Paddington 2

It’s been three years (that long?!?!) since I was pleasantly surprised by a movie about a little bear in the blue duffel coat and floppy red hat.

Paddington” was released in theaters around the same time as the announcement of the 2015 Oscar nominations – which also was a time when profound, weighty dramas dominated movie screens and consumed critics’ attention.

I was writing a movie column for a central MN newspaper and had watched a seemingly endless stream of flicks that were, well… depressing (but very good, don’t get me wrong). But I needed something light to counter that overwhelming feeling of despair.

Then came “Paddington.”

I absolutely loved it, and as you can imagine I was happier than a bear with a marmalade sandwich when I heard there would be a sequel. And now it’s here, with marmalade in tow and that “hard stare” at the ready.

And its intro is a sort of flashback, giving insight into how this young bear came into the lives of Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) and Uncle Pastuzo (Michael Gambon).

“If we look after this bear,” Aunt Lucy says, gazing into his adorable bear cub eyes, “I have a feeling he’ll go far.” Indeed he will.

Fast-forward to present day London. Paddington (again voiced by Ben Whishaw) is no longer in search of a home; he happily has found that with the Brown family.

The opening here finds Paddington, as he often did in the first flick, writing a letter home to Aunt Lucy to catch her up on the goings on and to set the stage for this installment’s story by reading the contents of that letter for us as we watch the Browns – Mary (Sally Hawkins), Judy (Madeleine Harris), Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) and Henry (Hugh Bonneville) – along with Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters) implement the actions described by Paddington’s narration.

We see how easily our furry hero is making friends and how nicely he’s fitting in to life in England.

And if not for Aunt Lucy, Paddington wouldn’t be where he is. So for her upcoming birthday, he wants to get her the perfect gift. After all, it’s not every day that a bear turns 100.

It has always been Aunt Lucy’s dream to visit England, so when Paddington finds a gift that would essentially bring London to her, his eyes light up with angelic excitement. Awww!

But as it turns out, Victorian steam fair actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, devilishly exaggerated to gratifying excellence) has an interest in this item of his own. (By the way, the initial meeting between Buchanan and Paddington is altogether darling. Have I mentioned the bear’s excitement?)

To afford the gift for his aunt, Paddington gets a job – well… jobs, which leads to all sorts of shenanigans. But before he can save enough money, this perfect gift he’s so excited to buy is stolen – gasp! – right out from under his fuzzy bear snout.

And that’s not even the worst news….

It’s no secret that sequels generally are not as satisfying as originals, but “Paddington 2” completely turns that theory on its head. I can’t even tell you how much I enjoyed this follow-up flick; it’s at least as good as the first, if not better.

The story is just as “tickety boo,” and the humor is once again refreshing and innocent, satirical and inspiring. Adults will love it as much as kids, because the jokes aren’t toned down in an effort to appeal to a younger audience; there’s some smart, sophisticated stuff here that’s highly enjoyable and legitimately funny.

Some of that is because of Paddington’s naivety and willingness to trust everyone, and a lot of it is courtesy of Bonneville’s tongue-in-cheek lines, his physical comedy or his priceless reactions to just about every situation.

Director Paul King (no relation) keeps our eyes busy with visuals that are beyond stunning; in fact, they’re looking at stunning in the rear view mirror.

There are colors – oh the colors! – so vibrant and saturated that they almost literally jump off the screen.

The unconventional techniques and camera angles are plentiful yet never boring – those obscure and magical-looking point-of-view shots, or the artistically executed time-lapse progressions, or the select focus and zooms that immediately direct our attention.

They bring a cartoony feel that’s a throwback to the stories by British author Michael Bond.

And then there’s that extraordinary sequence during which Paddington and Aunt Lucy become animated figures in a pop-up book, jumping from one scene to another as the pages turn and a new background takes shape. Are you kidding me?

This is the whimsy and creative essence that makes these movies playful, fascinating and so much fun.

