Molly's Game

Opening on Christmas Day is a brightly wrapped gift from writer/director Aaron Sorkin, based on the autobiographical book by Molly Bloom, who recounts her experiences as an Olympic-class skier, director of an exclusive high-stakes poker game and then a target for 17 FBI agents with automatic weapons. At least she recruits one ally, a criminal defense lawyer. We get to watch this R-rated drama unfold in fascinating detail.

Part of Sorkin's cast:
  • Jessica Chastain ("The Zookeeper's Wife") Molly is a winner because her father won't accept any less. It's clear that she is the smartest person in the room.
  • Jeremy Strong ("Masters of Sex") Dean is her first boss. Acid-tongued, insulting and demeaning, he will never win a Mr. Congeniality contest.
  • Idris Elba ("Luther") Attorney Charlie reluctantly steps up to the plate; the FBI has a pretty solid case, so he can only hope her book sells well. Eventually, he comes to think that she belongs on a box of Wheaties.
  • Kevin Costner ("Hidden Figures") Larry is worried about Molly because  he knows his daughter knows more than she knows she knows.
  • Michael Cera ("Arrested Development") Player X has a lot more invested than I expected.
  • Graham Greene ("Longmire" and "Maverick") Judge Foxman is in charge. Do NOT miss his summation!
This R-rated drama has excitement, humor, and Sorkin's patented rapid-fire dialog......but it also has drugs and abrupt violence (no blowie uppie stuff). Molly's clothes are outstanding enough that her costume designer Susan Lyall should get special mention. The real Molly Bloom claims she never wore the same outfit twice, so check out those clothes!

Naturally we like to guess the names of those high-stakes gamblers because her "guests" include sports figures, movie stars, Hollywood movers and shakers, professionals from Jersey, and the Russian mob. This of course is the crux of the problem, the FBI wants their names, too.
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Here is a trailer:
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The Norwegians have perfected a way to miniaturize organic matter 2,744 to 1. Logic tells us tiny people would need less food, and dispose of less garbage. As a result, we find a kindly occupational therapist who, in the interest of doing his part to protect the planet from rampant consumerism, suddenly finds himself miniaturized and alone. Now our earnest hero must make new friends and try to cope.

Writer/director Alexander Payne ("The Descendants"), working with Jim Taylor ("Nebraska"), has created a social satire that explores what one person is willing to do to help save humankind. I hasten to point out, however, this is NOT a comedy, although is has humorous moments.

Part of Payne's cast:
  • Matt Damon ("The Martian") Paul is frustrated and frightened, but still kind and helpful. Damon just gets better and better. He has no ego and, like Tom Hanks, is willing to be the butt of a joke. His body looks like a healthy man his age, not some ripped superhero.
  • Kristen Wiig ("The Last Man on Earth") Audrey wants a big new house, so she has made this pact with her husband, but she hates to leave her family and friends.
  • Christoph Waltz ("Tulip Fever") Dusan has a plan... Which is making him wealthy. And he doesn't give a rip about the future of mankind. Two-time Oscar winner Waltz is relaxed, charming and funny.
  • Hong Chau ("Big Little Lies") Ngoc Lan Tran is a breath of fresh air. Life has handed her one challenge after another, so she doesn't have time to ponder the future of mankind. We are seeing a new comedy star, folks!
  • Jason Sudeikis ("The Last Man on Earth") Dave is Paul's new best friend, but in my opinion, his advice is lame.
  • Udo Kier ("Melancholia") Conrad has a yacht and is business partners with Dusan. This German-born actor looks so much like Terrance Stamp I had to look him up.
This R-rated sci-fi dramady offers a serious discussion about the human condition, but that doesn't get in the way of great special effects and gorgeous Norwegian scenery. The Omaha Steaks plant was used for Paul's work location (he treats carpal tunnel syndrome, among other things).

My companion enjoyed this more than I. To me, it was dreary, the psychedelic lights and dances were boring, and the bleak outlook on the future of mankind wasn't pretty. I DID laugh more than once, though, when I could make out the dialog.
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Check out the trailer:
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Remember when Jumanji was a board game? Well, the younger generation doesn't relate to old-fashioned board games, so it re-invents itself as a computer game, and now those four kids in detention can relate!

Second-generation director Jake Kasdan (son of Lawrence) is showing us the apple didn't fall very far from the tree. Watch his actors RUN in character! Working with a committee of writers, he has managed to put a contemporary spin on an entertaining actioner with plenty of comedy (and CGI!) Check out the trailer.

Part of Kasdan's twin cast - first the teenagers who get into trouble; second the adult avatars they have become, who get into BIG trouble:
  • Alex Wolff ("Patriots Day") Young Spencer is a geek who helps a jock with his homework.
  • Dwayne Johnson ("Central Intelligence") Spencer sees his avatar and is astonished by his new biceps.
  • Ser'Darius Blain ("Maybe Someday") Young Fridge is the big jock who wants to stay on the football team.
  • Kevin Hart ("Central Intelligence") Fridge is shocked by his new stature!
  • Madison Iseman ("Still the King") Young Bethany is the poster child for self-involved social media addiction.
  • Jack Black ("The Polka King") Bethany realizes her avatar is a pudgy middle-aged MAN! She's in for a shock (or five)! Again I say, check out the trailer.
  • Morgan Turner ("Wonderstruck") Young Martha is a serious academic. School isn't supposed to be FUN!
  • Karen Gillan ("Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2") Martha has to take flirting lessons from Bethany.
  • Nick Jonas ("Careful What You Wish For") Alex has been in the jungle HOW LONG?
  • Bobby Cannavale ("Mr. Robot") Van Pelt is the creepiest villain I have seen in a LONG time. Watch the centipede and the ear.
This is PG-13, so there are bits of profanity, some silly sexuality, lots of computer-generated effects and zero blowie uppie stuff. The scariest scenes are with Van Pelt and his creepy crawlies.

We laughed out loud many many times. This is satisfying Entertainment which had our screening audience talking and laughing as we exited the theater.
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Check this out:
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The Greatest Showman

From the brilliantly edited opening credits, I knew I would love this show about show business. By the time we are ten minutes into the film, we are already into the second song. The gorgeous production design leaps off the screen and I knew this would be Entertainment, not Art.

Director Michael Gracey, completing his debut film (courtesy of Hugh Jackman) is working from a script by veterans Jenny Bicks ("Rio 2") and Bill Condon ("Dreamgirls" and "Chicago"). They sweep us into 1826 Bethel, Connecticut, where we watch a boy help his father, a tailor, measure a client in the man's home. The boy makes the client's little girl giggle, which earns him a slap in the face. The die is cast.

Part of Gracey's huge cast:
  • Hugh Jackman ("Les Miserables") Phineas T. Barnum is willing to try anything to make a buck, and yes, his scruples are a bit fuzzy. He works for a shipping company until it goes broke but he's always full of ideas and understands the value of advertising.
  • Michelle Williams ("Certain Women") Charity Barnum has been in love with Phineas most of her life. He's counting on it!
  • Zac Efron ("Baywatch") Carlyle is the privileged fellow Barnum persuades to run away and join a circus. My own observation, we never saw a character named Bailey. I suspect Carlyle is a blend of characters but I like his story.
  • Zendaya ("K.C. Undercover") Anne Wheeler is the trapeze artist who makes Carlyle's heart soar. A professional dancer, Zendaya had to build her upper-body strength for this role; you will see why.
  • Keala Settle ("Rikki and the Flash") The Bearded Woman has one of the showcase songs and absolutely knocks it out of the park (tent?).
  • Rebecca Ferguson ("Mission Impossible") Jenny Lind is the operatic toast of Europe. Now, with P.T. Barnum's knack for publicity, The Swedish Nightingale has a chance to conquer America. (I wish she had sung an aria.)
As we watch the ups and downs of Barnum's life, we also get to admire the brilliant production design and casting. This is a finely tuned machine: Watch Ashley Wallen's clever choreography as Efron and Jackman use glasses and a bottle. See Efron and Zendaya work with a trapeze hoop in their duet. Admire the beautiful silhouettes as they dance through several scenes.

Rated PG, expect singing, dancing, beautiful scenery, a minor dust-up with some town thugs, a spectacular fire, and a panoply of color, but let me add: a much needed requirement for closed captions. I'll get the DVD.
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See what I mean:
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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Once again we watch that familiar yellow scroll moving into infinity as we join yet another chapter in this evergreen franchise. Of course the operative word is "Wars" and we watch endless battles, both macro and micro, as the CGI artists (an army of them!) have a field day with a bottomless supply of money and and a boundless supply of fans.

Writer/director Rian Johnson, working hand in glove with series originator and godfather, George Lucas, has crafted an audience-pleasing sci-fi actioner that will set new box-office records. The Cinerama Theater, a block from my condo, has been sold out for over a month. Like a ninny, I went over to see the matinee and was sent on my way. A fellow in line asked me if I wanted two but when I said I only could use one, he stepped up to get his money back because he couldn't attend the matinee. As I crossed Fourth Avenue, he came running after me and said they couldn't help him so he wanted me to see the movie on his ticket. I was so happy and flustered, I didn't even offer to pay him! Rude, rude, rude!

