview:
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Man Down

Hold onto your seats! This post-apocalyptic drama/thriller will leave you exhausted as you watch a Marine recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan as he desperately searches for his son. When the home front is so much like the battlefront, all a Marine can do is what seems necessary.
Director Dito Montiel ("Empire State") worked with author Adam G. Simon to create an R-rated screenplay based on Simon's story. There is very little I can tell you because the effectiveness of this film depends on you, the audience: what you see, what you figure out, and what you learn as a result. And there is plenty to learn!

The cast:
  • Shia LaBeouf ("Transformers") is Gabriel Drummer, frantic about his son Jonathan, and what might have happened to him. He is also haunted by a devastating event.
  • Jai Courtney ("Terminator Genisys") Devin is Gabriel's best friend since childhood. We see them suffer through Marine boot camp together and then later, watch him help Gabriel look for Jonathan.
  • Kate Mara ("House of Cards") is Gabriel's confused wife Natalie.
  • Charlie Shotwell ("Captain Fantastic") Jonathan WANTS his father to find him and tell him everything will be okay.
  • Gary Oldman ("Dawn of the Planet of the Apes") Counselor Payton is there to help, but I felt his manner was supercilious and LOADED with 20/20 hindsight. ("How did you FEEL?") I agree with Gabriel's assessment.
In my opinion, every family with loved ones who have experienced traumatic events should see this excellent film. It provides better insight into these issues and their effects on the participants than anything else I have ever seen. And despite his rocky personal life, Shia LaBeouf is a talented actor who should have a stellar future. He just has to overcome that rocky personal life... Good Luck, Shia!
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There is only one trailer:
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The artist formerly known as "The Rock" is now a singer. Yes, Dwayne Johnson is in a Disney musical. We knew he could act, he was after all, a professional wrestler (...smile...), but sing? He took this role to highlight his own personal background...the Pacific Islands. His Samoan culture embraces the myth that is illustrated. They have gone to great lengths to make what is depicted here as authentic as possible: the music, the dancing, the homes, the clothing and the lifestyle.

A committee of directors takes us on a PG-rated animated adventure that starts with a catchy, rhythmic opening number. The story is about a young girl who tries to navigate her way to a mythical island to save her tribe. Her hero, the legendary demi-god Maui hijacks her boat but eventually gives her some much-needed sailing help. He wants to retrieve a magic fishhook so he can be a shape-shifter again. He lost it because of some misbehavior in the past and he hopes Moana will help him steal it back.

Here are some of the voices for this animated fantasy:
  • Auli'i Cravalho in her film debut, is Moana, smart and stubborn, determined to go beyond the reef, something she has been told all her life is impossible. She has more optimism than skill, but sets out just the same, over everyone's objections but her beloved grandmother's. I was happy to see that she learned some lessons along the way and has to be far more determined than she expected.
  • Dwayne Johnson ("Central Intelligence") is Maui, rambunctious and not overly bright. Truth in Advertising? Maui has a LOT of hair, Johnson shaves his head.. Maui has a sentient tattoo that functions as his conscience..sort of a Jiminy Cricket... Johnson has tattoos. .hmmm... Maui's first song is a sarcastic "You're Welcome" as he responds to all of the Thank Yous he feels he has earned for the many gifts he has given to ungrateful humans.
  • Rachel House (Hunt for the Wilderpeople") is Gramma Tala, proud of her little charge, but a bit dotty. She says it's her JOB to be dotty. She promises to come back as a manta ray when she dies.
  • Temuera Morrison ("Star Wars") is Chief Tui,  the wonderful voice of the tribe, rejoicing, celebrating and honoring the abundant harvest and the honors bestowed upon his daughter, Moana.
Throughout this colorful, lilting musical, our focus is on a girl who has been convinced that she is the "Chosen One," who can sail to that forbidden island, replace a stolen stone and restore a life of plenty for mankind. Of course she learns that is isn't quite so simple... We watch her grow, one lesson at a time.

I want to talk about two things:
  1. Auli'i Cravalho is a FIND. Moana's singing voice is glorious, her diction is impeccable and I understood every single word she said. The sound in this movie is amazing!
  2. The artistry is extraordinary. Any time an animation department works with water, it brings out the very, very best. This one is no exception. The lagoon, the waterfall, the storm, the lull after the storm, and that rascally animated wave, each is unique. Facial expressions, physical movement, the toddler, the pig, the chicken and above all, Moana, are infused with magic.
It was a happy crowd of children and adults who exited the screening last night.
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Take a peek:
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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Even J.K. Rowling ("Harry Potter") isn't above milking a franchise, although she is said to be richer than the Queen of England these days! I suspect creative people just keep creating even when they don't need the cash.

Director David Yates ("Harry Potter") brings us a fantasy/adventure that places us, once again, in Rowling-land, this time in 1926. Meticulously crafted special effects abound and our familiarity with the Potter saga helps only a bit, as we follow a gentleman into New York's secret world of witches and wizards 70 years before the Potter story begins. An evil force is causing no end of destruction and he wants to help. It's sort of a dark window with eyes.

Part of the enormous cast:
  • Eddie Redmayne ("The Danish Girl") is Newt Scamander, the aforementioned gentleman traveling to New York. Take a look at his traveling bag: Mary Poppins hasn't a thing on him! Redmayne has devised a stance and a walk that is unique to Newt. It's sort of hollow-chested and lists to the left.
  • Katherine Waterston ("Inherent Vice") Tina spots Newt as soon as he gets off the boat. It's clear that she knows far more about wizards than most of the New Yorkers who crowd the streets.
  • Dan Fogler ("The Goldbergs") Cannery worker Kowalski wants to open a bakery but doesn't have any collateral. You know how well that goes over with a banker! As he encounters one fantastical situation after another, he knows it has to be true, "I ain't got the brains to make this up!"
  • Alison Sudol ("Other People's Children") Queenie loves to cook so she thinks Kowalski is the perfect man. She makes an amazing apple strudel for him.
  • Colin Farrell ("True Detective") is Percival Graves, a powerful wizard who crosses wands with Newt. Fearsome opponents, indeed!
  • Carmen Ejogo ("Selma") Seraphina is in charge. The No-Maj (American for Muggles) must have their memories of recent events erased. Period!
  • Ezra Miller ("Suicide Squad") Credence is part of the cadre of operatives directed by Graves.
  • Samantha Morton ("Max & Ruby") Mary Lou "adopts" children for their own good. Yikes! Her ministry opposes witches and warlocks.
  • Johnny Depp ("Black Mass") Ha! You'll never recognize his Grindenwald so I'll tell you right now. Yeah, that's a spoiler, but you will STILL be surprised.
As you might expect with a Rowling story, our hold on reality is pretty flimsy but Redmayne manages to find humor in being a stranger in a strange land... Actually, our hold on a plot is equally flimsy. This is mainly an excuse to string together one mind-boggling special effect after another. I sort of liked the first critter that escaped from Newt's grip. It is a sort of duck-billed platypus and is elusive as heck; it LOVES shiny jewelry and valuable coins. Bowtruckle is a green walking-stick bug with attachment issues and the amorous Eruptamus is no shrinking violet!

