jon.h.ochiai

IMDb member since January 2001
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Hellboy
(2019)

"Hellboy" is a Mess. Too Bad.
In Director Neil Marshall's spirited action fantasy "Hellboy", adoptive Father Professor Broom, played with whimsical gravitas by Ian McShane tells his Son, "I wanted you to be the best you..." David Harbour's Hellboy, the hulking prosthetically horned, red skinned beast, acknowledges his Father's love in tears. No spoilers here. After all, Dad is human. Hellboy, well he's some other distinction.

The dramatic arc resonates genuine poignancy. Yet, seems so out of context, like much of "Hellboy". "Hellboy" often gets lost in the narrative abyss. Based on Mike Mignola's source material - Dark Horse Comic Book "Hellboy", Neil and Screenwriter Andrew Cosby reboot the beloved 2004 movie starring Ron Perlman as a narrative quandary. David Harbour embodies irreverent sense of humor and charisma in wonderful homage to Ron Perlman's Hero beast.

But like I told my buddy Ron, after we both watched the movie, "That was all over the place." Euphemistically, "Hellboy" is an unfocused mess. WTF? Too bad. Not just for us, but also for the cast. Beautiful commanding Milla Jovovich is beguiling evil as The Blood Queen, Nimue. Hers along with David's Hellboy inspire strong performances from feeble material.

In the prologue set in 1540 or so: Omniscient sorceress Nimue prepares to unleash her deadly plague on the world; thus, ending humankind forever. However, she's vanquished by stalwart King Arthur, played by Mark Stanley, and sorcerer Merlin, played by Brian Gleeson. To dissipate her immense power they literally chop Nimue into pieces, foreshadowing Neil's macabre resurrection visual, and bury her parts at the ends of the Earth.

Hellboy works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) fighting the "dark forces" like Giants. He's a superhero of sorts. He has great speed, strength, and fighting skills. He also possesses a huge mysterious metallic right hand.

Professor Broom and Hellboy work together at the BPRD. He virtually raised his son there. Returning from a mission, Broom gently grooms the horns on his son's brow. As corny as that looks, it's sublime. Regardless of blood, they're family. They love each other unconditionally. That is the singular saving grace of "Hellboy".

Eventually, conspiracy consumes. Predictably, the evil Nimue returns from wherever, and seeks revenge. Surprisingly, she seeks Hellboy as well. Although, handsome is not Hellboy's strong suit, Nimue is passionately drawn to the muscular red beast. Perhaps, it's his wry sense of humor? Maybe, it's Hellboy's lineage according to eerie villain Lady Huttom, who reprises Hellboy's origins and discovery by Professor Broom.

Meanwhile, to save the world from Nimue's apocalyptic intentions, Hellboy joins forces with Alice, played by young spirited Sasha Lane, and soldier Major Ben Daimio, played by calm strong Daniel Dae Kim. It's on!

The bond of Hellboy and Nimue make "Hellboy" watchable, which isn't saying all that much. David and Milla have engaging chemistry. They're both strong, resilient, and don't take themselves too seriously. On the other hand, "Hellboy" does. Rather at times Neil Marshall doesn't have a clue what kind of story he wants to tell.

The visual effects in "Hellboy" are spectacular. Gruesome images of shredded and exploding flesh populate the screen. Then there are whimsical visuals of the Nimue's limbs sown back together or some vicious Giant swatting Hellboy like an insect.

"Hellboy" occurs as a funny, bloody narrative mess. Not in a good way. Again, too bad for David Harbour and Milla Jovovich. Really, too bad for us.

Us
(2019)

"Us" - The Metaphorical Puzzle in a Good Way?
In Writer and Director Jordan Peele's "Us", it's 1986: Little African American girl Adelaide, played by Madison Curry, encounters her doppelganger in the carnival tent on the Santa Cruz beach. Little Adelaide's eyes widen in terror.

Now 2019, on the family vacation car ride, Mom Adelaide Wilson, played by loving and beautiful Lupita Nyong'o, jokes with her children, daughter Zora, played by Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Halloween mask wearing son Jason, played by Evan Alex. Adelaide and her husband Gabe, played by solid Winston Duke, drive to meet up with friends Kitty, played by Elizabeth Moss, and Josh, played by Tim Heidecker, and their twin daughters for their Santa Cruz summer holiday. Yeah, that's Jordan's discreetly frightful foreshadowing.

Funny. Santa Cruz might be an homage to Joel Schumacher's 1987 "The Lost Boys". Although, "Us" is not about the indigenous vampire in Santa Cruz. Jordan's narrative is somewhat more sinister: Our "tethered" doppelgangers (personal doubles) possibly live in the millions of subterranean tunnels in the US. Or so we are made to believe according to Jordan's movie prefaced research.

Scary movies are really not my deal. Yet, my movie critic buddy Michael told me that "Us" is worth seeing. That was good enough for me.

The first 2 Acts of "Us" are amazing narrative and visually foreboding atmosphere from master storyteller Jordan Peele. Lupita brilliantly disguises Adelaide's unresolved childhood fear, safeguarding her children with all her being. Winston Gabe is comically at a loss in discerning his wife's seeming turmoil. Also Adelaide and Gabe's dynamic with Kitty and Josh occurs as the social status comparison game. Oh, well.

Then one night, the Wilson's receive uninvited guests at their rented beach home. They're also the family of four. Jason says, "It's us." They're the evil versions of Adelaide, Gabe, Zora and Jason. Or are they really 'the evil ones'? Terror and havoc ensue on screen.

Act 3 of "Us" is totally WTF? No worries. No spoilers here. At a certain point I didn't know what was going on. Jordan seduces with the bloody mayhem. Yet, there is something more subversive in his narrative, perhaps about our own human nature?

I didn't find "Us" as so much scary, rather it's entirely disturbing - in a good sort of way. Later, I confirmed with Michael about a storyline that might have been obvious, to others. For sure, other theories surrounding "Us" will emerge. Wait for it.

Amazingly, Jordan circles back his story to the movie's seemingly innocuous premise, and he fosters further discussion in his shocking conclusion. Lupita's compassionately humane performance as Adelaide anchors "Us"; keeping us watching; keeping us in Jordan's master guessing game.

I'd love to see "Us 2". I'm also guessing that's part of Jordan's master narrative. Just saying.

Captain Marvel
(2019)

"Captain Marvel": The Times You Get Back Up Define You
In Disney and Marvel Studios' "Captain Marvel", vulnerable Brie Larson as warrior Vers sheds tears speaking with someone from her human past, resilient Lashana Lynch as best friend Maria, "I don't know who I am!" Maria acknowledges Vers, who was "Aunt' to her daughter Monica, played by radiant Akira Akbar, "You were the most powerful person I know." Vers' humanity is the distinct power of "Captain Marvel".

Brie evokes commanding presence as the emergent Hero. Curious note: No one really calls her Captain Marvel. She looks so cool in her sleek blue and red suit dispatching intergalactic villains with astounding martial arts skills.

Yet, what resonates from Writer and Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's narrative are 13 year-old Carol Danvers at bat after being struck down by an errant pitch. Or soiled Air Force cadet Carol rising from the ground after falling from the swinging obstacle course rope. Character defines destiny. Amen.

Unlike by the numbers, loud big budget Superhero movies, independent filmmakers Anna and Ryan poignantly tell the human story of a woman's transformation. It's never about the number of times you fail or fall down. It's about the times you get back up.

In "Captain Marvel": the Hero arises. Having great strength, super speed or in Vers' case - photon blasts from her fists, can be significant. What makes her Hero, what makes her powerful is her belief in herself.

"Captain Marvel" is Marvel's first standalone female Superhero movie. One might say, "Well, it's about time." Well, Anna, Ryan and Geneva Robertson-Dworet's screenplay is the timely tale of the woman revealing her untapped power within. Brie's Vers bravely distinguishes who she is. She also invents who she can be. "Captain Marvel" is the surprising comic book narrative journey of self-discovery.

Hero isn't about wearing the shiny suit or gaining tremendous physical prowess. Brie Larson is authentically bold as she discovers the Hero within herself, the Hero that has always been there. She exudes a refreshing sense of humor in the often dour Superhero construct. Brie brilliantly leverages endearing screen chemistry with aloof, charismatic Samuel L. Jackson as young Nick Fury, before the eye patch and SHIELD. Their whimsical banter is the welcome distraction from the galactic Kree - Skrull War. "Captain Marvel" creators also generate relevancy in the refugee prejudice of the Alien Skrull.

"Captain Marvel" opens on the Kree home planet - Hala. Apparent Kree Vers (Brie) is member of the elite Warrior group, Starforce. Her mentor is intrepid, war-weary Yon-Rogg, played by dashing strong Jude Law. Paradoxically, he tells Vers, "I want you to be the best version of yourself." Vers is constantly haunted by images of a 'previous life'.

Starforce embarks on the mission to retrieve a spy from their dreaded enemy, the Skrulls. Vers is captured. Escaping further torture, she crash lands in a Blockbuster Video store on Earth, 1995. While awaiting for Yon-Rogg's rescue, Vers meets FBI Agent Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson - CGI enhanced to look 30 years younger. Fury's partner is Agent Coulson, played by equally CGI-ed, spirited Clarke Gregg. High-tech nostalgia at best.

Vers and Fury reluctantly join forces to unconceal the Skull conspiracy and to locate the legendary Tesseract power source. Meanwhile, Vers resurfaces memories of the ubiquitous Supreme Intelligence, Leader of the Kree, played by beautiful sublime Annette Benning. Seems Vers knew her in her past human life as fighter pilot Captain Carol Danvers. Does Supreme Intelligence hold the secret of Vers' enigmatic past or her infinite future? Or both?

At times, "Captain Marvel" tries too hard to cover all its bases: as classic superhero movie, sci-fi mythology or stunning action adventure. Yet, its narrative resonance lives in its Hero - Vers and awesome Brie Larson. Brie is so strong, so compassionate in her character's reckoning. She soulfully defines: The Hero's power lies in her heart, in her humanity. "Captain Marvel" is one of the best Marvel movies. It's just that great.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
(2019)

If You Love, Set Them Free
One of my All-Time favorite singer-songwriters is Sting. He sings, "If you love somebody, set them free." In Dream Works and Director Dean DeBlois's spectacular state-of-the art animated "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World", vulnerable kind Jay Baruchel voices brave young Viking Chief Hiccup. Hiccup looks deeply into the golden gentle eyes of his dear Dragon Toothless. They bow touching their heads together and hug. It's time to set Toothless free. Because Hiccup loves him.

