Ready Player One

Even if you can’t play the notes (me!), you no doubt know the tune: (insert killer keyboard intro to Van Halen’s “Jump” here).

And with that, director Steven Spielberg introduces us to his latest flick – an ambitious, sci-fi adventure that is futuristic in nature but is bursting with nostalgia at its heart. Giggity!

Based on the debut novel (haven’t read it; I don’t do that) from Ernest Cline, “Ready Player One” mostly takes place in the OASIS, a virtual world in which most of humanity spends its time, because… well, because real life circa 2045 is depressing AF.

The OASIS is a “place where the limits of reality are your imagination,” as explained by young Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan).

Under the guise of avatars and aliases, “people come to the OASIS for all the things they can do,” Wade continues, “but they stay because of all the things they can be.”

It’s sorta like the Big Market from “Valerian” – only not stupid.

After his death, OASIS creator James Halladay (Mark Rylance) announces – via pre-recorded video, of course – that within the OASIS is a game, and the first to find Halladay’s “Easter Eggs” hidden in that game will inherit his fortune – and full control of the OASIS.

Double giggity, right??

Wade, known in the OASIS as Parzival, is among the eager “Gunters,” or egg hunters, engaged in this search – that’s been ongoing for years.

In real life, Wade exists in his “own tiny corner of nowhere, protecting my tiny slice of nothing”; he lives with his aunt Alice (Susan Lynch) and her dippy boyfriend in an area known as “The Stacks,” which is a hundred times more deplorable than its name implies.

Halladay’s posthumous announcement could be Wade’s ticket to a better life, so this kid is all in. But he’s not the only one… .

And so begins this virtual pursuit that looks insanely cool, incorporates the most kick-ass music, and is so much fun you’ll forget about reality for 140 minutes.

Though “Ready Player One” spends most of its time in a fictitious realm, Spielberg continually jumps back and forth between it and its nonfiction counterpart to remind us that there is a difference. But we also see and understand that events in the OASIS can and do affect reality; we get that this isn’t just an “insert coin, start over” scenario – and that’s sobering discovery.

The story is a trip, and the eye-popping graphics and immersive visuals really help this flick level up; it’s like actually being inside a video game.

And there’s additional fun with the seemingly endless supply of pop culture references.

You’ll notice winks toward, among many others, John Cusack’s patented pose from “Say Anything”; the technology and light cycles from “Tron”; Hot Wheels track sets, with their crazy twists and turns; “Iron Giant,” with an appearance from the title character.

And because I’ve seen “Back to the Future” a million times, I probably noticed more nods to that classic flick above most others – including everyone’s favorite Delorean, with an added touch of K.I.T.T. from “Knight Rider”; the Zemeckis Cube and the genius capabilities it holds; the Goldie Wilson poster in a quick background scan of one scene.

Whether intentional or not, I also found the look and mannerisms of some of these characters to be eerily reminiscent of well-known 80s and 90s players; “dickweed” Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) reminded me of Mr. Vernon from “The Breakfast Club”; Halladay struck me as a combination of Garth Algar from “Wayne’s World” and James Langly, one of the Lone Gunmen, from “X-Files”; Aunt Alice and the loser boyfriend are almost clones of John Connor’s pukey foster parents in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

Then when you factor in the amazing selection of songs – including tunes from Prince, Hall & Oates, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Tears for Fears, the Bee Gees, Twisted Sister and a whole mess of others – it’s easy to understand why “Ready Player One strikes a chord with movie buffs and music fans alike.

The outcome probably won’t be a shock, but I promise you there’s plenty of action and nail-biting tension to keep you engrossed and entertained throughout.

“Ready Player One” scores big in presenting this grand, futuristic adventure while wisely blanketing viewers in all the things with which they’re comfortable and familiar. It’s one hell of an enjoyable ride.

Are you ready?

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.

Love, Simon

It was last year – late summer or early fall, probably – when I first saw a trailer for “Love, Simon,” and I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait for this movie to come out (heh).

Why?

Because it looked like – and very much is – one of those stories in which a young protagonist has to wrestle with and ultimately confront a very personal issue; it’s big drama, complemented by playful humor – and it all feels very sincere.

