Sarah Knight Adamson is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and a voting member for the Critics Choice Awards for Movies.

Sarah Knight Adamson and Jessica Aymond are both Members of the Chicago Film Critics Association

Film Rating Code:

★★★★ Outstanding Film- Run, don’t walk to the nearest movie theater.

★★★½ Excellent Film- Highly recommend seeing the film in a movie theater.

★★★ Very Good Film- Recommend seeing the film in a movie theater.

★★½ Good Film- Wait for the DVD, the film is still worth viewing.

★★ Wait for the DVD and proceed with caution.

★½ Wait for the DVD the film has major problems in most areas.

★ Can’t recommend the film.

Category :

A Simple Favor (R) ★★★½

Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively star in “A Simple Favor” Photo Credit: Lionsgate

Dry Martini’s in the Suburbs

Despite the ambiguous genre of this excellent diabolical modern-suburbia film—that has themes of mystery, comedy, murder, romance, secrets, and betrayals—for sure it’s one of the best times I’ve had at the movies—just wish I’d have ordered a martini to enhance the experience.

Director Paul Feig, of “Bridesmaids” fame and Melissa McCarthy’s hit “Spy” seems to have a sixth sense when directing women, as he’s unquestionably catapulted Lively into the leading role realm as a bankable contender and expanded Kendrick’s impressive leading role career by adding another outstanding performance to her resume. Feig knows women— and it shows, his lens has captured their allure, chemistry, and most importantly—their talents.

The stunning no-filter fashion career mom Blake Lively (Emily Nelson), is the exact opposite of the buttoned-up schoolgirl, pleaser, brownie making, stay-at-home vblogger Anna Kendrick (Stephanie Smothers), both moms, polar opposites, are intrigued by each other’s company. Emily makes a mean gin martini, which Stephanie takes a liking to and their secrets begin to unfold like melted ice on a hot summer day. Both give captivating performances; their early scenes together are the film’s high points.

Adapted from Darcey Bell’s 2017 book of the same name, it’s been compared to Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” although clearly standing on its own in, as the twists and turns will keep you shaking your head and rolling your eyes in disbelief. Yes, the word comedic is mixed in alongside mystery as the second half of the film is both funny and entirely unforeseen. Refreshing is a term that comes to mind—I caution you not to read spoilers from others as this film is best viewed with limited prior knowledge—no spoilers here.

The majority of the film occurs in Emily’s expensive modern, floor to ceiling windowed home—and let’s not forget her ‘to die for closet’ filled with beautiful shoes, sequined dresses, and lovely accessories. Stephanie’s modest kitchen is multi-faceted serving as her workspace to videotape her ‘Mom Blog’ and to assist in the film’s transition from one event to another as seen through Stephanie’s eyes. The dynamic of women; Emily, guileful self-centered and cold is the dark mirror opposite of Stephanie—both struggle to hide the secrets of their pasts.

Enter Henry Golding (Sean) a floundering writer, Emily’s husband, and now there’s a triangle as stormy as the one near Bermuda. So many questions, one thing we do know, from the film’s opening is that Emily, after dropping her kindergarten-age son (Ian Ho) off at school asks Stephanie for ‘a simple favor’ to pick her son up and care for him until she’s finished working. In the first plot twist, two-days later, no one has seen or heard from Emily—the police are notified.

Stephanie, vblogs the disappearance asking viewers to help in locating Emily. Her site quickly gains followers as new discoveries unfold. The use of the mom-vblog is perfect for setting the tone for modern day times, and as viewers, we learn Stephanie’s point of view. It works beautifully. Does Emily re-appear, has she been murdered, did she and Sean fake her death, what are the womens’ secrets? All of these questions are answered and more in this satisfyingly, entertaining and thirst-quenching film.

Director: Paul Feig
Screenplay: Paul Feig and Jessica Sharzer
Cast: Blake Lively (Emily Nelson), Anna Kendrick (Stephanie Smothers), Linda Henry Golding (Sean Townsend), Andrew Rannells (Darren), and Jean Smart (Margaret McLanden)
Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes
Studio: Lionsgate


Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Crazy Rich Asians (PG-13)★★★½

Constance Wu and Henry Golding star in “Crazy Rich Asians.” Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

A “Crazy Great” Movie

Director Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s book stands on its own, by adding key scenes, tweaking character’s roles while at the same time astonishingly bringing the over-the-top opulence to life. Unquestionably, Hollywood has been disconcertingly negligent by not producing films centering on Asian culture, can you believe its been 25 years since Amy Tan’s “Joy Luck Club” played on the big screen? Not to mention 13 years since “Memoirs of a Geisha.” What’s exhilarating aside from Asian ethnicity—“Crazy Rich Asians” is one of the best rom-coms certainly of the summer—and perhaps of the last decade.

Similar to a modern-day Cinderella fairy tale, the sweet, naïve Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a New York University economics professor is unknowingly dating a ‘crazy rich’ Asian guy, Nick Young (Henry Golding), who in theory is Singapore’s equivalent to London’s “Prince Harry.” When Nick invites Rachel to attend the wedding of his best friend in Singapore, he doesn’t divulge his family’s wealth status—however, red flags are raised when Rachel’s shown to her first class private cabin seat.

Upon arrival in Singapore, Rachael is whisked to a multitude of lavish parties meeting Nick’s inquisitive friends and prying family—Rachael wasn’t prepared to be shoved front and center into the spotlight. Quickly she found a confidante in the bubbly and vivacious Peik Lin (Awkwafina), an unforgettable scene-stealing force of nature. Peik informs Rachel of the Young clan’s heritage and other families that left China generations ago to settle on a small island nation and thus transforming it into a cosmopolitan paradise. These billionaire clans scoff at mainland China’s newly attained wealth—while reserving distinct contempt for Americans, with their focus on self over family loyalty.

Rachel, an Asian American career woman, is seen as a gold-digger, an outsider, who will never fit into Nick’s world. Her polite but cold welcome from Eleanor, Nick’s mother (a compelling Michelle Yeoh) whom we soon find out is determined to prevent her son from marrying a person that she feels is incompetent in handling the Young dynasty. As important as her opinions may be, the final judgment is reserved for Nick’s grandmother, the matriarch played by the veteran Chinese American actress Lisa Lu (“The Joy Luck Club”1993).

Rachel’s key ally within Nick’s family, is his cousin, the glamorous Astrid (Gemma Chan), offers solace when she’s around, which isn’t much as she enjoys flying to Paris to frequent the couture houses of Dior and Chanel. The fun-loving Oliver (Nico Santos, supplies a dizzying stream of gossip, followed by encouragement and fashion tips.

Adding a comedic tone is Peik’s father is none other than the highly recognizable and hysterical actor/real-life doctor, Ken Jeong, from “Knock-up”(2007) and “The Hangover”(2009). He helps Rachel to “fit-in” giving instructions on how to survive the wedding and the endless planned lavish events. Each invitation requires detailed planning as in wardrobe, protocol, and expectations. Luckily, Rachel has help with all of these details except the fact that she, as an outsider born and raised in America will never truly be accepted as an equal. In an unconventional rom-com twist—as Nick falls deeper in love with Rachel during his homecoming—Rachel falls deeper into despair followed by utter confusion.

As Rachel begins to realize her back is up against the wall a marvelous occurrence happens—she unwaveringly takes things into her own hands to prove her worth. Although very different from the book’s ending—here we are treated to a strong feminine-based scene that is marvelously captured by cinematographer Vanja Cernjul—with stellar editing to match. The layered scene will forever be one of my favorites, as a cat and mouse scene in which the tables turn.

