La La Land delivers in romance and chutzpah!

Waiting on a 4-hour car repair, husband Mike and I shuttled to see La La Land. From the opening traffic jam (reminiscent of Two Weeks Notice) drivers burst from their cars into song and dance. The film immediately had my attention. What? A real musical starring Emma Stone as Mia and Ryan Gosling as Sebastian made me lean back, take a deep breath and know that I was on a virtual romantic romp.


Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) showed that he has more guts than a Christmas turkey this time directing an original musical with Gosling singing and dancing! Mike couldn’t get past it and I loved it. Thanks to catching a Kevin McCarthy TV review of the film I knew that Gosling also did his own piano scenes. Yup, that’s his voice, his legs and those are his hands on the keys.


The romance between Mia and Sebastian was believable. Tenacity becomes a virtue that begs support from a mom, friend, or most of all, a sweetheart. They understood their passions and the risks that call for courage. I felt the spark and the tension between them as they sang and danced their way through setbacks and mistakes.


I can’t wait to see La La Land again. Chazelle deserves an award for engaging audiences everywhere to an estranged genre. I anticipate the Academy will reward this film accordingly.

“Please Lord, help me get one more.”

Hacksaw Ridge: Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss in the Battle of Okinawa

Hacksaw Ridge: Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss in the Battle of Okinawa




Not since Olympic runner Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire refused to run on Sunday, has there been a film of such extraordinary conviction as Hacksaw Ridge. Mel Gibson powerfully directs the true story of U.S. Army Corporal Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a conscientious objector who saved 75 men in Okinawa. Des’s father is an alcoholic WWI veteran who beats his wife and sons and doesn’t want them going off to war after Pearl Harbor. In spite of his father’s objection, Des decides to enlist with no intention of bearing arms.

Saving a man’s life brings him to a hospital and the beginning of a romance with a beautiful

Teresa Palmer as Dorothy Schutte marries Desmond Doss.

Teresa Palmer as Dorothy Schutte marries Desmond Doss.

nurse, Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), reminiscent of the young lovers in “Notebook.” Des learns about medicine from her work and decides to serve as a medic. While at Fort Jackson, his wedding plans are deterred by Des’s arrest for insubordination for refusing to compromise his beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist, neither to carry a rifle nor to train on Saturdays. Surprisingly, his father intervenes, the charges are dropped, and he and Dorothy are married.

vince-vaughn-hacksaw-ridge-618x375Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and the soldiers torment Des because of his religious beliefs. Yet no amount of suffering succeeds in deterring the young soldier from serving as a medic on the front lines. The harassing continues even in the Battle of Okinawa while taking on the Japanese forces stationed there. Vaughn and his troops were convincing in their roles as jerks.

As the battle ensues, Howell and others from Des’s squad are injured and abandoned on the battlefield. Des spends day and night carrying wounded soldiers to the cliff face of the Maeda Escarpment (Hacksaw Ridge). By rappelling them down on a rope, he is able to rescue over 75 soldiers. His prayer was a simple one: “Please, Lord, help me get one more.”

Gibson did not hold back showing the gruesomeness of the battlefield. The footage was not spared of men with their legs or heads blown off. Truly this is not a film for the faint-of-heart. The battle is won and Des’s courage noted. He was the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

President Harry S. Truman awards Desmond Doss the Medal of Honor.

President Harry S. Truman awards Desmond Doss the Medal of Honor.

Before the credits roll, Desmond Doss appears in an interview before his death in 2006 saying that what kept him going was prayer. Who knows that Gibson’s delivery of this story may just change the course of some who are tempted to abandon their convictions?

Super hero, savant, and a secret gunroom – Oh, my!

Ben Affleck stars as Christopher Wolff, an autistic math savant, CPA involved with some shady characters. What he does makes for a compelling mystery-thriller.

Ben Affleck stars as Christopher Wolff, an autistic math savant and a CPA involved with some shady characters. What he does makes for a compelling mystery-thriller.

