Molly’s Game – Movie Review

Molly’s Game is an incredibly intelligent film.  It’s the true story of an Olympic-class skier, Molly Bloom (Chastain) who, much to the chagrin of her father, Larry (Costner), who wanted her to be a lawyer, ended up running an exclusive high-stakes poker game and eventually needing a lawyer herself.  That lawyer is Charlie Jaffey (Elba), one of the best in the area.  Before I get any further into the story, I’ll tell you more about the performances of Elba and Chastain.  First of all, the chemistry between them is palpable; very strong.  They’re totally in sync with one another and they absolutely must work together more often.  Once audiences see this movie, they’ll agree and demand it.  Jaffey is a criminal defense lawyer who agrees to work for her, on credit, essentially.  After some pleading and reasoning, just short of begging, on her part and after he sees how she has been rooked, she convinces him to do what’s right for someone other than himself and his bank account.

She was a game runner in L.A. and N.Y. and was very successful.  At her tables sat art dealers, rappers, politicians, Hollywood elite and unbeknownst to her, Russian mobsters and the FBI.  After being incredibly safe, or so she thought, controlling everything that went on at her tables, she gets caught.  The girls she hired to bring in clients, a job she first had before going on her own, were always professional and she stayed close to the clients but never mixed business with pleasure.  Regardless, she awakens to a phone call in the middle of the night.  The FBI is at the door with a warrant for her arrest.

The movie starts with her explaining how many times she has beaten the odds.  After getting to know her, you begin to explore the idea that this time she hasn’t.  However, as the story progresses, you’re sure her luck will pull her through.  The saying isn’t Lady Luck for no reason, right?  As I say that, I’ll add that what’s glorious about the script is as soon as you’re sure all will work out for her, again, something happens that has you doubting it.  No matter, you’re rooting for her to come out on top but Jessica Chastain always has a way to pull you into the characters she portrays.  Even with the fact that Molly could be technically breaking the law, you are still on her side.  You’re hoping Jaffey will find a loophole in the system that will have her safe and sound.

Molly wanted to go to law school as much as her father did but chose to follow a path of getting out of the house and getting rich fast instead.  In the beginning, when she’s getting into poker, she doesn’t think she’s breaking the law.  She’s running games only for tips and not taking a percentage, which is where the law is broken, but when she gets paranoid, things change fast and the more her games bring in, the more people want a piece of it and of her.  It’s through reading her memoirs and hearing the rest of the story, such as how deep she was into the Russian mob, that Jaffey decides he must prove her innocence… even despite his client.  For the first time in her life, someone doesn’t want a piece of her.  Jaffey believes in and sees her as a person worth saving.  How does she see herself?

‘Molly’s Game’ is fast-paced, thrilling and turns the game of Texas Hold ‘Em into something to be envied.  The dialogue intricately explains the game and by the time you’re done watching the movie, you’re practically ready to head to Vegas.  Check this movie out as soon as you can.  The acting is fantastic, the script is Oscar worthy and, as I’ve made clear, it’s virtually impossible to lose interest.  As the story progresses, you believe the good luck that has always followed her terribly bad luck, will pull her through any situation but as soon as you’re certain, more bad luck befalls her.  It’s maddening but a good time.  After watching it, you might feel compelled to Google Molly Bloom and see who the real players are.

Alan Sorkin, known more for writing ‘Jobs’, ‘The American President’ and ‘A Few Good Men’ and producing such titles as ‘The Newsroom’ and ‘The West Wing’ makes his directorial debut with this film and treats the story right by giving you the complete story, leaving no stone unturned.  You’ll agree that from now on, Sorkin should always direct what he has written instead of putting others in charge of something he’s clearly capable of doing himself.

Call Me by Your Name – Movie Review

Based on the acclaimed novel by André Aciman, ‘Call Me by Your Name‘ is an enchanting narrative with first-rate performances by Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet. The story is about sexual awakening and the pure and true love between Oliver (Hammer) and Elio (Chalamet). The film is set in Northern Italy in the summer of 1983. Eighties attire, the fantastic song ‘Love My Way’ by the Psychedelic Furs, and a complete lack of youngsters with their noses pressed to a screen of some sort completes the interpretation of the decade.

