Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

151 minutes of Computer Generated Imaging! How lucky can we be? When The Dark Knight battles The Man of Steel, they make mincemeat of either Metropolis or Gotham City, I wasn't sure which. Much of the dialogue is lost in the overwhelming noise of their many many battles, both individually and against each other.

Batman observes that Superman isn't concerned enough about collateral damage (civilians hurt or killed), so he decides to take action.  Director Zack Snyder ("Man of Steel") working from a script by a committee of six (!), shows us what happens when our superhero is threatened with interference.

Here is part of the huge cast:
  • Henry Cavill ("The Man from Uncle") Clark Kent/Superman does NOT agree that he should have oversight. In fact, he takes strong exception to the idea! But he does admit that he goes a bit too far when Lois Lane is in jeopardy.
  • Ben Affleck ("Gone Girl") Bruce Wayne/Batman is sure he's doing the right thing. Superman's reluctance to be supervised only proves his point! This Dark Knight is very dark indeed. (I wish they didn't garble his voice each time he dons his disguise.)
  • Amy Adams ("American Hustle") Lois Lane is in a quandary. She is aware of Clark Kent's secret identity, but can't tell anyone. In the meantime, she's a dauntless journalist who endangers herself and as a result, Superman's reputation.
  • Diane Lane ("Trumbo") Clark's Kansas mother Martha Kent tells her boy that people hate what they don't understand.
  • Laurence Fishburne ("Black-ish") Newspaper editor Perry White has an ace reporter he's proud of (Lane) and one that seems to need to be propped up occasionally (Kent). His biggest problem is the newspaper's falling subscription base.
  • Jeremy Irons ("Margin Call") Bruce Wayne needs the faithful (and efficient!) Alfred, who is as adept with electronics as with all other aspects of Wayne's life.
  • Jesse Eisenberg ("The Social Network") Lex Luthor is an essential part of the story: you can't have heroes without villains! It looks to me like Eisenberg wants to OWN this jerky twitchy unpredictable version!
  • Holly Hunter ("Manglehorn") Senator Finch says she can wrestle a pig, among other things; furthermore she is convinced that congressional oversight is exactly what is needed to control Superman.
  • Gal Gadot ("Furious 7") Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is also in the mix, although she tries to keep a low profile.
This chapter will launch a whole new franchise for the Justice League but I will admit to CGI overload. When a mortal is fighting a superman, he has to throw everything at him but the kitchen sink. Well... actually.... hmmm...

This is rated PG-13, so you can expect bloody violence, kill shots that turn away just in time to miss the spatter, no nudity, no profanity and no sweaty bodies. However, expect lots (and lots) of vehicular mayhem, gruesome monsters, collapsing skyscrapers, gunfights and blowie uppie stuff. I hit sensory overload very near the beginning, so be warned... By the way, it also includes the traumatic event in Bruce Wayne's childhood that launched Batman's crime-fighting career. And yes, it includes more point-blank gunshots.
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See what you think...
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Allegiant: Part 1

I thought we would be wrapping up another Young Adult trilogy (is there any other kind?) but discovered that a fourth (!) chapter is in production, so now we have Parts 1 & 2. Most of the faces and names are familiar to fans, so this won't take much additional information to set the stage. With most of the big surprises revealed in "Insurgent," Tris and Four perilously escape beyond the wall that encircles Chicago. Now our heroic band has its work cut out.

Returning from his "Insurgent" duties, director Robert Schwentke once again takes the helm for this non-stop actioner. Unfortunately, that's all there is: Action. Action, gunfire and blowie uppie stuff. The story is flimsy and convoluted, the locations are Computer Generated Imaging, and we in the audience are jaded. To me, the only interesting exceptions are a derelict O'Hare Airport and those gauzy translucent bags that envelope our principals once in awhile. Incidentally, Schwentke will not be coming back to direct Part 2; maybe he too, is weary.

Here is part of the cast:
  • Shailene Woodley ("The Descendants") is Tris, the misfit who diverges from the standard attributes that would have allowed her to take her place in one of the five factions that made up her world. Now of course, all of that has been thrown into a tailspin, so she and her cadre of rebels must deal with it.
  • Theo James ("Insurgent") Four has become central to our heroine's plans and now they are both in jeopardy. Unfortunately, his mother is partly to blame.
  • Miles Teller ("Whiplash") They say "everyone is worth saving," so Peter gets another chance... against our better judgment.
  • ZoĆ« Kravitz ("X-Men") Christina has been with our heroine from the beginning and continues to be loyal and resourceful. I wish this lovely young actress had more to do but occasionally show up on screen.
  • Naomi Watts ("Undertaking Betty") Evelyn has embraced the adage: Leaders must make hard choices. A last-ditch effort to secure her position backfires when she jeopardizes her own son.
  • Octavia Spencer ("The Help") Johanna was a leader when her world was divided into factions. She is still a leader, only now her weapons are commitment and fervor.
  • Ansel Elgort ("The Fault in Our Stars") returns as our heroine's brother Caleb. He has mad computer skills and is very bright, but he's not brave.
  • Jeff Daniels ("The Martian") David is in an awkward position. His plans for the future center around Tris, whom he sees as a perfect human specimen. Problem is, she is also smart.
This is rated PG-13, so you can expect very little profanity, no sweaty bodies and only partial nudity. Unfortunately, this movie lasts for 121 minutes, that means we're stuck with over two hours of fisticuffs, running, shooting and blowing stuff up. Oh! and some icky orange smoke... Aarghhh!