Part of Johnson's cast:
  • Mark Hamil ("Milo Murphy's Law" [voice]) Luke Skywalker had been located by the final scene in the previous chapter, so his presence isn't a surprise, but I was taken aback by his reluctance to join the resistance. Turns out he has a few secrets.
  • Carrie Fisher ("Family Guy" [voice]) Leia Organa is still fighting the good fight. The Resistance looks to her for inspiration, as did her fellow cast mates on the set. She will be missed.
  • Oscar Isaac ("Suburbicon") When Poe is given commands he doesn't like, he simply has "transmission problems" and breaks the connection.
  • Daisy Ridley ("Murder on the Orient Express") Rey and the Millennium Falcom (with Chewbacca by her side) are on the move. She is frustrated by Luke's reaction to her plea for the Resistance but seems fascinated by Kylo Ren, even though he has embraced the Dark Side.
  • John Boyega ("Detroit") Finn has become a fully involved Resistance fighter.
  • Kelly Marie Tran ("XOXO") Rose teams up with Finn to do whatever they can to help,
  • Domhnall Gleeson ("Star Wars: The Force Awakens") General Hux looks like a Nazi to me!
  • Andy Serkis ("Planet of the Apes") Snoke is the sort of animatronic creation that is endlessly fascinating. Whew!
  • Benicio Del Toro ("Sicario") DJ is so contemporary, so charming, and so undependable! This is the most whimsical I have ever seen Mr. Del Toro.
Of course we have all the usual suspects: Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, Yoda, along with the expected barroom scene. This time it's a high-end casino.

This is PG-13, so even though we have a lot of gunfire and missile shots, we see very little blood; there is no sex, sensuality or sweaty bodies, but there is a LOT of blowie uppie stuff (and I did smile at the Mother of all Bombs)! Be sure to get a closed-caption device if you have any hearing issues, much of the dialogue is confidential.
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Here is the official trailer:
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The Shape of Water

It's the '60s. We are in a top-secret research facility. A mute janitor discovers an aquatic creature being studied. Our cold-war enemy, Russia, wants to get control of this mysterious "asset." Their dialog is in Russian with captions. I LOVED that! The production design brings us 60's fashions, cars, furniture, television, billboards and products.

Now we are ready for Guillermo del Toro's latest, highly acclaimed Drama/Fantasy/Adventure (8 Golden Globe nominations). del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth"), collaborating on a script with Vanessa Taylor ("Game of Thrones"), sweeps us into our mute's vaguely threatening, high-tech world. She can hear, she just cannot speak.

Part of del Toro's cast:
  • Sally Hawkins ("Maudie") Elisa Esposito has quietly done her job. She is lonely, dependable, observant and deeply grateful for Zelda's support. She does NOT like Key Lime Pie!
  • Octavia Spencer (Oscar for "The Help") Zelda Fuller is willing to stick up for what's right but also wants to follow the rules. She is also the most loyal friend Elisa has ever had. 
  • Michael Shannon ("Nocturnal Animals") Richard Strickland knows exactly how he wants this facility to be run and NOTHING will stand in his way. 
  • Doug Jones ("The Bye Bye Man") Amphibian Man is irresistible to our heroine. He is lonely,  he is different and he needs her. 
  • Richard Jenkins ("Olive Kitteridge") Giles is doing the best he can under the circumstances, it's just that his art isn't selling as well as it did and he is frustrated. Plus, he is lonely. 
  • Michael Stuhlbarg ("Fargo") Dr. Robert Hoffstetler has a job to do and not much time in which to do it. He doesn't seem very courageous.... 
This exciting fantastical romance is R-rated, so expect sex and nudity. It also has horrifying moments of violence, so be prepared. There are also laugh-out-loud bits of humor to lighten the experience. Our screening audience applauded.
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Check it out:
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Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. has been doing brilliant behind-the-scenes research for his law partner for 26 years. Three weeks ago the partner had a stroke and is now in a vegetative state; the executor for his law firm has been summoned. Our movie opens with Mr. Israel dictating the text of a lawsuit in which Roman J. Israel, the prosecutor, is suing Roman J. Israel, the defendant, for breaking the law. Now we are interested.

Writer/director Dan Gilroy ("Nightcrawler") has custom fit his story for Denzel Washington because he knows what this Academy Award-winning actor can do. And watch Mr. W. do it! Look at his mannerisms: itchy, twitchy, and uncomfortable; look at his walk: rambly, shambly, and flatfooted.

Part of Gilroy's cast:
  • Denzel Washington ("Fences") Roman is a 70's throwback. Look at his glasses, his afro, his clothes. He has a photographic memory and NO social skills; we suspect a touch of Asperger's.
  • Colin Ferrell ("The Beguiled") Roman's partner was George Pierce's law professor. This sleek, elegant attorney presents a humiliating contrast to our rumpled hero.
  • Lynda Gravátt ("Madam Secretary") Vernita Wells has only one thing to say, "Get a continuance." You'll see what she means!
  • Carmen Ejogo ("Selma" she was Coretta Scott King) Maya admires Roman's idealism. Now she is concerned about his actions.
This is rated PG-13, so expect a bit of profanity, a moment of explosive violence, the threat of vehicular mayhem and a single gunshot. You'll smile at his peanut butter and groan at his courtroom etiquette, but you won't be bored. A small complaint: much of the dialogue is spoken quietly, closed captions would have been appreciated for our screening.
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Check out his manners!
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Super heroes come in all sizes and shapes. Here we have one all of us can admire: a boy born with facial deformities who is going to attend a public school for the first time. The fifth grade has never looked so daunting!

Writer/director Stephen Chbosky ("The Perks of Being a Wallflower") with the able writing assistance of Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne, brings R.J. Palacio's best-selling novel to the silver screen. They have managed to capture the day-to-day issues that exist in any authentic family.

Part of Chbosky's cast:
  • Jacob Tremblay ("Room") is Auggie, a well-loved and self-assured fifth grader; after all he has already been through 27 surgeries! But a public school? He is petrified!
  • Owen Wilson ("Lost in London") Auggie's dad Nate, is reluctant and would like to shelter his son a bit longer.
  • Julia Roberts ("Money Monster") Auggie's mom Isabel, is determined. She has faith that their boy will be able to cope. Roberts makes a convincing mother.
  • Izabela Vidivic ("The Fosters") Via is Auggie's teenage sister. She is dealing with issues of her own.
  • Noah Jupe ("Suburbicon") Jack reluctantly takes the first step.
  • Millie Davis ("Orphan Black") Summer is courageous and she is kind.
  • David Diggs ("Black-ish") Mr. Browne tries to teach life lessons in his class.
  • Mandy Patinkin ("Homeland") Mr. Tushman is a careful and caring grade-school principal. He pays attention to every child in his school.
This PG-rated family film is witty and inspirational; it is NOT a two-hankie weeper. It is about the power of kindness and the importance of family. In addition, it captures the essence of real people: no glamor, no glitz. Please check out the trailer!
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Enjoy the trailer:
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Justice League

When is too much just too much? I don't know about you, but my tolerance for superheroes and Computer Generated Imaging is running pretty low; I'm sure I'm out of step.

Director Zach Snyder ("Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice") continues to do what he does best: PG-13 action movies based on comic-book characters. In addition, the script-writing team is exemplary, headed by Chris Terri ("Argo") and Joss Whedon ("Avengers: Age of Ultron"). The central issue this time is the discovery of three boxes which, when combined, can generate enough energy to destroy the world.

Despite this feeling of overkill, they are all here. Look at this cast!

Part of this huge cast:
  • Gal Gadot ("Keeping up With the Joneses") Wonder Woman/Diana Prince, who brings the fighting power we take for granted, also offers warmth and grace to the group.
  • Ben Affleck ("The Accountant") Batman/Bruce Wayne is inspired by Superman's humanity. He wants to bring him back to life because "the world needs Superman."
  • Ray Fisher ("Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice") Victor Stone/Cyborg has never been dead before; now he's not sure if he's grateful to his scientist father for bringing him back.
  • Jason Momoa ("Frontier") Aquaman/Arthur Curry is Mister Macho, until... Oh, wait until you see for yourself.
  • Ezra Miller ("Suicide Squad") The Flash/Barry Allen - Now you see him, now you don't. This kid brings energy and enthusiasm plus a big dose of hero worship. He's a delight. He asks Batman, "What's your super power?" To which Batman replies, "I'm rich."
  • Amy Adams ("Big Eyes") Lois Lane will always regret how poorly she coped with Clark Kent's death.
  • Diane Lane ("Trumbo") Martha Kent has a new problem. The bank is repossessing the family farm.
  • J.K. Simmons ("Whiplash") Commissioner Gordon has an old problem: damage wrought by Batman when he comes to the rescue.
  • Jeremy Irons ("Their Finest") Alfred Pennyworth always takes care of things for Master Wayne.
  • Henry Cavill ("The Man From U.N.C.L.E.") is Superman/Clark Kent; here he comes to save the day.
This one will make a lot of money. I looked at the screening audience in the theater and the young men were eating it up, particularly The Flash. Women liked looking at Superman and Aquaman. Different strokes...
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Take a look:
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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Inspired by billboards spotted during a cross-country trip over 17 years ago, Writer/director Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges") realized he wanted to explore the sort of rage that must have triggered them. It took him over a decade to develop this script about unintended consequences.

In this Oscar winner's darkly comic story, a woman is frustrated by the local sheriff's ineffectual investigation of her daughter's rape and murder, so she rents three billboards to make a public statement. This terrific story is unpredictable, so watch closely!

