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Originally from Hawaii. Have been living in Los Angeles for the last 22 years.
Aikido instructor with 4th degree black belt. Toastmasters Competent Communicator.
Yeah, Pixar returns to telling classic stories of family and love in animated "Coco". Directors Adrian Molina and Lee Unkrich's "Coco" surprise with their story surrounding The Day of the Dead Dia de Los Muertos. Vibrant images and colors amaze with texture and wonder. "Coco"'s state-of-the art CGI visuals alone astound. Yet, its big heart lies in the story. Molina and Matthew Aldrich's screenplay resonates forgiveness and remembrance. When Anthony Gonzalez, who voices Miguel, sings "Remember Me" near the end tears shall fall. The stories and memories of those we love define legacy. That makes "Coco" so special.
Miguel's Great Great Grandfather abandoned his family to pursue his dream of becoming a musician. His great Great Great Grandmother voided the memory of her husband in photos and life, creating the family shoemaking business in his absence. She condemned all music for the family. Coco is Miguel's wheelchair bound Great Grandmother, who seems to remember very little, much less her Father.
However, 10 year-old Miguel has no interest in the family business. Secretly he is the singer songwriter, who plays guitar much like his Great Great Grandfather. His dream is to perform music like his hero Ernesto de la Cruz, voiced by proud Benjamin Bratt. His music inspires Miguel.
On Dia de Los Muertos the spirits of deceased family members visit their homes in the real world. These spirits who look like luminescent skeletons cross over the autumn leave covered bridge between our world and the Dead. Rather unnerving and creepy at first, this soon passes. Those forgotten in the real world become "truly" Dead.
In "Coco" Miguel crosses over to the world of the Dead when he steals Ernesto's legendary guitar. He needs to find Ernesto, who might be family. If Miguel fails to return by next sunrise he shall remain there forever. Surprisingly the world of the Dead is filled with multicolored lights and life. The sights and music of "Coco" delight.
On Miguel's journey to find Ernesto, he meets his deceased relatives including his Great Great Grandmother, who outlawed all music in the family. Miguel befriends musician Hector, voiced by whimsical compassionate Gael Garcia Bernal. As a friend of Ernesto, Hector promises to help Miguel meet him at his annual concert. Directors Molina and Unkrich create the touching bond between the two. Hector inspires Miguel to find his unique voice. While Miguel gives Hector the faith of family.
In Great Great Grandmother's epiphany, she may not forgive her husband for forsaking her and their daughter to pursue his love of music. Yet she remembers him, and remembers their love. In a sense remembrance allows for forgiveness.
At times "Coco" is loud pretty eye candy as it succumbs to the simple seek and find narrative. But the surprise reveals what you kind of know half way through. Miguel discovers his legacy and the family who loves him. Those who come before us are the possibility of love and becoming greater than we know. "Coco" touched my heart. Life is about love and family.
Look for extraordinary
In "Wonder" Auggie, played by Jacob Tremblay, was born with a facial deformity called Treacher Collins syndrome. Brave Auggie endured more than 20 surgeries at 10 years-old. His selfless compassionate Mom Isabel, played by Julia Roberts, home schooled her son, who now mainstreams into private school. Auggie, so weary of the frightened looks of others, cries asking his Mom, "Why am I so ugly?' This is heartbreaking.
Roberts's Isabel tells him that's not what she sees. She sees his wonderful soul. True. Though that holds little solace for the 10 year-old who feels outcast. He is the kid who admits to walking with his head down to spare others the gazes.
Yes, the world can be unkind. Even among kids. On his school walk through three students, played by genuine Noah Jupe, Bryce Gheisar, and Elle Mckinnon, meet Auggie either looking away or at their shoes. Unlike adults kids aren't good faker. In spite of all resilient Auggie says that people are extraordinary, "You just have to look."
