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.

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

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

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 ›

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (R) ★★½ by Jessica DeLong

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” stars Benicio Del Torro and Josh Brolin. Photo Credit: Lionsgate

Sicario: Day of the Soldado – Too Soon

When Sicario came out in the fall of 2015, it was a critical and commercial success with outstanding performances and a visual flair from the filmmakers. The film, which had numerous amoral characters fighting the long and violent war on drugs along the border, had a murky finale that left the audience without closure. Although the film left unanswered questions, that choice felt intentional and it came as a surprise when a sequel was announced. Sicario: Day of the Soldado, written again by Taylor Sheridan, returns to this violent world, but this time without the moral compass that Emily Blunt’s character represented. Perhaps even more notable, is the loss of director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer, Roger Deakins, whose collaborations garner Oscar attention on a regular basis. Without the heart and soul of the first film, the sequel, which still holds strong performances and action sequences, lacks the artistry and narrative that makes the violent material worth the investment.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado, begins with a familiar setting from the previous film –migrants at the U.S. / Mexico border, scrambling to cross into America in the middle of the night. As cars and helicopters from border patrol close in on the group, one person sprints from the pack only to detonate a bomb and kill himself instead of being captured. The action then cuts to a crowded department store in Kansas City, where four men, clad in all-black, walk in and each detonate bombs killing themselves and many innocent lives. In response to these vicious attacks, the U.S. Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine, 47 Meters Down, 2017) declares that the U.S. Government is going to hunt these terrorists down with the full might of the U.S. armed forces.  Read more ›

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

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

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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 ›

Incredibles 2 (PG) ★★★★

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

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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 ›

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

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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 ›

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.

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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 ›

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 ›

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 ›

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 ›

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 ›

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 ›

Always At the Carlyle (Documentary) ★★

Check in For an Impressive Guest List, Check out due to Tattletaling

I’ve always maintained that The Carlyle Hotel is a captivating art enthusiast destination in New York City due to the paintings of Ludwig Bemelman that adorn the walls of Bemelman’s Bar. For those who haven’t seen the murals, they are worth the trip—you’ll see whimsical drawings of New York City in all four seasons by the famous ‘Madeline’ book artist. I’ve visited there a few times over the years to enjoy the ambiance of the cozy place while sipping a cocktail. Truth be told, I never had much interest in actually staying at the swanky Carlyle Hotel, but may now after viewing the documentary, although not sure that justify’s the hotel’s high prices. I had no idea the hotel is typically full of celebrities, who knew that George Clooney is actually a regular, (he’s checked in for three months in the past) as well as Anthony Bourdain, Harrison Ford, Vera Wang, George Clooney, Naomi Campbell, Sofia Coppola, Harrison Ford, Angelica Huston, Lenny Kravitz, and Wes Anderson, to name a few. Name-dropping is what this doc is all about—from JFK to Princess Diana—the staff will acknowledge that certain celebrities have stayed in the hotel. Unfortunately aside from name-dropping—not much else worthy of noting is divulged in this somewhat drab, thinly scripted doc, that’s mainly stuffed with talking heads.

Director Matthew Miele is on a roll, with his recent films that center on similar upscale establishments as Tiffany’s, Crazy About Tiffany’s (2013) and Bergdorf Goodman, Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s (2013) the docu-style tone is similar in its advertorial nature. However, before you get too excited—check out the price for a one-night stay. The film is a long list of celebrity interviewees anchored by devoted Carlyle Hotel staffers, who serve them. Unfortunately tonally, the film feels two-faced—yes, the Carlyle Hotel, known for its discretion on guests’ details or gossip, (made clear from the beginning of the film)—has a catch-22—the core celebrity factor along with name-dropping depends on those stories, without them, there is no film. Given the pristine reputation of the Carlyle, these stories—unless told by the guests feel like a betrayal.