Part of McDonagh's stellar cast:
  • Frances McDormand ("Hail, Caesar!") Mildred is determined to light a fire under Sheriff Willoughby. Her daughter's killer should NOT be allowed to live free while she is trapped in bitterness and rage.
  • Woody Harrelson ("The Glass Castle") Beloved Sheriff Willoughby is annoyed by Mildred's persistence and tries to reassure her that he is doing his best.
  • Sam Rockwell ("Moon") Dixon is his own worst enemy. Stuck with the need to care for his mother and tempted by the power his badge represents, his life has become a mess.
  • Zeljko Ivanek ("Suits") This desk sergeant is having trouble keeping the peace in the sheriff's office. People just barge in and start yelling.
  • Clarke Peters (I remember him best from "The Wire") What a relief when calm, intelligent Abercrombie finally comes on the scene!
  • John Hawkes ("The Sessions") Charlie has what he thinks he wants, a sweet young lover and a new stress-free life.
  • Peter Dinklage ("Game of Thrones") James is just doing his job.
  • Amanda Warren ("This is Us") Denise may have to pay a price for being Mildred's friend.
It always satisfying to watch two of the finest actors in Hollywood (McDormand and Rockwell) do what they consistently do best: convince us that the people they portray are living breathing human beings. On the other hand, Ebbing, Missouri is pretend.

Because this is R-rated, expect explosive violence and profanity, but understand that that you will not only see towering rages, but tiny acts of kindness. Our screening audience was uniformly impressed.
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Submit your birthdate and take a look:
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The Star

We join a sturdy little donkey as he trudges around (and around and around) a village mill. Of course our little hero has aspirations to be part of something important, which involves maybe a king or someone equally grand. It's clear that his dreams aren't very practical.

As the animated PG-rated story unfolds, we see that we will be treated to a respectful, involving critter's-eye view of the classic Christmas story of the nativity with animals taking an active role.

Timothy Reckart, directing his first feature film, works from a script by Carlos Kotkin ("Rio 2"), who has taken his well-known story and made it appealing and instructive for children. To look at this familiar tale from the animals' point of view is brilliant.

Some of the cast:
  • Kristin Chenoweth (LOTS of TV) Abby the Mouse begins and ends the story. She's full of energy and information. She makes her entrance via a delightful Rube Goldberg series of devices.
  • Steven Yeun (LOTS of TV) is Bo, our hardy little hero, who dreams of a world outside of that mill, where he can be part of something important.
  • Kris Kristofferson ("Joyful Noise") Old Donkey wants to see Bo get away from the daily grind and pursue his dream.
  • Gina Rodriguez ("Jane the Virgin") Sweet teenager Mary has a visit from an angel and her life will never be the same. 
  • Zachary Levi ("Tangled") Joseph is a young carpenter who has found the love of his life. Problem is, Mary has something to tell him...
  • Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey and Tracy Morgan are the three quarrelsome camels who carry the Magi to Bethlehem.
  • Christopher Plummer ("Remember") King Herod thinks the gifts from the Magi are for him.
  • Keegan-Michael Key ("Keanu") Chatty Dave the Dove is Bo's trusty eye in the sky.
  • Aidy Bryant ("The Big Sick") Ruth the Sheep wants to be a leader, even though sheep are usually followers.
The chase scenes are delightful for the children, although those dogs are sometimes scary. The script contains suspense (will they find a place to stay in time?) and snippets of many familiar holiday songs: I Sing Because I'm Happy (His Eye is on the Sparrow), What Child is This?, The Little Drummer Boy, and O Holy Night. It also includes an original written by Mariah Carey, The Star.

Mary, Joseph and Bo are all seen praying and the screening audience was quiet and respectful. (I think God's voice sounds like Liam Neeson!) This was satisfying and authentic.
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See the trailer:
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Daddy's Home 2

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Sometimes you're just in the mood for a stupid movie. Trust me, this one is stupid and it suited my mood perfectly.

Brad and Dusty have ironed out all their earlier problems and their co-parenting is going smoothly. When they detect some reluctance for the children to bounce between homes at Christmastime, they agree to have a combined holiday...until their fathers invite themselves to join them.

Writer/director Sean Anders ("Daddy's Home"), working on the script with Brian Burns and John Morris ("Daddy's Home"), brings us a PG-13 (mild profanity in a PG-13 movie they are watching) collection of stupid stunts, over-the-top acting, silly situations and a guaranteed smile with the corny ending.

Some of Anders' cast:
  • Will Ferrell ("Daddy's Home") Brad is so, so, sweet. He's touchy feely and woo woo all the way, easily moved to tears and eager to make everyone happy and keep the peace.
  • Mark Wahlberg ("Daddy's Home") Dusty is a go-ahead, get-ahead kind of guy, determined to compromise each issue.
  • Alessandra Ambrosio ("Daddy's Home") Dusty's wife Karen takes a lot of notes for all those books she writes. She is still glamorous, serene, and a bit removed from it all.
  • Linda Cardellini ("Daddy's Home") Sara is patient, creative, a proud parent and Brad's loving wife.
  • John Lithgow ("The Crown" he's Winston Churchill!) Brad's father Don, shows us the apple didn't fall far from the tree. Their affection is waaay too over-the-top for most of us.
  • Mel Gibson ("The Expendables 3") Dusty's father Kurt is retired, wealthy, macho, sexist and a horndog of the first water! Every young woman is fair game. Gibson is clearly having a ball sending up his character's reputation.
I'm skipping all the children because it gets too confusing...just like in real life with half-siblings, step-siblings and the byzantine relationships in today's culture.

Special mention MUST be made of the brilliant cameos. You will be surprised, shocked, and delighted with these unexpected delights. Can't tell though, you know... spoilers... smile...
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Take a look:
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Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie wrote her classic Hercule Poirot whodunit in 1934. It was clearly inspired by the notorious kidnapping and murder of the Charles Lindbergh baby. This Crime of the Century occurred in 1927. With our story set on a small but luxurious train with a variety of stylish passengers, Poirot is confronted by a corpse and a host of suspects. This plot of course is irresistible and the movie we see now is at least the fifth version.

Working from a screenplay by Michael Green ("Blade Runner 2049") actor/director Kenneth Branagh works with a brilliant collection of actors to populate this suspenseful mystery (the killer is still among them).

Some of Branagh's cast:
  • Kenneth Branagh ("Dunkirk") Hercule Poirot must investigate the murder of a murderer. (That ridiculous thing is NOT Poirot's mustache!) Like Poirot, Branagh is not hampered by humility. To me, this looks for the world like a tepid vanity project.
  • Johnny Depp ("Black Mass") Edward Ratchett is an American gangster, with a scarred face and those rude, crude American manners.
  • Judi Dench ("Tulip Fever") Princess Dragomiroff is a royal pain but her companion tries her best to meet her expectations.
  • Olivia Coleman ("Broadchurch") The Princess's hardworking maid Hildegarde Schmidt can explain where the Princess was at the time the victim died.
  • Leslie Odom, Jr. ("Law & Order") Dr. Arbuthnot is positive what time the victim died. This helps narrow the field of suspects.
  • Penélope Cruz ("American Crime Story") Missionary Pilar Estravados is simply trying to arrive at her next post and save souls.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer ("Where is Kyra?") Our widow Caroline Hubbard never intended to travel alone. She makes sure everyone knows that she is on the lookout for a new man.
  • Derek Jacobi ("Last Tango in Halifax") Butler Edward Henry Masterman is the man to see about details. He is a careful man.
  • Daisy Ridley ("Star Wars") Governess Miss Mary Debenham will help Poirot as best she can, but...
  • Willem Dafoe ("John Wick") Like many of the other characters, Professor Gerhard Hardman has an odd accent.
The artistic director can take a bow for scrupulous attention to period detail; plus the locations in France and Switzerland are breathtaking. Other than those two elements, I must say that this film left me unexpectedly unmoved and untouched. Because the well-known Poirot character needs no introduction, I found the opening scenes in Jerusalem unnecessary; I could NOT for the life of me figure out what Poirot found so funny about "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens.

This PG-13 script boasts clever (but mumbled) repartee, implied sexual misbehavior, quite a bit of alcohol, and absolutely NO blowie uppie stuff, but we all know how it ends, don't we? If not, it only runs for 1 hour and 54 minutes.
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Here is a sample:
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Thor: Ragnarok

Superhero time again! Thor is still in shackles and now he must do gladiatorial duties against The Hulk. Uff dah! By the way, in this context, "Ragnarok" sorta means war to end all wars.

Working from a humorous script by a committee of writers, Oscar-nominated director Taika Waititi ("Hunt for the Wilderpeople" which I recommend, by the way) brings us another CGI-laden actioner that is planned as a Fall tent-pole for cash-hungry Hollywood. I DO object when writers insert catch phrases from old TV series, e.g., "sorry 'bout that!" from "Get Smart."

