How can you tell when a character in a movie is based on a real person? When you can see that the person is flawed, insecure, makes errors in judgment and is less than perfect.

Such is the case in this story, which is based on a real person. She is a divorced mother of two who is being downsized, has a soaps-addicted mother living in one bedroom, an ex husband living in the basement and now her divorced father is being dropped off by his NEXT soon-to-be ex. Furthermore, he does NOT get along with his former son-in-law. Her life is chaos.

Written and directed by David O. Russell ("Three Kings") who has selected some of his top-notch team from two previous outings: "Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle."

The award-winning cast:
  • Jennifer Lawrence ("The Hunger Games") is Joy, ambitious, naive and vulnerable; she wants stability, peace and quiet, and most of all, she would like to fulfill Grandma Mimi's prophesy, that she would create many things, thrive and be happy.
  • Virginia Madsen ("Sideways") Terry wants to live in her daughter's spare bedroom, watch her favorite soaps and hide from the world.
  • Diane Ladd ("I Dream Too Much") Mimi not only cares for her inventive little granddaughter as she grows up, she also provides the voiceover.
  • Robert De Niro ("The Intern") Rudy may not be the best father, but he would appreciate it if his daughter would throw out her ex so he can have her basement to himself.
  • Isabella Rossellini ("Chicken with Plums") is Trudy, Rudy's new girlfriend. Luckily, she has plenty of money...
  • Edgar Ramirez ("Point Break") Down in the basement, Tony wants to be the next Tom Jones, but hasn't made it out of neighborhood gigs.
  • Bradley Cooper ("Burnt") Neil Walker works for QVC, which is a brand-new concept at the time this story takes place.  He takes our heroine on a fascinating tour of the studio where we see Joan Rivers make her jewelry pitch ("watch the hands!"), see the calls pour in (the counter registers them in full sight of the camera), and note the backstage rivalry between the sales people ("I'm your favorite!").
The soap opera cast deserves special mention. As I said, Joy's mother is hooked on a soap, so every time we are in her bedroom, we see the delicious Susan Lucci, Donna Mills and other sweet-spirited icons who depict the heart-rending stories that go on, and on, and on, and on.... They are hilarious.

This is PG-13, and in my opinion it's because of the legal aspects of her success. Expect no profanity, no sweaty bodies, no gunfire, no vehicular mayhem or blowie uppie stuff; just excellent acting. Jennifer Lawrence is spectacularly good in this role and deserves her Oscar nomination. I only wish the script had been better. Maybe the writers were handicapped by the real-life aspect of this story, but our heroine's vicissitudes are endless, particularly when you look at the spectacularly successful Joy Mangano who is the end result. Look her up!
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Here is a preview:
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The Finest Hours

The Coast Guard has always held a special place in my heart, particularly after reading "So Others May Live" by Martha J. LaGuardia-Kotis, about Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers. Now we have a new book co-authored by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias which was adapted by a team of script writers for Director Craig Gillespie ("Lars and the Real Girl" and "Million Dollar Arm"). They wrote a thrilling actioner that will leave you exhausted but happy. It's based on a real event which is still considered to be the greatest small-boat rescue in the history of the Coast Guard.

This movie takes place in 1952 off the coast of Cape Cod when a pair of oil tankers are caught in a vicious blizzard where violent seas broke both of them in half. We end up with only the stern of the SS Pendleton left afloat. The crew could see the welds failing and had closed all the bulkheads. Of course their major challenges are maneuverability and communications...along with overwhelming waves, lack of leadership (their captain was in the other end), and an endless series of crises, which prompt one desperate tactic after another.

The cast:
  • Chris Pine ("Star Trek") Shy, self-effacing Coast Guardsman Bernie Webber knows crossing the bar into a stormy sea is probably hopeless, but if his commanding officer has given the order.... Only three men volunteer to go along.
  • Holliday Grainger ("Lady Chatterley's Lover" 2015) Miriam is NOT shy or self-effacing. In fact, SHE proposes to HIM because she knows Bernie will never muster the courage.
  • Ben Foster ("Lone Survivor") Richard Livesey makes fun of his commanding officer's Georgia accent and he seems alienated and surly, but when the chips are down, he volunteers to go with Bernie on that hopeless rescue mission.
  • Kyle Gallner ("American Sniper") is Andy Fitzgerald, one of the  Guardsmen who gamely volunteers to join them.
  • Eric Bana ("Munich") Daniel Cluff is in charge of this Coast Guard station. He's unsure about sending his men out to almost certain death, but he can't ignore a foundering oil tanker in heavy seas.
  • Casey Affleck ("Interstellar") Ray Silbert is reluctant to give orders on that disintegrating tanker, but no one is taking any effective action, so his ingenious problem solving becomes vital to his 31 other shipmates.
Because this is based on real people, we don't see any swashbuckling bravado, but instead we see visible hesitation and concern about this rash decision, AND the aftereffects as adrenalin wears off following that hair-raising rescue.

This is rated PG-13, so expect an overwhelming storm at sea, but no profanity, no sweaty bodies, no gunfire and not one car crash! (Well... Miriam DOES slide into a snow bank.) What you WILL see is the resourcefulness of humans, the tenacity of these seafaring heroes and a wonderful wrap up which includes newspaper accounts of the incident, photos of the "real" people and bits of biographies to provide a satisfying end to a thrilling film. Please recommend this to your friends!
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Here is a preview:
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Norm of the North

As a result of climate change, a greedy land developer plans to establish a condominium complex in the icy north. As tourism grows, Norm, our polar bear hero, discovers that not only can he understand Humanese, he can also speak it. His wise old grandfather has gone missing and someone needs to investigate, so he heads south. He brings along three friends (who happen to be lemmings), to the Big Apple where he soon becomes a mascot for that same corporation (he can dance Gangnam Style the Arctic Shake...don't ask).