The Bottom line: Chu’s excellent film has so much going for it in which he can take credit for— rewriting key scenes from the book, along with the addition of new material enhance the film’s quality and overall tone. Rachel’s character rises to the top through great direction and careful rewrites. Truly a gem of a film that has something to say to all generations!

Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute

Sarah Knight Adamson©

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

BlacKkKlansman (R) ★★★★

Adam Driver stars as Flip Zimmerman and John David Washington as Ron Stallworth in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKLansman, a Focus Features release. Credit: David Lee / Focus Features

Spike Lee’s film is one of the years best; Ron Stallworth’s memoir is retold with passion and admiration—aptly Lee’s finale reminds us of our current gut-wrenching racial tensions. Be prepared for a history lesson of shock and awe—it’s about time the true story of bigotry is brought to the forefront. Yes, Spike Lee is angry, as we all should be. Through raw video footage, we learn of the atrocities of the ‘hate group’ the ‘Ku Klux Klan’ toward black Americans, Jews, and immigrants—this is not what most of us were taught in history class. Fortunately, Ron Stallworth a black undercover police detective in 1978 had the foresight and courage to save all of his memorabilia from his days as a member of the KKK—yes, he has his official Ku Klux Klan membership card as proof.

John David Washington stars as Ron Stallworth in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, a Focus Features release.Credit: David Lee / Focus Features

Stallworth, was also the first black police officer in Colorado Springs (1978), this intelligent, highly motivated young man assumed responsibility for his own advancement within the force. As a rookie, he asked his commanding officer for a transfer to detective work. Once a detective, in scanning the daily newspaper for potential illegal activities he spots a recruitment ad seeking members to join the Ku Klux Klan. He contacts the Klan by phone, all while pretending to be a white racist extremist, and shortly after that, he’s asked to become a member.

In the film, John David Washington, Denzel’s son plays a convincing Ron. A terrific Adam Driver plays his white colleague Zimmerman, who handles Ron’s in-person appearances. As outrageous as this sounds, Ron Stallworth’s book, “Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime,” is based on his nine-month KKK investigation and his numerous calls with David Duke the Grand Wizard of the group.

Shortly after publication in 2014, Hollywood began calling with offers to bring Stallworth’s book to the screen. He patiently waited until his story was in the right hands. QC Entertainment acquired the rights to the book, and following a successful partnership on the film “Get Out,” Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw joined QC’s Sean McKittrick and Ray Mansfield to produce the film. They all agreed on one person to bring the personal story to the big screen—Spike Lee.

Myself, having read Stallworth’s incredible and historical book; can say it’s the cornerstone of the film as Lee follows it reasonably close. Although as with all Spike Lee films we are given his signature touch—a much broader and more profound (in your face) sense of the state of affairs. The real-life investigation took place in 1978, Lee and his trio of screenplay writers’ focus on the early 1970s, only two years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the then active Black Panther group.

The real Ron Stallworth at age twenty-two (1975). From the book “Black Klansman” by Stallworth. Photo Credit: Flatiron Books New York.

To say that the film is a masterpiece of the culmination of Lee’s life’s work, is not too far from the truth, here through his genius comedic skill he toggles harsh realities with humor. Moreover, via his keen directing skills, garners stellar performances from Washington, Driver, and Topher Grace as David Duke along with a tremendous Laura Harrier (Patrice Dumas), as a college advocate for Black Power. Lee presents the parallel uprise of the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Power movement. We are also privy to ‘groovy fashions’ and ‘far out’ dance moves.

John David Washington and Laura Harrier. Photo: David Lee/Focus Features

Opening with an aerial shot of Vivien Leigh (Scarlet O’Hara) surrounded by dead and wounded soldiers in a scene from “Gone with the Wind” (1939) near the end of the Civil War around 1865. Next, we view black and white news clips of segregation with Alec Baldwin a fictitious (Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard) narrating his disgust of mixing white Americans with black Americans. Lastly just before we meet Ron Stallworth, racist scenes from “Birth of a Nation” (1915) are shown. Lee’s simply, setting the tone for the abhorrent racial slurs that are forthcoming in the film—be prepared this is an uncomfortable film to view, although it’s importance can not be stressed enough in shedding light on racism and conceivably gaining empathy for the atrocities people have been forced to endure.

The casting of John David Washington as Ron is perfect; he’s quick-witted, charming and aggressive when he needs to be. Washington’s a former college American football running back, at the age of nine he appeared in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” (1992) as a student in a Harlem classroom, his father played the leading role, since 2015 he’s appeared in the HBO’s “Ballers” as Ricky Jerret. There’s something about his charismatic personality. Whether he’s rolling his eyes as he chats with David Duke, pressing Flip Zimmerman to become more committed to the cause or his boyish ways when pursuing his girlfriend president of the Black Student Union at Colorado College, and the host to Black Panther Party leader Stokely Carmichael (who had just adopted the name of Kwame Ture).

Spike Lee and Adam Driver on the set of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, a Focus Features release.Credit: David Lee / Focus Features

Adam Driver’s performance as the white Ron in reality is the more dangerous role as he’s Jewish born (although nonpracticing) yet he’s subjected to constant suspicion by the Klan. In a tense scene, he’s locked in the basement with a lunatic Klan member who at gunpoint forces him to take a lie-detector test. On a side note: In Stallworth’s book Flip Zimmerman, is known as Chuck, with no last name. The detective wants complete anonymity—wanting no part of the book or the film. 

Lee keeps us on the edge of our seats when the Klan is present; you never know what one of them is going to say or worse yet, what they might do. Depicted as unorganized, unpredictable, and uneducated losers who ‘get off’ on the comradery of hate. During a viewing of the film “Birth of a Nation” which is often viewed by Klan members, they whop and holler whipping themselves into a frenzy—scary stuff. The KKK handshake is ‘outed’ as in the book, along with the stupidity of their leader David Duke, who brags to Ron that he can tell the difference between a black man and white one by the way a black man pronounces certain words.

There’s so much more to this film that will surprise you that’s best kept quiet for now. I urge you to see the film on the big screen with an audience, believe me; you’ll feel a range of emotions.

“BlacKkKlansman” is one of those films that I’ll be viewing again; it’s that excellent and that memorable. The ending live newsreel scenes of 2017 leave a powerful message, nothing can prepare you for the experience, sit back while you’re immersed in real-life videos of today, and perhaps you’ll be moved enough to support the change or better yet, be the change.

Cast: John David Washington (Ron Stallworth), Adam Driver (Flip Zimmerman), Laura Harrier (Patrice Dumas), Topher Grace (David Duke), Robert John Burke (Chief Bridges), Alec Baldwin(Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard)

Director: Spike Lee 

Writer: (based on the memoir by) Ron Stallworth,  “Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime”

Screenwriters:Spike Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott

Crew: Cinematographer Chayse Irvin, Editor
Barry Alexander Brown, Composer Terence Blanchard

Run Time: 2 Hours 15 Minutes

Sarah Knight Adamson© August 10, 2018


Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Christopher Robin (G) ★★★

Disney Studios (2018)

A Visit With Warm Fuzzy Friends in the Enchanting Forrest

Oh bother, as Winnie the Pooh would say; this is not the live action over-the-top film kids and adults may expect; however, it is true to the laid-back nature of the books.

If you’re looking for a ‘bear hug of a movie’ Winnie the Pooh and his enchanting forest friends will not disappoint. Full of heart—garnering a perfect family message—spend quality time together, by just being together. Forget those extravagant hour-by-hour family itineraries—take a walk in the countryside, have a picnic, throw sticks in a pond and call it a day. We can all learn from a lovable bear’s unassuming logic—be with the people you love, go on adventures and help each other along the way.

