We meet a hefty young woman who has the misfortune to be the daughter of a former beauty queen. Not only was her mother a beauty queen, but she has made a career of being a beauty queen from that moment on. Now she RUNS the The Miss Bluebonnet contest and also serves as the adult advisor. No one ever forgets that she was a beauty queen!

Director Anne Fletcher ("The Proposal"), working with a screenplay by Kristen Hahn ("Stargirl") which is in turn, based on Julie Murphy's novel, brings to the screen a predictable, yet unpredictable story. We are pretty sure where we are going, but surprised by what we find when we get there. Nicely surprised, I might add.

Part of Fletcher's cast:
  • Danielle Macdonald ("Lady Bird") Willowdean is whip smart but still subject to bullying from classmates. Her life was made joyful by a beloved Aunt Lucy who recently passed away. She is NOT fond of being called "Dumplin'."
  • Jennifer Aniston ("Cake") Life was unkind to Rosie when it blessed her with a daughter who clearly will not be able to follow in her lovely mother's footsteps. Oh well Rosie, check your weight and make sure you moisturize.
  • Odeya Rush ("Spinning Man") Ellen blunders into the Miss Bluebonnet contest because she accompanies her best friend, Willowdean when she registers. Ellen is loyal and steadfast.
  • Maddie Baillio ("Hairspray") Millie is the most irrepressible, upbeat contestant Miss Bluebonnet has ever enrolled. This plus-size dynamo is a good Christian though, so she hasn't told her mom.
  • Luke Benward ("Measure of a Man") Bo is the cook at the diner where Willowdean works. ALL the girls notice Bo!
  • Hillary Begley ("When Last We Spoke") Aunt Lucy was the saving grace in Willowdean's life. She brought joy, her love of dance, her circle of gay friends, and above all, her love of Dolly Parton, who wrote a few original songs for this little gem.
I'll take a moment to, once again, delight in the international nature of film. Danielle is from Australia, Odaya is from Israel, and Maddie is from Texas. I rest my case!

As we trudge our way through this PG-13 story (on Amazon Prime), we wonder how we will ever arrive at a happy ending that we can accept. We love the drag queens, we enjoy the bewilderment on the faces of the Bluebonnet directors, we relish the look on Rosie's face as she watches her daughter go through her paces and sure enough, we are able to accept the happy ending.

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See for yourself.
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Captain Fantastic

This R-rated drama begins with a primitive hunting scene. A deer, alerted by something, is being hunted with bows and arrows; the hunters seem to be children and sure enough, not only are they children, but they field dress it where it lays. Field dressing consists of disemboweling the animal to allow it to cool more rapidly so the meat doesn't spoil. They eat what they kill and they only kill what they eat. Yep. It's bloody.

Writer/director Matt Ross ("28 Hotel Rooms") takes us to the deep woods and introduces us to a man and his six children in a primitive dwelling. It's instantly clear that he doesn't cut them any slack. Their schooling and physical training are rigorous and the children seem to be flourishing.

Part of this highly capable cast:
  • Viggo Mortensen ("Green Book") nominated for numerous awards for this role, is the father, Ben. He is shaken by the news of his wife's death and is convinced their children deserve the opportunity to fulfill her last will and testament. His in-laws do not agree. 
  • George MacKay ("The True History of the Kelly Gang") Bodevan is the eldest. His wrenching scene makes it clear to us how naïve these children are and how unschooled they are in the ways of the world. 
  • Samantha Isler ("Molly's Game") Kielyr is hovering on the brink of womanhood but she looks out for her other siblings and can wield a hunting knife with the best. 
  • Annalise Bosso ("Electric Dreams") Vespyr is serious and concerned, both for her father and her little brood of brothers and sisters.  By now you have noticed that these children were named by a mother who wanted them to be individuals.
  • Nicholas Hamilton (The Dark Tower") Rellian is the rebel, dissatisfied with survival in the woods and yearning for a more ordinary life. Grandpa and Grandma's wealth is appealing. 
  • Shree Crooks ("The Glass Castle") Zaja doesn't view Civics as just a bunch of documents. Listen to her expound on the Bill of Rights. 
  • Charlie Shotwell ("Man Down") Nai reads and writes, like the rest of his home-schooled gang; the world looks fine to this little guy! 
  • Frank Langella ("The Americans") Jack is convinced that Ben killed his daughter, he refuses to believe in mental illness.
  • Ann Dowd ("The Handmaid's Tale") Abigail just wants to be able to see her grandchildren, now that her daughter is gone.
There are others but my list has grown too long. I was not exaggerating when I called this a highly capable cast. Every scene is impressive. But be advised. This is R-rated for good reason, expect full-frontal male nudity (Zaja says, "Clothes at the table, Dad!"), sophisticated humor, blood and gore. In addition, it has moments of delight; events in which we take great satisfaction with the children and their upbringing; plus we appreciate Ben's anguish over his wife's death.

Personally I had some reservations about the veracity of that primitive lifestyle, but I'm known to be very very picky.
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Here is a sample:
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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Well, HERE'S an unusual little change of pace! If you are in the mood for something different, I've got just the ticket! Joel and Ethan Coen (we can always depend on them for something different), have assembled six vignettes for your viewing pleasure. I saw this on Netflix but it opened today at a Landmark Theater here in the Seattle area, so see what you can find.

This anthology illustrates six different aspects of life in the old American West. They have a sterling cast of actors willing to take a shot at it. ...smile... There are many, many guns in the American West! The opening credits play to a rendition of "The Streets of Laredo." (The Coens unerringly hit American musical paydirt; this is stuff I can relate to!)

Let me give you an overview:
  • "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" (Tim Blake Nelson). This episode starts with him riding along on his horse Dan as he sings "Cool Water." He is in a long scenic canyon, so the echoes are a natural effect. He is proud of his reputation as a gunslinger.
  • "Bank Robbery" (James Franco) This one contains every cliché known to a western. But I will say, this guy can't catch a break even though his first hanging is interrupted by an Indian attack.
  • "Meal Ticket" (Liam Neeson) This traveling show stops at every tiny hamlet it runs across. An armless, legless actor does well-known soliloquies while Neeson collects contributions. Then they see a chicken...
  • "All Gold Canyon" (Tom Waits) Singing "Mother Machree," our dauntless prospector comes into view with his faithful donkey lugging all of his equipment. We see his technique for finding gold and salute his success. Turns out finding gold isn't the only thing he has to be smart about.
  • "The Gal Who Got Rattled" (Zoe Kazan and Bill Heck) This follows a wagon train on its way to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Beset by typhoid and Indians, things are tough, but the assistant wagon master proposes to the sweet gal on her way to a (maybe) fiancé. That little dog (Franklin Pierce) just won't quit yapping.
  • "The Mortal Remains" (Brendan Gleeson, Tyne Daly, Saul Rubinek) Five occupants in a stage coach, with a corpse packed on top, philosophize about love. Gleeson closes the vignettes by singing the traditional Irish ballad upon which "Streets of Laredo" is based. Nice wrap!
Make no mistake, this is NOT all comedy, although the Coens usually have us smiling. This is billed as an R-rated comedy, drama, musical. Some things are tragic, some unsettling, some slyly funny. The scenery is absolutely spectacular and the American West was never so lovingly replicated.
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Here is a sample:
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Green Book

Are you ready for a really satisfying road movie? My definition of a Road Movie is: Two very different people who must travel together to strange places, with unfamiliar customs, foods and traditions. During the trials and tribulations of travel, these people learn that they must solve their problems together.

Some background: In 1936 a book was published to provide any Black traveler with information about how to safely navigate the highways and byways of the Jim Crow South. "The Negro Motorist Green-Book" is used in this highly entertaining and interesting true story about a touring classical pianist and his driver/bodyguard. The script is inspired by a story from the son of the bodyguard and it shows us a true and lasting friendship. (Stay for the ending credits.)

Writer/Director Peter Farrelly ("Cuckoo") is a director who both entertains AND educates his audience; he uses a PG-13 script he created with Nick Vallelonga and Brian Hayes Currie. It is a bit of a contradiction, because it contains racial slurs, profanity, some adult sexuality and a lot of heart-warming humor.

Part of Farrelly's wonderful cast:
  • Viggo Mortensen ("The Two Faces of January") is Tony Lip, a wise guy from the Bronx who serves as both driver and bodyguard for the talented artist. Those two men have miles to go before they understand each other. We see right away that Tony was not only a waiter, but a bouncer at that restaurant. He has very little respect for rules. 
  • Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight") Dr. Don Shirley has a schedule to meet and rigid standards. Tony was expecting a very different sort of doctor when he meets Dr. Shirley for his interview. He says his driving experience was working for the Department of Sanitation. 
  • Linda Cardellini ("A Simple Favor") Dolores is the rock that Tony leans on. She is a great mother, a wonderful wife, and a fully involved member of his big Italian family! She asks him to write letters to her while he is gone. (You'll love them!) 
This is the Beauty and the Beast. Dr. Shirley is correct in every way, impeccably groomed with carefully articulated speech. Tony talks with his mouth full, smokes in the car (and at the table!); he proudly describes Dr. Shirley's piano playing as "Bettah dan Liberace!" I know we will be forgiven for our moments of smug satisfaction when "our guys" prevail.