And those are the kinds of movies that resonate with me – the ones with relatable and likable characters that have real struggles and for whom the audience roots, because he or she deserves as much.

And “Love, Simon” is all of that… and so much more.

“I’m just like you. For the most part, my life is totally normal…” high school senior Simon (Nick Robinson) narrates, to introduce himself.

We learn about his high school sweetheart parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel); his chef wanna-be little sister Nora (Talitha Eliana Bateman); his friends, two of whom he’s “known since pretty much the beginning of time.”

And he continues, “… I have a totally perfectly normal life, except I have one huge-ass secret…”.

Simon is gay. And he hasn’t told anyone; he’s barely told himself.

Simon’s friend Leah (Katherine Langford, whom you may recognize from “13 Reasons Why”) FaceTimes with him to ask if he’s seen the latest post on the school’s social media page, about “the closeted gay kid.”

Panic! But that eventually fades when Simon realizes someone else has the same secret, and he sees an opportunity express himself to this other student – without either of them knowing the other’s identity.

And as Simon – disguising himself as Jacques – and “Blue” cathartically message each other, it’s clear that Simon is starting to understand and gain confidence in who he is.

But if you’re familiar with stories like this, you know that Simon’s secret not only will be found out but also will be in danger of being exposed before he’s ready to tell it. As if this internal conflict couldn’t get any more complicated, right?

“Love, Simon” is so good and satisfying on so many levels.

The montage of Simon’s friends announcing to their parents that they’re heterosexual is hilarious and effectively drives home just how silly it is that being straight is the established “default.”

These characters all are amazing: Simon is the good, friendly kid who not only gets along with but is able to joke with his parents; pals Leah, Abby (Alexandra Shipp) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) are the easy-going and understanding comrades that any high school kid would lucky to call friends; Vice Principal Mr. Worth (Tony Hale) tries so hard to be hip that he actually sort of succeeds while eliciting tremendous laughs; drama teacher Ms. Albright (Natasha Rothwell) offers up some humor of her own and delivers one of the biggest mic-drop speeches ever. Eh-ver!

There’s a little bit of mystery here, as Blue’s email responses to Simon are continually read in a different voice each time Simon thinks he’s figured out who it is on the other side of these messages. It keeps us guessing, and the anonymity nevertheless allows Simon to really get to know this person – and himself.

And it’s no secret that Simon’s secret will come out, but it’s the reactions here that are important.

They run the gamut – from the typically ignorant and cruel, which was Simon’s fear and understandably why he felt the need to keep his identity under wraps for so long; to the tear-inducing (guilty!) and empathetic.

It’s not easy for this kid, but that’s what makes his story so endearing. You get it, and you feel every ounce of his anxiety and apprehension.

There is so much to appreciate about “Love, Simon.” It’s full of real emotion and uncertainly and isolation – and acceptance.

I was in a packed theater, and the audience at one point exploded with resounding applause, which is a testament to this flick and its ability to affect viewers. And that’s really the whole point.

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.

A Wrinkle in Time

Never been a huge fan of reading, so admittedly I have not read any of the books in Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” series.

Shocking, I know. I’m sure they’re fabulous reads.

However, having not read the books there was no temptation to make the page-to-screen comparisons while watching Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” the latest flick from director Ava DuVernay (“Selma”).

Four years after her NASA scientist father Mr. Murry (Chris Pine) inexplicably vanished, young Meg (Storm Reid) gets a note on her locker from what I can only assume is the typical flock of little B-words (every school has one) to wish her a “Happy anniversary – if only you’d disappear, too.”

Yeahhhh, kids are swell.

Mr. Murry was “sure he could travel with his mind” by “wrinkling time” to explore the “connections to and between other dimensions.”

Everyone knows about Mr. Murry’s disappearance, but no one has any answers – that is, until Meg’s little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) introduces Meg to Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon); Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling); and the grandest and most magnificent of all, Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey).

They heard a call in the universe. Mrs Which tells Meg that Mr. Murry has “traveled farther … than any human has” but that “he may be in trouble.”

