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10/10
He's a Good Man
30 July 2018
Virtually ageless Tom Cruise is back as fearless Agent Ethan Hunt in "Mission: Impossible-Fallout". "Fallout" may be the best summer movie of 2018. I think Writer and Director Christopher McQuarrie's "Mission: Impossible" sequel is one of the best action movies of all-time. Tom performs all of his own stunts like skydiving out of a military cargo jet over Paris in the helmeted pressure suit. In fact production on "Fallout" halted when Tom broke his ankle leaping between buildings.

Rob Hardy's breathtaking and pristine cinematography captures the adrenaline rush as Tom races on his motorcycle through cluttered traffic in Paris or when he soars his helicopter to catch his adversary's over the snow capped mountains of Kashmir. McQuarrie electrifies in the restroom fight scene as Tom and Henry Cavill's Agent Walker throw down with martial arts expert Liang Yang. Relentless punches, elbows, and kicks awe for several minutes.

Christopher's "Fallout" is by far the best "Mission: Impossible", elevated in pulse pounding action accelerating throughout 2 hours and 30 minutes. Chris's story is nearly too convoluted in its betrayal. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised in its emotional gravitas, and Tom Cruise's authentic humanity.

The good man is the Hero. In a signature scene, an innocent women police officer stops Ethan and his team's escape. While Ethan convinces the officer to let them pass, a villain mercilessly shoots her down. Enraged, Ethan shoots down all five men. Character can be fate. Ethan's dearest friend Luther, played by powerful quiet Ving Rhames, tells Ilsa, played by beautiful strong Rebecca Ferguson, that Ethan loved only one woman before her. That he let Julia, played by beautiful kind Michele Monaghan, go keeping her safe, so he could save the world. Luther says, "He's a good man. If you care about Ethan, walk away..."

Ethan is the hero, who gave up the love of his life to save the world. That's the high price to pay, even for the noble cause. The Hero deserves better. Tom Cruise passionately enrolls in Ethan's tireless conviction to do what's right, and protect the innocent. Tom's unspoken sadness in Ethan too, resonates.

As "Fallout" opens Ethan messes up his mission to recover three weapons grade plutonium cores, when he chooses to save the life of his friend. New IMF (Impossible Mission Force - I think) Lead Alan, played by solid Alec Baldwin, reminds Ethan of his tragic flaw: he chose "one life over millions". I'd say that's more honor and compassion. No longer trusting Ethan, CIA Head Erica, played by smart bold Angela Bassett, mandates that her best Agent Walker, played with humorlessly ironic strength by Henry Cavill, accompany him in the plutonium recovery.

Ethan and Walker's mission leads to the mysterious anarchist Lane, played by eerie calm Sean Harris. Lane believes, "The greater the suffering, the greater the peace." Ethan and Walker form reluctant alliance with notorious arms broker White Widow, played cleverly by beautiful cunning Vanessa Kirby.

So Ethan once again accepts his mission to save the world from annihilation. Strangely, this time around is wondrously captivating. In Tom's authentic sense of Ethan's loss, we get the depth of what's at stake for him.

Yes, Ethan valiantly risks his life to prevent the nuclear terrorist threat. But does he find peace at the end of his great suffering? Does he discover love again? Ethan is a good man. He deserves peace. He deserves love. Ethan is like all of us. "Mission: Impossible- Fallout" is spectacular thrills in one of the best ever action movies. What makes "Fallout" so satisfying is that we pull for the Hero to find peace, to find love.
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Skyscraper (2018)
8/10
"Skyscraper" is like "Die Hard", but sans Hans
16 July 2018
Writer and Director Rawson Marshall Thurber's action thriller "Skyscraper" is "Die Hard" lite, but without iconic villain Hans Gruber. Chiseled resilience squared Dwayne Johnson is heroic amputee Will Sawyer, who desperately tries to save his beloved wife Sarah, daughter Georgia, and son Henry, played by Neve Campbell, McKenna Roberts, and Noah Cottrel, from flaming skyscraper The Pearl. Billionaire Zhao, played by covert cool Chin Han, built the The Pearl in Hong Kong, the world's tallest building at 220 stories, three times taller than the Empire State Building. This also resembles "The Towering Inferno" from the 1970's. Dwayne is the only reason to watch this often derivative feature.

I saw in an interview that The Rock, Dwayne Johnson researched and worked with War Veteran amputees to translate the sense of authenticity in Will. He does for the most part. Will is the War Hero and former FBI operative forced to the sidelines, because of tragedy 10 years ago. He now wears a metal prosthetic leg below his left knee. He married the surgeon, who saved him, Sarah. They have two great kids.

Will has become a private security expert. His former FBI Teammate and friend Ben, charming clandestine Pablo Schreiber, arranged the meeting with Zhao at The Pearl as its next Security Executive. Will and his family are guests in The Pearl. The Pearl is state-of-the art technology and luxury with its remotely located safety system. What could go wrong? A lot. Otherwise, there's no movie.

Crazed terrorist Botha, played by angry calculated Roland Moller, and his men explode the 96th of the building creating the raging inferno. Meanwhile, deadly Xia, played by cool kick-ass Hannah Quinlivan, uses martial arts skills and automatic weapons to disable the fire safety protocols. The terrorism occurs more than nihilistic anarchy. Regardless, Will must save his family from their imminent demise.

Much of Rawson's narrative is telegraphed. Yet, I was completely invested in Dwayne's Will. Before everything goes to hell, Will touchingly admits, "I kind of laid down my sword..." Rawson and Dwayne worked previously on the underrated hit "Central Intelligence", the action buddy picture with Kevin Hart. Without Kevin, "Skyscraper" is way more dour, and a lot less fun.

What Rawson wisely leverages is Dwayne's earnestness and heart. The action is often hyperbole, particularly with Will's leaping from the construction crane to the flaming tower. It's particularly satisfying watching the Rock lay the "smack down" on the big bad guys. And as physically imposing as Will is, Dwayne enrolls with that sense of fear and anger in his eyes.

On the other upside, the women in "Skyscraper" are total badass. It's great seeing Neve Campbell back in the movies. Her Sarah is strong, smart and protects her children to the death. She convincingly kicks the crap out of traitorous Mr. Pierce, played by snakelike Noah Taylor, who threatens her flesh and blood. Hannah as the mysterious sleek assassin Xia speaks quietly before dispatching a lethal sidekick. You just don't mess with her.

What "Skyscraper" misses is the maverick villain. Botha is not that at all. Where I think Dwayne has more physical presence than Bruce Willis in "Die Hard". "Skyscraper" fails not having the iconic charismatic villain like Hans Gruber, played by the late great Alan Rickman. Alan mesmerized as Han, conveying human complexity. Roland and Rawson's Botha is so one-dimensional evil. Moreover, Botha doesn't pose the credible threat to Will, metal leg and all.

"Skyscraper" is pretty good. Entertaining. Dwayne Johnson is greater than the material and this movie. He's enough to enjoy watching the movie. His Will fights for family and love as his noble cause. Too bad the villain or the ultimate intention aren't nearly so compelling. I think the Rock deserved better. In a sense so do we.
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9/10
Scale matters
9 July 2018
In one of the sweetest scenes in "Ant-Man and the Wasp", Ant-Man's human persona Scott, played by kind resilient Paul Rudd, sits legs crossed on the bedroom floor with his 10 year-old daughter Cassie, played by cute innocent Hannah John-Kamen. Scott is so sorry for making a mess in his heroic circumstance. Cassie says, "It's not dumb to help people."

For Director Peyton Reed's sequel "Ant-Man and the Wasp" scale truly does matter. In the story by the mini-army of Writers Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, and Gabriel Ferrari, our Superheroes Ant-Man and Wasp, played by Evangeline Lilly, are not out to save the world, much less the Universe like other Marvel Movies.

The scale matters. "Ant-Man and Wasp" is smaller, less noisy. There's no threat of global Armageddon. There are spectacular chase scenes in San Francisco with "Goliath" Ant-Man, and cinematic kaleidoscope tunneling into the Quantum Realm.

Instead the captivating thread is Hope Van Dyne, played by beautiful strong Evangeline, risking her life to find her long lost Mother Janet, played by radiant wise Michelle Pfeiffer, in the Quantum Realm. Paul's Scott, who returned from the Quantum Realm in "Ant-Man" holds the key to that possible resurrection.

"Ant-Man and the Wasp" revels in its quirk, not so much in the ostentatious CGI expanding and shrinking effect. Although, the cool martial arts fight scenes with Wasp and new adversary, the phasing Ghost, played by tortured charismatic Hannah John-Kamen, is high impact awesome.

Scott unintentionally channels Janet, gifting clues about her location. Scott as Janet holds the hand of her Husband Hank Pym, creator of Ant-Man and Wasp, played by whimsical Michael Douglas. The look on Hank's face is hysterical. As Scott gently caresses Janet's daughter Hope's face, that's the Mother's love. Rudd, Lilly, and Douglas brilliantly play light-hearted, yet never forget that what matters is family. Michelle is sublime gravitas. Too bad the story didn't call for more screen time.

"Ant-Man and the Wasp" begins with Scott under house arrest after his heroics with The Avengers in "Captain America: Civil War". This also explains his disappearance in "Infinity War". He has nightmares of his stint in the ubiquitous Quantum Realm, while sharing custody of his daughter Cassie. Because of his Avengers debacle as Ant-Man, Scott's now estranged from Hank and his daughter Hope. That's until Hope discovers Scott's possible link to her Mother. Scott and Hope are in love with each other, but not always in phase. So to speak.