Bringing you up to speed, Christopher Robin a young British boy and his beloved stuffed bear, Winnie the Pooh first appeared in a collection of verses written by author A.A. Milne in a book entitled “When We Were Very Young” in 1924. The follow up were books and newspaper articles filled with stories of the imaginary adventures of a happy-go-lucky boy, Milne’s son, Christopher Robin, his honey-loving bear, along with the rest of his stuffed animal collection of Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga, and Roo; Owl and Rabbit were written in as make-believe forest friends in later books. The setting for the books is the fictitious Hundred Acre Wood based on Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, England where the Milne family lived. Embraced by readers of all ages around the world the beloved books along with their signature illustrations by E. H. Shepard are undeniably the most popular children’s books of all time.

The film begins with drawings of the beautiful artwork of the books continuing in sequence until a young Christopher Robin’s last days at home before he’s off to boarding school. We view Winnie the Pooh and the gang in a delightful, lively scene around a table in the woods drinking tea, and eating cake during the send-off party, each displaying their distinct personalities. Owl and Rabbit argue proclaiming their discernment, and Piglet’s the worrywart, Tigger’s a bouncy livewire, Eeyore’s gloomy and insecure, Kanga is motherly to her sweet son Roo, while Pooh’s dipping into the honey pot.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover and certainly in this case you shouldn’t judge a movie by its trailer. Seeing only a ‘glimpse’ of the live action magical stuffed animals does not do justice to their personalities. Each is impressively realistic in the film, their gestures, actions, and specifically, their speaking is literally jaw-dropping. Jim Cummings provides the familiar and comforting voice of Pooh we’ve seen in Disney videos, movies and promotions for the last 30 years. He’s a standout in the film as he also voices gloomy Eeyore.

Boasting the strong writing team of Alex Ross Perry “Listen Up Philip,” Tom McCarthy ‘Spotlight” and Allison Schroeder “Hidden Figures,” with acclaimed director Marc Forester of “Finding Neverland,” “The Kite Runner,” and “Quantum of Solace”— we’re the benefactors of a lovely,  ‘sweet as honey’ relatable and timeless cautionary tale. My point of contention is the two hour run time, much too long for children.

In rapid succession, we view Christopher Robin’s life advancing until settling on his current high-pressure business job in London. A fantastic Ewan McGregor stars as Christopher Robin, a disillusioned workaholic—his wife a very worried Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and his bright, yet neglected nine-year-old daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) all live in London. Yep, it appears that Mr. Robin has lost his smile, laughter, and sense of wonder. Evelyn and Madeline both view him as stressed out and distant.

Pooh, has lost his friends and by searching for them he ends up in a park in London, he has a cute-meet with Christopher Robin on a park bench. Let the constant questioning begin! It’s clear from the get-go that Pooh has a one-track mind, he has missed his friend and wants to help. He senses the discontent, and like a broken record continues his message until Christopher Robin loses his temper.

Considering the natural forest setting of the books, the simple stories of day-to-day play, the message of kindness and goodwill—the film shifts quickly to the forest, immersing us into that innocent, childlike world of furry friends.  Ultimately, the books are for children, yet their messages are for all. And that is precisely why Winnie the Pooh and his friends are so popular. Who doesn’t need a good old bear hug now and then? In one of the sweetest scenes in the film, Pooh and Christopher Robin are merely sitting on a log hugging each other. Yes, they got this one right.

Voices: Pooh and Eeyore (Jim Cummings), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Tigger (Cummings, again) and Owl (Toby Jones).

Studio: Disney

Run Time: 2 hours

* Author’s note: I visited Pooh Corner in East Sussex, England in September of 2017 by taking a train from London to Hartfield and then a taxi to Ashdown Forrest. There’s a delightful tearoom with an outside dining area and a shop filled with Winnie the Pooh memorabilia. Julie Ashby and her sister run the shop, and they gave me a map of the woods. I talked with them, and they did tell me that, as a child, Christopher Robin came into the shop with his nanny for sweets. Unfortunately, the woods were muddy that day, but I intend to go back in September to see Pooh Bridge and play “Pooh Sticks.” Stay tuned!

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Mission Impossible: Fallout (PG-13) ★★★★

Tom Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt in “Mission Impossible: Fallout” Photo Credit: Paramount Studios

Be Prepared For An Intense Adrenaline Filled Ride

The “Mission Impossible” film series launched in 1996 produced by and starring Tom Cruise at age 33 brought Cruise’s action skills to the forefront. In “Fallout,” 2018, the sixth film in the series, Cruise now age 56, continues to astound as an action hero. Age has its advantage here—as you can’t help but commend his perseverance in continuing to not only perform most of his own stunts, (at his age), but he continues to ‘raise the action bar’—regardless of your feelings toward Cruise as an individual his astonishing action skills can’t be ignored.

Tom Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt in “Mission Impossible: Fallout” Photo Credit: Paramount Studios

Cruise has also made some smart choices in casting by continuing with screenwriter and director Christopher McQuarrie, of the prior film “Rogue Nation,” as well as expanding the female roles by adding more characters. Actress Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust), a former MI6 agent who has her own agenda at times shares the lead with Cruise. Bringing back (Michelle Monaghan) Ethan Hunt’s wife and resolving that storyline; gives us Ethan’s soft side, while visually showing us he’s human.
Another brilliant move is the addition of Angela Bassett (Erika Sloane), as the tough as nails CIA Director as she brings a different type of attitude to the character; she is ultra strong in her position with no hesitation in questioning the MIF on their motives and actions. Both female characters Erika Sloane and Ilsa Faust are timely in leveling the action genre playing field by providing intelligent, powerful and strong women roles—I applaud this move.

To be frank, adding Jeremy Renner as a side-kick in the prior films was a good move in sharing Cruise’s spotlight, however; “Fallout’s” character changes are decisively a greater mix. Casting a bearded Henry Cavill a CIA Operative Assassin (August Walker) best known as (Superman/Clark Kent 2013, 2016, 2017) ultimately provides a deeper appreciation for Ethan Hunt also works well.

Aside from the character changes, the visual effects and stunt work is another reason the film is such a standout. I’ve learned a new acronym HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) referring to helicopter jumping— special military operatives have used it in order to go as secretly as possible into an area. In “Fallout” Tom Cruise completed over 100 HALO jumps to get the right sequence. The stunts are reminiscent of the “Fast and Furious” series at times particularly with the ‘Tokyo drifting’ car chases, and has the nonstop intense action feel of “Mad Max.” It distinctly retains its own identity with it’s star, (Cruise), Ethan Hunt’s hyper speed running, motorcycle stunts and HALO jumps.

Most have seen the trailer of the battling helicopters; I can honestly say, “You ain’t seen nothing yet, as the conclusion of that scene alone is worth the price of admission.” Another thrilling adrenaline scene is the rooftop building jumps as in a Mario Bros. video game. Similar in concept, except MIF team partner Benji Dunn (Simon Peg) controls Hunt’s moves via remote communication, as to the direction; right or left turns, leaping straight on from one building to another building or jumping down a few stories. The result creates hysterical banter between the pair all while the audience is clinching deeper into their armrests with intermittent sighs of relief as the moves land.

The plot centers on a group called the Apostles with the goal to create chaos employing suffering and death. It appears they’ve been scheming with an insider named John Lark to obtain plutonium to create three dirty bombs. Hunt’s boss Alan Hundley (Alec Baldwin) sends him to Paris to locate John Lark before he’s able to buy the plutonium. He’s also given an unwanted sidekick, August Walker. Here’s where the action starts to ante up, with motorcycle chases, Hunt running full speed, building leaps and plenty of martial arts hand to hand combat fighting.