The Accountant movie is about Christopher Wolff (Ben Affleck) a forensic accountant who happens to also be autistic and a math savant who combines the best of both as a CPA–or is he an assassin? Don’t let the title fool you! This accountant’s job has him living two lives intertwining the mundane with danger.

Gun enthusiasts may appreciate this article with more weapon idetail:

Gun enthusiasts may appreciate this article with more weapon detail: Guns of The Accountant.

If you followed any of the reviews, you would have missed this film because many of them reported over-the-top violence and a complicated plot(s). Rotten Tomatoes gave The Accountant a 51% while the audience score was 83%. The story was a mystery-thriller that kept my attention with good acting and directing by Gavin O’Connor (Warrior).

O’Connor took some risks with a pile-up of plots and tying in an autistic lead who could cause as much trouble with a felt tip pen as he can with firing guns from full-auto submachine guns to .50 caliber sniper rifles. Affleck was terrific in this role.images-2 J K Simmons (Whiplash) enters as a treasury agent whose suspicions of a successful company lead him to Wolff. A surprise in the cast is Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) who’s just doing her job and ends up in the line of fire.

I found The Accountant to be a sleeper surprise. I liked the twists and turns. I want to see it again.

Film critic Kevin McCarthy gives more insight:

Deepwater Horizon is a rig–it’s also where 11 men lost their lives


Deepwater Horizon, like Captain Phillips, is a film about a real disaster that has its audience captivated by the action, nail-biting at the near-death and death scenes, and above all knowing that neither was a natural disaster. Deepwater’s casting is led by Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson, Kurt Russell and applause to John Malkovich—so believable I wanted to pull his hair out (heh!).

When BP management made a reckless decision—to ignore needed repairs of their rig minneapolis_bridge_01and more, I couldn’t help but think of our own Minnesota bridge collapse in 2007. (Lives were lost on the 35W bridge. Yet, to this day MN legislators choose to put Light Rail before bridge and road repair—the ONLY means of travel for fire, police, and EMT.) The employees are at their mercy.

Mark Wahlberg as Mike Williams who jumped 10 stories into the Gulf.

Mark Wahlberg as Mike Williams who jumped 10 stories into the Gulf.When the Deepwater explosion


When the Deepwater explosion occurred in 2010, my own recollection is what the media reported as the worst oil spill in American History. Clearly it was a disaster. Deepwater’s story differs from news reports by focusing on the loss of life, the loss of loved ones.

Deepwater Horizon is the third movie we’ve seen in the last few weeks – Sully and The Magnificent 7 – that portray in a thoughtful and meaningful way, the value of human life and the necessity of those in positions of power to have respect for that value and life itself. Deepwater reminds us of that value and its importance.

Candidates and Cameos


Not since Ronald Reagan has a presidential candidate appeared in a movie as often as nominee Donald J. Trump. Best remembered was Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992). Trump gives directions to a lost Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) in the New York Plaza Hotel (owned by Trump at the time). Another favorite was Two Weeks Notice (2002) when Trump advises George Wade (Hugh Grant) at a cocktail party. Altogether candidate Trump has appeared in over 18 film and TV cameo appearances.images
Brian Raferty reported in WIRED director Oliver Stone’s experience with Trump: The 69-year-old filmmaker noted that he filmed a cameo featuring Trump for the 2010 film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and it sounds like it was kind of a huge ordeal. “I swear to God this is true—and I love the man, in a weird way—but after every take, he jumped up and said, ‘Wasn’t that great?’” Stone recalled. “I said, “Honestly? No!’ [His] confidence is unbelievable—that’s what’s allowing him to run. I’d say, ‘Donald, I think it’s great, but I think we can just do a little better here, or do this.’ And we tried like nine takes.”
For the record, the scene was cut from the final film.

