DEN OF THIEVES – KINETIC, EXPLOSIVE (LITERALLY), RED-BLOODED COPS AND ROBBERS

SHORT TAKE:

Octane fueled version of a good old fashioned cops and robbers movie structured like a football film.

LONG TAKE:

I love a good cops and robbers movie where you have the force of law in opposition to the practitioners of chaos. And there are about as many ways to tell a "cops and robbers" movie as there are imaginations to tell it: comedies like the old - itItalian Job, The Great Train Robbery and even Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; buddy movies like old - hbThe Hitman’s Bodyguard; movies seen from the perps point of view like old -BCButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and old - stingThe Sting; mysteries like old - usThe Usual Suspect; histories like The Pursuit of DB Cooper and old - serpicoSerpico; private eye flicks like old - mfThe Maltese Falcon; parable-like such as old - 3g3 Godfathers or Fargo; ensemble style such as old - ncThe New Centurions; pursuit movies like The Fugitive and The French Connection; even sci-fi like old - BRBlade Runner. Then you have combos. There’s comedy suspense like all the Die Hards; buddy dark comedy like Midnight Run; mystery private eye like Chinatown; sci fi mystery cautionary tale like old - mrMinority Report; dark dark comedy seen from the perp point of view like old - DDADog Day Afternoon; and sci fi comedy mystery like Demolition Man.

It is hard to find a variation that has not been done to death but Den of Thieves artfully manages to pull off a slightly different take. Seen evenly from both the robbers and the police point of view the movie spools out like a Mission: Impossible caper only planned by the bad guys.

The premise is that a group of professional and experienced criminals led by schreiberMerrimen (Pablo Schrieber who happens to be the half – brother of Liev "Wolverine’s brother" Schrieber) are planning to pull off the "perfect" heist – snatching the used and soon-to-be shredded hundred dollar bills from the Federal Reserve before they are missed. Schrieber manages this three dimensional anti-hero with the same confident skill with which he played a pure American hero in 13 hours13 Hours (about the Benghazi embassy terrorist attack).

I have no intention of giving any spoilers, but will assure you that despite what appear to be holes in the plot or preposterous amounts of informational prep in the possession of the crooks, it is a cleanly written and well thought out script.

On the side of the angels-with-dirty-faces is nick4Gerard Butler’s "Big Nick" who heads up an elite team of police with virtually free rein to keep check on the mayhem in this "Bank Robbery Capital of the World". Captions right after the credits point out that L.A. has a bank robbery every 48 minutes. (Remind me not to deposit money if I go visit my brother.) Butler’s Nick informs a would be snitch that they are far less likely to go to the paperwork trouble of arresting you than shooting you. I do not believe this is idle banter. More hound dog and hung over than Bogie, scruffier than Serpico and more heavily weaponized than Rick Deckard from Blade Runner, I suspect Nick would inspire Dirty Harry to run for cover.

Butler dives into his character with tremendous gusto. It’s a bit of a shock to remember that 14 years ago he had thesinging singing lead in imagesGHO8EMK2filmed version of Phantom of the Opera. And only Shakespeare afficianados will recall he and Fiennes co-starred in the cinematic Coriolanus. A very talented guy, he is as at home in the sappy romantic psPS I Love You as he is the unstoppable secret service agent in the

Olympus/London Has Fallen movies. It’s obvious why he has done this over the top popcorn movie – he just enjoys the heck out of chewing up scenery, dialogue, and bad guys as the over the top, over the edge centurion – holding the barbarians at bay.

Rounding out the core of the cast is jacksonDonnie played by O’Shea Jackson, Jr. Jackson is the son of rapper Ice Cube, and had the rare opportunity to play his own father in comptonimagesZYAOZ6J6Straight Outta Compton. Jackson does a marvelous job of portraying Donnie in Den, the sympathetic young driver of the gang of thieves.

A couple of things made this a stand out movie for me. The acting was quite good for this genre, the action scenes were exciting and well edited, all the characters were interesting – showing them personally and professionally in detail, and the caper was both intricate and believable. But one of the innovative items was the approach. The writer-director, Christian Gudegast, who also wrote and directed London Has Fallen, showed both the cops and the robbers often side by side. While showing the bad guys prepping for a heist, the cops are shown prepping for their interception. Merrimen and Nick are both well aware of each other and they not only play cop and robber but cat and mouse, laying tricks and traps along the way. While perhaps not a unique plan of attack, Gudegast carries the theme off in creative and surprising ways which were cinematically well executed.

I also appreciated the fact that while making the bad guys sympathetic in some ways by showing them protective of their children and schreibernot out to create unnecessary mayhem, schreiber2there is no doubt Merrimen's group are the bad guys.  And though the cops committed more than their share of vice, there is no question Nick's men are the ones who protect the innocent and even attempt to treat their dangerous quarry with dignity. So while endeavoring to show all parties as three dimensional, Gudegast does not try to lead us down a garden path of murky gray area as some films do, such as Dog Day Afternoon or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Despite the questionable behavior in many of the cops' personal lives, and the sometimes morally and legally questionable activities of our intrepid heroes of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department, the first scene of rampant bloody destruction by the bad guys leaves us without doubt for whom we should be rooting.

I also enjoyed the parallels of professionalism – the simultaneous prep, the frequent meetings in "random" places – all had the feel of two teams gearing up to meet at the ultimate winner take all championship game. To emphasize this, Gudegast makes a number of references to the fact that several characters on both sides previously had experiences in both the military and on football teams.

So, unless the NFL players start to stand for the Star Spangled Banner, skip the Superbowl and go see Den of Thieves, where there is no doubt as to where your allegiances should lie.

NOT FOR CHILDREN, there is a good deal of profanity, naked women, morally wrong behavior by both "sides" and bloody violence.

ON GOLDEN POND – SEE THIS WEEKEND OR MISS A GREAT PERFORMANCE

 

On Golden Pond, playing only this weekend at Central School, is a heart breaking examination of the art of dying. This is a must see performance which, unfortunately, only goes through this weekend. Get tickets at K.C. Productions

WARNING: Some spoilers.

On Golden Pond tells the story of an elderly couple, Ethel and Norman Thayer, performed with chemistry and credibility by Paula McCain and Randy Partin. The Thayers, given Norman’s deteriorating health, are spending what is likely the last of many summers together at their cabin on Golden Pond, a lake replete with loons and bordered by wild strawberries. Sarah Broussard tackles the challenging role of Chelsea, the Thayer’s unhappy daughter, with skill. Matt Dye is charming and funny as Bill, Chelsea’s boyfriend, bringing a sensible lightheartedness to a somber reality. Brahnsen Lopez is Charlie the quirky and adorable childhood friend of Chelsea. And Zachary Benoit, as Bill’s son Billy, who stays with the Thayers for a month, creates a natural bond with Partin’s Norman as his pseudo-grandson.

The stage is an idealized image of the perfect cabin. Homey, lived in, perhaps even a bit cluttered but warm and friendly with every amenity one could want for a lazy summer fishing camp. And Keith Chamberlain directs this production with style and an eye to keeping this inherently slow paced tale moving in a fascinating interpersonal dance.