In Dean's movie narrative based on the series of books by Author Cressida Cowell, Hiccup's girlfriend Astrid, voiced by the beautiful wise America Ferrera, discerns that Hiccup believes that his greatness solely relies upon the Dragon. Hiccup is greater than he knows. Astrid tells him, "I am who I am today, because of you."

Amidst the clutter of colorful superfluous Viking characters and cherub-like Dragons, we experience wondrous scenes of Hiccup riding Toothless as they soar above the clouds of the night sky. That's love.

In Hiccup's dream from the past, Gerard Butler returns as his stalwart hulking late Father Stoick. Stoick confesses to his son about the great love of his life, Hiccup's Mother. She was the One, and he chose never to remarry. At the time both believed that she had passed away. Stoick says, "With love comes loss, son; it's part of the deal." In life there is both love and loss.

Dean's "How to Train Your Dragon 3" is about the sadness in loss. Yet, there's the kind of sadness that heals loss, and about love everlasting. Perhaps, there's no loss without love. Life is in the balance. That's the deal. Ultimately, that makes "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" something special.

In "How to Train Your Dragon 3", Hiccup is now Viking Chief, and his people coexist with dragons in their sea village Berk. Maybe, Hiccup marries pretty independent spirit Astrid? Astrid is like: "Oh, no." Yet, we can tell they are in love. It's the movies after all.

Hiccup recalls the dragon mythology from Stoick: About the "Hidden World" where all Dragons came from, at the Edge or the World. After all the World was 'flat' according to the Vikings. Hiccup also confronts evil Dragon Hunter Grimmel, voiced by sublime F. Murray Abraham, in his quest to free the dragons of the world. Grayed and gaunt Grimmel sets his sights on capturing Night Fury dragon - Toothless.

Back in Berk, beautiful white dragon - Light Fury enchants Toothless's heart. Here the amazing CGI visual effects and animation endear their story. Although Toothless and Light Fury do not speak a word, in their playful glances and miraculous aerial displays, we get that they are falling madly in love. Much like Hiccup and Astrid, but without the comic verbal barbs.

My buddy Marc told me that I should check out "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World", because it's really about family. Marc is absolutely right. "How to Train Your Dragon 3" is about the families we inherent, and the families we create: Whether Human or Dragon.

In family there is both loss and love. At times Director Dean's story over indulges in the astounding visual excess without context. Yet, what keeps you watching is the love stories of Hiccup and Toothless.

They are both evolving and growing, becoming greater than they know. It's about the possibility of family. It's about creating the legacy that honors those you love, those who came before you. In that "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" becomes that hidden treasure.

Alita: Battle Angel
(2019)

Reinvent Life in "Alita: Battle Angel"
It's Earth 2563. In the aftermath of the apocalyptic War, resurrected wide eyed cyborg Alita, embodied by youthfully resilient Rosa Salazar, woefully tells kind human friend Hugo, played by spirited Keean Johnson, "I'm just an insignificant girl." Yet, from her simple origin, the Hero arises in Producer James Cameron and Director Robert Rodriguez's futuristic "Alita: Battle Angel". The screenplay by James, Robert and Laeta Kalegridis is based upon creator Yukito Kishiro's popular Manga "Gunnm".

Cybernetics surgeon Dr. Dyson Ido, played by sincere Christoph Waltz, recovers the remnants of the young cyborg girl in a city junk heap. Her brain is alive in the cybernetic shell. Ido re-engineers the robotic body of his late daughter Alita, whom tragically died years previously. When this "Alita" awakes, she has no memory of who she is. She reinvents her life from zero, along with fatherly Ido.

When human Alita died, her distraught Mother Chiren, beautiful icily sullen Jennifer Connelly, left Ido. Revered scientist Chiren becomes the lover of powerful nefarious Vector, played by charismatic Mahershala Ali, who deals in black market cybernetics and runs the Iron City Motorball Games. Motorball is the shiny loud CGI upgrade of roller derby or "Rollerball" from that 1975 movie. Deadly contestants race on roller-skates on a treacherous track attempting to push a metal ball into a hole.

Elevated above populous industrial Iron City is the sky city Zalem, possessing advanced technology. Perhaps, cyborg Alita is artifact of Zalem technology? Both Ido and Chiren were both born on Zalem, and were banished to Iron City. If Chiren helps Vector prosper in the Motorball Games she can regain access to Zalem. She will be free to return home.

The Writers' solemn futuristic narrative turns complicated. In 2563 there is no law enforcement to protect citizen from renegade cyborg. The secret society of Hunter-Warriors, a group of bounty hunters, take down cyborg criminals. In high-stakes action, Alita discovers her great physical prowess and martial arts skills as she protects Ido from evil cyborg Grewishka, played by capriciously intense Jackie Earle Haley. Alita is the formidable cyborg warrior. Perhaps, her past is remerging?

A link to her forgotten past lies in Martian technology from 300 years ago. Yeah, Martian. Alita recovers her symbiotic robotic body. She brings it Ido. Alita maybe be the fiercest, most advanced cyborg warrior in human history. Alita wants "her body" back. Ido tells her that the body is just a shell, "neither good nor bad". Good or bad is entirely up to Alita.

Although 300 years old, Alita has the brain of, the spirit of a teenage girl. She befriends Hugo, vibrant Keean. Hugo is the rogue hustler, who along with his buddies ravages and jacks cybernetic parts to sell to Vector, ruthless Mahershala. Alita and Hugo fall in love. More than the spectacular high octane Motorball Games or the stunning Wu Shu and mixed martial arts smack down of Warrior-Hunters, what captivates is Alita and Hug's poignant love story.

In this, James Cameron and Rosa Salazar create subtle movie magic. Rosa's visage of Alita is created on screen using performance capture technology. Rosa is beautiful and looks in real-life like Alita. Yet, the nearly human visage of cyborg Alita is beautiful and wonderfully strange. Alita has the big bright hazel eyes of an Anime character. The hair wisps are cool. Her tears streaming down her cheek touch. She kisses as the youth madly in love. Rosa is amazing.

James and Robert's Alita gracefully transforms as the Hero, who bravely says, "I do not stand by in the presence of evil." "Alita" is about the young woman defining herself, discovering her power within, and falling deeply in love. Alita boldly reinvents her life. Although mostly machine, she is so poignantly human -- becoming greater than she knows herself to be. That makes "Alita: Battle Angel" something truly special.

Mary Poppins Returns
(2018)

Mary Poppins Returns - Nothing's Gone Forever...
In "Mary Poppins Returns" uncompromising Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins tucks the Banks children into their beds. Innocent young Joel Dawson as Georgie says, "I miss Mother." Pausing Mary's bright blue eyes turn sublime in gaze. She sings, "The Place Where Lost Things Go". In touching lyrics Mary says, "Nothing's gone forever, only out of place." That lands in our very hearts as well.

Director Rob Marshall's sequel to the beloved "Mary Poppins" is the brilliant musical that's eloquently about loss: be that child-like wonder or the passing of the Mother of three beautiful children. "Mary Poppins Returns" dazzles in its blend of animation and song as Mary and the Children immerse in the art work of their Mother's vase. In Old School flourish, the leeries (city street lantern lighters) break into the breathtaking musical number in the London night.

As "Mary Poppins Returns" opens Lin-Manuel Miranda, of "Hamilton", as Leerie Jack sings the opening song while riding through the streets. My friend Cheryl and I both thought: WTF. This is a classic movie musical. Well, at least I went WTF. "Mary Poppins Returns" isn't just the narrative with songs and musical numbers fused together. Marc Shaiman's amazing songs are the narrative - gifting amazing poignancy.

"Mary Poppins Returns" takes place about 25 years after "Mary Poppins" left off. The original Banks children Jane and Michael are now adults. Sweet Emily Mortimer is Labor Activist Jane. Sad worried Ben Whishaw is the bank teller Dad Michael, who is also the long suffering Artist.

Through Michael's song we discover that his wife passed away, leaving him and his sister to care for Anabel, John, and Georgie played by talented Pixie Davies, Nathaniel Saleh, and Joel Dawson. Solid Julie Walters plays loyal housekeeper Ellen. Michael dearly misses the love of his life.

Although, he works at the Bank that gave him his loan for their London home, Bank President Wilkins, played by masterfully duplicitous Colin Firth, informs Michael that he must pay off the loan or forfeit his home. That's unthinkable. For the Banks, home is where their memories of their Wife and Mother live.

As fate unfolds, while the children play with an old family kite during a storm Mary Poppins returns - descending from the clouds prim and proper with ankles turns outward. With her signature hat and magical talking umbrella Mary is summoned back to take care of the Banks children, the old and new ones.

Emily Blunt is profound restraint: obviously the smart beautiful Mary knows more than she will let on. Emily's eloquence as Mary reveals the deep well of emotion within in her gentle eyes and measured speak. She also has an amazing voice. Ironically, her Mary is seemingly omniscient albeit hysterically condescending.

Jack tells the children, "She never explains anything." That's the beauty of Screenwriter David Magee's "Mary Poppins Returns": Mary is just being Mary. In this revelation Lin-Manuel as Jack is all charm and compassion. He and Emily have miraculous chemistry either in conversation or paired in song and dance in the animated circus tent. Director Rob reveres homage to the past with heartfelt cameos by Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury. Yet, his "Mary Poppins Returns" celebrates the new in song and its own hybrid rap.

Mary Poppins tells the children, "Everything is possible, even the impossible." In this Emily is authentic, and so is "Mary Poppins Returns". In one sense: "The past is in the past." The past can't be changed like the passing of the beloved Mother. Things and people can be and will be lost. Lost, but not forgotten.

Mary Poppins reminds that those we lost, live on within us when we believe. When we remember them in our hearts. That is the wondrous beauty of "Mary Poppins Returns".

Bumblebee
(2018)

"Bumblebee": Being Me Again
In Director Travis Knight's "Bumblebee" it's 1987: Hailee Steinfeld's 18 year-old Charlie stands as her beloved "Bee" readies to thrash the Special Forces soldiers led by John Cena's Jack Burns, who dared harm his dear friend Charlie. With tears in her eyes Charlie raises her and says, "Stop."

There's an old movie adage: Never act with children or animals. These days that might apply to sentient scene-stealing towering metallic yellow robots, albeit entirely CGI. Yet, like her Charlie, Hailee is fearless, reminiscent of her Nadine in "The Edge of Seventeen", in her humanizing vulnerability. Bee's luminescent blue circle eyes do help, too. Director Travis of the stop action masterpiece "Kubo and the Two Strings", creates the authentically poignant bond with Bee and Hailee, which gifts this "Transformers" movie something unique: A heart.