So, what’s a girl to do?

Grab her brother and her friend Calvin (Levi Miller) and “tesser” throughout the universe to find and bring back her father.

DUH!

And we experience the surrealism and beauty and quirks as Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin traverse dimensions – visiting lands such as Uriel, Orien and Camazotz; meeting gossipy flowers and the Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis) and The Man with Red Eyes (Michael Pena).

The premise here is a fun one for sure. The process, on the other hand, is a little… meh. There are some cute memories of Meg and her father, but I never got any true sense of tug-at-your-heart emotion, which is essential to us caring about the success or failure of this mission.

Some of the pieces to this story seemed either to not fit or just felt completely irrelevant, essentially muddying the overall narrative.

I mean, it was fine; I’m sure a lot of this is carryover from the books – again, didn’t read ‘em, so I can’t be certain – but I feel like some things weren’t explained and as such had no purpose in moving this story forward.

BUT… there are two things that I thought really helped (and actually saved?) this flick: the stunning visuals, and those kids!

The effects that create the frequencies and fantasy worlds are believable enough and highly impressive. And that emaciated scene during which Meg climbs a flight of stairs that no one can see? THAT is crazy cool and a definite treat for the eyes.

Even more delightful are the performances from Reid, McCabe and Miller.

Reid’s maturity commands attention, and she’s so expressive – though effectively not-so-much when appropriate – that you can’t help but be captivated. Also, she has the most amazing hair, whether she realizes it or not.

As Calvin, Miller (who also was amazing in 2015’s “Pan”) is earnest and encouraging; his quiet enthusiasm is endearing and refreshing. And he’s very possibly the sweetest kid in the universe.

McCabe is a strong presence and delivers Charles Wallace’s freakish intelligence and vision with a steadfast confidence that makes you wonder if he’s even real.

These kids collectively steal the show while being the biggest reason for its success.

“Wrinkle” feels very Disney-esque, with its not-too-terrifying moments of peril and its universal lessons on family, friendship and self: “Find the right frequency, and have faith in who you are.”

Meg’s quest obviously is more than simply a search for her father – and though a few elements of this story are a bit lackluster and the emotional investment was seriously lacking other aspects stepped up to at least give moviegoers a mostly engaging and visually “luminous” experience.

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/movieaddictmelYou also can email her at movieaddictmel@outlook.com.

Oscars 2018: Which flick will win Best Pic?

Photo courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter

Curious to know which movie will win this year’s top prize at the 90th Academy Awards?

Me, too! Here’s a quick rundown of each nominee and my thoughts on what each has to offer in its quest to take Oscar gold.

And the nominees – in the order in which I saw them – are:

Dunkirk

What’s it about? During World War II allied soldiers are surrounded by the German Army when an unconventional rescue mission is set in motion.

What makes it a contender? Umm, its director is a freakin’ genius. I’m not big on war movies, but Christopher Nolan is the reason I wanted to see this. Nolan easily is one of the most cerebral filmmakers in recent memory, and he once again amazes with gritty and visceral battle sequences, and that disjointed timeline of air, land, and sea events that is so trademark Nolan and the only way this story could be told. There’s very little dialogue here, but that’s fine; the action says everything.

Will it win? It probably won’t win Best Picture, but I expect “Dunkirk” to clean up the technical awards.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

What’s it about? An understandably pissed off mother rents three billboards on the edge of town to keep attention on solving her daughter’s brutal murder after local law enforcement seems to have dropped the ball.

What makes it a contender? Its sharp-tongued, unfiltered dialogue; the heavy and emotional subject matter; and stand-out performances from Frances McDormand (who will, oh by the way, win for Best Actress), Woody Harrelson as the town’s beloved Chief Willoughby, and Sam Rockwell (a lock to win his first Oscar, for Supporting Actor) as the dopey deputy with “slightly racist leanings” whose transformation is something to behold.

Will it win? Probably, and I sure hope so. This is my favorite of the nominees, and I would love to see “Three Billboards” take home the win.