Seventeen-year-old Elio meets the older Oliver, who was once an archeology student of his father’s, Mr. Perlman (Stuhlbarg). Oliver has come to stay and work as Mr. Perlman’s research assistant for the summer, something a chosen student does often.
Elio, who is still a virgin, has a young woman, who’s very attracted to him. She chases him around for his attention. When Oliver enters the picture, it’s hard for her to get any notice except for a few times when Elio is jealous that Oliver is out with a female.

Guadagnino toys with our emotions, making us question what we see as the growing infatuation in Elio, but his feelings soon become obvious. Elio is a pianist and is deeply passionate. His affections for Oliver seems to confuse him but that doesn’t stop him. He’s becoming a man who, for the first time, yearns and lusts after someone. As his frustration grows, his desire grows. What he’s going through is masterfully examined for the audience. He must somehow test Oliver to see if his affections are returned. I can’t say enough how incredibly well written and directed these scenes are. Watching the friends, in the time of Aids and people largely staying in the closet, find a way to break the ice and be with one another, was fascinating, to say the least.

It is somewhat slow as summer vacation can be and it comes across as a bit lazy but when Elio’s intentions are finally made clear, by the young man breathing in Oliver’s essence through a pair of dirty shorts he holds and caresses, the story finds it’s voice.

Elio hides his sexuality from his parents and acts as if he has an interest in girls. What’s so wonderful about the movie is that he has a fear of them knowing the truth but they open up to him first and let him know that they understand. Stuhlbarg has a beautiful monologue ensuring Elio that his mother and father have not only suspected he was interested in Oliver but are completely supportive of the relationship. Mr. Perlman, being a protective father, tells him and therefore reassures his son, that it was good he and Oliver were together, and that Elio can come talk to him whenever he needs to. With a faraway look in his eyes, he explains that the typical parent would want their child to grow out of being gay but he is not that kind of parent, even suggesting he had questions of his own sexuality at some point in his life when he tells the boy, ‘I may have come close but I never had what you two had.’

As far as the acting goes, with Hammer, you usually expect to see him star in a comedic action movie, but he strips away all preconceived notions of who he is as an actor and presents the portrayal of love interest and lover, to a young man, with ease. They have playful, tender and loving scenes before Oliver goes back to America and you never once questions how they feel about one another. They’re both nervous and unsure of themselves but finally become confident in their love which carries them through a special summer of kissing, touching, learning from each other and lovemaking.

At the end of the film, there’s a phone call from Oliver to Elio. The emotions he goes through from the beginning of the call to the end of the call exhibits why there’s a lot of praise for Chalamet’s performance. During the call, he realizes he has lost the love of his life. Elio’s message from his father is to feel the sorrow and the pain, never bury it. You may lose your love but at least you had someone love you that powerfully once.
Throughout the film, the scenery is gorgeous, the acting is by far some of the best of the year, there are some odd cinematic choices but the story is utterly beautiful. It’s very sensual and excessively sexual but don’t let that prevent you from seeing such a delightful, albeit, crushing tale of passion.

Downsizing – Movie Review

Downsizing, directed by the fabulously insightful, intelligent and shrewd Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Nebraska), is as humorous, as expected, but so much more; not a surprise from the director of Sideways which was an incredibly serious film about depression and infidelity sold as a buddy comedy.  Similarly, Downsizing is an important lesson about our climate hidden in a comedy about Paul (Damon) and his wife Audrey (Wiig), deciding to shrink themselves to five inches tall.  The trailer shows us that Paul shrinks himself and that at the last minute she does not.  The ‘getting through a domestic situation’ is a bit banal but then, almost immediately, we learn the true heart of the story which is that the reason people are shrinking themselves is to reduce the impact or assault, rather, that humans are having on mother nature herself.  Overpopulation has become a burden on the planet as we are using all its resources and there will be repercussions from this.

To prove our impact on the planet can change, a scientist, Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen (Lassgård), shrinks himself and thirty-five others and they live small for four years.  In those four years, the trash they created fits into only one trash bag.  Ten years later, communities of people shrinking themselves are popping up.  Since people can live using such tiny amounts of actual product, they’re able to live the lavish lifestyles of their dreams.  $100,000 equals the amount of 12 million in their new lives as small people.  Another benefit of doing this is if they’re walking in with even a small saving’s, they’ll most likely never run out of money.  Paul and Audrey decide to shrink themselves when his mother passes away.  While they celebrate their decision at a local bar before they have the procedure, a man gives them some counterpoints, one which is that since they will no longer contribute to society as much, they shouldn’t receive benefits as people who don’t have the procedure, such as their vote shouldn’t count.  He gives them a rather hard time and Paul gets upset, but Audrey starts to think about the ramifications of the decision.  Even though she would be living in the perfect Barbie ‘Dream House’, equipped with everything imaginable, leaving her life behind, especially her parents, does start to weigh heavy on her.

