Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express

I am two for two today…two movies, in two days. This afternoon I met my daughter Elissa, son-in-law Josh, and grandson Dayan for lunch and a viewing of the newest remake of Murder on the Orient Express. I have been excited about seeing this star studded film since first seeing the trailer. This Agatha Christie mystery is one of Dayan’s favorite stories. How serendipitous that it released at the theater while he is home on Thanksgiving break.

Murder on the Orient Express stars Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Josh Gad, Olivia Colman, Penelope Cruz, Marwan Kenzari, Sergei Polunin, Manuel Garcia-Ruflo, Lucy Boynton, Tom Bateman, Leslie Odom Jr., and Willem Dafoe. Kenneth Branagh also directed this film, based on the Agatha Christie novel by the same name. The crime drama carries a PG-13 rating, for violence and mature themes, and has a run time of 1 hour and 54 minutes.

Aboard the luxurious Orient Express, bound for France, a shocking murder takes place. Hercules Poirot (Branagh), self proclaimed as the greatest detective in the world, is called upon by the train owner Bouc (Bateman) to solve the crime. Still two days away from their destination, an avalanche in the mountains halts the train, delaying them further.

Inspector Poirot makes a shrewd observation…if there has been a murder on board, then there is also a murderer on board. And everyone is a suspect.

Gangster turned art dealer Edward Ratchett (Depp) lies in his cold sleeping quarters, dead from multiple stab wounds. Poirot begins the arduous task of interviewing each suspect and collecting clues.

The possibilities are many, and all have secrets to uncover. There is the governess, Mary Debenham (Ridley), who seems to be more than an acquaintance of Dr. Arbuthnot (Odom Jr.). There are the two men employed by the shady art dealer, his valet Edward (Jacobi) and secretary Hector McQueen (Gad).

The others include the Austrian professor, Gerhard Hardman (Defoe), Italian car salesman Beniamino Marquez (Garcia-Rulfo), American socialite and husband hunter, Mrs. Hubbard (Pfeiffer), elderly Princess Dragomiroff (Dench) and her assistant Hildegarde (Colman), a sad missionary named Pilar (Cruz), the train conductor Pierre Michel (Kenzari), and the young Count and Countess Andrenyi (Polunin and Boynton).

With so many suspects, Poirot finds his analytical mind and his deduction skills challenged as he puts together the pieces of this mystery. Meanwhile time is ticking away, the train is derailed, and a murderer hides among the travelers. Help is on the way, to right the train. Will Poirot solve the crime in time?

This was a fun who dun it to watch. I read the novel years ago, so I knew the general story, but it was still enjoyable to watch the great detective, whose keen observation of people and crime scenes rivals Sherlock Holmes. Kenneth Branagh made a fine Inspector Poirot, complete with the distinctive mustache.

The rest of the cast worked well in their roles. I always like seeing these big ensembles of well known performers together. And the scenery was gorgeous, the falling snow and rugged mountains adding to the chilling mystery within the train.

As one who is exploring the world more, watching the train chug to its destination and seeing the lush accommodations created a desire to travel to an exotic location by rail. The gypsy spirit within me stirred and answered the siren call to wander with a heartfelt yes.

I just hope there aren’t any mysteries to solve, should I travel by train. If so, may there be a clever detective aboard to sort it all out.

Movie Review: Loving Vincent

A cold kept me from seeing a one time showing of the independent film Loving Vincent Tuesday evening in the Joplin area. I was very disappointed, as I have long appreciated this amazing and often misunderstood artist. I checked to see what nearby cities might be showing this unique movie. Springfield, Missouri, a little more than an hour away, had a 3:30 showing today, at a arthouse theater in the historic downtown area. Feeling much better, and armed with natural elderberry and zinc cough drops, I had the privilege of watching this beautiful film this afternoon, in a very cool setting. I am grateful to Greg for encouraging me to go and for accompanying me on this adventure.

Loving Vincent, while not a live action movie, used actors to portray the characters and supply the voices. The filmed scenes provided the artists who created the movie with foundational material. Actors include Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Robert Gulaczyk, Helen McCrory, Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Chris O’Dowd, Saoirse Ronan, and Cezary Lucaszewicz. This biographical animation was written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. It carries a PG-13 rating, for mature themes, and has a run time of 1 hour and 34 minutes.

What makes Loving Vincent so unique is that it is the first story depicted entirely in oil painting animation. Over a six year span, more than 100 artists created the paintings, in Van Gogh’s artistic style, that became the 65,000 frames of the movie. Van Gogh’s landscapes and buildings come to life, and his portraits become the characters who are telling Vincent’s story.