This is PG-13, so there is no sex (to the Eruptamus's frustration!), a few paltry gunshots, destructive mayhem in the streets but no profanity. The beasts are creative and of course the requisite barroom scene is full of oddball creatures.
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Here is a peek:
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The Eagle Huntress

If you have a thirteen year old who is feeling picked on because things aren't going exactly as planned, please take that youngster to see this movie. The only qualification will be the ability to read a few captions unless he or she speaks Kazakh! This documentary features a 13-year-old girl in Kazakhstan who wants to be the first girl in twelve generations to become a master eagle hunter. There are contests every year and her father has won three times and placed in the top five during the past five years, so when he agrees to teach her, she is working with the best.

This 87-minute G-rated family film has plenty to recommend it: scenery in a place none of us have visited, a subsistence lifestyle that is new to us (they raise, slaughter and eat their own food), and the accumulated knowledge that goes into being an eagle hunter; are all unknown to me. The first hair-raising episode illustrated the skill and knowledge it takes to CAPTURE an eaglet in the first place! I found myself checking the ropes and knots as carefully as her father did. I learned far more than I expected about the eagles, the horses, the lifestyle and the contest.

Director Otto Bell features two women:
  • Aisholpan Nurgaiv, our Eagle Huntress, is determined to master this skill in spite of the elements and the solitude, so this is about empowerment, independence, determination and the encroaching modern world. Being able to stand steady as a 13-pound raptor is diving toward your outstretched arm, takes more courage than I would be able to muster! Her school chums agree!
  • Daisy Ridley ("Star Wars; The Force Awakens") is our narrator/producer. We hear her voice as she explains the rules for the contest and clarifies some of the social issues, but those grumpy men needed no translation. They are adamantly opposed to a GIRL encroaching on their sport.
You have NEVER seen such breathtaking scenery or have beheld such tough, solitary figures in such a vast, unforgiving landscape. The sturdy little horses (Mongolian ponies) are tough and courageous. It's fun to watch them hold their own amid the jeeps, trucks, and Bactrian (two-humped) camels. We had to smile at the way the judges held up their numbered cards to vote. It looked like Dancing With the Stars. Then it was a surprise to learn that she STILL doesn't qualify until she and her eagle have proven their skills in a real-life hunt.

There is so much I haven't mentioned. Suffice it to say, this documentary will stay with you for a long time and you'll be the richer for it.
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Please watch this trailer;
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Almost Christmas

Do you have a family? If so, you'll probably recognize parts of this. This is one of those happy holiday get togethers, right? Well, Happy Holidays! This is the first gathering for the Meyer family since Grace, their beloved wife, sister, mother, and grandmother, died. The lovely family home is full of memories, a few are bad but mostly they are good.

Writer/director David E. Talbert ("Baggage Claim") manages to capture all the nuances of a big, sorta happy family (well, maybe the word nuance is a bit too soft, some of this is pretty over the top) as they fumble their way without the steadying influence of their adored matriarch (they call her kitchen "The Church of Grace"). Every sibling has a significant interaction with every other sibling.

Talbert's talented cast makes it all look so easy and very, very natural.

Part of this high-powered group:
  • Danny Glover ("Mozart in the Jungle") Walter Meyer is our widowed patriarch, struggling to make a traditional sweet-potato pie like his cherished Grace used to make. His clumsy attempts made us groan... And his attempts to quiet his battling daughters are equally doomed. We often see Grace, the mother of his four children, through flashbacks.
  • Kimberly Elise ("For Colored Girls...") Cheryl is the intense older sister: a married professional, affluent, and very, very organized. Her lively children capture everything on their cell phones, including some of their rascally father's escapades.
  • Gabrielle Union ("The Birth of a Nation") Rachel is the recently divorced younger sister, struggling to raise her daughter and finish her law degree. Problem is, money trouble threatens to derail her plans. She is angry, frustrated and STILL resents her domineering, older sister!
  • Romany Malco ("Blunt Talk") Third child Christian is in the middle of a political campaign, so this family holiday is a major distraction. And that homeless shelter is in the path of developers who are backing him.
  • Jesse Usher ("Independence Day" 2016) Evan is the youngest sibling, a change-of-life baby who feels short changed: his mother died far too soon! He is an aspiring ball player but has been through painful rehab after an injury. Personally I disagree with him about the house...
  • J.B. Smoove ("Barbershop: The Next Cut") Cheryl's husband Lonnie lives in the past, telling anyone who will listen about how great he used to be... We soon learn he is all talk.
  • Omar Epps ("Resurrection") Malachi blew it big time twenty years ago when he and Rachel were going to the Senior Prom. She hasn't forgotten!
  • John Michael Higgins ("Mascots") Christian's campaign manager is doing his best to keep his candidate on track, but this family really interferes.
  • Gregory Alan Williams ("Miracles From Heaven") Pastor Browning welcomes all those semi-familiar faces into his church. He recognizes them because they are CME Christians (Christmas, Mother's Day and Easter).
  • Mo'Nique (Oscar for "Precious") From the moment Aunt May steps out of that vehicle and flings her brilliant blue shawl over her shoulder, she OWNS every scene she's in! She is opinionated, funny, profane, and a terrible cook; she takes no prisoners!
This is rated PG-13, so expect plenty of profanity (mostly from Aunt May) and typical family squabbles. The screening audience laughed heartily throughout this one, so we were part of a exuberant chattering crowd when we exited the theater.
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Here is the official trailer:
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The Invisible War

I had avoided this documentary because I knew the content would be wrenching (institutionalized coverup of rape in the military), but one of my readers at Amazon.com urged me to bite the bullet. Despite having a BIG problem from lack of closed captions, I slammed my way through (and I'm sure my neighbors could hear my TV in the hall!) and must say this is every bit as wrenching as I feared.

Some of what I have learned:
  • The military promotes the idea of a male warrior being invincible and entitled to the fruits of war. This supports Alpha behavior and to some men, that includes sexual services from underlings.
  • Women are encouraged to join, but after a lengthy trial, one case was dismissed with, "Rape is a hazard of military duty."
  • Rape victims in the military suffer from PTSD in large part because it is a betrayal of the much-touted military "family."
  • During a rape years ago, one victim had the left side of her face shattered and still can't chew solid foods.The VA ordered X-rays of her BACK!
  • One victim was raped by a married man, so SHE was charged with adultery (not the rapist).
  • One assailant became "Airman of the Year" during the investigation of his crime.
  • Many rape victims are read their rights as though THEY have been accused and arrested.
  • The conviction rate in the military is a version of "Catch and Release." Only a fraction of the rapists are held even mildly accountable.
  • One attorney with the CID  who helped rape victims was "released" after eight years of duty and she was denied any military benefits.
  • One victim was told all of the evidence was lost, so her case was dropped. She went to NCIS in Washington D.C. and they actually have the evidence, but her case is still closed.
  • A "sensitivity" poster says, "Hey Buddy. Don't risk it. Ask her again when she's sober (?!)."
Acclaimed filmmaker Kirby Dick ("This Film is Not Yet Rated") has assembled a compelling collection of interviews, news clips, and segments from Congressional hearings. He concludes with "Where are they now?" at the end. I always appreciate that. I can see why it won the "Audience Award' at Sundance.

By the way, after viewing this documentary, the Secretary of Defense made a significant and much-needed change in how the charge of rape is processed in the military. It's a start....
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Please take a look:
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Doctor Strange

Have you noticed that the current British actor du jour is Benedict Cumberbatch? He is in EVERYTHING! And you know what? He's pretty darned good! And this time he speaks American.