Part of Waititi's enormous cast:
  • Chris Hemsworth ("The Huntsman") Thor is in for the battle of his life...over and over and over. How to defeat his sister with her awesome power is his main challenge.
  • Idris Elba ("Luther") Helmdahl has no doubt that Asgard is worth saving. He just hopes that help comes in time.
  • Tom Hiddleston ("I Saw the Light") Loki will be Thor's other challenge. Sibling rivalry!
  • Cate Blanchett ("Cinderella") Hela has always been angry that her father wouldn't allow their victories to continue. Now that Odin is gone...she is ready to make her move.
  • Mark Ruffalo ("Avengers") Once Bruce Banner becomes The Hulk he has no choice but to smash everything. Ruffalo has never been so effective, so sweet, or so real.
  • Karl Urban ("Pete's Dragon") Skurge has only one purpose: he wants to survive.
  • Jeff Goldblum ("Jurassic Park") Grandmaster is delighted with himself and Goldblum's delivery is delicious! (I like his eyeliner.)
  • Tessa Thompson ("Creed") Valkyrie seems a bit too smashed to be taken seriously... Seriously? She makes one of the best entrances EVER for a Superhero.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch ("August, Osage County") Watch Doctor Strange get Thor's attention!
  • Anthony Hopkins ("Thor: The Dark World") Odin appears to his children and dispenses his reasons for what he has done.
  • Stan Lee ("Captain America") We can't have one of these Marvel movies without a cameo from Stan. We LOVE him!
  • Spoiler - Watch for Sam Neill, Luke Hemsworth (Liam's older brother) and Matt Damon.
Movies are international events. Of the director and the eleven actors named, only four were born in the United States. For the rest, England, Wales, Australia and New Zealand are their places of birth; I think this is one of my favorite features of modern filmmaking.

If you are looking for non-stop fantasy/action, look no further. This PG-13 outing (a few bits of profanity) features one cliché after another but do NOT, I repeat do NOT miss that play within a play! Our screening audience ate it up!
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See what I mean:
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The film opens in placid Suburbicon, a standards-setting 1950s subdivision. Then we see two upsetting events: A black family moves into this smugly complacent, white-bread neighborhood; and a shocking home invasion upsets the delicate balance. Things quickly come undone.

George Clooney ("Leatherheads") directs this unpredictable and suspenseful drama, written by an able quartet comprised of Joel and Ethan Coen ("Hail, Caesar!"), plus George Clooney ("The Monuments Men") and Grant Heslov ("The Ides of March"). Based on their frequent collaboration and terrific track record, you can expect to giggle as you are horrified, but you will also have an involving plot that is easy to follow. And you will be confronted by the blatant racism that was so taken for granted in those Happy Days.

Part of Clooney's cast:
  • Matt Damon ("The Martian") We watch Gardner unravel as pressure starts to build on him and his family.
  • Julianne Moore ("Wonderstruck") Margaret and Rose are twins. One is wheelchair bound while the other seems like a buttinsky, so we keep an eye on her.
  • Noah Jupe ("Wonder") Nicky is the heart and soul of this movie. This observant little boy listens, watches, wonders, and then fears for his life.
  • Tony Basaraba ("The Accountant") Uncle Mitch always asks, "Who loves ya?"
  • Karima Westbrook ("The Rum Diary") Mrs. Mayers is the first to take the brunt of the rampant racism. 
  • Leith M. Burke ("The Tiger Hunter") Mr. Meyers watches the neighborhood and wonders if they are back in Mississippi.
  • Tony Espinosa ("Birth of a Nation") Andy Meyers is willing to play catch with Nicky...and share his unique pet.
  • Vince Cefalu ("Silicon Valley") Chuck surprised me, usually cops are portrayed as a bit dense.
  • Oscar Isaac ("Star Wars") Roger is an insurance claims adjuster. He watches for red flags. I didn't trust him...I think it's the hat.
To me, one of the outstanding features was the production design: Vintage vehicles, Franciscan china, Avocado bathroom fixtures, Green Stamps, full-skirted shirtwaist dresses, TV antennas on every roof, and those prices in the supermarket window!

This is R-rated, so expect violence, riots, gunfire and blowie uppie stuff. At one point I was afraid director Clooney was a bit too generous with his foreshadowing until I realized by having the audience in on a scheme, we were on tenterhooks waiting for the payoff. We clearly have people to root for, so the suspense is high. At final curtain, the screening audience applauded. I'll probably own this one.
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This is the trailer that hooked me:
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The Foreigner

One of my favorite stage plays is "The Foreigner." It's about a shy man who pretends to be a foreigner so he won't have to converse with people where he is staying. Consequently he overhears lots of big secrets!

Imagine my dismay when I discovered that this one is an R-rated Action/Thriller directed by Martin Campbell ("Casino Royale"). Then I found out it is produced by, and stars, Jackie Chan, so my hopes went back up again. Chan plays the father of a girl we see killed by a terrorist bomb at the very beginning. It seems The Troubles haven't gone away after all.

Part of Campbell's cast:
  • Jackie Chan ("Railroad Tigers") is Quan Ngoc Minh, that grieving father. He leaves his restaurant to a co-worker and sets out to discover who set the bomb that killed her. I like seeing a smart person in action.
  • Katie Leung ("Harry Potter") This Scottish-born actress plays Fan, his beloved daughter.
  • Pierce Brosnan ("The Only Living Boy in New York") Government official Liam Hennessy may know something that will help. He had, after all, ties to the Irish Republican Army some 30 years ago.
  • Orla Brady (Lots of TV) Mary is his wife. Her family has suffered its own losses.
  • Charlie Murphy ("Philomena") Maggie is his audacious daughter.
  • Rufus Jones (Lots of TV) is Ian, who takes the phone call notifying the public of the IRA's involvement.
  • Rory Fleck Byrne (Lots of TV) Sean is Liam's handsome nephew. He comes to help.
Despite the trademark action that we expect from a Chan movie, this one really belongs to Brosnan. He is the better actor, so Chan has wisely given him the lion's share of screen time. He shares the central spotlight with Chan as he discovers what a worthy opponent this shadowy man can be; AND he is responsible for most of the F-bombs that are launched.

This is R-rated, so expect gunfire, profanity, sweaty bodies, fisticuffs and blowie uppie stuff; all the elements that make a hit these days. Plus, this movie boasts the most heartfelt sigh I've ever seen. Watch for it. Our screening audience applauded the satisfying ending and we left the theater happy.
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See what you think:
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Thurgood Marshall was the first Black man to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. It's about time we (and our children) know more about this man.

Director Reginald Hudlin ("Django Unchained") has taken a script by Jacob and Michael Koskoff and created an informative movie that illustrates one of the cases Marshall handled while he was with the NAACP. This gives us a flavor for the times that shaped him.

Part of Hudlin's cast:
  • Chadwick Bozeman (he has played Jackie Robinson and James Brown!) is Thurgood Marshall, born intelligent, arrogant and ambitious, this highly educated attorney hung out with the best, e.g., Langston Hughes and friends. He does not suffer fools gladly.
  • Josh Gad ("Frozen" and "Beauty and the Beast") is Sam Friedman, the insecure Jewish fellow who gets ramrodded into accepting a criminal case even though he has only tried civil suits. Watch Marshall walk all over him ...repeatedly!
  • Keisha Sharp ("Lethal Weapon") is Buster Marshall, the best wife for a man with Marshall's ambitions: she understands his long game.
  • Sterling K. Brown ("This is Us") Joseph Spell has been accused of raping a white woman and he maintains he did NOT rape her.
  • Kate Hudson ("Deepwater Horizon") Eleanor Strubing insists she was raped by the family chauffeur.
  • James Cromwell ("The Promise") Judge Foster is a dogmatic iron-fisted dictator in his court room. His mind is made up.
  • Dan Stevens ("Beauty and the Beast") Attorney for the Prosecution Loren Willis has the confidence born of his superior connections.
From the get-go, we can see the huge cultural gap between these two men. They get into Friedman's car and Marshall immediately changes the car radio from classical music to jazz. Marshall is a stranger in town and will soon be gone, while Friedman has to live there when the trial is over. But they BOTH know the Old Testament.

This PG-13 Biography/Drama has excellent depictions of how tough were the civil rights issues in the '60s and how the movement evolved. Be prepared for gunfire and physical violence; overwhelming prejudice and clever courtroom tactics. Be sure to stay for the wrap-up that plays during the closing credits. That's always satisfying....
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Take a look:
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Blade Runner 2048

Director Denis Villeneuve ("Sicario") hits this one right on the button. The production design (gloomy rain), the sets (rusty, dusty and worn), Roger A. Deakins' cinematography (many lovely monochromatic scenes), the cast (brilliantly chosen) and the dialogue (minimal) all feel like an extension of the 1982 classic. This R-rated thriller has it all: casual nudity, gunfire, tension, fisticuffs, drowning, only one kiss, but a silent erotic scene with a hologram that is a technical masterpiece. We also enjoy holograms of Elvis, Liberace, Marilyn and Old Blue Eyes himself.

We have a new LAPD blade runner trying to "retire" the last of the rogue replicants who have managed to elude authorities for 30 years. He discovers that an anomaly occurred long ago which could destroy the delicate balance between newer model replicants and humans: A baby was born 30 years ago to a replicant!

Some of Villeneuve's cast:
  • Ryan Gosling ("La La Land") "K" and later Joe, is sent on the trail of that anomaly.
  • Ana de Armas ("Overdrive") Joi is a hologram who serves K with wit, wisdom and a lot of heart. This Cuban actress has the BEST face!
  • Robin Wright ("House of Cards") Lieutenant Joshi is determined that the anomaly be eradicated. The balance is too delicate and in her words, "It will break the world!"
  • Sylvia Hooks ("Whatever Happens") the formidable Luv has her agenda and will NOT be deterred!
  • Harrison Ford ("Star Wars") Rick Deckard has been in hiding for over 30 years and he does NOT want to see Joe.
  • Sean Young ("Escape Room") Rachel was the gorgeous replicant in the first movie, we are happy to revisit a scene or two with her.
  • Jared Leto ("Dallas Buyers' Club") Neander Wallace has taken over the industry that created replicants in the first place.
I skipped the IMAX version and was just as happy at my neighborhood Cinerama (it's nice to have a theater one block from my condo). Not since the first "Blade Runner" have I been so captivated by an almost silent film. Once again, there is very, very little dialogue but I missed the Bradbury Building. I guess that was hoping for too much!