Ernest Thompson, the author of On Golden Pond, has been "eating out" on this play for almost 40 years, earning money from it as a stage play, then a movie, followed by revivals, even one in 2001 whimsically re-pairing The Sound of Music duo Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Thompson even now lives by the lake where the movie was filmed and gives boat tours. With just a little evaluation it quickly becomes pretty obvious this story is biographical.

According to Kelli Allred, PhD, writing for the Southern Utah University Shakespeare Festival, "A self-proclaimed nonbeliever, [Ernest] Thompson writes about lost souls who do not have ‘the luxury of turning to diety,’ so his characters must rely upon one another." In other words, as Thompson does not believe in God, he creates characters who muddle through by depending exclusively on each other. But those characters are ultimately doomed in On Golden Pond to betray that trust, by active neglect of each other, flippant remarks of hurtful rejection, or abandonment by death itself.

During the play, I was often reminded of Satre’s vision of Hell in No Exit, wherein characters are forced to stay in a room and torment each other with reminiscences of regrets, petty harpings and constant obsession with trivialities. Similarly, the characters in On Golden Pond treat each other to their own versions of Hell. Although free to leave the actual cabin, the characters find the idyllic appearing cabin is a snare net in which the Thayers are trapped either mentally or, in the case of Norman, too frightened by his own deteriorating mental faculties to wander far.

Examples of their self-imposed Hell are rife: Norman repeatedly references death despite the growing distress of his wife, Ethel. Ethel obsesses over loons and strawberries, glossing over their dismal parenting of Chelsea and  deliberately ignoring the encroaching dementia and frailty of Norman. As for Chelsea, there is a theater expression immortalized as the title of a play by Elaine Mae: Enter Laughing. With Chelsea it is "enter crying". She drops the temperature every time she responds or is even in proximity to her father. Frowning, hunchbacked, self-admittedly childish, crying and bitter she does not see or communicate with her parents for months on end, and then only to rehash 30 year old hurts.

The author, Ernest Thompson, seems to indicate it is a biography of his own, apparently, dysfunctional relationship with his parents, whose names, Theron and Ester Thompson, echo those of his surrogate family, Norman and Ethel Thayer. Thompson’s father, like Norman, was a school teacher, and Thompson even today, lives quite near the lake where On Golden Pond was filmed. His voice is given to the self-absorbed and depressed Chelsea, the Thayers’ daughter, permanently locked into her own self view as a neglected, underappreciated, fat disappointment. Despite her own adult accomplishments, she acts out her chronic dismay with her father in a string of shallow and unhappy relationships and a dismissal of child bearing.

The spectre of finality sits heavily upon them as 80 year old Norman teases his wife in a constant patter of comments about his own coming demise: comparing himself to her 60 year old doll who might some day either fall or decide to dive into the fireplace, glibly quip how he might not make it all the way down to the end of the driveway, and suggest how his ashes could be sprinkled over her flower garden. Most of the time these observations seem only to torment his wife or perhaps help her face the eventuality she seems determined to avoid thinking about – his departure. But other times his distress is genuine, as in when he gets lost on a familiar path and scurries back to be in the one place he feels safe – by his beloved Ethel.

It is not until the entry of Bill and his son Billy – representatives of the family, wherein the play takes a lighter and more fulfilling turn. Thompson places great emphasis on the point that Chelsea is an only child – grown distant to her parents, an emptiness that is reflected in the preternaturally quiet cabin. Bill and Billy bring a semblance of family which temporarily reignites and renews a certain underlying attentiveness and life in Norman as he takes the boy daily fishing.

Meanwhile, while rejecting a belief in God, Thompson hampers his characters with a formless deistic philosophy. Ethel goes on often about the loons and flowers, as though trying to create a veneer over the fractures in her family. She and Chelsea reminisce about a woodsy campfire group from Chelsea’s youth, associated with an annoying childish song, which repetition stresses the patience of even the easy going Charlie. This emphasis on an idealized artificial relationship with nature suggests that Thompson has a certain deistic belief system – not in God but a ubiquitous "god-ness" in everything – which he substitutes for any truly analytical spiritual life. This semi-spirituality ultimate both proves unsatisfying to the characters and provides no comfort in the moments of crisis which happen during the course of the play. There is no appeal to God and the only references to Him are made as angry interjections but never in prayer.

And although Thompson makes it clear that he does not have any faith in God, neither does he have anything to fill the void which that a-theism creates.

Norman and Ethel demonstrate a philosophy of situational ethics as they shrug their shoulders in a laissez faire attitude when asked by Bill if he and Chelsea, while still unmarried, could sleep together in the cabin. Norman responds with a crude banter which makes it difficult to tell whether he genuinely disapproves or just enjoys shocking his guest, but makes no real effort to establish or enforce any respectful guidelines.

Thompson draws a brilliant portrait of what it is like for someone to face the eventuality of one’s earthly death without the spiritual awareness of a Divine Creator, an immortal soul or a concept of eternity. What is it like for people who think this is all there is? The result for the elderly Thayer couple is one unending day of board (bored) games, Chelsea’s purposeless and childless drifting through relationships, and constant acrimony.

Only when the prospect of acting for the sake of another – for the nurturing of Bill’s son Billy – do they all come together briefly, like cold travelers around a warm fireplace. And for a while they engage with constructive purpose in the world and with each other, healing emotional riffs and coming to an understanding.

It is said: If you can’t be a good example, provide a horrible warning. Norman and Ethel while away their last few days in endless games of Parchessi, listening to Norman’s acerbic "witticisms" and deflecting Chelsea’s angry reproachfulness. Chelsea only finds peace in separation from the shallow and unfulfilling summer cabin life to create a family with Bill and Billy. Near the end, when finally at peace in a real home, Chelsea elicits from her parents a promise we know they will not keep to join her family. Instead, the Thayers literally walk off into the sunset, alone, fully aware they will never come back – death throwing them out of the self-defined Paradise to which they have limited themselves, without hope or prospect of immortality. Neither seeking nor finding any concept of eternity or genuine spirituality, the best Norman can offer Ethel is a passive and bland acceptance of the inevitability of separation, death and oblivion.

 The K.C. Productions performance of On Golden Pond deftly and dramatically demonstrates the desperate resignation and shallow accomplishments of facing one’s death without spiritual discernment or faith. Like Satre’s characters they have created their own Hell to which, in the end, they willingly exit.

LADY BIRD – TO ANYONE WHO KNOWS A TEENAGED GIRL – A VERY FAMILIAR AND FUNNY CHARACTER

SHORT TAKE: 

A very familiar and funny story abut the growing pains of a teenaged girl having to face the prospect of adulthood and  her family which must endure the process with her.

LONG TAKE:

My oldest son pointed out to me that the Chinese symbol for war is two women under a single roof. He would know that because he has four sisters and a mother. And one might keep that in mind when watching Lady Bird.