We see Paul go through the process of shrinking which is startling, to say the least.  Damon was a trooper for having everything totally shaved off.  When shrinking, you can’t have anything on the outside of your body so it all must be removed… think about that a moment.  It’s a must-see scene.  When he has completed his transformation, he finds out she won’t be joining him.  A year later, he’s now divorced and miserable so he decides to move into an apartment.  He meets an upstairs neighbor by the name of Dusan (Waltz), who convinces him happiness can be found again.  This character changes his life by introducing him to people who snap him out of his self-pity.

It’s here where the film takes a chance, not only with the wild and clever imaginative story but on how its audience may view certain topics.  It addresses, in one way or another, most of the crucial subjects facing us today.  Those subjects are the building of the wall, immigration, poverty, racism and protesting but the crux of the story is about the state of our climate.

Next, we meet a character by the name of Ngoc Lan Tran, played magnificently by Hong Chau.  She has a beautiful and emotional scene that surely puts her in the best-supporting-actress category this year.  She’s as a Vietnamese dissident, opens Paul’s eyes and is meant to open ours, as well, as she explains why and how she came to the country of her dreams, the United States of America.  In Vietnam, she was jailed for years for protesting a dam that buried her village, something that may hit home for Americans if they consider the pipelines being protested today.

Ultimately, with this movie, Payne wants to educate his audience about methane gasses and let us know that if things aren’t reversed, humankind could vanish.  A line of dialogue about the planet purging itself of the human race made this point obvious if you hadn’t caught on at a certain point in the film.  
The story in its entirety is bizarre, entertaining and well shot, but oddly bewitching.  I think it’s an important film for everyone to watch, lest you think we could get through climate change completely unscathed.  Even if you don’t believe the chief subject is real, the performances and the premise in and of itself is fascinating.  This is a good film to watch this holiday season.

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I, Tonya – Movie Review

Tonya Harding always wanted fame and wanted to be a household name but not from being a criminal.  She wanted to be known for her skills on the ice.  She wanted the world to know she could perform one of the most difficult jumps on a pair of ice skates ever.  At the time, she was the only woman to be able to perform, the nearly impossible to land triple axel jump.  Only a few people had been able to master it when she discovered she could.  The jump is well described in the film by a proud Tonya.

This film is shown in more of ‘mockumentary’ style, such as ‘Best in Show’ and ‘Spinal Tap.’  It bounces back and forth between showing you Tonya’s life, characters talking about ‘the incident’ and about Tonya herself who was played with measured empathy by Margot Robbie.  To be honest, by the end of the film, you want to stand up and applaud Tonya for having made it through childhood.

Her trash mouthed, chain-smoking mother, LaVona Golden, is played remarkably and frighteningly well by Allison Janney.  She was always frigid and never lovingly supportive, but don’t say that to her face.  She was never going to be the parent of the year so Lavona embraced the challenge fully to see how bad she could be… or so it seems in the film.  She put tiny Tonya on an ice rink when she was only four years of age. 
An abused child, Tonya tried her best to please her mother but never really could.  Her coach knew she was too young but did accept the child, however, acceptance only went so far.  Being that LaVona worked as a waitress and didn’t have much of an income, Tonya was never fully welcomed in the ice-skating circles, not by the other skaters and certainly not by the judges who prefer the girls look like princesses and not paupers when they’re on the ice.  Try as she might to get people to like her and grade her on her talent, not on her wardrobe, they never did.  This rejection was something that followed Tonya from day one through her last day on the ice in competition.