A year after the death of Vincent Van Gogh (Gulaczyk), a young man named Armand (Booth) travels to the artist’s last hometown, at the request of his father (O’Dowd), who is a postman. He carries a letter that Vincent wrote to his now deceased brother, Theo (Lucaszewicz), in hopes of delivering it to a close friend of Vincent’s, Dr. Gachet (Flynn).

The doctor is away, allowing Armand time to explore Auvers-sur-Oise, and talk to the people who knew Vincent. He meets Adeline (Tomlinson), the honest barmaid who became Vincent’s friend, and the not so honest Louise (McCrory), housekeeper for Dr. Gachet. The Boatman (Turner) shares stories about Vincent and strong drink, while the doctor’s daughter Marguerite (Ronan) prefers to keep her stories to herself.

As Armand listens to the villagers’ tales, his curiosity turns to a realization that Vincent was more than a crazy or sick man. He recognizes the artist’s genius and his complexities. By the time he meets Dr. Gachet, Armand questions whether Vincent’s death was a suicide, or an accident, or even murder.

What an extraordinary film about a creative and enigmatic man. Visually stunning, Loving Vincent is a work of art, literally, and also a work of the heart. It was thrilling to see familiar Van Gogh paintings come to life through animation.

As the story unfolded, the present was depicted in color while Vincent’s backstory was presented in black and white images. I learned about Vincent’s unhappy childhood. And I felt his loneliness as an adult as he struggled first to belong somewhere and second to be appreciated for his art.

A prolific artist, Vincent created more than 800 painting in eight years. Although he gave away many paintings, and sent most of his completed pieces to his brother, he only sold one painting in his lifetime. He died unrecognized as an artist, not knowing the value of work.

And that has always broken my heart. I love the colors and energy in Vincent’s paintings. His words inspire me. For he was not only a prolific painter, he wrote hundreds of letters to Theo, detailing his life and his thoughts and his torments.

I did not realize, until I saw this movie, that there were suspicions around Vincent’s death. There is no proving any of them, then or now. But is comforts me, thinking that perhaps this talented, earthy and sometimes unsettled man didn’t take his own life.

The Moxie Cinema, in downtown Springfield, was the perfect venue for this film. Known as an arthouse theater, The Moxie has two intimate theater rooms, occupancy 88 people each, that feel more like home theater rooms. The seats are ultra comfortable, and the ticket prices and concessions are very reasonably priced. They offer healthy snack options, such as bottled water and almonds, or you can even sip on a glass of wine during the movie.

The Moxie showcases independent, artsy, classical and documentary films. I am thrilled to discover them and appreciate what they have to offer. I am grateful as well that locally, Route 66 Theater in Webb City is bringing in more independent films. Loving Vincent played there Tuesday evening. I look forward to seeing what they present next.

Greg and I arrived an hour early. We were joined later by more movie goers, of all ages.

Loving Vincent…worth the drive and the time invested. Because I do love this artist, and his authentic heart and work. I had tears in my eyes as the film concluded, with one of my favorite Vincent quotes:

“I want to touch people with my art. I want them to say, ‘he feels deeply’, ‘he feels tenderly’.

You have, Vincent. I say, you did feel deeply and tenderly and you saw the world in fresh ways. I hope, oh I hope, that you know how much you have touched people with your art and your life. And you fit in, you belong and have a place, in the hearts of so many who appreciate your contributions to the world.

We are…I am…loving Vincent.

Movie Review: Thor Ragnarok

I grew up reading Marvel comics. The heroics of Spiderman, Thor, Ironman, Hulk and Captain America inspired daydreams of adventure and confirmed that good always prevailed. As an adult, I have loved seeing these characters of the Marvel universe (and the DC universe as well) brought to life on the big screen.

Call me a nerd, but in both comic franchises, I have seen every movie that adds to the collective stories of the Justice League and the Avengers. This afternoon my sister Linda and I joined a theater packed with movie goers to see the latest installment in the Avengers series…Thor Ragnarok.

Thor Ragnarok stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Anthony Hopkins, Karl Urban, Benedict Cumberbatch and Taika Waititi. This action adventure was directed by Taika Waititi. The film carries a PG-13 rating, for intense action sequences and violence, and has a run time of 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Before he dies, Odin (Hopkins) king of Asgard, reveals a secret to his sons, Thor (Hemsworth) and Loki (Hiddleston). He tells them that they have an older sister, Odin’s first born, Hela (Blanchett). Hela was an ambitious warrior princess whose lust for war and destruction turned her to darkness. She has become the Goddess of Death.

Shortly after Odin passes into legend, Hela arrives, intent on claiming the throne of Asgard as the rightful heir. Asgard now faces two threats: Hela, who brings her wrath against the inhabitants, and the prophecy of Ragnarok which foresees Asgard destroyed in flames.