Here he has joined the Marvel Universe under the guiding hand of director Scott Derrickson ("Deliver Us from Evil") who uses a script by a whole committee of writers. In keeping with most Marvel movies, this one is rated PG-13 and contains...guess what? A LOT of Computer Generated Imaging, a lot of fisticuffs, a lot of blowie uppie stuff, a lot of humor, three swear words and no sex. Whew! But brace yourself for some gruesome opening scenes: a decapitation and brain surgery (not on the same person) and a horrific car wreck (those darn cell phones!).

Derrickson's stellar cast includes:
  • Benedict Cumberbatch ("August: Osage County" he's a southern hick) is Doctor Stephen Strange, the former neurosurgeon who frantically has begun a journey of healing after a car wreck damages his hands, only to encounter stuff about "spirit" but nothing about anatomy. Spirit is so much hooey; he's a DOCTOR! I love his dialogue because he's witty and bright. But his CAPE! Wait until you see it in action...
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor ("12 Years a Slave") Mordo never claimed to be either witty or bright, but he IS spiritual... He tries to explain the healing abilities of The Ancient One, however our good doctor refuses to take him seriously. Strange DOES learn a lot about martial arts from Mordo...
  • Rachel McAdams ("Spotlight") plays Christine Palmer, the sweet, softhearted Emergency Room doctor who loves our hero. Problem is, he tells such a far-fetched story, she KNOWS he is lying.
  • Benedict Wong ("The Martian") Wong (not a typo!) is concerned with his library full of sacred books. He takes his job very seriously and has NO sense of humor.
  • Mads Mikkelsen ("The Royal Affair") Kaecilius is the fellow we quickly learn to hate. He had so much potential before he went to the Dark Side.
  • Benjamin Bratt ("La Mission") Jonathan Pangborn desperately needed our doctor's help but he was refused. Now he seems to be fine, at least we hope so... Hmmm...
  • Tilda Swinton ("Hail, Caesar!") The Ancient One forces our doctor to confront his ego, his arrogance and his refusal to lose. He soon learns that she is full of surprises and incredibly powerful ...plus she makes a darn good cup of tea.
  • Stan Lee ("Marvel Movies") makes another cameo which was greeted by a welcoming murmur that rippled through our screening crowd. We LOVE him!
This CGI-loaded actioner seems to be inspired by the vertigo-inducing special effects of "Inception" (particularly in 3D) with cityscapes twisting and turning; plus it is already screening a cross-over production with more Marvel $uperheroes. It's always fun to see these genesis stories, and find out what made our superheroes super.

Amid the quasi-scientific mumbo jumbo that laced the dialogue, I heard one statement that stuck: "Humans are tiny momentary specks in an indifferent universe." Watch our doctor when he hears it a second time.
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Here is the Comic Con trailer (see what I mean!)
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Here is another episode in Dan Brown's trilogy (so far) about symbologist Robert Langdon, again played by Tom Hanks, as he takes on a nefarious plot to wipe out half of the world's population (to save mankind). The statistics are compelling but I don't remember the other two movies being quite so hectic.

Oscar winner Ron Howard ("In the Heart of the Sea") returns again to directing duties, using another script by David Koepp ("Indiana Jones 5"!) as they follow a familiar story arc. Once again we visit picturesque locales (Florence, Venice and Istanbul) and meet new faces. We watch as Langdon is injected with a hallucinogenic in a crowd, shot at by the police in a hospital, chased by a drone through city parks, and hunted by dogs, cops and mysterious Men in Black in streets, museums, and airline/train terminals. Whew!

This time, Howard casts these folks:
  • Tom Hanks ("Sully") is back as Robert Langdon, the familiar face of rational thinking in the face of impossible odds, but this time he has been inoculated with something that impairs his mental processes (he can't remember the word "coffee"). The story begins...
  • Felicity Jones ("The Theory of Everything") is Sienna Brooks, a woman who has known him since she was eight. She is a doctor, a scientist, and an expert on Dante. She also can explain Langdon's amnesia.
  • Omar Sy ("The Intouchables") is Christoph Bouchard, the fellow who does a great job of second-guessing our hero.
  • Irfan Khan ("The Lunchbox") Harry Sims plans to (maybe) help the World Health Organization, or (maybe) help Langdon, or (maybe) protect the helpless. I couldn't make out the dialogue, so it's anyone's guess.
  • Ben Foster ("Hell or High Water") Bertrand Zobrist can foresee a time in the near future when the human population will reach an unsustainable number. This will trigger our extinction. He also has a solution.
  • Sidse Babett Knudsen ("Borgen") is Elizabeth Sinskey, a World Health Organization operative, intent on derailing Zobrist's "solution." She is an old friend of Langdon's.
In my experience, if a person is called a symbologist, I know right away I'm gonna feel stupid. Sure enough, much of what was said was esoteric and scholarly: Lots about Dante's Inferno and all those circles of Hell. I'll leave it to the experts to pick apart the minutiae, I will focus on all the nuances I can get in one viewing (closed captions would have been appreciated). Many will opt for a second screening just because the story is so complex.

This PG-13 movie runs a touch over two hours; it feels longer because it's so chaotic and intense. Expect bloody wounds, gun battles, bodies falling from great heights, stabbings and drowning, but little or no profanity, only implied sex and one lone episode with blowie uppie stuff (which may be a hallucination). When a franchise like this is such a dependable money maker, it's a challenge to find new ways to imperil our hero. Rest assured, these evil movie makers have managed to do it! The screening audience was enthusiastic; on the other hand, I felt overwhelmed.
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Here is a preview:
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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

If you have read any of Lee Child's books, you know Jack Reacher is a giant of a man. I guess if you look at Tom Cruise and his international stardom, he too is a giant, just not in the physical sense. I can see why this character appeals to Cruise: these books aren't seedy, the hero is decent, smart and virtually unbeatable in a fair fight, plus he makes and keeps friends even as he lives off the grid.

This time, director Edward Zwick ("Pawn Sacrifice") has collaborated with Richard Wenk ("The Magnificent Seven") to bring us another chapter with this larger-than-life hero. Our retired Army Intelligence officer has found a blot on his record. He tries to rectify it and discovers that the officer who replaced him is in a similar dilemma. Something is being concealed. Therein lies our tale.

The cast:
  • Tom Cruise ("Mission Impossible") Jack Reacher is whip-smart and wasn't born yesterday. When the powers that be seem to have him in their sights, they just don't understand that they are still out numbered!
  • Cobie Smulders ("Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.") Susan Turner has Jack's old office. She also seems to have inherited some other aspects of his life (she has been accused of espionage), but make no mistake, Major Turner doesn't cut herself any slack.
  • Danika Yarosh (Lots of TV) Samantha might be Reacher's daughter. He's stunned but not willing to reject her out of hand. Then the bad guys try to get her because they have no doubt that she really IS his daughter!
  • Madalyn Horcher ("Curve") Sgt. Leach is Reacher's secret weapon. He can ALWAYS rely on sergeants!
  • Aldus Hodge ("Leverage") Espin has been known to jump to conclusions. Maybe it's time to do it again...
  • Patrick Heusinger (Lots of TV) The Hunter is like Reacher: former military, well trained and ruthless.
This satisfying PG-13 actioner runs just under two hours. As is the custom with Cruise films (Cruise is the producer and it's clear he isn't afraid to spend money on a high-quality product), we hear very little profanity, there is no sex, the fights are well choreographed, the action is non-stop, and we have people to root for. Expect gunfire, some blowie uppie stuff and lots of fisticuffs. The tagline is: Never give in, never give up, never go back.
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Take a peek:
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Keeping Up With the Joneses

Here we have the standard competition in suburbia, a couple attempting to measure up as a new couple moves into their cul-de-sac. They look like perfect neighbors, but what if they are government spies and there is international espionage afoot?

