Eighth Grade

If, by some chance, you had forgotten how much junior high school sucked, writer/director Bo Burnham delivers an eye-opening, slap-in-the-face reminder of that tumultuous time in “Eighth Grade.”

The film follows Kayla (the phenomenally superb Elsie Fisher), an insanely shy eighth grader, as she struggles through the last week of junior high school.

She doesn’t have many friends (or any, really); she thinks her dad is “weird; she’s voted “Most Quiet” among her peers; her Friday nights are spent perusing social media on her phone or laptop.

If it wasn’t for Burnham keeping the camera stationary, with Kayla at the center of the crowd shots during the school assembly, she would all but disappear.

The only time she really stands out is when she’s making videos for her online channel.

The film opens with Kayla addressing the camera while recording one of these digital displays of wisdom, this one covering the topic of “being yourself.”

It’s filled with an exorbitant number of “umm”s and “like”s, but it also shows a happy, confident, chatty young woman insisting that “everything will work out if you’re just being yourself.”

That’s good advice, especially in a time when the internet and social media tend to dictate what kids think they should do and who they think they should be.

Check out those shots when Kayla’s scrolling through social media feeds – the way her face reflects in the images she’s seeing, and how her eyes line up in perfect registration with the photos she’s viewing on Instagram and Twitter. It’s a constant tug-of-war, allowing for arbitrary comparisons that lead to unrealistic expectations.

“Eighth Grade” marks Burnham’s feature film debut behind the camera, but watching this flick you’d never know it.

His faming and shot selections deftly express Kayla’s persistent social awkwardness and embarrassment; every bit of her uneasiness is obvious thanks to Burnham’s vision and execution.

His use of jumpy camera and quick cuts during Kayla’s pre-swimsuit panic attack allows us to feel her anxiety as the whirlwind of images sends our senses into overdrive.

Deep breath!

The tracking shots – up to the front door at Kennedy’s (Catherine Oliviere) house, through the hallways at school, among the swarms of popular kids at a pool party – lets us to not only watch her hesitation, but they’re sort of interactive, at times putting us in her shoes and her mindset.

There’s really no better way to show discomfort than with awkward silence, tight shots and long takes, and Burnham utilizes those to next-level expertise: Kayla’s dinner table conversation with her dad, Mark (Josh Hamilton); trying to impress her crush, Aiden (Luke Prael), during an active-shooter drill; the gift opening scene at Kennedy’s party.

But nothing will make you cringe more than Kayla’s ride home from the mall. Burnham holds the shots on Kayla so long that your mind will race, and the anticipation will have you holding your breath and begging for resolve.

Fisher is an absolute marvel. She’s the eager and observant wallflower who so desperately wants to be somebody. You’ll want to reach through the screen and give her a hug.

As Kayla, Fisher is at times naively funny (the banana?), charmingly pitiful, and boldly assertive. But she’s always very real.

And Hamilton is a fantastically nerdy dad. His confused reactions to Kayla’s comments and requests are spot on, and that backyard bonfire scene might be the one of the most precious moments in recent cinematic memory.

“Eighth Grade” is one of my favorite movies this year.

It’s honest and faithful and delicate. It’ll put you on edge. It’ll break your heart. It’ll make you smile. And it’s worth every emotion.

“Gucci!”

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 www.facebook.com/movieaddictmel. You also can email her at movieaddictmel@outlook.com.

Disney’s Christopher Robin

Earlier this year I was smitten by a movie about the adventures of a marmalade-obsessed British bear; it was “Paddington 2,” and if you saw the film, I don’t even have to explain to you why I absolutely loved it.

Taking a crack with its own bear tale, Disney is stirring up memories of childhood fun and simpler times with “Christopher Robin,” a live-action flick about that ragtag bunch from Hundred Acre Wood and its “hunny”-loving skipper, Winnie the Pooh.

And I absolutely loved it.

Director Marc Forster (“Quantum of Solace”) flawlessly introduces everything right from the start with pages of a storybook flipping before our eyes, stopping to allow us to read snippets here and there so we know the setting (“… deep in the Hundred Acre Wood…”) and the characters (“… Christopher Robin plays with his friends…”) and the details (“… comes the day… they say ‘goodbye’…”).

We watch young Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien) have a final tea party with his friends before saying “fairwell” and exiting through that magical doorway – and re-entering the real world.