In this needlessly convoluted narrative, Scott joins forces with Hank and Hope to retrieve Janet. Powerful assassin Eva, also called Ghost, arises threatening their mission. Eva suffers excruciating pain: Her molecules continual regenerate in her phasing curse. Her cure may also resolve in that Quantum Realm.

The imaginative movie action dazzles along with the visual effects. Really, it is the personal scale of "Ant-Man and the Wasp" that resonates. The young woman wants to find her beloved Mother. The husband wants to be with the love of his life. The young daughter believes in her Dad reminding him, "You can do anything." "Ant-Man and the Wasp" is fun exhilarating Summer fare that's also about family and those close. After all: It's not dumb to help people.
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10/10
"I like you, just the way you are..."
7 July 2018
When I was 4 and 5 years old at my parents' babysitter's home, I'd watch "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" on TV every afternoon on Channel 11. Mr. Rogers was this tall lanky guy, who wore a red sweater, and laced canvas shoes. I don't recall any particular episode. Yet, although he was on television I always got the sense that he was actually talking with me. He was kind. He never raised his voice. He always said, "I like you, just the way you are."

For the kids watching like me, Mr. Rogers was like your best grownup friend. He made you feel safe. You got that you mattered.

That's the inherent wonder and beauty of Director Morgan Neville's "Won't You Be My Neighbor?": the documentary of the life of Fred Rogers and his legendary children's show. When "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" launched in 1968, it pretty much revolutionized children's educational TV programming. Surprisingly, its unlikely star Fred Rogers was the unassuming ordained Reverend, who single-handedly transformed as the iconic advocate for kids.

Morgan's touching reveal in "Won't You Be My Neighbor": Fred was the kind decent man off-screen too. In an interview, Fred says, "Love is the root of everything..." And so is the absence of love as well.

"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" was the virtual advent of the Public Broadcast System, PBS. During the Nixon Administration, Fred Rogers saved the network in his poignant testimony before Congressional Committee, securing $20 million in funding. "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and Fred sourced innovative Children's TV Education for years to come.

"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" was campy sets and hand puppets. Some guy talked with kids wearing a sweater in his home. What made "Mister Rogers" so revolutionary: Fred talked to kids at his level. He never talked down. Fred respected kids enough to talk thoughtfully about racial prejudice, death, and divorce. Above all Fred taught kindness and compassion. He let us know as kids that we were okay just the way we were.

Fred had a wife Joanne and two sons Jim and John. All recall their memories of Fred, perhaps lending a glimpse into what made the man. Joanne's late husband was the love of her life. She said of both their childhoods, "You weren't allowed to be angry." Fred mentions his Mom in his youth, but not his Dad. I got it. Like Fred or me, sometimes we have to forgive those we love, when we commit to making a difference for others. Fred Rogers did so, making a profound difference for generations of children.

The 60's and 70's were the great social and cultural reckoning, not unlike what we seemingly experience with #Metoo, shootings in our schools, or the displacement of immigrants. Back then that soft spoken man in the sweater all gave us hope, that people for the most part were good and can be kind given a choice. Fred was not only an advocate for children, he was an advocate for humanity. Love and compassion can save the world, when you believe.

There's a powerful scene where Fred sings a song with a boy in a wheelchair. The boy had a tumor when he was a baby which stunted the growth of his limbs. Prior to his major surgery, he had asked his parents if he could meet his Hero Mr. Rogers. Singing together at the boy's level I witnessed Fred's profound heart in my tears. Fred loved all people. He wanted the best for everyone.

Political climates change. Some blamed the apparent emerging "entitlement" culture on Fred's message that you are fine just the way you are. Perhaps, they did not actually get Mr. Rogers' real memo.

In Fred's last delivered University Commencement speech he said, "You don't have to do anything sensational to be loved." That's what he stood for. We should all like everyone exactly the way they are. Like Fred said, "Love is the root of everything." "Won't You Be My Neighbor" poignantly reminds that we too can all be greater. Perhaps, like Mister Rogers.
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Uncle Drew (2018)
8/10
It's About the Love, Youngblood
2 July 2018
"Uncle Drew" is not near one of the best movies of the year. However, it's the most fun I've had at the movies so far this year. Absolutely. Watching NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving, Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal and other NBA greats in grey beard old-geezer makeup is hysterical. Especially, when the "Seniors" school street ballers on the basketball court. Kyrie is surprising hilarious gravitas as fictional ESPN 30 for 30 street basketball legend Uncle Drew, who mysteriously disappeared after his Team's tragic collapse in the Rucker Classic Finals in 1968. Never heard from again, until now 2018. Predictable? Yes. Genuine? Amazingly so.

Director Charles Stone III and Writer Jay Longino expanded the Pepsi concept series where Kyrie Irving donned old man prosthetics and punked unsuspecting street ballers in New York City. "Uncle Drew" tips off with the ESPN 30 for 30 parody of Kyrie's Uncle Drew. In the overtly canny setup short soft Dax, played by comically perplexed Lil Rel Howery, discovers Uncle Drew displaying his point guard mastery on the court. Sage-like Uncle Drew says, "This game's all mental." Trite, yet true.

Dax is the sad dude displaced from coaching is own team for the 50th Anniversary Rucker Classic, when his mortal childhood basketball nemesis Mookie, idiotically vain Aaron Gordon, hijacks the team and also his shallow girlfriend Jess, outrageous Tiffany Haddish. The barbershop scene almost out of Eddie Murphy's "Coming to America" inspires Dax to form his new team with the legendary Uncle Drew.

Uncle Drew enrolls Dax in "getting the band back together". Dax reluctantly accompanies Uncle Drew in his pimped out van with Lakeside 8 track tapes. Chris Webber is the Preacher. Lisa Leslie is his disapproving wife Betty Lou. Reggie Miller is Lights "Out", the seemingly blind former 3 point shooting god. Nate Robinson is Boots the wheelchair bound grandfather of pretty Maya, played by charming Erica Ash, who is also Dax's blossoming love interest. Shaq is Big Fella the martial arts Sensei of his own Harlem Dojo. All the basketball stars rock, especially Shaq in his goofy Zen-like focus. Really, it's Kyrie's balance of whimsical and sentimental that lands home.

Director Stone mashes up hilarious gags in the climatic arc of the Rucker Tournament. The old guys get their butts handed to them by the State Champion Girls Team in challenge pickup game. Kyrie , Shaq and company bust their dance moves in the hysterical hip hop throw down. Throughout the ridiculousness what struck me was the genuine sense of joy watching these guys.

"Uncle Drew" is unabashedly about the love of the game, about the love for the thing that gives you life. After the old dudes get trounced by the teenage girl ballers, Maya tell Dax that they got the love back. She says, "Just look at them." When Dax was a kid playing ball, he stopped daring for greater. So he also has something at stake.

Kyrie is the heart and soul of this often overplayed sports narrative. He offers surprising poignancy when he tells Dax, "It's about the love, Youngblood nothing else." "Uncle Drew" amidst some noisy lunacy is about the love. Go after what's in your heart. We all get older, yet love what you love doing. Be it basketball. Be it Aikido for me.

Uncle Drew offers some wisdom we can all take home. "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Yeah, strive valiantly and fail while daring greatly. Amen, "Uncle Drew".
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7/10
The Eyes of the Child Saves "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom"
25 June 2018
The glaring narrative loophole for all the "Jurassic Park", now "Jurassic World" movies is singular. What would possess anyone to think: "Hey, let's use prehistoric DNA to clone the unstoppable killing machine!" When is that ever a good idea? Well, never.

Director J. A. Bayona's sequel "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" inherits its own faulty DNA in the perpetuating premise. Yet, J. A. along with Writers Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow manage to navigate the repetitive narrative sideways.

We actually cheer for the vicious dinosaurs against mankind. Mostly, because mankind occurs as stupid. Human creators played God, and were arrogant enough to think that they could control the Raptors and other creatures. Perhaps, messing with evolution. Creating a brave new order? No.

"Fallen Kingdom" opens with the familiar face from "Jurassic Park". Now elder scientist Ian Malcolm, surprisingly humbled Jeff Goldblum, testifies before the Congressional Committee. The cataclysmic volcanic eruptions on Isla Nublar threaten the second extinction of DNA cloned dinosaurs on the Island. Ian advises Congress to let the creatures all die in the volcanic aftermath. He says that this may be Nature's way of "self-correction".

Of course idiocy prevails: Congress orders the military rescue of at least 11 species of dinosaurs for the sake of having a movie to make. The Government enlists passionate idealist Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire, now dinosaur preservation activist, as part of the operations extraction team. Claire seeks out her estranged ex-lover Owen, whimsically aloof Chris Pratt, to join their mission. Owen has a unique affinity for Raptor named "Blue". He's like the "dinosaur whisperer". Predictably, reluctant Owen joins Claire for the helicopter ride to Isla Nublar.

In the clandestine background, Jurassic Park co-creator Benjamin Lockwood, played by weary wise James Cromwell, suffers over his precarious legacy. His estate executive Eli, played by cool calculated Rafe Spall, has more mercenary intentions for Lockwood's legacy. Lockwood entrusts the care of his innocent young granddaughter Maisie, played by bright strong Isabella Sermon, to Eli. Maisie also has strange affinity for her Grandfather's dinosaur creations.

"Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" is nonstop action eye-candy that overwhelms any semblance of character development. The fierce Raptors and T-Rexs are visual effects marvels. Chris is charmingly game as Owen, and delivers martial arts skills along with flip one-liners. Bryce is intense, yet light-hearted resilience as purposeful Claire.

