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 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!

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A Lavender Night

I have had the movie, Ladies in Lavender, on my Amazon Prime Watch List for a while. It is an older film, released in 2004, starring two of my favorite actresses, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. When I came across the DVD for rent at the library, I checked it out.

I didn’t intend to write a review for this charming film, due to the age of it. However, always open to possibilities, I found myself inspired by it, nonetheless. An idea came to me as I watered the garden late this afternoon. The delicate scent of lavender tickled my nose as I brushed against the plants in my apothecary garden. The movie seemed to suggest a lavender theme as the perfect setting for immersing myself in the story.

After a light dinner, I brewed a cup of tea, made from a sprig of lavender freshly plucked from my garden. As the tea steeped, filling my kitchen with its tantalizing aroma, I made banana and wild blueberry nice dream. This simple treat is perfect for these hot muggy nights. And it is so easy to make.

I purchased ripe bananas on sale at the market, cut them up yesterday, and froze them in bags containing four of the sliced fruits each. Tonight I combined a bag of frozen bananas with two cups of frozen wild blueberries in the food processor. In a few minutes I had cold and creamy banana blueberry nice dream. I added a small amount of lavender infused water to my cold treat, giving it just a hint of additional flavor.

With my tea, my treat, the movie and Young Living lavender essential oil in my diffuser, my lavender themed evening was underway.

And what a wonderful evening it was.

The film was an enchanting period piece, highlighting the beauty of love at any age. Two spinster sisters, played by Dench and Smith, rescue a young man who is washed overboard off of a ship during a storm. As Andrea, played by Daniel Brühl, recovers from his injuries, the sisters discover that he is a gifted violinist who was on his way to America for a chance to hone his musical ability.

The older women save Andrea…and the young man reawakens their hearts, reminding them…and me as I watched the story unfold…that true love gives itself away, and always offers freedom to others.

What a hauntingly poignant film, that redefines the meaning of a happy ending. I was teary eyed by the end, and wanted to applaud. I smiled instead and vowed to carry the deeper truths with me for a while.

I enjoyed my lavender evening. Feeling curious about the benefits of lavender, I looked it up and discovered that it has a soothing, calming effect on the body. Lavender improves sleep, lessens anxiety, slows the aging process and is a great healer of the skin.

The Latin word lavender literally means wash and may refer to the infusions made with the plant in early times, or to the aroma that washes over the senses.

Going deeper still, I learned that the purple color of the flowers are associated with the crown chakra, which is the energy center located at the top of the head. The crown chakra is associated with higher purpose and spiritual connectivity. The vibration of the crown is the highest vibration in the body. Lavender is thought to heal and raise our vibration to the highest possible level. This aromatic herb, therefore, strengthens my connection to the Divine.

And that, I now believe, was the purpose of my lavender evening. My day began with heightened energy around my crown chakra and a powerful connection to the Divine. That was unintentional on my part but a very deliberate invitation, apparently. And inspiration led me full circle, ending my day with lavender…and a heart overflowing with love and a body humming with high vibrational energy.

I am grateful.

To create your own lavender evening, try out these products, and message me if you would like to purchase Young Living Essential Lavender oil.

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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

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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: 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