After Paris, the film shifts to London, with the finale in Kashmir Valley in India at the base of the Himalayan Mountains. The ending has three different storylines running simultaneously with razor-sharp precision, all nail-biting till the end. The last 45 minutes contain some of the best action sequences to date. They are thrilling, intense and entertaining.

It also appears that filmmakers have a message they’d like you to take away from the film. Here’s a line from the narrative regarding Ethan Hunt, “We need people like you that care about the life of just one as they do millions.” I sense Hunt being called a hero without specifically saying the word; another character said to Hunt, “I sleep soundly at night knowing you’re here.” My take away—I appreciated the addition of the strong female roles, the exhilarating action scenes along with the film’s implication—that all lives matter.

Sarah Knight Adamson®July 27, 2018

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Interview with Marc Turtletaub Director of Puzzle

Director Marc Turtletaub and Sarah Knight Adamson after the screening of “Puzzle” at the Music Box Theater’ during the Chicago Film Critics Festival, May 14, 2018.

MARC TURTLETAUB on PUZZLE, Kelly Macdonald and Women’s Roles — Sarah Knight Adamson interviews                                                        

As producer, Marc Turtletaub has been investing cash and cred in femme-centric feature films since 2004, standing behind award-winning films such as Little Miss Sunshine with Toni Collette and Abigail Breslin, and Loving with Ruth Negga among others. Sitting in the director’s chair for this year’s Puzzle, he’s brought to life a most memorable female character named Agnes, a doting albeit repressed housewife and mother who finds her sense of adventure, self-esteem and new meaning in life when she casually enters the realm of competitive jigsaw puzzling. As with Turtletaub’s other cinematic credits, a great measure of Puzzle’s success rests with the film’s leading lady, Kelly Macdonald, whose complex and nuanced performance as Agnes is funny and heartbreaking and entirely relatable. Here’s what he had to say in a chat with AWFJ’s Sarah Knight Adamson after the Chicago Film Critic’s Festival’s May 14 screening of the film at the Music Box Theater.

SARAH KNIGHT ADAMSON: The audience at tonight’s screening reacted very warmly to Puzzle. That must be very gratifying. What do you like best about attending screenings of your films?

MARC TURTLETAUB: You never know how an audience is going to respond. One of the wonderful things about showing a film in front of a live audience, is, just as we had tonight, you feel the dynamic of an audience laughing. You could just feel the response as people are in a room together. You just don’t get that in your living room. We had that same experience at our premier at Sundance, it was as great a night as tonight.

ADAMSON: You’re often associated with films that have strong female leads, as does Puzzle. Let’s talk about your star, Kelly Macdonald. She is one of my favorite actresses. She’s so multidimensional in her ability to do comedy and drama, which she blends so beautifully as Agnes. Can you speak a bit about working with her?

TURTLETAUB: Yes, she’s brilliant. She gets herself completely lost in a role. She’s wonderful in everything she does.

ADAMSON: Yes, exactly. She’s so unobtrusive about her acting career. When asked about her role in Puzzle she’s quoted as saying; “Just to get the script where I’m actually the star is quite something.” It’s refreshing that she has such modesty about her tremendous talent.

Please continue reading at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists website:

Posted in Celebrity Interviews, Film Festivals, Interview Archives, Interviews

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (PG-13) ★★★½

Sun-Kissed, Light And Breezy Mamma Mia, How Could We Ever Forget You?

Opening the musical Mamma Mia 2 in the middle of an unseasonably sweltering, summer, is brilliant marketing—especially if your vacation plans are late August as you’ll be transported to a gorgeous fresh sea-breeze, sun-kissed, blue-hued vacation paradise— Kalokairi in the Greek Isles. In Mamma Mia (2008) Meryl Streep plays the older version of Donna, whose daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is grown up and married—sadly in the sequel, Donna has passed away. Although no worries here, Streep does make an appearance near the end of the movie for a poignant musical number with Seyfried that may bring a tear or two; she’s also in the finale. Effectively, this light and airy film is both a prequel and a sequel.

(L to R) Young Tanya (JESSICA KEENAN WYNN), Young Donna (LILY JAMES) and Young Rosie (ALEXA DAVIES) in “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.” Ten years after “Mamma Mia! The Movie,” you are invited to return to the magical Greek island of Kalokairi in an all-new original musical based on the songs of ABBA.

Offering mega ABBA themed songs and dance production numbers with the addition of new catchy tunes, the highlight is the dynamic new lead—Lily James, the talented Cinderella (2015) star has exchanged her glass slippers for platform knee-high boots while brightening the screen with her infectious carefree energy. James plays Donna as she’s graduating from Oxford College in 1979 at the beginning of the film; with her girlfriends, Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies) who in the future are the singing trio “Donna and the Dynamos.” Also, we view her short-lived romances with Sophie’s three fathers, Harry (Hugh Skinner), Bill (Josh Dylan), and Sam (Jeremy Irvine).

Lily James (Sophie) “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again” Universal Pictures.

English director Oliver “Ol” Parker whom shares screenwriting credit had one objective—to create a sequel grander than the original, in a brilliant move he wrote the part of Donna’s grandmother (Ruby Sheridan) with Cher in mind—And truthfully, if anyone can ‘raise the bar’ in a musical—it’s the one and only showstopper—the legendary Cher. Her entrance is thrilling, the singing of the ballad “Fernando” alongside Andy Garcia (Señor Cienfuegos) who shares a past romance with Ruby, is spine-tingling.

Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper and Cher star in “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”

The message is clear; focusing on family bonds brings joyfulness all while following your heart—with strong undercurrents of feminine strength, passion, and love. Tugging at all the heartstrings, the film delicately balances emotions while belting out entertaining songs and toe-tapping choreography.

In showcasing the wardrobe, costume designer Michele Clapton, known best for Game of Thrones and The Crown provides a glittery banquet feast to behold; she has worked her magic with the costumes. Check out the details of the accessories from suede fringed 70s purses to colorful silk sashes and the shiny gold platform heeled knee-boots. All of Cher’s costuming was a collaborative effort with the icon herself—stunning is the word that comes to mind in describing her wardrobe. As in Oceans 8, (2018) the clothes indeed are worth the price of admission—each costume is unique to each character capturing their individual personas to a tee.

Swaying back and forth between the late 70s and current times the film flows beautifully, the transitions are natural—developing the story with just the right amount of time devoted to each period yielding a gradual approach. The “Waterloo” song and dance French restaurant scene and costuming are spectacular as that scene is with young Harry and Sophie. Fast forward to Harry (Pierce Bronson) as dad singing “SOS” in the future—yet I found the song choice odd as he needed major SOS help in the last film as his singing was off-key, many critics brutally moaned. His singing here is confident, and on-key—a deliberate move as Bronson clearly redeems himself.

Undoubtedly the most challenging scene was the “Dancing Queen” choreography in which over 150, mostly fishers in boats came sailing in dancing and singing to the grand re-opening of the Hotel Bella Donna. It’s reminiscent of the ambitious LA freeway song and dance car scene in La La Land (2016) to the tune “Another Day of Sun.” The celebration of pure joy and the capacity to display grief with the juxtaposition between them creates bonding with not only the audience but between characters. No wonder my audience clapped, sang and shed a few tears.

* Film Notes

*  It’s been ten years since the sequel, the film takes place only five years later.

*  The name Kalokairi is a fictitious name in the Mamma Mia series.

*  Cast members from prior play productions were asked to take part in the “Dancing Queen” scene.

Sarah Knight Adamson©July 20, 2018


Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (PG) ★½

A Few Tender Moments and Catchy Songs Can’t Save this Sinking Ship

As a relentless advocate for quality children’s films, the Hotel Transylvania animated series (2012, 2015) has never been high on my list—especially now that the bar’s finally been raised—sadly the third 2018 installment is a step backward. Given today’s atmosphere of excellent scripts for children’s’ films, it’s mystifying as to why this dreadful film came to fruition. One would assume the children’s film genre ‘success formula’ would at least be studied closer—gone are the days of using mindless inappropriate cinema as babysitters. 