Thor calls on Heimdall (Elba) on Asgard to retrieve him and his brother through the Bifrost. However, the three siblings all travel together toward their home world. Hela knocks her brothers out of the stream. She travels on to Asgard, intent to rule, and immediately engages the help of Skurge (Urban), to serve as her executioner.

Meanwhile, Thor and Loki both end up on the junk scrap world of Sakaar, governed by an eccentric man known as the Grandmaster (Goldblum). The Grandmaster thrives on cast off treasures of all kinds, and gladiator style battles between his champion and new comers. Thor is captured by a woman (Thompson) bearing a tattoo that identifies her as an Asgardian, a member of a group of elite warrior women known as the Valkyrie. She sells Thor to the Grandmaster.

Thor, long hair cut off before his gladiator fight and his mighty hammer destroyed by his sister, faces the champion in the ring. To his surprise, the Grandmaster’s prize fighter is the Hulk (Ruffalo), who has been missing from the Avengers for two years. Living in a rage as the Hulk during this time, Banner is deeply submerged in his alter ego. When he finally emerges, to escape the planet with Thor, Loki and Valkyrie, he is fearful that if he becomes Hulk again, he will never be able to transform back into his human form.

The four become the “Revengers”, with the mission of returning to Asgard to save the people, and the planet, from the fiery prophecy and the destructive Hela.

This was an incredibly fun movie, full of action and humor. Although the film could stand alone, much more is gleaned from the story if all the other movies in the Avengers series have been seen. The theater was full, which created high energy for the movie, resulting in frequent cheers, shared laughter and applause.

I loved seeing Thor reunited with his trickster brother, Loki. Much of the movie’s humor is centered around this love/hate relationship. Although he plays a “bad boy”, and plays the role well, Loki is important to his brother. Watching Thor and Loki accept their differences and acknowledge their affection for each other is a huge part of this movie’s charm.

Although he only has a small part in this film, Doctor Strange (Cumberbatch) makes a delightful appearance. There are countless references to the other members of the Avengers, which is fun and ties this film firmly into the overarching story. Matt Damon has a hilarious cameo. And one of the new characters, a rock man named Korg, is voiced by the director, Waititi. I sincerely hope Korg shows up in the next Avenger movie. He is made of rock, but he has a sensitive and endearing heart.

I am positive I will see Valkryie in the next film. Thompson brings a freshness to the series and she definitely has the warrior skills. These heroes all discovered truths about themselves, as they journeyed toward home, including what, or who, Asgard truly is. As with all the Marvel films, it is worth while to sit through the credits for additional scenes.

Thor Ragnarok was an amazing movie, and an important installment in the ongoing story. I am ready for Avengers: Infinity War, due out next year. It is going to be awesome!

Movie Review: Wings of Desire

I appreciate when an interesting film is suggested, especially when the person mentions that the movie had a great impact. Heather, one of my Instagram connections, made such a mention several days ago. She included a still from the movie Wings of Desire and posted that she saw this film as a teen and it altered her life.

I was intrigued, and inspired. Those words created a powerful draw for me. This afternoon, as I allowed my knee to continue to recover by resting it, a movie seemed to be the perfect quiet activity. I rented this 1987 release online, via Amazon Video, and watched it on my iPhone.

Wings of Desire is a German film, with English subtitles, starring Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander, Solveig Dommartin, Curt Bois and Peter Falk. This fantasy drama was written and directed by Wim Wenders and carries a PG-13 rating. The film has a run time of 2 hours and 8 minutes.

In Berlin, angels Damiel (Ganz) and Cassiel (Sander) wander about the city, watching the residents as they live their lives. Invisible to all except for children and other angels, these beings are more than guardians, they are witnesses. They can hear the thoughts of humans, like thousands of radio programs playing at once. And although they cannot interfere with humans, or be heard if they speak, the angels often have a calming or encouraging effect on the troubled or depressed.

Cassiel is following an older man named Homer (Bois), who longs for peace. He is a storyteller. If he stops telling his stories, who will tell them, he wonders? When he stumbles, or feels winded, Cassiel steadies him and calms him with a light touch on the shoulder or back. Not every human responds to the help offered. Atop a building, Cassiel crouches near a suicidal man, laying his head on the man’s shoulder, willing him to stay. The man jumps anyway. Cassiel cries out in agony.

Damiel seems particularly fond of children, smiling at them as he walks the streets or perches high above the city. He stops to soothe a man hit by a car, and brings hope and a surge of courage to a despondent man riding the bus. Cassiel and Damiel meet daily to share stories from their journals. They communicate without speaking.

Peter Falk, as himself, arrives in Berlin to play a detective in a new film. Damiel is fascinated by the actor, as Peter senses the angel’s presence and speaks to him.