Writer and Director Stephen Chbosky's "Wonder" is a wonder. His screenplay along with Steve Conrad and Jacob Thorne based on the book by R.J. Palacio is bold and fearlessly compassionate. Instead of maudlin sentimentality, Chbosky brazenly challenges our prejudice of appearances. Look for the person inside. There are a couple cutesy missteps like the Auggie's joke about plastic surgery. Regardless, "Wonder" has a pure heart that authentically touches and inspires.
The screenplay based on Palacio book brilliantly portrays multiple character viewpoints of Auggie's story. Izabella Vidovic is the amazing standout as his loving sister Via (Olivia). Via's distant best friend Miranda, played by gentle Danielle Rose Russell, once told her that her family revolves around the son, not the daughter. Via knows that she could have been Auggie in the family genetic roulette. However, she suffers in the shadows of all the love shining upon Auggie. Robert's epiphany of the cost to her daughter is tearful. Roberts and Vidovic viscerally capture love in forgiveness and seeing the other as greater. Owen Wilson as Dad Nate is welcome whimsical relief. Wilson provides surprising gravitas as well. In the amazing scene Dad tells Auggie about that space helmet he used to hide his face.
Charming Nadji Jeter plays theater geek Justin, who sees Via's beautiful soul. He sees her. Likewise, Noah Jupe's Jack's eyes widen realizing his cruel thoughtless words about Auggie to impress his friends. Words matter. The way we look at others also matters. "Wonder" is both laughter and tears.
In the end the wondrous boy with the deformed face and big heart reminds us that people can be extraordinary. A wise man once said that what he was good at doing was looking at things. Not to understand them. Rather he wanted be with. All we have to do is look with our hearts and see the wonder.
Lady Bird (2017)
The very best version of you...
I love "Lady Bird". Watching Writer and Director Greta Gerwig's "Lady Bird" is seeing life happen. Saoirse Ronan plays self-named "Lady Bird" Christine, the Catholic Girl School senior doing her best to leave her hometown in Sacramento in 2002. Laurie Metcalf plays Marion Christine's Mother, who is the workaholic nurse covering double shifts to make ends for her family. Her husband, Lady Bird's Dad Larry, played by understanding Tracy Letts, who suffers clinical depression is laid off from his job. Lady Bird has a "step-brother" Miguel, played by bright Jordan Rodrigues, the UC Berkeley graduate working at 7 Eleven.
Lady Bird and her Mom have the biggest hearts, yet often not gracious for each other. Lady Bird's chaste boyfriend Danny, played by Lucas Hedges, confesses "Your Mom is so hard on you " Lady Bird defends, " She loves me." In the moving scene, Lady Bird and Mom shop for prom dresses. Lady Bird asks her Mom, "Do you like me?" Mom replies "I want you to be the best version of yourself." Lady Bird says, "What if this is the best version?" Apparently, that isn't enough. They break your heart.
Ronan and Metcalf have profound authentic screen partnership. Ronan is raw, hysterical, and compassionate. Metcalf is strength and tenderness in her quiet and measured words. "Lady Bird" is hilarious and touching in humanity. It celebrates being and loving the best version of yourself, acknowledging the unconditional love of those who see and listen you as greater. Director Gerwig's debut feature boldly looks at life touching all our hearts.
In the opening car ride home after visiting State universities Lady Bird and Mom argue. Lady Bird wants to go to college back East. Her Mom reminds that they can't afford that, and besides she doesn't have the grades. Hysterically, Lady Bird opens the car door and leaps out the moving car. Later we see her back in Catholic School with pink cast on her broken arm. Gerwig brilliantly captures our attention.
Lady Bird's best friend is Julie, played by kind hearted Beanie Feldstein, who is the sweet girl who suffers some over her appearance. Her divorced Mom has a live-in boyfriend. Math whiz Julie crushes on her teacher Mr. Bruno, played by Jake McDorman. Lady Bird would like to be on the Math Team, but she isn't good at math as Sister Sarah Joan, whimsically wise Lois Smith, points out. Instead the Sister convinces her to try acting in a play with another school. It's love at first sight for star Danny, gentle Hedges. Danny from the big Catholic family betrays Lady Bird in the surprise reveal.