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Life of the Party (PG-13)★★★ Radio Podcast

Melissa McCarthy stars in “Life of the Party” Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

McCarthy’s Sweet Mom-Com Has a Ginormous Heart

Undeniably, Melissa McCarthy is one of the funniest women working in Hollywood to date. After her break-out role in Bridesmaids (2011), the female version of The Hangover, McCarthy continues to cross over into typical guy-dominated roles: buddy cops in The Heat, world reconnaissance in Spy, and exterminating ghosts in Ghostbusters. Here she’s reinventing the manboy character as in Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School and Will Ferrell’s Old School in creating a sweet, unassuming mom role in Life of the Party. Truly a winner, as the smart script offers a variety of relatable themes—mom-daughter bonds, single parenting, facing your fears, and becoming your best self—all while boasting several laugh-out-loud moments. The audience I screened the film with applauded and cheered at the ending.

Melissa McCarthy as Deanna, in “Life of the Party” Photo Credit Warner Bros.

She teams up yet again with her husband Ben Falcone, as co-writer, director, and actor (he plays the Uber driver whom McCarthy voices her sob story). McCarthy plays Deanna, a be-dazzled sweatshirted mom who’s dropping her college-senior daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) at school and saying her good-byes. Their relationship is open, respectful and loving. All her annoyingly cheap dad, Dan, (Matt Walsh), can say is that ‘he’s looking forward to the day her tuition payments are over.’ While driving away, he basically tells Deanna he’s in love with another woman, (the local real estate agent Marcie (Julie Bowen), he is selling their house and wants a divorce. Deanna’s reaction is hurt, followed by anger; she kicks the car, stomps off and dials Uber. Read more ›

Tully (R) ★★★½ Written Review and Radio Podcast🎙

Charlize Theron stars as Tully. Photo Credit: Focus Features

Authentic Portrayal of Motherhood, Uniting Humor and Love at its Core

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Tully is a female character driven movie from the heart, which mothers universally will champion and applaud for its realism—to be clear, it is not the flawlessly staged Mommy Blog Instagram photos that display angelic children with posed smiles and lovely stain-free attire. Native Chicago suburban writer Diablo Cody, known for her Academy Award winning screenplay of Juno (2007) along with director Jason Reitman brings us their third film together. Tully’s tone feels like the grownup version of Juno; she’s now in mid-life crises mode, heading smack dab into postpartum depression. But, don’t let that scare you off, this quick-witted dark comedy, had me laughing out loud. Tully is a film for all to see, to clearly appreciate that motherhood, like old age, is not for sissies. If anything, you’ll gain an empathic view of the never-ending duties and responsibilities of merely being a mom.

To begin, we are introduced to 40-year-old Marlo (Charlize Theron) in her last days of pregnancy; a mother of two who’s expecting her third and, alas surprise baby. It’s the nightly bedtime routine as Marlo gently therapeutically brushes the skin of her 5-year-old son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), as he has dramatic, anxiety-driven episodes, undiagnosed at this point, but labeled “quirky.” Marlo’s husband Drew (Ron Livingston) doesn’t interact much with the kids; he travels and tunes out by playing video-games when he is home. To be fair, Drew loves Marlo and their children, he’s taken on more responsibility in his job, which yields a higher paycheck, but as a result, he’s stressed out. Quickly, we surmise Margo’s challenging situation—this is all before the baby is born.

In capturing the actual essence of the birth experience, I must say, this is one of the most genuine I’ve seen on screen. Edited to perfection—the real deal. Not the drawn-out wailing, ear-piercing screams—here the focus is on the nonnegotiable exhaustion from hours of labor. Theron’s performance is astonishing, she, along with the clever script and sharp direction bring the movie to life. Ah, yes, a new baby, Mia, is her name, all those hopes, and dreams. Yet, there’s constant sleeplessness, non-stop nursing, piled-up laundry, that over-flowing Diaper Genie, atypical outbursts from Jonah, lack of co-parenting, unfamiliar body image, etc. We see the helplessness of the situation and come to realize that even in a wanted pregnancy that has support, motherhood is a tough job.