With a nondescript script written by Daniel and Steven Altiere ("Scooby-Doo!") assisted by Malcolm T. Goldman in his first time out, director Trevor Wall ("Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch") has fashioned a silly 86-minute animated adventure for the kiddies.

I'll list the characters and in brackets the name brand Hollywood actor who provides the voice:
  • Norm (Rob Schneider) has come to question the motives of his new employer because he knows what boatloads of tourists and condo buyers will do to his land.
  • Socrates (Bill Nighy) is an older, wiser seagull. He understands Norm's mission and offers council, sometimes wise, sometimes not so wise. BTW, when Nighy says the word "protect" you hear all five consonants.
  • Tamecia (Loretta Devine) has far too little screen time. This Oprah-style talk-show hostess isn't given enough to do.
  • Vera (Heather Graham) works for Mr. Greene. In fact, this overworked assistant conducts auditions for a new spokesbear to represent Mr. Greene's corporation.
  • Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong) is the epitome of greed. He is grasping, rude and selfish.
I feel this one is fairly harmless, but lame; it tries to teach children about saving the Arctic but the children in the audience didn't seem very enthused as they exited the theater. It is rated PG, so the audience can expect a couple of poop jokes, a fart joke or two, some NYC traffic mishaps and a bit of lemming activity. Sorta like Whack-a-Mole. ...sigh...
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This will give you a sample:
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Ride Along 2

Clearly the first "Ride Along" made money so here we are again! Director Tim Story has brought back some of the old gang and signed up some new faces. The scriptwriting team is once again headed by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi.

Our wannabe cop wants to ride along with his soon-to-be brother-in-law in hopes that he too, might make the grade. The Atlanta PD has a hot tip about an important witness in Miami whose capture might be just what he needs to be taken off probation and sworn in as a "real" police officer.

We watch:
  • Ice Cube ("22 Jump Street") returns as by-the-book James Payton, a no-nonsense policeman who is the real deal. He IS touchy about his sister's choice for a husband.
  • Kevin Hart ("Get Hard") Motormouth bungler Ben Barber is hot on the trail of that witness but he keeps seeing hydrangeas in the plans for his upcoming wedding, which is a distraction for a person who has problems focusing.
  • Tika Sumpter ("Get On Up") Gorgeous Angela Payton can't convince Ben that her wedding planner's ideas are better than his so she talks her brother into taking him along to Miami so she can finalize those wedding plans.
  • Bruce McGill ("Rizzoli & Isles") Lt. Brooks wants that witness from Miami to testify against a drug kingpin. He forbids Barber to go along.
  • Benjamin Bratt ("Justice League") Antonio Pope is a prominent Miami citizen known for his generous contributions to civic enterprises. Where does he get all that money?
  • Ken Jeong ("Dr. Ken") A.J. is a computer hacker extraordinaire. Plus, he listens in on phone conversations. Consequently, his life is in jeopardy.
  • Olivia Munn ("The Newsroom") Maya is a capable police officer with the Miami PD. They are trying to shut down a major importer of illegal contraband. She's by the book, so Ben bewilders her as he ricochets onto the scene.
This PG-13 script offers plenty of over-the-top humor, nutty situations and vehicular mayhem. Expect lots of gun play and plenty of blowie uppie stuff.

SPOILER ALERT: I was sorry to learn that the only incident that made me laugh out loud is included in a trailer. ...sigh...
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See for yourself:
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Here is a movie that takes the middle third of an extremely well-written book ("Unbroken") by Laura Hillenbrand ("Seabiscuit") and, with the help of a quartet of screenwriters headed by the highly capable Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, reminds us that not only is war hell but Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is very painfully earned.

Director Angelina Jolie has crafted a PG-13 (brutality and language) film that illustrates the grim reality of our troops who were taken captive by the Japanese during the War in the Pacific after the attack on Pearl Harbor in WWII.

We ache for:
  • Jack O'Connell ("300: Rise of an Empire") as Louis Zamperini, a high-school running phenomenon who set records that lasted for 20 years. This young Olympian is inspired by his terrific older brother who is trying to keep his rascally sibling out of reform school. Our hero's goal is to compete again in the 1940 Olympics to be held in Tokyo, but that plan is derailed by WWII.
  • Domhnall Gleeson ("Brooklyn") is Phil, pilot of the doomed Green Hornet which crashes due to crew inexperience and mechanical failure after they are dispatched to look for downed fliers. Phil and Louis survive 42 days in a life raft only to be taken prisoner by enemy troops. Then their troubles REALLY begin!
  • Miyavi ("Oresama" a music video) is Watanabe, the frustrated commander of the prison camp. His brutality is notorious and the starving prisoners have no recourse. He exploits the fame of his prisoner and targets him for "special" treatment.
Having just read Hillenbrand's excellent book, I was grateful to note that many of the more gruesome episodes were not included. The Zamperini family is faithfully rendered on screen, although I found myself filling in many blanks that weren't included because of the time constraints on a movie.

Make no mistake, Jolie has mounted this film in such a way that we can feel how cold and hungry our prisoners are, and how desperate they become. That plane that flies overhead near the end is a cheerful sight indeed! By the way, this film has been nominated for three Oscars.

I watched this on DVD, so had the luxury of closed captions. The best part was a tip I got from a private source who advised me to watch the extras. They are the best I have ever seen. Thank you! (You know who you are!)
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Here is a trailer:
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