"Creed II"

There is one scene in this film with Rocky that pulled at my soul. It is a wonderful place in time and generations tying with the theme of family. Boxing is the crux of this film, yet the motivation and the why and the will drove the story.

Michael B. Jordan continues to build his emotional stamina as an actor with his performance as Adonis Creed. Sylvester Stallone is ever strong as Rocky, leading with Creed yet maintaining his presence as a champion, Tessa Thompson is eclectically beautiful as Bianca, representing women who love their man and the ambition yet pursue their dreams with found will, Florian Munteanu as Victor Drago does not have many lines but carries the weight of his incredible performance with his facial expressions and gravitas, Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago is phenomenal with selfish redemption through his son and a “by any means necessary” attitude, Wood Harris delivers wisdom as Tony, one of Adonis’ trainers, Russell Hornsby plays boxing promoter Buddy Marcelle with a conniving nature peppered into the conflict. Phylicia Rashad is elegant and commanding as Mary Anne Creed with bits of humor. I am happy she was in the film more.

I have much respect for Director Steven Caple Jr., who worked through the tight schedule and delivered dedication through his craft. His attention to the grim and gray of the Ukraine contrasted to the sun and gleam of Los Angeles was one remarkably sharp detail. Bravo to the entire crew of this film. Composer Ludwig Göransson created an ode to the Rocky score with grittiness essential to Creed. Writers Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone with the story by Cheo Hodari Coker and Sascha Penn carried enjoyable references of the first film to this film. It was also not too gruesome. At one point, Adonis’ eyes were not swollen in the middle of a fight. There is an interesting middle part that awakened myself and the audience I sat with. There were at least 5-10 minutes that could have been shaved off the film. Otherwise, “Creed II” is as perfect as an imperfect film can be.

"Widows"

I saw this film twice, necessary to catch the easter eggs. The political is personal. The film is set in 2008, yet the much of the rhetoric is pure 2018. Family dynamics course the story. The title of the film details the power these women harness amidst their dire and emotional situations.

Elizabeth Debicki is astonishing in every scene she is in. Her character, Alice, is given the room to grieve and remove her pride to survive. Michelle Rodriguez is powerful as Linda. Cynthia Erivo is captivating as Belle. Viola Davis is ever sensational as Veronica. Jacki Weaver is stirring as Alice’s mother. Daniel Kaluuya is spell-binding and ruthless in his performance. Bryan Tyree Henry gives a solid performance for a character that is otherwise forgettable. Molly Kunz delivers a prolific monologue along with her performance as Siobhan, Jack’s assistant. Colin Farrell is strong as Jack, relatable to the loyalty he has to maintain in his family. Liam Neeson is suave and devastating as Harry, the masterful thief. Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, Lucas Haas, Garret Dillahunt, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Coburn Goss, Jon Bernthal, Eric C. Lynch, Matt Walsh, Jon Michael Hill, Kevin O’Connor, Adepero Okuye and Tonray Ho carry a remarkable supporting cast.

Writers Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn form a solid script. There are a few loose plot ends. There were at least three scenes that could have removed and definitely one. I wish a lot was left to the imagination or used in the language to secure the story. The ensemble carries the script. Director Steve McQueen delivers masterful scenes where we listen to characters talk without them in focus, only inviting the audience to see so much. In a scene, Jack is yelling in the car and we see the shift between the poorer neighborhood he seeks to “serve” and the tony neighborhood he resides in, which was only a short distance. Chicago is a centerpiece. Costume Designer Jenny Egan crafted outfits tailored to each character, shown most with Veronica in her crisp suits and sleepwear. The ending of the film is satisfying heightened by tension. The response in the theater was electric in parts of the film. The score is rich, eclectic and sensual created by Hans Zimmer.

Olivia, Veronica’s dog, is another star of the film and does not die. I was stressed about the possibility of her dying while watching this film.

"The Girl in the Spider's Web"

Guilt is the driving theme of this film. As the layers form about Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy), the Swedish hacker from the best-selling book series, the title weaves incredibly with the story, where there is no confusion.