This upbeat story brings human insight into America's struggles (and some victories) with racism, along with wonderful piano playing, a few noisy Italian meals, and some villains to loathe. This is one of the best movies I have seen this year; I have already ordered my DVD.
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See what I mean:
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The Front Runner

You may not remember when U.S. Representative Gary Hart threw down a challenge to the press in 1987: "Put a tail on me!" Well, I remember! And guess what happened? Going in, Hart had the edge, AND, according to some accounts, he also had the hair. SPOILER: this is based on real life, so don't expect a Hollywood ending.

Writer/Director Jason Reitman ("Thank You for Smoking") working with Matt Bai and Jay Carson toss our hats into a presidential campaign, with a charismatic front runner and his genial relationship with the main-stream press. Ever since the Watergate Scandal in 1972, journalists want their own Pulitzer. We had already seen the advent of "Gotcha!" journalism but here we get to watch the old guard agonize over it. They admit they had covered up for LBJ and JFK but weren't expecting a greenhorn journalist to test their resolve.

Part of Reitman's outstanding cast:
  • Hugh Jackman ("The Greatest Showman") Gary Hart is the quintessential politician, handsome, articulate and photogenic; but like so many before him and since, he has "A Zipper Problem." (His pants won't stay zipped!) He is convinced that paparazzi only cover Hollywood, not the old boy's club in D.C.
  • Vera Farmiga ("Skin") Lee Hart has the quintessential politician's wife problem...how does it go? Oh yeah, "Stand by Your Man!" This wonderful pianist had only asked that her husband never embarrass her.
  • J.K. Simmons ("American Dad") Bill Dixon has the thankless task of trying to talk some sense into his volatile candidate.
  • Sara Paxton ("Sundown") Donna Rice was just going along for the ride. She "liked Hart's positions!"
  • Alfred Molina ("Red") Ben Bradlee has had first-hand experience with "Gotcha!" journalism. He's the executive editor of The Washington Post and states their rationale very clearly.
  • R.J. Brown ("The Carrie Diaries") Bill Martin is the tabloid reporter who starts Hart down that slippery slope. He's polite, but relentless.
This R-rated outing clocks in at under two hours, but expect profanity and political maneuvering; just wait'll you see who gets thrown under the bus. If you don't remember, you'll be disappointed, but not surprised.

I would be surprised AND disappointed if Jackman doesn't get an Academy Award nomination for this one. He is beyond terrific!
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Check out this preview:
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Honor among thieves? Well...sometimes. Here we get to see how it works. Writer/Director Steve McQueen ("12 Years a Slave"), collaborating with Gillian Flynn ("Gone Girl"), sets the stage by showing us four women who have nothing in common except that their men have died. They realize they must find a way to take charge of their own futures on their own terms. First step: Trust.

We are in Chicago and it's a dark, dark world. We see a violent vehicular chase, a cold-blooded murder, a spell-binding evangelist, a smooth politician and a tough-talking mobster. We are in a place and time where ignorance is the new normal.

Part of McQueen's enormous cast:
  • Viola Davis ("Fences" and she was stunning in "Ender's Game") Veronica wants to stop the pain of loss. Her little dog also grieves. Finally she says, "We have a lot of work to do. Crying isn't on the list."
  • Liam Neeson ("Silence") Harry intended for Veronica to use what he left her.
  • Michelle Rodriguez ("The Fate of the Furious") Linda wants her little store back; she didn't even know it was at risk. She asks, "Guns? From where?" Alice states the obvious, "It's America!"
  • Elizabeth Debicki ("Guardians of the Galaxy") Alice wants her mom to stop pimping her out. This lanky lady is not only gorgeous, she's smart!
  • Jacki Weaver ("Out of the Blue") Agnieska is that mom we love to hate!
  • Cynthia Erivo ("Bad Times at the El Royale") Belle is exactly the person for the job...and can she RUN!
  • Robert Duvall ("Wild Horses") Tom Mulligan has a tendency to oversimplify the situation. Like yelling will make it so!
  • Colin Farrell ("Roman J. Israel, Esq.") Tom's son Jack is a smooth operator who likes the wheels to be well greased.
  • Daniel Kaluuya ("Get Out") Jatemme is chilling. That's all I'm gonna say.
  • Bryan Tyree Henry ("Atlanta") Jamal often finds himself in over his head. This time, maybe he can get elected.
This R-rated thriller throws us into a brutal world, so expect gunplay, fisticuffs, nudity, blowie uppie stuff and lots of plots. Also expect Nina Simone on the soundtrack. Our screening audience was excited as we left the theater.
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Take a look:
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The Girl in the Spider's Web

Ready to try again? First of all: Suspend disbelief. If you read or watched Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, set it aside and don't start nitpicking. Let's pretend this is a stand-alone thriller that features characters with whom we are familiar. Claire Foy makes a memorable Liz Salander, the unique character we know from "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

Horror/Thriller director Fede Alvarez ("Don't Breathe") collaborating with screenwriters Jay Basu and Steven Knight, keeps us on the edge of our seats as our favorite hacker goes up against government corruption and cyber spies.

Part of the cast:
  • Claire Foy ("The Crown") Lizbeth punishes men who are cruel to females, young or old. She is still a hacker, extraordinaire, who never met a security system she couldn't defeat.
  • Sylvia Hooks ("Blade Runner 2049") Camila will never forgive Liz for leaving her with their father.
  • Stephen Merchant ("Logan") Franz is concerned about a powerful program he wrote. He wants Liz to steal it back so he can destroy it, but he has relentless enemies who will have it no matter what.
  • Christopher Convery ("Gotham") August and his dad came to Stockholm from California. Now he wants to go home!
  • Cameron Britton ("Stitchers") Plague is Liz Salander's most trusted wingman.
  • Lakeith Stanfield ("Atlanta") Edwin can tell that the system his employer wants is in Stockholm. Problem is, the NSA is not welcome in Sweden, so how can he retrieve it? (But Plague recognizes his name.)
  • Synnøve Macody Lund ("Black Widows") This powerful Swedish agent tells Edwin to "go back to Disneyland!"
  • Sverrir Gudnason ("A Serious Game") Mikael Blomkvist wants to be clear, he sold the magazine, not respect. He needs to write about Liz to advance his career.
This R-rated thriller will take you from Stockholm to the forest, from government facilities to a derelict old home. Expect physical violence, gun shots, vehicular chases, blowie uppie stuff and threats of torture. There is one "Don't go in the basement!" scene, and one laugh-out-loud moment.

The screening audience was upbeat and excited as we exited the theater.
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Please see the trailer:
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Tea With the Dames

When a man is knighted, he is a "Sir." The female equivalent is a "Dame." Some very smart theatre-loving individual got the bright idea to encourage four "Dames" to sit together and reminisce. What memories they have!

Director Roger Michell ("Notting Hill") has created this wonderful documentary by joining these much adored, highly honored, perennial stars and turning on the camera. He has also dredged up an absolute treasure of film clips from waaaay back when. This is a theatre lover's nirvana and a valued piece of show business history.

We join:
  • Eileen Atkins ("The Crown," "Doc Martin") relates a story about overhearing two men as they evaluate her potential. They agree that she isn't pretty, but one points out that she IS sexy! And according to those clips, she was saucy, too! Her mother wanted her to be a dancer and she wore the school logo on her tutu, "KY" and wondered why the men snickered.
  • Judi Dench ("Skyfall," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") has a LOT of inside stories (with 134 movie credits), but is self effacing and shy, unless directors talk over her or disregard her, then LOOK OUT! She described her character Cleopatra as a post-menopausal dwarf!
  • Joan Plowright ("Tea With Mussolini," "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont") is the widow of Laurence Olivier. I already loved her before I learned that. She is blind now, but still loves a good joke (and a glass of champagne).
  • Maggie Smith ("Downton Abbey," "Lady in the Van") has already won two Oscars and is still going strong. We forget what a babe she was back in the day. Take a look! She was in one play called "Listen to the Wind" which she called, "Hark, Hark, the Fart!"
Needless to say, these women are blunt, smart, and sharp-tongued...to our delight. In the theater where I saw this film, the audience laughed out loud as much as I did. What a joy!
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You can see why I depended on Closed Captions:
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Bisbee '17

When I was growing up in Bisbee, we called it "The Deportation." Even then, it was history, and like all history, there were two very different takes on the event. (1,186 men were deported, rousted out of their homes by approximately 2,000 rifle-toting "deputies," loaded into cattle cars and shipped to a railroad siding in New Mexico.) I have had Robert Houston's novel, "Bisbee '17" on my shelves since 1980, but I had never realized that the miners deported were primarily immigrants; this anti-immigrant activity was part of a national trend. In fact, Bisbee's population included immigrants from over 30 countries, e.g., the U.K., Serbia, Croatia, Mexico, Germany, Italy and even Texas! ...smile... This was true of most American blue-collar towns in those years.

This award-winning documentary (Best Documentary - Athens Film Festival) celebrates the activities of a group of involved citizens who realize that almost 100 years have passed since this infamous event (July, 1917) and it deserves a reenactment. After all, Tombstone (25 miles away) reenacts The Gunfight at OK Corral regularly! To the people in Bisbee, Tombstone's is "fake" history, Bisbee's will be real. And they must be ready by July, 2017.