Add to that the elements of mystery, intrigue and suspense, and “Paddington 2” is a true recipe for success.

Then there’s that bear.

Whether he’s helping others, insistent on playing by the rules or literally bringing color to a bland and sullen setting, Paddington’s enthusiasm will restore your faith in the world.

This time he meets some eccentric and unsavory characters, with names like Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), Phibs (Noah Taylor), and Spoon (Aaron Neil). But even their hardened personalities are no match for Paddington’s honesty and charm – and it’s not long before he, as he always does, wins them over.

But then when watch through Paddington’s eyes the Brown family becoming smaller in the distance as he’s taken away, or when he realizes no one will be reading him a bedtime story (ohmigod!) or when he thinks the Browns have forgotten him because they don’t visit, that look of sorrow will completely crush your soul.

For a computer generated character to bring about that much emotion speaks volumes. And the soft and soothing quality in Whishaw’s voice helps make Paddington that much more endearing.

This bear doesn’t understand sarcasm, and he takes people at their word. And no matter the situation, he never forgets his manners; he’ll tip his hat to everyone, even to those least deserving – because “it’s the polite thing to do.” And because Aunt Lucy taught him to “look for the good in people, and you’ll find it.”

He really is the sweetest thing.

Paddington’s adventures are a delight, and I surely hope there’ll be more. If that requires another three-year hiatus, so be it; “Paddington 2” definitely was worth the wait.

You have just enjoyed the insights of Movie Addict Mel, a cinema dork and conversational writer. Follow her on Twitter @movieaddictmel, and “like” her Facebook page

All the Money in the World

Director Ridley Scott’s latest flick depicts the story of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, the “based on true events” kidnapping of his grandson, and a mother’s desperate attempt to find her missing boy.

“All the Money in the World” is equal parts distressing and powerful and unnerving. And the story behind the film is just as fascinating as the film itself.

Scott finished shooting with the original cast, which included Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey – under heavy make-up, to add almost 30 years to his appearance – as moneybags Getty.

But after sexual assault allegations against Spacey surfaced, a decision was made in November 2017 to replace the actor with another Oscar winner, Christopher Plummer, whose age more closely matches that of the character he’s portraying.

Serendipitous? (Shrugs) sure.

Scott quickly reshot 22 scenes, substituting Plummer for Spacey, and incorporated the new footage into the film in time for its Dec. 22 release.

That… deserves some recognition of its own, ammiright?

And if you didn’t know this before seeing “All the Money…,” you’d never know any different; Scott’s cut-and-paste is that flawless.

As the film opens, black-and-white visuals slowly give way to color as the camera tracks the movement of a fearless young man through the busy streets Rome, circa 1973. And almost immediately, Paulo – or Paul, or J. Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher) – is yanked into a van by a gaggle of masked men.

Why? Well, turns out this isn’t just any kid; this is the grandson of deep pockets – the deepest! – and in a voiceover explainer, Paul sort of puts the pieces in place.

“My grandpa wasn’t just the richest man in the world; he was the richest man in the history of the world,” he states. Balls!

There’s mention of Paul’s grandfather bringing oil out of the Saudi Arabian desert (the only scene in which Spacey’s image still exists), and how “there was so much oil that there wasn’t a ship big enough to carry it all. So my grandpa invented one.”

Of course.

The kidnappers inform Paul’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams) “we have your son,” and there’s a prompt demand of $17 million for his release. Balls!

“I don’t have any money,” she tearfully proclaims, to which baddie intermediary Cinquanta (Romain Duris) matter-of-factly replies, “Get it from your father-in-law; he has all the money in the world.”

If only it were that simple.

What follows is a chess match between the kidnappers and Gail – and between Gail and her former father-in-law, filled with desperate pleas for the funds required to release her son.