Hotel Transylvania: Summer Vacation starts with the same point of contention I had with the first film—parents’ lying to their children. Count Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) blatantly lies several times to his teen daughter (a half human/ half vampire) Mavis (Selena Gomez) in the first film, and the thread continued in the third. He actually says at the beginning of the new film, “I’ve got to stop lying to my daughter.” Here’s my question, “What exactly are children learning from this plot point?” And, what is the point of the lying—is it to garner cheap laughs? Probably.

Summer Vacation begins at Count Dracula’s (Drac) ‘monsters only’ hotel that he built to shelter his daughter from humans. Here’s the story progression; Drac shields Mavis from humans as her mother was killed by a village torch mob similar to the one in the classic Dracula tales, a free-spirited backpacking teen human Jonathan (Andy Samberg) stumbles upon the hotel, Mavis instantly falls for him or “zings” (an invented term in the Hotel Transylvania series to mean love-at-first-sight)—against her father’s wishes, they marry and have a son. 

The third film starts a few months after the second as Mavis presents the idea to her father of ‘getting away’ and going on a much-needed vacation and before you can say Bermuda Triangle, all are flying on ‘Gremlin Air’ complete with green sharp-toothed gremlins sporting bad behavior as gags. Yep, they throw luggage out the windows, spill hot coffee in passengers’ laps, and the worst offense the captain announces, “We have begun our descent, you can unbuckle your seat belts and feel free to move about the cabin.” All of these jokes fell flat in my screening, no kids or parents were laughing—I was cringing.

The whole Drac pack is back for a monster vacation as Griffin the invisible man (David Spade), Wanda (Molly Shannon) & Wayne (Steve Buscemi) the werewolves, Murray the mummy (Keegan-Michael Key), Dennis (Asher Blinkoff), Dracula (Adam Sandler), Mavis (Selena Gomez) & Johnny (Andy Samberg), Frank (Kevin James) & Eunice (Fran Drescher), and Blobby get ready for a family voyage on a luxury monster cruise ship.

Genndy Tartakovsky directs as he did the first two unbearable Hotel Transylvania films, here he has writing credit with Michael McCullers. Aside from the ending narrative that provides compassion for monsters by emphasizing the point that all creatures have different parts, but we are all the same as a whole, and the line, “Gotta be greater than haters,” the majority of the script is bland, incongruous and senseless. Note to parents and grandparents—a few solid lines at the end of an overly problematic film are not enough to save it—especially since we’ve been drowning in mediocrity from the start.

The plot centers on a luxury ‘monster’s only’ cruise ship, a human ship’s captain Ericka Van Helsing—hmm does that name ring a bell—she’s the great-granddaughter of Professor Abraham Van Helsing MD, the vampire hunter, and archenemy of Drac from the 1897 horror novel Dracula. Ericka’s sheltered life is comparable to Mavis; she lives aboard the ship with her great-grandfather who taught her to hate monsters and to hunt and kill Drac.

From the get-go Ericka is sugary sweet to Drac, thus “zinging” occurs on Drac’s end leaving Ericka with conflicted feelings. Her main action is to kill Drac; we are subjected to flare guns, knives, and a cadre of methods—again, inappropriate in a children’s film. After Ericka’s failed attempts, the main villain of the film takes over—a technology stitched-together Abraham Van Helsing. He enlists the help of a giant, frightening sea monster who is controlled by music. 

To be vague here, we have a DJ duel, with Jonathon pitted against Van Helsing, with loud house music blaring as a prequel to the battle, amongst frenzied strobe and neon lights, devoid of any smart dialogue. In short, a mash-up scene that’s not kid friendly. To my knowledge, kids don’t seek out the genre of monotonous beats of wordless ‘house music.’ Although, to its credit, the DJ battle songs, “Good Vibrations,” “Don’t Worry Be Happy” and “Los del Rio Macarena” songs are great fun, but can’t carry the film.

The Bottom Line: Kids and parents deserve quality films—given this is the third strike—Hotel Transylvania is out.

Voice Cast: Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Mel Brooks, Kathryn Hahn, Fran Drescher, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Kevin James, Chris Parnell, Molly Shannon, Asher Blinkoff, Jim Gaffigan

Director and Writer: Genny Tarakovsky, Writer: Michael McCullers 

Run Time:  1 hour 37  

Studio: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation

Sarah Knight Adamson© July 13, 2018

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Ant-Man and The Wasp (PG-13) ★★★½

Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lily star in “Ant-Man and The Wasp” Photo Credit: Disney Studios

New Female Superhero “The Wasp” has Equal Star Billing

Paul Rudd is back in all of his goofy glory as dad (Scott Lang) also known as Ant-Man in the follow-up to Ant-Man (2015). Here’s the good news, Evangeline Lily, (Hope van Dyne) The Wasp not only has equal movie title billing, but she also works right alongside Ant-Man in fending off evil. No, they’re not out to save the world from doom and gloom—here they work together to save a family member. The film’s core is family driven by comedy buzzing throughout; delightful when compared to the weighty themes of other Marvel films namely, The Avengers: Infinity War (2018). There’s no doubt this mostly PG film could have easily been slated as the perfect summer family-friendly popcorn munchin’ movie—although the PG-13 language that is scattered throughout is not appropriate for youngsters. All and all—an entertaining, refreshing change in the MCU (Marvel Comic Universe) as audiences were giggling and laughing out-loud from start to finish.

Paul Rudd and Abby Ryder Fortson in “Ant-Man and The Wasp” Photo Credit: Disney Studios

The film picks up two years after Ant-Man disobeyed Sokovia Accords while assisting Captain America or Cap as he’s known to his Superhero friends. Seems it wasn’t such a good idea to help out as he’s been under house arrest, spending his days creating extravagant games and adventures to play with his 10-year-old daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), all while he checks in on his security business run by the hysterical trio of Michael Peña (Luis), David Dastmalchian (Kurt), Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris (Dave).

Returning Ant-Man director Peyton Reed, roles out the big-screen debut of “The Wasp,” for film audiences to appreciate Hope van Dyne as a fully formed Superhero. Her Mom, Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) has been trapped for 30 years in the Quantum Realm (the minuscule space between molecules). Hope’s father Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) set out to enlist the help of Scott to rescue Janet as she mind-melded with Scott and their quantum psychic connection remains. Together, the pair Ant-Man and The Wasp fight in thrilling action sequences with the backdrop of San Francisco steep hilled streets, (check out the famous zigzag Lombard Street as it makes an appearance) as well as shots of the beautiful city skyline.

Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lily star in “Ant-Man and The Wasp” Photo Credit: Disney Studios

Yes, it’s exhilarating to view Evangeline Lily as Hope, The Wasp, in her suit; flying and fighting her distinct way through the film. She not only becomes Ant-Man’s equal partner—we view her develop into her own central character. She keeps Scott out of trouble, by her sharp mind and take-no-prisoners attitude, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a run on Wasp costumes for little girls around the globe—look out ‘Wonder Woman’ there’s a new role model in town. She and Rudd do play strikingly off of each other, with spot-on timing that makes for a more interesting dynamic.

Michael Peña in “Ant-Man and The Wasp” Photo Credit: Disney Studios

In recognizing great performances, another standout is Hannah John-Kamen as the shimmery Ghost, Ava Starr. Playing a villain, she’s a tormented, vengeful, angry woman whose incentives are intensely personal. She’s teamed up with Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), a disgruntled former colleague of Dr. Hank Pym. Together they create a push-pull effect of good and evil.