Director/writer Robert Greene first shows us how reenactments develop and how the public responds to them (we love them), then we become acquainted with the town of Bisbee, Arizona and its history. It was once one of the richest mining towns in the U.S.; it is located seven miles north of Mexico; Warren Ballpark was built in 1909 and is the oldest ballpark in continuous use in the country; Bisbee is still sitting on a huge stockpile of copper ore.

I enjoyed seeing:
  • The Iron Man - a heroic statue of a copper miner at the lower end of Tombstone Canyon
  • The Copper Queen Hotel - an old treasure which boasts its own ghosts
  • The Queen Mine Tour - used for interior and exterior shots of mines
  • St. Elmo's Bar - a Brewery Gulch tradition
  • The Lyric Theater - now derelict and dusty
  • The Loma Linda Lodge - the home of Walter Douglas, an official for the mining corporation
  • The "New" High School - first occupied in 1957
  • The little amphitheater in Brewery Gulch near Central School
  • Lavender Pit and "the dump"
  • Evergreen Cemetery
  • Warren Ball Park - the place the strikers were loaded into cattle cars.
Mother Jones is referred to as a Wobblie (Industrial Workers of the World) organizer in an on-screen pamphlet, which says that by interrupting the production of vital war materials (copper being one of them), they can strengthen the anti-war effort (Corporate America was focused on a run-up to our involvement in WWI). Strong objections were raised when union members sang one of their songs to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic; over 50% of the miners went out on strike.

It was fun to watch the local citizens who were cast (one as his own grandfather!) and see each internalize the rationale which that person must have felt in order to take the stand he took in 1917.

This was like watching an enhanced home movie. It absolutely requires that you suspend disbelief (e.g., paved roads, a white stretch limo that carries an armed Sheriff Wheeler alongside the miners to the ballpark; electrical cords in homes), and remind yourself that this is a community effort that would never have come to pass without a lot of good people to make it happen.

This will enjoy a limited release, but I fully intend to add the DVD to my personal collection.
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No trailer, sorry
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A Star is Born - 2018

Maybe things ARE better the fourth time around. We watch this timeless tale of a star whose shelf life is nearing its expiration date, as he mentors a fresh young talent. It IS a compelling tale. This current version is nearly as good as the 1937 version with Janet Gaynor; and that one had the advantage of discovery, it was brand new to us. Plus it is always satisfying to watch an awkward young performer learn the ropes and gain professional polish.

In my opinion, first-time director Bradley Cooper shows a deft hand at the helm, in fact it's the best I've seen since the 2006 version of "Tell No One" directed by Guillaume Canet (which I highly recommend, by the way). Scenes have depth: extras act like people, not extras. Cooper manages to avoid most of the clichés this one begs for, although that one tear was hard to forgive.

Let's look at the cast;
  • Bradley Cooper ("American Sniper," and "Silver Linings Playbook") is Jack, an Arizona-born star who fills stadiums with devoted fans and hopeful camp followers. After a successful appearance, he stumbles into a gay bar where an unknown singer impresses him. One drag queen tells him, "I don't care what you play, just look at me when you do it."
  • Lady Gaga ("American Horror Story," and "Muppet's Most Wanted") Ally is a hard-working, no-nonsense gal who walks out on an abusive boss and accepts Jack's invitation to his next concert, little realizing it will include a trip on a private jet.
  • Anthony Ramos ("Will & Grace") Her pal Ramon comes along to offer her some necessary moral support.
  • Sam Elliott ("The Hero," and "The Ranch") Bobby might be Jack's uncle. The theater I was in had no closed caption devices; as a result, I missed a lot of their backstory, sorry.
  • Rafi Gavron ("Snitch") Rez is Ally's straight-talking manager, who lays out the truth for Jack.
  • Dave Chappelle ("Chi-Raq") "Noodles" is Jack's driver, a considerate and wise man.
Many other actors were given their moment to shine, but time and space...you know... I must hasten to warn you, I thought I was in Samuel L. Jackson country with the countless F-bombs that were lobbed around, but I quickly became unaware of them. Suffice it to say, the R rating is richly deserved (alcohol and drugs) but we can watch for this one at the Academy Awards.
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Please take a look:
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The Bookshop

It's 1959. Our heroine has been a widow for 17 years. She has decided to open a bookshop in a tiny Anglian town, despite disapproval by a deceptively polite town leadership. The town recluse asks her to send him a few books...no poetry or complicated plots, no Brontès, more Bradbury. If you are a book lover, you will be peeking at the covers to spot old friends, and the popularity of "Lolita" is acknowledged but the film goer must provide the context.

Writer/director Isabel Coixet ("Learning to Drive"), working from the wonderful novel by Penelope Fitzgerald, has crafted a gentle, deeply felt little PG-rated drama, no raised voices, no gunshots, no armies or Computer Generated Imaging, just a solid story interpreted by a brilliant cast.

We watch:
  • Emily Mortimer ("Match Point," "Dear Frankie," "Lars and the Real Girl") is Florence, a solitary book lover who is quietly positive that there is a place in this town for a nice bookshop. The building may be old and rundown, but those Sea Scouts have stepped up to help.
  • Bill Nighy ("Their Finest," "Blow Dry," "Love, Actually") Edmund is the town legend and that town legend changes as time passes. It doesn't concern him. I pegged him for an agoraphobe, but he does come out when he deems it necessary.
  • Patricia Clarkson ("The Station Agent," "Easy A," "Maze Runner") Violet has been the arbiter of good taste and genteel manners for decades. She is positive the town needs an Arts Center...and that building the new bookshop occupies is perfect. She controls everything.
  • Honor Kneafsey ("Miss You Already") Christine doesn't like to read, but she would like to work in the bookshop, just the same. She finds boys repulsive.
  • James Lance ("Marie Antoinette") Milo seems to have a lot of spare time on his hands. He tells Florence that writers will go anywhere there are free drinks.
There were moments in this film I was awestruck by the quality of the acting. There was a scene with Nighy and Clarkson that took my breath away. There were no histrionics, everything was understated, but you could WATCH their characters think.

I've preordered my DVD, in case you wondered.
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Check out this preview:
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Crazy Rich Asians

Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world. 
                                                                  Napoleon Bonaparte
Chick Flick Alert! (This is NOT a pejorative.) This movie is a treat to the eye and a chance to feel a bit of superiority because WE are not so shallow. (Mean Girls are not limited to American high schools.) It also shows us what mind-boggling wealth looks like.

Director Jon M. Chu ("Now You See Me 2"), working with a script adapted from a book of the same name by Kevin Kwan ("Rich People Problems") brings a lively, sweet story about a Professor of Economics who meets a handsome Asian man. Time passes and he wants to take her home to Singapore so she can meet his family. (He hasn't warned her that he is rich.)

Here is what I saw:
  • Astonishing architecture, Singapore has amazing bridges, unique buildings, and memorable landmarks, plus our characters enjoy scenic sojourns on nearby islands.
  • A Bachelorette party to end all Bachelorette parties. They even go shopping!
  • A Bachelor party held on a container ship (they needed the room).
  • Well-known faces (Michelle Yeoh - watch her buy a hotel when they fail to provide her with the room she reserved; Awkwafina is one of our heroine's loyal Asian friends - she's rich, too; Ken Jeong - just as rude and off-putting as ever).
  • New faces (Henry Golding - be still my heart!; Constance Wu - I haven't seen her TV show; Gamma Chan - what an elegant heartbreaker!).
  • Eternal problems - one way or another, every bride has a mother-in-law, some things never change.
  • Impossibly rich people aren't the same as you and me, but rejected would-be brides are the same the world over.
  • The most elaborately unlikely wedding ever staged.
  • Parents tell their children, "Eat your dinner. There are starving children in America!"
This PG-13 film has no gunshots, a bad word smeared on a window, hardly any vehicular mayhem (watch Akwafina drive - Oh! And she says a bad word), and sex is only implied. We see the power of social media and read a lot of text messages. Our hero's mother holds Bible studies in her posh home, flowers bloom right on cue, and mahjong is her game of choice. What a life!

I enjoyed it and scarcely needed my closed caption device.
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Take a look:
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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

This film was adapted from the wonderful novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows which in turn, was inspired by events during WWII: the Channel Islands, despite their proximity to England, were occupied by German troops and the residents endured great hardships.

The society came into existence when a little group of terrified citizens was caught outdoors after curfew by German troops. This goofy seat-of-the-pants idea took hold and they actually began meeting to read and discuss books, first out of necessity, then because they found it had value. This sense of connection became vital for each of them.

With a screenplay by a trio of excellent writers, Director Mike Newell ("Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Prince of Persia") has assembled an outstanding cast and brings us an exciting, fascinating look at a situation that most of us knew nothing about.

Part of Newell's sterling cast:
  • Lily James ("Mamma Mia" and "Cinderella") Successful author Juliet Ashton has learned of the society through a fluke (a member writes to her for a copy of a book) which triggers her interest in such a curiously named book club.
  • Matthew Goode ("The Crown") Sidney Stark is her agent, who reluctantly reschedules her book signing tour so she can satisfy her curiosity.
  • Michiel Huisman ("Game of Thrones") Dawsey Adams is the pig farmer who writes to her.
  • Tom Courtenay ("Grandpa's Great Escape") Eben Ramsey is the first gracious face our heroine encounters after she lands on Guernsey Island.
  • Glen Powell ("Hidden Figures") Mark Reynolds is her American fiancé.
  • Penelope Wilton ("Downton Abbey") took my breath away with her portrayal of the still-grieving Amelia Maugery.
Important Note: I can only find a TV-14 rating and can't see a United States release date. I saw this on Netflix, courtesy of a wonderful friend.