At a nearby, seedy circus a young trapeze artist, Marion (Dommartin) works to bring joy to customers through her art. The circus is shutting down early in the season though, the owners unable to pay their bills. There is only one performance left. Although she lives a life of creativity and freedom, Marion’s thoughts take her into fear about her future.

Damiel is most drawn to this young woman. He attends her performances, an invisible spectator in the crowd. In her trailer, he listens to her thoughts, hears her fearful questions, feels her determination to be who she wants to be. Marion’s grappling with life, and her journey of joys and sorrows, creates a longing in Damiel to be human, and to experience all that they do, including mortality.

This movie, filmed primarily in black and white, was achingly beautiful. The only time color was introduced was when we saw from a human’s perspective. As most of the story is told through Damiel, most of the movie is in black and white. I liked that cinematic decision. The angels spoke very little, although their thoughts were shared. Much was told by way of facial expressions and body language, and through the incessant thoughts of the humans around them. The lack of color played well in creating a starkness and sense of isolation among the humans.

And the humans were very isolated from each other. It was brilliant, hearing their thoughts. Although many of the people had carefully blank faces, their thoughts were a swirl of fears, anxieties, complaints and hopelessness. Sadly, how true this depiction is. How controlled by our thoughts we humans are. How fearful we are.

There is help, a world behind this world. I believe this with all my soul. I know it to be true. This powerful film not only reveals the extreme isolation that most people live with, it beautifully depicts that we are not actually alone. Unseen may be the witnesses to our lives, unless we have the believing hearts of children, but they are there, whispering hope in our ears, laying comforting hands on our shoulders. Our intuition alerts us that they are there. We get goosebumps. We feel a tingle of energy across our scalps. We feel courage.

There were so many things to love about this unusual movie. And if it seems familiar, the US film, City of Angels, was based on Wings of Desire. Watch this earlier one for the truths embedded in it.

“Time heals all, but what if time itself is the disease? Damiel

Watch it to feel compassion for humanity’s frailties and sufferings, and to feel hope for peace. Watch it to be encouraged that even when we appear to be struggling, alone and unseen, the Divine is surrounding us with witnesses who walk alongside, whether they are acknowledged, or not, thanked or not, believed in…or not.

Wings of Desire. I am grateful that this thought provoking movie came into my awareness.

Movie Review: The Lobster

I became aware of this film this year as I watched the Academy Awards. During the program, as film clips are shown and Oscars handed out, I make a list of movies that intrigue me. The Lobster was one of those that snagged my attention. When I realized it was on Amazon Prime, I added it to my must watch list. This evening I at last pulled it up to see why this movie is described as one of the most innovative films of the year.

The Lobster stars Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Coleman, John C Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Lea Seydoux and Angeliki Papoulia. This black comedy/romance was written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. The film is rated R, for sexual content, language and a few violent scenes and has a run time of 1 hour and 59 minutes. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. It did not win an Oscar.

In a dystopian future, it is the law that everyone must have a partner. If a partner dies, or a divorce takes place, or a young adult hasn't married by a certain age, the single person is taken to The Hotel, run by the rule enforcing Hotel Manager (Coleman). Each "guest" has 45 days to find a suitable partner within the hotel. If they don't succeed during that time, he or she is turned into the animal of their choice and released into the wild.

David (Farrell) is escorted to The Hotel after his wife informs him she's met someone else and she's ending their marriage. He takes his dog, Bob, with him, who was his brother formerly. David quickly makes a couple of friends, Limping Man (Whishaw) and Lisping Man (Reilly), but finds it more difficult to form a romantic relationship. He is told to select the animal he would most like to become, should he fail to find a partner. He chooses the lobster because it can live 100 years, remains fertile its entire life and it lives in the sea.

As his time at the hotel runs out, David attempts to fool the Manager and everyone else by becoming a seemingly ideal match for Heartless Woman (Papoulia). But he can't keep the pretense up, especially under the stress of sharing living quarters with his new partner during their trial period. On his way to a severe punishment for lying, David escapes and runs into the woods where single people, called Loners, live hidden among the many wild, domestic and exotic animals that used to be people.

Released from the pressure of finding a mate, David meets a woman who seems perfectly suited for him. Near Sighted Woman (Weisz) even shares a physical trait with him…she can't see well. Where the Hotel required each person to find a partner, the Loners, led by Leader (Seydoux) are not allowed to pair off. They must maintain the single state, or receive harsh punishment.

David is faced with the choices of falling in love again…or being turned into a lobster…or living as a single man for the rest of his life.

Caught between two societies that control relationships, or encourage the lack of them, David must decide where he fits in and whether to share life with anyone else.