His final childhood chat with Pooh (voice by Jim Cummings) is profoundly wistful – and probably will make you cry.

Chapter titles in the book continue to detail Christopher Robin’s life as he “leaves childhood behind,” each step of the way enhanced by a sketch of the action that then morphs into real life – and then back to a sketch, all the while Pooh stands at the doorway, waiting and hoping to see his friend again.

The drawings, by the way, that we see moving across the pages are based on Winnie the Pooh illustrations by E.H. Shepard that accompanied the stories of A.A. Milne.

It’s a brilliant way to show this story literally jumping off the page.

Many years later, a now-grown Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) has a wife, Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), and a daughter, Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) – and a job that sadly has become his top priority.

What to do, what to do?

But with some unexpected help – or “expotition,” if you will – from some old friends, he may just remember that “doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.”

That Pooh! He’s like a more colorful and less wrinkly Yoda, full of cyclical and nonsensical philosophy that’s actually substantial and genius in its simplicity: “I always get to where I’m going by walking awary from where I’ve been.”

For a bear with few facial features and even fewer expressions, he sure knows how to deliver a most sincere message.

When he brushes his paw against Christopher Robin’s eyes and tells him in that soft, matter-of-fact Pooh tone, “it’s still you, looking out,” you’ll be sitting in a puddle of your own emotions because that bear has a way of tugging at your heart.

I think a lot of that is because of Cummings’ distinct and familiar voice; he’s been the voice of Winnie the Pooh since the late 80s, and hearing it again brings about those warm feelings of nostalgia.

And joining Pooh is the always energetic Tigger (also voiced by Cummings), who even sings his Tigger song; the downtrodden yet sometimes hilarious Eyeore (Brad Garrett); unassuming worry-wart Piglet (Nick Mohammed); Rabbit (Peter Capaldi); Owl (Toby Jones); Kanga (Sophie Okonedo) and Roo (Sara Sheen).

These characters are fluffy and real, like stuffed toys brought to life by movement so fluid you’ll buy into it completely.

McGregor’s interactions with them – mostly with Pooh – are delightful and captivating and authentic and whimsical. And there are unexpected moments of humor that caught me off guard, witty comments or reactions that had me legitimately laughing out loud.

There’s action and adventure, and there are quiet moments of meaningful discussion and subtle messages.

The delicate lighting gives the overall look of the film a pleasant, vintage-like feel. There are select focus images that metaphorically call attention to little details.

There’s mention of Heffalumps and Woozles – which, of course, are real things because “it’s on the sign!”

You’ll also reminisce with some of those famous Pooh lines, such as, “There’s a rumbly in my tumbly,” and, “People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.”

Silly ‘ol bear!

Sure Winnie the Pooh is a timeless collection of classic stories for children, but what Disney has done with “Christopher Robin” is delivered a lovely and very sweet piece of entertainment that offers something for all generations.

It has set a place at the tea party for everyone.

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 www.facebook.com/movieaddictmel. You also can email her at movieaddictmel@outlook.com.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

It was 1996 when Tom Cruise took on his first impossible mission as IMF Agent Ethan Hunt.

Twenty-two years later these “Mission: Impossible” flicks – now totaling six – gradually have gotten bigger, the action has become bolder, and Cruise? He’s just gotten better.

Maybe that’s because the action-spy genre continues to raise the bar, with Daniel Craig being arguably the best James Bond there’s ever been, and the Jason Bourne movies redefining what we expect in terms of movement and adventure.

Or it could be (hint: it is) because Cruise himself is performing the jaw-dropping stunts we see onscreen, virtually becoming Ethan Hunt and subsequently impressing the hell out of audiences.

Cruise has, among other seemingly impossible stunts, jumped off a skyscraper in 2006’s “Mission: Impossible III,” scaled the world’s tallest building in 2011’s “Ghost Protocol,” hung from side of an airplane as its taking off in 2015’s “Rogue Nation.”

Now Ethan Hunt and his team – including Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg, god bless this guy and his perfectly-timed quips) – are back to wow us once again in “Mission: Impossible – Fallout.”

And honestly, it’s one of the most suspenseful and exciting action flicks I’ve ever seen.

The mission in “Fallout” seems fairly straightforward – on its surface.