No gunshots, no sex, no vehicular mayhem and no profanity. Just excellent acting and an engrossing story. The WWII period is beautifully captured through the music, fashions and vehicles, while the post-war period feels authentic: e.g., the boarding house still needs Juliet's ration stamps in order to provide milk for her tea.

Be sure to watch the closing credits because during them you will be treated to snippets of excerpts from well-known books. It's great fun (and satisfying) to identify each book.
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Please take a look:
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The Spy Who Dumped Me

...by TEXT message? How rude! What a way to dump a lover!

Written and directed by Susanna Fogel ("Chasing Life"), this slam-bang actioner has it all: Spies, counterspies, frantic pursuits, people who pretend to be someone they aren't, and the most absurd carjacking ever committed to film. Every spy movie needs photogenic locations, so here we have Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Amsterdam, Budapest, Paris and Lithuania.

Part of Fogel's very able cast:
  • Justin Theroux ("The Leftovers") This film opens with Drew in Lithuania. It's obvious he is being stalked. Luckily he has an unlimited supply of ammo for his handgun (I know, I know. It's a SPY movie!).
  • Mila Kunis ("Family Guy") Audrey got his text and is NOT happy about being dumped; she even met his parents! Her Best Forever Friend is willing to kill Drew for her.
  • Kate McKinnon ("Rough Night") Yep. Morgan would totally kill Drew for Audrey. Even though Morgan is described as "a bit much," she knows she's perfectly normal.
  • Hasan Minhaj ("The Daily Show") Duffer always manages to slip in a reminder that he attended Harvard. His fellow CIA agents are sick and tired of hearing it.
  • Sam Heughan ("Outlander") Sebastian is hot on the trail of a double agent ...we think...
  • Gillian Anderson ("Viceroy's House") To our budding feminist Morgan, "Wendy is the Beyoncé of Intelligence! A woman in a man's world!" Wendy is not impressed.
This one has a well-deserved R rating for violence and a rash of "F" bombs, but it is a romp from beginning to end. Little things, like Audrey using her turn signal when she's being chased by gun-wielding assassins and a little discussion of whether or not it's "Ukraine," or "The Ukraine." That's something I too, have wondered. This one is a treat to the eye; the camera LOVES Kunis's face and it doesn't hurt to have a couple of hunky guys hanging around, either.

This one is Entertainment, NOT Art.
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Here's a sample (with blowie uppie stuff):
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Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Here is a new twist. Ethan and his regular cohorts have to race against time when a mission goes wrong. Yeah... I know... I've come to realize that clichés become clichés because they are devices that work.

Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Oscar for "The Usual Suspects") is back directing another slam-bang actioner for Tom Cruise. They have been an extremely successful team ("Mission Impossible," "Edge of Tomorrow," "Valkyrie," and "Jack Reacher"), and in my opinion, they've done it again. The Mission Impossible team knows by now "if it ain't broke..." So they bring us interesting locations: London, Paris, Kashmir. White-knuckle chase scenes: motorcycle, helicopter, automobile, parkour. Battles: bare knuckle, gun, knife and wits. Also the time-tested countdown, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, ...you know the drill.

Part of McQuarrie's huge cast:
  • Tom Cruise ("American Made") Ethan will never give up. But we already know that. 
  • Henry Cavill ("Justice League") August has a problem bringing in witnesses...alive! 
  • Ving Rhames ("Guardians of the Galaxy") Luther can be counted on to trust his boss. 
  • Simon Pegg ("Star Trek") Benji just can't stay out of danger, no matter how hard he tries. 
  • Angela Bassett ("Black Panther") Erica never cuts the IM crew any slack. 
  • Alec Baldwin ("Will & Grace") Alan doesn't want to regret transferring from the CIA 
  • Rebecca Ferguson ("The Greatest Showman") Ilsa is a worthy agent. I'm always surprised. 
  • Sean Harris ("Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation") Solomon Lane says "The greater the suffering, the greater the peace," and he is willing to suffer. 
  • Vanessa KIrby ("The Crown") White Widow always negotiates for the best terms. 
  • Michelle Monaghan ("Saint Judy") Yes, we get to see Julia again! 
As you can see by the preview, the action never lets up....for two and a half hours! Cruise likes to be in PG-13 films, so expect fisticuffs, vehicular mayhem, aerial stunts, gunfire and blowie uppie stuff, but very little profanity, drugs or sex. As usual, each action sequence runs longer than necessary. I could easily cut 30 minutes of running time, but no one asked...

The screening audience left the theater excited, vocal and happy.
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Check it out:
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The Equalizer 2

"Unflinching." I saw this character described that way and nothing suits him better! This sequel picks up where the first one left off, with our hero officially dead. We see his simple life as a Lyft driver and note the interest he takes in his passengers: the old man, the weeping woman, the hitman. We also see what an involved neighbor he is, cleaning up graffiti and mentoring a teenager.

With a script by action specialist Richard Wenk ("The Expendables" and "The Equalizer") and directed by Antoine Fuqua ("The Magnificent Seven" 2016) this one never lags.

Part of Fuqua's cast:
  • Denzel Washington ("Fences") Robert McCall has a new problem based on an old one, he could never overlook a wrong, and something very wrong just happened.
  • Melissa Leo ("Snowden") Susan Plummer is a friend McCall can trust. She was in his old department and worked with the same crew. We watch a crime being committed which is assigned to her to investigate.
  • Bill Pullman ("The Equalizer") is her husband Brian. He still writes books.
  • Ashton Sanders ("Moonlight") Miles is a neighbor boy our hero can see is going off the rails. Something must be done and we in the audience find ourselves deeply involved in his story.
  • Pedro Pascal ("Game of Thrones") Dave York worked with McCall and Plummer. He has a wife and two children in the suburbs.
As you might expect, this R-rated action-filled thriller brings exactly what we expect to the screen. We bounce from Washington D.C., to Boston, then to Brussels and back. Having never seen the first movie, I was interested to hear screening audience veterans describe the difference between the 2014 version and the sequel. The general consensus is that this one is far more involving and has more humanity, despite brutal R-rated fight scenes and point-blank killshots.

With two Academy Award-winning actors on tap plus lots of action and suspense, our audience left the theater exhausted but happy.
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Here is a preview:
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Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

Expect lots and lots of the same old fun stuff. After all, if it ain't broke...

Written and directed by Ol Parker ("The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") still based on the story by Richard Curtis, we find ourselves back off the coast of Greece (actually shot in Croatia) with a combination of flashbacks and unfolding stories that feature our old friends and how they got that way (plus over a dozen Abba standards).

Here is part of Parker's HUGE cast:
  • Meryl Streep ("The Post") Yup. Donna is back, finally! 
  • Lily James ("Cinderella") is young Donna in sometimes deliberately confusing flashbacks. 
  • Amanda Seyfried ("The Last Word") Donna's daughter Sophie is the one with three dads ...or not... 
  • Dominic Cooper ("Agent Carter") Sky is back, but for how long? 
  • Colin Firth ("Kingsman") Shy Harry - What can I say? Firth can deliver a comic line with the best! 
  • Pierce Brosnan ("The Foreigner") Conflicted Sam - He just gets better and better; it's not fair! 
  • Stellan Skarsgärd ("Borg vs McEnroe") Sweet Bill - His heart is still broken. 
  • Christine Baranski ("The Good Fight") The caustic Tanya can't be quoted in a family review. 
  • Julie Walters ("Brooklyn") Rosie will never change; she has decided that her soulmate is carbs, i.e., cake! 
  • Cher ("Burlesque") Yes, you've seen the trailers, Ruby is the surprise guest at the party and her version of "Fernando" is my all-time favorite. We in the screening audience audibly reacted to her spectacular entrance. 
  • Andy Garcia ("Book Club") Fernando (I know. I know. Just watch!) is the magical party planner who can make it happen ... over and over and over. 
The six capable actors who played the younger versions of our principal characters are perfectly cast. They have captured the signature moves, speech patterns and attitudes of their future selves.

This is rated R, so expect implied sexuality but nothing crass, no profanity, no vehicular mayhem, no gunshots and no blowie uppie stuff. Just silly fun from well-loved characters. Enjoy the unique choreography of at least three contributors; I won't mention any names. Be sure to stay for the best curtain call/encore EVER (to "Super Trooper")!
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Here is the international trailer:
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It's inevitable that this will be compared to 1974's "The Towering Inferno" (3 Academy Awards) but that movie was made before the advent of Computer Generated Imaging, so with that in mind, Dwayne Johnson, the artist formerly known as The Rock is willing to challenge the likes of Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Fred Astaire.

This 2018 version (not to be confused with the 1996 classic which starred Anna Nichole Smith) is written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber ("Easy A" and "DodgeBall"). For a movie with credentials like this, we entered the press screening with high hopes. And thanks to lavish amounts of CGI, generous shots of Mr. Johnson performing hair-raising stunts, plus bits of humor, we were in for an entertaining white-knuckle ride that never let up!

