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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