I loved Director Bayona's "A Monster Calls", which is the greater movie. "Fallen Kingdom" benefits from his amazing visual style. In "A Monster Calls" Bayona's authentic gift is his endearing connection of childhood. I believe that gift resuscitates "Fallen Kingdom" in the story of young Maisie.

Resisting the overplayed child in peril scenario, Isabella's Maisie sees both the wonder and terror of "The Fallen Kingdom". There's a very touching scene midway through as frightened Maisie hugs Owen. He holds her close. He promises that everything will be all right.

Maisie holds hope for the brighter day to come. Hope that the evil that men do shall come to its end. That glimmer of childhood idealism revives "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" above the state of the art action movie fare. We see the hope through the eyes of the child.
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Incredibles 2 (2018)
10/10
Don't fire the baby...
18 June 2018
Bob Parr, retired Superhero Mr. Incredible now Mr. Mom, voiced by Craig T. Nelson, discovers that his infant son Jack-Jack, goo goo-ed by Eli Fucile, shoots deadly green lasers from his eyes. He cautions his older daughter Violet, voiced by Sarah Vowell, and her younger brother Dash, voiced by Huck Milner, while playing with their brother, "Don't fire the baby!" Now, you won't hear that in movies. I'll even go out on a limb here.

That's the signature humor and inventiveness of Writer and Director Brad Bird's "Incredibles 2". "Incredibles 2" is really incredible, too. "2" is the sequel 14 years in the making. The technological advance in state-of-the art animation since astounds. In the visual high speed chase Helen's Elastic Girl, voiced with down home charm and common sense by Holly Hunter, swerves her motorcycle as she rescues the out-of-control monorail train. In the stunning night skyline Elastic Girl hops between helicopters with her rubber-like arms to save the Ambassador.

Still with Bird flexing his formidable CGI might, he touches when Bob confesses to daughter Violet, "I just want to be a good Dad." Nelson is humorous and vulnerable as the Dad. Bob was responsible for her possible boyfriend Tony's imposed memory loss to guard the family's identity. Violet is devastated when Tony forgets their movie date. Yeah, Dad and Mom using their super strength and elastic powers stopped the villainous Underminer, comical John Ratzenberger, and his hulking drilling machine. Bob messed up big time where it also counted, with family. Family and heart ultimately save the day in "Incredibles 2".

"Incredibles 2" is hysterical in its cool self-awareness and irreverence. "2" has the hip retro 60's vibe in its art deco design and music score by Michael Giacchino. You get the feel of a James Bond or "In Like Flint" movie. Well, just shows my age.

"Supers" or Superheroes are still outlawed in the world of "Incredibles 2". The movie literally opens where we left off 14 years ago as the Incredibles battle the Underminer determined to destroy the City. Emerging victorious the Family is forced back into seclusion.

Brother and sister Winston and Evelyn of high-technology Dev Tech, voiced by slick Bob Odenkirk and sublime Catherine Keener, offer the Parr's their proposal. Winston and Evelyn seek to overturn the ban on Supers. Their late Father was the Supers greatest advocate. Both parents were tragically murdered when Supers were unable to save them from a home robbery.

Marketing expert Winston wants to leverage Elastic Girl in the TV PR campaign to overturn the law. It's kind of like Reality TV for the good cause. Well, kind of. Swallowing his ego, because they opted out Mr. Incredible, Bob agrees that Helen should be the Star. Near half-way through the movie you get the telegraph that all is not what it seems. Perhaps, that's the only downside of Writer Bird's incredible narrative.

Director Bird does provide the brilliant upside in the return of diminutive Supers costume designer extraordinaire Edna Mode or E. E graciously babysits and costumes Jack-Jack leashing and tracking some of his emergent powers. Bird is genuinely hysterical voicing E. And "Incredibles 2" is absolutely hysterical with endearing sweetness.

At times action movie overload occurs, particularly near the end. The amazing CGI tends to overwhelm a bit. Yet, when Helen tells her children how proud she is of them that resonates home. Because when it comes down to it: Love makes you Super. I just hope Bird, Disney and Pixar don't wait another 14 years to tell another "Incredibles" story about love and family.
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Adrift (I) (2018)
9/10
Love makes you strong
12 June 2018
In the heartbreaking scene in "Adrift" weary sun-ravaged Tammy, played by Shailene Woodley, awakes next to wounded lover Richard, played by Sam Clafin, on their wrecked sailboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Tammy cries out loud, "Oh my... We're gonna die!" Shailene is so vulnerable, so powerful as Tammy in her impossible journey home. She owns this movie. She compels all of us to watch in awe.

Director Baltasar Kormakur's "Adrift" tells the tragic true story of Tammy and Richard's sailing voyage from Tahiti to San Diego during Hurricane Raymond in 1983. "Adrift" is based on the book by Tammy Ashcraft, the Tammy in the movie. Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, and David Branson Smith wrote the harrowing screenplay based on her book.

Shailene is awesome. I've been a fan since "The Descendants" and "The Fault in Our Stars". As Tammy she is frightened and fierce, her emotions are raw, to the bone. "Adrift" is predictable in the sense that it's the true story, with the known outcome. Yet, the eloquent narrative twist got me. It landed. Outcome aside, Shailene boldly portrays Tammy's transformation of greater.

No. What doesn't kill you, doesn't make you stronger. Love makes you stronger. Really. Weakened Richard reminds Tammy, "You can do anything you put your mind to." Have faith within.

As the movie opens 23 year-old Tammy arrives in Tahiti with no particular plans, other than work and to get by. She works maintenance at the local dock. Tammy's passion is sailing, for the open seas. She really has no one in her life. Her Mom had her when she was 14 years-old, and was virtually raised by her Grandparents. Her Dad was kind to her, whenever he visited town, until that stopped. Seems the sea embodied Tammy's own personal freedom.

Tammy meets rogue sailing Richard, who sails the ocean without any clear purpose in mind after graduating from the London Royal Navy Academy. Tammy and Richard discover each other as soulmates.

Here Director Kormakur falters a tad, the romance blossoms as rather canny. Gratefully, Shailene and Sam infuse their courtship with awkward charm and humorous sense of wonder. Tammy and Richard fall in love. We see their touching screen chemistry swimming in the isolated cove or dancing at the local dive bar.

Richard's friends Peter and Christine, played by generous Jeffrey Thomas and Elizabeth Hawthorne, ask Richard as a favor to sail their yacht back to San Diego. They have to fly home from Tahiti, because of a family crisis. Richard and Tammy agree.

On the voyage to San Diego, Tammy and Richard sail into the eye of the category 5 Hurricane Raymond. The storm nearly demolishes the boat leaving them "Adrift" in the middle of the Pacific, thousands of miles from land. The movie opens as Tammy arises from the flooded cabin searching for Richard. It's on.

The nightmare perpetuates under the glaring sun, with little food and drinkable water. Shailene's Tammy valiantly endures. At the touching narrative arc, Tammy says, "I love you..." Love makes you strong. It keeps you going. Love makes you endure all the bad in hope of the new day. "Adrift" is about the love the keeps us all alive, that keeps us strong.
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Ocean's Eight (2018)
8/10
"Ocean's 8" could have gone with more heart
11 June 2018
Sandra Bullock is master of the disingenuous in Writer and Director Gary Ross's reboot "Ocean's 8". Sandra plays Debbie Ocean, the younger sister of Danny Ocean, played by George Clooney in the previous "Ocean's" movies, who is released from prison after 5 years. Note that George only appears in photo.

Sandra's Debbie rightfully served her time for robbery and fraud. She's not a really good person. Once freed with $45 to her name, unrepentant Debbie immediately returns to her life of crime. Debbie admits to her business and possibly past romantic partner Lou, elegantly cool Cate Blanchett, "Because I'm good at it."

During her years in solitary confinement Debbie devised the proofed scheme to rob the Met Gala in New York City. Specifically, steal the $150 million dollar Trouisant necklace worn by ego manic actress Daphne Kluger, hysterically vapid Anne Hathaway. Lou and Debbie assemble their super team. Aside from pure larceny, Debbie's real motives seemingly reveal. Lou angrily confronts Debbie's con job to avenge her former lover's betrayal. Cate and Sandra's authentic no bull chemistry elevates and personalizes the often superfluous narrative by screenwriters Ross and Olivia Milch.

"Ocean's 8" is still unexpected hilarious fun. Yet, it rings hollow at times. Is it only about stealing priceless jewels? Is it about Debbie exacting revenge upon ex-lover art dealer Claude, played by lizard-like charming Richard Armitage? Yeah, it's about the very talented women, who are way smarter, attempting the impossible heist. Still watching you wonder: Is there more?

Not surprisingly, Sandra is beautiful and smart as Debbie. Her unique movie star gift whether romantic comedy or drama is her heart and authenticity. Here she is way too cool; her Debbie revels in being smarter than thou. Fortunately, Lou and Debbie's touching affection for one another, romantic or otherwise, balances the elitist narrative. Cate is ultra-cool repose sitting with her arms rested on each leg. She commands in her calm presence.

The supporting cast is part of the arresting diversion of "8". Anne is brilliant comedic charm as the underestimated Daphne. Rihana is understated swag and smarts as expert street hacker Nine Ball. Awkwafina is mercurial bravado as street magician and master pickpocket Constance. Sarah Paulson is meticulously clumsy as expert fencer Tammy. Mindy Kaling is under leveraged as sweet shy jeweler Amita. Helena Bonham Carter is little too quirky in her version of Cindy Lauper as a vanguard designer Rose Weil.