Lady Bird

What’s it about? Wacky coming-of-age tale that follows Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson as she navigates high school ridiculousness with best bud Julie “Jules” Steffans, examines relationships with boys, expresses herself in artistic ways, and desperately tries to distance herself from both Sacramento and her overbearing mother.

What makes it a contender? It takes a realistic and relatable look at the mother-daughter dynamic. Director Greta Gerwig expertly balances the curiosities and naivete of youth against the jaded wisdom and unfulfilled ambition of adulthood. Saoirse (pronounced “Seer-sha” – you’re welcome) Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are a joy to watch, even when (read: especially when) they’re bickering. Metcalf would be nabbing the Supporting Actress Oscar for this role if not for Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”), but Metcalf’s role still is worthy of gold.

Will it win? I doubt it, but that’s not to say that it isn’t deserving of the nomination or the win.

The Shape of Water

What’s it about? A wonderfully weird Cold War-era fantasy about a mute maintenance worker in a government laboratory and the unconditional bond she forms with a top-secret aquatic being.

What makes it a contender? It’s quirky and freakishly gorgeous, and the story of forbidden longing goes far deeper than what’s on its surface. It’s acceptance – and feeling accepted. And the performances from Sally Hawkins (a Best Actress nominee) and Richard Jenkins (up for Supporting Actor) are so achingly bold you’ll be completely immersed in the narrative. Also, is it just me or does Michael Shannon get creepier with each role?

Will it win? This is a tough one; Best Picture and Best Director used to go hand-in-hand, but lately that hasn’t seem to be the case. I don’t think “The Shape of Water” will win Best Picture, but I do think Guillermo del Toro will win Best Director. His vision here is extraordinary!

The Post

What’s it about? The First Amendment… aaaand gender competencies with regard to leadership roles takes center stage as a determined newspaper publisher – a woman, gasp! – risks her business and its reputation in an attempt to expose a decades-long government cover-up because divulging the information is in the best interest of the people.

What makes it a contender? Three words: Streep, Hanks, Spielberg. They’re historically the best at what they do, and “The Post” masterfully depicts the importance of journalism at a time when – ironically, but that’s no accident – its very relevance is habitually being questioned.

Will it win? No, but I think its message is head loud and clear, and that’s the real victory here.

Darkest Hour

What’s it about? Newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill takes office at a most inopportune time: when the fate of World War II-era Western Europe is dependent on his decision to continue fighting or negotiate peace talks with Adolf Hitler.

What makes it a contender? An undeniably incredible performance from an unrecognizable – except for those tell-tale eyes – Gary Oldman; it’s the major source of promise in this seemingly hopeless scenario. As Churchill, Oldman is loud and intense and a little bit frightening: “YOU CANNOT REASON WITH A TIGER WHEN YOUR HEAD IS IN ITS MOUTH!” (This is in all caps because that’s how I heard it).

Will it win? I don’t think so. But Oldman almost surely will win his first Oscar (shocking, considering his talent and extensive filmography) for Best Actor; all eyes are on the man with those patented peepers.

Phantom Thread

What’s it about? The odd and sometimes unsettling story of a 1950s eccentric dressmaker and the young woman who inspires him and affects his routine life.

What makes it a contender? Daniel Day-Lewis’s method acting is downright magnetic and is matched here by knockout performances by Vicki Krieps and Lesley Manville – the lighting effectively expressing the respective softness and harshness of each of their personalities. The imagery is stunning, and this story will have you reassessing everything even after the credits roll.

Will it win? No, but look for “Phantom Thread” to likely score costuming and visual awards.

Get Out

What’s it about? Despite half-joking warning from his best friend Rod (Lil Rey Howery), Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) spend the weekend with her parents, whom Chris is meeting for the first time – “Do they know I’m black?” he wonders.

What makes it a contender? It’s amazing! The story in this psychological thriller – with a touch of horror – is MESSED. UP. But that’s a compliment. It’s well thought-out and hypnotically (heh) executed by writer/director Jordan Peele. The racial issues are both obvious and subtle, and the little hints along the way culminate in the most shocking “holy sh*t” moment. “Get Out” is wickedly innovative and so disturbing, and Kaluuya is outstanding.