This film sets a new standard; it is a thought-provoking sequel with astonishing visuals, brilliant leads (Ryan Gosling and Ana de Armas in particular, though Harrison Ford doesn't embarrass himself), plus a white-knuckle battle near the end that was composed so well I walked home talking to myself!

Personally, I think Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) would like this extension of his rumination on what makes humanity human.
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See for yourself:
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American Made

Do you know how to boil a frog? First you put it in some water that is mildly warm. And then you gradually heat it up.

Keep that in mind, as you settle in to watch this fascinating, entertaining, and (sorta) TRUE story of an American TWA pilot who likes water that is mildly warm.

Working from Gary Spinelli's book, director Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity" and "Edge of Tomorrow") demonstrates for all to see, that Tom Cruise is not only a movie star, he is an ACTOR. I have never seen him so real, so relaxed, or so convincing.

Part of Liman's wonderful cast:
  • Tom Cruise ("Mission Impossible") Barry Seal is an expert pilot, a devoted husband and an opportunist, eager to earn extra money for his growing family but blithely dismissive of any possibility of failure.
  • Domhnall Gleeson ("About Time") CIA operative Monty 'Schafer' is persuasive as he slowly heats the water. This Irish actor speaks American as well as our home-grown guys.
  • Sarah Wright ("Marry Me") Lucy Seal surprised me with her willingness to step into the water with her ebullient husband.
  • Caleb Landry Jones ("Twin Peaks") is Lucy's brother JB. Ah yes, JB....
In this reality-based government-directed comedy of errors, I don't want to mention names or places because part of the fun is your own discovery of what sort of water our hero has jumped into.

As this is rated "R" you can expect F-bombs happily scattered throughout, but no sweaty bodies, some gunfire, and just enough blowie uppie stuff to remind you what happened.  Our screening audience laughed out loud repeatedly and exited the theater in an upbeat mood. I will own this one.
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Check out this trailer:
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The Mountain Between Us

Two survivors must get acquainted and find a way to cope with brutal temperatures, injuries and a hostile terrain. A plane crash has left them with nothing but their own abilities to pull them through. This drama runs for just 1 hour, 43 minutes and, with award-winning actors, gives us two people to root for.

Writer J. Mills Goodloe ("The Age of Adeline"), working from the novel by Charles Martin, has created an adventure-filled drama for director Hany Abu-Assad ("The Idol") to bring to the big screen.

Part of his cast:
  • Idris Elba ("Luther") Ben is frustrated that he can't perform a vital surgery at his destination because of a storm.
  • Kate Winslet ("Collateral Beauty") Alex charters a plane so she can get to her own wedding on time.
  • Beau Bridges ("Sordid Lives") Walter can't resist the temptation to help people get to their destination, even when the weather is marginal.
  • Dermot Mulroney ("Shameless") Mark will always love Alex, even if she has been damaged.
As hope fades, our desperate survivors realize they can only count on themselves...and maybe Walter's dog.

This is PG-13, so you can expect a harrowing plane crash, mild sexuality and fairly bloodless injuries. This one won't be a box office smash, after all, there are no super heroes, but it is capably done.
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Here is a sample:
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Kingsman: The Golden Circle

First things first. Colin Firth's character is NOT dead, although he is much altered.

Okay. Now that that's clear, let's talk about this diverting second installment of a popular series. Headquarters has been destroyed and the world is in jeopardy. Our favorite Kingsman discovers a secret spy agency in the United States that is allied with his own...the Statesmen. So he and Merlin are off to Kentucky.

Matthew Vaughn ("X-Men: First Class") is back at the helm for a second chapter. This nearly 2.5 hour R-rated actioner is bold, brassy and every minute is fun. The plot is easy to follow, the fight choreography is outstanding and the production design is top notch (except for some Computer Generated Imaging that is fuzzy around the edges).

Part of Vaughn's cast:
  • Taron Egerton ("Eddie The Eagle") Eggsy must locate an antidote for a drug-borne illness and thus save the world.
  • Colin Firth ("Bridget Jones") Harry Hart brings his experience, his expertise and his extra-special sauce to...butterflies???
  • Mark Strong ("Miss Sloane") Merlin is someone we know will do the right thing... AND he can sing!
  • Halle Berry ("Kidnap") Ginger is a great techie, but she has higher aspirations.
  • Channing Tatum ("Logan Lucky") Tequila may come to regret a decision or two.
  • Julianne Moore ("Suburbicon") Poppy can hold her own when it comes to the net worth of her drug cartel, but she gets no respect.
  • Bruce Greenwood ("American Crime Story") The President of The United States has just solved the drug problem!
  • Emily Watson ("The Theory of Everything") His Chief of Staff Fox might see it another way.
  • Björn Granath ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") The King of Sweden has a problem: his daughter Princess Tilde is engaged to an English street tough.
  • Pedro Pascal ("Narcos") almost steals the show as a young Burt Reynolds look-alike; Whiskey has unique talents.
This non-stop actioner is rated "R" for language, violence, vehicular mayhem and implied drug use. Oh, and some blowie uppie stuff, which is absolutely required in an action movie. Be prepared for familiar faces, wit, pathos, and a happy ending.

We were an excited, noisy screening crowd who exited the theater last night. We agreed that this one has absolutely no socially redeeming values, it exists simply to entertain. Yeah!
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Here is a trailer: 
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American Assassin

Vince Flynn wrote a novel about counterterrorism; now it has been adapted into a screenplay. Director Michael Cuesta ("Homeland" and "Blue Bloods") brings us a fast-paced R-rated thriller that will make action fans very happy. (A second Mitch Rapp story has been optioned.)

Part of Cuesta's enormous cast:
  • Dylan O'Brien ("The Maze Runner") Mitch Rapp has had plenty of personal losses to drive him into counterterrorism. He has become a highly motivated assassin. He is smart, capable, and supremely full of himself. But he needs an Anger Management course.
  • Sanaa Latham ("Shots Fired") Irene Kennedy sees his potential and recruits him for her black ops team.
  • David Suchet ("Hercule Poirot") Director Stansfield is not happy with Irene's choice.
  • Michael Keaton ("The Founder") Black Ops trainer Stan Hurley has one goal, take our guy down a peg so he can refine those skills. "Don't make it personal!" Well..two goals, he also would like to quit smoking.
  • Scott Adkins ("Doctor Strange") Victor is the first teammate Mitch tangles with. Neither will ever forget it.
  • Shiva Negar (LOTS of TV) CIA operative Annika has been embedded for years. She says "We're gonna get those suckers!" (She doesn't say "suckers.")
  • Taylor Kitsch ("The Grand Seduction") Ronnie is Stan's failure. Maybe it IS personal after all.
One of the things I like about Action films is the music. The bad guys are always accompanied by ominous music. Also, foreign cities seem like an open book to our characters. They are never lost and know where all the hidey holes can be found. Of course we, in turn, always suspend disbelief!

By the way, this is REALLY R-rated! Brace yourself for lots of profanity, fisticuffs, gunplay, a HUGE blowie uppie event, a bit of nudity and gruesome torture. You know, all the things that keep action fans happy. At risk of a spoiler, I will say that our screening audience left with big smiles on our faces.
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Watch the trailer:
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Home Again

Here we have a script written by the daughter of the Queen of Chick Flicks! Nancy Meyers ("It's Complicated" and "Something's Gotta Give") is the mother of our current writer/director Hallie Meyers-Shyer. This is Hallie's first project, but her genes haven't let us down. Like any good chick flick, we are treated to pretty people (Candice Bergen!), beautiful homes, family dynamics, witty dialogue and a happy ending.

In this PG-13 treat, a single mother of two finds herself back in the spacious family home with her two daughters and, very soon, three young males, all of whom bond with her and her family. One seems to have a lot of appeal for our flummoxed heroine.

Things go swimmingly...until her soon-to-be-ex shows up.

Part of Meyers-Shyer's cast:
  • Reese Witherspoon (Oscar for "Walk the Line") Alice Kinney is adjusting to the single life again and her girlfriends help her celebrate her birthday.
  • Nat Wolff ("The Fault in Our Stars") Teddy finds Alice soooo appealing. He has an audition to prep for but will defend her at any time.
  • Pico Alexander ("Fan Girl") Harry is smoooooth.... His friends can only watch in bewildered awe.
  • Candice Bergen ("Rules Don't Apply") Lillian, a former actress, is Alice's easily flattered mother, who helps create this confusing mess. She was married briefly to the late movie producer so admired by the three young men.
  • Michael Sheen (the barkeeper in "Passengers") Austen wants Alice back. He wants to make their marriage work.
  • Lake Bell ("I Do...Until I Don't") Zoey is a fabulously wealthy heiress who may... or may not... have hired Alice.
  • Eden Grace Redfield ("The Glass Castle") Little Rosie is a chip off the old block... obviously. She just wants some peace and quiet.
  • Lola Flanery ("Sadie's Last Days on Earth") Isabel tries to shield her younger sister from some of life's more shocking facts, but she has her one-act play to worry about.
  • Jon Rudnitsky ("Saturday Night Live") George wrote the script our three heroes are trying to sell. Breaking into Hollywood's inner circle is no easy task.
The humor is sweet and heartfelt, the situation is sadly familiar and we have a whole armload of people to root for. No gunfire, no blowie uppie stuff, no sweaty bodies (some implied PG-13 stuff, though), and the only fisticuffs are very funny.