Lady Bird tells the story of a girl (Saoirse Ronan) in her last year of high school who doesn't know what she wants. All she knows is that she does not want to be associated with her modest middle-class family or life in her hometown of Sacramento. She even rejects her providentially chosen given name Christine, inexplicably preferring the appellation of Lady Bird. Her father, Larry, (playwright Tracy Letts) is kind and sensitive and tries to help her but is older and kind of beaten down by life. Her mother, Marion, (Laurie Metcalf from The Big Bang Theory as Sheldon’ mother and the voice of the Mom in the Toy Story franchise), and she are too much alike to be close. They try but it always ends up in acrimony. They cry at the same things and they spend time with each other, but their relationship is like a mosquito bite, they can't seem to keep from scratching at it until it bleeds.

One example: they are shopping for a prom dress for Lady Bird at a discount store. Lady Bird finds what she thinks is the perfect dress. Marion can't help herself but says: "Don't you think it's too pink?" setting Lady Bird off. Additionally, Marion is constantly plagued by money worries and she sometimes takes it out in acrimonious comments to her immature daughter. Example: Lady Bird can't wait to come home and tell her parents about her first kiss but when she arrives all bubbly enthusiasm, Marion, while not quite going full boar Joan Crawford/Mommy Dearest on her, mercilessly rags on her for not putting her clothes away "properly".

Conversely, Lady Bird, herself, is a big bag of dissatisfaction and teenage angst who longs for the material world, to the point where she thoughtlessly hurts others by what she says. For example: Lady Bird tells her new wealthy boyfriend that she comes from "the wrong side of the tracks," which the beau artlessly elaborates on when he first meets Lady Bird’s parents, noting with some enthusiasm that he really DID have to cross railroad tracks to get to their house!

The father, Larry, an understanding soul, tries to explain to Lady Bird that she and her mother have very strong personalities. Being a sister, a daughter, and the mother of four daughters, I can tell you the interactions and dialogue are spot-on.

The parents, while not Catholic, fear for her safety and have sacrificed significantly to send Lady Bird to a Catholic School. The school is populated by beautifully and humanely portrayed nuns and priests who are at turns wise and endearingly funny. 

The staff of the school meets occasionally with Lady Bird to give her advice and in a charming scene which reminds me of the old Hayley Mills-Rosalind Russell movie The Trouble with Angels, the Mother Superior (Lois Smith) even "confesses" her amusement at some of Lady Bird’s antics.

Another time when an older priest (lovingly portrayed by Stephen Henderson) has to take medical leave from his position as head of the Theatre Department, another priest, (played by Bob Stephenson), the school football coach, takes over. The resulting pep talk with the kids as he explains his plan of organization for directing The Tempest is priceless.

Unlike Juno, which involved an illegitimate mother, or Pretty in Pink, which culminated at a long anticipated school dance or Rebel Without a Cause, which finds its watershed moment of truth in tragedy and death, there is no real catastrophic or milepost moment in Lady Bird. Instead, we watch as Lady Bird slowly matures through her senior year from self-absorbed, conflicted angsty brat into an uneasy but promising adulthood. Not to give any spoilers, but rest assured there is closure to the story and a complete arc. But the significance is not so much in the finish line as the observation of her journey and the companions with whom the trip is taken which is most interesting.

 The Catholic Church and the religious who occupy it are refreshingly shown in a very positive, supportive, kind and wise light. Lady Bird is even at times gently framed in shots by crosses and pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe – not overtly but in fortuitous natural background.

Bishop Barron in his Word on Fire podcasts often reviews movies. I find him extremely insightful. One of the comments he makes about Lady Bird is that he suspects even the Saints might have had troubled or stressful youth and teenage years. And that it is necessary, especially for a strong-willed character, to go through these difficult antagonistic stages before they can become the people that we know. In other words, even Saint Peter, Saint Augustine, Mother Teresa and even St. Pope John-Paul II may have been pains in the butt as teenagers as most people are. But that God worked with and through those weaknesses and foibles to mold them into the brilliantly spiritual people they would become. And He will do the same with us if we give Him a chance. And that the writer/director, Greta Gerwig may have been showing us what she perceives as the undeveloped beginnings of such an embryo saint, even if she herself was not aware of it.

Lady Bird has garnered a number of awards, including best comedy for writer-director Greta Gerwig and best actress in a comedy for Saoirse Ronan. Every allocade it gets it will have earned.

Cautionary note: there are a few harsh profanities, though not the avalanche that can sometimes accompany films aimed at this demographic. In addition, there are subjects and at least two scenes I would not have wanted to explain to my 15 year old daughter. As a date movie I wouldn’t recommend it for your first.

There is great charm and insight into these obviously well loved characters created by Ms. Gerwig. And much to be learned and appreciated in this textbook example of the Chinese symbol for war, ironically made into a love letter for the turbulent teen everyone must pass through to adulthood.

12 STRONG – THOR ON HORSEBACK AGAINST TANKS!? WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE!!

SHORT TAKE:

Inspiring re-enactment of Task Force Dagger, the mission of an elite group of American Soldiers with their Northern Alliance allies who fought the Taliban against overwhelming odds in Afghanistan weeks after the 9/11 atrocity.

LONG TAKE:

I once had a coffee cup with the inscription: "Do not annoy the writer or she might put you in a book and kill you." Similarly, I might advise: "If you are the commanding officer of an aspiring actor, be nice or he might end up portraying you in a movie." Such is just one piece of serendipitous trivia in 12 Strong, a movie which cinematically tells how an elite group of our soldiers volunteered to go to Afghanistan for a trip which, but for the grace of God, should have been a suicide mission, entering a country and city they knew little about to work with a local insurgent who might have sold them out for their $100,000 a piece bounty, to fight 5,000 to 1 odds on foot and horseback to guide air drops against an entrenched vicious Taliban using tanks and armored artillary.

The script is based upon the experiences of a group of American elite military forces led by Mark Nutsch, who is renamed Mitch Nelson in the movie and played by Thor – I mean Chris Hemsworth. And let us not forget that Hemsworth also was George Kirk during the best 15 minutes of cinematic science fiction at the beginning of the 2009 Star Trek reboot. I only mention these movies to remind you that Hemsworth is fantastic at playing noble, courageous heroes. And he once again is awesome in 12 Strong. (As a side note, Captain Nutsch has mentioned that being played by "Thor" has gotten him some serious brownie points with his kids.)

The story is of the special forces sent weeks after the 9/11 World Trade Center/Pentagon attack and is based upon the book Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton. Rounding out the cast with Hemsworth is Michael Shannon (Zod from Man of Steel and lead baddie in The Shape of Water), Michael Pena (Collaterol Beauty, Ant Man and The Martian), Navid Negahban who plays General Dostum – leader of the Northern Alliance fighters and later Vice President of freed Afghanistan, who teamed with Nutsch's group for real and who is, to this day, friends with Nutsch. William Fichtner (Armaggedeon, Batman: The Dark Knight) as Col. John Mulholland and Rob Riggle a comedian and United States Marine Corps Reserve Lieutenant Colonel who, in a quirk of fate, plays his former commanding officer, Lt Col. Max Bowers. Fichtner and Riggle are the only ones who play officers going by their real names. There really was a Col Bowers and Col Mulholland participating in this extraordinary military operation. And as a side note, to lend further points of solid credibility to the chemistry of the cast, Elsa Pataky, Hemsworth's real life wife plays his REEL "life" wife, Jean Nelson.