Gratefully, Sandra's Debbie delivers humanity in the final frames of "Ocean's 8". So there's more. "Ocean's 8" gamely amuses with its glamorous couture and glorious flourish of the Met Gala. Sandra steals hysterical moments in her mastery of German. "Ocean's 8" is terrific fun, displaying its heart in the end. Too bad "8" doesn't dare for more heart throughout.
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7/10
Flying "Solo"
28 May 2018
Is "Solo: A Star Wars Story" a Disney cash grab? Yeah, pretty much. Is "Solo" worth seeing? Perhaps. Director Ron Howard took over completing "Solo" when original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired by Disney half way through filming. Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan's screenplay tells the origins of "Star Wars" beloved younger Han Solo, played by Alden Ehrenreich.

The Kasdan story occurs pretty much as unnecessary. Although darker and murky in context coupled with Ehrenreich's charming breezy interpretation "Solo" really misses deepening the emergent Hero Han Solo in the "Star Wars" mythology. Alden's good looks and smirking sense of humor lacks the gravitas of the selfish galactic thief's reluctant nobler persona. Mostly, his performance reveals the narrative failings of the story. Too bad.

On the other hand, "Solo" has a gritty visual feel. The spectacular scene on the wintry planet with speeding monorail train to capture the prized fuel, coaxium, is breathtaking. Yet, we know that Han and Chewbacca, played by Joonas Suotamo, are never really in fatal peril. There is no authentic sense of danger in "Solo", because we know that Han will meet his fate much later in "The Force Awakens". As for dangerous, Ehrenreich lacks that edge that Harrison Ford possessed. This Solo is the "bad boy" wannabe.

Han's thieving mentor is solid Woody Harrelson as charismatic Beckett. The grizzled Beckett's advice to young Han is: "Assume everyone will betray you." Nice. Now, that really inspires. Not. Much of "Solo" is the Hero's narrative mess.

On the upside, I experienced that sense of wonder and nostalgia as Han, Chewie, and Lando Calrissian, played by amazing Donald Glover, race into hyper-drive making their legendary Kessel Run in the revered Millennium Falcon. Director Howard is best in his homage to the mythology. Although, he is often stymied with the "Solo" sequence in the "Star Wars" trilogies. Certain outcomes are predetermined.

Apparently, young orphaned Han grows up in the Crime Syndicate community ruled by Lady Proxima, the Jabba the Hutt look-like creature voiced by Linda Hunt. Proxima leverages the children and younglings as potential thieves. Among them are Han and Qi'ra, bold beautiful Emilia Clarke, who is the love of Han's life. Han dreams of becoming a great pilot. He and Qi'ra plan their escape from the Syndicate. However, Qi'ra sacrifices capture for her lover's escape.

3 years later, Han is an Imperial soldier after dismissal from the Imperial Pilot Academy for insubordination. He befriends Beckett, played by Harrelson. Beckett sees the younger version of himself in Han. Beckett is beholding to a bond to Crime boss Dryden Vos, sublimely evil Paul Bettany. Han rediscovers Qi'ra, who is now herself beholding to Dryden. Han and Qi'ra are still in love.

Perhaps, what restored my attention is their sweet love story. Of all the eye candy and galactic chases that has humanity. Although, Han doesn't see it, Clarke's Qi'ra sees "the good man" within. That maybe "Solo"'s salvaging grace. Clarke gives heart to "Solo" amidst the flailing conspiracy and convoluted misdirects. She provides the sense of character and love. She also hints the intriguing surprise into the balance of the Force to come.

"Solo" is completely unnecessary. It retains a sense of fun. "Solo" is the innocuous entertaining cash grab that celebrates nostalgia. Too bad "Solo" doesn't intend for the ambitious purpose as well.
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Deadpool 2 (2018)
10/10
F is for Family in "Deadpool 2"
21 May 2018
"Deadpool 2" is hysterical, whimsically crass, electrifying action, and despite superfluous intentions: "Deadpool 2" is about family. Sweet surprise. Ryan Reynolds is the mercurial snarky reluctant hero Deadpool and his human persona Wade Wilson. Wade possesses amazing mutant regenerative powers and martial arts skills. Josh Brolin is Cable, the mechanically armed cyborg from the future, seeking to alter the time line; thus, erasing his own personal tragedy. Wade's heartbroken cynicism and Cable's dour intensity compose this unique Yin and Yang of Director David Leitch's eclectic "Deadpool 2".

Leitch has a masterful eye for martial arts execution as displayed in "John Wick" and "Atomic Blonde". Brolin's Cable and Reynolds's Deadpool go full throttle in vicious throw down, upon each other or in tandem thrashing a villain horde. With all the spectacular shoot 'em eye candy, gaudy CGI battles, and cleverer than thou self-conscious pop culture references the story by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Reynolds discovers genuine gravitas in its conventional heart: What is it to be a family?

At the narrative arc Vanessa, played by beautiful soulful Morena Baccarin, tells her lover Wade, "Kids give us a chance of being better than we use to be." In this "Deadpool 2" emerges greater. "Deadpool 2" is more of the same hyperbole action sequences and smart aleck sensibility. Yet, Wade experiences profound loss and discovers his purpose in saving suffering young mutant Russell, played by innocently brave Julian Dennison, who commands fiery flames through his hands.

In all its misdirects and the comic narrative obsession for Wolverine and Hugh Jackman, "Deadpool" is really about family and love. Deadpool himself would rather vomit in his confession. He forms the "X-Force" to complete his mission to save Russell's soul and the future's well-being. Strong mesmerizing Zazie Beetz as Domino, whose mutant prowess is luck, comments on the team's name: "Isn't that a little derivative?" Exactly. Zazie is total kick ass and a star. Domino. Cable. Deadpool. Russell. Family doesn't necessarily have to look a certain way. But you know when you are one.

Reynolds beautifully balances aloof smarter than thou and big-hearted hero. He is literally stifled in that red mask. Yet, Leitch wisely exposes Ryan's well of emotions when unmasked. Wade tells tearful Russell, "You're a good kid..." Deadpool reveals his own truth. Through all his bluster and irreverence, he knows that we all deserve kindness. Josh Brolin is Ryan's understatedly powerful foil. In contrast to motor mouth Wade, his Cable's selected words command gravity. He moves us as he speaks of "the most pain" you will ever know.

"Deadpool 2" is loud, smart aleck hysterical and total over the top carnage. No surprise. What surprises: It's sense of humanity. Seems even Deadpool knows that Hero is about family. Hero is about love. He might even say that with a straight face, if you could see his face. Just saying.
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Tully (2018)
8/10
Heal thy self
7 May 2018
In "Tully" on the quiet night sitting together in the kitchen, exhausted suffering Mom Marlo, played by Charlize Theron, enlightens her radiant young night nanny Tully, played by Mackenzie Davis, "We (women) don't heal." In Diablo Cody's whimsical punchline Marlo says, "We just wear a great concealer..." Theron plays Marlo, the emotionally overwhelmed Mother of 2 children and newborn.

Theron is authentically fearless and vulnerable as her Marlo loses her own identity in the everyday drudge of driving her kids to school or breastfeeding in the wee hours of the night. Her husband Drew, played by earnest Ron Livingston, is often away on extended business travel. When he is home, he's in bed playing video games on-line. That is Marlo's life.

In Director Jason Reitman and Writer Diablo Cody's narrative Marlo experiences nearly insurmountable desperation, perhaps even depression. Yet, "Tully" tells its inspired story of healing oneself. Charlize Theron is bold and naked in her humanity. Her Marlo discovers salvation in the life-wise 26-year-old night nanny Tully. Mackenzie Davis is lulling gravitas as Tully, who touchingly tells Marlo, "I'm here to take care of you."

Although, the narrative reveal nearly derails its noble intentions "Tully" creates that space in which we can all grant forgiveness, especially for ourselves. Marlo tears up when her troubled son Jonah, played by innocent Asher Miles Fallica says, "I love you." Theron's noble grace delivers the poignant message of acceptance that heals.

I watched an interview with Charlize on "Good Morning America" talking about her role in "Tully". She is the mother of two adopted young children. Charlize said, "Mothers are fearless." Yes, Mothers give us hope for the greater. I thank and love my Mom for everything she did. Yes, Mothers are fearless. Mothers make us brave, as well. Thank you to all Moms.
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9/10
So in the end: Was it worth it?
1 May 2018
"Avengers: Infinity War" is awesome. Surprisingly, much beauty arises in its imperfection. "Infinity War" embodies the catharsis of the superhero tale of The Avengers. The visuals are dazzling; the battles have never been more spectacular or more costly. Despite having way too many superheroes in this 2 hour 40 minute experience, what makes "Infinity War" so compelling is the villain Thanos.

Charismatic and sad Josh Brolin gifts the amazing motion capture performance of galactic warrior Thanos, the hulking man-like creature Son of Saturn's Moon Titan. I agree with my buddy Marc: I get who Thanos is. As a child he watched his vibrant Titan die, due to over population; thus exhausting its resources. That was his epiphany. Thanos "adopts" daughters Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana, and Nebula, played by Karen Gillan, on his merciless conquests across the universe.

Now the feared warrior Thanos possesses the Infinity Gauntlet, the golden mechanical glove with the Infinity Stones. When he possesses all six stones, he will have the power to wipe out half of all humanity with the snap of his finger. In his own enlightened twist way, he believes that he is benevolent. That is he for the greater good.

At the narrative arc of "Infinity War" Thanos tells Doctor Strange, master of the Mystic Arts and Earth's defender, played by understated and powerful Benedict Cumberbatch, of killing off half of the known universe with the snap of his finger, "I call that mercy." Doctor Strange asks, "And then what?" Thanos replies, "I finally rest..."

Directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo string a cohesive narrative thread with the inspired screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, wisely focusing our attention on Thanos. Thus, humanizing him before our eyes. "Infinity War" is great, yet not greater than "Black Panther". Where "Black Panther" was the self-sustained tale of becoming greater, "Infinity War" is more the Act 2 of the Avenger's hero morality play.

Even amidst the often tangled story lines of the rift between Robert Downey Jr.' s Iron Man and Chris Evans's Captain America, and Chris Hemsworth's Thor's displacement from his home World Asgaard, "Infinity War" is surprisingly and poignantly about the cost of being right; however justified we might be.

In that the Russo Brothers do the little things humanely: child Gamora asks her father Thanos, "What did it cost?" Thanos replies, "Everything." So was it worth it?

Chris Hemsworth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, and Chris Evans rock as Thor, Doc Strange, Gamora, and Captain America - Steve Rogers are amazing. Hemsworth is refreshingly badass as Thor, fueled by his vengeance upon Thanos. Cumberbatch is quiet confidence and wisdom as Doctor Strange, who may possess the key to the actual "endgame". Evans always embodies such conviction and earnestness in idealist Captain America. Saldana is so powerful stealing the movie displaying authentic humanity in her love - despise relationship with her father Thanos.

Their personal story resonates above the sometimes distracting number of heroes and splintering narrative threads. So in the end was it worth it for Thanos? Does he get what he really wants? At least for me, I was surprised in "Avenger: Infinity War" in a great way. So it was worth it. Even with the totally WTF conclusion, I still have hope. I can't wait to see what happens in May 2019.
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8/10
Win it for you
9 April 2018
If you're lucky as the kid growing up, you have that friend who inspired you to be greater. And if you're present at the time, you get the gift then. Before you're old and distinguish its value in retrospect. For me that was my friend John from high school. In Director Sean McNamara's "The Miracle Season" that soul is Caroline, played by Danika Yarosh, who inspired greater in Kelly, played by Erin Moriarty.

17 year-old Caroline or "Line" is the star volleyball setter for the Iowa State Champion High School Trojans. Line sees the strength within her best friend and teammate Kelly. Caroline sees the hero within Kelly that she has yet to discern. Along with their Coach Kathy "Bres" Bresnahan, the Trojans commit to win the 2nd consecutive State Title, something no other school had accomplished.

Spirited pretty Yarosh as Caroline is the radiant light who grants everyone friendship. Her Dad Ernie, played by William Hurt, is the surgeon and team mentor. Her Mother Ellyn, played by Jillian Fargey, suffers from terminal cancer. Caroline holds out hope that Mom will see her get married someday.

Caroline tragically dies in a traffic accident before the season starts. Her Dad and Kelly, along with the entire community are devastated. Initially, strong stoic Hunt as Bres dedicates along with the team to winning the State Championship for Caroline.

Sounds predictable or formulaic? Perhaps. However, unique poignancy emerges in the screenplay by David Aaron Cohan and Elissa Mastueda, whose story is based on real life Iowa high school volleyball star Caroline Found, who passed away in 2015. The movie is the homage to the Trojan's "Miracle Season" to the State Championships.

At times Cohan and Matsueda's narrative succumbs to wallowed sentimentality. Clumsy dialogue occurs especially in Coach Bres's inspirational sound bites. Perhaps, the mourning for the girls over Caroline's death indulges a tad, yet there is the sense of authentic loss. I think that authenticity of loss and looking at what someone's true legacy endears "The Miracle Season" even in its frailties.

Erin Moriarty is a star. She has understated strength and vulnerability as Kelly. She and Helen Hunt have savior chemistry and partnership. In the great scene Kelly quietly sets the volleyball up in air with her fingers, while Coach Bres closes her eyes and listens. She knows Kelly is the one. William Hurt is beautiful humanity as the grieving father, who like Line sees the greater within Kelly. "The Miracle Season" is about letting go.

So what is legacy? I've gotten that legacy shall be defined by others we touched in life. Yet, legacy can't be confined to the memory of the past. Legacy has value only when it is about those remaining moving forward and becoming greater. It's about regenerating the joy of those we love be it: making snow angels in the middle of nowhere.

Legacy is about others, them becoming greater than they know. Toward the end, Bres tells her players that she loves them, and couldn't be prouder. She says, "Win it for you!" "The Miracle Season" touches in reminding us that we honor someone's legacy in pursuing our own greater.
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8/10
What we really have...
4 April 2018
Steven Spielberg's "Ready Player One" is somewhat the paradox, in both good and no so great ways. As "Ready Player One" opens, we see Ohio in 2045 with vertically stacked trailer homes. It's the home to 18 year-old Wade, played by Tye Sheridan. All the while we hear "Jump" by Van Halen from their "1984" album, back from my youth.

Spielberg orchestrates nostalgia for 1980's and '90's culture, which reveals as part of Zak Penn and Ernest Cline's screen narrative based on Cline's 2011 novel. The worthwhile message that what we have is our reality, and risking yourself gives life is nearly lost in 2 hours and 20 minutes of visual spectacle eye candy, and intense action for thrill sake near the end.

"Ready Player One" tells the story of the perils of the constructed virtual reality world called OASIS, where game created avatars compete to discover the 3 Keys. Possession of those Keys grant the victor reign of OASIS from its late Creator Halliday, played by gentle suffering Mark Rylance.

Master gamer Wade's avatar is cool handsome Parzival. His intimate rival is beautiful free-spirited Art3mis, played by strong vulnerable Olivia Cooke, who intends to beat him.

Much of the story occurs in the virtual OASIS, where authentic risk, danger, and even love are not necessarily real. Or are they? This where "Ready Player One" falters somewhat. Although, the visual imagery evokes that sense of wonder in the amazing motorcycle races, and cool high tech. Wonder lies in the love story of Parzival and Art3mis. Dancing together in the air of the rave-like club, Art3mis cautions Parzival that he doesn't really see or know her. That he might be disappointed.

That discovery in the real world is the most intriguing and human story. In that world Wade poignantly says, "I'm not disappointed..." That made the movie for me. I think Steven Spielberg seems so compelled to marvel the audience in the thrills of OASIS, instead of trusting the unique humanity of Sheridan and Cooke. Love stories really move. Spectacular visual CGI effects and lifelike human capture amaze, but are essentially narrative gravy.

"Ready Player One" is the tale of the brilliant man, who didn't risk falling in love and regretted that for the rest of his life. Consequently, he created the virtual world OASIS where he could simulate the greater he never risked. And the rest of the future world in 2045 embraced living that virtual life as opposed to the real one. Perhaps, this is our caution for the obsession of virtual reality games, social media and similar constructs.

Toward the end "Ready Player One" bogs down in gamer war and chases. The movie could have easily been half an hour shorter. Fortunately, Tye and Olivia's collective humanity remind of the purpose of it all. What we really have is reality in life. And what makes that all worth it, is taking a risk and having faith.
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Love, Simon (2018)
10/10
I love "Love, Simon"
19 March 2018
The beauty and poignancy of "Love, Simon" is that what makes it so revolutionary may no longer be someday. Nick Robinson is vulnerable and authentic as 17 year-old Simon, who comes out as gay. In Director Greg Berlanti's "Love, Simon" someone hostages Simon's choice. He screams in anger, "It's supposed to be my thing!" Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker of "This is Us" wrote the eloquently whimsical screenplay based on Becky Albertalli's "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda". Perhaps, Berger and Aptaker's story falters a little in contrivance seemingly forcing Simon's "outing". Yet, Berlanti and Robinson convey its touching humanity.

Nick's Simon powerfully declares, "... I'm still me." He gets to take a deep breath again. Simon gets to just be. Later his Mom Emily, played by compassionately wise Jennifer Garner tells her son, "You get to exhale now, Simon." She sensed that her Simon was 'holding his breath' for these last few years, that he suffered.

"Love, Simon" touches all of us within. I saw the movie in the theater with many teens and young adults in attendance. At the arc of the love story, everyone including me applauded. Everyone.

"Love, Simon" distinguishes as the first major studio release about teen gay love story. The movie resonates far beyond just that. "Love, Simon" is about the possibility of falling in love, and being free to be who you are. Maybe "Love, Simon" rounds its narrative edges incorporated in the crisp witty dialogue and commentary. Yet, "Simon" endears your heart with its sense of decency and generous respect of people.

"Love, Simon" opens as Simon describes the stasis of his life. Life is good, normal for the most part. He loves his family. Mom, played by Garner, is the successful clinician. She was the high school valedictorian, who married the Captain of the football team his Dad Jack, played by strong gentle Josh Duhamel, who discovered greater after football. Simon is supportive of his creative younger sister Nora, cute not too precocious Talitha Bateman, who dreams of becoming the next Celebrity TV Chef.

Simon confesses to a big secret. When he gazes at the strapping young male landscaper, we get it. Simon hangs with his core friends in Leah, Nick, and Abby played by Katherine Langford, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., and Alexandra Shipp, who are all amazing. Life goes on with their morning ice coffee runs.

Then one day, Leah, who holds a torch for Simon, tells him that one of their classmates came out as gay on an Internet site. He goes by the name Blue. Curious, Simon contacts Blue to let him know that he is not alone. Simon falls in love with Blue in their email exchanges. One of Berger and Aptaker's conceits becomes the detective story to uncover Blue's identity.

