2/22/18

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 Entertainment, NOT Art!
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You can get the flavor from this preview:
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2/15/18

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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2/12/18

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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2/11/18

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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2/10/18

15:17 to Paris

That Clint Eastwood has a lot of nerve! First of all, he depicts some Christians as good people, not hypocrites. Next he depicts former U.S. servicemen as decent men, not crazed killers. But most of all, in an act sure to upset Hollywood, he has cast the young men who actually stopped a terrorist attack on a French train, to depict his three heroic leads. Amateurs, one and all... AND they do a good job!

Using the book by Anthony Sadler, which relates events as they transpired, plus flashbacks into the school years of our three intrepid pals, scriptwriter Dorothy Blyskal takes us through those school years (yup, there is bullying) interspersed by numerous trips to the principal's office for mild misbehavior. Nevertheless the two single mothers are summoned to a parent/teacher conference.

Here is part of Eastwood's cast:
  • Spencer Stone: Spencer shows us how a tough guy deals with setbacks...and he has plenty of them! But as he tells his friend, he feels that somehow, sometime, he will be catapulted into an important event and he wants to be prepared.
  • Alek Skarlatos: Alek is eventually taken from his mother because of his pranks and raised by his father. He hasn't heard much good about Paris so he is reluctant to leave his German girlfriend. 
  • Anthony Sadler is a cocky, confident early addition to this trio. Problem is, he has to follow a third path.
  • Judy Greer ("Archer") Joyce is told that her son Spencer has ADD because he isn't interested in his school work. She says, "So you want me to medicate him to make your job easier!"
  • Jenna Fischer ("The Office") Heidi resents a teacher interpreting her son's harmless rebellion as the result of single parenting. (So did I.)
We see that things were rarely easy for our young men but they kept on keeping on and maintained their friendship via Skype during college, military tours in Afghanistan and eventually a trip to Europe. After all, who knows when they will get another chance!

This is rated PG-13, but I think it is because of the blood. (One passenger is gravely wounded on that train.) There might have been some mild profanity in the medic training class Spencer attends, but nothing that stood out. And Spencer actually lights a cigarette while on a tour boat in Amsterdam (...gasp...) but these are decent young men and Eastwood isn't shy about letting us see that.

More power to ya, Mister E.
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Here is the trailer:
http://www.imdb.com/videoplayer/vi412530713
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