I had difficulty trying to find the actual names of the other soldiers who were part of the team. As it turns out they prefer, in classic hero fashion, to retain the anonymity which was at first required on this top secret mission. Mark Nutsch, the inspiration for Michael Nelson only came forward when the movie was green lighted in order to help with the authenticity. These men were not given any recognition at the time for the miraculous feat they performed.

I have a Jewish friend who likes to playfully sum up the history of the Israelites in the Old Testament as: "They tried to kill us, we fought, we won, let’s eat!"

This sentiment pretty well sums up the forthright, pragmatic and confident attitude of the military with which America is blessed. Not looking for praise or parades they simply go in, perform their duty and come home. Not withstanding they "go in" after leaving their stalwart sacrificing wives and children, that they "perform their duty" against sometimes overwhelming odds, or that they might "come home" permanently maimed, severely injured….or in a coffin.

It’s about time these men, who struck the first blow for America subsequent to the cowardly and evil act of terrorism wrought upon our country on September 11, 2001, received some acknowledgment.

I had a friend ask if I was looking forward to this movie. I emphatically exclaimed: "Thor on horseback riding against tanks! What’s NOT to like!!!" And like it I did. Hemsworth and the rest of the cast perform with infectious camaraderie, conveying the depth of trust each of those real soldiers they portrayed had for each other. Filmed in New Mexico the rugged Afghan terrain is convincingly pictured.   The battle scenes are breathtaking. And it is not spoiler, because it is in the trailer, that, indeed, these men wound their way through merciless fire against ridiculous odds side by side with their Afghanistan Northern Alliance allies, like the Light Brigade, on horseback, into ferocious tank and artillary fire. These men boldly and selflessly offered their lives to stop the brutal stranglehold of torture and repression the Taliban and Al Qaeda had against the locals and prevent further attacks on our country. Their push into the merciless enemy's stronghold broke the back of Al Qaeda and had them fleeing to Pakistan.

There have been some criticism against the details of the mission – for example: did they really ride the horses into battle against tanks? Frankly I don’t care. We get far too few movies with the guts and gusto to demonstrate the every day bravery and selfless dedication of our American soldiers to our protection and freedom. It’s about time we returned to the likes of Patton, Green Beret, The Longest Day and The Great Escape – where the matter-of-fact patriotic heroics of our American military is a given and we should be rightly very proud and joyously celebrate their accomplishments.

I am unconcern with any modest cinematic license which might have been taken to enhance the telling of this amazing story.

The core of the history is dead on: They tried to kill us, we fought, we won, let’s eat!!

PS – Assuming the web page is accurate, if you want to find out more about the accuracy of the movie 12 Strong to the actual events they portray check out: How Accurate is 12 Strong?  SHORT TAKE: Almost every bit is detail-accurate.

PADDINGTON 2 – ADORABLE STAND ALONE BEAR OF A STORY

SHORT TAKE:

Family friendly stand alone continuing adventure of an anthropomorphized bear living in London who lives by the motto: "If we're kind and polite the world will be right".

LONG TAKE:

I knew nothing about the Paddington stories going in to see this sequel with my son-in-law and grandsons. I have not even seen the first Paddington movie. I was immediately charmed by the gentle, naive kindness of the titled bear and his adoptive human family, including Julie Waters (Mrs. Weasley from Harry Potter), Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), and Hugh Bonneville (from Downton Abbey).

Paddington is voiced by Ben Whishaw (Q from the rebooted James Bond) who brings a lovely ingenuous confidence to the little talking ursine creature. Paddington is now a beloved integral part of his community who performs small kindnesses as a matter of course throughout the movie: cleaning a grouchy neighbor's windows gratis which affords the neighbor the notice of a lovely woman; reminding an absentminded neighbor to remember his keys before his door shuts on him; making lunch for a friend. Through these seemingly insignificant acts of random kindness Paddington manages  to help knit these otherwise at-odds neighbors into a community of friends. And this, I think, is the point of the movie. The rest is just McGuffins and window dressing to demonstrate the importance of the small actions which can mean so much to those around you.

I am reminded of St. Theresa of Liseux' book on the philosophy of The Little Way. That one does not need to be a celebrity or build a cathedral or die in a gladiatorial ring in order to become a saint. That for most of us, who are blessed with never being called to such sacrifices, it is our calling to offer all the little opportunities that come our way as the path to sainthood: opening a door for a stranger, smiling to the curmudgeon even when it seems they do not appreciate your offer of friendship, enduring with patience the unexpected suffering that does come your way…like being sentenced to prison for 10 years for a theft you tried to stop, not commit.

Such is the set up for this Paddington story. Paddington wishes to give his beloved Aunt Lucy a special birthday gift. So he goes to the eccentric and slightly dotty but goodhearted Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent of Moulin Rouge and Slughorn of the Harry Potter franchise). He decides on a rare but expensive book which he strives to earn through odd jobs but which is soon stolen by the unctous and self-absorbed Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, who creates the most amusingly horrible egotist since Kenneth Branagh's Lockhart in Harry Potter.) Paddington is accused of the crime and sentenced to prison where he befriends, again through small kindnesses, some of the inmates. (Don't try this at home kids – cute in a story but…..) His fellow prisoners include: Brendan Gleeson (Mad Eye Moody AGAIN from Harry Potter), and Noah Taylor (the Dad from Charlie and the Chocolate factory).  Rounding out the cast is Tom Conti (veteran comedian of a number of quirky British comedies including Reuben, Reuben and Saving Grace) as a grouchy judge with a grudge against the occasionally hapless bear, Michael Gambon as the narrator (the replacement Professor Dumbledore from…you guessed it, Harry Potter), and Peter Capaldi (the last male Dr. Who before Jody Whittaker) who has the unenviable task of being the only member of the community to take an instant dislike to our little furry friend.

Paddington's human family continues to believe in Paddington's innocence and the balance of the movie spends its time digging up evidence to free him. It's funny, charming, innocent fun and shows the benefits of striving to be….polite and kind – along with courageous, loyal, honest, steadfast, optimistic, hard working, and just plain nice.

I, my son-in-law, both of my grandsons, and the many other children in the theater and their parents, enjoyed the movie thoroughly. Don't feel like you need to even see the first one. Paddington the second is well worth your time and, I am even inspired to paraphrase a quote from my all time favorite movie – It's a Wonderful Life: "Each bear's life touches so many other lives," and when he isn't around the community of friends he has created will rally to help him, which, in itself, is a brilliant virtue to watch enacted with humor and affection for their source material.

It's quite nice to see a movie which everyone in the family can enjoy.

THE POST – SELF-AGGRANDIZING TREASON

SHORT TAKE:

 The Post is a lionization of the treasonous leaking of government secrets by members of the media in 1971.