These Young Adult series ("Twilight," "The Hunger Games," and "Divergent") have brought us some outstanding young actresses (Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley), who have managed to anchor their series, survive the rigors of super-stardom and, despite being saddled with twaddle like this, have begun to create respectable bodies of work that will hold up over the long haul. Kudos to the actresses!
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Here is a preview:
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Hello, My Name is Doris

What happens when a sixtyish woman finds herself alone for the first time in her life? Recently her mother died, she fails to make friends at her long-time job, she still lives in her childhood home and it looks like her clothes come from Value Village or Goodwill. She goes to a self-help seminar, that's what happens!

Laura Terruso wrote a short film "Doris and the Intern" which she later expanded into a screenplay with writer/director Michael Showalter (Lots of TV) for this awkward but eventually uplifting story.

We watch:
  • Sally Field ("The Amazing Spider-Man") is Doris (after Doris Day, one of her mother's favorites) who cherishes a lifetime of memorabilia: everything has a special place in her heart. She's called a hoarder, but I wouldn't go quite that far.
  • Max Greenfield (Lots of TV) plays John, an employee recently transferred to the office where Doris works. He has good manners and wants people to like him. He's also VERY appealing.
  • Tyne Daly (Lots of TV) Old friend Roz almost steals the film from Doris, particularly as they plan their annual Thanksgiving festivities. These two old pros are terrific together!
  • Stephen Root (Lots of TV - also the stapler-centric character in "Office Space" 1999) Todd also mourns their mother, but he and his wife want Doris to unclutter her life, move out, sell the old family house and share the proceeds.
  • Isabella Acres (Lots of TV) Vivian is barely a teenager but she teaches Doris all about Facebook ...and changes her life!
  • Peter Gallagher (Lots of TV) Self-help guru Willy Williams tells Doris that "IMPOSSIBLE" is simply "I'M POSSIBLE" just in a different way. His DVD becomes her guide.
What is it about Sally Field? Even if her character becomes a semi- stalker, makes clumsy mistakes and hurts the feelings of people around her, we still care about her. This time she develops a crush on a much younger co-worker who is polite but oblivious. This only feeds her self-delusions, so we watch her become a moon-struck teenager. We are uncomfortable with the situation, but still want the best for Doris. At least her fantasies are fun and we get an insider's peek at how her mind works.

I wasn't overjoyed with the movie, but with Sally Field and Tyne Daly in the mix, I still found it fun.
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See what I mean:
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Eye in the Sky

Writers are evil. They give us impossible situations and expect us to stick with the story until the denouement. Here we have one of our favorite women of a certain age: Helen Mirren; she works ALL the time, who plays a military officer calling the shots as a drone attack directive escalates from "Capture" to "Kill" when suicide bombers are spotted. Suddenly a little girl wanders into the kill zone. Shoot? or Don't Shoot! Can't anybody make up his or her mind? Mirren's character has been tracking this terrorist for years; she does NOT want to give up now!

Director Gavin Hood ("Ender's Game") brings us another action-filled white knuckler, this time about modern warfare where the trigger man is a continent away from his target. In fact decisions are made from England, Nevada, Nairobi, Pearl Harbor, Beijing and Singapore. Screenwriter Guy Hibbert (Lots of TV) seems to know just how to jangle our nerves and question our sense of decency and fair play. We also see a massive sampling of hi-tech weaponry and communications in today's world.