This PG-13 Action/Comedy is directed by Greg Mottola ("The Newsroom") based on a script by Michael LeSieur ("Glory Daze"). Expect action, vehicular mayhem, lots of gunfire and some profanity; the comedy is pretty broad (Galifianakis is in it!) but LeSieur's heart is in the right place.

Here is part of the cast:
  • Gal Gadot ("Wonder Woman") Natalie Jones is perfect. Perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect body, perfect house. Ugh! She even has a cooking blog on television. We hate her already!
  • Jon Hamm ("Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie") Tim Jones is the perfect mate for Natalie. Just LOOK at him! And all those fascinating stories from his travels around the world, Too, too much!
  • Isla Fisher ("The Brothers Grimsby") On the other hand, Karen Gaffney is anything but perfect. First of all, she's a snoop. Nothing gets by her and all of a sudden she has a lot to watch!
  • Zach Galifianakis ("Bob's Burgers") Karen's husband Jeff, is a self-effacing guy who works in the Human Resources department doing conflict resolution at a large corporation. He's a big fan of indoor skydiving, and is very accommodating, e.g., everyone borrows his computer to do personal stuff and on top of that, he's a GREAT listener!
  • And then there are the Craverstons, Meg and Dan, played by Maribeth Monroe and Matt Walsh ("Adam Ruins Everything" and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"). She's in real estate and he works for the same company as Jeff. They have four children under the age of 12 with braces on their teeth.
  • Patton Oswalt (LOTS of TV) Bruce is the linchpin. See how important a parking space at work can become...
As the plot becomes unhinged, so do our characters. Watch our amateur sleuths bumble around breaking things and trying not to leave clues. Don't embarrass yourself: try not to laugh at the goofy dumb bits. I found the careless slamming of the unconscious body into door frames, etc., to be offensive and the kiss wasn't necessary, but all in all, I'll admit we were entertained... But don't tell anyone, okay?
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Take a peek:
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Certain Women

This is Art, not Entertainment, interpret this however you like. In my personal opinion, this is a lot like watching paint dry.... One thing is sure: contemporary Montana looks depressing and COLD.

Director Kelly Reichardt ("Wendy and Lucy" - we were warned...), inspired by the short stories by Maile Meloy, has written a screenplay which features the lives of three women trying to make the best of some poor situations.

The cast::
  • Michelle Williams (have you ever seen "Me Without You"? Amazing...) Gina Lewis has spotted some rock from a demolished school house. She wants to reuse it in a house she and her husband are building. Her teenage daughter is surly.
  • Kristen Stewart ("Café Society") plays Beth Travis, teaching an adult education class but she has to commute four hours each way. She wants to be a lawyer.
  • Lily Gladstone ("Winter in the Blood") Jamie likes Beth, not the class she teaches. Lily raises horses.
  • Laura Dern ("The Fault in Our Stars") Laura Wells can tell her clients the law but they don't believe it until a man says the same thing.  She gets frustrated.
  • Jarad Harris ("The Man From U.N.C.L.E.") Fuller always knew he had been cheated and now he's reached a breaking point. He wants justice.
  • John Getz ("Trumbo") George knows Laura is the right person for the police to send into a hostage situation...but he does have her wear a bullet-proof vest. Better safe than sorry.
  • Rene Auberjonois ("Madam Secretary") Albert isn't one to over-think a problem and that rock pile has been there for years.
Expect a few adult situations, but a lot of silence. These people don't talk much and when they do, it is terse, mumbled and not very loud. If you really want to try to figure out what is happening and have a hearing problem, be warned: You will need captions. But you will love the Corgi!
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Here is a preview:
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The Accountant

Any accountant worth his salt knows how to "cook the books." Our hero seems to work for marginal businesses, cartels and illegal importers who need help uncooking their books. ...AND he survives! Who is this guy? Problem is, lately the Feds seem to know what's going on and the body count is rising.

This R-rated actioner is helmed by award-winning director Gavin O'Connor ("Tumbleweeds") and is based on a script by Bill Dubuque ("The Judge"). There is implied torture and some profanity, plus lots of creeping in hallways with guns, but we ALL have seen worse! The story and the characters carried the day.

Here is part of O'Connor's cast:
  • Ben Affleck ("Batman") is Christian Wolff, our eponymous hero. Through flashbacks, we see how his career military father dealt with his son's Asperger's syndrome. It isn't easy to watch! The result is, our man cannot leave a project unfinished.
  • Anna Kendrick ("Into the Woods") is Dana Cummings, the bookkeeper at his new employer's firm. She's really good with numbers... hmmm...maybe  a bit too good.
  • J.K. Simmonds ("La La Land") Director Raymond King claims he is nearing the end of a singularly dismal career at Treasury but he has his reputation to uphold, and maybe a tale to tell... There are no mysteries left except one: Who is The Accountant?
  • Cynthia Addai-Robinson (LOTS of TV) Marybeth Medina works as a Treasury agent, but she is being coerced to do more because her talents shouldn't go to waste. Can she discover the identity of The Accountant?
  • John Lithgow ("The Crown") Lamar Black can't undo his decision to hire The Accountant, even though he may want to. His medical devices are revolutionizing the market for prosthetics.
  • Jon Bernthal ("Daredevil") Braxton is there to protect his boss; but what if he understands all the issues?
  • Jean Smart (Lots of TV) This former Seattle actress works all the time, and she's always good. This time she plays Rita Blackburn, an official for Black's medical device company.
This became highly involving, much to my surprise. The cast is uniformly excellent and the casting agents did a brilliant job of matching children to their adult versions, but the plot is convoluted enough that you MUST pay attention! Just ignore teeny slips in continuity and editing. Remember when we buy a movie ticket, we agree to suspend disbelief. Many of the plot twists turned out to be satisfying. Our screening audience left the theater vocal and happy.
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Here is a preview:
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A Man Called Ove

A former colleague has been singing the praises of this runaway hit from Sweden. I was so happy to see "En man som heter Ove" (English captions) on the press-screening roster for the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. That Swede is also the sharp-eyed fellow who spotted "The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared," another Swedish comedy which was a major hit with SIFF two years ago.

This award-winning comedy from Sweden and Norway is based on the bestselling novel by Fredrik Backman and adapted for the screen by writer/director Hannes Holm. This delightful romp is about a crotchety old coot who is the neighborhood curmudgeon; he still serves as president of his homeowners' association despite the fact that he was voted out several years ago. He has one single goal in mind, but seems to be thwarted at every turn... 

Now some new people are moving in. The first thing they do is knock down his mailbox because they don't know how to back up a vehicle with a trailer attached. And a car with some despised "White shirts" (bureaucrats) keeps defying his "no vehicles" rule. And a stray cat refuses to be run off. And his former best friend may be taken to a nursing home. And the new neighbor borrows his ladder. And...and...and... The plot is nicely complex and the humor is strictly character driven. I have rarely heard a SIFF audience laugh so heartily.