Claire Foy is a gift. She handles her physical scenes with gusto and reality that she is not an assassin but a stealthy hacker. Sverrir Gudnanson is charming, calm and commanding as Mikael Blomkvist. LaKeith Stanfield plays Needham, a character that did not begin as a meaningful character but later on is woven with captivating delivery. Sylvia Hoeks is spellbinding as Camilla, Lisbeth’s sister. Cameron Britton (Mindhunter!) is cool as Plague, Lisbeth’s trusted friend and hacker. Beau Gadsdon and Carlotta von Falkenhayn played the young Lisbeth and Camilla, respectively, with strength. Christopher Convery is wonderful as August, the son who knows the deadly security codes. Synnøve Macody Lund as Gabriella, a part of the Swedish Secret Service, is powerful. Stephen Merchant, Mikael Persbrandt, Vicky Krieps and Claes Bang form a stellar supporting cast.

Writers Jay Basu, Fede Alvarez and Steven Knight adapt the humor to offset the drama and violence. Lisbeth’s sexuality and Camilla’s abuse are implied. The story is menacing without being too graphic. There is also a reality in the story that will leave the audience on their toes. Director Fede Alvarez delivers the bleak world and captures Sweden beautifully. The rare moments of light are stunning. Costume Designers Ellen Mirojnick and Carlos Rosario created a stark stroke in the fabric of each character. Camilla wears an all red suit that is a wonderful symbol of her power. The film accomplishes the rare feat of bringing a strong film in under two hours. The twists are strong.

"Been So Long"

I was confused when I heard people singing, then saw in the opening credits that this film was based off of a musical. Instead of the dread I normally feel about a musical, the music was a delightful and meaningful piece to a wonderful and reflective film.

Michaela Coel is stunning and strong as Simone, a single mother who puts herself first in finding passion and love in a mate. Ronke Adekoluejo is incredible with humor and drama as Yvonne, Simone’s sexually liberated friend. Arinzé Kene is charming as Raymond, a man building away from his past transgressions. For some reason Simone’s daughter is not credited but she was the heart of the film with her humor and also her power to not be treated differently because she is disabled. Ashley Thomas plays Wendell, Raymond’s friend, who is a conscious for Raymond. George MacKay, Joe Dempsie, Sophia La Porta and Luke Norris form a solid supporting cast.

Screenwriter Ché Walker wrote a film where drama is sparse and it is wonderful to watch people fall in love realistically. Director Tinge Krishnan brings London in the warmth of the day and the night shine for each of the scenes. There is an intimacy the audience feels that is prolific. Costume Designer Lisa Duncan created looks that distinguish the characters to their personality. Simone wears a two-toned furry coat that I am coveting. Composer Christopher Nicholas Bangs created songs that range in being upbeat, emotional, cheeky yet all drive the story.

The film is remarkably artful. I am in awe of the incorporation of dance to bring the sensuality.

You can watch this film on Netflix.

"The Hate U Give"

The novel by Angie Thomas is closely adapted for a powerful film. There are opportunities to learn about the themes prime in the story including privilege, family, hardships and sacrifice.

Russell Hornsby is the strength of the film as Maverick, Starr’s father. Amandla Stenberg is a revelation through every tear and every rise of her voice as Starr. Regina Hall is warm and captivating as Lisa, Starr’s mother. I enjoyed the chemistry between her and Russell. K.J. Apa as Chris is wonderfully sympathetic while moving through his privilege and ignorance. Sabrina Carpenter is stunning as Maya. Anthony Mackie gives a chilling performance as King. Algee Smith is heartwarming in the humanity he brings to Khalil in every scene he shares. TJ Wright is remarkable as Sekani, Starr’s brother. Lamar Johnson is funny and bold as Seven, Starr’s brother. Dominique Fishback, Megan Lawless, Rhonda Johnson Dents, Issa Rae, Karan Kendrick and Common form a commanding supporting cast.