We hear Getty say to his grandson via flashback, “You’re a Getty; Gettys are special” and later tell hired security advisor Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) “… I don’t know what I would do if anything happened to that boy,” so it’s altogether mind-blowing when he then refuses to pay the ransom.

“I have 14 grandchildren,” Getty reasons. “If I start paying ransoms, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”

Fair. But Chase warns him, “They will do things to Paul that cannot be undone with any amount of money.”

And that is what makes this flick so difficult to watch. I felt like it took a while for things to get rolling, but once they did, I was completely invested.

Half the time I was pissed at Getty for seeming so withdrawn and callous while he preached about the importance of family; the rest of the time I was terrified for that kid, especially when sh*t gets real.

And to really deliver that sensation, Scott is sure to contaminate the lens on a few occasions to bring this realism front and center. GAH!

Williams continues to impress, exhibiting incredible strength in the face of unfathomable and personal horror. You will feel every shred of the panic and anxiety and outrage and strife her character endures.

She was nominated for a Golden Globe for this role, so don’t be surprised if (err, when) you hear her name among this year’s Oscar nominees, to be announced on Jan. 23.

After seeing Plummer as J. Paul Getty, I can’t imagine anyone else in that role. And given the controversy, I think Ridley Scott was wise to pull Spacey from the film; had he not, this flick likely would be receiving attention for all the wrong reasons.

Instead we’re allowed to focus on the (true-ish) story and the captivating abilities of the actors bringing these characters to the big screen.

And watching that in staggering awe is worth “All the Money in the World.”

You have just enjoyed the insights of Movie Addict Mel, a cinema dork and conversational writer. Follow her on Twitter @movieaddictmel, and “like” her Facebook page

The Shape of Water

“If I spoke about it, if I did, what would I tell you?”

Guillermo del Toro’s latest cinematic creation probably looks a little strange – and maybe a tiny bit familiar.

The idea apparently came from del Toro’s long-held desire to tell a story – a love story! – from an atypical point of view: through the eyes of a creature inspired by the one at the center of 1954’s “… Black Lagoon” flick.

And with a storyline setting idea from a writer friend, del Toro had the necessary basis for his fable and in 2011 started picking at a script that six years later would make one hell of a splash on the big screen.

In “The Shape of Water,” the opening narration – along with soft, purposeful images – sets up “… the princess without voice… a tale of love and loss… and the monster who tried to destroy it all.”

And what unfolds is the story of Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins, AMAZING!), a mute cleaning woman at Occam Aerospace, a 1960’s-era research facility – and the unlikely connection she forms with “the most sensitive asset ever to be housed in this facility.”

But because this being (frequent del Toro collaborator Doug Jones, under layers of latex and make up) is such a mystery, it’s also a target – both for research, headed by Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), and for less-than-favorable treatment from Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon, cranking the dial to asshole-level creepy) and his “Alabama howdy-do.”

And because this being is different, it’s construed as a threat. But Elisa will stop at nothing to keep her new friend from harm.

Everything here is detailed and authentic to the time period with regard to clothing styles and automobiles and gender roles and advertisements – and mindset, with the obvious cultural and social biases.

The characters – all of them – are incredible.

While Elisa has no voice her heart speaks volumes, and it’s evident in her expressions and her movements. And that smile. Her demeanor is simple and delicate and genuine. She’s easily the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, and you can’t help but love her.

Her friends are few but oh-so-wonderful. There’s Elisa’s eccentric and hilarious neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), who calls her his “best friend” and offers some of the most sage and unfiltered wisdom. I’m still chuckling.

And there’s Zelda (the always impressive Octavia Spencer), Elisa’s smart-alecky work pal who seems to be looking out for and sort of protecting her voiceless friend.

The camera work – all of it – is breathtaking. The low angles and tracking shots and constant glides and slow zooms cultivate nonstop movement that’s unique and captivating and altogether hypnotic. It’s an absolute treat for the eyes.