Part of Thurber's cast:
  • Dwayne Johnson ("Jumanji" 2018) Former Hostage Extraction Specialist Will Sawyer, after a traumatic event nine years earlier, now assesses the safety of high rise buildings. This skyscraper in Hong Kong is his latest assignment and he has scrutinized every aspect of it.
  • Neve Campbell ("House of Cards") Sarah Sawyer came to Hong Kong with her husband because she and their children want to see the sights. This former combat veteran is tough and smart, make no mistake.
  • McKenna Roberts ("The Young and the Restless") Georgia trusts her father even when things look hopeless.
  • Tzi Ma ("Arrival") The fire chief has a vested interest in proving Sawyer is behind the catastrophe he sees unfolding.
  • Chin Han ("Marco Polo") Zhao Long Ji is the developer who has absolute faith in his astonishing building. Along with the amazing building however, it seems he has developed some powerful enemies.
Do we ever doubt Mr. J? How could we when we learn that he believes "If you can't fix it with duct tape, you're not using enough duct tape."

There is so much noisy mayhem: fisticuffs, gunshots, motorcycles, crowds, blowie uppie stuff and shouting from high places, I was glad I had closed captions. I suspect I picked up more dialog than the two fellows giggling next to me. By the way, if you are in the least acrophobic, the heights depicted in this one are real enough to make you sweat!
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Take a look:
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Won't You Be My Neighbor?

From the charming opening scenes to the sweet finale (bring a tissue), I was enthralled by the iconic Mr. Rogers. As I rarely watched television, I had never seen an episode so I have lived in a cultural void.

Director Morgan Neville ("30 Feet From Stardom") adds another distinctive documentary to his body of work. He does it through flashbacks, archives, interviews and news clippings. He brings to life the singular man who was an ordained Presbyterian minister, father, husband, musician, friend and neighbor to millions.

Some of the things I learned about Mr. Rogers:
  • He objected to "pie-in-the-face" comedy
  • He was opposed to violent children's television
  • He favored a simple set
  • He was convinced that each child had a "real relationship" with him
  • He honored silence: he set an egg timer for a minute and demonstrated
  • He illustrated how integration worked in a very practical way
  • He was lifetime friends with artists such as Yo Yo Ma
  • He explained tragedies such as the Challenger disaster
  • He was intolerant of intolerance.
Mr. Rogers (his real name) was from a wealthy family and was a pudgy little boy. He understood bullying from personal experience. He respected children and they recognized his respect and affection. Watch the looks on their faces. His interview with the little boy in the wheelchair is a classic.
He accepted that his stardom made him a target for ridicule and satire. Watch Eddie Murphy, Johnny Carson and Jim Carrey each take a shot.

Please see this movie. It's only a bit over an hour and a half and you'll remember it for a long time.
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Here is a preview:
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Incredibles 2

I guess all bets are off when Pixar does a sequel. Think "Cars 2" and "Toy Story 3" (...sob..). Here we are 14 years later (they point this out in a little introduction done by the actors), no one is older, but unemployment looms (superheroes are still illegal). Helen/Elastigirl is offered a job, so Bob/Mr. Incredible agrees to be a house husband.

Oscar-winning writer/director Brad Bird ("Ratatouille") once again takes the helm, so we know we are in highly capable hands as we happily allow ourselves to revisit the Parr family in another Pixar-animated bit of PG-rated magic.

Part of Bird's brilliant cast:
  • Craig T. Nelson ("Book Club") Bob/Mr. Incredible does his best with their youngsters, but Violet is a tween with all THAT implies, Dash needs help with his homework (New Math!), and Jack Jack is pure unlimited potential.
  • Holly Hunter ("The Big Sick") Helen/Elastigirl enjoys being away from the house and is delighted to help boost the image of superheroes so they can become legal again. The Pixar artists have captured Hunter's mouth so perfectly it's hard to believe it's animation.
  • Samuel L. Jackson ("The Hitman's Bodyguard") Lucius/Frozone turns up at the right time. He modestly tells one character, "You're my biggest fan!"
  • Bob Odenkirk ("Better Call Saul") Winston is an enthusiastic advocate for superheroes, he wants to make them legal again; "We've got resources, lobbyists and insurance."
  • Catherine Keener ("Get Out") Evelyn invents stuff; her brother Winston is in marketing.
  • Jonathan Banks ("Breaking Bad") Someone tells Rick, "Ya want out of a hole, ya better put down the shovel!"
The villain of this one is a creature called the Screenslaver who uses hypnotic glasses to make his victims do his bidding. To me that is almost incidental. Once again I was awed by Pixar's dazzling artistry: look at those waffles, watch that raccoon, and again, see Elastigirl speak!

By the way, the screening I attended included a charming Asian short called "Bao." Don't miss it.
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See what I mean:
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Ocean's 8

Paroled felon Debbie and (the late?) Danny Ocean are siblings. Hmmmm... Can we detect any family traits?

So what have we here: A high-end target? The New York City Met Gala (the theme is the jewelry of European royalty)! Resourceful friends? Look at the cast! Clever heist? This has an "Ocean's 11" reputation to uphold! A treat to the eye? Director Gary Ross ("Hunger Games") knows how to show women at their best. Furthermore, this PG-13 production has women using their brains, motor skills and experience, NOT their sex appeal. What a refreshing treat.

Let's look at part of this huge (beautiful) cast:
  • Sandra Bullock ("Gravity") Debbie Ocean has worked on an idea for over five years, so all she has to do now is convince the parole board, and her friends, and Cartier... By the way, Bullock's fluent German proves that she spoke it as a child with her mother.
  • Cate Blanchett ("Thor: Ragnarok") Lou knows that when you're drunk enough, your drink will taste like vodka.
  • Anne Hathaway ("The Intern") Daphne is fine as long as she is the center of attention.
  • Rihanna ("Bates Motel") Nine Ball can count on her little sister when the chips are down.
  • Awkwafina ("Crazy Rich Asians") Constance impresses us with her skills. Every con has its pros.
  • Helena Bonham Carter ("The Crown") Fashion designer Rose is not a relic, she's iconic.
  • Sarah Paulson ("12 Years a Slave") Tammy tells her little one, "Mommy has a very special job."
  • Mindy Kaling ("A Wrinkle in Time") Amita can do wonders with jewelry.
  • Richard Armitage ("Castlevania") Claude is here? The ego has landed!
This high-end, elegantly dressed production offers a satisfyingly complex heist, celebrity faces (pay attention!), and a generous serving of wit. These women are determined to prove that Crime DOES Pay.

By the way, the diligent young manager at the theater where the screening was held provided excellent service above and beyond what I usually receive when I need a closed caption device. Way to go, Jeff!
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Take a peek:
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Deadpool 2

A couple of years ago Ryan Reynolds surprised Hollywood suits with the unexpected success of his R-rated Superhero comedy. Naturally they have been eagerly awaiting another surprise. Directed by former stuntman David Leitch ("Atomic Blonde") working from a script by a committee of writers, this R-rated sequel only goes to disprove that old adage about the impossibility of catching lightning in a bottle. This lightning is vulgar, profane, irreverent, violent, bloody and rude, and yes, they've caught it.

Part of Leitch's cast:
  • Ryan Reynolds ("The Hitman's Bodyguard") Wade / Deadpool has hit bottom once more but that seems to be where he works best. Although he still fights for what's right, he insists that he is NOT X-Man material.
  • Josh Brolin ("Infinity Wars") Nathan Summers / Cable has his own Terminator-type agenda. Look out!
  • Morena Baccani ("Gotham") Vanessa is back, although not in the way Wade wants her.
  • Zazie Beetz ("Atlanta") Domino has a superpower: it's Luck, although she agrees it isn't very cinematic.
  • Terry Crews ("Brooklyn Nine-Nine") Bedlam has what it takes to cause waves.
  • Leslie Uggams ("Empire") Yes! Blind Al is back and Wade needs her help once more.
  • T.J. Miller ("Silicon Valley") Weasel runs the bar where Deadpool does his strategizing. This actor has elevated "Geek" to an art form.
  • Julian Dennison ("Hunt for the Wilderpeople") Russell is in deep trouble for a crime he has yet to commit.
Maybe I don't know what bottom looks like, but I think it's pretty bad. Let's see what this one offers: Vehicular mayhem? Check. Fisticuffs? Check. Profanity? Check. Blowie uppie stuff? Check. CGI? Check. Yep, it has everything we hoped for.  Reynolds says the first "Deadpool" was about romance, this one is about friendship.  See for yourself.

A brief caveat, if you have hearing problems, the one-liners, the referential humor, and the clever asides to us in the audience are better enjoyed if you know exactly what is said. I recommend closed captions!
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Here is a trailer:
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Book Club

This book club is NOT about Jane Austen. Trust me! Instead we have four women "of a certain age" who are attempting to age gracefully together. But only Vivian knew their next reading assignment would be "50 Shades of Gray." Eek!

Writer/director Bill Holderman, working with writer Erin Simms, gives us a giddy comedy anchored by four war horses (PLEASE do NOT tell them I said that!) who bring decades of experience to the silver screen.