LaVona treated her daughter with as little kindness as possible so that she got used to it.  Life wasn’t going to be easy and she didn’t want her daughter to be weak and unable to handle anything that came her way, so instead of giving her words of encouragement in a loving manner, she emotionally injured her with words that pained and hurt her.  Listening to her convey her thoughts about Tonya was uncomfortably amusing and Janney made the situation almost laughable; that a mother would speak such things of her daughter was unfathomable.  Watching her treat Tonya so horribly through the years, in the flashback scenes, was shocking but not really funny. 
Instead of making her tough, it made Tonya bitter and sent her into the arms of the first man who would have her, Jeff Gillooly (Stan), who was mentally and physically abusive, which was exactly what Tonya knew.  Theirs is a volatile relationship, with bigger downs than ups, but he supports her dreams, as much as a narcissist can.  When he gets violent enough to make her leave, he always sweet talks her into going back.

I don’t want to give away exactly how we find out Jeff is involved in the incident and how involved Tonya is in taking skater Nancy Kerrigan out of the picture for the Olympics, in case you don’t know.   I will say that actor Paul Walter Hauser’s, Shawn Eckhardt, has to be one of the biggest boobs in the history of film, and you’ll love his character. 
Watching this all play out, Jeff and his goons complete incompetence and inability to keep a story straight, is well worth the purchase price, as is all of the acting and the CGI involved in creating the jumps.  There’s not much you won’t like about the film. 
It’s a tragic story presented as a comedy much like Tonya’s life itself.  In the end, she didn’t like being famous.  In the end, she was a punchline.  The deck was always stacked against her… she never stood a chance.

*Stay at the end for some real footage.

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Father Figures Movie Review

“Father Figures” is a movie about fraternal twins who go out on the road to find their real father. The two guys were told by their mother that dad died soon after they were born. But she has hidden the truth, and now these two brothers want to find out what really happened. The mom had lied because she was embarrassed at how she behaved in the swinging 70’s and she did not want the boys to know too much. But now forty years later, the truth must come out.

Peter Reynolds (Ed Helms), an uptight and repressed doctor, had always thought that his dad was long gone. But when his mom, Helen Baxter (Glenn Close) , gets married – he and his brother found out the truth. His brother Kyle (Owen Wilson) is a easy-going surfer dude from Hawaii. He happened to get picked for a gig posing for a hot sauce label picture when he was young, and it has paid him off handsomely. Peter has always been jealous that Kyle never had to work hard to get ahead…

Peter and Kyle find out that Helen was a free-love hippie type in the 70’s, and she went with many different guys. She knows that one of them is the father, but she still will not say for sure. She first thinks it was probably her love interest back then, Terry Bradshaw. Yes, the former quarterback and Fox Sports analyst Bradshaw. They travel to meet him, and they get along really well. But that potential father does not exactly pan out, so they try another man named Ronald Hunt (J. K. Simmons).

Hunt is weird and mysterious, but turns out to be a thief and a miscreant. And he also cannot be related to Kyle and Peter. Hunt does give them a name of another man only known as ‘Sparkly P’. The brothers are very confused about where to go next. They find a guy out on the road needing a ride north. They pick up the hitchhiker (Katt Williams) who is first mistaken as a black serial killer, but later becomes a back-seat therapist to the constant bickering between Peter and Kyle.

Peter meets a very nice woman named Sarah (Katie Aselton) that turns into a long awaited one-night stand. Peter had been divorced for many years, and is too tense with women to ask anyone out. He and Sarah hookup, and Kyle acts a polite wingman for the occasion. Sarah disappears early the next day, they lose track of her. But later the two brothers find a lead on the ‘Sparkly P’ character and it leads them to a retired policeman. But he winds up dead a few days prior, and the wake is at his house. That is where they happen to see Peter’s new girlfriend. But could they be related? The policeman’s brother says no, it was another of Helen’s boyfriends in the 70’s.

They travel back home to see if it is Helen’s final boyfriend. He is Dr. Walter Tinkler, a local veterinarian (Christopher Walken). But soon after meeting Tickler and their mother, she tells them the truth. That makes all the difference, and they a no longer interested in doing any more searching for anyone.

This movie seems to spend a lot of time traveling, but it never seems to get anywhere. The plot meanders quite a lot. The jokes are funny in some parts, but they can also fall very flat. The whole concept is OK, but there is not a lot of meat on this bone. The characters are mostly dull and without too much spark. The ridiculous nature of what is going on strains the humor. Oh yeah, it’s funny when someone gets run into by a car… Wow, what a gag – the car gets hit by a train, and now his brother might be dead. What a riot…

Owen Wilson plays the person that Owen Wilson always plays.  He is a good-natured slacker with an offbeat sense of humor. Ed Helms plays the white and uptight guy that he is known for in most all his performances. Glenn Close is OK as a mother with a mysterious past. J. K. Simmons looks like is having fun playing a nasty bastard. Katt Williams is good, but his role is short and they do not treat his character very well. Christopher Walken is in a quick cameo in a short segment. Katie Aselton is cute and spritely in a mindless role.