The cast:
  • Rolf Lassgård is Ove, our eponymous grouch, still running the neighborhood with an iron fist. He patrols it every morning.
  • Bahar Pars - Parvenah is the lovely new (pregnant) neighbor involved with that mailbox.
  • Filip Berg plays the young Ove. As we watch flashbacks of his childhood we can see where this grumpiness comes from! (But Willie Nelson sings "You Are Always on My Mind," so it's fine by me.)
  • Ida Engvoll - The lovely Sonja has strong opinions, too! She leaves a long trail of happy students and neighbors who still miss her.
As tensions mount, we see flashback after flashback which clarifies our view on the current situation. This has a whole neighborhood full of people to root for, plenty of laughs, some grief, and a nice opinion of a man who visits his beloved wife's grave every day. Many SIFF members are geared to more artistic tribulations, but a lot of us left the theater with a big smile on our faces.


The Magnificent Seven

Ready for a remake of a remake? Let's see.... Akira Kurosawa filmed "Seven Samurai" with Toshirô Mifune, followed by John Sturgis' "The Magnificent Seven" with Yul Brynner (I'm not counting the TV series). Now Antoine Fuqua saddles up with Kurosawa's original script tweaked for today's audience. This 132-minute testosterone-laden actioner boasts a terrific multi-cultural cast; just wait until you see who is in it!

The story? In a nutshell, a small farming community is being terrorized by a businessman who owns some gold mines in the area. He employs a huge number of gunmen to enforce his policies.

Part of that cast;
  • Denzel Washington ("Flight") Chisolm answers to no one. He has a job to do and he does it. I liked that he moved his horse out of harm's way when things heated up.
  • Chris Pratt ("Jurassic World") Josh enjoys everything, but particularly magic tricks and blowing things up.
  • Ethan Hawke ("In a Valley of Violence") Since the war, Goodnight Robicheaux has been at loose ends. He travels with Billy Rocks.
  • Byung-hun Lee ("RED 2") Billy Rocks is a wizard with blades. If you don't believe me, just watch!
  • Manuel Garcia-Rulfo ("Bless Me, Ultima") Vasquez believes in Chisolm and doesn't have anything better to do...
  • Vincent D'Onofrio ("Jurassic World") Jack had me buffaloed. I couldn't understand a word he said, but his actions spoke louder than words.
  • Martin Sensmeier ("Lilin's Brood") Red Harvest doesn't fit in with his tribe, so he might as well join Chisolm. Watch this guy ride bareback!
  • Peter Sarsgaard ("Black Mass") Bartholomew Bogue is the dirty rotten scoundrel we love to hate. This wealthy crook is a heartless boss and a vicious bully.
  • Matt Bomer ("The Nice Guys") Local farmer Matthew may look ill-prepared to confront the bad guys, but Bomer absolutely SHINES in this role!
  • Haley Bennett ("The Girl on the Train") Emma is really, really mad. She wants to take back their town, so she sets out to find gunmen who can help the townspeople. She can't allow herself any doubts or second thoughts.
This is rated PG-13, so expect LOTS (and lots and lots) of gunfire, blood and fisticuffs, a smattering of profanity and some well-placed blowie uppie stuff, but no sex (this is, after all, rated PG-13...smile...). There is plenty of humor, particularly during the training phase for those frightened, inept townspeople.

Our screening audience exited the theater energized and satisfied.
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Check out this preview;
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Queen of Katwe

This PG-rated film is for folks who love David v Goliath stories (I'm one of them). Award-winning director Mira Nair ("The Namesake") brings us the true story of a girl from Uganda who learns to play chess. Our screening audience had a BIG representation of children. I don't know if they were in chess clubs or what, but you could have heard a pin drop at any time during the movie's 123-minute running time.

Based on Tim Crother's biographical book by the same name, screenwriter William Wheeler's screenplay brings us all the tension of a high-stress sport, the upbeat training of a would-be winner, and the exultation of watching someone come from nowhere to challenge the best of the best.

Nair's cast:
  • Madina Nawanga (in her first role) is Phiona Mutesi, a happy, observant girl who is fascinated by the game but too shy to go in and learn how to play it. She IS defensive though, and lights into the first boy who insults her. Ultimately her goal is to become a Chess Grandmaster.
  • David Oyelowo ("Selma") is her mentor, Robert Katende. He encourages this curious girl and is amazed by her natural aptitude. He offers books for her to study but she can't read. Robert tells Phiona that his chess school is for fighters!
  • Lupita Nyong'o (Oscar winner for "12 Years a Slave") is Harriet Mutesi, an overworked, angry and confused mother of four. Her girl Phiona has work to do and shouldn't be wasting her time on a game! When Harriet speaks English (the official language of Uganda) it is accented but when she speaks her native language, there are captions.
Many many things ring true: At their first competition, our country mice have anxiety attacks when confronted by the wealth and snobbery of the city mice; they have yet to master the self-control the other chess players demonstrate. I loved how people would growl at each other when provoked and I wish I could figure out how they pop their fingers; it is unique and effective. So is the way these events change the players, making it a challenge to go back home again and try to fit in.

This is Mira Nair's movie, so you can expect a wonderful series of curtain calls, as each actor with his or her name on display is joined by the "real" person with his or her name. In addition, she includes a brief update on the principals' lives since the events we just saw. Of course as soon as this is concluded, they all join in with a song and dance. Pure Bollywood! We love Mira.
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See the preview:
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One of the most intriguing documentaries of 2014 was "Citizenfour," Laura Poltras' Oscar-winning report of her meetings with Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald in a Hong Kong hotel; "Citizenfour" was Snowden's on-line name. For this scripted version of his story, the central issue is unchanged: the secret surveillance of American citizens by the NSA and its massive scope.

Writer/Director Oliver Stone (""Wall Street Money Never Sleeps") working from a script on which he collaborated with Kieran Fitzgerald, brings us his R-rated version based on two more books on the topic. Despite some ramped-up dramatic scenes, the story is the same, and  we're delighted to see a face for Snowden's girlfriend. By the way, Stone loves super-close closeups, so be prepared to see every scar, flaw, pore and whisker in many scenes.

His cast:
  • Joseph Gordon Levitt ("The Lookout")  is excellent as Edward Snowden, who lands in the world of international intrigue too bright, too young, too observant, and too honest. Not a good combination.
  • Melissa Leo ("The Big Short") is Laura Poltras, the award-winning filmmaker who films the interviews and publishes her work. She also becomes a friend...
  • Zachary Quinto ("Star Trek") plays journalist Glenn Greenwald, a multilingual journalist who blasts through a bureaucratic stone wall to help get Snowden's exposé published in a timely way.
  • Rhys Ifans ("Madame Bovary") is Corbin O'Brien, this time my favorite Welsh chameleon plays American as apple pie, but his character serves to illustrate how gifted our hero is and shows why he was given such high-priority jobs at such a early age.
  • Shailene Woodley ("The Divergent") is Lindsay Mills, a lovely young woman who loves to debate. With her yin to Snowden's yang; liberal versus conservative; adventurous opposed to cautious, she brings a lively sparkle to his life.
  • Tom Wilkinson ("Selma" he played LBJ) Ewan MacAskill is with the Guardian, a trusted London newspaper. He feels it should back Snowden and is willing to pressure the powers that be.
  • Nicholas Cage ("Left Behind") Hank Forrester is working on the next generation cryptanalysis after Enigma; he hopes Snowden can help....
  • Timothy Olyphant ("This is Where I Leave You") CIA Agent Geneva shows greenhorn Snowden "how things work."
  • Ben Schnetzer ("The Book Thief") Gabriel Sol calls Snowden "Snow White" because he is so innocent and naīve. He keeps warning him to watch out for that poisoned apple.
  • Scott Eastwood ("Suicide Squad") Trevor James is head honcho for a bunch of whiz kids who are supposed to find security flaws but who are then are derided as hackers (they hack the hackers!).
Snowden's major assertion is that NSA is no longer fighting terrorism, but instead is amassing global information for economic control. NSA has created a Dragnet on the world, even though he has been told "A job can't be criminal when you're working for the government."