Other presidential cameos of interest include Bill Clinton in Contact (1997). While in Bangkok giving a climate change speech, Clinton was considered for a cameo in Hangover Part II (2011); however, it was speculated at the time it wouldn’t be used.
According to The Telegraph, “Senator John McCain, the Vietnam war hero and one-time critic of Hollywood’s excesses, is trying to laugh off accusations of hypocrisy after coming under fire for a cameo appearance in the bawdy film Wedding Crashers (2005).
Mr. McCain’s role lasts just 10 seconds as he plays himself at a political wedding reception alongside fellow guest star James Carville, an outspoken Democrat strategist.”
For as meaningful roles as Ronald Reagan played in Kings Row (1942) and Knute Rockne, All American (1949), it was his role as Professor Peter Boyd in Bedtime for Bonzo (1951) that is best remembered, in fact, as his least favorite, Reagan claims he never watched it.
Film aficionados stay tuned. The 2016 campaign may produce even more candidate cameo appearances!


IDES OF MARCH is just the film for up-coming conventions

George Clooney is director, writer, and actor.

George Clooney is director, writer, and actor.

With two weeks of political conventions ahead of us, favorite political films come to mind.

All The King's Men

All The King’s Men

Among the best are Spencer Tracy in State of the Union and Broderick Crawford in AllThe King’s Men as two good men who abandon integrity as they make their way. What is it that happens to good men who sell their souls to win an election?

In IDES OF MARCH (2011), directed, written and starring George Clooney as Governor Morris, is seeking the Democratic Party’s endorsement. His Junior Campaign Manager (Ryan Gosling) views his candidate as kind of a white knight only to discover his weaknesses. The film takes the viewer through a political campaign of a candidate whose principles are tarnished by his infidelity. Morris’s actions cause him to rearrange his campaign staff through a deal.alg-ides-of-march-jpg

Phenomenal casting makes IDES deliver even for those who disdain politics. Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Morris’s Senior Campaign Manager and Ryan Gosling as Junior
Campaign Manager were so dedicated and devoted to their candidate, they made me believe each had actually worked campaigns. (I’ve served on a good number of them.)

Ides of March - Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) meets with rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) © 2011 Ides Film Holdings

Ides of March – Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) meets with rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) © 2011 Ides Film Holdings

Paul Giamatti as the opponent’s Campaign Manager was so superbly performed I suggest today’s contenders to call on him for advice. Clooney’s role and his directing left me begging for more from him.

IDES OF MARCH may be just the film for you as we follow the conventions.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 with its original cast!

Original cast in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is family fun!

Original cast in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is family fun!

If you haven’t seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, don’t even go to Greek Wedding 2 until you do. You’ll be lost in this big family film frolic.

Wonderful to see the original cast in Greek 2 BUT, I didn’t find the storyline as tight as the first one. It jut seemed like there were too many stories going on.

I blame the film’s flaws on a script with too many issues: Tula and Ian’s delightful daughter Paris feels smothered by extended family. As a helicopter parent, Tula’s issue is what to do with her time now that her only child is going off to college. A surprising technicality in her parents’ marriage license results in planning a wedding to correct the error. Imagine the chaos coupled with existing family conflicts like Tula and Ian’s insipid marriage, her Dad’s aging issues, neighborhood prejudices that had obviously gone unchecked, and Ian’s lack of involvement with his parents. Oh, and what about Tula’s estranged uncle? Whew.

I just don't think this is the help Tula was looking for!

I just don’t think this is the help Tula was looking for!

Yes, I did laugh out loud a couple of times. My adult daughter suggests that I see the movie again and maybe I will like it better. She’s right. That happened with Groundhog Day (shock! I must have had my mind elsewhere to have missed that one.) and Runaway Bride.

Vardalos is talented as an actress and writer. This time her writing reminded me of trying to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. She could have saved some of the drama for Greek 3!
Will she consider yet another sequel? Let’s hope so. We could use more fun family entertainment.

Miss The Big Short & you’ve missed out


The Big Short:  We left the theater saying “I want to see it again.”  Everything about this film deserves an award. The only bad thing is, it’s a true story. And, it’s a story that cost hard-working, freedom-loving folks their hard-earned dollars.  Did anybody care?  These guys did.


