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

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

My sister Linda and I declared this evening a movie night. For our viewing enjoyment, we selected the latest installment in the DC series that is leading to the formation of the Justice League. We were excited to see Wonder Woman. 

Wonder Woman stars Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock and Elena Anaya. The fantasy adventure was directed by Patty Jenkins. It’s rated PG-13, for action sequences and violence, and has a run time of 2 hours and 21 minutes. 

Diana (Gadot) is raised on an island of warrior women, known as the Amazons, hidden from the world by Zeus. Fiercely trained in combat by her aunt, Antiope (Wright), and fretted over by her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Nielsen), Diana grows up believing it is her destiny to protect mankind from the war god, Ares. 

Movie Review: Wonder Woman
Movie Review: Wonder Woman
When a pilot named Steve Trevor (Pine) crashes into the sea near the island, Diana encounters her first man. He brings news of a mighty world war that is destroying millions of lives, and of an evil woman, Dr Maru (Anaya), who is developing bioweapons that will have catastrophic effects. Against the wishes of her mother, Diana leaves with Steve, bearing a shield, a magical lasso and a sword she refers to as the “god destroyer”. She believes if she kills Ares the war will immediately stop. 

Away from Themyscira, Diana discovers that humans are more complex and the world more strange than she imagined. Dr Maru, also know as Dr Poison, is working a sinister plan with Germany’s General Ludendorff (Huston). While in England, meetings led by Sir Patrick Morgan (Thewlis) are underway to negotiate an armistice with Germany. 

Fearing resolution will come too late, Steve and Diana gather a group of experts and head to the front lines, searching for Ludendorff, whom Diana believes to be the god Ares in disguise. Sameer (Taghmaoui) is a spy who specializes in languages. Charlie the Scotsman (Bremner) is a skilled marksman. And Chief is a smuggler. 

Movie Review: Wonder Woman
The team must stop a threat that is greater than anyone realizes. As they battle to save the world, Diana discovers who she really is and what she is capable of. 

I enjoyed this movie so much! As a child, I read all the Marvel and DC comics, so I was familiar with Wonder Woman. However, as a wee girl and then a teen, I was never particularly drawn to the only female character among a host of superheroes. She seemed like the token girl to me. I’m curious if I missed her courage and “wonder” when I was a child or if that was an accurate perception. 

Regardless, I found plenty to admire about Gal Gadot’s fresh portrayal. This was indeed an epic adventure and she wasn’t a token female. I loved Diana’s convictions about her purpose in life. She never wavered on her desire to offer to humanity by destroying evil. Even as she discovered more about the mankind she had vowed to protect, and learned who she truly was, she never backed down from living out of those desires. 

Movie Review: Wonder Woman
There was humor to balance the action sequences, and a fun performance by Chris Pine. And at the core of the film, and Diana’s journey, lay the realization that we are all of us a mixture of light and dark. We choose, daily, which we will surrender to…the Light or Darkness. In the end, says Wonder Woman, “It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world.” 

I am so looking forward to seeing Wonder Woman own her space in the Justice League!

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

Movie Review: King Arthur Legend of the Sword

The trailer for this film caught my attention months ago. From childhood, I have loved the stories of Camelot, of Arthur who became king, and his knights of the round table. I didn’t have an opportunity to see the movie before leaving on my trip. When I returned, I was sure I had missed the latest version of King Arthur. I was delighted to discover the movie was still playing at a local theater. 

Movie Review: King Arthur The Legend of the Sword
King Arthur Legend of the Sword stars Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, and Eric Bana. This action adventure drama was directed by Guy Ritchie and carries a PG-13 rating for sequences of violence and brief strong language. It has a run time of 2 hours and 6 minutes. 

The story begins with a fierce battle between King Uther Pendragon (Bana) of Camelot and the dark mage, Mordred. King Uther defeats Mordred, using his sword, Excaliber. But the victory is short lived. Uther’s power hungry brother, Vortigern (Law), stages a coup, taking the crown by force. Before his death, King Uther sends his young son away in a boat, to the city of Londinium. 

The boy Arthur is taken in by the women of a brothel. He grows up on the streets, fighting, stealing, hoarding away what money he scrapes together. As a man, Arthur (Hunnam) has learned to survive by his fists and his wits, street smart, with a good heart beneath a tough exterior. 