So, if it comes time to hit the road to look for your own father, you can do better than these clowns did in “Father Figures”. This is a road trip that quickly runs out of gas…

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The Greatest Showman Movie Review

This movie is incredibly entertaining. The only reason you would maybe consider not seeing it is if you don’t like good music and if you don’t want to be entertained. The story is fantastic, the performances are glorious; it’s a legitimate musical and a captivating yarn, as well. Director, Michael Gracey, did an exceptional job handling the script by bringing the story of a man who dreams big and makes big dreams come true. You’d probably think it’s impossible to make a compelling musical about the beginning of The Greatest Show on Earth but Gracey did just that and made one of the greatest romances of the year, too.

The beginning number prepares you instantly for something extreme and magical. Once you’re fixed and ready, you get just a spectacular show and much, much more. In fact, it isn’t inconceivable that everyone in your row will be tapping their feet and singing along to some of the tunes as they’re quite easy to pick up on. Directly after the screening I attended, I went to the nearest store that carried the soundtrack and bought a copy. I have been listening to it in my car ever since. Some songs are better than others but they’re all good and knowing the lyrics, I can’t wait to see this again.

Gracey takes us from Hugh Jackman, as P.T. Barnum, singing ‘The Greatest Show’ into ‘A Million Dreams’ where young Barnum is a poor child in love with a rich man’s daughter… and she with him. They sing together as he ages and becomes a man of the same dreams of having it all in the world he designs for himself, and more.
The song ‘The Other Side’ is very memorable. Phillip Carlyle (Efron) and Barnum dance in a well-choreographed scene where Carlyle, a rich socialite who enjoys theatre, is being asked to join the show. Realizing he needs a business partner who can bring his theatre more attention, Barnum approaches him in a creative scene as they work out the details. Pay attention to the bartender as the number progresses.

A theatre critic who comes to the show abuses Barnum on a regular basis but the dialogue when he’s on screen, as well as the interaction between them, is some of the best the film has to offer. You’ll appreciate the irony created by his presence. He considers the show Barnum has put together to be a circus and Barnum capitalizes on that. He’s protective of his performers but embraces the idea of bringing more people in, using the word circus to describe what the audience has to look forward to. Once he does, the show explodes and it becomes instantly more popular and profitable.
Sadly, when some performers get cut out of fancy champagne galas, they begin feeling like the sideshow freaks he sells them as.

I could go on and on but maybe you should just see it and hear it for yourself. I promise you that you’ll be blown away by Jackman, Williams and Efron and the rollercoaster of emotions that you go through watching this person try to be the World’s Greatest Dad, as well as have the Greatest Show on Earth. The film is engaging, stimulating, and quite humorous at times and I haven’t even told you about the best song! I’ll let you discover that on your own. See this with the family, or better yet, cuddle up with the one you love.  Either way, you’ll appreciate every frame, note and routine and if you enjoyed La La Land, these two musicals share the same lyricist so that’s another thing for you to consider.  My recommendation is, see it at the theatre and see it as soon as you can!

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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Movie Review

Back in 1995, the movie “Jumanji” was made from the book, ad Robin Williams was again top with audiences. But that time is gone, so now the next best thing will be.. ‘The Rock’? Yes, Dwayne Johnson has found his way into “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”, and world is a better place for that. The old-style board game of Jumanji is now updated to a 1995 ‘Jumanji’ Nintendo-style video game, with all the basic danger and suspense intact. Instead of Williams getting sucked into a board game, there are four 2017 teens who get the Jumanji video treatment, getting sucked into a world of avatars and multiple lives.

Four teens in high school get detention and are placed into a dusty and dank basement. They are Spencer (a video-game nerd), “Fridge” (a black football star), Bethany (a phone-obsessed drama queen) and Martha (a shy and bookish girl). These four get sucked into “Jumanji”, a video-game version of the original board game. They take the appearance of the character they have selected. Spencer becomes Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), a muscle-bound explorer. Fridge as selected Franklin “Moose” Finbar, who is short zoologist with a large weapons cache. Martha picked Ruby Roundhouse, and she is a powerful commando and fighter. Bethany is now Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon, an older man who has a lot of knowledge that can be very useful.