Moments of humor break through the tension and anger this family endures. Khalil’s death is an etch in the issues that exist for the people of Garden Heights and the Carter family. Screenwriter Audrey Wells adapts the novel with fresh eyes that educates through art. Thank you for your gift. Director George Tillman Jr. gives life through the camera including Khalil’s last breaths, the protests and the pristine Williamson Prep. A scene could be watched in the eyes of Seven’s younger half-sister. Starr taking off her hoodie and putting it on was prolific, also aided by Costume Designer Frank L. Fleming.

Let this also be known: the 90’s will never perish and macaroni and cheese is a full meal.

"Halloween"

I watch the first film every year so watching this film with the iconic opening scene essential to the films before the music started playing for the opening credits was a wonderful ride. This film is gruesome with no mercy from this Michael Myers.

Andi Matichak embodied the teenage angst for an introduction as a scream queen as Allyson, Laurie’s granddaughter. She also gives me low-key Kirsten Dunst vibes. Her character can start a new franchise, although I would also like to see this story end. Judy Greer is wonderful and strong as Karen, Laurie’s daughter. Jamie Lee Curtis has evolved Laurie in all of the pain and power she exerts. Jibrail Nantambu is THE breakout of the film as Julian, one of the kids. Haluk Bilginer plays Dr. Sartain, Michael’s psychiatrist with his own intentions of understanding his subject. Omar J. Dorsey arrived onscreen and the whole audience sulked, just knowing he was going to die. Spoiler Alert: him and his cowboy hat survive. Dylan Arnold, Will Patton, Jefferson Hall, Virginia Gardner, Drew Scheid, Toby Huss and Rhian Rees round a remarkable supporting cast.

There are odes to the first film including, Allyson sitting in the back of the classroom just like Laurie did, kids running into Michael Myers, the linen hanging on the clothespins, one of the kids openly smokes pot in the morning. There is a team of course making a podcast. Good grief.

Will Files and P.K. Hooker did a phenomenal job with the sound effects. Even when you did not see someone being murdered, the sound is indebted into your psyche. Writers David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley scrapping all of the films was a good idea except for Halloween H20, which was the second best film of the series. Although I doubt Josh Hartnett would have been in this film. There were random parts of the film and still little knowledge of Michael. Director David Gordon Green takes the audience directly into the action and horror the characters endure.

The question I had was: how did Laurie make money to have her floor plan? She is going to have to rethink her floor plan as well.

"Game Night"

When I saw that Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler and Jesse Plemons, who normally do dramatic roles, were in this film, I was sold to catch it at Redbox. The film centers on a couple Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie, who met at a game night. When Max’s brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler) arrives to town, almost literal hell ensues.

Jason Bateman is his signature comedic and oblivious self. Kylie Bunbury is delightful and funny as Michelle, one of the game night friends. Lamorne Morris brings the action along with the humor as Kevin, Michelle’s husband. Kyle Chandler is suave and facetious. Jesse Plemons is wonderful and creepy as Gary, the neighbor. Bryan Magnussen is magnetic as Ryan. Sharon Horgan is dryly humored as Sharon. Chelsea Perretti only has one scene yet is captivating. There is a character that added a cool addition to the cast. Casting Director Rich Delia created a cast that has stunning chemistry.

Mark Perez wrote a funny and raucous film that employed characters to add depth to the story. Most of the scenarios stop before getting too out of hand, which keep the intrigue. Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein drive the wild ride and the antics of the story. This film also brings back the belief that a lot can be done in one hour and thirty-three minutes.

I would not mind a sequel to this film.

"White Boy Rick"

I watched this film on the edge of my seat. There were equal parts violence and an emotional core within the family Rick Wershe (Richie Merritt) belongs to and the family he gains influence and wealth with and believes cares for him. The hustle will be controlled. By any means necessary.

Matthew McConaughey could convince me that rubbing my arm against a cactus is a healing method. He is stunning as Rick’s father. Richie Merritt held power in his scenes. Piper Laurie aka Carrie’s mother is delightful in the very few scenes that she is in. Bruce Dern is wonderful. Bel Powley is astonishing as Dawn, Rick’s sister, who is a drug addict. Jonathan Majors is sharp as Johnny Curry, a drug lord. Taylour Paige is commanding as Cathy, Curry’s wife. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays a conniving FBI agent that still brings out the heart. Rory Cochran plays an unsympathetic and hungry FBI Agent. Brian Tyree Henry plays a detective. He must have more scenes where he is not in the backseat of a car. I was pleasantly surprised to see YG in the film, who gives a solid acting performance as one of Curry’s crew members. RJ Cyler, Kyanna Simone Simpson, Eddie Marsan and Danny Brown lead a wonderful supporting cast.