Movie Review: King Arthur The Legend of the Sword
Although he doesn’t consciously remember who he is, he has troubling dreams that haunt him. Fate intervenes. The sword Excaliber is revealed, embedded in a stone, when the sea inexplicably recedes. No man has been able to free the sword from the stone. Vortigern seeks advice from the sirens in the lake beneath the castle. They tell the dark hearted king that his nephew Arthur lives and he must be destroyed so that the sword can come to Vortigern, increasing his power. 

Young men about Arthur’s age are brought to the kingdom, to try pulling the sword from the stone. Arthur is arrested in Londinium, and brought to the stone. Before a crowd of people, including Vortigern’s henchmen, the Blacklegs, Arthur frees the sword, signifying his right to the throne. 

Movie Review: King Arthur The Legend of the Sword
Vortigern must kill Arthur to obtain the sword, and ultimately, supreme power. Arthur must remember who he is, whether he wants to or not, to be able to wield Excaliber. He is assisted in his journey of remembrance by a female Mage (Berges-Frisbey), sent by Merlin, and King Uther’s former general, Bedevere (Hounsou).

As they prepare to battle Vortigern for the kingdom, the trio assembles a group of common but noble-hearted men who are willing to sacrifice everything to put the rightful heir on the throne. 

Movie Review: King Arthur The Legend of the Sword
I loved this movie! It is the kind of epic adventure, with a hero’s transformative journey at the heart of it, that so inspires me. This is the genre of movie that spoke to me so deeply as a child, and continues to enthrall me. 

And I appreciated the fresh telling of a familiar story. Guy Ritchie, known for his two Sherlock Holmes films, brings his characteristic style to this classic tale. And it works. At least, it did for me! The characters’ clothing has been updated, a slightly modern twist that creates a wonderfully sensual and rugged look. The dialogue is sharp and surprisingly funny at times.

Movie Review: King Arthur The Legend of the Sword
The scenes are beautifully choreographed, whether they are depicting battles or the angst of self discovery, and behind all is an outstanding musical score. Jude Law deliciously portrays the dark and villainous bad uncle. However, this is Charlie Hunnam’s film. He shines as the reluctant young man who should be crowned king. 

I read that King Arthur Legend of the Sword is intended to be the first installment in a six part series. I hope that is true. I can’t wait for more of the Arthurian legends to come to life on the big screen, under Ritchie’s creative direction. 

Movie Review: King Arthur The Legend of the Sword

Movie Review: Moonlight

With thunderstorms in the area all day, bringing heavy rains, it was the perfect afternoon to watch another Best Picture nominated film. I prefer to save the Oscar winner in that category until last. However, when I visited the DVD rental store, only Moonlight was available. So Moonlight it was, film 6 out of 9.

Movie Review: Moonlight
Moonlight stars Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Naomie Harris, Ashton Sanders, Janelle Monae, Trevante Rhodes, Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome and André Holland. This drama, rated R for language, sexuality and violence, was directed by Barry Jenkins and has a run time of 1 hour and 51 minutes. Moonlight was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Ali, Best Supporting Actress for Harris and best Music-Original Score. It won in Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.

Chiron, known as Little (Hibbert), is a young boy growing up in a rough neighborhood in Miami. He lives with his single mom, Paula (Harris), who drifts in and out of Little’s life in a drug and alcohol induced haze. Other than his friend Kevin (Piner), Little has no one to help him navigate through challenges such as bullying at school, being left on his own, and feeling different.

Movie Review: Moonlight
A rescuer shows up, literally, as Little is hiding from his pursuers in an abandoned house. Juan (Ali) forms a frienship with the quiet boy, filling the role of father for Little. Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Monae) provide stabilty and a sense of family for Little. He opens up enough to ask Juan questions, including how would he know if he was gay. Juan tells him, “You will know when you know.” 

Little is slowly gaining confidence in himself and in Juan and Teresa, until he finds out Juan is a drug dealer, selling to his mother. Both Little and Juan are devastated by this revelation.