The narrative features constant reminders of time, because it’s such a crucial element to the story.

Color also plays a huge role; pay attention to the colors and what they represent – and how changes in the lives of some of these characters cause subtle adjustments to the hues and saturation with which we’ve become familiar.

What del Toro has created with “The Shape of Water” is one bizarre, artistic, and beautiful fairy tale.

It’s an elegantly unusual love story that floats away as poetically as it began: “Unable to perceive the shape of you, I find you all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with your love. It humbles my heart, for you are everywhere.”

You have just enjoyed the insights of Movie Addict Mel, a cinema dork and conversational writer. Follow her on Twitter @movieaddictmel, and “like” her Facebook page

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

What you’re about to read contains no spoilers. Because I’m not an a-hole.

You’re welcome.

“Star Wars” fans have been counting down the days to the release of Episode VIII since, well… since about this time two years ago, when “The Force Awakens” stirred the desire for more from this iconic good-versus-evil saga that began captivating audiences 40 years ago.

And equally as iconic is that patented 10-word preface that once again kicks off this story. You know how it goes:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

BOOM! Insert that theme (if this doesn’t give you goosebumps, you might be dead) from John Williams here, accompanied by the opening text crawl that sets up what we’re about to see in this current chapter, “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.”

I promised not to reveal anything that isn’t obvious from the trailer, so among the words you’ll see are “First Order,” “Resistance,” “Skywalker,” “Snoke,” “Leia.”

And “The Last Jedi” indeed features all of that – and more.

Bad-ass Rey (Daisy Ridley) is back, searching for answers of her own; last time we saw Rey in Episode VII she was on an island, face-to-face with Luke Skywalker.

First Order deserter Finn (John Boyega) continues his earnest determination to help take down his former coalition – aaaand try to impress Rey; X-Wing pilot extraordinaire Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) gets a lot more screen time, and his droid buddy BB-8 isn’t the only source of adorableness this time around.

We also see a little bit more of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), one ugly dude who really could use a visit to the orthodontist and a day at the spa; and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), who oozes power in some instances and looks ready to sh*t his pants in others.

And we learn more about Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), with his “raw, untamed power” and bloodline potential.

He’s also the man behind the tantrums – or “mantrums” (heh) if you will, having displayed some serious anger management issues in the previous flick. Remember? We see a bit more of his erratic behavior here, as well as exploration of the conflict likely causing it.

Depending on your galactic affiliation, you’ll either root for or relentlessly boo him.

The humor here might surprise you; it’s not all the typical light-hearted comments and sarcasm we’ve come to expect from these flicks. Flashbacks give some unexpected insight. Your senses will again be on high alert, thanks to the almost-constant score that serves as a heartbeat for the film.

There are a few moments of complete silence that immediately caught my attention – but that’s deliberate.

“The Last Jedi” tackles a lot in its 152-minute run time (yeah, it’s long!), so you may even want to see it again. I know I will. Nevertheless, it’s loads of fun and entertaining as hell. You’ll cheer; you’ll laugh; you might even cry.

There are epic battles, with grand and fiery explosions during which director Rian Johnson makes sure we experience the effects by way of jostled visuals; there’s both mention of and use of the Force – by a few different characters; there’s deceit and ugly truths; there is, of course, the central tug-of-war between the dark side and the light.

And there are answers to questions from “The Force Awakens” as well as questions to (hopefully) be answered in 2019, when Episode IX – no subtitle yet – is slated for released.

But until then, soak in and enjoy everything “The Last Jedi” has to offer in this longstanding and epic space adventure.

And “May the Force be with you.”

You have just enjoyed the insights of Movie Addict Mel, a cinema dork and conversational writer. Follow her on Twitter @movieaddictmel, and “like” her Facebook page

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

In 2012, while promoting his then-new flick “Seven Psychopaths,” filmmaker Martin McDonagh said in an interview with that he’d already written his next script, with “the strongest female lead you’ll ever see.”