Charlize Theron stars as Marlo in Jason Reitman’s TULLY, a Focus Features release.

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Beirut (R) ★★★½

A Triller with John Hamm Leading the Way

Beirut once known as the Paris of the Middle East hasn’t seen those days of glory since the 1975 Civil War, the 1982 Lebanon War with Israel, the 2006 Israeli conflict and the current continuing terrorist attacks. The film begins in 1972 exploring the origins of the city’s downfall in a gripping spy thriller anchored by an outstanding performance by Jon Hamm.

U.S. academic Mason Skiles’s (Jon Hamm) entire life changes in a flash. During a raid his wife is killed in the crossfire as Palestinian terrorists kidnap a teen boy, Karim Abou Rajal (Idir Chender-older version) that’s been staying with them as a family member—the boy’s older brother Abu Rajal (Hicham Ouraqa), a notorious Palestinian terrorist is linked to the recent Summer Olympics massacre in Munich.

Fast-forward ten years, Skiles an expert labor negotiator who is drowning in grief by the death of his wife while routinely hitting the booze, has sleepless nights that leave him in a weary state. U.S. intelligence agents soon entice Skiles back to Beirut when a his former friend, a spy is kidnapped.

The last place Skiles wants to revisit is Beirut, as that’s where his life fell apart in a matter of minutes. However, he sees a chance to save his friend and discover the truth about the teen refugee, Karim, who lied to him about being orphaned when in fact he has a terrorist brother. Read more ›

Avengers: Infinity War (PG-13) ★★½ by S. Knight Adamson

Both Exciting and Exhausting, the Underwhelming Supervillain Further Bogs Down the Overwhelming Amount of Characters and Scope

Avengers: Infinity War is part one of a ten-year Marvel finale, that includes 18 movies starting in 2008 with Iron Man and the comic book superheroes that began in 1941. Truly an unparalleled cinematic feat, in not only scope—but also the pure number of characters and universes—good luck keeping track of it all! The film advances through insane pacing—in and out of universes; Earth, Knowhere, Vormir, Zen-Whoberi, Titan, and Nidavellir all while a gazillion characters dart in and out.

Unfortunately, the prolonged storyline leaves little time for character development, which creates merely a celebrity cameo effect. Good luck keeping track of the 34+ characters; I had a difficult time, and I’ve seen all 18 films. This being said, my main objection to the film is the dark-tone played out through torture, violence, beatings, and deaths. Yes, there’s humor, especially when Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Spiderman (Tom Holland), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) are joking around, although it happens in short spurts. I secretly rejoiced when the Guardians of the Galaxy’s, Chris Pratt’s (Star-Lord) first appears on screen to the blaring catchy tune Rubberband Man. He’s always comical while natural in his role.

Josh Brolin as Thanos-Avengers: Infinity War (2018) Disney Studios

At the center of the storyline is the villain Thanos, who aspires to be a god and bring balance to the universe. He can achieve this by collecting all of the infinity stones that will grant him unparalleled power in the universe. Make no mistake, the ginormous Thanos (Josh Brolin), who’s leather-clad face and a bulging rectangle lined chin—has a sole intention—kill half of the world. He proclaims, “kill away” in the opening scene before the title card. The problem—he doesn’t look like a scary psycho-death fiend. More like the ogre in the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale. When comparing the comic art drawings to the CGI movie depiction, his face is ultra frightening in the comic art; a dark purple color with menacing tiny glowing eyes, and huge teeth. Here, his face is flesh-colored, with a closed mouth and squinty, yet, somewhat normal eyes.