The real fun of Ant-man and The Wasp is due to the special effects team that showcases the ‘minimizing and maximizing’ effects that are continually creative. Image a gigantic ‘Hello Kitty’ Pez dispenser that’s as tall as a human, or choosing your car from a miniature “Hot Wheels” collection case. Before you can say, super-size, yep, the matchbox car Hyundai 2019 Veloster, complete with cool flames painted on the exterior is maximized!

The Bottom- Line: Unquestionably, the recognition of The Wasp (Evangeline Lily’s) superhero’s name in the film’s title is an intelligent choice—along with the decision to center on family. The two hours will fly by—pun intended, as the light-hearted banter is non-stop. Michael Peña’s comedic performance has earned him ‘rock star’ status as the kids in the audience were howling when he appeared on screen. Stay for the credits as you’ll see the set up for the next film.

Cast: Paul Rudd (Scott Lang / Ant-Man), Evangeline Lilly (Hope van Dyne / Wasp), Michael Douglas (Dr. Hank Pym), Michelle Pfeiffer (Janet van Dyne), Michael Peña (Luis)

Credits: Directed by Peyton Reed. Written by Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers and Paul Rudd & Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari

Studio: Walt Disney Pictures

Run Time: 1 hour 58 mins

©Sarah Knight Adamson July 6, 2018

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Shana Feste (Director, Writer) and Lewis MacDougall (Actor) in the film “Boundaries”

Shana Feste (Writer/Director) and actor Lewis MacDougall “Boundaries” Photo Credit: Sony Classic Pictures

My interview with writer-director, Shana Feste and teen actor Lewis MacDougall was conducted via phone as I was ill with a bad cold, which was a shame as I prefer to meet talent face to face and in this case–the missed bonus of a meeting her sweet dog, Loretta. We chatted on June 14, 2018, about her semi-autobiographical film Boundaries and Lewis’s role as Henry the son and grandson.

Vera Farminga with Loretta–Shana Feste’s adorable dog. “Boundaries” Photo Credit: Sony Classic Pictures

The film stars Vera Farmiga (Laura) is a single mom living in Seattle, with her troubled teen son Henry, played by Lewis MacDougall; you see, she has an unremitting need to put others and animals before herself. Laura also has another problem—setting boundaries. Her estranged father, played by Christopher Plummer (an ex-con drug dealer) calls and asks if she and Henry will go on a road trip from Seattle to LA— as you can imagine Jack’s shenanigans are outlandish—as his alternative motive is to drop off marijuana during their journey to his old customers—while enlisting the help of Henry in the caper.

Christopher Plummer and Vera Farminga “Boundaries” Photo Credit: Sony Classic Pictures

Sarah Knight Adamson: First of all, it is so wonderful to be speaking with a female director. Congratulations on writing and directing Boundaries. I found your movie both funny and heartwarming. I know the script is semi-autobiographical. Can you tell us a little bit about your real father and the background of the script?

Christopher Plummer and Lewis MacDougall “Boundaries” Photo Credit: Sony Classic Pictures

Shana Feste: My real father, who Christopher Plummer definitely plays a version of him, was one of the most charismatic men I’ve ever met. He was hilarious and funny and wonderful and also a total lawbreaker, which is a very interesting combination. He was in and out of prison for non-violent crimes. Mostly selling marijuana, trafficking marijuana actually. He was married six times, has six kids. The movie was really my way of exploring my relationship with my father, understanding some of the kind of resentment I had, even though I was kind of ashamed that I even felt that because I loved my father so much. Read more…

Posted in Celebrity Interviews, Interview Archives, Interviews

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (R) ★★½

Benicio Del Toro Soars, Giving an Outstanding Performance in this Bleak and Dark Role

Violent anti-heroes (CIA operative) Josh Brolin and (ex-lawyer, prosecutor, hit-man) Benicio Del Toro minus the much-needed government moral compass of (FBI agent) Emily Blunt reprise their roles in the sequel to Sicario (2015). The film is problematic on several fronts; besides the omission of Blunt’s character: there’s been a director change, (Denis Villeneuve to Stefano Sollima) a cinematographer change, (Roger Deakins to Dariusz Wolski), and a composer change (the late Jóhann Johannsson to Hildur Guđnadóttir). To its credit, the screenplay writer remained—Taylor Sheridan, although here—the narrative slights developing key characters.

Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin star in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado.” Universal Pictures

Should you see Sicario, before viewing Sicario: Day of the Soldado? Yes, I highly recommend you do see that excellent film as you’ll have a real sense of the problem of the drug cartels that rule the human trafficking in Mexico, but more importantly the original movie creates empathy for the broken family system that is generated by the cartels and frankly, the overall system itself. Day of Soldado’s general tone is different than its predecessor, due to all of the new principal film positions, especially noticeable is the cinematography—no sweeping memorable or gorgeous landscape wide shots, however, you can sucker me in any time with those night-vision infra-red birds-eye shots as in Navy Seals (1990) or any of the related ‘operatives parachuting in at night’ scenes—I love them.

In short, the plot starts at the Texas border; we learn that ruthless drug cartel gangs control the border and that drugs are no longer the most lucrative commodity— human trafficking has replaced them. To illegaly leave Mexico, one must pay a $1000 upfront for each member of the family. For the cartels, it’s an efficient way of making more money with less risk. We also see it’s easy money on the USA side, as a dual passport carrying 14-year-old Miguel Hernandez (Elijah Rodriguez, Book of Life voice 2014) is cajoled into the cartel as he’s told, “You can make what your dad makes in one year by working only one job.” Later, we see a blonde mom pulling up in an SUV with an infant in the backseat, (she’s Miguel’s ride after his job) she says to Miguel, “Where else can you make three times as much driving.”  Read more…

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (PG-13) ★★★

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. Photo Credit: Universal Studios

The Dinosaurs Have Left the Island…They Could Now Be in Your Homes

If you’re expecting to hear the word “run” and view people with horrified (panic-stricken) expressions on their faces while desperately fleeing hungry meat-eating dinosaurs, then Fallen Kingdom won’t disappoint. If you’re also hoping for some nostalgic nods to the past films, you’ll be pleased. And—if you’re looking for a playful romance between Owen (Chris Pratt), the raptor wrangler and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the protector of dinosaurs, then—you got it. Fallen Kingdom offers all of this with the addition of a new ten-foot tall, twenty-three-foot long hybrid predator dinosaur named Indoraptor.

It’s the fifth installment of the Jurassic film series, beginning in 1993 with Jurassic Park, the sci-fi tale of attempts to create a theme park based on cloned dinosaurs. It all started in 1990 when Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment bought the rights of the book Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton before it was even published. I actually remember one of my former fifth-grade gifted students reading the adult book in a few days, as I did—and plenty more of Crichton’s sci-fi novels. The original film was groundbreaking in that it was the first time that dinosaurs were technically created to appear real on screen. A thrilling moment for movie-making and cinema fans as well. I’ll never forget that moment. So how does a franchise continue the “awe and wonder” of that lovely Brachiosaurus chewing tree-top leaves and the dread of being chased by a T-Rex while driving a cool Jeep?