Movie Review: Moonlight
The second segment of the film follows Chiron (Sanders) as a troubled teen. His relationship with his mother continues to deteriorate, Juan is gone and although Chiron occasionally visits Teresa, he is more and more isolated until he reconnects with his childhood friend Kevin (Jerome).  Sadly, shortly after their relationship begins to grow again, Chiron feels betrayed by Kevin. This sensitive, thoughtful young man snaps, with horrific consequences.

Movie Review: Moonlight

The film’s final segment finds Chiron grown, going by the nickname Black (Rhodes) and living a much different life in Atlanta. What dreams he had have been replaced with harsh realities. Black has made himself into a new man, a hard man. And yet he is just as alone in his life as he always has been, until his old friend Kevin (Holland) calls unexpectedly, offering an apology along with a glimmer of hope.

This was an incredible film, very much in alignment with the majority of the Best Picture nominated films. It was beautifully filmed with an amazing musical soundtrack. And it was heavy, bleak, dark.

These movies this year have made me ache with compassion, and Moonlight was no exception. I felt especially protective of young Chiron, when he was called Little. He possessed such promise, had such a sensitive heart and spirit. And there was no one to help him grow into that promise. He longed to be different from his schoolmates. But his differences only brought him pain and grief.

Without guidance or the freedom to live fully as himself, Chiron lost his way, and ultimately became the very person he did not want to be. His journey was heartbreaking to me. It is crushing to realize that there are so many children and youth like Chiron, struggling and alone in life. Rather than fighting against what I was feeling, I stayed open and allowed the tangle of emotions to pass through my heart and sort themselves out.

Moonlight was powerful and painful and sobering. Was it the best of the nine? I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know after I watch the remaining three movies.

Was it thought provoking and heart expanding? Most definitely.

Movie Review: Moonlight

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Movie Review: Hell or High Water

Tonight was movie night as I popped the crime drama Hell or High Water into the DVD player. In anticipation for film five out of nine, in the best picture nominated category for 2017, I was under the impression this movie was a comedy, perhaps even a dark comedy. I was so wrong!

Movie Review: Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water stars Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Gil Birmingham. Rated R for language, violence and brief sexuality, the movie was directed by David MacKenzie, and has a run time of 1 hour and 42 minutes. Hell or High Water was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Jeff Bridges, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Editing. It did not win in any category.

Movie Review: Hell or High Water
Toby Howard (Pine) is an unemployed gas and oil man faced with losing his family’s west Texas ranch to foreclosure. He enlists the help of his ex con brother, Tanner (Foster), to carry out a bold plan to rob from branches of the very institution, Texas Midland Bank, that is in the process of seizing the property.

The brothers hit branches in sleepy little Texas towns, taking small sums of money in unmarked bills. With their stolen stash in hand, Toby and Tanner cross into Oklahoma to exchange money for casino chips, that they then cash in for fresh bills. All is going well, until Tanner deviates from the plan, going solo to rob a different bank.

Movie Review: Hell or High Water
The string of robberies attracts the attention of Texas Rangers Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Birmingham). The two men have worked together as partners for years. Although Hamilton is nearing retirement, he hopes to go out in a blaze of glory…or at least by solving one last crime. Parker pretends to dislike Hamilton’s droll sense of humor and the constant jabs at his Native American and Mexican heritage, but in reality, the men respect each other and have a close working relationship.

Movie Review: Hell or High Water

As the brothers in crime plan the last robbery, Toby’s motive is revealed. He is attempting to give his sons a future beyond poverty. Oil has been discovered on the ranch. The only way to secure that future is to pay off the lapsed mortgage with the stolen funds, and place the property into a trust for his boys.

Time is running out as the foreclosure is about to take place and the Texas Rangers, anticipating where the robbers will strike next, close in.

Movie Review: Hell or High Water
I was so mistaken about this movie. I had seen previews and from those short teasers, thought this film would have comedic overtones. There were a couple of humorous moments, particularly between the laid back but cunning Hamilton and his long suffering partner.

But this was not a comedy. If there is a theme that flows through all of the best picture nominated films, it is grittiness. The stark and oft times bleak situations provide a launching place for the characters to delve deeply within themselves and discover who they are. Hell or High Water certainly supplies the grit and the bleakness…and the platform for inner exploration.

