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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