LONG TAKE:

There are two ways to review this movie. One to just view it AS a movie – an entertainment and consider its conveyance of a story. The other is to examine the purpose behind its creation.

You judge a comedy by how much it makes you laugh. A drama by, perhaps, how much it makes you think. You see Mel Brooks, you don’t expect a serious analysis but broadly painted parody. And Star Wars is Star Wars. BUT when a movie holds itself out as HISTORY, then it is fair to assess its authenticity, consistency, and credibility. The Post has …. NONE.

As a movie, The Post is – OK. It’s an interesting view of life during the 1970's as seen through the eyes of wealthy aristocrats and their journalist syncophants who spend their days socializing with men of power, finding ways to insult conservatives under the guise of news, and holding exorbitantly expensive parties to pat themselves on the back for being protectors of the "little people."

Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks who play Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee respectively, are accomplished actors and make their characters convincing and "nuanced," as they like to say.

But the going is very very slow in the beginning, pedantic even, as Streep's Graham stands around and does a lot of hand wringing and the writers try to set the mood and hammer the audience with 1970's references – from clothing to posters to hairstyles, "sit-ins," and street protests – dating themselves with hippies and posters of The Blob. BUT much is left out that is salient both historically and morally. The film makers positively assail us with reminders of the era. BUT for all that they do not include "inconvenient truths".

A minor example – smoking is ubiquitous but only shown to represent hard industrious work by "brave" dedicated people. For a movie promoting itself as a slice of history there is no realistic or accurate portrayal of the coughing, burn marks on furniture, the stink, the dirty ashtrays, the obnoxious breath. It’s a small detail but exemplifies the kind of disingenuousness of the entire movie.

In a VERY poor writing ploy we were are bludgeoned again and again and again with how "courageous" Katherine Graham is for planning to publish these confidential papers. If I were writing a romance and repeated over and over in the voice of no less than 4 or 5 different characters at no less than 10 times throughout the movie blatantly stating how much the protagonist was "in love," wouldn’t you not only tire of the assertion but begin to wonder if the "lady" doth protest too much? I suspect the writers knew d*** well that what Graham and Bradlee did was not courageous but perfidious, sleazy and traitorous. I wondered by the end of the movie if they were trying to convince me of the lie or themselves.

The entire film is shown as an idealistic portrayal of newspaper people bucking up against a "repressive" government. In fact, they revealed confidential information about an ongoing firefight against a hostile country in a way which ultimately encouraged the ENEMY to persevere against what was advertised globally as the weak will of the United States to win the battle.

There are many complaints about the tenacity of the Vietcong. Why SHOULDN’T they have carried on – KNOWING, thanks to our witless gutless Communist sympathizing press, that our government had concerns about America’s ability to win against them?

During World War TWO there were GRAVE doubts about either our or England’s ability to stand up to the Nazis. Does ANYONE think it would have been a good idea to ADVERTISE THAT??!!

In addition there is a disgusting pile of hypocrises and a blanket wrongness of plot and characters that are, in a quote from Hamlet – "rank…and smells to Heaven".

Just a few examples:

1. DID YOU KNOW (because it certainly wasn’t brought out in the movie) Bradlee committed perjury in 1964 to hide a document because it had "TRUTH" in it about Bradlee’s bosom buddy JFK? 

In one scene Bradlee and his then wife, Antoinette, wax nostalgic over a photo of them with Jacqueline and John Kennedy. What does not come up in the course of this movie, however, is that Bradlee was instrumental in the hiding of a diary belonging to his sister-in-law, Mary Pinchot Meyer. Her murder took place 10 days after the Warren Commission released its findings on the assassination of JFK. Meyer was murdered in a "random" act of street violence which has gone unsolved to this day. Bradlee found the diary soon after her murder, which implicated his buddy JFK in a prolonged affair with Meyer. The existence of and information in this diary was revealed years later. The prosecuting attorney, Alfred Hantman, for the only suspect they ever had – Ray Crump, a black man who had been fishing nearby – was horrified and stated that knowledge of this diary would "have changed everything". Bradlee committed perjury, LIED UNDER OATH, during the trial of the man accused of murdering his wife’s sister, about a diary which had material evidence to the case JUST TO PROTECT HIS GOVERNMENT FRIEND. He eventually admitted as much in a tell all biography years later in order to net himself more money and notoriety at the expense of our country. But he hid this relevant information during the investigation of his wife's sister's brutal murder.

So the people’s "right to know" about government scandals apparently stops at the door of anyone who is a Friend of Bradlee.

2. Bradlee and Graham committed treason during a time of hostilities with a foreign government.

He admits to his boss, Katherine Graham, that he can not be sure that revelations from the Pentagon Papers will not jeopardize the lives of soldiers in the field or our country’s safety.

Well I can guarantee you that it did. What Bradlee and Graham did was commit treason of the most heinous nature. They gave aid and comfort to the enemy in a time of open armed and hot confrontation. They assured the North Vietnamese – and BY EXTENSION the Russian Communist superpower with which we were a red button away from moving our cold war to a nuclear one – that our government was dispirited and convinced it could not win. Bradlee and Graham, as well as people of their ilk who carry on today with liberal journalism, single-handedly helped to assure our defeat at the cost of not only our soldiers lives but the lives of the citizens of Vietnam. Had Bradlee and Graham and others of their elitist inclinations sought to support our fight against Communism, Vietnam might be a democracy today and the war might have ended years before it did. Instead these high rolling socialites cozied up to the propaganda hype of the utopian society they think can be accomplished if only THEY were holding the reins of Communist power. In short, they helped Communist Russia’s puppet subjugate Vietnam under the crushing weight of Communism.

Instead of plaudits Graham and Bradlee should have been tried for treason and spent the rest of their lives in jail.

3. The movie is blatantly prejudiced against the Republican party.

The Pentagon Papers spell out that Truman covertly funded opposition to the Vietnam Communists. Eisenhower continued the support. Johnson committed troops to fight actively despite declaring he would never do this to the American public and expanded the war’s fronts. Nixon was the one who ended the war – which was what Bradlee and Graham were trumpeting needed to be done. But who gets the vast majority of opprobrium, distaste, comments and hate from these high minded "fair" journalists constantly and often gratuitously every 15 minutes of the movie? Nixon. The man who actually did what they said needed to be done.

Unless you like to be hammered with slanted inaccurate propaganda, give The Post a miss.

PATERSON – QUIET LITTLE FILM ABOUT FINDING CREATIVITY AND MEANING IN THE SIMPLEST THINGS

SHORT TAKE:

Paterson is a charming film which follows an ordinary nice man for a week as he drives a bus and spends time with his wife and friends, finding inspiration in even the smallest things, to write poetry.

LONG TAKE:

(SOME SPOILERS)

Paterson spends a week in the life of a gentle, kind bus driver (Adam "Kylo Ren" Driver) in the small New Jersey town of the same name who lives with his artsy sweet and beautiful wife Laura and annoying bulldog Marvin.