I have to state immediately that this film wins the distinction of being the most bizarre movie I have watched in a long time. And yet, it was oddly compelling. Because the quirkiness rather quickly turns into unsettling strangeness, and there are a few disturbing scenes, I am refraining from recommending it. If you choose to watch it, remember you have been warned!

There is no year given for this futuristic story and no explanations offered for why society has created laws ordaining that everyone must be in a relationship. We are dropped into the story and left to interpret it as we will. In fact, Lanthimos' desire was that each viewer would decide what the movie meant to him or her, as seen through their own perspectives and beliefs. I have to give him credit for original and creative thinking.

The people of the future are repressed, direct, and fearful of being alone, lest they become an animal that can be killed and eaten by other animals in the woods. The other alternative, of escaping the City or the Hotel, and foraging in the woods as a Loner, seems equally frightening to them. And so they define each other by physical characteristics, hence the lack of proper names in the film, and match up with partners who are just like them. No one seems happy in their relationships. How could they be? They are fear based and forced. And if the couples feel stress or tension, or argue, they are assigned children. I did laugh at that.

At its core, this movie is a romance. Those who are alone are not allowed to remain so. And if you are a Loner, you aren't allowed to be partnered. The two extremes on the relationship spectrum have similar bizarre rules for living and no tolerance for those who wish to adopt a different lifestyle. David and Near Sighted Woman attempt to create a world of their own, where true love has a chance to take root. The question for David becomes how far is he willing to go, to keep that growing relationship? As with the synopsis of the movie, you get to interpret the ending for yourself.

Intriguing? Yes, this movie was. Hidden truths buried within it? Yes, I had interesting reactions to the extreme relationship viewpoints that will undoubtedly cause me to examine my own beliefs. Bizarre, uncomfortable and disturbing? Thought provoking, original and unforgettable? The Lobster is all of those things.

Movie Review: The Girl on the Train

I enjoyed a Sunday evening movie night, watching a film I meant to catch on the big screen. I am grateful for online viewing options, DVD rentals, and free movies at the Joplin Public Library. That means I can always find a film I missed. I checked this one out of the library.

The Girl on the Train stars Emily Blunt, Luke Evans, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Allison Janney and Edgar Ramirez. This suspenseful thriller, based on the novel by Paula Hawkins, was directed by Tate Taylor. The film is rated R for strong language, sexuality and suspense, and has a run time of 1 hour and 52 minutes.

Recently divorced, and struggling with alcoholism, Rachel (Blunt) commutes to Manhattan every day on the train. Although she feels that everything important to her has been ripped away, she still has her imagination and her ability to sketch. She spins a story around a young couple, Scott (Evans) and Megan (Bennett), that she sees daily as the train rumbles past their home.

To Rachel, the attractive couple are living the perfect life. They have a beautiful home, in a neighborhood she once lived in. They appear to share a deep and passionate love. Two houses down is Rachel's former house, where her ex-husband Tom (Theroux) now lives with his new wife Anna (Ferguson) and their baby daughter.

Rachel can barely look at that house. All that she longed for…a loving relationship and a child, the furnishings and security…is captured within that home. And none of it is hers. All she has is a spare bedroom at a friend's house and this beautiful story she has created about strangers she catches glimpses of as she rolls by.

But one day, as the train passes Scott and Megan's house, she sees something that shatters her idyllic story and upsets her reality. Megan is kissing another man on the backyard deck. Rachel feels that infidelity as keenly as she felt it in her life when she discovered that her husband was having an affair.

Drunk and in a rage as she returns home, Rachel exits the train near her old neighborhood, with the mixed up intentions of warning the husband that his wife is being unfaithful. The night becomes a blur to her. She awakens the next morning with an injury to her head and no clear memory of how she got it.

Rachel finds herself in the center of a dark and dangerous story she could not have imagined. Megan is missing. Detective Riley (Janney) has a list of suspects that includes Rachel, Megan's husband Scott, and her therapist Dr. Abdic (Ramirez).

The case hinges on what Rachel can remember, and what she saw, really saw, the night Megan disappeared.

This was an excellent crime thriller. Well written, with a flow that only revealed bits and pieces of the truth at a time, I found myself on edge and leaning forward toward the screen as I watched the story unfold. Emily Blunt gives a stark performance as a woman who has lost everything due to her addiction to alcohol. But there is so much more to her than that story. I hurt for Rachel, watching her struggle. I cheered for her, with every painful step she took to reclaim her life.

At the heart of this drama is the truth that things are often not what they seem. People have backstories. They have wounds that go so deep that they struggle to ever heal completely. Instead, their personalities form around those gaping holes in the soul, affecting their future lives and their future relationships.