The last twenty minutes of this film were revelatory. Writers Andy Weiss, Noah Miller and Logan Miller use the consequences and adrenaline of selling drugs and guns as every character has good and bad in their being, which is the strength of this film. The prison system is put under the microscope and the chips that fall for Rick is the crux of the story. Director Yann Demarge takes in the grim and cold parts of Detroit to drive the story. Max Richter crafts a stunning soundtrack and score with the pulse of the 80’s and the tension of the film. Darren Aronofsky also served as a producer.

"Collateral Beauty"

This film was a part of the selection on my flight to London. I took in the opportunity to see a film I debated seeing in theaters.

Howard (Will Smith) moves quickly from the time of his commanding, empowering words to employees of his company into the sorrow of building dominoes as a form of grief, due to the loss of his daughter. His business associates and friends Whit, Claire and Simon (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Peña) desperately need Howard to be on board before they lose a huge client and thus their company. What follows is the discovery of the place between life and death.

Will Smith is gives breath to Howard’s emotions. Naomie Harris is wonderful as Madeleine, who attends a grieving parents group. Keira Knightley is warm as Love. Helen Mirren is charismatic as Death. Jacob Lattimore is a standout as Time. Edward Norton is remarkable. Kate Winslet is captivating in her control to be a friend and also maintain the function of the company. Michael Peña is stunning, with parts humor and drama. The ensemble has heartfelt chemistry.

Writer Allan Loeb brings grief in all its frustrations and wonder with the full use of each character. Director Dave Frankel captures New York City as a driving force with sensibility that compliments the story. Costume Designer Leah Katznelson puts Death in this chic blue outfit with a blue beret that is a striking contrast to the grim color of death.

A wonderful surprise happens at the end of the film that ties the story nicely.

"A Simple Favor"

One day, I will learn not to judge a film by its trailer. This is the third film this year where I said I would not see it. However, when my mother, one of my favorite film critics, said this film was good, I carried my jetlagged body to the movie.

Blake Lively is outstanding. It’s easy to see that she is playing a version of Serena van der Woodsen, yet her charm, sex appeal and manipulation is different in the character Emily. Anna Kendrick is her signature bubbly self as Stephanie who washes her naïveté as the film progresses. Henry Golding is dashing and wonderful as Sean, Emily’s husband. Bashir Salahuddin played a detective who gets under the skin of Stephanie and Sean in the pursuit of justice. Ian Ho plays Nicky, Emily and Sean’s son. I appreciate that Casting Director Allison Jones casted a child who favored both parents. Ian was a true star of the film with one-lined zingers. Andrew Rannells plays one of the “moms” and per usual is the unsung humorous hero. Jean Smart plays a small role yet is so stunning. Kelly McCormack, Aparna Nancherla and Rupert Friend lead the supporting cast.

I love when women speak vulgarly. Jessica Sharzer wonderfully adapted the novel by Darcey Bell. The film balances being funny and thrilling. Stephanie was groomed to take over Emily’s responsibilities by learning to stop apologizing and to not be so buttoned up. While the film’s arc is predictable, the build of Emily’s story was fascinating. I am tired of stories where men fall prey to conniving yet alluring women to feel something in themselves. Each character burst with lies that unfolds. “Bargain Basement Tom Ford” is a line. Director Paul Feig moves the camera to capture everyone in the scene. The background played a striking part in the scenes as well.

Composer Theodore Shapiro uses French music to score the film and compliments the dangerous liaisons of the film. I was brought back to Paris. Renee Erhlich Kalfus did a phenomenal job with the costumes even with Sean’s t-shirts. I need to find the pom pom sweater Stephanie wore. Subaru also got great promotion in the film.