In her cultural exploration she jettisons BFF Julie for rich girl Jenna, haughty Odeya Rush, and pursues her romance with mysterious loner musician Kyle, charming Timothee Chalamet. Turns out mysterious is really the conspiracy theorist kid with the tragic family. Meanwhile, Lady Bird enrolls her Dad (Lett) to help her apply to East coast colleges unbeknownst to Mom.
Lady Bird does her best to invent that best version of herself. Ronan makes us laugh and cry along the way. I laughed so hard while Lady Bird and Julie lie on the church floor eating communion wafers discussing the uses of "shower heads". When Ronan compassionately hugs Danny, who confesses his fear, I cried. When she holds Julie who doesn't have a prom date, who says "Some of us aren't built for happy." I had the biggest smile. As exasperated Mom tells her daughter, "It's never enough!" that breaks Lady Bird's heart and ours.
"Lady Bird" has the biggest heart of any movie I've seen. Ronan makes this so. Ronan and Metcalf reveal that unconditional love of Mother and Daughter in their fierce words and silence. They touch with their humanity. We are all the better for it. In the end saying, "I love you " is more than just thanks. That expresses the best version of ourselves. I think "Lady Bird" is the best movie of the year. At least it is my very favorite.
The Florida Project (2017)
The sadness that heals
"The Florida Project" is funny, poignant, and ultimately sad. Astonishing Brooklynn Prince is 6 year-old Moonee, who lives with her Mom Halley, amazing newcomer Bria Vinaite, in the rundown Magic Kingdom motel near Disney World. Moonee is the innocent free spirit playing with her friends Scooty and Jancey, played by good Christopher Rivera and Valeria Cotto. Halley is the singularly unfit mother, who peddles wholesale perfume to hotel guests, and casual prostitute to make rent. Willem Dafoe is the generous motel manager constantly giving Halley a break. Dafoe is at his most humane and vulnerable. His performance grounds "The Florida Project".
As the child Moonee is both unaware and accustomed to her circumstance in Writer and Director Sean Baker's cautionary narrative. After Halley's unforgivable cruelty, she and Moonee joyously play in the rain. This is beautiful and resoundingly sad. In Baker and Chris Bergoch's story, character is destiny. Moonee survives with free breakfasts from Ashley, kind Mela Mupher, and begging for ice cream money. Life is the inherent paradox.
Baker brilliantly exposes the ugly and joyous in Moonee's innocence. There is subtle heartbreak as Moonee plays with her toys in the bathtub while Halley has sex for money. The authentic sadness in "The Florida Project" is not the healing sadness, rather the reminder of what had likely gone before in younger Halley. Director Baker's power lies in this self-consciousness. It's one thing that drunken fiery Halley does her very best, but she is no Mother. That missing costs Moonee her very being.
Prince amazes as little Moonee. Her Moonee loves her Mom with all her heart, perhaps choosing to turn a blind eye. We eventually glimpse through Baker's lens that Moonee deep down knows something is just not right. Prince is touching in her shining resilience and her keen awareness. She tells Scooty, "I can tell when grownups are going to cry." But when does Moonee get to cry?
Prince and Vinaite have authentic screen chemistry. We pull for Moonee and Halley out their love for each other, but that is not enough to save the day. Dafoe's Bobby is well aware. He really can't know what's going on inside Moonee and Halley, all he can do is have compassion.