The movie, to me, asks the question: do you affect art or does the art inherent in the creativity of those around you and the ambient beauty of everything from water falls to homeless bums to a pack of matches effect and shape YOU?

Paterson is presented as a very subtle fantasy – so subtle that I didn’t realize it until contemplating it after the credits had rolled. Paterson, the town, seems to be a magnet for creative forces which, in turn, effect their residents in large and small ways. This little unlikely town is home to a number of minor celebrities: Lou Abbott – comedian, Patrick Warburton – actor, Victor Cruz – football player, Catherine Sullivan – astronaut, Andre Torres – baseball player.

And the film focuses on the unexpected artistry of Paterson, the man, a quiet government employee – a decent responsible man, faithful to and in love with his wife, observant and attentive to the needs of those around him, who finds enough beauty in even the most mundane detail of life – such as the name of the company on a box of matches – to inspire him to write poetry.

He and others seem at times almost under a spell which elicits bursts of creative energies.

But, I mean, why not? If spaceships like the Enterprise can be expected to attract temporal anomalies, and the house in Poltergeist be haunted by the angry spirits of unburied dead; if a fracture in time and space can be located in Cardiff, Wales from which Dr Who’s TARDIS can recharge; if demons can follow unwary owners of cursed objects; if Newton Haven in Simon Pegg’s The World’s End inexplicably can become the "shelter city" for evil alien robots who plan to replace humans; and the Darling Family attracts the attention of Peter Pan – then why can’t a town be imbued with its own creative forces and instill them in its inhabitants in one way or another?

An actor who dramatically obsesses over a childhood friend? A bar owner who strives to participate in chess competitions, even to stealing his wife’s Piggy Bank money? An adolescent girl who writes poetry waiting for her family in a back street in a style very similar to our protagonist?

Paterson – the bus driver – spends every week day waking up at 6:15, having a bowl of Cheerios, driving a bus through the sleepy community, listening to his passenger’s random chatter, spending his lunch at a water fall, enjoying his wife’s eccentric constant redecorating and cooking, taking his wife’s dog for a walk, having one beer at a local bar and entertaining himself all day, like a familiar tune he hums constantly, writing strains of free style poetry in his head then committing them to a solitary, uncopied notebook which he seems interested in only his wife being privy.

Elements of his wife’s morning-described dreams faithfully and routinely crop up in his every day life – she mentions having seen twins and suddenly Paterson notices they are everywhere. Opportunities for poetic events gently flitter around him like fairies. And people simply act in prosaic but poetic ways (sounds like an oxymoron but it works here): The bartender plays chess with himself then moans about getting his "ass whooped" by his opponent. The smitten lover brings a toy gun with which to confront his ex-girlfriend. A random Japanese tourist commits a random act of kindness which gets our protagonist back on track after a minor catastrophe. His Iranian born wife suddenly announces her "lifelong dream" of which our protagonist does not appear to have had any foreknowledge, of being a country western star, and spends her days painting different black and white patterns on everything that stands still long enough – from the curtains to the dog’s collar to the cupcakes she sells at the Farmer’s Market.

And our bus driver is a poet who aspires to be…a bus driving poet happily married to his beautiful doting wife.

Paterson is a charming little movie worth seeing as one might meditate on the shape of clouds on a still summer afternoon or watch swans swim on a glass flat lake.

And those who only know Adam Driver as this generation's version of Darth Vader should watch to note that Driver really can act.

DARKEST HOUR – BRILLIANT AND INTIMATE PORTRAIT OF CHURCHILL ON THE BRINK OF WORLD WAR II

SHORT TAKE:

Gary Oldman is positively brilliant in Darkest Hour as Winston Churchill from the days leading up to his election over the Hitler-mollifier Chamberlain, through his creation and initiation of Operation Dynamo for the miraculous rescue of the British army from the beaches of Dunkirk.

LONG TAKE:

Have you ever gone back stage of a Shakespearean play? It is fascinating to watch how the cast and crew plan and execute a thousand little decisions which serve to bring to life a play with the grandeur and majesty of a brilliant and noble concept.

Similarly, Darkest Hour brings you behind the scenes as Churchill is chosen to replace the cowardly appeaser Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister of England. It follows, often through the eyes of his newly hired transcriptionist, (Lily James – Branagh’s Cinderella) or his wife Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas) as he wrestles with the moral and practical prospects of how to face the terrifying Nazi juggernaut plowing through Europe and looming over England.

Everyone around him – both his friends and his allies – urge him to sue for peace. But Churchill, the historian, knows the desperate and fatal folly of this kind of naivete.

And Gary Oldman (Immortal Beloved, Dark Knight, Harry Potter) portrays this man who had the face and stature of a garden gnome, the personality and charisma of a Notre Dame coach, the wit and pragmatic humor of Benjamin Franklin, the instinct for military strategy of General Patton, and the courage of a lion. Not portray – Oldman, for just those two hours and five minutes – IS Churchill in one of the finest performances I have ever witnessed. Oldman brings both the brass and nuanced, the private and public, the overbearingly confident and the heartbreakingly doubtful Churchill before us to contemplate, sympathize with and witness intimately.

Edmund Burke, a member of British Parliament once said: "A representative owes the People not only his industry, but his judgment, and he betrays them if he sacrifices it to their opinion."  Churchill had to stand his ground while politically he was ultterly alone against opponents and allies alike who would have had him "negotiate" peace with Hitler, a peace which would have brought it under the heel of the Nazi Regime and possibly allowed Hitler a foothold in the world from which we could be struggling against to this day.

Winston Churchill, statesman, accomplished amateur painter, army officer, historian, and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the entirety of World War II, thankfully truly understood history. His writings include a six-volume memoir aptly titled The Second World War and another massive four-volume set of tomes covering the period from Caesar's invasions of Britain 55 years before the Birth of Christ through to the beginning of the First World War. Much like Churchill, himself, the title of this latter set – A History of the English Speaking Peoples – is both humble in its simplicity and breathtakingly presumptuous in its implied scope.

On the one hand, Churchill was indeed a humble man – frank about his own shortcomings, unafraid to tell the unvarnished truth and as full of plain spoken witty quips as Benjamin Franklin. And yet he dared, his entire life, to prepare to become Prime Minister of one of the greatest countries in the world. And as God places men in the positions they must be in at the time they must be in them no matter their humble beginnings – King David, Joseph, Moses – so He, in His Mighty wisdom, placed Winston Churchill at the helm of the country which stood in the front lines against one of the greatest evils the world has ever known.

King George (Ben Mendelsohn), Churchill and England

boldly confronted the Nazi juggernaut before America could be persuaded to launch into the fray and despite the fact that Europe appeared to have been lost under the heel of the Gestapo and the Luftwaffe bombings. Churchill stood at the forefront of England against the tide of so-called leaders like Chamberlain, who would have had England knuckle under to terror and tyranny. Churchill put it succinctly in the film: "You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!"

The writer of Darkest Hour, Anthony McCarter (The Theory of Everything) gives us both the big historical picture and the intimate portrait of the man as Churchill crafted speeches, and formed opinions with and around his secretary, his devoted wife, his closest confidants and his King.