"Bumblebee" is "Transformers" prequel humorously written by Christina Hodson that reinvents the exhausted "Transformers" franchise created by previous Director Michael Bay. No doubt Michael pushed the envelope in inventing the mesmerizing shiny objects of Autobots battling their mortal enemies, the Decepticons. But sacrificing humanistic storytelling in lieu of the "blowing stuff up" visually dependent narrative got old. Honestly, I stopped watching "Transformers" at "Dark Side of the Moon".

The visual effects of "Bumblebee" are stunning like the opening battle sequence on the Transformers Home World - Cybertron. In the losing cause Autobot Leader Optimus Prime, voiced by noble Peter Cullen, instructs his charge - yellow warrior robot B-127, voiced by innocent Dylan O'Brien, to go to Earth and await for his return. And so it begins.

Refreshingly, Travis and Hailee's distinct gift is their resonant emotional impact in the midst of the commercially driven special effects noise. Really, "Bumblebee" works, because Travis makes us cheer for the touching relationship of Charlie and Bee. "Bumblebee" is Hailee's movie. Her beautiful face and gentle eyes enroll us in the story of the lonely 18 year-old girl, who suffers from missing her Father, who passed away.

Charlie's Dad taught her to fix cars and gave her his love of them. Charlie believes that if she can somehow restore her Dad's classic Corvette, she can have her Dad back. She can get herself back. In one scene Charlie stops repairing the Corvette in her garage. She cries, "I can't do this anymore." She just wants her suffering to end. Now that is way more captivating than a bunch of shining robots kicking the crap out of each other. Just saying.

The memory and speech damaged B-127 lands on Earth disrupting the military exercise of Col. Jack Burns, played by strong funny John Cena. Fortunately, B-127 escapes capture; thus, embarrassing Jack. B-127 assumes the shape of a yellow Volkswagen Bug. Obviously.

Charlie, played by Haile, is the loner high school gear-head only interested in cars, let alone boys. Charlie's Mom Sally, played by funny scattered Pamela Adlon, remarried Ron, played by comically well intentioned Stephen Schneider. Comfortably geeky Jason Drucker plays her karate nerd younger brother Otis. Insecurely charming Jorge Lendeborg Jr., of "Love, Simon", is Charlie's neighbor, who has the biggest crush on her. Finally summoning his courage to possibly ask Charlie out on date, he witnesses Bumblebee in full transformation. Charlie gives B-127 the name Bumblebee after recovering him from her Uncle's junkyard.

Evil Decepitcons Shatter, voiced by frightening Angela Bassett, and Blitzwing, voiced by tough David Sobolov, land on Earth in search of Bee. They convince Jack and his superiors that they are the "good guys": That Bumblebee poses the gravest global threat. Actually, the Deceptions scheme to destroy the humans for their own strategic gain. So Jack must locate Bumblebee.

Surprisingly, my favorite scene in "Bumblebee" is Charlie and Memo standing through the sunroof of the yellow Volkswagen, hands raised in the air with Tears for Fears singing "Shout" on the radio. That captured 1987, and the spirit of youth - being free to be yourself. You just didn't care what anyone else thought. That's also the distinct charm of Travis and Hailee's "Bumblebee". We see that sense of innocent wonder in Hailee's gaze. We all just want to be free to be ourselves.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
(2018)

Into the Spider-Verse: Take a Leap of Faith
"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" is astounding stylized state-of-art animation with the look and feel of 3-D Japanese Anime. The animation is visually shadowed and soulful with vibrant pastels. Not just mesmerizing eye-candy, team of Directors - Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman craft a fresh rites of passage narrative of immerging Spider-Man, half-African American Miles Morales, voiced by spirited and smart Shameik Moore. Although in Phil Lord ("The Lego Movie" and "22 Jump Street") and Rodney Rothman's screenplay, Miles is one of several 'Spider-Men' and 'Spider-Women' intersecting in this Marvel superhero, sci-fi, family mashup.

Turns out that villain "Kingpin", voiced by malevolent Live Schreiber, the blockish hulking bald cartoon figure used his invention - the Super Collider to collapse the multiverse. To what ends? Honestly, I don't think even Phil and Rodney know. That might be beside the point. Because, "Into the Spider-Verse" is just raucous fun with a warped sense of humor and a big heart.

Directors Bob, Peter and Rodney introduce the Spider-Man in New York that we all know and love: Peter Parker, voiced by whimsical Chris Pine. He's the guy, who was bitten by the radioactive spider that gave him his amazing strength, agility and 'spidey sense' as in sixth sense. After an extended Superhero career of 22 years including his failed marriage to the love of his life Mary Jane, voice by Zoe Kravitz, Spider-Man dies as a Hero, doing what he loves to do: Saving others.

Miles is a teen attending a college prep school on scholarship: The brilliant computer geek, who chills to Post Malone. His Dad Jefferson Davis, voiced by stalwart funny Brian Tyree Henry, is a police officer, who not a big fan of Spider-Man and his "along with great power comes great responsibility" dogma. Somewhat self-absorbed, he unconditionally loves Miles. Jefferson even coerces Miles to say, "I love you, Dad." - in front of his entire school.

At school Miles is sweet on pretty smart blonde Gwen Stacy, voiced by wonderfully aloof Hailee Steinfeld. Their attraction is mutual. Miles derives security in his relationship with his Uncle Aaron, voiced with street gravitas by Mahershala Ali. Aaron and his brother Jefferson Davis are estranged, given Aaron questionable shady dealings. Yet, Aaron is the cool Uncle, who encourages Miles's distinct gift as the street tagger of amazing urban spray paint murals. While working one of his masterpieces, Miles is bitten by what looks like a radioactive spider. Consequently, Miles acquires his Spider-Man powers.

At the same time Miles meets his alter-dimensional persona in older paunchy Peter B. Parker, voiced by funny, mildly cynical Jake Johnson, who teaches Miles the ropes of Spider-Man's web-slinging. While escaping from Kingpin's facility and swinging through the snowy forests, Peter and Miles encounter sleek white suited Spider-Gwen - Gwen Stacy (Hailee). Turns out too, that Gwen is the Spider-Woman from yet another dimension. Like Peter, she also needs to return to her home dimension.

So it's up to Miles, who must wrestle control of Kingpin's Super Collider, to forge the dimensional pathway back to their respective dimensions. Meanwhile, Miles meets Spider-Men from other dimensions. Black and white Spider-Man Noir, voiced by off-the-wall Nicolas Cage, is from a past dimensional era. There's Warner Brothers-like cartoon Spider-Ham, voiced by hysterical John Mulaney. Life-size Japanese Anime Peni Parker, voiced by quirky Kimiko Glenn, is from the 31st Century sporting her advanced robotic Spider-Man. As Peter says, "This could literally not get weirder." Balancing this phase-glitched universe are versions of Spider-Man's villains: Green Goblin, Scorpion, and a few others that I don't recognize.

There is a whole lot of nonsense running amok in "Into the Spider-Verse", yet the directors resonate in asking, "What makes a Hero?" With surprising poignancy, cartoon Spider-Ham tells emerging Hero Miles, "You can't save everyone." Otherwise, the great responsibility and power become a curse.

When Miles has doubts that he can become the Hero, Peter tells him, "Take a leap of faith." Believe in the hero that's within all of us. Our Heroes arise from our belief from within, and from the love those who believe in us. For Miles that's the world-weary and wise Jake Johnson as Peter B. Parker, and brave and compassionate Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen. Radiant Shameik Moore makes us believe that his Miles shall discover his own greater than self within.

"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" is about summoning the Hero within all of us. Even more so than the amazing animation, that narrative makes "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" one of my favorite movies this year.

The Favourite
(2018)

The Favourite: 'It's all about me!'
Set in 18th century England, Director Yorgos Lanthimos's "The Favourite" stars Emma Stone as maid Abigail and Rachel Weisz as Lady Sarah, who both serve Queen Anne, played by amazing Olivia Colman. In "The Favourite" Abigail and Sarah contest to be Anne's 'favourite' in more than conventional distinctions.

Rachel's Sarah is Lady Marlborough, whose husband leads the English military campaign against the French. The physically unattractive self-aware Queen suffers from gout and associated maladies; thus, rendering Sarah as her renegade proxy. The Machiavellian Sarah instructs Anne to double the taxes to finance the War effort to support her husband, ending the War, and bringing him home.

Pretty young Abigail, played by Emma, arrives on the scene reunited with her cousin Sarah, played by Rachel. Abigail was from a noble family, but dark financial times beset her Father, who sold her to the older German rival, essentially selling her into sexual slavery. Consequently, Abigail is driven by redemption. She seeks to regain her nobility and stature at any cost. Perhaps, cousin Sarah becomes her leverage point?

Sarah enlists Abigail to tend to the Queen, while she basically manages the affairs of England. The skilled herbalist Abigail soon gains favored status of Anne, played by Olivia. One night while surprisingly educated Abigail reads in Anne's library, she discovers the nature of Sarah's relationship with the Queen. It becomes transparent to Abigail what she must do to become the Queen's "Favourite".

Olivia plays Anne with touching wounded loneliness. Her Anne knows that she can get whatever she wants, because she is the Queen. If not for that, hardly anyone would want anything to do with her. Olivia's profound sadness in Anne humanizes the angry beast. She exposes the lightness and darkness in Anne, and in ourselves. Anne is all about herself, as is everyone in Writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara's narrative.

In a defining scene in a local bar, Emma's Abigail confesses, "I'm on my side!" The hysterical, yet mostly anguished narrative of "The Favourite" is: It's all about me. In Yorgos's tale women rule with power up front and behind the scenes. This is not necessarily the polarized #Metoo narrative either. Yorgos depicts the well of ugliness in society in vast contrast to the stunning visuals of Robbie Ryan's beautiful cinematography. We see Sarah riding her horse on the immaculate English estate. At the same time, Abigail and Sarah scheme to one up the other in gaining the Queen's favors in the palace.

Both Emma and Rachel are inspired. Rachel's Sarah is the regal lioness, who takes no prisoners. However, in her utter humiliation Rachel reveals her humanity in redemption. Emma is brilliant initially enrolling us in the suffering innocent maiden with the tortured soul. Emma subtly transforms Abigail as the gentle eyed ruthless mercenary. For Abigail the ends and the means are the same. In the heartbreaking scene Sarah cries to Anne, "I never lied to you... That's love." Perhaps, love is more than just that.