Movie Review: Hell or High Water
Movie Review: Hell or High Water

All of these movies have stirred my compassion. There are so many ways for people to hurt, so many ways to face despair and overcome it or succumb to it. Watching the portrayals in tonight’s film, and each actor gave an outstanding performance, made my heart ache with empathy.

Interestingly, the expression, “come hell or high water” originated in Texas in the late 1800s, possibly in reference to herders who had to get their cattle to the midwest, no matter the terrain, temperatures or challenges. The phrase now indicates a strong desire to succeed in spite of difficult circumstances.

Hell or High Water showcases such dogged determination, from the Howard brothers and from the Rangers pursuing them. And my gut reaction to this well done movie? I just wanted to give everyone a hug and listen to their stories.

What this movie, and the four before it, creates in me is the strong desire to walk alongside others, offering hope and compassion and tenderness. And that makes Hell or High Water a very powerful film.

Movie Review: Hell or High Water

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Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea

Late this afternoon, as thunder rumbled and rain pelted the windows, I had the pleasure of watching movie number three on my list of Best Picture nominated films. I was especially interested in this movie because Manchester by the Sea was the first film distributed by a streaming service…in this case Amazon…to ever be nominated in the best picture category. 

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea
Manchester by the Sea stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and Lucas Hedges. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, this drama is rated R for strong language and sexuality and has a run time of 2 hours and 16 minutes. Manchester by the Sea was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Affleck, Best Supporting Actor for Hedges and Best Supporting Actress for Williams. It won twice, with Casey earning Best Actor, and with an Oscar for Best Screenplay. 

Lee Chandler (Affleck) returns home to Manchester after receiving word that his brother Joe (Chandler) has died. Long estranged from his family and the community he grew up in, Lee intends to settle his brother’s affairs and be back in Boston in a week. 

Plans unravel when he learns that Joe made Lee sole guardian of his teenage son, Patrick (Hedges). At a loss about how to reconnect with his nephew, Lee struggles with this overwhelming responsibility. As he attempts to help Patrick through his loss, Lee finds being in Manchester brings him face to face with painful reminders of his past, including his ex-wife Randi (Williams). 

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea

Can Lee find healing near the sea as he fights his personal demons, or will he continue to flee? 

Manchester by the Sea is a frank and gritty look at life when the journey is impacted by horrific tragedy. Casey Affleck offers one of the most moving and honest portrayals of a broken man that I have ever seen in a film, and deserved his Oscar. I lost count of the number of times my eyes filled with tears. 

Although it has been described as a depressing movie, I have to disagree. Manchester by the Sea certainly delivers an emotional punch, yet it feels so authentic, so realistic, that it creates an empathetic ache around the heart. 

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea
This film is a glimpse into a life suspended by pain and given over to resignation. Lee embodies a journey interrupted and the choice to withdraw from the flow of life and instead watch it pass him by. He gets by, far from being able to offer anything to anyone, simply waiting for his existence to be over. 

And yet.. and yet…life continually offers the chance to re-engage, to heal, to truly live again. And so it is with Lee. His heart has been so barricaded against feeling anything. The one person who might be able to chip away at the wall is his nephew, who in dealing with his loss, just wants everything to stay normal and remain the same. 

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea
Manchester by the Sea refuses to allow a love interest or a friend to rescue Lee, and I appreciated that. This is very much a man’s solitary journey and ultimately, the only person who can save Lee, is Lee. 

Don’t expect a traditional transformation or neatly framed happy ending. Instead, treasure the small shifts, the stirrings, the bits of thawing around a heart frozen by grief and guilt. Manchester by the Sea doesn’t so much warm the soul as it shines a light into the dark regions of it and offers hope. 

This Best Picture nominated film is worth a thoughtful viewing. Well done, Amazon. I am grateful for the amazing vision of this company, and I look forward to seeing what they offer next. 

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea

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Movie Review: La La Land

I had not heard of this movie, prior to the Golden Globes award show. La La Land picked up many Globes, garnering much praise and capturing my interest. The clip presented during the show revealed that La La Land was a musical, a rare occurrence among today’s films. Even better. I love musicals. 

I was interested enough in the movie to check my local theater to see if it was playing. It was not. With a December release date, I assumed that being unfamiliar with the movie, if it had played in Joplin, I simply missed it. 