Will it win? I don’t think it will win, but I wouldn’t be surprised. This one totally blew my mind.

Call Me by Your Name

What’s it about? Seventeen year-old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) develops a relationship with his father’s visiting research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer) in 1980s Italy.

What makes it a contender? The backdrop is clearly breathtaking, but two other aspects of “Call Me by Your Name” stand out even more so than the Italian countryside. The deep, raw feelings that are discovered and displayed bring a tangible quality to what it’s like to experience love. There’s an unmatched realness to these emotions that are wholly exhilarating and agonizing. And Chalamet? Get outta here; he’s INCREDIBLE – like, shake-your-head, jaw-dropping, mind-blowing incredible. This film ends with one of the most profound speeches I’ve ever heard as well as one of the most intense gazes I’ve ever seen. And if I wasn’t already a puddle at that point, there’s a dedication to Bill Paxton on the end credits. My heart!

Will it win? Based on the sensitivity and emotional weight, “Call Me by Your Name” very well might win. It was one of my favorites, so I wouldn’t be upset. Chalamet is nominated for Best Actor, and he absolutely deserves to win; if you’ve seen this flick, I don’t even have to explain why. But we’ll see if he can best Gary Oldman for the statue.

There you have it. Watch the 90th Academy Awards on March 4 to see if your favorites take home Oscar gold.

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/movieaddictmelYou also can email her at movieaddictmel@outlook.com.

Black Panther

If you’ve already seen “Black Panther,” you know how awesome it is.

This latest Marvel Cinematic Universe installment takes the standard good versus evil archetype to a whole new level.

Part of its brilliance lies in its ability to introduce moral complexities that elevate “Black Panther” beyond choosing between right and wrong; this story explores the depth of that dichotomy while making a case for either side.

And it’s freakin’ gorgeous! Contrary to the implication based on its title, “Black Panther” offers a kaleidoscope of color that will steal your breath away.

Another reason it’s is so hypnotic is because Marvel opted to narrow its concentration to this character and his homeland – broadening that aim on occasion to explore and flesh out the incident during which we first met T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” but otherwise sticking close to home.

And that home is Wakanda, a (fictional) East African nation. Strategically hidden from the rest of the world this industrialized land thrives in secret because of the mountain of (fictional) Vibranium on which it sits.

And because of that powerful element these characters are immersed in a world of James Bond-like gadgets and technological advancement while still honoring the culture.

I applaud the ways in which director Ryan Coogler (“Creed”) interweaves the obvious progressiveness yet maintains customary connections through tribal markings, ceremonies and rituals, the colorful attire, and an all-encompassing dedication to the land by the people of Wakanda.

“Black Panther” is chock full of insanely talented folk, and every character makes this movie bolder and better, ammiright?!

Boseman is incredible as the hero trying to fulfill his destiny while attempting to dissect, analyze and understand the pledge of this role into which he has stepped.

Michael B. Jordan captivates as Erik Killmonger, with his drop-of-a-hat transformation from mild temperament to blind rage. And that hint of vulnerability he expresses gives so much depth to this complex character. Love him and/or hate him, you totally get where he’s coming from.

As T’Challa’s sister Shuri, Letitia Wright is sassy and sarcastic and smart and spirited. “Black Panther” the movie and Black Panther the hero would be nothing without her; you’ll see why.

And how ‘bout the rest of ladies?

I mean, have you ever seen a stronger, more physical, and more assured bunch of women?

The answer is no. These warriors clearly will throw down to protect their bubble, their livelihood, their legacy; and their dedication is anything but self-serving.

And watching the whole lot of them – including T’Challa’s ex Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), General Okoye (Danai Gurira), and Queen Mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) – is pure delight.

There is one character that seems to jump the allegiance fence each time the wind shifts; it’s clearly for the sake of convenience… but whatever. Don’t worry about it.

Like with other franchise flicks, “Black Panther” incorporates wry humor, much of it courtesy of Shuri – bless her; a legitimate villain, though here the threat is based on a personal and truly substantial vendetta; dazzling battle scenes; and – no surprise – that patented Stan Lee sighting.