"The Favourite" might be one of the best movies of the year. Yet, I wasn't on anyone's "side" in "The Favourite". Everyone in the movie is all about themselves. I suppose that's Yorgos, Deborah and Tony's point. "The Favourite" is hysterical with its clever banter of classism and sexism. Yet, ultimately it is all very sad. Everyone uses someone else. And so goes the world of "The Favourite". "The Favourite" is a great movie, although not my favorite. Let's put it this way: I won't be seeing it again.

Green Book
(2018)

The Courage to Change People's Hearts
In 1962, in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain, in the Deep South Mahershala Ali's concert pianist Dr. Don Shirley in tears tells his driver Tony, played by Viggo Mortensen, "So if I'm not Black enough! If I'm not White enough! If I'm not Man enough! So tell me what am I?" Tony listens in resound silence. That resonates even in 2018. This is the lyrical power of Writer and Director Peter Farrelly's "Green Book".

The screenplay by Nick Vellelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, and Farrelly is based on the true story of the friendship of Dr. Don Shirley and Tony Vellelonga, who couldn't be more different or more unlikely. The wondrous screenplay authentically looks at the impact of prejudice with heart and a surprising sense of humor. On Tony and Don's road trip on their concert tour, Don delicately fingers his Kentucky Fried Chicken drumstick in the backseat, while Tony drives. Don has never eaten fried chicken before. Don admits it's actually quite good. I laughed so hard.

Tony agrees to chauffer and "bodyguard" Don on his concert tour in the Deep South for 8 weeks, returning home to his understanding wife Dolores, plays by kind beautiful Linda Cardellini, by Christmas. Viggo's Tony was the bouncer, "public relations" man at the Copacabana Club in New York City shutdown because of a mob "misunderstanding". Tony is blue collar Italian American with street smarts: way wiser than he occurs. The Father of two boys, he's all heart. Tony also pays attention. Viggo's distinct humanity is in being so present.

Back in the 1960's the Green Book was the listing of all the approved Lodgings for Blacks. At times Tony and Don were not allowed to share the same hotels. On the one instance they do Tony looks out from his hotel room balcony. He spies solitary Don, alone sipping his glass of whiskey. There's more to Don's story than divorce and his estranged brother. Mahershala embodies a regal self-absorbed suffering in Don, who along with being the accomplished pianist holds two PhDs and a law degree. He is also very alone. Is his loneliness self-imposed or thwarted self-expression?

Here Director Peter unconceals eloquent acceptance in the narrative. Don gratefully thanks Tony for saving him from himself. Tony compassionately says, "I know it's complicated." Later Don asks to see the letters Tony writes home to Dolores. They're horrendous. Consequently, Don dictates to Tony what to write, "Dear Dolores..."

Viggo and Mahershala amaze in their authentic love and soulful respect for each other. Mahershala is the brilliant straight man when comedy summons. He displays powerful awareness on the stark narrative turns. Viggo is masterful understatement. His Tony has his prejudice as we all do, yet through his eyes we see his compassion and deep regard for the man that Don is.

Viggo's visage as Tony acknowledges the miraculous talents of artist Don. Don and his musical trio play for White privileged folk, who seemingly feign tolerance. Soon Tony discerns the pretense as mere tokenism, cloaked racism. So why does Don hold his tongue, graciously thanking his hosts, who only see him as Negro?

Don's band mate Oleg, played by silently strong Dimiter D. Marinov, tells Tony, "... Because it takes courage to change people's hearts." Amen. Maybe we can't change what's in other people's hearts. What we can to do is have compassion in our own hearts. That's a place to start.

That's the profound brotherhood of Tony and Don's journey. "Green Book" may be the very best movie of the year. At least it's my very favorite.

Creed II
(2018)

What We Love...
In "Creed II" elder noble Sylvester Stallone reprises as legendary Rocky Balboa. Rocky asks Adonis "Donnie" Creed, played by amazing Michael B. Jordan, "What are you fighting for?" World Heavyweight Champion Donne was physically massacred in a previous fight with 6' 5", 245 pound 'beast' Viktor Drago, played by real-life German boxer Florian Munteanu, son of Ivan Drago, surprising Dolph Lundgren.

Recall from "Rocky IV" Ivan killed Adonis's Father Apollo Creed in an exhibition boxing match that Rocky declined. Rocky could have saved his best friend Apollo by stopping the fight, but he didn't. That haunted Rocky for the last 33 years. In "Rocky IV" Rocky traveled to Moscow to fight Ivan to avenge Apollo's death. He knocks out Ivan in the final round. Steroid juiced Ivan was supposed to be the "perfect" fighter. Perhaps, not. This all happened before Adonis was even born. In the past.

So what is Donne fighting for? Director Steven Caple Jr. creates Donnie's journey in "Creed II" with less poignancy and clarity than the original "Creed". Steven replaced Ryan Coogler as director with somewhat lesser human transparency. Yet, "Creed II" is good enough. "Creed II" is the compelling narrative of the 'Sins of the Fathers'. In a touching moment in Rocky's restaurant "Adrian's" Ivan confronts Rocky for the first time since they fought.

Granite-like Dolph as Ivan commands subtle gravitas. He says to Rocky, "Because of you, I lost everything." When Ivan lost to Rocky he plummeted from virtual paragon to social outcast in Ukraine. His wife left both him and his son Viktor. All Viktor knows is fighting. He was "raised in hate" by Ivan. We witness their "tough love" relationship as the movie opens as Ivan chastises Viktor to run faster while driving in his van. They both have something to prove.

That volatile Father-Son dynamic is the realistic anchor of Sylvester Stallone and Juel Taylor's screenplay. Sly and Juel might have intended for more Shakespearean, but the narrative is too broad and unfocused. In "Creed" I was in tears as Donnie tells Rocky not to stop his fight. He still had something to prove: "That I'm not a mistake." In "Creed II" Rocky has become the Father, Donnie needed. However, Rocky is incomplete in his own relationship with his son Robert, played by Milo Ventimiglia.

Donnie must reconcile his late father Apollo's legacy, a man he never knew. Totally chiseled Michael B. inspires authentic suffering and vulnerability as Donnie seeks to discover himself. The boxing scenes in "Creed II" are visually astounding. Michael gained 20 pounds of muscle and along with Florian trained intensely for months.

Where the fights in "Creed" had an authentic realism, "Creed II" is more theatrical in the shear speed and power displayed on screen. The traded blows make you wince. That visceral emotion comes across in the first fight. Donnie is the valiant champion, who is truly afraid. Viktor is bigger, faster, and stronger. How can he win?

It's in the life outside the ring that redeems and transcends "Creed II". In the whimsical scene after Donnie wins the Heavyweight Championship, he asks his "Unc" for advice in proposing to Bianca, radiantly beautiful Tessa Thompson. Bianca is Donnie's longtime girlfriend, the gifted singer-composer gradually losing her hearing to a degenerative disease. Rocky tells Donnie to forget what's in your head, go with what's in your heart. When "Creed II" shows its heart as Michael B cries watching the diagnostic monitor in the hospital, it reminds that humanity and family worth fighting for.

Michael B eloquently defines the Hero in his courageous acts and in the power of his tears. He and Dolph discover the forgiveness in our sins of the past. Michael empowers "Creed II": Life is about the passion of what we love, whether we win or lose. That's what is at stake in Donnie and Vilktor's climactic Championship fight.

In the timeless tale of Fathers and Sons: The Son wants to know that his Father is proud of him. The Son wants to know his Father's love. In this "Creed II" delivers a knockout. We all need to know that we're enough, that we all deserve to be loved.

Boy Erased
(2018)

Unconditional Love: A Mother Knows
A panicked fearful Lucas Hedges as Jared makes a desperate cell phone call crouched in the Men's Restroom, "Mom, I'm in trouble!" Jarred is captive in a conversion program "The Source" which is supposed to "cure" him of his homosexuality. Nicole Kidman as Mom Nancy rescues her son, confronting program leader Victor Sykes, played by Joel Edgerton, as fraud. "Shame on you!"

Holding Jared's hand Nancy says, "A Mother knows... I'm sorry I let you down." Nicole and Lucas are touching screen partnership. At times Writer and Director Joel Edgerton's "Boy Erased" is capricious narrative darkness, yet the story of a Mother's unconditional love transcends. Nancy boldly declares, "I love God. I love my son." That's not as transparent for Jared's Preacher Father Marshall, played by earnest solid Russell Crowe. Regardless, Marshall is a decent man.

Nicole is so strong and so compassionate as unassuming Nancy. Lucas completely beguiles in his naked authenticity as suffering Jared. He's the rising star and the soul of "Boy Erased". Lucas and Nicole's visceral poignant chemistry unconceals the beauty in some of the movie's imperfections. Imperfection reveals in the ugliness of suffering conversion therapy and the depiction of graphic rape. I presume the narrative sources from Garrad Conley's memoir "Boy Erased", the basis of Joel's screenplay. Yet, Joel's harsher cinematic brush strokes occur exploitive.

Joel also plays conversion program leader Sykes as villainous homophobe. This fails in the sense we can't discern the nobility of his cause to 'cure' Jared and others. Sykes himself possesses the stereotypical vibe of one pretending what he's not, in terms of his own sexuality. Joel's Sykes seems only opinion, not at all clinician. He comes off as stupid albeit well-intentioned which doesn't enroll us in his purpose. Despite these narrative failings, Director Joel acutely focuses on the profound impact of Jared's loss of self-expression, his freedom to just be.

When his college mate Henry, who raped Jared-- played by Joe Alwyn, outs Jared, he confesses his sexuality to his parents. He says, "I think of men... I'm so sorry." How tragically sad. Jared is sorry for being who he is? He has no freedom to be himself.

His Father Marshall says, "God cannot love you, the way you are." He sends Jared away to the conversion program to "cure" Jared of his sins. Nancy stays with Jared while he receives his treatment. Amazingly, these conversion programs still exist in the over 30 States in the US.

Lucas is brilliant composed awareness as Jared. He gets that he won't change, and that will go badly for him. Lucas's eloquent gentleness is his distinct power and his voice. He shows kindness to bullied Cameron, quietly sad Britton Sear. For survival sake, gay participant Gary, played by Troye Sivan, instructs, "Fake it till you make it."

"Boy Erased" is one of the year's best movies in its inquiry into the nature of our humanity. There are things that we can change. There are things that we can't. What about the things that we can change that will make a difference? That possibility exists for both Jared and his Dad. Russell is authentic conflict as he resolves the things that can and can't change. He is a Man of God. He loves his son. Jared is gay. So what will he do?

"Boy Erased" is about the freedom to be who you are: Accepting what you can change and what you can't. Like Nicole's Nancy says, "A Mother knows." Love others unconditionally. Grant them the freedom to be. Freedom is everyone's birth right.