They find that they all have various strengths and weaknesses as the avatars. Well, except for Bravestone, he is so tough that he has no weaknesses. They also find that they have three ‘lives’. Each one can die in the Jumanji game, and then they will come back to play it again. There is some video-game type plot of finding a missing jewel and returning it to the jaguar statue, then calling out the name to win the game — blah, blah, blah… But they all need to work together to make this happen so they can return to the real world. They also find another player, named Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough (Nick Jonas). Seaplane is an avatar for a guy named Alex, who had gone missing back in 1995. He has hidden himself away to prevent using up his final life.

There is also a Jumanji evil ruler named John Hardin Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale). He is looking for the magic jewel and will at nothing to prevent Bravestone and company from achieving the goal. He has a bunch of evil henchman and can use the creatures of the forest to help him find and stop the group from winning the game. There are many places that they all visit, and some clues that they must figure out. But mostly, they learn to trust in each other and dig deep to find the special talents that each of them possesses.

This a movie that not an ordinary sequel. It is a sequel in spirit, but it comes at it in a whole new way. The idea of somehow becoming part of the inside of the video game makes it more fun. In a way, this is like “Tron”, but this does more to get into the game specifics. The group of avatars are so different than the actual people that they portray, that it becomes a funny gag just itself. All of the main actors get a chance to poke a little fun at their own image, and joke about the things that make them unique.

 

Dwayne Johnson is as he always is – playing a version of Dwyane Johnson. But he is very funny to play against his own type. Kevin Hart is OK, but his character does wear a little thin after a while. Karen Gillan seems to have a lot of fun, playing an uptight girl in the body of a strong and wild woman. Jack Black does a major, classic and amazing job getting the nuances of speech and behavior of teenage girl — just perfectly getting everything just right. Nick Jonas does not have as much time on the screen, but his role is fun and he does a really good job. Bobby Cannavale plays the villain, and that is about all that can be said.

 

Perhaps this version will not become a treasured childhood movie, like the original “Jumanji”. It does have some big shoes to fill, with the original starring Robin Williams and being very high up on most people’s list. But if you give this one a chance, you can find that regardless if you play board games or video games, this movie will have a solid place in your trophy chest.

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” continues the new story of the Skywalker Saga begun in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. That prior movie was a smash hit, and it set the table set for many options and story lines. So, now this next step in the story takes some very bold moves and it makes a solid impact on the Star Wars legacy. Rian Johnson has created a masterful addition to the line of ‘Star Wars’ movies, and he can be proud that his is among the best.

Based on the prior ‘Force Awakens’ movie, there are some old favorites and some new characters in the current movie. The Resistance is led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). The secluded Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has been located by Rey (Daisy Ridley). Luke had been isolated on a remote planet by choice because he failed in training new Jedi students, including his nephew Ben Solo (Adam Driver). Ben has turned to the Dark Side of the Force, led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) a cruel master of the First Order. His group has taken over the galactic government and rules by military might. Ben Solo is now known as Kylo Ren, and he is responsible for death of his father. His mother is Leia and she is on the run from the First Order.

General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) is Snoke’s current henchman, and his troops are hunting down the Resistance. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is a hot-shot Resistance pilot who leads a daring raid on Snoke’s star fleet. His new friend Finn (John Boyega) is ready for action. Finn is a former Stormtrooper, but he switched sides to join the Resistance. He meets up with Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who has low-level job but will become a major asset to Finn.

Rose and Finn set out on a quest to find a person who can get them access into First Order Star Destroyer craft. Luke meets Rey on his isolation planet, but he is not moved to join up and help the Resistance. Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) is assisting Rey to convince Luke to come back. Chewy soon becomes friends with the little creatures on the island called Porgs. They are like mini penguin-type birds with huge expressive eyes.

Rey has a strong connection with the Force that is unexplained. Her power becomes big concern for Luke, because he had seen that before in Ben Solo. But when Ben turned to the Dark Side and became Kylo Ren, Luke knew he had failed. Rey had fought Kylo Ren (in the prior movie) and now they have some type of telepathic bond. They can communicate and they know that something big is about to happen.