Do not miss THE BIG SHORT: When I called my friend Michelle Rifenberg, another movie aficionado,  to recommend seeing this film, she was out the door and back with what I thought were best recommendations: •”The Big Short” is a film that should be mandatory viewing for those who have shuffled through life in a fog of cluelessness about what is happening. It’s time to put down 50 shades of trash, turn off faux reality TV, and stop the idle distractions and PAY ATTENTION! Some are waking up which may partly explain the Trump, Cruz, and Bernie revolts. This story was not an isolated, one-time event. It can and will happen again. “Big” is never good and these events are not just about “those rich people.” They are about all of us too. Think about that when you buy more mortgage, second mortgage, student loan, or credit card debt than you can afford; or vote for all that “free stuff” that you feel entitled. Greed is not good and no income level is immune from the seduction of avarice.

Michelle is right. There were those who tried to warn about the housing bubble but no one would listen. Why? Ego and greed.  If you are interested in other similar stories read No One Would Listen by Harry Markopolos,  or watch for this miniseries about Bernie MadoffThe Wizard of Lies stars Robert DeNiro to air on HBO.  Madoff ABC miniseries February 3&4 stars Richard Dreyfuss. My husband Mike recommends Too Big to Fail, also about the financial meltdown of 2008.  When ego and greed are the driving force of those in charge, it’s no wonder the American people lose.

BROOKLYN: Should she stay or should she go?

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Brooklyn portrays a young woman’s experiences emigrating from Ireland to America in the 1950’s. Director John Crowley develops the script by Nick Hornby into a journey of impassioned passage and transformation. (Michael Brook soundtrack is delightful!)

Crowley’s Brooklyn (2015) differs from the 1992 Far and Away couple (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) near-death experiences of trying to stay alive to partake in the 1893 Land Run; however, their nationality and gender injustices do arguably continue into the ‘50’s and today.

Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) leaves Ireland in pursuit of a new life. Thanks to Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) for arrangements, she settles in Brooklyn, works at a department store and goes to night school, albeit the only woman in her class of aspiring accountants. Her simple clothing and manners make her appear impersonal until adorable Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen) becomes the love of her life.imgres Well, maybe. Eilis makes a return visit home and becomes involved with the friends and the country she still loves. Should she stay or should she go? Eilis has to decide and Ronan delivers a standout performance love story aficionados will delight in.

The film adaptation Brooklyn from Colm Toíbín’s novel brought thoughts of my grandparents and my mom’s arrival to America from war torn Czechoslovakia. They were a young family and with a language barrier to boot. Yet, they built a house (literally) and raised eleven children. And my grandma? She spoke Czech until the day she died—apparently too busy cooking, cleaning and caring for kids to notice a problem with communication. My grandparents, my mom, and millions like them, chose to come to American for freedom and opportunity. I pray God will continue to bless America.



Creed left me eager for its sequel!


The underdog theme in Rocky lives on in the newly released Creed (see what Rolling Stone has to say!). I recalled the audience cheering after the first Rocky movie (1976) I watched at the Riverview Theater in South Minneapolis. Creed didn’t quite hit the mark emotionally, but it did deliver in directing, casting, acting and soundtrack (Ludwig Göransson).

Creed is Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), whose father, Apollo Creed, died before his birth. With no father, and growing up in a tough neighborhood, Adonis had some heavy lifting to do before he even got to the gym. He was humble enough to know he needed help, a coach, and smart enough to get the very best, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone). Rocky hesitates but his love for Apollo brings him back to the ring.


Along the way Adonis is drawn to the beautiful Bianca (Tessa Thompson) who is strong, toughened by her surroundings, and probably also because of her handicap. Adonis respected her. (Co-writers NB: You could have shortened the couch scene).

To the writers’ credit, they chose to not go overboard with flashbacks nor dwsylverster-stalloneell on the past. Instead, we were introduced to attractive and refreshing new actors who delivered in Creed and left me eager for a sequel (sooner than later-after all, Stallone is nearly 40 years older since he wrote and starred in Rocky). Hopefully the writers will keep Adonis and Bianca’s relationship as pristine as that of Rocky and yo, Adriane. And, next time around, bring audiences to cheering.