The world at times can seem unfair, and love alone may not save the day. Yet, Baker says even in this, perhaps something greater is possible. Maybe the sadness does heal in the end.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Thor gets it right in "Ragnarok"
"Thor: Ragnarok" rocks as the best "Thor". Chris Hemsworth is hysterical and heroic as the God of Thunder in Director Taika Waititi's "Ragnarok" which refers to the Norse mythology's End of Days. This is the delightful narrative recreation in the screenplay by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost. Yet as whimsical as the movie becomes with Thor battling his Avengers mate The Hulk in the gladiator arena on planet Sakaar saying "Yes! We know each other. He's a friend from work!", "Thor: Ragnarok" underlines hero and family. Tom Hiddleston and Anthony Hopkins are both funny and poignant in that capacity.
Hopkins returns as Norse god Odin. His first born daughter Hela, Goddess of Death, regally malevolent Cate Blanchett, returns from Odin's banishment in vengeance imposing Ragnarok upon Asgard. In the touching scene in Norway, Odin tells his warring prodigal sons Thor and Loki, charismatic Tom Hiddleston, "I love you." While escaping from Sakaar, Thor tells Loki he thought growing up that they would "fight side by side forever". That was not to be. Loki is who he is.
With the impending conflict with his sister the Goddess of Death, Thor seeks out Odin in the realm of dreams. Thor says, "I am not as strong as you!" Odin reminds, "No, you're stronger." Waititi pokes fun and creates amazing visuals of distant worlds, but never forgets what moves are heroes and love. In his recurrent theme, Thor says, "Because that's what heroes do." "Thor: Ragnarok" may make you laugh out loud in irreverence as Thor and Hulk talk about being "hotheads". Yet, "Ragnarok" is about reclaiming one's greatness and family.
Chris Hemsworth is awesome. He looks like a Norse god: handsome, chiseled body, and with his long blonde locks shorn. He has great comedic timing and delivery. His Thor reveals as self-deprecating, funny and humbled by circumstance. Hemsworth's Hero emerges in his vulnerability. This comical saga of good and evil compels with Cate Blanchett, who is formidable evil power in Hela. Blanchett is beautiful in sleek wardrobe, antlered helmet, onyx mane, and Goth eyes. Cate restrains from total camp by harnessing some of Hela's fury within. Hela was the merciless warrior in Odin's bloody wars that united the "8 Realms". She embraced her darkness which resulted in her exile as Odin reinvented peace for Asgard.
Blanchett brilliantly nuances Hela's rage and betrayal. She easily disposes hundreds of Asgard warriors. She even shatters Thor's Might Hammer like glass, as seen in movie trailers. Thor may not be strong enough to defeat Hela's great evil.
In silly convoluted fashion Thor and Loki end up captive on the planet Sakaar, the kingdom of the Grandmaster, played by goofy in a good way Jeff Goldblum, as the self-styled Emperor Nero. Thor becomes the Grandmaster's gladiator challenging his champion, the Hulk and his human persona David Banner, played by genius straight man Mark Ruffalo. Thor and Hulk discover the unexpected ally in surviving warrior Valkyrie, strong smart Tessa Thompson. The Valkyrie are the women warrior protectors of Asgard in Norse mythology. Perhaps, the romantic interest for Thor, Thompson is fun and total kick ass.
Eventually, "Thor: Ragnarok" reverts to its superhero DNA. Though it is a wild fun ride with a lot of laughs and welcome poignant turns. Thor does what heroes dofight against great evil not knowing whether good will prevail. The good man or god in this case fights on as opposed to doing nothing in the face of evil. Hemsworth and Blanchett lend gravitas to Director Waittit's whimsical take on the classic battle of good and evil in the universe where heroes and family count. "Thor: Ragnarok" is great fun.
Only the Brave (2017)
The Hero Legacy
"Only the Brave" captures spectacular imagery of the grandeur of the mountain forests of Arizona, and the beauty and ferocious nature of fire. In its most personal Director Joseph Kosinski's "Only the Brave" does move us. Beautiful compassionate Jennifer Connely as Amanda, wife of Granite Mountain Hotshots supervisor Eric, played by solid Josh Brolin, consoles Miles Teller's Brendan, who breakdowns in tears. Her Amanda tells Brendan, "Don't you dare
" think of your life as less than. In the midst of melodrama and raging flames, "Only the Brave" is about the legacy of Hero. This ultimately works and inspires.
Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer wrote the screenplay based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighters, who fought the historic forest fire in Arizona. Brolin's Eric is the leader of the tier 2 firefighters who become Hotshots and heroes. Brolin embodies the passion and nobility for what he does as a firefighter, protecting the community.
As the movie opens that passion is the source of conflict of his marriage to Connely's Amanda, who raises horses on their ranch. Apparently Amanda sacrificed having a family to be with Eric. That secret is the melodrama that mostly lands as authentic. Brolin and Connely's poignant chemistry eases some of the predictable narrative. It's nice to see Jennifer Connely back in the movies.
Teller's Brendan is the lost stoner, who discovers that he is going to be a father from his estranged girlfriend Natalie, smart sweet Natalie Johnson. This is Brendan's wake-up call that he has to make something of his life instead of smoking dope with his buddies. Brendan applies for a slot on Eric's crew. Eric immediately outs Brendan as drug addict, and offers him the challenge to make the team.
Miles Teller has this gentle spirit that enrolls us in Brendan. His vulnerability is powerful. This is his chance for redemption in life. He turns his life around. In the heartwarming scene, grubby Brendan sheds tears as he holds his baby daughter Makayla in his arms. "Only the Brave" is at its best in the quiet moments.
Eric and Brendan's relationship is the heart and soul of "Only the Brave". Through rigorous training and firefights Eric and his crew earn the Hotshots rating. But the work takes its toll on all, especially new Dad Brendan, who can't spend time with his baby daughter. Eric knows Brendan so very well, and his past. Eric eloquently tells him, "I am you " It's about love. Love breathes greatness in others. This is how heroes are born.
"Only the Brave" inspires. Kosinski respectfully pays homage to the actual brave men of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Heroes give their all and use their powers for good. The heroes' legacy expands in the telling of their stories. "Only the Brave" does this in great understatement and more.
The Foreigner (2017)
Jackie Chan at his best
This is a different Jackie Chan in Director Martin Campbell's "The Foreigner", and that's a great thing. Chan plays 60 year-old Chinese restaurant owner Quan Ngoc Minh, who lives in London. His life unravels when his teenage daughter Fan, played by bright Katie Leung, is murdered in the rogue IRA terrorist bombing. In the heart wrenching scene First Responders discover bloodied Quan holding Fan in his arms amidst the ruble. After recovering from his wounds with the care of his dear friend Lam, compassionate pretty Tao Liu, Quan seeks vengeance upon his daughter's murderers. Chan is compelling in sadness and controlled fury, so different than his usual whimsical persona. Martin Campbell, who directed Bond's "Casino Royale", smartly orchestrates the action after a slow start.
Campbell takes a little too much time at the beginning. The screenplay by David Marconi, based on Stephen Leather's novel "The Chinaman" at times in overly convoluted with multiple layers of embedded betrayal. The methodical set up dilutes the powerful impact of the terrorist attack and the impact upon Chan's Quan.
The rogue IRA attack surprises Liam Hennessy, played by very good Pierce Brosnan, who is the Irish Minister reporting to the British Prime Minister. Liam was a leader in the IRA 19 years ago. He is a complicated man to say the least. He has a wife Mary, suffering Orla Brady, who never forgave him for the death of her brother. Liam is having an affair with young Maggie, played by strong Charlie Murphy.
Quan wants the names of the men responsible for Fan's murder, and determines that Liam is the man. Suddenly, Quan goes all MacGyver building explosives and the like. And for the mild mannered grieving restaurant owner Quan stuns Liam's henchmen in disposing them with kung fu mastery. Liam is not facing just some middle aged Chinese man. He calls upon his nephew Sean, stalwart Rory Fleck Byrne, to track down rival Quan. Campbell wisely lets the action play out as he reveals Quan's secret past.