Rose and Finn find a nameless thief (Benicio del Toro) on a distant planet called Canto Bight. This low-life thief says he is a master codebreaker who can get into the Star Destroyer and stop General Hux from catching Leia and the Resistance remnants. Leia suffers in an attack and is put into medical sick bay. The command passes to Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern), who stops Poe from attempting to attack Snoke’s star fleet. They have suffered too many losses.

 

Rey and Kylo Ren join up in a light saber battle in Supreme Leader Snoke’s headquarter office, with red-robed Guards protecting him. Thsis sequence is a magnificent production of fight choreography that just elevates the entire movie. Rose and Finn are caught and are threatened by Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). Phasma was Finn’s old boss as the commander of the Stormtroopers. BB-8 is a personable little droid, who was saved in the prior movie by Rey, and now is very helpful to Rose and Finn.

 

Poe is working to undermine Vice Admiral Holdo’s command, but Leia comes back to be in control. There is a major sacrifice made to allow the remaining Resistance fighters to escape Hux and Kylo Ren. There is a final battle in an old Resistance base on a nearby planet. This allows for a major one-on-one battle between Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker, which can be described as an ultimate ‘Jedi Mind Trick’.

The build-up for this movie has been huge, and Rian Johnson has delivered a major success. The story line fits in perfectly with the prior movie, and the original characters are well placed in the overall structure. There is a welcome amount of humor and lightness, along with the heavier aspects of life and death, sacrifice and treachery, and good versus evil.

There are strong characters and a good mix of people facing tough decisions, and then dealing with the consequences. The acting is top notch all around. Special kudos to Mark Hamill, who is coming back to a character he has not portrayed in decades. Plus, the visual shot selection and special effects are outstanding. Also, the wonderful John Williams is back doing the music that made him a legend back in the day…

Is it the most perfect movie? It is a bit over-long, and there are some extra moments that go on too long. The whole section with Finn and Rose going to Canto Bight and meeting up with the ‘thief’ breaks the rhythm of the overall movie. There dangerous villains that are disposed of too quickly. The plot point of Luke refusing to help out, but then changing his mind is a bit obvious. But beyond the nit-pick items, this is one damn fine movie. There are even little bits with R2-D2, and C-3PO, and with the Master Yoda’s ghost…

 

And the most important thing – no Porgs were injured during the filming of this movie!

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Darkest Hour – Movie Review

The nominations for ‘Darkest Hour’ alone will make you want to bolt to the theatre and see it but spectacular are the performances of Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas.  Now that I got that out of the way, let me introduce the film by saying that there is a particular audience for it.  If you love history and if you love war pictures, well, the behind the scenes drama of war, this could very well be one of your favorites for the year.  It’s the best of its kind to come along in a long time.  Gary Oldman gives an exceptional Oscar-worthy performance and for that alone, it’s well worth your time.

It’s long at two hours and five minutes but only a few times do you feel its length.  The film centers around a very short period of time in 1940 during World War II.  With Nazi soldiers breathing down their necks, Parliament makes a decision.  The Prime Minister of England is hoisted from his position for being too weak with Hitler, but they struggle with knowing that quite a crisis will befall his replacement. They now toil with who that replacement will be.  Who can handle the evil that Hitler has shown himself to be?  They need someone strong and, as you already know, decide to give Winston Churchill a try though many have their doubts.

We go heavily into the life of Churchill during these days.  We even see him in bed, as he demands his breakfast, to get to know him more.  It’s easy to see that he’s gruff with everyone he’s around, his wife and his secretary, but for some, it’ll take a while to see another thing… Churchill is played by… Gary Oldman!  It really is Oldman peeking out from behind a pound of makeup and camouflaged beneath tons of padding to make him more believable.  He’s outstanding and watching this on the big screen will allow you to absorb the performance that much more which is something I truly hope you do.  He deserves that much, and you’ll be the richer for having witnessed it the way director Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna, Pride & Prejudice) meant for you to see his portrayal.  If you’re not aware of the importance of who this man was in the grand scheme of things and in the larger picture of ‘what could have been,’ this movie can serve not only as a captivating piece of history or reminder for you but a cautionary tale of how close we once came to no longer being who we are today and how close things still can escalate to put us in that same position.