We do a double-take when we realize that in the final scenes, the "real" Edward Snowden is playing himself. The casting by Lucy Bevan and Mary Vernieu is excellent! I realize that most of you haven't seen the documentary, in which case, you will find this movie both interesting and deeply disturbing.
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Here is a preview:
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A "Monday Morning Quarterback" is someone who criticizes and says how he would have done something better or differently after the event has passed. Keep that in mind!

Legendary director (four Oscars) Clint Eastwood ("American Sniper") brings us the story of what happened to the people involved after the "happily ever after" Miracle on the Hudson. Based on Chesley Sullenberger's book "Highest Duty," we start with the events that transpired after a jetliner encountered a flock of geese and had less than 3 1/2 minutes to make a forced landing on the Hudson River. Algorithms used by Monday Morning Quarterbacks show there was no need to land on the river.

Part of Eastwood's cast:
  • Tom Hanks ("Captain Phillips") Sully is an experienced pilot (1,000,000 passengers over 40 years) who follows procedure and sticks to his guns even during the subsequent hearing.
  • Aaron Eckhart ("Courage") Jeff Skiles is Sully's co-pilot, happy to be back in New York....alive! He is a loyal and professional friend. Their emergency actions look choreographed, but it is a well-rehearsed procedure for all pilots.
  • Laura Linney ("Mr. Holmes") Sully's wife Lorraine, besieged by the press in the family home, has to watch her husband attacked and second guessed on New York television.
  • Anna Gunn, Mike O'Malley and Jamie Sheridan are the three lead interrogators. Our screening audience groaned at their snide suppositions and their blind trust in the flight simulator.
  • Chris Bauer ("The People v. O.J. Simpson") Sully is lucky to have Larry on his side! You'll see that midnight call is warranted...
  • Patch Darragh (Lots of TV) Patrick Harten is the Air Traffic Controller who first hears "Mayday!" from US Airways Flight 1549. We share his incredulity as he grasps the magnitude of the problem and instantly sets about to resolve it.
This 93-minute, PG-13 movie (which should be shortlisted for Best Picture in next year's Oscars), makes us proud to be human beings and Eastwood once again demonstrates why he is held in such high regard: Not one scene is wasted nor is there any unnecessary dialogue, while the central issue remains crystal clear.

Oh, keep in mind that you will have over 150 people to root for, along with the fine folks of New York City. You can't beat THAT! Be sure to stay for the reunion held by the REAL passengers and crew as they celebrate their gratitude and loyalty to the modest gentleman who kept them alive.
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The Light Between Oceans

Based on the best-selling novel by M.L. Stedman, this wrenching romantic drama is adapted and directed by Derek Cianfrance ("Blue Valentine"). In it we see a lighthouse keeper and the love of his life rescue an infant from a rowboat adrift off the coast of Australia. Because of their own personal tragedies, this seems like a gift from above. Did someone say "Be careful what you wish for?"

Our screening audience found it unpredictable and we discussed whether or not it is a chick flick. Granted there is no CGI, no gunfire, no vehicular mayhem and no blowie uppie stuff, and there IS a lovely montage of a newly married couple finding comfort and happiness in each other. Maybe it IS a chick flick, but the men seemed to be interested in their dilemma and the legal issues involved.

Here is a part of the highly acclaimed cast:
  • Michael Fassbender ("Steve Jobs") Pensive widower and WWI veteran Tom, is a decent man. He understands the moral issues and is determined to do the right thing. On the other hand, he knows what Isabel is suffering.
  • Alicia Vikander ("The Man From UNCLE") Isabel is thrilled that her arms are no longer empty. Her response is atavistic and primitive, an overwhelming maternal need for a child. The presence of this wonderful actress elevates her costar's game. Fassbender rises to the challenge.
  • Rachel Weisz ("Oz the Great and Powerful") Hannah is a grieving mother; is there a scant chance that her baby is still alive?
  • Florence Cleary (in her debut) Lucy-Grace is the center of the controversy. Who is her mother? This child is so beautifully directed it's hard to tell that she even knows there is a camera anywhere around. Notice in particular the scene with the tiara made of flowers. Any parent would fight for the right to raise this one!
  • Jack Thompson ("The Great Gatsby") Ralph has seen it all and nothing gets by him. His unsolicited advice is pretty good, too!
  • Bryan Brown ("The Good Wife") Hannah's father Septimus understands his little granddaughter very well; AND she loves that he rides a horse!
This is PG-13, so expect adult topics and two extremely well-acted miscarriages. For an actress who, to the best of my knowledge has never had a child, Vikander avoids all of the screaming and histrionics so often employed by other actresses. Her affection for her husband and her little girl just radiate from the screen. In addition, you may smile at the difference between a "real" Aussie version of "Waltzing Matilda" and the simpler song taught in American schools.

Adam Arkapaw's cinematography is worthy of mention. We are dazzled by landscapes, seascapes, stormy seas, quiet seas, remote harbors, rocks, meadows, churches, the lighthouse and the incessant wind. We see quiet beaches, sunsets, moonrises, rainstorms, and busy waterfronts. All are terrific.

Even though not one of the three leads attempted to replicate an Australian accent, we liked this one, but if you have hearing problems see this in a theater with Closed Captions or wait for the DVD.
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Here is a sample:
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Kubo and the Two Strings

Opening and closing with "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," this dazzling story from Oregon-based Laika studio instantly sweeps us into a visual wonderland with a storm at sea...  (I'm wondering, why name a movie studio after the poor Russian stray who earned immortality by being the first dog to fly...and die...in space?)

Directed by Travis Knight ("Coraline"), this PG-rated stop-action movie takes us to an unnamed Asian land where a little boy spins fantastical stories at the local market (note the men playing Go). They are illustrated with origami figures of his own creation but they never have an ending. Before and after his gig in the village, he tenderly cares for his deeply traumatized mother, haunted by a tragedy in her past. Is it related to the incident that cost our little boy his left eye?

In keeping with a popular trend, they have cast successful actors to voice the characters. I am NOT in favor of this trend, as these actors are already visible enough and by hogging the limelight they are displacing some terrific voice actors who would love the chance to show you what they can do!

The characters (I'll name the actors in brackets; they are adequate but not outstanding):
  • Kubo (Art Parkinson) plays a three-stringed instrument and entertains the villagers. He longs for his absent father and has been told that his aunts are responsible for the loss of his eye. He's an honest, earnest, hard-working little boy. He says, "If you must blink, do it now.'
  • Kameyo (Brenda Vaccaro) is the sweet old woman in the village who is Kubo's best fan (but she would like him to include a chicken in one of his stories because chickens are funny).
  • Monkey (Charlize Theron) is a cranky demanding sidekick. She gives Kubo three questions and he naïvely uses them up before he has learned a single thing! She's a good sidekick though and he's lucky to have her.
  • Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) has delusions of adequacy. He's certainly willing and strong enough but he's a tad simple... When he learns who Kubo's father was, he swears undying fealty.
  • The Sisters (Rooney Mara) These evil witches are both violent and malevolent.
Let me emphasize that this is NOT a Disney movie. If you remember Coraline, it has scary scenes and violent battles. For example, here when a baby is washed up on a beach, we notice it is missing an eye, so this is not what many youngsters expect.