Ethan receives a message in typically cryptic fashion, and we watch and listen in as the details are explained: “… syndicate of rogue operatives… remnants of an extreme splinter cell… destruction of the current world order… plutonium cores… nuclear weapons… 72 hours… your mission, should you choose to accept it… secretary will disavow… good luck, Ethan.”

You know the drill.

But there are constant twists and surprises, and these crafty layers of deception add complexity and intrigue to this task, thereby bestowing its “impossible” status.

And, of course, there’s the ever-present sense of urgency because of the time element – and if you happen to forget, the background score will provide the rapid heartbeat with which to sync your pulse.

It’s helpful to have at least seen “Rogue Nation” before checking out “Fallout,” because a few familiar faces pop up, including those of exceptionally-breathy baddie Lane (Sean Harris) and former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).

A mustached Henry Cavill (y’know, “Superman”) is a new addition, bringing some muscle and unexpected but welcomed humor as CIA Agent August Walker.

Cruise again outdoes himself, performing his own stunts and bringing an unmatched level of authenticity to the franchise.

He jumped 106 times from a plane to get that HALO jump (High Altitude, Low Opening) just right; a special helmet with a wider shield was used, allowing us to see that it’s Cruise doing the work.

He broke his ankle during the rooftop jump but managed to hobble through the scene so the footage wouldn’t be wasted.

That’s him weaving in and out of Paris traffic during the motorcycle chase, with “no safety gear or helmet,” according to the film’s director Christopher McQuarrie.

Cruise trained for and earned a helicopter license to fly the craft during that spiral descent, the presentation of which is literally breathtaking – a clearly panicked Ethan at the yoke with the background rushing toward the camera.

Oh, and that payload rope scene on the helicopter? Yep, that’s him, too.

Your mission is to remember to freaking breathe during this flick; it’s chock full of so much intense action and ridiculously insane stunts that the anticipation alone might cause all involuntary behaviors to cease.

But this is how big action movies should be – filled with grab-you-by-the-throat ferocity and heart-stopping uncertainty that only lets up when it’s damn good and ready, at which point the audience that has been knotted with tension while holding its collective breath finally can exhale.

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is a ton of fun.

The scenery is achingly gorgeous; the film’s visuals are brilliant and flashy and quick and purposeful; it’s got the best bathroom fight scene since “Casino Royale”; and McQuarrie’s use of light and shadows bring a whole new level of mystery.

I can’t wait to see what this crew does next.

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 www.facebook.com/movieaddictmel. You also can email her at movieaddictmel@outlook.com.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) alter ego is diminutive in name only, because pretty much everything about “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is big-time exciting, enjoyable and entertaining.

From the plotline to the character actions and interactions, to the eye-popping effects, I dare you to not have fun.

Explained in detail in the film’s opening moments, the story here is unique and straightforward – and inundated with “quantum” this or that to a ridiculous and hilarious degree – with a few subplots mixed in to layer the narrative and increase adventure by adding complexity and danger.

Even with that, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” has a more lighthearted tone and feels less perilous than most Marvel flicks. But I’m totally fine with that, after the gut punch that was “Avengers: Infinity War.”

I think a lot of that feel is because our hero is so freaking charismatic and likeable. Scott always is playful and upbeat, he never gets angry or confrontational, and he has the most adorable conversations with his wise-beyond-her-years daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson).

This guy is repeatedly thrown into bizarre situations and is just like, “Meh, okay. Whatever.”

Whether or not he’s in the “work in progress” Ant-Man suit Scott seems never to get rattled, and he’s polite to boot: “Anyone seen a Southern gentleman carrying a building?” There’s just something so inherently appealing about his disposition.

Then there’s the banter – the flirty repartee between Scott and Hope/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly); the cheeky digs, courtesy of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas); the paranoid ramblings of Luis (Michael Pena).

And let me tell you, Luis is one hell of a scene stealer: his excitement upon discovering the Hot Wheels Rally Case; when he reveals to Hope, “I would like a suit, y’know… with minimal powers. Or just a suit, with no powers”; the “truth serum”; his beyond-incredible rant to Sonny Birch (Walton Goggins) and his goons, during which Luis’s fast-talking, slang-infused narration awesomely describes what we’re seeing while his voice delivers the lines of each character.

I think he did this in 2015’s “Ant-Man,” too, and it’ll never stop being funny.