The cast:
  • Helen Mirren ("RED") Colonel Katherine Powell has to make the call, but now that the directive has changed, the Rules of Engagement force her to seek additional permission.
  • Alan Rickman ("Harry Potter") Lieutenant General Frank Benson will hold her accountable, for better or for worse, but he's willing to back her if and when that "committee" at his command post can agree. He tells one of them, "Don't ever tell a soldier he doesn't understand war."
  • Aaron Paul ("Breaking Bad") American drone pilot Steve Watts has the target in his sights... He has his orders. He understands the issues. Now what?
  • Barkhad Abdi ("Captain Phillips") Resourceful Jama Farah is doing his very best to help our heroes with his skills on the ground, but there is that hardworking little girl...
  • Jeremy Northam (Lots of TV) Brian Woodale is only one of many who are reluctant to make the call. Instead the questions are consistently "kicked upstairs" in this alphabet soup of international warfare, moral quandaries and decision making.
  • Monica Dolan (Lots of TV) Angela Northman insists the propaganda would be worse for the Allies if they kill one nine-year-old girl than it would be if al-Qaeda kills 60 civilians with two suicide bombers whom the Allies had allowed to escape.
Just as we think we know what we would do in the same circumstances, the moral and ethical quandary becomes messier: One life versus many lives. There is NO right answer and everyone pleads his or her case so eloquently we find ourselves in agreement, until... This is involving, exhausting and brilliant!

If you question the ending, it was ever thus: In war, truth is the first casualty - Aeschylus


Miracles From Heaven

Into every cloud, a bit of sunshine peeks. We certainly see that when we watch a little girl diagnosed with a rare (and fatal) digestive disorder after she suffers a shocking accident and Voila! there is that bit of sunshine. This is all in the trailers, so it isn't a spoiler.

Real-life mother Christy Beam wrote a book that relates her struggle when her daughter experienced those twin events. Screenwriter Randy Brown ("Trouble With the Curve") adapted it for award-winning director Patricia Riggen ("33" and "Under the Same Moon" - a GREAT movie, by the way!).

Here is part of the cast:
  • Jennifer Garner ("Draft Day") Christy Beam feels her Christian faith falter when troubles seem to pile up on her and her family. She has the courage of her convictions though and doesn't back down. She's a pretty tough cookie.
  • Kylie Rogers ("Fathers and Daughters") Little Anna just can't seem to catch a break...until she does.... Even when despair sets in, her faith never falters.
  • Martin Henderson (Lots of TV) Christy's husband Kevin provides as much support as he possibly can, until his credit cards are declined. He's a veterinarian, so the medical side of Anna's condition is immediately clear to him...plus he cleans up his daughter's vomit. The man's a saint!
  • Brighton Sharbino (Lots of TV) Abby can only watch the drama unfold around her and try to accommodate the changes that swamp her parents and her sisters.
  • Queen Latifah (Lots of TV) Angela is exactly where she needs to be (Boston) when she needs to be there...(when Christy is at the end of her rope). Her presence (and her outfits) bring a much-needed lift to our struggling heroines.
  • Eugenio Derbez ("Instructions Not Included") Dr. Nurko is a renowned children's doctor in Boston. The children love him and it's clear that he cares about every child. He can only tell it like he sees it...to Christy's bewildered ears!
  • John Carroll Lynch ("Hot Pursuit") Pastor Scott has a pleasant church with contemporary music (guitars) and services. He DOES tell the horde of media, "Don't forget to put something in the collection plate when it's passed around!"
Sometimes a freak accident can seem like a miracle, which is something not explainable by natural law. Dr. Nurko can't explain it at his Boston office, nor can Pastor Scott in their Texas church. Bottom line? We have just what the doctor ordered: a three-hanky feel-good family film rated PG. The actresses who play the mother and daughter, Garner and Rogers, are outstanding, as are Derbez as the pediatrician and Latifah as their new Boston friend. With roles so nicely portrayed AND a charming series of clips of the REAL Beam family during the final credits...this makes an involving and satisfying film.
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In this surprisingly adult PG movie (it's a cop show), all the animals wear clothes (well...almost all), predators no longer eat prey, everyone gets along and life is good. We are in a city populated by anthropomorphic animals, among which are a con-man fox and a cute bunny who is a rookie cop. Our two main characters suddenly find themselves working together as they stumble into a conspiracy that threatens the peace.

Three directors (!) and ten writers -- (It always makes me nervous when it takes a committee to create a movie) -- did a good job. The plot unfolds as we admire the grit and determination of one small bunny rabbit who has always wanted to make the world a better place.

Celebrity voices and the characters they represent:
  • Ginnifer Goodwin ("Once Upon a Time") is Judy Hopps, an ambitious little bunny who has always dreamed of being a cop. She aces her written tests but flunks the physical part. This only means she works harder (a GOOD lesson!); so we watch her train some more, try again, and succeed. Her life on the police force isn't what she had pictured so she isn't happy, but she IS a smart little bunny!
  • Idris Elba ("Luther") Chief Bogo wants that worthless little rabbit off his force. He sees no future for Judy and doesn't want to see her around. Even Elba's VOICE looms as he forces our frustrated little heroine to be a meter maid despite her sterling results from the academy.
  • Jason Bateman ("This is Where I Leave You") Foxy Nick Wilde is always on the lookout for a new scam. He completely fools sweet-hearted Judy when she first meets him, but she doesn't stay fooled. She isn't above a trick or two, either!
  • J.K. Simmons ("Whiplash") Mayor Lionheart is a politician... period.
  • Jenny Slate (Lots of TV) Bellwether is the mayor's assistant, overworked and overwhelmed. She befriends Judy at just the right time.
  • Octavia Spencer ("The Help") is Mrs. Otterton, a worried wife who can't seem to get anyone at city hall to look into the mysterious disappearance of her beloved husband...except Judy.
  • Raymond S Persi ("Frozen") I have a special spot in my heart for Flash, the sloth. Watch Judy's incredulous reaction when she realizes how much time it takes him to say a few words! There are many other talented voices who convey parental concern, bureaucratic frustration and ferocious rage, but professional voice actor Persi is a cut above.
This is rated PG, so expect a scary chase scene or two and threatening animals, but no profanity or blowie uppie stuff. The artistry is wonderful; the 3D however, is unnecessary.