Its characters are powerful; its scenery is majestic; its duels are well thought out and beautifully executed; its multi-layered narrative is beyond engrossing.

Miniscule glitches aside, “Black Panther” is everything a modern-day superhero story aspires to be, and it’s exactly what a Marvel flick should be – a nuanced look at this MCU extension and an almost perfect vehicle by which to continue to build and expand upon the franchise.

“Wakanda forever!”

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/movieaddictmelYou also can email her at movieaddictmel@outlook.com.

I, Tonya

There’s that old saying: If you can’t beat ’em, take ’em out at the knees. Right?

The 1994 conspiracy on ice that was so bizarre it seemed like it had to be a prank is now detailed in a motion picture that on its surface also seems like it must be farcical.

But even with all the bewilderment brought about by the Nancy Kerrigan assault and the tongue-in-cheek manner in which this flick has been marketed I can tell you with every degree of certainty that it’s no joke.

“I, Tonya” is 100 percent dysfunctional fun, starting off by announcing that it is (snicker) “…based on irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews…” and progressing to show us those direct statements, along with flashbacks to flesh out this timeline of twisted events.

Addressing the camera and describing things as they remember them are, among others: Jeff Gillooley (Sebastian Stan), Tonya’s first love and ex-husband; Jeff’s doughy and expressionless buddy Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser), a self-proclaimed “international counter-terrorism agent and professional bodyguard” (snicker, snicker); LaVona Golden (Allison Janney), Tonya’s unfeeling, foul-mouthed, and chain-smoking mother; and the woman herself, Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie – genius!)

We’re walked through the most significant events and incidents, competitions and experiences that molded the Tonya Harding we all saw in the public eye in 1994; it’s an attempt to help us understand the how that led to the why.

The skating sequences put us right there on the ice, the sweeping camera work expressing the exhilaration as well as the pressure – from the crowds, from the judges, from Tonya’s mother – of fulfilling expectations and executing precision routines.

And let’s not forget that 90s fashion – err, “fashion.”  There’s the big, big hair; the mock turtleneck shirts; the Girbaud jeans (why the hell did we pay $90 for a pair of jeans?!?!). While laughable, seeing all of this again was nevertheless nostalgic.

It’s no secret that the incident – “the f*cking incident” – is the big draw here, but “I, Tonya” is so much more; it goes beyond the figure skating feud that headlined every news station and newsstand and introduces the woman behind the man who had a friend who knew a guy who willfully turned Olympic safety on its head with that infamous “whack” heard ’round the world.

The movie exhibits a campy and spirited feel, with bits of humor and those out-of-the-ordinary instances of characters breaking through the fourth wall, helping to offset the heavy and jolting moments of verbal and emotional abuse that are so prevalent they almost require a mention in the cast list.

Be prepared for a litany of swearing. There’s so much, and I’m not sure if this was for real or simply a Hollywood embellishment to enhance the persona of “the girl from the wrong side of the tracks” that Harding clearly was suggested to possess.

Doesn’t matter. Robbie doesn’t miss a beat when slinging vulgarities, and Janney recites that sh*t like a f*ckin’ champ.

Never has the f-word sounded so poetic, complemented by Janney’s patented emphatic sighs and bothered gazes, during which her eyes are half-open yet still filled with overwhelming disapproval and condescension.

All of that accompanied by jaw-dropping blasphemy raises her character to next-level bitch status. She’s absolutely heartless yet so stealthily wicked that you are inexplicably fascinated and actually will beg for more.

It’s easy to see why Janney received an Oscar nod for this role (psst… she’s gonna win).

The playfulness with which “I, Tonya” is presented doesn’t take away from the gravity of the incident at its center but rather expresses the absurdity in its process and the disbelief that it ever was carried out “by two of the biggest boobs in a story populated solely by boobs.”

That it happened at all is a head scratcher, and I give credit to director Craig Gillespie for making this feel less like an episode of “20/20” and more of a quirky behind-the-scenes look at, well… how sh*t went down.

“I was loved for a minute. Then I was hated. It was like being abused all over again.”