What did Rachel see, from the train window? The answer is crucial in solving a crime, and just as crucial for Rachel's healing. This movie was a good reminder to me, to look beyond what my eyes see, to find the person hiding beneath surface behavior.

What do I see, as I move through my day, rushing by, not in a train, but carried along just as rapidly by the busyness of life? That's a good question for me to answer!

You can purchase the DVD or the novel by clicking the links below:

I am an Amazon Affiliate and may make a commission on items purchased through my links, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for considering making a purchase of these items, or any other items, through my Amazon links!

Movie Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

For months, I have had this 2016 movie in my Watch List on Amazon Prime, at the recommendation of my  daughter Elissa. She not only enjoys films, like I do, she has a good idea of what I will like and appreciate in a movie. Late this afternoon, I pulled up this based on a true story film. I woke up this morning, saying the word “Fey”. It was time to watch the movie. 

Movie Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot stars Tina Fey, Martin Freeman, Margot Robbie, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfred Molina, Christopher Abbott, Stephen Peacocke, and Nicholas Braun. This biographical comedy adventure was directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa and carries an R rating for language and sexual situations. The run time is 1 hour and 52 minutes. 

In 2006, Kim Baker (Fey), a New York copywriter with a desk job, accepts a three month assignment in Afghanistan, covering the war. Although an experienced journalist, she is not emotionally or physically prepared for the realities she finds in war torn Kabul. 

Kim has a team that accompanies her on all assignments, and includes a secuity man, Nic (Peacocke), Tall Brian (Braun), her cameraman, and Fahim (Abbott), her young and wise Afghan translator. She befriends Tanya Vanderpoel (Robbie), a correspondent from London, and Iain MacKelpie (Freeman), a Scottish photographer. 

Movie Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Movie Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Kim quickly learns how to thrive, based in Kabul and following the news, wherever interesting stories are unfolding. She is allowed to interview Marine General Hollanek (Thornton) and his men, and accompany them on patrol. And her direct, honest approach to people wins her friends in high places, such as Ali Sadiq (Molina), one of the most influential men in the country. 

When asked why she took the assignment in Afghanistan, Kim shares that her life was in a rut. She had a mediocre job, and a long relationship with an uninspiring man. She had ridden the same stationary bike for thousands of miles, and comparing that to her life, she realized one morning that she was going nowhere. It was time for dramatic change. 

Movie Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Movie Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

The three months stretches into years. Kim grows to love her new home and her colleagues and the Afghan people. She feels especially drawn to help the women, who are beginning to seek political and domestic change. However, the people back in the US have grown tired of war news from Afghanistan. Kim gets less and less airtime, which pushes her to take more risks to find bigger, better news stories. 

Kim must decide if there is a balance between pursuing the news and taking risks. And, what is the ultimate cost of risking it all? 

Movie Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
I loved this fast paced film. Tina Fey was one of the producers, and she pursued the rights to the film after reading Kim Barker’s book, Taliban Shuffle, about her real life experiences in Afghanistan. Although liberally laced with humor, there was also a darker, underlying grittiness, due to the nature of the circumstances, that gave the movie a punch of reality. 

I am accustomed to Fey playing the comedian, but she excelled in this story of a woman discovering who she is and what she has to offer to the world. I admired her gutsiness and determination, and her willingness to move beyond her comfort zone and embrace change and growth. 

Movie Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Kim Barker, on whom the movie is based. 

And, I appreciated the message that sometimes we can take a life lived beyond too far. Going after the adrenaline rush of bigger experiences, we can lose sight of the cause we are fighting for, even when the cause is greater personal growth. 

I am grateful my daughter recommended this movie. It is the kind of film that stays with me for a few days, while I ponder it and let it speak deeply to me. And, I can now recommend it as well. I give Whiskey Tango Foxtrot two thumbs up!

Movie Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Order your copy of the movie below:

Girls’ Movie Night

I’m posting briefly this evening, and late, because I am at a party…a grandmothers and granddaughters sleepover! The night kicked off with Aubrey and I meeting my sister Linda and her granddaughters, London and Aralyn, for dinner at the mall food court. 

After Chick Fil A meals, we settled in with the girls at the nearby theater for a showing of Despicable Me 3. 

Girls' Night at the Movies
This third installment in the Despicable Me franchise stars Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Nev Scharrel. The animated adventure film was directed by Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin and Eric Guillon, and has a run time of 1 hour and 30 minutes. Despicable Me 3 carries a PG rating, for action sequences and some rude humor. 

Gru (Carell) is back in this humorous adventure, now a devoted family man with a crime fighting wife Lucy (Wiig), and adopted daughters Margo (Cosgrove), Edith (Gaier) and Agnes (Scharrel). While adjusting to marriage and parenthood, Gru and Lucy suddenly lose their secret agent jobs. 