Part of Holderman's cast:
  • Diane Keaton ("Hampstead") A DATE? Diane hasn't a thing to wear, but it shouldn't be too casual.
  • Jane Fonda ("Grace and Frankie") Vivian thinks this book will be as uplifting as her favorite plastic surgeon; and reminds herself she doesn't date any man she LIKES.
  • Candice Bergen ("Home Again") Judge Sharon knows she would send the man in that book to JAIL for his actions. She insists that no one who has a life has a motto. No one delivers an acerbic line better!
  • Mary Steenburgen ("Orange is the New Black") Carol is pretty sure she can learn plenty from this book, but her husband doesn't seem motivated. (Although when we hear him describe his classic motorcycle...)
  • Andy Garcia ("Bent") Mitchell says he must be a pilot, they gave him a hat!
  • Don Johnson ("Vengeance: A Love Story") Arthur can't believe how long is has been since he proposed. By the way, Don Johnson's daughter Dakota is the co-star of the "50 Shades..." trilogy.
  • Craig T. Nelson ("Parenthood") Bruce may never drink another beer! (See the preview.) This actor gets the "Good Sport Award!"
  • Richard Dreyfuss ("Madoff") George is always willing to try for at least one kiss.  Oh my!
At the time of the screening, this film was not yet rated but judging by the double entendres and the emphasis on mature sex, I'm rating it R. Based on the packed house for the screening, I suspect this one will do very well. I hope so. The screening audience (and I) laughed out loud many times.
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See the trailer:
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Overboard - 2018

Back in 1987, my granddaughter convinced me to see a romantic comedy called "Overboard" with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. To my delight, I loved it. (Its not Art, it's Entertainment!)

I was a bit skeptical when I saw plans for a remake until I saw who was in it: Anna Faris ("Mom") and Eugenio Derbez ("Under the Same Moon" which I recommend and "Instructions Not Included" which I HIGHLY recommend). Director Rob Greenberg ("How I Met Your Dad") has taken the update and offers us another chance to see a spoiled, entitled snob get some well-deserved comeuppance and learn the satisfaction of a job well done.

Part of Greenberg's cast:
  • Eugenio Derbez ("How to Be a Latin Lover") is Leonardo, learning some facts of life the hard way. He admires Speedy Gonzalez and has never held a job....
  • Anna Faris ("Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs") Kate is a single mom, stretched beyond reason, so when she grabs an unreasonable solution, we can scarcely blame her. She needs time to study for her tests to become a nurse.
  • Swoosie Kurtz ("The Dangerous Book for Boys") Grace planned to babysit her three granddaughters but the theater in Eugene needs someone to step in and her audition was pretty good....
  • John Hannah ("Agents of Shield") Colin is a loyal butler and an observant employee. (He has the role Roddy McDowell played in the original.)
  • Eva Longoria ("Jane the Virgin") Every woman needs a friend and co-worker like Teresa, she has the BEST ideas.
  • Cecilia Suarez ("El Cesar") Magdalena sees her brother's disappearance at sea as her best chance to take over the family business.
  • Maria Treviño ("Club of Crows") Sofia is a third-rate musician, but her heart is in the right place. She doesn't want her self-serving sister to take over the family's multi-billion dollar empire.
This is a silly, nonsensical outing, rated PG-13, and I love it. Although there is some profanity, you will see no vehicular mayhem, hear no gunshots, and you will see a rude, officious jerk learn some humanity. Many of the scenes are line for line duplicates of the 1987 original, in fact the story takes place in Elk Cove again and some of the locals remember an earlier case of amnesia ("in the 80s") that seems similar... ...smile...

I've watched Eugenio Derbez since 2007, but he was a well-established star in Mexico before he took a shot at the American market. His English is remarkable and he is more than willing to subject himself to situations where his character is humbled or humiliated. I look forward to his next effort, he hasn't let me down so far.
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Here is a trailer:
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Avengers: Infinity War

Every superhero has a weak spot; Achilles had his heel; Samson, his hair. Now Thor needs his hammer back. My biggest challenge in this top-heavy fantasy/adventure was keeping track of all the characters. Between overwhelming Computer Generated Imaging (CGI) and an explosive script, my usually busy notepad (yes, I write in the dark) was sorely neglected.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo (two "Captain America" films, so far), working from a PG-13 script penned by a committee, have once again assembled a slam-bang actioner which features countless superheroes as they try to save the Universe. Evil Thanos only lacks two (out of six) stones that will give him unlimited powers. His plan to save the Universe will be to kill off half of its populations, thus eliminating food shortages and overcrowding.

Here is a small part of the Russo brothers' gigantic cast:
  • Chris Evans ("Gifted") Steve Rogers/Captain America is my favorite because he's so decent! (But a BEARD?)
  • Chadwick Boseman ("42") T'Challa/Black Panther is ready to pitch in to do his part. (But spears against phasers?)
  • Robert Downey Jr. ("Sherlock Holmes") Tony Stark/Iron Man is still trying to stifle Peter Parker's eagerness. (But Pepper Potts wants him to retire.)
  • Josh Brolin ("Only the Brave") Thanos doesn't want to save the World, but he will save the Universe as soon as he obtains those last two stones. Doctor Strange has one, and Vision has the other.
  • Idris Elba ("Luther") Helmdall still believes that somehow Asgard will survive.
  • Scarlett Johansson ("Rough Night") Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow works best with Captain America.
  • Mark Ruffalo ("Now You See Me") Bruce Banner/Hulk desperately tries to launch his alter ego, but the Hulk won't come out.
  • Anthony Mackie ("All the Way") Falcon is always there when they need him.
  • Chris Pratt ("Guardians of the Galaxy") Peter Quill/Star-Lord and his motley crew blunder around and try to help. We welcome them because we know there will be humor.
  • Zoe Saldana ("Star Trek: Beyond") Gamora has memories of Thanos when he befriended her as a child.
  • Tom Holland ("Captain America") Peter Parker/Spider-Man is trying to be a friendly neighborhood superhero,  much to Tony Stark's dismay.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch ("The Current War") Dr. Steven Strange meets his match. He can only do so much.
  • Paul Bettany ("Manhunt: Unabomber") Vision is willing to make a huge sacrifice to keep that stone away from Thanos.
  • Tom Hiddleston ("The Night Manager") Loki never quits; he is always full of tricks.
  • Chris Hemsworth ("12 Strong") Thor has his reputation to uphold, but without his hammer things look grim.
  • Peter Dinklage ("Game of Thrones") This giant (!) blacksmith needs help re-igniting his forge.
This PG-13 actioner starts with a bang and never lets up. Our whole cadre of superheroes must stop Thanos before his devastation is irreversible. I have left out a number of superheroes but time and space, you know...

Fisticuffs, CGI, mayhem, CGI, fire fights, CGI, blowie uppie stuff, CGI, amazing landscapes, CGI, torture, CGI, aerial battles, CGI, unusual aliens and CGI. Have I forgotten anything? As you can easily see by my partial list of actors, this movie is top heavy with superheroes and feather light on plot. They had serious problems with continuity and size issues: at times Thanos was huge, other times he was just big. This is a 90-minute film spread out over 2 hours and 29 minutes. It is eye candy for fans of CGI and over-the-top violence, but I stifled more than one yawn.

We were not a noisy or enthused audience as we quietly exited the screening today.
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See what I mean:
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This quirky (R-rated) little outing left me with an inchoate sense of dissatisfaction. I was tempted to skip putting any labor into it and leave it unreviewed. Upon reflection it occurred to me that I owe you a review because personally, I wasted an hour and 32 minutes of my life which I will never get back; I would like to spare you that same aggravation.

Writer/director Cory Finley ("Sauna") seems to understand the rewards and challenges of privilege, so it is only natural that he display them on screen ("Write what you know."). Problem is, once he did, we were left with absolutely no one to root for.  I watched two attractive, entitled young women who didn't seem to have enough to do, and you know, "Idle hands..."

His cast:
  • Olivia Cooke ("Ready Player One") is Amanda, the stony-faced young tutor who arrives at a spacious house in the opening scenes. She displays no emotion because she is incapable of feeling any.
  • Anya Taylor-Joy ("Split") Lily is ambiguous about needing a tutor, but she really wants to rid her world of that bossy stepfather.
  • Anton Yeltsin ("Star Trek") I'm sorry to say the role of Tim is the last one in which we will see this appealing young actor. A horrific accident at his home has taken him from us. Yeltsin plays a drug dealer in this one.
  • Paul Sparks ("House of Cards") Mark hasn't endeared himself to Lily. Amanda just sees him as a challenge.The two young women cobble together a plan that should solve the problem for each of them. It isn't anything I would try. Ugh!
Stay home.
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This gives you a feel for it.
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Finding Your Feet

Another Movie for Grownups. And as a grownup, I can relate. The issues here are universal, but resonate particularly with "People of a certain age."

Our snobbish heroine is on top of the world. After a sterling career, her law-enforcement husband is being knighted, so she is now Lady Abbott. The celebration festivities are barely under way when she leaves her guests to retrieve something and interrupts her husband in mid-embrace. Humiliated, she flees to live with her unconventional sister in public housing. Now things get interesting.

Director Richard Loncraine ("5 Flights Up"), working from a PG-13 script by Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft ("Urban Hymn") brings us a satisfying tale with a top-flight (courageous) cast which can hold up under many revealing closeups.