Along the way predictable conflict arises when fellow drama student Martin, played by callous socially crippled Logan Miller, spies Simon's email to Blue. He blackmails Simon to get him with Abby or else he will reveal the intimate email. Simon is barely discovering who he is. Now some jerk victimizes him for discovering what makes him happy, for risking falling in love.

"Love, Simon" is masterful in understatement. Although the narrative veers contrived at times, we experience Simon's life: both the suffering and joy. The movie wisely focuses on Simon's school life. Yet, the moments with his parents are amazing. Too bad Garner and Duhamel don't leverage more screen time. They are awesome.

Robinson is the star of "Love, Simon". He is the brightness of humanity in the darkness of prejudice. Our hearts break in Simon's betrayal. And they soar with his joy. Simon says, "I'm still me." "Love, Simon" also says, "I'm free to be me." Now that is a world we all deserve to live in. I love "Love, Simon".
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Black Panther (2018)
10/10
Becoming Greater
21 February 2018
Although early in 2018, Writer and Director Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther" is one of the year's best. At least it shall be one of my favorites. "Black Panther" transcends the superhero movie genera that thrills and touches our souls. "Black Panther" is beautiful to behold with the majestic African landscape and seamlessly generated images of the futuristic culture of Wakanda literally hidden from the rest of the world.

The screen astounds in tragic physical battles or the shiny Lexus's racing through the night streets in Korea. Ryan along with co-writer Joe Robert Cole create inspired conversations of the sacrifices of becoming greater, forgiveness of betrayal, forsaking utopian isolationism for the greater good. "Black Panther" is the culture phenomenon.

"Black Panther" tells the timeless tale of the Hero and the defining other. Chadwick Boseman is magnificent as T'Challa, who becomes the legendary Black Panther. T'Challa succeeds his murdered Father T'Chaka, played by John Kani, as King of Wakanda. Strikingly handsome Chadwick embodies grace and elegant swag. He distinguishes the hero in his action, his words, and in the power of his tears.

Michael B. Jordan plays mercenary ex-CIA operative Eric Killmonger, who defines T'Challa, the Black Panther. Michael is powerful as the suffering villain Eric. In Ryan's narrative and Michael's soulful being, we can't dismiss Eric as mere villain. He's human, too. Like T'Challa, Eric is both lightness and darkness. We all are.

Eric's tremendous rage sources from his unforgiving past. T'Challa realizes Eric horrific betrayal. In T'Challa's "vision quest", he confronts his Father. He cries, "We were wrong!" T'Challa perhaps is the greater man. His Father's words, "And it's hard for a good man to be king."- become his paradox.

Eric's suffering robbed him of compassion. Though his noble purpose is equality for all. Even the villain is not all darkness. "Black Panther" is eloquent resolution of the ideologies of T'Challa and Eric, each valuing courage and dignity in their own ways. Chadwick and Michael's conflict profoundly move us. T'Challa's tears touched my soul.

In the "Black Panther" mythology, Wakanda emerged when a meteor of made of Vibranium, the hardest metal known, crashes in Africa. Vibranium allowed the people of Wakanda to develop breakthrough technology, becoming the most advanced culture on Earth. Unbeknownst to everyone else. Wakanda is composed of five united tribes lead by the mythical Black Panther. The Black Panther is from the lineage of Kings, who with the serum of the indigenous plant possess great strength, speed, and agility.

T'Challa is the next Black Panther. His mother is nurturing Ramonda, played by strong Angela Bassett, who believes he shall be the great King. His sister is genius scientist Shuri, whimsically brilliant Letita Wright. Letita is the scene stealing star. Shuri is like T'Challa's "Q" creating the kinetic energy suit he wears among other weaponry. His ex-lover Nakia, played by strong beautiful Lupita Nyongo, is the spy gathering intelligence on the outside world. Amazing Danai Guria plays General Okoye, the powerful warrior guarding the Royal Family.

Arms dealer Ulysses Klaue, played by ruthless Andy Serkis, steals Vibranium threatening the revelation of Wakanda and its secrets. Eric is Klaue's mission leader. Klaue seemingly reveals the singluar narrative frailty. He is without nuance almost caricature. He serves as the plot device tying in charismatic Eric.

"Black Panther" mesmerizes in stunning vibrant visual displays and the inspired battles of T'Challa and Eric. Ryan's words and story resonate. Nakia tells T'Challa, "Only you can decide what kind of king you want to be." What kind of person will you be? Who will you become? That inspired to make me to look within as well.

That's what is so special about "Black Panther". "Black Panther" dares you to choose the greater than path, becoming greater than you know yourself to be. To create and live in that greater space. And the world will be greater for it.
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10/10
The Canvas of the Heart
22 January 2018
"Phantom Thread" is mesmerizing and profoundly sad. Daniel Day-Lewis is riveting and powerful as the solitary artist unwilling to release control of his own world to surrender to love. In Writer and Director Paul Thomas Anderson's "Phantom Thread" set in post-War 1950's London, Day-Lewis plays renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock, who designs wedding dresses for all of London's elite. Middle-aged Woodcock is the confirmed bachelor taking and discarding his lovers.

Reynolds along with devoted sister Cyril, played by powerfully understated Leslie Manville, lead the fashion House of Woodcock. Having also foregone marriage, Cyril apparently cares for her brother, who seemingly battles depression. Woodcock is the paradox. He creates beauty, accommodating women with his fashion. Yet, in his personal relationship with women, he is unforgiving. Daniel is brilliant restraint and the master of detail in Woodcock's focused will constructing his world that he imposes upon those close to him.

Day-Lewis's Woodcock has no self-awareness, his character failing. He allows no space for love, much less granting permission to love him; aside from his Cyril. On holiday at their family vacation home, Woodcock encounters beguiling natural beauty Alma, authentically vulnerable Vicky Krieps. Woodcock romances Alma in his distinguishing style. Is he falling in love with his discovered muse or is she merely the ideal model?

Woodcock confesses, "I've been looking for you for a long time." While walking on the gorgeous hills of the English coastline Alma says, "You found me..." So is this the beginnings of true love?

Director Anderson creates the elegant world of fashion and privilege with meticulous images and the moving musical score. His love story of Woodcock and Alma resonates as deeply sad. Someone wise said that profound sadness heals loss. Poignantly, the sadness in "Phantom Thread" is the kind that reminds of past loss, and perpetuates. Yet, the possibility of profound sadness may exist in the narrative resolve.

Reynolds suffers with the loss of his Mother as a young boy. He loved her so, but never completed his loss. Anyone who dares intimacy with him suffers the consequences. That narrative thread is sown into the very canvas of "Phantom Thread".

At the tipping point of Woodcock and Alma's love affair, Cyril defends her distinct fondness for Alma. Brave Cyril warns her brother, "Don't pick a fight with me. You certainly won't come out alive. I'll go right through you..." Woodcock is his own worst enemy, of which he has no clue. When all three are present, Woodcock tragically says, "There is an air of quiet death in this house..." That is so. And Reynolds is the source.

In the ironic narrative twist Alma betrays Woodcock to calm their volatile relationship. Strangely, this element enlists defining gravitas. Cyril and Alma truly love Reynolds. Ultimately, he must choose to give up being right about everyone. That is hard for anyone to do. Director Anderson is unflinching and patient in revealing his portrait of humility and personal surrender. His story falters at times, yet his humanity is eloquence.

"Phantom Thread" is beauty and sadness. Day-Lewis, Manville, and Krieps are all sublime. "Phantom Thread" inquires: What you would sew into the canvas of your life or for those you love? "Phantom Thread" is wonderful and touching to behold.
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The Post (2017)
10/10
Beholding Truth
16 January 2018
Meryl Streep is so very powerful in her quiet and repose in "The Post". Two moments distinguished the movie for me. Streep plays widow Kay Graham, publisher and owner of the Washington Post in 1971. Her family owned the newspaper for generations. Being a woman, indicative of that time, her husband became publisher of The Post. Tragically, he died in suicide. Then Kay took over as Publisher.

At night before tucking her granddaughter to bed, Kay has her daughter Lally, played by bright gentle Allison Brie, read the notes she wrote for her Mom's speech about her Dad. Kay silently listens as she reads her written notes. Kay gets from Lally that she is stronger than she knows.

After obtaining the "Pentagon Papers", the top secret study of the Vietnam War that Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, played by brilliant Bruce Greenwood, commissioned, managing editor Ben Bradlee, played by authentic idealist Tom Hanks, is adamant that Kay 'must publish this'. The "Pentagon Papers" detailed how the US had been losing the Vietnam War over several Administrations.

In Ben's "come to Jesus" moment his wife Tony, wonderfully compassionate Sarah Paulson, reminds him what's so. As consequence of publishing, Ben could lose his job, and perhaps find another job even gaining in reputation. On the other hand, Kay could lose the Post, lose everything in the aftermath. She says that when Kay stands in a room of men, they look passed her just because she's a woman. In acknowledgement of Kay, Tony says, "I think that's brave."

Director Steven Spielberg's "The Post" authentically captures a time when freedom of speech, of the press was so vital to who we are. That also resonates perhaps more so today. I believe Liz Hannah and Josh Singer's story echoes and exposes the culture where women were looked passed, as even less than. This is the #Metoo as well. Meryl gives her best performance in years as Kay, who never raises her voice, yet defines herself in courage and purpose. Her Kay embodies what is noble in humanity.

Washington Post Board Member Arthur, played by righteous Bradley Whitford, lectures Kay of what past Publishers might have done in her position. Kay looks him in the eyes, "I am the owner." The hero, the leader arises with Streep as Kay. She discovers her calling.