Movie Review: La La Land, Here's to the Fools Who Dream
When the Academy Awards nominations were announced last Tuesday, La La Land topped the list with 14 nominations. The movie came back into my awareness, very much so, and supplied this year’s theme song for me, Audition, The Fools Who Dream. Read that blog post HERE

My desire to see La La Land increased, causing me to check movie listings again. It still was not showing in Joplin. Ah well. I knew I would catch it when it released on DVD, especially since I watch all best picture nominated films after the Oscars. 

I had the music from the movie at least. I have listened to Audition and the rest of the soundtrack numerous times. 

Movie Review: La La Land, Here's to the Fools Who Dream
This morning, I asked the Divine, as I do every morning, How shall we play today? In the middle of a busy day, I suddenly received the answer…watch La La Land. My immediate thought was that I couldn’t, it wasn’t playing in Joplin. Check the movie listings, was the response. That nudge came several times…check the movie listings…before I paused in my tasks to pull up my movie app and check my local theater’s show times. 

Down near the bottom of the list I found it, La La Land. I gasped out loud! Why, I don’t know. This is the way life flows for me. This is how the ongoing conversation with the Divine unfolds, day by day. I was excited! I couldn’t make the 3:40 showing, but I was in the theater at 7:00 this evening, with a baggie of apple slices, open to what I would receive. 

Movie Review: La La Land, Here's to the Fools Who Dream
La La Land stars Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, JK Simmons and John Legend. This musical drama was directed, and written by, Damien Chazelle. The film has a PG-13 rating, for very brief adult language, and has a run time of 2 hours and 7 minutes. 

La La Land is the story of a jazz pianist, Sebastian (Gosling), and an aspiring actress Mia (Stone). Both struggle to make a living while in pursuit of their dreams. Seb is passionate about keeping classical jazz alive by opening a night club. Mia has been captivated by acting since childhood, and moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dream. 

Movie Review: La La Land, Here's to the Fools Who Dream

When Seb and Mia meet, both have already discovered that making their dreams reality isn’t easy. Mia has one disappointing audition after another. Seb compromises what he believes about music by playing to uninterested diners in restaurants and in second rate gigs, just to survive. 

Drawn together by their shared desire to be the people they feel created to be, Seb and Mia discover the joys and challenges of encouraging each other, while pursuing their individual passions. 

Movie Review: La La Land, Here's to the Fools Who Dream
This film is so much more than a musical. In fact, it is more a movie about music and acting, about creativity, that features musical   numbers. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are phenomenal, with endearing chemistry between them and sincere, heart touching   performances. 

Neither are exceptional singers, and I loved that. It gives a soulfulness to the film, a heart to the story. They come across as normal people who occasionally break into song. The dance numbers are amazing, and beautifully choreographed. And I was extremely impressed when I read that Ryan actually played the piano in all of his scenes. He practiced two hours a day, six days a week, to learn all the musical pieces. That’s dedication to his art. 

Movie Review: La La Land, Here's to the Fools Who Dream
La La Land is not a typical musical in many ways. The singing and dancing enhance a movie that is for all who have dreams. Whether there is hope still that the dream will come true, or despair that it is too late, whether compromise seems the only way to keep passion alive or fierce stubbornness creates blindness to other possibilities, La La Land inspires, and touches a raw, tender place in the heart. 

Watch La La Land, whispered the Divine. It goes beyond simply watching an extraordinary movie. This invitation is about my own heart and being who I am. Two hours after the credits rolled in the theater, I still have tears in my eyes. I am okay with that. I want to linger in this place for a while, and see what thoughts and emotions rise to the surface. 

If you have a dream, or have ever had one and gave up on it, if fear stops you cold, or regret haunts you, go see La La Land. And then let’s get together, and talk about it. 

Watch La La Land, whispered the Divine.

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them

I thoroughly enjoyed a return to the wizarding world, in the company of my mom, sister Linda and grandson Dayan. We were a mixed group, in regards to familiarity with the Harry Potter universe, and that did not affect anyone’s receptivity of the film or the shared joy we experienced in viewing it. 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them stars Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, and Colin Farrell. The fantasy adventure was directed by David Yates. This was the debut screenplay for JK Rowling, who also authored the book that the movie is based upon. The film carries a PG-13 rating, for adult themes and mild fantasy violence, and has a run time of 2 hours and 13 minutes. 