The effects are everything you’d expect. They’re flashy and colorful and creative, and the shifts in scale are so fluid that it’s never a distraction when something or someone becomes tiny. Or regular sized. Or gigantic: “Sixty-five feet!”

Director Peyton Reed (“Ant-Man”) gives us some intense action, with engaging point-of-view shots; chase sequences that incorporate slowed motion to enhance detail or specific movements; quick edits for added immediacy; and our hero and heroine doing the big and small, back-and-forth deal to take advantage of their own technology and help deliver one especially fun movie of epic proportions.

And just when you think the visuals can’t get any cooler, the end credits roll over images of the most intricate miniature models, recapping a lot of the scenes from the movie with insane accuracy and detail.

Be sure to look for Stan Lee, making his patented appearance. And you’ll want to stay through the credits for those oh-so-favorite Marvel extras… because OHMIGOD!

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 www.facebook.com/movieaddictmel. You also can email her at movieaddictmel@outlook.com.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

For someone who grew up admittedly being “scared to use words,” Fred Rogers certainly found an effective way to communicate.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is equally effective in chronicling the beloved educational television program “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” by combining behind-the-scenes looks and clips from the series; interviews with members of the Rogers family, and colleagues or guests from the show; direct-address and archived footage or voice-over from the star himself.

And the documentary-style film covers just about everything, from the show’s inception to its final episode to the passing of its host to the legacy he left behind.

The program took ordinary elements – “… low production values, an unlikely star, simple sets…” – and turned it into something extraordinary by daring to be everything that children’s television was not; it wasn’t fast or flashy or loud.

Mister Rogers felt it was important to “help children become aware that what is essential in life is invisible to the eye.”

The show was simple and direct and honest – and special. And so is “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

“When I look at the camera, I think of one person – not any specific person… but it’s always personal.”

And with that the faces of one child after another slowly make their way across the screen, the image of Mister Rogers subtly reflected in the bottom corner to fully express the impact of his statement; he may not know them by name, but clearly he’s speaking directly to every single one of these kids.

Look at the way he interacts with the children, the intensity with which he listens to them.

It’s fascinating to learn how some of the flesh-and-blood characters came to be and to learn the origin of the inhabitants of the Neighborhood of Make Believe – especially Daniel Striped Tiger, whose likeness is used in narrative illustrations throughout.

And it’s impressive to not only see but understand the journey of how this show came together – the impetus behind it; the research and effort initiated to develop meaningful discussions; the obstacles, challenges and potential derailments that surfaced along the way.

With the show, Mister Rogers took a “wonderful tool” of socialization and gave it power – because he listened, and he made children feel important, and he addressed the issues no one else would: death and divorce and children getting lost.

There was an episode on mistakes, during which Daniel Striped Tiger doubts his worth, and one of the show’s producers was both shocked and impressed by the topic: “I can’t believe Fred had the courage to put this into words,” she said.

The show deftly handled timely social issues, such as racial segregation and political assassination.

And by doing so it opened the doors of communication and gave parents ideas on how to talk to their children about serious matters.

But it always came back to this: “Sometimes we need to struggle with tragedy to feel the gravity of love.”

Truly.

I took way too many notes while watching this flick, but it’s because everything here is so important and deeply profound in its simplicity.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” doesn’t present any real surprises; it isn’t that kind of movie.

Instead it’s a full-range look at one man’s “abiding interest in children and an equally abiding belief that they deserve more from public television.”

It’s whimsical and nostalgic, thought-provoking and sweet. It shows how “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” encouraged artistic expression and emotional exploration: “What do you do with the mad you feel?”

And it’ll hit you in the feels, man.

Whether or not you grew up watching Mister Rogers’ program – I did, but now I feel like I didn’t appreciate it enough – this flick outlining its intricacies definitely is worth checking out. It’ll make you long for the days when the world was simpler and slower and kinder.

His calming voice and friendly smile were welcome invitations to this quirky and wonderful little world.

Thank you, Fred Rogers, for making sure everyone who watched “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” knew and understood what it felt like to be special, “by just your being 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 www.facebook.com/movieaddictmel. You also can email her at movieaddictmel@outlook.com.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Steven Spielberg had us all convinced in 1993 that the dinosaurs were back, when “Jurassic Park” roared onto summer movie screens and went bonkers in worldwide box office totals.