He wasn’t joking.

McDonagh was referring to Mildred Hayes, the character at the center of McDonagh’s latest dark, disheartening and altogether dynamic flick “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Hayes is played with jaw-dropping supremacy by the always impressive Frances McDormand.

On a quiet, foggy drive down Drinkwater Road, the fragmented remnants of a set of billboards gives Mildred (McDormand) pause – and clearly an idea, as she puts her car in reverse to stoically stare at the trio in progression.

Next day she’s in the office of the Ebbing Advertising Company, clarifying with Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones), “What’s the law on what you can and cannot say on a billboard?”

And once they get the vulgarities out of the way, Mildred’s plan is set in motion – to grease the wheels of justice and “keep certain people’s minds on certain people’s jobs.”

Make no mistake; those “certain people” are specific. And her strategy involves 20-foot tall reminders to them in big, bold lettering.

Seven months after the murder of Mildred’s daughter Angela, there still have been no arrests.

So, these pointed and inquisitive – not “defamatory,” mind you – billboards are aimed directly at town favorite Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and his borderline-incompetent right-hand man with “vaguely racist leanings,” Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell).

Willoughby, of course, doesn’t think “those billboards is very fair” (notice the grammar), and even Father Montgomery (Nick Searcy) tries to reason with Mildred: “Everybody is with you about Angela; no one is with you about this.”

But this tenacious, take-no-sh*t mother isn’t backing down, and after giving each of these guys an unfiltered tongue-lashing this game of mental chess is in full swing.

Your move, fellas.

Normally a movie this arduous would leave audiences wanting to stick their collective heads in an oven, but what prevents “Three Billboards…” from being entirely bleak are the slivers of humor sprinkled throughout.

And we’re talkin’ dry, low-key quips that strike a chord because of the stealthy wit and shrewdness behind them. God bless!

It’s not much of a stretch, but I’m gonna g’head and say right now that McDormand will win a Best Actress Oscar for her role here.

There are few in Hollywood who can do what she does so well – the seemingly effortless execution of a look that’s in one moment quiet and understanding before turning to hell fire and rage; her sharp tongue flinging words that she knows will sting because of the oppressive truth they represent.

McDormand’s Mildred is so inherently strong in her pursuit of renegade, vigilante justice that for her to show any ounce of vulnerability doesn’t seem possible. And in the few instances in which she not only lets down her guard but completely crumbles, we totally grasp the substance of those scenes because we understand what it took for her to get there.

A lot of the understated humor comes courtesy of the outstanding Sam Rockwell. As the bumbling and biased Dixon, he’s a living, breathing dichotomy.

Consequences? Pfft, Dixon wears a badge; he doesn’t care. This character’s journey is a joy to witness, and Rockwell’s work here is Oscar-worthy for sure. I fully expect he will at least get a Supporting Actor nomination – and hopefully a statuette.

Rounding out this talented ensemble is a collection of smaller-yet-crucial performances from Lucas Hedges, as Mildred’s “f*cking depressed enough” son Robbie; Central Minnesota native John Hawkes, as Mildred’s ex-husband Charlie; Samara Weaving as Charlie’s doe-eyed and blissfully clueless young girlfriend Penelope; Abbie Cornish as Chief Willoughby’s wife Anne; and Peter Dinklage as James, the “town midget” with a heart of gold.

These characters are memorable and all so unique. They take huge risks with both their words and their actions, and they’ll worry about with the (extreme) ripple effect later. Maybe.

“Three Billboards…” is brutal; it’s gritty; it’s downright depressing. But it’s also honest. There’s no coddling here. This is a tough movie to watch for sure, but that’s what makes it so amazing – and so worthwhile.

You have just enjoyed the insights of Movie Addict Mel, a cinema dork and conversational writer. Follow her on Twitter @movieaddictmel, and “like” her Facebook page