Thanos Marvel Comic Book Art

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Avengers: Infinity War (PG-13) ★★★½ by J. Aymond

Robert Downey Jr. stars in “Avengers: Infinity War.” Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Marvel Studios

Avengers: Infinity Wars Sets New Bar for Superhero Spectacles

To call the film, Avengers: Infinity War a blockbuster movie is frankly an understatement at this point. The movie reportedly cost $300 million to make, which ranks it as the second-most expensive film, ever. The cast is an embarrassment of riches as its loaded with Hollywood stars. The film itself is the 19th century in the Marvel Universe franchise and is the culmination of all the preceding films, which include big movie franchises (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Spiderman, The Hulk, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the recent smash, Black Panther). Clearly, with that budget, cast, and back story to build off, the expectations for this movie are sky high.   Fortunately, for the fans (and the studio), the Russo brothers, who directed this film, did not disappoint with this undertaking. Although the film has its weak spots, it’s a hugely entertaining movie and will undoubtedly be a massive hit film for the largest franchise in Hollywood.       

As described, Infinity War is the culmination of many previous Marvel films. While it’s too difficult to go into detail about all that has transpired in the previous 18 movies to get to this point, the audience just needs to know that the unifying thread is the rise of a powerful and evil being named Thanos (Josh Brolin, Only the Brave, 2017). Thanos, who is a giant, bluish-purple being from the planet Titan (Iron Man cleverly calls him “Grimace”), is seeking six mystical Infinity Stones that are scattered across the universe. The Infinity Stones grant unique abilities over mind, soul, space, power, time and reality. In the previous films, these stones have been protected or held by different heroes of the Marvel Universe and Thanos has been hunting the stones down in the background.

The action of this film takes place literally after the final scenes of Thor: Ragnorak, which came out last summer. Thor (Chris Hemsworth, 12 Strong, 2017) and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Early Man, 2017), who are flying their people through space to find a new home, come under attack by Thanos, who now has the Power Stone. Thanos wants the Space Stone that Loki is hiding. The Guardians of the Galaxy led by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Passengers, 2016) hear Thor’s distress call and arrive on the scene to help, although it’s too late as Thanos has taken the Space Stone already. After some hilarious banter, Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy eventually align to fight Thanos as he seeks two more stones in outer space. Meanwhile, Thanos sends his minions to Earth for the remaining two stones.

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Blockers (R) ★★★½

“Blockers” Universal Pictures

Hysterical “Blockers” Boasts Great Cast

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The film Blockers main premise is most parents’ worst nightmare−the discovery your teen has made a haphazard life-altering decision. A parent’s glimmer of hope−they just may be able to “block” the dumb choice. Here, three teens decide to lose their virginity on prom night; with two of those teens’ solely in for the shared experience between friends. Do they quickly choose random classmates to fulfill their desire? Yes. Are we shocked? No, not really, most teens often time make snap decisions. More importantly, is Blockers funny? Happy to say yes!

Leslie Man, (How to be Single 2016) John Cera, (Trainwreck 2015) & Ike Barinholtz (Snatched 2017) are the parent blockers of three teen girls; Kayla, Julie, and Sam. In a comical scene after the prom pre-party Leslie Mann notices texts messages on her daughter’s computer, together the parents decipher the emoji’s that have sexual meaning such as the purple eggplant, amongst others. Upon the discovery, Mann and Cera kick into high gear, and hunter tries to stop them.

Chicago Second City alumue, screenwriter and producer Kay Cannon makes her directing debut. The rest of the movie has us following the duo in ‘progressive party’ mode from house to house, and finally house to hotel. Along the way, it’s apparent that both have their own reason for their group crazed intervention. Mitchell clearly has issues with any boy that Kayla shows any interest in, yes he’s in denial that his little girl is becoming a woman. Mann, a single mom, had hopes of Julie attending college near their home, she’s devastated at the thought of her going so far from home. Hunter’s motives are driven by guilt as he’s been an absent father during the family’s unfriendly separation. We do find that later in the film Hunter’s distance is somewhat warranted as untruths unfold and he and Sam reconnect. Dad also suspects that his daughter is gay, and her choice in the ‘prom sex pact’ will only end in regret. Read more ›

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