Its 1997 sequel, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” didn’t fare nearly as well, and 2001’s “Jurassic Park III” did even worse, pulling in paltry numbers by comparison.

In 2015 the franchise got new life – and a new cast – when “Jurassic World” once again brought the dinos to the screen and subsequently resurrected ticket tallies.

You’d think that after four of these bad boys the lesson from them all would be as clear as amber: Don’t… eff… with science.

And if you do, don’t then eff with your experiment – because it most likely will tear off your limbs before devouring your entire body.

Yet, here we are.

In the latest, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” disaster threatens the prehistoric life on dino-island Isla Nublar, sparking debate over whether to save the dinosaurs or let nature right a human wrong.

“It’s a correction,” Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, in his quirky Jeff Goldblum-ish manner) insists.

But Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) wants to do “the right thing” (sure, buddy) and transport 11 species – “more, if possible” – to a new home, where they’ll be secure and free.

“… a sanctuary. No fences, no cages, no tourists – just as nature intended,” he says.

Umm…

If you assume everything will go smoothly, well then A) you’ve clearly never seen one of these flicks, and B) I’ve got news for you.

Wink.

The mayhem is pretty much similar to what we’ve seen before but different enough that it’s relevant, interesting, suspenseful – and even a little bit sad.

Yep, you heard me. Sniffle.

Revisiting the island is really what sells this thing. The flowing lava and explosions, the shrieking and deep growls, the chases and close calls all are even more intense because of the effective shaky camera and accompanying score.

It legitimately looks and feels like the end of the world, and the dinos are probably all, “Not this crap again!”

I love the newbies tagging along this time with Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, meow!!)

Systems analyst Franklin Webb’s (Justice Smith) trepidation and over-exaggerated fear are completely understandable and entirely hilarious; dude’s got the best screams.

And Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) is confident and tenacious AF; she’s clearly not impressed with or intimidated by “beefcake” raptor wrangler Owen.

On that note, I’ll see just about anything in which Pratt Pratt stars, and he once again turns on the charm and wit. Dig!

I noticed several instances of images or sequences that seemed to pay homage to the original (and the best, let’s be real) “JP” film in the series. Some of the over-the-monitor shots of Franklin recalled images of Ray Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson); the close-up of that Jeep mirror, with its visible and reminiscent advisory; the tethered goat; the dumbwaiter.

This franchise set an insanely high standard for itself with that first flick, and while nothing will ever match the splendor of the original “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” definitely has enough action and energy and humor to justify giving it a look.

“Life… finds a way.”

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 www.facebook.com/movieaddictmel. You also can email her at movieaddictmel@outlook.com.

Tag

New Line Cinema

Why would Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy (Ed Helms) interview at Bob Callahan’s (Jon Hamm – meow!) place of business in the hopes of landing a job for which he’s severely overqualified?

Well, because Hoagie is “it,” of course, and he’s looking to pawn that curse off on Bob – with a simple “Tag.”

“We just never stopped playing,” a voiceover explains, while images of kids playing Tag circa 1983 slowly lay the foundation for this ridiculously lively flick.

The movie tells the tale of lifelong friends – Hoagie and Bob, along with Randy “Chilli” Cilliano (Jake Johnson), Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress – love this guy!), and Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner) – who have been taking part in this playground game for 30 years.

For real.

And the premise of “Tag” is “inspired by a true story.”

Yes, for real. Cool, right?

During the month of May for the past three decades, these five friends have traveled to different cities or states and have donned elaborate disguises to tag each other and keep the game going.

But now… “Jerry’s retiring,” Hoagie tells the others. There’s a good chance he’ll exit with a clean record and “make us all look like fools.”

Jerry, with his ninja-like skills, has never been tagged; the explanations and visuals accompanying this revelation are hilarious, by the way.

“We’ve got a real shot at Jerry this year,” Hoagie squeals with childlike enthusiasm, because he knows exactly where the elusive Jerry will be and when.

Game. On.

“Tag” isn’t just about the game, but it’s during those moments that the movie is at its funniest.

Director Jeff Tomsic blends slowed motion with real-time action, often alternating between the two speeds in the same scene – and those visuals, along with descriptive-movement narration, delivers some riotously funny moments.