Tom Hanks is eloquent partnership with Streep on screen. His mastery is sublime understatement. His Ben is the ordinary man, who becomes extraordinary in defense of our very freedom of expression. He tells Kay, "The way they lied. Those days need to end." He challenges Mrs. Graham, "What are you going to do?" Tom's authenticity is to behold.

In history the case of The Washington Post and freedom of the Press goes before the US Supreme Court. In the ruling: "The Press was to serve the governed, not the governors." Those words live. In these days of multi-platform media coverage and so-called "fake news", Spielberg's "The Post" powerful reminds that speaking and hearing truth resides with us.

There is great power and responsibility in protecting the freedom of speech, of the press, of what is said. Power too, resides in how we listen to all that is said. That is eloquently "The Post".
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I, Tonya (2017)
10/10
Not a monster...
15 January 2018
"I, Tonya" is amazing. Margot Robbie gifts a career defining performance. Margot plays disgraced 1994 US Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding. Her performance as Tonya is fearless, vulnerable, sad and poignantly flawed. Harding is notorious for knowing about the attack upon US figure skating Champion Nancy Kerrigan which led to her eventual ban from competitive skating which was her life.

Director Craig Gillespie neither vilifies nor justifies Tonya offering the experience of being her. That she wanted to be loved, to be gotten, and to be the best. At the time Tonya was the only women's figure skater in the world to land the impossible triple axel in competition. Robbie as Tonya in an interview in the movie acknowledged when she landed the triple axel in the trials she knew, "I was the best!" Tonya was driven, the figure skating phenom, but she was less than phenom in her life. I think that is the poignancy of Gillespie's direction and Steven Rogers's story.

"I, Tonya" is not really dark comedy. "I, Tonya" is just dark with laughs in its irony and the stupidity of those closest to Tonya. The movie is the dichotomy that defines the tragedy of domestic violence and abuse. In one scene Tonya's husband Jeff, played by convincing Sebastian Stan, slams the freezer door in Tonya's face, because she questions why he didn't buy Dove ice cream bars. That is so wrong. That makes you so angry.

Gillespie depicts that pattern of abuse throughout of beating on screen. And Tonya takes it, and stays until she can no longer. The abuse originates with Mom LaVona, played by focused Allison Janney, who thinks she is tough love as she pushes her daughter in her skating career. No, Mom is an abuser. Janney's LaVona could have been comic caricature; instead she brilliantly nuances the single Mom working waitress raising her kid the way she was raised. Robbie is touching humanity as Tonya, who has the self awareness that she is uneducated, but she is smarter than she thinks and way smarter than those surrounding her.

"I, Tonya" and Robbie in contrasts of edgy humor and human cruelty touchingly tells the story of how we are raised and the people we choose to spend life with either define or curse. Much about Tonya seems to be the in order to, to prove something. In the great scene before her competition her new Coach Doty, played by strong Bojana Novakovic, tells her "You show them." That I think becomes the conversation that dominates Tonya's life.

Needing her Mom's help after she leaves husband Jeff, Tonya sees her Mom. She asks her Mom that when she was a kid, "Did you love me?" Robbie's Tonya is in tears. That breaks your heart. Really Tonya just wanted to be loved, like we all do. That may be the point of Gillespie's "I, Tonya" with all its emotional extremes and uncomfortable laughs. Perhaps, most of the laughs come from the blatant stupidity of Jeff and his idiot friend Shawn, played by good Paul Walter Hauser.

Maybe "I, Tonya" works in its profound sadness as well. Toward the end Tonya says, "I am not a monster." No, she's not. She is just the little girl who wanted to be loved and never got it. She was driven and wanted to be the best. Tonya is just human. She is both lightness and darkness. Perhaps within "I, Tonya" are loud laughs and the subtle lesson of having compassion. "I, Tonya" is one of my favorite movies of the year.
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The Commuter (I) (2018)
7/10
Liam Neeson is greater than
14 January 2018
Liam Neeson elevates "The Commuter". Again, Neeson is way better than the material of the movie. Paradoxically, Director Jaume Collet-Serra's "The Commuter" poses as an action movie, but is really more thriller that contains action in the narrative genre.

The screenplay by Byron Willinger, Philip de Balsi and Ryan Engle is very slow going from the exposition of the set up. Too bad. "The Commuter" opens with the provocative premise. Mysterious beautiful Vera Farmiga's Joanna asks commuter train passenger Michael, played by Neeson, "What kind of person are you?" Michael we learn from the introduction and series of flashbacks is an Insurance Agent for a large firm in New York City. He is laid off from his job after 10 years of service.

This could not have happened at a more inopportune time. Michael and his wife Karen, caring Elizabeth McGovern, are strapped financially having to take out 2 mortgages on their home to send son Danny, played by Dean-Charles Chapman, to Syracuse University in the fall. Michael is a good man. He was an NYPD Officer before retiring to work insurance. Patrick Wilson plays Alex, Michael's dear friend and former Police partner. Too bad McGovern isn't leveraged more here. It is nice seeing her again in movies.

After his layoff notice and riding the Commuter train home, Michael sits with Joanna, who offers him $100K if he agrees to determine what passenger on this train doesn't belong. This is more than hypothetical inquiry. What kind of person is Michael? Well, we kind of know through Neeson's persona that he is the noble Hero. Too bad also, charismatic Farmiga is relegated to her voice on mobile phone calls as Michael seeks to solve this puzzle, and save the lives of both Karen and Danny.

Neeson is strong as the Michael desperately uses his will, wits, and action skills to save his family in the structured web of lies and betrayal. The "idiot plot" is that Joanna should know better than to f with Michael. After all he is Liam Neeson. To that point "The Commuter" almost drags and tests your patience waiting for Neeson to unleash upon the villains. Almost.

Neeson does deliver with both physical fury and gravitas. Again, he is way better than "The Commuter" itself. Unfortunately, having created an intriguing premise into human nature the movie forgets that morphing into a chase and discover narrative-kind of ordinary. Collet-Serra and his writers could have been more ambitious. Liam Neeson deserved better. In a sense so do we.

"The Commuter" is good mostly, because of Neeson. However, even our Hero can only do so much. This is not a great movie. Yet, it is entertaining. This may have been greater with a little more care and intention.
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Hostiles (2017)
10/10
Let hate die
3 January 2018
"Hostiles" is sublime. Hatred dies in mortality and forgiveness in Writer and Director Scott Cooper's "Hostiles". Christian Bale is powerful in his humanity. Rosamund Pike is poignant resilience and loss. Cooper's images and narrative will move and touch your soul.

Rosamund Pike as young mother Mrs. Quaid cries in anguish as she digs with her bare hands the graves for her three children murdered by Apache Indians. While silent compassionate Christian Bale as Captain Joe Blocker watches with his men ready to aid the distraught widow. Mrs. Quaid is a woman of God, of faith. Without her faith what does she have? The scene broke my heart in tears. Bad things can occur under God's watch. Writers Cooper and Donald E. Steward don't shy away for the world's seeming unkindness and unfairness.

Cooper balances the ugliness and the beauty of courage and redemption in "Hostiles". Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi elegantly captures the lightness and darkness. Darkness is in Blocker's merciless vengeance upon those who harmed the people he cares for on the stormy night. Lightness radiates as his party emerges on horseback riding through the sunlit forest. Poetry is in the balance.

As the singular Western, "Hostiles" is one of best ever, even compared to Clint Eastwood's iconic "Unforgiven". I think more so. Whereas, "Unforgiven" surrenders to the hollow emptiness, "Hostiles" asks to release hatred. Bale's Blocker is a killer of Indians, a racist, and prejudiced. What if all prejudice can be justified? Blocker realizes that his mortal enemy Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk, played by noble Wes Studi, would have slaughtered as he did, all for the sake of being right. You can take being right to the grave. In the end, being right makes absolutely no difference. That is the eloquence of "Hostiles". "Hostiles" invites to think from your soul.

Sitting on the grassy plains Mrs. Quaid asks, "You believe in the Lord, Joseph?" Blocker replies, "Yes. I do. But he's been blind to what 's been going on here for a long time." "Hostiles" inspires having faith knowing that the world is gray and cruel at times.

Set in New Mexico in 1892 retiring US Calvary Captain Joe Blocker, played by Bale, is commanded by his Colonel to escort Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk, played by Studi, and his family to his homeland in Montana. Yellow Hawk is now an old man dying of cancer. Blocker is transparent, "I hate him."

Blocker's unique gift is killing tribal Indian warriors. He's taken more scalps than Sitting Bull. In their younger days Yellow Hawk and his men heinously murdered Blocker's dearest soldier friends. In kind Blocker brutally killed the Cheyenne. Each believing that he was in the right. For unmarried Joseph doing "his job" is his only purpose. Mortal enemies Blocker and the Chief define each other. Their telling exchanges in Cheyenne have the gravitas of honor and mortality.

On the journey, Blocker and his men rescue broken Mrs. Quaid, played by Pike, in the aftermath of the murder of her entire family. Blocker reveals his gentleness as he reaches out his hand, "I'm not going to hurt you." Their journey is treacherous and costly. Alliances alter and reinvent. Find courage and faith in the hopeless. Discover one's redemption and forgiveness.

Christian Bale is at his best. He fearlessly explores what it is to be human. Whether he exacts violent revenge upon the villain or cries "You never let me down." to his dear friend Henry, played by Jonathan Majors, he surrenders to humanity in all its shades. He provides beautiful partnership with Rosamund Pike's Mrs. Quaid in her touching sadness and possibility of renewed life. Pike is vulnerable and powerful.