Bohemian Rhapsody
(2018)

Having 'Almost Everything'
"Bohemian Rhapsody" soars to the heavens as the cinematic chronicle of the rise, fall and redemption of legendary rock band Queen and its charismatic lead singer Freddie Mercury, authentically inhabited by Rami Malek: The tragedy and joy of their iconic music. Yet, what touches foremost is the love story of Freddie and his soul mate Mary, played by radiantly strong Lucy Boynton.

While lying in bed together after Freddie dazzled in Queen's concert, he confesses to Mary that the only place where "I'm not afraid" is performing on stage. Mary loves Freddie. Still discovering his amazing voice through his music, he suffers in his inauthenticity, in his sexuality.

After returning from a lengthy Queen tour, Freddie discloses his sexuality to Mary. He says, "You are almost everything..." Mary is heartbroken. 'Almost' is never enough. That visceral sense of sadness resonates in Director Bryan Singer's "Bohemian Rhapsody".

This very much is Bryan's film, although the studio fired him before the movie's completion. Another director completed the filming for theatrical release. Openly gay Bryan poignantly reminds: Finding and accepting your distinct voice is scary regardless of gay or straight. Announcing who you are to the world is terrifying for all of us. Bryan, Rami and Lucy compassionately say that we try to love ourselves and gift from what is within us. Freddie Mercury brilliantly did that.

Freddie Mercury died of AIDS at 45 years old. I was a huge fan of Freddie back in high school. Freddie had flamboyant charisma and the voice of an angel. I found cathartic joy in Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", "We Will Rock You" or "We Are the Champions". Although, Queen's music represented freedom, it ironically cloaked Freddie's suffering: To be himself. In his journey Rami astounds as Freddie.

Accepting his life's deception, Rami's Freddie tells Mary in the pouring rain, "I'm happy for you." Lucy's tearful visage is her hope that Freddie discovers his own joy in life. Bryan Singer's narrative is about healing as Freddie sees what he has become and his fate. Rami is powerful vulnerability and humanity. You see his soulfulness in his eyes. You hear it in his voice. He beautifully regenerates the late Freddie's immortal sound. Rami expresses Freddie's vibrant spirit that captivated us all those years ago.

"Bohemian Rhapsody" begins in London with young design student and Heathrow baggage laborer Freddie. He's the son of the Parsi family, followers of the Zoroastrian faith. Traditional Father Bromi, played by solid Ace Bhatti, disapproves of his son's choice not to follow in his professional footsteps. Freddie wants to be a rock star.

His opportunity arises when guitar god Brian May, played by compassionately wise Gwilym Lee, needs a lead singer for his band. Brian and drummer Roger Taylor, played by spritely Ben Hardy, take a chance on Freddie. While joining the band, Freddie falls for beautiful kind Mary. Freddie eventually meets Paul, played by subversively charming Allen Leech, who reveals as the duplicitous seducer.

At times Anthony McCarten's screenplay veers into the indulgent excess of the 'rock star' life, coming across as caricature. Yet, his narrative has the authentic feel for the creation of music as when Brian stamps out the beat for "We Will Rock You."

In the end Anthony and Bryan create profound compassion for Freddie Mercury: Whether he is free to express his voice in the world, regardless of what others think. We care whether Freddie finds true love, again. "Bohemian Rhapsody" is full of sound, sadness, and joy. It will rock you, too.

A Star Is Born
(2018)

Say Something So People Want to Hear It
What do you have deep inside that you want to say? In Director Bradley Cooper's "A Star Is Born" his fading rock star Jackson Maine holds in his arms Lady Gaga's rising star Ally as they gaze at the billboard of her record album cover. Gravelly voiced Jack says, "Dig down into your soul... Say what you wanna say, because what you say is the stuff of angels." Director Bradley Cooper's feature debut poignantly asks what do you have to say to the world, so people want to listen.

"A Star Is Born" is uncompromising in discovering one's voice in the world acknowledging the darker humanity of addiction and depression. Bradley and Lady Gaga, in her first starring movie role, are authentic and genuine: strength and frailty. Sam Elliot is eloquently powerful as Jack's older Manager brother Bobby, who loves his self-destructive baby brother.

Not only did Bradley direct "A Star Is Born", he wrote the screenplay with Eric Roth and Will Fetters. He learned to sing for a year and a half. He wrote songs for the movie with Lady Gaga. On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Lady Gaga said that she was blown away by Bradley: "He sings from his gut."

As country rock star Jackson Maine, he is so convincing singing, "Maybe it's time to let the old ways die." He pops painkillers going on stage. He downs a bottle of Jack Daniels in the limo ride from his concert. Bradley embodies Jack's weary numbing suffering.

Looking to get a drink, Jack drops in a dive drag bar in Los Angeles. His eyes widen listening to Lady Gaga's Ally singing a French song classic. Ally is special.

Over drinks Jack discovers Ally, who works as a restaurant server, is a songwriter. He asks her why she doesn't sing her songs. Ally says that people like her songs, but not the way she looks.

Lady Gaga is "unplugged" in natural brown hair, sans glam makeup. Gaga inhabits Ally's insecurities like a glove. Yet like Jack, we see her greater within. Jack tells her, "If there's one reason we're supposed to be here is to say something so people wanna hear it..." That's the beauty of "A Star Is Born": It says something we want to hear.

Predictably, yet naturally Jack and Ally fall in love in their star-crossed romance. Ally's star ascends when she sings her song "Shallows" with Jack in concert. Sadly, Jack's star tragically descends in drug and alcohol addiction. Ally and Jack are truly in love: They see the greater within each other. However, love alone may not save Jack from his addictions.

Bradley and Gaga are fearless compassion in the kind of poignant sadness that can heal. Director Cooper trusts his actor's humanity in stark authentic conversation. Ally cries to Jack, "You hurt me!" Jack breaks down to Ally, "I'm so sorry..." When Jack confesses to Bobby about "stealing his voice" I cried.

Lady Gaga is the star. She is so fierce in Ally's vulnerability. Her singing amazes. And you never catch her "acting"; she is just being. She and Bradley don't romanticize the suffering of loving a drug addict; loving someone suffering from depression. You can only do your best. Responsibility is often a two-way street. That's the eloquent message of "A Star Is Born".

Listening to Gaga's closing song moved me. Being in love is perhaps most important in life. Yet, we can't know what goes on inside another, even ones we love. "A Star Is Born" reminds us that we must also have forgiveness in our hearts. I truly loved "A Star Is Born".

Peppermint
(2018)

Revenge is Meaningless in "Peppermint"
In "Peppermint' convincingly sinuous and sullen Jennifer Garner as vengeful Mother Riley North exacts vengeance upon the corrupt Judge, who freed her family's murders. Although justified, Riley callously tortures Judge Stevens, played by sniveling Jeff Harlan, in unspeakable ways. The Hero becomes what she despises most: cruel and merciless. However, that tragic irony seems lost on Riley along with Director Pierre Morel ("Taken") and Writer Chad St. John.

Jennifer is amazing as the hero nihilist Riley, enrolling our compassion. Yet, when she's stripped of her humanity immersed in rage murdering money launderers and evil drug cartel members, she transforms as the cold-blooded murder she so vehemently despises.

Being on the lighter side of justice alone, doesn't make her the force for good. She has no forgiveness, no compassion. That's the big missing in Pierre and Chad's often formulaic and predictable "Peppermint". Jennifer Garner is the movie's lone saving grace.

Jennifer is heartbreaking horror as she witnesses the murder of her daughter Carly, played by innocent cute Cailey Flemming, and husband Chris, played by troubled Jeff Hephner. Drug dealer Diego Garcia orders the hit on Chris in retribution for his plotted conspiracy.

Also injured in this gang style hit, Riley is hospitalized. Detectives Carmichael and Beltran, played by John Gallagher Jr. and John Ortiz, are assigned to her case. Riley soon realizes that the judge, prosecutors, and some of the police are beholding to Diego. She chooses to flee, in hopes of bringing those responsible to justice.

"Peppermint" open 5 years later after Riley's return to Los Angeles. She kills one her family's murderers with effective skills. In Chad's narrative, Riley mastered muay thai kickboxing and other martial arts over the last 5 years. She's also the expert in automatic weaponry. She's back to make those responsible pay with their lives.

Jennifer's Riley is tragically strong and broken. She lives out of a van in LA's Skid row while she wages her war of vengeance. Riley is so very sad, having nothing to live for. She's consumed with rage, no love within. At the narrative arc, Riley tells Diego, "I want justice." She demands her revenge. Even if she has her revenge, then what? There is no peace in her chosen path.

In Riley's suffering, Jennifer salvages "Peppermint". We get that Riley never healed herself. Near the end she says, "I want it all to end." That is so authentically sad. Riley would rather die; than live than live without those she loved. Jennifer humanizes Riley in spite of its predictable storyline. We know her pain. We pull for her to heal and find a new life.

The martial arts and automatic gunfire are orchestrated with style and visual effectiveness. We get some satisfaction in seeing Riley take out her evil adversaries. Yet, that won't bring her family back.

Pierre and Chad could have created a greater sense of redemption and forgiveness in the narrative resolution. What they resolve occurs as convenient throw away. I think Riley deserved better. In a sense so did we.

Searching
(2018)

Human Loss on All Platforms
Writer and Director Aneesh Chaganty's "Searching" poignantly tells the story of human loss through the eyes of all media platforms. It's striking, distinctly disorienting in its imagery. Yet, "Searching" possesses undeniable power. In "Searching" the unthinkable occurs: Widower David Kim, played by John Cho, discovers that his 16 year-old daughter Margot, played by Michelle La, is missing. David along with assigned Detective Vick, played by Debra Messing, must discern what may have happened to Margot through her Social Media footprint and texts. Concerned David gets that he really doesn't know his daughter in the aftermath of his wife Pam's death.

"Searching" opens with the heartfelt eloquence of "Up" or "Arrival". Margot is born. FaceTime feeds, Tweet, Facebook posts, texts, and computer screen shots mesmerize telling the story of Margot growing up albeit in grainy resolution. Pam, played by beautiful kind Sara Sohn, loves her daughter and David so dearly.

Quietly, Pam loses her battle with lymphoma when Margot is 14 years-old. Although, "Searching" is entirely filmed through the sometime dizzying perspective of multi-media platforms either FaceTime or whatever, it's profoundly about the human loss; its impact on all of us. We're all human. We shall all experience loss.

David soon discovers through Margot's Social Media footprint, that she was this lonely girl, basically without any real friends. However, Margot was close to David's brother Peter, played by breezy cool Joseph Kim. David's online research fuels abhorrent suspicion in their confrontation in one of the movie's electrifying scenes.