Newt Scamander (Redmayne) is newly arrived to New York City, in 1926. He carries a mysterious suitcase, from which emanates the growls and roars of wild beasts. Newt immediately creates a stir in the city when one of his magical creatures, a Niffler, escapes from the suitcase. 

Amid the chaos created as Newt attempts to capture the thieving little Niffler in a bank, the young wizard from England meets two unlikely allies. Jacob Kowalski (Fogler) hopes to secure a bank loan to fund his dream of owning a bakery. Jacob is a Muggle, in British terms, a No-Maj (non magical person) as the Americans call them. Friendly and genuine, Jacob accidently grabs the wrong suitcase when he and Newt part company. 

Tina Goldstein (Waterston) observes Newt using magic as he at last captures the mischievous creature. Alarmed that he will expose the wizard community, she takes him into headquarters for questioning. Tina also expresses concern that Jacob left without having his memory wiped. 

However, the American President of Magic and her council aren’t interested in Newt or his suitcase. There is a dark presence making itself known in the city. Newt and Tina are sent away while the council discusses how to discover what is terrifying the people of NYC and how to protect the wizard community. 

Only Percival Graves (Farrell), Director of Magical Security, senses there is more to Newt and his seemingly innocent arrival. 

After finding Jacob and retrieving his suitcase, Newt realizes several beasts have escaped into the city. His fear is not that the magical animals will hurt the citizens of NYC, but that humans will harm his creatures. Newt’s desire is that those in the wizarding world will come to understand and appreciate the fantastic beasts he’s been collecting, studying and writing about. He intends to publish a book about his creatures. 

With Jacob, Tina and her sister Queenie (Sudol) helping him, Newt searches for the missing beasts. As the animals lead them on merry chases throughout the city, the sinister darkness grows, and becomes a threat that must be dealt with when a human life is taken. 

Fantastic Beasts was an incredibly fun and interesting movie to watch. I am familiar with the Harry Potter movies but one does not have to be to appreciate this latest film from the creative genius of JK Rowling. Set approximately 70 years before Harry Potter heads off to Hogwarts School, this story is another adventure set in the same universe, and not a prequel. 

There are, however, plenty of connections between the two stories. As Fantastic Beasts is set to be told in five movies, it is very possible that more bridges between the worlds of Newt Scamander and Harry Potter will be formed. The obvious first link is that the book Newt writes, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is later seen as a textbook used by Harry Potter and his friends in the Hogwarts Library. 

I found much to love about this movie. Eddie Redmayne played the somewhat shy wizard perfectly. I first watched Redmayne portray Stephen Hawking in Theory of Everything. He is a gifted and versatile actor who brought charm and compassion to the role of Newt. 

And I couldn’t help but adore Jacob, the No-Maj in the group. He has a good heart, an easy smile, and big dreams. The sisters completing the group of friends bring respectability and warmth into the relationships, with Tina being earnest and rule abiding while Queenie’s tender heart and feelings for Jacob made the audience sigh. 

My own emotions and reactions ran the gamut during the film. I laughed and cheered and sighed, and teared up more than once. It was painful and revealing to watch a major character live under rigid self imposed repression. Such severe denial of self had catastrophic consequences…and I felt sorrow for what the character endured. There is a strong reminder there for me, for all of us, to live as authentic people, whether wizards or muggles, embracing our gifts and sharing them openly with the world, for the benefit of all. 

I left the theater with questions and a great deal of speculation about what will happen next to these endearing characters introduced in the first film. I am filled with anticipation for the next installment in the Fantastic Beasts movies.

Movie Review: Middle School The Worst Years of My Life

I saw previews for this live action movie several times this past summer. Every time, my grandchildren Joey, Oliver and Aubrey piped up that they wanted to see Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life. The movie opened over the weekend and an opportunity presented itself this afternoon to take those three to see an after school matinee. With stormy weather  rolling through the area and unrelenting rain, a movie sounded perfect. 