Girls' Night at the Movies
As they consider career options, Gru receives a surprising summons from an unexpected source. Gru learns that he has a twin brother Dru (Carell), and that the boys were separated as infants when their parents divorced. 

Dru is a mirror twin to his long lost brother, with opposing characteristics. He is cheerful, optimistic, emotionally expressive…and  he has a full head of hair! Not all is at it seems, however. Gru discovers the family secret, and he and his brother set off on a wild escapade against an evil foe named Balthazar (Parker), who is definitely stuck in the past! 

Girls' Night at the Movies
We all enjoyed this charming and hilarious film, featuring familiar characters, a new villain and those oh so lovable yellow minions. Since this was a girls’ night out, I asked everyone what they enjoyed most about Despicable Me 3. 

 London (age 7): I liked the part where Gru and Dru stole the diamond from Balthazar.  

Aubrey (age 8): The whole movie was fun…and I liked the last diamond scene too. 

Aralyn (age 3): I liked the big robot who said, “I’ve been a bad boy!”

Gigi (Linda): I liked when Gru lost his clothes and ended up wearing pink bubble gum and he floated by the birthday party where everyone was singing. 

Yaya (Cindy): I enjoyed the family relationships as stronger connections were formed…Gru and Lucy as a couple, Lucy learning to be a mom to the girls, and especially Dru and Gru as they forged a brotherly bond. 

Girls' Night at the Movies
As fun as Despicable Me 3 was, that was just the beginning of our girls’ night. Snacks were secured and pjs donned. Gigi and Aralyn have gone to bed. As I write, Aubrey and London are curled up on an inflatable mattress in the living room, whispering together and watching a DVD. A Dog’s Purpose has just started. I’ll watch the movie with them. Mostly though, I’ll enjoy watching these two cousins interact with each other as they discuss the movie, giggle and chat. 

It is definitely a girls’ movie night!

Girls' Night at the Movies

Movie Review: The Lady in the Van

I picked up the DVD of this British film at the library last week. On this night that feels like a Saturday rather than a Monday, being on the eve of a holiday, I settled in to watch The Lady in the Van. 

Movie Review: The Lady in the Van
The Lady in the Van stars Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Gwen Taylor and Jim Broadbent. This biographical comedy was directed by Nicholas Hytner and is based on the memoir of Alan Bennett, who also wrote the screenplay. The film is rated PG-13, for a brief unsettling image, and has a run time of 1 hour and 44 minutes. 

Alan Bennett (Jennings) is a writer, newly moved into a genteel neighborhood in London. He finds his life rather dull and gleans most of the material for his plays from his relationship with his mam (Taylor). 

Movie Review: The Lady in the Van
Into his neighborhood, and his life, comes Miss Shepherd (Smith), an older homeless woman who lives in her van. Moving down the street, she parks her van in front of various houses, taking up residence until something displeases her. Then she moves further down the street. 

She parks her van across the street from Alan’s home. From the window of his study, he can’t help but be intrigued by this woman who seems querulous and fiercely independent, and yet fearful of questions and calling too much attention to herself. 

Movie Review: The Lady in the Van
The pair enter into a friendship of sorts. He checks on her daily and she shares snippets of her story. Alan notices that a mysterious man (Broadbent) approaches the van occasionally, which upsets the occupant. When Miss Shepherd runs afoul of parking regulations and has an unsavory encounter with a couple of unruly young men, Alan offers an unexpected invitation: move the van, which Miss Shepherd has painted bright yellow, into his driveway. 

Alan suggests that the easily agitated woman remain in his driveway for three months, until she decides what she wants to do, and where she wants to go. 

Miss Shepherd remains as Alan’s unusual guest for 15 years. During that time, he learns more about who this dynamic woman is, and who he is as well. 

Movie Review: The Lady in the Van
I loved this charming film, and all the more because it is based on real people and events. I remembered as the movie began that Maggie Smith was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role, in 2015. She didn’t win, but she should have! She so beautifully portrays a woman whose whole world is reduced down to living in self imposed confinement. Miss Shepherd was poor, due to the lifestyle she chose. But I discovered, along with Alan, that she was intelligent, interesting and had hidden talents. 

Life presented difficult challenges for Miss Shepherd, and she handled them in the way that seemed most safe to her…she went into hiding. 

Movie Review: The Lady in the Van
In many ways, Alan was hiding his true self too. I liked the clever way that Alan’s character was split in two for the film. Jennings played both roles…Alan the writer and Alan who lived life. Since Alan didn’t engage in life much, his writer self had little to create with, beyond his relationship with his mother. And yet, Alan started with where he was in his life. He wrote and performed plays, monologues about his oft forgetful and unintentionally humorous mam. 