Jackie Chan is the amazing physical presence. At 65 years old he did most of, if not all of his action sequences. He is the true master of his art. What is refreshing is that his fighting has gravity to it like his performance. Chan and Campbell capture the urgency and profound sorrow of their Hero. He fights not so much out of revenge, rather out of love and justice. Chan is phenomenal taking on villains in the forest. The climactic fight of the narrative arc is cathartic. Chan gives his best and most compassionate performance.
"The Foreigner" may get bogged down in the beginning due to the complicated exposition. Once it catches its breath and unleashes Chan, it soars. It would be nice to see further adventures for Chan's Quan. We shall see.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
More than human...
"Blade Runner 2049" is visually stunning like nothing you've been before with the opaque orange sky of the industrial ravaged future Earth, and its vivid gaudy neon holographic skyline at night. Director Denis Villeneuve and Executive Producer Ridley Scott, who directed the original "Blade Runner", are more provocative inquiry, "What is it to be human?" At a narrative arc Ryan Gosling's blue eyes widen welled with tears as his Replicant LAPD Officer K says, "It's real!" K realizes that his implanted childhood memory is real. But whose is it? His?
Villenueve and cinematographer Roger Deakins's "Blade Runner 2049" is the masterfully sublime futuristic mural that unconceals the compelling and flawed inquiry of humanity in the screenplay by Hampton Francher and Michael Green, based on the Philip K. Dick novel. Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford as the returning aged Deckard are awesome.
Gosling commands as K in his profound stillness and compassion which betrays his character's human design. He tells his LAPD superior Lt. Joshi, played by powerful Robin Wright, that being born gives one a soul. She acknowledges him, "You've done just fine without one." "Blade Runner 2049" surprises, because of Gosling's courage in finding K's purpose, his soul. Gosling and Ford have amazing chemistry and partnership. Ford brings a world weary gravitas. K finally locates the recluse retired Blade Runner Deakard (Ford), who possesses vital information of this Replicant conspiracy and his own past. Deakard tells K, "Sometimes when you love someone, you got to be a stranger." What is real?
Replicants are the synthetic genetically engineered humans, not born, created as the expendable work force. In 2049 Wallace Industries assumes the production of Replicants, who are designed with great physical strength and enhanced intellectual capacity. Jared Leto plays the enigmatic blind CEO Niander Wallace. Leto has the quiet, yet malevolent enlightened air. Wallace says, "Every civilization was built on the back of a disposable workforce, but I can make only so many." He arrogantly believes he is doing God's work. Blade Runners like K retire or kill rogue Replicants, who are deemed dangerous. Part of K's curse is that he too, is Replicant.
"2049" opens as K tracks down Replicant agro farmer Sapper Morton, played by quiet hulking Dave Bautista. Their vicious battle reveals K's unique strength and resilience. However, this Replicant "retirement" reveals the unheard of. There may exist, a child born of a Replicant mother. Lt. Joshi (Wright) has K pursue this investigation at Wallace Industries. K meets the forceful and beautiful Replicant Luv, played by astonishing charismatic Sylvia Hoeks, Wallace's executive in charge. K's questions threaten, and Luv surmises that K must be terminated. Villeneuve eloquently orchestrates their defining conflict. Inadvertently, Luv's reveal cues K to locate Deakard (Ford).
In the backdrop, K lives the isolated existence. His love is the sad and beautiful holographic program Joi, played by captivating Ana de Armas. Joi is the sentient program wishing to be human to be with K. This is the weakest movie narrative. The virtual ménage of K, Joi, and Replicant prostitute Mariett, strong pretty Mackenzie Davis, is more a hollow plot device than about human frailty. Too bad.
In the telling confession with Deakard and Wallace in his Zen-like lair, Wallace says to Deakard of his deceased Replicant love Rachel, "Love or mathematical precision?" What is it to be human? That gets lost at times.