Using motion capture and Computer Generated Imaging, the writing, acting and craftsmanship are brilliant. I'm amazed by the subtle touches in both expression and body language that inhabit today's "cartoon" characters. Children in the audience, both young and old, were very, very quiet as they absorbed lessons about trust, bullying, friendship, prejudice, loyalty, determination, family love, and the importance of following one's dream.

Oh! And let's not forget Shakira, who was perfect, both as the spokes-gazelle for Zootopia and the vocalist who provides happy-ending dance music for the final credit scroll.
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Take a peek:
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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

"Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" is military alphabet for "WTF." You probably are familiar with THAT. In this one, Tina Fey plays a real-life journalist who recalls when she was embedded with troops in the mid-East. A directing team, Glenn Ficarra ("I Love You Philip Morris") and John Requa ("Focus") guided this R-rated drama using a screenplay by Robert Carlock (Lots of TV) who in turn based his work on a memoir by Kim Barker ("The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan"). She got the overseas assignment because she was unmarried and childless.

We know our heroine will be a stranger in a strange land: an emancipated Western woman trying not to step on toes in a fundamentalist Muslim land. See the ferocity on the women's faces when they shout at Kim to cover her hair. When she sees men's reaction as she wears a hijab on the street, she says, "I feel so pretty I don't even WANT to vote!"

We see:
  • Tina Fey ("This is Where I Leave You") is Kim Baker, based on the woman who wrote a book about her experiences (see above). She steps into the world of journalists in Kabul, which is mostly booze, drugs and sex. She tries to stay somewhat removed from it by Skyping her boyfriend whenever possible. When she finally asks to go out on patrol, I was NOT impressed by her reckless disregard for everyone's safety! Kim is a "4" in the USA, but with the shortage of women in Kabul, she's a "10." (She will be a "4" when she goes back!)
  • Margot Robbie ("The Big Short") is Tanya, ready for anything. This gorgeous blonde is delighted to finally have another woman to trust and to hang out with. She's a "10" in the USA, so she's a "12" in Kabul. She too, is ambitious.
  • Nicholas Braun ("Poltergeist") Tall Brian is dependable and talented. He can run that camera under the most dire of circumstances, so he's Kim's right-hand man.
  • Billy Bob Thornton ("Our Brand is Crisis") General Hollanek warns Kim that she must NEVER jeopardize his Marines. Thornton gets many of the best lines in what is NOT a comedy, e.g., "War is like having sex with a gorilla, you keep going until the gorilla wants to stop." (He didn't say it exactly that way...)
  • Martin Freeman ("Sherlock") Iain MacKelpie takes partying to the next level. In addition, he's a seasoned newsman who knows his way around that part of the world.
  • Christopher Abbott ("A Violent Year") Fahim is Kim's resourceful driver and wise interpreter. Their farewell at the airport is both moving and respectful.
  • Sterling K. Brown (Lots of TV) Sgt. Hurd is Kim's first taste of reality when she starts her new job.
  • Evan Jonigkeit ("X-Men") Corpsman Chris has spent so much time repairing municipal systems, etc., he no longer bothers to chamber a bullet in his rifle. Back home, he chides her, "If you think we are making a difference, you weren't paying attention over there."
  • Alfred Molina ("Undertaking Betty") Ali Massoud Sadiq is a warlord elevated to positions of authority in Kabul. Of course the Taliban is NOT involved! He and Kim form a tenuous friendship.
This movie is also known as "The Taliban Shuffle," for pretty obvious reasons. Because it is R-rated, expect extremely profane language, lots of gunfire, blowie uppie stuff and chaotic partying. I was impressed that Kim learned to speak Afghani (or at least swear in it) after her stay was extended from three months to as many years.

By the way, "Whiskey" is the Irish/American way of spelling Scots' "Whisky."

Tina Fey dedicated this film to her late father Donald Fey, who was a Korean War veteran. I appreciated this touching tribute.
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