I found myself a bit confused, even using closed captions (which are spotty, by the way) because the mythology was unfamiliar. The artistry is terrific and the intention is honorable, but despite the rave reviews, this was just not as involving as I expected. Sorry...
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Here is a sample:
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Florence Foster Jenkins

After seeing a brilliant production of "Souvenir" at A Contemporary Theater in Seattle that featured Patti Cohenour and Mark Anders, I was hesitant to sully that memory. Thank goodness director Stephen Frears ("Philomena") working with writer Nicholas Martin, is known to respect the written word. I was also relieved that the sadder aspects of this remarkable woman's life weren't airbrushed.

Florence Foster Jenkins could have been a tragic figure if not for her irrepressible spirit and her one-of-a-kind relationship with her long-time second husband. Fortunately for her, she was wealthy, so she was fondly viewed as eccentric; had she been poor, people would have called her nuts.

Here is part of the cast:
  • Meryl Streep ("Into The Woods") is our eponymous heroine, utterly tone deaf but completely in love with music; the sounds she hears in her head are immaculately rendered so she has no idea what she really sounds like. Streep has done Country, Rock, Musical Theater, and studied Opera, so this role is not a stretch. She seems to be without ego, as her makeup and silhouette are NOT kind.
  • Hugh Grant ("Four Weddings and a Funeral") is St. Clair Bayfield, her patient and insightful husband. He has a way of managing the many stressful situations in her life with elegance and tact. Grant never conveys anything but absolute sincerity and concern. I really appreciate that!
  • Simon Helberg ("The Big Bang Theory") Watch the look on Cosmé McMoon's face the first time he hears his employer sing. He is a musician so her caterwauling is painful to him. Helberg also does a delicious single-take scene struggling to put on a pair of pants on a slippery floor in his sock feet.
  • Rebecca Ferguson ("Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation") Kathleen is the lovely woman Bayfield keeps on the side for entirely valid reasons. You have to see the film to understand.
I love the scenes in Carnegie Hall, the apogee of American Music. Add this to the list of notable films Streep has accumulated. Because of my fondness for the story itself, I'm putting this memorable outing near the top!
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Check out this sample:
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Hell or High Water

So what can a pair of poverty-stricken brothers do when they learn that the reverse mortgage their mother signed with a predatory lender, threatens their ownership of the family ranch now that she has died?

Oh, I know. Rob banks! (This is not a spoiler if you've seen the previews.)

Director David Mackenzie ("Perfect Sense"), working with writer Taylor Sheridan ("Sicario") takes us to Texas (but shot in New Mexico) for a well-thought-out (and justifiable) solution that ranges from scenes "jest settin' on the porch chewin' the fat," to a tension-filled shoot-em-up, complete with car chases, a bit of blowie uppie stuff, and some sex.

The award-winning cast:
  • Chris Pine ("Star Trek" and "Into the Woods") Toby is a divorced father of two. He has limited skills but unlimited ambitions where his boys are concerned. He has a plan... Pine has matured as an actor and is brave enough to try unusual roles; this one is neither a comedy nor a musical. I think Pine is in it for the long haul.
  • Ben Foster ("The Finest Hours") Tanner just got out of the penitentiary, but he LOVES Toby's plan! He wants his brother to stay out of trouble, but not enough to be careful. Foster seems typecast as a loose cannon. That's too bad because I'm sure he can do other sorts of characters.
  • Jeff Bridges ("Seventh Son") Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton has amazing intuition when it comes to criminal behavior. He's been doing this job for so long he can think like a crook. I've been a fan of this actor for a long time, but in his last five or six movies, he mumbles like he has a chaw of tobacco tucked between his gum and his lip. Is it poor dental work or just carelessness? C'mon Jeff....
  • Gil Birmingham ("House of Cards") Alberto shows extraordinary patience with the constant teasing he gets from his partner, but he says he'll be lonely when Marcus retires.
  • Margaret Bowman ("No Country for Old Men") This crabby waitress at the T-Bone Cafe will stay with you long after the rest of the movie fades from memory. She steals the film from an otherwise stellar cast! "So what don't cha wont?"
This has a well-earned R rating but the dreary setup is leavened by memorable comic scenes and a couple of terrific monologues. It's not the sort of movie I personally would recommend, but I can think of many reasons why you might like it.
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Here is a trailer:
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Pete's Dragon

Why does this sound so familiar? Oh, I know. It's because it was first done in 1977. Okay, this time it is directed by David Lowery (he also tweaked the script). The only other thing he has written and directed that I recognize is "Them Ain't Bodies Saints" which I found just as confusing as the title.

We have the classic little lost boy who has an imaginary friend. This time it happens to be a dragon. And maybe it isn't imaginary. And we admire new and improved special effects. This is a PG film that maintains the tradition that Walt Disney invented: Children are wise, but adults? ...not so much.

Let's look at the cast:
  • Oakes Fegley ("Boardwalk Empire") is Pete, our lonely little orphan. Early scenes establish how he came to be an orphan and include a fairly scary episode in the deep forest. You will enjoy his first encounters with things like balloons and toothpaste.
  • Bryce Dallas Howard ("The Help") is Grace, the kindhearted Ranger who realizes that Pete's story is similar to the tall tale her father spins for spellbound children in their hometown.
  • Robert Redford ("A Walk in the Woods") Meacham entertains little ones with his exciting story and insists the dragon he encountered as a child was "magical." Yeah... Right...
  • Karl Urban ("Star Trek") Gavin is a hard-working, ambitious logger. He is practical to the core, so I got a big kick out of hearing him yell, "Follow that dragon!"
  • Oona Laurence ("Bad Moms") Natalie has always been her daddy's obedient little girl but she is also kind and VERY observant.
  • Isiah Whitlock Jr ("Law and Order") Sheriff Gene Dentler is trying to make sense of a crazy situation and make sure no one gets hurt.
  • Wes Bentley ("Interstellar") Jack tries to trust Grace's judgement, but he has a business to run.
The best measure of a PG movie is the response of the children. Many people in the screening audience brought their offspring. The enthralled children were beguiled from beginning to end. They had someone to root for, a thoughtless villain, a beautiful countryside, a touching scene or two, characters they could relate to, and a white-knuckle scene on a bridge. After a totally unexpected scene at the end, they left the theater with big smiles and so did the adults.

Oh! Bring tissues....
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Here is a sneak peek:
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Suicide Squad

Written and directed by David Ayer ("End of Watch"), this ultra-violent action-packed comedy brings a PG-13 sensibility to what could have been an R-rated movie (lots of blood, torture and killing, but very few bad words...smile...). We see a bunch of super-villains who are imprisoned for various horrific crimes. Black Ops Commander Amanda Waller gets the bright idea to use their superpowers to pull off a dangerous mission for her secret agency A.R.G.U.S. in exchange for shortened prison terms. (Wait'll you see who rounds them up for her! If I told you where this takes place, you'd figure it out.)

Then things get messy...