“I, Tonya” is shocking and smart and sarcastic. It’s completely unfiltered and wholly entertaining. And I feel like this flick helps shed some light on the longing ambition of this skater who just wanted to make a name for herself.

It may not have been what she intended, but… mission accomplished.

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/movieaddictmelYou also can email her at movieaddictmel@outlook.com.

The Post

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”.

This (partial) amendment has been around for literally two hundred years.

And then some.

So, these words are far from new. They’ve been memorized in classrooms; they’ve been recited in courtrooms. And now, front and center his latest flick, Steven Spielberg shines a light on these words and the depth of everything for which they stand.

And then some.

This one isn’t prefaced with those four magical words – based on true events – but that’s because it doesn’t need to be.

The story in “The Post” is as familiar as the First Amendment and opens smack in the midst of the Vietnam War, 1966, when there were things going on about which the American public had no idea.

That is, until analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) – that purposeful slow zoom hinting that he understands what’s happening – decides to photocopy (lookit that copier!!) a whole gaggle of highly classified documents.

You’ve probably heard of them; they’re better known as the Pentagon Papers, and they threatened to reveal that the government had “deeply mislead the country on the Vietnam War” to the point that “they knew we couldn’t win, but they still sent boys off to die.”

Damning? Oh, for sure!

The New York Times publishes an expose on “the most highly classified papers on the Vietnam War,” only to be subsequently silenced by Richard Nixon’s administration. And basically, any newspaper that dares to print more from these papers faces similar consequences.

What’s a little newspaper like The Washington Post to do? Especially when it’s in the process of making big, public business decisions, and there are questions abound regarding its leadership?

Publisher Katherine “Kay” Graham (Meryl Streep, a likely Oscar nominee – duh!) and Editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) certainly have their work cut out.

“The way they lied. The way they lied… those days have to be over,” Bradlee insists. “We have to be the check on their actions.”

Because, I mean… that’s what newspapers do. And like it or not, that’s precisely why we need them.

The choice to publish or not ultimately will determine Kay’s reputation – and possibly her freedom; there’s understandable concern about The Post facing the same fate as the New York Times, about what the banks will do, about, y’know, treason.

And while Hanks’ character has some killer lines one of his most profound is also one of the film’s most legitimate arguments: “If we live in a world where the government tells us what we can and cannot print, then The Washington Post has already ceased to exist.”

Buckle up, kids.

Having worked at a newspaper for 15 years, I was fascinated to compare the newsroom and processes in this flick against what I had been around for a decade and a half.

It was impressive to see these old-school techniques in full swing: the constant clicking and drumming sounds of the typewriters (remember those??) being used by reporters, the communication between one department and another, the tediousness but nostalgia of the Linotype (ohmigod!); and the entire printing process, from the plates, to the reels of paper, to the rollers, to the conveyor belt, to the stacking and binding – and finally to the docks and out for delivery.

The costuming and fashion and props and background noises all are true to the time, and there’s even use of Nixon’s actual recorded conversations (the ones recorded by the man himself).

Let’s be honest, “The Post” isn’t a high-testosterone action flick. The set-up take a while; there are a lot of pieces that need to be put into place before this thing gets rolling. Once that happened, though, I was good; there are plenty of pulse-pounding moments to hold your attention, even if you know how this one ends.

This is exactly the type of high-stakes, big drama event about which movies are made; it just so happens that this one pretty much wrote itself.

These characters are smart and determined; they know what they have to do, but they also know what they’re up against.

And if you’ve ever had that feeling of having something so elusive actually within reach, but you need certain pieces to fall into place at specific moments in order to be successful, you will totally understand the heart-beating-out-of-your-chest mixture of excitement and anxiety in “The Post.”

Spielberg’s tight shots and jumpy camera help elevate that nervousness, especially during that sequence in Bradlee’s living room, with journalists and papers strewn about every surface and that looming deadline just a-tickin’ away.

“The Post” is an eye-opening look at the urgency of truth – and the importance of, logic behind and delicate nature inherent in those rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

And if ever there was a time for this movie, it’s right now.

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/movieaddictmelYou also can email her at movieaddictmel@outlook.com.

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

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

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