One strategy in continuing the franchise is to jog memories of the first film, when Claire says to Owen, “Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur? First time you see them, it’s like… a miracle. You read about them in books, you see the bones in museums, but you don’t really… believe it. They’re like myths. And then you see… the first one alive.” Yup, that scene places memories of the first film in your head—it’s a brilliant tactic to relive that exact personal memory as fans melt in nostalgia. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Incredibles 2 (PG) ★★★★

“Incredibles 2” Directed by Brad Bird. Photo Credit: Pixar Studios

Timely Messages of Marriage Equality and Female Empowerment

Pixar’s long awaited animated sequel to the Incredibles (2004) is a laugh-out-loud summer popcorn flick that guarantees to strike a chord with all family members. Not veering too far away from the original formula pays off, as moviegoers’ family reunion with the beloved superpowered Incredible family is sweet. Who knew, a superpowered one-year-old baby named Jack-Jack could steal the show—displaying 17, yes 17 superpowers, of which, self-duplication is the most comical. Talk about up-roaring laughter? Let’s just say, Jack-Jack’s scene with a pesky raccoon could win the best scene comical animation film award, if there were such an award.

With a history of Pixar films dealing with kids’ and adults’ emotions, that’s not the case here—no dwelling on heavy emotional issues—the script is ‘munch on your popcorn fun’ with comical scenes and ultra fast pacing. Here’s what’s really great, it’s appropriate for 3-years-olds on up to grandparents—rare family entertainment for all. And if you’re wondering if you need to see the first film in order to be up to speed on the sequel; I’d say, not really, all you need to know is that all five family members have a multitude of superpowers, with baby Jack-Jack’s emerging throughout the film. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Won’t You Be My Neighbor (PG-13) ★★★★ Review and Radio Podcast

Daniel Tiger/Fred Rogers with Daniel Tiger from his show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood in the film, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR, a Focus Features release.Credit: Focus Features

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? by director Morgan Neville offers an in-depth look at Fred Rogers, the man behind the PBS children’s program, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood spanning several decades. If you were lucky enough to either grow up watching the TV show or to have children that you watched the show with—you, my friend are fortunate indeed—if you’re learning about him for the first time, you’ll appreciate knowing that a kind, gentle man served as a true hero to America’s youth. Indeed the film stays with you long after the credits roll. It washes over you like Linus’ powder-blue security blanket in the Charlie Brown comic strips—it truly renders a poignant—yet enlightening story behind Fred Rogers. It’s high on my list as one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen.

And how exactly did Neville manage to shape an amalgamated portrait of an atypical human being, while creating such a satisfying film? I believe part of the reason is the straightforward honesty of the key interviewees in the film especially when they are relaying first-hand stories of how Rogers’s friendship enriched their lives. Neville, actually got the idea for the film when working with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, he asked him how he handled fame, Ma said his friend Fred Rogers taught him about that, and that’s when Neville decided to dig deeper. Ma is featured in the film relaying touching stories about Rogers.

Another affecting friend and actor on the show, Francois Clemmons who performed the role of Officer Clemmons for 25 years, (the friendly neighborhood policeman), who is now openly gay, and when asked directly if he thought Rogers was, he says, “If he was, I would have known it.” There are other scenes in the film with Clemmons that will bring tears to your eyes, primarily when he speaks of Fred as his surrogate father.

Joanne Rogers, his wife is a ray of sunshine, having met in college; they married, had two sons and remained together 52 years until his death in 2003. She has plenty to say about the accomplished life of her long-time husband; she serves as the cornerstone of the film. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Ocean’s 8 (PG-13) ★★★

“Ocean’s 8” Cast: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Female Glam-Caper Steals the Spotlight

Ocean’s 8, the female answer to the three previous Oceans’ heist movies, (Ocean’s Eleven 2001, Ocean’s Twelve 2004, and Ocean’s Thirteen 2007) is exquisitely cast with (Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Anne Hathaway as the leads) and has the perfect heist setting—the lavish Met Gala (New York City’s annual Metropolitan Art Museum’s fundraiser for their Costume Institute). While the film could be seen as mostly aimed toward fashionistas, the setting of the iconic New York art gallery offers visually more than solely fashion—a whole lot more. The detailed planning of the heist is typically the centerpiece of “heists” films—mainly the locale—with all the magnificent art pieces, along with jewels utilizing the Met as the location, is nothing less than brilliant. And yes, The Thomas Crown Affair did cross my mind during the viewing.

Sandra Bullock, “Ocean’s 8” Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Creating a heist film in which jewels, beautiful artwork, or antiquities’ are the target sets a visual symbol exceedingly more interesting than stacks of cash. Not to disappoint, the film takes a surprising twist near the end that garners an ultra sparkly on-screen image—so bright you may need sunglasses. Ocean’s 8 is unapologetically a ‘glam-caper’ at heart, along with enjoyable eye candy for fans of New York City by Danish cinematographer Eigil Bryld—providing a smart, glitzy, comical film to savor and enjoy—the clothes alone are worth the price of admission.

“Ocean’s 8” Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

In the director’s chair is Gary Ross of one of my favorite top five films, Pleasantville (1998), he also has screenplay credit along with Olivia Milch, story by Ross, based upon characters created by George Clayton Johnson and Jack Golden Russell. The premise is simple, a team of females, plot to steal a massive diamond necklace (that weighs six pounds) valued at $150 million, to be worn by actress Daphne Kluger, played by Anne Hathaway during the Met Gala then split the take. Speaking of Anne Hathaway, she’s basically playing an actress playing an actress as referenced in Tropic Thunder (2009), Robert Downy Jr.’s, character, “A dude playing a dude disguised as a dude,” she is hysterical in the role of an insecure, narcissistic, clueless, yet gorgeous actress. I loved her performance!

Anne Hathaway “Ocean’s 8” Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Read more…

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

RBG (PG) ★★★★

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Petite but Mighty Force

Upon the conclusion of RBG, a joyous smile stretched across my face, as the feeling of pure elation was my first reaction—yes, 84-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s biographical film presents an insightful and personal view of an accomplished legendary woman—one who paved the way for women’s equality. Surely a crowd-pleasing, historical film with undercurrents of celebration showcasing Ginsburg’s strategic plans over decades in combating sexism for all.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg upon College graduation from Cornell University. Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen provide a documentary that ventures well beyond the standard Wikipedia page, they spotlight a brilliant, progressive women who graduated from Harvard Law School with only nine other women in a class of over 500 men. To convolute her law school situation, she also juggled a 14-month-old baby and a husband enduring chemo treatments for cancer, Marty Ginsburg. From the beginning, even while attending Harvard, she fought sexism—the Dean of Harvard Law boldly asked she and her female law students—”How do you justify taking a seat that could be taken by a man?” I cringed at the conclusion of that line, and others in the audience gasped.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her husband Marty Ginsburg. Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Read more…

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Adrift (PG-13) ★★★

Shailene Woodley’s  Star Sails to New Heights 

Shailene Woodley’s breakout role as the spunky oldest daughter of George Clooney in The Descendants (2011) has proven her acting abilities aren’t a one-off—in fact she’s been sailing along quite nicely in Hollywood, with blockbuster films under her belt such as The Fault of Our Stars (2014) and the award-winning TV series Big Little Lies. In the ultra physically challenging role of Adrift her performance now clearly ranks her among her fellow A-list actors. Here she plays Tami Oldham in the harrowing true story of she and her fiancé, Richard Sharp’s (Sam Claflin) journey from Tahiti to San Diego aboard a 44-ft yacht, their dilemma—Hurricane Raymond, which garnered 40-ft. waves and 140 knot winds with only a few weeks into their voyage. The trailers tell us Richard is severely injured with a broken leg and ribs—(I’m not giving out any spoilers here), thus promoting Tami from skipper to captain for their survival—and, to carry the bulk of the film.