And one of my favorite scenes has Chilli, Hoagie and Bob standing in a small circle, quickly and repetitively tagging the next guy after being tagged by the other (no tag-backs!).

Tomsic spins the camera around the trio in the direction opposite the rotation of their incessant tags, and I dare you to not laugh. It’s trippy and stupid and hilarious, and it fully expresses the playful nature around which this flick is based.

Ed Helms is a great choice to anchor this crew because he’s naturally funny. I mean, “The Office” and “The Hangover”? C’mon!

And I looooove seeing the often-serious Hamm in goofy comedic roles. That chair scene had me on the floor.

Buress’s relaxed demeanor and composed delivery always is a treat; his casual comedy is truly hypnotic.

Let’s be real, though: Every one of these guys is upstaged by Hoagie’s wife, Anna (Isla Fisher). Her intensity for the game, despite not actually being a participant, is like nothing I’ve ever seen, and her outrageous outbursts crank the funny factor to 11.

“Tag” is more than hilarity and hijinks and a super competitive game; “It’s not about trying to get away from each other; it’s a reason for us to stay in each other’s lives.”

The movie is filled with silly humor and absurd physical comedy, and it once or twice sacrifices tact for a laugh (which I’m fine with, for the record). But watching these guys joke with one another and reconnect over 105 minutes is as enjoyable as watching them run around playing the game itself.

Will Jerry get tagged? Only one way to find out.

Tag; you’re it!

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 www.facebook.com/movieaddictmel. You also can email her at movieaddictmel@outlook.com.

Ocean’s 8

“You are not doing this for me. You are not doing this for you. Somewhere out there is an 8-year-old girl, lying in bed, dreaming of becoming a criminal. Let’s do this for her.”

That Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock – whom my friend Kate praised at the start of this flick by exclaiming, “She’s in her (effin’) fifties, and she looks like that!”) sure knows how to give a pep talk.

The estranged sister of known thief Danny Ocean (George Clooney, who of course called the shots in three previous “Ocean’s” movies) calmly delivers this tongue-in-cheek mission statement to her strong and more-than-capable posse before attempting “one of the biggest jewelry heists in history,” setting the wheels in motion for the latest in the numbered “Ocean’s” series, “Ocean’s 8.”

This time the prize is “big ‘ol dangly Liz Taylor jewels” that have been locked up underground for 50 years.

And Debbie’s had some time – “five years, eight months and 12 days, give or take” – to consider and concoct her perfect plan: to rob the Met Gala.

For snobs who care, it’s “GAL-uh,” not “GAY-luh.”

To help with the job, Debbie carefully assembles a crack team of ladies, including her ex, Lou (Cate Blanchett); jewelry maker Amita (Mindy Kaling); computer hacker extraordinaire Nine Ball (Rihanna, not bad!); Constance (Awkwafina, an absolute delight), a quirky street hustler and wily pickpocket; conventionally unconventional mom Tammy (Sarah Paulson); and Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), whose fashion-designer image is tarnished and who’s up to her wide, ditzy eyes in debt.

But this scheme over which they’re all sophisticatedly salivating isn’t without its glitches – because what’s the fun in that?

Bullock always is a favorite and seems to be having an effortless blast here. And really, all of these ladies are fantastic, each complementing the group in her own way.

I love that these characters are so focused and crafty and acutely dominant, that they’re always seemingly one step ahead while delicately making most of the fellas look like boobs.

One exception is James Corden as Insurance Investigator John Frazier. His fast-talking, I’ve-seen-this-shit-before attitude is pure gold.

Keeping with the stylized “Ocean’s” tradition, director Gary Ross (“Pleasantville”) uses a slew of funky and whimsical transitions – some of which use visual elements from one scene to cross over to the next, such as showing a close up of clothes hangers sliding along a closet rod as a way to guide the next scene into place.

Or having tiles of images flip onscreen like falling dominos, one section at a time, as the action changes settings.

Or showing the picture shifting like a slide puzzle, alternately appearing from the top or bottom of the screen and coming together to bring about a complete, new scene.

And then there’s that music – so consistent and heisty, like the “Pink Panther” theme, without the familiarity. You know what I mean.

I noticed on several occasions the use of mirrors or reflective surfaces, which I initially thought was simply a clever and artsy way to simultaneously show action from wholly different vantage points. And it totally is.