As Luv, Hoek's consumed ruthlessness, fierce intellect, and spinning sidekicks provide the formidable match for Gosling's enduring warrior K. Luv's purpose is self preservation of her kind. K's purpose is far nobler. He searches for the truth, and protects those who are weaker. K may not be entirely human, yet he becomes Hero. This narrative thread and the performances make "Blade Runner 2049" special. Aside from Harrison Ford, Carla Juri stands out as the gentle brilliant orphaned Scientist who created K's memories. She is bright light with a profound sadness.
"Blade Runner 2024" also has a sense of sadness which is its strength and poignancy. Villeneuve surprises in the end. Then we recall that even in the darkness, "Blade Runner 2024" is the Hero story of K and Deakard. Gosling and Ford give their best here, and we are thankful, the better for it.
Battle of the Sexes (2017)
Perhaps, one day...
I saw the Battle of the Sexes on TV back in 1973, as 29 year-old Women's Tennis Champion Billie Jean King played 55 year-old Bobby Riggs. Back then I wasn't so much a tennis fan, more a boxing fan mostly because of my Dad. The Battle of the Sexes was certainly not Ali versus Frazier in The Thrilla in Manila. Billie Jean smoked Bobby's ass in straight sets. I remember Billie Jean as strong and pretty. I thought Bobby was a joke and a jerk. That was history from at least my perspective.
History and perception make Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris's 2017 "Battle of the Sexes" great and somewhat hollow. Writer Simon Beaufoy's screenplay is best when it focuses on the "battle" within the sex as Billie Jean reconciles her own sexuality and risks being in love. Emma Stone as Billie Jean King is sublime and so very human. Awesome performance. On the other end of the narrative spectrum Bobby Riggs was a con man, really the joke and the jerk. As much as Steven Carell authentically inhabits Bobby with verve and arrogance, he's locked in. Beaufoy paints Riggs as pathetic, and we just can't empathize with jerk. Poignant Elizabeth Shue as his rich suffering wife does little to reveal his lighter humanity.
Dayton, Faris, and Beaufoy vilify others too. Bill Pullman plays the legendary tennis great Jack Kramer with insidious charm and snark. Unlike Bobby, who plays the WWE role like Hulk Hogan, Kramer's discourse about women is sadly sincere. Kramer truly believes that men are better than women, not only as athletes, but as people. I don't know if this is an accurate representation of history. Women Tennis Champion Margaret Court, tightly wound Jessica McNamee, is the unsympathetic homophobeeven before this was a distinction.
It is the human story of Billie Jean that touches in "Battle of the Sexes". Alan Cummings is amazing as the gay wardrobe designer Ted Tinling on the WTA Tennis Tour, who is aware of Billie Jean's awakening. The married Billie Jean (Stone) embarks on an affair with hairstylist Marilyn Barnett, radiant Andrea Riseborough. Simply, Marilyn may have been the first kind person to acknowledge Billie Jean as "pretty". In the heartbreaking scene, her husband Larry, played by handsome vulnerable Austin Stowell, discovers the betrayal. Larry is the descent good man. Cummings's Ted cautions Stone's Billie Jean, "Be careful. The world can be unforgiving."
Seeking equal pay, Billie Jean and her promoter Gladys Heldman, wonderfully strong Sarah Siverman, choose to leave Jack Kramer's Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to form the WTA and the eventual Virgina Slims Tour, legitimizing Women's Tennis. However, WTA's reputation is threatened when retired Tennis Hall of Famer Riggs defeats Margaret Court in an exhibition match.
Aware of the 'big picture', Billie Jean asks Larry to set up the tennis match with Bobby, but on her terms. She also has her own match raging within. In their heart touching conversation, she says, "You're a good man. He says, "You're a good woman." She replies, "Not always "
There is a wonderful scene as Billie Jean and Marilyn drive along the Malibu coast. They listen to Elton John and Bernie Taupin's "Rocket Man". Fortunately "Rocket Man" doesn't have the same connotation it has today. In Bernie's lyric: "I'm not the man they think I am " We should all have the freedom to be ourselves. That is the underlying message of "Battle of the Sexes".