In the aftermath, David confesses to Peter that he was waiting for the last couple of years for Margot to come to him and talk about her Mom's death. Peter with compassion in his eyes tells David, "She wanted you to come to her first..." David gets it. We get it. Our humanity reveals in our shared loss.

Debra Messing is strong conviction as the single Mom Detective Vick, who helps David determine what might have happened to Margot, including the unthinkable. David's immersion into Margot's Social Media presence reveals the young girl in desperate isolation, whose only friendships arise as virtual in the platform "Youcast". David's path derails in anger. Fortunately Vick is there to reel him in. However, all is not what it seems in "Searching".

Eloquently composed, Aneesh and Sev Ohamian's story of "Searching" is about the power of compassion. We can never truly know what goes on inside another. Yet, we can have compassion for them. Or at least recognize when we did not. In this narrative message John Cho is sublime, and fiercely vulnerable.

John authentically captures David as the man who gets that he never allowed himself to experience the loss of the love of his life, yet expected that both he and his daughter would maintain the stiff upper lip and prevail. This might also be the cultural dynamic as well.

Aneesh explicitly tells the story of the Korean American family experiencing tragedy. As Japanese American I get the inherent cultural mandates and constraints. In either Korean or Japanese culture the well of emotions lie just beneath the surface. Instead of suffering and done, suffering sustains in the affect of saving "face". John and Michelle are so authentic in their portrayal. That I believe gives "Searching" its distinct and unique power. The ending amazes. It shall move.

My friend Cheryl taught me, wabi sabi - Beauty lies in the imperfection. "Searching" isn't perfect, and that's its distinct beauty. There is the poignancy in loss that completes us; makes us whole. Wisdom allows that to occur. Wisdom is also having compassion for others, especially the ones we think we know too.

Crazy Rich Asians
(2018)

About Family? About Passion? Or Both.
Michelle Yeoh is powerful eloquent reserve in Director Jon Chu's romantic comedy "Crazy Rich Asians". Star Constance Wu, of "Fresh Off the Boat" dazzles in the lead, yet it's Michelle's understated gravitas that grounds Writers Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim's screenplay based on Kevin Kwan's bestseller.

At the home of Grandmother Ah Ma, played by Lisa Lu, Michelle's Eleanor Young speaks with her son's girlfriend Rachel Chu, played by Constance. She tells Rachel what she has learned over her years: "You are not enough." It might be easy to stereotype Eleanor as the Mother whose son is too good for any woman. However, was Eleanor speaking of Rachel or... of herself? Instead of vilifying Eleanor, Jon and Michelle subtly unveil her humanity. We truly get a feel for what it's like to be Eleanor.

In a tender scene at Eleanor's home. Her beloved Son Nick, played by breezy strong Henry Golding, changes his shirt after Rachel accidentally spills wine. Mom helps her son get dressed. Nick asks Mom, "How do I look?" With unconditional love in her eyes Eleanor replies, "Perfect." We get it.

"Crazy Rich Asians" opens in Hong Kong in 1995 with young Mom Eleanor weathering the rain storm with her kids, and trying to check into their Hotel. She encounters blatant racism. Opting not to make a scene proper Eleanor calls her billionaire Husband. Turns out she's the new owner of the Hotel, unbeknownst to the service desk. Problem solved. No much ado. That defines Eleanor. According to Eleanor: Family above passion.

"Crazy Rich Asians" is hysterical in the ostentatious style and visual opulence. Constance's Rachel is the daughter of the single Mom, who is the NYU Economics Professor specializing in Game Theory. She's in love with fellow NYU Professor Nick. He invites Rachel to Singapore to attend his best friend's wedding. Colin, played by handsome funny Chris Prang, is marrying his sweetheart Araminta, played by bright gorgeous Sonoya Mizuno.

Rachel is friends with both as well. This presents the opportunity to introduce Rachel to Nick's Mother. That's the hysterical rub, at least not very funny for Rachel. The trip provides Rachel a chance to visit her college roommate bleached blonde free-spirited Peik Lin, masterfully whimsical Awkwafina. Until their trip Rachel had no idea that Nick's family virtually owns Singapore. And that Nick is Singapore's Prince William. Actually, thinks he's more Prince Harry.

"Crazy Rich Asians" is hilariously in the excess: Be it the musical DJ and bikini clad bachelor party on the freight ship in the middle of the ocean or Araminta's gaudy shopping spree bachelorette party on the tropical island.

Rachel meets Nick's ex-girlfriend Amanda, beautifully subversive Jin Lusi. Amanda is not the only one hating on Rachel for dating Singapore's Most Eligible. In the goofy homage to "The Godfather", instead of a horse's head, Rachel discovers a barracuda's head in her bed from her numerous haters.

Perhaps, immersed in its visceral parody of excess, "Crazy Rich Asians" runs a tad long. That's forgivable in its distinctive charm. Constance is the star. She's radiantly beautiful. Her eyes discern her wisdom of people. She is authentically funny and vulnerable. Henry Golding is deceptive in his poignant gravitas. His vast charm belies his strength within. He confides his profound humanity and compassion when talking of Rachel while drinking beer with Colin on a desolate river. He loves Rachel. He would give up everything to be with her.

What I love most are the conversations with Rachel, Nick, and Eleanor. As in life people will surprise in wondrous ways. "Crazy Rich Asians" is clever, hysterical, and so heartfelt in its humanity. Michelle's Eleanor may not be as her surface reveals. She is the rock of "Crazy Rich Asians". She is amazing.

Perhaps, family comes before passion? Maybe, life is the balance of both family and passion? Life is absolutely about unconditional love. That's what makes "Crazy Rich Asians" so memorable and soulful. It's one of my favorite movies of the year.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout
(2018)

He's a Good Man
Virtually ageless Tom Cruise is back as fearless Agent Ethan Hunt in "Mission: Impossible-Fallout". "Fallout" may be the best summer movie of 2018. I think Writer and Director Christopher McQuarrie's "Mission: Impossible" sequel is one of the best action movies of all-time. Tom performs all of his own stunts like skydiving out of a military cargo jet over Paris in the helmeted pressure suit. In fact production on "Fallout" halted when Tom broke his ankle leaping between buildings.

Rob Hardy's breathtaking and pristine cinematography captures the adrenaline rush as Tom races on his motorcycle through cluttered traffic in Paris or when he soars his helicopter to catch his adversary's over the snow capped mountains of Kashmir. McQuarrie electrifies in the restroom fight scene as Tom and Henry Cavill's Agent Walker throw down with martial arts expert Liang Yang. Relentless punches, elbows, and kicks awe for several minutes.

Christopher's "Fallout" is by far the best "Mission: Impossible", elevated in pulse pounding action accelerating throughout 2 hours and 30 minutes. Chris's story is nearly too convoluted in its betrayal. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised in its emotional gravitas, and Tom Cruise's authentic humanity.

The good man is the Hero. In a signature scene, an innocent women police officer stops Ethan and his team's escape. While Ethan convinces the officer to let them pass, a villain mercilessly shoots her down. Enraged, Ethan shoots down all five men. Character can be fate. Ethan's dearest friend Luther, played by powerful quiet Ving Rhames, tells Ilsa, played by beautiful strong Rebecca Ferguson, that Ethan loved only one woman before her. That he let Julia, played by beautiful kind Michele Monaghan, go keeping her safe, so he could save the world. Luther says, "He's a good man. If you care about Ethan, walk away..."

Ethan is the hero, who gave up the love of his life to save the world. That's the high price to pay, even for the noble cause. The Hero deserves better. Tom Cruise passionately enrolls in Ethan's tireless conviction to do what's right, and protect the innocent. Tom's unspoken sadness in Ethan too, resonates.

As "Fallout" opens Ethan messes up his mission to recover three weapons grade plutonium cores, when he chooses to save the life of his friend. New IMF (Impossible Mission Force - I think) Lead Alan, played by solid Alec Baldwin, reminds Ethan of his tragic flaw: he chose "one life over millions". I'd say that's more honor and compassion. No longer trusting Ethan, CIA Head Erica, played by smart bold Angela Bassett, mandates that her best Agent Walker, played with humorlessly ironic strength by Henry Cavill, accompany him in the plutonium recovery.

Ethan and Walker's mission leads to the mysterious anarchist Lane, played by eerie calm Sean Harris. Lane believes, "The greater the suffering, the greater the peace." Ethan and Walker form reluctant alliance with notorious arms broker White Widow, played cleverly by beautiful cunning Vanessa Kirby.

So Ethan once again accepts his mission to save the world from annihilation. Strangely, this time around is wondrously captivating. In Tom's authentic sense of Ethan's loss, we get the depth of what's at stake for him.

Yes, Ethan valiantly risks his life to prevent the nuclear terrorist threat. But does he find peace at the end of his great suffering? Does he discover love again? Ethan is a good man. He deserves peace. He deserves love. Ethan is like all of us. "Mission: Impossible- Fallout" is spectacular thrills in one of the best ever action movies. What makes "Fallout" so satisfying is that we pull for the Hero to find peace, to find love.

Skyscraper
(2018)

"Skyscraper" is like "Die Hard", but sans Hans
Writer and Director Rawson Marshall Thurber's action thriller "Skyscraper" is "Die Hard" lite, but without iconic villain Hans Gruber. Chiseled resilience squared Dwayne Johnson is heroic amputee Will Sawyer, who desperately tries to save his beloved wife Sarah, daughter Georgia, and son Henry, played by Neve Campbell, McKenna Roberts, and Noah Cottrel, from flaming skyscraper The Pearl. Billionaire Zhao, played by covert cool Chin Han, built the The Pearl in Hong Kong, the world's tallest building at 220 stories, three times taller than the Empire State Building. This also resembles "The Towering Inferno" from the 1970's. Dwayne is the only reason to watch this often derivative feature.

I saw in an interview that The Rock, Dwayne Johnson researched and worked with War Veteran amputees to translate the sense of authenticity in Will. He does for the most part. Will is the War Hero and former FBI operative forced to the sidelines, because of tragedy 10 years ago. He now wears a metal prosthetic leg below his left knee. He married the surgeon, who saved him, Sarah. They have two great kids.

Will has become a private security expert. His former FBI Teammate and friend Ben, charming clandestine Pablo Schreiber, arranged the meeting with Zhao at The Pearl as its next Security Executive. Will and his family are guests in The Pearl. The Pearl is state-of-the art technology and luxury with its remotely located safety system. What could go wrong? A lot. Otherwise, there's no movie.