As the years passed, Alan helped a woman whose life had been shaped by fear and regret. And she helped him to step outside of his comfort zone and into life. Watching their journeys, I understood the need to see beyond another’s exterior…the noxious smells, the argumentative attitudes, the disengaged and closed off hearts…to the soul of a person. 

The mind can be so fragile, so fractured by the hurts accumulated over a lifetime, but the spirit can remain strong and indomitable. May I look always for the spirit within those I encounter, and see beyond the persona thrown up to protect. 

Movie Review: The Lady in the Van

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean-Dead Men Tell No Tales

This evening my sister Linda and I enjoyed a fun movie night. We watched the 5th installment in the long running Pirates of the Caribbean series, Dead Men Tell No Tales. The appeal of a Pirates movie is that I don’t have to concentrate to keep track of plot twists. I can sit back and simply be entertained. These films are quirky and a visual delight, sure to garner my appreciation and plenty of laughs. 

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean-Dead Men Tell No Tales
Dead Men Tell No Tales stars Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scoldelario, Kevin McNally and David Wenham. The action adventure film was directed by Joaquin Ronning and Espen Sandberg and carries a PG-13 rating for intense action scenes and suggestive humor. Dead Men Tell No Tales has a run time of 2 hours and 9 minutes. 

In this hilarious romp of a movie, young Henry Turner (Thwaites) is determined to free his father, Will (Bloom) from the curse that keeps him lost at sea. After years of studying stories and legends about the sea, and a brief reunion with his dad on board the water bogged Flying Dutchman, Henry determines that to rescue his father he must locate Poseidon’s trident, rumored to have the ability to break all sea curses. 

To find the hidden relic, Henry needs the help of the most well known pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp).

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean-Dead Men Tell No Tales
Serving with the British Royal Navy as he searches for Jack, Henry has a difficult time staying out of trouble. Thrown in the brig for insubordination, Henry is the only man to survive an attack on the ship by a band of cursed ghosts, led by Captain Salazar (Bardem). Salazar seeks the pirate as well. A young Jack Sparrow was responsible for Salazar’s ship sailing into the Devil’s Triangle, where the ship and crew were eternally cursed. 

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean-Dead Men Tell No Tales
Jack and Henry meet by chance on the island of Saint Martin, where they enlist the aid of a young woman with a map only she can read. Carina Smyth (Scoldelario) has been accused of witchcraft. In reality she is an astronomer with a clever mind and sharp wit. Using the map, located in a diary left to her by her father, Carina is sure she can locate the trident. 

As Captain Jack and his crew, including his loyal first mate Gibbs (McNally), team up with Henry and Carina to find the trident, they are in turn being pursued. Captain Salazar is driven by vengeance and a deep hatred of pirates. He finds Captain Barbosa (Rush), a former adversary of Jack’s, and persuades him help capture the cheeky pirate. And the British Royal Navy, led by Captain Scarfield (Wenham), wants to hang them all. 

Can Henry find the trident before the pursuers catch up with them?

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean-Dead Men Tell No Tales
Linda and I enjoyed this film. We laughed, a lot. The characteristic Pirates of the Caribbean humor was there, as established in the earlier films…the one liners and innuendos, and the sight gags, including a wonderfully funny scene in which a bank is robbed, quite literally. 

The special effects are always amazing. Every film has a cursed group, and this poor lot in film 5 played out well, visually, with their missing body parts. And the characters, both familiar and new, were intriguing. 

Javier Bardem portrays a deliciously bad villain. And Geoffrey Rush is a joy as the self indulgent Captain Barbosa. I loved the return of Orlando Bloom as Will Turner. Watching him, I was reminded of the early Pirates movies and the love story between him and Elizabeth. 

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean-Dead Men Tell No Tales
Young Turner and his companion Carina provided a return to that type of storyline, offering a hint of romance and plenty of verbal sparring. In these films, however, it is Johnny Depp who shines as the lovable, incorrigible, rum soaked Captain Jack. Depp brilliantly created Jack’s characteristic mannerisms and slightly slurred speech. It was like seeing an old friend, watching Jack again on the big screen. 

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean-Dead Men Tell No Tales
In spite of all the humor and the sword fights, there were some surprisingly tender moments in Dead Men Tell No Tales. I confess to tearing up a few times. It was partly nostalgia, I think, and partly a strong sense of rightness at the end of the story. 

I don’t know if there will be a 6th Pirates of the  Caribbean film or not. Although this movie concluded neatly, Captain Jack has quite a loyal following who would savor another adventure with their favorite pirate. I count myself among them. 

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean-Dead Men Tell No Tales