But then I realized it’s also a deceptively sneaky technique to almost offer too much to look at, thereby causing distractions and allowing for unpredictability while we’re busy looking in the wrong direction.

Wink. So smart!

“Ocean’s 8” definitely has a lot going on. There are some surprises and hearty chuckles, and while it’s not overly suspenseful it’s still a thoroughly engaging and oh-so-fun chapter in the “Ocean’s” storybook.

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 www.facebook.com/movieaddictmel. You also can email her at movieaddictmel@outlook.com.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”.

You know how this goes.

And with that intro first made famous in 1977 Harrison Ford stepped onto movie screens and into the hearts of audiences as Han Solo, the overconfident smuggler pilot with the pompous sneer and an attitude to match.

Ford’s rugged good looks and playful demeanor have not only won over “Star Wars” fans since “A New Hope” but essentially defined his character (and, y’know… that Indiana Jones guy).

I mean, when you hear the name Han Solo, the image that comes to mind is that of Ford, right?

As such, creating a Han Solo prequel with someone other than Ford in the legendary role seemed like an unimaginable undertaking. And honestly, I had my reservations.

But when I found out that “Solo: A Star Wars Story” was being directed by Ron Howard, I quickly became more curious than concerned. I mean, who better than Ford’s “American Graffiti” co-star to captain the ship and try to help us put a new face to the revered name.

As (the new) Han (Alden Ehrenreich – who?) himself assures: “I’ve got a really good feeling about this.”

For decades, everything we didn’t know about the character was just accepted.

But over the course of 135 minutes we learn the origin of everything we’ve probably never actually wondered about Han Solo – where the name came from; how he met Chewbacca (Joonas Suotama); the acquisition of that DL-44 blaster pistol; his love/hate relationship (“I know”) with Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover); how he ultimately will become (or, because of the timeline here, how he became) a part of the “Star Wars” saga.

We see familiar (and iconic) images, characters, and costumes; we hear familiar phrases, sounds, and names.

And keeping with the “Star Wars” tradition, music and/or sound effects accompany every second of this story (except for literally two, and that’s by design). It’s a genius technique that not only adds tension and excitement to each scene but also engages our senses throughout.

Ehrenreich looks the part; he’s got the cool hair and the sideburns, and much to my relief he eases into the Solo smirk, the sarcasm, and the cockiness we’ve come to know and love from this character.

Everything else will fall into place before this flick is over, and after a while you’ll no longer care to even make comparisons between the new Han and the old.

Let’s talk about Mr. Calrissian, shall we? The only thing more appealing than Lando’s fashion sense, flashy smile, and chill demeanor is that savvy glint in his eye. You know the one I mean.

Donald Glover nails all of that so epically, radiating the same cool smoothness that Billy Dee Williams harnessed to breathe life into this gambler. Glover’s Lando pretty much steals the show here, with just his presence alone; he really should have his own origin story (hint, hint).

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” maintains a sentimental connection to the “Star Wars” saga while emanating an altogether fresh vibe, with parts of it looking a little like “Mad Max” and other parts feeling a bit James Bond-like. But all of it has that “galaxy far, far away” quality. I’ll take that!

Is “Solo” a necessary cog in the machine that is “Star Wars”? Probably not.

But watching the puzzle of this smuggler’s early life piece itself together sure is a fun way to fill in the background of a character that has proven to be a favorite for decades.

And Alden Ehrenreich isn’t Harrison Ford, nor does he try to be. But as a young Han Solo he’ll do just fine.

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 www.facebook.com/movieaddictmel. You also can email her at movieaddictmel@outlook.com.

For Bill…

I never met Bill Paxton.

But he was one of my all-time favorite actors. (Also, yes – that is his signature tattooed on the outside of my wrist.)

And after years – decades, really – of watching his films, seeing him charm the hosts and audiences of late night TV talk shows, and soaking up every bit of information offered in this entertainment publication or that I felt like I had a pretty good handle on the attributes that made him who he was.

And who he was… was a movie star, a family man, a story teller, a goof ball – and a simple guy with genuine soul.

All of the things I thought I knew were more than validated on Father’s Day 2017. I was invited to attend a tribute for Bill in Manhattan, at which the people who really knew him shared their memories of going to school with Bill, or rooming with Bill, or performing with Bill.