Western "Hostiles" has a lot to say for us today. There will always be hatred and prejudice. They are about being right and making others wrong. What Bale's Joseph discovers when he looks for balance: Righteousness and hatred only causes suffering. Maybe we can't love everyone. Maybe one thing we can do is let go of hate. Let hate die. "Hostiles" is my favorite movie of the year.
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10/10
The Shape of Love
25 December 2017
"The Shape of Water" is beautiful. Writer and Director Guillermo del Toro tells the story of the shape of love, that it can look any way you can imagine. His screenplay along with co-writer Vanessa Taylor tells the poignant tale of feeling alone in the world, and the possibility of love that we all deserve. Sally Hawkins is amazing as lonely mute Elisa discovers her greatness within, her voice. Hawkins is so moving in her visage and silence. "The Shape of Water" is the strange love story of Elisa and the noble amphibious-man Creature.

Discovering that the Creature's life is threatened, Elisa implores her dear friend Giles, played by compassionate Richard Jenkins, to help save him. Through sign language Elisa says, "When he looks at me, he does not know how I am incomplete. He sees me as I am." That breaks your heart. Elisa just wants to be loved. She just wishes to be gotten. We all do. "The Shape of Water" eloquently expresses humanity. Awesome Doug Jones literally inhabits the Creature through CGI effects and all. His languid movement and gentle expressions illuminate the noble Creature's generous heart of the one, who loves Elisa back.

Dan Lausten's cinematography mesmerizes. Elisa is the janitor along with her friend Zelda, played by strong Octavia Spencer, on the midnight shift at the secret Government facility in Washington D.C. set in the 1960's during the height of the Cold War. The story set mostly at night has brilliant tones of gray and muted lighting in the midst of this touching love story fable. Del Toro gracefully balances the dichotomy of the narratives. Lausten and del Toro create the astounding images of Jones's shimmering regal blue Creature, nearly human enough for us to cheer on.

Amazingly del Toro's world of "The Shape of Water" is mostly light or dark, little gray. The light is Elisa and Giles. Narrator Giles opens the tale of "the princess without voice". Jenkins's Giles is the old unemployed commercial artist, who suffers over his sexual identity.

Brilliant Michael Shannon as Government Agent Strickland is the dark. Strickland captured the legendary Creature from the Amazon bringing him back to DC to uncover his secrets. He mercilessly tortures the Creature. In the meantime the Russians are also interested in the mysterious "asset" and pursue him as well. Strickland represents the one downside of del Toro's narrative. As embodied by Shannon, Strickland is clever, cruel, vicious and insufferably pious. He is also bigoted. He has no nuance. Greater villains are much grayer. Though gray comes in the form of wise Michael Stuhlberg as Dr. Hoffstetler, the dedicated scientist who seems stand for the Creature.

We first see Hawkins's Elisa awake to begin her janitor night shift. She sets the timer to boil her eggs while she routinely pleasures herself in the bath. Elisa bares telltale scars on her neck. She packs two bagged lunches, one for her apartment neighbor friend Giles (Jenkins). She smiles and takes her bus to work.

Hawkins is understated power in how she expresses Elisa's profound loneliness and hopefulness without saying. Much of the beauty of "The Shape of Water" is in the unsaid. Being with the Creature though unlikely as it seems, we get that it is Elisa's "perchance to dream". Hawkins harnesses Elisa's authentic desperation, and her great heart touches us with the lighter side of our humanity.

"The Shape of Water" is the fantastical love story fable. The great fables allow us to enter that world of wonder. "The Shape of Water" is the possibility of love no matter what it looks like. That is the world worth visiting, and perhaps living in as well.
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9/10
Enjoy the ride in "Jumanji"
24 December 2017
I really enjoyed "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle". "Jumanji" is way more than its movie trailer. Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan are awesome. The Rock embodies a genuine "nerd' charm in his action hero persona. It's nice to 'see' Karen not hidden behind the Nebula visage of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2". I'm a fan from her short lived series "Selfie". Gillan is beautiful, beguiling, and comedic charm. Jack Black as Shelly the gender swapped avatar practically steals the show illustrating the movie's surprising message.

Game avatar Shelly, who's real life persona is "it" girl Bethany, schools now stunning Martha (Gillan) how be attractive to men. Shelly says, "You're hot. Now own it." Black offers comic relief in the video game mayhem as Shelly confesses to Smolder Bravestone (Johnson) and diminutive Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart) that having penis makes it so easy to pee. In the touching narrative arc, as their avatars in "Jumanji" Martha tells Bethany that she is so self-absorbed, consequently totally so selfish. Bethany tells Martha that she judges people first, before they have chance to hurt her.

Director Jake Kasdan surprises not so much with the light hearted large-scale action with Johnson and Gillan kicking some ass battling motorcycle villains commanded by Bravestone's arch nemesis Van Pelt, played by ruthless vile Bobby Cannavale. Rather his poignant message in this video gamer movie is: Be who you are. This is amazing given that the screenplay based on the book, "Jumanji" has screenwriters Chis McKenna, Erik Sommer, Scott Rosenberg, and Jeff Pinker. Usually having that many writers inevitably generates kluge.

Instead they are often touching. Young Spencer now The Rock's Bravestone has been in love with teen iconoclast Martha, now Ruby Roundhouse, since 7th grade. Both Johnson and Gillan are the most beautiful screen actors in paradox as Spencer says, "I'm a nerd." Martha says, "I like nerds."

Bravestone fears death realizing that he only has one game "life" remaining in "Jumanji", doubting if he can save his friends and return the magical green jewel to the Jaguar statue. His friend Finbar, played by Hart, reminds that in the real world, "We all only have one life." So do your best. That's what anyone can do. Johnson is amazing movie star swag and gentle introspection as Bravestone. Hart is nervous comic energy as Finbar. He tells someone about his avatar's weakness, "Cake makes me explode." Don't often hear that one. Hart is also all heart. Their partnership along with Gillan and Black are about seeing others as greater than they know. In the end that's what makes you become. And perhaps, the hero arises from within.

"Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" is derivative of "The Breakfast Club" and "Raiders of the Lost Arc". "Jumanji" does not aim to be as iconic, although it is about: Who you are? Who are you going to be?

Young Spencer, Fridge, Bethany, and Martha, played convincingly by Alex Wolf, Ser'Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, and Morgan Turner, all enter the video game "Jumanji" as who they are. Perhaps, they transform as greater. Really that's up to them. Director Kasdan invites you along for the ride with cool martial arts and gorgeous locales. Go along for the ride. The ride is well worth it.
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10/10
The Force in the Balance
18 December 2017
I loved "Star Wars: The Last Jedi". "The Last Jedi" is about redemption. Also Writer and Director Rian Johnson's "Last Jedi" redeems this "Star Wars" trilogy. Unlike its predecessor "The Force Awakens", "The Last Jedi" is original narrative and tone, surprising in a great way. Daisy Ridley as Rey and Mark Hamill as her Jedi Master Luke Skywalker are awesome. Johnson eloquently deepens his characters in the story long, long ago in the galaxy far, far away. Adam Driver is welcome strength returning as the Dark Side Force's Kylo Ren.

At its very best "The Last Jedi" is about the lightness in dark, darkness in light. The compelling central triangle of the mythical Force is Rey, Luke, and Ren. Not to mention the visuals of galactic battles and red salt covered worlds astounds. Yet, the Hero story resonates. The Forces of good and evil are in the eyes of the beholder. The hero must ultimately choose.

Discovering Luke on the island of the remote world, Rey tearfully pleads with 'The Last Jedi', "I need someone to show me my place in all of this." Hamill's Luke is not the familiar hero Skywalker we have come to know. His self banishment hides the great secret. Rey wants to define herself, fill the part that is missing.

I think Luke fears that he may fail Rey, as he did with Kylo Ren. Ren is the son of Resistance General Leia, played with touching gravitas by the late Carrie Fisher. In "The Force Awakens" Ren murdered his very Father Han Solo, conflicted within the Dark Side of the Force. Ren serves the powerful Dark Side Leader Snoke, played by malevolent Andy Serkis. Are salvation and redemption possible for Luke and Ren? Does the Jedi - the Hero emerge from within Rey?

In one of my favorite scenes Luke converses with an 'old friend'. They speak of others becoming greater than. They speak poignantly of Master and Student. The Student doesn't fail his or her master. The Master can fail his or her student. That is Luke's regret for Ren, who chose the Dark path. There is no light or dark in the Force. "The Last Jedi" explores balance of lightness and darkness in the Force. This Yin and Yang of "Star Wars".

In the journey of lightness and darkness Daisy Ridley is amazing. As Rey she transcends as the hero, whose courage and compassion inspires others to be greater. Hamill gives his best performance as older tortured Luke. His Luke is wise, strength and frailty with the endearing sense of humor. Writer Johnson daringly infuses the lightness of a sense of humor in the darker narrative.

The other narrative threads are often perfunctory in the subplot with Resistance fighters Finn, played by solid John Boyega, Poe Dameron, played by intrepid Oscar Isaac, and Rose, played by stellar newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, attempting to obtain secret codes to disable the First Order's battle ship fleet. The X-wing and Tie-fighter battles are spectacular in Dolby and Digital imagery. Although in the grand scheme, this distracts away from Rey, Luke and Ren's story.

Heroes inspire others to be greater. I think that is what "The Last Jedi" does best. Also life or the galaxy is neither all light nor all dark. We must reconcile that in our own worlds as well. The Force or the truth lies in the balance of lightness and darkness. Rian Johnson wisely enrolls us to choose. Ridley's brave Rey inspires, believing that in the balance we all become greater.
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