I will own the DVD because much of the witty dialogue needed closed captions. Despite that, the female-centric screening audience laughed right on cue and applauded when it ended.
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You've probably seen this trailer:
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Crown Heights

Now THIS is a good friend. When a boy is wrongfully convicted of murder in 1980 by cops who simply wanted to clear the crime from their books, his friend sets out on an epic journey to free him and absolve his name.

Writer/director Matt Ruskin ("Booster") has taken a true event and written a scripted version of what could have been a documentary. The shocking things that happen to our poor fellow could not be made up. Both the real killer AND the witness who perjured himself (and admitted it) are out of jail long before he is!

Some of Ruskin's cast:
  • Lakeith Stansfield ("Straight Outta Compton") is Colin Warner, who absolutely refuses to admit to a crime in order to have his sentence reduced. His attorney, his wife, his mother, all think he should plea bargain with a confession.
  • Luke Forbes ("Atlanta") is his determined friend Anthony Gibson. He believes his friend and agrees with his refusal to sign a confession. He says what happened to Colin "could happen to me!" He stays the course at great personal cost.
  • Adriane Lenox ("Lee Daniels' The Butler") Grace is in a spot where no mother ever wants to be.  She weeps bitter tears for her son's situation.
  • Zach Grenier ("The Good Wife") Detective Cassel isn't above a little pressure to get the testimony he needs.
  • Sandra Washington ("The Deuce") Antoinette's pretty face shows up at exactly the right time for our lonely prisoner.
  • Bill Camp ("Loving") William Robedee also shows up with the right skills and the right attitude, he's just 20 years late!
This film will do nothing to endear attorneys to us. In fact, it is quite the opposite. But this is one of those movies that gets the audience so involved that there are cheers for those rare times when things DO go right for our hero.

Stay for the final credits because the real people appear and talk to us. I love it when they do that!
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Check out this trailer
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Tulip Fever

Did you read about when tulip bulbs were prized above all else? It was like this century's real estate bubble only in the Netherlands....in the 1600s!

Director Justin Chadwick ("The Other Boleyn Girl") working from a script by Deborah Moggach ("The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") and Tom Stoppard ("Shakespeare in Love") have created an unpredictable R-rated romantic drama based on Moggach's novel, that takes us back to those times in old Amsterdam. The production design is amazing. Street scenes feel absolutely authentic with crowds and costumes which are flawless. You can practically smell them!

Part of Chadwick's talented cast:
  • Alicia Vikander ("The Man From Uncle") Sophia is taken from the orphanage and married to a wealthy widower. She accepted his proposal after she negotiated transport for her siblings to go to America.
  • Christoph Waltz ("Big Eyes") Cornelius Zandvoort has to replace his first wife and two children, lost to the plague. He has no heir but sometimes his "little soldier" needs encouragement; a lovely young bride can't hurt!
  • Dane DeHaan ("Valerian") Jan is an up and coming artist who is excited to get the patronage of such a prominent citizen. A formal portrait of a man and his lovely young wife will pay him well.
  • Holliday Grainger ("The Finest Hours") Maria is the maid, cook, housekeeper and good friend to her young mistress.
  • Jack O'Connell ("Unbroken") Willem is Maria's special man. He is a fishmonger and she makes sure the Zandvoorts eat a LOT of fish.
  • Judi Dench ("Philomena") The Abbess watched Sophia grow up in her orphanage and wants to see her become a happy and fruitful wife. The abbey has a garden where they raise tulips.
  • Tom Hollander ("Mission Impossible") Dr. Sorgh is less than honorable, which is exactly what our desperate young women need.
As speculation increases to absurd lengths, tulip bulbs become more valuable than gold. The frantic bidding looks like a modern Stock Market scene on Wall Street and we cringe as we see people who can ill afford any loss, catch the fever.
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See the preview:
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The Only Living Boy in New York

A recent college graduate discovers his father is having an affair and sets out to break it up for his mother's sake. Along the way, he falls for Dad's girlfriend. Sounds a bit Woody Allen'esque, don't you think? I do.

Director Marc Webb ("500 Days of Summer" a favorite, by the way) has taken a script by Allan Loeb ("The Space Between Us") and created a contrived and (I hope) unusual romance.

Part of Webb's cast:
  • Callum Turner ("War & Peace") Thomas Webb is our eponymous hero, struggling with three things: his new-found knowledge about his dad, some unexpected feelings for that girlfriend, and his stalled writing career.
  • Pierce Brosnan ("The Son") is his successful publisher father Ethan, gobsmacked by this unexpected turn of events.
  • Cynthia Nixon ("A Quiet Passion") is his bipolar mother Judith. She hasn't known which way to turn for a long time.
  • Kate Beckinsale ("Love & Friendship") is that interloper Johanna. Why does she have to be so beautiful?
  • Jeff Bridges ("Hell or High Water") W.F. Gerald is the drunken new neighbor. He insists on intruding into our hero's life, asking questions and giving advice. Bridges also serves as the narrator for this forced, meandering story.
  • Kersey Clemons ("Easy") Thomas's sweet friend Mimi hates what she sees. That job offer in Croatia looks better and better. She was the only character I could root for. 
This 88-minute, R-rated drama has everything you might expect: a technicolor love poem to New York City, an appealing cast, and good performances from both Bridges and Brosnan, but it desperately needs closed captions! A couple of secret affairs entail a LOT of whispering. And frankly, I had trouble overcoming the "ick" factor.
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See this preview:
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Logan Lucky

I love a good heist movie and Steven Soderbergh is the master ("Ocean's 11, 12, and 13"). This time, instead of the elegantly slick characters we enjoyed in those films, we are now treated to a Southern-fried cast, sort of an "Ocean's 7-11" but the heist itself is just as fun. To remind us where we are, they mention John Denver's "Country Roads (West Virginia)" as a family favorite.

The mysterious Rebecca Blunt (who may or may not exist) is credited with the screenplay about three siblings whose family seems to be jinxed. Does that jinx extend to the Charlotte Motor Speedway?

Part of Soderbergh's cast:
  • Channing Tatum ("Magic Mike") is Jimmy, a gimpy vet who was injured in the military. His ex-wife has custody of their daughter and might be moving to another state. This decent fellow has just been laid off and REALLY needs some money. In his opinion, NASCAR is made of money!
  • Adam Driver ("Girls") Clyde lost the lower part of his arm in Iraq and is working as a one-armed bartender (his prosthesis is cosmetic). He isn't the brightest bulb in the box. 
  • Riley Keough ("Mad Max: Fury Road") Their lovely sister Mellie is a hairdresser who seems to have avoided the family jinx...so far. 
  • Katie Holmes ("The Kennedys") Ex-wife Bobbie Jo has married a successful businessman and has been awarded custody of their girl. 
  • Farrah Mackenzie ("Please Stand By") Sadie is their beloved daughter: smart, talented, and devoted to her daddy. Watch her hand him tools as he repairs a car. 
  • Seth MacFarlane ("Family Guy") is the egotistical race car driver Max Chilblain
  • Jeff Gordon plays himself (a race car driver), who butts heads with Max
  • Daniel Craig ("Cowboys & Aliens") Explosives expert Joe Bang is the key to this heist. Problem is, he's in jail. He's pretty sure his brothers can help.
In my opinion, Craig is a revelation. I first realized what a fine actor he was when I saw his wrenching portrayal of doomed, convicted murderer and would-be artist Perry Smith as he is wheedled into interviews by Toby Jones' Truman Capote in "Infamous," for Capote's best seller "In Cold Blood." Both then and now, Craig's southern accent is understated and authentic. He seems to be having a whee of a time in this one! (James Bond was a sidetrack,)

In this R-rated actioner, the heist is complex, the dialogue is fun, and the end is satisfying. No vehicular mayhem, few fisticuffs, hardly any profanity, and just a bit of blowie uppie stuff. What more can we want?
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Check out this preview:
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The Hitman's Bodyguard

Two of my all-time favorites in one movie! It doesn't get much better than this. A top-rated but now disgraced bodyguard has just been hired to protect a witness for the prosecution at The International Court of Justice at The Hague. Let's see them try to set aside their significant differences for as long as it takes.

Director Patrick Hughes ("The Expendables 3") working from a script by Tom O'Connor ("Fire With Fire") brings us an entertaining R-rated actioner that clocks in at just under 2 hours.

Here is part of Hughes' cast:
  • Samuel L. Jackson ("The Legend of Tarzan") Darius Kincaid is a notorious hitman who does NOT respect his new protector! "Keep me out of harm's way? I AM harm's way!"
  • Dijarn Campbell (in his first film) is the young Darius in flashbacks.
  • Ryan Reynolds ("Deadpool") Michael Bryce has successfully protected a wide variety of clients, but this time, he is NOT happy!
  • Gary Oldman ("The Space Between Us") Vladislav Dukhovich is determined to fix things before it's too late. Including that witness.
  • Salma Hayek ("Beatriz at Dinner") is hilarious as Sonia Kincaid, a wife no one can take for granted!
  • Elodie Yung ("The Defenders") Amelia is an Interpol agent who has seen Michael at his best, and at his worst, 
This is an International Court, so of course we have Asians, Russians, even Englishmen, each striving for his or her own brand of Justice.