Middle School stars Griffin Gluck, Alexa Nisenson, Thomas Barbusca, Isabela Moner, Adam Pally, Retta, Andrew Daly, Rob Riggle and Lauren Graham. The comedy adventure, based on the book with the same title by James Patterson, was directed by Steve Carr. The film carries a PG rating, for some crude humor, and has a run time of 1 hour and 38 minutes. 

It’s the first day of school for middle schooler Rafe (Gluck) and his little sister Georgia (Nisenson). Along with the usual first day jitters, Rafe and his friend Leo (Barbusca) know with grim certainty that this school they are transferring into is their last chance to shape up before being sent to a military-type boarding school. 

Placed in a class with other kids who are struggling, Rafe meets his unconventional home room teacher, Mr. Teller (Pally), and appreciates his humor and relaxed teaching stule. He also has uncomfortable encounters almost immediately with the rigid, rule oriented Principal Dwight (Daly) and his dutiful enforcer, Vice Principal Stricker (Retta). 

Rafe uses art as a way of processing his world and the pain and confusion often found there. He carries a notebook with him everywhere, sketching monsters and heroes and life situations. When a comical and unflattering drawing ends up in Principal Dwight’s hand, Rafe is labeled a rule breaker. His notebook with all of his drawings is purposefully destroyed by the principal, in a bucket of acid. 

That callous act begins a war between Rafe and the rule bound authoritarians in the school. With the help of Leo, Georgia and a new friend, Jeanne (Moner), Rafe launches an anti-rule campaign using the motto Rules Aren’t For Everyone. His intention at school is to break every rule, without revealing that he is the rule breaker. At home, he sizes up his mother’s (Graham) new self centered boyfriend (Riggle). 

Life has been tough for Rafe the last 24 months…and yet attending this new middle school might be ushering in the worst years of his life. 

This was a fun movie, with an undercurrent of sadness, which I didn’t expect. The previews highlighted the humor in the film. What wasn’t revealed until today was that Rafe, a very creative boy, is troubled by a tragedy in his family. He works through his feelings and pain by drawing. 

Rafe’s sketches come to animated life during scenes that are interwoven with the live action, adding an interesting perspective from the main character’s bright, artistic mind. 

While Joey, Oliver and Aubrey laughed at the pranks Rafe and friends pull, to make a point that rules can go too far, I was curious about their take on elementary and middle school in general. I thought a movie was the perfect rainy day activity, but apparently we were the only ones who did, at least in regard to this particular movie. We had the entite theater to ourselves. We sat in the top row of seats and discussed the story as it unfolded. 

My heart was drawn toward Rafe. The rules, 138 of them, were exaggerated (No laughing, anywhere. Silence in the hallways.) and yet I am a frequest visitor to the schools of my grandchildren. The rules depicted in the movie aren’t so far from the reality that I have observed. I get that there has to be order and management. I also long to see more creativity allowed, less labeling and bullying of students who are different, and more encouragement. 

The movie, while playful at times, brings up deeper truths for adults to ponder such as the vital role exceptional teachers play in the lives of kids, the power of creativity, the stymying effect of too many rules and the importance of recognizing that every child has gifts to offer. Every…child. 

My three grandkids liked the movie and we discussed it while at the theater and during the car ride home. Joey, who is in middle school this year, and sketches beautifully, shared his thoughts on rules…there are too many of them…and promptly began to draw in the car. Oliver and Aubrey agreed that there seems to be many rules in school.

There was an unexpected plot twist toward the end of the movie, that none of us saw coming. The kids reacted with surprise and questions. I was surprised as well and I’ll now have to view this film again. 

During the last 15 minutes of the movie, I turned to the kids, who had been caught up in the story, and told them that for the remainder of the film, they could go sit anywhere they chose in the darkened theater. It was, after all, an empty theater and we were watching a movie about breaking free of constraints. 

I didn’t have to repeat myself. Off they dashed, delighted. I expected them to scatter, sitting apart from each other. Instead, the three sat together on the front row, their heads tilted back to take in the huge movie screen. I watched them, as they watched the conclusion of the movie. 

Little rule breakers. I don’t want them to be defiant. I want them to be curious. And ask questions if they need to be asked. Most of all, I want them to grow up engaging their creativity and unafraid to be who they are. I’ll be a rule breaker with them.