11/21/17

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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11/16/17

Wonder

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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11/10/17

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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11/9/17

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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11/3/17

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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