Part of Loncraine's cast:
  • Imelda Staunton ("Cranford" and "Harry Potter") Sandra had plans for her golden years but evidently she married a tosser who had definite ideas of what was proper behavior for his wife. She is a basket case.
  • Celia Imrie ("The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") Bif lives a marginal but happy life. She sniffs the cream to be sure it hasn't spoiled before she serves it and regularly goes to a seniors' dance class on Thursdays. She tells her sister Sandra, "Get off your high horse!"
  • Timothy Spall ("Mr. Turner") Charlie has his own drama to confront but he goes to the dance class to be supportive of his unhappy friend Ted.
  • David Hayman ("Viceroy's House") Ted still isn't over his divorce. He lives on a canal in his boat which is moored next to Charlie's.
  • Joanna Lumley ("Me Before You") Jackie has had numerous husbands, so she is the resident expert on divorce settlements. She dispenses advice at the Thursday dance class.
As a lark the seniors dance class organizes a Flash Mob which is picked up by the news. This prompts an invitation to a Dance Festival in Rome, all expenses paid. What a hoot!

You can expect lavish alcohol, occasional marijuana, silly hi-jinks, excellent acting, and a recognizable song list that includes: Rockin' Robin, Chantilly Lace, Rock Around the Clock, and Tequila, among many other familiar oldies. By the way, I saw this with a closed caption device so none of the accents would frustrate me.
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Check out this trailer:
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Leisure Seeker

Let's trot out the old war horses and enjoy another Movie For Grownups. (I'm becoming quite fond of this category.)

Based on the novel by Michael Zadoorian, Italian writer/director Paolo Virzì ("Like Crazy") brings us an R-rated entertaining, involving and ultimately satisfying story about a retired husband and wife who go on the lam and take their RV out on the road for one last trip.

Virzì's cast is led by the war horses:
  • Donald Sutherland ("The Hunger Games") It's clear that John Spencer is suffering from some memory problems. I kept wondering if he was fit to drive! His English literature background comes back in fits and starts.
  • Helen Mirren ("Trumbo") His wife Ella shows all of the fatigue, impatience and frustration that we can expect from a primary caretaker. Plus she has problems of her own. But watch her when their vehicle breaks down! She resents the many females who clearly have admired her husband over the years.
  • Dana Ivey ("Madam Secretary") Lillian has been friends with the Spencers for a LONG time! Now she lives next door.
  • Christian McKay ("Florence Foster Jenkins") Their son Will goes ballistic when he realizes what they have done.
  • Janel Moloney ("The Leftovers") Jane tries to soothe her brother but it's an uphill battle.
  • Dick Gregory ("Steppin: The Movie") In his last movie role before his death in August, 2017,  here he is John's long-standing rival, Dan Coleman.
As our intrepid couple sets out in their elderly Winnebago, all we can do is worry. We worry about John's ability to drive, Ella's ability to contain her frustration and the Winnebago's ability to last for the whole trip. On the other hand, we enjoy the scenery, the RV parks and even that political rally they blunder into.

Although Mirren's southern accent comes and goes (her character is from South Carolina), she perfectly inhabits the character's long-married mannerisms; the fussing, the kvetching and the occasional rage. But their ups and downs have an authentic feel. We left the screening in a quiet glow.
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Take a look:
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A Wrinkle in Time

When Madeleine L'Engle wrote her best-selling children's novel in 1962 (by then I was no longer a little bookworm), I doubt if she had any concept of the magnitude of her success. "A Wrinkle in Time" is considered a modern classic: a Hero's (or Heroine's) Journey that takes a girl and two boys to other worlds. Far be it for me to dispute L'Engle's success, although when I DID read it, I wasn't moved and when I saw it on stage in Ashland, Oregon a few years ago, I actively disliked it; my problem is with the plot, so there isn't much I can do about it.

Director Ava DuVerney ("Selma") has stumbled into a social movement (this was filmed before the "Me Too" movement) which makes it timely, relevant and a big-budget PG-rated audience pleaser. Her screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell have stayed fairly true to the original and the reviews have been consistently good. Despite the abundant talent and skills on display, I'm sorry to say that I still don't like the plot.

Part of DuVerney's cast:
  • Storm Reid ("12 Years a Slave") Meg Murry has lost her father and is determined to get him back, no matter what! (Spoiler Alert: A Tesseract is involved.)
  • Deric McCabe ("Stephanie") Henry Wallace Murry is a child prodigy, although it doesn't keep him out of trouble at school. He always seems a couple of steps ahead of the other two children.
  • Levi Miller ("Pan") Calvin is a classmate who likes Meg's hair (and Meg). She is bullied at school and he befriends her. Everybody likes Calvin.
  • Mindy Kaling ("The Mindy Project") Mrs. Who speaks in aphorisms. Not only that, she cites the author!
  • Oprah Winfrey ("The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks") Mrs. Which seems to be the Mrs. who is in charge. She is wise, patient, and very observant.
  • Reese Witherspoon ("Big Little Lies") Mrs. Whatsit seems to be still in training, but that doesn't keep her from being a bit opinionated. To her, humans are very limited. She is the comic relief.
  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw ("Concussion") Mrs. Murry is a scientist who is interested in the small. Particle physics is a good starting point.
  • Chris Pine ("Wonder Woman") Mr. Murry is interested in the enormous, like galaxies! He seems to love science more than he loves his family.
As our trio of guides and the trio of children reach their destination (great CGI), they quickly realize that their search has become a rescue.

This is PG, so there is no profanity, no gunshots, no sweaty bodies, and no vehicular mayhem, but the children will love the ride on that green flying carpet! In my opinion, the most chilling thing is their brief visit to the perfect subdivision, with all of the Stepford-type children bouncing their balls in unison!
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Here is trailer:
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Death Wish

Vengeance movies are always satisfying, but brutal. Here we have a happy family man who has the fruits of his hard-earned success stripped away.

This remake of the 1974 original (starring Charles Bronson), is directed by Eli Roth ("Knock Knock") from a screenplay by Joe Carnahan ("State of Affairs"). This in turn is based on the 1974 novel by Brian Garfield, which has been milked to death. Movies, games, sequels, etc., etc., etc.

Part of Roth's cast:
  • Bruce Willis ("Red") Paul Kersey is a hard-working E.R. surgeon who can't always save lives.
  • Vincent D'Onofrio ("Ghost Wars") Frank Kersey tells his niece, "Your dad was a scrapper back in the day!" 
  • Elisabeth Shue ("Battle of the Sexes") Lucy is everything Paul always wanted. Their North Shore home in Chicago is warm and happy.
  • Camila Morrone ("Never Goin' Back") Jordan is the lovely sort of daughter who makes it all worth while.
  • Dean Norris ("The Big Bang Theory") and Kimberly Elise ("Almost Christmas") are the frustrated Chicago detectives who have far too many unsolved cases posted on their office wall. "People rely on the police to keep them safe."
This R-rated, super-violent actioner has all the stuff Bruce Willis fans want: gunfire, torture, suspense and creative ways to kill people. The DJs in the city form a Greek chorus about the anonymous grim reaper who only shoots criminals. Opinions divide the city: "Are YOU on Team Reaper?"

Well, I'll tell you one thing. We in the audience saw what those brutes did, so like it or not, we KNOW what WE want to see!
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Here is a sample:
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Red Sparrow

Thumper's father said, "If ya can't say sumpthin' nice, don't say nuthin' at all." Obviously, a movie review can't be totally blank, so I'm struggling to find "sumpthin' nice" to say.

We watch as a Bolshoi ballerina suffers a horrific injury and wonder, was it an accident or was it deliberate?

My first thought was that those 15-year-old boys must have had a good time, thinking up one scurrilous, sexually suggestive situation after another. Then I looked him up and director Francis Lawrence ("Hunger Games") isn't 15. Maybe a juvenile screenwriter? Hmmm... Justin Haythe ("The Lone Ranger") seems to be old enough to know better. The purient scenes didn't titillate though, because of the awkwardly conveyed "ick" factor.

Some of Mr. Lawrence's cast:
  • Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook") Dominika (get it? Nudge, nudge) must find some other way to support her frail mother, as her medical coverage with the Bolshoi has been cancelled.
  • Joel Edgerton ("It Comes at Night") American Intelligence officer Nate is working with a mole in the Soviet government. The Soviets want that name!
  • Matthias Schoenaerts ("The Danish Girl") Vanya can provide Dominika with an option. After all, an uncle should try to help his niece. (This actor looks so much like Putin it's spooky!)
  • Charlotte Rampling ("The Sense of an Ending") The Matron provides specific training in her unique school. (I agree with Dominika's blunt name for it.)
  • Jeremy Irons ("Justice League") General Korchnoi says, "There are no accidents."
  • Mary-Louise Parker ("Mr. Mercedes") almost steals the show as the drunken (and inept!) Stephanie, who has something to sell.
This is rated a hard R, so expect profanity, nudity, fisticuffs, many many sexual situations, torture, knives, guns and a lot of alcohol.  Anyone who knows me will agree that I am NOT a prude, but I yawned through one outrageous groaner after another and our less-than impressed screening audience was silent as we shuffled out of the theater.
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See what I mean:
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Game Night

Through an opening montage, we see two super-competitive gamers win, win, win. They are so compatible they fall in love and get married. They have been meeting friends once a week to play games for a long time. It's clear that the creepy next-door neighbor is no longer welcome since his wife left him.

Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein ("Vacation") collaborate again, this time with writer Mark Perez ("Back Nine") to bring us this R-rated dramedy (it's funny until it isn't, and then it is again) which shows us what happens when games become too real.

Part of the cast:
  • Jason Bateman ("Arrested Development") Max enjoys games and winning; on the other hand, he has nothing but unhappy memories of his brother.
  • Rachel McAdams ("Spotlight") Annie also loves to win, but she also wants a baby. 
  • Kyle Chandler ("Bloodline") Super-sibling Brooks is new to this little game thing but he is ready to dominate them, especially his brother Max.
  • Jesse Plemons ("The Post") Lonely Gary has always been a cop, been super focused, and been a bit of a misfit. He used to love Game Night at the neighbors' house.
  • Billy Magnussen ("Get Shorty") Ryan isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, but his dates make him look brilliant in comparison.
  • Lamorne Morris ("New Girl") Kevin can't help it if he gets a bit jealous, can he? Of Denzel?
  • Kylie Bunbury ("Pitch") Michelle almost gets away with that Faberge egg!
  • Michael C. Hall ("Dexter") Hey Max! Do you wanna meet that Bulgarian you just Googled?
  • Danny Huston ("Wonder Woman") Anderton just wants his lucrative scheme to keep printing money.
This over-the-top black comedy had our screening audience laughing out loud again and again. It is silly, light weight, unpredictable and fun, but trust me, that R rating is richly deserved. Expect profanity, fisticuffs, gunshots and vehicular mayhem, but no blowie uppie stuff.

Make no mistake, this is NOT Art!
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You can get the flavor from this preview:
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Black Panther

It's Super Hero time again. This is the origin story for Black Panther, an action- (and CGI-) filled saga that follows T'Challa, the new king of Wakanda, a highly developed (but carefully concealed) country in the heart of Africa, after the death of its beloved old king. This son has set his sights beyond the borders of his kingdom but the challenges for his throne come from everywhere.

Writer/director Ryan Coogler ("Fruitville Station"), joined by the writing talents of Joe Robert Cole ("American Crime Story") brings to life another unique character created by Marvel Comics' Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. We start with the mythical origin of a tribe, followed by a modern museum heist, We quickly realize that Wakanda's natural resource Vibranium will be central to the story. The film is rated PG-13.

Some of Coogler's cast:
  • Chadwick Boseman ("42" he plays Jackie Robinson and "Get on Up" he plays James Brown) T'Challa/Black Panther is ambitious and driven. He is motivated by what he sees in the outside world. And everyone will want Vibranium.
  • Letitia Wright ("Black Mirror") Shuri is T'Challa's sister. She is a scientist, a loyal Wakandian, and a resourceful fighter.
  • Lupita Nyong'o ("Queen of Katwe") Nakia must examine her loyalties. We already know what we want her to choose!
  • Angela Bassett ("American Horror Story") Ramonda fears for her son but trusts his dedication to their country.
  • Michael B. Jordan ("Creed") Erik Killmonger is positive that he should be the true king, so he sets to work. 
  • Andy Serkis ("Star Wars: The Last Jedi") Ulysses is beside himself with glee because he has victory in sight. It's fun to see Mr. Serkis' "real" face, he is such a successful voice actor we rarely see him.
  • Martin Freeman ("Sherlock") Everett K. Ross is with the CIA. I love it when Shuri wants his attention she shouts out, "Hey Colonialist" and he looks up!
  • Forest Whitaker ("Empire") Zuri is like a second father to T'Challa. He knows the benefits of isolation (they do NOT want refugees!) and the value of Vibranium.
  • Stan Lee ("Marvel") This time he is a helpful bystander in the casino.
To say there will be CGI (Computer Generated Imaging) that provides astonishing scenery, huge rhinos and many many battles, is a rash understatement. I would like to add that our star Mr. Boseman must have the world's best agent. He is in high-profile films, does a great job and is easy on the eye. A trifecta for sure.

I have one picky observation: It has been my long-standing belief that the lip-plating tradition (piercing and then stretching the lower lip around plates of increasing size) was limited to females. The person we see here is clearly a man. Hmmm...
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Here is the official trailer:
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I, Tonya

This is one of the better films I've seen this year. The numerous awards (and nominations) are richly deserved. I don't think I have ever seen a clearer depiction of what "being from the wrong side of the tracks" means, both personally and professionally. I realize Hollywood has added some of its own interpretation but if ice skater Tonya Harding describes herself as "trailer trash," what can I say? (The judges say she isn't a "wholesome American.")

The quasi-documentary style adopted by director Craig Gillespie ("The Finest Hours") works perfectly to convey the people behind the headlines when Nancy Kerrigan was kneecapped before she could compete against Tonya Harding.  Based on Steven Rogers' ("Love the Coopers") script, we see what a demeaning, humiliating, life our would-be champion had to endure.

Part of Gillespie's cast:
  • Margot Robbie ("Suicide Squad") Tonya has the mother from hell, soon replaced by a husband who knocks her around and then claims that she made him do it. We were lucky when this Aussie decided to seek her fortune in Hollywood.
  • Alison Janney ("Mom") LaVona Golden is demanding, insulting and foul-mouthed; this chain-smoking harpy never has a kind word of support or affection for her hard-working daughter. This is the role of a lifetime for award-winning actress Janney.
  • Sebastian Stan ("Captain America: The Winter Soldier") Jeff Gillooly is a study in frustration. His self-imposed limitations serve only to justify his misbehavior and poor choices. (Gillooly has since changed his name.)
  • Paul Walker Hauser ("Superstore") Shawn is Tonya's gluttonous bodyguard. The only thing bigger than his torso is his ego.
  • Julianne Nicholson ("Law & Order") Diane Rawlinson is the coach every girl should have, she is soft spoken, kind, and supportive.
  • Bobby Cannavele ("Will & Grace") Martin Maddox is the Hard Copy reporter who tells it exactly as it is. His description of the perpetrators is perfect.
  • Mckenna Grace ("Gifted") Young Tonya begs her father to take her with him when he leaves her mother. That wrenching scene is a heart breaker.
Even though I was familiar with the headlines, I discovered I was a bit fuzzy on Harding's life both before and after "The Incident." They do us a favor and show her amazing triple axel in slow motion. She was the first female skater to successfully perform this demanding routine in competition.

The R rating is richly deserved because our resident rednecks (from a suburb outside of Portland, Oregon) lob F-bombs at each other without hesitation. They are violent and abusive, both verbally and physically. I found myself embracing The Mamas and the Papas' "Dream a Little Dream" simply for the change of pace.

Be sure to stay through the closing credits because they show us the real Tonya Harding in action! She is amazing!
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Take a look:
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The Post

A Free Press serves the governed, not the governors.
Justice Hugo Black, United States Supreme Court, 1971

A coverup about Vietnam that spanned four presidents: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, is discovered by a Rand employee, Daniel Ellsberg. Now Nixon has inherited the mess and adds his vituperous view of the press to the mix. They call this massive collection "The Pentagon Papers."

Director Steven Spielberg ("Bridge of Spies"), working from a PG-13 script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer ("The West Wing"), continues his plan to illustrate key moments in American history. After an opening episode in Vietnam (I couldn't watch, nor did most of the others who have the misfortune to recall those dreadful times), with civilian Daniel Ellsberg embedded in a platoon. He comes back stateside highly motivated to discover how this nightmare came about. Herein lies the tale.

Part of Spielberg's enormous cast:
  • Meryl Streep ("Florence Foster Jenkins") Kay Graham inherited her beloved Washington Post from her husband, who had taken it over from her father. It is has been in her family all of her life. She has never held a "day job," nor did she ever expect to.
  • Tom Hanks ("Sully") Ben Bradlee is considered a loose cannon, but has been hired to add a bit of punch to a newspaper that has long been considered a "small town paper." 
  • Bob Odenkirk ("The Disaster Artist") Ben Bagdikian is a reporter with connections. He's the guy who made things happen and had to live with the results.
  • Matthew Rhys ("Death Comes to Pemberly") Rand employee Daniel Ellsberg feels that a prison sentence is a worthwhile trade-off for saving American lives.
  • Tracy Letts ("Lady Bird") Fritz Beebe is Ms. Graham's respected coach and advisor. She looks to him for help because she is so ill equipped to be in this position.
  • Bruce Greenwood ("Star Trek") Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara is the former Post employee who wants a complete study of America's involvement with Vietnam as an academic case history for posterity. The Rand Corporation gets the contract.
  • Sarah Paulson ("Feud") When Tony Bradlee describes Kay Graham's quandary to her husband, she provides a complete overview for a key issue in this film.
The two main issues surround 1) Freedom of the press. It shouldn't matter if it is the White House trying to stifle the newspapers. 2) Women in the workplace. It looks so familiar to see men talk over the women who try to be heard.

Those weren't the only signs of the times. I enjoyed the vintage automobiles, rotary telephones, fabrics, and those enormous full-sized newspapers!

This is a cast of seasoned pros, with a director and writers who know their business, so the issues are clearly stated. There is a third issue: the Post is becoming a publicly traded business. This was a big decision locally and was not one of national interest but it was happening simultaneously.
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This is just a taste...
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