And despite the fact we, as the audience, KNOW the outcome of this all, we are masterfully presented with the story in such a way that it is intensely suspenseful – as though we are seeing this all for the first time and, more, that we are participants in this world on the brink of conflagration.

To aid this sense of intimacy and first hand experience, the director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) does some amazing things with the camera work and framing. For example, there is a moment when Churchill is contemplating the disastrous situation for the vast majority of the British army trapped across the Channel at Dunkirk against the approaching German army. The camera focuses on Churchill as a dark door in a shadowed room slowly shuts leaving a small window in the door as a frame around Churchill and the only light left coming from the next room. This highlights not only the isolation Churchill must have felt but brilliantly visualizes the fact that Churchill WAS the lamp that would light England and ultimately Europe and the world out of the darkness that Nazi Germany’s shadow had cast over the civilized world.

There is also a filmatic motiff that plays frequently throughout the film. The focus goes from a close shot of a single individual straight up to present a panorama of the surrounding countryside wherein the individual is lost OR starts from above and closes quickly down upon a single individual. This imagery served to link the plight of each individual player in this drama to the massive worldwide stage drama being historically played out. It also, in reverse, helped remind the audience that behind the grand machinations of famous and encyclopedia worthy heads of state was the suffering and sacrifice by every day ordinary nameless soldiers and citizens. Each individual is important, yes, but often the hard tough decisions MUST be made with a blind eye to that in order to save a greater number of people, a country or even just an ideal. Both of these ideas are presented hand in hand seamlessly like the entwining of the fingers of newlyweds in an intimate moment.

The director conjures the interweaving of the big and small moments which make up history. For example, in one scene we see Churchill striding through his house with entourage in tow strategizing but then immediately coming up short and dismissing everyone in short order to have a charming and adorably intimate conversation with his wife Clemmie when she chides him about the household finances.

We are shown Churchill the man as well as the statesman, just as while we see England the country we also hear from the individual citizens that make up the population as Churchill does a Henry V-type walkabout amongst the people he is trying to lead.

Churchill once said: "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." Churchill rallied his nation, inspired his countrymen and helped lead the world to victory against Hitler. And he did it by the simple expediency of never giving up – an important and inspiring example for us all.

BTW – I would LOVE to see Darkest Hour shown on a double bill with Dunkirk.

MY FAVORITE 2017 MOVIES

I thought I would start the new year with a review of the previous. It's always a good idea to know where you have been before you set forward into new territory.

To that end I have chosen what I thought were the top dozen movies of 2017. Do keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list and there are some movies I suspect would have made the list had I had the opportunity to see them. Among those I happily expect to be wonderful but I have not yet seen include: Darkest Hour and Loving Vincent. They will just have to be evaluated in subsequent blogs.

NUMBER ONE BEST MOVIE OF THE YEAR BAR NONE:

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Kenneth Branagh's absolutely brilliant and stunningly beautiful rendition of Agatha Christie's most famous and popular book – about a group of strangers stranded on a snowbound train with an unsolved murder. Not only is this the best example of its genre, I think it is the perfect movie.

NUMBER TWO:

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

Musical based on the spirit if not the specific details of the life of PT Barnum – hailed as the father of the modern circus. Con man, philanthropist, businessman, devoted family man, flawed human – the movie uses this amazing historical figure to explore the question of what is it that makes life worthwhile.

NUMBER THREE:

WONDER WOMAN

DC FINALLY hits a major home run with the most unlikely of B list comic book supers. Gal Gadot  IS Wonder Woman. Exciting, moving, funny, inspiring, spectacular special effects – set during World War I this movie exemplifies the virtues of courage, self-sacrifice, and altruism all tied up like a Christmas present with the beautiful wrappings of a superhero adventure. This is what a superhero movie should look like.

NUMBER FOUR:

MARSHALL

 Chadwick Boseman plays a young Thurgood Marshall. While this significant historical figure will grow up to be the first black Supreme Court Justice, we meet Marshall early in his career – defending a black man against charges of raping his white female employer. Marshall is saddled with an unlikely partner – a Jewish attorney, Josh Gad, who wants nothing to do with the notoriety this case will bring. Both discover that nothing and no one is as simple as it seems. Boseman and Gad have such good chemistry I'd look forward to watching them together again in anything. And the case plays out like the best of anything Perry Mason ever tried.

NUMBER FIVE:

WONDER

  You can't tell a book by its cover. Wonder is a story inspired by the troubling encounter the author had between her child and a severely facially disfigured child. Wonder explores the world from the point of view of a similarly genetically challenged child – Auggie – played by Jacob Trembley, his sister Via, his best friend Will and Via's best friend Miranda. The brilliance of this movie is that we discover that everyone is guilty of misjudgement – including the title character and ourselves, the audience. Featuring the performances of Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and Mandy Patinkin as warm and caring parents and school principal, Wonder is a delightful movie for all ages.

The rest of the movies I can not faithfully place in any one order. It would depend on what mood you are in and in which genre it fits.

GLASS CASTLE

Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson) reminisces about growing up in her dysfunctional family headed by her brilliant, creative, and devoted but tragically alcoholic father (Woody Harrelson). Glass Castle is a coming to understanding that even a parent with egregious flaws can bequeath the irreplaceable parental blessings that come with unconditional love and support.

THOR: RAGNAROK

Chris Hemworth and Tom Hiddleston return as the conflicted brothers Thor and Loki in this installment of the Thor franchise. Cate Blanchett appears as Hela, the goddess of death who has escaped exile to take over Asgard. The title reveals the conflict as Ragnarok is the name of the Viking Armaggedon – the end of the world. Sounds like heavy going, but the writers chose to include a comic element which lifted the mood considerably. While admittedly a point of debate, personally I loved the new injection of a lighter tone and Guardians of the Galaxy-style humor in the previously Shakespearean melodrama that used to define the Thor stories.

PIXAR CARS 3

  Hands down the best of the trilogy. Cars 3 retains its child-like animated heart but stepped up its game considerably to give Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) a character arc and plot worthy of a live action movie with humans. Well done Pixar!

DUNKIRK

An intense, moving and inspirational account of the "little ships" captained by everyday sailors, ordinary fishermen and weekend boaters, who, facing great peril, came across the English Channel to rescue British and French soldiers surrounded by Germans, straffed by the Luftwaffe and stranded on Dunkirk beach. Starring an ensemble including Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, and Cillian Murphy this is as important, and at times as difficult, to watch as Saving Private Ryan.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

 Oddball sequel to the original Lego movie, this is at once a homage and parody to every Batman movie and TV show ever made. Not without, frankly, dumb moments and slightly incomprehensible plot holes and cameos, you must remember this is all really just supposed to be in the mind of a child playing with his toys. Featuring vocal talents including: Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum and Hector Elizondo, it's a hoot. Just turn your brain off and enjoy The Lego Batman Movie with popcorn, Raisonettes and a sense of humor.

SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING

Toby McGuire was too angst-y. Andrew Garfield, while a terrific actor in his own right, was simply miscast as the webswinger – much like Eric Stoltz, a fine performer, just wasn't right as Back to the Future's Marty McFly and had to be replaced. Tom Holland, however embodies Spiderman more, I think, than the original comic book creation – bringing a refreshing wide-eyed child-like naivete to the character expressing an adorably delightful hero worship for his fellow Avengers. And Holland, the actor, still manages to hold his own against the absolutely brilliant veteran Michael Keaton who portrays the mysterious multi faceted villain.

THE STAR

Last but most assuredly not least is the wonderful animated version of the Biblical retelling of the Annunciation and Nativity – only told from the animals' points of view. Primary is miniature mill donkey Bo who longs to be part of the Royal procession but is "stuck" with the family of this poor carpenter…..an irony everyone over 8 will understand. This delightful story is told with Biblical accuracy, appropriate deference towards the gentle heart who is the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a lighthearted but respectful appreciation for the beleaguered Joseph who fears he is in over his head but who stalwartly steps up to the plate to protect his wife and the Son of God she carries.  Alone, the tale of a donkey who aspires to a position for which he is obviously unfit  would be cute. Woven about around the Biblically accurate betrothal, marriage and journey to Bethlehem of Mary, Joseph and the unborn Christ child it becomes an unusual and welcome new look at the story of the Holy Family from a fresh point of view. Religious meditation often advises we contemplate a Biblical event from a new perspective. I would venture to say that, although a child's animated movie, The Star rises, because of the material and the respect with which it is treated, to a kind of meditation on this most important event in the history of mankind. The Star, itself, shines as a beautiful example of what childrens' stories can be – appealing to children but substance for the adults who bring them as well.

MAY YOU HAVE A BLESSED 2018! SEE YOU AT THE MOVIES!

FERDINAND – THE BULL IS NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO WAS CONFUSED

SHORT TAKE:

Ferdinand has a poorly thought out plot based upon the charming 1936 kids' book The Story of Ferdinand, of a gentle bull who would rather smell flowers than fight. John Cena does a fine job bringing the main character to life but his charming portrayal is buried under lazy writing, unappealing side characters, and an inconsistent universe.

LONG TAKE:

Every animated movie works within its own universe. For example in Snow White the animals acted like animals – kind of in tune with the leading lady but behaved much like the furry critters you or I might run into.

In Bambi or Finding Nemo the animals were again confined to animal limitations but the story was seen from their POV so we, the audience, could understand what they were saying and their mental capabilities were anthropomorphized.

Mickey Mouse, however, was an entirely different perspective. He stands up straight, wears clothes, speaks and actually has a pet. He and his friends are, basically, humans who look like animals. They drive cars, have opposable digits, live in human styled homes and speak the Queen's English.

Bugs Bunny is, again, another species. These guys are animals – they are hunted and it would not be considered murder – by Elmer Fudd (that is if he could ever catch the loveably infamous bunny). Bugs lives in a hole in the ground which he has dug, though it has rugs and chairs. Bugs not only speaks and walks on his back legs, wears clothes when the occasion demands it – though he usually sports only his "natural" fur – but he outsmarts every human that appears on the scene, plays a ukulele, makes snarky comments, coins witticisms and can do things nothing on Earth can. He can tunnel through the Earth at breathtaking speed, and survive falls and impacts which in a more realistically created world no living creature would survive. His movements can be unnaturally fast when the need arises at a speed Superman would admire – changing clothes, moving from one place to another, conjuring any number of Acme items to fit the needs of the moment – in seconds. In short, come to think of it – Bugs is not just ANTHROPOmorphized. Bugs is SUPERANTHROPOmorphized. In other words, Bugs is a creature not just given HUMAN attributes but envisioned with SUPERhuman attributes. Bugs is Superman and Harry Potter wrapped up in a fuzzy New York accented bunny rabbit suited con man.

All these worlds are very different from each other. And aside from the outliers, like Pluto in the Disney world – who acts like a regular normal, though unusually intelligent, dog, despite the fact Goofy is also a dog but anthropomorphized – these worlds generally do not merge.

I am a science fiction fan and am willing to accept all manner of outrageous premises…….IF the creators stay within the confines of the Universe they have created.

The problem with Ferdinand is that the writers couldn't decide on the parameters. It was the same problem had with The Secret Life of Pets. In both cases animals were established as normal creatures living with humans. They were assigned the normal limitations of animals supplemented by the extravagant definitions allotted through serendipitous and impossibly well timed environmental factors. They could, for example, blithely depend on perfect balance and the timely arrival of things such as clotheslines and moving girders to keep them aloft if they chose to scale down several stories of a building but they had trouble opening human doors without opposable digits, etc. BUT when Max, a terrier gets lost they come across a gangster bunny who can carve fully functional keys out of carrot by chewing on them AND turn the key in the lock and other creatures can drive cars – completely outside the parameters of the universe they established. Finding Dory made the same mistake- by stepping outside of the rules of its universe.

And so it its with Ferdinand. Bulls and dogs and goats and hedgehogs act more or less according to their natural limits, and although we can understand them humans can not…that is until the writers paint themselves into a corner. Then suddenly critters can drive, convincingly do the hula in front of humans, and do a creative coordinated dance off including breakdancing with horses. One minute Ferdinand can not roll across a yard in imitation of a hedgehog, the next he is Moonwalking. This makes no sense.

In addition the side characters, who in other movies so often steal the show, are off putting. The competitive German prancing horses next door act like an effeminate Nazi with his two fawning groupies. They gratuitously insult the bulls without context, purpose or wit. The goat, Lupe, I assume is supposed to be their version of a "Dory" character – clueless but well meaning. Instead she is disgusting, creepy looking, annoying and unappealing. She drools, eats things then throws them up, attracts flies, sports two eyes that make her appear dead, has two protruding bottom teeth, and says offensive, occasionally inappropriate things.

The character of Ferdinand himself as voiced by John Cena is charming. I would love to see a sequel with this character but only with a far better script and almost none of the side characters. I did like Angus but am biased because he is voiced by my favorite Dr Who persona – David Tennant – in full Scottish brogue.

And for all you sports fans Peyton Manning does the voice of Guapo.

In addition, the story leaves practical holes not really filled.

SPOILERS

Once Ferdinand escapes the bullring and his friends go to his home farm: HOW could a simple flower vendor feed all those enormous animals? Wouldn't the departure of his entire stock bankrupt the bull trainer? Even if Ferdinand used reward money (which we are never shown he gets so we're really spitballing here) for "defeating" the matador won't the bull trainer simply buy more bulls with it who will be doomed to the same fate Ferdinand and his friends escaped?

I know it's only a kid movie but those hanging points could have been EASILY dealt with even if only in credit sketches: the flower vendor hiring the bulls out to plow. The bull trainer turning his business into a petting zoo. I know it's just a kids' story but these loose threads were a distraction. The writers should have done SOMEthing to bring closure to this story.

In short – there's nothing really WRONG with Ferdinand. But there's not much really right with it either. Go read the book instead.