Here is a small part of this big, talented cast:
  • Viola Davis (Emmy for "How to Get Away With Murder") Amanda Waller is determined to fight fire with fire, She intends to use "meta-humans" to bring some really, really bad guys to justice. I still haven't made up my mind about her.
  • Joel Kinnaman ("The Killing") Rick Flagg is Amanda's go-to guy. He may have serious doubts about the project, but he obeys orders and is a heck of a soldier.
  • Will Smith ("Concussion") Deadshot never misses. He is a paid assassin who, above all, wants to provide a stable home for his school-age daughter. When Smith is on screen he brings sense to a complex script. Whew! 
  • Shailyn Pierre-Dixon ("The Best Man Holiday") Zoe is the little girl Deadshot loves best. She tells her daddy, "I know you've done bad things, but I love you anyway." 
  • Margot Robbie ("The Legend of Tarzan") is Harley Quinn, the first recruit we see, flaunting her amazing body while imprisoned in a cube of steel bars. It's hard to discourage her; that sunny personality is a breath of fresh air. 
  • Jared Leto (won an Oscar for "Dallas Buyers Club") The Joker doesn't really have a sense of humor, just an undying love for Harley and unlimited resources to protect her. 
  • Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje ("Trumbo") Croc does little more than snarl until they need him, then he really comes through! 
  • Jay Hernandez ("Max") Diablo is like Marvel's Hulk, he doesn't "ignite" until he is angry. So the trick is timing...
  • Cara Delavingne ("Anna Karenina") is June Moone/The Enchantress. Both of these characters contribute more than their share of plot for this one.
Buried in this massive melee, we see several types of love: Parent/child; Man/woman; Brother/sister. And to my relief, we come to care about the outcome.

This is PG-13, so expect overwhelming gunplay, blowie uppie stuff, Computer Generated Imaging, urban warfare in a dystopian setting and a LOT of action. The 3D only made me duck once during a debris-laden helicopter crash, so to me it only had marginal value. The script is full of humor, and the characters are unique, to say the least; HOWEVER, if you have any hearing problems, you should wait for the DVD or see this in a theater equipped with closed caption devices. A word to the wise...
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Take a look for yourself:
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Microbe and Gasoline

What a great choice for a group of French students from Seattle Academy as their first exposure to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. "Microbe et Gasoil" (English captions) is writer/director Michael Gondry's latest, most charming French entry about two teenage boys who are too clever to fit in. This review was first published in May, 2016, so some of you have seen it before.

If you have followed Gondry's career, you already know cinema is his playground; "Mood Indigo," "Be Kind Rewind," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Soul," are just a few of his inimitable films. This latest one has much less whimsy and far more heart!

Once again he has assembled a terrific cast for his earnest examination of teenage friendship.

His cast:
  • Douglas Brosset is Oscar, an undersized teenager nicknamed "Microbe." He is an artist and of course he is misunderstood, overlooked and teased.
  • Audrey Tautou is Marie-Thérèse, his depressed mother.
  • Ange Dargent is Daniel, his older brother, who unexpectedly loans Oscar his GPS.
  • Theophile Baquet plays Theo, the audacious newcomer who is smart, inventive, resourceful (and misunderstood). This handsome charmer can build all sorts of things out of scrap, including the perfect use for a two-stroke gasoline engine, hence his nickname, "Gasoil."
  • Diane Besnier brings us Laura, the lovely girl of Oscar's dreams.
This wonderful film captures perfectly an adolescent boy's need for adventure and excitement. Our two young heroes decide to take off for the summer in a homemade house on wheels. They tell each other ghost stories, engage in philosophical arguments, and flirt with disaster more than once. Watch two cops take a selfie beside that geranium-bedecked window. And see how Oscar gets a Samurai haircut in a Korean whorehouse...

This one is satisfying on so many levels I won't try to list them. This is R-rated because it is European, with a little different sensibility from what we construe as acceptable for our teenagers. More's the pity. I loved it!
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See the Google Preview:
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The Innocents

This brilliant drama, "Les innocentes" (English captions), was submitted by France and Poland for the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. Our press screening audience was agreed: This is one of the best films of 2016 SIFF so far. This review was first published in the Spring of 2016, so some of you have seen it before.

Director Anne Fontaine ("Gemma Bovery") working with a team of writers, brings us the upsetting tale of a young Red Cross worker dispatched to assist the survivors of the German invasion in 1945 Poland. She is called to help seven Benedictine nuns who are in an advanced stage of pregnancy. They had been raped by the Russian army who came to liberate them from the Germans. Therein lies our tale...

The cast:
  • Lou de Laâge - Mathilde Beaulieu has her work cut out for her. She assists with surgery on wounded French soldiers, but is secretly called to help at a local cloister. Their secrets are not hers to tell...
  • Agata Kulesza is the Mother Abbess. It is her religious community that has been violated, but the vows her lambs took are the most important thing. They MUST NOT BREAK THEM.
  • Agata Buzek - Maria isn't as deeply traumatized as some of the others, but has to find a middle ground for her sisters. She can see the damage being done by Mother Abbess but has sworn to obey.
  • Joanna Kulig - Irena is torn between her vows and motherhood.
  • Vincent Macaigne - Samuel has to accept the loss of Mathilde when they go their separate ways, but first there is additional work to be done.
This memorable film addresses the quandaries for the women, from a social, philosophical, political and spiritual point of view. Or as one audience member put it, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!"
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See the Sundance trailer:
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Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne never disappoints. His fans expect interesting locations: Here we have Athens, Greece; Reykjavik, Iceland; Langley, VA; McLean, VA; Silicon Valley, CA; Rome, Italy; Berlin, Germany; London, England; and Las Vegas, NV. They know Bourne is always on the move, and they see motorcycles, taxis, limos, vans, trains, subways, and buses. They expect crowds, so they race through train stations, bus terminals, subway stations, casinos, and a massive building evacuation. They expect action, so they welcome LOTS of fisticuffs, vehicular mayhem, gunfire and rioting.

Director Paul Greengrass ("United 93") is a master at this type of PG-13 film. Although this is his third Bourne outing, it probably won't be his last. Personally, I object to his constant use of herky jerky hand-held cameras, but his fans love the results.

His cast:

  • Matt Damon ("The Martian") Jason is a man without a country. With each Bourne episode, he loses more of himself (but where does he get the cash for all those tickets?). This time he discovers that somehow his father was involved in his recruitment. Damon is also one of the producers of this one.
  • Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln") CIA Director Robert Dewey has several problems that need to be solved. With a face that looks like he's been rode hard and put up wet (to quote a friend from Texas), he is as unrelenting in his own way as Bourne.
  • Alicia Vikander (Oscar for "The Danish Girl") Heather Lee is a new face at the CIA, but a smart and ambitious one
  • Julia Stiles ("The Silver Linings Playbook") Nicky is back for the fourth time and we can see that she is actively on Jason's side.
  • Vincent Cassel ("Black Swan") Asset is an Energizer Bunny turned villain. He. Just. Doesn't. Quit!
  • Riz Ahmed ("The Reluctant Fundamentalist") Aaron Kailoor is a dot.com whiz kid who developed Deep Dream, the newest, latest and greatest. He's made a few deals in his lifetime that he has come to regret...
  • Ato Essandon ("Django Unchained") Craig Jeffers is the CIA Director's right-hand man. At times, that can be quite a challenge.
This is a typical Jason Bourne outing; after suspending disbelief for 123 minutes, fans applauded, then went home sated and happy. Isn't that what it's all about?
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See what I mean:
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