And the words from those people who knew him in his “early years” shined a light on another aspect of who Bill was – a friend.

They read poems and delivered prayers. They recited Shakespeare. They quoted Bill and a character or two from his movies.

There was mention of “the third rail” and Bill’s fixation on that story and the specifics of way it was told.

His friend Rachel recalled walking across town with Bill one winter day; she was wearing a favorite dress, she said. A group of workmen noticed her, and her recollection of how Bill described them checking her out was no doubt heard in his unmistakable voice: “Those guys looked at you like you were a ham sandwich.”

And for a brief moment, Bill was there. And there was laughter.

We heard about Bill’s ability to make a “spectacular omelette.” The secret apparently lies in whipping the Dijon mustard just right.

They told of the risks Bill took to produce forbidden performances in obscure places – on subway platforms or the rooftop tennis courts above the library (that’s a thing??) at New York University.

We learned of a production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and the invention of the “Shoeshine” character.

I listened as these friends and former roommates recalled meeting Bill and talked about their first impressions of him. Some were fascinated with him, some not-so-much – at first.

There were descriptive tales of Bill’s unwavering confidence, and his Texas drawl, and his interest in the intricacies of people and things – and their history or what made them specifically unique. His friends talked at length about Bill’s passion for aesthetics and his enthusiasm for art.

Bill’s son James talked about his dad’s boundless energy and how he’d go into drill-sergeant mode to get James up and moving in the morning: “Get your ass outta bed,” James jokingly grumbled, mimicking his dad’s articulation. “You’re burnin’ daylight.”

Again, it was Bill’s voice uttering those words. And again there was laughter.

I didn’t just listen to these stories; I watched how they were told – with enthusiasm and fond remembrances.

I observed their body language as each friend or family member spoke; there were grand gestures and tremendous smiles and looks off into the distance as details and emotions came flooding back.

I saw the smiles on their faces and the tears in their eyes. I heard them laugh and sniffle and pause, their words and movements and gazes of reflection altogether revealing the adoration in their hearts.

To them he wasn’t Bill Paxton, the actor; he was Bill Paxton, their friend.

And then there was that video.

Bill’s longtime friend and collaborator, Tom, put together a heartwarming collection of documentary footage of Bill with his dad, John. As it played out, the video morphed into a sort of memorial for Bill.

Our laughter turned to tears.

The movie clips and video snippets and personal photos and wistful piano all were beautifully combined in this visual poem detailing Bill’s “extraordinary life,” and the emptiness felt by everyone in that room was overwhelmingly realized.

Later at Toad Hall, we all raised a glass to Bill.

And it was there that I asked Bill’s friend Donal to tell me a “happy story about Bill.” Then I sat in wide-eyed delight as he walked me through the comprehensive and animated account of how Bill met the woman who later would become his wife.

It. Was. Amazing.

Donal is an insanely gifted storyteller. And I watched as the nostalgia of that tale brought a smile to his face, which in turn brought a smile to mine.

I was beyond grateful to have spent time with these people who were so welcoming and willing to share their memories, so that I could better know the man whose movies were and are such a huge part of my life.

And everyone who had anything to say that day gave this fan from Minnesota something to remember about this incredible man who clearly meant so much to so many.

There’s no question that Bill Paxton was one of my absolute favorites. Learning more about him through his family and friends made me sense his absence on an even grander scale. But I also felt a connection that I hadn’t before, like I was no longer just a fan.

I had learned more about Bill from those closest to him. Their memories of him had us laughing together and crying together. To think about all the lives touched by him and to understand the ways in which he touched them truly is its own reward. And that’s such a Bill thing.

No, I never knew Bill Paxton.

But I feel like I have a better and more personal idea of who he was – the story teller, the practical joker, the art enthusiast, the Hollywood actor who never forgot his roots, the dedicated family man, the lifelong friend. He will be remembered always.

This was my first time in New York; I took the trip solely for this event.

And being in that place on this day with these people was exactly where and when and with whom I needed to be.

You have just enjoyed the insights of Movie Addict Mel, a Bill Paxton fan who wrote this post to recognize what would have been the actor’s 63rd birthday. Follow her on Twitter @movieaddictmel, and “like” her Facebook page www.facebook.com/movieaddictmel. You also can email her at movieaddictmel@outlook.com.