Crazed terrorist Botha, played by angry calculated Roland Moller, and his men explode the 96th of the building creating the raging inferno. Meanwhile, deadly Xia, played by cool kick-ass Hannah Quinlivan, uses martial arts skills and automatic weapons to disable the fire safety protocols. The terrorism occurs more than nihilistic anarchy. Regardless, Will must save his family from their imminent demise.

Much of Rawson's narrative is telegraphed. Yet, I was completely invested in Dwayne's Will. Before everything goes to hell, Will touchingly admits, "I kind of laid down my sword..." Rawson and Dwayne worked previously on the underrated hit "Central Intelligence", the action buddy picture with Kevin Hart. Without Kevin, "Skyscraper" is way more dour, and a lot less fun.

What Rawson wisely leverages is Dwayne's earnestness and heart. The action is often hyperbole, particularly with Will's leaping from the construction crane to the flaming tower. It's particularly satisfying watching the Rock lay the "smack down" on the big bad guys. And as physically imposing as Will is, Dwayne enrolls with that sense of fear and anger in his eyes.

On the other upside, the women in "Skyscraper" are total badass. It's great seeing Neve Campbell back in the movies. Her Sarah is strong, smart and protects her children to the death. She convincingly kicks the crap out of traitorous Mr. Pierce, played by snakelike Noah Taylor, who threatens her flesh and blood. Hannah as the mysterious sleek assassin Xia speaks quietly before dispatching a lethal sidekick. You just don't mess with her.

What "Skyscraper" misses is the maverick villain. Botha is not that at all. Where I think Dwayne has more physical presence than Bruce Willis in "Die Hard". "Skyscraper" fails not having the iconic charismatic villain like Hans Gruber, played by the late great Alan Rickman. Alan mesmerized as Han, conveying human complexity. Roland and Rawson's Botha is so one-dimensional evil. Moreover, Botha doesn't pose the credible threat to Will, metal leg and all.

"Skyscraper" is pretty good. Entertaining. Dwayne Johnson is greater than the material and this movie. He's enough to enjoy watching the movie. His Will fights for family and love as his noble cause. Too bad the villain or the ultimate intention aren't nearly so compelling. I think the Rock deserved better. In a sense so do we.

Ant-Man and the Wasp
(2018)

Scale matters
In one of the sweetest scenes in "Ant-Man and the Wasp", Ant-Man's human persona Scott, played by kind resilient Paul Rudd, sits legs crossed on the bedroom floor with his 10 year-old daughter Cassie, played by cute innocent Hannah John-Kamen. Scott is so sorry for making a mess in his heroic circumstance. Cassie says, "It's not dumb to help people."

For Director Peyton Reed's sequel "Ant-Man and the Wasp" scale truly does matter. In the story by the mini-army of Writers Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, and Gabriel Ferrari, our Superheroes Ant-Man and Wasp, played by Evangeline Lilly, are not out to save the world, much less the Universe like other Marvel Movies.

The scale matters. "Ant-Man and Wasp" is smaller, less noisy. There's no threat of global Armageddon. There are spectacular chase scenes in San Francisco with "Goliath" Ant-Man, and cinematic kaleidoscope tunneling into the Quantum Realm.

Instead the captivating thread is Hope Van Dyne, played by beautiful strong Evangeline, risking her life to find her long lost Mother Janet, played by radiant wise Michelle Pfeiffer, in the Quantum Realm. Paul's Scott, who returned from the Quantum Realm in "Ant-Man" holds the key to that possible resurrection.

"Ant-Man and the Wasp" revels in its quirk, not so much in the ostentatious CGI expanding and shrinking effect. Although, the cool martial arts fight scenes with Wasp and new adversary, the phasing Ghost, played by tortured charismatic Hannah John-Kamen, is high impact awesome.

Scott unintentionally channels Janet, gifting clues about her location. Scott as Janet holds the hand of her Husband Hank Pym, creator of Ant-Man and Wasp, played by whimsical Michael Douglas. The look on Hank's face is hysterical. As Scott gently caresses Janet's daughter Hope's face, that's the Mother's love. Rudd, Lilly, and Douglas brilliantly play light-hearted, yet never forget that what matters is family. Michelle is sublime gravitas. Too bad the story didn't call for more screen time.

"Ant-Man and the Wasp" begins with Scott under house arrest after his heroics with The Avengers in "Captain America: Civil War". This also explains his disappearance in "Infinity War". He has nightmares of his stint in the ubiquitous Quantum Realm, while sharing custody of his daughter Cassie. Because of his Avengers debacle as Ant-Man, Scott's now estranged from Hank and his daughter Hope. That's until Hope discovers Scott's possible link to her Mother. Scott and Hope are in love with each other, but not always in phase. So to speak.

In this needlessly convoluted narrative, Scott joins forces with Hank and Hope to retrieve Janet. Powerful assassin Eva, also called Ghost, arises threatening their mission. Eva suffers excruciating pain: Her molecules continual regenerate in her phasing curse. Her cure may also resolve in that Quantum Realm.

The imaginative movie action dazzles along with the visual effects. Really, it is the personal scale of "Ant-Man and the Wasp" that resonates. The young woman wants to find her beloved Mother. The husband wants to be with the love of his life. The young daughter believes in her Dad reminding him, "You can do anything." "Ant-Man and the Wasp" is fun exhilarating Summer fare that's also about family and those close. After all: It's not dumb to help people.

Won't You Be My Neighbor?
(2018)

"I like you, just the way you are..."
When I was 4 and 5 years old at my parents' babysitter's home, I'd watch "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" on TV every afternoon on Channel 11. Mr. Rogers was this tall lanky guy, who wore a red sweater, and laced canvas shoes. I don't recall any particular episode. Yet, although he was on television I always got the sense that he was actually talking with me. He was kind. He never raised his voice. He always said, "I like you, just the way you are."

For the kids watching like me, Mr. Rogers was like your best grownup friend. He made you feel safe. You got that you mattered.

That's the inherent wonder and beauty of Director Morgan Neville's "Won't You Be My Neighbor?": the documentary of the life of Fred Rogers and his legendary children's show. When "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" launched in 1968, it pretty much revolutionized children's educational TV programming. Surprisingly, its unlikely star Fred Rogers was the unassuming ordained Reverend, who single-handedly transformed as the iconic advocate for kids.

Morgan's touching reveal in "Won't You Be My Neighbor": Fred was the kind decent man off-screen too. In an interview, Fred says, "Love is the root of everything..." And so is the absence of love as well.

"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" was the virtual advent of the Public Broadcast System, PBS. During the Nixon Administration, Fred Rogers saved the network in his poignant testimony before Congressional Committee, securing $20 million in funding. "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and Fred sourced innovative Children's TV Education for years to come.

"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" was campy sets and hand puppets. Some guy talked with kids wearing a sweater in his home. What made "Mister Rogers" so revolutionary: Fred talked to kids at his level. He never talked down. Fred respected kids enough to talk thoughtfully about racial prejudice, death, and divorce. Above all Fred taught kindness and compassion. He let us know as kids that we were okay just the way we were.

Fred had a wife Joanne and two sons Jim and John. All recall their memories of Fred, perhaps lending a glimpse into what made the man. Joanne's late husband was the love of her life. She said of both their childhoods, "You weren't allowed to be angry." Fred mentions his Mom in his youth, but not his Dad. I got it. Like Fred or me, sometimes we have to forgive those we love, when we commit to making a difference for others. Fred Rogers did so, making a profound difference for generations of children.

The 60's and 70's were the great social and cultural reckoning, not unlike what we seemingly experience with #Metoo, shootings in our schools, or the displacement of immigrants. Back then that soft spoken man in the sweater all gave us hope, that people for the most part were good and can be kind given a choice. Fred was not only an advocate for children, he was an advocate for humanity. Love and compassion can save the world, when you believe.

There's a powerful scene where Fred sings a song with a boy in a wheelchair. The boy had a tumor when he was a baby which stunted the growth of his limbs. Prior to his major surgery, he had asked his parents if he could meet his Hero Mr. Rogers. Singing together at the boy's level I witnessed Fred's profound heart in my tears. Fred loved all people. He wanted the best for everyone.

Political climates change. Some blamed the apparent emerging "entitlement" culture on Fred's message that you are fine just the way you are. Perhaps, they did not actually get Mr. Rogers' real memo.

In Fred's last delivered University Commencement speech he said, "You don't have to do anything sensational to be loved." That's what he stood for. We should all like everyone exactly the way they are. Like Fred said, "Love is the root of everything." "Won't You Be My Neighbor" poignantly reminds that we too can all be greater. Perhaps, like Mister Rogers.

Uncle Drew
(2018)

It's About the Love, Youngblood
"Uncle Drew" is not near one of the best movies of the year. However, it's the most fun I've had at the movies so far this year. Absolutely. Watching NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving, Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal and other NBA greats in grey beard old-geezer makeup is hysterical. Especially, when the "Seniors" school street ballers on the basketball court. Kyrie is surprising hilarious gravitas as fictional ESPN 30 for 30 street basketball legend Uncle Drew, who mysteriously disappeared after his Team's tragic collapse in the Rucker Classic Finals in 1968. Never heard from again, until now 2018. Predictable? Yes. Genuine? Amazingly so.

Director Charles Stone III and Writer Jay Longino expanded the Pepsi concept series where Kyrie Irving donned old man prosthetics and punked unsuspecting street ballers in New York City. "Uncle Drew" tips off with the ESPN 30 for 30 parody of Kyrie's Uncle Drew. In the overtly canny setup short soft Dax, played by comically perplexed Lil Rel Howery, discovers Uncle Drew displaying his point guard mastery on the court. Sage-like Uncle Drew says, "This game's all mental." Trite, yet true.

Dax is the sad dude displaced from coaching is own team for the 50th Anniversary Rucker Classic, when his mortal childhood basketball nemesis Mookie, idiotically vain Aaron Gordon, hijacks the team and also his shallow girlfriend Jess, outrageous Tiffany Haddish. The barbershop scene almost out of Eddie Murphy's "Coming to America" inspires Dax to form his new team with the legendary Uncle Drew.

Uncle Drew enrolls Dax in "getting the band back together". Dax reluctantly accompanies Uncle Drew in his pimped out van with Lakeside 8 track tapes. Chris Webber is the Preacher. Lisa Leslie is his disapproving wife Betty Lou. Reggie Miller is Lights "Out", the seemingly blind former 3 point shooting god. Nate Robinson is Boots the wheelchair bound grandfather of pretty Maya, played by charming Erica Ash, who is also Dax's blossoming love interest. Shaq is Big Fella the martial arts Sensei of his own Harlem Dojo. All the basketball stars rock, especially Shaq in his goofy Zen-like focus. Really, it's Kyrie's balance of whimsical and sentimental that lands home.