The actual tennis match in "Battle of the Sexes" is no big deal. It is the impact of the social consciousness of the times that resonates. Cummings's Ted gently hugs Billie Jean after her victory, and says, "One day we will be free to be who we are " That touched my heart. Perhaps, one day. It's possible.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
Okay, it's a lot of fun
"Kingsman: The Golden Circle" is filled with bizarre hysterical noise. Elton John as himself in feathered Captain Fantastic wardrobe goes Bruce Lee flying kick on the bad guy. Taron Egerton's Agent Eggsy places high tech sensor in the cavity of groupie Clara, played by hippie spacey Poppy Delevingne, not the one in her mouth. "Kingsman 2" culminates in the exquisite over-the-top martial arts and gun display with Eggsy and his mentor Harry, played by Colin Firth, at drug cartel headquarters Poppyland in the jungles of Cambodia to the tune of Elton's "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting".
"The Golden Circle" ironically and touchingly lands in Colin Firth's soothing gravitas as Harry. Eggsy tells Harry that he fears if they can't retrieve the villain's antivirus, his fiancée Princess Tilde, lovely Hanna Alstrom, will die. Eggsy regrets that he fell in love with her; thus, violating Kingsman oath. Harry says, "Having something to lose makes life worth living." Firth can truly land a line. In "The King's Speech" when he says, "I have a voice." he broke my heart. "The King's Speech" is one of best movies ever made. Clearly, "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" is not in that company. Contrary to critical mass opinion, "Kingsman 2" is just plain fun. I believe that counts for something.
Writer and Director Matthew Vaughn returns in his sequel of the very entertaining "Kingsman" with scattered cluster of narratives, mostly outrageous and hilarious. Julliane Moore does her whacked out best as global drug lord Poppy, who single handedly annihilates the Kingsman. All that apparently remains is Eggsy and his beloved tech adviser Merlin, played by stalwart Mark Strong. Poppy as part of her master plan created a virus that will kill anyone, who uses any of Poppyland's recreational illicit drugs or associated derivatives. This targets millions of people. This is all part of Poppy's scheme to extort the United States.
Comical Bruce Greenwood in this satirical incarnation of the President of the United States sees this as the leverage point to "End the War on Drugs". Without either suppliers or addicts, there is no war. This stark simplicity is part of the warped sense of humor in Vaughn and Jane Goldman's screenplay.
Forced to regroup Eggsy and Merlin follow their intelligence trail to the American version of Kingsman in KentuckyStatesman. Channing Tatum is very cool as Agent Tequila, who provides their introduction, and mercilessly kicks both their asses with his martial arts skills. Too bad Tatum is not leveraged more here. Perhaps, in "Kingsman 3"? Statesman Leader Champ, played by laid back Jeff Bridges, and adviser Ginger, subtly brilliant Halle Berry, reveal to Eggsy and Merlin that Harry is alive, thought shot to death in "Kingsman". However, death in movies is as we all know: relative. Harry is alive without memory of his Kingsman past.
There are great action sequences like where Agent Whiskey, charismatic Pedro Pascal, kills the army of winter soldiers with six shooters and a laser lasso. When the noise quiets, "Kingsman 2" meditates its center in the unexpected homage of Eggsy's mentors: Harry and Merlin. In the most touching scene Harry tells Merlin, "It has been an honor " Both Harry and Merlin are the Fathers that Eggsy never had, and they defined the man he becomes. "Kingsman 2" is bittersweet and nice in this acknowledgment.
Besides as my friend Ron pointed out, the f bomb spewing Elton John in the movie actually might not be caricature. Yeah, there is a lot of weird going on in "Kingsman: The Golden Circle". Most of it works, because of talented actors, a sense of humor, and some heart.