This action-packed thriller features all kinds of vehicular mayhem, countless gunshots, endless fisticuffs and non-stop profanity (it IS Samuel L. Jackson), plus some blowie uppie stuff. The editing, particularly that extended chase scene in Amsterdam, is spectacularly good.

Our enthusiastic screening audience applauded and made a noisy exit...always a good sign!
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Check out this trailer:
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The Glass Castle

The alcoholic father in this messed-up family believes in Hope. To him, his main responsibility is to offer his children hope, despite the dysfunction that surrounds them. I developed an overwhelming dislike for that man and viewed his children's devotion as a variation of the Stockholm Syndrome. Knowing it is based on real life made it tougher to endure.

Working from a thought-provoking autobiography by Jeannette Walls, writer Andrew Lanham and writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton have crafted a screenplay which uses a skilled cast to perfection. The amazing casting (we see the real people during the final credits and you will be astonished) plus the superlative costume design, acting and direction are each worthy of note. Personally, I am sick and tired of poverty, alcoholism and misery, but I guess you don't have to LIKE a movie to be impressed.

Part of Cretton's cast:
  • Brie Larson (Oscar for "Room") Jeannette is the daughter who devises a way for her and her three siblings to survive. The four of them have come to realize that neither parent will help. She is her daddy's girl but even that doesn't help most of the time. She tells her fiancé, "When it comes to my family, let ME do the lying!"
  • Woody Harrelson ("War for the Planet of the Apes") Rex Walls offers hope. Always hope. Only hope. We figure out that his talk is cheap long before his children do. Their father is volatile, smart, selfish and unpredictable. He tells his children "You learn through living" and sees to it that they experience a wide variety of "lessons."
  • Naomi Watts ("Twin Peaks") Rose Mary is talented, but not very maternal. To her, a piece of art is worth far more than a square meal. Ms. Watts is outstanding as she disappears into the flaky persona of a would-be artist, unwilling to leave her brutal husband or protect her children.
  • An assortment of young actors portray our heroine and her siblings at different stages of their childhood, but the outstanding Elia Anderson ("The Boss") does most of the heavy lifting. She plays Jeannette Walls as a 10 year old.
  • Robin Bartlett ("Vice Principals") is Erma. Once we know Rex's mother, we understand much more about his personality flaws.
This is a PG-13 movie, so expect some domestic violence, coping with a gaping wound, implied child molestation, and dark humor. On the other hand, Ms. Walls insists that we acknowledge the resiliency of the human spirit.

I did NOT enjoy one bit of this movie (well, maybe the arm wrestling), but it has stuck with me, which says it has some intrinsic value. YOYO (You're On Your Own).
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Take a look:
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Atomic Blonde

"Mr. Gorbachev. Tear down this wall!" It's June 12, 1987 and we join the turbulent anarchy that soon follows President Ronald Reagan's historic demand. The Berlin wall is coming down and the world's super powers are in play.

MI6 sends a top operative to Berlin to investigate the murder of one of their own and recover a list of double agents in order to protect them. One is already embedded in the city.

Antony Johnston and Sam Hart created a graphic novel, "The Coldest City" which Kurt Johnstad used for this screenplay. Director David Leitch, a former stuntman, brings us a complex actioner set in a dreary, dismal city where EVERYBODY smokes!

Part of his cast:
  • Charlize Theron ("Mad Max: Fury Road") Lorraine Broughton is our eponymous heroine, strong, fearless and resourceful. She's smart, multilingual, and can kick butt with the best of them. She bathes in a tub filled with ice cubes. Watch her use that hot plate!
  • James McAvoy ("X-Men: Apocalypse") David Percival is the deeply embedded agent. There are times he loses track.
  • Eddie Marsan ("Their Finest") Spyglass has been exposed, so he has to get out of Berlin, NOW!
  • James Faulkner ("Game of Thrones") "Chief C" is the Agency Chief. I mostly mention him because he has the most resonant speaking voice I have ever heard.
  • Sofia Boutella ("Star Trek Beyond") French intelligence agent Delphine has something Lorraine wants.
  • Toby Jones and John Goodman are with MI6 and the CIA, respectively. Their focus is on Lorraine's debriefing.
This is R-rated, so expect profanity, gunfire and lots of fisticuffs. You will also see vehicular mayhem, riots and some blowie uppie stuff, plus just a tantalizing bit of tasteful sex. And, as I said before, it's 1987 and EVERYBODY smokes!

Oh! Be sure to suspend disbelief!
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Check out this award-winning trailer:
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Any time Christopher Nolan makes a movie, we pay attention. He doesn't stick to one genre and is fearless in his choices. This time he picked one of the most thrilling stories to ever come out of a war but is little-known in much of the world. He wants to fix that. And I concur! By the way, Nolan cast actors who were the same age as the soldiers in that campaign. He was shocked to see that they were just boys!

In World War II, Belgian, French, British and Canadian soldiers were trapped by German forces in a little French town called Dunkirk, situated on the English Channel. The Germans were advancing and nearly 400,000 soldiers were sitting ducks. If you've ever seen the classic wartime drama "Mrs. Miniver" you know what happens next: the civilian English fishing fleet came to their rescue! Just typing this gives me goosebumps!

Here is part of Nolan's excellent cast:
  • Fionn Whitehead (in his first movie) is Tommy, the young soldier who becomes the eyes and ears for us in the audience.
  • Aneurin Barnard ("A Perfect Plan") Gibson pairs up with Tommy in a moment of desperation.
  • Damien Bonnard ("Staying Vertical") is a French soldier who is mistaken for the enemy because he doesn't speak English.
  • Harry Styles ("One Direction") Alex is a judgmental but resourceful soldier, always keeping an eye out for the best chance to survive.
  • Mark Rylance ("Bridge of Spies") Mr. Dawson is the man we most admire. He sets out with his two sons in his modest boat, on a perilous mission he is determined to complete.
  • Tom Glynn-Carney ("The Last Post") and Barry Keoghan ("Trespass Against Us") are Mr. Dawson's sons, Peter and George.
  • Tom Hardy ("Mad Max: Fury Road") Spitfire pilot Farrier; is practically a one-man RAF.
  • Cillian Murphy ("Free Fire") This soldier is shivering from the cold, from fear or from something else entirely. Mr. Dawson understands.
  • Kenneth Branagh ("Wallander") Commander Bolton is responsible for the lives of his Royal Navy men; he has never felt so helpless. He had thought they could "make terms."
  • James D'Arcy ("Broadchurch") Colonel Winnant will do whatever it takes, unless it's impossible. And this looks impossible.
The scope of this epic drama is breathtaking. Nolan was reluctant to use Computer Generated Imaging, but the budget could only stretch so far... 400,000 soldiers!

The PG-13 rating means there will be some profanity (it is wartime in the armed forces... c'mon!), so expect some of that (but you probably won't be able to make it out), a LOT of gunfire, some blowie uppie stuff and some hair-raising situations at sea. There are no grisly wounds, we see blood, but it's on bandages. Even the dogfights over land and sea are fairly bloodless. Mostly expect chaos; the chaos of fear, the chaos of desperation, the chaos of war.

It's high time you learned this story!
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Here is a preview:
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Spider-Man: Homecoming

I'll bet this third time's a charm. At least this ebullient PG-13 version is my favorite. I like to experience an upbeat story, an upbeat character, and an upbeat ending, so this is just the ticket. If only they would cut down on the endless blowie uppie stuff and mass destruction; I find myself yawning.

Director Jon Watts ("Cop Car"), working with a script by a committee, has crafted a satisfying action/comedy that is a cut above the average super-hero rubber stamp. Oh sure, there will be plenty of Computer Generated Imaging, but c'mon... It's Spider-Man! What sets this one apart is the spot-on depiction of a teenage boy who has a powerful adulthood staring him in the face. His exploits and bungles are the product of his youthful exuberance, nothing more.

Here is part of Watts' cast:
  • Tom Holland ("Captain America: Civil War") is back again as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, a typical high school kid who had an accident with a nasty spider and life would never be the same. We saw his first cameo in "Captain America" and he is eager to become a fully fledged Avenger.
  • Michael Keaton ("The Founder") Adrian Toomes/Vulture is the perfect villain. He felt ignored, exploited and helpless, so he has taken matters into his own hands. "The world is changing and I will change, too."
  • Laura Herrier ("4th Man Out") Liz is the object of our awkward hero's affections. She turns him into a tongue-tied buffoon, even though she is gracious and kind.
  • Robert Downey Jr. ("The Judge") Tony Stark/Iron Man is, by turn, intrigued and frustrated by this näive upstart. He sorely felt his own father's presence (or lack thereof) when he was growing up, so has some idea of what Peter might need. Kind of a tough love.
  • Marisa Tomei ("The Big Short") is Peter's Aunt May. Tony Stark starts to flirt with her but quickly realizes that is inappropriate.
  • Jon Favreau ("Chef") Happy Hogan keeps Tony's life on an even keel. He handles messy details and would really appreciate a promotion.
  • Gwyneth Paltrow ("The Avengers") Pepper Potts keeps coming back, if only in a cameo.
  • Jacob Battalion ("North Woods") is Ned, Peter's burly high-school chum. Ned is the indispensable friend every teenager needs and dreads.
  • Stan Lee (All the Marvel movies) This time he is a crabby neighbor shouting out of his tenement window.
The set pieces on the Staten Island Ferry and the Washington Monument are too long and waay over the top, but the recorded public service announcements Captain America delivers to high-school students are a stitch. This ensemble is guaranteed to dazzle and entertain. Make no mistake, this is Entertainment, NOT Art!
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Take a peek. It might cheer you up!
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The Big Sick

I recently read Judd Apatow's book, "Sick in the Head." It is a paean to the world of standup comedy and to the men and women who labor in it. His affection for these unique comics was never so apparent as in in this recent production. Of course, it's a bit off beat: a romantic comedy that centers around a young woman in a coma. Don't worry. She lives. That is not a spoiler, you learn it in the trailer.