Churchill kept his wits about him and saw that England was done for sure if Hitler wasn’t stopped.  He had a broad strategic approach and unlike the previous Prime Minister, he knew the situation couldn’t be met with talks of peace.  He realized Hitler knew nothing of peace.  He approached the United States for help but was sadly turned away and as Hitler got closer, he had another political battle.  He had to convince his own party that fighting was the only thing they could do if they were to survive the assault on their country.  He went to the people of England and put it to them, in a scene you won’t soon forget, and got his answer.  Fight.  As the enemy swarms the shores of Dunkirk, Churchill calls on all of England to help and is on his way to victory.

Darkest Hour is remarkable and I recommend you get your ticket early and get to the theatre to see this TONIGHT!  You’ll be moved, you’ll be that impressed and I think you’ll agree… Oldman is on fire in this film.  His supporting cast is equally as good.  You’ll be thoroughly entertained.  By the way, after seeing this movie, one might feel compelled to watch Dunkirk.  It’s only logical that you do.  Though they feel quite different because they’re made by different directors they are perfect for back to back viewing.

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The Disaster Artist – Movie Review

This is a film for the dreamers.  If you’ve ever been told you can’t do something or if you’ve let a dream go because you felt it was impossible to continue to strive for, no point in continuing to reach for the sky, see ‘The Disaster Artist’ to be reminded that your limitations only lie within you.  Nothing is truly impossible if you put everything you’ve got into your goals and if you accept the fact that sometimes… you need a helping hand.  Anyone who has been driven wild by doubt, especially if you’ve wanted to work in the film business in any way, will be inspired by the story of Tommy Wiseau who is played absurdly and honorably by James Franco.  He and his friend Greg (Dave Franco) set out to make their dreams come true and Tommy would never have made it had he not been open to listening to someone, something not that easy for him.  Greg never left his side, he believed in him every step of the way and remained loyal, constantly reminding him to never give up.

Tommy Wiseau made a film called ‘The Room’ in 2003, which has overtaken Ed Wood’s 1959 film ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ as the worst movie ever made.  ‘The Room’ did find its audience in almost the same fashion as 1975’s ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ built its congregation of loyal fans.  Some may have considered the films bad, others loved them and they created cult followings after playing at midnight for people looking for late night entertainment that wasn’t like everything else… and where they felt a part of something special.  Any film, even if considered the worst, should hold its head high to be in the company of Plan 9 and Rocky Horror.  If they prove anything, it’s at least that Tommy’s film could continue to be seen by many and will be around for decades to come.

‘The Disaster Artist’ is about the making of ‘The Room.’  James Franco is the director of the film but not only does he tackle this incredibly eccentric character from behind the lens but, as I previously mentioned, he also brings him to life in what’s arguably his best character yet.  In fact, he could possibly be getting a gold statue for the role.  He does a more than adequate job directing, as well.

He doesn’t try to remake ‘The Room’ here but instead demonstrates the incredibly long and difficult road it takes to get ‘The Room’ from Wiseau’s script, which was a very heady idea to be sure, to the screening of the film.  He meets Greg, a young actor who is about to give up on his dreams of ever getting to Hollywood and they move to LA together after knowing one another for a short time where unbeknownst to Greg, Tommy has an apartment where they can hunker down and start the process of auditioning.

About halfway through the film, you’ll realize you’re continually being eaten away by wanting to know who this Tommy Wiseau is exactly.  As you get further in, his quirks, his aggressive nature, his weaknesses will intrigue you more and more and you’ll want to know more.  Who is this man?  Where did he come from?  Where did he get his unending supply of money?  Why does he look like the walking dead… why does he talk like that?!  He has no specific talent and it seems that by helping Greg, who makes a pact with him that they’d always push one another, his true goal is to only help himself.

In the end, he pays five million dollars to make his film and it tanks.  It’s awful.  This might have ended things for most people but through the support of others he has met along the way, ‘The Room’ still thrives and now has this solid piece, ‘The Disaster Artist’, paying homage to it and to Tommy himself.

‘The Disaster Artist’ isn’t mocking the movie but instead, it’s acknowledging what strong-willed people, when not jealous of the others’ successes, will go through for something and someone they believe in.  The scenes showing the crew and actors on set waiting around for something to happen are fantastic.  If you’ve ever made a film or even been part of a large group of people working toward one common goal, you’ll appreciate the humor used here.  The movie is hysterical and it’s not going too far out on a limb to say it very well could develop its own cult following.  A24 never disappoints and this is definitely one to see!