And carry she does—as Robert Redford in All is Lost (2015) and director Ang Lee’s Life of Pie (2012) both sea-storm films of survival, Woodley is solo in her fight against nature; her strength, determination, and skill depend on it. Amazingly she appears natural in the role as if she does have experience in and around a large sailing yacht; I’m not convinced a crash sailing course could actually teach the agility and finesse she credibly displays. The good news here, as opposed to the above films, is the human companion feature—ok, hang on, the tiger as portrayed in Life of Pi just might qualify as a companion; although Redford is clearly solo. As viewers, we do hear dual human dialogue (of which needed to be a bit more in-depth), offering a sigh of relief, as we witness the power of love and resilience of the duo in action. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Deadpool 2 (R) ★★★

“Deadpool 2” Stars Ryan Reynolds. Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

To begin, I’m strongly advising you see Deadpool starring Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson, before attempting to view Deadpool 2. The original highly successful R rated film is the first of it’s kind in the comic book genre to present a snarky, foul-mouthed anti-hero of sorts with a cynical attitude. Reynolds hit the jackpot with this role, and fans just can’t get enough. So how do you follow up an R-rated comic book film that grossed more than any other R-rated comic book film in history with over $750 million (US) in box-office receipts, and one that came in second of all time, behind The Passion of the Christ? This is a tough question; thankfully, Deadpool 2 doesn’t veer too far from the original, nor does it try to ‘out do’ the original.

Reynolds stepped up to the plate to safeguard his ‘breakout’ character—yes, he has screenplay writing credits. If you’re a fan of the snarky, one-liner, potty-mouthed, red latex bodysuit, invincible guy—then you’ll most likely be entertained by Deadpool 2, as I was—it’s outrageous adult ‘raunchy fun,’ but also darker than the original. The screenplay written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Reynolds is directed by David Leitch of John Wick (2014) and Atomic Blonde (2017).

An obvious fact, but one that needs to be stated, is that Deadpool 2 is the meta-Deadpool, a movie about the first movie’s wild success, and focuses on the likely hurdles that a sequel presents. In fact, it’s so mindful of the situation it blatantly proclaims, “Sequels are unimaginative cash-grabs.” near the opening.

“Deadpool 2” Stars Ryan Reynolds. Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Creative license soars to new heights in Deadpool 2, the opening credits are child-like crayon drawings that introduce the film, they’re all a farce; as in the director card stating: ‘Directed by the guy who killed the dog in John Wick’ as the funniest. Eccentric in tone, the sequences feel as though they’ve been spread out on to a desktop and patched together like a quilt; these random storylines could easily be interchangeable. However, that’s precisely why the film stands out. Writers Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Ryan Reynolds want their comic book character to have above all uniqueness, Deadpool is filled with over-the-top non-conformance.
The entire film references other comic book films, and pop culture mentions, typically by making fun of them in some way; Green Lantern, joke in the credits, Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice’s silly mommy moment, Hawkeye’s lack of powers, Josh Brolin’s Thanos’s two-timing as a character in Avengers: Infinity of War less than three weeks ago, at one point Wade simply calls Brolin’s (Cable), “Thanos,” Logan’s gags you’ll need to see for yourself. Look for chatter of Disney’s Frozen movie soundtrack, and let’s not forget Canadian Ryan Reynolds ode to fellow Canadian star singer Céline Dion. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Book Club (PG-13) ★★★½

Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen all star in “Book Club” Credit: Paramount Pictures 2018

Book Club, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Wine Bottle

For those of us that are currently in a ‘book club’ or those of us who’ve been in one in the past, we are undeniably privy to the fact that the book is never the star of  ‘book club’ it’s the wine and the sisterhood. I’m pleased to say; in the film, Book Club director/writer Bill Holderman and writer Erin Simms got this right for their debut rom/com. 

Mary Steenburgen, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton, all star in “Book Club” premeire Credit: Getty Images

The collective star power cast, Jane Fonda (Vivian), Diane Keaton, (Diane), Candice Bergen (Sharon), and Mary Steenburgen (Carol) all friends since college gather monthly for their book club. Vivian decides to spice things up by choosing Fifty Shades of Grey, the trilogy. As stated, the film doesn’t center on the book or books; it’s about using them as vehicles to generate conversations that will seep over into their romantic lives, or possibly lack thereof.  So call your friends, choose a theater serving wine as Book Club has so much to say about older women and the realization that we should all be living our best fulfilling life, despite what society may proclaim.

This wildly comical, smart film shows older female characters taking risks in order to find their voices; thus unleashing dormant mindsets. In Hollywood’s blatantly under-served market, the ‘star power female foursome’ of Bergen, Fonda, Keaton, and Steenburgen are a fresh respite; these seasoned actors could all go toe to toe with the Sex and the City girls. The film gives encouraging notice to the younger crowd of what the third act in life should look like, by providing an understanding that life isn’t over just because you’re a certain age.

(L-R) Don Johnson, Jane Fonda in the film, BOOK CLUB, by Paramount Pictures

Book Club explores individually, the four women’s romantic lives, and their attempts to either spice up the game, be open to love again, or in two of the women’s situations get back in the game. Here’s the great news, the film also takes a more in-depth look at ageism in our society, a smack dab, in-your-face interpretation. What behavior is acceptable to an older woman? Shouldn’t knowledge and wisdom count for something? After viewing this empowering film, I’m here to tell you that Hallmark’s card and party section of “Over the Hill” black party themes is yesterday’s news! Growing older should be a celebration of a continued journey filled with knowledge, growth, risk-taking, facing your fears all-leading to self-actualization—that aha moment of realizing your true self.  Read more…

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Solo: A Star Wars Story (PG-13) ★★★½

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” Credit: Disney Studios-2018

Younger Hans Solo Has Grit and Drive

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fun-filled, entertaining prequel; mostly due to its lead and co-stars. Alden Ehrenreich (Hans Solo) first caught my attention in the romantic gothic fantasy film Beautiful Creatures (2014) he plays a love-struck teen who dreams of leaving his oppressive small town of narrow-minded people. The two roles have similar elements; Han’s in love with Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) as he also schemes to escape— whereas here, he’s an indentured teen slave. There’s something about the twinkle in Ehrenreich’s eyes, the cocked-head and roguish half smile, this guy’s a charmer all right—one who’s usually up to mischief and grand plans. In Solo, his master plan is to pilot a spaceship. Flying is non-negotiable for him and when we ultimately view him in the cockpit—I guarantee you’ll be thinking—sweet!

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” Credit: Disney Studios-2018

Director Ron Howard, got on board after two of the former directors, Chris Lord and Phil Miller were let go over creative differences. George Lucas dreamed up Star Wars in 1977, due to the fact that he couldn’t get the rights to Flash Gordon—and the rest is history. Howard picked up the pieces and re-shot most of what was in place, adding his own touches, the goal was to keep the same story-line, just create a stand-alone unique film. And that it is. Father and son screenplay writers Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan, weave the back-story of a young Han Solo, fighting for his survival in the crime-ridden mean streets of the industrial shipbuilding planet Corellia.

Ron Howard Directs “Solo: A Star Wars Story” Credit: Disney Studios-2018

From the get-go, Han is determined to get in the pilot’s seat, he eventually meets a heist boss, a strong-minded Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who’s assembling a team of rouges to perform risky heists that garner sky-rocket profit margins. In a mud-soaked scene, Han meets up with Chewbacca, (Joonas Suotamo), and when he discovers his name, he says irksomely, “I’m not saying that every time, I’ll call you Chewie.” Suotamo began his Star Wars journey in 2015 when he first appeared as Chewbacca in Star Wars: Episode VII. As a former 6’11” professional basketball player, he played basketball at Penn State, graduated in three and a half years with honors studying film and video. During the Red Carpet premiere of Solo: A Star Wars Story, he was asked to ‘Wookiee roar’ on cue he then said his thank you’s to screenwriters Lawrence and Jonathan Kasda, “I especially love the line where I say, (makes Wookiee utterance).” He was also quoted as saying, “Thanks for giving me all of that dialogue.” Read more…

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

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