Director Michel Showalter ("Hello, My Name is Doris") working from a script by Emily V. Gordon (Lots of TV) and stand-up comic Kumail Nanjiani ("Silicon Valley") brings us a romance about the relationship between Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (yes, they are not only writers, they are a real couple) set against twin backdrops of standup and family. Apatow is the producer.

Some of Showalter's cast;
  • Kumail Nanjiani ("Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates") plays himself, a young man caught between cultures: His American culture which brings him the woman he loves, and the Pakistani culture in which his doting parents stubbornly try to arrange marriage to some young, and to him, less-than-appealing Pakistani woman. They do NOT understand standup comedy, either!
  • Zoe Kazan ("Ruby Sparks") plays Emily, the American woman who has won his heart. Their chatter is witty and reflects their growing affection.
  • Holly Hunter ("Batman v. Superman") is Emily's mother Beth, she has some opinions concerning this man her daughter has told her about. This is a terrific showcase for Hunter! She and Romano have a great scene together that was a joy to watch. Sort of a master class in comic acting.
  • Ray Romano ("Men of a Certain Age") is her husband Terry; his first awkward attempt at conversation with Kumail is "9/11." Naturally, as a standup comic, Kumail's immediate response is completely wrong (but made me laugh out loud).
  • Anupam Kher ("Silver Linings Playbook") Azmat and his wife have carefully selected bridal candidates for their son. If only Kumail wasn't so Americanized! (Kher gets to sing!)
  • Zenobia Shroff ("When Harry Tries to Marry") Sharmeen is positive that she and Azmat are doing the right thing. At least it has worked for the last 1,400 years.
  • Velia Lovell ("Crazy Ex-Girlfriend") has the unhappy task of playing Khadija, a young Pakistani woman who is just trying to do what's right.
  • Linda Emond (Lots of TV) It was good to see her playing Dr. Cunningham. I first remember her stage work in Seattle decades ago when she attended U of W!
As you might expect in a modern R-rated film, we encounter anatomical humor, a number of F-bombs and some inappropriate behavior, but at its core beats the heart of a good man who loves his family, his sweetheart, and standup comedy.
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As promised, here is the trailer:
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The Beguiled

It's 1864. We are in an exclusive girls' school in Virginia. The Civil War is devastating our young country but the students are kept away from the blood and the ruin of that outside world. These sheltered girls, along with their constrained faculty, will soon declare their own private war.

Director Sofia Coppola ("Lost in Translation"), who specializes in understated tension, tweaks the late Albert Maitz 1971 script which was based on Thomas Cullinan's novel, to once again show us what happens when a wounded Union soldier (played by Clint Eastwood in the original) finds himself at their mercy...or are they at HIS mercy?

Part of Coppola's cast:
  • Colin Farrell ("True Detective") Corporal McBurney is wounded and most of these females (students and faculty) want to help. In no time at all he has charmed each one.
  • Nicole Kidman ("Big Little Lies") Miss Martha is in charge. She is a capable, controlled Christian, but she is also practical. The faint thumps of cannon are heard in the distance throughout our story.
  • Kirsten Dunst ("Hidden Figures") Edwina is convinced that she and our charming corporal are meant for each other, but what in the world is Alicia doing?
  • Elle Fanning ("Trumbo") Alicia is a precocious student, mature for her age and becoming more rebellious by the day.
As the unusual male presence is felt, sexual tensions instantly begin to mount. I resent watching stereotypical female behavior, each turning on the other in order to be chosen by the male. Surely Coppola has better sense. In fact, most of my criticism is leveled at her. The cinematography is lovely and the cast is uniformly excellent but the abrupt mood changes, the awkwardly stilted script and the failure to create an effective ensemble, I lay at the director's feet. The screening audience snickered at many of the lines and I never for a moment forgot that this was a movie.

This is rated "R" for the violent sex...nearly a rape...although it was pointed out that the woman was willing. Also, there is a nasty wound on our hero's leg; many in the audience gasped at the sight. Those of you with hearing problems should seek out a theater with closed caption devices or wait for the DVD; much of the dialogue is murmured.

YOYO (You're On Your Own)
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Here is a trailer:
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The Hero

Sam Elliott isn't just a pretty face. In fact, a few of the award-worthy scenes in this one prove he is truly an ACTOR. If you need someone to be convincing as an "ailing movie star" Sam Elliott can do the job, but HE certainly isn't ailing. In fact, Elliott seems to be just hitting his stride. He is still popular and still working in high-profile roles.

Writer/director Brett Haley ("I'll See You in My Dreams"), collaborating once again with screenwriter Marc Basch, brings us our favorite heartthrob for "people of a certain age." His ailing movie star has to confront his past, deal with his present, and prepare for his future.

Part of Haley's cast:
  • Sam Elliott ("The Ranch") Lee Hayden is our titular Hero. "The Hero" was the name of his most popular Western film and he has been an icon for over 40 years, so his trendy stubble makes him look grizzled, not stylish. He isn't comfortable with social media but he CAN text!
  • Katharine Ross ("Slip, Tumble & Slide") plays his ex-wife Valarie (Ross has been Elliott's real-life spouse for over 30 years). Valarie is an artist with an upcoming art show.
  • Laura Prepon ("Girl on the Train") Charlotte Dylan is an ambitious young woman who remains a cypher to me all the way through. She is clearly pleasing to Lee, but I was put off by her cruel stand-up routine and her smirk.
  • Nick Offerman ("The Founder") Hayden's buddy Jeremy Frost provides him with endless quantities of controlled substances. They have been buddies ever since they shot a short-lived TV series together years ago.
  • Krysten Ritter ("Jessica Jones") is the Haydens' semi-alienated daughter Lucy. She feels as though she has spent her entire life watching him leave.
  • Doug Fox (Lots of TV) is the doctor who gives Lee the bad news.
As you might expect with an R-rated script, there will be a LOT of profanity and some sex; a LOT of alcohol and some drugs; but no vehicular mayhem or gunshots. We see clips from Lee's film as he remembers them (his character has grey hair, unlike how it must have been 40 years ago), and his award ceremony is one for the books. He is usually taciturn to the point of being downright rude. Sometimes I just want to yell at a character, "Tell her!"

This one is a mixed bag. There were parts I really liked and some were downright icky. YOYO (You're On Your Own).
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Here is a trailer:
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Baby Driver

My favorite movie-going companion LOVES Action movies! This one is just the ticket; and not just computer generated action, but skillful driving by real live human beings! Okay, okay, I'll admit that I had a blast, too. Between the sound track, the direction, the editing, the unpredictability and the appealing cast, how could I not be impressed! From our hero's first happy jaunt down the street to bring back coffee for the gang, we realize we are in the hands of a pro.
Writer/director Edgar Wright (three Simon Pegg outings, e.g., "Hot Fuzz") has assembled a sure-fire cast and brings us non-stop action, witty dialogue, people to root for and an unexpected ending.

Part of Wright's cast:
  • Baby-faced Ansel Elgort ("The Fault in Our Stars") is our eponymous driver Baby, tasked with driving a getaway car for a bank heist. He has been paying off a debt to the crew's leader, so of course he has the clichèd, "One Last Heist" thing going on, too.
  • Lily James ("Cinderella") Debora is a sweetheart; a waitress in a diner who is intrigued by Baby because he's witty, though he rarely speaks. You would never guess this actress is English! 
  • Kevin Spacey ("Margin Call") Doc is the brains behind their capers. You will love the story of how Baby came to work for him. And wait until he sees Debora the first time! 
  • Jamie Foxx ("Annie") Bats is smart, cold and ambitious. He thinks the silent Baby isn't paying attention. 
  • Jon Hamm (Lots of TV) Buddy is in it for the money and the excitement it provides for his new bride. 
  • Elza Gonzalez (Lots of TV) Darling is Buddy's delight. 
  • CJ Jones ("Lincoln Heights") Uriah is Baby's elderly foster father, a loving and generous deaf man. Not much gets by him, despite being wheelchair bound. 
In a car crash in his childhood which killed his mother, Baby suffered hearing damage, so tinnitis is a problem, but not a deal breaker, he simply wears ear buds and has a huge library of music. Watch this talented actor dance to some of it!

This is an R-rated actioner, so expect some profanity, lots of gunfire, lots and lots (and LOTS) of vehicular mayhem (great, GREAT stunt drivers), no sex (except some smooching between Buddy and Darling), plus a soundtrack that is truly inspired! This was one that drew applause from our jaded screening audience...and we applauded right along with them.
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Check out the preview:
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