Director Stone mashes up hilarious gags in the climatic arc of the Rucker Tournament. The old guys get their butts handed to them by the State Champion Girls Team in challenge pickup game. Kyrie , Shaq and company bust their dance moves in the hysterical hip hop throw down. Throughout the ridiculousness what struck me was the genuine sense of joy watching these guys.

"Uncle Drew" is unabashedly about the love of the game, about the love for the thing that gives you life. After the old dudes get trounced by the teenage girl ballers, Maya tell Dax that they got the love back. She says, "Just look at them." When Dax was a kid playing ball, he stopped daring for greater. So he also has something at stake.

Kyrie is the heart and soul of this often overplayed sports narrative. He offers surprising poignancy when he tells Dax, "It's about the love, Youngblood nothing else." "Uncle Drew" amidst some noisy lunacy is about the love. Go after what's in your heart. We all get older, yet love what you love doing. Be it basketball. Be it Aikido for me.

Uncle Drew offers some wisdom we can all take home. "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Yeah, strive valiantly and fail while daring greatly. Amen, "Uncle Drew".

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
(2018)

The Eyes of the Child Saves "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom"
The glaring narrative loophole for all the "Jurassic Park", now "Jurassic World" movies is singular. What would possess anyone to think: "Hey, let's use prehistoric DNA to clone the unstoppable killing machine!" When is that ever a good idea? Well, never.

Director J. A. Bayona's sequel "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" inherits its own faulty DNA in the perpetuating premise. Yet, J. A. along with Writers Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow manage to navigate the repetitive narrative sideways.

We actually cheer for the vicious dinosaurs against mankind. Mostly, because mankind occurs as stupid. Human creators played God, and were arrogant enough to think that they could control the Raptors and other creatures. Perhaps, messing with evolution. Creating a brave new order? No.

"Fallen Kingdom" opens with the familiar face from "Jurassic Park". Now elder scientist Ian Malcolm, surprisingly humbled Jeff Goldblum, testifies before the Congressional Committee. The cataclysmic volcanic eruptions on Isla Nublar threaten the second extinction of DNA cloned dinosaurs on the Island. Ian advises Congress to let the creatures all die in the volcanic aftermath. He says that this may be Nature's way of "self-correction".

Of course idiocy prevails: Congress orders the military rescue of at least 11 species of dinosaurs for the sake of having a movie to make. The Government enlists passionate idealist Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire, now dinosaur preservation activist, as part of the operations extraction team. Claire seeks out her estranged ex-lover Owen, whimsically aloof Chris Pratt, to join their mission. Owen has a unique affinity for Raptor named "Blue". He's like the "dinosaur whisperer". Predictably, reluctant Owen joins Claire for the helicopter ride to Isla Nublar.

In the clandestine background, Jurassic Park co-creator Benjamin Lockwood, played by weary wise James Cromwell, suffers over his precarious legacy. His estate executive Eli, played by cool calculated Rafe Spall, has more mercenary intentions for Lockwood's legacy. Lockwood entrusts the care of his innocent young granddaughter Maisie, played by bright strong Isabella Sermon, to Eli. Maisie also has strange affinity for her Grandfather's dinosaur creations.

"Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" is nonstop action eye-candy that overwhelms any semblance of character development. The fierce Raptors and T-Rexs are visual effects marvels. Chris is charmingly game as Owen, and delivers martial arts skills along with flip one-liners. Bryce is intense, yet light-hearted resilience as purposeful Claire.

I loved Director Bayona's "A Monster Calls", which is the greater movie. "Fallen Kingdom" benefits from his amazing visual style. In "A Monster Calls" Bayona's authentic gift is his endearing connection of childhood. I believe that gift resuscitates "Fallen Kingdom" in the story of young Maisie.

Resisting the overplayed child in peril scenario, Isabella's Maisie sees both the wonder and terror of "The Fallen Kingdom". There's a very touching scene midway through as frightened Maisie hugs Owen. He holds her close. He promises that everything will be all right.

Maisie holds hope for the brighter day to come. Hope that the evil that men do shall come to its end. That glimmer of childhood idealism revives "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" above the state of the art action movie fare. We see the hope through the eyes of the child.

Incredibles 2
(2018)

Don't fire the baby...
Bob Parr, retired Superhero Mr. Incredible now Mr. Mom, voiced by Craig T. Nelson, discovers that his infant son Jack-Jack, goo goo-ed by Eli Fucile, shoots deadly green lasers from his eyes. He cautions his older daughter Violet, voiced by Sarah Vowell, and her younger brother Dash, voiced by Huck Milner, while playing with their brother, "Don't fire the baby!" Now, you won't hear that in movies. I'll even go out on a limb here.

That's the signature humor and inventiveness of Writer and Director Brad Bird's "Incredibles 2". "Incredibles 2" is really incredible, too. "2" is the sequel 14 years in the making. The technological advance in state-of-the art animation since astounds. In the visual high speed chase Helen's Elastic Girl, voiced with down home charm and common sense by Holly Hunter, swerves her motorcycle as she rescues the out-of-control monorail train. In the stunning night skyline Elastic Girl hops between helicopters with her rubber-like arms to save the Ambassador.

Still with Bird flexing his formidable CGI might, he touches when Bob confesses to daughter Violet, "I just want to be a good Dad." Nelson is humorous and vulnerable as the Dad. Bob was responsible for her possible boyfriend Tony's imposed memory loss to guard the family's identity. Violet is devastated when Tony forgets their movie date. Yeah, Dad and Mom using their super strength and elastic powers stopped the villainous Underminer, comical John Ratzenberger, and his hulking drilling machine. Bob messed up big time where it also counted, with family. Family and heart ultimately save the day in "Incredibles 2".

"Incredibles 2" is hysterical in its cool self-awareness and irreverence. "2" has the hip retro 60's vibe in its art deco design and music score by Michael Giacchino. You get the feel of a James Bond or "In Like Flint" movie. Well, just shows my age.

"Supers" or Superheroes are still outlawed in the world of "Incredibles 2". The movie literally opens where we left off 14 years ago as the Incredibles battle the Underminer determined to destroy the City. Emerging victorious the Family is forced back into seclusion.

Brother and sister Winston and Evelyn of high-technology Dev Tech, voiced by slick Bob Odenkirk and sublime Catherine Keener, offer the Parr's their proposal. Winston and Evelyn seek to overturn the ban on Supers. Their late Father was the Supers greatest advocate. Both parents were tragically murdered when Supers were unable to save them from a home robbery.

Marketing expert Winston wants to leverage Elastic Girl in the TV PR campaign to overturn the law. It's kind of like Reality TV for the good cause. Well, kind of. Swallowing his ego, because they opted out Mr. Incredible, Bob agrees that Helen should be the Star. Near half-way through the movie you get the telegraph that all is not what it seems. Perhaps, that's the only downside of Writer Bird's incredible narrative.

Director Bird does provide the brilliant upside in the return of diminutive Supers costume designer extraordinaire Edna Mode or E. E graciously babysits and costumes Jack-Jack leashing and tracking some of his emergent powers. Bird is genuinely hysterical voicing E. And "Incredibles 2" is absolutely hysterical with endearing sweetness.

At times action movie overload occurs, particularly near the end. The amazing CGI tends to overwhelm a bit. Yet, when Helen tells her children how proud she is of them that resonates home. Because when it comes down to it: Love makes you Super. I just hope Bird, Disney and Pixar don't wait another 14 years to tell another "Incredibles" story about love and family.

Adrift
(2018)

Love makes you strong
In the heartbreaking scene in "Adrift" weary sun-ravaged Tammy, played by Shailene Woodley, awakes next to wounded lover Richard, played by Sam Clafin, on their wrecked sailboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Tammy cries out loud, "Oh my... We're gonna die!" Shailene is so vulnerable, so powerful as Tammy in her impossible journey home. She owns this movie. She compels all of us to watch in awe.

Director Baltasar Kormakur's "Adrift" tells the tragic true story of Tammy and Richard's sailing voyage from Tahiti to San Diego during Hurricane Raymond in 1983. "Adrift" is based on the book by Tammy Ashcraft, the Tammy in the movie. Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, and David Branson Smith wrote the harrowing screenplay based on her book.

Shailene is awesome. I've been a fan since "The Descendants" and "The Fault in Our Stars". As Tammy she is frightened and fierce, her emotions are raw, to the bone. "Adrift" is predictable in the sense that it's the true story, with the known outcome. Yet, the eloquent narrative twist got me. It landed. Outcome aside, Shailene boldly portrays Tammy's transformation of greater.

No. What doesn't kill you, doesn't make you stronger. Love makes you stronger. Really. Weakened Richard reminds Tammy, "You can do anything you put your mind to." Have faith within.

As the movie opens 23 year-old Tammy arrives in Tahiti with no particular plans, other than work and to get by. She works maintenance at the local dock. Tammy's passion is sailing, for the open seas. She really has no one in her life. Her Mom had her when she was 14 years-old, and was virtually raised by her Grandparents. Her Dad was kind to her, whenever he visited town, until that stopped. Seems the sea embodied Tammy's own personal freedom.

Tammy meets rogue sailing Richard, who sails the ocean without any clear purpose in mind after graduating from the London Royal Navy Academy. Tammy and Richard discover each other as soulmates.

Here Director Kormakur falters a tad, the romance blossoms as rather canny. Gratefully, Shailene and Sam infuse their courtship with awkward charm and humorous sense of wonder. Tammy and Richard fall in love. We see their touching screen chemistry swimming in the isolated cove or dancing at the local dive bar.

Richard's friends Peter and Christine, played by generous Jeffrey Thomas and Elizabeth Hawthorne, ask Richard as a favor to sail their yacht back to San Diego. They have to fly home from Tahiti, because of a family crisis. Richard and Tammy agree.

On the voyage to San Diego, Tammy and Richard sail into the eye of the category 5 Hurricane Raymond. The storm nearly demolishes the boat leaving them "Adrift" in the middle of the Pacific, thousands of miles from land. The movie opens as Tammy arises from the flooded cabin searching for Richard. It's on.

The nightmare perpetuates under the glaring sun, with little food and drinkable water. Shailene's Tammy valiantly endures. At the touching narrative arc, Tammy says, "I love you..." Love makes you strong. It keeps you going. Love makes you endure all the bad in hope of the new day. "Adrift" is about the love the keeps us all alive, that keeps us strong.

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